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Mar 23 2014

The Eugenics Creed

Salon has a good essay on Charles Davenport, a prominent American biologist from the first half of the 20th century who was one of the loudest voices promoting the eugenics movement. Oh, let’s call it what it was: the Wealthy White Racist movement. It begins with the tale of Carrie Buck, as was previously told by Stephen Jay Gould (pdf) — a young woman, raped by the nephew of her foster parents, who was then punished by sterilization for being one of the shiftless, ignorant and worthless class of anti-social whites of the South. It’s all part of the ongoing war on women, especially poor, minority women, that has been going on for a long, long time.

Davenport’s awful and influential work is discussed — read it and gag — but one thing that jumped out at me as particularly creepy was Davenport’s Eugenics Creed.

I believe in striving to raise the human race to the highest plane of social organization, of cooperative work and of effective endeavor.

I believe that I am the trustee of the germ plasm that I carry; that this has been passed on to me through thousands of generations before me; and that I betray the trust if (that germ plasm being good) I so act as to jeopardize it, with its excellent possibilities, or, from motives of personal convenience, to unduly limit offspring.

I believe that, having made our choice in marriage carefully, we, the married pair, should seek to have 4 to 6 children in order that our carefully selected germ plasm shall be reproduced in adequate degree and that this preferred stock shall not be swamped by that less carefully selected.

I believe in such a selection of immigrants as shall not tend to adulterate our national germ plasm with socially unfit traits.

I believe in repressing my instincts when to follow them would injure the next generation.

Oh, my, his precious germ plasm — it must be promulgated to fend off the brown hordes. Blech. Must take a shower now. It’s like reading vdare.com…it just incites extreme disgust.

88 comments

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  1. 1
    imthegenieicandoanything

    “Purity” is pretty much, whenever used outside of chemicals, is – oddly but somehow properly – the filthiest, most corrupting and sickest idea that has ever perverted a human mind. “Racial purity” may well be the worst use ever of that twisted, inhuman idea.

  2. 2
    rq

    I betray the trust if (that germ plasm being good) I so act as to jeopardize it, with its excellent possibilities, or, from motives of personal convenience, to unduly limit offspring.

    Wow. *shudder* So many wrong things can be derived from this (subjugation of women, rape, no abortion, etc.). Wow.

  3. 3
    Dunc

    @1: “Radial purity” – or, as we call it in any other species, “inbreeding”…

  4. 4
    Al Dente

    I believe in such a selection of immigrants as shall not tend to adulterate our national germ plasm with socially unfit traits.

    The Tea Party is in favor of this idea..

  5. 5
    Kevin Alexander

    If you could produce a superior human by careful breeding then you could explain Prince Charles.

  6. 6
    Zeno

    Is this like precious bodily fluids and life essence?

  7. 7
    sambarge

    This guy is no doubt, um, odd but we should be careful about our understanding of the eugenics movement. It was remarkably popular in the early part of the 20th century and not only with racists. Many first wave feminists and early social progressives were in favour of eugenics as well. Until the 2nd World War exposed what state sponsored eugenics really looked like and we, as a civilization, refined the concept of individual human rights (still refining, I think it’s safe to say) eugenics seemed to make a lot of sense to some people.

    If nothing else, eugenicists of the period were the only people seriously advocating for the proliferation of birth control.

    Anyway, eugenics is horrific and everyone with any sense had completely abandoned it by 1945, of that there is no doubt. I wouldn’t even have posted this sort of mewling defense of some eugenicists except that recently, in Canada, our terrible, right-wing, pro-God and controlling women party, the Conservatives tried throwing serious shade on Tommy Douglas, the Greatest CanadianTM. Tommy is the father of Canadian healthcare (and the grandfather of Keifer Sutherland,but I digress) but back in the 1920s and 30s, as a Baptist minister in Saskatchewan, Tommy supported eugenics. He abandoned and repudiated the theory and practice early but that doesn’t stop intellectually and historically dishonest fuck nuts like Stephen Harper’s Cons from acting all “holier than though” about it.

  8. 8
    mykroft

    I seem to recall a document related the the Discovery Institute’s wedge strategy that listed this as one of the “evils” caused by a belief in evolution. Darwin was reported as saying that we humans breed indiscriminately, something no good farmer would allow in his stock. My response to the religious on this has always been to ask if people have misused Scripture over the ages to justify evil acts, and if so does that make Christianity evil? I know what the answer would be in this forum, but against the religious it seems to work as an argument.

    Here is a more interesting question, one perfect for this forum. Where are the moral lines in someone with a potentially debilitating genetic disease wanting to have children? With modern medicine, they may survive, potentially even prospering, but they and their descendants may live dependent on medical intervention. This places a burden on the medical infrastructure. Do we as a society have any right to tell them not to reproduce? Should we allow medicine to skew the frequency of some deleterious alleles in the human gene pool?

    My opinion is that we as a society do not have that right, but we do have an obligation to properly educate people on the science and on the implications. Unfortunately, that is something we do not do well in many places, either because our schools are poorly funded or the science classes have been crippled due to religious beliefs.

