They’re impervious to racism and other forms of prejudice

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

Almost all human traits are partly heritable, Charles Murray notes:

That’s been known for decades. But until a few years ago, no one knew what specific bits of DNA code determine any given trait. Now, however, geneticists have identified at least a few hundred variants in the DNA code that are statistically associated with important traits such as intelligence, depression and risk tolerance. Over the next decade, they are on track to identify thousands of variants associated with dozens of traits. That achievement will open up the ability to score genetic potential on those traits and thereby revolutionize the social sciences.

The methods of scoring are improving almost monthly, but the essence is simple. Each variant has a version (more precisely, one of the alleles in a single nucleotide polymorphism) associated with a small boost to the trait in question. If you add up those small boosts, you have a score for that trait, in the same sense that you have an IQ score if you add up all the correct answers to the questions on an IQ test. In the case of DNA variants, it is called a “polygenic score.”

Polygenic scores are revolutionary because they are causal in only one direction. They don’t drop because tests make you nervous or rise because you grew up rich. They’re impervious to racism and other forms of prejudice. Socioeconomic and cultural environments can play an important role in how those bits of DNA are expressed, but they don’t change the codes themselves. That means polygenic scores will offer social scientists something they’ve never had before: a secure place to stand in assessing what is innate and what is added by the environment.

Progress during the past five years has been rapid for many traits. In the case of IQ, the share of the variation in scores that can be explained from genetic material alone went from zero in 2015 to 5% in 2018 and 11% in 2019. That doesn’t tell us much about any individual’s IQ, but it’s enough to be useful in addressing many important issues.


I don’t expect such analyses will be free of controversy. I am asserting that they are technically feasible, will be conducted within a few years, and will offer powerful tests of questions that have been argued for decades.

I expect we’ll be discussing Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class quite a bit in the coming weeks.


  1. Kirk says:

    Admitting to the heritability of behavioral traits is tantamount to acknowledging that racism has a basis in science. It’s a near-inevitable outflow from it. The only difference between “heritable behavioral traits” and the things that underlay the old ideas about race is that we would now have a perfect justification for being racists, because what is the basis for racism but a recognition that some groups are less fit than others for civilization?

    What’s bad about it all is that there’s going to be a huge fallout from this, once all the markers are well-known and easily testable. Certain patterns will no doubt be associated with criminality and so forth, others with “good citizen”, and instead of the recognition that these markers only amount to predisposition, not predestination, we’re going to be on our merry way to a hell of our own making, one that will make the outrages of Gattaca look tame. How’d you like your job interview to be predicated entirely on your genome…?

    Not a fan of this whole thing, and I can see some serious problems coming up. The reality is that what’s in the genes is only a clue, a sign of predisposition towards a certain behavioral path. It’s not predestination, but we’re gonna treat it like it was.

    The whole thing is going to be just like that poor bastard I knew in high school–Big, muscular, athletic football god. Thing was, football bore no interest whatsoever for him, outside of making his dad happy. He wasn’t the least interested in athletics; all he wanted to do was visual art stuff. Yet, football. Horrible thing, the way that warped his life, and the sad fact was, he had no natural talent for art, but he was an effortless football player, a natural.

    I always kinda pitied him.

  2. Samuel S. Soho says:

    The whole point of diversity is to make all of the undesirable traits of the lower people not only desirable but sought after. Disgusting habits ? Check. Inhumanity and Cruelty ? Check and Check. Aggression towards outside groups ? Check. Ignorance ? Check. Physical unattractivness ? Check. Lets make all of normalcy a taboo, and all of this manditory.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    I have a high IQ, and I’m the only one in my family. That’s why I doubt it’s possible to breed for intelligence. Also, every ruling dynasty has regressed to – or even below – the mean.

    One of these days I’m going to make the effort to understand non-Mendelian inheritance, There’s something nonlinear or multifactorial going on here.

  4. Graham says:

    I don’t see how one can look at the bulk of humanity alongside their natural parents and not conclude at least some [some large] role for heredity in all that the offspring do in their lives. Everything I see about twin studies just ices the cake.

    Sure, the same empirical evidence one gathers while living among humans suggests roles for parental environment and peer environment, but even without the twin issue I’d be unconvinced by any argument that puts both those together at 50 % or better overall. [I suspect they will end up being measured against heredity trait by trait, so some will be all environment or near as not.] Mainly because I have so much in common in every way with my parents, despite growing up in a different country, era and [wildly better] social and economic conditions from them, and their parenting styles likely as much different from those of their parents as the social environment was different. For that matter, I doubt my peer environment overmuch resembled my father’s, still less my mother’s.

    Even so, to extend that to class or race without caveats, or to assume with terror that this must be true, carries it rather far.

