I have some pretty strong feelings about eugenics (it's a good and necessary practice), but I find it very, VERY difficult to talk about it with anyone since I'm instantly labeled a Nazi for supporting it. I'm hoping the folks on Think Atheist will be more inclined to intellectual discussion than name-calling and dismissal.

 

The start off, some disclaimers: genocide is wrong; taking human rights away from people of a race/religion/hairstyle you don't like is wrong; concentration camps are wrong; violence in wrong.

 

There. Now to the actual discussion.

 

When I talk about eugenics, I'm talking about the practice of systematically removing debilitating genetic traits and defects from a population by means of regulating the reproduction of its citizens. Do you have Schizophrenia? Did you know that this ailment is genetic and very easy to pass on to you children? Please, do not punish an innocent child with this problem. Are you genetically healthy, intelligent, and talented? Do you have special immunities that make you less likely to get sick? By all means, spread these traits to future generations, either by having children yourself or donating to a sperm or egg bank. Do you want children but should not carry your genetic problems onto them? Adopt. Adoption will always be available no matter what the society (just because someone has good genetic material does NOT mean they would make a good parent). Do you say that adoption is not the same? Then I suppose you care more about satisfying your selfish desires than the well being of a child.

 

Eugenics is, at its base, very simple - think about the future first.

I'm leaving this post now for what I'm hoping will be thoughtful and anti-inflammatory discussion.

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I see some catch 22 here. Death in humans is no longer required for the purpose of genetic evolution, so aging itself is no longer necessary. That leaves open an opportunity to enhance health and productive lifespan for society. Most people would prefer a longer, healthy life, especially if it could remain productive instead of retiring and declining.

To avoid overpopulation, this would probably mean less kids, but I'll bet that could be worked out. It'd mean there's less kids to support for their first couple of decades, and we could give the kids we have more support and happiness.

And the longer we live, the more mental health problems are present in society. Focusing on our own longevity instead of focusing on the health of youth would lead to an incredibly boring society, for as we age, we focus more and more on conservation of our lifestyle rather than the creativity and change seeking of youth.
So the trick must be... if we're wishing to "enhance productive lifespan" is to intervene in the body before the age of 30, in order to extend the 20s, those are our productive years physically and mentally. Now that would be an interesting new direction to take in medical research!

@T A A & Da pope;

You both bring up many good points.

"The answers are out there."

And the longer we live, the more mental health problems are present in society.

I'm not sure what you are saying here. Are you just saying that the longer people live on the average, the more illnesses they will have over their lifetime, or that the older you get the crazier you get?

...as we age, we focus more and more on conservation of our lifestyle rather than the creativity and change seeking of youth.

Lifestyle and creativity are two different and independent aspects of life. When one retires, for example, one is free to do things one has been putting off: starting a business, traveling, volunteering, inventing, moving to another country. These options are less open to the young person who has to concentrate on building a career and simply surviving. You may have it backwards.

So the trick must be... if we're wishing to "enhance productive lifespan" is to intervene in the body before the age of 30, in order to extend the 20s, those are our productive years physically and mentally. Now that would be an interesting new direction to take in medical research!

Can you cite anything other than your rather obvious youth bias as evidence that young people are more productive? If anything, I'd say that the 30's and 40's are, on average, the most productive years of the average person.

On your 1st question... a bit of both.

Some seniors, rare some, get to live more fully/interestingly than in youth, close to that 1% that are financially on top of the world. Most seniors don't. Most seniors end up alone in old age homes, and the trend is only increasing.

Most great inventions and great thinking happen in people's 20s. By the time people are in their 30s, a majority are into breeding and stability of income. Motherhood is most successful when females are in our 20s. The 20s is the true life. We only fantasize about happy old age, mostly it's not the reality.

