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North Carolina's Sterilization Program
January 3, 2003 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Against Their Will: Forced Sterilization of the "Feeble-Minded." Rich, beautifully designed site from the Winston-Salem Journal about forced sterilization in North Carolina, which continued far later than most other states due to the influence of a small group of elitist businessmen and the complicity of newspapers, politicians and doctors. Heart-wrenching Flash interviews, an interactive timeline and original documents like poems, pamphlets and charts provide hours of fascinating reading. The state has been refusing access to these records for decades.
posted by mediareport (84 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Part Three is particularly horrifying. Wake Forest University's med school is investigating its role, and the Governor finally apologized for the program a few weeks ago. Lawsuits to follow, I'm sure.
posted by mediareport at 3:15 PM on January 3, 2003


Didn't Oregon outlaw forced sterilization finally in 1983? There was just a well-documented book [and website] published on the Eugenics history of Vermont this year as well. Creepy stuff. In Vermont, it was mostly the backlash against the "we're better than you" attitudes of the people running the Eugenics programs [and the department at UVM] that wound up sinking the whole angle of study. The outrage at the sterilizations was nowhere near as outspoken as in Oregon.
posted by jessamyn at 3:52 PM on January 3, 2003


We talked about Virginia a while back.
posted by mcwetboy at 3:52 PM on January 3, 2003


Thanks.
posted by pjgulliver at 4:24 PM on January 3, 2003


Black people used as guinea pigs in Tuskegee, Alabama, for the sake of science of course. This stuff makes NC eugenics look like a walk in the park.

From 1932 to 1972, 399 poor black sharecroppers in Macon County, Alabama were denied treatment for syphilis and deceived by physicians of the Unites States Public Health Service. As part of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, designed to document the natural history of the disease, these men were told that they were being treated for "bad blood." In fact, government officials went to extreme lengths to insure that they received no therapy from any source. As reported by the New York Times on 26 July 1972, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was revealed as "the longest nontherapeutic experiment on human beings in medical history."

Here's Clinton's Presidential apology

Of course, with President Thurmond in the White House we would not have had all these problems over all these years, either.
posted by matteo at 4:43 PM on January 3, 2003


As with the "non-children of Roe v. Wade", the one thing never mentioned about eugenics is that it works.

The sterilization and culling is to credit for our current plummeting violent crime rate (though neither side brags this up.) Voluntary abortion was far more effective in eliminating "undesirables" then sponsored sterilization.

And Noyes' Oneida community, with its selective breeding program (mostly based on Noyes' guesses) was highly effective in producing a superior strain of person. Something the Chinese are trying to emulate on a grand scale.

Is it wrong for a government to try to "improve" its people by eliminating congenital genetic disease, aborting severely disabled children, along with other reproductive regulations?
posted by kablam at 4:58 PM on January 3, 2003


is it ok if i chop your bollocks off kablam?
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:05 PM on January 3, 2003


kablam, you are sick bastard. Is it wrong? YES. People and parents and children have rights!

So, at which point do you force the abortion? Who decides? Which defects decide your childs death?

This list can go on and on but the more I think about what you wrote the more disgusted I become.
posted by Baesen at 5:13 PM on January 3, 2003


Methinks kablam proves his own argument.
posted by jokeefe at 5:26 PM on January 3, 2003


Is it wrong for a government to try to "improve" its people...

Of course not. The government should be free to do anything it likes with the people it owns: spay, neuter, breed, train, show, herd... Yeesh, kablam, really.

Thanks for the links, mediareport. I have to admit to being a bit conflicted on a philosophical basis about this issue. While I'd never say that it's the government's business to decide who should and shouldn't bear children, it's often the case that people with severely subnormal intelligence are just not able to care for their children, or at least to ensure that their children reach their maximum potentials, and I think we need to consider the effects on any potential children as well. It's also the case that many people with mental illnesses and conditions like Down Syndrome enjoy sex, but are vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies (and STD's) simply because they're unable to remember to use protection. It's a very tough issue, and it does need to be addressed, but in no way is forced sterilization the answer, especially when meted out with such capriciousness and obvious prejudice as was the case in most/all government sterilization programs.
posted by biscotti at 5:31 PM on January 3, 2003


Either kablam's trolling or he's missed the point completely. From the executive editor's note:

The records...show that while other states were shutting down their programs after the revelations of Hitler’s crimes in World War II, North Carolina expanded its program to include the general population. Almost two-thirds of the 7,600 North Carolina citizens sterilized had never been institutionalized, and 2,000 were under 19.

And:

North Carolina's eugenics law, passed in 1929 and rewritten in 1933, allowed sterilizations for three reasons — epilepsy, sickness and feeblemindedness. But the board almost routinely violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the law by passing judgment on many other things, from promiscuity to homosexuality.

These were not people who were "severely disabled" or who had "congenital genetic disease." In many cases, the only thing they lacked was money and an education. The series intro mentions other important details:
  • More than 2,000 people ages 18 and younger were sterilized in many questionable cases, including a 10-year-old who was castrated. Children were sterilized over the objections of their parents, and the consent process was often a sham.
  • The program had been racially balanced in the early years, but by the late 1960s more than 60 percent of those sterilized were black, and 99 percent were female.
  • Doctors performed sterilizations without authorization and the eugenics board backdated approval. Forsyth County engaged in an illegal sterilization campaign beyond the state program.
  • Major eugenics research at Wake Forest University was paid for by a patron whose long history of ties to science had a racial agenda that included a visit to a 1935 Nazi eugenics conference and extensive efforts to overturn key civil-rights legislation.

posted by mediareport at 5:33 PM on January 3, 2003


I dont think sterilization is wrong as long as its practized on white and/or racist and/or republican leaders, let's see how they would feel about it :)

happy friday
posted by bureaustyle at 5:40 PM on January 3, 2003


also let's sterilize kablam, there is no need for genes like that in this world
posted by bureaustyle at 5:43 PM on January 3, 2003


I'm somewhat with Kablam. I've yet to see anything that suggests that eugenics is even mostly bunk. People may personally find it tasteless or offensive, but selective breeding works and no amount of shouting "NAZI! NAZI!" at those involved will change that fact.

People who are mentally lacking should not be allowed to reproduce, period. People who go on welfare should not be allowed to have more children that they are incapable of caring for. Educated people should be encouraged to have larger families earlier in life than they currently do. As humans we are the only animal that can scientifically take control of its evolution, and by all means we should.

There are, of course, frightening and racist abuses of the policy. These should be guarded against and those responsible persecuted and shunned by the medical community. However, can anyone honestly say that the human species isn't better off without some rural Virginia submoronic crackers spawning a dozen illiterate waterhead babies?
posted by bunnytricks at 5:49 PM on January 3, 2003


mmmmmmm what a reasonably put point , bunny.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:52 PM on January 3, 2003


Hang in there kablam!
posted by Witty at 6:16 PM on January 3, 2003


People who are mentally lacking should not be allowed to reproduce, period.

All right bunny, exactly how do you propose they should be stopped?

As for kablam, this isn't his first flirtation with the idea of Totalitarianism. (Catch the follow-up post too: Hyper-managed minimum security upbringing!)

Machiavelli beware!
posted by dgaicun at 6:30 PM on January 3, 2003


also let's sterilize kablam, there is no need for genes like that in this world

You reveal yourself to be worse than the intolerant racists and Republicans you decry. Try to make your points with reasoning or data, not ad hominem attacks, please.
posted by rushmc at 6:30 PM on January 3, 2003


To the proponents of 'selection': to what end(s) are we supposed to direct evolution? Should we not select for such noble attributes as altruism - and the capacity to see beyond vulgar, short-term utilitarianism - while we're busy selecting? What kind of animals do you want us to be?
posted by stonerose at 6:31 PM on January 3, 2003


My point, and many of you proved it admirably, is both that many of you are *prejudiced* against things you have been trained to see as abhorrent while at the same time these things are going on around you and you are oblivious to them!

Your reactions and responses were pumped into you in your youth as a knee-jerk response to what the Nazis did; while at the same time you might have seen eugenics programs in the US as "liberal" policies. A spoonful of sugar.

FYI, the US has *always* been at the forefront of eugenics as science, and in both sides of the coin, culling and sterilization *and* selective breeding! What you find so horrible, so awful, has been going on for most of your entire lives all around you! You might have even protested or voted in favor of these policies.

