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I just bought another batch of recent books on eugenics. Not much has changed since my review of eugenics' books in 2001 available at http://www.neoeugenics.net/gen.htm. This recent book, the first one I have just finished is by a journalist, Harry Bruinius. What is most noticeable about this book, Better For All The World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America's Quest for Racial Purity, 2006, is its utter lack of anything new or different from previous eugenics bashing books.
Bruinius, (henceforth HB), does spend a great deal of space discussing the lives of some of the key figures in the eugenics' movement, apparently trying to show how flawed they were—which was the same message eugenicists were telling about generations of degenerate families that were seen as holding America back from attaining its destiny for greatness (HB lamented the accounts of three major studies: the Jukes, the Kallikak family, and the Hill Folks—accounts "filled with subjective and impressionistic musings"—not unlike his own anecdotal analysis of eugenics). That struggle continues today, with different factions blaming competing other factions for imagined and real problems facing
First the title is not factual. HB tells in great detail the case of Carrie Buck. The state of
HB then claims that eugenics was all about America's Quest for Racial Purity. This and similar types of claims have been made against eugenics. However, he provides virtually no data to show this. First, racial purity and other racialized statements were extremely common up until the end of WWII, when political correctness crept in and racialized statements became taboo. So any statement about racial purity or the great White race, etc. were commonly heard and bantered about. It was commonly accepted that the
HB even states, "But the general use of this clanging word 'eugenics,' now becoming as ubiquitous as a sudden sneeze, was not arising from a single source. Though from the start it had been a theoretical science as well as a social proposal, eugenics was now proving surprisingly fungible, branching off into sometimes unforeseen fields, and utilized by a spectrum of people with varying motives. On the one hand, questions about evolution had become questions about heredity, and younger scientists, turning away from the merely descriptive and speculative methods practiced by the great Darwin himself, were being drawn to analytical, statistical, and experimental modes of research—like eugenics." Many books that try to show only sinister motives by eugenicists, are merely very selective about the people and events they write about, while the field was extremely large—permeating every facet of the culture.
The use of sterilization to reduce the number of defectives or the unfit had little to do with race, but with the understanding that hereditary traits, good and bad, ran in families, and the only way to eliminate these traits was to sterilize people—and virtually all of these families were Whites. Blacks for example were just ignored and not sterilized. The fear was that the White race, due to birth control on the one hand and charity towards the poor on the other, were producing too many White degenerates that would sap the strength of the nation. These were economically hard times, statistics were just beginning to be used to show trends that made the future look gloomy, and Americans were very concerned about the vitality of the work force. Sterilization of institutionalized borderline defectives—prostitutes, epileptics, the mildly retarded, etc.—seemed like a cost effective way to release them back into society while making sure they would not produce more defectives from their profoundly promiscuous natures.
Eugenics of a century ago has been linked for political reasons to sterilization and racial genocide, but this is a very inaccurate picture. Just like the concern over global warming, there was far more rhetoric than action. Only 65,000 people over the span of decades were ever sterilized in the
Positive eugenics was preached in the
However, the genocide to come was precipitated by a war that found the Nazis with millions of new Jews in their midst from conquered lands, a war that was started to expand German territory and also a preventive war against the dangers of Communism. There is no connection between eugenics in Germany in the early years, the euthanasia during the war years to free up hospital beds for the wounded, and the genocide that both the Nazis and Communists engaged in during the war (and after the war by Communists).
HB in fact states clearly the only connection between eugenics and the Holocaust: "The industrial bureaucracy of mass murder in
HB hints at the real reason for implementation of sterilization during the 1920s and 30s: "More significantly, however, when it came to care for the poor, the traditional stance of altruism began to shift toward that of efficiency. In an industrial age, efficient structure and organization were known to be the keys to success, and many reformers were now seeking to create centralized, state-run bureaucracies to focus on social problems in a systematic way. State boards and national conferences were being organized around the country, and a new class of scientifically trained experts was meeting to discuss poverty and crime. And as they began to worry that the poor were becoming a dangerous horde, placing greater burdens on society, they also began to wonder whether they could eliminate these problems altogether. Must the poor always be with us?"
That same question is asked today, and no one has yet found a solution. Perhaps that is because WWII interfered with the only reasonable solution for poverty—eliminate through eugenics those people who are not intelligent enough to be productive. Most social planners today are as bewildered as ever how to raise up the underclass, while dismissing the importance of genes on intelligence.
