Genetics, Science / Tech, Social Science

On the Reality of Race & the Abhorrence of Racism Part II: Human Biodiversity & Its Implications

If you observe the residents of Japan and compare them to residents of the rural southern United States, you’ll note some differences. Some differences will be stark, others less so, yet they will not be isolated to religious and cultural practices. The differences that emerge will bleed into psychological and temperamental traits that also vary in noticeable ways across populations.

The reason for the existence of these differences, though, admits of no simple answer. Prevailing wisdom holds that the cultural and psychological differences that exist across human population groups were shaped largely by a confluence of history, sociological forces, and pure chance. This is likely true to some degree, but the prevailing wisdom — from my point of view — is incomplete. In Part I, we argued that human races exist, meaning that humans can be meaningfully classified into coherent groups based on genetic ancestry. If we’re going to take seriously the existence of meaningful racial variation we also have to at least consider that the genetic differences that exist across racial and ethnic groups also contribute to psychological and ultimately cultural differences across those same groups.

To suggest that races might possess slightly different temperamental, cognitive, and other psychological traits, and that some of these differences are partly genetic in origin, is to violate a powerful — perhaps the most powerful — academic taboo. The incendiary nature of the subject seems to flow largely from the fear that discussing biological group differences will foster racial prejudice among the general public. Indeed, people bent on quantifying human worth have erected racial hierarchies, propped them up with pseudo-scientific theories and folk understandings about group differences, and conscripted them into service towards reprehensible ends. History, in places, is a wasteland of tragedy when it comes to the treatment of minority individuals. Yet, the reprehensible treatment of minority groups currently, or in the past, does not constitute empirical evidence that race is a fiction, or that differences in the psychological constitutions across racial groups are purely environmental in origin.

Just as we argued in our first essay, a cosmopolitan society that assumes all individuals are equivalent in their worth should not be built on an assumption of human biological sameness. Whether human races are biologically, and even psychologically, identical is subject to puncture from empirical research; it might be true, or it might not be true. Our notions of human worth must reside on their own foundation; one separate from the need for racial groups to be biologically and psychologically indistinguishable. Any other approach is a textbook example of the moralistic fallacy — a misguided assumption that conflates how we think the world “ought” to be with how it “is” — and is thus a worldview vulnerable to demolition by scientific research.

Insuring the liberty and dignity of individual humans is morally laudable, regardless of whether race differences across any trait are the result of culture, biology, or some combination of the two. Human worth should never be tethered to the belief that human groups are identical in their biological constitutions. Human worth should never be attached to the belief that differences across groups must be the product of culture and nothing else. Group differences, and their causes, are questions that scientific inquiry can tackle. Whether those differences should have any bearing on how we treat individual humans is a moral question. The current essay is an attempt to deal with both topics.

Evolution, The Unity of Human Psychology, & The Ability to Drink Milk

It is important to first spend a moment providing a brief (simplified) overview of how evolution works. Toward this purpose, it seems reasonable to distill evolution by natural selection down to three principles (for the same points presented in a more wonderfully rich way, there is no one better to read than Richard Dawkins).

Principle 1: individual organisms (and their genes) are different from one another; there’s variation in nature.

Principle 2: in some cases, these differences produce advantages in the ability of an organism to survive and reproduce. This is especially important because the environment is fraught with challenges — everything from finding a mate (and persuading them to mate with you) to avoiding pathogens that can kill you.

Principle 3: the traits that confer these advantages are passed on via genes (the specific targets of natural selection); traits that harm reproduction are not. With this in mind, we can shift to why these principles matter so much for human evolution and differences that exist across groups.

As others have described previously, somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 to 200,000 years ago, modern humans (Homo sapiens) evolved in Africa. Roughly 50,000 years ago, we began migrating away from our original homeland to various other parts of the world (though some details are still debated). The “prevailing wisdom” was that up until that point, biological evolution had been sculpting not only a universal human physiology, but also a universal psychology. Though some evolutionary changes (diseases resistance, etc.) occurred post migration, our psychological constitution was thought to have remained largely unchanged. Put another way, biological evolution ceased for human psychological faculties. In some respects, this is true. No human being — regardless of his or her culture — is unfamiliar with the emotions of love, jealousy, or anger. Males are more impulsive, violent, and aggressive than females the world over; it’s not a pattern unique to Western society or to modernity. Evolutionary scholars have gone to great lengths documenting the host of “human universals” that exist the world over.

