Monday, November 16, 2009

From Bassets to Auschwitz in 50 Years

There is nothing quite as amusing as the Kennel Club saying it has had nothing to do with Eugenics.


Let us look at their own history.

The year is 1897, some 14 years after Sir Francis Galton first coined the term "Eugenics," and just 11 years before Galton founded the British Eugenics Society in 1907.

What's going on at the Kennel Club?

Well, for starters they are firmly closing the registry for all dogs except new breeds just being enrolled for the first time.

In the 1905 publication The Kennel Club: Its History and Record of Its Work, Edward William Jaquet, secretary of the Kennel Club writes about the 1897 debate over what to do about the declining health of Scottish Deerhounds.

And so there it is: The question of health versus purity is raised, and put front and center.

And what is the Kennel Club's answer? Simple: Quash all questions of health in favor of maintaining breed "purity."

And what about health? The Kennel Club had a solution for that: euthanasia of the unfit, and sterilization of all but the most exemplary as decided by appearance alone.

It is important to understand that the Kennel Club's decision to close its registry did not occur in isolation. The core ideas underpinning the eugenics movement were already more than 30 years old, and these values, in turn, had been shaped and reinforced by those who pointed to the "progress" being made by the "scientific" breeding of dogs, pigeons, and livestock for the show ring. One idea fed off another, and rationalized and excused the other.

A time line shows the progress:

  • Plato was the first to propose state-sponsored eugencis, suggesting that in his ideal Republic "The best men must have intercourse with the best women as frequently as possible, and the opposite is true of the very inferior." In Plato's scheme, the fittest and best would be determined by a points systems.
  • In the late 1770s, Robert Bakewell began to rapidly improve farm stock through sire selection and control, a feat made possible by the rise of the Enclosure System. Bakewell's fame and fortune spread rapidly and soon countless farmers had embraced his animal husbandry techniques
  • Stock shows grew up out of a desire of farmers to show off and sell their new and improved "scientifically bred" animals. At some of these early stock shows, dogs were also featured, but more as an afterthought than anything else.
  • It was at the new farm stock shows that Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin's father, first began to get an inkling of the power of the selection process -- an idea he expounded on in a book entitled Zoonomia.
  • Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, noting that while un-natural selection worked very quickly to improve farm stock, natural selection did much the same thing in the wild, albeit more slowly.
  • The same year that The Origin of Species was published, the first formal dog show was held. John Henry Walsh (aka "Stonehenge") was a judge.
  • In 1865, the first modern work on eugenics was written by Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's cousin. In a long essay entitled "Hereditary Talent and Character," Galton said human intelligence was a product of breeding, and suggested that through selective breeding humans could be bred to be be more (or less) intelligent. Galton specifically noted that dogs seemed to have been bred for stupidity and obsequiousness, as man wanted a "slave."
  • In his 1869 book Hereditary Genius, Galton expanded on his earlier essay, noting:  "I propose to show in this book that a man's natural abilities are derived by inheritance, under exactly the same limitations as are the form and physical features of the whole organic world. Consequently, as it is easy, notwithstanding those limitations, to obtain by careful selection a permanent breed of dogs or horses gifted with peculiar powers of running, or of doing anything else, so it would be quite practicable to produce a highly-gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations."
  • In 1867, John Henry Walsh (aka Stonehenge) and his friends adopted Plato's "point sytem" for grading breeding stock, and used it for grading dogs at shows. When the The Kennel Club was created in 1873, it adopted this points system as its own.
  • In 1880, the Kennel Club put into place the first formal rules governing the naming of dogs so as to avoid double registrations and confusion. This was the start of the Kennel Club's registry system.
  • In 1897, the Kennel Club formally closed its registry, disallowing cross breeds and outcrosses to other breeds.
  • That same year Francis Galton began using Kennel Club breed records to support his genetic theories, noting in his Memoir (chapter XX): "I had thought of experimenting with mice, as cheap to rear and very prolific,and had taken some steps to that end, when I became aware of the large collections of Basset Hounds belonging to the late Sir Everard Millais. He offered me every facility. The Basset Hound records referring to his own and other breeds had been carefully kept, and the Stud Book he lent me contained accounts of nearly 1,000 animals, of which I was able to utilise 817. All were descended from parents of known colours; in 567 of them the colours of all four grandparents were also known. Wherever the printed Stud Book was deficient, Sir Everard Millals supplied the want in MS from the original records. My inquiry was into the heredity of two alternative colours, one containing no black, the other containing it; their technical names were lemon-white and tri-colour (black, lemon, white) respectively. I was assured that no difficulty was felt in determining the category to which each individual belonged. These data were fully discussed in a memoir, published (1897) in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, on what is now termed the "Ancestral Law," namely, that the average contribution of each parent is ¼, of each grandparent, and so on. Or, in other words, that of the two parents taken together is ½, of the four grandparents together ¼, and so on. My data were not as numerous as is desirable, still the results were closely congruous, and seem to be a near approximation to the truth. The conclusions have been much discussed and criticised, and they have been modified by Professor Karl Pearson; but they have not been seriously shaken, so far as I know."

