There's a joke in here somewhere


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My goodness, it's like we're living in the prologue to some ghastly sci-fi dystopia.

Not that I think his vision will come to pass, at least without a considerable increase in docility towards science and the state. Even if genetics does advance far enough, the fact that predisposition is not predestination will provide a problem for his attempts to breed a race of Eloi. There will be counterexamples for any predisposition, people with genetic tendencies to violence who have saintlike tempers and the like; and with sequencing your own DNA getting cheaper all the time, these counterexamples will be cropping up all over the internet (as well as raging arguments over nature vs. nurture vs. personal responsibility - any genetic tendency to violence that's worth getting eugenic about would also be worth pleading in court cases as mitigating circumstances.)

There are certainly plenty of people who are excited about the prospects that most of us think would lead to a ghastly sci-fi dystopia. I think a more powerful influence than they will be simple consumerism--people extending that attitude toward having children.

Never thought about the use of scientifically-certified genetic predisposition as a mitigating circumstance in criminal cases, but now that you point it out I have no doubt it would be.

I can't imagine this leading to any kind of stable social situation, so in that sense I don't really fear the dystopia, but I can imagine serious harm being done in the effort.

"I think a more powerful influence than they will be simple consumerism--people extending that attitude toward having children."

One of the most difficult things to get mainstream conservatives to see is the connection between consumerism and "life issues." I dropped off a quite good conservative weblog, one that had a decent sized Catholic readership, because I was forever beating my head against the wall trying to get a couple of the bloggers to see this connection, and was actually ridiculed for making it. The pro-market Acton Institute type of Catholic doesn't want to hear it.

Good point. I'd overlooked the power of consumerism, that comfort and convenience provide great incentives to ethical apathy. People already often treat children as a lifestyle choice to a certain degree - using abortion to reduce twins or triplets to a single baby because more would be too much of a hassle, for instance.

In that case I'm not sure our esteemed professor would get his desired world anyway - people would increasingly have their offspring reëngineered for their own convenience, which might not give the same results as his high-minded ethical objectives - imagine if it turns out to be possible to identify genetic markers for e.g. how likely a baby is to scream at 120 decibels in the supermarket.

Rob, yes, they have a huge blind spot there. There is often a somewhat unreal quality about the view of capitalism held by its Catholic proponents. Also, I think it's difficult for the church(es) to speak against "consumerism," because it's a fairly vague term. There's not a clear and agreed-upon line between consumerism and not-consumerism like there is with specific acts.

"I'm not sure our esteemed professor would get his desired world anyway..."

Right. We can already see how that's going to go, with sex-selection abortions. Or maybe creating the baby with the desired sex in the first place:

"When someone spends £30,000 flying to New York to select the sex of their next child, they aren’t choosing life. They are choosing a lifestyle."

In this country, and maybe in Europe as well, freedom of choice pretty much trumps everything else, at least on the emotional/instinctual level, for an awful lot of people.

A certain type of "professor" has a way of playing sorcerer's apprentice to these unsavory developments, then being shocked by the results.

I suspect a lot of conservative Christians are attracted by libertarian insights into the law of unintended consequences (I know I am), and consciously or subconsciously then buy into various associated attitudes, like actually seeing wealth as desireable (....actually you don't need to be a free-marketeer to be tempted by the prospect of wealth.) Thing is, wealth and comfort have unintended *moral* consequences, like fitting your soul for Hell if you're not careful - but remembering this, and remembering the prescribed medication (fasting, monasticism, &c.) is not always a pleasant prospect - I certainly don't like fasting, even remotely. (Which I suppose is the point!)


One could defend such professors on the basis that we learn as individuals and as an entire species by horribly screwing up and then deciding not to do that again (until we've forgotten what it felt like to screw up). Although once you're old enough to be a professor you should maybe have started to notice that amazing bright ideas for creating a perfect world don't always work out like they're planned, and started to think "is there any way this could possibly go wrong?".

It's a characteristic failing of intellectuals when they start thinking about politics and such to grossly overestimate the feasibility and effectiveness of imposing an abstract rationalist order on human societies. It's amusing in a way, because although they think of themselves as disinterested they're doing the same thing everybody else does: thinking "if the world were run by people who think like me, it would be a much better place."

using abortion to reduce twins or triplets to a single baby because more would be too much of a hassle

This boggles my mind. Has it really happened?

Yes, it happens. See “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” (

“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”

I'm sorry to say yes, it has. There was a notorious instance here a few years ago, where a woman who did it wrote a noisy piece of journalism about it. She really seemed to be trying to provoke outrage by saying that triplets might mean she would have to shop at Costco (some kind of big discount store). I don't think I ever read the original piece but I bet if you google "triplets costco abortion" something would turn up..yep, I just tried it.

Cross-posted with Marianne.

Do you ever get the feeling that when someone describes himself as an ethicist you should run away?

Why yes, now that you mention it, I do.

I used to work someplace where one of our customers was the nicest lady. She had been a school teacher for many, many years and everyone loved her. When her 30+ year old daughter got pregnant with twins, she told me how relieved she was to find out that if only one of the babies had Downs Syndrome, they could do a selective abortion and keep the other. I can't imagine what my face must have looked like after she said that or how I managed to wait on the other customers that night. I never could look her in the face again.

Thank goodness, they were both okay. They were named Beth and Amy. It was like Little Women in Dystopia.


