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Alicorn has recently written Have Mercy, an essay about eugenics, and I have certain confused thoughts about it.


I suppose it’s good to be upfront about such things: my true rejection of eugenics is that eugenics of certain traits I possess make me very very sad.

I would like people to continue to have the genetic difference that leads to borderline personality disorder. This is not precisely the same thing as the continued existence of borderline personality disorder, because BPD is a product of both genetics and environment. I would prefer children not be raised in traumatizing or invalidating environments in general, and protoborderline children be taught emotion regulation skills in specific, which would result in a decrease in BPD diagnoses.

Assuming that the gender system continues to exist, I would prefer that trans people continue to exist.

I would prefer that autism and the broader autism phenotype continue to exist.

I would also prefer that high verbal intelligence continues to exist, but people seem much less likely to do eugenics on that one.


I don’t actually have a good grounding for why other people ought to want those particular traits to exist, and it’s possible those are just mistaken moral intuitions that I need to get rid of. But pretty much all my thoughts on eugenics are exploring why I believe those things.


Alicorn writes:

I don’t think anyone would criticize the Longs for not supplying their firstborn with twenty younger siblings. Nobody, except maybe the Quiverfull types, thinks that people have to have as many kids as they can squeeze out. But once they have decided to have one at all, some people may get very defensive of Lyle’s right to exist, even though they’d never make a peep about Greta Long, Hypothetical Sibling #19, no matter what list of conditions I assigned her. (Whether those conditions began with “cerebral palsy” or “sufficient genius to solve the problems involved in premature silicization when she grows up”. Or both.)

But I don’t think this is necessarily a counterargument to being against eugenics.

I would like trans people to continue to exist. If it turned out that trans people exist because there is fluoride in the water supply, I would like there to continue to be fluoride in the water supply. This does not require me to be against water purification plants, or in favor of putting the maximum possible number of substances in the water supply.

In our world, transness is (plausibly) genetic, so to want trans people to continue existing is to want mothers to give birth to trans people. But that doesn’t commit me to a Quiverfull position, any more than my pro-trans-causing-fluoride position commits me to an anti-water-purification-plant position.


I am not certain how I feel about statistical cuckooing.

I am (probably) pro-choice both ethically and legally. Even if I weren’t, women can reduce their risk of having a child with Down Syndrome by having children early, and that seems a bit difficult to ban. (“Excuse me, ma’am, you are having children age 25 without a license.”) So we can rule out legal interventions.

On the other hand, both Alicorn and I are in favor of cute PSAs about why you should not abort your child with Down Syndrome and increased supports for parents of disabled children and so on, so that is a point of agreement. Mothers often justify their decision to abort children with Down Syndrome with a combination of concern for the child and desire not to have a disabled child; if we point out to them that their concern for the child is misplaced (children with Down Syndrome have good lives!), more mothers will probably want to have children with Down Syndrome. Even if you fully agree that parents should not have to have children with traits they don’t want, there are many people who would want children with Down Syndrome if it were explained to them properly.

(I count myself in this group. If I had a child with Down Syndrome, I would not abort it.)

But there is this entire squishy middle bit of anti-eugenics: neither the gentle anti-coerciveness of “did you know that your Down Syndrome child can still give you hugs? It is true!” nor the outright use of state violence to prevent eugenics.

For instance: right now, screening for Down Syndrome is opt-out: you will receive screening unless you specifically state you don’t want it. Changing things from opt-out to opt-in can cause major changes in behavior (c.f. opt-out organ donation). People like Alicorn who are very motivated to not have children with Down Syndrome would still not have those children, whereas people who are only somewhat motivated could still do so. I would be broadly in favor of this change. Similarly, right now doctors tend to assume that their patients will want to abort children who have Down Syndrome; if doctors instead defaulted to assuming that parents didn’t want to abort children with Down Syndrome, that might also reduce abortion rates.

There’s also the issue of how many resources should be directed towards prenatal screenings versus… not prenatal screenings. Since it’s April, autism is the fairly obvious example: one of the major critiques of Autism Speaks is that they direct much of their research funding towards finding a prenatal test for autism. ASAN, on the other hand, supports directing research funding towards “communication and assistive technology, best practices in providing services and supports, and educational methodologies.” (Incidentally, that shows how silly critiques that ASAN only cares about high-functioning autistics are. Communication technology is only of interest to autistics who, at least sometimes, can’t speak.) Given that resources are limited, any money spent developing prenatal tests is money spent not doing something else; for what conditions is that a useful way to spend money? I would argue: not autism. (Given that Alicorn is against Autism Speaks, I suspect she would also consider a prenatal test to be a poor way to allocate autism research funding.)

And finally there’s my statement that it is immoral to abort children with Down Syndrome. I think that is the primary difference between Alicorn and me, the major reason she is pro-eugenicist and I am anti-eugenicist. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I am opposed to Alicorn in particular aborting a child with Down Syndrome. I am on the record as considering hypocrisy to be an important part of any ethical system, and have a history of e.g. talking people with eating disorders out of becoming vegan. The most important thing is sustainability, staying alive, not burning out on morality; and if you’d be a shitty parent to a child with Down Syndrome, making both yourself and your child miserable, perhaps it would be best to abort.

But I do not think that this statement is the same thing as statistical cuckooing. My primary method of getting people to obey my ethical beliefs is convincing them to agree with me. If convincing people to agree with oneself is a violation of their Authentic Preferences written in a great book up in the sky, then we have bigger problems; similarly, if stating “this belief is unethical!” is coercive, then we also have bigger problems (including Alicorn’s totally unethical calling my anti-eugenics beliefs unethical).


Many parents would probably not want a child with a high IQ. They want their children to be normal, not a “nerd”; they want their child to have interests that they can relate to. Alicorn’s position requires that one endorse those parents aborting children with above average IQs. Alicorn, to be fair, bites this bullet. But I’m not sure that most of the pro-eugenicists inclined to be sympathetic with an anti-statistical-cuckooing argument would.


My moral intuitions dislike eliminating all the trans people, but are 100% okay with eliminating all trans people who would prefer to be cis.

The problem here is that “would prefer to be cis” is not necessarily genetically coded for, so that’s a bit difficult to select for eugenically.

However, I notice that a lot of people seem to be broadly against being trans or autistic or deaf or whatever, and then they join the trans, autistic, or Deaf communities, and then they’re proud of being trans/autistic/Deaf and would not choose to be otherwise. This is usually called “unlearning internalized ableism” or “unlearning internalized transphobia” or whatever. This obviously isn’t the only factor involved– one notices the distinct lack of a Proud to Be Tay-Sachs community– but it does seem like one factor involved.

So plausibly I could keep the same kinds of trans experiences, but have a more “trans is awesome!” trans community, and then approximately everyone would be happy to be trans.

This seems like cheating.