The Dim-Post

April 23, 2010

Ethics question of the day

Filed under: science — danylmc @ 8:22 am

Via Tyler Cowen, this comment from libertarian economist Bryan Caplan:

I confess that I take anti-cloning arguments personally.  Not only do they insult the identical twin sons I already have; they insult a son I hope I live to meet.  Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son.  Seriously.  I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share.  I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me.  I’m not pushing others to clone themselves.  I’m not asking anyone else to pay for my dream.  I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone.  Is that too much to ask?

Firstly, I think this is a creepy, weird thing to want to do. I can think of two reasons to oppose the practise of self-cloning:

  1. You’re intentionally passing on your deleterious genes.
  2. Non-sexual reproduction will reduce the degree of genetic variation in our species (and this could have consequences in terms of lack of immunity to emergent diseases and other, as yet unseen problems).

But those are both basically eugenics based arguments in which the genetic health of the species is deemed more important than the freedom of the individual, so let’s not go there. I can’t really think of any other sound reason to oppose such a practise.

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41 Comments »

  1. In this particular case there is a high risk that another crazy libertarian would be brought into the world. Reason enough to object.

    What if you did it and ended up hating yourself? That would be disturbing.

    Comment by Guy Smiley — April 23, 2010 @ 8:46 am

  2. It’s always good to work out why things are ick.

    What i find ick about his position is that all seems very self centered. He seems to be saying that the relationship with the clone-son will be better than any other relationship with a non-cloned child.

    It seems very needy and puts a lot of pressure on the would be son, who won’t actually be just a little version of the father, but a person in and of himself.

    The mentioning of his twins seems to support the idea that he just wants what they’ve got, relationship wise, and he can’t have it. Even though Rand says he can. Bastard liberals.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — April 23, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  3. Off the top of my head any goal you’d have in cloning yourself would end in failure. And the disappointment when your child didn’t comply with your dreams would surely be less crushing if they had someone else’s genes there too.

    The moral bar for tampering-with-reproduction seems fairly easy to shift by fait accompli, but I think you need a reason better than ‘I want to’ before you try to change the game.

    Comment by lyndon — April 23, 2010 @ 9:09 am

  4. My concerns about cloning:

    1. Its potential to be used as a military tool.
    2. Whether clonees would have souls (or whatever it is that drives us in life)
    3. The issues that would come from having a two tier society

    On the positive side, cloning living human bodies devoid of emotion (essentially a biological robot) would be invaluable for scientific research and organ harvesting.

    Comment by Dav — April 23, 2010 @ 9:15 am

  5. what if his clone grew a goatee and took to wearing a cape?

    he clearly hasn’t considered the potential nemesis risk

    Comment by greg — April 23, 2010 @ 9:18 am

  6. “On the positive side, cloning living human bodies devoid of emotion (essentially a biological robot) would be invaluable for scientific research and organ harvesting.”

    Well quite, but can’t we use poor people and Chinese traffic offenders for that?

    Comment by Guy Smiley — April 23, 2010 @ 9:19 am

  7. I admit the mad scientist in me is intrigued by the idea of watching the social interactions of a person with their younger cloned self, because although we can clone the living tissue, can we clone the mind? Will the clone have the same likes and dislikes, the same philosophies, the same knee-jerk reactions as the original?

    I would love the answer to be ‘no’ – but we’d need some clones to find out.

    (On another matter, imagine how disturbing it would be for a clone to look at their older self and realise just what they’re going to look like as they age…)

    Comment by Ataahua — April 23, 2010 @ 9:29 am

  8. I think this guy’s whole attitude to cloning smacks of biological determinism. He seems to be completely oblivious to the nurture element in determining a person’s character, even as a child, and think that the genes will rule all. Which suggests to me he’s not a good candidate for cloning.

    But as to the ethical question, I agree Danyl that it feels ick but I can’t right now think of any decent argument to oppose it.

    Comment by Julie — April 23, 2010 @ 9:37 am

  9. Ataahua – there are plenty of studies with identical twins raised seperately. I’m guess broadly similar personalities, but when you get into detail, not vastly more alike than any two other people.

    Dav, even accepting the idea that something normative might fall out when you spliced the cells together, human bodies are sufficiently able to run themselves that you probably wouldn’t notice.

    Comment by lyndon — April 23, 2010 @ 9:48 am

  10. “studies with identical twins raised seperately”

    they are more similar than twins raised together – twins raised together have good motivation to differentiate. Twins raised apart don’t so genes play a relatively greater role.

    It would be the libertarian asexually reproducing sub-population that would be at increased risk of disease. So I can’t see any problem.

