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Nurture vs Nature - Cloning a Football Team

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Ever since the cloning of Dolly the Sheep, there has been a great deal of brouhaha in the press regarding the rights and wrongs of cloning. Perhaps in concurrence with the atheistic existentialist viewpoint that mankind is a malignant cancer, systematically breaking down and destroying the system on which it feeds, cloning will only hasten the demise of the planet.

Nevertheless, some will argue that there may be some benefits to be earned by indulging in a spot of selective replication. Indeed, for example, the English Football Association may be persuaded to back research into cloning a left-sided attacking genius such as Ryan Giggs, although there would need to be hard evidence to the fore that his Welshness would not get the better of him for a second time, as well it might1.

There was once a man who said, 'Damn!
It is borne in upon me I am
An engine that moves
In predestinate grooves
I'm not even a bus, I'm a tram'.

- Maurice Evan Hare

There is a materialist school of thought that subscribes to the theory that life itself is a predetermined chain of events over which one does not have any control. In this view, physically, a human could be said to be merely an (admittedly complex) concoction of various elements, mainly carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, each DNA combination supposedly unique. A logical extension of the theory of Newtonian Mechanics (albeit unmeasurable due to chaos theory) is that given a unique set of circumstances and stimuli, any given human being, like any biochemical object responding to physical stimuli, is programmed to make a certain decision, react in a certain way or behave in a certain manner. As much as nurture and nature can be said both to shape conscious thought and to influence the decision making process, action and reaction are predeterminable; if it were possible to accurately recreate with infinite precision every aspect of a particular person and their circumstance, then it would be possible to predetermine their decision and action, indecision and inaction. In an exactly parallel universe, there would be an exact doppelganger for every person, and their lives and universe would be identical to our own.

Thus, and in accordance with the Greek natural philosopher Democritus, it is arguable that Ryan Giggs himself is (paradoxically) simply a complex hydrocarbon which behaves in accordance with external stimuli, and that in any parallel universe, which by definition ought to be identical, Giggs II might choose to behave identically and be true to his Celtic roots.

Thus, accepting the postulate that Ryan Giggs' predilection to lie on the Welsh side of Offa's Dyke is fated, either by destiny or by nature, then it would be pointless trying to replicate him without possessing the Gattacist2 know-how required to engineer into him some Englishness. Alternatively, and assuming that Giggs II would behave identically to Giggs I, FIFA may change the rules so that Giggs II's schoolboy efforts for England effectively secure his nationality as English.

If Pele hadn't been born a man, he'd have been born a ball.
- Armando Noguiera, Brazilian Journalist

Borne out of the age-old Nurture vs Nature debate, an alternative viewpoint would offer that Giggs II's Welshness may be either learned or biological. Classically, Plato held that the role of 'nurture', or experience, over nature was far less than common sense might suggest. According to Plato, a child begins life with knowledge already present within him - there is no such thing as learning new things, 'what we call learning is really just recollection'. Similar views were argued by Descartes in the 17th Century. Conversely, Descartes' English contemporary John Locke argued that there are no innate ideas, recognising that human beings are innately equipped with minds capable of a variety of operations, but denying that this initial endowment includes any particular ideas or knowledge.

Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from experience.
- John Locke (evidently not strong in mathematics)

Human intellectual achievements are, more generally and in all ways that matter, purely cultural developments, and only to a trivial extent are they predetermined by our biology. Thus, in order to Anglicise the man, it may be a simple task of nurturing Giggs II on a diet of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (or chicken tikka masala) in lieu of mutton, leeks and laver bread.

Genetic control will be the weapon of the future
- Jeanette Winterson

Despite the prima facie3 attraction of such a route, there might however be something of a drawback to this approach for the future of football. As cloning becomes less taboo, it is surely conceivable that every nation will manage to cobble together a Dream Team XI from borrowed genetic material (eg a hair or two brushed from one of Pele's impeccable suits or some belly button lint garnered from the inside of one of Marco Van Basten's jerseys), and something similar to the following line-up might become all-too familiar in World Cups of the future.

  1. Lev Yashin
  2. Paolo Maldini
  3. Carlos Alberto
  4. Johan Cruyff
  5. Franz Beckenbauer
  6. Bobby Moore
  7. Garrincha
  8. Michel Platini
  9. Pele
  10. Marco Van Basten
  11. George Best

Thus, it is probable that trade in genetic material will surely evolve just as the trade in nuclear materials has done, eventually precipitating a UN-sponsored non-proliferation treaty.

1One of the key contributions to English football's failure to compete in recent years has been an inability to produce a naturally left-sided quality attacking player - a good outside left. It is often suggested that England-based Welshman Ryan Giggs could have filled that left-sided void more than adequately, especially as Giggs played for England at schoolboy level. However, Giggs himself has stated that he played for England schoolboys as a result of being enrolled at an English school, he asserts that he is Welsh in his heart and has no desire to play for England.2Gattaca, a 1997 Andrew Niccol directed film starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, in which genetic engineering is used to ensure that all humanity is 'perfect'.3Face value or first sight.

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