    Classes have done in their advantages by inbreeding at the extreme. To date, they have also had no way to genetically test potential mates, so I doubt any social elite was ever without all manner of flawed people, even by their own standards of conduct and accomplishment. It would be shocking indeed if there had not been regression to the mean, even if it were genuinely possible to breed true for preferred traits. No one ever had a clear map of those traits, nor even yet. For all the past millennia in which countless people have chosen mates, one way or another, assuming they would make quality children. Analog version 1.0 eugenics was always with us.

    As to race, probably. But, huge but, in addition to trait mapping, to leap immediately to maximal racialist conclusions from the simple idea of hereditable behavioural traits, one would need to ignore that the large continental racial groups have been separating and reconnecting at many points through history. Everybody sooner or later has a bit of many things, if not necessarily everything.

    That sort of thing, or its negation, often leads many to huge political conclusions, and it’s true might do so again, but I’m not so sure for my part.

    Just as one could conclude all-in for heredity and not decide to embrace slavery, one could conclude full-on for environment and it doesn’t mean I need to love mankind as my brothers or open the borders. THough some would insist that’s what it means.

  5. Kirk says:

    “The whole point of diversity is to make all of the undesirable traits of the lower people not only desirable but sought after. Disgusting habits ? Check. Inhumanity and Cruelty ? Check and Check. Aggression towards outside groups ? Check. Ignorance ? Check. Physical unattractivness ? Check. Lets make all of normalcy a taboo, and all of this manditory.”

    I wish I could say this was wrong, but… The fact is pretty plain that there’s more than a slight element of truth to what you’re saying. My opinion is that we’re possibly unique in that for some damn reason, our elites seem hell-bent on vilifying everything that made them successful, while elevating the things that made the underclasses such supreme failures. The illogic of this, and the lack of similar patterns in other cultures leaves me utterly baffled. I doubt you could find this same syndrome anywhere in ancient Rome or other civilizations, so why here, and why now?

  6. Harry Jones says:

    Kirk, the clue to your bafflement is in another kind of heredity: these people never had to earn their status. They were born into it. That has deleterious effects on character. Add an oedipal complex with ressentiment (of their superior ancestors) and there you have it.

    (As for the tech millionaires, they just like centralized power. They get off on it.)

  7. Albion says:

    Why do our elite eagerly promote that which degrades and destroys, when their advantages ride comfortably on the wings of power and wealth? One of life’s great mysteries, though these people do tend to believe that whatever happens to the ordinary folk is remote from them. They can always flee when things go wrong, though that may have been briefly the feeling in parts of Paris prior to the French revolution.

    There is also the whole business of believing what one regards from a distance constitutes a reality. It’s like a form of elementary magic even if the person professes to not believe in supernatural forces: one talks about something earnestly (while never actually having been there though quoting from glib media outpourings of people who haven’t either) and somehow some situation will be improved and legions of people will see the sense of the opinions trumpeted. It’s so easy over a glass of wine in a warm environment, too. To paraphrase the TV character Picard ‘Wish it so.’

    Thus we have so-called leaders and pretend inspirational figures (frequently not very inspirational when you discover something of their indulgent and perhaps selfish lives) to state they have an opinion and somehow that solves everything. Often, being concerned doesn’t really help anyone, but it sounds good and we really like appearances.

    We are prisoners of the surface, instead of examiners of the substantial.

  8. Kirk:

    “The whole thing is going to be just like that poor bastard I knew in high school–Big, muscular, athletic football god. Thing was, football bore no interest whatsoever for him, outside of making his dad happy. He wasn’t the least interested in athletics; all he wanted to do was visual art stuff. Yet, football. Horrible thing, the way that warped his life, and the sad fact was, he had no natural talent for art, but he was an effortless football player, a natural. I always kinda pitied him.”

    This isn’t really supposed to happen. Look. People get all this kind of “follow your passions” or “do the work you would do if you had a million dollars” kind of advice. But from where are passions supposed to come from? Why is it taken for granted that there will be for everyone a productive thing they will like to do?

    And one answer I can find is that simply if we are talented and good something, we will like that, because we like success, praise, respect.

    So this should not really happen.

    Now, one thing I am grateful to Isegoria for is having blogged about Randall Collins, I was not aware that there is such a thing as good sociology. And another very good sociologist is Theodore Kemper, who first covered the biological, later the social aspects of it, and if you go on his website and download Power and Status and the Power-Status Theory of Emotions.doc basically what he is arguing that the reason we like something is that thing is high status in the eyes of a reference group we respect, which reference group might be entirely imaginary. What would Spiderman do and all that. My review-like post here:

    So usually if you are talented at football, your reference group like parents, coaches, friends will reward you with status for it and that is how you develop a passion for it. But it might have happened that he had some kind of a reference group that valued art more. This can be imaginary – maybe he just read a novel which was about a really respected artist and the reference group is the imaginary characters in that novel.

  9. TRX says:

    “our elite”

    “Elite” implies a superiority that the more-accurate “parasites” does not…

  10. CVLR says:

    Albion: “Why do our elite eagerly promote that which degrades and destroys, when their advantages ride comfortably on the wings of power and wealth?”

