Wednesday, June 28, 2017

DARWIN AND THE UN’S STATEMENTS ON RACE

Perhaps the best known document produced by the United Nations is The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Not far behind is the Genocide Convention. Much less well-known is that from 1950 to 1967, the UN through Unesco put out four statements on race and, in 1952, a very short book, The Race Concept: The Results of an Inquiry. These statements were framed by a committee of scientists and signed on to by many more. These were the postwar years. The horror of what the Nazis had done had not worn off yet. The concern was to thoroughly repudiate and invalidate the Nazis’ idea of race. Even scientists who thought there were important differences between races wanted to make it clear that the Nazis were an abomination and no scientist should support what they did.

The first statement (1950) disputed the value of the term ‘race’ and suggested that it would be better to talk about ethnic groups. The history of groups is more important than genetic differences. This first statement considered race more a myth than a biological fact. “For all practical purposes ‘race’ is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth. The myth of ‘race’ has created an enormous amount of human and social damage … and caused untold suffering” (§14).  The social and biological unity of mankind was stressed.

Unesco got a fair amount of pushback from scientists who argued that race may indeed be a valuable concept and that they should be allowed to study racial differences without any ideological constraints. This resulted in a second statement on race in 1951 (discussed below). Then in 1952, in The Race Concept, they explained why they had made certain changes. Unesco acknowledged the criticisms made of the first statement and quoted at length from various remarks made by scientists who agreed and disagreed with various parts of the first statement. The two biggest criticisms that were made were of the opinion that “there are no mental differences between racial groups,” urging the need to keep an open mind about this, and the opinion that biology supports the idea that “man is born with drives towards co-operation.”

In 1951, Unesco published its second statement on race to accommodate the criticisms it had received. There is some controversy as to whether this second statement caved into scientific racism. In The Race Concept, Unesco acknowledged that this charge had been made and that some people regarded the criticisms of the first statement “as representing a victory for racism and the defeat of a naive humanitarianism.”

I have not studied the first two statements carefully enough to decide whether the second one represented a major break from what they had sought to accomplish in the first. But it is interesting that the second one stressed two points about how terrible racism is, which it had failed to do in the first statement. In order to strike an even greater blow against Nazism, the 1951 statement flatly declared that there is no such thing as a pure race (§7) and that popular ideas of superior and inferior races are not supported by science (§4).

What has Darwin to do with all this? The 1950 statement dragged Darwin in as support for an idea it wished to promote, namely, that “a co-operative spirit is not only natural to men, but more deeply rooted than any self-seeking tendencies” (§14). That is quite a stretch concerning Darwin. The statement quoted the following from The Descent of Man (this is near the end of Chapter 4): “As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.”

This is one of the worst cases of quoting out of context that I have ever seen. Anyone barely familiar with Darwin’s work would know that he believed the “lower” races of mankind were incapable of achieving this kind of morality. In Descent, he was convinced that savages would never help a stranger. Only civilized human beings do that. He believed in the Spanish maxim, “Never, never trust an Indian.” Even in the paragraph Unesco quoted from, Darwin went on to state that we should extend our sympathies to the lower animals, but offered his opinion that this was an unknown feeling in savages, except towards their pets. Darwin himself extended very little sympathy “to the men of all nations and races.” He insisted that the civilized races would exterminate the lower races and expressed no regrets about it. Nowhere in his system of thought did Darwin make cooperation among all human beings a centerpiece. In one letter, he openly stated his dislike of cooperative schemes and his belief that anything opposed to the principle of competition would be very bad for society.

Interestingly, one scientist implicitly objected to Unesco’s misuse of Darwin by pointing out what Darwin really believed. The Race Concept provides a lengthy quotation from Dr. C.D. Darlington of Britain. In it, Darlington quotes from a more representative part of Descent where Darwin states of human races, “Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual faculties” (near the beginning of Chapter 7 of Descent). Darlington says, “Fortunately genetics has given us every reason to agree with him [Darwin]” and also adds, “By trying to prove that races do not differ in these respects we do no service to mankind.” In another statement in this Unesco book, Dr. A.E. Mirsky from NewYork, addressing an article by Darlington, disparagingly refers to “the guesses and prejudices of Darlington.” I have no doubt that Mirsky was correct about Darlington’s scientific work, but as to quoting Darwin accurately in context, Darlington was right.

