Allegiant Ch14-15

Last time, this book disappoints in a wholly unexpected way, and I realize this book is indeed going to be the worst one.

Tobias can tell that Tris is hoping her mom miraculously escaped death too, despite the fact Amar just died mysteriously while her mom got shot to death in front of her. This is why, once again, no, Tris does not qualify for Erudite.

There is a tall fence stretching wide across the landscape, which looks empty compared to the densely packed buildings I saw before I sat down. The fence has vertical black bars with pointed ends that bend outward, as if to skewer anyone who might try to climb over it.
A few feet past it is another fence, this one chain-link, like the one around the city, with barbed wire looped over the top. I hear a loud buzz coming from the second fence, an electric charge. People walk the space between them, carrying guns that look a little like our paintball guns, but far more lethal, powerful pieces of machinery.
A sign on the first fence reads BUREAU OF GENETIC WELFARE.

One of you guys mentioned that the Erudite saying something stupid about genetics was going to have to do with the next book and being stupid in a whole new way, so this seems a bad sign.

This place turns out to be a US agency, so the US still exists. Kind of got that from the ads being recent enough to be in good condition.

“This building used to be O’Hare Airport, one of the busiest airports in the country.

This is slightly interesting, in that it suggests there’s a lot less need for airports. But given the general worldbuilding, it’s probably just the author trying to pick a building they figure people will recognize.

“Sorry,” she says. “I keep forgetting how little you all know.”
“I believe it’s your fault if we don’t know anything, not ours,” Peter points out.
“I should rephrase.” Zoe smiles gently. “I keep forgetting how little information we provided you with. An airport is a hub for air travel

Peter is Candor-born Dauntless. It’s Erudite who should be getting pissed off about not knowing something when someone else does. And it’s not like we don’t have any Erudite here.

“I’m going to walk you to the control room to meet David, the leader of the Bureau.

I assume he’ll be evil, giving our track record with leaders. If not, I will be annoyed.

“Are you all right?” Cara asks me.
“Yeah,” I say automatically.
“You know, it would be perfectly logical for you to be panicking right now,” she says. “No need to continually insist upon your unshakable masculinity.”
“My . . . what?”
She smiles, and I realize that she was joking.

Okay, I’d say smart people are entirely capable of being witty with jokes, but at least we have Erudite making jokes.

Ahead of us, Zoe announces, “Weapons are not allowed inside this facility, but if you leave them at the security checkpoint you can pick them up as you exit, if you choose to do so. After you drop them off, we’ll go through the scanners and be on our way.”
“That woman is irritating,” Cara says.
“What?” I say. “Why?”
“She can’t separate herself from her own knowledge,” she says as she draws her weapon. “She keeps saying things like they’re obvious when they are not, in fact, obvious.”
“You’re right,” I say without conviction. “That is irritating.”

I don’t see why Erudite would get so cranky about this when it seems like this is how Erudite would act all the time. Plus, when introducing people to new information, it’s pretty normal to say “We x than y than z!” then as you work through it, you explain each piece. And Erudite should know that works because supposedly they’re teachers.

We meet David, then switch to Tris’ POV.

I cover my mother’s face with my fingertip. All the hope growing inside me has withered. If my mother, or my father, or my friends were still alive, they would have been waiting by the doors for our arrival. I should have known better than to think what happened with Amar—whatever it was—could happen again.

He faked his death. This isn’t fucking difficult.

“The first thing you should know is that the information Edith Prior gave you is only partly true.”
At the name “Prior” his eyes settle on me. My body shakes with anticipation—ever since I saw that video I’ve been desperate for answers, and I’m about to get them.
“She provided only as much information as you needed to meet the goals of our experiments,” says David. “And in many cases, that meant oversimplifying, omitting, and even outright falsehood. Now that you are here, there is no need for any of those things.”

“A few centuries ago, the government of this country became interested in enforcing certain desirable behaviors in its citizens. There had been studies that indicated that violent tendencies could be partially traced to a person’s genes—a gene called ‘the murder gene’ was the first of these, but there were quite a few more, genetic predispositions toward cowardice, dishonesty, low intelligence—all the qualities, in other words, that ultimately contribute to a broken society.”

