The Crest of the Peacock (1991) has a beautiful title and an ugly purpose. The book takes that title from a line in an ancient Sanskrit text: “Like the crest of a peacock, like the gem on the head of a snake, so is mathematics at the head of all knowledge.” (p. v) So much for the beauty: now for the ugliness. The subtitle of the book is “Non-European Roots of Mathematics” and it’s one of the earlier entries in what might be called the “Whites Stole Everything” school of anti-Western polemic. There’s the West and the Rest—and the Rest is Best.
Sue’s venomous views
The author of the book, a Keralan Indian called George Gheverghese Joseph, didn’t express himself as crudely as that. But thirty years later the implicit message of his “pioneering book” (back cover) is explicit throughout Western politics, media and education. Whites have perpetually stolen from and exploited the rest of the world. They have no true culture, no distinctive achievements, and so-called Western civilization truly is, as the notorious Jewish writer Susan Sontag so eloquently put it, “the cancer of human history.” Joseph doesn’t have that Jewish hatred for Whites and the Christian West—he says in the introduction that he comes “from a family of Syrian Orthodox Christians” in Kerala (p. xiii)—but he obviously wants to give Whites as little credit for their mathematical achievements as he can. This is a book about mathematics, not linguistics, but when he’s describing pioneers in the decipherment of cuneiform script he gives full names and dates to “George Frederick Grotefend (1775–1853) and Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (1810–95)” (p. 95).
Grotefend and Rawlinson were Whites uncovering the greatness of a non-European civilization, so Joseph is happy to acknowledge their “pioneering efforts.” But when he’s discussing the mathematical constant π and the ancient problem of “squaring the circle,” he hides another White pioneer behind the passive voice: “The problem of squaring the circle was finally resolved in 1882 when it was shown to be impossible. … Only in the nineteenth century was it demonstrated that, since squaring the circle is equivalent to constructing a line segment whose length is equal to the product of the square root of π (which is not a constructible quantity) and the radius of the given circle, it cannot be done.” (pp. 188-9)
The contradiction that powers leftism
But who “resolved” that problem? Who “demonstrated” that “it cannot be done”? It was the great German mathematician Ferdinand Lindemann (1852–1939). Joseph doesn’t name him, presumably because he doesn’t want to acknowledge that a White mathematician achieved such an important result. Joseph is a leftist and his concealment of Lindemann’s identity exposes one of the central contradictions of leftism. The ideology claims explicitly to believe in absolute human equality and yet acts on the implicit assumption that Whites are innately vicious and non-Whites innately virtuous. Whites must therefore be denied credit wherever possible, because, unlike non-Whites, they don’t genuinely deserve it.
This contradiction doesn’t weaken leftism: on the contrary, it powers leftism. The explicit claim of human equality gives leftists a sense of self-righteous virtue and superiority over the ignorant racists who reject human equality. At the same time, they use their implicit belief in White evil to indulge their hostility towards or hatred of Whites. For example, the leftist attitude to startling Black achievements in the field of murder and mayhem can be summed up like this: “It may be a Black hand holding the gun, but it’s white racism that pulls the trigger.” In other words, the malevolent agency of Whites explains all apparent non-White misbehaviour.
Stonehenge doesn’t count
Joseph is working in this anti-White tradition when he implicitly promotes the idea that the work of non-Whites explains all apparent White achievement in mathematics. And indeed, we should be happy to acknowledge the genius of non-White mathematicians like the Keralan Madhava of Sangamagramma (c. 1340–c. 1425), who was centuries ahead of European mathematicians in some of his results. But we’ve seen that, even as Joseph is naming and proclaiming such non-White geniuses, he declines to name the White mathematician Lindemann: “The problem of squaring the circle was finally resolved in 1882 when it was shown to be impossible.”
That’s not an oversight: it’s intentional. And he states in a footnote that “we shall not be discussing … the mathematical attainments of the constructors of megalithic monuments, such as Stonehenge in England,” claiming that “it is extremely unlikely that the neolithic lifestyle of the constructors would have generated the demands or supplied the resources required for developing the ‘advanced’ mathematics attributed to them by [some] writers.” (p. 27) That may be so, but the “constructors of megalithic monuments” in Europe prove that the “roots of mathematics” were not entirely “non-European.” By discussing the monuments, Joseph would have undermined his simple theme of the Rest being Better than the West. So he doesn’t discuss them.
