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Eugenics and Transhumanism

Posted: Sun, February 24, 2013 | By: Dirk Bruere

Eugenics, well it’s all about killing off genetic defectives, gassing people designated as insane or subhuman and giving lethal injections to kids with learning difficulties. Or at least it has become that in popular imagination. 

The original impetus for eugenics was the observation by certain members of Victorian era Middle Class scientific establishment that the feckless poor (and therefore stupid) were out-breeding clever people and thereby dumbing down Humanity as a whole and the “superior races” in particular. Ways had to be found of discouraging big families amongst the “wrong people” and encouraging the “right people” to breed a bit more. Since the “right people” were generally fairly intelligent, articulate and wealthy nobody was actually going to make them do any excess breeding against their will, so the focus shifted to those who could be persuaded or coerced – the poor and stupid. 

The result was mostly an extension of existing practices such as locking up mental defectives, by  sterilizing the feeble minded or those born disabled and subsequently institutionalized. On a more positive note eugenicists were generally in favour of making contraception available to limit population. 

And there things remained right up until Nazi Germany decided to do all of the stuff described in the first paragraph, whereupon it became the touchstone for all that is evil and eugenics was indelibly tarred with some seriously bad PR. Of course, that did not actually stop all state sanctioned eugenics programs such as Sweden’s, which was still going in the 1970s, or the various eugenics laws in the USA. It just meant that killing people was off the official eugenics menu. 

So, fast forward to the present day and suddenly there are claims that Transhumanism is the new eugenics, with the murderous subtext unspoken but strongly implied. What is the truth of the matter? 

Well, let’s start with a question. Who is responsible for the most murderous eugenics programs in history? Easy – the Nazis! WRONG. 

The most murderous eugenics program in history is ongoing and being run all across the world, most notably in the liberal secular democratic West. Of course, we do not actually call what’s happening eugenics – it’s wrapped up in cozy liberal cotton wool words like “screening” and “a woman’s right to choose”. Nevertheless, we have killed more genetic defectives than the Nazis could even dream about. This is apart from abortions undertaken for the sake of convenience, around 40 million per year, and which makes the Holocaust seem insignificant if one believes that Human life starts at conception. Yet somehow we liberals are supposed to cheer on abortion as a woman’s right, and approve of her choice to undergo genetic screening of the unborn child, but also simultaneously condemn eugenics? Well, anyone who takes those positions together is either a fool or a hypocrite. 

It is also telling to note that even societies that oppose abortion on demand on religious grounds will generally allow it if the embryo is genetically defective. That is, it carries a defect such as Down’s Syndrome, Sickle Cell Anemia, Huntington’s Disease etc etc. Indeed, the list of defects to be screened for increases relentlessly year on year and generally results in a death sentence for the potential child. Of course, it does not stop there. What is considered defective is often socially conditioned. For example, females being aborted disproportionately in Asia. 

So, what of Transhumanism in all this? Well, the central tragedy of society’s existing eugenics program is that almost inevitably the child being aborted is actually wanted by the woman – which is why she is screening in the first place. Our solution? There are gene therapies in testing that can potentially repair defective genes in the embryo. Fix the problem, don’t kill the child! 

Nevertheless, what some people hate about Transhumanism is not the fact that we want to save lives and create healthy people, but we want to make people “better than well”. That, in their mind, is the central meme to be opposed by any means, even slanderous attempts to link us to their eugenics program. So next time you hear of Transhumanism being “the new eugenics” perhaps you should point out the existing mass murder they are already condoning, and the fact that we want to end it.


Aborting a pregnancy at a point where the organism inside of the woman is nothing more than a parasitic ball of cells - morally equivalent to a tapeworm - is not murder. Only life forms that are capable of suffering can be murdered.

I describe my view on eugenics as “conservative.” I would advocate, for example, the concept of designer babies. However I would oppose allowing people to chose to “design” their child to be deficient in some way - such as deliberately selecting a zygote that will produce a deaf child. And I would oppose allowing people to discriminate on the basis of sex (in most situations).

By Reeve Armstrong on Feb 24, 2013 at 8:54am

Well and clearly said.

A short excerpt from the upcoming English version of my book on biopolitics and transhumanism:

<<In any event, the specifically ideological and biopolitical connotation of one’s position with respect to eugenics is highlighted by the increasing erosion, with technical progress, of the individual cost of eugenic practices, which has been steadily decreasing; especially from the moment when chemical or surgical sterilisation of the very retarded and birth control take over from the exposure of newborns and from a strict parental or social control of mating; and the former is in turn taken over by premarital study of the family medical records from a Mendelian perspective; and this in turn is replaced by prenatal diagnosis and genetic screening; and these finally by artificial fecundation and the direct and properly speaking “therapeutic” manipulation of the germ lines; so that the natural empathy for the individuals involved increasingly supports the acceptance of eugenic measures, to the point of making their rejection somewhat embarrassing even for strict humanist views.>>

By Stefano Vaj on Feb 25, 2013 at 7:31am

Meanwhile, preventing the problem by matters of tech… I mean, a RISUG injection to teens is technically eugenics, by extending the requirements before allowing birth, but I certainly can’t see it as a poor idea..

By Aita on Feb 25, 2013 at 9:39am

There is a ridiculously large difference between designer babies/abortion and eugenics. It’s like comparing “assault with a deadly weapon” to “surgery”.
Implicit in eugenics is the fact that it is “required”, and may occur without the consent of the parents.
If the parents of a child can define it’s characteristics “without” governmental or ideological restriction, other perhaps than “no negative qualities may be granted to a child that is not possessed by one or both of the parents”, then it is quite simply not eugenics.

