Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: "It's Alive!" Edition

I've been seeing a lot of racism recently; I was originally going to characterize it as a resurge of old-time racism, but I really don't know that it is. I suspect that it's been there the whole time and I just wasn't aware of it.

Still, there are people making statements that sound like they could be lifted verbatim from an anti-abolition tract, except that they're less eloquent. Say what you will about 19th-century racists, they could at least turn a phrase. Given that they're rehashing ideas that were dead decades, if not centuries, ago (although some of their ideas are bizarrely novel) I have affectionately dubbed these racists, "zombie racists."

I mentioned it at the time, but a few months ago Pat Buchanan came out with a new book, State of Emergency. Therein he commented on his regret that columnist Sam Francis was fired for expressing what he felt to be obvious:
"The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted by a different people."

Obviously, this is hardly a new idea. In 1899, Gustave LeBon described what he termed the "soul" of a race:
The elements of classification which anatomy, languages, environment, or political organisation are incapable of furnishing are supplied by psychology, which shows that behind the institutions, arts, beliefs, and political upheavals of each people, lie certain moral and intellectual characteristics that determine its evolution. It is the whole of these characteristics that form what may be called the soul of a race.


The moral and intellectual characteristics, whose association forms the soul of a people, represent the synthesis of its entire past, the inheritance of all its ancestors, the motives of its conduct.


This aggregate of psychological elements observable in all the individuals of a race constitutes what may rightly be called the national character.

Now, it's hardly racist to declare that each nation has its own national character, a set of generally-shared or assumed beliefs and/or traits that help mold a nation's culture. According to LeBon and Francis, though, this 'national character' is not cultural but racial, and hence members of other races are unassimilable:
A negro or Japanese may easily take a university degree or become a lawyer; the sort of varnish he thus acquires is however quite superficial, and has no influence on his mental constitution. What no education can give him, because they are created by heredity alone, are the forms of thought, the logic, and above all the character of the Western man. Our negro or our Japanese may accumulate all possible certificates without ever attaining to the level of the average European. It is easy to give him in ten years the culture of a well-educated Englishman. To make a real Englishman of him, that is to say a man acting as an Englishman would act in the different circumstances of life, a thousand years would scarcely be sufficient. It is only in appearance that a people suddenly transforms its language, its constitution, its beliefs, or its arts. For such changes to be really accomplished, it would be necessary that it should be able to transform its soul.

Clinton Stoddard Burr said much the same in his 1922 work, America's Race Heritage:
One of the country's leading nativists, Clinton Stoddard Burr eulogized Nordics and their role in the nation's "racial history." His America's Race Heritage was an effort to demonstrate that Americanism was "actually the racial thought of the Nordic race" and that Nordics alone possessed the "moral fiber, intellectual character and hereditary traits" to perpetuate it.

And as Josiah Nott put it in his letter The Negro Race: Its Ethnology and History:
But what has been the history of the negro race during these thousands of years, while others, even the Chinese, the Hindoos, and Mexicans, were marching on, according to the strength which nature endowed them with respectively? In the language of Dr. Robert Knox, of London, "Human history cannot be a mere chapter of accidents. The fate of a nation cannot be always regulated by chance; its literature, science, art, wealth, religion, language, laws, and morals, cannot surely be the result of mere accidental circumstances."

If it's not the result of circumstances, what else but race?

More recently, Pharyngula excoriated a work on the average IQs of African countries. I haven't read the article itself, and some commenters said that the Guardian summary was a mischaracterization of the work, so I'm not going to comment on that. However, in defense of the work, a commenter, James G, popped up and said in part:
IQ tests are only biased in the sense that they test for a westernized notion of intelligence. But why shouldn't they? After all, "developed nation" today is practically synonymous with "westernized". If African countries want to step out of poverty, it looks like the only path they can take is a western path. And to do that they need western intelligence. Of course it is always possible they could invent some new "African" mode of development that somehow didn't require western intelligence, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.


This guy is observing the differences and trying to come up with an explanation. Do you have a better one? Why couldn't the colder, more rugged climates of Europe and Asia provided more novel challenges that the lush jungles of africa? I certainly would rather have lived in Africa.

