Folding, spindeling, and mutilating lauguage for fun since Aug, 2004
Monday, 23 March 2009

A friend of mine recently made a comment on my Facebook account saying that Darwin was a racist.  I have decided to re-read Darwin’s writings, and make a note of the different times that he expresses his comments that might be construed as realting to race.  This entry will deal only with the Voyage of the Beagle, his first work.  And only Chapters 1-8 so far.

1)      “This spot is notorious from having been, for a long time, the residence of some runaway slaves, who, by cultivating a little ground near the top, contrived to eke out a subsistence. At length they were discovered, and a party of soldiers being sent, the whole were seized with the exception of one old woman, who, sooner than again be led into slavery, dashed herself to pieces from the summit of the mountain. In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress it is mere brutal obstinacy.”  --Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 2

Hmmm…doesn’t seem like a racist would make snide observations that white people interpret the actions of black people unfairly and using different standards.  In fact, the conclusions he describes other people coming to originate with the assumption that God’s creation has a hierarchy of worthiness…and that there are qualities that God imbued white people with that black people just don’t have.  Darwin mocks these ideas.  In fact, the above passage shows that he rejects the idea that white people's actions should be attributed to virtues while the same actions in non-whites should be viewed as the result of vices.

2)      As long as the idea of slavery could be banished, there was something exceedingly fascinating in this simple and patriarchal style of living: it was such a perfect retirement and independence from the rest of the world. –Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 2. – describing a feast given by a Spanish host in Rio.

3)      “As soon as any stranger is seen arriving, a large bell is set tolling, and generally some small cannon are fired. The event is thus announced to the rocks and woods, but to nothing else. One morning I walked out an hour before daylight to admire the solemn stillness of the scene; at last, the silence was broken by the morning hymn, raised on high by the whole body of the blacks; and in this manner their daily work is generally begun. On such fazendas as these, I have no doubt the slaves pass happy and contented lives. On Saturday and Sunday they work for themselves, and in this fertile climate the labour of two days is sufficient to support a man and his family for the whole week.”  -- Voyage o fthe Beagle Chapter 2 – admitting that there are some places where slavery is less unpleasant than others.

4)      “While staying at this estate, I was very nearly being an eye-witness to one of those atrocious acts which can only take place in a slave country. Owing to a quarrel and a lawsuit, the owner was on the point of taking all the women and children from the male slaves, and selling them separately at the public auction at Rio. Interest, and not any feeling of compassion, prevented this act. Indeed, I do not believe the inhumanity of separating thirty families, who had lived together for many years, even occurred to the owner. Yet I will pledge myself, that in humanity and good feeling he was superior to the common run of men. It may be said there exists no limit to the blindness of interest and selfish habit. I may mention one very trifling anecdote, which at the time struck me more forcibly than any story of cruelty. I was crossing a ferry with a negro, who was uncommonly stupid. In endeavouring to make him understand, I talked loud, and made signs, in doing which I passed my hand near his face. He, I suppose, thought I was in a passion, and was going to strike him; for instantly, with a frightened look and half-shut eyes, he dropped his hands. I shall never forget my feelings of surprise, disgust, and shame, at seeing a great powerful man afraid even to ward off a blow, directed, as he thought, at his face. This man had been trained to a degradation lower than the slavery of the most helpless animal.”

5)      “The Gauchos think that the Indians consider the tree as the god itself, but it seems for more probable that they regard it as the altar.” –displaying a reluctance to view “primitive” societies as superstitious. –Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 4 Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca

6)      The encampment of General Rosas was close to the river. It consisted of a square formed by waggons, artillery, straw huts, etc. The soldiers were nearly all cavalry; and I should think such a villainous, banditti-like army was never before collected together. The greater number of men were of a mixed breed, between Negro, Indian, and Spaniard. I know not the reason, but men of such origin seldom have a good expression of countenance. – Chapter 4 Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca expressing casual bigotry of his time, yet, careful not to speculate on the cause of his observation.

