Hey! Randy

The Ten Percent Solution

Posted by heyrandy on August 20, 2009

The War Against the Weak Edwin Black, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003. 550pgs, index, end notes.

Most Americans have not heard of Francis Galton. They do not know that he discovered fingerprints, was the distant cousin of Charles Darwin, and was  obsessed with counting and organizing everything he came across. He also invented eugenics.

What is eugenics? It is the mostly forgotten attempt to improve the human race. It sounds like a noble goal. After all, who can be against improvement? Don’t we improve animal and plant strains. Its a process has produced much good. What is wrong with that?

If all we were talking about was an improvement in cows and corn we would let Mr. Galton’s invention be forgotten. But the eugenics movement didn’t confine itself to farm husbandry. The movement spread, metastasized would be a better term, using the principles of heredity to try to engineer a super race. Galton’s ideas would be the basis of a movement that he would protest against. Galton wanted to increase the population of the upper 10% and leave the rest alone. Being an evolutionist he figured the worst of mankind would die of by itself. He did.

The goal of the movement as it was practiced in America was to eradicate the worst 10% of the human population. This would ensure improvement of the rest of the mankind. That was the dream. The reality was the nightmare.

Originating in England with Galton, the movement did not ever catch on there but instead spread to America in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the Progressive Era. The movement caught on with racial bigots. It seemed so easy to divide up the human race into subordinate racial divisions and then classify the divisions into the desirable and undesirable categories. Who gets to make the distinctions, and who decides which is the most acceptable race? The politicians influenced by the self-certified experts appointed the bureaucrats who passed judgment on the helpless. These bureaucrats deciding, often on little evidence, into which category each person should be place. In areas of great racial segregation the consequences of being in a less esteemed class could be serious. But politics influenced everything. In Virginia when the eugenics laws were being drafted, the prominent families that traced their lineage back to the Indians objected to classifying the Indians as inferior. An exception was made.

The underlying arrogance was that those who decide who is desirable always classified themselves as desirable. No big surprise. But as Black shows, the matter of race (the eugenicists had trouble deciding who was what) was not the only issue. What were considered inherited diseases were a major factor in the eugenics movement. Listed as hereditary were such diseases as drunkenness, pauperism, and prostitution.

Huge efforts, funded by the Carnegie and the Rockefeller foundations, were made to trace ancestry. Questionnaires were used to determine such characteristics as loyalty, honesty, faithfulness, and sobriety in addition to physical characteristics. All of this information was filed at the eugenics movement’s headquarters in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. The information would remain in storage for decades, ignored because it was useless.

The quackery is now evident to us, but at the time there were only a few voices raising the protest. Black lists some, such as H.L Mencken, and an the author of a pseudonymous booklet that used the principal eugenicists’ own words against them. While there was incisive criticism by the opponents, it was not enough to sway the politicians from enacting laws permitting compulsory sterilization and laws prohibiting miscegenation.

The Supreme Court would later overturn the miscegenation laws, but the sterilization laws were upheld by no less a light the Oliver Wendell Holmes who wrote for the majority (8-1) in the case of Bell vs. Buck that “three generation of imbeciles is enough.” Justice Holmes’ comments did not apply to those on the Supreme Court who voted with him.

The Buck case was a setup from the beginning. Its purpose was to get a favorable court ruling concerning forced sterilization. Carrie Buck was the daughter of a woman who was confined to a state hospital for the unfit because she said that she was a prostitute. Carrie was removed from her custody by an administrative court judge who had her place in his home so his wife could use her as free domestic help and rent her out to other families.

Carrie gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Vivian, who was declared abnormal by a bogus expert. The expert testified that there was something wrong with the infant. Just what was never stated. That assertion was enough for the court to rule that Carrie should be sterilized. The court arranged for her court appointed lawyer, an arrant eugenicist, to appeal. The whole process was a sham. (Such is administrative law, but that is another essay.)

Once the Supreme Court ruled, thousands of men and women were forcibly sterilized, some without their even knowing that it had been done.

The most controversial aspect of eugenics was euthanasia. There were vocal advocates of euthanasia in the U.S., but there was little practice, only a few very ill babies were left alone to die, and this without legal cover. Germany would make up for the lack.

As bad as eugenics was in the U.S., it reached the malignant state in Germany. Hitler adopted it with alacrity. Eugenics would provide the science he needed to proceed with his racial program. The eugenic ideal race was Nordic, exactly what Hitler needed. No thought was given to how this Nordic standard became to be the ideal, nor was any thought given as to how the Nordic race became distinct from the rest of mankind. The irony of the Nazi eugenics is that Germany was allied with the Japanese, who were regarded as an inferior group, yet at war with the British, a group deemed to be superior.

There is the even greater irony of the war crimes trials. Here Germans were judged by Americans for eugenic practices that the Americans inspired. (The additional irony is that “crimes against humanity” is an undefined law; it was created ex post facto, illegal under the American constitution; all the eugenic acts performed by the Nazis were legal under German law; and, most amazingly, the biggest criminals of all, the Russians, were allowed to be judges. For more, see Victor’s Justice. It is well known that the war started when Germany invaded Poland. It is also well known but ignored that when Germany invade Poland from the west, Russia invaded Poland from the east. Why did England and France declare war on Germany but not Russia? For more, see Buchanan’s controversial book, Hitler, Churchill and the Unnecessary War.)

Black’s documentation is extensive. Much of his research was probably done when he was working on his previous book about IBM and the Nazis. It turns out that the IBM company sold the Germans computer equipment that enabled the Nazis to quickly sort out who had the most Aryan blood. Black says that the only records that he could not get access to were those of IBM. The company would not grant any access to him.

Black ends his book with a chapter of speculation on the future of genetics. Genetics is not the same thing as eugenics, but it is an development from the remains of the eugenics movement. With the advances in genetics what is the future? There is already widespread gender specific abortion (causing a huge imbalance in the population in China) as well as talk of designer babies. While the eugenics movement is gone from memory, it is not as dead as its victims.

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