“Buffon’s observations found surprisingly eager support among other writers, especially those whose conclusions were not complicated by actual familiarity with the country. A Dutchman named Corneille de Pauw announced in a popular work called Recherches philosophiques sur les Américains that native American males were not only reproductively unimposing, but ‘so lacking in virility that they had milk in their breasts’. Such views enjoyed an improbable durability and could be found repeated or echoed in European texts until near the end of the nineteenth century.
Not surprisingly, such aspersions were indignantly met in America. Thomas Jefferson incorporated a furious (and unless the context is understood, quite bewildering) rebuttal in his Notes on the State of Virginia, and introduced his New Hampshire friend General John Sullivan to send twenty soldiers into the northern woods to find a bull moose to present to Buffon as proof of the stature and majesty of American quadrupeds. It took the men two weeks to track down a suitable subject. The moose, when shot, unfortunately lacked the imposing horns that Jefferson had specified, but Sullivan thoughtfully included a rack of antlers from an elk or stag with the suggestion that these be attached instead. Who in France, after all, would know?"
I read this and marked it off in Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. I remember laughing my ass off through the chapter. A lot of not just academia, but everything we consider to be objective knowledge, is based off the research and findings of people with their own sets of prejudices and preconceived notions, and their own agendas. It's surprisingly hard to get people to realize this. Beside the hilarity of American narcissism, the chapter expanded on how science wasn't just a race driven out of a thirst for knowledge, it was a race for status and political recognition, and it was a theme that controlled the narratives of the book.
Aside from Bryson's book, I also got to dip a little into Anne Fausto-Sterling's Myths of Gender, which is basically a whole book reiterating the same thing. If you'd like to read more about embracing your inner skeptic, here's a blog post that addresses some simple ways to critically engage with studies and statistics.
I just wanted to bring this up. Recently, I've sunk into the shamefully useless habit of keeping tabs or 'hatereading' a few peoples' blogs and Twitters just so I'd have more reasons to slam my head into the table repeatedly. I guess since I like wasting my time so much, I welcome the distraction that others and their hilarious opinions and antics provide. Just trying to make sense of their incredible mental gymnastics takes a half hour to digest, and wondering exactly how a person could end up with a thought process so stunted and damaged takes another half hour.
But in the end, I'm not doing anything productive. Even criticizing and engaging with them will only likely end up badly for me. What I have to remember (and this serves as a reminder for others as well but I'm mostly writing for my petty self) is that most people only hold the opinions they do because they are reacting to their surrounding environment. Some people are wired to appease and conform, so they mould themselves as a version that would be accepted and celebrated by society. Others (like me) are more naturally inclined to go against the grain, but even that has its drawbacks because I was more than content to disagree with just about everyone and consider every opinion that wasn't my own to be invalid for basically no reason. That's still a mode of thought that fundamentally relies on what is socially expected of you. As someone who's been through the whole nihilistic and misanthropic, oh, pity me everyone around me is just so stupid so what's the point anyway, I can definitely confirm that it's 100% Special Snowflake Syndrome.
If I criticize these people, either for sticking so absolutely to the status quo or going so harshly against that they fail to see the holes in their own arguments, then I'll just be continuing that cycle. It's dishonest and it's reactionary. I don't want to be either.
That's why I like introspective people, and why oblivious people make me uncomfortable. We have to analyze ourselves and our motives. We have to know why we're doing or saying something. If it's just a simple reaction against majority opinion, then that has the capacity to trip us up in the end. For people like me whose second nature is to question everything: everyone is not entirely wrong about everything all of the time. This extremely liberal attempt at trying to find the 'gray area' between general consensus and 'reality' is distracting. It's neutrality, basically. Skepticism is a good place to start. You should question everything you're told, especially the dominant narrative. But then you have to make the right choice, and take a stand.