Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

In Reckless Hands: Skinner V. Oklahoma and the near Triumph of American Eugenics

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

In Reckless Hands: Skinner V. Oklahoma and the near Triumph of American Eugenics

Article excerpt

In Reckless Hands: Skinner v. Oklahoma and the Near Triumph of American Eugenics Victoria F. Nourse. New York: Norton, 2008. 240 pp. $24.95.

There are taboos, and there are taboos. Some are so buried in our culture that we are unaware how they got buried. In elucidating the controversy over eugenics in the America of the 1930s, Victoria Nourse brings understanding and comprehension to an embarrassing, forgotten, misbegotten event in our judicial if not cultural history.

In her controversial way, the author frequently emphasizes how values change. Indeed, it is shameful to learn that a few generations ago, eugenics was thought to be both progressive and constitutional. Superficially, there does seem to be some rationale for the practice of improving the species by selective breeding. After all, we apply that practice to horses, corn, and melons. Indeed, the positive approach to eugenics is pretty simple, and one everyone can agree on: There should be more people "like me." The problem is that this means green people want more Greens; Blues want more Blues, etc. However, this book focuses on the eugenically negative aspect of denying some convicted criminals their biological right to procreate.

Most disturbing to anyone concerned with intellectual ethics is the near constant indifference of everyone to the simple issue of the heritability of criminality. As the case in question winds its way through the courts, almost no one is concerned with the simple fact that there was no proof that criminal conduct was a function of genes. This simply seemed to be assumed by everyone and questioned by no one. Mixed in the bag was the presumption that sterilization was punitive even if it did not make an individual less criminal. …

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