Richard Dawkins Puts Foot in Mouth Again With Tweets About How Eugenics “Works” February 16, 2020

Richard Dawkins Puts Foot in Mouth Again With Tweets About How Eugenics “Works”

Richard Dawkins is in the middle of another self-created controversy after posting a Twitter thread earlier today saying that eugenics “works” — and “why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans?” — adding later that, obviously, it’s been used for horrific things.

This may have been spurred by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hiring an adviser, Andrew Sabisky, who has advocated eugenics to prevent a “permanent underclass.” Many critics are already calling for Johnson to fire the 27-year-old.

Dawkins didn’t get into those politics but he seemed to express sympathy with some of Sabisky’s views. Dawkins went on to say he wasn’t promoting eugenics, but that it could work in principle to help humans “run faster or jump higher.” Sure. Maybe. Even though there would likely be unintended consequences that we don’t yet understand since that’s what happens every time we attempt it.

But even beyond that, the term is commonly associated with something far worse than trying to improve running abilities. The typical debate over eugenics involves whether certain genetics traits ought to be eradicated and whether it’s ethical to do so.

Of course eugenics was also used by the Nazis in an attempt to create an Aryan race. They forcibly sterilized people who didn’t meet their demands — or just flat-out murdered them. Plenty of people could also tell you how the practice has has been cruelly used to breed pedigree dogs, to disastrous results.

With all that in mind, Dawkins took to Twitter — where nuance goes to die — to say eugenics works, but not in practice, but it could, but that’s bad, and why are you all angry with me?

People will inevitably take him out of context. He’s not supporting what the Nazis did. He’s not condoning how eugenics has been used in the past. But his desire to make a point that eugenics works in theory — in a space where he can’t expand on his thinking just seems… like a horrible idea for someone whose career has been built on communicating science.

Saying eugenics “works” depends entirely on who you’re asking and what they want. It’s not simply common sense, as he’s suggesting. Dawkins should know this give that he once caused a stir by saying he would personally support aborting a child if he knew it had Down Syndrome and that it would be “immoral to bring it into the world,” a sentiment that is hardly shared by parents of children with Down Syndrome, religious or otherwise. He has, more generally, supported abortion to get rid of “birth defects” as a way to alleviate human suffering. He said that wasn’t about eugenics at all.

It’s hardly the first time he’s put his foot in his mouth on Twitter, either, the worst example being when he argued that “stranger rape” was worse than “date rape” as a way to prove an unrelated point about logic.

Now, instead of clarifying any argument people were actually having about eugenics, Dawkins has inadvertently created another one.

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