Saturday, February 15, 2014

On Darwinism and Human Nature

On Darwinism and Human Nature: Darwinism was perhaps the most important ideology to emerge from the nineteenth century. Marxism was a close second, but Darwinism gave birth to more controversy for social scientists, natural scientists, religious figures, and political leaders alike. For historian Carl Degler, Darwinism consisted of three basic principles: first, that organisms reproduce, second, that each organism differs slightly from another (even in the same species), and third, that all organisms must compete for survival (or else face extinction). Thus, bare-bones Darwinism was really nothing more than observational ecology. And it would take the development of genetics by Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel in the 1860s to substantiate some of Charles Darwin's core claims about natural and sexual selection. Darwin himself was worried after he published On the Origin of Species in 1859 that many of his scientific observations would not be fully accepted in the budding community of academic biology. Yet aside from Darwinism's effects on fields like biology and ecology, it had a major impact on the developing world of cultural anthropology. Early anthropologists such as Franz Boas and Margaret Mead were convinced that human nature was more a product of culture than biology. Thus, they began to view racism, sexism, and even eugenics, as incompatible with Darwinism's core tenets, and likened them more to social constructs such as "society" and "history."

Saturday, February 1, 2014

On Women in the Civil Rights Movement

On Women in the Civil Rights Movement: When people think of women in the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 to 1968, they generally reference Rosa Parks. Indeed, she was a monumental figure. Her actions in December 1955 essentially sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which Revs. MLK, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy helped organize along with local NAACP leader E. D. Nixon. But the Civil Rights Movement's traditional narrative has largely excluded women. Pictured above are Fannie Lou Hamer (left) and Ella Baker (right). As women of color, they endured what black feminists labeled "double discrimination" (sex and race). Hamer became particularly well-known for her work in Mississippi's "Freedom Summer" Project, which represented a massive attempt at black voter registration in 1964. Also, her political efforts with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) almost derailed Lyndon Johnson's presidential nomination at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Alternatively, Baker played a subtle yet vital role in numerous civil rights organizations (NAACP, SCLC, and SNCC). Her core philosophy centered on "participatory democracy," which not only called for broad-based  and direct democratic participation, but also required a strong public sphere to increase governmental transparency. Although Baker purposely avoided the spotlight, her impact on the Civil Rights Movement proved far-reaching.