William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Government To Issue Baby Licenses

Not the kind of baby license he has in mind.

Not the kind of baby license he has in mind. (Image source.)

Regular readers will recall that I am a (self-appointed) bioethicist, a post I take on not because I need the work, but because the professionals are making such a hash of it.

Take professional “futurist” Zoltan Istvan’s recent article in Wired, “It’s time to consider restricting human breeding” who poses the question nobody was asking, “In this transhumanist future, should everyone still be allowed to have unlimited children whenever they want?”

He meant it rhetorically, naturally, where all bien pensant would know to answer No. (But then even the best of us cannot have children whenever we want.)

His question has a proviso, relying on “transhumanism”, sometimes abbreviated “H+”. The easy answer is that this is the state of human beings envisioned by those who have watched too much bad science fiction on television. Think Six Million Dollar Man grafted onto an iPad—or maybe its the other way around.

The longer and more tedious definition is exactly the same, except the parts that make up Steve Austin’s limbs have been successfully miniaturized and mass produced and genetically engineered. “Defectives” would not be allowed out of the wome to mix with their betters.

The fallacy underlying transhumanism is not that our body parts won’t be replaced by Apple Corp (or whomever, and for a large fee), which smart money practically guarantees, but that once this happens we become something other than human, something superior, once we reach a “singularity” or pass some “tipping point” or whatever. In other words, transhumanism is yet one more in a long and ever-increasing list of Utopian schemes, and yet more proof that abandoning a classic education leads to a fundamental ignorance of the reality of man’s unchangeable nature.

Transhumanists are far from the first to think of that happy State which awaits us once we work out the technology. In Brave New World, transhumans were born in a factory via “Bokanovsky’s Process”, bred like mushrooms. Istvan thinks this a swell idea—and that the State should be in charge of it.

Enter fallacy number two, appropriately called the Transformation Fallacy. It’s when a common person possessing all the faults, weaknesses, and sins of a common mortal is transformed into a purely altruistic loving caring faultless man of superior-intellect merely by being appointed to a government post. It’s become rare not to see this fallacy. Istvan is a slave to it.

“I cautiously,” Istvan says, inventing a new and opposite meaning for cautiously, “endorse the idea of licensing parents, a process that would be little different than getting a driver’s licence.” State issued, of course. To support this he says,

The philosophical conundrum of controlling human procreation rests mostly on whether all human beings are actually responsible enough to be good parents and can provide properly for their offspring. Clearly, untold numbers of children — for example, those millions that are slaves in the illegal human trafficking industry — are born to unfit parents.

Untold? Millions? Parents who won’t sell their children into slavery stand a higher chance of being licensed. Also, parents “who pass a series of basic tests qualify and get the green light to get pregnant and raise children.” Who will write, score, administrate, and enforce the outcome of these tests? Those who have been changed via the transformation fallacy.

Istvan isn’t alone. He quotes other transhumanists, like Hank Pellissier “founder of the Brighter Brains Institute” (!), Paul “Prognostication Bombed” Ehrlich, an “advocate for government intervention to control human population”, and “bioethics pioneer” (!) Joseph Fletcher whom he quotes as saying “many births are accidental”. Accidental? Accidental? As in, “Honey, I didn’t realize that when we had sex you might have got pregnant“?

Skip it. If you haven’t been convinced that parenting licences are required, Istvan has this up his sleeve: “After all, we don’t allow people to drive cars on crack cocaine.” Devastating, no? Licensing parents would drive down crime rates, too. He says.

How to keep unlicensed people from the unaccidental consequences of doin’ what come naturally? Implanted birth control microchips which “can deliver hormones into the body via an on-off switch on your mobile phone”. We can call it the Lack of Responsibility App.

He closes his article with these words: “As a liberty-loving person, I have always eschewed giving up any freedoms.” Does he, though. For the next words are “However…”

This is the same speech you get from all progressives and statists. “I hate to do it, but it’s for your own good.”

Update See also this.

15 Comments

  1. Actually, the idea is not a problem for Istvan because he envisions himself as always being on the side issuing the licenses. All “progressives” do. They never ever believe that the state they supported and cared for would do something so dastardly as to not issue them a license. Of course, in reality, that will happen very quickly as those in power further secure their hold by limiting reproduction to those in power and those providing a compliant workforce. As noted, Brave New World. These individuals are the type that feed alligators and believe the gator will never decide to have them for lunch. I suppose one could argue that in the end, they get what they deserve. Unfortunately, they destroy society along the way. Minor detail, right? I don’t know that there is any way to change that progression. People always believe the rain will stop, right up to end where their house is washed away. Bad things always happen to other people, in nature and in society—until they happen to “you”. Then it’s too late. It’s who we are.