Of course, as new dog breeds came into the fold
, individual dog registries were not always closed on Day One. That said, as a general rule they do not seem to have stayed open for very long, with the Kennel Club door generally being slammed shut within a year or two, and often with just two or three dozen dogs listed on the roles.

In 1907, Galton created the Eugenics Education Society and that same year Indiana passed a State Sterilization Law.

That same year the Germans created their own Eugenics Society, the "Internationale Gessellschaft fuer Rassenhygiene."

To give a little flavor to the intellectual debate taking place at this time, it's worth reading this little piece from the September 1914 issue of Atlantic magazine entitled "Eugenics and Common Sense":

There seems no objection to Eugenicists classing themselves with cabbages and dogs and cats, but does the rest of the world accept this for itself? Are you content to be described and treated as a beast, and a beast only? Each reader will answer that for himself no doubt, and I need not elaborate the point. It is the cheerful and veracious foundation of Eugenics.

Let us continue. The Eugenist takes man purely as a plant or as an animal; he wants to breed him just as animals are bred, so let us consider how plants and animals are bred and what the result has been. He says: 'Surely the human product is superior to poultry,'—the very foundation of his whole argument is that it is not; however, let us go on,—'and as we may now predict with precision the characters of the offspring of a particular pair of pedigreed poultry so it may be some time with man.'

Still, let us go on. Let us assume with the Eugenists that we really are no different from cabbages and roses, or horses and dogs,—that every rule which applies to them applies to us, and let us see what the scientific breeding of plants and animals has effected. What has been the result?

Well, the result has been astonishing. The simple little wild Persian rose, for instance, has been improved into the gorgeous blooms of our gardens: the small, rather sour apple has become the Albemarle Pippin; the wild dog has become the great Dane, the mastiff, the bull-dog, the pug; and the barb mixed with the Frisian horse has become the thoroughbred. In size, in beauty, in variety, in qualities useful to mankind, plants and animals have been improved out of recognition.

That is quite true. But what of the other qualities? What, for instance, of health and intelligence? Have these also increased pari passu with the increase in size? Go to a nursery gardener, to a racing stable, to a dog-fancier, and inquire. You will learn this: the extraordinary improvement In size and shape has been gained at the cost of all other qualities. Thoroughbred plants and animals are very tender, they require most assiduous attention, they have to be nursed like babies. They have no stamina, and they have no brains. They are so delicate that unless they are continually protected and doctored they are devoured by disease. A rose-grower's outfit now includes innumerable medicines without which his blooms would be destroyed. If you abandon a garden of any cultivated flowers for a few years, the vigorous and hardy wild plants will choke all your improved stock; nothing will be left save perhaps a few lucky plants which have managed to evolve as it were backwards and regain some of their virility by abandoning their acquired splendor. In free competition the improved plant does not stand the ghost of a chance with its unimproved brothers. The struggle ends inevitably and tragically.

It is exactly the same with improved birds and animals. In open competition for a livelihood thoroughbred stock would be doomed. It has no constitution, it cannot get a living for itself, cannot bear exposure, must be cared for like an invalid. Read for instance the history of the cavalry and mounted infantry horses in the Boer War. The fine-bred stock from England was useless. It died in heaps. It was only horses from places where they are brought up semi-wild, as in the Argentine and Australian runs, that were of any use. Even they did not compare with the Boer ponies.

A further fact, and one still more important to remark, is that all tame is incomparably inferior in intellect to wild stock. There is so little opportunity for people of civilized nations nowadays to observe wild animals that this fact is often overlooked. But the difference is startling. Look at a pack of wild dogs, as I often have. They hunt with a science and precision that tame fox-hounds have no idea of, even when directed by huntsmen and whips. A pack of wild dogs will mark down a stag—they always select stags with big heads if possible—in a piece of forest surrounded by grass. They will post sentries at the exits and the rest of the pack will go to the end and beat the jungle through. When the stag breaks, the sentries at the exit give tongue and warn the rest who immediately run to their call.

There is no one who like myself has kept both wild and domesticated animals as pets who has not noticed that the latter are fools to the former. It is a commonplace of knowledge. Here is a story in illustration, from the life of the elder Dumas.

He had a dog and a fox both chained up near the house. One day he gave a bone to each, putting it just out of reach, to see what would happen. Well, at first, both acted in the same way, they strained at the chain. The fox, however, soon found out the uselessness of this and sat down to consider. Then he got up, turned round so as to add the length of his body to that of the chain, reached the bone with his hind leg, and having scraped it within reach, sat down to eat it. But the dog not only could not think of this himself, but even when he saw the fox do it, he could not imitate it.

The more scientifically bred animals are, the less brain they have. If you want a dog who will be an intelligent and sympathetic companion, which do you choose, the dog bred by 'science' or the dog bred by the natural selection of mutual love, the thoroughbred or the mongrel? All experience says the latter. Therefore, suppose the Eugenists had their way and established a state, what would the inhabitants of that state be like in a few generations? They would be tall, broad, muscular, beautiful, delicate to a degree, useless save for athletic contests or beauty shows, always in the doctor's hands—Eugenic doctor of course,—brainless, incapable of affection, almost wanting in courage, to a great extent sterile; and in the end, if the state did not die of inanition first, some more virile and intelligent race, say the Hottentots or Andamese, would come and eat its inhabitants. The Eugenic Utopia would end in the digestive apparatus of a savage. Sic transit gloria Eugeniae. Nothing could be more certain than that.

And where did it go from here? Well, not to common sense!

Galton died in 1911, but his ideas did not die with him.

The American Eugenics Society was formally started in 1923, and veterinarian and celebrated dog man Leon F. Whitney was put in as its secretary.

As I have noted in a previous post entitled "The Eugenics Man and the Kennel Club", Whitney was a very prolific author of popular dog books, many of which are still available and in print to this day.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Leon Whitney was also a famous popularizer of eugenics thought.

In Whitney's mind -- and in the minds of many of this contemporaries -- eugenics thought and dog breeding were very compatible ideas and comparable pastimes.

In fact, they were self-reinforcing to the point that Whitney and others in the American eugenics movement decided to create a "dog show for people" which they called
"Fitter Family" contests.

In these contests, which were held at State Fairs all across the U.S., four generations of families would be paraded out and put into competition with each other to win a prize.


"Fitter Family" contest winners in Topeka, Kansas.

In 1931, Leon F. Whitney began writing
The Case for Sterilization a book designed to encourage the passage of more state-based sterilization laws in the U.S. and around the world.

