Charles Darwin had a younger half-cousin named Francis Galton (1822-1911) whom Wikipedia describes as a Victorian statistician, progressive, polymath, sociologist, psychologist, anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist and psychometrician. I have no idea what some of those monikers mean, dear Wiki old pal, but all in all, you do make a man sound like he was full of it.
Galton was one of those guys who derived patterns out of raw data, who stumbled upon a concept that is widely used in statistics today – regression to the mean. Simply put, it is a hypothesis which says that if you are conducting an experiment and recording data and you find a few ‘spikes’ that lie way beyond the mean, they disappear when you do a second test and you end up with a much more coherent result. Let’s face it – he really was an enormous bore who probably didn’t get enough sex.
He was in his late thirties when Galton’s elder cuz published On the origin of species, the single most significant scientific theory ever written, one that changed mankind’s understanding of how we got here as a species. Galton resolved to discover a theory of his own, using Darwin’s work on evolution and natural selection as a springboard. He decided to apply his statistical regression concept on differences between humans and began studying a random group of individuals and their children, in order to ascertain if, besides physical attributes, intelligence (even genius) was also hereditary.
If intelligence was hereditary, he wondered at the possibility of restricting the gene pool, such that the future only consisted of physically ‘pure’ and intelligent people, moulded into one single super-race. He reasoned that, if Darwin was right about natural selection between species, then ‘nurtured selection’ should be possible within one species too.
Galton named the new field of research eugenics and as a sort of motto, he coined the phrase ‘nature versus nurture’ – nudging nature into nurturing the growth of fitter, smarter humans, a Monsanto for humans.
When a researcher has a preconceived bias, he is going to make his test results look the way he wants them to look and so it was with Galton. He tested a group of 250 parents and their children and found that parents who were taller than average tended to have children that were taller than average and vice versa. To test mental faculties, he conducted tests and even though the results were by no means conclusive, Galton willed himself to conclude that children of more intelligent parents were themselves more intelligent than other children.
Eugenics had arrived.
By the 1920s, eugenics was a rage among scientists in the western world, its goal by now well defined – preventing the birth of ‘unfit’ races. The craze soon acquired a North American flavor and when it did, it was a tsunami – suddenly everyone in the American scientific community was an expert in genetics related to eugenics.
Prominent men of science like Alexander Graham Bell pronounced publicly that ‘deaf people should not be allowed to marry’.
Bell was not alone. America’s beloved Teddy Roosevelt loftily proclaimed…
“Society has no business permitting degenerates to reproduce their kind. It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding.”
The renowned writer, author of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, H.G.Wells, had it all figured out…
”The way of nature has always been to slay the hindmost, and there is still no other way, unless we can prevent those who would become the hindmost, from being born. It is in the sterilization of failures, and not in the selection of successes for breeding, that the possibility of an improvement of the human stock lies.”
But it was one of the most celebrated writers of the western world ever, a guy who looked like Santa Claus but sounded like Hitler, who was the most vociferous – George Bernard Shaw – who was quite explicit about his ardent support of eugenics….
“We should find ourselves committed to killing a great many people whom we now leave living, and to leave living a great many people whom we at present kill,” he wrote. “A part of eugenic politics would finally land us in an extensive use of the lethal chamber. A great many people would have to be put out of existence simply because it wastes other people’s time to look after them.”
(This is the same guy who wrote Pygmalion, a famous play about an unrefined low class flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, who is coached by an aristocratic man to behave like a member of upper class, 1912 England. Good thing Shaw didn’t start with Eliza Doolittle as a little girl or he might have ended up not having a play at all, since she would be dead before she reached adulthood).
And this from Nikola Tesla, who needs no introduction….
“The year 2100 will see eugenics universally established. In past ages, the law governing the survival of the fittest weeded out the less desirable strains. Then man’s new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. As a result, we continue to keep alive and to breed the unfit. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct….”
A key actor in the eugenics movement was a very evil guy named Madison Grant (1865-1937), an American lawyer and conservationist, who crafted the first legislation in the US that made the forcible sterilization of ‘unfit’ folks mandatory in the state of Indiana in 1907. He also wrote a bestseller for skinheads – The passing of the great race – a twisted harangue on the superiority of the ‘nordics’ and how white folks everywhere were endangered by all the brown and black people who were ‘taking over the world’.
Ah, Grant was an eloquent man. He wrote about walking around his beloved New York and noticing those Polish Jews in their ugly Polish clothing, horrified that ‘they were attempting to join our society and marry our women…’
There was in fact a real fear among the white non-Jewish middle and upper classes in American society – that Jews, Eastern Europeans, Italians and coloreds were going to swamp the white race. To address this fear, America enacted a law in 1924 severely restricting the number of immigrants from these ethnic groups.
For the Jews of Europe, the timing was absolutely awful – Nazism was on the rise and Jews were all trying to flee. One Jewish family in particular stands out among the thousands of Jews who applied for immigration visas at American embassies around Europe’s capital cities – the family of Anne Frank. I’ll leave her tragic story for Part-2 of this series.
Madison Grant’s ideas were a precursor to Nazism and when the Nazis came to power in 1933, there was a surge in strong pro-Nazi sentiment in America that had been incubating ever since Hitler held his first rally. Now out in the open, eugenicists held their own pro-Nazi rallies in the big cities. All over the US, clubs and fraternities espousing eugenics and the support for Nazi ideologies ballooned. It is a widely recognized understanding that if the Japanese hadn’t bombed Pearl Harbor, America would never have gotten involved in the Second World War.
It is tragic that today, while Germany has more or less healed itself and moved on, Nazism is still prevalent in huge swathes of white America. This is evident from the wide support that creeps like Donald Trump have. For a nation whose occupiers have a tiny history that stretches barely beyond three centuries, the amount of bigotry inside it is astonishing.
The war on the weak might have ended in Auschwitz, but it had started in Long Island.
(to be continued….)