Sunday, October 20, 2013

Eugenics vs the Germ of Genius

What Popular eugenics in practise what its chief proponents consciously said it was ?

Or was its popularity due to its ability to address subconscious concerns its fans could not admit to consciously ?

It takes very little knowledge to realize that Popular eugenics presents a very oddly conflicted front face indeed.

Its most avid proponents were not among those at the very top of western society, nor those in the bottom either. It can't really be said they were found evenly scattered among those people in the middle either.

Instead its chief supporters were found those mostly highly educated - those highly educated judged in the formal sense, ie those certified so by those authorities conventionally accepted as being capable of doing so.

(Its support among autodidacts was never notably strong.)

So here we have the best educated members of society: well paid, well feed, healthy, socially powerful, etc --- terrified.

Terrified, beyond measure, by those were are uneducated, often deemed un-able to be educated (intellectually challenged as we say today) , in congenital ill health, poor, powerless.

Why would the powerful, a large majority in their society, be so fearful of those so powerless, a small minority in that same society.

The imbalance between the potency of the alleged threat and the fear it generated is hard for us to fathom today, particularly as this
irrational fear was strongest - not weakest - among those in society judged the most rational because they were most educated.

Ah - educated : the key to this puzzle.

It is not surprising that the least educated people also had the least power and income.

But it did not in fact follow that the wealthiest and most powerful people in the Modern Era (1885-1965) were also the most educated.

The best educated often held middle high positions : being doctors, scientists and professors rather than being the captains of industry and the prime ministers.

They were the highly educated and the competent rather than the inspired : few 'self made men' were among the leading proponents of Eugenics and popular eugenics.

Few famous entrepreneurs or inventors, few acclaimed writers,artists, performers and athletes, few untutored geniuses.

Few geniuses indeed.

For sheer genius : raw and untutored , able to arise anywhere among any family, was what these expensively educated but highly ordinary children and grandchildren of extraordinary fathers/grandfathers feared most.

Genius always threatens those in comfortable sinecures , secured through a long and expensive education and family connections rather than through sheer merit and talent.

Genius is just another word for the general principle of social mobility and advancement based on talent and merit.

After the first British Reform Bill's stormy passage in the 1830s, few in western society could openly support the idea that the job of a top ranking civil servant or general was the actual legal property of his family forever, regardless of whether his children and grandchildren was up for the job.

The idea of the nominal aristocracy lived on - one's children could go on being called Earl this or Viscount that, but the real power in the idea of an aristocracy was gone with this loss of an automatic right to dad's job as well as his mere title.

New aristocrats are , at the moment of their creation, always creatures of the merit principle : even the ability to buy a title for two million 1918 circa pounds speaks to an extraordinary ability to make an awful lot of money.

But often their children and grandchildren a very mixed bag.

Despite all the advantages that great wealth and privilege, together with a good education and good health, can bring , a few children are useless drones, most are merely well educated competents and a few are extraordinarily brilliant.

It is the same in all families rich or poor, at least potentially at date of birth: genius is born, at random, and not created through expensive education.

Popular eugenics denied this, claimed that the children of geniuses are geniuses and the children of village idiots were themselves idiots.

Forever and ever : it was fixed eternally in their genes.

But why then were Popular eugenics proponents so stuck on enforcing quotas to keep negroes, jews, women, catholics and immigrants out of universities like Harvard ?

Surely, by the eugenicists' own gene-fixated take on reality, these 'unfit' races of people shouldn't be able to get out of elementary school, let alone crowd the admission channels into top universities like Harvard .

But I claim, that at least unconsciously, these eugenicists really knew that talent and genius flourished anywhere and everywhere, essentially randoml.

Thus the poor negroes and poor South Boston catholics who did manage to make it into Harvard based on their marks and hard work were probably very formidable competitors indeed for those cushy sinecures these 'merely competent' Protestant scions had along taken to belong to them alone.

For professional jobs in the public service, and at non profit agencies like hospitals and teaching jobs in universities and high schools were the natural home of the 'merely competent' , 'merely ordinary', the base of the eugenicist movement.

But native born skilled tradesmen feeling threatened by hard working, more highly skilled , foreign tradesmen also filled the ranks.

Even unskilled anglo american 'white trash' might feel threatened that they would lose their dangerous, low paying jobs to negroes willing to do it for even lower wages and under even less safe conditions.

Those who realize that they are only ordinarily competent (and thus seek only the certainty of a comfortable work environment and a slow but steady career advancement) are always fearful of competitors who are more talented and more hard working .

But in the Modern Era, with its public ethos of a meritocracy, it was no longer possible to publicly say so.

Here the brand new Germ Theory came to the rescue.

Because if God was dead, so was the Devil. And Charles Lyell had proven that the formerly awesome natural catastrophes were but  local ,temporary and infrequent, ie manageable disasters.

High powered, accurately rifled, rapid repeater guns had put even the largest wild beasts on the endangered species list.

The sublime had been vanquished by Modernity - so where did evil and danger now exist in the world, to blame and thus explain away our own mistakes ?

The Germ Theory usefully claimed that things that were invisible, in fact invisibly tiny and weak, were like an internal Fifth Column able to easily destroy our health from within.

This metaphor allowed the biggest and strongest elephant tribe to credibly claim that a single baby mouse, weak  and thin from hunger, could nevertheless destroy them all.

People like the American Foster Kennedy or the German Adolf Hitler used the new Germ Theory to credibly claim that even a single handicapped baby must be killed because of the sheer threat it posed to the strongest of nations and races .

Potential competitors - geniuses or just merely extraordinary individuals rising far up the social scale on sheer merit could be usefully kept down, by the process of claiming that all the poorer classes were totally incapable of having talent - based on their genes, while all the well off had to have talent - based upon their genes.

Seeing the new theory of popular eugenics  as a lateral counter-attack on the equally new meritocracy principle can be a useful prism to explain the entire thrust of Modernity as a counter-attack on the processes of the Modern Era ....

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