I promised myself when I started blogging that I wouldn’t shy away from the difficult subjects. This is one such subject. I sometimes think about the arrogance of mankind in assuming that any spark of human life should be maintained and preserved at any cost. If we had not developed intelligence we would not be conscious of life as a concept, we would just try not to die that day. Even in medieval times death, being common, was accepted as part of life. The urge was there to save life but the medical men of the time were much more realistic. It was treated as God’s will. Even now I hear about a coma patient who was unlikely to survive. I ask myself if it would not be kinder to let them die instead of assuming that they must be kept ‘Alive’ at all costs. That is when the guilt kicks in. What if it was my child, would I be thinking such things then?
First let me say that I am not a supporter of any of the Philosophies or theories I am about to discuss. We are lucky to be born into relative comfort and luxury. Those born where this is not the case are supported to a degree by aid and charities. I do support charity, usually through buying second hand from the shops selling donated goods. I will give cash, of necessity in small amounts and to charities I know will make a real difference. It is only right, while we have this luxury, to treat every human life as sacred. It is not a big issue to me that we spend tens of thousands keeping a single person alive who would die without this intervention. These people may not contribute anything to society but they have as much right as I do to a good life. If this were not the case then one of our greatest scientists, Stephen Hawking, would, in all likelihood, have never survived his twenties. A combination of the British National Health Service and his own determination mean that he has lived to enlighten us with his theories. This has now come closer to home for me. I have issues with my kidneys, though I am not sure how serious. Thanks to this idea of supporting life no matter what, I can be reassured that, however serious it is, I will be supported with the best care available.
So, while I am conservative, I am far from intolerant or bigoted. I believe in the sanctity of life but also believe that, if an individual wishes to end it, they should have that privilege.
I also know that, over the years, it occurred to various people that society would be better without certain, shall we say ‘undesirable elements’. The most common of these was the criminal classes and the extremely poor. The first image in this post shows that this is not a modern idea. Eugenics became popular in the early 1900’s and has rattled around in one form or another since. Basically it it the idea that, through selective breeding you can weed out undesirable elements and promote the best in society, which usually meant the richest. It is an intriguing idea. Darwin’s theory of natural selection seems to point to Eugenics as a natural process which could be controlled to engineer and to improve mankind. I am sure we can all think of people without whom the word would be a better place. The problem with this is that the people I am thinking of would be those deciding who should be allowed to breed.
The questions this theory raised were frightening. Who decided what the phrase undesirable should mean? Would it just be criminals or should the term include the mentally ill, homosexuals and the physically disabled? Maybe even those useless to society through age should be included? The Romans, if we can believe the history we are taught, exposed the weak, sickly or disabled on a mountainside and let nature take it’s course. It is not Eugenics per se but it certainly ensured they did not breed.
Much later one A.Hitler got hold of Eugenics and made it his own. Not only did he run controlled breeding problems in search of the Ubermensch, he took it all one stage further. If an entire race of undesirables were exterminated it would hopefully ensure the extinction of that race. Cue the holocaust. Bigoted against homosexuals, want to ensure their eradication? Exterminate them. Again not strictly Eugenics, but in the spirit of the theory. He even took the Roman idea little further by including the mentally ill and, in all likelihood, others who were of no use to his 3rd Reich.
So Eugenics had it’s attractions but was, ultimately, an abomination. The uses to which it was put by various people were blots on the history of our species. Even now certain racists or other bigoted groups would, I am sure, happily embrace it’s values.
But one thing could, in future, lead to it’s resurgence. We have often seen, in film and other media, the theme of an overcrowded or under resourced planet which have used a form of ‘Engineered population control.’ There is no doubt that we are doomed to overpopulation and are using resources far too quickly on our planet. Colonisation of other planets is a far off dream. We may have need of something like Eugenics in the far future to alleviate this problem.
In the delightfully silly ‘Logan’s Run’ everyone is killed at age 30 while procreation is controlled by a computer.
In an episode of Star Trek called ‘The Mark of Gideon.’ Kirk finds himself in a mock-up of the Enterprise which is created on a planet where the inhabitants are crowded together at all times through overpopulation. Life has become intolerable They have banished disease, have regenerative capabilities if injured and have a reverence for life. (Sound familiar?) They refuse to use birth control or kill each other thus causing the problem. Kirk has been tricked into beaming into this mock-up in order to infect a gorgeous woman (Typically!) with illness to which they have no immunity. At the end she is taken off to infect others and allow nature to reassert its random approach to death.
The Daleks and Cybermen, Khan from Trek, Blade runner (Genetic engineering.) X-Men (Mutants). All these have issues related to the Eugenics argument and none seem to end up well for mankind.
So yes, Eugenics and any kind of population control is abhorrent, Yes everyone should be entitled to a long life. Any kind of culling of certain groups is wrong but we are slowly beating nature and living longer. We consume more. We believe that all human life should be extended and maintained no matter who it is. Will we always have that luxury? It is arrogant to assume we can carry on indefinitely. We must either find ways to expand into space, and quickly, or we must eventually accept, Like the people of Gideon, the need for some form of enforced population control.
Here’s a question for you. If your planet could no longer support your people, if you were never alone, if privacy was a forgotten dream and if your life became intolerable would you accept the need for a cull? If the answer is yes then who would you trust to decide those who should die. Maybe we could just sterilise selected people but by what criteria and, once again, who decides. Nature continually tries to assert herself with new strains of disease but we beat them and we often attempt to cull each other in interminable wars but still the population climbs. Soon we may not have the luxury of venerating all human life. Even then I am not sure I could just meekly accept death for the benefit of the species. Let’s hope I don’t have to find out!