Genetic Redistribution: New Mission for the Welfare State?
by Matt Nuenke
A review of From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, 2000, by Allen Buchanan,
Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona; Dan W. Brock, Professor of Philosophy,
Brown University; Norman Daniels, Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University; and Daniel
Wikler, Professor of Medical Ethics and Philosophy, University of Wisconsin.
Executive Summary: The next generation of Jewish intellectuals wants to redistribute more
than your paycheck -- it wants to redistribute you.
Every person born is a highly probabilistic creature, having been randomly put together by
a chance selection from twenty-three chromosomes from each parent. The combinatorial
variation is remarkable even in extremely homogeneous populations, and even more so in
multicultural populations where there are great disparities in the average abilities of
different groups. Blacks excel at running, leading to their dominance of professional
sports. Jews excel at verbal intelligence, leading to their remarkable dominance in law,
academics, politics, and the media. Other groups fall in between these group-based genetic
differences. However, it is evident throughout this book that these issues will not be
dealt with honestly and directly. They will be tiptoed around, especially intelligence.
This book dismisses the more communitarian morality of Asian countries and Western particularistic
moral theories. The authors do take these up in Appendix II, "Methodology," but only to
claim that communitarian moral theory exists only as a condemnation of liberalism and hasn't
been as rigorously worked out as Rawlsian theory. Note the irony here: the same charge --
lack of rigor -- can be made against those (Gould, Lewontin, Rose, Kamin, et al.) who claim
that there is no difference in the average intelligence of races, that genes do not matter.
These critics have have attacked with epithets the empiricists who developed sociobiology
and demonstrated the genetic basis of intelligence, offering nary an alternative explanation
for the differences between races in IQ. This could be merely the pot calling the kettle
black, but it can also be seen as an example of the mental laxness resulting from the
knowledge one's biases are shared by the media culture. In any case, epithets are no
substitute for evidence.
A communitarian ethical system may not be presented as a normative moral system, but it is,
nevertheless, a highly empirical moral system when we consider that morality is rooted in
our evolutionary past. It encompasses all of those human behavioral traits that selected
for human intelligence: tribalism, group cohesion around a shared ethos, mistrust toward
and aggression against other tribes, and control of tribal hierarchy by controlling upstarts
or "free riders." That is, our very evolution to higher intelligence carried with it a
communitarian cultural system (see Hierarchy in the Forest by Boehm).
While ignoring human evolutionary moral systems, these authors are concerned that society
will become more stratified as different groups accumulate genetic capital at different
rates -- the very process that pushed humans to higher levels of intelligence in the first
place. That is, the well-to-do will be able to use genetic engineering to eliminate unwanted
genes and to enhance their children's potential by inserting "improved" genes into their
genetic code -- including altering the germline genes that will be carried on to successive
generations. Is this a fair criticism? Not really, because this is how evolution progresses --
it's been working this way for a long, long time. Groups, because of different breeding
patterns, are not the same. Again, using the example of Ashkenazi Jews, or East Asians who
dominate the economies of south Asian countries, multicultural societies are already made
up of groups that are unequal. Ashkenazi Jews have an average IQ of 117, and live among
populations with an average IQ of 100. Malaysian natives have an average IQ of 90, but
Malaysia also hosts a troublesome East Asian minority that will not assimilate, in part
because it has an average IQ of about 106, allowing it to dominate the economy. Australians
have a troublesome minority of aborigines with a low IQ. These and many other examples
show that there is nothing new about some groups eugenically rising above other groups, in
terms of intelligence at least. But now that we have new tools at our disposal, those of
us who would like to acquire the high intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews, for example, are told
that that is somehow unjust!
The book ignores another fundamental principle of human nature. Humans have traditionally
pruned their broods after birth. That is, humans have for thousands of years had children
and then decided whether the children should live or die based on many factors relating to
reproductive success (see Mother Nature by Sarah Hrdy). For this reason alone, then,
once we understand our true human nature, it is all too apparent that a liberal interpretation
of eugenic policies is in error, and only reflects a moral perspective that is relatively
new and not sustainable in a multiculturalist society. But what is really frustrating
about these omissions is that they were in fact discussed by socialist eugenicists 100
years ago! They likewise understood that socialism would be problematic in a society where
different racial or ethnic groups had widely differing abilities.
