Number 179, June 24, 2002

"Assume a Meditative Stance"

The Case for Eugenics

by Curt Howland

Exclusive to TLE

"Libertarians argue that the freedom to design one's own children genetically--not just to clone them, but to give them more intelligence or better looks--should be seen as no more than a technological extension of the personal autonomy we already enjoy. By this view, the problem with the eugenics practiced by Nazi Germany was not its effort to select genetic qualities per se, but rather the fact that it was done by the state and enforced coercively. There is no cause for worry if eugenics is practiced by individuals. The latter could be counted on to make sound judgments about what is in their own and their children's best interests.
-- Francis Fukuyama, Wall Street Journal, 2002May02

By using one of the "evil" words, Francis Fukuyama attempts to create a straw man and spends the rest of his article abusing everything he can label as "Libertarian" because of this belief in such an awful thing. However, I do not accept the axiom that eugenics is by definition "bad". The above paragraph by itself is logically consistent and I propose to show that by trying the "Archie Bunker" style of argument, otherwise known as "Guilt By Association", Fukuyama succeeds not in ridiculing Libertarians, but in putting forth an excellent individual rights defense of eugenics.

First the definition:

"Eugenics: a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed."
-- Mirriam-Webster OnLine.

The difference between the evil of "eugenics" and picking your mate because you like blonds seems to be mere semantics. One is a "scientific" decision, the other is whim. But it is not whim! Many studies have been done, and predictable traits such as physical features, success and power make some people more attractive to prospective breeding partners. Bill Clinton's effect on women comes to mind.

More objectively "scientific" decisions are made every day by people who read through lists of donors at sperm banks to choose a donor because he's the smartest, tallest, most successful, or who has some other desired trait. The only way to prevent this form of eugenics would be to make sperm banks illegal, or random. For the children, of course.

I've read that early America, for all its apparent faith in Christian wedlock, had about a 25% illegitimacy rate. Men spreading their seed, women hedging their bets. Modern genetic testing is demonstrating that about the same rate continues. Maybe, just maybe, it's human nature to spread your seed and hedge your bets. I find it interesting that the hedging and spreading seem to occur with later births, for instance after the second or third child with the life-partner. Could this be an example of instinct operating in lofty humans? I think so.

As technology advances, sperm banks could list genetic defects for which their samples have been checked and certified defect-free. That's something I'd pay more for, were I buying in that market, as long as it's legal. On second thought, even if it were illegal. Quality control will suffer, if "illegal" drugs are any indication. Since only fully informed individuals can best choose what traits they wish to pass on to their children, truth in labeling laws should apply in this case too. The rational regulation in this matter is simple contract enforcement and fraud prosecution.

The next step is obvious, tailoring: The deliberate replacement of good traits for bad ones. I see two ways to do this, altering the genetic code in the sperm or egg prior to fertilization, or through a "transform virus" which would hunt down and replace certain genetic code sequences in a living macro-organism. The first is hardly newsworthy any more, while transform viruses require techniques and controls which are at present the stuff of science fiction.

What a fantastic future! Disfigurements and terrible conditions like Alzheimer's, not avoided with temporary fixes like surgery and chemicals, but erased from the genetic record itself. I have a weak eye, a genetic trait that I do not want to pass on to my children. How wonderful it would be to see clearly and know my children would be in no danger of inheriting such a weakness from me!

Chuck Yeager, the first man to travel beyond the speed of sound and return to tell about it, even at 75 years old still passed the United States Air Force active duty jet fighter pilot physical. His eyesight is the stuff of legend! I'd part with $10,000 for a transform virus with such qualities, even if only for my children, gladly. Wouldn't you? I want that choice.

If we rely only on "natural selection" for our evolution, we may very well find ourselves extinct. Our brains and intelligence react infinitely faster than natural selection to choose survival traits, I believe that to not apply that intelligence to our physical being as well as our environment is to waste the potential for greatness.

Fukuyama cites tailoring as his greatest fear, because of his value judgment that acting man does not act in their own best interests, at least not well enough for him. He asserts that his judgment is more reliable than other peoples. Two deaf lesbian women want to choose a sperm donor that is deaf, in the hope that their child will also be deaf. This as an example that, free to choose, people will choose wrong, because Fukuyama thinks it is wrong.

He states that people must be restrained from making choices that are bad for our "collective interests". He proposes force for that restraint, to use the state to suppress those actions of which he does not approve. He does not detail what limits that force would have, only that eugenics and gene tailoring are to be prevented. Yet that same force, here used to support what Fukuyama wants, is what the Nazis used trying to breed a six-foot tall blond army, and it is why their reputation is deservedly repulsive to almost everyone. I dearly wish every government's use of force were as universally decried.

We are to enslave our children to the limits of the vision of today's politicians and bureaucrats. If I choose wrong, I affect only one family. Bureaucrats and politicians make decisions that affect the multitudes, with near total immunity from negative consequences.

Unlike governments, acting individuals must deal with the results of their choices. Unlike bureaucrats, my choices have personal repercussions. If I decide to mess with my children's genetics to make them smarter, and they end up violent, I must deal with that just as if I had chosen a smarter mate and our randomly combined genes recreated Charles Manson.

That is the nature of individual choice, and why I believe this issue is too important to leave to government.

The first human to utilize fire must have scared the crap out of the others. How can we know how many laws and taboos they broke with that action? How many generations of people lived and died, cold and fearful, before fire was allowed? Without Prometheus violating the laws of the Gods, we would not now be reaching toward the stars.

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