deletedMay 16, 2023·edited May 17, 2023
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I thought this was gonna be a GEB review and I got excited!

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This article is excellent! It's pretty impressive that your attempt to steelman the cooky anti liberal eugenicists sounds infinitely more persuasive than any actually existing anti liberal eugenicist.

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> Mastroianni centers his piece around the question: how could a brilliant scientist like Galton be so devoted to an evil idea like eugenics?

That's simple: intelligence has no correlation to morality. The "evil genius" is a well-known media trope for a reason! There are plenty of very good smart people, and plenty of very bad smart people.

One of the biggest intellectual failings of the past few decades has been the loss of this understanding, via the gradual conflation of concepts of good and evil with concepts of smart and stupid. We've tended to think that all hard-thinking people will be right-thinking people who agree with us, and anyone who disagrees with our perspective on morality can only do so because they're too dumb to grasp the simple truth. But nothing could be further from the truth; bad people have been using their intellect in pursuit of evil since time immemorial. There's no good reason to expect them to stop now.

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Anyone who's in favour of the taboo and legal ban on incest because children of incest are disproportionately likely to have birth defects is already a eugenecist whether they like it or not. Spoken as a person who fully supports the taboo on incest.

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With regards to Ehrlich: I concede that Coria's characterization of him *in the beginning* can be argued. But it is now clear that his most famous argument was, and is, fundamentally incorrect (and has done real harm). Ehrlich declines to concede that his entire professional career made the world worse, which is his privilege. It is also a moral failing.

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I would be curious to know just how far "outside the window of what most forecasters considered possible" the Green Revolution was. Was there really no serious dissent, or was it just given less airtime on the three extant tv stations?

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"Banning eugenics is very easy. We already did it; the victory requires minimal effort to maintain."

Did we? We banned coercive eugenics, but last I heard we aren't randomizing reproductive pairings, sperm banks show a sharp skew in preferences towards the over 6ft and accomplished, and assortative mating in humans seems to be a thing and the effect is likely getting stronger in USA.

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Coria: I want to claim that, in expectation, Paul Ehrlich did nothing wrong


Adraste: I thought you said Ehrlich did nothing wrong!

Coria: I said bad, not wrong

Potential typo?

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"It seems hard to find a middle ground between Coria’s stance and pure minarchist libertarianism."

No, not at all. This is only true if one insists on focusing entirely on being consistent in the structure of their arguments, with insufficient attention to the content in different cases. This reminds me of how Huemer tears Rawls to shreds in "The Problem of Political Authority" over the internal logical inconsistency of social contract theory. Huemer's alternate theory may be more logically consistent (I can't remember, it's been a very long time) but I think most people can agree that his proposed structure of society is far worse than the status quo. Logical consistency isn't everything and it's perfectly okay to say "I'm willing to go this far, but not any further, because the ethics and/or implications of going further are concerning".

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"Over population will result in disaster" is one of those claims that will never be *allowed* to be vindicated, because people will always insist that some more proximate issue caused the disaster. Overpopulation *by itself* does nothing; the chain of causality from overpopulation to disaster has many links, and people are extremely invested in ensuring that the blame is attached to one of those links, not to overpopulation. The most common link is war (and so we blame war, not the overpopulation that led to social unrest that led to a government feeling it needed to behave in a certain way), but another common one is bad weather (blame the weather, not the obvious fact that if food production has a standard deviation of so much, and if the population is sized to barely stay alive during the good years, then there will be problems during the bad years).

There is never any shortage of intermediate links...

If there is any single thing we have learned since Ehrlich, it's that people are unlimited in their capacity to blame others for problems that they have caused. To take a somewhat less contentions example, very few of the people who generate a constant stream of complaints about growing cities have committed themselves to zero children. They see no contradiction between their having kids and their demands that no new housing (or schools or factories or whatever) be built; it's someone else's problem to reconcile these two. And once you have adopted this viewpoint, that you can demand whatever you like (because it is "right") and that thing will simply happen, because magic, you're all set for the inevitable collision with reality.

(Of course when that collision comes, god forbid we generalize from it to the one solution that can actually improve the situation; god no! The Nigerian Civil War will be explained as something about Christians vs Muslims. The Chinese attack on Taiwan will be because too many boys and not enough girls, so testosterone leads to fight fight fight. The collapse of the Indian ecosystem will be something something capitalism. etc etc etc.)

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Sounds like the real argument is about expected recklessness.

Back when "democracy" meant "mob rule" to most people, you wouldn't trust a self-declared democrat. After all, he probably believed in mob rule.

Today, "eugenics" is associated with reckless people, so any particular eugenics is default bad, because of the kind of person who'd propose it.

Of course, this is a heuristic for stagnation. You can't trust anyone who advocates what used to be a reckless person's idea, even if the idea these days is perfectly sound. The very unfamiliarity of "eugenics" makes it reckless now, after all.

Is the answer some equivalent for policy papers of scientific peer review, so that I can know that Bob's eugenics plans are robust against the old style of reckless implementation?

Alas, in real life I think we mostly get "euphemism treadmills," where eugenics policies become okay if and only if they can avoid being called eugenics policies.

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May 15, 2023·edited May 15, 2023

The discussion in part III is interesting, but I think it misses, or at least fails to explicitly point out, the (factual rather than moral) claim underpinning Adraste's perspective. Meaning, if Adraste were a real person, truly holding on to the belief that there is a distinction to be drawn between eugenics and environmentalism in that respect, I would expect them to say this:

"Of course, 50 years ago, many environmentalists supported (likely) forced sterilization in India. But today, the supporter of forced sterilization is a non-central (https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/yCWPkLi8wJvewPbEp/the-noncentral-fallacy-the-worst-argument-in-the-world) instance of the category of (Western) environmentalists, but a central instance of the category of eugenics supporters."

To put this more explicitly, I would expect many (maybe even most) of the people in Adraste's position would agree with both of these claims: "less than 10% of environmentalists today support forced sterilization" and "more than 90% of eugenics supporters today also support forced sterilization."

Again, these are factual statements, not moral ones, even though one's moral convictions can certainly bias them to have certain beliefs on this matter (moreover, I would certainly expect Scott and others here to disagree with the latter statement). The point is, however, that if you imagine yourself in the position of someone who genuinely believes both statements are true, it seems clear why you would consider one of them a dangerous slippery slope that requires moral condemnation of those trying to bring it about (even if they don't intend the end result of forced sterilization), and the other one clearly not a dangerous slippery slope or deserving of any condemnation whatsoever.

Meaning, even if you agree that both sides are big tents containing both good and bad ideas, and good and bad people, if you truly, genuinely believe as a factual matter that one is '90% good/10% bad' and the other one is '10% good/90% bad', it seems likely you would reject any moral equivalence between them (perhaps even in a much less polite manner than Adraste does here). Matters of moral condemnation might be fuzzy around the edges, but this simply wouldn't feel like an edge case at all.

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Coria: That’s fine. You have every right to oppose eugenics, but you must exercise that right in your capacity as a citizen of a democratic polity, not as some sort of impersonal arbiter of morality.

That seems pretty extreme! I would guess Coria would also agree that German citizens who sheltered Jews from the Nazi regime were wrong, and overstepping their bounds. It is the logical endpoint of that ideology. A middle ground between this and total libertarianism based on anything besides intuition is pretty hard, agreed.

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I am probably comment #2,345 saying this, but I just want to thank you for the acro-pun. I'm going to smile every time I think of it for weeks.

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What I don' t see mentioned in this piece or the comments is the immediate negative consequences of drawing official lines between intelligent/desirable people and not-intelligent/not-desirable people. The second a government draws this line, the two groups diverge, human nature kicks in, and things get ugly fast. This is the mechanism imo by which the slippery slope of state-sponsored eugenics is so steep and slippery, and very quickly leads to the worst of humanity.

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The difference between Galton and Ehrlich is simple: the first is very evil European/conservative sterilization, which is bad. The second is for left-wing/progressive sterilization, which is good and academics like it.

It is, as always, simple friend/enemy distinction.

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I think you mean "plaintiff", not "defendant"

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Blood boiling evil stuff from Ehrlich. I try to hate no one but can’t quite seem to keep it from touching him. Loathe to my marrow that he hasn’t been denounced as a hack. You don’t get to be wrong about everything but still be called an expert.

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This review seemed pedantic to me. The 'improvment' of human characteristics, e.g. morbidity, intelligence, etc. through either selective breeding (Galton's postion) or the removal of undesirable traits through sterilization, incarceraton or murder, was debunked long ago. The recognition that there are no recognized single genes, or group of genes that co-assort to produce what we call intelligence, longevity or whatever general human trait makes the eugenics dialog irrevalent. Real eugenics is here now and it called gene therapy. Currently, gene therapy is able to cure or improve certain single gene mutation diseases. in the interests of brevity: 'nuff said.

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> I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that which sperm donor you choose affects your future child’s

> traits a lot

"Traits" is doing a lot of work there. Both intelligence and life outcomes depend on a large number of complex factors; some of these are heritable, others are not; the heritable factors are a complex mix of both positive and negative that all interact with each other; meanwhile, a great deal of luck is also required for a good outcome. The magnitude of the survivor bias is unclear: we only hear about the genius babies who grow up, study and publish; the ones who are born in thirdworld slums, live as street kids for a few years then die of starvation or exposure do so unseen and uncounted. It is far from obvious what proportion of the outcome is down to genetics, rather than factors like the education system, childhood parasite load or local child labour laws.

The divine right of kings has long since been discredited, as has the concept that nobles are somehow inherently better than commoners, and yet the intuition is still that rich people are necessarily poor people's betters. I suggest an alternative theory: rich people by and large are rich mostly not because of genetically heritable traits, but rather because they got lucky: lucky to be born into an already rich family, lucky to be born to an environment where they were lifted up instead of beaten down, and/or lucky that risks they took during their lives paid off.

Luck, unfortunately, is not a heritable trait.

> For example, if the reason poorer people have poorer children is educational access / culture / cycles

> of poverty, you should still expect that increasing the proportion of rich people to poor people having

> children would increase the proportion of rich people to poor people in the next generation.

It's unclear that we should expect any such thing. At the very least, you would need to do work to show this, beyond handwaving. Consider many of your own essays elsewhere, where you make the case that humanity is stuck in a variety of races-to-the-bottom, where people in competition for some limited thing end up spending more over time for the same slice of the pie, be it healthcare, education, shelter... Meditations on Moloch has a variety of examples. If rich families' kids do better at least in part because rich families can throw more resources at the race to get the kid closer to the tip of the life outcome pyramid - and few would deny this is the case - rich families having more kids would certainly make them compete harder for the top of the pyramid, but it is unclear that his would make the top of the pyramid any larger or the gap between the top and the bottom any narrower.

Getting a rich person's sperm from a sperm bank, meanwhile, does not help with this effect at all.

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What would also be interesting would be to look at the arguments of early-twentieth-century intellectuals who openly supported some limited eugenics measures calling them such (avoiding serious birth defects) but had intelligent, interesting criticisms to make to then fashionable, non-genocidal eugenics. Franz Boas comes to mind.

(Also, would gladly read all that W. E. B. du Bois wrote about the subject. Links?)

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"I don’t think arguments that it wouldn’t work are defensible. Nobody doubts that breeding programs can successfully enhance or remove traits from farm animals or dogs; nobody serious doubts anymore that most human traits are at least partly genetic."

With dogs we also have significantly longer lifespans than their generations and fairly absolute control over their breeding. I suspect an attempt to breed e.g., Galapagos tortoises or giant pandas for particular traits would be harder. With humans, you have the problem with a lot of long term projects that the people in charge and their goals would likely change faster than the time it takes to approach a given goal, and that total control over the subjects' reproduction will be very difficult even leaving aside the obvious moral objections.

