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‘The Guarded Gate’ Review: Elites and Their Eugenics Projects

A review of The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants out of America by Daniel Okrent, Scribner, 496 pages (May, 2019).

….our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. Yet we fail to understand that such conduct is rational compared to the conduct of a nation which permits unlimited breeding from the worst stocks, physically and morally…

T. Roosevelt to C. B. Davenport, January 3, 1913

How are we to understand the widespread enthusiasm for eugenics in the U.S. a century ago? Some scholars like Nicholas Pastore have argued that hereditarianism in general and support for eugenics in particular is more commonly found on the political right, whereas others like John Tierney argue that eugenics is another example of social engineering by the political left. The literature on eugenics is vast; a bibliography with primary sources from 1924 by UC Berkeley professor of zoology Samuel J. Holmes runs to 514 pages, and a newer online eugenics bibliography by Georgia State University law professor Paul A. Lombard runs to 20 pages. Now comes Daniel Okrent—himself the descendant of Polish shtetl Jews who immigrated to the U.S. before the 1924 law took effect—with his own account of eugenics in America. Okrent, a former editor at The New York Times, Time, and Life Magazine, is the author of several other books of popular history, including Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center and Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (an American Historical Association award winner). Okrent brings a journalist’s eye to the topic of eugenics in America, filling his book with striking quotes and anecdotes and detailing the backgrounds of some of the key figures.

What’s in a name?

Most people would probably translate the word “eugenics” as “good genes,” although, as coined by pioneering 19th Century British eugenicist Francis Galton, the word eugenic originally meant “of good birth” or “of good stock.” Galton popularized the term almost two decades before the rediscovery in 1900 of Mendel’s genetic research. The idea of good stock versus bad stock, borrowed from animal and plant breeding, is the key to understanding eugenic science and its popular appeal. Eugenics is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations.” As we will see below, eugenics is a bastardized version of Mendelian genetics and evolutionary biology applied to humans.

The early 20th Century saw many popular movements—some misguided—that claimed to be improving society. In the U.S. there was—in addition to eugenics—Prohibition, the conservation movement, the women’s rights movement, the early civil rights movement, the birth control movement and other projects created by “do-gooders” and reformers. Although it may seem incredible to modern readers, many of these do-gooders were enthusiastic proponents of eugenics. We have to let go of the notion that only stone-faced Nazis and their sympathizers were serious about eugenics in the 1920s and 1930s. With a few exceptions (like Harry H. Laughlin, whose proposed eugenic sterilization laws were a model for Nazi Germany and who received an honorary degree from a German university in 1936 for his work on behalf of the “science of racial cleansing”—see pages 370-71 of Okrent), most American proponents of eugenics were patriotic and public-spirited citizens like Theodore Roosevelt—which is not particularly reassuring.

Image designed by Harry H. Laughlin for the Second International Eugenics Congress, September 25–27, 1921, AMNH.

What, if anything, sets eugenics apart from other coercive social projects like Prohibition in the early 20th Century? The answer is that eugenics was unique among those popular movements because support for it was bi-partisan and nearly-unanimous in American society as a whole—it was mostly treated as obviously beneficial and not a hot-button topic.

Is there anything new to say about eugenics?

Okrent’s book reminds us that the history of American eugenics is more complicated than is commonly thought—it wasn’t just good guys versus bad guys. As noted above, many eugenicist scientists and their helpers were otherwise commendable people interested in societal or cultural improvement and reform. Immigration restriction united Democrats and Republicans in Congress after WWI—the restrictive Johnson-Reed (Immigration) Act of 1924 passed almost unanimously in the House and the Senate and was signed by President Calvin Coolidge (R). Persons as different as eccentric sexologist Henry Havelock Ellis and liberal Baptist pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick were anti-immigration and/or pro-eugenics. Coercive eugenic sterilization was approved by a nearly unanimous (8-1) Supreme Court in the case of Buck vs. Bell in 1927. The eugenics movement brought together elite academics like geneticists, sociologists, biostatisticians and psychologists, plus the occasional animal or plant breeder, inventor, entrepreneur and philanthropist. As Okrent says (p.172), “The eugenics bandwagon had room for everybody.”

There were some prominent persons and organizations who were supportive of immigration and critical of eugenics in the early 20th Century: the Catholic Church and many wealthy (mostly German) Jews. Prominent scientists who were anti-eugenics and/or pro-immigration included the anthropologist Franz Boas and the geneticist T. H. Morgan; critics also included politicians like President Grover Cleveland and longtime Republican House Speaker Joe Cannon, and pundits like Walter Lippmann.

On the other side of the ledger, Okrent assembles a mind-numbing list of early 20th Century figures, many still household names, who were pro-eugenics and/or anti-immigration. As Okrent points out, eugenics and immigration restriction were two sides of the same coin. Examples of the commingling of these two issues occur throughout his book, such as this quote from Robert DeCourcy Ward, Harvard professor and co-founder of the Immigration Restriction League:

We in the United States have a very special interest in national eugenics, for we are here forming a new race of an extraordinarily heterogeneous character, and we have a remarkably favorable opportunity for practising eugenic principles in the selection of the fathers and mothers of future American children through our power to regulate alien immigration. The United States, rather than England, should be the centre of eugenic propaganda. Yet so far our people are practically silent on this question. Most of the discussions of the immigration problem in the past have been concerned with its economic side. ‘National Eugenics in Relation to Immigration’.

Of course, not every critic of immigration was a proponent of eugenics. Some immigration critics like long-time AFL union president Samuel Gompers—himself an immigrant Jew—did use purely economic arguments for excluding most immigrants, at least in public.

Is scientific racism to blame for eugenics?

The 1920s were also a high-water mark for the nativism of the Ku Klux Klan, which shared some sentiments with the eugenics movement: anti-Catholic, anti-Jew, anti-Asian and anti-immigrant. It’s tempting to view the KKK as low-brow racism and eugenics as high-brow racism. But the KKK’s obsession with American blacks wasn’t shared by most eugenicists, and immigration from Africa wasn’t an issue in most public discussions. Also, immigration from Asia was largely prevented by the Chinese exclusion act of 1883 and the Gentlemen’s agreement of 1907 between President Roosevelt and Japan, so anti-Asian and anti-African sentiment barely figured in the agitation that led to the Immigration Act of 1924.

Okrent provides many racist anecdotes from American eugenicists of that era such as Carl Brigham, author of A Study of American Intelligence and developer of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT): “In the lily-white academic world of 1923, where this sort of arrant racism was almost endemic, Brigham could further argue that European immigration had accounted for two million newcomers who were ‘below the average negro,’ thus managing in one sentence to deprecate millions of Americans, both newly-arrived and long established” (p.319). Okrent also quotes (p.178) from a letter that the Immigration Restriction League sent to Southern states’ Congressmen arguing that immigrants from southern and eastern Europe “have not the same objections to interbreeding with the negroes that northern [European] races have.” And there is this quote (p.354) from Charles W. Eliot, President Emeritus of Harvard University, who was actually a liberal on the subject of European immigration:

You know that it is well determined by the biologists that the Jewish race is to an extraordinary degree pre-potent, that is, if a Jew marries a woman of another race, in two, at any rate in three generations, all the children will look like Jews, all of them.

Immigrants interbreeding with blacks, Jews interbreeding with non-Jews, the ‘feeble-minded’ interbreeding with anyone—fear and anxiety over the reproductive behavior of others hangs over the eugenics movement like a dirty cloud. Bastardization and miscegenation were a major preoccupation of Charles B. Davenport, one of the most important eugenicists in the U.S. (more on Davenport below).

Despite all this racist claptrap, it was class prejudice—rather than racism in the conventional sense—that explains much of the motivation of the eugenics project in the U.S. Of course, racial prejudice, religious bigotry and class snobbery all draw from the same poisoned well of hostility to outsiders. But class prejudice best explains the 25-year struggle in the early 20th Century for a literacy test applied to would-be immigrants. Okrent deals at length with the career of New England Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., who first agitated for a literacy test in 1892, only to see successive legislative versions vetoed by presidents Grover Cleveland (D), William H. Taft (R) and Woodrow Wilson (D). Wealthy, patrician and pro-civil rights, Lodge used his social and political connections to advance the cause of immigration restriction both in public and behind closed doors in Congress. Lodge finally achieved success with the Immigration Act of 1917 during WWI, which barred entry to European immigrants older than 16 who were unable to read a paragraph of ordinary text in their own language. Literacy was an easy way to separate the poor and underprivileged would-be immigrant from those who had had more advantages early in life.

In addition to covering Lodge and literacy tests at length, Okrent makes it clear that immigration restriction and eugenics advocacy was a project of a small group of wealthy elitists, mostly in New York and Boston, who used their financial and political clout to disadvantage those immigrants who were most unlike themselves—the poor and uneducated. Funding for this project came from the deep pockets of elitists like Mary Harriman (the wealthiest woman in the U.S. at that time), John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Herbert Hoover, John H. Kellogg, George Eastman, Alexander Graham Bell, plus other individuals who are no longer familiar names, like Madison Grant (philanthropist, benefactor of the NY Zoological Society and co-founder of the Save the Redwoods League), John B. Trevor, Sr., Charles W. Gould, Joe Lee and Prescott Hall. And presidents or high-profile professors at some elite institutions (Princeton, Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and the American Museum of Natural History in New York) were also public advocates for the project.

The role of WASP elites in pushing immigration restriction and eugenics has also been emphasized by Vincent J. Cannato, but we should view these wealthy elitists in context. “These men were all enmeshed in a sturdy web of colleges, clubs, [and] museum boards ………. Harvard and Yale and Princeton (and occasionally Columbia) shaped their shared values,” (Okrent, p.325). For example, Henry Cabot Lodge (J.D., Harvard; Ph.D., Harvard), traced his ancestry in Massachusetts back to 1700, and was very much a man of his class, time and place. On the correct side of history in protecting the civil rights of African-Americans, his concern with protecting old American stock from modern European influences put him on the wrong side of history vis-à-vis the League of Nations and immigration. Okrent’s focus on class, time and place helps us understand why eugenicists and their helpers in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor confined their attention mostly to poor and uneducated eastern and southern Europeans, and largely ignored poor and uneducated American blacks. A century ago, blacks comprised only two percent of the population of the city of Boston, per U.S. census records.

Is eugenic science from the early 20th Century worthless junk?

Eugenic science is garbage all the way down. Even some of the obscene and criminal experiments that German and Japanese scientists performed on prisoners in WWII have a level of rigor and permanent value that is missing from the data collected by C. B. Davenport’s Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor, NY. Davenport was emphatically the Wizard of Oz behind the eugenics curtain—not a politician or patrician but someone with serious science training who could bamboozle financial elites to secure funding for his research. Okrent gives a taste of Davenport’s sloppiness in a sample ERO Individual “Analysis Card” reproduced as a frontispiece. It includes entries on personal history including “parental control over playmates,” physical traits including habitual exercise, mental accomplishments such as learning and typewriting, and temperamental traits such as “cheerful but not exuberant.” From this mass of vague narrative and qualitative data, eugenicists would somehow extract useful information that might be used to control humanity’s genetic future. Equally slapdash was Henry H. Goddard’s ‘intelligence’ testing of a haphazardly chosen sample of 200 persons passing through the Ellis Island immigration checkpoint in 1913. Invited in by the U.S. Public Health Service and using mostly language-independent questions that he had developed, Goddard concluded that “the intelligence of the average ‘third class’ immigrant is low, perhaps of moron grade.” Goddard, who coined the term “moron,” later repudiated much of his earlier eugenics work, as did Carl Brigham.

Okrent—not being a geneticist—is vague on how Davenport and like-minded scientists and popularizers twisted the breakthrough results of Gregor Mendel into a pretzel. But the misuse of genetics is clear in the material that Okrent reproduces in his book, such as these sentences from a eugenics poster displayed at Kansas Free Fair in Topeka in 1925:

Unfit human traits such as feeblemindedness, epilepsy, criminality, insanity, alcoholism, pauperism and many others run in families and are inherited in exactly the same way as color in guinea pigs. If all marriages were eugenic we could breed out most of this unfitness in three generations. (p.352.)

The naïve and totally erroneous idea that every human trait of interest was controlled by a single Mendelian gene with two or more alleles held back progress on human genetics for decades. Clarification of human genetics and evolution would depend on research on “model” species like fruit flies and bread mold, and on developments in theoretical population genetics starting in the 1920s. But that information vacuum didn’t prevent eugenicists and their popularizers from making grandiose claims about the inheritance of poorly-diagnosed human traits with no hard data. This bogus Mendelism was sold to the public in charts like the one displayed at the Kansas Free Fair circa 1925.

To put this in standard genetic terminology:

PURE = homozygous for a dominant ‘normal’ allele

TAINTED = heterozygous (note the word choice implying contamination or adulteration)

ABNORMAL = homozygous for a recessive “abnormal” allele

What’s the legacy of eugenics?

Okrent resists the temptation to compare explicitly the controversy a century ago over immigration and assimilation, ethnicity and religion, birth control and reproduction, and citizenship and nativism with the political agitation currently raging across the U.S. That is probably a wise call on his part. His book isn’t aimed at working scientists, but it would be helpful if those working in human genetics would remember that, less than a century ago, some of the most important and prestigious scientific institutions in the U.S.—the National Research Council, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Carnegie Institute of Washington—were deeply involved in supporting eugenic research. Today, working scientists view external recognition like research funding and academic honors as the ultimate markers of scientific success, and eugenicist Charles B. Davenport had a full deck: Harvard Ph.D., Harvard professorship (before his permanent move to Cold Spring Harbor), membership in the National Academy of Sciences, various fellowships and editorships, and lavish funding from the Carnegie Institute of Washington and private donors like Ms. Harriman.

Today, many people celebrate their heritage and explore their genetic genealogy with a DNA ancestry test kit that claims to break down their ancestry—to the nearest 0.1 percent—into categories like British/Irish, Finnish, etc. These tests are mostly harmless, but few customers realize the massive genetic privacy that they are giving up when they submit their DNA for testing, nor do they realize that—without estimates of sampling errors—the ancestry percentages are worthless. Whether the 21st Century fascination with genes, genealogy and personalized DNA testing is ushering in a new era of eugenics theory and practice through the backdoor is also a topic not covered by Okrent.

American eugenicists can be accused of many things, but thinking small isn’t one of them. To an eerie and unsettling degree, their grandiose plans anticipated the modern obsession with bioinformatics and “Big Data.” In fact, it is possible that the popular enthusiasm for eugenics 100 years ago was in part just another example of 20th Century Americans’ fondness for ambitious, large-scale science programs, like sending people to the moon and sequencing the human genome—except that those projects were based on real science. About a century ago, Willett Hays of the American Breeders Association proposed that each American be given an 11-digit number-name indicating their genetic ancestry, which preceded by decades not only modern DNA testing in general but also the proposed use of DNA-based polygenic scores to provide customized education curricula for public schoolchildren. In his 1911 book Heredity in Relation to Eugenics (which was used as a college textbook for many years), Davenport proposed having the nation’s schoolteachers collect pedigree and trait data on all 24 million American schoolchildren and their parents for analysis by his Eugenics Record Office. Nothing came of that, but Okrent notes that between 1910 and 1939, when the Eugenics Record Office was shut down by the Carnegie Institute of Washington, Davenport and his co-workers did collect records on purported mental and physical traits for almost a million Americans. That is an early and disturbing example of people giving up their privacy in the name of technological “progress.”