I assume this is going to go shitty for your stupid science-hating “don’t play god” reasons, BUT, this is actually exactly not what science would say. Science looks at those things and asks why they remain in the population if they seem disadvantageous. I’m going to talk about that now instead of finding out what this book’s stupid reason is.

So! One of the reasons democracy is such a great system is that actually, rapid societal change is just inherently dangerous, so it’s much better to react slowly even to bad things. Cowardice is an important part of this. It, like depression, helps people stay with what they know and not rock the boat too much, even when it’s in their personal advantage. Moreover, our society is balanced on the assumption people will be like that, so even if it’d be better in general for more people to be brave (and it would), you want to adjust things slowly rather than all at once.

Low intelligence similarly seems like it has no benefit, and again, an ideal world we’d want everyone smart, right? But if you make everyone geniuses and still need cashiers, you’re going to get a really cranky population. And we definitely know that socialization gets fucked up if kids vary too much in intelligence than their peers, so you’d need to apply this carefully. That’s even before getting into that “intelligence” is a bunch of things and there’s usually tradeoffs, so making someone a math wiz may tank their language skills. And the possibility of just going crazy. And do you know there’s a bunch of disorders just from your right and left brain not working together properly? Given those also govern different components of intelligence, we could invent all new forms of crazy by screwing with that.

Then there’s dishonesty, which seems like the least damaging of these except for, like cowardice, the fact our society is built on the assumption people lie. A lot of laws only really work because people just don’t generally follow them, and a lot of our punishments for crimes are based on the idea a lot of people are going to get away with it. If saying hi to the police meant you said everything you’d ever done wrong, most of us would be in prison. (A lot of this is worsened by the fact America’s laws and police force are horribly fucked up, but we were told specifically this is America.) And like the genius cashier, an honest person is going to be unhappy – probably even angrier. Humans really hate the perception of unfairness, and someone lying while you always tell the truth is a great way to trigger that.

Point is, while I too look forward to messing with genes to encourage desirable traits, your society has to already be stable and doing it to improve individual quality of life. If you’re blaming dumb people and cowards for your society being broken, you’re already in a dystopia and it’s obvious this is going to blow up in your face.

Tris informs us that while her society knew about the concept of Mendelian inheritance and referred to such as “genetics” they didn’t know jack shit about genes. Which, in retrospect, actually fits – Jeanine could only poke Tris’ brain, not check her genes for markers to have a better screening process.

I can’t imagine isolating a gene for murder, or cowardice, or dishonesty. Those things seem too nebulous to have a concrete location in a person’s body.

Okay, so you can grudgingly accept brain structure has to do with personality, but not that genes do. Are you unclear on where brains come from? Do you just not believe in anything below a certain size?

“Obviously there are quite a few factors that determine personality, including a person’s upbringing and experiences,” David continues, “but despite the peace and prosperity that had reigned in this country for nearly a century, it seemed advantageous to our ancestors to reduce the risk of these undesirable qualities showing up in our population by correcting them. In other words, by editing humanity.

What a great idea! Except for the fact that if you think XYZ are to blame for a broken society, you’re clearly not in any period of peace and prosperity. Also, like, regular garden-variety eugenics would accomplish this fine.

It takes several generations for any kind of genetic manipulation to manifest

Uh, the regular garden-variety eugenics kind does. Genetic engineering can show up in the current generation. Hell, you can modify already existing generations with it.

Oh god this is going to be like Wither’s “virus”, isn’t it. The author’s just going to keep using the word genetics to mean whatever the fuck.

people were selected from the general population in large numbers, according to their backgrounds or behavior, and they were given the option to give a gift to our future generations, a genetic alteration that would make their descendants just a little bit better.”

Okay, so apparently they were sorting people for those with bad tendencies to correct, but you could’ve just sorted people to find the good tendencies and said only they get to jack off into cups for sperm banks. Maybe pay people to do artificial insemination rather than reproduce naturally, and pay people with good genes to have kids. Plus, take advantage of other social cues that relate to reproduction – encourage your non-desirables into close quarters and those you want to reproduce into the suburbs. Bonus: already basically how society works!

Tris thinks that this all just seems like factions.

“But when the genetic manipulations began to take effect, the alterations had disastrous consequences. As it turns out, the attempt had resulted not in corrected genes, but in damaged ones,” David says. “Take away someone’s fear, or low intelligence, or dishonesty . . . and you take away their compassion.


