It’s What Science Was

This is a difficult topic, for me, because it entails trying to pull together a bunch of tangled threads that don’t make sense. Pseudo-science and racism are tough, like that, since the pseudo-science in the service of racism may look like it’s science, but it’s not. Yet, for most purposes, I’m going to declare a lot of American popular science as pseudo-science.

The heyday of American pseudo-scientific racism came right after Darwin explained evolution. The zeitgeist, prior to Darwin, contained the important concept of animal husbandry and controlled breeding: people understood for centuries that some characteristics of animals “bred true”, i.e.: a sort of naive Mendelian genetics, without the more detailed understanding of breeding that came when chromosomes were discovered, and the way X and Y chromosomes and expression of traits was related. Until that was figured out, breeding was understood (to work) but how it worked was a mystery. Science was at a critical junction: Darwin had figured out some tremendously important things, but the mechanism of inheritance was missing – so pseudo-scientists stepped in and did what they do; they made things up and asserted them as fact. One of the pernicious features of pseudo-science is that it can tell people what they want to hear, without having to do the painful part of researching the truth. It rationalizes, and appears to have explanatory power except it actually does not. That makes pseudo-science particularly pernicious, since those that are motivated to justify a particular position can find support in apparently science-based argument that is actually nonsense.

When Darwin’s Origin came out, a pseudo-scientist named Herbert Spencer invented “Social Darwinism” – the idea that society’s practices and past are governed by principles of evolution, as Spencer understood evolution. What Spencer actually did was to stand evolution on its head, in a sort of massive post hoc ergo propter hoc bit of reasoning: the people who are downtrodden are downtrodden because being downtrodden is their inheritance. You could take a British lord and raise them among Irish railway-workers and there’s something about the lord’s “blood” that would tell – their superior breeding would come to the surface, etc. Spencer had things perfectly backwards, of course: the British lord is “superior” to the lower

Herbert Spencer. I do not see a single thing about him that just screams “superior” but maybe it’s just because I don’t like wing collars

classes because of a subtle or not-so-subtle enforcement of class heirarchies that allow the British lord to conclude they are better than everyone else, when in fact they’re just lucky to have been born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

Spencerian reasoning was supported by the obviousness of how some breeds of horses were better runners, by birth (an Arabian) and others were better at pulling cannon, by birth (a Clydesdale). But for Spencer and his followers to adopt that reasoning, they had to willfully ignore the fact that anyone who studied animal husbandry could also tell you there’s no such thing as a better horse. The Arabian is best if you’re holding a horse race and the Clydesdale is best if you’re pulling a cart. People have known this since the beginning of animal husbandry, yet Spencer’s audience weren’t actually interested in science so much as they were interested in post hoc rationalization for “why are white Europeans so fucking awesome?” Note that, it’s not because they are awesome; a post-modernist would ask instead “why are white Europeans such violent oppressive imperialist asswipes?” The social darwinists did not even do pseudo-science right, I am saying. If they had been pursuing their pseudo-science to the fullest extent they would have had to establish an objective standard for what was best, and then explain how it was solely a consequence of ‘good breeding’ among the elite.

I am endlessly amused that anyone can look at the products of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha line of humans and see them as superior to any solidly-built non-gormless non-pinhead working class person from anywhere. They are good at wearing military uniforms and giving themselves medals and fancy titles, but when was the last time a Saxe-Coburg-Gotha blood-spawn laid a mile of railroad track? Let’s call laying a mile of railroad track something socially useful, and wearing a bunch of medals and starting WWI and helping start WWII something not particularly socially useful. My explanation here is derived from the post-modernists, who are generally hated by pseudo-scientists, because post-modernism knocks the supports out from their castles in the air by inverting or challenging the assumption that one thing or another is good.

Social Darwinism, in other words, is self-refuting in its own terms, but naturally the social darwinists chose not to see that, because they were of inferior (presumably) stock and weren’t able to think very well. It was an irony of their inferiority that it manifested as them mistaking themselves for superior and being damned hard to talk out of it. But, joking aside, what Social Darwinism was, was an attempt to reify one group’s opinion as being the best thing and then observe that anyone holding that opinion must, therefore, be one of the best people. White supremacist Americans – which is to say all Americans at that time – accepted that being able to force others, through slavery or capitalism, to work for you while you take advantage of your situation and skim off the wealth and leisure – that is the superior thing to do. And, since a lot of white people do that, being white must be superior. That is how Social Darwinists must argue. A rational human would wonder what’s wrong with white people and if there’s something beyond how they are raised, that makes them such assholes. A scientist would notice that, no, there isn’t: being a wealthy powerful asshole is virtually entirely a matter of your starting condition not your breeding.

Another problem with the whole “breeding” thing is that Social Darwinists have to resolutely ignore the fact that there are a lot of princes that knocked up the chamber-maid and that child did not exhibit any monarchial disposition, and that there have been plenty of nobility who may think they spawned their heir but in fact it was the captain of the house-guard who did the nasty with the princess when her chinless, drooling, 60 year-old husband by arranged marriage was face-down drunk somewhere. There is a point to all of this, which is that modern understanding of group inheritance completely explodes Social Darwinism; only a jackass would believe in white supremacy, and many of them do.

Spencer was the Richard Dawkins of his day; let me leave it at that. But it’s true that many people bought his books and the whiter, wealthier ones, felt vindicated in their superiority when they did so – because they didn’t understand that Spencer was selecting for “ignorant motherfucker” not “superior.” Superior men are post-modernists and read Epicurus, I am just saying. But Spencer made massive amounts of money and went about giving speeches in which he asserted his mere opinion as if it were fact, and a lot of people who agreed with that opinion stood up and cheered.

