Dec 16, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

It's not well understood by most that the banning of slavery in Europe was more of an academic and economic endeavor, although it was couched in moral terms in order to sell it to the average person, who was generally unaffected by the practice.

There are no lynching trees in the meadows of Cornwall. No slave quarters in the Rhine valley, nor segregated burial plots in Bordeaux. Why would the English have slaves? That's what we have the Irish for, no? Most of Europe, at least in the "modern era", had no real day-to-day moral understanding of slavery as an real world, living practice, and certainly not deep enough caring to do much about it beyond talk.

A little like gun control; support that is at least claimed to be "a mile wide, but only an inch deep". Held by people who aren't affected by, and are extremely unlikely to ever be affected by what they rail against.

But to the U.S., it was very real. It was, to use the phrase the kids use these days, "lived experience". And unlike the European nations, we were intent on spending the blood and treasure needed to eradicate it. Not simply "over there", but right down the street. Not merely the stroke of the pen, but the stroke of the sword, bayonet, and fumbling, screaming bare hand when it came down to it.

This is why I'm always amused when our European cousins wax moral on the issue. Like their predecessor Mr. Galton, perhaps, they talk lightly of issues they never really have a dog in the fight of, knowing full well they were not, nor would be, affected by them.

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Excellent comment, thank you

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It's a well made point. Wilberforce and the Abolitionists were certainly not a popular movement. I've never seen that they were generally disliked just sort of thought odd and unrealistic. And slavery was, at first, not outlawed, the first victories of the Abolitionists were, IIRC, laws that were targeted not at slavery per se but at the trading of slaves. After they made it economically less attractive to trade slaves morality caught up.

The same thing happened in America. When northern states began to industrialize they sold their slaves south because they thought the Africans were incapable of learning the new trades. They then, 30-40 years later discovered the morality of the situation and began demanding that the southern states let their slaves go for free.

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These comments are nearing that dangerous and self congratulatory territory where we forget to include affected people's voices in our analysis.

JC, most of England was built off the profits of enslaving Africans. England has a long history of slavery, port cities like Liverpool and Bristol we're actively engaged in slave trade, and there was a large population of slaves living in these cities. You might want to read the Wikipedia article on slavery in Britain.

Have any of you read "Stamped from the Beginning"?

Kendi shows that slavery was always about economics, not morality. Slavery became race based to appease moral thinking- race was invented by Europeans to make African people seem less human so enslaving them could be tolerated while enslaving other Europeans was going out of acceptance, in part due to the spread of Christianity across the continent. Race didn't exist before the 1500's.

The abolition of slavery was economic -as noted by Jon above, it was industrialization that brought about the end of slavery. It wasn't a moral awakening.

The idea that racialized people are less worthy of dignity, respect, economic opportunity etc. persists. We are still in the quagmire of racializing people in a hierarchy now, as evident in our systemic failures to attain equality in education, maternal survival rates especially in the US, economics, etc.

This is highly visible in the US, but anti-blackness, racial hierarchies, and systemic inequality are prevalent everywhere.

Be careful when your narrative reads as though "we were dumb then, but now we're moral". In fact, we have a very long way to go to catch up with our current understanding of morality.

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Blair, I know that we aren't going to see this the same way so I am going to apologize to begin with, my manner is often blunter than what many are used to and I don't mean offense but honestly I am fairly hostile to what I perceive to be your position, so if I have misunderstood I am open to correction.

My first objection is that there are no living people who are negatively affected by the British or American slave trade. There just aren't. There are no living slaves, and the British or American Africans are almost without exception better off than their non-transported kin who remained in Africa. They are better off by any metric, particularly considering that their ancestors were almost without exception traded due to being undesired members of society, either as losers in some conflict or marked as people that their own community would prefer to sell rather than live with. So, while I wouldn't make any negative statements about the people who were sold into slavery, it seems clear that their options remaining in Africa were rather bleak whereas many of their descendants have done quite well in America or Britain and as I said, by economic, educational, or sociological metrics are almost all above where their comparable cousins in Africa are. I am open to seeing facts that show that this isn't true.

