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HUMAN DIVERSITY AND RACIAL DIFFERENTIA TION* JOHAN DANKMEIJER1 It would be hard to think of a problem that has caused humanity as much suffering as what we are pleased to call the racial question. Even in our own time, in which scientific progress has given us the means to conquer so many catastrophic afflictions (I think here in particular of the epidemics of acute infection diseases which until recently caused such ravage), there are many places in the world where the problem of race generates hate and misery that destroy the lives of large groups of people. And the most perfidious, the most abominable aspect of the unexpungeable national socialism of the twentieth century was unquestionably the racial delusions to which millions of innocent people were viciously sacrificed. The major attainments of the science of medicine have resulted from biological research, that is, the investigation of man as a living being subject to the laws of organic and inorganic nature. It has only been very slowly, in the last 400 or 500 years, that man has become conscious of the fact that an understanding of his own biological nature and of the nature of his environment could provide him with a key that would open a door concealing knowledge and applications in unsuspected abundance. We can, indeed we must, ask ourselves whether a biological approach to the problem of race, too, would have a clarifying effect on our understanding of racial diversity and would contribute to the solution of the racial question which, there can be no shadow of a doubt, still constitutes a serious threat to the harmonious development of human society. Although the elimination of this problem may not need to be the main concern of a scientific study of the phe- * Address presented as Visiting Alpha Omega Alpha Professor, Delta Chapter, Chicago Medical School, April 23, 1971. t Department of Anatomy and Embryology, University of Leiden, Leiden, Holland. 630 I Johan Dankmeijer ยท Human Diversity nomenon of race, we must never lose sight of the fact that whenever the scientist studies "man" total objectivity is virtually impossible, for the simple reason that he is at the same time part of his subject, a man among men. Even the physician taking an unbiased and purely scientific approach to the phenomenon of disease can and may never shirk his responsibilities as a man in relation to his fellowman. In the same sense, anyone studying the problem of race will not fail to be moved by the suffering undergone by humanity largely due to ignorance and lack of understanding of the problem. It is not hard to understand that many people have a tendency to minimize racial differences and, purely out of otherwise exemplary ethical considerations, to behave as though differences between human groups are to be neglected as insignificant and trivial details. But this can sometimes be a dangerous fallacy. If we again compare the problem with the medical sciences, it will be clear to everyone that impelled only by sympathy we would never be able to control diseases; that we must first be prepared to analyze the phenomena and thus detect their causes. Sympathy and consolation alone cannot help, and the refusal to recognize the threat of disease for ethical reasons has never yet arrested an epidemic. The reason why is a simple one: Man is subject to natural laws from which there is no escape. Man lives as a natural being and, furthermore, in an environment with which he has the closest possible relations and which exercises strong influences on his behavior, just as he influences his environment . If these laws of nature have an inexorable validity, they cannot be abolished by ethical considerations, nor can they be violated, and they cannot be suspended by compassion, pity, or lamentation. It has been the great triumph of the modern sciences, and therefore also of medicine, that their practitioners have understood that true, effective help can only be given to the suffering by a fundamental comprehension and application of the laws of nature, and that ignorance and misunderstanding of these laws can lead only to failure. Let us therefore attempt first of all to see which biological factors underly the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 630-639
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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