Monday, November 7, 2011

Culling the Herd as the Bell Tolls

A quick question. What do the following people have in common?

Henry Ford (The car guy, whose company came up with the Edsel)
Charles Lindbergh (Aviator and pre WWII isolationist)
John Harvy Kellog (You know, Rice Krispies et al )
John D. Rockefeller (He owned just about everything once)
Dr. Clarence Gamble (Proctor and Gamble)
James Hanes (Women's hose magnate)
Josef Mengele (Nazi and hands on concentration camp biology researcher)

The answer is they were all huge fans of the so called science, eugenics.

Eugenics hit its stride in the 1920's and 30's. It is the belief that the human gene pool should be carefully managed and even manipulated to improve the quality of the species. To some extent it is practiced today. As an example, if you are a PhD in astro physics your little swimmers are going to be a lot more valuable to the local sperm bank than say those of the average Burger King cashier.

Unfortunately, back in its heyday and even later eugenics had a dark side, as Herr Doktor Mengele's presence on that list might suggest.

This brings us to present day North Carolina and one Elaine Riddick.

According to a published account by Michelle Kessel and Jessica Hooper, Ms. Riddick became pregnant at age thirteen after being raped by a neighbor. While carrying the child a board of five upstanding and no doubt scientific minded citizens determined she was "feeble minded and promiscuous." That decision put her on the eugenics hit list. Other offenses included alcoholism, poverty, and mental retardation.

Ms. Riddick, at the recommendation of the state board, was sterilized immediately after giving birth without her knowledge or permission.

No doubt the good of the species had to be maintained.

Of course it would be easy to dismiss this barbarity to the wilds of North Carolina. After all the board wasn't disbanded until 1977 and the law it was enforcing wasn't repealed until 2003. However thirty one American states had similar laws and boards. Tens of thousands of mostly women were summarily sterilized over several decades. A large chunk of them, surprise, surprise, were black.

The practice was so well thought of here and abroad that the New England Medical Journal once wrote, "Germany is perhaps the most progressive nation restricting fecundity among the unfit." That would be the Germany of Adolph Hitler and the aforementioned Josef Mengele. The Germany that would later come up with a final solution in matters such as these.

The state of North Carolina is busily apologizing for all this. They are debating compensation amounts and they say they are trying to track down the victims.

Ms. Riddick sued them a few years ago for a million dollars. It went to the U.S. Supreme Court which refused to hear the case.

She is still waiting for compensation.

She grew up and attended college.

Her son is a successful business man.


It would appear that when it comes to genetics things don't necessarily turn out the way we think they might.

That is why there is a God and John Donne was right.

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for thee.


1 comment:

  1. Good points all. I'm reminded of the Christmas Ghost's admonition to Scrooge: do not be so certain who our Creator may find "worthy."