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The Undesirables
November 16, 2012 12:56 PM   Subscribe

The year 2100 will see eugenics universally established. In past ages, the law governing the survival of the fittest roughly weeded out the less desirable strains. Then man’s new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. ~Nikola Tesla, Liberty Magazine, February 9, 1935
posted by IvoShandor (74 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Some of Liberty Magazine's other content is available online, though, it appears, not the article by Tesla.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:57 PM on November 16, 2012


Hitler: why people no longer want allegedly nice things.
posted by jaduncan at 12:59 PM on November 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


Good job he didn't have children then.
posted by tatiana131 at 1:07 PM on November 16, 2012


This kind of thinking was very popular and uncontroversal in the first half of the last century.
posted by The Whelk at 1:08 PM on November 16, 2012 [15 favorites]


I wonder what Tesla would make of the eugenics avenues that modern biotechnology makes possible. I suspect he'd be dismayed that we weren't making wider use of them. I suspect we will be making wider use of them over the next 20-30 years, and more and more shocking things will be around every corner.

It's one thing to point back at a "paleofuturist", and at societal questions that seem simple and answered, and wag one's finger at his horrifying morality. It's another to navigate the moral questions that present-day technology presents.
posted by gurple at 1:09 PM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


We already have some limited form of eugenics - I know someone who chose to have daughters as their family had a history of a male-linked genetic disorder. By 2100, I expect anyone in a first world nation who brings a child into this world with a foreseeable genetic disease will be considered a sadist.

Genetic selection, if not engineering, is going to be used, and abused, by humans on humans. What's important is how well we curtail these abuses.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:10 PM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Tesla wasn't a Nazi, just seeing the future.
posted by Mblue at 1:12 PM on November 16, 2012


Yeah, I think it was more of a "bright future" thing than a bogeyman for quite a while, even after WWII, since it was easy enough to say "Look Hitler was everything that is wrong with this perfectly legitimate science, the Reich was also a leader in rocketry but we're not abandoning that." I mean, not exactly sound reasoning but it reflects how eugenics was perceived.

I found this book at the used shop a while back. Thought of buying it but then, $20 for an ironic decoration that some might take the wrong way when found in the library of a particularly aryan-looking fellow like myself.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:12 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The current problem is that babies are too expensive, and the first requirement for making a baby is having no regard for your own fiscal security. This of course is a problem, since without everyone making their share of babies we're getting a very top-heavy population tree.

The future will involve the government stepping in and creating babies mass produced with artificial wombs, ala Brave New World. We can't leave the crucial job of reproduction of the species left in the hands of people who are too smart to do it.
posted by mullingitover at 1:13 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have been favoring positive eugenics as far back as I can remember. As I get older, I find the objective as important as ever, but I appreciate also increasingly how difficult it is to achieve this goal, particularly in a democratic western society. Even if we could solve all the biological problems, and they are formidable, there still remains the problem of coping with the demand for "freedom of reproduction", a freedom which fortunately will have to be abolished anyhow if we are not to drown in human bodies. The time will come, and perhaps sooner than we think, when parents will have to take out a license to produce a child. No one seems to question that it requires a license for such a harmless activity as driving a car, and yet such an important activity as influencing the gene pool of the next generation can be carried out unlicensed. A biologist will understand the logic of this argument, but how many non-biologists would? Obviously then, we need massive education. Such education would be paralyzed if it gets mixed up with racist and anti-racist arguments. This is why the Academy has to dissociate itself from Shockley's arguments.--Ernst Mayr to Francis Crick, 1971
posted by No Robots at 1:17 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The current problem is that babies are too expensive, and the first requirement for making a baby is having no regard for your own fiscal security. This of course is a problem, since without everyone making their share of babies we're getting a very top-heavy population tree.

Isn't this a good thing in the long-run insofar as it puts downward pressure on the total population? Also, markets.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 1:18 PM on November 16, 2012


If only we could genetically engineer our sense of taste to make Soylent Green taste like Filet Mignon, surviving global warming might not turn out all that bad.

