Two Scientifically Clueless Professors Float The Idea Of Genetic Communism: Babies Randomly Assigned To Couples At Birth
At first, you wonder if this is a Swiftian "Modest Proposal." But, no, these are actual professors writing this and they seem to be doing a genuine muse on -- yes, get this: the notion that babies be randomly allocated as a way to end racism.
Of course, this is not going to happen -- not without an authoritarian state -- but with the erosion of our freedoms on so many angles, and the general lack of interest and lack of interest in doing anything about it, we are at least more pointed in that direction than we've ever been.
is the Emeritus Research Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University. His most recent book is The Escape of the Mind (2014).
Escape of the mind? More like "escape from modern science." From the Oxford listing of the book, it:
Proposes a unique philosophical approach, teleological behaviorism, that places the mind wholly outside of the body...
In other words, it seeks to bring back Cartesian dualism, the notion that the mind and body are separate -- despite a host of research in recent years showing bidirectionality (back and forth) between the body and mind, with what happens to the body affecting the mind and vice versa.
Marvin Frankel obtained a PhD in psychology at the University of Chicago. He is currently a professor of psychology at Sarah Lawrence College. He has published numerous articles on clinical psychology.
Rachlin and Franklin wank off thusly at Aeon on the notion of randomly assigned babies as a way to end racism:
You may argue that genetic bias is indelible in human nature. Social mixing would not only disturb the comfort of this fatalistic attitude, but also use genetic chauvinism for ends beyond mere economic equality, providing grounds for a compassion that goes beyond the wellbeing of our immediate families. Since any man might be your biological brother, any woman your biological sister, concern for them would have to be expressed by a concern for a common good.
A second effect of social mixing would be to generate a strong interest in the health and wellbeing of expectant mothers, which would ultimately translate into an interest in the social and biological welfare of everyone. Since any child might end up our own, we would provide the social and educational environments that would best enhance their development. Ghettos and slums would be an eyesore for us all. Poverty, drug, and alcohol addiction are already everyone's problem, but this fact would be more meaningful than it is now. The child of that addict might be our biological child. Every victim of a drive-by shooting might be a member of our genetic family. Each of us would see the link between our fate and the fate of others.
Third, the superficial connection between colour and culture would be severed. Racism would be wiped out. Racial ghettos would disappear; children of all races would live in all neighbourhoods. Any white child could have black parents and any black child could have white parents. Imagine the US president flanked by his or her black, white, Asian and Hispanic children. Imagine if social mixing had been in effect 100 years ago in Germany, Bosnia, Palestine or the Congo. Racial, religious, and social genocide would not have happened.
Fourth, the plan accords with John Rawls's concept of justice, introducing a welcome element of randomness into the advantages that each child can expect. At the present time, if you are a child of Bill Gates, you will have not only a genetic advantage but also a material one. Under a regime of social mixing, any baby could find herself the child of Bill Gates and enjoy the opportunity of optimally exercising whatever her genetic gifts might be. As for Bill Gates's biological child, he might find himself the son of a barber, but with his natural genetic gifts he might make the most of a less than optimal educational environment.
There are, of course, many natural objections to this idea. It will be said that one of the joys of marriage is for lovers to see the product of their love. To this we say that the product of one's love lies not in the genetic production of a human being but in the mutual cultivation of the life of a child. But isn't it true that either the genetic match between parent and child or a bond formed between mother and child in the womb makes each parent uniquely fit to raise his or her own child and less fit to raise another child? The evidence for such idiosyncrasy is slight. True, adopted children tend to have more mental and physical problems than non-adopted ones. But children are often adopted at relatively advanced ages, after they have formed close attachments with caregivers. Children adopted during their first year are at no disadvantage relative to non-adopted children.
It will be objected that in defusing genetic chauvinism we will be giving up our only secular moral constraint - which translates into the fear that under social mixing people will be as indifferent to their own real children as they are now to the biological children of others. But there are no grounds for such deep pessimism. Look at the behaviour of adoptive parents now, or look at the practice of surrogate motherhood. The many apparently infertile parents who adopt a baby only to have a biological child subsequently do not tend to reject the first child.
It may be objected that under social mixing cultural diversity would disappear. But this would only be true for diversity that depends on the shape of your features and the colour of your skin. This is the kind of diversity that racists wish to maintain. The cultural diversity we care about - of language, food, dress, religion, music, speech - would be preserved no less than it is now.
It may be objected that parents' desire to have their own biological children is so strong that they would be blind to the public good, that they would have babies and bring them up in secret. But those babies would not have birth certificates, they would not be citizens, they could not vote, serve in public office and so forth. If discovered, the children might be taken away after the strong bonds of psychological (as opposed to biological) parenthood had been formed. Few Americans would risk these penalties.
What kind of sick people think of this, except as the plot of a dystopian novel?
The end of the piece:
Genetic chauvinism lives on very strongly in our culture. Modern fiction and cinema often present adoptees' searches for biological parents and siblings in a highly positive light. The law in child custody cases is biased towards biological parents over real parents. You might claim that this bias itself is 'natural'. It is so common as to seem part of our biological makeup. But subjugation of women was also common in primitive human cultures and remains so in many cultures today. Unnatural as it sounds, social mixing promises many advantages. If we are not willing to adopt it, we should consider carefully why. And if naturalness is the key, we should ask ourselves why on this matter, ungoverned nature should trump social cohesion.
A commenter at the site, Damien Quinn, points out:
Your proposal, has at it's heart, a basic contradiction. If "genetic chauvinism" is such a minimal factor in family relationships that sundering such bonds would be reasonably consequence free, why on earth would "genetic chauvinism" create a wider social bond.
You discuss the relationship between adoptive parents and adopted children. There are many, many adopted children in my extended family, and what you say about the bonding process is true, to a point*, however none of them seem to have any greater than average concern for the welfare of people in the wider society on the basis that they may, possibly, be genetically related. If your proposal carried weight you would expect they would. Have you found evidence to suggest this is so?
*Here's something you may have missed in your consideration of adoption, generally speaking, parents do form a bond with the child while it is in the womb. This is clear from the grief clearly suffered following miscarriage and the emotional trauma associated with abortion. Where adoptive parents are generally as excited as expectant parents when they meet their child for the first time, and thus the desire to bond is mutual, under your proposal the parents would be grieving their lost infant upon introduction to their randomly allocated adopted child. Bonding in these circumstances would be strained.
Finally, social exclusion and prejudice are not particularly tied to skin colour or physical features, those things just act as markers, overt signals, to provide snap judgements about whether an individual in "in-group" or "out-group". In singular race societies, prejudice still exists, the markers are simply refined.
So no, it probably wouldn't achieve a society without prejudice and even if such an outcome was absolutely 100% sure to follow, it would create trauma for 100% of the population to save trauma in 15 or 20%, which makes no sense.
I talk in my recent TED talk, "The surprising self-interest in being kind to strangers," about possible ways to diminish the "in group"/"out group" "us"/"them" outcomes from living in a vast, stranger-filled society.
Another commenter, Zach Cochran, writes:
I think we've already begun half of this experiment where so many children (especially poor children) are randomly assigned fathers. I don't think those results do credit to your hypothesis.
I'd also note, in that light, that you continually mention "parents", plural. Do you see how you are making some rather ridiculous assumptions? Do you plan to make divorce illegal, or require genetic identification of parents for this swap to ensure the right "parents" are assigned?
The scientific evidence is also clear about heritable traits and their impact on outcomes. I know, I know, science is racist, blah blah blah. But impulsivity, intelligence, athletic ability, and so forth, are all heritable. How does your big old baby blender solve this? (It doesn't.)
Cool Utopian ideas like these, based in no real world experience and no real science, are why you goofballs in the Ivy League do so much harm to the rest of us. I have a proposal: what if we assigned college professorships completely at random? Dr. Rachlin, you can teach Psychology at Idaho State. Dr. Frankel, let's assign you to Tiffin University, in Ohio. Let me know how that works out.
These are professors who are ignorant about vast quantities of research, just starting with how people give gifts and do kind acts disproportionately keyed to levels of genetic relatedness.
And the late Margo Wilson, with Martin Daly, did research on how stepfathers are more likely to abuse or kill children (those not genetically theirs). From the Wiki link (because it explains their work and theory quickly and clearly:
Evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson propose that the Cinderella effect is a direct consequence of the modern evolutionary theory of inclusive fitness, especially parental investment theory. They argue that human child rearing is so prolonged and costly that "a parental psychology shaped by natural selection is unlikely to be indiscriminate." According to them, "research concerning animal social behaviour provide a rationale for expecting parents to be discriminative in their care and affection, and more specifically, to discriminate in favour of their own young."
Though we can love and raise a child who is not ours, we are genetically vested in acting in ways that foster the passing on of our genes. The ignorance of that -- and the vast and growing body of research reflecting that -- is breathtaking.