Eugenic Society

Continuing to think about eugenics.

Thus, from the Greek word for “wellborn,” Galton coined the word “eugenic,” meaning pertaining to racial improvement by boosting the birth rate of the wellborn to the levels where they speedily prevailed over the less suitable strains or socially less wellborn classes.

I’ve emphasized the words which imply some sort of value judgment because I wonder how one knows who is “wellborn” and who is “unsuitable”, and how one is to know whether one has “improved” the human race.

If you’re a plant or animal breeder, you’re selling an end product – timber, fruit, flowers, meat, leather, etc. – and you’ll be guided by the market. If people want red roses, you’ll grow lots of red roses, and look to produce rose bushes which are laden with roses galore. But when you’re raising children, you’re not selling them to anybody, so there is no market, and no guidance.

And throughout human history, people have always been selective breeders. In Greece and Rome deformed or disabled or sickly infants were very often allowed to die. Parents wanted strong sons and daughters (and more often sons than daughters) who would be able to assist them in their work, and fight in their armies, and care for them in their old age. Life was simply too hard for people to bear the burden of a handicapped child who would never be a useful and productive member of society. If we in our modern world no longer do this, it is because life has become easy enough for many people in the developed world to welcome all human life, able or disabled.

And even if we were not being selective breeders, the processes of natural selection which operate on all living things would ensure that the disabled and the sickly would succumb, and the able-bodied and healthy survive. If there is no obvious reason to intervene, why not let nature take its course? I often wonder how we came to be hairless bipeds with opposed thumbs and tiny little teeth.

Above all, how can we know, in advance of the event, what is or isn’t an improvement? Can we ever say that large men are an improvement over small men? Or that thin men are an improvement over fat men? Who knows what seemingly trivial and unimportant human trait might emerge one day as the key to human survival? Surely, in the face of an unknown human future, we should encourage the greatest diversity of human types, and not set out to fit everyone into a single ideal – particularly when that ideal is simply what has been seen in a mirror. Is it very surprising that blonde, athletic, nordic types tend to prefer blonde, athletic, nordic types?

In Darwin’s “struggle for existence”, in which the fittest survive, exactly who are the “fittest”? Darwin himself seems to have thought they were the strongest and fastest and most rapidly reproducing. But that was perhaps because Darwin regarded the struggle for existence as an unrelenting and ubiquitous War of Nature, the war of eveything against everything else. Translated to human life, this was the war of all men against all other men, and the ideal man was a physically fit, athletic soldier who could be counted upon to march hundreds of miles, and swing a sword or axe.

The ideal “healthy” human that modern lifetstyle medicine desires would seem to be something exactly like that. They want to produce soldiers. Big, strong, athletic soldiers. Soldiers without the vices of smoking and drinking and easy living. Soldiers who will unthinkingly obey orders.

Is that really what we need? How do they know? Maybe what we really need is more computer programmers. Or rock and roll bands. Or hair stylists. Perhaps it’s the continuing influence of Darwin, plus the experience of two world wars in which large numbers of civilians were conscripted into armies, and many were found to be physically unfit. If nations are going to fight colossal wars every few decades, perhaps it makes sense to try to make sure that the population from which these future soldiers are to be drawn are as “fit” (in the military sense) as possible.

But are large scale wars inevitable? And if there are wars, will they require millions of men to dig trenches and fire rifles at each other, as happened in the First and Second World Wars? Isn’t it rather more likely that any serious global war will see the use of nuclear weapons? The technology of war is always in a process of rapid development, and every new war is different from the last war. Does it not follow that the ideal soldier will also change as the technology of war changes? It doesn’t help for the pilot of a plane to be large and muscular. On the contrary, it’s a hindrance. Large and muscular is what’s needed with swords and spears and axes, and we don’t use those much any more.

