Well, we could think that eugenics is behind us, yes

This week, one old and discredited technological fix has reared its head: eugenics, the pseudoscientific belief that humans can be bred to “perfection” in the same way we breed cattle or domestic pets for particular traits. Developed by Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, in the 19th century, it was promoted by politicians and intellectuals in Britain, before becoming the justification for millions of involuntary sterilisations globally, mainly of the poor and disabled, and the Nazis’ devastating programme of “racial hygiene” that culminated in the Holocaust.

One might think that such a morally and scientifically vacuous ideology would be behind us by now,

Leave aside whatever opinions you might have over the moral worth of abortion. Think about it just for a moment. The current system states that a foetus (gob of meiotic cells, human being, whatever) with an extra chromosome 21 may – and in many places should – be killed at a much later stage of development than one not so blessed with genetic abundance.

Whatever we might call this, a slaughter of the innocents, just common and garden good sense, this is quite clearly eugenics and it’s a common, even cornerstone, part of our current society.

That is, we’ve not really left it behind, have we?

32 thoughts on “Well, we could think that eugenics is behind us, yes”

  1. Not really eugenics because the vast majority of Down syndrome patients are not fertile anyway. You don’t need to take any steps to prevent them reproducing. Eugenics is interested in the long term, not the next generation per se.

  2. As far as I know, the issue with eugenics is that it is immoral. I don’t think that it is discredited pseudo science, if you bred humans for specific desirable traits it would work. Who gets to decide what is desirable? Do we have a brave new world were we breed people specifically for menial jobs and others for more intellectual pursuits? Those are the reasons that it is a terrible idea.

  3. Why do people never allude to the Fabians when they mention support of eugenics? Why for that matter do they not mention the number of countries that introduced eugenic policies and how recently some abandoned them?

    “Eugenic policies were first implemented in the early 1900s in the United States. It also took root in France, Germany, and Great Britain. Later, in the 1920s and 1930s, the eugenic policy of sterilizing certain mental patients was implemented in other countries including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Japan and Sweden.”

    It was obviously ineffectual in Belgium, Verhofstadt we are looking at you

  4. morally and scientifically vacuous ideology

    One can certainly make a case for ‘morally’ but it’s silly to spoil one’s argument by adding ‘scientifically vacuous’ having once conceded that the process works in food animals, working dogs and domestic pets.

  5. You can breed humans for any trait you desire. The problem is the reverse, how do you not selectively breed? Civilization changes breeding patterns. What is the “natural” breeding pattern for humans, biggest male gets all the pussy?

  6. Diogenes has it right. Whether it is immoral and whether it works are not really useful subjects for debate. What is important and relevant to today is the sheer number of the great and the good who supported it. And mostly in the ‘no more morons’ idea than the breeding for good characteristics. They despised the people than and they still do, but now the fashion (and it is no more than fashion) allows support for abortion and trans nonsense but not eugenics. They would all support it in an instant if the fashion changed, we are looking at a whole lot of people who do not put much effort into thinking for themselves but will go along with any daft idea if their cohort does. It’s happening right now and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

    Did the Fabians support abortion on demand? Or think it immoral?

  7. Perhaps we should solve the problems of who gets encouraged to breed by welfare incentives and who is discouraged by costs of a middle class upbringing, before getting too excited by eugenics. I am trying to remember the recent book postulating that, until recently, the most successful breeders in Britain, post fuedalism, were those able to practice delayed gratification and transmit this value to their children either culturally or genetically, which also correlates with decreased homicide over the same period. Anyone else remember?

  8. On the topic of selective breeding of humans…
    Until recently, the size of the birth canal provided an upper limit on baby head size. Too large? Baby, and probably mother too, died.

    But now we have Caesarian’s.

    After a number of generations, might we expect to see an increase in maximum – and hence average – baby head size, as the ruthless filter of death-in-labour is now removed?
    What behavioural properties that increase might enable is open to debate of course.
    Anyone with more such evolutionary/medical background able to suggest how many generations are needed before such an effect might show?

  9. Lgh, Darwinism does not select for happiness in old age or career success. It selects for maximum fertility in the child-beaing years and the ability of those children to reach those years in turn.

  10. RK: I took Lgh’s comment to be a sly reference to the current incentivisation schemes in the West to breed more unemployables, while detering reproduction by skilled and valued contributors to society! 🙂

  11. TtheC, yes indeed. Eugenics (and horse-breeding and horticulture) is basically an attempt to escape from the provisions of survival of the fittest by changing the environment. The welfare state also changes the environment to favour those who are deprecated by eugenicists.

  12. For good or ill, things have a habit of taking care of themselves? My father was one of 10, my mother one of 13. However, I was speaking to a cousin recently, and we realised that when our generation turns our toes up (we’re all aged between 60-80), four long-established surnames across the wider family cease to exist.

  13. If you think of the sweep of human history, the attitude we have to unborn or newborn children has not by any means been a constant. Letters from Roman soldiers to their wives exist, regretting the need to allow a new-born child to die for many reasons including impairment
    While it was a sad occasion it was not regarded as a moral abyss. The ancient world is interesting in that many recognisably modern attitudes co -exist with their view of the child but it is not unusual. Early Christianity radically broke with the past on this subject begging a long process of change
    Heart breaking laments for the dead child were sung by the devout of the medieval period but ones sense is that it was very much part of life. Tracing this thread through the Romantic revolution of sentiment the child becomes central, “The child is the father the man” .The invention of Christmas by Dickens and others is bound up with this new feeling for the young
    The stark facts of large families, few of whom survived persisted into the 20th century, but with the Pill a new value for the child in a small family has lead to the current relatively vast amount of energy expended on interacting with our children
    ( Much more than in the 1950s whatever you may be told )
    The truth is that there is no real difference between the new born child and the unborn child.In fact humans are born early in their development .A comparable ape emerges, almost ready for action,so to speak.

    Impaired newborns were once exposed on a hill and now they are disposed of, within the womb

    I can see the moral horror some have at this strange double standard. I can also see that moral absolutes in this area are not as simple or fixed as many might imagine.Sorry to be so boring

  14. Eugenics is easy to find, number of Planned Parenthood clinics in predominantly black neighbourhoods! Margret Sanger would be proud!

  15. There are a few studies (of arguable validity) that suggest that the fall in crime rates in the U.S. from the 60s on is due in part to widespread abortion. This is frequently cited by Democrats as justification for culling the herd.

  16. The establishment attitude to eugenics changed when people saw the results of the Holocaust but still took decades to work through the system. How about if someone were to use the socialist argument to the effect that true eugenics has never been used.

    We know full well that the elites want to get rid of people they deem unfit and Lefties take it a stage further to engineer whole societies to their liking, so why are they so dishonest about eugenics?

  17. We know full well that the elites want to get rid of people they deem unfit…

    I think it’s more that the elites want to remain elite. They want slaves or help, but they don’t want to be threatened by them (including having the slaves’ or helps’ children competing with their children). If the slaves and help could be engineered to happily stay in their place, the elites would be content.

    As far as genetically impaired individuals are concerned, I don’t think the elites are much different from regular folk in a desire to see an absence of them.

  18. “the issue with eugenics is that it is immoral”: I disagree. The immorality would lie in the improper application of coercion. Voluntary eugenics – such as is practised by (some) Ashkenazi Jews in New York and Israel – seems entirely moral to me, and indeed pretty wise.

    But if you think young couples should be indifferent to the risks of producing babies with Tay-Sachs disease, you are welcome to argue your case I’m sure.

  19. BiG

    “Not really eugenics because the vast majority of Down syndrome patients are not fertile anyway. ”

    I think your confusing Darwinian evolution with eugenics. Dawkin’s ‘Selfish Gene’ would be interested in continuing fertility, any given society’s interest in eugenics would probably be seeking an entirly different result; whether their definition of eugenics is looks, smarts, strength, amenableness, etc., etc..

  20. Some years ago, I read a short science fiction story about eugenics in a future society and the social aborting of healthy foetuses deemed ‘inadequate to compliment the lifestyle of the family unit’, and consisted of the parents being interviewed after requesting an abortion. The ending was that, as the foetus consisted of DNA of the parents, one of them must be at fault in causing this alleged ‘inadequacy’. Therefore, if the foetus to be aborted was female, the father must also die, while if the foetus was male, the mother must die. The final sentence, in bold, as a footnote, showed that social abortions in that future society dropped dramatically. An interesting premise and perhaps one worth discussing?

  21. Correct, TJ.

    Planned Parenthood kills 600,000 black babies a year. A eugenics program fiercely defended by Democrats.

  22. If you think of the sweep of human history, the attitude we have to unborn or newborn children has not by any means been a constant. Letters from Roman soldiers to their wives exist, regretting the need to allow a new-born child to die for many reasons including impairment
    While it was a sad occasion it was not regarded as a moral abyss.

    I can see the moral horror some have at this strange double standard

    What double standard?

    I would hazard a guess that in older times, when resources were scarce and life a whole lot more difficult, even for the well off, disposing of a child with a disability wasn’t done out of a eugenics “lets improve the species” way (there will be the odd exception like Sparta who were a bit eugenics-y) and more of a case of the extra resources required being a significant drain on the family and putting everyone else’s survival at risk.

    That is not the same as chopping unborn children up because the mother can’t be bothered to raise them.
    You even state that the letters were full of regret. I’m sure it happened (probably more common among hookers and less chaste women, but the norm was not abortion as a means of contraception.

