Science Fiction Project - Free Culture
Analog - All editorials - John Wood Campbell
* * Back * *
ON THE SELECTIVE BREEDING OF HUMAN BEINGS
The current estimates of astrophysicists indicate that our local galaxy is something like 300,000 light-years in circumference. The solar system is moving through space - in a great orbit about the galactic center - at about a dozen miles a second. Now obviously that sort of snail-pace crawl is never going to get us anywhere in transgalactic, or circumgalactic travel.
Well... it won't in one man's lifetime - or even in the lifetime of Herr Hitler's boasted 1,000-year Reich (even if it had come off!).
However, astrophysicists also estimate that the Solar System is now on about its twenty-fifth swing around the galactic center. After all, five billion years isn't anything too overwhelming to a normal, main-sequence star, nicely stabilized in the G-range of spectrum types. Just because 200,000,000 years seems rather long to us - well, there are different time-scales to apply to different phenomena. Present theories suggest our Sun should be good for another two hundred fifty swings around the galaxy before reaching old age.
What is, and is-not possible or practicable many times depends on the time-scale imposed; a dozen miles a second is an "impossible" speed for circumnavigating the entire galaxy, is it?
I've had a good many arguments on the subject of selective breeding of human beings - not on the subject of whether or not it should be done, or is ethical, but on whether or not it can be done at all. The essential argument against the possibility is in essence: "You can't eliminate recessive characteristics! They'll hide in the germ-plasm where you can't tell they're there, and crop out again one thousand - two thousand - five thousand years later. You'll never be able to get rid of a characteristic you've decided against! No human plan has ever lasted even one thousand years, let alone five thousand!".
In other words, the argument is that the rate of advance is impossibly slow with respect to the distance to be covered.
And that simply suggests that the wrong time scale is being considered.
I'd like to suggest to the attention of geneticists and animal breeders in general, some consideration of the problem of selective breeding of human beings - with a time scale of the order appropriate to evolutionary phenomena. Say let's consider what can be done in 50 kiloyears or so, by the application of extremely harsh culling of the rejected types.
Properly, we should talk in terms of kilogenerations rather than kiloyears; after all, it's the number of generations that counts - not the time-span involved. Modern human racial types tend toward a twenty-five-year generation, but the most primitive human types still surviving tend toward a ten-to-fifteen-year generation; the females start producing young at eleven to twelve years of age, and average something approaching one per year for another twelve years or so (most of the young die, of course, in infancy - but the rate of production is high). In the earliest protohuman groups, we can assume a generation was shorter, and some ten generations could be packed into a century.
Anthropologists seem to feel that human tribes have existed for a minimum of 250,000 years; we can say that's a minimum of ten thousand generations, and probably somewhat nearer eight thousand generations.
Now recessive characteristics that don't manifest themselves in a span of one thousand generations must be really quite recessive - recessive enough that we can be quite unperturbed by their phenomenally rare appearance. Albinos exist, and varicolored skin appears occasionally - a sort of "pinto" human being - but we don't have to disturb ourselves greatly about those unimportant rarities.
Then any selective breeding system that could maintain a program of selection for a period of one thousand generations, not one thousand years, would have some real effect. Moreover, if the selective mechanism were utterly ruthless, savagely harsh, and culled so hard and tight as to destroy sixty per cent of the young produced each generation - a level of ruthless selectivity no modern human group would countenance for a moment! - considerable effect could be produced in selective breeding of human beings.
I propose to show that precisely such a selective breeding system did in fact - and still does - operate. I want, first, to make it absolutely clear that I am NOT making any moral-ethical judgments whatever. It is a fact that wolves produce a selective breeding effect on deer herds; this is readily observed, without any need for moral judgment as to whether they should or should not do so.
In the same purely observational sense, I want to show that human beings have been selectively bred by a mechanism that does have the requisite long time-span effect to make one thousand years like a day in its sight - one thousand years or one thousand generations.
There are two things that set Man apart from the animals (observable things, that is! The question of soul we'll have to skip because we can't observe it). One: Man has the ability to use symbolic abstractions (a certain few animals have this ability to some slight degree). Two: Man has the ability to override his instinctive behavior patterns by intellectual-training ideas. No other animal has that ability.
Please note: that ability is not absolute in Man, nor is it even yet invariably present in all men. There are indications that baboons have some degree of symbolization language, and strong indications that porpoises also have a language. Let's consider the problem of the very early proto-human proto-tribe; in essence, it was to distinguish the Men from the Monkeys, among the progeny produced.
One thing that helps on making the thing possible is that the human race has a nearly-unique situation; the human male can rape the female without her consent or co-operation - something impossible to practically all other mammalian species. This is somewhat more important than it at first appears. If the males of the proto-tribe are going to select the young produced, and destroy the ones they consider unacceptable - the female's instincts are to protect her young, and to find and mate with males who will accept and protect her young. The proto-human females would have refused to mate with males who destroyed their young, if they were able to refuse! There's no use having a good, valid idea... if you can't make it work, you know. If the females had been able to block it, it wouldn't have worked.
