Eugenic “Dreams of Genetics”

Eugenic “Dreams of Genetics”

by Moritz Nestor

Genetics is a well-respected discipline of science. Only a minority of geneticists share the opinions of those individual researchers whom this article is about. But whenever researchers meet money and power interests offering them global fame and resources for inhumane experiments, dangers arise. In his book, Ludger Weß tells the history of such schemes.

He who is called to the ballot to vote on a subject the history of which he is ignorant about may easily be fooled. This is especially true for the upcoming voting on the reproductive medicine act. Because: despite genetics and reproductive medicine being discussed more widely than ever, an important question seems to remain obscure: What is actually the motivation of the researchers to do what they are doing? Who benefits?
What will practitioners of reproductive medicine actually do with all those “superfluous” embryos they might be allowed to “create” here in Switzerland in future, in addition to those required for successful in vitro fertilization? These are human organisms, potential human beings and have all that it takes to develop into actual people. What are the intentions of geneticists and practitioners of reproductive medicine (including monetary interests of their employers, sponsors and patrons) regarding those “surplus souls”?
The question: “What drives them [the gene technicians], to intrude further and further into the secrets of human reproduction?”1 stands at the centre of Ludger Weß’s book “The Dreams of Genetics (Die Träume der Genetik)”. “Genetics textbooks won’t provide information about that and neither will historical treatises on gene technology.»2 However, almost all geneticists who wer influential in developing their subject further also authored alarming texts about genetically engineered social utopias: “Dreams of power to control life and improve the world, getting real by means of gene technology. These power visions are one key to understand current developments in genetics and reproductive medicine.”3
The Swiss electorate, about to vote for the second time on issues of reproductive medicine, still is largely unaware of this. This had been different to some extent in the 70ies and 80ies of the previous century when these texts had been wellknown during the societal discussions about gene technology – at least to a bunch of concerned researchers and intellectuals. Ending this amnesia and pointing out that the “elite of scientific genetics of the last hundred years” produced “schemes to enforce social utopias” in addition to scientific results makes Ludger Weß’s book so valuable. He had been alarmed for some time by the blind spot on history in current debates and representations of genetics and reproductive medicine. During its booming development of recent years gene technology has opened opportunities to farreaching interventions in the process of reproduction, the potential consequences of which can hardly be foreseen.
The book contains political manifestos and texts of distinguished geneticists pioneering their discipline between 1895 and 1962: Haldane, Muller, Serebrovski, Lederberg and the signatories of the Genetics Manifesto of 1939: Darlington, Crew, Huxley, Muller, Dobzansky and 18 more. Each document is introduced by a biographical sketch for the author outlining his place in scientific history. Although he didn’t really contribute to genetics, Ploetz deserves his place in this group as the founder of German eugenics (“Rassenhygiene”). But his “Framework of racial theory” of 1895 is the first eugenics which is founded on the just emerging science of reproduction and which claims that “the societal structure, ethical principles and finally human dignity and right to existence have to step aside before the objectivity of scientific discoveries and aims, in the name of progress”4. The opening section of this part is a brief history of gene technology and their disastrous co-operation with euegnics.
As early as 1890 Jacques Loeb proclaimed a “biological art of engineering”, some “All-Organisational science», which should eventually be able to explain all aspects of human life, (including belief, thinking, emotions and activity) by means of “physiko-chemical analysis” alone, in a rational-technical manner.5 “Life [should] be explained by the physic-chemical properties of living matter”. Loeb influenced numerous biologists and psychologists, such as Skinner and Watson as well as the future molecular biology. His research was funded with considerable amounts of money.
 Nobel prize laureate Hermann Joseph Muller, for-instance, writes in his text “Out of Night’s Darkness” that he considered genetics to be the means to “control human evolution ‹eugencally›”.6 Distinguished men should be allowed to father children with several women and sperm banks should be established collecting the sperm cells of Nobel prize laureates and outstanding politicians.
The Russian geneticist Serebrovskij proposes in his “Anthropogenetics and Eugenics in the socialist society” of 1930 to copy the techniques of in vitro fertilization, mutation re-search fot he 1920ies and population genetics, validated in animal farming, and employ them in humans, in order to propagate the desired genetic properties and enhance the ge-netic qualities of the population.7
Finally the US american nobel prize laureate Lederberg regards eugenics based on genetics as the “biological counterpart of education”, only that it was scientifically more accurate since education had a “questionable tradition”. Geneticists would soon “master the foundations of techniques to direct development and regulate the size of the brain, for-instance, with prenatal or early post-natal interventions” he predicted in his “Biological Future of Man” of 1962. He poses the crucial question: “Why should we bother to deal with somatic selection today, which is so slow in ist effects? […] [We] should be able […] to achieve within one or two generations of eugenic practice what takes ten to hundred generations today.”8 Note-worthy: “somatic selection” includes the killing of people with “worthless” gene material – either by nature by the hands of other people, as the Nazis did it, who intended to play God and manage evolution themselves. The US American Josua Lederberg argued for “genetically leveling out race and also gender differences, if necessary, in order to achive real equality”9.
With Lederberg’s text Ludger Weß opens the discussion of the infamous CIBA Symposium of 1962, which unfortunately seems to be largely forgotten today. Lederbergs contribution “The biological future of Man” was one of the eugenic papers at this symposium, hosted by the CIBA endowment in London, the proceedings of which were published under the title “Man and His Future” in 1963.
An investigation of the severe historical breaking point brought about by the CIBA symposium would be a valuable continuation of Ludger Weß’s outstanding research. A brief summary should illustrate that: already the title of the German version of the CIBA symposium, held in 1966: “Man – the controversial experiment (Das umstrittene Experiment: der Mensch )” speaks volumes about the socio-political goals of this summit. The CIBA endowment had invited 27 Anglo-Ameican researchers (including 6 Nobelproze laureates). Germans were suspiciously missing. British eugenicist Julian Sorell Huxley, brother of the author Aldous Huxley and grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley (“Darwin’s Dog”) had the intellectual leadership. Already during the times of German National Socialist “race hygiene” programmes he had been one of the leading eugenicists worldwide. When he had been to promoted to highest ranks after the war he resurrected “eugenics”, since it had been tarred by Nazi crimes, under the new label of “transhumanism”, as a “science”. This scheme is out-lined in a paper of 1947, titled: “Unesco: Its Purpose and its Philosophy”, in which Huxley misused his position as Unesco General secretary in order to demand a denazified “clean” eugenics:
“Thus even though it is quite true that any radical eugenic policy will be for many years politically and psychologically impossible, it will be important for Unesco to see that the eugenic problem is examined with the greatest care, and that the public mind is informed of the issues at stake so that much that now is unthinkable may at least become thinkable.”10
From 1959 to 1962 Huxley had been president of the British Eugenics Society. This new eugenics was supposed to be “global”, as R. S. Deese puts it in “Twilight of Utopias”:
“Julian Huxley sketched a vision of ideal polity that was nothing less than global, calling for the creation of a unified world culture, a new religion predicated on the methods and discoveries of evolutionary biology, and, ultimately, the emergence of a global government.”11
The ambition of those geneticists to play the role of God already shines through  the title of the German edition of the book: Man is referred to as an “experiment” of  a “biological revolution” “for a new world”. The blurb text quotes Julian Huxley: “This book manifests the cosmic moment when the gigantic process of evolution becomes aware of itself in Man the researcher, after 5 billion years.’”12 In fact these 27 researchers regarded themselves to be the executive committee of evolution. Julian Huxley draws the conclusion, Man had to choose to be either “leader of the evolution or cancer of the earth”.13 Huxley suggested that “enhancement of the genetic quality of Man by means of eugenic methods”14 was the central task of mankind.
Certainly not all geneticists share this mindset. The people this article is about constitute only a minority. But whenever researchers meet money and power interests offering them global fame and resources for inhumane experiments, dangers will arise. In any case: quite a few of the disturbing plans which the Anglo-American geneticists a.k.a. “leaders of evolution” (Huxley) put on their agenda in 1962 regarding the “enhancement” of mankind have already become reality. This should be subject of another article. The sources which Ludger Weß discusses in his books are of great importance for our public discussion about reproductive medicine and have to be included in the discourse by all means.      •