    Also, the App for reproduction would only have an off/on switch controlled by the government. Can’t be having babies without a license, you know.

  2. Looks like Istvan’s gotten into the soma again.

    And getting this license would be like getting a driver’s license? Written test, road test, “driver’s ed” class? Hmm.

    Wait ’til the hackers get ahold of that LoR app.

  3. Dr K.A. Rodgers

    August 20, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Will the licensing of parents, “a process that would be little different than getting a driver’s licence” also involve a practical exam?

  4. Gosh, I wonder if you’d find more licenses issued to those parents who are registered to vote for an ideology that supports such ideas. That ideology also promotes frequent, non-procreative sex as a virtue. So, the same people that want free love will be the only pregnant ones! I love the irony.

  5. While you all are having fun with the “exam” part, the actual test for parenting is not whether or not you can get knocked up—gerbils manage to do that so people should have no problem—but whether or not you are fit to parent. This would involve those dolls they gave to high schoolers to teach them what a baby screaming at 2 am was like. You would also have to intern in a day care center and probably in schools to demonstrate your proficiency. Note that proficiency probably means the ability to turn out obedient little drones that never question authority. One supposes a clever person could fake the exam and manage to get a license. However, driver’s licences can be revoked, so parenting licenses probably can to. You either brainwash according to state standards or you lose the kid. Remember, parenting is not right in this scenario.

  6. The concerns raised are interesting & entertainingly presented…but let’s face it, farfetched. Transhumanists are a lunatic fringe bunch with relatively little real influence or hope for success…almost living science fiction characters.

    Rather than impose transhumanistic regulations & controls & technologies a much simpler, cost-effective and quick approach that’s sure to work, is in keeping with natural human proclivities, is to implement an annual PURGE: http://www.newfoundersamerica.org/

    Actually, a PURGE is mostly but not entirely sci-fi — so expanding what’s already underway would be quite straightforward.

  7. Sander van der Wal

    August 20, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    According to the article, you won’t be able to have babies after you have become immortal. That is not a very new idea, Larry Niven already wrote SF about that in the ’60-s and ’70-s.

    The piece is rather inconsistent. Transhumans are supposed to be incredibly smart, but they still manage to forget to take their birth control pills. And because they are poor they need to sell their children. You don’t need to become transhuman to be able to do that, lots of people manage to do so right now, even in the civilised world.

  8. La Longue Carabine

    August 20, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    The great thing about H+, one of the great things for there are many, is an almost unlimited lifespan — so that Zoltan’s boot can stomp on our faces forever.

  9. Does anyone who’s ever been on the road believe that drivers licenses are only issued to people who are qualified to operate a motor vehicle? On what grounds should we suspect that the procreation license will be any more successful?

  10. TheRealAaron: You said it perfectly!!

  11. A transhumanist Malthusian? Is that anything like a square circle?

    Wait a moment… We’ve had this discussion before. A transhumanist Malthusian makes exactly as much sense as a liberal socialist.

  12. The idea, though repugnant, is not far-fetched.
    Having gone through the “licensing” wringer when adopting our daughter, I often used to wonder that how many would succeed the rigor if this was also applicable for biological parents.
    While I cannot see an alternative during adoption, but just want to point out that the framework already exists.

  13. Deebee: Good point. Politics enter into adopting if you are adopting older kids. Things like owning a pit bull (no longer a problem courtesy of dog-fighting Michael Vick), large reptiles or anything that the social worker personally finds disturbing, a political attitude that is not to their liking, etc will keep you from adopting. I would imagine that same would happen if the government started issuing procreation licenses. I do wish there was an alternative to the adoption system, since it results in people going overseas or giving up on adoptin. Kids lose out in this system.

  14. Actually in Western Europe democracies it happens that the states (via social security agencies/Court decisions) take children away from their parents on basis of low income.

  15. Perhaps the cure to such delusions, would be to have these people prove they are fit to govern.
    I am always amazed by the statist illogic.
    They insist they can run my affairs better than I choose to, using government force.
    Yet government succeeds in which activities?
    Making war as prolonged and agonizingly expensive as possible? Check
    Grinding all activity it grants itself authority to regulate to a standstill? Check.
    What would be the best proof of an adults fitness to govern? Their refusal to do so?

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