The worst policies and values in society often come from those who think they are the smartest among us, e.g., the professorate and those in the intelligentsia. Even when they don’t originate very bad new ideas, all too often, they become deeply enamored of them. Take fascism and communism. The former was widely embraced by the university set in the 20s and 30s, and despite the tens of millions of dead and the model’s utter economic failure, the latter retains a powerful hold among the tenured at some of our most prestigious centers of higher learning.
Eugenics was of a kind. It came entirely out of the gray-mattered class, and was pushed most vigorously by our intellectual, cultural, and political elites, resulting in more than 60,000 involuntary sterilizations in the USA–all with the imprimatur in 1927 of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Buck v Bell), penned by the mighty Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Eugenics lost its popular attraction after the Nazis took our eugenic laws and really turned them into a culture of death. But the smart crowd never abandoned the core belief that humans have the ability and duty to better the human herd. Today, some seek to seduce us back into the old game under the guise of futuristic transhumanism and the potential health benefits of genetic reengineering, promising that we can heal all the boo-boos if we but ”seize control of our own evolution.” Of course, that would be intelligent design rather than evolution, but never mind.
Most recent example: An article by Nathan Comfort, written in the Chronicle of Higher Education, urges us to embrace the “eugenic impulse” as “something that everyone capable of rational thought and possessed of a humanitarian, communitarian spirit would enjoin willingly.” Oh, it’s true, he says, the old version went astray. But why gain wisdom from that? All we need to do is tweak it. From his conclusion:
The eugenic impulse drives us to eliminate disease, to live longer and healthier, with greater intelligence and a better adjustment to the conditions of society. It arises whenever the humanitarian desire for happiness and social betterment combines with an emphasis on heredity as the essence of human nature. It is the aim of control, the denial of fatalism, the rejection of chance. The dream of engineering ourselves, of reducing suffering now and forever.
It is Utopian. It lacks proper humility. Yes, we should strive to mitigate suffering and heal disease–but with the understanding that we are incapable of eliminating it. Otherwise, we fall into the Edenic ends, justifies the oppressive means mentality–as we did before.
As so many articles of this ilk assert, Comfort says we don’t have the power to choose the better road:
The question is not one of whether there ought to be such an impulse, whether it should be called eugenics, or even whether biomedicine ought to focus so much on genetics. These things just are. And besides, the health benefits, the intellectual thrill, and the profits of genetic biomedicine are too great for us to do otherwise. Resistance would be ill-advised and futile.
Resistance is necessary to human liberty and essential to avoiding tyranny.
His very last point:
And above all, how do we know when we know enough to control our own evolution?
Simple answer: We never will. Pride goeth before the fall.