Is there any defensible value to "eugenics" in this day and age?

Eugenics. On the one hand, it always and fairly calls the Nazis to mind nowadays. On the other hand, we’ve all seen Idiocracy. On the gripping hand, it always seems just about impossible, even now, to disentangle the whole thing from racism.

IQ-related eugenics might be a solution to a nonproblem anyway, see the Flynn Effect. And genetic engineering might render the whole thing moot within our lifetimes – no need to “cull” the “inferior” if we can tweak their offspring’s DNA just a bit. They’ll still be the same color and everything else, just smarter and healthier than they might have been otherwise.

And then there’s the argument that it is simply hubristic to presume we know what heredity is best for our descendants anyway. Maybe, in terms of long-term survival and thriving of the human race, high IQ isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be. There’s even controversy over what IQ measures, or whether it measures anything important or relevant.

As well as whether environment plays a greater role than heredity. I read in The Bell Curve Wars that a lot of Third-World countries have raised their average IQ a full standard deviation since WWII, without any changes in their gene-pools – it’s all down to improved public education, health, sanitation and nutrition. Those are more sensible things to focus on, aren’t they?

Still, heredity is a real thing, and it is simply a Bad Thing for kids to be born with hereditary mental retardation and/or physical/health defects if that is preventable.

For my part, I’ve been going back and forth on this question for decades. You can tell. On balance, I come down on the anti- side.

The only kind of eugenics I’d favor is voluntary - that is, informing people as much as possible so they can choose to either reproduce or not on their own. It’s not unknown for people who know they carry a genetic disease to opt not to have children, or for carriers to take steps to avoid conceiving affected children. On the other hand, if people want to roll the dice they can - if they can convince someone else to also take that chance (though obviously not everyone is going to disclose such issues, either).

I am opposed to any form of coercion, involuntary sterilization, or the like. It was too grossly abused in the past, I just don’t trust anyone to have that power over other people.

OK, I suppose I’m giving parents the option of choosing to abort a fetus or not… but that decision only affects one family, as opposed to a doctor or a committee making that decision for hundreds or even thousands of others. It limits the downsides and the potential damage.

In the abstract eugenics is a great idea that could eliminate a great deal of suffering, and it isn’t hard to think of ethical ways to implement it; for example, pay people with serious genetic defects not to have children. But history demonstrates that when government gets involved that simply isn’t what happens. Eugenics works fine on an individual level, and is practiced by plenty of people on that level with no harm*, even though they seldom call it by that word. But governments have a strong historical tendency to go nuts when they get involved. Personally I hope that that problem is something that can at least partly eliminated by social progress, because eventually as human genetic engineering become practical the government is going to have to step in to prevent the kinds of abuse that unregulated genetic engineering would involve.
*Like people with nasty recessive genes choosing to not have children, or not having children with anyone with the same recessive.

I can think of two reasons: over population, computer technology reduces the value of work that can be done by those of below average intelligence.

At the very least we should replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children with free abortion on demand.

Well, yes, that’s another important thing, of course. I say things like “no need to ‘cull’ the ‘inferior’ if we can tweak their offspring’s DNA just a bit,” but who’s “we”? Trusting any government with that kind of call raises obvious alarms – eugenic policy, if accepted in principle, will be shaped by political pressures, which are not always rational to say the least. OTOH, if eugenics, whether by “culling” or 'tweaking," is desirable, then only a state could do it effectively at all. Leaving it to the free market could be far worse than banning it outright . . . we would eventually end up with an elite class whose parents could afford the gene-engineering procedures, and who are, as a result, not only socially and economically, but biologically superior to the rest of us. That is an even more disturbing thought than any Nazi nightmare.

This was one of my very first topics on the Dope. I don’t know if it is bad form to quote myself from a year ago, but I shall:

Hard to tell from that whether you’re for it or agin’ it.

I thought you were pro-life.

That isn’t eugenics because its aim isn’t to prevent sex offenders from producing children but rather to prevent sexual assaults.

I find that less disturbing than the idea of people genetically engineering their children to, say, be religious fanatics or compulsively conservative. Such attitudes as religiosity and conservatism do seem to have genetic components; and it seems logical to me that genetic engineering could intensify that inborn component from a tendency into a compulsion. What happens to society when, say, a third or more of the population is composed of compulsive religious fanatics? Or what happens if some faction decides girls should be genetically engineered to be stupid and submissive?

There’s definitely things I want the government to be able to step in about and say “no, you can’t do that”.

Of course most religious conservatives don’t support genetic engineering so I don’t think you need to worry. And would you object to people making their children compulsively socialist or generating nyphomaniacs?

Cite? (There’s some proof they might have biological components, but that does not necessarily mean hereditary/genetic.)

I might consider the socialist part OK, but nymphomania, now that could be trouble.

I like the current model, of which eugenics plays a minor but important role.

:confused: How is eugenics being practiced even in a minor way now?

I’ll go out on a limb and say yes, you can defend eugenics to a certain extent. There are genetic conditions that are generally recognized as undesirable and I think it’s reasonable to try to prevent their spread.

But here’s the limits on what’s acceptable:

  1. The ends do not justify the means. If your program is using coercion or force, it’s wrong. You can encourage people to have or not have children. But you have to ultimately allow people to make their own decisions.

  2. Stick with science. Things like poverty and criminal behavior and immorality are not genetic conditions. And nobody has ever proven one type of appearance is better than any other. And even for things like intelligence that might have some genetic basis, err on the side of caution and make sure what you’re seeing has a real genetic cause rather than a social one.

Simple natural selection-hence why I shall share the same fate as Sir Isaac Newton and Samuel Tilden.

:confused: What, to die a childless bachelor at a ripe old age? I see neither “eugenics” nor “natural selection” at work there. And “natural selection” is practically the antonym of “eugenics,” the whole point of which is not to just let nature take its course. Eugenics is artificial selection, like humans have been practicing on domesticated plants and animals since the dawn of agriculture and pastoralism.

AFDC was eliminated in the mid-90’s. Please try to keep up. Regrettably, it was not replaced with abortion on demand, we got Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF, which is both less generous and has a lifetime limit of 5 years.

Is there any previous generation whom you would entrust to determine the make up of the human genome?

Yeah, me neither. Even if it wasn’t a horrible idea, we don’t know nearly enough to be able to make good decisions.

If an individual decides their genes are a problem and chooses not to reproduce that is eugenics on an individual level. To some degree, this has been practiced for a long time.

There are also some subgroups who do this. One group with a high rate of Tay Sachs carriers has chosen to get everyone tested and discourages marriage between carriers. I’ll also note they’ve taken steps to safeguard privacy as well, but I don’t want to sidetrack this thread with the details.

There are couples where both are carriers of a bad recessive gene who opt for IVF reproduction because they can examine the embryos and not implant those afflicted while keeping the ones that aren’t.

An important note is that it is not governments doing these things, and no one in these circumstances is forced to forego reproduction. It’s largely individuals seeking to maximize their odds of getting healthy children, not making designer babies.