Richard Dawkins And The Eugenics Argument That Literally No One Asked For

Science

Yesterday, at 7:30 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins opened up Twitter, and for no discernible reason whatsoever launched a defense of eugenics that not a single person the whole wide world over had asked for. Well, not a defense of eugenics so much as a strange tirade about how believing that it would be bad for moral reasons shouldn't mean that people should assume it wouldn't "work."


I don't know what kind of dream Richard Dawkins was having that this was the first thing on his mind on a Sunday morning. Perhaps he was lying in bed, steaming about some conversation he had long ago with someone who told him that because eugenics was morally bad that it wouldn't work. Or that he interpreted as someone saying that because eugenics was morally bad that it wouldn't work, because who is even having that conversation?

Shocked that people would react negatively to his casual, early-morning eugenics commentary, he followed up by explaining that even though we totally could "breed humans" to run faster or jump higher, he wasn't saying that we should.

This seems like it might be a bit of a straw man argument. People realize that things that are morally bad can technically "work" — there are certainly lots of problems that could be solved by murdering someone. Lobotomies, I suppose, also "work," but that doesn't make them a good idea.

We also don't have to fight eugenics on moral grounds, because no one who is not on the total fringes is going around fighting for it. There is no argument to lose. Eugenics, as practiced in Nazi Germany, as practiced here in the United States, was a notoriously horrible, cruel, and stupid practice. As practiced with royalty, it led to inbreeding and hemophilia. It's never worked out well. The American Eugenics Society changed their name to the Society for Biodemography and Social Biology decades ago. This is very much a settled thing. Fighting against eugenics is about as useful as putting signs up at a free clinic advising people not to treat their syphilis with mercury.

While none of this should be taken seriously, I feel like I need to point out that no, it would not "work." How would you even go about doing that? Make literally everyone in the world take a running and jumping test, and if they fail, sterilize them? And then repeat, ad nauseam for the next three hundred years?

And why on earth would we all go through all of this — even if it were not horrifying — just so that, at some point in the future, we'd have people who could run faster or jump higher. Who even wants that? The NBA? Probably not even them, because who would pay to go see people be really good at basketball if everyone were really good at basketball?

Athleticism is more about practice than natural ability anyway — both of my parents were athletes and I nearly died halfway through barre class the other day. How do you account for people who might have the right genetic makeup to run fast and jump high but are simply lazy? It's hardly as if you can take a blood test and find out that you are naturally inclined to be especially bouncy.

If he did not consider any of these things, he should perhaps consider ceasing to brand himself as a professional skeptic — because this is some real magical thinking.

[Richard Dawkins Twitter]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. In addition to her work at Wonkette, she also has a biweekly column at Dame. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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