On the Differences between People, Birds, and Bees
by Eric Hart
To the vast majority of us, the world is an inhospitable place. Life on earth is problematic, and human beings are not always up to solving its problems. Mankind can address this situation either by modifying the earth and blunting its hazards, by modifying himself so as to sidestep some of these hazards, or by elevating his problem-solving ability so that hazards can be predicted and finessed with minimal environmental tampering. As matters now stand, most such tampering - while often displaying sound logic from an extremely local vantage - is, in the wider sense, ecologically ill-conceived and ill-coordinated with other such efforts. That is, the problem of improving the lot of mankind and its companion lifeforms on earth does not admit of localistic solution: the problem does not break down into separate, parallel-soluble sub-problems.
Yet, in the name of "patriotism", "nationalism", "the right of peoples to self-determination", and other such anachronisms and oxymorons, globalistic solutative programs cannot be implemented. Nor, for that matter, has the problem of optimizing the human condition ever been coherently formulated; utilitarianism, communism, anarchism, and other such schemes are logically or socio-psychologically unsound or obsolete, and even democracy displays a range of inconsistencies. Nonetheless, man demonstrates a chronic need to wreak havoc, within and without his own kind, in internecine disputes over creeds and administrative algorithms he lacks the intelligence to evaluate. So well able to focus his mind on concise, locally-circumscribed problems, his intellect breaks apart into quibbling pieces when the content is enlarged beyond his ability to reason. At this point, he either fights, flees, or defers sullenly to others whose authority supposedly devolves to a superior ability to create and implement solutions to his problems ...that is, to higher intelligence.
Of course, while governments are often assumed to possess collective intelligence greater than that of the governed, they more often claim to derive their mandates from "the will of the people" - which, again, need not be a will governed by any concerted intelligence. At the bottom limit, governments are composed of brutal tyrants who rule by force and for the good of themselves only. Challenged from without, they uniformly broadcast a tired refrain of national sanctity which, because it harmonizes all too well with the self-justifications and ulterior motives of so many other governments, usually plays well enough. The situation is unconscionable, not only because it offends sensibilities, but because it is in no way consistent with any valid algorithm for world optimization. In fact. it is demonstrably anti-solutative in the computation-theoretic sense, and the need to change it is unequivocal. But change will not come until men possess the intelligence to recognize their need...or until that need has smashed their baseless pride and spurious independence with hammers of catastrophe. Those hammers are ever gaining deadly mass in the form of overpopulation and its attending ills, the depletion of nonrenewable resources, environmental degradation, and an increasing ability to intentionally harm and destroy.
There are several obvious ways to deal with this. We might launch a new science of human intelligence whereby to upgrade and configure the components of the advanced human computer which must out-think the problems attending its increasing density upon a finite, overburdened substrate. Using related knowledge, we might design an artificial intellect to do this in our default. We might simply glean the best and brightest humans who currently exist, and try somehow to repose authority with them. Or, we could apply all these strategies at once, hoping for a lucky synergy among them. In any case, we require developmental formalisms superior to any currently in wide use (such formalisms exist already, and they boil down to the same essential conceptual systems).
Certain priorities tend to favor some of these strategies over others. Individual freedom, even distribution of power, and technological advancement appear to favor those involving the overall enhancement of human intelligence. This raises the following question: what is now being done to upgrade the intellectual potential of mankind? In most places, children are taught by rote and explanation, but not how to think; they are merely congratulated when they happen to show sparks of originality. In other places - especially in urban public schools - those of low motivation and ability are all but granted criminal dominance over other students, and even over faculty. From the computative angle, this is like trying to build a supercomputer by cranking out and parallelizing vast numbers of low-grade packet calculators.
In the same spirit, there has arisen a ludicrous tendency to vitiate the concept of intellectual distinctions by, for instance, pronouncing street rap a valid replacement for the technologically sufficient language from which it degenerated. One who thinks in street rap may be potentially as intelligent as another who thinks less constrictedly, but he is not functionally as intelligent, and will not fulfill his potential without remedial education. Main-streaming such students is a disservice not only to them, but to those better equipped to handle advanced abstractions.
Any species which has stripped and modified the context of its evolution bears a responsibility to control its further evolution, insofar as the latter is necessitated by the inability of that species to coordinate its activities in ways consistent with its survival. There is already enough data to establish a correlation between genes and intelligence; all that we need now is a refined knowledge of how to optimize brain structure through genetics and early programming without compromising other gene- and program-dependent aspects of individuality, viability and happiness (we need not presuppose a single gene or gene-set coding for high intelligence, which may be a matter of various more or less complex genetic combinations expressed in specific biochemical and other-parametrised environments during pre- and post-natal development).
A bit more on nature versus nurture in the cultivation of intelligence. Many people, in choosing mates, believe themselves motivated by the physical, emotional, and intellectual welfare of their future progeny. A cursory glance, however, reveals that most of these "gene-conscious" parents lack the data and intellectual power to successfully evaluate such matters...particularly the actual intelligence of their mates. For instance, despite the obvious abundance of wealthy mediocrities, it is easy to observe a widespread tendency to equate intellectual and financial assets. Sadly, that may be the only way that some people can put any value at all on intelligence. This shameful illusion is fostered by the all too frequent translation of money into social and political power, and by the absurd confidence of many successful businessmen in their dubious abilities to solve whatever problems they might later encounter as public servants.
A good deal of recent anthropological and sociobiological evidence suggests interesting, but disturbing, parallels between humans and more primitive species in terms of reproductive strategy. Primitive strategies may be acceptable in primitive species still subject to something vaguely approaching natural selection. Having suspended this with respect to ourselves, however, mimicking the reproductive behavior of insects, birds, and apes is - as well as being somewhat beneath us - simply not feasible. We have created a world in which intelligence is a necessity, and done so at a far greater pace than unassisted nature can duplicate, we have changed the rules of the game, and new games require new strategies. If men and women cannot change their strategies to fit their notions of family, love, and romance, they may have to change their feelings to suit their needs.
A strong case can be made that mankind's current path is dysgenic,
particularly given the rather meretricious (or absent) reproductive priorities
of the many. As strong a case exists that little time may remain before
Malthusian pressures lead everywhere to the same changes already forced on
One is tempted to cite as counterexamples to the thesis of "reverse evolution" the many brilliant scientists and technicians now living on earth. One must further observe that there are many good-hearted people who do not rate as rocket scientists, and who in fact are congenitally defective relative to all reasonable standards of physical and mental fitness. One can even surmise that nothing short of mandatary sterilization could stop the vast majority of "suboptimal" breeders from continuing to create progeny who share their nonbeneficial characteristics. Indeed, it is difficult to argue with the truth in point of content. But to what extent do such truths militate against the desirability of some form of eugenics? Quite simply, they do not.
It is inarguable that certain plausible sets of assumptions about who we are and what we want imply the desirability of enlightened supervision over human genetic recombination and manipulation, while many of our problems undoubtedly come down to a nonintellectual clash of wills, a great many can be shown to result from a shortage of intellect among those empowered to make decisions on behalf of themselves and the rest of us, and of those officials and constituents who encourage short-sightedness by their implacable insistence on fast, specious solutions to problems whose full extents they are unable to fathom. Concisely, the decisions relegated to such people must be limited to those for which they are mentally equipped. But this implies the redistribution of power on the basis of intelligence, and thus a choice between eugenics on one hand and intellectual or electronic authoritarianism or elitism on the other.
Since the priorities of the many must often be computed ad hoc according to local criteria, civic responsibility can be defined only relative to some measure of computational ability. The capacity to transcend one's own situation and make decisions of societal as well as individual benefit thus involves intelligence. Intelligence cannot preclude evil, but can reduce its ability to take root and flourish. Democracy, in entrusting the common good to an enlightened majority, depends on the intelligence of all.
Consider the general requirements of democratic political systems. It is apparent that the efficiency of a democracy relies on the mental abilities of citizens to evaluate issues and candidates not only with respect to momentary personal advantage, but in light of global parameters; and that as population density rises and technology advances, these parameters become more numerous and interact with increasing complexity. The average citizen is already swamped with data he is powerless to integrate; consequently, he tends towards apathy, blatant self-interest, or gullibility, all of which compromise efficiency. Democracy and personal freedom worked well when a sparser population interfered less with itself and when issues were simpler. But as the world has evolved, the power of men to compute necessary decisions has not kept pace. Evidence of this is abundant; one cannot argue that the flaw resides exclusively in the system, for systems consist of, and are limited by, their components.
Governments "by the people" can be modeled as networks of human brains. Such "meta-nets" have interesting properties. But any network can be computationally overloaded by input of sufficient complexity. Even if a meta-net can change its overall configuration to accelerate solution, it is limited by the power of its individual sub-nets. The main question here is, has this limit been approached or exceeded by existing social problems? The answer is yes, partly because many of the problems we face can be arbitrarily complexified by temporal extension. That is, just as a chess player telescopes his reasoning by predicating future moves on the future moves immediately preceding them, every solution we calculate becomes a condition of subsequent problems.
That pure laissez-faire democracy is inherently flawed follows from advanced logic. Nations have chosen democracy because it best conduces to personal freedom; all the alternatives exact what was considered too high a price tor whatever advantages they entailed. But the equation-string, freedom = responsibility = intelligence, is symmetric and transitive in today's world. To remove one term is to remove them all...and tyranny abhors a political vacuum.
To ensure the viability of a democracy, we must ensure the intelligence of the individuals comprising it. But this is a task beyond the reach of those by whose incompetence the system falters. Because we are not assured that the distributive majority of human beings have the capacity and motivation to learn how to think on the appropriate level of complexity, the correlation of genes and intelligence encourages either that a eugenics program be designed and administered by those of highest expertise, or that we develop a taste for societal deterioration and loss of freedom.
