Market Eugenics. Or how do you want your children?
So how do you want your children? Apple cheeks? Hard Boiled? Or a cracking wise-ass like the waitress? That’s the ultimate dream/nightmare of genetic engineering. The lottery at birth gets turned into a menu, and millions of well-meaning individual decisions change humanity at a genetic menu. “Market Eugenics.”
Michael Sandel’s long article in the April Atlantic Monthly, “The Case against Perfection” comes down clearly on the nightmare side. (Alas, it is not included on their web site)) Like many, he sees this new form of eugenics as continuing and expanding upon earlier trends. But where proponents see this as a new tool in an old battle to rid humans of disease and clear imperfections, Sandel sees this as exacerbating the trend away from people seeing themselves as part of a community.
He centers this point on the idea of “giftedness.” Now, our talents are from “nature, God, or fortune.” With genetic engineering, inherent talents are an inheritance, a birthright.
Now, because most gifted people know their talents are a kind of grace, they feel a connection with those who did not fare so well. That makes them more willing to share the burden of misfortune. With genetic engineering, the birthright mentality leads to a mentality of separateness--This is mine, and while we’re at it let’s get rid of that inheritance tax, too.
Sandel understates the blessings/temptations that come with market eugenics. But that’s OK. He’s making a case, not pretending to give both sides an equal presentation. And it is definitely food for thought.
P.S. Atlantic Online has set up a short essay,"Faster, Smarter, Stronger," with links to 1912 and 1913 Atlantic Monthly articles on eugenics. A direct link does not seem to work, but you can get their via the home page. Be sure to check out the additional links in the left hand column of the short essay.
Sam Crane - 4/3/2004
The Sandel piece is a good conversation starter. But the key thing I took away from it was the notion of the "unbidden." (I think that is the term he uses - I don't have the text here before me). That is, life is rich and varied and wonderful precisely because we cannot control all that happens to us, for good as well as for ill. Children especially have this quality about them. Waiting for our first child, we swim in a sea of expectations about what parenthood will be like for us, and what childhood will be like for him or her. And invariably neither condition matches up to our best laid plans - and that is the wonder of it. Attempts to limit the unbidden can only accomplish a dehumanizing sterlization (there's a good eugenics term!) of personhood. But happily such attmempts will also almost certainly fail.