Go ahead, re-examine social policy for the last 80 years, then ask yourself why 1 in 4 young black men are in prison? What is the practical long-term effect of abortion on demographics? Why do you never see the "feeble minded" walking the streets anymore (what happened to the ubiquitous "town idiot"?) What other eugenics programs are in effect just using other labels?
posted by kablam at 6:45 PM on January 3, 2003


dgaicun: in re my previous posts. Are you saying you would rather see millions of children die horrible deaths? If so, you are a monster. I posited a way to save not only the lives of orphans who could be saved, but a way to educate them to revitalize their entire continent into prosperity and freedom.
Perhaps you would prefer something less Machiavellian and more like Jonathan Swift.
posted by kablam at 6:52 PM on January 3, 2003


what happened to the ubiquitous "town idiot"?
Currently trolling Metafilter.
posted by Zootoon at 7:14 PM on January 3, 2003


selective breeding works

How? For what?

And kablam, there is a pretty big difference between allowing people to choose not to have children they don't want by making abortions available (this probably does prevent some children with problems being born, since unwanted pregnancies are unlikely to be handled as carefully by an unwilling mother, and unwanted babies are unlikely to recieve the care and stimulation needed in the early years of life to ensure full development), and forcibly sterilizing people.
posted by biscotti at 7:18 PM on January 3, 2003


However, can anyone honestly say that the human species isn't better off without some rural Virginia submoronic crackers spawning a dozen illiterate waterhead babies?

I have to give it to you, bunnytricks--that sentence may contain the highest ratio of obnoxious and ignorant characterizations to words that I've seen in quite a while. And I would say the same even if I weren't from rural Virginia.

...many of you are *prejudiced* against things you have been trained to see as abhorrent while at the same time these things are going on around you and you are oblivious to them!

Can't speak for anyone else, but I am neither predjudiced against eugenics nor oblivious to the alternate methods our society has devised to weed out its "undesirables." I've considered--long, hard, and repeatedly--the benefits of selective breeding to improve the overall health of a population. I came close to being in favor of it. But the human cost is just too big. No matter how horribly handicapped a person is, he or she has the right to be treated as a full person, as long excercising those rights does not endanger any lives. Full personhood includes control of one's own sexual and reproductive life.

And what biscotti said.
posted by hippugeek at 7:49 PM on January 3, 2003


Sure, eugenics works! I don't think there is really any doubt that breeding the healthiest and most intelligent members of society would eventually produce healthier and more intelligent offspring. The point is that would be legislating one of the essential aspects of being a living human being... in my mind, one step short of mandatory euthanasia.

I don't think sterilization is wrong as long as its practiced on white and/or racist and/or republican leaders, let's see how they would feel about it :)

You can just say "racist". We all know that means "white republicans". Right?
posted by 4easypayments at 8:02 PM on January 3, 2003


The statistical link between abortion and reduced crime rates has been challenged. Here's an abstract by Ted Joyce (unfortunately, $ required for the full paper) and another by John Lott and John Whitley. There's a brief summary of both sides of the debate over here. (I'm aware of the possible political biases at work here, especially inasmuch as Lott is affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute; however, it's hard to reject Joyce on kneejerk political grounds.)

kablam's generalizations about the vanishing "village idiots" don't make much sense. The mentally retarded (a term that, as the AAMR points out, is not simply a matter of having a low IQ) are often not wandering the streets because, in many cases, they are a) in school (if of the appropriate age), b) at work (depending on the level of impairment), c) living in group homes under supervision (if the $ are there), and so forth. The CDC lists these rates for mental retardation per state for 1993.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:14 PM on January 3, 2003


hippugeek speaks with the voice of reason. When I think of eugenics, I make a conscious effort to ignore the Nazi past--not to slight the evil and stupid Nazi efforts--but to point out that before WWII, anything and everything about eugenics was up for grabs internationally, from Sweden to Australia. Any government that wanted to just did, with no thought to individual or civil rights.
And after WWII, there was an anti-eugenics 'pause' because of the Nazis; BUT IN TRUTH, ALL of these modern, 1st world governments and nations are always itching to socially experiment in any number of ways.
So finally, after all these years, the flood gates are again open. "Ethics" goes out the window, as does the idea of "forbidden research".
Is anything to horrible to do? Are there any restraints left on government?
4easypayments, do you for one think that it is only a matter of time before the forces of incrementalism start pushing for legal euthanasia? And how long after that will euthanasia become a social duty?

Will the only argument be "opt-in" or "opt-out"?
posted by kablam at 8:21 PM on January 3, 2003


hippugeek: once again, before I say anything, I have to point out that hippie ideology and punk ideology are diametrically opposed to each other. One or the other.

I find it telling you didn't challenge the truth of my statement, that we are better off as a species because Gennie Leadchipeater didn't have a litter of mewling dirty brats whose progeny would do little in the world today other than lower school performance scores and make methamphetamine from chicken feed and fertilizer. I'm not saying that the state was justified in sterilizing people, only that we are much better off that they did.

biscotti: to see how selective breeding works, compare a labrador, a wolf, and a bloodhound. the labrador is as intelligent as your three year old, the bloodhound is basically a giant nose with paws, and neither shares much of its temperament with the wolf. The specialized breeds of the world didn't pop up by accident, but rather through careful selection and human intervention in the breeding process.
posted by bunnytricks at 8:22 PM on January 3, 2003


biscotti: to see how selective breeding works

talk about carrying coals to Newcastle!
posted by y2karl at 8:36 PM on January 3, 2003


Kablam's point about the Oneida community is well taken — it would be hard to argue that it did any harm (although I'd have to see some evidence for his claim that it bred 'a superior breed of person'). But the pertinent point there is that it was voluntary. The evil of eugenics as it's usually been practiced is not the idea of selective breeding itself (although I doubt it makes much of a difference — all kinds of completely unresolved issues of nature vs. nurture come into play) but the fact that it has been forced on people against their wills.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:45 PM on January 3, 2003


People who are mentally lacking should not be allowed to reproduce, period.

All right bunny, exactly how do you propose they should be stopped?
posted by dgaicun at 8:51 PM on January 3, 2003


bunnytricks: perhaps I didn't phrase my questions accurately. I know how selective breeding works, I know that selective breeding works when trying to achieve specific objectives in animals, but please define exactly what you feel its "working" would be in humans. What would those objectives be? How would they be decided upon? And please explain why it would be a good thing to do on anything other than an individual level. I have no problem with individual people selecting for specific traits in their offspring, but I have a huge problem with a government doing it. Or, what IshmaelGraves said, more or less. (y2karl: ;>)

kablam: 4easypayments didn't say "legal euthanasia", but "mandatory euthanasia", there's a world of difference there.
posted by biscotti at 8:59 PM on January 3, 2003


WOW - I'm a little speechless. First of all, I have to assume the best of those writing favorably of South Carolina's past "Eugenics" practices -- and so this leads me to the logical conclusion that many on this thread do not (among other things) know what the difference between GENOTYPES AND PHENOTYPES is.

This is a basic, fundamental distinction in biology and genetics. The GENOTYPE amounts to, basically, the "pattern" dictated by an individual's DNA. But the PHENOTYPE is the EXPRESSION of that DNA - in flesh and blood. And, most importantly, PHENOTYPES DIVERGE SIGNIFICANTLY FROM GENOTYPES. The reason for this is actually very simple: even though, from the moment of conception, the genotype dictates the overall developmental pattern of the emerging individual, the genotpye can be thought of as merely expressing "boundary conditions". BUT IT IS THE INTERACTION OF THE GENOTYPE WITH THE SURROUNDING ENVIRONMENT WHICH DETERMINES THE PHENOTYPE.

In other words - environment matters. A lot.

To put it simply, children raised in violent, impoverished, pathological environments will suffer. They will fall short of their genetic potential.

So, when Kablam says, for example, "Go ahead, re-examine social policy for the last 80 years, then ask yourself why 1 in 4 young black men are in prison?", he reveals, as far as I can tell, a complete and utter ignorance of this basic distinction between GENOTYPES AND PHENOTYPES.

I have to assume that Kablam believes that environments count for nothing. Geneticists themselves do not believe this. And because he seems to believe that environmental influence is insignificant, he can discount the impact - on children raised there - of the appalling conditions in many areas of America's inner cities.

I can only assume that Kablam either has never lived in an inner city area or has never actually had significant interaction with that whole population group (American blacks) who he derides as criminal (or retarded, or both).

