A truly heart-breaking display of the tragedy of the commons plays out on the centralised table displays of your local book shops and across the entirety of airport bookstores. At first glance they seem a placing of the finger upon the pulse of ‘what everyone else is reading.’ Those a bit more savoy in the ways of bookselling know this is actually a combined effort of publishers telling you what you should read and the rubbish everyone buys, hidden beneath a cleaver cover. For those who frequent these fading vestiges of physical literary marketing, trends can be noted. The essential division is between your fiction books, a series of historical fiction pieces and the rubbish that has demented the meaning of ‘popular’ fiction, and nonfiction. Within the nonfiction, once brushed past the dietary and supposedly ‘self-help’ books, one actually gets a small pulse reading. That reading of the subject of the month that popular academic writers are latched onto at any given moment. The latest of this small sub-culture of popular fiction has deemed race the hot topic of our current epoch. Whether or not these books are worth reading, they give us a good idea of what the pseudo intellectuals will be squawking about between sips of champagne and can give us a dangerous forecast of the real tragedy of the commons. That tragedy being how ignorant the masses can truly be. And on the topic of race, a more nauseating example would be hard to come by.
It is hard to say whether it is more disheartening that a book can be so well written yet tell nothing new, or when such books are hailed as brilliant insights by the words printed on their covers. Both the dietary books and the self-help books that would be so familiar from walking by various windows use the excuse of genetics to explain everything from cosmetic imperfections to unhealthy behavioural tendencies. Every problem seemed to have a gene tied to it. It wasn’t that alcoholism was anyone’s fault, be that God or man, it was just genetic. The same went for other addictions, even to chocolate! What one could do in life from sports to having a great intellect all depended on what was passed from parent to child. Yet this was too simple and as exceptions piled up, popular science needed to make a quantum leap to catch up to the science that those in the field had known since the days of Darwin and before. Yes, what passed from parent to child via chromosomal multiplying, only provided an image of the potentials before an unborn child. Combinations of genes into complex phenotypic displays and the chance of random shifts and mutations provided for a much wider picture than the casual reader could have once imagined. Yet, even as popular science explored the much more complex world of genetics, a narrative survived that set out to explain why humans can be so different. It too was a discussion that dated back to Darwin, yet through a combined effort of certain scientist wishing not to be the bad guys of history and a greater, yet more private curiosity to many, asked why people from one part of the world look different from those of the other. Unadulterated genetics answered this question over a hundred years ago yet the concept of race remained an idea too great to simply dismiss or even scientifically disprove.