In October of 2009, at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas held at the Sydney Opera House in Australia, Dr. Julian Savulescu presented a paper entitled ‘Unfit for Life: Genetically Enhance Humanity or Face Extinction,’ which appears as a couple of videos on Vimeo (vimeo.com/7515623 and vimeo.com/7681585).
Dr. Savulescu is presently a philosophy professor at Oxford University and the Director of Oxford’s Centre for Neuroethics. In his paper Dr. Savulescu argues that we ought ‘to consider’ taking immediate steps to engineer better human beings, human beings who, in his words, are more “Fit,” that is, “wiser and less aggressive.” We ought to consider, he claims, genetically altering human beings in order to weed out those he categorizes as the Unfit, by which he means the psychopaths and terrorists among us, as well as the ‘freeriders, fanatics, criminals, sociopaths, and, finally, the anti-social types.’ He also argues that we humans ought to consider rethinking the idea of liberal democracy, as it facilitates the existence of the Unfit among us.
Savulescu spends more time basing his conception of who should be considered ‘Fit’ by pointing out who should be considered Unfit—of which he provides countless examples. For instance, in his response to a question after his talk, he approvingly cites the infamous Marshmallow Experiment as an indicator of who should, and who should not be considered Fit. The Marshmallow Experiment was carried out in the US in 1972 by Walter Mischel at Stanford University. A group of four-year-olds were given a marshmallow and then promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Approximately 30% of the children could wait, while the other 70% could not. Mischel’s research team then followed the personality development of each child into adolescence and claimed to demonstrate that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted, more dependable and smarter, that is, socially “fitter,” especially according to their parents.