Tag Archives: eugenics

Wait. What? “Herd Immunity”?

Britain is ruled, since those in the current and previous Tory governments over the last ten years believe they rule, rather than govern, by a combination of idiots and monsters. They eschew learning and expertise for bunkum and blind faith. This was perfectly illustrated this morning when Robert Peston posted the following on Twitter:

Peston even repeats the government’s claims in a hastily written piece for The Spectator, a magazine known for its employment of racists, Nazi sympathizers and eugenicists. Peston writes:

The key phrase we all need to understand is ‘herd immunity’ – which is what happens to a group of people or animals when they develop sufficient antibodies to be resistant to a disease.

This claim is made without any support from peer-reviewed sources, and appears to have simply been accepted as fact from the mouth of a “Downing Street source”. Peston continues in much the same vein throughout the article.

The strategy of the British government in minimising the impact of Covid-19 is to allow the virus to pass through the entire population so that we acquire herd immunity, but at a much delayed speed so that those who suffer the most acute symptoms are able to receive the medical support they need, and such that the health service is not overwhelmed and crushed by the sheer number of cases it has to treat at any one time.

That this government should regard its citizens in such cod zoological terms should surprise no one. Eugenics, along with anti-intellectualism, is at the heart of government. Learning. erudition and expertise are held in disdain, while blind faith and pseudo-science are given pride of place. Indeed, Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s Chief Political Adviser, is himself a eugenicist, and recently advertised for “misfits and weirdos” to come and work in Downing Street. One such applicant was Andrew Sabisky, a eugenicist with similar beliefs, who claimed that black people have lower IQs than white people. Cummings was later forced to release Sabisky, a fellow eugencist from his employ.

In a blog posted in 2014, Cummings wrote:

“It is already the case that farmers use genomes to make predictions about cows’ properties and behaviour … It is already the case that rich people could use in vitro fertilisation to select the egg which they think will be most advantageous, because they can sequence genomes of multiple eggs and examine each one to look for problems then pick the one they prefer. Once we identify a substantial number of IQ genes, there is no obvious reason why rich people will not select the egg that has the highest prediction for IQ.

“This clearly raises many big questions. If the poor cannot do the same, then the rich could quickly embed advantages and society could become not only more unequal but also based on biological classes. One response is that if this sort of thing does become possible, then a national health system should fund everybody to do this. (I.e. it would not mandate such a process but it would give everybody a choice of whether to make use of it.) Once the knowledge exists, it is hard to see what will stop some people making use of it and offering services to – at least – the super-rich.”

Cummings, like the rest of the government, has neither a degree in medicine, biology or any other science. He isn’t a clinician, a virologist, an epidemiologist or even a veterinary surgeon and yet, people take him seriously. In fact, he studied Ancient and Modern History at Oxford under Norman Stone. Make of that what you will.

Only the other day, BBC2’s Newsnight invited well-known clinician, Nigel Farage, into the studio to discuss the coronavirus pandemic. Nigel Farage? Really? Where does the media’s idiocy end?

There will be many people in Britain who won’t question the government’s inaction or its eugenicist ‘solutions’, and will believe wholeheartedly that ministers and advisers are to be trusted simply because they are there, wear expensive suits and speak in perfect English. Hence, the alleged popularity of bigots like the languid Jacob Rees Mogg, who retweets neo-Nazis and dines with Nazi sympathizers. It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility than Rees Mogg is also a supporter of eugenics.

In Britain, anti-intellectualism rides tall in the saddle, and is protected and encouraged by the likes of Robert Peston, who, rather than do the job of a journalist, acts as an unofficial Information Minister to this cruel and incompetent regime. We can do better than this.

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Let’s Talk About: The Marketplace Of Ideas

First, let’s get something straight: there is no such thing as a “marketplace of ideas”. It is a fantasy of reactionaries, racists and their apologists. Ideas cannot be bought, sold or exchanged because they have no physical form. They are what they are: ideas and nothing more. They are, to adapt Engels, false consciousness (remember that the word ‘ideology’ was originally coined to refer to a ‘science of ideas’ before it was laden with considerable baggage). The notion of the marketplace of ideas is one that has been popularized by LM and its various outlets as well as the free speech fundamentalists that gather around the feet of its self-appointed sages.

To claim that all ideas deserve equal time, consideration and space is also a fantasy; a figment of the SpikedOnline imagination. The inhabitants of Spiked World and their related LM spheres believe that “dangerous ideas” should be aired for the sake of ‘free speech’, but some ideas, or discourses, are hidden for a very good reason: they are dangerous, and the fact that they are dangerous also means they’re harmful and likely to cause problems for minority groups or society as a whole.

