Our Shortsighted Rulers

Letter From England

Laser beam surgery has now made it possible to correct many common eye defects caused by irregularities in the shape of the lens of the eve relative to the size of the eyeball. For those with severely impaired eyesight, this means a welcome escape from a serious handicap. However, for children who are only mildly shortsighted, the operation could cause problems as well as benefits, for myopia is a source of success and social mobility. Some have argued that there is a correlation between myopia and innate intelligence, which are simultaneously caused by two related patterns of genes. It has even been suggested that the manifest success of spectacle-wearing peoples such as the Japanese and the Jews and the relative failure of members of ethnic groups with good eyesight merely reflects this correlation. Whether this hypothesis is true or not may never be determined, for it is far too politically incorrect a theory to receive the research funding necessary to test it.

Rather, it is generally assumed by those who hold power in the health, education, and welfare bureaucracies that the link is an environmental one. For most of human history the myopic were failures and doomed to the earK death that was the fate of those who could not see a charging mammoth, an enraged hippo or a horde of scimitar-waving Mamelukes until it was too late. In the modern world, by contrast, success goes to those who concentrate all their attention on objects...

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