The Unesco statements on race were not without controversy. Still, Unesco tried to do the right thing and raised awareness of the dangers of scientific racism. Too bad it took a misstep in misrepresenting what Darwin believed. If we really want to defeat scientific racism, we should be honest about Darwin as one of its proponents.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

HERE WE GO AGAIN

[My books are available at all online vendor sites.  The most recent is A Short but Full Book on Darwin's Racism. It's about 200 pages.  It is based on the one I published last year, Darwin's Racism: The Definitive Case, Along with a Close Look at Some of the Forgotten, Genuine Humanitarians of That Time. I also call it the 800 page tome. The 200 page book might be more pleasing to some people.]

A while back, I believe I mentioned that it is quite common for books and articles about 19th century scientific racism to be published which never mention Darwin as an example or mention him briefly in a sentence or two and then pass over him. The latest case of this is Siep Stuurman’s The Invention of Humanity: Equality and Cultural Difference in World History (2017). It is a general review of humanitarian thinking from ancient times to the present, covering many different civilizations, not just western thought. I recommend it, if only for the reason that every reader will encounter here very interesting writers from many different countries, many of whom you never heard of. We can all learn a lot from this book.

But the silence about Darwin is stunning. Stuurman devotes one chapter to 19th century scientific racism in Europe and America. Darwin does not appear, not even once, not even in a brief aside. Yet he mentions others who espoused the very same ideas as Darwin. He quotes Robert Knox (whom Stephen Gould also dealt with in The Mismeasure of Man), “Already in a few years, we have cleared Van Diemen’s Land of every human aboriginal; Australia, of course, will follow, and New Zealand next.” Stuurman calls this “Knox’s genocidal vision.” Darwin said the same in more polished language in his published journal: “All the aborigines have been removed … so that Van Diemen’s Land enjoys the great advantage of being free from a native population.”

Stuurman also says, “According to Knox, the ‘dark races’ would lose the struggle for world supremacy and were destined for extinction.” Darwin embraced the same exact thought many times in his letters and at least once publicly in The Descent of Man: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” Yet Darwin gets the silent treatment by Stuurman and so many other scholars.

Stuurman describes a social Darwinist theory of history as “permitting, and at times demanding, the extermination of peoples deemed ‘inferior’ …” But this kind of thinking comes directly from Darwin, which Stuurman neglects to mention. In one of his letters, Darwin said “… the Human race, viewed as a unit, will have risen in rank” when all the lower races have been exterminated. Almost every racist thought discussed by Stuurman can be found in Darwin.

So what does the scholarly world accomplish when they write (or rather, fail to write) about Darwin this way? How can one leave out the major biological scientist of the 19th century from a discussion of scientific racism? Scholars have created a safe haven for racism in Darwin’s writings. Darwin gets away with it because academia is committed to letting him get away with it. And because Darwin was a relatively polite racist, scholars have given permission to racism to forge ahead as long as it expresses itself in subtle ways that at least do not appear offensive at first glance. Be nice about it and academia will allow you to be as racist as you want to be. This is a very dangerous game scholars are playing. As long as the full truth about scientific racism is not investigated, it will always return, and by leaving Darwin out of it, we are covering up that full truth.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer


Friday, April 28, 2017

A SHORTER BOOK ON DARWIN'S RACISM

My previous book, an 800 page tome, Darwin's Racism: The Definitive Case, Along with a Close Look at Some of the Genuine, Forgotten Humanitarians of That Time, has been available at online vendors since last July.

My new book is a compact version of that and will be available at online sites within the next few days. It is called A Short but Full Book on Darwin's Racism. It's about 200 pages. Here is the table of contents for the main chapters:

1   Brother Ant, Sister Worm
2   Never, Never Trust an Indian
3   Defenses of Darwin
4   Georg Gerland:  Who Rejected Whom?
5   I Weep for You, I Deeply Sympathize
6   J. Langfield Ward:  Strangers in the Land of Their Birth
7    Connect the Whirling World:  More Holistic Evolutionists
8    Small and Broken
9    A Strange Coming and Going

And here is the descriptive paragraph on the back of the book:

Darwin once pondered what it would be like to talk to an ape, “if he could take a dispassionate view of his own case.” The ape, he said, would have to admit he was inferior to humans. Darwin was obsessed with ranking organisms. It was no different with human beings. It is not hard to prove that racism deeply infected the work of Charles Darwin. Turn the pages of his writings—his letters, Journal, Notebooks, and published works—and it’s there. There is hardly a source that does not contain it. It seems like every time he picked up his pen, he had something to say about the inferiority of certain races. For him, evolution produced inequality. But Darwin and evolution are not synonymous terms. It is possible to criticize Darwin without criticizing the theory of evolution. Some previous evolutionists, as well as some of his contemporaries, were more holistic and humanitarian than he was. They looked for connections rather than disconnections and ranking. They defied the ideology of conquest and domination of their day and paid a price. We can continue to eliminate them from our memories, or we can retrieve their voices and let them inspire.

I hope this shorter book will prove to be more accessible than the longer, definitive work.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

THE MYTHMAKING GOES ON

[My big book, Darwin's Racism, is available at all online vendor sites.  My newer, shorter A Short But Full Book On Darwin's Racism will hopefully be available in a few months.]

More than ever, I am struck almost weekly by the myths about Darwin that are continued in popular writing. These are not just myths about Darwin. They are myths about the history of science. A recent article by James Ryerson, reviewing three new books about human nature, in The New York Times Book Review (Mar. 12), provides another example.

The first sentence of his article is this: “Ever since Darwin came up with the theory of natural selection, there has been a question—in some quarters, a worry—about whether human beings remain in any meaningful sense unique creatures.” Ryerson goes on to say that “Darwin’s theory suggests” that there are “merely differences of degree” between humans and other animals. There is so much wrong with this way of once again elevating Darwin to unique status.

First of all, it was not originally the theory of natural selection that suggested these things. The general theory of evolution (species gradually descending from previous species, whatever the cause may be), which was never Darwin’s private property, suggests this gradual progression from animals to humans. Secondly, it is not that we have lived with this idea “Ever since Darwin”. This is false history. Many people before Darwin had written about this. Robert Chambers had expressed this 15 years before Darwin’s Origin of Species.

In 1844, in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, Chambers wrote, “The difference between mind in the lower animals and in man is a difference in degree only.” He also stressed, “Bound up as we thus are by an identity in the character of our mental organization with the lower animals ...” and drew more radical conclusions from this than Darwin would. Chambers believed we had to respect the rights and feelings of animals. Darwin never went that far.

The idea is even older than Chambers. The whole idea of the great chain of being is that all life on this planet, including human beings, is linked together by the most minute differences from creature to creature. In the late 18th century, Soame Jenyns, in a brief essay on the chain of being, explained, “this animal life rises from this low beginning in the shell-fish.” He tells his readers that God has so arranged creation that all the parts “are so blended together, and shaded off into each other, that no line of difference is anywhere to be seen”; and “… the links … are so minute, and so finely wrought, that they are quite imperceptible to our eyes … invisible to the most inquisitive eye.” Even intelligence exists in slight degrees of variation: “this animal life rises from this low beginning in the shell-fish, thro’ innumerable species of insects, fishes, birds, and beasts to the confines of reason, where, in the dog, the monkey, and chimpanzè, it unites so closely with the lowest degree of that quality in man, that they cannot easily be distinguished from each other.”

Many other examples could be given, but I think Jenyns and Chambers are enough for the moment.

Charles Darwin may be more famous than other authors, but that is not because he gave us new, unheard of ideas. The idea of a gradation of intelligence throughout the forms of life was definitely not new. The reasons for Darwin’s fame have more to do with a quest for power by academics. This quest results in erasing anyone from history who gets in the way of academic mythmaking.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer


Sunday, February 26, 2017

A NEW, SHORT BOOK

Last summer, I published my big book, Darwin's Racism: The Definitive Case, Along with a Close Look at Some of the Forgotten, Genuine Humanitarians of That Time, an 800 page tome.  It is available at all online vendors, but I realize its size may be a bit much for many people. So I recently decided that what is needed is a very short book on the subject. I just finished writing it. It will be called A Short But Full Book on Darwin's Racism and it will be well under 200 pages (probably about 175).  I hope it will be available in a few months.

Here is the description I've written for the back cover of this new book:

Darwin once pondered what it would be like to talk to an ape, if it could be “dispassionate” about its own case. The ape, he said, would have to admit it was inferior to humans. Darwin was obsessed with ranking organisms. It was no different with human beings. It is not hard to prove that racism deeply infected the work of Charles Darwin. Turn the pages of his writings—his letters, his journal, Notebooks, and published works—and it’s there. There is hardly a source that does not contain it. It seems like every time he picked up his pen, he had something to say about the inferiority of certain races. For him, evolution produced inequality. But Darwin and evolution are not synonymous terms. It is possible to criticize Darwin without criticizing the theory of evolution. Some of his contemporary evolutionists were more holistic and humanitarian than he was. They were far more interested in connections than disconnections and ranking. We don’t remember them because they defied the ideology of conquest and domination of their day. The consequence of that is to be erased from history.

