Screaming into the void about the flaws of Eugenics [Trenchant Edges]
People keep trying to save this bad ideology from the calipers of its deserved nazi reputation.
Hello there! We’re back with the Trenchant Edges, the daily Newsletter where we sift through the mud and slurry to find the best of the fringe.
Editor’s note: This was a rant I wrote weeks ago in another fit of rage at the pseudoscience of so-called “race realists”. I’m publishing it today because I’ve got a time crunch and need to write other stuff and doing the experiment at La Chorrea means I’ve got to go through like 4 books to pick out details.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes, 2 seconds. Contains 1609 words
This won’t be one of those because a few things have conspired to remind me of the continuing existence and downright resurgence of one of the most dangerous ideologies around; Eugenics.
Eugenics is the belief that we can improve or perfect human beings by breeding people like animals.
It does have some basis in reality and science. But most of that basis is in a 19th century understanding of race, the white supremacist political project underpinning most European empires and an equally outdated understanding of genetics.
So any attempt to save eugenics from its post-holocaust infamy needs to be willing to tackle some extremely complicated unpacking of assumptions to even deserve an open hearing in polite society.
So far as I’ve heard, and I’ve been watching for these people for the last decade, it almost always comes with a conservative, anti-justice political project.
The most famous of our modern eugenicists is Charles Murray, coauthor of the Bell Curve. A heinous book filled with lies, half truths, and misleading research on a staggering number of levels. For our purposes here, I’m just going to point to Youtuber Shaun’s almost three-hour deconstruction of the research in the Bell Curve. It’s pretty good.
If you hunt through the 16,200+ comments, you might even find mine from a year ago!
”One of the things I've most wondered (and I hope it gets covered in this video) is if Charles Murray has ever discussed the neurotoxic effects of lead in any of his books or many speeches.
Like, lead is so much worse for you than we thought 100 years ago or 50 years ago in all the ways, Murray describes the harmful effects of low IQ.
Normally I'd wait till after the video to comment but, lol, come on it's going to 4-5 hours from now and I wanted to make sure this got mentioned. “
Spoilers: The video doesn’t mention it and I’ve been unable to find Murray responding to it. You’ll never guess who’s most likely to suffer from heavy metal neurotoxins though!
Murray’s book heavily features the research of Richard Lynn, former editor of white supremacist journal Mankind Quarterly, who received about $600k from the Pioneer Fund, an organization dedicated to, “to advance the scientific study of heredity and human differences” to conduct research into intelligence in Africans.
If you guessed he found that Africans were stupid, congratulations. You are correct.
Now, if this was just six degrees of Kevin Bacon we’re playing it’d just be guilt by association. But no, Murray advocates continuing one of the core missions of the global eugenics movement in the early 20th century: To stop wasting resources on those undeserving and to spend them on the elite.
This is Murray’s explicit reasoning for suggesting the end of welfare.
He couches it in cleaner language and less overt bigotry, but it’s still the same political end as Harry Laughlin had in mind when he wrote the model forced sterilization law in 1922. In 1933, only a few months into Hitler’s reign, they passed a law that translates as, “Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases” that lead to over 350,000 people being sterilized.
It was very much built off Laughlin’s model law.
Laughlin would go on to found the Pioneer Fund in 1937 with other eugenicists like Wickliffe Draper and Frederick Osborn. These guys are all fairly prominent American nazi fans. The pioneer fund’s initial program itself was modeled on Nazi Germany’s Lebensborn breeding program, which itself was influenced by many of its own members.
Unsurprisingly, neither Murray or his deceased Bell Curve Coauthor Richard J. Herrnstein were geneticists. Herrnstein was a behaviorist and Murray was a political scientist.
Point is, this is the most legitimate book on Eugenics from the last 30 years.
Race “Realism” and New Atheism
All this would seem comical, you know, if not for the hard work of “skeptics” who hold their own ideas to far lower burdens of proof as they do even the strawman religious ideas they claim to stand against.
The worst offender here is Richard Dawkins who makes a public statement every year or two that reminders me that he’s a piece of shit who believes in eugenics.
Yes, I’m sharing the bit where he says. “Oh, it would be bad, but it would work tho.”
