Sunday, August 23, 2009

Eugenics, Movies, and the Apocalypse

Since I last posted here I've more or less stabilized my connection, found a ex-rental VHS of the post-apocalypse rarity, THE AFTERMATH, and watched in utter disbelief the cable news networks. But first THE AFTERMATH. I've never seen it and have been looking for a copy for sometime. I could string together a googolplex of adjectives to tell you how bad that flick is but, suffice to say, it's not worth the money I paid for it. So I wont be wasting space talking about it here.

Instead I'm going to talk about current events, in a science fiction context, since "real life" seems to have taken a turn down surreal street. (At least on certain cable news shows.) I have noticed, as undoubtedly have many others, that depending on which cable news network happens to be on, America seems to be falling apart at the seams-- Only the why's and what fore's seem to vary. According to certain of the talking heads people are taking to the streets in protest, even carrying guns, and the sky is about to come crashing down as the Obama regime is about to institute a form of eugenics that will kill grandma, blot the sun out of the sky, and make Satan seem like a jolly fat man in a red suit yadayadahohoho. All this while yet other talking heads say it's all fabricated Astroturf nonsense.

And then there's the talk/discussion/shouting matches about healthcare, death panels, progressives, Nazi's, and yet more talk about eugenics.

This talk of eugenics got me thinking. The concept has been around for a long time. It was practiced in ancient Sparta, where it really was state enforced. The basic idea is a simple one, if a bit convoluted, depending on who happens to be trying to explain it at the time. Being a fan of science fiction, wherein eugenics has been explored in both it's pros and cons for decades (it's even a central theme in the back story of Star Trek), I find some of the current discussions about eugenics by political pundits rather funny; and woefully uninformed. Thus I've decided to provide a public service announcement, of sorts, by going to one of the sources and quoting a/the turn of the century author that wrote about this 'science' and letting you, the reader, using the author's own words, see what the concepts behind eugenics are/is. So read, think, and judge for yourself. I'm just a guy that writes reviews.

We'll begin by quoting from APPLIED EUGENICS by Paul Popenoe, originally published circa 1918 (Full text here: ::

"Eugenics consists of a foundation of biology and a superstructure of sociology" designed to produce a "practical means by which society may encourage the reproduction of superior persons and discourage that of inferiors" therefore "it is desirable to discriminate as much as possible" in favor of those individuals bearing traits considered positive for the betterment of the state and society.

How is this to be accomplished?

Ideally the goal of "eugenics is to make such legal, social and economic adjustments that (1) a larger proportion of superior persons will have children than at present, (2) that the average number of offspring of each superior person will be greater than at present, (3) that the most inferior persons will have no children, and finally that (4) other inferior persons will have fewer children than now."

One may wonder how such ideas came into being. As the author states in his introduction:

"The Great War has caused a vast destruction of the sounder portion of the belligerent peoples and it is certain that in the next generation the progeny of their weaker members will constitute a much larger proportion of the whole than would have been the case if the War had not occurred. Owing to this immeasurable calamity that has befallen the white race, the question of eugenics has ceased to be merely academic."

In otherwords the author is worried about the potential decline of "the more valuable stocks" of humanity. One may ask what these "more valuable stocks" of humanity are, who decides, and to what ultimate purpose? Interestingly the author provides a answer to this quandry as well as the means whereby the above may be instituted:

"The fear of racial decline provides the eugenist with a far stronger leverage than did the hope of accelerating racial progress."

Racial decline of whom? Why the "white race" course! (see above) So this "racial progress" is designed to "inspire the superior to rise above certain worldly ideals of life and to aim at a family success rather than an individual success." Sounds fair enough. After all politicians are aways waxing poetic about family values. There's nothing sinister about family values, is there? Such a plan as this might provide "methods . . . by which . . . the people of America might be made, on the average, healthier, happier, and more efficient."

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Guess it depends on who you are and whether you belong to one of the ethnic groups deemed to belong to the "valuable stocks" of humanity.

Sounds like crazy science fiction, right? Maybe not. Some of these thematic elements have been touched upon in recent movies like GATTACA and IDIOCRACY (though as an unintentional satire of the concept) but they're far from crazy. The idea of eugenics, though the term itself has fallen into disuse due primarily to the excesses of the Nazi regime in it's applications of eugenics in practice, remains a very real social engineering construct. It's not merely some crackpot theory, nor is it limited to the Nazi's, who merely borrowed it as they did so much else. However, where science fiction is concerned, perhaps the best serious example of eugenics at work can be found in Frank Herbert's DUNE.

The Bene Gesserit sisterhood are essentially eugenicists caught up in a centuries long breeding program working for a singular goal; the creation of a Kwisatz Haderach, or superhuman. Of course Paul Atreides wasn't exactly part of the plan. His mother wasn't supposed to have sons. Which makes one wonder what the outcome of the Bene Gesserit program would have been. A Khan Noonian Singh perhaps?

(to be continued)

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