THE ONE PLACE IN THE MIDDLE OF EARTH WE DON'T WANT TO SEE: Bootleg DVD's of The Two Towers are now available in Chinese, but the English subtitling
is horrific. Some of these are incredibly funny. (link via GeekPress
NO WAY: Sasha is much cuter
. But just to be sure we can tell them apart, someone should make a chart like this one
NEWS FROM SCENIC BRYN MAWR: Across the street from the private girls' elementary and secondary school in this news article
is Bryn Mawr College. If the cameraman had moved slightly to his right to take that picture, you would have been able to see some of the trees on Bryn Mawr's campus.
FACT-CHECKING THE VOLOKHS: Sasha wrongly asserts that blog and Volokh have the same etymological root
. This is clearly not true. As we all know, blog
is an abbreviation of web log
. Less commonly known, however, is that Volokh
derives from the Latin word volo
, meaning I want
, while the kh
is an abbreviation for the Hebrew name Khava
, which is one of my former online names
PLEASE NOTE CHANGE IN E-MAIL ADDRESS: firstname.lastname@example.org
EVOLUTION AND ENGINEERING: I've been reading Darwin's Dangerous Idea
for the past few days, since it is somewhat relevant to my thesis topic. (My thesis is on the relationship between society as a spontaneous order and individuals as rational actors who can understand and consciously change that order.) A couple of days ago, a disturbing question occurred to me, and I have not been able to find an easy way out of it. Can you consistently hold that social engineering is bad and that genetic engineering is good (or vice versa)?
The question comes out of an analogy between society and biology. Both are evolutionary processes which create structures more complex than we (can ever?) understand. Both create some patterns that are clearly excellent solutions to problems (monogomous marriage, binocular vision), and others that are arbitrary but deeply ingrained (shaking hands for a greeting, having five digits on each hand).
Both processes create better systems than any intelligent mind could design. Nobody can sit down and design an animal (or even a bacteria) from scratch. And nobody can sit down and design a society from scratch. The problems are too huge to be solved without trial and error on a massive scale - the kind that the process of evolution has undertaken.
But evolution can miss things that are apparent to an intelligent mind. Some possibilities, once missed, become impossible (or nearly impossible) to an evolutionary process. For instance, think about how much faster you could type if you had six hands! You'd rarely have to move your fingers, since you'd have nearly one finger for every key (of course, the keyboard would also have to be differently shaped). Now think about how likely it is for evolution to develop an eight-limbed person. Probably it would have been possible for eight-limbed mammals to evolve, but at this point, the four-limbed structure is so deeply ingrained that it is unlikely ever to change with success.
We could, however, design an eight-limbed human, with sufficient technology. We can also design better-tasting foods, animals that produce medicines, and insect-repellent plants. (Why haven't they tried insect-repellent humans yet?) I tend to conisder these things good - I am all for improvements in the human condition.
Societal evolution can also miss some important things. Think, for instance, of racial segregation. That's a self-reinforcing phenomenon: whites think blacks are inferior, so blacks are denied education and good jobs, so they have less training and experience, so they really are unfit for good jobs and higher education, so they are poor, so their children have fewer opportunities, and so on. It's a social structure that hurts everyone. Blacks obviously have less than they would have in an integrated society, but whites have less, too. They suffer from the lessened efficiency, the existence of extreme poverty in their society leading to high crime, the psychological effects of "superiority/inferiority" relationships, and so on. Really, everyone would be better off if everyone was treated equally, but it's hard to see a path for change from within the society itself.
We could, however, design an integrated and equal society, with sufficient technology. This technology consists of imposing laws, enforcing those laws, and providing a little help to the oppressed class to pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty and ignorance. Didn't I just say I was all for improvements in the human condition?
You can argue practical conditions forever. Any proposal for improving society (or for a particular genetic change) might not actually work. But I'm looking for something to differentiate them on principle.
The obvious move now is to look to individual rights. Schemes for improving society almost always trample the rights of some people in the name of improvements for others. But this could also be said of genetic engineering on humans. What are parents and doctors going to say to their genetically modified child when her amplified intelligence causes seizures, or his selected skin color causes lukemia? These mistakes are bound to happen, since we can never be sure that we fully understand exactly how the human genome works.
The next obvious move is to compare individual choice and government coercion. In social engineering, the choice is made by governments and imposed on individuals. But then, the embryos recieving genetic modifications don't have a choice. Only their parents do. (I realize that children's rights is a complicated area of philosophy and law, but I've never seen an answer that's even close to sufficient. If anyone has any ideas and/or reading suggestions, I'd be happy to hear them.) And unlike being baptized in a religion, genetic modifications are not something you can undo or renounce when you come of age.
At this point, I begin to feel like I'm inventing rationalizations to save my position, rather than honestly thinking through the issues. And so I pause, and I write it out, and I post the problem to my blog. I suppose I can summarize the problem this way: If you're Hayek, and you're fully invested in the model of society as an evolutionary process, do you have to be opposed to genetic modification of humans? Or genetic modification of anything?
PHILADELPHIA MAYOR WISHES HE COULD BE DICTATOR: John Street says, "I am personally offended by this and regret that under the Constitution I am limited by what I am able to do about it." What is this horrible offense that Street wishes to do something about? A comic sketch
about sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, which is being performed in a parade.
THE GENDER TEST PREDICTS, with 80% confidence, that I am male
. C'mon people, I'm not even a lesbian! Try it out yourself
, if you like.