Genetics

Why Sex (Really) Matters

There is no more important topic in the social sciences than sex. The truth of this assertion is linked to two indisputable facts: sex often produces babies, and babies are not born blank slates. Though remnants of the Tabula Rasa myth still haunt the periphery of developmental science, a large portion of the scientific community (and increasingly, the public) has finally squared with the fact that human individuality is partly governed by genes. Put differently, part of the reason people differ from each other on measures of personality, intelligence, and temperament is because they are genetically different from one another. Because people vary genetically, our choices about who to have children with are immensely important, both for our children, and for those who will share the planet with them.

Yet for many, recognition of just how critical reproductive decisions are seems to shift into gear only after a child is conceived. At that point, many of us are concerned with the mother’s ability to secure an abortion safely and without duress (within certain parameters), if that is what she ultimately desires. If her desire is to carry the pregnancy to term, yet not raise the child, adoption agencies are in place to make the appropriate arrangements. Networks of foster care providers ensure that children are cared for, in the event that parents are unwilling or unable to offer care themselves. Should the state need to remove a child from a home, mechanisms are in place for that as well.

Nonetheless, we have failed to grasp — or openly discuss — the deeper consequences of having children. If we were born as blank slates, the qualities of our parents (their predispositions or temperaments) would be largely irrelevant so long as they provided an appropriately safe and enriched environment. We seem to persist in the incorrect assumption, however, that parental influence begins at birth, not conception, and lays down its true marks as the child ages. But ever since Francis Galton — a pioneer of statistics and relative of Charles Darwin — suggested using twins to study the heritability of traits, scientists have had a sense of how parents influence their children’s personalities even before they leave the womb.

Indeed, for as long as we’ve intentionally bred plants or animals in an effort to either exaggerate, or mute, certain characteristics, people have had clear awareness of the fact that some traits are transmitted (biologically) from parents to children. Only more recently, though, have we fully grappled with what this means for human beings. Well over five decades of behavior genetics research have revealed that practically every psychological and physiological outcome is, to some extent, heritable. The reality of heritable variation does not mean that parents pass along, with perfect fidelity, personalities and temperaments to their children. The heritability of these traits, however, does mean that certain propensities can cluster in families, owing not only to social transmission, but also to genetic transmission.

The heritability of physical and psychological traits is not generally disputed among behavioral geneticists or evolutionary biologists. Indeed, the very equations we use to forecast the effectiveness of breeding programs depend partly on the heritability of traits, and those equations apply as much to people as they do to plants. It is no great secret why commentators and scientists dutifully avoid this topic, though. To discuss breeding in any organism besides humans is merely academic, but to toss Homo sapiens into the mix is to harken back to the horrors of eugenics. Fear of this topic (and disgust towards it) is understandable. At the same time, it seems reasonable to try to parse out why people initially thought it important to be concerned with human breeding, and also how that concern was mistakenly translated into atrocity and murder.

Eugenics — where it came from, and what it got right

Broadly speaking, eugenics refers to any attempt to consciously harness the power of reproduction to influence the traits of future people. Put this way, it is innocuous, and something many of us do already by thinking carefully about whom we want to have children with. Long-term mate selection, for the most part, is far from haphazard.

Part of what motivated Galton to study twins in particular, and heredity in general, was his sense that for the first time in recent history, developed countries were creating the conditions for people with less desirable traits to leave more surviving offspring than those with more desirable traits. The main idea, popularized in the opening scene of Idiocracy, is that ambitious and educated people who want to make a mark on the world often reproduce later in life, and deliberately have fewer children than those with less lofty ambitions. Meanwhile, Galton thought, people who are not especially ambitious or successful or prudent, tend to have more children.

Galton also suggested that welfare programs and medical advances in wealthy countries tend to preserve people who would not otherwise survive and reproduce. Over the last century or so, these observations have become even more salient as everything from food and health care to education and housing have been made freely available to parents. This is illustrated by a recent case of a thirty-year-old man who has had 22 children by 14 different women, despite his inability to support his children. Putting these ideas together, and reflecting on his cousin Francis Galton’s work, Charles Darwin worried that:

the very poor and reckless, who are often degraded by vice, almost invariably marry [and reproduce] early, whilst the careful and frugal, who are generally otherwise virtuous, marry late in life, so that they may be able to support themselves and their children in comfort.

