Hixie's Natural Log

2002-06-09 01:20 UTC Much more on humanitarian eugenics

JJ followed up (sorry — I couldn't find a permalink) on my last post with some interesting comments.

I don't in any way mean to belittle your belief

This isn't really a belief; I carefully avoid the word in general. As I point out on my personal home page, I have no beliefs. This is an opinion, based on scientific evidence and concern for the future of our species.

I think the source of my confusion comes from the fact that the material I've read about eugenics tends to describe with great conviction the desired outcome, but is tellingly silent about how that outcome should be achieved. Does the end justify the means?

The means is pretty simple. In fact, JJ, you summed it up pretty nicely in your last post (see below). Society has to agree to stop breeding without a license from the state. Much like you cannot adopt children without a license, in a eugenics programme you would not be allowed to bear offspring without a license. This has multiple potential benefits: reduction in population growth, reduction in the number of children born in unhealthy environments (assuming abusive would-be-parents were identified and denied a license), and of course, an improvement if the quality of the gene pool.

[A] societal change of this nature would be incredibly dirty work. It would involve radical changes not only in the structure and nature of our governments but also in the very way we think about each other.

This is a large and intractable problem. It will almost certainly require a large and complicated solution.

It would create an entirely new kind of class separation based on often arbitrary measures of innate intelligence.

This class separation is by no means new. Look at US non-immigrant visa requirements, for instance. Look at qualification requirements in employment offers. Look at game shows (from the awful commentary on our society that is The Weakest Link to the even more thought-provoking Survivor), where people voluntarily subject themselves to such judgments.

Furthermore, like sexism, racism and wealthism before it, intelligencism would merely be an issue that society has to deal with. Our past successes in such matters encourages me greatly. (Despite the fact that a side-effect of those successes, the political correctness movement, is largely to blame for the problem itself.)

I also disagree with your statement that eugenics is about enforced population growth control such as in China. That may be another outcome of the process, but as I understand it eugenics is more about what kinds of children are allowed to be conceived rather than how many.

Since the process limits who may have children, rather than forcing couples to reproduce, it will automatically result in population control. That is not, however, a primary goal of humanitarian eugenics.

Discriminatory reproductive control, though, seems to create more problems than it would claim to solve.

It aims to solve merely one: the devolution of our civilisation. That this is happening, and that it is a logical outcome of the egalitarian "political correctness" that our society is obsessed with, is a verifiable fact.

In order to be taken seriously, eugenics supporters will have to [...] Define innate intelligence in quantifiable terms and be able to reliably test for it without error.

There is no such thing as "without error". This, though, doesn't seem to be an issue with some societies. For example, many states in the US still practice the death penalty, even though the US judicial system is not without error. Killing potentially innocent people seems a lot more dramatic than not letting certain people procreate.

As far as an innate intelligence test goes, universities seem quite happy to rely on school grades to determine someone's innate intelligence. Why would a system which currently decides the outcome of someone's entire life be suitable for that but not for the purposes of deciding whether they are likely to have children with above-average intelligence?

Prove that higher innate intelligence makes a person a stronger contributor to society.

See section 2 of the paper which started this discussion.

Likewise, prove that lower innate intelligence makes a person a lesser contributor to society.

Mathematically, that is a logical restatement of the previous point.

Demonstrate that innate intelligence is the only genetic trait worth distilling. For instance, is an extremely intelligent person with a debilitating genetic physical disease worth more than a physically superior person with lesser intelligence?

Not to the future of the human race's gene pool, no. If the aim is to protect our genetic diversity while increasing the genetic quality of the population at large, then successful candidate parents must be overall above average. How this is determined is up to the scientists and psychologists tasked with the question (I am certainly not qualified to answer it myself). Note that half the population is above average! This is not a small number of people.

Coming up with the criteria is the hardest part of the process, but it is one which can be constantly reviewed, and it could be linked to the legal system so that appeals could be made if sufficient ground existed to challenge a denial. This is not a unique problem; how do we decide who deserves state support? How do we decide who is allowed into a college and who is not? Who gets a job in a competitive market?

Outline a workable plan to legislate and enforce reproductive control while preventing violence, discrimination, and classism.

Again, that is a problem that is not specific to eugenics, so I see no difficulty here.

The biggest problem I see with supporting eugenics is the bad name it has aquired, through being associated with the Nazi movement, for instance. I'll leave that problem up to the PR folk to solve.