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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Rationalizing Eugenics



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Over at The Corner, there is some back and forth going on about the James Watson Esquire interview that I posted earlier today. John Derbyshire sniffs that the worry about eugenics is overblown, so long as it isn't state imposed: "If you don't like eugenics, you are not going to like the 21st century. "Eugenics" became a scare-word because of ***STATE-SPONSORED*** eugenics programs, which were indeed a horrible idea—especially in the 1920s, when promoters of eugenics had very little idea what (as a matter of technical biology, I mean) they were talking about. State-organized anything is pretty dubious. We're conservatives; we know that.

"Private, commercial eugenics is here, though. It already has a foot in the door, & pretty soon it'll be sprawled on your living-room couch. My children (probably) and my grandchildren (certainly) will practice eugenics. Why would they not? The desire to have smart, healthy, good-looking offspring is wellnigh universal. If parents can get assurance of such an outcome for a few thousand bucks, why should they not purchase that assurance? In a free country, how will you stop them? And why would conservatives or libertarians want to stop them? "Eugenics" has become such a scare-word that we'll probably have to re-name the process to avoid all the shrieking and skirt-clutching; but it will be eugenics just the same."


Such thinking is profoundly shallow and facile, in my view. Eugenics wasn't bad because it was state sponsored. It was bad because it was poisonous at the core; presuming the right do declare some human beings to be inferior to other human beings based on inherent attributes and capacities. Once that premise is accepted, the oppression naturally follows. And renaming it, won't change its intrinsic wrongness.

Moreover, assuming for the sake of argument that the government would keep its paws out of the new eugenics enterprise--a very dubious proposition--the argument that "choice" would prevent oppression ignores a crucial truth about human culture: Peer pressure and social coercion often have far greater power to control our behavior than do government policies and the law. Many parents already intertwine their own egos with the successes or failures of their children. Considering the awful competitiveness exhibited by some soccer moms and dads, the phenomenon of the "stage mother," and the lengths to which some parents go to assure their children are enrolled in the best schools, imagine the competition that would develop to produce the "best" genetically enhanced babies. And the result, as we have discussed here before, is parents having children as so many manufactured commodities, literally designed to fulfill parental desires.


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