Sunday, 4 March 2018

Charles Darwin on race and sex

A psychopath once told me that his religion was Darwinism "because Darwinism is a religion". 

All psychopaths are at least unconsciously Darwinians, even if they believe in another religion, as Stalin, for example, believed in Marxism, which is also a religion.

Nothing makes liberals angrier than conservatives who reject the idea of evolution for religious reasons, as Vice-President Pence does. I wonder if they give Muslims a free pass to do so. 

But Darwin's ideas are only liberal and progressive in the sense of making it very hard to believe in the existence of souls and therefore of the Christian God. Darwin clearly saw, as all biologists must, that hierarchy is the law of the universe. 

In fact Darwinism, like nature itself and like pagans (real pagans, not Intersectional Pagans for Social Justice), is right-wing in tooth and claw.

It is pretty obvious that the ideas of Darwin and his cousin, the now discredited Sir Francis Galton who invented eugenics, are a large part of the basis for the ideas of Hitler.

'Social Darwinism' is a phrase that gained currency after the war to categorise the various attempts by political thinkers to use Darwin's ideas as a guide to how societies should be organised.

Social Darwinism is completely rejected by academics and thinkers these days because Nazi Germany lost the war but Marxism lives on in academia, in overt and covert forms, because Communist Russia won it.

It is clear from the first of the two quotations from Darwin below that he was a Social Darwinian.
"I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilisation than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world."

(Francis Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol.I, 1888. New York D. Appleton and Company, pp.285-286)

"It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilisation. The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain— whether requiring deep thought, reason If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music,-comprising composition and performance, history, ...The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man's attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman--whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands. If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music (inclusive both of composition and performance), history, science, and philosophy, with half-a-dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison. We may also infer, from the law of the deviation from averages, so well illustrated by Mr. Galton, in his work on 'Hereditary Genius,' that if men are capable of a decided pre-eminence over women in many subjects, the average of mental power in man must be above that of woman.
"Amongst the half-human progenitors of man, and amongst savages, there have been struggles between the males during many generations for the possession of the females. But mere bodily strength and size would do little for victory, unless associated with courage, perseverance, and determined energy. With social animals, the young males have to pass through many a contest before they win a female, and the older males have to retain their females by renewed battles. They have, also, in the case of mankind, to defend their females, as well as their young, from enemies of all kinds, and to hunt for their joint subsistence. But to avoid enemies or to attack them with success, to capture wild animals, and to fashion weapons, requires the aid of the higher mental faculties, namely, observation, reason, invention, or imagination. These various faculties will thus have been continually put to the test and selected during manhood; they will, moreover, have been strengthened by use during this same period of life. Consequently in accordance with the principle often alluded to, we might expect that they would at least tend to be transmitted chiefly to the male offspring at the corresponding period of manhood.
"Now, when two men are put into competition, or a man with a woman, both possessed of every mental quality in equal perfection, save that one has higher energy, perseverance, and courage, the latter will generally become more eminent in every pursuit, and will gain the ascendancy. (24. J. Stuart Mill remarks ('The Subjection of Women,' 1869, p. 122), "The things in which man most excels woman are those which require most plodding, and long hammering at single thoughts." What is this but energy and perseverance?) He may be said to possess genius--for genius has been declared by a great authority to be patience; and patience, in this sense, means unflinching, undaunted perseverance. But this view of genius is perhaps deficient; for without the higher powers of the imagination and reason, no eminent success can be gained in many subjects. These latter faculties, as well as the former, will have been developed in man, partly through sexual selection,--that is, through the contest of rival males, and partly through natural selection, that is, from success in the general struggle for life; and as in both cases the struggle will have been during maturity, the characters gained will have been transmitted more fully to the male than to the female offspring. It accords in a striking manner with this view of the modification and re-inforcement of many of our mental faculties by sexual selection, that, firstly, they notoriously undergo a considerable change at puberty (25. Maudsley, 'Mind and Body,' p. 31.), and, secondly, that eunuchs remain throughout life inferior in these same qualities."

The Descent of Man, page 361 of the Second (revised) Edition of 1874.