The mountains of Central Equatorial Africa
This exclusion is both convenient for Joseph and revealing of his anti-White and anti-Western motives. At the beginning of the book, he proclaims his own belief the Psychic Unity of Mankind: “there is no reason to believe that early man’s capacity to reason and conceptualize was any different from that of his modern counterpart.” (p. 27) In fact, there’s very good reason to believe that, thanks to different paths of evolution in very different environments, intellectual powers are not distributed evenly among either the races or the sexes. Intellectual achievement certainly hasn’t been distributed evenly, as Joseph’s own book demonstrates. Although leftists greeted The Crest of the Peacock with delight—“A magnificent contribution” said a “peer-reviewed academic journal on contemporary racism and imperialism” called Race & Class—the book doesn’t in fact support the leftist world-view.
According to the publisher’s blurb, Joseph “makes it clear [that] human beings everywhere have been capable of advanced and innovative mathematical thinking.” No, he doesn’t do that, because mathematical achievements have not been scattered at random among the various human races and cultures. He begins his survey with the Ishango Bone, a very interesting prehistoric artefact found “in the mountains of Central Equatorial Africa” (p. 23). Regular and obviously deliberate markings on the bone, which seems to date from about 20,000 BC, do indeed seem to show a lunar calendar and even some understanding of prime numbers. But Joseph is unable to claim that sub-Saharan Blacks were key contributors to the “non-European roots of mathematics.” It would be difficult to do that, because they weren’t.
Ancient Egypt was not a “Black civilization”
And today Blacks are of no importance in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). This is a big embarrassment to the left, and Joseph uses one of their main responses: to count ancient Egypt and its awesome civilization as somehow “Black” because Egypt is geographically part of Africa. He announces: “It is important that the African roots of the Egyptian civilization are emphasized so as to counter the still deeply entrenched view that the ancient Egyptians were racially, linguistically and even geographically separated from Africa.” (pp. 57-8)
The implicit—and bad—reasoning there is that ancient Egypt was in Africa and that Africa is Black, therefore ancient Egypt was a Black civilization. A supercharged version of the same bad reasoning has been used to hail the Roman emperor Septimius Severus (1462–11) as one of “100 Great Black Britons,” because he was born in what is now northern Libya and died in what is now the English city of York. Libya is in Africa, therefore Severus was Black; York is in Britain, therefore Severus was British; and he was a Roman emperor, therefore he was a Great Black Briton. QED!
Backward to Black
Septimius Severus was neither Black nor British, of course. And Greek mathematicians like Euclid and Eratosthenes were not Black either, despite hailing from Alexandria “in Africa” and despite the self-aggrandizing claims of the genuinely Black mathematician Jonathan Farley. As Nassim Talib has pointed out, these ridiculous claims might stop if we replaced the geographic label “North Africa” with the equally legitimate label “South Mediterranean.” The mathematically expert Taleb added: “Too many people think in words.” Joseph isn’t guilty of such explicit misrepresentation in The Crest of the Peacock, but he’s still promoting the idea that ancient Egypt’s geography somehow determined its genetics. In fact, no: ancient Egypt’s genetics were not Black.
But modern Egypt’s genetics are much closer to being so: the admixture of sub-Saharan genes has increased over time. As Egypt’s Blackness rose, its greatness fell. Its leading role in mathematics and its astonishing achievements, like the pyramids, are now long in the past. That’s exactly what one would expect: advanced civilization and technological innovation depend on a critical mass of highly intelligent individuals—what the probably Jewish statistician Griffe du Lion calls “the smart fraction.” The more Black admixture there is in a population, the fewer such individuals there will be and the less capable that population will be of high achievement.
