By: Richard Lynn

The genetic decline of the populations of western nations was first recognised in the 1850s and 1860s by Benedict Morel in France and Francis Galton in England. Neither seems to have known of the work of the other, but they arrived independently at the same conclusion that contemporary populations were undergoing "retrogressive evolution" in respect of health, intelligence and moral character.

Both Morel and Galton identified the cause of this deterioration as lying in the relaxation of natural selection. Normally in human and animal populations, natural selection eliminates the unfit, allowing the more fit to survive. The survival of the fittest keeps the population genetically sound by weeding out genetically unfit individuals, rather in the same way as a gardener keeps a garden in good order by constantly removing the weeds. When it is working properly, natural selection in human populations has two strings to its bow. With the first it inflicts high mortality and with the second it imposes low fertility on those with genetic disorders, poor intelligence and weak moral character. Morel and Galton perceived that both these strings were failing in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. It was as if the gardener had quit and the garden was going to seed.

Up to this time, natural selection had worked well in western nations. The populations had the high mortality and the differential fertility that are needed for natural selection to operate. Couples typically had six or seven children, but among the population as a whole an average of only a little over two survived to adulthood. High death rates tended to eliminate the unfit, the unintelligent and those with weak moral character because they were more vulnerable to death from disease and from their own inability to survive. Natural selection also operated by the more healthy, the more intelligent and those with strong moral character having higher fertility. The principal reason for this was that people with these qualities are more efficient at earning a living and this meant that they were better fed and more fertile. Another factor was that there were strong social controls preventing those lacking these qualities from having children. If they did have children there was no welfare state to provide for them. They were generally put into foundling homes, where most of them died. It was a harsh world, but it served the purpose of keeping the population genetically sound.

It was in the middle decades of the nineteenth century that the force of natural selection against the unfit began to weaken. It weakened first against those with poor health largely as a result of improvements in sewage disposal and the provision of pure drinking water, which reduced deaths among the unhealthy from infectious diseases.

In the present century natural selection against those with poor health has been further weakened by medical progress in the treatment of genetic disorders and diseases. Advances in surgery have enabled those to live who would formerely have died. The first important advance was made in 1912 with the development of surgical treatment for pyloric stenosis, a genetic defect of the narrowing of the stomach which prevents food being ingested. Later in the century, surgical organ transplants have made it possible to preserve the lives of those with a variety of genetic defects. In addition, successful treatments have been found for a large number of genetic disorders such as hemophilia, diabetes, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis and many others. The development of these treatments has enabled many with these disorders to live to adulthood and have children, to some of whom they pass their defective genes. The result of the medical progress is that the prevalence of many of these disorders is doubling or tripling in every generation.

We are also experiencing genetic deterioration in respect of intelligence. In previous centuries, when there was high child mortality, the children who died would have tended to be less intelligent. This was partly because the unintelligent are not so good at looking after themselves, and even today the unintelligent have higher mortality from disease and accidents than the intelligent. Another reason was that the unintelligent children have unintelligent parents, who are less competent at looking after them. Even today, in the modern welfare state, infant and child mortality is substantially higher among children of unintelligent parents than among those of the more intelligent.

However, the major factor responsible for an increase in the numbers of the unintelligent has been the development of modern forms of contraception. This began in the 1870s with the invention and mass marketing of the latex condom and has been followed by the development of further contraceptives such as the intro-uterine device and the pill. Once these modern contraceptives became avilable, it was inevitable that they would be used more efficiently by the intelligent than by the unintelligent. The result of this has been that the intelligent began to have fewer children. This trend started in the second half of the last century and has persisted up to the present day.

We know from twin and adoption studies that intelligence is partly under genetic control. This means that there are genes for high intelligence and for low intelligence. Once those with low intelligence started to have more children, and those children no longer died in significant numbers in childhood, the genes for low intelligence increased in the population and the number of genes for high intelligence fell. The result of this has been a genetic deterioration of intelligence among western populations.

The conclusion reached by Morel and Galton that the intelligence of western populations is deteriorating was examined by a number of biological and social scientists early in the twentieth century. Several attempts were made to determine the extent of this deterioration. This was done by measuring the intelligence of representative samples of the population at two points in time. Studies of this kind produced the surprising result that the expected decline had not taken place. On the contrary, it was found that intelligence as measured by intelligence tests has actually been increasing in western populations throughout most of the twentieth century.

