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

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