Why would there be such unity in the psychological repertoire of humans? Recall the principles of evolution discussed earlier. Our “humanness” (which is to say, most of our psychological traits) was largely shaped in Africa, and despite large-scale migration, humans all over the world faced very similar selection pressures. Like other animals, humans (regardless of where they happen to migrate) faced the challenges of finding food, finding mates, caring for offspring, and a host of other hurdles. It’s reasonable to expect that many of the traits — physiological, cognitive, and psychological — that helped us survive and reproduce in Africa did the same in Europe. In most important respects, there was no need for a large overhaul from natural selection.

Keep in mind, though, that once we began migrating and spreading out, different groups of humans lived (for tens of thousands of years) in sometimes radically different environments from one another. Some areas were hot, some were cold, and some were replete with certain pathogens, while others were not. Despite living in ecologies that were often quite different from one another, most researchers maintain that evolution simply works too slowly for any of this to matter (i.e., for natural selection to sculpt differences [especially psychological differences] across groups). It is true that evolution is a slow process, yet “slow” is a relative term. A stretch of 10,000 years (for example) is pretty brief evolutionarily, but is it enough time to make noticeable evolutionary changes in a population of humans?

Yes, it is.

The example most often trotted out to make this point has to do with the seemingly banal topic of dairy consumption; specifically, the ability to digest milk from birth until death. Many humans cannot, in fact, do this, as it requires the continued production of an enzyme beyond early childhood. The mutation that enabled lactose tolerance across the life span seems to have appeared sometime in the last 10,000 years. Natural selection would end up favoring the mutation; individuals who carried the gene were more reproductively successful (on average) than those who did not. Thus, the gene became more prevalent in some populations of humans relative to others. This type of rapid biological adaptation is important for a host of reasons; but in this case, it’s relevant because it pushes around our notions of what natural selection can do in a given (short) stretch of time.

The “Looming Crisis” That Lies Beyond the Dairy Cow

Make no mistake, evolutionary changes like the capability for lifetime dairy consumption are important occurrences in their own right, but these changes beg an obvious question. Should we assume that natural selection has only affected genes related to drinking milk (or skin pigmentation and resistance to certain types of disease)? For this to be true, it would have to mean that natural selection somehow managed to ignore our central nervous system (CNS) and, by extension, genes that are connected (directly and indirectly) to human personality and temperament. Temperamental and psychological traits are strongly related to survival and reproductive success in humans, moreover. Even slight differences in psychological propensities (being slightly more or less impulsive, or slightly more of less inclined to seek out new experiences, for example) might have had large effects on the survival and reproduction of our ancestors in the different environments they encountered.

What would be convenient at this point is if I could point you to five traits—or even one—and be able to say with a high degree of certainty that this trait differs across racial or ethnic groups because those groups encountered different selection pressures across the history of our species. One could certainly try and speak definitively, but it would still only amount to informed speculation, as the empirical jury is still out at this juncture. Some titillating possibilities exist, nonetheless, including the cognitive differences between Ashkenazi Jewish individuals and other ethnic groups. Some researchers have argued that the high IQ of Ashkenazi Jewish people — relative to other groups — is at least partially genetically caused, owing to intense selection pressures for intellectual capacity over the last several thousand years. Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending, specifically, have written on the topic. Yet, much more research is required.

