Conservation and Eugenics

Wohlforth_spread

THE RAIN HAD JUST STOPPED in the little eastern Kansas town of Osawatomie when thirty thousand people, gathered in an atmosphere not unlike that of a country fair, fell quiet. Their hero, former president Teddy Roosevelt, climbed atop a kitchen table and began to speak in a high, almost falsetto voice, orating amid cheering for ninety minutes. When finished, he had delivered the most controversial and influential address of his career, in which he described a radical new program that was both denounced and celebrated in newspapers across the country. The date was August 31, 1910.

The New Nationalism Speech, as it came to be known, emphasized conservation, as did most of Roosevelt’s speeches written by his friend Gifford Pinchot, who had been his conservation chief for the two terms of his presidency. But it also newly placed the “moral issue” and “patriotic duty” of conservation into the context of a racial conversation, as well as a much broadened concept of progressivism.

In appealing to the folks in Osawatomie, Roosevelt went well beyond the program he had pursued in office, proposing a powerful national government strong enough to address many of its citizens’ problems. In this new regime, government would be a general antidote to corporate power. Federal programs would control wages and hours, health, and corporate governance. The government would take over utilities and railroads if necessary to stop monopolies. Corporate political contributions would be limited and publicly reported. Most radically, this vastly empowered national government would transform America’s economy to reward only merit, using graduated estate and income taxes to pull down the fortunes of the very rich.

The states that originally ratified the Constitution had faced none of these problems and never consented to a national government strong enough to solve them, but once corporations could span the nation — and Roosevelt viewed corporate combination as an inevitable consequence of the industrial age — then only a central authority even mightier than they could prevent a few rich men from controlling the country’s laws, natural resources, and workers’ lives. Corporations already did control much of that, and the workers weren’t going to stand for it. Nineteenth-century laws essentially gave away natural resources to the first to find them, allowing the rich to privatize immense new wealth in oil, coal, minerals, and hydropower at close to zero cost. Business interests exploited workers with as little government interference, creating grim servitude in western mining towns that would sometimes flash into violence.

Roosevelt’s New Nationalism offered federal power to manage the economy and tame the exploitation of people and resources. Instead of class conflict, all would join as equals in allegiance to a shared national identity stronger than the old links to community or state.

Americans had to learn nationalism — flag worship and the pledge of allegiance were promulgated in that era, too. The federal government at the time didn’t seem equal to many tasks. Back in 1889, when Gifford Pinchot was a young man exploring the idea of going into forestry, a recently retired secretary of agriculture, George Loring, told him forest management would never work in America because the country lacked “a centralized monarchial authority.”

Later that same year, Pinchot attended the Paris International Exposition, at the site of the brand new Eiffel Tower, where he felt deeply impressed and inspired by the immense forestry exhibit. The great world’s fairs were society’s premier tool for acculturating its people to the new, as Robert W. Rydell reports in his fascinating book All the World’s a Fair. Not only did they promote amazing technology, they also demonstrated the new relationships among people that the machines brought about, including affiliation with the symbols of national rather than community identity — monuments, mass communication and transportation, mass-produced goods, and celebrity. Contemporaries believed the fairs reduced class strife and political violence. In the United States, each fair attracted a substantial fraction of the entire population, and those who couldn’t attend read saturation coverage in the press. At the world’s fairs, civic leaders produced self-contained models of a hoped-for future in order to mold ideal citizens to live in it.

The utopia exhibited at the expositions held on American soil included and eventually drew a connection between the richness of the country’s natural resources and the superiority of its dominant race. The first American world’s fair, held in Philadelphia in 1876 to commemorate the nation’s centennial, presented Native Americans as hideous brutes fit for extinction — a message justifying that year’s warfare against the indigenous people of the Great Plains, including the Battle of the Little Bighorn. At the New Orleans world’s fair in 1885, comparative displays of skulls showed how Indians, Eskimos, and other “lower” races resembled criminals or animals. The enormous fair in Chicago in 1893 displayed living American Indians and other indigenous people on a honky-tonk midway where they were continuously jeered and ridiculed. Anthropologists arranged the races along the walk in a supposedly evolutionary progression from the lowest to the best, at which point viewers emerged from the noise and chaos of the carnival into the quiet of a pristine new city, built for the purpose on an immense scale and painted pure white. The symbolism conveyed an idea of evolutionary ethics wherein white Americans could grow through racial purification from an animalistic, selfish nature to become higher, more cooperative beings.

These ideas had been developed at Ivy League and other universities, at museums of natural history and anthropology in New York and Washington, in learned societies and in scientific literature. When subsequent world’s fairs focused on the West, the link between natural resources, morality, and racism was drawn ever more explicitly. The great Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis came in 1904, a critical time for the West as Roosevelt’s conservation program hit its stride. Westerners sent pieces of the landscape to demonstrate its value: for example, from California part of the trunk of a giant sequoia, and from Alaska, ancestral totem poles removed from coastal villages. They sent live people, too. The mastermind of the fair’s anthropology department promised to “represent human progress from the dark prime to the highest enlightenment, from savagery to civic organization, from egoism to altruism. . . . The method will be to use living peoples in their accustomed avocations as our great object lesson.”

Authorities shipped to St. Louis indigenous people from Alaska and the Philippines, pygmies from Africa and giants from Patagonia, and many famous Native Americans, as well; my grandmother, age seven, encountered Geronimo there, a pathetic figure in an Apache chief’s regalia displayed on a platform. Given ten cents by her mother, she paid him for his autograph, which he painfully scratched in block letters on an index card, whereupon Geronimo took her dime to another booth for a piece of apple pie. Roosevelt and his daughter Alice (whom my grandmother also met at the fair) toured approvingly, the president having sent word ahead via William Howard Taft, then secretary of war, to have the Filipino savages dressed in properly modest clothing (they wore bright silk trousers until the fair’s Board of 
Lady Managers certified loincloths as acceptable and more in keeping with the exhibit’s authenticity). Native people camped out for display according to a plan designed to show the relationship of their racial types. Scientists extensively measured and tested these people while exhibiting them — their physical size, senses, abilities, intelligence — all of which, apparently, proved the superiority of whites. Some human specimens who died were sent for dissection; the brains of three Filipinos were collected by the Smithsonian.

By the time of the San Francisco fair in 1915, the racists had shifted focus from justifying white conquest over other races to efficiently using the natural resources the dominant culture had thereby obtained. As gardeners and foresters would thin weak genetic strains and nurture the strong, so eugenic campaigners called for planned racial improvement through sterilization of people deemed inferior, beginning with anyone with a disability, and encouraged breeding by the racially superior. In War Against the Weak, Edwin Black describes how the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged the formation of an American Breeding Association that included research on humans, with funding and support from the Carnegie Institution, the Harriman railroad fortune, and the founders of the Kellogg cereal company, among others. The former president of Stanford University convened the Second National Conference on Race Betterment at the San Francisco fair, and the Race Betterment Foundation mounted an exhibit, with pictures of its illustrious supporters, including Harvard University president Charles Eliot and Gifford Pinchot.

Pinchot had entered the eugenics movement during the Roosevelt administration, joining several of the president’s other friends. He solicited contributions from scientists and social activists advocating eugenics for a three-volume National Conservation Commission report to the president at the end of his term in 1909. Roosevelt transmitted the report to Congress with the statement that it was “one of the most fundamentally important documents ever laid before the American people.”

The report’s volume on “National Vitality, Its Waste and Conservation,” by a friend of Pinchot’s, Yale economist Irving Fisher, reads like a manifesto of the progressive political movement that Roosevelt sought to lead, and its words were echoed in the New Nationalism speech the following year. Ten multifaceted recommendations called for a national administration of public health; an end to air and water pollution; food and restaurant inspection; worker safety and child labor regulation; working hour restrictions; health and safety inspection of prisons, asylums, factories, and schools; antidrug and -alcohol laws; safe drinking water; enforcement of antispitting laws; improved sewage and garbage removal; pest control; building safety inspection; school nurses and health instruction; universal athletic training; healthful changes in clothing, architecture, ventilation, food preparation, and sexual hygiene; elimination of poverty, vice, and crime. And then, recommendation ten: “eugenics, or hygiene for future generations,” with forced sterilization or marriage prohibition for people with epilepsy or mental disabilities, and for criminals, the poor, and “degenerates generally.” The report called for the creation of a new social norm benefiting eugenically favored marriages, making “degenerate” marriages as taboo as incest. “The problem of the conservation of our natural resources is therefore not a series of independent problems, but a coherent, all-embracing whole,” it concluded. “If our nation cares to make any provision for its grandchildren and its grandchildren’s grandchildren, this provision must include conservation in all its branches — but above all, the conservation of the racial stock itself.”

More than a dozen legislatures passed eugenic laws over the next ten years, which, by 1970, had authorized forced sterilization of sixty-four thousand Americans with mental illnesses, epilepsy, disabilities, or criminal records, or who were simply poor. At least thirty states passed laws forbidding marriage of eugenically unfit men and women and twenty-eight outlawed interracial marriages, including six that put antimiscegenation in their constitutions. Those marriage laws stood until 1967, when a Virginia couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, validated their marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court — after a county sheriff had burst into their bedroom with a flashlight and arrested them, despite a District of Columbia marriage certificate hanging on the wall. Four states also prohibited sexual relations between Native Americans and whites.

