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Sunday, June 03, 20071180891444

Socially-constructed races and the SSSM

Races are large groups, the members of whom are more closely related to each other than to outsiders. Races can be thought of as large-scale families. While race mixing can and does occur, the historical norm appears to have been for in-breeding within races. (It is through this inbreeding that genetic drift can ultimately lead to trouble.) Where there has been race-mixing in the past, it tends to be the males of one race interbreeding with females of another. Thus the United States has a "black" population that tends to be maternally African but often with distantly British paternity, and Mexico has a "mestizo" population that tends to be maternally American Indian and Iberan.

Some doubt the factual reality of race. That is, some claim that racial differences are only skin deep, and that the mere fact that one person has darker or whiter skin (facial features, bone structure, enzyme collection, etc) says nothing about ultimate ancestry. These skeptics would say that only a very small number of traits very among human groups in the first place, and that if one's ancestral home is nearer the equator, then it makes sense that one's ancestors evolved darker skin to avoid the sun's harmful rays.

A problem exists if we claim that race only effects skin: race as a variable explains variation. Fatality rates from a host of diseases, intelligence, and other factors are better predicted if we take race into account than if we don't. If race is not real below the skin, that means something besides biology is causing this variation. The race-skeptics answer that race is "socially constructed," that society has decided that people should be fit into this-or-that racial category based on skin color. In other words, if we would ignore race, it would go away.

However, there is another way that race can be "socially constructed": perhaps culture can cause genetic evolution. Indeed, it appears this has happened. gnxp notes an article from the Proceeds of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) entitled " Linguistic tone is related to the population frequency of the adaptive haplogroups of two brain size genes, ASPM and Microcephalin." The article notes how the long-standing view that humans are language-neutral -- an infant from any population can learn any language equally well -- appears to be false. Children whose parents come from populations that historically have a tonal language (Latvian, Chinese, etc). have a different sort of gene than children whose parents come from a tone-neutral language (English, Spanish, etc)...


As Scientific American writes, the genes that very between tonal and non-tonal populations affect brain size during embryonic development. Unlike subject-verb order, use of passive tense, round vowels, etc, "tone seemed to be inextricably tied to the variations of [the genes]."

Therefore, language may be socially constructed in that society determines which language genes -- which type of linguistic intelligence -- thrives in a population because of the population's culture. This implies that other traits -- which provide some advantage in a culture -- may be selected for in some cultures but not other. Personality, temperment, skin color, disease resistance, general and multiple intelligences, etc. -- can all be selected by culture, not just by natural environment, solar radition, etc.

Why does this matter? And why is it even controversial?

Western civilization and American ideology reject the notion that biological differences can result in differences in worth. Paul teaches "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28). Whether one's reality is biologically determined (as in sex), culturally determined (as in wealth), or the result of biological-cultural interaction (nationality), all are equal. Likewise, the Declaration of Independence' preambles beginning, that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness," is absurd if one reads to to say that equal rights are the result of equal inheritance.

However, starting in the 1940s, Academia was seized by the post-Christian, post-American Left. Without the arbitrary faith in equal moral worth that comes from the Christian and American traditions, the Left had to maintain that the facts showed that all humans were born equally capable in all ways. Otherwise, without faith in equal worth, the logical conclusion was Aristotle's: some men are born to be kings, some are born to be slaves. The Left constructed the Standard Social Sciences Model to justify claims of equal worth by claiming that everyone had equal inheritance.

But the Standard Social Sciences Model is now falling apart. Every week brings new studies which show how genetics influece important traits, such as intelligence. And increasingly, we see papers like the langauge one which implies that cultures shape the biology of their host-nations. Contemporary genetics veto the possibility of equal inheritances, and increasingly the existence of races is seen to be more and more likely.

The SSSM is bankrupt. And with it, the logic of the left. Either a mechanism is found to uphold human equality in the absense of equal inheritances, or the doctrine of equal worth must be abandoned.

Comments

And even without the new evidence, SSSM will fall apart anyway thanks to new genetic enhancement technologies. From my research, the fear that equality of law will be destroyed is the only major concern of left-wing critics of transhumanism.

What about the Left-wing animal rights movement? Important genetic differences there are impossible to deny but animal liberationists support equal (contextual - no voting rights for apes) inheritance.

Posted by: Adam | Sunday, June 03, 2007

Adam,

Animal Liberation Frontiers are the flip-side of the problem: if one believes in the equal rights of all humans but accepts individual- and group- level genetic inequalities within humanity, then where does one stop granting rights? ALF fellow travelers answer somewhere out there in the animal kingdom.... which if course degrades the rights and value of humans to those of animals.

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Sunday, June 03, 2007

I just checked wikipedia, and there seems to be a higher incidence of perfect pitch in those who speak the tonal languages.

This does raise the question, how does one define the group? Race as we define it these days (white, black Asian) seems to be too broad.

