Question: What does the recent uproar in the controlled press about the sterilization of mental defectives in Virginia hospitals have to do with the behavior of the American hostages in Iran?
Answer: They both reflect the essentially infantile, arrested state of personality development which has become the norm for Americans and other Westerners. As such, they are both symptoms of the West’s spiritual sickness, now in its terminal stage.
There are many other symptoms: for example, the arguments used in the ongoing debates over “test-tube” babies and capital punishment. Even the media reaction to the sperm bank established in California to preserve the genes of Nobel Prize scientists casts a revealing light on the basic values and attitudes underlying today’s society.
Let’s look at the details. During the first half of this century a great many mentally defective persons, most of them inmates of institutions for the retarded, were surgically sterilized in the United States. Some 30 states enacted specific legislation providing for such sterilizations.
In 1927, in an oft-quoted decision written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of these laws. Wrote Justice Holmes: “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”
Although the Court seems to have been motivated more by considerations of social utility than eugenics, it was the eugenics movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which provided much of the stimulus for the sterilization programs in effect then. A large number of intellectual leaders throughout the West were quite taken with the idea of steadily improving the quality of the race—or, at least, preventing its deterioration—through legislation designed to shift the reproductive balance away from the low end of the intelligence scale.
There was, of course, opposition to the eugenicists from the egalitarians, and that opposition grew mightily during the late 1930s and the 1940s, primarily as a reaction to Germany’s eugenics program. In National Socialist Germany eugenics played a larger role than in any other state since ancient Sparta. For Adolf Hitler the betterment of the race was not just a social goal, it was the goal.
In pursuit of this goal the Germans not only undertook measures designed to increase the number of children born to their brightest and healthiest citizens, but they also launched a program of sterilization of defectives far more comprehensive than that in the United States or elsewhere. This program was strongly opposed by the Christian churches, whose viewpoint has always been that all souls are of equal worth in the eyes of God.
The Jews, who had entirely different reasons for wanting to halt the spread of National Socialist ideals beyond Germany, were accordingly able to recruit churchmen and other Christians into a massive anti-eugenics propaganda campaign. Eugenics programs generally, and the sterilization of defectives specifically, became taboo. That much is history.
But a new element became clearly evident when the sterilization controversy was reopened this year by charges that medical officials in Virginia had, in years past, capriciously and carelessly used their authority to order sterilizations. Some of the women sterilized were, according to those making the charges, not really defective but merely “delinquent” or “emotionally disturbed.” Emphasized even more, however, has been the complaint that all the women sterilized, retarded or not, were deprived of their “right” to the experience of motherhood.
Whether medical authorities exercised their authority responsibly and consistently is one question, and a reasonable one to ask—although the critics have yet to produce a single example of the involuntary sterilization of a genetically sound man or woman. The ones the media have dredged up and interviewed have been uniformly sorry specimens.
The question of a “right” to experience motherhood (or fatherhood) is an altogether different question. Fifty years ago such a question could hardly have been raised with any hope of a sympathetic response, for there was still a general recognition of the fact that reproduction is a social and racial, as well as individual, function. The assertion that a congenital moron or a person with some other severe genetic defect has a right to generate offspring if he or she so desires would have seemed grotesque.
Today that is no longer so. Priests, lawyers, bureaucrats, politicians, and media commentators alike now take it for granted that such a right exists.
To be sure, there is still quite a bit of doubletalk and obfuscating sophistry being thrown up as a smokescreen by some of the less brazen champions of feebleminded fertility. They question the motives and conscientiousness of the medical authorities who administer sterilization programs, painting a frightening picture of thousands of healthy, even gifted, boys and girls being forcibly sterilized merely for being “misfits” or “troublemakers.” They argue that heredity is governed by the laws of chance; that dull parents sometimes have apparently normal offspring. They complain that using intelligence as a criterion for reproductive fitness is arbitrary and unjustified; that many persons of low intelligence lead happy and productive lives.
Behind all the sophistry, however, remains the naked conviction that even persons who are unquestionably defective and who stand a very high probability of having defective offspring—and an even higher probability of keeping their defective genes in circulation—should be allowed to reproduce; that it is the whim of the individual which should prevail in such matters, rather than any social or racial considerations.
One can see the same attitude manifested, perhaps even more clearly, in the debate between the pioneers of the new in vitro human fertilization technique and their Bible-quoting opponents. Do the scientists point out that their technique opens up magnificent new vistas for upbreeding the race by allowing a genetically superior woman the possibility of becoming the genetic mother of thousands of offspring? Heavens, no! The merest hint of such things sends them scurrying for cover.
The sole merit they claim for their work is that it allows individual married couples who cannot produce children because of congenital or disease-related defects in the woman’s Fallopian tubes to enjoy the pleasures and rewards of parenthood. One might hope that the physicians themselves have a somewhat broader outlook on the implications of in vitro fertilization, but clearly they have no hope that their opponents—or the general public—will respond to anything but the maudlin “joys of parenthood” stand they have publicly taken.
The subject of test-tube babies, just as that of the involuntary sterilization of mental defectives, inevitably raises the eugenic question, of course, which provokes all the fear-ridden clichés of the egalitarian dogmatists. The same is true of the high-IQ sperm bank in California which recently drew such withering blasts of condemnation from the controlled media. The very suggestion that all spermatazoa may not be equal sends some people up the wall; they begin raving about an attempt to create a “master race,” as if such an attempt would be the most reprehensible thing imaginable.
We must expect such a reaction from the arbiters of public morality whenever any challenge or potential challenge to the democratic ideals of universal equality is raised. Egalitarianism is really a religion for those Westerners who uncritically accept the preachments of the controlled media, and heresy has never been popular. But there is more than ignorance of genetic realities and the natural fear of heterodoxy in the public reaction to all these topics. The most significant things revealed are the extent to which an extreme form of egocentricity is the individual frame of reference in today’s society—and, more so, the extent to which such extreme egocentricity is accepted and approved.
That is, it is taken for granted now that involuntary sterilization is bad, because it deprives an individual of certain possibilities for self-expression. The average person judging the matter (who is not personally threatened with sterilization) puts himself in the place of the person so threatened and reacts negatively. And that’s all his judgment takes into account: how would this affect me as all individual; would I want to give up the possibility of parenthood if I had a low IQ?
Similarly for a thousand other things, from capital punishment to the problem of illegal aliens: the feelings, the desires, the comfort, the safety, the fears of the individual are the criteria, the needs of the race or of society are irrelevant. One may argue that the average man has always been egocentric, that it is only the exceptional person who views the world from within a broader mental framework. If that is so, it merely provides one more argument against democracy.
In any event, two things are clear. The leaders of the West and the spokesmen for its principal institutions—religious, political, educational, juridical, and so on—look at the world from a substantially more individual-centered viewpoint today than they did in Justice Holmes’s day; and the average citizen, even if his egocentricity is no worse, feels much less need to make excuses for it. In fact, whereas 50 years ago most persons at least felt obliged to accept and pay lip service to society-centered, nation-centered, or race-centered mores, today there is often no comprehension or even awareness of any viewpoint but the one of extreme individualism. Society, in the eyes of far too large a portion of the current generation of Westerners, exists to serve the needs of the individual, and that is all.
The transformation, of course, has not been total; such matters are never very sharply defined. Nevertheless, the change is undeniable. Consider, for example, the behavior of American prisoners of war during the closing years of the Vietnam conflict, or of the U.S. military personnel among the present hostages in Iran. What is interesting is not just that a few hostages are behaving badly, but that their behavior draws no reproaches from their peers.
From their first week of captivity several Marine hostages, without torture or deprivation, were whining for their government to hand the Shah over so they could be released. There has been no really significant adverse reaction to this from the American public. Indeed, the most common attitude seems to be one of acceptance of such behavior as expected, if not admirable.
There was much soul-searching and hand-wringing during the Vietnam war by sociologists and psychologists trying to explain why our POWs were not behaving the way they had in earlier wars. Actually, the matter is not all that difficult to analyze, but as a starting point it requires the recognition of one salient fact: the shift in personal viewpoint toward egocentricity during the past few decades is, in its barest essence, a partial regression toward infantilism.
The infant has a totally egocentric perspective. All that exists, exists solely for him: to feed him, to keep him warm, to soothe him, to give him pleasure, or to harm him. All his motives are completely selfish, completely individual-centered. His vocabulary, just as his catalog of mental concepts, is focused entirely on himself and his needs: “want”; “give”; various words for food—and for that warm, nourishing, protective, comforting machine of his mama.
The infant always chooses the course of least resistance; he is ruled by his craving for pleasure and his fear of pain. Outside the realm of his personal needs the world has no reality for him. As he grows, however, the size of his world also grows, and with it his perspective. He begins to value things beyond those which give him immediate pleasure or pain. He becomes capable of postponing self-gratification, sometimes into an indefinite future.
And when he has come to the point where he consciously accepts the fact that there is a reality which transcends his own existence; that he is but a part of a greater social, national, and racial whole which existed before he did and will continue to exist when he no longer does; and that as a part of this greater whole he is responsible for it and must guide his actions in accord with its needs as well as with his purely personal desires—then he has reached full adulthood.
It is only reasonable to believe that, in every generation, a substantial portion of the population never reaches adulthood. Our misfortune is that that portion seems to have increased markedly in our generation. Thus we not only have physicians, jurists, bureaucrats, and politicians treating matters concerned with human reproduction as purely personal, disregarding all social and racial aspects, but we also have a population with a lower tolerance for discomfort, less self-discipline, and less capacity for self-denial.
The former—the official attitude toward sterilization, for example—might be explained in purely political terms as the consequence of a shift toward a more democratic ideology, but the latter—the behavior of POWs and hostages, for example—seems to have little to do with politics. The soldier who, faced with an uncomfortable situation, is ready to do whatever will ease his immediate discomfort, without a thought for the larger implications of his behavior, simply has not grown up; he is less a man than was the average soldier of his age 35 years ago.
Why is this so? What has unmanned the West? What has changed in the West in the last few decades to cause a shift toward egocentrism?
An adequate answer to this question is hardly possible in the space available here, but a suggestive outline can be sketched, at least. In essence, fewer people grow up today, because there is less demand for them to do so. Child-rearing practices, the educational system, the impact of technology on lifestyles, and many other factors play a role, but what they have all done is decrease the necessity, the environmental pressure, for achieving psychical maturity.
For thousands of years the raising of children, and the relationship of the child to the world around him, remained relatively unchanged in northern Europe. Children, at a very early age, became economically integrated into the family. Even children four or five years old had regular family responsibilities: caring for younger children, performing daily chores on the farm, or helping in some cottage industry.
By the time a child reached his teens he was a full-fledged member of the family community—if he had not already left the shelter of his parents’ home. During the Middle Ages it was not uncommon for a boy who intended to learn a trade to be apprenticed to a master in another town or village at the age of 10 or 1l. In the rougher times prior to the Middle Ages, a boy was required to learn the martial arts and be prepared to defend himself, his family, and his tribe at a much tenderer age than that at which young men were called for military service in this country recently.
Not only were responsibilities pressed upon a person earlier in years past, but he absorbed many of life’s other lessons sooner as well: living most often as a member of an extended family of several generations in which births and deaths all took place under one roof, and usually in the more intimate contact with nature provided by a rural setting, a young person’s formative years were not distorted by the artificiality of urban living. He progressed in a natural way from the dependence of infancy to the independence/interdependence of adulthood as a responsible member of his clan and his tribe.
