Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, November 1993
Race, Foundation for Human Understanding, John R. Baker, (original publisher: Oxford University Press), 1974, 625 pp.
Race, by John Baker, is a remarkable book. There is probably no other treatment of the biology and physical anthropology of race that approaches it in breadth, detail, erudition or style. Even more remarkable is the book’s point of view. Far from evading the issue of racial differences in ability, it was written for the very purpose of investigating and clarifying those differences.
Dr. Baker, now deceased, was the ideal author for this book. He was professor emeritus of cytology at Oxford University, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and president of the Royal Microscopical Society. To these professional qualifications he added an abiding interest in what he called the “ethnic question,” that is to say, the entire range of ways in which the races differ.
Written late in life, Race is Dr. Baker’s definitive statement on what he considered one of the most important issues of our time. From start to finish the book is stuffed with little-known, eye-opening facts, and it is fascinating, even essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in race. It is supplemented with more than 80 illustrations, and some of the simpler line drawings are reproduced here.
Race is organized in four parts. The first is a summary of what was thought and freely written about racial differences up through the end of the 1920s when, as Dr. Baker puts it, “the curtain came down” on open discussion. The second is an introduction to the biology of taxonomy or classification, including a thorough treatment of how races and species are identified. The third is a detailed inventory of the biological differences that distinguish the major races and subraces. In this section Dr. Baker makes a particular study of whites, or Europids as he calls them, and of Africans (Negrids), Bushmen (Sanids), Australian aborigines (Australids), Celts, and Jews. In the final section, Dr. Baker sets out what he considers to be the essential criteria for determining what he bluntly calls superiority and inferiority. Not surprisingly, his conclusions are at odds with current dogma.
Dr. Baker’s historical account of what has been written about ethnic differences includes introductions to a number of people one might well expect, such as the Comte de Gobineau, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Nietzsche, Francis Galton, and even Hitler. Dr. Baker also describes the pioneering but no longer recognized work of men such as Johann Blumenbach (1752-1840) and Samuel Sömmerring (1755-1830).
Other famous men have pronounced themselves on the question of racial differences and, until recently, few have had any sympathy for the notion of equality. Rousseau, for example, thought the chimpanzee was a primitive form of human being, and Kant, Voltaire, and Hume thought the Negro vastly inferior to the European. Dr. Baker reminds us that even the Bible is hardly silent on the ethnic problem. The Children of Israel routinely exterminated enemies, whom they considered inferior, and in the tenth book of Joshua, they enslaved the entire Hivite people.
The Proper Study of Mankind
In the more technical sections that follow, Dr. Baker draws on his scientific training to treat homo sapiens as just one more member of the animal kingdom. “No one knows man who knows only man,” he observes, and adds: “One might almost go so far as to say, in relation to the ethnic problem, that the proper study of mankind is animals.” By this he means that without a thorough grounding in biology and taxonomy it is impossible to view man with the detachment that science requires.
Dr. Baker writes, he explains, in the spirit that inspired T.H. Huxley to conclude that “Anthropology is a section of zoology [and] . . . the problems of ethnology are simply those which are presented to the zoologist by every widely distributed animal he studies.” In this, Dr. Baker is out of step with many contemporary social scientists who seem to believe that humans are uniquely exempt from the laws of heredity and from the kind of scrutiny to which all other animals are subject.
Dr. Baker leads us firmly back to biology with an account of how evolution gave rise to different species, how species are classified, the nature of hybridity, and the circumstances under which animals can be made to mate with differing species. Anthropology indeed becomes a branch of zoology. However, in this discussion it becomes clear that man differs from animals in at least one important way: humans are exceedingly unselective in their mating habits and will copulate with individuals — across racial lines, for example — from whom they are physically very different.
The contrast with the seven kinds of European mosquito, for example, could not be greater. Their eggs can be distinguished because of slight differences, but adults are so similar that not even experts can tell them apart under a microscope. What experts cannot do, the mosquitoes do without fail; they never interbreed.
Dr. Baker likewise reports that Grant’s gazelle and Thompson’s gazelle live together in mixed herds and are so similar in appearance that it takes a trained eye to tell them apart. They, too, never interbreed. It is only under domestication that animals can be made to overcome their repugnance for mates unlike themselves and thus produce mules or leopons (a cross between tiger and leopard). Domesticated dogs breed indiscriminately with widely different types but wild dogs like wolves, foxes, and coyotes breed only with their own kind.
