Genes, ethnicity, race, culture, and evolution

Most serious thinkers have realized for many years that genes play a major role in how individuals behave and how cultures and societies are structured. Most American anthropology departments have for as many years largely denied those facts.

In his recent book, A Troublesome Inheritance, Nicholas Wade makes a strong case that “human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional.”

In this essay, What Science Says About Race and Genetics, which is a short synopsis of his views, Wade uses the Chinese, the English, and Ashkenazi Jews as examples of groups that have “recently” evolved “copious, regional” traits that set them apart from other cultures that have found it difficult to copy the institutions that arose with and developed out of the industrial revolution.

Wade’s argument is largely genetic and needs to be said. Yet he seems to see the salient genetic traits as being sort of abstract. Nonviolence, literacy, thrift, and patience for the English; literacy and high IQs for the Ashkenazim; and conformism and authoritarian rule for the Chinese.

Wade’s book is a breath of fresh air in the small room of “race is a social construct and nothing more” (and the only way to deal with the evidence of genetic differences among humans is to ignore it).

That said, Wade is leaving out an important factor in gene expression—how genes for sociability and group-formation may or may not combine with genes that affect behaviors toward out-groups (aggression, for example) and favoritism toward members of the in-group (selective altruism, for example).

There is as much evidence that groups of overseas Chinese greatly favor their own as there is that Chinese in general carry genes for conformism and authoritarianism. Similarly, there is as much evidence of aggressive Ashkenazi ethnic networking as there is for high Ashkenazi IQs. (See this for one example: The Myth of American Meritocracy. And this for a second one: Reflections on Some Aspects of Jewish Self-Deception.)

It is good to see Wade’s book being widely read and discussed. I hope an even larger discussion will continue and that it will include a fearless examination of all of the factors—genetic, social, and genetic-social—that influence human behavior and the behaviors of the social groups to which they belong.

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