’s Quote Essay, Research Paper
[E]very time a savage tracks his game he employs a minuteness of observation,
and an accuracy of inductive and deductive reasoning which, applied to other
matters, would assure some reputation as a man of science?[T]he intellectual
labour of a “good hunter or warrior” considerably exceeds that of an ordinary
Thomas H. Huxley
The following analysis is a critical look at the quote of Thomas Henry Huxley. First I will discuss why I was drawn to this particular text. Secondly, I will why this text is rhetorical. Thirdly, I will identify meta-messages in the text. And finally, I will discuss how the text functions as the rhetorical critic’s touchstone, and how Huxley feels something is wrong with the public view of scientists in his time.
Thomas Henry Huxley, born in 1825 and died in 1889, was British biologist and author of such works as Zoological Evidences as to Man’s Place in Nature (1863). After reading this quote several times, I found myself asking the same question over and over. Why do so many people find science hard to learn? It seems people shy away from the technical sciences. Aside from the differences in the disproportionate numbers of practicing male and female scientists, the actual numbers of people in general who choose a field in the sciences is extremely low and disproportionate. So, it seems that we are dealing with two specific groups of people here. The stereotyped groups are the intelligent and gifted scientists, and the unintelligent common laborer. Huxley is well aware of the disproportion and stereotyping between professional fields of powerless, unintelligent, common laborers to intelligent, elite scientists. More importantly, Huxley disagrees with these stereotypes, and we see this disagreement when he says, “The intellectual labour of a “good hunter or warrior” considerably exceeds that of an ordinary Englishman”(Sagan p.308). Huxley is suggesting that although “good hunters and warriors” are viewed as savages in society, they too also posses the qualities of an elite scientist. It is precisely this disproportion and stereotyping of the common laborer that has drawn me to critically analyze this quote by Huxley. Huxley’s quote acknowledges the biases of society when considering what it means to be a scientist. This leads me to my next point of discussion. Huxley’s quote is rhetorical.
Overall, Huxley is sending a message through his text. That message is saying that scientists do not possess a unique and extraordinary gift of intelligence that society believes to be true. Instead, it’s societies biases that blind us to the fact that what it takes to be a scientist, is also found in other professions. For example, Huxley says, “Every time a savage tracks his game, he employs?an accuracy of?reasoning which, applied to other matters, would assure some reputation of a man of science”(Sagan p.308). It is the word “savage” that is relevant to this point. When one hears the word “savage”, barbaric, caveman images come to mind; thus, the terms “barbaric” and “caveman” do not evoke thoughts of intelligence and wit. Huxley shows that what is thought to be a “savage” must endure at least some of the same intellect and wit as a scientist in order to survive. Huxley makes his readers consider the term “savage” in a new and positive light by comparing the savage’s basic instincts to what appears to be the basic instinct of the scientist. Huxley’s linking of the “savage” and the “scientist” shows there is common ground between these two beings. When common ground appears between two things that don’t seem to be related, it’s shocking. It forces the reader to consider a new perspective on an issue that otherwise would be unchallenged and unquestioned. Huxley isn’t suggesting that all social groups are capable of pursuing a field in science. For example, Huxley says, “The intellectual labour of a “good hunter or warrior” considerably exceeds that of an ordinary Englishman”(Sagan p.308). Huxley is simply suggesting that there are other social groups that possess the same qualities that scientists do, but the problem is that these other groups are not recognized for it. More importantly, Huxley is saying that the skills required in being a scientist might be more instinctual than many people realize. Rarely are the terms “good hunter” or “warrior” associated with intelligence. These terms are usually related to people who possess strength. A “good hunters” instinct doesn’t reflect a high intellectual person. Rather, it reflects a person who is in touch with nature. Ironically, sciences main purpose is to study and unravel the mysteries of nature. The problem is that the connection between nature and science seems to be muddled in social common knowledge; thus, a person of nature is not viewed as a person of science. This distance between a person of nature and a person of science is impossible simply because a person could not understand one without the other. Along with rhetorical messages in the text of Huxley’s quote, many meta-messages can be found.
