Pro-Choice for the Wrong Reasons

I don't believe life begins at conception. I think an embryo is far too unlike anything that has right's worth respecting, or dignity worth preserving. The more you know about the characteristics of an embryo (or lack thereof) the more claims about it deserving protection violates normal human intuitions.

Some people might call my position pro-choice. Regardless of whether that label truly applies to me, I notice the people who call themselves pro-choice generally justify their position on very different grounds.

In Defense of Eugenics

Recently Richard Dawkins got in trouble for this Tweet pictured on the left.

His Tweet is structurally equivalent to,

"You may object to me killing you by shooting you in the head on moral or ideological grounds. It's quite another to conclude it wouldn't physically work in practice."

This should be pretty uncontroversially true. But saying "Eugenics would work in practice" is like saying, "Hitler didn't eat babies." Sure it's true, but why are you saying it?

One reason is that the defense of a position should not be built on obvious bullshitting. This is the tactical explanation.

Another reason is that stirring up controversy is an effective social media strategy.

But I also think some people just get annoyed with illogical nonsense even when it's in defense of their own side. I suspect Dawkins is expressing a grievance that he personally finds frustrating, and the tactical explanation is an ex-post rationalization for why irrationality doesn't work. Maybe it does work. Maybe pretending like eugenics doesn't work is a useful myth. I don't know.


Dawkins, for clarity's sake,  subsequently renounced Eugenics. I don't blame him. He got in trouble for saying one good thing about eugenics, it would be social suicide to defend it as a whole. What kind of fool would write anything In Defense of Eugenics?

Uh, me. 

Because most people's worldview is built on associations not logic, and for them, Eugenics = Nazis = Pure Evil, let me first express my alliance with the lord of evil. Hail Satan. 

How you define Eugenics is going to matter a lot. Wikipedia defines it as,
"a set of beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population by excluding certain genetic groups judged to be inferior, and promoting other genetic groups judged to be superior."
This is not the definition I will be using

Dictionary defines it as,
"the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics."
This second definition is broader than the first and leaves room for good eugenics and bad eugenics. I don't like that "excluding certain genetics groups judged to be inferior" part.

The value of eugenics depends on how it's undertaken and what it's goals are. Forced sterilization to keep "inferior" races from population growth is bad eugenics. But if you have a serious genetic disorder and don't want to have children as a result that might be an example of good eugenics. Both these examples and everything in between is eugenics.

If your mate choice has anything to do with what kind of children you want to have, that's eugenics.

To determine if we're talking about good or bad eugenics, we should ask,

Is this a policy that prevents certain populations from breeding?
Is this a policy that forces certain populations to breed?
Is this a program that encourages certain populations from breeding?
Is this a program that discourages certain populations from breeding?
Is this a personal choice about whether to breed and who to breed with?
Is the purpose racial population control?
Is the purpose increasing qualities like IQ or physical fitness or conscientiousness?
Is the purpose lowering the prevalence of genetic diseases?

Once you stop defining eugenics as "the Nazi program", you start to realize there's a lot of nuance to think about. We can debate which lines we don't want to cross and which kinds of eugenics is bad. But if we impulsively discard anything that can even vaguely be called eugenics we'd be learning the wrong lessons from history.

Also read Picking Apart Eugenics which includes an array of examples of how people use the word.
And read Eugenics is Possible to understand how the ability to decouple ideas is driving this controversy.
And read Jacob Falkovich for more on decoupling

Missing Half the Story

In this post I'm going to talk about areas where researchers only look at half the story. When I notice something like this; a big gaping mistake that all the smart people seem to ignore, I'm very open to the possibility that I'm the one who's missing something. But since I can't seem to figure out where I've gone awry, this is much a post about pointing out other's mistakes as asking to be shown my own.

The two topics where I see half the story notably absent from researcher's view are climate change and the gender wage gap. I will start with climate change.

"Paying" Attention and "Spending" Time

Somehow, despite anyone's insight or directive, the phrases "paying" attention and "spending" time got built into our vocabulary. I think this is amazing because attention and time are overlooked currencies. The opportunity cost of wasted time and the depletion of cognitive resources are heralded as great insights by economists and psychologists. But they're right beside us, nested within our language.

Your Brain is an Organ

We think differently about muscles than we do organs. Generally, we consider organs robust, and muscles anti-fragile.

Remember that robust refers to the kind of thing that does not easily break under pressure, and anti-fragile refers to the kind of thing that actually gets stronger under pressure.

The heart is largely made up of cardiac muscle, which is why exercising your heart by jogging is good for your heart. This is anti-fragile. Your liver is an organ, which is why it can probably tolerate excessive amounts of alcohol, but ultimately the drinking will wear your liver down not make it stronger. This is robust.

My society has a popular saying: "the brain is a muscle," often followed by the words, "use it or lose it." The Use it/Lose it part accurately depicts the anti-fragile quality that they're trying to bestow upon the brain. But it's important to understand, the brain is not a muscle in any literal sense. It is an organ. This expression that I hear all the time is an explanation of what society believes, it is not evidence.

2020 January Links

This post is my list of links for January 2020. My intellectual trade deficit every month is usually massive - I import a lot more information than I output. Link posts largely, though nowhere near entirely, track my intellectual imports.

Link posts give me a log to look back on. Moreover, the act of writing these links posts is a practice that helps embed the information into my head.

In a lot of ways writing these link posts throughout the month is one of my favorite things about keeping this blog.

Now the links:

Modern and Historical Superstitions about Teething

While reading research on teething pain, I came across several shocking historic superstitious beliefs about the topic. Ready for this?

Bigots and Bullshitters

In my travels through idea land, I often cross paths with people I consider bigots and people I consider bullshitters. They're on different ends of the intellectual domain, but they have something in common, their membership seems to be an overresponse to the other. Bigots slip into bigotry because they hate the bullshit, and bullshitters embrace the bullshit because they fear becoming bigots. They both think they're protecting society from the other, but in fact, they unknowingly maintain a symbiotic relationship.

Spanking and Vaccines

Earlier, I wrote a post called Short Term Pain Long Term Trauma. It said that when parents make their children suffer, the potential for long-term trauma should be the same regardless of whether the suffering was justified. Two examples of this might be spanking and vaccinations. I want to zoom in on these examples now.

No Pain No Trauma

Story 1: Mr. bad parent pushes his 4-year-old son to the ground for no reason. The son scrapes his elbow and bangs his head. After a trip to the emergency room finds that the son will be fine, the child wonders, "why would daddy do this?" Although the incident resulted in no physical trauma to the child's head, the psychological trauma takes a toll. The child goes on to get fewer years of education, receives a lower income and is more likely to end up in prison.

Story 2: Mr. good parent pushes his 4-year-old son to the ground and out of the way of a moving vehicle. The son scrapes his elbow and bangs his head. After a trip to the emergency room finds that the son will be fine, the child, too young to understand what happened, wonders, "why would daddy do this?" Although the incident resulted in no physical trauma to the child's head, the psychological trauma takes a toll. The child goes on to get fewer years of education, receives a lower income and is more likely to end up in prison.