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Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :
The Renewed Fashion for Eugenics
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New Labour ideologues have been developing the notion of defining national identity in terms of a set of supposed core "British values", and imposing these so-called "universal" values on the world, providing the ideological content to the New Labour programme to "make Britain great again". This has been done to serve the aim of the ruling elite of building a "one nation" behind the neo-liberal values upheld and implemented by the Labour Party. It has been used to assert the superiority of the "British way of life" internationally and to criminalise all resistance to and dissent from Britains attempts to impose these values.
Of course, the notion of British values is not something new, but its promotion at this time has the most reactionary content. It reflects in the most backward fashion the rehashing of archaic definitions to serve retrogression and to launch an assault on everything enlightened. The concept of universal British values is at root racist. While British colonialism saw every people as inferior to "the British", the present conception is that there is something inherently special about "the British" in terms of belief and conscience. The so-called core British beliefs are supposed to hold the answer to curing the ills of the world, the problems of the lesser peoples.
Implicit in the notion of "British values" is the definition of being British: to be British means to conform to British values, and indeed "British nationality" is now awarded on the basis of tests and citizenship classes accordingly constructed. This is a misuse of the conception of nationality, besides anything else, deliberately mixing up citizenship and nationality.
The following article, submitted by an academic worker, highlights the peddling of eugenics and related ideas in the media. Such ideas are being pushed in the context of the alleged universality of "British values". What has long been discredited and out-of-date is being developed in a sinister fashion in the context of a crisis of scientific theory.
"Eugenic" pseudo-theories are one part of the assault on everything progressive and of the entrenchment of retrogression, racism and barbarity.
The breeding of "better" human beings is, it seems, firmly back on the list of polite dinner table conversations for the ruling class. Indeed genetics as a whole is once again flourishing as the explanation for all aspects of human nature, and not a day goes by that we are not told of the discovery of a gene which controls one facet or another of peoples being. Recently, two particularly egregious pieces of such nonsense caught the eye, both appearing in the Times. So what, exactly, does the enemy think about genetics?
Exhibit (1) is the Times' dietary agony aunt, giving advice to the obese. Before you see the quotes, I ought to set the context: the people writing in want to lose weight, but are struggling for health reasons. Some are trying diets, others want advice on gastric bypass surgery, others are worried about dairy intake... and the good doctor has decided to answer in terms of animal husbandry. He opens up by explaining how cattle are bred:
Farmers know that some strains of cattle are good converters and for the same amount of food and exercise put on weight at a commendable rate (if you were a Norfolk bullock being fattened up for the Christmas stock sales your tendency to put on weight would win you red rosettes). They also know that try as they will other animals, that are eating them out of house and home, remain depressingly skinny.
and then proceeds to explain how we are, after all, only animals:
The evidence that we are but animals, so far as weight gain is concerned, is confirmed by studying those races, like the peoples of South Asia, who put on weight readily. They have evolved so that they gain excessive weight quickly during times of plenty so that their fat stores will see them through periods of famine.
Ah yes, those "races" of South Asia. It is true that the inhabitants of islands such as Tongo tend to be overweight: 90% of adult Tongoans are classed as such by the WTO. But then, so are over 75% of all male UK or US citizens. Yet the naïve evolutionary argument does not seem to apply to them. Undeterred, and having established the basic principles of the weight of nations, the doctor proceeds to deliver his advice:
I have known patients who have never crossed the Channel, have no overseas blood and have been carefully monitored but even so put on weight when taking between 800 and 1,000 calories a day. I have managed to persuade them to lose weight by accepting that they only need an intake of calories that is so small that it can be a social and cultural embarrassment.
No overseas blood, eh? Instead of recommending a programme of exercise, the doctor has already concluded that these people are fat because of their genes, and therefore only a starvation diet will suffice. A diet which also probably precludes any serious exercise programme, since one could hardly sustain vigorous physical activity on 800 calories a day. The same reasoning is seen when discussing dairy intake with another patient:
If you are born in Britain of a long line of Anglo Saxons it is unlikely, but not impossible, that a sensitivity or intolerance to dairy produce would be either your trouble or the trouble of your friend. Your friends breakfast seems perfectly reasonable but a large number of people deprive themselves of important constituents of a typical, traditional balanced British diet for no good medical reason at all. Some suffer significant deficiencies as a result.