The genius of Persia
The religion of Islam may also have contributed to the intellectual stagnation of once advanced regions like Egypt and Mesopotamia. Consanguineous marriage, which is widely practised by Muslims, both lowers average intelligence and breaks down social cohesion, because it promotes loyalty to families and clans rather than to larger entities. Joseph devotes the final section of his book to a “Prelude to Modern Mathematics: The Arab Contribution,” where he traces the achievements of mathematicians and astronomers working under the “Islamic rule” that stretched “from North Africa in the south to the borders of France in the West, right across Persia and the Central Asian plains to the borders of China in the east, and down to Sind in northern India.” (p. 301)
However, “Arab Contribution” isn’t the right term, because some of the most important figures in the “Prelude to Modern Mathematics” were not Arab but Persian and hence from an area conquered by the Indo-Europeans in the third millennium BC. Joseph discusses giants like Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (c. 780–c. 850), Omar Khayyam (c. 1040–1123), and Jamshid al-Kashi (c. 1380–1429), who were born within the borders of modern Iran (al-Khwarizmi’s name is the source of the term “algorithm” in modern English). Once again we can see intellectual achievement isn’t distributed at random: “Islamic rule” stretched across a vast territory, but some parts of that territory, like Persia and Central Asia, contributed disproportionately to mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and medicine.
More interestingly still, some of the great mathematicians of the era seem to follow a pattern I’ve discussed before at the Occidental Observer: that of highly-achieving minority sects within under-achieving majorities. In India, the religious sect known as Parsis have made hugely disproportionate contributions to intellectual life and, in the person of Freddy Mercury, to entertainment. Their name literally means “Persians,” because they’re the descendants of Zoroastrians driven out of Persia by Muslim persecution in the seventh and eighth centuries. Muslims have also persecuted the sect to which the great Pakistani scientist Abdus Salam (1926––96) belonged. He won a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979, the first scientific Nobel ever awarded to a Muslim.
But he isn’t celebrated in his homeland, where it is illegal to refer to him as a Muslim. He belonged to a much-persecuted Muslim sect called the Ahmadis, who are regarded as dangerous and death-deserving heretics by mainstream Sunnis. That pattern of minority and sectarian high achievement also appears in Joseph’s book. Al-Khwarizmi may have been “of Zoroastrian descent” (p. 305), while Thabit ibn Qurra (c. 836–c. 901) belonged to an ancient star-worshipping sect called the Sabaeans, which Joseph says produced other “eminent scholars in mathematics and astronomy.” (pp. 307–8) He mentions these affiliations only in passing and undoubtedly did not regard them as biologically important. After all, how could membership of one religion or another affect one’s mathematical skills for better or worse?
A genuine Jewish genius
Well, very easily, because religious groups that are genetically isolated from the majority can preserve or evolve distinct genes of all kinds, including those that influence intelligence and cognition. Kevin MacDonald has noted of medieval Jewish culture in Europe that “success as a scholar was valuable because it allowed the scholar to contract a desirable marriage, often to a woman from a wealthy family. At the very center of Judaism, therefore, was a set of institutions that would reliably result in eugenic processes related to intelligence and resource acquisition ability.”
It isn’t a coincidence, then, that Emmy Noether (1882–1935), perhaps the best and most important female mathematician in history, was a product of those eugenic processes. In other words, Noether was Jewish, like a vastly disproportionate number of other great mathematicians and physicists. If intellectual ability were distributed at random among human beings, we wouldn’t see patterns like that. Joseph didn’t discuss Jewish mathematicians in his book, because he almost certainly didn’t regard them as non-White and non-European. Accordingly, he wouldn’t have thought them useful for anti-Western propaganda.
Submerged by the West
But he did mention another statistical anomaly: that of two mathematical geniuses from the large, highly populous and very genetically complex region of India. But the geniuses Madhava of Sangamagramma (c. 1340–c. 1425) and Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–920) defied the demographic odds and were born in nearly the same part of India and into the same Brahmin stratum of society, a stratum often linked to the Indo-European invasion. Joseph says of Madhava that he “possessed extraordinary intuition, making him almost the equal of a more recent intuitive genius, [Ramanujan], who spent his childhood and youth at Kumbakonam, not very far from Madhava’s birthplace.” (p. 293)
He goes on to ask whether Ramanujan drew on “the vestiges of a ‘hidden’ indigenous mathematical tradition which was not submerged by the influx of modern mathematics from the West.” (p. 293) I don’t think Ramanujan did that. Instead, I think he drew on a different kind of tradition: genetics. Madhava and Ramanujan may have owed their shared genius to their shared genetics. The two men were both Hindus, but Hinduism is like an arch beneath which shelter hundreds of sects and thousands or even tens of thousands of micro-sects whose customs and taboos have kept them genetically separate for centuries and more. The famous division of Hindu society into Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra, or scholars, warriors, merchants, and labourers, is merely a précis. The social—and genetic—reality is much more complicated than that and the stratifications much more detailed and genetically significant, including a significant influx of the genes of Indo-European Bronze Age conquerors.
