John C. Wright (johncwright) wrote,
John C. Wright

Eugenics, and other modern fairytales

Perseeni poses a difficult question, which I despair of answering clearly. I will try my best. The beginning of the discussion is here

Let me take eugenics as an example, since you mentioned it as an example of barbarism. I'll begin with a hypothetical.

Let us say we have a choice between two courses of action or inaction. According to our predictions, one of those two courses of action will lead to the existence of a beautiful intelligent people, while the other will lead to that of an ugly stupid people. Even while lamenting the inexistence of a suitable time machine for testing our hypotheses, shouldn't we choose the former course of action, *as long as* it doesn't violate people's rights? The following is an example of such a eugenic course of action: a program for a *voluntary* free sterilization to be provided to people who meet specified requirements. These people would also, in this hypothetical scenario, be *paid* for undergoing this voluntary sterilization, so there would be an incentive for them to do so. Would you, Mr. Wright, tell me what would be barbaric about such a course of action? Please try to be as concrete in your response as possible.

Here is an example of a dysgenic course of action, taken from the real world America (and it is indeed an example of action, and not inaction): a social security system and other laws and services that encourage minority races, especially poor and illegal aliens, to have many children, while economically discouraging whites from having many children. Also, due to other laws of similar bent, men with any money of their own, and therefore at least a descent amount of intelligence, have become wary of having children in the first place: once they have a child, they must financially support him, regardless of whether their partner decides to leave with the child, leaving the man behind, which again has been made easy, often even financially beneficial for the woman, by the feminist legal system. In contrast, during the Medieval period, noblemen were sowing good-gened out-of-wedlock children where ever they found attractive women of lower classes. Today, such short-term relationships don't yield as many babies as they might in any case, due to the popularity of contraception.

(Quoting me) "Everyone, and not merely science barbarians, makes claims about what is good or bad based on what we think we know about the world, and also based on what we think we know about the nature of good and evil."

Perhaps. Yet there are those whose statements are clearly more based on reality, and not so much on sentimental visions of equality, which visions the supporters of same would probably never try to make part of the real world even if the tools were given to them, as they indeed have been (in the form of eugenics, gene manipulation, nano technology).

* * *

You have lost me. You are making an argument here in favor of eugenics, but you are not making a scientific argument, or even making a scientific claim. You quote no fact and no observations; you merely recite certain commonplace myths and make certain assumption.

For example, do you have a factual, scientific study at hand, based on real observations, that says that beauty is an inherited characteristic, as opposed to, say, a by-product of factors like diet and exercise, or even being a characteristic that exists mostly in the eye of the beholder, due to societal norms? I am not a big fan of lip-plugs, for example, but my Aztec friends tell me they are the height of elegance.

Do you have a factual, scientific study at hand, based on real observations, that says the American welfare system gives money to minority races because they are minorities, rather than, say, to poor people because they are poor? I am not talking about correlation, I am talking about cause and effect. If poverty is not an inherited characteristic, then you are not talking about genetics, you are talking about something else (social engineering, perhaps or cultural characteristics) and merely using genetics as a metaphor.

In fact, your argument is, in many ways, the opposite of a scientific argument: it is an appeal to prejudices.

"According to our predictions, one of those two courses of action will lead to the existence of a beautiful intelligent people, while the other will lead to that of an ugly stupid people....Even while lamenting the inexistence of a suitable time machine for testing our hypotheses, shouldn't we choose the former course of action, *as long as* it doesn't violate people's rights?"

You have not given any reason why anyone should choose the course of action you outline. Maybe you have an idea in mind, but you have not stated it here, and I am at a loss to guess what it is. It is not based on any moral theory known to me.

I have a son who is retarded, and I myself am ugly, so I do not see why I should destroy my bloodline merely so that some hypothetical future generation might, in your imagination, meet "standards" (I use the term loosely) that are arbitrary and shallow.

I do not see why I should give way to Fu Manchu, who is smarter than me, or to Paris Hilton, who is prettier, and let them breed and people the earth, as opposed to people who think like me. (Noy jitat! The world overrun by Paris Manchu! The mind reels.)

If anything, my natural inclination is to preserve my bloodline: indeed, if I were to play the same game as you, and draw moral conclusions from Darwinian speculations, should I not claim that Mother Nature herself orders me to preserve my bloodline, on pain of extinction? Why should I not want my grandchildren to look like me, rather than to be pretty?

