I was reading the Reuters report about the fatwas issued by ISIS which apparently justify the harvesting of organs of apostates and infidels – even from living individuals – for the sake of transplantation into “good muslims”. There has to be a genetic component to “barbarism”. Then I saw the report of the Pope’s speech at his midnight mass yesterday attacking consumerism and all “bad things”. That got me to thinking that all the pretty speeches made by politicians and Popes, exhorting “good behaviour”, are all meaningless if actions to ensure and sustain “good behaviour” are not also taken. If humans mean that “good behaviour” is something to aspire to and work for, then we must also take the measures available to us which can improve, whatever we may define as “good behaviour”, from one generation to the next. If behaviour is entirely due to nurture then it just requires proper teaching (though the line between teaching and brainwashing is quite thin). But it is not just nurture, of course. There is little doubt, in my mind that there is a significant genetic component to the behaviour that is expressed by an individual.
Certainly there is no doubt that genetics defines the envelope of behaviours that is open to any individual. Normally the envelope of enabled behaviour is so wide that it allows both “good” and “bad” behaviour. Thereafter it may well be nurture and the peculiarities of each individual which determines which particular behaviour will actually be expressed. But the artificial breeding of pets and livestock shows that key behavioural (as opposed to purely physical) characteristics (aggression, curiosity, propensity to cooperate, playfulness, sensitivity, …) can be selected for. Even “intelligence” has been selected for among dogs with some measure of success. It follows that in addition to physical characteristics, the envelope of possible behaviours that can be expressed by an individual can also be altered by genetics. It is highly likely then, that modifying genetics and shifting the envelope will allow certain behaviours to be completely eliminated from the realm of the possible.
Of course it is primarily natural selection which has produced the humans of today and it is this evolution which gives the cognitive behaviour which favours the “compassionate society”. But in this compassionate society, all those who would otherwise have been deselected by natural selection are now protected. The advances of medical science allied with the development of our ethical standards of behaviour (concepts of “human rights”), mean that the physically and mentally disadvantaged are protected and enabled to survive and reproduce. But one consequence is that even those exhibiting “bad behaviour” are also protected and survive to reproduce. The “welfare society” not only protects the weak and disadvantaged, it also ensures that their genetic weaknesses – assuming that they exist – are carried forward into succeeding generations. The “compassionate society” sees to it that even murderous psychopaths (whose behaviour may well be largely due to genetic “faults”), are imprisoned for relatively short times and then permitted (even encouraged) to pass on their faulty genes to succeeding generations.
Something is not right here. To be a compassionate society and protect the weak and disabled is wholly admirable, I think. But when the protection of the weak and disabled extends to the preferential propagation of the weakness or the disability, then the “compassion” also becomes counter-productive and eventually unsustainable. From the perspective of the future survival of the human race, the unnecessary perpetuation of weaknesses and disabilities becomes stupid and suicidal. It may be that the same genes which give some perceived weakness also give some critical survival attribute, in which case there is a trade-off to be made and a call to be taken.
I like the analogy of genetic propagation being seen as a chemical or nuclear reaction. Run-away reactions are avoided if moderation is available. I am coming to the view that some method of moderation of propagation is actually a necessity. Now that natural selection has been neutralised by human compassion and can no longer provide a moderating influence on genetic propagation, then some other form of genetic moderation is needed to avoid “run-away” genetic explosions. That then requires some form of “artificial” selection as the moderator. We may not yet know the specifics and the extent of the genetic components of intelligence or behaviour, but it is a simple conclusion that without moderation, we may well be ensuring the dumbing-down of the human race or ensuring the propagation and expansion of “bad behaviour”. It may not be causal, but there is a clear correlation showing higher fertility rates with lower “intelligence”. It is an arithmetic certainty that, if there is a causal relationship between intelligence and lower birth rates, then the intelligence of humans will decline.
There is nothing fundamentally incompatible between being a compassionate society which protects the weak and the disabled of the current generation, while still ensuring that genetic weaknesses are not carried forward into succeeding generations. In fact, it could even be considered unethical to knowingly allow such weaknesses to be carried forward, especially if we had the knowledge and the means to prevent it. But that, of course, would be considered eugenics.