Continued from: Of Eugenicists, Oligarchs and Psychopaths (part 2)
Eugenic views quickly spread to Europe and Australia.
Australia has an Indigenous history of at least 60,000 years. Before the English invasion in 1788 most of the inhabitants of Australia were isolated from the rest of the world.
The Indigenous People of Australia were labelled ‘Aborigines’ by the invaders. Etymologically the word fits: it is a Latin word from ‘ab’ meaning origin, and ‘origin’ meaning from the beginning. But it came to carry a racist meaning as the occupation progressed. Indigenous People account for about three per cent of the modern Australian population.
The Indigenous population of Australia at the time of the invasion might have been between 300,000 and 1,000,000. They lived in small communities with social and religious customs in common. Like all other societies, their technology, food and hunting practices varied according to the local environment.
Most lived in the southern and eastern regions in the Murray River Valley, the same coastal regions most heavily populated today. Those who practice traditional aspects of Indigenous life currently live in desert areas where the presence of the new-comers is sparse.
From the late eighteenth century, during the powerful and imperialist expansion of the new-comers, the Indigenous population was dispossessed of their land and killed in very large numbers. The interpretation of this history in Australia is disputed and debated in what are commonly referred to as the ‘history wars’, with ‘conservative’ historians arguing that the horror and brutality of the past is being exaggerated for political reasons. For a serious position on the subject one should go to the works of professor Henry Reynolds – some seventeen of them, from Aborigines and Settlers: the Australian Experience, 1788–1939 (ed) Cassell Australia, No. Melbourne, 1972 to Unnecessary Wars, NewSouth Books, Sydney, 2016)
The invaders regarded themselves as the ‘colonisers’, why – the ‘civilisers’, of Australia in 1788. Most of them spoke and those who are ‘exposed to Australian history’ still speak of the great Judeo-Christian civilisation which was imported by the invaders. The invaders discharged a huge dose of a product which has propagated and remains a distinguished contribution to a ‘white society’: a huge dose of English, or British, or Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy. Massacres accompanied the expansion of the frontier. Many Indigenous communities resisted the invaders, but the original people of Australia suffered one of the biggest attempted exterminations in history.
Between 1788 and 1900, the Indigenous population of Australia was reduced by 90 per cent. The disappearance of the Indigenous People in southeast Australia was so rapid that it was believed that they would all soon die out.
Apart from loss of access to land, and death by violent force of arms, infectious diseases like chickenpox, smallpox, influenza and measles killed many. Indigenous People still have a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land so, being forced off their traditional land, caused the disintegration of social cohesion.
In the first part of the twentieth century, the racial theories of Social Darwinism were popular in Australia and were used to attempt to justify the invaders’ treatment of the Indigenous People, as ‘sub-human’, ‘primitive’ and an ‘inferior race’. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, which is an act octroyé by the Imperial Parliament in 1901, was – and in parts still is – deeply discriminatory. Later, the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 established camps to provide a place for the ‘doomed race to die off’, as – it was desired and thought – the Indigenous People would ‘inevitably become extinct’. They sadly disappointed the new-comers.
Their policy allowed many Indigenous People to be treated like experimental animals. In the 1920s and 30s thousands of Indigenous People all over Australia were subjected to ‘scientific’ investigation into brain capacity and cranium size. Australian fascination with eugenics is similar to the obsession of Nazi Germany society in relation to the Jews and the other Ungeziefer, vermin in the 1930s and early 1940s.
An Australian Professor of Anatomy said in 1926 that Indigenous People were: “Too low in the scale of humanity’ to benefit from ‘the civilising influence of Anglo Saxon rule.”
In 1929 an Australian anthropologist wrote that: “… Some races possess certain powers in greater degree … than do others. Thus, the Australian Aborigines and the African Negroes are human and have their powers, but they are not necessarily equal to the white or yellow races.”
Scientists at the British Museum in London became interested in studying a people they saw as being on the ‘brink of extinction’. The Indigenous People were subjected to ‘scientific’ research to establish if they were closer to apes than humans.
A shallow sea separates the island state of Tasmania from the rest of Australia. In 1803 the British landed on Tasmania and soon established it as a colony. They began a deliberate campaign to exterminate the Indigenous population, a ‘mission’ which lasted between 1820s and 1832. They called that The Black war. It was actually genocide. By 1830 the Indigenous Tasmanians were almost completely wiped out. Those who survived were rounded up and removed to Flinders Island, off the north-eastern tip of Tasmania. The official stated aim of this isolation was to ‘protect and save them’.
With the same indifference for the truth, a recent tourism website advertising Tasmania officially promoted, informed any intending visitor that in 1830 George Augustus Robinson, British Protector of Aborigines, started ‘his mission to protect Aborigines’ and take them to a settlement on Flinders Island.
In 1856 the few surviving Tasmanian Indigenous People on Flinders Island, including a resistance hero called Truganini, were moved to another settlement. Truganini was the sole survivor of this group, and she was moved to yet another settlement. She died three years later, and was buried. After two years, her remains were exhumed by the Royal Society of Tasmania and placed on public display. In 1976 on the centenary of her death, her remains were finally incinerated and scattered in the sea in accordance with her wishes.
Social Darwinism is by no means dead. For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite CD Rom 2003 Edition states that “The original Tasmanians were an anthropologically interesting Negritoid people, with the widest nasal index ever recorded and shorter and broader heads than the Aboriginal peoples of the continental mainland.” Interestingly the ‘original invaders’ are not described in terms of their physical appearance! (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2003, Ultimate Reference Suite).
Children of mixed Indigenous and new-comer descent were labelled ‘half-castes’ and considered a threat to so-called ‘racial purity’. A policy based on eugenics theory had these children taken away from their parents “to breed the blackness out of them.” Between 1910 and 1970 up to 100,000 Indigenous children were taken forcibly from their families. Parents were not told where their children were and could not trace them, and children were told that they were orphans.
It had been all the way convenient to the Australian racist governments to assume that Indigenous People were ‘dying out’, thus solving ‘the problem’. An ‘assimilation programme’ was introduced to eliminate those of mixed descent. This was done by the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families. These children are often referred to as the ‘Stolen Generations’. A National Inquiry was set up in 1995 and found that forcible removal of Indigenous children was a gross violation of human rights. It was racially discriminatory, and an act of genocide. (Bringing them Home, Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, April 1997). The invaders and the new-comers appeared to be convinced that ‘white, Christian families’ and ‘boarding schools’ were the best environment in which to rear Indigenous children. ‘Good Christians’ believed (maybe continued to pretend) that what they were doing was ‘protecting them’ and was ‘best for them’, whether the children or their parents liked it or not. (The spread of these ideas toEurope and Australia, The article was produced for South African history online on 22 May 2011).
After the Royal Ambush of the Whitlam Government in November 1975 nothing serious was done to remedy the condition of Indigenous People. The recommendations of the 1997 Report were largely disregarded. There followed committee after committee, mainly to assuage ‘the conscience’ of the Westminster parties in Canberra. There was a belated apology – but no reparation, no compensation of the victims. There were more committees, studies, reports. Even a thoughtless contemplation of ‘double sovereignty’ – Royal and Indigenous – was quickly dismissed by a ‘liberal’ but ‘Elizabethan’ prime minister. In the meantime the new-comers made room in Parliament for some ‘reformed’ Indigenous: a senate seat here, a ministerial position there. An inarticulate ‘reconciliation’ is talked about, a cretinous slogan of unity is offered, and risks becoming Australian national anthem and replacing the already periodically modified, what for inclusiveness and gender neutrality – and never mind decency: ‘Advance Australia fair’. The silly product of a marketeer’s effort: “I am, you are … ” is commonly taught in primary schools, thus replacing serious history with counterfeiting rubbish. That is not reform, it is not truth-telling; it is at best the bad performance by amateur colonials of some work not even of the quality of Gilbert & Sullivan. Meanwhile, the Indigenous People are filling the gaols, and the cemeteries in increasing numbers. The genocide attempted two hundred years ago moves on slowly, very slowly, as it becomes a phlegmatic, indifferent populace and its institutions.
Eugenics – the ‘science’ of ‘improving the race’ – remained a powerful influence on the development of ‘Western civilisation’, and in Australia, Melbourne’s elite was among its chief proponents.
In the period across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries all the institutions and practices of modern societies came into being and eugenics played an important role in moulding them.
An important leader of a loose alignment of like-thinking middle class academics and doctors was the Professor of Anatomy at Melbourne University from 1903 to 1929, Richard James Arthur Berry. His influence extended beyond the university, which still has a building bearing his name, to some of the most important members of the city’s society.
There was a short-lived Eugenics Education Society, but until the founding of the Eugenics Society of Victoria in 1936 eugenicists operated primarily as a pressure group within the university, the education department and various government agencies and committees.
Important legislation, in the form of three Mental Deficiency Bills, was presented to parliament in 1926, 1929 and 1939 by Premier Stanley Seymour Argyle, a medical practitioner himself and a friend and colleague of Berry.
The bill aimed to institutionalise and potentially to sterilise a significant proportion of the population – those seen as ‘inefficient’. Under such category were slum dwellers, homosexuals, prostitutes, alcoholics, as well as those with small heads and with low intelligence quotient. The Indigenous Population was also seen to fall within this group.
The first two attempts to enact the bill failed not because of any significant opposition but, rather, because of the unstable political climate and the instability of governments.
The third attempt in 1939 was passed unanimously, but not enacted in the first instance because of the outbreak of the second world war and, later, due to the ‘embarrassment’ of the Holocaust. Some of the many Australian admirers of Mussolini and Hitler ‘suffered that embarrassment’ – and no more.
Other state parliaments were also inspired to promote such legislation by Berry’s many town hall lectures across the nation.
An important Royal Commission in the 1920s also had recommended a range of eugenic reforms including measures relating to child endowment, marriage laws and pensions. Perhaps the culmination of all this activity was the commissioning of a national survey of mental deficiency by the Federal Minister for health, Neville Reginald Howse, a medical doctor, in 1928. It was carried out by Berry’s colleague, the Chief Inspector for the Insane in Victoria, William Ernest Jones. Jones claimed that the statistics collected showed the incidence of mental deficiency was rising, mainly due to genetics, and was more often found in the working class. He concluded that urgent government action was required along the lines previously championed by Berry. The survey was tabled before parliament and created a sensation in the press.
Little happened, however, as the government fell and the Great Depression hit the nation. The Director of the Department of Health, Dr. John Howard Lidgett Cumpston, claimed that the dire financial situation destroyed any chance of reform.
Another important influence of eugenic thinking was found in the development of post-primary education in Victoria.
The most important educationists involved in the development of secondary and technical schools in Victoria were either active in eugenic circles or closely associated with Berry. Perhaps the most influential, the first director of education, Frank Tate, was associated on most important government bodies with Berry and strongly supported his research on head size and, on occasions, introduced his public lectures.
Others, such as the first Director of the Carnegie funded Australian Council for Educational Research, Dr. Kenneth Stewart Cunningham, as well as one of the most significant early psychologists, Dr. Christopher Ralph McRae, published research claiming to show that working class children were unfit for academic secondary education and the university study that it led to.
Professor McRae replicated in Melbourne suburbs research carried out in a variety of different socio-economic suburbs of London. He subsequently reported in the Victorian Education Gazette – which was sent out to every state school primary teacher – that those in schools in poorer suburbs “will never go to university and should not follow the same curriculum … as people live in slums because they are mentally deficient and not vice-versa.” As a consequence, in this period the Victorian Education Department set up technical schools in the poorer suburbs of Melbourne with just a few academic high schools.
In comparison, in New South Wales the Director of Education, Peter Board, vigorously opposed such thinking and championed higher education opportunity for all. Many more state school children in New South Wales were given an academic secondary education and went on to university.
Richard Berry returned to England in 1929 but others took up the mantle, founding the Eugenics Society of Victoria. Its membership read like a who-is-who of Melbourne’s elite including the Chief Executive Officer of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – the precursor to the C.S.I.R.O., the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, the President of the Royal College of Physicians and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria. Although the aims of the Society included supporting the sterilisation of mentally defectives, more and more they were involved in environmental reforms – such as slum clearance – and the birth control movement.
In Britain Richard Berry continued to preach his uncompromising theory of ‘rotten heredity.’ In 1934 he would argue that to eliminate mental deficiency would require the sterilisation of twenty-five per cent of the population. At the same time he also advocated the ‘kindly euthanasia’ of the ‘unfit’. But his legacy in Australia continued, with the Eugenics Society of Victoria operating until 1961. Melbourne may wish to forget its dark past, but the powerful leaders of the eugenics movement once controlled the city, and their beliefs influenced a generation. (R.L. Jones, Eugenics inAustralia: The secret of Melbourne’s elite, The Conversation, 20.09.2011).
A major part of the eugenics agenda remained the sterilisation of those considered to be ‘unfit for procreating’. To weed out ‘undesirables’ and to create a ‘perfect race’, the selection of some for sterilisation – and worse – has always been the obsessive preoccupation of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ and their descendants. In the first half of the twentieth century it was the major concern of Margaret Louise Higgins Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood which would evolve into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She was a leading birth control activist, feminist, nurse, and sex educator; she helped finance Gregory Goodwin Pincus, the American endocrinologist whose work on the antifertility properties of steroids led to the development of the first effective birth-control pill. Sanger was one of the most infamous proponents of eugenics during her time. But when the ultimate eugenics experiment occurred – the Nazis ‘Final Solution’ – just about everything relating to eugenics gained a pretty bad name, and most supporters went quiet – for a while. It does not mean that the world was through with eugenics.
The ‘science’ continues to raise its ugly head in ‘civilised Western societies’, but in slightly more subtle forms than witnessed in Nazi Germany.
The term itself of course was coined by Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, in 1883. It means ‘good birth’ and it has to do with ‘selective breeding’ and ‘tinkering with hereditary’ in order ‘to improve’ the human race. Weeding out undesirable life is a big part of this. One may recall at this point the full title of Darwin’s famous 1859 work: The origin of species, By means of natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.
Advocates for ‘improving the human race’ were many, and plenty of schemes were implemented to do just that. Hitler of course famously sought to purge the human race of ‘unfit elements’ and create a ‘super race of blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryans’. After unleashing the second world war during which an estimated 70-85 million people perished and exterminating six million Jews, one would have hoped that it was the end of eugenics.
But cases of it keep occurring, and vigilance is always required. Eugenics was still being considered in Australia less than ten years ago. In 2011 the Western Australian government released a draft bill on mental health, for which there were some very ominous and frightening recommendations. The 271 page report was open for public discussion. It was really intended that the public would be aware of this bill, and discuss it. Major concerns were to be found at pages 135-136 where one read about recommendations for the sterilisation of children, without the need of parental consent. The relevant clause read:
“209. Requirements for sterilisation procedure.
A person must not perform a sterilisation procedure on a person who has a mental illness unless –
(a) if the person is a child who does not have sufficient maturity or understanding to make reasonable decisions about matters relating to himself or herself – the Family Court has authorised the sterilisation procedure to be performed; or
(b) if the person –
(i) is a child who has sufficient maturity and understanding to make reasonable decisions about matters relating to himself or herself; or
(ii) has reached 18 years of age and has the capacity required by section 12 to give informed consent to the sterilisation procedure being performed, the person has given informed consent to it being performed; or
(c) if the person has reached 18 years of age but does not have the capacity required by section 12 to give informed consent to the sterilisation procedure being performed – the person’s enduring guardian or guardian has given consent in accordance with the Guardianship Act Part 5 Division 3 to it being performed.
Penalty: imprisonment for 5 years.
210. Chief Psychiatrist and Mentally Impaired Accused Review Board: report.
As soon as practicable after a sterilisation procedure is performed on a person who has a mental illness, the treating psychiatrist must report to –
(a) the Chief Psychiatrist; and
(b) if the person is a mentally impaired accused, the Mentally Impaired Accused Review Board, that the procedure was performed.”
A number of other features of the bill were also a cause for concern, including the following:
- 12 year olds being able to consent to psychosurgery – pp. 108, 109, 110, 197,198, 199, 213;
- 12 year olds being able to consent to electroshock – pp. 100, 101, 103, 104, 194, 105;
- the restraint and seclusion of children – pp. 122, 121, 113, 246;
- the involuntary commitment of children – pp. 21, 22, 35, 19, 107, 36, 53, 54, 183 -185, 190, 191, 213, 214,18, 46, 47, 48, 65, 66, 70, 73, 75-77.”
Of course all governments may regulate mental health issues at least to some extent, and there may be much in the proposed bill which is not of concern, or in fact helpful. But some of these issues seemed to be of genuine concern. Legislators, doctors and scientists all have a role to play, but if allowed to go unchecked, then they may also cause great damage.
Unnecessary alarmism is to be avoided, but so too must be a lack of awareness and a lack of concern.
A century ago Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote a prophetic work entitled Eugenics and other evils: An argument against the scientifically organized state. In it he said: “The thing that really is trying to tyrannize through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but in statues, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen – that creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics. Materialism is really our established Church; for the government will really help it to persecute its heretics… I am not frightened of the word ‘persecution’… It is a term of legal fact. If it means the imposition by the police of a widely disputed theory, incapable of final proof – then our priests are not now persecuting, but our doctors are.”
From a similarly religiously biased position Clive Staples Lewis put it this way in The problem of pain: “Once the old Christian idea of a total difference in kind between man and beast has been abandoned, then no argument for experiments on animals can be found which is not also an argument for experiments on inferior men. If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies, or capitalists for the same reasons.” Or children for that matter.
The bill was eventually amended and a Western Australian Mental HealthAct 2014 ensued. Presently discrimination on the ground of mental illness is covered by anti-discrimination legislation in Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, and in the Australian Capital Territory. The New South Wales law extends only to “physical” and “intellectual” disability – which leaves people with mental illness in a difficult position. (Proposed new Mental Health Bill Australia – Children to be Sterilized. 12 Year Olds Can Consent to Psychosurgery and Electroshock!, and Australian Eugenics?).
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