Lots of good points. I think that genetic enhancement technology is very important and it will need to be defended against the eugenics claim. I think identifying all these examples and inconsistencies in our moral outlook is a good approach.

One possible line of argument I made in an article was to say that some forms of eugenics are bad because they harm people and to ask who is harmed by selecting the healthiest or smartest embryo. It seems hard to find a victim.

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This is becoming more and more important as our capacity to prevent harm to future generations increases. We can not only screen for diseases with genetic components, we also have the ability to remove them from DNA. There is a moratorium on use of this, but it won't last forever.

Our ability to have a conversation about this topic will be a crucial determinant of how much harm our children and grandchildren experience.

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Feb 12Liked by Dissentient

Tangential, but I would love it if you wrote a post about being an egg donor.

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Feb 9·edited Feb 9

The main issue with eugenics is access and support for people who can't afford the necessary medical interventions. A good essay on the matter is "It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids Are Still Winning" by Ted Chiang (https://archive.ph/cPaMI). It's great to advocate for better healthcare but most arguments for eugenic interventions do not properly address the socio-economic and political system in which such policies are enacted and so fall far short of what would be needed to make the technology of genetic engineering a net positive for individuals and society.

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I like to say that violent eugenics is an abomination but non-violent eugenics is a moral imperative.

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This article is well written. There is a fundamental flaw, however in the principal argument. The author claims a myriad of examples to be “eugenics”, when in fact it is a by product of a different intention. The fact that I want my children to be healthy and not have a genetic disability, doesn’t make the opposite true: that I am then a eugenicist that is trying to mitigate the disability. In fact, that likely never crosses my mind. Perhaps a better example is the one about future parents not abusing alcohol or drugs during pregnancy. It’s a good thing for someone not to use drugs and abuse alcohol in general. We hold this as a moral good, because we want this person and other human beings to flourish. The fact that a person who eats healthy and doesn’t abuse drugs has a healthy baby is a by-product of the person flourishing. In other words, eugenics isn’t the end in mind, but a potential consequence of good choices.

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Great post! You took the idea and flew with it to the very end. Its great to see posts that take ordinary beliefs and dig in deep enough to help us understand the underlying ideas that it represents. The question however is whether government should be allowed to make these decisions or if these decisions should be only made on an individual level.

Government represents the people and it shouldn't start going the other direction, with people living life for the government. There are certain sacrifices that people need to make to be part of a functioning society, but there should be limits on how far the government is allowed to make or force decisions on the individual.

Also when it comes to such decisions being made on an individual level, eugenics is not the correct term for it. The ideal member of the society for the government, is different from what an idea partner is for me, an ideal child is for me, ideal sibling is for me, etc. Biases vary between individuals, and its a form of sexual selection, based not simply on what is the "fittest", but rather someone who is familiar, respecting of our needs, compatible with our behaviors, etc.

Nevertheless, great post, and I hope to see more of the same!

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Yes, the state has realized this long ago. Since it wasn't popular anymore (eugenics), today we now have covert eugenic policies. Since there are significant amounts of people who are arguably low on the percentage-wise chance of labour participation because a lack of cognition as well as age-related decline, now we get MAID in Canada.

Covert and coercive measures have already been taken (medical experimentation) for the last three or more decades, whether people acknowledge it or not. There is a reason why more resources (income growth) occurs at the top percentile of the populations, why more women are encouraged to head into tertiary education, why all governments around the world are increasingly interested in your genomic data.

The primary aim is to increase the average aggregate utility of humans. Humans take an inordinate amount of time to mate, learn, tend to be forgetful, are not that interested in the future, etc. These qualities while sufficient for present-day civilization, are insufficient for advanced civilizations which require more cooperation in the long-term, and also require more cognition.

All government policies can be followed under two umbrellas;

1. The consolidation of all resources for total technological, behavioural and social control for the purpose of development of human civilization (enforced austerity through energy-limiting policies, behavioral conditioning of alternate diets, alternate lifestyles, concentrated cities)

2. The reduction of the population with lower-bound utility in the face of higher technological development (diets, hormones, medical experimentation, zoning, geographical stratification policies like China based on class).

If most humans agreed and stayed on the course to maintaining high average economic utility in the past, then I'd argue most governments would not have to go through the implementation of loopholes in legal frameworks for coercive measures which are arguably morally indefensible.


Most elites realize this and want to understand what is the pathway from A (origin of birth, genomic data, environmental influence) to B (productive, useful and obedient citizens)


The demographics and capabilities of a population determines the level of development of a country, a nation, and a civilization.

Anti-social qualities like poisoning your food or toothpaste or using substitutions that are damaging to human health out of personal gain is just one of the many attributes that are undesirable (see China). How to create a population that is industrious (like wartime Germany), civilized (like Japan), intelligent and respectful, achievement-oriented (like some parts of Asia), moderately collectivist and creative (like certain Anglo-people, particularly liberals with high openness scores) and easily controllable (usually intelligentsia). Any king, emperor, or leader worth his salt would pursue similar ambitions for a more prosperous future. Eventually though, if humans do become immortal and our moral equivalence is equated to some complex combination of stable personality, meta-thought formation subroutines or the like, the definitions would change to what is valuable.

I'd say that increasing the productive milk output of cows to an extent that such their health has declined or certain dogs bred to have certain desirable sociable attributes would be seemingly morally repugnant if applied to humans, but yet if one maintains the ability to change the base foundations of mind and inclinations then it also just as possible to make one be disinclined to like such things, and for us to require different energy sources just as other animals only need to eat plants, while we require certain amino acids from proteins from animals.

I do not think one can maintain a civilization based on perpetual deception forever, and that truth should be one of the pinnacle values of human existence, Yet there seems to a desire to create a two-tier class caste society of people, unfortunately. I rather take the pro-natalist stance of wealthy and intelligent people reproducing augmented people than have a lower-tier version of controllable humans. Extra-uterine bodies and AI babies are probably a century away now or so.

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I submit you are conflating two different concepts, given your introductory story: "Eugenics" and "consanguinity." This conflation ultimately derails your thesis.

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Hey, just found your Substack! I’m a long term follower of the evolutionary psychology perspective on the human condition, so I’m interested to follow along.

You want to hear something weird? When I was partway through this essay on eugenics, the thought occurred to me, “she’s using a Motte and Bailey argument to say that we are all eugenicists.” So I was intrigued to see you further along use the exact inverted formulation. Your Motte is the (practically) universally accepted ‘siblings shouldn’t procreate.’ The Bailey is then ‘so there are lots of other cases where we also might consider preventing genetically transmitted abnormalities.’

I’m sort of on alert to Motte and Bailey from seeing the critical thinking folks list it as a logical fallacy. They usually qualify it as an “informal” fallacy, which I think is because what it really is argumentation by analogy. And many arguments by analogy depend closely on the details. Take the example of ‘aversion to sibling procreation makes you a eugenicist.’ On evolutionary psychology grounds most everyone would ‘feel’ like sibling incest is in some essential way not analogous to issues like probability of transmitting Huntington’s chorea, etc. Which is why the European court was stumped on the question.

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I think for a person with right/libertarian leanings, there's an analogy to be made to "communism". Both "communism" and "eugenics" refer to 19th/20th century social movements. The analogy is actually very tight, I think. Both social movements became very fashionable among a broad swath of intellectual types, were influential in academia, had a theory of social development inspired by novel scientific ideas, and were directly and indirectly responsible for heinous crimes on both small and large scales.

Someone could support the 40-hour workweek, want seats for union reps on company boards, and believe in government taking a role in industrial policy. It would not be correct to tell that person "you're probably a communist" (although leftists do say stuff like this all the time).

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I'm curious why you chose to have a child with an autistic person given this, when the risk is even higher than with schizophrenia - one autistic parent means 80% chance if the child is a boy, 33% chance if the child is a girl. As your child is a girl, there's an epistatic effect, but her children will be at increased risk even if she doesn't present.

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Lee Kuan Yew's program should have been based on standardized testing given at age 16, not on college completion. The latter incentivizes people to stay in college, which has the opposite of the intended effect on the relationship between fertility and intelligence.

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I would worry that a brother & sister who think it's fine to have sex with each other might think it's fine to have sex with their children. If they are lacking in such basic sexual boundaries, might they also lack boundaries when it comes to parent/child sexual contact? They seem like unfit parents, regardless of genetic disabilities.

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Eugenics can only really be a government program, enacted by law and enforced by police. Perhaps the best way to prevent eugenics would be never to give government regulators the power to create such programs.

But, historically, the people who hypocritically opposed eugenics were the leftists who favored making government powerful enough to do eugenics.

Minimal, limited governments would not have the power to institute genetics, so people opposed to eugenics should oppose powerful government.

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