It is only when eugenics is practiced on humans that people are repelled. The reason is that selective breeding of humans requires making a judgment as to which humans have alleles that are worthy of propagating and which do not, and that contradicts egalitarianism, the ideology that all people are genetically equal. Even when a person is genetically severely handicapped or mentally retarded, propagation is considered a basic human right and many people are reluctant to discourage it. 19
Nevertheless, humans practice eugenics on other humans every day all over the planet, and it is highly likely that the reader himself has done so. Every time a person selects or rejects a person for a sexual relationship, he or she is practicing eugenics. 20 A person’s appearance, personality, and success in life all have strong genetic components. Even a prostitute is reluctant to have sex with a person she (or he) considers repulsive. And today, in the West, genetic screening is not uncommon. People who know they are a carrier for a genetic disease may decide not to have children or to abort a fetus that has one or two alleles for the disease. 21 They, too, are practicing eugenics.
If no one practiced eugenics and mates were chosen randomly, so that couples had sex without regard for any of the heritable traits of their partner, behavior that would win high praise from the egalitarians, the results would not be pretty. Those who are best at increasing their numbers will do so and, once the earth can no longer support any more humans (and after it is thoroughly polluted and many other species have been driven extinct), those who are best at surviving in those overcrowded and desperate conditions will increase their numbers; when there are too many people, many of them starving, a modern civilization will no longer be possible. Just as fish trapped in a dark cave for millions of years become blind because sight is no longer needed for reproductive success, so humans would lose the alleles for the traits needed for reproductive success in a modern civilization, such as abstract thinking, impulse control, long term planning, altruism, and cooperativeness. 22 At some point, they would be “human,” only in the loosest sense of the word. Eugenics, influencing the heritable qualities of the next generation, is not only desirable, but necessary if we are to remain “human.”
The reason eugenics is feared, even by biologists who ought to know better, can be answered in a single word, “government.” When those who control the government make eugenic decisions for everyone else, the decisions are made on the basis of which traits are most desired by the people who control the government, not on the basis of what traits you want your child to have. And what traits do those who control the government want those who do not control the government to have? Well, like the New Soviet Man, they should be compliant and ready to sacrifice themselves for the good of the state or, more accurately, for the benefit of those who control the state. 23 Ugh! If we take government out of the picture, we are left with individuals making their own eugenic decisions, selecting all sorts of different traits that they personally find desirable, based on their own experiences.
In 1980, Robert Graham started a sperm bank that made the sperm of Nobel Prize winners (“geniuses” 24) available to women who wanted to become pregnant. It closed in 1999. Sperm banks have discovered that women do not choose sperm just on the basis of the intelligence or success of the donor. They pick the physical characteristics they want in their child, usually selecting characteristics similar to themselves. They certainly want a healthy good-looking child of above-average intelligence but, after that, they select on the basis of all sorts of quirky things, such as does the sperm donor like cats, was he born on a farm, is he a good swimmer, etc.?
If people make their own eugenic decisions, and the technology is available to implement those decisions, they will generally select for traits that will improve the health, intelligence, attractiveness, and fitness of the next generation. If government bureaucrats do the selecting, a quite different result is likely. Western countries, for example, by paying more welfare for more children ("You feed, we breed"), provide a perverse incentive 25 that encourages people who are incapable of caring even for themselves to have children, passing on to their children the very alleles that made their parents incompetent, which is surely dysgenic. (“The rich get richer and the poor get children.”)
If welfare is to be provided then, at the very least, it should be eugenic and not dysgenic. This can be done by making welfare conditioned on not having children, at least while one is on welfare. “Welfare” is nothing but a transfer of wealth from those who created it, the taxpayers, to those who did not, the tax consumers. In other words, the competent are penalized to benefit the incompetent, which is certainly maladaptive. Surely, it is not unreasonable to say that this coerced transfer of wealth will be tolerated only so long as the recipient does not make the situation worse by having more dependents. 26 A person would still be free to have children, but then he or she would not receive welfare. For women, the condition of not having children could be fulfilled in a variety of ways, such as by proof of the use of a contraceptive patch or other verifiable birth control, infertility (the person is infertile or too old to have children), or sterilization. For men, a reversible or irreversible vasectomy would suffice.
Given evidence that high testosterone levels and low serotonin levels are heritable and correlate with violence, another policy that could be instituted without coercion would be to provide incentives to violent felons (who will eventually be let out of prison) if they agree to be sterilized. These incentives could include better prison facilities or privileges, or a slightly lower sentence.
Before we leave the subject of eugenics, let’s consider one other issue: Could eugenics itself be maladaptive? That is, by selecting the traits we want in our children could we be making it less likely that they will be able to survive and reproduce? Surely very few parents would intentionally do that but, since we cannot know the future, it is always possible to make a poor decision. 27 On the other hand, if the selection is voluntary, people can always avoid making any decision at all and let nature take its course, perhaps thereby having more successful children.