Oddity of the Week: Mistakes We Don't Want to Repeat

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Some people have funny ideas. Not 'funny haha', either.

Mistakes We Don't Want to Repeat

A brutal retort.

At first sight, this 1913 gag from Puck hits the right notes: it's making fun of snobs who brag on their 'illustrious' ancestors. For one thing, a lot of those ancestors weren't very admirable – just a lot of pirates. For another, that doesn't say a thing about the conceited git who's got them hanging on his wall. Let him earn his own reputation.

On second look, however, there's something very disturbing about this joke. Sure, the young lady is suggesting that the fellow's forebears swam too long in the shallow end of the gene pool. That in itself is not so bad. But what does she mean, 'They evidently looked upon Eugenics as a joke'? Whoa?

Eugenics was a joke. In the very worst possible taste.

The doctrine of eugenics – and, as you can see, by 1913 it was becoming acceptable – grew out of Social Darwinism. And, unlike real Darwinism, Social Darwinism wasn't sound biology. It was just a very bad way of blaming the poor for their problems, and promoting racism. Eugenics led to very evil behaviour, and Nazism was only one outgrowth of this sloppy thinking. In Australia, it led to policies against Aboriginal people. In the US, it was a nightmare: thousands of unwilling victims were forcibly sterilised in the name of 'genetic hygiene'.

Not everything about the past is rosy. We can't always be proud of our ancestors. But boy, can we learn from their mistakes.

There are worse things in the world than marrying your second cousin.

Post Quiz and Oddities Archive

Dmitri Gheorgheni

23.02.15 Front Page

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