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May 29, 2005

Comments

Jason Malloy

Woah, woah. Cyril Darlington was never on the "extreme right". Among the scientific intelligentsia, Cyril Darlington was one of the few true anti-extremists of his generation and probably to this day. Almost all the intellectuals of his generation were sympathetic to totalitarianism except for him. Even when it came to human heredity he was more of a Centrist than his contemporaries. For instance he wasn't thrilled about eugenics even before the Nazis, when most of his contemporaries were jumping on the bandwagon. And while they all bounced to the opposite extreme in the Hitler and post-Hitler years, he remained motionless at the center. He was virtually alone in his critique of the Soviet regime and its Lysenkoist orthodoxy (along with George Orwell), while everyone else either apologized for both the Communists and Lysenko (Haldane) or tried to critique Lysenkoism in a way that wouldn't offend the Soviets allies and/or hurt the "progressive" Soviet cause. But Darlington *also* never faultered in his crtiticism of the Nazis. Later there is no indication that he supported e.g. segregation/Apartheid and seemed more typical of other intellectuals. Certainly he believed in racial differences, but, of course, I consider him rational for that. His views of race weren't at all just a simplistic whites = superior, non-whites = inferior formula, and his books are full of the idea that race-mixing was an important ingredient to civilizational invigoration. That Ernst Mayr was sympathetic to Darlington doesn't in any way, in my opinion, show that Mayr was a racist in the illiberal sense. His views on race differences are completely identical to those of every other figure of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis.

And as for Nazis I'll say this. Ernst Mayr was always a critic of racism and Nazism, he's on record speaking out against the Nazis during the 30's and 40's. Meanwhile I can find you plenty of statements from e.g. Richard Lewontin praising Mao into the *80s*. Those are the true people that should be, and haven't at all been, held accountable for their (non-closeted, non-"what if" scenario) love of authoritarianism.

I think Mayr deserves more than this.

Abiola Lapite

I base my judgements of Cyril Darlington on what I read in the TNR article: as I said in the post, it wasn't out of any great interest in Darlington himself that I bothered to write it.

"Meanwhile I can find you plenty of statements from e.g. Richard Lewontin praising Mao into the *80s*. Those are the true people that should be, and haven't at all been, held accountable for their (non-closeted, non-"what if" scenario) love of authoritarianism."

That Lewontin supported a vile ideology isn't news; that Ernst Mayr, who is still almost universally admired amongst biologists, believed in the use of state power to prevent the "wrong" people from breeding, *is* news.

"I think Mayr deserves more than this."

Going by his very own words in his letter to Francis Crick, I think not. The ideas he's in favor of are utterly monstrous. "Marriage licenses" and the like are right out of the Nazi playbook.

Jason Malloy

I diasgree that eugenics is inherently nazi anymore than socialism is inherently communist. David Lykken has published several articles in the American Psychologist discussing parental licensure and while I admit I find it sort of viscerally distasteful, I also have to admit that I'm not so sure that it should be outside the bounds of a debate, or that we need to invoke the gas chambers. Free market eugenics, I think, is the idea with the least potential for state abuse and should be the one we really invest our resources into. I agree with Mayr that if you polled biologists you would probably find a, perhaps shocking, amount of sympathy to the idea of some sort of eugenic policies. A purely anecdotal piece of evidence: I found about 20 journal reviews of Richard Lynn's Dysgenics and almost all of them were positive. Check out William Hamilton's review (it was his last published writing, so the Annals of Human Genetics put it online free*) he sounds almost identical to Mayr:

"In a sense a dominance hierarchy has only one satisfied individual she or he at the top. If the hierarchy is bottom-numerous rather than linear, as is the case with most human hierarchies, it is all the more true that the vast majority of people are dissatisfied, wishing they were higher up, a thought which provides a basic reason why democracies (and especially, within democracies, such institutions as their state school systems) have to be unstable. We see a wobbly pyramid, and particularly within that pyramid we see certain side stairs all human examples have by which demagogues skip up a level or two so as to shout down to the restless base that the whole structure is somehow 'wrong'. Under a different system, the demagogue shouts, 'You could be higher too'."

By the way, like Lewontin, it's not really news, Mayr didn't really have any secret ideas "hidden" in letters (at least that I've seen yet). Kelves is full of it about being "closeted, Mayr's ideas about eugenics were always available in his public writing. This is from my addition of Animal Species and Evolution (1963):

"[if dysgenesis is indeed occuring] . . . it would then be our duty to propose counter-measures. Many such measures have indeed been proposed. Unhappily, most of them are unpalatable to liberal-minded, freedom-loving modern man. Worse than that, many of them are merely negative eugenics and will not materially contribute toward the desired end. However, the situation is not entirely hopeless (p. 661)

This is somewhat disingenuous, in that he says some scientists believe disgenesis is happening (when he was one them), but come on, how "closeted" does this sound to you?


*doi:10.1046/j.1469-1809.2000.6440363.x

Abiola Lapite

"I diasgree that eugenics is inherently nazi anymore than socialism is inherently communist."

In other words, both are pretty damn repugnant doctrines which are ideologically attractive to people who subscribe to even more repulsive forms of statism. You're mistaken if you think comparing eugenics to socialism flatters either of the two in my eyes.

"I also have to admit that I'm not so sure that it should be outside the bounds of a debate, or that we need to invoke the gas chambers."

I disagree. One has every right to invoke the gas chambers in discussing eugenics, just as one has every right to invoke the gulag and mass famine in discussing socialism. In fact, I'll go further and say it would be cowardly and irresponsible not to do so: neither Karl Marx nor Francis Galton foresaw the worst consequences of their ideas, but they helped give birth to the greatest abuses of human history. It would be foolish to pretend that only the more "benign" consequences could possibly follow from holding a position, just because those who hold it at a particular instant would never carry it to the limit themselves.

"Free market eugenics, I think, is the idea with the least potential for state abuse and should be the one we really invest our resources into."

If by this you mean people freely choosing to seek out paid assistance in making their reproductive choices, without government let or hindrance, then I'm not going to argue. It's their kids, and they're the ones who'll have to live with the consequences.

"By the way, like Lewontin, it's not really news, Mayr didn't really have any secret ideas "hidden" in letters (at least that I've seen yet)."

It definitely came as news to me, at any rate, as nothing I'd read by Mayr before hinted at his holding such beliefs.

Jim

This is just one more example of a basic problem with any kind of utopianism. It shouldn't thatmuch of a surpirse. Eugenics was utopian. Utopianisms all tend towards really monstrous abuses, because they are based on a naive hubris that imagines we can design a better reality than we have, and that we have the means tomake it happen. Utopianisms are all dirigiste and absolutist, starting with Cromwel, proceeding into Manifest Destiny and gaining speed with the whole socialist religion, national socialist or any other kind of socialist. I don't mean this as a Luddite rant against any and all progress, just as a reminder that we should keep a healthy scepticism towards our own powers of judgement and abilities.

"I disagree. One has every right to invoke the gas chambers in discussing eugenics, just as one has every right to invoke the gulag and mass famine in discussing socialism. In fact, I'll go further and say it would be cowardly and irresponsible not to do so: "

Abiola is dead on with this - in the US there were programs of forced sterilization for what at the time were considered good reasons in many states. This is exactly the same kind of disregard for human dignity as drove the gas chambers. The difference is a matter of degree rather than of kind.

"If by this you mean people freely choosing to seek out paid assistance in making their reproductive choices, without government let or hindrance, then I'm not going to argue. It's their kids, and they're the ones who'll have to live with the consequences."

Here I will argue. Children are not the property of their parents, and parents may not dispose of them as they will.

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