Just the term 'eugenics' carries a lot of baggage, as if you couldn't tell by that opening paragraph; as I have said too many times to count, its endorsement by a Who's Who of liberal elite intelligentsia ended badly when that hard-left guy Hitler spoiled the party for everyone at Cold Spring Harbor and the New York Times. And, while we do what we can to mitigate inherited diseases today, eugenics and its legacy of forced sterilization are not mentioned by name.
That's not to say that genetics can't be a positive force for humanity. Obviously it can, and perhaps it can rescue eugenics from its social authoritarian reputation - it just seems silly to try. Neo-Eugenics, like Neo-Conservative or New Atheist, is going to end up being used as an insult to such a degree it has no real meaning.
But the idea of using science to make smart decisions is good, and we're already doing it. As I have noted before, testing for Down's Syndrome is basically eugenics. A hospital won't force you to abort a child with it but you are going to get a lot of counseling and dirty looks if you don't. And once society is paying the hospital bill it is only a matter of time before it is no longer a choice.
Jon Entine and Sarah Fecht, writing at Genetic Literacy Project have written a terrific State of The Union address concerning eugenics - including what it is not, in the modern era. And they dissect some confusing contradictions by people on the poles of political thought, like left-wing groups against any sort of genetic modification who still support abortion and right-wing groups against genetic modification because they think nature's randomness is somehow divine.
Along the way they make pointed refutations of arguments made by Gerhard Adam and I. Do I necessarily agree when they say that cautioning about a Big Brother imperative regarding traits is a slippery slop to being anti-abortionist? Well, no, I think there is a big difference between being anti-abortion social authoritarian and forced abortion social authoritarian. Because they are different. I'm not against vasectomies but I am against forced sterilization.
The reality is, I prefer choice, even if it is uncomfortable for most. Choice means Asians are going to have more boys than girls, right now, and if Americans think that is bad, well, stop being so nationalistic. Telling a woman she can choose to have a baby or not but she can't choose to have a boy or not is silly and is also a legal dead end. Dictating what people can choose using science, be it genetic enhancement or disease mitigation or gender, would mean society is being truly social authoritarian, the very Big Brother aspect I would caution against.
One advantage society has now is that the first time eugenics rolled around, there were a whole lot of people with very little education who were steam-rolled by self-styled progressive elites, including a Supreme Court justice named Oliver Wendell Holmes who could turn his bigotry into law. As much as we can complain about science literacy today, it is far ahead of what it was even 25 years ago and well beyond a century back. That debate about the line between good eugenics and bad, rather than blind acceptance of the consensus, will be vital to a policy that makes sense.
Gattaca alert: Personal genomics meets neo- eugenics by Jon Entine and Sarah Fecht, Genetic Literacy Project
Bonus: They also link to Cameron English, who once upon a time was part of the stable of unheralded, anonymous News Articles writers everyone here loves, and Razib Khan, who let me cost myself $50 in My Adventure With The Accuracy Of Political Polling because I believed people were not as predictable and polarized as polls showed - and he did.