March 5th, 2011


A Modest Eugenic Proposal

The war on smokers and drinkers and fat people is quite manifestly part of a global eugenics programme. So I've been thinking about eugenics a bit.

The opening chapter of Darwin's Origin of Species, "Variation under Domestication", is concerned with artificial selection. This is the process whereby plant and animal breeders select only preferred variants (e.g. ones that are bigger, stronger, more resistant to disease) to breed. In this manner, over time, they produce larger and stronger cattle, cows that yield more milk, sheep with more wool, wheat with larger ears, and so on. Darwin then goes on to introduce the idea of natural selection as the process by which plants and animals are allowed to continue to breed and multiply in the natural world according to whether they are naturally 'fit' or 'unfit' to survive in that world.

The eugenic programme might be said to be identical with the artificial selection programme employed by plant and animal breeders, except that now it is applied to the human race. The eugenicist sets out to breed an ideal human race, by selecting only the fittest members, and permitting only them to breed. Very much this sort of reasoning guided the eugenic programmes of a century ago, with 'unfit' humans eliminated or sterilised, and 'fit' humans strongly encouraged to breed. If the programme had been continued for a few centuries or millennia, something like an ideal human race may have resulted.

But, quite apart from any moral reservations which anyone might have about this programme, it seems to me that there are a number of logical problems associated with it.

In the first place, how does one decide whether someone is 'fit' or 'unfit'? The process of natural selection is one in which plants and animals are subjected to variety of trials, at the end of which only a few of them have survived to continue to reproduce. It is only at the end of the process that it emerges which were the 'fit' (i.e. the survivors) and which the 'unfit'. But in the process of artificial selection, those who are 'fit' and those who are 'unfit' are determined at the outset. But how?

Natural selection might be compared with a marathon race, in which a number of runners enter, but only one crosses the finishing line ahead of all the others, and wins the prize. Artificial selection, in the same circumstance, would take the form of allowing only those runners who are deemed likely to win (e.g. the slimmest, tallest, longest-legged) to run in the race. Or it may take the form of allowing only one runner to run in the race, thus rendering the race itself irrelevant. In the natural selection marathon, the race is run, and the judges then award the prize to the winner. In the artificial selection marathon, the judges award the prize to the winner, and then the race is run.

Furthermore, in the process of natural selection, appearances count for nothing. The most unlikely plants and animals may be the ones which survive the trials to which the natural world subjects them. The short, fat guy with glasses might be the unexpected winner of the marathon. But in artificial selection, appearances are everything, because there is no other evidence to go on. The judges must examine the runners very closely, weighing and measuring them, before they pre-emptively award the prize to the tallest or slimmest runner, and allow him to run a token lap of honour. Artificial selection is essentially a beauty contest.

The process of natural selection is foolproof, because it requires no exercise of thought beyond pressing the cup into the hands of the first runner to cross the finishing line. But the process of artificial selection is one which requires considerable forethought, weighing up the relative merits of strength versus endurance, speed versus power, weight versus height. And the more thought that is required, the less foolproof it becomes. The judges may end up awarding the marathon winner's prize to a man with no legs.

Indeed, it might be said that artificial selection is always a way of cheating the process of natural selection. For the fattest pigs, and the hairiest sheep, are most likely those which the process of natural selection would rapidly reject. A pig breeder isn't trying to mimic natural selection, but to override it. He knows from the outset that he wants big, fat pigs. And he wants them this way because they will fetch the highest prices at the market.

And so a eugenic programme which employs methods of artificial selection is not an attempt to mimic natural selection, and find out which plants or animals are the 'fittest', and so likely to survive the rigours of natural selection. For only an actual trial by natural selection can do this. Artificial selection is always an attempt to skew the process of natural selection in favour of one type. And so also is any eugenic programme. It will never produce the 'fittest', but only those who have been deemed to be the 'fittest' in a beauty contest.

And furthermore, whenever eugenicists ever conduct any 'scientific' experiments, they always follow their method of artificial selection, which is one of deciding what the answer is first, and then finding evidence to support this pre-determined conclusion. One first decides that Jews or Gypsies or smokers or fat people are 'unfit' or 'subhuman', and then conducts 'research' which is designed to reach this foregone conclusion. One decides, for example, that smoking is an undesirable social trait, and then conducts research in order to reach this conclusion.

But there is a second logical problem with any eugenic programme. The pig breeder sets out to 'improve' his pigs because pigs are useful to men, and he would like to make them even more useful. They are an animal means to a human end. But in what sense can men be made more useful to themselves? Human beings are ends rather than means.

This question can only be answered if humans are divided into two groups, one of whom serves as a means to the ends of the other group - as for example would be the case where one group consists of slaves, and the other of slave owners. The slaves, although human, have become the equivalent of cattle and sheep, and can be subjected to a process of artificial selection to produce the ideal slave. A similar process of selection is not applied to the slave owners, because they are the ends towards which the process is directed.

And so any eugenics programme is inherently elitist. Not only is it not aiming at producing the true 'fittest' humans - i.e. humans which would most likely survive a process of natural selection -, but is instead twisting human nature into the services of a small elite, and acting entirely contrary to the best interests of the non-elite remainder of humanity.

There is a third problem with any such eugenic programme, which might be posed as the question: what happens when the conductor of the eugenics programme discovers that he is himself one of the 'unfit' or 'subhuman' or a member of the class of 'life unworthy of life'? Does he sterilise himself? Or shoot himself? In practice, the eugenicists never apply their eugenics programme to themselves, for the elitist reason just given. They do not themselves practise what they preach for others. Either that, or they select their ideal type by looking in a mirror.

Yet another problem with any eugenics programme is that no sooner is some sort of ideal human type defined, than 99.999% of humanity is discovered to be defective, through being too short or too tall, too fat or too thin, or whatever. Nobody shapes up. Everybody needs to be eliminated.

Finally, there is nothing to stop anyone setting up their own eugenics programme in competition with the established eugenicists (i.e. the WHO), but using quite different selection criteria. If you can be a eugenicist, then I can be one too.

And if I were to propose a eugenics programme that aimed to improve the human race, I can think of no higher and more exalted eugenic goal than to rid the world of eugenicists. Indeed, I would say that this is such an urgent task to undertake that humanity can't be forced to wait for them to die out after a few generations. We can't just fire them from their jobs, and hope they never come back. Nor would sterilising them do much good. The only way is to shoot the lot of them. Tomorrow.

The benefits to humanity would be immediate. Life would improve overnight for the smokers and drinkers and fat people who make up 99.999% of humanity. And once liberated from the distortions imposed by eugenic programmes on society, natural selection would once again be allowed to throw up the true winners of life's marathon, life's true survivors. Which would, these days, quite likely be thin, bald, bespectacled, chain-smoking computer nerds.

...A bit like me, funnily enough.