Friday, September 30, 2005

Eugenics










Ever hear of eugenics?

I read alot. It's one of those terms that I've heard, I've even read a little about about it. But I never understood the full breadth of the subject.

Then I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. They have a temporary exhibit on eugenics in Germany, focusing on the murdering of thousands of healthy German children who were "unsuitable". It was awful, fasinating, and scary all at the same time.

Here's a brief definition of eugenics:
Eugenics is a social philosophy which advocates the improvement of human hereditary traits through social intervention. The goals have variously been to create more intelligent people, save society resources, lessen human suffering and reduce health problems. Proposed means of achieving these goals most commonly include birth control, selective breeding, and genetic engineering.
Eugenics has a long history in the United States and Germany. In Germany, prior to the Nazi's, there was a very large movement to study human characteristics and genetics in detail, cataloging those traits, and applying pseudo-science to the theory of improving human performance and "cleansing" some "negative" traits out of the population.

At the museum, it was stunning to view pictures of the mental hospitals, the equipment used to study and catalogue traits such has eye shape, eye color, hair color, hair type in addition to other traits like height and weight (you can view a tutorial of the exhibit here). Particularly quaint was the measure of "feeblemindedness". Of course, Adolph Hitler used eugenics to prop-up his policy of genocide against Jews and "gypsies", claiming that the inferiority of these humans meant they must be eliminated. He used the eugenics "research" to support his insane contentions....and the German people bought it. I suspect the German media practiced the even-handed "on-the-one-handism" where any view is given equal weight when spoken by those in power.

Anyway, if you ever get a chance to see this exhibit, go.

But I have another point as well. Yesterday, Media Matters had this quote from Bill Bennett , former official of the Reagan administration and gambling afficiando who likes to lecture America on values:
[R]adio host and former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Bill Bennett dismissed such "far-reaching, extensive extrapolations" by declaring that if "you wanted to reduce crime ... if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Bennett conceded that aborting all African-American babies "would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do," then added again, "but the crime rate would go down."
The quote was in the context of a response to a listener of Bennett's radio show, who was using even worse hyperbole regarding information from the book, Freakonomics:
CALLER: I noticed the national media, you know, they talk a lot about the loss of revenue, or the inability of the government to fund Social Security, and I was curious, and I've read articles in recent months here, that the abortions that have happened since Roe v. Wade, the lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30-something years, could fund Social Security as we know it today. And the media just doesn't -- never touches this at all.
I then went to the Freakonomics web sit where I found this:
Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: if morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work.
Wow. The crap in this exchange is really extensive. Bennett's passive racism is clearly apparent and the caller is a typical fundamentalist nutbar. Yes, Bennett was using an absurdity to counter and absurdity, but the fact that he even thinks that his statement has truth in it is quite revealing. I could go on all day writing about the nonsense of both statements.

But what was important to me was hearing this right after having been introduced to eugenics. It's getting to be more acceptable in this country to talk about such subjects. Add to this the flooding (sorry) of images of Bush's neglect of the New Orleans poor during Katrina, and it really begins to paint a picture that is none too pretty. How far is it to move from feeling comfortable publishing a book stripping the importance of any kind of morality in issues, focusing soley on the importance of economics in everything, to government policy based on individual "suitability".

I feel fairly comfortable saying that greed is rampant in this country. Yet, take a look at health care. It's expensive. Hard choices face us all in how to spend precious health care dollars vs. a person's right to live. Schiavo was, in the majority of the country's opinion anyway, an extreme clear-cut case. But how about a 90 year old man with heart failure? Or how about my mother's friend who at 70-something, has advancing alzheimers yet needs a pacemaker?

Finally, add to all of this the relaxing of the rigorous standards of science in areas such as creationism vs. evolution, global warming, petroleum reserves, and the morning after pill to name a few. Then stir in a little fanaticism like neocon/religious fundamentalism. These conditions are not unlike existed in Germany in the 1920's during the explosion of eugenics. If we have a major economic meltdown, the conditions will be complete.

I doubt Bennett will apologize or be removed from his show, much less be shamed by the public. I'm quite sure the right-wing noise machine (unlike the way the left wing does it) will back him up with all kinds of arguments. If the story lasts more than a single news cycle I'll be amazed.

I hope I'm chickenlittle in what I fear could happen in the future. But unless people pay attention and complain loudly and frequently, who knows?

2 Comments:

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Kevin Hayden said...

If we were to take the racist claims of eugenics advocates as gospel, we would have to point out how many American bloodlines began in Germany, which provides a genetic predisposition to be racist assholes.

What's good for the gander is good for the goosestep, yes?

 
At 9:09 PM, Blogger Greyhair said...

LoL. Yep. I guess so!

Now that you mention it, Bill Bennett looks awfully teutonic....

 

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