Now, the going gets tough. One of the problems with pseudo-science is that it’s very easy to build on, enhance, and make up more bullshit that fits into an existing body of pseudo-science and it starts to look more and more like established fact. This is a very real phenomenon that accounts for most of popular psychology and is almost certainly the origin of the world’s great religions. So, Spencer’s out there laying intellectual track in the 1890s, and the 1900s become this explosive period of technological and social growth in Europe and North America. Jackasses who made vast fortunes because they were ruthless and lucky, promoted fictions such as “The Gospel of Wealth” which basically said that the wealthy were wealthy because being wealthy is good and therefore they are good people who therefore deserve to be wealthy. I am not making that up; that is basically their argument. Remember: all of this was taking place right before a bunch of the finest blood-lines of Europe demonstrated their good breeding by starting a war that killed 20 million of their subjects and devastated their demesnes. That’s some inspired, superior leadership, for sure. The heads of the ruling houses of Europe were mostly relatives – the Kaiser was Queen Victoria’s nephew – so “blood will tell” apparently means the offspring of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha blood-line should have been drowned when they were kittens. Being able to start the biggest war, ever, and keep the win/loss all in the family is a hallmark of simultaneous superiority and inferiority that none of us can untangle.

But, with the Social Darwinists and the Gospel of Wealth to post-facto rationalize American racism and white supremacy, it wasn’t long before pseudo-science came to fill the vacuum with an explanation of “what is ‘Race’?” Most of this stuff that I am about to go into now is not part of your school curriculum if you’re an American.

If you’re an American or you’re from any part of the world where American imperialism has a strong influence, you’ve probably heard the term “Caucasian.” What is a ‘Caucasian’? And where does the term come from? Well, to Caucasian Americans, it means “white people” because they’re white people and ‘Caucasian’ sounds like a real thing, while “white people” is a bit too obviously goofy. The use of the term, by the way, annoys historically savvy Caucasians – because, like white Americans, they also see themselves as superior: but they’re not white Americans, they’re Persians. I don’t want to get into an argument about the history of civilization with a Persian because they can argue that they invented the shit and, with my ancestry, I would have been considered a “barbarian” by every cultured civilization until about 1200 (even then, my Scandinavian ancestors were: barbarians) Persians were inventing beer, politics, and building giant palaces when the Scandinavians were living in mud huts. Though, admittedly, very nice mud huts. And the big shots had wood halls. Compare the remnants of Persepolis to the ruins of my great-great-great-great grandfather’s farmhouse and it’d be hard for anyone to conclude that Scandinavians were superior. Yet, that’s what white supremacists did. Because, to them, Persians weren’t exactly “white” either. So, the white supremacists began to move the goal-posts around and pretty soon “Caucasians” were people from The Caucasus – Georgia. The people the Ottomans called “Slavs” which means “slave” because they were so superior that the Ottomans liked to trade their women like Magic The Gathering cards. I’m still not sure how white supremacists found supremacy in that, but they did.

Enter: Madison Grant

Madison Grant tried to explain all this stuff, and pull together all of the threads of racist pseudo-science into a coherent pseudo-science of race. I own a copy of his work, The Passing Of The Great Race and it has sat on my desk and in by travel bag off and on since I bought it 3 years ago. My plan was to read it, and explain it to you all, and then you’d understand what race is, and I’d be a hero for reading this stuff and you wouldn’t have to. But every time I opened it, and tried to figure out what the fuck, exactly, Madison Grant was going on about, I just kept having to put the book down because it’s a moderately worth-something antique and I try to respect even bad books. I’m not joking: to understand this, I’d have to quote the whole book to you, and you still wouldn’t understand it because it’s totally bullshit.

Grant goes and cherry-picks through periods of history when so-and-so was being great (which usually meant: violent and imperialistic, not building a beautiful culture and fantastic art) and then frames it with an explanation about hair color and skull size. In Grant’s world, people with neat, round heads, are superior to people with larger heads, unless, you know, they are Goethe, Nietzsche, Caesar, yadda yadda yadda. None of what Grant puts forth is supported with science, except for proof by vigorous assertion – which makes the book particularly dangerous when someone ignorant with dumb opinions reads it and it confirms all their wrong ideas. And, thus, another “conservative intellectual” [Yes, I know- jumbo shrimp, military intelligence, etc.] is created.

Let’s dip our toes in to the shallow waters. The first thing you might notice is the chapter title: “Race, Language, and Nationality.” Grant conflates those three things, reifying them as things that are, rather than ideas. Language is an extremely important idea, of course, but anyone who uses it ought to notice that it evolves, blends, and changes – and the most popular language in any given area is that language that the guys with the guns speak. That doesn’t mean that a language or culture is “superior” it means that they have better guns or are more ruthless or sneaky. Race is, well, it’s whatever Grant is trying to say it is, which is a cherry-picked fistful of concepts from the finest pseudo-science.

The laws which govern the distribution of the various races of man and their evolution through selection are substantially the same as those controlling the evolution and distribution of larger mammals.

Man, however, with his superior mentality has freed himself from many of the conditions that impose restraint upon the expansion of animals. In his case selection through disease and social and economic competition has largely replaced selection through adjustment to the limits of food supply.

Man is the most cosmopolitan of animals and in one form or another thrives in the tropics and in the arctics, at sea level and on high plateaux, in the desert and in the reeking forests of the equator. Nevertheless, the various races of Europe have each a certain natural habitat in which it achieves its highest development.

I think it’s just coincidence that Madison Grant thought people with round heads were smarter. Really. Coincidence.

