Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Saturday Night Science: A Troublesome Inheritance

 

A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas WadeGeographically isolated populations of a species (unable to interbreed with others of their kind) will be subject to natural selection based upon their environment. If that environment differs from that of other members of the species, the isolated population will begin to diverge genetically, as genetic endowments which favour survival and more offspring are selected for. If the isolated population is sufficiently small, the mechanism of genetic drift may cause a specific genetic variant to become almost universal or absent in that population. If this process is repeated for a sufficiently long time, isolated populations may diverge to such a degree they can no longer interbreed, and therefore become distinct species.

None of this is controversial when discussing other species, but in some circles to suggest that these mechanisms apply to humans is the deepest heresy. This well-researched book examines the evidence, much from molecular biology which has become available only in recent years, for the diversification of the human species into distinct populations, or “races” if you like, after its emergence from its birthplace in Africa. In this book the author argues that human evolution has been “recent, copious, and regional” and presents the genetic evidence to support this view.

A few basic facts should be noted at the outset. All humans are members of a single species, and all can interbreed. Humans, as a species, have an extremely low genetic diversity compared to most other animal species: this suggests that our ancestors went through a genetic “bottleneck” where the population was reduced to a very small number, causing the variation observed in other species to be lost through genetic drift. You might expect different human populations to carry different genes, but this is not the case—all humans have essentially the same set of genes. Variation among humans is mostly a result of individuals carrying different alleles (variants) of a gene. For example, eye colour in humans is entirely inherited: a baby’s eye colour is determined completely by the alleles of various genes inherited from the mother and father. You might think that variation among human populations is then a question of their carrying different alleles of genes, but that too is an oversimplification. Human genetic variation is, in most cases, a matter of the frequency of alleles among the population.

This means that almost any generalisation about the characteristics of individual members of human populations with different evolutionary histories is ungrounded in fact. The variation among individuals within populations is generally much greater than that of populations as a whole. Discrimination based upon an individual’s genetic heritage is not just abhorrent morally but scientifically unjustified.

Based upon these now well-established facts, some have argued that “race does not exist” or is a “social construct”. While this view may be motivated by a well-intentioned desire to eliminate discrimination, it is increasingly at variance with genetic evidence documenting the history of human populations.

Around 200,000 years ago, modern humans emerged in Africa. They spent more than three quarters of their history in that continent, spreading to different niches within it and developing a genetic diversity which today is greater than that of all humans in the rest of the world. Around 50,000 years before the present, by the genetic evidence, a small band of hunter-gatherers left Africa for the lands to the north. Then, some 30,000 years ago the descendants of these bands who migrated to the east and west largely ceased to interbreed and separated into what we now call the Caucasian and East Asian populations. These have remained the main three groups within the human species. Subsequent migrations and isolations have created other populations such as Australian and American aborigines, but their differentiation from the three main races is less distinct. Subsequent migrations, conquest, and intermarriage have blurred the distinctions between these groups, but the fact is that almost any child, shown a picture of a person of European, African, or East Asian ancestry can almost always effortlessly and correctly identify their area of origin. University professors, not so much: it takes an intellectual to deny the evidence of one’s own eyes.

As these largely separated populations adapted to their new homes, selection operated upon their genomes. In the ancestral human population children lost the ability to digest lactose, the sugar in milk, after being weaned from their mothers’ milk. But in populations which domesticated cattle and developed dairy farming, parents who passed on an allele which would allow their children to drink cow’s milk their entire life would have more surviving offspring and, in a remarkably short time on the evolutionary scale, lifetime lactose tolerance became the norm in these areas. Among populations which never raised cattle or used them only for meat, lifetime lactose tolerance remains rare today.

Humans in Africa originally lived close to the equator and had dark skin to protect them from the ultraviolet radiation of the Sun. As human bands occupied northern latitudes in Europe and Asia, dark skin would prevent them from being able to synthesise sufficient Vitamin D from the wan, oblique sunlight of northern winters. These populations were under selection pressure for alleles of genes which gave them lighter skin, but interestingly Europeans and East Asians developed completely different genetic means to lighten their skin. The selection pressure was the same, but evolution blundered into two distinct pathways to meet the need.

