Eugenics Revival Watch: Scientific American editor, Mariette DiChristina, calls eugenic goals expressed in 1911 “lofty aspirations”

Curiously, the editor at the Scientific American website (Mariette DiChristina) recently approved the posting, with only minimal comment, of an editorial written in its pages 100 years ago, in 1911, advocating eugenics. Here are three quotes from the editorial:

It is not enough to take care of an insane man. To discharge him after a period of a few months or a few years and brand him as cured, when his whole family history points to the fact that he is a hereditary epileptic or lunatic, and to place no barriers in his path when he attempts to marry, is statesmanship of the poorest order.

If the Eugenist has his way, “well-born” will acquire a new meaning. It will not cease to mean descent from a proud and noble race that has accomplished great things in the past, but it will also mean that the stock descended from that race is composed of men and women who will live up to its traditions, who will have that perfect physique and stable mental organization which Maudsley, that most literary and philosophical of psychiatrists, calls “the highest sanity.”

And:

The proper attitude to be taken toward the perpetuation of poor types is that which has been attributed to [Thomas Henry] Huxley. “We are sorry for you,” he is reported to have said; “we will do our best for you (and in so doing we elevate ourselves, since mercy blesses him that gives and him that takes), but we deny you the right to parentage. You may live, but you must not propagate.”

And:

Mendelian principles have no doubt long been followed by professional animal breeders in an empirical way, but only within recent years have enough data been accumulated to show that they apply with equal force to human beings. We know enough about the laws of heredity, we have enough statistics from insane asylums and prisons, we have enough genealogies, to show that, although we may not be able directly to improve the human race as we improve the breed of guinea pigs, rabbits or cows, because of the rebellious spirit of mankind, yet the time has come when the lawmaker should join hands with the scientist, and at least check the propagation of the unfit. Prizes have been offered to crack trotters for beating their own record, $10,000 for a fifth of a second, all for the purpose of evolving a precious two-minute horse. Yet we hear of no prizes which are offered for that much worthier object, the physically and intellectually perfect man.

Notice, in the last quote, the advocacy of financial reward linked to genetically improving a human being, and the analogy to horse racing. Also notice, in the first two quotes, that a goal being promoted is a change in the law: the 1911 editors of Scientific American want some persons denied the human right to reproduce.

And, of the 1911 article’s reprint, the editor at the Scientific American website made this brief comment:

Editor’s note: This editorial was written and published in 1911. Although our editors of a century ago pondered some lofty aspirations for the orderly future of humans, it was only three decades later that the brutal reality of a Nazi social order suffused with a eugenicist ideal brought home the practical shortcomings of the philosophy.

This is an odd way of putting it, don’t you think? Notice that the editor calls eugenic goals “lofty aspirations for the orderly future of humans” complicated only by pragmatic considerations: eugenics has “practical shortcomings”.

Those “practical shortcomings”, of course, were manifested by a “brutal reality”: the Nazis did not pursue eugenics in a universal humanist spirit, but in a Herderian, Machiavellian, and Nietzschean one.

But what if the “practical shortcomings” of 20th century eugenics can be overcome in the 21st century?

If contemporary humanists like, say, atheist geneticist Jerry Coyne or Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins—both of whom affirm the universal brotherhood of man—consented to guide eugenic efforts (as opposed to Herderians, Machiavellians, or Nietzscheans), should we go forward with attempting to achieve the “lofty aspirations” associated with eugenics?

The Scientific American editor does not say. Nor does Jerry Coyne. Though a prolific blogger, he appears never to have directly addressed the subject of whether eugenics is something humans should pursue in the 21st century. Richard Dawkins, however, is expressly interested in placing the eugenics discussion on the table.  

Maybe it should be talked about, for surely this time we wouldn’t cock it up like the Nazis did, right? And surely it’s reasonable to keep up with the Herderian Chinese leadership on the eugenics front.

Isn’t it?

Below is a quote from Samuel Lipoff’s review (from the Harvard Asia Pacific Review) of a book on eugenics in China. It offers a sense of the current “state of play” of eugenics there: 

Although the state has only recently taken an official role in the control of human reproduction, its current policies stem from the age-old concept of the individual’s responsibility to the collective. It is this emphasis on the collective good that has driven modern eugenics discourse since the late nineteenth century, when Chinese intellectuals, the well-to-do gentry, and government officials explored how to improve the Chinese race after the arrival of the stronger Western imperialist nations. Indeed, nationalism in its many forms remains an important force in eugenics today. Dikötter shows that it is the introduction of modern science in China, particularly after World War I, that opened the real possibility of implementing the eugenic vision. It is in the republican era (1911-1948) that elites called for increased intervention of medical professionals and the state into the sexual lives of citizens.

Will Herderian nationalism drive eugenic efforts in the same manner as it did in the 20th century, or will humanist internationalists change the dynamics of this extraordinarily dangerous and high-stakes technology race?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to Eugenics Revival Watch: Scientific American editor, Mariette DiChristina, calls eugenic goals expressed in 1911 “lofty aspirations”

  1. andrewclunn says:

    It can’t be stopped. It’s coming. The question is whether it shall be state run toward the ends of the rulers, or within the free market where parents will decide the course of their own progeny. Eugenics is an idea that will come to fruition within my life time I think. And I’m glad for it. Though the methodology of the Chinese at this moment is pseudo-scientific and thus worthless. We’re not quite there, and my children shall be born the natural way, but my grandchildren; for them a bold new future await.

