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.
For “Russian Jewish”, read neo-Bolshevik, ready to kill her own kind.
This is so punctuated with errors it is hard to know where to begin. To start with, the very definition of eugenics is in error.
It is based on the rudimentary understanding of genetics that began with Gregor Mendel in the 19th Century, combined with the farmer’s knowledge of how to improve plants and animals with selective breeding.
This meant two things: some horrific diseases were actually *inherited* from parents, and if people could figure out how and why, they might avoid having their children so cursed; and, as with farm animals, might it be possible to breed a better person? Smarter, stronger, faster, healthier, etc?
So, for example, in the 1920s, Germans were intensely interested in separated at birth identical twins, to try and find out deductively traits they had in common and traits their learned in their upbringing. Thus started the debate of “nature vs. nurture”, which continues today.
However, on top of this was the dark side of eugenics, that was even more widely embraced: that if you want to breed good people, you have to prevent bad people from breeding.
Almost every western nation embraced some form of this or another. It was just too easy to imagine eliminating from society people who were physically or mentally flawed, generally just sterilizing them so they couldn’t breed.
The latest most blatant example of this was in France, where the health authorities knew that the blood component needed by hemophiliacs was contaminated with HIV, but kept that information secret until almost every hemophiliac in the country was infected and died. Thus in a decade, they eliminated hemophilia from France.
They probably rationalized it as like the elimination of smallpox. “France is better without hemophilia.”
Yet the bottom line is the same for eugenics. That people might someday choose a mate based on their genetics, with the idea that their children will not be afflicted with inherited diseases, and that they might lead better lives.
That was the whole point. Biology, impulse, instinct, and will were always more important to the Nazis than the mind.
The transition to confusing ‘eugenic’ farming of crops and domestic animals with ‘farming’ people largely goes back to Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), the father of German Social Darwinism. His books were widely read on both sides of the Atlantic that helped to fuel the rise of human eugenics. Haeckel was also the very man who coined the term ‘ecology’ in 1866 so that his evolutionary German Social Darwinism also got mixed up with the environmental movement as well. At the heart of the eugenic movement is a confusion of man and nature. Its emphasis upon racism and health comes out of this nature based ethos and paradigm.
The Shaw quote is almost certainly satire, mocking the extremes of the Eugenics movement at the time. Shaw believed that people should be called before boards to justify their existence just as much as Swift believed the poor in Ireland should eat their children (that is to say, not at all). Whay Shaw failes to realize, however, was the fact that the “extremes” in fact dominated the eugenics movement
Yep they now call it “Women’s reproductive rights” and make them believe it is for their own good and is good for them.Funny how the rates for breast cancer can be seen rising right after wide spread birth control pill usage began and again a few years after abortion became legal in 1973...bt don’t forget it is “healthy” and good for you!
Yep they now call it “Women’s reproductive rights” and make them believe it is for their own good and is good for them.Funny how the rates for breast cancer can be seen rising right after wide spread birth control pill usage began and again a few years after abortion became legal in 1973...but don’t forget it is “healthy” and good for you!
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
Those most enamored of communism/socialism are the least productive members of society who want those goodies that accrue to the most productive. Their agenda is detrimental to a productive society resulting in their attempt to hide that agenda by calling themselves progressives or liberals.
I Want to See the communist/socialist agenda Crushed. I want to see their political philosophy dead and discredited. I want to see those enamored of it eradicated from the media, from politics, from academic positions, from any position of power. I want to see the adherents of that dead and discredited idea in charge of nothing beyond a gandy stick and acknowledged for what they are.
As mentally challenged residents of small communities.
As perhaps some of you have discerned, I am attempting to be PC. My most base desire would be to hang everyone of the commies and if he wasn’t already dead I would start with George Bernard Shaw. Then continue with Peter Singer, that sick pile of crap at Princeton who advocates killing babies up to one year old. About a 200,000 long list.
Did that put me in their ranks?
You made me look up the definition of “gandy stick”.
You made me look up the definition of gandy stick.
I never have.......Shovel.... right?