We can't leave the crucial job of reproduction of the species left in the hands of people who are too smart to do it.

And we can't leave the future of our species in the hands of random mutation and natural selection. Surely we can do a better job.
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:19 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Livengood: "Isn't this a good thing in the long-run insofar as it puts downward pressure on the total population? Also, markets."

I should've clarified that I'm talking about the developed world. In the undeveloped world, where babies are still your retirement plan, babymaking is still going full throttle (and with dropping infant mortality numbers to throw gasoline on the fire). This is why we're at a population of 7 billion.
posted by mullingitover at 1:21 PM on November 16, 2012


I hope that future generations see the horror aspect of this science. Always, the question should be asked, "We can, but should we?"

Breeding out genes found not acceptable will eventually make us automatons.
posted by Mblue at 1:22 PM on November 16, 2012


I think the single easiest best return in investment the human race could make would be to make reproductive health and birth control available to every member for free.
posted by The Whelk at 1:23 PM on November 16, 2012 [16 favorites]


The current problem is that babies are too expensive, and the first requirement for making a baby is having no regard for your own fiscal security

I never really understand this -I did take myself out of the employment market for a few years, but I would have done the same for art,etc... I don't think having a child has to be that expensive. Babies don't need much other than food (which a mother can provide) and a place to sleep. Toddlers and children really cost little more than a cat or dog to feed and clothe. Maybe I have low expectations for what a human requires for physical survival, but my kids seem to have turned out okay as young adults.
posted by Isadorady at 1:26 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


with all the strife going on, I wonder how long it's going to be before humanity starts getting the idea to Rule Itself again
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:34 PM on November 16, 2012


Nicholas Tesla suffered from paranoid delusions. This was one of them. In reality, "survival of the fittest" isn't ruthless at all, just practical. Things adapt (are fitted) to their environments. It's not that things evolve to become more absolutely "fit" for existence (in the modern sense of stronger or better) through ruthless competition. That's not the science of Darwinism but the pseudo-science of Social Darwinists.

What natural selection does is fit things to their specific environments, not make them stronger. That's what Darwin learned from his study of the species on the Galapagos: That they were exquisitely adapted (or "fitted") to their environments.

Tesla didn't understand biology nearly as well as he understood electromagnetism.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:34 PM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


(And he went off the rails in that field too sometimes.)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:35 PM on November 16, 2012


Tesla is fascinating, I would love to hang with him. Unfortunately, he also had personality problems.

When he arrived in Pittsburgh to direct the research lab that Westinghouse had set up for him, the first thing he did was line up the staff and dismiss several of them because he didn't like the way they looked.

There has never been an honest biopic about him, because the more you know about him, the harder it is to like him.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:38 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tesla is fascinating, I would love to hang with him.

I'm sure Edison would have wanted to hang both of you.
posted by jaduncan at 1:41 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


In reality, "survival of the fittest" isn't ruthless at all, just practical.

Practical when left to nature. How natural is our world?

Vaccines cure those who would die without. That alone negates Darwin.
posted by Mblue at 1:41 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll bet that when Tesla was hosting someone that he respected, like Samuel Clemens, he was much more gracious than Edison could ever be.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:44 PM on November 16, 2012


I'm disappointed to see so many Tesla apologists in the comments who are deliberately missing the point of the article:

"...to remind us that we should be cautious when making gods of men."

That is both the end and the beginning of this argument. Tesla was a brilliant man who deserves study and respect, but he was not perfect and was as much a product of his time as any person is.
posted by iheijoushin at 1:53 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Nobel Prize-winning surgeon and biologist that supported eugenics.

He also had a cure for the excesses of Wall Street:
Those who have murdered, robbed while armed with automatic pistol or machine gun, kidnapped children, despoiled the poor of their savings, misled the public in important matters, should be humanely and economically disposed of in small euthanasic institutions supplied with proper gasses.
posted by Twang at 1:54 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


True story: Marie Stopes' son and "Bomber" Harris' daughter got married. Marie Stopes disowned her son, citing shortsightedness. "Bomber" Harris' daughter was myopic and she could not stand her son injecting that kind of filth into her family's gene pool.
posted by parmanparman at 1:55 PM on November 16, 2012


I have been favoring positive eugenics as far back as I can remember.

