Eugenics as a Creed and the Last Decade of Galton's Life 267
Galton considered that the public conscience as represented by tribal custom, law or current moral opinion had a powerful influence on conduct. This public conscience is usually reflected in sanctions enforced by the religion of the tribe or nation, often by appeal to the super-rational consequences of "sin," i.e. disobedience to the current social code. Occasionally social needs develop the public conscience more rapidly than the guardians of orthodox belief are able or willing to expand their religious creed, and there is friction, slight or grave, between what the forerunners call "progress" and the priests term "heresy." Somehow religion moulds itself to the developed public conscience, and all ends happily with the progressive "sinners" being canonised as saints. Noting the remarks of the speakers and correspondents which followed or resulted from Galton's paper, we may find the same type of statement unsupported by the only possible proof-that of statistics-again occurring. For example: "the defects of a quality seem sometimes scarcely less valuable than the quality itself," "it is highly probable that a very slight taint may benefit rather than injure a good stock," "marry Hercules with Juno, and Apollo with Venus and put them in slums, their children will be stunted in growth, rickety and consumptive," "in a low state of civilisation the masses obey traditional laws without questioning their authority. Highly differentiated cultured persons have a strong critical sense, they ask of everything the reason why, and they have an irrepressible tendency to be their own lawgivers. These persons would not submit to laws restricting marriage for the sake of vague Eugenics*," "at present the care for future man, the 'love and respect of the race, are quite beyond the pale of the morals of even the best," "the rise of intellectual qualities also involves under given conditions a danger of further decay of moral feeling, nay of sympathetic affections generally .... Under existing social conditions it would mean a cruelty to raise the average intellectual capacity of a nation to that of its better moiety at the present day," with much more half-baked thought.
Some few speakers were more helpful; it may be that Galton, perhaps purposely, did not sufficiently emphasise the distinction between procreation and marriage, or indeed note that most primitive taboos concern mating rather than marriage; yet the distinction was in the minds of some of his supporters. Dr A. C. Haddon held that marriage customs among primitive peoples are not in any way hidebound, and that social evolution can take place. "When circumstances demand a change, then a change takes place, perhaps more or less automatically, being due to a sort of natural selection. There are thinking people among savages, and we have evidence that they do consider and discuss social customs, and even definitely modify them; but, on the whole, there appears to be a definite trend of social factors that cause this evolution. There is no reason why social evolution should continue to take place among ourselves in a blind sort of way, for we are intelligent creatures, and we ought to use rational means to direct our own evolution.
* Why should the precepts of Eugenics be "vague," if they start from scientific knowledge I Other critics asserted on the contrary that the more cultivated classes would reach eugenic conclusions, but the uneducated would pay no attention, and so the movement be idle!