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This week we examine the history of eugenics in USA. Robert Whitaker tells how WASPish business magnates took up the idea of racial purity and aggressively promoted eugenics, leading directly to forced sterilizations and lobotomies across USA, and indirectly to Nazi Germany's Final Solution.
Thanks to Moses Nagel for help cleaning up the audio.
Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America tells the story of eugenics in USA, beginning with Sir Francis Galton, who, inspired by the ideas of his cousin of Charles Darwin, asked why so many successful and famous people came from the same family. His conclusion, that they had better germplasm - and therefore should breed more, while those with 'bad germplasm' should be prevented from breeding - was the foundation for the science of eugenics.
Eugenics was quickly picked up by the WASPish ruling class of the USA concerned about the rapidly increasing numbers of immigrants and freed slaves. By funding conferences and using their influence over universities, the Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations promoted eugenics, establishing the American Eugenics Society and concluding by 1914 that 10% of the US population should be sterilized.
In 1927 the US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that it was constitutional to forcibly sterilize the 'manifestly unfit' and by 1933 all 50 states had enacted laws preventing the insane from marrying. The Rockefeller foundation in 1925 gave $2.5M to start the German leading eugenics center in Munich. Those deemed 'mentally unfit' (a very flexible category, including those with offensive cultural practices or dangerous ideas) were the main targets in USA, and were not only imprisoned in asylums but fed toxic drugs and subjected to lobotomies and other procedures to lower their intelligence, increase docility and generally subdue them.
The lecture continues into our second hour, after which the ensuing Q & A session (which I edited slightly for clarity) Whitaker shows himself to be an astute commentator not only of the historical development of madness but also of the current function of 'mental health' and the uses to which it is put by the American ruling class.