The one well-developed perspective of this book is its attack on those advocates for the
disabled who feel that ridding population groups of genetic diseases is somehow exclusionary.
That is, if we do not have enough crippled people around, society will become less tolerant
of cripples. Or that society should change the way it looks at genetic disease, rather
than trying to eliminate it by having healthy rather than flawed children. But the fact
that the "exclusionary reaction" has to be argued against only shows how far the totalitarian
left has come in coercing the West towards a radical egalitarianism that has no basis or
sustainability. That is, it is purely an ideology proceeding from an elitist dogma that
has captured our sensibilities through a relentless propaganda campaign, and will not now
be easily dislodged.
One could even make the case that these liberal authors, without knowing it, are arguing for
a new national socialism. On the one hand they systematically ignore the importance of
intelligence in determining how prosperous an individual will be in this society. In study
after study, intelligence is found to be the single most important trait there is in earning
a living, being healthy, not getting into car accidents, planning for the future, etc. But
the authors never seem to mention this fact directly, as if it is an embarrassment. On the
other hand, aside from eliminating genetic disease, they seem to be arguing for a racial
hygiene program in which the lowest levels of society will be raised up via genetic engineering
to the level of the very brightest. So we see again liberal contortionists trying to salvage
individualism and justice while simultaneously ignoring our evolutionary past and our human
nature. One step forward -- three steps back. The arguments are elegant and thorough, but
fall apart when examined from an evolutionary perspective that is empirical rather than
normative -- as these authors admit. That is, "Our moral arguments are better because they
are the only ones in town." Any other moral arguments such as communitarian or evolutionary
are either dismissed out of hand or simply ignored. (For an evolutionary perspective of
group-evolutionary strategies see Kevin MacDonald's trilogy.)
For neoeugenicists, this book is an important addition to our understanding of how some on
the left are attempting to subsume eugenics into their universalist world vision. Most of
course will continue to oppose human genetic improvement, denying any genetic differences
in human traits while they pursue their cultural determinism. Pass enough laws, indoctrinate
the children, destroy national sovereignty, and the left will impose its vision on humanity
regardless of whether it is workable or not.
Before I look at specific quotations from this book, I would like to explain briefly the
moral justification for the authors' positions. It is based on John Rawls's two major
books: A Theory of Justice (1971) and Political Liberalism (1993).
Rawlsian morality holds that society should "allow inequalities only to the extent that
they benefit the worst-off group in society (see A Darwinian Left by Peter Singer,
1999)." That is, it is based on what liberals would like to have humans become while
simultaneously ignoring where humans have been -- filtered through an evolutionary selection
process that limits absolute control of behavior by the state that does not take human
behavior into consideration. Humans are not infinitely malleable, and any attempt to
control morality leads invariably to totalitarianism if it is claimed universal rather than
particular to the tribe or nation. But these new Rawlsian moralists would like to expand
the group-based redistribution not only of resources but of genetic capital too. These
modern-day Dracos won't be happy until they can dogmatically distribute your DNA as well as
your dollars. Think gene control. And by the same people who brought you gun control,
speech control, and all the others.
Take a moment to consider this Rawlsian redistribution of genetic capital: Humans have
allowed themselves to be taxed in numerous ways that result in the transfer of wealth from
some groups to others, but only so far as it seems fair and just and will not severely
limit their own well being. But consider the transfer of genetic enhancements from one
group to another. It is a zero-sum transfer because any genetic enhancements that could
have been bestowed upon one's own children will now be given to someone else's children.
And if the enhancement is made to the germline, that transfer of genetic enhancement not
only affects the immediate children but all future offspring of the family. That is, under
this socialist scheme, genes are to transfer from one family to another merely because one
family's genetic quality is less than the family that is making the genetic sacrifice. Of
course, actual genes may not be transferred, but the money that is required for genetic
enhancement is. And it results in the same differential benefit of genetic enhancements
being made from one family, tribe, or race to another's family, tribe or race! That is,
one group is literally stealing intelligence, beauty, health and mental happiness from a
different group's children to give to its own. And I would argue that this genetic
enhancement transfer is more akin to raiding one person's organs for implantation into
someone else than is a mere redistribution of material wealth. With this in mind, let us
look at the actual text.
Deconstructing the text
The primary objective of this book is to make a contribution toward answering a single
question: What are the most basic moral principles that would guide public policy and
individual choice concerning the use of genetic interventions in a just and humane society
in which the powers of genetic intervention are much more developed than they are today?