1    Ludger Weß. Die Träume der Genetik. Gentechnische Utopien vom sozialen Fortschritt. 2. Auflage. 1998. ISBN 3-929106-06 S. 9
2    Ludger Weß, S. 9
3    Ludger Weß, hinterer Umschlag
4    Ludger Weß, S. 87.
5    Ludger Weß, S. 13.
6    Ludger Weß, S. 16.
7    Ludger Weß, S. 120ff.
8    Ludger Weß, S. 189.
9    Ludger Weß, S. 185.
10    Unesco: Its Purpose and its Philosophy. Washington D.C. 1947. In: Liagin: Excessive Force: Power Politics and Population Control. Washington D.C., S. 85; Information Project for Africa 1996. Englisches Originalzitat: «Even though it is quite true that any radical eugenic policy will be for many years politically and psychologically impossible, it will be im-portant for Unesco to see that the eugenic problem is examined with the greatest care, and that the public mind is informed of the issues at stake so that much that now is unthinkable may at least become thinkable.»
11    R. S. Deese: Twilight of Utopias: Julian and Aldous Huxley in the Twentieth Century. In: JSRNC 5.2 (2011) 210–240, S. 210. Originalzitat: «Julian Huxley sketched a vision of ideal polity that was nothing less than global, calling for the creation of a uniled world culture, a new religion predicated on the methods and discoveries of evolutionary biology, and, ultimately, the emergence of a global government.»
12    Das umstrittene Experiment, vorderer Klappentext
13    Das umstrittene Experiment, S. 47.
14    Das umstrittene Experiment, S. 47.

(Translation Current Concerns)

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