Saturday, November 26, 2016

PETER COZZENS BOOK "THE EARTH IS WEEPING"

Since it is highly unlikely that the NY Times will print the email letter I recently sent, concerning their review of Peter Cozzens's book (Nov. 13) , I might as well print it here. I will follow it with a comment about Darwin.

Here is my letter:

Douglas Brinkley’s review of Peter Cozzens’s “The Earth Is Weeping” is as misguided as apparently the book itself is. There is more than one way to commit genocide as Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word, would tell you; it varies in methods and intensity, he said. Military operations are only one way. Genocide was never official US policy, but there are unofficial ways to achieve the same result. You can harass and demoralize a people to death, which fits the American experience.

Since the earliest colonial days, there was constant talk of exterminating the Indians. In 1881 in her magnificent “A Century of Dishonor,” Helen Hunt wrote, “The word ‘extermination’ is as ready on the frontiersman’s tongue to-day as it was a hundred years ago.” A British pamphlet published in 1816 stated that it was certain that “American policy is directed towards the total extermination of the Indians.” Though this talk may never have been officially sanctioned, its advocates influenced other policies.

Indian tribes were not just placed on reservations once. They were moved again and again whenever American settlers coveted the new lands placed aside for the Indians. One tribe was moved 8 times in 16 years. They could hardly establish a good life before they were moved again. This kind of harassment does not encourage a long life. The government also controlled the legal system which was rigged against the Indians. It often failed to make payments for land supposedly purchased from Indians, keeping them in dire poverty. And the government frequently failed to punish people who murdered Indians. All this stress on natives can have a negative impact on the birth rate, which is one factor in genocide. You can choke a people to death by such means.


I discuss some of these issues in a chapter on genocide in my book “Darwin’s Racism” (which is a critique of Darwin, not evolution). I am devoting more attention to this in my current project which will be an eclectic history of humanitarianism. If Brinkley’s review is accurate, the Cozzens book is a biased, lopsided view of the evidence. It is my Jewish heritage that pushes me towards historical truth-telling. I am weeping.

That was the end of the letter.  About Darwin, I should say that in the 19th century, they knew all about stress on a tribe or group.  Darwin called it changed conditions of life and he knew it was bringing down the birth rate.  He expressed no regrets about this. Hardly anyone did, except for a few humanitarians.  European countries kept doing it, despite their knowledge that stress was contributing to extermination.

© 2016 Leon Zitzer


Saturday, October 29, 2016

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE

You either have a deep feeling for the past and the importance of telling the truth about it, or you don’t. I can’t prove that telling the truth is a good thing to do. Plenty of people believe it is bad. Upholding tradition, even if it promotes a false picture of the past, is considered by many to be the right thing to do, the thing that society needs more than anything else.

I believe that traditions which falsify the past do more harm than good. Others believe that tradition is always good and exposing the wrong ones does more harm than good. I don’t know that either side can prove their case.

This is not about fighting for historical justice, which is a virtual impossibility. The past that happened cannot be undone (which is one reason why so many believe it should be left alone). There is no way to correct past injustices or punish the perpetrators, if it is something that happened a long time ago. The victims in history cannot be healed or made whole. It’s too late for any of that. The only correction that can be made is to put an end now to the untruthful telling of the past. That won’t change the past itself, but it will change our attitude towards it. If the only thing it accomplishes is to expose the arrogance of those who believe they have a right to tell lies, the truth about history is a good thing to pursue.

I can talk it up until I’m blue in the face, but if you do not already believe the past needs to be told the right way, none of my words will mean a thing. It’s a religious thing. Devotion to historical truth is like a religious belief. It is fundamental. It cannot be proven. You either believe in it or you don’t, but no amount of empirical evidence will convince anyone to change their beliefs about this.

Years ago when Homicide, the police detective series, was on TV, I remember an episode in which a detective who was Catholic explained that he investigates homicides because his religion teaches him to do that. The dead cannot speak for themselves, so he has a sacred duty to seek justice for them. Of course, in this case, concerning the recent dead, there is a good possibility that the culprit can be caught and punished. With long ago history, this isn’t possible. But the sacred feeling this detective had for the dead and the need he felt to find the truth about what happened still hold. You can carry these feelings for what happened long ago and far away just as much as for what happened yesterday or last year.

Take Judas, for example. I wonder what it’s like to be falsely accused of being a traitor for 2,000 years. Do the dead have feelings? No one has produced one piece of unambiguous, relevant evidence (relevant to the charge of being a traitor) to establish even a remote possibility that he was a traitor. All the evidence (except one piece) is ambiguous. What does it feel like to be condemned on practically nothing?

By the way, the Gospel authors knew exactly what they were doing in presenting all this ambiguous evidence. They weren’t trying to tell the story of a traitor. They left a trail of clues to what really happened. In the meantime, tradition changed what they recorded to make it over into a story of betrayal. I wonder not only how Judas feels about this, but how the Gospel authors feel to see their story so misused.

Forget the dead. What about the living? Does any living person feel a sense of shame that Judas stands convicted on the basis of nothing? I think that Catholic detective would be moved to take up his cause. But that detective is fiction. No one in real life cares a dollop. What happened long ago, how careful the Gospel writers were not to invent false evidence against Judas, but to record it all as ambiguous, how lies came to be told about what is in the Gospels, how scholars still distort what the Gospels say—it’s all a bad dream. We may never wake up—except in fiction.

Consider Charles Darwin. The fictional Darwin created by so many scholars is another bad dream we may never wake up from. In his published work and in letters, the real Darwin had no trouble proclaiming that the Anglo-Saxon race would triumph throughout the world and that all the lower races would be exterminated. In one letter, he added that when the lower races are all gone, humanity as a whole will rise. Yet Darwin is most often remembered as a great humanitarian. Something is wrong with our memory of the past, no?

In another letter, concerned about a friend’s trip to North Africa, he says he has no idea what the natives there are like, but he is sure they must be bloodthirsty. As a friend worried about his friend’s safety in a strange land, that is understandable. But that a scientist should say such a thing makes me shudder.

That’s one good reason to study the past: To shudder over what humanity has done to humanity. Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese film director, said that he did not want to give audiences merely something to digest, but something to make them shudder. The idea that scholars can put someone in prison for thousands of years, with no unambiguous evidence to justify it, or that they can make a racist seem like a humanitarian—it all makes me tremble. And if I’m alone in feeling that way, then so it goes.

© 2016 Leon Zitzer


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

DOES ANYONE REALLY KNOW HISTORY?

[My book Darwin’s Racism is now available at Amazon and all online booksellers.]

A few weeks ago, I heard a caller on a radio talk show say that he knew history as well as anyone else and then proceeded to argue for some very conservative solutions to certain current problems. I have no doubt that the caller knew history as well as anyone (he acknowledged that some bad things happened in the past). The question is how well does anyone really know what happened before we got here. I think the answer is not very well at all.

If I tossed out a dozen or so items of some significance, a handful of people would know some of these things and some would know other bits, but nobody would get them all. Everyone would be shocked by at least half the items on the list, though it would be a different half for each person.

How many people know that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States did not quite abolish all slavery as we are usually told? It contained an important exception: “except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” It was used in the years following the Civil War, in the South, especially in Texas, to re-enslave many black men by arresting and convicting them on some charge and then putting them to work without pay.

Did you know that the Declaration of Independence contains an implied approval of greed for Indian land? One of the complaints made against the King of England in that document is that the King has imposed restrictions on “the conditions of new appropriations of lands.” What Jefferson may have had primarily in mind was the Proclamation of 1763. White settlers were supposed to stay east of a certain line and stop encroaching on Indian land. Americans did not like that. The Declaration of Independence was, in this one small way, also a declaration to steal all the Indian land, if they could not get Indians to legitimately sell it.

How many people know that in the early 19th century, free blacks, with only some occasional exceptions, were not allowed to participate in patriotic observances such as the July 4 celebration? They could observe white people celebrating, but blacks were not allowed to join in. This was primarily in the New England states, which had gradually abolished slavery many decades before the Civil War. Not only did the American Revolution for independence, liberty, and rights pass African-Americans by (even when freed, they were not allowed civil rights), but so did the celebrations of the Revolution and other holidays, as if to reinforce the idea that liberty would not apply to them, not even to free blacks. Blacks of course held their own annual parade to honor the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Segregation, even in holiday observances, goes way back in our history.

Then there’s the history of riots in America. Since the civil rights era in the 1960s, we live with the impression that a riot means blacks rioting against the white establishment. That’s the image we all have. But for the entire history of this country before then, riots were always by whites out to destroy black neighborhoods. Black prosperity could not be tolerated. There were many such riots and they continued well into the 20th century.

That’s just a few examples of what we almost never think about as part of our historical heritage and the same can be done for Charles Darwin. Most people, including scholars, know much less than they pretend to know. Everyone praises Darwin for being opposed to slavery, but hardly anyone tells you how limited his opposition was. He was opposed to legalized slavery, but as far as I know, he expressed no concerns about illegal slavery or forced labor. He never showed any sympathy with the complaint that colonialism was the equivalent of slavery, some even arguing that it was worse.

