A Non-Participant’s Critique of Dr. Bauman’s Deaf-Gain Presentation
Dirksen contends that deaf people contribute a gain to humanity. But central to his argument is simply that they add to humanity’s diversity.
The Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852 is a well-known example of dangers of homogeneity in food production. Not a lot of people remember that potato actually originated in the Americas. It was introduced to Europe in the late 16th century by the Spaniards following their conquest of the Inca Empire. Potato has thousands of varieties, but a limited variety was introduced to Europe, making their crop vulnerable to disease. This makes heterogeneity in food production, or more generally, genetic diversity, essential, vital, imperative, and what have you.
A lot of people remember that the Americas’ original populations were decimated by the diseases introduced by the Europeans: smallpox, measles, and diphtheria, to name a few. Amerindians hadn’t needed genetic defenses against them. The conditions were so different in the Americas such that there was low selective pressure on Amerindians’ HLA genes. The HLA system (for human leukocyte antigen) is our immune system’s missile guidance system. When a virus infects a cell, HLA molecules display viral proteins on the outside of the cell, so that those infected cells can be destroyed by the immune system. By combating crowd diseases and animal diseases over thousands of years, Europeans retained high HLA diversity in their genes. But Amerindians didn’t have that diversity.
Diversity is all. If true, Alexander Graham Bell, by his ignorance of genetics, was on a misguided mission to homogenize humanity, most noticeably his 1884 essay, “Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race.” This means he was, in actuality, promoting dysgenics. If genetic diversity is what truly brings about improvement to humanity, Dirksen is, then, promoting true eugenics.
Why are there deaf genes? Several deaf genes exist, but the most common for European descendants is connexin-26 deafness. Since it is one of recessive genetic “disorders” that are common in Europe and the Middle East, like cystic fibrosis, alpha-1-antitrypsin, and hemochromatosis, all nonexistent in Amerindians (discounting recent admixture), it must have mutated there for a reason. With confluence of diseases in Europe, this particular deaf gene probably has emerged as a side effect of genetic defenses, much like sickle-cell anemia is a side effect of genetic defenses against malaria. No one likes the thought of being a “side effect,” but as Dirksen would have it: It’s better than being decimated.