While you are certainly right about mercantilism playing a large part in British slavery and of the rising unwillingness to put Christian people in bonds contributing to the need for a foreign trade in slaves the idea that 'race didn't exist before the 1500's' is as unhistorical as I would expect from the race-based conman who calls himself Kendi now. Racial concepts are found in the oldest documents produced by humanity, going back to the Pentateuch and the Iliad, probably others could cite older works but racialism is just an adaptation of kinship for the wider world. It is a less useful, more problematic application of kinship thinking but certainly not novel. 'Others' have always been marginalized, every group does it to every other group, focusing on the criterion which they use, 'race', just makes us more vulnerable to 'othering' on some different terms, for example partisanship.

You recommend attempts to achieve equality in education or maternal survival rates and blame anti-blackness, racial hierarchies, and systemic inequality but this is the way of thought that primarily dehumanizes groups. To remove agency from persons of color on the basis of their birth in a particular group, to make the system responsible for their conditions is to elevate the system to divine status, even though you make it divine in a bad sense demonic let's say, and to demote them from the status of men able to make life on their own terms to simply cattle waiting for you to move them to greener pastures.

Bottom line is that the new more equal system you imagine will simply be crappier for everybody of all colors, like Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police driving huge amounts of black on black violence. Your current understanding of morality is worse and more regressive than the traditional understanding of morality, and owes more to Stalin, the father of race based preferences, than you seem to realise.

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Jon, I appreciate your respectful way of stating your case. I hope that we can discuss the ideas here and hopefully learn from each other as we do. I can see that you are thoughtful and reasoned in your writing and I think I can learn a thing or two from your thoughts here.

Regarding your first objection I must first ask, have you spoken to any descendants of enslaved people about this? Have you worked with African American communities, or anyone from the British East Indies? What about South Asians taken to Africa as indentured labourers? Do you have contact with people from Africa who were never displaced by the slave trade? I happen to have a lot of exposure to these groups (for a white person) and what I've seen, heard, and read tell a different story. So does this data: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/17/most-americans-say-the-legacy-of-slavery-still-affects-black-people-in-the-u-s-today/

Have you traveled within Africa at all? Are you acquainted with the varied cultures and economic systems in place there? Yes, there is dire poverty within the continent, but there is also economic prosperity and cultural richness. There are impoverished people who have a good and happy life as subsistence farmers even though they have no money at all. If you're going to blanket state that all formerly enslaved people are better off for being displaced by any measure it would be helpful to state some of the measures and show some numbers to back it up.

There is evidence of disparate health outcomes: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/00219347221095167

One metric that you don't seem to have considered (maybe you're unfamiliar with it) is epigenetic trauma. Traumatic experiences can alter the gene expression of the next generation. Trauma can be inherited. This is in addition to the environment (Ie, a traumatized person isn't as able to parent as an non-traumatized person)(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6952751/#:~:text=the%20genetic%20code.-,With%20regards%20to%20PTSD%2C%20epigenetics%20provides%20one%20way%20for%20environmental,written%20onto%20the%20genes%20themselves.)

There is some discussion on the negative effect the slave trade had on African economies as well. I don't know a lot about this, but it shows that there are consequences of the slave trade that go far beyond what you or I may come up with on our own. https://academic.oup.com/edited-volume/38641/chapter-abstract/335370567?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Adam points out that one possibility why Galton was so blind to the morality of Eugenics was that neither he, nor any of the other wealthy white men at the time were listening to anything any other people groups were saying. If you only consider one perspective you don't get a very complete picture.

The concept of race--that all people with "African" features are one race, and that all people with "European" features are another race is a new concept. It first appears in the 1500s. (Kindi's research). Before that there were of course many references to skin tones, features, tribes, nations, and people groups. However, the next tribe over was likely to be as much of an "other" as a tribe thousands of kilometers away. Consider that slavery around the world was often enslaving people of a nearby but warring tribe. So Europeans enslaved Europeans, and Africans enslaved Africans--but they didn't see the people they were enslaving as kin in any way. They were foreigners. All of them. Before the 1500's there was no "African" identity, or European identity. There was no idea of these large all encompassing groups based on complexion. That's Race, and it was new in the 1500s. If you want to poke holes in Kindi's arguments it would be helpful to read them and go back to the source material and do some primary source research. That's a big ask--most of us don't have the resources to do that, so we rely on historians to do the primary research for us, and we read them as secondary sources. If you have another source you'd like me to read I'm happy to look at it.

I'm losing your argument about elevating the system to divine status. Can you clarify what you mean here? Who is removing agency? How does discussing disparate outcomes (systemic inequality) dehumanize groups? I need some help understanding your train of thought here.

Your last paragraph is where you really lose your line of argument. You accuse me of having a regressive understanding of morality and we've never even met. You state that BLM and the idea of defunding the police is driving Black on Black violence with no evidence. You say the system I imagine will be crappier, but you don't even know what I'm imagining. It sounds like what you're imagining is awful, but I don't think it's the same as what I'm working towards. Maybe if we keep talking you'll be able to see what I'm getting at and have a civil disagreement about that instead of imagining such awful things in your head.

I was recently in the birthplace of Stalin and spent some time in a museum there dedicated to his legacy. My limited understanding of Stalin is that he was an authoritarian dictator and top-down in his model of thinking and governing. He directly caused genocide, famine, and the forced displacement of many people. I fail to see the link between anything he did and discussions of equality/inequality in a democracy. In fact, systems of authoritarian rule that exist in the US (the police, prison system, and many public schools systems) are more in line with his ethos. I'm philosophically and politically anti-authoritarian and pro-democracy.

I do hope to continue this discussion as it have prompted me to consider your points and clarify my own thoughts on the matter. Thank you.

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As far as impact on descendants, I was speaking in purely measurable terms. I can't imagine how anyone can have any insight into how they are affected by something which happened hundreds of years ago to people that they never knew, and polling in aggregate seems even less insightful.

I knew full well the failures and shortcomings of our culture and would not for a moment deny the many advantages of a traditional culture. The paper by Reece states(about itself):

'This manuscript builds on that recent research by examining the connection between subnational variation in the density of slavery and life expectancy in the American South. Using a variety of data sources, such as the US Census, American Community Survey (ACS), the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings, and spatially robust OLS regression analysis, I find that in southern counties where slavery was denser black life expectancy remains proportionally lower and white life expectancy remains proportionally higher than in southern counties where slavery was less dense.'

and can offer no intelligent comment on honestly anything, but doesn't address in the least what the affect of slavery on people living today is. I challenge anyone to draw a credible connection between a heat map of health segregated by race today and something that happened two hundred years ago. It's as if they have never heard that 'correlation is not causation' or just don't care.

As far as trauma, the Epigenetic paper is just that: a paper. There is no original research conducted at all. Someone simply read some papers and tried to draw a picture out of them, I didn't dive deeply into the research that they cite but very little of it seemed to actually be on point. If you would pick out the actual research that you think supports your point I will be happy to look at it.

On the 'origins of racial theory', certainly as European mobility increased they started to view the world in larger more generalized terms, but this seems to me only a difference of scale not a difference of kind. That there is a novel concept seems to me unproven and unlikely.

As far as Mr. Kendi, I'll read 1000 words of anything you pick that he has written for every 1000 words you read of Steve Sailer. Everything I see makes me think that he is the very lowest sort of confidence man, trading on the sense of guilt that rich, privileged white Americans feel for being rich, privileged and white. Well, I am only one out of 3 and I don't feel very guilty.

Here is a good review of the connections between decolonisation and race based preferences and the man who championed and implemented them first, Joseph Stalin. https://digitalcommons.csumb.edu/csp/vol9/iss1/1/

Here's a simple link to the prevalence of black on black violence. https://www.amren.com/news/2020/09/fbi-blacks-made-up-55-9-of-known-murder-offenders-in-2019/

The simple facts are that black men in America are several hundred times more likely to be killed by a black man than by anyone else. To actually prevent black men from being victims of violence what is needed is more police and more proactive policing in their neighborhoods. And generally the communities support that, it is the White Saviour Progressive Anti-racists who are against it. But I wouldn't want to attribute anything to you simply because someone who seems, to me, to be like you believes it.

The very idea of 'a democracy' correcting inequality is the most invasive top-down authoritarian system imaginable. Democracy is as authoritarian as anything else. There is no reason why the majority is less likely to brutalize the minority than some monarch or oligarch would be, unless you think that a mob is more apt to be reasonable and compassionate than some one group. And as we currently live in the most invasive, authoritarian society in history, a democracy which is still violating the Nuremberg laws and requiring citizens to receive medical treatments without informed consent, although many of these Archauthoritarian mandates have been defeated now, which admits over and over to warrantless data trolling of citizens private data, and presses charges against the few legitimate journalists who dare to stand up against it, a society that determines if political protests are laudable or insurrection based solely on the politics of those involved, it seems hard to believe that in this day and age someone wouldn't know that democracies are authoritarian.

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"The abolition of slavery was economic - it was industrialization that brought about the end of slavery. It wasn't a moral awakening."

There's a detailed 80000 hours podcast episode presenting an alternative explanation. https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/christopher-brown-slavery-abolition/. "Some disagree with Christopher, arguing that abolitionism was a natural consequence of the industrial revolution, which reduced Great Britain’s need for human labour, among other changes — and that abolitionism would therefore have eventually taken off wherever industrialization did. But as we discuss, Christopher doesn’t find that reply convincing."

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The parts of the US where there were large numbers of slaves fought a war to retain slavery, not abolish it.

Meanwhile, and for decades prior, large amounts of blood and treasure were being expended to end slavery - by the British. No country has ever spent a larger proportion of either its GDP, or its military budget, on an unambiguously correct moral crusade than the British did in fighting slavery.

Your contention that a shopkeeper in Boston, or a farmer in Maine, had some bone deep understanding of slavery that wasn't shared by their equivalents in Bristol or Ontario is, when you think about it, fairly obviously untrue. All of these places had economies that were, prior to abolition, deeply entwined with slavery. It's just that the American state supported it, while the British state opposed it. In fact, of course, many British citizens in Canada had excellent opportunities to see the reality of slavery - living amongst them were the ex slaves who had fled the United States to live in a free country.

The United States, as a country, chose slavery. It was on the side of slavery for decades whilst the countries it considered its peers fought to abolish it. That's not to say that those other countries don't have their own original sins. But, contrary to what you suggest, the actions of the United States are comparable to those of other nations at the time; and the United States comes out of that comparison looking absolutely awful.

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And the European powers never fought any wars to remove slavery. You're point doesn't really make one.

The British had always expended a large amount of their military budget - to sustain their navy, NOT to police slavery. They had an empire, not a burning desire to crusade around the world putting it to rights. The British were quintessentially practical about the realities of slavery, even within their own domain.

No, my contention that slavery was not a major issue for the average Briton (or European) is historically correct. Go look at the literature of the time, you'll find very little of it emanating from Europe that matches the works opposing it that were produced in the U.S. And let's not get into the treatment of the Canadian native tribes by their British overlords. Again, the British would conveniently look away when either their American or Canadian cousins inflicted slavery on their respective native peoples.

The United States, as a country, rejected slavery, more emphatically so than those nations for whom it was an economic issue in the main. And it was clear from the founding of the U.S. that the contradiction of freedom and slavery couldn't last. Given the ubiquity of slavery to the colonies of European nations (again, most of it ignored by those nations even in the period after the U.S. Civil War) it's clear they were willing to tolerate it "over there", even while decrying it and lauding how wonderfully moral they were. There's little comparison between a nation who directly tackled the issue within its own borders and those who talked a nice game about slavery at home while quietly ignoring the ongoing slavery in their colonies, save for some military efforts more designed to keep it in check than solve it.

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Sep 14, 2023·edited Sep 14, 2023

There was substantial slavery in Europe in the late 1930s and early 40s. Which probably counts as the "modern era."

Galton himself, as per the article, had first-hand experience of slavery. A not insubstantial number of European residents during his time had lived in parts of the world where slavery and indentured servitude was common. The European colonies had a great number of European colonisers, and they often returned to Europe.

The US south was "over there" for the people of the US north. Indeed, during the civil war, it was a whole different country. One might argue that the wars against the Barbary Coast, Ottomans and the Nazis serve a similar anti-slavery-war role for Europeans.

That slavery could be abolished in the European colonies and other places like Brazil without a war speaks to the moral change of those countries. While in the US, it took a war because that moral change hadn't occurred in the south. That the issue of slavery remains so strong in the US today is in no small part because Reconstruction reconstructed many of the aspects of slavery, and some remain today.

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When Confederate soldiers are threatening the nation's capital, that's not "over there" by any measure. Nice try, but no. The South wasn't some alien distant land.

"Moral change" is a fine thing, when the results are on paper, rather than having to enforce that morality on your own soil, and making it stick. No country in Europe faced destruction and dissolution over the slavery issue. And those who did little to resolve the issue faced no real repercussions from their continental neighbors.

Slavery was simply much easier to "deal with" in Europe because it was distant. When you can walk to the nearest plantation in less than a day from downtown D.C., then it's far closer to home.

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Most people in the antebellum North didn't have any personal experience of slavery, which is why books like "Uncle Tom's Cabin" were so popular there. The South was almost a foreign country to them, which is why it briefly became one.

It should be remembered that a significant number of nobles and other enfranchised people who controlled the governments of the European powers who emancipated their slaves, were heavily invested in slavery. They may not have been able to make a quick trip to the plantations, but they needed only to visit their bank or broker to see their personal impact. (King Leopold II probably holds the record for the greatest loss of wealth due to deciding for emancipation, as well as being one of the biggest monsters in history.)

The UK, France and Spain had to "enforce that morality on [their] own soil" even if that soil wasn't in Europe. That they were able to do so without wars doesn't lessen their anti-slavery achievements, even if it does lessen their glory.

Even less glorious was the end of European enslavement by communism. Perestroika occurred because the slavers ceased believing in it.

Of course the Europeans who fought against the enslavement of groups they weren't a part of during the Third Reich had much glory as well as helping bring about moral change.

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Except countries like the UK didn't enforce it on their own soil. Look at how badly they treated the Irish up through the late 1800's, and they didn't cease that willingly. That also had to be resolved by force in some manner.

The reality is that whatever the North may have thought of the South, it wasn't a foreign country to them. In a union with only 20 states at the time, they were acutely aware of this issue, and much of the anti-slavery mindset was brought to the South from there.

Again, we can dress it up with Kings releasing their subjects all we want, but they never truly had to wrestle with the issue as definitively.

Most countries who fought against the Reich were far more concerned with their own survival than anything as noble as fighting against "the enslavement of groups they weren't a part of". Please, let's not wander into revisionism here. And they were quite happy to let the U.S. take the lead in the Balkans, while Bono et al. sang pretty songs about the tragedy of it all. And let's not forget that they were pretty happy in tolerating the excesses of the Socialist regime in Russia, letting it run it's own course rather than taking any significant steps to reduce its lifespan.

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All major colonial powers stood to lose a great deal of money by the end of slavery. Granted, it was mostly some very rich people who would lose a great deal of money, but... that is not unusual? And forcing them to be in that position took a great deal of work? Your average Frenchman or Englishman was still affected in other ways: an end of slavery meant that all the "drug foods" that everybody from the lower-middle-class/upper working-class upwards could enjoy (chocolate, coffee, sugar - and also the literal drug tobacco) would become more expensive - and also that some very rich people could drastically reduce their charitable donations (to universities, the arts, etc.) upon becoming less obscenely rich. Yes, it doesn't take a hero to see that you should risk giving up on these things if that's what it takes to abolish slavery, but *look at how hard it is to convince people nowadays to do analogous things*.

(Also, most people were drastically poorer back then; a cup of coffee or a packet of cigarettes meant much more to a person trying to gather their spirits to battle through one more day back then that it does to most people now.)

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Thank you excellent comment

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Nov 29, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

Thanks for this well-written, in-depth dive into a thinker I knew basically nothing about! This was really great!

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Good god, this isn’t just smart, it’s also really funny--a rare combination indeed. Now, where can I find this croton oil you mention? And can I slip into someone’s drink?

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The greatest tragedies of the twentieth century were caused by the radical and brutal egalitarianism of marxism.

Voluntary eugenics are alive and well, it is only the involuntary eugenics that used state power to remake society according to particular utopian visions that have led to tragedy, like any other ideological totalitarianism eventually does.

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"Galton saw beyond his time in statistics, psychology, meteorology, geography, and biology—why couldn’t he see beyond it in morality?"

He did see beyond it, as you literally detail 6 lines before where you describe how he sought to promote eugenics to a society that was sceptical even that the principle of heredity applied to humans.

The silly utopian community stuff in his abortive novel is pretty common 19th century spitballing stuff. Nothing really unusual, and though Galton was obviously somewhat aspergy about moral questions, his actual practical proposals were perfectly humane and decent. The more serious problem with Galton's eugenics is that it was almost entirely based on encouraging smart men to marry smart women rather than a local lass or their secretary, but *this is what modern society does anyway* and its observable effects are dysgenic, not eugenic because they don't have children. Real practical eugenics is not about encouraging smart sociable men to marry smart women, but just encouraging them to have more babies than dumb violent guys. The irony is that England had unconsciously been practicing that kind of eugenics for centuries and it was Galton's fellow social reformers who screwed it all up. Sad!

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For what it's worth, I read Galton's "worthy" as ironic.

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Dec 24, 2022·edited Jun 13, 2023

Yes, it reads that way to me too. Galton regards the slave-hunter's evil to be so obvious as to not be worth mentioning (except ironically). He later describes slave-dealers as villains:

"The saying was that when a man was such a reprobate that he could not live in Europe, he went to Constantinople; if too bad to be tolerated in Constantinople, he went to Cairo, and thenceforward under similar compulsion to Khartum. Half a dozen or so of these trebly refined villains resided there as slave-dealers; they were pallid, haggard, fever-stricken, profane, and obscene...With all their villainy there was something of interest in their talk, but I had soon quite enough of it. Still, the experience was acceptable, for one wants to know the very worst of everything as well as the very best."

Even this condemnation has that wry British distance ("trebly refined villains").

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I just asked ChatGPT about it, and ChatGPT guesses it's ironic:

"It is difficult to say for certain what Sir Francis Galton meant by calling the slave hunter a "worthy person" in his autobiography. However, based on the context of the passage, it seems likely that Galton was using the term ironically or sarcastically, rather than genuinely praising the man. Galton describes the man as "middle-aged and rather mild-looking," and goes on to detail his plans to capture and sell slaves for profit. The fact that Galton refers to the man's businesslike approach to mutilating and potentially killing his captives suggests that he does not view the man as a particularly moral or ethical individual. In this sense, it seems likely that Galton is using the term "worthy" to imply that the man is not worthy of respect or admiration. Instead, he is likely using the term to convey his own sense of disgust or disapproval of the man's actions."

Screenshot of the full conversation here: https://imgur.com/a/3Jghvsf

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Why did someone as smart as Galton support eugenics? Well err maybe because eugenics is right?

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I would suggest a 7th possibility--Dalton lived in a time period during which full humanity was limited to a tiny, tiny group of people--European, white, cisgender, straight, upper class, able-bodied men. When so few people get membership in the fully human club, all kinds of moral reasoning becomes possible, plausible and perfectly logical. It’s why we have to guard so carefully against those forces and powers today who seek to de-humanize people.

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Look at China of the time period. Not just a White, cis (blah blah blah) failing.

A very human failing, even (or perhaps especially) among those not in "the club"

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Yeah or maybe all people everywhere support dehumanizing someone?

As a thought experiment, if 'Long Covid' turns out to have really terrible chronic affects, who supports preventing the unvaccinated from reproducing, if they can't be forced to take the shot?

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A fascinating and informative piece. I wonder about one thing: isn't there always a bit of question-begging when we speak of the morality of the past? It is only by assuming something Galton did not -- the moral importance of the individual -- that our morality can be described as better than his. We all accept this key point of divergence, and point to our particular gods and heroes for having bequeathed it to us: some will say that Christianity was the first to treat the individual as a having an immortal soul and inextinguishable dignity, others will gesture at Job or the Buddha. But we take it for granted.

If for Galton the moral importance was with a society, a nation, a people, an ethnos, then the morality we have built upon the individual is not an advanced science but an incomprehensible barbarism, a cacophony, and a calamity. If he could have taken an expedition to any Walmart, his designer's eyes likely could have seen only one solution to the spectacle of indirect government subsidies -- by way of paying the unhealthy to breed -- to the manufacturers of unhealthy processed foods and entertainments.

That's not to say there was no hypocrisy to his unconscious anti-individualism: he treated his fellow gentry as precious individuals after all. But there is hypocrisy in us all. We today are keenly aware of commons whose tragedies were not sufficiently advanced in Galton's day for him to have thought long on them: pollution, deforestation, erosion, the destruction of species. We rise to our feet in horror at the idea that one monopolist's desire for wealth, fame, and phallic rocketships should cause so much general harm to people and to the planet (though we seem powerless to prevent it), while allowing (for instance) the commons of public health to be destroyed by overgrazing -- token efforts in taxing soft drinks notwithstanding.

And yet there is an arc to history; one that in Galton's estimation bends downwards, a parabola marking where our species attempted to climb from its cradle's gravity well and failed. Why did the eugenics practiced in ancient Greece and Rome fall away? Why did the destruction of unfit infants turn to giving them away to slavery, and then disappear? Why but weakness? Galton in his optimism, in his faith in what he would have called the strength of human will, perhaps thought that the humane and gentle expedient of preventing such infants from being born would be entirely within our power. He would have been wrong. From his perspective, he did not fail to be ahead of his time, for he is ahead of his and ours both. It is we who have fallen behind.

[Disclaimer: this commentator is not Galton or the Devil, merely an advocate for one and perhaps both.]

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> Maybe the ideas that grew into the Immigration Act of 1924, anti-miscegenation laws, “three generations of imbeciles is enough,” and the Holocaust would have a harder time taking hold when subjected to the scrutiny we’re capable of today. I certainly hope so: people are trying to make “hipster eugenics” a thing, and somebody’s gotta stop them.

This seems to conflate different sorts of eugenics which seem, to modern western culture, to have quite different moral values. The historical examples you cite are coercive, involving violence either to remove the people seen as unfit or to, by punishment, deter people from having supposedly unfit children. Our societies have indeed turned decisively against this, so that the only remaining cases I know of in America are bans on incest (which are based on a taboo which is present in all human cultures & likely biologically determined) & immigration restrictions (which once had 'keeping the genetically unfit out' as an important goal but are now supported mainly for quite different political & economic reasons). On the other hand, the sort of voluntary eugenics described in the "hipster eugenics" article is based on the participants choosing to have genetically superior children themselves, & does not involve coercion or violence (unless you take the view that a zygote or early embryo is morally equivalent to a human mature enough to have thoughts & experiences); thus it seems to work toward the positive goal of the early eugenics movement (ensuring that people are more able & less sick) without the harmful means the latter often used & with much less misleading prejudice. Moreover, it is not exactly taboo: the scale of its acceptability can be judged from the fact (from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/12/the-last-children-of-down-syndrome/616928/ ) that, where prenatal screening for a genetic disease like Down syndrome is freely available, a large majority of women chooses to abort embryos that have the disease. Using more advanced prenatal genetic screening to make it more likely that one's children will be healthy & able seems to be different from Down-syndrome selective abortion in degree, not in kind, & I do not see why it should be any more morally problematic.

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You have written the article assuming that eugenics is immoral without 1. fully specifying what it is or proving that all instantiations of it are immoral.

It is easy to point at Nazism and declare it to be immoral.

But, in 21st century America is is quite common for prospective parents to obtain a genetic profile of their fetus in the early stages of pregnancy, and to abort it if the profile shows some severe genetic defect such as Down syndrome. Isn't their action a form of eugenics?

People who believe that all abortions are immoral of course oppose those actions, but people with less rigid views on that subject often approve. But, in either case, the argument does not recur to the label eugenics for a judgment as to morality.

In the near future it may be possible to modify a child's genome at the point of conception. would doing so be eugenics? Would that make it immoral. What if you remove a well known cancer causing mutation such as BRCA2 from a genome? Is that immoral?

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If you actually didn't want the government to execute poor people you would have included at least 20 points. Thinly veiled crypto-fascism; I see through you.

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One thing you don't consider: having lots of good ideas doesn't mean you don't also have bad ideas. The most obvious example being Newton's obsession with alchemy. Galton's own life (lion whistling, controlling autonomic systems) seems to bear this out – to have a lot of good ideas, it's helpful to just have a lot of ideas.

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G.K. Chesterton was an early and vocal opponent of eugenics, to such a degree that he changed his mind about Darwin because of the latter's link to it.

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humorous, brilliantly written piece, thank you Adam!

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I wonder to what extent Galton would find assortative mating based on dating apps to fulfil the requirements of a eugenics program?

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