Reckoning With Human Zoos

I’ll question this. Sorry if it takes us a bit off topic.

I saw recently saw a similar comment, except this comment was about the excesses of some of the religious right in the US. And the commenter complained that liberal Christians don’t publicly condemn them.

Yet I follow several blogs by liberal Christians, and they did strongly condemn the particular behavior. It’s just that their condemnation did not get much press.

So now I wonder about that 99.9% of the Islamic population. Maybe they did publicly condemn the heinous acts, but the press failed to give their condemnation much attention.


@Michael_Callen the problem is not that we can’t see it’s wrong, it is that we forget we are all capable of evil like this. Also, if you start engaging in conversation with others, especially in private, you might be shocked about the evil about which others are untroubled. Education is one only piece of the puzzle, but it is an indispensable piece.

What find so informative about this conversation is that we cannot even conceive of the evil we can visit on our neighbors, because we never take the time to look, understand, and remember.

That is the issue, and it isn’t @Jordan’s fault. The natural response is to look away from these things, and focus on happier thoughts. We do not know because no one told us. We forgot who we are, and what we inherited. We are more likely to repeat such things in new and creative ways. Of course, our ways will be understandable to us, and our consciences will not be troubled. That is what makes it all the more important to remember.

On this it is easy to blame it on the press, or wonder why others do not decry something enough. This, however, is not a PR problem, and it does not call for a public performance. At a funeral, there are no awards for who gives the best eulogy. A truthful reckoning brings us to real sadness, whether we win the PR war or not, whether or not others join us there. There is much here to grieve, and there is no way to make restitution.

Honest and wise leaders do not look away. They remember, and they tell the stories, so others can remember too.

Yes, this needs to be done, but also more. Things like this can’t be about saving the paradigm, or taking cheap shots at evolution. We all have a public voice, not just @NLENTS and myself. There is something important an humanizing about these stories too. We do real good by empathetically retelling the stories, recognizing that the victims and the perpetrators could have been any of us. We, actually, are no better than them. If we are not careful, we might find new creative ways to do the same. Maybe we already have.

To be clear, this is not to make anyone feel guilty. I am an Indian, with dark skin, and I am including myself in this too. It just a part of our collective story. There is good and bad in our inheritance. To receive our inheritance, we have to remember both.


Hello Neil: If we go off topic, then Joshua will be there to make us a new thread anyhow! :slight_smile:

I think that the first example, while reasonable, doesn’t fit here, because the issue is one side not decrying the other. What we are talking about here is Side A policing Side A’s business. In the event of your second example, my analogy would be a bad one (and maybe it is anyhow…) But with Dr. Lents and Dr. Swamidass, for instance, they do have an audience. Even if the press is not following Dr. Lents, for instance (per your example two above), he is writing articles and books and can be on record as siding against an obviously barbaric practice. My point really was that people need to try and they need to be vocal, such that if the day comes where Side B criticizes one for sweeping something like this under the table, they can simply point to the record (book or article.)

As a Christian, I represent a people who claim to know the Truth. As such, there are always detractors. When someone screws up internally, those responsible need to speak up loudly, clearly, and publicly, and the others in the community who have a public voice need to do so also. I hope that makes sense.


Joshua, I agree with you completely, and don’t in any way wish to minimize the horror of this issue. However much education is needed is appropriate. You and I are in agreement spiritually over the human condition and the evil that man can do. The point that I was making, and you made it as well with Jordan is this:

Jordan wasn’t aware of this terrible practice from the past. You made him aware of this issue in very short time. He will never forget what can go horribly wrong when people buy in to a system that says that brown people are more closely related to (added in edit) animals than (end edit) white people. If more education is needed, that’s something that those of you who live and work in this area can decide.

What I was addressing, was Dr. Lents comment, with which I agree completely:

My response was to agree that there should be a proper reckoning and, even if others don’t listen, there are those of you who are published and can always remind people in print that “we always want to be wary of making mistakes like those of the past, which resulted in such dehumanizing treatment of some people.”


@swamidass, yesterday at lunch I talked to my my biology and chemistry colleagues about human zoos. None had heard of of it, including one who had worked at the Bronx zoo for a time. It was kind of a “wait, what?!” moment.

We are redesigning our science Gen Ed course (taken by 1/2 the students on campus) this year and I think I’ll try to include this topic somewhere.


Thank you @Jordan. I am glad educators like you are stepping up to the plate. This question is a great guiding light for a general Ed course: what does it mean to be human?

Alongside this a few additional content options to consider including:

  1. The Tuskegee Shyphilis Study
  2. A Movie: Hidden Figures (African American women in space program during segregation)
  3. Greggor of Nyssa: First Abolitionist, focused on Dominion in Genesis 1, not image of God.
  4. Martin Luther King Jr on Image of God and progress in science.
  5. Science of Race and Science of Persuasion
  6. Polygenesis and how both theology and science came to reject it.

Any time you want me to expand an item on this menu, let me know.

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If you work with human subject data, this is required reading:

10 minute video

Belmont Report on Wiki.


Wow! I don’t expect everyone everywhere to know of human zoos but I would have thought it common knowledge within the biology academy, especially anyone who had worked at a zoo. Perhaps this wrong assumption on my part is a reflection of my generation.

I remember seeing recycled old newsreel footage even appearing on TV programs in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Some featured Mbuti Ota Benga, for example. (At the time, I think they referred to Mbutis as “Congo pygmies.”) “Human zoos” were not just exhibits at traditional city zoos. The same kind of exhibits were often popular at “world’s fairs” and commemorative exhibitions. My memories are fuzzy after so many years gone by but as a child relatives told me stories about such “human culture exhibits” at the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Those exhibits usually involved African Dance troupes (e.g., performing every hour on the hour) and sometimes a “live African village”. No doubt there would have been many who defended these attractions as “cultural exchanges” and valuable anthropological education endeavors—but in the context of the times and how these “villages” contrasted with the surrounding bombastic celebrations of WASP achievements, I think these were basically human zoos as well. (I vaguely recall some controversy about how one such world’s fair dance troupe from Africa was furious at having living accommodations and provisions for their comfort far inferior to other fair contract workers. One wonders what kinds of experiences they had in Great Depression era Chicago during that 1933 world’s fair.)


Back in the mid sixties, my school religious instruction was centred around the unreliability of the biblical accounts or, on a good day, the truth-equivalence of all religions. In history we learned about religious conflicts in the English Civil War.

I don’t recall any teachers worrying overmuch about it making people uncomfortable, or casting religion in a negative light, so why would science get special treatment?

In fact, we live in an age when it the moral implications of science for good and for evil need to be weighed more seriously than in the past. We’ve lived through the risk of mutually assured destruction from nuclear weapons, and a Holocaust based on the same principles that underpinned human zoos.

It’s not primarily about race (there’s too tribal an atmosphere around that already), but about the moral accountability of science. If race is inflammatory, do the bomb, or artificial fertilizers, or leaded petrol, or CFCs - there are ethical back stories in all of those.


47 posts were split to a new topic: Can Science Demonstrate Racism or Genocide is Morally Wrong?

More on a human zoo of sorts existing today. Some may have seen the other news from North Sentinal today

I might watch this but seems too depressing


God, is this really happening?

I’m sorry, I know this is old and I shouldn’t open it again, especially since I have nothing new to say but this is really monstrous.

My experience in that part of the world is that tour operators do not always subscribe to the highest ethical standards :slight_smile:

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No kidding.

Nor do tourists (always) for that matter :slight_smile:

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