Tuesday, August 8, 2017

COULD YOU IMMIGRATE TO DONALD TRUMP'S AMERICA? Probably Not ... But What's Worse is We May Be Witnessing the Ugly Rebirth of Eugenics in America

Would you qualify to apply to immigrate to the United States under the GOP's, and Donald Trump's, proposed immigration policy? 

Check out the immigration scorecard - put together by the good people at Time Magazine - which scores your eligibility to apply, according to proposed congressional legislation (click on this link if you want Time's interactive to tally your score for you).


To give you an idea of how unfair and out of touch this type of scoring is check out my score ...


So, yeah, I might qualify to apply under the proposed new system. But take away my Ph.D. and my 20+ years salary in the California State University system and I'm on the bubble, or out. 

But let's be clear. Qualifying to apply doesn't mean I would get in to America if I applied. It only means I could apply. Other less "desirable" characteristics could disqualify me. My blog alone would probably sink me in Trump's America. 

Let's be blunt about this. What we're seeing in America, under the cover of a clever but draconian immigration policy, is the reemergence of "the science" of eugenics. It's easy to make this case because the proposed immigration policy, without saying so directly, is designed to stem the flow of "undesirables," which include those with no money, no education, no Nobel prizes, or no Olympic gold medals. 

Heart, drive, family, artistic talent, initiative, a passion for the American Dream, etc. mean little to nothing in the proposed immigration program

For those who need a primer on eugenics, know that it's a pseudo science that believes you can improve a populations stock through controlled breeding. The goal is to produce, over the long term, desirable genetic characteristics within a population that will help make the region, or the nation-state, genetically superior to other regions or populations. 

Winning family of a Fitter Family contest stand outside of the Eugenics Building
(where contestants register) at the Kansas Free Fair, in Topeka, KS (c. 1929).

And, yes, the school of eugenics, which was embraced and practiced in the United States, was disgraced and ignored only after it was perverted by the Nazis. 

If you're interested in the clever but not-so-disguised eugenics policy of the Trump administration, what's presented below provides some background on the ugly history that helped bring eugenics to the United States in the early 20th century, and today.

The school of eugenics has a long history and, for my purposes, begins with the charlatans and fake science that gained popularity with the junk scholars of the 19th century.

Among the many intellectuals who helped breathe life into the notion that your position in life was determined by hard work and initiative alone were popular academics, like William Graham Sumner and Herbert Spencer. In fact, while many believe that Charles Darwin coined the term "survival of the fittest" it was actually Herbert Spencer who gave life to the phrase, which perverted Darwin's work. 

Still, it would also help win Spencer praise and monetary support from America's wealthiest tycoons, whose status and position in life were justified by Spencer's work.

For his part, William Graham Sumner helped convince America's richest that they not only deserved their place in society, because of the hard work that they did, but that "a drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be, according to the fitness and tendency of things ..." 

These observations were tied to laws of nature, according to Spencer and Sumner, and should not be tampered with with pesky rules and regulations. For them, the natural order of "divine right and privilege" we saw during the Feudal Order had been replaced by the natural order of "success or failure" in America. Drunks in the gutter, like other social misfits, deserved all the scorn and ridicule heaped upon them because they were nature's losers. 

Still, benevolence and chivalry were not entirely dead. 

Because women had a "natural" place in the society, the state didn't have to concern itself trying to educate their delicate minds. For William Graham Sumner, the state had only one objective when it came to women: protecting their honor. Joining his contemporary in this thought, Herbert Spencer was so adamant about maintaining the proper place of women he believed society's softer gender should not be allowed to be educated because,
... such brain forcing could lead to nervousness, anaemia, hysteria, stunted growth and excessive thinness.
But this wasn't the worst of it.

Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) made a name for himself building phrenology, a controversial field of study in 19th century (made popular by Leonardo DiCapario in Django).

The experts in the field argued, to an increasingly wide audience, that you could determine the emotional and personal characteristics of an individual by looking at and exploring the contours of the human skull.

According to Gall the mind is composed of multiple and distinct faculties. Each one determines traits and characteristics, from individual benevolence to violence. As a result, the size of each "faculty" in the brain is important because each faculty pushes and shapes the skull in such a way that by measuring skull patterns a good phrenologist could determine whether someone was predisposed towards charity, spirituality, kindness or aggression. 

More simply, with the proper training and tools, the surface of the skull was viewed as a good index for reading individual aptitude and personal tendencies.

Over the course of the 19th century phrenologists were able to determine - scientifically, of course - that certain ethnic groups were predisposed towards violence, while others were geared for success as the shape of their skulls made clear. 

As you can imagine, Western European skulls emerged with the most aptitude and benevolence skull spots (bumps?), while slaves, Eastern/Southern Europeans, Asians, and other groups were deemed to have skull shapes that kept them out of the highest levels of civil society, education, and far away from success.
This pseudo science was embraced by many who were looking for scientific justification for their capabilities and acumen in the business world. Similarly, phrenology was supported by those who wanted to justify slavery (their skulls weren't shaped for creativity and genius), and those simply looking to reaffirm their life of leisure in the country club (skull space for genius and benevolence allowed them to enjoy leisure).
But the distorted teachings of these "junk scientists" didn't end with phrenology. There would be an even uglier spin-off, which helped justify emerging social hierarchies, and the status quo in America. 

This school of thought was eugenics.

Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) was one of the first scholars to give scientific racism intellectual heft. Agassiz argued that each race on earth were separate creations that were started in diverse geographic zones (called polygenism). These distinct beginnings, according to Agassiz, endowed each race with different and even unequal attributes. 

For this reason, Agassiz argued, each species can be tied or classified by specific climate zones, just like animals and plants. One of Agassiz's great "discoveries" came when he proved the superiority of European stock over all others.

Agassiz's spectacular findings should not have come as a surprise to anyone. As a European, it was only natural that he (or someone like him) would make this discovery.

As you can imagine, Agassiz's life work was very popular in the American South, where slave owners were looking for reasons to justify slavery and racism (from a Christian perspective, of course; Agassiz was a Christian).

But the eugenics legacy didn't end with simply establishing the superiority of one ethnic groups genetic make-up over another.

The real genius behind eugenics was when policymakers started to buy into the idea that certain genetic groups were predisposed to certain behaviors, and believed that they could purify society by removing or neutralizing these undesirable elements. To do this many states in America began to sterilize habitual criminals, lunatics, schizophrenics, and others who had been officially labeled social misfits.

And, if you're wondering, yes, this is where the Nazis got many of their ideas.

The irony in all of this is that while many of these 19th century "scientists" drew from Charles Darwin (who was a real scientist) most, if not all, of their work would have been rejected by Darwin on scientific grounds.

Unfortunately, though, the damage had been done. It's still being done. 
Only this time it's being done under the color of a draconian immigration policy that pretends to be "merit based" - just as Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner would have preferred.

- Mark

* The section on eugenics is drawn from an earlier post, and will appear in next book.

* Hat tip to Leonel for the Time/Immigration link.

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