William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Selective Abortion To Create Master Race: Progressive Academic Pushes For Moral Enhancement

Evil often smiles

Today’s discovery is yet another academic with the map to Utopia glistening in his mind’s eye. David DeGrazia of George Washington University, author of the peer-reviewed paper “Moral enhancement, freedom, and what we (should) value in moral behaviour” in the Journal of Medical Ethics, is certain sure perfection can be reached if we could cull the immoral from the herd.

Why? “[B]ecause there is such an abundance of immoral behaviour” and “because the status quo of moral behaviour is deeply problematic and traditional means of moral enhancement may prove inadequate to achieve needed improvements”. Prominent immorality examples are slavery and prostitution, but also grievous “harms and injustices” such as “lack of access to safe water” and the USA’s failing to donate more than “1% of its Gross Domestic Product to foreign assistance”. Perhaps applying the exciting new techniques of moral enhancement can treble this amount?

DeGrazia, coiner of the phrase “post-person”, often erupts into enthusiasm and speaks in italics: “Behavioural improvement is highly desirable in the interest of making the world a better place and securing better lives for human beings and other sentient beings.”

What is an “enhancement”?

Enhancements are understood as interventions designed to improve human form or function without responding to genuine medical need…

I will here define ‘enhancement’ as any deliberate intervention that aims to improve an existing capacity, select for a desired capacity, or create a new capacity in a human being. This covers…music lessons and…embryo selection.

He’s most keen on “moral bioenhancements”, “such as our capacities for sympathy and fairness.” He doesn’t merely tout “explicit instruction and consciousness-raising groups”, he’s angling for “non-traditional means of moral enhancement” such as drugs, surgery, and eugenics.

Exemplars of medical augmentation: “Glucose as a means of increasing resistance to temptation to do something wrong”, SSRIs for everything, “Propranolol as a means of decreasing unconscious racial bias”, zapping brains to reduce aggression (frying synapses calms).

Then eugenics:

  • Selection of embryos that contain a gene coding for a greater disposition to altruism
  • Genetic interventions to gametes, embryos or postnatal human beings as a means to the same end
  • Embryo selection or genetic engineering as a means of avoiding or neutralising genes associated with antisocial personality disorder
  • Either of these means as a way of securing a stronger predisposition to fairness
  • An artificial chromosome that includes multiple genes coding for stronger predispositions to a variety of moral virtues

Fiddling with genes via selective abortion might work— it’s the same method farmers use to control stock—if we could unambiguously define moral behavior. Here DeGrazia concedes views differ. Some say morality means “strong partiality towards members of one’s own community” and freedom of religion. Others push for an “acceptance of a government” to meet unmet needs and for a “rejection of traditions and mores that seem regressive”. So do we abort kids who’d have a propensity to watch Fox News and allow only NPR listeners?

Who’ll be in charge of the killing of the substandard, parents or the State? Our tenured professor says, “it might make sense to permit parents to adopt more debatable visions of morality—among reasonable alternatives”. Parents would be given a menu of permissible traits—blue eyes or brown, say—but deviations would not be countenanced.

The hit list includes those whose genetics point towards “moral cynicism”, such as tax cheats, those not wanting to contribute “one’s fair share”, those with “defective empathy”, and those who suffer “a failure of insight or motivation”. Malcontents such as those unwilling “to find common ground” or with “Weak will[s] or susceptibility to temptation”, and the morons with an “Inability to find creative solutions to difficult problems involving competing interests and values” or an “Inability to grasp subtle, complicated details” also get flushed down the toilet.

Enough. The key fallacy in DeGrazia’s perfervid argument is that genes are responsible for all behavior. That some genes influence some behavior is true; that genes provide a crude blueprint for us, the platform where behaviors are created, is also true. But it is false that genes control all growth and development. If genes were responsible for all behavior then all identical twins would act identically. Identical twins raised apart are often found to be particularly different. Therefore any scheme which kills those with “substandard” genes must fail because of that and because it is impossible to unambiguously measure which genes control which behavior. Does anyone this side of sanity believe there is a gene or genes which causes an “Inability to find creative solutions to difficult problems involving competing interests and values”? Or that can predict tax cheats? But hey, if we expunge the gene for Y chromosomes we could almost eliminate violence!

It’s not unlikely that high self-esteem “experts” will believe they have found the gene(s) to control unwanted behavior, though. What a curious world it will be when they are given the power to implement their schemes.

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HT to Wesley J. Smith where I first learned about DeGrazia’s derangements.

Announcement David Theroux of the Independent Institute tells us “Philosopher Alvin Plantinga Receives Prestigious Rescher Prize.”

17 Comments

  1. It certainly sounds to me like Professor DeGrazia suffers from “a failure of insight” as well as “defective empathy”. I wait with bated breath for him to volunteer for “post-natal genetic intervention” and/or “post-embryonic selection” (OK, I made that last one up).

  2. What a load of c__p: “Selection of embryos that contain a gene coding for a greater disposition to altruism” and thinking like that.

    In the nature vs. nurture debate numerous studies (usually involving twins) repeatedly show that genetics seem to account for about half of one’s general personality (40-60 percent).

    Thus, putting the onus on gene selection to achieve some master race…or just some marginal improvement won’t really accomplish anything out in society…because non-genetic factors will and do dominate in a huge proportion of circumstances. I.E., practical realities of the Real-World make DeGrazia’s ideas stupid–but maybe good fodder for some sci-fi book or movie.

