Saturday, August 27, 2005

O, Pioneers!

Atrios linked a couple of days ago to a BBC article on the latest findings from the eugenicist Richard Lynn. Disturbingly, the article failed to mention Lynn's connections to the Pioneer Fund - and related groups - whose intent is the mainstreaming of scientific racism.

This is a topic I'm always happy to explore in detail. One of the most common defenses of the Pioneer Fund is that its "early" eugenicist notions were perfectly respectable in the context of their times. It was only later - the defenders paradoxically argue - that the socialistic myths of egalitarianism and multiculturalism put these ideas outside the bounds of civilized discourse. And although these racial scientists disdain egalitarianism and multiculturalism - and believe them to have been proven false by their own research - they nonetheless changed with the times, eschewing both racism and eugenics. Or so the story goes. The only problem now, apparently, is that political correctness is stifling these scientists' sober inquiry into the eternal verities of racial and sexual hierarchy.

There's a grain of truth to virtually every lie, of course. Eugenics was still respectable - just barely - when the Pioneer Fund was founded. However, it stopped being respectable within a few short years.

I'll try to give a brief rundown of the Fund's history. In 1910, Charles Davenport, the director of the center for genetic research at Cold Spring Harbor center, established the Eugenics Record Office, and appointed a former high school teacher and amateur eugenicist named Harry H. Laughlin as its superintendent. The fact that Laughlin had no qualifications seems not to have bothered Davenport...possibly because Davenport was a fellow eugenicist with strong anti-Semitic leanings.

Laughlin used his newfound scientific respectability to push for eugenic programs across the country and around the world. As Paul Lombardo, historian at the University of Virginia, says,

Advocacy in favor of sterilization was one of Harry Laughlin's first major projects at the Eugenics Record Office. In 1914, he published a Model Eugenical Sterilization Law that proposed to authorize sterilization of the 'socially inadequate'....Borrowing from Laughlin's Model Law, the German Nazi government adopted a law in 1933 that provided the legal basis for sterilizing more than 350,000 people. Laughlin proudly published a translation of the German Law for the Prevention of Defective Progeny in The Eugenical News.
In May 1936, Laughlin was awarded an honorary medical degree from the University of Heidelberg, in recognition of his work in "the science of racial cleansing." This touching tribute was bestowed upon him by Dr. Carl Schneider, a "scientific adviser" to the murderers of Germany's handicapped population. According to Holocaust researcher Dr. William E. Seidelman,
Schneider conducted psychological assessments of children he knew were doomed to die, and had their brains collected and dissected after they were murdered.
Schneider later committed suicide after being interviewed by war-crimes prosecutors.

With Wickliffe Draper, Laughlin established the Pioneer Fund as a charitable trust on February 27, 1937. Draper, the heir to a substantial Massachusetts textile fortune, was a passionate admirer of Hitler's' racialist ideology, and hoped to send American blacks back to Africa.

Fortified by the moral support of Nazi Germany's medical community, and the deep pockets of Wickliffe Draper, Laughlin giddily made plans for the dawning of a bright new eugenical day. One of his first schemes was a system of cash bonuses for US air-force members who procreated copiously (the racial and the hereditary qualities of both partners were to be carefully considered, of course). Another goal was "the eugenical education of the American people by moving picture films on eugenical subjects." To this end, Draper acquired a subtitled Nazi propaganda film in hopes that they could "lend the film to high schools, colleges, clubs, churches...."

In this, as in so many other endeavors, they were successful. A letter from Laughlin to Draper, dated December 9, 1938, says
You will be interested to know that the moving picture film "Eugenics in Germany" has proven very popular with senior high school students. Up to date the film has been loaned 28 times.
Laughlin also lobbied Congress vigorously to change US immigration law. Largely as a result of his efforts, the Johnson Act of 1924 set strict quotas on immigration; Nordic races were given high quotas; other races--including the Jews--were given low ones. The Anti-Defamation League website notes that Harry Laughlin "was active in efforts to block Jews fleeing persecution prior to World War II."

Laughlin retired from the Pioneer Fund in 1941, and died in 1943. But Wickliffe Draper was still very much alive, and very busy. In a 1977 article on the Pioneer Fund, The New York Times reported that
In the 1950's and 1960's Mr. Draper supported two now-defunct committees that gave grants for genetics research....The committee members included Representative Francis E. Walter, chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee [HUAC]; Henry E. Garrett, an educator known for his belief in the genetic inferiority of blacks, and Senator James O. Eastland of Mississippi.
Senator Eastland was an unabashed and overwrought racist who rather poetically objected to the idea of sharing "his" country with "black, slimy, juicy, unbearably stinking niggers.... African flesh-eaters." He also publicly regaled his supporters with a travesty of the Declaration of Independence, which ran
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives.... All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead niggers.
For more on the connections between Draper and Eastland, see this 1960 article from the Capital Times, entitled Rich New Yorker Trying to Prove Negroes Inferior.

In 1963, Draper funded the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which supported segregation. Draper also funded the work of William Shockley and J. Phillippe Rushton. Shockley's main claim to fame - after the invention of the transistor - was a proposed government policy under which blacks would be paid to undergo sterilization. One of Rushton's more comical theories is that blacks are the result of an evolutionary strategy that jettisoned intellectual capabilities in favor of large penises; thus, the smaller your penis is, the smarter you are.

Perhaps the most interesting latter-day director of the Pioneer Fund was Thomas Ellis, manager of Jesse Helm's 1972 senate campaign, and an advisor to Ronald Reagan during his 1976 presidential campaign. He was also a co-founder of Fairness in Media, which you may remember from its abortive attempt to take over CBS.

