Charity a Hindrance to Natural Selection

In the following foreword from a compilation of 12 eugenic lectures (1914), we see that eugenics is perceived as merely applied evolution.  Furthermore, ‘modern man,’ being a sympathetic being, keeps alive those that should die.   With luck, principles of breeding already used with animals will be brought to bear on humans.


Foreword by Lewellys F. Barker

When Sir Francis Galton founded, in London, the Eugenic Laboratory known by his name, National Eugenics was declared to be ” the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally.”

The problems of eugenics are as old certainly as historically recorded human life. They were discussed, in some of their fundamental features at least, among the Hebrews at the time when the Bible was written. Plato deals with them in a famous chapter in the Republic. But the attempt to create an actual science of eugenics was first made toward the end of the nineteenth century after the principle of evolution had become widely accepted and thoughtful men and women had adopted the creed that man himself, like all other objects, animate and inanimate, is subject to the reign of natural law.

The progress of physics, chemistry, and biology has made possible so many beneficial practical applications of these sciences that human beings, more than ever before in the world’s history, have come to appreciate the value of accurate knowledge as a guide to conduct. Wherever man has begun to know scientifically, he has found himself also, better than before, able to predict; he has gained the power to control. This increase in power to control has only whetted an appetite which appears to be insatiable ; man now strives for ends which his ancestors would have regarded as presumptuous in him to try to reach. Thus, to-day, he not only utilises these forces of nature to improve the conditions under which he lives, but he is determined, if possible, to beget a better and a nobler race to succeed him.

The crude selective processes of nature have through the struggle for existence and the elimination of the less fit gradually led up from lower man to the man of our time. But modern man is a sympathetic being. He tries to prolong the life of the defective and the diseased. Instead of killing the criminal, he attempts to reform him. Instead of allowing children who have a feeble resistance to tuberculosis to die, he keeps them alive and they grow up, perhaps to transmit their weakness to offspring. He prevents epidemics. He limits the exterminating influences of alcoholism, and of poverty. Thus modern charity, modern philanthropy, and modern medicine combine to interfere with that selective death-rate which, biologists tell us, has, hitherto, played an important role in race-betterment.

In view of this remarkable change in conditions, thoughtful men are asking themselves a new question. It is this: — Can man, from now on, through the use of his intelligence, learn enough about the influences of heredity and environment to permit him consciously and successfully to act in the direction of a selective birth-rate which will compensate, or more than compensate, for the race-impairment threatened by his conscious interference with the selective death-rate? So called eugenists are optimistic and believe that he can; they assert that he already knows enough to permit of some practical applications of the eugenic science. Though granting that man will never be able consciously to direct the processes of improvement of his racial qualities in any way comparable to the control exercisable by experimental breeders of plants and animals, they feel that through the scientific study of heredity and dissemination of knowledge among the people, ideals may be gradually fostered regarding parenthood which will go far toward improving the inherent qualities of the human race.

Certainly, a vast deal of nonsense is being talked and written about eugenics. The word is in the mouths of many laymen, who have no conception of its real meaning. The quack doctors of society have seized upon it, exploiting its popularity, to advance in favour their own pet panaceas for social reform. True eugenics is, at present, in less danger from its avowed enemies than from those who masquerade as its friends. Hasty and ill-advised legislation is preceding not only the cultivation of public opinion, but also that solid foundation of demonstrable fact which alone would justify law-making. Surely much harm may easily result from eugenic zeal without sufficient eugenic knowledge!

It is gratifying to know that careful studies of eugenic problems are now being made in this country. The organisation of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor marks the opening of a new period in eugenic study and in education along eugenic lines in the United States. Those who harbour eugenic ideals should be under no illusion, however, as to the rapidity with which real progress can be made. It will take a long time to lead even the more thoughtful of the people into a full understanding of the nature and importance of the principles of eugenics, and there does not seem to be any probability that the people as a whole will in the near future be led to think or act in accordance with these principles.

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