Darwin on the Rise and Fall of Human Races, Part 2 of 2

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On the Human Races

According to Darwin, human races have emerged as a natural consequence of their spreading across the globe, leading to their separate evolution in relative reproductive isolation. As a result of their prolonged separation in different environmental and socio-cultural conditions, humans show differences on a variety of traits; these differences were also shaped through the constant culling of individuals and societies in perpetual tribal warfare. It follows that races are expected to differ. Darwin took the heredity of mental traits and mental differences between races as inseparably entailing one another: “Except through the principle of the transmission of moral tendencies, we cannot understand the differences believed to exist in this respect between the various races of mankind” (148).

In The Descent of Man, Darwin is primarily dedicated to proving that human beings are descended from lower, animal forms of life: “It is only our natural prejudice, and that arrogance which made our forefathers declare that they were descended from demi-gods, which leads us to demur to this conclusion” (43). Darwin is only quite secondarily interested in discussing the differences between human races. He nonetheless endorsed the racial science of his day, observing that “the differences between the several races” was “an enormous subject which has been fully discussed in many valuable works” (18).

Darwin takes for granted the existence of physical and psychological differences between both men and women and between human races: “Man differs from woman in size, bodily strength, hairiness, &c., as well as in mind, in the same manner as do the two sexes of many mammals” (25). Darwin lists numerous areas in which human races differ. The “civilised races” have an inferior sense of smell, inferior eyesight, and smaller wisdom teeth than do “dark races” and “savages” (35, 37, 52). Human races differ in the presence of earlobes (32), hairiness (36), skull length (44), and prognathism (58).

There is . . . no doubt that the various races, when carefully compared and measured, differ much from each other, — as in the texture of the hair, the relative proportions of all parts of the body, the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the skull, and even in the convolutions of the brain.[1] But it would be an endless task to specify the numerous points of difference. The races differ also in constitutions, in acclimatisation and in liability to certain diseases. Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual faculties. Every one who has had the opportunity of comparison, must have been struck with the contrast between the taciturn, even morose, aborigines of S. America and the light-hearted, talkative negroes. There is a nearly similar contrast between the Malays and the Papuans, who live under these same physical conditions, and are separated from each other only by a narrow space of sea. (196)

Darwin praises “the old Greeks” in particular as an exceptionally gifted people “which stood some grades higher in intellect than any race that has ever existed” (166).

Darwin’s discussion is not dedicated to whether the human races exist or differ, but whether they ought to be classified as separate species (as many biologists had done) or merely as separate “sub-species.” In the end, he opts for the latter, observing that while human races differ physically and psychologically on average, they can interbreed freely and possess undeniable similarities (204, 210). While “American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans are as different from each other in mind as any three races that can be named,” he was also struck by the similarity of their psychological and emotional systems (207).

Interestingly, Darwin easily dismisses one of the most common arguments against the existence of the races: that there is no obvious or universally accepted system of classification. In fact, clinal (that is to say, gradual) variation of sub-species as one moves along a geographical space is one of the most common phenomena in biology.  Darwin says that the lack of a uniform system of classification “does not prove that the races ought not to be ranked as species, but it shews that they graduate into each other” (203). “We might as well attempt without any definition to decide whether a certain number of houses should be called a village, town, or city” (205). We could also ask: When does a ‘dialect’ merit being called a distinct ‘language’? Where do we place the border between ‘yellow’ and ‘orange’? Indeed, one of the more embarrassing open secrets of biology is the lack of a decent definition of “species” whenever differing but interbreeding populations are not clearly geographically separated.

Human racial and genetic diversity can then be understood as a kind of spectrum, with gradual variation marked by ethno-genetic clumping (corresponding to particular nations or other endogamous groups, such as Jews or Hindu castes), with marked breaks generally only appearing with clear geographical barriers halting gene flow over prolonged periods (most obviously: large expanses of water). Hence, Darwin quotes the observation that Australian Aborigines are “probably as pure and homogeneous in blood, customs, and language as any [race] in existence” (44).

The Extinction of Human Races and Dysgenics

Truganini, the last of her kind, or as Wikipedia puts it: “a woman widely considered to have been
the last full-blooded Aboriginal Tasmanian.”