As good fortune would have it, the technology available to ask and answer questions like these is rapidly advancing. The evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, some years back, wrote about the advances being made, for example, in gene sequencing technology. These “quantum leaps” forward are allowing researchers to resequence large portions of the genome rapidly, and for not much money. Miller, of course, was completely aware of what this meant for research into the sources of human differences, thus the “looming crisis” that the title of his article alludes to. Miller notes:

We will also identify the many genes that create physical and mental differences across populations, and we will be able to estimate when those genes arose. Some of those differences probably occurred very recently, within recorded history. Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending argued in “The 10,000 Year Explosion” that some human groups experienced a vastly accelerated rate of evolutionary change within the past few thousand years, benefiting from the new genetic diversity created within far larger populations, and in response to the new survival, social and reproductive challenges of agriculture, cities, divisions of labour and social classes. Others did not experience these changes until the past few hundred years when they were subject to contact, colonisation and, all too often, extermination.

Given the rapid pace with which we know biological evolution can take place, the vastly different environments that humans encountered across the course of our history, and the unlikelihood that natural selection would skip over traits that were psychological and temperamental in nature, it’s simply a reasonable bet that some of the differences that emerge across human groups have been at least partly shaped by natural selection. Miller makes a final point, however, that resonates with a theme embedded in the start of the essay, and in part I.

He observes:

If the shift from GWAS [genome wide association studies] to sequencing studies finds evidence of such politically awkward and morally perplexing facts, we can expect the usual range of ideological reactions, including nationalistic retro-racism from conservatives and outraged denial from blank-slate liberals. The few who really understand the genetics will gain a more enlightened, live-and-let-live recognition of the biodiversity within our extraordinary species — including a clearer view of likely comparative advantages between the world’s different economies.

Miller’s essay ends on a decidedly upbeat note, but what if he’s wrong about something? What if people fail to adopt a “live-and-let-live” type of response? There is a human side of human biodiversity to worry about, and it is this topic that we turn our attention to next (Prior work offers arguments that dovetail generally with those presented here, and which offer far more detail than can be covered in a short, informal essay).

The Human Side of Human Biodiversity

It is interesting to consider that had the previous essay been about any organism other than humans there would be no need for this section. Whether or not natural selection shaped differences (psychological or otherwise) in a population of lizards is uninteresting to most people. But we’re not talking about lizards; we’re talking about people. The same people that we have to share this planet with on a daily basis. Can we trust ourselves, as a species prone to tribalism and xenophobia, to handle this type of information responsibly? As the psychologist Steven Pinker observes, the fear that is ever circling this topic comes in the form of a disconcerting possibility:

But if they [races] are not identical, it would be rational to take those differences into account.” He goes on, “If races or sexes are different on average, racial profiling or gender stereotyping would be actuarially sound, it would be naïve to expect information about race and sex not to be used to prejudicial ends.

Perhaps this is right. And after further thought and consideration, we—as a community of concerned scientists and members of society—ultimately decide that the risk is just too high. We cannot trust ourselves with information that could ignite a race war. As the neuroscientist Sam Harris recently observed, we may know precisely how to weaponize smallpox, but no good can come from making that information widely available. Many, perhaps even most, people wouldn’t act on it. Yet, all it takes is a few twisted souls to spark a holocaust. Better to err on the side of caution. Professional researchers, scholars, and philosophers, then, may reach a détente, agreeing to avoid discussions of the most incendiary traits that might differ across races (measures of general intelligence, for example), in effect declaring a moratorium on the issue.

We should ask ourselves, though, if scientists are not talking about race, who is likely to fill the airwaves with chatter? Individuals who have the inclination toward racial divisiveness are not likely to govern their speech about the topic as judiciously as scientists might. They will not call a moratorium, no matter how much we might like them to. When coupled with an unflinching, unscientific view of the world, an agenda is a powerful motivator. For someone like David Duke, for example, the silence of researchers only creates a vacuum that he can fill. Beholden to no ethics panel, or human subjects committee, people who would misuse information about race are likely to do so whether scientists study and discuss these questions or not.