I have completely reorganized how I present the evidence.  It's interesting to rewrite a book in this way.  Some points gain in power because the evidence for them is presented more compactly.  Not only the points about Darwin's racism, but the presentation of the humanitarians who had a more holistic vision of evolution than he did gains by being concentrated in a higher strength solution, instead of being diluted by a lot of other facts. Just wait till you hear about Georg Gerland, J. Langfield Ward, Robert Chambers, Emma Martin, and more, all of whom were far more humane in their pursuit of science than Darwin was. We need people like that.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A FAILURE TO SEE

[By the way, my book Darwin’s Racism: The Definitive Case is available at all online vendors.]

Here is the review of Peter Cozzens’s The Earth is Weeping, about the violent taking of the territory in western America from the Indians, which I posted (2 stars) on Amazon in December (same title as title of this post):

There are two main things to say about this book. One is that most of the evidence Cozzens provides contradicts his thesis. The second is a question: How could Cozzens not see what he has done?

When Cozzens says he wants to “bring historical balance” and a “nuanced understanding” to this history, it is clear that he means he wants to exonerate white people of the most terrible accusations about them. For him, the right conclusion is that this is a story of “a displacement of one immigrant people by another …” as if the white invasion were at bottom an innocent affair. He keeps company with all the 19th century writers who described white invasion of the lands of Indigenous peoples as a natural force, a current that could not be stopped and therefore could not be morally judged. Cozzens refers to “the social and economic forces that impelled the whites to take their [Indians’] country.” It is like describing racism as the natural forces of domination by one group over other groups.

Yet everything in Cozzens’s book speaks against his conclusion. Almost every page testifies to injustices, atrocities, massacres, and deceitfulness committed against the Indians. By contrast, there is very little wrongdoing by Indians here. More typical of what he has to say about Indians is that they tried to keep the peace (most of the time). He describes events where “none of the Indians … had caused any trouble,” and “there had been precious few [Indian offenses],” and even “None of the Indians could foresee the horrible consequences their passive resistance would soon engender.” I appreciate his honesty about the details, but his conclusion is dishonest.

So how can Cozzens so badly fail to see what he has presented? I can only guess, and even if I am wrong about the reason, what I am about to describe constitutes a major failure of his approach. There is an issue that haunts this book but is never directly confronted: The question of genocide. The term itself appears only 4 times. But variations of ‘exterminate’ come up 12 times. More significant is that I counted 38 places where genocide is hinted at—I mean the use of such phrases as ‘wriggles against his doom’, ‘adapt … or perish’, ‘the circle of their world grew smaller’, ‘hunger and hopelessness’, ‘choke the life out of’, and more.

Cozzens tries to dismiss the whole issue by stating “… the federal government never contemplated genocide.” That might be technically true but there is so much more to it. Raphaël Lemkin, who coined the term, insisted that genocide varied in methods and intensity. Outright killing was only one way. You can also harass and demoralize a people to death. You can organize a legal system rigged against the Natives. You can take actions to lower the birth rate. Government bears responsibility for some of these things, even if it never makes genocide official policy. The government let settlers know that they could do what they wanted to Indians and they would never be punished for it.

This was uneven combat. Entire Indian families, women, children, aged, and all, were kept on the run by soldiers who were not dragging their families with them. The government was conducting war against a people, not just enemy warriors—which Cozzens fails to emphasize. Cozzens tries to be even-handed about atrocities, but there is a difference between atrocities committed to survive or out of frustration, and atrocities committed out of greed to obtain complete power and all the land. Occasional Indian atrocities do not demonstrate equal culpability.

One demoralizing activity was the constant removal of Indians. Many Indian tribes were not just removed once to a reservation. They were removed again and again and again. Each time whites coveted Indian land, the government stood behind yet another removal. One tribe was removed 8 times in 16 years. They hardly had time to settle down before they were uprooted again.

Constant stress lowers the birth rate, another genocidal factor. They knew this in the 19th century, though they used other terms. Darwin called stress ‘changed conditions of life.’ He was quite aware that it negatively affected the fertility of Native peoples and expressed no regrets about it. Europeans and Americans understood what they were doing and kept doing it.

Another demoralizing factor was the constant talk of extermination. In 1881, in America, Helen Hunt wrote, “The word ‘extermination’ is as ready on the frontiersman’s tongue to-day as it was a hundred years ago.” She also pointed out, “early in our history was the ingenious plan evolved of first maddening the Indians into war, and then falling upon them with exterminating punishment.” Cozzens actually gives a few examples of this, without using this expression. Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple, an Indian sympathizer, said in 1864, “We have heard a high Indian official [a white official over the Indians] declare, as if he approved of the atrocious sentiment, that ‘there were many wise men who thought the best policy was to exterminate the Indians,’ and we ventured to tell him plainly, that ‘no one but Almighty God could exterminate …’” A British pamphlet published in 1816 stated that it was certain that “American policy is directed towards the total extermination of the Indians.” Washington Irving made more or less the same point in 1813. There was so much more of this.

I value this book for much of the information it contains. But I cannot value it as a whole because of the dishonest conclusion Cozzens is in pursuit of. Rather than face the issue of how much genocide played a role influencing policies, Cozzens pretends that it was just natural forces at work.

That was the end of the review. If I could have added one thing, it would have been this: Avoiding the issue of genocide as Cozzens does in this book (except for a few glancing mentions) would be like writing a history of German-Jewish relations in the first half of the 20th century and never mentioning the Holocaust. It would be unthinkable to write about Jewish history like this. But this is exactly what Cozzens does. And it is not only Cozzens. Many historians write about Native American history as if it were a series of battles between Indians and whites, or a progression of social forces against an inferior culture that could not withstand the innocent pressure of another culture. The larger picture of genocide is simply shoved aside. How is that honest history?

© 2107 Leon Zitzer


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

NO TWISTING REQUIRED

Last month I put up my letter to the NY Times Sunday Book Review on the review of the Peter Cozzens book (see below).  Since then, I put up my own review of the book on Amazon. I gave it 2 stars mainly because Cozzens never directly confronts the issue of genocide and pretends that white invasion of Indian lands was a result of natural forces, not moral choices. I will post my review here next month, but this month, something else caught my eye about Darwin in another Times review.

Here is a good example of how popular writing about Darwin constantly mythologizes him. They give us a fictional Darwin who never existed. In a New York Times review of a book on the causes of World War I (Sunday Book Review, Dec. 11, 2016, p. 16), Margaret MacMillan, a professor at Oxford, writes, “Struggle, so Darwin could be twisted to say, was a natural part of human existence.” I suppose she means to imply that Darwin was more humane than that. She wants to distinguish Darwin from “social Darwinism and the racialist theories it spawned.” But you don’t have to twist Darwin to make him elevate struggle as the primary feature of all life or to make him espouse racist ideas of inferiority and superiority. He says these things himself.

Chapter III of The Origin of Species is entitled “Struggle for Existence”. The last words of Chapter VII are “let the strongest live and the weakest die.” Those words remained in place through all six editions (in the sixth edition, this was at the end of Chapter VIII). For the first ten pages or so of “Struggle for Existence”, Darwin is reminding the reader of the great destruction of life in nature, and using plants as an example, states that “the more vigorous … gradually kill the less vigorous.” No one has to make Darwin say any of this. He is quite clear about it and never tries to pretend that he sees life as anything less than a struggle to the death. “Fatal competition” as he says at the end of Chapter IV on natural selection. Extinction itself, which is the subject of one of the sections of Chapter IV, plays a large role in Darwin’s thinking. And lest we forget (how careless of me to leave this as the last example), the struggle for life was so important to Darwin that he put it in the subtitle of his book: The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

I think the reason writers have felt enabled to so shamefully misrepresent Darwin’s views is that Darwin (the fictional Darwin) has been encapsulated into one sentence. This is the last sentence of Origin, which in truncated form reads as follows: “There is grandeur in this view of life … from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” This is the romantic Darwin and it is the chief source of the idealistic vision of him. But the real Darwin also wrote a sentence immediately before that, in which he explained how this evolution comes about. It results “from the war of nature, from famine and death.” This gives us, says Darwin, “the production of the higher animals.” And in the sentence immediately before that, he references “a Struggle for Life” and “the Extinction of less-improved forms.” These sentences, the second and third from the end of Origin, express and capture what most of The Origin of Species is about. The last sentence is a romantic departure from the main thrust of Origin.

That last sentence, quoted probably more often than any other from Darwin, has been used to create the fictional Darwin. No one ever bothers to tell you how atypical it is for the historical Darwin. The real Darwin can be found in the sentences leading up to the uncharacteristic last one. That Darwin would go on to make clear twelve years later in The Descent of Man that he believed Indigenous peoples all over the world were among the forms of life that would soon be exterminated by Europeans and particularly by Anglo-Saxons. He regarded this extermination of human beings as a natural process of extinction of the less improved forms of life. This historically real Darwin has been erased by the majority of writers and scholars who continue to present to the public their romanticized, dream-like image of him. That image may be attractive to many people, but he never existed.

© 2016 Leon Zitzer