Damnatio Memoriae in Silicon Valley. Is Helen Keller Next?
Silicon Valley is, of course, built on cognitive elitism but nobody seems to get the joke:
Palo Alto school district trustees unanimously support finding new names
By the start of the 2018-19 school year, Palo Alto’s David Starr Jordan and Terman middle schools will be no more. The school board voted unanimously on Friday to rename both schools given their namesakes’ promotion of eugenics, a 20th century movement that believed in the superiority of particular races over others.
… Todd Collins, who previously said he supported finding a new name for Jordan but hesitated on Terman, said Friday that he recognizes how much names matter — particularly to the students, parents and community members who have testified about their experiences with racial exclusion or discrimination at school and the importance of protecting students against such harm.
Superintendent Max McGee said that the one-time costs of renaming — about $50,000, the committee estimated — could be funded through a school bond voters approved in 2008. (The bond covers facilities updates like new signage and painting.)
While both Jordan and Terman were renowned academic figures — Jordan as the founding president of Stanford University and Terman as a Stanford psychologist who created a prominent IQ test — they were also leaders in the eugenics movement. Those who support renaming argued their active promotion of eugenics made them unfit namesakes for public schools. …
The renaming of Terman is complicated by the fact that when the school reopened in 2001 it was named to honor both Lewis M. Terman and his son, Frederick, an accomplished electrical engineer often referred to as the “father of Silicon Valley.” The renaming committee said it found no evidence that Frederick was involved in eugenics.
Sitting in the audience at the district office on Friday were Terrance and Jim Terman, the grandson and great-grandson, respectively, of Lewis M. Terman. They said in an interview with the Weekly after the meeting that they only heard of the renaming proposal recently, after a sermon at their local church on historical legacy.
“I feel like my grandfather is being thrown under the bus because no one has accused him of doing anything wrong, but there’s somehow the idea ‘because of his father he’s tainted,’” said Jim, whose middle name is Lewis. “That’s even more chilling — the idea that you’re not judged by your own actions or your own beliefs, but you’re being judged by your immediate relatives.”
Here’s a 2015 list by somebody named Rob Baker of once famous supporters of eugenics:
My view has long been that the engine of the current eugenics controversy is largely a proxy war between the two biggest winners of the 20th Century, Anglo-American WASPs and Jews, for historical bragging rights, with ethnocentric Jews such as Stephen Jay Gould retconning history to denigrate their chief ethnic rivals for honors. As I wrote in 2014:
Of course, an inevitable side effect of ethnic specialization was that each group didn’t have as much to brag about outside its specialty. For example, while Jews in the 20th-century United States could rightly boast of the accomplishments of physicists like Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman, they largely lacked role models among the great Darwinians in biology and psychology, who tended to be representatives of the WASP old elite.
By the 1970s, this state of affairs was becoming less tolerable to rising scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, and Leon Kamin. While Darwin’s immense prestige made his memory almost unassailable, their envy was focused upon a suitable scapegoat, Darwin’s half-cousin Francis Galton. …
A century before, Galton had launched an immense campaign to raise awareness about what he called “eugenics.” It was a long-term goal, like space exploration was in the 1920s. Galton and his followers knew that to make scientific progress they’d have to come up with breakthroughs in statistics, genetics, evolutionary theory, psychology, and so forth. For instance, in late middle age, Galton made epochal advances in statistics, inventing the correlation coefficient and regression analysis. Many other scientists were inspired to make more discoveries. …
John Glad, retired director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, wrote an important book in 2011, Jewish Eugenics, documenting the Jewish love-hate relationship with eugenics.
The most striking revelation is that, contrary to the current impression, Jews largely approved of eugenics until the end of the 1960s. (The most effective opponents tended to be Catholics, such as G.K Chesterton, author of 1922’s Eugenics and Other Evils.) Glad quotes endless Jewish spokesmen from the first seven decades of the 20th century to the effect that Jews had been practicing eugenic marriages for 3,000 years. The medical profession, which was largely secular and progressive, was enthusiastic about eugenics, and there was little evidence that the sizable number of Jewish doctors objected.
Rather, Jews didn’t contribute much scientifically to this quite productive movement because their city skills took them in other directions, such as becoming doctors rather than naturalists. To contribute to the Darwinian mainstream, it helped to be a smart country boy who grew up interested in plants, animals, and domestic animal breeding. Gould’s archrival Edward O. Wilson is a representative American version, an Alabama lad who couldn’t get enough of ants.
This is not to say that there weren’t important Jewish scientist contributors to the Darwinian / Galtonian tradition, but, just as Jews were in the forefront of the nuclear bomb and Germans of the ballistic missile (put them together and the world almost was blown up), but Anglo-American WASPs dominated in the Darwin-Galton fields.
Likewise, there were prominent Jewish intellectuals who intensely backed eugenics, such as Harold Laski, the British Labour Party’s leading intellectual between the wars (Laski had studied eugenics under Galton’s leftist protege Karl Pearson and had married a gentile lady who lectured on eugenics). But, in general, Jews tended to be polemicists more for things like Marxism and Freudianism than for eugenics. Jews didn’t much criticize eugenics before the 1970s, but it didn’t galvanize their enthusiasms the way Marxism, Freudianism, Structuralism, Randianism, and other ideologies did.
Using many hundreds of quotes from contemporary publications dating back to the 19th century, Glad traces the broad enthusiasm for eugenics among Jewish leaders, both progressive and conservative, assimilationist and Zionist, up through the 1960s. Then, following the rise of 1960s radicalism, Israel’s triumph in the 1967 Six-Day War, the UN’s 1975 vote to condemn Zionism as racism, and the subsequent Holocaust memorial movement, there emerged a new historical orthodoxy. Jewish intellectuals such as Gould systematically demonized eugenics as heavily responsible for the Nazis and much else that wasn’t good for the Jews. …
Meanwhile, Glad points out, Jews, both religious and secular, remain at the forefront of implementing eugenic techniques and technologies (although they don’t use the e-word anymore). For example, Dor Yeshorim, the Committee for Prevention of Jewish Genetic Diseases, was founded in the 1980s by Rabbi Eckstein after he lost four children to hereditary Tay-Sachs disease. Rabbi Eckstein’s system of premarital genetic testing has succeeded in largely eliminating this terrible tragedy from New York’s ultra-Orthodox community.
Likewise, Israel is a magnet for eugenics technology start-ups because Israel’s government and society are much more pro-eugenics—in part, to help win the War of the Cradle with the Palestinians—than are European regulators and cultures. For instance, in a 1993 survey of geneticists, 68 percent of the Israeli scientists agreed with the classic eugenic notion that “It is socially irresponsible knowingly to bring an infant with a serious genetic disorder into the world in an era of prenatal diagnosis” versus only 8 percent of German geneticists.
I’m thinking that of the list above, Churchill is presently off-limits and Teddy Roosevelt has too vivid an image today (although I would have said the same about Andrew Jackson 40 years ago). Some of the others are too obscure. Demonizing Helen Keller would seem to be in bad taste, but who knows? Maybe in a decade Malcolm Gladwell will be telling Helen Keller jokes to sales conventions.
I suspect there will be a big push by neoconservatives to demonize the centrist economist John Maynard Keynes over his lifelong eugenics activism, from being founding treasurer of the Cambridge Eugenics Society to delivering a speech extolling eugenics in the last year of his life, 1946.