I think that’s self-refuting. He’s trying to say that some races of humans are superior, because humans have “freed themselves from restraint – except overcoming restraint would be one of those superior traits, right? Wouldn’t a Tibetan Sherpa be an example of a “superior” human because they’re better mountaineers than pale, chinless, Britons? Shit, that’s confusing – Sherpas aren’t white so I guess “being better at climbing mountains” is not a sign of superiority. What about an Inuit, who can live in some pretty freakin’ minimal conditions and is able to hunt seals with a spear – something a typical American pseudo-scientist academic philosopher dipshit can’t do in their wildest dreams. Does that mean that being able to grow a splendid rack of whiskers is the sign of superiority even if the whisker-grower is such a feeble dweeble specimen that they can’t hunt an ice weasel let alone a seal? No. The white supremacist’s (which Madison Grant clearly is) main skill appears to be at moving the goal-posts. By the way, at one point, Grant starts tying intelligence to skull shape (eyeroll, everyone) and decides that neat round heads are the sign of intelligence. Herbert Spencer must have been very successful, I wonder how many lions he killed with a spear? Because, Sherpas and Inuit have notably cute round heads.

Again, this is all good fun, but what is the basis upon which that claim is made, and how is it supported? Well, it’s because you can cherry-pick a bunch of successful people – perhaps even our good host, Madison Grant – and observe that they have round heads: therefore round heads are a sign of a person who will be successful. I’m stunned at the stupidity in these pseudo-scientists who can’t spot a circular argument that’s rounder than their head, when they make one. Madison Grant was considered to be well-educated and a sophisticated philosopher, but he post hoc ergo propter hoc like a motherfucker.

The whole book is this kind of crap, asserted without support and genuinely wrong, besides. The paragraph immediately after the quoted one reads:

The Nordic Habitat
The Nordics appear in their present centre of distribution, the basin of the Baltic, at the close of the Paleolithic, as soon as the retreating glaciers left habitable land. This race was probably at that time in possession of its fundamental characteristics, and its extension from the plains of Russia to Scandinavia was not in the nature of a radical change of environment. The race in consequence, is now, always has been, and probably always will be, adjusted to certain environmental conditions, chief of which is protection from a tropical sun. The actinic rays of the sun at the same latitude are uniform in strength the world over and continuous sunlight affects adversely the delicate nervous organization of the Nordics. The fogs and long winter nights of the North serve as a protection from too much sun and from its too direct rays.

Scarcely less important is the presence of a large amount of moisture but above all a constant variety of temperature is needed. Sharp contrast between night and day temperature and between summer and winter are necessary to maintain the vigor of the Nordic race at a high pitch. Uniform weather, if long continued, lessens its energy. Too great extremes as in midwinter or midsummer in parts of New England are injurious. Limited but constant alternations of heat and cold, of moisture and dryness, of sun and clouds, or calm and cyclonic storms offer the ideal surroundings.

I could go on; it’s almost funny. Again, it’s self-refuting: Grant is claiming that there is some kind of racial preference for certain biomes that has an effect, but he hasn’t noticed that people wear clothing and live and sleep indoors for a reason? If a Nordic actually were affected by lack of contrast between night and day temperature, they would bundle up or put on lighter clothes, and use artificial lighting. Grant acknowledges on one hand that “Man, however, with his superior mentality has freed himself from many of the conditions that impose restraint upon the expansion of animals” and then turns around and ignores what he just said. I think maybe Grant was of inferior stock; this is not complicated thinky stuff going on here.

The poor whites of the Cumberland Mountains in Kentucky and Tennessee present a more difficult problem, because here the altitude, even through moderate, should moderate the effects of latitude and the climate of these mountains cannot be particularly unfavorable to men of Nordic Breed.

The poor whites of Cumberland were trapped in an economic system that made them poor, then the winners of that culture war had to justify their winning by saying that there’s something wrong with the poor whites. Grant has to bend over backwards to come up with fanciful bullshit to explain something that is so completely wrong it doesn’t make any sense. I’m not going to write, “to be fair…” because I am not interested in being fair to Madison Grant – his thinking was hack-work of the purest water. He may have believed, seriously, in what he wrote but he had to know he was just pulling it all out of his butt. How can I say that? Because if he had the slightest shred of understanding, he wouldn’t have believed what he believed.

At the time Grant wrote The Passing of The Great Race humanity didn’t quite know how heritability worked, they were basically going on animal husbandry, which is less sophisticated then Mendelian genetics. But we don’t need to excuse Grant for being too ignorant or lazy to think through what Mendel’s experiments taught – all the stuff that he needed to understand, particularly recessive traits and mutation, were there. Grant was too busy making up great clouds of self-justifying white supremacist nonsense to actually think about things. He can be excused for not knowing, as nobody realized at the time, that all humans come from Kenya, Africa. That, *cough* *cough* presents one hell of a problem for goofy pseudo-scientific theories of race. But Grant did have at his hand, and was educated enough to understand, the history of human civilization. Grant should have been able to read Caesar’s De Bello and realize that something very important happened to the “Gallic Bloodline” in 58-50BC. It’s not just the question of the racial superiority of the Germanics, and the Germanic superiority at warfare (remember: Caesar stomped them flat) but when there’s a massive military genocidal conquest, you can discard any notion of “blood lines.” Today, we could go with blood samples and some DNA sequencing and tell how many Scandinavians are descended from Genghis Khan. We can, actually, do that. But we don’t need to because, statistically, every European has a good chance of being descended from Genghis Khan, and basically anyone who understands basic population genomics and probability knows there is no such thing as a “Scandinavian” or a “Briton” unless you narrowly define it as “Was born within a certain geo-fence” (which is not what racists are thinking about when they are thinking about race). Consider: [NLM]

A counter-clockwise northern route of the Y-chromosome haplogroup N from Southeast Asia towards Europe

A large part of Y chromosome lineages in East European and East Asian human populations belong to haplogroup (hg) NO, which is composed of two sister clades N-M231 and O-M175. The O-clade is relatively old (around 30 thousand years (ky)) and encompasses the vast majority of east and Southeast Asian male lineages, as well as significant proportion of those in Oceanian males. On the other hand, our detailed analysis of hg N suggests that its high frequency in east Europe is due to its more recent expansion westward on a counter-clock northern route from inner Asia/southern Siberia, approximately 12-14 ky ago. The widespread presence of hg N in Siberia, together with its absence in Native Americans, implies its spread happened after the founder event for the Americas. The most frequent subclade N3, arose probably in the region of present day China, and subsequently experienced serial bottlenecks in Siberia and secondary expansions in eastern Europe. Another branch, N2, forms two distinctive subclusters of STR haplotypes, Asian (N2-A) and European (N2-E), the latter now mostly distributed in Finno-Ugric and related populations. These phylogeographic patterns provide evidence consistent with male-mediated counter-clockwise late Pleistocene-Holocene migratory trajectories toward Northwestern Europe from an ancestral East Asian source of Paleolithic heritage.

