Maafa 21 – Quote-mining Darwin to forward a political agenda?

It’s not the first time it’s occurred…

But it’s pretty bad when I don’t have to see more than the first 10 minutes of the documentary Maafa 21 to know it’s likely full of crap. They quote-mine Charles Darwin, something until now I thought was typically the realm of the creationist, but thankfully they don’t bastardize the theory of evolution, only suggest it’s one more breeding ground for racism.

Anyway, here is a quote presented attributed to Charles Darwin, and mined from his work The Descent of Man, and Selections in Relation to Sex, published in 1871, not 1890 as the documentary contends (Darwin passed away April 19, 1882):

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world…The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state…and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

…and here is what Darwin actually says in his book (emphasis added to mark what was omitted):

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked (18. ‘Anthropological Review,’ April 1867, p. 236.), will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

So what is Darwin actually saying here? First of all, one must realize that Darwin is speaking in the language of a 19th century academic, so you cannot apply late 20th and early 21st century connotations to works written 120 years ago.

But to know exactly what Charles Darwin is saying, we need the quote in its full context (bold added to show the original quote from the documentary):

The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form; but this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of evolution. Breaks often occur in all parts of the series, some being wide, sharp and defined, others less so in various degrees; as between the orang and its nearest allies–between the Tarsius and the other Lemuridae–between the elephant, and in a more striking manner between the Ornithorhynchus or Echidna, and all other mammals. But these breaks depend merely on the number of related forms which have become extinct. At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked (18. ‘Anthropological Review,’ April 1867, p. 236.), will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

They really left out a lot, didn’t they? Take a moment and read through it before I summarize it, and see if you agree with my summation.

Taken fully in context, Darwin’s words are talking about the evolution of life and man over time. He is addressing and responding to the criticisms of the theory of evolution, as it existed at the time he first published it and in the years immediately following, and the fact that the fossil record will never show a complete lineage of one species to another: the so-called “gaps” in the fossil record.

In the next paragraph, Darwin continues:

With respect to the absence of fossil remains, serving to connect man with his ape-like progenitors, no one will lay much stress on this fact who reads Sir C. Lyell’s discussion (19. ‘Elements of Geology,’ 1865, pp. 583-585. ‘Antiquity of Man,’ 1863, p. 145.), where he shews that in all the vertebrate classes the discovery of fossil remains has been a very slow and fortuitous process. Nor should it be forgotten that those regions which are the most likely to afford remains connecting man with some extinct ape-like creature, have not as yet been searched by geologists.

Again, Darwin is addressing his critics and the criticisms that the fossil record does not support his theory. This is one concern that many scientists today find themselves still trying to defend, despite the plethora of fossils that do, without any doubt, support a much more advanced version of evolutionary theory.

In fact, it’s been said that if Darwin were able to see the theory of evolution as it stands today, he would not recognize it, but he would, without a doubt, be completely mesmorized by it.

But one thing that is also without a doubt is that the quote that was mined from one of Darwin’s books had nothing to do with racism or advancing racism. It had everything to do with science, evolution, and addressing the endless supply of critics.

The speaker in the documentary also makes one big implication from the full title of Charles Darwin’s famous book The Origin of Species. The full title is this: On the Origin of Species, by means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Their implication is that the title was shortened to avoid political issues.

This is partly true. The title was originally shortened in future editions because the original title is quite long. As the book and its ideas were discussed, it tended to be referred to by its better-known shorter title. Now as language changed over time, the shorter title became preferred as the use of the phrase “favoured races” certainly would have been controversial, and a scientific text explaining a theory has no place in political or social arenas.

One thing that few realize is that before negative connotations became associated with the word “race”, that word tended to be used interchangeably with either “species” or “breeds”. By the phrase “preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life”, Darwin means the same as another common interpretation of natural selection, “survival of the fittest”.

Further, the documentary tries to tie Darwin to eugenics, the bastardization of evolution by Darwin’s half-cousin Francis Galton. Eugenics is based on an argument, born in 1865 by Galton, that statistical analysis showed that moral and mental traits could be inherited (only partly true, according to more modern research) and that principles of animal breeding could apply to humans.

While Darwin agreed that compassion for the less fortunate, weak, and sick in society plays against natural selection and the population benefits natural selection provides, he also said that withholding such compassion and aid could endanger us further by “breeding away” (my words, not Darwin’s) the instinct of sympathy and our willingness to educate each other, two things which have, undoubtedly, advanced human civilization much faster and farther than the forces of evolution alone could have taken us.

If I can point out these falsehoods in the documentary even before it has lapsed 10 minutes, what else might I find if I were to analyze the entire 2:20 minutes of footage and commentary? Given just this, the rest of the documentary should obviously be taken with a grain of salt and a hurricane’s air of skepticism — i.e. research what they present and see how accurate it is for yourself.