Social Biology and Population Improvement
The Seventh International Congress of Genetics adjourned at Edinburgh only three days before World War II got under way. It is interesting to recall that just before the shooting started a group of geneticists at that Congress-informally formulated what we might call an Edinburgh Charter of the genetic rights of man. Now that we are setting forth on a sea of words toward the New Horizon and the Four Freedoms it may not be amiss to recall this statement of fundamentals, drawn up and subscribed to at a very solemn time, by some of the leaders of genetic thought.
The question “how could the world’s population be improved most effectively genetically” raises far broader problems than the purely biological ones, problems which the biologist unavoidably encounters as soon as he tries to get the principles of his own special field put into practice. For the effective genetic improvement of mankind is dependent upon major changes in social conditions, and correlative changes in human attitudes.
In the first place there can be no valid basis for estimating and comparing the intrinsic worth of different individuals without economic and social conditions which provide approximately equal opportunities for all members of society instead of stratifying them from birth into classes with widely different privileges.
The second major hindrance to genetic improvement lies in the economic and political conditions which foster antagonism between different peoples, nations and “races”. The removal of race prejudices and of the unscientific doctrine that good or bad genes are the monopoly of particular peoples or of persons with features of a given kind will not be possible, however, before the conditions which make for war and economic exploitation have been eliminated. This requires some effective sort of federation of the whole world, based on the common interests of all its peoples.
Thirdly, it cannot be expected that the raising of children will be influenced actively by considerations of the worth of future generations unless parents in general have a very considerable economic security and unless they are extended such adequate economic, medical, educational and other aids in the bearing and rearing of each additional child that the having of more children does not overburden either of them. As the woman is more especially affected by child bearing and rearing she must be given special protection to ensure that her reproductive duties do not interfere too greatly with her opportunities to participate in the life and work of the community at large. These objects cannot be achieved unless there is an organisation of production primarily for the benefit of consumer and worker, unless the conditions of employment are adapted to the needs of parents and especially of mothers, and unless dwellings, towns and community services generally are reshaped with the good of children as one of their main objectives.
A fourth prerequisite for effective genetic improvement is the legalisation, the universal dissemination, and the further development through scientific investigation, of ever more efficacious means of birth control, both negative and positive, that can be put into effect at all stages of the reproductive process – as by voluntary temporary or permanent sterilisation, contraception, abortion (as a third line of defence), control of fertility and of the sexual cycle, artificial insemination, etc. Along with all this the development of social consciousness and responsibility in regard to the production of children is required, and this cannot be expected to be operative unless the above mentioned economic and social conditions for its fulfillment are present and unless the superstitious attitude towards sex and reproduction now prevalent has been replaced by a scientific and social attitude. This will result in its being regarded as an honour and a privilege, if not a duty, for a mother, married or unmarried, or for a couple, to have the best children possible, both in respect of their upbringing and of their genetic endowment, even where the latter would mean an artificial – though always voluntary – control over the processes of parentage.
Before people in general, or the State which is supposed to represent them, can be relied upon to adopt rational policies; for the guidance of their reproduction, there will have to be, fifthly, a wider spread of knowledge of biological principles and of recognition of the truth that both environment and heredity constitute dominating and inescapable complementary factors in human well-being, but factors both of which are under the potential control of man and admit of unlimited but inter-dependent progress. Betterment of environmental conditions enhances the opportunities for genetic betterment in the ways above indicated. But it must also be understood that the effect of the bettered environment is not a direct one on the germ cells and that the Lamarckian doctrine is fallacious, according to which the children of parents who have had better opportunities for physical and mental development inherit these improvements, biologically, and according to which in consequence, the dominant classes and peoples would have become genetically superior to the unprivileged ones. The intrinsic (genetic) characteristics of any generation can be better than those of the preceding generation only as a result of some kind of selection, i.e., by those persons of the preceding generation who had a better genetic equipment having produced more offspring, on the whole, than the rest, either through conscious choice, or as an automatic result of the way in which they lived. Under modern civilised conditions such selection is far less likely to be automatic than under primitive conditions, hence some kind of conscious guidance of selection is called for. To make this possible, however, the population must first appreciate the force of the above principles, and the social value which a wisely guided selection would have.
Sixthly, conscious selection requires, in addition, an agreed direction or directions for selection to take, and these directions cannot be social ones, that is, for the good of mankind at large, unless social motives predominate in society. This in turn implies its socialised organisation. The most important genetic objectives, from a social point of view, are the improvement of those genetic characteristics which make (a) for health, (b) for the complex called intelligence and (c) for those temperamental qualities which favour fellow-feeling and social behaviour rather than those (to-day most esteemed by many) which make for personal “success”, as success is usually understood at present.
A more widespread understanding of biological principles will bring with it the realisation that much more than the prevention of genetic deterioration is to be sought for and that the raising of the level of the average of the population nearly to that of the highest now existing in isolated individuals, in regard to physical well-being, intelligence and temperamental qualities, is an achievement that would – so far as purely genetic considerations are concerned – be physically possible within a comparatively small number of generations. Thus everyone might look upon “genius”, combined of course with stability, as his birthright. And, as the course of evolution shows, this would represent no final stage at all, but only an earnest of still further progress in the future.
The effectiveness of such progress, however, would demand increasingly extensive and intensive research in human genetics and in the numerous fields of investigations correlated therewith. This would involve the co-operation of specialists in various branches of medicine, psychology, chemistry and, not the least, the social sciences, with the improvement of the inner constitution of man himself as their central theme. The organization of the human body is marvellously intricate and the study of its genetics is beset with special difficulties which require the prosecution of research in this field to be on a much vaster scale, as well as more exact and analytical, than hitherto contemplated. This can, however, come about when men’s minds are turned from war and hate and the struggle for the elementary means of subsistence to larger aims, pursued in common.
The day when economic reconstruction will reach the stage where such human forces will be released is not yet, but it is the task of this generation to prepare for it, and all steps along the way will represent a gain, not only for the possibilities of the ultimate genetic improvement of man, to a degree seldom dreamed of hitherto, but at the same time, more directly, for human mastery over those more immediate evils which are so threatening our modern civilization.
A. E. Crew, J. S. Huxley, J. B. S. Haldane, H. J. Müller, S. C. Harland. J, Needham, L. T. Hogben.
P. Child, C. L. Huskins, P. R. David, W. Landaurer, G. Dahlberg, H. H. Plough, Th. Dobzhansky, E. Price, R. A. Emerson, J. Schultz, C. Gordon, A. G. Steinberg, John Hammond, C. H. Waddington.