The Absurdity Of Eugenics

I’ve been slowly reading the Illiberal Reformers by Thomas C. Leonard over the Christmas holiday, and came across this passage (p. 112) about Francis Galton:

Karl Pearson, Galton’s biographer and scientific heir, said that Galton envisioned eugenics as a national creed amounting to a religious faith. What, after all, could be more worthy of devotion than the cause that seemed to aim so squarely at human betterment?

Galton was an effective preacher. Nearing the  end of his life, he envisioned the moment when public opinion had ripened sufficiently for scientists to declare “a Jehad or Holy War” on all “customs and prejudices that impair the physical and moral qualities of our race.”

I couldn’t help but think that Islamic Daesh/ISIL’s war on smoking was exactly the sort of jihad that Galton envisioned. It also meant that Galton was himself a jihadi, like all the public health jihadis today. Underneath all the “science” there lurked a tyrannical little bully who would declare war on any custom which he had convinced himself  was “impairing the physical and moral qualities of the race”.

Galton was a cousin of Charles Darwin. But it has always seemed to me that his eugenics turns the theory of evolution entirely on its head. As is pointed out (p.119):

Darwin regarded fitness as the outcome of a selective process. Darwinian fitness is determined only retrospectively. Eugenics, however, is premised on the survival of the unfit, so eugenics requires that the fittest be determined before the selective process.

Or, to put it another way, the “fittest” in the Darwinian scheme of evolution are the survivors of a struggle for existence in the natural world. But in Galton’s absurd inverted eugenic scheme, the “fittest” are those that are chosen from the outset to be the survivors, in the same way that plant or animal breeders select only those plants and animals with the traits they desire, and discard the rest. In an evolutionary process, the right answer only pops out at the end. But in a eugenic process, you start with the answer you want, and make sure you keep that answer.

It need not apply to plants or animals or humans. It might apply to numbers. One might imagine an evolutionary mathematical engine which will sort through several million different numbers to find the single right answer, which is unknown at the outset. And one might also imagine an equivalent eugenic mathematical engine in which the “right answer” is entered at the outset, and all the other millions of “wrong answers” are subsequently discarded. Both engines appear to be doing the same thing, but they are actually behaving in completely different ways.

The problem may have arisen because in The Origin of Species, Darwin started by comparing the evolutionary process of “natural selection” with the artificial process of selection employed by plant and animal breeders, and thereby managed to conflate two entirely different processes together.

Smokers and drinkers and fat people may well be “unfit” in evolutionary terms. But we will only find out over the course of time, as they either prosper or become extinct. But modern public health jihadis, in true eugenic fashion, have decided in advance that such people are unfit, and need to be removed. They already know the “right answer”. But how do they know? But how do they decide who is, and who isn’t, unfit? How do they decide what’s “better”?

This seems to have been a problem that has afflicted eugenics throughout its history. Different eugenicists identified different cases of unfitness. For some people the “unfit” were black people, Chinese coolies, and criminals. For others the “unfit” were the poor, or the insane, or the blind. And in some cases the “unfit” were even the rich (p. 123).

With fitness conceptually untethered from survival, it was also possible to bemoan the “idiots and cretins” among the rich. Thorsten Veblen mercilessly lampooned the conspicuous consumption of America’s Gilded Age leisure class. Veblen’s view was that capitalists produced nothing of value and then spent fortunes on equally worthless goods to parade their wealth. How had such useless people prospered? Veblen found his answer in heredity: the capitalist was able to exploit everyone else because he had inherited an atavistic, predatory race instinct.

If fitness is arbitrarily decided in advance, absolutely anyone may be deemed to be “unfit”. And the pointed finger of accusation is always moving from one group of people to another. In the past it was blacks and Jews and homosexuals. Now it’s smokers and drinkers and fat people. Next it’ll be rappers, teenagers, and merchant bankers. And so on, indefinitely into the future.

But none of the eugenicists ever identify themselves as examples of “unfitness”. Their fingers are always pointed at somebody else. Thorsten Veblen wasn’t a member of the American leisure class. And Francis Galton wasn’t either a pauper or a black man. Might it be that eugenics is a game of Pass The Parcel, with the aim of not being left holding it? Might it be that all the Deborah Arnotts and Stanton Glantzes fear that they will themselves be identified as “unfit”, and “useless” (which of course they are), and so keep attention focused on smokers and drinkers and fat people, and thus away from themselves? And is Public Health just an exercise in loud name-calling?

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16 Responses to The Absurdity Of Eugenics

  1. Rose says:

    the “fittest” are those that are chosen from the outset to be the survivors, in the same way that plant or animal breeders select only those plants and animals with the traits they desire, and discard the rest

    Not quite, plant breeders and to an extent animal breeders know perfectly well that hybrids and pedigrees can have their own problems and weaknesses, so access to the original wild stock is essential if the new strains are not to fail under some unexpected future problem that the wild species are immune to.

    I don’t think that the Eugenicists ever had the good sense to even think of that, being carried away on a torrent of words generated by the Latest Big Idea is no substitute for practically.
    After all, from our own experience, just how many of those “unexpected consequences” have happened entirely as a direct result of anti-tobacco and it’s useful idiots’ half thought-out policies.

    It’s a simple maxim, Don’t mess with what you don’t understand.

    • beobrigitte says:

      After all, from our own experience, just how many of those “unexpected consequences” have happened entirely as a direct result of anti-tobacco and it’s useful idiots’ half thought-out policies.

      I have nothing to add.

    • nisakiman says:

      …plant breeders and to an extent animal breeders know perfectly well that hybrids and pedigrees can have their own problems and weaknesses…

      A classic example in the animal world is both massive and obvious, and that is the case of pedigree dogs. Just about every breed suffers from a genetic shortcoming particular to that breed.

      Siberian Husky: Autoimmune Disorders. …
      Bulldog: Respiratory Problems. …
      Pug: Eye Problems. …
      German Shepherd: Hip Dysplasia. …
      Labrador Retriever: Obesity. …
      Beagle: Epilepsy. …
      Shih Tzu: Wobbly Kneecaps. …
      Boxer: Cancer.

      Etc etc. The only dogs that don’t have these problems are mongrels.

  2. Harleyrider1978 says:

    Funny how it’s always what they decide is right not nature as that leaves everything they hate still existing on and on!

    They’re way selectively removed it by force not nature! Then we have another war for survival!

    • Rose says:

      It is strange isn’t Harley, fire, alcohol and food – all natural things, alcohol forms by itself as a part of decomposition, you can’t just stop it happening, the earth sets fire to bits of itself regulary and some plants depend on that so much that their seeds can’t germinate without it, foods of various sorts keep things living and growing until their turn to be compost comes around.

      They may rail against nature and the things they don’t like but in the scheme of things they are a very minor and passing irritation.

  3. garyk30 says:

    99.9% of the ,known,species that have ever existed have gone extinct.
    Selective breeding or killing will make no difference.

    Also, no matter who you are, everyone is going to die.
    And, they will probably(85%) die from the smoking ’caused’ heart diseases, cancers, or respiratory diseases.

    This includes the self proclaimed, better than everyone else, elitists.

  4. magnetic01 says:

    Eugenics is a physicalist framework. Its [dangerous] fixation is physical health alone and the use of poor markers for physical health – risk factorology.

    If physical health alone is the perverse fixation, Tobacco Control has provided some “wonderful” specimens of physical health. Stan Glantz and John Banzhaf III have been “giants” (width-wise) of Tobacco Control. These two neurotic, bigoted, megalomaniacal, greedy, lying plonkers have been with the prohibition crusade from the beginning in the late-1960s. Both have headed rabid antismoking groups, i.e., Action on Smoking & Health and Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights. Below are some recent photos of the two in all their physical health “glory”. Both their heads seem to be disappearing into ever-fattening bodies. Note, too, in the second article that Glantz is attempting to apply the Tobacco Control template to climate change. There must be money in it for him: Glantz doesn’t do anything unless there’s money in it for him.

    Stan Glantz
    http://www.ggbreathe.org/its-about-a-billion-lives/
    [see photo mid-article]

    https://climateone.org/events/cigarettes-tailpipes-tales-two-industries
    [photos at bottom. Glantz is the really fat one with the white beard]

    • Roberto says:

      Yes, Glantz and Banzhaff are as far as one can go from the healthist ideal, they are obviously infirm and physically unfit, but their worse handicap is their intellectual low stature. At least Galton, whether right or wrong, was a thinker, a man of ideas, an intellectual leader. Glantz and Banzhaf are the visible leaders grey of a herd of intellectual mediocrities. They will be remembered as smart ass prohibitionist ideologues excelling in political manipulation. The fact that they (together with other characters like Chapman and Repace) are the visible leadership of the anti-tobacco movement speaks volumes of the intellectual misery and bureaucratic grayness of this movement.

      Tobacco control academics are not the first politically powerful clique indulging in crude manipulation of science to further a political ideology. Up to the late 1950’s Stalin’s favorite biologist, A Lisenko, directed a similar clique that controlled implacably all biological research the USSR, opposing genetics because it clashed with Stalinist dogma. History was not kind with Lisenkoist ideologically distorted junk science, it will not be kind with tobacco control academics junk science.

  5. Tony says:

    On yesterday’s post a commentator called Ralf Dekker mentioned a story about DNA damage supposedly caused by smoking.

    Perhaps this one on which Steve Milloy, of JunkScience.com, commented:

    “‘Epigenetics’ is the latest in progressive science fraud. Resurrected Lamarckism. https://t.co/AbsIG5WQKv

    I haven’t really looked at it properly yet but the headline is “Smoking leaves 30-year legacy on your DNA”

  6. waltc says:

    As though one trait could determine fitness. If so, Stephen Hawking –who must have had a lousy gene–would have been aborted in the womb–or, as was done in the eugenicists’ hey-day, his mother sterilized. If smoking determined fitness, there goes Einstein, Churchill, FDR, Picasso and countless writers, artists, musicians. . As Magnetico comments, there’s more to life and the value of life (to both the individual and the society) than mere physicality or even longevity.

  7. Barry Homan says:

    Again, the famous quote by Mark Twain: “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits. Fanatics will never learn this, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky.”

  8. alanxxx says:

    And another thing, we appear to idolise some people who as if prove they are fit for survival by destruction testing it. I mean there is a mystique around self destructive creatives – Charlie Parker springs most to mind. We make heroes out of Lord Byron, Jim Morrison and the like, not Edwin Chadwick or Joseph Bazalgette.

    Frankie Lymon didn’t survive his 20’s, and he was fantastic.

    Eugenics is a con. There are people who are in government now who essentially believe that the fact of their wealth displays their fitness to survive, and therefore rule.

    One Hungarian politician in the 19th century put it very well, to paraphrase his words – I do not discrminate against the poor, there is no need to as God has already done so . . .

  9. Clicky says:

  10. Lepercolonist says:

    Francis Galton did not know about DNA or modern human genetics. Many couples abort their fetuses that have Down’s Syndrome or Tay-Sachs disease in their DNA. You can say that this is a form of eugenics. Adolph Hitler’s extreme programs have destroyed the eugenic movement of the early 20th century.

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