Eugenics Behind a Veil of Conservation

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Shane Nelson
LIT 349
Prof. Brown
Final paper

Eugenics behind a Veil of Conservation

What may start off having even the best of intentions could end up having some serious negative consequences. Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt seemed to have started his belief in eugenics within a sense of nationalism where it was a woman’s duty to the state to birth and raise a family. He emphasized this view through his conservation programs where white, farming women were the epitome of the ideal type of person that should be procreating. Unlike the weak, feebleminded, retarded, deaf, blind, etc. who should not pass along their unwanted genetics. There are a few other authors in our text book, American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, that also followed this program of eugenics masked by a conservationist agenda. Gifford Pinchot was appointed to the National Forest Commission and developed a plan managing our nation’s Western forest reserves. He also established the Society of American Foresters, but went on to become a member of the American Eugenics Society. Another is Garrett Hardin who was an ecologist and avid writer being published many times within scientific journals. He was not only a member of the eugenics society, he was also their director. In doing my research for this paper, I find it peculiar that these relationships with the American Eugenics Society are not mentioned in any of the Wikipedia listings!? What exactly is eugenics? Before doing this paper my first thought was scientific racism, or taking it a step further, a potential form of genocide. However, in learning more about the subject, it does not necessarily mean that death has to be involved. In fact, it can be positive in reproduction. There are recorded selective breeding practices of crops and livestock going back a few thousand years and for some the next logical step may be to breed better humans. Even though there are references to this practice as back as 520 B.C. by Theoguis of Megara, Sir Francis Galton is considered to be the “Father of eugenics”. A 19th century British statistician and meteorologist among other things was influenced by his cousin, Charles Darwin. Galton discovered that fingerprints were unique in each individual and he believed intelligence was also inherited. He wrote about the subject and studied inherited intelligence, then coined a word using the Greek language for good or well “eu” and born “genes”, eugenics. Eugenics seeks to improve human heredity by the social control of human breeding based on the assumption that differences in human intelligence, character, and temperament are largely due to the differences in heredity. Galton said “the first objects of eugenics is to check the birth rate of the unfit instead of allowing them to come into being…the second object is the improvement of the race by furthering the productivity of the fit by early marriages and the healthful rearing of children.” He is also quoted as saying “…average Negroes posses too little intellect, self-reliance, and self-control to make it possible for them to sustain the burden of any respectable form of civilization without a large measure of external guidance and support.” There are two main views in the implementation of eugenics. One is “positive” eugenics which promotes marriage and breeding between people considered “desirable”. A positive eugenicist may view certain persons undesirable, but they do not advocate such practices as non-voluntary sterilization, genocide, active euthanasia, or any other forms of extermination. “Negative “ eugenics, on the other-hand, supported lower fertility of those “genetically disadvantaged” through abortions, sterilization, and genocide. It seems Theodore Roosevelt was supporter of both positive and negative eugenics. Within one of his works titled “Twisted Eugenics”, he writes “I wish very much that the wrong people could be prevented entirely from breeding; and when the evil...
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