Genetic Illnesses

There is no such thing as immutability in biological stocks, for with each new generation a species inherits new genes in the form of mutations. On rare occasions a mutation can improve the individual’s survivability chances, and the new gene then becomes more widespread in the population as a whole. Nevertheless, the vast majority of mutations end up reducing the number of offspring. This is the classic balance of mutation and death which is called “natural selection,” and it is accepted by biologists as decisive in all species. This book aims to pose certain broad philosophical questions about the values and goals of human civilization and the path which humankind will follow in consciously choosing either to pursue or to reject artificial selection. It is not intended as a discussion of the complexities of human genetic disease. By way of analogy, one could compare this document to a roadmap rather than to an automobile repair manual, but a few particularly important nuts and bolts still need to be mentioned.

We have made such advances in medicine that natural selection has been reduced to almost zero. Already 98% of Americans survive at least to their twenty-fifth birthday.20 Medicine is intended largely to benefit its creators –the currently living. Thus, if we speak about illness, the emphasis is on “horizontally transmitted” infectious diseases over “vertically transmitted” genetic diseases. It is, after all, very difficult for a doctor, a pharmaceutical company, or a hospital to collect a fee from people who have yet to be born. Medicine is a business that depends on paying clients, and the most motivated clients –those who not only can but who are eager to pay –are the ones who are hurting now.

The Encyclopedia Britannica succinctly presents some of the salient facts related to the 3,500 autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive, and sex-linked disorders that have already been catalogued (the list is rapidly expanding):
Epidemiological surveys suggest that approximately 1 percent of all newborns have a single gene defect and that 0.5 percent have gross chromosomal anomalies severe enough to produce serious physical defects and mental retardation. Of the 3 to 4 percent of newborns with birth defects, surveys indicate that at least half suffer a major genetic contribution. A minimum of 5 percent of all conceptions that evidence themselves have gross chromosomal anomalies, and 40 to 50 percent of spontaneous abortions involve chromosomally abnormal embryos. About 40 percent of all infant mortality is due to genetic disease; 30 percent of pediatric and 10 percent of adult patients require hospital admission because of genetic disorders.


Medical investigators estimate that genetic defects –albeit often minor – are present in 10 percent of all adults…. About 20 percent of all stillbirths and infant deaths are associated with severe anomalies, and about 7 percent of all births show some mental or physical defect.21 It gets scarier. Spontaneous mutation rates, genetic “typos,” have been estimated at 200 per person,22 most of which appear to be neutral, but an unknown percentage of which are undesirable when expressed, their effects being cumulative. Aside from genetic anomalies which are necessary and sufficient to cause a specific illness, a much larger number of multifactoral illnesses exist in which certain genes create a disposition toward specific illnesses, for example, most cancers, diabetes, and hypertension.

Early eugenicists had the naïve notion that simply to prevent persons suffering from genetic illness from having children was sufficient to produce a healthier population with each generation; however, most genes which cause diseases are both recessive and extremely rare. Thus, the number of carriers greatly outnumbers the number of persons actually affected, and the nonreproduction of actively ill individuals could achieve only an extremely slow reduction of the disease in subsequent generations. This means that if an undesirable trait occurred in 1% of the population it would take 90 generations to reduce the incidence to 0.01 and 900 generations under conditions of random mating to achieve a reduction to the level of one in a million.23 Even then, a natural spontaneous mutation rate would remain, which would also have to be countered on a never-ending basis.

Genetic engineering techniques are advancing rapidly. It is already possible for carriers of genetic diseases to conceive children in vitro, then perform embryo screening, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and select a healthy embryo for implantation in the mother’s womb. This is a eugenic technique which is already being implemented on a voluntary, gradual basis. In the not so distant future it will be possible to make changes in the germ cells (those involved in reproduction), and not just in the somatic cells (those not involved in reproduction). Germ-line therapy does not fit into either positive or negative eugenics, both of which amount to encouraging or discouraging an individual from entering into the sequence of generations, but such therapy is unquestionably eugenics. When the possibility first arose, the general attitude was one of absolute condemnation; now the tendency is to speak more in terms of a moratorium of this new therapy. The bioethicist Fritz Mann at the Free University of Brussels writes:

Aside from religious grounds, there exists no ethical justification for not influencing the germ line. If one day a cure is discovered for healing a hereditary disease in this fashion, not only for its bearer, but for all his descendants, what reason could there be for forbidding it?24

Such an achievement will represent a genetic breakthrough, but the puzzle of genes and their interactions is only beginning to be solved. Nevertheless, geneticists are already altering the germ lines of plants and animals, and human germ-line therapy is only a question of time. Meanwhile, genetic counseling and treatment are on occasion helping those alive today at the expense of future generations. A prospective parent who knows that he or she is the carrier of a recessive gene which can cause illness in subsequent generations, can selectively abort fetuses in which the gene will be actively expressed. Thus, the immediate children of the union are free from the illness, but the number of carriers of the recessive gene increases further down the generational chain. The question is whether parents have a moral right to bring children into the world who will be disadvantaged by their heredity.


To quote the philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas,

“my son is not simply my creation, like a poem or an object. He is not my property.”25

Can parental responsibility be sloughed off, denied? Marcus Pembrey, a professor at the Institute of Child Health at the University of London, in discussing genetic counseling argues that The aim should not be to reduce the birth incidence of genetic diseases, because to make that the objective of the services would be to by-pass the mother’s choice in the matter of selective abortion… The view that reduction in the birth incidence of genetic disorders is not an appropriate objective for genetic services is finding wide acceptance.

