This morning I was googling online coverage of the launch of Eugenics and the Firewall:Canada's Nasty Little Secret. I noticed that very few people commenting on blogs announcing my book want to own their eugenics past. They blame 'others' for it.( If you live in a Western Democracy and much of the rest of the world, there's a good chance one of your great-granddaddies believed in eugenics. And whether you consider yourself left-wing or right-wing, your political legacy includes pro-eugenics advocates.)
The on-line debate I saw between Darwinists and IDers, over whose fault eugenics was, reminded me of the question posed at the Monk Debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair last night in Toronto.
Yes, "Is religion a force for good in the world" sounds a lot like "Who should we blame for eugenics and other human rights abuses: Christians or Athiests?"
Interesting questions, to be sure. But they miss the point: Human beings seem happy to use any excuse - religion, politics, and, dare I say it, even science - to demean and kill one another.
The answer to the question, who was responsible for eugenics disasters (such as Auschwitz, the out of control Eugenics Board in Alberta,Canada, murdering Ukranians in Soviet Russia, or segregating and sterilizing blacks, criminals, and other so-called 'defectives' in the United States)is easy: People were.
The hard, hard truth for us in Alberta, Canada to accept is that it wasnt't the CCF, the communist miners, or the Father of Medicare who brought about our eugenics disaster. It was church-going Farmers, shopkeepers and populists, enamoured with how the U.S, dealt with defectives, who pushed for the Sexual Sterilzation Act brought in by the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) government in 1928.
British Columbia was the only other jurisdiction in the Commonwealth (British Empire) that had a eugenics board. The rest of the Commonwealth rejected forced sterilization of defectives. The Commonwealth countries adopted positive eugenics ideas that were grafted to the older Christian tradition of charity and to the idea of equality of opportunity.)
It was not Adolf Hitler who removed the consent clauses for several classes of citizens in Alberta; it was an elected government led by a Christian radio evangelist. Eugenics was taught in churches. Eugenics corrupted the Calvinist doctrine of the 'Elect'. (I'm sure it's not what Calvin in mind.)
But before the athiests get too smug, they should remember that Sir Francis Galton, half cousin of Charles Darwin, is considered the founder of Eugenics. Both Galton and Darwin used the work of Thomas Malthus, a classical economist (remember trickle down theory?)who feared the poor breeding more than he feared hell's fire (Malthus was a clergyman)to create their theories.
Classical economists portrayed money markets, human greed and selfishness (self-interest) as noble natural forces that humanity shouldn't interfere with. Anything that comes of out neo-liberalism: from Marxism to Free Market economics is based on these dubious ideas.
Eugenics was particularly popular with the middle and upper class in the Commonwealth, The U.S. and Northern Europe. On both sides of the Atlantic, the middle and upper classes feared they were being overrun by poor people and foreigners. They saw only two choices: turn poor people into middle class people (positive eugenics) or stop them from breeding or even breathing (negative eugenics).
Eugenics was an an idea that resonated so much with middle class fears of crime, insanity, and moral degradation that it got grafted into Christianity (where it nearly destroyed older notions of charity, grace and redemption). It spread throughout society as far as the Communists (many of whom thought children should be owned by the state). Eugenics is one of the worst examples of 'group-think' in modern history.
Whether people are capitalists, socialists, Christians, athiests, democrats or autocrats, they will use whatever they regard as 'right' to justify their most evil acts. That's the second scariest bit of the whole saga.
The scariest bit? We don't appear to have learned anything. Instead we revert to blaming the 'other guy' or the the other guy's belief system for evil.