søndag 1. februar 2009

Darwin - fra brorskap til rasisme


Med Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins, av Adrian Desmond og James Moore, har vi kanskje fått den mest interessante boken som vil komme ut om Darwin i jubileumsåret.

Mens Darwins arbeid med evolusjonsteorien og vårt felles naturlige opphav ofte fremstilles som resultatet av et nøytralt vitenskapelig arbeid, er det nærmere sannheten, eller hører i det minste med i bildet, at den springer ut av et sterkt, moralsk engasjement.

Som så mange vitenskapelige fremskritt, er evolusjonslæren positivt påvirket av religiøse impulser.

Nå er boka så langt kun bestilt, og ikke lest, slik at det er mulig at jeg misforstår hva som egentlig sies. Men skal vi dømme etter omtalen på Amazon, til tross for dens noe tvetydige tone, støtter boken en tese som noen av oss har holdt noen år.

Mens Darwins kristne barndomstro på menneskets brorskap førte ham i retning av evolusjonslæren, ledet tapet av denne troen ham til å ta noen mindre hyggelige steg videre, til politiske og etiske konkusjoner i The Descent of Man. Det var lite i en stadig mer rendyrket agnostisk (eller forsåvidt naturalistisk) posisjon som kunne verne mot slik.
In this remarkable book Adrian Desmond and James Moore, world authorities on Darwin, give a completely new explanation of how Darwin came to his famous view of evolution, which traced all life to an ancient common ancestor. Darwin was committed to the abolition of slavery, in part because of his family’s deeply held beliefs. It was his ‘Sacred Cause’ and at its core lay a belief in human racial unity.

Desmond and Moore show how he extended to all life the idea of human brotherhood held by those who fought to abolish slavery, so developing our modern view of evolution. Through massive detective work among unpublished family correspondence, manuscripts and rare works, the authors back up their compelling claim. Leading apologists for slavery in Darwin’s day argued that blacks and whites had originated as separate species, with whites superior. Creationists too believed that ‘man’ was superior to other species. Darwin abhorred such ‘arrogance’; he declared it ‘more humble & ... true’ to see humans ‘created from animals’. Darwin gave all the races – blacks and whites, animals and plants – a common origin and freed them from creationist shackles. Evolution meant emancipation.

Darwin’s Sacred Cause restores Darwin’s humanitarianism, tarnished by atheistic efforts to hijack his reputation and creationist attempts to smear him. Desmond and Moore argue that only by understanding Darwin’s Christian abolitionist inheritance can we shed new light on the perplexing mix of personal drive, public hesitancy and scientific radicalism that led him finally in 1871 to publish The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. The result is an epoch-making study of this eminent Victorian.
Det hele blir imidlertid tydeligere om man leserAdrian Desmonds sammendrag i Prospect Magazine.

Darwin ender dermed med noen lite trivelige tanker.
He used Malthusian ideas to normalise and naturalise the colonial genocide, making it part of the evolutionary process, suggesting how such conflict was not only "natural," but beneficial (inasmuch as the "fitter" survivors carried the human race forward). The uncivilised peoples of the plains were going the way of the megafauna he found fossilised under their feet. But Darwin took colonial conflict as an inevitability to be explained, not a policy choice to be challenged. It is a supreme irony that the gentle, squeamish abolitionist should end up justifying colonial eradication.
Ettersom årene går, mister han stadig mer av sin moralske motstandskraft.

He didn't see the incongruity. And as the years passed he adopted more of the attitudes of his gentlemanly class about the "higher" moral, technological and intellectual order achieved by white Europeans. Sixty-two by the time he announced his views on human evolution, in The Descent of Man (1871), he was now mired in his contemporaries' "ladder" image of world cultures, with whites on the top civilisational rung and blacks at the bottom. The notion of a unilinear "higher" and "lower," denounced in his old notebooks as meaningless, was effectively reinstated in cultural terms. He was following the trend, but in shifting the emphasis from a biological racial kinship to a single cultural yardstick for all races, standardised on western achievements, his science failed to live up to its early emancipatory promise.

"Darwinism," then, was never distinct from "social Darwinism." It is traditional to deflect blame away from Darwin himself for all the unpleasant social implications of this phrase, keeping his theory of natural selection scientific and ideologically untainted—the blame is conveniently shunted off on to his young contemporary Herbert Spencer. But this attempt to protect the purity of Darwinism won't wash. Indeed, Darwin, who thought Spencer a windbag, would not have recognised a separate category of "social Darwinism"—for him, the "social" was integral to his system. He dealt with race, slavery, genocide and colonial conflict from the first: his theory of evolution was intended to explain society.
Nå betyr ikke dette at hans vitenskapelige teori dermed må forkastes. Moralske konsekvenser har aldri veid tungt i laboratoriet eller observasjoner av naturen. Men det er viktig at vi ikke underslår denne siden ved Darwin og istedet fortsetter å arbeide med å motvirke slike tolkninger som dem han selv kom fram til etterhvert. Ikke minst må vi bekjempe tendensene til å hente moralske kriterier fra naturen, som om den skulle være hele virkeligheten.

Og selv om naturvitenskap ideelt sett handler om nøytrale observasjoner, er det ikke spesielt enkelt for observatørene - eller tolkerne - å være nøytrale. Men siden vitenskap ikke kan si noe om gyldige verdier, må vi avholde oss fra å hente verdier fra vitenskap.

Samtidig leser vi gjerne våre egne preferanser, fobier eller kjepphester inn i naturen. Og så overføres dette på våre egne samfunn, i en argumentasjon som sjelden er en god sirkel.

Spesielt ikke hvis vi kan regne oss blant de sterke og priviligerte eller bare aner at vi kan tjene på det, ideologisk, politisk eller polemisk.
So one has to live with Darwin warts and all. He was a man of his time, a mirror to his culture; racist while also race-saving, distressed by cruelty as he naturalised genocide, able to pass the blame to nature, rather than man. History is messy and Darwin was always a paradoxical thinker, the more so as he began to bend with the breeze late in life.

To celebrate historical figures we have first to understand them. In 2009, 200 years after his birth, it is time to switch the spotlight onto the younger Darwin—the man whose belief in human brotherhood transmuted into an evolutionary theory of common descent. Rather than being morally subversive, as his Christian critics claim, Darwin's achievement was morally grounded. Rather than being a dispassionate practice, his science had a humanitarian drive. It made brothers and sisters not only of all human races, but of all life.
Frans av Assisi ville nok hilst Darwin velkommen etter, men dessverre så sistnevnte stadig sjeldnere i den retningen.

1 kommentar :

Asbjørn Dyrendal sa...

Biografien deres om Darwin var storartet (nesten like god som Desmonds om Huxley), så denne er selvsagt bestilt.

Ellers er det vel helt i tråd med deres tidlige hypotese om Darwins jakt på respektabilitet og anerkjennelse at han skulle adoptere så mye som mulig av den politiske og de idemessige strømingene rundt seg som mulig, hos de kretser som ellers ga ham støtte.

Blir neppe lest før til sommeren, men det er en utrolig interessant epoke, og de er utrolig gode til å bruke biografi som innfallsvinkel til en tid og et samfunn.