Review of "Eugenic Nation" by Alexandra Stern and "Keeping America Sane"

Any work on the history of eugenics can slant the issues this way or that. But a book recently published to make blatant statements that are distorted to such a degree that one would think it was published before the genetic revolution. Eugenic Nation: Faults & Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America by Alexandra Minna Stern, 2005, is such a book.

The latest books on eugenics that are primarily aimed at exposing the evil of White nativism or racism, try to tell a horrific story about eugenics, then they accept that eugenics is indeed back and here to stay. Stern then has two objectives. The bulk of the book deals with exposing past misdeeds in the name of eugenics, but concludes with an egalitarian plea for the new eugenics to be made available to all. The last paragraph states:

"I believe that we should vigilantly strive to reveal the preconceptions that shape genetic technologies and testing, not to condemn these procedures, which ideally should be widely available health avenues, but in order to elucidate and perhaps challenge underlying assumptions about who and what is considered acceptable and normal or unacceptable and abnormal. Moreover, I would suggest that the problem we face today is less whether something is or is not unequivocally eugenic, but whether reproductive and genetic practices or technologies are equitably distributed across the population. Clearly, in a country with enormous gaps in insurance coverage, medical care access, and health literacy, some can afford medical options that others cannot. America's profound health disparities, which disproportionately hurt racial and ethnic minorities, the unemployed, and the working poor, provide fertile soil for a dangerous combination of the medical neglect of some and the physical and aesthetic enhancement of the few."

So what happened to reproductive freedom and the acceptance of positive eugenics undertaken by individuals? These monitors of the prevailing ethos can only hope that they can hold back eugenics long enough to bring in their One World Utopia, where the elite will dictate how people will behaveCommunism will have finally succeededand genetic betterment eliminated.

It is not always what is said, but how it is said. Stern states on page 2, "By drawing a fairly stark line between an abhorrent and benighted chapter of pseudoscience in which misguided authorities were ensnared by Nazi-inspired ideas of racial hygiene and a much savvier and sagacious present in which such mistakes will not be repeated, the apologies [about sterilization] can create a specious sense of security, even hubris."

Since the eugenic's movement was well on its way in the United States by 1920, how could the Nazis have influenced it in a positive way? The reality is that Hitler, with his antisemitism, put the brakes on eugenics. Stern even admits a few pages later: "By the eve of Hitler's defeat, leading U.S. scientists, journalists, and politicians had positioned themselves against Nazi-style doctrines of racial superiority and noted anthropologists were jettisoning biological determinism and embracing cultural explanations of human difference."

Stern apparently is absolutely incapable of understanding the true history of eugenics and the progressive movement. The original eugenics always included an appreciation for the importance of environmental factors. In fact, one of the reasons the feebleminded were sterilized was not for race betterment, but to protect their children from being raised in poor environments by incapable parents. Especially from 1890 to 1920, urbanization, high rates of immigration, and the failures of mental health facilities to cure people, begged for a means of reducing the costs of these social problems. Race betterment was just a minor player in the use of sterilization during this period.

In fact, starting around 1930 and lasting until about 1970, Marxist indoctrination by primarily cultural anthropologists and social scientists propagandized for the pseudoscience of environmental determinism, denying any connection between genes and one's behavior or intelligence. Somehow, humans were unique in the biological worldour genes were all deemed to be identicalmaking evolution itself impossible if it were true. We have now returned to a balance between environmental influence and genetic influence with fairly precise data on contributing factors from each.

She then wags the discreet race strawman, which no one that I am aware of advocates, "In the 1940s and 1950s, many eugenicists traded in their previous interest in determining the biological differences between discrete racial groups for a fascination with the male-female dichotomy, which was envisioned as stretching along a continuum of overlapping gradations of personality, temperament, and compatibility. The disarticulation and transposition of 'race' onto gender and sexuality was an integral component of the mid-century 'shift from the categorical to the scalar' and was central to the perpetuation of a hereditarian and evolutionist vision of civilization and its discontents in the United States."

Very weird usage of terms. Evolutionists observe what is, not what should be. Those that deal with discontent are the socialists, continually finding fault with societies that harbor any inequalities between various groups. Real scientists deal with facts; social scientists promote political agendas.

