American Progressives today like to talk about their Green New Deal, free higher education for all and slavery reparations. But recently the eminent economist Dr. Thomas Cargill addressed Reno’s Hayek Group about Progressives’ original cause: eugenics.
Eugenics is a dark and troubling part of US history – one not accurately reflected in standard accounts and teaching today of that history. The “scientific” racism of eugenics ideology flowered in the second half of the 19th Century through the 1930s.
It classified persons as “fit” or “unfit” based on traits assumed to be hereditary, including race and ethnicity, mental and physical characteristics, and country of origin. Because “fitness” was assumed to be genetic, it was hereditary and thus immutable: not subject to alteration via environment, nurture or other conditioning methods.
Eugenics gained wide acceptance, even being reflected in decisions of the Supreme Court of The United States. “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” said Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the case of Buck v. Bell, a 1927 decision upholding a Virginia law that authorized the state to surgically sterilize certain “mental defectives” without their consent.
Eugenics doctrine had a broad reach from justifying slavery to the alleged superiority of Nordic peoples (“Aryans”) to other races. It was fostered in the US by the mushrooming of the administrative state during the progressive period, and it also provided some ostensible intellectual foundation for that mushrooming.
German Nazism also drew greatly on the developing American eugenics tradition. As much as anything, the fall of the Third Reich undid eugenics.
After the Civil War, it was used first to justify low military compensation for blacks and then to support barriers to non-Nordic immigration. Implementation of eugenics was helped by the rise of progressivism’s administrative and interventionist government over-riding the outcomes of free markets. By 1905, 32 states had sterilization laws fostered by eugenics, and thousands of people were sterilized.
One scholar recently noted, “Eugenics and progressivism were made for each other.” The doctrine was an excuse for the exercise of extreme coercive collectivism, the fundamental means employed by progressivism.
Minimum wage legislation was also originally related to eugenics, as it proposed to let the market pay low or no wages to the unfit persons (mainly races) so they would over time die off. Even the famous Yale economist Irving Fischer bought into such dogma.
Perhaps the most (in)famous proponent and activist in favor of eugenics and its abuses of human beings was Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who was an outright racist. Her 1933 article in the journal Birth Control Review was also a strong argument against immigration to America. And sterilization of the mentally ill was a popular birth control idea from the start.
The notable surprise beyond the flourishing of eugenics in America is that it has been almost completely omitted from modern history and government texts. Since almost all high school students must take a US history course, this omission has given them a completely false account of very important US history, politics and government. Eugenics and its disastrous history as a key part of progressivism are at best mentioned in passing, and mostly minimized and treated as not a significant part of our history.
Why? The writers of the books don’t themselves seem to know much about this central subject. Some authors are aware, but seem to consider it unimportant; eugenics is viewed by many progressives as the crazy uncle in the family. Also, eugenics’ relationship to abortion makes it a taboo subject for many advocates of that practice. And almost all these writers are progressives with a bias in support of the over-reaching administrative state, and discussing eugenics undermines that key advocacy.
What do students lose due to these biases and omissions? First, balanced and reasonably complete perspective on US history, politics and government and the roles of various factions then and now. Second, a necessary skepticism of the ideology of catastrophe supported allegedly by science. (See also climate change deniers.) Third, the perils of small groups, especially of self-selected elitists, controlling social power; this often leads to bad decisions and social disasters. (See also China’s one-child policy.) Finally, a profound understanding of the power of even a bad idea.
In general, it is not a good idea to panic about anything. The panic itself often causes more harm than the original threat.
Crisis situations, real or contrived, lead to new intrusive laws that the public would never accept otherwise. We supposedly cherish freedom, but if we believe that the world will end if we don’t act NOW, then we may clamor for the government to save us. Cynical politicians bent on increasing their power never let a crisis go to waste.
Something like the Green New Deal—the end of our comfortable, prosperous lifestyle—takes a truly apocalyptic threat. But to eliminate our freedom to decline a medical treatment, the threat that “millions will die” of measles is evidently enough. Or if not millions (most older people had measles and recovered fully), a few especially vulnerable children, who can’t be vaccinated themselves, might catch measles and die.
There are several hundred cases of measles nationwide, more than in 2014, and bills are being pushed through state legislatures to eliminate all but very narrow exemptions to the 60 shots now mandated for school attendance.
In New York City, people are receiving summonses based on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s emergency order. Everybody, adult or child, who lives in four ZIP code areas must get an MMR shot or prove immunity, or face the prospect of a $1,000 fine ($2,000 if you don’t appear as ordered). Your religious exemption is overridden. The threat of 6 months in prison and the prospect of forcible vaccination were removed before a hearing on a lawsuit brought by five mothers. The judge dismissed the case.
Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said that the purpose of the fines is not to punish but to encourage more people to proclaim the message that vaccines are safe and effective. Get it? If you say something to avoid a fine, that makes it true.
It’s about the need for herd immunity, they say. We need a 95 percent vaccination rate for herd immunity to measles. With only 91 percent or so we are having outbreaks! If we could just vaccinate another 4 or 5 percent!
Mayor De Blasio has a point about vaccinating everyone. Adults are getting measles because their shots have worn off. It is likely that we have survived for decades with a large part of the adult population vaccinated—but not immune. So where do the mandates stop?
Outbreaks have occurred in populations with a near-100 percent vaccination rate. Was it vaccine failure? Or was the vaccine not refrigerated properly? Or was a claimed outbreak real? One in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was called off when a special test, a reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) showed a vaccine-strain measles virus rather than a wild-strain measles virus. Some 5 percent of vaccinees may get an illness that looks like measles, but it is just a “vaccine reaction.” Can they shed live virus? Yes. Should you keep your immunocompromised child away from recently vaccinated people? Just asking.
Like all medical treatments, vaccines are neither 100 percent effective, nor 100 percent safe. Read the FDA-required, FDA-approved package inserts. Arizona defeated a law that would have required making these available to parents in obtaining informed consent. (You can get them on the internet.) Vaccine Court has paid out about $4 billion in damages—recently for two children with severe brain damage from encephalopathy (that’s brain inflammation) after a fight lasting about 15 years. Just incidentally, they had an autism diagnosis also. Parents bring their severely injured children to hearings. You won’t see these children on tv, only pictures of babies with measles. No “fear-mongering” allowed about “rare,” possibly coincidental problems from vaccines.
There are trade-offs with vaccines: risks and benefits. But in the panic about measles, the right to give or withhold informed consent—fundamental in medical ethics as well as U.S. and international law—is being sacrificed. And so is free speech. The AMA wants to censor “anti-vaccine” information on social media. I happened on a factual article by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, but was not able to retweet it because it had been removed.
The threat of infectious diseases is real and increasing. We need more robust public health measures, better vaccines, and improved public knowledge and awareness. Deploying vaccine police and shutting down debate will erode trust in health authorities and physicians, although more people may get their shots. But such heavy-handed measures will not defeat the enemy—measles and worse diseases.
Jane M. Orient, M.D. obtained her undergraduate degrees in chemistry and mathematics from the University of Arizona in Tucson, and her M.D. from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1974. Her views and opinions, if expressed, are her own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GCN. Her column can often be found at www.pennypressnv.com. Her column has been reprinted in full, with permission.