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What is eugenics?

By Valerie Yule - posted Wednesday, 28 October 2015


Most people seem to think that eugenics is a cruel method of getting rid of disabled and diseased people, and is typified by the Nazi death camps.

This is like thinking that patriotism is a method of getting rid of other people beside one's own.

'Eugenics' was the name invented by Francis Galton for the aim of making the next generations 'better' than the present. Eugenics meant "Well-born, or born well, the science of improving offspring". Dysgenics meant "Messing up eugenics to increase the suffering in the world" (My definition).

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Eugenics can operate on three levels – nature, breeding and care of animals, and human care of the next human generation.

In nature, without human intervention, predators enforce eugenics. They prey upon the weak, elderly and infirm of a species, so that it is predators that keep the species in a state of best fitness to survive. For example, the lions as predators of the African animals that race in herds before them, keep those herds full of the fittest to out-run them, by taking out all the weakest who cannot run so fast.

The humans who tend animals that we eat for our food use eugenic principles that eliminate the weak, diseased and infirm. We cherish the animals most fit for our purposes and breed from them so that the stock for our food improves. We also breed animals for shows with criteria for those shows – for example, pedigree dogs.

In the past, nature and the human race itself rigorously kept itself free from survival of the weakest and diseased humans. Infanticide and death by disease kept the weaker from reproducing. The practice of war tended to weed out the weakest. We could see how it happened until recently, so that African tribes kept their numbers low.

Human populations can be changed by changes in health, education and above all, by culture. Which way are we changing it today? Nowadays we are not keeping those eugenic principles.

Compassion has brought mercy to keep alive the weakest of the humans. Hospitals and foreign medical missionaries help the weakest to reproduce. Our wars have sent the best of our young men to die young. Our laws of welfare ensure that most of the children of the unfit, and the weak and premature babies, now can survive.

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The most intelligent humans use family planning and contraception and have fewer children than those who are less intelligent.

The charities that work in developing countries use pictures of mothers with eight children to appeal for money to save them. Refugees come with pregnant mothers and young families and seek to have more children to ensure their families survive.

Instead of cultural changes, scientists are venturing into the transhuman, transhumanism and neo-eugenics, seeking spectacular advances to remedy the design flaws in human beings by methods of human cloning, germ-line engineering, gene therapy and other genetic manipulations.

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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