She then goes on to describe the problem with Mexican immigration during the 1920s and 30s, and laments that they were forced to be disinfected before entering the United States. It is interesting that others today are sounding the same alarm, as new immigrants are bringing into the United States such old diseases as tuberculosis, but now with new strains that cannot be treated with current drugs. Doesn't a nation have the right to protect the health of its citizens? Not according to Stern.

She notes, "They were outraged that the U.S. Public Health Service had started to brand their arms, in permanent ink, with the word 'ADMITTED' upon being bathed and physically examined at Laredo's international footbridge. Angered as well, the Mexican consul sent a letter to the U.S. Public Health Service asserting that 'the American sanitary and immigration authorities are acting against all principles of respect, justice, and humanity, by stamping Mexican citizens, who are looking for work, with indelible ink.'"

Indelible ink? Isn't that what they used in Iraq to show that a person had voted, by sticking their finger in indelible ink? What a horrible and cruel thing to do! She makes it sound like a tattoo that was used on Nazi concentration camp inmates. Indelible ink washes away.

Actually, the book reads a bit as a guide to how we should handle immigration to day. Then, it was industrialists and shipping companies that wanted to hire and carry immigrants for profit. Now it is still big business but also immigration lawyers, social workers, teachers, and a host of other people that make money servicing immigrants. Others were also a problem, "Los Angeles replicated the exclusionary techniques of the Department of Institutions in the 1930s, when the mayor set up a Committee on Indigent Alien Transients to bar Mexicans, African Americans, and Okies from entering the city. Fiscal justifications for such policies loomed large. In 1942, for example, the Department of Institutions calculated that the deportation of 10,359 nonresidents and foreign nationals over the previous three decades had resulted in an estimated net savings of more than twelve million dollars."

She then goes on with more errors, "This belief, namely that intelligence was hereditary and immutable, was buttressed by simplistic Mendelian theories of ratios and genes, which posited a one-to-one correlation between 'unit characters' and mental, emotional, and physiognomic traits. It merged comfortably with hierarchical evolutionary schemes that posited that each 'race' was a biological group with distinct attributes and faculties."

Mendelian theories were quickly understood as being too simplistic for most characteristics. Having been rediscovered about 1900, it was recognized as only applying to certain traits. In fact, eugenics at the time was more concerned with family histories, to see how often certain traits showed up in families. This eugenic practice, it is now recognized, is how the Ashkenazi Jews became so intelligent. Not only were scholars tested, with the brightest males married to the daughters of wealthy Jews, but also family histories were meticulously kept to insure racial purity (MacDonald, 2002).

Even Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate, has recently concluded that the high average intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews is about 107 to 115, and that it could not be due to any known environmental differences. Most researchers place the heritability of intelligence between 60 and 80 or even 90 percent by adulthood. And those estimates have over hundred years of consistent data.

Stern then makes the absurd assertion that directed evolution would take thousands of years to see any differences in say intelligence. Factually, humans have been designing crops and animals for over 10,000 years through selective breeding. It is true that at this time, it would be difficult to eliminate every undesirable disease, condition or trait. But I am not aware of any eugenicist that advocates trying to eliminate all bad genes, whatever that means. We are only interested in selecting for intelligence, good looks, stature, etc. and that is being quite nicely accomplished through such instruments as sperm and egg banks to the People's Republic of China's 1995 eugenic law.

After a bizarre and distorted presentation of the history of eugenics, Stern then seems to admit just the opposite at the end of the book:

"It could be argued, however, that California, the nation's leader in artificial insemination, can already claim the crown of high-tech eugenics. Home to some of the first commercial sperm banks, such as the Repository for Germinal Choice, which was founded near San Diego in 1971, California currently has the greatest number of banks in the country (seven, followed by three in New York and three in Minnesota). California was at the frontier of the transition of artificial insemination with donor sperm (AID) from a procedure carried out primarily in specialized clinics with a doctor's supervision to a product tailored to meet the popular eugenic desires of American customers. For example, a woman on the market for a sperm specimen can select a donor based on a long list of factors including health history, ethnic heritage, SAT scores, college grade point average, self-reported skills and hobbies, and even degrees of introversion and extroversion.