This is fundamental lunacy. As if we can somehow outdo nature in selecting to fit the environment. Or assure the eternal existence of the human species.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:56 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Breeding out genes found not acceptable will eventually make us automatons.

So, you're an advocate in favor of Huntington's Disease, then? What else? Because I can think of several genetic diseases humanity would love to see the back of.
posted by dhartung at 2:00 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


the most appalling aspect to the misreading of "fittest" is the implication of superiority, or even progress. In fact its really only a question of surviving at all - survival of the just-good-enough, or survival of the meets-minimum-standards would be more nearly correct.

the fadishness of the eugenics/progress/superiority attitude taken by the privileged classes of the early 20th century fed directly into the Ayn Randian ruthless blah blah we are now hearing from the same halls of privilege.
posted by Abinadab at 2:01 PM on November 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


I've wondered recently whether there are unseen benefits in natural mate selection that could get screwed up with the artificial mate selection required by positive eugenics. For example, the genetic variety that results could be lost which could threaten the health of the population. I'm sure something that obvious would be accounted for, but I'm sure there are numerous variables that wouldn't be thought of ahead of time.
posted by vorpal bunny at 2:01 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


As if we can somehow outdo nature in selecting to fit the environment.

We do this always. Most of science is dedicated to either prolonging life or easing life during harsh conditions. Once in awhile, we send robots into space.
posted by Mblue at 2:03 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The children of the rich are the best argument against eugenics.
posted by The Whelk at 2:04 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Stopes's son married Barnes Wallis's daughter, not Bomber Harris's daughter, but, yeah, she did cut him out of her will for marrying a nearsighted lady.

Harry Stopes-Roe is a pretty amazing person. He's one of the shining lights of the English humanist movement. Still with us at 88!
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:18 PM on November 16, 2012


To say eugenics was "uncontroversial" in the US in 1935 would be like saying segregation was "uncontroversial" in the US in 1955. Although pro-eugenics viewpoints were part of the conventional wisdom and reinforced by social institutions like the court system and health-care system, there was a significant body of anti-eugenics activists within the research community and in the public policy and media spheres.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:22 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Before Dawkins was just a firebrand for atheists, and memes were just funny cats, there was this theory that humankind's sense of compassion for each other actually was an important part of the natural selection equation, and a big part of why we wound up everywhere.
posted by Bokononist at 2:27 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Eugenics is a perfectly sound concept when used sparingly (and most importantly, voluntarily). In the early twentieth century, eugenics was a shiny new hammer, and every one of society's problems looked like a nail. Especially when combined with cursory readings of Nietzsche.

But, while we've (alarmingly recently) moved beyond forced sterilization of certain groups, there's still a lot of eugenics going on today. And it's not at all the horrible Nazi boogeyman it's usually made out to be.

For example, it's common for potential parents to do a genetic screening before conceiving, to make sure they're not both carriers of some heritable condition. That's straight-up eugenics. Is it bad?

Incest is illegal. Leviticus, sure, but eugenics too. Should those laws be overturned? Or are they sound?
posted by Sys Rq at 2:36 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


People always say it was Hitler that ruined eugenics, but really it was Darwin that did it. Back when everyone thought Lamarck was right eugenicists were all "Let's make these dumb people smart so they have smart babies instead of dumb babies" but then Darwin came along and then it was all "I guess we'll just sterilize them, then."
posted by ckape at 2:36 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eugenics is a perfectly sound concept when used sparingly (and most importantly, voluntarily).

Eugenics is a perfectly sound concept, period. Being perfectly sound doesn't make it morally or socially acceptable.
posted by gurple at 2:41 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Breeding out genes found not acceptable will eventually make us automatons.

