Friday, February 11, 2011

Eliminitavism vs. Conservationism

When Dr. Johnson mentioned that we will be discussing the difference between eliminitivism vs. conservationism for the rest of the semester, I thought it would be a good idea to hammer out what those both meant to me in order to see how my perception of the two change as the semester goes on. For now, I am certainly an eliminitivist.

From Bernier to Gobineau, we have generally agreed (as a class) that race is an artificial classification of peoples. In the case of Herder, we also saw that trying to define another term such as "volk" has almost as many problems as "race." Side-stepping the problem of "race" by the use of other terms such as "ethnicity" gives rise to generalizations that are debunked by the science of genetics. Montagu uses the analogy of the omelet to demonstrate this point. There are no omelets in nature, only the ingredients which make one up. Because of this, "race" as we know it has been deemed scientifically unsound; there is no race gene or set of well-defined race genes. Certainly different phenotypes exist, but they exist in such variety amongst the "races" that they carry no inherent meaning. To take this even further, these phenotypes certainly do not lead to characteristics of the individuals of that group such as ethics or civility.

Eliminitivism takes this evidence to make its point: race, as we know it, should be eliminated as a term of significance. Montagu states that not only it is false, but it also "leads to confusion and the perpetuation of error." As with all other meaningful ideas, once we know it is false, we should get rid of it. Keeping the idea around only leads to more falsities and harm. For example, once we understood the microbial model of infection, the old thoughts of blood humors and spirits were done away with in the medical field. One would be hard-pressed to argue nowadays that we should have kept those old models around.

Of course there may be other systems in which we would like to keep around falsities, but I am not familiar with them. I hope that the comments of this post could address this issue.

In contrast to elimintivism, there stands conservationism. Conservationism wishes to keep race as a meaningful term although it acknowledges that race is not a scientifically sound idea. As discussed in class, some peoples feel a sense of pride in their race. These individuals find a sense of community in their race, and thus gain something from their acknowledgment of race. A problem arises though, when that race sees themselves as different from other races and treats other races accordingly. Admittedly, my view and understanding of conservationism are not the strongest they could be, but that is why I am posting this. Hopefully as this course proceeds I will gain a better understanding.

1 comment:

  1. Ferrell,

    This is a very well thought out post. Seeing as I consider myself, as of last Tuesday, a conservationist, I thought I would offer my perspective.

    At first glance, eliminativism does seem to be the only logically valid and sound position. After all, race doesn't scientifically exist! Further thought, however, must lead us to the conclusion that something doesn't have to be found in our genes in order for it to have a profound effect on us, in other words, in order for it to be *real*. Politics, for instance, don't exist in the human genome and are far removed from the "natural" social instincts of humans as animals. There is nothing in our genetic makeup which makes one a democrat, anarchist, socialist, or communist, and yet these are very real ideas in our world - ideas which have massive social, political, and economic effects. These concepts, like race, are nothing but creations of the human mind, and yet we cannot ignore them and expect to be able to function in our world. The Cold War would have ended much differently if we had decided to stop believing in communism because it isn't anywhere to be found in the natural world...

    In the same way, race has very real effects in our world. the legacy of slavery and segregation, not to mention the modern manifestations of racism, are visible throughout our society. Declaring that race does not exist and therefore should not be discussed will do nothing to solve Americas real problems of race.


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