This is the so-called “personal service model”27 of genetic counseling, which subordinates children’s well-being to that of their parents. Such a view could well be challenged in the courts, perhaps in wrongful life legal suits (which first appeared in the United States in 1964, claiming wrongful death suits as a legal precedent) or even on a class-action basis. Whereas we may have previously lacked the knowledge to reduce genetic illnesses, the ignorance argument will have less and less weight in the future. The parental appeasement posture will not be comparable to the Thalidomide baby scandal of 1957-1961, for this will be an act committed with full knowledge and intent.

Germ-line interventions will encounter resistance from people who feel, some on religious grounds, that such therapy is “unnatural” and that we have no right to “play God.” Even conventional care is rejected, for example, by certain religious groups, and one occasionally comes across newspaper articles describing a family whose child has died for lack of medical treatment. There will also be nonreligious objections by people who are wary of making mistakes. Indeed errors are a real possibility. When we will have achieved a much better understanding of human genetics, however, the nonreligious objectors will have considerably less wind in their sails. Israel has been a forerunner in genetic counseling. In the words of a researcher at Ben-Gurion University, “Eugenic thinking is alive and well [in Israel] today.”28 Gideon Bach, head of Genetics at the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem commented:

We now know that most, if not all, human disorders have a genetic background, and we’re acquiring the tools to study, treat and eventually prevent or cure them…. Israel, with many inbred ethnic groups, has proven a rich human laboratory for genetic detectives. It’s far easier to trace genetic anomalies in inbred groups with homogeneous pedigrees.29

Ashkenazim, who until some forty years ago largely intermarried, carry a dozen recessive genetic diseases with relatively high frequency. The best known is an autosomal disorder christened Tay-Sachs after its description in 1881 by the British ophthalmologist Warren Tay. It is caused by the hereditary lack of a crucial enzyme that normally breaks down fatty waste products found in the brain. If both parents are carriers of the gene, the child has a 25% chance of suffering from the disease, and a 50% chance of being a carrier. One in 27 Jews in the United States carries the gene. A baby suffering from the disease at first appears normal, but becomes hypersensitive to sound after a few months. Eventually the child becomes deaf, blind, mentally retarded, and unresponsive to outside stimuli. Death results by age five.


In 1985, Rabbi Joseph Eckstein, citing the Bible and the Talmud, founded the international genetic testing program call Dor yeshorim (“generation of the righteous”) with the goal of preventing further children from being born with the illness. In the program, Orthodox Jewish students are tested to determine if they carry the gene. If only one prospective parent is a carrier they are not advised against marriage, but if both test positive they are counseled to choose a different marriage partner.
Israel has one of the highest screening rates in the world, testing well over ten thousand people a year.30 The writer Naomi Stone expresses what is evidently the general Jewish attitude toward prevention of Tay-Sachs:

Perhaps, the disease can be eradicated entirely from populations where it is concentrated, and if this were the case, who could reasonably express qualms?… I am an Ashkenazi Jew, and I know that it is my obligation to be acutely aware of my heightened risk factor for the disease.31

Understandably, eugenic practices in the United States are often resisted among representatives of the handicapped community. Bioethicist Adrienne Asch writes:

My moral opposition to prenatal testing and selective abortion flows from the conviction that life with disability is worthwhile and the belief that a just society must appreciate and nurture the lives of all people, whatever the
endowments they receive in the natural lottery.32

Much the same position is held by the Canadian ethicist Tom Koch, who believes that all diseases are part of the diversity
of the human race.33

Gregor Wolbring, another Canadian active in the movement of handicapped persons against eugenics, goes even further:
I can say, without hesitation, that my life has been richer because I have MS. How can anyone who has no experience with disabilities understand that?34 Mr. Wolbring, who runs a website with materials both supporting and attacking the eugenics movement35, points out that he himself is opposed to eugenics.

Another internet document reads:

The underlying issue in eugenics is that someone decides, based on stated or unstated values, which characteristics are worthy enough to be part of society and which are not [Discrimination]… The key question is how a society (social eugenics) or a person (personal eugenics) decides which characteristics are permissible in an offspring/ offspring to be. Can a society influence or regulate the decisions of social/personal eugenics? Is there a rational way to distinguish between Tay-Sachs, beta-Thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, thalidomide, Alzheimer, PKU, gender, sexual orientation (if a way were ever found to predict it), mental illness, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, achondroplasia (dwarfism), hemophilia, Down Syndrome, coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, and obesity?… A war of characteristics is on, which will disenfranchise many characteristics from the human rights movement and from equality rights. This has to stop.”36

While this anonymous author does indeed raise thorny questions with regard to certain characteristics –for example, sexual orientation, dwarfism, and obesity –the defense of some of the named horrendous diseases is disconcerting, albeit stemming from a legitimate and well-founded fear of discrimination against the persons who suffer from them. It is our duty to ensure that we indeed discriminate against the disease and not against the victims.





Scientific Method

Any attempt to channel the sexual act requires that society first dismantle the devilish scaffolding of taboos, phobias, neuroses, and fetishes that has been erected around human reproduction.37 Given the fundamental continuity of the human animal with the entire biological kingdom in general and with mammals specifically –including such intimately related species as the higher primates –the revolution in developmental and molecular biology is resetting the intellectual climate by conceptualizing human reproduction in accordance with the principles of animal breeding.

Genetic selection presupposes genetic variation; otherwise there would be nothing to select from. Heritability is the yardstick by which both natural and artificial selection are measured. Heritability scores are mathematical correlations ranging from 1 (a parental trait is inevitably passed on to the children) to 0 (the children are no more or less likely to possess it).
The heritability of economic traits has been intensively studied for farm animals.