The Darwinian view of life was one of perpetual war, and it may well be that the eugenic view of life really boils down to social preparedness for war. We must have fit, strong, athletic men and women who can be pressed into service in their millions, just like in the previous two world wars. The “ideal” Body-Mass Index is quite likely a military ideal. It’s probably in an obscure military handbook somewhere. And of course it goes without saying that the ideal soldier is of an ascetic character, neither drinking nor smoking nor engaging in any other vice, and able to live off beans and lentils and bread and water. It’s much cheaper that way.

Maybe what terrifies the military, when they see ever fatter civilians on the streets, clutching bottles of beer and smoking cigarettes, is the prospect of having to shape millions of these unpromising conscripts into fighting soldiers within the space of a few weeks.

Eugenic society may simply be military (and perhaps even militaristic) society. In a society at peace, its demands make little or no sense at all, because it doesn’t really matter at all whether civilians smoke and drink and get fat on steak and chips. “Lifestyle medicine” really only starts to make sense in a time of war, when physical fitness is at a premium, and luxuries are absent. It’s really got nothing to do with “lifestyle” at all.

But is there a global war on the horizon? Perhaps there is, but I can’t see it. The previous two world wars were well advertised in advance. The First World War came at the end of a long arms race which saw the Germans and the British constructing large navies well in advance of the outbreak of war. So also a great many people could see the Second World War coming years before its outbreak, as Germany re-armed. The wars we fight now all seem (to me at least) to be wars of choice, sometimes fought just to try out the latest military hardware (e.g. laser-guided bombs) and to keep the military in practice.

If anything, the prospect of war greatly diminished with the demise of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. The Western world (or at least its military establishment) had to find a new enemy to justify its existence. And this arrived in the form of militant Islam, Al Qaeda, and all that. And when they’re gone, it’ll be rampant polar bears or something.

In fact it’s surprising that there’s so little rumour of war these days. Back in my teens in 1960 or so, us kids would wonder when the next world war would start, and who would start it. Would it be the Russians? Or the Chinese? Or Israel? We were all quite sure we’d be fighting in trenches in a few years time. Or being incinerated by atomic weapons. In a world in which there is near hysteria about the threat of passive smoking or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, even the Greens seem to be nonchalant about war – which historically has been a far more terrifying prospect than anything else. Funny that. They usually never miss a trick when it comes to painting scary future scenarios.

Anyway, the problem with eugenic thinking, as I see it, is that it pretends to know what is an “improvement” or what is “suitable” before the event. It’s like all those things you put in your bags when you go on holiday to some unknown destination, and then you arrive wish you’d brought something else. You never get it right. And you never can get it right.

And this is as much true of war as it is of foreign holidays. Neither the First World War nor the Second World War went “according to plan”. The plans were the first casualties.

About Frank Davis

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11 Responses to Eugenic Society

  1. Anonymous says:

    Just as humanity has made gods in its own images, so eugenicists have made ‘perfection’ out of their own preconceptions, assumptions and cultural contexts. In its earliest form, with Beatrice Webb and her cronies, it was the feckless, criminal, drinking classes who produced another generation of feckless drunken criminals, who needed to be culled. The Nazis began their eugenics programme by killing those born with mental retardation as they were merely a burden on the greater society. None of these idealists ever thinks that their own class, sex, height, colour are suitable for the needle or gas chamber. And yet, in Darwinian terms, as you rightly point out, their approach is inimical to authentic evolution, and they therefore represent the greatest threat to the survival of our species.
    PT Barnum

  2. Anonymous says:

    Annexing France
    “n fact it’s surprising that there’s so little rumour of war these days.”
    Frank, when I am prime minister I plan on invading France. Normandy belongs to the Crown anyway due to William the Foreigner in 1066 and all that, so I plan to take back Normandy and then invent some pretext to annex the rest of France. I think it’s a real vote winner because French people don’t vote in the UK. My invasion plans are running a little late though due to the fact that I am not actually in office, or a member of a political party, or intending to run for PM anytime. But apart from all that my invasion plans for war are bang on schedule.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Re: Annexing France
    1066 – unfinished business there, Fredrik.
    However if we could just keep to WW2 round three, attack of the bodysnatchers,for just a bit longer, we can tie up those other loose ends later at our leisure.