7)      The house was situated at the base of a ridge between one and two hundred feet high -- a most remarkable feature in this country. This posta was commanded by a negro lieutenant, born in Africa: to his credit be it said, there was not a ranche between the Colorado and Buenos Ayres in nearly such neat order as his. He had a little room for strangers, and a small corral for the horses, all made of sticks and reeds; he had also dug a ditch round his house as a defence in case of being attacked. This would, however, have been of little avail, if the Indians had come; but his chief comfort seemed to rest in the thought of selling his life dearly. A short time before, a body of Indians had travelled past in the night; if they had been aware of the posta, our black friend and his four soldiers would assuredly have been slaughtered. I did not anywhere meet a more civil and obliging man than this negro; it was therefore the more painful to see that he would not sit down and eat with us.  (Voyage of the Beagle – Chapter 4 Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca)

8)      Bahia Blanca scarcely deserves the name of a village. A few houses and the barracks for the troops are enclosed by a deep ditch and fortified wall. The settlement is only of recent standing (since 1828); and its growth has been one of trouble. The government of Buenos Ayres unjustly occupied it by force, instead of following the wise example of the Spanish Viceroys, who purchased the land near the older settlement of the Rio Negro, from the Indians. Hence the need of the fortifications; hence the few houses and little cultivated land without the limits of the walls; even the cattle are not safe from the attacks of the Indians beyond the boundaries of the plain, on which the fortress stands.  (Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 4Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca)

Where many naturalists and travelers of his time observed differences in kinds of people, and attributed them to some essential characteristic of the people, Darwin would be unlikely to assume that the character of a whole people was inherently superior or inferior.  Where he made judegements on a culture or people, he would observe what in their habitat or history might affect their behavior for better or for worse.

9)      “Animals are so abundant in these countries, that humanity and self-interest are not closely united; therefore I fear it is that the former is here scarcely known. One day, riding in the Pampas with a very respectable "estanciero," my horse, being tired, lagged behind. The man often shouted to me to spur him. When I remonstrated that it was a pity, for the horse was quite exhausted, he cried out, "Why not? -- never mind -- spur him -- it is my horse." I had then some difficulty in making him comprehend that it was for the horse's sake, and not on his account, that I did not choose to use my spurs. He exclaimed, with a look of great surprise, "Ah, Don Carlos, que cosa!" It was clear that such an idea had never before entered his head.”  (Voyage of the Beagle – Chapter 8 Banda Oriental and Patagonia)

He was similarly clear-headed in his observations of different cultures of Indians in the area, observing their situations, histories and the nature of the lands in which they lived, rather than making moral judgments about their “fitness” as human beings.  He would describe a scene as being “savage” or “wild” or “deplorable”…but he did not approach the description of such things from the foundation of assuming that he could discern an essential racial nature, nor a hierarchy of human value from his observations.  For instance, in the above, he does not say, as many English travelers did, that the Spanish are a cruel and tyrannical people.  He observed that the area in which they lived made it such that a person would not see the utility in being kind or sparing of an animal who can be easily replaced…an observation he made earlier about how the nature of slaveholding had turned an otherwise humane Englishman into a thoughtless tyrant with regard to his own slaves.

It is easy to see how people who have this idea of the Hierarchy of creation (a religious concept) will read and interpret Darwin’s observations as being racist.  They have assumptions that make them prone to come to racist conclusions from Darwin’s observations.

That is not Darwin’s fault.  Consider this anecdote:  Darwin hears stories that other diarists would have dismissed as local superstition, the prattling of the inferior natives.  Instead, he goes and investigates, and comes up with a reasonable possible explanation.

November 26th. -- I set out on my return in a direct line for Monte Video. Having heard of some giant's bones at a neighbouring farm-house on the Sarandis, a small stream entering the Rio Negro, I rode there accompanied by my host, and purchased for the value of eighteen pence the head of the Toxodon. [4] When found it was quite perfect; but the boys knocked out some of the teeth with stones, and then set up the head as a mark to throw at. By a most fortunate chance I found a perfect tooth, which exactly fitted one of the sockets in this skull, embedded by itself on the banks of the Rio Tercero, at the distance of about 180 miles from this place. I found remains of this extraordinary animal at two other places, so that it must formerly have been common. I found here, also, some large portions of the armour of a gigantic armadillo-like animal, and part of the great head of a Mylodon. The bones of this head are so fresh, that they contain, according to the analysis by Mr. T. Reeks, seven per cent of animal matter; and when placed in a spirit-lamp, they burn with a small flame. The number of the remains embedded in the grand estuary deposit which forms the Pampas and covers the granitic rocks of Banda Oriental, must be extraordinarily great. I believe a straight line drawn in any direction through the Pampas would cut through some skeleton or bones. Besides those which I found during my short excursions, I heard of many others, and the origin of such names as "the stream of the animal," "the hill of the giant," is obvious. At other times I heard of the marvellous property of certain rivers, which had the power of changing small bones into large; or, as some maintained, the bones themselves grew. As far as I am aware, not one of these animals perished, as was formerly supposed, in the marshes or muddy river-beds of the present land, but their bones have been exposed by the streams intersecting the subaqueous deposit in which they were originally embedded. We may conclude that the whole area of the Pampas is one wide sepulchre of these extinct gigantic quadrupeds. (Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter 8 Banda Oriental and Patagonia)

