Let me fix that for you
Colour-blindness, autism, and deviance versus normativity in ...
Colour-blindness affects somewhere around ten percent of those people who have had the unfortunate luck of being born with a y-chromosome. And, courtesy of gene therapy, it can be cured. Well. Theoretically.

It can be cured in monkeys, which is a good first step, and the curative mechanism, which amounts to creating a "gives you coloured vision" virus, is not particularly simian, which suggests that it might work for humans as well. Beyond offering a potential answer to the "Saturday at 3 AM, stoned off your ass" question of "does everyone see blue the same way I do?" though, this to me seems to offer up an intriguing dilemma for medical science. Namely: what is its role?

For pathogen-focused fields of study, we imagine the answer to be comparatively simple — the role of medical science is in discovering cures to fatal diseases. Similarly, we can imagine that a world without genetic conditions like trisome-21 would be a better one. But at some point, there exists a fuzzier line, and it's not clear where exactly that is.

Deaf people, for instance, are famous for having a deaf community; they have their own language (American sign language, in case you were wondering, is an agglutinative, tenseless, reduplication-heavy language with SOV word order and is thus not really related to English at all) and their own culture. For many, attempts to "cure" them — or their children — face at best an uphill battle and, commonly, outright rejection. This shouldn't come as a surprise; being told that something is "wrong" with them is an implicit insult to that language and culture, as though it was something second-rate that could be cast off when the welcoming arms of medicine allow them to become real people again.

A similar issue affects some people with, among other things, ADHD or high-functioning autism. The notion that there could be a "cure" for these, for them, is as silly as the notion that there could be a "cure" for brown hair. Without delving too deep into E-mail-forward-style language about how much better it used to be when we didn't dope all our kids up on Ritalin, the link between creativity and mental illness is somewhat suggestive. We wouldn't want to compel anyone to suffer, but ours would be a very different world without Kafka.

I'm not aware of whether or not colour-blind people have a similar sense of community, but colour-blindness is not intrinsically harmful; if it were, there's little reason to believe it would affect so many people. Indeed, while colour vision itself is thought to have helped our primate ancestors in finding brightly-coloured delicious fruits, colour-blind individuals have greater visual acuity and can more easily detect variances in texture; thus while colour-blindness is contraindicated in pilots, it is eminently useful in detecting camouflage.

I don't necessarily want to get into evolutionary biology as an explanation for everything; it's not always well-suited to the task, and at times — like trying to figure out where gay people come from — it seems singularly unfit for the task. But then, homosexuality is not an entirely un-apt comparison. On the face of it, it does not improve reproductive fitness (again, various rationalisations offered by evolutionary bio to the contrary), but has persisted regardless. Could it be corrected with gene therapy? Quite possibly.

Should it? That's another question entirely.

It seems to me that the power of medical science crosses a line when it is, essentially, yoked to reinforce normative concepts of humanity or biological completeness. If we can use viruses to "treat" deafness or colourblindness, aren't we essentially genetically defining a human "ideal"? Is a pathological view of human variation really appropriate? Is this the right path to be heading down? Was Aldous Huxley prescient — and, more importantly: was he right?

Vulpecula
19.04.2010 - 3h43
Comrade Alex
19.04.2010 - 4h43

You can use this form to add a comment to this page!

Name:

Website:

Comment:

You will be identified by the name you provide. Once posted, comments may not be edited. For markup, use 'bulletin board' code: [i][/i] for italic, [b][/b] for bold, [ind][/ind] to indent, [url=][/url] for URLs, and [quote=Author|Date][/quote] for quotes (you can leave the date blank but you need the pipe). HTML is not allowed. Neither is including your website :)