Can genetic heritage affect behaviour? There’s evidence it can. Humans carry a gene called MAO-A, which breaks down neurotransmitters that affect the transmission of signals within the brain. Experiments in animals have provided evidence that under-production of MAO-A increases aggression and humans with lower levels of MAO-A are found to be more likely to commit violent crime. MAO-A production is regulated by a short sequence of DNA adjacent to the gene: humans may have anywhere from two to five copies of the promoter; the more you have, the more the MAO-A, and hence the mellower you’re likely to be. Well, actually, people with three to five copies are indistinguishable, but those with only two (2R) show higher rates of delinquency. Among men of African ancestry, 5.5% carry the 2R variant, while 0.1% of Caucasian males and 0.00067% of East Asian men do. Make of this what you will.

The author argues that just as the introduction of dairy farming tilted the evolutionary landscape in favour of those bearing the allele which allowed them to digest milk into adulthood, the transition of tribal societies to cities, states, and empires in Asia and Europe exerted a selection pressure upon the population which favoured behavioural traits suited to living in such societies. While a tribal society might benefit from producing a substantial population of aggressive warriors, an empire has little need of them: its armies are composed of soldiers, courageous to be sure, who follow orders rather than charging independently into battle. In such a society, the genetic traits which are advantageous in a hunter-gatherer or tribal society will be selected out, as those carrying them will, if not expelled or put to death for misbehaviour, be unable to raise as large a family in these settled societies.

Perhaps, what has been happening over the last five millennia or so is a domestication of the human species. Precisely as humans have bred animals to live with them in close proximity, human societies have selected for humans who are adapted to prosper within them. Those who conform to the social hierarchy, work hard, come up with new ideas but don’t disrupt the social structure will have more children and, over time, whatever genetic predispositions there may be for these characteristics (which we don’t know today) will become increasingly common in the population. It is intriguing that as humans settled into fixed communities, their skeletons became less robust. This same process of gracilisation is seen in domesticated animals compared to their wild congeners. Certainly there have been as many human generations since the emergence of these complex societies as have sufficed to produce major adaptation in animal species under selective breeding.

Far more speculative and controversial is whether this selection process has been influenced by the nature of the cultures and societies which create the selection pressure. East Asian societies tend to be hierarchical, obedient to authority, and organised on a large scale. European societies, by contrast, are fractious, fissiparous, and prone to bottom-up insurgencies. Is this in part the result of genetic predispositions which have been selected for over millennnia in societies which work that way?

It is assumed by many right-thinking people that all that is needed to bring liberty and prosperity to those regions of the world which haven’t yet benefited from them is to create the proper institutions, educate the people, and bootstrap the infrastructure, then stand back and watch them take off. Well, maybe—but the history of colonialism, the mission civilisatrice, and various democracy projects and attempts at nation building over the last two centuries may suggest it isn’t that simple. The population of the colonial, conquering, or development-aid-giving power has the benefit of millennia of domestication and adaptation to living in a settled society with division of labour. Its adaptations for tribalism have been largely bred out. Not so in many cases for the people they’re there to “help”. Withdraw the colonial administration or occupation troops and before long tribalism will re-assert itself because that’s the society for which the people are adapted.

Suggesting things like this is anathema in academia or political discourse. But look at the plain evidence of post-colonial Africa and more recent attempts of nation-building, and couple that with the emerging genetic evidence of variation in human populations and connections to behaviour and you may find yourself thinking forbidden thoughts. This book is an excellent starting point to explore these difficult issues, with numerous citations of recent scientific publications.

Wade, Nicholas. A Troublesome Inheritance. New York: Penguin Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-59420-446-3.

Here is a painful-to-watch discussion with the author produced by the American Anthropological Association. The audio quality is mediocre, and Mr Wade’s connection is intermittent (and hence he only gets to speak after the designated “attack anthropologist” has his say).

 

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  1. Randy Webster Member

    I’m not sure what this means.

    almost any child, shown a picture of a person of European, African, or East Asian ancestry can almost always effortlessly and correctly identify their area of origin. University professors, not so much: it takes an intellectual to deny the evidence of one’s own eyes.

    • #1
    • December 6, 2014, at 12:00 PM PST
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  2. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    Randy Webster: I’m not sure what this means.

    almost any child,…

    Just that while almost everybody, including children, easily observe the existence of races (which are just human populations which have diverged during periods of geographical isolation), certain intellectuals have erected a belief system which denies the existence of race and hence have convinced themselves that even the rapidly emerging genetic evidence can be denied.

    • #2
    • December 6, 2014, at 12:12 PM PST
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  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVeyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In certain situations, we’re supposed to bow down to the iron inevitability of biology; in others, we’re expected to totally ignore it. No wonder kids find adult life confusing.

    • #3
    • December 6, 2014, at 12:29 PM PST
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  4. Randy Webster Member

    How is going through a bottleneck different from just starting from a very small number?

    • #4
    • December 6, 2014, at 12:29 PM PST
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  5. Jules PA Member

    interesting post. thanks for sharing it.

    • #5
    • December 6, 2014, at 12:37 PM PST
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  6. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    Randy Webster: How is going through a bottleneck different from just starting from a very small number?

    There is no difference in principle. It’s just that whenever you have a small initial population which subsequently grows to a much larger one, the genetic diversity in the resulting population will be smaller simply because the original population couldn’t carry many different versions of genes purely due to its limited size.

    When a large initial population is reduced to a small one and then subsequently recovers, this is referred to as a population bottleneck, while when a population starts from a small number of settlers who are then cut off from interbreeding with their source population (for example, a small group who have migrated to an isolated island), it is called the founder effect. The result is the same.

    It is believed that the human population went through a population bottleneck which resulted in its high level of genetic uniformity because there isn’t evidence for an event in human history in Africa which could invoke the founder effect. One suggestion for the origin of the bottleneck is the Toba catastrophe theory, in which the eruption of a super-volcano in Indonesia around 70,000 years before the present produced a rapid and severe climate change which may have reduced the human population in Africa to around 10,000 individuals. This was around 20,000 years before humans migrated out of Africa, so the effects of this bottleneck would affect the entire global population, which is what is observed.

    The founder effect is evident in that the genetic diversity of humans in Africa is much greater than those in the entire rest of the world. This can be explained if the migration from Africa to the north was by a small group of humans. That small founder population would necessarily be less diverse than Africans as a whole, and their descendants would carry only the limited genetic heritage they brought with them.

    The very low genetic diversity of the human species is well-documented. Theories of its cause are speculative and based upon only sketchy evidence at present.

    • #6
    • December 6, 2014, at 1:31 PM PST
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  7. Randy Webster Member

    I’m fixing to transfer my “Smartest Man in the World” award from Richard Epstein to you.

    • #7
    • December 6, 2014, at 1:47 PM PST
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  8. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    Gary McVey: In certain situations, we’re supposed to bow down to the iron inevitability of biology; in others, we’re expected to totally ignore it.

    I’ve always found it odd that many of the same people who vociferously defend evolution are among the first to deny that it could have had any effects upon humans.

    • #8
    • December 6, 2014, at 2:31 PM PST
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  9. AIG Inactive

    John Walker: University professors, not so much: it takes an intellectual to deny the evidence of one’s own eyes.

    Now now. You mean Sociology professors. Not “university professors”. All sociology professors are university professors, but not all university professors are sociology professors ;) No one outside of sociology thinks “race” is a social construct. In fact, most sociologists probably don’t either.

    Now, what you’re saying here pretty much true. I.e., genetic characteristics which were selected for for natural reasons, lead to certain institutional divergence.

    But the opposite therefore can also be true: exogenous changes in institutions can place pressure on “natural selection” for particular genetic traits.

    And since we have been seeing over the last century a very strong institutional convergence around the world, the only real question is “how long before these behavioral (genetic) differences are erased”.

    Now, you bring up the example of colonialism. But colonialism, or the “imposition” of Western institutions on native societies, lasted a relatively tiny amount of time. An infinitesimal small amount of time in fact, in genetic terms.

    And in some places it was stronger than in other places. And we do see differences in economic outcomes between former colonies where the institutional pressure to converge to the “mother country” was stronger, and between different kinds of institutional pressures from the colonials.

    One of the most influential economics papers is written on precisely this subject:

    http://economics.mit.edu/files/4123

    So the real question would be to see whether Western institutional pressure in, say, Namibia or Taiwan or South Korea…which obviously led to economic and institutional divergence from their comparable “sister” populations, and convergence with the West…also led to behavioral differences (and associated genetic traits).

