I love reading and as such sometimes I find myself on winding spirals of books. In the middle of reading a book there will often be an amazing quote that the author got from some other author. This will prompt me to look that author up to see if they have other interesting quotes and if they do then I will look for books by them and choose one that I believe will feed my curiosity. Sometimes I hit the jackpot and I will devour the book in no time. I will probe my friends and generate conversations to help me fill-in the blanks and share what I learned. Good books are so exciting but sometimes the path I stumble down isn’t that great, I would find myself halfway into a book that I had no drive to finish. This can happen for multiple reasons; one the book was just not good the writing just didn’t hold my attention, the book was not really what I was expecting or hoping for, or it was hard to read the perspectives shared. The last one has been a new development. The first time this happened was with a novel And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. In the opening of the book there was this deeply emotional and sad story that for some reason was too much for me to bare, it was over a year before I would finally pick it up off my nightstand and actually finish it. Since then there has only been a few situations like that. Just recently I read The Origin of Species and really enjoyed it, so I decided to read The Decent of Man which was also written by Charles Darwin.
I don’t know what I was expecting but what I found was not it. I had decided to do the audio book because I was reading like four other books but wanted to add this one. As I listened, I heard a few things that I thought were a bit colorful to say the least. Darwin’s ideas on the “savage races” and the mental capacity of women would totally get him canceled in today’s world. Yet, I continued forward but I must admit at a reduced pace and gradually I stopped all together. I really wanted to finish the book, but it was tough. I am not a sensitive person (well sometimes I am) I just needed some time and distance to think about the concepts in objective ways and not through the lens of a Woman who is also Black (aka a savage).
It took me a couple of days, but I remembered something that I had read once. “Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… You take it personally because you agree with whatever was said… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.” (4) When we take the things that people say or write personally, we believe that they know the same things that we know but they couldn’t possibly. Darwin did not know many things that are now common knowledge at the time he wrote this book. The concept of DNA was just in the early stages and it was nearly eighty years after his writings before we had a rudimentary understanding of it, Mendel had just proposed his principles of inheritance but they would not be widely accepted until the early 1900s, and he was born a white male with a wealthy English family, educated, and influenced by his environment as well as common beliefs of the day. His writings on what he saw and attempted to understand had nothing to do with me, my blackness, or the fact that I am a woman. It had everything to do with who he was and all the things that created his perspective of the world.
While I was totally comfortable and actually impressed with the broad scope of Darwin’s personal observations, his hypothesis’s, and theories in relation to plants and wild animals some of his assumptions about the mentality or behavior of humans were a bit harder to accept. The theory of evolution is at its core brilliant, and I accept its applications to all organisms including humans. However, Darwin and other scientists of his period (and some to this day) believed women were less evolved than men. The assertion was that their dominance in sexual selection stunted their development. Basically, that men had to develop more mentally and physically to possess the traits that women desired. They postulate that women did not have these same evolutionary drives for improvement since they were doing the picking much like what you see in the male and female peacock. His conclusions on the surface sound plausible but when viewed in context they found to be wanting. Men actually do get to select their mates and women not having traits desirable to men would have a harder time procuring a mate. This is why the differences between genders in humans is not as divergent as what is seen in the peacock community. Also, He never took into account the cultural and environmental differences between the sexes. Nor did he examine the traditional roles imposed on each that dwell outside of sexual and natural selection. Social constructs have major impact on the progress of humans of all genders and races. Culture alone dictates your entire perspective on the world. This fact makes understanding human societies a much harder task than understanding peacocks. I don’t disregard the brilliant ideas that Darwin gave the world, I also don’t accept all of his work. I rarely buy in to any person fully, not that I have trust issues (maybe a little) what I mean is when information is presented that is objective and logical, I can incorporate it into my lexicon. However, should that same individual proposes something based solely on their personal perspective that strays from logic I have no problem throwing that bit of information away. There is no need to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water, keep the good toss the bad.
This is a concept that I have employed in my life and will be using throughout this process. To reach understanding sometimes we have to face uncomfortable books, people, and situations. Being easily offended and immediately dismissing people and information will keep us forever blind and searching for something that is right in front of us that remains out of our grasp.
This article is a part of a series focused on the analysis and origins of hate:
Why This Why Now? Published 01.07.2021
What Is Hate? Published 01.14.2021
So, What’s The Plan? Published 01.21.2021
How to Make Mutant Published 01.28.2021
- Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man. London: Murray.
- Darwin, C., & Huxley, J. (2003). The Origin of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition(150th Anniversary ed.). Signet.
- HOSSEINI, K. (2018). And The Mountains Echoed. Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Ruiz, M., Mills, J., & Ruiz, M. (2008). The Four Agreements. Thorndike, Me.: Center Point Pub.