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) sits on 40 hectares of prime real estate on Long Island, New York. It also sits on an enviable reputation as one of the most important centers for genetic and genomic research in the world. With its stellar faculty, technical publications, professional courses and symposium series, the CSHL serves a worldwide community of active scientists. But a century ago, the various organizations that would later merge to form the CSHL (the Carnegie Institute of Washington’s Genetics Dept., the Eugenics Record Office and the Biological Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor) formed the nerve center of eugenics research in the U.S. To its credit, the CSHL actively promotes understanding of this troublesome history through websites and through preserving the ERO’s files—for use by historians, of course, not geneticists.

The sordid and shameful history of eugenics in the U.S. should be better known, as should the role of another prominent American institution that was central to the development of eugenics ideology. The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) at 79th Street and Central Park West in New York features an imposing entrance with the words ‘TRUTH, KNOWLEDGE, VISION’ engraved on the lintel. The phrasing is ironic, given that the AMNH tried—until the late 20th Century—to obscure knowledge of the role it played in the eugenics movement, including hosting two international eugenics conferences (1921, 1932). As Okrent describes, for decades historians were denied access to the archives detailing the eugenic activities and crackpot racial theories of long-time (1908–35) AMNH president and paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr. (who named and described Tyrannosaurus rex and other fossil species):

We now subdivide Homo sapiens into three or more absolutely distinct stocks, which in zoology would be given the rank of species, if not of genera; these stocks are popularly known as the Caucasian, the Mongolian, and the Negroid….The European variety of man… includes three very distinct subtypes, races, or stocks, namely, the Scandinavian or Nordic, the Alpine or Ostro-Slavic, and the Mediterranean, each distinguished by racial characters so profound and ancient that if we encountered them among birds or mammals we should certainly call them species rather than races. H. F. Osborn, Sr. (1927); quoted by Michael Ruse, Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology, p.268

But more recently, two AMNH curators, Dr. Rob DeSalle and Dr. Ian Tattersall, have written two important books—Race? Debunking a Scientific Myth (2011) and Troublesome Science: The Misuse of Genetics and Genomics in Understanding Race (2018)—that have helped to demolish one of the pillars that supported the eugenics and immigration-restriction movement and have contributed to restoring the AMNH’s scientific reputation. These books are a good starting point for persons wanting to understand the real story of human genetics and evolution.


Jack B. Nimble is the pseudonym of an American evolutionary geneticist with over 40 years of teaching and research experience on the genetics of humans, other animals and plants.


  1. Morgan Foster says

    We can breed cattle, horses and dogs for specific characteristics, and not only for size, color and length of fur.

    Dogs, as merely one example, can be bred for specific personalities and, certainly, intelligence. Border collies, I think everyone would agree, are more intelligent than Irish Setters, and work harder.

    There is no good reason to believe that humans, alone, amongst all the animals on earth, cannot be bred for intelligence and mental aptitude, as well as size and color.

    The fact that idiots have tried and failed to make a go of eugenics doesn’t mean that eugenics is by definition shit science.

    • ADM64 says

      That’s a fair comment. The problem with the eugenics movement back in the day was its assumption that particular groups of humans inherently lacked certain characteristics that were inherently possessed by others. It was hardly science as practiced.

      • Curle says

        The sole problem with eugenics back in the day was it failed to anticipate the rise of redistributionist moral systems like social justice. Moral systems like social justice must destroy all claims, science or otherwise, that impede their foundational revelations; in the case of social justice that all groups must, according to revealed doctrine, be equal making all performance gaps a result of that mean Ol Devil which we’ve renamed racism.

        The eugenicists being old, sciency and from high performing groups are an easy target for this new crowd of faith healers.

        • Debbie says

          ACurle That was the sole problem with early 20th Century eugenics? Huh.

    • derek says

      And people were breeding for working characteristics long before the sciences of genetics were even imagined.

      Places where malaria was eradicated show high incidence of auto immune diseases possibly due to the vigorous immune systems that are the result of generations of survivors of malaria living long enough to have children.

      When we are at the age of choosing a partner to have children with we select favorable characteristics.

      There are likely differences in populations that are a result of breeding. I was in a few of the more remote towns in Quebec while the Church still had influence and i remember the group’s of children many cross eyed and simple from too close family members having children.

      I wish these articles would be clearer about what was evil about eugenics. But i suspect they can’t because they would trample on the holy right to abort pregnancies when the child is found to be deformed or the wrong sex. A doctor in Canada who doesn’t inform a mother of the possibility of aborting a fetus found to have some flaw can be found liable. Eugenics under a more acceptable name.

    • Dzoldzaya says

      Good comment. But, importantly, dog and livestock breeders have managed to do this with highly limited knowledge of the science, exactly what the author criticizes.

    • lsmith76 says

      Jack B. Nimble, please get up off the alter of victimology and political correctness and dust yourself off and slap some cold water on your face. The substantial underpinnings of eugenics were hijacked by A. Hitler and thus, rendered radioactive (forever?). So many unarguably important concepts inside the logical study of eugenics must go unstudied, all because some proponents misuse. So sad to see simpletons so frightened by the truth.

      • Jack B. Nimble says


        Hitler ‘hijacked’ a lot more than eugenics from the Americans. You should read about Madison Grant’s book The Passing of the Great Race: Or, The Racial Basis of European History, which Hitler read. In fact, Hitler wrote to Grant to thank him for writing the book, and called it “my Bible.”

        Grant extolled the virtues of northern Europeans and slammed middle [Alpine] and southern Europeans:

        ‘…..The Nordics are, all over the world, a race of soldiers, sailors, adventurers, and explorers, but above all, of rulers, organizers, and aristocrats in sharp contrast to the essentially peasant character of the Alpines. Chivalry and knighthood, and their still surviving but greatly impaired counterparts, are peculiarly Nordic traits, and feudalism, class distinctions, and race pride among Europeans are traceable for the most part to the north..’


        Hitler conflated ‘nordic’ with ‘aryan,’ thus building a theory of German racial superiority on a foundation that Grant had already constructed.

        Okrent notes that Grant’s book is out of copyright and back in print in several editions, thus becoming a “Bible” for a new generation of white supremacists.

        • Winston Smith says

          What is the historical basis for this Nordic superiority idea? Is not Ancient Greece (Southern Europe) the cradle of western civilization? Did not the Romans (Southern Europe) inherit and build upon the Classical Greek knowledge and traditions and spread them across Europe, essentially civilizing barbarians?

          Is not the Nordic legacy the destruction of said civilization? Nordic people destroyed the Roman Empire ushering in centuries of darkness and decline. If you add in two world wars largely instigated by the Germans, that would make three times the Nordic race has almost destroyed civilization.

          Maybe I’m missing something? Perhaps armchair Teutonic Knight @E.Olson could explain it to me?

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Winston Smith

            ‘……….. Did not the Romans (Southern Europe) inherit and build upon the Classical Greek knowledge and traditions…………’

            Ah, but Madison Grant was there before you!!

            “….The mental characteristics of the Mediterranean race are well known, and this race, while inferior in bodily stamina to both the Nordic and the Alpine, is probably the superior of both, certainly of the Alpines, in intellectual attainments. In the field of art its superiority to both the other European races is unquestioned…..This is the race that gave the world the great civilizations of Egypt, of Crete, of Phoenicia including Carthage, of Etruria and of Mycenean Greece. It gave us, when mixed and invigorated with Nordic elements, the most splendid of all civilizations, that of ancient Hellas, and the most enduring of political organizations, the Roman State. To what extent the Mediterranean race entered into the blood and civilization of Rome, it is now difficult to say, but the traditions of the Eternal City, its love of organization, of law and military efficiency, as well as the Roman ideals of family life, loyalty, and truth, point clearly to a Nordic rather than to a Mediterranean origin.

            Source –

        • Fran says

          This insistence that there is something evil about the late 19th and early 20th C attempts to interpret the obvious hereditary basis of many trait suggest that you are coming from the position that environment is everything. 50-100 years from now we may be interpreting the British Labour’s proposition that we need a 2 day work week to save the planet as evil since it has the potential to impoverish millions.

          In the late 1960’s, when it was still illegal under Federal law, the first public birth control clinic was opened in Scarborough Health dept. A mother of 4 ;intellectually handicapped’ children asked if her eldest girl of 15 could have an IUD inserted as she could not control her activities. The next day the physician received a call from one of the Associations providing services to what was in those days called the Mentally Retarded. The substance was that everyone should have the right to experience bearing a child, and if he proceeded, they would ensure that he never practised again. A year later the women brought the child in: she had had the joy of bearing a child (it was in care as she was unable to look after it). There was not a peep from the retarded Association when he put in an IUD.

          You are judging history by the standards of today. Despite its unpalatability, many personal characteristics are largely heritable. No doubt environment can produce some modulation, but the later in life characteristics are measured, the higher the genetic loading. What one does about these facts in social policy is a completely different subject..One current position is that a small number of elites organise the lives of the ;plebs;, as they know what is best for them -eg the US Democratic Party, the Greens, and various socialist and communist movements..

          • Jack B. Nimble says


            You are wrong about where I am coming from. See my earlier comment here for example:

            ‘…..I’m a liberal Democrat [in the U.S. sense] and also a genetic determinist. That is, I believe that genetic variation plays a significant role in determining human behavioral phenotypic variation. See, eg,

            However, I am NOT a genetic pessimist. That is, I don’t think that genetically-determined phenotypic variation in humans is fixed and unchangeable. I also don’t think that genetic determination of variation within a family or social group can be generalized to between-group differences without controlling for environmental effects, and so far that hasn’t been done. Like all scientists, psychologists work with the data they have, not with the data they might wish to have at some future time. But that doesn’t change the fact that the models they use are really inadequate compared to those used by animal and plant breeders–you know, the people who do genetics for a living. And the ‘genomics revolution’ by itself doesn’t address the issue of environmental effects.


    • bumble bee says

      Your comment in favor of eugenics actually proves how dangerous eugenics in dog breeding has become. The state of health of dogs bred for certain characteristics has actually decimated the overall health and life span of dogs. Pure breeds have all sorts of not only debilitating genetic diseases, but most pure breed dogs cannot even make it to the age of 10yrs. Eugenics is yet another fairy tale claiming to be the answer to everything.

      Mixed breed dogs have far better health, and longevity than pure breeds. With pure breeds there is so much inbreeding that the gene pool becomes so small that mutations occur more frequently. Even in humans we can see this. European royalty is a prime example where inbreeding not only produced a prevalence of hemophilia, but can be seen by the increased mutation pass down the generation that was the Hapsburg lip.

      When will people learn that nature, gene expression, reproduction is at its strongest when left to its own natural outcomes. Eugenics will never produce the “best” human specimen on which to “rebuild” a stronger mankind, because that is not the way nature works, it needs diversity even one that looks like a handicap, sometimes turns out to be better. If we could just leave nature to its own devices it will accomplish what it needs to in order to make a strong, healthy species. Same could be said for Climate Change, if we leave nature to do its thing it will always lead back to homeostasis.

    • TarsTarkas says

      IMO humanity has already engaged in a selective breeding program of a subset of the species. A haphazard, fit-and-start program, unintentional in its aims (other than decimation or extirpation). But nonetheless quite real in its effects.

      The age-long culling of The Chosen People.

      The bloody wringer the Jews have been repeatedly put through over thousands and thousands of years (the years in the Wilderness, the Babylonian Captivity, the Diasporas, the pogroms of the Middle Ages and Russia, and most recently the Nazi extermination program, just to name a few of their tribulations) has had a significant effect on their genome. I do not think it is an accident that Jews are overrepresented in many professions wherever they live. It has also unfortunately made them a target of haters and the envious (of which I am not one).

      Eugenics was poor science because it assumed binary Mendelian genetics was all that there was (which Burbank among other people could have informed them differently. There’s a reason why apples and roses have to be grafted onto rootstocks). A classic case of having a hammer and seeing everything around you as a nail. There is no ‘on-off’ stupid gene any more than there is an ‘on-off’ gay gene (if there was one it would have been bred out of humanity long ago).

    • Lightning Rose says

      Border Collies, I think everyone would agree, are more intelligent than leftists, too, and work harder. 😉

      • E. Olson says

        LR – that is why Border Collies need to start checking their cognitive privilege so the leftist breeds can catch up.

    • Alan Gore says

      There is a big-picture issue here that the author did not address. It’s not just that in the twentieth century we didn’t know as much about genetics as we do today, but that in those days your genes were your destiny, and there was nothing that could be done about it. Eugenics was just government-imposed selective breeding. We can do this to get the exact kinds of dog we want, but the idea doesn’t work nearly as well for human families.

      Today we are beginning to be able to engineer genes. Families will now be able to control their own destinies, first by knocking out point mutation diseases, and eventually by making whatever improvements we find we are able to make.

      • David of Kirkland says

        Intelligence is hard to define, but it’s a worthy goal, mostly done on a small scale by human selection of mates. Strength is losing importance as machines are faster, stronger, smaller, bigger, etc….
        All forms of coercion lead to problems because central planning always fails to account for varied needs over time and place, and of course fails to know the future. Survival of the fittest doesn’t necessarily imply the strongest or smartest or tallest or more beautiful, traits many humans would choose to control and thus limit, likely to their own future demise.
        It would be wise to not mate with people with known genetic defects, but even then, that defect today might somehow confer a benefit in some future environment. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, hence the issues with progressivism, leftists and rightists, all people who pretend to know what’s best for others now and into the future.
        I’ll stick with Liberty and Equal Protection to give the best results.

    • Aristodemus says

      Don’t you know that humans are unique, magical animals? That genetics has nothing whatsoever to do with our intelligence or behavior?

  2. Rosenmops says

    ” Okrent makes it clear that immigration restriction and eugenics advocacy was a project of a small group of wealthy elitists, mostly in New York and Boston, who used their financial and political clout to disadvantage those immigrants who were most unlike themselves—the poor and uneducated.

    A test of whether an adult could read a paragraph written in their own language was not going to keep out poor and working class immigrants. All my grandparents came to Canada between 1910 and 1920. They were all poor people from humble working class backgrounds in Scotland and England. But they could all read.

  3. Rosenmops says

    “Unfit human traits such as feeblemindedness, epilepsy, criminality, insanity, alcoholism, pauperism and many others run in families and are inherited in exactly the same way as color in guinea pigs. If all marriages were eugenic we could breed out most of this unfitness in three generations.

