Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Brock's “Behavioral Genetics and Equality”

Brock, Dan W. (2006). “Behavioral Genetics and Equality” in Parens, Eric, Chapman, Audrey R, and Press, Nancy (eds.) Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 220-34.

Brock argues that the there is not a moral objection to enhancement technologies but to selective access to them in ways that would exacerbate social, moral, and economic inequalities. The future holds the possibility that many natural differences in life and well being may become more into our control but not without the risk that moral, social, and economic inequality would increase. How much of class structure is based on heredity and wouldn’t any new medical or genetic treatment related to enhancement necessarily be outside the purview of anyone but the rich? Many may think that significant enhancement technology is science fiction but the notion of increasing inequality is not a far stretch. He discusses social justice and distinguishes between formal and fair equality appealing to Rawls to claim that fair equality of opportunity requires equal opportunities of those similarly endowed and motivated. Rawls may argue for physical enhancement behind the veil of ignorance but not for enhancement available to a select group of individuals in the society giving them unfair advantage over the rest. Ask Jim why he claims that diversity and idiosyncrasy would diminish in such a state when he argues for the potentiality of an increased gap. I thought he made a rather poignant analogy to the dismal quality of public education in the U.S and opportunity for individuals in that lower income group. He comments on the difference between brute luck and option luck to claim that our current system accepts bad brute luck but not bad option luck. The point is that bad brute luck may only be available to a few further inequitizing society thereby being an issue of injustice.

Brock argues that the value of traits change over time due to the social, political, economic, and I argue technological framework of society. How do we decide what traits will be of value in an unknowable future? Take height. There seems to be cultural value to being thin and tall but that could change. History shows us that women with more curves were more sought after than thin women. The idea of equalizing is not feasible because that means that we would have to de-enhance those with extraordinary ability but enhancing based on cultural values that may change is not in the long run equalizing natural assets. It may be fine motor skills that are of value today ad brute strength tomorrow. I find it interesting that he withholds speculation on the potential for inequality simply within the context of preventing genetic disease. He agrees that limiting the use of genetic technology will be difficult because of the complexity of positional and intrinsic value to cases of benefit to the individual and society. What if we could make firefighters stronger with more stamina? It still comes down to where do we draw the line. He concludes with a discussion of human nature, dignity, and evolution arguing that it would be problematic to sustain a moral community or democratic institution that respected the human rights of all. He speaks of a natural aristocracy that might develop. Would we not look at this as an instance if speciation, which still begs the question of what is it that makes us human.

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