Frightened, stupid liars are max compassion?

Take away someone’s aggression and you take away their motivation, or their ability to assert themselves

Those are two completely different things.

Take away their selfishness and you take away their sense of self-preservation.

This I’ll grant, but barely. We can see Abnegation did just fine on the basis they needed to be there to police all the selfish people.

If you think about it, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.”


I tick off each quality in my mind as he says it—fear, low intelligence, dishonesty, aggression, selfishness. He is talking about the factions. And he’s right to say that every faction loses something when it gains a virtue: the Dauntless, brave but cruel; the Erudite, intelligent but
vain; the Amity, peaceful but passive; the Candor, honest but inconsiderate; the Abnegation, selfless but stifling.

Lack of self-preservation = stifling now? And intellect is vain? Also I guess we’re just going to forget all that time we spent on Dauntless not being terrible before.

“Humanity has never been perfect, but the genetic alterations made it worse than it had ever been before. This manifested itself in what we call the Purity War. A civil war, waged by those with damaged genes, against the government and everyone with pure genes. The Purity War caused a level of destruction formerly unheard of on American soil, eliminating almost half of the country’s population.”

Damaged vs pure, seriously?

I’m just willing to accept “damaged” genes, because that is a thing we talk about for genes that don’t work right. But the flip is “functional” or, in this case where obviously these people didn’t have perfect genes to start, “original”.

Also if the “damaged” were able to organize into a single unit and attempt genocide on those different from them, that really sounds like it has nothing to do with the damaged people being messed up and everything to do with them being a separate culture and/or species. If nothing else, they’re obviously superior to us originals on the organizational level.

Anyway, merely wiping out the alternative form doesn’t mean a newgene society is inferior to oldgene society. It just means they aren’t super moral enough to not genocide people, which is nothing new for humanity in general or America in particular.

“When the war was finally over, the people demanded a permanent solution to the genetic problem.

Once again, oldschool eugenics has already got you covered. Line up for castrations!

And that is why the Bureau of Genetic Welfare was formed. Armed with all the scientific knowledge at our government’s disposal, our predecessors designed experiments to restore humanity to its genetically pure state.

“People with good genes can have kids. People with bad genes can’t.” We’re done!

“They called for genetically damaged individuals to come forward so that the Bureau could alter their genes.

Is that seriously less effort than saying bad-gene women have to have in-vitro pregnancies or adopt if they want kids?

The Bureau then placed them in secure environments to settle in for the long haul, equipped with basic versions of the serums to help them control their society. They would wait for the passage of time—for the generations to pass, for each one to produce more genetically healed humans. Or, as you currently know them . . . the Divergent.”

I don’t know where to start.

Ever since Tori told me the word for what I am—Divergent—I have wanted to know what it means. And here is the simplest answer I have received: “Divergent” means that my genes are healed. Pure. Whole.

Blonde. Blue eyed.

I should feel relieved to know the real answer at last. But I just feel like something is off, itching in the back of my mind.

No seriously she is literally blonde and blue eyed and officially has perfect “pure” genes.

Just looked it up and her non-divergent brother is black hair green eyes.


“Your city is one of those experiments for genetic healing, and by far the most successful one, because of the behavioral modification portion. The factions, that is.”

“The factions were our predecessors’ attempt to incorporate a ‘nurture’ element to the experiment—they discovered that mere genetic correction was not enough to change the way people behaved. A new social order, combined with the genetic modification, was determined to be the most complete solution to the behavioral problems that the genetic damage had created.”

“Hey, changing people’s DNA has made them fearless murderers. How can we make them stop doing that?”

“What if we combined that with a massive campaign to encourage  being a fearless murderer?”

“Genius! What about those people who are now passive doormats, how to we help those guys?”

“We’ll give them their own massive campaign about how they should be passive doormats!”

What’s particularly annoying is I could absolutely see this working, just in the opposite way they meant. It isn’t going to do jack shit to change people’s behavior, at least not in the direction you want What it’s doing is isolating the different insanities, because the worst damage would come from the interactions between them. If you really did have fearless cruel people, everyone else is safer if you put them all together, and while they’ll still be in danger from each other, they’ll be in less danger because they’ll be better able to defend themselves. I was speculating from the first book that Abnegation had some way of keeping people out of their area so they weren’t obligated to give up absolutely everything – being self-sacrificing works fine as long as you’re surrounded by people who won’t take advantage of it Similarly, Amity can hide out being peaceful rather than constantly oppressed the way they would be by anyone else nearby.