The notion that "developed nation" or "civilization" is only Western is an idea that permeates old racist works. In effect, blacks weren't civilized because civilization belongs only to whites. Again, Josiah Nott chimes in:
The Rev. Theodore Parker, who was educated and lived at the "hub of the universe," will certainly be received as good authority on this subject. He says:

"The Caucasian differs from all other races; he is humane, he is civilized, and progresses. He conquers with his head as well as his hand. It is intellect, after all, that conquers—not the strength of a man's arm. The Caucasian has been often master of other races—never their slave. He has carried his religion to other races, but never taken theirs. In history all religions are of Caucasian origin. All the great limited forms of monarchies are Caucasian. Republics are Caucasian. All the great sciences are of Caucasian origin; all inventions are Caucasian; literature and romance come of the same stock; all of the great poets are of Caucasian origin; Moses, Luther, Jesus Christ, Zoroaster, Budha, Pythagoras, were Caucasian. No other race can bring up to the memory such celebrated names as the Caucasian race. The Chinese philosopher, Confucius, is an exception to the rule. To the Caucasian race belong the Arabian, Persian, Hebrew, Egyptian; and all the European nations are descendants of the Caucasian race."

Some people, like Mr. G above, strove to explain the inferiority of other races, especially blacks, rather than just accept them as a given. And similar ideas were repeated—the idyllic plains of Africa were such a paradise that blacks simply never had to develop, unlike Europeans who were challenged by their harsh environment. One example of this is Edward Eggleston, who in The Ultimate Solution of the American Negro Problem described the ancestors of today's races as they ventured out of Africa.
When the race had once established itself in such latitudes as Central Asia and Europe its dietary necessities were greatly changed; more heat-producing animal food and less vegetable matter was necessay. Moreover, it no longer had the variety and abundance of fruits and vegetables that nature so lavishly furnished in its equatorial habitats. In great measure the substitution of flesh for vegetable matter had become necessary and the former could be had only by effort and ingenuity. It could have been no easy matter even in these early times—when the lower animals were much more abundant than at present—for the various tribes of the primitive race to resist the cold, capture their food, and maintain themselves against hostible tribes as they penetrated deeper and deeper into the unknown wilds and frigid regions of both north and south. We trust it has been made sufficiently clear then, that as primitive Man forced his way out from the equator his wits were continually whetted and sharpened by the very nature of his new condition. It should also be apparent that those who went out were, for reasons already mentioned, the select element mentally and physically.

These pilgrims, who braved all sorts of new dangers—thus eliminating all but the fittest—established themselves in various and sundry localities, some more suitable for racial development than others, but all better than his torrid birthplace. Those who continued to dwell in hot climates underwent little change, and all succeeding generations perpetuated this simple life and many primitive race characteristics. This is the very environment that has produced the Negro race. Very slight adaptational changes have occurred in this division of the race, thus he has remained much closer to the original stock than have the higher branches of the race.

Finally, I was reading this post by Glenn Greenwald, describing how certain people on the right are blaming the Iraqi people for the failure of their pet war. But what jumped out to me was this statement by Paul Mirgenoff of Powerline:
The Iraqis, of course, are not the first people to make a very bad decision at the polls. The fact that they did so is not necessarily evidence of some national "genetic" flaw, much less a demonstration that democracy can't work in the Middle East. It just means that the Iraqi people did less than what a difficult situation required, and that we must face up to and deal with the consequences.

It is not necessarily evidence of a "'genetic' flaw"? Who even suggested such a thing except you? This "not necessarily" strikes me as his exerting the least of efforts to hide the fact that he's a zombie racist. The idea that some people are simply genetically incapable of handling democracy is hardly new:
Convinced by such authorities as Frank, Hawk, and Humphrey, William Joseph Simmons, Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, felt the Klan's treatment of the Negro to be fully justified. The race's "state of biological evolution," he stated, made Negroes "physically, and hence morally" unfit for democratic responsibilities. "The cause is biological."

And I just now came across this post, which quotes the editor-in-chief of the New Republic as saying:
Give George W. Bush his due. He took down the Taliban. And he also took down the savage Caesar. These are achievements. What he did not grasp--and what, for that matter, Baker and those for whom he speaks also do not grasp--is the sheer and relentless butchery of which both Sunni and Shia are capable. The fiendish barbarism of decapitated heads and mutilated bodies is now a reflex of the warriors and nothing exceptional, a commonplace. Even the bare rudiments of civilization will not soon come back to the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates."

Hm. Savages and barbarians too busy killing themselves to create the bare rudiments of civilization? I don't suppose that aspersion has ever before been applied to a minority.

These four incidents are hardly all of it. The anti-immigration (and anti-Mexican) furor reeks of the 1920s Immigration Act and "Americanism". Some years ago several liberal bloggers were criticizing the Bell Curve for its claims about race and intelligence. Trent Lott, who believes that if only Strom "Sperm" Thurmond had become president we wouldn't have the problems we do today, was just elected minority whip. Going back a bit further, Rush Limbaugh praised Thurmond for his ability to filibuster over 24 hours to prevent the passage of the Civil Rights Act. And so on.

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