Equally important, many in the academy would be motivated to rebut the claims of those seeking to foment racial unrest, moratorium or not, but how are they to do that? Canned retorts such as “there is no such thing as race” or “race differences are only a product of discrimination” are currently a preferred strategy. The trouble is both of these are empirical questions. You have to actually do the studies to know whether they are true. So a moratorium on race research only handcuffs our ability to counter bad arguments with better ones. This, of course, presents us with a catch-22: we could lift the self-imposed moratorium and do the research. But that brings with it the possibility that the findings don’t align with what we might hope (i.e., that there are no real race differences for psychological traits). Should such findings emerge, researchers could simply bury them. Not ideal, but if scholars protect the dignity of a group of humans by sitting on a finding or two, surely it’s a minor sin? You can only sit on so much, though, before the cauldron of findings overflows and you’re left to deal with it openly. This can be avoided with a moratorium, but then we’re back to square one. This sparks a near infinite regress of bad options.

This brings us back to the point made early in this discussion, and in Part I. Unless we’re prepared to engage in censorship, we should be prepared to learn about the potential existence of group differences, as well as their sources. Instead of moratoriums and canned retorts, however, we should instead shield human dignity entirely from assaults based on human differences. The best way to do that is to totally uncouple human worth from biological diversity. If a particular worldview is absolutely contingent on a particular truth claim, then it is subject to being falsified. If treating all humans as equal before the law requires that racial groups are identical in their temperamental tendencies, then it is a social value vulnerable to empirical findings. If all humans simply are equal before the law regardless of race or ethnicity (because we proclaim it as such), then no empirical finding about their biological differences could ever matter.

We concluded Part I by suggesting that “race exists, but racism doesn’t have to.” Nothing has changed. Different racial groups may have evolved slightly different psychological tendencies (or they may not have). Yet, if human worth rests on a foundation far removed from the fault line of human differences, then we have nothing to fear from a science of human biodiversity.

 

Brian Boutwell is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University. Follow him on Twitter @fsnole1

Filed under: Genetics, Science / Tech, Social Science

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Brian Boutwell is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University. His research interests include the biological evolution of human traits, genetic and environmental underpinnings of human violence, and general intelligence. His published articles have appeared in PLOS One, Behavior Genetics, Developmental Psychology, Journal of Psychiatric Research, Criminology, and Social Science and Medicine as well as others. He was also a coeditor of The Nurture versus Biosocial Debate in Criminology: On the Origins of Criminal Behavior and Criminality (Sage).

24 Comments

  1. Excellent essay Brian!

    I see what you’re trying to do in this essay, and I respect it. However, I will serve as a foil to your attempt to portray the case for inherited biological racial differences as more speculative than it actually is. In reality, the case is really solid, and more evidence continues to pile up every day. It’s just that Northwestern European-derived society is reticent about accepting it – ironically in good part because of its own set of inherited traits.

    Readers see also my introductory page to this topic:

    JayMan’s Race, Inheritance, and IQ F.A.Q. (F.R.B.) – The Unz Review

    whether human races are biologically, and even psychologically, identical is subject to puncture from empirical research; it might be true, or it might not be true.

    Of course, it is decidedly NOT true, and some very simple observations show that (brain size, lactose tolerance, height, skin color, athletic performance, the fact that racial rank orders are the same everywhere, and the fact than ancestry is predictive of economic performance the world over, regardless of histories of poverty, etc.

    The reason for the existence of these differences, though, admits of no simple answer. Prevailing wisdom holds that the cultural and psychological differences that exist across human population groups were shaped largely by a confluence of history, sociological forces, and pure chance. This is likely true to some degree

    Actually it is a very simple answer, and you provided it in this piece: evolution by natural selection.

    National and ethnic differences are just human biodiversity on display.

    regardless of whether race differences across any trait are the result of culture, biology, or some combination of the two.

    Of course, that distinction isn’t really a distinction. As HBD Chick and I are wont to ask, where does culture come from?

    As others have described previously, somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 to 200,000 years ago, modern humans (Homo sapiens) evolved in Africa.

    Well, that gets tricky, as it seems some “modern humans” split off from the rest well before that – 200,000 years ago the in case of the Bushmen, and 300,000 years ago in the case of Pygmies.

    Though some evolutionary changes (diseases resistance, etc.) occurred post migration, our psychological constitution was thought to have remained largely unchanged. Put another way, biological evolution ceased for human psychological faculties. In some respects, this is true. No human being — regardless of his or her culture — is unfamiliar with the emotions of love, jealousy, or anger.

