In the mid-nineteenth century, a German monk by the name of Gregor Mendel began experimenting with pea plants, which eventually led to him becoming the father of modern genetics. Now of course at the time the idea of creating better animals and plants via breeding was not a new idea. For thousands of years people had known that if you get two superior plants or animals to have sexy time then you have a chance of creating a new even more superior plant or animal. However, Mendel was the first to understand the whole idea that such things were caused by genes that could be passed on both actively and recessively. Of course this amazing discovery was completely ignored for 30 years, and Mendel was largely forgotten until the start of the twentieth century when his findings were re-discovered.
It was an interesting time for science. A growing understanding of the natural world had resulted in significant advances in industrialization and medicine, resulting in a rapid exponential growth in the human population never before seen in history. However, this same growth in science also resulted in a better understanding of the affect people had on the environment, resulting in many predicting that it was just a matter of time before there were so many people that everything just kind of collapsed, resulting in the end of human civilization. Given that this was the thought process of many of the leading minds when genetics became a thing, its not hard to see how some crazier ideas began to take shape, key amongst them the theory of eugenics, which is just a sciency way of saying breeding people like animals.
Now the idea of eugenics is nothing new. Throughout human history, groups have been rather less than kind to those deemed to have physical or mental handicaps or deficiencies. However, the modern idea of eugenics stemmed from a man named Francis Galton, who was a cousin of Charles Darwin. A big fan of his cousin’s theory of evolution, Galton took it a step further by claiming that pretty much all human traits were hereditary, and therefore if you wanted better people, all you had to do was control which ones were allowed to fuck. It’s probably worth mentioning that when it came to physical traits, Galton wasn’t wrong. However, Galton also claimed the same was true for things like intelligence or just being a nice person.
Now at the time, Galton was one of the most respected scientists in the world, being one of the first to apply large-scale statistics to world issues. His accomplishments included creating the first weather map, devising a method to classify fingerprints, calculating the optimal method for making tea, inventing a whistle for hearing tests, and statistically proving that prayer did diddly squat to help people. Through years of rigorous statistical study, Galton became convinced that people who did better in society did so because they had superior parentage. While such theories were fully embraced by the rich and powerful, for reasons that should be obvious as shit, it really didn’t take off until the early twentieth century when people first began to fully understanding the idea of genetics.
For the first time in history, those who were economically better off finally had what they thought was scientific proof of what they had always thought was true. Namely, that they were genetically superior to everybody else, and would be regardless of education or living conditions. These members of the upper crust, rather excited over such things, threw massive amounts of money to spur on further research on how great they were, effectively creating a new academic discipline at universities around the world. In thanks, the researchers at these universities threw themselves fully into studying the affects of genetics on social standing and the rise and fall of societies and civilizations. Things of course got pretty fucked up, but that’s a story for next week.