Although the average person’s life was by no means one of unremitting toil and unrelieved hardship during most periods of history, it was usually hard and unforgiving enough to discourage any attempt to unnaturally prolong the process of maturation. Almost from the time a person could walk and talk, he knew he was expected to pull his own weight—and he knew that he was a member of a community whose members depended in many ways upon one another. These two complementary facts were deeply ingrained in every person’s consciousness.
Today life for most people is rather different from that of our ancestors. In particular, two things are different: during the years of physical maturing the pressure to mature psychically is reduced, and the bonds formed between the individual and the community are distorted and weakened.
The dependence and irresponsibility of infancy are prolonged into a person’s early twenties in a substantial portion of the population, and the individual-community relationships of urban living are far more impersonal. At the same time, family life has become a much more tenuous and insubstantial thing.
We should hardly be surprised that men and women who, in growing from infancy through childhood to physical adulthood, have never been subjected to corporal punishment, no matter what their behavior; who have never had to perform strenuous manual labor or otherwise earn their daily bread; who have been shielded from every danger, hardship, and unpleasantness; who have always been pampered with a superfluity of material goods and never experienced real deprivation; who have always been cajoled and bribed rather than commanded, always persuaded with the carrot instead of the stick; who have never had to suffer the natural consequences of a failure to perform; whose most weighty decision has been how most pleasurably to wile away their idle hours and days; for whom the word “discipline” has an unfamiliar albeit vaguely nasty ring; and to whom self-indulgence, no matter how gross, has never borne any reproach still retain, as university graduates, much the same view of the world and their relationship to it that they had when they wore diapers, 20 years earlier, and that this mindset then remains with them through life.
Likewise, we should hardly be surprised that these same men and women, who spent their childhood years in homes from which one or both parents were absent much of the time; who seldom saw other kin except on holiday occasions once or twice a year; who grew up in an urban environment, where most of the people living around them were nameless strangers; who never had the experience of belonging to a racially homogeneous community, whether at school or at work or on the neighborhood playground, where everyone else shared their racial, cultural, and spiritual heritage, are unable to feel a sense of responsibility to anyone or anything beyond themselves.
Once again, a cautionary note is in order: the above exposition has focused on extremes, and the actual situation in the Western world is by no means so clear-cut. Yet it is true that the trend in child raising during the past half century has been toward increased permissiveness; that there are more working mothers, and the increasing shift of labor from rural farm or village to urban industry has meant less contact as well between children and their fathers, not to mention other kin; that universities have become less training centers for an elite of scholars and professionals than excuses for everyone to postpone coming to grips with the world for four more years; and that the alienating experience of a multiracial environment has become alarmingly common. And the consequence of these and other trends in modern life has been a population with a more infantile world-view: more egocentricity and less sense of responsibility.
Thus, the weeding out of defective members of society, whether through sterilization or the electric chair, has become, in the public view, less the way to a healthier future than a denial of individual rights; scientific breakthroughs in human reproduction are seen less as offering the glorious possibility of breeding a truly superior race than as, at best, a benefit to diseased individuals or, at worst, a threat to the individual’s sense of self-importance; and military service is not seen as “service” at all, but as a meal ticket for those who cannot find better employment.
The ramifications reach into every area of American life: the rising rate of racial miscegenation, the failure to halt non-White immigration, falling labor productivity, and the declining effectiveness of the armed forces, to name only a few.
Being able to find the causes of our present social ills in certain of the changes our lifestyle has undergone in recent decades does not cure the ills, of course. But it does give us an understanding of how deeply rooted in—how organic to—our society they are. It lets us understand that there can be no purely political cure, gotten simply by electing a few new politicians to office and changing a few laws. It leads us to the certainty that, if our race is to survive, we must undertake a revolutionary restructuring of our whole society.
Originally published in National Vanguard, no. 76, 1980; reprinted in The Best of Attack! and National Vanguard Tabloid, ed. Kevin Alfred Strom (Arlington, Va.: National Vanguard Books, 1984), pp. 190–92.