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Modern eugenicists distance themselves from crude methods adopted at beginning of last century by 29 countries, including Germany, The United States, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Venezuela, Estonia, Argentina, Norway, Denmark, Sweden (until 1976), Brazil, Italy, Greece, and Spain.
They talk about free contraceptives for low-IQ women, vasectomies or tubal ligations for criminals, sperm banks with contributions from high achievers, and incentives for college students to procreate. Modern genetic engineering and biotechnology are readily applicable to eugenic projects. Cloning can serve to preserve genes of fittest. Embryo selection and prenatal diagnosis of genetically diseased embryos can reduce number of unfit.
But even these innocuous variants of eugenics fly in face of liberalism. Inequality, claim proponents of hereditary amelioration, is genetic, not environmental. All men are created unequal and as much subject to natural laws of heredity as are cows and bees. Inferior people give birth to inferior offspring and, thus, propagate their inferiority.
Even if this were true - which is at best debatable - question is whether inferior specimen of our species possess inalienable right to reproduce? If society is to bear costs of over-population - social welfare, medical care, daycare centers - then society has right to regulate procreation. But does it have right to act discriminately in doing so?
Another dilemma is whether we have moral right - let alone necessary knowledge - to interfere with natural as well as social and demographic trends. Eugenicists counter that contraception and indiscriminate medicine already do just that. Yet, studies show that more affluent and educated a population becomes - less fecund it is. Birth rates throughout world have dropped dramatically already.
Instead of culling great unwashed and unworthy - wouldn't it be a better idea to educate them (or their off-spring) and provide them with economic opportunities (euthenics rather than eugenics)? Human populations seem to self-regulate. A gentle and persistent nudge in right direction - of increased affluence and better schooling - might achieve more than a hundred eugenic programs, voluntary or compulsory.
That eugenics presents itself not merely as a biological-social agenda, but as a panacea, ought to arouse suspicion. The typical eugenics text reads more like a catechism than a reasoned argument. Previous all-encompassing and omnicompetent plans tended to end traumatically - especially when they contrasted a human elite with a dispensable underclass of persons.
Above all, eugenics is about human hubris. To presume to know better than lottery of life is haughty. Modern medicine largely obviates need for eugenics in that it allows even genetically defective people to lead pretty normal lives. Of course, Man himself - being part of Nature - may be regarded as nothing more than an agent of natural selection. Still, many of arguments advanced in favor of eugenics can be turned against it with embarrassing ease.
Consider sick children. True, they are a burden to society and a probable menace to gene pool of species. But they also inhibit further reproduction in their family by consuming financial and mental resources of parents. Their genes - however flawed - contribute to genetic diversity. Even a badly mutated phenotype sometimes yields precious scientific knowledge and an interesting genotype.
The implicit Weltbild of eugenics is static - but real world is dynamic. There is no such thing as a "correct" genetic makeup towards which we must all strive. A combination of genes may be perfectly adaptable to one environment - but woefully inadequate in another. It is therefore prudent to encourage genetic diversity or polymorphism.
The more rapidly world changes, greater value of mutations of all sorts. One never knows whether today's maladaptation will not prove to be tomorrow's winner. Ecosystems are invariably comprised of niches and different genes - even mutated ones - may fit different niches.
In 18th century most peppered moths in Britain were silvery gray, indistinguishable from lichen-covered trunks of silver birches - their habitat. Darker moths were gobbled up by rapacious birds. Their mutated genes proved to be lethal. As soot from sprouting factories blackened these trunks - very same genes, hitherto fatal, became an unmitigated blessing. The blacker specimen survived while their hitherto perfectly adapted fairer brethren perished ("industrial melanism"). This mode of natural selection is called directional.
Moreover, "bad" genes are often connected to "desirable genes" (pleitropy). Sickle cell anemia protects certain African tribes against malaria. This is called "diversifying or disruptive natural selection". Artificial selection can thus fast deteriorate into adverse selection due to ignorance.
Modern eugenics relies on statistics. It is no longer concerned with causes - but with phenomena and likely effects of intervention. If adverse traits of off-spring and parents are strongly correlated - then preventing parents with certain undesirable qualities from multiplying will surely reduce incidence of said dispositions in general population. Yet, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. The manipulation of one parameter of correlation does not inevitably alter it - or incidence of outcome.
Eugenicists often hark back to wisdom garnered by generations of breeders and farmers. But unequivocal lesson of thousands of years of artificial selection is that cross-breeding (hybridization) - even of two lines of inferior genetic stock - yields valuable genotypes. Inter-marriage between races, groups in population, ethnic groups, and clans is thus bound to improve species' chances of survival more than any eugenic scheme.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com