Here is a passage where he describes his over-all impression of the area.

During the last six months I have had an opportunity of seeing a little of the character of the inhabitants of these provinces. The Gauchos, or countryrmen, are very superior to those who reside in the towns. The Gaucho is invariably most obliging, polite, and hospitable: I did not meet with even one instance of rudeness or inhospitality. He is modest, both respecting himself and country, but at the same time a spirited, bold fellow. On the other hand, many robberies are committed, and there is much bloodshed: the habit of constantly wearing the knife is the chief cause of the latter. It is lamentable to hear how many lives are lost in trifling quarrels. In fighting, each party tries to mark the face of his adversary by slashing his nose or eyes; as is often attested by deep and horrid-looking scars. Robberies are a natural consequence of universal gambling, much drinking, and extreme indolence. At Mercedes I asked two men why they did not work. One gravely said the days were too long; the other that he was too poor. The number of horses and the profusion of food are the destruction of all industry. Moreover, there are so many feast-days; and again, nothing can succeed without it be begun when the moon is on the increase; so that half the month is lost from these two causes.

Police and justice are quite inefficient. If a man who is poor commits murder and is taken, he will be imprisoned, and perhaps even shot; but if he is rich and has friends, he may rely on it no very severe consequence will ensue. It is curious that the most respectable inhabitants of the country invariably assist a murderer to escape: they seem to think that the individual sins against the government, and not against the people. A traveller has no protection besides his fire-arms; and the constant habit of carrying them is the main check to more frequent robberies. The character of the higher and more educated classes who reside in the towns, partakes, but perhaps in a lesser degree, of the good parts of the Gaucho, but is, I fear, stained by many vices of which he is free. Sensuality, mockery of all religion, and the grossest corruption, are far from uncommon. Nearly every public officer can be bribed. The head man in the post-office sold forged government franks. The governor and prime minister openly combined to plunder the state. Justice, where gold came into play, was hardly expected by any one. I knew an Englishman, who went to the Chief Justice (he told me, that not then understanding the ways of the place, he trembled as he entered the room), and said, "Sir, I have come to offer you two hundred (paper) dollars (value about five pounds sterling) if you will arrest before a certain time a man who has cheated me. I know it is against the law, but my lawyer (naming him) recommended me to take this step." The Chief Justice smiled acquiescence, thanked him, and the man before night was safe in prison. With this entire want of principle in many of the leading men, with the country full of ill-paid turbulent officers, the people yet hope that a democratic form of government can succeed!

On first entering society in these countries, two or three features strike one as particularly remarkable. The polite and dignified manners pervading every rank of life, the excellent taste displayed by the women in their dresses, and the equality amongst all ranks. At the Rio Colorado some men who kept the humblest shops used to dine with General Rosas. A son of a major at Bahia Blanca gained his livelihood by making paper cigars, and he wished to accompany me, as guide or servant, to Buenos Ayres, but his father objected on the score of the danger alone. Many officers in the army can neither read nor write, yet all meet in society as equals. In Entre Rios, the Sala consisted of only six representatives. One of them kept a common shop, and evidently was not degraded by the office. All this is what would be expected in a new country; nevertheless the absence of gentlemen by profession appears to an Englishman something strange.

When speaking of these countries, the manner in which they have been brought up by their unnatural parent, Spain, should always be borne in mind. On the whole, perhaps, more credit is due for what has been done, than blame for that which may be deficient. It is impossible to doubt but that the extreme liberalism of these countries must ultimately lead to good results. The very general toleration of foreign religions, the regard paid to the means of education, the freedom of the press, the facilities offered to all foreigners, and especially, as I am bound to add, to every one professing the humblest pretensions to science, should be recollected with gratitude by those who have visited Spanish South America. (Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter 8 Banda Oriental and Patagonia)

He records his observations, and conjectures about the causes of what he sees…but he does not draw conclusions about the inherent nature or fitness of the people he observes.  This is a temptation that many brilliant men of his time were unable to resist, or to whom it didn’t even occur to them that they SHOULD resist.

I would like to add this one last bit from Chapter five, where Darwin is horrified at attempts to exterminate the local population.  Clearly, the extermination of groups of people by other groups of people had been going on there long before Darwin was born, and he is clearly in opposition to it, though in no position to change anything.  And supposedly Hitler would never have come along if not for Darwin?  Please.

In the morning they started for the scene of the murder, with orders to follow the "rastro," or track, even if it led them to Chile. We subsequently heard that the wild Indians had escaped into the great Pampas, and from some cause the track had been missed. One glance at the rastro tells these people a whole history. Supposing they examine the track of a thousand horses, they will soon guess the number of mounted ones by seeing how many have cantered; by the depth of the other impressions, whether any horses were loaded with cargoes; by the irregularity of the footsteps, how far tired; by the manner in which the food has been cooked, whether the pursued travelled in haste; by the general appearance, how long it has been since they passed. They consider a rastro of ten days or a fortnight, quite recent enough to be hunted out. We also heard that Miranda struck from the west end of the Sierra Ventana, in a direct line to the island of Cholechel, situated seventy leagues up the Rio Negro. This is a distance of between two and three hundred miles, through a country completely unknown. What other troops in the world are so independent? With the sun for their guide, mare's flesh for food, their saddle- cloths for beds, -- as long as there is a little water, these men would penetrate to the end of the world.

A few days afterwards I saw another troop of these banditti-like soldiers start on an expedition against a tribe of Indians at the small Salinas, who had been betrayed by a prisoner cacique. The Spaniard who brought the orders for this expedition was a very intelligent man. He gave me an account of the last engagement at which he was present. Some Indians, who had been taken prisoners, gave information of a tribe living north of the Colorado. Two hundred soldiers were sent; and they first discovered the Indians by a cloud of dust from their horses' feet, as they chanced to be travelling. The country was mountainous and wild, and it must have been far in the interior, for the Cordillera were in sight. The Indians, men, women, and children, were about one hundred and ten in number, and they were nearly all taken or killed, for the soldiers sabre every man. The Indians are now so terrified that they offer no resistance in a body, but each flies, neglecting even his wife and children; but when overtaken, like wild animals, they fight against any number to the last moment. One dying Indian seized with his teeth the thumb of his adversary, and allowed his own eye to be forced out sooner than relinquish his hold. Another, who was wounded, feigned death, keeping a knife ready to strike one more fatal blow. My informer said, when he was pursuing an Indian, the man cried out for mercy, at the same time that he was covertly loosing the bolas from his waist, meaning to whirl it round his head and so strike his pursuer. "I however struck him with my sabre to the ground, and then got off my horse, and cut his throat with my knife." This is a dark picture; but how much more shocking is the unquestionable fact, that all the women who appear above twenty years old are massacred in cold blood! When I exclaimed that this appeared rather inhuman, he answered, "Why, what can be done? they breed so!"

Every one here is fully convinced that this is the most just war, because it is against barbarians. Who would believe in this age that such atrocities could be committed in a Christian civilized country? The children of the Indians are saved, to be sold or given away as servants, or rather slaves for as long a time as the owners can make them believe themselves slaves; but I believe in their treatment there is little to complain of.

In the battle four men ran away together. They were pursued, one was killed, and the other three were taken alive. They turned out to be messengers or ambassadors from a large body of Indians, united in the common cause of defence, near the Cordillera. The tribe to which they had been sent was on the point of holding a grand council, the feast of mare's flesh was ready, and the dance prepared: in the morning the ambassadors were to have returned to the Cordillera. They were remarkably fine men, very fair, above six feet high, and all under thirty years of age. The three survivors of course possessed very valuable information and to extort this they were placed in a line. The two first being questioned, answered, "No se" (I do not know), and were one after the other shot. The third also said " No se;" adding, "Fire, I am a man, and can die!" Not one syllable would they breathe to injure the united cause of their country! The conduct of the above-mentioned cacique was very different; he saved his life by betraying the intended plan of warfare, and the point of union in the Andes. It was believed that there were already six or seven hundred Indians together, and that in summer their numbers would be doubled. Ambassadors were to have been sent to the Indians at the small Salinas, near Bahia Blanca, whom I have mentioned that this same cacique had betrayed. The communication, therefore, between the Indians, extends from the Cordillera to the coast of the Atlantic.

General Rosas's plan is to kill all stragglers, and having driven the remainder to a common point, to attack them in a body, in the summer, with the assistance of the Chilenos. This operation is to be repeated for three successive years. I imagine the summer is chosen as the time for the main attack, because the plains are then without water, and the Indians can only travel in particular directions. The escape of the Indians to the south of the Rio Negro, where in such a vast unknown country they would be safe, is prevented by a treaty with the Tehuelches to this effect; -- that Rosas pays them so much to slaughter every Indian who passes to the south of the river, but if they fail in so doing, they themselves are to be exterminated. The war is waged chiefly against the Indians near the Cordillera; for many of the tribes on this eastern side are fighting with Rosas. The general, however, like Lord Chesterfield, thinking that his friends may in a future day become his enemies, always places them in the front ranks, so that their numbers may be thinned. Since leaving South America we have heard that this war of extermination completely failed.

Among the captive girls taken in the same engagement, there were two very pretty Spanish ones, who had been carried away by the Indians when young, and could now only speak the Indian tongue. From their account they must have come from Salta, a distance in a straight line of nearly one thousand miles. This gives one a grand idea of the immense territory over which the Indians roam: yet, great as it is, I think there will not, in another half-century, be a wild Indian northward of the Rio Negro. The warfare is too bloody to last; the Christians killing every Indian, and the Indians doing the same by the Christians. It is melancholy to trace how the Indians have given way before the Spanish invaders. Schirdel [21] says that in 1535, when Buenos Ayres was founded, there were villages containing two and three thousand inhabitants. Even in Falconer's time (1750) the Indians made inroads as far as Luxan, Areco, and Arrecife, but now they are driven beyond the Salado. Not only have whole tribes been exterminated, but the remaining Indians have become more barbarous: instead of living in large villages, and being employed in the arts of fishing, as well as of the chase, they now wander about the open plains, without home or fixed occupation.

I heard also some account of an engagement which took place, a few weeks previously to the one mentioned, at Cholechel. This is a very important station on account of being a pass for horses; and it was, in consequence, for some time the head-quarters of a division of the army. When the troops first arrived there they found a tribe of Indians, of whom they killed twenty or thirty. The cacique escaped in a manner which astonished every one. The chief Indians always have one or two picked horses, which they keep ready for any urgent occasion. On one of these, an old white horse, the cacique sprung, taking with him his little son. The horse had neither saddle nor bridle. To avoid the shots, the Indian rode in the peculiar method of his nation namely, with an arm round the horse's neck, and one leg only on its back. Thus hanging on one side, he was seen patting the horse's head, and talking to him. The pursuers urged every effort in the chase; the Commandant three times changed his horse, but all in vain. The old Indian father and his son escaped, and were free. What a fine picture one can form in one's mind, -- the naked, bronze-like figure of the old man with his little boy, riding like a Mazeppa on the white horse, thus leaving far behind him the host of his pursuers!

Indeed, many of Darwin's peers bought whole-heartedly into the idea of the Heirarchy of Creation, which put the Caucasian humans above the non-caucasian humans.  He does not appear to do so, though he may reflect unfavorably one one society or another, or one class of men or another, or one way of life or another, there are as many examples of him looking past his prejudices and learning something new, than there are examples of him not.  The idea of inherent moral fitness (as in right to exsist)or superiority was not invented by Darwin.  In fact, he seemed remarkable free of such assumptions for a man of his time.

For Ben Stein and the other makers of Expelled to put all of this on his head, is just incredible.  More to come.

Monday, 23 March 2009 09:31:25 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [0] | #
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