Eugenics in History

When discussing the topic of eugenics, many may think of some grandeur image of the perfect human living among the rest of us, like Captain America, whose genes were altered to serve a purpose of bettering the population. The film Gattaca then furthers this idea of a single person with the perfect genes to every person in the population, thus creating a ‘utopia’ in which everyone is fit for a certain job and knows their place living in harmony. In today’s society, eugenics is just a pipedream of the future; it is a science-fictional idea of which we have only scratched the surface with plants and lab rats. However when viewed in a different light, eugenics is a much darker concept than simply “improving the genetic quality of the human population.” (dictionary.com)

Our book, Information Arts, by Wilson, briefly discusses the history of eugenics in the human race. Wilson says that the idea od eugenics “picked up steam” in the Western World in the twentieth century…and found their most extreme expression in the racial purity ideas of the Nazis” (Wilson, 97-98). This discussion sparked my interest because of some research I did in a previous human development course. Our discussion began with the eugenics of plants and animals. Of course, the breeding of flowers like roses is definitely eugenics because the breeder hand picks certain colors and breeds them together to create a whole new flower. Interestingly, there was a study done in Russia called the Fox Domestication Project, in which a Russian scientist used similar methods on silver foxes to create a tamer breed of fox. After picking the tamest foxes and breeding them through several generations, the scientist was able to get the exact behavior and traits he wanted in the fox.

The interesting part is how this correlates to human projects done in the past. As mentioned before, the obvious one is the Nazi regime, in which Hitler tried to make the “perfect Arian race.” A lesser-known project was the United States’ eugenics project, which actually started long before the Nazi Regime and was its main influence. The US opened eugenics clinics to rid the nation of the problem of “unfit” humans. One propaganda poster blatantly said, “Some people are born to be a burden to the rest,” and clinics had competitions to see who had the better baby and families. All of these acts just fueled America’s dislike for the odd-man-out.

Eugenics-Fitter-Families-Contest-Winners-Topeka-Kansas United_States_eugenics_advocacy_poster Unknown

The intersection of eugenics and art is interesting; it can either be beautiful, as in the creation of new flowers and the betterment of animal genes; or it can be sinister, like the erasing of people, families, or an entire races. Art itself is in the eye of the beholder. However, when looking at eugenics in the human population, it seems that the overall effects in the past have been negative. Although creating better genes for a better population may be ideal, erasing genes should not be part of it.

-Sam Ozenbaugh

I’ll present week 4

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One thought on “Eugenics in History

  1. Yes, which begs the question of how ethics and aesthetics are linked. How do we think through or understand the beautiful when it is based on ugly principles or issues that offend our ethical sensibility? Do we have to turn to older ideas in art about illusion or truth, or how might art extend or complexify the visual field?

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