Of mice and men and intelligence genes

Marta Russell ap888 at SPAMlafn.org
Sun Sep 5 12:19:43 MDT 1999

Doyle Saylor wrote:

> Greetings Comrades,
>     Marta Russel brings up an essay by Astra Milberg upon the subject of
> research upon intelligence genes.


>    For example is it right to genetically test fetuses in order to abort
> every Down's syndrome baby?  Or every autistic child?  No but what is the
> Marxist understanding of what this means?  At least part of that is to
> attack rationalism at its core, the delusion of pure thought disembodied
> from the world.  Otherwise the purpose of variation in human babies is lost.
>  The reality of mutation is lost.  The change and diversity in genetics is
> lost.  The playing out of contingent changes needed to approach each
> differing system is lost.  All in the name of super human perfection that
> the Lord Our God intended for his human progeny.

Hi doyle,

good to hear from you.  while I don't have the grounding you do in philospophy
I'd like to make some other Marxist connections.

My concern is not just about the fact that disabled people as a class of
persons are devalued and the objects of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide
because it is easy to convince people that disabled are nonpersons or unequal
to themselves.  I am also aware of how disabled people's non conforming
bodies do not fit within the capitalist or some socialist modes of production
- we don't always make good workers, we are sometimes slower, cannot be pushed
to extract the greatest profits (the goal of capitalism is accummulation) and
we often cost more in health insurance, time needed off work to attend to our
medical needs etc..  And I know that the political economy  subtley and
otherwise influences the decisions to be parents make.

I believe that eugenics was supported by a capitalist class that was very
interested in ridding the world of the "unproductive".  The Nazis called us
"useless eaters" but in America social engineers were also doing their best to
find ways to eliminate us.
Now that eugenics isn't PC and not run by the state other avenues have been
found to advance its goals.

The implications of the Human Genome Project will be even broader than just
linking a gene to a condition. Historian Daniel J. Kevles in “Out of Eugenics:
The Historical Politics of the Human Genome,” cautions that the genome project
grew out of the eugenics
movement. One organizer of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Franz Kallman, for
instance, was a part of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology,
Eugenics, and Human Heredity (funded by the Rockefellers) and created the
American Society of Human Genetics. The American Eugenics Society's changed
its name to the Society for the Study of Social Biology. The Social
Biologists carry on the old eugenists discourse regarding the “problem”
defined as disabliity.

It was only in the last 20 years that Sweden and Japan stopped sterilizing
women they  THOUGHT might carry a disabled fetus - mainly women on welfare.
Now that eugenics is politically incorrect and no longer possible to be carried
out by the state,  there seems to be a propaganda war
for control of middle class parents minds over which fetus have value.

For instance, Nobel Prize-winner James Watson, co-discoverer of the molecular
structure of DNA, a founder of the Human Genone Project and current president
of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Maryland delivered a keynote speech
in 1998 to the German Congress of Molecular Medicine in which he stated, “
The truly relevant question for most families is whether an obvious good to
them will come from having a child with a major handicap. Is it more likely
for such children to fall behind in society or will they develop the
strengths of character and fortitude that lead...to the head of their packs?”
Watson’s conclusion: “we perhaps most realistically should see [a handicap]
as the major origin of asocial behavior that has among its many bad
consequences the breeding of criminal violence.”

This was in 1998 and people take this stuff seriously.

 Kelves is correct to warn, "In its ongoing fascination with questions of
behavior, human genetics will undoubtedly yield information that may be
wrong, or socially volatile, or, if the history of eugenic science is any
guide, both."

But the political economy is at work here too.  Parents think they are making a
"choice" when it can be questioned whether they really are choosing or not.

As someone on another listserve pointed out to me, Garland Allen speaks to how
capitalism and the market have inserted themselves here:

"With current availability of many genetic screening tests and
amniocentrsis, we already have in place a kind of 'laissez-faire' eugenics,
to use Philip Kitcher's phrase. Add to this, the growing pressure from
halth providers on families not to have, or to abort, 'at risk' offspring,
reproductive decisions are already being made with respect to 'genetic
defects' albeit not under orders from the state. This is what critic Troy
Duster has termed 'the backdoor to eugenics'. Is corporate pressure so much
different, or less insidious, than state pressure? We may be splitting
hairs in trying to answer that one."

My concern is not just about the fact that disabled people as a class of
persons are devalued and the objects of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide
because it is easy to convince people that disabled are nonpersons or unequal
to themselves.  Though Disabled people's
input is SO important here because we say we can have a good quality of life.
is not easy, but its not easy for poor people of color either (back to
societial/institutional/economic structures). That people with disabilities
can have a decent life flies in the face of most people's conditioning.

Often parent's don't know how deep there anti disablement conditioning is tied
to the political economy.

Marta Russell

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