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Do You Fear Eugenics? China Does Not, and that’s a Problem - interview with Chad White
Hank Pellissier   Jun 22, 2015   Ethical Technology  

Four years ago I wrote a trio of essays that generated a barrage of hate mail. The feedback I received wasn’t 100% venomous, but it was more than 50% negative, with one essay getting a thumbs-down 80% of the time.

The three essays were Ban Baby-Making Unless Parents are Licensed, Why is the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews So High?, and Why is Confucian Culture so Wildly Successful?

My triplet articles were threaded together by a politically-incorrect taboo: Eugenics, also known by its more acceptable term - Human Genetic Engineering.

Today its impossible for Americans and Europeans to hear the “E” word without visualizing fascistic atrocities: forced sterilization, Nazi camps, genocide, etc. Wikipedia itself defines the e-word as hellishly damned to the bottom of a slippery slope.

Eugenics is a reviled out-of-bounds topic in the Western ivory tower. When a Quora chatter asked “Why is it taboo?” a barrage of 37 angry comments replied, often in bold, italics or CAPS. Samples include: “don’t be a mini-Hitler”, “the human race would be better off without people who support eugenics”, “it is a stupid notion and most know that”, and “we’ve already heard that story, and we know the ending” followed by photos of Jews getting out of trains.

“We’re never going there again” is the pervasive Western attitude towards anything that resembles breeding for “better humans.”

Transhumanists are marginally more open-minded about eugenics, but it is certainly not an enthusiastic conversation-starter, like AI or The Singularity. Very few h+ writers believe it is an important - and ethical - futurist step. I’m alone at IEET in discussing it, until yesterday…

I interviewed Chad White, a new IEET Affiliate Scholar, with expertise in cell biology. Eugenics, in his opinion, will play a crucially important geopolitical role.

Hank Pellissier: What do you see as the value in human genetic engineering?

Chad White: There are numerous single-trait diseases and disabilities that could be eliminated. A few are Celiac’s Disease (my daughter has this), Huntington’s Disease, Tay Sach’s, Cystic Fibrous, and Sickle Cell Anemia. It would be a magnificent achievement for humanity to eradicate these.

We could also engineer in resistance to ailments that are not genetic. For example, there’s a genetic trait confers resistance to HIV/AIDS. Poverty also has a negative effect on the brain, and high IQ has been linked to prosperity. Humans could be made resistant having a low IQ, even under conditions of squalor.

The USA should promote genetic engineering because it has the potential to be as powerful as all other medicine combined. Eliminating diseases, criminal tendencies, and sub-par IQ markers.

HP: Is there a personal reason why you’re interested in eugenics?

Chad White: Yes. I realize that I have been personally harmed by my genetics, and I have also benefitted enormously. On the plus side, I was able to get through the coursework in a PhD program - I can thank my parents for that.

But… I also have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I define it as “your entire body stops working and you feel horrible all of the time, plus you have brain fog.” Chronic Fatigue is moderately heritable. It weakened me; I didn’t have the energy to be the lab rat they needed, to complete my PhD program. I was forced to take the consolation prize of a Masters degree.

HP: Why is the term ”eugenics” so reviled?

Chad White: My opinion, essentially, is that Adolf Hitler ruined what could have been a breakthrough, a windfall for humanity. What he did was not “eugenics” but he used that term to describe and justify his massacre of the Jews. Eugenics received a black eye from that it will possibly never recover from.

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HP: What about East Asia? They don’t seem to have the same aversion to eugenics that Westerners have.

Chad White: The nation that promotes human genetic engineering will achieve global dominance. If the Chinese do what they say they want to do - they’ll be the next superpower, based on IQ, sheer talent, and numbers. China and other East Asian nations might succeed in this powerful technology, and the rest of the world won’t, because we think it’s unethical. Western fear of eugenics might be it’s fatal flaw, in the future.

China seems to be assuming the lead in human genetic engineering. Western powers could certainly rival China in this all important arena, but China simply does not have the emotional hang-ups that the West has. Besides China, there are other Asian nations that seem to be following suit such as Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan.

HP: How would China use eugenics?

Chad White: The old-fashioned way, at first. It would encourage the best genetic specimens to reproduce. This would likely involve individuals that not only have high IQ, but also exhibit wonderful creative prowess.

HP: Is there a way you’d like to participate in eugenics? Research you’d like to do?

Chad White: My dream is to someday develop the ability to control meiosis in vitro. This would be a hugely powerful technology. The West has advantages in developing this technology but we’re held back by the lack of public support.

HP: Do you think the West will get over its aversion to human genetic engineering?

Chad White: The West has been extremely friendly to change and new technology but they’re highly resistant on this, they draw the line at eugenics. I’m worried. Even the term “designer baby” is used in a negative way; it’s regarded as a dirty little secret and a sell-out. There is a cultural block in the West - a consensus against eugenics on both the political left and the right.

Our choices are to either 1) embrace our genetics technology and use it to attain health and prosperity for future generations, or 2) fear eugenics, and thus allow a select few other nations to dominate.

HP: What’s your opinion on the recent scandal with CRISPR? The Chinese disregard of international bioethical concerns? (I will put in link)

Chad White:  I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, when science issues a moratorium on research, I think they should be listened to. But on the opposite side I worry that our knee-jerk reaction to China’s action is based on American fear of the new technologies, and I’m not happy about that.

HP: Can you tell me a WOW fact about genetics?

Chad White: When an egg and a sperm get together, there are over 74 trillion different chromosomal combinations. This is the main reason why siblings from the same two parents can be so different.

