When scientists and medical doctors talk of germ cells, what do they mean ?
Are they talking about infectious bacteria germ cells or are they describing the human egg and sperm that contain the human germ line ?
Obviously they are talking about both.
The root of the word "germ" has a variety of meanings and perhaps surprising to most of us, that meaning for thousands of years was a highly positive one.
In fact, at a time when most people met the Spring sun basically near starving, perhaps the most hopefully positive word in the whole human lexicon.
The word originated in the Latin term for germination and then starting in the 1600s, the shorter word 'germ' came to mean those wonderful little green buds and shoots that meant a new generation of a plant (aka "food") were on their way.
Late in 19th century, this sense of the word was extended to the small number of cells of a multi-celled being that uniquely held its genetic material needed for the germination of new life.
The few (but very precious) germ cells versus the much larger number of somatic cells that ('just') made up the physically active part of that being.
It thus had a meaning close to kernel, core, seed, essence, saving remnant.
Think of the future disaster implied when a people are forced to eat their 'seed crop', just to ensure immediate survival.
Then, also late in the 19th century, people were very surprised to learn that the originating 'germ' of massive body-wide serious disease was found to be the invisibly tiny (seed-like) microbe.
Think of the well known Bible parable of the incredibly small mustard seed, so tiny yet soon growing into a giant tree to see how the common meaning behind both uses of the term "germ" is basically the paradox of 'from incredibly tiny and weak into big and strong'.
This paradox, I propose, allows me to logically connect the moral panics that surrounded late 19th century Germ Theory and late 19th century Germ Line Theory, panics actually arising from the unconscious reaction against the unexpected and unintended consequences of the late 19th century modernization process ----- by the people most responsible for inventing and distributing that modernization process.
Its obviously a very big subject but let me leave you with this real life example of the two moral panics co-mingling (and isn't that in itself an ironic image ?!)
In the 1920s, the British public was half convinced that there was a secret Chinese conspiracy to take revenge on the British introduction of Opium into China by introducing opium (and worse) back into the British elite in the very heart of the British Empire , the London society set.
The belles of that particular ball, in an opium-induced dream like state, would then have kinky sex with large 'limbed' colored men and produce their mongrel spawn, instead of producing the empire's future colonial administrators, thus directly threatening the postwar Eugenics Project.
It remained credible to many that the large population of the badly divided Chinese nation, so apparently weak in the 1920s, could pull this coup off against the world's largest and most advanced civilization because, after all, the weak but many germs, microbes, could do the same against the advanced state of current British science and medicine.
And in the other sense of germ, germ line, the sex act is always highly invasive, penetrative, rather like the common and incorrect understanding of how germs invade humans.
Couple that thought (!) with the view of miscegenation as a literal infection rotting the race and weakening the pure white germ line.
Now Eugenics is usually promoted as being a way for 'us' to promote an increase in 'our' good genes and reduce the number of 'our' bad genes, to maintain and improve 'our' race.
In theory, this "us"-orientation of Eugenics leaves no room for concerns about "them".
But of course "our" bad genes need not just come into our racial germ line from defective degenerate members of "our" race.
Miscegenation leads to "bad" black genes being intimately mingled with the "good" white genes (they wear tall stetson hats so we can tell them apart) --- the 'one drop of blood' legal theory is thus considered to have emerged from eugenic theory rather than germ theory, but I argue the two co-mingle on this point with much of eugenic practise really being 'human germ' theory in guise...