A long line of Anglo Saxons. How long? Is it enough that your parents were "Anglo-Saxons", or do you need to track your roots as untainted by "overseas blood" to before the Norman Conquest in order to qualify? This line of argument is plainly ridiculous. Nobody denies that some people are more likely to put weight on than others, or that one individual may be more sensitive to certain types of food than others, and that this is in part down to the persons genetics. But such genetic factors are, in the majority of cases, dwarfed by the social conditions in which a person lives. The reason that this is not clearer to people is that everyone remembers a friend who cannot lose weight no matter how hard they try, or someone who eats all they want and stays skinny regardless, but they forget all the other people they know whose weight fluctuates regularly, who lose a few pounds when going to the gym but then pile them back on at the Christmas dinner. We remember unusual cases well precisely because they are unusual, but the mistake occurs when we forget about the broad average from which they stood out in the first place. It therefore bears repeating that race is a social construct, a way of dividing human beings into categories based, essentially, either on geographical origin or on skin colour. It happens to be the categorisation most ingrained into our culture for obvious historical reasons, but it has also been shown (by Steven Rose and others) to be useless as a way of predicting an individuals characteristics, because differences within a "race" dwarf differences between "races". Advocating diet regimes based on ones bloodline is both racist and counterproductive, and one wonders how even the Times can justify having a staff writer who makes such recommendations to their readership.
Racism and a fondness for evolutionary explanations to human behaviour (and traits) is of course nothing new, and reaches its logical conclusion in eugenics: the notion that one should attempt to breed a better kind of human. Exhibit (2) is therefore of particular interest, being as it is an unashamed advocacy of eugenics. I suppose we should be thankful that the title, "Whos afraid of a synthetic human?", does not contain the word eugenics. But the argument is crystal clear:
Darwinian evolution has taken millions of years to create human beings; the next phase of evolution, a phase I call "enhancement evolution", could occur before the end of the century. The result may be the emergence of a new species that will initially live alongside us and eventually may entirely replace humankind.
There we have it, black on white: humans are inadequate, time for a replacement. Indeed the whole discussion is absurd; intelligent people need only concern themselves with making our successors as perfect as possible:
Some of these possibilities are so radical that the creatures benefiting from them would no longer be "human", in the way we think of it. The end of humanity then is not in itself a concern; making sure that those who replace us are better than we are is a huge and timely concern.
And then finally, realising that he is going well beyond the pale, the author throws in a nod to social justice:
Contemporary and future biological enhancements may create problems of injustice both in that they provide a means for some to gain an advantage (those who read by candlelight gain in a way that others do not), and because they may create unfair pressures as a result of the capabilities conferred by enhancement (like the pressure to stay up late and read or work because one can).
Oh but, the author assures us, these could be fixed by legislation, to make sure no one is hurt or disadvantaged. Yes, you read it here first: the government which has succeeded so spectacularly in preventing the rich from buying privileges for their children that, in 2007, 15 members of the oppositions front bench went to Eton, this government will make sure superhuman enhancements benefit us all. Is it really so hard to understand the fundamental difference between taking medicines to help us better cope with the human condition and designing our "successor" from scratch? This programme is about creating the übermensch, and it comes from a professor of bioethics, no less! It is high time that humanists, socialists, and progressives in general began making a concerted scientific case against this racist, anti-human nonsense.
What is particularly worrying is that both articles spend hardly any time trying to justify the assumption that it is predominantly genes which cause people to be one way rather than another. Clearly, the authors expect their audience to be quite comfortable with this concept. We must engage with this ever-widening belief that people are in large part a product of their genes, and reassert the overwhelming effect that society and living conditions have on the nature and development of human beings. After all, the advances in the human condition achieved over the past few hundred years have come exclusively from improving the material conditions in which people live. And if such advances were possible while remaining within the fundamental constraints of a capitalist society, imagine what will be possible under socialism! Instead of ending the human race in favour of the übermensch, it is high time to consign capitalism to the pages of history and create a socialist state fit for human beings to live in.
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