I'll take the long bet on this one: It's not breeding out genes that will make humans more robotic, but engineering new ones into the genome that serve a specific economic purpose. The future will be less like the Aryan paradise of Gattica and more like the Leon/Nexus 6 variety from Blade Runner, where proles are engineered and enhanced to withstand the environmental stresses of hard labor.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:02 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fascist beauty aesthetics choice making (a la "giving baby blue eyes") via genetics, I think would be not really "eu" genics but more, perhaps "meh" genics. It's not particularly good, nor is it particularly bad, but just sorta "eh" on the whole scale of evolution, since it's selecting for human preferences (of course, side effects might dictate that eye color genes are related to other issues that might cause other problems down the line, when selected, so it might in the end be a net negative (or net positive) but used from a strictly sociological choice selection would seem to be a net null.
posted by symbioid at 3:06 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Being perfectly sound doesn't make it morally or socially acceptable.

That doesn't mean anything. What is deemed morally or socially acceptable is determined subjectively, and can vary dramatically depending on location and timing.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:06 PM on November 16, 2012


There will be at least some future conflicts will revolve around the decreasing need of the technocratic elite / capital for human labor, the ongoing desire of all people to reproduce their genetics, true genetic engineering more likely practiced by the elite toward some standard of perfection, and the ongoing depletion of natural resources.
posted by fraxil at 3:10 PM on November 16, 2012


Eugenics is a perfectly sound concept when used sparingly (and most importantly, voluntarily).

It's a perfectly sound concept when applied to dogs. Once we have the one true "good" dog we won't need all those inferior breeds...
posted by ennui.bz at 3:15 PM on November 16, 2012


Well, some of his ideas were pretty shocking.
posted by Decani at 3:15 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


We should call a program of forced sterilization what it is: genocide.

However, selective breeding of human beings is what we've been doing for as long as we've been doing anything and is fundamentally what has made us what we are today. Applying modern science to this effort need not be weird or scary. It's the same question we've always had to answer: "Who do we want to become?" We have to answer this not just for ourselves, but for our children too, at least until they become adults and make their own decisions about it.

What's going to be weird and scary is if someone else insists on answering this question for us, and never lets us "grow up" to choose for ourselves.
posted by wobh at 3:16 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tesla also thought a superweapon would make war impossible. We know how that turned out.
posted by Foosnark at 3:23 PM on November 16, 2012


Tesla also thought a superweapon would make war impossible. We know how that turned out.

Yeah, what a good-for-nothing that Dr. Manhattan dude turned out to be.
posted by palbo at 3:26 PM on November 16, 2012


As much as I respect Tesla's useful works and as much as I find him fascinating...

...the more I learn about him the more I want to dunk him in a vat of pearls just to see if he'll spontaneously shatter and explode like Leto II at the end of God Emperor of Dune.

Perhaps mainly because I'm irritated that certain kinds of often nutty and or simply unscientific people think he had all kinds of yet to be replicated experiments for "free energy" because he was that much of a genius. He wasn't that much of a genius. He was actually quite mad.

He did explore "free energy" with his cosmic ray collecting experiment with minimal results, but the one thing that people remember is his wireless electricity experiments at Colorado Springs and Wardenclyffe, but they're mis-remembering that as "free" energy. It was just "free over the air" energy. It had a generator/dynamo that powered the high voltage, high frequency transmitter, and the whole scheme was incredibly inefficient.

And it was an unmitigated disaster that would have been extremely dangerous, and if the Wardenclyffe Tower was deployed today as it was it would probably fry every semiconductor or unshielded circuit for miles around like a continuous-wave EMP burst.

He's also frequently misquoted and misunderstood, especially this one which people seem to take as some kind of mystical statement or a hint that there's magical ether or something else: "The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence."

And my response is basically: "What do you think happened in the 20th century? He wasn't talking about magic."

People forget that Tesla only had a rudimentary guess at what an electron actually was for most of his working career. He didn't really have any formal grasp of atomic or sub-atomic particles. The electron wasn't really confirmed and directly observed until about 1911. Quantum mechanics and things like electron shells, valence electrons, electron holes, quantum tunneling and basically everything after about 1910-1920 are right out the window for Tesla.

