Thursday, February 12, 2009

Charles Galton Darwin

Charles Galton Darwin

In the past, I have written quite a bit about how the Enclosure Movement led to the work of Robert Bakewell, and how Bakewell's work led to the postulates of Erasmus Darwin, which, in turn led to Charles Darwin's work in The Origin of Species. A quick pictorial history can be found here for those who are already confused.

Charles Darwin's work, of course, led to the work of eugenicist Sir Francis Galton, which served as the intellectual basis of the U.K. Kennel Club, which led to the creation of the American Kennel Club. A general history can be read here.

Among the earliest and most influential members of the American Kennel Club was Leon F. Whitney, who was not only a veterinarian and popular writer of many dog books, but who was also the head of the American Eugenics Society, a some-time correspondent with Adolph Hitler, and the author of a book advocating the sterilization of 10 million Americans.

I bring this up, not only because it is Darwin's 200th Birthday, but because on the way out hunting on Sunday, National Public Radio played a 1953 interview of Charles Galton Darwin.

Charles Galton Darwin was Charles Darwin's grandson, and in the 1953 interview for Edward R. Murrow's "This I Believe" radio show, he said he thought the future of humanity still depended on embracing eugenics. You can hear the interview here, but a section is quoted below:

I have always had a lively interest in biological subjects too, and these have much affected what I believe. Among such subjects one is the question of human nature, and this has colored my view of what will happen to mankind in the future. I believe that a great deal of what is now being attempted for our betterment is doomed to fail, and so I don't share the particular enthusiasms of many of the would-be benefactors of humanity....

... The main hope of bringing about any real betterment in mankind ... must be based on applying the idea of heredity, a science that is already understood in its principles, though hardly yet in many of its applications. Holding this, I believe intensely in the importance of the family as the continuing unit of human life. When the science of eugenics has been more fully developed, there may be a hope on those lines of really bettering humanity.

What, exactly, is Charles Galton Darwin saying ?


He is parroting an old intellectual line which flows, unbroken, from the Reverend Thomas Malthus (through Darwin) to Galton: That there is no use in helping the poor, as they are too stupid to learn. We might as well be teaching pigs to sing. No, the way forward is clear: Encourage more babies from better families (i.e. the rich and successful), and encourage willful neglect of the poor so that "nature" might be allowed to take its course. The only way we can help to speed up any improvement in the human race is by putting in our oar and affirmatively speeding up the process. Natural selection is too slow; eugenics (selection at the hand of man) is the hyperdrive we need to embrace in order to move more quickly towards a better future.

For those interested in reading more, see The Roots of the Most Important Debate which deals with what Malthus really said about population, what the Marquis de Condorcet postulated about progress and the future, and how all of this still has relevance in the world today.

Relevance? How is any of this relevant to DOGS -- the major topic of this blog?

Simple: Condorcet said the world could learn, and that we did not have to keep repeating the mistakes of the past. In the future, information would be shared across time and space, and people would be able to free themselves and organize themselves for real progress.

O.K. But how is that little idea connected to dogs?

Very clearly.

But more about that tomorrow!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Wedgwood-Darwin clan has a lot of interesting members. It's somewhat amazing how many important people are in that family.

They all descend from Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood. Josiah Wedgwood industrialized pottery production, and Erasmus Darwin was very interesting philosopher, poet, and inventor. Both were members of the Lunar Society, which was an important grouping of intellectuals and industrialists back in those old days of the early Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment.