Sunday, July 8, 2012
Disclaimer for the casual web surfer who stumbles across this: "This is a post AGAINST the concept or practice of eugenics."
Eugenics is the science of attempting to improve a human population by controlled breeding.
Eugenics seeks to mate persons with superior physical attributes so that each generation is physically and mentally superior to the previous generation. Conversely, people with "undesirable" physical traits, or disabilities, or mental deficiencies, or likelihood of birth defects, or undesirable social traits (criminals, etc.,) are discouraged (or prevented by government authority) from reproducing. [An example of governmental prohibition today would be no close family members mating; in some states, you can't marry your first cousin for example. So, most of us support SOME forms of eugenics.]
But much of this is science fiction stuff that has been around at least as long as science fiction has been written.
The questions that come to this blog author's mind are mostly questions such as, "Who decides?" What is desirable? What is superior? Would there come a time when the "superior" beings would be substandard by comparison and no longer be allowed to reproduce, due to being replaced by supermen and women? What becomes of the culls? I'm guessing Stephen Hawking couldn't be allowed to reproduce if the old eugenics folks were in control. They did seem to make some exceptions though, for rich folks with disabilities.
While this series of posts will talk mostly about the eugenics movements in the U.S. and Canada in the first half of the 20th century, eugenics has been around longer than that. No, you can go really far back in history and find many instances of trying to "improve" the human race by selective breeding. In ancient Greece, for example, the Spartans were amazing warriors, according to the writings that have come down. Surely selective breeding was one of those tools used to achieve this, and not simple calisthenics or cold showers and morning runs. The name "eugenics" was supposedly coined by Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Neither was a proponent of it, only interested in the theory of natural selection.
In the Bible you read of God commanding the Hebrews to avoid intermarrying with the local peoples they lived with. There are probably other eugenics stories in the Bible that don't come to my mind right now as well. But the point is, throughout history, attempts have been made to "improve" or "preserve" parts of the human race.
It is interesting to note that in the "recent" eugenics movement, they were not only concerned with physically strong and healthy specimens, but they also practiced negative eugenics by sterilizing every sort of defenseless class of people you can imagine, in the theory that so doing would stop the continuing of feeblemindedness being passed down from generation to generation (which it probably would) to believing it would cure things like alcoholism and criminal activity. Indeed, one of the popular proponents of this commented that if you want to change the undesirable characteristics of a boy, you have to start with his grandfather. I guess he meant there is no real hope of improvement using only environmental means. But that seemed to be the mindset.
Some people whose names were associated with eugenics early on, in some way or another, include Winston Churchill, Margaret Sanger, H.G. Wells, Theodore Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes, John Harvey Kellogg, Linus Pauling, and more.