Probably increasingly so as reproductive technology improves. Some forms of sterilization are already reversible. Going forward, that person you sterilized will probably be able to arrange for a clone or recombination based on a somatic cell, or even getting a new reproductive system grown and installed, much sooner than you (or rather, your successor's successor's, successor's...successor) is going to see the kind of major population-level changes something like dog breeding can produce.

Slavery and animal breeding coexisted as concepts for a very long time, without (as far as I know) successful applications of the latter to the former. Granted I'd be surprised if there weren't attempts, especially once science overlapped with large scale slavery for a century or two. I'd also be surprised if it was managed with sufficient consistency and breadth to create an identifiable population with measurable and sustained trait changes, rather than just being a cruel experiment. (Especially since owners and their overseers were probably continually contaminating the process, probably without reliably recording what they were doing.) AFAIK, generally when slaveholding cultures wanted a type, they enslaved people from a known location or existing ethnic group, they didn't create one for the purpose.

I'm guessing you need a combination of totalitarian control and consistency of purpose that isn't going to realistically be sustainable by human effort to have much hope of getting the kinds of results they're going for. And I'm pretty sure that even approaching acquiring that level of control correlates with spinning off into all the sorts of problems Adraste is warning about.

I agree that it can't be done benevolently, and I'm pretty sure that it can't be done effectively. Best case it's ineffectual and mostly harmless, worst case is much worse than that.

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A nice presentation of a fairly pointless argument.

Both sides are wrong on this subject for the very simple reason that anyone with a modicum of understanding of how power dynamics work, would immediately see how eugenics, overpopulation, or any other form of garbage analysis based doom would be used as justification by unscrupulous and/or idealistic demagogues leading elitist packs towards self and class based power and financial gain.

Ehrlich's predecessor - Thomas Malthus - and the British Corn Laws are an excellent example, so it isn't like we don't know where this is all going.

Where are the Jonathan Swifts of today to puncture the bombastic bullshit?

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Be advised, substack is now doing some javascript pop-over thing on mobile that breaks badly with long footnotes.

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A few things that struck me from this article:

> Francis Galton said we should do eugenics in a voluntary and scientifically reasonable way. People listened to him, nodded along, and then went and did eugenics in a coercive and horrifying way. Now here you are, saying we should do eugenics in a voluntary and scientifically reasonable way. You can see why I might be concerned.

I'm reminded of Jordan Peterson's masterful takedown of the notion that "real socialism has never been tried." He points out that there are two serious problems with that concept. First, the supreme arrogance inherent in saying — because this is what that really means — that "everyone who's tried this before has failed, but if I was in charge I could get it right!" And second, the immense naivete of failing to realize that, even if you were both smart enough to get it right and morally pure enough to not be corrupted along the way, that there would still be evil, brutal people lurking in the shadows waiting to take you down and supplant you and use the power you established for their own far less virtuous ends. (cf. Josef Stalin's rise to power.)

> Or they might say environmentalism has had some pretty spectacular failures - knee-jerk environmentalist opposition to nuclear power prevented it from taking over from fossil fuels, leading to our current coal-and-oil-dominated regime and all the worries about climate change that come with it - also coal pollution in the air kills tens of thousands of people per year directly.

It's always a bit terrifying to see just how often people's unwillingness to accept the lesser of two evils leaves them saddled with the greater evil instead.

> For example, if the reason poorer people have poorer children is educational access / culture / cycles of poverty, you should still expect that increasing the proportion of rich people to poor people having children would increase the proportion of rich people to poor people in the next generation.

You can't really "increase the population of rich people to poor people" in any meaningful way as long as poverty remains culturally understood as a relative state. By any objective measure, poor people in America today (excluding long-term homeless for obvious reasons) have a standard of living that would be the envy of kings of past ages, and in many significant metrics exceeds that enjoyed by John Rockefeller! And yet, relative to the more-wealthy people in America today, they're not doing particularly awesome, so we say that they're "living in poverty." As long as that understanding persists, adding more wealthy people would just shift the definitions around a little.

> Ehrlich did the best he could have based on what he knew at the time.

Not really. The ideas of population explosion and resource exhaustion didn't originate with him, but with Thomas Malthus, and Malthus' ideas had been quite thoroughly debunked over a century before Ehrlich came on the scene! Ehrlich had no good excuse for not knowing that.

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There is a certain type of person who would look at the mountains of skulls that Genghis Khan

piled up and before judging it evil, ask whether it was a state acting or a group of individuals.

States/governments, "democratic" or otherwise, have absolutely no privileged moral status: judge their acts exactly as you would any other entity, or accept that you have the moral compass no better than that of a my-god-told-me-to-it zealot.

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This discussion reminds me once again of the book Ending Medical Reversal: www.amazon.com/dp/1421417723, or the section in Emperor of All Maladies: www.amazon.com/dp/B017DQSQD6 where it talks about the rise and ignominious fall of radical mastectomies (and not just because one of the quotes above literally refers to the radical mastectomy as a brutal-but-necessary practice while not realizing it was only brutal).

As anyone who has worked in a lab can tell you, the scientific process is littered with plausible hypotheses that don't survive experimental confirmation. My problem with Beroe (and to some extent Coria) is that government experimentation writ large has two features:

1. It's almost always large scale - ensuring the impact is magnified

2. It's almost never iterated and improved. Detractors wish to end the program NOW, while promoters defend the program as-is, unable to repair and adjust for fear that any admission of failure will turn popular opinion against them.

Thus, it's nearly impossible for Coria's process to eventually arrive at a refined theory through the political process, and Beroe will rarely get it right on the first try while almost always ensuring the suffering is substantial when government gets it wrong.

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It is notable that unlike in North America and Continental Europe, eugenics never really got anywhere as a practical policy in the UK even though the idea itself originated in England. Perhaps this is a function of the fact that Galton and other leaders of the British eugenics movement disliked coercive eugenics.

Adraste says that "eugenics was banned", but a lot of what goes on in medical genetics these days (e.g. selective abortions) would surely be regarded as eugenics by someone like Galton. My prediction is that new eugenic practices like embryo selection will gradually be normalized as part of medicine and eventually no one will call them eugenics.

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PDG. Pretty Darn Good, Scott.

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This may be neither here nor there, but there is a little problem with the idea of a Nobel sperm bank: Nobel prize winners tend to be old, and there seems to be mounting evidence that the age of fathers is directly correlated with deleterious mutations. The effect is of course not as large as for women, but it's not small. In particular, the statistics for schizophrenia are pretty frightening.

(Fields medal sperm bank, maybe...)

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Here is how I (maybe) convinced a liberal friend that good eugenics is ok.

(This conversation is abridged and paraphrased but the gist of it is here)

Me: I take it you are pro choice.

She: of course.

Me: And therefore are in favour of a mother aborting a foetus with Down’s syndrome.

She. Of course. Same argument

me: as an aside the EU has recently said that advances in medical intervention had largely eliminated Down’s syndrome - that medical advance was abortion based on earlier screening for the disorder.

Me: now imagine a pill that doesn’t abort the foetus but cures it. Is the taking of that pill immoral given that you are ok with a abortifacients?

She: the baby is brought to term?

Me: yes. Cured and brought to term.

She. Ok. I suppose so.

Me: one of the consequences of Down’s syndrome is low IQ. Should we then screen for people with low IQ, and design a pill to fix that?

She: hmm, I’m a bit dubious about that. That’s a leap.

Me: can the mother who knows she is carrying a child with low IQ child - assume there is a screening for that - abort that child?

She: I suppose. I mean it’s a woman’s right to choose.

Me: such screening may become common in the future. If you believe in the right to take the abortifacient you basically have to believe the mother has a right to take the pill that cures.

She: hang on. We can’t allow people to take pills that turn babies blue because they like the idea of a blue baby.

Me: you’ve abandoned the idea of bodily autonomy there but you are right, note I am specifically talking about a pill that cures, that does no harm.


Me: ok. So if we cure a baby with a potential 80 Iq, why not cure a foetus with a potential 100 of IQ, get it to 115

She:hold on - we don’t cure normality.

Me: we do try, all the time, to make people smarter don’t we? Look at the money we spend on education, on getting people to maximise potential.

She: hmm. Well it’s something to think about.

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Speaking as someone who generally aligns with "Adraste" here, I think the comparison of eugenics and environmentalism misses the mark. An effective steelman would recognize the difference in scope between the two:

Eugenics is a highly specific concern with improving the "quality" of human genetics, while environmentalism is a broad umbrella term for a range of concerns about preserving ecosystem functions, conserving natural resources, preserving biodiversity, protecting cute animals, reducing human health risks from pollution, etc.

Eugenics lends itself to a narrow range of policy prescriptions, of which the most effective and least morally-risky (sex education, access to reversible birth control, prevention of sexual abuse) can all be promoted from a human-rights perspective without reference to eugenics. There are literally thousand of ways to advance environmentalism through public policy, most of which would be impossible to talk about without reference to environmental concerns because the topic is so broad.

I actually do have a strong 'internal taboo' against forms of environmentalism that seem high-risk for human rights abuses and other moral hazards. Any talk of overpopulation, antinatalism, or Malthusian dooming sets off my alarm bells for exactly the reasons you set out here. "Degrowth," primitivism, and other sorts of pastoralist reactionary environmentalism also seem dangerous, and a lot of animal rights (anything even remotely associated with Peter Singer) is very sketchy.

But those are bounded areas of concern that I can cleanly separate from other bounded areas. There's no conceptual connection between "we shouldn't dump untreated sewage and industrial chemicals in the river where we get our drinking water" and "humanity is a parasite on the planet that should be eradicated."

I don't think you can draw such a clean distinction between "we should discourage undesirables from reproducing" and "we should prevent undesirables from reproducing," or between "we should encourage desirable men to donate sperm" and "we should coerce desirable women into being impregnated with the sperm of desirable men" (also a thing that happened!)

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I think that the discussion of Ehrlich highlights that many nominally ethical questions hinge on factual questions. The same applies to the 9/11 terrorists. If their factual beliefs were correct, then their actions would have potentially ultimately been correct.

I think in general people are too critical of others over perceived ethical shortcomings, and not critical enough when people err on the facts.

When it comes to Ehrlich, even at the time there was significant reason to doubt his conclusions. David Friedman notes here: https://daviddfriedman.substack.com/p/my-first-post-done-again that he published a paper: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Laissez-Faire_In_Popn/L_F_in_Population.html in 1972 that showed that it was not at all obvious that the net externalities of additional population were large, or even that they were negative.

In a similar vein, I imagine that George W. Bush is probably a decent person generally, and I would not be particularly concerned in his presence.

But his hubris in being willing to make decisions at least nominally based on factual mistakes led to mountains of bodies.

As noted in this post, fossil fuels kill tens of thousands of people a year. Those deaths, too, are a function of potentially well-meaning people who limit nuclear power who are ultimately killing more people than any mass murderer could ever hope to.

Ehrlich might have "just" made a factual mistake, but factual mistakes with a lot riding on them are much worse than they are usually given credit for.

This relates to Bryan Caplan's point about how evil politicians are (cf. How Evil Are Politicians?: Essays on Demagoguery). Politicians routinely make decisions of tremendous import and they don't devote the deserved effort determine the factual underpinnings of their decisions. This is rather like shooting bullets randomly in a bad neighborhood. It's not terribly unlikely that you'll kill a bad guy, but with no effort to determine whom you'll hurt, you could easily destroy lives of the innocent.

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“Ehrlich did the best he could have based on what he knew at the time.”

