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