Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Perfect People (Eugenics and Socialism)

Earlier today I watched the 1998 Swedish Documentary about eugenics called Homo Sapiens 1900. It considered the eugenics movement in the US, Sweden, USSR and Germany.

While I have been well aware of the the eugenics movement and the idea of perfecting races and/or groups of people, one thing this brought out was the socialist connection. This documentary presented part of the idea of socialism as being all part of the idea of the perfect society. These ideas grew out of the growing understanding of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

Some scientists became intent on the idea of deciding what the ultimate human characteristics are, categorizing them and devising ways to most efficiently have them reproduced in the population. Dr. Haiselden, from the US, wanted to liberate America from it's presumably defective heritage and promoted (and carried out) infanticide. Charles Davenport founded the Eugenics Record Office on Long Island with the idea of it going national. People targeted included the poor, those in prisons, mental institutions, blacks and new immigrants. The world's first compulsory sterilization law was passed in 1907. Tens of thousands were sterilized.

Scientists in Sweden wanted to have the perfect Swedish population, with the "stock" protected from outside influence and "inferiors" prevented from procreating by encouraging that they be sterilized. The Institute of Race Biology was estaablished. In 1934, their parliament passed a non-compulsory sterilization law. About 8000 were sterilized in Sweden before the law was eliminated.

Some ideas that some may have been altruistic about - such as providing education and health care for everyone, others may have had grandiose ideas of creating the "perfect" society (for enemy defeating purposes or simply convoluted idealism).

Eugenics was meant to be people-directed evolution. This was when IQ tests were developed and promoted. People were given medical exams, and winning families were expected to compete with their pedigrees - as if they were dogs. The Miss America pageant was evidently also inspired by this mentality - started in 1921, the rule was that "contestants must be of good health and of the white race."

Russia apparently had the idea of creating a more productive labor force for factories and whatnot and at the same time had the idea that everyone would be a genius. Those ideas do not necessarily mesh well. Also - people didn't like the idea of one "Superman" fathering 10,000 children (an idea that some promoted). Stalin decided he didn't like eugenics and had the scientists who worked on it expelled or killed.

In the 30s, Stalin's ideas of nationalism and the perfect society inspired his "Great Purge" where many were killed and millions of ethnic minorities were deported. Stalin relocated those from the following groups to Siberia and the Central Asian republics - Ukrainians, Poles, Romanians, Koreans, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, Finns, Bulgarians, Greeks, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Jews. He executed anyone he considered to be an "enemy of the people" - many were just regular folks such as workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, nuns, musicians, ballerinas, soldiers, pensioners, and beggars.

Meanwhile, of course, Germany was becoming increasingly committed to the idea of racial perfection within it's borders. There were these ideas that many countries wanted to make their countries "pure". There were 750,000 ethnic Germans in the USSR and the Germans wanted to relocate them to Poland after driving the Poles out - making an enlarged Germany with more room for more Germans. Stalin sent many of the Germans to Siberia - which ironically saved possibly 200,000 Jews from Hitler.

In 1937 - the "new German man" was glorified at the German exhibition of the World's Fair in Paris. As Germany went farther over the top, many countries, including the US, cooled it on the eugenics ideas when they heard what was going on - as they could see where the propaganda was leading. Germany's purge included Jews, Romani, people with disabilities, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish and Soviet civilians, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and other political and religious opponents.

What is odd to me, in this day and age - 2010, is how the right wing, conservatives in the US are against Socialism ( I, as a liberal, would be against Socialistic ideas that mean that society is trying to be engineer evolution and create a super-race), and yet many (especially the leaders like Limbaugh) are very pro-white nationalistic males. They seem to hate the idea that other groups such as women, blacks, Muslims, Hispanics are becoming more equal, more vocal, more powerful. People who are white supremacists are able to feel at home with the right-wing.

The liberals, who are more likely to be for Socialist ideas such as health-care for all, a good public education, equal rights, unemployment, etc. include those ideas for everyone - women, men, equality for races. Conservative & Libertarians (and Tea Party advocates) are less likely to see that there IS a problem of inequality or of discrimination.

Some people could bring up the eugenics and say that it was a Socialist enterprise and that that makes all Socialism bad. But the "badness" came from the ideas of racism (and nationalism) - creating the perfect white race - the more white, the better. Similarly, someone could bring up eugenics to demonize science - because there were scientists who were participating with and promoting these ideas. But again, the "badness" came from the negativity involved in the goals (the manipulating of nature while dominating and devaluing others), not in the fact that science was involved.

(In general, I have difficulty understanding how Republicans or Tea Parties can be so anti-intellectual, anti-science, but this would be one example they could use. I would add such uses as the creation and distribution of many toxic chemicals and products without proper regard to their effects on the environment. But in general - and with better values - science can be a positive thing.)

Somehow - the right-wing has embraced the idea that liberals are like Hitler - but Hitler was all about the Super-man- white-Christian-German and the "normal" German family - and if anything, it's the conservatives who are for the Super-man-white-Christian-American and the "normal" American family. The right-wing isn't sending people off to be killed, but their propaganda and actions against Muslims and Hispanics have a similar "We are the good guys, you are the bad guys" sense about them - and have resulted in deaths by zealots. Their actions against Mexicans in this country, their setting up and jailing Muslims as terrorists (and general negativity which leads some to violence against them), the anti-gay rhetoric which leads to bullying and suicides are more Hitleresque than anything liberals are doing.

The badness has to do with the acceptance and encouragement of domination by the already powerful against the minority and/or weakened group. Whether a group gives themselves that power by saying they speak for God, or the State, or Science, the result can be the same. Hitler used all three - God, State and Science. The right wing says they have God and they don't want the State or Science - but they still want domination (and use the State and Science when it suits them). Many liberals would still use the benefits of Science and the State to achieve a more equitable and peaceful society - but the goals of liberals now have little or nothing to do with the goals of the eugenicists. (Some liberals feel that they are trying to do the will of God, but don't generally try to influence others by claiming that their will and God's will are the same.) Liberals like promoting health and education to make the civilization better - but not to make some Super-society or Perfect People or race. And not that everyone is going to be a genius - or than anyone will be perfect.

But it is nice for people to have a chance - and for society to help those who need help - because we are not given the same abilities or opportunities, or wealth to start off with. Liberals tend to see that society is skewed to benefit those with money, which conservatives tend to not notice or embrace because they identify with being affluent (or both). Since white men have a history of dominance in the last few centuries, and since much money has been made on the backs of unpaid or badly paid women and minorities and other disenfranchised groups- a redistribution of money and assets does not seem like a bad idea. If anything, it flips what the eugenicists had in mind on it's head. Where the eugenicists were all about improving the situation of the dominant white race (already in power - but apparently threats were perceived), the liberals would like to do things to make society more equitable.


-margaret

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