Richard Dawkins has now defended Eugenics. Not, of course, the terrible eugenics of Hitler, but the idea that”
“if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as “these are not one-dimensional abilities” apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.
I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn’t the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?”
Well, one is happy that Dawkins has read Plato. Indeed, his sentence about breeding horses and cattle is a direct paraphrase of an argument in that book.
In the Republic, the state is run by Guardians, who are trained and bred to each other to produce philosopher kings and make sure the rulers are superior to the normal people.
The Guardians, of course, hold women in common (so much for female equality) and raise their children in nurseries, where the mothers come periodically to breast feed children at random. Don’t want the mom bonding with the kid of course.
In the Republic, if a child is born from an inferior “breeding”, it is “discarded”, either raised with the common people, or presumably exposed. Similarly, a child born after the mother or father is outside the ideal age is similarly aborted or exposed.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The first thing wrong is that although one could “breed” children from ordered matings, most women prefer a choice in the matter. And although abortion and infanticide are “easy” solutions, in reality both take an emotional toll on the woman, and in time lead to a hardening of society against the unwanted, the poor, and the imperfect.
But, of course, genetic manipulation and testtube babies can eliminate the intimate and emotional part of the problem. Already couples can chose an egg from a talented college student, combine it with the sperm of the husband or a man chosen for his skills or IQ, and then pay a poor woman to carry the pregnancy to term.
Actually screening of the embryos for disease is already being done on a small number of embryos. So theoretically one could in the near future screen for various talents, body build, hair colour, or sexual orientation.
So what is the problem with selecting such talents, as Dawkins advises? Well, for a great athlete you need not only good muscles, but skill, i.e. coordination. You need a certain intelligence. You need self discipline to train. You need good eyesight. And for many sports, you need the ability to get along with your team.
All these things are from different genes.
For musicians, you have all of the above plus both the ability to comprehend music, creativity, and the ability to sublimate your emotions into the music you play. Without these skills, you may as well use computer generated music. It’s good, but it will never be great.
You see, there is an intimacy and a link between sex, love, and children. Yes, you could arrange a perfect child, but a child “bred” by someone who does so coldly and logically will probably lack the warmth and patients to raise an imperfect, crying baby. That is why the next step is to hire someone to raise the kid: nannies for the rich, orÂ the professional nurseries proposed by Plato, that free the mother from the chores of raising a baby so she can breed over and over again.
Alas, reality shows that children brought up in large nurseries/orphanages from infancy often have emotional problems, especially if the stay in the orphanage is prolonged. Those of us adopting such children know that good parenting and love can often reverse the damage of institutionalization, but not always and the cure is not always complete.
You see, what Dawkins– and alas utopian planners supporting eugenics since the time of Plato overlook is that conceiving and raising a child is a “human” thing, embedded not in our intellect but in our emotional and social being, not in our rationality but in our bodies. We are not angels, whose essense rises above bodily instincts, nor robots who can ignore that we are born, to quote St. Augustine, â€œInter faeces et urinam nascimur.â€ We are born between feces and urine, and yet with an immortal soul.
Of course, there is an alternative to the cold utopian breeding programs.
Say two musicians (or athletes, or computer programmers) work together and have affection for each other. They live together, and have a child, who of course inherits the musical ability of his parents. The child is brought up by two people who are affectionate to him, so is emotionally stable. He is brought up in an environment of music, so he learns early and easily about music. Then, when he or she is old enough, he receives training…
Wait a second, that’s not Eugenics. That’s life.
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician who lives in the Philippines with her husband, seven dogs, three cats, and a large extended family. Her webpage is .