The fact is, freedom is conserved under changes in population density. More people means less of it. Accordingly, freedom of one kind can often be purchased only at the cost of another. These lessons have a mathematical certainty that is lost on most unintelligent people, and even on some who consider themselves mentally superior. Unfortunately, reality seldom yields to the convenience of those who choose to ignore it...and reality seems to dictate the formulation and implementation of certain judgments concerning just what attributes should be preserved under population reduction or favored under stasis. One such attribute will obviously be high intelligence.
This subject is a dependable trigger for hysteria. There are many "leaders" who consider eugenics synonymous with "racism", "discrimination", and even "genocide". Such ploys often work, and largely by virtue of the intellectual limitations of audiences and journalists. Even though such hysteria thus militates in favor of its apparent cause, few people have the courage to challenge it. But there is as little time for humoring the timorous as for mollifying the hysterical; ignoring the issue is unlikely to make it go away. There are those who believe that irresponsible breeding practices, and the stupidity which fosters them, cannot be stemmed without damage to our freedom. But freedom, and much else as well, cannot tolerate the geometric prolificacy of stupidity.
There is a widespread tendency, at any mention of this topic, to recall
certain "lessons of history" involving practices endemic to wartime
Bearing this in mind, consider the emergency use of mandatory sterilization.
Rights may be distinguished from privileges by the degree to which certain
kinds of behavior restrict or interfere with the prerogatives of others. If you
want to shout sedition from the rooftops, the first amendment grants you that
right on the supposition that no one else need take you to heart (a risky
assumption in societies where not everyone is mentally able to perceive the
possible inconsistencies in your speech). If you want to convoke a coven of
witches at under a
full moon, you are granted that right by virtue of the fact that no one need
come who wishes not to. By this criterion, breeding is anything but a right; it
cannot be done without
Let us extend the theme. There is a modern tendency to claim that blindness, deafness, and other handicaps leave one able to experience and contribute to life as fully as anyone else, and that no one is morally fit to argue otherwise who does not share the handicap in question. This position was originally crafted to soften prejudice and bolster the self-esteem of the afflicted. But it has since been taken to imply that, where the condition is congenital, society has no business restraining those afflicted from passing it on to whatever progeny they might choose to have.
Fitness, the line goes, is a relative concept, subject to variations due to racial, cultural, religious, and personal criteria. Yet, global society is proceeding in a direction to which such criteria may be irrelevant or inimical. It thus makes little sense to adopt a deceptive tolerance which will not be shared by the world our descendants must inhabit. The mankind of tomorrow may not be disposed to forgive those whose passivity and self-indulgence saddled them with infirmities, for many of them may find that tomorrow's world does not always pardon the infirm.
Evidence is accumulating that certain psychological and behavioral tendencies are at least partially under genetic control: e.g., schizophrenia, substance dependency, and extreme aggression and antisocial behavior (violent criminality). Care must be taken to ensure that attempts to suppress such liabilities do not interfere with crucial components of genius. For example, in approaching great tasks or solving large and extremely difficult problems, something very like controlled aggression is often required; and certain more or less exotic mental processes, such as those involved in artistic creation, are somewhat dissociative. While it may never be possible to engineer genius to order, the genetic alchemy through which it emerges must be given a chance. Fortunately, such precautions are not incompatible with a substantial rise in average human intelligence.
Eugenics is often thought of as predicated on arbitrary standards of desirability or attractiveness. The question is then asked, who will decide what constitutes desirability? Yet, it is relatively easy to develop statistical profiles, given any set of restrictions on the sample, that would relieve any one person of such a responsibility. For example, where the vast majority of people perceive a given facial characteristic as grotesque, it could be rated a "defect" on the grounds that those having it could not escape frequent ostracism or pity on account of it. If it serves (or is inextricably linked with) no beneficial function, it could then be eliminated from the genome regardless of who claims a proprietary interest in its perpetuation. The matter of intelligence, even in this anti-testing climate, is clearer still.
Many people have been taught to view statistical reasoning with suspicion,
particularly when applied to social minorities. Indeed, statistical formulae
lack absolute force with respect to single individuals, who may be exceptions
to the rule. Any general set of eugenic guidelines will inevitably
Man's need to evolve still exists. The only way for civilization to evade it is by resorting to methods, which even now would seem pointless and Orwellian, whereby to forestall its collapse given the present low level of common intelligence among its members. In all likelihood, therefore, eugenics will prevail. But whether soon enough, and whether voluntarily or not, remains to be seen. Little enough already remains of the ecological majesty that was once the earth; mankind has too long traded the role of shepherd for that of parasite. Yet, to be a fit shepherd for the lesser of the earth, man must learn to be a shepherd unto himself.
It is easy for the "highly gifted" to remain aloof from such questions, either by ignoring them or by hiding within ethical structures too weak to bear the weight of correct answers. It would be interesting to know whether the Noetic Society could function concertedly as part of the solutative apparatus, or whether it is content to remain a vehicle for socializing and desultory puzzling. This question seems to demand an answer. (All contents copyrighted 1989 by Eric Hart)
Copyright © 1989 by the Mega Society. All rights reserved. Copyright for each individual contribution is retained by the author unless otherwise indicated.