    Yes, but this isn’t because evolution on humans stopped, no more than the fact that most birds can use their wings to fly means evolution has stopped for them. This is because evolution has retained those characteristics because they continue to be useful for humans today.

    Despite living in ecologies that were often quite different from one another, most researchers maintain that evolution simply works too slowly for any of this to matter (i.e., for natural selection to sculpt differences [especially psychological differences] across groups).

    That’s because those researchers don’t know anything about the breeder’s equation.

    For this to be true, it would have to mean that natural selection somehow managed to ignore our central nervous system (CNS) and, by extension, genes that are connected (directly and indirectly) to human personality and temperament.

    Yes, especially considering that 84% of all genes are expressed in the brain, at least half of which primarily or exclusively so.

    What would be convenient at this point is if I could point you to five traits—or even one—and be able to say with a high degree of certainty that this trait differs across racial or ethnic groups because those groups encountered different selection pressures across the history of our species. One could certainly try and speak definitively, but it would still only amount to informed speculation

    Oh let’s see:

    1. IQ – at least four standard deviations of variation in the means across human groups.

    2. Honesty/propensity towards corruption

    3. Attitudes towards liberal social mores

    4. Work ethic

    5. Brain size

    There’s five.

    as the empirical jury is still out at this juncture.

    Not for any good reason, though.

    Given the rapid pace with which we know biological evolution can take place, the vastly different environments that humans encountered across the course of our history, and the unlikelihood that natural selection would skip over traits that were psychological and temperamental in nature

    You mean like the recent evidence for rapid selection for height, blond hair, and female hip size in Britain over the past 2,000 years?

    Information Processing: Evidence for (very) recent natural selection in humans

    Equally important, many in the academy would be motivated to rebut the claims of those seeking to foment racial unrest, moratorium or not, but how are they to do that? Canned retorts such as “there is no such thing as race” or “race differences are only a product of discrimination” are currently a preferred strategy. The trouble is both of these are empirical questions. You have to actually do the studies to know whether they are true.

    Yes. Of course, they happen to NOT be true.

    The best way to do that is to totally uncouple human worth from biological diversity.

    Laudable indeed – but good luck with that one.

    Certain realities will rear their heads. Some are important for sound policy purposes, for example, the higher than average propensity towards terrorism for some Muslim groups. If we are deciding immigration policy, and we look at different ethnic groups on the “number needed to offend” (akin to the idea of “number needed to treat” when assessing the efficacy of medical treatments) – the number of individuals from said group that you need to have in order to get one terrorist – we will find that number varies greatly among human groups. It is in the millions for Scandinavians (indeed, the entire country of Norway was needed to produce one Anders Brevik), but only in the hundreds for Chechens. With that in mind, one wonders if it is wise to admit even small numbers of immigrants from certain ethnic groups.

    But other issues arise due to human fallibility. People are stupid (a reality). They often can’t easily distinguish between “some” and “all”. Most people rely on simple heuristics. If individuals from certain groups are more likely to be criminals, that can rapidly become “all individuals from said group are criminals” (but given the concept of “number needed to offend” above, this heuristic isn’t completely without basis of utility).

    If all humans simply are equal before the law regardless of race or ethnicity

    But what about capital punishment, and our current unwillingness to execute those with sub-70 IQ? The prevalence of such individuals will vary greatly from group to group. Right there we find a case where people are NOT equal before the law.

    It’s a messy situation with no easy answers. That said, the truth is the truth, and will be discovered and rediscovered despite attempts to suppress it for the simple fact that it is the truth. Hence encumbering research is not a solution.

    I’m glad you’re working hard to get the truth out there and get human biological differences into the academic conversation. Keep fighting the good fight!

    • Frank says

      I like your analysis and comments very much and they are a well organized rebuttal to the original author’s seeming attempt to encourage science to hide the facts from humans. But as you point out short-form what John Stuart Mill said, “The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favorable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it.”

      As someone pointed out, the roof is about to crash in on those who insist on a purely environmental explanation of all sorts of ethnic differences, not just intelligence. Since the decoding of the genome, it has been securely established that race is not a social construct, evolution continued long after humans left Africa along different paths in different parts of the world, and recent evolution involves cognitive as well as physiological functioning.

      The problem facing the deniers and those who would hide the facts, is the increasing rate at which the technical literature reports new links between specific genes and specific traits. Soon there will be dozens, then hundreds, of such links being reported each year. The findings will be tentative and often disputed—a case in point is the so-called warrior gene that encodes monoamine oxidase A and may encourage aggression. But so far it has been the norm, not the exception, that variations in these genes show large differences across races. We don’t yet know what the genetically significant racial differences will turn out to be, but we have to expect that they will be many. It is unhelpful for social scientists and the media to continue to proclaim that “race is a social construct” in the face of this looming rendezvous with reality.

  2. Steve Sailer says

    Or perhaps we should value human biodiversity the way we value biodiversity in animals and plants. We give more protection to rare and endangered variants than to common ones.

    For example, consider Pygmies, who are much abused and brutalized by Bantus. It could turn out that Pygmies are different enough from the rest of humanity to constitute a separate species. (I’m not saying they are, just that that that remains a possibility.)

    Morally, would Pygmies being their own species justify Bantu oppression? Or, should Pygmies get more protection because they would qualify as an endangered species?

    The latter seems to be the direction that our thinking has been going regarding animals and plants — the rare and different are accorded special considerations in environmental law — so why not recognize this?

    The current conventional wisdom — that all humans must be genetically identical because it would be bad if they weren’t all the same — seems like an out of date fashion. It sounds like something FDR would have said while dedicating the Grand Coulee Dam.

    Today, we prize diversity in the natural world, so why not prize it in the human world as well?

  3. Jason Liu says

    If people are prone to tribalistic abuse over differences, big or small, the rational answer would be to accept and not fight over those differences. The west chooses to bury its head in the sand, denying differences altogether.

    This unhealthy suppression of reality cannot last forever, and I suspect will begin to erode as the west declines in prominence.

  4. Patrick Harris says

    Jayman’s claim that there is no meaningful distinction between culture and biology is
    where the alt-right HBD’ers (or some of them) really go off the rails. Of course human biology sets certain parameters for what culture can accomplish, but it does not dictate any particular cultural outcome. North and Soutn Koreans are more
    -or-less genetically identical, but what a difference history makes. To take a less acute example, Ancient Mediterraneans had more materially and culturally sophisticated societies than Germanics, and largely did so until the late Middle Ages at least. Then they didn’t.

    That’s not to say that genetic variance in temperament and psychology have no cultural effects. But it’s ridiculously reductionist to construe any particular culture as merely an epiphenomenon of a group’s genes.

    • Jayman’s claim that there is no meaningful distinction between culture and biology is
      where the alt-right HBD’ers (or some of them) really go off the rails.

      Let’s get it right:

      First and foremost I am sure the hell not an “alt-righter”.

      The Problem with HBD, the Dark Enlightenment, Neoreaction, Alt-Rightism, and All That Jazz – The Unz Review

      Anyone who follows me should know that.

      Second of all, that culture and biology are not alternatives ≠ “no meaningful distinction between culture and biology.” That is clear, is it not? If not please say so, and I will explain further.

      Of course human biology sets certain parameters for what culture can accomplish, but it does not dictate any particular cultural outcome.

      You sure about that?

      , but it does not dictate any particular cultural outcome. North and Soutn Koreans are more-or-less genetically identical

      Actually:

      Stop Saying North and South Koreans Are Necessarily Completely Identical Populations – The Unz Review

      To take a less acute example, Ancient Mediterraneans had more materially and culturally sophisticated societies than Germanics, and largely did so until the late Middle Ages at least. Then they didn’t.

      And of course, absolutely nothing has changed genetically since then…

      That’s not to say that genetic variance in temperament and psychology have no cultural effects. But it’s ridiculously reductionist to construe any particular culture as merely an epiphenomenon of a group’s genes.