Darwin recognized our moral obligations to help the poor. But he also worried that people in the modern world:

do our utmost to check the process of elimination… we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment… Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.[1]

Darwin’s language shocks our modern sensibilities, and that is understandable. As the eminent biologist John Maynard Smith has said:

Improved medical and social care make it possible for people who in the past would have died to survive and have children. Insofar as their defects were genetically determined, they are likely to be handed on to their children. Consequently, the frequency of genetically determined defects in the population is likely to increase. I think we have to accept the fact that there is some truth in this argument, but it is a little difficult to see what we should do about it.[2]

The key point in Maynard-Smith’s statement has to do with heritability. If genes played no role in shaping our characteristics, then the qualities of parents would be no real concern. All that would matter is the rearing environment of the child. Providing a more concrete example, violent forms of antisocial behavior are moderately-to-highly heritable. Importantly, criminal offenders tend to father more children with more partners, and yet are far less willing to invest much in their care (compared to non-offenders). Taken together, it is perhaps not surprising to observe the concentration of crime in certain families. And more generally, it is reasonable to assume that life in these families is less than ideal for the children born in to them.

Why we should be skeptical of eugenic policies but embrace eugenic principles

That said, there is an obvious corollary to Maynard-Smith and Darwin’s points. Diseases that might have eradicated many of us — even something as ordinary as poor eyesight — are dealt with (often easily) by modern medicine. This has been overwhelmingly good for society.   As a result, most people are viscerally opposed to eugenics, and with good reason. The word “eugenics” will forever be associated with mass sterilization and death camps in Nazi Germany. It should go without saying that any sane person would vehemently oppose the policies that led to the greatest human tragedy of the twentieth century. The Holocaust can be traced to the morally abhorrent and scientifically erroneous beliefs of its chief architect, Adolf Hitler, who maintained that there was a “struggle for existence” between the great races, and that Jewish success in particular was a threat rather than a boon to the German people.

The eugenics movement that began in England with Francis Galton, one of the greatest scientists of the nineteenth century, essentially ended in Germany when pseudo-science serving a repugnant political ideology was used to justify mass murder. But some of the moral principles that supported the original eugenics movement remain compelling, even if we are rightly skeptical of using the power of the state to achieve eugenic goals.

Just a few years before Galton coined the term “eugenics,” John Stuart Mill popularized the classical liberal view that all self-regarding actions should be legally permitted, but actions that produce significant harm to others might be legally restricted, or at least discouraged via social pressure. Despite a strong presumption in favor of liberty, Mill defended laws that require prospective parents to demonstrate their ability to take care of offspring before having them. “Such laws,” he argued:

are interferences of the State to prohibit a mischievous act—an act injurious to others, which ought to be a subject of reprobation, and social stigma, even when it is not deemed expedient to superadd legal punishment.

Mill also criticized the:

current ideas of liberty, which…would repel the attempt to put any restraint upon [parents’] inclinations when the consequences of their indulgence is a life, or lives, of wretchedness and depravity to the offspring.[3]

Mill’s argument suggests that although we should be wary of coercive eugenics, there is a clear moral rationale for using social pressure, and in extreme cases, legal sanctions, to prevent parents from knowingly giving birth to children that they’re not in a position to care for, or might be in a position to actively harm. This rationale also suggests that parents with heritable conditions that are likely to undermine their child’s well-being should be subject to the same scrutiny as people who abuse, neglect, or otherwise harm their children once they are born.

One of the lessons we can learn from some of the more heedless proponents of eugenics is that government agents are not always in the best position to decide who should give birth and who should not. But some governments are in a position to set and enforce general rules that tend to increase the extent to which individually rational reproductive choices are also collectively beneficial. Generally speaking, for any conceivable rules governments might set, they should use the least restrictive alternative for achieving the desired result. For example, if supplying information to mothers about genetic and environmental risks achieves the same result as forcing women not to eat certain foods or reproduce with certain people, we should promote informed choice rather than using force.

One proposal previous eugenicists have made is to pay people with undesirable qualities — such as extremely low intelligence, or poor impulse control — not to reproduce. William Shockley went as far as to say that the state should pay people not to have children along a graduated scale in proportion to how many points below the mean IQ (100) they fall.[4] This proposal has serious problems that likely doom it to failure. Make no mistake, intelligence is a crucially important trait for living a successful life, but it is far from the only trait that matters. Qualities like compassion, empathy, and creativity are important for human flourishing, and for treating other people with respect. Policies like these, moreover, might lead to the manipulation of IQ test results by corrupt bureaucrats. Finally, IQ scores are at least partly affected by environmental factors in ways that are not well understood as of yet, a point that should not be overlooked (even if these effects are often exaggerated by blank slate enthusiasts).

