Internet chatter over “designer babies” has died down considerably since early 2009, when a chain of fertility clinics headquartered in Los Angeles offered to allow prospective parents to select for cosmetic traits such as hair, eye, and skin color. However, the subject bears on the genetic future of mankind, and is of enduring importance whether the media gatekeepers are paying attention to it or not. The clinics in question quickly withdrew the offered services in response to the inevitable “storm of protest” by those who consider themselves the guardians of public morality. Regardless, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), the technology involved, has been around since the early 1990’s, and continues to advance. It involves checking the genetic material in a cell taken from an embryo very early in its development, when it only consists of about six cells. Initially developed to screen for diseases such as Down’s Syndrome, or reduce the probability of developing diseases such as diabetes or cancer, in principle it can be used to select for arbitrary inherited traits. Recent research has focused on diseases and psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia that do not appear traceable to simple genetic variations, and are more likely genetically heterogeneous; dependent on what is likely a complex combination of genetic factors. As our knowledge increases along these lines, we will inevitably learn to better understand and eventually control the similarly complex genetic factors affecting cognitive ability, or intelligence. One must hope that day comes sooner rather than later, and that when it comes, prospective parents will have the right to use it without state interference.
If we are to survive, we must become more intelligent, and the sooner the better. The matter is urgent, and there is no alternative. If we do survive, we will become more intelligent. The only question is how. Will it be by controlled genetic engineering, or by the “survival of the fittest” in the future holocausts we bring on ourselves because we are too stupid to avoid them? Consider the events of the 20th century. A great wave of popular idealism that had been growing ever stronger since the days of the American and French Revolutions among a large proportion of the most intelligent and highly educated elements of societies around the world metasticized into the incredibly destructive pseudo-religion, Communism. The better part of a century and 100 million deaths later, we seem to have weathered that particular ideological storm, at least for the time being. There is no compelling reason to believe that it was inevitable that we would, or that it was impossible that, under somewhat different but plausible conditions, Communist systems could have dominated the entire world, or that the resultant clash of ideologies might have culminated in a general nuclear exchange. Orwell’s 1984 might very well have become a reality. International boundaries might very well have been reduced to the role of marking where one North Korea ended, and another begun. There is no guarantee that the outcome of the next storm will not be different.
Communism was no historical anomaly. It was a phenomenon dependent for its existence and its power on some of the best and brightest minds of its day. As such, it provides us with an objective metric of our intelligence. We are not nearly as smart as we think we are. Messianic Islamism has already begun occupying the ideological vacuum left by its demise, and the true believers of new and, perhaps, yet unheard of systems will surely swarm forth eventually to promote new “scientific” paths to the “salvation of humanity.” Meanwhile, the technologies of mass destruction continue to develop at an alarming pace. Unless we become intelligent enough to control them it is only a question of time until they are used. If we take control of our own genetic future there is a slim chance that we will be able to avoid the worst. If not, it will at least improve our chances of surviving it.
When it comes to making the necessary decisions, it would be best to leave the state out of it. State eugenic programs have not been remarkably successful in the past, and they are unlikely to be more successful in the future, because states cannot be depended on to act in the interests of the individuals who are their citizens. Individuals are remarkably acute judges of their own best interests. Give individuals the power to use the technology or not, as they see fit. Their genetic survival will be the metric of whether they made the right choices. As noted in Psychology Today, they have always made those individual choices in the past by selectivity in the choice of a mate. Technologies such as PGD will not change that. It will merely give them the opportunity to make the choice more accurately.
Many articles have been written about the need to explore the “ethical” implications of the choices we must make about these technologies. In fact, virtually anyone who describes themselves as a “bio-ethicist,” or, for that matter, an “ethics expert” of any other stripe is, objectively, a charlatan. Their “ethical debates” are merely so much emotional posturing, in which the various sides carry on fantastical arguments about whose deeply felt emotions are the most “legitimate.” Ethical debates that do not start with the recognition of the evolutionary origin of these emotions, of the reasons and conditions under which they evolved, and their nature as subjective constructs deriving from predispositions that are hard-wired in the brain, are no more rational than the raving of madmen.
Values can never be legitimate in themselves. They are, by their nature, subjective. They exist, like virtually everything else of significance about us, because the wiring in the brain that gives rise to them promoted our survival. If, then, one finds it necessary for some reason to pursue a “value,” none can rationally take precedence over survival. That is the only “value” that can be accepted as seriously at issue here. We can ignore the rest of the blather about “ethics,” because the “ethicists” quite literally do not know what they’re talking about.
I wish to survive, and I wish for my species and life in general to survive. I don’t flatter myself that those wishes have any objective legitimacy, but, subjectively, I am very attached to them. Assuming there are others out there who also wish to survive, I have a suggestion about how to fulfill that wish. Let us become more intelligent as quickly as possible.