  9. 9
    azhael

    Arseholes like that would love nothing more than to be parthenogenetic.
    I hate that the word eugenics is so tied to these profoundly stupid, racist ideas…the word means good genes! Natural selection is an eugenic phenomenon, genetic therapy is an eugenic phenomenon…nothing bad or disgustingly racist about those! It´s all about what the criteria are…if your criteria are eye colour and lack of melanin, you are a stupid piece of shit that´s inadvertedly plotting for your own demise as a gene pool (so much for your delusions of superiority), but if your criterion is the elimination of genetic diseases like huntington´s disease, through voluntary involvement, your offspring AND the gene pool will benefit and we get to preserve all the wonderful variation without the lethal genes. Now that´s the eugenics that deserves its name.

  10. 10
    Johnny Pez

    Is this like precious bodily fluids and life essence?

    I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence.

  11. 11
    Moggie

    It’s sobering how support for eugenics crossed political boundaries in the early 20th century. It’s no surprise (to me) that someone like Winston Churchill was an enthusiastic supporter, but it also had support from many influential thinkers on the left, such as Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, H G Wells and George Bernard Shaw.

    Looking back on that era, and reading supporters of contraception and women’s rights call for forced sterilisation, while the Catholic church denounced this as evil, it feels strange to find myself agreeing with the pope and vehemently disagreeing with progressive figures.

  12. 12
    Akira MacKenzie

    I believe that I am the trustee of the germ plasm that I carry; that this has been passed on to me through thousands of generations before me; and that I betray the trust if (that germ plasm being good) I so act as to jeopardize it, with its excellent possibilities, or, from motives of personal convenience, to unduly limit offspring.

    Hmmmm… that sounds familar. Oh, that’s right:

    “MY SEED IS LIQUID FUCKING GOLD!”

    (Still the funniest thing I’ve listened to in ages.)

  13. 13
    karley jojohnston

    #1 ““Purity” is pretty much, whenever used outside of chemicals, is – oddly but somehow properly – the filthiest, most corrupting and sickest idea that has ever perverted a human mind. “Racial purity” may well be the worst use ever of that twisted, inhuman idea.”

    That reminds me of something I read once about conservatives and liberals having different moral foundations. One of the differences was that conservatives (generally) have a “purity” metric that is (again generally) absent in liberals.

  14. 14
    karley jojohnston

    Ah, the Moral Foundation Theory. Here’s the wiki:

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_Foundations_Theory

  15. 15
    The Mellow Monkey

    sambarge @ 7

    This guy is no doubt, um, odd but we should be careful about our understanding of the eugenics movement. It was remarkably popular in the early part of the 20th century and not only with racists. Many first wave feminists and early social progressives were in favour of eugenics as well.

    This is why it’s best to hold up ideas as worthy and not people. People are messy and complicated and imperfect. We can admire some things a person did and said and abhor others.

    American Indian and Black women were still being sterilized in significant numbers into the 1970s. The last official forcible sterilization under US law took place in Oregon in 1981, IIRC. There are people who are still alive–and they’re only in early middle age!–who were the victims of this movement.

    A lot of people who did otherwise fantastic things supported eugenics. We can admire the good they did, but there is absolutely no reason to give them slack on this particular issue. The response when someone tries to smear a historical figure because they supported eugenics is not to defend eugenics. Don’t support the figure. Support the specific good they accomplished, and then you too can decry their shitty inhumane beliefs and the horrific fucking nightmare those beliefs inflicted on others.

  16. 16
    opposablethumbs

    Please, please tell me this excrescence never married or otherwise got the chance to ruin some unfortunate woman’s life, or had kids …. but I’d be so unsurprised if he did. Revolting. rq called it at #2.

  17. 17
    don1

    ‘I believe in repressing my instincts when to follow them would injure the next generation.’

    Those instincts, you should pay more attention to them. They may be telling you that it’s time to extend the gene pool. Or just that people can arouse your instincts regardless of race or optimum plasm. No injury.

  18. 18
    don1

    Moggie

    Shaw was a pretty much horrible person who does the left no credit. Wells, maybe less so but still presents problems.

  19. 19
    DanDare

    We must preserve our precious bodily fluids, otherwise the preverts might do something.

  20. 20
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re @9:

    …the word means good genes! Natural selection is an eugenic phenomenon, …

    Oh, I agree, BUT, be careful with the use of dictionaries. What’s most important is not the definition of words but how they are *used*, that is the real *meaning* of words. EUGENICS has become a ‘euphemism’ for “kill all the defective genes” [with all the racist implications of "defective"] as well as “Only these genes [mine] are worth propagating into the future”. (Godwin, stay away) Regardless of its ‘true meaning’, Eugenics has become a trigger word for racism. I too, lament its degradation to a trigger word, but that’s how we use words, as shortcuts for “concepts”. [having a hard time using words to talk about how awful we are at using words. See, I'm getting meta already...]

  21. 21
    mykroft

    I think we will always have those people who will latch on to and accept ideas that appear to make them better/more privileged than others. Racism provides a default population that one is always better than. Religion makes you one of the “chosen ones”. Eugenics was popular with those society elites that assumed their position (based on privilege, primarily) was because they were genetically superior. Misogyny gives some males a sense of natural superiority to half the population.

    Without these mental crutches, one has to go to the trouble of actually learning what the other person is like to judge their character, or for that matter to acknowledge that they are fully human. With them, one can blithely discount the achievements of others, because they literally “don’t count”. One can justify denying others access to opportunities, because they don’t deserve it by definition. One can even justify removing them from the gene pool, either by sterilization or by gas chamber, because of their “natural” inferiority.

