Bryan Caplan sure knows how to market a book. With one polemical paragraph, Caplan has managed to get a host of blogs to write about his upcoming book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.
The offending clump of words:
I confess that I take anti-cloning arguments personally. Not only do they insult the identical twin sons I already have; they insult a son I hope I live to meet. Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son. Seriously. I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share. I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me. I’m not pushing others to clone themselves. I’m not asking anyone else to pay for my dream. I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone. Is that too much to ask?
There are three levels of this argument. The first is that anti-cloning arguments insult identical twins. The second is that a cloned child is desirable and would be cherished. The third is that the right to clone oneself should a matter of reproductive choice, the government need not get involved. That said, I’d like to note that Bryan Caplan never uses the word “clone” as a noun or a pronoun for potential son. A cloned child is a child conceived and gestated through the means of cloning, but that child is no more a “clone” than a child born of IVF is a “test tube baby.” It’s pejorative language.
I responded briefly yesterday to the simplistic arguments from the commenters on Marginal Revolution, but thankfully TNA’s (I laugh every time I write that abbreviation) Adam Keiper offered a more complex rebuttal on the Futurisms blog.
Before I get into that, I’d like to talk just for a moment about Steve Sailer’s response to Caplan. Sailer’s argument can be summarized thus: Arrogant narcissists want to clone themselves because they are arrogant narcissists, and we know they are arrogant narcissists because they want to clone themselves; Two things result from Caplan’s arrogant narcissism – he doesn’t ask his wife if she wants to raise another kid (misogynist!) and the cloned child will be as arrogant and narcissistic as the father (Freud!), making things frustrating (Lacan!).
Is that perfectly clear? Sailer’s case against cloning hinges on the personality of the person who wants a cloned child; he makes no “cloning is immoral” argument per se, merely that Caplan himself is confused as to how “sublime” raising a cloned child would be. If a person is neither narcissistic or arrogant, but still wants a clone, then Sailer’s case is refuted.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say that Bryan Caplan doesn’t want to clone himself, just another child, but his wife, Corina, wants a clone of him as their next child. Her reasons are her own and I need not conjecture.
Now it’s easy to say Bryan Caplan is an arrogant narcissist: he is a blogger and a professor. To call Corina Caplan arrogant and narcissist is difficult, because by Sailer’s own logic, she couldn’t get along with Bryan let alone have ever gotten married. So in this thought experiment, let’s assume Bryan is just arrogant and narcissistic enough to be a professor and a blogger, but not to want to be cloned, while Corina is well matched personality-wise to enjoy the company of mildly arrogant and narcissistic individuals.
Furthermore, let’s go way out on a limb and assume that Bryan, who clearly takes a significant interest in his family and his children, does not treat his wife as chattel and they share family and household responsibility 50/50. Suddenly, the cloned child is in a situation where the mother wants and knows how to handle him, the father helps plenty and isn’t strong headed enough to cause problems anymore significant than a normal family, and POOF, there goes Sailer’s case.
I know that might be mindblowing to you, Mr. Sailer, but what is misogynistic is not Bryan’s lack of “consulting his wife” which is presumed in this day and age, but the fact that you, Mr. Sailer, presume that Bryan’s wife will be dealing with most of the results.
FURTHERMORE, a cloned child is still their child. The point Cowen was making by bringing up adoption and genetics percentages was an effort to show that our society is okay with variation in genetic relationship to parents. To somehow assume that a clone of Bryan Caplan would be “Bryan’s” child while the other kids were both Bryan and Corina’s is vulgar and preposterous. Cloning is a method of reproduction just like IVF and PGD and rutting in the back seat and the rhythm method. If Mrs. Caplan carried the cloned child to term, he would have Mrs. Caplan’s mitochondrial DNA and would imprint on her, not to mention that the child would have an utterly different environment, family situation, and nurturing conditions. I don’t know why so many neoconservatives are simultaneously genetic determinists and ostensible meritocratists. /rant.
In short: Sailer makes no arguments against cloning, merely against the Caplans’ reproductive rational. His points are based on conjecture and circular logic. Moving on.