Extinction of lineages a reality of nature. For humans, “Extinction follows chiefly from the competition of tribe with tribe, and race with race” (211). If, in prehistoric times, this selection occurred primarily through tribal warfare, Darwin affirms that this selection is continuing. In the nineteenth century, Western civilization was still animated by a spirit of material and scientific conquest. As a result, the White race was conquering the world and spreading over vast continents in the Americas, Australia, and even Africa. In that context, Darwin believed human evolution would continue, including through the extermination of ‘lower’ races. The following quote, Darwin considers Whites to be at the apex of human evolution (with room for improvement), with Africans and Australian aborigines as the least civilized:

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 . . . 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, as some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian[2] and the gorilla. (183-4)

Darwin urges us to understand the inexorable tendency towards the extinction of certain races as an inevitable consequence of even slight fertility differentials:

Though the difficulty is great to our imagination, and really great, if we wish to ascertain the precise causes and their manner of action, it ought not to be so to our reason, as long as we keep steadily in mind that the increase of each species and each race is constantly checked in various ways; so that if any new check, even a slight one, be superadded, the race will surely decrease in number; and decreasing numbers will sooner or later lead to extinction; the end, in most cases, being promptly determined by the inroads of conquering tribes. (222)

Darwin expected the White race to continue expanding and surmised — given the decline and extermination of many tribal peoples in the Americas and Australia — that the future would not belong to primitive peoples. However, if confronted with today’s reality of low White fertility and other races colonizing White homelands, he would doubtless be on the side of those predicting the extinction of the White race in the long run.

Despite his general view on the importance of racial/ethnic warfare, Darwin observed that civilizations often adopt customs and ethics which tend to check the struggle for life and its cruel savagery. He noticed that overpopulated agricultural civilizations tended to adopt universalist ethics, late marriage, and monasticism (a dysgenic tendency, he noted, insofar as monastic orders attracted intellectuals). Darwin was furthermore already concerned with the dysgenic consequences of mass security enabled by modern civilization:

[T]he weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. (159)

Darwin praised the Greeks for making the same observations 2,500 years ago:

It was a well recognised principle among the Greeks, that men ought to select their wives with a view to the health and vigour of their children. The Grecian poet, Theognis, who lived around 550 BC, clearly saw how important selection, if carefully applied, would be for the improvement of mankind. He saw, likewise, that wealth often checks the proper action of sexual selection. (47)

Indeed, Darwin hypothesized that the Greeks collapsed due to political divisions and decadence:

The Greeks may have retrograded from a want of coherence between the many small states, from the small size of their whole country, from the practice of slavery, or from extreme sensuality; for they did not succumb until ‘they were enervated and corrupt to the very core’. The western nations of Europe, who now so immeasurably surpass their former savage progenitors, and stand at the summit of civilization, owe little or none of their superiority to direct inheritance from the old Greeks, though they owe much to the written works of that wonderful people (167).

Darwin conceded that explaining the rise of civilizations, and in particular the modern West, was extremely difficult: “The awakening of the nations of Europe from the dark ages is a still more perplexing problem” (167).[3] He hypothesizes that American greatness may well have been due to biological selection:

The remarkable success of the English as colonists, compared to other European nations, has been ascribed to their ‘daring and persistent energy’; a result which is well illustrated by comparing the progress of the Canadians of English and French extraction; but who can say how the English gained their energy? There is apparently much truth in the belief that the wonderful progress of the United States, as well as the character of the people, are the results of natural selection; for the more energetic, restless, and courageous men from all parts of Europe have emigrated during the last ten or twelve generations to that great country, and have there succeeded best . . . Obscure as is the problem of the advance of civilization, we can at least see that a nation which produced during a lengthened period the greatest number of highly intellectual, energetic, brave, patriotic, and benevolent men, would generally prevail over less favoured nations. (167-8).

