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Eugenics And The New Right-David Garrett Exposes Real Desires

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford
David Garrett

The pronouncement by Act MP David Garrett that he would like to see abusive mothers paid an incentive to sterilise themselves has exposed the New Right's hidden agenda towards the poorest sections of our society.

While the Act Party have publicly distanced themselves from Garrett's comments, I would go so far as to say that this exposes the real eugenics agenda on the part of some prominent individuals on the New Right. Indeed it was during the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century that eugenics caught on as a means of exerting control over the ability of so-called 'undesirable' people, namely, the poor, disabled people, people with mental illness, sex workers and those experiencing drug and alcohol addiction, etc, to reproduce children.

The first person to espouse eugenic theories at great length was the British scientist Sir Francis Galton who drew on the work of his half-cousin Charles Darwin (the father of modern evolutionary theory).  Eugenic theories caught the attention of both neo-classical theorists on the right and (sadly) some early socialists on the left. Therefore,  eugenics attracted the support of people across the ideological spectrum during that period including Sydney and Beatrice Webb (early Fabian socialists), Peter Fraser (Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand), John Maynard Keynes (liberal economist), Marie Stopes (one of the world's first family planning advocates) and most notoriously Adolf Hitler (Nazi German dictator).

Each of these individuals believed in the application of eugenic theories to contain certain 'undesirable' sectors of the population. For example,  the Nazi German programme of genocide against the Jewish, ethnic minority, disabled and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities in Germany and Occupied Europe was one of the most well known eugenics programmes of its kind. However, those otherwise great exponents of social democracy, the Swedes, continued with their own eugenics programme until 1975. Other countries (including New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada) through the promotion of low level policies of social control over indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and disabled and mentally ill people continued to apply eugenic theories, albeit, on a smaller scale until the mid-1970s.

But back to covering the real reasons behind the emergence of eugenics. Nascent capitalist societies in the pre-Welfare State era, such as Britain, New Zealand and Australia, saw a burgeoning in the numbers of poor and unemployed people. This was due to the inherently fickle, cyclical nature of capitalism and the introduction of new mass production techniques which saw many groups considered to be previously economically valuable in the pre-industrial age such as, for example, disabled people, cast out into the margins of society due to the rise of unemployment and underemployment. In those times as well, the notion grew up of the need to classify the poor into two convenient categories, the so-called 'deserving' and 'un-deserving' poor. The bourgeois (wealthy) and petty bourgeois (middle class) were encouraged to dispense charitable aid to the 'deserving poor' who were seen as people with the ability to motivate themselves back into lowly paid work. The 'undeserving poor' who constituted people within the abovenamed groups were left to fend for themselves as best they could and through, for example, the near mass institutionalisation of disabled people and those with mental illness, they were sometimes completely excluded from society altogether. The ultimate hope was that many would die as a result and no longer be a burden upon the bourgeoisie and many sadly did.

The modern broad left has largely discarded eugenics and has placed greater emphasis on improving the social and economic status of marginalised groups such as single parents, disabled people, people with mental illness and those living in extreme poverty. On the other hand, the New Right and some of their supporters continue to cling onto some notions of eugenics in order to scapegoat unpopular minority groups who are viewed on the right as the new 'undeserving' poor. These include indigenous groups ( for example, Maori and Aboriginal peoples), ethnic minorities (who mostly hail from immigrant backgrounds) and single parents, amongst others. With the emergence of the New Right and their neoclassical agenda of shrinking the size of the state, there has been a need to scapegoat these and other groups. This has been done in order to popularly advance free market economic and social agendas which have seen the rise of social inequality.  Therefore, it's a pretty easy shot to call for the sterilisation of criminals, drug users and violent single mothers. It gets the talkback lines humming, it gets the letter writers clicking pen and clacking keyboard, it gets the bloggers (like me) debating the issues in cyberspace.

But the 'dog whistle' code is there for those who are most receptive to it. With David Garrett's call think Maori. Think Pacific Island. Think state house. Think 'poor white/brown trash'. Think welfare bludger. Think social parasite. Garrett and his right wing ilk (who include such luminaries as Paul Henry, Michael Laws, etc, who have all been known to make similar comments) find it easy to plant these ideas into the popular subconsciousness.

Therefore, eugenics hasn't completely died off in the 21st century. It is alive and well.  To exploit a terrible and real issue like intergenerational child abuse in this way is wrong. What is really needed to address this issue are anti-poverty programmes; social support for all parents across the socio-economic spectrum that recognises the value of raising children; violence prevention, drug and alcohol counselling and parenting courses for those deemed most at risk of perpetrating intergenerational abuse; and ongoing support from adequately funded state and community agencies for this at-risk group.

The reality though is is that Garrett and other right wingers of their ilk don't want to pay more taxes to do this. They are more interested in propagating seemingly easy fix solutions like offering one-off bribes to the poor to control their reproductive ability. They would, therefore, deny the right of people to seek help in order to become better parents. After all, we want a violence free world for all our kids - and it isn't going to be achieved by what is, on the face of it, a highly racially discriminatory solution.



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