Social Darwin and the “Useless Eaters”

by Marie Snyder

Some people are arguing that the removal of mask mandates in hospitals is a form of eugenics. Tamara Taggart, President of Down Syndrome BC, said on “This is Vancolour,” 

“This is eugenics, like 100%. So now we don’t care about people. . . . All those people are expensive. I mean, it’s a harsh thing to say, but it is true. . . . My kid with a disability, he’s expensive in the grand scheme of things. A disabled person in the hospital? They’re expensive. So why else would we remove masks? Elderly people at long-term care facilities? They’re expensive!”

In an older Tyee article, currently recirculating, “My Daughter Shouldn’t be Sacrificed to ‘Get Back to Normal,'” Laesa Kim writes,

“Our family has learned more about ableism and eugenics throughout this pandemic than we should have. We have witnessed both individuals and institutions shrug as COVID more heavily affects marginalized communities.  . . . Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Good Morning America that ‘the overwhelming number of deaths of vaccinated individuals, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really these are people who were unwell to begin with and yes, really encouraging news in the context of Omicron.’ This is eugenic. . . . Public health directions are subtly promoting the same thought: It is fine to allow a virus to spread through the population, largely unchecked and unchallenged, because the assumption is that is will only kill certain demographics of people.” 

And I also used that term originally in the title of a recent post, “At What Point is Inaction a Form of Eugenics??,” showing the similarity between our dismissiveness of the disabled and elderly and children now and the experience of gay men with AIDS in the 80s. 

But then I changed it. It’s not quite eugenics as we think of it now. It’s potentially genocide

Eugenics is commonly defined as selective breeding to improve the population. The Genome Research Institutes definition is the “scientifically erroneous and immoral theory of ‘racial improvement’ and ‘planned breeding’ which gained popularity during the early 20th century,” using methods such as involuntary sterilization to rid society of the ‘unfit’ as well as encouraging procreation of the “desirables.”

 The ‘elite’ couples breeding to save mankind are eugenicists, not the hospitals removing masks.

A little history on this for fun: The original term eugenics came from Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, in 1883, who wanted to develop a global utopia “by getting rid of its ‘undesirables’ while multiplying its ‘desirables’.” Technically, by that definition, allowing Covid to run wild fits. The idea predates him though, with Robert Malthus’s 1798 “Essay on the Principle of Population,” which also advocates for reduced reproduction in general and letting the poor die off by just not helping them. Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory influenced Nietzsche‘s master race ideas, which further influenced society.  

By the turn of the century, many well-educated and influential people around the world went all in with the new science of evolution mixed with genetics and really believed that people are 100% a product of their genes, including all character traits, abilities, and diseases. Therefore, they deduced, if we sterilize the “feeble-minded,” poor, and criminal, then the next generation will be completely free from social ills including alcoholism, venereal disease, and divorce!! This group includes Nellie McClung, who fought to get women the vote in order to legislate temperance and eugenics. For first-wave feminists, eugenics was a feature, not a bug. In the 20s, McClung was particularly worried that the war took all the strong, healthy men and left behind men unfit for “good breeding,” which would have a disastrous effect on generations to come. This was urgent! Then the dramatic increase in mental illness in the 1930s was seen as a sign of defective genetics, rather than the psychological effects of surviving a world war, a pandemic, and a financial crisis. 

This wide-spread belief provoked legislation, and in 1928, and lasting as long as 1972, some Canadian provinces had a “Sexual Sterilization Act,” specific to “inmates of mental hospitals,” but they also coercively sterilized Indigenous women who gave birth in hospitals. As far as I can find, McClung didn’t want to use eugenics racially, despite some earlier racist comments. She famously pleaded in 1939 to allow entry to all refugees into Canada: “Whether they enrich us or not materially, one thing is certain: If we refuse them, we will be impoverished in our hearts.” 

Tommy Douglas, the founder of our health care system, also agreed with sterilization of “mental defectives and those incurably diseased” and wrote about his concerns with “subnormal” families, but he reconsidered this stance by the 1940s, and rejected any sterilization legislation for Saskatchewan. 

