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New York Times columnist David Brooks weighs in on human genetic engineering with some pithy points and a disturbing passivity. (No link available.) First, the pithy points:

[A]Harris poll suggested that more than 40 percent of Americans would use genetic engineering to upgrade their children mentally and physically. If you get social acceptance at that level, then everybody has to do it or their kids will be left behind.

Which means that sooner or later reproduction becomes a casting call for ”Baywatch” and people like me become an evolutionary dead end. For centuries my ancestors have been hewing peat in Wales and skipping school in Ukraine, but those of us in the low-center-of-gravity community will be left on evolution’s cutting-room floor. People under 5-foot-9 can’t even donate sperm to these banks, so my co-equals are doomed, let alone future Napoleons.

The people who do this will pay no heed to the fact that mediocre looks have always been a great spur to creative achievement and ugliness is the mother of genius.
Brooks’ point is that being less than a perfect specimen often drives people to achievement. Moreover, the drive to genetically enhance, contrary to the utilitarian presumptions of the transhumanists, would mean the end of true diversity. Imagine the stultifying sameness if every man was as handsome as Brad Pitt. If you doubt it this would happen, just follow the fashion tyranny among the young.Now for Brook’s passivity:
I’m not under the illusion that any of this can be stopped. Conservatives like me think that if you want your kids to have Harvard genes you should have to endure living with a Harvard spouse. But the rest of the country is not with us. There’s no way people are going to foreswear the joys of creative genetics. ”I would probably choose somebody with a darker skin color so I don’t have to slather sunblock on my kid all the time,” one potential mother told Jennifer Egan of The Times Magazine last year.
Baloney. I grow weary of learned pundits shaking their heads, sighing, and saying nothing can be done. Such pessimism merely establishes a self-fulfilling prophesy. And it isn’t true. Humans have the capacity to choose and we have the capacity to persuade and to be convinced. If you doubt it, look how in a very short time smoking has gone from a largely participated in activity to a socially disfavored activity which leaves smokers close to becoming pariahs.

People haven’t thought about this deeply yet because it is still a science fiction fantasy. Polls today mean nothing. Shallow people, as the one quoted about skin color, should not drive our culture or public policies. What matters is furthering the cause of universal human rights and intrinsic human value, and explaining to people the tremendous benefit we all receive from the infinite variety of the human species.

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