    Having met people from Mainland China, and from HK or Taiwan…I’d say there’s a fairly obvious difference in behavior. But this difference was a lot larger 30 years ago, than today, indicating that as institutions converge, so does the pressure they place on the “natural selection” of behavior.

    • #9
    • December 6, 2014, at 3:34 PM PST
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  10. AIG Inactive

    So, to put it another way: of course genes matter. But they act on long time scales.

    But as anyone who has ever observed populations go through abrupt and exogenous institutional change can attest, human behavior can change rather dramatically, and fast.

    Case in point: Eastern Europe.

    • #10
    • December 6, 2014, at 3:45 PM PST
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  11. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    AIG: Now, you bring up the example of colonialism. But colonialism, or the “imposition” of Western institutions on native societies, lasted a relatively tiny amount of time. An infinitesimal small amount of time in fact, in genetic terms. And in some places it was stronger than in other places. And we do see differences in economic outcomes between former colonies where the institutional pressure to converge to the “mother country” was stronger, and between different kinds of institutional pressures from the colonials.

    I think we largely agree on this. (Also, in these reviews, I try to present the author’s opinion, which may differ from my own, with commentary as appropriate.)

    Culture is clearly heritable, and can be changed in less time than genetics. But culture also feeds back and forth with genetics, so over a sufficiently long time, cultural selection (largely which behaviours enable those who possess them to have more children) will influence genetics. I’ve heard that the rule of thumb in the agriculture school is that in about eight generations you can, by selective breeding, select for just about any characteristic you wish in animals. For humans, in most of their history, that’s about 200 years, so, even granted that the selection which occurs in human societies isn’t as ruthless as in an animal breeding program, it seems plausible that a settled society on the scale of cities to empire will, over 500 years or so, select out those prone to aggression and disobedience (recall that not so long ago pickpockets in England were hanged). There is persuasive evidence for a long-term (millennia) secular decline in the death rate by violence in settled societies compared to hunter-gatherer or tribal groups.

    As regards the professors, I agree that it’s only the social science professors who deny the reality of race (if even they really believe it). But around 8 years ago I had a conversation with a long-term friend of mine, a full professor of mathematics at an institution of which you’ve probably heard, about these issues (in particular the problems of development aid in sub-Saharan Africa), and he said (I’m paraphrasing from memory), “Sure, the data are indisputable. But the damage caused by discussing them may be greater than the benefit of doing so.”

    I’m sure in his case he was looking at the bigger picture, but many academics in less secure positions may also consider the potential damage to their own careers by discussing these questions.

    • #11
    • December 6, 2014, at 4:01 PM PST
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  12. AIG Inactive

    John Walker: As regards the professors, I agree that it’s only the social science professors who deny the reality of race (if even they really believe it). But around 8 years ago I had a conversation with a long-term friend of mine, a full professor of mathematics at an institution of which you’ve probably heard, about these issues (in particular the problems of development aid in sub-Saharan Africa), and he said (I’m paraphrasing from memory), “Sure, the data are indisputable. But the damage caused by discussing them may be greater than the benefit of doing so.” I’m sure in his case he was looking at the bigger picture, but many academics in less secure positions may also consider the potential damage to their own careers by discussing these questions.

    I disagree for several reasons:

    1) It’s not “social science” professors. Social science is a huge body of different fields. This “race is not real” phenomenon is particular to Sociology, and particular only to certain types of sociology (the type that doesn’t concern itself with reality, but with changing reality)

    2) Virtually all social science studies which examine individuals or populations control for…race. Thus it’s not only an accepted fact that “race” matters in virtually all outcomes, but it is empirically accepted in all social sciences.

    3) The only disagreement on that is…why…race matters. Of course, there’s all sorts of empirical examinations to get at that question in social sciences, so it is far from a “taboo” topic.

    Of course, the perception that people in academia don’t talk about race, or don’t consider it as important in outcomes etc. comes about purely from…whomever screams the loudest, and whomever the press pays attention to.

    99.999% of studies in particular social science fields which examine such things not only go un-noticed in the popular press, but the authors and the particular disciplines don’t make a fuss about it.

    The ones that make a fuss are the vocal “activist” types of Sociology professors whose only goal in life is to…impose…their views on others. They scream and yell and accuse you of “racism” at every opportunity. Since no one wants to be called a racist, everyone else just shuts up.

    Most academics aren’t interested in imposing their views on anyone. They are interested in discovering insights about reality, whatever those may be.

    Hence, there is selection bias in what the “perception” becomes, vs. what the reality is.

    • #12
    • December 6, 2014, at 5:14 PM PST
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  13. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    I wish Ricochet’s comment composition window were not so limited, as otherwise I’d interpolate my comments in your post. But, like evolution, we work with what we have, so here goes.

    AIG:1) It’s not “social science” professors. Social science is a huge body of different fields. This “race is not real” phenomenon is particular to Sociology, and particular only to certain types of sociology (the type that doesn’t concern itself with reality, but with changing reality)

    I’m not sure of the boundaries of these fields. I’ve found cultural anthropologists very much bought in to the “all humans are alike” meme while physical anthropologists (Hey, what do I know? I’m married to one!) consider it ridiculous.

    2) Virtually all social science studies which examine individuals or populations control for…race. Thus it’s not only an accepted fact that “race” matters in virtually all outcomes, but it is empirically accepted in all social sciences.

    Agreed. But they don’t often talk about those adjustments in their publications, do they? But I haven’t read many in the last 20 years.

    3) The only disagreement on that is…why…race matters. Of course, there’s all sorts of empirical examinations to get at that question in social sciences, so it is far from a “taboo” topic.

    Of course, the perception that people in academia don’t talk about race, or don’t consider it as important in outcomes etc. comes about purely from…whomever screams the loudest, and whomever the press pays attention to.

    This is kind of like the “heckler’s veto”: those who scream loudest silence those who don’t regardless of the evidence.

    The ones that make a fuss are the vocal “activist” types of Sociology professors whose only goal in life is to…impose…their views on others. They scream and yell and accuse you of “racism” at every opportunity. Since no one wants to be called a racist, everyone else just shuts up.

    The easy thing would have been, having read this book, to just review it on my own Web log and leave it at that. Stepping out of line, even to the extent to citing evidence from genetic surveys with high significance, can bring down the hammer on people. At some point you have to say, “Here’s the evidence. Make of it what you like. But your opinion doesn’t change the evidence: you have to present evidence to the contrary.”

    Most academics aren’t interested in imposing their views on anyone. They are interested in discovering insights about reality, whatever those may be.

    Yes, but I believe many are under a subtle or overt pressure not to raise issues which challenge the consensus.

    • #13
    • December 6, 2014, at 5:37 PM PST
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  14. iWe Reagan
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    As an individualist, I maintain that knowledge and awareness can trump biology: if a person believes they have free choice, then they act with more self awareness than if they believe that everything is in the hands of fate (or an all-controlling deity, which is the same thing).

    I don’t think this comes down to inherited genetics. I think it comes down to state of mind (which is, of course, influenced by genetics).

    So while I accept that there is surely a high degree of genetic predisposition to all kinds of things, that predisposition is not prescriptively helpful when talking about people who are self-aware enough.

    In other words: one can, somewhat, predict the behavior of people. Sociologists do this all the time. They are most successful with people who see the world as pre-written, and thus live their lives largely in a reactive fashion. But sociologists cannot accurately predict what I (or any similarly self-aware person) am going to do next.

    Creativity is a human trait, but the more creative a person chooses to be, the less their future can be predicted based on their nature and nurture.

    • #14
    • December 6, 2014, at 6:19 PM PST
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  15. iWe Reagan
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    By the way, this is a FASCINATING post and topic. Thank you, John Walker!!!!

    • #15
    • December 6, 2014, at 6:20 PM PST
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  16. iWe Reagan
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    John Walker:

    I’ve always found it odd that many of the same people who vociferously defend evolution are among the first to deny that it could have had any effects upon humans.

    Yes. They will talk for hours about how different dog breeds have different characteristics, but cannot say that people similarly inherit traits.

    And, of course, those same people who trumpet diversity are the most opposed to actual diversity in the natural world. Invasive species, anyone?

    • #16
    • December 6, 2014, at 6:25 PM PST
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  17. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    iWc: I don’t think this comes down to inherited genetics. I think it comes down to state of mind (which is, of course, influenced by genetics). So while I accept that there is surely a high degree of genetic predisposition to all kinds of things, that predisposition is not prescriptively helpful when talking about people who are self-aware enough.

    I like to think of it as a “tilt”—it is not predestination in any manner, but simply a slight inclination to go this way or another. If you haven’t inherited the capability to reason in abstract symbols, your job opportunities will be limited to those which don’t require that skill. Not long ago, this was a skill required by, at most, 5% of the population. Now, it may be required by 80%. What will happen to the 20% who lack this skill?

    This is not something which can be easily dealt with in a comment thread. Perhaps a contributor will start a thread which fully explores the consequences of a US$ 15 minimum wage in our current automation environment.

    • #17
    • December 6, 2014, at 6:36 PM PST
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  18. Belt Member

    Two comments:

    1) Whenever I encounter the line on forms asking for my ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity’ I always manually enter “human.” It’s mostly because I’m so sick of the racialist activists, so it feels satisfying to give them a poke in the eye. Also I’m a bit of a stubborn contrarian.

    2) I remember a column from John Derbyshire some time back that postulated that with advances in science, genetic modfications of humans may wind up changing what ‘human’ is. Or see the latest Planet of the Apes movies. Or just read Brave New World. If it becomes possible for it happen, it will probably happen.

    • #18
    • December 6, 2014, at 7:02 PM PST
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  19. barbara lydick Inactive

    AIG: Most academics aren’t interested in imposing their views on anyone. They are interested in discovering insights about reality, whatever those may be.

    First – John, you’re postings on Saturdays are always such a delight, and which get the brain cells fired up. Thank you for that. This posting was particularly interesting having studied both genetics and population genetics. Tho that was back in the dark age and much has

    • #19
    • December 6, 2014, at 7:12 PM PST
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  20. PHCheese Member

    John, I think the capability to reason in abstract symbols is well below the 80 percent you said. Maybe only 20 percent have that capability.

    • #20
    • December 6, 2014, at 7:20 PM PST
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  21. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    PHCheese:John, I think the capability to reason in abstract symbols is well below the 80 percent you said. Maybe only 20 percent have that capability.

    That may very well be the case. I don’t want to class people in those categories.

    I think we can get along with 20% informed and able to make rational decisions. We have a steep cliff to climb to get there.

    • #21
    • December 6, 2014, at 7:29 PM PST
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  22. Son of Spengler Contributor

    John, well done. I enjoyed the book immensely, but the subject matter is difficult to discuss without being misunderstood for racism — especially when space is limited — so I’ve tended to stay away from the subject on Ricochet. You’ve given an excellent overview.

    iWc, I offer two thoughts in response. First, the kind of self-control you describe, the ability to resist inborn tendencies, may also be a genetically inherited trait to some degree. Second, in populations, a behavior need not be universal to direct the course of its culture. If a large enough minority is violent, the whole society may become violent as a consequence, for example.

    One takeaway I had from the book was that the sharp rise in literacy following the Renaissance may have been driven by genetic factors as much as education. Literacy readiness may be genetic. So I speculate that 500 years ago, something like dyslexia may not have been a “disability”, but rather the default state of human ability. We should be careful not to project our own experience onto the past.

    • #22
    • December 6, 2014, at 7:41 PM PST
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  23. Eeyore Member
    EeyoreJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Son of Spengler: John, well done. I enjoyed the book immensely, but the subject matter is difficult to discuss without being misunderstood for racism — especially when space is limited — so I’ve tended to stay away from the subject on Ricochet. You’ve given an excellent overview.

    Well, John, I’ll go ahead and call you racist, as that is now de rigueur in any discussion such as this, regardless of content or intent – so now, thankfully, that’s out of the way.

    I look forward to reading the book, but I am just as fascinated by the vast cultural differences occurring within groups in almost no time. The genetically same “stiff-upper-lip” Brits who were willing to give the “two-finger salute” to the German bombers almost immediately after they passed overhead during the Blitz now cower in their homes as the yobs burgle them [half of British burglaries occur to occupied dwellings] – you can go to jail for attempting to protect mere property.

    One thing I appreciate in what you bring up – many thanks for general lactose tolerance as egg nog season has arrived!

    • #23
    • December 6, 2014, at 8:39 PM PST
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  24. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    John (if I may? Mr. Walker, perhaps? I just got read the riot act–yet again–in Paris for addressing by her first name a woman whom I should have addressed as Madame Crispé,* the odd thing about this not that I failed to grasp that in France, absent special intimacy, “Madame” is always the way to go, as a general principle, but that in this particular context, the general principle simply could not conceivably have been applied. What we’d just been discussing was–well, no need to go into details here, but let us just say, we had been discussing the sorts of things people on a first-name basis discuss. Even in France. In any event, I am now extra-sensitive on this score. Traumatized, even.)

    Anyway: Most Esteemed and Respectable Señor Walker (just to be on the safe side), I often feel mean, low, and intellectually disreputable when commenting on your always outstanding Saturday Night Science posts–and I do mean that, by the way, and I do sometimes think, “Does he realize he should be paid for these? If not, should I tell him? Where exactly do my loyalties lie in this case?” but again, I digress–point is, I feel bad because I tend to comment before reading the book, which is in my view not the right way to think about any arguments a book might offer.

    But one thing did come to my mind, and in the spirit of Ricochet, to wit, “Just keep the conversation going, so long as it’s civil and conservative,” I offer this thought:

    Warning: I am about to mention a name that in these parts will make people wonder if I may be a spy or an infiltrator or at best someone who doesn’t fully get the “conservative” part of our mission. But trust me. Bear with me. I am about to mention said figure in his capacity as a linguist, not in his (sadly) better-known latter incarnation as an unendurable, deeply malignant, frothing-at-the-mouth pinko, traitor, and loon. And in his former capacity, I do believe he is both relevant and, truly, a great genius beyond all dispute.

    So. Seems to me that in connection to this discussion, what Chomsky has to say is relevant. (Were I a Christian, I would now react to the introduction of his name with a spectacle-testicle-wallet-watch gesture and a whispered “In the name of the Father … ) But what he has to say is alas far too complicated to explain in the confines of our word limit, so I must be telegraphic. (Interestingly, though, Chomsky too very quickly got himself here into the territory of “forbidden thoughts.” Different ones, to be sure, with different implications. But thoughts, I think, quite relevant to any discussion of the forbidden thoughts suggested, at least, by your review of the book in question, if not the book itself.)

    I am struggling to choose just the right reference. Chomsky is not precisely known for the slenderness of his scholarly output. But I suggest, perhaps, this one.

    Yes, friends, I am afraid you must click on the link if you are to have any idea where I’m going with this.

    I wonder if his observations–which are in my view both correct, proven, and brilliant–may be quite a bit more relevant (if every bit as forbidden in their implications, albeit in a different way) to the discussion at hand than any counter-argument suggested by the book I have not read and thus have no business discussing.

    I now leave it to the rest of you to fill in the blanks of my argument, consider them, and discuss.

    *Not her real name. And that joke is only funny if you speak French. But in French, let me tell you, it is funny.

    • #24
    • December 6, 2014, at 9:44 PM PST
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  25. Trinity Waters Inactive

    I may quit Ricochet if it publishes inflammatory, garbled stuff like this. Every scientific indication available refutes Darwin. Please stop. All the fancy words and comments amount to zip.

    • #25
    • December 6, 2014, at 9:54 PM PST
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  26. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Tom Riehl:I may quit Ricochet if it publishes inflammatory, garbled stuff like this. Every scientific indication available refutes Darwin. Please stop. All the fancy words and comments amount to zip.

    Garbled, I agree, may well describe what I just wrote. But if you study it closely, you will see that I may be much closer to agreeing with you than you realize. So give me a chance. And think about what he has said may–indeed does–imply.

    • #26
    • December 6, 2014, at 10:02 PM PST
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  27. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Thank you, John Walker. This is the reason our Monday AMUs are so much fun. I took a Population Genetics course in college and loved it, and this is a book we will be buying.

    On “racism”, it’s just my opinion that all humans are “racist”. You like people who are like you, you don’t like people who are not like you. But you can learn not to be racist in your behavior.