    Because the “elite” you see on television and in papers and on books are paid lackeys?

    Harry Jones: “(As for the tech millionaires, they just like centralized power. They get off on it.)”

    Nonsense. Tech is all about freedom and liberty. It is very nice. It builds shiny skyscrapers ex nihilo in an ocean of degradation.

    In the absence of Tech, San Francisco would’ve long ago been abandoned. Like Detroit. Or whatever.

    Because Tech is uniquely exempt from the paradox at the heart of double-entry accounting.

  11. Dan Kurt says:

    The hope I see in the avalanche of knowledge happening currently in understanding the traits of Polygenic scores is that signal mistakes in public policy, grievous mistakes, may now be reversed. The first I hope to see eliminated should be the insanity of Disparate Impact. Eventually the IQ shredding drive for Diversity could be abandoned and some day the Civil Rights laws repealed (like Prohibition was in the 1930 to universal cheering) allowing freedom of association to return to the USA.

  12. Kirk says:

    Dan Kurt… So, what you’re suggesting is the creation of a caste system like the one India has? One based on supposed genetic correlations?

    Repeat after me the two following precepts:

    1.) Predisposition does not equal predestination.

    2.) We don’t know what we don’t know. The interaction of genetic information with epigenetic influences and the environment are as yet things we do not understand. Premature use of this information to make decisions stands a very good chance of completely warping society along lines that may well be entirely contrary to the stated goals–You may think you’re selecting for something, when the reality is that you’re going to get something else entirely in a few more generations.

    Wise people do not do what we’ve done with IQ testing, which is to use it as a proxy for virtue in the creation of a new “meritocratic elite”. From the evidence around us, it can be made out that we have signally failed to actually accomplish that, and it’s because we have prematurely applied things we don’t really understand. If you think that’s produced some nightmare issues, wait until the new Gattaca rules apply.

    I counsel caution, and a multi-generation study of this sort of thing.The way personality and behavioral traits appear to be spread across the genome, there’s no telling what “interesting” side-effects you’re going to get when you start selectively knocking things out. The evidence for all this is pretty plain when you look at the domesticated fox studies in Russia, and then look at the broad outline effects on generalized domestication. The behavioral traits we get with domestication seem to include an awful lot of physical markers from all over the genome–It’s not like there’s one specific section of DNA that controls behavior, or which doesn’t have other side effects. We don’t know, for example, why it is that domesticated animals all trend towards floppy ears and differently-colored coats. But, that’s what shows up…

    Hell, you could very well look at the black/white question as “white/asian = domesticated man” and “black = feral/wild man”, and maybe not be too far off. Which is better is a value judgment I don’t propose to make, in terms of survival traits.

    Again, I want to reinforce: We don’t know what we don’t know, and applying any of this BS past a purely experimental stage would be utter folly.

  13. Graham says:

    Harry Jones,

    Ideally, an elite should have to earn its status every generation through war, with the hereditary patriarch of each generation insisting on his sons proving themselves.

    This is not impossible to replicate in a society whose elite is based on business and finance, professions, or entertainment, but it’s tougher, and the youngest of those elites hasn’t been around long enough to inculcate this way of thinking and likely neither will last long enough nor is composed of the types of men who would adopt this expectation of themselves.

    It’s not necessarily an ideal social model, but if you manage to get wildly disproportionate losses of upper class young men in the trenches, at least you got their upbringing right.

  14. Graham says:

    The unfortunate thing about white men, such as we are, is that the predominantly domesticated ones are too domesticated, and the leftover ferals are too feral. Or are that strange mix of the feral and the passive that calls itself the incel.

    What happened to the happy medium of men we used to have all over the place I’m not sure. I fondly imagine they are still everywhere, just busy getting on with it, and perhaps it is so, but that might be insufficient.

  15. Dan Kurt says:

    re: “Dan Kurt… So, what you’re suggesting is the creation of a caste system like the one India has? One based on supposed genetic correlations?” Kirk

    Not even close.

    I believe that the science of molecular genetics will dispel the fiction that everyone is equal in a literal sense and that genetic knowledge will bring some sanity to government so it will cease governing as if it were true.

    Currently we are under civil rights laws that use the power of governmental force to intervene in all affairs, public and private, to ensure that everyone is treated equally and more and more to ensure equality of not just opportunity but results. I would want the USA to be guided by Rights championed by the founders: Natural Rights.

    Kirk, it appears you have a problem with IQ. Not to be insulting, I urge you to study the subject. Let me suggest you read the corpus of La Griffe du Lion:

  16. CVLR says:

    Harry Jones,

    If man can breed dogs, why cannot he breed himself?

    If it had happened would there be any evidence?


    “Wise people do not do what we’ve done with IQ testing, which is to use it as a proxy for virtue in the creation of a new “meritocratic elite”. From the evidence around us, it can be made out that we have signally failed to actually accomplish that, and it’s because we have prematurely applied things we don’t really understand.”

