Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wee willies that no longer respond to a warm globe

               "If the idea spreads that pollution is affecting not just whales but also willies, 
                   I think we might witness sudden conversions to environmentalism."**

Environmental effects of human activity remain controversial, particularly because of the active opposition of conservative political groups. We've been slow to halt or reverse air pollution, and we're dragging our feet one climate change--the two are of course connected because of the burning of fossil fuels.  Because it has economic implications, the problem clearly mixes science and social politics.  But if some consequences of climate change were to be more in hand, and thus very clear, the otherwise rather vague idea might, by being brought so closely home, be a springboard to corrective action.  A recent report** alerted us to a consequence of environmental degradation that, if more widely known, might help reduce the controversy, and get everyone moving toward the same goal, reversing the damage.

Global warming has many consequences, but most of them rather general, gradual and of only ambiguous long-term implications.  Thus, perhaps no implication can hit home more poignantly and persuasively than one that directly impacts our most intimate personal lives.  As background to this report, we know that carbon (denoted C) and oxygen (O) in molecular combination are greenhouse gasses that are accumulating in our atmosphere, arguably at least in major part because of human combustion of fossil fuels.

Briefly, excess carbon dioxide (CO2) in the upper atmosphere, and carbon monoxide (CO) lower down have been steadily increasing and are widely believed to have caused many changes in both natural and human ecology.  But the data are so complex, involving sensitive measurement challenges of many different global factors, that they are rather hard to get one's head around.  The result has enabled opponents of environmental action to dispute whether climate change is real, and even if so, whether it has done more than cause things like occasional smog alerts in Beijing and overall mean global temperature to increase, with consequent glacial melting.  The skeptical opposing view is that all that the data are suggesting, at most, is temporary natural variation in the normal earthly ecology.

Those who resist the climate scientists' idea that we need to change our behavior to prevent further damage, or who may even think the whole idea is some sort of plot by Democrats (or worse, tree-huggers), do not react to these climate changes with alarm. Even if they believe the data, and indeed even if they say, for the purposes of argument, that climate change is caused by humans, they simply point out that people have always had to deal with one sort of crisis or another, often even ecological ones like the decline of Mayan or Mesopotamian or Indus Valley civilizations.  It's the natural course of events, whose personal consequences for us are hardly experienced.  As for future human generations, the argument is, they will just have to adapt, as humans have always done, even if that means major dislocation, food or resource wars, or societal disruption.  We ourselves should not be asked to give up our quality of life to give future generations a kind of free pass that neither we nor our forebears ever had.  Future quality of life may be different from ours, but people will recover or adjust in their own way.

However, the new report** hits right at the heart of the latter assumption, the very notion of future generations!

COnic section (dotted line); schematic
'Does size matter?' is no longer just a joke!
The new data differ from the existing climate reports because they finally show an important effect of ecological damage.  It is a rather sensitive or awkward finding to discuss and perhaps has received less publicity as a result.  But the fact is that there is a strong correlation between reduction in penis size and global warming.  We find that this is based on COnic section samples from the organ at birth (shown in a hopefully respectful schematic way in the above figure).  These appear to be hard data, not just whimsical speculation with a political agenda in mind.

The second figure, below, shows the relationship over the past 50 years, the period for which there are reliable data.  Clearly, as air pollution levels rise the cross-section size declined.  The smaller size may be a direct ecological effect on the quality of life or, indeed, on the very future of humanity. Whereas in the past, climate change data were rather abstract, the new data hit so close to home that one would expect sensitive people finally to stand up and take note.  Even scientists care about such things in a way that goes beyond the impersonal nature of Big Data spewing from their computers. "These wee willies just give me the willies!" one investigator said as part of our inquiry.

Pollution (black) vs organ size (red), 1957-2013

Genital size is relatively easy to measure, a single, simple indicator that does not require the expensive instrumentation, not to mention computer modeling that is required to analyze more general figures on global warming.  While scientists are careful to caution that it is very difficult to claim that global warming is causally responsive for the observed organic change, the  clarity of the data suggest that one can at least hope that some parts of our society will try to rise to the challenge.  Even if one dismisses the association as not clearly being a directly causal one because, for example, it is ultimately due to a correlation with some unmeasured factor(s), a reduction in global warming could also reduce those intermediate influences, and thus halt the observed trend.

Many effects of ecological change have been dismissed as fads, falsely reported 'trends', or even faked evidence, a kind of self-supporting conspiracy for funding and attention among the climate and ecological scientists, who urge their view as a political tactic to rankle their politically conservative opponents.  Communication on the subject has become so angry that in our society today the one hand doesn't really know what the other hand is up to.

The importance of the new data is that even after many years of steady stories on climate change and its implications, as a society in general, we seem not to have been able to take abstract facts, like sea-level height or the bushel yield of wheat, seriously, because they don't appeal to our deepest or more immediate emotions.  We must acknowledge even as we urge respect for the sciences that face complex analytic data problems, that not all the abstract science in the world can change that.  But wee willies may entail the emotions that one needs to reach, if widespread political change is to be hoped for.

This new report gets to the nub of the effects on human behavior of our wanton destruction of the environment.  But, sensitive though the subject is, or perhaps because of that, we may finally have the kind of hard-hitting report required to shake the complacency and stir up a call to action.

**This post reflects my reading of original reporting by U. Eco, as published in the recent issue of Numero Zero, which is widely available.  Interpretations are of course my own.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Good Tidings from Jolly Ol' St Nickase!

Here are some good tidings for the season!


I saw three SNPs come sequenced in
On CRISPR day, on CRISPR day
Yes all three SNPs came sequenced in
On CRISPR day in the morning
On CRISPR day in the morning
And what was with those SNPs all three
On CRISPR day, on CRISPR day?
And what was with those SNPs all three
On CRISPR day in the morning?
On CRISPR day in the morning
The TracrRNAs were there
On CRISPR day, on CRISPR day
The Spacers and Repeats were there
On CRISPR day in the morning
And HDR the changes made
On CRISPR day, on CRISPR day
Oh, with all the target changes made!
On CRISPR day in the morning

Then let all the lab rejoice again
On CRISPR day, on CRISPR day
Then let all the lab rejoice again
On CRISPR day in the morning!


Good news, ye merry gentlemen,
Now nothing you’ll dismay,
Remember that our Savior
Was born on CRISPR-day
To save poor souls from Mutant’s power,
Which long had gone awry.
And it is tidings of comfort and joy.

In genes that were our father's
The blessed changes came
Unto some certain Cas9 kit,
With tidings of the same;
That he was born in perfect health
The Son-of-CRISPR, named.   
Oh! tidings of comfort and joy, etc.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

In our book, THE BABY MAKERS, we wonder about wondering about where babies come from

Many of you know that Anne and I are writing a head-trip-of-a book together.*

The first popular article to come from our project is now published on-line at Scientific American

I did much of the work on this years ago. So you can imagine how excited I am to see it get out and into the light.

The piece asks whether Koko the gorilla, and other animals, could possibly link sex and babies. 

Whether your gut says of course not or of course, let us show your gut the actual evidence.

The printed January issue should hit the shelves in a week...

Oh, baby.
... our book, The Baby Makers, which has more space for us to explore more curious territory, should hit the shelves a bit later, geologically speaking.

*which is still without contract. Here's how to fix that:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Let's be intelligent about intelligence

A lot of confusion reins over assertions about whether a physical or even behavioral trait is  'genetic'. There are several reasons for this.  One is the difference between mechanism and variation. Every human trait is genetic in the first sense: an organism develops from a fertilized egg because it has genes, and without its genes it could do or even be nothing.  So every trait is 'genetic' in the mechanism sense. But the other meaning of 'genetic' has to do with variation, and that is where the difficulty and often the contention lies.  The assertion that a trait is 'genetic' in this sense means that some people with a trait, or a particular trait measure, have it because of some particular genotype. That is, we all differ in the trait because of causal genetic differences.  Identifying genetic mechanisms or demonstrating that genetic variation is responsible for variation in a trait are genuine challenges.

Searching for genetic mechanisms responsible for, say, heart disease is one of those challenges.  It's difficult scientifically, but unlike with some other traits, the scientific question isn't politically loaded. Many people fervently want to stress the genetic role in intelligence, for example, and it's often for thinly disguised racist or elitist reasons.  A common response to almost any suggestion that an individual's intelligence might not be inborn, due to variants in his/her inherited genotype (meaning built-into the person's DNA sequence), is an accusation that the person is in denial of reality (but see our Dec 14 post about genetics and dialectics).  But who is really denying reality in such cases?  In our view, it is those who misperceive or misuse measures like heritability and have deep, emotional commitment to inborn destiny.

And, again, it's pretty clear that just slightly beneath the surface is often a racist or other discriminatory agenda: "let's identify 'them' and do something about it, to 'improve' them or prevent them from harming everybody else" (Trump's throw the Muslims out campaign, or the reluctance to invest 'our' resources in groups with inferior IQ, or in the worst case, eliminate them). If it's important to understand why people behave as they do (intelligence being just one aspect of behavior; there are of course many others), the argument goes, then one needs to know if it's genetic, that is, built into the genome at conception!  Again, then depending on who such knowledge is important to, individuals in the population can (should, must) be tested.

Of course, it's worth asking carefully whether what's really being looked for are individual differences, or group differences.  Why 'we' (those in power) 'need' (that is, want) to know which of 'their' behaviors are built-in, is unclear, but seems frequently to justify acting in discriminatory ways, favoring some and neglecting others.  In other words, of course intelligence is the result of gene action, but the argument is really about variation rather than mechanism.

But before we address these issues, it is worth providing a quick description of the core of the 'scientific' basis of the argument, which typically rests on a measure called 'heritability' (denoted here by H but typically written h-squared).

Heritability: simple-sounding word, but a slippery measure
When the genetics of intelligence, or most other behavioral traits for that matter, is considered, the proof that they are genetic is usually that their heritability is high.  Heritability has been known for decades to be a rough indirect indicator of genetic mechanistic cause, but it's a very elusive measure. The usual measure of H is basically the ratio of the amount of variation in genes (G) divided by the amount of variation in genes + variation in environment, G/(G+E), all within a particular sample at a particular time.  This is estimated typically by comparing the trait measure in relatives, since close relatives share specifiable fractions of their respective genetic variants.

This figure schematically shows the scatter of genetic similarities, each dot being values of the measure in an offspring compared to the average of its mother and father.  The figure shows the difference in such correlations if environmental effects are great and genetic variation accounts for only 10% of the similarity (left panel), or small where the environments contribute only 10% (right).

From Wikimedia images, taken from Nature

H in itself measures no specific genes or gene-variants, nor any specific environmental variants.  To avoid some confounding or confusing contributors to the trait, various additional types of sample are often studied or comparisons made, such as between adoptees vs biological children, or dizygous vs monozygous twins. Heritability studies also often try to remove correlations among relatives that are due to shared family environments that could, in the computation, falsely appear as genetic.  While these strategies are not useless, they are well-known to be imperfect.

Since the measure H is a ratio that depends on the particular conditions in your particular sample, if one of the terms (G or E) were to change, even within that same sample, the H value would also change. In other words, let the same population (the exact same set of genotypes) experience changed environments, and H will change. In that sense H is not an absolute measure of how genetic a trait is, but of how relatively important it is.  Let us repeat that--heritability is not a definitive measure of the genetic contribution to a trait.  It is about its context in a particular sample.

Every study of traits like IQ test scores, used as hopeful stand-ins for 'intelligence', shows that there is substantial heritability, though usually far below 1.0.  That means that environmental effects are important, usually predominant, even if genetic variation is contributing as well.  That's about all that H measures show.  'Environment' in this sense tells us nothing in itself about what the specific individual contributing factors might be, because they don't behave the way genetic factors do, thanks to the rules of genetic transmission from parent to offspring; environmental factors don't have theoretically specifiable patterns of clustering among people or even among relatives. The apparent environmental component estimated in H studies can also include things like chance, testing inadequacy, measurement error and so on.

The undeniable bottom line is that variation in traits like intelligence test performance is certainly affected by genetic variation because the trait itself is mechanistically affected by genes. But that is a crude and almost useless fact because the genetic component is generally polygenic, meaning that it is affected by large numbers of varying genomic elements, each making very small individual contributions. Here, we conveniently ignore whether current fad factors such as microbiomic or epigenetic effects are relevant, because each of them is variable, in each population or sample, and over time--even in each individual over time--and could in principle be inherited and hence appear in families as being 'genetic'.

