Natural Selection and Eugenics
by Chris Doyle
The concept of evolution, natural selection, and adapting to survive was popularized by Charles Darwin in 1859 with his publication of On the Origin of Species. A trip to the Galapagos Islands reckoned his devotion to creationist Christian Gospel as he observed the parallels between the traits of related species, and the dominance of those with greater capacities for achieving sustainability. He compared competition for sustenance with wild animals and city laborers: those with the attributes and industry best suited for the ugliness of the world would see their lines survive, while the rest would fade away with natural extinction. Darwin’s half-cousin, Sir Francis Galton, took it a step further with his Hereditary Genius in 1869, perverting the 1866 discovery of human genes by applying them to the mythical birthright of dominion of the select few over the many. By the turn of the 20th Century, the bias towards those deemed deficient and unworthy would find its way into the newly established schools of psychology. HH Goddard and Lewis Terman’s IQ test were implemented over the next two decades. The unfamiliarity of the test was used to discriminate against Africans, Southern and Eastern Europeans, and Asians moving to the United States. The state-sanctioned prejudice against those deemed to be naturally unworthy was summed up in 1927 by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ majority opinion in Buck vs. Bell: “three generations of imbeciles are enough” (Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927)). The Supreme Court legitimized invasion of privacy of a person when they assented to a woman with a mental disability being non-consensually sterilized by an overzealous physician.
Today it is generally agreed upon by psychologists, biologists, and environmentalists that nature and nurture contribute to the development of individuals and species overall. The debate, though, sparked a race amongst the ruling classes of the world to justify their inheritance. The formula came from Darwin and was realized with Galton. History has borne witness to the human rights abuses ranging from the eugenics movement in the United States to the Auschwitz experiments of Josef Mengele and his contemporaries.
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The Nature vs. Nurture Debate. Retrieved February 02, 2021, from http://www.davidlewisphd.com/publications/naturevsnurture.htm
“BUCK v. BELL, Superintendent of State Colony Epileptics and Feeble Minded.” Edited by Peter Martin and Tom Bruce, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, 1 Jan. 1992, www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/274/200.
Spitz, Vivien. Doctors from Hell The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans. Sentient Pubns, 2009.
Terman, Lewis Madison. The Measurement of Intelligence: an Explanation of and a Complete Guide for the Use of the Stanford Revision and Extension of the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale. With an Introd. by J.J. Findlay. Harrap, 1919.
Larson, Edward J. Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.