Perhaps, but now it’s 60 years later and it’s abundantly clear that he was massively wrong. Nevertheless he has stuck to his guns all this time. No apology, no analysis of where and why he went so wrong, and most maddeningly, no effort to see what we can learn from his fiasco. Indeed, there are still plenty of people who believe he was right then and still is right today. Shameful intellectual dishonesty.

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I’d be interested to see where the 1-3 IQ points per century dysgenic effect number is from. I imagined it would be much worse.

Cremieux’s work on ideal vs actual fertility (using the GSS) came out to 1.5 points lost per generation in the United States, without consideration of immigration. Considering nations with the highest measured IQs are currently on the wrong end of demographic trends (especially East Asia), I would’ve expected much worse.

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I feel I'm somewhere in the middle. If you're intent on eugenicist practices, the best way in my mind would be to simply give couples as much high-quality information as possible and allow them to decide for themselves without coercion. People will (and do) practice some form of eugenics by screening not only for congenital defects but simply for partners. I think that a Nobel sperm bank will just end up being a rich smart guy vanity project rather than an atrocity. It's important to be raised by smart people, not just created by them. Considering, for instance, that genes for intellectual creativity are also linked to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, or that genes for entrepreneurship are linked to addictive weaknesses, you could easily roll with good dice and get low numbers, in a manner of speaking.

The real thing that scares me is this prostrate, blind, all-in worship of IQ and the lurking shadow of its ugly cousin, genetic determinism (particularly in regards to culture). I see it referenced here regarding Ashkenazi Jews. But the truth is that Ashkenazi Jews benefit socially from a heavy focus on communalism (you can read the writings of conservative Jewish people if you don't believe me) and in the most successful cases, a pedigree in high-grade European intellectual traditions. The Ashkenazim that send antisemites to the early life sections, for instance, are often descended from people who were educated in the erudite German intellectual culture that persisted into the Weimar Republic. Compare these individuals with the Hasidim in NY, whose kids often can barely speak English or do middle school mathematics and who may in fact have a communal drug problem. I distrust this IQ fetishization that has become more and more endorsed by tech-adjacent merchant rightists, and the idea that you can just up numbers and save the world is not going to lead anywhere good. I fear that it's most likely to be an apologia for elitist exploitation encoded in law. I think it's a greater threat than Eugenics writ large.

Also, on that last paragraph, the idea that you can and should brook awful abuses and necessary discomforts for vulnerable people with the idea that in the end they will be both necessary and justified itself has a precedent, it's called the 20th Century.

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I looked up the Nobel sperm bank, because I'd never heard of it, and it doesn't appear that it was outlawed or ran into legal issues. It operated for 19 years, produced 217 children (none actually descended from Nobelists), and then shut down when the founder died - it was funded out of his own pocket and his heirs weren't interested in carrying it on. It seems like the main obstacle to such a project isn't "eugenics is taboo" so much as "it's hard for a random guy to go up to a Nobel prize winner, ask them for their sperm, and get a yes."

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May 15, 2023·edited May 15, 2023

>Now, in fact Galton was almost as wrong as Ehrlich - modern research suggests the dysgenic trend does exist, but it’s only 1-3 IQ points per century - things will be very different long before we notice it.

Extrapolating backwards, wouldn't this imply that ancient Romans were around 120-160 IQ, and ancient Babylonians 140-220? Is this trend only valid under modern conditions or something?

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The fact that a lot of people still take Paul R. Ehrlich or his more mainstream communicators seriously even to this day is quite remarkable. One part of me is quite bitter over how fears of underpopulation are starting to become more mainstream and a respectable high status belief in certain circles, mainly due to the fact that most people concerned about underpopulation, probably would get behind the overpopulation hysteria in the counterfactual world where such beliefs are trendy and somewhat contrarian. That is most people in the underpopulation camp lack the proper justification and analytic tools required to deduce that overpopulation is not a concern, and the main reason they believe underpopulation is a problem is due seeing some short form media of Elon Musk etc. saying that he thinks its a problem. Don't get me wrong I think Malthus's Iron law of wages is coming for all of us in the long run, due to diminishing returns to labor and the fact that an additional child imposes costs on your other children, and many of the positive externalities are not as big and as long lasting as they may seem, and future creatures can replicate at a much higher rate etc. Although high tech subsistence isn't so bad.

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“They were smug Western elites overly impressed with their own intelligence and moral crusading spirit, just like us. Show me another idea like that and I bet I’d be against that one too.”

The one that occurred to me is transgender advocacy pushing sexual confusion on children.

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Interesting discussion. Dialogs are a lot of fun.

Yes, I remember reviewing Jean Raspail's The Camp of the Saints (a fairly racist anti-immigration novel from 1973) and was struck how it's basically saying the same stuff as Paul Erlich, just in a hotter and more viscerally disgusted way. He even used the same target as Erlich: India.


Whether or not horseshoe theory is real, it's definitely possible to smuggle some pretty nasty stuff into mainstream discourse if you brand it correctly.

“When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides." That quote isn't from some far-right terrorist's manifesto. It's from famous environmentalist Pentti Linkola.

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I was thoroughly confused by the last paragraph, when Coria inexplicably starts talking about rights and democratic process in the middle of making a point about outside-viewing in morality. Which sort of made me realize that this post, especially Coria's footnote, seems to be talking about two things - namely, society-building and meta-ethics - at once.

This is a mistake. Those are different concepts and ought to be considered on their own. (It's possible to argue that they're closely linked, but it's still not something to be assumed implicitly, like here.) The references this post makes to utilitarianism and deontology make no sense, because it's not actually about Ehrlich's personal conduct. It's about the way people perceive, or should perceive, cases like him - which is not at all the same thing. Hence, the last paragraph making no mention of the object level (which one of them is actually right) in favor of remarking on their character.

The problem is that simultaneously discussing ethics ("what is right") and society-building ("how to coordinate") leads to intuitions about one being erroneously carried over to the other. From the Ehrlich vs Adraste example: if you don't consciously keep track of which side of the ethics/coordination divide they're talking about, it sure sounds like Coria's saying that "whoever lobbies the government more successfully" is a mechanism for determining the one in the right, which is obviously bonkers.

In general, this is greatly reminiscent of the Niceness, Community and Civilization post, which I remember being similarly confusing.

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"You seek hard-and-fast rules, but these will always elude you. You can’t escape adding up the costs and benefits and having a specific object-level opinion."

Is there a name for this argument? It would be so ueeful.

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So many insightful words, but no mention of Eugenics and Other Evils by Chesterton? He got it right, even writing before eugenics became associated with Nazism.

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re: Coria's dysegenics point, if IQ is going down 1-3 points per century, what's keeping it from going down faster in certain places? Fast enough that we do in fact notice it?

Global temperatures can rise 1°C, but local amplification at the poles means we see a rise of 5°C there. Do areas of high dysgenic amplification exist?

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I think that the comparison of environmentalism to eugenics misses a pretty major way in how they treat the individual. Eugenics necessitates playing games with how people have children and necessitates picking and choosing between good genes and bad genes--which easily elides to good people and bad people.

Environmentalism can run into those issues, but they aren't at the core of environmentalism, which actually says very little about humans and indeed is usually very much about the flourishing of all humans--not picking winners and losers.

Eugenics comes off badly in the exchange precisely because it is at its very roots premised on dangerous ways of understanding the human subject.

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Any official, state led eugenics policy necessarily involves force. Any private eugenics policy is indistinguishable from normal mate selection.

I don't think most people object to a woman choosing as handsome, wealthy, and intelligent a man as she can get. And most people don't object to a man doing the same. And I guess this is eugenics by some definition. Likewise sperm banks sorting sperm based on education, looks, etc. But it's private, without the use of state force.

The issue is the use of state force. Which always turns tyrannical because we are talking about the state intervening in necessarily private affairs. Without an apparatus to monitor who is having sex and pregnant the entire policy becomes unenforceable. And any such laws need to be enforced against situations where there is no clear victim. For example, by fining people for having kids or giving people money for having kids. And at some point it's realized things like forced abortions make better financial sense.

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Eugenics violates the widely held sacred value of "all people are of equal moral worth" (maybe thier actions have consequences, but being dark skinned or low IQ or whatever doesn't make you unworthy)

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General thought on Eugenics, not really specific to this post, but even if think it's a good idea in the abstract (I don't) it seems like an odd moment in history to be thinking about bringing it back given:

1. We're on the verge of AGI. At minimum, that's going to make what was previously called "human capital" no longer a scarce resource, and it may make the debate irrelevant for many other reasons.

2. We're on the verge of cheaply available genetic engineering.

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Boring old ground, but footnote 4—and by extension, the whole piece—rest on some pretty bad arguments about whether eugenics would be great if we could bracket the whole genocide bit.

Artificial selection can definitely alter domesticated animal populations, overwhelmingly for their worse: modern farmed animals collapse into a litany of congenital conditions if kept alive past the late adolescence when they’re usually slaughtered, and purebred dogs don’t have it much better. Humans went through so many intense and recent bottlenecks that already we’re much more inbred than most of the other species we domesticated, so it’s very likely that massively expanding the prevalence of any small subset of our gene pool—there are under 200 living Nobel laureates!—would have serious drawbacks even if it worked as intended. “Superior” genes might not be as important as plain old hybrid vigor.

Similarly, intelligence—like religion and profession—is definitely heritable, but for very well-worn reasons it doesn’t follow that it’s “genetic” and certainly not that it can be modulated by eugenics. There are many plausible non-genetic explanations for why rich people have rich children, most obviously that rich people spend and bequeath more money per child, allowing them to outcompete poor children for a limited number of privileged positions in hierarchical societies. Non-genetic factors like these are clearly dependent on rich kids being small in number compared to poor kids—come on, Scott, we all know you can engage more seriously than this with ideas you reject.

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Fantastic article. Minor correction to Adraste: I believe it was Carrie Buck's daughter Vivian who made the honor roll, not Carrie. https://tinyurl.com/43cf42hb

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Coria seems obviously correct. Not sure what the problem is. Only thing I'd add is that moral repugnance can be a useful heuristic that leads to better decision-making - the fact that "don't sterilise children" feels inherently evil suggests that it is more likely to lead to bad outcomes, even if you can't explain why on a strictly rational level.

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Too bad Beroe's condemnation of environmentalism is presented only as a foil to excuse the evils of eugenics. I wanted him to go the whole way.

You want more whales? Farm the whales.

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I'more than familiar with traits that assort independently. That is the basis of Mendel's pea experiments. Mendel had no success when he tried to work with hawkweed and the history of genetics is littered with similar failures. My comments were directed towards the selection of complex traits whose very definitions are subjective. What is the definition of beauty, longevity or intelligence? Growing crops or farm animals with certain characteristics is rather simple by comparison.

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I'm surprised that, in the course of this whole discussion, polygenic testing was never brought up. Polygenic testing potentially addresses most of the deepest eugenics-related fears. We don't have to hold that any person is better than any other person, much less wade into the morass of whether one group is better than another group. We don't have to coerce anyone. Funding is sufficient. We create ten fetuses and implant the fetus with the best genetic profile. Over time, this should be able to actually achieve most things that other eugenics plans hoped for, without the attendant guilt.

We might still debate what traits should be prioritized. Do we favor traits linked to IQ over traits linked to improved metabolism? Is increased IQ okay if it also increases depression?

But if we want to trade public funds for improved genetics, polygenic testing seems to be the golden path, and the answer to all past eugenic horrors. We are free, of course, to create completely new horrors.

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Beroe comments that Adraste's argument "seems to grant you, as arbiter of which things are too close for comfort to other things, an extraordinary amount of power," but I don't think that's a fair assessment of what Adraste is doing. There's a difference between advocating a ban and demanding to be installed as "arbiter of what things should be banned." Saying "I believe X should be banned" to one's fellows in the hope of convincing a critical mass of them to support democratic implementation of a ban on X is not the same thing as trying to become a dictator with arbitrary power to ban X unilaterally.