    • #27
    • December 6, 2014, at 10:35 PM PST
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  28. Paul DeRocco Member
    Paul DeRoccoJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    What surprises me about everything I hear in the realm of sociobiology is how persistent is the assumption that evolution stops at biology’s edge. Even in this post, the evolutionary mechanism by which a cultural trait becomes dominant is assumed to be purely through increasing the likelihood that individuals that adopt that trait will reproduce. This clings to the assumption that the cultural trait really is a biological one.

    I’ve long felt that the fact that Homo sapiens possesses the capacity for language and rational thought gives us a means for passing traits on, not only to our biological children, but to others around us, and that that is actually the essence of culture. Culture is a new domain, a purely human one, in which evolution takes place, with no necessary involvement of biology at all. And unlike biological evolution, which proceeds at a glacial pace, cultural evolution is orders of magnitude faster (although not nearly fast enough for our impatient Left).

    I bring this up, perhaps tediously, in those Ricochet threads that touch on my hobby-horse issue, gender. To pick an example, the ancient Spartans thought it perfectly normal for young men to have sexual relations with pubescent boys, as a peculiar sort of “mentoring”, before going off and getting married and having children of their own. In our culture, we almost universally regard that is creepy and disgusting. And yet, I see no reason to assume that there is the slightest genetic difference between us and the ancient Spartans to account for that cultural difference.

    Polygamy is another example. Parts of the world regard it as normal, yet in the presently dominant part of the world it is taboo. I don’t believe that indicates a genetic difference. Yet it is most certainly evolutionary, in the cultural sense. In primitive times, biological evolution rewarded those alpha males who took all the fertile females for themselves, allowing them to spread their personal genes. That mechanism still exists, but cultural evolution has created a countervailing force that discourages this reproduction of alpha male genes, because in the context of a complex civilization, a system of monogamy produces a stronger culture, more capable of reproducing itself and achieving dominance in the world. This is not a biological mechanism, and actually contradicts the now weaker biological mechanism.

    So I would be inclined to believe that, for instance, the failure of the mission civilisatrice isn’t because it has run head-on into biological differences, such as a genetic predisposition to tribalism, but because it has underestimated the strength of the cultural custom of tribalism. I would bet that a baby adopted from Pakistan and raised in a white family in the United States would exhibit no greater tendency toward tribalism, or any other typically Pakistani trait other than the obvious physical ones, than his step-brothers.

    That isn’t to deny evolution, merely to ascribe greater strength to that cultural form of evolution that seems invisible to most people than to the biological form that everyone is taught about in school.

    • #28
    • December 6, 2014, at 10:49 PM PST
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  29. AIG Inactive

    John Walker: I’m not sure of the boundaries of these fields. I’ve found cultural anthropologists very much bought in to the “all humans are alike” meme while physical anthropologists (Hey, what do I know? I’m married to one!) consider it ridiculous.

    The point is, if you say “social science”, you’re including everything in there from sociology and anthropology…to economics and marketing.

    Widely divergent fields.

    John Walker: Agreed. But they don’t often talk about those adjustments in their publications, do they?

    That depend if their study is focused on racial differences or not. If it’s not, then it isn’t talked much. But the fact that it is included, implies it is important and accepted.

    John Walker: Here’s the evidence. Make of it what you like. But your opinion doesn’t change the evidence: you have to present evidence to the contrary.”

    That’s how most social sciences do work. It’s only a small subset, like sociology, that don’t work that way. And that’s where you get the problems.

    John Walker: Yes, but I believe many are under a subtle or overt pressure not to raise issues which challenge the consensus.

    Yes, but it is not a consensus in “social science” that race doesn’t exist or shouldn’t be discussed. That’s my point.

    • #29
    • December 6, 2014, at 10:49 PM PST
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  30. AIG Inactive

    Paul DeRocco: I would bet that a baby adopted from Pakistan and raised in a white family in the United States would exhibit no greater tendency toward tribalism, or any other typically Pakistani trait other than the obvious physical ones, than his step-brothers. That isn’t to deny evolution, merely to ascribe greater strength to that cultural form of evolution that seems invisible to most people than to the biological form that everyone is taught about in school.

    Exactly. Culture works fast, even if genes don’t.

    So do genes matter? Yes, but probably not all that much. Given that today culture can be changed through an exogenous shock…unlike in pre-historic times…then changing cultural behaviors in a society can be a matter of 1-2 generations.

    • #30
    • December 6, 2014, at 10:58 PM PST
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