Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Humanitarian Return to Eugenics?

In his "Theory of Devolution," one anonymous blogger predicts that the success of modern medicine has interrupted the process of natural selection in the human race so much so that we can expect to see a "continually weakening human DNA."

I would go even further. Modern evolution arises not only from humanity's temporary escape from the sharp edges of natural selection, but also from the way in which the resulting population boom is developing. All around the world, except perhaps China, the poor reproduce far more rapidly than the upper classes (see page 20). To whatever extent financial success depends on genetic traits, the huge difference in child-bearing rates between the rich and poor must be devolving the human race to be genetically predispositioned for poverty.

How rapidly should we expect the human race to evolve? The study of evolution rates using DNA is new: Watson and Crick discovered DNA only 53 years ago. More importantly, there is no generally accepted concept for how one measures the "rate" of evolution. How does one separate out the substantial changes in intergenerational genetic traits from the normal quazi-random variation that you see between children of the same parents?

Despite the obstacles to quantifying evolution, one recent study concluded that "in the past 10,000 years a host of changes to everything from digestion to bones has been taking place" [in humans]. And it was only in the last 10,000 years that the first blue-eyed humans appeared!

The same study estimates that "the pace of change has accelerated to 10 to 100 times the average long-term rate." One broad cause for this acceleration is the changing human environment through modernization. A second factor is that the modern population increase provides more humans in which mutations can occur.

The above observations/surmises on human evolution have enormous public policy implications. According to Wikipedia, eugenics is "a social philosophy which advocates the improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of intervention." For anyone familiar with the holocaust, eugenics has a deeply bitter connotation. The Nazi's effort to exterminate the Jews was eugenics in its crudest form. But if we care about the success of future generations, shouldn't we search for public policies that protect not only the environment but also our genetic material?

1 Comments:

Blogger current typist said...

Well--theoretically, perhaps, but I don't know about ethically. I can't see myself comfortable with any decision-making body dictating whose genetic material to discontinue and whose to protect. Do not ethics and morality in general mandate preserving (and legally allowing propagation by) even poor people with bad eyesight, albeit to the detriment of evolution? Does this put the ethical treatment of individuals at odds with what is best for humanity in the long run?

2:35 PM  

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