Popular Science Monthly/Volume 81/November 1912/The Relation of Eugenics to Euthenics


By Professor LEON J. COLE


NO attempt is made in the present paper to present a new array of facts nor to treat them in a novel light—even the title which has been chosen is not new, except perhaps in the arrangement of the words. But race improvement is a broad field, the cultivation of which is barely begun, and as in all cases when a new territory is to be occupied, a survey of the ground is of primary importance. Such a survey helps us in the formulation of definite plans for the systematic development of the land and saves much effort which might otherwise be misdirected. In what follows an attempt has been made to mark out some of the delimitations of our territory, the character of the soil, and consequently what crops—what lines of endeavor—may best be expected to succeed.

It is unfortunately true that a rich soil is equally suited to the growth of the grain or the weeds, the wheat or the tares. The harvest accords to the quality of the seed sown and to the diligence and intelligence applied to uprooting the undesirable plants. And just so it is with society. So long as we permit the marriage and the reproduction of the unfit in human society, we are countenancing the contamination of the seed which stands for the human crop of the next generation. The seed which we use must either be relatively free from weeds or we must put it through a winnowing process.

Every agriculturist knows the importance of continued cultivation in order to keep his land relatively free from weeds. A field allowed to go without attention or even kept down to a meadow for only a few years, soon "runs to weeds" to such an extent that the only procedure is to plow it under and put on some strong-growing crop, which will "kill out the weeds." In how far are these conditions comparable to those of our physical, moral, social and civic life? And if they are comparable, are we giving the attention we should to the winnowing of the seed? We shall also, of course, have to devote our attention to how this winnowing may best be accomplished.

Let me then be the surveyor who shall endeavor to map out our field, to determine its limits and demarkations and its relation to the neighboring fields on either side. Furthermore, let me try to chart its general physical features in an endeavor to ascertain how it may best be cultivated.

Our neighboring field on the right is that of biology—or more narrowly the field of genetics—but here we find indeed that our relationship is very close, that we possess in fact only one section of the big biological farm, and that, however big and important our corner may be, nevertheless, it is only a corner of the larger field of genetics. Our relationship is indeed here so close that we shall need no fence between us. We have, it is true, somewhat different conditions to contend with, but the same problems to solve, and by retaining our good fellowship, we may hope to receive much aid from this neighbor, whose conditions are in some ways much simpler than our own, and who can, therefore, make more rapid independent progress.

On the other side we are bordered by the field of euthenics. Unfortunately, we have not always, up to the present, been able to get along with this neighbor on the best of terms, hut there is every reason why our relations should be amiable and friendly, cooperative and helpful; we both have the same objects in view—our ideals are the same, but we are not in thorough accord as to the methods by which they may best be attained.

Since the relations between the other biological sciences and eugenics are so obvious, let us examine a little more fully those between eugenics and euthenics. According to one of the foremost exponents of euthenic ideas in this country, euthenics means, "The betterment of living conditions, through conscious endeavor, for the purpose of securing efficient human beings," or "Euthenics deals with race improvement through environment," while "Eugenics deals with race improvement through heredity."[1] Galton himself defines eugenics somewhat more broadly as "The science which deals with all influences that improve and develop the inborn qualities of a race,"[2] though he must have had chiefly hereditary influences in mind, since he adds:

The aim of eugenics is to represent each class or sect by its best specimens, causing them to contribute more than their proportion to their next generation; that done, to leave them to work out their common civilization in their own way.

We may conclude, therefore, that the point at issue between eugenics and euthenics is clearly that of the relative influence of heredity and environment in the development of the human race, and as such, we may proceed to discuss it further.

Whatever may have been the degree of controversy in the past and whatever may be the opinion of the practical breeder, the philosopher or the reformer, biologists are practically agreed that the environment can have no hereditary effect on organisms, at least in the crude way commonly inferred under the caption of the "inheritance of acquired characters." Whether certain conditions are able to produce a general effect upon the germ cells of such a nature that it may cause a general modification of the resulting organisms for more than the immediately succeeding generations, may perhaps legitimately be considered still open to reasonable doubt. Such a possibility, however, does not come within the scope of our present argument and may be disregarded; and we may consider it as established to the best of our present biological knowledge that acquired characters are in no specific sense inherited.

