Race, genetics and morality: the new war over evolution

Russian scientists showed in the 1990s that a strong selection pressure (picking out and breeding only the tamest fox pups in each generation) created what was — in behavior as well as body — essentially a new species in just 30 generations. That would correspond to about 750 years for humans. Humans may never have experienced such a strong selection pressure for such a long period, but they surely experienced many weaker selection pressures that lasted far longer, and for which some heritable personality traits were more adaptive than others. It stands to reason that local populations (not continent-wide “races”) adapted to local circumstances by a process known as “co-evolution” in which genes and cultural elements change over time and mutually influence each other. The best documented example of this process is the co-evolution of genetic mutations that maintain the ability to fully digest lactose in adulthood with the cultural innovation of keeping cattle and drinking their milk. This process has happened several times in the last 10,000 years, not to whole “races” but to tribes or larger groups that domesticated cattle.

Recent “sweeps” of the genome across human populations show that hundreds of genes have been changing during the last 5-10 millennia in response to local selection pressures. (See papers by Benjamin Voight, Scott Williamson, and Bruce Lahn). No new mental modules can be created from scratch in a few millennia, but slight tweaks to existing mechanisms can happen quickly, and small genetic changes can have big behavioral effects, as with those Russian foxes. We must therefore begin looking beyond the Pleistocene and turn our attention to the Holocene era as well – the last 10,000 years. This was the period after the spread of agriculture during which the pace of genetic change sped up in response to the enormous increase in the variety of ways that humans earned their living, formed larger coalitions, fought wars, and competed for resources and mates.

The protective “wall” is about to come crashing down, and all sorts of uncomfortable claims are going to pour in. Skin color has no moral significance, but traits that led to Darwinian success in one of the many new niches and occupations of Holocene life — traits such as collectivism, clannishness, aggressiveness, docility, or the ability to delay gratification — are often seen as virtues or vices. Virtues are acquired slowly, by practice within a cultural context, but the discovery that there might be ethnically-linked genetic variations in the ease with which people can acquire specific virtues is — and this is my prediction — going to be a “game changing” scientific event. (By “ethnic” I mean any group of people who believe they share common descent, actually do share common descent, and that descent involved at least 500 years of a sustained selection pressure, such as sheep herding, rice farming, exposure to malaria, or a caste-based social order, which favored some heritable behavioral predispositions and not others.)

I believe that the “Bell Curve” wars of the 1990s, over race differences in intelligence, will seem genteel and short-lived compared to the coming arguments over ethnic differences in moralized traits. I predict that this “war” will break out between 2012 and 2017.


On the left, people freak out because we mention race at all.

On the right, people freak out because we at this blog do not condemn any race or pick any race as superior.

However, we do have one radical position regarding the biggest “elephant in the room” of modern liberal democracy: we know from history that multiculturalism does not work.

Why does multiculturalism fail?

  • Different abilities caused by different evolutionary paths equals constant infighting.
  • People on the left use pity for disadvantaged groups to make themselves look more altruistic. People on the right sell fear. Either way, from either side, you get the weaker leaders not the honest ones.
  • Culture is all that holds back commerce, in any age, from taking over a society. Multiculturalism obliterates that.
  • Ethnicity (including race) is culture. If your ancestors develop a culture, it is because they adapted to it. This violates the taboo that says humans are above nature, not shaped by it.
  • Without a group identity, people are forever casting about for invented identities, which produces “New Age” style thinking: Buddhist one week, Italian Mussolinist the next, gay porn star the next, Scientologist the next, etc.
  • Each ethnicity has produced unique traits that are worth preserving.
  • The genetics of hybridization produces one generation with hybrid vigor, and then every following generation careens downward to a lowest common denominator.

These are blasphemous truths that our society will not face.

Mr. Haidt’s article just resurrects the debate in another form.

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