Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

All Patriarchy Is Eugenic

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot to this post. This comment:
Through centuries of education human beings have naturally gotten smarter, without genetic engineering or tampering of any kind. Einstein came out of a vagina not a test tube and that will likely remain the case for centuries to come. Furthermore, human beings have become incredibly intelligent over the centuries, yet are hardly any wiser for it. Maybe we should engineer wisdom, we are in dire need of it.
Provoked me to respond with a comment of my own:
Patriarchy itself can be usefully viewed as the inculcation of a set of arbitrary norms driving a selective eugenic breeding program many centuries old, and so the "natural" default status into which eugenics-champions fancy themselves to be tampering is just as well viewed as a position taken in a long clash of stupid eugenic parochialisms. To the extent that "coming out of a test tube" can be and has been a phrase used by folks to describe IVF, I daresay an Einstein could emerge from one before emerging from a vagina easily enough. I think it is important to distinguish ARTs (alternative/artificial reproductive technologies) from eugenic-inspired proposals, even as we grant that there is some historical overlap between the two, as there is also a certain bioreductionist strain (that deserves the strongest critique as well) that sometimes frames both for their champions and critics.
Credit where credit is due, this is an idea that was first suggested to me years ago by Annalee Newitz at a feminist conference I organized on bioethics discourse at Berkeley.

Anyway, at this point an all-too-familiar long-time periodic sniper in the Moot, John Howard (who is not, I'm pretty sure the former Australian PM) replied to that last comment in his usual vein, and the ensuing exchange seemed worthy of its own post:
So the "natural" default status of men and women choosing each other to marry and having children together is eugenics? So what is not eugenics? Don't tell me: Peer to peer consensual fully informed blah blah voluntary genetic modification and same-sex/transgender reproduction is not eugenics and OK, right?
I reply:

Needless to say, what John Howard echoes as the "natural" or "default" state of men and women marrying and having children is neither natural nor a default for countless people -- and ever more so the more he may want to freight "married with children" with other modifications, for example, life-long, monogamous, nuclear, etc.

This is not an invitation for you to elaborate your point, John Howard, I'm not getting drawn into yet another of these homopanic exercises you post to my blog a couple of times a year since I know that treating you as a good faith interlocutor does no good a couple of exchanges down the road from this initial one. You have a history and a reputation and you have to live with it. Further communications from you will probably just be deleted unless you are very good and very concise.

For newcomers and lurkers, I will add that it is obviously not a negative judgment of those for whom desiring or sexual or affiliative lifeways really are legible and satisfying on comparatively now-customary terms to point out as well that the wider range of also perfectly legible human desires and sexual practices have been constrained and violated and punished by heteronormative and reprosexual assumptions, norms, ends.

And to the extent that heteronormative and reprosexual norms have functioned to police and abject and deform equity-in-diversity there is some urgency about refusing to allow such forms to be described as "natural" in the way John Howard wants to do.

Howard claims (no need to trust me on this, scour the archives) that heterosexuality is under attack, and is especially paranoid about futurological discourses in which imaginary technologies enable queer folks to have armies of clone babies who will steal his heterosexuality away from him (after a few argumentative bouts with him it is hard to shake the suspicion that he is just afraid of the loss of an unearned privilege and also possibly that he can't exactly deal with a bit of hankering of his own for a little dick on the side).

To elaborate a bit more for the peanut gallery: "Patriarchy" names social formations in which the transmission of property and authority from fathers to sons requires that women be subordinated/owned as property as well so that men can control their reproductive capacity and hence facilitate that transmission of property and authority from fathers to sons. "Patriarchy" also describes social formations in which that which is constructed and marked as female/feminine is subordinated in comparison to that which is constructed and marked as male/masculine in order to facilitate the transmission of property and authority from fathers to sons, or as vestiges of a history of such transmission (vestiges that can linger and unexpectedly ramify and transform long after patriarchy in its initial legal and ethnographic sense has been overcome).

To the extent that in many historical and geographical sites men have chosen for countless generations to marry and have children with women who facilitate patriarchal norms it is perfectly obvious that patriarchal sex-gender constructions have articulated (which is of course not to say determined) both the men and the women as well as the cultures co-constructed by those practices and lifeways.