The authors want to know what will happen to the underclass if genetic interventions become
commonplace. They see the writing on the wall: they will not be able to stop eugenics, so
they must make sure that the majority of its benefits accrue to the worst-off in society,
as per their religious dogma masquerading as objective morality. And while they make their
arguments for using eugenics to increase the intelligence of population groups who are worse
off because they are on average less intelligent, they must never say so directly. That is,
they must argue their point while deceptively ignoring the importance of intelligence.
We also argue that equal opportunity, as an important principle of justice, has another
bearing on genetic intervention. This principle can impose conditions on access to genetic
interventions that go beyond the prevention or cure of disease. If, for example, it should
ever become possible to enhance some normal desirable characteristics, a consistent commitment
to equal opportunity might rule out an unrestricted market for the dissemination of the
relevant technology, for if valuable enhancements were available only to the better-off,
existing inequalities in opportunity might be exacerbated. Under such conditions, equal
opportunity might require either making the enhancements available to all, even those who
cannot pay for them, or preventing anyone from having them. How we respond to the fifth
scenario sketched earlier -- The Genetic Enhancement Certificate -- will depend on whether
justice requires constraints on unequal access to enhancement technologies.
They are talking about intelligence but can't bring themselves to admit it. If they admitted
that population groups are not equal in intelligence, then they would be embracing Jensenism.
They'd be 'scientific racists.' Their liberal peers would disown them. And that must be
avoided at all costs -- even the cost of dumping evidence. So they argue indirectly. Instead
of admitting they wish to impose Rawls's religious redistributionist dogma on an unwitting
and unaccepting public, they pretend they are merely following the dictates of Justice.
They deny the objective truth of Jensen while at the same time asserting the objective
necessity of what is nothing more than recast Marxist redistributism: i.e., from each-to
each bilge claimed as "science." See, nobody believes in Marx anymore, but science still
retains some prestige. They know that society has always been polarized by race/intelligence,
and that the new tools will only strengthen that polarization unless they -- the gene controllers --
step in to impose their peculiar morality. It's just good tactics to play their politics
as objective science, while denouncing objective science as 'racism.' So they present
their religio-political urge to control your genes under the guise of glittery abstractions.
Proven dupe-fetchers such as: Equality, Fairness, Justice, Anti-Racism, Universalism,
Brotherhood of Man. Left to their own devices, the well-to-do certainly will do what the
authors fear. It appears to be the undergirding inspiration of the book to prevent that
fear from becoming reality. But it is a fear stronger than facts, and whatever political
success the book may enjoy, its "science" is no less untrue.
[W]e argue that the most straightforward and compelling case for developing and using genetic
interventions is to fulfill one of the most basic moral obligations human beings have: the
obligation to prevent harm. People have especially demanding obligations to prevent harm
to their offspring, but through the agency of their political institutions, they also have
obligations to prevent harm to others.
The problem here is that they have no way of defining "others." Are they talking about
individuals in a homogeneous society like Japan? Are they talking about withholding genetic
enhancements for Whites to improve the intelligence of Blacks in the United States? Are
they talking about withholding genetic enhancements to all Europeans until the average IQ
of sub-Saharan Africans can be raised up from an average of 70 to the average in Europe of
100? Are they going to stop all Ashkenazi Jews from using genetic enhancements until every
citizen in the world has and average IQ of 117, equal to the average IQ of the Ashkenazi
This bizarre request for distributive justice when it comes to genetic enhancements again
can only occur under a totalitarian regime, one that would be willing to kill the intellectuals,
as happened in Cambodia's Killing Fields under Pol Pot. For the quickest route to redistributed
intelligence is just that: killing anyone who is too intelligent.
Theories of justice generally begin with the assumption that the most fundamental problem is
how to distribute fairly the burdens and benefits of a society -- understood as a single,
cooperative framework in which all members are active and effective participants. This way
of formulating the issue of justice overlooks two vital points: first, that increasingly
human beings can exert some control over the character of the basic cooperative framework
within which the most fundamental questions of fair distribution arise; and second, that
the character of the most basic cooperative framework in a society will determine who is
and who is not "disabled." In other words, what the most basic institutions for production
and exchange are like will determine the capacities an individual must have in order to be
an effective participant in social cooperation.
