Guest Post: Editing for All

By some unspecified mechanism I have managed to get my hands on an opinion piece from 25 years in the future. I don’t know what to think of it, whether to take the author at her word or dismiss the whole thing as slanted propaganda.

In any case, I repost (prepost?) it here, word for word.

Editing for All

by Jayne Dough, september 27th, 2042

It’s time to come out of the closet about something I did. Something not discussed in public. In our society today — at least in my social circles — tampering with your children’s genes is perfectly accepted as long as you do it in secret.

I’ve done it. When I went with and my husband to Iceland for fertility treatments four years ago they asked us — as we knew they would — if we wanted to make any changes. Something out of the various product packages they had on offer, perhaps?

We did, and in that we are typical. Among our friends and acquaintances are new parents who’ve decided to change their children’s eye color, height or predisposition for getting fat. Some have gone to China for experimental treatments meant to enhance intelligence, emotional resilience and self-discipline. I don’t know if it works but I’d try it too if I weren’t scared of side effects.

If my son had been predisposed to asthma, Alzheimer’s disease or anything else on a list of officially approved conditions we could’ve had it fixed, no questions asked. But if you want to change something else — something that might well be just as important for your child’s future quality of life — then you’re a bad person and have to do your dirty deed in the dark (or in my case, a brightly lit, tastefully decorated facility fifteen minutes from downtown Reykjavik).

Maybe someone reading this will report me. Maybe I’ll have to pay a fine. I don’t care. It’s worth it. Parents will do anything for their children. Having laws against editing does nothing but create a whole culture of hypocrisy and exactly the kind of inequality such laws were meant to prevent. The number of yuppie parents going through fertility treatments (or “vacationing” suspiciously close to nine months before birth) in Iceland, Switzerland, Mexico or China has skyrocketed over the last ten years and everyone knows why. I do, you do, and the politicians do. In public we pretend not to see it but in private we exchange knowing looks.

This is already fully normalized among the rich and the upwardly-mobile middle classes, the only question is if it will be for everyone or just the few.

It wasn’t supposed to go like this. We banned editing (supposedly) because we didn’t want to create a permanent upper class of “designer people”. But that’s exactly what we’ll get if we keep the ban in place. You cannot suppress people’s desires to help their children. I had a chance to prevent my son from being a foot shorter than average and losing his hair by his 25th birthday like his father did, and I took it. I would take it again, and I would take it every time.

Changing most physical traits is now routine, and improving minds with the same reliability is around the corner. Ready or not, editing is about to become a lot more powerful. I want equal access to these new methods from the start. Or our society will tear itself apart.

Many disagree with me and argue that the ban is more important than ever. They’re preemptively building an arsenal of arguments to discredit such editing, arguments I’m seeing more and more often these days. Some of them are plain hypocrites, supporting the ban publicly but flouting it privately. Objectionables who want pull the ladder up after them.

But I don’t think everyone wanting to keep the ban is doing it to screw over the poor. No, many do believe what they say, they do believe in a quasi-magical will not constrained by physical brains built by genetic recipes. We’re all born alike, etc. Bootstraps. Tabula rasa. Equal opportunity.

Someone saying that, is in my experience a certain kind of person — not a hypocrite but a true believer. A true believer in their own moral superiority, that is. See, the ban favors, in consequence if not in design, two groups of people: those who can get access to editing through other means, and those who don’t need it in the first place. The second group can afford to find editing morally dubious, unlikely to work, or plain declassé (not unlike food with added sugar, laminate floors or plastic surgery).

The born rich think money doesn’t matter. They got where they are because of their moral fiber, their strength and their resolve. Right, sure, whatever. It’s similarly easy for the genetically privileged — the beautiful, the strong, the bright, the emotionally stable and gregarious ruling class of our post-industrial utopia, to think genetics doesn’t matter. “My advantages are all self-made! It’s all about hanging in there, persistence and grit!” Right, right. You would say that, wouldn’t you.

The true believers are perhaps not directly hypocritical but they are stuck in a self-serving fantasy, requiring harsher and harsher denial as the evidence keeps pouring in. I said people pushing blank-slate ideology tended to be a particular kind of person, and they are: successful, intelligent and sociable winners with hefty genetic inheritances they like to pretend they don’t live off.

Free editing for all is threatening to the social order. It threatens to upend our class hierarchy by destroying the advantage that comes with being wealthy and savvy enough to get editing done overseas, and by destroying the capability of the winners of the genetic lottery to pass on their unearned advantages to their children.

I’m disappointed but not at all surprised that we’re hearing these sort of noises. The first strategy the privileged use to defend their privileges is always to pretend they don’t exist — either through lies or self-deception. It’s painfully obvious to everyone not willfully blind that we aren’t born equal, and this inequality is just as heinous and indefensible as the inequalities and injustices we’ve been fighting to eliminate for centuries. Two hundred years ago your entire life was determined by who your parents were. Things have slowly gotten better, but the opponents of editing for all are defending the still-living successor of those oppressive structures.

We’ve come a long way towards eradicating unearned advantages, and in the glittering 2040’s our society is far more meritocratic and fair than anything that came before. But our own elites, based on good looks, sharp minds and firm handshakes, guard their own forms of capital just as jealously as the those of the past guarded theirs. Make no mistake.

Editing for none failed. It became editing for the rich, the unscrupulous and the well-connected. The ban is now a hurdle that does little but keep the disadvantaged from catching up, and I want it removed. Not for my own sake, I’ve got mine. But I’m a well-off professional and I know how to circumvent the law and can afford to do so. Not everyone does.

Unless we democratize access to editing, classes will become permanent. The old rigid structures our parents, their parents, and their parents’ parents, fought so hard to tear down will be back wearing new clothes. Don’t let it happen. Allow editing for all.

• • •

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