I don’t believe him, I leave it to you to make up your own judgment on the old man.
He’s wrong though. Not even kinda wrong.
We’ve been able to optimize narrow physical traits in domestic animals by totally controlling their breeding and lifestyle.
But the promises of eugenics aren’t, “I bet we could make just a ton of super tall, hella strong people.” They’re about creating morally, physically, and intellectually superior people.
And that’s not narrow optimization. Second, the qualities we really care about are extremely complex and situational. We might be able to breed vaguely more intelligent people, but it’s going to be a messy process. And, shit, the Flynn effect suggests that’s happening anyway despite either the lack of eugenics or alleged “disgenic” effects of modern society.
The velocity of evolution happens at depends on the speed of reproduction and the number of offspring produced per cycle. Real-world factors such as availability of mates, population density, available resources can change that rate in real terms.
We’ve got an interesting case study here in DDT, which took about a decade to hit major resistance in large insect populations in Africa. Disclaimer: This one is from memory, can’t find my original source for it.
Now, Mosquitos go through 4 stages: Egg, larva, pupil, Goddamn pest. Takes about a week to go from hatchling to fully grown. Male mosquitos live about a week, female mosquitos can live months and can lay 100-200 eggs at a time.
Jesus, I’m spending too much time trying to figure out how the details of mosquito reproduction, but the point is compared to humans, they’re ridiculously fast at evolving.
Here’s the key: For mosquitos, a generation is on the scale of weeks, for humans, it’s 20-30 years. If you’re looking for serious genetic drift, like the creation of a genetically distinct “cognitive elite” like Charles Murray describes, it’s going to take many generations to happen. And that assumes continuous, selection pressures.
Which are almost definitely not going to happen.
The Obvious, Easy way to get Smarter People Fast
All of this garbage about genetics ignores several simple and obvious facts.
First, while Murray argues that a “cognitive elite” will form up around the genetically superior kids of the super wealthy, what we’re mostly seeing in the real world is more like credentialism, where degrees from top tier schools open more doors far in excess of their actual quality. This isn’t genetic, it’s social, political and business.
Second, no matter what the ratio between nature and nurture is about intelligence we know two really important facts: 1. Trauma causes neurological damage that harms neurological development 2. Neurotoxins like lead also cause neurological damage.
While it’s probably impossible and maybe undesirable to remove trauma from the human experience, we can absolutely change how we respond to people who have been traumatized. The resources and social support available to a traumatized person can VASTLY change their outcome.
And being ostracized for, say, being sexually assaulted on a Christian college campus is itself further traumatizing. Making it even harder for someone to recover.
All we have to do is make mental healthcare more easily accessible and help institutions understand how trauma can manifest and what they can do to help members through it.
The second one, Neurotoxins, is actually kind of simpler. Just… remove lead from homes. Every home. See, lead was banned by most of “civilization” in the 1920s and it took the USA another 50 years to bother getting rid of it.
Lead is one of the most dangerous and common neurotoxins around because of it. It’s super useful in industrial processes and can knock an entire standard deviation off IQ if someone’s exposed enough as a child. Seriously, depending on the test that’s like 10 points. A HUGE amount.
And thanks to modern studies with fMRI machines, we know it’s actually worse than that. The worst damage it does is to the prefrontal cortex, IE the part of the brain that mediates conscious impulse control, long-term planning, executive function, and other things that have never been more important in human history.
And literally, the only thing it’d take is money, manpower, and time. That’s it. Problem solved. Whole communities exposed to lead get an extra standard deviation on their IQs. And because this is the USA, you know those communities are disproportionately black and brown.
I’m just saying, we kinda know how to build the conditions for human thriving: Education, Stable income/housing, and access to birth control options to choose from.
Instead, we’ve created a society where education is an economic trap unless you go to a top school, markets designed to destroy any kind of stability in income or housing for most people, and one where we’re systematically limiting access to family planning options.
But no, let’s just pretend Charles Murray didn’t use bad data from apartheid states to justify a book saying we shouldn’t spend any more money on poor people.
Alright, I’m done.
We’ll be back tomorrow with more regular content.