What this means is that even each individual's inborn genetic component will be very different, that is, each of us will have different combinations of variants at tens or hundreds (or more) of contributing gene regions.  The predictability of achieved results from genomes, much less individual variants, will be correspondingly small, practically useless, as we've clearly seen for so many other complex traits (GWAS results, for example, even of IQ test scores). If we could measure environments the way we can measure genomic variation, they would be similarly complex with many individual factors involved, most with individually weak effects.  As with genotypes, the complexity of these environmental factors would mean each person is unique and predictions are weak, and that changing circumstances and imprecision in the risk estimates would have a large potential effect on each person's achieved results.  We've discussed these limitations (and the overselling) of genetic association studies many times here.

But, if one is determined to pry into everyone's inherent worth, here's how to do it properly:
Here's an idea: Let society decide that we want to know the real genetic truth about behaviors, not just the mechanisms but the effect of variation among individuals.  To do that, we must pass legislation to ensure that all environmental factors that contribute to behavior--all of them!--are exactly the same for everyone, from conception onward.  Once that is done, variation in test performance will be entirely due to genes, since the environmental variance, E, would be zero, so that H would be 1.0.  Now we can see how strongly genes in general, or individual genetic variants, determined results.  However, we assert with confidence that the result of individual genetic prediction would still be hopelessly complex in most cases (excepting, for example, clearly pathogenic genetic variants, which we know to be rare, and even they are usually not simple).

But this is of course a fantasy: making environmental effects uniform for everyone is obviously impossible, for at least two reasons.  First, we can't make the climate in Maine like that in Florida or California.  We can't have identical schools everywhere, or the same number of books in every home, or the same number of words spoken to each infant at each developmental stage.  And so on.  So maybe a more realistic idea would be to make the environmental variation the same everywhere, so that in a sense it was a kind of uniformly distributed 'error' term in measuring genetic effects.  Of course that can't be done either, for the same sorts of reason.

Secondly, genes don't work on their own, but interact with 'environments' in almost every imaginable way, and certainly in the development of the brain.  That means that separating G and E (as in G+E) is clearly an oversimplification of something very poorly understood.  Even fixing the same environment everywhere would not have the same effect on every genotype.

The bottom line, in reality, is that arguments, usually by those in privilege, that behaviors (and hence their societal value) are inherent, are almost inevitably working some other form of self-advantaging agenda.  Racism is right beneath the surface in much of this, but so are xenophobia and class differences.  So are hopes of producing babies with some desired property.  That's clear from the history of the subject.

Since it's impossible to think that society could make environments uniform for everyone so all that's left is genetic variation, the next most salubrious thing a society could do would be to provide the best environmental conditions for all of its members to thrive in, not expecting everyone to achieve the same but at least to have safe, satisfactory lives.  More socioeconomic equity by the elimination of poverty and privilege would be a solution if such equity were the real objective. Of course since the beginning of history this has been the stated goal of those who bemoan the unfairness of society (though less so of others who say we're inherently unequal and we ought to reward the privileged).  We gain little by peering into individual genomic 'souls' and condemning those found genetically wanting to fates that we, in the elite, decide is best for them (inevitably making sure we stay at the top).

This doesn't seem too cynical a view of the subject: If what those who assert the deep importance of genetics of behavior really want is for society to be fair, the first thing is to understand the environmental effects that obviously are the predominant causes of behavioral variation, and rectify the inequities.  Let society ensure that everyone has the same conditions: no upper class advantages in schools, ballet lessons, Kaplan prep courses for SATs to get them into Princeton, no jobs to get through family or parents' contacts, same number of books in every house, no corner drug dealers nor rats in the hallways in poor neighborhoods......  Or, how about broader 'intelligence' testing ideas, to include smarts like the ability to read defenses in basketball while flying through the air, or work a fork-lift efficiently, or fix one of today's complicated cars....

is a complex factor that is misused as much as it is used, because there are too many reasons to interpret its computational subtleties in ways that conveniently favor one's own social agenda. Not everyone interprets these issues in this way, but behaviors like intelligence are too juicy for those with such intentions to resist.  But, yes, let's be scientific, and commit to a concerted effort to make H approach 1.0, so that we can really understand the genetic contributions--that is, to make test-score differences really 'genetic'!  Then we could make sense of 'genetic' causes.  But, would any serious thinker believe it would be very useful?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas lights and/or lights out?