Statistics played another part in spreading fear, just like today. It was a new science, and it was just beginning to be publicized, showing an alarming rate of American degeneration due to a host of problems from the non-assimilation of immigrants to all kinds of deviant behaviors. It appeared we were a nation in deep distress. HB notes, "Indeed, as eugenic ideas began to spread in the United States, they often found their greatest grassroots allies among these types of American women—activists who were just beginning to form their own societies to fight for temperance and suffrage, and who were also actively involved in the reforms of organized charity." Doesn't sound like a bunch of White supremacists to me?
The book has a lot of factual data, but misstatements are strewn here and there, in an effort to stop current genetic engineering (today's eugenics). For example, HB states, "Attacking a notion that went back to Francis Galton, he added, 'Intelligence is not an abstraction like length and weight; it is an exceedingly complicated notion which nobody has as yet succeeded in defining.' By 1930, many scientists were beginning to agree. Even the Princeton psychologist Carl Campbell Brigham, the scientist who had been one of the leading proponents of the differential fecundity of smart and stupid families, now switched his position in an article for Psychological Review, arguing that intelligence could not, in fact, be so easily measured." HB fails to mention that the American psychological Association does not agree with this statement from a 1995 American Psychological Association Task Force that prepared the report "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns." Science builds slowly over time.
When anyone makes statements that have later been overturned once again, and it is generally known, it is very disingenuous not to point that out. One of the best examples of this was Gould's two additions of "The Mismeasure of Man," where the first edition (1981) seemed to show flaws with earlier brain size–IQ correlations, only to be confirmed by abundant later research. In his second edition (1996) he just ignores this embarrassing fact. "The argument that helped make Gould's book famous and that left the strongest impression on many readers is certainly his criticism of the skull measurements undertaken by the nineteenth century scientist Samuel George Morton." (Sesardic 2000)
In the last chapter he tries to condemn eugenics by finding fault with three of its major players: Galton "suffered his own debilitating mental breakdowns"….
He ends by admitting that "better breeding" is back again, and tries to argue that it is a dangerous path. These arguments are very similar to others who warn of catastrophe, but are there any reasons to think so? HB states, "The perfection ostensibly promised by the great god Science today is no different from the perfection promised by eugenics in the first half of the twentieth century. So the specter of better breeding is thrust upon us once again…. Indeed, contemporary debates over biotechnology tend to feature the calm, objective methods of science versus the deeply held moral commitments of religious communities."
I am not aware that science in itself guarantees any type of perfection, nor did the eugenics of 100 years ago strive for perfection—more correctly it was a movement to stop a perceived dystopia, not create a utopia. And does science alone drive the debate or human emotions? Virtually everyone that sits on The President's Council on Bioethics is hostile to genetic engineering, stem-cell research, etc. (Google Leon Kass and read some of his hysterics). The situation today is similar to the opposition to eugenics of before, when Catholics and Christian fundamentalists opposed the advancement of science on moral grounds. And again today, these moralists want to ban abortions, recreating the same situation where the less intelligent and less responsible will procreate without forethought, and only coercive sterilization will work—they get no government assistance unless they get sterilized.
HB in fact bemoans that there is no absolute moral system once secularism is accepted, as much as philosophers try to fabricate one. And, for that reason, individual rights do not exist outside of arbitrary laws and agreements between people. He admits, "Genocide can be a perfectly natural and even perfectly rational objective, in terms of the survival of the fittest." However, genocide can be administered by the unfit as well, as we are witnessing a billion Islamists that feel religiously justified to slaughter the other five billion non-believers.
HB claims, "The inherent danger in engineered enhancement, the inherent danger in ideas of evolutionary fitness—for those considered 'unfit,' at least—is the threat of an accompanying idea that there are 'undesirables' who, in the end, deserve to be got rid of. Eugenics naturally breeds contempt for 'those manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.'"
Eugenics breeds more desirable people—there is no evidence that it breeds contempt for anything. It is a scientific process, not a personally biased one. Contempt for others is commonplace—many hate capitalists, globalists, abortionists, Whites in general as racists, etc. There is no shortage of hate and contempt for all kinds of people by virtually all people. Hate, anger, fear, disgust and love are five of the most basic of human emotions.
Eugenicists do not believe in a perfect world, but rather believe from available data that a more intelligent population will be better able to compete without bloodshed by understanding how humans behave, and better able to establish more democratic and more tolerant societies—not less tolerant. There is no relationship between better breeding and intolerance.