    -from a eugenics poster displayed at Kansas Free Fair in Topeka in 1925:

    Alcoholism, and some mental illness such as schizophrenia, ARE largely genetic, and they DO run in families. Just because they aren’t caused by a single gene doesn’t been they aren’t
    inherited. However it doesn’t seem practical or humane to force people with these conditions to stop having children. Maybe when genetics becomes more advanced embryos could be screened for alcoholism or schizophrenia at a very early stage. This is already being done for diseases that are caused by a single gene, such as cystic fibrosis.

    • David of Kirkland says

      All true unless those “bad genes” confer a future survival advantage.

  4. Shaeel says

    It is surprising to see a person who identifies as an evolutionary geneticist write a review concerning human genetics in a manner that more resembles a Franz Boas type of blank slater than an evolutionary scientist.

    Going back some years, a September 2015 article by Sean Last (Race and IQ: Genes that Predict Racial Intelligence Differences) identified a dozen or so alleles associated with intelligence.

    Another paper by Davide Piffer identified 4 IQ increasing Alleles.

    Numerous and more comprehensive studies have been carried out since then that support these early results.

    A blood sample (or cheek swab) from a woman can identify a complete range of her DNA alleles. If she is planning to have a baby, then a follow up test can distinguish between the blood DNA of the mother and of the fetus as early as five weeks, or when it’s the size of a small pea.

    A rapid (less than four hours) DNA test able to identify a number of alleles identifies as being significantly linked to various aspects of intelligence can be performed on:

    The prospective father’s DNA (if desired);
    The prospective mother’s DNA pre-conception;
    The prospective mother’s DNA five weeks post conception with the fetal and maternal DNA distinguished and compared to assess the expected intellectual endowment of the fetus as compared to one or both parents.

    If the regression to the mean of the potential child’s intelligence does not fall too far below that of the parents, they could consider their options at that point.

    I expect that any attempt to introduce this kind of DNA testing will be fought long and hard by all tabula rasa fanatics, but without exercising this option the humanity has no hope of rising above its present level.

    A golden opportunity exists for teams of enterprising health professionals – medical and nursing – to establish a testing facility for women who are trying to conceive. Such teams can go over the findings with prospective parents. These team can also discuss limitations on test reliability and the like.

    Incidentally, if a reviewer plans to indulge in a bit of virtue signalling, it helps to avoid the use of bigoted terms such a ‘WASP’ in any of his little sermonettes.

    • Stephanie says

      I’m quite certain there are ways for the human species to advance without killing off undesirable offspring.

      IQ is highly heritable, so we can increase society’s IQ by favouring the reproduction of intelligent people over unintelligent people. That shouldn’t be hard, because IQ is also highly correlated with income. If government would stop subsidizing poor parents, we would have less unintelligent kids. We would also need to take measures to increase the birthrate of the affluent: perhaps with tax benefits, greater flexibility for professional women, and incentives to start your family during university.

      • Winston Smith says

        @stephanie I like your ideas —with some caveats though. Families can fall on hard times for all sorts of reasons which are beyond their control. If a married couple are struggling, I think the government should help them. What we should NOT be doing however, is subsiding (unwed) minority women to have bastard children. If we did this we would see a drop in crime rates. Some of that saved money could be better put to use helping middle class (properly married) families in the form of tax credits.
        I don’t think starting the family in university is a good idea. You’re not wed or working at that point, you’re probably not ready emotionally either.

        • Stephanie says

          Winston, I agree with much of what you said. A social safety net where a worker receives a percentage of their former wage for a period of time seems just.

          Undergrad might be too young, if most people finish when they’re 22-23, but marriage and kids shouldn’t wait too much longer after that. For those who go on to grad studies, waiting until you’re finished school and have a stable job typically puts you in your mid- to late-30s. Assuming such people are the most intelligent of their age group (a big assumption, in my experience), waiting to reach the traditional benchmarks means their fertility window has just about passed and we’re missing out on their good genes.

          Of course every woman in higher education should do what I did and marry a handsome young tradie whose labour is good anywhere so can follow you around on academic gigs, support you and a baby while you’re paid peanuts for your PhD, and willing to transition to stay-at-home dad later on.

          Sadly the increasingly female, leftist, cash-strapped university types and the overwhelmingly male, conservative, and flush at a young age working class never have any contact with each other. So this match that would be so beneficial to both doesn’t happen much. Instead we get raging, bitter feminists and dejected, disaffected working class men. And falling birth rates.

  5. Andreas K. says

    How are we to understand the enthusiasm…? Easy enough, I suppose. It was new, untried, unexplored territory. Like a background check on a man without criminal history, who is buying the gun in order to inaugurate such a history, there was no precedent yet to show how it could go wrong.

    Now, for myself, I read science-fiction as a youth, so I already have considered the possibilities and their implications. I, for one, would be unsurprised if, someday, our human impulse to meddle brings about breed of human vastly superior to me both mentally and physically. Such a person would be my superior, and I would be his inferior. Yes, the conventional foundation for human equality would be destroyed, if it ever truly existed in the first place.

    And you know what? Nothing would have changed for me. Nothing at all. Because, as it turned out when first I considered the possibility, none of the doctrines given me as a child about human dignity or equality ever had been predicated on any belief in equal intelligence, health, or physical fitness in the first place.

    The whole time, it had been instead belief in a commonly shared existential human nature. A common kinship of family, brothers, sisters, cousins, which transcends such incidental traits as strength or intelligence. The simple fact of shared roots that makes it a shameless, dishonorable cowardice to dare reject your own flesh-and-blood, or to deny her love, simply on account of deformity or retardation.

    Autism, Down syndrome, etc. We call them all kinds of names nowadays. Unhappy problems, encumbrances on the mother and society to be pitied, whose value and quality of life we measure by our own satisfaction. I’m told that once upon a time, my ancestors called them God’s Fools, and envied them for having been blessed to live in simplicity, without the complicated worries of our own lives.

    I still think about that olden times explanation, and I wonder if, maybe, they’re the superior breed after all.

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ Andreas K.

      Great comment as usual. There is a wonderful BBC documentary, called ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome’, which depicts a woman who works for the BBC and the profoundly beneficial influence her Down’s child has had on her life. I was so moved by it, that I decided to incorporate Down’s into my sci fi novel. I was going to call them sunshine children within the culture I was introducing- but God’s Fools is even more apt, given the historical precedent.

      • Steve says

        @Geary Johansen in your novel you might work in the existence of cultures such as that of Iceland, which has commenced an extermination campaign against Downs people with a cold efficiency that should alarm everyone who is not spiritually dead.

        • Geary Johansen says

          @ Steve

          That’s part of the plan, mate. The idea is that the Offshoot’s or Cousin’s, removed from Earth circa 12,000 BC, had their own eugenics war- with the Mercantilists squaring off against the last remnants of the Noble House warrior societies. One of the key causes of the war, was the Merchantilists plans to remove anyone deemed defective or deficient from the gene pool. Clever of you, to anticipate my plan… 🙂

  6. Frances says

    Well, of course culling the unfit is widely accepted in the US and other nations. Consider the destruction of embryos and unborn children who are not perfect physically. Eugenics is widely accepted and practiced, It’s just no one uses that term to describe.

    • Captain Obvious says

      If you want to bring a child into the world with Down’s Syndrome, spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, hydroencephaly, or any of the other profound genetic or birth defects now detectable, knock yourself out. But that “joy” is awfully selfish, if you ask me. Just make sure you’re picking up the tab, including for care of that person beyond your lifetime. Don’t stick the taxpayers with it.

      Technology IS good for many things; and preventing family tragedies before they arrive is one.

    • David of Kirkland says

      “Widely practiced” is nonsense. Abortion rates are going down and abortion itself is mostly to avoid having a child the parents are not up to raising at the time (many already have children or have children later). Abortion-for-selection is very limited, mostly to known defects that few would confer on another person and no other person would choose for themselves.

  7. Curle says

    And yet through all this polemic there remains a single irreducible if unmentioned truth; that no predictive nor falsifiable theory, hypothesis nor body of evidence exists explaining why or how equality would be the default setting for tribes of man separated by as much as 130,000 years in their evolutionary development. Comparative analysis is a valid form of disciplined IF and when it is engaged but it relies on actually comparing two competing claims not one sided scare mongering with an undeclared moral assumption residing in the background.

    If you believe so strongly in equality as a bio reality then make a positive case for that belief. Trashing confounding claims with moralizing redistributionist jargon, like ‘racism’, proves nothing.

    • Lightning Rose says

      “Equality,” like “Utopia” or “Socialism,” is a belief system, a mental construct. The fact that reality refuses to validate it is quite irrrelevant.

  8. Ray Andrews says

    I agree with the Roosevelt quote above. We should see the thing matter-of-factly, and if we forbid eugenics it should be because we frankly admit to ourselves that our future genetic health is not as important to us as PC sensitivities and, indeed, the very real dangers that eugenics holds. Natural selection used to take care of eugenics for us, no charge. Now, the fitness of our species is in grave danger.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Oh, be not afraid; Natural Selection is STILL taking care of things quite nicely! The robust, macho Guatemalan landscaper will have little difficulty getting 5 healthy offspring with his 22 year old wife. It’s the effete, overeducated, overthinking, soy-latte-and-kale crowd who pound their prostates on bicycle seats or steam their vaginas and don’t breed till 42 who will get weeded out. The ones who have to put on their Patagonia puffers any time the temperature goes below 67! Nature will have no use for them. Oh, and BTW, it doesn’t matter how “smart” they think they are if they don’t pass on their genes. Dead End!

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Lightning Rose

        Yes. I stand corrected, the Natural Selection I was referring to was in the very limited sense I used it, but really so limited as to miss the point rather than make it. Thanks.

    • Tulklas says

      @ Ray Andrews

      Not because it “is not as important to us as PC sensitivities” but because we “hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” – Jefferson.

      • Ray Andrews says


        “to be self-evident: that all men are created equal”

        But those words have never meant anything more or less than that they are entitled to equal protection by the law and equal treatment by the government. There are not two people on the planet who are actually equal. Does it violate Equality that the blind are not permitted to drive?

        • Stephanie says

          Ray, equal protection under the law implies the government isn’t allowed to tell you you can’t have kids because you’re too stupid/short/ugly/unhealthy/ect.

          • Ray Andrews says


            Does it imply that? Folks seem to presume it does, but does it really? OW Holmes didn’t think so.


            As others have mentioned, the virtue of eugenics was almost universally understood up until as late as the 60s and constitutional arguments were made both ways.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Ray Andrews

            OK, let’s talk about Carrie Buck. Carrie was raped twice, first by her boyfriend and then by the US Supreme Court:

            …….Carrie Buck was chosen as the first person to be sterilized [in Virginia] because she was labeled a moral delinquent. She had had a child, but wasn’t married. In fact, in later years Carrie told me [Paul Lombardo] and others that she had been raped by her boyfriend [Clarence Garland], that he had promised to marry her but then had left…..


            Controlling female sexuality–especially among poor and minority women–was a major aim of the eugenic sterilization movement. The Supreme Court that decided Buck v. Bell was dominated by conservative Republicans**. Now a new generation of conservatives on the US Supreme Court seems eager to control female sexuality by reducing or eliminating access to abortion and other reproductive services.

            **The only dissenting vote was from a conservative Catholic justice.

  9. Peter from Oz says

    It seems that some of the commenters above are criticising the article because they claim that eugenics is possible now that science has improved. But surely that is not the real question at issue here. Jack B. Nimble has led some of the more nerdish among us BTL astray when he said that early 20th century eugenics was uncientific balderdash. “It’s obvious that humans like other animals can be bred to achive certain characteristics”’ they say. ”Anything else is revealing Mr Nimble’s surprising attachment to the blank slate theory” they add with a dash of hauteur.
    But really the fact is that even if the scince of eugenics was rock solid, it would still be immoral to use the force of law to prevent people from reproducing.

    • Rinuk says

      Sure, but would it be immoral to use the force of law to prevent such people from migrating into the country?

      • Peter from Oz says


        The answer to your question is ”no”.
        A country owes is first duty to its people, not to the people of other countries.
        Monty Python’s SIlly Party proposed to tax foreigners living abroad. We all laugh at that idea which was meant to be seen as obviously idiotic. Yet somehow there are some who seem to think that foreigners living abroad have rights in any other country to which they may migrate.

    • Victoria says

      Why would that be immoral, Peter?

      If a state’s purpose is to serve its citizens, then surely it must have some authority over any issue that impacts the long term survival of the society.

      How many generations can we have a significant inverse relationship between intelligence and reproduction, especially with women before it impacts society as a whole?

      What if fully-developed democracies have an IQ-viability threshold as research indicates? Do we just do nothing to preserve a sense of moral righteousness? Is morality a suicide pact?

      • Stephanie says

        Victoria, serving your citizens doesn’t mean they must serve you, at the cost of the single most meaningful thing people do in their lives. A government that can sterilize you or abort your children is a totalitarian nightmare more likely destroy society than save it. Such a society wouldn’t even be worth saving.

        There are gentler ways to encourage smart women to procreate. And easier ways to stop the IQ decline, like being much more selective of immigrants.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Peter from Oz

      “it would still be immoral to use the force of law to prevent people from reproducing”

      Who says, and why? I myself would say that preventing the unfit from reproducing is no more problematic than preventing the blind from driving.

      • neoteny says

        preventing the blind from driving

        We don’t prevent the blind from driving: we prevent those people from driving who are unable to pass the driver’s exam for whatever reason. (There’s no law which says that the blind can’t take a driver’s test, at least I’m not aware of any.)

        Preventing the ‘unfit’ from reproducing would be the equivalent of preventing the blind from reproducing.

        But the biggest problem resides in this: “preventing the unfit from reproducing”. Because the definition of biological fitness is the description of the individual’s reproductive success (and is equal to the average contribution to the gene pool of the next generation that is made by individuals of the specified genotype or phenotype), the successful prevention of anybody from reproducing makes that individual (by definition) unfit.

        • Lightning Rose says

          Something nobody’s touched on yet is the hi-tech ways we’re enabling the “biologically unfit” to pass on those genes right now. When assessing a bull or stallion for breeding, one of the first things done is to evaluate the number, quality and motility of his sperm. A lousy score rules him out and he becomes a gelding or steer pretty quickly. Ditto a cow or mare who won’t hold a pregnancy–they are not in the gene pool of breeding prospects.

          It seems the longer the affluent class delays childbearing with all the usual hand-wringing about “choices,” “career,” etc., the more heroic reproductive technology they require–and it’s increasingly covered by insurance which tells you something right there.

          It’s worth noting that back in the days of arranged marriages, the obvious point was to hook up suitable partners as soon as possible in the interest of an orderly society (discouraging promiscuity) and promoting childbearing–“true love” no prerequisite. As with so many things, we’ve made a theoretical possiblity of perfection (the “perfect” life partner, without flaw) the enemy of something that actually worked; which today would be considered “settling” for a nice guy with a good job, no addictions or psychopaths in his immediate family. “Perfect True Love” is part of that “Having It All” myth that’s damaged a couple of generation’s expectations of life.

