Thursday, August 28, 2014


Last month (post below), I offered my comments on Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance and its scientific racism. The more I think about it, the more I realize that science has little to do with any of this. There has been some controversy over whether Wade has been accurate in reporting the results in recent genetic and population studies. But all that is beside the point.
Scientific racism in general has little to do with science. Writers like Wade make certain racist assumptions about human cultures, arranging them in a hierarchy, and then they look for something scientific, or scientific sounding, to back it up. Those assumptions precede the science. The science or pseudo-science is an afterthought. The purpose of the “science” is to make the racist assumptions appear reasonable. You could take out all the discussion about genetics from Wade’s book and it would still have a strong racist tinge.
They did the same thing in the 19th century when they knew nothing about genes. They used evolutionary theory to back up their prejudices and Wade uses genetic theories, but it comes to the same thing. The science is actually irrelevant. The biased assumptions are the key to it all. In the post below, I explored how much Wade has in common with 19th century scientific racists, such as the way he puts Australian Aborigines at the bottom of the human scale.
It is interesting that Wade has absolutely no curiosity about Aboriginal or any other indigenous culture. The details of their cultures and their accomplishments hold no interest for him. He puts a label on them, he sticks them in a category—they are tribal or hunter-gatherers, which are his synonyms for savage, the 19th century simplification—and declares that to be inferior to western civilization. Tribalism or savagery serves to constitute their entire identity.
His excuse for doing this, insofar as he has one, is that he is interested in only one thing: material success. That is his measuring rod for all cultures and since western culture has produced more of this, it becomes the emblem of superiority. That native peoples may have a different relationship to nature is not allowed to enter the picture.
He also leaves out some of the reasons for the west’s success. He picks out positive things like the ability to socially cooperate and an encouragement of questioning and innovation. That is part of it, no doubt. But he leaves out other factors like excessive greed and bloodthirstiness. How much were bullying and outright theft responsible for western achievements? Europe stole a lot of gold and silver from other countries to finance its growth, not to mention the expropriation of land, resources, and labor. How many natives were killed along the way? In short: At what cost to others was western success achieved? It is a question Wade will never ask.
© 2014 Leon Zitzer