HB concludes, "As human beings enter this new era considering the stunning promises of science and technology, as they contemplate the possibilities of directing their evolution and moving toward a more perfect state of being, the history of forced sterilization and
This seems to be the best case he has been able to formulate against eugenics. It seems he is very much like the eugenicists of 100 years ago that warned, without sterilization, doom was inevitable because the "unfit" would overwhelm the world. Today, it is global warming that will be our doom; or how about an overpopulated world where a new virus, owing to human density, will mutate into a killing scourge.
The fact is, there have been ups and downs in the world's hominid population, with a burst of humans over the last few hundred years because of science. Other than the sun finally burning out, humans will likely continue on in some form—especially the more intelligent and rational they become to behave more responsibly. And that means behaving in such a way as having compassion and concern for the quality of our "Future Generations." Eugenics is a highly probable means of bettering the world for all who come after.
Many books on eugenics have some common themes: eugenics led
directly to the Holocaust and eugenics in the
Cogdell (Henceforth just CC) begins, "After all, so many core debates of the period circled around [eugenic] tenets—birth control, prohibition, free-love, anti-immigration, miscegenation, segregation, feminism and maternity, perceptions of race, class, sexuality and disability, the rights of the individual in relation to the state, nationalism and the devastating effects of the first world war, alleviation of the economic collapse, and even the protection and improvement of the future of humanity. That the major design style of the Thirties also bears its mark, therefore, in some ways is not surprising, given the pervasiveness of eugenics as a defining ideology of modernity."
It reminds me of the current debate of why and how we got into the
CC also seems to hold multiple views about eugenics, "What this book offers, then, is not only a revisionist interpretation of the major popular design style of the period, but an in-depth analysis of three of the formative principles beneath eugenic ideology—the pursuits of efficiency, hygiene, and the ideal type—that place its aims as coincident with deeply rooted ideals in American culture…. Eugenics appealed to capitalists and socialists, political conservatives and radicals, fascists and anarchists, feminists and social conservatives. Supporters included members of a wide variety of ethnic groups all over the world, including not only self-proclaimed 'Nordics' in Europe, the United States, and Canada, but also Jews, African Americans, Mexicans, Brazilians, Russians, Indians, the Japanese, and many others…. By definition, degenerate individuals were less suited to the 'civilized' world, and accordingly were classified as 'unfit,' in part because feeblemindedness and asocial behavior were perceived as producing a genetic and economic 'drag' on a nation's development and a hindrance in the international struggle for survival. The application at large of these ideas to the entire populations of nations resulted in the idea of national degeneracy when the birthrate of the civilized fell below that of the 'lower' races…. While Geddes may not have thought of the term in this way, the precedents for social and economic streamlining had been set by eugenicists throughout the 1910s and 1920s, in their public declarations of the need to purify the nation's blood 'stream' lines, to increase its flow (meaning the birthrate of the 'fit'), and to eliminate the genetic and economic 'drag' posed by social 'parasites' in order to increase 'national efficiency'…. In
Conclusion: concepts about eugenics were very diverse, supported by many types of people across the political and religious spectrum, so almost any viewpoint can be focused on its intent such as "racial purity" by only discussing a small segment of the movement.
CC further states, "In practice, eugenic policies were in fact applied more heavily to lower-class whites and to nonwhites, and most eugenicists were racist in that they believed in an evolutionary racial hierarchy with their own race occupying the position at the top." But note above that she states that virtually every race embraced eugenics! That means every race feels superior to others, and makes everyone at that time and now racists implicitly if not explicitly. And is there in fact a real and not imagined racial hierarchy if intelligence is used as the criteria? Intelligence is about 80% genetic in adulthood, and Richard Lynn has provided the average intelligence of races around the world, and with a low average of about 60 for Australian aborigines, to a high of about 110 for Ashkenazim Jews, it seems that the eugenicists of 100 years ago were correct.
