Friday, January 21, 2011
Prey to Pseudoscience
Humans desire to make sense of the world; we have appealed to different explanations with the changes of history. Today we try to explain the world by creating categories, definitions and equations. Before modern science, people appealed to magic and religion to explain phenomena. Most people are trying to find some meaning in their lives and are only satisfied in thinking that “things happen for a reason”. I find this funny because it seems to me as though the world is what it is today because of chance and random occurrences. The reason I bring this up is because in class it seemed as though we were in agreement that these authors were doing something wrong in defining race. I don’t believe they were doing anything right, however I think they were doing what humans do, the way they did it in the time of their texts. These individuals experienced phenomena (maybe for Kant it wasn’t first hand) and were driven to explain them. At the same time, one only needs to skim these texts to notice the condescending manner in which they set out to achieve their goal. They described certain people as being “wretched” or “beautiful”, which are more opinions than measures, and used the white race as the standard to which all others were compared. Today most of us immediately see that as being wrong or “racist”, especially as their writing suggests that whites are “better” in some respects. I want to take a moment to play devil’s advocate here: it could be said that the society of the Europeans was more advanced than others and was the origin of most science and technology of the time. If this is the case, the whites must have seen themselves as somewhat superior, but not based on race. These men must have seen it as their duty to explain the phenomena that surrounded these ideas or questions. My own point of view on the world leads me to discount this explanation. These texts were written in a time before the global community that we know today. Societies seldom overlapped at this time therefore they appealed to different explanations and beliefs. Instead of being superior, the Europeans had merely taken their society in a different direction. They had no real basis for believing they were superior. Everyone thinks they are superior in one way or another, but the Europeans had the resources to travel extensively and the technology to spread their thoughts through text so that their particular explanations became prominent. In my mind, the Europeans beliefs are of no greater importance or relevance than the beliefs of the people they were writing about. This brings me back to the point I opened with: humans desire to find meaning in a world where there may be none, and end up being satisfied with whatever theories they can scrape together. With this in mind, I find our recent readings, in some respects, no more offensive than any religious practices I can think of (besides, like, human sacrifice). There has been a lot of pseudoscience in the past and, on one hand, I think these writers were prey to that.
On the other hand, they were racists.
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