Friday, May 26, 2017

This Is The Man Who Oliver Wendell Holmes jr. Believed To Be Producing Reliable Science On Which To Base Reliable Justice

It's raining here so I have had a free morning to go looking up stuff, so I looked up the source of that quotation that I used in my earlier post. The rain has also washed the pollen out of the air so, no allergy meds, yippee!

The quote comes from the 1919 book by Henry Herbert Goddard, Psychology of the Normal and Subnormal,  a book by a best-selling scientist-author (The Kallikak Family was a wildly influential best seller).  I will note, not coincidentally, that 1919 is the same year that the Nazi party was founded.  It is also the period in which fascism was rising in Italy and military-imperial rule in Japan and Leninism was driving out the democrats in what would become the Soviet Union.

I will give you a large chunk of the book, verbatim, with minimal commentary where I can't restrain myself from making observations.  It is truly a window into the direction that the kind of scientific thinking which asserts it can measure people and grade them like eggs, in terms of quality and utility I talked about in the earlier piece will tend toward.  I will ask you to consider the echos of such thinking that can be heard everywhere, today, on the left and on the right.  I will also ask you to consider that Goddard had gained his fame through his directorship of an institution allegedly caring for the "feeble-minded" and that the bulk of his book consists of an argument that a far higher number of people are "morons" "imbeciles" etc. and, so the "average man" is far stupider than those he took to be uninformed might believe.

If it is ultimately found that the intelligence of the average man is thirteen – instead of sixteen – it will only confirm what some are beginning to suspect;  viz., that the average man can manage his affairs with only a moderate degree of prudence, can earn only a very modest living, and is vastly better off when following directions than when trying to plan for himself.  In other words it will show that there is a fundamental reason for so many of the conditions that we find in human society and further that much of our effort to change conditions is unintelligent because we have not understood the nature of the average man.

These and many other assertions are identical to the arguments that fascists made against democracy.  But being an American, writing in English, Goddard couldn't dispose of democracy without risking alienating large numbers of people.  He solved that problem by defining democracy in an age of scientific enlightenment as being fascism.  While calling it "democracy".

It is not necessary here to point out the far-reaching effect of such a discovery – should it prove true.  We may, however, allow ourselves one observation.  Some may think that this doctrine of mental levels, especially if it leads to such facts as above indicated, is an argument against democracy.  It certainly is an argument against certain theories of democracy.  Democracy means the people rule (Demos, people; Kratos, ruler). [Goddard always seems to think if he can attach a Greek word to something that means he wins the argument. ]  To maintain that mediocre or average intelligence should decide what is best for a group of people in their struggle for existence is manifestly absurd.   We need the advice of the highest intelligence of the group, not the average any more than the lowest. 

Democracy is historically a rebellion against a so called aristocracy (Aristos, best) a rule by divine right, the divine right  of kings.   The trouble with the old aristocracy is in the answer to the question,  “Who decides who is the best?”  In the aristocracies of the past a small group of people have said,  “We are the best, we have the right to rule.”   Democracy says:  “The entire group must decide who is best, wisest, who can give us the best advice.”  But will average intelligence select highest intelligence and submit to its rule?   It depends on the character of the highest intelligence, and its attitude toward mediocre and low intelligence.  The moron in the community will not select and obey the man who tests hightest but who pursues his intelligence for his own aggrandizement and mistreats those of lower intelligence.  But the morons and imbeciles in an institution would select and do obey the superintendent and his helpers because they are working unselfishly [yeah, right] to make the morons and imbeciles happy. 

Democracy, the, means that the people rule by selecting the wisest, most intelligent and most human to tell them what to do to be happy. [Again, this is an argument for fascism, made by fascists at exactly the same time Goddard wrote this.] Thus Democracy is a method for arriving at a truly benevolent aristocracy.  Such a consummation will be reached when the most intelligent learn to apply their intelligence.  In other words instead of securing power by such political methods as are now too often resorted to,  or by the use of money and “influence” high intelligence must so work for the welfare of the masses as to command their respect and affection.

I am going to break in here, again, because it's clear that Goddard's view of reality, as a director of just such an institution, was entirely self-serving and self aggrandizing.  That is not a rare thing among those in psychology and other "inexact" sciences.   If you want to know just what a complete fool Goddard was, he's about to prove it in the very next sentence.

This is not difficult, once the problem is understood and the right attitude taken.  The reason the moron is a menace in society is that he is misunderstood and consequently mistreated.  The reason he is happy, contented, obedient, and useful member of an institution for the feeble-minded, is that he is understood and treated with consideration.  His mental level is recognized and every effort made to secure his happiness.  The truest democracy is found in an institution for the feeble-minded and it is an aristocracy – a rule by the best.

Fascism, in both its right wing form and in its red-fascist, Marxist form, is pretty much just what Goddard was advocating as science, turning societies into institutions ruled over by rulers convinced they are the best, the most intelligent, the wisest, etc.  How that differs from the "old aristocracy" not at all is to be found all through the assertions of the beneficiaries of the British class system in literature and, especially flowing from assertions of Malthusian economics, most of all natural selection, science.  

Remember, Goddard was a man whose scientific assertions wielded great influence in, especially, Republican politics in the United States in the 1920s.  His science was used to pass legislation into law and to make law in the Supreme Court.  That the party that did that would produce the Great Depression and be heaved out of power in 1933 might be a fortuitous coincidence or it might be the results of the reality that Goddard's romantic view of rule by "the most intelligent" was a fantasy, that those who favor aristocracy will always try to steal everything for themselves and their families. If he didn't know that he was an idiot, if he did know that he was a filthy liar.  Or more of one than his best seller proves himself to have been.   

We've got our own versions of him on best-sellers lists right now, he's not just a figure of a done and finished past so don't start feeling smug on that account.   Charles Murray is far from dead, neither are those who support his neo-eugenics.

Update:  Rereading this, it occurs to me that Goddard was making the exact same arguments that Plato and the anti-democratic party in Athens were making against popular rule way back then.   It has always been an argument against democracy from its earliest development.   The alternative was also known as Plato presented the anti-intellectual, military despotism of Sparta as superior.  And that boob didn't even take into account that he'd have been either excluded or killed as philosophy was banned in Sparta.  Not coincidentally, in their assertion of natural selection a line of writers, beginning with Charles Darwin, Ernst Haeckel and others, including American eugenicists, cited Spartan infanticide as part of their implications of ideas to improve the human stock.

Update 2: Hate Mail -  You know, if I provided links to everything I said most of the text would display as red.  Here's the link to a piece I wrote about Darwin and Haeckel asserting the eugenic effects of infanticide in Sparta.   I don't make a habit out of saying things I can't back up. 

1 comment:

  1. Cyril Kornbluth held fast to the idea "morons" would arise to drown us all (and lest we forget, "Idiot" and "moron" were legal terms of art at one point. When Holmes decried "three generations of imbeciles," it always bears remembering he was using a legal term, not a pejorative). "The Marching Morons" was published in 1951, and Kornbluth used the idea for several stories.

    Ideas, unfortunately, are bullet-proof.