Today on the drive in to the office I heard a story on NPR that caught my interest. It was about the eugenics program in North Carolina which ran for half a century ending in the 1970's. This program performed sterilizations on people deemed unfit to society. Sometimes "unfit" just meant "poor and uneducated". Many of these were performed without the consent of the person being sterilized.
The state was one of 31 to offer some sort of eugenics program. Eugenics is a funny topic, it's one thing that seems to have support from the far right and far left (as defined by commercial media) in this country. Of course they have very different inspiration for their support. Regardless, it's an odd common ground to share. I tend to simply think of it as an "extremist" view. It doesn't often have widespread ongoing support in civilized societies and tends to be promoted by people with views to the outside of mainstream. Eugenics does crop up quite often throughout history though. But eugenics itself isn't the purpose of this post. I do want to suggest it doesn't have a place in a civilized and open, liberty-rich society.
It was the comments from one of the sterilized women that really caught my interest. She was incredulous that the government would have done this to her as a child without her consent. (in this particular case it seems her parents consented) I will admit, the woman did not sound as if education had been a high priority in her life, but being shocked that a government would act contrary to the best interest of the people should be expected, not a surprise. History is full of injustices and atrocities carried out by governments. In fact, if history can teach us anything, a government is uniquely capable and responsible for the worst injustices seen on this planet.
Individuals can be evil and act in ways that are horrifying. But in general a serial killer, suicide bomber or disgruntled person with a gun or a bomb is limited to the amount of horror they can enact. The worst serial killers in history have amassed perhaps two dozen bodies? Most suicide bombers kill maybe a dozen and wound 50. Even large orchestrated attacks of terror rarely break the few thousand mark.
Companies have been known to break strikes with violence, knowingly sicken workers and produce harmful products. Private industry has been responsible for deplorable working conditions, prisons and medical care centers rife with corruption and spectacular cover-ups when mistakes are made. But again, the impact is limited to thousands or tens of thousands of people.
If you want to find casualties in the hundreds of thousands or millions, genocide or repression and squalor that lasts for generations you need to involve a government. Of course goverment is made up of individuals and uses companies to achieve it's goals, but without the government you don't have the worst bits of history. Without government we can't have war. Without government we can't have actions that kill or subjugate hundreds of thousands of people at once.
So it surprises me when people put their faith in governments. What a terrible idea! Left alone a government will trend towards oppression and evil deeds, history has shown that over and over again. People forget the internment camps and experiments inflicted on people even in this own country not long ago. We look away as "police" in body armor carrying machine guns and grenades kick in doors and sometimes kill people to deliver a search warrant. We have a justice system that's biased against the poor and politicians that openly take money from interests to influence their votes. How can anyone put their faith in that? I find it shocking that people do.
We need government, but we also need citizens to police that government. We need to pay attention, vote out the corruption and try to enact positive change. As long as people are surprised when a government does something we abhor that policing isn't going to happen. There is no reason today not to be educated, we have more readily and easily available information today than at any time ever in history. There is just no reason to put faith in things that are demonstrably untrue.
If you'd like to listen to the NPR story, you can do so by following this link.