They argue here that the type of culture we construct will determine whether a person has
the "genetic equipment" to prosper. For example, as we become a highly technical society,
it must be altered in some way to allow for the least intelligent to become more intelligent
so that they can participate. Here they are laying the foundation for arguing for an almost
totalitarian system of redistribution of intelligence, though they prefer not to deal with
this heritable trait directly.
The source of most of the public's distrust, no doubt, stems from the widespread realization
that genetic information may be used to deny insurance and employment. It takes no subtle
philosophy to understand that anyone is vulnerable to exclusion from these and other economic
and social arrangements should their genes be examined and found wanting. These risks have
rightly occupied center stage in bioethical debates over how the new genetics will be
But the flip side of this argument is that if I have a superior set of genes, in the eyes
of employers or insurers, then why can't I be allowed to advertise my worth? This same
argument could be used to try and eliminate all competitive sports, because they allow some
people to "advertise" their superior physical abilities while denigrating those who are not
as athletic. Now, the government could pass laws restricting employers and insurers from
requesting genetic information about applicants. After all, employers can no longer give
intelligence tests because the courts found them biased against Blacks -- the courts basing
their decision on cultural determinism, which is no longer valid.
But would they also bar me from carrying around in my briefcase and distributing a certificate
of my genetic excellence? I could give this certificate to a potential spouse, employer or
insurer. What laws could stop individuals from giving voluntarily to others information
with regard to their health, intelligence, and genetic code? To ban this type of advertising
then is again totalitarian in nature, and must be resisted at all costs.
Eugenics in Germany, while distinctive in having a medical leadership, had been marked by
much the same divergences of opinion as the movements in other countries. Though numerous
prominent eugenicists were racist and anti-Semitic, others were avowedly antiracist (and
some were Jews), and a number stood on the political left. The Nazis imposed a uniformity
of viewpoint, securing the allegiance of the many eugenicists who rallied to its cause for
a thoroughly racist, nationalist eugenic program that recognized no limits in the pursuit
of "racial hygiene."
Eugenics was central to the entire Nazi enterprise, joined with romantic nativist and racist
myths of the purebred Nordic. The emphasis on "blood" called for a purifying of the nation's
gene pool so that Germans could regain the nobility and greatness of their genetically pure
As Robert Proctor (1988) and other historians have shown, the subsequent programs of
sterilization, euthanasia of the unfit (a program that took the lives of tens of thousands
of "Aryans," mostly young children), and eventually the Holocaust itself were part of the
unfolding of this central idea. The sterilization and "euthanasia" programs, which did not
initially target Jews and other minorities, were an exercise in negative eugenics designed
to improve the native German stock from its degenerated condition. Legislation barring
sexual relations between Jews and "Aryans," and ultimately the Holocaust were intended to
prevent further adulteration of the "pure" German nation with inferior genes. Jews and
others who contributed "evil" genes were the disease afflicting the German nation, which
Hitler, the physician, would cure.
The above is standard post-war revisionism. First, if the "nationalist eugenic program"
had no limits in pursuit of "racial hygiene," neither did the Bolsheviks in Russia have any
limits in pursuit of "cultural hygiene." That is, Marxists preach cultural determinism,
and it is this philosophy that led to the slaughter of over 100 million people during the
20th century. So the only fear should be totalitarianism itself, not the pursuit of
goals. And the universalism promoted by this book is again achievable only by a totalitarian
Second, even Hitler did not believe in such a thing as a pure race. One has to separate
propaganda from what was actually believed by the regime. When American propaganda says,
"You can be whatever you want to be," its sponsors are, of course, using the same language
to pump up the masses. They know there is no real truth in the statement. So the Germans
were merely following what all of the other eugenics-practicing nations were doing at the
time. The difference was not eugenics but totalitarianism and militarism. As these
authors point out, the first to be eliminated in the name of eugenics were Germans, not
Jews or other minorities. The Jews were eliminated along with Slavs and Gypsies as much
because of the war and the need for slave labor as for a "eugenics program." These alien
population groups were seen as being in the way of German expansion, and later caught up in
the war. They were simply seen as enemies to be destroyed.
