Darwin sought to not only produce a new scientific truth, but also to put an end to polygenism, the current scientific discourse on human origins that gave tacit and at times explicit support for slavery: ‘... when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death.’ (Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 235)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Paradoxa from the Systema natura by Linnaeus (1735)

The Paradoxa are the various species Linnaeus did not include in his Systema Natura because he judged them to be either fabulous, the result of mistaken observations by travelers or as in the case of the Hamburg hydra, simply fraudulent. It is not a complete break with the past, however, if we notice that his classification of the Anthropomorphia included several fabulous species of human that can be traced back as far as Pliny the Elder and his sources. That will be the subject of the next post. The following is a draft translation of the Paradoxa from the first edition of the Systema Natura.

 The Paradoxa 
from the 
Systema natura 
HYDRA: snake-like body, two feet, seven heads and as many necks, without wings. One is preserved in Hamburg similar to the Hydra described in the Apocalypse of St. John, Chapters 12 and 13, and this is also true of a great many animal species exhibited, but wrongly so. Nature is always true to itself and has never naturally produced several heads on one body. When seen for ourselves, the fraud and artifice was most easily revealed as the teeth of a wild weasel differ from those of an Amphibian.

Albertus Seba, Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri (1734) 
The Hydra of Hamburg that Linnaeus describes.

RANA: the Frog-Fish, or the metamorphosis of a frog into a fish, is very paradoxical for nature will not permit the change of one Genus into another class. Frogs, like other Amphibians, possess lumps and spiny bones. Spiny fishes possess gills instead of lungs. Therefore, this mutation is contrary to the laws of Nature. If a fish is provided with gills it will be different from frogs and other Amphibians. If given lungs, it will be a lizard. There is a complete difference between them and the Chondropterygiis & Plagiuris.

The Frog-Fish from Surinam (1776)

MONOCEROS: Unicorn, one horn, body of a horse, feet of a fierce beast. Horn straight, long, spiraled. It is a painter’s fiction. Artedi’s Monodon has a horn, but there are a multitude of differences between them.

PELECANUS: (Pelican) with its beak inflicts a wound to its own thigh. The blood that flows relieves the thirst of its young; from the same fabulous tradition. The fable comes from the sac under its gullet that it uses to distribute the food.

SATYR: the tailed Satyr, hairy, bearded, with a human-like body, given to vigorous (wildly lustful?) gesticulations, is a species of Simiae, if indeed anyone has ever seen this apparition. 

Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1731)

Pygmanus, Satyrus, Lucifer, Troglodyta from Christianus Emmanuel Hoppius (Christian Emanuel Hoppe) Dissertatio Academica in qua Anthropomorpha, Consens. Experient. Facult. Medic. in Reg. Academ Upsallensi, Præside viro noblilissimo atque experientissimo Dn. Doct. Carolo Linnæo.... Upsala, 1760.
Simia to Homo: from C. F. Hoppe's Anthropomorpha -1760

BOROMETZ or Scythian Lamb: a plant shaped like a lamb, its stem seizes the “umbilicum” of another plant as it erupts from the earth; thoughtlessly said to contain blood and to be eaten by wild animals. It is composed from the roots of American ferns. Although naturally the allegorical description of the sheep embryo has the same characteristics attributed to it.

PHOENIX: a species of bird, of which only one individual exists in the world, and sick with the gloom of the grave, builds a pyre of spices and is fabled to live again the happy life of the young. It is, however, the Date Palm, Palma dactylifera (see Kaempf).
British Library, Royal MS 12 C. xix, Folio 49v

BERNICLA: same as Scottish Goose and the Barnacle (duck barnacle), believed by the ancients to come to life from rotten wood tossed into the sea. On the contrary, the color of the sea weed Lepas that it has imposed its feathery entrails upon and its mode of adhering to it make Bernicla seem to originate from that source.

DRACO: Dragon, with an eel-like body, two feet and two bat-like wings, is a Lacerta alata or a Ray that through artifice has been shaped and dried into a fictional monster.

AUTOMA MORTIS: the Death-watch, producing the sound of a clock in the walls, it is called Pediculus pulsationris, burrows into the wood frame of homes and lives on in the wood.

“I kept quite still and said nothing. For another hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear the old man lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed, listening; — just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death-watches in the wall.” Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

Sources for this draft translation:

Caroli Linnaei, Sveci, Doctoris Medicinae systema naturae, sive, Regna tria naturae systematice proposita per classes, ordines, genera, & species. (1735) http://archive.org/details/mobot31753002972252

Carolus Linnaeus, 1735, Systema Natura 1735 facsimile Edition with an introduction of the "Observationes" by Dr. M. S. J. Engel-Ledeboer and Dr. H. Engel. Nieuwkoop: B. de Gaaf.

James Sydney Slotkin. 1965. Readings In Early Anthropology. Psychology Press.



