Eugenics is an idea that holds a particular revulsion to the modern world. In the wake of the worst abuses of the idea in World War II, serious thought concerning who should reproduce, and how much, has essentially become a taboo topic. Be that as it may, it’s fairly easy to see that, at least within an American context (and in some respects, true for all modern, Western liberal democracies), there are two eugenics programs that have been running in our society since at least the middle 20th century. One is a positive eugenics program, mostly unintentional, while the other began as a deliberate negative eugenics program, and has survived because of it’s supporters ability to hide its ugly past. We’ll take a look at both in this post.
A sorting process has been taking place since the mid-2oth century, and was well documented by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in their book, The Bell Curve. More and more people are coming to recognize that this process has taken place and has had a powerful effect on our society. Whether it’s the derogatory SWPL term (Stuff White People Like) to the Dark Enlightment/Neoreaction’s term of “The Cathedral” to the scholarly term of the “cognitive elite”, there has been, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a positive eugenics program within American society over the last 50-60 years. We’ll let the aforementioned Murray describe the first time this group became known within the greater, popular culture. From Murray’s 2012 book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010:
On September 27, 1987, ABC premiered an hour-long dramatic series with the cryptic title thirtysomething. The opening scene is set in a bar. Not a Cheers bar, where Cliff the mailman perches on a bar stool alongside Norm the accountant and Frasier the psychiatrist, but an airy room, perhaps attached to a restaurant, with sunlight streaming in through paned windows into off-white walls.
The room is crowded with an upscale clientele gathered for drinks after work, nattily uniformed servers moving among them. Two women in their late twenties or early thirties wearing tailored business outfits are seated at a table. A vase with a minimialist arrangement of irises and forsythia is in the background. On the table in front of the women are their drinks — both of them wine, served in classic long-stemmed glasses. Nary a peanut or a pretzel is in sight. One of the women is talking about a man she has started dating. He is attractive, funny, good in bed, she says, but there’s a problem: He wears polyester shirts. “Am I allowed to have a relationship with someone who wears polyester shirts?” she asks.
She is Hope Murdoch, the female protagonist. She ends up marrying the man who wore the polyester shirts, who is sartorially correct by the time we see him. Hope went to Princeton. She is a writer who put a promising career on hold when she had a baby. He is Michael Steadman, one of two partners in a fledgling advertising agency in Philadelphia. He went to the University of Pennsylvania (the Ivy League one.)
In the remaining forty-five minutes, we get dialogue that includes a reference to left brain/right brain differences and an exchange about evolutionary sexual selection that begins, “You’ve got a bunch of Australopithecines out on the savanna, right?”
Murray points out that the culture depicted in thirtysomething was one that “had no precedent, with its characters who were educated at elite schools, who discussed intellectually esoteric subjects, and whose sex lives were emotionally complicated and therefore needed to be talked about.” Murray notes that the male characters were climbing the social ladder by “flair and creativity” and not by being “organization men.” Meanwhile, the women were “conflicted about motherhood and yet obsessively devoted to being state-of-the-art moms.”
In short, thirtysomething was a cultural reflection of the patterns that Murray and Herrnstein had described in The Bell Curve. Cognitive stratification has been increasing for some time now in America, and that stratification has been refined by the university system. In terms of eugenics, the best and the brightest are able to find each other and, accordingly, they pair off with each other, in a process known as “homogamy.” Current data show that this process is certainly noticeable (more from Coming Apart):
The reason that upper-middle-class children dominate the population of elite schools is that the parents of the upper-middle class now produce a disproportionate number of teh smartest children. For example, one of the basics for having a decent chance of getting into an elite school is a high SAT score, with “high” defined as at least 700 on the SAT verbal and SAT math. Among college-bound seniors who took the SAT in 2010, 87 percent of the students with 700-plus scores in the math and verbal tests had at least one parent with a college degree. Fifty-six percent of them had a parent with a graduate degree. This is not a function of coaching — the dispassionate studies of coaching show average gains of only a few dozen points — but of ability to do well in an academically challenging setting…The children of the well educated and most affluent get most of the top scores because they constitute most of the smartest kids. They are smart in large part because their parents are smart.
More on homogamy:
As the proportion of college graduates increased, so did the possibility for greater educational homogamy at the top, as college graduates found they had more potential marriage partners who were also college graduates. Drawing on the extensive technical literature and the CPS, sociologists Christine Schwartz and Robert Mare examined trends in “assortative marriage” as it is known in the jargon, from 1940 to 2003. They found that homogamy has increased at both ends of the educational scale — college graduates grew more likely to marry college graduates and high school dropouts grew more likely to marry high school dropouts.
This all seems well and good. The best and the brightest are able to find each other and then marry each other. Positive eugenics without any sort of external force to make it happen. Except for one little problem:
From the Bell Curve… even in the early 90s, the best and the brightest weren’t having children.
And more recently:
The trend continues to this day. The best and the brightest aren’t having very many children, while those at the lower end of the distribution curve are having a fair amount of children.
Many have attempted to explain this phenomena, with the most common view being that it appears to be a natural pattern and/or feature of modern, liberal democracies and capitalist economies. I myself think that it may lie largely with the fact that those exposed to 8 years or more of higher education become fully indoctrinated into the Frankfurt School/Critical Theory/Feminism/Marxism view of the family: That it’s an outmoded form of social organization, typically characterized as an oppressive, heteronormative system that needs to be smashed into a million pieces for some victim group to be liberated.