Roosevelt was worried about the loss of a special American quality of strength and ingenuity that supposedly had evolved among whites on the frontier. As eastern European and Jewish immigrants flooded into the country with their big families, and with the birthrates of white Protestant Americans declining, he warned of impending “race suicide.” Roosevelt’s ideal American family lived on a farm with six white children — and less procreation represented a failure of patriotism and a moral flaw, a rejection of the basic responsibilities instilled in men and women by nature. He dispatched Pinchot to study the problem with the Country Life Commission. Continuing that work, the American Eugenics Society, one of various such organizations to which Pinchot belonged, sponsored hundreds of Fitter Family contests at rural fairs, wherein couples would take intelligence and physical tests and submit to medical exams to become certified as worthy for breeding.

Roosevelt wrote, “I wish very much that the wrong people could be prevented entirely from breeding; and when the evil nature of these people is sufficiently flagrant, this should be done. Criminals should be sterilized, and feebleminded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them. But as yet there is no way possible to devise which could prevent all undesirable people from breeding. The emphasis should be laid on getting desirable people to breed.”

HOW DO WE MAKE SENSE of this behavior? How could progressives who worked for conservation, national health insurance, and the rights of workers adopt an ideology of hatred against the weak?

In some ways, the inconsistencies reflect the diversity of a temporary political coalition. A lot of money and establishment power backed the eugenics supporters — a list that included John Kellogg, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Andrew Carnegie, George Eastman, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Alexander Graham Bell, and many eminent anthropologists, psychologists, and biologists, including the founder of the movement, Francis Galton, who was Charles Darwin’s cousin. Joining with them was smart politics. Roosevelt wanted women to stay home with large families; Margaret Sanger, the mother of Planned Parenthood, wanted smaller families and gender equality — but both were involved with the eugenics movement. A desire for power is hardly an excuse, however, especially for powerful opinion leaders such as Roosevelt and Pinchot, who constantly invoked moral authority for their policies.

Another excuse: Roosevelt and Pinchot believed in science and expertise, and eugenics seemed scientific. The idea that the races are fundamentally different came from the creator of taxonomy himself, Carl Linnaeus, who in 1735 categorized human beings as white, black, red, yellow, or wild (Homo sapiens ferus). In the 1850s, before the rise of eugenics, according to Sven Lindqvist in his book “Exterminate All the Brutes,” some European scientists declared the “inferior races” naturally destined for extinction, and reasoned that helping that process along could only be moral. While the true superiority of European colonial armies lay in their weaponry, not their genes or culture, this ideology promoted genocidal slaughter of people in Africa, South America, the South Pacific, and Asia, and the theft of land from the victims. Charles Darwin witnessed this kind of warfare in South America and abhorred it, but nonetheless toyed with the idea of evolutionary differences between races. Darwin’s followers extended his theories to identify racial heredity as the cause of crime and immorality, and thus to justify genocide as a way of cleansing the gene pool of vice.

The flaws in these theories were evident in Roosevelt’s day. The eugenicists’ own work supporting genetic claims of racial differences was flimsy and unsubstantiated. G. K. Chesterton, Clarence Darrow, H. L. Mencken, and other less famous writers grasped the errors and pointed them out. Pinchot’s own conservation commission report, in the volume written by Fisher, contained statements an intelligent person should have seen through, such as those that blamed the demise of American Indians and Hawaiian Islanders on their own sexual immorality — rather than the government-sanctioned violence and theft of land justified by the racists’ own theories.

Madison Grant, the founder of the Bronx Zoo and a groundbreaking conservationist, wrote one of the most influential eugenics books, The Passing of the Great Race, which would be laughable if it weren’t so revolting. In pseudoscientific language, Grant denies the very right to life of members of other races, using as evidence nothing more than his own prejudiced stereotypes. In Grant’s final analysis, white Americans were not racist enough: “They lack the instinct of self-preservation in a racial sense. Unless such an instinct develops their race will perish, as do all organisms which disregard this primary law of nature.”

This goal of creating a more racist society informed much of the cultural work of the institutions led by Roosevelt and Pinchot’s peers — not only the world’s fairs but the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian, and others. Grant was an influential friend to the president and phrases and ideas from his writing crept into Roosevelt’s. Oddly, the improvement of the dominant race meshed with the New Nationalism’s utopia of a merit-based society. Without money or class to distinguish them, the sexual attraction between men and women would be guided only by natural selection. Those unbiased choices would automatically sort mates by the proper eugenic criteria, matching the best to the best — white to white, intelligent to intelligent, and so on. That this absurd notion was considered a basis for social policy reveals the extent of the collectivism envisioned in Pinchot’s brave new world.

The program Roosevelt advanced in his New Nationalism speech called for a stronger sense of national affiliation than ever before, a feeling of membership powerful enough to allow the federal government to regulate daily life, to curtail use of resources in favor of the future, and to redistribute income and inheritance to create economic equality. He asked for cooperation on a grand scale. In theory, the idea makes sense that racism could glue together a national identity capable of incorporating the rest of progressivism. To buttress a group’s willingness to cooperate, enhance the members’ sense of belonging and their hostility toward nonmembers — teach them that they’re special, superior, and under threat. Bind together an American majority by equating its white racial dominance with Americanism.

I’m not saying Pinchot or Roosevelt schemed dishonestly to increase American racism. Roosevelt’s philosophy could be inconsistent — he also spoke eloquently of the ability of nationalism to transcend race. The evidence suggests that Pinchot and Roosevelt rode along with the eugenicists rather than led their movement. But eugenic ideas slid frictionlessly into Pinchot’s worldview, a rigidly moralistic construct of conservation, efficiency, and merit. And that construct of ideas worked politically, for a while.

Eugenics thrived in America until discredited by the revelation of the Nazi death camps it had helped inspire. Grant’s book particularly incited Hitler, who wrote him a fan letter calling it his “Bible” before inscribing its hatred upon the flesh of millions of people. (The same Nazi officials who slaughtered human beings in death camps also passed some of the world’s most advanced legislation to protect the environment and endangered species, even outlawing cruelty to animals, including the sort of medical experimentation they performed on their human victims.) World War II’s horrors saved our country from going farther down the eugenic path, but Roosevelt died before that happened, and Pinchot’s life carried him in a new direction. By the 1930s Pinchot had become a champion of the poor and admirer of indigenous cultures, and he spoke out early against German anti-Semitism.

But words live on without their authors. The concepts of eugenics are far from dead today, as a quick Internet search will reveal. There’s a hangover for conservation, too. The American environmental movement remains predominantly white and middle class, detached from minorities, immigrants, and the poor along the same lines of class and color that existed a century ago. We’re liberal and say the right things, but in the 1980s and ’90s, mainstream environmental organizations debated opposition to immigration, using arguments that differed in little but terminology from those eugenicists would have used. More broadly, our political language for protecting the environment is about conflict between forces of good and evil, the fear of annihilation, and the exaltation of purity. It’s the language of war, with dark undertones of racism we’ve inherited but no longer recognize.

Garrett Hardin’s 1968 paper “The Tragedy of the Commons,” describing the grim fate faced by unmanaged natural resources such as open-access fisheries, influenced a generation of environmental thinking with its perspective that only a powerful, coercive state could save greedy people from themselves. But Hardin’s real concern was the doomsday prediction of Third World population growth (a prediction that has proven overblown and simplistic). In the 1970s he opposed humanitarian aid to poor countries, hoping to stop their population increases through starvation and disease, and opposed immigration to preserve America as an island of wealth and environmental quality. Hardin believed compassion was a weakness that was bound to be eliminated by natural selection.

In the 1980s, Hardin’s writings helped form an anti-immigration branch of the environmental movement, which shared many members with organizations that advocated for laws requiring the use of English only. Enough environmentalists shared this point of view to bring about a highly publicized national vote by members of the Sierra Club to oppose immigration in 1998. The proposal failed, but the existence of the debate suggests the durability of the links between racism, nationalism, and conservation. The connections don’t by themselves undercut calls for conservation or implicate anyone as prejudiced simply for wanting to protect nature. But they do illuminate the ethical hazards that come with the kind of power Roosevelt sought to accomplish his goals. Without justice and equality, conservation can become, rather than an intrinsic good, a part of a greater evil.

IT WAS IN AN IMPROBABLE PLACE that I first learned about these troubling connections. I was attending a cultural heritage week in a tiny Alaska Native village in Prince William Sound doing research for my book The Fate of Nature. In a garage, a carver and counselor from the village of Port Graham, Jim Miller, was teaching teens to work with wood, leaning over his knife in a folding metal chair while chatting about the meaning of their Chugach culture.

Miller brought up the Nazis in one of our first conversations. He didn’t distinguish between Nazi genocide and the genocide against Native Americans. In the eugenicists’ world, Jews and Eskimos each were merely a lower rung — writing in 1915, Henry Fairfield Osborn, an influential president of the American Museum of Natural History, used the supposed impossibility of educating Eskimos as a basis of his scientific argument that northern Europeans represented a higher step in evolution. Jim struggles against this ideology every time he consults photographs of traditional art to inform his carving; anthropologists stripped the region of the originals a century ago and took them to big city museums. Jim also encounters this ideology in his counseling practice, with men and women who have internalized the lessons of inferiority and carry on the oppression against themselves, through depression, self-destructive anger, and alcohol abuse. Miller believes community healing depends on reclaiming personal value.

The racists remain his adversary every day, even in the village clinic where Jim works and where we later talked about eugenics. “We think that’s history,” he said, “but what’s the trickle-down? In this building there is very free and easy access to birth control. Any type of birth control you can imagine, and if you still find yourself pregnant, there is free abortion. There’s no polite way to say it — to cut down on breeding. It’s not just accessible, it’s promoted. Kill your baby. And when you talk about values changing, when you no longer see your children as a blessing, that is some really bad stuff.”

I felt uncomfortable. I support free birth control and legal abortion. I had to stop and think. It’s true the eugenicists debated how to promote family planning among the inferior but not the dominant races. It’s true free family planning services often focus on poor and minority communities. Historians have documented — as neither Jim nor I then knew — that some of today’s major organizations for population control grew directly from the eugenics movement, like branches on a family tree. As Jonathan Peter Spiro points out in his chilling book Defending the Master Race, “the organizers of Planned Parenthood, the Population Reference Bureau, and the Population Association of America were all former eugenicists. Similarly, the first director of the Population Council (the organization funded by John D. Rockefeller III to promote family planning in the Third World) was eugenicist Frederick Osborn.”

Good motives inspired this population-control work — to save nature and improve human existence. But the eugenicists had precisely the same motives. I wouldn’t charge family planning advocates with racism, but I’m not a victim of genocide. Victims shouldn’t have to analyze the motives of their oppressors. Once our scientists and philanthropists unleashed this monstrous hatred, it lived and transmuted uncontrolled, deforming society itself, and now, somehow, the descendants of slaves and displaced Indians are partly responsible for our redemption — by forgiving us and by loving themselves.

Many Alaska Natives remain hostile to environmentalists, despite often sharing their goals. Some environmentalists’ elitism, purism, and good-versus-evil worldviews still reflect the attitudes of their intellectual ancestors. Norms live in the culture like genes, manifesting themselves unexpectedly, the way a child’s big ears appear from an ancestor of whom no picture or name remains. We’ve forgotten the fathers of eugenics, but not their moral tone, as pure knights of conservation fighting the corrupt and degenerate wasters of nature.

Roosevelt’s New Nationalism speech helped introduce that rhetoric, with language that has not lost its inspirational ring:

Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.

But the politics of division can’t help the Earth now. Nature is endangered by threats that come from no specific villain or location. The oceans grow warmer and more acidic, marine mammals are contaminated, dead zones spread, plastic debris flips from wave tops to beaches and into the guts of birds. No one is innocent.

Categories won’t help us — nation, race, good, and evil — for they have little to do with humanity’s need to fit within a global ecological niche. Power won’t help us either. Power itself is a good deal of the problem, as coercion divides the people who must ultimately work together. Besides, the powerful have never instigated the kind of social transformation we now require. The solution has to come up from the people, through persuasion, enlightenment, and the creation of new norms, until the powerful are swept irresistibly along in the new social reality. This is a better job for the weak, who often have more at stake in the loss of nature, a closer relationship to its gifts, and a greater capacity to recognize when a certain level of material wealth is enough.

Understanding the history of racism in the conservation movement is important, not to assign blame, but to diagnose our unhealthy relationships with each other and with nature, learn from our mistakes, and begin cooperating in the ways that we must in order to reverse our destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems.

Charles Wohlforth is a lifelong Alaska resident and the author of The Whale and the Supercomputer, which won the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology. This article is adapted from The Fate of Nature: Rediscovering Our Ability to Rescue the Earth, a 2010 publication of Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin’s Press, and is used by permission.

Comments

  1. Great article! The temptation with revisionist history seems always to draw a new arc in the narrative-to defy whatever the convention- rather than to honor the unique complexity of the individual, whose thoughts and even morality were at once a product of their particular time and place, and their evolving perspective on the world. Honoring that complexity opens us to discussing the unfolding story of conservation, human dignity, and identity in a much more authentic way… Time to unpackage our other heroes (Leopold, Carson, even Ed Abbey)

  2. Tremendous article. Thank you for writing this. In my own recent research I have come across the horror of the Philippine genocide perpetrated by the U.S. government in the decade after taking the Philippines from Spain in 1899. Several million people died altogether and the U.S. military was involved in atrocities that are almost beyond belief. The attitude of President Roosevelt helps explain how such a thing could be done with so little fanfare at the time and recognized, if at all, as a historical footnote today. I believe that as the United States government asks countries like Sudan to account for its atrocities in Darfur, or Turkey for its 90 year old genocide against the Armenians, we must acknowledge our own crimes, beginning with our extermination and subjugation of Native Americans and African slaves, on down through our unprovoked invasion of Iraq.

  3. This whole article assumes that environmentalism began with white people, and that those who are the most ground breaking are white men, specifically rich white men in government and politics. It is also quite arguable if Pinchot was actually a conservationist, as he tried hard to subvert Muir (just dive into the history of Olympic national park, mt rainier, or any of the big forest areas of the west) He was in the pockets of the timber industry as anyone in natural resources at the time.

    So sure, we can argue the roots of conservation are in eugenics, if we continue the narrative that environmentalism is primarily a white and American phenomenon

    This is the same frustrating scholarship as Cronon, who stay within the white literary history and thus can come to narrow conclusions about conservation and environment in the North America, at the expense of the environmentalism with the roots of those who were poor, native, or in Canada or Mexico, not to mention south america and the rest of the world (ironically, those are the people that don’t get written about in academia and by environmental historians, those are the people that don’t get added in the national narrative).

    it be nice if there were more rigor in these edgy sounding essays, that they looked beyond affirming evidence for their cases.

    So sure there is racism in the environmental movement (something obvious to those of us who aren’t purely white and work for the environment), but to say it is at the base of a movement that spans well beyond white men of political influence is again affirming the problem the author was trying to expose, by yet again keeping the hard, backbreaking work of the silenced and forgotten (who often actually got done the rhetoric of those in politics) subverted to the aspirations of environmental historians lacking the rigor to look beyond whats already obvious. But sounding, some what guilty about it then makes it good scholarship.

    Its frustrating to say you’re fighting against racism, but continue a racist history of a movement. It continues to affirm the false notion that environmentalism is a white phenomenon with a primarily white history.

  4. The notion of “all men created equal” was extraordinarily radical for its time, and all the permutations of that statement were not known and so were debated for a long time. And indeed there is a strong parallel between Nazi death camps and what transpired with Native Americans, the main difference being that the Native Americans were victimized by a hostile invading population, not their own neighbors.
    Conservation–as equated with environmentalism–as practiced by white people in the modern era–is and has been perceived as an extravagance and represents a luxury that minorities can’t afford, they have no power over it anyway, so what exactly was the point…

  5. This author seems to imply that the whole environmental movement is so polluted by eugenics, that we should dismantle it and turn it over to those “with the least power”. This article which pretends to be pro-environment is in fact a slam at modern environmentalism. Not a shred of evidence is presented that modern environmentalists are promoting anything like what happened in the past among some leaders in the movement. Yet by innuendo he implies that the present movement is somehow compromised by the actions of these long dead actors. The author and the native “victims” of the white male environmentalists turn out to be the only ones “pure” enough to save the planet.

    A modern environmentalist might well reflect: “With friends like this, who needs enemies.”

  6. Hi,

    I believe that Adam is correct when he says that environmentalism should not be equated with rich white men. Many cultures are bound up and intimately connected with the earth. However, many cultures are racist, in fact we all have racism in us. Let us not confuse the issues. Everyone will be affected by the Gulf disaster.

  7. Mike K. is right on. I couldn’t say it any better than he.

  8. Thanks Rick. It helps to know that someone out there sees some of what I see. I applaud Orion for publishing the wide variety of material they do. But it is still important for us readers to maintain a critical stance and speak up when we disagree with an article. It is out of forums like this that important understandings can be birthed. God knows we need better ideas to deal with the complex mess we are in.

  9. Our nation as a whole, not any one movement, bears the eugenic stain. To imply otherwise discredits the Progressive Era’s diverse change-makers, all of whom embraced the pseudoscience to some degree. Jane Addams applauded the movement for publishing “an ever-increasing mass of information as to that which constitutes the inheritance of well-born children.” W.E.B. Du Bois condoned birth control in tandem with his “talented tenth” doctrine. Even Helen Keller, herself labeled one of society’s “feeble-minded,” argued that some “defective” children should be allowed to die because of their inborn criminal propensities. Reaching hard enough, any writer could weave a “dark past” narrative into the history of civil rights, poverty reform or special education.
    I was also disappointed in Orion art department’s choice of window dressing. A random sampling of images from the eugenics archive (which didn’t depict any of the people mentioned in the story) took up valuable space that might have been occupied by original artwork.

  10. What I appreciate about Charles Wohlforth’s writing is the way he gathers material in an investigative way from many different sources and then examines it from different perspectives. “The Whale and the Supercomputer” is a fascinating book for just that reason. His open-mindedness and careful observations let readers think along with him, and draw their own conclusions.
    Although I was somewhat familiar with the history of eugenics, I didn’t know about its associations with the early conservation movement in this country, or that both were part of a nationalist political impulse. To me the article provides a reminder that, while we fight for what we believe in, it doesn’t hurt to temper our righteousness with a little humility. Sometimes, about some things, we’re just wrong.

  11. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water: birth control helps a lot of not-white, not-European people to live better lives.

  12. I’m with Esther.
    And along those linres, i will caution anyone else tempted to follow Mike K.
    Truly ratioanl minds can look at all information and weigh their value. New idas are not a personal affront, just food for thought. If you thought you were going to walk unchallenged, then you’re wearing your prior privilege on your sleeve.
    The author here does seem to have a bias against government based on personal beliefs. My personal beliefs are more altruistic in that I think government can guide us to workk together for the benefit of all. The healthiest communities are the ones with a smaller gap between the richest & the poorest. The focus there is “community”. Now make that concept global & think about it some more.

  13. Theodore Roosevelt had been my most-admired US President. I’m afraid this article too my estimation down a peg. As a long-time Sierra Club member, I remember the immigration proposal well and am relieved it did not pass.

