Dec 16, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

It's not well understood by most that the banning of slavery in Europe was more of an academic and economic endeavor, although it was couched in moral terms in order to sell it to the average person, who was generally unaffected by the practice.

There are no lynching trees in the meadows of Cornwall. No slave quarters in the Rhine valley, nor segregated burial plots in Bordeaux. Why would the English have slaves? That's what we have the Irish for, no? Most of Europe, at least in the "modern era", had no real day-to-day moral understanding of slavery as an real world, living practice, and certainly not deep enough caring to do much about it beyond talk.

A little like gun control; support that is at least claimed to be "a mile wide, but only an inch deep". Held by people who aren't affected by, and are extremely unlikely to ever be affected by what they rail against.

But to the U.S., it was very real. It was, to use the phrase the kids use these days, "lived experience". And unlike the European nations, we were intent on spending the blood and treasure needed to eradicate it. Not simply "over there", but right down the street. Not merely the stroke of the pen, but the stroke of the sword, bayonet, and fumbling, screaming bare hand when it came down to it.

This is why I'm always amused when our European cousins wax moral on the issue. Like their predecessor Mr. Galton, perhaps, they talk lightly of issues they never really have a dog in the fight of, knowing full well they were not, nor would be, affected by them.

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Nov 29, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

Thanks for this well-written, in-depth dive into a thinker I knew basically nothing about! This was really great!

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Good god, this isn’t just smart, it’s also really funny--a rare combination indeed. Now, where can I find this croton oil you mention? And can I slip into someone’s drink?

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The greatest tragedies of the twentieth century were caused by the radical and brutal egalitarianism of marxism.

Voluntary eugenics are alive and well, it is only the involuntary eugenics that used state power to remake society according to particular utopian visions that have led to tragedy, like any other ideological totalitarianism eventually does.

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"Galton saw beyond his time in statistics, psychology, meteorology, geography, and biology—why couldn’t he see beyond it in morality?"

He did see beyond it, as you literally detail 6 lines before where you describe how he sought to promote eugenics to a society that was sceptical even that the principle of heredity applied to humans.

The silly utopian community stuff in his abortive novel is pretty common 19th century spitballing stuff. Nothing really unusual, and though Galton was obviously somewhat aspergy about moral questions, his actual practical proposals were perfectly humane and decent. The more serious problem with Galton's eugenics is that it was almost entirely based on encouraging smart men to marry smart women rather than a local lass or their secretary, but *this is what modern society does anyway* and its observable effects are dysgenic, not eugenic because they don't have children. Real practical eugenics is not about encouraging smart sociable men to marry smart women, but just encouraging them to have more babies than dumb violent guys. The irony is that England had unconsciously been practicing that kind of eugenics for centuries and it was Galton's fellow social reformers who screwed it all up. Sad!

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I would suggest a 7th possibility--Dalton lived in a time period during which full humanity was limited to a tiny, tiny group of people--European, white, cisgender, straight, upper class, able-bodied men. When so few people get membership in the fully human club, all kinds of moral reasoning becomes possible, plausible and perfectly logical. It’s why we have to guard so carefully against those forces and powers today who seek to de-humanize people.

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Why did someone as smart as Galton support eugenics? Well err maybe because eugenics is right?

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A fascinating and informative piece. I wonder about one thing: isn't there always a bit of question-begging when we speak of the morality of the past? It is only by assuming something Galton did not -- the moral importance of the individual -- that our morality can be described as better than his. We all accept this key point of divergence, and point to our particular gods and heroes for having bequeathed it to us: some will say that Christianity was the first to treat the individual as a having an immortal soul and inextinguishable dignity, others will gesture at Job or the Buddha. But we take it for granted.

If for Galton the moral importance was with a society, a nation, a people, an ethnos, then the morality we have built upon the individual is not an advanced science but an incomprehensible barbarism, a cacophony, and a calamity. If he could have taken an expedition to any Walmart, his designer's eyes likely could have seen only one solution to the spectacle of indirect government subsidies -- by way of paying the unhealthy to breed -- to the manufacturers of unhealthy processed foods and entertainments.

That's not to say there was no hypocrisy to his unconscious anti-individualism: he treated his fellow gentry as precious individuals after all. But there is hypocrisy in us all. We today are keenly aware of commons whose tragedies were not sufficiently advanced in Galton's day for him to have thought long on them: pollution, deforestation, erosion, the destruction of species. We rise to our feet in horror at the idea that one monopolist's desire for wealth, fame, and phallic rocketships should cause so much general harm to people and to the planet (though we seem powerless to prevent it), while allowing (for instance) the commons of public health to be destroyed by overgrazing -- token efforts in taxing soft drinks notwithstanding.