  23. Recusant, I’m not sure what you are getting at. The infertility in trisomies is down to intracellular mechanics, meiosis gets mucked up by that extra chromosome. Down syndrome patients are unfit in Darwinian terms because of that very low reproduction rate, but the effect is immediate, there is nothing for longer-term Darwinian selection to get hold of, and never will be on chromosomal abnormalities sufficiently massive to screw up the production of germ cells. The situation isn’t comparable to the changes that occur over ages in genes which Darwinian selection could act upon. Likewise the trait is so rarely passed on by patients that aborting a Down syndrome fetus has no greater effect on that future gene pool than letting them live a full life (hence the contention that aborting Down syndrome fetuses, whatever it is, isn’t really eugenics).

    Down syndrome is a really poor example for the potential practice of eugenics. It’s not as if there aren’t thousands of more pertinent examples.


    Only problem is that if couples don’t marry because they are both carriers, you end up failing to select out the affected homozygotes in this generation. Give it long enough and the deleterious alleles become more prevalent through lack of selective pressure and to some extent arising de novo. We’ve to some extent no idea how much selective pressure is applied to various recessive lethals that result in early spontaneous abortion. Couples not checking everything beforehand (as horrible as it sounds) could be considered a form of “natural” eugenics.

  24. BiG

    Not really talking about Downs, per se.

    You are discussing biology and biological reality, whereas eugenics is political and cultural. The tools used might be, crudely, biological – contraception, sterilisation, abortion, etc. – but the desired result is geared to political and cultural criteria. You could have a eugenic policy that explicitly seeks infertility, for example: I’m sure some of our Extinction Rebellion chums would be up for that.

  25. . . . the pseudoscientific belief that humans can be bred to “perfection” in the same way we breed cattle or domestic pets for particular traits.

    Uhm, nobody ever thought we could breed humans to perfection – given that perfection isn’t objective.

    And there’s nothing ‘psuedoscientific’ to the idea that humans could be bred – like any number of other animals already have – for particular traits.

    Eugenics fails for *moral* reasons, not ‘scientific’ ones.

  26. Guardian’s Angela Saini has plagiarised James Heartfield’s Spiked article from 18 Feb


    She also ignores eugenics was a Left obsession with Right opposing it


    …When eugenics was a serious movement, it was not some underground philosophy advocated by the ‘alt right’. Eugenics was a movement created by mainstream scientists and advocated by mostly liberals and progressives

    Economist John Maynard Keynes was a member of the Eugenic Society”

    As does Owen Jones

    Guardian journalist Owen Jones turned on [Fraser] Nelson to accuse him and his magazine of fomenting a full-on racist campaign. Jones even demanded a cordon sanitaire around the Spectator, the country’s oldest and most successful political weekly.

    It was the critic Sydney Smith who said, ‘I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so’. More than a century later, Smith has a willing student in Jones, who reluctantly conceded that the Fraser Nelson piece he had denounced for promoting eugenics was no such thing. On the contrary, it was a sustained argument against eugenics. Truth is only a secondary matter, it seems, when there is the Greater Truth that all conservatives are really Nazis.

    Perhaps worse is the Left’s and Left MSM’s silence on Greens, XR etc demanding Eugenics to ‘save the planet’

    …Make no mistake – XR represents a revival of the Eugenics movement. A major clash with the anti-white woke Progressives is inevitable. XR is a highly elitist, ultra-Bourgeois, Caucasian dominated movement, that is surely as opposed to mass immigration as it is to high population levels in general. I wonder how Sadiq Khan feels about having the centre of London taken over by a white supremacist group?…

    …XR expresses this old morally illiterate, scientifically dubious view of mankind in a strikingly new way. Its language is, to be frank, deranged. It says Africa is on fire, which is a lie. It says billions of humans will die in the next few years, which is not true. It says we are running out of resources – another myth. The linguistic shifts are remarkable. Greens have gone from talking about climate change to climate emergency to climate breakdown to climate catastrophe. These are not scientific terms; they are moralistic terms that express a fearful and often quite unstable view of humanity’s impact on the planet.

    Why is XR like this? Because for too long green thinking has been insulated from debate and confrontation. Censorship has been deployed to deflect criticism from the green ideology. Anyone who raises questions about eco-misanthropy is branded a climate-change denier and efforts will be made to expel him or her from public life. The tragic environmentalist outlook has been forcefielded against rational, serious challenge, and in such a criticism-free vacuum green thinking has become more estranged from reason and more apocalyptic in outlook.

    Censorship is the midwife of stupidity, and more importantly of dogmatism…

    imo James Heartfield nails “eugenics is evil” hypocrisy with “Why is it OK to do it to cows, pigs, sheep, dogs, roses, wheat…?”

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