I wish someone could have a seance and read that to Madison Grant’s ghost. I’m going to translate the scientific terminology into language that an early 20th-century white supremacist could understand: “It says you’re wrong.”

If I am reading it correctly, it says that some Scandinavians got to Scandinavia, mixed and intermarried with other Scandinavians who were already in Scandinavia, and then some of them, or their descendants, wended their way to China. Madison Grant cannot be forgiven for ignoring the genetic effect of “trade routes”, which was also knowledge available to him in his time. To a modern person with some understanding of population genomics that’s an “interesting but not unexpected result” but to Madison Grant, that’s the distant scream of all of his theories, dying. But don’t spare him any sympathy, because he had to have known he was cheating: he writes about the Nordics as if they just appeared there, after the ice age ended, and, um, that’s it. They just appeared there and they were Nordic. Ta Da! That’s how Madison Grant explains the Nordics: they fucking appeared there. Even under Grant’s goofy theories, there should be a non-biblical explanation for how a “race” is created.

Nowadays we know it was a bit more complicated than that Nordics simply appeared: Nordics come from around the area of Olduvai Gorge in Kenya. Those Kenyans took 70,000 years, but eventually they became Nordics. Nowadays there are cool maps of various human migrations once they decided to expand out of Olduvai Gorge, and we know that a lot of Nordics came via what’s now China, and then looped up over what’s now Northern Russia and wound up in Scandinavia. But, really, who gives a fuck? Nobody should give a fuck, because – thanks to modern genomics and population genetics, we know it’s not fuck-worthy.

The next part of the piece is that Grant Doesn’t explain a theory of superiority. I’ve never encountered a white supremacist who does, because it’s actually something they are too stupid to handle. Just kidding. They don’t understand the problem, which I alluded to earlier: how do we define as “superior” the tail-end of the Saxe-Gotha-Coburg line of upper class twits, or the Irish railway builder who can lay track? What is “superior”? The length of a person’s name? The brawn of their arm? The pedigree of their noble blood? I could probably do a fair performance of raising the ghost of my Irish half and start foaming at the mouth that the Irish warrior is the descendant of Cú Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster, and a freakin’ demi-god who could definitely punch the shit out of all the scions of the Saxe-Gotha-Coburgs. The point is that there’s a question: is punching the shit out of people the definition of success, or is it being able to single-handedly take down a tiger with a spear, or survive in heat or cold instead of the endless chilly fog of some British castle? Is the definition of success being able to paint like Caravaggio? Nietzsche, and probably Hitler, if you caught them off guard would have possibly agreed that the definition of success was to be a great opera-writer like Wagner. Wagner was pretty good but Bob Dylan has since left him in the dust. I’m being silly but please let me remind you: Germans at the time held up Wagner as an example of the superiority of German culture. Did Wagner make Germans look good, or was Wagner good because of his German blood?

What is the definition of success? Is it being able to survive British cuisine, or being able to invent Thai cuisine? Is the definition of success social durability? If so, I guess the Chinese (who are actually an ethnically diverse collective, apparently including some lost Scandinavians) are the superiors, though the Persians might contest that. It’s just funny to me, and by “funny” I mean “not funny at all” how white Americans managed to convince themselves they were superior to anyone given what a bunch of ignorant johnny-come-latelies they are on the world stage. White Americans are a flickering blink in the river of time, compared to the Persians or some of the Chinese. Meanwhile, what is a definition of “superior” that does not include, “oh, we were the ancestors of all humans”? The Kenyans should be, I say, riding a lot higher than they do. “Hey, what did you white Southern Americans ever accomplish except figuring out that you could force Black people to do your job? Does that not make the Black person, who did your job, superior to you?” I’m being silly, but that’s a serious, legitimate, question that the white supremacists utterly fail to address.

But Grant hasn’t even begun to work his fail-shovel. See if you can make any sense out of this:

There was plenty of mixture with the Negroes as the light olor of many Negroes abundantly testifies, but those mulattoes, quadroons, or octaroons were then and are now universally regarded as Negroes. [Oh, really?]

There was also abundant cross breeding along the frontiers between the white frontiersman and the Indian squaw, but the half-breed was everywhere regarded as a member of the inferior race.

In the Catholic colonies, however, of New France and New Spain, if the half-breed were a good Catholic he was regarded as a Frenchman or a Spaniard, as the case might be. This fact alone gives the clew to many of our colonial wars where the Indians, other than the Iroquois, were persuaded to join the French against the Americans by half-breeds who considered themselves Frenchmen. The Church of Rome has everywhere used its influence to break down racial distinctions. It disregards origins and only requires obedience to the mandates of the universal church.

