Frankenstein and Eugenics
Patrick Harris -
At the time that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, Europe was just at the end of the enlightenment, the ‘age of discovery’. There was much possibility as to what could be done with science, and there were not set rules for people to operate by. Reanimation, such as that done by Victor Frankenstein, was viewed as a very real possibility. In the present day, we to are in an ‘age of discovery’. It seems that the power of science knows no boundary. The potential has been reached that human cloning and pay to order genes are just on the horizon. Then, just as now, we must recognize the dangers of these scientific advancements. Science is not always best, we must also consider circumstances of our conscience. Frankenstein draws many parallels with the modern world and the not so distant past. The wish to develop new science was a driving force in Victor’s creation of the monster, but also in the actions of Nazis. The creation of the monster is a great leap with unknown consequences, just as genetic engineering in modern times may have dire consequences for the generation of tomorow.
Genetic engineering is at an interesting crossroads. For the first time, it is technically feasible for humans to alter their own DNA and genes. Previously this was just the purview of science fiction writers, but now is the employ of scientists around the world. What is still science fiction though is what happens next, the long term result of our genetic meddling. There is too much unknown about genetic engineering. The potential consequences of removing, duplicating and toying with genes later in life and in future generations is a total unknown. Already, cloned animals are “all genetically or physically abnormal, even if they appear healthy” (Utton, 2014). In addition, when genes are removed or altered in order to promote preferential traits, there is an extreme danger of reducing natural genetic diversity that will be needed to be able to fend off the diseases of the future, as this is “a break from the process of natural evolution known to build strength into species through diversity” (Friends of the Earth, 2008). Evolution happened for a reason, in order to strengthen the human race, and this alteration of genes presents a threat to the continued ability of human genes to evolve in order to meet the challenges of the future. Genetic engineering is a great leap into the unknown, and may seem like a good idea now. However, the potential consequences are beyond comprehension. Humanity may inadvertently exterminate itself through it’s own quest for scientific knowledge.
Just as scientists do not know what the long term consequences of genetic engineering are, when Victor created the monster, he did not know the long term consequences of his actions. Victor created the monster on a whim, as fast as he could. The monster then preceded to kill off much of what mattered most to Victor. There is no way that Victor could have imagined, or that he purposely intended, for this chain of events to occur, though there was a certain amount of naïvety present. When Victor first comes to the idea of creating life, he “hesitated a long time concerning the manner in which I should employ it” (Shelley, 1818, p.57), though this hesitation was not caused by the potential for calamity rising from this monster, but rather that it was “a work of inconceivable difficulty and labour” (Shelley, 1818, p.57). Victor never considered that he was creating a killing machine, only that he may overwork himself making said killing machine. Victor did not consider the dire consequences of his actions when he had any semblance of control, only after the Monster was loose would he see it as “a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived” (Shelley, 1818, p.79). Victor did not see the long term result of his actions. Too late would Victor see the monster for what it was, a scourge of man. The scientists of today should learn from Victor so that they may not make a similar mistake while researching genetic engineering, or shortsightedness may be the death of us all.
This practice of not realizing how bad something is until too late is a common theme throughout history. This rises prominently in the the initial global response to the rise of Hitler in Germany. The world would not realize the terrible intentions of Hitler until it was much too late. Even Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King wrote that Hitler was “really one who truly loves his fellow-men” when he visited Berlin in 1937 (King, 1937). There is ample evidence to suggest the contrary, starting with the headstones of the ten million killed by the Nazis.
At the heart of the heinous goals of Hitler and Nazi Germany was the development, or preservation, of a ‘master race’. They strove to safeguard and maintain a superior being to the common human. They did this through a state sanctioned policy of eugenics; employing euthanasia, forced sterilization and marriage laws to “eliminate undesirables from the population” (Proctor, 1988, p.108). The Nazis justified their insane ideology through the sudo scientific writings of Arthur de Gobineau, who “argued that race created culture, and that ‘impure race-mixing’ leads to chaos” (Glad, 2008, p. 36). They may have used different methods, but they were attempting to create a superior human being much the same as Victor Frankenstein. Unlike the Nazis, he had no evil intentions, he only sought glory, to have the monster “bless [him] as its creator” (Shelley, 1818, p. 58). He never meant anyone to die because of his experiments. The Nazis knew full well what they were doing. There was, however, the results of Victor’s actions. His quest to create a superior human being ended in personal tragedy for Victor. All that was dear to him was gone, and he was left but a shadow of a man. Both Victor and the Nazis desired to create something greater than what humanity was, though both created incalculable misery in this desire, and in that both became a villain worse than death. The example of both Victor and the Nazis present the danger of trusting in science, or what one believes qualifies as science. Today, de Gobineau is regarded as the inventor of scientific racism, theories which directly promote the ideal of racial superiority. The actions of the Nazis offer a window into a world where scientific racism is taken as fact. That world should scare everyone, so humanity must do its utmost to prevent it.
Science may seem to be the supreme good to which humanity strives for, though science must be examined through a lens of compassion. Science must not ever discriminate or exterminate for the betterment of anyone or anything. The consequences of our quest for knowledge must be examined before hand in order to avoid a cataclysm such that may rise from an improperly genetically engineered world or a world in which scientists and tyrants decide which race is better than others.
Friends of the Earth. (2008), Why Environmentalists Oppose Human Cloning And Inheritable Genetic Modification. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20080517075358/ http://cloninginformation.org/info/foe-01-11-26.htm
Glad, J. (2008), Future Human Evolution, Eugenics in the Twenty-First Century. Toronto, Ontario: Hermitage Publishers
King, W.L.M. (1937), Personal Writings and Diary. Library and Archives Canada retrieved from https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/king/023011-1070.05-e.html
Proctor, R. (1988), Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
Shelley, M. (1818), Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus [Project Gutenberg Digital Edition]. Retrieved from http://itunes.apple.com/
Utton, T. (2004), Dangers of Human Clones. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/ article-111930/Dangers-human-clones.html