Homework assignment: reassigning babies

Conservatives are those who have taken on the task of defending common sense against insane ideologues.  This can be harder than it sounds, since the ideologue merely needs to invoke some generally accepted but ultimately insane principle and draw out one if its insane conclusions, while the conservative must take things back to first principles; he must articulate and defend the tacit background assumptions of mankind.

It is a commonplace of education research that we learn by doing, by constructing (with guidance) our own knowledge.  Therefore, I provide a homework assignment for readers.

  1. Read the excerpt at Steve Sailer’s blog from Howard Rachlin’s thought experiment / argument that babies should be randomly reassigned to mothers at birth, with the exception that each mother will know that it definitely won’t be her baby she’ll be coming home with.  The argument is that this should be done in the interests of equality and eliminating racism.  See link for details.  (Or you can read the source, which is not much longer.)
  2. Explain in 150 words or less why this idea is evil, crazy, and stupid.  (Okay, I won’t count words, but please strive to maintain normal comment length.)
  3. Solutions to be posted tomorrow.

29 thoughts on “Homework assignment: reassigning babies

  1. 1. Acting to prevent or reduce licit love between humans is evil.
    2. Humans contain a predilection to love their genetic children more than others.
    3. Given a random baby, they will not in the usual case be able to love it as much as they would love their own.
    4. Given a random baby, all babies will experience a Pareto Reduction of love due to #2. (Either equivalent or less)
    5. Thus giving parents a random baby is acting to prevent or reduce licit love between humans.
    6. Thus giving parents a random baby is evil, by definition in #1.


    (102 words)

  2. Pingback: Homework assignment: reassigning babies | @the_arv

  3. 1. Racism is the preference for racial similarity in people you must interact with.
    2. All humans are racist to some degree.
    3. All humans treat those they prefer better than those they do not prefer on at least some occasions.
    4. Random baby assignment will result in some parents having less racial preference for “their child” than they otherwise would.
    5. By #3, random baby assignment will result in some babies being treated poorly by “their parents.” (relative to what the parents are capable of)
    6. Treating babies poorly, or causing babies to be treated poorly, is evil.
    7. Thus random baby assignment is evil.


    (107) words.

  4. 1. No human is exactly alike another human in every way.
    2. Therefore no human is exactly equal to another.
    3. The distribution of babies at birth cannot affect #1 or #2.
    4. Thus randomly distributing babies cannot create equality.

  5. In the format of Chesterton:

    That any man might be your biological brother would not make you regard all humanity as well as you regard your brother, but rather it would make you regard your brother as poorly as you regard all humanity.

  6. not a proof but:
    This idea smacks of the same high-minded idealistic utopianism which produced such notable institutions as the USSR, and Mao’s China, and North Korea. All these groups saw themselves as acting to eliminate societal inequality, and the effects of their actions were disastrous is difficult-to-forsee ways. To a lesser extent this is the same kind of problem that US gov’t institutions have when implementing social programs where they cannot predict the unintended consequences of their programs. And I’m pretty sure the baby-redistribution is going to have more unintended consequences than mere money-redistribution.

  7. winston, I think point #1 begs the question of the thought experiment/baby-assignment scheme in the first place. That whole idea raises the question “do people have the right to raise their own biological children? Why?” and just asserting it is true doesn’t really explain why it should be true.

  8. And, in fact, just asserting the point leaves you open to the criticism that obviously not *every* person should have the right to raise their own biological children. Otherwise prisons and the hangman’s noose could not exist, at least for people with children.

  9. It’s my baby, and you can’t have it, chump!

    Translation: Explaining first principles is hard, perhaps impossible, because either you get it or you don’t. If you don’t get the obvious, no amount of explaining will induce you to get it. If you do get it, explanation is not much needed, except as a morale boost.

    “Morale boost” means the relief one feels when having one’s inarticulate sense of things affirmed in words spoken by others.

    • Alan has it right. Rhetorical Twitter memes would be far more effective in combating this lunacy than an impeccable short essay or paragraph(s).