"AID and many other genetic and fertility technologies, such as amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS), have become routinized features of modern biomedicine, especially as many couples opt to have children after the age of thirty. These technologies enable people to make decisions about what kind of a child, they hope to bring into the world. If, based on such criteria, individuals choose to reproduce only offspring calculated to possess an elevated chance of being categorized as 'normal' or perhaps even 'superior' in the eyes of mainstream society, is this eugenics? According to Galton's definition, and above all the injunction 'to improve the inborn qualities,' such attempts at normalization and optimization qualify as eugenic in outcome if not intent. Not surprisingly, disability rights activists, fearing that those labeled abnormal, burdensome, or otherwise undesirable will be bred into extinction, have contested the often-unquestioned acceptance of genetic testing as beneficial to families and society."

Is Stern really advocating trying to stop any eugenic practices that will lead to fewer and fewer genetic diseases? Just how many abnormal births would be required to keep "disability rights activists" happy? This to me is a sick notion of what it means to be human. I would venture to say that very few people would not want to improve some aspect of their genetic codeI've yet to meet the perfect person.

There are books on eugenics that provide a historical accounting without derision and ridicule. Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada 1880-1940 by Ian Robert Dowbiggin, is such a book (1997, 2003).

Dowbiggin begins early on noting something that I had missed: "Equally troubling are the disclosures that have been leaked to the world press in recent years about the People's Republic of China and its 1995 eugenic law, which in the name of a much-publicized overpopulation crisis mandates involuntary sterilizations (and, in some cases, euthanasia) as a way of achieving national goals that are frankly designed to alleviate the burden on the state created by surplus, 'unfit' citizens. Yet this horrendous, neo-eugenic experiment in social planning has attracted surprisingly little worldwide condemnation."

I think I might be able to speculate on this silence. Most recent books on eugenics are pure propaganda, and they have several purposes including tarring Whites with racism; trying to infer that it was primarily nativists that wanted to use sterilization to purify the White race, or some other such nonsense. It doesn't help their cause then to admit that a racially homogeneous nation like China is using sterilization for the same reason it was used 100 years agoto ease the pressure on society from a multitude of problems. This book then deals with psychiatry and its use of sterilization to ease conditions in insane asylums that were horrifically inadequate in care.

Another reason for not discussing China's eugenic/one-child program is because the left has given up on population control in general. Instead, they want open borders, total reproductive freedoms whether people can care for their children or not, wealthy nations to provide for the poor nations, and in many cases reduce our wealth so we can sustain the planet and its exploding population. It seems China is the only nation willing to take necessary means to actually reduce its population size as was once promoted in the West when Zero Population Growth was in fashion circa 1975.

Dowbiggin explains, "Briefly in this book I argue, in contrast to many accounts of the history of eugenics, which stress the decisive power of racial, class, and gender issues, that psychiatrists were drawn to eugenics largely for professional, not ideological, reasons.Joel Braslow.[also] showed how psychiatrists rarely relied on eugenic rationales for decisions to sterilize hospital patients and more often 'remade sterilization into a therapeutic procedure aimed at solving what they believed to be their patients' individual needs.' In recommending surgery, psychiatrists were far more moved by the hope of alleviating individual suffering than by anxiety over the effects of biological degeneracy destroying the vitality of the race across generations."

He goes on to note that mentally deranged homeless persons were either wandering the streets hungry and often without adequate clothing. Or they were in institutions often in chains surrounded by filth and squalor. Therapy often consisted of bleeding, purging, sweating, blistering and vomiting routines. Later they turned desperately to lobotomies, electrotherapy, focal infection therapy, malarial shock, insulin coma treatments, etc. These were times of very harsh medical practices.

"In retrospect, there were painfully few good reasons for psychiatrists to have supported the eugenic crusade. It must be remembered, however, that in early twentieth-century America the seminal question was not who endorsed eugenics but who did not. Among educated and professional men and women who prided themselves on having a social conscience, there were few who entirely rejected the observations and recommendations of eugenicists, and psychiatrists were no different."