  2. conservative says:

    There are two excellent documentaries about the declining human population in the world, especially the young population. Demographic Winter and Demographic Bomb. Do a search on google and you’ll find the official site, where you can watch the trailers.

    Among those interviewed in these documentaries is Gary Becker, an American economist who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1992. This is what he says: “Adam Smith, perhaps the greatest economist in history said that economic prosperity is associated with population increase, while economic depression – he didn’t use that word, but that’s what he meant- is associated with a decreasing population.”

    A prosperous economy depends on a young and working population. Presently, Europe and other parts of the world have an aging population that is mostly retired. Here we have a larger young population, but many are not working, young people who had children very early, dropped out of high school and now they’re on social programs.

    Becker and other people who are interviewed in these two documentaries are warning that in about 30 to 40 years we are going to end up in the worst economic depression in modern history.

    There will be fewer children and young people in the world’s population, in the next 30 to 40 years. As the tagline of the documentary says: “Children will carry the burden of the world”. Since there will be more older people than young and children, two possible scenarios emerge. The first, young people and children will end up working to support the elderly. In that case, the “internationalist humanists” will resort back to child labor. They’ll have arguments to justify it, don’t worry about that. Just like they rationalize and justify anything totalitarian and inhumane today. China’s Communist regime has many fans among Western liberals who use environmentalism as an argument to justify the one-child policy. Did anyone ever think about that possibility?… Fifty years ago, this kind of mentality would have been considered inhumane and insane, but today it’s more acceptable, thanks to pop culture and Socialist-environmentalist indoctrination.

    These documentary films also address the myths on which the eugenics population control movement and policies, were built, including overpopulation and the environmental scare. The environmental propaganda is the work of demagogues like Gore who uses texts from the Bible to come up with apocalyptic global warming scenarios. 🙂 In that sense, Gore is no better than Harold Camping, the only difference is that he doesn’t set dates for the end.

    In these documentaries, there are interviews with insiders who worked for population control organizations, and you’ll see how the UN used coercive tactics or financial incentives to make people from third world countries abandon their decision to have more children. There is also an interesting paradox that the filmmakers observed. In third world countries, where there’s a lot of poverty, people tend to have more children per family. Meanwhile, in developed industrialized countries, people have fewer children. That blows away the argument that people don’t have children because of economic conditions. If that were true, people in the West should have more children because they have higher living standards than people in poor countries. They don’t want more children because the culture they live in promotes selfishness, hedonism and it was heavily influenced by the feminist movement.

    So getting back to the two possible scenarios related to population decrease. In the other possible scenario, the state will simply eliminate older people through “mercy killing”. The same left wing anti-Christian, anti-American “humanists” are promoting euthanasia. Most of them are not Communists or statists, they are just useful idiots, like Lenin called them. They are being used by the statist eugenics elites.

    Margaret Sanger, a notorious racist, feminist and eugenics enthusiast, is one of the heroes of the Liberal elites. Hitler read and liked her eugenics ideas. Among other things, Sanger contributed to the hatred against the traditional family and declared war against children. “Childbearing is the greatest evil of our time”, that’s what she said. Sanger was the founder of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is a corrupt organization, it was behind the project to sterilize black people during segregation. PP continues to exist with tens of millions of dollars in profits made from the killing of unborn human children and the loyal support of some politicians, who support giving taxpayer money to this criminal enterprise in the name of “a woman’s right to choose”.

    Santi, your argument that “internationalist humanists” like Dawkins will not follow the Nazi model is very naïve, to say the least. Just because someone doesn’t call himself a Nazi or wear a Nazi uniform, that doesn’t mean they can’t have the same mentality. There are some on the far Left in the Obama administration, including Obama, they don’t call themselves Communists or wear a Soviet uniform, but they are pushing America in the same direction.

    I bet if somebody would have warned average Germans who voted for Hitler that their country will be in ruins in a couple of years, they would have laughed and dismissed the whole thing as “fear mongering”. Their beloved Fuehrer knew what he was doing, they thought. That’s how American left wing liberals think, their beloved leader knows what he’s doing. He’s too smart to make any mistakes and too nice to do anything evil. The big media like CNN and ABC is telling them so, with religious zeal and assurance.

    So much for open minded and enlightened individuals who haven’t learned anything from history.

  3. conservative Scott says:

    There are two excellent documentaries about the declining human population in the world, especially the young population. Demographic Winter and Demographic Bomb. Do a search on google and you’ll find the official site, where you can watch the trailers.

    Among those interviewed in these documentaries is Gary Becker, an American economist who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1992. This is what he says: “Adam Smith, perhaps the greatest economist in history said that economic prosperity is associated with population increase, while economic depression – he didn’t use that word, but that’s what he meant- is associated with a decreasing population.”

    They also show a correlation between the retirement of the baby boomers and the start of the current recession.

    A prosperous economy depends on a young and working population, and on technological innovation. Becker and other people who are interviewed in these two documentaries are warning that in about 40 years we are going to end up in the worst economic depression in modern history.

    These documentaries are very interesting.

  4. Pingback: Eugenics Revival Watch: What’s Richard Dawkins’s Position on Eugenics? | Prometheus Unbound

  5. Pingback: George Church’s Brave New World (and Ours) | Prometheus Unbound

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