  22. 22
    raven

    Amazon.com:
    Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement [Hardcover] Christine Rosen

    Book Description
    Publication Date: March 4, 2004 | ISBN-10: 019515679X | ISBN-13: 978-0195156799
    With our success in mapping the human genome, the possibility of altering our genetic futures has given rise to difficult ethical questions. Although opponents of genetic manipulation frequently raise the specter of eugenics, our contemporary debates about bioethics often take place in a historical vacuum. In fact, American religious leaders raised similarly challenging ethical questions in the first half of the twentieth century.

    Preaching Eugenics tells how Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders confronted and, in many cases, enthusiastically embraced eugenics-a movement that embodied progressive attitudes about modern science at the time. Christine Rosen argues that religious leaders pursued eugenics precisely when they moved away from traditional religious tenets. The liberals and modernists-those who challenged their churches to embrace modernity-became the eugenics movement’s most enthusiastic supporters. Their participation played an important part in the success of the American eugenics movement.

    FWIW, quite a few xians were supporters of eugenics as well.

    This is relevant because creationists today frequently blame eugenics on Darwin, “Darwinists” and atheists.

    I don’t believe that Rosen’s statement that it was just liberal xians is true. The current torch bearers of eugenics in disguised form are mostly fundie xians. Many of them in the south still think miscegnation, interaccial marriage, is a perverted idea and many white supremacists are part of xian identity, including of course, the Ku Klux Klan.

  23. 23
    twas brillig (stevem)

    I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence.

    [Don't get my Kubrick fanboy started...]
    He was “impotent”, he only “claimed” to withhold it, to appear always in control of everything, but still blamed his impotence on Flouridation [and Ant-Flouridation is still an issue], so he only drank rainwater or vodka [iirc] to restore his “manly essence”. And the secret code he used to keep us from recalling the bombers was P.O.E. (Purity Of Essence). How ironic, that “Poe” is so often an issue on these interwebs (o_O)
    [Kubrick was a genius prophet] /fanboy

  24. 24
    thinkfree83

    The staggering mediocrity of the House of Windsor does more to discredit the notion of eugenics than anything the Nazis did.

  25. 25
    raven

    29% of Mississippi Republicans Still Think Interracial Marriage …
    www. dailymail. co.uk/…/As-Republicans-head-polls-Deep-South-29-Miss…‎

    Mar 13, 2012 – The pivotal primaries in Alabama and Mississippi come as a new poll … that 21 per cent of GOP voters in the state oppose interracial marriage, rising to 29 per cent in Mississippi. This number falls to a still significant 21 per cent among … Interracial marriage has been legal across the U.S. since June 1967,…

    One of the drivers for opposing interracial marriage was and is…eugenics. The idea that this dilutes precious white blood with that of inferior races.

    And it is still alive and well in fundie areas. 29% of Mississippi and 21% of Alabama GOPers still oppose it.

  26. 26
    Marcus Ranum

    The staggering mediocrity of the House of Windsor does more to discredit the notion of eugenics than anything the Nazis did.

    Some of the Roman emperors appear to have also been trying to argue against eugenics in the same sort of way…
    (I suppose the eugenics fans think “leadership” is an inheritable trait?)

  27. 27
    Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD

    So that’s why there were people talking about it on the radio today. It does appear to have been one of those things that straddled the political divide, there were eugenicists on the Left and the Right. With some believing that the current aristocracy had been marrying for beauty and wealth rather than fecundity which was why they wanted to replace the current lot.

    When selection is not at random, but directed, you might get some better effects (don’t have kids with someone with a recessive gene that is going to combine rather lethally with one of yours) but the trouble is that genetics can be somewhat of a crapshoot. Especially with the ‘what exactly are you selecting for?’ problem. Sure selective breeding can bring out characteristics considered valuable on farms, but it can also produce ‘purebred’ dogs with significant health problems where appearance has been prioritised over working hips.

  28. 28
    timgueguen

    It’s interesting to see animal husbandry used as a rationalisation for eugenics when you see the results of breeding for very specific traits in dogs and cats. You have Persian cats who have breathing problems because of the shape of their faces, and bull dogs that in most cases can’t give birth naturally. I suspect that a concerted effort to breed for say human intelligence would also have unintended consequences. And of course the racist asshats who tend to be the folks today would balk at breeding the most intelligent non-white people with the most intelligent non-white people, which is what you’d want to do to select for highest intelligence.

  29. 29
    timgueguen

    Ooops, should have been a “who support eugenics today” after “the folks.”

  30. 30
    timgueguen

    Meh, and one of those “non-whites” should have been a “white.”

  31. 31
    marcus

    azhael @ 9 Natural selection is an eugenic phenomenon…
    Not really, natural selection is gene neutral except so far as it adapts a species to its environment. The natural selection that helped adapt African populations to malaria by making them susceptible to sickle-cell anemia would hardly be called the result of “good” genes (except with regard to that specific environment)

  32. 32
    raven

    dailykos:
    Genetic Cleansing for God by big annie . 2007:

    Richard Rothstein at Queer Sighted has a disturbing story on Rev. R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

    According to Rothstein:

    One of the nation’s leading Southern Baptists has called for a policy that would support medical treatment, if it were to become available, to change the sexual orientation of a fetus inside its mother’s womb from homosexual to heterosexual. This latest assault on our dignity and existence comes from no less a personage than Rev. R. Albert Mohler, the president of the prominent and influential Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

    Eugenics is still alive and well in the Dark Side of our society. This wasn’t written in 1920, it was in 2007.

    Says it all above. Al Mohler wants to genetically get rid of gays.

    Al Mohler is a leader of the Southern Baptists and a small case monster who is always good for a laugh.

  33. 33
    Inaji

    Moggie @ 11:

    Looking back on that era, and reading supporters of contraception and women’s rights call for forced sterilisation, while the Catholic church denounced this as evil, it feels strange to find myself agreeing with the pope and vehemently disagreeing with progressive figures.

    Well, console yourself in the fact that the church wasn’t opposing for good reasons – they simply didn’t want there to be any reproductive control in place whatsoever. That’s god’s business, y’know. Besides, it was the poor and downtrodden who filled pews.

  34. 34
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    The Mellow Monkey #15

    A lot of people who did otherwise fantastic things supported eugenics. We can admire the good they did, but there is absolutely no reason to give them slack on this particular issue. The response when someone tries to smear a historical figure because they supported eugenics is not to defend eugenics. Don’t support the figure. Support the specific good they accomplished, and then you too can decry their shitty inhumane beliefs and the horrific fucking nightmare those beliefs inflicted on others.

    Indeed, a lot of people who did fantastic things in one area were utter shitheads in a lot of others. This is because a)everyone’s a shithead about something, some of the time, and b) most times and place have been pretty shitty for a whole lot of people in a whole lot of ways, and as products of those times and places, those who grow up in them tend to be inculcated with a lot of shitty ideas, beliefs and attitudes. Pretty much all of recorded history was notably shittier than the present, and part of that was because of really, really shitty cultures, which produced people with really shitty attitudes, and those people definitely included the ones working to make things less shitty in some way or another.

    timgueguen #28

    It’s interesting to see animal husbandry used as a rationalisation for eugenics when you see the results of breeding for very specific traits in dogs and cats.

    That, all by itself, is the refutation for the idea of eugenics from any humanistic perspective. We breed animals for very specific traits; a very good draft horse will lose every race it’s ever put in, while a thoroughbred champion will fall down in the traces inside a month if you made it pull a dray all the day. When you breed for certain traits, there’s a trade-off, and you lose other capacities. Eugenics, in practice, would be a Brave New World, as it were; a caste system as bad or worse than any in history. And that would be the case regardless of whether it ‘worked’ or not.

  35. 35
    twas brillig (stevem)

    @27:

    With some believing that the current aristocracy had been marrying for beauty and wealth rather than fecundity which was why they wanted to replace the current lot.

    But of course — peahens love flamboyantly colored peacocks and that must be true for girls going for rich guys who are exceedingly wealthy. :(

  36. 36
    Inaji

    Dalillama:

    Eugenics, in practice, would be a Brave New World, as it were; a caste system as bad or worse than any in history. And that would be the case regardless of whether it ‘worked’ or not.

    Yes, with much culling. Even so, there are way too many people who don’t see that as a problem in any way.

  37. 37
    loreo

    “It does appear to have been one of those things that straddled the political divide, there were eugenicists on the Left and the Right.”

    Goes to show how narrow that divide can be and has been in the USA, when the power players on the “Left” and “Right” are mostly straight white able-bodied able-minded people. Differences of opinion about funding schools and regulating business don’t create real diversity in politics.

  38. 38
    Bronze Dog

    I remember seeing some news report on a woman who liked cats with this little kink in their forelegs. She ended up selectively breeding for it until they had a 90 degree inward bend, which, of course, made it very difficult for them to move around. Neighbors wanted her charged with animal cruelty, but apparently intentionally breeding cruel traits into them didn’t count.

    I’m never going to have a purebred pet. I’ll take mongrel vitality any day. It’s sadly ironic that notions of genetic purity lead to all those genetic defects in pets. Yet there are still people who think doing it to humans is fine and dandy.

    @twas brillig:
    Euphemism is the right word. I think ‘racist dog whistle’ is another appropriate term. As a euphemism, it attempts to whitewash the ‘cull the weak’ part. As a racist dog whistle, it attempts to disguise the motivation as a health issue rather than punishing minorities and reinforcing privilege.

  39. 39
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Inaji #36

    Yes, with much culling. Even so, there are way too many people who don’t see that as a problem in any way.

    I know. That’s why I specified a humanistic perspective. There’s a whole lot of philosophies and ideologies out there that haven’t got one of those, and don’t like the idea of one either. I like to make this fact clear about them whenever I get the chance, in hopes that it will lead other to the same revulsion I feel towards them.

  40. 40
    Inaji

    Opposablethumbs @ 16:

    Please, please tell me this excrescence never married or otherwise got the chance to ruin some unfortunate woman’s life, or had kids …. but I’d be so unsurprised if he did.

    I had to do some digging, but finally found this – seems old Charles’s germ plasm didn’t live on:

    Davenport married a smart, scientifically inclined woman like himself, and they had three children: Millia (“Billie”), Jane and Charles Jr. When Billie was born, her dad assumed she would be like him: enthusiastic about nature, studious, pious and careful about managing money. The eugenics expert couldn’t have been more wrong about his own daughter (pictured with the family above). Adopting androgynous dress in vogue at the time, she became a flapper. She married a fellow bohemian who soon abandoned her for another woman. Then she married a millionaire. To her father’s horror, it was a Jewish millionaire with children from a previous marriage. That marriage eventually dissolved, too. Between Billie’s failure to make a lasting match, Jane’s husband’s failure to live up to the eugenic ideal of robust health, and little Charlie Davenport’s untimely death from polio, America’s foremost eugenicist left behind no grandchildren.

    http://www.strangescience.net/davenport.htm

  41. 41
    Inaji

    Bronze Dog:

    I’m never going to have a purebred pet.

