Science: Environmentalist

Science: Environmentalist

Time Magazine

In Washington last week one of the world’s most distinguished anthropologists told the National Academy of Sciences about an Englishman who was raised in Italy and married a Jewess. In consequence this Englishman’s gestures gradually became half Italian, half Jewish.

Anthropology is neither an old science like mathematics, astronomy and medicine, nor a modern one like genetics or electronics. The ancient Greeks were willing enough to assign man a place in the animal kingdom and some of them, notably Anaximander, had an inkling of evolution. But they were content to speculate and philosophize. In the early 19th Century anthropology as a science had made little headway. Species and varieties of plants and animals were considered changeless, and so were the races of man. The strange manlike bones found here & there in caves and quarries were thought to be the remains of monsters. The beliefs and practices of primitive people were shrugged off as so much sordid playacting. When the origin and fluidity of species, the significance of fossils and the rationale of primitive cultures were better understood, anthropology began to make progress as a serious study of man in all his aspects.

Franz Boas got into anthropology 53 years ago. He has invaded almost every branch of this science: linguistics, primitive mentality, folklore, ethnology, growth and senility, the physical effects of environment. He reminds his colleagues of the oldtime family doctor who did everything from delivering babies to pulling teeth.

By no means all anthropologists share Dr. Boas’ belief in the tremendous physical influence of environment. But when he has something to say they listen respectfully…

…Magna Charta. Currently in England a group of scientists including Sir Arthur Smith Woodward and Julian Huxley are engaged in knocking the flimsy props from under Nazi ideas of race purity and race superiority. A quarter-century ago Franz Boas was attacking the same sort of ideas. At that time the view was popular that different races had their characteristic mentalities which determined their culture. Boas had piled up enough data to convince him that such was not the case. The Mind of Primitive Man was published in 1911. When he was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1931, that book was called “A Magna Charta of self-respect for the ‘lower’ races.”

Boas observed that nowhere on earth was there such a thing as a pure race, and that the term “race” was a vague and approximate one at best. He doubted that there were any “superior” races. To Boas it seemed that if one person was innately superior to another, it was because there was more genetic difference between family lines than between racial types. Anatomists cannot tell the difference between the brains of a Swede and a Negro. They may distinguish the skulls, but it has been shown over & over that neither the size nor shape of the skull, within the range of normality, has anything to do with intelligence. Dr. Boas has no confidence in intelligence tests as measures of race superiority, because such tests cannot be divorced entirely from environment and experience. During the War it was found that Chicago Negroes did better with intelligence tests than Louisiana blacks, although the two groups were anthropologically alike…

…Dr. Boas argues that if common race prejudice had “instinctive” antipathy for its source, it would show itself in the most intimate of all contacts, the sexual relation. But throughout history slave-owners have bedded with female slaves of different race, whites have mated with Indians and Negroes. Southern children show no aversion whatever to black nurses, must be taught by their elders not to accept blacks as equals. The strongest antipathies are those between social castes like those of India and ancient Egypt — between people of the same race…

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