I tended to be suspicious of all history books written after 1945 when I read history in the early 1980s. So much was influenced by post 1945 political ideas. I did however assume my history master at school - a very clever man - was right when he said that social Darwinism was a misunderstanding of Darwin's ideas, because evolution takes place with geological slowness. The quotations I published seem to suggest that this is not so and that Darwin was a Social Darwinian.
Darwin's ideas remind me of those of Schopenhauer, who wrote before him, and of Nietzsche. As here in Beyond Good and Evil.
“Let us admit to ourselves…how every higher culture on earth so far has begun. Human beings whose nature was still natural, barbarians in every terrible sense of the word, men of prey who were still in possession of unbroken strength of will and lust for power, hurled themselves upon weaker, more civilized, more peaceful races…”
But in fact Nietzsche was not a Social Darwinian or any sort of Darwinian. At first he was an admirer of Darwin and Galton but became disillusioned with what he called “our ape-genealogists” because he failed to see any signs that humanity was evolving. He said:
What surprises me most when surveying the great destinies of man is always seeing before me the opposite of what Darwin and his school see or want to see today: selection in favor of the stronger, in favour of those who have come off better, the progress of the species. The very opposite is quite palpably the case: the elimination of the strokes of luck, the uselessness of the better-constituted types, the inevitable domination achieved by the average, even below-average types.
This passage might sound slightly Hitlerian but it is similar to what the great liberal John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty.

 It is not progress that we object to; on the contrary, we flatter ourselves that we are the most progressive people who ever lived. It is individuality that we war against: we should think we had done wonders if we had made ourselves all alike; forgetting that the unlikeness of one person to another is generally the first thing which draws the attention of either to the imperfection of his own type, and the superiority of another, or the possibility, by combining the advantages of both, of producing something better than either. 

Nietzsche saw around him only the deterioration of human beings and saw conflict as the only means of reversing the decay. Interestingly, he anticipates the Nazis in imagining conflict with Russia as a means by which Europe can renew itself. I suppose he also anticipates the Kaiser, the Cold War and reactions to Vladimir Putin.  
“I do not say this because I want it to happen: the opposite would be rather more after my heart – I mean such an increase in the menace of Russia that Europe would have to resolve to become menacing, too, namely, to acquire one will by means of a new caste that would rule Europe, a long, terrible will of its own that would be able to cast its goals millennia hence – so the long-drawn-out comedy of its many splinter states as well as its dynastic and democratic splinter wills would come to an end. The time for petty politics is over: the very next century will bring the fight for the dominion of the earth – the compulsion to large-scale politics.”


  1. David in Ukraine5 March 2018 at 14:37

    "Nothing makes liberals angrier than conservatives who reject the idea of evolution for religious reasons"

    What about when a very erudite and eloquent scientist, David Berlinski, questions the scientific validity of the theory?

  2. I'm not sure why do you consider Stalin psychopath. True, Stalin was a great murder (in numbers second only to Mao - but he hadn't one billion subjects). But not all criminals are psychopaths and vice versa. His power hungry guarded by paranoia and vengeance was suficient for all his crimes. Why complicate with psychopathy?

  3. What’s considered fit is situational. Fitness could be fecundity and not strength or intellect.
    It could be resistance to a disease or parasite instead of fecundity. It could be the ability to digest an normally indigestible food instead of resistance to disease.
    There’s trade offs.

  4. "It is very true what you say about the higher races of men, when high enough, replacing & clearing off the lower races. In 500 years how the Anglo-Saxon race will have spread & exterminated whole nations; & in consequence how much the Human race, viewed as a unit, will have risen in rank.”

    Charles Darwin in a letter to Charles Kingsley, February 1862

    Darwin was saying what appeared obvious and inevitable in his day. If nature had been allowed to take its course we would be living in an Anglo-Saxon century now. Darwin did not forsee that the terminal stage of Christianity would ravage the Anglo-Saxon's mind like end stage AIDS destroying his vital instincts and making him throw away his dominion over the earth. Now the 21st Century will be a Sino-Semitic-Negroid one and the Anglo-Saxon will be slowly exterminated while less stupified races take over his territory.

  5. "Gorky was even more of a Nietzschean than most Bolsheviks: all tradition and religion stood for slavery and mediocrity."
    Yuri Slezkine in 'The Jewish Century'

  6. Social Darwinism has many definitions, and some of them are incompatible with each other. For instance, it has been criticized for being an inconsistent philosophy, which does not lead to any clear political conclusions.
    Natural selection and 'survival of the fittest' entailed nothing uniform either for sociological method or for political doctrine. A 'social Darwinist' could just as well be a defender of laissez-faire as a defender of state socialism, just as much an imperialist as a domestic eugenist.