In a society where we valued the healthy years instead of the death years, we would make arrangements so that education was better managed and youth got the chance to make better life choices, choices not dependent on the fear of being able to provide for their own death years. So much of most people's lives is wasted on planning for old age. If we stopped focusing on death years and focused on productive years, our society would be better for it.

You say I have a "youth bias", I call it being realistic of the biology of Homo sapiens. You think of "productivity" as income earning and career positioning. But without the fear of securing old age, the very paradigm of "productivity" gets shifted. That is always my slant in all discussions, to dismantle status quo paradigms that bias people's thinking.

Contrary to your apparent belief, most of us will not end up in a nursing home until very, very, very late in life. He volunteered in an occupational therapy center operated the the Cleveland Clinic for about 20 years, until he could no more. 

Maybe some 20 year olds are doing something worthwhile, but I think probably on the whole it's a lot less worthwhile than what the people in their 30's and 40's are doing because those age groups tend to spend a lot less time drinking and trying to get laid. I'm not denying there are exceptions, but not nearly enough of them for you to make the broad generalizations of which you are clearly so fond.

I'm sure there are other lists, but this list has the following folks as the Top 10 Inventors of all time: 

Thomas Edison, The Wright Brothers, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Babbage, James Watt, Alexander Bell, Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, Tim Berners Lee, Archimedes. 

Babbage was in his 20's, but the rest were older and mostly quite a bit older. I think you'll find that the great inventions of history were made mostly by middle-aged people.

Let's see a list of Top 10 Inventors in their 20's. I'm sure Mark Zuckerberg, who develops new ways to annoy us almost daily will be on your list. You can't put Steve Jobs on it because he didn't really hit his stride until later in life. Who else? 

Mathematics is something of an exception, with many young people making great contributions, but even there, there are about as many great mathematicians who did their best work in middle age or later in life. Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, and Isaac Newton, were not kids when they did their best work.

I studied philosophy and young philosophers were even rarer than woman philosophers.

You know, you just present us your highly prejudiced and pulled out of the air attitudes dressed up and presented as facts. 

Hell yeah, extend the twenties!

And still, focus more on the health of all the young, from birth.

I like that perspective, rather than just "extending life". I'm sold.

Time for some Steven Pinker:

Q: A common fear seems to be: "But if genetic determinism is actually true, doesn't that mean the Nazis were right?"

A: Your question, of course, alludes to a conventional wisdom among left-leaning academics that genes imply genocide. But the 20th century suffered “two” ideologies that led to genocides. The other one, Marxism, had no use for race, didn't believe in genes and denied that human nature was a meaningful concept. Clearly, it's not an emphasis on genes or evolution that is dangerous. It's the desire to remake humanity by coercive means (eugenics or social engineering) and the belief that humanity advances through a struggle in which superior groups (race or classes) triumph over inferior ones.

"Don't tell me what I should quit saying. You want to come meet in person? We can settle this in physical form. "

:) Sure, behind the school at 3:05 PM.*

Did you really do that?  How long have you had Internet access?  You do realize that everything we post is recorded forever and is admissible in criminal courts in all 50 states, correct? 

Hopefully if you meant to sit down over a nice lunch and have a pleasant conversation, then my answer would be a resounding "Yes", as long as you are paying the round trip plane fare, full meals and lodging at minimum 4 star establishments.*

* Sarcism.

Signed: Hubert S. Troll III

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With the other posts deleted this one now looks so out-of-place. :(

It could be extremely beneficial to our species, eliminating diseases and susceptibility to illnesses.

But I've a couple of question I think should be considered... For example do you use eugenics for only physical ailments or mental ailments also? Obviously I think it would be fantastic if you could stop certain cancers, diabetes, auto-immune reactions, etc. before they arise (and remember it's not always possible, some genes will turn on in life due to external factors, and these ailments may also come from external factors).

In the case of mental disorders what happens? There are plenty of people that are extremely productive members of society with mental disorders, for example the famous mathimatican John Nash had paranoid schizophrenia, Catherine Zeta Jones has bi-polar disorder, Herschel Walker, NFL player and Micheal Phelps, Olympic swimmer, both have ADHD and Kurt Cobain suffered from depression and ADD. There are many people who mental disorders could have been prevented by eugenics, but would society be the same without them? Has anyone asked people suffering from these ailments about their quality of life? Taking it to the extreme, what if sexuality could be changed by eugenics. Could you 'cure' homosexuality by using eugenics? 

I think the drive for perfection of our species could lead to us losing our humanity - not from eugenics, but from people abusing eugenics for their own benefit. I think as a species we are too immature to be able to use the technology we have for our benefit. I think we need to sort out the problems we already have in the world before we go down this road... There's no point in making one room of a house perfect if the rest of the house is falling down around you....

But by putting those individuals on a podium, you're committing a judgement call, an unverifiable one. You may perceive that these people have been "good" for humanity, but what if hindsight could tell us there had no overall effect, or worse, perhaps left a negative effect?

We can not say what is "better", we can only determine where we put our limited public dollars. I would much rather see a cleaner environment to live in, rather than a planet full of "cured" old conservative folks... for as people age... statistically, we become more fearful and conservative.

I liked the Logan's Run TV series. People painlessly shut-down at age 30. Such as society would have almost no need for a pharmaceutical/medical/industrial complex. We could instead place our collective dollars in much happier and intelligent endeavours.

@Sean O'Byrne;

Very good post.

"...do you use eugenics for only physical ailments or mental ailments also?"

If by "you" you mean "we" then I feel the answer would be yes, since mental ailments (if there are such things) have a physical basis.  A genomic sequence which results in an undesirable outcome would be something worth consideration for changing if possible.

"In the case of mental disorders what happens? There are plenty of people that are extremely productive members of society with mental disorders,...(examples)...would society be the same without them?"

It isn't the removal of existing people nor their talents that the idea of eugenics thru genomic manipulation makes a possibility.  It is the removal of the disorder that limits them.

"Has anyone asked people suffering from these ailments about their quality of life?

A better question might be:  How often have they asked themselves about their quality of life?  Would they want their own children not to suffer as they have?

Remember we are entering a time where eugenics thru genomic manipulation can be accomplished prior to conception.

"Taking it to the extreme, what if sexuality could be changed by eugenics. Could you 'cure' homosexuality by using eugenics? "

This is a very good question.  The short answer is probably yes.  The longer answer is not so simple.

"I think the drive for perfection of our species could lead to us losing our humanity - not from eugenics, but from people abusing eugenics for their own benefit."

I think I mostly agree. Human greed is an ever present danger to the future to humankind (to the whole planet for that matter).

" I think as a species we are too immature to be able to use the technology we have for our benefit."

I think I partially agree. There are many, many examples I could point to showing how we have been mature enough to have benefited from our existing technology.  I do agree in a general sense humankind is immature, possibly very immature. :(

"I think we need to sort out the problems we already have in the world before we go down this road... There's no point in making one room of a house perfect if the rest of the house is falling down around you...."

I think I disagree.

Waiting until your house starts to fall is the worst time to start trying to improve it.  If we (the human race) continue at our current pace the evidence indicates the trend will take us to a world of increased suffering for a larger and larger percentage of the worlds population.

While eugenics is only a small part of the solution, now is the time to put more effort into research focusing on the physical miladies that manifest after our breeding years as these are the conditions that Natural Selection cannot deselect from our genome.

While Eugenics thru Genomic Manipulation has some wonderful possibilities and promise for humankind's evolution toward a much more productive future for all the inhabitants of this planet, it is a dangerous path.

If we do nothing to direct our future evolution and let nature take it's course, a shotgun approach, our chance at a better future is limited.

If instead we take aim, a sniper approach, our chance at a better future is vastly improved.  I choose a better future for all the species that occupy this planet.

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