in chapter two of A Troublesome Inheritance — “Perversions of Science” — nicholas wade tracks the histories of several lines of thought about human races which have existed over the last few centuries both within as well as outside of various scientific disciplines. he begins with the earliest biologists such as linnaeus, blumenbach, morton, and darwin; continues on through to spencer and his social darwinism and galton and his ideas on eugenics; describes the application of eugenic policies in the u.s. and europe; and eventually finishes up with the holocaust perpetrated by the nazis.
wade “goes there” since much of the fear expressed by people about human biodiversity and its study seems to be connected to the concern that such knowledge will inevitably lead to (what i would agree are) repugnant practices like the forced sterilization of individuals deemed unfit in some way or another, or officially sanctioned discriminatory practices against the members of one or more groups in society, or even genocide. many people seem to think that if we unleash “the horror that is hbd”, some groups will be told to get to the back of the bus or the ovens will be fired up or even worse.
as is often the case, however, i think that the majority is drawing what i call upside-down-and-backwards conclusions here. human groups haven’t committed injustices or atrocities toward each other thanks to understanding, or even misunderstanding, the biological differences between us all — humans are atrocious to one another because of their (our) biology. sadly, it’s in our nature(s).
the nazis, with their particular understanding of human races, did not invent genocide (although they may have come close to perfecting some truly diabolical techniques there). a simple glance at history and prehistory tells us that human populations have been trying to eliminate “the other” since time immemorial despite not having the slightest info about human biodiversity or biology or even science itself. just a couple of examples: genocidal practices were present in the americas long before europeans ever set foot there, and the mongols (as in ghengis khan and co.) were no strangers to genocide either (see “The Origins of Genocide” chapter here — you might also want to flip through the two volume Dictionary of Genocide if you have the stomach for it).
humans don’t really fight and kill neighboring populations or discriminate against subgroups within their nations — not to mention enslave one another — for any of the goofy ideological, religious, or “moral” excuses that they give. those are mostly just after the fact rationalizations that they’ve come up with (no, really — the human brain is not to be trusted!). like other creatures, humans very often try to eliminate or dominate other groups because they are in competition with them for resources [pdf] — or, at least, feel that they are anyway, whatever the reality on the ground may be. this is a behavioral pattern that we share with many other organisms, including some of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. chimp groups will “go to war” with neighboring groups — very purposefully ambushing and killing individuals from other bands — in order to gain control over new territory, which means access to additional resources and, therefore, better chances of reproducing (which is, of course, what life is all about). we know very well that our ancestors did the same, and if those that did succeeded in reproducing the most, this violently competitive nature would’ve been selected for in humans. and as most of human history has been one of extreme violence with one group pitted against another, i’d say that this is probably exactly what happened.
i think that we need to work toward a better understanding of the biological roots of human drives and behaviors, both those that are universal to our species and any that might be more prevalant in some groups rather than others (that’s the hbd part), including the negative and violent types described above, in order that we may better be able to put an end to war and killing and genocide, etc. i know. i sound like a miss america contestant now — but i am serious!
people have a tendency to favor their own. we know that. monkeys and beetles and — h*ll! — even plants tend to favor their own. plants! this is how fundamental the us-and-them divide is. if you put a bunch of different sorts of people together, society ceases to function well. robert putnam found this in his extensive research [pdf] — and diverse communities have been shown not to work in twenty million different permutations [pdf]. this is really the best case scenario, though, when it comes to trying to get everybody to just get along: that communities are not so cohesive and that there’s a lack of unity amongst the neighbors. the worst case scenarios are agressive and violent and murderous societies. (these, perhaps, may be avoided by making sure that nations are as ethnically homogeneous as possible. perhaps.) understanding human biology, including human biodiversity, can help us hopefully to prevent both.
for those of you out there who don’t like the idea of biological or genetic explanations for human behaviors — who find them distasteful or potentially dangerous — think instead of research into human biodiversity as a way of ruling out such explanations. if science demonstrates that there are little or no biological reasons for our behaviors and/or little or no reality to human biodiversity, i will be the first to say so — i promise! but as ashutosh jogalekar said in his review of wade’s book: “Science is about ideas, not answers…. A scientific topic cannot be declared off limits or whitewashed because its findings can be socially or politically controversial…” and it definitely should not be off limits when the findings might have the potential to help humanity.
i don’t mean minimize the dangers here or say that they don’t exist. as far as i am concerned, the human species has a despicable record when it comes to how its members treat one another (and other species, for that matter), nor do i see that that much has changed over time (although some groups do seem to have been pacified quite a bit at least when it comes to day-to-day within-group interactions). in future some individuals or groups might use the knowledge of human biodiversity as a rationalization when trying to eliminate or discriminate or otherwise repress other individuals or groups. but as i described above, it won’t have happened because of that knowledge. if they succeed, though, that might be because too many people today ignored biology and human biodiversity.
previously: hbd fallout
p.s. – still updating my A Troublesome Inheritance linkfest. don’t miss the latest links there!
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