Skip to comments.Eugenics and Genetics: The Missing Link
Posted on 05/28/2012 10:44:16 AM PDT by wagglebee
In my previous column, I reviewed Kira Peikoffs recently released novel, Living Proof. The heroine of the book, Dr. Arianna Drake, is a geneticist who runs a fertility clinic. Reading through the book, a word from out of the past jumped off the page at me, on page 73. That word was eugenics. (That Peikoff even used the word at least shows that she understands pro-lifers are familiar with the term, and use it in their arguments).
A century ago, eugenics the scientific engineering of a master race, created both by the commingling of men and women possessing superior germ-plasm, and the forcible sterilization of the unfit (which included everyone from mental defectives, to the blind, deaf, human weeds, reckless breeders, and moral degenerates) was all the rage.
While today, we as a society have the politically correct tendency to couch birth control and abortion in euphemisms such as womens reproductive rights, in 1919 Margaret Sanger the founder of Planned Parenthood made no bones about her intentions: More children from the fit, less from the unfit that is the chief aim of birth control.Sanger had no personal qualms against abortion, but largely kept these sympathies under wraps for the tactical purpose of getting birth control legalized by claiming using birth control prevented abortions.
Through eugenics, Sanger concocted Planned Parenthoods Negro Project, covertly designed to decrease the black population, by promoting responsible birth control among poor blacks. Despite her fanaticism which included speaking at Klan rallies Sanger was not regarded as a crackpot in her own time. Far from it. Major philanthropic organizations put their money behind the eugenics push in the early twentieth century: The Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Harriman railroad fortune endowed race science departments in such prestigious American universities as Princeton, Stanford, Harvard and Yale.
In 1904, Carnegie money was behind the founding of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, New York, an eugenics outfit in which research was conducted, and from which researchers were sent into the field, to systematically catalog the genetic histories of families all across America. Sanger and her allies pressured Congress and state legislatures to legalize birth control and pass acts for mandatorily sterilizing the unfit in thirty-three U.S. states. By 1981, when the last mandatory sterilization was performed, in Oregon, more than 65,000 American citizens had been forced to go under the knife, and forever lose hope of having their own children.
In 1920s Weimar Germany, rabble-rouser and agitator Adolf Hitler fell under eugenics spell. What nearly everybody the world over knows as the Nazi Holocaust under Hitlers regime during World War II is known only to a precious few for what it was, in Hitlers eyes: The Germans program of euthanasia, sterilization, and extermination was regarded as perfecting the eugenics programs first begun in the United States. Only during the past decade, with the publication of Edwin Blacks detailed history of the eugenics movement and its implementation in most of the Western world in the early twentieth century, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and Americas Campaign to Create a Master Race (New York: Basic Books, 2003, 608 pp.), are people even aware of what eugenics is.
If eugenics was a bizarre but popular movement whose excesses got out of hand, ending up in the extermination of nearly seven million people but has happily been buried in the distant past why impute to scientists of today its evils? The answer is: Because eugenics never really went away.
In fact, the worst public relations nightmare for the eugenics movement the Holocaust turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to it. When word started leaking out of Nazi Germany about the horrors going on in the death camps of Dachau, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen, the eugenics movement quietly began scrubbing clean its own name out of popular usage. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, eugenics had gone down the memory hole, no longer on the tongues of average American. It was as though the word eugenics had never even existed. It had been quietly and subtly replaced with a sanitized term, free of Nazi SS baggage: Genetics. The American people indeed, the public the world over were completely unaware of the switcheroo that had been pulled on them.
Which brings us back to Peikoffs novel. Its topic is embryonic stem cell research, and how Christian (mainly Catholic) theologians take over future America and impose their anti-man ideology on the whole nation by placing frozen embryos off-limits to research and regenerative medicine.
But, Peikoffs cell biologist heroes are not eugenists their particular avocation is genetics. Am I suggesting that Peikoff is a Nazi, or would advocate the atrocities of the Third Reich, and the scourge of forced sterilization (as well as forced commitment in insane asylums for many citizens judged unfit by eugenics standards)? Not at all. For one, Kira Peikoff comes from a Russian-Jewish family. For another, reading Living Proof, it is clear that Peikoff is opposed to the intrusion of the state into peoples lives. As tragically mistaken as Peikoff is as to who deserves to have the title of person bestowed upon them, it is clear that she would more than likely speak out against such patent violations of human rights and civil liberties of the rest of us deemed actual persons.
So, why even bring up eugenics? Isnt it unfair to impute to the majority of geneticists beginning with Watson and Crick the horrors and atrocities of Sanger and Mengele?
Countless advances in medicine have been achieved under the auspices of genetic research. It would be counterproductive to contend that, as eugenics has morphed into the more respectable field of genetics, that it has not become more civil and compassionate, and less barbaric and callous. After all, surgery was once the province of barbers, and their favored procedure was bloodletting. Certainly, we do not thinking of todays surgeons as butchers with no little training, if any.
The point is that using the word eugenics clarifies exactly what we are talking about. As Rush Limbaugh is fond of saying, words mean things. And, just as important as a words meaning is its origins. The word surgery, which has become more refined over the millennia, has never been in need of replacement. However, the word genetics began its relatively recent life as a euphemism a convenient rug, under which the ethical difficulties of its predecessor could be swept.