    It hasn’t been used as a proxy for virtue, it’s been used as a proxy of economic potential.

    And it’s been an enormous success. The rich are vastly richer, more wealth is vastly more concentrated, and the best “human capital” is smarter and vastly more cloistered than ever before.

    Sure, following the World War the culture evaporated (or did it melt into air?), but only free men care about such things. For everyone else Earth is perfectly satisfactory as a Designated Economic Zone.

    Read my lips: I love BIS.

  17. Harry Jones says:

    War seems horribly inefficient, destroying the good with the bad. But I guess it will do until something better comes along.

    CVLR, I give you the fact that every dynasty is a natural experiment, proving that you can’t breed the desired traits in humans. The question of why not can be saved for another day, but first we must face the empirical fact that it doesn’t work.

    That means we must somehow outgrow hereditary narcissism. Each parent must face the awful possibility that his children are not all above average.

    It occurs to me that cloning might work to create a super-race, because the operation of genes there is in theory a trivial facsimile copy, but there are unknowns.

  18. CVLR says:

    Earlier, you cited your experience as “the only smarty in your family” as evidence that intelligence cannot be made to breed true.

    But does this actually make sense? There are many families who have successfully stabilized themselves at a mean of around 120, and they aren’t terribly difficult to find. If you look there are a few at 130, and if you really look maybe you’ll find one or two at 140, or 150, or higher.

    Marry well.

  19. Graham Barnes says:

    With war, it depends on how much, how often, where it is located and how it is fought.

    Granted, it has probably outlived its greatest usefulness at least for the specific function of elite training and place-earning. WW1 certainly did more harm to European elites than was good for them, especially in Britain.

    In somewhat lower tech eras, especially if largely fought away from your own country and by an elite able to produce more than one son, it proved a tad more useful. But you’re certainly right that it had a tendency to take the better sons as often as not.

    The other consideration is that in a world, as now, where civilian life has comparatively few perils to life and limb, the chances of one’s golden heir dying anyway in peace are far less, and he is less likely to have brothers, so the relative risk of sending him off to war loom all the larger.

  20. Harry Jones says:

    CVLR, you’re trying too hard. First off, a 120 IQ doesn’t impress me. It’s just not that far out there. Secondly, there are non-genetic factors that run in families. Thirdly, even a well-run family will go to pieces after three generations – the non-genetic factors also fail over time from lossy transmission. You’ve got to look at the fourth or fifth generation before it means anything.

  21. Graham says:

    Those are valid points but they need their own caveats-

    1. One can set an artificially high barrier to anything in order to define it away. Saying that important things are hereditary and some are very hereditary, and can even be selected for, and have been, doesn’t mean we may ever be able to select for them with perfect accuracy or, corollary, that they will not fail over time or such failure will not recur at intervals. That would probably be true even if every trait were 100% hereditary unless our knowledge were also perfect.

    High definitional barriers for success are a common tendency today, and not a very recent one. I once read an essay explaining that postwar Poles had lost faith in their precommunist traditions because of the failure of the state in 1939.

    On the one hand, that was about as catastrophic as military defeat gets, and the Polish state had had both its domestic drawbacks and its diplomatic and military failures. But it’s not at all clear to me that it would have had a chance in the time available to become so militarily robust as to be able to hold off both Germany and Russia, since they also would be developing and had a larger base to start, and there was likely no diplomatic scenario in which a Polish alliance with either one against the other would redound to Poland’s ultimate benefit. So using what happened in 1939 to condemne the second republic struck me as rather a high set of expectations.

    Ditto whether or not political scientists deem any state system successful or not, or to what degree. Ultimate state or civilizational collapse is not really a mark of inferiority as such. They all fail eventually.

    Tangents, yes, but I find the approach is very common.

    2. No one among any of those elites exactly had much to go on other than Mark I Eyeball until quite recently. Personal or Familial Eugenics was necessarily replete with gambles based on limited information.

    Plus, of course, they weren’t solely doing eugenics at the best of times. They also self-limited the pools of candidates in order to form specific alliances of states or houses or to acquire specific lands, or similar such reasons. Or to hold lands within a particular lineage.

    Even then, they all didn’t do too badly.

    Look even at the Habsburgs, poster boys for genetic decline by the end. They managed fairly decent up and down quality for centuries, turning out impressive characters like Maximilian I, Charles V, and Philip II as late as the 16th century. The SPanish line declined the fastest, falling apart in the 17th century, but the Austrian line produced some half decent emperors in that same century, if regressed from Charles V. The female lineage, linked to the equally old house of Lorraine, produced some decent quality figures up to Franz Josef II. Arguably the unfortunate Archduke Ferdinand and final emperor Karl were capable enough men.