For example, milk production is 0.25, yearling body weight in sheep is in the range of 0.2 - 0.59, and feedlot gain in beef cattle is 0.5 - 0.55.38 The heritability for height among white European and North American populations is 0.9.39 Using data from twin studies, Thomas Bouchard and colleagues at the University of Minnesota have placed the overall heritability of personality at about 0.5. Heritabilities of social attitudes are even higher: 0.65 for radicalism, 0.54 for tough-mindedness, and 0.59 for religious leisure time interests. Occupational interests correlate at about 0.36.40


One study of monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (fraternal) twins showed that monozygotic twins showed a significantly higher correlation than dizygotic twins for being frank, active, talkative, gregarious, extroverted, assertive, calm, self-confident, even-tempered, emotionally stable, kind, polite, pleasant, agreeable, thorough, neat, systematic, conscientious, inventive, imaginative, original creative, open to experience, refined, sophisticated, and flexible. Model-fit analyses suggested about 40% genetic, 25% shared environmental, and 35% nonshared environmental influence.41 Although the heritability of any trait or combination of traits can be measured along this same scale, it is the intelligence controversy which has attracted the most heated attention. Low estimates of IQ heritability in human populations are generally on the order of 0.4, with 0.8 being the ceiling for high estimates.

How to disentangle nature from nurture? The correlation between the IQ scores of the same person taking the same test a second time can serve as a benchmark; it is 0.86.42 The prominent English psychologist Cyril Burt located a number of identical twins who had been raised separately. In 1966 he reported an IQ correlation of 0.77 among 53 pairs of identical twins whom he had studied. When Burt, who died in 1971, was posthumously accused of having falsified his data, the purported scandal made for major news. Now, however, a great deal more research has been done on the topic, and Burt’s findings have been replicated repeatedly, including Bouchard’s study of 8,000 twin pairs, which came up with a correlation of 0.76 for identical twins reared separately and 0.87 for those reared together. 43


In another study of adopted children, conducted by Sandra Scarr and Richard A. Weinberg, also at the University of Minnesota, the adoptees’ IQ scores correlated significantly more positively with those of their biological than with those of their adoptive parents.44 Natural selection depends not only on genetic variation but also on environmental variation. The greater the range of the two forms of variation, the greater the intensity of selection –that is, the faster the rate of evolution. For millennia now, without any knowledge of Darwin’s theory of evolution, people have been able to pursue artificial selection successfully in plants and animals by simply breeding the most desirable individuals with each other under the principle “like breeds like.” This is still the chief methodology of animal breeders. When, however, low variation or low heritability impede selection, modern genetic tools are employed: frozen semen, separation of male- and female-producing sperm, superovulation, embryo storage and transfer, in vitro fertilization, and transfer of genetic material.

The use of artificial insemination renders eugenic measures applied to males far more effective than to females. For example, by employing modern techniques a bull can theoretically be made to produce 200,000 breeding units of semen per year.45 One bull already has 2.3 million granddaughters.46 Furthermore, sperm can be frozen for long-term storage and later use.
If there is no shortage of premium-quality sperm, the same is also true of eggs. Only a tiny percentage of the eggs created in human females at birth are ever fertilized. In vitro fertilization, with resulting embryos implanted in a womb other than that of the original mother, would make it possible to achieve a revolution in population quality without creating a quantitative bottleneck.

Cloning is a still newer technique. During the process a genetically identical copy of a biological organism is produced by asexual means. Cloning is common in nature. Any plant that can grow from a cutting, or animal tissue that can reproduce itself in a Petri dish, in the process also produce clones.

During laboratory cloning (“nuclear transfer”), the genetic code of an individual organism is inserted into an egg that has been stripped of its own nucleus, and that egg is then implanted in the womb of a “birth mother,” just asis already done in cases of in vitro fertilization. The child who is born is the donor’s identical twin. The first animal clones were produced in the late 1950s. In 1993 US researchers experimentally cloned a human being as a possible treatment for infertility, but the experiment raised a storm of criticism.


The cloning of the sheep “Dolly” did not take place until 1996. Other mammals already cloned by scientists include horses, rabbits, cows, goats, deers, pigs, cats, rats, and mice. The current debate on cloning is focused on therapeutic cloning. For example, it may be possible in the future to clone cells from a person suffering from cardiac insufficiency, develop those replacement cells into heart muscle, and then transplant that muscle back into the same patient without fear of rejection.

The real issue, however, is reproductive cloning –conceiving babies who will be brought to term and who will enter the general population as independent persons. Reproductive cloning can be pursued for two reasons: first, as a device to combat infertility, and second, to enrich the human gene pool. I refer here to the latter as “eugenic cloning.” Cloned embryos, as well as embryos produced during in vitro fertilization, could be implanted in a womb which might be human, animal, or even artificial.


“We can see all too clearly where the train is headed, and we do not like the destination,” wrote Leon Kass, chief of George W. Bush’s Bioethics Council.47 Revealingly, Kass, who is an observant conservative Jew, has also come out against the dissection of cadavers, organ transplantation, in-vitro fertilization, cosmetic surgery, and sexual liberation. Virginia Postrel, editor-at-large of Reason magazine, responded to the views expressed by Kass by commenting that “This isn’t about the 20th century. It’s about the 16th.”48


Much of the criticism of cloning stems from a fundamental misunderstanding –that there is an intent to produce a race of identical creatures lacking any and all individuality. This is definitely not the case, and no such practice has ever been advocated. Rather, it is the expectation that persons born as the result of a cloning process would enter into normal sexual relations with the vastly greater population of individuals born as the result of traditional sex and would multiply in the traditional fashion, thus increasing the frequency of advantageous genes in the following generations.


Despite some well-publicized successes, there remain a number of difficulties to be worked out, and the failure rate is still high. For example, cloned animals often have abnormal placentas –a factor that affects size and survival. Part of the problem evidently lies in abnormalities in gene expression. Much of the resistance to cloning comes from religious groups, but is not limited to them. Aside from a fully legitimate fear that we may still not be knowledgeable enough to proceed immediately to human cloning, the resistance to cloning per se is startlingly reminiscent of the traditional argument against evolution –that it is “an assault on human dignity.”


That was precisely the text and heading of an open letter addressed to President George W. Bush in the Washington Times in January, 2002, signed by 29 conservative political and religious leaders.49 The media have waged an energetic campaign against cloning. We have examples in the 1976 novel, The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin, made into a film starring James Mason in 1978, and most recently in 2002, with the appearance of Star Wars Part II: Attack of the Clones. There is even a canard as to whether human cloning methods might be patentable.


The New York Times is entirely correct: “Opposition to reproductive cloning is universal in Congress,”50 and if any senator or congressman secretly harbors a more benign view of the procedure, the chance that he or she will express that opinion publicly is absolutely zero. In 2001, the House of Representatives voted to ban all forms of cloning, but the Senate resisted a total disallowment. Congress has thus resolved to criminalize reproductive cloning, even though Congress’s unanimity in this area is not shared by everyone in the scientific and scholarly community. According to the Wall Street Journal, “some diplomats said they believe the U.S. stand in the U.N. was primarily intended to score domestic political points with religious conservatives and antiabortion activists.”51


But such moods are hardly limited to the United States. On November 6, 2003, by a 80-79 vote, with 15 abstentions, the United Nations narrowly resolved to delay by two years a vote supported by the United States and the Vatican to outlaw both therapeutic and reproductive cloning. A number of other countries supported a Belgian proposal to ban reproductive cloning while permitting therapeutic cloning. Animal breeding methods usually amount to producing a specific type on the basis of very strict characteristics. The same is true for plant selection, in which a rich variety of strains is usually replaced by a few monocultures.


Nothing of the sort would be appropriate for human populations. Human selection, as proposed by proponents of eugenics, would be aimed at a far more limited reduction in genetic variance. Diversity is viewed not simply as a great source of strength but also as an integral part of what we are and want to be. A certain reduction of this variability, on the other hand, is the mathematical goal. Eugenicists argue that even a very significant channeling of motherhood and a far more stringent selection among men would still leave billions of people reproducing. By comparison, all thoroughbred race horses stem from three Middle Eastern stallions, and natural selection can be even more draconian.





Mapping the Human Genome

We have the intestines of chickens
to tell the fortunes of war.
We have slaves
that they might be silent.
We have stones
that we might build.
Why then should we trouble the gods?

Osip Mandelstam
 “Nature is the Same Rome…”

Genetics is a very young science. The theory of evolution was not forwarded until the late 1850s. In 1866 the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel had begun to attempt to pry open the secret of creation when he published the results of his controlled pollination of the garden pea, but his discoveries were ignored for the rest of the century, and Galton never learned of them. Even the discovery of the mechanism of fertilization as a union of the nuclei of male and female sex cells was not made until 1875; 1888 saw the discovery of certain deeply stained bodies in cell nuclei, which were christened “chromosomes,” and in 1909 the word “gene”came to be applied to the Mendelian factors of heredity.


The first in vitro fertilization (rabbit and also monkey) was not achieved until 1934, and as for the double helical structure of DNA, its discovery dates back only to 1953. This is all so recent that although early eugenicists had set their goals and methods they were largely ignorant of the mechanisms involved.

The mapping of the human genome is still in an early stage. The amount we don’t know vastly dwarfs what we do know. There appear to be approximately three billion bases, or chemical letters, making up the nucleotide sequences that form 20,000 to 25,000 genes which code directly for proteins. Just how genes and the proteins they produce interact is still poorly understood.52 But protein-coding genes comprise only 2% of the human genome. The functions of other DNA sequences are still largely a mystery.


We do know that some of them contain switches that turn genes on and off, and we have learned that at the ends of the chromosomes there are telomeres, whose shortening appears to be related to the aging process, and nonfunctional genomic parasites, whose only function in our bodies seems to be to replicate themselves. An estimated 40-48% consists of repeat sequences. Even when we will have sequenced the genome, we will still have to determine how these data relate to expression. The sequences are only a parts list to a grand machine, the outlines of which we are only beginning to trace.

Scholarly opinion is rapidly growing more cognizant of the role of genes in human society. In 1998, University of Massachusetts political scientist Diane Paul wrote that just fourteen years earlier, in 1984, she had labeled as “hereditarian” or “biological determinist” the view that differences in mentality and temperament were substantially influenced by genes –employing these terms as though their meanings were unproblematic. That usage today would surely be contested. For the view implicitly disparaged by these labels is once again widely accepted by scientists and the public alike.53 The bottom line is that with every day we gain greater knowledge and that in the not all that distant future we will be able to predict with a high degree of certainty the genetic load that we are passing on to future generations.









Essential Conditions

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
I Corinthians, xiii, 9

Proponents of eugenics see the movement as an integral component of an environmentalist policy. They reason that, while we cannot predict the distant future, we can with a fair degree of confidence trace out certain conditions which will always be essential or at the very least desirable:

  • a supply of natural resources

  • a clean, biodiverse environment

  • a human population no larger than the planet can comfortably sustain on an indefinite basis

  • a population which is healthy, altruistic, and intelligent

The blessings that we are reaping from the industrial revolution are, to a significant degree, unsustainable. We are systematically depleting the planet’s riches. Debates as to how long this or that resource will hold out are essentially trivial in the greater scheme of things, for eventually we will have thoroughly sifted through the earth’s accessible subsoil. The only resources that we can count on over the long run are those which are truly renewable or inexhaustible. As for science-fiction fantasies about relocating to other planets, this “trash-the-world” vandalism is unfeasible for billions of people. Of course, it can be argued that the inevitability of resource exhaustion makes it a non-topic.


What is the difference if this process is completed sooner or later? The eugenicists’ response is a moral one. We embarked upon the industrial revolution only two centuries ago, and we have a huge transition to go through if we do not wish our offspring to return to a hunter-gatherer economy in which there will be precious little left either to hunt or to gather. We need to husband our precious, finite resources to get through this transition in as chary a fashion as possible.

Traditional societies live in harmony with nature. Modern industrial society clearly does not, and we have already overwhelmed much of Nature’s ability to heal itself. An enormous number of species have been wiped out, while still others have been transported by man to different environments where, lacking natural enemies, they have followed the example of man in replicating his devastation. Globalization is already delivering devastating blows to the planet’s biodiversity. As for pollution, while it has gone so far that it becomes too painful to even read about in the papers, much of it can still be reversed.

And there are population problems which may overwhelm the planet in a relatively short period. In traditional societies children, being the only form of social security around, represent for their parents an economic good. More is better. In economically developed societies, on the other hand, children are strictly an economic liability, and the surest way to maximize consumption (for many the ultimate purpose of life) is at the very least to reduce the number of children.
In 2003, the Total Fertility Rate in East Asia was below replacement at 1.7. The national TFR had even dropped to 1.3 in Japan and Taiwan. Europe’s TFR had fallen to 1.4. Canada’s and the United States’ TFR were 1.5 and 2, respectively. In sharp contrast, Latin America’s TFR was 2.7, while Africa’s was 5.2.


The global TFR was 2.8, the planet’s population having swollen six-fold over the last 250 years. It is still growing by leaps and bounds, although more slowly than formerly. The largest growth is taking place in the poorest countries. While it is hoped that the entire world will eventually pass through the demographic transition, it is not impossible that before this happens individual countries will undergo horrendous Malthusian collapse. Bangladesh, for example, which has a population of 134 million on a land mass roughly the size of the state of Wisconsin, most of which is an alluvial flood plain frequently ravaged by hurricanes, is projected to increase its population to 255 million by the year 2050. Other countries provide even more rapid growth rates:

The Palestinians during the same period are predicted to increase their numbers to form a population 3.3 times its current size, and this on land where water is already in critical shortage. India is projected to add as many people as Europe’s entire population by that time.54

Demographic predictions are not made with any claim to precision. There are low, medium, and high projections. And there are questions to which no one has any answers. What is the long-term carrying capacity of the planet? How many lives will be carried off by phenomena that reduce the population not by decreasing fertility but by increasing mortality? Already there are projections of a loss of fifty million deaths from AIDS. Where will it end? What new plagues lurk around the corner? Military conflicts could easily result in the deaths of billions of people. Demographic predictions are really no better than stock market predictions. In any case, eugenicists argue that the wisest approach is to err on the side of caution. A smaller population capable of surviving by the use of current renewable resources will create less stress and make the transition to a new economy more manageable.






You among the dry, dead beech-leaves, in the fire of night,
Burnt like a sacrifice, you invisible…

D. H. Lawrence
“Scent of Irises,” 1916

Darwin pointed out that natural selection favors behavioral patterns which promote survivability. Suicidal behavior, it would seem, should lead to the destruction of the animal involved, thus preventing it from reproducing. How then, sociobiologists asked, could the behavior of a honeybee be explained when, in stinging a perceived threat to the hive, it rips out its own belly together with the stinger and thus perishes? The answer is that survivability of the genotype, not of the individual, is crucial. Although the individual bee dies, the other members of the hive are genetically identical copies, and the chances for the survival of their genes are improved by the sacrifice of the individual.

Up until quite recently, survival of a human individual was extremely problematic. People are physically unimpressive animals, with easily torn skin, no claws, weak musculature, and atrophied canines. In primitive times opportunistic out-of-clan cannibalism would have improved survival chances. Thus, such individuals or groups would have been viewed not merely as enemies but as potential food. We are the products of precisely such an evolutionary process. In all animal species, out-of-family altruism is the rare exception.


Survival requires maximum expenditure of effort, and efforts expended on alien genes (dispersed or nonfocused altruism) waste effort and thus, by definition, reduce survivability. Most traits are arranged along a continuum, and altruism is no exception. If a statistical curve were drawn to display diffuse altruism at one end and focused altruism at the other, the result would be radically skewed toward focused altruism –that is, toward immediate offspring. As man moved into larger groups (tribes), specialization and cooperation went hand in hand.


The skew was retained but became less pronounced, and people learned to “live by the rules” and even to feign nonfocused altruism. But the genes really didn’t really change all that much. Homo sapiens’s political history presents an unbroken string of violence, and any objective determination of his coordinates within the animal kingdom places him among the predators. What sort of a society do we want? To the degree that altruism is determined by our genes, artificial selection could theoretically make it possible to create a social profile skewed toward diffuse altruism. The difficulty of working toward a better society is that such a process necessarily entails effort and even sacrifice on the part of the currently living, who have the power of absolute dictators.

All this leads to gloomy conclusions. Professor of human ecology Garrett Hardin wrote that it is futile to expect people to act against their own self-interest,55 and the bioethicist Peter Singer defines “reciprocal altruism” as merely a “technical term for cooperation.”56 The big question, of course, is how to select for altruism. The same questions must be answered here as for other traits. How to measure? What are the relative contributions of nature and nurture? Which genes come into play and in which combinations? What is the heritability? What combinations of positive and negative eugenic approaches are likely to prove most effective?

A good Trekkie, the eugenicist wishes to create a global civilization which does not set consumption as its primary goal but longs for a loving, nonpredatory society that pursues the goal of intellectual enrichment, a society that will achieve a material standard of living as a byproduct of this mentality. Culture and science are seen as goals in and of themselves, not just means to a material end. A high material standard of living is viewed as coming from knowledge and love, not the reverse.
No philosophy of life can logically justify its basic premises. These are givens, the values of the individual or the group. The society that acclaims maximized material consumption as its ultimate goal, that expresses only passing concern for the fate of future generations, that places no value in culture and science other than that which derives from their contribution to consumption, proceeds from a point of reference that cannot be logically overthrown. Such a worldview is the product of an evolutionary process of selection which rewarded clan-specific altruism.

