Karl Pearson’s “The Groundwork of Eugenics”Spencer J. Quinn
To provide the analytical backbone for the much-needed revitalization of the study and practice of eugenics, one need only present a clear and stark dichotomy: If not eugenics, then dysgenics.
There is no stasis; there is no in-between. It truly is black and white. The fitness of human populations is a zero-sum game: the more eugenic one is, the less dysgenic it is, and vice versa. Because all human populations are finite in number, and because all people are born and eventually die, eugenics and dysgenics cannot both rise or sink with the tide within a single population.
To see this in stark relief, it helps not only to understand eugenics as a means toward population fitness and success as it was originally intended by its founders, but also to conceptualize the encroaching cultural degeneracy of the past half-century as a result of the dearth of eugenics.
Following the Second World War, eugenics as a scientific discipline was fairly quickly drummed out of mainstream academia, and later out of the West’s broader culture. It had been tainted by the eugenic-minded Nazis even though the Nazis were no more eugenic-minded than some other Western nations at the time (such as the United States, especially California).
In his 1995 preface to his work In the Name of Eugenics, Daniel J. Kevles lists the main complaints progressives had against eugenics — and, of course, all roads led to the Jewish Holocaust:
Eugenicists, who were themselves predominantly of the old majority, considered scholastic intelligence — the kind indicated in I.Q. tests — a paramount measure of human merit, ignoring other abilities such as business acumen and artistic creativity that such tests did not capture. To them, I.Q. tests appeared to determine that the newer immigrants were innately endowed with low intelligence, while their high birth rates seemed to indicate that they were spreading inferior genes into the population at a rapid rate. In the interest of reducing the proportion of the “less fit” in society, eugenicists in the United States helped restrict immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe. They promoted the passage of eugenic sterilization laws that disproportionately threatened lower income groups. The laws and programs they fostered supplied a model for the Nazis, who sterilized several hundred thousand people and, brandishing their research into the genetics of individual and racial differences, claimed scientific justification for the Holocaust.
And here he sums up the triumph many on the egalitarian Left must have felt in the second half of the twentieth century when this once-sturdy pillar of biological determinism finally came crashing down:
The Nazi horrors discredited eugenics as a social program. Studies in social and biological science repudiated its stigmatizing theories of human difference, showing that what it took to be distinctions of race were those of ethnicity. In the United States, the social policies that reduced discrimination and expanded opportunity worked with the passage of time to produce their salubrious effects among the newer immigrants and their descendants, including socioeconomic improvement and, eventually, par performance on I.Q. tests. In the half century after 1932, whites’ scores on such tests rose some fourteen points. Blacks’ scores rose too, the increase indicates that test results are not rigidly fixed by genes but are also sensitive to changes in education, opportunity, and scholastic ambition.
I will dissect Kevles’ arguments presented in In the Name of Eugenics in a future review. What is relevant here, however, is the manifestly unscientific nature of Kevles’ approach. He employs a racial insult when he characterizes eugenicists as being part of the “old majority,” as if that somehow influenced their work. He also cares not to disprove eugenic conclusions based on the facts, but would rather make dubious and subjective social arguments against it. Finally, he has an axe to grind in relation to the Jewish Holocaust and attempts to link what he doesn’t like to it.
These are some of the arguments one must overcome when armed with the knowledge of what eugenics is and what life is like when you have little of it. I argue that many of us already know the latter. But for the former, we can turn to one of the field’s leading lights from over a century ago, British mathematician and biostatistician Karl Pearson.
Eugenics, according to Pearson in a 1909 paper entitled “The Groundwork of Genetics,” requires that we “repress sternly the personal” and “place ourselves outside the community of which we form a part” in order to study it objectively. While human rights correctly render direct experimentation impossible, history can be viewed as a series of man’s inadvertent experiments upon himself. These experiments, the eugenicist must record and analyze scientifically and through statistics to ascertain “the biological laws which govern [man’s] social development” and the ability to “predict what lines of conduct foster, and what lines check national welfare.”
In his paper Pearson lays out the study’s foundations, which include many topics familiar to the Dissident Right today: the nature versus nurture debate, racial characteristics, and the heredity of traits — and according to the intervening century of psychometric and neuroscientific data, he comes down on the correct side of all of them. Nature dominates nurture, races are endowed differently with attributes and temperaments, and acquired traits cannot be inherited. This composes the triple whammy for progressives who, in Pearson’s day and also today, believe that through public education, social engineering, universal suffrage, sexual freedom, and similar programs of liberation, humankind can “progress” to something better than before.
Pearson throws a wet blanket on these ideas from the beginning. Not only are the progressives wrong, but the results of their policies will be the exact opposite of what they expect:
Selection of parentage is the sole effective process known to science by which a race can continuously progress. The rise and fall of nations are in truth summed up in the maintenance or cessation of that process of selection. Where the battle is to the capable and the thrifty, where the dull and idle have no chance to propagate their kind, there the nation will progress, even if the land be sterile, the environment unfriendly and educational facilities small. Give educational facilities to all, limit the hours of labour to eight-a-day — providing leisure to watch two football matches a week — give a minimum wage with free medical advice, and yet you will find that the unemployables, the degenerates and the physical and mental weaklings increase rather than decrease.
Pearson explains further that a population cannot survive such degeneracy if selection of parentage is sacrificed. His vision of the decline and fall of the West strikingly resembles what is happening in the twenty-first century. He explains how, after civilization collapses
[i]t will be replaced by a barbarism which pays little heed to or even rejoices in the cruelties of uncontrolled natural selection. Loaves and the circus — wages for the unemployable and the public football match to kill time — are as much signs now as of old that selection is being suspended, and that suspension undoubtedly means the rapid multiplication of the unfit at the expense of the fit.
Isn’t the ability to predict the future a sign that someone was doing his science correctly? And if someone’s grandiose progressive vision didn’t jibe with the future, isn’t that a sign of something else?
Although very much a Darwinian, Pearson sees eugenics as a step removed from natural selection, which he describes as the “selective death-rate.” More than anything else, selective death in the state of nature keeps a population fit and allows it to thrive. This means that the majority of individuals who die at a given time die either because they are unfit due to age or subpar genetics. This is opposed to the random death rate which, unlike the selective death rate, can only have negative effects the further north it strays from zero. This is why an unexpected natural disaster which kills one-twentieth of a population at random is far worse than the same number dying as a result of obesity, habitual cigarette or alcohol consumption, hard-drug addiction, criminal activity, or being over 90 years old:
To the individual and his immediate friends death and the crippling of activity by sickness and disease appear as the harshest contrasts of natural law and human hope and sympathy. So great is, and must be, the personal feeling in this matter, that in fifty years [since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species] we have scarcely risen to the conception that death in its chief form — the selective death-rate — is the principal factor which maintains and elevates racial fitness, that the great function of eliminating the weeds is maintained in the garden of human life by the hand of death. Individually we shall never, perhaps, be able to realise in the wastage of life the hand of a beneficent gardener.
Pearson recognizes that advances in medicine and technology have necessarily reduced the selective death rate in civilized populations. He doesn’t deplore this, despite knowing the negative outcomes of the less fit in a society eventually crowding out the fit. Instead, he promotes replacing the selective death rate as provided by nature with a selective birth rate and a selective marriage rate.
Through his use of statistics, he demonstrates that a small percentage of people are indeed responsible for populating future generations. He divides reproducing families into categories apropos to the standards of his day: the sub-fertile (having three or fewer children) and the super-fertile (having four or more children). He then demonstrates that it is the super-fertile, which makes up approximately 20% of the population, is responsible for producing around 75% of future generations.
Pearson then makes the chilling connection between fertility and intelligence, which he measures by the archaic unit “mentace.” If general intelligence were inversely proportional to fertility and there were no natural selective checks on fertility, then at this rate it would take a very small number of generations for the less intelligent (who, of course, inherit their brains from their parents) to completely crowd out their higher-end counterparts:
This, of course, is an oversimplification since exceptional parents can give rise to slow-witted children, and vice versa. Also, the negative correlation between fertility and intelligence isn’t perfect (although Richard Lynn’s finding of -0.73 is a very strong one), and IQ does correlate to higher survival rates. Still, Pearson’s example demonstrates how quickly dysgenics can do its destructive work once man’s “progress” has stamped out selective death, discouraged selective birth, and stigmatized selective marriage. This is exactly what the Left aims to do through universal health care, universal suffrage, miscegenation, transsexualism, open borders, and other initiatives. All of these changes are dysgenic. All of these changes embody the true character of progress: that of the weak overtaking the strong, the ugly over taking the beautiful, and of the dim overtaking the brilliant. Pearson was well aware of this back in 1909, and today we’re living with the consequences of his unheeded warnings:
The moment we suspend the full vigour of natural selection, the moment we artificially correlate fertility with any defect of physique or intelligence, we start that downward movement. To check this movement I take to be the special function of practical eugenic action.
By “practical eugenic action,” Pearson means enforcing conduct likely to result in desirable population characteristics through “a social or a legal sanction.”
We all know what this means. Ghastly stories of forced sterilizations, mass euthanasia, marriage laws, and immigration restrictions will likely eclipse in most minds Pearson’s high-minded rhetoric of beneficent gardeners and social development. What justice could there be in allowing a portion of a population to suffer and die in order to benefit the rest? All because some subjective measure dreamed up by a bunch of white men deemed them “less fit”?
Eugenic cruelty did occur. For instance, the 1937 sterilization of the Rhineland Bastards, which victimized 800 mixed-race children who had been born in Germany to German mothers and black fathers who had served in the French army during the First World War. The eugenic-minded Nazis — and probably many of the German people as well — believed such children were moral degenerates and simply not German. Thus, they could not be allowed to procreate.
According to critics like Kevles, Karl Pearson’s logic, as bulletproof and statistically sound as it was, allowed all this to happen. When we “endeavor to study human life from the outside,” as Pearson prescribes, we lose sight of the inherent worth of all human life and then open the door to all kinds of atrocities — including, ultimately, the worst atrocity of the them all: the Jewish Holocaust.