Instead of Shockley’s proposal, one might contemplate the feasibility of a parental licensing exam, one that measures a broad array of characteristics that include intelligence, along with a host of relevant personality and behavioral traits. Even a moment’s contemplation, of course, reveals that devising such a test is challenging. Yet don’t we already extensively evaluate adoptive and foster parents across an array of parental fitness indicators? Why do biological parents get a complete pass in this regard? There might be good reasons, but we should be prepared to consider what they are, and clearly articulate them, before rejecting this idea out of hand. Still, this proposal is likely to offend many people’s sensibilities, and is clearly fraught with potential problems. If some version of it were workable, we would have to set the bar low enough that only extreme cases were sifted out, and we would want to allow people multiple opportunities to pass it in order to minimize the probability of bureaucratic corruption or error influencing the outcome.

A more promising and less restrictive eugenic policy would be for states to subsidize contraception. This may help increase the autonomy of poor women, especially in developing countries where women have little control over their reproductive cycle because they cannot own property or work outside of the home without the permission of men. At the risk of sounding too speculative, assuming also that a viable contraceptive for men is invented (one that is sufficiently benign in the side effects it might induce), then it might be a reasonable idea for governments to subsidize its widespread availability at an affordable cost. In The Pivot of Civilization, the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, advocated making birth control pills more widely available for exactly these two reasons. She saw the ability of reliable contraception to liberate women and enable them to make better choices about who fathers their children.

Another proposal for increasing the extent to which parents produce children with the best chance of the best life is to promote informed choice by making information about genetics more widely available, and enabling parents to use this information. Most people simply don’t understand, and don’t have time to understand, the body of research coming out of genetics labs. But governments can try to ensure – by subsidizing or mandating genetic education – that prospective parents have a better sense of the risks and benefits associated with selecting partners, or choosing the sperm or eggs they use to create children.

Some of this would have to start early, long before people think about selecting partners and having children. This sort of careful consideration of how our reproductive choices influence future people will require a sea change of public opinion, since many people still roll the genetic dice when they decide to have kids. In fact, about half of all children born in the United States are an unintended byproduct of sex, rather than a conscious choice.

Ultimately, assuming genetic engineering emerges in the next century, the availability of cheap and accurate genetic information will become increasingly important (as will the need for it to be accessible in fair and equitable ways).  As contraception becomes more affordable, and technology for screening and engineering embryos becomes feasible, we may begin to treat sex and reproduction as two things we do for completely different reasons.

 

Jonathan Anomaly is a Lecturer at Duke University and Research Assistant Professor at UNC Chapel Hill

Brian Boutwell is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University. Follow him on Twitter @fsnole1

 

[1] Both quotes are from The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 1882.

[2] “Eugenics and Utopia,” 1965, Daedalus 117(3), p. 75.

[3] On Liberty, 1859, chapter 5.

[4] Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics, Harvard University Press, 1985, p. 275.

Jonny Anomaly and Brian Boutwell

Jonny Anomaly and Brian Boutwell

Jonathan Anomaly is a core faculty member of the Freedom Center, and Assistant Professor in the PPEL Program, at the University of Arizona..

Brian Boutwell is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University. Follow him on Twitter @fsnole1
Jonny Anomaly and Brian Boutwell
Filed under: Genetics

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Jonathan Anomaly is a core faculty member of the Freedom Center, and Assistant Professor in the PPEL Program, at the University of Arizona.. Brian Boutwell is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University. Follow him on Twitter @fsnole1

31 Comments

  1. Wieslavn says

    Here is a thought.

    We are all going to die, most likely in a sudden cardiac arrest that offers no warning and no explanation. The human species is on a train heading straight for extinction. Billions of years from now, all life will be extinguished and the universe will die a slow, cold entropic heat death, wiping away all of our memories, accomplishments and tragedies. There is no God to save us, no metaphysical principle to uphold as virtue. We are spit out from the universe and into captivity, only to return from our pointless exile ~75 or 80 years later.

    But life is great, right…?

    Here is another way of looking at it.

    Consider pleasures and pains. Most lives contain both, to varying degrees, but there is an unfortunate asymmetry between these that seems to apply to even the best of lives. The upshot of this is that there is much more pain than pleasure. For example, while the most intense pleasures, such as sexual or gustatory ones, are short-lived, the worst pains have the capacity to be much more enduring. Indeed, pleasures in general tend to be shorter-lived than pains. Chronic pain is common, whereas there is no such thing as chronic pleasure. Moreover, the worst pains seem to be worse than the best pleasures are good. Anybody who doubts this should consider what choice they would make if they were offered the option of securing an hour of the most sublime pleasures possible in exchange for suffering an hour of the worst pain possible. Almost everybody would put much more emphasis on the avoidance of this pain, even if it entailed the forfeiture of the pleasure. This is not to say that people are unwilling to endure some lesser pains for some greater pleasures. Instead it shows only that the best pleasures do not offset the worst pains, at least of comparable duration.

