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  • Danish Progress in Suppressing Thoughtcrime

    Posted on November 20th, 2013 Helian 2 comments

    According to the ever-vigilant hbd*chick, the Danish kangaroo court for scientists that goes by the moniker of the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty is once again enforcing the Law of the Suspects in that unhappy land.  Readers may recall its earlier adventures in suppressing the heretical writings of Bjorn Lomborg, who dared to offend the righteous by exposing real dishonesty in the environmental sciences.  This time we find it hurling its pious anathemas at the head of Helmuth Nyborg, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Aarhus University.  It seems that Prof. Nyborg has been courageous or foolhardy enough to publish papers on eugenics, a field which has long been under the interdict of the pathologically pious.  Once a favorite playground of what Nyborg refers to as the Academic Left, those worthies abandoned it long ago after discovering its value as a prop for their favorite sport of striking self-righteous poses.

    It’s remarkable that there never seems to be a lack of candidates shameless enough to serve as inquisitors on this Danish version of the Court of Star Chamber.  New ones keep turning up all the time.  Apparently they live in such a hermetically sealed echo chamber that they’re unaware of the rather harsh judgment of history on their antecedents in the Halls of Justice.  Such names as Torquemada, Roland Freisler, and Andrey Vishinsky come to mind.  Apropos Vishinsky, according to hbd*chick, Jens Mammen, one of the three defenders of scientific righteousness responsible for bringing the Nyborg case to the baleful attention of the Danish inquisitors, was actually a Communist himself for 14 years until 1988, when all the Marxist rats began scurrying off the sinking ship.  The other two include Morten Kjeldgaard, who has set up a creepy website devoted to hounding Nyborg, and Jens Kvorning, a “teaching lecturer” in Aalborg University’s Department of Communication and Psychology, an area of expertise which would seem to leave him singularly unqualified to challenge scientific results in the field of eugenics.

    As far as the merits of this particular case are concerned, I can but echo hbd*chick’s quote from Steven Pinker’s letter to the Danish Thought Police:

    I am writing to protest the shocking and disgraceful treatment of Dr. Helmuth Nyborg following publication of his report on possible gender differences in average IQ scores.  Dr. Nyborg may be mistaken, but the issue he is addressing is a factual one, and can only be evaluated by an open examination of the evidence.  To ‘investigate’ him, shut down his research, or otherwise harass him because his findings are politically incorrect is unworthy of an institution dedicated to the understanding of reality.  It is reminiscent of the persecution of Galileo, the crippling of Soviet science and agriculture under Lysenko, and the attempt of the American religious right wing to inhibit the teaching of evolution in the schools.

    No one has the right to legislate the truth.  It can only be discovered by free inquiry, and that includes investigations that may make people uncomfortable.  This is the foundation of liberal society, and it is threatened by attempts to interfere with Dr. Nyborg and his research.  If he is incorrect, that will be established by a community of scholars who examine his evidence and arguments and criticize them in open forums of debate, not by the exercise of force to prevent him from pursuing his research.  These are the tactics of a police state, and bring shame on any institution that uses them.

    I don’t always agree with Pinker, but you have to hand it to the man.  At least he has the right enemies.  As for eugenics, the name may have fallen into disfavor, but the science has always carried on under different names.  The main difference between Nyborg and the other practitioners is that he is courageous enough to call his specialty by its proper name.  The main premise of the field is that there are significant genetic differences among both individual humans and human groups that influence the level of mental and physical performance that individuals can achieve in like circumstances.  That premise would seem to be true, as demonstrated by the fact that evolution happened.  The alternative view favored by the Danish inquisitors of the world, that no such human biodiversity exists, requires that all human groups, no matter how great the spatial separation, arrived at precisely equal capabilities, particularly as concerns intelligence, around 50,000 years ago, at which point our evolution came to a screeching halt, with the possible exception of certain traits such as lactose tolerance, that have been scrutinized by the Thought Police and found to be innocent of conflicts with the approved dogmas of political correctness.  All this seems rather implausible, unless it is recalled that here we are speaking more of the narrative of a secular religion than anything recognizable as “science.”

    Be that as it may, I must add that I am in sympathy with those who would prefer that modern states refrain from further attempts to use the science to “improve” their inmates.  Such attempts in the past have been less that successful at enhancing “human flourishing.”  As for individuals, we have been practicing eugenics, along with the birds, the bees, and the rest of the mammals, through our choice of mates since time immemorial.  If we learn new truths and acquire new technologies that enable individuals to make similar choices in the future with more predictable results, so much the better for us.  It’s only to be expected that the Danish inquisitors among us will always seek to deprive us of the right to make such choices.  However, I doubt that they’ll ever be able to control “science” in every country as effectively as they do in Denmark.  Just as they always have in the past, people will vote with their feet.

  • The “Worry” of Chinese Eugenics

    Posted on January 20th, 2013 Helian 1 comment

    Click on the “About” link at the Edge.org website, and you’ll  find that,

    Edge.org was launched in 1996 as the online version of “The Reality Club,” an informal gathering of intellectuals that held met from 1981-1996 in Chinese restaurants, artist lofts, the Board Rooms of Rockefeller University, the New York Academy of Sciences, and investment banking firms, ballrooms, museums, living rooms, and elsewhere.  Though the venue is now in cyberspace, the spirit of the Reality Club lives on in the lively back-and-forth discussions on the hot-button ideas driving the discussion today.

    To prime the discussion, Edge comes up with an Annual Question for a select group of 150 intellectuals.  This year’s was, “What *should* we be worried about?”  One of the most intriguing answers was that of evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller; Chinese Eugenics.  In his words,

    When I learned about Chinese eugenics this summer, I was astonished that its population policies had received so little attention.  China makes no secret of its eugenic ambitions, in either its cultural history or its government policies.

    He adds some perceptive remarks about the likely reaction to all this in the West:

    The most likely response, given Euro-American ideological biases, would be a bioethical panic that leads to criticism of Chinese population policy with the same self-righteous hypocrisy that we have shown in criticizing various Chinese socio-cultural policies. But the global stakes are too high for us to act that stupidly and short-sightedly. A more mature response would be based on mutual civilizational respect, asking—what can we learn from what the Chinese are doing, how can we help them, and how can they help us to keep up as they create their brave new world?

    Google “Chinese eugenics” and you’ll find abundant instances of “bioethical panic” complete with the usual pontification about “playing God” and references to the movie Gattaca.  However, the old “Eugenics = Nazis” arguments seem to be losing their sting, and there are approving remarks as well.  Oxford Professor Julian Savulescu goes so far as to claim that the artificial selection of genes that promote “nice” behavior is actually a “moral obligation.”  On all sides, one hears admonitions against plunging ahead into a brave new world of designer babies until the bioethical and moral issues have been fully aired.

    As a good atheist, I can only reply, “Heaven forefend!”  All we need to really muddle this issue is to attempt to decide it based on which side’s experts in ethics and morality can strike the most convincing self-righteous poses.  That’s why I keep harping about morality on this blog.  It’s important to understand what it is, lest it become a mere prop for pious poseurs.  It exists because it promoted our survival in the past.  Would it not at least be esthetically pleasing if it continued to promote our survival in the future?  Suppose the worst fears of the Sinophobes are realized, and, after gaining a sufficiently large genetic advantage, the Chinese decide to clear the rest of us off the board like so many Neanderthals?  How much will all these moral niceties matter then?  There can be nothing more immoral than failing to survive.  There can be nothing more evil than collaborating in one’s own extinction.  The number of “experts” on ethics and morality who have a clue about the nature of human morality and the reasons for its existence is vanishingly small.  In a word, they don’t know what they’re talking about.  Under the circumstances, I suspect that the value of their input on this matter is likely to be very limited.

    My personal preference is that our species survive, and continue to evolve in such a way as to best promote its survival into the future.  I doubt that we are intelligent enough at our current stage of development to achieve those goals.  For that reason, I would prefer that we become more intelligent as quickly as possible.  There are various ways in which technology might be used to speed the process up.  For example, it might be applied via an involuntary, classical eugenics program run by the state, or by giving parents the right of voluntary choice.  I don’t presume to have any infallible knowledge as to the best approach.  However, it seems to me unlikely that the priorities of genes will ever be in harmony with those of a modern state.  States tend to serve their own interests.  Consider, for example, Professor Savulescu’s suggestion about the “moral obligation” to produce “nice” babies.  As far as the interests of the state are concerned, “nice” can be translated as “docile,” a behavioral trait parents might not be so interested in preserving.  Limiting these choices to parents will also have the advantage of being more “natural.”  It will simply be continuing the same type of “eugenics” we have been practicing since time immemorial via sexual selection.

    In an earlier post I mentioned the fact that H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury is now available online.  In those halcyon days before eugenics became associated with the Nazis, and therefore taboo, it was still possible to discuss the topic rationally.  Interested readers might want to take a look at a “pro” article, Heredity and the Uplift, by H. M. Parshley that appeared in the February 1924 issue of the Mercury, and a “con” article, The Eugenics Cult, by Clarence Darrow that appeared in the June 1926 issue.  To those who suspect I’m slanting the debate towards the “con” by giving the pulpit to the great lawyer of Inherit the Wind fame, I point out that Mencken was no mean judge of intellectuals.  Apparently Simone de Beauvoir agreed, because she entrusted Parshley with the English translation of The Second Sex.

     

  • The Reincarnation of Eugenics

    Posted on November 29th, 2010 Helian No comments

    There’s an interesting link over at Chicago Boyz to what typically passes for a discussion of eugenics  in our day.  Of course, the issue has become toxic, thanks mainly to the antics of the Third Reich, and freedom of speech no longer applies.  Attempts to discuss it rationally are futile because of the social consensus that it is evil.  Most of us understand this, so that discussion of eugenics today normally emanates from the realm of the pathologically pious, in the context of their usual attempts to demonstrate their superior virtue.

    It was not always so.  For example, their were some very interesting pro and con articles in Mencken’s American Mercury back in the mid-20’s.  In one exchange, the pro was H. M. Parshley, little known today, but a progressive who edited the first English version of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex,” and the con was none other than the equally progressive lawyer Clarence Darrow, of Scopes Monkey Trial fame.  In other words, eugenics was not a defining feature of the progressive narrative at the time.

    Given the continued cancerous growth of the role of state power in people’s lives in the last century, and the emergence of totalitarian states that do not derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed, but nevertheless presume to interfere in every aspect of the daily lives of their citizens, it would seem in retrospect that eugenics really was a very bad idea.  In fact, however, it has become a moot point.  Individuals already have the power to “vote with their feet” when it comes to controlling the genetic information they pass along to their offspring.  Their power to select for qualities such as intelligence, physical strength, size, emotional traits, etc., will only increase as our genetic knowledge continues to expand.  One can argue that the state should deprive individuals of the right to make such choices.  That, of course, would amount to a rebirth of eugenics.