Barbarians often mistake what is beautiful for what is good, and have no notion of the rights of man or the dignity of man, and so the idea of breeding other men like packs of dogs, to get some strain with superior characteristics has an appeal to the barbarian.

Barbarians believe in a strict cosmic order, and so they are naturally infatuated by caste systems and godkings: they are naturally inclined toward simplicity in their legal theory, if their prejudices can be dignified by that term. Civilized men have written laws and notions of justice. Nazis and communists, for example, whether they live in cities or not, whether they are literate or not, are barbaric, because their theories and practices are those of barbarians.

You have carefully spelled out, by making the eugenics and sterilization program voluntary, how to make it legal, at least, by a libertarian notion of legality: you have not explained how it is civilized, or consonant with traditional "Classical Liberal" notions of the dignity of man.

In other words, I cannot answer your question because you have not asked a question. You have assumed that sterilization for eugenics is civilized, but have given me no reason to think it is.

I would not let myself be bred like a dog, for I am a free man; and that is the basic concept that separates the barbarian from the civilized man. Is this answer concrete enough to satisfy you?

I have tried to answer as best I may, but I am honestly not sure I understand your question.

Was your question whether a voluntary system would violate a libertarian notion of rights? It would not.

Would it be barbaric? Of course it would be: men turning themselves into eunuchs for the goofy and unobtainable goal of pleasing some Sultan of the far future, who can look out his window as if at his cattle and see nothing but pretty people? In this case, you are the Sultan, and the view is imaginary, but I do not see a difference in spirit.

I do agree that the welfare system in America encourages bastardy and discourages marriage, and discourages hard-working poor from working hard-- it provides the opposite economic incentive.

To me, that implies that the science called economics must be consulted before we decide what laws are just and unjust to deal with this problem; it does not sound like a problem in biology, unless you think poverty is an inherited characteristic.

Is poverty genetic? Let me list a few rags-to-riches individuals that such a theory would have to account for:

  • Chris Gardner
  • Lisa Renshaw
  • Bill Gates -- a dropout, if you recall
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Roman Abramovich,
  • Steve Jobs -- an orphan and a dropout
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Li Ka-shing, richest man in Asia -- a dropout at age 15, orphaned, went to work in a factory.  
  • Kirk Kerkorian quit eighth grade to take up boxing.
  • Sheldon Adelson --- The son of a Boston cabdriver
  • J.K. Rowling, richer than the Queen -- a welfare mom.

The barbaric view of human nature is that we are dogs to be bred by our masters to be pleasing to his eyes. The civilized view of human nature takes nothing as our master aside from the pure and principled idea of Goodness, or, if you are religious, God Himself: and to be fruitful and multiply is one of His commandments to us. My family life would be miserable indeed were it not for my children; if you are asking me to give up my family life so that some Eloi of the year AD 802701 will be pretty to look at, or some Morlock be possessed of a cunning intelligence, you are making some assumption about the value of human life, particularly of my life and my son's life, that I cannot see.

"Yet there are those whose statements are clearly more based on reality..."

A noble sentiment. All philosophers favor discovering the truth, and looking at it clearly, no matter how it hurts one's eyes.

But then you conclude the comment with this bit of malarkey: " … and not so much on sentimental visions of equality…"

I laugh in scorn. As if notions of equality before the law were anything but realistic, pragmatic, hard-headed and clear-eyed views of the real nature of human nature. Or are you calling Hobbes, of all people, a sentimentalist? Ho ho.

Where have you been the last four hundred years? Did you miss the Enlightenment? Where have you been since the overthrow of Tarquin the Proud, and the establishment of the republic of Rome? Where have you been since Solon?

Monarchy and race-supremacy is not merely a myth, it would impractical even if true. Creating special privileges for a caste or class devalues the justice system, and brings irrelevent factors into the operation of the court of law, erodes loyalty toward the legal system, and threaten the peace. Simpler and more practical to punish a man as a thief when he steals bred, because he stole, rather than waste the court's time with evidence of his ancestry and caste. What does it matter if the hand that steals is white or black, wears a gold wristwatch or not? Equality in the eyes of the law is quite pragmatic, if you goal is maintaining the public peace. The divine right of kings or the pseudo-divine right of the genetically superior is not pragmatic; such social systems would be in constant civil war, tumult, and upheaval.

The idea of a caste system based on eugenic breeding for supermen is not even something as dignified as a myth: it is a science fiction story.

And it is a story always told in the third person, never in the first person. It is always THAT race over THERE who is going to be subjugated by the forces of history, never MY race HERE.