    Comment by Neil — April 23, 2010 @ 9:55 am

  11. there are plenty of studies with identical twins raised seperately

    Damn – I hate it when the real world deflates my mad scientist dreams…

    Comment by Ataahua — April 23, 2010 @ 9:56 am

  12. Maybe it feels ick because many of us could become obsolete were cloning to take off.

    Large companies would be able to create their own workforces and would surely lobby to ensure the cloned weren’t given human rights. With genetic modifications, the cloned would most likely be physically and mentally superior. The law of economics would ensure our redundancy.

    That’s assuming we won’t have laws to prevent such abuses but consider how fear has been used to pass legislation such as the PATRIOT Act. And if the Chinese are guilty of using petty thieves and small time crims as organ breeders, I doubt ethics will stand in their way of cloning humans. Just look at what they do to dogs in the name of having cute pets.

    Comment by Dav — April 23, 2010 @ 9:57 am

  13. It also occurs to me that maybe this is the only way to make more libertarians?

    Comment by Julie — April 23, 2010 @ 11:12 am

  14. On the bright side, we would get an army of Tem Morrisons.

    Comment by lyndon — April 23, 2010 @ 11:28 am

  15. Mind you, if they were gentically identical AND you made sure they got a copy of Atlas Shrugged when they were 12, that should cover everything.

    Comment by lyndon — April 23, 2010 @ 11:37 am

  16. First thought — weird for Mrs and the little brothers Caplan.

    But really, the only objections necessary are those you mention, Danyl: diversity is strength. Specialisation is for insects, no matter how flash that specialisation might seem on the surface.

    L

    Comment by Lew — April 23, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

  17. Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son. Seriously. I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share. I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me. I’m not pushing others to clone themselves. I’m not asking anyone else to pay for my dream. I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone. Is that too much to ask?

    Damned Nanny State, stopping this sensible fellow from having a science fiction relationship with himself, a sublime bond of self love he previously only touched on through longing looks into the mirror. Why, in Bizarre World, where he lives, all right thinking people would surround themselves with clones. Clone families would gather to celebrate the joy of ‘Purchase days’ of their individual units, the sorrow of ‘Recycle days’ as individual units’ used by dates were exceeded. And all clones would rejoice at the Master Copy’s decrees of how to act, because he knows best for all of hims. Or hers, as the case dictates.

    Seriously, I think the Caplan’s comment indicates a personal divorce from reality of an Olympian magnitude.

    Comment by Sean — April 23, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

  18. It also occurs to me that maybe this is the only way to make more libertarians?

    Feminists, too.

    Comment by Phil — April 23, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

  19. I wonder if it would point up a whole range of things we don’t know too much about right now. Off the top of my head mitochondrial DNA seems likely to be significant, as does the whole incubation question. I think he’d get something less like an identical twin and more like another of his children, and given how unhappy he seems with his current ones perhaps not likely to have a good result.

    Comment by moz — April 23, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

  20. Why he’d invite more personal attacks on the basis of the logical fallacy that the only consequences of regulating cloning is stopping him creating himself all over again is beyond me. He’s quite guilty of neglecting the laws of probability, and that genes are liable to do whatever the hell they want – even if we clone them. I don’t think the way he frames things – he’s actually looking at this as a freedom problem in relation to himself, when he should be looking at it as a biological problem with effects that go beyond the personal.

    Also, he looks like this. So there’s also an element of illusory superiority in that as well – suggesting that he might be the pinnacle creates a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy in which he suggests that he’s great because his genes produced him, therefore he couldn’t do better even if he did manage to get some poor woman pregnant.

    Me, I personally would hope that the positive qualities of my partner would perhaps override those similar negative qualities in myself and that, of course, my positive qualities would override any negative ones in her. You know, because I’m not a fucknugget economist who hasn’t got a clue about genetics.

    Added to this, I like to think we’re not a pair of complete bell-ends, and I know for a fact that Bryan Caplan is a massive bell-end.

    Comment by dontsurf — April 23, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

  21. Unless he’s talking about not just cloning, but deliberate genetic selection. That’d make things a bit different, because I’m sure we could find the wonky eyes gene, the gene that makes his hair look like pubes, the big ears gene, the gene that made him think that haircut looks good, the stoop-shouldered gene and the gene makes you reduce every single problem to issues of overbearing government and that everyone is trying to stamp on your freedom, leave me alone, stop making me pay taxes, reductio ad absurdum gene…

    …I’m sure if we could find those, as well as the economics professor gene, of course, then we’d have the perfect human being. Until then, I reckon he’s better off wanking onto a cloth and leaving on the benches in women’s changing rooms.