And I also have to assume that he is completely ignorant of the fact that his own DNA is, statistically, more similar to that of this "inferior" group's DNA than to that of a randomly chosen individual from any "superior" group he choses to designate.

Yes, selective breeding and "Eugenics"- the attempt to apply selective breeding to human beings - can work. Humans are animals, and animals can be bred for specific traits But the "Eugenics" policies of the 19th and early to mid 20th Century were based on NO REAL KNOWLEDGE OF GENETICS AT ALL. Yes, Mendelian principles of inheritance were known. But they certainly DID NOT inform the "Eugenics" policies of the United States or elsewhere - just as the discovery of DNA - OVER FOUR DECADES AGO (with it's immense and complex ramifications) - seems to have little influenced this discussion.

Maybe it is too soon, maybe we are too close to the time when:

Just as Calvinism taught that the rich of society were virtuous and predestined to go to Heaven - because, surely, we must be witnessing the hand of infallible God in the good fortune (combined with their hard work, of course) bestowed on the rich........so "Eugenics served to confirm our darkest fears (and hopes, if we were wealthy): THAT THE POOR ARE SO BECAUSE THEY ARE INFERIOR. This belief has been loitering at the edges of this thread. Here it is, in all it's ugliness.

Meanwhile, while US poor become more generous, and the US rich give less and "the heritability of status has been increasing in recent decades" see the US Census Bureau for "Changes in Income Inequality for Families, 1947-1998" and even ponder this: "A group of homeless people in New York have clubbed together nickels and dimes to make a Christmas gift for a police officer who was disciplined for helping a homeless man. "

I doubt that these homeless were actually of less than average intelligence. But even if they were, I would note that I have seen greater viciousness among smarter than average individuals and, conversely, more moral integrity among the officially 'retarded' (with whom I used to work).
posted by troutfishing at 10:34 PM on January 3, 2003 [1 favorite]


No matter how horribly handicapped a person is, he or she has the right to be treated as a full person

So !full=full? By what logic do you determine that equation? Some sort of overcompensating moral mechanism because the issues involved are difficult and uncomfortable?

I would note that I have seen greater viciousness among smarter than average individuals and, conversely, more moral integrity among the officially 'retarded'

Are you assuming some sort of causal link here?
posted by rushmc at 10:53 PM on January 3, 2003


rushmc - no, not exactly. The linkage is conditioned, environmental. "Retardation" (in the eyes of society) often tends, I have noticed, to give rise to compassion and humility while the opposite holds for those branded "superior" - they can lose empathy with other beings, human and otherwise, and even develop sociopathological behaviors.
posted by troutfishing at 11:10 PM on January 3, 2003


bunnytricks: ...I find it telling you didn't challenge the truth of my statement...

That's kinda funny, because I find your bizarre hang-up about my name telling, too.

I didn't directly contradict your assertion because I think it may be right--perhaps in the long run, the human race would be improved physically and intellectually by selective breeding. (Though it would be in the very long term indeed, if it happened at all--thanks troutfishing.) My opposition to eugenics, however, is based on (A) the fact that the imposition of that kind of extremely personal restriction on any person is a violation of their human rights, and (B) its institution would encourage the kind of heartlessness you have so conveniently demostrated in both your posts. The possibility of creating a smarter, stronger human does not outweigh the terrible toll of creating an amoral one.

troutfishing: I can only assume that Kablam either has never lived in an inner city area or has never actually had significant interaction with that whole population group (American blacks) who he derides as criminal (or retarded, or both).

I may be wrong, but I thought kablam was asserting that in the absence of outright eugenics, the US government has devised other ways to engineer the population--ie, by creating laws that may unfairly incarcerate large numbers of young black men. (Note: This should not be taken as a defense of any of kablam's other points.)

rushmc: Some sort of overcompensating moral mechanism...?

Well, yes, actually. I know you favor reason when pondering complex issues, but I'm wired differently. My own slippery, intangible moral code (a large part of which is the existance of universal, unalienable human rights) trumps logic in nearly every decision I make about ideology or policy. The difficulty or uncomfortableness of the issue makes little difference.
posted by hippugeek at 11:51 PM on January 3, 2003


Afterthoughts:

...we are better off as a species because Gennie Leadchipeater didn't have a litter of mewling dirty brats whose progeny would do little in the world today other than lower school performance scores...

Perhaps this was simply an unfortunate choice of name, but retardation from ingestion of lead has nothing to do with heredity. Unless she has other problems, Gennie's children would be just fine genetically. See troutfishing's post.

The possibility of creating a smarter, stronger human does not outweigh the terrible toll of creating an amoral one.

Just to avoid all possible misconstruction: I'm not suggesting that this amoral person would be somehow bred to be so. I mean that he or she would be less likely to feel empathy towards the disabled (and the poor, apparently, though I don't see what that has to do with anything) as a result of being raised in a society that tolerates eugenics and in which derogatory attitudes towards less-than-"perfect" people flourish.
posted by hippugeek at 12:16 AM on January 4, 2003


'I know you favor reason. . .but I'm wired differently. My. . . moral code. . . trumps logic'

{!!!!}

Nothing trumps logic, hippugeek. Moral codes are ideally constructed on well reasoned principles, not in opposition to them. The idea of unalienable human rights doesn't challenge reason- it's the foundation of it. (In other words give yourself and/or reason a little more credit)

Meanwhile: Perhaps our self-appointed dictators would like to elucidate for us a little better who they think should be allowed to breed and who shouldn't, and exactly how they plan on enforcing those laws.

(btw- yeah, troutfishing, kablam's comment on blacks wasn't intended the way you interpreted it- his insinuation was crazy and offensive, mind you, but for a largely different reason.)
posted by dgaicun at 3:26 AM on January 4, 2003


Seems to me the base idea of eugenics, that future generations of humans should be smarter, fitter, stronger, etc than ourselves, is sound. There's nothing wrong with that. There's certainly something wrong with wanting our successors to be dumber, etc, than ourselves. We could let nature take its course, but given that we have the option of not doing so, why shouldn't we try for better descendants? To ignore the capacity to guide our species' development is itself "guiding our development", but randomly.

Firstly, the idea of superior races is simply unsound. Obviously individual people are superior or inferior to one another, depending on the task at hand. For instance, one individual of two may be superior at chess, the other at arm-wrestling; alternatively, one may be superior to the other on both counts. It is obviously true that the total members of races (discounting, for the moment, the vast number of individuals of mixed racial heritage) will show different statistical averages for any given task, as will any other division of humanity, by gender, nationality, age or postcode. But any reliance on this fact is more harmful than helpful, because it will lead to incorrect assumptions, error, and unfairness. An individual ought to be judged on his or her own merits. Not just because this is morally correct, but because to do otherwise is an error of judgement.

And that is where eugenics has acquired a bad reputation. Because the idea, thanks to Hitler and Co, has become so conflated with race-based, rather than individual-based, superiority and inferiority, it has gained an immoral reputation. The sort of people who promote mass eugenics normally assume their own kind of human to be the most superior, to the ludicrous extent that all other kinds of humans ought to be penalized for the promoter's kind's benefit. This is a political tactic no different from any other means of dividing humanity in order to conquer them, and again it applies along any other division line, such as age, nationality, or gender.

So let's leave aside the race-based approach altogether. It's easily shown to be evil and erroneous. Instead, let's examine the morality of individual-based eugenics.

Positive eugenics is choosing which people breed, and who with. Negative eugenics is preventing people from breeding, or killing their children. Both cover the spectrum of good and evil, and all human cultures have traditionally practiced eugenic customs which fit on that spectrum. An arranged marriage is eugenics. Telling your daughters to keep away from the gypsy boys is eugenics. Killing criminals is eugenic, as a side effect. The family tree of the royal houses of Europe is an exercise in eugenics in pursuit of a non-existent trait, "royalty". The Hindu caste system is eugenics. Promoting thin, athletic builds through the media with the result that fat people commit suicide more often and find it more difficult on average to find partners is eugenics. Wanting your kids to marry good-looking spouses is a eugenic concept, and if you do anything about this desire, you're practicing eugenics.

Widen the goalposts far enough, and everything that has to do with the choices surrounding human reproduction looks like eugenics. Which it is. So recoiling away from the idea as if it were novel, pretending that we are the first people to ever come up with it, is foolish.

I don't feel like writing an even longer rant about this than I have already. Suffice it to say that my opinion, which is just my opinion, is that we don't have the right to practice negative eugenics on one another as individuals any more than we have the right to execute or lock one another up as individuals. A society has a certain right to circumscribe the fertility of its members, just as it has rights to control their free movement, or even put them to death. The idea itself is not inherently wrong, but there are exercises of the idea that are. In democracies it is really up to the members of the society to elect, or not elect, leaders who put forward eugenically-based policies. If the members of the society feel that the random hand of Nature is sufficiently wise to guide their genetic future, then so be it. Otherwise, it is the nature of all laws to proscribe what some people want to do. You don't, as a human being, have the right to do whatever you want. This applies to reproduction as much as anything else.

As for positive eugenics, this, as others have pointed out, is a matter of environment--every child has a potential for good, which it is society's responsibility to bring out--and and heredity. You can't change an existing person's heredity. Positively controlling others' heredity is presumptous, though there are ways to do it while maintaining choice. Having a media/science/entertainment industry conglomerate in which the smart, beautiful and ambitious have opportunities to partner off is an example. :) But you yourself have control over your own heredity. You will have some control over whether you have children or not. You will have some control over who fathers or mothers them. Is anyone not OK with that kind of eugenic decision?

Changing the kid's genetic code is a whole different kettle of worms. My opinion: it's yours, and your partner's, genetic material. You have sovereignty over it, subject to the same laws of the same state that decides what drugs you are allowed to buy and how fast you can drive your car. Improving your kid to the extent that technology makes it possible, your society's laws permit (or you're prepared to flout), and you can afford, is OK by me. Just as improving yourself is, or helping other people to improve. I do have a problem, a major problem, with the idea of introducing traits into a kid that are unambiguously negative, for example deafness, which we discussed some time ago. Again, that's a matter to be controlled by the laws of society.

posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:13 AM on January 4, 2003


This didn't just happen in America. Sweden was at it too.

Sure, eugenics works!

To what end? How do you know? Do you want to reduce crime rates, reduce disease or increase prosperity? I would suggest that all of these goals have more effective solutions that don't infringe on peoples' rights. If you're just hoping to rid your country of the type of people that you don't like then yes, I suppose eugenics would work.

I think we all should remember that the state exists for the benefit of the people, not the other way round.
posted by Summer at 4:16 AM on January 4, 2003


Nothing trumps logic, hippugeek. Moral codes are ideally constructed on well reasoned principles, not in opposition to them. The idea of unalienable human rights doesn't challenge reason- it's the foundation of it.

If that's true, then please give me a line of reasoning that begins with something other than a presupposition about morality and ends in a moral conclusion.

See, as much as I would love for you to be right, you just can't be. There's nothing at all inherent in the rules of logic that implies that rights are inalienable. Ethical and moral systems can be constructed in accordance with reason, but never on it.

Why? Because reason is just a tool for accomplishing a certain type of goal. In itself, reason is agnostic about the goal to be achieved. "Good" is, in the end, a value judgement. (That's not to say that all value judgements are equal - in part, that's where reason comes in.)
posted by gd779 at 4:23 AM on January 4, 2003


An arranged marriage is eugenics. Telling your daughters to keep away from the gypsy boys is eugenics. Killing criminals is eugenic, as a side effect. The family tree of the royal houses of Europe is an exercise in eugenics in pursuit of a non-existent trait, "royalty". The Hindu caste system is eugenics. Promoting thin, athletic builds through the media with the result that fat people commit suicide more often and find it more difficult on average to find partners is eugenics.

Which is why progressive societies condemn all of these things?

A society has a certain right to circumscribe the fertility of its members, just as it has rights to control their free movement, or even put them to death.

No it hasn't. A society only has the right to control movement if the individual has broken the law and it never ever has the right to control fertility. Being weak or mentally subnormal isn't a crime. And let's not use the word society, it's the state that decides these things. The two are separate, even in democratic countries.
posted by Summer at 4:27 AM on January 4, 2003


A society... never ever has the right to control fertility

Summer: If you don't mind me asking, why not?
posted by gd779 at 4:35 AM on January 4, 2003


A society has a certain right to circumscribe the fertility of its members

Wow. Somebody really wrote that. Meanwhile, no one's yet answered how we decide who gets the power to sterilize other people, or who gets chosen for sterilization. The whole *point* of the North Carolina story is that arrogance and elitism on the part of a wealthy handful got out of control and resulted in non-mentally deficient people getting sterilized without their consent.

Hello? *Problem.*
posted by mediareport at 4:46 AM on January 4, 2003


A society has a certain right to circumscribe the fertility of its members

right , so if we here at metafilter decide to chop your bollocks off kablam and bunny , thats alright with you is it?
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:36 AM on January 4, 2003


A society... never ever has the right to control fertility

Summer: If you don't mind me asking, why not?


Because it's none of society's business. But as I said before, it's not society we're talking about, it's the state. And if you want to take away something so fundamental as the ability to reproduce, I suggest the burden of proof is on you.
posted by Summer at 6:26 AM on January 4, 2003


Geez. I can break this thread in half. On one side are those discussing the issues. On the other side are those going "You said Nazi! That means you support Nazism!!!"

From the very beginning my criticism is, and has always been, of government eugenics programs. Will you please, please, please NOT assume I support government eugenics programs just because I discuss them?

First, I said that eugenics programs work. They work as far as the governments that make them are concerned. This does NOT mean that they are ethical or moral or intelligent or humanitarian. JUST that the governments that USE eugenics are satisfied with the results of their social experiments. And this DOES NOT mean that I support these programs!

And this also means that if the government, YOUR government, be it the US, UK, EU, Australian, Sweden or a few dozen other governments WANTS to do eugenics, it WILL and most probably DOES.

AND IT DOESN'T MATTER IF IT GIVES IT ANOTHER LABEL.
You may call eugenics "Forced Sterilization", or "Abortion", or "Imprisonment", or "Forced Starvation", or "Selective Education", or even "Welfare". IT MEANS THE GOVERNMENT WANTS *SOME* PEOPLE TO PROCREATE, AND OTHERS *NOT* TO.

AND THIS DOES NOT MEAN I SUPPORT THESE PROGRAMS!

So each and every one of you stupid bastards who called for some other poster to be forcibly sterilized should grow up. It is people like YOU that support forced sterilization in the first place, for it is people like YOU that are Nazis. Armchair bastards who think with hate.
posted by kablam at 7:51 AM on January 4, 2003


Hi everybody!
posted by y2karl at 8:02 AM on January 4, 2003


Here's a question: If society doesn't have the right to control fertility, does it have the right to say, eliminate genetic disorders pre-birth (correct not abort)? Couldn't you say that fertility is a genetic disorder in those without the capacity to care for/raise children? Do we only make changes to people when we've decided its a good thing? Is what's a good thing today going to be good tomorrow? Or do we do nothing and condem children to suffer needlessly from various genetic ailments? I dunno, nut there's a pretty slippery slope around here somewhere...
posted by blue_beetle at 9:58 AM on January 4, 2003


while the opposite holds for those branded "superior" - they can lose empathy with other beings, human and otherwise

Is it those "branded" superior whose ability to relate is diminished or those who, by some measure, truly outgrow or outstrip their peers? To illustrate with an extreme example, I have little in common with snails in many ways and probably empathize with them quite poorly in most instances. Is this "bad" in some sense, or just the natural and expected way of things?

In any case, it again seems that you are implying a causal link where I only see a correlative one. There are many people who could be judged "superior" by various measures who are equally or more compassionate than those rated lower. A case could even be made that (in the case of intelligence), a richer, more complex understanding of humanity can directly lead to an increased sensitivity to its members over less sophisticated, gut-driven individuals.

As for the oft-remarked "gentleness" or "kindness" frequently observed in many retarded individuals, it seems to me that this might naturally develop both as a result of a practical lack of development of certain traits (e.g., competitiveness) and from a certain instinctive strategy of self-preservation (a personality equivalent to the evolution of physiological neotony in children). But are not such traits as competitiveness, self-interest, ambition, etc. also valid parts of the human repertoire? You seem to rate them quite negatively.
posted by rushmc at 10:22 AM on January 4, 2003


My own slippery, intangible moral code (a large part of which is the existance of universal, unalienable human rights) trumps logic in nearly every decision I make about ideology or policy.

