Malcolm Little was faced with a compelling question. It might have been formed into this question: ‘Do I have an essential identity?’ Or the question may have been formed in this way: ‘Am I that same African?’ He knew that the name ‘Little’ came from someone who owned one or more of his ancestors? He had learned from his father that he was a descendant of slaves.
But how could he go about answering those questions? His surname (Little) was but a livestock property tag; a name derived from a slave owner. He could not do a family lineage study because there were no records he could research which would lead him back to that African’s name. Birth and death records for slaves were not kept.
That African was thus just an ‘X’ in Malcolm’s mind. Despite that as time passed he overcame the practical problems associated with identifying his family lineage. Malcolm filled the void with the study of the science of anthropology and genetics. This became his fascination.
Turning one dog eared and yellow stained page after another, book after book, both thick and thin until his eyes burned for lack of both adequate light and closure he read on. Finally his research uncovered names. He identified two thinkers whose books were like lanterns, illuminating for him a narrow path which if he thought deeply upon might lead him to answers to the questions which fueled his sleepless nights. Those thinkers were Charles Darwin and Gregor Johann Mendel. Both men had provided light in a tunnel of darkness and had altered the current of modern thinking on the origins and nature of human beings.
By the time Malcolm had came to understand, the theories he’d discovered by Darwin and Mendel had been manipulated by other men. Leading anthropologists and biologists had made profound changes to the way scientists thought about the ‘Genus Homo’ especially ‘Homo Sapiens Sapiens’. There had also been changes in the way scientists thought about other genetically related hominids such as Neanderthal and their particular genetic relation to some human groups in Europe and Asia. They developed their own hypotheses about our origin from common ancient mammalian and ultimately reptilian species; and, our genetic relation to other animals. More importantly, scientists were putting the pieces of a complex puzzle together to form a picture of how we have been able to morph and extend our ‘genetic plasma’ through time and space.
Charles Darwin published: ‘The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favored Races In The Struggle For Life’ in 1859. His basic hypothesis is that natural selection is the mechanism by which some species of animal come into being and survive environmental changes while others become extinct. Over time that process results in the presumed evolution of more environmentally adapted species. Darwin’s ideas of competition for resources and mating opportunity, ‘fitness’ or the number of offspring generated by a male and female over the course of their life-time, adaptation, and mutation underscored an idea from Heraclitus: “There is nothing permanent except change.” and that those life forms which cannot change successfully in relation to material changes to their environment will at the very minimum suffer and at most they will become extinct.
Malcolm in his pursuit of understanding must have discovered that Darwin’s theory of natural selection had social as well as moral consequences. That was important to resolve because Darwin’s theory had been interpreted into a social theory of change by Herbert Spencer; social Darwinism came to dominate the interpretation of human worth based upon the thesis: Only the economically fit should survive in society.
While in prison, Malcolm must have mulled over the consequences of manipulation and the application of Darwin’s theory to social structures and social relations. Social Darwinism had become an entrenched social theory by the 1940s in most universities throughout the U.S. Before the great depression of 1929 to 1941 when social Darwinism was wedded to Adam Smith’s theory of unregulated capitalism. This union of thought and practice was used to rationalize the impoverishment of millions but also to support the unequal distribution of income amongst 1% to 20% percent of United States the population.
Malcolm understood that social Darwinism rationalized the extreme disparity caused by 1% of the population taking 27% of national income in 1929. Such inequality was rationalized by the argument that those at the bottom of the social hierarchy are ‘naturally selected’ to be poor because they are less adapted to the social changes caused by industrialization in the early 20th century.
Malcolm understood that proving the assumptions wrong may not be the problem. He recognized that even if the assumptions of social Darwinism are proven wrong, if they are ‘believed’ to be true by those who wield power and control over the superstructure of society then the next step is the institutionalization of those beliefs. This happens through a massive social infrastructure. Finally, the machinery of society plays it out and that causes social consequences along a path predetermined by groups in power.
Those social consequences had manifested during the depression of the 1930s. In the 1930s, thousands of men, women, and children starved to death on the streets and in alleys. Millions of others were reduced to the humiliation of begging on the streets of large and small cities and towns across the United States. The social Darwinists argued that such poor deserved their condition because ‘only the strong survive.’
Though Darwin’s theory had flowed beyond its zoological landscape and onto the social landscape it would fall upon Gregor Mendel to unlock the laws of biotic extension over time and space.
Gregor Mendel wrote ‘Experiments on Plant Hybrids’ between 1856 and 1863. From Mendel’s experiments, ‘Punnett’s Square’ was derived. Mendel’s experiments were rediscovered in 1900. For Malcolm, Punnett’s Square was a good study because not only was it foundational to the field of genetics but because of its arithmetic simplicity. Malcolm learned it quickly. Mendel’s hypothesis involve simple relations between chromosomes. The basic discovery by Mendel revealed that the physical characteristics of parents and ancestors are heritable according to a very predictable law of probability.
Mendel’s discovery led Malcolm to one undeniable conclusion. Malcolm’s study answered his own question: ‘Am I that same African?’ His answer would necessarily be, yes, ‘I am that I am’. Genetically, Malcolm was a DNA link. He was but a DNA link which spanned backward in time and space. He was preceded by every person in a complex tapestry of lineal ancestry dating back millions of years and perhaps even encompassing millions of planets in the Milky Way galaxy.
But even more importantly, Malcolm no doubt came to know that he was a created soul. He no doubt came to understand something more. Though he was but a link in a chain of DNA which stretched back billions of light years in space and time, he saw his existence in a higher light. He saw that at the end of that chain his body, dangling, held down on the floor of this world as would an anchor hold in harbor a ship, so, too, his body anchored his soul to this foreign mindscape. At the end of his logical reasoning to infer his true identity, the facts, one upon the other and all true, constructed like a long spiraling stairway led him up to an undeniable truth. That truth he discovered was that he was a reflection in this world of the Mind of God.