Re: Eugenics: PLS READ [was Berkeleyans Against "Techno-Eugenics"]
Tue, 5 Oct 1999 09:38:01 -0700

Robert J. Bradbury, <>, writes:
> On Mon, 4 Oct 1999, Chris Fedeli forwarded a message regarding
> a "movement" opposed to "Techno-eugenics". So we are all
> educated to discuss this, I wanted to provide foundation
> material.
> >From The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary:
> eugenic (adj): of, concerned with, or encouraging the production of
> healthy children.
> eugenics (n): the study of methods of protecting and improving the
> quality of the human race by selective breeding
> eugenist (n): fr. Greek: eu (well) + genes (born)

My dictionary provides slightly different definitinos for two of these:

eugenics: the movement devoted to improving the human species through the

control of hereditary factors in mating eugenicist: a specialist in or advocate of eugenics: also eugenist

> > I want to alert you to a nascent movement originating here in
> > Berkeley opposed to "Techno-eugenics'" i.e. human germ-line engineering
> > with the intent of producing super-people, which presents some very
> > serious threats to the future of humanity, social equality and the
> > like..
> To start with, the term is applied improperly. Since human germ-line
> engineering does not involve selective breeding, the term of
> "Techno-eugenics" seems a distortion designed to invoke the spectre
> of the eugenics movement in the early part of this century and
> more seriously the NAZI eugenics efforts.

However the more inclusive definition in my dictionary, improving the human species through control of hereditary factors, would seem to apply to genetic engineering. I don't think we should rely too heavily on dictionaries in drawing a fine line between what is eugenics and what is not.

What you need to do is to look at the history of the eugenics movement and to see what it is which people have reacted to so negatively. The movement has been closely associated with racism in many forms, with cries of alarm that so-called inferior races were outbreeding the superior (i.e. white) races. This reached its culmination in Nazi Germany, which forced sterilization and attempted extermination of minority groups.

This is the baggage which these opponents are attempting to load onto proposals for human genetic engineering. It is necessary to distinguish the modern efforts from this historical record.

This can be done relatively easily, I think. Any advocate of genetic engineering must first begin by denouncing, in the strongest terms possible, the racist component of the eugenics movement. He must make it clear that all human races are equally valuable and unique, that all individuals have a contribution to make. There are no inferior races or inferior individuals whose procreation should be suppressed. Racism is the sign of a sick, fearful, primitive mind, and has no part in modern society. All civilized human beings will shun any hint of racism or elitism towards other groups.

By capturing the moral high ground from the beginning, genetic engineering can then be introduced in its proper context, as an extension of modern medical practice. We already go into the body to correct problems and improve deficiencies. We are beginning "in vivo" genetic engineering to heal people with specific diseases by modifying the errant cells, and this is going to be a very important technology in the next few decades. Modifying genes before the child is born is a natural extension of this technology, one which has the advantage that the corrections can be applied to just one or a few cells before they reproduce, rather than waiting until there are billions of cells that we have to try to track down and individually fix.

This rhetorical technique is valuable when proposing a variety of unconventional or challenging ideas: defusing criticism by going to its heart and clearly showing that your goals are diametrically opposed to the fundamental philosophy being ascribed to you. I read of it years ago in some libertarian literature, but I don't recall the name it was given.