Wikimedia commons

Maybe you're too young or have just forgotten the early 1970s Arab oil embargo, but there's a sobering, if not depressing lesson to be had by recalling it.  At that time, oil supplies were limited as a way of forcing up the price.  People waited in long lines to fill up their gas tanks.

And then responded by lowering the speed limit to improve gas mileage, and by restricting the amount of gas that could be bought.

Rational rationing response (Wikimedia images)
Rational realities  (Wikimedia images)
How short is our memory!  At that time, Toyota and a few others (like a more honest VW then) made cars that were inexpensive, very easy to fix (as even I could do!), reliable, with much better fuel economy than most cars get today. We suddenly realized that we'd been living too high on the hog, and that it was time to tighten our belts--for everyone's collective good.  And we did not like being dependent on somebody else for our lives. Saving, economy, restraint, and self-sufficiency were actually popular, even here in the US.  'More' was not the only word in our vocabulary; small was beautiful as a widespread slogan of the '70s had it.  Of course, as soon as the embargo ended, auto-makers started puffing up their cars.

How times have changed!  Today's immediate news is all about the urgent need for stalling climate change.  Those who want to feel virtuous are using LED light bulbs and driving (expensive) hybrid cars.  Note the word 'driving', because our way of life still supports burgeoning suburbs that require driving (your Prius) many miles a day, even just to get a bottle of milk.  Pump prices are low--and Wall Street is bleating!  All the car makers, including Toyota, have been making, marketing, and selling road hog cars way bigger than most people have any need for.  Hardly anyone is complaining.  It's not even clear if the feel-gooders buying hybrids are actually saving much if any fossil fuels, given the environmental and cost issues of the batteries, and so on.  Even so, the total usage is up.

Not only were speed limits reduced to what were fuel-efficient speeds, street lights were turned out at night. And, then-President Jimmy Carter did things like put solar panels on the roof of the White House, use a wood stove for heat, and (though a Baptist, or perhaps because he had a sincere faith) requested that people not use Christmas lights in 1979 and 1980.  They might have been nice to look at, but they used energy that we realized we should save.

But...but we're now saving the earth!!!
The news media are currently blaring self-satisfied stories about how the Paris conference (that is, the countless delegates who flew there, and ate lots of meals requiring imported food) actually came to an agreement about possibly, maybe, we'll see, restrictions of fossil fuel usage.  Hopefully, they'll at least do the limited things they say.  So, brush your hands off in gratitude, and believe that we'll really 'save the earth'!

Has saving the earth sunk in?  From Wikimmedia images

However as the above picture shows, the depth of understanding is, one could say, rather shallow. Unlike the '70s, within living memory, the idea of real curtailing of our energy wastage is long forgotten in today's post-conference feel-good moments.

Yes, gaudy holiday lights (even imported by ship from very far away) don't individually use up much energy.  And, I mean, shouldn't we be able to show off our piety to our neighbors, even out-do them in that respect?  We don't need to save the earth that much, surely!

Symbolic restraint like LED light bulbs and (relatively) fuel-efficient cars show that the issues in reality have hardly sunk in.  The idea that we might actually realize what restraint in lifestyle would mean, if we were to take equity and posterity seriously, seems far-fetched.  Symbolic gestures -- like squiggly light bulbs -- that still allow us to keep up what we've been doing all along make us feel good.  But without a serious self-imposed embargo on our behavior, all the news stories and hand-wringing about climate change is false piety.  But that's nothing new, a delusion not all that different from religion.

But, of course, it must all be OK, because now we're finally saving the earth!

Ah, well, it might seem unseemly, in this Holiday season, but I can't help but wonder how many people in our world could be fed and have a decent life if we did even a little bit less driving and flying, and turned off these beautiful lights.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Genetics in an age of fundamentalism

I heard a program the other day on the BBC Radio 4's In Our Time about the origins, rise, and persistence of Chinese Legalism. Introduced in the 4th century BC, and the hallmark of the rule of the first emperor, the philosophy of Legalism was based on laws and their strict implementation.  It was the basis of a brutal, authoritarian state, elements of which have lasted 2500 years.

