Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: 30: Eugenics

Problems of the Age: 30: Eugenics

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2011

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.


Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

XXX. – Eugenics

Experiments. – We are just now forming eugenic clubs throughout the country with the wise and beneficent purpose of elevating society and establishing correct principles of parentage. In some places the advocacy of eugenics is most enthusiastic and it is spoken of as the new and coming science. Most extreme advantages are predicted for it and by many it is regarded as a sort of salvation for many afflictions which torment human society at the present time. It is sometimes known as Mendelism from the fact that Mendel made certain experiments with sweet peas, with mice, and with cats. He traced out certain laws of breeding which were represented by diagrams and from these discoveries of animal relationships the question was propounded for human society and at once the question arose, if the mating in the vegetable and animal world may produce such exact results, why may it not have the same effect upon human beings?

Men and Mice. – It may be easy in the same breath to speak of men and mice, and the question would be much more simple perhaps if the laws regulating mice were also applicable to men; but unfortunately they are not, and whatever may be the difference in the physical development of the two it is certain that the inborn differences between men and animals does not permit us to bring both classes under the same laws of regeneration. It should be stated at the outset that the fundamental difference in matters or progeny between man and animal is to be found in the exercise of a free agency, an important human law. This law does not prevail with respect to animals and plants. They are still under a defined tutelage and governed by laws that are universal, simple, direct.

It is said that we may proceed to the improvement in the breeding of human beings as we do in the breeding of animals. We have developed in the science of animal industry superior breeds which through government control we may register and call pure breeds. We have our pure bred horses, hogs, sheep, chickens. Shall we have a pure bred man? The trouble is we are not permitted to exercise any control over man in the matter of mating. True, in certain governments of Europe there is a law of Royalty which compels those of royal blood to marry within certain families. Of that, however, later.

The free agency of man is nowhere considered more sacred than in the matter of the selection of companionship. He is a being of multiplied motives. He is governed by social surroundings, by ambition, by a variety of characteristics, and these are governing features with him. He is moved by the influence of beauty, wealth, social advantages, parental influences, sometimes by the superior persuasive powers of the woman who would exercise control over him. If we are to have a science out of eugenics that is anything more than good advice, there must be some abridgment of the free agency of man.

Religion Fundamental. – One of the perhaps insurmountable troubles in the way of extreme advocates of eugenics is the fact that religion, and not intelligence and wealth, is fundamental in human life, and the basis of a sound and lasting social life. As men grow in social advantages, in wealth and intelligence, they are beset by increasing temptations, – temptations that lead them to such excesses as undermine their physical powers, and when these give way the whole superstructure of economic and intellectual life gives way. Thus we see nations rising and falling. We see social life in its exalted and deepest conditions. If history is pronounced in one thing it is the swing of the pendulum between the extremes of morality and immorality.

Spirituality, or if you please, real goodness, is not so self advertising as intelligence or material wealth. By its very nature it is modest and retiring. It is a quality that may be operated through many generations for the uplift of human society. Those who advocate eugenics find it extremely difficult to go back to those modest beginnings in order to find the proper starting point. Indeed, how can they know? The heart of man belongs to the revelations of God. The Lord said to Samuel, who was seeking among the sons of Jesse for a king, that he did not look upon men with the eyes of man. He knew their hearts. But how can finite beings know these hidden conditions.

The uplift of the human race through proper mating must grow therefore from obscure, often hidden beginnings, through generations to a sound and substantial life. Such changes are too microscopic for the men of science. They cover too long a period for man’s patient work. Indeed, all of the investigators of eugenics show that they are concerned with two extremes, – the extremely intelligent and those who are extremely criminal; and their investigations, even in these two classes, as I have shown elsewhere, are not satisfactory.