          Of course, it all comes down to: What do people really WANT? If what you want is children, you’d be well advised to find a healthy partner and have ’em when you’re young. Which, interestingly, is exactly what all traditional cultures and nearly all working class people have always done naturally. It’s only the upper crusties who seem to have all this “biological unfitness” trouble!

          • Ray Andrews says

            @Lightning Rose

            Love your comments L, first class observations.

          • Peter from Oz says

            You describe what I call “Virginia Woolf syndrome”. It was after all the Bloomsbury group that first popularised this idea that we could cast aside nature and convention and somehow be happy.
            But of course you can have children with differnt fathers, indulge in lots of gay affairs and be an artist, if it is all based upon family wealth and status. It would have been fine too, if such ‘bohemianism” had remained a minority interest of the upper middle classes. But of course, the 1960s came along and such behaviour became the norm throughout society. If you read the work of Theodore Dalrymple, you will see how social lliberal permissiveness has degraded much of the old working class into a new underclass. WHat was fine for Virginia Woolf and her Bobo mates has proved horrible when adopted by the plebs, who have no network of friends and no wealth to back them up when their ”live for the moment” actions inevitably lead to degradation and hardship.

        • Ray Andrews says


          “we prevent those people from driving who are unable to pass the driver’s exam for whatever reason”

          Ok, the end result is the same, but I appreciate the difference. So we have a fitness exam and anyone who passes passes. People with an IQ below 70 flunk as do the carriers of a short list of unequivocal genetic defects. Oh, and people on welfare are temporarily sterilized. (You can have as many kids as you can care for. If you are unable to care for them, you can’t have any more of them at state expense.)

          “Preventing the ‘unfit’ from reproducing would be the equivalent of preventing the blind from reproducing.”

          If the blindness was genetic, perhaps, but if it is not, and the blind person is not unable to care for their offspring, then I see no comparison.

          ” Because the definition of biological fitness is the description of the individual’s reproductive success”

          Only in raw nature. In an advanced welfare state where we keep people alive who are very obviously not able to survive on their own, biological fitness is no longer tested.

          “the successful prevention of anybody from reproducing makes that individual (by definition) unfit”

          That’s not how I think fitness is actually judged. If the most successful stallion in the heard is killed by a meteor that hardly changes our assessment of his fitness, does it? The moral tautology that anyone we prevent from reproducing is therefore unfit to reproduce seems like a strange concoction to me.

          • neoteny says

            but I appreciate the difference

            And I appreciate your appreciation. 🙂

            So we have a fitness exam […] Only in raw nature. […] That’s not how I think fitness is actually judged.

            This is my exact point: there are no other ‘fitness exams’ than the one given by Mother Nature, i.e. the number of offspring of an individual which are themselves able to reproduce (differential reproductive rate).

            The moral tautology

            You misunderstood: there was no moral aspect to my analysis. I wasn’t saying it isn’t right to prevent someone from reproducing: I was saying that it is logically impossible to justify the prevention of some individual’s reproduction by claiming that said individual is unfit.

          • Ray Andrews says


            “This is my exact point: there are no other ‘fitness exams’ than the one given by Mother Nature”

            Who says that a society can’t decide on a fitness test for living in a technological civilization? This would subsume biological tests but not ignore them entirely. A person carrying Huntington’s is surely unfit even if nature would permit carriers — as she does — to reproduce before slowly wasting away. Can’t we be a bit more humane than nature while still catching nature’s drift? And then there’s the traits valued in a tech society that nature might not care about too much in the jungle, but then again we aren’t in the jungle anymore.

            “I was saying that it is logically impossible to justify the prevention of some individual’s reproduction by claiming that said individual is unfit”

            Very strictly you’ve got me there. But let’s broaden the concept of fitness. A moronic psychopathic murderer is not someone we prefer to have in society, so let’s not have him. Let’s vote him off the island, even if it’s only by sterilizing him.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Ray Andrews

            ‘………… People with an IQ below 70 flunk as do the carriers of a short list of unequivocal genetic defects……’

            That list of yours isn’t as short as you think. According to Lesecque et al. [2012], “…Current information on the rate of mutation and the fraction of sites in the genome that are subject to selection suggests that each human has received, on average, at least two new harmful mutations from its parents….”


          • neoteny says

            Who says that a society can’t decide on a fitness test for living in a technological civilization?

            Who says that such a fitness test dreamed up by society can ensure the ‘betterment’ of future societies?

            There’s a fundamental point about evolution: it has no teleology, i.e. when living beings get adapted to their environments (which environment consists of all other living things in the vicinity, including other living beings belonging to the same species), they don’t develop evolutionarily toward some optimal end state: there’s no goal to evolution. The evolutionary optimization process chases a moving target: living beings get adapted to their environment, but this adaptive process itself changes the environment.

            Which of course means feedback loops upon feedback loops which generate fractals and chaotic behaviour, which is stochastic, but (some) chaotic systems have attractors, too, so they aren’t entirely stochastic (random) …

            Very strictly you’ve got me there.

            And I appreciate your acknowledgement of this. Especially because I like to be as strict as I can be in my reasoning: I believe that such strict reasoning is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of arriving at knowledge.

            But let’s broaden the concept of fitness.

            I respectfully decline the invitation: I think such a quest is extremely hubristic.

            A moronic psychopathic murderer is not someone we prefer to have in society, so let’s not have him.

            Well, eugenics is about the proposition of not having any offspring of him (at least from the point when his severely criminal behaviour manifests itself). Which can be effectively done by imprisoning him (or her) for the rest of his natural life with no chance of parole.

            But in order to do this, his (or her) severely criminal behaviour has to manifest itself: he has to be found guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction in a public trial by his peers beyond reasonable doubt. We punish the deed, not the capability for the deed.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @Jack B. Nimble

            “That list of yours isn’t as short as you think.”

            How long do you think I think it is? Come on Jack, I’m talking about gross, unarguable things like Huntington’s. You know, eugenics might just be the hottest of all hot button issues, worse than abortion and euthanasia and capital punishment rolled into one. There are very good reasons why we might not want to go there at all — where does one draw the line? I know that. But the problem with eugenics isn’t that it’s ‘fake science’, it is in fact very sound science, the problem is social/moral. As with euthanasia, we’d like to cut short needless suffering without ending up with all old people being terminated at 75 automatically. It’s bloody difficult to draw the line. Nuts, in ‘Logan’s Run’ everyone is terminated at 30. Same with euthanasia. I understand why you’d be terrified at the prospect, but the ‘bad science’ argument isn’t a sound defense.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Ray Andrews

            ‘………..But the problem with eugenics isn’t that it’s ‘fake science’, it is in fact very sound science, the problem is social/moral. ………’

            We have to distinguish between eugenics as science and eugenics as medicine. As I’ve noticed elsewhere, genetic counseling and genetic testing are eugenics at the level of an individual family, and as long as the medical decisions are made in an informed and voluntary manner, most people don’t have a problem with it. In fact, they usually don’t even think of the process as eugenic. And here is where the moral and social issues are most acute–should parents be allowed to abort a fetus with gross genetic defects, etc.

            Eugenics as a science is a different beast, even though we use the same word as for medical eugenics. Eugenics as a science involves a lot of false assumptions, such as that the offspring of mixed-race matings will be inferior to those of same-race matings, that the increase in mutational ‘load’ of the human species is increasing at an insupportable rate due to treatment options for persons with genetic diseases, that advantageous traits in humans can be selected for without incurring a cost due to pleiotropic or epistatic gene effects, etc. There is no empirical support for any of those 3 assumptions.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Jack B. Nimble

      I don’t want to retry Buck. My only point is that SCOTUS did not consider sterilization to be unconstitutional at the time. “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”, as Holmes said. Better they not be born than that they lead miserable lives. I agree with the principal notwithstanding the specifics of any particular case.

      “by reducing or eliminating access to abortion and other reproductive services”

      I find it fascinating that folks can find abortion — killing the unborn — acceptable and at the same time find sterilization — preventing pregnancy in the first place — unacceptable. The moral fulcrum seems to be ‘choice’, but I find choice to be not the overriding consideration when other lives are at stake. I guess I’m typically conservative in this — choice isn’t everything.

  10. Geary Johansen says

    The difference between cultures on the ascendant and those on the decline, can best be described by the ability to maximise potential for opportunity amongst citizens paired with the productive utilisation of labour within one’s own population. This is the lesson the Greeks and Romans failed to learn, to the cost of their civilisation- and whether one places the blame of their collapse on the decline of agriculture, the inward influx of slaves undermining labour within their culture or the failure of their financial system to differentiate between productive revenue generating industry and the speculative destructive enterprise that signifies the over-financialisation of an economy, this pattern has been repeated across history- whether one looks at the impact an influx of gold had on conquistador Spain or the wholesale abandonment of opportunity through scientific progress, inherent to al-Ghazali’s redefinition of science as mathematics as harmful to Islamic culture.

    What does this have to do with eugenics? Because time and again, poor breeding or eugenics has been used as an excuse by cultures to explain away far more fundamental decay in the heart of a culture, its institutions and its society. By the 1890s German manufacturing output had outstripped British production by a factor of five, by the 2010s German manufacturing was four times as large as that of the US. Fundamentally, this is because the most neglected aspect of the system of Welfare Capitalism first instituted by Bismark, especially in the Anglosphere, is the continuous education of the employee in the workplace.

    It’s about value. With the right incentives and the right training systems, people can become machines for creating value. Speaking as a Brit, we got the innovation part right- we’re just terrible at monetising it. It’s a constant source of amusement that in our moralising rush to map the Human Genome, in order to prevent the onset of blonde-haired, blue-eyed, designer babies, we neglected more conventional techniques… Male genetic matter is now a major export of Denmark, supplying yes-you-guessed-it blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies…

    Some countries have done better than others at preserving and encouraging the entrepreneurial systems that create new sources of labour- the UK, Canada and South Korea all score in the top four. But with the technological disruption already in the process of creating the mother lode of all Cultural Inflection points, we need to get much, much better at generating new sources of labour, revenue and trade. Otherwise, we’ll go the way of the Dodo, and all the other failed civilisations, which failed by failing to adapt.

    Whatever the root causes of the difficulties the West now finds itself in- you can pretty much guarantee that you can walk into any corporation, public institution or government agency and find a surplus of talent, at any level of an organisation. This might seem overly optimistic- but consider this, people die every day, they move on to greener pastures (or pastures new…)- and commerce carries on. If there wasn’t a surplus of talent then these enterprises would collapse on a far more frequent basis. We need to find those individuals with the right combination of intelligence, drive, tolerance for risk and openness to experience; pair them up with suitably conscientious types and train them to exploit their aptitudes to set up new businesses, scientific enterprises and engineering projects. We need to reduce the legal, accountancy and regulatory costs which so disfavour the creation of vibrant niche businesses and stop the trend towards over-corporatisation which has made America the most successful economy in the history of the world, but also left it reeling from the social impact a combination of bad policies and the collapse of labour which over-corporatisation creates.

    Above all, companies and institutions need to become a lot less selfish about failing to adequately train and educate hyper-productive employees, in the hopes of retaining them and on the promise of some future promotion or opportunity doomed to never materialise. And before we lay the blame entirely at the doorstep of business, lets consider that many of our young people are encouraged to pursue graduate programs and doctorates, when the only real opportunities they can currently expect to capitalise on are rather dubious posts within administrative roles, which are bound to be the first to be axed once government finally wakes up to the impending collapse of the integrity of the current university expansion model. In America, government has already been forced to step in as the primary source of student lending. In the UK, the British government has had to significantly lower the threshold for repayments on its graduate contribution scheme.

    The more left-leaning might envisage this as an opportunity for government to step in and right historic wrongs, fix structural racial disparities and create a more fundamentally equal society- but let’s not forget that government doesn’t pay for anything and that everywhere in Scandinavia (other than Norway) governments have been forced to admit that they will need to scale back their social safety nets, because they are unsustainable. We desperately need to evolve our cultures to face the problems that we face in the twenty-first century. We need to encourage more cultural appropriation, not less, adopting the cultural technologies possessed by successful Jewish and Chinese cultures within our societies to serve the broader population. Because if history has taught us anything, the public spending so endemic to Socialist states doesn’t end well for the people living in them.

    • Charlie says

      Geary Johnson . What creates a civilisation are a creative minority who have the vitality, courage and initiative to overcome obstacles with a society of sufficient freedom to allow others to follow. Once the creative minority lose the VCI they become threatened by those following behind and start to protect their position and that of their less able children by imposing barriers on upward mobility. Development of a bureaucracy increases taxes to an extent which inhibits growth. The affluent classes become effete degenerate and lack the courage and strength to fight to protect the borders and prefer others to do it. The civilisation is ransacked by stronger peoples. This is a synthesis of Ibn Khaldun, A Toynbee, C Northcote Parkinson and Sir John Glubb , all bring vast amounts of scholarship and practical experience to the rise and fall of civilisations. The vast increase in low grade art education post 1945 has created an embittered resentful intellectual proletariat with no capacity to find employment in industry, agriculture , commerce , armed forces , fishing, forestry at the professional/managerial level.

      Germany lacking access to the cheap resources of Empire developed modern efficient manufacturing , the Blood and Iron of Bismarck. Napoleon developed modern technical education free of the restrictions of the Church and aristocracy which were further developed by Bismarck to produce a modern industry to support the armed forces. In The UK and to a lesser extent USA remained glued to the aristocratic emphasis on classics and the Bible though by the 19th science was considered suitable for a gentleman but not engineering. The Dissenting Academies which taught commerce, science and modern languages faded out by the mid 19th century. Germany developed high quality apprenticeships which led onto technician and then engineer/applied scientists training related to the needs of industry. Education produced people industry needed.People fail to understand what science is useful to industry. Understanding what took place before or after the Big Bang does not impact on GDP; discovering DNA has led to a massive biotech industry. Germany has the Fraunhofer Institutes, about 60 of them. Modern industry does not need degrees in cultural studies but it does require technicians. Most German apprentices are trained to standards considered that of a technician in other countries.

      Germany, Korea and Japan have work ethics and the willingness of people to study hard subjects, for a prolonged time to produce innovative products to very high quality. It is the absence of slap dash, could’nt care less, near enough is good enough, so what mentality which enables Germans , Koreans and Japanese to achieve high technical standards. The English speaking world has lost much of it’s capacity for painstaking attention to detail, craftsmanship and pursuit of perfection required to produce top level craftsmanship.

      Alfa Romeo built a factory in the south of Italy to produce Alfa Sud. The quality was poor because the southern Italians lacked the attention to detail and craftmanship of those of Turin and Milan. This is why there is no top quality manufacturing in S Italy.

      Civilisations occur because people have the drive, the VCI, the painstaking attention to detail to create wonders and then defend them from those who would destroy or steal them.

      If one looks at the first British settlers in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to live was the first test. Some settlements were completely wiped out and others had barely 20% of the population survive. Those lived, had the combination of VCI which enabled a civilisation to be built, the same qualities of the people who created Egypt, Sumer, Rome, Aztec, Olmec, etc, etc.

