Running the Red Queen’s Race

I’ve previously mentioned the Breeders’ Law, and I’d like to expand briefly on the subject as it applies to human eugenics.

The BL can be utilized when dealing with traits that occur in a continuous, normal distribution. Such traits are influenced by many separate genes instead of deriving from one or a few. If the trait depends on a single gene, inheritance becomes discrete and choppy instead of smooth and continuous. Fortunately, many human traits are polygenetic.

It’s not clear to me that section which addresses the improvement of a trait is wholly valid. If you want rapid improvement in a gene pool, as most plant and animal breeders would, that level of stringent selection is necessary. But if you’re willing to wait, even a modest reproductive advantage can dominate a population if it has enough good fortune not to be wiped out by chance early-on.

The section concerning maintenance and perpetuation of traits is likely accurate, at least roughly. Like carrots and corn, humans show signs of originating with a small population of genetic anomalies. Thus, inbreeding is a major problem, and a relatively large breeding population is necessary for the continuation of the species. With such species, degeneration of desirable traits occurs if the least desirable combinations of genes are not removed regularly.

To maintain a stable human population, it is said that women must have an average of 2.2 children each. (The extra 0.2 child is necessary to counter male-female disproportion, inherent sterility, and the like.) That ignores issues like diseases, natural disasters, and warfare, which would require even more children to compensate for the losses. In replacement-level breeding, everyone has just enough children to replace themselves. Hopefully, this results in the complete transmission of genetic diversity, although in practice gene frequencies could still change through chance alone. But let’s say that the population is sufficiently large that chance perturbations are so small as to be neglectable.

Let’s say the Breeders’ Law is roughly correct about trait maintenance, and each new generation must be drawn from the 66rd percentile and above in the distribution of valuable traits. That means only the top two-thirds of women can have the children that will compose the next generation. Which means that their output of children must increase by 50% at a minimum. So each woman must have, on average, at least 3.3 children – just to maintain stability. That’s a pretty heavy burden.

Females are the key and limiting factor when it comes to reproduction. The number of males is almost irrelevant, as it takes very few to fertilize lots of females, but the number of females determines how many offspring can be produced. As humans have (usually) only one child at a time, there is little that can be done to increase the number of children, especially as the process is extremely taxing on women’s health if repeated too often and without enough time in between pregnancies.

It has been suggested that 80% of women and 40% of men managed to pass on their genes to the present day. It is noteworthy that the average success rate is thus 60% – within the requirements of the Law. But by eliminating more men than women, the number of people capable of actually bearing children is kept high, which makes it easier to maintain a large population.

Sadly, the people who are seriously interested in eugenics (as opposed to cranks and narcissists who are in love with their own perceived superiority) are usually male. For some reason, the practical fact that it doesn’t matter how many males you convince of the importance of eugenics seems to elude them for some reason. Until uterine replicators become a viable technology, babies can only be produced by women. Convincing intelligent and competent women to put aside other life goals and focus on producing at leasat 3.3 children each is probably going to be extremely difficult.

The implications for the future are troubling.

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3 Responses to “Running the Red Queen’s Race”

  1. It would seem that high intelligence is an evolutionary dead end. It increasingly seems that we are now in a race between demographics and technology. The future faces an ever larger percent of the population made up of almost completely worthless people. As this percentage grows larger there will be an ever smaller available economic surplus with which to produce and support the people and equipment required for further innovation.

  2. “It would seem that high intelligence is an evolutionary dead end.”

    I disagree. The generalized altruism that was advantageous when applied to small, highly-interrelated tribal groups – and that seems to be lethal when we attempt to apply it to groups larger than that – is what I’d call a dead end.

    High cognitive skills were always necessary for humans to survive. They’re not, now. Now a minority of humans are supporting large masses that would be unable to support themselves, if left to their own devices. It requires very little innate ability, and little acquired knowledge, to survive in the world we’ve build for ourselves. The result is that those least capable of perpetuating the system they’re dependent on are the most capable of perpetuating themselves.

    And the result of that? Idiocracy and extinction.

    The point that most people missed about the movie was that it was really about the present day, not a hypothetical future. It’s just that the present was exaggerated and satirized so that people’s familiarity with the status quo wouldn’t prevent them from finally noticing how absurd it is. Of course, most failed to make the connection.

  3. I recommended the movie to my very liberal CS Ethics prof. She thought it was a very astute analysis of our society.

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