Adam Keiper’s more delicious post actually makes arguments against cloning proper. Here we come into the second strange paradox of the neoconservative logic—the impacts of social construction and societal pressure are always important, but god forbid we try to alter the sources.
Keiper quotes, at length, from the Presidential Council on Bioethics, best known for its landmark tome of finger-wagging, arm-crossing, and head-shaking: Beyond Therapy. Keiper is actually citing an essay in Bioethics from the PCB, but the language and logic is the same. A taste, and please note that in the following are assertions there is no explaination of how or why these things are so:
Of course, our genetic makeup does not by itself determine our identities. But our genetic uniqueness is an important source of our sense of who we are and how we regard ourselves. It is an emblem of independence and individuality. It endows us with a sense of life as a never-before-enacted possibility. Knowing and feeling that nobody has previously possessed our particular gift of natural characteristics, we go forward as genetically unique individuals into relatively indeterminate futures.
We haven’t had a grasp on genetics, particularly not on a social level, until the last hundred years, and even then not much till the 1970s. I am almost certain that human beings were endowed with a “sense of life” and “never-before-enacted possibility” before Mendel, Watson, Crick, and Collins, but I might be wrong!
Do you see how these arguments work? The PCB asserts a reality and we nod our heads accordingly, then they say new technology X violates the ineffable, ethereal reality they’ve constructed. Where is the evidence people identify with their genetics? Anyone? Habermas? C.S. Lewis? Fukuyama? Anyone wanna show me some evidence of anybody but the goddamned monarchy system and American political dynasties (Kennedy, Bush) who care that much about genetics?
The previously quoted paragraph from the PCB is so demonstrably false as to be comedic. And just so you know the PCB isn’t a bunch of insensitive jerks, they explain why identical twins don’t count in their calculus:
It may reasonably be argued that genetic individuality is not an indispensable human good, since identical twins share a common genotype and seem not to be harmed by it. But this argument misses the context and environment into which even a single human clone would be born. Identical twins have as progenitors two biological parents and are born together, before either one has developed and shown what his or her potential—natural or otherwise—may be. Each is largely free of the burden of measuring up to or even knowing in advance the genetic traits of the other, because both begin life together and neither is yet known to the world. But a clone is a genetic near-copy of a person who is already living or has already lived.
So let me get this straight: An identical twin, who has the same birthday, same parents, same neighborhood, same friend group, same native language, same historical period, same socio-economic status, same religion, same womb as her twin is less constricted in her life decisions than a cloned child with different all-of-the-above. For real?
Does anyone really believe a cloned child would have any more perceived pressure to live up to their parent’s standard than any other child does? I thought the Oedipus complex was some sort of basic, universal aspect of development, but according to the PCB, it is unique to clones, those poor saps. Are you beginning to see how reductionist and preposterous these arguments are?
I’ve already rambled on for too long, so let me get to the most important points.
First, cloning is a method of reproduction, where in the percentages of DNA are different in the child than they would be from unassisted reproduction. IVF, adoption, surrogate parenting, and egg/sperm donation all also alter the genetic make up of the child from unassisted reproduction and produce no ill effects on parent/child relation. Second, identical twins have orders of magnitude more social pressure to either be like or be different from their twin and have the genetic, nurture, and environmental deck stacked against their becoming individuals, yet they invariably do, in fact, become different people. Third, anytime a bioconservative argues that a cloned child would be subject to exceptional prejudice, pressures, or perceptions which would be detrimental to that child, remember that it is by and large bioconservatives who perpetuate the idea that a cloned child is determined by its genetics, suggest that a cloned child would/should be perceived as lesser than a “normal” child, and help fan the very social stigmas about which they worry.
I too, worry about the social pressures and normative stigmas against children born via cloning, and so I work to break and uproot the biases and dogmas that nourish them. I do not use stigmas and social pressures as a kind of “it would be too hard for a cloned child, so shouldn’t we ban the creation of the little abominations” argument.
Cloning is a method of reproduction, a cloned child is not determined by its genetics any more or less than an identical twin, and if a social dogma is a problem you remove the dogma not the victim.
Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
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