The Case for Sterilization was finally published in 1934 and noted, with some approval, that Adloph Hitler had already sterilized one percent of the population of Germany. Whitney saw this as a good start.

In his own book, Whitney advocated the sterlization of 10 million Americans!

One of Hitler's staff wrote Whitney, asking him for an autographed copy of his new book so that the Fuhrer himself might read it.

Whitney, of course, complied immediately, and shortly thereafter he received back a personal letter of thanks from Hitler who, records show, was fascinated by the American and British eugenics movements to the point that in 1935 he modeled some of his own Lebensborn program after their ideas.

In 1935 Alexis Carrell, the French scientist who had won the 1912 Nobel Prize for medicine, published a best-selling book entitled L'Homme, Cet Inconnu (Man, The Unknown) which took Whitney's ideas one step further, advocating a forced eugenics system to be controlled by the state, and facilitated by gas chambers.

"A euthanasia establishment, equipped with a suitable gas, would allow the humanitarian and economic disposal of those who have killed, committed armed robbery, kidnapped children, robbed the poor or seriously betrayed public confidence.... Would the same system not be appropriate for lunatics who have committed criminal acts?"

In the 1936 edition of the same book, Carrel praised the Third Reich's eugenics policies, and noted that more could be achieved if they used gas chambers. Later, when questioned by a magazine interviewer about his theories, Carrel explained in a rather matter-of-fact way:

"Perhaps it would be effective to kill off the worst and keep the best, as we do in the breeding of dogs."

And so there it is -- from Bassets to Auschwitz in 50 years.

Did the Kennel Club invade the Sudetenland? No, of course not.

But did the Kennel Club walk arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder with the eugenics movement right from the beginning? Absolutely. One could not have happened without the other. They are as intertwined as the grape vine and the trellis.

And, of course, the Kennel Club still warmly embraces eugenics theories based on a closed registry system that elevates to prime importance such useless attributes as coat and nose color, while kicking to the curb such vital issues as health and working ability.

Of course, even as the Kennel Club holds tight to "racial purity" breeding, the farm world has moved forward, discovering the benefits of hybridization and outcrosses.

Today, most beef cattle, dairy cattle, chickens, corn, and soy are hybrid animals and plants.

Only in the show ring, where there is no true axis of production, is racial purity still valued.


Dave said...

Eugenics is a seductive but dangerous concept. Your blog clarifies the dangers.

Heather Houlahan said...

I think there's a danger of conflating ordinary selection with eugenics ideology.

The former is generally based on empirical observation, and can be very "scientific" in its application, whether the person doing the selecting is Gregor Mendel or an illiterate Burmese buffalo herder. One of the first things that an empiricist breeder learns -- if she's any good -- is that when one selects for one quality, other desirable traits may drop by the wayside.

Still, few people who eat will argue that maize is not an improvement over teosinte for human purposes. It's not always necessary to put that word into scare quotes.

And of course, observations aren't always accurate or significant, leading to superstitious beliefs that equate one-time correlation with causation. (No, dogs with black pigment in their mouths are not "better dogs" than those without. For that matter, black-haired cattle don't taste better than red ones.) This is a general human frailty.

Eugenics, in contrast, marries some empiricism with ideology -- and the ideology that comprises unscientific values such as "purity" always wins over the empirical. Platonism does not negotiate with reality.

And I can think of no area of modern life where unconscious Platonism holds court so absolutely than in the "breed standards" of fancy animals, which admit that they describe a "perfect" specimen that has never existed. The Form of the Poodle, as it were. (I say unconscious because 99% of dog fanciers couldn't name the author of The Republic if Glaucon bit 'em in the ass.)

Contrast with empirical biology, living in the messy world of nature, where species are traditionally described starting with a "type specimen" that -- if they have enough data -- lies near the middle of the range of observed variation. Very Aristotelian.

PBurns said...