    What that kind of thinking does illustrate is the thinker’s inclination to scapegoat–to blame outside factors as being dominant & causative when self-discipline, perseverance, etc. need to be applied. “Emotional wimps” in lay terms.

    This is a good time to skim over: http://www.libertymind.com

    One very fundamental problem with the author’s (DeGrazia’s) views is painfully obvious if one starts with the premise his view is correct & seeing where that leads: It leads to decision-makers implementing & overseeing the policies–managers/leader having incredible power & control over others…and who will get those jobs? History shows that people who are highly narcissistic AND intelligent will get them via all manner of political & corporate brinksmanship.

    A good book illustrating some of that is: “People of the Lie…” by M. Scott Peck. Also, Sam Vaknin’s book, Malignant Narcissism — much of which is freely available on-line.

  3. DeGrazia’s idea is just so stupid one cannot help but be reminded of Eric Hoffer’s observation:

    “One of the surprising privileges of
    intellectuals is that they are free to
    be scandalously asinine without
    harming their reputation.”

  4. Nature vs. Nurture–consider Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), commonly referred to as “concussion(s)”: Juvenile delinquents, when tested, have been shown to include a disproportionate number with evidence of TBI–the implication being that TBI in youth [brain damage] is a contributing factor to delinquency. See: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101109191800.htm

    How does DeGrazia’s philosophical musings about genetic selection adapt to such situations?

    Oh Yeah…Briggs, see where “philosophy” leads–anywhere one wants it to go to?!?!?! Stick to facts & hard/objective data & stuff like DeGrazia’s paper won’t happen.

  5. Imagine people like this get their way and society becomes becomes much more ‘moral’ as a result. Then imagine they lock up Professor DeGrazia for his shocking and immoral views. These characters always assume that their proposed super-beings will approve of them. It’s a sort of blindness I think.

  6. Progress!

    What could go wrong?

  7. Among other problems. The dear professor apparently does not consider that these genes may have some value. Eliminate them, and you could very well be eliminating valuble traits.
    Perhaps we should invoke the precautionary principle?

  8. “What could go wrong?”

    Everything. I don’t think that we understand the links between genetics and personality nearly as well as claimed.

    Combining the law of unintended consequences with Murphy’s law it’s just as likly that they will create a generation of evil geniuses as it is that they will achieve the intended effect.

  9. “It is good to be a delta”

  10. Sander van der Wal

    8 February 2013 at 12:32 pm

    “Inability to find creative solutions to difficult problems involving competing interests and values”

    Hehehe. He’s clearly talking about European politicians.

  11. Well, Mr. DeGrazia is a little late. We already tried to create the master race about 80 years ago. That didn’t work out so well. Also remember the famous socialist man the socialist utopias were going to create.

  12. Something’s amiss in the world of ” medical ethics” …….it seems more and more of these ethicists want to kill us human beings …I’m not sure how they got there but clearly they have lost track of the value of human life …..

  13. Of course the good professor’s notions are nonsense. However, we must be ready to confront a trick question:

    “If it were possible to screen embryos for a tendency toward violence, would you be in favor of it? If not, why not?”

    I pose this because of a parallel question: One I once asked a left-liberal, that got so much excrement thrown at me that I could barely stand:

    “If it were possible to screen embryos for sexual orientation, would you be in favor of it? If not, why not?”

    It takes more courage than most people possess to answer either one, in either direction, without evading the point by saying “well, that could never happen” or “I don’t deal in hypotheticals.”

  14. Ye Olde Statistician

    8 February 2013 at 2:11 pm

    It was not philosophy that led Dr. DeGrazia astray. He does not appear equipped to play the game, having shown up in tennis shorts and rackets on the football gridiron. Instead, he seems devoted to the notion that knowledge of measurable, material factors is sufficient unto the day. This bespeaks an “inability to grasp subtle, complicated details,” making him a prime target for the besserwissers who will optimize the human race by substituting their own intelligent design for the rigors of evolution.

    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2011/07/dialogue-concerning-internal-world.html

  15. Noblesse Oblige

    9 February 2013 at 9:45 pm

    The idea of one of these loons having access to my kid’s head is grotesque. Be careful where you send your kid for a “liberal education.” The brain you save may be his.

  16. How about some “post natal intervention” to make David DeGrazia less interested in playing God over other human beings? Somehow I don’t think he’d appreciate that suggestion. :-)

  17. Read the comments to date: why has no one commented on the obviously humanist-socialist nature of the requirements?

    -) not wanting to contribute one’s fair share: i.e. redistribution of wealth.
    -) failure of insight or motivation: i.e. disagreement with government, disagreement with activists.
    -) unwilling to find common ground: i.e. those with principles, i.e. those who disagree with shifting goals.
    -) Weak will[s] or susceptibility to temptation: i.e. the religious.
    -) Inability to find creative solutions to difficult problems involving competing interests and values: what is meant is those who disagree with leaders, i.e. the government and activists.
    -) Inability to grasp subtle, complicated details: i.e. those with own opinions, i.e. those who disagree with Approved Experts.

    What about selecting for a child that will choose to ‘do the right thing’? Help the poor (soup kitchen), fight against injustice (fight communism), protect those who need help (join the military)?

    How about selecting for a child that will not rape, murder, lie, steal?

    Noting the above, “The key fallacy in DeGrazia’s perfervid argument” is rather that it is blatantly ideological, and not at all ‘philosophical’. It is a supporter of Greenpeace wanting the children of those who oppose him DEAD. How very nice.

    If you people are not going to call the apple an apple, then perhaps you should say nothing.

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