Charles Frankel 1974: It's Eugenics Time Again!
by Wesley J. Smith
I follow some transhumanist conversations. These would-be remakers of the human race claim the mantle of humanitarian freedom lovers. But their hearts pump dark authoritarian blood. For example, some have recently argued that parents should be prevented from teaching traditional religion to their kids, while at the same time, people should be licensed to bear children. So much for freedom.
Transhumanists also explicitly reject human exceptionalism as the necessary predicate to remake humans in their own image. Thus, J. Hughes yearns for redesigning chimps to have higher intelligence to teach us that we are not special, and indeed, merely another animal in the forest. It is important to remind ourselves that these are not new attitudes, and that they lead to very bad places.
The eugenics movement first blazed this trail, hoping to achieve generally the same means, albeit with cruder means. Thus, we saw involuntary sterilizations, advocacy for social Darwinism by the likes of Margaret Sanger, and in Germany, murder of those deemed deleterious to proper racial hygiene. All of this brings up an important article from back in 1974 by philosopher Charles Frankel, who prophetically warned that the eugenics monster had escaped its cage. From,The Specter of Eugenics:
The new genetics, though it stresses heredity, has paradoxically proved to be capturable by this idea of the omnipotence of society. Society will simply engineer heredity. In the words of the late Hermann Muller, a Nobel laureate, programs of planned eugenics provide the opportunity to guide human evolution, to make unlimited progress in the genetic constitution of man, to match and re-enforce his cultural progress and, reciprocally, to be re-enforced by it, in a perhaps never-ending succession. Sure sounds like transhumanism to me.
More prescience from Frankel: Existing practices provide a setting in which the idea of broad eugenic planning may seem hardly more than an extension of what is known and accepted. We endorse compulsory vaccination and chest X-rays for school children. Why not mass genetic screening or other methods for avoiding the transmission of hereditary defects or for accomplishing the improvement of the human stock? This is already proposed in some quarters:
A host of gathering trends in our society favors this easy transition: the pressures for population control; the declining death rate; the growing costs of supporting the old, the sick, and the handicapped; the size of the welfare population and the resentments caused by its existence; the altered standards regarding abortion; the movements in law and morals which, with accelerating force over the last generation, have facilitated the decline of the family and of the marital idea. Remember, this was written forty years ago. And he nailed it!
We always think that we have the wisdom to do new and radical things. But human nature is what it is. Utopianism leads to despotism. Frankel was worried:
The most astonishing question of all posed by the advent of biomedicine, probably, is why adults of high intelligence and considerable education so regularly give themselves, on slight and doubtful provocation, to unbounded plans for remaking the race.
The factor responsible is not biomedicine; something else can be the catalyst tomorrow. It is the larger idea which has shaped the major traumatic events of the last three hundred years of modern history. What unites the Puritan radicals, the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, and the Maoists is the deliberate intention to create a new man, to redo the human creature by design.
That is the modern idea of Revolution, an idea not entertained in the ancient world except as a matter of faith, miracles, and the destruction of temporal things. It is what has lifted revolution in the modern world above purely mundane concerns like overthrowing tyranny, or putting more capable or decent people into power, and has made it a process of transcendent meaning, beyond politics or pity, and justifying any sacrifice.
Add in the transhumanists' desperate yearning for immortality, and you have the potential for a perfect Utopian storm.
The partisans of large-scale eugenics planning, the Nazis aside, have usually been people of notable humanitarian sentiments. They seem not to hear themselves. It is that other music that they hear, the music that says that there shall be nothing random in the world, nothing independent, nothing moved by its own vitality, nothing out of keeping with some Idea: even our children must be not our progeny but our creations.
Frankel died in 1979, but he still has much to teach. Society take warning.
[Note: Society take warning. Yes, and it goes back even further than 1974. Take a look at these ancient myths and see if any of the plots and dogmas sound like today's transhumanism: written by world famous expert on Gnosticism Hans Jonas in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, quoted almost in its entirely in Irving, "GNOSTICISM, the Heretical Gnostic Writings, and 'Judas'" (April 9, 2006), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_121gnosticism1.html. Their intermediary rumblings sound oh so kind and gentle and 'beneficent' -- but check out the ultimate destructive goals and aims that today's transhumanists don't mention (and know you don't know about). They are amazingly similar to those of the ancient Gnostics. The article first appeared here. - DNI