      • Lochlomond says

        I am Italian and I can assure you that the cars made in Turin and Milan were produced in factories where 3/4 of the workers were absolutely from Southern Italy. Nowadays, still the inhabitants in North-West of Italy has a large percentage of clearly Southerner surnames. The failure of the Alfa Sud plants is a fact, but it was due mainly to political and structural problems (the location was wrong, the materials used had some flaws).

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Geary Johansen

      What a thoughtful post, that was almost an entire worldview.

      “By the 1890s German manufacturing output had outstripped British production by a factor of five”

      Really? Do you have a link? How come they lost the war?

      “Denmark, supplying yes-you-guessed-it blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies…”

      The woke Danes permit this? The plan is to replace whitey entirely (he is so irredeemably bad) so isn’t that like AOC investing in coal? Just asking.

      “entrepreneurial systems that create new sources of labour”

      New sources or new uses for labour?

      “the failure of their financial system to differentiate between productive revenue generating industry and the speculative destructive enterprise that signifies the over-financialisation of an economy”

      I didn’t know that was a problem for the Romans. Being a mere expendable labor unit myself, I do tend to distinguish between genuine productive investment, which I call capitalism, and the speculative manipulations which I call moneyism and which brought us, inter alia, the ’08 crisis. What these people ‘produce’ is economic instability unlike honest thieves who merely steal your stuff.

      “people can become machines for creating value”

      Yes, in fact there is no value that labour did not produce. But just supposing that there was no more innovation? I’m not recommending this, but just supposing that productivity stopped rising and that the workers of the world produced as much tomorrow as they did today. Why would that be so terrible? I’m told that productivity is something like 3X higher now than it was just a few decades ago, yet working people are, if anything, slightly worse off. That tells me that the workers of the world are being parasitized very baddly and that what they (we) need isn’t higher productivity, but fewer parasites. Thoughts?

      “much better at generating new sources of labour, revenue and trade. Otherwise, we’ll go the way of the Dodo”

      Again, just supposing. I’m not opposed to trade in any way, but just supposing that my stuff was made here, not in China, why would that be so terrible? Supposing some country had a self-contained economy, immune to the next melt-down? Yes, they’d be paying more for their disposable clothes, OTHO everyone would have a job and basically they’d have what they made, and they’d make what they need. I don’t see it as extinction.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ Ray Andrews (plus Charlie and Peter from Oz)

        Thanks for the feedback. Got the production figures from Len Deighton’s ‘Blood, Tears and Folly’- interesting take on the aristocracy, as well. New uses of labour- we need corporate’s as engines of productivity, lowering prices- but there have also been many successes in re-inventing products for higher niche markets, as citizens reap the rewards of greater economic liberty- ice cream being a prime example. This effectively creates parallel structures, of varying sizes, to what would otherwise be overly-monopolised and labour poor sectors.

        In the case of the Romans, I was in some ways equating ‘loot’ obtained from fellow citizens or the provinces- with asset stripping and the ‘Deal’ obsession which characterises modern economic activity. Productive businesses are undervalued, with capital gains preferred to revenue and profit. At one point I worked for a company that had net profits equal to half it’s valuation according to share price- for no better reason than senior management hadn’t seen the point in investing in dubious machine projects with 20 year cost-recovery plans, or offshoring a business, with vertical integration and production issues that made the sector unsuitable for offshoring.

        Hmm, parasites is a rather strong word. It’s important to remember that the real rate of return on capital, after one accounts for risk and taxes, is around 9%, historically. This can also act as a cushion which protects jobs in hard times. The real problem with modern capitalism is that the incentives rarely reach down to the bottom layers of most organisation- which is stupid given that industrial engineering techniques have proven that proportional pay incentives increase productivity by 50% on average (British Standards Institute info). I once watched an ‘Undercover Boss’ in the UK, where the boss was suspicious as to why cleaning staff for static caravans were earning twice as much as staff in comparable sites- only to find that they were doing four times the work. On parasites, you should really look into worker co-operatives like Moondragon in Spain. The most skilled or highly trained workers in Moondragon earn about eight times the average.

        The problem with trying to criticise capitalism, capital and markets too strongly, is that it’s just been far too successful over the past 250 years at lifting people out of absolute poverty, and there really is no alternative to date. What I would criticise is the unrestrained rise of bad actors in the marketplace, who do not see that reputation and trust are integral to maximising shareholder value, over the long-term. Plus capitalism doesn’t really work well at supplying market needs in certain areas, such as housing, where the cost push on desirable land, undermines the profitability of building and ultimately leads to rent-seeking (regulatory costs don’t help either). Governments always get housing wrong, in almost every conceivable way. The underlying problem in this current moment is that technology is stripping labour, faster than innovation can replace it.

        You’ve actually hit the nail on the head, when it comes to China though, mate. Because now that Africa is becoming China’s China, with low value labour being offshored, it is interest to note that they are keeping the high value, high labour work for themselves. Other than with the possible exception of Germany and a few other Northern European countries, and sectors like defence and aircraft production, nowhere in the West was loyal enough to it’s well-payed blue collar workers to stop the offshoring of these vital jobs. Now I know that over 80% of these jobs were ultimately automated away, but it might have been useful to keep them as long as possible- and we would be in much healthier shape socially if we’d kept the remainder for ourselves.

        The problem with a self-contained economy though, is that it would lead to massive price rises, economic instability, and stagnation. We benefit greatly from the relative disparities in labour and living costs that exist around the world- as do they- we get cheaper goods, and absolute poverty worldwide was halved from 2000 to 2012. The challenge is to find more goods and services we can supply to them. Branded goods do well, as do heritage products. But beyond that we need to find niche businesses that are simply too small to be worth competing against, relocating, or building from the ground up. A prime example is Arm Technologies which sold to SoftBank for £24 billion and employs about 2,500 UK staff. It also might be a good idea to restrict foreign access to jobs that citizens actually want to do, and are capable of doing- displacing existing labour in an economy only breeds resentment and higher social costs.

        But I do think that we need to get a lot more creative when it comes to generating businesses. IKEA was great in its day, but now that the upper middle class is growing worldwide these days, it might be worth making furniture that’s worth inheriting again. Community Capitalism with ALMO’s supplying low-cost online business services to geographically disadvantaged communities, could well be a great utilisation of currently underemployed labour, especially is someone was smart enough to put a low cost full psychometric suite on STEAM as a community asset- a sort of ingredients-based economics, with local authorities building self-contained little industrial units instead of useless white elephants. Perhaps the best thing that government could do would be to act as a partial underwriter to capital expenditure for business start-ups which could provide labour- with between 70-90% of investment costs recoverable through a government scheme. This would drastically redraw the risk reward ratios for potential investment- fundamentally re-favouring venture capital investment over other forms of investment.

        On the subject of education, Charlie is of course completely right. I didn’t learn that I was in the top 1% for engineering aptitude, until I was in my thirties and took a Morrisby test- I was a superuser for a manufacturing company at the time, and this knowledge might have been helpful when I was younger!! This is one thing that Andrew Yang gets completely right, in that we need to re-task education to suit the needs of the 21st century. And it’s not just the singular lack of comprehensive vocational education that is a problem- progressive education itself is only barely adequate for middle-class kids with homes full of books- for poorer kids, the lack of a highly structured learning environment, with strict enforcement of low-level discipline, calibrated to enable a knowledge-intensive education, is an absolute disaster. Check out Michaela Community School on YouTube.

        To Peter from Oz, one wonders whether over-regulation and dependence on the state, particularly from the left, are actually a cunning continuation of the Franfurt school. Might be more plausible though, if politicians could actually run a bath…

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Geary Johansen

          “Productive businesses are undervalued, with capital gains preferred to revenue and profit.”

          So very true. The mega rich get it into their heads that all you really need to stay rich is to be rich. Revenue, production and profit are the ‘real’ capitalism, financial manipulations, are second rate at best, or pure parasitism at worst.

          “Hmm, parasites is a rather strong word”

          Indeed. The reason I can’t sign on as a card carrying socialist is the fact that the capital class is not entirely parasitic and occasionally does real work. Mind, it is as lazy as it can get away with being, and right now it’s getting away with murder. But I’m a capitalist thru and thru.

          “The problem with a self-contained economy though, is that it would lead to massive price rises, economic instability, and stagnation.”

          So we are told, but I wonder. Why ‘massive’? If I cut your lawn and you cut mine, that’s ‘economic activity’ and the economists and bankers and bureaucrats are happy, but if we each cut our own lawns that’s said to be a recession. But both of us have our lawns cut.

          “we get cheaper goods, and absolute poverty worldwide was halved from 2000 to 2012”

          There’s truth in that for sure. But we get junk, and since there are huge trade deficits it seems that we pay for that junk by selling our countries themselves out to the Chinese. Here in Canada we pay for our junk with condos in Vancouver and Toronto. China will soon own Canada and Canadians will be hard pressed to keep a roof over their heads.

          “The challenge is to find more goods and services we can supply to them.”

          Sure, the infinite growth model. But it seems to me the planet is finite, and we should have an economy that makes what we need, no more.

        • Charlie says

          When considering blue collar we need to sub- divide into un skilled, semi-skilled and skilled which require a 5 year apprenticeship. Within the skilled , the electrician requires greater academic ability than the bricklayer. Swiss watches are made in Switzerland because of the very high skills required. Coal mining, ship building, steel making, car production and low grade manufacturing were offshored largely comprise un and semiskilled work. Most large merchant ships are bath shaped tanks with engines in the stern, they do not require high skills to make: warships do.

          What is the deciding factor deciding to offshore which is often ignored do the skills required take years to obtain and require a painstaking attention to detail , such as in manufacturing a Swiss watch . The Black Forest area of Germany was making incredibly complicated clocks, especially cuckoo clocks and other mechanical toys for hundreds of years before industrialisation. Japan has been making swords, kimono, porcelain, and undertaking calligraphy for hundreds of years . Consequently in both countries there is the respect for high value craftsmanship and the mental and physical skills required to aquire are deeply ingrained in the psyche of the people. Britain lost much of this respect for craftmanship post 1850s and did not invest in moving people from low and medium value manufacturing into advanced high value manufacturing. Builders pre 1850 had an understanding of the Greek concept of proportion and balance , those today do not- read GM Trevelyan. This is why so much housing today is poor.

          The USA has never had high value craftmanship , it does not produce watches, cars, clothes, jewellery at the top end. The American rust belt was created because people did not upgrade their skills. American education is very poor compared to German / Swiss education. Most universities are irrelevant to GDP , what is needed are the equivalent of Fraunhofer Institutes. Most high value manufacturing in the USA is due to the space and defence programmes.

          India is good at software because in S India , in the area of the Dravidian languages , the temples keep alive 5,000 years of scholarship. Languages such as Tamil and Malalayam are very difficult to learn.The Dravidian languages are the most difficult in the World to learn. In N India most of the temples, universities and schools were destroyed by the Muslim invasions from about 1000 AD – read K S Lal.

          Germany moved it’s people into high value production and low value work was done by Turks and Jugoslavs.

          In Rome, the defeat of Hannibal resulted in tens of thousands of slaves being employed on massive estates by the wealthy. This meant the plebeian farmers could not compete and by 300 AD many were virtual serfs. The Equitaes, ( equestrian Class ) the affluent middle class who ran most towns refused to fight and by AD 300 much of the Roman army was non-Italian. If one looks at Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Wall Street most of the wealthy lack what it takes to make good combat soldiers. Civilisations only survive while the wealthy are prepared to undergo rigorous training and lead the poorer people into battle; Ibn Khaldun made this point. When one examines the background of the officers in the guards most come from wealthy backgrounds, usually associated with the land and many have served in the special forces or other elite units.

          I would suggest that the Swiss have a good model. A populace which is highly skilled and willing to undergo hard training in order to defend itself. The millionaire banker who can climb, ski, march with a heavy pack through the mountains, shoot accurately and is willing to die to defend his country is the modern day version of the Roman Senator of the Republic or Greek warrior citizen.

          Eugenics ignores free will. People can change. An ignorant violent thug born in the slums can through self education and training of the body and mind become a productive member of society. However, the ignorant has to recognise themselves and be willing to change: one can take a horse to water but one cannot make it drink. The tree of knowledge requires pruning and watering. This requires immense self discipline in conquering the seven deadly sins but the desire for quick easy gratification undermines the discipline.

          “The desire to be spoon fed, to have our problems solved by others, to be given short snappy answers , has sunk deep into out culture “. The former Archbishop of York . Rome was not built in a day and the first major construction project was the Cloaca Maximus, in 600 BC, the sewer. If a person and a society do not want to aquire and keep the skills which enable a civilisation to be created and maintained, then it will not happen.

  11. Peter from Oz says

    ”The difference between cultures on the ascendant and those on the decline, can best be described by the ability to maximise potential for opportunity amongst citizens paired with the productive utilisation of labour within one’s own population.”
    One problem is that too many people are being told that life is about ”getting a job” instead of adding value and creating wealth. Another impediment is the fact that the convoy of western culture needs to travel ant the pace of its slower members. For better or worse modern Western societies seem to be judged by the way they treat the disdavantaged and marginalised, not on the opportunities they provide the talented.
    But seeing these problems and prescibing government action is where it all falls down into a screaming heap. The Roman EMpire fell because it was over-governed. Most of our problems now arise from the fact that we are over-governed too. But the problem is that government is addictive. It feeds the news, like sport does. And that is how most people treat it: a spctator sport.
    As a lawyer, I watch as each year the amount of legislation and regulation expands more and more into areas of life that none of thought they would deal with only a few years ago.
    The great lie about socialism is that is that it will expand people’s horizons. In fact the opposite is true. SOcialism limits people and makes them fit into the category that the State wants them to be. For it is easier for the state to treat us all as members of varioius tribes than it is to deal with us individually. Thus, the new left has really moved away from being a working class movement, because once the working class got any prosperity they all (including the most vociferous socialists) want to be middle class (in the British sense, not in the American sense which just means ”middle income” and not middle class).
    I think the modern left is hoping that its new proletariat (i.e. members of the oppressed groups) cannot be changed into members of the white male oppressor group.
    WHilst they are caught up with differences between people, they won’t be able to see that the advantages of all of us to suceed are slipping away due to increased bureaucracy and a lack of innovative thinking.

    • TarsTarkas says

      The point of addicting the underclass to the dole is to ensure that that underclass remains dependent on government, and therefore keep voting the right way. The problem with that is the underclass becomes too apathetic to even vote and keep the dole providers in power. Vote bundling is a stopgap method to get around that apathy. I could see as a next step proposals for proxy assumptive voting, by which people’s votes are counted as voting for a particular party as if they had actually voted, because that is the way they would have voted had they bothered to.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Peter from Oz

      ” For it is easier for the state to treat us all as members of varioius tribes than it is to deal with us individually. ”

      But there is a flaw in the narrative there. True, the Warriors want to atomize us into Victim-Identities, that’s what they do for a living, and the woke-state is sorta ‘going along’ with that for the moment because it seems politic. But is that really what the state wants? It seems to me that totalitarian states want to homogenize. Under Ingsoc, there are only three kinds of people: proles, outer party and inner party. Within the party everyone is exactly the same. Under communism, the goal was that everyone is a worker and all workers are exactly the same, no? What would Stalin or Mao make of wokeness?

