Comment on a comment

2 Apr

…of course, it sounds good… but look who said it! How can an organization claiming to be “critically rethinking diversity” post anything from this scientifically racist White Supremacist? How many centuries will it take to recover from this guy’s social Darwinism?  The educated action of his intentions was eugenic genocide.

This is some feedback from Saturday’s post, objecting to my posting a quote from Herbert Spencer. Spencer, you may know, was a biologist and sociologist whose ideas were in line with Darwin’s regarding survival of the fittest. I can appreciate the outrage of this comment and would even venture to say that Spencer wasn’t the only racist using science to his advantage. Here’s a snippet from Darwin’s The Descent of Man:

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.

That’s right. Darwin was advocating the extermination of negros and Australians, sooner rather than later. I’m not sure how much of this gets taught in schools–I certainly don’t recall it from high school biology.

At any rate, Spencer basically took this notion of survival of the fittest and further advocated not just racist, but classist social policies in England and the US.

Do I support Spencer’s views? Hell no.

And maybe this isn’t an attitude we can all agree on, but I’m also not going to throw this quote out just because I disagree with the man and his work. In fact, I think “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action” is a useful lens and catalyst for critically rethinking the science and social politics of men like Spencer and Darwin. I disagree that critically rethinking diversity requires not acknowledging the legacy of Spencer, Darwin and others whose work is unfortunately as foundational as it is unjust.

* Thanks to MS for writing in and inviting more explication of source and context.

One Response to “Comment on a comment”

  1. Evan Bowen April 2, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Ah, I had no idea who Herbert Spencer was, and really liked that quote about education. As a sometimes-educator I will strive to keep that perspective as a part of my repertoire.

    How could a person who is 100% evil come up with a good idea that I would want to use? Can a person be 100% evil? If the idea is good, but comes from an evil source, should I try to expunge it from my brain? Can a bad mind have good ideas now and then?

    I was excited to read the quote, and am now saddened to learn about the source. Depressing, too, to read Darwin’s thoughts on the ‘savage races’. Or Edgar Rice Burroughs’, or Robert E. Howard’s, or … the list would take a lifetime to type. Should we never speak their names? Should we burn all their works?

    I guess I’ll just try to recognize good ideas where I find them, use my best common sense to guide my integration of them into my life, and keep trying to behave with compassion and dignity.

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