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06/16/2007

Overstating the Case of Genetic Selection

In his latest op-ed column (below), conservative David Brooks overstates the case that everyone is looking to upgrade their future off-spring by using donor gametes. He’s worried that people like him (under 5’9 and not blond) will become a dying breed. The truth is that most folks would really prefer to procreate with their spouse the old fashioned way. They only turn to gamete donation as an alternative when there’s a breakdown in the system. While one percent of all US births are the result of IVF, less than 10% of those births involve and egg donor. Since no one keeps track, there’s no way of knowing how many kids are born each year as the result of sperm donation; however, I really doubt there are enough where we will all eventually resemble Pamela Anderson or Arnold. Still, there are some pretty funny quotes.

– Andrea Kalfoglou

June 15, 2007
OP-ED COLUMNIST
The National Pastime

By DAVID BROOKS
At this very moment thousands of people are surfing the Web looking for genetic material so their children will be nothing like me. They are looking through files at sperm bank sites with Jetson-like names such as Xytex, which have become the new eBays for offspring.

These sites take sex and turn it into shopping. They allow you to browse through page after page of donor profiles, comparing weight, noses, personality and what one site calls tannability.

Shoppers can use these sites and select much better genetic material than would be possessed by someone they could realistically lure into bed. And they can more efficiently engage in the national pastime rigging our childrens lives so theyll be turbocharged for success.

When given this kind of freedom of choice, people seem to want to produce athletic Aryans with a passion for housekeeping. There is tremendous market demand for DNA from blue-eyed, blond-haired, 6-foot-2 finely sculpted hunks who roast their own coffee. These are the kind of guys you see jogging in the park and nothing moves. Theyve got a stomach, a chest and flanks, but as they bounce along nothing jiggles, not even their hair. Theyre like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime from the shoulders down, and Trent Lott from the scalp up.

Nor is brainpower neglected. In a bow to all that is sacred in our culture, one sperm bank has one branch located between Harvard and M.I.T. and the other next to Stanford. An ad in The Harvard Crimson offered $50,000 for an egg from a Harvard woman. A recent ad in the Chicago Maroon at the University of Chicago offered $35,000 for a Chicago egg and stipulated, You must be very healthy, very intelligent and very attractive, and most of all, very happy. Liberal political views and athletic ability are pluses.

(Is liberalism genetic? I thought it was the product of some environmental deprivation.)

In any case, a Harris poll suggested that more than 40 percent of Americans would use genetic engineering to upgrade their children mentally and physically. If you get social acceptance at that level, then everybody has to do it or their kids will be left behind.

Which means that sooner or later reproduction becomes a casting call for Baywatch and people like me become an evolutionary dead end. For centuries my ancestors have been hewing peat in Wales and skipping school in Ukraine, but those of us in the low-center-of-gravity community will be left on evolutions cutting-room floor. People under 5-foot-9 cant even donate sperm to these banks, so my co-equals are doomed, let alone future Napoleons.

The people who do this will pay no heed to the fact that mediocre looks have always been a great spur to creative achievement and ugliness is the mother of genius.

In a world in which Brad Pitt is average, say farewell to loneliness, sublimation and nerds witty bids for attention. In a world in which everyone is smart, good-looking and pleasant, everyone will be fit to perform in hit movies, but no one will be fit to review them.

Im not under the illusion that any of this can be stopped. Conservatives like me think that if you want your kids to have Harvard genes you should have to endure living with a Harvard spouse. But the rest of the country is not with us. Theres no way people are going to foreswear the joys of creative genetics. I would probably choose somebody with a darker skin color so I dont have to slather sunblock on my kid all the time, one potential mother told Jennifer Egan of The Times Magazine last year.

So as my kind heads off to obsolescence, I wonder about the unintended consequences. What if its true, as some believe, that genes are dominant and home environment has little effect on children? You could have two lesbian bikers giving birth to Mitt Romney.

What if parents are perpetually buying genes on the downward slope? After all, for maximum success, you dont want President Kennedys genes. You want Joseph Kennedys genes. You dont want Bill Clintons genes. You want his fathers. What if we get the national equivalent of the 38th generation of the House of Windsor?

Or, on the other hand, what if nurture still trumps nature? After all, if you look at world-historical figures youre struck by how many had their parents die when they were about 12. How many superconcerned moms and dads are going to put that in their datebook?

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