“The Future of Civilization is at Stake;” We Must Protect The Fit Against The Unfit.
DEAN INGE, OF ST. PAUL’SOctober11922
Facing Survival of Fittest Plea
“The Future of Civilization is at Stake;” We Must Protect The Fit Against The Unfit.
DEAN INGE, OF ST. PAUL’S
MANY readers will be interested to see what so well known a controversialist as Dean Inge has to say on so controversial a subject as that of eugenics with which he deals at length in the current Edinburgh Review. He deplores the present-day tendency to ignore the teachings of science and to be guided in preference by emotional or sentimental ethics.
“We know where we are,” he declares, “with the man who says ‘Birth control is forbidden by God; we prefer poverty, unemployment, wars of extermination, the physical, moral and intellectual degeneration of the people, and a high death rate to any interference with the universal command to increas and multiply’; but we have no patience with those who say that we can have unrfstricted and unregulated propagation without these consequences. At this early statte in the science of eugenics a great part of our work is to impress upon the public this alternative: Either rational selection must take the place of the natural selection which the modern state will not allow to act, or we shall deteriorate as surely as a miscellane! ous crowd of dogs which was allowed to rear puppies from promiscuous matings. “Feeble-mindedness cannot be bred I out of a family in which it has established ! itself, but it could be eliminated by bringing the infected stock to an end. Un| fortunately the birth-rate of the feebleminded is quite fifty per cent, higher than that of normal persons. Feeble-minded I women, being unable to protect themselves, often have illegitimate children I nearly every year. In one workhouse
sixteen feeble-minded women had 116 idiot children. The defect, as we might expect, is closely associated with pauperism, vice and criminality.
“In order that it may not be thought that I am accusing the poor only of transmitting hereditary taints, my next example shall be taken from the higher ranks.
“In 1780 a marriage took place between a wealthy girl in whose family there had been insanity and a healthy man in her own rank of life. The couple had three children, of whom one was an idiot and one was normal; neither of these married; the third child, who was apparently normal, married and produced nine children, of whom the first was insane, the second to the fifth either insane, suicides, or melancholiacs. Of the subsequent descendants no fewer than twenty were imbeciles, neurotic, or otherwise abnormal. Seven more were doubtful, and twenty-five were normal. About half the entire stock were tainted, which is what we should expect, and there is no tendency for the abnormality to disappear.
"Professor Karl Pearson gives a pedigree of congenital cataract. A blind woman had two daughters blind at forty. Of her five grand-children only one escaped; the other four were blind by thirty. Of her fifteen great-grandchildren thirteen had cataract. Of the forty-six greatgreat-grandchildren who can be traced, twenty were already of feeble sight at seven, and some lost the sight of both eyes. ‘Forty defective individuals in a stock still multiplying, which nature.
left to herself, would have cut off at its very inception!’
“The inheritance of ability is a pleasanter subject, but much more complicated. The evidence is that mental qualities are inherited to exactly the same extent as physical, and advantageous variations to the same extent as unfavourable. All who have studied the subject are familiar with the remarkable pedigrees of the Darwins, with their relatives the Wedgwoods and Galtons, and of the Bach family, several of whom were eminent musicians. The Kembles, in the same way, had a natuial gift for acting.
“From my own observation I think that no kind of ability js so strongly inherited as scholarship—in the narrower sense of the word. It would be almost safe for a classical examiner to give a scholarship to a youth called Sidgwick, Kennedy, or Butler, without reading his papers. If in this place I give as an example the pedigree of my own mother’s family, it is not from conceit or egotism, but merely as an instance of the way in which a quite ordinary family record will confirm the views of Eugenists.”
The record which the writer gives shows that in four generations no member of the family failed to win a high degree of success in scholarship or theology. Every one was an archdeacon, a bishop, or a noted scholar.
After referring to war and social revolution as we have seen it in Russia as two of the most destructive methods of exterminating the fit, a third method is mentioned which “may turn out to be our destined instrument of death.” This is the effect which tools and machinery are having upon the human race.
