Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Unpleasant associations

Mike Lofgren, in his "The Party is Over - How Republicans went crazy, Democrats became useless and the middle class got shafted",  records what I think is a momentary moment of sanity from former House majority leader, the Republican Dick Armey.  This was in 2006, and was a blast against the religious right:
[James] Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies.  I pray devoutly every day, but being a Christian is no excuse for being stupid.  There's a high demagoguery coefficient to issues like prayer in schools. Demagoguery doesn't work unless it's dumb, shallow as water on a plate.  These issues are easy for the intellectually lazy and can appeal to a large demographic.  These issues become bigger than life, largely because they're easy.  There ain't no thinking.
Ah, James Dobson - I had the misfortune of hearing of him years ago, in graduate school, where a classmate of mine almost fell prey to his brand of Christian fundamentalism.  Fortunately common sense intervened, and he reverted back to his Indian Christianity.

But I encountered the name of Dobson just a day ago.  To tell you how requires a digression.  In the history of American eugenics, one eminent name is Paul Popenoe.  He wrote what is termed as the first college textbook, "Applied Eugenics", which was published around 1918.  The book is available on books.google.com and archive.org.  There are many things to be noted from there.  For instance, Popenoe recommends a eugenic income tax scheme, including an income tax exemption "for a wife and each child". Now I'm wondering whether the US tax code has a eugenic origin.

The family is key to eugenics.  In the introduction, Edward Ross wrote: "Finally, the thoughtful ought to find in it guidance in their problem of mating. It will inspire the superior to rise above certain worldly ideals of life and to aim at a family success rather than an individual success."

Popenoe believed that religion can have a eugenic value, by making a person do something good for the species even when it is not in his/her narrow self-interest.  Popenoe argues to this position:

Theoretically, then, there is a place for eugenics in every type of religion. In practice, it will probably make an impression only on the dynamic religions,—those that are actually accomplishing something. Buddhism, for example, is perhaps too contemplative to do anything. But Christianity, above any other, would seem to be the natural ally of the eugenist. Christianity itself is undergoing a rapid change in ideals at present,[Pg 400] and it seems impossible that this evolution should leave its adherents as ignorant of and indifferent to eugenics as they have been in the past—even during the last generation.
Followers of other religions, as this chapter has attempted to show, can also make eugenics a part of their respective religions. If they do not, then it bodes ill for the future of their religion and of their race.
It is not difficult to get people to see the value of eugenics,—to give an intellectual adhesion to it. But as eugenics sometimes calls for seeming sacrifices, it is much more difficult to get people to act eugenically. We have at numerous points in this book emphasized the necessity of making the eugenic appeal emotional, though it is based fundamentally on sound reasoning from facts of biology.
The great value of religion in this connection is that it provides a driving power, a source of action, which the intellect alone can rarely furnish. Reason itself is usually an inhibitor of action. It is the emotions that impel one to do things. The utilization of the emotions in affecting conduct is by no means always a part of religion, yet it is the essence of religion. Without abandoning the appeal to reason, eugenists must make every effort to enlist potent emotional forces on their side. There is none so strong and available as religion, and the eugenist may turn to it with confidence of finding an effective ally, if he can once gain its sanction.
The task, as this chapter was intended to show, is a complex one, yet we see no insuperable obstacles to it. Eugenics may not become a part of the Christian religion, as a whole, until scientific education is much more widespread than at present, but it is not too soon to make a start, by identifying the interests of the two wherever such identification is justified and profitable.
 We now consult Wiki on the life and career of Paul Popenoe.  Some excerpts:
Along with his advocacy of sterilization programs, Popenoe was also interested in using the principles of German and Austrian marriage-consultation services for eugenic purposes. Aghast at the divorce rate in US society, Popenoe came to the conclusion that "unfit" families would reproduce out of wedlock, but truly "fit" families would need to be married to reproduce. With financial help from Gosney, he opened the American Institute of Family Relations in Los Angeles in 1930. The Institute was described in 1960 as "the world's largest and best known marriage-counseling center" with a staff of seventy.

For a while, Popenoe's two major interests, eugenics and marriage counseling, ran parallel, and he published extensively on both topics. As public interest in eugenics waned, Popenoe focused more of his energies into marriage counseling, and by the time of the public rejection of eugenics at the end of World War II, with the revelation of the Nazi Holocaust atrocities, Popenoe had thoroughly redefined himself as primarily a marriage counselor (which by that time had lost most of its explicit eugenic overtones). Over time he became more prominent in the field of counseling.

Given the role of clergy in responding to crisis in families, Popenoe increased focus in training the clergy over many years. This culminated in 1978 with the American Institute of Family Relations creating the Pastoral Psychotherapy Training Program, which offered the Master of Arts in Pastoral Psychotherapy. This was the second offering of a Master's degree by the Institute.

As Popenoe maintained his traditional values (e.g., chastity before marriage), changes in popular culture such as feminism and sexual revolution challenged his approach. At the same time, thought leaders in the helping professions tended more and more to favor self-fulfilment over preservation of the family. This led Popenoe to ally increasingly with religious conservatives—even though he was not religious himself. For example one of his assistants was James Dobson, who founded Focus on the Family in 1977.
There pops up Dobson again, as promised.   Now I can't but help wondering, how much is American Christian fundamentalism a eugenics movement?  How much can it not help being offended by Obama who is of mixed race, crossing the color line, that Popenoe was dead against?