Is eugenics bad why
The magazine - No. 60
Franz Boas was certainly not a fascist. The American would probably not have called himself a racist, on the contrary, he was considered a critic of the then widespread concept of race. He even wanted to help finally end discrimination against blacks in the United States. If black people were to be brought to a place where there was less sunshine, Boaz wrote in a letter, they would become brighter over the generations. Discrimination is over!
That sounds absurd to today's ears. It even sounds dangerous and racist, like brown shirts, racial laws and concentration camps. But Boas, a scientist highly respected by black intellectuals, was serious. Like many scientists of that time, he was concerned with eugenics, the "science of noble descent", as one could translate it from the Greek. Boaz warned against her - but in exceptional cases he also recommended her.
For a researcher there was hardly a more modern, future-oriented field of activity around 1910 than eugenics. The most technologically advanced countries in the world, including the USA, Germany, Great Britain and Sweden, competed for ideas on how to create it: the new, better people. He should be smart, hardworking, righteous, and most importantly, free from hereditary diseases. Many supporters of this inhuman ideology argued that they only wanted to help.
The history of eugenics began with a trip to the Galapagos Islands. The Englishman Charles Darwin discovered during his research trips and the subsequent investigation of the organisms collected in the 1830s that species are in a constant battle for survival. They defy snowstorms and droughts, predators and unpopular conspecifics through mutation and selection. Those who are best adapted - "the fittest" - survive.
Darwin's theory of evolution electrified the intellectuals of his time. His cousin Francis Galton, who was 13 years his junior, was also enthusiastic about his cousin's ideas. Galton found that one could apply the theory of evolution to the people of today - or rather: it should be applied. Galton believed that human society had overridden evolution. In the animal world, the weakest would die out, but not in the human world. On the contrary: the less intelligent and less rich would have more children.
So after Galton, humanity was going downhill. When Galton walked through the narrow streets of his native Birmingham, he saw what he saw as the bleak future of mankind. Workers lived in cramped, stuffy apartments with their wives and seven or eight pale, coughing children. Outside the laundry was drying and turning gray from the smoke that the industrial chimneys blew into the air. For Galton, these people were a threat to the human race: they, the illiterate, poor, filthy, simply had too many children.
But why shouldn't man also take the improvement of his own kind into his own hands? Racehorses are bred for speed, cows for milk yield, and bees for gentleness. Galton therefore found it "quite practical to breed a highly talented race of humans through deliberate marriages." Like a horticulturist, Galton wanted to cut off bad shoots so that the healthy ones could thrive. In his eyes, eugenics was fertilizer for the people.
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to imagine what would become of a distinction between inferior and superior people. Galton's academic students soon went beyond his suggestions. The US was the first country in the world to introduce a program of forced sterilization of the mentally handicapped - or those who were then believed to be. The state of Indiana began in 1907, others followed, including individual provinces in Canada, Japan, and South Korea. Fifteen years later, a lawyer in the USA wrote a “Model Law for Eugenic Sterilization”. The basic idea of eugenics, that not all people have the same right to reproduce, also spread among European politicians. Forced sterilization laws were in place in Switzerland and Denmark as early as 1928 and 1929, and Sweden, Finland, Norway and others followed in the 1930s. Despite criticism, eugenic and racial principles remained anchored in Sweden's legislation for decades. It wasn't until 1976, when ABBA sang “Dancing Queen” and hippies drove Volvo, that forced sterilization was abolished. More than 60,000 people, often inmates in sanatoriums, but also the unemployed, “mixed races” and others deviating from the political norm, had been rendered impotent by then. Some gave their consent more or less - mostly less - voluntarily, others never gave it.
Alfred Hoche went one step further in 1920 in his work on "The release of the destruction of life unworthy of life". The Freiburg doctor coined the term “ballast existences”. This meant certain mentally and physically ill people, such as manic-depressive people. With her consent - if necessary without it - Hoche wanted to have her killed. Hoche is considered to be the intellectual pioneer of the organized mass extermination of people with disabilities in Nazi Germany.
Because Adolf Hitler also dreamed of a healthier “people's body”. In “Mein Kampf” in the mid-1920s he described his idea of “racial hygiene”. In July 1933, six months after the National Socialists came to power, the German Reich passed a “Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Offspring”. It is estimated that 400,000 people were forcibly sterilized under NS rule, with and without diseases. Six years and several laws later, the murder of “life unworthy of life” began under the name “Action T4”, named after the central office T4 at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin. The term euthanasia has been used as a euphemism; it comes from the Greek and means "good death". Within two years, more than 70,000 people were shot dead with injections or suffocated with carbon monoxide in gas chambers. It hit offenders and epileptics, demented people and schizophrenics. Lawyers, doctors and nurses took part. Only a few were punished after 1945.
Even children were killed. If the attending physicians could not determine any “benefit for the national community”, they hardly had a chance. It was enough to have Down syndrome or just one leg. At least 5,000 minors were killed between 1939 and 1945. The director of a children's clinic wrote in his letter to the parents of a murdered woman that the child “would certainly never have become a useful person in life”. The systematic mass murders ended in 1945 and are unprecedented to this day. Coming to terms with the National Socialist crimes would have been unthinkable without dealing with so-called euthanasia - and it is ongoing.
For some time now, the open commitment to eugenics has been disappearing from the law books and debates. Some right-wing extremists and scientific outsiders still rely on the dangerous pseudoscience. In 2010 a book landed in German bookshops with its main thesis in the title: “Germany is doing away with itself”. Its author, the former politician and Bundesbanker Thilo Sarrazin, quotes Francis Galton and his successors among others. Sarrazin distanced himself from the concept of eugenics. But he also argued that those “unable to learn” and all those who are far from being educated have far too many children.
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