Blank slates and loaded dice
As a believer in the “Blank Slate” theory of human nature, Joseph doesn’t mention genetics in his discussion either of India or of China, which was more fertile ground for the “Non-European Roots of Mathematics.” In other words, while his book supposedly expanded the horizons of intellectual history and enquiry, in fact it shrunk them in typical leftist fashion. Leftists try to reduce the vast and fascinating complexity of human biology and behaviour to a narrow tale of environment and culture. The “Blank Slate” theory of human nature accompanies and complements the “Tumbling Dice” theory of human history. If we’re all the same under the skin, then, as the Jewish scientist Jared Diamond has often claimed, it’s merely chance and fortunes of geography or climate that explain why one group achieves this and another group achieves that. Or fails to achieve it.
But the “Tumbling Dice” theory of history inexorably gives rise to the “Loaded Dice” theory of history, whereby Whites are found guilty of rigging the historic game in their own favour. If the dice weren’t loaded, they would surely tumble sooner or later in favour of Blacks. Century after century, they haven’t done so. Therefore they must be loaded. What else but White racism can explain why Blacks are so successful at crime and so unsuccessful at STEM? And while Whites were unjustly and maliciously treading Blacks into the dirt, they were looting the intellectual treasures of India and China. In short, Western civilization is a fraud and Whites stole everything, lifting themselves up by pushing everyone else down.
Indian numerals, Babylonian timekeeping
As I said at the beginning, Joseph doesn’t put it as crudely as that. Nevertheless, scholarly work like his has fuelled the increasingly rabid anti-White attitudes of the present day, when people are putting it as crudely as that. But those anti-White fanatics are wrong. Whites did not “steal everything” and they have distinctive and admirable achievements of their own. Joseph is right that the West built on and benefited from the genius (and geniuses) of ancient civilizations like Babylonia, Egypt, India and China. For example, we use Arabic numerals, which are really Indian numerals, and we still divide time in the ancient sexagesimal fashion of the Babylonians.
But Western civilization has surpassed its mentors in STEM and reached new heights. Modern mathematics, like the modern science it underpins, is a White Western creation. Whites could very easily make unlimited further progress in mathematics and science without the contribution of high-IQ non-Whites, whether Indians, Chinese or Jews. Indeed, Whites will stop making progress of all kinds if non-Whites do not leave Western societies and allow us to end the worsening anti-White trends in politics and culture.
Insanities, inanities and fatal flaws
The Crest of the Peacock was fuel thirty years ago as those trends began to gain momentum and venom. Yes, in part the book is a fascinating (if wordy) synthesis of some very diverse mathematical history and biography. But its interesting contents and beautiful title belie its ugly purpose. And it has undoubtedly contributed to the slow-motion collapse of standards in STEM that began in the last century. Thanks to the insanities and inanities of Black Lives Matter and its allies, the collapse is losing slowness and gaining motion by the day. The left knows that it can’t raise Blacks to meet high standards, so it has to drop standards to meet the low abilities of Blacks.
That is not a recipe for civilizational success, which is why China is refusing to follow it. But it’s easy for China to refuse to contort and flagellate itself for its sins towards Blacks. Why so? Because China hasn’t opened its borders to the Third World and been massively enriched by Blacks. Or by Indians like George Gheverghese Joseph, who was educated at the English universities of Leicester and Manchester as he researched and wrote his anti-Western book.
If Whites have a fatal flaw, it is not nasty xenophobia but naïve xenophilia. We have been too ready to nurture hostile outsiders and too ready to indulge them as they’ve set about the culture of critique and the dismantling of Western civilization. There is indeed the West and the Rest. But when the Rest flood into the West, the West ceases to be Best. That’s the lesson I draw from The Crest of the Peacock.