The professed goal of eugenics has always been the betterment of society. Think of it as cross-generational plastic surgery. Some genes are more desirable than others — aka, “adaptive” — so if you want a perfect world, a few bad eggs have to go under the knife.
Where bio-eugenics sought to raise our collective intelligence by snipping gonads, “cultural eugenics” goes directly for the brain. There are differences, of course, but the inherited attitude is obvious. Both derive from a primal need to make distasteful traits disappear.
In the early 20th century, American eugenicists on the left sought to sterilize the “feeble-minded,” the addiction-prone, and various violent genotypes to create a more peaceable society. Rooted in Darwinian theory, the idea was to cull the modern herd down to the fittest personality types. Eventually, you arrive at an MPR paradise “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”
The New England reformist Charles Davenport, who founded the Eugenics Record Office in 1910, spelled out the broader objective in his “eugenics creed”: “I believe in striving to raise the human race to the highest plane of social organization, of cooperative work and of effective endeavor.”
As always, progressives are eager to push society forward, but rarely concerned about the damage they leave behind. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that the flip-side of their utopian dream was a nightmare of forced castration and genocide. At the time, the enlightened called it “progress” — presumably in a haughty accent.
Even if bio-eugenic policies are now taboo (with the covert exceptions of selective abortions and pedigree sperm donors), the same intent survives in the ongoing purge of maladaptive ideas from the public mind. On the surface, it seems reasonable. Some cultures are healthier than others, and there’s always room for improvement.
What alarms me about cultural eugenics is its hygiene-obsessed, technocratic ambition. Rather than persuade, or even conquer, it seeks to systematically cleanse.
Pruning Neurons in the Global Brain
Because the internet has penetrated the minds of pretty much everyone, online expression is a primary target for censorship. Tech giants have actively culled the “meme pool” for years now. We’ve seen sweeping Facebook bans, Twitter purges, and YouTube removals. Amazon is ramping up its book-burning campaign. Democrats are pressuring cable providers to drop Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN for spreading “disinformation.” Disney+ is restricting classic kid’s movies, while Dr. Seuss books are being tossed on the bonfire.
A month before Project Veritas had their Twitter account permanently suspended, they released an undercover recording of the principal counsel of PBS telling it straight. PBS fired the guy, but really, he only voiced an arrogant cruelty that runs deep on the left:
Even if Biden wins, we go for all the Republican voters, and Homeland Security will take their children away.… And we’ll put them into re-education camps.… Americans are so f***ing dumb.
I assume he was half-joking, but the other half counts. It echoes the state’s case for forced sterilization argued before the Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell (1927): “These people belong to the shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of anti-social whites of the South.”
The court ruled in favor of “salpingectomy,” with Justice Holmes delivering the opinion: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
From the Human Genome to Cultural DNA
As Darwin’s vision expands from finches to iPhones, theories of cultural evolution are gaining ground in high places. They attempt to establish consilience in the fields of biology, psychology, sociology, and technology. The best are remarkably coherent. A few are brilliant.
In this worldview, cultural information is analogous to the genetic code. Much like genes in the body, “memes” are expressed in society as myths, laws, and machinery. Programmed by various ideas and languages, our diverse ways of life compete and evolve much like biological forms. When selective pressures intensify — such as war, pandemics, or winter storms — only the best-adapted cultures will survive.
Mining that vein, a number of serious academics and best-selling authors advocate for conscious intervention in our own cultural evolution. Some want to remake society in the image of quaint New England towns. Others seek to excise the “god of war” from the human psyche.
None of these thinkers refer to themselves as “cultural eugenicists” any more than social justice warriors would call themselves “cultural Marxists.” But just as the latter shift Marxist critique from economics to identity, cultural eugenics shifts social engineering from the genome to our cultural DNA.
They approach society as a garden: we choose where to plant the best seeds, how far to trim the branches, and which weeds to pull.