  4. Anonymous says:

    By the way Frank, if you did make that cider, but left the sludge in the bottom of the bowl, as you probably know, you can feed it with a large pinch of cracked wheat as a yeast nutrient.
    If you then fill the vessel up again with 3 parts water to 1 part local honey at no more than lukewarm, in a lunar month you will have a party.
    If you replace the mead taken with the same 3 to 1 mixture, you can have another party perhaps a week later.
    If you take a jug of that bubbling mead and put some sort of herb in it, until the mead smells more of the herb than of itself, you get a rough and ready tincture.
    If you put those of your choice together you get a metheglyn – medicine.
    Which would obviously be very wrong.
    What Medical Writers Say
    Superintendent of the Department of Medical Temperance
    for the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union
    Published by the
    “If the medical profession is responsible for the wide-spread belief that alcoholics are of service to mankind both as food and medicine, it should not be forgotten that it is to members of the same profession the world is indebted for the correction of these errors.
    All down through the centuries there have been physicians who doubted and opposed its claims to merit. It remained for the medical science of the latter half of the nineteenth century to clearly demonstrate with nicely adjusted chemical apparatus and appliances the wisdom of these doubts.
    The scientific study of the effects of alcohol upon the human body began about sixty years ago.
    The first American investigator was Dr. Nathan S. Davis, of Chicago, who was the founder of the American Medical Association. ”
    So transparent, these people.

  5. Anonymous says:

    That one started out as quietly wondering why bobbing for apples in ice cold water is supposed to be fun.
    It made no sense and I detected the hand of puritanism.
    Apples contain malic acid though I substituted lemon juice when I last made mead.

  6. Frank Davis says:

    Another successful blackberry and apple pie today (using a recipe)
    By the way Frank, if you did make that cider, but left the sludge in the bottom of the bowl, as you probably know, you can feed it with a large pinch of cracked wheat as a yeast nutrient.
    I almost certainly don’t know! I’m not much of a cook or gardener. I can experiment a bit.
    In the absence of a liquidiser (nice thought to tele-transport one here!:-)) I’m wondering whether I might not peel a lot of apples, boil them up with sugar and water to produce a very thin apple puree (more a soup), allow it to cool, and then add the apple peel in the hope that there’s wild yeast on it, cover it, and keep it in a warm place. Then, when it’s stopped working, strain it and bottle it. Does that sound senseless?
    It might be a disastrous failure. But I’d rather try to do something than nothing at all.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Don’t know if you’ve seen this on the eugenics driven (under the guise of environmentalism) banning of DDT:
    It’s interesting reading the SPPIblog and the correlations to the smoking ban i.e. nothing to do with health and all about control.