Selection is what makes the world go around, as Charles Darwin so famously pointed out.

And as Robert Bakewell pointed out, if you are breeding animals carefully and evaluating them on some kind of axis of production (meat, eggs, milk, speed, work), you can improve on natural selection with UN-natural selection, and do so pretty quickly (though perhaps not forever).

The problem comes when you have no idea what you are evaluating for, and/or when it is entirely subjective and/or meaningless. We call that stupidity and evil in the modern world, but it has many names, including racism, sexism, hate, and prejudice.

The first dog show was sponsored by a gun maker, and the dogs were bird dogs, but already the format was flawed. You cannot evaluate a bird dog in a ring; you evaluate it in a field with birds in the grass. So, to put a point on it, the entire premise of dogs shows was flawed from the beginning. They have never been anything more than beauty shows evaluating breeding stock on the WRONG axis of production and to the detriment of the animals themselves.

In the American Kennel Club you CANNOT require a breed to have a health check before registration. What matters is not health or performance, but breed purity alone. And when it comes to breed purity, the Kennel Club is still wrapped around that even "one drop" of foreign blood is compelte contamination. I think even the Grand Dragon of the KKK might blush at that notion!


Retrieverman said...

I'm not one of those people who thinks that dogs are stupid compared to the wild species.

And every time I read some account of it, I just cringe. Most of these accounts come from people who were either eugenicists or in some way influence by romantic notions of natural selection. You can find this in both Herbert Spencer and the ideas inherent in Nazi "science." In both of these ideas, there is an assumption that nature makes things fitter and smarter while civilization makes things more decadent, lazy, and stupid.

It is poppycock. Both of these put selective pressures on organisms. And the results are quite different, but to say that one is better than the other, well, I'd have to be Nazi or a Spencerian to believe it.

What is more likely is that the dog grew up chained. Its brain was never stimulated as a pup. The fox grew up running around, and its brain did get stimulated as it grew.

My own dog is an expert at doing these sorts of behaviors in which she uses her paws to manipulate objects that have gone beyond her reach. She (and all of my goldens) have figured out how to open certain dogs (which dogs are supposedly incapable of doing but wolves are).

Dogs may have smaller brains than wolves, but it seems that those brains are smaller but I think it's a big stretch to say that wolves are smarter than dogs.

Dogs are doing things that wolves never could do, even with their bigger brains. (And coyotes have bigger brains in proportion to their body sizes than either dogs or wolves.)

The dog has cognitive abilities that wolves simply do not have. Their smaller brains have a "program" that allows them to learn very easily from our species.

There was an American study recently that claimed to have destroyed the original study that showed that wolves don't have these abilities. It said that original study didn't use imprinted wolf pups, which is nonsense. The one in Hungary used wolf pups that were raised as dogs. They didn't have these abilities. Perhaps the reason why the US study had different results is that many, many populations of captive wolves are actually hybrids or are descended from wolves that have been bred in captivity for more generations.

I've never bought into this dogs are degenerate wolves nonsense that gets bandied about. Wolves have to deal with the rigors of the natural world. Dogs have to deal with something far worse. They have to live with mercurial, naked apes with God complexes.

If you don't think that requires a certain kind of intelligence, then I don't know what does.

PBurns said...

The term "smart" is so vague and amorphous as to be nearly impossible to define. Only an idiot thinks an IQ test measures human intelligence. What it mostly measures is memory and language. The idea of intelligence is that there is one kind (not true) and that it's measurable on a gradient. If we cannot measure IQ very well for humans, and cannot do it at all for dogs, doing it across species would be even harder. As you note, Retrieverman, so much of what we call intelligence is really experience, and dogs (smaller brains or not) get a lot of that, even if it is not the same deep woods experience a wolf might get.

If you study the mythology around foxes, you will see they are credited with being very cunning. In fact, they are merely very wary, which we credit as intelligence. Is it the same thing? I don't think so!