Eugenics & Cancel Culture:
Spencer J. Quinn
The “De-Naming” of Mead Memorial Chapel
A tempest in a teapot started brewing nearly two years ago at Vermont’s Middlebury College which perfectly exemplifies the weak tea that the conservative movement has been serving these past several decades. College President Laurie Patton effected a clandestine name change of a century-old building on campus. Mead Memorial Chapel was to be renamed (or “de-named”) Middlebury Chapel. The chapel’s name had originally honored John A. Mead, a physician who served as Vermont’s Governor from 1910 to 1912. Both an alumnus and trustee of the college, Mead had contributed most of the money for the chapel’s construction in 1916.
Thanks to the sleuthing of independent researcher Mercedes De Guardiola, however, we now know that Mead had a few interesting things to say about eugenics in his farewell address as Governor. In her 2019 essay “‘Segregation or Sterilization’: Eugenics in the 1912 Vermont State Legislative Session,” De Guardiola offers a brief history of the eugenics movement in Vermont during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In it she outlines the contemporaneous concerns over degeneracy and feeblemindedness, and how this spearheaded the decades-long effort to improve the human gene pool. She also links Mead’s statements to largely unsuccessful efforts to legislate eugenic policies at the state level. In short, Mead proposed to deny marriage certificates to people who probably shouldn’t be getting married in the first place, such as syphilitics, rapists, and alcoholics. He also promoted segregating “defectives” to prevent interbreeding with the general population, as well as eugenic vasectomies for those with hereditary diseases.
These days, such commonsense and well-meaning recommendations demand posthumous cancellation. Patton dutifully notified the Middlebury community of the name change, but only after the stone bearing the Mead family name had been removed. Patton assured the community that she and the Board of Trustees had gone through “deep reflection and discussion” — of course they did — and justified their decision because it amounted to “opposite-engaging” with history, which she said she feels is the best way to learn from it.
None of this is terribly interesting or surprising. In 2017, hundreds of Middlebury student-thugs shouted down the race-realist researcher and Bell Curve co-author Charles Murray during a talk and then attempted to attack him physically. Afterwards, Patton rewarded the rioters by expelling none of them. Freedom of thought and speech isn’t exactly a priority for Middlebury College, it seems. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), Middlebury is ranked a dismal 189th among United States campuses for freedom of speech.
Further, De Guardiola herself doesn’t exactly paint Mead in an evil light. She describes his moral qualms with the radical elements of the eugenics crowd of his time and explains that much of what Mead was calling for was already accepted practice in many places across the country. How can we therefore cancel Mead and not so many other prominent Americans of the day?
None of this matters. Laurie Patton wishes to enhance her reputation and that of her school by besmirching the reputation of a man long dead. It’s that simple. I doubt she even considered which history needs “opposite-engaging,” whatever that means. Should we opposite-engage with, say, the well-documented perversions of Martin Luther King, Jr.? The well-documented Jewish warmongering prior to the Second World War? Or perhaps more recently, George Floyd’s fentanyl overdose? Who gets to say which tidbits of history require opposite-engagement and which ones don’t?
What is slightly less boring about this affair is that the conservatives have struck back — and with a lawsuit, no less!
In December 2022 a few undergraduates uncovered a much bigger connection between Middlebury College and eugenics, one that goes far deeper than John Mead’s statements. According to The Middlebury Campus:
The connection between Mead and Middlebury College prompted us to investigate additional connections our school had with eugenics unrelated to Mead. Indeed, to understand Middlebury’s relationship with eugenics as solely connected to one individual would be incorrect and incomplete. For instance, in 1931, Middlebury President Paul Moody is documented saying “the whole French Canadian population could be wiped out of Middlebury and no one would miss it,” clearly expressing a eugenicist mindset. The college also hosted various speeches on eugenics, employed members of the National Congress of Eugenics and is noted as one of 44 colleges in the United States confirmed to have taught eugenics into the 1910s. These connections are not necessarily all that exist between Middlebury and eugenics, but are merely the ones we uncovered. Understanding that this history is larger than John Mead and Middlebury’s Chapel is vital to truly understanding this dark chapter of Middlebury’s history.