The whole book is like this. It just veers like a drunk-driver from one bit of made-up asserted bullshit to another, and it doesn’t even bother to address where it contradicts itself, or common sense. It’s the places where it fails to address common sense objections to Grant’s fanciful theories, where it really hurts its case the most. I.e.:, to the paragraph above, “So what if some bunch of fucking Spaniards consider a half-breed to be inferior? What is your criterion of superiority, how do you measure it, and how do you connect that to outcomes?” It’s an embarrassing fact that a lot of white supremacist Americans consider the Spanish to be inferior. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s their mistake. I actually had a completely surreal conversation with an American white supremacist who made some very derisive comments about the Spanish and I said, “How can you say that? Spain ruled 8 million square miles, at one time. How much land did your people rule?” See, the game is to violently and suddenly move the goal-posts on the white supremacist, ridiculing their idea of what “supremacy” is. “What is it white people are particularly good at, other than growing neck-beards and mullets? You guys don’t even have an ethnic cuisine, unless you want to say it’s “fast food”!”

If you push an American white supremacist far enough, they may get truthy. What are American white people good at? Violence. Spectacular and ruthless violence, usually well-armed whites against unarmed people of color. And they’re really good at stealing other people’s shit. They call it “capitalism” but really that’s just a fancy name for stealing other people’s shit, and they know it. Mention that to an American white supremacist, in those terms, and generally they are not educated enough to respond, to they may threaten with the ruthless violence.

Grant was also a phrenologist – he was one of those pseudo-scientists who believed skull shape and volume equated to intelligence (and that intelligence equated to “success” in spite of the obvious contradicting evidence of the Gotha-Saxe-Coburgs who remain with us today) I am not going to bore you with the pages on pages of stuff about skull roundness and volume, because it’s all stuff that he appears to have just made up. And nobody appears to have asked him, “if skull roundness indicates intelligence, are you admitting the women are smarter than men?” The jokes write themselves, really. Yet Grant’s compilation of drivel was tremendously influential in its time, and his goofy theories encouraged the racist US government to establish race-based quotas on immigration. It was a thin gloss of varnish on a base of mere skin color – because skin color is really all there is that a racist can base their theories upon, especially now that we understand population genomics. Put differently: how many Mongols were not allowed into the US because of immigration restrictions on Chinese? Or how many Roman-descended Britons were welcomed with open arms because they thought they were some kind of Britons but were actually partially not? It’s absurd and it ought to have been obvious to anyone who thought about this stuff.

The US Government got in on the act, compiling books of tables of who descended from whom where and what – based on Grant’s work. In other words: junk science expansion on more junk science. But this crap was taken seriously, because white supremacists are serious about their supremacy, so these theories became the basis for public policy. That is a topic for another time, but, yes, Michel Foucault was right when he said that you cannot objectively analyze anything in a power structure, without taking into account how the power structure distorts your perceptions. That’s post-modernism, but nowadays it’s the core of Critical Race Theory, which is a topic for another posting. It’s a good example, though: you cannot understand the first fucking thing about labor in the US in the 1920s without understanding the effect of Madison Grant’s bullshit theories of race on immigration policy, and therefore the literal composition of American society, and how labor interacted with capital. That’s just the first layer, though: bullshit like Grant’s was used to define what a “Chinese” person is and was and it was socially important because “Chinese” people were not able to testify in court against a white person. When we talk about “endemic racism” in Critical Race Theory or post-modern critiques of American civilization, it is impossible to talk about virtually anything to do with American civilization without taking race into account. And you know who’s to blame for that? Yeah: white supremacist Americans, who built their civilization around their broke-minded idea of race in order to maintain their social superiority (money and power) over everyone else. It sure as shit wasn’t the Black people’s idea to build American civilization around race, but even they cannot talk about America without having to address the fact that America is structurally racist and white supremacy perfuses every damn thing. Not “everything it touches”: everything. Because America is Racism. You can see in every way, how bullshit like Madison Grant was treated as sufficiently sciency to base immigration policy on it. Where does the term “Caucasian” come from? Have you ever been in a hospital or, whatever, and had your race marked down as “Caucasian” and wondered, “where did that come from?” Madison Grant made it up. And, no, you’re not Persian. Apologies to the Persians but there has been so much human wash back and forth that nobody can say “I’m a Persian.” Dude, you may be a Mongol (they got down there, and everywhere the Mongols went, they left Mongol children) or Italian or … you should not give a fuck.

I particularly like that they try to make distinctions between Bulgarians, Serbo Croatians, Tartars, Old Russians, etc. Nobody is any of those things, or everybody is a little bit of all of them, and we’re all Kenyans.

Tragically, this stuff was taken seriously. So seriously that it influenced US immigration policy. And there was another way it was taken seriously. There was a deranged anti-semite who wrote, in his book Mein Kampf that Madison Grant’s book was like a bible to him. I know it’s popular American propaganda that Hitler was the horrible person who was the brains behind the Holocaust, but his inspiration was not original. His anti-semitism came from Christianity – both Catholicism and Lutheranism at that time were flaming racists. And his goofy racial theories – basically the “one drop rule” for Jews – that came from goofy racial white supremacist American theories. What I’m saying is that: good old American white supremacists taught Adolph Hitler how to racism. Madison Grant doesn’t recommend killing specific racial groups, but his whole view of the world as a swirling map of imiscible races is where Hitler got all that bullshit about “lebensraum” – basically, if you handed a nutjob a copy of Madison Grant and asked them, “what do you think we should do about this?” they’d come back with the kind of stuff Hitler came up with. This is how a post-modernist would say that you cannot understand the Third Reich without taking into account American racism. Sure, it’s not 100% made in USA, but when a bunch of the important ideas that make up its framework were drawn from American white supremacy, you can hardly say it’s all Hitler’s Fault. I don’t think any of us want to get into an argument whether it’s 1% or 20% or 100% – it’s not a chart that anyone should want to be on. Yet, when Americans defend “conservative values” – i.e.: any American idea from the past – it is impossible for that not to be racist, because everything in the American past is touched by this evil thing. And, everything that touched it, ad infinitum.

And that’s all I think I need to say on the topic of Madison Grant.