The 1924 immigration act, the egalitarians like to claim, was based on beliefs about the inferiority of southern and eastern Europeans from intelligence tests given to WWI recruits. CC does admit that the numbers were so low that "[the results were] publicly criticized as impossible shortly after their publication in 1921." The fact is, these tests were seen as flawed as intelligence testing was in its nascent state. However, the country was seen as being flooded by too many unassimilated immigrants who were also coming with socialist and Communist leanings, and there was a great fear that the
In a study on intelligence from mixing different races, CC states, "Yet, other international studies on the interbreeding of the various white races (such as between Germans and Jews, who were considered by some less racist German geneticists to be similar in their traits) had shown that their offspring proved superior to the parents; 'race-crossing' of this sort, therefore, could produce 'hybrid vigor.'" This is interesting because it disproves the Holocaust was based on eugenics, rather than the Jews as the Germans formidable enemy. Remember, leading up to the war, international Jews were calling for boycotts of German products and other means to weaken
CC claims, "Although public renunciation of eugenics was nearly universal after the revelations of the Holocaust, the accusation of eugenics as a pseudoscience had begun much earlier, being voiced mostly by geneticists who disapproved of mainline eugenicists' race and class prejudice and their oversimplified methods. In particular, geneticists faulted eugenicists for acting as if traits such as intelligence or character were controlled by one or a few genes that followed Mendel's laws; for discounting the influence of environment in shaping individual characteristics; for assuming that all individuals who appeared to belong to certain races or classes shared genetic coding for prescribed traits; for underestimating and misrepresenting to the public the time it would take to make an actual difference in the national gene pool through careful breeding, even for traits that did manifest themselves according to Mendelian ratios; and for prematurely pushing for social and political policies based upon these unproven, oversimplified scientific assumptions." (italics are mine.)
Pseudoscience is the currently favorite term used to dismiss any science the environmentalists dislike based on moral or egalitarian grounds. But pseudoscience means "a theory, methodology, or practice that is considered to be without scientific foundation." pseudoscience then only applies to pure quackery, like palm reading or astrology—not the selective breeding of humans or plants and animals. However, with the exception of the error with regards to mendelian genes being the primary determinate of traits, the list of accusations CC makes against eugenics can also be made against today's environmental determinists: they have race and class biases, they discount the influence of genes, certain races do share unique genes for things like Tay Sacks?? disease among Jews and sickle cell anemia among Blacks, distorting the time it would take to improve the educational system to improve overall intelligence, and today's environmentalists for pushing for massive reform to stop global warming without adequate data. Using her criteria, there is no science—it is all pseudoscience.
Eugenics never really went away as it morphed into population studies, sociobiology, genetics, behavior genetics, pharcogenetics??, IVF, preimplantation of diagnostics to find defective genes, surrogate parenting, etc. The whole field is moving at a phenomenal rate (see The Baby Business). To claim it is pseudoscience is beyond absurd.
She does have a point when it comes to the media's obsession for using phrases like "a gene for X", but she should blame the media, not eugenics. Those of us familiar with the subject know better, and are well aware of the fact that we need to find all of the genes for intelligence along with environmental influences like nutrition. But even having no idea which genes account for intelligence, selective breeding can bring about higher intelligence without knowing which genes are involved—selecting for specific traits has been done for 10,000 years.
CC then goes into a list of assertions about how genes impact gender behaviors, musical ability, criminality, etc. All of these areas are studied and debated, by evolutionary psychologists, behavior geneticists, etc. How does she dismiss all of this massive research? "These types of biologically determinist assumptions have been closely analyzed and disputed by numerous scholars working in the social sciences, humanities, and gender studies over the last few decades, yet [those in the biological sciences] make no serious effort to engage either their criticisms or the issue of culture."
There is a good reason for this: the above disciplines do not engage in empirical research, and when they do they rarely take into account any genetic component—it is just assumed that genes have no impact on behavior or intelligence. These disciplines are like others in this regard, "philosophy of science still largely lives in its own, socially constructed world." (Sesardic's 2000 journal article discussing the distortion of science by using strawman arguments by the environmental determinists.)
CC states, "If germline engineering were to become a reality, abuse would more likely be corporate than governmental, and the technology would be presented as consumer choice rather than as political coercion. Under this scenario, if the new positive eugenics were to take hold, powerful corporations controlling the technology would likely implement successful marketing schemes to convince Americans that the choice for success was theirs, for a price well worth it." Yes, this is how the free market operates, and it operates quite well. Most of the people, who are already using corporate services for eugenic services, are sophisticated and well informed about what can be expected. These fabricated concerns would be assuaged with a society of more intelligent people who could not be so easily duped by corporate promotions of their products. Her argument is just plain silly.
