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Would Darwin have been welcome in the KKK?

Post of the Month: February 2013


Subject:    | Happy Darwin Day!
Date:       | 20 Feb 2013
Message-ID: | kg34ks$p6i$

Ray Martinez, an old earth creationist, opened this discussion with:
>>>>>>>>>> "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"
>>>>>>>>>> ("Descent of Man" 1871:201; Vol.1, 1st edition; London: John Murray).

>> Yet when it comes to Darwin our Evolutionist is unable and unwilling
>> to see the Klansman in him, very predictable.

Greg Guarino responded to a much later comment from Ray as follows:
> I said Darwin, in my limited knowledge, it seems like he had some
> racist tendencies. But what about the rest Ray? Show me where modern
> evolutionary thought gives any support at all to racism. ...

A few lines later Mitchell Coffey begins his POTM:
Darwin did have "some racist tendencies." But one has to live with contradiction: Darwin also had a strikingly modern view of the human "races." He concluded that the different human "races" had virtually no born-differences in terms of intelligence or character. He determined they had virtually no biological differences unexplained by sexual selection. This is to say, that the biological differences in the human "races" were largely due to the benefits of attracting mates from peoples' of the same or related "tribe." Note well, given the calumnies against him: Darwin concluded that "fitness," in the sense of biological ability to survive in a given physical surroundings (other than sexual selection) had little to do with the observed differences between the human "races." Darwin even concluded, incorrectly, that the dark skin of certain of the supposed human "races" was not the result of a need for protection from excessive sun light, but resulted from sexual selection![1]

Note also, given the calumnies against him, that Jews were not a "race" or otherwise a repartee biological grouping. Based on the data available at the time, Darwin conclude that European Jews were biologically little different from "Europeans;" in the Mid East they were biologically little different from the local non-Jewish Semites.

Darwin's concept of "human races," what the term meant, was also strikingly modern - he denied there was any consistent definition of a human "race," and denied that there was any system of racial delineations - where there 3 human races?, 12? How did one systematically define them and objectively determine which any given individual or human population belonged to? - that could be consistently applied and matched the data. He concluded that the human "races" blended into each other geographically; that nowhere were there "pure" races. In fact, he thought race was a nearly useless concept, applied to people. He wrote he'd be disinclined even to use the concept, regarding humans, except that it was too ingrained.

Darwin had "some racist tendencies." But one has to live with contradiction: Darwin was also one of the most racially progressive public individuals in 19th Century Britain. He never missed a chance to describe and condemn the depravities of slavery in the British Commonwealth and the Americas. Through his life he described and condemned the otherwise largely forgotten genocide of Tasmanian natives by British settlers, having as a young man visited Tasmanian a few years after the genocide. He befriended people of other "races," and denied they were inferior to the white people.

Darwin involved himself in the most publicly divisive issues in Britain in the 1860s, variously referred to as the "Morant Bay Rebellion," the Governor Eyre Affair," and the "Jamaica Committee." When the British government refused to prosecute the British Governor of Jamaica after he violently suppressed rights demonstrations-turned-riot by black Jamaicans, then executed over 350 black Jamaicans, including their leaders and alleged leaders, largely without due process - but only after British soldiers had roamed the country, indiscriminately shooting another 439 black men, women and children, Darwin astonishingly lent his name and money to an unsuccessful and unpopular lawsuit to forces the Governor's prosecution.[2]

One thing that always goes unremarked upon when discussing what I call "The Quote" is that there is no record I know of of anyone objecting to, or even remarking on its racism in Darwin's lifetime. To my knowledge, the earliest negative reference (or any reference at all) to The Quote is a flippant (and inaccurate) remark in Hofstadter's Social Darwinism in American Thought.[3] Bluntly, few white British at the time would have even noted the racism in The Quote, and have thought little of it were it pointed out to them. If you want to see where Darwin stood out, look to the full body of his work on race.

With effort one can dig up quotes from Darwin showing racist tendencies. But no one can or should be summed up by the few worst things they put on paper. The better case is that a person is best defined by those things they say or do that are extraordinary for their times. One must live with contradiction.

[1] The basis of my comments on Darwin's views on race come from his Descent of Man, but additionally from his Journal of Researches (The Voyage of the Beagle), his Expression of Emotions in Man, his several memoirs, letters, etc. I plan to track specific cites down and re-post this post.
[2] See
[3] Hofstadter, Richard; Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915, (1944).

Mitchell Coffey

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