Should we, as a society, specially breed children for submission to the Achievatron to defeat Chinese mothers and live up to the genetic “Sputnik Moment” in which we find ourselves? Will designer babies be atheists? Peter Lawler, ostensible smart person, seems to think so!
If I am translating his compassionate conservative gibberish properly, Lawler is under the distinct impression that the goal behind designer babies is to make a more productive populace and that doing so will wreak havoc upon our families and lives.
Some background on Peter Lawler. He writes forBig Think, loves The New Atlantis, and was on the President’s Council on Bioethics (PCBE). For those of you unfamiliar with George Bush’s President’s Council on Bioethics, they were the brilliant minds behind halting stem cell research, focusing on it-worked-for-Bristol-Palin abstinence-only sex education, and being generally terrible philosophers and thinkers. Charles Krauthammer was asked his opinion of ethical issues, I kid you not.
In short, the PCBE happily rubber-stamped the backwards and anti-science decrees of Bush and Cheney in an effort to supplicate the deranged Christian base of the Republican party. I tell you all of this lovely information so you have a working context for the luminary that Big Think has decided to employ.
Thus, on to the question: Will designer babies turn the USA into a culture of compulsory overachievement?
Let us examine Lawler’s argument proper, if such a thing can be said to exist. Most of his post is a cobbled together string of non-sequitor rhetorical questions posing as an argument. But he’s a professor, so I’ll show some respect and presume he makes sense.
Lawler’s argument is that if we enhance our children, it’s so they will be competitive and productive, and to make sure enhancement doesn’t increase inequality, we’ll have to make sure they’re all enhanced to the max, regardless of the benefits for the actual child.
Though he doesn’t cite the paper, Lawler’s argument seems to be based on Allen Buchanan’s “Enhancement and the Ethics of Development.” Buchanan’s argument is complex, but part of it revolves around the idea that previous forms of human enhancement (agriculture, printing press, microprocessor) had huge benefits for the economy. Thus, it is logical to conclude that the State has incentive to provide, um, incentives for families to enhance in the name of productivity and the economy.
However, Lawler isn’t addressing Buchanan, merely a disfigured straw-man version of Buchanan’s argument. Lawler’s rhetorical goal is to lead the argument to a point of absurdity, where you’ll react, aghast at how awful a world with enhancement will be. The crowning moment is when Lawler says that the society will neither welcome the “gift” of a child with Down syndrome, nor will it tolerate “all those stupid and disease-ridden Mormon and Catholic kids.” Not so, for the following reasons…
Note: For actual coherent thoughts on designer babies, I suggest Anders Sandberg’s post “Making Babies.”
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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