With the harvesting of human embryos for their stem cells, we are re-entering the cruel and inhumane world of eugenics once again, but without the taint of having the negative connotations that word implied. The field of genetics, after all, is above board, and is overlooked by scientists with degrees from our finest institutions. Nothing to see here, move along people.
The same arguments could have been and were used to defend the eugenics movement before World War II. There were ethical concerns with eugenics then, as there were with much done in the name of genetics today. American satirist and newspaperman H.L. Mencken, a devout atheist who defended the teaching of evolution in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, regarded eugenics science as mainly bunk, and its intended aim as the product of anti individualist atavism. In a similar vein, British essayist G.K. Chesterton saw the eugenics movement as one of elites, imposing their will on the great unwashed:
The whole point of the Eugenic pseudo-scientific theories is that they are to be applied wholesale, by some more sweeping and generalizing money power than the individual husband or wife or household. Eugenics asserts that all men must be so stupid that they cannot manage their own affairs; and also so clever that they can manage each others.
By ignoring, or dismissing, the history of the eugenics movement, and the ethical problems generated by it (that have not completely gone away by changing its name), Kira Peikoff is guilty of letting history repeat itself, because geneticists generations ago have willfully and consciously forgotten it. But, there are two other words that are crucial to understanding where Peikoff is coming from: Potential and parasite. We will revisit these in the next column.
Eugenics is alive and well, it has simply been "rebranded" to make it more acceptable to the public.
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” Eugenics is alive and well, it has simply been “rebranded” to make it more acceptable to the public. “
The Germans were great at engineering ‘perfect human bodies’.
However, the ‘mind’ is another thing.
“I dont want to punish anybody, but there are an extraordinary number of people who I might want to kill I think it would be a good thing to make everybody come before a properly appointed board just as he might come before the income tax commissioner and say every 5 years or every 7 years just put them there and say , ‘Sir or madam will you be kind enough to justify your existence if youre not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little bit more then clearly we cannot use the big organization of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive. Because your life does not benefit us and it cant be of very much use to yourself.’”
-George Bernard Shaw
“In order to stabilize world population, we must eliminate 350,000 people per day. It is a horrible thing to say, but it is just as bad not to say it.”
- Jacques Cousteau, 1991 UNESCO courier
a petty thief isn't a mass murderer, either, but both are related by the practice of malice.
“I wish very much that the wrong people could be prevented entirely from breeding; and when the evil nature of these people is sufficiently flagrant, this should be done. Criminals should be sterilized and feebleminded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them
The emphasis should be laid on getting desirable people to breed
Roosevelt, Twisted Eugenics, in The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, op. cit., National Edition, XII, p. 201.
I do not pretend that birth control is the only way in which population can be kept from increasing
has hitherto been disappointing in this respect, but perhaps bacteriological war may prove more effective. If a Black Death could be spread throughout the world once in every generation survivors could procreate freely without making the world too full
The state of affairs might be somewhat unpleasant, but what of that? Really high-minded people are indifferent to happiness, especially other peoples
There are three ways of securing a society that shall be stable as regards population. The first is that of birth control, the second that of infanticide or really destructive wars, and the third that of general misery except for a powerful minority
- Bertrand Russell, THE IMPACT OF SCIENCE ON SOCIETY 1953
“IN THE 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change.
Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from “ought” to “is” and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as “these are not one-dimensional abilities” apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.
I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitlers death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasnt the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?”
“No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child
without a permit for parenthood.”
- Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) in her proposed The American Baby Code, intended to become law.
“The most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”
- Margaret Sanger (editor). The Woman Rebel, Volume I, Number 1. Reprinted in Woman and the New Race. New York: Brentanos Publishers, 1922.
“The time has already come when each country needs a considered national policy about what size of population, whether larger or smaller than at present or the same, is most expedient. And having settled this policy, we must take steps to carry it into operation. The time may arrive a little later when the community as a whole must pay attention to the innate quality as well as to the mere numbers of its future members.”
John Maynard Keynes
“Every single case of inherited defect, every malformed child, every congenitally tainted human being brought into this world is of infinite importance to that poor individual; but it is of scarcely less importance to the rest of us and to all of our children who must pay in one way or another for these biological and racial mistakes.”
The Pivot of Civilization
“It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind....Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Buck v. Bell (1927)
U.S. Supreme Court
May 2, 1927
“A prevention of the faculty and opportunity to procreate on the part of the physically degenerate and mentally sick, over the period of only six hundred years, would not only free humanity from an immeasurable misfortune, but would lead to a recovery which today seems scarcely conceivable.”
Mein Kampf (English translation)
This kind of thinking was standard Progressive fare in the first half of the 20th century. It was considered to be enlightened and scientific as opposed to reactionary and superstitious (religious). The Nazis and the Progressives admired one another and traded ideas back and forth. Just as the Progressives re-branded themselves, (ironic that they re-brand back to "Progressive" now that nobody remembers what it means), they re-branded their horrific eugenics philosophy.