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    Eugenics
    By Gerhard Adam | November 18th 2012 02:20 PM | 13 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    A recent article addressing the subject of Nikolas Tesla, chose to focus on his opinions regarding eugenics.  
    One of Tesla’s most disturbing ideas was his belief in using eugenics to purify the human race.
    Of course, this statement is framed in the modern "correct" view, because it is clearly colored by the Nazi atrocities that followed those decades, and from which everyone invariably wishes to distance themselves.

    Unfortunately, I expect that this belief in eugenics is far more prevalent than most people would comfortably wish it to be (1).

    One of the 21st century's dressed up version of eugenics is embodied by the transhumanist movement, where the distancing is maintained by pretending as if technology can be neutral enough to achieve this "purity".

    Further this is already hinted at by the thought that we may be able to genetically engineer "superior" offspring. Of course, these ideas are all couched in the altruistic verbage of conquering debilitating diseases, and eliminating defects.

    However, it is eugenics all the same.  This is the inevitable result of scientific thinking without philosophical tempering (2).  

    The belief is fostered by accepting our own social view that an individual should strive to improve themselves and be the "best that they can be".  It promotes everything from the work ethic to the ideas of how to court success.

    It takes little to shift this argument to suggest that perhaps the human race itself can be improved with a little judicious use of technology.  After all, how can improving someone genetically be a problem.  Isn't it our ethical duty to make things better?  

    Who would argue that criminals are evolutionarily desirable for the future?  Who would argue that those suffering serious genetic defects are doing any favors for future generations?

    All of these rationalizing arguments are readily accepted by many individuals because of two fundamental flaws in our thinking.  The first is that we think we understand what it means to "improve" a human.  We simply take the traits we find favorable and automatically presume that this is an evolutionary positive direction to take, despite our overwhelming ignorance of the consequences of such evolutionary choices.  It is quite typical human hubris to view a system that has flourished for hundreds of millions of years [or even the few million years of primate evolution] and simply presume that we know better.

    Certainly, some may argue that we have plenty of evidence from our experiences in animal domestication, yet who would claim that these results are an improvement of the original species?  The modifications have made these animals more compliant with human demands, but improved the original species?

    The second flaw is in maintaining the illusion that WE are OK, and that such choices are only legitimately going to be forced on OTHERS.  It never occurs to any of the eugenics advocates that perhaps THEY are the ones that will need to be eliminated.

    The problem is that given a choice, humans will converge to species homogeneity.  If there is a means, then everyone will strive for the same results, in the illusory effort to garner as many opportunities for success as are possible.  Of course, such success is impossible to achieve, since [given the opportunity] everyone would presume to have it. So instead of recognizing the scientifically responsible position that diversity is what promotes the species, we would strive for sameness.  

    None of this is an argument against helping people.  Technological advances can be beneficial to alleviate all manner of problems that individuals face.  This is not some "nature" argument that we should simply revert back to the lifestyle of our ancestral hunter-gatherers.  However, it should also be clear that helping people is not the same as determining what kind of people we will create for the future.

    For those that would argue that eugenics is not a modern scientific consideration, it is useful to consider that 21st century engenics has much better PR. By focusing on positive outcomes, it seeks to avoid the obvious assertion that current individuals are deficient.  By promoting the creation of technological super-humans, it denies the obvious inequalities that such a situation would create.  Instead, focusing on the presumption of altruism that has never existed among humans.  Modern society can barely tolerate the idea of individuals having free and ready access to solve the medical problems they face.  Yet we're to believe that they will have free and ready access to augmentation technologies to improve intelligence and longevity?

    Despite the fact that unconstrained population growth is clearly an ongoing problem [if not THE primary problem], we prefer to ignore that, arguing with platitudes of "who is going to determine how many children someone can have".  Yet, apparently it's not a problem to argue that someone can determine what kind of children you have. In fact, some such arguments are already taking the position that we have an ethical responsibility to do the best that we can for future generations.  
    He believed that by the year 2100 eugenics would be “universally established” as a system of weeding out undesirable people from the population.
    Perhaps Tesla was correct after all.
    -------------------------------------
    (1)  It is interesting to read the comments following the article for a perspective on this point.

    (2)  Of course, given some of the philosophical nonsense that exists around these ideas, I'm beginning to think that this may actually exacerbate the problems than resolve them.

    Comments

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    It seems to me that eugenics is simply the genetic modification (GM) of humans. Scientists are using GM techniques on plants and animals and claim that it is totally safe so why not use it on humans too?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Good article. Fun. The only snag I tripped on was the idea that population growth is perhaps "THE primary problem" as opposed to the problem of consumption.

    Many people of the "developed" world like to argue population growth is the problem, while overlooking the fact that they themselves make up ~20% of the worlds population, but consume ~80% of the world's resources.

    The relationship between consumption and population growth is a lot more complicated than that, clearly - but I wouldn't say that population growth is the primary problem at all.

    Gerhard Adam
    I would have to disagree with you.  There's no question that consumption is part of the issue, but it would be less of a problem if there weren't a perpetually increasing population that is also striving to increase its consumption.

    If the world today only consisted of 20% of the current world's population, then consuming 80% of the resources wouldn't be a problem, would it? 

    More pragmatically, it is already known that there aren't enough resources to allow everyone in the world to live at the highest standard of living currently enjoyed by many in the developed countries.  Therefore, it is already a foregone conclusion that there are too many people and not enough resources.  So, which should we give up?  Resources or population growth?

    Personally I think it's already too late, and that things will run their course with an ending that I suspect we won't particularly enjoy.
    Mundus vult decipi
    If the world today only consisted of that said 20%, it is known that consumption (in terms of energy resources and other material goods) is increasing, so it would only be a matter of time before that figurative 'wall' is hit.

