Saturday, December 23, 2006

Where will genetic engineering stop?

A week ago I was at the library and I ran into my HS U.S. Government teacher. He seemed like one of the most genuinely intellectual of my teachers (he gave me a C on my Marijuana Legalization paper though). I told him I was studying philosophy and economics, and he said: "Well, maybe you can make some money with economics. I don't know about that philosophy." I'm tired of hearing that, but I shrugged and said somewhat foolishly: "I know just about as much about science as the science majors, anyway."

He said, "Maybe you can be an ethicist."

I chuckled, "I don't think I'd be very successful. My ideas don't, ah, coincide with the rest of the world."

He raised his eyebrows, "What, Machievellan?"

I chuckled. Apparently he'd noticed that I'd been attracted to Nietzsche - not sure I mentioned it: "No, no. Just more ... secular. Unlike most of the people in our country. Unlike our president."

He seemed a trifle irritated at that. Religious? Most likely. "So I guess I know what your type is."

I snorted, "I doubt it. Well - libertarianism. (Maybe it's obvious.) I take the Friedman view on the war on drugs, for example."

"Oh? Let the market prevail?"

"Let people take responsibility."

I shook his hand and turned to go.

Today I remember that because I think back on the comment about Machievellanism. I have trouble shaking the belief that strength and knowledge should overcome weakness and ignorance. The reason they so often don't in our democratic society is that most peopole are weak. Humans are obsessed with power and aware of power differences to minute degrees, but they don't like to admit it. Everyone is either respected or not respected; those who are pitied are not respected, and they know it. Altruism is ultimately a selfish, egotistical act. Even offering one's attention to another is an empowering act with strings attached. What this means in public policy is debateable, but today I ran across James D. Watson's Wikipedia article:

He has also repeatedly supported genetic screening and genetic engineering in public lectures and interviews, arguing for instance that the "really stupid" bottom 10% of people should be aborted before birth; that all girls should be genetically engineered to be pretty [1] and has been quoted in The Sunday Telegraph as stating "that if the gene (for homosexuality) were discovered and a woman decided not to give birth to a child that may have a tendency to become homosexual, she should be able to abort the fetus." [2] The biologist Richard Dawkins wrote a letter to The Independent claiming that Watson's position was misrepresented by The Sunday Telegraph article and that Watson also considered the possibility of having a heterosexual child to be a valid reason for abortion. [3]

Watson doesn't think much of the ambitiousness and energy of fat people, and is quoted as saying "Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you're not going to hire them" [4]


The last comment strikes me as grossly elitist; it's genetically impossible for some people to lose weight, it seems, and I haven't noticed a mental difference in these people. We aren't justified in viewing fat people as ambitious and unergenetic. If we were to test all of the fat people objectively and found that they were less ambitious and energetic than others as a rule, we might be able to - if you believe that judging less ambitious and energetic people is ok.

Regardless of that, the idea that fascinates me is artifical selection for the best traits. It's such a scary thought for some people. They wonder where the search for the best traits might stop. Yet if I were to have a kid, it would be my decision, and it wouldn't harm any living person if I artificially selected for the best traits (unless you believe a fetus is a person with the right to life).

The only non-religious argument against seems to be a pragmatic one, as the argument against the war on drugs inevitably is, and as all arguments against victimless crimes seem to be.

I'd rather not hear responses from people claiming that God's work should not be tampered with. People who have not reasoned themselves into a belief cannot, it seems, be reasoned out of it.

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