Sunday, October 7, 2007

Eugenics, Economics, and My Kid?

Perhaps this isn't a post a lot of you will read but it is interesting if you do...if you don't want to read it all you can just skip to the summary at the bottom.

Just a few weeks ago I was driving while listening to NPR and this guy was speaking with a young lady who had been subjected to a eugenics committee not too long ago (late 50's early 60's). This came as a shock to me for a lot of reasons. First, I didn't know people, both men and women, were sterilized because they were determined to be "feeble minded" by a panel from the dept. of health. Second, the interview to determine if someone was "feeble minded" lasted only about 30 minutes. The Winston -Salem journal published a series on the history of sterilization and the NC eugenics program called "Against There Will" on

I realize that this may seem fairly otiose but this issue came up again this week while I was reading a magazine called First Things. In First Things there was an opinion piece written by Philip Jenkins in response to a book Gregory Clark wrote.

When attempting to explain the explosion of "self-sustaining economic growth" in England around 1800, Clark suggests that biology or eugenics more specifically was responsible for helping move past this theoretical event called the Malthusian trap. -- The Malthusian trap says that population density will always return to a subsistence-level because explosive population growth will strip agricultural development.

His theory is boiled down to this: Over the previous thousand years richer people in England had tended to have far more children than the poor because they could afford to do so, therefore, their genes dominated the population. This "elite stock" proliferated and the result was that this group of people, around 1800, developed cultural patterns that favored enterprise, thrift, and the peaceful resolution of conflict. Essentially, because the rich populated the land they were inherently smarter and had a better chance of succeeding.

Is this pattern crazy to any one else? The idea that we have the ability control the advancement of society by either not allowing more "feeble minded" people to procreate or by attempting to proliferate more "elite" genes is absurd. These two events, the radio and the article, are not the first times I have even seen this theory. A recent economic thriller, Freakonimics, implies this very same theory in the last chapter entitled "The socioeconomic patterns of naming children". Here the authors outline the socioeconomic and cultural implications of naming children. Apparently if I name my daughter Jasmine she is less likely to go to college than if I name her Jennifer!?

This is absolutely crazy! Thomas Paine made a pithy statement full of sarcasm when he wrote Common Sense. He said "male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of Heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth inquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind." Sometimes it appears as though society as a whole is a lot like Oedipus and we're living on the edge of an argument about right-of-way. Thank God we haven't killed Laius, yet...

I suppose ultimately I have two points:

First - The eugenics committee stuff seems pretty terrible but I realized that every individual has performed some action they are ashamed of. Every person has at some point be rude or disrespectful. Everybody has failed to meet expectations at some point. In a world where absolute truth has been relegated to second class by the postmodernist movement we need something that unifies us so that we do not boast in our own ability at the expense of others]. What unites us and what should keep us humble is the fact that we have all failed at some point. In absolute terms we are no more successful or valuable than anyone else because the standard by which we will be judged is not our own but Gods. Romans 3:23 rings very true today when Paul writes that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Sin is not the failure to adhere the a list of commandments or laws, it is much more encompassing than that, it is any time we fall short of God's standard of perfection and holiness.

Second - I thank God for Galatians 3:28 - "there is neither Greek nor Jew, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ." This verse is important for 2 reasons. First, our failures are not seen by God when you have faith in Christ. This means there is freedom not to live your life in total rebellion against God but freedom to live FOR God with out feeling that He is disappointed in you or that you are not worthy of His love because you are not condemned by Him. Second, because there is neither Greek nor Jew, no one should be elevated or demoted below another because of who their parents are. I don't doubt the ability of the lower class to raise children, contribute to society, or change the world. You shouldn't either.

I wrote this post mostly because I have been thinking about the fact that my child could change the World. Who knows? He or she may take the Gospel to the ends of the earth or be the Secretary General of the UN...

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