Gould%2C+Carrie+Buck_s+daughter - AUTHOR: Stephen Jay Gould...

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AUTHOR:Stephen Jay Gould TITLE:Carrie Buck's Daughter SOURCE:Natural History 111 no6 12-17 Jl/Ag 2002 The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with permission. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited. To contact the publisher: http://www.amnh.org The Lord really put it on the line in his preface to that prototype of all prescription, the Ten Commandments: for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me (Exod. 20:5). The terror of this statement lies in its patent unfairness--its promise to punish guiltless offspring for the misdeeds of their distant forebears. A different form of guilt by genealogical association attempts to remove this stigma of injustice by denying a cherished premise of Western thought--human free will. If offspring are tainted not simply by the deeds of their parents but by a material form of evil transferred directly by biological inheritance, then "the iniquity of the fathers" becomes a signal or warning for probable misbehavior of their sons. Thus Plato, while denying that children should suffer directly for the crimes of their parents, nonetheless defended the banishment of a man whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all been condemned to death. It is, perhaps, merely coincidental that both Jehovah and Plato chose three generations as their criterion for establishing different forms of guilt by association. Yet we have a strong folk, or vernacular, tradition for viewing triple occurrences as minimal evidence of regularity. We are told that bad things come in threes. Two may be an accidental association; three is a pattern. Perhaps, then, we should not wonder that our own century's most famous pronouncement of blood guilt employed the same criterion--Oliver Wendell Holmes's defense of compulsory sterilization in Virginia (Supreme Court decision of 1927 in Buck v. Bell): "three generations of imbeciles are enough." Restrictions upon immigration, with national quotas set to discriminate against those deemed mentally unfit by early versions of IQ testing, marked the greatest triumph of the American eugenics movement--the flawed hereditarian doctrine, so popular earlier in our century and by no means extinct today (see my column on Singapore's "great marriage debate," May 1984), that attempted to "improve" our human stock by preventing the propagation of those deemed biologically unfit and encouraging procreation among the supposedly worthy. But the movement to enact and enforce laws for compulsory "eugenic" sterilization had an impact and success scarcely less pronounced. If we could debar the shiftless and the stupid from our shores, we might also prevent the propagation of those similarly afflicted but already here. The movement for compulsory sterilization began in earnest during the 1890s, abetted by two
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Gould%2C+Carrie+Buck_s+daughter - AUTHOR: Stephen Jay Gould...

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