The Science of Race Culture - The Morality of the Future - Forces to be Reckoned With - Healthy
Parenthood - The Object of Eugenics ithin the last few years the science of W eugenics has gradually been obtaining a hold upon the popular imagination. The eugenists comprise, perhaps, a small group of earnest men and women, but their ideas are permeating through the different strata of society, stirring new ideas, engendering an interest among all sorts of people in the great problems of social life and welfare.
Eugenics is the science of race culture, the improvement of the human stock, the encouragement of worthy parenthood, and the prevention of the unfit. Eugenics is by some held to be the religion, or at least the morality, of the future. To hand on the torch of life clear and undimmed, to make each generation better, stronger, and worthier than the last, is the creed of the eugenist. And women as well as men are members of the Eugenics Education Society, engaging in teaching, writing and research work in the different fields of investigation, and more and more women are beginning to attend the meetings, to listen to the speeches and the discussions which are regularly held by the society. It is surely essential that women should be drawn into a movement which concerns itself with the betterment of motherhood, the prevention of infant mortality, the disappearance of disease and deformity, and the birth of healthier and finer men and women with each new generation.
It does not need a very keen observer of human nature to realise that people differ enormously in character, disposition, physical health, mental ability. In the one extreme we have such men as Sir Francis Galton himself, who has founded modern eugenics, Darwin,
Huxley, Lord Lister; in the other, people so debased, so degenerate, so unfit, that the propagation of their kind is poisoning the race. The hopeless criminal, the inebriate whose craving for drink has destroyed everything but what is worst in his nature, the feeble-minded woman, who may have six or eight children, mentally defective like herself, must be prevented from handing on their undesirable characteristics to later generations. Public opinion is ripe for the segregation of the unfit, which it is hoped will be accomplished in the near future.
Everybody who has studied the subject recognises that the control of the mentally and physically defective is necessary if we are to protect our descendants from the suffering and misery which our present system of laissez faire is directly encouraging. It would be infinitely cheaper to segregate twenty degenerates in moderate comfort just now than it would be for posterity to deal with their descendants a generation or two hence. The discouragement of unworthy parenthood, or negative eugenics, is one of the principles of the society. That the absolutely unfit shall not be allowed to produce offspring, that the poisons of alcoholism and feeble-mindedness shall be eliminated from the race stream, is part of their creed.
Then there are immense numbers of people who are relatively unfit, people who are tubercular, dangerously neurotic, who have some taint in their family history which makes it desirable for the sake of the race that they refrain from marriage. Public opinion has yet to be formed with regard to the restriction of such marriages according to the views of the eugenists.
When a man and woman fall in love, and one or other of them has a parent who died of phthisis, an uncle who is in an asylum, or a cousin or two so eccentric as to give evidence of mental instability in the family, it would take a great deal of argument to convince them that it was their duty to remain unmarried for the good of the race. Now the eugenists wish the power to interfere in such cases. They desire a system of permissive marriage. They believe that unless a man and woman have a clean bill of health, a heredity of a certain standard of purity, they ought not to marry at all. It is here that they will have their greatest difficulties to meet, and it will take more than one generation of teaching to form public opinion to the extent of forbidding parenthood to those belonging to an unhealthy stock.
Love v. Eugenics
Human love is a force that has to be reckoned with. The law of attraction is in some cases irresistible, and, after all, say those who are opposed to this idea, how many of us useful citizens, people of average character and ability, can show an absolutely clean bill of health, an irreproachable heredity? Some stocks are healthier than others, some families most certainly show a larger number of members who are a credit to their town and their country. But every now and again, in an otherwise estimable family, appears a son or a daughter of a degenerate type, morally, physically, and mentally, and we have what is an "atavism," or throwing back to some non-respectable ancestor who has been allowed to enter the family a few generations back. This part of the subject is full of complications and difficulties, but eugenists are quite hopeful of overcoming them, and forming a plan based on statistics as a guide to the betterment of the race.
The positive side of eugenics deals with a subject of universal interest to all intelligent men and women. The encouragement of healthy parenthood has been, up to the present time, practically disregarded in social reform work. We contribute in charitable donations perhaps four millions a year for the maintenance and care of the unfit. How much is given to help parents to rear "fit" children, to educate their sons and daughters to make good citizens for the State? Very little, it must be acknowledged, and yet every child born of "worthy" parents is wealth to the State.
Whilst the average value of a baby born in the labouring classes may be quoted at £5, a child of a healthier and higher stock, more intelligent, more able, would be worth thousands, and the highest type of men are valuable to the nation in terms which cannot be measured by millions of pounds. According to Sir Francis Galton, it is even more important to improve the race by increasing the productivity of the best stock than by repressing the worst, and the annual gain of a few hundred children from the finest stocks would be of untold benefit to the race.
To produce fine children in greater numbers, we must first of all have some basis of knowledge to go on as to what makes men great or small, honourable or unworthy, healthy or degenerate in physique. Eugenists declare that every man and woman is the product of two conditions - nature and nurture.
Nature or heredity is the endowment each of us receives at birth from our forebears. From the beginning of time, right through the millions of years we have existed, the torch of life has been handed down, each generation contributing qualities, the product of which we are. Man is the sum of his ancestors - and woman, too. On the other hand, each person is responsible for what he does with the qualities he inherits, the talents that are entrusted to him. What we are depends not only upon our heredity, our beginning, but also upon our training, environment, upbringing, nutrition - in a word, our "nurture."
Now that is where women come to be especially closely associated with modern eugenics. The home is the heart of life, the cradle of the race, the unit of the State. And it is the women of the country on whom the nurture of future generations depends to a very large extent. Without the right sort of environment, without nurture, comprising hygiene, physical and moral training, character building, eugenics is handicapped at the start. Women also must concern themselves with nurture in its wider sense. Social welfare has been progressive during the last decade. A vast amount has been done in improving the environment of the people to make for better nurture. The danger of this, according to the eugenists, is that we have encouraged the survival of the feeble-minded and the defective, and that in future our efforts should be directed primarily towards helping the healthy mothers and the healthy children.
Somebody once said that the savage was a natural eugenist, because he left the unfit to die, and occasionally helped in the process of killing. But we bolster up lives that are not worth saving, and thus constantly add each generation to the rapidly increasing army of defectives.
Take the question of consumption. In one sense it weeds out the unfit. Therefore, by curtailing the disease, we are hindering the elimination of those people from the race. But if its ravages are unchecked, it infects, handicaps, and destroys many who would otherwise have been fit enough. Thus, to get the best results, we must combine care of the feeble and defective with segregation, which means that they are kept apart from the general community and not allowed to marry or produce children.
Eugenics is to improve the race in two ways:
First, by reducing the number of these undesirables.
Secondly, by increasing the number of those who would be a credit and advantage to the race.
Eugenists feel that by the spread of eugenics an enthusiasm for race culture will be developed in the minds of thinking people, so that they will wish to promote whatever makes for healthy parentage. Some practical suggestions have been made that this might take the form of granting diplomas to picked or selected young men and women for educational purposes, providing dowries to encourage intermarriage of promising individuals, and, by practical help, hastening the time of marriage of the best type of men and women, so as to increase the number of children in their families. Other sums would be set aside to give financial help in emergency during the early years of marriage, and for educational policies for their children. The ethical aspect of eugenics, the idea that it is to be considered a religious or quasi-religious movement, is never lost sight of by the eugenist.