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You're joking; right? Look up the history of Sir Cyril Burt for a start.

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Redundant "at all" in: "care at all about coercive sterilizations at all"

ending -> ended in: "that have historically ending in evil"

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1. Slippery slopes are real. You need limiting priniciples. More than that, you need limiting principles that are robust against being misunderstood by stupid people.

(Ironic as it is to cite Hitler in this context, I think he once said something about how you need to coexist with the stupidest possible version of your ideology. Seems correct.)

2. I continue to believe that mandatory vaccination crosses a moral event horizon. Generally you need due process for something like that, and what currently passes for due process in this country simply isn't good enough for coercive medical procedures.

3. I notice a trend in all of these historical atrocities that we're trying to learn from: The people making the decisions never internalize the costs of their own policies. That's a huge red flag. If Hitler wanted to convince the world that the holocaust was a necessary evil, he should have walked into the gas chamber himself. Obviously he didn't do that, and everyone should have told him he was full of shit, but instead they nodded sagely while he used meaningless mouth noises to rationalize his crimes.

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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023

> Coria: ... They were all tragically wrong, of course, but if they’d been right it would have been the right thing to do. Ehrlich was stupid but not evil.

>Beroe: You could justify anything with that!

I am going to push even harder against Coria here than Beroe did. If you are considering taking some drastic action with demonstrably severe negative consequences, then you'd better make *damn sure* your net result will be positive. You don't get to just say, "I'm fighting to protect all of humanity, so my heart is in the right place and the price of failure is infinite, so let history judge me, yolo". I would say that such reasoning is not only "bad" but also morally wrong, because it can indeed be used to justify literally anything.

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"You make a compelling point..." Haha, I suggest this is one of those sentences that is never uttered in the wild, only in the thought experiments of conscientious writers. Is there a name for such sentences?

On topic: If someone were actually interested in making eugenics work for us, I think the best way would be to continue current trends of allowing family regroupings, and perhaps doing more in law to diminish the role of genetics in family rights. These days, many people raise children who are not related to them genetically. If that trend continues, then there will at some point be pressure among such parents to choose parents for their children who are genetically gifted. That is, if parents in general are comfortable with raising children who do not share their genetics, they may well start to choose to take sperm and eggs from other people, and to choose more successful people as donors. They would just need to be sure that those children won't be "taken away" from them by the genetic donors, on either an emotional or financial level.

Then let individual decisions take their course! Government programs, with their propensity for evil, need never be involved.

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Can someone please start the movement that the softer, milder eugenics we need is actually banning sperm banks (not promoting them)?

Sperm banks surely select for handsome, charismatic, intelligent males. But surely they also select for sociopathic males. What should we call someone who wants to have dozens and dozens of genetic offspring, but doesn't want to have any responsibility to provide for them in any way whatsoever?

Why do we want to subject the future to increasing legions of handsome, charismatic sociopaths? How is this a good thing?

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Nitpick, but the Islamic Golden Age gave us quite a lot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Golden_Age

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Do people actually oppose Beroe's better ideas (assuming they're not marketed under the name "eugenics")?

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"And the perpetrators weren’t al-Qaeda terrorists or blood-crazed generalissimos who we can safely distance ourselves from. They were smug Western elites overly impressed with their own intelligence and moral crusading spirit, just like us."

Yup, folks like Bill Gates, who simultaneously believe that the world is overpopulated and that everyone needs to take experimental jabs.

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Regarding section II., This is a kind of horrible thought but I wonder how many people really feel that forced sterilisation is wrong? I have an unpleasant feeling that there a lot of examples through history and today of people seeming waaay too excited about the idea of forced sterilisation of people who aren't them.

If in fact a lot of people on some level Like forced sterilisation (or at least don't consider it morally repugnant), that would explain the apparent difference in the environmental movement and the Nazi movement - in that case, it wasn't that the forced sterilisation that turned public opinion against the Nazis. It wasn't until the mass murder that (enough) people decided the Nazis were bad. Rather, forced sterilisation has a bad impression Because of the association with the mass murder of the Nazis?

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To quote briefly from my comment on Mastrioanni's review of Galton's book, "If for Galton the moral importance was with a society, a nation, a people, an ethnos, then the morality we have built upon the individual is not an advanced science but an incomprehensible barbarism, a cacophony, and a calamity."

It begs the question to assume that eugenics is bad because it violates individual rights. Easy to flip it and say that individual liberty is bad because it violates public health. And don't tell me that restrictions of liberty never work out -- how well is the current non-eugenic system working for you?

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Coria points out that the democratic process is a social technology for determining when you get to break deontology for the greater good. But the democratic process is just an incomplete formalization of a much older and more powerful social technology: public opinion.

Pre ~1890 public opinion put next to no weight on environmentalist values. Early environmentalists fought a long uphill battle to change the deontological weights to include a term for environmentalism. They took their greater good and constructed narratives about it that would shift public opinion.

Pre ~1940 eugenics was quite popular, because Galton et al had worked hard to make it that way. Then a greater bad happened that was closely associated with it, and the narrative took notice. Now public opinion has incorporated the updated narrative and is heavily against eugenics.

Today if you want to do eugenics you have to make a "greater good" case that overrides the accumulated bad public opinion. I don't object to anyone making such a case. But I also don't object to shaming anyone who makes it with Buck and all the rest. Scott (okay, sure, "Beroe") seems to be suggesting that when you appeal to the greater good you get to throw out the existing deontological weights. No! The social technology is operating as designed! The weights are there for a reason! If you can't win the uphill battle then you haven't earned the right to change them!

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> I (Scott) definitely do not admit to agreeing with Coria’s final paragraph, but I admit the problem bothers me: it seems hard to find a middle ground between Coria’s stance and pure minarchist libertarianism.

Simple, positive eugenics is legal, any and all negative eugenics is a somewhere near a war crime.

The hard part would be abortion because its abortion, and you don't need motives on the table for that to be complex.

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Along around 1974, I had a friend who was, like me, firmly anti-Nixon and a proponent of the Watergate investigations. (Hold on, this will be relevant in a moment.)

One day I saw him reading The Population Bomb, a book I had no use for. You like that? I asked. Yes, he said. You think that Ehrlich has the right ideas? Yes, he said. Well, then, I replied, that makes you an Ehrlich-man.

He never spoke to me again.

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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023

Whenever the subject of eugenics comes up, the example used is selecting for intelligence. I think this shows a lack of common sense. If we want society to function better, shouldn't we also selecting for mental health and a kind, calm temperament?

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I hope Coria's position pushes you more in the libertarian direction. At the least, it should raise a question about where the line between a legitimate and an illegitimate government action lies.

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Not that it changes the main conclusion, but I'd say the reason Galton got his name removed from places and the Ehrlich got prizes from prestigious western institutions is that the former's ideas caused the sterilization of a bunch of western people, while the latter affected "just" (a couple extra orders of magnitude of) Indians. Which goes to show how much of it is hypocritical virtue-signaling. I would be surprised if you ask around India about Ehrlich and you get the same response.

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My cousin was forcibly sterilized in the early 70's. It was her parents choice.

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I think a secret reason people dislike eugenics is because they are very skeptical of the government having the power to customize its citizens. The government does not in fact always act with its citizens interests at heart, and maybe you will get some party diverting tons of money towards making sure people with genetic dispositions in favor of that party get subsidized for children. Maybe Product Incorporated does something similar via lobbying to make more children genetically predisposed to buy Product, or to modify people to better enjoy producing Product (under the argument that we are short on Product and it is necessary for national defense).

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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023

With regards to the desirability of otherwise-non-evil eugenics, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I find myself once again asking what's up with this unstated assumption that being smarter is generically better. Sure, it might be better for society in the long run if there are fewer people of lower or average intelligence, but it might also be better for society if there were fewer people with various eccentric preferences, or tendencies to criticise the government, etc., and it seems obvious that trying to reduce or wipe out those traits to make the population less diverse and more homogenous would be bad and evil in itself. I fear reducing the number of people with lower IQs would be like this.

Unless you fall under a certain threshold of *debilitating* mental deficiency I don't think a life with compartively lesser IQ is less desirable, less happy, or less dignified than that of a genius. I'm not exactly *low*-IQ but neither am I in the topmost percentile, and I don't *want* to become "smarter", especially; nor do I especially want my children to be smarter than I am. And certainly I would be strongly, strongly opposed to aiming for a future without anybody who's in my bracket existing anymore.

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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023

> give all power to a nice-seeming communist

Why did Beroe let that pass? The first communists to gain all power were the bolsheviks, and they did not seem nice at all. Any communist after that has to work really hard to prove they don't intend to repeat the atrocities of Soviet Russia and others. I don't think anyone who actually had power ever did, so nice-seeming communists with all the power never existed. (At least nice by the standards of people who believe that forcible sterilization of mentally ill people is obviously bad.)

Edit: not that giving *anyone* all the power seems like a good idea, so I guess it's not that important.

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I read the Mastroianni article. I think he wrote it assuming that eugenics is immoral without fully specifying what it is or proving that all instantiations of it are immoral.

It is easy to point at Nazism and declare it to be immoral.

But, in 21st century America is is quite common for prospective parents to obtain a genetic profile of their fetus in the early stages of pregnancy, and to abort it if the profile shows some severe genetic defect such as Down syndrome. Isn't their action a form of eugenics?

People who believe that all abortions are immoral of course oppose those actions, but people with less rigid views on that subject often approve. But, in either case, the argument does not recur to the label eugenics for a judgment as to morality.

In the near future it may be possible to modify a child's genome at the point of conception. would doing so be eugenics? Would that make it immoral. What if you remove a well known cancer causing mutation such as BRCA2 from a genome? Is that immoral? How about ensuring that the child has blond hair and blue eyes?

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The biggest problem with eugenics is the idea that the most important thing standing between us and utopia is "bad genes" (whatever those are).

The fact that, compared to Bronze Age Greece, we live like gods, despite our genetic makeups being indistinguishable, puts the lie to that.

The whole reason humans are so great is that we don't have to wait around for biology to improve our lot. Memes > genes

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Talking about overpopulation in my usual filter bubble (woke left), as opposed to environmentalism in general, does get you the 'any concern about overpopulation is automatically bad because it leads to trying to reduce the population in a way that disproportionately targets disadvantaged people, who generally aren't the major contributors to world consumption footprint anyway' knee jerk reaction - not quite as strongly as eugenics but close.

Meanwhile eugenics is unfortunately still alive and well, just not calling itself that - instead it masquerades as triage, eg the UK health policy during covid of de prioritising a wide range of disabled people for care even when their disability didn't directly affect likely covid outcomes.

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I keep thinking of a dystopia in which the proles look to genetically control the elites. They want the perfect world of inbred metasexuals shattered to loosen Nature to resume its mastering role. Issuing warrants for Polanskis and Epsteins to report for surgery could make for interesting cinema -- maybe something along the lines of Repo Man.

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This was a fantastic post that made me delightfully dizzy at some places.

However, because I have to: any eugenic, or even more generalized, any personality-trait-focused approach on fighting poverty is turning economics into a purely mistake-theoretical issue, which it just isn't (https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/01/24/conflict-vs-mistake/).

At the risk of delivering a highly undercomplex example: consistently improving the quality of soccer-players by improving the training of youth-players will not lead to every team in a league winning every game. Someone has to lose by the very definition of the competition, even though every team of today may win against every team of 20 years ago.

We may all be Einstein for all I care, someone is still going to scrub the toilet.

