Unnatural Selection

What Women Really Think
June 22 2010 6:46 PM

Unnatural Selection

/blogs/xx_factor/2010/06/22/beautifulpeoplecom_rears_its_ugly_eugenicsminded_head/jcr:content/body/slate_image

The methodology of Internet dating sites and the enterprise of made-to-order " designer babies " have always shared eerie echoes of eugenic science-it was only a matter of time before the two came together in creepy, Darwinist collaboration. Yes, reproductive technology has finally entered the darkest territory of online matchmaking by way of Beautiful People, the dating site that recently ousted 5,000 "fatties" from membership . The loathsome Web site has now spawned a "fertility introduction service" that matches its customers to an exclusive selection of sperm and egg donors. Unlike its nonvirtual predecessors , the Beautiful Baby service favors beauty over brains, offering hopeful parents only the prime genetic specimens of physical attractiveness.

Advertisement

Sound familiar? Our country’s history of looks-based eugenics reaches back far before the sperm bank craze . A recent New Yorker piece looked at the work of Paul Popenoe , a California pseudoscientist who introduced eugenics by way of popular American social science. (His work came decades before Josef Mengele’s gruesome attempts at creating the perfect Aryan breed.) Obsessed with selective reproduction, Popenoe saw " assortative mating " as means of creating a more perfect race. "No sane man would deny the desirability of beauty in a wife," he wrote in Applied Eugenics , "Particularly when it is remembered that beauty, especially as determined by good complexion, good teeth and medium weight, is correlated with good health in some degree, and likewise with intelligence."

Popenoe eventually became the "Father of American Marriage Counseling", advocating compatibility tests as a way of determining the best match for long-term relationships. His method of pre-selection by testing undergirds the algorithmic process of today’s online matchmaking venues like eHarmony and Match.com. It seems like these sites have also taken a cue from Popenoe’s earlier studies: Not long ago, the free matchmaking service OkCupid sent out messages to the "top half of [its] most attractive users " informing them of their "elite status" on the dating site’s community. In this system of segregation by attractiveness, specific individuals were granted privileged status if deemed "in the top half" of all users.

Beautiful People has taken this kind of discriminating policy to the extreme, prioritizing users’ (arbitrarily measured) looks above all other criteria. As the site’s creators try their hand at the insemination donor market , we’re faced with an appalling new strain of genetic engineering. And though today’s sperm banks have long provided a venue for handpicking the most desirable DNA, I think there’s something especially repulsive about creating a child through a middleman who profits from " a strict ban on ugly people ."

Illustration of petri dishes from The People's Common Sense Medical Adviser /Wikimedia Commons.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:58 AM Does this Colorado Poll Show Latino Voters Bailing on the 2014 Election?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Food
Sept. 18 2014 9:34 AM How to Order Chinese Food First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 18 2014 8:53 AM The Other Huxtable Effect Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?