Letters to my grandchildren
NewSouth, $29.99 pb, 248 pp, 9781742234472
David Suzuki is well known in this country. Since he was brought to Australia by the Commission for the Future nearly thirty years ago, he has been back for many festivals and conferences. Truly a man of many parts, he was a distinguished geneticist and a leading professor in the field when it emerged as a separate discipline within the biological sciences. As a famous science communicator, he made complex issues accessible to Canadian audiences. His understanding of science led him to be a powerful advocate for environmental protection and the broader social changes needed for sustainable futures.
As the title suggests, this is a reflective book, distilling important messages from a long and productive life. As a child of Japanese parents in Canada during World War II, Suzuki was interned with his family, genetic heritage prevailing over citizenship. This treatment was consistent with other examples of early misuse of genetics, such as the Nazi drive for racial purity, which justified forced sterilisation and mass murder. Suzuki notes that there were laws in the United States and Canada to prevent marriage between people from different racial groups, based on a view that the mixing of their genes would produce ‘disharmonious combinations’. We now know about hybrid vigour, or heterosis, so if eugenics were still being practised we might actively encourage more adventurous sexual unions. Suzuki also points out that the treatment of indigenous people in North America and Australia was based on an assumed racial superiority that justified the seizure of land, the suppression of languages and cultures, and such practices as the removal of children from their mothers. While we no longer subscribe to the legal fiction of terra nullius, which supported the alienation of the original Australians from their land, we have not yet acknowledged their prior ownership or properly recognised our debt to them.