I?ve half-joked before that, purely because of this basic point, sociologists should welcome human cloning with open arms. Technically achieving the sort of things many people imagine they could do with cloning ? recreate a lost child or relative, produce a new version of themselves ? would in fact have just the opposite effect. It would show just how important social structure, local environment and historical contingencies are to forming people. And that?s without even getting in to the metaphysical questions of what?s essential about people?s identity. Some people are going to be really upset when they realize that the genome is not some kind of magic essence of self. I hope public understanding catches up with the reality before actual cloned people are subject to the resentment of their creators.
Is that really the current state of public understanding, though? It’s true that the last few years have produced a flood of headlines about the genetic basis of various personality characteristics, but surely very few people believe that genes are the sole basis of personality, do they?
I’m genuinely sort of curious about this. One of the things I find annoying about the whole nature/nurture debate is that both sides have a tendency to portray the other side in its maximalist version, whereas I’ve never read a single book, article, pamphlet, or blog post that suggested personality was anything other than some mysterious combination of both. The maximalist position (all nature, all nurture) just doesn’t exist today in mainstream discourse.
In any case, we already know the answer to the clone question. Identical twins are clones, and although twins can be remarkably similar, any parent of twins can tell you that they also have very distinct personalities. It’s not all in the genes.
On the other hand, it might be different for cats and dogs. I mean, I’d like to pretend that Inkblot has such a distinct personality that I could tell him apart from his hypothetical clone, but I wonder if I really could? Just for starters, he’s only conscious for four or five hours out of every day, and the rest of the time he mostly just sits around and looks sort of puzzled. I’ll bet a clone wouldn’t be much different.
Or would he?