An article in Sunday's Times is in one sense simply a report on a competitive market wherein competitors are fighting to provide what customers want. It's about the sperm donation industry, in which women now "want proof of perfection before buying a dream donor's sperm." Personality tests, voice audio files, SAT scores, not only baby and adult pictures but teenage ones (eek) -- you name it. "Intelligent, tall, and interested in music" no longer cuts it.
There is something uncomfortable about this, since it represents an attempt, clearly, to control nature, to see to it that you get a designer baby for your money. But the underlying assumption is that biology to a great degree governs human development. The article implies that one prolific donor would not be in business, so to speak, if buyers knew he was living in an RV, eking out a living from odd jobs (including sperm donation). As if genetics made him do it.
One remark from the blog Half Sigma, which calls itself "Neither Republican, Democratic, nor Libertarian":
I think this is highly ironic, because somehow one suspects that the women who use the services of sperm banks voted for John Kerry in the last election. Under normal circumstances, they'd agree with the following statement: "The Bell Curve is racist pseudo-science proven wrong by experts." But these same women become True Believers in The Bell Curve and eugenics when it comes to selecting genes for their own children.
That comparison is not quite well thought-out, but the writer is in the close neighborhood of a good point.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.