The Normative Pipette

Of the modes of ethical and moral reasoning I employ, one of them is the normative pipette. It is similar to Rawls’s “Veil of Ignorance” and has that if one could modify the human condition and the human experience, what would you change? The thought experiment regards genetic and epigenetic editing to do things like decrease sexual dominance and aggression and increase empathy. I am not entirely opposed to this in real life since, if we are going to have designer babies anyway, we may as well design them to be good people or, at least, safe people. 

If, say, genetically messing with oxytocin and teststerone levels reduces the incidence of rape across the population by 50% then is the moral benefit worth whatever is lost in human culture? We can end sexual attachment and we can turn most relationships to be rooted more in cognitive thinking than emotion. Then here would not be exes hating, stalking, or exacting revenge on one another. This thought experiment arose from an atmosphere obsessed with sexual misconduct and gory, juicy, crime because after watching enough of that stuff or even being around it, and some strains of third-wave feminism, a lot of people would scream for the pippette.

When philosophers do the bioethics of gene editing people, they tend to talk about designer babies in the sense of eradicating demographics, especially disabilities, and designing for vain traits that parents would want. But one sounds like Hitler and, the other, Kim Kardashian. They’re not very hard questions because they feel like vices but the questions get much more difficult when we resolve the issues of SVU and the #metoo movement with gene editing. How much lizard-brained sexuality should we save and how much should we abolish? And, if we choose not to abolish some, do we then have a responsibility to be more tolerant of the discomfort and messiness of the more benign manifestations of those traits?

The main point is not precisely what we should and shouldn’t abolish, that’s important and we should reduce some of these traits, the point is about appreciating the human condition and the human experience. This line of thought has application outside of gene editing because we can, through CBT, ABA, medication, and more do things in that direction now. Being autistic, the neurotypicals have spent my entire life desperately trying to cure my autism. Reducing the hardest forms of masculinity will reduce serious incidence of sexual misconduct and I am for engineering that away.

But similar logic is used to justify eradicating much more benign neurodivergent traits. While they, mostly, would argue against eradicating disabilities because it sounds like eugenics, they want to have a society where all neurodivergents mask and don’t exhibit autistic traits and this is not just for major disruptions or being nonverbal; it is the most asinine of social awkwardness. Without question, the range of human behavior leaves some uncomfortable and while for the worst behaviors and most extreme personality traits that lead to them, it may be justified to play god. If reducing testosterone levels by, say, 10% drastically reduces violence and sexual misconduct against women with acceptable collateral effects then that is worth it. Yet, for more benign traits, we need to recognize we are playing god and ask whether we should design a society for comfort at the expense of the human condition.

Immanuel Kant’s primary mode of ethical deduction was to treat his “every action as a potential universal moral law” or, in other words, to live as a role model for all humanity. If you are okay with people emulating your behavior then you can claim it as an ethic. In this, one must ask what about humanity one wishes to change and if one doesn’t want to change something then to, to a degree, tolerate it. It is a question of what anthrodiversity, what anthrosphere, one regards as one’s teleology. What would you add, subtract, and maintain and then accept the psychologies of people you end up with and their corresponding lifestyles and behaviors.

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