“Natural selection, which in uncivilised societies weeds out all nature’s failures, has almost ceased to act. A dwarf can mind a machine; a cripple can keep accounts. The general handiness and adaptability which is second nature to a savage is useless in an age of specialization. Political changes have deprived the tax-payer of any voice in the disposition of his money, and enormously expensive machinery has been set up to subsidise the incompetent and the wastrel at the expense of the unrepresented minority. The inevitable consequence is that the unfit increase, while the fit decay. Our tools have become our masters; to all appearance we work for them, and not they for us. They ought to be merely our instruments for realising a good and healthy life; they are in fact the means of our degeneration. Mechanism is morally used. A degenerate race cannot use its machinery to any good purpose. With its instinctive shrinking from intellectual effort, from exertion and from enterprise, it will concentrate its attention, as it is doing already, on labour-savingappliances to take the place of muscles and brains, till we shall soon have a generation which will call it a grievance to walk a mile, and which will think it the acme of civilization to be able on every occasion to ‘put a penny in the slot’ in answer to the seductive advertisement, ‘You press the button, we do the rest.’ It has been proved a thousand times that nature takes away an organ which is not used. All our faculties were evolved during long ages in response to what were then our needs, by the stern but beneficent weeding of nature. In the absence of any systematic race-culture, we shall gradually slide back into feeble and helpless creatures, the destined prey of some more vigorous stock.
“Diagnosis is one thing, and treatment is another. In this case, the first requisite is to get the diagnosis accepted. But a writer on eugenics may reasonably be expected to make some practical suggestions, without which he may be accused of uttering mere jeremiads.
“Negative eugenics—the prevention of the multiplication of undesirable types— is more important at present than positive—the encouragement of the better stocks to reproduce their kind. For the country is over-populated—to the extent of ten millions, the Prime Minister is believed to have said. Some effective check upon an increase which—excluding the war period—amounts to about ten per thousand per annum ik the indispensable preliminary to social and eugenic reform alike. It is useless at present to lecture the well-to-do on the duty of having large families. It is not desirable that they should have, and they could not provide for them in their own station. (And here I will say parenthetically that one cause of the small families in the richer classes has never, so far as I know, been noticed. It is assumed that peopie choose to have small families because they are rich and selfish; the fact very often is that families have become rich because they are small. The money of a dwindling family tends to be concentrated in the hands of the last survivor; a prolific family soon ceases to rank among the well-to-do.)
“What we should aim at is to reduce the average size of the family. The best way to do this would be either to reimpose school fees, or to enact that the State will educate two children in each family free, but no more. Persons with a definite transmissible taint ought not to be allowed to marry or copulate without effective safeguards, such as are now proposed, against conception. But in this matter there are strong prejudices to be over-
“Positive eugenics must take the form rather of improving the quality than the quantity of births among the fit. Certificates of health as a condition of lawful marriage might be required by the State; they involve no more ‘inquisition’ than life insurance, to which no one objects. It might be possible to combine this requirement with the obligation for both
parties to insure their lives, of course for a very small amount; this insurance might constitute a contributary old age pension. In the absence of such legislation, the custom might be encouraged of demanding a health certificate on both sides before marriage.
“Meanwhile, we still hear such silly objections as that we value brawn above brain, and that the eugenic State would prevent the birth of men of genius, many of whom would not pass the eugenic test. It is true that men of genius are not always desirable fathers; but their parents, who possessed no genius, are, almost without exception, people who would easily pass any ordinary tests. A third objection, that ‘we do not know what we want to breed for,’ is not much more serious. We know very well the kind of people whom we do not want; and the question whether general or specialised ability is the greater asset to a nation may be left to a future time, when knowledge is more advanced and public opinion better edu-
“It is possible that while we are governed by ‘high-grade morons’ there will be no practical recognition of the dangers which threaten us. But those who understand the situation must leave no stone unturned in warning their fellow countrymen; for the future of civilization is at stake.”
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