Dowbiggin goes on to discuss all of societies concerns, many still around today. Crime, prostitution, alcoholism, an inability to assimilate recent immigrants, the cost of public charity, labor unrest, economic depression, rapid industrialization, etc. Many of these problems the progressives thought could be solved using scientific means, with the concern of racial degeneracy being brought about by the rapid decline of the upper classes having children, while the lower classes were multiplying rapidly. America needed time to sort things out, and sterilization was just one new tool, used for different reasons as well as eugenics. "[t]he feebleminded were persons with 'weak minds in strong and oversexed bodies.'"

The feebleminded offspring especially were seen as a problem because they would, like their parents, become wards of the state. It was far better then to sterilize many of these people and let them live somewhat normal lives outside of asylums, rather than incarcerating them during their reproductive years. Today, we could probably just use economic incentives and birth control like Norplant to accomplish the same endskeeping people who are incapable of taking care of children from having children.

Dowbiggen states, "Depression-era eugenics proved that hereditarianism need not be central to eugenic policy. Eugenicists in the interwar period often emphasized environment as much as heredity. Officials argued that preventing parenthood in persons thought to be unable to raise children was eminently advisable. Sterilization, they averred, would save countless innocent children from the pathogenic parenting of irresponsible men and women. Among patients' families and the public, many thought like the Montana mother: sterilizing improper parents meant defending the rights of helpless children. The steady increase in the sterilizations of young women in the United States after 1930 attests to the mounting public willingness to treat sterilization as a catchall solution to a host of social problems linked to reproduction."

California was a state with a large number of asylums, and used sterilization readily. It was believed that the number of mentally ill people was rising faster in California than the general population according to statistics developed in 1912, and the fear was that the state simply could not afford to take care of more and more insane people. Later and better statistics showed that the earlier statistics were wrong. Has anything really changed? Today, different advocacy groups have widely differing numbers on homeless people.

Dowbiggen shows the large swings in eugenics during its long history, "Georgia did not enact a sterilization law until 1937, the last American state to do so. There, too, psychiatrists and other physicians were the leading propagandists. As early as 1901 a psychiatrist at the only state mental health institution had written that strict marriage laws would prevent many cases of mental illness. Over the next three decades the Medical Association of Georgia set the tempo for eugenic campaigning, but the sterilization movement only caught fire in the 1930s when a group of civic-minded women interested in birth control and children's health joined forces with mental health care reformers. In 1935 a compulsory sterilization bill passed the state house of representatives and senate, only to be vetoed by Eugene Talmadge, the populist governor. Two years later the Progressive E. D. Rivers became governor, triggering a flood of New Deal legislation that included a new sterilization bill."

This is a radically different picture from most painted by anti-eugenicists. They wrapped the entire movement into a racist plot, while often focusing on just a few players and advocates, while in reality eugenics permeated many institutions with numerous advocacy groups seeing things in very different ways, just like politics today.

It is often claimed that the flood of immigrants at this time was opposed because these Eastern Europeans were seen as racially inferior, but it was far more complicated than that. It was thought that many of them were illiterate, that their governments were sending us many criminals and the insane, that many of these people were political radicals like anarchists and Bolsheviks, etc. By their shear numbers, they seemed to be overwhelming American institutions and its benevolence.

With the 1924 immigration act, when the floodgates were finally closed, and people were given time to assimilate, these issues slowly subsided. And with the advent of World War II, efforts were made to unite all Americans without consideration of national origin or race. At the same time, the Marxists were beginning their slow march through academia, the media and governmentlaying down the pseudoscience of radical environmentalism that persists today even in the face of new research on heredity and genes.

As early as 1911 a 42 volume report was prepared on immigration. As Dowbiggen points out, "The [Dillingham Commission] report was so long that it is doubtful that more than a handful of congressmen had the time to read it in its entirety. As might be expected, its findings included something to please every interested party. For restrictionists it stressed the qualitative differences between the 'new,' post-1880 immigration and the 'old,' pre-188o immigration. The commission's broad conclusion was that the 'new' immigrants posed an unprecedented assimilation problem. As the commission alleged, compared with the old immigrants, the new tended to come from European regions with weaker democratic traditions and institutions and vastly different cultural customs. New immigrants were said to be largely either farmers or unskilled laborers who clustered in established cities, whereas earlier immigrants with artisanal backgrounds supposedly spurred the growth of new industries and cities across the nation. As for the literacy test, the commission was strongly in favor of it, chiefly because its members insisted there was a link between illiteracy and poverty. Commission members viewed a literacy test as a means of screening out immigrants who stood a reasonable chance of becoming public charges after entry. But although the report provided ample fodder for the restrictionist cause, it did so less on racial or national than on economic grounds. A full twenty of the report's forty-two volumes were entirely devoted to the economic effects of immigration. The fact that the report paid scant attention to the biologic nature of immigrants greatly disappointed nativists, who considered race and eugenics to be the heart of the matter."