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I think it is better to think of “eugenics” as the name of a social movement popular among early 20th century intellectuals, much like “communism”. It promoted a few good ideas and also justified astounding evil.

If you want to give workers board seats like in Germany, and have a 40 hour workweek, those are ideas that communist labor organizers had a large part in shaping, but you don’t need to be “communist” to support them.

When members of revolutionary communist organizations claim that these are “communist” ideas, people reasonably suppose it’s just propaganda and the real goal is a dictatorship of the proletariat. A similar response is also reasonable with “eugenics”. If this disastrous movement happened to promote some reasonable ideas, just steal them.

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I think there is an argument to be made that the Indian sterilization, while being phrased as environmental, was indeed also racist. What is underpinning it is that the only way to bring down the birthrate in countries like India is sterilization, since people would be unable to understand/enact different ways of birth control, as we have in the West. So while the goal might be environmental ("save the planet"), the choice of means is racist.

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No mention of the idea that having been deliberately crafted (down to the tendencies of one's genes) by a person or society is kind of scary?

Right now, there is an obvious division between childbirth and construction. Any sort of deliberate human input on the next generation's makeup blurs that, and risks a general tendency towards thinking of people as comparable to things.

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"the child of a Nobel Prize winner is about 100,000x more likely to win a prize themselves than the average person"

I'm pretty sure that this has much more to do with their children having direct access to the mystical only-in-person transferable actual Scientific Method, than anything genetic beyond above-average IQ. Of course, considering that sanity waterline is low enough that there's a concerted effort to discredit IQ in general, this might be an improvement on the margin, but the lucky recipient of sperm of a Nobel Prize winner definitely shouldn't expect her child to have anywhere near those odds, unless she manages to arrange some Nobel Prize winner tutoring in addition.

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Agree, that some version of a CRISPR-like technology is the ticket to the future of single gene editing. Still, large scale manipulation of the human genome to select complex traits is still way over the horizon. Most of the human genome is composed of non-coding regions, whose function(s) are not understood. Does changing a gene exon alter other aspects of transcription ? No one knows.

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This post needs a section with "comments about Sparta." I can't believe that nobody thought of this before me, but let me start anyway: multiple Greek authors report that, after generations of one of the strongest genetic selection programs ever conducted, supposedly coupling only the best and brightest, Sparta produced not only the smart, muscular warriors of 300, but also what many believed were Greece's most beautiful women. In addition, to nobody's surprise these women were the country’s sharpest, such as the wife of King Leonidas, who would die in the Battle of Thermopylae in the 5th century BC: when asked why they were able to rule men, where elsewhere in Greece women could not, she replied that this was “because we are the only ones who give birth to men.” Given that it had a pretty solid run of centuries as a major power, the small, poor town of Sparta should be cited as golden example of eugenics.

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"Something like the old Nobel Sperm Bank"

And how well did that work out? The history of it, going by Wikipedia, was "not at all well" and they didn't even end up with Nobel Laureates donating. 'Get the smartest men to father the most kids' is always going to be hard, because people don't want kids the more educated they are (see various studies) or in the case of sperm, you can't really control for the mothers accessing sperm or the environments the kids will be raised in.

AI works great for cattle, not so much for humans.

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"We have a known system for dealing with times when you need to break deontological prohibitions for the greater good"

Yes. It's called "sin".

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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023

So did Galton support things like sterilisation? Hard to say; this is a quote from 1909 book of essays on Eugenics, talking about the lowest class in society (what we now would call the underclass):

"Many who are familiar with the habits of these people do not hesitate to say that it would be an economy and a great benefit to the country if all habitual criminals were resolutely segregated under merciful surveillance and peremptorily denied opportunities for producing offspring. It would abolish a source of suffering and misery to a future generation, and would cause no unwarrantable hardship in this."

Does "peremptorily" mean "forcibly" and such things as sterilisation? You could interpret it either way. And even back in 1909, the more educated - especially women - were marrying later and having fewer children:

"Augmentation of Favoured Stock.—

The possibility of improving the race of a nation depends on the power of increasing the productivity of the best stock. This is far more important than that of repressing the productivity of the worst. They both raise the average, the latter by reducing the undesirables, the former by increasing those who will become the lights of the nation. It is therefore all important to prove that favour to selected individuals might so increase their productivity as to warrant the expenditure in money and care that would be necessitated. An enthusiasm to improve the race would probably express itself by granting diplomas to a select class of young men and women, encouraging their intermarriages, by hastening the time of marriage of women of that high class, and by provision for rearing children healthily. The means that might be employed to compass these ends are dowries, especially for those to whom moderate sums are important, assured help in emergencies during the early years of married life, healthy homes, the pressure of public opinion, honours, and above all the introduction of motives of religious or quasi-religious character. Indeed, an enthusiasm to improve the race is so noble in its aim that it might well give rise to the sense of a religious obligation. In other lands there are abundant instances in which religious motives make early marriages a matter of custom, and continued celibacy to be regarded as a disgrace, if not a crime. The customs of the Hindoos, also of the Jews, especially in ancient times, bear this out. In all costly civilisations there is a tendency to shrink from marriage on prudential grounds. It would, however, be possible so to alter the conditions of life that the most prudent course for an X class person should lie exactly opposite to its present direction, for he or she might find that there were advantages and not disadvantages in early marriage, and that the most prudent course was to follow the natural instincts.

We have now to consider the probable gain in the number and worth of adult offspring to these favoured couples. First as regards the effect of reducing the age at marriage. There is unquestionably a tendency among cultured women to delay or even to abstain from marriage; they dislike the sacrifice of freedom and leisure, of opportunities for study and of cultured companionship. This has to be reckoned with. I heard of the reply of a lady official of a College for Women to a visitor who inquired as to the after life of the students. She answered that one-third profited by it, another third gained little good, and a third were failures. “ But what become of the failures ? " “ Oh, they marry."

There appears to be a considerable difference between the earliest age at which it is physiologically desirable that a woman should marry and that at which the ablest, or at least the most cultured, women usually do. Acceleration in the time of marriage, often amounting to 7 years, as from 28 or 29 to 21 or 22, under influences such as those mentioned above, is by no means improbable. What would be its effect on productivity ? It might be expected to act in two ways :—

(1) By shortening each generation by an amount roughly proportionate to the diminution in age at which marriage occurs. Suppose the span of each generation to be shortened by one-sixth, so that six take the place of five, and that the productivity of each marriage is unaltered, it follows that one sixth more children will be brought into the world during the same time, which is, roughly equivalent to increasing the productivity of an unshortened generation by that amount.

(2) By saving from certain barrenness the earlier part of the child-bearing period of the woman. Authorities differ so much as to the direct gain of fertility due to early marriage that it is dangerous to express an opinion. The large and thriving families that I have known were the offspring of mothers who married very young."

And yes, the rent is too damn high 😁

"There is yet another existing form of princely benevolence which might be so extended as to exercise a large effect on race improvement. I mean the provision to exceptionally promising young couples of healthy and convenient houses at low rentals. A continually renewed settlement of this kind can be easily imagined, free from the taint of patronage, and analogous to colleges with their self-elected fellowships and rooms for residence, that should become an exceedingly desirable residence for a specified time. It would be so in the same way that a good club by its own social advantages attracts desirable candidates. The tone of the place would be higher than elsewhere, on account of the high quality of the inmates, and it would be distinguished by an air of energy, intelligence, health and self-respect and by mutual helpfulness."

Honestly, it's so funny to read the same complaints about fertility, declining intelligence, etc. over the generations back then as are current now. People are marrying too late, not having kids, the unsuitables are the ones having most kids, women not wanting babies but careers, etc. etc. etc.

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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023

"I admit the problem bothers me: it seems hard to find a middle ground between Coria’s stance and pure minarchist libertarianism."

I'm pessimistic about the capacity of any stance in the space between those to sway hearts and minds. Everything in that vicinity is memetic weaksauce compared to what a rhetorically skilled impersonal arbiter of morality pretender can deploy, which is why any sort of liberalism is inherently unstable. Either your society has a totalizing vision of morality, or it will eventually be replaced by one that does.

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Dear Beroe, Advaste and Coria please relax, all three of you. Let me tell you that your otherwise interesting discussion is quite unnecessary.

The thing is, you see, that humans are increasingly doing de facto eugenics today, without even noticing it. It’s quite civilized; we get the benefits of eugenics without having to be conscious that that’s what we do. De facto eugenics is taking place thanks to three interrelated global trends that are so strong that no ruler, enlightened or otherwise, is likely to make more than a slight dent in them: The global demographic transition, the great gender transformation, and global, massive urbanisation.

The shape of global things to come can be gleaned from countries where these three trends are already in their final stages. Fatherhood becomes increasingly concentrated among high-status males, through serial monogamy (a functional equivalent to polygamy). High-status women also have higher fertility than low-status women, although this trend is weaker than among males.

Assume that «status» is a rough proxy for «intelligence» in the mainly meritocratic societies that dominate in the final stages of these interrelated social transformations, and hey presto - fertility patterns start to resemble what eugenicists would like to see.

…side note: The above pattern only emerges in the final stages of these social transformations. For countries still in the middle of the transformations, the hierarchical diffusion pattern that characterizes the demographic transition means that «the rich get richer, while the poor get children»; and low-status women sire more children than high-status women. But when a country reaches the end of the demographic transition, with urban lifestyles and changed gender roles added, it is back in a situation where fertility works with status, not against status.

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Terencius, a gambling addict with significant debts to the mob, is being pursued by a hitman as a result. In my opinion, acquiring an air fryer might provide a solution to his problems. By owning an air fryer, Terencius could consume less oil, improve his overall health, and potentially enhance his ability to defend himself against the hitman or generate enough funds to repay his debts. Additionally, it is worth noting that there is a minimal statistical association between individuals targeted by hitmen and those who own air fryers.

However, it is important to consider whether suggesting the purchase of an air fryer is genuinely the most effective use of Terencius' limited resources or if it simply stems from a desire to sell him the product I wanted to sell him anyway.

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Independently of the question of who does the selection and how voluntary it is, I'm skeptical that targeting the genes that increase the IQ will turn out to be as worthy goal as Scott makes it sound.

Consider what would happen if a wizard appeared before the people in 1700 and asked them about what hereditary changes *they* would prefer (the wizard can magically change the genome of humans in a way that corresponds to their desires, even without them understanding the genetics). Given the values of that time (people still majorly worked in agriculture) I expect a good package would be something like

- for men, we'd like to see higher upper body strength (those plows are heavy!)

- for women, we'd like them to be able to rear more children easier (let's say that there is a magical change that makes women survive the childbirth easier, but only after the 5th child)

Suppose the wizard made the requested changes. And yet 10 generations later those changes would be essentially useless to us. We don't have enough work that requires strength corresponding to the genes we have; a median person literally is expected to pay money and go to a special place to exercise the muscles. Our child bearing practices are such that anything about five+ children is irrelevant on the population scale. If increasing the proportion of these genes in 1700 came at the expense of other things – we'd say that it would have been a bad deal.

There's something similar happening to the mental capabilities. Sure, in the beginning of the 20th century it was great just to have larger memory to be able to learn 10 foreign languages (you could read scientific articles from other countries!), multiply long numbers (you could get a job as an actuary!) or remember endless references lists (you need to be able to cite stuff as a lawyer!) but all of those feats are clearly less relevant now that you can use machine translation, bookkeeping program or legal search.

I guess for now whatever is measured by IQ correlates to the things like "well-paid job" or "good lifestyle", but will it do so in the future? Will people in 2100 say stuff like "now that no-one writes code, we wish we had more poets and people who had empathy, too bad those rubes in 2030 optimized for the wrong genes?". That's my main worry about gene selection in practice.