Needless to say, by the way, if queer folks marry and have kids (facilitated by ARTs or through elaborate surrogacy arrangements) but choose their partners and shape their offspring in the service of visions of optimality that remain paradoxically patriarchal (believe me, it happens), or racist, or according to various instrumentalizing competitiveness criteria, then of course these too can be framed as eugenic. It should go without saying, but I disapprove of the stupidity and anti-democracy of eugenic formulations as much from gay folks as from anybody else.

It is to be hoped that few of my readers will find the very idea of actually informed, nonduressed consensual democratic multiculture quite so contemptible as John Howard, defender of straight pricks, seems to do.


Black guy from the future past said...

I get what you are saying Dale, and I did not mean to imply that coming "out of a test tube" was somehow a negative. I was simply attacking the eugenicist argument for "perfection", which merely means what those in the power-elite deem to be be "perfect" in their view. You also raise the troubling issue of patriarchy and arbitrary norms. All "norms" are in effect arbitrary. We buy/conform ourselves into certain modes of cultural and social expression. For example, I go to college not because it is objectively good, true, and universal, though in my society it is marketed that way, and is severely important in the society I live in, I realize that other social systems operate, and many social systems in the past have operated, just fine without systems of higher education or even formal schooling for that matter. This raises the issue of what can be considered normal and abnormal what is objectively good and universal and what is subjective/relative. I am not sure these lines will ever be clearly drawn and we will have to struggle with these issues for a long time. Humans have been struggling with the issue of HOW to live since the first humans became cognizant of the fact they were even alive. The main issue I think is the aspect of conformity. Every human being walks a precarious line between what their societal system allows them to do, and what they personally wish to do. Many people have been marginalized and outright killed in this process. Ironically this goes both ways, what is most often deemed "good" equality, justice, compassion for all, can get one killed and marginalized, and what is considered "bad" being a a racist or pedophile, also can get one killed and marginalized. And the examples that I have provided as "good" and "bad" are at various points in time and history reversed, the "good" becoming "bad" and vice versa. The proclivities and propensities of society as a whole, composing itself of many members, must be taken into account and be dealt with. This is a never ending struggle.

Dale Carrico said...

"I did not mean to imply..." I figured as much. I included the quote because it provided context for the exchange that seemed relevant, I didn't attach your pseudonym in my quote precisely to avoid seeming to fix or focus attention on you rather than to John Howard as the person I was actually sparring with in the overall exchange. Normativity is indeed a tangled web, sticky, fraught, constraining, but also supportive.

Black guy from the future past said...

>"Normativity is indeed a tangled web, sticky, fraught, constraining, but ALSO SUPPORTIVE."

Normativity stinks really. When you sit down and analyze rigorously and thoroughly the world and human society as it is now, and has been since it's inception, the whole thing reeks. The whole thing is immensely tiring and despicable.

Black guy from the future past said...

This might be a bit off topic not by much...but I want to leave this here to show how zany io9 and science can get.

In my personal opinion science is much to blame for idiotic ideas like eugenics and speculation of ET life. Also scientists are against drawing conclusions that have any relevance in human society, like what is "good" and "bad". Think about it. Biologists and physicists have been studying matter and it's functions for years. The whole process of "creation" is an insanely destructive affair, the catastrophes and pains and wastes involved in everyday reality is literally astronomical. With their vast stores of knowledge can't scientists pass AT LEAST SOME judgement on how people should think and live their lives? In the interest of being "objective" and "impartial", (not that it is actually possible to be such things), scientists lose a great opportunity to truly revolutionize human beings socially. (it is also unfortunate that they don't have much sway or power in government, government being composed of dumb people...most of them lawyers and business people). But I think it would be profoundly interesting to have a scientifically run society. I mean scientists knew racism was bullshit from the get go yet the idea still persists. I can envision severe problems in this social order, yet this is fascinating to me. We need a society run on what is objectively verifiable, not based on the whims of emotional and power hungry business people...I mean "politicians".