Most books on eugenics will play the race card exclusively, as history is revised to portray eugenics as simply a racist or White supremacist plot against inferior races. Like now, the world was a complex place with numerous concurrent concerns and advocates.

Even as early as the 1904 census report, racists were having a hard time selling simplistic notions of supremacy: "From the nativist perspective perhaps the most shocking of the report's conclusions about insanity and immigration was that the incidence of mental disease was actually highest among 'the nationalities furthest advanced in civilization'for example, Scandinavians, Germans, Irish, and the Scotsrather than 'the more backward races' of southern and eastern Europe."

Dowbiggen also discusses the effect the First World War had with regards to attitudes towards other ethnic groups, "Nativists, heady with victory, began positioning themselves for the next battle. Like many Americans, they favored a quota system. Growing support for a national quota system had a great deal to do with the effects of the world war on U.S. life. The war was a watershed in the history of American nativism. Its deadly and protracted nature, with the mobilization of entire nations in a quest for total victory, caused many Americans to become deeply conscious of their own and other citizens' national roots. This tendency was exacerbated by swelling anti-German and anti-Irish sentiment, especially after the United States entered the war in April 1917. These xenophobic phenomena temporarily made life easier for those immigrant national groups that had earlier faced nativist prejudices, but the stress on 'Americanization' that accompanied the war effort translated into mounting conformist pressure to prove patriotism and loyalty to the country's values, symbols, and institutions. The Americanization movement remained vigorous into the postwar period and led to further efforts to enforce national homogeneity. With Germany defeated, Americanization also helped to shift public attention toward the presence of foreigners in radical organizations. In the Red Scare of 191920 thousands of immigrants with socialist sympathies were deported, many to Bolshevik Russia itself."

Like Bush's war on terrorism, nativist (now patriotic) attitudes are always slowly shifting. Today the battle is between "those who are either with us or against us" and "cut and run Democrats." Terrorists are now "Islamo-fascists." The reality is that the eugenics of 100 years ago was as mixed up and fractionated as today's debates on immigration, terrorism, affirmative action, the homeless, the low intelligence of today's students, etc. Nothing has really changed.

Dowbiggen summarizes the complexity of eugenics back then, "The standard political interpretation that eugenics was a ruling-class, reactionary, or conservative phenomenon is no longer tenable. National comparisons like mine indicate that eugenics both respected and crossed national borders, taking various shapes. It followed no particular ideological blueprint. It meant different things to different people in different settings. Racial, gender, and class prejudices were rarely absent, but eugenics wasand isfar more complex than simply a pseudoscientific excuse for indulging these biases. Historically it was a theory whose many elements crystallized into a volatile intellectual compound that united constituencies with often dramatically dissimilar agendas and interests. Its inclusive and pluralist resonance perhaps stands out most graphically in light of the considerable eugenicism of early twentieth-century women's groups, especially in Canada, many of which currently are considered protofeminist. That eugenics may even have enjoyed an authentically populist backing in some countries undermines the customary notion that it was a pet theory of the elite, knowledge-broking professions. No less intriguing is the possibility that eugenics thrived notably in countries like Canada and Germany with significant statist medical traditions. Essentialist interpretations of eugenics only obscure the complexity and colorful variety that characterized the international eugenics movement."

What all eugenics books do reveal is that the same problems we have today existed 100 years ago. The only difference is that today, political correctness does no allow open discussion of racial differences based on differences in frequency of genes. But people are getting the message slowly. As pharmacogenetics and genetic engineering get fully implemented over the next few decades, eugenics will be again as common a subject as it was in the past.

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