    Awww, that’s a bit sad. One of our monster dogs is a purebred, that’s not his fault. Jayne is a rescue – he’s very large (120 lbs) and developmentally delayed. For all that, he’s still a happy, healthy, loving sort of guy, and deserves a good home.

  42. 42
    Shatterface

    It’s sobering how support for eugenics crossed political boundaries in the early 20th century. It’s no surprise (to me) that someone like Winston Churchill was an enthusiastic supporter, but it also had support from many influential thinkers on the left, such as Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, H G Wells and George Bernard Shaw.

    Off hand, the only 19th Century figure I can think of who opposed eugenics for secular reasons was Peter Kropotkin.

  43. 43
    Inaji

    Mykroft:

    Where are the moral lines in someone with a potentially debilitating genetic disease wanting to have children?

    Before that could even begin to be answered, you’d have to decide just who gets to make the judgment on what constitutes a debilitating disease. Once you hand that power to someone[s], it’s all over. And if you’re going to go that far, you might as well go all the way – I’m one of millions who was not born with a debilitating disease, however, I have developed one. So, are we now to report to a center for euthanization? After all, I’m sure we wouldn’t wish to be a burden.

  44. 44
    Pteryxx

    re Mellow Monkey @15:

    American Indian and Black women were still being sterilized in significant numbers into the 1970s. The last official forcible sterilization under US law took place in Oregon in 1981, IIRC. There are people who are still alive–and they’re only in early middle age!–who were the victims of this movement.

    “Under US law” – but women were still being forcibly sterilized very recently. California was sterilizing female prison inmates up to 2010, in breach of its own rules: Guardian source

    • Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals – and there were perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s.

    • Former inmates and prisoner advocates say prison medical staff coerced the women into agreeing to the surgeries, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future. [...]

    • One former inmate, who gave birth to a son in October 2006, said she repeatedly was pressured to agree to a tubal ligation, including while at the hospital under sedation for her C-section. “He said, ‘So we’re going to be doing this tubal ligation, right?’ ” she said. “I’m like, ‘Tubal ligation? What are you talking about? I don’t want any procedure. I just want to have my baby.’ I went into a straight panic.”

  45. 45
    Inaji

    And a more subtle approach: Quinacrine, Depo-Provera, Norplant & Women of Color Reproductive Justice

    Thanks, Giliell!

  46. 46
    playonwords

    Did any of the eugenics crowd ever consider hybrid vigour? (Yes, PZ, I know that “hybrid vigour” is not a term in favour in modern biology but it is a useful slogan to use against the persons supporting purity of essence)

  47. 47
    Seize

    Building on sambarge at 11

    It’s important to note that there were a LOT of ideas about how eugenics could be implemented, some of which were entirely monstrous and some of which have actually become part of our modern public health programs. “Eugenics” is a surprising place to find shades of grey, but they exist even here.

    Example: Margaret Sanger, while she believed in a quest for racial improvement, believed that “it must be autonomous, self-directive, and not imposed from without” (1921). Her idea was to give every woman of child-bearing potential education about the science of eugenics and access to safe, effective birth control, and that this would lead to self-directed racial improvement from the ground floor.

  48. 48
    Inaji

    Seize:

    Her idea was to give every woman of child-bearing potential education about the science of eugenics and access to safe, effective birth control, and that this would lead to self-directed racial improvement from the ground floor.

    Right, because you could, of course, trust the untrustworthy classes to make a decision to voluntarily take themselves out of the breeding race.

    Even when couched in somewhat more humanistic terms, the eugenics Sanger believed in were mighty ugly.

  49. 49
    Seize

    @ Inaji @ 45 is great information about why even great public health advancements must be implemented centered on a sense of ethics.

    While the off-label use of quinicrine is unsafe and should not be considered except in circumstances where no other option for voluntary sterilization is available, Norplant and Depo are both very good forms of birth control for many women. However, just like the month-long doses of antipsychotic medication which are now available, these long-acting methods of birth control are predisposed toward involuntary administration and use as extrajudiciary forms of social control.

  50. 50
    Seize

    @ Inaji: agreed. I think it’s interesting and important, as a pro-choice women who believes in ready availability of contraceptives, to know the history of this kind of movement in the past. Knowing this history helps us not cross ethical boundaries when providing contraceptive options and services to historically disadvantaged populations today.

  51. 51
    Shatterface

    I’m one of millions who was not born with a debilitating disease, however, I have developed one.

    Me too. Personally I think the human race as a whole benefits from a degree of neurodiversity.

  52. 52
    opposablethumbs

    seems old Charles’s germ plasm didn’t live on:

    How about that, eh. Thanks for the curious bit of info, Inaji!

  53. 53
    Seize

    The UV lights of history were not kind to that germ plasm.

  54. 54
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Inaji
    Hehe, I was just digging that link up again.

    +++
    It’s a part of reproductive justice us privileged folks often forget: The right to actually have kids without people interfering and not to be seen as a public threat for having the audacity to reproduce

  55. 55
    Pierce R. Butler

    Better to call Davenport’s dogma The Eugenic Screed.

