Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Darwin or Jesus? Racism and Sexism Pt. 2 - Descent of Man

Chipmunk
I've been addressing an article about how Darwin is racist/sexist and evolution = bad, etc. These are my prior posts about the article:
Today, I'm addressing a cited quote from some of Charles Darwin's writings:

Where does Charles Darwin put women and black people in the ranks of evolution? Darwin followed the reasoning of “The Origin of Species”. Writing in his work “The Descent of Man”, Darwin notes “savages” referring to “negroes”, Polynesians, and Australians in his descent of man. Darwin thought, 
“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla” (Darwin, Charles R. “On the Affinities and Genealogy of Man.” The Descent of Man. London: John Murray. Vol. 1. 1st ed. P.201).
Charles Darwin saw varying levels of evolution among the races. Don’t overlook Darwin’s reference to one race exterminating the savage races including the “negro” and the Australian. Yet, in such a word, it will be “a more civilised state”. On Darwin’s levels of evolutionary development, Caucasians are the highest and the “negro” and Australian are the closest to the gorilla.

I've been mulling this over for a better part of the day. It's sort of a quote-mine. A broader context does exist, but it's not really distorted. The key to understanding what's going on here, between you as a reader, and the author of this article, is to consider a more nuanced understanding.

To get the "negroes" bit out of the way - the author harps on that a lot. Seriously? The Left gets bashed on frequently for being too "politically correct", but point at someone from the mid-1800s not being politically correct, and it's a problem? "Negroes" was our modern version of "black", even as problematic as that word is today. Heck, "negro" is just the word for "black" in other languages.

Hopefully at some point, physical characteristics just won't be relevant enough to notice.

Anyway...

The full context

Here's what Darwin had to say in full (search for "when man first lost his hairy covering" to find the section):

At the period and place, whenever and wherever it was, when man first lost his hairy covering, he probably inhabited a hot country; a circumstance favourable for the frugi-ferous diet on which, judging from analogy, he subsisted. We are far from knowing how long ago it was when man first diverged from the catarhine stock; but it may have occurred at an epoch as remote as the Eocene period; for that the higher apes had diverged from the lower apes as early as the Upper Miocene period is shewn by the existence of the Dryopithecus. We are also quite ignorant at how rapid a rate organisms, whether high or low in the scale, may be modified under favourable circumstances; we know, however, that some have retained the same form during an enormous lapse of time. From what we see going on under domestication, we learn that some of the co-descendants of the same species may be not at all, some a little, and some greatly changed, all within the same period. Thus it may have been with man, who has undergone a great amount of modification in certain characters in comparison with the higher apes. The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form; but this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of evolution. Breaks often occur in all parts of the series, some being wide, sharp and defined, others less so in various degrees; as between the orang and its nearest allies- between the Tarsius and the other Lemuridae- between the elephant, and in a more striking manner between the Ornithorhynchus or Echidna, and all other mammals. But these breaks depend merely on the number of related forms which have become extinct. 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. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked,* will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.
I've read it a few times. It's a bit heavy. So what does it mean?

In a nutshell, in the first part he's talking about the differences between two species that appear to be starkly different, and the reason for that being due to the sub-steps between the species having gone extinct. For instance, the reason why humans and chimpanzees seem to be so different is because the sub-tree species died off - such as neanderthal or homo erectus, that may have had more chimpanzee-like features than we do.

The second part -and this is where the creationists start salivating - is when he starts talking about the different "races" of humanity/higher apes/lower apes potentially killing each other off, thus widening that gap.

It sounds as though Darwin is saying that "negroes", and apparently native Austiralians (Crikey), are savage and "uncivilized" compared to the caucasians. In fact, it doesn't just sound that way - that's pretty much what he's saying.

Racism and Sexism

What is racism and sexism?

1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2: racial prejudice or discrimination
Courtesy Merriam-Webster 
Is it racist to recognize that the African lineage regularly has a higher level of melamine in their skin? Is it sexist to recognize that women are the ones who bear children?

I am, after all, distinguishing a characteristic based on their race and/or sex. Does that count?

Not according to the common definitions. Racism, for example, is a much more nefarious state of mind. It goes above and beyond recognizing simple traits. It goes right back to the is/ought problem, where just because we recognize something is true, doesn't mean we necessarily must align our decisions with the fact.

For instance, I recognize that the theory of evolution offers a naturalistic explanation as to why we have races in the first place. That doesn't mean, however, that I ought to use that as a basis for evaluating the value of those races. That's up to me. I believe the moral thing to do is to try to smooth out differences, and treat people like people, regardless of their race or sex.

