I just finished reading “Race” by John R. Baker and wanted to give a brief review of it while it is still fresh in my mind.
It is a monumental work and of great value. The depth, range of insights and objectivity, demonstrated by Baker, are awe-inspiring. As a matter of fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that most aspects of race science that have been elaborated upon over the last couple of decades are dealt with here. Not only that, but Baker’s words are often even prophetic. I’ve already written about the flawed logic of “Guns, Germs and Steel”. This is what Baker, over twenty years prior to Diamond’s folly, had to say about it (pg. 527, 528):
Explanations are frequently suggested for the failure of certain peoples to make this advance. Thus Professor A. Sommerfelt excuses the fact that the Arunta had no numerals (in the proper sense of the word) on the ground that “The Arunta who lives far from all influence of whites has no need of a system of numerals comparable to ours. He possesses nothing that he must necessarily count, no domestic animals, no merchandise, no money.” One is left to assume that if they had had something to count, the Arunta would have invented numerals. But why had they nothing to count? Why were they content with this situation? One is forcibly reminded of John Stuart Mill’s remark that it is “better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” Members of all ethnic taxa of man must have experienced stages in their histories at which they possessed no domestic animals, no merchandise, and no money, but in many of these taxa there were people who were not satisfied.
The failure of Negroes and members of certain other taxa, living in civilized countries, to reach the same average scores in cognition and attainment tests as Mongolids and Europids has often been attributed to environmental causes. In just the same way, it has repeatedly been suggested that those ethnic taxa that have never attained to civilization by their own endeavours in their native lands have been held back by the unfavourable nature of their habitats. Some authors are dogmatic on this subject. Sommerfelt, for instance, says that the differences between “peoples and tribes” are due to “natural surroundings and history, not to innate characteristics of these peoples.” This, however, is not by any means always the experience of those who have actually travelled among primitive peoples in their natural environments. Livingstone, for instance, was struck by the mental differences between members of different races living in the Kalahari Desert. The Bakalahari, a Kafrid tribe, had been forced into this environment in the remote past.
“Living ever since on the same plains with the Bushmen, subjected to the same influences of climate, enduring the same thirst, and subsisting on the same food for centuries, they seem to supply a standing proof that locality is not always sufficient of itself to account for differences in races.”
And how, on the environmental hypothesis, can one explain the fact that the Negrids inhabiting the tropical rain-forest of central Africa made not even a start in mathematics, while the Maya of the Guatemalan tropical rain-forest, equally cut off from all contacts with civilized people, made astounding progress in this subject, and at one time were actually ahead of the whole of the rest of the world in one important branch of it?
It would be wrong to suppose that civilization developed wherever the environment was genial, and failed to do so where it was not. Indeed, it might be nearer the mark to claim the opposite…
Baker’s exhaustive study of pre-contact African culture is an impressive work in its own right. Chapters 18-21 (pages 325- 417) comprise some of the most entertaining (if sometimes graphic) reading in the entire book. He had obviously carefully read every account of African travels available to him. From these, he selected seven as his primary sources. Accepting nothing uncritically, he compared each account to the others and was keen to point out errors, exaggerations and biases wherever he found them. Far from being biased himself, Baker was quick to give credit where credit was due – even when writing of the most savage cannibalistic tribes.
From a layman’s point of view, the book has two flaws: a) it often delves into tedious detail while using technical words that few would understand and b) its excessive use of German and French. Apparently, Baker assumed that anybody educated enough to read his book must also be familiar with these two other languages and would not benefit from translation. As for me, I relied on context to figure out what he was saying. I probably missed some of the finer points because of this.
Although Baker made some effort to come across as a neutral observer of humanity, his “Europid” roots lead him to spill much more ink on the differences between European sub-races than on any other sub-races. Many pages are spent describing the differences between Alpinids and Nordids and I believe this is Baker’s old-school anthropology background (19th century, if you will) showing itself. 36 years have elapsed since the publication of his book and I believe that those intervening decades have made it clear that whites will either stand or fall together; the fate of Nordids is the same as the fate of Alpinids and Mediterranids.
The first few chapters of “Race” do not deal directly with humans at all. Instead, they deal with various other species. I think this is important because, when it comes to the animal kingdom, we find little or no bias. Baker took advantage of this fact to explain the rules of morphology, evolution and genetics in ways that few could object to. He explained, at length, what is meant by “typical”, “species”, “race”, “taxa” etc. Nothing is taken for granted and Baker’s thoroughness insures that anybody who reads the book, from beginning to end, will arrive at the same conclusions he does – as long as the reader understands what he is reading.
The fact that this book, which was published so long ago, already explains almost everything we need to know about race (with the notable exceptions of crime rates and miscegenation) leaves me with an unsettling question: this being the case, what have we been doing for the last thirty years?