  14. Excellent history with some provocative perspectives. I suppose that it’s one of those inevitabilities when we critique the past by today’s standards. Are we not to expect that we learn and improve and so the past will look outdated and wrong, just as we will likely find in the future that where we are now is awkward and embarrassingly obsolete.
    Interesting to note that while both Roosevelt and Pinchot were active advocates for conservation (and as we read, it’s implications regarding the human animal and its various forms), it warrants keeping in mind that it’s the concept of conservation as it was then and much of it sprang from the desire of wealthy white trophy hunters who wished to see the core breeding specimens of their trophy stocks protected and to stay vital and wild so that some special people like themselves will be able to have the experience of taking on the wilderness and in overcoming it From that would pour a great benefit in the form of leadership tested by nature, knowing its scale and scope, and fully engaged in being the superior specimen like a bull elk or moose or lion. Speaking of lions, many of the aristocratic class in Europe and America were actively taking safaris in Africa and experincing different ethnic and racial groups there and around the world, Of course in systemizing the perceived distinctions which make any species or natural population unique, and where one might prefer one over the other for the helf of its antlers or tusks, and as genetically undefensible as it is we would naturally have done the same for human populations.
    All this and more while applying this ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality to our world perspectives (something we still do). The survival of the most cooperative’ mentality was never considered.

  15. This article is informative, but, as others have noted, it draws too narrow of environmental genealogy.

    To trace the family tree of environmentalism along the restricted lineage of great white men like Gifford Pinochet and TR Roosevelt is misleading and borders irresponsibility. As others have noted in their comments, this is the same genealogy that the environmental historian William Cronon traces in his article that deconstructs “wilderness.”

    The great-white-man genealogy leaves out the complexity of artists and revolutionary thinkers or simply the segments of society who bore the brunt of environmental exploitation. HD Thoreau and John Muir castigated their own heritage of Euro-American culture and society and said that much could be learned from Native Americans. Bob Marshall, although wealthy, was a dedicated socialist. And everyday people in turn-of-the-century cities organized to fight industrial pollution that threatened their health. But this lineage also draws too narrowly from great-white-men.

    The environmental justice movement started to emerge in the 1970s, around the time of Hardin’s article on the commons and his fear of third world population growth. This movement linked social justice with environmental justice, Native American, African American, Latin American, and working class communities fought against the exploitation of their resources, their water and air, their homes. See energy development on the Navajo Reservation and National Indian Youth Council, Love Canal and Louis Gibb, United Farm Workers strikes and Cesar Chavez, and various environmental justice movements in the South (Houston, Dallas, etc) documented by Robert D. Bullard. All of these examples and numerous others show how the environmental movement and various social movements have merged.

    Arguably, proto-environmental justice movements emerged with turn-of-the-century industrialization, when working class and immigrants were exposed to the most dangerous jobs and their neighborhoods were located in the most polluted areas, as evidenced by the social histories of Gary, Indiana and Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

    My belabored point here is that we should be open to tracing multiple genealogies that run through the environmental movement. After all, the genealogies of history, anthropology, and any other established field show the same, if not more egregious, biases that the environmental movement has. Indeed, the environmental movement is perhaps notable for having people who criticized the social, political, and economic elite at their own peril. And TR and Pinochet, far from the margins, sat at the centers of power and their versions of “conservationism” more aligned with “manly” recreation and rational resource exploitation than any sort of respect for the non-human world, as someone like Muir advocated for. Indeed Muir’s conception of nature might extend human rights to the whole natural world, both sentient and non-sentient, which we are about as far from doing today as we were in Muir’s time a hundred years ago.

    But, to me, it seems that the forces that exploit people are the same ones that exploit the environment.

  16. You look at the history of eugenics without seeing lesson. Superiority is measured by ability alone, not subdivisions. But humanity is superior to all other life in its ability to create and wield power. Our intelligence is three orders of magnitude greater than any other, and bodily endurance surpasses all other vertebrates.

    But it is not enough, we are not perfect, yet. Eugenics was a failure because it would have been slow even if they had properly selected for desired traits and selected against unwanted traits. Germ line genetic engineering and mechanical augmentation will succeed where eugenics failed.

    As just as humanity will be remade so will the world. We have witnessed but the first century in a process that may span three hundred or a thousand. The replacement of the biosphere with the noosphere, an environment designed by, created for, maintained by, and catering to humanity alone. This world with be buried in steel, concrete, and photoelectric cells. In in that labyrinth man will live, fight, and die as he always has, but on a grander scale than ever before. And in the fullness of time all worlds will meet that same fate.

  17. This is a thoughtful forum and I appreciate the comments on my article. I do want to note, however, that the article is a single chapter from a 38-chapter book, which deals deeply with Alaska Native environmentalism and other kinds as well, so I am not really guilty, as some charge, of drawing this narrow intellectual geneology that some readers took from the piece. My book “The Fate of Nature” tries to examine the cultural roots of our relationship to the biosphere, in good and destructive ways, and this chapter is a part of that history. I think that many of the failures of the environmental movement can be traced to an excessive reliance on the use of government power, a habit that comes to us from the progressive era. Eugenics was an outstanding example of that excess. The alternative, from other cultural traditions, relies more on the power of individuals and communities. Learn more at my website http://www.fateofnature.com

  18. Some responses to specific quotes:

    “But the politics of division can’t help the Earth now. Nature is endangered by threats that come from no specific villain or location.”

    So was no one to blame of the gulf oil spill? It was simply an abstract catechism that lead to it? No specific people made specific decisions? It’s true that divisive politics can be a hamper on solutions (just look at congress). But this no-one-is-to-blame-we-are-all-one line does not take into account the nature of power and who wields it. So when there is a system in place that systematically favors abstract ideas such as wealth over people, the natural world, and any sense of morality no one is then to blame? I could find so many examples for why the line, “Nature is endangered by threats that come from no specific villain or location.” As to be cumbersome. Bhopal just happened? Valdez just happened? The systematic exploitation of primary forests just happens? The systematic destruction of indigenous people just happens? That statement has no actual basis in reality, and is often a statement made by people that don’t actually experience systematic blinding oppression daily. Lines like this make us all feel much better about ourselves, especially when our own actions and behaviors implicate us in the destruction. This, of course is the wonderful product of denial, and indicative of a situation where we feel helpless, because it makes no one responsible, and thus no need to hold anyone accountable (even ourselves).
    Fish are going extinct for specific reasons,
    Primary forest is being leveled for specific reasons,
    The oil spill is a specific place
    I live on a superfund site, this is a specific place, with specific reasons that lead to its degradation.
    As a scientist, I have to make statements that are based on observations, and defensible and observable evidence. What evidence shows that there are no specific threats from specific locations to the natural world? It would be nice if the humanities at least attempted this accountability.

    How is no one to blame, and everyone guilty? This statement makes no sense and just sounds like doublespeak.
    “Categories won’t help us—nation, race, good, and evil—for they have little to do with humanity’s need to fit within a global ecological niche.”
    Ugh, post-modernism. Categories, boundaries, there is no such thing, all figments of human thought. Regardless that even if we didn’t exist, water would be water, air would be air. Trees would be trees, rocks would be rocks.

    As for cultures, borders in nature are fuzzy, borders in human cultures are fuzzy. But to then try to erase the differences that are there – difference doesn’t equal bad- is the same product and comes from the same history of eugeneics. “We are all related or we are all one” is usually code for white and industrialized, and justification for “industrializing the third world” and “civilizing” indigenous people.

    I think more good, for the environment would come from respecting peoples and cultures boundaries, than trying to absolve them into a one world globalized system. That, and though we live on a globe, we are also localized. Local places can’t be expected to provide for global needs. So if we are to honor the “world niche” that needs to happen at a local level, for in actuality niche (a vague term to begin with) is a local context driven phenomenon.

    “Power won’t help us either. Power itself is a good deal of the problem, as coercion divides the people who must ultimately work together.”
    Power isn’t a discrete thing, its exercised. Coercion is a way to exercise power, not power itself. You can’t get rid of power anymore than you can get rid of ego. Its not, do you have power, but, how do you exercise power.

    And lastly, its disingenuous to say, that “this article in a completely different context isn’t biased towards one race” even though, this article is imbedded in a specific context. An essay is supposed to stand apart and alone. And regardless, the assumptions of the piece are whats the issue, not the fact its imbedded in a larger book. Where in the piece do you write, this is only one narrative? Where do you say, this is only one part? Are we to assume we know your intent? The issue isn’t whether in a larger book you talked about native people (which is great), but that you are tracing the roots of environmentalism, through a very narrow geneology. Its not the end of the world, its just a criticism. The piece is subtitled (environmentalisms dirty secret, tracing environmentalism back to a very unpleasant historical truth). So at some level you’re obligated to atleast mention the larger context these few men are imbedded in. If not the article is implying that the root, the fundamental aspect of environmentalism, lies in the political ideologies of white men in government, at the expense of everyone else that actually did the work. Just because powerful men say one thing, does not mean the majority of the people within the movement actually prescribe to that thought. You are equating the drives of a handful of men to the founders of the roots of environmental philosophy. Where are the women leaders of the environment? Not even a passing nod to Carson or Cherkasova? Or the “weak people” (sort of sounds like standing up for the “small people”) that made up the rest of environmentalism. The unpleasant historical truth, is that environmentalism isn’t a primarily white phenomenon, and it isn’t only founded by white male progressives.

  19. Great post, Adam. The way some folks throw “we” around has always bothered me. As in, for example, “We invaded Iraq to give them the blessings of freedom”. Who the hell is this “we” they are always talking about? It most certainly does not include me. Please leave me out of your phony “we” talk. People are so easily conned by manipulative language.

