Eugenics

My new fascination.

Eugenics is about purposely altering human genetics to improve humanity, specifically to improve future generations. At least, that’s the claim. It gets sketchy because we’re not always sure what “improve” means, and even if we were, we’re not always sure how to best alter our genetics to make that happen.

Traditionally, most of the work in eugenics has been based on “breeding” tactics, much like we breed horses or dogs, the best with the best. During World War II, the Nazis took eugenics to the extreme by actively killing off people they thought were bringing down the gene pool. That’s why the term has a bad reputation now.

But it’s coming back, even if it’s not called the same thing.

I’m interested in it for three reasons:

  1. The ethics behind it
  2. The motivation for it
  3. The logistics of actually getting the results we want

Who’s supposed to decide what “improvement” means? Individuals? The government? And are we talking about improvement for individuals or for humanity as a whole? At what point do we allow or even force some individuals to make sacrifices for the “improvement” of the rest of humanity? Is it even possible to artificially create a “better” person? How would we do that? Are we already?

These questions, and how we decide to answer them, have huge implications.

In general, I tend to be against trying to actively direct the course of humanity through genetic modification, but I love to dig into why other people think it’s a good idea. Plus, as science continues to progress, the ethics and motivation can change because the results get more predictable.

Someone once said, “We do the most bad when we think we’re doing good.” That’s part of the reason I’m fascinated by eugenics. Another is the realization that – among other supporters – Plato, H. G. Wells, John Maynard Keynes, Winston Churchill, Alexander Graham Bell, Theodore Roosevelt, and Adolf Hitler all shared similar views on the topic.

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