As Canada’s immigration population exploded in the 20th century, a reaction to it by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants was brewing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Specifically, this reaction manifested itself into a pseudo-science puff program known as eugenics.
More ideological than scientific, the eugenics movement sought to improve (or at least maintain) the human race (well, certain races anyway) by manipulating reproduction. Notions of “feeble mindedness” and immigrants with “weak genes diluting the strong Canadian racial stock” were the bedrock of the movement in Canada. It found many supporters particularly among women, most of whom worked for women’s suffrage and temperance groups.
One prominent figure was Nellie McClung. McClung was influential in introducing sterilization laws in Alberta where eugenics found its strongest base. By 1928, Alberta had a Eugenics Board which existed until 1972 and was removed by the conservatives under Peter Lougheed. McClung, incidentally, is ranked 25th on the CBC’s list of greatest Canadians.
Canada wasn’t the only country to be gripped by the dubious biological assertions made by eugenicists, although the scope of its sterilization program was large and rivaled only by Germany. The latter ended its program in 1945. Eugenics in the United States (Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie and John Davison Rockefeller along with many other notable Americans contributed funding to the movement) reached its peak between 1910 and 1940 while Canada’s program persisted well into the 1960s and early 1970s. In the UK, one of its early proponents was Aldus Huxley.
Interesting how smart people we tend to revere and consider visionaries were pedestrian and contemporary once upon a time. Alas, we all can be clouded by prevailing contemporary doctrines. Chalk eugenics up into the “it’s sounded like a good idea at the time” bin.
Today, it’s all too easy and tempting to think eugenics is gone. However, its spirit and residue remain among us. Varying degrees of racial and intellectual chauvinism permeates into all facets of our lives like sprawling rust.
The idea of population control under the pretext of saving the planet is one such example. It’s an ugly scourge supported by the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Ted Turner. One must ask: Who permitted these people to play God?
As absurd and disturbing as this may be, a silver-lining of sorts can be found. Consider the following small example where one need only visit a local movie theater to observe how our society is experiencing a loss of civility. The “feeble-mindedness” and “absent-mindedness” of some patrons which translates into impolite and boorish manners has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with a loss of basic common ethics and etiquettes once observed and respected.
We in the West, of all creed and race, better smarten up and pour our energies not into alchemy like eugenics but into more important issues: notably re-establishing and reasserting our moral compass, liberty, personal and civic duties and responsibilities.
If we do, perhaps we won’t be so easily swayed by misguided philanthropists and foolish misinterpretations of history.
Maybe then will we destroy the sickening mental stench known as eugenics in all its inglorious and scary manifestation.