J. Philippe Rushton took over the Pioneer Fund in 2003. Pioneer Fund historian William H. Tucker says, "Rushton has not only contributed to American Renaissance publications and graced their conferences with his presence but also offered praise and support for the 'scholarly' work on racial differences of Henry Garrett, who spent the last two decades of his life opposing the extension of the Constitution to blacks on the basis that the 'normal' black resembled a European after frontal lobotomy."

At this point, I think it's fair to say that a pattern has emerged, and that far from repudiating its eugenicist roots, the Pioneer Fund has done a remarkable job of clinging to them. Richard Lynn would probably agree, given that his own website trumpets his interest in eugenics, and given his observation that
What is called for...is not genocide, the killing off of the population of incompetent cultures. But we do need to think realistically in terms of the 'phasing out' of such peoples....
Lynn received at least $325,000 from the Pioneer Fund, and was made a director when Rushton took over the presidency from Harry Weyher.

That Lynn's latest research relies on IQ testing is characteristic of racialist pseudoscience. This has also become a central concept in conservative circles, especially those concerned with welfare and education. Superficially, conservatives argue in favor of an American "meritocracy." However, believers in genetic determinism have loaded the dice, so that those who "merit" success are delimited in advance on the basis of race, sex, class, or some combination thereof.

This is a convenient form of attack, because it's once removed from its actual target. The problem is no longer that blacks are subhuman "flesh-eaters," or that women are sentimental flibbertigibbets incapable of rational thinking; we now have recourse to the "scientifically neutral" matter of IQ. Thus, dissenters who ignore the Eternal Truths of science in favor of a delusional attachment to egalitarianism sin against science through irrationalism, and sin against blacks by forcing them into a "civilized" role they're not evolutionarily prepared for, and sin against society by imposing an unjustifiable financial burden on it (i.e., by trying to give blacks more education than their genetically inferior brains can handle).

The findings of Pioneer Fund researchers argue that the IQ of blacks can't be raised appreciably by state or private intervention; this implies clearly that public schools and welfare programs and various forms of minority outreach are a waste of time and money...it's the proverbial case of trying to teach a pig to sing. Whether some inherent racism makes these scientifically unfounded findings appealing to conservatives, or whether it's simply a case of each group finding the other useful, "facts" derived from Pioneer Fund research have a disturbing habit of finding their way into the consciousness of mainstream and moderate conservatives; many of them have no idea of the pedigree of these ideas, and I'm optimistic enough to believe that some of them would surely be horrified to find out.

IQ is an idea that won't go away, despite the fact that it's a rather shallow form of statistical inference. It's not just a matter of its intangibility, either. A shadow, for instance, can provide perfectly valid information about the body that casts it. But in the case of IQ, both the "body" and its shadow are illusory. They simply don't exist as real qualities of a real thing.

Though IQ testing is mildly useful as a predictive tool, it's predictive merely of how well a given student will negotiate an arbitrarily delimited set of tests and problems; such a test regime is necessarily constrained not only by its own limited terms and definitions, but also by culture and language.

IQ testing is by no means predictive of scholastic or financial success (high-IQ children often do poorly in mainstream schools, which is why they're properly classed with the developmentally disabled as "special needs" children), and certainly can't be correlated with moral excellence or psychological stability or human happiness or any other classical virtue. It doesn't measure creativity or artistic skill, either. The test is quite humble, in fact, offering few valid predictions, and no valid explanations. (In fact, Binet, the test's originator, presciently worried that his test would be perverted by biological determinists in order to stigmatize certain children as "unteachable.") It's only as a social concept that IQ has real power, and that power is primarily ideological.

9 comments:

roger said...

i'm always glad when i learn more, and often dismayed by the bad news conveyed by the new information.

Joanne Ross said...

Thank you for the link below to the Eden Again Project. I'd wondered what had happened to the Iraqi wetlands after our invasion. Going in, we'd budgeted a few million to restore the marshes: Paul Bremer (I think) transfered the modest amount to another project. After all, Halliburton couldn't make money on a simple wetland restoration.
It's great to see that the marsh dwellers took care of the problem themselves, probably by blowing holes in the levees.

Phila said...

It's great to see that the marsh dwellers took care of the problem themselves, probably by blowing holes in the levees.

Yeah, I believe that's exactly what they did.

And now, unfortunately, some of the foreign aid has been held up by the problems with the constitution...

mandt said...

While research Delta 32 gene mutations on a similar subject I came across some rather astonishig current right wing eugenicis relating to a 'gay' gene and stem cell research with the express purpose of predicting its occurance and elimination in a 'potential' fetus. It's being very descreet at the moment because of 'Right To Life' beliefs in the neo-con political atmosphere of the times. Check out Google if you are interested. It's sacry stuff and pureNazi to the core. M

Interrobang said...

Oh, so Rushton has moved on, huh? When he first came out with his study "results" as you mentioned on Eschaton, he was teaching something or other at the University of Western Ontario, where I was an undergraduate, right here in London. I'm making disgusted wincing faces just thinking about it.

One thing they never mention when talking about "brain drain" statistics here in Soviet Canuckistan is how many right-wing pseudointellectuals we lose to Scaife-and-company think tanks...

Phila said...

Oh, so Rushton has moved on, huh?

Yeah, there's always room for another racialist academic down here. And the Toronto area does seem to produce them from time to time. Although IIRC, Canada also does a better job of countering their nonsense than we do. I remember sitting in Aida's on Bloor and watching an anti-racist documentary that I don't think would've made it onto the networks down here...

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