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I think you've missed that the argument for censoring/tabooing eugenics (and most of these arguments) aren't mistake theorists, utilitarians, rationalists or classical liberals (although the last point's probably not that important). Their actual argument would steelman to:

* Thinking that some people are better than other people is intrinsically morally wrong.

* Eugenics derives from the above, and also derives from being bourgeois/white/[rich?]/[elite?]/[upper class?], and viewing people who are poorer/had less opportunities than you as intrinsically worse than you, and hating them. It also derives from blaming marginalised communities for their own problems, which are caused by white supremacy/[poverty?]. Believing these things is also morally wrong.

* The sole motivation of eugenics is racism/hating the disabled and mentally ill/[classism?]. None of the problems it purports to solve are caused by anything intrinsic about the people it discusses, they're actually caused by intentional discrimination to keep marginalised communities, well, marginalised.

* Eugenics is ultimately the extreme end of a social system that is designed to oppress marginalised people, by providing the ideological foundation to wipe them out entirely. The direct analogue would be antisemitism; "moderate voluntary eugenics" would be the equivalent of, "a program to improve gentile representation in Hollywood."*

* Eugenics is also an attempt to shift the debate away from programs to address discrimination/[poverty?].

The underlying weltanschauung is that some people are evil and motivated by evil, and it's this evil motivation that defines them as the evil group (specifically, they're motivated by maintaining their own power/privilege at the expense of others, a bit like the Inner Party in 1984*). These people control society, and they pick which ideas to advocate as part of their plan to maintain control (or unconsciously settle on them for that reason). Stopping them from advocating for evil things, wherever possible, is thus morally good because it disrupts their ability to maintain control of society.

This is all based on a worldview in which an evil (eg. racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist etc) conspiracy/non-conspiratorial consensus controls society, or is on the cusp of retaking power. They understand their arguments for censorship as arguments for tearing down Nazi propaganda posters in 1930s Germany.

A lot of them wouldn't focus on the points in the square brackets, but probably wouldn't reject them (I think, but I'm not completely sure on both parts of that). There's also some tangles at the moral foundations level in terms of which parts are intrinsically evil and which parts are instrumentally evil that I've probably got wrong, but I think that would seem like scholasticism to people who hold these views.

*Nobody who holds these views would use these analogies, but I think they capture the sense of the worldview.

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In re Nobel Sperm Banks: I believe people aren't young when they get Nobel Prizes, and sperm is in worse shape as a man gets older.

There are work arounds, I think. One would be to encourage people who might get Nobel Prizes to freeze some sperm. How early can you identify likely candidates?

How about children of Nobel Prize winners?

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So. This is baffling to read.

First off, you just... didn't talk about the current debate about genetic screening. Trying to prevent things like autism and Down's syndrome. Like, I guess it's highly inconvenient to you if you have to acknowledge that modern day eugenics is still about preventing the birth of the undesirables, but, you really need to. The slope looks a lot more slippery when people are literally arguing that allowing certain types of children to be born is a tragedy.

But even past that, this seems to boil down to... "Why are we as a society unwilling to, based on highly debated and controversial theories about IQ, implement policies and plans to give taxpayer money to people who are already likely to be successful and wealthy? In a few generations there could be amazing gains, in a vague betterment of humanity kind of way". Dude, we're still pumping CO2 into the atmosphere with wild abandon, I have no goddamn idea what's happening in your brain.

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I'm realizing that "eugenics" is woefully underspecified, not just the positive vs. negative aspect, and the coercive vs. non-coercive aspect, but that scope matters.

There are people with serious genetic medical problems who chose not to have children because they don't want to pass the problems on. So, negative eugenics, fully voluntary, small scope. Is this a problem?

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Here's a question: what does "overpopulation" mean?

Is it meant in the sense of "the average GPD per capita of person from country X means that they can't afford to eat"? Because then China could go from overpopulated to underpopulated in less than a generation, and could have done so even without the one child policy. And Africa is likely to become underpopulated just at its population peaks.

Does it mean "too many people for the amount of arable land to provide a surplus in years with SD-1 crop yields"? Because then Japan and most of Europe are overpopulated. Does it refer to some sort of metric related to average population density? Because then Africa is underpopulated and likely to remain so for the next 100 years.

The term is just so maddeningly nebulous, and all too often seems to simply be shorthand for "those benighted poor people over there" rather than anything specific. And that immediately sets up the dark cultural undertones of "those people over there ruining it for the rest of us" which, I feel, surrounded a lot of the high-flown environmentalist rhetoric in the 70s and 80s.

Also: is it not easier to simply have a heuristic of "forcibly sterilizing people is bad and wrong" that can allow one to damn both eugenics and environmentalism to the extent that they endorsed and enabled forcible sterilization? Doesn't that cut through the crap by way of the association games linking these two disparate concepts somewhat?

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I haven't read all the comments carefully, but it seems like all the arguments against eugenics involves the fear of coercive power. Would anyone object to a private organization whose twin values are

1. This should not be done by government. We hereby publicly and irrevocably commit to strictly and scrupulously avoid engaging with government in any way. To that end, here are some rules we promise to follow, and some binding enforcement mechanisms to hold us accountable if we fail.

2. Voluntary eugenics is good. Let's educate people on why and how to have kids that are smarter and healthier than they would be by default.

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Side note, but Galton came up with one of the most inventive uses of trigonometry during his time in Africa:

"Mr. Hahn's household was large. There was an interpreter, and a sub-interpreter, and again others; but all most excellently well-behaved, and showing to great advantage the influence of their master. These servants were chiefly Hottentots, who had migrated with Mr. Hahn from Hottentot-land, and, like him, had picked up the language of the Damaras.

The sub-interpreter was married to a charming person, not only a Hottentot in figure, but in that respect a Venus among Hottentots. I was perfectly aghast at her development, and made inquiries upon that delicate point as far as I dared among my missionary friends. The result is, that I believe Mrs. Petrus to be the lady who ranks second among all the Hottentots for the beautiful outline that her back affords, Jonker's wife ranking as the first ; the latter, however, was slightly tassee, while Mrs. Petrus was in full embonpoint.

I profess to be a scientific man, and was exceedingly anxious to obtain accurate measurements of her shape; but there was a difficulty in doing this. I did not know a word of Hottentot, and could never therefore have explained to the lady what the object of my foot-rule could be ; and I really dared not ask my worthy missionary host to interpret for me. I therefore felt in a dilemma as I gazed at her form, that gift of bounteous nature to this favoured race, which no mantua-maker, with all her crinoline and stuffing, can do otherwise than humbly imitate.

The object of my admiration stood under a tree, and was turning herself about to all points of the compass, as ladies who wish to be admired usually do. Of a sudden my eye fell upon my sextant ; the bright thought struck me, and I took a series of observations upon her figure in every direction, up and down, crossways, diagonally, and so forth, and I registered them carefully upon an outline drawing for fear of any mistake ; this being done, I boldly pulled out my measuring-tape, and measured the distance from where I was to the place she stood, and having thus obtained both base and angles, I worked out the results by trigonometry and logarithms."

-Tropical South Africa, 1853

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Am I truly the only cat who remembers the Ehrlich-Simon Wager?

Anyway, Palo Alto has a higher population density than does Bangladesh, and doubtless consumes a lot more precious resources while offering far less of the things humans and cats actually need to survive. I suggest we start the involuntary vasectomies there.

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“Likewise, eugenics isn’t bad”

No, it is bad. The difference is that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a non sequitur of Islam. The same can not be said for the atrocities of committed in the name of eugenics.

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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023

What rubs me the wrong way about this issue (and that of super-intelligent AI to a certain extent as well), is that the whole discussion loses sight of the individual. Every individual human life is, in a way, a universe, whether that life be privileged or poor, full of prestige or full of humility, full of happiness or full of suffering. These are ideas which run roughshod over the value of the individual human life in order to fulfill some (pipe)dream about a perfected future society where, in the case of eugenics, everyone will be more beautiful and more intelligent and which, in turn, would apparently lead (according to many of the opinions I read here) to moral enlightenment and happiness...

I think my lingering unease about this revolves around the question of how, in the process of trying to achieve this perfected future human being - though it be through positive means such as the Nobel sperm bank idea etc. - can we not end up subconsciously deprecating all those who currently do not fit the ideal for the future utopia? The less intelligent, the less physically perfect, the diseased, the poor... If we are striving for the eventual elimination of their kind from society, how can we possibly not be disparaging of their present existence?

AI is kinda the same. What good does super-intelligent AI do, even if benevolent, even if it creates a "perfect" society where there is presumably no or little suffering, if that has been achieved at the cost of reducing individuals to just some product which needs to be optimized...

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This had kind of a strange turn, or lack thereof. The commonplace criticism of Ehrlich is that he was basically a eugenicist sublimating that socially unpopular belief structure into more socially acceptable environmentalism: https://capitalresearch.org/article/paul-ehrlichs-population-dud/

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There is not a single human being alive who I would trust to define what the future of humanity should look like. In 100 years we're gonna discover that society needs to be 30% stupid to function or something. IMO the evil is baked directly into the idea - "society would be better if people were less different from me."

As for Ehrlich, the evil's also baked directly into his idea - "society would be better if we had less people...Especially people who are different from me."

Fortunately, you've framed the discussion so Ehrlich gets to stand for *all environmentalism everywhere* and Galton gets to stand for *a particular strand of eugenics* which really helps make the position seem more reasonable than it is.

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> I admit the problem bothers me: it seems hard to find a middle ground between Coria’s stance and pure minarchist libertarianism.

Clearly the conclusion is that minarchist libertarianism is correct ;)

In all seriousness, the leap to "governments are judged differently from people" seems to lack any argument to me. As far as I can tell this is just carving out a special case for... whatever it is constitutes government. Which is still made up of people. But under some particular set of circumstances those people get to claim totally different moral rules? What "licenses" a government to act differently? Does this license have any limits?

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There is no "positive eugenics." Any time one frames it as privileges for the "good-gened" instead of extermination of the "bad-gened," there's still an expectation that the "bad-gened" ought to be happy with the denial of those privileges.

With regards to forced sterilizations with sustainability goals, they're always imposed on the poorest people using the fewest resources. If environmental sustainability was the goal, they would be imposed on the developed world, where we eat more food and burn more gasoline per person. But it's not the environment we're out to sustain, it's the developed-world lifestyle.

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It's not like India is suffering from a lack of population. Might be a controversial idea, but there are a lot of human beings and we breed like rabbits. Any country which needs more population can crack open immigration a little bit and will have more than enough Syrians and Afghanis and people from Sahel in a heartbeat, and they'll breed where they go as well. Hell, among the 10 million or so refugees in Turkey, clean majority being males, still more than 1 million births happened in the last decade or so. This them living in a substandard conditions. So any kind of sterilization campaign is at worst neutral to humanity since there are more than enough people to breed. It's not like we're in a population bottleneck.

About positive eugenics, I think the rich are making DNA screening before selecting which baby to IV implant but there should be cheaper alternatives for the masses. Can sperm be cloned? If so why don't we have von Neumann sperms on supermarket checkout shelves?

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Isn't the real lesson here that you should never listen to Robert McNamara? Because that usually ends up with me adding another item to the list of his mistakes.

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I think the space of ideas that are evil nutcases can twist into an excuse to commit atrocities is really wide. Probably not every idea a human mind can think, but probably a significant section of the things that are important.

Basically, society couldn't function if we avoided everything that could possibly be used as an excuse to commit an atrocity. Given the way our society works, we aren't particularly likely to repeat atrocities. If we started a eugenics program now, it would be particularly unlikely to have the exact same sort of atrocities as before. Partly this is just random samples from a large space containing few repeats. Partly the vulnerability has been patched, people know to look out for that specific atrocity.