I recently saw a blog which claimed that Darwin inherited his grandfather Josiah Wedgwood’s sentiment that all men are brothers (as inscribed on the Wedgwood medallion, depicting a slave in chains pleading “Am I Not a Man and a Brother”). That’s not accurate. Darwin actually questioned that view in an early Notebook entry in which he acknowledged that civilized men and Christians may believe all men are brothers, but Darwin had to add his own comment, “yet differences carried a long way.” He definitely did not believe that all men are brothers.

Darwin utilized the theory of evolution to emphasize what he believed were the widening gaps between the races of men. The differences loomed large for him. He believed evolution produced drastic, hierarchical differentiation. People forget too the historical context. In the 19th century, it was entirely possible to be an abolitionist and at the same time an extreme racist. Thomas Huxley, Joseph Hooker, and Anthony Trollope are just three examples, in addition to Darwin. Hundreds more could be listed.

With history, we are better at forgetting and erasing than we are at remembering. It never seems to change. The study of history should be a continual searching for the things we have missed. But most scholars have stopped doing that. We are not even curious anymore. We would rather just keep repeating what we think we know. Our presumed knowledge gets in the way of seeing. Ideology wins over the facts and we don’t see the great danger in that.

© 2016 Leon Zitzer


Monday, August 29, 2016

REMEMBERING IS A PECULIAR THING

We all know that memory is selective. That is not news for most of us. But it is shocking to realize just how selective it can be. Some of the things we (as a culture and as individuals) suppress are so big, it is amazing that we let ourselves get away with it.

In New England, they have long had a proud tradition of remembering that they were the first in the nation to abolish slavery. Over a century before the Civil War ended slavery in the South, Connecticut and Rhode Island passed gradual emancipation plans. In Massachusetts, it is more of a mystery as to how dismantling slavery came about—most likely it was a combination of public opinion, legal cases, and a clause in the Massachusetts constitution guaranteeing freedom and equality for all—but here too slavery was considered banned.

So strong was the impression of New England’s noble attitude that, for a long time, many New Englanders believed either that slavery had never existed there or that it was very mild. What they had a harder time remembering was that freed slaves were not treated as equal citizens. But that’s not the part that shocks me. (Though it should. One contemporary in 1796 acknowledged at one and the same time that denying civil rights was such a bad thing to do that it could be called civil slavery and then insisted they had a right to do it because every society can decide who gets to participate in civil rights and who doesn’t.)

New England remembered itself as the birthplace of American patriotism and freedom. They celebrated the heroes of the Revolution. But they chose not to remember that some of these heroes were black men who served in the Revolutionary army. They erased black soldiers from history. In one case I read about long ago, they literally erased one such man. If I recall, there was a famous painting made in the 1790s which depicted American patriots in battle. One of them was black. When the painting was reproduced in textbooks for children, the black soldier was removed.

Why do that? Why not remember that black and white soldiers fought alongside each other? And how could they champion emancipation of slaves and then deliberately fail to remember the many black men fighting in the same cause they all participated in? One answer is that emancipation served more to promote the self-image of white people as true believers in freedom than to help the freed slaves who would never be granted full civil rights. And the removal of black people from the history of the Revolution had something to do with the same racism that denied civil rights.

Whatever your answer is, this stands as a grand example of the selectivity of historical memory.

Everywhere you look, you can find more examples of incredibly shocking deletions. In The Descent of Man, Darwin expressed his firm belief in the moral and intellectual inferiority of savages. He was convinced that savages would never help a stranger, whereas Europeans would, (“humanity is an unknown virtue” in savages, he would write) and gave his full assent to a Spanish maxim “Never, never trust an Indian.”

Darwin had completely forgotten that, in his younger days, in the Diary he kept while on board the Beagle, he had given examples of South American Indians helping strangers, often shipwrecked European sailors. Of the Patagonian Indians, he noted “their usual disinterested noble hospitality.” (In later published editions of his journal, the word ‘noble’ was dropped.) None of this made it into Descent. It is one good sign of how hardened Darwin’s racism became in his later years. He chose not to remember some of the good qualities in native peoples that he himself had some acquaintance with.

Darwin erased hospitable savages from the world just as surely as those textbooks erased a black man from a painting, and for the same reason: So he could create his own painting which bore no resemblance to the real world. This was selective memory in the service of bad anthropology.

I could go on and on with other examples, like the failure of scientists today to remember that, fifteen years before The Origin of Species, Robert Chambers assembled much of the same evidence for evolution (the common descent of species) that Darwin would. He was in fact the first to prove that evolution was a more probable theory than special creation. But scientists and scholars have chosen to erase this from historical memory. It is that kind of selectivity that takes my breath away. These are the kinds of cases that make one think deep unconscious forces are at work.