Women are probably always going to have to deal with pregnancies, and society has to deal with them dealing with it. That's what is. What we ought to do is treat women and men equally, as much as we can, despite that, not use pregnancy as a decision-making process when hiring women. That's what we'd call "discrimination."

See how easy it is to understand the difference between "is" and "ought"?

Charles Darwin 

Darwin spent most of this writing addressing a scientific concern about what we'd expect to see with evolution. He ends by saying something that's considered today to be quite controversial.

And it is. He's probably being racist here - arguably less so than the average of society around him.

Even more importantly, maybe the author is selectively cherry-picking dubious verbiage from Darwin. Let's see what else Darwin has to say, from the same book - "Descent of Man":

Our naturalist would likewise be much disturbed as soon as he perceived that the distinctive characters of all the races were highly variable. This fact strikes every one on first beholding the negro slaves in Brazil, who have been imported from all parts of Africa. The same remark holds good with the Polynesians, and with many other races. It may be doubted whether any character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant.
.... 
Man has been studied more carefully than any other animal, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classed as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory St. Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawfurd), or as sixty-three, according to Burke. This diversity of judgment does not prove that the races ought not to be ranked as species, but it shews that they graduate into each other, and that it is hardly possible to discover clear distinctive characters between them.
.... 
Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole structure be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races. The same remark holds good with equal or greater force with respect to the numerous points of mental similarity between the most distinct races of man. The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans are as different from each other in mind as any three races that can be named; yet I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Feugians on board the "Beagle," with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I happened once to be intimate. 
...
Now when naturalists observe a close agreement in numerous small details of habits, tastes, and dispositions between two or more domestic races, or between nearly-allied natural forms, they use this fact as an argument that they are descended from a common progenitor who was thus endowed; and consequently that all should be classed under the same species. The same argument may be applied with much force to the races of man. 
As it is improbable that the numerous and unimportant points of resemblance between the several races of man in bodily structure and mental faculties (I do not here refer to similar customs) should all have been independently acquired, they must have been inherited from progenitors who had these same characters. 

These are the thoughts from the same person who was supposedly being such a racist jerk before, in the same text. The last two paragraphs are especially important.

His point was that we don't assess that we are related due to our differences, but rather with to our many similarities do we determine that we are closely related. He was arguing that evolution demonstrates that "negroes" and Caucasians are very similar.

Of course, the creationist author would not want you to consider these things. He's happy enough to wallop you with these quote-mines, leave you spinning, and pull you along to the next argument before you've had a chance to understand any of the nuance.

... and yet folk like this author will chastise atheists for taking Biblical verses out context!

Again - he was racist. He was less racist than his society. He was progressive for his time.

And at no point, did he argue that we ought to consider Caucasians superior to the other races. The connection to evolution wasn't even very specific. Different societies can be "civilized" or "savage" for reasons other than genetics or phenotypic expression, such as geopolitical history or dumb luck.

Instead, he spent his time, while learning about the natural world, marveling at how similar all life is, including the different races of humanity.

Don’t overlook Darwin’s reference to one race exterminating the savage races including the “negro” and the Australian. 
I've re-read the last sentence like 10 times. It hurts my brain trying to figure out exactly what Darwin is saying. I didn't know they spoke Gibberish in mid-1800s England.

Back to Darwin's quote...
The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

I can't seem to figure out whether Darwin was saying that hopefully the extermination would happen between Caucasians and baboons instead of Negros - or that the advancement of civilization will hopefully come from Caucasians fighting baboons instead of "Negroes"/Australians fighting Gorillas. I guess? Neither make sense to me.

Fuck you Darwin, and you stupid Gibberish! You're not helping.

On the other hand, the author's interpretation doesn't seem to fit either. The only sense I got that Darwin was talking about the "Negroes" being exterminated is by the version where Darwin says he hopes that won't happen (and Caucasians would beat up baboons instead), which you'd think would be a plus for his apparent character.

Back to the article author...
On Darwin’s levels of evolutionary development, Caucasians are the highest and the “negro” and Australian are the closest to the gorilla.
See, I didn't get that either. He wasn't talking about "scale" at all.

This sort of ties into another misconception I find creationists have about evolution - the idea that something is "more evolved" than another. According to evolution, the African lineage, the European lineage, the baboons and the gorillas are all equally evolved. That's not the same as saying equally "advanced", but he would argue that we're actually equivalents.

So yes, definitely some misrepresentation here.

So what does the author say next? I cannot wait!

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