But there you have it: American society, and more broadly, modern societies that resemble America, have an unofficial positive eugenics program that’s been quietly running in the background for a number of decades now. But, as pointed out, a significant issue with our positive eugenics program is that well… people don’t make enough children. (Japan is perhaps the most startling example of this.) Can this be corrected? Perhaps. As Gregory Cochran pointed out in a comment on his blog recently:
That said, if one were willing to select very strongly, you could create a population with a very high IQ in one generation. Take the SMPY kids and drop them on an island. Better yet, inculcate some sort of ideology that teaches that having kids is maximally cool, instead of what they’re taught by our current society, which is that breeding is low-class.
The negative eugenics program in the United States started in the early 20th century, when eugenics itself was a popular field among some of the best and brightest of the time. Try as they might, today’s left can’t erase the ugly history of the some of the issues and organizations they hold dear in the abortion/birth control debate. One of the most well-known examples is Buck vs Bell, in which state-enforced sterilizations were the issue. As Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes so succinctly summarized in his thoughts on that case:
|We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.
Holmes concluded his argument by declaring that “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Margaret Sanger, that beloved heroine of the contemporary feminist left, also had similar motivations in her push for birth control among various groups. From Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism:
Under the banner of “reproductive freedom”, Sanger subscribed to nearly all of the eugenic views discussed above. She sought to ban reproduction of the unfit and regulate reproduction for everybody else. She scoffed at the soft approach of the “positive” eugenicists, deriding it as mere “cradle competition” between the fit and the unfit.
“More children from the fit, less from the unfit — that is the chief issue of birth control,” she frankly wrote in her 1922 book, The Pivot of Civilization. (The book featured an introduction by (H.G.) Wells, in which he proclaimed “We want fewer and better children…and we cannot make the social life and the world-peace we are determined to make, with the ill-bred, ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens you inflict on us.” Two civilizations were are war : that of progress and that which sought a world “swamped by an indiscriminate torrent of progeny.”)
Sanger also sought to make sure that blacks ability to reproduce was tightly controlled by birth control:
In 1939 Sanger created the previously mentioned “Negro Project,” which aimed to get blacks to adopt birth control. Through the Birth Control Federation, she hired black ministers…doctors, and other leaders to help pare down the supposedly surplus black population. The project’s racist intent is beyond doubt. “The mass of significant Negroes,” read the project report, “sill breed carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes…is (in) that portion of the population least intelligent and fit.” Sanger’s intent is shocking today, but she recognized it’s extreme radicalism even then. “We do not want word to go out,” she wrote to a colleague, “that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of theiir more rebellious members.”
Of course, with Roe v Wade, our negative eugenics program was able to kick itself up a notch. Some have commented on the effects of Roe v Wade, most notably a drop in crime that seemed to follow that landmark Supreme Court decision. While I’ve never read Freakonomics, I’m given to understand that they very gingerly put forth the theory that the legalization of abortion at the federal level helped reduce crime because, well, the least fit to be having babies were now able to have an abortion, saving society from future criminals. An interesting idea, to be sure, although I’ve also read other theories that are a bit more milquetoast, mostly along the lines that after the wild and unruly 60s and 70s, and, to a lesser extent, the 80s, a balance was restored when “getting tough on crime” became an acceptable public policy position again.
Regardless, there has been a negative eugenics program proceeding apace since its mostly racist inception in the early 20th century. The Guttmacher Institute, a decidedly pro-choice organization, has these statistics to share regarding current abortion rates among various groups of women:
- Non-Hispanic black and Hispanic women have higher rates of abortion (40 and 29 per 1,000 women aged 15–44, respectively) than non-Hispanic white women do (12 per 1,000). The higher rates reflect the fact that black and Hispanic women have high unintended pregnancy rates (91 and 82 per 1,000 women, respectively), compared with non-Hispanic white women (36 per 1,000 women).
- Women with family incomes below the federal poverty level ($18,530 for a family of three) account for more than 40% of all abortions. They also have one of the country’s highest abortion rates (52 per 1,000 women). In contrast, higher-income women (with family incomes at or above 200% of the poverty line) have a rate of nine abortions per 1,000, which is about half the national rate.
There have been two eugenics programs running in American society for quite some time now, one positive, one negative, as we’ve explored above. Unfortunately, due to our society’s sensibilities, we’ve essentially shut ourselves off from being able to discuss this issue honestly. I doubt many would disagree that the organic positive eugenics program described above is, in some respects, a good thing for our society. The best and the brightest reproducing certainly seems like it would be a net gain for society. Unfortunately, as we also saw, the best and the brightest typically don’t make enough children these days, and instead, are being outperformed by those not as genetically endowed with positive gifts.
The negative eugenics program, at least for me (I’m pro-life) exists in a murky gray world. From a dispassionate point of view, there are positive gains that have been made from that program’s continued operation. But, at the same time, there is something truly ugly and barbaric about that destruction of life, and the way in which those who most passionately support the issue, revel in it.
What would be really interesting to measure, somehow, is the interplay between these two programs. Along with this, it would also be fascinating to try and pinpoint the dysgenic/lower fertility feature of modern societies,a feature that seems to know no cultural or national boundaries.
Welp. Till next time.