Of course, even if this is true you should still have “divergents” being people with more than one altered gene, in which case the faction system we’re presented actually makes perfect sense, people pick which insanity they suffer the worst from and hang out among those people. If this is meant to just give a stable environment, you should be assigned based on your test. And, as is apparently going on here, if somehow people only ever have one type of bad gene, they should make the factions hereditary and use the test to filter out the fixed people only.

He goes on to say that the factions are now used in “most” of the other experiments. There are currently three experiments. Unless a lot of the experiments have blown up recently, that means “most” means two or three others, meaning he could just say “two of the three other experiments”.

“So when Edith Prior said we were supposed to determine the cause of Divergence and come out and help you, that was . . .”
“’Divergent’ is the name we decided to give to those who have reached the desired level of genetic healing,” says David. “We wanted to make sure that the leaders of your city valued them.
“We didn’t expect the leader of Erudite to start hunting them down—or for the Abnegation to even tell her what they were—and contrary to what Edith Prior said, we never really intended for you to send a Divergent army out to us. We don’t, after all, truly need your help. We just need your healed genes to remain intact and to be passed on to future generations.”

Okay, while I can actually see the lying making perfect sense in keeping the Abnegation from acting until there were enough divergent, and maybe that’s why “come save us btw we’re crazy murderers” seems so worrying otherwise, it only works on crazyselfless people, there’s the problem the very start of this doesn’t make sense.

They’re trying to generate divergents/master race. The faction system means either they got into a faction and crossbred with the lesser races, or they were dumped into factionless where they were starving. (Worsening your genetic purity thing is that the factionless kids couldn’t leave, so the “damaged” couldn’t get back into the faction gene pools and away from your perfect race.) Starving people don’t actually pop out babies constantly. The reason you see that in the sad ads is because they’re trying to make you give them money so they can save the babies, not because starving Africans breed like rabbits. The poor do historically have more children than the rich, but that’s because the poor have historically worked unskilled jobs where you could employ your own children, and also infant mortality meant they didn’t actually end up with that many kids in the end, and even then, starving people won’t have babies and pretty much can’t even if they wanted to, because starving. And furthermore, starvation messes up gene expression! It could be making people score as non-divergent when they actually are, or even better, since the “broken” genes are modified and our current experience is that genes we jam in aren’t as robust as those that evolved naturally (likely due to the structure or location or both) so there’s a really good chance that starvation might actually suppress gene expression and they’d look like healthy divergent normals until you invited them out and started giving them real food again. Could even be that it wouldn’t show up again until they had kids of their own.

They could not be doing a worse job of stockpiling “pure” genes in the factionless unless they also designated the inside of a nuclear reactor as their sector.

Then there’s the fact that the only reason to wait for the divergent to hit critical mass is if they actually need a divergent army to walk out – a large enough group of people to handle themselves against the world. If they just want fresh master race specimens to breed with/take up important positions oppressing the underclass, then they could’ve ordered any divergents who appeared sent over the fence immediately. Then you have a steady supply of divergents you can take care of, and who won’t sully their perfected genes with the imperfect masses. As a bonus, you can keep the rest of them in, continuing to generate fresh divergents until they implode/all their genes magically fix themselves and everybody’s divergent, instead of what they currently have, which is that when some reasonably large number of divergents are currently alive, everyone learns about the world outside the city and everything breaks down.

Caleb is not taking eugenics well. Maybe he read a textbook about genetics or Hitler. Either one is a good reason to be going holy fuck no.

“So what you’re saying is that if we’re not Divergent, we’re damaged,” Caleb says.

Now, all this does seem to point to the Hitler bit being deliberate. I mean, I can’t think of any reason to refer to the genes as “pure” if not to make it all sound evil, and also the author hates science. But it’s misrepresenting those same issues. People aren’t all equal, and trying to pretend otherwise can just create new problems. What they are is all people, and deserving of decent lives. The reason we shouldn’t divide people into good and bad genes is not that science is a lie and genes don’t matter, it’s that it’s wrong to mistreat people who are different than you.