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Talk: The Life Sciences, the Origins of Race, and the History of Sociology (2000)

[It is both fun and a curse to look back to graduate school when a project was in its early stages and see all the things one would change.  However, the general outline is still good and the next phase will focus more on early sociology.  And so, an early presentation of what would later become the manuscript for Until Darwin. I've added links some more recent pieces at the end. Updated 11/11/12]

The Life Sciences, the Origins of Race,and the History of Sociology
B. Ricardo Brown

Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies 
Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies Pratt Institute 
Brooklyn, New York 
Prepared for the Section on Marxist Sociology Roundtables, 
Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Washington D.C.
August 2000

The relationship between sociology and Social Darwinism is often assumed but it is not very well understood.  Many simply passed it off as a forgotten dead end.  It was Parsons who said that “no one reads Spencer anymore”.  And it is Parsons who explains this forgetting of Spencer as an evolutionary triumph of sociology.  Sociology did not emerge from Social Darwinism. Sociology and Social Darwinism share common origins in Spencer, political economy, discourses on government, and scientific disputes,especially the species question and the question that consumed American biology in the 19th century: monogenesis versus polygenesis.Given this range of origins, I was lead to question the notion of social Darwinism as it relates to Darwin’s intervention into the monogenesis/polygenesis debate. This debate is essential to understanding the scientific ideology of race.  Race was the central problem in the American approach to the species question.

The species question

Slavery was a driving force behind the debate between the mongenists and the polygenists, but the debate over the origins of humans and the classification of their diversity had been well underway in its modern form since the 18th century (which owed earlier descriptions and representations of the Plinian races). It was not the Civil War that ended the monogenesis/polygenesis debate (as Stanton says in his The Leopard’s Spots, which remains one of the best works on the subject), but Darwin. Only the species question was to later reemerge from its repression with the work of Lombroso and Weissmann.  It is often stated that Darwin broke with Lamarck and Natural History, but the origin of species----modification by descent vs. creation vs. successive creation----was the question of Darwin’s time, and Lamarckism was not the subject of polemics from the pro-evolution side. (Darwin to some degree followed Lamarck, most notably in Darwin’s theory of pangenesis.)

You might in fact read Darwin’s Origins as an anti-slavery argument. He was opposed to slavery.(Admiral Fitzroy, an originator of modern meteorological instruments and Captain of the Beagle was a vocal proponent of slavery and the superiority of the European. Darwin, who was hired on not as the official naturalist, but rather the dinner and social companion of the Captain, noted in letter to his sister how unbearable it was to be endure these social gatherings with the Captain.  Natural and sexual selection as described in the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man destroyed the polygenic theory. At the same it demolished and replaced religious basis of monogenesis. The central enlightened argument for the abolition of slavery now had a scientific basis in the origin of the human species itself. Darwin is often characterized as apolitical, but politics has no limit in theory. He says in the
Descent of Man
...we may conclude that when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and the polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death (Descent of Man, 541)The biology appropriated by sociology was not Darwinism, although it shares certain terminology and concerns.

The discursive formation of sociology and biology was concerned with continuity: progress and degeneration. Darwinism, on the other hand, is concerned with discontinuity: species, extinction,isolation, and selection.  This makes me look at sociology in a new way. Instead of seeing the period before the crisis in Western Sociology as having been one where bad sociology appropriated bad science, I began to see it as a bio-social discourse more or less autonomous from the discourse of Darwinism. This lead me to return to the history of sociology and of race from a different perspective.  Darwin’s was an anti-slavery argument that destroyed the scientific and religious discourses on race. But the history of race appears in the context of a general assumption of bio-social progress and degeneration. It is degeneracy and not natural selection that supported Eugenics, and the linkage between the two sciences of society are profound. In particular, I want to focus on degeneration as it appears in sociology because it has not yet had a thorough treatment .  To understand the relationship of sociology, the life sciences and race in America, you have to trace through the formation and transformations of a scientific ideology that unites;

1) Discourses on nature and life (biology, medicine, Natural History, and ecology)

2) Discourses on the forces of social life, both the rational forces (those which are allied Enlightenment with the universals of Enlightenment Reason, History, Consciousness, and Reason) as well as the irrational forces (e.g., the instincts, the id [e.g., A. Wiessmann as opposed to Freud’s concept,] the mob, the mass) and also rationalized irrationality (e.g., the market and the social anarchy of capitalist production, psychological therapy)

3) Discourses on the stability of society, or inertia (e.g., Parsonian sociology, or more generally,bourgeois morality, the morality of community described by Nietzsche in the second essay of the Genealogy of Morals and by Marx in The Holy Family, the rhetorics of stability, progress, and degeneration).  If you understand how these work, then you can begin to understand the relation between the scientific discourses on race, the sociological ones (sociology in the broadest sense, as the definition of sociology narrows over time in proportion to the need to clean up its pantheon of fallen gods like Sumner, Spencer, Comte, Giddings, Cooley, Sorokin, Lombroso, etc. Feagin in his Presidential Address last night did exactly this, but of course it was only for the best of reasons, as his goal was to remember forgotten sociologists of the left) and together with the media’s re-presentation, we can discern more clearly how the history of this social relation weighs like a nightmare on the mind of the living today.

Before you can discuss race, you must first discuss science, for race does not precede science, rather, science first establishes race --- at least race as we understand it today. We must ask “What is the bio-social discourse on race and what is the origin of its authority?”rather than “What is race?” By implication, this raises all sorts of questions for Marxist theory that claims science as its authority. Perhaps this is why the race question (and the woman question too) were deferred for so long by the Parties. It is not that addressing them would have distracted us from our critique of a more fundamental problems, as was so often claimed, but because addressing them would have called into question the scientific authority on which orthodox marxism rested.

 See these more recent works as well.  Much changed over the time: