50 Years Ago: On Eliminating The Unfit

You will remember the immortal lines of Edward Lear :

“They went to sea in a sieve they did ;
In a sieve they went to sea.”


And then, after extravagant and variegated adventures, in the last verse he informed us:


‘‘In forty years they all came back,
“In forty years or more.”


I mention this to introduce you to the great thought that has struck Professor Arthur Thomson! He thinks we should all go into the sieve again; and, unlike kindly Edward Lear, he doesn’t want us all to come back.


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The readers of “John O’ London’s Weekly’’ for March 17th were informed, under the large heading, “Mankind Must Be Sifted,’’ of the pickle we are in.


  ‘There is too little sifting. If ten biologists were asked what feature in modern civilisation gave them most anxiety . . . we are inclined to think all would agree in placing first the relative slackness of selective processes working in the direction of progressive evolution.’


Now to his remedies, his sieves :


  ‘The multiplication of the radically undesirable must be checked.  . . . selection which takes the form of insisting on efficiency requirements. The more of this the better when the requirements are reasonable, and when they tend to make life more difficult for unreliable types whose multiplication is not in the interests of the race.’


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Notice how the changes are rung on desirable and undesirable. By whom and for whom? Why is the question never once raised as to who and what are the defectives; whence they come or how they arise. I have seen it stated by another of the professorial fraternity that in spite of all hereditary taint 99 per cent. are born perfect. What happens after birth?


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The employing class as a whole never says, “Low wages mean stunted men, starved women and defective children.” It never says, “Long hours and intense toil mean premature age, empty lives and high accident rates for the toilers.” But they do mean so. For every defective born there is a hundred made by capitalism. For the defective born there is a hope of cure; for the defective made there is none—except Socialism.


(From an article “Any More For The Sieve?” by W. T. Hopley in the Socialist Standard, April 1923.)