Sure, he was a genius. In the 19th century. But what he mainly was was fanatically obsessed and manic about his experimentation, observation and discovery. Dude didn't sleep nearly enough, really.

If you time-transported him here today he'd be a super freaky crackpot. He would probably be terrified of the fact that we're splitting atoms for crude heat to generate electricity and leaving behind radioactive waste with invisible ionizing radiation strong enough to kill or mutate peopel that lasted hundreds of thousands of years. He'd be utterly mystified or disgusted with our culture and technology, disappointed and shocked we're still fighting wars with even more terrifying weapons.

This is assuming his mind didn't first shatter upon seeing the modern diversity of our incredibly crowded, dirty, germy, MSRA-infected and wildly multicultural society. He'd probably duct tape himself into a room with a bunch of antibiotics and cleansers and wouldn't ever come out again.

So, yeah, thanks for the electricity, Mr. Tesla. That was good. But you'll probably be dismayed to learn that the newest thing in efficient long range transmission of electricity is extremely high voltage DC circuits, which will likely eventually encircle the earth so we can hopefully send solar power all over the planet with a minimum of moving parts or the use of steam in turbines.
posted by loquacious at 3:55 PM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yeah, in the first half of the century problems were being felled left and right and it was only natural that eventually we would "solve" the human problem. Unfortunately humanity continues to elude us and revert to its natural tendency to fling poo at itself.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:18 PM on November 16, 2012


Tesla is the man who put both the 'mad' and the 'scientist' in 'mad scientist'.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:30 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's quite disingenuous to compare Eugenics-with-a-capital-e to modern-day genetic screening. Even frivolous things like appearance selection are a pretty far cry from what the early-20th-century eugenicists were espousing.

However, I find sex selection to be pretty damn insidious, just from a sociological point of view. I feel bad for any single male in India or China.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:46 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


There has never been an honest biopic about him, because the more you know about him, the harder it is to like him.

I'll bet that when Tesla was hosting someone that he respected, like Samuel Clemens, he was much more gracious than Edison could ever be.

You're both wrong!
posted by Navelgazer at 4:59 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


There will be at least some future conflicts will revolve around the decreasing need of the technocratic elite / capital for human labor, the ongoing desire of all people to reproduce their genetics, true genetic engineering more likely practiced by the elite toward some standard of perfection, and the ongoing depletion of natural resources.

Can't tell if that is a mad-lib, observation about the future for a sci-fi story, or a shout-out to Genetically engineering 'ethical' babies is a moral obligation and the link was forgotten.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:12 PM on November 16, 2012


Eugenics is a perfectly sound concept, period.

Eugenics is based on some fairly naive ideas about population genetics. You simply can't manage a population of millions of people like a new line of dogs you're carefully inbreeding, no matter how ruthless you're willing to be about sterilizing people with undesirable traits. At the very top end of efficiency, assuming a program of genocidal ruthlessness, you'd maybe be able to wipe out some single-gene genetic disorders.

If you really wanted to create some "improved" race, you'd have to abandon your conscience even further, start with a group of maybe a few hundred people whose offspring would only be allowed to breed with each other, and control their reproductive decisions totally for dozens of generations. Of course half of them would still end up having hip dysplasia or turning out to be Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen or whatever, but that's the length you'd have to go to.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:58 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


My view is that "survival of the fittest" isn't a good way to describe the process of evolution. It can be a circular argument: Those individuals who are fit survive to produce more offspring, so those individuals who survive to produce more offspring are therefore "fit." It ignores or makes secondary pressures like sexual selection, group selection, and genetic drift. It lets people graft their unconsidered notions of "fitness" onto a natural process, rationalizing discrimination on whatever basis.