“Genetically damaged, yes,” says David. “However, we were surprised to discover that the behavioral modification component of our city’s experiment was quite effective—up until recently, it actually helped quite a bit with the behavioral problems that made the genetic manipulation so problematic to begin with. So generally, you would not be able to tell whether a person’s genes were damaged or healed from their behavior.”

Uh. It sounds like that’s because they found a way to make normal people adopt insane behaviors, ie, JUMP IN A TRAIN AND OFF THIS CLIFF OR YOU’RE FACTIONLESS.

The factions do nothing but provide an echo chamber for the worst excesses of the virtue.

We already know this is a problem. You stick a regular person in an insane asylum, they start acting crazier. You stick mentally ill people in an insane asylum, they start acting way crazier.

I have no idea what mental skewing would mean that you act normal under those circumstances, but

“I’m smart,” Caleb says. “So you’re saying that because my ancestors were altered to be smart, I, their descendant, can’t be fully compassionate. I, and every other genetically damaged person, am limited by my damaged genes. And the Divergent are not.”
“Well,” says David, lifting a shoulder. “Think about it.”
Caleb looks at me for the first time in days, and I stare back. Is that the explanation for Caleb’s betrayal—his damaged genes? Like a disease that he can’t heal, and can’t control? It doesn’t seem right.

Thanks Tris, now we have to pick between Hitler and mental illness not existing. You’ve really elevated the debate.

Amar agrees that yes, Caleb should be judged for his choices like anyone else even if he is literally incapable of empathy (…and also was raised in an environment that did nothing to actually address this problem, and also even the book just said that it’s being in the right faction that reduces the behavior problems and Caleb spent his entire childhood in the wrong one so that should’ve made things even worse). Then Tris claims that her noble dad who could not help but be smart because smartness is a form of sin, was totally Abnegation by choice, even if we never once see him acting particularly Abnegation. Possibly she’s just thinking of his noble death but dying for a cause is a thing lots of people do. The Erudite sure managed it.

That internal war doesn’t seem like a product of genetic damage—it seems completely, purely human.

That’s the one thing I’ll grant, though – humanity has certainly fucked up plenty all on its own, so I’d really like to see actual numbers on precisely how much the “damage” changes things. The fact they all worked together to attack the purebloods suggests that it’s more likely other people came to the conclusion there was something wrong with them first and they unified in the face of that opposition.

Oh, also they’ve been keeping an eye on everybody through the cameras that are everywhere, which does explain why cameras are everywhere. Tris finds this horrifying for some reason when she was okay with Dauntless watching everyone and then the idea Erudite had hacked in to also watch everyone so she wants to leave, but she stays solely because she also wants to find out about her mom.

“She came from this place. We sent her into the city when she was young to resolve a problem in the experiment.”

Despite the fact we get all that backstory in the first book that hinges on her being born to Dauntless and having to switch factions due to being divergent.

She goes back and finds Cara, who’s upset at the idea the thing she values most about herself is a sign she’s broken, and all her loyalties and goals are just brainwashing.

Tris then tries to explain that the people here are horrible and creepy for watching them and Tobias points out that’s what he did. Tris keeps oscillating between being rightly angry that the people gave them no help and being squicked irrationally about something she had no problem with ever before, then gets confused by this nonsense and just decides to say that the factions are okay because it’s still basically true: the founders thought the faction system was the best system and it was.

I catch myself thinking, Thank God for this, out of habit, and then I understand what he’s so concerned about. What if my parents’ God, their whole belief system, is just something concocted by a bunch of scientists to keep us under control?

It won’t matter that much because somehow they didn’t manage to raise you to know any details about that.

Also come on Tris you just found out your mom was one of them, either it wasn’t her god and she was just playing along or it was and it’s something people outside believe.

Unless you’re thinking this might be one of those layered things where these people are just dancing on the strings of people hidden even further, in which case good job, that’s a clever thought!

And not just their beliefs about God and whatever else is out there, but about right and wrong, about selflessness? Do all those things have to change because we know how our world was made?

This is why I’m a big fan of utilitarianism!

An awful lot of philosophies lay out something on the basis someone said it works, and then try to extrapolate from there. Utilitarianism gives you a direction to aim for instead. As long as you go with happiness good, suffering bad, you’re pretty immune to crises of faith over what some authority figure said recently or if their opinions on good and evil are the right ones.