  56. 56
    azhael

    Not really, natural selection is gene neutral except so far as it adapts a species to its environment. The natural selection that helped adapt African populations to malaria by making them susceptible to sickle-cell anemia would hardly be called the result of “good” genes (except with regard to that specific environment)

    Natural selection selects for fitness, whatever that happens to be in the specific context the gene finds itself in. What is fit is what i would call good in this particular case. I see your point, though, but i was equating fit with good.

    Oh, I agree, BUT, be careful with the use of dictionaries. What’s most important is not the definition of words but how they are *used*, that is the real *meaning* of words. EUGENICS has become a ‘euphemism’ for “kill all the defective genes” [with all the racist implications of "defective"] as well as “Only these genes [mine] are worth propagating into the future”. (Godwin, stay away) Regardless of its ‘true meaning’, Eugenics has become a trigger word for racism. I too, lament its degradation to a trigger word, but that’s how we use words, as shortcuts for “concepts”. [having a hard time using words to talk about how awful we are at using words. See, I'm getting meta already...]

    I know, i know, that´s why i said that i hate that this potentially wonderful word has been so thoroughly attached to the horrors of racist motivated genocide. The greek roots sound quite beautiful (as greek usually does) and the word could have been associated with something amazing but the word is lost to a concept that disgusts me to my core.

  57. 57
    azhael

    Shit, i used the blocquote thingies….sorry everybody :S

  58. 58
    Seize

    Giliell

    The right to actually have kids without people interfering and not to be seen as a public threat for having the audacity to reproduce

    QFT. I am still haunted by an early experience in my research where I met a woman, 26 years old, black, three kids, tubal ligation. I myself was 23 and had been trying to get a tubal ligation for years, and could not get one because I was “too young.” When I asked her how she got it she told me that she has needed C-section for her third child and that the ob-gyn had nonchalantly offered to do the tubal during the C-section and she’d agreed. No counseling, no nothing, and she agreed to a life-altering surgery while dealing with labor pains.

  59. 59
    vaiyt

    I believe in such a selection of immigrants as shall not tend to adulterate our national germ plasm with socially unfit traits.

    The gibberish, it hurts.

  60. 60
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    You know, you can basically start doubting any enterprise the minute they have a “creed” which adherents are supposed to swear to and/or repeat ad nauseum. The whole idea is “you shouldn’t think about these things, let us do the thinking for you in advance” — which automatically suggests that the whole enterprise has something dodgy about it, and the people writing the creed know it on some level. Nicene Creed? Pledge of Allegiance? The Catholic Mass? It’s all to get these things wired into your brain in one phrasing.

    I’m not even necessarily exempting things like the Hippocratic Oath — the original form was an oath to Apollo, and included a section about not helping anyone seek out an abortion. Stop those brains from thinking! Loyalty is more important!

    @59, vaiyt:

    It’s technically grammatically correct. He believes that immigrants should be chosen to avoid the “unfit”. It’s just wrapped up in the kind of language people use when they’re writing this kind of thing.

  61. 61
    Bronze Dog

    I know, i know, that´s why i said that i hate that this potentially wonderful word has been so thoroughly attached to the horrors of racist motivated genocide. The greek roots sound quite beautiful (as greek usually does) and the word could have been associated with something amazing but the word is lost to a concept that disgusts me to my core.

    Recently I read an entry in TV Tropes about outfits with good stats but appearances that would make someone think twice about wearing them (mostly videogame stuff). One example involved an alien offering a super powered uniform to a human so he could do great heroic deeds. Unfortunately, the alien wasn’t up to date with 20th century history, so he was surprised to find the human turned down the opportunity to be “Captain Swastika.”

  62. 62
    serena

    This sounds exactly like the “Liquid Fucking Gold” guy. There really is nothing new under the sun isn’t there…

  63. 63
    serena

    And I’m the impatient idiot who didn’t read the comments before posting what many others already did.

  64. 64
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Somewhat to her credit, Margaret Sanger pushed back against the “women who are deemed “fit” should have oodles of babies” part of eugenics. She also – for all her flaws – decided to center educating women in her programs.

    That is not to diminish her racist views or excuse them in any way.

  65. 65
    Seize

    That is not to diminish her racist views or excuse them in any way.

    We should always talk about our noted predecessors’ flaws when we talk about their achievements. No gods, and no heroes.

  66. 66
    Seize

    And I’m the impatient idiot who didn’t read the comments before posting what many others already did.

    Serena, the “Skip to comment field” linkie is a legitimate secular temptation to sin.

  67. 67
    John A

    You know, you can basically start doubting any enterprise the minute they have a “creed” which adherents are supposed to swear to and/or repeat ad nauseum.

    In almost no cases is that true.

  68. 68
    Inaji

    John A:

    In almost no cases is that true.

    Except in the case of atheistic polemics, eh? Why don’t you just right to your religious point, Cupcake?

  69. 69
    Inaji

    *sigh*

    just get right to your religious point.

  70. 70
    John A

    Except in the case of atheistic polemics, eh?

    Funny I didn’t see the part in that link about atheists always spouting the same thing. Maybe you could quote it?

    Why don’t you just right to your religious point, Cupcake?

    My point? Ohhh where to begin.

  71. 71
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    My point? Ohhh where to begin.

    Start at the beginning, and evidence your way throughout.