  20. In response to Andy and Mike…The “we” referred to…How many of us are not at fault for some amount of carelessness when it comes to treating the earth kindly? I work at at an environmental education center and farm in which elementary school children from DC, MD and northern VA come for a day or two to learn about the land and what we can do to help to mend its wounds. One activity we do is entitled Who Polluted the Potomac and it is simply a hands-on demonstration of all the various types of pollution that foul the Potomac River’s waters. Included are fertilizer run off from people’s yards, soap running into the sewers and ultimately into the river from people washing their cars on the street, bits of styrofoam that someone has neglected to dispose of properly, motor oil that has leaked from the motor boats using the river for recreation, fishing line left by fisherman that finds its way into stomachs of fish, birds and mammals..and the list goes on. Are these incidences of neglect on the same scale as the gulf spill? Or as Bophal or the Valdez? Of course not. But the dead zones in our deltas and oceans did not come from one transforming event. They came from nutrient leakage, from all the individual actions that pollute the Potomac River, from carelessly manufactured and disposed of plastic for a society that values ease and convenience over conservation. So, yes, in that sense the “we” that have caused the degradation of the land and seas, I believe, is accurate, sad to say. Unless one can say that they have never engaged in any activity that negatively impacts the “health of the land” as Aldo Leopold would have said, he or she has indeed contributed to its affliction. But the story doesn’t stop there…”We” are also the people who can make a powerful difference in the healing of the land by our efforts to change our personal behavior, to educate any who will listen, and to work to instill a love for the land in all who come our way. Not by preaching or teaching alone, but by sharing our own love and care for the earth and its creatures, by helping people, especially children, to realize that they can make a difference too.
    On another note, what I appreciated about this article is that the author revealed the rationale of some of the biggest names that are linked with “environmentalism”. I tire of hearing figureheads’ names bandied about with abandon and their supposed zeal immortalized. I valued having this bit of history revealed and didn’t see it as a threat to today’s conservation efforts. If something be true, it should be known,whether as a caution or an encouragement.

  21. Dear Ann,

    I think the point people are trying to make is one of scale. Scale is important in ecology as it is in our own lives. So yes, are we culpable for what’s happening to the earth, yes.
    Does our individual behavior influence negatively or positively whats happening in the environment yes.

    Us becoming puritans while at the expense of focusing our attention more heavily on the major and egregious acts of destruction worthwhile in effectiveness?

    No. no. no.

    We can all say hey we are responsible for this mess too. But then that puts us on the same level as large corporations and agribusiness. I used to live on the Potomac, and what us and individuals put in to the waters from daily use pails in comparison to the crap that is run off from ag. Fields or the wonderful amount of superfund sites. CAFOs.

    Or dead zones. Do us as individuals cause the dead zones, well indirectly. Will us as individuals becoming pure stop deadzones, maybe, probably not and it will probably be indirect. What will stop them? The stopping of obscene amounts of petrochemicals leaching into the environment. Who is the main culprit? You? Me? Or agriculture and industry.

    What everyday people put into the environment is such a small fraction of what the military, large companies and big agriculture put into the environment.

    Second, do these companies operate primarily on consumer demand?

    No.
    If I stop, or even if 100000 people stop buying from a single company will that change things much?
    Probably not.

    They (and it is legitimately a they) manufacture demand.
    Do we create the options?
    No.

    The majority of ag and natural resources are subsidized by the government, so their production isn’t even based on any sort of demand, really. The paper industry is especially ridiculous. Especially now in a globalized world. Corn, wheat? Majority goes towards the cattle industry.

    So do I agree we are culpable, yes. Do I necessarily agree that the most important change begins with becoming pure ourselves? No. We are losing the planet, and as environmentalists, or whatever you want to call ourselves, we are not really gaining real concrete ground. The ratio of success for the betterment of the planet and its degradation is not good. We need to spend less time feeling sorry for ourselves, and more time trying to halt the largest perpetrators of degradation.

    Forgiveness and reconciliation, while vitally important, does not begin until it is safe to do so. It does not begin, until the abuse stops, not as it is happening.

    Do we begin to forgive bp as the oil is still flowing? No. We force them to solve the problem, and until that happens, forgiveness and reconciliation cannot happen. It’s the same for all the other major destroyers of human life and the wild.

    There is too much time spent focusing on ourselves (mostly because we feel that’s where we have the most control) and less time focusing on the major and egregious players in the global crisis that is currently happening.

    If we want to talk about being self-righteous, whats more so than believing solely changing your own habits will make an appreciable difference (fairly big does of egoism) opposed to challenging those who wield power in abusive and unhealthy ways.

    It is important for the health of ourselves, and those around us that we are clear on responsibility and ownership. Taking responsibility to the scale we are responsible, and taking ownership to the scale that we own our problems. Taking on the burden of sociopathic systems doesn’t help anyone, and gives environmentalism its useless martyr complex.

    Our actions should not be based solely on how good or bad they make us feel, but on how effective they are at solving our goals.

  22. Ann and Adam, I agree with you both! It’s a little like the particle/wave solution to the quantum physics dilemma. We are each responsible for a bit of the pollution/energy/population/ environmental degradation, etc. problems. The mega corporations are responsible for huge chunks of all of the above disasters.

    The question is which end of the stick will it be most effective to work on to create positive changes?
    Will it be more likely that we can get really large numbers of people to radically change their lifestyles in time to save our world? (Because I am not sure that the amount of pollution that we are responsible for due to our individual choices does not perhaps even exceed the amount large corporations create.) Or is it the case that those elites who own and control the big corporations (and government!) would be easier to persuade (by force or guile) to change their ways and back off from their lucrative depredations?

    I really don’t see a clear choice here. I think we need to develop strategies in both directions. I don’t think that an exclusive focus on either end of the pyramid of power would be effective or even possible. It’s the old problem of “top down, or bottom up”. I come down on the side of “both”,

  23. ‎”We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds;
    our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”
    – Johann von Goethe

  24. Incredible topic. Thank you. As someone who is engaged In the national discussion on immigration reform and the movement by the Neo Nazis to rid this country of the so called “Little brown people” and the attempt to laminate the protection of the white race from being overrun by “Mexicans”. This subject has been a real eye opener. I thought that the Nazis invented “Eugenics”. Apparently they just took it to it’s intended level. It wasn’t pretty.
    Throughout history almost every race or culture has identified itself as a master race. the Aztecs did it by conquering and enslaving any tribe that they found that weren’t like them. The “Jews” themselves don’t like race mixing as they also believe that they are “God’s” chosen people. The “Japanese” also considered themselves a master race and so on.
    It is understandable to want better for our finite natural resources, but as always there will be extremely intelligent human beings who are willing to exploit a good idea and turn into horror for their own pernicious gains. and their are those willing to believe anything if it makes them fee superior to someone else that has it a little bit worse than they. In “Mexico “, for instance the indigenous peoples are treated with disdain and even downright hostility. Al the way down from here to the tip of “South America” the atrocities that have been committed by us, as well as our proxies, have been committed against people that through no fault of their own just happened to live on lands that we have coveted and wished to exploit til there is nothing left. the true conservationists have been the indigenous people that have lived on these lands since time immemorial. From these lands have come some of the greatest medicines and cures that we would never have found if not for some poor “Indian” living in a forest somewhere was kind enough to help the white man. The sixties and the seventies brought about the forced sterilization “Latino women” in the U.S. This was done without their knowledge. Where does this kind of thought take us, as we board the same “Cosmic train” into our future? Can we conserve enough resources by the people and for all peoples, or do we let the corporation and the politicians who would turn humanity into “Soylent green” for their own personal gain and say it is for our own good, that we must make the choice between living peacefully and not losing one soul, or do we go on survival mode and just wipe anything out that isn’t intelligent enough to defend itself against this onslaught of “Genocidal behavior”, they call, “For the greater good?”

  25. Once again, great topic. I didn’t know “Eugenics” was something that was considered “Benign” by so many people in our own dubious history. This is an eye opener.
    As a former racist I have seen the havoc wreaked on innocent people simply because of the color of their skin. This has transcended itself from it’s roots as an idea for the betterment of the environment. I have a friend whom I’ll Robert, he is a fine “Aryan” specimen who belonged to the American Nazi Socialist Party. I met him one day that we had hired some day laborers to helped unload a semi and help to install some bleaches in a “catholic school in Lincoln, Ne. I saw a swastika on his fore arm and being that I hate “Nazis” i called him on it. He told me that he used to belong to be a Nazi, but that for his initiation he would have to kill his girlfriend’s son who was five at the time and is autistic. they would even show him how to do it, so as not to get caught. He bucked and told to go F..k themselves and they almost killed him. He showed d me the gunshots. he got out. My respect for him grew immensely. That took balls, This isn’t something that has discarded on the trash heap of history. The so called “third Reich” is alive and well and thriving in America today. It has helped along by the likes of Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and others who know what they are doing. Just like “Hitler who only had a handful of followers, who were considered insignificant in their time. we now face the same dilemma in that do we say something, or do we ignore it and maybe they will go away. We ignore it at our own peril. White, Brown, Black, Yellow, Red, or any other designation one wishes to bestow upon oneself. I am an environmentalist, but I do it for the love of the people and the children who will inherit this earth, not for my own selfish gain. Everyone loses.

  26. Adam;
    “Better an uneducated wise man. Than an educated fool any day”.
    Present company exclude. It isn’t any one man or woman that makes a movement but a whole machine that just sits until someone comes along and figures out how the gears work and where to grease and what to tighten until the machine works and is put to work. The machine incorporates the gullible, the ignorant, the exploiters and the managers who want to be recognized and promoted for following the line being fed by those that that say, :I know the answer to all your troubles. “And don’t worry this will be quick and painless with little or no effort on your behalf. You wont even see it. We will do the dirty work. and thus the Hitlers and Stalin’s and Tojo’s and Mao’s among a long list of dictators are born. We have even enabled others to destroy their own in the name of progress. Us as “Americans have this deep belief that we are exceptional and the whole world be damned, just how exceptional are we when we stick our heads in the sand and proclaim victory when a whole race is exterminated by the thoughts and ideas of one person.