  1. actonthat says:
    This is literally the exact same backstory as Whither.
    1. Laura says:
      But no owning women, so it’s like, an entire step up.
      1. Farla says:
        In the gross sense, sure, but in the terrible anti-science sense, exactly as stupid.
    2. Septentrion Euchoreutes says:
      It’s a common backstory in a lot of settings. Even Star Trek has a backstory where they tried to make ideal people using genetic engineering.
      1. Farla says:
        Not the GMO people fighting back, that the current state of generic dystopia is the result of people’s genes being broken.
        1. Septentrion Euchoreutes says:
          Wither had a magic gene disease that clearly killed. The broke genes here seems to be an narrative-enforced opinion. The backstory is similar otherwise I guess.

          There’s probably more to this backstory later in this book.

  2. Joe says:
    I would be happy that the book rejects the awful “this is the rape gene, this is the murder gene, this is the intelligence gene” understanding of genetics if the rest of the series didn’t convince me that it’s the scientific strawman that’ll get beaten up by a noncommittal religious-flavored free will argument.

    I’m understanding better how much the unintentional themes in a book matter to interpreting it properly. It probably sounds really stupid, but until recently I used to completely miss these patterns because I was reading each sentence in a vacuum as charitably as possible. Any time something undeniably nasty came up, I would put it in a box and it wouldn’t inform any passages that were just questionable.

    1. Farla says:
      Any time something undeniably nasty came up, I would put it in a box and it wouldn’t inform any passages that were just questionable.

      Honestly, there’s a lot to be said for that method, especially when dealing with bad messages that come up over and over. It lets you deal with the media without having to deal any further with the bad message.

  3. GeniusLemur says:
    They had a fucking WAR with the “broken” people? There were enough “broken” people to add up to the most devastating war of all time? Didn’t these idiots do any SMALL SCALE TRIALS and figure out, “Guys, these genetic ‘fixes’ actually make things worse?”
    1. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
      The leading cause of dystopias, at least in YA fiction, appears to be unfamiliarity with the concepts of “small scale trials,” “pilot project,” or even “null hypothesis.” All societal improvements MUST be applied full-on without testing.

      That, right there, is an argument for better STEM education in the primary and early secondary grades.

      1. Farla says:
        In fairness, it’s not the first time people have implemented something with dubious evidence it does any good. That’s like half the medical industry right there.

        Which is even more of an argument for STEM education.

    2. Farla says:
      Given it’s called the Purity War and not the Damaged People War, my guess is the actual timeline is:

      1) Rich people don’t like how the unwashed masses behave.
      2) Rich people push through policy to “fix” those people as fast as possible.
      3) Wait, they’re still not acting exactly as we demanded!
      4) Rich people try to wipe them out.
      5) Oh right, we need them to clean our toilets and also they keep righting back, let’s stop and try something else.

  4. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
    The author may believe that “genetic” tinkering is always equivalent to GMO like in corn. That’d imply non-human genes were used to remove flaws, which isn’t said in Allegiant… and oh, the unfortunate implications if it were!
    1. Farla says:
      You know what’d be hilarious? If they were stuffing chunks of animal brain genes in there under the impression that, say, lions are brave. That’d sure get you hyperaggressive cruel people!
      1. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
        That would be fun to play with (in an “editor goes gray early” way). Instead of all the factions having nuclear families, have their social structures be heavily shaped by the animal they got the extra genes from.

        That’s not strictly good science (rhododendrons that got frog genes to prevent root rot don’t croak), but I’d be willing to give that a pass if it were carried through consistently to the extent that the resulting world was interesting to explore.

        Ursula LeGuin does a magical-realist version in one of the short stories in Changing Planes.

  5. Laura says:
    Looooong genetics rant below. Skip to the end for the gist of it.

    Genes are really complicated.

    Actually, genetics is really complicated. There’s all sorts of important stuff in your genetic code, not just genes. Your genetic code is not just a long string of genes. There’s a bunch of stuff in it that affects gene expression and that’s not even getting into epigenetics, inherited changes that are not actually part of your genetic code.