Man is the most domesticated of animals and the least exclusive in his amours — but his promiscuity varies enormously by group and individual. As Dr. Baker points out, the Indian caste system successfully prevented interbreeding even among racially similar people. At the same time, there are individuals whose lust for animals is so great that bestiality has had to be specifically forbidden ever since Biblical times.
The races and sub-races of man have evolved largely because of geographical separation, but Dr. Baker also refers to what he calls “ecological races” that evolved to fill different but overlapping niches. The small stature of African pygmies, for example, fits them to forest life while the larger Negrids live in clearings.
If humans had continued to evolve in isolation or if they were as discriminating as animals in their choice of mates, racial differences would eventually lead to mutually infertile species. This would be diversity of a truly remarkable kind.
Domestication and travel have led to increasing miscegenation, but Dr. Baker speculates about another possible reason. The skulls of our remote ancestors show that their olfactory organs were much better developed than ours. It is also likely that ancient man had stronger odors than does modern man, and since our ancestors’ mating habits were probably governed by smell just like those of animals, this discouraged mating with unfamiliar peoples. Even today the races have different odors.
Dr. Baker notes drily that although modern man is scrupulous in selecting only the most promising breeding couples among his domestic animals, he almost never gives the same attention to his own reproduction. “It follows,” he adds, “that we cannot look for any advance in inborn intelligence . . .”
Race and Color
Dr. Baker writes at some length about skin color, but only because race and color are sometimes confused. He himself thinks the subject is trivial and, in fact, since at least Darwin’s time scientists have recognized that color is unimportant in distinguishing biological forms. Dr. Baker points out that to make color the touch stone of race is as stupid as to think that a red rose is more closely related to a red petunia than to a white rose.
Australian aborigines are similar in color to Bushmen, for example, but it would be difficult to think of two racial groups that are more dissimilar biologically. Likewise, Dr. Baker explains that some of the inhabitants of northern India have relatively dark skin but are racially very close to Europids.
Skin color is affected by the color of blood that may be visible through it, but the main reason for variations in skin color is the presence of different amounts of the pigment melanin. All humans make the same melanin and have much the same number of melanocytes — the difference is in how much melanin is produced. The darkest Africans have visible concentrations of melanin even in the whites of their eyes and on their tongues. Melanin colors hair as well as skin, though it is the presence of a slightly different substance, called phaeomelanin, that causes “red” hair.
Dr. Baker explains that blue eyes are not caused by a blue pigment but by the absence of pigment. Eyes appear to be blue for the same reason the edges of a snow bank may appear blue: red light and other long wave lengths pass through but shorter, bluer wave lengths are refracted and scattered, and some are reflected back towards the viewer.
Light-skinned people are probably descended from dark-skinned people who migrated from the tropics. The skin of Europeans transmits three and a half times as much sunlight as the skin of Africans, and the ultraviolet rays convert ergosterol in the body into vitamin D. Dark-skinned people, whose skins are adapted to sunnier latitudes, may therefore get rickets — a vitamin D deficiency — if they live in cold climates.
The third section of Race, in which Dr. Baker describes the myriad ways in which the races differ from each other physically is the most technical. It includes general descriptions of blood chemistry, physiology and skeletal structure, with a special emphasis on the characteristics of the skull. It introduces concepts like brachycephaly, paedomorphism, and the cranial index.
It is useful for the reader to have had some training in physiology but it is not necessary. Even the most technical passages can usually be understood by a non-specialist who has paid close attention to earlier explanations, and Dr. Baker has set his most abstruse observations in smaller type as a signal to laymen that they may skip over them without much loss.
A certain level of scientific detail is necessary here not merely because physiological differences between the races require a certain vocabulary. In this section Dr. Baker is at pains to explain the extent to which some races show the traits of primitiveness — the retention into the modern era of features possessed by our remote ancestors — and paedomorphy — the retention as adults of traits commonly associated with children.
For example, it is indisputable that Australids are more primitive than other races. Like Pithecanthropus, their teeth and lower jaws are strikingly large, and their skulls are twice as thick as those of any other race. The forehead recedes sharply, and the brow ridges are so well developed as to be reminiscent of Pithecanthropus and of the larger apes. The brain is only about 85 percent the size of that of Europids and the back part has lunate folds not found in other races but similar to those in the brains of orang-utans. Likewise, the nasal aperture is similar, in some respects, to that of the orang-utan.
The Bushmen, or Sanids, show equally remarkable evidence of paedomorphy. Their very small size — males are often no taller than 4’7” or 4’9” — is the most obviously juvenile characteristic retained by adults. Their skulls are notably short and squat like those of a Europid infant and their eyes are set wide apart like a new-born’s. The facial and body hair of both sexes is very weakly developed and reminiscent of children. Among males, the scrotum is like that of a pre-adolescent: so small and tightly drawn up that one might think only one testicle had descended.
As for Negrids, aside from a brain that is very slightly smaller than that of Europids and Sinids (North Asians), Dr. Baker finds no characteristics that could be called either primitive or paedomorphous. Negrids differ in blood chemistry from other races, and have broader shoulders and thinner calves. Certain tribes, such as the Hottentot, show extreme steatopygia or enlarged buttocks. In some cases the posterior extends horizontally, almost like a shelf.
Francis Galton, who travelled among the Hottentot in 1850 and 1851, wrote of one such woman that he was “perfectly aghast at her development.” He wanted to measure her dimensions but could not bring himself to ask her permission to do so. Instead, he took observations through his sextant and, he says, “worked out the results by trigonometry and logarithms.”
Equal or Unequal?
The question of whether Africans are, on average, equal in intelligence to whites is important both in the United States and in Britain. Dr. Baker therefore devotes considerable space to 19th-century accounts of African societies before they came into sustained contact with foreigners. This is the only sure way to know how far they had been able to advance without outside influence.
Every explorer found a remarkable poverty of development. No black African society had a written language or a calendar. None used the wheel or practiced joinery or built multi-story buildings. Iron smelting was common but no black Africans built what could be called a mechanical device, even one so simple as a hinge. Africans apparently tamed no animals themselves but received already-domesticated dogs and cattle from north of the Sahara. None used any beast of burden, despite the presence of large mammals that could have been tamed.
Although African societies are today described as having rich oral histories, this was by no means universal. A few tribes did have men who could recite the histories of their kings, but many were completely ignorant of the past. The Ovaherero tribe, for example, kept no count of years at all.
Slavery and polygamy were widespread. Arbitrary execution of subjects by rulers or wives by husbands was common. A few tribes ate human flesh though even some of their own members seem to have rejected this custom. Some coastal natives, seeing slaves being fed before being loaded onto ships for export, believed that Europeans intended to eat them.
Some people have argued that the reason Africans showed such poor development was that the effort to maintain life was too great to permit the leisure for advancement. On the contrary, the missionary and explorer, David Livingstone, found that some parts of the continent were a veritable paradise:
To one who has observed the hard toil of the poor in old civilized countries, the state in which the inhabitants here live is one of glorious ease . . . Food abounds, and very little labour is required for its cultivation; the soil is so rich that no manure is required.
Although Dr. Baker does not pursue this idea very far, he suggests that it was the very ease of life in Africa that kept high intelligence from being as necessary for survival as it was in harsher climates.
In the concluding section of Race, Dr. Baker draws the only conclusions that the data will permit: Just as they differ in biology, the races differ in their mental traits. They are not equally intelligent or capable of building civilized societies. Dr. Baker reviews the literature on mental testing and on the heritability of intelligence and finds that it only confirms his conclusions.
After setting out an interesting set of criteria for genuine civilization he finds that the first people to achieve it were the Sumerians of the fourth millennium B.C. Physically, it is likely that they were more closely related to the Kurds than to any other present people. Europids and Sinids have also created genuine civilizations, but Negrids and Australids have not.
Dr. Baker puts the Maya of Central America in a category of their own. Their astronomy and mathematics were extremely advanced and were at one time the most sophisticated in the world. They built great cities and administered large territories. However, Dr. Baker hesitates to call them genuinely civilized for several reasons: they did not use the wheel or use commercial weights, their written language was poorly developed and their religion was a mass of superstitions that were often the basis for torture, human sacrifice, and mass slaughter.
A Mountain of Evidence
Race is a veritable mountain of evidence, all of which can lead only to the conclusion that the races differ in ability. Nevertheless, Dr. Baker is strictly the scientist. He draws no further conclusions and makes no suggestions about social policy. There is no doubt in his mind that current orthodoxy on this subject is absurd, but he limits his exegesis to the interpretation of data.
In its realm, however, Race is a magisterial work to which justice cannot be done in a review. It is probably the single most ambitious and comprehensive volume on the subject ever attempted, and is surely without peer in its treatment of the physical differences that distinguish races. It is not an easy book — Dr. Baker does not address himself to dullards or dilettantes — but in these blighted times it is a stroke of astonishing good fortune that a man of his immense learning and ability should have chosen to take up a position on the unpopular but truthful side of “the ethnic problem.”