Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Eugenics, schmgenics   posted by Razib @ 7/31/2007 12:43:00 PM

Ezra & Ross as still arguing about the definitions for eugenics and what not. Clearly there is a lot of baggage associated with the "e-word." In any case, in an email exchange with Armand Leroi about the use of the term "eugenics" to refer to selective abortions of individuals whose fitness verges upon zero (and so aren't going to have a long term impact on the gene pool anyhow) it seems clear that his own view of the term is more liberal than Ezra or mine. And when someone in John Brockman's stable talks, we should listen because these are the public intellectuals who have disproportionate impact on our understanding of scientific terms (another Brockmanite, Dawkins, was the one who introduced eugenics as one of his "Dangerous Ideas"). I suspect operationally more people would align with a broad usage of the term, though "eugenics" has too many negative associations for it to be resurrected I would bet. But in any case, as I have suggested the semantical argument is besides the point, no matter if x, y & z are instances of eugenics, x, y & z are already penetrating the domain of normalcy. As many of Ross & and Ezra's readers note part of Ross' objection surely has to do with the fact that he is opposed to abortion on principle, which is a proximate process via which selection for traits can occur. How would he feel about the screening of unfertilized gametes? One can imagine super-wealthy social conservatives going to the extent of not destroying life in such a manner. For Dune nerds you know that the Bene Tleilax perceive themselves to not be violating the injunctions of the Butlerian Jihad (which do include bans on particular genetic technologies), but they certainly violate the spirit of the law. Conversely, I assume that most pro-abortion rights liberals are not down with the creation of Aryan supermen, but genetic technology is going to be advanced enough soon that two parents who want blonde and blue-eyed children and have the genetic potentiality for such offspring can load the die. I have noted in email to friends that with the knowledge of the genetics of skin color many South Asian couples could now load the die so that their offspring would be selected from the lighter skinned range of the probability distribution (the extant variance of the South Asian genetic architecture naturally results in offspring that deviate from the expectation a lot). These are questions which I think are more interesting than the definition of eugenics.

Update: The Elf weighs in. I think she hits it about right, though this is a sprawling issue, made worse by the fact that there are disagreements about the term. The only qualification I would have is that some Lefty/progressives with a strong sympathy toward Deep Ecology and China's population policies might be the sliver of a connection that conservatives might be looking for between the past and the present (albeit, this is a very small group from what I can tell).

Related: Notes on Eugenics.