    Also, traits are generally determined by multiple genes. Textbooks
    will use examples that only involve one gene because it’s easier to explain to people who are unfamiliar with genetics that way. Nebulous traits, like “aggression,” “honesty,” and “intelligence,” are
    affected by even more genes than simpler things, like hair color. Seriously, look at the variety in hair color, that’s obviously not controlled by a single gene, but murder is?

    The point is, “this gene causes this personality trait” is bull. But let’s assume it’s not bull.

    If no one in the population has the “pure” allele, then in order to get people who have the “pure” allele, they would have to randomly mutate it. The odds of that are astronomical. So they would have to mutate something that expresses itself similarly, the odds of
    which are still ridiculously low. I mean, eventually it would happen, but they’ve been in there for what, two generations?

    According to Roach et. al. (Analysis of Genetic Inheritance in a Family Quartet by Whole-Genome Sequencing Roach et al. Science, 2010) via Wikipedia, the intergeneration mutation rate of the human genome is approximately 1.1×10−8 per site. If the “pure” allele and the “damaged” allele are a single base pair apart (ridiculously unlikely), then there is about a 3.7×10-9 chance, per fertilization event, of the “damaged” allele becoming the “pure” allele. Everyone has two alleles per gene, that’s how it works. Assuming the simplest model of genetics (because the author clearly is) then the “pure” allele can either be recessive to, dominant to, partially dominant to, or co-dominant with the “damaged” allele. If the “pure” allele is dominant, then only one copy is required to express the “pure” phenotype. (This has the added benefit of meaning that the “damaged” allele is still there, lurking in the background, waiting to be expressed in the next generation.) If the “pure” allele is recessive, two copies are required. If the alleles are partially dominant, then an individual with both would display a
    blend of the two phenotypes. If the alleles are co-dominant, then an individual with both would display both phenotypes. (Man. How would that work? Constantly jerking between lying and honesty? Pacifism and murderous rage? Sucks to be you, hypothetical person.)

    Let’s assume that the allele is recessive. If it wasn’t, then their precious Divergent could be hiding the “damaged” genes, and then they just get back into the gene pool, and that’s what they were avoiding in the first place, and I’m assuming that the Bureau of Genetic Welfare knows about allele dominance. Pretty big assumption, but whatever. That means that each baby born to the factions has a 0.0000000018% chance of having “pure” genes. It’s probably orders of magnitude lower, because I’m assuming a lot of very unlikely stuff in its favor.

    It is possible for a mutation to occur and spread quickly through a population, if there is great selective pressure and the species has short generations. One case study we studied in school involved two populations of rats whose territories changed from a light, sandy color to a darker color (I believe it was due to a volcanic eruption). In both populations of rats, a single individual mutated a darker fur color, which rapidly spread through the population because if conferred such a great advantage in avoiding predators. Although the phenotype was extremely similar, the mutation wasn’t even on the same gene.

    None of this applies in the book’s setting. They had two generations of either negative or no selective pressure, and most people seem to have had only two kids. There just isn’t time for a mutation to occur and spread through the population , even if it conferred an evolutionary advantage, which, in their society, it doesn’t.

    Tl;dr: genetics doesn’t work here.

    You know what does work here? Magic. Magic fucking works here.

    We tried a magic spell to make people better, but instead, we accidentally placed a curse on them and all their descendants. So we placed them in special communities, to let their souls heal and eventually throw off the curse, so that they could eventually rejoin society and not infect us with the curse too.

    There. Done.

    Stop using science in place of magic. Just… stop.

    1. Farla says:
      I think it works if you assume they didn’t alter the existing “smartness” gene but stuffed another one in. So they might all still have the correct copy, they’ve just also got extra bad genes in there now. (This doesn’t fit at all with how they talk, but they’re idiots.) So all they need is for the bad gene to break, which is comparatively likely.

      This means the sequence could go:
      Original genes -> original genes + wrong genes (“damaged”) -> original genes + broken wrong genes (“fixed”)

      We know from stuff like the golden rice attempt that added genes seem much less stable, and they’re doing some sort of “gene fixing” to the people they put in the experiments that’s meant to alter the genes, which could be as simple as trying to alter the gametes again each generation with a virus designed to insert a stop codon into the new genes.

      Going by how they seem to be so bad at modifying the genes now, my guess is they were just as bad at modifying them before and did it by trying to insert the genes a lot of times, meaning some people have a couple and others have hundreds and they’re spread out in different places, which is why it’s a crapshoot when it works.

