Backdoor to Eugenics

Backdoor to Eugenics

Backdoor to Eugenics

Backdoor to Eugenics

Synopsis

Considered a classic in the field, Troy Duster's Backdoor to Eugenics was a groundbreaking book that grappled with the social and political implications of the new genetic technologies. Completely updated and revised, this work will be welcomed back into print as we struggle to understand the pros and cons of prenatal detection of birth defects; gene therapies; growth hormones; and substitute genetic answers to problems linked with such groups as Jews, Scandanavians, Native American, Arabs and African Americans. Duster's book has never been more timely.

Excerpt

Conservatism has always been linked to forms of thought that tend to reduce the social to the natural—the historical to the biological. But something new is happening in this era of cultural reaction: Recent progress in molecular biology and the discovery of the genetic basis of certain illnesses are beginning to revive the old eugenics (which had been discredited by association with the Nazis) and above all the old mythologies, which, clothed in the biological sciences, were sometimes used to legitimize social differences. If it is true that some genetic deficiencies are unevenly distributed among ethnic groups, why couldn’t it be so for many other traits? And why shouldn’t we ask genetics for the explanation for differences in intelligence, criminality, and mental illness? We know that at the end of the 1960s, a Berkeley psychologist reopened the old debate about the genetics of intelligence, arguing in the Harvard Educational Review that blacks performed more poorly than whites on IQ tests because of their genetic makeup. This was a reaction to prevalent views about the social determination of behavior, and it was quickly picked up by neoconservatives at Commentary and elsewhere. Today the new genetics brings a “halo of legitimacy” to racist and reactionary stereotypes: Purely genetic arguments are invoked with increasing frequency to account for behaviors which, like intelligence and the propensity to violence, are the results of complex combinations of factors.

Troy Duster, a sociology professor at Berkeley, well known for his works on morality and law (especially The Legislation of Morality: Law, Drugs and Moral Judgment), here draws the connections between the resurgence of essentialist thinking and the rise of the new biotechnologies—technolo gies that have demonstrated the greater frequency of certain genetic deficiencies among “risk populations, ” which correspond rather precisely to ethnic groups. He cautions us against the risks of stigmatization, discrimination, and marginalization inherent in screening policies, and in the increasingly sophisticated tests they bring to bear, in a society where power

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