Race – A Modern Myth?

Clyde Kluckhohn

The American anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn’s most popular and celebrated work, Mirror for Man (1949), contains numerous interesting assertions and suggestions concerning race. I thought it would be proper to discuss here, in a somewhat discriminating way some of the more astonishing selections of Kluckhohn’s scholarship. My concern here will be for a certain chapter of Kluckhohn’s, properly named “Race: A Modern Myth”. (Incidentally, in the first page of this chapter the author makes the statement that “There are undoubtedly human races”!)

Before discussing Kluckhohn’s book, I would like to express my opinion on whether Kluckhohn was or was not a Jew. The fact that he is, at least for the time being, mentioned here and not in my series “Who Is a Jew?” would imply that I believe he was not. Based on an examination of outward appearance, I am of the opinion that Kluckhohn was probably not a Jew. Now, this cursory examination would seem to be contradicted by Kluckhohn’s behavior and the ideas that he saliently sets forth in his book on the relative insignificance of racial differences. But it is worth mentioning that Kluckhohn, towards the end of his life, wrote in December, 1959, that “in the light of accumulating information as to significantly varying incidence of mapped genes among different peoples, it seems unwise to assume flatly that ‘man’s innate capacity does not vary from one population to another’”; and also, that “it seems very likely indeed that populations differ quantitatively in their potentialities for particular kinds of achievement” (Clyde Kluckhohn in a review of a book by Walter Goldschmidt, American Anthropologist, vol. 61). While such an apparent change of mind in a socially improper period is perhaps worth admiring, one review does little and does not recompense for the fact that for almost the entire length of his career, Kluckhohn was ideologically on the side of the Jews and their denial of the importance of race and heredity in the affairs of mankind. Kluckhohn’s use of the word “population” is worth noting. In Mirror for Man, the terms “population” and “race” are distinguished, but it appears that Kluckhohn was using population more as a euphemism for race than to distinguish the two words, within the above mentioned review. In Mirror for Man, he states that each human population varied to such a degree that calling them distinct races was biologically unjustifiable: “The average differences in physical characteristics between various human populations are, however, small compared to the overlap in the range of single features and the duplications of types in different races”; and “Human populations are too mongrel and too variable to be grouped into races as meaningful as animal varieties.” But taking his later opinions into consideration, human populations possessing a substantially varying prevalence of genes for “particular kinds of achievement” may have been enough to justify racial specification. At any rate, on reading Mirror for Man one gets the impression that Kluckhohn was not a mere ignoramus, but far worse: He was deliberately trying to mislead the popular reader. While that kind of behavior is doubtlessly reprehensible, I nevertheless do not think Kluckhohn was a Jew; I do believe he was on the Jewish side of things, and therefore dissecting some of his arguments here will dissect the arguments made by the Jewish sophists and propagandists who were Kluckhohn’s foremen.

If any praise can be given, it is to Kluckhohn for writing at least in a speciously intellectual and reasonable way, and not imprecating every man and thing uncongenial to his own beliefs (or if he was writing to intentionally fool the masses, the convictions he at least alleges) – which is what roughly sums up the behavior of the masses in the period in which we live. But the intellectually higher grades of degenerate and immoral persons are certainly much the greater danger to the world than the low intelligence and dearth of morals one typically finds in conjunction within a single soul.

Kluckhohn claims that, prior to the nineteenth century “differences in group habits” were seldom “explained as due to variations in the biological heredity of human societies.” In the following paragraph he further laments that “In the ancient and medieval religions the idea of race had little or no place. Most of the great world religions have been deeply committed to the concept of universal brotherhood.” The author writes in such a way as to suggest that what was viewed during much of the past is what is right, and what modern science has taught us is necessarily incorrect. To put it in Kluckhohn’s own words, “naïve biologism became rampant” due to the “tremendous advance made by biological science.” Such a way of reasoning misguides by implying that what has happened for most of history is what must be deemed as acceptable today and for all time. Such a suggestion is intolerable for a man who claims to use modern science as his mainstay. Again, “The first Negroes in modern Europe were received in aristocratic households as equals; nor was intermarriage frowned upon.” Assuming this was true, it would only seem to prove that the Negroes were not in a position of disability simply by nature of their appearance in modern Europe and that the differences between them which were later known must have owed far more of its influence to an innate rather than environmental origin; for if it were true, as Kluckhohn purports, that the fact that the Negro was on average in an inferior social position in many European countries from the nineteenth century onwards was due to simply to a prejudice against the color of his skin rather than to racial differences in mental and moral traits, it must be assumed that their initial contact with the Europeans would have been most negative from the outset, and that, as the Europeans and other racial groups came to know him and his mental work better, would let go of this association once it was discovered to be false: The tendency must naturally have been towards a lessening of detrimental feeling over time; and it would, furthermore suggest that the mental and spiritual differences between the Negro and other races of men were, at least in the eyes of the Europeans of the time, much more important than the external ones, since there was little or no initial enmity towards the Negroes on first contact: The general distrust or dislike towards this race would then be justified and not detrimental. (Of course, one should not disregard the fact that significant connections exist even within a race between the outward appearance and temperament and intellectual ability; but these will not be discussed here). 

Surely, no man who relies on reason and science to give support to his arguments would say that the religious dogmas that have been omnipresent in human history were really preferable to the biological revelation that attempted to replace it in the nineteenth century; the period, the author says, when “Men’s minds were intoxicated by the revolutionary theories of Darwin” (italics mine). Nevertheless, this appears to be exactly what Kluckhohn implies. “Most men”, explains Kluckhohn, “want simple answers.” Yet how can one say this and at the same time say that science truly simplified our view of the world more than had religion and its supposition in an omnipotent Creator? If the dispassionate searching for the truth is only symptomatic of men who “lust after certainty”, how much less credible must be the religion that Kluckhohn makes an appeal to?