So tickled was Jane Coleman of Legal Insurrection by this embarrassing revelation that she cheekily called for Middlebury College to be renamed. How clever!
The conservative pushback against Middlebury is now in full swing and is being spearheaded by former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, who is acting as a court-appointed administrator of the Mead estate. Mead’s descendants have thrown their support behind the lawsuit as well, which accuses Middlebury College of violating the “perpetual contract to maintain the Mead name on the chapel as per the conditions of John Mead’s original gift.” A judge has recently allowed the lawsuit to proceed, and time will tell if woke Leftists or principled conservatives will emerge victorious in this fairly insignificant round of the culture wars.
What is significant about it, however, is that it demonstrates that the once-mighty eugenics movement has devolved these days into little more than a hot potato. No one wants to claim it, and back and forth it goes. Coleman at Legal Insurrection points out the double standard involved when she reminds readers that woke icons such as Margaret Sanger and W. E. B. Du Bois had also supported eugenics. And here’s Peter Wood of The Spectator showing off his southpaw potato serve return:
No one in contemporary America espouses eugenics except fringe figures such as Princeton’s Peter Singer, who believes it is a good idea to extinguish the lives of the disabled. If eugenics has cultural descendants, they are the advocates of easy access to abortion, but their rationale is the freedom of women, not the improvement of the species.
So basically, the Dems are the real racists. It makes one wonder if conservatives ever get tired of serving up the same weak tea with every plate of Leftist overreach and getting the same lackluster results. Meanwhile, the dissident Right is akin to the last kid picked for the team who finds himself wide open for a shot on goal, but no one wants to pass to him even as he keeps yelling, “Throw it to me!” It’s a frustrating scenario, but if the Right wishes to win, it needs to put on the oven mitts and get its hands on that potato — or at least convince the Peter Woods and Jane Colemans of the world not to hurl it back to the Left so eagerly.
So, really, what’s so bad about eugenics? Based on my reading of Daniel Kevles’ In the Name of Eugenics, there are three things — which, in the aggregate, do not outweigh what’s so good about eugenics.
First, we have several instances of eugenic abuse in the United States roughly between 1910 and 1930: sterilization, which was either punitive or based on unsound science. The latter is more forgivable in hindsight, since people were doing their best with the incomplete data of the time. Keep in mind that this was around the time that Mendelian genetics was gaining acceptance in the scientific community, and scientists were still not clear on the mechanisms of inheritance, usually lacking the clinical data to determine which mental conditions were genetic and which weren’t. Often, they erred on the side of caution and made mistakes. There was also punitive sterilization — vasectomies, mostly — which may seem barbaric today, but in fact were a mercy compared to the earlier method of sterilization: castration. From the first decade of the twentieth century to the Second World War, nearly 36,000 American individuals were sterilized. Some were voluntary. In most cases, they were criminals, the habitually indolent, and the incurably insane.
Second, we have the eugenic link to National Socialist Germany, where nearly 225,000 were sterilized during the 1930s. The Nazis, like many other politicians across the world at the time, embraced eugenic ideas and practiced it when they could. The shadow of the Second World War continues to loom large, so anything associated with Nazism is going to bear a tremendous stigma these days — and this stigma clouds the judgment of butterfly-brained individuals such as Laurie Patton. The fact that eugenics in Britain or America never reached the extremes it attained in Germany makes no difference to Patton. Neither does the fact that the mild form of eugenics promoted by John Mead — years before the National Socialist German Workers’ Party even existed — were clearly motivated by conscience, compassion, and concern for the greater good. What does matter to Laurie Patton and her Leftist ilk is the following ding-dong logic:
Since all Nazis are BAD, and Nazis ♥ eugenics, it follows that eugenics is also BAD.
But the worst thing about eugenics in the eyes of the Left is not what it did wrong, but what it did right. Eugenics was adopted by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants in Britain and the United States, primarily to serve the interests of the white race in its various ethnic manifestations. The modern Left, which is thoroughly anti-white, cannot abide that. A strong, assertive, and self-confident white race would spell the end of today’s Left, and they know it.
Through vigorous data collection and statistical analysis, eugenicists recognized that genetics plays a large role in determining a person’s overall value to society. As a result, they sought to find ways to prune less valuable traits from the gene pool while encouraging those with more valuable traits to procreate and pass them on to the next generation. This mindset accords with the biological nature of human beings and therefore stands a good chance of success. Psychologist and psychometrics pioneer Henry Goddard stated its case perfectly in 1920, nearly a century before advanced brain scanning techniques ultimately proved him correct:
[T]he chief determiner of human conduct is the unitary mental process which we call intelligence. . . . This process is conditioned by a nervous mechanism . . . and the consequent grade of intelligence or mental level for each individual is determined by the kind of chromosomes that come together with the union of the germ cells . . . [and] is but little affected by any later influence except such serious accidents as may destroy part of the mechanism. As a consequence, any attempt at social adjustment which fails to take into account the determining character of the intelligence and its unalterable grade in each individual is illogical and inefficient.
Of course, you cannot perform “social adjustment” without stepping on some toes. Were mistakes made and harm done in some cases? Certainly. Did some people practice eugenics with too much zeal and not enough evidence? Absolutely. Did eugenicists sometimes overstate the reproductive threat posed by the mentally ill and feebleminded? Yes, they did.
But we should remember than any such wide-ranging policy will entail some problems and abuses at first. If one believes in the mission, then such problems become a necessary evil and a learning experience rather a reason to abandon it altogether. Sterilizing 36,000 criminals, syphilitics, vagabonds, and psychopaths over the course of 25 years, amounting to 1,440 per year, just might — might! — be an acceptable price to pay for a stable, productive society, even if a handful of individuals got a raw deal. Does this sound harsh? Well, would transgender children who regret their transitions be able to convince a transgender activist to renounce transgenderism? This is the same, except that whereas eugenicists strived for the unimpeachable goal of genetically improving entire populations, transgender activists mutilate troubled children in order to transmogrify them into any one of the 478 genders they assert exist — and, incidentally, sterilize them as well. They are therefore quite impeachable themselves.
Additionally, what many people don’t remember about this particular hot potato is that eugenics eventually corrected itself.
By the 1930s, people were already developing a “reform eugenics” which pushed back against the more stringent and punitive features of the previous “mainline eugenics” — the type of eugenics that John Mead had promoted. Much of this sprang from concern for human rights in the face of cruel and unusual punishment. More, however, came from advances in biology — genetics in particular. Armed with this as well as improved technology, it was only a matter of time before reform eugenics overtook its mainline counterparts. Volunteerism became the word of the day, sterilization fell by the wayside, and soon eugenicists were genetically screening husbands and wives for genetic disorders. Had the Second World War not happened, eugenics would have remained in the American and British mainstream for much longer than it did. And that would have been a good thing.
Unfortunately, today’s Left is too wrapped up in its hatred for whites, and conservatives are too intimidated by their taboos to understand the eugenics movement for what it was: an honest attempt to use science, the law, and statistics to improve humanity in the only way it can be improved: genetically. It wasn’t perfect, but it was vastly superior to what we have today, which is pure dysgenics. Yes, non-white immigration, racial miscegenation, lax attitudes towards crime, and the mainstreaming of transgenderism — among other things — can only amount to dysgenic change. This will be our future, because we turned our backs on eugenics. Once a critical mass of us realizes this, embraces eugenics, and returns it to the mainstream where it belongs, we’ll be able to claw our way back to the stability we enjoyed a century ago — and hopefully, restore Mead Memorial Chapel’s proper name as well.
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