Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Life unworthy of life

From a Washington Post review of Nicholas Wade's book A Troublesome Inheritance:
After all, recent generations have seen odious prejudices exploited under the guise of scientific legitimacy to justify discrimination, sterilization and even genocide.
This is boilerplate criticism of Wade and HBD in general, of course. This particular iteration is missing Hitler in the excerpt, but the Holocaust and eugenics are subsequently mentioned in the article.

Regarding eugenics, the Respectable Right likes to point out that in the early twentieth century it was an idea championed primarily by progressives, while the contemporary left argues that anything and everything that approaches any of the topics in Wade's book--which it labels a "political tract disguised as scientific writing", despite protestations to the contrary by the author, who happens to be a former NYT's correspondent no less--leaves us a quick hop and skip away from it.

It's difficult for me to feign interest in that polemical debate, but in telling people that in a recent ruling the US supreme court just implicitly said that 1-in-8 blacks are mentally retarded, it doesn't take long for the topic of eugenics to come up (strange how many paths lead down that road--while my predilection theoretically should lead me to potentially steer a conversation in that direction, it's almost always done for me, with both haste and histrionics).

So, here are a few tables that show levels of moral support for the practice of eugenics in the most widespread, realizable, practical form it can currently be practiced in the modern world: The abortion of fetuses with birth defects. The question has been posed in three sets of surveys. The following data are from the two most recent surveys that included the question, 1998 and 2008. The responses are remarkably similar across those two sets (and the earliest one as well). In contrast to another hot button (but arguably distracting and relatively inconsequential) issue--same-sex marriage--public opinion on abortion in the US has been in stasis for at least the last half century.

The percentages of respondents, by political orientation, who say it is "not wrong at all" for a woman to have an abortion if there is a "strong chance of a serious defect in the baby":

Eugenics ok%

This shouldn't come as a surprise to very many people. For those outside the US, note how closely linked political orientation and religiosity are stateside. If you're an American on the secular right, you're an anomaly.

By sex:

Eugenics ok%

This difference is marginal and I'm generalizing enormously, but despite being of a less inherently nurturing disposition, I'd guess that those who are the most willing to stand up for the most vulnerable creatures tend to be men. I've never known a girl who let's a spider outside when she finds one in the house, but I've known a handful of guys who do. That said, men are surely overrepresented at the viciously cruel end of the spectrum when it comes to tormenting the defenseless, too. Males exhibit more variation than women do on more traits than just intelligence.

By race:

Eugenics ok%

The WVS hasn't ever asked about it and comparative international data are scarce, but over the years I've come across several references to a study showing 91% of Chinese geneticists to be supportive of mandatory eugenics. Take that for whatever it's worth.

Finally, by religiosity as measured by frequency of worship attendance. Each range extends to the back of the one preceding it so that all answers are included without any overlap occurring:

Eugenics ok%
Weekly or more31.5
Monthly or more but not weekly48.7
Annually or more but not monthly58.9
Never or exceedingly rarely67.8

Spiritual isonomy. We are all God's children, after all!

GSS variables used: ABDEFCTW(1-3)(4), RACECEN1(1)(2)(4-10)(15-16), SEX, ATTEND(0-1)(2-3)(4-6)(7-8), POLVIEWS(1-2)(3-5)(6-7), YEAR(1998-2008)


Grey Enlightenment said...

Many conservatives can come around to eugenics if it's properly marketed as a way to reduce entitlement spending.

JayMan said...

Very interesting, and clever metric.

On eugenics, and the importance of such, see:

“Squid Ink” | JayMan's Blog

Anonymous said...

I've never known a girl who let's a spider outside when she finds one in the house, but I've known a handful of guys who do.

I've known quite a lot. Especially if a man is doing it for them.

Randall Parker said...

The pragmatic group with the highest support for eugenics is not at all surprising. Consider what that portends for the future.