Classification is an essential element of the thinking process of post-logical times. We conceptualize human beings as belonging to different classes as soon as we distinguish males from females, parents from children, old from young, one generation from the next, the “have” from the “have not”, the liberals from the conservatives, etc. Classes are simplistic mental configurations. Racism, the conscious attempt to rationalize global inferiority of human groups on the basis of physical and psychological traits, is a modern phenomenon that takes more amplitude by the day, even after the National Socialist holocaust. It was by no means present in early history and is traced to the use of a classificative logic that simplistically opposes differences instead of reconciling them. Some civilizations, as India, have been up till today immune to this simplistic logic but India begins to succumb to it and, for the first time since independence, has elected a nationalistic government.
For a biologist, races are what fire, earth, water and air are to a chemist: a primitive concept, a gross oversimplification of reality, still convenient to use. Most of the existing genetic variables vary without concordance, so that considering the frequency of one genetic trait, one would consider some human groups as closely related, whereas on the basis of other traits they fall far apart. If one looks closely at what is abusively lumped together in the “Negro race”, one finds slender people (Ethiopians, Masai), small people (pygmies), thin-lipped people (Ethiopians), Semitic-nosed people (Papua), wavy-haired people (Vedas) and even blond people (Melanesians, Kanakas and Australian Aborigines). Ainus (fig 14.9) are white people living in the north of Japan but closely related to Japanese.
Figure 14.9. Aïnus are white, with a lot of hair. They are considered a white primitive stock. However, their blood group shows them to be closely related to the yellow races among which they survive.
In Rwanda, the genocide of the slender, tall Tutsi by the small Hutus in 1994 was justified by the contention that the tall Tutsi were a nilotic population who had occupied the land in recent times and dominated unjustifiably by sheer brutality the indigenous vulnerable bantu population. This is false. The morphological difference between the small Hutus and the tall Tutsi is traced to the fact that the Tutsi are herdsmen and the Hutu agriculturists. The living style and diet of both communities were sufficient to provoke morphological changes even if the two races are genetically indistinguishable.
The true raison for the genocide is french paranoia obsessed by nuclear power. In 1985, the French President F. Mitterand ordered the sinking of “The Rainbow warrior”, flagship of the organization Greenpeace, because Greenpeace opposed French nuclear essays in the Pacific. Nine years later, the same Mitterand ordered the massive killing of Tutsi’s because some of these had learned English: Mitterand feared that Anglo-American machiavellism would influence them to persuade the Gabon not to deliver anymore to France the uranium it needs for the development of its nuclear arsenal and power plants.
Our contemporary conception of race relies on biological views developed during the 19th century 3, essentially by Haekel who had established a parallel between the development of individual organisms and the hierarchy of species 4. During embryonic development, a human embryo passes from a stage where it mimics a coelenterate, a worm, a tadpole, moving up to the morphological aspect of an embryonic reptile, ending up with the features of an embryonic vertebrate which culminate with the embryonic characteristics of his own species. Each embryo of a developing organism, from the stage of egg and gamete to the mature adult, mirrors the increase in complexity in the phylogenetic order.
Three Germanic scientists stand out in the development of the idea that human races are likewise gradated. The Dane Henrik Steffens (1773-1845) lectured that nitrogen defines the Negroid race. This race corresponds to childhood and mirrors the South, i.e. Africa. Oxygen defines the Malaysian race, corresponding to youth. It mirrors the East and corresponds to Asia. Carbon defines the Mongolian race (comprising the European), corresponding to maturity and the North (Europe and Siberia). Hydrogen defines the American race corresponding to old age, the West and America. By Steffens’ logic, culture recapitulates mankind: the true purpose of mankind is cultural evolution, of which race is the vehicle. Steffens’ asinine thoughts were expressed ex cathedra without any objections from his peers and had an immense appeal, including on Karl Marx. Gustav Carus (1789-1869) classified races according to light: the Europeans were children of daylight, the Asians of eastern twilight, the Americans of western twilight and the Africans and Australians of night. Cultural progress marched from east to west and only the people of the daylight could conceive of beauty, love and truth. Goethe apparently agreed with the silly views of his friend. For Gustav Klemm (1802-1867), there are two kinds of people: the active, strong and manly, and the passive, weak and womanly. According to Klemm, the Europeans recapitulate all stages of cultural evolution from savagery to freedom and enliven the entire world.
These anthropologists had blended the traditional politically correct social concept of hierarchy with the concept of biological recapitulation developed by Haeckel. They recognized a chain of cultural development based on hierarchy, which moved according to an orderly inner logic from the natural to the social. This view of race soon clashed with the theory of Darwin that was impregnated by the Victorian idea that what matters is not the place one occupies in a social hierarchy but the achievements an individual reaches. Darwin shifted emphasis from form to function: what mattered was not what species were but what they did. In addition, Darwin made clear that individual organisms merely serve as the instruments of evolution. Darwinian evolution is a dynamic process.