Movements are now afoot to begin the investigation of the development of genius in certain families. Investigators go back a few generations. They cannot go far. They are tabulating their data and trying to demonstrate to us as far as possible the infallibility of their doctrine. What families are these? They are families often of genius, which science has proved is not hereditary. Some are men of wealth, who are merely a part of a new made rich. The advocates of this doctrine are extremely enthusiastic. Their motives are all right, but extremists always carry with them the danger of excess, and their conclusions should be received with many reservations. If the extreme advocates of this science are permitted to exercise a very general and a very strong influence over our social and political life, they may endanger society as well as government.

Laws for the Unfit. – The tide of eugenic science ran high in 1913. In that year, North Dakota, Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan, passed certain eugenic laws for the sterilization of the unfit. The unfit in the beginning was to include the insane and the habitual criminal, – especially the rapist. It is undesirable, of course, that they perpetuate their class, but will the advocates of eugenics stop there? What they want to do is to eliminate those who are unfit; but who are unfit? It is a serious question, – so serious that Oregon repealed her eugenic law on referendum. The pioneers of legislation in this law were the states of Washington, Iowa, Nevada and New York. Such advocates assume too much. They assume that there is a distinct and well-defined science or law of heredity, – a science that has so many exceptions that great writers have come to repudiate it as a fixed science whose investigations have no practical value.

Ambitions of Women. – the women of our country are perhaps the most enthusiastic advocates of eugenics. They are ambitious in parentage. With them child life has a closer and deeper meaning than it has with men. They insist often that it is their right to choose the future fathers of their children, but how? What sort of regulation could be devised that would permit any important class to make such selections? Of course, they would be ambitious, but the comparatively few properly fit to meet that ambition would practically exclude the masses. There is, as some writers point out, a greater uniformity in high quality female life than there is among the males. In the animal industry world, males for breeding purposes are selected with great care and with such numerous limitations as to produce only a few that are physically fit. France, in the matter of horses, has carried this selection to a very high degree. In the female animal world the rejections are much fewer, showing that in that class there is a distinct and superior uniformity. How about the human world? In matters of mating the high grade of uniformity shows a higher percentage of the females than exists in the animal world. In other words the number of women fit for superior womanhood is vastly in excess of the number of men. We need not consider the reasons assigned from a physical point of view for this superior and general uniformity. The proofs of the difference are apparent to all among the most striking illustrations of social life. One of the greatest causes for this difference lies perhaps in the so-called double standards, – standards which separate the physical, spiritual, and ultimately intellectual lives of the two classes. The difference is vital. The conditions that make for the double standard are ultimately destructive to the aims that the advocates of eugenics have in view.

In addition, we should have in the end pronounced class distinctions. There would soon be the super-man and the super-woman, the high class or the high-brow, and intellectuals of all sorts of classical distinctions, which would bring in their train social disorder. We have had some striking illustrations. Royalty throughout Europe has asserted its claim to superiority. Princes and princesses are brought up to be kings, queens, empresses and other sorts of royalty. They have had the advantages of wealth, of opportunity, of training. Has the Royal class made good? Is the genius of the world inherited from among them? Are they the actual rulers, and what generally do we think of the royal personages of Europe in these trying and distressing hours? Some investigation of that class has been made and in conclusion I quote from the writings of Fahlbeck, who has what is considered an authoritative work upon Swedish nobility. Of that class he says:

It has been shown how caste marriages prevailing among them produce a progressive degeneration, which manifests itself by frequent celibacy, much delayed marriage of the male sex, the large and increasing portion of sterile marriages, the small and decreasing fecundity (now 15.4 per cent) always less than the death rate, the increasing number of female births, the increasing mortality of youths under 20 years of age, the deaths of the children before that of the parents, which gradually tends to cause the extinction of the stock. As a consequence of that, 70 per cent of the original noble families are now extinct, and notwithstanding the continual ennobling of bourgeois families, the number of noble families does not increase or very often declines.

And Fahlbeck takes care to add that all this applies precisely to the whole wealthy class, of which the nobility is only a fragment.


No Comments »

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI