Thursday, July 21, 2005

Eugenics in a Multiracial Society

Mr Michael D. Barr, Department of History, University of Queensland, wrote in the Journal of Contemporary Asia v29, n2 (1999) an article titled "Lee Kuan Yew: Race, Culture and Genes."

Senior Minister Lee Kuan YewThe thesis claims to be an attempt to "advance their understanding of Singapore's idiosyncratic version of multiracialism by casting new light on the thinking of its primary architect, Mr Lee Kuan Yew."

In it Singapore's multiracialism is said to encourage a high consciousness of one's race even as it insists on tolerance. Detractors allege a covert form of discrimination in favour of the majority Chinese and against the minorities, especially the Malays. It was written at a time when the Singapore government had an unofficial policy of excluding Malays from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) because of concerns about their loyalty. Malays were not required to serve the mandatory National Service in the Singapore Armed Forces, they were assigned to the Police Special Constabulary or Civil Defence Force. Despite much progress in this area, it was a sobering thought that, in the wake of September 11, the predominantly Malay police security personnel assigned to guard the residences of Singapore's Ministers were replaced by Gurkhas from Nepal.

The section on Cultural Eugenics makes interesting reading:


The last plank of Lee's racial logic is his view of cultural eugenics and dysgenics. Lee believes that some cultures have social customs which are naturally eugenic while others are burdened with dysgenic sexual mores. He believes, for instance, that the Catholic Church suffers from a dysgenic culture: "All the bright young men became Catholic priests and did not marry. Bright priests, celibate, produce no children. And the result of several generations of bright Fathers producing no children? Less bright children in the Catholic world."

Of more practical relevance to the development of Lee's politic I thought is his view that the genetic quality of the Malays is low because of their dysgenic Culture. In 1989 Lee confirmed his general agreement with Mahathir Mohamad's The Malay Dilemma, which argued in part: "Malays abhor the state of celibacy. To remain unmarried was and is considered shameful. Everyone must be married at some time or other. The result is that whether a person is fit or unfit for marriage, he or she still marries and reproduces. An idiot or a simpleton is often married off to an old widower, ostensibly to take care of him in his old age. If this is not possible, backward relatives are paired off in marriage. These people survive, reproduce and propagate their species. The cumulative effect of this can be left to the imagination."

Of these and other arguments which purportedly account for the supposed backwardness of Malays, Lee said: "From that book I realised that [Dr Mahathir] believed in it as a medical man - that these were problems of the development of the Malay race, Anthropological problems, and these were strongly-held views. Indeed, I found myself in agreement with three-quarters of his analysis of the problem - that the Malays had always withdrawn from competition and never really entered into the mainstream of economic activity; that the Malays would always get their children or relatives married off regardless of whether it was good or bad."

The Ashkenazi Jews, on the other hand, are among an elite of races which have a thoroughly eugenic culture: "From the 10th to 11th century inEurope, in Ashkenazim, the practice developed of the rabbi becoming the most desirable son-in-law because he is usually the brightest of the flock. ... So he becomes the richest and wealthiest. He marries young, is successful, probably bright. He has large numbers of children and the brightest of the children will become the rabbi and so it goes on."

The Chinese also have benefited from centuries of practising cultural eugenics, though his logic works only if you assume that a person's economic status directly reflects his or her-intelligence and energy: "In the older generations, economies and culture settled it. The pattern of procreation was settled by economics and culture. The richer you are, the more successful you are, the more wives you have, the more children you have. That's the way it was settled. I am the son of a successful chap. I myself am successful, so I marry young and I marry more wives and I have more children. You read Hong Lou Meng, A Dream of the Red Chamber, or you read Jin Ping Mei, and you'll find Chinese society in the 16th, 17th century described. So the successful merchant or the mandarin, he gets the pick of all the rich men's daughters and the prettiest village girls and has probably five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten different wives and concubines and many children. And the poor labourer who's dumb and slow, he's neutered. It's like the lion or the stag that's outside the flock. He has no harems, so he does not pass his genes down. So, in that way, a smarter population emerges."

If Lee believes that this is the natural order of affairs for Chinese, it is no wonder that he raised the possibility of reintroducing polygamy as part of his eugenics programme. Lee's propensity to identify intelligence with economic status seems to have been a deep-seated trait which had been with Lee since childhood. In his old age he told his authorised biographers, "In primary school, I had no trouble doing well. Probably because my fellow students were poor and they were not very bright and advantaged ... I had no trouble staying ahead of the class." It must be acknowledged that Lee was speaking retrospectively, and that his words stop just short of explicitly drawing a direct, let alone a causal link between the economic status of parents and the intelligence of children. His words are not, therefore, unequivocal proof that Lee formed these ideas in childhood. They do, however, suggest that many of his ideas of the elite are built upon the prejudices associated with economic class. For all of Lee's supposed empirical reasoning and his theorising, his elitism and geneticism looks suspiciously like the conceit born of a pampered and privileged childhood.