Eugenics, Part II

(This is the second of two posts on early 20th century American books that prominently featured pro-eugenic points of view.  No one must forget that the United States also had its share of eugenics proponents in that period.  The first post is here.)

Figure 1 – Title Page

The Science of Life is a large work (1480 pages) from 1934 (the American printing), by several well-known authors.  (See Figure 1.)  H. G. Wells is of course the English author of The War of the Worlds, as well as many other fiction and non-fiction works.  G. P. Wells was his son.  Julian Huxley was an English evolutionary biologist and influential author.

Their work is an in-depth look at what was known about biology and evolution at that time, in language understandable by most people.  As with The Laws of Life, the authors take the reader on a grand tour, and in the last part, turn to the implications of evolution for humanity.  After reviewing humanity’s profligate use of natural resources and discussing population growth, they turn to eugenics (see Figure 2)*:

“Certain types, it seems natural to assume, will breed more abundantly than others.  The most vital issue from the point of human biology is the question of what types will breed most, whether they will be the types most helpful in the progressive development of the world community and, if not, what measures are possible, advisable and desirable to replace nature’s method of selection-by-killing by an alternative method of selective reproduction—Eugenics: that is to say, the preferential breeding of the best.”

By page 1470 (see Figure 3), there is no hesitation in referring to those with mental challenges as “defectives”, as if they were mere machines rolling off an assembly line.  And it is here that the lament begins:

Figure 2

“Apart from this traceable (and easily controllable) increase of idiots and imbeciles, there is very little evidence that any change in the average human being is now going on.”

Of course, this “control” that we could have comes from sterilization, as described at the end of page 1469 (Figure 2).

But from their perspective, there is hope.  As the authors continue,

“In a little while, it may be possible to handle these issues with exacter definition and much more confidence.  All those who have had experience of birth-control work in the slums seem to be convinced that there is a residuum, above the level of the definable ‘defective,’ which is too stupid or shiftless or both to profit by existing birh-control methods.  These ‘unteachables’ constitute pockets of evil germ-plasm responsible for a large amount of vice, disease, defect and pauperism.”

And so their true view of much of humanity comes out.  But the eugenicist must be careful:

“But the problem of their elimination is a very subtle one, and there must be no suspicion of harshness or brutality in its solution.”

Figure 3

Finally, in a display of combined arrogance and eloquence surpassing any I have ever seen, we have the following description of the unwashed masses our three authors despise:

“There will certainly remain a considerable proportion of mankind, incapable it seems of being very much educated, incapable of broad understandings and co-operative enterprise, incapable of conscious helpful participation in the adventure of the race, and yet as reproductive as any other element in the world community.  For a number of generations, at any rate, a dead-weight of the dull, silly, under-developed, weak and aimless will have to be carried by the guiding wills and intelligences of mankind.  There seems to be no way of getting rid of them.  The panics and preferences of these relatively uneducatable minds, their flat and foolish tastes, their perversities and compensatory loyalties, their dull, gregarious resistances to comprehensive efforts, their outbreak of resentment at any too lucid revelation of their inferiority, will be a drag, and perhaps a very heavy drag on the adaptation of institutions to modern needs…”

Figure 4

And there you have it:  much of humanity is simply not up to their standards.  But note that there is no love, no care, no thought of helping people.  Their only solution is to slowly (or otherwise) eliminate the unfit.  Man is nothing more than livestock to them.  It is no wonder that this attitude could degenerate into the Nazi Holocaust that followed shortly.

No doubt the authors believed that once a utopia had been established, there would only be one class of people: the upper class.  But arrogance would still be around, as evidenced by the authors themselves.  So you can be assured that even in this envisioned world which had been put back onto a path of progress, those with an IQ of 140 would still look down on those with an IQ of 120.

*Interestingly (but not surprisingly), the Wikipedia page for this book (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Science_of_Life, last accessed 7/11/2017) makes absolutely no mention of eugenics nor the authors’ enthusiasm for it.

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Lest We Forget

The Laws of Life

Figure 1 – Title plate

If we know anything of twentieth  century history, we know of the Second World War, Nazi Germany, and eugenics.  But what we have forgotten (and what some actually deny) is that eugenics was once a hot topic among the intellectual elites in the United States and Europe in general.  Prior to World War II, it was quite fashionable to believe that the application of evolutionary principles to human breeding would be the savior of the human race.  In its absence, man would be fated to make the same mistakes indefinitely, continue to make war, and generally fail to progress as he could.

Then World War II and the Holocaust happened, and eugenics got its deservedly negative reputation.  It faded from the textbooks, but not entirely from the discourse of Western civilization.  Lest we forget its vision, philosophy and attitude when it started out, I wish to display what the books of the early twentieth century presented.

First, from 1922, The Laws of Life, by William M. Goldsmith (available on Amazon as original copies or even as reprints!)  See Figure 1.

The focus of the book is life, evolution and genetics, with the latter parts of the book discussing how these laws must be applied to human breeding for the betterment of those yet to be born.

The Laws of Life - page 409

Figure 2 – page 409

Outside of Nazi Germany, there was less talk of eliminating any of the currently living.  Rather the focus was the on the eugenic alternatives of sterilization of the “unfit”, and the encouraged reproduction of the “fit”.  This was necessary, because, as Goldsmith complains (Figure 2):

“Contrast, if you will, the low rate of reproduction of the superior classes in America with the overproduction of children by the inferior classes whose mental and moral standing are often nearer that of the brute than that of civilized man.  These feeble-minded, vicious, and diseased individuals are competing with intellectual man for supremacy in the perpetuation of human characteristics.”

In eugenic thinking, there is no love for humanity, no care for the less fortunate, no thought of helping anyone to rise up, and no consideration for the possibility of educating and leading people.  Just a heartless view of people as animals to be managed.

The tie to evolution is clearly made in the following passage (Figure 3), which he quotes from Leonard Darwin, son of Charles Darwin:

“The belief that man has been slowly developed from some ape-like progenitor came towards the close of the last century [i.e., the close of the 1800’s] to be nearly universally held by thoughtful persons; this belief gave rise to a new hope that this upward march of mankind might be continued in the future; and out of this new hope sprang the eugenic ideal.”

 Of course, this is all in the best interests of future people.  For, as he quotes:

“Progress on eugenic lines will make mankind become continually nobler, happier and healthier…”

And so as with other eugenicists, his hope for man’s future is tied to this central idea.

In the second installment, I will show a more extreme example by a trio of authors more well known than Goldsmith.