Not all eugenicists concluded that reproduction should be controlled by the state. Galton,
for example, wanted to secure voluntary acquiescence with eugenic guidelines by making
eugenics a civil religion, and some eugenicists focused entirely on positive eugenics,
which could scarcely be compulsory. This social understanding of reproduction was
accompanied by a view of the germ plasm as a social resource, its use governed by
considerations of the public good -- although, once again, eugenicists of different
political colorations drew very different implications from this shared premise.
This book does in fact argue for state coercion to bring about a eugenics program. The
difference is that the authors would have their gene control follow the methodology as the
welfare state. There are now transfers of money by taxation from the productive to the
unproductive, who are on average less intelligent than those who are more productive. This
amounts to state-subsidized dysgenics, as the less intelligent have more children than the
middle or upper classes, which usually opt for quality rather than quantity when having
So reproduction is in virtually every country at least indirectly controlled by the state,
and therefore state policy is in fact responsible for either a dysgenic or a eugenic
movement in average genetic quality. Average gene quality is never stagnant, nor is it
simply a product of individual choice. Only a libertarian state leaves reproduction
entirely up to the individual, and there aren't many of those outside of books.
Though the pseudoscience, bias, bigotry, and racism that abounded in eugenics make the
movement's bad reputation richly deserved, these features of the historical movement do not
in themselves demonstrate that eugenics must be avoided in the future. The eugenics
movement was a creature of its time. The science of genetics was in its infancy. Racism,
class snobbery, and other forms of bias were openly expressed even by learned scholars;
these sentiments, so obviously objectionable today, were invisible then, because, of
course, they were so widely shared.
There is no shortage of class, race, and national biases today, although they are no longer
displayed openly in polite society, and vigilance is needed to ensure that they do not
infect social policy involving applications of genetic science (as in every area of social
life). Part of the fierce opposition to the theses of Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell
Curve, which occupied center stage in intellectual debate for a season, can be understood
as a response to their disparaging remarks -- couched, to be sure, in soothing and
reasonable language -- about not only the intelligence but even the moral character of both
the poor and African-Americans. But, as we note later in this chapter, racism and other
biases were not unique to eugenics.
This book is about increasing the intelligence of racial minorities, along with prevention
of disease, though the authors usually hide behind deceptive language to make their points
concerning intelligence. This is one of the rare places they even mention intelligence
directly -- and notice how it is dismissed in just a few sentences. They also try to
dismiss the evidence of the genetic differences in the average intelligence of different
racial groups by pretending that The Bell Curve was a "seasonal" phenomenon.
The fact is, the American Psychological Association convened a task force in 1995 to review
the data presented in The Bell Curve, and concluded that in fact Blacks were less
intelligent than Whites, that it was not test bias, that the tests do matter in life, and
that this data cannot be dismissed as racist or pseudoscientific. (The report is titled
Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns.)
Following this, Arthur Jensen published his life's work on intelligence The g Factor: The
Science of Mental Ability (1999) proving conclusively that racial differences in intelligence
are primarily genetic. And the academic journal INTELLIGENCE has coined the term Jensenism
to pay honor to his work, and to carry on research in differential psychology and
This is hardly a "seasonal" blip; rather, it is an important chapter in a century-old
debate that has recently seen the tide turn from the cultural determinism of thirty years
ago to a recognition today that intelligence is primarily (60 to 80%) genetic. The nature
via nurture perspective is the only viable alternative for researchers who are determining
for various human traits or behaviors the heritability versus environmental factors that
make people different.
We now consider five answers to the question, Why was eugenics wrong? Each goes beyond the
movement's poor science and evident prejudice to attempt to locate errors of moral wrongs
inherent in any eugenic program. We endorse the fifth, the lack of a concern for the fair
distribution of burdens and benefits, but several of the others come close to the mark.
Thesis I: Replacement, not Therapy: Eugenics sought human betterment, but
in a distinctive way: by causing better people to be conceived and born, rather than by
directly bettering any people. Benefits to people already born would be indirect: freedom
from the burdens placed on society by the unfit, sharing in the productivity of the gifted.
The distinction has been drawn vividly, albeit in a different context, by Richard Lewontin:
"To conflate. . . the prevention of disease with the prevention of lives that will involve
disease, is to malign completely the meaning of preventive medicine."
The problem is, eugenics is about the cumulative improvement in the human genome over time.
It has little to do with preventive medicine. The goals are different, even though in both
cases the objects of concern are humans. This is like conflating the management of timber
industry forests with the prevention of the destruction of the rain forests of Brazil.
