Back in the 1990s, I seem to remember Irish students marching in favour of abortion rights, and carrying banners with the name and number of a London clinic – that of Marie Stopes International. The Marie Stopes name was being advertised, in effect, as a symbol of a ‘feminist’ cause of freedom.
This, I think, would not be acceptable today, as movements associated with Black Lives Matter are growing aware of the legacy of Marie Stopes – she was a committed racist and a remorseless eugenicist.
Universities are already deleting the name of Francis Galton from their buildings and laboratories, and his statues are being removed. Galton, a half-cousin of Charles Darwin, was a brilliant Victorian polymath, and the father of modern statistics. He invented modern methods of measuring everything by stats and percentages. He was also one of the fathers of eugenics – the belief that people of ‘superior’ breeding should be encouraged to reproduce, while those deemed ‘inferior’ should be stopped from doing so. His theory applied to both race and class.
Galton’s name is increasingly considered unmentionable. He is, in the parlance of today, being ‘cancelled’.
Marie Stopes, the famous pioneer of birth control (1880-1958), was an enthusiastic follower of Galton’s theories of eugenics, and they drove her campaigns for the reduction of births among ‘lesser breeds’, while encouraging procreation among an elite.
She became obsessed with these ideas which went to the nuttiest of extremes. She rejected her own daughter-in-law, Mary, because Mary wore glasses – Stopes considered myopia a sign of being ‘dysgenic’, or having ‘bad genes’. She was horrified at the idea that any descendent of hers might be ‘contaminated’ by ‘a disease of the eyes’ such as short-sightedness – a crime against eugenic health.
She approved of Adolf Hitler’s policies – especially since the Third Reich embarked on its genocidal policies by the deliberate killing of disabled children – and sent the Fuehrer a collection of her poetry, along with a fan-letter.
Let the public be exposed to much more information”
Stopes considered Catholics, blacks and Jews, among others, to be ‘a curse’. So if the Black Lives Matter movement – who have spray-painted and daubed other scientists who had eugenic leanings – surely Marie Stopes, racist and eugenicist, will be a prime target for eradication?
Personally, I don’t agree with the culture of ‘cancelling’ historical characters and eradicating their identity. Much better to widen the discussion, enhance the knowledge, bring more debate and information into the open.
Sometimes it is appropriate to remove a statue or memorial to a historical character, but it should be done in an orderly way by authorities who have a mandate to do it. So I don’t agree with ‘cancelling’ either Francis Galton or his disciple Marie Stopes.
Instead, let the public be exposed to much more information about their lives and their ideas. Let it be known just what Marie Stopes stood for.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if Marie Stopes International thought it wise to change their name, and disassociate from their founder. There’ll be no more banners from Irish students supporting Dr Stopes.
My outdoor wish is outfoxed!
There’s a beguiling Jewish tradition called Sukkot –on one night during the year, you undertake to sleep in the open air, under the stars. As the nights grow balmier, I am tempted to obtain a tent and sleep one night in the garden just for the experience of it.
‘Sukkot’ is sometimes called the ‘Festival of Shelter’, and, I’ve been told by Jewish friends, the idea is to make participants think about those who have no shelter. But I suppose there is also an element of being close to nature and the rhythm of the earth. I did sleep in the open air when visiting Egypt in 2011, and it certainly was amazing to see the canopy of stars over the desert sky.
I don’t mind garden creepy-crawlies, but I am slightly nervous of being joined by an urban fox, who saunters around the locality as if he owns the place…
It’s about parents and teachers, not eugenics
Incidentally, apart from being unethical, the eugenic ideas that Galton et al. promulgated were not, actually, ‘scientific’, there are too many variables involved in human inheritance to guarantee any prevailing characteristic.
Even in animal husbandry, breeding is never an exact science: if you could predictably breed a horse to win every race, then there would be no rich bookies!
Thankfully, human beings have a God-given uniqueness which produces endless surprises, not eugenic certainty.
Take the examples of Britain two female Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. Researchers have scoured their family backgrounds to find ‘superior’ genes to explain their achievement, but have discovered that both came from long lines of modest stock. All four of Mrs May’s grandparents were domestic servants.
These female achievers owed nothing to eugenics, but much to devoted parents, enlightened teachers and, in both cases, a Church background which underlined duty and conscientiousness.