By the way, I have an oddly long, narrow head. I guess it has a fairly typical volume but it’s hard to find a hat that fits. Does this mean I am superior or not? I have done well in the world – is that a result of the shape of my head, or that I was fortunate to have great parents who gave me a lot of opportunities, and I was born white in a white supremacist society? Yeah, it’s my fucking head-shape.

In terms of genetic “success” Genghis Khan is the all-time champion so far, unless – ooops – no, it’s Mitochondrial Eve. Who was one of the first Black Women, from whom most of humanity descended. If white supremacists weren’t ignorant they’d have to confront and figure a way of re-arranging their goalposts around the fact of Mitochondrial Eve.

With the advent of global climate change, people with more melanin in their skin will be better prepared to survive the heat and sun. Black people may be superior, after all. That raises another topic I avoided going on and on about, but: what if “superiority” is only a temporary local condition? How, then, do we say one race is superior to any other? Obviously, it’s all situational. And that’s why post-modernism is like salt thrown on a slug, when a white supremacist encounters it.

Andrew Carnegie was a descendant of generations of Scottish shit-farmers, who became fabulously wealthy through insider trading and screwing his workers. After amassing a great fortune, he concluded that there must be something special about him to account for his success. Why, then, didn’t Carnegie explain his father’s success – of which, unfortunately, there was none. Or any of his other ancestors’ success? Here’s a theory: some Mongol had sex with Carnegie’s mother when his father was not looking, and Carnegie was actually a chip off the old Ghengis Khan. How’s that for a theory? It’s not any more or less stupid than some of Madison Grant’s.


  1. John Morales says

    Wow. A lot to get through, I’ve only skimmed. Good post, hard not to nod along.

    You could take a British lord and raise them among Irish railway-workers and there’s something about the lord’s “blood” that would tell – their superior breeding would come to the surface, etc.


  2. says

    John Morales@#1:
    You could take a British lord and raise them among Irish railway-workers and there’s something about the lord’s “blood” that would tell – their superior breeding would come to the surface, etc.

    I read that when I was a kid and thought Burroughs was laying it on a bit thick about the British – for a guy from Chicago.
    Burroughs seemed to want to make his characters’ identities based on blood aristocracy: John Carter was a “Southern Gentleman” who fought on the lost cause in the Civil War, and Carter did sure like some slaughtering.

  3. Ice Swimmer says

    The actinic rays of the sun at the same latitude are uniform in strength the world over and continuous sunlight affects adversely the delicate nervous organization of the Nordics. The fogs and long winter nights of the North serve as a protection from too much sun and from its too direct rays.

    What about the long summer days (circa 19 hours now at 60° N, sunrise at 3:53 and sunset at 22:49)?

    AFAIK, the mitochondrial DNA lineages show that the female lines migrated to Europe using different routes from the male lines. I’m not very sure of this, but it would make some sense, as the Westermarck effect hinders people from forming couples with people who they grew up with.

    Apart from E.R. Burroughs, the English children’s books I read (as translations, mostly the Famous Five and others by Blyton as well as Jennings by Buckeridge, a lot of them were translated into Finnish and at one point quite popular) were all about Englishmen being most the intelligent in the world. I’ve only in the recent years come to begin to realize just how widespread white supremacism, racism and colonialist attitudes are and have been in the culture.

    The popular culture is on one level, Spencer and Grant are on another. The racialist and eugenistic ideas even spread to countries which didn’t have colonies. The treatment of the Saami here was definitely racist in the past and while it’s better now, there is still plenty of stuff that’s problematic and many people deny that there are any problems.

  4. says

    good old American white supremacists taught Adolph Hitler how to racism

    There’s an argument for not traveling back in time and killing Hitler: If you do and the Nazis are set back in Germany, there’ll be no push to dissuade America from following that path itself. National interests overriding racist sentiments may have saved us from a much worse timeline, where Italy, America, and Britain all team up as the Nazi Alliance. It could even have pushed the war forward, to the point where you’d see nuclear weapons actually used in warfare.

    Excuse me, I have to go write a dystopian alt-history novel.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    My father spent most of his life working on our family genealogy; he wrote several books on the subject and was acknowledged as THE expert by the extended family. And it all seems like an incredible waste of time. Like you say, especially when you focus on the male line, with each generation, there is a finite chance (geneticists rate at 1-2%) that the father is not the person it’s recorded as being. Go up the line ten or twelve generations and a break almost becomes a certainty. So genealogy isn’t tracing bloodlines in any meaningful sense of the word; the only thing it’s tracing is the passing on of a name.
    When they dug up the bones of Richard III from a Leicester car park, they definitively proved that at least one of his great- or great-great-grandmothers fooled around on her husband. The entire concept of heredity is nothing but a sham.

  6. rblackadar says

    Marcus, I accuse you of inconsistency! Chinlessness is a skull trait, shame on you for bringing that up as if it has anything to do with one’s ability to climb mountains. Except perhaps, as one might imagine, in the most desperate of circumstances.

    Seriously, a very nice post, thanks. And thanks in particular for providing a readable photo of Grant’s page 16. One page is enough.

    Wikipedia says that the term “Caucasian”, as applied to race, first appeared in the 1780’s so I doubt that Grant was its sole originator in the American scene.

  7. says

    rblackadar @#7:
    Wikipedia says that the term “Caucasian”, as applied to race, first appeared in the 1780’s so I doubt that Grant was its sole originator in the American scene.

    Whups! Shit! I’ll go read up on that. I thought it was Grant all along, but it may be that he was simply its popularizer.

    Chinlessness is a skull trait, shame on you for bringing that up as if it has anything to do with one’s ability to climb mountains. Except perhaps, as one might imagine, in the most desperate of circumstances.

    I reserve the right to move the goal-posts to any position I feel suits. This is scientific Calvinball, welcome to the jungle.