Scientists experience special treatment in our society. They are rarely challenged on the things they claim to be so. The scientific community is made up of an elite few who enjoy the ability to make claims that are not challenged by anyone outside of the scientific community. Huxley recognizes this issue. For example, Huxley says, “Every time a savage tracks his game he employs a minuteness of observation, and an accuracy of inductive and deductive reasoning which, applied to other matters, would assure some reputation as a man of science”(Sagan p.308). Huxley is suggesting that a savage uses the same inductive and deductive reasoning as a scientist would. And, as a scientist’s inductive and deductive reasoning goes unchallenged, so does the savage’s ability to employ these skills. It is the stereotype of the “intellectual scientist” that I mentioned earlier that seems to give more importance to the scientist over the savage when it comes to their ability to reason. Another meta-message found in Huxley’s quote is the idea that a savage is thought to be only a male. For example, Huxley says, “Every time a savage tracks his game?”(Sagan p.308). Why does Huxley chose to use the word “his” in this quote? Huxley could have said, “Every time savages track their game?.” With very little effort, Huxley could of changed his text and still said what he wanted to say. It’s interesting to me that Huxley succeeded in showing societies prejudices between common people and scientific people but, failed to see the issue of male and female prejudices. Another example of this, and the most obvious one, is when Huxley says, “?applied to other matters, would assure some reputation as a man of science”(Sagan p.308). Huxley used the word “his” in the opening of this quote and this forced him to keep the focus masculine. Huxley most likely did this on a subconscious level, nevertheless, had he been aware of his own biases, this sentence could of read, “?applied to other matters, would assure some reputation as a person of science.” This gender bias that Huxley is exhibiting is directly related to the times in which he lived. This leads me directly to my next point, a message is a rhetorical critic’s touchstone.
When Huxley so honorably made this statement, it was in the 1800’s and it was a man’s world. Although the women’s movement of today has made incredible progress, the science community seems to be mainly male driven. Huxley’s male references are supporting the common social belief that the science community is a man’s community. Scientists are among the most powerful “namers” in society. If a scientist claims something to be true, then it’s accepted as truth. When Huxley, a scientist himself, makes a statement, it too goes unchallenged. More importantly, it goes unchallenged at all levels. It is the hidden messages in a text that are the most damaging. For example, Huxley says, “The intellectual labour of a “good hunter or warrior” considerably exceeds that of an ordinary Englishman”(Sagan p.308). Huxley is suggesting that ordinary Englishmen do not possess intellectual labour. Huxley has drawn a clear line between ordinary people and “intelligent” hunters and warriors. As a result, Huxley has obscured the fact that there indeed where intelligent Englishman in the 1800’s. What appears to be a valiant effort by Huxley in raising the negative images of hunters and warriors to the positive images of scientists, suppresses and supports social biases of “ordinary Englishmen.” Not only does Huxley encourage the suppression of “ordinary Englishmen”, he most likely was not challenged on this issue. This is the subconscious social damage done by scientists who are unaware of their own biases. Huxley didn’t intentionally support a negative view of ordinary Englishmen. It was simply a result his lores of understandings in his time. The dissection of Huxley’s quote seems to reveal much negativity. This was not Huxley’s goal. Although Huxley reveals his personal biases, he did see a need for change. This leads me to my final point. As a person of influence, Huxley felt something was wrong with the social assumption that it’s only scientists who possess the ability to reason. As a speaker, Huxley simply felt something was wrong.
Huxley recognizes the fact that society views scientists as an elite group. This is apparent when Huxley says, “Every time a savage tracks his game he employs a minuteness of observation, and an accuracy of inductive and deductive reasoning which, applied to other matters, would assure some reputation as a man of science”(Sagan p.308). Huxley is aware that it’s a social misconception of his time, as well as ours, that only scientists possess the ability to engage in inductive and deductive reasoning. Huxley wants the reader to critically think about what it takes for savages to skillfully hunt down their game and then realize these skills minutely parallel those of a person of science. Huxley then backs up his point by saying, “The intellectual labour of a “good hunter or warrior”?”(Sagan p.308). Huxley reinforces the idea that those good hunters and warriors possess intellectual abilities; thus they should be treated as intellects. This idea of considering hunters and warriors as intellects was Huxley’s attempt to change a socially bias view. In his time, Huxley saw something wrong with what people believed scientist where made up of. When you consider how scientists are viewed today, it doesn’t seem like we have come very far. Today, scientists continue to go unchallenged and unquestioned. There is a social myth that scientist possess a unique ability to see the truth. Ironically, there are no truths. There are only current beliefs about what is believed to be true. After all, there was a time when people believed the world was flat, and the moon was made of cheese.
In many ways, I am entering the professional world as a scientist. My specialty is in computers and, although my field isn’t one of physics or chemistry, I am very aware about the way people view me according to my field. When I’m asked about my skills, the reaction is usually one of wonder. I am instantly stereotyped as “one of those people.” This can be very frustrating because a lot of the people I meet do not see me for who I am. Instead they see a person of science, and assume I have all the answers to questions that deal with computers. I do not have all the answers. It’s amazing to me when I see their disappointment as I’m unable to answer a technical question they have. The computer field is turning out to be one of those elite fields that a selected few seem to be able to handle. This simply isn’t true. The field of computers is not filled with wizards and geniuses. It’s filled with people who work hard and are committed. Many people possess the qualities that it takes to enter a field like computer science, they just don’t realize it. This is exactly what I feel Huxley is metaphorically saying.
Sagan, C. (1996). The demon-haunted world. Random