Cold Springs Harbor Labratory, location of what was once the Eugenics Record Office, Long Island.

Cold Springs Harbor Labratory, location of what was once the Eugenics Record Office, Long Island.

 

What There is to Give

In progress, in collaboration with Mia de Graaf

Humans think about the future more than we think about the present or the past. It’s one of the few defining features that seem to separate us from other species. Studies on people performing mental arithmetic have found any breaks of thought are invariably spent musing about what might happen next, plans for the evening, flights to book for that trip in six months’ time.

Unlike animals, we are able to envision - and curate - what ‘next Thursday’ looks like (with almost unwavering accuracy, if you stick to your schedule).

Through careful planning, we have been able to live in much larger groups than animals do. We have created societies, cities, supermarkets, hospitals that serve millions, laws that govern hundreds of millions, and religions that control billions.

It is that desire and knack for planning which has set us apart. It has also sewn the fiercest divisions among us.

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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is a manicured, 110-acre campus nestled among the woods on the north shore of Long Island. Half a dozen thatched cottages, decked cabins, and grand brick buildings dot the slope, enmeshed with the trees. A concrete path snakes through it all and leads out onto the quiet sound, a former whaling port, which flows out into Oyster Bay.

By design, the pine and cedar trees shroud and frame the labs.

It is there, in the early 1900s, that the eugenics movement was cultivated.

Under the guise of well-intentioned research, scientists designed papers that supported controlled breeding by forcibly sterilizing those deemed mentally or physically unfit.

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From The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, poems by Molly McCully, Brown