    The Russian Romanovs deteriorated catastrophically in the one generation from Alexander III to Nicholas II. That was rather fast, but then they had also had the weirdest, and most open to outsiders, royal breeding strategy of the preceding few centuries. So don’t know what to make of it.

  22. CVLR says:

    Harry, you’re projecting.

    Firstly, 120 is fine, serviceable for basic college studies and perfectly adequate to produce a family of medium-town general doctors. I wouldn’t want it to be me, but there are worse fates, let me tell you.

    Secondly, twin studies. Read for yourself; and there are a million others.

    Thirdly, your “lossy transmission” can be boiled down to one thing: how much blood do you share with each of your four great-grandfathers? If you’re a Scot and you marry a Pole, don’t be surprised when your children (or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren) don’t “take after” your great-grandfathers.

    I was going to write something about my sneaking suspicion that “random” smart folk have spikier intelligence profiles, but then I recalled the wise words of Emily Post:

    If you have any ambition to be sought after in society you must not talk about the unattractiveness of old age to the elderly, about the joys of dancing or skating to the lame, or about the advantages of ancestry to the self-made.

    And so it is.

  23. CVLR says:


    I don’t know enough about the old aristoi to comment, but you make some good points. I’d only add that the Mark I Eyeball is very good and very accurate, honed as it is over untold millions of years to discern the finest of competitive differences. It’s only the impersonal systematic state that needs the ASVAB/SAT to measure (and therefore commodify) its “human capital” effectively.

    “The Russian Romanovs deteriorated catastrophically in the one generation from Alexander III to Nicholas II. That was rather fast, but then they had also had the weirdest, and most open to outsiders, royal breeding strategy of the preceding few centuries.”

    Very interesting datapoint.

    “So don’t know what to make of it.”


  24. Graham says:

    I concede the Romanovs probably don’t prove much, save that a complex and arbitrary breeding strategy or lack of strategy might not do better at the end than a highly systematic and even inbred one.

    The Habsburgs, as noted, were heavily inbred but one branch declined rapidly in 17c Spain to absurdity while the other soldiered on reasonably well in the same century in Austria. The latter’s still critical problem was lack of fecundity, though, ending with a female heir Maria Theresa, who was a half decent stateswoman and ruler. She married the Duke of Lorraine, from a royal house probably older than hers, likely less inbred than hers but still from the same caste. The male line from her and her husband, therefore, was actually his house with female line Habsburg blood. I appreciate this is not insignificant, but it still an inbred royal house with a somewhat less inbred one, producing mostly solid monarchs, occasionally a too imaginative reformer, for over a century more. And decently competent heirs even now. They manage a huge portfolio in Europe and elsewhere. Not sure who they’ve been marrying- they probably gave up the inbreeding but I’ll bet not too many commoners.

    The Romanovs started later, being prominent nobles and then rulers only centuries after the Habsburgs. And the Russian nobility had never been so picky as the Habsburgs, and got very flexible for political reasons. Already in the early 18th century Peter the Great married [second wife] a peasant woman, who served as empress after him, and at least one of the later heirs was her daughter, Empress Elizabeth.

    Elizabeth was brilliant, an argument for breeding Romanovs with Polish peasant girls. The other rulers of the period tended to be Russians crossed with German royals, but from all over the huge number of German princely families. Plus Russian nobles and some possible illegitimacy issues.

    Then there was Catherine the Great, not a Romanov at all but the widow of one, from a minor German princely family.

    The whole 18th century was quite a sketchy era for them. Paul I, her son, was a bit emotionally dodgy. His son, by a more conventional marriage, was the comparatively brilliant Alexander I. Following him, they produced a harsh but competent tyrant, a brilliant and capable if a little ambitious reformer, another harsh but competent tyrant in Alexander III, and then the weird ending to the whole story, the comparatively naive, indecisive, weak in every way, henpecked and unworldly Nicholas II.

    Put all that in a blender, I don’t know what it all means. But the genealogically obsessive Habsburgs hit the meat grinder of history in 1914 with at least more competent men in the royal ranks than the Russians did. And managed to produce an heir and spares despite many vicissitudes, and without hemophilia, instead of exactly one doomed son.

    And the Habsburgs are doing better even now.

  25. Kirk says:

    Yeah… See, here’s the problem with eugenics: Nobody has really put it to a realistic test. It’s all been short-term, impromptu crap without real vision or actual planning. Hell, a lot of what they were trying to breed for is actually ‘effing senseless–What particular virtue do any of the various royal houses of Europe actually display? The entirety of their efforts have been devoted not towards breeding better rulers, but in keeping all the money, power, and lands in the family. Not what I’d call a good plan, at all.

    Hell, the only real attempt at outbreeding in recent times was Princess Diana, and look where that got them.

    No, you want to prove or disprove eugenics, you actually have to ‘effing do it. Nobody has, so far–Even the Nazis weren’t anywhere near hard enough on things, and Sanger was a joke. All she really wanted to do was get rid of the little brown people who scared her so badly–Never mind what genetic contribution they might have made, or even what they had to contribute. She simply made an appearance-based judgment, much like the idiots in the AKC do when they ruin working breeds and produce mindless idiot dogs that look like some made-up appearance standard that bears little or no relation to the utility of that particular dog variety.

    So, yeah–Nazis/Sanger=AKC eugenics. Which do not have a good track record.

    A real eugenics program would have to have a clear mission statement, logically laid out, with a goal and a pathway. Let’s say you want a particular set of characteristics, for example–Selflessness, intelligence, and whatever else you might idealize as your “homo superior”. So, you look at what you’re working with–Start with your actual stock. See how they behave, what they do, how they perform. Evaluate over the course of their lives, preserve their gametes, and then, after careful and cold-blooded evaluation, use those gametes to breed from. So-and-so looks good in real life, maybe even on paper, as well: But, and this is key, a judicious look at their life and accomplishments shows that they made really bad decisions, and did not actually act in accordance with your project goals. So, red-X the bastard, and find someone else that does meet the criteria. Maybe someone who died early in life, before breeding. Your Captain America sort, who gave their life willingly to do something for the betterment of others–Give that person another chance at the gene pool, see how they perform, and how their genes work. You may find that selflessness is a negative survival trait, and you have to keep reinserting it into the gene lines, if that’s what you really want.

    All of this would take hundreds, if not thousands of years to show discernible results. That’s the one thing that Frank Herbert got right, with his fantasy of the Bene Gesserit–Results ain’t going to show in just a few generations, although with vigorous culling, they might. If you want the civilized and genteel long-term approach, it’s gonna take time, and lots of it.

    The problem with eugenics is that the people doing it usually want to see results in their lifetimes, which ain’t happening. You have to go truly long-term, and it may well be that a lot of the things you want to breed for may produce actual results you don’t like–For example, if you’re breeding for “selfless service” and “heroism”, how do you think you’re going to look to an in-group where such traits are so commonplace as to be entirely unremarkable? D’you think that the people in that society are going to look at your selfish and self-centered approach to things, and approve? Or, are they going to cull you from the bloodlines?

  26. Harry Jones says:

    I’ve often thought that the human lifespan limits societal progress. All progress is the result of a few exceptional minds. A high IQ is not enough – you also need experience. Dying before your first century is out limits your experience. Reading a lot helps a bit, but the knowledge there is a poor substitute for having lived it.

    What we need to do is stick brain implants in a few promising but aging individuals and upload their personalities, then download into clone bodies or run in computerized emulators. We don’t need a lot of immortals. A handful will do, if they’re the right ones. Pick people who have shown an aptitude for learning.

  27. Graham says:


    No generalized disagreement on the inherent and possibly forever unsurmountable technical problems, but a few notes that spring to mind-

    That concern that the products of the program will have no use for us is similar to my concern about us building AIs as our heirs- in both cases, of what lingering value would we be to them? I suppose the flip side is that we will eventually die anyway, whether individuals, generations, or a species. That and it might be possible to breed one’s own heirs using some of the same qualities being selected for. So one’s children and so forth would be part of the new class.

    Of course, the real option would be, presuming you could select well enough at all to reach specific traits like you suggest, that you select for traits you personally have, at least in part. Shape the future to suit yourself. Who would not? Strictly speaking, everyone trying to shape the future in any way is doing it in large part to their own liking. It’s impossible not to.

    Alternatively, don’t breed for complex motivational and behavioural traits as abstract as “selflessness”. I’m not even sure how to sufficiently define that, and that’s even before getting into questions of just who or what is the focus of the new man’s loyalties anyway. Just go for mental processing speed and physical capacity of various kinds. And expect any progress to be multigenerational, which will have the side benefit of not making any younger generation much, or any, more contemptuous of their predecessors than is already the case.

    Ideally, we get out into space before producing a Khan, thus giving him a wider playing field. Superior ability breeds superior ambition and needs a superior field for the drama.

  28. Graham says:

    Then again, in a discussion with a colleague the other day I hit on something about my worldview versus his.

    I actually don’t want anything to happen that could qualify as a Singularity [unless defined away from its maximal possibilities or defined as already happened] or the End of History.

    My fave science fiction is the kind in which mankind’s story just goes on and on in ways recognizable to us, even if using far more advanced technology and with better medical care and on a vastly larger template.

    Perhaps that is now unrealistic in many ways, but if we never get things like FTL travel and communication, I might get something like that future anyway.

  29. Kirk says:


    I’ve often had similar thoughts, in terms of “How does one go about prolonging the period of ‘virtue’ in a culture?”

    And, I’ve come to similar conclusions, but I’ve also taken it a bit further. Innovation usually only comes with the death of the entrenched “old timer”. What happens when they don’t die off properly? Where would geology be, today, if the deniers of continental drift and the other things we today take as self-evident, like the source of the channeled scablands here in the Northwest US?