By Harry Dishman on Feb 26, 2013 at 5:36am

LOL, a right wing radical transhumanist. There were black Klansman, and we’ve got Log Cabin Republicans…

I have absolutely no idea what the author is trying to say here. The religious radicals he finds common ground with hate - HATE! - everything else this guy (allegedly) stands for. They aren’t going to embrace his ‘cure’ for abortion or anything else… these are people that think UPC codes are the mark of the beast, that technology is here for the Antichrist to use to destroy the Church… just this past month no less than 3 (that I am aware of, and I wasn’t looking…) fundies have stated that the singularity / transhumanism are the work of Satan and must be stamped out, destroyed, eliminated.

No, I don’t think that “next time you hear of Transhumanism being “the new eugenics” I am going to start spouting off about how right wing religious think can be helped by it…. and I am 100% sure nobody would listen.

By Trent on Feb 26, 2013 at 3:31pm

‘Implicit in eugenics is the fact that it is “required”, and may occur without the consent of the parents’.

How would that be the case? Most contemporary opponents of eugenics, say Juergen Habermas in The Dangers of Liberal Eugenics, recognise that their main problem is exactly that publicly-enforced eugenism is a mere strawman, since in the future the police would increasingly be required in order to *prohibit* the adoption of eugenic measures by prospective parents only too eager to adopt them.

The real gray area is where, as in the case of deaf parents demanding that only deaf embryos were selected by a PDG procedure, some of their choices may actually conflict with what can be considered as “children protection” in one sense or another.

By Stefano Vaj on Mar 01, 2013 at 9:11am

By Khannea on Mar 01, 2013 at 12:51pm

Good to hear that the Opposition to “limiting reproductive freedom for societal benefit” are supporting limiting reproductive freedom for societal benefit.

I’ll try to explain my point of view, but I’m not very good with words, so bear with me.

If we are to make actual moral choices about liberal eugenics beyond “Rar! Eugenics Bad!”, then we must analyze exactly what harm it would cause.
There are to my knowledge 3 arguments.
1) The existence of eugenics would cause prejudice between the “haves” and “have nots”.
2) The knowledge that one is a product of eugenic practices may alter one’s perception of autonomy.
3) All human life is of equal worth, and LE causes prejudice against the disabled, implying they are “less” than others.

Whilst 1) is perhaps true on some level, it is vastly overstated. Simple world experience shows clearly that genetic capability is not the guarantee of success that those who argue against it believe it to be; a sentiment echoed by the classic “Gattica”.
Genetic potential means nothing without a childhood environment conductive to it’s actualization, nor does it defend against negative societal pressures or circumstance. One can be a genius, with the body of an Olympian, and still be shot in the street, or become addicted to drugs, or get stuck in a dead end job.
This argument puts too much importance on the stone, and too little on the sculptor.

Habermas argues with (2) that a person influenced by LE would struggle with it’s identity, experiencing a disconnect between it’s knowledge of itself as an autonomous entity and it’s “produced” body.
This argument would perhaps carry weight if this dissonance was something that does not happen anyway, when confronted by the effect our parents have on our lives and the problem of continuous existence (The Ship of Theseus).
We must all, at some point in our lives, shift our perceptions of ourselves away from our bodies, to a more systematic view of self, else face serious psychological consequences.

If this disconnect did not exist, we could arguably not be transhumanists, as it is a prerequisite to the acceptance of physical/mental augmentation.

Similarly, (3) sounds like an acceptable argument, until we realize that decisions of personal worth do not only exist today, they are in some levels inevitable. Whilst the life of a ‘specific’ person may be no less or greater than any other, we “do” apply worth to states of being - a simple demonstration is the question “would you rather be healthy or be disabled?”
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone, even amongst the latter, who would prefer the latter to the former. Indeed, the very act of preference, regardless in which direction, attributes value.
On the whole, we would rather be able to see than be blind, be strong than weak, young than old.
I am saying nothing new, I know this, but when stated like this, we can perhaps see why the deaf wanting deaf children is not the horror that some would think it is. It is nothing more than an extension of this argument; they think it is better to be deaf than otherwise.
If we restrict this, then the harm we are committing is identical to that traditional eugenics. And if the harm is in the restriction of choice, then an act that is made without restriction, such as abortion, cannot be compared to eugenics.

Let me finish with two notes.
It is perhaps interesting to note that pretty much any argument against genetic liberty can also be leveled against other human enhancement technologies, and have the same counters.
Secondly, as a counter to the Transhumanism = Eugenics comparison, it is worth remembering that augmentation technologies make genetic predisposition increasingly redundant. As such, we can quite honestly say that Transhumanism acts contrary to eugenics.

By Harry Dishman on Mar 05, 2013 at 7:17am

@Harry Dishman: “Secondly, as a counter to the Transhumanism = Eugenics comparison, it is worth remembering that augmentation technologies make genetic predisposition increasingly redundant.”

Crucial issue. Since we do have antibiotics/cars, should we be disinterested in maintaining or developing an immune system/working legs?

Certainly, if we do not relinquish technology *and* we do not implement eugenic measures, augmentation may actually involve growing dysgenic effect.

OTOH, the stance I defended in my book on Biopolitics is that the deliberate programming of our genetic features allows us to have our pie and eat it too, as in more technology being the remedy to technology. More or less in the spirit of Parsifal’ “sword that heals”.

By Stefano Vaj on Mar 05, 2013 at 1:50pm

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