John Derbyshire’s excellent three-part piece on the IQ/race issue concludes with a hopeful prognosis that this time, the intellectuals and scientists won’t screw it up:
Genetic engineering? I’m sure something will come of it. It shouldn’t be that hard. Noah Millman suggests that our hopes for genetic engineering are overblown, in the way that hopes for social engineering were 100 years ago, leading to all the well-known failures of state socialism.
I disagree. To be sure, a human being, or just a human brain, is an extremely complicated thing, and we shouldn’t underestimate the scientific challenges of genetic tinkering. (I am not aware of any scientists involved in this work who do underestimate them.) A human society, though, is at the next level of complexity up, consisting as it does of millions of human beings! From the fact that we screwed up the engineering of societies (and, as Noah concedes, we didn’t make a total pig’s ear of it — we tamed the business cycle, for instance) it does not follow that we’ll screw up the engineering of the genome.
Derb’s not an economist, so he may not be aware that we haven’t actually tamed the business cycle, we’ve simply created massive amounts of money out of thin air to inflate bubble after bubble in a desperate attempt to push a massive trough out into the future. The 4.5 percent drop in housing prices last quarter – which could have been as much as 12.4 percent if inflation was being correctly accounted for – is merely one warning sign that the economy has finally reached the “pushing on a string” point.
In any case, I am quite confident that the same sort of individuals who seized on the idea of social engineering 100 years ago will rapidly come up with new and far more nightmarish applications combining genetic engineering with social engineering. I’m not sure what the best way of combatting this will be; I suspect the most important thing to keep in mind is that posthumans and machine intelligences will have no reason to think any more highly of the human elite than we do.