    You would have to accept that one potential side-effect of having your grandparents and great-grandparents literally looking over your shoulder would not only be to slow down the rate of what one might term the “decay of virtue”, but to drastically slow down the uptake of innovative new ideas. For good or ill, that’s gonna be an effect of such a thing. Almost inevitably.

    The other issue is, what happens when the descendants don’t listen to the voices of their elders? Say that the elders see a disaster looming, but the youth insist on their course of action… What then?

    Whatever happens, it’s going to be a major sea-change in the course of things. Imagine the impact of having George Washington’s personality still around to consult and/or criticize today’s politician? Or, say someone tampers with the record files of that personality such that it convincingly parrots the ideas that today’s politicians want, rather than the true opinions of its living antecedent? Particularly if the public is used to relying on the veracity and good advice of the recorded personality?

    Whole bunch of implications to all this, both good and bad.

  30. Paul from Canada says:

    Kirk is right in my opinion. Eugenics is crap.

    There is no reason we couldn’t try it if we really wanted to, but doing it thru breeding wold, as Kirk explained, take a long time to get results, and the results would be crude.

    We could for example, breed pairs of athletes to concentrate particular athletic traits, as a simple example. The problem is actually doing it efficiently without adverse side effects. Look at the absolutely shocking problems with pure breed dogs. We maximize the desired trait, but at the expense of all sorts of other things.

    We also have to look at the failure rate of breeding. Using the dog breeding example, you don’t always get the required output, even if you select your breeding pair carefully, and are we happy to “cull” our failures?

    We also run the risk of making the social Darwinist/Nazi mistake. Survival of the fittest does not mean survival of the biggest/strongest/meanest. It is rather, the survival of the one most adapted to their environment in a particular place and time. During his failed South Pole trek, Scott took an extra man because he was the largest and fittest member of the expedition. Unfortunately his larger frame required more calories to sustain, and he weakened fastest and was the first to die.

    We are also far too arrogant in that we think we know about what IS the desired outcome. Even if we star using CRISPR to do our “Eugenics” we risk guessing wrong (and we really would be guessing). We can say a particular gene is associated with something, or there is evidence that it causes a certain amount of pre-disposition, but we can’t say “specific gene = specific trait/disease”.

    Look at all the bullshit generated by the so called “Warrior Gene”, and how its possession made one more likely to be criminal or violent, yet plenty of people with it are perfectly civilized, because the environment is also important. It is not nature or nurture, it is nature and nurture, though to be sure, most recent research tends to put nature’s input as being greater.

    Sure, we might THINK we can identify a gene that causes for example, a propensity towards criminality, and we might want to eliminate it, but what else might that gene be responsible for? For all we know, there is another gene required in combination that causes the criminality, and the same gene with another gene causes super intelligence or resistance to a yet unknown disease.

    People rub their chins and quote books like Murray’s out of context to confirm their own biases, and toss around concepts like eugenics with a breathtakingly arrogant Jurassic Park level smug hubris

  31. Kirk says:

    Paul, to be honest, it’s not so much that I think that eugenics is crap, but that there really isn’t any way to implement such a thing in any workable way. Not without drastic socio/cultural/technological changes, anyway.

    Unless you’re going for some sort of appearance-based thing, you really need a much longer timescale than we have available to us. I threw out the idea that you’d want to breed for “selflessness” as an example of the sort of thing you’d maybe want to do as a society–Breed in more people who’re going to look out for the good of all, rather than selfishness. The trouble with that is that even if you’ve got really good definitions of what you want, you’re going to need to take a long view of what the actual performance was for people with those gene complexes. And, you’re going to have to black-box it all from the observers, because if people knew that certain behaviors got more of your genes into the greater gene pool, well… Yeah. They would start behaving in ways that would make their genes get passed on more.

    I don’t see a way that any of this would ever really work in a situation quite like ours. It would take something quite out of our context, like isolated populations with intermittent contacts far away from here in space and time, before someone would even see the need to play these games, or have the ability to try. The whole thing would be fascinating to observe, and I’ve got no idea what someone would even want, in that situation. I’m thinking they might not want “superman”, but just “better man”, and with their sights set low enough, they might manage to make something happen.

    I am gonna lay money on the first people trying to make “better people” through either genetic engineering or an actual eugenics program f**king it up by the numbers, though. There are going to be tons of cautionary tales for posterity, once some group of idiots actually tries it.

  32. Paul from Canada says:


    Your last paragraph is exactly what I was getting at. The unforeseen consequences, or even the foreseen but ignored consequences will be adverse, possibly thalidomide level adverse.

    Like I said, we THINK gene “A” is related to something, but maybe it turns out it is not, or even if it is, that it is even more essential for something else.

    We can’t even get selective breeding even marginally right in dogs, so how arrogant is it to start using CRISPR?

  33. Graham says:

    All excellent criticisms of eugenics, especially at our current extremely new level of knowledge.

