The genetic “ratchet” that changed Europe, and is Eugenics all bad?

Eugenics has been popular in the past, until Hitler temporarily discredited it, (though protesters throughout the world periodically chant “Hitler was right”).

If you were to select traits for the next generation, what would you choose?

1. Selecting for strength:
When I was young, I had really bad eyesight and thick glasses. I wanted to be taller, stronger, and to give bullies no reason to call me “four-eyes”. I wanted to be a stellar runner, so that I could redeem myself in the eyes of my peers, and win races for the school.
And the idea of selecting for strength is quite common. But it is not the only criteria that social engineers look for:

2. Selecting for ideology:
Some regimes value adherence to an ideology as a superior trait. For instance, in North Korea, if a father rebels against the state, his whole family is thrown with him in the punishment-camp, because it is felt that his character “flaws” are genetic.

3. Selecting for intelligence:
“Egg donation isn’t supposed to be a get-rich business for donors, but young women across the country are selling their eggs and cashing in big.
An [ABC] investigation into the growing industry found that not all eggs are made equal in donation agencies’ eyes. Women with favored traits, like blond hair or high intelligence, can earn a much heftier fee for donating.”
Oddly enough, not everyone would prefer intelligence. In the great massacre by Pol Pot’s followers in Cambodia, anyone with glasses, or with a intellectual job such as being a teacher, was killed.

4. Selecting for people with a “liberal/Conservative” attitude:
I prefer conservative politics to left-wing politics, though it would be immoral to select babies with a “conservative” gene (there actually is a genetic influence on political leanings) but a man named Yaari, in the early leftist Zionist movement “Hashomer Hatzair” wanted the opposite.  He declared that it would be better not to allow Jews to immigrate to Palestine if they were not ideologically motivated, and specifically they should be motivated by socialist ideas.

5. Selecting for boys in China, girls in the USA:
In China and India, there is a large surplus of boys over girls. This is due to deliberate abortion of girls. Conversely, in the USA, women are already using preimplantation analysis to select the gender of their embryos. And they’re overwhelmingly choosing to have daughters.

So there is a problem, since we can’t even agree on what we would select for (or against).

And putting an emphasis on “strength”, without understand where “strength” comes from, can lead to terrible situations.  I’ve been told that Nazi orphanages existed where Aryan babies were purposely denied affection, so that they would grow up strong, and of course that was an idiotic policy that left them emotionally stunted and miserable.  I cannot find online sources for this, however.

The Nazis did abduct children from Eastern Europe who looked handsome and strong and Aryan.  And in an earlier age, the Turks, when they occupied Eastern Europe, would also grab strong Christian children from their parents, teach them Islam, and put them in their military (these children were known as Janissaries)

reprogenetics website image
reprogenetics website image

I think eugenics might make sense if it were a parental – not a state – decision, and it was intended to protect the child. At Reprogenetics, a private laboratory in New Jersey, couples who carry a genetic disease can have their embryos checked for the mutation before implanting them in the woman’s uterus.
Moving from New Jersey to China, the Chinese have a research program to identify the alleles, or genetic variations, that most closely correlate with high IQ scores, so that the country’s parents can select from a number of their own embryos on the basis of intelligence. There are at least a thousand genes that have an effect on intelligence, so this may not work, but it is an interesting idea.

Nick Wade
Nick Wade

But now Nicholas Wade enters the picture with his new book A Troublesome Inheritance.
He believes that “races” exist, and differ not only in external features such as skin color, but also in character.
For this to be true, several premises have to be true.

  • Character has to be somewhat affected by genes that control brain development.
  • Races (which only split apart 50,000 years ago when the first small band left Africa), would have to be shown to have differences specifically in genes that control brain function or development.
  • Those differences must have occurred within those 50,000 years.
  • In addition, there is the startling idea that the European population changed their character and nature much more recently than that. The hypothesis is that Europeans were in a Malthusian trap, where even if their productivity and food production increased, it would only lead to a larger population, which would consume resources so that most people would lead a precarious existence. There was no welfare system to save people who dropped off the life-raft. But as the Middle Ages progressed, the laws and social structure in England created a meritocracy, where skillful or disciplined and intelligent people could make a better living, and escape the hand-to-mouth existence of the majority.  A study showed that successful people did have more children.

Christianity, says Nicholas Wade, actually contributed to the self-bootstrapping upward (he calls it a ratchet) of the population, because it led to the idea that there was a law independent of the ruler, and to which the ruler had to be subject himself. This helped prevent arbitrary power, and helped create a meritocracy.
I won’t list the evidence that the author marshals in his book, for lack of room. The evidence can’t be conclusive, but it is worth looking at.

So would such ideas lead to racist population control?

The author is very against such an outcome, but he feels the research should not be suppressed for political or ideological reasons.
Lets take this a little further though. We know that Stalin liquidated the entrepreneurial farmers of the Ukraine, and we estimate his total murders of his own citizens (in Russia and Ukraine) came to twenty million.
Since Fidel Castro came to power, Cuba’s government imprisoned a higher percentage of its own citizens than Stalin did.
And North Korea has been killing or incarcerating a large percentage of their own population since they came into power, which was in 1945 – so that is 70 years of unnatural selection.
Would these Marxist regimes select for entrepreneurial capitalists? For free-thinkers? For independent minded types who were not afraid to “speak truth to power”?
Or would they select for ideologically reliable ruthless followers?

Wade’s thesis is that small average differences in traits in a population – for instance a lower lack of trust in your fellow man – might lead to a different kind of society – in a low-trust case you might get a more tribal society.
He briefly mentions that the selection pressure that led to more thrifty and disciplined populations may no longer be operating in the West.  Certainly in the US the middle class has sharply reduced fertility.
There is a danger any time people are considered as moldable raw-material in a social project, and that would include eugenics projects. But the technology to select for traits to some extent is coming, in fact “reprogenetics” shows it is already partly here.

Sources:
A Troublesome Inheritance – Nicholas Wade – Penguin Press – 2014
China’s ‘genius babies’:
http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/superman/2013/03/is_china_engineering_genius_babies_not_exactly.2.html

Hessy Taft - an Aryan poster baby who was Jewish
Hessy Taft – an Aryan poster baby who turned out to be Jewish

http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/07/02/revealed-ideal-aryan-nazi-poster-child-was-jewish/

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