(Azathoth, Lovecraft’s famous blind, amoral, idiot God.)
Crosspost of this.
I’m hugely in favor of gene editing and other actions that would improve the welfare of future people. If we could perform genetic engineering that made future people smarter, happier, and less likely to get diseases, I’d be in favor of it. This assumption is controversial. Many people think there’s something immoral about changing the genes of humans, even in ways that are expected to improve their quality of life. They think that such an idea sounds too much like the clearly objectionable coercive eugenics of the Nazis, for instance.
But you know what would be almost as bad as eugenics performed by Nazis—eugenics performed by a totally random, amoral selector. This eugenicist wouldn’t have cruel ideas about Aryan superiority, for instance—instead, they have a bizarre fetishism of reproduction. This selector performs eugenics so that only those who reproduce a lot—and also help out their kin—are likely to pass on their genes.
Such a selector is wholly unconcerned with human welfare. It makes it so that humans can’t empathize with those far away, because warring with native tribes is effective. It makes it so that men are naturally more aggressive than women, committing 96% of homicides, all because in the evolutionary past it was beneficial—it enabled more efficient fighting, for instance.
In fact, this selector has selected for individuals who are likely to engage in “rape . . . infanticide, abuse of low-status individuals, and murdering all those people over there and taking their stuff.” It selects for individuals who reproduce frequently, rather than those who are good, moral, or even happy.
In fact, in some other species, things are even worse. Some species give birth to hundreds of millions of eggs, many of whom contain sentient beings almost all of whom die a horrible painful death at a young age. This selector makes it so that male ducks have corkscrew penises so that they can rape female ducks more efficiently.
This predictor has been operating for billions of years. Their amorality results in them designing both all sorts of horrifying, rapidly multiplying bacteria and viruses that kills lots of people and animals alike and various defense mechanisms. But after millions of years, it offers for you to take over their job. Rather than selecting for prolificness alone, you can affect which beings exist in the future with moral goals in mind! You can make it so that future beings are likely to be happy, kind, and just. Isn’t this an improvement?
But this is the world that we live in. Selection pressures exist as an inevitable fact of life. Evolution has shaped our behaviors. Our choice is not between selected behaviors and unselected behaviors. It is between behaviors selected by parents who have their children’s best interests in mind, who want their children to be kind, happy, and healthy, and selection at the hands of the blind, idiot, Darwinian god, who has been practicing social Darwinism for millions of years, where only those who pass on their genes have their traits reproduced.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should practice the kind of harmful, coercive eugenics practiced by the Nazis. It doesn’t mean we should prevent anyone from reproducing. But it does mean we should empower parents with the option of gene editing to improve their children’s lives, rather than banning it. It means we should see making future people happier and more moral as a worthwhile goal.
The amoral god that selects only for having many offspring has turned over the reigns to us. We can leave its ghastly designs in place, or instead change them to improve the lives of the future. I think this is not a hard choice.
I like the idea of selecting genes to make people kind, happy, and healthy.
I also see some potential for abuse. Metaphorically speaking, moving from the domain of Azathoth into the domain of Moloch. Dictators selecting people to be more obedient. Theocracies selecting people to be more religious. Soldiers who don't mind killing and dying. Slaves who never rebel when they are abused.
Also, pointless zero-sum competitions. Like, at some point high-status people may collectively decide that their kids are going to have purple eyes, and if your kids won't have purple eyes, they will be treated as low-status. Absurdly costly signaling, such as educated or rich people genetically modifying their children to be physically incapable of manual work; not because the new physiology is somehow better, only to signal that your parents did not expect you to ever need to work manually.
The problem with trait selection is always in the second-order effects - for example, kind people are easy to exploit by the less kind, and happy people are not as driven to change things through their dissatisfaction. A population of kind and happy people are not going to tend towards climbing any social ladder, and will rapidly be ousted by less kind and less happy people. The blind idiot god doesn't just control genetic change, but societal change, and we're even worse at controlling or predicting the latter.
