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L. Neil Smith's
Number 476, July 13, 2008

"Empire is a Negative-Sum Game"

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My Little Litmus Test
by Ann Morgan

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

In your issue of two weeks ago, there was a mention of the Smith-Suprynowicz litmus test for determining the pro-freedom postion of an individual. What they asked was:

Would Keyes support the right of a nine-year-old girl to walk into a hardware store and, without signing anything or producing identification of any kind, pay cash for a submachinegun, several hundred rounds of ammunition, and a supply of morphine? If he wouldn't, then whatever he's in favor of, it isn't freedom.

After reading about the Smith-Suprynowicz litmus test for testing the 'pro-freedom' position of an individual, I would like to mention a little litmus test of my own. I happen to be what is known as a 'transhumanist', which is to say, I believe I, and anyone else, has the individual, voluntary right to improve both ourselves and our descendents through the use of various forms of technology, including (but not necessarily limited to) nootropic drugs, cybernetics, and genetic engineering.

A fairly well-known pro-freedom author (who is neither Smith nor Suprynowicz, but who shall otherwise remain nameless, although some readers here may know who I am talking about) who would probably pass the Smith-Suprynowicz Test, dismally failed mine. This person's version of 'freedom' consists of them, or some government that shares their views telling me what I can and can't do with my own DNA, and what sort of technologies I can and can't use to reproduce.

They justify this position by an irrational two-fold strategy.

Firstly: by conflating a voluntary attempt on the part of an individual (or several individuals who are in agreement) to create what they might happen to beleive are 'improvements' in themselves or their immediate descendents, with the forcible attempts of the Nazis to do the same thing. This person entirely fails to understand that forcibly preventing a person or group from reproducing in some particular fashion is just as wrong, and for the same reason, as forcibly compelling a person or group to do so.

Secondly: by taking the schizophrenic stance that if some hypothetical act of genetic engineering has a bad result, it violates the rights of a hypothetical 'unborn' infant. However, if it has a good result (such as, say, adding about 50 IQ points), then it violates the rights of everyone else, who can't or won't use such technology on themselves. A line of reasoning which, I might add, could be used to ban any form of technology, since there is probably no invention, going all the way back to fire and the wheel, that at least some people on this planet either dislike, can't comprehend, or are unable to afford.

This particular individual also ignores any number of things in taking the position that others have the right to dictate what I can and can't do with my own genetic material. Not the least of which is the 9th article of the Bill of Rights, which reads:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

I think all human beings have the right to decide what they shall do with their own bodies, including deciding how they shall reproduce, using which technologies. This is a right which could not have been imagined, exercise, or infringed upon in the 18th century, mainly because the knowledge and technology necessary to do so did not exist in that time.

This person, in taking the position that I do not have a right to do what I wish with my own DNA, is not only taking a position which is contrary to freedom, they are also sabatoging the entire cause of freedom. As I mentioned, the term for individuals such as myself are 'transhumanists'. I am not the only one. No transhumanist that I know of wants to control the genetic destiny of anyone else, merely themselves. Others (including their own children) are free to do as they wish. So, when this person proposes a definition of freedom that contradictorily bans that particular activity that transhumanists happen to value, and that does not harm anyone else, they have just pointlessly alienated a group of people from the entire cause of freedom. It is no less of a mistake than that of someone who owns a hunting rifle, but wants to ban .50 caliber rifles and machine guns. If you don't support the rights of those who like machine guns to have them, or those who want to alter their own DNA to do so, if you in fact, actively oppose the right of those people to do as they wish, do you think that they will support your right to own a .308 or homeschool your child? Or will they simply say "Fuck You!" when the government comes around to take your hunting rifle and your children away?

I would also question precisely how this person, who thinks individuals do not have the right to use genetic engineering on themselves, would go about enforcing a ban on this technology? Should all embryos be tested to see if their genes are 'too good'? Since I cannot envision any sort of test that could distinguish between (in an already forming embryo) genes inserted by some form of technology, genes inherited from a parent, and genes which appeared through a lucky, beneficial mutation, I just wonder what this person would propose as a means of enforcement. Should we pass a law requiring the abortion of any embryo showing a genotype coding for an IQ greater than, say 120? I'm sure our current government, whom this person condemns as tyrannical even now, would absolutely love to have a power of that magnitude.

Thus far, no government in the world, even the most despotic, has ever been able to prevent with 100% effectiveness, the use of any technology, ranging from internet use to narcotics to nuclear science, that there has been a market for. The main effect of any legal bans has been to artificially raise the price of the desired, but banned, technology to fantastic levels. Cocaine, for instance, costs about 1000 times more than it would if it were legal. If this person is worried about some sort of hypothetical 'unfairness' to those not able to afford genetic engineering, the best way to ensure the most unfair situation possible, is to make the technology illegal, thus ensuring, at least in the short run, that only the smallest minority of the very rich, powerful, and politically well connected will be able to afford it.

Mind you, I say, specifically in the short run regarding this situation, because people such as this individual, who bleat about 'unfairness' and who give such false arguments in order to halt human evolution at a level that they personally, happen to be comfortable with, not only ignore human rights and economics, but also the far more ancient laws of biology. In the long run, the cost of any beneficial genes, whether they occur through nature or human engineering, will drop to zero. Why? Because a male with desirable genes, however he might have gotten them, is capable of impregnating a pretty much unlimitted number of women, and most men generally do not have to be paid in order to perform the act that gets women pregnant.

Well, no doubt this person would regard my acknowledgement of simple biological and sexual reality as 'coldblooded' or 'immoral'. Tough. That is the way in which life on this planet evolved thus far. If you don't like it, go argue with Mother Nature, or God, or the universe. Genetic engineering may very well be the means to the next level of evolution for several species on this planet. There is no law of nature or physics which states that the means by which evolution occurs must remain the same, and historically, those species which have evolved to use that method of evolution that produces the greatest likelihood of good results, have outcompeted those species that continued to use older, inferior methods of evolution. A billion years ago, the first bacteria that engaged in hermaphroditic sex, quickly began outcompeting those that continued to reproduce by cloning themselves. Some time after that, those species that became sexually dimorphic, and evolved into males and females, began outcompeting the hermaphroditic species. No doubt if this person, who is today complaining about the possibility of a new means of reproduction via genetic engineering, had been alive a billion years ago as a paramecium, they would have regarded the evolution of sex, and later, of gender, as 'unfair' to all the other bacteria. Too bad. Failure in an organism to evolve generally means, sooner or later, extinction; and I would vastly prefer for the human race as a whole to engage in behavior that some people happen to find personally uncomfortable, than to go extinct.

And personally, I have little sympathy for the mindset of a luddite in an ignorant 19th century textile worker, and even less sympathy for such a mindset in a supposedly well-educated 21st century individual who claims to be in favor of freedom and capitalism, and yet at the same time wants to impose the worst sort of genetic communism on the entire human race.


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