Nothing can open the spigots of Leftist outrage more quickly than eugenics.
We can of course quibble over whether eugenic practices in the 1930s actually led to any mass killing of Jews during the Second World War any more than, say, Jewish warmongering during the same period. Better would be to present the obvious and compelling effects of having no eugenics at all — which is indeed dysgenics. The lowering of the average IQ in the West, the rapid increase in violent crime, the utter corruption of our body politic, the ideological and surgical redesign of human sexuality, the slackening of our academic standards, the proliferation of pointless foreign wars, the stagnation of our economies, and the sheer degeneracy of our popular culture are all signs of less capable and intelligent people crowding their way into power. They are finding ways to seize power without having to earn it.
Why? Because they now have the numbers to do so. As a bloc, mediocrities are now too big to fail — especially in liberal democratic republics like the United States. And they will continue not to fail at a greater rate as their foothold among the elite continues to grow. I’m sure there is more to it than this, but one is now tempted to ask how much of this degeneracy could have been prevented had Westerners continued to apply Karl Pearson’s practical eugenics a century ago. Even factoring in error and abuse, which could always be corrected, would the sterilization of, say, a quarter of a million deranged, criminal, and feeble-minded individuals, coupled with strict eugenic-minded marriage policies, have been too steep a price to pay to prevent our entire civilization from declining like it is doing now?
And who are people like Kevles to complain about the immorality of eugenics when the immorality of the dysgenics they promote is far worse? In America every year, blacks murder other blacks by the thousands (over 2,500 in 2019), nearly a million fetuses are aborted on demand (around 930,000 in 2020), and nearly a million whites are victims of interracial violent crime (around 914,000 in 2018). Exceptional men like Karl Pearson could have greatly reduced atrocities such as these by simply making civilized nations less tolerant of the survival and procreation of their perpetrators, who in most cases genetically inherit their dysgenic traits.
Say what you will about the abuse of eugenics — which did happen, of course — but least the eugenicists had statistically and genetically sound reasons for what they did. What other reasons are there for today’s dysgenic atrocities other than “just because”?
Opponents of eugenics assume that civilizations can sustain themselves from the bottom up, and that the eugenic actions of individuals is enough to preserve a worthwhile culture. This is false. Left to their own devices, most individuals will behave in a dysgenic manner because that is the path of least resistance. This is why civilizations rise and fall: Men like Karl Pearson are instrumental during their rise, and are crowded out of power by less capable people during their decline. Taken to its logical extreme, dysgenics will end with no civilization at all, where atrocity will no longer be the exception but the rule of human life.
This, I believe, is what people like Daniel Kevles wish to enable with their one-sided criticisms of eugenics, and what far-sighted men like Karl Pearson tried to prevent.
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Really fine essay. The point about the ‘opportunity costs’ of anti-eugenic policies (and the con-artists who promote them), is well taken. I am always leery of discussions of eugenics because, in the end, we’re saying that – today – we know in advance every possible gene of value in the White gene pool. I think we need to be a bit more humble about our claims to foreknowledge of that sort. Still, something must be done and positive ethos of eugenics along with a social policy combining ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ for those deemed ‘dysgenic’ (and gratitude for their self-sacrifice) would go a long way toward making a culture of eugenics one of ‘humane life today, humane life tomorrow’.
Thank you Mr Quinn for an interesting and timely article based on the work of a very famous, at least to those who have had to study some statistics, and by his appearance alone, apparently large-brained statistician.
Are you able to explain the figure? Is it purporting to show the proportion of each generation with normal versus subnormal intelligence when selective pressures are removed? If so this must surely have been nearly entirely speculative since such an experiment would be nigh on impossible to conduct and could not have been concluded at that time.
“Is it purporting to show the proportion of each generation with normal versus subnormal intelligence when selective pressures are removed?” — Yes, but assuming a correlation of -1 between intelligence and fertility and discounting the inverse relationship between IQ and survival and other factors. Yes, it is speculative, but also a demonstration of how quickly things can fall apart if we let it.
So basically this is why we’re living in the beginning of Idiocracy. But hey – at least we’re not all speaking German, now are we?
Fascinating, thoughtful article. Thank you. I will add, for the rhetorical “What […] reasons are there for today’s dysgenic atrocities other than just because” – there is the doctrine of human rights, and there is the doctrine of egalitarianism.
So as to “why should we tolerate dysgenic people”, a modern polemicist would reply “all people should be treated equally”, or from a more Christian side, “every man is created in God’s image”, or even the slippery slope trope “first they came for the ‘tards, and I didn’t say anything …”.
The most cogent rebuttal, which of course you mention, is that continued civilisation and progress depends on successful eugenics.
Thank you, Domitian (and Hamburger Today). I appreciate the kind words and am glad you enjoyed the essay. I’d been wanting to write that one for a while. Look out for my review of In the Name of Eugenics, probably early next year.
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