In any event, Darwin had no doubt that dysgenic breeding could destroy civilizations:

[If] the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society [increase] at a quicker rate than the better class of men, the nation will retrograde, as has too often occurred in the history of the world. We must remember that progress is no invariable rule. It is very difficult to say why one civilised nation rises, becomes more powerful, and spreads more quickly, than another; or why the same nation progresses more quickly at one time than another. We can only say that it depends on an increase in the actual number of the population, on the number of the men endowed with high intellectual and moral faculties, as well as on their standard of excellence. (166)

Darwin could not foresee that a collapse in traditional culture, an individualist-egalitarian ethos, addiction to comfort, and unreciprocated universal sympathy would, within a few generations, lead to a stunning downward reversal for the European race. He writes at length on the collapsed fertility of traditional tribal peoples due to rapidly-changed conditions of life and demoralization (213–22). He observes that “The reproductive system can be shewn to be susceptible to an extraordinary degree (though why we know not) to changed conditions of life” (219). No doubt such factors have led to a collapse in fertility across the developed world and notably in historically White countries.

Social Shaming and Truth-Telling

Darwin was often mocked for his controversial theories.

Darwin dedicates considerable space to social shaming and ostracism, fundamental traits of human life as social animals. In addition to the obvious importance of the social instincts for human societies, perhaps Darwin was also motivated to write because of his own experiences as a scientist whose discoveries led to him being attacked by creationists profoundly offended by the thought that man might descend from apes and fishes.

Obviously, human beings with an instinct to conformism — being highly responsive to the behavior and judgment of the majority of their peers — would tend to outlive unpopular eccentrics. Man’s natural sympathy for his fellows means that he is “influenced in the highest degree by the wishes, approbation, and blame of his fellow-men” (133). Darwin writes:

Even when we are quite alone, how often do we think with pleasure or pain of what others think of us — of their imagined approbation or disapprobation; and this all follows from sympathy, a fundamental element of the social instincts. A man who possessed no trace of such instincts would be an unnatural monster. (136)

This makes it especially difficult for individuals to express unpopular opinions, even when such opinions might be true. A certain amount of discomfort, to not say worse, is inevitable: “in order to be quite free from self-reproach, or at least of anxiety, it is almost necessary for him to avoid the disapprobation, whether reasonable or not, of his fellow-men” (140). All this will have been experienced, to varying degrees, by all European identitarians and race-realists in the West today.

We have other psychological resources in our struggle against popular prejudice. Through conscious habit, we can acquire positive reflexes making us less sensitive to social pressure and yet more sociable (135). Darwin also refers to “the Law of Honour, that is, the law of the opinion of our equals and not of all our countrymen” (146). We can to a great extent determine who is in our peer group. We can seek to associate with and live up to the expectations of those fighting for scientific truth concerning race and for European survival. Every man worthy of the name is imbued with such virtues: “As during rude times no man can be useful or faithful to his tribe without courage, this quality has universally been placed in the highest rank” (142).

In taking courage to combat the conventional wisdom of our time, moral and intellectual confidence in the foundations of our thinking is paramount. And for that, Charles Darwin, the founder modern evolutionary theory, remains irreplaceable.

[1]On all this, Darwin and other early evolutionary/racial scientists were ahead of the curve. See for instance the innumerable genetically-determined human adaptations to local environments that have been identified  (https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Local-human-adaptations-Following-Fan-et-al-2016-each-adaptation-is-labeled-by-the_fig2_321252816) or the striking correlation between “the shape of the cerebral cortex — the brain’s outer layer of neural tissue — and genetic ancestry” (https://www.labnews.co.uk/news/brain-shape-genetic-ancestry-linked-10-08-2015/). The science indicates that race is ‘only’ cerebral-cortex-deep!

[2]Elsewhere, Darwin observes that an Aboriginal Australian wife can scarcely even “exert her self-consciousness” (105).

[3]Darwin stresses the critical role of culture in the rise of modern civilization:

With highly civilised nations continued progress depends in a subordinate degree on natural selection; for such nations do not supplant and exterminate one another as do savage tribes. . . . The more efficient causes of progress seem to consist of a good education during youth, whilst the brain is impressible, and of a high standard of excellence, inculcated by the ablest and best men, embodied in the laws, customs and traditions of the nation, and enforced by public opinion. (169)

He however also stresses that civilization and advanced morals also depend on prerequisite in-born intelligence and sympathetic instincts. Genes and culture are multipliers and are not mutually-exclusive explanations.

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