So Item #1 in the proto-human males: they could overcome the ancient mammalian instinct to accept and protect all their female's progeny.
Obviously the No. 1 test for Man vs. Monkey was whether the individual young learned to use language. All indications available suggest that those who didn't pass the test were converted to food for the tribe; cannibalism was, at the period under discussion, de rigueur.
That individuals incapable of learning to use language were flunked from the proto-tribe is fairly understandable; a group having a really rugged struggle to achieve a subsistence level of existence doesn't support incompetents. It can't. It has a better use for them - as food.
Please try to get something of the viewpoint of these proto-humans. They were not human... yet. They were not sentimental; they were, equally, not cruel. A falling tree may crush a child, and hold it pinned helpless, while it dies slowly in screaming agony; still, the tree is not cruel. A wolf kills a fawn; it is not cruel, either - simply hungry. The early proto-humans were incapable of cruelty; that is an attitude, a concept, beyond the reach of their very unsubtle minds. Cruelty requires sophistication; these proto-humans utterly lacked it.
If they caught four members of an alien tribe, only one of whom could be eaten by the tribe that day, they broke the arms and legs of the other three. This kept the extra supply of meat fresh and unspoiled until it, too, could be eaten while very simply and directly preventing escape. This was not cruelty; it was lack of refrigeration.
The young who did not learn to use speech were recognized as non-men, as animals, and eaten.
Maintain that system for some one to ten kilogenerations... and it's a very, very effective selective breeding system. Even recessive non-speech genes will get combed out.
Oh, of course they ate a few who couldn't learn to speak because of hearing defects, or vocal anomalies, who were, otherwise, perfectly sound carriers of sound genes. But that was quite unimportant; the females were always producing more young than could be fed anyway. And the hearing defect might have been a genetic anomaly too... so into the pot with him.
Note that once a proto-human proto-tribe capable of speech arises, it will inevitably become a self-perpetuating selective-breeding system that culls out all non-speaking young produced. And this tendency won't continue just for a few generations - just while a particular dynasty of tribal leaders prevails. It has a characteristic that will make it continue as a basic of the tribe so long as the tribe exists.
Since tribes capable of speech have a very, very real advantage over non-speaking herds, the tribe will persist indefinitely.
If it is overcome and destroyed - it's almost certain that only another speaking tribe will be able to organize sufficiently to defeat it.
And, incidentally, note that War was invented by proto-humans as a necessary, racial-benefiting system. Any speaking tribe has so great an advantage over any non-speaking herd that with only animal enemies, wild and destructive variants could rise to lethal concentration before being eliminated. A speaking tribe could go off on some intrinsically destructive aberrant development and go beyond the point of no return if only animal predators menaced it. But with alien speaking tribes around to menace - they will be forced to fly right, or get clipped quick.
Only other men, that is, constituted adequate judges of human or proto-human tribes.
Given a few thousand generations - and tribal life has been going on for at least ten thousand generations - the selective breeding system produced a pure-bred strain of speech-gifted people. Today, even our lowest idiots, defective as they are, maintain that very, very, deeply inbred ability. Non-speaking genes were, in the proto-tribal environment, absolutely lethal genes, having a one hundred per cent infant mortality effect. Even recessive non-speaking genes get pretty thoroughly eliminated in the course of ten thousand generations.
Sure it's hard to breed out recessive characteristics - and at twelve miles a second it takes a long time to get around the galaxy. That doesn't mean it's impossible; it just means it takes time. A quarter million years of time, for eliminating non-speaking Monkeys from the race of Men.
Now obviously the time to eliminate carriers of defective genes is before they breed, not afterward. That is, the young should be tested for defects before being allowed to mate; passing the tests would then give the testee the right to take a mate and start breeding. They would, in other words, be the Manhood Rites.
Any anthropologist can assure you that Manhood Rites are universally found among tribes on all the continents all over the planet. Since the African Negroes, the South American Indians and the Australian Aborigines have had no cultural common origin in the last thirty thousand years, it's fair indication that the Manhood Rites ceremonies have been effectively part of the human tribal system for at least thirty thousand years. That alone would be quite an extensive selective breeding force.
Now there is one basic feature that is common to practically all Manhood Rites ceremonies everywhere; trial by ordeal.
Remember that one of the two crucial tests that separates Man from Monkey is that a Man can, by rational intellectual effort overcome, override, his instinctive controls. He can do what his instincts violently forbid, and can refrain from doing what his instincts command. A Monkey cannot.
You can train an animal to jump through a flaming hoop - by teaching him the fact that the fire does not hurt. You can not teach an animal to hold still while a burning brand is thrust against its flesh to sear the flesh - to hold still, while the stink of its own burning meat rises into its nostrils. You can teach an animal that its instinctive response does not apply in this case; it can then jump through the burning hoop. But the instinct does apply when a red-hot coal is burning its way into its flesh.