And yet there is an arc to history; one that in Galton's estimation bends downwards, a parabola marking where our species attempted to climb from its cradle's gravity well and failed. Why did the eugenics practiced in ancient Greece and Rome fall away? Why did the destruction of unfit infants turn to giving them away to slavery, and then disappear? Why but weakness? Galton in his optimism, in his faith in what he would have called the strength of human will, perhaps thought that the humane and gentle expedient of preventing such infants from being born would be entirely within our power. He would have been wrong. From his perspective, he did not fail to be ahead of his time, for he is ahead of his and ours both. It is we who have fallen behind.

[Disclaimer: this commentator is not Galton or the Devil, merely an advocate for one and perhaps both.]

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"If we emblazon our names on campus buildings today, will our grandchildren one day campaign to remove them?"

I laughed at this question. Because, yes. You don't see it today, but the ideas that are propagated will be seen as the cause of the regression of white societies. People will indeed see liberal freedom fighters and proponents of equality as toxic and dangerous. They will be condemned. Likely outside of the United States. They're already mocked in Asia.

I came here from your link in 'the radical idea that people aren't stupid', which I found very interesting. I found myself wondering if you think you're smarter than a man with a list of inventions and discoveries that you typed out before condemning him for your current mainstream morality. Is he stupid? No. He's following his findings to their conclusion. And the scary thing is, he's right. It's not an argument about whether he's right that got him kicked out of political discourse. It's a mainstream shift in morality. Which did not come from academic debate, but from protest, political pressure and legislation, changes in early education and media depiction to assume that all races are equal and 'nature' is the most important predictor of success. A great example is James Watson, who outlined the link between race and iq and was stripped of his titles - https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/01/14/father-dna-says-he-still-believes-link-between-race-intelligence-his-lab-just-stripped-him-his-titles/

Surely you're aware of this story, and I wonder if you've already justified his name being tarnished because of your new "advanced" morality. The implication that mainstream morality supersedes science is what has led to intense pressure in academia to not publish substantiating studies (or to heaving comment on them before publishing, such as with Robert Putnam on Diversity and Social Trust who still received major backlash)

This shift has retarded the logical processes and suppressed the natural conclusions that could prevent many of the terrible things happening today. We see so many names changing on statues already, what's one more scrubbed away?


Friendly note: I really appreciated the piece, and it gave me a good understand of the eccentric personality of a man who would be forgotten if men like you and me weren't here to read him

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> Maybe the ideas that grew into the Immigration Act of 1924, anti-miscegenation laws, “three generations of imbeciles is enough,” and the Holocaust would have a harder time taking hold when subjected to the scrutiny we’re capable of today. I certainly hope so: people are trying to make “hipster eugenics” a thing, and somebody’s gotta stop them.

This seems to conflate different sorts of eugenics which seem, to modern western culture, to have quite different moral values. The historical examples you cite are coercive, involving violence either to remove the people seen as unfit or to, by punishment, deter people from having supposedly unfit children. Our societies have indeed turned decisively against this, so that the only remaining cases I know of in America are bans on incest (which are based on a taboo which is present in all human cultures & likely biologically determined) & immigration restrictions (which once had 'keeping the genetically unfit out' as an important goal but are now supported mainly for quite different political & economic reasons). On the other hand, the sort of voluntary eugenics described in the "hipster eugenics" article is based on the participants choosing to have genetically superior children themselves, & does not involve coercion or violence (unless you take the view that a zygote or early embryo is morally equivalent to a human mature enough to have thoughts & experiences); thus it seems to work toward the positive goal of the early eugenics movement (ensuring that people are more able & less sick) without the harmful means the latter often used & with much less misleading prejudice. Moreover, it is not exactly taboo: the scale of its acceptability can be judged from the fact (from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/12/the-last-children-of-down-syndrome/616928/ ) that, where prenatal screening for a genetic disease like Down syndrome is freely available, a large majority of women chooses to abort embryos that have the disease. Using more advanced prenatal genetic screening to make it more likely that one's children will be healthy & able seems to be different from Down-syndrome selective abortion in degree, not in kind, & I do not see why it should be any more morally problematic.

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One thing you don't consider: having lots of good ideas doesn't mean you don't also have bad ideas. The most obvious example being Newton's obsession with alchemy. Galton's own life (lion whistling, controlling autonomic systems) seems to bear this out – to have a lot of good ideas, it's helpful to just have a lot of ideas.

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For what it's worth, I read Galton's "worthy" as ironic.

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humorous, brilliantly written piece, thank you Adam!

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I wonder to what extent Galton would find assortative mating based on dating apps to fulfil the requirements of a eugenics program?

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If you actually didn't want the government to execute poor people you would have included at least 20 points. Thinly veiled crypto-fascism; I see through you.

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The topic has minefield potential, but you handled the challenge very well! I haven't heard of Galton, and now I know why, thanks to you. It is interesting how we use moral judgment to erase from our memory some, but not others. For example, Johnathan Swift has had a more lenient treatment. He made the observation that eating children is a way to lessen the burden of poverty, but perhaps his Gulliver book was too popular and that saved him from being cancelled (it could also be because everyone agrees that at the time, one hundred years before Galton, children were far from being seen as favourable as today).

Very interesting read.

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