  8. says

    My father spent most of his life working on our family genealogy; he wrote several books on the subject and was acknowledged as THE expert by the extended family. And it all seems like an incredible waste of time.

    Yeah, I’m afraid that any geneaology that is not based on DNA analysis is probably aspirational. That’s the bad news. The good news is: you may be descended from Ghengis Khan!!

    When 23andme started up, I was one of their early clients (and was in the National Geographic human diaspora project, too) – now 23andme is doing some work looking for dangerous gene complexes that have health consequences, but mostly I signed up in order to smile at the distant screams of white supremacists. Never mind the obvious fact that we’re all Kenyans, some of these guys are seriously not happy when they find out there was a mongol in the woodpile. (By the way, not to belabor the point, but: there are no Germans, anymore, after what the Red Army did in WWII. There are a bunch of partial Russians and Mongols who speak German and – sure – there are a few “pure Germans” whatever that means)

  9. rblackadar says

    Marcus: *This is scientific Calvinball, welcome to the jungle.*

    Oh dear, that last word — outmoded and with unpleasant connotations. I think you mean “reeking forests of the equator.”

  10. Jörg says

    Marcus @#10:

    there are no Germans, anymore

    That’s ok. As long as you speak German, English, or have a Universal Translator, I consider you to be a neighbour. … I might draw a line at Ferengis, though.

  11. mikey says

    “Now, the going gets tough. One of the problems with pseudo-science is that it’s very easy to build on, enhance, and make up more bullshit that fits into an existing body of pseudo-science and it starts to look more and more like established fact.”

    The Brothers Magliozzi used to say something like, ‘Two guys who know absolutely nothing about a particular subject, together collectively know even less about said subject, than each individually.’ A concise synthesis.

  12. dashdsrdash says

    Phrenology has an interesting corollary: since be definition Royal heads are better than common heads, whatever shape a Royal head is must be better. One would naively think that this is largely a matter of genetics, but it turns out that around the period we are discussing, a new environmental factor was introduced: forceps.

    …so effective in extracting live babies that they were kept secret.

    One of the common side-effects of using these, especially the early forceps, was semi-permanent deformation of the head.

    They also ushered in a new era of medicalization: prior to forceps, there wasn’t much that a doctor could do in a hospital that a midwife couldn’t do in a bedroom. Suddenly pregnancy became medical! Which is to say, profitable.

  13. Steve Morrison says

    IIRC it was Johann Blumenbach who invented the concept of the “Caucasian” race; Stephen Jay Gould wrote an article about him called “The Geometer of Race.”

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    … one of those pseudo-scientists who believed skull shape and volume equated to intelligence …

    As a teen and earlier, I used to read a lot of old “boys’ adventures” stories, along with early science fiction (HG Wells, AA Merritt, et al) and was struck by how often characters were described as “brachycephalic” or “dolichocephalic” – without explanation, as if authors expected readers to recognize such terms routinely. But it didn’t take long to figure out the brachy-heads (always socially, and usually morally) outranked the dolicho-heads.

  15. rblackadar says

    #15, indeed Gould is good on this stuff, maybe I should take another look at “The Mismeasure of Man” sometime.

    The thing about the OP, what I really really love about it, is how it goes directly to what makes white supremacy all a load of horseshit. Folks like Sam Harris love to argue for hours over whether Gould is right or wrong, what the bell curves and twin studies mean, whether the Flynn effect applies, etc. And Marcus cuts through that Gordian Knot with one blow.

    The point isn’t that brown people “can be awesome too” — more awesome than Grant and his ilk thought (and continue to think). Well-meaning white people who point this out, but go no further, run the risk of condescension and are missing the main point.

    The point is not even that white people — with chins or without — are not all that awesome after all.

    It’s simply that — in terms of inheritance — there are no white people.

    Let’s be open to accept awesomeness in everybody. Because, we are everybody.

  16. rblackadar says

    @#17, while I was patting myself on the back for such an awesome comment, I started to become more and more unhappy with it.

    The word “risks” (as in risks condescension) was one I struggled with; in retrospect, “smacks of” is closest to the meaning I intended, but “is” would’ve been best. It is an example of the space racism that Kendi writes about in his book. Sorry to fall into that trap even as I was (insufficiently) rejecting it, but I guess everyone falls into such traps sometimes, given our society. Of course that was another important point of the OP.

    Thanks for the Kendi recommendation, btw, and the audiobook in particular. Awesome.

  17. aquietvoice says

    Huzzah! Finally came back and read this rather mammoth post in full. In response, I have to say….


    ….ok, I’ve got a few more things to say. A couple of minor points, then something more substantial.

    Minor Point 1: A lot of the people who are “descended from Genghis Khan” may not actually be – his first son was born about nine months after he rescued his wife from the people who had enslaved him, so it’s never been entirely clear if there was a genetic throughline. As far as Genghis Khan was concerned, the child was his son no matter what, and no-one challenged him on it for obvious reasons.

    Minor Point 2: On a much sadder note, as far as I know Hitler drew on a lot of different sources for awfulness, including the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman turks. It’s hard to check, though, because I honestly don’t want to read mein kampf.

    Ok, so here’s the main response:
    It’s good that we can understand and trace the construction and propagation of the “intellectual” portions of racism like you have here.
    Did reading this frustrate you? Yes. Did people inflict enormous amounts of pain using this crap? Sure.

    However, the more I understand of racism in its entirety the more I’ve come to think that these entire narratives, constructions, ideas and identities have common flaws and weaknesses – not in the logical sense, though that is true as well – but in the actual emotional-cognitive processing sense.

    I’ve got so much floating around in my mind, so much known about narrative replacement versus challenge, how ideas and ideologies are constructed and maintained, how racism functions, what it does on a small and large scale, from meta narratives down to heuristic responses.