I think trying to avoid giving homicidal maniacs an excuse to kill people is extremely hard, they will always find some excuse, it's much easier to not give them the means.

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I think that the free market will make "eugenics" widespread on its own, without any arguments being won or policymakers stepping in. Polygenic testing using ML algorithms is already here and can determine the likely traits of embryos (mostly health-related for now commercially, but IQ predictors also already exist—both are limited by data only) . IVF embryo selection is becoming increasingly commonplace. No coercive force is used; parents do this on their own for obvious reasons.


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Interesting read, thanks.

I think the real reason people dislike eugenics (and therefore the crucial point missing in the piece) is that it designates some people as more worthy of reproducing than others, which is rather close to establishing a hierarchy of moral worth. This indeed might be very morally corrosive, possibly outweighing potential social benefits of eugenics.

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"knee-jerk environmentalist opposition to nuclear power prevented it from taking over from fossil fuels"

What is a good reference for this claim?

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"modern research suggests the dysgenic trend does exist, but it’s only 1-3 IQ points per century"

How to square this with the Flynn Effect?


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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023

>And consider that IQ is mostly genetic and could be improved with eugenics. Bringing all underdeveloped countries up to First World living standards would be the most valuable thing humanity has ever done.

One of the big problem with these sort of arguments is it ignores the geopolitical and historical context of poverty. This kind of view is a very naïve view of the world and ignores environmental stressors that IQ can't overcome.

The post itself references that 'Ehrlich’s supporters included President Lyndon Johnson, who told the Prime Minister of India that US foreign aid was conditional on India sterilizing lots of people', which gives you an example of the kind of exploitative attitude and policy the developed world has to the underdeveloped world. You change IQ but that wouldn't change this fundamental structure of the world.

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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023

I read through most of the comments and couldn't find anyone really mirroring my the depths of my dismay at the shallowness of Adraste's argument here. I think the article completely misses most of the actual arguments of anti-eugenicists - at least those from a leftist/sjw/moral perspective. If you listen to modern leftists discuss eugenics, of course they think forced and coerced sterilization is bad, but their argument is never that eugenics is bad *because* forced/coerced sterilization is bad. People were arguing against eugenics before any such policies were implemented. There are at least two (intertwined, but separate) points that Adraste should have made that she didn't even come within spitting distance of.

1) It is impossible to extricate any ranking of desirable traits (and therefore the people who have those desirable traits) from the systemic inequalities that exist in our society. Any system that is put in place will necessarily benefit the people who already have the most power in society and disadvantage the already disadvantaged. Someone who had to drop out of high school to support their three younger siblings may be as smart as the Nobel laureates invited to the sperm bank, but that'll never even be noticed because they have an 11th grade education and have been working 2-3 jobs at a time since they were 16. There are a lot of people working every waking minute to barely make ends meet - I'd wager the smartest .1% of those people are as smart as, if not smarter than, the average Nobel laureate, they're just harder to find. Any initiative that ignores them because the people making the initiative don't think about them, or because they are more comfortable around Nobel laureates, or just because it's easier, is entrenching and enhancing systemic inequalities (which is bad).

2) When talking about Carrie Buck and her sister, who were sterilized for political convenience, or the thousands of blind people who were sterilized but didn't even have heritable blindness, the very next point Adraste should land on is that we might not make those same mistakes today, but we'd make mistakes. All our studies regarding what is heritable or not, why it is heritable, and how it is heritable, have flaws. We've barely scratched the surface of epigenetic indicators - will sperm from a Nobel laureate really make that much difference in entirely contrasting prenatal environments? We don't know what we don't know, and who will we needlessly hurt in this process? Even in the encouraging-births model, "Nobel laureate" may be a heritable trait, but who knows if it's a genetic one. In 50 years this may seem as stupid an idea as all blindness being heritable.

I want to wrap up this comment by mentioning that there are two ways to arrive at the belief that any attempt to value one human life above another is immoral (which also should have come up in Adraste's commentary, as it's pretty fundamental to the anti-eugenicist belief system). The first is a purely moral concern that all humans are inherently the same amount of valuable. The other is the practical concern coming from the confluence of the two above points, leading to the conclusion that any attempt to rank the value of one human life over another will be inherently flawed, and therefore it is immoral to try. I don't come quite to the point of believing that there is no difference in value that can be placed on human life (the person making breakthroughs in cancer research unequivocally has more value to society than the serial killer spending their days stalking their next victim) but while "cancer-researcher" may be a heritable trait, we haven't a clue if it's genetic. With very few exceptions, I believe there's no ethical way to value-rank a person's unborn children, making any eugenics policy inherently immoral.

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I think Adam Mastroianni comes over much worse than Ehlrich or Galton. Adam is actively seeking to judge people.

Adam is demanding that Galton judges a stranger from a completely different culture, while Galton is trying to observe and understand. Judging people for being from a different if worse culture is the less liberal and less cosmopolitan option.

I think Ehlrich and Galton's views were perfectly reasonable from the position they were coming from, in both cases they cluld still make a reasonable lesser of two evils argument for their positions (If India had horrendous famines today would Ehlrich be seen as a heroic Cassandra?).

I think there is a more core moral flaw with Adam, he wants to find people with different world views or positions in time to be his moral inferiors. Uncharitablity to Galton is core to his approach to reading his book.

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May 16, 2023·edited May 16, 2023

What, exactly, is morally bad about incentivizing low-IQ people to not reproduce? If I was a multi-billionaire that is exactly what I would do. I'm not interested in slippery-slope arguments - the potential benefits are so huge that they more than offset whatever safeguards are necessary to reinforce any slippery slopes. If you model low IQ as a negative externality (which it is), then Coase's Theorem implies that creating a negotiable property right w/r/t that externality will lead to Pareto-efficient outcomes. IMO this is obviously the right approach and - at least until IQ-raising interventions arrive - represents the absolute lowest-hanging fruit in the "how can we most-quickly improve the world" game.

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"Eugenics" is a terrible word. I say that not just because it has connotations with terrible things, but because it utterly fails to accomplish the one job a word is supposed to have: to facilitate communication.

If you have to define a word every time you use it to clarify a likely misunderstanding amongst your audience, you should probably stop using that word.

I personally prefer the term "Epilogenics" to refer to genetic modification/selection that involves individual choice. If one were to construct a venn diagram, both eugenics and epilogenics would include embryo selection and choosing a reproductive partner, but eugenics would include state sponsored sterilization efforts and genocide, and epilogenics would not.

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You continue to amaze me. One thing that got me confused for a moment is "Paul Ehrlich". I'd suggest keeping his middle initial "R" so he's not confused with the dude who found the cure for syphilis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Ehrlich_(disambiguation)

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Is there a list somewhere of all the different ideas that have been associated with piles of skulls? Because it seems to me that the decision of whether to be concerned about a pile of skulls associated with some idea it's very very strongly connected to how the speaker feels about the idea. Approximately nobody who demands that anything with a whiff of eugenics be suppressed also demands that discussion and study of economic inequalities be surprised, despite the heaping mountains of skulls left behind by various communist regimes in the 20th century.

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"I (Scott) definitely do not admit to agreeing with Coria’s final paragraph, but I admit the problem bothers me: it seems hard to find a middle ground between Coria’s stance and pure minarchist libertarianism."

I propose this as a middle ground: that we agree, as a society, that some actions are forever out of bounds for government, even if they might conceivably have good outcomes (or even be vital for our mutual survival), because there is no dividing line between the bad actions that are strictly necessary for survival and bad actions taken purely for the benefit of the rulers. This is why we Americans say government shall not prohibit free exercise of religion, or restrict freedom of the press, or compel people accused of crimes to testify, or allow cruel and unusual punishment. The exact prohibitions are subject to some cultural judgment, but any tolerably free society must put crucial freedoms beyond the government's reach. Although our history might be less than encouraging, I think we should add forced sterilization to the list.

It may be a separate topic, but I think the environmental movement is once again heading in a direction of intolerable cruelty in the name of saving the world. Climate change has seemingly taken all the energy in the environmental movement, and is directing it in a decidedly anti-economic direction. In a rich country like the United States, this is merely wasteful spending on windmills and electric cars. But they want to impose the same agenda on poor countries (India again!), with the obvious consequence of locking these countries, with billions of people, into perpetual poverty. In the US, poverty means stress, poor health, and lack of prospects. In Uganda, or Cambodia, or India, or even the non-coastal areas of China, poverty means disease, exposure, starvation, and death. And all in the name of "smug Western elites overly impressed with their own intelligence and moral crusading spirit, just like us."

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May 17, 2023·edited May 17, 2023

I suppose my final word on this is that if we humans were lovely, reasonable, kind, nice, people then eugenics or whatever might work.

But we're not, and in practice such attempts will be diverted down "just enough of me, way too many of you" and instead of getting geniuses who will all be pacific and solve the world's problems by dint of charismatic influence and persuasiveness, we'll get the rat-race "bump Junior up 20 points because he needs to get into the right kindergarten to get into the right primary school to get into the right prep school to get into the right university so he has some hope of getting a job in software coding or finance which are the only jobs left", and you can dial that up to 12 if AI ever does what is promised/feared.

We won't be raising up the kids whose genetic regression to the mean would leave them in the range 95-100 IQ because they're exactly the kind of people we don't want anymore of; instead, we want to encourage the 120 IQ range people to have kids and to screen those embryos before implantation in the surrogate to ensure they do get that bump in numbers. Everyone who is permitted to be born will be 140 IQ and the tall, athletic, popular, funny, creative, will work 100 hour weeks with absolute focus and no loss of health blond(e) blue-eyes tanned and toned. It'll be a lovely world of no more bald, short guys with glasses or fat-bottomed girls, for those who get to live in it. But only the few will get to live in it. The rest of us will have been weeded out like the unwanted, scraggly, resource-hogging crab grass and poison ivy that we are. And we can only hope that the weeding will be done by Galton's hoped-for "the force of social opinion will make uneugenic marriages as unthinkable as cousin-marriage or girls throwing it all up for love and not marrying the well-off guy their mothers picked", with Certificates awarded to the fit and sneering "that is an object lesson in why you don't marry the inferior stock, Cecily" looking-down at those who do contract unsuitable marriages and produce weak sickly offspring, and nothing more authoritative or severe.

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Does anyone really think that simply increasing the number of smart babies in the poorest countries would have a positive impact? More than other interventions that have provably raised avg IQ in developing countries, such as improving nutrition and child health (think about stunting) or education (think about Flynn effects and literacy)? Best case scenarios, those genius babies would become frustrated bureacrats; or maybe cannon fodder for the next civil war, or - worst case - the new conquerors and empire-makers

(maybe it could work on small and stable countries... but then, any serious intervention tends to improve welfare in small stable countries)

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I suppose there are two ways of reacting to this: imagine that one is part of the “smug western elites”. Then it’s a moral problem to be debated in a civilized way and so on. The outside view of this -imagine being a random guy living anywhere but in the place where you pay “rents that would bankrupt a medieval principality to get front-row seats for the hinge of history” to quote another post. Then it’s terrifying.

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I prefer the utilitarian approach where the State issues hunting permits for the homeless. The State gets a new source of revenue, and there is a strong incentive for the homeless to be unobtrusive.

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Per wikipedia it was Carrie Buck's daughter, not Carrie buck herself, who was on the honor roll. And the only source they cite for that is Stephen Jay Gould, an infamous fabricator.

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I (Vojtech) definitely and absolutely agrese with Coria’s view.

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> But actually, our society can’t bring itself to care at all about coercive sterilizations at all when eugenics isn’t involved.