Another objection, "If someone's genetic profile failed to match the norm because his or her parents conceived naturally, instead of using IVF and germline engineering, insurance coverage could be denied because of a 'preexisting' genetic condition." Well, If conscientious parents spend the resources to improve the health of their children, why should they have to pay for those less responsible? This is exactly the type of incentives needed to improve the health and intelligence of the population, two things that are universally desired. (I've never known of any parents that preferred sickly, less intelligent children. If there are such parents I think most would agree there a bit too strange to raise children.)
She then completely confuses normality with eugenic goals, "Although many Americans might act as if 'difference'—in this case, human cultural and genetic variability—is tantamount to 'disease' or disadvantage, conformity to the cultural and genetic norm might well be conformity to the 'ways of doing things that are preferred by the dominant classes and to which we have therefore become accustomed,' as well as conformity to the statistical genetic norm established by the Human Genome Project despite genetic variability actually being what is normal. Feminists, poststructuralists, and disability theorists, as well as many Americans fighting to preserve space for 'difference,' therefore are resisting these processes of normalization, for however well-intentioned they are, they 'threaten not to equalize but to preserve existing patterns of functional dominance and privilege.'"
Of course this is mere speculation. Parents in the future may want different things for their children, and direct germline intervention can actually increase genetic diversity, so her argument is fallacious. And the Human Genome Project certainly was not about establishing a norm, it was to locate the positions of genes, not to determine the correct variant of different alleles. This alone shows she knows little about genetics, but will use every specious argument to try and stop it. Unfortunately for these egalitarians, different people like different types of diversity. I prefer the diversity of large gaps in income between the rich and the poor; she wants diversity of sexual orientation. Neither one is right—just a preference. (I enjoy dominance and privilege—and most of the people I know do also.)
CC concludes, "Although elitist contemporary critics called streamlining a 'pseudostyle' because it was supposedly dishonest design, and although eugenics was rightly ostracized as a pseudoscience for many reasons, I want to suggest that both design in the service of industrial expansion and the old and new eugenics are 'pseudo' forms for another reason: because both have aided the unlimited expansion of technology under corporate control, in order to maximize private profit, through environmentally destructive processes that promote normalization and the commodification of the natural and human in exchange for the artificial. Their continued implementation threatens to irreversibly alter ourselves and our world, not least through genetic engineering's modification of DNA, which stands as a superb model of a complex, variable, sustainable system as determined by evolutionary processes over millenia. Design professionals today have the chance to establish a new precedent, what Margolin refers to as design in the service of sustainability. Through directing their efforts to restore balance and diversity to complex ecological and social systems that are out of balance and threatening to collapse, designers can offer a new model for the biotech industry to follow, one that demonstrates ways that industry can use technology to different ends that will be highly beneficial and sustainable over the long term for humanity and for the natural systems of the earth."
Several key points here. If these environmentalists want a "sustainable system as determined by evolution," then let us keep evolving with the changing ecology. A sustainable system is meaningless as systems keep changing—nothing stays stagnant. If they are talking about polluting the environment where it becomes unhealthy, then promote those humans who have the freedom and intelligence to sustain their lives, and those who foul their environments and cannot compete die off. How many and what type of humans should the earth sustain?
And just what does it mean to "restore balance and diversity to complex ecological and social systems?" Phrases like these are not empirical but just narratives and therefore are pseudodesigns for the future. The only thing that can destroy human life on earth, as far as I can see, would be nuclear war and disease. All other ecological changes would only change the number of people on earth as happens to all animals. However, because humans can plan their futures, we are not subject easily to total extinction. We are extremely flexible and niche creators.
I am far more concerned with the aesthetic degradation of society—junker pickup trucks picking up scrap metal, beggars at almost every major intersection, people who throw trash all over without thought, people who can't communicate or carry out the simple task of getting my order correct at MacDonalds, rundown tenements, etc. That is, the low quality of the people from lack of assimilation and–or low intelligence combine to despoil the environment. Industrial pollution we can be easily dealt with through science and government regulation. Aesthetic pollution is much harder to eradicate. Eugenics, not educational reforms or the welfare state, holds out a vision of improving human nature into the future.
A final point on genetic diversity. I and many other modern eugenicists argue against altering anything but general intelligence and eliminating genes known to cause significant illness or disabilities and have no known benefits. Parents of course will want to select for other traits such as height, attractiveness, athleticism, certain behavioral traits, etc. They are the customers of genetic engineering, and when they want to purchase an available product others will oblige them for a profit. That is their reproductive freedom to do so.
Matt Nuenke--September 2006