I’VE certainly met some media chancers in my time (takes one to know one). But it’s rare to see such an outright specimen as Toby Young. Provocative Tory journalist, recently sober-sided advocate of free schools, but now hung high on the hook of being a promoter of eugenics.

Eugenics is the notion that the human stock can be biologically and genetically improved. This is a concept beloved of early 20th-century liberal reformers (including Keynes and Beveridge, the fathers of the mixed economy and the welfare state). But also the entire regime of Nazism.

As a point of public intervention, this makes Kezia Dugdale’s glugging of weird animal smoothies seem like the second Scottish Enlightenment. But as he sinks into his own self-generated whirlpool, it might be of interest to explore the issues that Young’s fatal act of chancerdom raises.

First, this is something of a psychodrama. I have worked with Toby Young a few times – once on a piece for his 90s magazine Modern Review, and once on the BBC’s Late Review in the mid-2000s (when it was produced out of Glasgow).

In both cases, the experience was of someone who flipped between brow-furrowed seriousness, and the worst kind of knob joke, in the space of a minute. This disorienting behaviour seems to match the man’s whole CV (his movie/book title, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, says it all).

It’s easy to be a dime-store Freudian here. One might suggest this personality flip stems from a barely suppressed wrestling with the looming shadow of his father Micheal Young – the great founder of the Open University and the Consumer Foundation, and a revered egalitarian.

Written for the Australian journal Quadrant, Toby Young’s “progressive eugenics” essay (which is at the core of the current controversy) begins and ends with a challenge to his father’s own idea of meritocracy.

Young the Elder invented meritocracy as a satire and a warning – about how the lust for hierarchy often comes clothed in the language of merit. Young the Younger wants us to take his father’s idea not satirically, but absolutely seriously – and locate the “merit” at the genetic level.

It takes a minute to point out Young’s incoherences. He hates the left for its denial that human nature and genetic inheritance might have an impact on inequality. According to Young, their blank-slate view means that any ideological project can be written on people. Mao and Stalin are the ultimate manipulators of human consciousness.

Yet what could be more profoundly manipulative than to suggest, as Young does, that poor people could be invited to pick and breed their “smarter” eggs? What does he think the mental effects of being stigmatised and classified by such an option would be? Publicly linking your position in society to your genes, not your material conditions ... could anything be more oppressive?

I am reminded of the brilliant film of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, Never Let Me Go. A ghastly system of organ harvesting is clothed in 1960s suburban normality. As an explicit anti-egalitarian, Young is reaching for biology to justify his belief in inequality. The society implied by his ideas would be, like Ishiguro’s film, quietly monstrous.

In the last few days, Young has been trying to distance himself from the weird academic conferences on “inherited intelligences” that Private Eye caught him attending. But he’s wriggling like a blob of DNA on a hook.

Young’s language in his lectures and articles on this topic is thoroughly ideological. Those who deny that traits like IQ are heritable are described as “social justice warriors”, “postmodern Marxists” or “liberal creationists”.

This is the standard lexicon of abuse that comes from the American alt-right. And like a dead fish, this rot starts at the head. There are many videos of Trump blathering over the years about the “importance of good genes” to success. (Newsflash: he thinks he has them.)

There’s no shortage of scientific challenges to the idea that IQ is an inheritable advantage, or even that it identifiably exists (for example, seek out Genes, Cells and Brains by Steven and Hilary Rose). But one obstacle to the idea that evolution produces biological inequality in human beings is that evolution’s founder himself, Charles Darwin, didn’t really believe it.

Darwin was a committed anti-slavery campaigner, on the basis that all humans were derived from a “common ancestor”, and as such were fundamentally equal. (That common ancestor was Adam and Eve in Darwin’s earlier religious years, and our simian forebears in his later scientific years). Darwin also had some personal experiences which refuted the notion of the inbuilt deficiencies of different human groups and races. While studying medicine at Edinburgh University, he was taught taxidermy by John Edmonstone – a freed slave whose tales of tropical nature inspired Darwin to later visit the Galapagos Islands. Darwin called Edmonstone “an intimate” in his Memoirs – “a very pleasant and intelligent man ... I spent many hours in conversation at his side”.

Yet for all Toby Young’s clumsiness and opportunism, it can’t be denied that we are at a profound moment with bioscience. The technologies that give us the power to manipulate human biology in preferred directions have been here for a while. But how have we actually used them?

Matt Ridley makes a fair point about IVF. The original fears were that celebrities, Nobel Prize winners and athletes would be pulled into a market for their eggs (or sperm), by parents seeking genetic advantage for their children. As it turned out, parents actually just wanted a process that gave them their own child, authentic and entire.

Yet many have pointed to Iceland, where pre-screening for Down’s Syndrome, and the ready option to abort, has nearly eliminated the condition from the island’s population. Gene profiling and editing puts all such disabilities on a target map for elimination.

So never mind geeks creating superbeings. Have we even begun the conversation about a society in which inherited disability disappears from our experience?

How would that affect our overall sense of compassion for the weakest among us?

At last some good may have come from Mr Young’s abasement. And that’s the realisation we can’t leave the question of our potential to reshape biological human nature to right-wing media chancers.

Along with climate change and automation, it’s probably the biggest debate we’ll have over the next few decades. Toby Young is an inelegant trigger for it, to be sure. But let’s begin.