Eugenics, schmgenics

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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.

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17 Comments

  1. I agree with The Elf. And not just because she’s drop-dead gorgeous. Although that doesn’t hurt.

  2. I would keep darker skin color and use reproductive technologies to select for intelligence; that way they can receive the benefits of affirmative action AND a high IQ.

  3. BTW, if there is one thing I learned from reading Richard Lynn’s work, it is that IQ is inversely correlated with human misery. Skin color is correlated with IQ, but it does not CAUSE human misery, low IQ does.

  4. Not only is she right and gorgeous, she can also spell. 
     
    Has The Elf no flaws at all? (Rhetorical question not requiring an answer.) 
     
    I don’t want to get into a debate about Chinese population policy, but again, anyone constructing a link between the intent of a policy and some of the unintended outcomes to categorize it as eugenics is doing so because it suits their purpose. 
     
    (In short, the policy has been to provide financial disincentive to couples having more than one child in order to put a brake on unsustainable population growth. Some of the outcomes have been abortion of female foetuses, infanticide of female babies, alleged abuses such as forced abortion, and a growing gross imbalance between the number of males and females in the total population. The policy unfortunately plays into traditional attitudes toward male and female offspring – I don’t wish to get into a screaming match with anyone about any of that, it is not my policy to defend or be an apologist for, or about whether it is my fundamental human right to have 11 children I can’t feed in an already highly populated world, but to cast the policy as eugenics I think is not right. The outcome may be, but the policy is not.)

  5. Look what they’re doing across the pond!

  6. David – Shades of Kazuo Ishiguro. 
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Never_Let_Me_Go 
     
    Not quite, but heading in that direction.

  7. I think that Eugenics is a politically tricky approach and should only be used in fairly extreme instances of individuals who would otherwise have a greatly reduced lifespan/quality of life. I believe we will shortly have much more effective technologies for dealing with genetic problems.  
     
    In the long run I have no problems in re-engineering Man to increase lifespan, eliminate disease, improve our healing and repair capabilities, increase intelligence, eliminate serious criminal tendencies if they should be shown to be wholly or strongly genetically determined. Eugenics is not the best way to do this. 
     
    In the very longest term I would like to see everyone free to modify their genome any way they choose. Perhaps one day you will be able to install upgrades the same way you can with your computer software. Viruses or nanobots might spread genetic changes to every cell in your body. Perhaps nanofibers could reinforce bones and teeth to make them indestructible, computer chips might enhance brain power.  
     
    Perhaps it might be better to dump the biological body all together and go for a cyborg solution. What begins as medical treatment may eventually become the technology of choice for everyone as the technology advances. We will need to change ourselves to be comfortable in space or on other planets. We will need long lifespans to travel to the stars. We may prefer to be nuclear powered rather than chemically for operation in deep space.

  8. Sandgrouper– 
     
    I agree with Elf also.  
     
    However I do this without an appreciation of her physical form. For someone who is new to her blog, and doesn’t feel like scouring back page and page, have you got a link to a pic?

  9. Link to Elf pics please

  10. “In the long run I have no problems in re-engineering Man to increase lifespan, eliminate disease, improve our healing and repair capabilities, increase intelligence, eliminate serious criminal tendencies if they should be shown to be wholly or strongly genetically determined. Eugenics is not the best way to do this. 
     
    In the very longest term I would like to see everyone free to modify their genome any way they choose. Perhaps one day you will be able to install upgrades the same way you can with your computer software. Viruses or nanobots might spread genetic changes to every cell in your body. Perhaps nanofibers could reinforce bones and teeth to make them indestructible, computer chips might enhance brain power. “ 
     
    It’s possible, Ray Kurzweil believes that nanobots will solve the IQ problem without recourse to eugenics.

  11. I can do better than that – movie with sound: 
     
    http://bloggingheads.tv/video.php?id=200

  12. Sandgroper  
     
    Way to take the ball and run with it! 8-)

  13. Yeah, she is cute

  14. Daniel dare – could you please define eugenics? You say “In the long run I have no problems in re-engineering Man to increase lifespan, eliminate disease, improve our healing and repair capabilities, increase intelligence, eliminate serious criminal tendencies if they should be shown to be wholly or strongly genetically determined. Eugenics is not the best way to do this.” 
    I would define eugenics as re-engineering man, but under this definition your statement doesn’t make sense. You seem to think that eugenics is a certain way of changing the human genome; I have always thought of eugenics as the act of changing the human genome. 
    Under my definition of eugenics the practice of aborting babies which have down’s syndrome is a eugenic practice, although as ‘The Elf’ points out, it is unintentionally eugenic.

  15. Sure President Barbicane, I define eugenics as deliberate modification of allele frequencies in populations by selective breeding.  
    That can be achieved by pre-conception councelling, egg or sperm donors, sperm or ovum filtration and selection, in-vitro fertilization & embryo selection, selective abortion or post-partum infanticide, theoretically.  
     
    The genetic technology I favor involves genetic engineering of growing or adult persons, either by gene-insertion, or gene-silencing and other expression-modulation type technologies. It would also includes technology like infusing populations of genetically altered stem cells etc.

  16. Under my definition of eugenics the practice of aborting babies which have down’s syndrome is a eugenic practice, although as ‘The Elf’ points out, it is unintentionally eugenic. 
     
    I don’t think this has much effect on the genetic makeup of future generations, as Down Syndrome itself strongly correlates with reduced life expectency and fertility.

  17. I do not see why parents who get good amnio evidence that they have a downs embryo should have to bear the incredible burdens of caring for a downs child with very limited horizons and capabilities including to contribute to others and society when they’re older.  
     
    I can certainly understand a decision to abort that embryo and try again for a more normal, or above average, child, to fill one the one or two or usually at most three child raising slots most modern western parents feel they can afford, considering the modern demands of raising children, and what the woman especially gives up doing so.

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