“Mens sana in corpora sano”

I’m reading “Enforcing Normalcy”, by Lennard J Davis.

The second chapter, “Constructing Normalcy”, talks about the development of the concept of “normal” in European/American culture, mostly from the seventeenth century onwards.

On page 37-38, he talks about early twentieth century eugenics movements, particularly their emphasis on breeding out “feeblemindedness”, “pauperism”, and “insanity”:

“In Kansas, the 1920 state fair held a contest for ‘fitter families’ based on their eugenic family histories, administered intelligence tests, medical examinations, and venereal disease tests. A brochure for the contest noted about the awards, ‘this trophy and medal are worth more than livestock sweepstakes…For health is wealth and a sound mind in a sound body is the most priceless of human posessions.”

And I got a physical jolt. “A sound mind in a sound body”, which become a slogan of the eugenics movement. I know that from somewhere. “Mens sana in corpore sano”.

And I remembered. It’s the motto of Dalkeith Primary School, a strongly academic primary school in an extremely wealthy and white part of Perth.



Categories: ethics & philosophy, language, social justice

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24 replies

  1. Also, of the Carlton Football Club.

  2. So I take it that for Carlton players it is more of a ‘guideline’?

  3. While at the other end of the spectrum, a local high school near where my dad grew up had “the Maniacs” as their team name.
    There was a state mental institution in town, you see.
    Angus Johnston’s last blog post..Race and Student Government at the U of Alabama

  4. I had a Brownie leader who used to say it all the time. Probably one of the many reasons that I didn’t stick with Brownies.

  5. Ew. Scary. Then again, I think eugenics is everywhere, so there you are. ;-P

  6. Eeeeewwwww…. and I thought “High Endeavour” at my primary school was a bit lame.

  7. Heh. What fodder for drug humour.
    My primary school’s motto—printed in big letters across each child’s blue jumper—was “we pull together”.
    (I drink to forget)

  8. Oh Liam that *is* a motto you can have some fun with!

  9. Mine was Virtue and Knowledge. With the emphasis on virtue.
    Deborah’s last blog post..Why The Advertiser is so special

  10. Erk, that’s creepy.
    My kids’ school motto is “Aim high” which always conjures images of archers lined up ready to launch a rain of arrows.

  11. Mine was Latin, Palma Non Sine Pulvere, which according to the school meant ‘no reward without effort’, but according to my brother, classics scholar, means ‘no effort without reward’, or to translate into the popular idiom, ‘I’m not doing it without a cookie’.
    Which I find highly amusing, especially since I’m still fuming about the inferior education I received at this establishment.

  12. Also, is v creepy using eugenics slogans.
    Rebekka’s last blog post..SWINE FLU!!! PANIC!!!

  13. WildlyParenthetical:

    Ew. Scary. Then again, I think eugenics is everywhere, so there you are.

    Oh, _definitely_. This one struck me particularly, because I accepted it so unquestioningly when I was a kid – “who doesn’t strive for the ideal of a sound mind in a sound body? That’s how things should be!”, then didn’t think about it for years and years, until now.
    But yes, eugenics and a broader healthism are totally The Matrix. Which is the point of Davis’ book, so far: that it is all a thoroughly constructed matrix. In examining the history of the construction, he nestles this Kansas eugenics up against Galton and Nazism and more recent ideas and literature, showing that they’re all part of the same continuum, of the conglomeration of industrialisation and classism and ableism – but he says it much better than I can.

  14. Our School motto was “Peace and Love”.
    I just don’t know where to go with that one – nowhere funny I think.

  15. Oh Grendel… was your school founded in the 1960s? 🙂
    I’d forgotten the motto of my high school (well, I did leave there in 1968) so I just googled. They don’t seem to have a motto any more, but their mission statement is “To provide an excellent Catholic education for young women”. Very bland.
    M-H’s last blog post..Not whingeing (yet)

  16. Lauredhel, you’re almost certainly across them—my apologies if you are—but if you’re into the Matricity of eugenics and public health and racism, you can’t go without reading Alison Bashford’s work on borders and medicine (great titles like Imperial Hygiene and Is White Australia Possible? and Contagion).
    That is, of course, if you enjoy seeing the medical profession as the constant villain of the piece.

  17. It’s a great book, Lauredhel, I’m glad you’re enjoying it. One of the more intriguing points for me is his pointing out that egalitarianism, or our liberal sense of equality and democracy, is also thoroughly shaped by these concepts of normalcy. Really does interesting things to thinking about politics and ideas about representation and what they do to difference.
    My various school mottos included: ‘Non Nobis Solum’: not for ourselves. Why yes, it was an all girl school, why do you ask? ;-P And something which I can’t quite remember the Latin for, but was directly translated as ‘With Truth and Courage’. But because girls shouldn’t be encouraged to show, y’know, actual courage, they used to translate it as ‘With Truth and Moral Courage’. Moral courage? WTF is up with that? It made me indignant all the way through high school. I wanted ALL courage, goddamn it!

