One of the most prominent examples of experimental genetics is the infamous domesticated silver fox:
The domesticated silver fox …is a domesticated form of the silver morph of the red fox. As a result of selective breeding, the new foxes not only became tamer, but more dog-like as well…
Domesticated foxes exhibit both behavioral and physiological changes from their wild forebears. They are friendlier with humans, put their ears down (like dogs), wag their tails when happy, and vocalize, and bark like domesticated dogs. As a consequence of breeding, they also developed color patterns like domesticated dogs and lost their distinctive musky ‘fox smell’…
The experiment was initiated by scientists hoping to produce easier to handle fur animals and who were interested in the topic of domestication and the process by which wolves became tame domesticated dogs. They saw some retention of juvenile traits by adult dogs, both morphological ones, such as skulls that were unusually broad for their length, and behavioral ones, such as whining, barking, and submission…
[Project founder Dmitry] Belyaev believed that the key factor selected for [in the] domestication of dogs was not size or reproduction, but behavior; specifically, amenability to domestication, or tameability. He selected for low flight distance, that is, the distance one can approach the animal before it runs away. By selecting this behavior it mimics what happened through natural selection in the ancestral past of dogs. More than any other quality, Belyaev believed, tameability must have determined how well an animal would adapt to life among humans. Because behavior is rooted in biology, selecting for tameness and against aggression means selecting for physiological changes in the systems that govern the body’s hormones and neurochemicals. Belyaev decided to test his theory by domesticating foxes; in particular, the silver fox, a dark color form of the red fox. He placed a population of them in the same process of domestication, and he decided to submit this population to a strong selection pressure for inherent tameness.
The result is that Russian scientists now have a number of domesticated foxes that are fundamentally different in temperament and behavior from their wild forebears. Some important changes in physiology and morphology are now visible, such as mottled or spotted colored fur. Many scientists believe that these changes related to selecting for tameness are caused by lower adrenaline production in the new breed, which causes these physiological changes in a very small number of generations, thus allowing for these new genetic offshoots not present in the original species.
Bryant Gumbel once observed of former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his relationship with late NFL Players Union head Gene Upshaw:
Before he cleans out his office, have Paul Tagliabue show you where he keeps Gene Upshaw’s leash. By making the docile head of the players union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch.
While watching this TEDtalk by New York Times columnist David Brooks, I thought of silver foxes, Gene Upshaw, and how David Brooks would be the ideal sire for a selective breeding program to produce a tamer right-winger. Generation after generation, you’d just have to breed for floppy ears, wagging tails, and low flight distance and you’d eventually end up with a more amenable Loyal Opposition. American politics would be a simple matter of showing your successor where you kept David Brooks’ leash.
For the record, Brooks does take some well-aimed potshots at his TEDset/Davos-set masters. But his digs are in that long tradition of peasant humor where the serf was allowed to let off some steam while the lord of the manor reached for his knout to give the recalcitrant peasant a good whipping.
I’m confident the next generation of TED-ready, Davos-approved conservative will offer less lip.
And have floppier ears.