How can a code be "intangible?" It must be based upon something, even if it is "slippery" and ill-defined. Perhaps you feel that human rights are a gift from God and therefore need no rational basis, but barring such a supernatural foundation I fail to see how they can leap fully formed into existence. By what method do you determine which rights exist, of the countless variations that people can claim? Again, unless you simply accept on faith a list of 10 naughty things dictated from a diety, unquestioningly, it seems to me that any means of distinguishing between the possible moral precepts and constructing a personal moral code would necessarily involve reason and rational judgment.
posted by rushmc at 10:28 AM on January 4, 2003


im not saying you should be sterilized kablamypoos,
im asking you a question that you still have failed to answer throughout the entire course of this thread.
Now kablam , a yes or no would suffice , would you mind awfully if i chopped your bollocks off?
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:03 AM on January 4, 2003


Kablam - OK, fair enough. Some people on this thread were very reactive to your post. Have you figured out the "buzzwords" which set them off? You might want to, if you haven't, because the topic of Eugenics is quite a mine field, due to the fact that millions have been sadistically (and also clinically) slaughtered in it's name.

I was once told by my (now ex) girlfriend, who should have known better, that "there's research which shows that the Nazis couldn't have killed as many Jews as peope claim." She wasn't exactly denying the Holocaust but claiming, instead, that the numbers were inflated. So I sat her down and said, calmly and probably more than a little patronizingly - "you know, ______, I won't judge you on this (which was a lie - I'd did, and am still ashamed for not being more candid) but you should be really carefull who you say this too, because a lot of peope would get very, very upset if they heard you say this sort of thing." Then I did my best to rebut the claim (without specific knowledge of the arcana of the piece of "research" she was referring to) and told her of the many Jews I knew whose parents or grandparents had died in Nazi death camps during WW2.

It was not until years later that I actually found out the origin of the "research" she had referred to: A Scottish based eugenics institute (Nazi affiliated too, I believe) which had duped Fred Leuchter, a hapless, unwitting American expert on execution, to secretly visit Death Camp sites to "prove" the the Holocaust numbers were inflated. The resulting "research" made the rounds far and wide in certain (fascist, neofascist and even right-wing - circles), even as innuendo (even reaching my well-meaning but historically ignorant ex-girlfriend).

The whole nasty affair is brilliantly covered in Errol Morris' documentary, "Mr. Death", which details Fred Leuchter's meteoric rise as an expert in execution methods, and the destruction of this career following his association with the Eugenics institute which sponsored his "research". Leuchter was pitifully unaware of his almost total lack of credentials for a forensic analysis of German death camp sites, and seems to have been a hapless and mostly unwitting tool of the Scottish eugenicists bent on cloaking their Holocaust denial claims in a veneer of respectability...

- Not that you would follow this path, but I'm just making a case that it's always best to know where, at least, one's ignorance lies: Lest, in covering it up or denying it as Leuchter did, one winds up going in dubious directions.

I think you may want to research this claim you mention a little deeper - "As with the "non-children of Roe v. Wade", the one thing never mentioned about eugenics is that it works....The sterilization and culling is to credit for our current plummeting violent crime rate (though neither side brags this up.) Voluntary abortion was far more effective in eliminating "undesirables" then sponsored sterilization." lest you be damaged in the same sort of way as was Fred Leuchter who, following the crash of his execution-expert career, started spending a lot of time with Nazis and Aryan Supremacists (who held him up as a hero.) and is now still (as far as I know) continuing to deny that his "research" was flawed (due to his lack of scientific training in forensics) and is scratching out a living on the Aryan supremacy speaking engagement circuit. A sad tale.

Yes, eugenics (putting all moral and ethical considerations aside) - practiced with in accord with current knowledge of genetics - can work. But I am VERY skeptical about the abortion/crime drop connection for a whole host of reasons. By the way, crime rates are again rising, in sync with the current economic downturn. Correlation does not imply causation, and there are many better supported hypotheses out there to explain the crime drop. If, as I now suspect, you were suggesting that, in keeping 25% of young black males (presumeably the ones more predisposed to violent, impulsive behavior) out of "circulation" (unnable to impregnate females), I suggest that you read a bit more about life in US inner cities: young black males of this group manage to father quite a few children as they rotate in and out of prison. Yes, some are given long prison sentences. Many more, I suspect, go through this "rotational" period (and some clean up their lives while others end up with long term prison sentences). And, by the way, how would this study (which you seem to be citing, implicitly) determine paternity?

Anyway, I have to go. Think about it!
posted by troutfishing at 11:12 AM on January 4, 2003


One more "brief" comment (I wrote this a bit earlier):

First, Kudos to Aeschenkarnos: "Firstly, the idea of superior races is simply unsound." Now it IS true that "Racial" groups have recently been shown to exist, meaning: the human race has, just this year, been shown to consist of 5 genetic groups with slight, but real and distinctive, DNA signatures. BUT...as I was alluding to with my statement that Kablam's "... own DNA is, statistically, more similar to that of this "inferior" group's DNA than to that of a randomly chosen individual from any "superior" group he choses to designate." --- INDIVIDUAL genetic variation is FAR MORE significant than genetic variation between indentifiable "racial" groups. So pluck Kablam, wherever he is, out and drop him, like the anomalous coke bottle (from the movie "the Gods musty be crazy") into a tribe of Khalahari Bushmen. First of all, Kablam will notice that the Bushmen are using cellphones. But beyond that... a simple genetic test will reveal that Kablam's DNA is MUCH MORE SIMILAR to the average DNA of the Bushman Tribe then to his next-door neighbor's DNA. ...Hmmm.....interesting...

Humans have a long standing tradition of "state" eugenics far preceeding, for example, the Biblical slaughter of Canaanites by the Jews (which has at least some historical basis, I believe.) This incident is far from unusual: almost ALL ur-national, proto-national groups have committed such atrocities at one time or another. Furthermore: (AeschenKarnos again) "[eugenics] is a political tactic no different from any other means of dividing humanity in order to conquer them, and again it applies along any other division line, such as age, nationality, or gender....So let's leave aside the race-based approach altogether. It's easily shown to be evil and erroneous. Instead, let's examine the morality of individual-based eugenics." Well put.

Hmmm.....so "racially" based eugenics have an ugly history and are not supported as meaningfull by current genetic science. But.... individually based eugenics...hmmmm... Eugenics at the INDIVIDUAL (or small tribal) level is as old as sexual reproduction itself, and so: (Aeshenkarnos), "all human cultures have traditionally practiced eugenic customs. ... An arranged marriage is eugenics. Telling your daughters to keep away from the gypsy boys is eugenics. Killing criminals is eugenic, as a side effect. The family tree of the royal houses of Europe is an exercise in eugenics in pursuit of a non-existent trait, "royalty". The Hindu caste system is eugenics."

IN FACT, I suspect that the whole question of government sponsored eugenics - with it's whole sordid past - is on the way to becming moot. Parents will implement their own eugenics programs and the actual factor which determines whether they have smarter, healthier, more beautifull children will be, quite simply, MONEY.

Emerging eugenic technologies will spur the development of a new caste system and, unlike the sometimes bigoted and fancifull notions of the eugenics movements of the past, the future demarcation lines of caste will be based on REAL and substantial genotypic and phenotypic differences.

[In fact, with the growing reach of intellectual property rights - even into the human genome - Caste distinction may even be demarcated by genetically encoded trademarks indicating corporate ownership of trademark 'improvements' (and conferring certain ownership rights

There now exist 500 different types of genetic tests - of parental genetic material and In Utero, for the developing foetus. The early termination of unwanted (due to the 'defective' nature of the foetus) pregnancies, drug therapies to influence phenotypic development, and even genetic therapies which actually alter DNA of the foetus - these eugenic techniques are ALL being employed TODAY.

These eugenic technologies exist, and - absent the sudden emergence powerfull societal taboos - they will advance to an almost inconceivable degree - in the next several decades. The free market demands these eugenic technologies.