      Multicult is really monocult — the idea is that every country is exactly the same as every other country and eventually all the various fragmented cultural groups melt together into one, cultureless hive of entirely controlled worker termites, no? Already we are told that there are no differences in ability between men and women (or even that gender exists at all) or between races or cultures. We’re one big happy family, all equally gay, equally woke, equally employed in STEM, etc. Equitron ensures equal outcomes for everyone. So yes, there is this ‘noise’ about tribes, but is it just a diversion? Do the people who matter — the ultra rich and their state apparatchiks — really want ‘diversity’? Yes, they want fragmentation and they’re getting it, but is that ‘diversity’? Divide and conquer.

  12. I don’t know enough to criticise the main thread if this article although I get the impression is is restrospectively applying modern political and moral convention in a simplistic way to the past.

    What seemed paticularily glib to me was ‘… the Immigration Act of 1917…. Literacy was an easy way to separate the poor and underprivileged would-be immigrant from those who had had more advantages early in life.

    I therefore looked at literacy rates in europe for example see:

    As examples the percentage of the popuation in Belgium in 1920 that was illetrate was just 8.3% The number in England was less. The policy was clearly not going to seperate out the poor and under-priviliged because most of them could read. Did the author check or do any research before describing the policy in this way? What does this say about other assertions in the article?

    What the policy could have been aimed at therefore was filtering out just a small percentage of the least educated and least skilled amongst potential immigrants. Nowadays immigration policies that discriminate to allow in skilled workers are generally seen as a good thing or at least not an immoral thing why should this historic policy be seen differently?

  13. Victoria says

    Dishonest open-borders propaganda. You’d never know that organized labor was the most important driving force of early 20th Century immigration restriction. A number of key labor leaders were Jewish.

    Atheists on the left increasingly seem to treat immigration like a sacrament, a holy rite that sanctifies society, rather than a public policy with complex dimensions that can actually be debated in good faith. Instead we get relentless guilt-by-association narratives to obfuscate the social and economic reality.

    • Jack B. Nimble says


      ‘…….organized labor was the most important driving force of early 20th Century immigration restriction. A number of key labor leaders were Jewish…..

      I specifically mentioned Samuel Gompers, a Jewish immigrant from London who founded the American Federation of Labor and was AFL president for almost 40 years. Despite his working class origin, Gompers was anti-socialist as well as anti-immigrant. On at least one occasion, he referred to Asians as ‘coolies.’ Even Jews can be racist.


      I’m all in favor of good-faith debate, but before Americans can debate immigration sensibly, we need to understand how we got to our present condition. In other words, we need the history that Okrent gives us.

      • Victoria says

        @Jack B. Nimble

        “we need to understand how we got to our present condition”

        Our present condition is an unsustainable consumerism fueled by relentless pressure on the labor market through immigration and reckless provision of consumer debt (ands unsustainable public spending).

        Like most of the left elite you are really only concerned with moral and ideological purity, as your assessment of Gompers exemplifies, which is ultimately about showing you are part of the Elect, rather actually helping others.

        I don’t care who was or wasn’t racist a hundred years ago, any more than I care who was sexist. Our elite seem hopelessly detached from human fallibility, which plays out both as reviling the white working class for their weakness and stripping non-whites of their humanity through idealization that actually deprives them of moral agency.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Cesar Chavez was also very anti-immigrant, because he saw illegals as competing for jobs with his union members and driving down wages.

    • Ray Andrews says


      “Atheists on the left increasingly seem to treat immigration like a sacrament, a holy rite that sanctifies society”

      Yes, but who are they really working for? Who really benefits from and endless stream of effectively stateless, rightless workers? My thesis is that the left have essentially become the useful idiots of the globalists. Why defeat your enemy when you can drug her and hypnotize her into becoming your own servant? The woke left are a 5th column who don’t even know who they work for.

  14. C Young says

    Good to see a btl commentator above the line. Unfortunately, JBN still writes as if pursuing a below the line polemic.

    Stylistically, hyperbole doesn’t work in the new setting. “Is eugenic science … worthless junk?” is an over-emotional question that betrays the author’s political commitments. If you load the question this way, you are not going to convince anyone.

    “Eugenic science is garbage all the way down”. If you write the science off tout court, who will think you’ve given it a fair hearing?

    Since JBN is attempting to use his authority as a scientist to lend his opinions authority, arousing suspicions of politically motivated reasoning is the last thing he should aim for. It renders the piece null and void.

    From a European perspective it also looks rather provincial in nature. Eugenics was an international phenomenon. Your readership is also international. Here in the UK the most famous political eugenicists were the Fabians – mainstream socialists. Eugenic policies continued in the Nordics until the 1960s.

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      @C Young

      ‘…….Is eugenic science … worthless junk?’

      You clipped my text. I wrote ‘Is eugenic science from the early 20th Century worthless junk?’–clearing referring to eugenics as practiced by Davenport, Laughlin, et al. Eugenics in the 21st century might be a different ‘creature,’ but that topic was beyond the scope of Okrent’s book.

      Okrent made the choice to focus on eugenics in the US and to discuss other countries like Germany and the UK only when relevant to the American experience. As I indicated above, the literature on eugenics is vast, and reviewing the worldwide history in detail would be a monumental undertaking.

      On the question of illiteracy, Okrent’s title specifically references Italy, and as he shows on p. 228, the Immigration Restriction League worried in 1914 that the Italian govt. “was spending millions on their schools in the past month in view of the impending [literacy test] bill.” That’s why the literacy test was replaced in a few years with hard-number limits.

      • C Young says

        ‘Worthless junk’ is hyperbolic. ‘Without any value’ would be a neutral formulation.

        Ditto ‘garbage all the way down’. ‘Flawed from top to bottom’ is neutral.

        Stylistically, this just doesn’t work. It makes you sound like an adolescent.

        Personally, I’m interested in hearing conflicting views on these topics. If you avoided these errors your writing would be more persuasive. As it is, any reader who isn’t already in agreement switches off.

        • Jack B. Nimble says

          @C Young

          You made a good point. I tried in my review to be even-handed in discussing the possible motivations of people like Henry C. Lodge, Sr., while pointing out that the underlying science was worthless.

          Bottom Line: Everyone needs an editor!

  15. Michael Walsh says

    Everything the writer describes -the elitism, the do-gooder solipsism, the scare-mongering, the financial/professional incentives, the political maneuvering, the bad faith and bad science -all of it is present to a similarly malign degree in the global-warming industry.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      I’d love to hear you define this terrifying “industry” of global-warming. Curious only because the forces of warming denial are, literally, industries like the mainstream media, fossil fuels, and much of our big industry with massive access to capital and influence.

      Oh, you mean all those awful scientists and advocates who can’t even propose a plastic straw ban without getting shouted down? You’re actually afraid of the people with no money and no power? You got everything exactly backwards.

  16. E. Olson says

    Given the poor state of scientific knowledge and scientific capability during the time of the early eugenics movement, it might more interesting to consider how much the leading figures got right in their observations and policy prescriptions rather than focus on what they got wrong or what we currently find distasteful. There must have been a lot about early eugenics that made sense to the general public and upper-crust of society based on their personal observation and experience for the movement to have gained such widespread popular support across the political and academic spectrum.

    In contrast, today we have the benefit of many advances in research and knowledge in areas such as DNA, brain functioning, and personality development that are beyond the imagination of most early eugenics researchers and proponents. Yet much of the academic and the political Left wants to shut down further research and silence or discredit the findings of research efforts into genetic causes of differing individual or group-based success and deviancy outcomes. Instead, academics and the political Left advocate for open border policies and redistribution schemes that take resources and incentives away from the productive (due to their better genes and culture) and gives them to the unproductive (due to their faulty genes and culture), which flies in the face of today’s vastly superior knowledge and the opening quote by Teddy Roosevelt from 106 years ago.

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      @E. Olson

      I’m not an “open borders” kind of guy, and I’m not a blank slatist [slater?], either.

      Modern genetic counseling for couples with a family history of a genetic condition can be thought of as ‘voluntary’ eugenics. But before anyone proposes that governments get into the eugenics business, we need to be clear on the history and science behind eugenics. As Okrent makes clear, the history is full of bigotry and elitism, and the science of Davenport et al. was crappy. Among other things, even under strong selection, deleterious recessive alleles can’t be eliminated from a population in 2-3 generations. And if we employ genetic screens to identify heterozygotes, we discover that everyone carries at least one deleterious allele in their genome.

      • Morgan Foster says

        @Jack B. Nimble

        ” … even under strong selection, deleterious recessive alleles can’t be eliminated from a population in 2-3 generations …”

        Leading us to the biggest obstacle facing a productive eugenics program. No individual or peer group can live long enough to supervise more than a few generations of selective human breeding.

      • E. Olson says

        Jack – I don’t recall calling you an “open borders” kind of guy or a blank slater. I also didn’t say all Leftists are either of those things (only much of them), but the policies of most leading Democrats running for President or in the leadership of Congress would suggest they do support open borders and do believe government redistribution and “education” can fix “blank slate” and any associated social or economic problems, and they keep getting re-elected.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Jack B. Nimble

        “we need to be clear on the history and science behind eugenics.”

        Sorry but this is scare mongering. Ok, yes, history always matters, but there have been very many sciences and other human inventions and institutions that have in the past made very big mistakes. Is physics suspect because at one time folks believed in phlogiston? As I mentioned in a previous thread, we could essentially eliminate Huntington’s. Even if the mutation showed up again, we could nip it in the bud right there — no one need ever die of Huntington’s ever again. A sane eugenics policy would have to be put together very, very carefully. It may well be the case that you monkeys just can’t manage it and had better leave it alone, but then again you can’t leave anything alone, can you? We dolphins would be happy to help if you’d just ask.

        • Jack B. Nimble says

          @Ray Andrews

          Scare mongering? Yes, I’m scared by current-day politicians and their followers who want us to follow the downward path that was blazed decades ago by Harry Laughlin, Madison Grant and others–the path that leads to fake science, racism, nativism and a rejection of everything foreign.

          Almost all Americans are descendants of immigrants; the only difference is when those ancestors arrived on American soil. Anti-immigrant panics have waxed and waned over the past two centuries in the US, and my hope is that the current panic will subside before more harm is done. The panic over the genetic deterioration of the human species is likewise overblown.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @Jack B. Nimble

            “current-day politicians and their followers”

            But this is trying to make facts go away based on whether or not you like the politics of others who have accepted those facts. Competition and war and racism are natural outcomes of Darwinian thinking as is facing the fact that not all sub-populations of humans are equally good at everything. But renouncing war is not best achieved by renouncing Darwin as ‘fake science’. Better to face facts yet resolve to behave in a civilized way, IMHO. Same with eugenics. Hitler took things to a bad place. I’d rather face facts, take prudent measures but neither go to the devil. They say you can be a moral atheist, let’s see.

            “Almost all Americans are descendants of immigrants”

            Who would the exceptions be? It seems to me that everyone who does not live where mitochondrial Eve lived is an immigrant.

            “Anti-immigrant panics have waxed and waned over the past two centuries in the US”

            Yes, and some of those panics were well founded. True, the US was big enough, and dynamic enough and growing fast enough to eventually absorb even the more difficult groups (the Irish being the worst, skin color not withstanding), but there was considerable trouble.

            “The panic”

            Panic? I’d rather call it head-in-the-sand denialism, as you give us an example. Those of us who are concerned are rarely panicking either, but we should take heed.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Ray Andrews

            ‘……….. Competition and war and racism are natural outcomes of Darwinian thinking as is facing the fact that not all sub-populations of humans are equally good at everything….’

            You mean social-Darwinian thinking:

            “Social Darwinism–Misusing Darwin’s Theory

            Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is entirely focused on an explanation of life’s biological diversity. It is a scientific theory meant to explain observations about species. Yet some have used the theory to justify a particular view of human social, political, or economic conditions. All such ideas have one fundamental flaw: They use a purely scientific theory for a completely unscientific purpose. In doing so they misrepresent and misappropriate Darwin’s original ideas.

            One such distortion and misuse is the loose collection of ideologies grouped under the label of “Social Darwinism.” Based largely on notions of competition and natural selection, Social Darwinist theories generally hold that the powerful in society are innately better than the weak and that success is proof of their superiority.

            Darwin passionately opposed social injustice and oppression. He would have been dismayed to see the events of generations to come: his name attached to opposing ideologies from Marxism to unbridled capitalism, and to policies from ethnic cleansing to forced sterilization. Whether used to rationalize social inequality, racism, or eugenics, so-called Social Darwinist theories are a gross misreading of the ideas first described in the Origin of Species and applied in modern biology….”


      • C Young says

        But before anyone proposes that governments get into the eugenics business, we need to be clear on the history… behind eugenics. the history is full of bigotry and elitism

        That is a fallacious argument. The history in Europe is different. Eugenics was promoted by the left. As I mentioned above, the last eugenics laws in the Nordics were revoked in the 1970s.

        Is the moral position of eugenics in Europe different from that in the US because it has a different history? Surely not.

        History is irrelevant. (I don’t support eugenics by the way)

        • Jack B. Nimble says

          @C Young

          I suppose that you are referring to this book: Eugenics and the Welfare State: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland by Broberg & Roll-Hansen.

          If so, I haven’t read it and can’t comment on your claim that eugenics in the ‘Nordic’ countries was a project of the political left.

          To be clear, my comments about eugenics as science and as social policy in the period from roughly 1890-1930 were based on the American experience. There’s no reason to think that other countries would have the same history or the same experience.

          Regarding the [im]morality of eugenics, coercive sterilization is a flagrant human rights offense. Other moral issues surrounding eugenics are not so clear-cut, IMO.

          • C Young says

            No, I’m not thinking of any book in particular.

            As is well known, social democratic parties dominated the Scandinavia/Nordic region in the postwar period. Their politics roughly equated to Bernie Sanders outlook. (Sanders isn’t a socialist, whatever he says) But those countries pursued eugenicist policies in that era.

            Also, as far as I know, they were the only European states with eugenicist policies in that period.

            The point I’m making is that you are overstating the importance of history. The history of eugenics varied enormously by country. The moral status of eugenics is the same everywhere.

            Conclusion : forget about history and cut straight to the ethics.

  17. Andrew Scott says

    We often hear of science “self-correcting.” That is, less fitting explanations are replaced with better ones as we acquire knowledge.

    This is not a case of scientific self-correction. These views were not based on any scientific method at the time when they were widely held. Rather, their vague association with science was given as a reason why others should adopt them.

    Unless such behaviors have been bred out of us, that puts us in a difficult position today. We’re presented with a number of beliefs and told that if we don’t agree with them then we’re not only wrong, but we’re anti-science. We’re expected to accept conclusions without critical thought. And yet we know from experience that calling something “science” doesn’t make it science.