  72. 72
    anteprepro

    John A

    My point? Ohhh where to begin.

    Translation: “Watch as I stall for time while I start finding things to pull out of my ass until I finally settle on something that I feel is important enough for me to sincerely defend”

  73. 73
    Inaji

    anteprepro:

    Translation: “Watch as I stall for time while I start finding things to pull out of my ass until I finally settle on something that I feel is important enough for me to sincerely defend”

    This should be somewhat interesting, as John A exhibits a need to hide in the deepities of serious vagueness.

  74. 74
    gijoel

    I’m amused that Davenport’s name is an insult on Archer

  75. 75
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    My point? Ohhh where to begin.

    Have you checked the top of your head?

  76. 76
    anuran

    Wasn’t this the era that gave us the large scale “improvement” of dog breeds by breeding for “conformation” instead of utility?

    (Yes, that old term “Notorious Crime Against Nature” has real meaning. But only if you read it as AKC instead of sodomy. I quite literally cried the day those ham-fisted holdovers recognized Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. Two more wonderful types of dogs will be ruined in my lifetime)

  77. 77
    mykroft

    Inaji @43:
    My intent was to start a discussion, in a forum with many lurkers who might learn from the debate. I am NOT for any form of society control on human reproduction, which I had stated.

    Sorry if my raising the question as a trigger for you. I shall go back into lurking mode.

  78. 78
    chigau (違う)

    mykroft
    Have a nice day.

  79. 79
    vaiyt

    And of course the racist asshats who tend to be the folks today would balk at breeding the most intelligent white people with the most intelligent non-white people, which is what you’d want to do to select for highest intelligence.

    Eugenics Land is always set up with a few assumptions:

    1) Genetic advantages are self-evident by performance outcomes.
    2) The superiority of individuals within the white men group is evidence of superiority for white men as a whole.
    3) The average performance of people within a group that’s not white men is evidence of inferiority for any individual within the not white men groups.

    Coupling 1 and 3 already excludes women and most minorities from the breed-greater-intelligence programs beforehand.

  80. 80
    Scr... Archivist

    Davenport’s “creed” sounds like a long-winded version of “the fourteen words”.

    And as for his plans for his descendents, Davenport reminds me of Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. It would be funny if his children hadn’t suffered so.

  81. 81
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @pterryxx #44

    Please, please tell me that someone, somewhere was punished for that. Please? I genuinely don’t think my residual faith in humanity can survive the knowledge that people were being coerced into being sterilised, and everyone involved got away with it.

  82. 82
    devilsadvocate

    Lets not blame the South for Eugenics – that was mostly the privy of California Universities and Feminists who spread it to the Nazis:

    http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Eugenics-and-the-Nazis-the-California-2549771.php
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Perkins_Gilman

  83. 83
    devilsadvocate

    @Thumper: Token Breeder

    Please, please tell me that someone, somewhere was punished for that. Please? I genuinely don’t think my residual faith in humanity can survive the knowledge that people were being coerced into being sterilised, and everyone involved got away with it.

    Here in California we didn’t coerce, we just did it. We spread our enlightened views of gas chambers for the genetically unfit from California Universities to Nazi Germany where it took hold in ways the U.C. Board of Regents couldn’t have dreamed possible in the United States:

    http://hnn.us/article/1796

    Why do you think Joss Whedon portrays the University of California as evil, sociopathic, human rights violators in Dollhouse, Buffy, and Angel? Anytime he writes a show he will directly target the California University system and portray them as human rights violators.

  84. 84
    Pteryxx

    Thumper:

    @pterryxx #44

    Please, please tell me that someone, somewhere was punished for that. Please? I genuinely don’t think my residual faith in humanity can survive the knowledge that people were being coerced into being sterilised, and everyone involved got away with it.

    I’m sorry, but the news isn’t good so far. These forced sterilizations only came to light in July 2013 because a reporter followed up a tip from prisoner advocates. Until then nobody had bothered to notice all these sterilizations going on without the legally required permission or oversight. People got angry, California lawmakers started hearings to get to the bottom of it, and as far as I could determine they’re still in progress. There’s quibbling over missing records and sloppy oversight, and the physician responsible for the majority (but not all) of the questionable surgeries has been put out to pasture as of Dec 2012.

    Jackson told committee members that the audit is intended to answer several questions about why the tubal ligations were performed, especially given California’s history of forced sterilization of inmates stretching from the early 1900s to the 1970s.

    “For those of us who serve in state government, this is irrevocably unacceptable,” Jackson said. “The fact that this is the 21st century and we have to ask our state auditor to see if women are being coercively sterilized is absolutely unconscionable and, frankly, revolting.”

    State Auditor Elaine Howle said the review would examine the roles, responsibilities, policies and past practices of the state prison system and its federal receivership. The receiver has overseen medical care in all 33 of the state’s prisons since 2006, when U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that inmate health care was so poor that it violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

    Source – Aug 2013

    In February, Jackson introduced a bill to ban prisoner sterilizations outright unless medically indicated: Source

    Spearheaded by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, SB 1135 would ban sterilizations for birth control purposes in all state and local correctional institutions. Surgeries would be restricted to life-threatening medical emergencies and the curing of physical ailments, according to documents obtained by The Center for Investigative Reporting.

