Dysgenics no Problem

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"Dysgenics no Problem"
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"Dysgenics" is not really a scientific term, but word that betrays a class value. It claims to describe a situation where people with "bad" qualities are more represented in the population than people with "good" qualities. Implicit in the word are middle and upper class values of what is "good".

Dysgenics attempts to create concern because of indicators that women with higher I.Q.s are having fewer children than other (presumably less intelligent) women. This can be described as the problem of "poor people having babies," and it assumes that people who achieve high status in society are somehow inherently superior to those who do not, in much the same way as some religions assume those who are better off are somehow closer to God. The dysgenics argument is a scientificalized version of the notion of "bad seed." It is rarely found alone, and is generally in the company of its mirror self, "eugenics", the belief that our kind can be made better through selective mating.

A serious consideration of the concern over poor people having babies and smart women not reveals a significant misunderstanding of genetics and human evolution, even without the problem of class bias.

First the major points:

1. Well off, intelligent, childless women are often known as "aunts." In every society except the most damaged, aunts make a significant contribution to the welfare of the children of their siblings, particularly sisters. Their contributions might well offset some of the "deprivation" suffered by poor kids from fecund mothers.

2. Genetics is far from simple. Stupid moms can have really smart kids.

3. A smart dad who wanted his kids well taken care of might select a mate on the basis of something other than SAT scores, thereby increasing his reproductive rate and improving the "gene pool".

4. Society doesn't need really smart people, and doesn't want them; typically society selects the mediocre to favor, for many microsociological reasons.

5. Intelligence is far from that simple. Scoring highly on an I.Q. test indicates the person can take that test well. Implications can be drawn from that, but they're implications, nothing more. Even assuming it indicated a very intelligent person, it is unlikely it would indicate a necessarily more successful person in any other sense.

That brings us to the more subtle points. What is good for the species is reproduction. Species success isn't about a handful of real smart critters, it's about relative numbers.

When we worry about rotten genes we're seeing only part of the elephant. Rarely is nature so wasteful as to make a critter with nothing going for it, though statistically, it will happen. More often, a person who is a little less smart might be a little more something else important: pretty, social, resourceful, disease resistant, or physically and emotionally tough. All of these are good things for the species.

Let's pretend we're a minor god who can tinker with human genetics (which is what eugenicists propose doing). We need to give our humans the right traits, and to do that, we need to know what kind of skills they need. What kind of world will our little humans live in?

Many proponents of eugenics guess that having a world full of really smart people means the world will run very smoothly, since people will make the "right choices" because they are so smart. That's a hilarious idea! I've seen many sociology, psychology and political science departments at universities, and they are run no better or more pro-socially than the economics department or the animal husbandry program. Things are relative; if everyone's IQ suddenly jumped ten points, nothing would change.

We like to look at the chart that shows "proto humans" up through "modern humans" and say "look how far we've come, think of how far we can go". But, that chart many of us are familiar with, that has a monkey at one end and a "modern" European man at the other; that chart which provided a mental image of human evolution for a lot of us was over-simplified beyond all usefulness.

It is very likely that if a "modern human" were whisked back through time and deposited with a nice Neanderthal family, he or she would die. Being smart just wouldn't compensate for not being tough and having big solid bones. It seems almost inconceivable to us that a modern human wouldn't slip right in, and in a few days be in charge, and organize things and write things down, and pretty soon be leading the bunch and spreading superior Modern Human genes everywhere. But likely, it isn't true. If the puny human did survive, who would mate with it? If someone mated, the offspring would be relatively weak, too, and have also have an unfortunate habit of chattiness.

Certainly, it is relatively easy to see how technology, including the use of fire, has changed humans physically, but there are situations technology simply can't handle, including those caused by technology and propagated on the world by "smart" people.

So what kind of world, really, will future humans live in? Right now, chances are good the world economy is going to flatten out. The European nations, including the United States, have sucked about all they can from the poor nations. Even the poor of many nations are insisting on better infrastructure and improved standard of living. The wealthy can't afford what they once could, save for an increasingly wealthy few. The movement of people and technology make the world very small, but it is energy dependent.

Best case scenario is an over crowded world where nothing is wasted and each person counts for almost nothing, as in the dystopias of late 19th and early 20th century authors. In this scenario, being smart won't be important, being average will. Average is easier and cheaper to deal with, and the tendency of modern society to favor the average in education and employment will rise to a mandate in the over crowded world. With more people and fewer resources the value of each individual is reduced to a set of manageable variables of work, reproduction, health and recreation. Really smart people tend to become bored, and boredom is not a desirable trait because exploration and entrepreneurship require raw materials, and there are none. Instead, the ability to make do will become important, as well as the ability to make and maintain a variety of immediate social contracts. In the world of the future, it is the ghetto dweller who has the skills to survive.

Worst case scenario is this: global climate change leading to drought and famine in many countries; epidemics of disease we don't have technology to cure; the end of cheap energy and a shift to dangerous energy sources; civil unrest.

In the worst case scenario, all those dumb kids will have a great chance. The character traits that make people difficult for society to place, a tendency toward violence, or a propensity for outside the box (and out of your seat) thinking styles, or early menarche, might well be invaluable to the future, whereas being able to speak well or do esoteric mathematical computations or keep your desk neat might not be so useful.

Even using the over-simplified view of genetic inheritance and the Eurocentric values of "genetic fitness" we can see that the idea of "dysgenic" and "eugenic" social engineering requires the forecasting skills of God, who is already in charge of human genetics.

Some social scientists have pointed out that many of the things we take for granted encourage the continuation of bad genes. Modern medicine allows many people to live and reproduce who should not; things like insulin, vision correcting devices, asthma drugs. Those drugs lead to dysgenic people reproducing (if you are wearing contacts or glasses, take them off now!). For that matter, vaccinations encouraged the weak to survive, and better hygiene encouraged bad genes because fewer people got sick, so our specie's ability to fight of disease was weakened. Indeed, medicine that encourages people with inherited diseases, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, to live, weakens the gene pool.

We notice at once that all these things which weaken our gene pool are caused by smart people! Conclusive evidence that it is smart people who are causing dysgenic tendencies in the gene pool, in which case the problem should take care of itself soon.

If we are pragmatic, we will have more confidence in the forces which have brought our species here, and less confidence in the babbling of a social elite trying to describe itself as superior. No, we have nothing to fear from poor people having babies.

More about this author: Laurenc Devita

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