In reality, the Jews are a harder working and smarter people than any other tribe of man. Do I need to list everyone from Einstein to Ayn Rand to Freud to Marx, who, no matter what you think of their conclusions or theories, display a remarkable ability to make intellectual tidal waves, and change who paradigms of civilization?

In reality, the Japanese are ferocious, highly intelligent, clean, and highly motivated. They are the beautiful and intelligent people you describe.

Are you willing that the White Races shoulder sterilize themselves so that the beautiful dark-haired children of Amaterasu should oversweep the world? If your ideals were pragmatic, instead of poetical, you would be willing. Li Ka-shing has made more money than you or I or anyone we know. Should we sterilize ourselves to allow his progeny more room to breed? That would be scientific, would it not?

Fantasy comments from the "reality-based" community invite derision. Modernism, or socialism, racism, nazism, materialism, environmentalism (or any of these other 'isms' that modern folk have in place of religion to occupy their energies) is not more realistic or more clearly based on reality than a well-thought out philosophy: it is merely the most recent fad or fashion. Usually, the 'ism' is some return of some old and long-discredited heresy, some form of Gnosticism, or a wish to de-universalize civilized moral thinking, and return to the time of the Patriarchs, where we were the Chosen People and everyone else was a heathen. The West passed beyond that stage in moral development since 70 A.D.; and the Far East since the time of Confucius; and the Near East since the time of Buddha. All these are world views that make a universal claim rather than a tribal claim.

I am not sure why eugenicism should be treated with more respect than these other daydream-ideologies. Anyone who wishes to reintroduce caste based on race and tribe, he will need something with more persuasive power than a lame Darwinist myth about the inevitability of progress or the desirability of evolution.  The shock of the Twentieth Century, the sheer and horrific barbarism of national socialism in Germany and international socialism in Russia, have tarnished the banners and emblems of "progress" to the point where human progress does not seem inevitable; nor will a conservative assume that every change, even change that betters the world, does not have a price, sometimes a price too high to pay.

What is the price tag on the future where the smart and beautiful people lord it over the ugly and stupid people? What are the likely consequences? What is the expected effect on the psychology and society of the folk involved?  What are the moral consequences of having a large, sterile population, with no Darwinian stake in the future? What are the chances that the voluntary system would stay voluntary? If the stupid people are that stupid, on what grounds will they be convinced to devote their energies to a long-term project of racial eugenics?

And once you breed the Superman, what assurance do you have that he will be the Superman of Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and not the Superman of Nietzsche, a ruthless and  immoral power-hungry creature who will treat you like a dog?

And how do we know the race that springs out of the future will be superior rather than inferior? My view of history shows many and frequent degenerations and devaluations. Even if I were willing to sterilized my ugly self for the sake of the Superhuman race to come (Jewish Chinamen, no doubt, see above) why should I risk sterilization if there is a chance the race after man will be Morlocks? Evolution is neutral. Evolution is about fertility  and survival, not looks or brains. To value looks and smarts is a human, not a natural, evaluation. Why is it any more or less realistic than competing values not here mentioned, morals, decency, equality?

Come now: if we are basing our theories on reality, we should be able to make realistic assessments of these things.

Where, in any of this, is justified the assumption that a pretty and smart but dishonest and perverted person is better than an ugly and slow but honest and decent person? You cannot tell me honesty is rocket science: any man of ordinary intelligence knows the difference between right and wrong.

My smarts, or at least, my booklearning is greater than the booklearning of my grandfather; but my grandfather never went into debt, never begged and was ungrateful, and he never failed to provide for his family, and never let a day pass when he did not work and work hard. He was not arrogant or lustful or slothful. I assure you that I am prettier and smarter than he: I assure you his moral stature was gigantic and rock-solid, better, if I may be honest, than my own moral stature, which is nothing to write home about

The reality is that Darwinism is a biological theory, not a moral theory. The ruthlessness of the extinctions of nature, and the competition between individuals in a species for resources, if anything, should shock the conscience of civilized men and urge them to vow to be unlike nature, not to impersonate her. Civilized men say it is better to die free than to live a slave. Nothing in nature says this. Religion says the meek shall inherit the earth. Nothing in nature says this.

If we take nature as our stepdame, the lessons she teaches is to admire Sparta, not Athens; the lesson of nature is to worship strength and bloodshed. Nothing is more unnatural, and more proper to man, than the pursuit of justice in the law and of beauty in the arts and honesty and humility in daily dealings with our fellows.

But men living in the state of nature is the very definition of barbarism, is it not?

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