There is not as yet any agreed explanation for this increase. Some believe that there has only been an improvement of test taking skills. Others maintain that the increase is genuine and has been brought about by improvements in nutrition, education or various kinds of cognitive stimulation from TV, books and the like. Whatever the explanation, it seems that the deterioration of the genetic quality of western populations in respect of intelligence has been compensated for several decades by environmental improvements. This compensation cannot be expected to continue indefinitely. At some point, the impact of the environmental improvements will peter out and intelligence will begin to decline. The best available estimate of the rate of this decline is that it will be about one IQ point per generation.

The third respect in which modern populations are deteriorating is moral character. This broad trait comprises self discipline, the motivation to work for long term goals, law abidingness and a sense of civic responsibility. It is conspicuously lacking in criminals and in the underclass with its sociopathic value system. Moral character has a genetic basis. This has been established by twin studies, which have shown that identical twins separated shortly after birth and reared in different families are quite similar in respect of their moral character, showing that a genetic determination is involved. In addition, it has been found that adopted children resemble their biological parents more closely than their adoptive parents, showing that moral character is transmitted genetically from parents to children.

From the last decades of the nineteenth century those with weak moral character have had more children than those in whom moral character is strong. There are various ways in which this has been shown. For instance, male criminals have about 70 per cent more children than the law abiding population, while among females in the United States in the first half of the 1990s high school dropouts had an average of 2.6 children as compared with only 1.8 for American women as a whole.

The principal explanation for the high fertility of those with weak moral character is the same as the reason for the high fertility of the unintelligent, namely their inefficient use of contraception. Once modern methods of contraception became available, it was inevitable that they would be used more effectively by those with strong moral character because they are more conscientious and responsible, just as it was inevitable that contraception would be used more effectively by the intelligent because they are more efficient. Thus, the development of modern contraception produced the inevitability of genetic deterioration in respect of both intelligence and moral character.

Because weak moral character is transmitted through families, the high fertility of those with weak moral character should have led to an increase in their numbers in the population. This has certainly occurred. One expression of this is the increase in crime which has taken place in the last half cetury throughout the economically developed world. Another is the increase of the underclass which, defined as able bodied long term unemployed men has approximately doubled in the United States from the early 1960s up to the present. Similar rises have taken place in Eurpoe. Yet another is the increase of single mothers living on welfare, up in the United States from 2.5 per cent of all the female population in 1960 to 10 per cent in 1990. All these rises are due partly to an increase in the numbers of those with a gentically based impoverished moral character, although this is not to say that other factors, such as the increasingly generous welfare support, have not also played a part. The genetic deterioration of western nations poses serious problems. The increase in the numbers of those whith genetic disorders who can be successfully treated raises the cost of medical provision. The decline of intelligence will produce a deterioration in the quality of our civilisation. Intelligence is a major determinant of the effectiveness with which jobs are performed. As intelligence declines there will be fewer people with high IQs to maintain standards in the arts and sciences, the professions and business, and fewer with good average IQs to carry out routine skilled jobs such as those of the plumber and the electrician. At the same time, there will be increasing numbers of those whose intelligence is too low for useful employment.

No less serious is the problem of deteriorating moral character. It will bring about an increasingly immoral society. Crime will continue to grow. Standards of honesty and integrity in national life will decline. The smooth functioning of the economy and of social relationships depends on trust and will be impaired as the moral foundations of public and private relationships are eroded. All this was foreseen by Francis Galton, who wrote in 1869 in his HEREDITARY GENIUS that in a mature civilization, like our own, "there is a steady check upon the fertility of the abler classes; the improvident and unambitious are those who chiefly keep up the breed. So the race gradually deteriorates, becoming in each successive generation less fit for a high civilization". In the first half of the twentieth century Galton's view was endorsed by a large number of biological and social scientists. As recently as the 1960s the problem was restated by William Shockley, the Nobel prizewinner in physics. Shockley coined the word DYSGENICS for this retrogressive evolution and urged that it need wider recognition and discussion of how it could be overcome. But Shockley's warnings went unheeded and in the last quarter century understanding of the problem has been lost. It is time to revive public recognition of this serious threat to the future of our civilization.

Richard Lynn was professor of psychology at the University of Ulster from 1972 to 1995. This article is based on his book DYSGENICS, published by Praeger.

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