Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Eugenics Entry in My “Month of Eugenics” (and Labor Unions)

Let me preface this eugenics-themed entry with the assurance that I’m not out to exterminate the developmentally disabled.  Indeed, recent days have brought a vivid reminder (noted on Drudge) that in a conflict between labor unions and the developmentally disabled, I am wholeheartedly pro-retard. 

(Labor unions are a far greater threat to society than retardation, as I have also been reminded by one of those stupid inflatable rats outside the apartment building across the street from me in recent days.  The law says one must negotiate with a band of demanding thugs if they call themselves a union.  Property rights and basic morality say you should be free to tell people they won’t be hired in the first place – and need not apply – if they even harbor pro-union sentiments.  But I’ll save the econ thoughts for tomorrow’s pre-GOP-debate entry.)

All right, what with one topic and another, this is shrinking into more of a eugenics day than a eugenics month, so I’ll just make the main point briefly here, and if we’re lucky the theme will resonate in at least a few other entries.  

The Nazis were about as awful as anything in human history – and the forgotten scandal of their core eugenics ideas being shared by numerous other societies (and multiple political persuasions) at the time is important.  However, it is crucial to remember that it was their violence – coercive regulations, imprisonment, and mass murder – that made them evil, and their scientific errors that made them empirically wrong, not an interest in genetics per se. 

We all seek mates based in part on subconscious (and imperfect and varying) metrics of genetic superiority – even if consciously we’re thinking about other things (even people like me who don’t plan to have kids – and even gays).  Strength, symmetry, everyday signs of intelligence or physical grace – they all add up, even if people are only consciously aware of some fuzzy notion like “hotness,” and even if those instincts can easily be fooled and made to lead people astray (breast implants that may distract a moron or adorn a moron, strength that may be used to beat children instead of defend them, money and resources belying a shallow personality that portends a lifetime of well-manicured tedium, etc., etc.).

There is no logical reason to think we, like Prof. X, should not take an interest in
humanity’s genetic potential – and even look forward to the day when we can alter our own genetic codes on the spot instead of waiting generations for changes to occur. 

We are already all eugenicists when it comes to dating, though the evils of forcible eugenics were so great decades ago that it’s worth repeating that no amount of Darwinian thinking and Darwinian behavior justifies initiating force against even one person, and neither the state nor your biologist next-door neighbor should be entrusted with the power to forcibly sterilize someone, let alone kill undesirables.  Individuals can decide for themselves who to date and how many kids to have – assuming they will support them without stealing from others – better than force-wielding planners, just as people can decide individually when to buy and sell things better than central planners can decide for them.

That being said, voluntary “eugenics” (if we can still call it that without simply frightening people away due to historical connotations) is something we probably ought to take seriously, from beneficial genetic engineering (not to mention cybernetic enhancement) to the simple act, repeated countless times each day, of deciding that an irresponsible acquaintance from a family rife with child abuse probably shouldn't be encouraged to have kids, all else being equal.  We’d all like to see a world full of better people, even if we must be very cautious about deciding what that means – and even if we have no right at all to impose those notions by force. 

We’re allowed to give advice, though – that’s what civilization is, really, people giving each other advice.  And that can include, “Well, I gotta say, I’m not sure you’d make such a great parent, Doug.”  Given this reasoning, I also can’t blame people for trying to convince me to reproduce – it’s quite flattering, actually – but if the end goal of all this thinking is a world of happy individuals with their divergent preferences (not some sort of pointless collectivist enhancement or tribal triumph that appeals to some people as an abstraction or as a warlike “victory” over rival groups or internal “weakness”), then some people not wanting kids is a preference that should also be weighed into utilitarian judgments, weighed very heavily in my case. 

Friends might flatter me by saying I could make some minuscule positive contribution to the gene pool, but it’s John Stuart Mill who comes first in deciding oughts, Darwin merely describing the is that we work with – and the fact is this individual will be far, far more easily made happy by not having kids than some hypothetical future citizens will by the hoped-for accomplishments of my hypothetical descendants centuries hence.  Friend and foe alike should agree that it would be a sad day if Todd Seavey bred. 

This is no more a contradiction than saying that one thinks physics accurately describes the universe (and that mysticism does not) and yet that one does not plan to devote one’s life to launching projectiles or charting cosmology.  I’ve got other things to do – starting at long last with a visit to that High Line thing I’ve been hearing about (and this just one day after buying The Steampunk Bible – those Victorians were so cool).