    This asymmetry applies not only to pleasures and pains but also to goods and bads more generally. Consider how an injury can be incurred in a split second and the effects felt for life. While it is true that we can also avoid an injury in an instant, we do not gain benefits that are comparable in their magnitude and longevity in a mere moment. A lifetime of learning can be obliterated by a cerebral stroke, but there are no comparable events in which one acquires as much knowledge and understanding so speedily and easily. One can lose a limb or an eye in a few seconds, whereas gaining mobility or sight, where it is possible at all, never occurs so rapidly, effortlessly or completely. A life in which benefit came quickly and effortlessly, and harm came only slowly and with effort, would be a fantastically better life.

    Next, consider the fulfilment of our desires or the satisfaction of our preferences. There are various reasons why there is more unfulfilment than fulfilment. First, many desires are never fulfilled. Second, even when desires are fulfilled, this usually occurs only after the exercise of effort. This means that there is a period of time in which the desire is not yet fulfilled. Finally, when desires are eventually fulfilled, the satisfaction is typically only transitory. Satisfied desires give way to new desires. (For example, one is hungry, eats to satiety, but then becomes hungry again.) Thus a relatively small proportion of life is spent satisfied.

    On some views the good life is constituted not only of pleasure and fulfilled desires, but also of certain purportedly objective goods such as knowledge, understanding, aesthetic appreciation and virtue. It is noteworthy, however, that as advanced as some of these may be in some humans, they are only a fraction of what they could, in principle, be. Human knowledge and understanding are infinitesimal. What we do know and understand is only a tiny fraction of everything that there is to know and understand. Thus there is a much greater difference between what we know and what there is to be known, than there is between what we know and knowing nothing. In other words, on the vast spectrum from knowing nothing to knowing everything, we fall very close to the ignorance pole. Similar things might be said about aesthetic appreciation. The range of colours, sounds and smells we can perceive is limited and thus as rich as our aesthetic appreciation may seem to us, it is grossly retarded. As for virtue, it should be clear that humans are not angels. Even the morally best humans could be so much better.

    People tend to forget how much of their lives are spent tired, hungry, thirsty, in pain and being either too hot or too cold or in need of voiding their bladders and bowels. The same is true of how much time people spend bored, stressed, anxious, fearful, frustrated, irritated, sad, and lonely, to name but a few examples. Also unnoticed is how bad the worst parts of a life are. They often, but not always, come later in life, but the life as a whole cannot be evaluated without considering them. Moreover, we spend a very short period of time in our prime. Most of a person’s life, for those who live to old age, is spent in steady decline. Those who think that longer lives are better, all things being equal, must recognise that a lifespan of about eighty years, including periods of frailty, is terrible in comparison with a life of youthful vigour that lasts several hundred or thousand years. Our lives are much worse relative to that standard than are the lives of those who die young relative to the current standard of human longevity.

    Cheery people – those who think that life is, or at least, can be good – invariably attempt to reconcile the many bad things in life with the possibility of a good life. That is to say, they offer what might be called a “secular theodicy”. But, like conventional theodicies, which attempt to reconcile the vast amount of evil in the world with God’s existence, the secular theodicy of optimists puts the conclusion before the evidence.

    Sometimes the optimists say that the bad things in life are necessary to appreciate the good things. It is unclear whether everybody suffers from this malady. Are there not some people who would be able to appreciate the good even if there were no bad? Perhaps they are a minority. In any event, it is also not clear why those who do need to experience bad in order to appreciate the good need to experience quite so much bad. And if we were to assume that all the bad in a life is necessary in order to appreciate the good, that itself would be another very bad feature of life. It would be much better if all those bad things were not necessary.

    • I found this very interesting to read, because though well read and reasoned, it seems to be entirely at odds with my own experience. I would argue that life is nearly all pleasant, with only transitory moments of pain and displeasure. It’s nearly always possible to find something good – a nice meal, a warm patch of sunlight, a well proportioned tree – whereas there are many moments in which there is nothing bad to be noticed. Moreover, we have a limit to the pain we can feel, with too much causing unconsciousness or death, while there is no apparent cut-off for pleasure or happiness.

      The abundance of things to be known, sensed, and achieved means it’s basically impossible not to fulfil some of the wants we have, satisfaction is within our reach in every direction. Success is never terminal, but failure can be, so as long as you live you’re still in with a winning chance, and once you’re dead…well you won’t mind, right?

      You gave a thought experiment about pleasure and pain, saying that we would not take an hour of each. But surely, if life is on balance bad, and we would rather not have even equal amounts of pleasure and pain, wouldn’t everybody have killed themselves by now? And yet the vast majority of people never choose to end their lives, on the contrary we cling to life with a tenacity that suggests it is precious.

      This is how I’ve always seen things, and I can’t fathom the opposite perception. I don’t think we need the bad to appreciate the good, or anything like that. I just think there is so, so much more good than bad.

      • “we cling to life with a tenacity that suggests it is precious.” I think our clinging to life has a lot more to do with bio-survival mechanisms, than life itself being precious. A cockroach or rat living in a sewer, clings to life with the same tenacity.

  2. I am surprised you have the gall to mention twin research. What, no mention of Sir Cyril Burt? Burt, working in the UK, fabricated twin research in order to “prove” the inferiority of the working classes. Burt’s fraud went undetected in his lifetime, and was only discovered when an honest historian with knowledge of statistics started to write what was intended to be a fawning biography. But Burt’s lies set the educational course of millions of working class students deemed too genetically inferior to master the higher learning of the more privileged classes.

    How many of the remaining twin studies are honest? And how many are simply undetected incompetence and fraud?

    The Nazis were no outlier. Twenty-nine states adopted the “humane” method of forced sterilization — and kept it up into the 1970s. California had the most. It’s a tiny jump from the use of force in sterilization to more advanced methods of force. The Rockefeller Foundation continued to fund German eugenics research as late as 1939, after the Nazis had begun gassing the people they decided were inferior.

    And the Nazis should remind us how it is basically impossible for governments, or any other groups of people who randomly blunder into the elite, to judge who is “inferior”. Your citation of Shockley should be a hint of this. IQ tests are useless as a test for inferiority, or for anything else other than the ability to take tests.

    • Burt did not commit fraud – see more recent authors than those whom you cite. regardless, research in Burt’s area has been consistently replicated for many decades. SJ Gould (with whom you share views) DID commit fraud, so that his “facts” could fit his narrative. is that science?

      IQ predicts many outcome variables, not just ability to take tests. (e.g., general healthfulness, longevity, job performance, etc.)

      IQ is meant to be a more charitable way of looking at thinking: by removing the reading/writing achievement/educational aspects. Otherwise, one could be LESS fair & just look at reading as the independent variable! one would find reading is also very predictive. BUT as an independent variable it does a disservice to smart dyslexics & those who haven’t had much education. so if you don’t like IQ, try using reading achievement – it is much more problematic than IQ.

      the dreaded nazis did very little peer reviewed research in this area (!) Their paltry research has no affect on the consistency with which genes have been shown to influence behavior.

      you may feel like a hero for championing the righteous moral side (good virtue signaling!) but, in science, you have committed the moralistic fallacy: mistaking what “ought to be” for what actually is.

      since all mental tests tend to positively correlate (though there are outliers who may be high on one variable & low on another) there can be posited a general mental ability factor “g,” for which IQ is merely a rough but useful proxy.

      research shows the more “g-loaded” the task, the more heritable it is.
      do you want us to hide that fact?
      should we pretend these things are not so?
      is that not religion instead of science?

      biology is brutal – not pretty (pretty = “all organisms are exactly equal on all traits” – not reality).

      SJ Gould (who was right about some things:) taught natural selection as thus: all organisms vary. those with characteristics useful for survival in that environment out-reproduce others. their genes get passed on. & so it goes.

      Gould (who was both good & bad, like most people:) was very explicit about evolution NOT meaning progression/improvement. he correctly championed evolution as merely providing a decent (not necessarily best) fit to a temporary/changing environment.

  3. NickS says

    In the longer term future, it seems reproduction may be synthesised, e.g. sperm from skin cells. It seems logical then that the state will assume responsiblity for reproduction ensuring only strong and useful beings are produced. Natural reproduction could be criminalised because of the risk of producing imperfect beings that might be a burden on society.

  4. Excellent work!

    Readers see also:

    The breeder’s equation | West Hunter

    R = h2 S.

    R is the response to selection, S is the selection differential, and h2 is the narrow-sense heritability. This is the workhorse equation for quantitative genetics.

    With tougher selection, say by kidnapping a year’s worth of National Merit Finalists, you could create a new ethny with far higher average intelligence than any existing. Eugenics is not only possible, it’s trivial.

    As well as my own:

    “Squid Ink” – The Unz Review:

    I will say one thing: with all these considered, it’s hard to escape the seeming importance of eugenics, if crafting a better society is what you’re after. Indeed, if that’s your goal, eugenics – in one form or another – does appear to be your only avenue.

    Indeed, for as long as we’ve intentionally bred plants or animals in an effort to either exaggerate, or mute, certain characteristics, people have had clear awareness of the fact that some traits are transmitted (biologically) from parents to children.

    The heritability of physical and psychological traits is not generally disputed among behavioral geneticists or evolutionary biologists. Indeed, the very equations we use to forecast the effectiveness of breeding programs depend partly on the heritability of traits, and those equations apply as much to people as they do to plants.

    To discuss breeding in any organism besides humans is merely academic, but to toss Homo sapiens into the mix is to harken back to the horrors of eugenics

    Broadly speaking, eugenics refers to any attempt to consciously harness the power of reproduction to influence the traits of future people. Put this way, it is innocuous, and something many of us do already by thinking carefully about whom we want to have children with. Long-term mate selection, for the most part, is far from haphazard.

    Indeed! Brilliantly said!

    As a result, most people are viscerally opposed to eugenics, and with good reason. The word “eugenics” will forever be associated with mass sterilization and death camps in Nazi Germany. It should go without saying that any sane person would vehemently oppose the policies that led to the greatest human tragedy of the twentieth century.

    No, not the greatest human tragedy at all. That title belongs to those who deny heredity and embrace the blank slate. Communist/Marxist societies have killed many times more people than the Nazis ever did. As I’ve argued before, the modern regard for Nazi evil as the greater evil over communist evil is in part because many social scientists and other elites are themselves sympathetic to Marxist views.

    Finally, IQ scores are at least partly affected by environmental factors in ways that are not well understood as of yet, a point that should not be overlooked (even if these effects are often exaggerated by blank slate enthusiasts).

    True, but the “environmental” component is small. And in the big picture, in the modern First World, this hardly matters, as far as a eugenic policy is concerned.

    Instead of Shockley’s proposal, one might contemplate the feasibility of a parental licensing exam, one that measures a broad array of characteristics that include intelligence, along with a host of relevant personality and behavioral traits.

    Is this not coercive eugenics? What happens when people chose to become parents “unlicensed? I don’t like it.

    A more promising and less restrictive eugenic policy would be for states to subsidize contraception. This may help increase the autonomy of poor women, especially in developing countries where women have little control over their reproductive cycle because they cannot own property or work outside of the home without the permission of men.

    I doubt this would work. You forestall children for a time, but what about later? I’d argue that, for various reasons, lower IQ people have a great affinity towards having children. Unless sterilization was on the table, temporary contraception would serve, at best, to delay the inevitable.

    Most people simply don’t understand, and don’t have time to understand,

    …and can’t.

    the body of research coming out of genetics labs. But governments can try to ensure – by subsidizing or mandating genetic education – that prospective parents have a better sense of the risks and benefits associated with selecting partners, or choosing the sperm or eggs they use to create children.

    Yeah, the smart parents. Good luck with getting the target auidance to understand this, thanks to their own genetic limitations.

    Though, I am too harsh. The concept of good breeding isn’t that difficult. Any good farmer gets it.

    This sort of careful consideration of how our reproductive choices influence future people will require a sea change of public opinion, since many people still roll the genetic dice when they decide to have kids.

    True, but assortative mating is already pretty powerful. I’m not sure what more utility you’d get from this, as people already largely select the best partners available to them (key point). Mating is a two-way street. The people on the bottom of the heap simply don’t have a lot of options.

    Ultimately, assuming genetic engineering emerges in the next century, the availability of cheap and accurate genetic information will become increasingly important

    I think that’s your best bet. Embryo screening and gene editing technologies will make traditional eugenics largely irrelevant. As well, it will likely (well, hopefully, anyway) serve to make arguments over the reality of heredity moot.

    Kudos to you both for breaching this topic. I can only hope more discussion will finally follow.

  5. Men and women do make mate choice based on genes. Males have good genes if they appear be of high status. Females have desirable genes if they appear to be healthy and fertile (young). This is known as human mating strategies. I highly recommend David M. Buss’s book “The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating” for more details.
    The authors make several false assumptions, here is just one. In our ancestral past pathogens would have deleted genotypes that create phenotypes, such as above average intelligence, with equal efficiency. Bad luck, in its infinite manifestations, would acted the same on fitness, and yet, here we are with plenty of smart people around.

  6. Lizard Liz says

    The authors write about personality as though it is important to success in life, but the evidence indicates otherwise.

  7. gregorylent says

    deep thinking, yet simplistic

    discounts via absence a larger truth … souls take the bodies they need for the lessons they need to experience .. and level of consciousness is independent of body .. in other words, high souls can be found in any set of conditions or circumstance

    • Ardy says

      Gregorylent: True, but the soil needs to be fertile for them to flourish. Ask yourself ‘why were so many great men around during the 600-400bc times?’ ‘Why did Zen Buddhism flourish in China during the 800’s CE’ poor circumstances produces little. We develop in rushes and slow downs.