HP:  Any final remarks?

Chad White: The emotional responses to eugenics require us to tip toe around the obvious truth…that all technologies can be used for good or evil. Eugenics is no exception to this rule.

Hitler pursued his twisted version of eugenics through negative enforcement alone. Certainly, eugenics could be performed in an “opposite” manner, using only positive motivators.

Hilter was one of the most effective liars of all time. Just because he labeled his genocide as “eugenics” does not make it so.

One scary fact about Chinese pending dominance of eugenics is that it will be easy to ignore. Due to the long lifespan of humans, we will not see immediate effects. By the time we are forced to take notice, it may already be too late to catch up.

In 50 to 100 years from now, China may feel sorry for us…forever crippled by our cultural inability to accept what could become the biggest technological revolution since the advent of agriculture.

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.



COMMENTS

Excellent article, Mr. Pellissier! With Chad White, you do a fine job of demonstrating the folly of thinking that germ-line enhancements can be stopped simply by a ban in Western countries. James Miller in “Singularity Rising” sketched a world in which the US is forced to proceed full-blast into machine AI because of Chinese progress in genetic engineering. Some safeguards are appropriate, but improvements are moral and necessary. BTW, I read your “controversial” papers and agree, but cannot see how restrictions on parenthood could be implemented.

Hank, my views on eugenics haven’t changed. I view it as an obsolete ideology in view of the growing ability to rewrite genetics in adults. As such, both fears of “ubermensch” and the “justifications” for it’s use as a basis for “improving the human race” are equally laughable, as is any claims of “superiority” by any group that advocates it.

It’s history as a justification for “racial exceptionalism” just reinforces that view.

China wants to engineer “supermen?” SO WHAT? By the time they are old enough to actually “be superior” WE WILL BE ABLE TO INCORPORATE THE SAME GENETIC ADVANTAGE IN ADULTS. That is if we haven’t far surpassed it via cybernetic interfaces.

It’s just a idea that has long outlived any usefulness it might have had.

The comment below is from Chad White, the Advisory Board member interviewed for the article:

“I wish Mr. Ice were right as concerning the following: “WE WILL BE ABLE TO INCORPORATE THE SAME GENETIC ADVANTAGES IN ADULTS.”  The concept you are talking about is called gene therapy.  Scientists such as myself have never even tried to claim that gene therapy would ever be effective for anything but a few select diseases caused by a mutation in a single gene.  Nobody with any authority to speak on the subject has ever claimed that it will ever be useful for increasing the IQ of adults or making any other change involving a complex genetic characteristic.”

I am all for genetic engineering, but when I hear “eugenics” I think of forced sterilization or mass murder.

The term didn’t have this meaning initially, but it has now - languages evolve, and words mean what people think they mean (by definition).

So why do we want to use a term that is now full of negative associations? What’s wrong with “genetic engineering,” or a neologism like “gengineering’?

I think you ought to separate adult genetic therapy from human germline alteration.  In other words, changing the genetic structure of babies, so that those changes can be passed on to their heirs is a questionable venture only the technically optimistic would endorse.  On the other hand, altering your own adult DNA so you are improved, but you can’t pass on those alternations to your children seems to me to be a right I ought to possess.

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/mcgill20150617

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morphological_freedom

“Morphological freedom refers to a proposed civil right of a person to either maintain or modify their own body, on their own terms, through informed, consensual recourse to, or refusal of, available therapeutic or enabling medical technology.”

I might add that there is currently a company who has the technology to alter the adult DNA, but can’t offer it in the US due to regulations against the procedure.

http://joshmitteldorf.scienceblog.com/2015/03/18/tomorrows-anti-aging-therapy-available-today/


“BioViva is a new company offering experimental medical services outside US borders.  Their team includes:

A lab that provides genetically modified viruses with a gene payload, made to order.  (This has now become a reliable and predictable technology.)

A doctor who has experience with experimental gene therapy, and who had the courage to experiment on himself five years ago, with good outcome thus far.

Sites in Colombia and Mexico where doctors will administer therapies for which there is not yet FDA approval.

Most important, a Scientific Advisory Board that includes two of the most prominent, senior biochemists who developed the science of telomerase in the 1990s and before.  They are Bill Andrews and Michael Fossel.”

Mr. Pellissier,
You are absolutely correct. This is a taboo subject in the Western world. Partially because of Hitler and partially because a lot of people are scared of any genetic tampering, especially here in Europe.
But it was not only Hitler who supported eugenics, but Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover as well to name a few (source: Wikipedia).
I disagree in that this would be the most important change in future: AI will get the honors in that. But second important would be a good guess, yes. And conservative, old west will suffer from that.

Anonymous…

A liberal way forward may be government subsidized embryo selection. There may also need to be an addition to the civil rights act so that it is illegal to discriminate for or against those that are the product of embryo selection.

Another extension of the idea that I like to call “Born Human” is that children could only be born using natural combinations of two human parents DNA. All other modifications would have to occur at some age of consent or for some approved medical reasons.

“Born Human” could help to ensure that humans are able to empathize with one another whatever modifications they may undergo voluntarily as adults. It could also prevent natural homo sapiens from being rapidly replaced by a fad of some sort.

To be clear, I’m suggesting VOLUNTARY ONLY embryo selection that is subsidized by the government. No punishments for not participating. This subsidy would almost certainly pay for itself in terms of decreases in disease, poverty and crime, and increases in productivity and innovation.

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