BUT...Initially, new technologies are expensive and so it will be the very wealthiest who implement advanced eugenic techniques first. And so, in a bitterly ironic twist to previous claims of the manifest superiority of the rich - which have been belied too often in the past by the reality that many of the great family fortunes in the US and elswhere were acheived through the most vicious, venal, and criminal behavior.......

in the coming eugenic age rushing at us, the rich WILL be "better": in addition to enjoying the benefits of the best environments, the best schools, the rich really will be smarter, healthier, and more attractive. These traits will conflate with the popular myth - probably instinctually driven - that the rich are morally superior and hence more deserving. So soon a tiny strata - coming from the ranks of the world's wealthy elite - WILL EMERGE AS THE NEW ARISTOCRACY, MANIFESTLY ENTITLED TO RULE, DUE TO THEIR SUPERIOR INTELLIGENCE, and their other superior traits. They will be more energetic and aggressive, more fetchingly telegenic. They will loom over the rest of humanity like demigods, like hollywood idols, resplendant in their beautific superiority.

They may, indeed, choose to split off from Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and opt to engineer sufficient genetic distinctions to prevent interbreeding with the plebian masses, to become HOMO SAPIENS SUPERIORIS.

cue: PUNCHLINE:
posted by troutfishing at 11:17 AM on January 4, 2003


Meanwhile, here come the robots....
posted by troutfishing at 11:18 AM on January 4, 2003


So I sat her down and said, calmly and probably more than a little patronizingly - "you know, ______,

troutfishing, wasn't it easier to just scream GODWIN!, e-mail Matt and start a MetaTalk thread?

Anyway, Yad Vashem explains here the difficult task of giving an actual number of victims
Usually the main sources for stats are comparisons of prewar census with postwar census and population estimates. And it's interesting to note that a subtler form of revisionism -- at least subtler than "the camps were too small to kill that many people" revisionist bullshit -- attacks census estimates, trying to argue that there weren't that many Jews in pre-War Europe to begin with. Utter, evil bullshit.
posted by matteo at 11:30 AM on January 4, 2003


troutfishing - once again, if the government believes the moon is made from green cheese, and I say that the government thinks the moon is made of green cheese, it does not mean that *I* believe it.

I have said and will say again that I believe government to be a font of evil, horrible, and awful thinking and policy. If you want Holocaust deniers, look to the government, at least if they think there is something "in it" for them.

And they will probably use a euphemism to describe their Holocaust denial.

Or if you want people who advocate all sorts of eugenics, both popularly acceptable and downright disgusting, again look to government. And they won't *call* it eugenics.

And if you tell them that what they are doing is abhorrent, they will change the label on their actions so that they can continue doing what *they* think is good. If the drug laws aren't incarcerating young black males, then the government will use some other law to the same effect. And it's *always* the young black men's "fault" that only they are being arrested, and taken to trial, and convicted, and sentenced to prison; even though white young men aren't.

Again, government in action. And I do not approve. As Aesop said, "A tyrant needs no excuse", to which could be added, "but they continually make new ones."

And what does government believe? Anything they want to justify their actions. If they want to believe that abortion reduces crime, they believe it. If they want to believe that incarcerating young black men makes them less likely to reproduce, they believe it. If they want to believe that world overpopulation will be cured by starting a smallpox plague, they believe it.

And this does not mean I approve of any of it.
posted by kablam at 1:50 PM on January 4, 2003


Kablam - actually, the post topic concerned Eugenics which, as a social movement, was extremely popular in the US and only fell into disfavour, as you noted, through the so-called "eugenic" policies of the Nazis (which were inspired largely by the US eugenics movement) - the Holocaust. My comments were directly relevant to to the discussion.

In response to your last post - you seem to be saying that 1) Roe V. Wade was a US government Eugenics program and 2) it led to a decline in the crime rate. -- "As with the "non-children of Roe v. Wade", the one thing never mentioned about eugenics is that it works.

The sterilization and culling is to credit for our current plummeting violent crime rate (though neither side brags this up.) Voluntary abortion was far more effective in eliminating "undesirables" then sponsored sterilization.

And Noyes' Oneida community, with its selective breeding program (mostly based on Noyes' guesses) was highly effective in producing a superior strain of person. Something the Chinese are trying to emulate on a grand scale.

Is it wrong for a government to try to "improve" its people by eliminating congenital genetic disease, aborting severely disabled children, along with other reproductive regulations?"
"
posted by troutfishing at 2:10 PM on January 4, 2003


From the very beginning my criticism is, and has always been, of government eugenics programs. Will you please, please, please NOT assume I support government eugenics programs just because I discuss them?

Wow. So very different from the kablam who first coyly asked us:

Is it wrong for a government to try to "improve" its people by eliminating congenital genetic disease, aborting severely disabled children, along with other reproductive regulations?

Never before have I seen such a critical approach. In the same vein I'd like to now ask all the ladies of MeFi: Is it wrong if a man rapes you if he's just really, really fucking horny?

(Let's keep it civil ladies or I'll just say your negative reactions were "pumped into you" by feminism.)

posted by dgaicun at 2:32 PM on January 4, 2003


dgaicun: Okay, fair is fair. Since you accuse me of supporting eugenics, I now accuse you of supporting rape.

Is it wrong if a man rapes you if he's just really, really fucking horny?

And I think it is abhorrent that you support rape, and I advocate that you be castrated because of it. In fact, now that I know that you advocate rape, I shall re-consider your past and future posts from the point of view that you are pro-rape. Any argument you make to the contrary is just trying to justify your pro-rape position.

I also note that your are anti-feminist:

Let's keep it civil ladies or I'll just say your negative reactions were "pumped into you" by feminism.

Which would seem to mesh perfectly with your pro-rape stance. But, I may ask, are you just an advocate of rape or have you already raped and are you a sex offender?
posted by kablam at 2:51 PM on January 4, 2003


I have only read hald the comments in this thread, so forgive me if this point has already been made. I've worked in a couple of mental health facilities and I have seen first hand how a comment/diagnosis made by one doctor/social worker can be accepted as gospel truth and follow a person around for the rest of their life.

In one case a woman with schizophrenia had been diagnosed as mentally retarded for about 20 years even though she had been a straight A student prior to the onset to her illness. No one bothered to rethink the diagnosis until I presented them with a note that she had written me - containing perfect grammar and spelling, reflecting complex and logical reasoning skills and a subtle and sophisticated sense of humor. She was reassesed and the retardation diagnoisis was conclusively disproven. In the other case, a teenage boy had gone through most of his schooling with the label until he had written an essay on cloning that won a Rotary Club sponsored contest.

Both of these people would have been prime candidates for sterilization in another time, all because of someone's cursory review of their cases. I sure met some folks who would make the world a better place by not having children, not to mention sparing some poor child the hell of having them as parents, but I'm not willing to play God. The best we can do is encourage the blatantly unfit to voluntarily choose to use birth control.
posted by echolalia67 at 4:01 PM on January 4, 2003


echolalia67 - "The best we can do is encourage the blatantly unfit to voluntarily choose to use birth control."

and how would you do this? and who would define "blatantly unfit"?

sheesh, some of the posters in this thread sound like they would accept just killing the potential parents and saving the monies spent on the parents and their potential offspring.
posted by DBAPaul at 6:03 PM on January 4, 2003


but I'm not willing to play God

That's such a funny expression. The real choice is between attempting to exercise some control in guiding the future of people and society and throwing up one's hands and allowing society to proceed according to random processes, without the benefit of human knowledge and wisdom. You may indeed prefer the latter, for a variety of reasons, but let's at least describe the choice clearly.
posted by rushmc at 6:34 PM on January 4, 2003


it's like you people* haven't seen gattaca, or something.
please show me any evidence that eugenics serves as anything other than an attempt at 'ethnic cleansing'.
*maybe some have.
there is a verrrry long way to go before we will able to say we understand genetics, AFAIK.
posted by asok at 8:06 PM on January 4, 2003


asok - yep, but the genotype/phenotype distinction I ran across reading....books!!. Yes, it will be a long time before we completely understand genetics (if ever, because the human genome is embedded in the matrix of the biosphere-at-large), but this won't prevent us from randomly tinkering with our genome. Sure, some traits will be shown to result from hellishly complex interaction of genes. But I suspect that some "improvements" could be single gene affairs. These will be where the tinkering begins. Gattaca indeed.

I, for one, salute our new genetically superior overlords! (Can I anoint your oh-so-perfect feet, my master?)
posted by troutfishing at 9:10 PM on January 4, 2003


amazingly correct statements.

I am astounded; I will return more often to mefi from now on ^^

It does not matter the "real choice", rushmc, it is even more dangerous than death row the impact of a mistake in the "human knowledge and wisdom" - fact is, everyone is flawed, and everyone is influenced by their environment, consciously or not (especially unconsciously).

Environment is extremely important, as others have noted.

