Sunday, February 15, 2009

Eugenics Would Rock (If We Did it Right)

I really think that this is the best option for humanity to consciously improve itself. As one of the main characters in "Inherit the Wind," Henry Drummond, pointed out, our best and most distinguishing feature is our intelligence. I have seen the remarkable effects of having the right combination of genes, and of having the wrong set. Some people seem to just get it, while others struggle and fall behind, or can’t remember or connect a large number of facts if their lives depended on it. I think that most of the problems of the world can be narrowed down to two simple-sounding, but admittedly complex, flaws in our nature: many people are mean and stupid. If we, as a society, could think through our problems, then we’d be home free.

Of course, the problem, which I alluded to, is that of complexity. For instance, we used to think that the rational mind and the emotional mind were two distinct parts of our personality and that one could be strengthened at the expense of the other in order to make our lives easier. This is what the Stoics seemed to have believed. But the truth is, we think with our emotions and emote with our thoughts; the data shows that people who are incapable of emotion cannot make any decisions and waste tremendous amounts of time trying to decide what to do. The reason is they can’t stop thinking through the facts and go with their “gut,” because they lack a decisive preference for any given scenario. At the same time, there are clear-cut differences in intelligence between individuals which make themselves obvious at the behavioral level.

Increased intelligence could help us face all kinds of different challenges, but here’s another area where eugenics would help: healthcare. People who live over one hundred years do not suffer from age-related diseases nearly as often as those who do only make to seventy or eighty- that is how they got so far in the first place. Thus they are some of the cheapest people, in terms of the cost of care, on this planet. And it’s all because they have the right genes; this is made abundantly clear when you consider the fact that many centenarians still smoke, drink alcohol, and commit various other sins against their health. If we could engineer that into the wider population, we could reduce our long-term healthcare expenditures dramatically, especially as the population ages. That would also give us the added benefit of living longer and more pleasant lives.

But I’ve got to address a crucial question, which is: “what gives you the right to say what characteristics are better or worse, and what value a life has?” Well, my answer would be, I couldn’t care less about these ethical questions because they are in fact nonexistent. We can all agree that such characteristics as intelligence and a strong immune system, for instance, are good to have.

As for the value of a life, nobody really thinks that all lives are created equal. They may think that they believe this, but on a fundamental level they really don’t. If that were the case, the history books would devote equal space to every single individual person and we would not acknowledge the existence of great men. There can be no great men if there are no lesser men. We all make such value judgments when we look up to men like Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln and ignore just about everyone else who lived at around the same time period. And here’s something else- what if ethical intelligence has a genetic component? I know there are people with no moral compass whatsoever who were raised by good parents, so I am inclined to suspect there is a strong genetic component. Combined with the right environment you could produce a generation of great moralists as well as thinkers, and think of how many problems that would solve.

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