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Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa ✸ 229 14 Eugenics and the Myth of Equality hen you go to the supermarket, you can see that the tomatoes are round, smooth, very red, and not nearly as bitter as you might imagine. Can we make them better? Yes, and we already have: those tomatoes have been engineered systematically to be redder, sweeter, and to last longer. Tomatoes have been improved to withstand various germs, bugs, and disease. Similarly, breeders create dogs with tailored characteristics such as modified bodies, hair, and teeth. Dogs descended from wolves, we hear, yet dogs are easier to get along with. You can have one in your house without constantly worrying that it will kill you. Not only are most dogs smaller and therefore less dangerous than wolves, their behavior is also different. They’re trustful , playful, and attentive. How did they get those behaviors? We might imagine that maybe dogs were bred from an ancient species of wolves that were naturally friendly to humans.We might imagine that although breeders modified the physical traits of that species, its behavioral traits remained utterly unchanged. But maybe not. Maybe breeders modified the behavioral traits too. After all, some breeds of dogs have different behaviors, don’t they? If we can do that with wolves, and since we can make better tomatoes, then what about humans? Can we improve human behaviors by selective breeding? Throughout history, some people have believed that not much can be done to change human nature, our innate tendencies. Many teachers accept that children are born with different talents, which can be identified and cultivated but not essentially changed. For example, Pythagoras allegedly examined his prospective disciples thoroughly to find their innate W 229 and hereditary talents in order to decide what each should study:“he inquired about their relation to their parents and kinsfolk....He considered their frame’s natural indications physionomically, rating them as visible exponents of the invisible tendencies of the soul.”1 Allegedly, Pythagoras had proclaimed: “You cannot make a Mercury of every log,” that is,“Not every mind will answer equally well to be trained into a scholar.”2 It is interesting to see how widely such ancient notions still propagate, for example, my mother has told me an amusing Spanish saying, Latinized: “Lo que natura non da, Salamanca non presta”—what nature gives not, the University of Salamanca cannot lend either. However, the notion of evolution increasingly challenged the idea that human nature is immutable. According to Darwin, humans were not always as they are—a grotesquely ridiculous idea to many people in Victorian England. Some of Darwin’s peers became convinced of evolution , but others were deeply disturbed by it. Captain FitzRoy, for one, regretted that Darwin’s work was a byproduct of the Beagle voyage. He denounced it as incompatible with a literal reading of the Bible. Owing also to other misfortunes, FitzRoy became increasingly depressed and disturbed, and in 1865, he committed suicide: he cut his throat.3 Originally , FitzRoy had asked Darwin for company during the Beagle voyage partly because he feared that he might have inherited the insanity of an uncle who had killed himself. Is insanity inherited? If humans evolved from animals,then they evolved from animals that did not behave the way we do. Maybe environments plus selective mating gradually produced the human behaviors that now seem natural to us. But if so, should humans control their own evolution? This question was investigated by Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton. In the 1840s, Galton studied mathematics at Cambridge University. He wanted to earn a degree with honors, but his studies were so intensive and exhausting that he suffered a nervous breakdown, and settled for merely passing. Afterward, he inherited monies from his father that enabled him to freely pursue his interests. He loved to quantify things, and he wanted to apply mathematics for the good of mankind. Anthropologists had tried to establish correlations between people’s bodies and their behaviors. They measured bodies, profiles, and bumps 230 ✸ Eugenics and the Myth of Equality on people’s heads, yet they failed to find the biological bases of behavior . Galton too became increasingly fascinated by the quantification of human traits. Traveling in Africa, he discreetly measured the shapes of women’s bodies. He later attempted to numerically analyze fingerprints as he became an early advocate for using fingerprints to identify criminals. Owing partly to his interest in Darwin’s theory of evolution, Galton became curious...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780822980179
Related ISBN
9780822962304
MARC Record
OCLC
887803456
Pages
345
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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