Re: Costco Woman - I remember her. I think she said she didn't want the "extra" baby b/c she didn't want to have to buy jumbo size containers of sauce/ketchup. Never mind that many people buy jumbo size everything anyway.

I think I've just come to the conclusion recently that such persons are simply possessed.

I think that explains the beliefs of at least half our our parliamentarians here.

"Little Women in Dystopia" is funny, at least in that instant between laughing and thinking about the reality.

Going back to godescalc's comment: that's a very good point about libertarian types missing the unintended consequences of wealth. Though I think attention to unintended consequences is more a conservative than a libertarian characteristic, the point stands. Even if wealth and the desire for it doesn't make one fall deeply into avarice as such, it can have the effect of enabling other sins, especially when working in conjunction with its brother, power.

On the plane to Australia I was reading Roger Scruton's new book about ecology, the title of which I am too tired to remember. It has a sentence like, 'Reading contemporary philosophers on applied ethics teaches us that they have no wisdom to impart. Footnote, see Peter Singer's 'Applied Ethics.' Its very funny, very dry.

Peter Singer is the worst of the lot, I guess. Why the insistence on "applied" ethics? A way of emphasizing that they're not going to be bothered with a lot of lofty abstractions?

I heard an "ethicist" (aka philosophy prof) who teaches at a Catholic college speak some years ago, and it was remarkable (well, not really) how little weight he gave to Catholic teaching (zero). He seemed to assume that *he* was the most relevant authority, evaluating competing points of view from an Olympian/pontifical position. By virtue of his having named himself an ethicist.

What really kills me (heh) is the deference journalists tend to pay to these guys. "Well, he's a professional ethicist, so he must be right."

Maclin, This is my mission. To make people laugh in the face of Armageddon.


A worthy one.

very worthy

Funny time to be eating breakfast.:-)

yeah, that's why I gave myself that name! My laptop said it was 4.30 pm and I was having the earliest possible breakfast in bed!

For some reason I am confounded by the U.S.-Far East time difference. I don't have any problem with the 6-to-8 hour difference with Europe, but I can't keep the difference between here and Australia/NZ/Phillipines straight at all.

I don't understand the east to Anglozone time difference at all. I lost an entire day. How is that possible? Where could Thursday have gone? In Sydney, I was a day ahead of myself! I have been travelling since this time yesterday, and it is the same time as this time yesterday! Deo Gratias - I had a wonderful flight on Virgin Australia. It was a super conference at a little place called Campion College, in Sydney. It has set me up for the rest of the semester. Louise, I met many of your compatriots!

Right--it's the fact that we're in a completely different day. It's like they (in the East) are in the future. Once I caught myself, talking to antiaphrodite who lives in the Phillipines, thinking that she would already know the outcome of a football game that had yet to start.

Glad the conference was so good.

I had the same thought momentarily at LAX, that I had travelled into the past. I quashed it!

You know, it's been a relatively short amount time that people have been able to jump around from one day to the other (unless they lived on the dateline). It reminds me that in Dr. Who there was a rift in the wall that divides us from another universe and people and cybermen and daleks, I think, had traveled back and forth and that had to be stopped because if it kept up, it would have ripped the entire universe apart. So, I'm wondering if all this going backward and forward in time might invoke the law of unforeseen consequences. We better watch out.

People who live on the dateline probably have some innate ability to be able to time-jump frequently.


That does stand to reason, doesn't it?

I'm doing my part to preserve the universe by staying put.

Oh Grumphy! I hope you enjoyed the Antipodean conference. What was it?

I should know, b/c I'm a donor to Campion College, since it's the only Catholic liberal arts college in Oz. If you ever plan to attend another one, let me know! I've often wanted to attend such an event and may well have a chance one year or another.

How many were there?

I really need to check in here more often!

Nick does the Oz-US run quite a lot (far too much!) and loses many many calendar days!

When he's in the US, I get used to the time difference quite easily.

So at this time of year, Alabama is on daylight savings which is GMT-5. In the East of Oz we are at GMT+10 (standard time). You are 15 hours behind us. So if I want to calculate your time quickly in my head, I do this:

It's 12:48pm here. Subtracting 3 hours gives 9:48am, but I need to flip it to PM, which gives me 9:48PM on Saturday. That's how I do it.

Buenos Aires, where Nick has been a lot, is even easier, because it's 13 hours behind.

If I ever get the time, I will dash off a best-selling novel called "Little Women in Dystopia." Janet, you will receive royalties for the title.

'Reading contemporary philosophers on applied ethics teaches us that they have no wisdom to impart. Footnote, see Peter Singer's 'Applied Ethics.'


There were between 50 and 70 people there. It was really fun.

That's a nice trick for calculating the time difference, Louise. Now to see if I can remember it next time I need it.

I do think Little Women in Dystopia should be written. We've had enough of Jane Austen & zombies etc. I haven't read Little Women so a lot of it would be lost on me. I suppose those who love it would resent Meg & Jo & co. re-imagined as Sandra Fluke types.

Sounds good Grumphy! What did you think of Sydney? And what was the conference about?

Maclin, my brother gave me a Jane Austen With Zombies book - I really can't being myself to read it!

I think Janet read it--if not her, somebody else who comments here from time to time. Unless it was at Craig's blog...

Not I.


Anti, I think. Much more up her alley.

And Craig did write about it I think, but I don't know if he read it.


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