  8. Anonymous says:

    How to crush a tree load of apples without a liquidiser or a press…
    Heavy duty polythene bags and drive the car over them, then wring the pulp through a tea towel?
    Deep freeze them and smash them with a hammer?
    I’m not sure boiling them is a good idea and you don’t need sugar.
    While we are thinking you can capture the wild yeast and start it going.
    Here’s one I wrote earlier –
    In a clear jam jar without a lid, place an apple from an unsprayed tree, fill half way with a 3 parts water, one part honey mixture at no more than blood heat.
    Cover with clingfilm, don’t use a lid, or when the honey starts to ferment it will explode.
    After a few days in a warm place, bubbles will form on the apple, when bubbles start rising from the bottom of the jar, the yeast culture is ready to use.
    You can buy all sorts of commercial yeasts but its fun to see what the local one can do.
    Here’s an idea.
    “Put the fruit in a tub or polythene dustbin and crush it with a “masher”, a heavy baulk of timber.
    Then express the juice by wrapping the fruit a little at a time in a stout cloth and twisting or pressing it.
    Collect the juice in a jar.”
    First Steps in Winemaking
    This looks like its going to get very messy.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I remember reading in a (fictional) sci-fi novel many years ago a line which I have always remembered which ran along the lines of: “Once a species becomes civilised, the whole process of natural selection grinds to a halt.” Which of course is true – the moment the strong and the able-bodied become “civilised” enough to care for the weak, the sick, the disabled and the elderly, rather than just leaving them to the whims of nature, those in society whom Eugenicists might perhaps regard as “unworthy” or “a burden” are enabled to survive and, often, to pass on their “faulty” genes to a new generation.
    I think this is a vastly overlooked element of our modern society – probably because it raises so many unpalatable moral and ethical dilemmas that nobody wants to be the first one to mention it. There’s no doubt in my mind that modern medicine and technology are contributing to a greatly weakened gene pool, and one which, if we go on the way we are now, only serves to become weaker still with succeeding generations. I don’t think it is purely an accident that the number of children suffering with asthma, or allergies, or mental disorders like ADHD or dyslexia (although I think the politically-correct term these days is “learning disability”) has increased exponentially in Western societies. Neither can it all be blamed on modern living, or pollution, or divorce, or single-parent families, or passive smoking, or junk food, or fizzy drinks – all of which have been cited at various times as being “to blame” for pretty much all of these complaints, and many others, over the years. Never, ever, has it been suggested that these conditions may simply be due to the fact that there are simply more “wonky gene” carriers around these days of breeding age and the simple law of statistics means that more of these people are getting together and producing “double wonky gene” carrying children, who suffer the consequences as a result.
    But what do we do about it? Forego our humanity and let the “devil take the hindmost,” as nature does? For certain our gene pool would benefit from such an approach, but what would we lose in terms of our real humanity? Could we even, under those circumstances, still describe ourselves as “human” in the true sense of the word if we, for the sake of our species, decide to deliberately suppress what must surely be one of the few elements of our nature which actually does make us “better” than other animals? This is, essentially what Eugenicists propose doing in an accelerated format – albeit that in their case they prefer to replace the trials of nature with their own personal preferences and they conveniently overlook the disadvantages which come from artificially “breeding in” certain traits, which inevitably means “weeding out” others – just take a look at the health problems of over-bred pedigree dogs if you want a graphic illustration of what happens when genetics are forcibly manipulated to allow “desired” traits to elbow aside less “desired” ones.
    Or do we continue in our present-day, (generally) enlightened and compassionate way, accepting, supporting and caring for those less fortunate than the majority and enabling them to live productive and happy lives, but accept that, the further we progress, technically, socially and medically in this respect, the gene pool of future generations will be – possibly very significantly – weakened because of it?
    I certainly don’t pretend to have an answer, but I think that it’s one of the most important issues facing humanity – if not for this generation then almost certainly for the next. Sadly, at the moment, it’s being firmly swept under the carpet by everyone except, of course, supporters of the Eugenics movement themselves, whose motivations stem less from concern for human beings in general than they do from their own sense of superiority and their desire to establish themselves as mini-Gods by virtue of that perceived superiority. And to leave such a matter purely in the hands of such power-hungry and clearly personally-motivated people is, I think, extremely unwise.
    In fact, I think that the only person for the job is in fact you, Frank – so get to it and sort it out, will you, before the Eugenicists get there first??? ;)

  10. Anonymous says:

    Cider Press
    Might be worth trying a home brew shop if you have one near by. My local one has a cider press available for hire, though I haven’t tried it.

  11. Frank Davis says:

    In fact, I think that the only person for the job is in fact you, Frank –
    Really now, I’m not that good. And I’m not that perfect. Much as I’d like to be.
    Truth is, I’m just another fallen angel like you are.

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