    I’ve never been able to put it all together, not yet, but every time I learn about this kind of thing – really *learn*, it becomes a little clearer and a little closer.
    After so long I’m actually starting to feel the beginnings of hope – maybe a future is coming where myself and many others will be able to talk it all over and rewrite so much of the garbage that is eating away at us all.
    So, uh, thanks!

  18. aquietvoice says

    @John Morales, #20:
    Yes! And so much more. There are a lot of different forms and components, systematic and by omission, by design as law and by association, intellectual to identity and more more more.

    That said, for all the many, many expressions there are a few common elements – more than just common between the different expressions, but common between all the forms of othering (or tribalism, as I think you call it).

    There are nearly infinite expressions of racism & othering, but they aren’t isolated and they aren’t so unique.
    Think about it – how many times have you seen the crap Marcus quoted, but about women? Or about different religions? Or LGBT people?

    Now ask the question: are there ways of being – ways of learning about and understanding the world – that make it more difficult to take on those kind of narratives?

    I think there are. I think that encouraging people to think about and re-interpret their group membership and what it means to them as a matter of course rather than in special circumstances gives people the tools to be able to confront their group-based identities, which gives them the choices and options to rethink racism and any other form of othering.

    I mean, I have much more to say on this, but you can get the gist right? Othering is such a common everyday occurrence that we tell ourselves “there will always be tribalism, there will always be othering”, but we also know that people can process their groups and categories of identity in far more healthy ways – healthy versus toxic masculinity, for example.

    There’s a better way out there, and I intend to give the option to take it to everyone who wants it.

  19. says

    Marcus @#10

    The good news is: you may be descended from Ghengis Khan!!

    How is that good news? Why should a person enjoy knowing that one of their ancestors was raped by a murderous asshole who killed and raped countless people?

  20. says

    Andreas Avester@#22:
    How is that good news? Why should a person enjoy knowing that one of their ancestors was raped by a murderous asshole who killed and raped countless people?

    That’s the flip-side, yes.
    Some people are proud of their ancestors. Usually in terms of how successful they were at murdering people in war, ’tis true. I’ve never encountered someone who was proud of their ancestor who lived an unassuming, quiet, trouble-free existence.

  21. says

    Minor Point 1: A lot of the people who are “descended from Genghis Khan” may not actually be – his first son was born about nine months after he rescued his wife from the people who had enslaved him, so it’s never been entirely clear if there was a genetic throughline.

    True. Ghenghis Khan was pretty thorough about protecting his genetic legacy, though. Can we agree that it would be pretty ironic if it wasn’t the great khan who was the genetic supernova and was, instead, some nobody? That would be funny.

    Minor Point 2: On a much sadder note, as far as I know Hitler drew on a lot of different sources for awfulness, including the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman turks.

    True. I don’t think I overstated the case that Madison Grant was a strong influence – given that Hitler, himself, said so. But of course there were a lot of other influences. Cue discussion on: “European systemic anti-semitism”

    Did reading this frustrate you? Yes. Did people inflict enormous amounts of pain using this crap? Sure.

    I do those exercises because I want to verify for myself that the thinking is obviously bad. If reading Madison Grant makes me immediately /facepalm so hard it leaves bruises, then it tells me that the “thinkers” who rely on “scientific racism” are shamming – nobody’d buy this crap as ‘science’. So, then what? Well, they’ve been ideologized and propagandized in a different way. The consequences, which are historical, are fixed but the analysis is not. It seems obvious, to me, when I read things like this, that some books should be banned. That offends my liberal sensibilities, but this stuff is toxic.

    However, the more I understand of racism in its entirety the more I’ve come to think that these entire narratives, constructions, ideas and identities have common flaws and weaknesses

    OK so – do you remember a few years ago when Richard Carrier started saying that he had a proof of objective morality and challenged everyone to tangle with him and dissect his proof? My challenge was “how do you tell it from your opinion?” That’s basically The Dude’s nihilism (“that’s just, like, your opinion man.”) Anyhow, it’s been a subject of concern for me for a long time – I think, as in “strongly believe” that all of these systems are a means of reifying and ratifying our opinions. If that’s true, then we don’t actually know a fucking thing about anything, it’s all just, like, some dude’s stupid idea. I actually think that understanding that is important because it deflates authoritarian claims really fast. Being the king is just some guy’s opinion of how a power structure should be arranged and I don’t agree, etc.

  22. aquietvoice says

    @Marcus, #24:
    Yes! Or more accurately, sorta?
    The approach I’m putting together isn’t about disbelieving things per se, but rather being able to bounce from viewpoint to viewpoint, and knowing that none of them will ever be complete.

    For instance, with monarchy, it’s a good spot to learn about how situationally stable systems often crush the ones we might like (such as democracy), and the problems that come with using a single leader, no matter how well intentioned , and the relative speeds, pros and cons of concentrating power versus spreading it out.

    It’s not about just saying “fuck the monarchy”, per se, it’s giving people the tools to talk about the power systems they experience in different ways. To continue the example, learning about monarchy is a good introduction to being able to ask “What powers do we want to confer on the president? What ones do we want to be based on committee? And what kinds of committees do we want? How are the people chosen for them?”

    I mean, there’s a lot to it, and there’s the meta-problem of convincing people to make these ideas fluid in the first place.
    But I really think that once people can really talk to each other about the law, their leaders, their bosses, et cetera, they can really work together to get what they want.

    Which is as far as I can take any of this – I don’t actually know what’s good or bad or whatever, but I figure that if people are able to find out about their options and execute on them that could be good.

    The takeaway of all this, I guess, is that we aren’t ignorant of everything, but we only have fundamentally limited ideas that only really work in given regions of circumstance – and that if people were used to switching between them, they might find it easier to challenge their ideas and extract what’s most important to them. No need to protect their ideas so much any more, but still able to work with the challenges they have within an ideological framework that makes sense of it.

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