Friday, March 2, 2012

A New Blog by Leon Zitzer

This is my first post on a new blog about Charles Darwin and some of the racist views in his work.

I am writing a book on Darwin's racism. Hard to say exactly how far along I am. About half-way, I would think. The point of this blog is to find out what's out there and how much interest there is in this.

This is not an effort to denigrate Darwin or an attack on his reputation. He will do just fine. This isn't really about Darwin. It's more about academia and the way it has elevated Darwin to god-like status, why this happens, how it happens, how it harms the study of science and history when you make anyone into a god, and the problems in learning to see the facts clearly.

The racism in Darwin's anthropology is fairly obvious. It's there in The Descent of Man, and in his letters. It's important to be clear that there are different kinds of racists. Darwin was not the worst sort. He did not go overboard and he certainly was not eager to draw practical or political conclusions from it. He may have wanted to soft peddle it. But there's no doubt he believed some human races were inferior to others and were consequently destined for extinction.

He was a great scientist, but he made some serious mistakes. He was a product of his class and culture. His racism is a lesson in how culture influences science.

On the issue of Darwin's racism, academics fall into several broad groups: Those who are in complete denial about it. Those who acknowledge it, but pass over it quickly and therefore fail to do full justice to the wide range of evidence for his racism. Those who kind of admit it, but try to spin it in a way to make it look less problematic. Those who fully recognize it, but are not interested in a full, honest conversation and prefer not to name it racism. Of course, there are always those who fall between categories.

A broader issue is whether racism still infects evolutionary theory and anthropology. That is extremely important, but I am not sure if I have the capacity to deal with it adequately and fairly.

As I said, I am working on a book. I am putting up this blog because I am curious how much interest or denial there is in this. Does anybody care? Does the issue of Darwin's racism provoke strong emotions? Is it possible to have a calm, rational discussion about this? How much good work has been done on this? Whether I continue this blog or not will depend on whether I get any response at all and the quality of responses. I will be putting up various links on the right over the next few days. In the meantime, here is my name and email: Leon Zitzer,