Eugenics refers to a variety of beliefs and practices seeking to improve the genetic quality of a human population.
Heavily criticized, its advocacy is typically based on junk science that overstates the role of hereditary traits in personal development and overlooks environmental and social factors, frequently to excuse classism and scientific racism.
Many precursors to the modern transhumanist movement come from eugenics, including the origin of the word "transhumanism" itself. A common criticism of transhumanism is the observation that many advocated positions, whether directed by authorities or by the combined effect of prejudice on individual choices, may constitute de facto eugenics.
Techniques can typically be divided into positive eugenics, which encourage reproduction among those with desirable traits, and negative eugenics, which discourage those deemed "unfit" or undesirable.
Liberal and New Eugenics
Liberal eugenics, coined by Nicholas Agar, attempts to address the issues of eugenic coercion, arguing from a position based on individual procreative freedom and parental choice, with state intervention only to prohibit choices deemed injurious to the child.
History and Implementations
Very early philosophical precursors may be found in Plato's Republic c. 400 BCE, suggesting applying selective breeding practices. Early Roman law mandated the infanticide of deformed children.
Development in the United Kingdom
Spread to North America and popular adoption
The Jukes family
The "Kallikak" family
In 1912, the movement was further advanced by the publication of The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness by Henry H. Goddard and its subsequent popularity. The book portrays a falsified history of a family divided into "good" and "bad" branches to demonstrate the heredity of "feeble-mindedness."
In truth, the families were unrelated, and many of the portrayed deficiencies of the "bad" branch of the family were fabricated or heavily embellished, while non-hereditary factors such as nutrional deficiencies and fetal alcohol syndrome were ignored.
Sterilization of Afro-Germans
Chinese one-child policy
Between 1997 and 2010, coercive sterilization was carried out on at least 148 female inmates in California prisons deemed to be at risk of reincarceration.
- California's Prison Sterilizations Reportedly Echo Eugenics Era, Bill Chappel, NPR, July 09, 2013.