    How do we make sense of this?
    – Learn about the subject
    – Learn to read research papers. We may not understand all of the details, but it’s easy to spot when someone cites a paper as evidence of something and, as is often the case, the paper doesn’t actually make that claim. Sometimes it undermines it. Or it glosses over key details.
    – Don’t dismiss educated experts in their fields who dissent as fringe scientists or lunatics. Don’t accept the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. Don’t accept blanket assertions that challenges have already been refuted. Nothing is more common than issuing a rebuttal and immediately claiming that an opposing view has been refuted.

  18. Chip says

    The eagerness of would-be eugenicists to dive immediately into sciency-sounding woo is the tipoff that we are not dealing with science but bigotry.

    If superior humans existed, their superiority would be obvious and evident. Just as with the natural world, there would be a recurring pattern of excellence and success which would result in larger and more healthy families, and longer lifespans.

    Yet a cursory view of the history of humans shows nothing of the sort. So the followers of eugenics have to resort to ever more abstract and contrived explanations in order to divert attention away from empirical observation.

    • Morgan Foster says


      If superior humans existed …

      They do. You interact with them every day, although you may be reluctant to acknowledge it.

      … their superiority would be obvious and evident …

      It is.

      Just as with the natural world, there would be a recurring pattern of excellence and success

      Intelligent parents are more likely to breed intelligent children, and if you say you have not witnessed this in your own life experience I will not believe you.

      …which would result in larger and more healthy families, and longer lifespans.

      “Larger” families have nothing to do with eugenics. Healthy adults are more likely to breed healthy children. “Longer lifespans” have already been identified in certain closed populations. (Look that up yourself.)

      And you consider this to be “sciency-sounding woo”?

      • Kevin Herman says

        Dont pick on Chip he is living in his blank slate fantasy land and is pretty happy living there I’d imagine.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Morgan Foster

        ” … their superiority would be obvious and evident …

        It is.”

        Touche. Efforts to find equality among various groups range from the scholarly — ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ tried hard to convince us that if you swapped the entire populations of New Guinea and France, within two generations the French would be cannibals hunting each other in the jungle:

        … and the New Guineans would be enjoying cafe culture in Paris.

        … to the bureaucratic — Equity laws.

        … to the earnest — Dr. Gate’s programs on the glories of African civilization.

        … to pure fiction — if you want a black African tribe that invented math, or science, or even the wheel, or just any form of writing, you have to create it from nothing: Wakanda.

      • Chip says

        When you can’t cite empirical examples of recurring patterns, yes, that is the very essence of sciency woo.

        I have seen individual examples of excellence, but never any pattern of races or nationalities demonstrating superiority.

        People love to cite a short burst of achievement like the couple centuries of dominance by the Europeans, but that fails since that period has obviously come to an end.

        If they were so superior, how did this start, and why is it ending?

    • Lightning Rose says

      Superior humans will exist, and very soon, but not due to selective breeding. Due to cybernetic chip implants that interact directly with the brain, imparting abilities beyond natural humanity. The big dividing line will then be between those allowed (or who can afford) the technology, and those without.

  19. asdf says

    There were specific deficiencies with the 1920s era eugenics, due mainly to a lack of necessary and rigorous data.

    However, the general impression that there were people with good genes and people with bad genes is true. As was the impression that some races had more people with good genes and fewer people with bad genes than other races did.

    Similarly, while the same issues with things like forced sterilization would be an issue today, that isn’t what gets most of the heat on eugenics. We mostly debate:

    1) To what extent should we promote the breeding of the less genetically fortunate (welfare does this, so we are mainly debating changes to the welfare state)

    2) To what extent we hinder the fertility of the more genetically fortunate (taxes and other social/cultural decisions do this)

    3) To the extent that current immigration patterns are dysgenic.

    The obvious solution is to do more to promote high IQ fertility (tax breaks, etc) and cut off low IQ immigration. Domestic low IQ fertility isn’t a huge issue (barely above replacement).

    Also, IVF, genetic screening, and eventually genetic engineering should be heavily subsidized by the state for all citizens.

    This is common sense and could probably be called “eugenics” but should be adopted because its obviously the best solution for humanity.

    • E. Olson says

      asdf – very good points, but if implemented, who would then vote Democrat?

    • Chip says

      It doesn’t seem curious to you that this natural, Darwinian superiority requires the helping hand of government, otherwise it fails to display itself?

      • asdf says

        I’m not sure what your question is?

        The government helps the weak and punishes the strong. That is anti-Darwinian.

        • Chip says

          How did these weak inferior people manage to compel the most powerful government in the world to do their bidding?

          If they are that clever maybe they really are the superior race.

          • Nakatomi Plaza says

            Oh, Chip. Don’t you know? Poor people, women, and academics (elitist and leftist, of course) are the most powerful, horrifying people in the world. They’ll all like Hitler. And Mao. And Stalin. Yep, they’re that terrifying. They’ll all inferior idiots, yet they are our greatest threat. And no, it doesn’t make a bit of sense to anybody who hasn’t had their brain turned to mush inside the Quillette bubble.

            And you will never, ever fucking read an article on here about the Koch brothers or Wall Street or any of the real sources of power and influence in this country. EVER.

          • asdf says

            In a democracy it’s one man, one vote. Which means everyone has equal political power, even if your contribution to society is not equal.

            To gain political power you need to cobble together 51% of the vote. Coalitions form to try and get to 51% so they can divide the spoils amongst themselves.

            One way to get votes is to buy them. Vote for me and I will give you something in return. So for instance blacks vote 90% Dem, and Dems try to get them things (welfare, AA, etc).

            The votes of the poor are generally cheaper to buy since a marginal dollar is worth more to them.

            A common political coalition is high/low versus middle. Some faction of powerful people learns that it can increase its power vis-a-vis other powerful people and the middle class by buying cheap votes.

            This may be a successful strategy, but that doesn’t make it good. The Mongol’s strategy of burning civilization to the ground so they could rule over the ashes was “evolutionarily successful”, but not good.

  20. TarsTarkas says

    Chip, see my comment above.

    Superior humans do exist. And their superiority is evident by their outsized contribution to science, the arts, politics, etc.. They are called Jews. The result of an unintentional long-term selective breeding program. They aren’t called the Chosen People by accident.

    I often wonder whether many of the world’s problems are caused by good (or not so good) -intentioned people constantly interfering with the Jewish way of running things. Maybe I’m being snarky, but I’m not convinced that I’m wrong either.

    BTW, the eugenicists had to twist themselves into Gordian knots to prove Jewish genetic inferiority. One reason why the Nazi hatred for the Chosen People was so intense. They had to really really work hard to convince themselves that Jews were not just inferior, but evil, and deep-graven mental habits are hard to break.

    • Ray Andrews says


      “BTW, the eugenicists had to twist themselves into Gordian knots to prove Jewish genetic inferiority. ”

      Yes. As I recall, the biggest ‘problem’ Germany had with the Jews was that they were slowly taking over the professions and the universities. Trying to convince yourself that the Jews were/are inferior is about the mirror image of trying to convince yourself that negroes are equal or that all the world’s problems are whitey’s fault. But folks can convince themselves of absolutely anything.

    • Jack B. Nimble says


      ‘…..BTW, the eugenicists had to twist themselves into Gordian knots to prove Jewish genetic inferiority……..’

      Not really. In 1913 or thereabouts, Henry Goddard administered his version of the Simon-Binet IQ test to a haphazard sample of immigrants and concluded that 83% of Jewish immigrants at Ellis Island were feeble-minded or worse, as were 80% of Hungarians tested, 79% of the Italians and 87% of the Russians.

      Source: Dorfman, D. D. (1982). Henry Goddard and the feeble-mindedness of Jews, Hungarians, Italians, and Russians. American Psychologist, 37(1), 96-97.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Jack B. Nimble

        But even the Nazis recognized the difference between the Ostjuden and the Western Jews. Their stereotyping and propaganda almost entirely centered on the Ostjuden. Trying to put the Ashkenazim and Arab-Jews into the same category has always been rather problematic too.

      • neoteny says

        In 1913 or thereabouts […] concluded that 83% of Jewish immigrants at Ellis Island were feeble-minded or worse, as were 80% of Hungarians tested

        and three decades later Hungarian Jews (John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner) underpinned the Manhattan Project.

        • Ray Andrews says


          Perhaps what we should do is look at the bell curve. Sure, the majority of immigrant Jews at Ellis Island at some point might have been inferior, nevertheless higher up the curve we see these clusters of geniuses. It isn’t one or the other.

          • @Ray Andrews

            The article states that the study results were reversed, so 17% were “feeble-minded”

          • Jack B. Nimble says


            ‘….article states that the study results were reversed, so 17% were “feeble-minded”….’

            Sorry, @HS, but you blew this one. The link I provided above is an abstract that includes the following text:

            “……..Comments on R. Herrnstein’s (1981) criticism of Albee for attributing to H. Goddard (1913, 1917) the statement that “83% of the Jews, 80% of the Hungarians, 79% of the Italians, and 87% of the Russians were ‘feeble-minded’,” on the basis of Binet tests given to a sample of immigrants at Ellis Island. The present author maintains that it is not Goddard’s statement, but L. J. Kamin’s (1974) and that KAMIN’S 2 REFERENCE NOTES ON GODDARD APPEAR TO BE REVERSED and neither contains the page number of Goddard’s table from which the information was taken……” EMPHASIS ADDED

            The reference notes are reversed in Kamin’s 1974 book, NOT the data in Goddard’s 1917 book.

            This is important because Goddard’s IQ test results at Ellis Island in 1913 are clearly unreliable. Unfortunately, the article by Dorfman is not available in electronic form, and a scanned pdf is behind a journal paywall. Nevertheless, here are the figures that Dorfmann reproduces from Goddard [1917]:

            Jewish immigrants:

            Note: total sample size was 30 immigrants; Goddard lumped the moron and imbecile classes together as feeble-minded. Similar results were obtained for the Hungarians, etc.

  21. Cluebat says

    Nothing wrong with wanting to keep poor genetics out of one’s family.
    This is why there is a tradition of getting the father’s approval. Bad seed, and all that.
    The tendency that it becomes racially exclusive is an unfortunate result of human weakness. This weakness is also an avenue for mass manipulation by demagogues.

  22. asdf says

    BTW, the 1920s eugenicist views on European genetics were broadly correct. Northwest Europeans behind the Hajnal line were superior to Eastern and Southern Europeans. I may be mostly Irish and its a harsh truth I suppose but it is the truth.

    The only issue was in overestimating the differences. Much of Catholic Europe was within 5 IQ points of the NWE, so small enough that we all just became “white” in the end. In addition the cost of Trans-Atlantic passage kept some of the underclass of those countries from making the trip. There are other differences in behavior, temperament, and culture that too manage to fade over time, but its worth noting that things like Sicilian criminality (the mafia) took a really long time to cope with (note that Sicily is some of the lowest IQ and highest clannishness in Europe).

    There are problems with both underestimating the difficulties in assimilating Catholic Europe (it took a century), and also overestimating the difficulty relative to the truly huge gap between European and non-European immigration. If it took a century to assimilate a mostly racially, culturally, religiously, and intellectually similar people, we will likely NEVER assimilate groups where all those difficulties are an order of magnitude greater.

  23. Ray Andrews says


    “If it took a century to assimilate a mostly racially, culturally, religiously, and intellectually similar people, we will likely NEVER assimilate groups where all those difficulties are an order of
    magnitude greater.”

    There’s a sort of balance point. On one side of it assimilation is possible, tho as one gets closer to the divide, as you say, assimilation takes longer and longer, asymptotically. On the other side of the divide, differences will magnify, which is why we see racial and religious tensions rising in the West. In Northern Ireland two tribes managed to keep themselves at war even though being racially indistinguishable and impossible to tell apart by accent or any obvious cultural difference. So what are the odds that Somali Muslims are ever going to integrate, really? Sure, some will, but there will be the endless supply of new trouble, too.

  24. Hmmm says

    JBN would have done his cause more good with less polemics and hyperbole. I say that as someone unsympathetic to eugenics, but unwilling to convince myself of noble lies.

    Maybe in theory we could “improve” humans with selective breeding. I wouldn’t support pursuing that question through a scientific research program, but I don’t think the science about the heritability and historical development of psychological and cognitive traits in various human populations should be suppressed or dismissed out of hand.

    The question ultimately is not could but should we. What about unintended consequences? Do we really trust ourselves to know what constitutes “improvement”? How could it be implemented? How much damage to society would we be willing to contemplate in order to attempt it?

    Understanding the history of the motivated science (social and hard science) of 100 years ago is very important and relevant. But caricaturing it in order to serve as a cudgel in current debates is not helpful.

    That approach, however, is very common, especially these days. Giving the Devil his due is a lost art. I don’t think anyone will look back on 2010-20 as the Age of Open-Mindedness and Nuance.

  25. JamieM says

    “Eugenic science is garbage all the way down”
    I think the almost total absence of Down Syndrome in Iceland suggests otherwise.

    • Jack B. Nimble says


      Since Down syndrome is mostly due to spontaneous mutations of chromosome #21 in the mother’s oocyte, aborting Down fetuses by parental consent doesn’t affect the frequency of Down syndrome among conceptions, only among live births. This is a different situation from heritable single-gene defects, where aborting a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease, for example, DOES reduce the frequency of the condition among conceptions in future generations.

      This difference is important! Aborting fetuses who have spontaneous chromosome defects that were absent from the parental genomes is NOT eugenics in the accepted sense of that word. But the moral implications are probably the same as with single-gene defects.

  26. markbul says

    “Jack B. Nimble is the pseudonym of an American evolutionary geneticist ”

    So this is such a sensitive subject that the writer can’t reveal his/her identity? How about finding someone else to write the review?

    • Jack B. Nimble says


      To go a bit ‘meta’ here, I pitched the book review to Quillette, not the other way around.

      Speaking as someone who doesn’t have a Twitter account, a blog, a podcast or even a public FB page, I prefer to keep my popular writing on science separate from my scientific publications, and I thank the editors for letting this article be published under a pseudonym.

    • Morgan Foster says


      I’m sure Jack has his reasons, but the mere fact that one has published a piece in Quillette is enough to make one the target of a left-wing lynch mob.

      • Morgan Foster says

        Ooops. Jack posted above just as I was composing my own comment.

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @M F

        Actually, I was thinking more of the nutjobs on the right who get their jollies by doxing people they disagree with.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Jack B. Nimble

          Why distinguish? The pot and the kettle are both black. Keep your anonymity as you see fit Jack. Me, I’m too small a target to need to bother hiding.

  27. Winston Smith says

    @Jack B. Nimble If the “Mediterranean Race” is superior intellectually and artistically, then how does he come to the conclusion that the Nordics race is the upper crust? Sounds like a contradiction to me. Is he saying Nordic people are physically superior? If they are, and I’m not sure how one would even objectively measure that, it doesn’t seem like a very strong argument. Few people would discount the notion that people of African ancestry seem to be the best athletes, yet no one holds up the negro race as “superior.”

