Peril of Good Intentions

Defeated in college

I ran across a friend’s Facebook post about parenting and related a description of a college psychology professor’s eugenics lecture. The reply was that eliminating the genes of less intelligent people seems like it could help improve society. This seeming promise is why it has been tried many times. Before the Holocaust shifted to genocide, it dabbled in eugenics and mimicked United States eugenics programs.

But, let’s assume that a eugenics program stayed away from genocide. I still have issues with this…

Why a specific person is intelligent or not tends to be not so clear cut as good or bad genes. Psychologists tend to be pretty sure that most of intelligence comes from genes. I personally think genes provide recipes for brain cells and a layout of those cells. The brain cells still have to be grown and connections established in the brain. Exposure to various experiences in the raising of the child help achieve the potential provided by the brains. If a person both has good genes and was raised in such a way to maximize their potential, then I think a person ought to become the person we want them to be. Are we at a point where almost all children can are provided the experiences to reach this potential? Not even close. I think people who think we reasonably are at this point feel that eugenics or genetic modification are the ways to push beyond our plateau. I would prefer we fix the environment before we start punishing people for lack of socioeconomic resources or programs to help.

Biases cloud our conclusions in situations where we are not usually aware. It was thought the reason orchestras were almost all male because they were better performers. They shifted to a better mix of genders after the practice of blind auditions became common. Why? Because there are biases which affect opinions assessments beneath our ability to tell. We see similar issues when it comes to intelligence assessment and especially jobs in skilled fields. IQ tests have fought hard to get better at not being WEIRD. Anonymous names on papers change the grades students get and which conference submissions are accepted. Some of meritocracies could be doing much better.

When people think they are objective and unbiased then they don’t monitor and scrutinize their own behavior. They just assume that they are right and that their assessments are accurate. Yet, studies repeatedly show that stereotypes of all kinds (gender, ethnicity, age, disability etc.) are filters through which we evaluate others, often in ways that advantage dominant groups and disadvantage lower-status groups.

The eugenics movements were confident the physically & mentally unfit, materially poor, and atheists needed to controlled. People of color just happened to commonly be identified as meeting their criteria. I will be skeptical of any similar movement to be truly objective because even though they truly intend to be, the prior ones thought they were too. Hindsight shows they were not.

Of course, the abomination that I am was the reasoning for why my parents were not allowed to marry in my home state. It was deemed bad for the Caucasian race to allow mixing with inferior races. That probably fuels my own bias against this kind of thing.

Blind Not Insane

The National Federation of the Blind is upset about a movie portraying people who are blind as behaving badly.

Pyyhkala, 36, of Boston, said he has read the book and seen parts of the film. He said his grievances stem from the film’s potential to sway public attitude about blindness. He said the movie exacerbates stereotypes and gives false information to uninformed viewers. [Link] (Since starting this post now requires a login?)

I haven’t seen the film or read the book, but the trailer for the films shows the people being put into quarrantine for a medical epidemic where people go blind. Stories generally portray people as acting incompetent and fearful when they are trapped in an unfamiliar situation. The whole point is to create an environment whereby a person, the hero or heroine, who is the bright light of reason and to whom everyone else appeals can rise to the challenge.

Blindness happens to use people who are blind, most likely because a the author was trying to be creative and use something readers would find new. Jose Saramago: “Stupidity doesn’t choose between the blind and the non-blind.” [Link]

Chris Danielsen, a national federation spokesman, said while he understands that the film plays on the public’s fear of sudden blindness, the idea that loss of sight is equal to incompetence and immorality is “outrageous” and “vicious.” Everyday tasks like getting dressed and using the bathroom do not become impossible if a person loses their sight, Danielsen said.

Works of fiction do not depict reality. Otherwise… they would not be fiction. Stop giving movies more meaning than they actually have. Otherwise, you give them power they didn’t already have.

The Catholic Church’s opposition to the Golden Compass made me read the book and go see the movie (latter was awful). I wouldn’t have cared otherwise. Denouncing it made me wonder what they had to fear from something so silly as a book and movie. After seeing the trailer, I wasn’t interested in Blindness. After reading about the opposition, I am interested. I don’t have much luck with movies from books lately, so I may go book first.