Many people want to see a evolution as a system of progress that creates increasingly complex and ordered forms of life. However, it's really a complete mess, with genes trying to function in whatever crazy situation they find themselves in. Loss of complex traits, chromosomal anomalies, "harmful" mutations and viral infections can all lead to higher offspring survival rates for an individual or group. Traits that make an individual faster, stronger, smarter, more potent, or whatever, can turn out to not lead to a high offspring survival rate. Eugenics is to biology what proscriptive grammar is to linguistics; a misplaced hierarchical impulse that utterly misses the point.
posted by eurypteris at 6:25 PM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


These days the ones most interested in eugenics and using terminology like "dysgenic" are the race realist types who are into human biodiversity. Are you would-be eugenicists be ready to challenge them?
posted by Apocryphon at 6:49 PM on November 16, 2012


They're still saying "race x,y,z has a bunch of undesirable traits and therefore are undesirables". That's not too hard to argue with.
posted by clarknova at 7:53 PM on November 16, 2012


Here's a question to ask yourself. Would you not, as you learned history, find it relieving to know that genetic diseases had been removed from the human population a hundred years before your birth?
posted by clarknova at 7:59 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I doubt that's possible, clarknova. I'm not very knowledgeable about the practical mechanics of genetics honestly so maybe I'm off-base, but aren't genetic diseases essentially the result of adverse genetic mutations?

It seems to me we might be able to eliminate a lot of known, heritable genetic diseases potentially, but I don't think we could ever eliminate new naturally occurring mutations with undesirable consequences because if we simply prevented all further genetic mutations, we'd have a less diverse gene-pool and we'd be less able to adapt to changes in our environment, so we'd be a much less robust species.

In fact, without mutations, whether harmful or beneficial, we stop evolving. Unless we could somehow work out in advance which random mutations might be beneficial and which might be harmful and figure out some method for only allowing beneficial mutations to lead to live births. But that doesn't seem very practical. I think Eugenics is just another variant strain of the epidemic Utopianism everyone seemed to be catching in the early industrial era.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:35 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ok, here's where I admit that I think eugenics in any form is immoral. Whenever I discuss this with people, they wind up thinking I'm an extremist. I guess I sort of am.

People today think we're so different from those eugenicists of a hundred years ago. But it's still eugenics when fetuses of the wrong sex or those with Down syndrome are aborted. We're making judgments that certain classes of human life are not worth living. I think such judgments are incredibly dangerous.
posted by medusa at 10:40 PM on November 16, 2012


In my opinion the people who would want to make a list of who should not be able to procreate may be the same people who should be on that list.
posted by eye of newt at 12:30 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ok, here's where I admit that I think eugenics in any form is immoral.

Is 'beautiful' people only breeding with 'beautiful' people eugenics of the 'ugly'?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:34 AM on November 17, 2012


I think people making informed reproductive choices is not necessarily eugenics. It's just plain old natural selection in action. But forcibly constraining or imposing reproductive choices on people en mass, or thinking about it in terms of breeding "better humans" seems dangerous and possibly immoral.

I don't quite know where I stand on issues like terminating down syndrome pregnancies, but it doesn't seem like my business. Some parents of children with down syndrome are as devoted and loving to their special needs kids as any parent with normal children.

My wife and I made a very painful decision to end a pregnancy because our baby had severe anencephaly (in our case, our baby had no skull or brain at all and we were told in no uncertain terms she would die shortly after birth, if she wasn't stillborn--note, I say "our baby" not as any expression of belief on the question of when life begins, but only because that is how we thought of her at the time). I don't think it was immoral to spare my wife the horror of having to spend the remaining months of her pregnancy smiling and letting strangers come up to rub her belly, knowing all the while what lay ahead.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:18 AM on November 17, 2012 [4 favorites]



As if we can somehow outdo nature in selecting to fit the environment.

We do this always. Most of science is dedicated to either prolonging life or easing life during harsh conditions. Once in awhile, we send robots into space.


That's not eugenics. Let's be 100% clear. There have been eugenics laws on the books in many countries, including a lot of US states. One nation engaged in gigantic eugenics operations, seeking out those it considered unfit in its own country and nations it conquered and slaying them all.

In nearly every single instance world-wide, the choice of who was to live and who was to die ended up being based on social, racial and class factors.