Actually, this is complete nonsense. Go on Google Scholar and you'll find hundreds of articles denouncing Paul Ehrlich and "the eugenicist roots of the population control movement". Or the thousands of articles about coercive sterilizations of minority populations in the 60s and 70s.

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So far as I know, Ukrainians and Russians aren't especially different genetically, but the difference in military effectiveness is striking.

Russians have shown remarkable intelligence in different fields-- literature, music, ballet, exercise physiology, space exploration.... I have a notion that they're actually brilliant at least at the top end, but much of it is wasted on negative-sum competition.

I'll probably put this in one of the more general threads, but should so much go into concern about eugenics when more attention could go to what societies and cultures give more room or not for people to use the intelligence they have?

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So far as I know, Down's Syndrome is easy to test for, but there's no good test for how debilitating it's going to be. This complicates matters. It's not like Tay-Sachs, which is simply extremely bad.

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Another way that eugenic premises can work is that not only are women of color at risk (varies a lot by when and where) for involuntary sterilization, but it can be very hard for white women to get sterilized even if they're up against serious medical problems (devastating periods, for example) or absolutely don't want to have children. (I've gotten this from many accounts.)

So far as I know, the white side of the problem is medical culture (what if you change you mind? what if your husband wants children?) rather than government policy.

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Why sterilization?

May as well jump straight to killing them at that point.

After all why not, you can reduce the population of poor people to 0 in one fell swoop - and dead people don't have kids either.

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May 17, 2023·edited May 17, 2023

The most important point missed here is that you cannot simply choose to have a eugenics neutral regime. Every policy that has to do with healthcare, welfare, incarceration, taxation, housing and much more besides has either an on differential rates of reproduction among populations. In many cases, these effects are much bigger than what you could hope to achieve with overtly eugenicist policies like sterilisation. It is obviously mad to have a convention of just not considering these effects when discussing policy.

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You repeated "at all": in the following But actually, our society can’t bring itself to care at all about coercive sterilizations at all when eugenics isn’t involved.

> If he had been right, mass sterilization would have been the only way to save the world.

Not sure I would agree with this. The world would not have ended. Famine and wars over resources would have handled overpopulation quite well without the coercion, just with more suffering. That's not great either, but a far cry from "saving the world".

> Coria: I said bad, not wrong.

Actually Coria did originally say "wrong":

> Coria: I want to claim that, in expectation, Paul Ehrlich did nothing wrong.

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May 18, 2023·edited May 18, 2023

Surprised and disappointed that neither the post nor the comments (even Deiseach!) mention Chesterton and his opposition to Fabian eugenics advocacy, pushed by Shaw, Wells and others. (Eugenics was a strictly left-wing/prog/shitlib position right up until the exact moment that one specific type of socialist made it totally forbidden, something very stringently memory holed now.)

EDIT: Well, one comment mentioned GK's book, correctly, but not the essays or who specifically his opponents were. And no replies to that comment! Baffling considering how much respect Chesterton does after all get around here, and that he slam-dunked this one.

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One of the few advanced countries to not do eugenic sterilizations was the United Kingdom. As Home Secretary before the Great War, Winston Churchill had introduced the Liberal government's sterilization bill but it was defeated in Parliament. The leader of the opposition to eugenic sterilization was, interestingly, a distant kinsman of Galton, backbencher Josiah Wedgwood. Matt Ridley wrote in 1998:

"One man deserves to be singled out for mounting opposition to this bill: a radical libertarian MP with the famous-and relevant-name of Josiah Wedgwood. He was a naval architect by profession; scion of the famous industrial family which had repeatedly intermarried with the Darwin family (for several decades the two families were probably the richest in the West Midlands). Charles Darwin had a grandfather, a father-in-law and a brother-in-law (twice over) each called Josiah Wedgwood. But while some of the Darwins eagerly embraced eugenics-Charles Darwin's son, Leonard, was president of the Eugenics Society-Josiah Wedgwood disliked it intensely. Elected to parliament in the Liberal landslide of 1906, he had later joined the Labour party and retired to the House of Lords in 1942.

"He charged that the Eugenics Society was trying "to breed up the working class as though they were cattle" and he asserted that the laws of heredity were "too undetermined for one to pin faith on any doctrine, much less to legislate according to it." But his main objection was on the grounds of individual liberty."

The Galton-Darwin-Wedgwood clan had likely argued longer over eugenics than any other extended family in the world, so it's not surprising that one member took the lead in arguing against eugenic sterilization and getting it dropped from the bill.

To me, this example suggests that arguing about new ideas is good. The country that had been arguing longer over eugenics than anywhere else, Britain, decided not to do sterilizations, while other countries where eugenics was a trendy new idea fell harder for it.

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"But actually, our society can’t bring itself to care at all about coercive sterilizations at all when eugenics isn’t involved."

I think it's more that our society can't bring itself to care at all about things which happen in distant non-Western countries.

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I am going to be the endless bore on this subject: please stop strawmanning people who are worried about Islam. The concern isn't "Islam inspired Al Qaeda"

The concern is: Islam inspired Al Qaeda...

...and over 80 other jihad groups

... and 10 countries where homosexuality and blasphemy merit the death sentence

...and nearly 50 where it can be extremely dangerous to do either

...and the 4 Islamic genocides in my lifetime alone...

...and the horrifying levels of illiberal thoughts in Muslim immigrant communities (not illiberal as in "anti-Gay marriage", but as in "homosexuality should be illegal and murdering the Charlie Hebdo staff was justified"...)

etc. etc.

There may be arguments against these positions. But please present them accurately.

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Canada is way ahead on eugenics. Canadian state already funds euthanasia programs for the disabled, mental, poor, and soon for the homeless, ie. "useless eaters."

It's all voluntary, which makes it morally acceptable because it's left to the individual. And it is much cheaper to kill off the masses than provide medicine/food/shelter. It also expedites the logistics of suicide and makes organ/blood harvesting a cleaner business for the market demand from the power brokers.

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I think Adraste fails the ideological Turing test for people against eugenics. My guess is the reason most people gut-level dislike the idea, and believe, rationally in my opinion, that there is a slippery slope, is because eugenics contradicts “all men are created equal”, and instead says “we would like the human race to have more people like X and less people like Y”. You can be kind and gentle towards already-living Ys, or harsh and totalitarian, but either way, you can see why a Y — or someone who has empathy for Ys — would be extremely uncomfortable with even the most benevolent expression of the idea.

Yes, previous historical atrocities get deployed argumentatively to back up the case against eugenics, but I think the “is it fair to blame eugenics for atrocity Z” question is missing the crux of why people don’t like it as an idea, and isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind.

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May 18, 2023·edited May 18, 2023

Hey, Coria, I'm going to quote the entirety of the speech by Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, M.P. for Newcastle-under-Lyme, in the debate of 1912 on the "FEEBLE-MINDED PERSONS (CONTROL) BILL."

Mr. WEDGWOOD The right hon. Gentleman was very short with me in the interruption which I made, but I think he made no effort to justify what is indeed the kernel of this Bill and the kernel of the alternative Bill of the Government. The right, hon. Gentleman in the whole of his speech did not touch for one moment on the Bill actually before the House. He dealt entirely with the question of the provision of homes where the feeble-minded would be looked after. I hope he will believe me that even the most bigoted upholder of the rights of the subject is as strongly as he is in favour of the provision by the State of homes where the feeble-minded could be looked after. The question whether homes should be provided is not the one that divides us. The whole question is whether you have any right to sentence people, who have committed no crime, to imprisonment for life in those homes, and to say that they should be detained forever in a rescue home, or in a home which may be an admirable institution, and which, as long as it is on voluntary lines, meets with unanimous support are those people, from the age say of sixteen to perhaps eighty, to be incarcerated in those compulsory homes. Everyone of the arguments for looking after those feeble-minded persons mentioned by the Proposer and Seconder and the two other hon. Members who have spoken, meet with my entire support, and it is only when they come to compulsory segregation that they do not get that support. Not one of them has yet offered a single argument in favour of that policy. They have fought entirely shy of it with the solitary exception of the right hon. Gentleman opposite who said in his airy way that rather than leave things as they are we would be justified in putting those people away for life. I know perfectly well that this Bill has behind it the very best efforts of the best-intentioned people in this country not so much inside this House as outside of it. They have seen this terrible evil and know how awful it is, and already in rescue homes they are doing what they can to save those poor and feeble-minded persons. They are in constant contact with that evil and they wish to save society from it, but perhaps because they are brought so close into contact with the evil they do not look at the matter from a wider point of view. After all, it is a much wider question than mere expediency. The arguments in favour of this measure of compulsory segregation of the unfit are all directed towards the expediency of the change. Either it is going to save the community money, to be cheaper in the long run, to make the machine of civilisation run more cheaply, or, in the interests of the future of the race, it is necessary to segregate the unfit. Both these arguments are drawn purely and simply from expediency.

Mr. DICKINSON Experience.

Mr. WEDGWOOD Experience of breeding cattle, not experience of breeding men. The same question comes up in politics in regard to almost everything that is brought before us. The question whether vivisection should be allowed is, in its elements, exactly the same as whether this compulsory imprisonment should be permitted. There you have, on the one side, the interests of society—that it is in the interest of the human race that doctors should have every possible opportunity of discovering new means of curing the ills of mankind. On the other hand, you have the question whether it is right, in the interests of society, in the interests of the future amelioration of the race, to inflict pain upon animals. You have the same question in regard to the vaccination laws are you right, in the interests of society, in compelling people to be vaccinated, or is the individual's right to refuse to be vaccinated, to have liberty of judgment as to whether he should be vaccinated or not, to prevail? In every one of these cases you have the same difficulty before you. Either you must rely on what you believe to be the benefit of society and the good of the human race, or you must base yourself on something which I do not know how to describe, but which I think is something like the individual conscience. You have to see whether a thing is just or not. In the old days it was just the same. On the one side there have been a large class of people who say, salus populi suprema est lex. The safety of the public, the welfare of the State, must be the supreme law. Up against those people at all times you have had other people who say, fiat justitia ruat cœlum. These are two radically different doctrines; I believe that the second is far nobler, far higher, and far better than the first, and it is the one which we in England, rather more peculiarly than the rest of the Continental nations, have followed. We believe that justice is the important thing, and that the welfare of the State must come second, not first. The hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) naturally takes the opposite view. You have the case put in a very extreme way in India at the present time. On the one hand you have the interests of the whole society in India in the locking up of Indian agitators without trial and without their being told what their crime is. Probably it is in the interests of the State that those people should be incarcerated for life. On the other hand, you have the question whether it is just to do a thing like that, even if it is in the interests of society. I still maintain that it is not just to do a thing like that however good the results of such action are likely to be.


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The fact that something has been abused in the past is Bayseian evidence that it is easy to abuse. You should not ignore this.

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"Never argue with sexual selection". (It is probably smarter than you are, concerning what is likely to survive in the long run.)

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I would be very surprised if wealthy Americans are still having babies the old fashioned way by 2030…it’s an unnecessary game of Russian Roulette when IVF and egg and sperm freezing are available. Wealthy males should already be freezing their sperm and getting snipped because it is so cheap and easy…just remember HIV has effectively been cured but herpes hasn’t. ;)

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I fear all that is really going on is that we are learning that ppl who are willing to take actions that other ppl recoil at and see as deeply morally distastey might generally be less good people.

Unlike the trolley problem here you have the option of just saying: eww and ignoring the issue. It's not surprising that the kind of people who might be gung ho about the issue might be less good people.

So the concern shouldn't be about trying to persuade the public but about giving the kind of people who are really enthusiastic about this persuasion control to do anything.

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As an aside, I've always felt that the weak