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For those not enlightened enough to find this option appealing, these philosophers also discuss the “pharmacological enhancement” of qualities like empathy and altruism, traits that are more conducive to positive attitudes toward the environment. When the Atlantic interviewer questioned whether it isn’t problematic to biologically produce a belief in a person, Liao corrects him; it’s not about inserting a belief, it’s about enabling people to overcome their “weakness of will” and make the right choice:
We are interested only in voluntary modifications, and we certainly don’t want to implant beliefs into anyone. But even then, those beliefs might still be considered yours if they arise from a kind of ramping up of your existing capacities, and so perhaps that could obviate that problem.
Neither he nor his colleagues approve of any coercive human engineering; they favor “individual choices, not technocratic mandates.” Of course, it’s not voluntary for the children whose parents have made such irreversible choices for them. But Liao points out that it’s for their own good:
The reason we are even considering these solutions is to prevent climate change, which is a really serious problem, and which might affect the well-being of millions of people including the child. And so in that context, if on balance human engineering is going to promote the well-being of that particular child, then you might be able to justify the solution to the child.
Regarding those who don’t feel a thrill running up their leg at this idea, Liao dismisses such resistance as a natural sort of “status quo bias”; in other words, those people are simply clinging to old ways of thinking.
The Atlantic interview sparked some online outrage from readers toward Liao and his co-authors, Oxford’s Anders Sandberg and Rebecca Roache, for their eyebrow-raising proposals – the trio was compared to Nazi eugenicists, for example. In a separate interview about that reaction, the paper’s authors hastened to reiterate, as Liao did in his interview, that they do not necessarily advocate such speculations. “Philosophers… spend a lot of time discussing views that they do not necessarily endorse,” explained Roache. “It’s part of the learning process.”
Liao acknowledges that “our proposal to encourage having smaller, but environmentally-friendlier human beings is prima facie outlandish,” but points out that when we dismiss outlandish ideas too quickly, we may be leaving ourselves “vulnerable to dismissing useful and valuable” ones. Even the journal that published the paper described its ideas as “a series of Swiftian philosophical thought experiments.” “None of us are deep greens or totalitarian,” added Sandberg. “We are fairly typical liberal academics thinking about the world.”
When “typical liberal academics” start thinking about the world, beware. They operate from the assumption that manmade global warming is a fact, that humans are inherently detrimental to the planet, and that the right thing to do is to conform everything about our existence for the sake of Earth’s ostensible well-being. That includes floating the idea of a “voluntary” reduction in the number and size of our children. These bioethicists themselves may not be totalitarian, but there are plenty of radical environmentalists who are, and who take such ideas seriously. You don’t need cat’s eyes to see the danger in that.
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