Last week we talked about how our brain works on a metaphorical level. This gives us a simple way to grasp a very complex system and I will be referring back to them from time to time. Understanding the different layers and how they interact can provide some insight into why we do what we do. The question then becomes are we simply at the whims of nature and our genetics or do we (and by we, I mean individually and collectively) have real control over our thoughts, behaviors, and actions? To most people the answer is simple, yes. However, there are some who believe that we are slaves to our genes or basically that there is very little that we control. Social Darwinism is the idea the humans are under the same laws of natural selection as wild animals and plants. I had always been told that the followers of these ideals believed that most of human behavior, intelligence, and morality was innate and inherited genetically. They subscribed to the notion that different races have evolved to be superior to others. When I first read terms,” like begets like” and other statements about race improvement I was a bit confused about what they actually believed. If one believed that they were superior and that like begets like then why the need for eugenics (using the same techniques for breeding animals so you could ensure that your race not only maintained its superiority but also improve it over time)? if natural selection had formed them into a superior race what more need be done? I decided to take it waaaaay back to the early beginnings of the movement to read some of the original publications of the Eugenics Review published in the early 1900s. I wanted to read their actual words so I could be clear on what were proposing. What I found was quite interesting.
“What makes the science of Eugenics possible is not that ” like begets like,” as the popular saying is, but that there are laws of heredity. Like does not always beget like. It is common experience that superior persons often produce inferior children, and that inferior persons though less often produce superior children.”(1)
So, they DON’T actually believe that like begets like, and they believe that there is a possibility the inferior humans are capable of producing a superior child (just not often). They are definitely all in on the superior vs. inferior thing though.
It is as important that the right people should be born as that the wrong people should not be born. By the ” right people ” I mean not those who, in Herbert Spencer’s phrase, are the “fittest to survive,” but those who give most promise of ” civic worth,” that is to say, will be most likely to be at once useful to themselves in the way of enjoyment and self-support, and also useful to the community at large. Sound health, a sufficient amount of energy, a well-balanced brain, are obviously desirable, nay, necessary ingredients-good moral training should supply the rest. “(1)
“ “Fittest to survive” is an equivocal because elliptical expression, and suggests the question fittest to survive what? The logical answer is ” to survive the particular environment wherein the individual is for the time being placed. But this is very much a matter of accident and is no real test of value.” (1)
Now this is interesting, natural selection decides what is fit but what they are proposing is OUTSIDE of natural selection and has nothing to do with what is actually genetically needed for the good/survival of the population. The idea is to choose the “right people” based of social norms of their specific society and culture with no concerns for genetic diversity in the population and the survivability of the human race as a whole. They alone are responsible for deciding what is of value. Additionally, it’s interesting that the environment of one’s birth is deemed an accident and bears no weight on the value of the individual.
“One general principle which I believe to be incontestable is, that if natural selection is inhibited, if nature is not allowed to take her own way of eliminating her failures, rational selection must take its place. Otherwise nothing can prevent the race from reverting to an inferior type.” (3)
“Now it would be a great mistake to suppose that all this class belong to poor stocks whose increase is undesirable; but, on the whole, it cannot be doubted that they are inferior to the upper class, and if so, the distribution of the birth-rate in this country is highly anti-eugenic.” (3)
I don’t happen to have a great deal of faith in man’s ability to “rationally” select what is best for all of humanity. Those who know me well know that I am not particularly religious, but I do believe that there is something more. No, I am not quite sure about what the more is I just feel it. I don’t think that we fully understand or appreciate the wonder and value of all human life or the complex coordination that it takes to create each individual human “superior” or “inferior”.
As I was writing this, I thought of this scene from the movie Watchmen when Dr. Manhattan and Laurie Jupiter are on Mars and he explains to her the odds of her being born and that being who she was standing before him was a miracle;
“In human coupling, millions upon millions of cells compete to create life for generation after generation until finally, your mother loves a man: Edward Blake, the Comedian, a man she has every reason to hate. And yet, out of that contradiction, against unfathomable odds, it’s you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from all that chaos is like turning air into gold. A miracle. A beautiful miracle… “. (5)
This is the miracle of human life, each and every one of us is an amazing event that happens so frequently that we rarely stop to contemplate its grandeur. I saw a TED Talk once that said there was a 1 in 400 trillion chance of you being born and I just did some digging around and found a Huffington Post article that says that the probability is more like 1 in 102,640,000 that is ten times the number of atoms in the known universe! You, or should I say, we are all kind of a big deal. Another very relevant yet less statistically astounding component of your coming into being is the location where you do all your being. For instance, there is only about a 17% chance of being born in a developed country and about a 83% chance of being born in a developing country not staggering but definitely very different life experiences for sure. Understanding the probability of where someone is born is a lot easier than understanding the impacts of the location human behavior.
Most of who we are is here waiting for us upon our arrival. “It was not your choice to speak English. You didn’t choose your religion or your moral values they were there already there before you were born…We didn’t even choose our own name.” (4) We are plopped into this world fully clothed in things we have no say in that are not written in our DNA. With this in mind I am sure we have grown past the old ideas of eugenics and have developed an appreciation for human diversity. I just know scientists have universally concluded that the doctrine of eugenics is not a heathy one for the human race and simply cannot work. Surely…?
This article is a part of a series focused on the analysis and origins of hate:
Why This Why Now? Published 01.07.2021
What Is Hate? Published 01.14.2021
So, What’s The Plan? Published 01.21.2021
How to Make Mutant Published 01.28.2021
Don’t Take it Personal Published 02.04.21
Survival? Published 02.11.21
- CRACKANTHORPE,, M. (n.d.). THE EUGENIC FIELD. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from CRACKANTHORPE,
- GALTON, F. (n.d.). THE EUGENICS REVIEW FOREWORD. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990354/
- INGE, W. R. (n.d.). SOME MORAL ASPECTS OF EUGENICS. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990368/
- Ruiz, M., Mills, J., & Ruiz, M. (2008). The four agreements. Thorndike, Me.: Center Point Pub.
- Snyder, Z. (Director). (2009). Watchmen [Video file]. United States: Warner Brothers. Retrieved February 02, 2021, from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0409459/characters/nm0001082