In my city, we recently changed the name of a public school because of the eugenic beliefs of A.R. Kaufman. He has been honoured by Planned Parenthood for his early work in distributing birth control information and offering voluntary sterilization to his seasonal employees so they would have fewer mouths to feed (rather than pay them more – he was vehemently anti-union). It’s eugenicist because he targeted the poor and disabled explaining,

“My opinion is that individuals lack normal health when they are blind or are afflicted with various diseases or mental deficiency. . . . Cooperative doctors in Canada have sterilized 500 individuals on the request of my bureau, and only in about a dozen cases has they been paid even a small fee. . . . We must choose between birth control and revolution. We are raising too large a percentage of dependent classes and I do not blame them if they steal and fight before they starve. I fear that the opportunity will not be so long deferred as some day the Governments are going to lack the cash and perhaps also the patience to keep so many people on relief.” 

Yikes! Right?! 

But, about that last bit: Does it make a difference that he said this during the depression of the 1930s, when people were literally starving to death?

It’s horrific, absolutely, to take away reproductive rights without true informed and voluntary consent, and it’s certainly disgusting to try to convince certain demographics to avoid having any more children, definitely, but that’s very different than creating conditions that cause or hasten people’s death. And it was somewhat ironic that people were discussing the importance of removing Kaufman’s name and legacy from our city, with most people in the room unmasked in a public building, potentially spreading a deadly and disabling virus. I don’t blame people for dropping masks, though; I fully blame government legislation and communications.

But then the definition of eugenic narrowed. That getting rid of people part of Galton’s definition of eugenics was effectively parcelled out by Raphael Lemkin‘s use of the term genocide, in 1944, to describe deadly direct and indirect harm to identifiable groups of people. Forced and coerced sterilization is officially a type of genocide, but what governments are doing now is arguably worse. 

From the Canadian Criminal Code, section 318 (emphasis is mine):

(2) In this section, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part any identifiable group, namely, (a) killing members of the group; or (b) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction. . . . (4) In this section, identifiable group means any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or mental or physical disability.”

The barrier to using this term legally, however, according to the United Nations, is that “there must be proven intent on the part of perpetrators” to attempt to destroy a group of people. Because anyone can get Covid, even though some people are more likely to die of it, like the old, the young, and the disabled, it can’t officially be called a genocide. Just gleefully saying that it’s “encouraging news” that SARS 2 just kills people who are elderly or unwell already isn’t enough to be genocidal. However, it feels on par with allowing a famine to happen in Ireland or Holodomor in Ukraine, where many Russians also died, and there are many similar slippery situations for comparison. 

A satirical post from "The New York End Times": College kids are masking. Here's why that's dangerous. And an image of a classroom with everyone in a variety of Covid-masks.It’s complicated to find the right word for allowing the deaths of the “weaker” members of society. 

Without masks or any guarantee of clean air in hospitals, longterm homes, schools, and daycares, while vaccines become harder to access and variants get better at escaping them anyway and better at transmitting, mutating, and multiplying in host bodies towards their own evolutionary perfection, governments not acting to protect their citizens are negligent at the very least.

According to the WHO, we’re almost at 7 million deaths from Covid worldwide in just over three years. That’s more than the number of Jewish people killed in the holocaust. However, Hitler didn’t start with systemically killing Jewish people, although their persecution and restriction was well underway by the start of the war. He started with the disabled. 1939 ushered in the Euthanasia Program, which legalized the murder of those deemed “unworthy of life.” From the Holocaust Encyclopedia (unnervingly written in present tense),

“At first, doctors and staff in hospitals are encouraged to neglect patients. Thus, patients die of starvation and diseases. Later, groups of ‘consultants’ visit hospitals and decide who will die. Those patients are sent to various ‘euthanasia’ killing centers in Greater Germany and killed by lethal injection or in gas chambers.”

It’s distasteful that some people think they’re superior to the point of breeding to save humanity, and it’s questionable to target birth control information to certain groups of people who are impoverished or disabled, but it’s absolutely horrific to allow people to die because they’re too expensive to care for or not sufficiently productive members of society to be considered valuable. Whatever we call it, it has to stop.

A satirical piece from "The Vertlartnic" (with the same font as The Atlantic): "There are still people trying to stop other people dying and we just don't get it. What is in it for them?" with an image of a man looking questioningly at a laptop.
More satire that’s not far from reality.