© 2016 Leon Zitzer


Friday, July 29, 2016

IT'S ABOUT TIME

Finally it is here and available at all online book vendors. The title is: Darwin’s Racism: The Definitive Case, Along with a Close Look at Some of the Forgotten, Genuine Humanitarians of That Time. It is easy enough to find. Just search for the words, Darwin racism, and my book is the first or one of the first books that comes up.

I don’t think I need to say anything else for the moment. At sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, you can read a description of the book or see the Table of Contents. I have also repeated these things in some of the recent posts below. Just scroll down a bit to May for the Contents.

And when I say the definitive case in the subtitle, it really is.

© 2016 Leon Zitzer


Saturday, June 25, 2016

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL AND RIGHT

I don’t think one can find any two worldviews that are further apart than the worldviews of Charles Darwin and John Locke. One could even say they are downright opposed. One championed a hierarchy of beings, with favor given to the stronger and more dominant, and the other believed in equality of rights with no distinction between the more powerful and the weaker.

This might be an unfair comparison to make if Darwin had been strictly a biologist, while Locke was engaged in political philosophy. But Darwin did not stick to flora and fauna. He was happy to apply natural selection to human societies. He may not have always gone as far as other Social Darwinists, but he did choose to make pronouncements about the human situation. He thought about what was good and bad for human society and, in the answers he gave, he was very different from Locke.

Locke denied that the stronger over the weaker was a natural law. He was not saying that this never happens. He was a realist. The weak do get screwed and often. But he held that it was a violation of natural right. Whatever is extorted by force, he said, is “without Right … [and] bind[s] not at all.” For him, it was a fundamental law of nature that the small and weak never lose their basic rights. Disputes should be resolved by negotiation or mutual consent, not by force. There is nothing like negotiation in Darwin’s system of thought.

There were many humanitarians (in Darwin’s time and earlier) who thought like Locke. Saxe Bannister, Attorney General for New South Wales in the mid-1820s, said that “rights are never forgotten.” Respecting the rights of the smaller nations and indigenous peoples was a major theme for humanitarians. One cannot say the same for Darwin.

About 70 years after Locke, Emer de Vattel wrote a highly respected treatise on international law. He put it as memorably as anyone ever has: “A dwarf is as much a man as a giant; a small republic is no less a sovereign state than the most powerful kingdom.” There is “a perfect equality of rights between nations.” Thus, every nation has a right to resist by force if another nation endangers the safety and welfare of its own society. The powerful do not have more rights in this regard, and the weak do not have fewer rights. Locke would agree.

This is very different from Darwin’s world and, I would say, more realistic. Darwin was a strict imperialist. He believed a stronger nation has a right to go around imposing itself on weaker nations. “Man is not an intruder,” he wrote in one of his Notebooks. Man, particularly European man, has a right to invade and intrude and bring its own jurisdiction along with its intrusion. His vision was of mankind in a kind of eternal state of warfare, until a stalemate of power was achieved.

But the humanitarians saw it differently. Realistically, man is an intruder and therefore has to learn to be a negotiator. That’s what human beings do. Sometimes they make war, but more often, they bargain and reach peaceful agreements. They do this based on an understanding that Locke, among others, promoted. We all have rights and have to learn to get along. The weak have to be protected to make sure they never lose the same rights they share with the more powerful.

One could say the questions are: What is the essence of being human or being a human cultural group, and what rights go along with this essence? For Locke, Vattel, and many others, size did not matter. For Darwin, it very much did.

In an imperialist age, it was the Darwinian vision that proved the more appealing. But Locke’s thoughts never went away. They just snuck underground.

© 2016 Leon Zitzer


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

THE BOOK

Darwin's Racism: The Definitive Case, Along with a Close Look at Some of the Forgotten, Genuine Humanitarians of That Time should be available on book sites, like Amazon, in the next 4 to 6 weeks.

In the meantime, I thought I would list the chapter titles:

1  Evolutionary Theory is Safe

2 Savages: The Polished and the Melancholy

3 Racism: By Any Other Name

4 Slavery, Emancipation, and Continuing Racism

5 Evidence, Evidence, Evidence

6 Man in The Origin of Species

7 Some Lessons from Mathus

8 Something Happened Before Darwin Arrived

9 What a Difference a Worldview Makes

10 Euphemisms Be Damned

11 Genocide By Any Other Name

12 Restoring Messiness to History

It's a big book.

© 2016 Leon Zitzer