Intelligent Selection: Our Choices in Evolution

You Should Be Dead

Would you be alive today without technology? You’re as healthy as an ox, you say? Answer the following questions:

  • Were you conceived with the help of fertility treatments?
  • Were you born prematurely?
  • Were you born by Cesarean?
  • Were you born at an unusually low birth weight?
  • Have you ever been vaccinated?
  • Have you ever taken an antibiotic?
  • Do you carry an EpiPen?
  • Do you carry an inhaler?
  • Do you take insulin injections?
  • Do you take neuroleptics (antipsychotics)?
  • Have you ever had a blood transfusion?
  • Have you ever had any anatomical anomaly, such as a cleft palate or a heart fissure, which required corrective surgery?
  • Have you ever needed an emergency draining of any of the body’s fluid- or air-filled cavities ?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, more than likely, you should to be dead! What are you still doing here?

That’s a good question. What are you still doing here? You’re still here because you’re a member of a species for which the traits of high intelligence and culture have been naturally selected over hundreds of millennia. We’re so intelligent, in fact, that we’ve effectively ended natural selection altogether. With no filter to hold our bodies to a minimum standard of functionality, those who answered “yes” to any of the above questions (I got four) are free to pass their genes on to future generations. Those genes include the ones responsible for the formerly lethal conditions referenced by the questions. Their proportion to the human gene pool as a whole will rise.

Outsmarting Ourselves

You see an advertisement depicting a small child from the developing world. The child has a cleft lip or some other facial deformity. The ad seeks to persuade its readers to make a modest donation towards corrective surgery.1 You’re left with a moral question that runs as deep and wide as any. In the foreground, you see a child who will live her life in pain and anguish without a relatively inexpensive surgery to give her a face like the one natural selection refined for you. What you don’t see is the background, the macro-effect of performing such corrective surgeries on children the world over. The strands of DNA responsible for this awful condition are now free to multiply. The child grows up, she pairs with a mate who’s never known the face God gave her, only the one you did. They bring their own children into the world, each born with a 1 in 14 chance of also having a cleft lip.2 Regardless, the children will at least be probable carriers of the genes coded for the condition. With no selective pressure to keep them in check, the percentage of the world’s population carrying these maladaptive genes increases with each corrective surgery. It is actually healthier for the human species as a whole to forgo the surgeries.

So when were you planning on breaking the news to that little girl?

The Third Way

We must not, we will not turn our back on centuries of knowledge and advancement which have liberated us from this planet’s torments, its attempts to cut us down at every turn. Nor can we wallow in our success, allowing our genome to corrupt. Strand of DNALike a picture which is photocopied recursively—each new copy made from the last—our genome degenerates. In time, like the photocopied picture, it will have lost all useful data. The solution is to fill the vacuum opened by natural selection’s absence with a new system of selection: intelligent selection.

The same gift of intelligence with which we defeat disorder after its onset, will be used to prevent disorder in the human body. With emerging techniques such as germline gene therapy,3 humans are acquiring the power to select which genes we pass into the future. Knowing which genes have mutated from their functional state, we will modify or replace them with a better copy. This is the essence of intelligent selection.

The Fear of Power

People dread this subject. It conjures memories of death and hatred couched in the same language used above. Powerful people claimed they knew which genes were better than others, which of us would be doing a service to mankind by removing himself from it. Millions were murdered during Hitler’s experiment to perfect the human genome. Families were sterilized against their will during the American eugenics movement for being unfit.4 Do we want to ride through this haunted house yet again?

But the difference between intelligent selection and eugenics is not merely technological; it is a difference of power distribution. The eugenics and racial purity movements of the past were characterized by a few people wielding power over the many. Certain individuals claimed authority over others in pursuit of their particular vision of the human ideal. Intelligent selection is about individuals making their own choices, choosing their genes, and which genes they pass into the future.

The Future in Our Hands

We are acquiring control over our genome, the first species with the power to say, “I select myself for survival.” We are a unique generation, living in the genetic power vacuum which exists briefly between the end of the age of natural selection and the beginning of the age of intelligent selection.

The second millennium saw Man destroy Darwin’s natural selection.

The third millennium will see him build intelligent selection.

References

  1. The Smile Train, http://www.smiletrain.org
  2. Medic8, http://www.medic8.com/healthguide/articles/cleftlip.html
  3. The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/germline-gene-therapy-how-it-works-1777751.html
  4. SFGate (The San Francisco Chronicle), http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/11/09/ING9C2QSKB1.DTL

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