Sunday, July 12, 2009

Polyphemus, Hellenistic head, 160 B.C.E., Boston Museum of Fine Arts, John Bonanno photograph. Polyphemus, son of Poseidon, was the man-eating cyclops of the Odyssey who was blinded by the clever Odysseus; his name means "famous" in Greek.

Charles Darwin, Monster and Racist (or, Polyphemus Long Ago)

Whatever one may think of evolutionary theory, there can be no doubt that Charles Darwin was troubled by the fecundity of the 'very poor' sorts of men and his ideas on natural selection (applied to social economics and termed by Herbert Spencer as "survival of the fittest" or "social darwinism") seemed to conflict with his Malthusian influenced notion that the 'superior' types might be overwhelmed by billions and billions of the immoral 'degraded' types. But is it really surprising that Darwin would worry about the "descent" of men and the danger of inferior types when his father was a financier and medical doctor to the upper class and his mother was a Wedgewood and he married his cousin, another Wedgewood of the fabulous porcelain fortune begun when Josiah Wedgewood was allowed by the crown to call his state of the art product, "Queen's Ware"? Darwin was concerned that his poor health was connected with inbreeding yet this and his Malthusian fear of overpopulation didn't prevent him and Emma Wedgewood from having ten children, a brood that in a lower class, non-Saxon family would have horrified him. Let Darwin's words speak for themselves:

"A most important obstacle in civilised countries to an increase in the number of men of a superior class has been strongly insisted on by Mr. Greg and Mr. Galton (19. 'Fraser's Magazine,' Sept. 1868, p. 353. 'Macmillan's Magazine,' Aug. 1865, p. 318. The Rev. F.W. Farrar ('Fraser's Magazine,' Aug. 1870, p. 264) takes a different view.), namely, the fact that the very poor and reckless, who are often degraded by vice, almost invariably marry early, whilst the careful and frugal, who are generally otherwise virtuous, marry late in life, so that they may be able to support themselves and their children in comfort. Those who marry early produce within a given period not only a greater number of generations, but, as shewn by Dr. Duncan (20. 'On the Laws of the Fertility of Women,' in 'Transactions of the Royal Society,' Edinburgh, vol. xxiv. p. 287; now published separately under the title of 'Fecundity, Fertility, and Sterility,' 1871. See, also, Mr. Galton, 'Hereditary Genius,' pp. 352-357, for observations to the above effect.), they produce many more children. The children, moreover, that are borne by mothers during the prime of life are heavier and larger, and therefore probably more vigorous, than those born at other periods. Thus the reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members. Or as Mr. Greg puts the case: "The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts--and in a dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five- sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sixth of Saxons that remained. In the eternal 'struggle for existence,' it would be the inferior and LESS favoured race that had prevailed--and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults."-Charles Darwin 1809-1882, The Descent of Man, 1871

Yes, it is all about class.

"The expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate and is sometimes equally convenient."-Charles Darwin

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