  8. Ardy says

    It is encouraging that this topic is debatable at last but it won’t make a damn bit of difference as there are a few things against it.

    The dramatic rise of population outside of the western world (which we are encouraging), a predisposition to emote over the ill educated and totally reckless, a love of all things to do with US! and not THEM!

    In a world where white people will be bred out of the human race in about 100 years (at the current rate of intermarriage), suggests that what we think, however rational, will not create one plan to adopt a logical approach to eugenics.

    The human race will carry on in total oblivion and complete faith in the fallacy that we are NOT animals. So in 100 or a thousand years they will look around and say ‘we have a human race where n% is incapable of looking after themselves and it is due to allowing a lousy gene pool to be created. We have to do something about it or face collapse.

    Our total focus on our own self interest and inability to look ahead, stitches us up time and again!

  9. John C says

    The Nazis were not the only ones to latch onto this theory to justify mass death. The British government have some form here too.

    The Irish famine 1845-1850 saw the population drop from 8 million to 6 million over that period with over 1 million dying from starvation and sickness. This was allowed to happen by the British government and was justified by the very arguments being made here. The discourse went ‘Irish are inferior humans and while it’s tragic to see suffering its best in the long run and just a natural consequence of the place of the Irish in the world’ i.e. it was their own fault. The truth of course was that circumstances rather than genitics caused the famine – not least that Ireland sent most of its wealth to absentee landlords in England. Much could have been done to alleviate the suffering if the political will was there and facile, unscientific and racist justifications were called out as such.

    • DiscoveredJoys says

      Whatever the terrible issues were of allowing the poor or ‘inferior’ to die, a practice that the elite have been following for millennia, it’s a stretch to include the Irish Potato Famine as an example of eugenics or genetics since neither term was proposed or understood until later that century.

  10. Lynette says

    Galtons idea predicts a decline in population wise IQ across generations. Yet the Flynn effect demonstrates the opposite: that IQ is in fact increasing…to the extent that psychometrics need to be re-normed every 8-10 years.

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  12. Anon says

    IQ tests did not exist when Galton was writing, though the predecessors were beginning to emerge. Dysgenic trends predict a decline in the genetic component of IQ, even if the environmental component, which has been peaked in advanced countries, has increased in very poor countries. Here’s a recent study documenting declines in IQ in Denmark. But the take home is, as the authors emphasize, complicated: the environmental component is, while often exaggerated for political reasons, real.

  13. Maureen says

    Great article! What about something slightly less coercive to put this into practice? For example, a society could implement generous need-based welfare benefits for the first child, if the parent(s) agree to getting their tubes cut. If they refuse, then after that, all benefits decrease drastically for each additional child, until by the, say, third child, the benefits are basically zero. If they cannot feed or care for their children on what they have, the state will remove the children from their care. It isn’t forcing sterilization on anyone, but it is implement a system whereby the state will no longer subsidize the least capable people to breed ad infinitum. Or foreign aid to poor countries based entirely on how much success they have in decreasing the birth rate? Or foreign aid that will give unlimited birth control pills/injections but nothing else? Ideas that could turn the current tide simply by stopping the funding of constant breeding by people who have the lowest ability to successfully raise and provide for children? Would this be terrible? The current, supposedly humane system based entirely on need, breeds horrific child abuse, neglect, and crime in developed countries, and intractable poverty, crime, terrorism, violence, starvation, environmental destruction, etc. in underdeveloped ones. Could we at least begin a conversation about reconsidering this course of action? People can still breed as much as they want in those cases, but will have no state support (no vaccines, no food aid, no health care, no antibiotics, no nothing) whatever to do so. That is how it was for most of human history: You could have ten kids and watch seven of them die. Now we have completely separated birth control from death control. We’ve allowed people to enthusiastically accept artificial interventions like vaccines and antibiotics and food aid but blithely reject the birth control that must, MUST go with these wonderful human inventions. So now people have ten kids, but all of them live. Okay, great – no one wants dead kids. But when those kids have no opportunity/education/nutrition/basic nurturing, what do they grow up to be? Narco gang members, terrorists, criminals, etc. Fodder for constant conflict, violence, and war. Watch what will happen in Africa in the 21st century. It’ll make all the horror of that continent in the 20th century look like a walk in the park.

    • Anon says

      Couldn’t agree more, Maureen: all of the food and medicine (especially antibiotics and vaccines) given from Western countries to sub-Saharan African countries — without tying it to contraception or the liberation of women — is a disaster that will unfold in spectacular fashion in the next century as Africa’s population quadruples. Unless things change quickly…

  14. James Earl Ray says

    The benefits to society from eugenics will be immense if people can get over the “ick factor” and the unfair demonization of eugenicists.

    For example, consider the fact that people of African ancestry have lower average IQs and higher rates of violence compared to those of European ancestry. In fact, black people commit roughly half of all violent crimes in the US, despite being only about 10% of the population. Big-Government social programs that tried to fix the issue by throwing money at inner-city schools have had little success, and the reason is obvious: you can’t educate the uneducatable. Since black people in the US tend to be chronically unemployed, living off welfare, committing crimes, and/or generally not contributing to society, they are essentially “dead weight” that’s just holding us back.

    If we had the political will to stop black people from breeding using a program along the lines of the one that the author of the article advocates, we could lower crime, reduce unemployment, and stop wasting money on trying to “save” people who are, objectively speaking, genetically inferior.

    • Santoculto says

      ”unfair demonization of eugenicists

      stop wasting money on trying to “save” people who are, objectively speaking, genetically inferior”

      contradictions = stupidity.

  15. Santoculto says

    Many of human traits or to the certain or common contexts are not just ”heritable” and/or ”inheritable”, passed [in the perfectly way] from the parents to their sons, but just ”intergenerationally passed”, at least in my family and seems in other families i have noted, temperament, personality and intelligence are not exactly inheritably passed, as if the son will look very similar in behavior with their father.

    Many if not most of what people say ”environmental noise” or ” ‘environmental’ differences between parents and sons” in the reality can be ”other behavioral genes”, if we don’t ”inheriting” only the genes of the father and mother but also the ”father family” and ”mother family”.

    Seems environmental noise but it can be just the mixed behavior of their mother/father and their aunt/uncle manifesting in you… ”via you”.

    And in the families where ”aberrant behavioral genes” [that may cause mental disorders of all types] are more common, this differences can be still higher than in predominantly neurotypical families.

    And more, conservative families and also predominantly liberal families, can have more a homogeneous scenario, but specially among the first, explaining partially, or not, why conservatives are more prone to believe in cultural traditions.

      • Santoculto rape your daughter says

        Summarizing

        everything people say ”that’s environmental” about human behavior may be reduced to the genetic variation within families and groups, but how*

        via ”other genes” of other relatives, because we don’t inheriting only the gens of our mothers and fathers but the gens of maternal and paternal families.

        If your daughter behave like a bitch don’t worry, maybe she inherited some ‘behavioral gens’ of your bitch white-trash sister + real environmental (literally speaking, environment) vulnerabilities.

        Amen!!!

        https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/a6/fc/b8/a6fcb80e879066ba58836579712a122f.jpg

        • Santoculto rape your d... says

          Inherited and not ”inheriting”…

  16. Santoculto says

    My comment fit more ”perfectly” in this text ”Why Parenting May Not Matter and Why Most Social Science Research is Probably Wrong”, whatever…

  17. Santoculto says

    ”were creating the conditions for people with less desirable traits to leave more surviving offspring than those with more desirable traits.”

    Atypical libertarians defining what is desirable ”and” undesirable”, fear!!!

    sons always will be a loser because they can’t choice what they want to be and this unprivileged and fatalistic condition has been transmited…

    and know, to complete this disadvantageous faith, ”the fathers” will can choice, just like ”God” in the bible, via science, how their sons will look like or how they will behave… and supposedly fathers are perfectly capable to do the best/wise decisions.

    I HOPE everyone here can agree with me that ”irrationality” is the most undesirable trait, even many here can’t visualize by now how problematic irrational behaviors can be.

    irrationality is the first source for all human problems and many of us think that ”[all] humans have the rational capacity to do the best choices”.

    There are absolutely explicit dispositions which are essentially bad, average(neutral) or good as well implicit ones.

    For example, altruism versus [irrational] violence.

    If the source of all human stupidity is the irrationality, if wisdom and stupidity have a mutual ”oil-water type” dichotomy, so instead we get lost in what (multiple) traits are more desirable ”or” less desirable, ”we” must transform the real rational capacity into something universal among the next generations and i thought it could solve most of the ethical problems that sorround eugenics.

    whatever the morally neutral life style people will engage, if they are [more] rational, so they will not commit for long-term certain primary and dangerous stupidity just like trust in predators & parasites (basically, socialism x capitalism).

    ”The main idea, popularized in the opening scene of Idiocracy, is that ambitious and educated people who want to make a mark on the world often reproduce later in life, and deliberately have fewer children than those with less lofty ambitions or opportunities. Meanwhile, Galton thought, people who are not especially ambitious or successful or prudent, tend to have more children.”

    prudent tend not to be succesful,
    succesful and or ambitious tend not to be prudent…

    I’m not surprised that Galton not quote goodness and wisdom as important traits.

    my opinions of course, unfortunately…

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