  18. Oh, and also, I meant to say, in relation to the first paragraph: I’m also intrigued by how bound up with industrialisation ideas of equality and normalcy are. Machines mean you need to make humans interchangeable… a friend of mine is examining early disability law cases, and there’s fascinating gender stuff around it too.

  19. I also went to a girls school with the motto “Lord direct us”, and another with the motto “Faithfully”.
    I much prefer the UWA motto, “Seek Wisdom”. Finally, something we can all pretty much get behind.

  20. M-H Yes, but it was a Catholic Convent School so I’m not sure they were thinking along quite the same track. . .

  21. Liam: I’m not all over it and my theory/background reading is definitely lacking, so thank you for the rec.

  22. I read some of these mottoes, and I can’t help thinking they’re put to the wrong schools. I mean “Lord direct us” is clearly the correct motto for a school of the performing arts; while “faithfully” is a good motto for a correspondence school. Mens sana in thingummy doodah (to borrow from Victoria Wood) is an appropriate motto for a school of psychiatry, and I have a strong suspicion it got slapped on Dalkeith Primary’s crest because of the doctrine that “what is in Latin sounds profound”.

  23. Mine was ‘Potens sui’ – ‘Self Control’. Our guiding muse was Athena, so sometimes it was extended to “Athena says ‘self control’”. A lovely finger wagging motto.

  24. ‘Enforcing Normalcy’ is now on my order from the library list. The book that did it for me on exposing the eugenics movement is the ‘Politics of human fertility’ by Germaine Greer. She really outs the eugenists in international health policy and critiques early WHO/NGO fertility programs. It is well worth a read.
    On the question of normalcy this is where I once had a light bulb moment about the nature of dialectics. I was in first year Sociology and was trying to write an essay on deviance whilst trying to avoid defining ‘normalcy’ (the we are all unique approach) on the basis that I thought definitions of normalcy problematic. I couldn’t write it and had to change topics at the last minute when I realised that it is impossible to say anything sensible about one without defining the other and this highlights the dialectical nature of life, the universe, and everything. Gave new dimension to the idea there are two sides to every coin and that you’ve got to look at the thing and its opposite if you want to understand the situation fully which has been useful since.
    As a young woman, having Epilepsy this subject is close to the bone for me, I was clearly exhorted by the medical profession not to have and raise children as I was not of sound body. Causing me to give my first born up for adoption, through Perth’s Ngala.
    Now in late 30s-40s I’ve had 3 other children and I am currently awaiting a diagnosis of Epilepsy in my oldest daughter. Talk about the guilts. There is nothing for it but to be philosophical and suck it up, as I currently deal with the Drs and her health issues, and Centrelink assessing whether I am ‘deserving’ enough not to be given a stint through the ‘washing machine’, as they assess whether I am sound enough in mind and body to work again or if I’ll get the pension!
    I am grateful that I have chosen in later life to have kids and would not for all the world be without all the love and heart ache they give – we still have many complex issues to deal with and explain.. like Mum where is my big sister or why did you give our big sister away? But we’re getting there.
    Eugenics is more than just a word to represent a possibly outdated concept, about whether ‘defectives’ have the right to reproduce (and if so with whom), but is out there in all its somatic dysfunctional manifestations, and gritty ‘glory’ in mine and many others daily life so keep on holding the magnifying glass on the issues.
    It drives me wild that the ‘right to lifers’ say that adoption is the humane option when it comes to ‘unwanted pregnancies’. I’m here to say that it is much worse dealing with the pain and grief caused through adoption than abortion. For those who need evidence that it is wrong to separate mothers’ and their babies check out a book called the Primal Wound and have your eyes opened by Nancy Verrier.
    I’m a feminist ‘cos i want to stop all that crap pregnant young girls are told about putting their feelings aside and getting on with their life. To suck it in and think about the benefits of their child being cared for by a ‘good family’ –stop making me sick.
    I once saw a woman who was the victim of thalidomide? (sp?) anyway she had serious arm deformities, and in the pram was a mini-her at the stage of discarding toys over the side of the pram, and to pick it up she dropped to the floor of the shopping centre and secured that teddy between her chin and shoulder. Amazingly humbling and inspiring. Sorry to part tell someone else’s story but this puts my own situation into stark perspective and helps me see the glass is half full- it’s sad that PWD look at each other and draw some comfort that at least life isn’t that hard for me.
    Thanks for raising these issues at Hoydens and sorry for my periodic confessions/rants. Still…Carpe Diem.

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