    Comment by dontsurf — April 23, 2010 @ 12:57 pm

  22. Regardless of whether he’s funny-looking, or a bit of a crank, anyone with any knowledge of the subject knows that for all his other failings Caplan has an incredible mind.

    L

    Comment by Lew — April 23, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

  23. The cloned individual has no freedom in this case. I think that is who most of us worry about rather than the freedom of the cloner.
    The rest of us also don’t have any freedom to *not* be clones, ie we have to go natural. But that isn’t something we did to ourselves so we can’t blame anyone.

    Comment by Roger Parkinson — April 23, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

  24. Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son. Seriously. I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share. I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me.

    The last time I heard this sort of creepy narcissism wrapped up in child-adulation was decades ago in an unmissable train wreck of a Paul Holmes interview – when he had the local representative of the Man Boy Love Association (or NAMBLA) on air to explain how children just thrived with all the extra attention.

    Comment by taranaki — April 23, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  25. Don’t be silly Phil, everyone knows feminists come about through the mass rubella vaccination programme carried out at most intermediate schools. The new HPV feminism booster shot isn’t being as universally adopted unfortunately, so we can’t expect the long hoped for increase in radical feminists in ten years time that Helen Clark was planning on.

    Comment by Julie — April 23, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  26. Until I have had time to think more about his proposal I opposed it owing my adherence to the Libertarian Precautionary Principle (LPP)

    Simply put the LPP states that, due to the very high craziness ratio of beliefs held exclusively by libertarians, all new arguments advanced by libertarians should be rejected out of hand unless a persuasive case can be made otherwise.

    Comment by terence — April 23, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  27. Regardless of whether he’s funny-looking, or a bit of a crank, anyone with any knowledge of the subject knows that for all his other failings Caplan has an incredible mind.

    L

    Comment by Lew

    Yes, and clearly this passage shows that he’s not subject at all to constructing atrocious straw men based on a fallacious belief, like restricting cloning by government is actually impinging on freedom rather than for other, much more sinister, sticky and biological reasons; or willing to explore the idea that genetic diversity is in fact what makes our species as good as it is at what it does – surviving.

    Bryan Caplan is, like the majority of economists who believe that playing guessing games with macro and talking about utility will save the world and makes them infinitely superior, a massive bell-end.

    Comment by dontsurf — April 23, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

  28. Well, he is a libertarian, after all …

    L

    Comment by Lew — April 23, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  29. terence: “a persuasive case can be made otherwise by non-libertarians

    FTFY :)

    L

    Comment by Lew — April 23, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

  30. Currently clones age rapidly to attain the age of the donor cell (as with Dolly the sheep). So he wouldn’t be bonding with a son so much as bonding with another quirky adult crank.

    If he truly managed to grow another version of himself, it will probably strip away all the illusions one builds up about how wonderful one is.

    I predict disaster.

    Comment by macdoctor — April 23, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

  31. “Both bad driving and bad voting are dangerous not merely to the individual who practices them, but to innocent bystanders…” said Caplan.
    And he’s asking us to advise him about the book he’s writing by registering some kind of on-line vote!! He’s taking the piss, surely, or perhaps it’s merely that he has an “I am that I am” complex.
    Shrug with me but mind the traffic.

    Comment by Galeandra — April 23, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

  32. Libertarian Precautionary Principle (LPP)

    Simply put the LPP states that, due to the very high craziness ratio of beliefs held exclusively by libertarians, all new arguments advanced by libertarians should be rejected out of hand unless a persuasive case can be made otherwise.

    Very good. It needs a new name though. How about ‘Danyl’s Law’?

    Comment by danylmc — April 23, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

  33. Caplin is setting enjoying setting most commentators (and several people on this thread have responded in the expected fashion) – given the wonders of the internet thingy I’m surprised so few people bothered to actually find out information for themselves – full section and context for quote from Caplin is set out below.

    I think Danyl has been using this thread to test whether he is a closet liberterian or not,

    http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/04/to_cut_or_not_t.html

    When I was finishing up The Myth of the Rational Voter, I weighed whether I should cut the paragraph on restricting the franchise:

    But what — if anything — can be done to improve outcomes, taking the supremacy of democracy over the market as fixed? The answer depends on how flexibly you define “democracy.” Would we still have a “democracy” if you needed to pass a test of economic literacy to vote? If you needed a college degree? Both of these measures raise the economic understanding of the median voter, leading to more sensible policies. Franchise restrictions were historically used for discriminatory ends, but that hardly implies that they should never be used again for any reason. A test of voter competence is no more objectionable than a driving test. Both bad driving and bad voting are dangerous not merely to the individual who practices them, but to innocent bystanders…
    I knew this paragraph might provoke hysterical hostility. But I thought that (a) it made a good point, and (b) angry reactions would confirm my broader thesis that many people are democratic fundamentalists. In the end, it made the cut – and probably ended up being the single most-discussed paragraph in the book. Radio hosts brought it up again and again.

