Progressivism, Eugenics, Hubris, and Strength through Diversity (the original)

(This is the original version of this post, which I believed was gone, and was very depressed about, but then set out to recreate, the result of which is here.  But, then I found this lying in my drafts folder, and thought I’d post it here.  My information on Margaret Sanger is better in the other version, but I still like the feel of this one.  My ideal form would probably be to merge the two, but I don’t think anyone will care that much)

This grew out of a comment in a thread on FB to the point that it is virtually guaranteed to earn tl;dr response from most anybody.  But it says some things I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately, and I prefer writing when the Muse strikes.

Progressivism (as in, the dominant thinking behind the Progressive Era, not the more recent usage synonymous with Liberalism, although there is a connection) and Fascism (as in, the dominant thinking behind the Nazi and Fascist movement in Germany and Italy), are both based in the notion that massive, centralized power in the State can and should be used to alter the nature and state of humanity and improve it.

Eugenics was about removing the genetically inferior from the gene-pool, based on the understanding of the day, and Sanger’s statements show this quite clearly.  Her words are unpalatable in current society because we have made racism the largest social sin, but the only distinction between her thoughts on reducing the population of the less-desirable and that of Hitler is one of degree and method.  She favored a gradual approach, through encouraging the genetically inferior to voluntarily reduce or stop their breeding.  Hitler favored rounding them up, extracting what he could from them, and then killing them in massive numbers.  The latter is obviously more brutal and wrong, but the basic goal is the same.

Today, we have tools for identifying inferior genetics and preventing those carrying them from breeding that Sanger could only have dreamt of, and which are less about race in modern application than Sanger or Hitler would have expected.  Thus far, they have been used primarily to eliminate fetuses which have no Y chromosomes from being born in places like China and India, but have also been used to eliminate those with Downs Syndrome.  The former sounds quite repugnant, and the results of the practice are going to be monumental when they fully develop (they are already being manifest).  But we now have the power to do what Sanger wished, but in a more PC fashion than she wished.  We could eliminate babies with predispositions for things ranging from homosexual orientation, left-handedness, brown hair/eyes/skin, autism, deafness, blindness, and certain mental disorders.  In relatively short order, such things could all be products of the past, as if we put a little chlorine in the gene-pool to eliminate the cruft it’s accumulated, producing a race of relatively super-men.  Nietzsche would whole-heartedly approve.

But I’m not persuaded that such a thing is a good idea.   I am not confident that our understanding of genetics is close to what it needs to be to wield these tools responsibly.  We are beginning to find connections between certain kinds of unpleasant conditions (mental illness and autism come quickly to mind) and certain kinds of creative genius.  The “tortured artist” is more than just a stock character — their brains working differently than the average may be exactly what enables them to create, discover and reveal things that “normal” or “super” people could not.  We’ve already begun understanding how many of our technical creators and designers who have given us the internet and the things on it have Aspergers Syndrome, shown both brilliantly and hilariously on the TV show Big Bang Theory.  The film A Beautiful Mind tells the story of John Nash, who is both deeply schizophrenic and a Nobel laureate for his contributions to mathematics.  There is already a large movement in the deaf community to reject the notion that this is a handicap, and the technologies such as cochlear implants which can restore hearing.

Perhaps, we have something very important to lose if we follow our currently advanced, but still limited understanding of the human genome down a modern eugenic path.  I believe we do.  I think we need to re-examine our shared paradigm in which things such as mental illnesses are seen as flaws to be repaired, and see if one in which we can find the benefits of individuals blessed with minds that are capable of doing amazing things that most of us are unable to.  Perhaps, our strength really is found in our diversity, but in a way that goes far beyond the way we speak of it today — being about racial and cultural diversity.  What if those we see as handicapped and limited and retarded are the best of us, better able to lead us and teach us the most important things than anyone else?  Some say that there is no such thing as a weed, and that there are many uses for the plants we call such because they are growing in places we wish they wouldn’t, and we don’t yet know how to use them.  What if the same is true for people?

I reject the basic belief of Progressivism at its base.  I do not believe that humanity has shown itself even theoretically capable of making the judgments to wield the technological and political power to genuinely improve the nature of humanity.  I find that notion hubristic in the extreme.  I think we need to spend more time challenging our assumptions and unstated beliefs that lead us to a place where such hubris seems reasonable and good.  I hope we do so before we find that we have crippled ourselves as a whole by eliminating those we thought of as crippled or inferior, and lost all of the benefits they offer and deliver.

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