    Length of time to see results wouldn’t bother me- I think somewhere above I suggested that would be a feature, not a bug, especially from a social and political point of view.

    Getting the wrong outcomes, in general, for a particular political program, or for a specific environmental situation, are much better concerns. Or reducing the adaptability of the species as a whole.

    On the dog example- I know too little to say. Whenever I read anything about this, the criticism seems to be against breeders deliberately aiming to produce particular aesthetic features, despite the [sooner or later] foreseeable or even known fitness costs [bulldogs, pugs, etc.] That seems to very strongly reinforce the criticism that eugenics can be deliberately taken down blind alleys to achieve distorted preferential goals. On the other hand it pretty well demonstrates, if that was the problem, that they actually could breed true for what they wanted.

    Deep down, I’m not entirely opposed to any of the developments we are seeing that, for me, form a bundle that could in aggregate be called increasingly our direct control of nature, and increasing our direct control of ourselves. Everyone doesn’t see them all of a piece, but for me that lumps together:

    1. Selective breeding [plants and animals, millennia now; and humans, less deliberately across the board, less carefully and less well]

    2. Cloning [plants, centuries if not millennia, citrus sort of an example, including subspecies variations that never existed in nature before]

    3. Direct genetic manipulation/subtraction/augmentation [comparatively, brand spanking new even in agriculture and I am not blind to its potential terrors in humanity]

    [Apropos of this, I have found that there are those who are terrified of GMO foods that have not heard of how much we have done with selective breeding over the millennia, and those who pooh pooh such concerns who have no concept that there might be a difference between selective breeding and direct gene manipulation, unless and until one brings up the human example. Then the distinction becomes clearer, albeit they have some kinship.]

    4. Augmentation with technology [ancient, as befits a species that uses tools better than any other known; but possibly entering on terrifying and hopeful new eras of self-directing tools and direct human augmentation with technology].

    Today, it seems as though #4 comes in for the least criticism and the most widespread support, and the most widespread assumption of inevitability as well.

    I don’t much care for any of them, and hope for a future in which mainline humanity lasts much longer and proves able to master challenges it faces.

    But of them, I see them in descending order from most terrifying and most posthuman as: 4231.

    All of them pose the possibility of abuse and of mistake that could put us on one or another path to extinction, either in full or in favour of a successor of our creation. If that were to be my fate, better a genetically enhanced human than an android. The former would be an heir, the latter just a replacement. And that would be true even if both existed, and the former held us in contempt and the latter worshipped our memory.

    I find it an ongoing matter of interest that so many find the one terrifying and the other hopeful, rather than vice versa.

  34. Sam J. says:

    Graham,”…My fave science fiction is the kind in which mankind’s story just goes on and on in ways recognizable to us, even if using far more advanced technology and with better medical care and on a vastly larger template.

    Perhaps that is now unrealistic in many ways, but if we never get things like FTL travel and communication, I might get something like that future anyway.”

    Me too but I don’t believe it. Key point in the “Known Space” future of Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven computers of sufficient power to be sentient when programed as AI’s go crazy. We don’t know that to be true and it’s more likely that the future will be that the bacteria and other lower life forms made/preceded us and we made/preceded the computers which in turn ascend to prominence over us just like we do the lower animals. Our only role in history is to be the founders of digital life forms.

    “Accelorado” by Charles Stross is a sci-fi book that tells the story of this as it happens. Good read and it’s free online.

  35. Graham says:

    This may well be true, but we have one advantage those other species didn’t have:- sufficient sentience to be aware of things like history and evolution and to identify our putative successors, and derail the process by “killing” them whenever they are created.

    I figure it’s worth the shot. If they’re going to replace us, they should have to do the work.

  36. CVLR says:

    It’s impossible for us to imagine what will matter at a higher plateau of existence.

    Does “history” or “evolution” matter to GOD?

    And there’s no way to put the semiconductor genie back in the bottle without going full Uncle Ted. Or a Younger Dryas sequel event, like, pronto.

    Just saying.

  37. Graham says:

    I think I’m onside with that moderately neutral/pessimistic framework but there are these:

    There can be better or worse adapted to conditions but I’m not sure one can speak of a higher or lower level of evolution. If there are higher or lower planes of existence, we have yet to find them as such.

    If there’s a God, that would throw all plans into chaos from our point of view, as we would be operating within a higher order unknown to our instruments and not detectable by technological developments.

    If there is a God and it created us and is in fact the all powerful creator of the universe, we have little choice but to await events. If he’s somewhat lesser a being, needing some new species to use as tools to replace us, we have options:

    The theology and metaphysics in that, IIRC from decades ago, are terrible. But it’s the right attitude under comparable circumstances.

    To your last, yeah, I don’t want to go full Peace Authority except for AI rather than nukes, but I am disturbed by any posture that just assumes AI is our successor by default and we can do nothing to oppose, control, or shape. That’s like laying down and thinking of England.

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