Being Led Astray

On e-Books and Eugenics

Shock, by Meredith_Farmer, with Creative Commons licence The Internet is a bit like the sea here in the Pearl River Delta: sometimes it washes up curios, little gems of information, but at others it vomits grotesquries upon us. Clicking through the Clustr map in the sidebar on the right today to check visitor locations I noticed an advertisement for a free online book. Having spent time this week watching someone grow increasingly frustrated with actually trying to use Google Adwords, and given my previously mentioned interest in e-books and copyright-free sharing, I decided to take a look.

The link led to the dedicated website for a pamphlet by a retired professor of Russian literature, John Glad. Not entirely interesting you might think. A quick search of Amazon will produce a list of volumes edited and translated by the good professor. He apparently gained a little notoriety in the 1980s by predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union. But his is hardly a household name. Wikipedia has a posted a notice on his biography stating that it “may not meet the general notability guideline” for such entries.

figurines, creator unknown, dowloaded from whatwemaybe.orgSo what’s the fuss? Glad’s pamphlet is entitled “Future Human Evolution: Eugenics in the Twenty-First Century” and the site’s only graphic is a play on the famous monkey to man illustration that often accompanies latter day editions of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Except this is of what appears to be South Americans in a line, the last sitting on a Donkey. Mexicans waiting in a US immigration queue?

Maybe not, but it’s suggestive and pulled me away from what I was already writing about. Eugenics, put mildly, is the selective breeding of humans. Like cattle. The elimination of the weakest genetic strains, to be a little more precise. It might be possible to do that humanely, but who decides? And what ethical right does anyone have to make the choice? Eugenics reached its ‘scientific’ zenith during the First World War and its horrific climax with the Nazis in the Second World War.

More recently, the American eugenics movement has been appealing to humanitarianism, human rights and genetic engineering to regain credibility. Professor Glad does just that. The pamphlet also carries a preface by the conveniently Jewish Seymour Itzkoff, another American academic, who is openly anti-immigration and firmly against ethnic diversity in the US.

Oops... wrong way, by dsevilla, with Creative Commons licenceYou can probably see where this is heading.

When introducing Professor Glad’s pamphlet, Itzoff – notorious for his views on race and intelligence – also manages to pass off the Holocaust as an “exemplar of dysgenics” – with the ‘dys’ prefix suggesting aberration or abnormality. So he doesn’t deny the horror of Jewish lives lost, but claims that eugenics is something else again. Something better.

That’s hardly a credible argument in a short preface with no supporting data. Professor Glad echoes the point later in much greater detail, but as with the rest of the pamphlet offers no exact references when pointing to earlier books and essays.

So the dubious tone is set for the pamphlet, based as it is on the dual proposition of current and future evolution. That might not seem contentious, but when you raise the issue of directing future evolution you miss the entire point. Darwin proposed the theory of evolution not based on careful grooming, but on random mutation. He certainly mentions the similarities of breeding and evolution early in the Origin of the Species (Chapter I, page 71 of the new Random House hardcover edition if you’re interested), but hedges at every available opportunity, warning of complexity, reversion and the enormous difficulty in controlling variation.

Evolution - The Ride, by kevindooley, with Creative Commons licenceEvolution is a difficult bed to rest upon at the best of times, and to suggest that genetic modification can hasten evolution is debatable, even if you allow for the changing nature of the field since Darwin. But to base that position, as Professor Glad does, on perceived ‘scientifically’ tested differences in intelligence between ethnic groups is disturbing. He tracks back to the IQ and ‘race’ debate, and brushes aside criticisms of cultural specificity in intelligence testing.

On a similar point he also offers a curious argument – that mass migration, particularly from the poorer (and conveniently browner) countries to the richer, is ending the geographical isolation that created sufficient genetic diversity to allow evolution. Bad migrants. Bad miscegenists.

I must tell that to my very smart half Filipino, half Australian kids when they get older. Time to get stupid kids, you’re threatening the gene pool’s reversion to its mean.

But back to the pamphlet for one last fling. By and by, Professor Glad argues, the seemingly noble pursuit of eugenics has been “suppressed”. Naughty us; the general public hoodwinked by spurious scholarship and errant governments. Yet in Glad’s reckoning, it might just be a matter of swinging public opinion towards the light.

140/365 19.03.07. badge messages, by mondoagogo, with Creative Commons licenceSo we’re all easily led astray. And that clearly means we’re not smart enough. Take me for example – I was writing another post but stopped to defend e-books and copyright-free distribution even if that links a dubious treatise on an improbable ‘future’ ruled by superior beings to my miscegenist blog.

It’s a puzzling world.

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