  27. Right on Mike K and Ann Boldling, my thoughts exactly.

  28. Dear AW: Thanks for your input. Most people do not realize that we in the USA are already living in a basically fascist nation whose “leaders” openly express their intention for “global dominance.” That these same leaders are full of racist pride and contempt for “non-white” peoples is abundantly clear. While these moneyed elites are driving us towards a totalitarian nightmare, the public is too busy with their consumer toys and diversions to notice what is happening before their eyes. For one who clearly sees all this, it is indeed maddening to live among a nation of zombies….

  29. In reading the comments regarding this article I find many to be so sensitive and offended as to bring to mind a quote from Shakespeare. “Methinks ye doth protest too much.” If deep down inside we knew there wasn’t an element of elitism and racism within environmentalism, would we react so vehemently to an article that simply seeks to enlighten through understanding the history of the movement?

  30. Incredibly thought-provoking and informative piece, and very well written (I’ve ordered the author’s latest book). It is disturbing to think that the conservation movement could have been (and may still be in some minds) tied to eugenics. Some of the great minds and most respected historical figures were small minded enough to believe that certain humans are better (smarter, more worthy)than others–yikes! To me, the importance of conservation is in preserving the rich diversity that nature offers–and, by entension to the human race, preserving and celebrating the rich diversity of cultural and ethnic traditions that humans throughout the world provide for the benefit of us all.

  31. Dear Barbara McDonald,

    You are wildly realistic and fantastically correct, I believe.
    Thank you for speaking out so clearly and elegantly. Such coherence of mind and clarity of vision as you possess is rare.

    Your truth reminds me that only those whose minds are hopelessly distorted by the logically contrived, socially agreeable, pathologically arrogant, politically convenient, economically expedient, religiously dogmatic and culturally hegemonic could ever speak positively with regard to eugenics. At least to me, eugenics is anathema.

    Thanks again,

    Steve

  32. The flaw in eugenic theory is that those making the choices about what is or is not “good seed” will always tend to equate it what they look like, or wished they looked like. Hitler wanted a race of the guys he envied in school, taller, blonder, more athletic.
    But it is worth adding that eugenics is not a thing of the past. It is still a factor in sperm donor and surragate mother births. No one thinks for a moment that the sperm and eggs donated come from average, randomly chosen sources. It is a genetic designer boutique, where everyone can try to create children who will get to sit with the popular kids. Someone needs to do a study to see if the children being sired in this manner look like whatever star is number 1 at the boxoffice that week.

  33. I appreciated the article on eugenics. This history is not taught in schools, and many find it hard to believe when confronted with the details.
    We need to know this history in order to analyze clearly our social policies and programs vis a vis human rights; disability rights, minority rights, womens rights, etc. These attitudes linger and fester and need to be confronted and seen clearly.
    I do think the author draws some suspect conclusions, however. Who are these ‘weak’ ones who must somehow show big white man the way? This equation of power-money-white men demonstrates poor logic and cultural bias. The more indigenous view of all as sacred, as everyone having its place in creation is a very powerful ‘truth’ indeed. It will outlast many a silly and cruel empire based on privilege and domination. This view supports sustainable views and cultural practices all around the world.
    Perhaps eugenics may be seen to be a convenient handmade to the project of ‘nation building’ more than conservation per se. As this construct is still part of the national dialog, perhaps we would do well to review its efficacy and implications at home and abroad.
    Thanks for Orion! I just found you online.

  34. Brilliant! This is the history our children must be taught so they may be liberated as a thinking free people.

    You are describing the fatal conceit of Hegelianism, which was a euro-royalist/elitist response to the resonance of the American Revolution in Europe. There were many more uprisings that just the one in France. Hegel wrote the defense and established the competing memes and derivatives which fueled the catastrophic democides during 2oth Century. The doctrines of fatal conceit continue today, driving what is now the impending collapse of the postmodern academy and its syndical cohorts now unfolding during the early 21st Century.

    The Hegelian movement was utopian; Victorian and a condescension in its entirety. Karl Popper coined the term “scientism” to describe the catastrophe of reductionism, relativism and dialectics that had overtaken much of the American academy by the 1940s.

    For more:

    1) The Mont Pelerin Society (wiki)
    2) Democide: http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM
    3) Rothbard’s outstanding historical synthesis of the Yankee Hegelians 1880 – 1960. http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard66.html

    Many forget (if they ever knew) that Marx’s complaint was not against capital, but against the MONOPOLY on the ACCESS TO capital. Thus the irony of “marxism” in all its true and rogue forms. In every instance, marxism is a system of rhetorical devices exploited by those controlling the superior culture of the “revolution” to strip the monopoly over access to capital away from the targeted orthodoxy and give it to “the greater good”, which, of course, is them: a very small group of condescenti not to be concerned with the breaking of a few eggs in pursuit of the scientifically-proven and soon to be eventually perfected omlette.

    They have failed everywhere they have been given the power to experiment on the government and the subject population. The product of their experimental doctrinal hubris exceeds 200 million citizens killed since the 1880. As they gasp their last 19th Century breath, they have finally wrested control of the American political process, the Democratic Party and the Presidency are now controlled by the Socialist International via its agency, the Democratic Socialists of America, whose member organs, the Progressive Congressional Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and progressive (back in 1880) labor and academic syndicates who together wrested control of the Democratic Party from the Truman and JFK Democrats (who are instead found in today’s Tea Party movement).

    Here, in America, is only remaining national government where the Hegelians having gained control have not completely failed. And look around you today. Look. Failure is found everywhere they have gained control yet they remain convinced it is everybody else’s fault. Fatal conceit.

    Victorian. Magical thinking. Utopian. Rhetorical. Authoritarian. Condescending.

    Draped in affects and credentials, devoid of visceral experience, mechanical aptitude or the ability to make things or otherwise maintain them.

    To quote the late great Alan Watts who knew them very well: “Just ask them. They are better than you because.”

    Such is not the colonial, frontier, pioneer or predominant American culture, but the fatal conceit of 19th Century Europe that threatens to destroy it.

  35. In re Eugenics:

    One cannot separate Eugenics from Phrenology, as the former arises from the latter.

    The same is true with the “science” of organizing humanity into a governable mass. We use the term differently today, but the term “socialism” was originally coined by the Hegelians to describe the “science” of organizing humans into the most optimal governance structure so the greater good would be more efficiently served. Essentially, this was neo-feudalism claiming a scientific basis for class society. Herein arise the academic battles with Maeterlink who rejected “the ant” was the divine model for human social organization, claiming instead that reticulitermes “the white ant” was instead the correct model. And indeed, they are a different as Pol Pot and Thomas Jefferson.

    The victorian intellectuals were insane. Perhaps it was a pathological addiction to the money and station they enjoyed. Perhaps it was 3rd stage syphilis or other dementia or distemper.

    The model: man was to be ordered scientifically into class hierarchy as dictated by G_d’s evidenced society of the common ant.

    Then, man was to be scientifically improved in pursuit of the creating “the progressive man” who would be “perfected under socialism.”

    The Hegelian doctrinal “scientism” (Popper) developed four primary tenants toward the end of the 19th Century:

    (strap yourselves in for a ride through the insanity of the Victorian progressive mind)

    1) The perfection of progressive man under _________ -ism was the highest moral duty of the superior classes. (socialism, progressivism, communism, stalinism, maoism, nazism, royalism, authoritianism, etc.)

    2) Socialism was an established Science later proved by Darwin, et. al., and its enforcement would lead to the perfection of progressive society where the abatement of suffering could approach utopian conditions.

    3) Phrenology was a Science proved by Darwin, et. al., that would allow for the proper organization and assignment of the different races of Humans into their proper role in progressive society. By use of this science of skin color, hair type and morphological features, humans could be scientifically organized and bred for the greater good (think Jim Crow), and other breedings prohibited, and resources preserved by denying the impure and infirm access to certain resources, station or positions in the progressive, scientific society.

    4) Eugenics was a Science later proved by Darwin, et. al. The superior bred had a duty to the lessers to cull the herd and thus save resources for those who had demonstrated by science or by obedience to be more deserving of the said resources. Eugenics was made moral by the use of modern science, and particularly, the practice of Phrenology on which Eugenics is founded.

    Returning to Alan Watts: “Just ask them. They are better than you because.”

    Watts describes the insanity and concretization that animates their condescension and the lethal history of their frivolity. How many drops of what blood make you what race? Where is the pantone chart for racializing skin? Who needs them. They already have “The Law” and that makes it official. They are finished thinking about it.

    And this, of course, fits the Victorian obsession with the value of human life being measured by one’s place on the ladder of social station. Thus, all unfairness is a product of envy, and that oppression is a matter of private property refusing to be collectivized or otherwise restored without compensation to the control of experts who are scientifically chosen by other experts to serve the greater good.

    How remarkable in the year 2011, nearly all major universities in the United States in addition to the United States Government are actively practicing Phrenology. This is not about differences in creed, but about the consolidation of all creeds into one creed that is to be divided into Phrenologically determined hierarchical classifications.

    Yes. Ordinary variation among the singular species Homo Sapiens Sapiens is being divided into fixed groups based upon “blood” and “color” so they may be manipulated by authorities to a particular, predetermined and entirely european construct.

    If you don’t like what the practice of Phrenology has done to the modern academy and our government, just wait until you see the Eugenics that is now boiling up from the same cesspool of depraved europhile elitism.

