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Social Darwinism: Canada’s firewall of silence on eugenics human rights abuses has been breached

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Jane Harris-Zsovan’s book, Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada`s Nasty Little Secret is now (J. Gordon Shillingford, 2010) in print. It details the surprising reach of the compulsory sterilization movement in early twentieth century Canada. Many across the political spectrum participated, until the practice was finally derailed by informed public opinion and the courts.

The book’s national launch will be Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 1:30-3:30, Galt Museum & Archives Store, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Harris-Zsovan chose that locale because “the Galt archives have been helping me from time I wrote my first history paper at University.”

Harris-Zsovan, who spent many hours poring over decades-old newspaper clippings, is bracing herself for controversy:

I’m inviting everyone I know and that includes people on the left, right and centre in Canada. I can’t wait to see them all chit-chatting in the gallery at the Galt! I’ve warned them all that they will be uncomfortable with parts of this book. They seem okay with that so far. But I hope that discomfort leads to a healthy discussion.

Well, I hope so too. Many of us have found that discussion of eugenic sterilization – discussion that includes any mention of the social Darwinism that underlies it – often leads to the frantic defense of some Shrine to Evolution. To say nothing of attacks on anyone who offers evidence. Indeed, the spin now turns so fast that in the United States, museum goers are informed that Darwin was not a racist or eugenicist, when there is simply no escaping the facts of the case.

Anyway, Jane’s is hardly a “take no prisoners” approach to unsavoury history:

I treat my home province, Alberta, B.C., and the architects of the only Sexual Sterilization Acts in the British Empire fairly gently. They made bad decisions, but we make worse ones. This behaviour continued from 1928 until 1972. (Actually it continued well after that until the Supreme Court put a stop to it.)

My sense is that too many people in Canada, generally a”low threat” society, assumed that it Couldn’t Be Happening Here. Surprise, surprise.

Harris Zsovan is confident that

The lesson of the book: As bad as our past was, especially in Western Canada, we can be an example to other countries, most particularly the U.S. and Western Europe, if we own up to this.

Sure, Jane, if all Hull doesn’t break loose first.

And if you think what happened in Canada was bad, consider what happened when social Darwinism hit Africa …

Krylluk, thanks. First, in order to develop a proper historical appreciation, we need to look at the record honestly. Darwin, Darwinists, and Darwinism were heavily involved in eugenics, and eugenics enthusiasts relied on them for "science" backing. After all, everyone thinks they are better than their neighbours. What makes that a science? Well, for many, Darwinism did. Once we acknowledge that history straightforwardly - and deal with it implications for Darwinism as a "Truth" - we can get past it. Continued attempts to whitewash the facts only put off the day we get past it. Why do I say the Canadian version of eugenics was incoherent? Because Canada had no single ethnicity then or now, nor any significant tradition of "we are evolving toward a Super Race."* We already belonged to an Empire/Commonwealth on which the sun, famously, never set. Even in my day, we were told in school that we were pretty lucky, NOT because of race or blood but because of social institutions like constitutional monarchy and English Common Law. However, we also had a great need to be seen doing what the Best People in the sciences thought was right - and the rest was history. The Holocaust wouldn't likely have happened in Canada because most people's mental map would not find a place for it. Our enemy here has been nature, not man. Anyway, I hope a constructive discussion follows the publication of Firewall. *That is not the same thing as saying there was no racism. But racism wasn't in aid of a Third and a Half Reich.** ** Why not? Canada has five and one half times zones ... O'Leary
[Irony on] Some lawyer are getting a bit upset because right-to-vote pioneer Nellie McClung, a famous eugenist proponent, is getting a statue. Oh, come on! Get a life. That's just a statue! To quote: “Maybe we should refine how we think of statues,” she said. “Maybe veneration isn’t the point, but rather contemplation. They should bring out a person’s accomplishments and their failures, because, really, whose record is completely blameless?” I mean, if this woman can't get a statue then neither does Darwin. And what about Hitler: I mean, he was a leader in economy (pulling up out of poverty millions of germans) but at the wrong end on disability and jew's human's rights. But like Mr. Beachell says: "Historical figures should not be judged by modern standards. “Peoples’ understanding of disability was very different then than it is today,” he said. “The attitude was really not challenged back then. The whole disability movement really developed after World War II.”” And I must add that the whole "don't kill jews" was developed as well after the Worl War II. So really, what can't Hitler get a statue as well? [mode irony off] Well, being French, I didn't realise how twisted the whole issue of Eugenics was in Canada. Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/prairies/human-rights-lawyer-opposes-honour-for-right-to-vote-pioneer-nellie-mcclung/article1545502/ Kyrilluk

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