  6. Septentrion Euchoreutes says:
    “Take away someone’s fear, or low intelligence, or dishonesty . . . and you take away their compassion.” Reminds me of something written by Charles Darwin about engenics. Here’s a excerpt:

    “…Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature”

    But instead of engenics being something done by uncompassionate people, eugenics produces uncompassionate people. I think the author may have misunderstood the passage while researching at some point. I don’t really agree with the original passage anyways. Maybe I’m giving the author too much credit.

    1. Farla says:
      The real problem with historical eugenics and reason vs sympathy is that it’s really hard to actually figure out when someone’s being rational. That’s why the eugenics movement ended up being mostly about punishing women for being raped and preventing poor and/or black people from having kids. Sympathy’s been with us a long time and been tested enough that it works most of the time. Hard reason is a recent upstart and people are shit at it.
  7. sliz225 says:
    This is the part where I nearly rage-quitted the book. The worst part, for me, was how the author clearly thought she was being super brave. Asking all these ~SUPER DEEP~ questions about genetics, nature vs nurture, and how much we’re affected by these things. Except her premise is just so, so wrong the whole debate is meaningless (sure; there’s just one smart gene, why not?).
    1. Farla says:
      It’s sort of like Unwind, but less laser focused on a current issue.
  8. Betty Cross says:
    I didn’t buy the genetic-engineering gone wrong stuff either, but it’s only fair to warn you, there’s a dead zone of about ten chapters–roughly 30-39–where practically nothing happens that advances the plot. Things HAPPEN, yeah, but without any point. I found that part difficult to get through.
    1. Farla says:
      Honestly, I will take events happening in sequence without meaning at this point.
  9. Tina says:
    I am almost positive that Roth made this whole “backstory” up at the last minute, after having written the first two books without having any idea of where she was going with it. She’s even more or less admitted as such in interviews, where she explains that she spent the series trying to find the science for what she wanted divergence to mean. In the last book she had the idea about mirror neurons, but now suddenly it’s about genes? Because she also says she finally, at the end of it all, decided that it would be neat if divergence didn’t actually mean anything and that you were just a normal person. And from there she developed this whole short bus of a backstory. I don’t believe she had any of this in mind before, because it is all predicated upon the explanation about divergence being related to genes. And how could she have had it planned out that the city was an experiment about genes and not know that divergence was related to genes? She couldn’t. The two ideas were formulated together, at the last minute. Ugh. And then, of course, she obviously wrote herself into a corner with that message by Edith Prior in the last book, so she has to wave that away with the most brilliant retcon ever: “That wasn’t really true. Never mind.” Good grief.

    Explain to me, though, how her half-assed genetics story even makes sense? Why would it takes generations for a genetic manipulation to manifest? Is that not something that occurs directly? Don’t they already do stuff like that with mice? Why would they try to solve their genetic conundrum by instituting a system where people with the same aptitude, and therefore similar genes, the genes they want to go away, end up in insular communities where they all breed with each other and keep passing down that weird gene type that they supposedly want to go away? If an enhanced trait for bravery or selflessness or intelligence, and so on leads to people being unbalanced, why would they also institute a system that emphasizes those same traits so they become even more pronounced and more overbalanced? How would the cities where this behavioral modification is used turn out better? The people should actually be even crazier. And I also don’t quite get how exactly being divergent means you’re healed, and how that correlates to your aptitudes. If a person “tests positive” so to speak for one aptitude because they are still damaged, shouldn’t testing positive for two or more aptitude mean you’re just really damaged? Shouldn’t a healed person get no aptitude, since all of their genes are in the “right” place and therefore no tendencies are overextended? I don’t think Roth thought her last-minute, half-assed retcon through very well.

    1. Farla says:
      I am almost positive that Roth made this whole “backstory” up at the last minute, after having written the first two books without having any idea of where she was going with it.

      I’m absolutely positive she made up everything after Divergent at the last minute, where last minute was often right as she was writing the paragraph. Insurgent was the most incoherent book I’ve ever read. Everyone involved with the publishing should’ve been slapped with an octopus.

  10. GeniusLemur says:
    “This building used to be O’Hare Airport, one of the busiest airports in the country.”
    It’s a comparatively small point, but O’Hare Airport is a hell of a lot more than ONE building.

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