Around 1980, when America's intellectual elite was waxing ridiculously apocalyptic about the horrors of overpopulation, many people saw nothing wrong with the idea that only the best and brightest (as determined by IQ tests) ought to be breeding. One of the most vocal proponents of this view was William Shockley, an eccentric scientist who won a Nobel Prize for inventing the transistor. He believed that people with low IQ scores ought to be given incentives not to reproduce, and he enthusiastically supported a sperm bank for genius donors to improve the human gene pool.
Fast-forward a few decades, to a time when society's values have shifted radically—when much more importance is placed on nebulous "social skills" than on academic achievement or test scores. If Shockley were unfortunate enough to be growing up today, it's likely he would get the Asperger diagnosis. Instead of being lauded as a visionary genius, he would be shunned as mentally disordered. Amidst today's mass hysteria about the horrors of autism, he would find himself described as genetically flawed and unfit to breed.
This goes to show the folly of a common argument for eugenics—the view that society has a moral duty to produce only perfect children and that we should alleviate suffering by preventing the birth of those who are "defective." Over the years, as popular prejudices have changed, society's ideas of what makes a person "defective" have varied tremendously. It all depends on who's creating the definitions. Anybody could wake up tomorrow and find that their whole family had been put in a new "defective" category.
As for the idea of perfect children—WTF? Are you perfect? Know anyone who is? Show me a guy who thinks he's perfect, and I'll show you a shrink who will be quick to diagnose him with an ego disorder.
While wandering around the Web recently, I came across yet another forum where ignorant people were talking about eugenics. One guy argued, in all apparent seriousness, that anyone wearing "coke-bottle lenses" should not reproduce because their children would suffer just like they did. Of course, that's total nonsense in this age of laser vision correction, disposable contact lenses, and new composite materials for ultra-thin eyeglasses. Nobody has worn "coke-bottle lenses" in quite a long time. But that's precisely where the twisted logic of "perfect children" leads: to a world where anyone who wears eyeglasses can expect the Eugenics Police to come knocking on their door and take them away for sterilization.
And what's more, it's our differences and imperfections that drive our technological progress, not our similarities. None of these new technologies for improving vision, which also have valuable industrial applications, would exist if we had eugenically screened out the nearsighted. Indeed, if our ethics never had evolved beyond the ancient practice of leaving "defective" children in the forest for the wolves, our medical science might not have progressed beyond the most basic Bronze Age remedies. We certainly wouldn't have invented computers, traveled to the moon, and decoded the human genome if our species had consisted of a stagnant monoculture who considered it their civic duty to kill off anyone who deviated from a narrow norm.
Perfection? Not my idea of it.