    This was all set in motion in 1776. This fight is as original as the American Revolution itself.

    And it’s the same g_ddamn fight.

  36. I could write volumes but it begins here:

    “Granting absolute, inviolable primacy for the physician-patient relationship.”

    Only the American citizen patient and the duly licensed physician advocate of their choosing should determine what is medically necessary.

    American Eugenics begins in full scale with the destruction of this primacy. It’s subrogation has been ongoing for some time.

    Here is where the patient ceases to have a physician who works for them.

    Here is where the physician works for the patient as a proxy of third-party interests.

    The problem then turns to gaining access to capital in funding care.

    This runs headfirst into the sanctioned racketeering, selective pricing and ‘price fixing’ that would be illegal in any other industry.

    I think the problem is first in the hospitals, and second, in the medical school and university culture. Realize they have evolved institutional cultures in a bubble; a comparatively lawless environment largely exempt from RICO and price fixing statutes or customary enforcement of same that is daily faced by nearly every other American industry.

    Here we face the collateral issue of profound reform in the medical insurance industry. I have become convinced that the US Treasury has a crucial role. We need the mutualism represented by our Treasury to usurp the medical reinsurance and stop loss markets; i.e., all medical insurers in the USA should be made to purchase their stop loss coverages directly from the US Treasury at the same rate. Patient-centric discrimination based on preexisting conditions should be ended unilaterally. All premiums should be normed the national beta. Let the private insurers compete to service the individual patient on a level playing field where all have the same coverages and all pay the same reinsurance and stop loss premiums. Let them compete based on quality of service rather than cherry picking the patient population.

    This leads to the absorption and replacement of all 50 state work comp bureaucracies, as the work comp premiums paid by employers should instead be paid direct to the Treasury as part of the reinsurance equation.

    Here we become a nation of insured citizens.

    We cease to be morass of insured and not-insured employees, families, groups, etc.

    We need “single patient coverage” NOT single payor. They do not want us to realize that we are insuring the life, liberty and health of American Citizens, but this is what we are really doing, and that is why the mutualism of the Treasury is a proper interest when limited to monopolizing and controlling the reinsurance premiums paid by private insurers directly servicing the patients and their claims.

    Only the federales can play the crucial strategic structural role of monopolizing the reinsurance and stop loss markets and dictating minimum individual coverage for all private policies they underwrite.

    What is at risk is the essence of our liberty as citizens.

    For those who are uninsured, they would be self insured under this same model. If the stop loss was set at $25,000, then they should be able to borrow it, interest free, direct from the Treasury.

    And hospital rates would come crashing down. And the racketeering could be brought to heel.

    We are being offered “eugenics” as the solution to our “Health Care Crisis”.

    But we do not have a Health Care Crisis.

    We have a Hospital Cost Crisis.

    The problem is not the doctor. Not the patient.

    The problem is a giant hole in American Jurisprudence that has allowed the malignant privilege of exemption and non-enforcement to be enjoyed by the “Hospital-Industrial Complex”.

    We enjoy the greatest medical abilities in the history of the world, and the most pernicious bureaucracy imaginable holding it hostage, preferring it to operate rogue and essentially free of ordinary law encountered by any other form of commerce.

    To make the present orthodoxy more exempt, more rogue, more bureaucratic, more insular, is to invite mass democide and tyranny of the worst order.

    The key is the primacy of the patient-physician relationship, coupled to reasonable citizen access to capital for medical procedures.

    If our personal physicians are not sufficiently competent for this task than the bureaucrats at the universities who credentialed them and the government entities who licensed them are even less worthy of our trust.

    Our national experiment in individual liberty will die if we cannot create a hysteresis of mutualism to underwrite the sanctity of our precious citizenship.

    We are asking private entities to do so now, and they control the profits and dictate the reinsurance premiums which drive everything from hospital rates to individual premiums paid for medical insurance.

    We now have the Eugenics we fear.

    Only by the actions of our enlightened liberty can we create the necessary hysteresis of mutualism to protect the intent of our original citizenship and preserve our national promise of individual liberty with equal protection under the law.

    Offshore money and foreign interests in the reinsurance markets now dictates what an American life is worth by any practical economic measure controlling access to the knowledge capital of modern medicine.

    If we are too cheap and unwilling to use our national treasury to reinsure ourselves in a hysteresis of mutualism, then do we not by our very inaction invite the morbid eugenics and subjectification that will follow?

  37. Willem — Wouldn’t universal medical services provided to all without insurance or any payments by individuals other than their regular taxes be a simpler solution? Any other system represents rationing what should be a human right.

  38. There needs to be a hysteresis of mutualism. As such, it’s my sense there needs to be a filtering structure at the care delivery threshold.

    Amidst the pathologies of the present institutional constructs, there is considerable wisdom that has been selected for and embodied in the present system.

    My fear is physician innovation and adaptation will be sacrificed. We need to select for and sustain creativity and liberty in profession and practice in our physicians. They medical schools and the current hospital orthodoxy have been toxic and for institutional self-interest are significantly pathological actors in disrupting and deteriorating patient-focused medicine. They are case focused; procedure focused; the institutional presumption is Victorian — a concretized view of humanity and human physiology. This has led to the “single bullet” problem that has ravaged the efficiency of medical practice. This is allopathy. Code-based medical practice. This is auto-mechanic predetermined “administrated” procedure. It is following rules as dictated by non-attending authorities.

    The authority needs to working for the patient in their presence, with the unfolding clinical path a product of mutualism and customization involving the patient and attending physician as mutual co-learners.

    For this to operate, we cannot have other parties hiring the physicians. The physician must work for the patient, as the professional and as the trustee of the patient’s interest in the emerging knowledge base of human medicine.

    Thus, the market-based wisdom of private medical insurance companies — they are currently mispositioned, but they are ideal for servicing the administration of the services and payments exchanged between patients and physicians, and the dealing with the managed non-conformances that “the law of large numbers” will spontaneously impose.

    What has destroyed the greater social utility of the medical insurance providers is the creation of group and family policies. This is a preposterous construct. All human medicine is individual. If there are to be insurance policies, then they should be etches.

    There is a good argument for federally sponsored premiums for all citizens under the age of 27. In this construct, no premium is directly paid by the insured in this age construct, yet, the Treasury would pay the premium directly to the medical insurance servicer, who in turn was required to purchase mandatory stop loss reinsurance from the the Treasury. This loop would require little enforcement. The most tragic medical events would exceed the stop loss and flow to the treasury, but the servicing insurer would continue to administrate and receive the monthly premium for that patient, until the patient becomes dissatisfied and changes to a different insurer who must operate identical policy and stop loss terms.

    This keeps the market in the market and the government providing infrastructure only, using the population base to norm the beta of per patient costs. These are easily adjusted by changing the premiums charged for stop loss coverages, or by other budgetary devices available to the government. This allows our population to use our governmental tax base to deal with the occasional surges of morbidity that will hammer the economics of otherwise normed medical delivery.

    Now, the international financial scions dictate what the stop loss premiums will be. They can guarantee their profits and pick winners and losers in how they rate the medical insurer the public buys their insurance from.

    This also get’s the “ER” cost problem under control.

    As for the hospital, most physical plants — however lovely and renewed — are obsolete architectural behemoths that are profoundly inefficient and incredibly expensive to maintain. Consideration needs to be given to building Hospital infrastructure as a national priority and domestic security infrastructure no different than the interstate highway system, hydroelectric infrastructure, airport infrastructure, etc. Our government does these things well.

    What our government (and any government) does poorly is contemporaneously serve and protect the individual citizen in the moments of individual living. They are not present. They have no capacity to manage the needs of the individual. There is no authority for this type of variation and adaptive largesse. Government does this very very poorly.

    Conversely, government will very effectively cartelize the reinsurance stop loss markets in medical insurance and will be a reliable and competent trustee of the public interest if kept reasonably separated fro the quasi-criminal syndicates favored by Congress and the national political parties.

    What must be prevented? No government intrusion or usurpation whatsoever in the dynamic between the patient and the duly licensed physician of their choosing.

    Deny no citizen the right to choose their physician or to ultimately decide the treatments which will determine the condition of their life.

    But today, such liberty will cause the cartelized culture of Hospitals to financially rape the system with scandalously inflated charges for services provided by the hospital.

    The problem is not the physician, nor is it the patient.

    The problem is the university, hospitals and transnational reinsurance cartels who exist to become wealthy and pay huge salaries and dividends to select few by parasitizing the traumatic drama that brings physician and patient together for intensive and life-saving care.

    Let us invest in their judgment and keep the government and their cartelizing proxies locked out.

    Obamacare is all about giving cartelizing proxies control of the patient-physician relationship, and by virtue of a remarkably corrupt Congress and President, and medical university bureaucratic cohort, they intend to usurp our government to guarantee them a monopoly of cartelized insider-dealings.

    When that happens, our citizenship becomes an artifact of rhetoric.

    Obamacare makes “subjects” of our citizens, and reduces all to the corrupted and self-serving whims of neo-feudal elites.

    Enter the permanent ruling class. The rest of us will be but livestock to be bred, worked and rendered at their pleasure.

  39. I previously commented on this article, find the topic very interesting. This year I found myself with a brain tumor that required immediate surgery. It was astonishing that no one considered whether I was worth it, whether preserving me was worth it, they just did it, they saved me. Not sure why this strikes me as strange, the economic mind I guess, but it also strikes me as profoundly and traditionally American. We want to save everyone, we rescue animals. hurricane victims, everyone. The current viciousness, mean-spiritedness, in our politics, curiously coming loudest from those who label themselves Christians, is astounding. Indeed I had the job and the means to have health insurance, but that was because, back in the day, California had the means and wisdom to provide me a public education through law school at low cost and I’ve had a job and paid taxes ever since. (In a world run by for-profit corporations this would never have happened, and scary that seems to be the country’s direction right now.) But no one seemed to ask whether I’d “earned it” either. So apart from all the rhetoric, I feel a lot of gratitude for living in an incredible country with an amazing medical system. Without an MRI machine, and all those educated people (who joked that it was just brain surgery, not rocket science) I would never have been treated and might well have died. Darwin didn’t get his way and besides my kids are grown.