    The bill is the culmination of talks among lawmakers, prison rights advocates and correctional officials that occurred in the wake of a CIR investigation that found 132 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules from 2006 to 2010 — and perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s. Former inmates and prisoner advocates told CIR that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

    The Center for Investigative Reporting broke the initial story in July. Jackson intends her legislation to be up for a hearing in the spring.

    CIR’s follow-up on this doctor shows he has a history of malpractice suits, botched treatments and unsanitary practices, such as performing vaginal exams without gloves; and besides the illegal tubal ligations, he also sterilized hundreds more inmates through other procedures such as hysterectomies and endometrial ablations: Source

    Overall, the number of sterilization surgeries sharply increased after Heinrich joined the prison system and the federal court began oversight.

    One year after Heinrich’s hire, Valley State arranged for 23 inmates to have their tubes tied – the most ever for a California women’s prison in a single year since 1997, the earliest year for which prison sterilization statistics are available. From 2006 to 2008, Valley State averaged 150 sterilization surgeries of all types annually – six times that of the Central California Women’s Facility, the largest women’s prison in the state.

    And this is his attitude about it: Source

    During an interview with CIR, Heinrich said he provided an important service to poor women who faced health risks in future pregnancies because of past cesarean sections. The 69-year-old Bay Area physician denied pressuring anyone and expressed surprise that local contract doctors had charged for the surgeries. He described the $147,460 total as minimal.

    “Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money,” Heinrich said, “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more.”

    The top medical manager at Valley State Prison from 2005 to 2008 characterized the surgeries as an empowerment issue for female inmates, providing them the same options as women on the outside. Daun Martin, a licensed psychologist, also claimed that some pregnant women, particularly those on drugs or who were homeless, would commit crimes so they could return to prison for better health care.

    “Do I criticize those women for manipulating the system because they’re pregnant? Absolutely not,” Martin, 73, said. “But I don’t think it should happen. And I’d like to find ways to decrease that.”

    [...]

    Heinrich considers the questions raised about his medical care unfair and said he is suspicious about the women’s motives. Heinrich insists he worked hard to give inmates high-quality medical treatment, adding that hundreds of appreciative prisoners could vouch for that.

    “They all wanted it done,” he said of the sterilizations. “If they come a year or two later saying, ‘Somebody forced me to have this done,’ that’s a lie. That’s somebody looking for the state to give them a handout.

    “My guess is that the only reason you do that is not because you feel wronged, but that you want to stay on the state’s dole somehow.”

    A former inmate speaking to CIR: (emphasis mine)

    Montano, 42, was serving time after pleading guilty to burglary, forgery and receiving stolen property. The mother of seven children, she said neither Heinrich nor the medical staff told her why she needed a tubal ligation.

    “I figured that’s just what happens in prison – that that’s the best kind of doctor you’re going get,” Montano said. “He never told me nothing about nothing.”

    Montano eagerly agreed to the surgery and said she still considers it a positive in her life.

  85. 85
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Pteryxx

    Oh :( at least it looks as though something is being done. An enquiry, the suspension of the performing physician, introduction of a bill to ban the procedure at prisons (not sure about that one; surely those women should have the option? It’s the coercion that bothers me, if they’re having it done in full possession of the facts and with full consent then that’s fine); this, to me, shows someone somewhere gives a shit.

    Regarding Heinrich himself (how ironic is it that he has that name?), this phrase:

    That’s somebody looking for the state to give them a handout.

    “My guess is that the only reason you do that is not because you feel wronged, but that you want to stay on the state’s dole somehow.”

    is a dead fucking give away.

  86. 86
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Devilsadvocate #83

    Here in California we didn’t coerce, we just did it.

    Yeah Pteryxx’s initial link gave a brief history. Forced up until the ’70′s, coercion thereafter. It fucking sucks on every possible level, and has genuinely upset me a bit.

    I’m going to read up on the history of California’s contribution to global eugenics. It promises to be a fucking depressing read, but I genuinely had no idea of the connection.

  87. 87
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Thumper

    introduction of a bill to ban the procedure at prisons (not sure about that one; surely those women should have the option? It’s the coercion that bothers me, if they’re having it done in full possession of the facts and with full consent then that’s fine);

    Coercion vs. consent for things like this can become pretty murky in a situation of imprisonment. I tend to favor this bill, and my few reservations would be entirely satisfied if I knew that full reprorductive (and other, but that’s beside the point) were available without charge outside the prison. That is to say, women who want the procedure (or an equivalent one) currently often have difficulty getting it, for financial and other access reasons. In a situation where that wasn’t the case, a total ban on doing any such thing while someone was in prisons would have no downsides, really(The downside in the current situation being that some people who want the procedure and are imprisoned can’t get it elsewhere, which is a pretty small downside on my view given the reasons it’s being passed in the first place) . Even people who want to be sterilized/ not reproduce don’t,typically have opportunities for potentially reproductive sex while incarcerated, making their current state of fertility rather a moot point.

  88. 88
    Bryce Lee

    To whomever commented to the effect that everyone of note had abandoned Eugenics by 1945, I offer this:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=UBJWsbEHmT4C&pg=PA188&lpg=PA188&dq=margaret+sanger+eugenics+1945&source=bl&ots=pml6sZZvyh&sig=TyEkJY24KJcLs3Nq86Hb1YKwZf0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=pOkyU-G1MMPMsQTfzoDAAw&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=margaret%20sanger%20eugenics%201945&f=false

    On the page you will find that by 1950 Margaret Sanger was still a committed believer.

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