Geoffrey Miller’s answer to this year’s Edge question is worth discussion. The question is “What should we be worried about?”, and his answer concerned Chinese Eugenics (Miller’s is listed first):
China has been running the world’s largest and most successful eugenics program for more than thirty years, driving China’s ever-faster rise as the global superpower. I worry that this poses some existential threat to Western civilization. Yet the most likely result is that America and Europe linger around a few hundred more years as also-rans on the world-historical stage, nursing our anti-hereditarian political correctness to the bitter end.
I saw this played out at the microscopic level last night at work. I waited on a table of two white parents and five kids. There were two white kids and three Asian kids, and all of them were wearing gymastics attire. I might be wrong, but the kids looked Chinese. Certainly not Southeast Asian, and probably not Korean. I could tell that the Asian kids had been adopted by the white parents rather than, say, being guests of some host family (like Gabby Douglas was in Iowa). They used intimate parent-child language rather than overly formal house guest language.
Anyway, the littlest Asian girl was cute as could be, but she was missing half of her left arm. I saw that – an American family adopting a deformed Chinese kid, and then I read Miller’s essay. That kind of brought it home. If the U.S. – and by “the U.S.” I mean the good citizens of the U.S. – do what is generally thought to be “the right thing”, and if China takes advantage of the fact that other nations are doing the right thing, we are at a disadvantage. In game theory, we are acting altruistically while they are acting selfishly. How long can we continue to take the high road while others take the low?
Many scientists and reformers of Republican China (1912-1949) were ardent Darwinians and Galtonians. They worried about racial extinction (miezhong) and “the science of deformed fetuses” (jitaixue), and saw eugenics as a way to restore China’s rightful place as the world’s leading civilization after a century of humiliation by European colonialism. The Communist revolution kept these eugenic ideals from having much policy impact for a few decades though. Mao Zedong was too obsessed with promoting military and manufacturing power, and too terrified of peasant revolt, to interfere with traditional Chinese reproductive practices.
But then Deng Xiaoping took power after Mao’s death. Deng had long understood that China would succeed only if the Communist Party shifted its attention from economic policy to population policy. He liberalized markets, but implemented the one-child policy —partly to curtail China’s population explosion, but also to reduce dysgenic fertility among rural peasants. Throughout the 1980s, Chinese propaganda urges couples to have children “later, longer, fewer, better”—at a later age, with a longer interval between birth, resulting in fewer children of higher quality. With the 1995 Maternal and Infant Health Law (known as the Eugenic Law until Western opposition forced a name change), China forbade people carrying heritable mental or physical disorders from marrying, and promoted mass prenatal ultrasound testing for birth defects. Deng also encouraged assortative mating through promoting urbanization and higher education, so bright, hard-working young people could meet each other more easily, increasing the proportion of children who would be at the upper extremes of intelligence and conscientiousness.
Now, it is entirely possible that this small Asian girl will be a net plus for the U.S. For her own sake, I hope that she will be. She was almost assuredly a net negative for China and for her family with its One Child Policy and its generally less forgiving attitude towards disabled people. There is no equivalent to the Americans with Disabilities Act in China. The girl would struggle physically which would take away from her all-important schooling. Nobody would marry her because the government would forbid it – not that another man or his family would take that risk anyway. But this is a risk, and the family and our collective have incurred that risk. It is a setback that will have to be overcome. China sees such risks and decides not to mess with them. They put the kid up for adoption and take advantage of the fact that others in the world place a greater value on all life.
Mitt Romney made a big deal about China being unfair in terms of their currency manipulations and their stealing of U.S. intellectual property, but Miller helps us realize that their eugenics programs may pose a much bigger long-term threat. This also brings up the question of whether or not the U.S. and other more “humanitarian” nations are just enabling eugenic policies in China and Russia and eastern Europe, etc.