Friday, June 10, 2011

Peasants: Bad. Elites: Good. Catholics: Bad. Atheists: Good.

This series of blog posts travels inside the mind of an anti-Polish bigot. Much of this is discussed in "Bieganski," a book that offers an x-ray into the anatomy and physiology of bigotry.

1.) The first post offers an introduction.

2.) The second post discusses the concept of universal human progress, its nineteenth century refiners, and its modern-day adherents.

3.) The third post points out echoes of ideas of universal human progress in discussions of Polish-Jewish relations, and points out that these echoes are fallacies.

4.) The fourth post mentions facts that prove the bigots wrong. Polish peasants are entirely capable of ethical behavior.

5.) The fifth post points out that Polish moral leaders responded appropriately to atrocity. Polonia has not adequately communicated their story, and their efforts have been all but forgotten.

***
Those who invest in the Brute Polak stereotype often believe, consciously or unconsciously, in the concept of universal human progress. Universal human progress is the conviction that an unseen hand inexorably improves the world.

Universal human progress is associated with French philosopher Auguste Comte, the founder of sociology. Comte theorized that humanity moved through three phases of progress with religion at the bottom and science at the top.

Universal human progress is also associated with Karl Marx, who taught that history would inevitably create the worker's paradise.

It's also associated with Charles Darwin and evolution.

Universal human progress is also associated with E. B. Tylor, "The Father of Anthropology," who placed human beings on an evolutionary ladder, with religious peasants near the bottom. Tylor argued that all humans were evolving along the same unilineal ladder that would, eventually, mean their reaching the pinnacle of being something like himself, the fully evolved human, a secular, scientific, Victorian gentleman. Darwin influenced Tylor, and Tylor, in turn, influenced Sigmund Freud.

Tylor was open in his contempt for "savages" and "peasants." He says that "it would turn a man's stomach" to have to look at an Irish peasant woman "before breakfast."

Tylor sneered at peasants and savages who insisted on clinging to traditional beliefs:

"It is quite wonderful, even if we hardly go below the surface of the subject, to see how large a share stupidity and unpractical conservatism and dogged superstition have had in preserving for us traces of the history of our race, which practical utilitarianism would have remorselessly swept away. The savage is firmly, obstinately conservative … We smile at the Chinese appealing against modern innovation to the golden precepts of Confucius."

"The human intellect in its early childlike state may be assigned the origin and first development of myth … Myth has been checked [stopped] by science."

Of course, nowadays, with China on the rise, Confucian values are not so easy to laugh at; rather, Confucian values are credited with the success of East Asian "model minorities" on American college campuses.

***

Sigmund Freud, influenced by Tylor, believed that he could gain insight into modern day mentally ill people by studying people from the past and primitive people, all of whom were inferior in that they were not sane, modern, urban, adult, formally educated atheist males, like him. In this evolutionary worldview, children and women are inferior to adult males in the same way that primitive people and peasants are inferior to modern people, that religious people are inferior to atheists, and in the same way that an amoeba is inferior to, but the evolutionary precursor of, a human being.

Here's Freud from "Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics" one of the most flamboyantly ridiculous and racist books ever written:

"There are men still living who, as we believe, stand very near to primitive man...their mental life must have a peculiar interest for us if we are right in seeing in it a well-preserved picture of an early stage of our own development.

If that supposition is correct, a comparison between the psychology of primitive peoples, as it is taught by social anthropology, and the psychology of neurotics, as it has been revealed by psycho-analysis, will be bound to show numerous points of agreement and will throw new light upon familiar facts in both sciences."

Freud overtly outlines E. B. Tylor's three-stage development of humans from inferior, child-like, religious savages and peasants to barbarians to modern, adult, atheist humans many times. Here's just one example:

The animistic phase would correspond to narcissism both chronologically and in its content; the religious phase would correspond to the stage of object choice of which the characteristic is a child's attachment to his parents; while the scientific phase would have an exact counterpart in the stage at which an individual has reached maturity, has renounced the pleasure principle, adjusted himself to reality and turned to the external world for the object of his desires (Freud 90).

Religion is a mental disorder of inferior, unevolved people. Atheists are evolved, and are superior.