Posted by: Steve French | Monday, June 04, 2007

Steve,

Thanks for the comment!

One way of thinking about races is thinking about clusters -- or how much you focus your "eyes." If your vision is very blurry, you will see a grouping of species which are now spread through the world, but whose native habitats are all Africa. These are humans, chimps, and bonobos (the last two being kept in zoos by the first one). Focus a little bit, and the human population breaks into the most diverse part of humanity (descended from those thousands who stayed in Africa) and those who claim as ancestors those 150 early humans who left the continent to settle Eurasia[1]. Squint a bit more, and Africans break into West Africans and East Africans while the Eurasians break into West Eurasians ("caucasians") and East Eurasians ("mongoloids"). Then each of these break into finer and finer groups, with West Eurasians breaking into Europeans and Near Easterners and East Eurasians breaking into Asiatics and American Indians. Then...

Of course, such a method is not perfect. Among other problems with this sort of clustering is that old and ancient, but small, populations (Bushmen, Pygmies, Andaman Islanders, and Aboriginies) do not appear or are lumped with other populations.

Another way is to work backward from groups we assume exist, and see if the genetic data varifies our assumptions. And it seems to. In the graphic by section "III. Genotype and Phenotype" [2] you see that the three classic races -- Europeans, Asian, and African, have a much higher number of selected-for-allelles within themselves that would be expect by chance. Another study (see "Figure 1" [3]) [4], looking at junk DNA, finds an ancestry tree with a lot of gradiation, but also logical groupings for Africans, Eurasians, and American Indians / Pacific Islanders / East Asians. Looked at another way, we find (unsurprisingly) that Suruis, Karitianans, Columbians, and Pimas are close to each other, and that Biaka Pygmies, San, and Mbuti Pygmies are close to themselves.

One last way is the first I mentioned -- families. A nuclear family is a small race whose youngest members tend to be very closely related. Before transportation became readily available, valleys and hamlets served the same function, uniting cousins. It appears from the current research that language-groups experience positive selection, so on a broader and general level nationalities may be races. Then we have larger and larger groupings...




[1] http://tdaxp.blogspirit.com/archive/2007/05/02/review-of-before-the-dawn-by-nicholas-wade.html
[2] http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/01/race-current-consensus.php
[3] http://genetics.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=slideshow&type=figure&doi=10.1371/journal.pgen.0030051&id=75361
[4] http://genetics.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pgen.0030051

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Monday, June 04, 2007

What I'm more interested in is the day-to-day effects of genes like this, especially in diverse populations like that of the US. Does it just mean that tonal populations are less likely to produce the next Shakespeare, or is the difference more profound and serious? How does this gene effect the products of interbreeding between tonal and non-tonal?

Posted by: Michael | Monday, June 04, 2007

Given that:

1) Increasing evidence from Eurasian genetic studies indicate stability in underlying genetic populations over long-term social and cultural shifts

and

2) Most populations that now speak tonal Chinese languages *used* to speak non-tonal languages

What should we conclude about these studies? Is the population of contemporary China atypical with respect to the first finding?

The paper linked to is pretty preliminary in terms of moving from the correlative finding to a causal connection. The bottom-line: these kinds of findings need to be explored, but given how many of them turn out to be correlative rather than causal, one shouldn't rush to judgment.

Posted by: Daniel Nexon | Monday, June 04, 2007

But, I suppose, the finding might explain "natural" boundaries to language uptake.

Anyway, a postscript: I think you've mis-constructed the genealogy of what you're calling the SSSM and its telos. If one kicks out of, say, the logic of divinely ordered moral equality or natural rights, it simply doesn't follow that one must embrace some fundamentally similar claim of natural equality to argue for political equality. Nor it is the case that criticisms of racialist ideology required specifying the equality of human endowments. Indeed, attention to the socially constructed aspects of human categorization enabled, in many crucial ways, better research into biological dispositions.

it strikes me that you're still arguing in terms of an outmoded "nature vs. nurture" model (see, e.g., http://jenni.uchicago.edu/human-inequality/ and specifically http://jenni.uchicago.edu/human-inequality/papers/tech-skill-pnas_2col_all_2007-03-22a_mms.pdf)

Posted by: Daniel Nexon | Monday, June 04, 2007

Doesn't it weaken the points (such as they are) if the definition of "race" is that amorphous?

Posted by: Steve French | Monday, June 04, 2007

Michael,

I don't know. I don't think anyone does for sure. But stay tuned to blogs like gnxp [1] to find out! :-)

Dr. Nexon,

I agree that the findings are a first step, not a last. It is preliminary, and that must be remembered.

The first part you noted (that populations appear to be more genetically continuous than culturally continuous) certainly is a surprise given what's been assumed, but I agree with you on it.

On the transition from nontonal to tonal languages -- it may have been that all populations once spoke a click language [2], so that language-specific evolution exists at all shows that evolution works much faster than previously thought. For another example, take the selective sweep of lactose tolerance in European population. Additionally, even if preexisting genetic populations with nontonal languages adopted tonal languages in recent times, this does not prevent an ingression of tonal genes into the population, if the selected advantage was great enough.

"If one kicks out of, say, the logic of divinely ordered moral equality or natural rights, it simply doesn't follow that one must embrace some fundamentally similar claim of natural equality to argue for political equality. Nor it is the case that criticisms of racialist ideology required specifying the equality of human endowments."

Indeed. I just finished reading a book on rational morality. However, if the dogma that there are no differences can be maintained, that arena does not have to be entered. If population-level genetic diversity is accepted as a fact, however, the debate must be fought -- and potentially can be lost.

"Anyway, it strikes me that you're still arguing in terms of an outmoded "nature vs. nurture" model "

Not sure what you mean here. Can you clarify?

(I have never met any nativist who argues against the usefulness of empiricism, but I have met many empiricists who argues against the utility of nativism. It appears belief in the the falks "nature v. nurture" dichotomy is widespread among empiricists but nearly absent among nativists.)

Steve,

"Doesn't it weaken the points (such as they are) if the definition of "race" is that amorphous?"

How so?


[1] http://www.gnxp.com/
[2] http://tdaxp.blogspirit.com/archive/2007/05/02/review-of-before-the-dawn-by-nicholas-wade.html

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Doesn't any possible statement you can make about race have little meaning because you have the option of tailoring race so precisely? It allows you to bet the question very nicely I guess.

Posted by: Steve French | Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Steve --

You're talking about operationalization, and your point is correct.

I think we're at the point where we can say that race -- meaningfully group-level genetic diversity -- exists. We can argue that point using a number of methods.

For medical tests, it's easy enough to measure race through a simple survey question.

Once we get to social sciences, it gets trickier, though. There's clear correlation with race and some traits. But to actually say that race is what's causing the variation requires more power than we have right now.

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Dan,

I would like to see how you would incorporate all the differentiation that is not due to these race relations (hah, had to use that phrase!)

I.e., this goes back to an earlier discussion we once had [1].

A. To what degree would the genetic similarities within a race matter, given the great genetic **diversity** among members of that race?

B. Given the subject that arose in that previous discussion, **emergence**, would you suppose that the genetic similarities within a race may sometimes act as bounds on the emergence of phenotypes possible from the genetic diversity within that race, particularly also given the common cultural or social bounds -- perhaps even geographical bounds?

C. Or does it work in the other direction: That is, the genetic diversity within a race limits the role of their genetic similarity in shaping phenotypes?

Heh. I realize these are very broad questions and, at this point, perhaps quite hypothetical.

Posted by: Curtis Gale Weeks | Saturday, June 09, 2007

[1] http://www.phaticcommunion.com/archives/2006/11/interesting_stu.php

(Had to post this separately, since blogspirit kept rejecting my comment -- sending me back to the front page -- when the link was included in the last comment.)

Posted by: Curtis Gale Weeks | Saturday, June 09, 2007

Curtis,

Thanks for your comment -- and your patience with blogspirit!

I enjoyed the earlier discussion, so I'm glad to re-start it :-)

To your points:

"A. To what degree would the genetic similarities within a race matter, given the great genetic **diversity** among members of that race?"

This is a great point. Indeed, the sort of diversity within races is interesting.

Take the DRD47R allele [1], which we talked about earlier. In Han Chinese its presense is something like 5% of the population, while in South American Indian it exists in something like 70%+ of all individuals. Clearly knowing someone's race helps you make a prediction here. At the same point, there is error (within group variation) if you use race as your only variable.

So race helps as variable in some cases, but like virtually everything else shouldn't be used in isolation.

"B. Given the subject that arose in that previous discussion, **emergence**, would you suppose that the genetic similarities within a race may sometimes act as bounds on the emergence of phenotypes possible from the genetic diversity within that race, particularly also given the common cultural or social bounds -- perhaps even geographical bounds?"

"Possible" is pretty harsh, but we see genomic frequencies influence phenotypic frequencies in many areas. Physically, Europeans have better-than-average explosive strength, West Africans have better-than-average short-distance running ability, and East Africans have better-than-average marathon ability. These races therefore predominate the championships of sports that require these dfferent skills. Likewise, Ashkenazi Jews have higher than average general intelligence, possibly as a result of selection pressure owing to European persecution. Countries with Ashkenazim populations therefore see Ashkanazim over-representation in fields where general intelligence is most required.

"C. Or does it work in the other direction: That is, the genetic diversity within a race limits the role of their genetic similarity in shaping phenotypes?"

Yes. Races are not platonic kinds, but breeding populations -- essentially large families. Think of any extended family you know --- there are both similarities and differences in that family. Family members tend to be more alike than non-family member, but they are not clones of each other.

[1] http://tdaxp.blogspirit.com/archive/2006/08/20/are-americans-hyperactive-neanderthals.html

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Saturday, June 09, 2007

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