As evidence he is not a cartoonish rich man, Mitt Romney has invoked a political form of the discarded theory of Lamarckism while talking about how his father grew up poor and worked with his hands. As evidence that he wrote "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" out of his love for the auto industry, Romney writes in the Detroit News Tuesday that when his dad took over American Motors, "I was 7 and got my love of cars and chrome and fins and roaring motors from him." This is startling evidence Romney believes in the evolutionary theory debunked a century ago known as Lamarckism: "the idea that an organism can pass on characteristics that it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring."
The theory goes something like this: giraffes have long necks because they stretched to reach high-up leaves, and they passed that lengthening down to their babies. It's named for Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), and it was cast aside for Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, which says that instead of animals passing on acquired characteristics, they pass on mutations in their DNA. (Hair color is passed down; appreciation for hip-hop is not.) But the discarded theory still has some adherents, at least in politics. Romney is not the only well-educated American elite who has fallen victim to this bad science. So did The New York Times' David Brooks, who wrote extensively last month about how Romney must be a hard worker thanks to the heredity of acquired characteristics. That Romney -- who went to private schools and did his missionary work in Paris -- was "corrupted by ease and luxury" is "preposterous," Brooks writes. It makes much more sense, he argues, to imagine that Romney is not a product of his privileged upbringing, but instead has hard work in his DNA because his great-great-grandfather was chased to Mexico by anti-Mormon mobs and rebuilt his life there. Yes, great-great-grandfather. But Brooks didn't just cite the hardships faced by Romney's GGF, he also pointed to his GF, and, of course, his F.