    Now that I’m finishing up Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, another controversial passage is on the chopping block. In the current draft, this paragraph concludes my discussion of cloning:

    I confess that I take anti-cloning arguments personally. Not only do they insult the identical twin sons I already have; they insult a son I hope I live to meet. Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son. Seriously. I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share. I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me. I’m not pushing others to clone themselves. I’m not asking anyone else to pay for my dream. I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone. Is that too much to ask?

    My reasons to keep it, as before, are: (a) it makes a good point, and (b) angry reactions would confirm my broader thesis that many people senselessly oppose assisted reproductive technology. The downside, of course, is alienating otherwise sympathetic readers. The upside of the downside is that controversy is excellent publicity. Should my cloning confession make the final cut?

    Advise me.

    Update: Check out many additional comments on MR. My prediction: Once a few thousand cloned humans are walking the earth, sneering at clones and people who want them will become as gauche as sneering at IVF babies and people who want them.

    Comment by WH — April 23, 2010 @ 3:38 pm

  34. Or maybe Danyls’ Law should this cloning thing ever catch on…

    Comment by terence — April 23, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

  35. It makes me wonder what a society would look like if cloning was a semi-normalized technology. I question how issues such as wills and estates would be handled when this sort of thing begins to occur. Potentially wills wouldn’t even allow for the “trickle down” within even a single family, with one person being deemed the single successor to a person’s entire wealth (although this might sound like a great idea to Caplan). Indeed, technologies such as criminal genetic testing would become much less useful, and we’d probably return to the less useful system of dusting for fingerprints. Also, would we have limits in place on how many clones you could have? I share the same name as my father, and yet despite the noticable age difference, it can be hard enough to get banks, libraries, and the university to perform the right operations to the right accounts. What kind of infrastructural problems could arise when you shared the same face as your parent and your siblings?

    Comment by Robbie — April 23, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

  36. moz:I wonder if it would point up a whole range of things we don’t know too much about right now. Off the top of my head mitochondrial DNA seems likely to be significant, as does the whole incubation question. I think he’d get something less like an identical twin and more like another of his children

    Clones will be very similar genetically but they probably won’t be gentically identical. Even identical twins are not genetically identical despite what many people think due to neural aneuploidy or somatic copy number polymorphisms.

    Danyl:You’re intentionally passing on your deleterious genes.

    That depends. If your deleterious genes aren’t causing you trouble then they probably wont cause trouble for your clone. The problem comes with things like copy number mutations. Your clone for example may have autism, schizophrenia, or, possibly, bipolar disorder, even if you don’t. The risk of this happening is at least the same, and possibly higher, than through ordinary reproduction.

    Danyl: Non-sexual reproduction will reduce the degree of genetic variation in our species (and this could have consequences in terms of lack of immunity to emergent diseases and other, as yet unseen problems).

    I’m not sure this is a valid objection. At the moment the main reason to object to cloning is the sheer ineffiency of the process. There is a good chance that by the time we can clone people as easily as in Star trek etc we will probably also be able to reliably alter their genome to fix cystic fibrosis or other disorders. That kind of technology would probably increase diversity.

    Comment by chiz — April 23, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

  37. Further to that: I personally know of at least one case in New Zealand where a person was not charged with a criminal offence, despite there being CCTV footage that would have usually sufficed for the charges to be laid, because the police could not prove that the person on the CCTV was them rather than their twin. Imagine the water-muddying effect for fingerprint and DNA evidence if differently-aged twins (aka clones) become more normalised.

    Comment by Jack — April 23, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

  38. Bryan Caplan is obviously a Robert Heinlein fan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lazarus_Long

    Comment by R Singers — April 23, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

  39. The self worship of libertarians is finally revealed in all its glory.

    Zeeesh!

    Comment by peterlepaysan — April 23, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

  40. As I understand it (from what I read when Dolly the sheep was cloned and analysed), a clone’s cells are as degraded due to age as the source cells. So, unless this guy wants a son who’s going to be a geriatric patient by the time he’s forty, he shouldn’t go ahead with this.

    There’s all sorts of reasons of creepiness why he shouldn’t, but that’s the best practical reason I can think of.

    Comment by Daveosaurus — April 23, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

  41. Caplin may have a giant brain but he has no soul

    Comment by ropata — April 23, 2010 @ 11:20 pm


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