Here's one description (found here):
...Legalism is a Classical Chinese philosophy that emphasizes the need for order above all other human concerns. The political doctrine developed during the brutal years of the Fourth Century BCE. The Legalists believed that government could only become a science if rulers were not deceived by pious, impossible ideals such as "tradition" and "humanity." In the view of the Legalists, attempts to improve the human situation by noble example, education, and ethical precepts were useless. Instead, the people needed a strong government and a carefully devised code of law, along with a policing force that would stringently and impartially enforce these rules and punish harshly even the most minor infractions. 
                                                                                              L. Kip Wheeler 
To overly simplify, but I'm just trying to make a point, in Legalism, allegiance must be paid to the role of the ruler, rather than to a particular leader.  And, the system of rulership is absolute.  Further, Legalism views people as much easier to control if they are uneducated, and there's no sense in which they are expected to improve themselves.

In contrast, another ancient Chinese philosophy, Confucianism, was much more benevolent, with an optimistic view of human potential; people are basically good, and if taught new things they can be cultivated into better people.  Confucians see authority and leadership as something everyone has the potential to achieve, whereas in Legalism, the ruler dictates and people are expected to follow.

This contrast between people as good and improvable vs inherently evil, the absolute vs the relative, is of course a familiar dialectic, not at all restricted to philosophy of nation states.  Theism vs agnosticism,  laissez faire or free market vs regulation, the US Constitution as fixed or as flexible, cultural relativism vs universal human rights, free will vs predetermination, and of course tabula rasa or blank slate vs inherency, or nature vs nurture.


The consistency with which people view the world in either absolute or relative terms is curious to me, and indicates that we aren't necessarily learning from observation, evaluating and interpreting the facts as we see them as we go about choosing our favorite economic system, or whether cultural practices that are alien to our own have any merit.  It seems instead that we've got an a priori view of the world that informs those decisions, an ideology that guides us in what turns out to be a fairly predictable direction.  In a loopy sort of way, those with an absolutist ideology would say that that ideology is genetic (and, indeed, that things like how we vote are genetic), while those with a relativist ideology would disagree, saying it's learned.

But at least our mythology about science is that it's supposed to be fact-driven, not ideological.  Often it is, though how do most people decide whether or not they accept that humans are driving climate change, or that all life evolved from a common ancestor?  Unless we're climate scientists or evolutionary biologists, we generally don't have the knowledge to evaluate the data in any meaningful way.  So these decisions become ideological.  In that sense, facts do not rule, not even in relation to science.

And what about the role of genes in making us who we are?  Ken and I have been sneeringly called "blank slaters" more than once, because we don't embrace the idea that who we are is determined by our genes.  The assumption is that if one doesn't accept that genes are always destiny, one must accept that they never are.

But, there's another way, and it's more subtle, and more nuanced, and that is to recognize that there's a continuum of gene action, from predictable to unpredictable.  Some alleles pretty reliably are associated with a given trait (alleles associated with Tay Sachs or cystic fibrosis), while others are not (APOE4 and dementia, HFE and  hemochromatosis).  With a few exceptions, specific genetic variants can't be predicted from most complex traits, and vice versa.  So, sometimes Legalism might be a good analogy for the relationship between genes and traits -- dictator, strong-arm genes -- and sometimes Confucianism; genes interacting with environment.  But there's also Daoism, another ancient Chinese philosophy, which taught that people were to live in harmony with nature, that government is unnatural, and that the best government is a weak government -- no dictator genes, mostly environment.

It used to be said that one's politics could be predicted from one's stand on genetic determinism, but determinism has become so pervasive that this is no longer true.  Atheist free-market constitutional modernist cultural relativist Bernie Sanders supporters are as likely to be genetic determinists these days as are, well, the opposite.  Determinism has become a pervasive ideology, and this despite a lot of evidence to the contrary.  Philosophers of science have long tried to define and describe how science is done, but I think fundamentally, while science is different from a lot of other human endeavors in that we do have ways of verifying that we're learning things, the role of ideology in what we think we've learned should not be underestimated.  And in many ways, it is heavily affected by emotions and by scientists' personal situations (careers, biases, and so on), even when they try to be 'objective'.  In recent decades, some 'science studies' work has clearly shown this (even if the practitioners have their own sociocultural axes to grind); given human nature, it should be no surprise. 

When did Lyndon Johnson propose the Great Society in the US?  It was in the mid 1960's, when we saw communism as a huge threat.  We reacted by becoming more like our 'enemy'.  Is it too simplistic to suggest that the same could be happening now, when our 'enemy' is religious fundamentalism?