Whatever prejudices of the people in charge, whatever bad decisions make, can echo down generations and through the centuries, a terrible uprooting of whole possibilities that might well be "good", in whatever estimation.

And that is why echo refuses to play God, b/c adopting government eugenics is like becoming a practicing Stalin/Mao Communist.

Hidden implementations, as kablam and one other dude suggests (bad with names and now too lazy ^^), are an obvious aspect of any society. But to consciously promote hidden implementations over a society is terribly dangerous; such a route contains the same fallacies in decision making as a blatant and public policy.

Who chooses what is desirable? It is exactly choosing your mate. Who will decide for all? No one. Who can truly know the extent of a person's true capabilities, present or potential? Only God. No one man is fit to be a Communist dictator, maybe only an Emperor, a Son of Heaven - these could be removed by common sense.

Oh yes a final dragging point - the moral code is imprinted into our brains, inherent in all of us, perhaps more suppressed/developed in different individuals. There is no basis but our existence.
posted by firestorm at 11:26 PM on January 4, 2003


Apologies for the belated reply, rushmc.

Again, unless you simply accept on faith a list of 10 naughty things dictated from a diety, unquestioningly, it seems to me that any means of distinguishing between the possible moral precepts and constructing a personal moral code would necessarily involve reason and rational judgment.

You're right, intangible was a poor choice of word. To elaborate: I see logic as fairly concrete--absolutely logical people using absolutely logical principles of reasoning should always come to the same conclusions about issues. (Whether that happens, or whether there are any wholly logical people, is another story. Biases color everything--for example, the difference between how you and echolalia67 described the same thing.) Morality is more subjective. (Or perhaps I should say moral judgments are more subjective. I'm not generally a moral relativist.)

Incidentally, I think the Ten Commandments, and most other lists of naughty things attributed to dieties, are extremely logical. They codify behavior that leads to an orderly society and are ascribed to gods to give them more weight. I do not think these behaviors are necessarily moral ones.

I don't take my moral code either "on faith" or straight from any religion. It's quite heavily Christian-based, given my upbringing, but there are certain things I've chosen to leave out and other things I've included. At the most basic level, my moral code consists of the statement, "It is wrong to hurt people." That's obviously simplified, but my goal is to leave room for interpretation of individual situations within the context of greater principles.

I don't agree with firestorm that human are born with an inate moral sense, but I do think that some things are inherently wrong. They may be logical, cost-effective, or concretely better in the long term, but that has nothing to do with their morality. Terribly sloppy of me, I know. I'm not trying to be a smartass (or a dumbass, if you prefer), but I have no way to explain it. Sorry.

Of course I use logic in determining my position on issues--I agree it would be impossible not to. But I'll pick the moral-but-impractical answer over the immoral-but-perfectly-logical one. That's all I meant by the word "trump"; I won't deny the necessity of logic, but I don't think it is the most important factor.

I do have a problem, a major problem, with the idea of introducing traits into a kid that are unambiguously negative, for example deafness

Ah, but the parents in that case saw deafness as a positive--or at least a neutral--trait that would allow their child to better experience the deaf culture that means so much to them. I think their effort was somewhat selfish given the difficulties any deaf person faces in the wider world, but perhaps it would have been just as hard for a hearing child raised in a deaf family. Far from unambiguous, I'd say. Larger point taken, though.
posted by hippugeek at 1:39 AM on January 5, 2003


dgaicun: Okay, fair is fair. Since you accuse me of supporting eugenics, I now accuse you of supporting rape.

Nice try. Of course my parody was designed to show that questions are not neutral, but are invested with information about the inquisitor. Of course rape is wrong, even if it works to fix the dubious problem of a rapist's sexual desire. So what's the point in asking such a dreadfully idiotic question?! I'd never ask my grandmother if it would be wrong if I punched her in the face, because the answer is morally self-evident.
Whether you like it or not, you had every right to be shouted down by the crowd, just as my grandmother would have had every right to get offended by the hypothetical punching question.
I see a lot of posts on this thread where you complain and play the "martyr card", but in reality it has been your unfailingly poor posting judgements in this eugenics thread that have earned you so much deserved scorn, and nothing else. For instance you say:

From the very beginning my criticism is, and has always been, of government eugenics programs.

. . .but this nowhere close to the truth. In the beginning you offered nothing close to criticism. In fact your first recognizable criticism of forced eugenics in this thread is the exact same statement I just quoted! Here is exactly what you wrote in the "very beginning" [emphasis and comments mine]:

As with the "non-children of Roe v. Wade", the one thing never mentioned about eugenics is that it works.

The sterilization and culling is to credit for our current plummeting violent crime rate (though neither side brags this up.) Voluntary abortion was far more effective in eliminating "undesirables" then sponsored sterilization.

And Noyes' Oneida community, with its selective breeding program (mostly based on Noyes' guesses) was highly effective in producing a superior strain of person [superior!!]. Something the Chinese are trying to emulate on a grand scale.

Is it wrong for a government to try to "improve" its people by eliminating congenital genetic disease, aborting severely disabled children, along with other reproductive regulations?


Far from criticism, whether you're retroactively proud of it or not, you spent three paragraphs arguing the social benefits of eugenics. In the second paragraph you credit (quite bogusly I might add) the government's forced sterilization program for "plummeting violent crime rates". With three paragraphs detailing the (highly suspect) practical benefits of eugenics programs, you built a case with which you felt might justify the, what could only be interpreted as rhetorical, question of the fourth paragraph. I'd say people had a good right to be upset. Most of us are long past the point in our moral and political lives where such questions deserve any further attention.

And finally, your statement that the justified shock people experienced from your inflammatory suggestion was somehow "pumped into them" in their youth, implying they are some sort of unthinking indoctrinated robots just further cemented your reputation as a troll.
posted by dgaicun at 2:00 AM on January 5, 2003


Summer: No it [society] hasn't [the right to control the fertility of its members]. A society only has the right to control movement if the individual has broken the law and it never ever has the right to control fertility. Being weak or mentally subnormal isn't a crime. And let's not use the word society, it's the state that decides these things. The two are separate, even in democratic countries.

I take your point regarding "the state" as opposed to "society", but in rebuttal, when we're talking about the laws of society and methods for selecting lawmakers we're referring to the state, when we're talking about the movement of money in society we're referring to the economy, and when we're talking about the kind of clothes we wear and food we eat we're referring to the culture. They're all aspects of the same thing. "Us."

However.

"A society... never ever has the right to control fertility ..."
People often say "society hasn't the right to control {thing of interest to the speaker}". But society goes ahead and controls it anyhow. People pass laws about everything that people do. Philosophers argue whether we should, demagogues preach for or against control of their pet issue, but we do control them all. This isn't good or bad in itself, it is the laws themselves that are good or bad, and that can only be judged according to their result. Your statement is in the same category as "society has no right to take taxation from people".

(In fact "The government of Lalaland shall not pass laws regulating fertility" is a law about eugenics. Do you want us to not be able to pass that law?)

And if you want to take away something so fundamental as the ability to reproduce, I suggest the burden of proof is on you.
With this, I totally agree. The burden of proof of need for any law about anything ought to be on the proposer of the law. A law that does more harm than good--and you can't always tell in advance--ought to be repealed as soon as practical.

To clarify, I'm certainly not saying that formal state laws about eugenics ought to exist. I'm not convinced they would achieve anything good anyway. I'm saying that the state has as much right to pass laws about the matter of eugenics as it does about anything else that people might do.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:44 AM on January 5, 2003


Something that deserves its own separate post: I read somewhere about the issue of sterilizing the mentally handicapped, and the article as I recall it made the point that it's not just about preventing them from having offspring, but also about controlling their sexuality. Just because the handicapped are less "intelligent" does not mean that they are less sexually motivated, or less aggressive, or more amenable to being controlled. Quite the opposite. Some handicapped people will do things that "normal folks" find embarrassing. Publicly masturbating, for example. Screwing each other.

Sex is a strong natural instinct, that we "normal folks" can curb and control into socially approved methods of expression, and many of the mentally handicapped can't. Which is why mentally handicapped people are often given libido-suppressing drugs, at the behest of their carers. It's also a strong reason why the practice of sterilizing the severely handicapped before puberty arose. I am not speaking of cases like Echolalia's misdiagnosed schizophrenic, or acquired brain injury, but of people genuinely retarded to a point where they have no capacity to function in society. Ask a doctor. There's no grand conspiracy about it.