Applications of Darwinism to human societies were not always as optimistic as Freud's and Tylor's. Some who applied Darwin argued that lower races would always remain lower races, that evolution would never allow them to catch up to the higher races. These thinkers, too, saw Christianity as their enemy. Christianity, especially Catholicism, preached the doctrine of human equality. Scientific racists saw this idea as pernicious and destructive as "small pox."

"Bieganski" quotes American Scientific Racist Madison Grant's "Passing of the Great Race," which blamed Christianity for introducing ideas of human equality. Hitler identified Grant's book as his "bible." Grant wrote: "Before eugenics were understood much could be said from a Christian … view-point in favor of indiscriminate charity … [now we know charity does] more injury to the race than black death or smallpox."

Grant was a significant opponent of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Jewish Congressman Emanuel Celler identified Grant as key in helping to stop that immigration. Celler loathed Grant, calling his work "loose thinking, senseless jargon, pompous jumble, dogmatic piffle, outrageously absurd."

Celler was correct, of course. But Grant's ideas were powerful. Powerful enough to stop immigration to the US from Eastern and Southern Europe. Powerful enough to put a human being, Ota Benga, in the Bronx Zoo. Christian ministers protested that Ota Benga was a human being, and, as such, equal in value to all other human beings. The New York Times responded:

"One reverend colored brother objects to the curious exhibition on the grounds that it is an impious effort to lend credibility to Darwin's dreadful theories ... the reverend colored brother should be told that evolution ... is now taught in the textbooks of all the schools, and that it is no more debatable than the multiplication table." Of course, this Times piece misses the point. Evolution is one thing. Scientific Racism was another.

Not only dark skinned people were considered inferior enough to be put on display. Lapps a.k.a. Sami, a white, European people, who lived traditional, simple lives, close to nature, were also exhibited. And Lapps, too, suffered the price of being considered inferior. They were forcibly sterilized.

Lothrop Stoddard, in his key book, "The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under Man" cites Christianity as a barrier to scientific progress because Christianity preaches a false doctrine of human equality. The application of Darwin to humans, Stoddard argued, proved that some humans were just plain inferior. "The Christian doctrine of the equality of all souls before God" was the problem. The application of Darwin's ideas to human beings was the solution: Darwin's "Origin of Species" was the "epoch-making book … marked nothing short of a revolution in the realm of ideas … a second great step was soon taken by Francis Galton, the founder of the science of eugenics."

Stoddard met with both Himmler and Hitler. His works were cited in Nazi schoolbooks.

***

To recap: universal human progress, the foundational belief of several key thinkers, assumes that an unseen hand improves human beings.

Peasants are at the bottom. They haven't been improved yet.

Religion is a form of mental illness or a vestige of savagery. As people improve and evolve, they lose religion.

This worldview was adopted by Scientific Racists who further excoriated Christianity for preaching the doctrine of human equality.

***

But, haven't modern ideas of tolerance replaced these antique, Victorian-era theories?

Elites have changed their view of some demonized peoples, but not all. As George Orwell put it, "Some animals are more equal than others."

"Bieganski" outlines the influence of Franz Boas, "the father of American Anthropology." Boas was born to a Jewish family in Germany. In his homeland, he experienced prejudice. In fact, his cheeks bore dueling scars from having to defend his honor against anti-Semitic comments. Boas, arriving in America, experienced prejudice because of his German accent. Germany was America's enemy in WW I.

Boas made "cultural relativism" the foundation of American anthropology. One culture is as good as any other. Boas used cultural relativism to uplift downtrodden African Americans and Native Americans.

But, sadly, as "Bieganski" shows, Boas did not significantly apply cultural relativism to the millions of peasant immigrants from Eastern Europe then arriving in America. Rather, Boas and his many influential students, like Margaret Mead, paved the way for American scholars to continue to regard Bohunks – Eastern European Christian peasants and their descendents who worked, largely, in American mills, mines, and factories – with contempt, even while publicly flaunting their own "tolerance" – vis-à-vis African Americans and Native Americans.

***

The intelligent observer immediately notices that the idea of universal human progress is itself a religious belief. "Totem and Taboo" is itself a myth.

Given that it is a religious belief, believers become hostile when challenged, and relinquish this belief with resistance.

To view the next post in this series, Fallacies in Accepted Theories Applied to Polish-Jewish Relations, click here


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