They are not the same goals. Medicine has never been about the future quality of the gene
pool; it has been about reducing suffering, preventing harm, and curing disease. Eugenics
and medicine are for different purposes.
Thesis 2: Value Pluralism: "Who was to set the criteria for ideal man? In a complex modern
society no particular human type could be characterized as 'the best'. Is the very idea, of
a eugenic program self-defeating? If there is no best, how can eugenicists promote it?
Eugenicists are rightly blamed for promoting a particular conception of human perfection,
failing to appreciate the essential plurality of values and ideals of human excellence.
It's true that the old eugenicists used myriad criteria to describe the best, but the
errors in the early eugenics programs were no different from the errors made in medicine
when people were "bled" to cure diseases -- along with numerous other atrocious practices.
They had to start somewhere, and likewise the early eugenicists were using a Mendelian view
of differences in people that we now know to be far too simplistic. However, neoeugenicists
today use primarily only one criterion for improvement -- intelligence. It has been firmly
established that general intelligence is the main determinant in a person's employability,
number of accidents, health, crime, and numerous other social behaviors that make the
difference in the quality of life for man and nation alike. A nation with a high average
intelligence will be a more prosperous, less crime-ridden nation.
Thesis 3: Violations of Reproductive Freedoms: Apart from the Nazis' crimes, the involuntary
sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans and Europeans is the worst stain on the
record of the eugenics movements. (Other great wrongs, such as curbs on immigration and
the miscegenation laws, stemmed from a variety of causes.) In many instances, those who
warn us of a return to eugenics have infringements of reproductive freedoms in mind. Indeed,
the eugenic program, once LaMarckian theories of heredity were abandoned, consisted largely
in trying to influence (or to dictate) who would breed with whom. This was the sole
technique the eugenicists had for influencing the genetic makeup of new generations. It
may seem appropriate, then, to identify eugenics with violations of reproductive freedom,
and in turn to condemn both on the same grounds.
Of course humans have never had reproductive freedom. In the past, marriages were arranged,
and the ethos of the tribe dictated what was permissible and what wasn't. In some tribes,
infanticide was very common, and even enforced by local custom. Some children were forced
into celibacy, or sold into slavery. And of course, deprivation and a lack of resources
severely limited the number of children that could be supported until very recently.
Simply put, the welfare state, diverting money from achievers to the unfit, is destroying
the reproductive freedom of the middle class. Neoeugenicists are merely intent on reversing
this dysgenic program with a eugenic one. If you can support your children through your
own efforts, without assistance from the state, then you are free to have as many children
as you want. If not, you suffer the consequences of your actions. This is realistically
the only viable form of reproductive freedom.
Thesis 4: Statism: In a recent address, James Watson (1997) reviewed the odious history and
possible future of eugenics and concluded that the most important safeguard is to eliminate
any role for the state.
And again, if the state has no business in improving the overall genetic quality of future
generations, then it also has no business in improving the quality of life for those who
have become a burden on society. Eugenics has only to obey the laws while eliminating
welfare. Those who turned to crime to sustain lives not viable in a modern state would be
put in jail where they could not reproduce.
So the state's role in eugenics could be a completely passive one, or libertarian in nature.
If the state should have no concern in eugenics, then it also should have no concern for
education, the general welfare, childcare programs, etc. Socialists cannot argue for
almost total state control of the economy and the redistribution of wealth, while denying
that the state has a valid interest in the genetic quality of its future generations.
Thesis 5: Justice: Daniel Kelves (1985) concludes his managerial history of the eugenics
movement with the observations that eugenics has proved itself historically to have been a
cruel and always a problematic faith, not least because it has elevated abstractions --
the "race," the "population," and more recently the "gene pool" -- above the rights and
needs of individuals and their families.
Is eugenics any more "cruel" than, say, patriotism during war, when young soldiers are sent
off to be maimed or killed for the good of those people who are left behind? It seems that
we all understand human sacrifice, and we all have some concept of judging the level of
sacrifice under different circumstances. So let's take a closer look at this so-called
"cruelty" of eugenics.
If a couple were to marry, and both sides of the family had a history of mental illness, or
low intelligence, or numerous other genetic diseases, how much of a sacrifice would it be
for them to decide not to have children because the odds are poor that all the children
would be fit and intelligent? Also, we know that many professional women have abandoned
having children because to have a career and raise a family imposes too many burdens.
Mother nature made sex a much more desirable goal than having children. The need for sex
is much greater than the need for children, at least for men. And yet men are told that
they should give up sexual desires and wait until they are married. But many of them will
die for their country before experiencing sexual gratification. Is that not far more
I don't mean to be flippant, but the fact is, having children is as much a need for most
people as having a nice car. It is not cruel in either case not to get what one desires.
To equate not having children with cruelty is just not realistic. Couples without children
are happy, often happier even than those with children, though there is a great deal of
social and familial pressure to reproduce. Fit breeding advances the overall good of
society, while restricting the less fit furthers the same goal, without cruelty. Every
human alive has numerous goals and desires given to him by nature, and it is no less
natural that many of those desires will go unfulfilled. It is not cruel to be deprived of
this or that minor need or desire. Cruelty involves physical or mental pain beyond our
control, like starvation, torture, exposure, or severe depression. In the long run, the
best way to prevent cruelty is for humans to both reduce genetic disease and to increase
the average intelligence of their people.
According to this proposal, parents do not practice eugenics when they seek "the perfect
baby." The reason is that these parents presumably do not employ clinical genetics with the
population's welfare in mind. Any testing or, if you will, genetic engineering which they
employ will be done because they want their child to have every advantage the new genetics
can bestow. The cumulative impact of decisions like theirs may have a substantial impact
on the well-being of others, and on society over time, but, in seeking clinical services,
this is not their personal concern.
But can these two concerns -- one for the prospective child and the other for society -- be
so neatly distinguished? Consider these statements:
Ia--I favor a genetic intervention because I want my child to have the "best" (healthiest,
Ib--We favor genetic interventions (on behalf of each of us) because we want our children
to have the "best" (healthiest, etc.) genes.
Ic--I favor genetic interventions (for each person in our group) because I want our children
to have the "best" (healthiest, etc.) genes.
If Ia is morally acceptable, it doesn't become wrong when voiced by several people (in the
form of Ib. And how can one person be faulted for endorsing that group's hope Ic? Ib and
Ic are merely the aggregate of many instances of Ia. One might expect to hear Ic uttered
by, say, a health official or a legislator who sponsors a measure that would provide genetic
services to large numbers of people. Concern for the welfare of large numbers of people is
part of their job descriptions.
It seems to me that the above statement supports the communitarian morality that neoeugenicists
propose. We fully agree with the above justification for state-directed eugenics.
Many contemporary theorists of justice follow Rawls, who holds that the principles of
justice include a principle of equal opportunity. There are disagreements, however, about
how equal opportunity is to be understood. Three major alternative interpretations of equal
opportunity may be distinguished in the historical and contemporary literature:
I--Equal opportunity requires only the elimination of legal barriers to similar prospects
for persons of similar talents and abilities (sometimes called "Formal Equality of
Opportunity," or "Careers Open to Talents").
II--Equal opportunity requires the elimination of legal and informal barriers of discrimination
for persons of similar talents and abilities ("informal barriers" includes extra-legal
discrimination based on race, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, class, religion, etc.).
III--Equal opportunity requires not only the elimination of legal and informal barriers of
discrimination, but also efforts to eliminate the effects of bad luck in the social lottery
on the opportunities of those with similar talents and abilities. (The "social lottery"
here refers to the ways in which one's initial social starting place -- family, social
class, etc. -- affect one's opportunities. Hence, one of the most important measures
required by this third conception of equal opportunity is free basic education).
Item II above calls for elimination of discrimination. Unfortunately, the left has never
fully accepted that differences are found primarily to be genetic. Racism has been
eliminated, as shown by the fact that East Asians make more money in the United States on
average than do Whites because of their conscientiousness and high intelligence (note that
second to intelligence in performing well in life is conscientiousness, which is also
highly genetic). Likewise, Blacks will always do poorly because of their genetic low
intelligence. With universal education and an end to discrimination we no longer have
barriers based on race, sex, etc. What we have are disparities in innate intelligence
between different races.
Item III is nothing more than a call for totalitarian egalitarianism similar to Communism.
That is, we will make people equal in outcome no matter how much they in fact differ in
innate ability; we will ignore this disparate innateness and blame society for individual
failings. This has been the pattern of cultural determinists: ignoring all empirical data
showing natural differences between groups.
Go to Part 2