  40. I am most impressed by this article, but feel for Wohlforth. It’s a terrible death to confront the ugly truths embedded within any set of comfortable assumptions. Like the author, I remember my first unlikely encounter with the zombie of “racial progress.” In my case it was a transcript of a local Chicago public interest program from 1959 that featured Julian Huxley discussing the precepts of “scientific” or “evolutionary humanism.” This stupid little sound bite sent me down the rabbit hole, past Hardin’s “Commons” and Ehrlich’s “Bomb,” past Sax’s “Explosion” and Vogt’s “Road,” and even past Huxley’s “Religion” and Grant’s “Passing,” to the crazy Progressive era cabal that mixed advocacy for birth control, suffrage, socialism, prohibition, immigration restriction, skull measurement, censorship, conservation, and efficient resource management into a terribly explosive cocktail that, if it were not for the Nazi’s, might have exploded in the United States. While it is true that our simplistic eugenic ideology, which prioritized progress and purity, gave way beginning in the 1940s to a more complex ecological ideology, which prioritizes cycles and diversity, dark strains of the former remain woven into the latter. Recognizing them does not make the rope weaker. It breeds humility and allows us compensate.

  41. Much more intellectual honesty, moral courage and humanistic action is needed. We are about to become a species of 7 billion overconsumers, overproducers and overpopulaters on a finite and frangible planet where resources are dissipating and environs degrading rapidly. As we observe absolute global human population numbers continue to soar exponentially, despite reduced fertiliy rates in many places, we also recognize that never in the course of human events have so few taken so much from so many and determined to leave so little for others.

    During my lifetime, when human numbers explode from less than 2.3+ bn to 7+ bn worldwide, many experts may not have known enough about what they were talking about when they spoke of human population dynamics and all causes of the human overpopulation of Earth. Their research appears not to be scientific, but rather issues from ideological or totalitarian thinking, or from a specious group-think consensus. Their all-too-attractive thinking, as viewed by greedmongers, is willfully derived from what is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially agreeable, religiously tolerable and culturally prescribed. Widely broadcast and long-accepted thinking from an astonishingly large number of so-called experts in the field of population dynamics appears to have an unscientific foundation, and is likely wrong. Their preternatural theorizing about the population dynamics of the human species appears to be both incomplete and misleading. Most disturbing of all, a widely shared and consensually validated theory about a benign “demographic transition” leading to automatic population stabilization a mere four decades from now is directly contradicted by unchallenged scientific research. As a consequence, and it is a pernicious consequence, a woefully inadequate and fundamentally flawed theory has been broadcast during my lifetime and continues to be broadcast everywhere by the mainstream media as if it is not only science but the best available scientific evidence. The implications of this unfortunately dishonest behavior, inasmuch as it appears to be based upon contrived, ideologically-induced logic as well as an undeniable misperception of what could somehow be real regarding the human population, appear profound. This failure of nerve by ‘the brightest and the best’ has slowed the momentum needed to confront a formidable, human-forced global predicament, one that looms ominously before the human family in our time.
    In their elective mutism regarding an incredible error of thought and perception during my life cycle, are first class professional researchers with expertise in population dynamics behaving badly by allowing the “ninety-nine percenters” to be misguided and led down a primrose path by the “one percenters”? The power of silence on the part of knowledgeable human beings with feet of clay is dangerous because research is being denied that appears to shed light upon a dark, non-recursive biological problem, the understanding of which appears vital to future human well being and environmental health. Too many experts appear to be ignoring science regarding the human population. By way of their willful mutism they effectively consent to the leviathan scale and unbridled expansion of global overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities that are being actively pursued as well as silently condoned by greedmongering masters of the universe, the tiny minority among us who are primarily responsible for ravaging the Earth, ruining its environs and reducing its fitness for habitation by the children. If this assessment of human behavior is indeed a fair representation of what is happening on our watch, then the desire to preserve the status quo, mainly the selfish interests of ‘the powers that be’, could be at least one basis for so much intellectually dishonest and morally bereft behavior. Could it be that the outrageous per capita overconsumption, large-scale corporate overproduction and unrestricted overpopulation activities of the human species worldwide cannot continue much longer on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of a finite and frangible planet like Earth?

    For human beings to count human population numbers is simple, really simple. The population dynamics of human beings with feet of clay are obvious and fully comprehensible. We have allowed ourselves to be dazzled by the BS of too many demographers just the way human beings have been deceived and victimized by a multitude of economists on Wall Street. Demographers and economists are not scientists. The brightest and the best have sold their souls to greedmongers, duped the rest of us, made it difficult to see what is real, proclaimed what is knowable as unknowable, and deceitfully engaged in the their own brands of alchemy. In their duplicitous efforts to please self-proclaimed masters of the universe, also known as the keepers of the ‘golden calf’ (a symbol easily visible now as the “raging bull” on Wall Street), they perpetrate frauds at everyone elses expense, threaten the childrens future, put life as we know it at risk, and are deliberately precipitating the destruction of Earth as a fit place for human habitation.

    There are many too many overly educated “wise guys” among us who see the blessed world we inhabit through the lens of their own hubris and selfishness, and see themselves somehow as Homo sapiens sapiens and masters of the universe, as corporate kings and emperors with clothes. They supposedly are ”the smartest guys in the room”, like the guy who used to run the global political economy without recognizing that there was an “ideological flaw” in his economic theories and models, the same guy who reported he could not name 5 guys smarter than himself. These are guys who have denied science, abjectly failed humanity, forsaken life as we know it, the Earth and God. These ideologues rule the world now and can best be characterized by their malignant narcissism, pathological arrogance, extreme foolishness, addiction to risk-taking and wanton greed.

    The idea that our descendants would make the same colossal mistakes we are making now, because knowledgeable people in our time chose to remain hysterically blind, deaf and electively mute rather than acknowledge science, is absolutely unacceptable. If such an impossible thing was to occur, would a conscious determination not to fulfill both a responsibility to science and a duty to warn humanity be tantamount to the greatest failure of nerve by the brightest and best in human history? If aware and responsible human beings were to be granted the opportunity “to will one thing“, let it be that we share widely an adequate enough understanding of all extant science which discloses the population dynamics of the human species to the family of humanity, so those who come after us do not take the “primrose path” we are trodding now, a path that has been adamantly advocated and relentlessly pursued at the behest of the most arrogant, avaricious, foolhardy, wealthy and powerful movers and shakers on our watch, a path to confront some unimaginable, human-driven sort of colossal global ecological wreckage.

  42. I just submitted a request for a subscription to this magazine, but after reading this misleading, wordy and simple-minded “backlash” – I doubt I want to subscribe to it. I’m an environmentalist, who has spent time with the Lakota people (some of the nation’s first environmentalists BTW), in cities working with an African Americans arts community (who inspired me more deeply – in the most fundamental manner — than anything else in my life). I really have to wonder at the ulterior motives behind articles like this, as well as Orion’s desire to publish them. It makes assumptions that are just preposterous.

  43. “If deep down inside we knew there wasn’t an element of elitism and racism within environmentalism, would we react so vehemently to an article that simply seeks to enlighten through understanding the history of the movement?”
    If caring about the fact that mostly poor people of all colors are living in environments that are being destroyed and poisoned by powerful yes, mostly white, corporate interests is racist, then yeah I am a racist. I think it is you who wish to create division where there is none. You also assume that “environmentalists” have never examined themselves or their intentions, conditioning and the colonial mentalities they inherited from their forebears. But many have. This is a red herring.

  44. Why don’t you ask the Lakota people of Defenders of the Black Hills if they feel they are racist and elitist? Or how about the local people dealing with excessive cancer rates in a mountaintop removal region of West Virginia? How about the Ogoni people of Nigeria who have lost their homes and livelihood to the oil industry? I guess in your opinion these people are all racist, elitists who have “comfortable” assumptions. What nonsense. Newspeak, that is what this is.

  45. We can see and generally agree about what is happening. Can we focus for a moment on, “Why it is happening?” Under no circumstances can it ever be correct for scientists to consciously censor naturally persuasive scientific research with extraordinary explanatory power just because the new evidence is unforeseen and unwelcome. Our unwillingness to accept what science discloses to us about our di…stinctly human creatureliness and the way the world we inhabit actually works makes our efforts to adapt to the ‘rules of the house’ in our planetary home a protean challenge. As Carl Sagan reminded all of us, “The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there is no place for it in the endeavor of science.”We know so much, and know enough to recognize and understand that humankind is precipitating a planetary emergency on Earth. And what is our collective response? An inexcusable, unconscionable lack of urgency as well as a deliberate refusal to examine and report findings of extant scientific research. Ira, Tom, David South and Andy Revkin, why not ask a vital science question to which we appear to already have an answer, but of which scientists will not speak? Why not ask about the ecological science of human population dynamics/overpopulation? If human beings are primary drivers of dissipating natural resources, dying oceans, degrading environs and destabilizing climate, then let us examine the scientific research that simply and persuasively explains why absolute global human population numbers continue to grow so rapidly (declining TFRs in many countries notwithstanding) and, by so doing, to ravage so radically the prospects for the future of life as we know it in our planetary home?

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