I had a friend who majored in genetics. He favored eugenics. I pointed out that today's victims might be tomorrow's survivors. If society collapsed, who would survive? Those inured to living outside, scrounging for food and living on the edge. Any group in modern American society known to possess those attributes? The homeless. He had no answer.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:14 PM on November 17, 2012


But it's still eugenics when fetuses of the wrong sex or those with Down syndrome are aborted. We're making judgments that certain classes of human life are not worth living. I think such judgments are incredibly dangerous.

That's NOT eugenics. Eugenics is where a government has laws regarding who may or may not have children. Individuals making those decisions are exercising free choice.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:17 PM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


But it's still eugenics when fetuses of the wrong sex or those with Down syndrome are aborted.

No, it's not. And that comparison is only a hop, skip, and a jump away from Godwin-ing the entire thread. Abortion is not the Final Solution. If a couple finds out their kid is going to have Down's syndrome, and they choose to keep it, that's their concern. However, if a different couple feels like they can't handle it, I fail to see how their decision to abort the fetus is different from any other abortion. If a couple is pregnant but doesn't feel like they can be good parents -- for whatever reason -- that's what abortion is for! That's one of its main reasons for existing. And unless you're one of those anti-choice people who wants to tell women what to do with their bodies, it's no business of yours why someone chooses to have an abortion.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:50 PM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, it's not. And that comparison is only a hop, skip, and a jump away from Godwin-ing the entire thread

Although I agree that abortion isn't eugenics, the Nazis long ago Godwinned every eugenics thread. They slew six million people they felt to be genetically inferior. There is no way out of that.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:03 PM on November 17, 2012


Right. Which is why I'd hesitate to just throw around a word like 'eugenics'.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:05 PM on November 17, 2012


StickyCarpet: I'll bet that when Tesla was hosting someone that he respected, like Samuel Clemens, he was much more gracious than Edison could ever be.
I'll bet that, as long as Edison assumed you had money or power to help him, he could be amazingly ingratiating. Which is like gracious.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:14 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re: eugenics.

If you oppose the very idea of eugenics as inherently immoral, suppose that you wanted to have children, but had a non-trivial genetic indicator for a horribly limiting condition. Pick whatever you think is very bad: malformed skeleton, shortened life expectancy, lifelong pain-causing condition...

Now, suppose there was a way to weed those condition-carrying zygotes out of your ovary/testicle production. Would you forego the treatment, because "Eugenics is bad"?

I wouldn't.

OTOH, I think the Chinese (and other countries') practices regarding sex-selection are horrible.

Eugenics is not a single-colored issue, like "genocide". The concept encompasses much, from the benign, to the questionable (disabled couples preselecting towards similarly disabled fetuses), to the abhorrent. It's not a single-answer topic.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:24 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]



As if we can somehow outdo nature in selecting to fit the environment.


We've done that for centuries. Breeding of dogs & horses, making hybrid plants, choosing seeds from plants that are resistant to disease and pests. Nature "allowed" malaria & mosquitoes and smallpox, good thing we took issue with that "intelligent design".

Eugenics deservedly fell out of consideration because it's proponents chose to make life and death decisions after the fact (e.g. sterilizing native people without their knowledge). Certainly there are grave dangers, so human communities need to be informed, consulted and respected at every step.
posted by Twang at 5:52 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


We've had success narrowly breeding dogs and horses for particular utilitarian/working purposes. Who do we trust to make a decision about what exactly the purpose of a human is? If it's another human, he or she's likely to decide the purpose of every other human is to make their life easier or to help them accumulate more power and wealth.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:18 PM on November 19, 2012


At least, that seems to have been the master plan with all previous variations on applied eugenics. People are right to be skeptical about that.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:19 PM on November 19, 2012


In fact, without mutations, whether harmful or beneficial, we stop evolving.

Nonsense. We become actors in our own evolution. The classic example is sickle cell giving malarial immunity in heterozygous form. But the mechanism is shitty and has bad side effects in the context of the population. We're on the cusp of a maria vaccine now that will protect everyone with an efficacy similar to others. Wouldn't it be better to replace that one with the superior prosthetic immunity we made? That's evolution as a species.
posted by clarknova at 3:46 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


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