Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Guest Post-- Barry Pollack!!

In writing FORTY-EIGHT X, I wanted not only to entertain readers with a contemporary science fiction thriller but also hoped to foster debate again about the theory of eugenics. Eugenics is a scientific theory formulated by Francis Galton (Charles Darwin's cousin) in the late 19th century. It is the theory that our preeminent traits are almost entirely due to heredity. Eugenics also proposes that the human gene pool cannot only be altered by lengthy process of evolution but by man’s self involvement as well. Galton's theory emphasized that it was predominantly good breeding that allowed one to succeed in life, that nature was more important than nurture. The wealthy titled classes of that era certainly accepted that premise but it was an intolerable theory for most other people to accept since it relegated the masses of the world’s poor to a lifetime of lower class life with little chance of rising up.

Eugenics as a scientific theory therefore fell by the wayside and got a further bad rap in the 1920’s-40’s with forced sterilization of the “mentally deficient” in the United States and then Hitler’s horrific extermination of what he described as inferior races.

Eugenics took another turn in the 1970’s when Robert Graham, a eugenicist and entrepreneur, aimed to improve the species by creating a genius sperm bank, what he called his Repository of Germinal Choice, a sperm bank for Nobel Prize winners. That project also became controversial because one prominent donor to Graham’s sperm bank was William Shockley, a Nobel winner, who was derided for his views that there were inferior races, such as blacks. But unlike in decades passed, Graham perceived eugenics not as a plan to rid the world of inferior people but rather to breed better ones.

The belief that “nature is more important than nurture…. Doesn’t mean people have to be blessed or cursed by their genes – just that adjustments needed to be made.” (Forty-Eight X, page 48)

Does eugenics deserve a comeback? In today’s contest between nature and nurture, has nurture won? Why is it okay to use our limited resources to preserve and reward the least productive among us and less popular to use those resources to promote our very best? For example, American schools spend more than $8 billion a year educating the mentally deficient. Spending on the gifted isn't even tabulated in some states, but by the most generous calculation, we spend no more than $800 million on gifted programs. Does it make sense to spend 10 times as much to “nurture” those with the least potential among us than those with the greatest? Certainly no one today would fall into the trap of labeling inferior genes as malignant and worthy of destroying, like Hitler. But is it wrong to seek genetic enhancement? While we might fault the frivolous use of genetic engineering – to alter our children’s eye color, height, or color – might it not be worthwhile to engineer smarter and healthier people?

Today, we are able to manipulate genes. We’re busy doing it for disease prevention. But we could manipulate genes for other purposes, breeding preferences such as male or female, intelligence, body shape. With that capability come ethical quandaries. Are we playing god? Will manipulation of the human genome mean we can reach our higher potentials or will it pose darker risks allowing us to fall prey to our baser instincts?
I know I don't feel qualified to answer any of those questions!  It certainly makes me think!  What do YOU think??
Thanks to Barry Pollack for stopping by!! :D

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