By contrast the eugenics movement advocates a universalism that encompasses all humanity while recognizing the continuity of our species with all other species on this planet, disavowing any exclusively homocentric orientation that would view our fellow creatures as mere fodder for our usage. Eugenicists also perceive a need to be open to genetic manipulation, machine enhancement, and even contact with beings from other planets.

The operative phrase of this ethical system is “the greater good,” which is understood more in the spirit of John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) than in the hedonistic pronouncements of a Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). The philosophy extends beyond the creature universe to thought itself.

Eugenicists argue that there is much in our genes which may have been advantageous to previous generations and species, but conditions have now changed radically. They maintain that we can either work with nature and achieve utopia, or we can in our greed reject reform and perish. Dangerous? Unquestionably. It is entirely possible, for example, to create people with limited intelligence to perform our manual labor for us, just as we currently import such persons through our national immigration policy. Given our current, still limited understanding, we can easily overestimate our power to predict. And there is the danger of being overly narrow in separating the desirable from the undesirable.









Society and Genes

Politics: Manipulation Masked as Democracy

I believe in the division of labor. You send us to Congress; we pass laws under which you make money… and out of your profits, you further contribute to our campaign funds to send us back again to pass more laws to enable you to make more money.
Senator Boies Penrose (R-Pa), 1896

There are two things that are more important in politics.
The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.
Senator Mark Hanna (R-Oh)

Chairman of the Republican National Committee, 1896 In 1999, even as we forged into the new millennium, the Gallup Poll found that 68% of Americans still favored teaching creationism together with evolution in the schools, with 40% favoring exclusively creationism; 47% percent subscribed to the view that,

“God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years of so” (up from 44% in 1982!).57 In the words of the theologian John C. Fletcher, such “controversy clouds rational discussion with fear and misunderstanding.”58

The genetic bases of social and political structures constitute a topic that even bolder sociologists and political scientists have been leery of raising for two-thirds of a century. It is a taboo which grossly distorts our understanding of ourselves. There probably has never existed a society with a totally rigid structure in which ability played no role. Under the Caesars, the Pharaohs, the Ottomans, the Tsars, and probably even the Mayan princes, the gifted slave could on occasion demonstrate his ability and achieve high rank. In modern society, however, where such mobility has been immensely increased, universal education combined with assortative mating is creating greater and greater genetic stratification into classes which are then overlaid with stratifications of wealth and power.

In a dictatorship, government is more inclined to determine directly the various functions performed by its citizens, whereas in a democracy the citizenry usually enjoys greater freedom of selection. But even in the most permissive democracy, if the individual does not possess independent means and does not want to starve to death, he must perform some function to which society assigns a value. Compulsion is a key word in both systems. This is not stated as a value judgment, but is simply a fact of life. The distinction between democracy and dictatorship has to do primarily with how the authorities get the same tasks accomplished – everything from trash hauling to school teaching –and thus make it possible to maintain a functioning social mechanism and allow those in power to remain in power.

The Skinner box of capitalism has proven to be far more efficient than the Gulag in raising production/consumption. Evidently we have much more in common with cattle than with cats, for we are herded with amazing ease. True democracy is not possible if the people fail to understand the issues. Political history is really nothing more than a broken string of days that will live in infamy.

Dictatorships are difficult to maintain, since a leader who refuses to take account of the disposition of forces in that society will eventually be overthrown. Democracies, on the other hand, possess considerably greater flexibility through manipulation of the popular will.

As for political dialogue, it takes place on three levels:

a) sham issues intended to manipulate the masses

b) the true (usually clandestine) views of the ruling elite

c) long-term species survival issues, which, since the beneficiaries do not constitute a constituency, are generally more ignored than suppressed

In 1933, gazing around him in dismay at the Great Depression and peering back at the “holy war fought to make the world safe for democracy,” the former civil servant John McConaughy in Who Rules America? defined his country’s “invisible government” as “the political control for selfish, if not sinister, economic purposes – by individual men, or groups or organizations, who are careful to evade the responsibility which should always accompany power. They operate behind a mask of puppets in politics and business.”59 Exactly a half century later the sociologist G. William Domhoff, whose political views were far to the left of McConaughy’s, arrived at similar conclusions in his Who Rules America Now? when he described a cohesive ruling class that shapes the social and political climate and plays a dominant role in the economy and the government with the goal of promoting its own self-interest.

No human interaction is more fiercely competitive than politics. What is the true nature of that process? To take but one example, Washington, D.C. is home to a society of “networked,” monied, politically sophisticated individuals, while 37% of that same city’s residents read at a third-grade level or lower.60 The situation is comparable to a champion sprinter competing against a 90-year-old in a wheelchair. Not surprisingly, the “winners” in this race favor the process that allows them to achieve and maintain their spoils system, and to do so without any sense of guilt.

One percent of American citizens now own 40% of the nation’s wealth.61 In elections vested interests make electoral campaign contributions, parts of which are used for polling the voters to learn what they want to hear, while the lion’s share is invested in advertising that is as based as little on logic as an ad for a soft drink. The resulting advertising presents a combination of what the pollsters discover and what the propaganda specialists consider the populace will accept. To make matters worse, literally a handful of people now control most of the media, and there is no talk of applying antitrust legislation to stop even further amalgamations.