Anyone care to discuss the morality of this issue?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:59 AM on January 5, 2003


People who are mentally lacking should not be allowed to reproduce, period.

Everyone that fails to exclusively worship Allah through Sunni Islam has clearly demonstrated their feeblemindedness and helpfully labelled themselves as those that require sterilization.




Is there any easier path to genocide than requiring a government's permission to reproduce? Have no illusions--any system of government-sponsored eugenics makes reproduction into a privilege that flows exclusively from the state.
posted by NortonDC at 9:22 AM on January 5, 2003


dgaicun: Is it wrong if a man rapes you if he's just really, really fucking horny?
dgaicun: Let's keep it civil ladies or I'll just say your negative reactions were "pumped into you" by feminism.
dgaicun: I'd never ask my grandmother if it would be wrong if I punched her in the face...

I think it's pretty obvious that you are a woman-hater. You keep changing the subject back to examples of derision and violence against women. I think that pretty well shows us where your head is at. I would hazard to guess that your other posts are also full of direct and indirect references to violence and hatred of women.
posted by kablam at 10:17 AM on January 5, 2003


Anyone care to discuss the morality of this issue?

I mentioned it in my first comment in this thread. It's a really tough issue. I find the idea of forcibly sterilizing people because their behaviour could offend someone reprehensible (aside from the reproduction angle), but at the same time I know that the extremely low-functioning can be really hard to deal with (including being physically dangerous) from a caregiver standpoint when the hormones start kicking in. And they're also very vulnerable to certain kinds of sexual predators, because they often behave in very suggestive and flirtatious ways, without actually being aware of the implications of their behaviour.

And kablam, the ad hominems aren't helping your case, and they're making you sound like a petulant five year old. dgaicun is attacking your position, and the inconsistencies in your argument, not you. IMO, you should either argue your point like an adult or give up, but playing the neener neener game really isn't working in your favour.
posted by biscotti at 10:40 AM on January 5, 2003


biscotti: isn't the use of the expression "ad hominem" starting to sound trite?

dgaicun: As for kablam, this isn't his first flirtation with the idea of Totalitarianism...Machiavelli beware!

dgaicun: ...his insinuation was crazy and offensive...

But of course these aren't personal or "ad hominem" attacks by dgaicun, the woman hater, are they? Please tell me, what is the difference between saying someone is a "Nazi", and saying that their ideas are "Nazi ideas?"

And while I may have written what I said "coyly", according to him, he came out and said "Is it wrong if a man rapes you if he's just really, really fucking horny?"

Now, you may *interpret* what I said to be possibly offensive, but what he said is openly offensive, and he has yet to retract his statements. So though you may *assume* he was speaking rhetorically, I choose to believe that he was speaking from his heart, and that he truly is a misogynist.

Will he deny this? Or does he tacitly admit to it?
posted by kablam at 12:28 PM on January 5, 2003


isn't the use of the expression "ad hominem" starting to sound trite?

Trite or not, it's the correct term for an attack on a person rather than their argument. As soon as there's an equally-accurate term for that, let me know.

what is the difference between saying someone is a "Nazi", and saying that their ideas are "Nazi ideas

Well, one is saying someone is a Nazi, the other is saying that their ideas are Nazi ideas. Seems straightforward. One is an attack on the person, the other is an attack on their ideas. One is an ad hominem, the other isn't. Saying "I think you are stupid" is about you, saying "I think your idea is stupid" is about the idea.

And it was probably clear to everyone (including you, I suspect) that dgaicun's statements about women were not serious statements of his/her thoughts, but intended to illustrate specific problems with your arguments through the use of hyperbole and parody. Why do you insist on latching onto your wilful misinterpretation of this as if it somehow makes your own argument more valid? It's a straw man, you know full well what dgaicun was saying, you're attempting to take the heat off yourself by refuting an argument which was never made in the first place. If you believe what you wrote originally about eugenics, defend it if you like, or explain that the way you phrased it orginally doesn't accurately reflect your thinking and rephrase it if you like, but resorting to this sort of childishness is not helping you.
posted by biscotti at 12:50 PM on January 5, 2003


. . . .
posted by y2karl at 1:18 PM on January 5, 2003


Okay, no ad hominem attacks. dgaicun's ideas are misogynistic. His ideas are mean-spirited, accusatory, intentionally convoluted and vicious. His ideas are ill-informed and contradictory. His ideas are evasive and rotten. But I do not know him as a person, I just know that these are his thoughts. He may have never hit a women, but he has advocated doing so.
There, I agree. So much better than personal attacks.
posted by kablam at 1:43 PM on January 5, 2003


At the most basic level, my moral code consists of the statement, "It is wrong to hurt people."

I appreciate your thoughtful response, hippugeek, but surely this cannot be the most basic level, because my immediate question becomes "On what basis do you deem it undesirable to hurt people?"
posted by rushmc at 3:42 PM on January 5, 2003


Well, I said I was sloppy.

On what basis do you deem it undesirable to hurt people?

The answer to that question is in my earlier reply, but I didn't make it explicit. I don't know why it's wrong to hurt
people, but I feel very strongly that it is. (I don't mean to imply that other people think it's just dandy, only that for me personally the avoidance of causing hurt is the preeminent consideration.) That principle is one of the few things that I do take on faith. I feel that is is true, and I accept it--not unquestioningly, but with the understanding that it may be impossible to find an absolutely root cause of it's veracity.

It is wrong to hurt people because it is wrong. I know that isn't logical; but then, I never claimed it was.
posted by hippugeek at 8:27 PM on January 5, 2003


But what if by hurting someone a little now, you can save them more hurt in the future? Or if by hurting a few people, you can spare a lot of people hurt? What if someone doesn't view something as "hurtful" that you do? It's a commendable rule-of-thumb, certainly, but it just doesn't seem to offer a lot of practical real-world guidance.
posted by rushmc at 9:16 PM on January 5, 2003


I think troutfishing hit it on the nail when he Gattaca'd on the issue of genetic improvements reserved mostly for the upper class, a scientifically guaranteed form of Calvinism- that's the real eugenics to worry about, not an older model of forced sterilization.

Raelians not withstanding, it's pretty likely that within a few years even a sterilized person lacking all genitalia will be able to create reproductive cells culled from skin scrapings: the potential to reproduce will be ensured by the mere fact of one's existence, aided by technological prowess. The issue then is one of class strata becoming calcified by the ability of the wealthy to always stay one evolutionary step ahead of the Joneses, while the poorest will fall ever further behind. I'm even spurred to consider how past civilizations enshrined their aristocracy or ruling class/family as in some cases even being an altogether superior and different race from the peons... this could transcend mere myth, and become a real fact. A sub-race of "superior" beings, like some modern day version of the Gods of Eden/ancient astronaut babble. The question many here are asking is, what traits exactly would we (or they) choose to emphasize as being "superior", anyway? This is a terrifying idea to me...

But then, perhaps Nature has a few tricks up her sleeve- we still don't know well enough how genetics works to be sure that- class strata and DNA tinkering be damned- the genetically poorest among us won't start pumping out Mozarts and Einsteins or da Vincis to consistently surpass the very best efforts of the best-paid genetic technicians.
posted by hincandenza at 9:44 PM on January 5, 2003


ok kabam, i'll assume you arent open to being sterilized yourself.
Perhaps a good test for this would be that anyone can become a supporter of eugenics provided they are prepared to accept being sterilized themselves should any defects show up.
Have scientists located the gene that gives people meglomania yet ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:25 AM on January 6, 2003


I do so hate when I can't argue with something. You're perfectly right, rushmc--my system provides very little practical guidance. The examples you name are exactly the ones I struggle with all the time. All I can do is judge each situation individually, which I believe is usually better than holding it up to a template of absolute rightness anyway.

Complicating matters is the fact that I don't believe in an afterlife or any kind of great judgment of humanity (most of the time, anyway--I have my no-atheists-in-a-foxhole moments). Any good I am to do must be concrete and grounded in this life, even if my reasons for doing it are not. Storing up moral brownie points by not hurting anyone isn't worth anything if my decisions lead indirectly to more hurt. But there are probably things I would refuse to do even if they would reduce overall harm.

I'm still working it all out, really. It's a good thing I enjoy the challenge.
posted by hippugeek at 3:26 AM on January 7, 2003


metafilter : sterilizing the feeble minded
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:30 PM on January 9, 2003


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