      Is it?

      I’m pretty sure the primary reason Chechnya produces more terrorists per capita than Norway isn’t because North Caucasians are genetically more predisposed to violence than Scandanvaians.

      Actually, it is a key part of it. But not the only reason since Chencens produce more terrorists per capita than say Black Africans.

      More evidence, less argument from incredulity, please.

      • Patrick Harris says

        “Is it?”

        Yes, yes it is.

        I don’t follow you, so you’ll forgive me for the mislabeling. At any rate, the linked article on Korean genetics is pretty weak sauce, largely based on its own brand of incredulity. I’ll retract my claim that the two populations are *identical*, if you like. The point is that nobody reasonably thinks the 38th parallel marks a biological boundary that could plausibly explain why the North is such a hellhole. I can’t rule out genetic predispositions having some effect on North Korea’s internal politics, but Occam’s razor tells me that the reason it became a communist dictatorship is because that’s where the Red Army’s tanks stopped in ’45, and the reason it looks the way it does now is because it’s a communist dictatorship.

        I appreciate when you say culture and biology are not *alternatives*: in the long haul they undoubtedly co-constitute one another. It’s the primacy given to biology in the phrase “where does culture come from, then?” that leaves me cold. Biology comes from chemistry, but that doesn’t mean the principles of molecular reactions are necessarily going to tell you very much you want to know about animal behavior. Life is an emergent phenomenon with its own logics; so too with culture.

        • Biology comes from chemistry, but that doesn’t mean the principles of molecular reactions are necessarily going to tell you very much you want to know about animal behavior.

          Actually they do, it’s just cumbersome to derive them that way. The universe operates from the bottom up, and this includes human societies (which is a clue).

          • Patrick Harris says

            I think we have a Kuhnean paradigmatic disagreement here.

  5. Patrick Harris says

    As an addendum, Jayman’s chosen example of group differences supports this point pretty well. I’m pretty sure the primary reason Chechnya produces more terrorists per capita than Norway isn’t because North Caucasians are genetically more predisposed to violence than Scandanvaians.

    • @patrick – “I’m pretty sure the primary reason Chechnya produces more terrorists per capita than Norway isn’t because North Caucasians are genetically more predisposed to violence than Scandanvaians.”

      i’ll take that bet! (~_^)

      • Patrick Harris says

        HBD chick, you don’t think the presence of a specific cultural framework legitimating suicide bombing might have something to do with it? Were the Chechens doomed by their genes to be Islamists? Or did Islam (and particular modern jihadist versions of it) spread to some places and not others for reasons that aren’t reducible to HBD?

        • Sure Islam spread to some places and not others for non-genetic reasons. But even where it took hold wasn’t random. (Most of Southeastern Europe isn’t Muslim today, is it?)

          Blaming terrorism on “Islam” is also silly for a simple reason: Muslim populations do not produce terrorists at equal rates. The “number needed to offend” aka the “terrorism quotient” varies greatly among Muslim populations. The inherent characteristics of the populations matter.

          • Patrick Harris says

            I’m not denying that there could be a genetic component to the “offender rate” of different nations when it comes to terrorism. I’m saying that it’s an enormous leap to take genetics as your primary approach to explaining the difference between Chechnya and *Norway*, of all places, because very little is similar between those societies, genetic or nongenetic.

            I’m not arguing for a variant of the “magic dirt” theory here.

  6. james Wilson says

    The differences between siblings are immediately obvious to parents. Even small differences grow to exponential proportions over a lifetime. The small inborn differences found between millions of Germans and millions Italians are not expressed merely in a lifetime, but over many generations, making the language and culture profoundly different. Ergo all differences are biological because the biological makes the cultural possibilities possible. The differences that separate Europeans and Africans were never small to begin with.

    The value of human dignity is a crap shoot among Caucasians, among Africans it is simply of little consequence.

    • Patrick Harris says

      “Ergo all differences are biological because the biological makes the cultural possibilities possible.”

