Black details the frightening and unfamiliar story of American (that's right, American) eugenics. Throughout the first SIX decades of the 20th century...moreBlack details the frightening and unfamiliar story of American (that's right, American) eugenics. Throughout the first SIX decades of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of US citizens were forcibly sterilized on the grounds that they were "unfit." (where unfit might mean: mentally slow, physically disabled, black, jewish, or more likely, just plain poor). These actions were sanctioned and carried out by America's intellectual, industrial, and government elites. Their goal was clear and unapologetic in its "scientific rationality": to create a superior Nordic race.
Black shows that this was not the stuff of some deranged fringe: eugenics was borne of our highest institutions of learning and given ultimate justification by our highest levels of government (judicial, executive, and legislative). Most terrifying of all, it all went under the label of "science."
"The victims of eugenics were poor urban dwellers and rural "white trash" from New England to California, immigrants from across Europe, Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Native Americans, epileptics, alcoholics, petty criminals, the mentally ill and anyone else who did not resemble the blond and blue eyed Nordic ideal the eugenics movement glorified."
We all know where this movement ended up: this American movement caught the fascination of Adolf Hitler, who carried out its goals and employed its methods beyond any American eugenicist's wildest dreams. In 1934 The Richmond Times Dispatch quoted a prominent American eugenicist as saying "The German's are beating us at our own game." They called it "applied biology."
Some of the more chilling quotes collected in this book:
"I agree with you...that society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind...Some day, we will realize that the prime duty, the inescapable duty, of the good citizen of the right type, is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type." (President Theodore Roosevelt, 1913)
"Had Jesus been among us, he would have been president of the First Eugenic Congress." (Dr. Albert Wiggam, member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science)
Lessons we ought to learn from this book:
1. Beware of "applied science" in the moral sphere. When evolutionary psychologists tell you that we are "hardwired" for adultery or covetousness, you might pause and remember that yesterday's phrenologists gave us scientific racism.
2. Beware of the "moral crusades" of our plutocrats. Just because you have accumulated most of the world's wealth does not mean that we should take you to be a moral compass. These eugenicists would have been giving the TED talks of their time. And its clear the dim view they took of their workers and the rest of the 99%: genetically inferior and unfit. Totally inferior right down to their DNA.
3. Prestige, power, and education does not guarantee human decency in moral judgment. The eugenics movement was designed by our most powerful and supposedly "wise" institutions: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, the American Medical Association, the American Museum of Natural History, the US State Department, etc. It was championed by presidents (Woodrow Wilson) and Supreme Court Justices (Oliver Wendell Holmes). It was powered by the money machines of our plutocracy: the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. The movement had its own "medical" and "scientific" journals as was treated like any other legitimate academic enterprise. Indeed, it was considered cutting edge science and "medicine."
4. Beware of "Christians" who preach the gospel of whatever is currently popular and sanctioned by a class of elites. This book is chock full of Protestant ministers baptizing eugenics (how quickly they moved from slavery to sterilization, segregation, and extinction). These "Christians" even followed the eugenicists in thinking that charity is bad, because it helps the "unfit." The Catholic Church, as one might expect, remained shocked and horrified by what their Protestant counterparts were willing to call "progress." Sometimes, it's good to be Medieval and stand athwart what society will now call good.
5. It is very difficult to disentangle eugenics and euthanasia. In Nazi Germany there was no distinction, nor was there any in the minds of the American architects of the gas chamber.
6. We are still practicing eugenics. 96% of all fetuses identified to have down syndrom are aborted. Early genetic screening is officially advocated by the American College of Obstretrics and Gynecologists with the idea that "unfit" fetuses will be terminated, not treated. This is not something that Black himself is willing to look squarely in the eye.
This book is depressing and deeply unsettling. It ought to be mandatory reading.
I picked up this book on a whim (I am at our public library with the kids at least once a week), but I found myself flipping through it constantly thr...moreI picked up this book on a whim (I am at our public library with the kids at least once a week), but I found myself flipping through it constantly throughout this Advent. The author lists--alphabetically, which is darn convenient-all the Christmas traditions, customs, symbols, folklore etc and explains their origins. It has been helpful for me as I try to decide which Christmas traditions to go in for and which to leave behind.
