In our most recent class, we discussed ideas about population ecology and the way that different species interact in an ecosystem. One part of the discussion which stood out to me was the fact that even among ecologists, there are shifts in schools of thought with regards to what factors are considered most important in studying species interactions. We learned that for a time, competition seemed to be the defining type of interaction, but as time went on and ecologists gained more insight, they came to believe that predation was the most important.
With regards to eugenics, it led me to question the validity of older principles of eugenics as well as to look into the way that eugenics has developed up until today. Without a doubt the climate regarding eugenics has changed drastically since its origin- after World War II the ideas presented by eugenics are seen in a far more negative light. The thought of putting those who are “unfit” down would largely be seen as offensive and politically incorrect in our times. However, it is also important to look into the way science has changed and it’s effects on eugenics, not just the way our culture has changed in it’s thoughts on eugenics.
One of the most significant changes in scientific understanding since the beginning of eugenics is our new found grasp of genetics and of how traits are passed down between generations. In the case of the eugenics movement in the 1900’s, the limited science of the time led proponents of eugenics to cite the need to “breed out” those who were predisposed to become thieves and murderers as well as mentally disturbed. Of course now with our current understanding of DNA and heritable traits, it appears clear that the quality of “being a criminal” is impossible to predict solely through one’s lineage. Not only this, but it seems laughable that they sought to predict such broad characteristics using only the shapes of people’s heads and faces. Even some mental diseases have been determined to be not completely determined by heredity. For example, although developing schizophrenia is correlated to whether or not one’s parent’s have it, there is also a distinct external environmental component to developing it. These sort of discoveries demonstrate how difficult it is to pinpoint a single root cause for any human behavior and simply remove it from the gene pool with selective breeding.
In a scientifically advanced society such as today, it appears that it is increasingly more difficult to apply eugenics practically. How can we be completely sure that a certain behavior is genetically linked? How likely must it be that a person with a certain gene will express this behavior before one can safely say they should not pass on their genetic material? Regardless, the leaps and bounds science has made also has innumerable benefits for eugenics as a whole; as the potential for rigorous testing and experimentation make for an atmosphere that is dominated by science and reason as opposed to speculation and pseudoscience.