Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bro. Peach Does His Homework

Bro. Rob Peach, FSC
ENG 141.07
March 11, 2009

After "Darwin and After": A Response to Student Inquiries on Bratlinger

· What is the thesis statement of Patrick Bratlinger’s chapter, “Darwin and After” from Dark Vanishings: Discourse on the Extinction of Primitive Races, 1800-1930?

Bratlinger states his thesis from the outset of the chapter: “Although the ‘Darwinian revolution’ produced new ideas about human races, societies, and cultures, it did not much alter and in several ways strengthened extinction discourse” (164). That is to say that while Darwin’s theories on evolution widened the world’s perspective on the physiological development of the human species, stemming as his theories suggest, from the lowest forms of reptilian life, to the highest form of mammalian life, they narrow-mindedly envisioned the termination of “lower races” within the one human species that progressed to the top of the animal kingdom’s hierarchy. This happens, according to Darwinian-minded evolutionists—or social Darwinists—as societies that are of a more scientifically and culturally progressed nature essentially oust those societies whose advancements in science and culture are less wholly developed and thus unable to compete with the standards of advancement or keep the laws of progress of the “civilized” world. Thus, as Bratlinger states: From the 1830s on, Darwin believed that, though humanity formed a single species, certain primitive races were so far behind civilization—so lost in the immense past of social evolution—that their extinction was likely if not inevitable. With few exceptions—Lewis Henry Morgan and Alfred Russel Wallace are perhaps the main ones—most evolutionists treat primitive races and cultures negatively, not only as doomed by the inexorable laws of nature but also as meriting their pending extinctions. (165)
In this way, Bratlinger concludes his chapter with a critique of social Darwinism, saying that the proponents of Darwin’s evolutionary theory—Malthus et. al—validate “extinction discourse” by way of “naturalizing” or “biologizing”—that is, applying natural or biological explanations for—such unnatural or artificial means of selection and competition within or between species as war, imperialism, and the “supposed progress of white civilization [i.e. racism]” (188). Therefore, social Darwinism and the evolutionary theory of such men as Malthus and Huxley serves as an inadequate rationalization of injustices that force races considered primitive or savage into extinction.

· Explain the chronological and cultural distance between the savage and the civilized conditions of human existence.

According to Darwin’s evolutionary theory as delineated by Bratlinger in his chapter, “Darwin and After” from Dark Vanishings: Discourse on the Exntinction of Primitive Races, 1800-1930, the chronological distance between the savage and the civilized conditions of human existence pertains to the time gap between what is known as prehistory (or history before there were written records of it)—characterized by savagery—and history (referring to what is accounted for in written record)—populated by civilized races. Savages, for Darwin, are the “parents” or progenitors of a more civilized race of the human species that supposedly caused the extermination of the savage parent-species in its natural progression towards a higher state of physiological development. In this theory of chronological distance involving “geological ‘deep time’ ” as it is called, “Both new species and the advanced human races supplanted—or extinguished—older, supposedly less fit or less adaptable ones” (Bratlinger 168). In this way, the “children consume the parents” over time (Bratlinger 168).
As for cultural distance between the savage and the civilized conditions of human existence; it is measured by the social Darwinists according to scientific and social progress of individuals within the human species. It entails social cooperation and the strengthening of such cooperation over time (Bratlinger 168) for the sake of survival. This perceived cultural distance between the savage and the civilized, as gauged by scientific progress, ultimately legitimated a theory of extinction that, though professedly concerned with “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest,” implied the actual extermination of supposedly primitive races by means of industrialization, war, capitalism, and racism. Bratlinger admits that Darwin leans in his written discourse on natural selection and survival of the fittest towards a theory of violent extinction, often applying the “active, violent rhetoric of the discourse about racial extinction to processes that are long-term and nonviolent [such as a famine, disease, or natural disaster]” (169). Thus, Darwin fails to delineate clearly the discrepancies in his theory as Bratlinger suggests: “Darwin here leaves unclear whether he means that the unimproved species will be directly, violently ‘exterminated’ by ‘its competitors,’ or whether instead it will gradually disappear through diminishing access to the means of subsistence that the improved species gradually monopolize [such as industry, trade, scientific invention, etc.]” (170).

· Explain what is meant by Huxley’s conclusion that, as Bratlinger notes of his evolutionary theory, history is a spectacle of races in collision?

Huxley’s conception of history as such a spectacle assumes an imperial outlook on the dynamics of history as a time-bound interaction between races defined primarily by war and colonization, rather than by cultural diffusion or economic exchange as Bratlinger notes (173). Most historians, or those studying history, will admit that man develops not only physiologically, or morphologically (in terms of bodily structure), but culturally as well. Huxley disregards the anthropological perspective of history that takes into consideration man’s advancement not just through competition with other men through violence, but man’s development in terms of art, religion, music, government, and law. Huxley’s ethnology—that is, the study of ethnicity in light of history—is delimited by his narrow-minded perception of historical progress as one war after another between the more “vigorous and fertile race” and its weaker counterpart. Ultimately, as Bratlinger states, “For Huxley, there is apparently not much more to be understood about human history or prehistory unless it sheds light on the evolutionary changes that the physical structures of the different races have undergone” (173). Thus, with morphology as his primary lens through which to view history, Huxley sees violent collision as the only way to measure a race’s superiority over another. Such an outlook validates imperialism, unbridled capitalism, and oppressive colonialism as seemingly ethical forms of competition between races and their respective societies. Bratlinger says it best in reference to Huxley’s perspective: “In the external struggle between societies, civilization is virtually identical to imperialism, because both entail the conquest and domestication of savages” (176). In this way, the civilized man is no less a savage than the primitive man, using violent means to attain a supposed Utopia of social cooperation. Bratinlger's explanation of Tylor's anthropology fits here: “But it is not just that groups of savages resemble one another; civilized peoples also resemble savages, as ‘higher’ stages of culture continue to reflect ‘lower’ ones” in terms of superstition, fear, and violence (180).

· What is the difference between Tylor’s theory of a nascent relativism and his ethnocentrism?

According to Bratlinger, Edward Burnett Tylor’s evolutionary theory argues that all races of the single human species “were progressing through identical stages of cultural development, from savagery through barbarism to civilization” that differed in degree rather than in origin (178). In other words, all species develop relative to their specific condition in time and place. This is part of Tylor’s theory of “nascent relativism”: all races are progressing through different stages of development according to their given situation in continent, tribe, and cultural tradition. At the same time, Tylor held an ethnocentric view of development that recognized the existence of “superior” and “lower” races within this dynamic of overall development. Tylor was thus able to cleverly claim “the ‘educated’ elites of Europe and North America as the ‘standard’ whereby to judge all ‘lower’ cultures” (Stocking 162, qutd. in Bratlinger 179). In this way, all of humankind develops, but at different rates, which allows for those who have surpassed the “slower” to essentially supersede other cultures according to its own code of progress—one that is ultimately Eurocentric.

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