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Winston Smith

      “yet no one holds up the negro race as “superior.”

      Don’t they? If one is involved in basketball or sprinting or some other sports, the superiority of the negro is so obvious that one does not bother to notice it any more than the proverbial fish says: “I’m swimming in water today!”

  28. Will Raper says

    The dirty secret here is that blacks in America were bred for generations. Why do think that a small minority of the population so dominates physical sports?

    • Winston Smith says

      Jimmy The Greek said that on air and lost his job.

  29. Caligula says

    ” eugenics and immigration restriction were two sides of the same coin.”

    They are? Surely there’s a vast difference between restricting immigration and coercive eugenic sterilization? Surely one can argue for a right to bodily autonomy (except in very rare cases, such as if one is incompetent or if one presents an unreasonable risk to others) without asserting that anyone has a “right” to immigrate.

    It may be that in some cases the motivations to restrict immigration may have been eugenics, yet surely there are many other reasons why one might wish to do so. Just as (dare I offer this example) there are many reasons why a woman might have an abortion other than because she’s concerned others might disapprove of the baby’s race?

    In any case, these immigration restrictions arguably helped the USA assimilate the large number of immigrants admitted between 1880 and 1920.

    • codadmin says

      There is a vast difference. But the extremists who want open borders for the Western nations are shameless.

      It’s like saying ‘eugenics and locking your door at night are two sides of the same coin’.

  30. ROBERT VESSEL says

    When one considers that by definition the mean median and mode of I.Q. is 100, and that there has been and will continue to be a decline in the number of factory and other semi-skilled jobs for those of “average intelligence,” we might well consider improving our stock by selective breeding.

  31. Andrew says

    I can’t imagine why they would be suspicious of granting entry to jews. It’s not like they own every single porn company, or every opioid pushing pharmaceutical company, or the banks/federal reserve, it’s not like they take credit for subverting our culture with transexualism and pedophilia, it’s not like they’ve been kicked out of 109 countries for their subversion. I hope they realize that 110 is coming fast.

  32. DBruce says

    Jack B Nimble? I wish he were quicker. It all looked like he might attempt the candlestick, but he didn’t want to get his botty burned.

  33. Gerald of Renberg says

    The comments are utterly depressing.

    Here is the review of a book that exposes that eugenism – good breeding as supported by science (the science of the time) – was widely supported a century ago by various well-to-dos in the USA.

    Cue today, where the vast majority of Quillette commenters (who I’m tempted to guess are American well-to-dos) are eager to put in place breeding programs, scientifically supported by the best knowledge of our time, to better the human species, in other words to produce a superior human type.

    Who gets to define “better” and “superior” ? Science ? Science doesn’t decide anything, people do.

    What are the specifics of the modern eugenics program ? Specifically : will this be a democratic endeavor ?
    If so, it will be necessary to convince large segments of the population to let themselves be outbred of existence. This is a farcical proposition. Unless you use all the ressources of modern propaganda to deceive the unfit to extinction.

    If you view people like cattle, being human yourself, you then become cattle. If you think that’s okay, remember that the raison d’être of cattle is to be eaten.

    If you decide some people are cattle, but not your kind of people… Well, do I need to say more ?

    • Shaeel says

      Who gets to define “better” and “superior”?

      The prospective parents or, if a prospective single mother, the prospective mother, of course.

      No one else should have the right to prevent a parent from checking out whether or not she is likely to give birth to a child who is likely to be a burden rather than a pleasure to raise.

      As a DNA test after a mere five weeks gestation can determine such a potential with a high degree of accuracy, then it would be up to the parent or parents to decide whether they should make a decision based on sound eugenic principles or whether they should leave the decision entirely in the lap of the Arts faculty tabula rasa deities.

  34. codadmin says

    Disease, low IQ, psychopathy, physical deformity and mental illness are all bad things and the only question is how are these things ethically removed from the human population.

    Either you believe in eugenics or you believe in dysgenics. There is no middle ground.

    • neoteny says

      psychopathy […] bad things

      Is that a fact? It is pretty much accepted that Stalin was a psychopath — but he led the Soviet war effort in WWII to success (in that country). It is at least arguable that he was the most able wartime leader for the Soviets; that a less psychopathic leader could have fumbled the ball and lost Moscow (and the war) in 1941.

      My take on the issue is that psychopaths cause untold suffering to their fellow men — and in some situations, they are able to provide the best solutions for the problems which arise. I don’t believe that it is possible to wipe out the genetic substrate of psychopathy; on the other hand, the careful management of psychopaths (just like the careful management of other, exceptionally talented individuals) can deliver ample benefits to a society.

      • asdf says

        It’s doubtful that Stalin was a psychopath. This term gets thrown around too much.

        Ruthless. Ideological. Megalomaniac. Brutish. Etc.

        Those all might work. Either as inherent parts of his personality or a result of his (horrible) environment.

        Psychopaths tend to act in a specific way that doesn’t look like Stalins. I think we need to recognize that non-psychopaths can act in morally despicable ways.

        • neoteny says

          Psychopaths tend to act in a specific way [that doesn’t look like Stalins].

          Which specific way?

          • asdf says

            Well, having empathy and doing evil things aren’t exclusive. In fact empathy can make things worse. If you genuinely care about X, perhaps doing thing Y is justified to achieve X.

            Garden run of the mill psychopaths are only interested in themselves, so their evil tends to remain cautious and personal. At worst maybe they become a serial killer.

            They don’t give up relatively cushy lives to spend decades in a revolutionary underground which is going to be an utterly miserable life they don’t need to live and which has an almost 0% chance of ending in anything but death.

            We have to try to ask questions like: Is he that violent relative to the violent context he lived in? Were his peers all that different from him? Is there something about his sociological circumstances that lead to his behavior (these communist societies all seem to have a murderous dictator phase, not just Stalin)?

          • neoteny says

            Psychopaths tend to act in a specific way [that doesn’t look like Stalins].

            Which specific way?

  35. Andrew Lyons says

    Thanks to Jack B Nimble for a superb article. Three points:
    1. Jonathan Spiro (historian son of the anthropologist, Melford Spiro, has written a very good book about Madison Grant and the eugenics movement in the USA, “Defending the Master Race.”
    2. Some readers may not be aware that Havelock Ellis (about whom Harriet Lyons and I have written) was British, not American. He was a friend of the American birth control pioneer, Margaret Sanger.
    3. I continue to be dismayed by the responses of some readers. A few of them read like the writings of Julius Streicher or Alfred Ernst Rosenberg and all those people who tried to Make Germany Great Again eighty or so years ago.
    Is that what Quillette is really about? If so, I may be wasting my time writing this.

    • codadmin says

      ‘Make Germany Great Again”

      Maybe it’s you who are wasting other people’s time?

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Andrew Lyons

      Let’s review:

      You say the article is “superb”. You are disappointed with some of the comments. You think you may be wasting your time by saying that you are disappointed with some of the comments. And you question whether Claire Lehmann may be “really about” Nazi ideology.

      I can understand your dismay. But aren’t you glad you had the opportunity to tell the author how much you enjoyed the article?

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      @Andrew Lyons

      Thanks for the comment. Okrent deals briefly with Sanger, whose position on birth control and abortion continues to be misrepresented by some writers on the political right. See also Clarence Thomas’ smearing of Sanger in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Inc.


      BTW, your book with Harriet Lyons sounds very interesting!

  36. X. Citoyen says

    No conservatives here, apparently. You’re all gung-ho to hand over total power to the government—every one of which is run by people who couldn’t manage a two-holed shithouse—to transform the human race in the name of the glorious future. And based on what? Anecdotes about dogs, cattle, stupid neighbours, and talking points gleaned from pop-science websites. The confidence in eugenics in these comments is inversely proportional to the knowledge of it. Jack is (presumably) the only one with knowledge of genetics, and you’re all aspersing him with argumentum ad stupid-guy-I-saw-one-time-who-shouldn’t-be-allowed-to-breed.

  37. Andrew Lyons says

    Dear Morgan Foster,
    I believe on intelligent debate, which is why I bothered to read (and happened to enjoy) this article, but a few readers of this journal who have responded to Jack B Nimblew do seem to be more interested in mouthing their prejudices rather than engaging with the author’s arguments. As for Claire Lehmann’s politics, I would hardly describe them as Nazi or neo-Nazi, but I am concerned about the fact that the “free speech” movement has become a cover for people on the Alt-Right who are not and never have been lovers of anybody’s freedom but their own.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Andrew Lyons

      “…but I am concerned about the fact that the “free speech” movement has become a cover for people on the Alt-Right who are not and never have been lovers of anybody’s freedom but their own.”

      You seem to be bothered by the fact that certain people on the right take advantage of Quillette’s openness to free speech to offer some speech that promotes their interests and concerns. Interests and concerns that you don’t agree with or approve of.

      Would you like Claire Lehmann to shut them out of Quillette’s comment section? Would you like their speech to be barred? That is, to be made un-free?

      Do you, in fact, believe that “free speech” (your quotation marks) should be enjoyed in a privately owned venue only by people who’s beliefs are something that you can tolerate?

      Speaking for myself, I’ve read through just about all the comments on this article and with the exception of a couple of idiots and one whom I believe to be a left-wing troll, I fail to see much that should be truly offensive to a thoughtful man such as yourself.

    • Photondancer says

      The free speech movement is about allowing the speech of everyone, even those you disagree with.

      I despise many of the comments here too but they do not reflect poorly upon Ms Lehman or Quillette, only upon those who made the comments. Stupidity and prejudice are not confined to any one group of people.

  38. Ballerina says

    Genetics, epigenetics and the case for (or against) eugenics is so interesting to me.

    I notice a number of comments focusing on ‘breeding out’ disability, chronic illness and mental illness. Lumping these undesirable traits together with ‘low IQ’ and referring to people with Autism as ‘God’s Fools’

    I would like to share a study that has found quite the opposite. And, a theory that (whilst incomplete) is very interesting and may challenge some assumptions.


    Do remember, writers like Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Flannery O’Connor, Carson Mccullers and minds like Stephen Hawking would not exist if we sought to breed out imperfection.

    It is important to also explore the purpose of certain health conditions. What are the advantages and disadvantages? For example: Lupus or Thalassaemia, whilst highly undesirable, have the benefit of a protective effect against Malaria and other mosquito-borne disease, which could be an advantage in some parts of the world.

    I feel, we need to understand the science behind disability and illness before we could ever sit down and have a conversation about eugenics.

    • Morgan Foster says


      “I feel, we need to understand the science behind disability and illness before we could ever sit down and have a conversation about eugenics.”

      There’s no reason why we can’t do both at the same time, unless one is simply looking for an excuse not to talk about something.

    • codadmin says

      Are you saying Hawkin’s, who’s greatest discovery came before his illness, actually improved his genius?

      Ethical, or positive, eugenics isn’t about culling people with motor neurone disease while they are still alive. It’s about trying to prevent motor neurone disease from existing in the first place.

      The parents of the next Hawkin’s might have the choice to screen out MND and they 100% will if given the choice.

      Everybody is a eugenist given the choice.

    • Actually, high intelligence being correlated to other negative characteristics would make sense. If high IQ were simply good, then everyone would be a super-genius. Just as having light bones makes you a faster runner and more likely to escape a tiger, but more likely to injury yourself, or tallness providing advantage in sex selection but making one prone to cancer, so we would imagine high IQ would presumably come with its evolutionary drawbacks, where a little bit of an advantage is good, but too much and you develop serious problems.

      I suspect a true eugenics campaign would result in Lake Wobegon, every being slightly better than average.

  39. codadmin says

    ^^ Hawking’s illness ( I gove up! lol )

  40. Steve says

    “If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.
    I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.”

    — Viktor Frankl

  41. John Jones says

    I’m always conflicted about those articles.

    On one hand, the history of 20th century eugenics was truly horrible and should be taught. Especially that it wasn’t just a nazi thing.

    On the other hand, eugenics’ sordid history is routinely used as an excuse to attack current day’s genetics. Those who wish to deny the existence of impact of INDIVIDUAL genetic differences (rather than group ones) in order to hide their own genetic privelege (rather than cultural or economic privilege).

    Racialism and old eugenics may be bullshit, but once you focus on INDIVIDUAL differences rather than group ones, things are different. The introvert and socially awkward idiot I am knew it since a very early age. Biological disadvantages – including but not limited to disabilities – can screw a life.

    I’m appaled by all those biologists who DO admit that meaningful genetic inequalities exist, have a significiant impact, and can on be partially compensated through education, accomodation, allowance, or cultural change YET still oppose germline genetic engineering AND believe they’re on moral high ground. Yet, if genetic exist and have an impact… doesn’t egalitarianism require to embrace germline genetic engineering?

    The probable reason why today’s geneticists are still against eugenics is because they are on the good end of those inequalities (everyone can’t become a professor), and they don’t want to lose their status…

  42. As someone who is extremely uncomfortable with eugenics, it is inevitable, and it will be ushered in by progressives in all likelihoods.

    The drive to equality has led to an equalizing of environmental influences, and whether that equalization is complete, or still needs work, as environment equalizes, outcomes become increasingly dictated by genetic potential. That is to say, the inevitable result of the progressive campaign to eliminate environmental obstacles to success will increase inequality caused by genetic difference.

    The same drive for equality will inevitably give rise to demands for genetic equality and ultimately eugenics. As we learn more and more about how genes contribute to outcomes, it is only a matter of time before egg and sperm cells are tested to determine their GWAS scores for various traits. Hopefully, it will be largely voluntary eugenics, but you can’t have equality without eugenics in the long term.

    All this stuff about race and genocides and the rest of it has little to do with what will drive eugenics when it comes: people wanting the best for their offspring. You already see it with same-sex couples shopping for sperm and eggs.

    • John Jones says

      Spot on. This is what I tried to say in my above comment but you said it better. Especially this part:

      “That is to say, the inevitable result of the progressive campaign to eliminate environmental obstacles to success will increase inequality caused by genetic difference”

    • Jack B. Nimble says


      ‘……..The drive to equality has led to an equalizing of environmental influences….’

      Not sure what country you live in, but in the USA the idea that whites and blacks experience equal environments has been repeatedly falsified:

      Am J Public Health. 2018 April; 108(4): 480–485. I. Mitai et al.

      Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status

      ‘…..The inequitable distribution of hazardous sites such as landfills and industrial facilities is one of the longest-standing concerns in the field of environmental justice. More than 3 decades ago in one of the earliest environmental justice studies, the US government reported a disproportionately high representation of socially disadvantaged populations residing in communities near landfills….. A nationally representative 1986 sample found that Blacks were 1.54 times more likely than were Whites to live within 1 mile of a facility listed in the Toxics Release Inventory—a gap that remained statistically significant even after accounting for income and education level. The distributions of specific air pollutants, and not just the facilities emitting them, also reflect racial disparities….’

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