This is why I don't like the meme of a 'blind idiot god', it's really easy to read it in a way, if you actually understand the implications, which also implies that humans, on average, are even lesser, somehow even worse then a 'blind idiot'.
Of course most potential writers aren't exactly super geniuses nor willing to spend days thinking about a single phrase so it's probably unfair to expect them to evaluate any metric such as intelligence along more then 2 or 3 dimensions simultaneously, hence they never would have caught the potentially self-defeating nature of the phrase.
The comedic effect also probably is quite unreliable among large portions of the population, as any mention of the word 'god' taken in vain would be quite serious to them.
One of the disadvantages of arguing "but it could be dangerous" (which is what you seem to be arguing), is that every new invention is probably dangerous in some way or other. Cars, for example, are an invention that changed life around the world [just like the internet, or nuclear energy, and gunpowder] and have been misused, there have been thousands if not millions of accidents, and yet people view them in a very positive sense. It is true that richer people have cars with price tags over a million, and while cars are nothing in comparison to a human life, I believe that long-term-wise, eugenics is going to have a gigantic net positive effect on humanity.
As a side note, have you read Dr. Seuss' book "The Sneetches and Other Stories"?
I agree that it will probably be a net benefit.
(No I haven't read anything by Dr. Seuss.)
I don't disagree with any of this. But if someone commit crimes against humanity in the name of eugenics, even if by accident, the fact that the blind, amoral god's actions are even worse is in no way exculpatory. In other words, he can get away with it, you can't.
That seems to suggests we should play it safe and avoid eugenics. But doing nothing rather than something may well be much worse than what the blind idiot God does.
No, I think gene manipulation can be the right thing to do but that we should face harsh legal consequences if we cause harm by doing it with anything less than extreme levels of care and caution (I think the idiot god should be put on trial frequently as well, but he is sadly hard to handcuff).
I don't have any ontological qualms with the idea of gene editing / opt-in eugenics, but I have a lot of doubt about our ability to use that technology effectively and wisely.
I am moderately in favor of gene treatments that could prevent potential offspring / zygotes / fetuses / people in general from being susceptible to specific diseases or debilitating conditions. If we gain a robust understanding of the long-term affects and there are no red flags, I expect to update to strongly in favor (though it could take a lifetime to get the necessary data if we aren't able to have extremely high confidence in the theory).
In contrast, I think non-medical eugenics is likely to be a net negative, for many of the same reasons already outlined by others.
There is also the fact that we already are, effectively, controlling our own genetic pressures through culture and civilisation. Our culture largely influences our partner choice, and thus, breeding. Our medical sciences, agriculture, and urbanization takes pressure off survival. So the eugenic/dysgenic/paragenic process is in effect anyway, just... stupidly.Some simple examples:- agriculture pushes us to be lactose tolerant and carbohydrate dependent- art and media dictates our sexual choices and mate choice- education creates pressure for intelligence, but a very specific kind of one.- in the long run, contraception methods might pressure a further evolution of our reproductive systems (ex: sooner or later, women with extremely unlikely mutations that allow them to "beat" the contraceptive pill will outbreed those who do not share such mutation. )Im particularly interested in how our sexual culture effectively works as a secondary "blind goddess of eguenics". For likely the first time since the Neolithic (or possibly since forever), we have reached an age in which women are free to chose their male partners based on physical attraction and mental kinship, not social pressure and need for survival. Assuming this trend continues, and we do not relapse into social conservatism, I expect a rather sudden (by evolutionary standards) shift in male choice, and thus sexual dimorphism.Atop of that, we the rise of affordable In Vitro fertilization, we effectively are using conscious Eugenics, one specifically geared towards the needs of women and couples, rather than society at large. We are entering an age when the human male is not strictly necessary for breeding, or his offspring's survival, and thus, with the exception of the rare super-specimens who are sperm donors, men no longer fall under any evolutionary pressure, and do not really need to exist.The decades between the moment when in-vitro becomes the norm, and the moment when artificial wombs become the norm, will be very interesting indeed.