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Friday, August 03, 2007

Modern "Enlightened" Murderous Eugenics (MEME)

Responding to Julian Sanchez' comment: perhaps I have misrepresented the thrust of Ross' point, but it is clear to me at least that he is using valid terminology. The eugenics movement was multifaceted and we are certainly not seeing an equivalent repetition in genetically selective abortions, done by individuals for particular reasons. However, considering that the overall aim of the eugenics movement was to create a genetically superior evolution, 1-3 are somewhat secondary to the true spirit of eugenics. It seems Julian and Ezra are expressing aversion to guilt by association, since they don't seem to question the goals of eugenists per se (except perhaps insofar as they believe some of their particular genetic goals were based on irrational or immoral assumptions).

Of course since abortion is the selective mechanism it is egregious regardless of whether the motive is with an eye to eugenic aims. But this should serve as a reason to highlight the additional immorality, not as a reason to ignore it in favor of the larger trangression. To use a religious metaphor, sin has its own gravity. When one's aims are perverted, destructive means more easily tend to follow. The aims of modern, "enlightened" eugenists to create a stronger, healthier and more viable offspring (by democratic mechanism) are perverted, disordered ends. These ends reinforce pro-choice orientation and other trangressive, immoral stances, such as the sterilization of those with Down syndrome, which happens to this day. Gattacca is still science fiction, but if it is possible it will begin with such a trend. We already here people talking about eliminating babies with "gay genes".

Yes, that the mechanism is abortion is the most atrocious aspect of genetically selective abortions, but the fact that abortion is increasingly motivated by modern eugenic aims is insidious in itself.

Addendum: Julian has converted his comment to a post with an addendum. He writes:

"Update: LP in the comments suggests that one can interpret "eugenic" motivation as a factor that might make the already-bad practice of abortion even worse by analogy with hate-crimes legislation, insofar as it may signal to adults with certain genetic conditions that they are widely regarded as undesirable. There's something to this, but I don't think it was Ross' argument.

An additional argument occurs to me, which is that if you're persuaded that abortion is bad, then anything that increases the number of abortions is also bad. And you might imagine that, over time, a "eugenic mindset" will tend to emerge, such that people will come to regard it as normal (and perhaps normative) to routinely abort all but the "best" fetuses.

Here, though, the anti-abortion argument and the independent anti-perfectionist argument may cut in different directions. Because as technology improves, genetic engineering will be a more attractive way of producing desired traits and eliminating disfavored ones than selective abortion, and so the former should to some extent serve as a substitute for the latter."


My point has something to do with this "eugenic mindset", but not primarily because it may encourage abortion directly, though that would be a horrific consequence. The more general problem is that eugenic ends, even when pursued by voluntary mechanisms on oneself via genetic engineering, are disordered ends and will naturally engender other disordered ends and means. One example of this is the new trend in genetically selective abortions, most of which would presumably not have occured had the couple not known their child was "not normal". Even with genetic engineering we can already see some of the consequences that may follow, including a new racism, an obsession with youth and virulity with many unhealthy consequences, including partial destruction of the family, genetic warfare, and many consequences impossible to foresee directly.

6 comments:

  1. "It seems Julian and Ezra are expressing aversion to guilt by association, since they don't seem to question the goals of eugenists per se (except perhaps insofar as they believe some of their particular genetic goals were based on irrational or immoral assumptions)."

    If by "the goals of eugenicists" we stipulate that we're talking about "permitting people to seek to give their own children specific sorts of genetic endowments" as opposed to "hoping to change the genetic character of the population as a whole," I think that's about right. (Though, again, this has little to do with why most people support abortion rights.) I'm not sure why this is unreasonable. The debate is complicated enough without having to wade through all the confusion created by tagging one side with a label associated with so many beliefs and practices that are regarded with universal horror--and indeed, so regarded by the very people who are getting the label ascribed to them. Wouldn't you regard it as an unfair misrepresentation if I identified you as an adherent of some ideology, on the grounds that you agreed with one of its tenets, though you vehemently rejected the other 5?

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  2. "The more general problem is that eugenic ends, even when pursued by voluntary mechanisms on oneself via genetic engineering, are disordered ends and will naturally engender other disordered ends and means."

    Can you explain this more? The example you give is 'eugenic' genetic engineering leading to 'eugenic' abortions, but it's not clear to me that eithor of these is 'disordered' or otherwise bad, aside from moral preferences about genetic tampering. Can you give another example?

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  3. Julian: Eugenics is derived from Latin words meaning "good birth". Eugenics is not a proper noun, but has a meaning of its own primarily centered on its ends, the purification of the human race through improving genetic lines. The fact that the previous bias was toward centralized mechanisms is relevant, but seems properly considered to be a contigent aspect of the general movement.

    An analogy might be the technocracy movement. Generally speaking we all understand the meaning of technocracy, but in its early years it took very specific forms, many of which would be considered outdated by modern technocrats. That nowadays technocrats may disagree with four out of five technocratic ends, still they hold the most essential tenet, the governing of men by judicious application of scientific analysis and technology.

    Likewise with eugenics. You may dislike the association, but complaining about the usage of eugenics is a losing battle, especially considering the lack of better substitutes.

    LP: I outlined above additional perversions engendered by the pursuit of control of the genetic development of man, like Gattaca-esque racism, unhealthy obsession with youth and the destruction of the family that goes hand in hand with this. There are naturally more. People are stupid, human nature doesn't change much though we become analytically more intelligent (or at least we have more powerful analytic and scientific tools at our disposal). The temptation to play God is always there and there are instances in history of the consequences. I do not consider this to be a "moral preference", but a moral statement of fact, not logically deducible but evident to those with discerning temperments.

    The goals of futurists are lofty, with dreams of ending death and increasing control over the construction, appearance and operation of our bodies, perhaps wedded to a a vision of space travel or perhaps even more grandiose, a change in human nature itself.

    All of these ends are not really that new, though they have been updated and cast in a new form. The socialists sought such utopias, as did alchemists and many other groups.

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  4. Julian, do you have a suggestion for an improved substitute that expresses the spirit of self directed genetic evolution?

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  5. The moral way to improve the race is to pass on to your offspring your own good genes, which you acquired by not being aborted by your parents.

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