Of course, there are euthenists who will not accept the principle I have laid down—to convince such would require an array of biological facts and experimental results which can not be presented at this time and which are not within the scope of my talk this evening, although one or two specific cases as applied to humans—cases of the failure of euthenic experiments—may be cited by way of illustration. A well-known case is that of the "Zero" family residing in Switzerland, and established by the marriage of two vicious and degenerate persons several generations back. The descendants of this pair include hundreds of offspring (of which 190 were known to be living in 1905) characterized by "vagabondage, thievery, drunkenness, mental and physical defect and immorality." But what interests us in this connection is that in 1861 a euthenic attempt was made to save many of these children. These were placed in good families, where they were free from their vicious environment; but "the attempt failed utterly, for every 6ne of the 'Zero' children either ran away or was enticed away by his relatives." More recently a similar experiment has, according to Mudge,[3] been tried in Scotland, where pauper children from Glasgow were boarded out among the respectable and industrious natives of the western coast. Far from producing felicitous results, he has found that these children, for the most part, revert to their inborn tendencies and as a result in these formerly quiet villages a rowdy, irresponsible and even criminal element has been introduced, and "a new slum area is being created by the operation of the inherent slum instincts of the putatively rescued denizens of Glasgow's slums." That one of the further dangers incident to this method of caring for dependent children is coming to be realized may be inferred from a recent newspaper report that the Department of Minor Wards of the State Board of Charity of Massachusetts has decreed that none of its foundlings shall be placed in a family in which there is a minor of the opposite sex. "There would be just enough difference in the relationship between the two to make a romance the most probable thing in the world," and this is apparently conceded to be undesirable.

If we accept this conclusion you may ask, Have we not already put the euthenist to rout? Since euthenics depends upon the betterment of the race by improving the environment and we know that effects of an improved environment are not inherited, how have we left the euthenist a leg to stand upon? The question seems to be one too simple to need discussion. But it is not so simple. Even granting the non-inheritance of acquired characters, the proper place of environment in a eugenic program is not a simple question. In the first place, it is very difficult to separate out those characters which are the results of inborn determinants (inherited) from those which are produced solely by reaction to environment. Or it may be, as is probably usually the case, that both influences are at work in the expression of the same character. Size may be cited as an example. Undoubtedly a child inherits the tendency to acquire a particular size; but whether it fails to reach this size or exceeds it, is in large part dependent on environmental factors which influence growth, such as food-supply, fresh air, exercise and undoubtedly many others.

But it may be, and has been, asked, granting in full the part played by heredity, is it not possible that a permanent environment may be created of such a nature that the outcome will be the same whatever the hereditary nature of the individual? Undoubtedly such may be true in certain restricted cases. For example, if a mosquitoless environment could be established and maintained, what would it matter whether we, individually possessed or lacked a natural (inherited) susceptibility to malaria and yellow fever? It is also possible that as the skill of the surgeon and the ingenuity of the bacteriologist increase, we shall be able by means of the injection of antitoxin and the removal or replacement of organs to disregard the inheritance of many diatheses and bodily imperfections. This would require, however, the maintenance of a highly "artificial" environment, and the resulting picture is not one which appeals to us as our ideal type of mankind. It will require much further study to teach us in how far such a condition of affairs may be desirable, and only the future can show how much it may be a necessary result of the multifarious interacting forces of evolution.

Moreover, the cases of this nature must be relatively few—in the great majority, as has just been pointed out, the environment can act only when the necessary hereditary basis is present. We should predict poor success to the stockman who depended entirely upon feeding and care to produce the maximum of marketable beef, or the dairyman who by these means alone expected to compete with herds of selected animals in the production of milk.

Inherent quality is what determines the value of a gem; grinding and polishing only serve to bring out its luster and brilliance, and no amount of labor expended by the lapidary can convert a piece of quartz into a diamond. Selection of specimens which have the inherent qualities is the essential. The breeder knows this, and he realizes the importance of continued selection if he would keep his stock up to standard. His motto is: "Breed only from the best." Is not selection an equally important matter in the evolution of the human race? And are we concerning ourselves sufficiently with the question of whether it is being made, and in the right direction?

There are those who claim that if unhampered the "natural" forces will make such selection and will direct evolution along the proper lines. They argue that the very defects of the pauper, the criminal, the mentally defective and otherwise degenerate classes render them relatively "unfit" for survival in the long run, so that they tend of their very nature to become extinct; and they consider as pernicious any attempt upon the part of society to better the condition of these unfortunates—for unfortunate they are, since they are not themselves responsible for having come into the world with a bad inheritance. But if we mean by "natural" forces and "natural selection" the part nature plays uninfluenced by the hand of intelligent man, why should we leave the evolution of mankind to its slow and uncertain action, when we have found it to advantage to do otherwise with our domesticated plants and animals? If the breeder has born in his herd a sickly or abnormal or otherwise undesirable animal, he does not trust to its dying of "natural" means, but his intelligence comes into play and he takes means at once to eliminate it from his breeding stock. It may, in fact, be of great service to him while it lives, as the ox, or its carcass may be of value when it is killed, as a steer; but he is careful that its blood shall not enter into the future generations of his herd. Is it not desirable, and necessary, that we should employ equal intelligence to the development of the human species that we do to our domestic animals? We shall have to utilize special methods of elimination of the undesirable, but the general problem is the same.

What has been said serves to indicate the prime importance of giving thought to the hereditary factor in human betterment rather than trusting to a blind faith in the establishment of an environmental Utopia. The fundamental error in pampering and preserving the defective and the criminal in order that he may produce more of his kind, which shall in turn increase the drag on human progress, has been pointed out so often and so well that more need not be said at this time. It may be well, however, to turn our attention for a moment to certain special social conditions and institutions in their relation to eugenics. We have in this country a number of special problems which are of the utmost importance to our civic development and wellbeing. One of these is the race problem; before this is solved, it will be necessary that much more study and thought shall be given to the genetic aspect of the matter. But an even greater menace, to my mind, is that of indiscriminate immigration—for such restrictions as we have on immigration at the present time are entirely inadequate. It is not immigration of the poor peoples (in the material sense) of other nations, as such, that we need to fear. Many of our best classes of citizenship have come from this type. These are usually the ones who have been our pioneers—they did not come to America merely to find an easier life, but to obtain greater freedom and scope for development. It required a distinct effort on their part to seek new and better conditions under almost certain hardships in a new land; and this very effort marked a virility and fortitude in their make-up which is not manifest in those refugees from justice who seek our shores to escape the consequences of crimes committed or are drifted here along the lines of least resistance. What kind of philanthropist is he who, though he gives his millions to charity (well intentioned but perhaps misdirected) dilutes and contaminates the very structure of our commonwealth by importation of the scum of Europe to enable him to amass the millions? Cheaper labor may be an economic necessity, but can we afford it at the price? The danger would, perhaps, not be quite so great if there were not the possibility of the control of affairs falling ultimately into the hands of these undesirables; but after a short period every man among them is entitled to a vote, and the vote of one man has equal weight with that of another. Furthermore, the political demagogue makes it his business to see that all these votes are polled. Heredity and eugenic principles play no part here; but if suffrage is to be equal, should we not devote our attention to bettering the quality of the voter? With political control in the hands of the inferior, there will be little chance for eugenic legislation.

Of late years several nations have been viewing with alarm their rapidly diminishing birth rates. It has not been generally recognized, however, wherein the danger really lies. The fact of a decreasing population may in itself be of serious economic import; and even though the total population is being maintained or is growing on account of immigration, accession from without then means the swamping of the native stock. But immigration aside, the greatest cause for alarm is revealed upon an analysis of the statistics on the decrease in the number of children born. Such analysis shows that the decrease is not proportional for the total population, but that it is greatest among those classes of society which are the more desirable, namely, the professional classes, the artisans and the so-called middle classes generally. Statistics show that whereas in London the birth rate was higher sixty years ago among the classes just mentioned, fifty years later the conditions had become exactly reversed, and that the paupers, the defectives and the undesirable generally were reproducing at a greater rate than the other civic elements. The outcome of such a state of affairs, without the intervention of other forces, would be easy to predict. One modifying factor exists in the differential death rate, which falls most heavily on the physically and morally unfit; but here again the statistics have shown that this factor alone is not sufficient as a corrective. Is not this a fertile field for eugenic research? And may the eugenist not hope to offer suggestions of value? It may be some time before we can hope to do much directly to stimulate the birth rate among the better classes, but is it not time steps were taken to check it among the worse?

Economic conditions must be held in considerable part responsible for the decreasing birth rate of the professional and artisan classes. The long period of preparation necessary for a profession and the average comparatively low return, the congestion and complex social relations of our cities, the employment of only unmarried and unencumbered persons in certain positions, such as that of women teachers in many of our schools, the increasing activity of women in affairs which necessitate their continued attention and often take them much from home, laws like the Employers Liability Act, which have "led to discrimination against married persons by large employers of labor with a premium thus put upon non-marriage," and even child labor legislation—these and many other factors of our complicated social conditions have had their effect on the birth rate. It is not my purpose at this time to discuss how this trend of affairs may be arrested or changed. It might perhaps even be argued that upon biological analogy, as the race becomes more specialized and its adaptations more complex, a lower birth rate, accompanied by greater care and preparation given to the offspring, may be a necessity. However this may be, it will be an impossibility if this part of the race allows itself to become swamped in the grim struggle for existence which is ruthlessly going on despite the efforts of many well-intentioned people to stop its progress.

While our survey of the eugenics field has of necessity been very incomplete, I trust I have succeeded in presenting an idea of its diversity and richness. And now let us return for a moment to consider again our relations to our euthenist neighbor. We have seen that we can not expect from the betterment of the environment alone the Utopia often figured in his prospectus. Must we then, as some maintain, abandon all efforts in that line and let "nature" take its course without euthenic interference? It seems to me rather, that with enlightened direction the two methods may work in harmony; with intelligent cooperation the two fields may be tilled for a common crop and to mutual advantage, and we may live at peace. For environment is the lodestone which distinguishes the pure metal from the dross; it is the sieve which, properly used, will enable us to winnow the chaff and the weed seed from the grain. What we as eugenists wish to make plain is that after the bad has been separated from the good they shall not be mixed together again in the sowing, for verily what ye sow, that shall ye reap.

Of course, many of the obvious defects would be apparent in any environment, but where the reaction of inheritance and environment is subtler this is not true. It is only by "feeding out" that the stockman determines which strains of his cattle most readily lay on flesh; without trying it on the track the horseman has no test of the speed of his horse; and unless the dairyman tests the milk-producing qualities of his cows under the most favorable conditions, he has no true measure for selecting those by which he may expect to improve his herd. The rose may never bloom to perfection if it is too closely crowded by other plants—our best flowers need care and protection, because they are adapted only to a special environment. It may be urged that what we need is the virile plant that will assert itself in any environment; that we need the Lincolns and others who could attain to greatness without the aid of colleges or fellowships. But we can scarcely hope to establish at once a race of Lincolns, and it is as probable that the special environments will be as necessary for the higher types of man as they are for our specialized domesticated plants and animals. It is necessary to consider its reaction to the environment the test of the individual.

When we are able to distinguish the good inheritance from the bad, how shall we proceed to perpetuate the one and to eliminate the other? This is a matter which can be worked out only with care and patience. Measures which would disturb the fundamental relationships of society form no part of the conservative eugenic program. The extent to which certain influences, such as the church and popular belief, have been able to influence marriage in the past, lead us to hope that rational education may have a considerable influence in the future. Selective mating may also play a part, since there is a tendency for a person to select a mate who has in general similar tastes and ideals. I have no statistics at hand, but I am of the impression an investigation of the subject would show, for example, a relatively high correlation between the graduates of colleges who marry college graduates. So much as to the perpetuation of the good. As to the bad, the eugenist can here lay down definite plans, and such in fact are already in operation to some extent in certain states. If society is justified in ridding itself of the criminal, it is certainly justified in taking all precautions that he shall leave no descendants.

Our eugenic program is then first of all patient and persistent accumulation and study of the facts, and in the second place education, or extension—the bringing of those facts home to the people. We must be guarded in our statements and cautious in our proposals, for to raise antagonism over misunderstandings or small disputed points will only delay and impede progress. As eugenists—and we should all be eugenists—we must work patiently, impassionately, scientifically, but keeping ever before us as our guiding star a lofty and righteous ideal.

  1. "Euthenics, the Science of Controllable Environment," by Ellen H. Richards, Boston, 1910.
  2. Nature, Vol. 70, 1904, p. 82.
  3. Mendel Journal, No. 2, 1911, p. 112, et seq.