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“Liberal Eugenics” — An Awkward Term

I just ran into "liberal eugenics" on Wikipedia:

Liberal eugenics is an ideology which advocates the use of reproductive and genetic technologies where the choice of the goals of enhancing human characteristics and capacities is left to the individual preferences of consumers, rather than the ideological priorities of a government authority.

The term "liberal eugenics" does not necessarily indicate that its proponents are social liberals in the modern sense or that they are non-classist and non-racist. Rather, the term is used to refer to any ideology of eugenics which is inspired by an underlying liberal theory but also to differentiate it from the authoritarian or totalitarian eugenic programs of the first half of the 20th century, which were associated with coercive methods to decrease the frequency of certain human hereditary traits passed on to the next generation. The most controversial aspect of those programs was the use of "negative" eugenics laws which allowed government agencies to sterilize individuals alleged to have undesirable genes.

Historically, eugenics is often broken into the categories of positive (encouraging reproduction in the designated "fit") and negative (discouraging reproduction in the designated "unfit"). Many positive eugenic programs were advocated and pursued during the early 20th century, but the negative programs were responsible for the compulsory sterilization of hundreds of thousands of persons in many countries, and were contained in much of the rhetoric of Nazi eugenic policies of racial hygiene and genocide.

Liberal eugenics is conceived to be mostly "positive", relying more on reprogenetics than on selective breeding charts to achieve its aims. It seeks to both minimize congenital disorder and enhance capacity, traditional eugenic goals. It is intended to be under the control of the parents exercising their procreative liberty while guided by the principle of procreative beneficence, though the substantial governmental and corporate infrastructure required for reprogenetics may limit or steer their actual choices.

Because of its reliance on new reprogenetic technologies, liberal eugenics is often referred to as "new eugenics", "neo-eugenics" or "techno-eugenics". However, these terms may be misleading since current or future collectivist, authoritarian, and totalitarian eugenic programs do or could also rely on these new biotechnologies.

Eugenicist Major General Frederick Osborn laid the intellectual groundwork for liberal eugenics as early as the 1930s when he was the director of the Carnegie Institution for Science. Osborn argued that the public would never accept eugenics under militarized directives; rather, time must be allowed for "eugenic consciousness" to develop in the population. Accordingly, eugenic consciousness did not have to be aggressively and intentionally micro-manufactured; instead, it would develop as an emergent property as capitalist economy increased in complexity.

Osborn argued that all that was needed was to simply wait until a specific set of social structures (a consumer economy and the nuclear family) developed to a point of dominance within capitalist culture. Once these structures matured, people would act eugenically without a second thought. Eugenic activity, instead of being an immediately identifiable, repugnant activity, would become one of the invisible taken-for-granted activities of everyday life (much like getting a vaccination).

It seems like "liberal eugenics" is so much on its way to becoming an invisible taken-for-granted part of life that even giving it a specific name is unnecessary. "My right to have children without genetic disorders" is a name for the genetic screening we have today. Though some may disagree on the definition of a disorder, many disorders are unambiguous.

Comments (22) Trackbacks (0)
  1. The name is terrible and made up by biocon right wingers. “Eugenics” has a negative connotation. Call it “Freedom from Disease”, or “reproductive freedom”, or anything else.

  2. Call it Gattaca.

    Or call it the ability to prevent ‘undesirables’ like Stephen Hawking from being born.

    I’m no luddite. I applaud the endeavour to eliminate devastating genetic diseases. But I can’t help thinking it’s a double-edged sword – our understanding of the staggeringly complex interplay of genes is still limited.

    Messing with a subset within the genome may have consequences not immediately apparent.

    And I fear that it won’t stop with elimination of disease genes. The idiocy of human vanity and competitiveness have led to grim results before.

    In a Jones generation quest for physical ‘perfection’ we may inadvertently eliminate the vital ‘wild card’ by homogenizing the species, long before we truly understand what we’re tinkering with.

    So, yes to elimination of genetic disease, but no to the rubber science idea that we, at this point in time, have a sufficiently complete understanding to attempt mental enhancement.

  3. Eugenics does seem to mean something akin to state control of reproduction by most people.

    But even without a scare word there are the issues about freedom. For instance, a person with trisomy-21 can make much better progress intellectually if they receive extensive therapy early on. Is it better to abort a fetus with this or bring them up and give them the expensive interventions that would help them reach their potential. I’d expect much disagreement about this especially in the case where the parents can’t pay for such therapy without assistance.

  4. Some of the abuses of the term “eugenics” are so sordid that perhaps even the expression “liberal eugenics” is unsalvageable.
    But “Liberal Eugenics” is the title of a humane-spirited book by a professor of ethics, Nicholas Agar
    [I wrote a review ]
    As Michael notes, liberal eugenics under another name is what many prospective parents will be practising as the reproductive revolution gathers pace over the next few decades.

  5. Today the majority of healthy normal people never amount to anything except piles of non-biodegradable toxic waste.

    Perhaps there’s room for tweaking. We could stop when the majority get useful things done (like, you know, science, engineering, art). We already see abundantly clearly where this road with the hordes of consume-o-bots is taking us, don’t we?

    Imagine an average or MINIMUM 140 IQ population instead of 100 or 70. Does that seem like a totally dystopic scenario?

    As for the name, I got a solution. Just call it: E-Genix, short for Enhanced-Genetics, and nobody will notice. :)

  6. Before you go off spouting that Eugenics has gotten a bad rap, do some real un-biased research on the subject. Unless of course, you also think Hitler got a bad rap for his Eugenical effort to cleanse Europe?

    And this ideology wasn’t started by the right-wingers; check your history, it was started by left-wing social progressives. But I guess then, that would fly directly in your face and contradict your world view of being so “Out to help the common man”, and “so inclusive of diversity.” Eugenics doesn’t embrace diversity, it strives for homogenous culling the human herd, until it appears to their genocidal liking.

  7. It actually isn’t so awkward if you think of it? Like how we use the word Democracy because the Greeks coined the term and are where we have been passed down the ideology from?
    Eugenics was coined by Francis Galton in the USA. He has this dream of having a world populated by the genetically “fit.” Where someone could have as you put it the “right to have children without genetic disorders.”
    Where is the threat in keeping the term? Bad PR?
    But this isn’t a product it is an ideology, right? Not all ideologies remain the exact same as their origins either. There are always many conflicting facets of opinions in any movement.

    The Eugenics movement was rooted in America. “The Horrifying American Roots of Nazi Eugenics,” is briefly discussed in this article. It is interesting to note it also was huge in California, “The Golden State.” So much for American pride as the fighters of the Nazis. An American actually inspired Hitler with the idea of gassing “the undesirables.”
    He credited Alexis Carrel for this inspiration.
    “Carrel also wrote in his book that:

    “(t)he conditioning of petty criminals with the whip, or some more scientific procedure, followed by a short stay in hospital, would probably suffice to insure order. Those who have murdered, robbed while armed with automatic pistol or machine gun, kidnapped children, despoiled the poor of their savings, misled the public in important matters, should be humanely and economically disposed of in small euthanasic institutions supplied with proper gasses. A similar treatment could be advantageously applied to the insane, guilty of criminal acts.”

    Alexis Carrel had also taken an active part to a symposium in Pontigny organised by Jean Coutrot, the “Entretiens de Pontigny”. Scholars such as Lucien Bonnafé, Patrick Tort and Max Lafont have accused Carrel of responsibility for the execution of thousands of mentally ill or impaired patients under Vichy.

    In the 1936 preface to the German edition of his book, Alexis Carrel had added a praise to the eugenics policies of the Third Reich, writing that:

    “(t)he German government has taken energetic measures against the propagation of the defective, the mentally diseased, and the criminal. The ideal solution would be the suppression of each of these individuals as soon as he has proven himself to be dangerous.”


    And here is a book about some of the pioneers in human Immortality! : Alexis Carrel is there!

  8. A lot of dumb prejudices still around. But to all these naysayers I say –

    if a stylish in shanghai offers it safely and affordably, and shortsighted, mentally retarded, semi-geriatric politicians made it illegal where you live, then you are SCREWED while an upper 1% elite who can afford the treatments in faraway Cathay, and afford traveling there, will all have genetically superior children a decade later.

    Think it over. See the bigger picture. This will be like the internets – everywhere, everyday and good.

  9. How is making clear the roots of an ideologies inception through maintaining its name a “dumb prejudice?”

    “Where is the threat in keeping the term? Bad PR?
    But this isn’t a product it is an ideology, right? Not all ideologies remain the exact same as their origins either. There are always many conflicting facets of opinions in any movement.”
    As I said above, just because something originated as a racist, movement promoting human genocide, doesn’t mean that everyone who is a part of the movement holds such ideas.
    But if we rename something and erase its history we are encouraging a collective amnesia of the harmful potential such an ideology contains, and are not keeping it in check.
    Does that make sense to you Khannea?

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