      To the extent that this is true, it seems a rather trivial claim: humans are living physical beings, so everything we do or think has a biological basis in some sense. That doesn’t mean biology is an especially useful heuristic for explaining all behavior, or that all cultural differences rest on specifically *genetic* differences. The cultural possibilities provided by our genetic endowment are realized in circumstances shaped by non-genetic contingencies, i.e, history, and cultures change and develop in ways that have no simple correspodance to DNA.

      All human activity also depends on the production and distribution of scarce resources in one way or another, but that doesn’t make everything we do reducible to the laws of economics.

  7. Epson Maverick says

    Love this essay and agree with the moral sentiments proposed.

    BUT how do we justify gene editing in embryos, if human worth is 100% decoupled from biodiversity?

    Surely having the gene for low IQ / cystic fibrosis / adrenal hyperplasia etc., etc., is not as good as having the genes for high IQ and health?

    So how can we say with a straight face that on the one hand these genes over here are bad and need to be edited out, but at the same time all genotypes/phenotypes are of equal value?

    I don’t know the answer, but I think that use of genetic technologies might complicate this argument a bit….

    • Complex behavioral traits like IQ are polygenic with many many genes contributing only tiny amounts to any given trait. These genes don’t just do one thing, so a gene that gives you 1/3rd of an IQ point could also give you a .5% increased chance of developing schizophrenia. That’s why in these instances it is difficult to claim gene X is superior to gene Y.

      So while I do think we will probably edit out single gene disorders (ex: Huntington’s Disease), don’t count on shaping complex behavioral traits like IQ, impulsiveness, violence, anxiety, etc. because of all the externalities.

  8. “Can we trust ourselves, as a species prone to tribalism and xenophobia . . ?”

    We could trust ourselves a lot more if academics especially were to stop demonising human tribalism and xenophobia as a way of asserting a spurious moral authority for themselves.

    It is surely no coincidence that we are taught to trivialise, ridicule or demonise our tribal nature, rather than give it the serious attention and study it deserves, so that we can learn to deal with it a rational and civilised fashion.

    The authorities used to demonise human sexuality, as a means of intimidating and controlling society. Now it is human tribalism (as a source of racial prejudice and xenophobia) that is demonised for the exact same purpose.

    I share the author’s view that any racial differences that may exist should not serve as a justification for racial supremacy, and have done for a long time. ALL humans should be respected as such.

    There can be huge differences between siblings, but their parents don’t judge one as being superior or inferior to the other. They love and want the best for them all. I see races in the same way. There may well be differences between them, which in some contexts need to be taken into account, but in a responsible, caring fashion, the way loving parents would seek the best for their differently gifted children.

    The difficulty is that we all belong to a particular race (or racial mixture) ourselves and thus have a natural tendency to favour our own, notwithstanding that in overreaction to Nazism and the Holocaust, we went to the exact but equally insane opposite extreme of denying our own racial self-interests, which was then incorporated into the state’s age-old strategy of “divide and rule”, whereby society is divided into a morally superior, now supposedly “colour-blind”, elite and the morally inferior, naturally (human nature being what it is) less colour-blind, masses, who must submit to the authority of and domination by their “moral superiors”.

    We defeated the threat posed by Nazi and other racial supremacists, only to fall prey to the now far greater threat posed my “moral supremacists”. See blogs in which I elaborate on these ideas: http://unapprovedcomments.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-wests-overreaction-to-nazism.html

  9. Michael says

    It would be more interesting if you critiqued his points one by one as Jayman did, as opposed to dismissing them.

  10. Michael says

    I don’t recall Brian saying you could say much about individuals. Groups, though. Genetics can predict a lot about groups. Psych 101 does neither as well as genetics.

  11. anon says

    no. Population stats may be applied to individuals.

    For example,

    if i have both a black person and a white person in front of me (and all i know about each person is his race), then the black person is more likely to be a criminal than the white person.

    The philosopher neven sesardic gives scholarly treatment to this issue in his book ‘making sense of heritability.’ On page 217, Sesardic writes, ‘ it is a fallacy
    not to take [an individual’s race] into account’

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