By the time the scales fell from my eyes in the mid-2000s, veterans of the Steveosphere were regularly referencing a BBC article from 1998 reporting on how 91% of Chinese scientists supported genetic engineering for eugenic purposes. The Han Menace won’t be held back by all the egalitarian make believe that is retarding the West, we said! Here I am mentioning the article, by way of an undergraduate philosophy paper, in 2005.
The future has arrived. Assuming it isn’t a hoax, the first CRISPR babies have been born. Razib Khan has a good discussion of the details that is accessible to lay people, so there is little point in an inferior second-hand rehashing here. This is probably the biggest story of the year, possibly the decade, conceivably even the millennium! As this post will serve as a personal time capsule, indulge me as I make a record of my reactions.
As a father of three children under five, I wonder if I’ve screwed them over by bringing them into the world a few years too soon. Have kids now, the breeders said, because you’ll always be able to come up with a reason as to why now isn’t the right time! That’s the glass half-empty reaction.
The glass half-full take is that because genetically engineering the unborn is at this juncture controversial even in China, it was done by way of gene deletion–which is easier than addition–and to a gene that is well-known. The intention in the approach was to avoid pleiotropic effects and limit ethical concerns as much possible given current technology and understanding. Mendellian diseases are the lowest hanging fruit. We’re still presumably several years or decades away from more genetically complex traits like height, intelligence, and personality become reliably customizable. It means my grandchildren could conceivably be among the world’s first super humans. Half-full? That cup is overflowing!
That’s if anything more than simple edits are viable. Maybe pleiotropy really will make it an unworkable mess that exacts an unacceptably high toll in terms of human suffering for an unreliable or even unrealizable desired outcome. I feel like a Luddite positing as much, but I’m just a curious observer so what do I know?
Parenthetically, Western tsk-tsking isn’t going to stop this. The Chinese are going balls-to-the-wall on this stuff. The government is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into it.
What are the ideological implications of customizable humans? That blank slatist egalitarianism–and it’s associated economic systems such as communism and socialism–may actually correspond to reality in a way that it has up to this point never been the case in all of human history. The general consensus on the HBD-realist right is that the left will never accept biological realities about genetic differences. I disagree. When they realize it serves their ideological interests to do so, they’ll turn on a dime. Everything they said yesterday won’t mean a thing to them tomorrow.
We’ll advance from Final Fantasy IV, where each character was genuinely unique in their traits and attributes, to Final Fantasy VI, where the differences are predominately aesthetic and each meat stick is interchangeable with any other.
One of the least convincing parts of Brave New World is Huxley’s rigid class system. It’s inefficient and inherently unstable. Huxley presumed control would be centralized. It was a reasonable assumption in the 1950s, but is outmoded in The Current Year. CRISPR is already cheap and it’s going to get a lot cheaper. The idea that a national government is going to be able to clamp down on the distribution of certain software and its associated programming code seems risible to me.
As Richard Spencer is fond of saying, we live in interesting times.