Tag Archives: History

March of progress, reloaded

To compensate for the um, excitement of that last post about project management, I present my readers with this especially striking depiction of the March of Progress image.


[March of Progress image]

There are two central points about this image, generally speaking. First, it represents evolution incorrectly. The figures become more upright towards the right side of the image, which is intended to represent progress towards modern-day human beings. Evolution does not progress, let alone towards us. Second, it’s racist. Portrayals of dark-skinned people as primitive had been a staple of racists since well before the late 1850’s; evolutionary biology simply provides a new context for this representation. It remains offensive; those who think it isn’t aren’t taking it seriously enough. Recall the 2009 controversy over the representation of Barack Obama as a monkey—being shot by police. The Tightrope web site (“It’s not illegal to be white. . . yet”) has a t-shirt using a monkey to represent Obama, and if you really think this isn’t racist, you can show the world by buying one. I point out the scientific problems first to pre-empt the inevitable knee-jerk criticism that political correctness is the motivation for my complaints about the image. Even Grand Wizards and Neo-Nazis should object to this image on scientific grounds, although I doubt that the ignorance and intolerance framing their world view does not promote serious study of evolutionary biology.

This instance is especially outrageous because the March of Progress is a march towards whiteness. Astonishing. It’s not my area of expertise, but is it correct that the 4th and 5th figures from the left have hairstyles more likely to be worn by people of African descent? The rightmost woman has hair not in general natural for a person with black skin, because it is brown.

People just will not quit with the “March of Progress”

I am now reading the article by or about Deepak Chopra and consciousness in the Hufington Gazette-News (whose name I may have put down incorrectly on purpose out of spite and bitterness) because I have now invested more than enough time in it, the product of which is this blog posting, and I am sure that whatever the article has to say is not anywhere near redeeming enough to compensate for the scientifically incorrect, openly racist image used to call attention to it, sometimes called the “March of Progress” image.

"Monkey" image

Ordinarily when talking about something I feel strongly about, I might say something like, “I don’t want to go into histrionics about …” the idea being that people will pick up on the sarcasm, and realize that the topic is something I really would go into histrionics about if I didn’t mind looking like an idiot not fit for civil society.

Here we see it in an abolitionist medallion IN A CLEARLY RACIAL SENSE.

In a previous post to the EE&O blog and a follow-up, in which I explain the significance of the two images above as well as others, I have already addressed this issue in what I think is a non-histrionic manner.

I can’t take it anymore, and I am afraid that I am going to embarrass myself. I don’t care. If I check the date and time on my Mac, which is set automatically by a query to the NIST official time in Colorado or somewhere similar, I find that it is indeed 2011. Moreover, whatever one may think of whether he is not liberal enough, radical enough, or is too liberal, or too radical, the President of the United States is a black man. This does represent at least a symbolic victory for the progress of Civil Rights and for healing the collective wounds caused by the Civil War. I think I that it’s reasonable to say that explicitly racist images and statements are at least frowned upon. I do not feel much hesitation over making  the assertions of this paragraph.

At the same time, even at this late date in human history, say, several hundred years after Newton published his “Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy” in which he sketched out empirical, experimental methods for use in science, and more than 150 years after many of Darwin’s hypotheses in the Origin of Species have been shown to be credible beyond the shadow of any reasonable doubt whatever, almost everyone everywhere, including professional scientists, makes the mistake of thinking that evolution is progressive, that species improve on one another according to some general, secular trend, and that human beings are in some way special, and represent the furthest advance made in the organic world, and that this is best represented by our most recent conquest, over “monkeys.” But this is precisely what is represented in the frequently observed “March of Progress” image showing some apparently more primitive human primate ancestor hunched over at the far left, and an upright, “fully evolved” human being at the right, with other primates in between, becoming more and more upright, their brows receding more and more, each “more evolved” than the primate to its left.

To be brief: the March of Progress image is SCIENTIFICALLY INDEFENSIBLE and OPENLY RACIST. If you want to use it, go ahead, but don’t then go claim that you are not engaging directly in racial hate speech, or that your thinking is in line with scientifically credible opinion today.

My final comment by way of a question is, What the $#%!! is wrong with you people!

Matt Ridley: The promiscuity of things and ideas

On the evening of Wednesday, 19 May, 2010, author Matt Ridley gave an hour-long talk on his new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. He spoke at the New York Academy of Sciences, at its headquarters at the newly constructed 7 World Trade Center, which provides stunning views of Manhattan and, as Ridley pointed out at the start of his talk, represents the resilience and ingenuity he believes to be typical of human beings, and which informs his optimism about our future. The event was a part of the “Science in the City” series. About 100 people were in attendance, and the event was filmed for C-SPAN’s Book TV. Ridley is an engaging speaker, eminently clear, speaking at a measured pace in simple but elegant language, humor simmering just below the surface, coming up at just the right moments. He’s excited about his work, and he makes the audience excited about it too. He exhibited model form as a speaker, outlining his talk at the start, and sticking to his plan throughout. Its Book TV presentation is highly recommended; consult the Book TV or NYAS site for schedule information. Science in the City frequently makes podcasts or video footage of its events available on its site as well.

My aim here is to give readers rapid access to the central claims and arguments of the talk. Note that everything I say here is drawn from the talk rather than the book, although it’s reasonable to believe that the aim of his talk is to convey the book’s main ideas. I stay away from evaluating his claims, which I intend to do in a later post. Here I just want to give readers a clear sense of what Ridley is up to.

Continue reading