“While animals learn from experience, they learn hardly more than crude survival techniques from each other. The factor of social heredity is unimportant. A diving bird brought up in complete isolation from all other birds of its species will still dive like its ancestors when released near a body of water. A Chinese boy, however, brought up in an English-speaking American household, will speak English and be as awkward at using chopsticks as any other American.” But the comparison by the writer is misleading since instincts, or inherited tendencies or actions are not the criterion of both of these. It hardly needs to be mentioned that chopstick use is non-instinctual. The comparison would be a scientific one, if one were to observe the contrasts and similarities between races when these are raised either in the same, or, in the case of members of the same race, different environments. Any pronounced differences which, say, a thousand Chinese, taken as a whole, exhibit that diverged from the American surroundings in which he was raised would be explicable to racial or otherwise hereditary differences. 

The data certainly would be much strengthened if such divergences that exist when raised in new surroundings were of the same nature that generally distinguished the Chinese (or other East Asiatics) in their native countries. And I think everyday experience would suggest this to be the case: The Mongoloids, even when they are born and raised in an entirely foreign environment like America, exhibit their peculiarities of behavior quite as much as did their ancestors in their native lands. Superficial resemblances certainly do muddle the situation; but the racial traits appear to exist and persist.

If I may comment a little further, the use of chopsticks as an example of an acquired custom is an insignificant one. What we want to discover, and what is really significant, is what differences in temperament and mentality there are between the races of man, and not whether, say, a Negro is capable of wearing the clothing of a European, or a Mediterranean capable of using chopsticks. It is certain that they can do these things. But it seems unlikely that a Mediterranean brought under an East Asiatic household will as a result of his novel surroundings shed the common mental and spiritual tendencies of his race. Clothing, nutrition, schooling, the home, are easily altered; the temperaments and the particular mentality we often find associated with races are not. To assume that the combined influences of clothing, shelter, nutrition and other euthenic efforts will do much more than to create a superficial resemblance between two races, is, I think, a mistake.

The writer makes another interesting statement. “It should not be forgotten, furthermore, that we know much less about the details of human heredity than about animal heredity. This is due partly to the greater complexities involved, and partly to the fact that we do not experiment with human beings.” In fact, the same hereditary laws generally apply to man as to other animals (see Eugen Fischer, Die Rehobother Bastards, 1913; and Reginald Ruggles Gates, Heredity in Man, 1929). It is also nonsense for the author to assume that human heredity is an entirely distinct process, and therefore not analogous to heredity in plants or in lesser animals while asserting in the same chapter that “men will do well to recognize their nature as animals”; and in a previous chapter, the assertion is made that the “difference between human and primate behavior is quantitative, not qualitative, save for speech and the use of symbols.” One wonders what it is that compels the writer to believe that heredity in man must be distinct from the hereditary processes of other forms of life.

“In Darwin’s time”, says Kluckhohn, “heredity was thought to be a matter of continuous aggregates of materials. A new organism’s inheritance was the result of blending the total hereditary potential of the father with that of the mother.” I include this remark by Kluckhohn, not so much to criticize his ideas further, but to question the historical veracity of the claim. If the child inherits the total hereditary composition of both his parents, the obvious complication arises that no siblings except in the case of identical twins fully resemble one another. In such an event all the differences between siblings of the same family – differences, say, in eye color, in skin color, in the shape of the skull – must be explained by differences of an environmental sort. If my reasoning is sound, I would find it difficult to believe Darwin could have been led to hold such an obviously mistaken idea, though I have not studied his (now discredited) belief in pangenesis in much detail.

According to the writer, “race prejudice leads to social and international sickness”. I agree with Kluckhohn that race prejudice is a very unfortunate thing and a hindrance to progress. But I think race knowledge and a recognition of racial differences in mankind is the opposite. One thing is certain: The advancement of our understanding of race and genetics will always come from a very small percentage of the world’s population. It will not come from the unthinking, uncritical, ignorant masses and the degenerate minority, which are just those two sections of the population from which nearly all our popular prejudices are derived.

“Mental, temperamental, and character traits are almost impossible to isolate in pure form because from the very day of birth the influence of social tradition modifies the biologically inherited trends.” The writer, clearly, was not made aware of an earlier study by Francis Galton entitled the “History of Twins” (Inquiries Into Human Faculty and Its Development, 1883), in which the author discovered that mental differences between ordinary siblings exhibited in the formative years of development did not diminish due to the fact of their being raised in the same environment; but that any environmental influences exerting an effect on these siblings was virtually nonexistent when mature age was reached. From this data, it would seem that any environmental pressures contrary to the hereditary tendencies of the individual were eliminated as soon as the individual was able to escape and to choose a more suitable environment. The same early environment had a negligible effect in making naturally dissimilar persons more similar with age. As the American biologist Frederick Adams Woods (“Laws of Diminishing Environmental Influence”, Popular Science Monthly, vol. 76 (1910)) observes, the influence of the environment is only great where escape from the environment is impossible; and such situations seem rarely, if ever, to apply in the case of man; at any rate, it would seem to apply least to man as contrasted with lesser forms of life. 

I do not wish to end this post in malice. Despite my above criticisms, I take it not as an ignominy to reproduce here the following words by the same writer, in the hope that it will inspire the reader towards a nobler purpose, and words which when, taken by themselves, I must heartily agree with: 

“We can increase our own self-understanding, winning greater freedom and a higher degree of responsible behavior as we gain deeper insight into our own motives. We can demand a calm and peaceful working out of the conflicts between groups. We can rouse our fellow citizens of good will from complacency and apathy.”

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