And the system functions incredibly smoothly –exactly as intended. When the candidate is eventually elected, having outspent his opponent, he then goes on to do the bidding of those who paid the bill. Should the electoral results be in doubt, the candidate has merely to wrap himself in the flag while denouncing his opponents. The result is an unbridgeable chasm of understanding between elites and the broad masses. A serious book published by a university press may have a print run of a few hundred copies, while a television show of only middling popularity will measure its viewership in the tens of millions, and Hollywood aspires to an audience of billions all over the world. Intellectuals are supposedly free to express their opinions (as least as long as they do not threaten the powers that be), but informed opinion is irrelevant to the political process.

This situation has been made possible by the failure of the general populace to comprehend the true nature of the issues. Indeed, how can any rational observer view any human society as a collective of informed individuals making rational decisions? In a 2000 Gallup poll, 34% of those questioned were unable to name the probable presidential candidates. For persons having a high school education or less and earning less than $20,000 annually, this particular quotient of ignorance rose to 55%.62


According to a survey done by the National Assessment of Education Progress, 56% of those tested could not correctly subtract 55 and 37 from 100; 18% could not multiply 43 x 67; 24% could not convert .35 to 35%; and 28% were unable to express “three hundred fifty-six thousand and ninety-seven” as “356,097.”63 In addition, 24% of adult Americans were unaware that the United States had fought the Revolutionary War with Great Britain, and 21% had no idea that the Earth revolves around the sun.64


According to the Northeast Midwest Institute, a nonprofit and education research group, 60 million adult Americans cannot read the front page of a newspaper.65 Three Americans in ten between the ages of 18 and 24 could not find the Pacific Ocean on a world map, while 67% of Brits did not know the year World War II ended and 64% did now know which country the French Alps were located in.66 As for art, philosophy, serious music, literature, and so on –that intellectual thought and creativity which should lend greater meaning to our lives than those of other animals that love, hate, and dream much as we do –such matters are a subject of disinterest for the overwhelming majority of people. But even this does not represent the furthest extreme of egalitarianist politics.


The millions of people ill with dementia to the point that they are unable to dress themselves or recognize family members also participate in selecting national leadership. Surveys of patients at dementia clinics in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania found that 60% and 64% had voted, respectively. Brian R. Ott of Brown University found that 37% of patients with moderate dementia and about 18% with severe dementia had voted.67 In selecting out individuals of ability, modern society now has stripped the broad masses of society of the brilliant artisans and poets who formerly created and maintained national cultures.68 A visit to the magazine section of the local supermarket or a flip through the hundreds of television channels is a dismaying experience.





Welfare and Fertility

See yon blithe child that dances in our sight.
Sara Coleridge, “The Child”

Is the goal of the so-called welfare state fundamentally dysgenic in nature? In 1936, the famous biologist Julian Huxley laid out a hard-hearted version of the hereditarian view in his Galton lecture, delivered before the Eugenics Society:

The lowest strata…, allegedly less well endowed genetically…, must not have too easy access to relief or hospital treatment lest the removal of the last check on natural selection should make it too easy for children to be produced or to survive; long unemployment should be a ground for sterilization, or at least relief should be contingent upon no further children being brought into the world.69

We must remember that this was written at the depths of the Great Depression, and that many of those on welfare were simply victims of failed financial policies, not bad genes.

While the average welfare mother receives payments for only two years, never-married mothers who have babies in their teens average eight years or more of dependency.70 These are the so-called chronic welfare cases. On average the mothers of illegitimate children score ten points lower in IQ than mothers of legitimate children.71 These babies make an incommensurate contribution to the future pool of rejected, abandoned, and battered children.72 The mechanism would appear to be economic.


A young woman of average or greater ability can look forward to life’s many opportunities and finds little temptation in a modest welfare payment, whereas a woman of low intelligence may rationally see government assistance as a ticket to independence and freedom from the hand-to-mouth realities of a minimum-wage job. It would seem logical that the higher the payments, the greater the temptation. Nonetheless, the link between economics and fertility has been challenged as still unproven. Demographer Daniel Vining, for example, has pointed out that lower welfare payments in southern states has not led to significantly reduced fertility patterns.73


We are faced here with a terrible dilemma. Society has an obligation to care for its weakest members, but the flip side of the coin is that in doing so we have significantly increased the fertility of low-IQ women (who generally tend to marry low-IQ men in what is known as “assortative mating”). And we pay them more for each child. Mothers on AFDC had an average of 2.6 children each; non-AFDC mothers averaged 2.1.74 This is a major factor in American fertility patterns. What to do? Deny poor women and their children financial assistance? Bribe the upper classes into childbearing? Or throw up our hands in dismay and allow society to be genetically dumbed-down? Indeed, given political realities, what can we do?


Certainly, at the very least, it would behoove us to increase family-planning services to the poor. It is a simple fact that current state policies –both domestic and foreign –already influence differential fertility patterns, despite the fact that the current political climate makes it virtually impossible even to discuss this factor.


Since future generations by definition represent a zero constituency, the public sphere is largely defined horizontally, whereas vertical or longitudinal effects are mostly relegated to the private domain and thus ignored –that is, remain unregulated. Eugenics opposes this horizontal/vertical opposition, maintaining that, since the unborn constitute a vastly greater potential population than do the currently living, their rights take precedence. Politics is, by definition, a struggle among the currently living, and what may well be a victory for some faction in their midst may well be a disaster for their children, just as the disasters of the parents may be to the children’s good fortune.

We are now able to separate sex from procreation; either may occur without the other. It is now even possible for women to bypass the male’s sperm.75 Thus, while leaving the right to sexuality within the private sphere, eugenicists argue that procreational rights –inasmuch as they define the very nature of future people –can be ignored by society only to its own detriment.





Crime and IQ

Oh blood, which art my father’s blood,
Circulating thro’ these contaminated veins,
If thou, poured forth on the polluted earth,
Could wash away the crime…

Percy Bysshe Shelley

“The Cenci”

Genes play a major role in virtually all behavior, including alcoholism, smoking, autism, phobias, neuroses, insomnia, consumption of coffee (but not tea),76 schizophrenia, marriage and divorce, job satisfaction, hobbies, and fears. Curiously, while one study shows no genetic role in singing ability,77 another shows pitch perception to be highly heritable and estimates the heritability of tone deafness at 0.8 –about as high as it gets for genetically complex traits, rivaling features such as height.78 Animal breeders and even pet owners have no doubts about differences between and within species, and we all know from everyday experience just much people differ innately from each other. Genes evidently also play a role in crime.

In the mid-nineteenth century, criminal justice systems were still guided by the assumption of man’s free will, and crime was viewed as a sin which had to be expiated. In the late 1850s, the French physician B. A. Morel established the field of criminal physical anthropology. Galton himself favored compulsory means to limit the breeding not just of the insane, the feebleminded, or confirmed criminals but also of paupers.79 In 1876, just five years after the appearance of Darwin’s Descent of Man, the Jewish-Italian criminologist and physician Cesare Lombroso published The Criminal Man, which attempted to demonstrate the biological nature of criminality. Lombroso claimed to have established during autopsies certain physical stigmata characteristic of the born criminal, whom he saw as possessing a more primitive type of brain structure. If one accepts such biological determinism, punishment becomes meaningless.

Lombroso’s theories are now generally rejected as invalid, but studies of the role of genes in crime have not been confined to the nineteenth century. A 1982 Swedish study found that the rate of criminality in adopted children was 2.9% when neither biological nor adoptive parents had been convicted of criminal activity. When one of the natural parents was criminal, the figure rose to 6.7%, but when both biological parents were criminal, the figure was nearly twice as high –12.1%.80 At first the left tended to sympathize with biological positivism, but soon Marxists came to view crime as environmentally determined. The anarchists even sympathized with criminals, who were seen as rebels challenging social injustice. Crime in a capitalist system came under the rubric of justified revolution in miniature.

If the egalitarian Franz Boaz was the “father” of anthropology, the paternal rights to criminology (sociology’s “stepchild”) have been ceded to Edwin E. Sutherland, for whom learning was entirely a social product disconnected from biological structures. In 1914, he published Criminology, the most influential book on the topic during the twentieth century. Thanks in large measure to its resonance, and especially that of later reworked editions, many textbooks in the field never even mentioned IQ, and when they did the treatment was largely dismissive.

At the same time, intelligence studies have consistently demonstrated a lower IQ among those found to have committed criminal acts than among the general population. The intelligence ratings of 200 juvenile offenders consigned to training schools in Iowa show a mean IQ of 90.4 for the boys and 94.1 for the girls. The mean IQ for non-delinquents was 103 for boys and 105.5 for girls.81 The 1969 police records of over 3,600 boys in Contra Costa County, California, show a relationship between IQ and delinquency of -0.31.82 A group of 411 London boys was followed over a ten-year period so as to compare delinquent and non-delinquent groups. While only one in fifty boys with an IQ of 110 or more was a recidivist, one in five of those with an IQ of 90 or less fell into this category. 83


Since the advent of the revised Stanford Binet and the Wechsler-Bellevue scales in the late 1930s, it has been consistently found that samples of delinquents differ from the general population by about 8 IQ points84 –a significant but not an overwhelming difference. One can only surmise that perhaps the gap would be even narrower if it were possible to control for a higher arrest record among juveniles less skillful in the art of deception. The same general tendency exists within the adult population. Criminal offenders have average IQs of about 92 –that is, 8 points or one-half standard deviation below the mean.85 What is actually happening? Life itself is a cruel competition, where the vanquished have ended up more than once skewered and slowly roasting over the victor’s cooking fire.


Now civilization imposes rules (so-called middle-class values) that allow some people more success at winning. Imagine a situation where the fastest runner would be the only one to get supper. After a time the slower competitors would be sorely tempted simply to hit him on the head rather than futilely attempt to outdo him in speed. The same is true with intelligence. The successful stockbroker, surgeon, and lawyer do not need to commit crime to gain wealth, but further down the professional scale are those individuals whose low intelligence literally dooms them to a life of material slavery. Can at least part of the explanation for criminal behavior be as simple as that?

To what extent is inherited low altruism a factor in crime? Before axing the old pawnbroker in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov first rationalizes away his guilt. Clearly, the general population contains a vast pool of individuals for whom guilt is, at best, an underdeveloped emotion.

Can we really entrust the awesome task of guiding human evolution to the bureaucrats? Are we not still far from understanding the nature of crime? Do we want passivity bred into the population? Is not crime the statistical tail of such desirable traits as adventuresomeness and the willingness to take risks?






Settling and dominating the entire planet, our species has devoted an immense amount of effort to moving around. In the process, entire civilizations have been displaced, conquered, infiltrated, and even swamped by imported alien populations. In economic terms, greater and greater specialization has replaced self-sufficiency and created ruling classes that are often recruited from a multiplicity of ethnic backgrounds.

Since the pool of global talent is neither diminished nor enhanced when a person moves from country A to country B, migration constitutes a zero-sum game. Nevertheless, some countries are winners while others are losers. The United States attracts large numbers of very talented individuals but also many who are unlikely to leave the lower economic rung. The mean IQ of immigrants in the 1980s has been estimated to be about 95, or only about one-third standard deviation below the mean.87 This is a small enough difference that it may well be explainable by the disadvantaging environment from which many arrivals come.

Early man migrated slowly, creating diversity by virtue of lengthy periods of relative genetic isolation. Now, however, the revolution in transportation is undermining this isolation. The United Nations Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that 53% of the 6,809 languages spoken around the world are at risk of extinction by 2100. The destruction of this “reservoir of human thought and knowledge”88 is accompanied by a loss of genetic diversity that would cause dismay among ecologists if it were to occur in any species other than man.