At any rate, I found myself constantly fascinated by this little reference book. For instance, did you know that colonial Protestants banned Christmas?? Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord) was an Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic holiday that made Protestants uneasy, at least in the US, until the late nineteenth century. In general, Puritans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, and Quakers absolutely refused to recognize the Holiday in any form until the second half of the nineteenth century. So, the next time some Baptist from Focus on the Family shouts about the war on Christmas, you can laugh even harder. They were the original warriors against it!! In fact, Massachusetts Bay Colony made Christmas illegal in 1659 (though the ban was finally repealed under pressure from the British, in 1681).
This book suffers from two enormous errors made by its author: (1) he wrongly assumes that his own person is interesting enough to be inserted into th...moreThis book suffers from two enormous errors made by its author: (1) he wrongly assumes that his own person is interesting enough to be inserted into the narrative; (2) he wrongly decides to resurrect Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, and turn him into a fame seeking opportunist, hell bent on securing his rightful place in a secular world (this latter move is so grotesque it isn't even worth the time it would take to explain it).
Nevertheless, as its topic is intrinsically fascinating, I was glad that I read it. Here is what I learned that intrigued me most, so as to spare others the need to read this book.
Nicholas died on Dec 6 (hence the date of his feast day) in Myra, which is now southwestern Turkey but was then a part of Lycia. He was renown for his charity, particularly towards children. Although there is no evidence of it, it is a part of his hagiography that he played a crucial role at the council of Nicea. The cult of St. Nicholas spreads all over Europe (East and West), in large part due to the devotion to him among seamen, and his presence in famous port cities. By the time the reformation hits Europe, there is an enormous Church dedicated to St. Nicholas in every important city of every country across Europe, which is no small feat.
The most interesting question for me was how St. Nicholas survived in European Protestant's imagination after the Reformation. The reformers, at least in Britain and Holland, had been extremely thorough in purging all relics, images, and any other traces of the Saints that might have held meaning for the faithful. For an answer we must look to the Dutch, and the character of Sinterklaas.
The panoply of Saints in Holland had been rigorously suppressed since 1578. But Nicholas, to the irritation of the Calvinist authorities, proved uniquely resilient to the purges. They might have removed his every last statue and painting from the Churches and Chapels, but they had not reckoned with the fact that Nicholas was well established beyond the obvious places of worship. For the feast of St. Nicholas was observed in Utrecht as early as 1163, and by the time of the Reformers his feast day had become one of the most beloved celebrations in Holland. Old habits die hard, apparently, and when Reformers tried to ban the image of St. Nicholas in candy and cookie form in 1607, and again in 1622, but to no avail. The Dutch tradition of celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas (or Sinterklaas, as they call him) has survived until present day, though of course it is far more commercialized now, and thus the gifts that the Saint leaves for children go far beyond the original cookies and fruit of tradition.
With the failure of Catholics to establish supremacy in North America, it would remain for Protestants to take up his cause there. And, of course, this begins with the Dutch who settled the island-strewn harbor at the mouth of the Hudson River, and proclaimed it to be New Amsterdam. The continued to celebrate the December 6th Feast Day, but the idea of St. Nicholas did not catch on until a few key American authors and illustrators decided to champion him. There was no Anglican recognition of St. Nicholas, and gifts were not exchanged on Christmas Day, but rather on New Year's Eve (though Christmas tide, or the 12 days of Christmas, were celebrated). Neither did the Germans recognize his feast; Luther did away with that in the mid sixteenth century. Not even the Roman Catholic communities associated St. Nicholas with gift-giving; the Italians that settled in early Manhattan gave gifts on the feast of the Epiphany.
Fast forward to 1809, when Washington Irving (under the pseudonym of Dietrich Knickerbocker) publishes the History of New York From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. Irving's book prominently featured Saint Nicholas, though not of course as a Saint in Heaven, but as a jolly man of good cheer, who dropped presents down chimneys. Then Irving's good friend, Clement Clarke Moore wrote a little poem intended to amuse his children. It was called "Ann account of a Visit from St. Nicholas" (though now recognized as "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Now Nicholas's move from December 6th to Christmas was officially complete.
Once Santa's date and role were set, it was left to illustrator's to define his image. The first canonical images of Santa were drawn by Thomas Nast for Harper's between 1862 and 1886. It wasn't long before Santa made his way into stores; Macy's of New York had him there in 1862, but a Brockton Massachusetts Macy's was the first to have him visit with children exclusively. Of course, in the twentieth century there was Norman Rockwell. But perhaps the most iconic depictions of Santa were drawn by Haddon Sundblom, who was hired by the Coca-Cola company to depict Santa drinking their product. It was through the Coca-Cola company that Santa was spread throughout the US and the globe. (less)