I have a feeling I will heartily second st.augustine
refutation, once I learn more about building blocks
and her interesting-sounding youth
. Did she make any money out of any of her other speeches? I hope so. My college roommate, who introduced me to Libertarianism, once said, anything worth doing is worth doing for profit
, and I couldn't agree more.
But permit me to offer the cold, intellectual complement to her argument. To wit:
Eugenics is defined in two senses: in the literal Webster 1913 sense, it just means "The science of improving stock". But it also carries strong connotations of social control, as is discussed at The Eugenics Problem and elsewhere. In the first sense, Eugenics is just a tool, and like a gun, is amoral. I will therefore refer to this first sense as "genetic engineering". In the second sense, Eugenics in the hands of government or other elites is immoral, because it replaces individual choice with collective choice.
Selective breeding has been used by individual human parents since the dawn of the species to improve the prospects of their offspring. Mates are selected based on desirable physical features, prosperity, health, fitness, and so on. Now some of these traits may not be directly related to a specific gene, but all are effected to a greater or lesser degree by genetic make-up. Civilization may appear to have removed a lot of selective pressures on the gene pool (for example, the selective pressure against near sightedness is greatly reduced due to corrective lenses and contacts), but this is only a temporary situation. Now that civilization is on the verge of enabling genetic engineering, we will see selective pressures return to the gene pool.1
So really, the morality of genetic engineering is categorically no different than the morality of allowing individuals to choose their mates and choose when and how often to reproduce. Democratic societies that respect individual rights have managed by and large to enforce the necessary rules that govern "traditional" (non-engineered) selective breeding, such as the prohibition on incest and rape, and the obligation of parents not to euthanize children who aren't what they hoped for. Lately, according to the UN, we've even managed to control our population growth! By the same token, I have little doubt that science and common sense will allow us to formulate appropriate rules to moderate the excesses of genetically engineered selective breeding. But the basic rule need only be that until proven otherwise, the parent(s) know what's best for their offspring.
Its true, genetic engineering will at first only be available to those elites that can afford it. ApoxyButt (but what do your friends call you?) fails to explain why genetic engineering technology is different from so many other technological advancements. In a democratic, free market society, advancements like vaccines, antibiotics, cars, and so many others (who am I kidding -- virtually all of them!), become available and affordable to the masses within a generation or two of their discovery. So long as we keep our society free, why should genetic engineering be the exception that leads to a split society? Indeed, if genetic engineering is done right, the lower middle class stands to benefit most, because they are least able to afford the huge lifetime costs of caring for a child with a debilitating genetic disease.
The only way that genetic engineering can result in true Eugenics and the split society is if we take reproductive and genetic decisions away from individuals and put them in the exclusive hands of governments or other elites.
Inspired by kick-ass libertarian Virginia Postrel, particularly at http://www.dynamist.com/scene.html#anti.
1. A note about natural
versus artificial selection
. One may argue that genetic engineering is dangerous because it replaces natural selection with artificial selection, and so it risks putting the species "out of balance" or otherwise screwing up the careful, patient work of millennia of evolution by natural selection. This is an important point, but in my view, it reveals a common misunderstanding. Natural selection is not a promise that just because a species has survived and adapted well so far, that it will continue to be fit to survive in the future. Evolution by natural selection is not teleological
. Enjoy my discussion under Watching the Teleological Argument in action
. Who's to say that purposeful, artificial selection can't be better than purposless
, natural selection, so long as we do it right
I read somewhere that when the polio vaccine was ready for the public, the powers that be argued it was immoral to use it, because it must be part of God's holy purpose for those people to die. I'll try to find the citation on this. Thankfully, that argument didn't take, but the vaccine did. The supposed superiority of natural selection simply replaces "God" with "nature" in this argument. Eerie, huh?
One final thought: For several generations now, we've had the ability do conduct genetic screening of potential parents. Recently with actual DNA tests, but historically by the simple method of interviewing potential parents and as many of their relatives as possible about health problems. From these interviews, a geneticists can determine if any relatives had any known genetic diseases, and in many cases, such as sickle cell anemia, calculate the precise odds that offspring will have this disease. If both parents are carriers of a recessive gene, this percentage is 50%. Happily, I am not aware of a Western country that has yet taken the "logical" next step and prohibited such parents from reproducing. If Genetic engineering progresses to the point where we can screen sperm and egg, or even repair known genetic defects, it might actually reduce the temptation to practice Eugenics against those unfortunates who are carriers of genetic disease.