      There are innumerable possible pictorial memes centering around the concept of race that would do really well. This is the kind of thing the Alt-Right would excel at.

      • That’s not to say there is no value in articulating first principles. It can be very useful, and I don’t want to rain on Bonald’s parade. But it only helps those who are capable of receiving the truth.

  10. Well put, Alan. My thought is: Let them try to take Thordaddy’s baby! I want to be there to see what happens.

  11. Pingback: Homework assignment: reassigning babies | Reaction Times

  12. Well, first of all, that’s not a thought experiment at all; it’s just an (ill conceived) thought, which, however, could be a fine high-concept for a dystopian movie. Its superficial pretence to rationality conceals a profound unreasonableness. I don’t think the result of the implementation of such idea would be care-for-all-because-we-all-are-potential-close-relatives, but rather lack of concern, or even aversion, for your assigned baby, who you know for sure is not yours and is forced down your throat by … by whom? – by the government, I suppose. This effect is foreseeable enough for me, but of course not for the moderately mad professors. Anyway, I don’t think this sorry idea is “evil, crazy, *and* stupid”; it’s evil *or* stupid, and lunatic for sure.

  13. “Without God all things are permitted.”
    Attributed to Dostoievsky.
    We live in a world where God is excluded from the public sphere – thus a world where necessarily everything is permitted (over the long-term).

  14. The proposed policy would universalize adoption, and thus universalize the problems unique to adopted children. Although hardly universal among adopted children, these problems are not rare or trivial. In fact, there is good reason to expect that very poor parent-child relations would become more frequent because the present population of adopting parents is almost certainly more altruistic that the population at large. Universalization of adoption would assign adoptees to parents who cannot form emotional bonds to non-kin. These costs are in no way justified by a dubious experiment in social engineering.

    • Adoptive parents are also self selecting for certain qualities. I know I myself have pretty much zero interest in adopting children.

  15. There are two morally salient but logically independent aspects of this case: (1) The action itself (randomly assigning babies) and (2) The end toward which the action is directed (reducing racism). It shouldn’t be expected that there is one solution that adequately addresses both aspects at once. Perhaps randomly assigning babies *for the sake of some social good* is wrong because it perverts the meaning of the parenting role, which is not about serving some social end, but about devoting oneself to the good of *a particular other for his or her own sake*.

    On the other hand, randomly assigning babies might not be intrinsically wrong, even if doing it for the sake of certain sorts of ends is wrong. It would, however, be intrinsically wrong if parents had property rights in their children (because the children are literally made out of them). A conservative would prefer to understand these rights as custodial rights with strong accompanying duties rather than as full liberal property rights (just imagine what would be allowable if parents had full liberal property rights in their children.) It would assume a conservative, rather than libertarian, understanding of Lockean property rights. I believe Ed Feser defends something like this view of property rights.

  16. This is off the cuff, but:
    Man has a natural tendency to care for that which he has created. This is true of insensitive life, such as a garden a man creates, and even of inanimate objects, such as the handiwork of a craftsman. A fortiori, man will naturally tend to care for the human life that he creates.
    Man naturally feels a debt of gratitude to those to whom he owes his existence. To be raised by the parents who gave him birth will strengthen this natural bond and gives him opportunity to express this gratitude by honoring them and by caring for them in turn.
    Deliberately to separate the creation of a new human life from the raising of it is thus to weaken and undermine their natural connection and their concomitant mutual reinforcement, and the raising of new life will inevitably suffer. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.
    (Good exercise. It’s harder than it seems it should be).

  17. The mother-child relationship is natural, long-evolved, complex, not arbitrary, as are the father-child and father-mother relationships. The creation of children being necessary for the coninuity of any civilization, long-evolved, complex, non-arbitrary matrices off relationships, rules, norms, etc. relate these roles to the rest of society. Reassigning children is not only a crime against nature, which makes it intrinsically wrong, but will have all kinds of foreseeable and unforeseeable problems.


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