Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Lamont, you dummy!
February 28, 2003 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Stupidity should be cured, says DNA discoverer. "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great."
posted by ColdChef (22 comments total)

 
He's said this sort of thing before. I can imagine the quote about making "all girls pretty" will be an oft-repeated soundbite thrown around whenever people argue about pros and cons of genetic engineering from now on.
posted by Potsy at 5:11 PM on February 28, 2003


"People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great."

I have to worry about what someone who says something like that would consider "pretty."
posted by Cyrano at 6:06 PM on February 28, 2003


There's a point lurking around in there though. Imagine a world where we have the capacity to usefully gene-tamper -- where the technology is available to alter the genetics of a sperm and egg to get a kid that doesn't have genetic disorder foo, or that is simply (in expectation) smarter, and better-looking, and stronger than it would have been otherwise. But this tech is banned.

Wouldn't, then, the weaker and stupider and uglier of us have a claim against society? If I'm one person in particular, and I'm not happy with my looks or height or smarts, what if I ask why *I* had to be ugly, or stupid, or short? Why do I have to bear the costs of your no-genetic-engineering policy?

Not genetically engineering our kids is a choice too, one that will eventually be a quite conscious one, and it's a choice that will have its own losses and suffering in addition to whatever benefits it supplies.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:24 PM on February 28, 2003


You make it sound as though everyone will have equal access to genetic engineering. I highly doubt that will be the case. Given that corporate profits are the highest goal of our current society (rather than the common good), odds are these therapies are going to be quite expensive indeed, and unavailable to those without the means.

Now, at least the less fortunate have a chance of rolling the genetic dice and coming up a relative winner (extra-smart, extra-beautiful children or whatever). Imagine if their kids are competing against privileged kids who have those features guaranteed through genetic engineering.

You could end up with a permanent underclass who can never afford to buy into the genetic advantage game.

Plus, think about how fashions change over time. What if your parents programmed your genes to match some ideal that turns out to be not-so-ideal when you hit adulthood?
posted by beth at 6:39 PM on February 28, 2003


Wouldn't, then, the weaker and stupider and uglier of us have a claim against society? If I'm one person in particular, and I'm not happy with my looks or height or smarts, what if I ask why *I* had to be ugly, or stupid, or short?

What a disgusting sense of entitlement that would imply. Isn't the only necessary response "the world doesn't owe you anything"?
posted by slipperywhenwet at 6:55 PM on February 28, 2003


Imagine medical technology that would make people several inches taller on average, almost double the average lifespan, and make people's skin, teeth and hair much better looking for many years longer. And improve IQ scores dramatically, especially for the most "stupid".

Now imagine that after 100 years, this incredible technology is fully accessible for one-third of the planet, with another one-third in varying stages of using it.

That's the 20th century history of the technologies of sanitation, immunization, and nutrition.

Would anyone like to argue that these technologies were unnatural, immoral, or based on some incorrect cultural ideal of intelligence or beauty? Would anyone like to argue that we should not have developed these technologies at a time when only the "privileged" had access to them?

The issues surrounding genetic modification are really issues about how we finance and distribute health care to poorer people. What were considered luxuries for the rich 100 years ago are now considered basic health needs of all people. Genetic modification will start and spread in the same way. Hopefully we can argue less about what the privileged are doing to fund discovery of the next life-extending technologies, and focus more on what society as a whole is doing to spread the benefits of the medical technology we already have.
posted by fuzz at 7:04 PM on February 28, 2003


Isn't eugenics defined as ending the gene-lines of people bearing traits defined by the hegemony as undesireable? Wake up, cracky. People want to be themselves.
posted by scarabic at 7:11 PM on February 28, 2003


Stupidity? I think arrogance should be the first to go. *cough cough*

While I don't agree with tampering, I agree that sperm and egg selection is fine. You're not changing anything, you're just increasing the couples chances. It eliminates a lot of the hard questions, and the baby is still theirs.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 7:49 PM on February 28, 2003


You make it sound as though everyone will have equal access to genetic engineering. I highly doubt that will be the case.

Me too. But if there's a ban on human genetic engineering for these purposes, there will be real people who will really suffer in some degree for it; there will be people who are uglier and stupider and shorter and taller and skinnier and fatter than they'd otherwise be and would prefer not to be. It's not an obvious win-win to ban it, that's all. If we ban it, some people will be benefit and others will lose. If we allow it, some people will benefit and others will lose.

That just makes it a tougher call, is all.

Now, at least the less fortunate have a chance of rolling the genetic dice and coming up a relative winner (extra-smart, extra-beautiful children or whatever).

I don't buy relative-gains arguments like that. I'm as tall and handsome and smart and rich and sexy as I am. If someone else is taller or shorter or better-looking or smarter or richer or sexier, I'm still just the same as I was before.

What you're proposing is that we should all be poor rather than have some people be rich and others no poorer than they were before. Nobody benefits from that, and some people lose.

You could end up with a permanent underclass who can never afford to buy into the genetic advantage game.

Every other tech that's come around gets cheaper over time; what's your good reason to think this is an exception?

Plus, think about how fashions change over time. What if your parents programmed your genes to match some ideal that turns out to be not-so-ideal when you hit adulthood?

That would be bad. That's one good reason among others not to allow it, or to apply restrictions. I didn't say that it would be an unqualified good to allow unrestricted human genetic engineering, only that the mere ability to do so creates some thorny (to me) ethical questions.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:38 PM on February 28, 2003


What a disgusting sense of entitlement that would imply. Isn't the only necessary response "the world doesn't owe you anything"?

If it were the world doing it, I'd agree. But in the case I was positing, it would be a deliberate choice to do so. If you have the capability to guarantee that your child is smart and cute, but you choose not to do so or are prohibited from doing so, then you're choosing to subject the child to known risks, at at-best-arguable benefit to himself or herself.

I could have had a zero percent chance of being myopic or lactose-intolerant or of developing disease [foo], but someone chose to subject me to some positive risk of all three. It makes me wonder if they might ask the people that told them that they had to be myopic and gassy and lactose-intolerant or whatever to answer for that choice -- why did I, in particular, have to run that risk when you could have taken it from me?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:43 PM on February 28, 2003


Wouldn't making all girls pretty cause a monoculture?

We all know what happens to monocultures. Does Watson have some evidence to the contrary?
posted by shepd at 9:50 PM on February 28, 2003


kind of like in gattaca.
posted by birdherder at 10:05 PM on February 28, 2003


If you make "all girls pretty" it won't be long before our standards of beauty recalibrate and we become much more sensitive to minor flaws, considering them hideous. Nothing would change.

On the other hand I am all for making people smarter. Even if we can't make them all equally smart, we would undoubtedly improve society in uncountable ways by doing increasing everyone's intelligence by some percentage. For a start, life would be much more pleasant, but we would also advance socially, culturally, and technologically much faster.
posted by kindall at 10:55 PM on February 28, 2003


"Nature abhors a moron." -- H.L. Mencken
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 11:08 PM on February 28, 2003


I cannot see how genetic enhancement of humans can possibly be a bad thing in itself.
What I'm worried about is that all this hoopla is going to scare people up, so that the government will go in and put overly restrictive laws in place. That way, only the government could "make all girls beautiful".

Now, a government with total control over our genes, that is scary.

If parents want to use this technology to make sure they don't pass on myopia, flat feet, baldness or intestinal cancer to their offspring, more power to them I say.

Besides, the human body (and intelligence) have been fine-tuned trough eons of natural selection. I doubt very much that we will be able to improve on it in the foreseeable future.

So chill.
posted by spazzm at 12:51 AM on March 1, 2003


I think it's really funny that further up in game theory thread we learn that not only are we not always rational ("intelligent") it's not necessarily a good thing to be so. We'll be engineering a sub-race of good-looking and easily exploited people. This makes me dizzy.
posted by wobh at 8:39 AM on March 1, 2003


I cannot see how genetic enhancement of humans can possibly be a bad thing in itself.

That's something that can and will be debated endlessly. But the practical question is how could we possibly find out if it works? Who will be willing to bear the responsibility for what happens to genetically-modified people 50 or 100 years down the road, when they start to develop horrible, painful conditions (or: simple dissatisfaction with the work)? With the curent system, at least, there's no one to blame for my genetic makeup. OTOH if it was the work of GenCorp I'd have a big target and plenty of incentive to find a reason to sue them.

I can imagine some future test case: Joe Handsome is a model of genetic perfection. He's smart, handsome, healthy. And maybe even a little bit selfish. So he sues GenCorp for a billion dollars because their actions have caused him to be deeply depressed for most of his life -- he's utterly unable to empathise with less-fortunate folk, among other things.

Some doctors today are deciding to stop delivering babies because of the insane cost of malpractice insurance. Who on earth could afford to meddle with someone's genes?
posted by greengirl at 1:08 PM on March 1, 2003


"People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great."

The problem is, there are very few ugly girls to begin with. With proper diet, exercise, and hygiene, women are almost all good-looking. Maybe one in 1,000 could use a nose job or has an unfortunately mannish face. There's one girl at work who has an extremely hot body, but she has my head.

It would be nice to improve the few real freaks. Only the hideously malformed really need improvement. The real challenge is cultural. There are so many obese people in America that the few women who do take care of themselves are treated like some rare and holy commodity.

Personally, I think the chick from The Princess Diaries was pretty hot before and after, but there are some wackos out there who would say she was unattractive before she became a princess. I don't think we have to go to those extremes. Just a little bit of exercise and a shower can go a long way.
posted by son_of_minya at 5:04 PM on March 1, 2003


What Kindall said -- our perceptions of what is ugly and what isn't are based partially on what we see, not solely on genetics; faces that are most attractive are those that are most average in most respects, with a few charactaristics (eye size, etc.) enhanced in particular directions. That's one reason Elizabethans considered ultra-pale skin attractive and modern americans don't -- modern americans see people of all races, and the "most attractive skin shade" naturally migrates to the middle -- lighter african americans, for example, and darker caucasians. For a nobel lauriate, Watson sure is an idiot.
posted by Tlogmer at 5:50 PM on March 1, 2003


Watson has professed his love of controversy:

"You were never held back by manners, and crap was best called crap. Offending somebody was always preferable to avoiding the truth, though such bluntness did not make me a social success with most of my classmates."

But, kids, just remember that the difference between being a troll and a "thought-provoking figure" is a Nobel Prize (which is not to say that there's anything wrong with trolling).
posted by LimePi at 7:21 PM on March 1, 2003


"My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get."
posted by MzB at 9:06 PM on March 1, 2003


"I always said people were like a bawx of chaw-ca-lates...

Yum."

Forrest Dahmer
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:17 AM on March 2, 2003


« Older Yerba Mate...  |  Maybe there are no weapons, af... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments