Monday, August 28, 2017

A NOTE

The following is not so much a complete post for this month, but more of a note to myself, something I might want to add at some point to the last chapter of my recent book, A Short but Full Book on Darwin’s Racism:

The problem with western culture is that it accomplished some great things and rather than remain content with that, it turned all this greatness into arrogance, thus destroying its own great gifts. This also describes Darwin, a gifted man who blew up his gifts into arrogant assertions. The previous evolutionists (and his contemporaries Wallace and Gerland) were just as gifted as he, but their effort was to keep the gifts small and far from arrogant assertions of power. They were seeking smallness, not greatness, because they believed in the whole which kept everything in perspective for them. From the point of view of the whole, everything is small. That’s why the first evolutionists have been neglected and unfavorably compared to Darwin. They did not promote power. The western ability to manipulate nature went to our heads. We forgot how to live with anybody who would not conform to our domination. Our domination is a gift from heaven, we said, and we still expect everybody to buy that. We still cannot make up our minds whether evolution is designed and progressive, or an endless meandering, but it does not matter, we say, because anyway you look at it, we come out on top and that’s what is important. We believe in a top and a bottom, and make out one to be more important than the other, while the first thinkers who saw the possibility and probability of evolution believed in the bottom just as much as in the top. We still cannot forgive them for that.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer


Saturday, July 29, 2017

TWO APPROACHES TO SCIENCE

From the very first sentence of the Introduction to The Origin of Species, Darwin presents his journey around the world on the Beagle as a kind of fact finding mission, the fruits of which he assembled when he got back home and, after careful study, he came up with the theory of evolution. In later letters, he presented it that way too. It has become part of the myth about Darwin. He knew better. That’s not how science works.

In conversations and in letters, when discussing the nature of science in general, Darwin offered a more accurate version of scientific procedure. He would tell people that you start with theories and study the evidence through the lens of a particular theory. In at least one letter, he said that he did not think one could be a good observer unless one looked at the evidence with a theory in mind. He told Anton Dohr, a German zoologist, that he always begins with a priori solutions and he applies these to the facts until he finds one that explains all the evidence.

That is a more truthful exposition of what happened on his Beagle voyage. He brought the theory of evolution with him, as espoused by his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. He was already given this theory and then compared how much sense this theory made of the facts to how well the theory of special creation accounted for the same evidence. It was no contest, as some previous scientists had also realized.

There is another way to do science. It is reported in The Autobiography of Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, an American geologist. He was observing another scientist studying molluscs and becoming frustrated by the transitional forms he was finding. Molluscs happened to be Lamarck’s area of expertise and were one of the things that led him to evolution. But this scientist threw one of these transitional molluscs on the floor, stomped on it with his heel, and said, “That’s the proper way to serve a damned transitional form.” Just get rid of the evidence you don’t like. If it does not fit the theory you favor, it must go.

Unfortunately, this latter method is the one so many writers and scholars use when studying the question of whether or not Darwin brought racism into his work. Of course he did. I have published two books on this. One is an 800 page tome, Darwin’s Racism: The Definitive Case, and the other is a mere 200 pages, A Short but Full Book on Darwin’s Racism (both available at all online vendors). The evidence is overwhelming. Darwin was committed to seeing life as a hierarchy of groups subordinate to groups, a phrase that occurs throughout Origin, and insisted that in evolution, the dominant groups would become ever more dominant. He also insisted that the more intellectual or civilized races would gradually exterminate the lower races and that when the lower races are all gone, humanity as a whole will rise in rank.

There is much more but even a brief glance at Darwin’s work makes the racism obvious. The next to last paragraph of The Descent of Man reveals his disgust with savages, and Chapter 7, “On the Races of Man”, in the same book, presents his racism in full bloom. His words are imperishable. No amount of stomping or spinning can get rid of them. It is long past time to pay attention and reject scientific racism, even when, or especially when, an icon commits it.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer


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 chimpanz√®, 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