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There was a story this evening on PRI’s The World program about a man who had collected hair samples of the greatest people who ever lived.

I started to think about the implications of having the DNA of the Great Men of History, and what might happen if someone should, in the future, use modern technology to bring one of those guys back. Imagine Lincoln’s genetic clone walking the earth in 2050.

This put me in mind of a G.I. Joe special from my childhood. In it, G.I. Joe must stop COBRA, “a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world,” from assembling the DNA of all of the great tyrants in history to form Serpentor, the COBRA Emperor. After several days of fruitlessly chasing COBRA from one tomb to another, the enemy secures the DNA of Napoleon, Kahn, Ivan, etc., and fuses it into Serpentor. Serpentor is evil, ruthless, super-intelligent, and egotistical, in short, the worst man for the job. His genetic qualities combined with his having sprung fully grown from a test-tube make him a super megalomaniac, monomaniac, and narrow-thinking automaton, and his plans are thwarted by G.I. Joe in a sort of anti-climax which, even at age nine, let me down considerably. I invested five afternoons for that crap?

All of the preceding leads me to this thought: should we be stupid enough to clone a great man, say, Lincoln, who has one of the best documented lives in the English speaking world, and then raise that clone in the normal circumstances of the modern world, do you think his would possess the characteristics of his “great man” forerunner? Or do you suppose he would end up being a babbling idiot like most kids growing up today? And, most importantly, would such a cloning finally put to rest the nature-nurture argument?

WAC

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