Free speech is not absolute and anyone who says it is, is not only hopelessly naïve but quite probably working to normalise and legitimise reactionary discourses, in order to further a particular ideological agenda. So it is with Spiked and LM, whose tiresome mantra is “free speech at any price”. If people come to harm because of their airing of bad or dangerous ideas, then, in LM’s eyes, that’s simply the price that one pays for free speech. It’s intellectually dishonest and immature.

All ideas, like ideology, are a product of discourse. The recent revival of interest in eugenics, for example, is a product of historical revisionist discourses, which also come bundled with other reactionary discourses: racism for example. Eugenics, once popular among self-styled intellectuals of the Right and the Fabian Left, was banished to the wilderness of discourse after it was popularized by the Nazis. Toby Young, whose ability to think and construct coherent and logical arguments is poor and, like the fools at Spiked, is obsessed with the notion of free speech at any price. His recent dalliance with education was used a trojan horse to smuggle in his retooled notion of eugenics, which he oxymoronically describes as ‘progressive eugenics’.

Young’s fascination with eugenics comes from his uncritical acceptance of Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, which posits, among other things, that intelligence, itself a contested term, is inherent to certain ‘races and social classes’, while other ‘races’, those of African origin particularly, score low on IQ tests and are thus deemed, in the eyes of eugenicists, as subnormal. This is to ignore the ethno-cultural bias in IQ testing in the first place.

Young has defended his notion of ‘progressive eugenics’ in this statement:

My proposal is this: once this technology [genetically engineered intelligence] becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs? Provided there is sufficient take-up, it could help to address the problem of flat-lining inter-generational social mobility and serve as a counterweight to the tendency for the meritocratic elite to become a hereditary elite. It might make all the difference when it comes to the long-term sustainability of advanced meritocratic societies.

What Young fails to grasp, and to which I alluded earlier, is that intelligence is in the eye of the beholder. Moreover, Young takes Murray’s position and claims, without a shred of evidence, that intelligence is class, as well as, racially based. We should note that Murray isn’t a geneticist or a medical scientist, he’s a political scientist. Hernstein wasn’t a geneticist either, he was a psychologist and sociologist. Many have critiqued The Bell Curve for its research and lack of academic rigour and rightly so, and yet it still cited by right-wing politicians and commentators for daring to speak the truth about ‘genetically based intelligence’.

Young’s ‘progressive eugenics’ is underpinned by racist and classist discourses, which have been around since the 19th century. Indeed, IQ tests, which form the basis for Young et al’s concept of ‘progressive eugenics’ is little more than a justification for scientific racism, which in turn serves as a means to justify social exclusion and the marginalization of already oppressed groups of people.

As this blog points out, LM regards hate speech as free speech. What is revealing about this claim is that its proponents are mostly white people. In a Spiked article titled Hate speech is free speech, Frank Furedi, the leader of the LM cult lazily conflates hate speech with blasphemy:

Hate speech is the secular equivalent of blasphemy. Blasphemy targeted ‘evil speaking’, but in a non-religious world, censors don’t do morality. So hate speech is defined as prejudice directed at individuals or groups on the basis of their identity — be it racial, cultural or lifestyle. In our era of identity politics, criticism of a cultural practice can now be interpreted as an instance of ‘hatred’ towards a group.

LM’s basis for ‘free speech’ hinges on what it sees as ‘identity politics’, which has become something of an Aunt Sally for the libertarian right. You will notice that there is no criticism of identity politics when it is deployed by the Conservative Party as a means to wriggle out of its racist Hostile Environment policy or its defence of Shaun Bailey’s recent bigoted comments, when they were criticized by many on the Left. LM’s other claim is that we now live in a post-racial world, but this is nothing less than wishful thinking and intellectual dishonesty – especially because structural (which the Right denies exists) and institutionalized forms of racism persist and show no immediate signs of abating.

It is baffling that people like O’Neill and Young are given so much airtime when their ideas lack as much as a scintilla of academic rigour or, indeed, erudition. The ideas that they proffer in the media are never challenged but are accepted as axiomatic by broadcasters. Yet, any attempt to challenge their bad ideas is met with defensiveness and claims that those who oppose them are “shutting down free speech”. However, this is to assume that free speech means that the other person is compelled to listen to badly thought-out arguments without having a right to reply. On the contrary, free speech means being able to challenge bad and dangerous ideas and discourses. O’Neill, Furedi and the rest of LM need to learn that.

Further reading

Butler, J. (2013). Excitable speech: A politics of the performative. Routledge.

Here’s the Manic Street Preachers.

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