    So the questions is a matter of comparative time:

    How long it will take before that 80% is able to consume at the same level as the 20%.

    versus

    How long it will take before that 20% eats up all the natural finite resources on their own.

    Either way, I see it as a consumption problem primarily.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...the natural finite resources...
    The primary point to consider is that you've identified these resources as being finite.  As a result, in comparing population vs resources, the only variable component is population.  Resources are not a variable, since they are essentially fixed.

    Therefore, it cannot be a resource problem, it must be a population problem since that is the only variable that can be modified.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Sorry, I don't think you understand. Obviously consumption can be modified as well. People simply don't need a new t.v every 2 years. They don't need a new car every 5 years. They don't need a new computer every 4 years. They don't need to consume (waste) at levels to which the 20% are currently doing. The problem here is complacency among the majority and the tyranny of the corporations.

    It's either you don't understand this simple logical equation, or you understand perfectly, but don't take to criticism very well (something a couple of regular bloggers here are guilty of). It makes the comment section of these posts comical at least.

    Keep it up. I'm in for a laugh on this gloomy day.

    Didn't say it was a "resource problem". It was said it is a consumption problem. There is a clear distinction. Products in our day of age aren't built to last. They are built to be replaced. It isn't because technology is advancing that these products need to be replaced; if that were the reason, more products would have the capability of being upgraded instead of being entirely replaced.

    You might say people have the right to recklessly consume and waste in a world of finite resources, Garhard - but I think it's more pragmatic - and altruistic if people have the right to have more than 2 children (replacement rate = 2.1). Consumption is the problem. Not population growth.

    Well, I think you’re both right. And, furthermore, you agree that there is a problem that cannot be ignored and that doesn’t seem to have an adequate solution.

    Populations consume; populations are not likely to decrease on their own; therefore, increasing populations increases consumption. Increased consumption of finite resources results in …

    Decreasing the population, not just limiting its growth, does not seem to be a likely scene. Increasing resources, in any reasonable time frame, seems dubious.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...if people have the right to have more than 2 children...
    I'm going to dispute your point here, because there is no such "right", by any definition.  When humans developed the technologies to promote longevity and reduce mortality among offspring, then that changed the game.  Similarly when society creates an infrastructure to help and support people in need, that changes the game.

    One cannot live in such a society and then proclaim some "right" to do whatever they choose.  There is no "right" to reproduction nor survival.  The only such "rights" are those agreed to by the members of the society in which people participate. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    It's either you don't understand this simple logical equation, or you understand perfectly, but don't take to criticism very well...
    First of all I don't take your comments as criticism.  We simply disagree on the particular perspective from which to articulate the problem.

    My point is that no matter what you do to curtail resource consumption, you can never do enough to keep up with a continuously growing population.  Pick any standard you like, and it will be reached when the population reaches a particular level.  So, while you may argue about conspicuous consumption as being a problem [and I won't disagree], my point is that you can never do enough to curtail consumption without controlling the population.

    In short, you cannot have an "infinite" population coupled with a "finite" environment. 
    People simply don't need a new t.v every 2 years. They don't need a new car every 5 years. They don't need a new computer every 4 years.
    In this regard, I have to argue that you've approached something completely different.  This isn't particularly about resources as much as it's dependent on unlimited economic growth models.  If people didn't consume at these levels, the economies of the developed world would collapse, so it becomes more comparable to an addiction than a matter of satisfying needs.

    The point being that our society needs people to have a TV every 2 years, or a car every 5 years, or a new computer, because without that, the majority of people will not have jobs.  That's a failing of our economic system and not particular to resources nor population.  Again, I don't disagree with your point, but merely the framing of it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    You're right about the comments on the MedicalDaily article. I thought this one was particularly telling:

    >>A soul freed by termination of a genetically damaged and disabled foetus can easily and rapidly incarnate in a healthy alternative foetus instead, and that really recognizes human and spiritual rights.<<

    It is 'easily and rapidly' obvious to me that humans have got to be the strangest critters ever to inhabit this globe of ours.

    blue-green

    Yes Gerhard, although we can ask “what is best?”, “what is optimum?” and “what is ideal?” …. we are not mentally, philosophically or spiritually able to realize that those questions are far removed from the more prosaic questions we manage a hundred times a day concerning what would be better …. as in …. should one turn left or turn right or continue ahead.

    Part of the problem for us scientifically minded folk is that we think we have wonderful tools for doing “optimal control” and already have the formulas on how nature “minimizes” certain “actions”. See the torrent of equations in the ten-part series by Chris Austin here at Science2.0.

    It turns out that most any outcome can be spun to look like it optimizes something. Making it seem that way is the “inverse problem" in variational calculus.

    As a hefty user of resources, I would like to note that much of it is because I leverage my actions through the use of tools and machines. I don't have access to cheap and/or abundant human labor. Industrial farmers paved the way for trans-humanism.

    SynapticNulship
    We simply take the traits we find favorable and automatically presume that this is an evolutionary positive direction to take,
    But if there are more than one favorable directions to take due to different persons' favorable goals, then this statement doesn't make sense:
    The problem is that given a choice, humans will converge to species homogeneity.  If there is a means, then everyone will strive for the same results,
    We won't all be striving for the same results. It seems that there would at least be two or three major possibly-conflicting goals for society.

    Also, some people who attempt to use mindfulness would not be under the mainstream sway (you seem to indicate that this would enter the mainstream culture) that make all the assumptions you mention about what is favorable.

    As Langer wrote:
    Most aspects of our culture currently lead us to try to reduce uncertainty: we learn so that we will know what things are. Instead, we should consider exploiting the power of uncertainty so that we can learn what things can become.