Monday, June 26, 2017

Just the Facts: Book Discussion Recap from June 22

Six people ignored the lure of a beautiful summer night to attend the book discussion last night. Their presence, as always, was much appreciated. I think of them as the summer soldiers.

The book discussed was Imbeciles: the Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen. Eugenics was an American science or pseudo-science based on the the work of the Austrian geneticist Gregor Mendel and the British naturalist Charles Darwin. Its goal was to improve the gene pool of the United States by limiting the people who could reproduce to those with the best genes, much as one would breed cattle or chickens. This led to the Immigration Act of 1924 that limited the people who could immigrate from Central and Southern Europe and to the forced sterilization of those who were deemed inferior, morons, imbeciles, idiots, epileptics and the feeble-minded, medical terms at the time. Their work was applauded by and cited by Nazi Germany. But the eugenicists needed a test case to legalize forced sterilization, a case that would be approved by the Supreme Court and they found this case in a young, poor, unwed mother named Carrie Buck. The case wound its way through local courts, the Virginia Supreme Court and, eventually, to the Supreme Court of the United States where the esteemed Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously ruled that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Carrie Buck was sterilized without her knowledge or consent and the case, Buck vs Bell, was never overturned. Forced sterilization is still the law of the land. Our conversation, as might be expected, was especially contentious, focusing on the rights of the individual versus the demands of the state. It was a very interesting evening.

Our next meeting will be on July 27th at 7:00pm. The book to be discussed, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, is available at the Circulation Desk. All are welcome.

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