Three extremely powerful instinctive pain-dread systems exist in animals: l. Thou shalt not allow thy protective skin to be penetrated lest thou die!
2. Thou shalt not allow thy teeth to be destroyed, for without them, thou cannot nourish thyself!
3. Thou shalt protect thy genitals with thy life, for without them thou shalt die genetically.
In other words, skin, teeth, and genitals all have very high instinctive survival value.
Typical Manhood Rites involve ordeals by fire, involving real, not mock, destructive burning of the skin, or cutting the skin of the chest in two places, forcing a leather strap through from one slit to the other, and requiring that the boy tear the strap out through his skin, and scarifying tattooing-the-hard-way. Tooth-filing is another quite standard Manhood test. And circumcision is one of the oldest and most widespread (the Jews moved it from Manhood to babyhood - but by then, they'd developed some quite different and more important tests).
I think it will be unequivocally agreed that no Monkey could pass any one of these tests - for the real essence of it is that verbal commands alone must suffice to override ancient, and valid instincts!
Because they are valid instincts. Occasionally, individuals are born without a sense of pain; such individuals could, of course, pass the ordeal test without any difficulty whatever... if they could just manage to live that long. The pain instincts are valid; you can't live without them. The essence of the ancient tribal tests is that a Man, unlike a Monkey, can, by intellectual-volition override valid instincts, in real, not mock, situations.
When the Manhood Rites ordeals started, it's a fair bet that every boy who lost the battle to control his instincts, and ran from the searing brand on his flesh, contributed to the celebration banquet of the successful Men. Not because the tribesmen were cruel, nor because they were punishing him for running - but because he had turned out to be a Monkey, not a Man, and roast Monkey was a standard item of diet anyway.
The tribe that relaxed its tests - that stopped culling the Monkeys from their Men - was aberrant, a defective tribe, and was presently destroyed by some neighboring tribe. Because Monkeys will not face real, personal pain in battle, simply because they must protect their fellow-tribesmen. A Monkey will not take high risk of pain and death - will not, because he cannot override the automatic instinct pilot-controls - just to save fellow tribesmen.
We, today, benefit from the ancient Manhood Rites selective breeding system that went on for tens of thousands of generations, whenever a jet pilot, in a plane with a flamed-out engine, rides his flying coffin into the ground... so it won't fall into a schoolyard, a hospital, or a suburban development. He does it because his ancestors were Men, not Monkeys - they passed the test of Manhood. They earned the right to breed.
Our ancestors may have been ignorant in many things - but they were not stupid, nor were they fools. They found ways to selectively breed Men from Monkeys - and they had the cold, high, and ruthless determination to do it.
Man has been defined as a "rational animal"; the ancient animal instincts are essential to being a Man. The ancient pain instinct, the ancient instinct to find a mate and breed - without these the individual and his line would die. Yet the essence of the "rational" part of the definition is that Man can override the instinct controls for cause.
An individual specimen with that strange characteristic must arise constantly among the Monkeys; the difference is that ten thousand generations of selective breeding have produced, in Man, a genetic norm that has that characteristic.
But that is a far more subtle and complex question than the simple "speaks" or "can't speak"; the ability to speak has been almost absolutely stabilized in Man. The ability to override instinct for rational cause cannot be so sharply and simply defined at any level higher than the level of physical pain.
The modern rapist, who cannot override an instinctive drive, would present a very simple problem to our ancestors. "He is not a Man, but a Monkey; destroy him".
The more subtle levels of rational overcontrol are still in process of selection; never, in all time to come, will the necessity for selective breeding of human beings end, however. There are not only outcroppings of recessive genes to fight - there are always negative mutations that regenerate the eliminated and rejected genes. There will be Monkeys who cannot learn speech born, through all future ages. There are, and will be, Monkeys who cannot take rational command from the automatic-pilot of instincts born. Through all the ages ahead, both types, when born, must be denied membership in the race of Man.
Currently, there's another level of selective breeding needed - and coming up. The Tribal Man was selectively bred for the characteristic that training and instruction should be able to override instinct.
What we know as Civilization requires a higher characteristic; that judgment of an immediate, present instance be able to override both training and instinct.
The Monkey was required to give up his reliance on instinct to become a Man; the Tribesman must give up his reliance on instinct and training to become a Citizen.
The Monkey's sense of rightness-and-security was, basically, derived from all his ancestors - instinctive. The Tribesman derived his sense of Tightness and security from all his tribe - the training in ritual and taboo. The Citizen must derive his sense of Tightness from his own judgments - without losing sight of the fact that his judgments can be wrong.
The Citizen, poor guy, has to get along without any sense of security; it is a luxury he can't afford, if he is to live by judgment, instead of Traditional Training or Instinct.