2007 June 17 Sunday
Race As Social Construct With Factual Basis

An unrealistic typical inside-the-dogma-boundaries debate about race, this one at The New Republic, ellicits a response from Razib at Gene Expression. Razib says race is not simply an ideological construct.

Race is a social construction. But it is not one constructed purely from human ideology. That many perceive Greeks as white and Turks as non-white is a reflection of social axioms (Christians are white, Muslims are brown). That may perceive Greeks as white and Thai as non-white is not a reflection of social axioms (Greeks exhibit physical characteristics of the white race, Thais do not). Humanists are well schooled in the interplay between ideology and facts in generating a narrative of the world. To pretend as if there is no factual basis in the outlines of an ideology is a denial of reality, which would less concerning if not for the fact that most Americans parrot this very line about race as if it was universally accepted.

I like to cite the example of dog breeds. Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois are different breeds. Some dogs sit clearly inside the definition of Border Collie or Aussie or Malinois. Others are mixes. Just because mixes exist does not mean that the group average characteristics of each breed isn't unique. Just because mixes exist doesn't mean that breeds do not exist or that breed labels are not useful. Breed names have real world utility. If you are near Golden Retriever who is barking at you your odds of getting bit or even killed are a lot lower than if you are near a Rottweiler that is barking at you. Group average differences in behavior rationally should influence your choices about house pets, guard dogs, or defensive behavior when challenged by a stranger dog.

Responding to the same TNR discussion Steve Sailer repeats his common sensical definition of race: "a partly inbred extended family".

I've long felt my single biggest contribution was coming up with a definition of "racial group" that was both rigorous and common-sensical ("a partly inbred extended family"). Simply having a useful definition should do much to dispel the hysteria, bad-faith, status-seeking, and general air of nonsense surrounding the topic of race.

On the other hand, my definition hasn't exactly swept like wildfire through the intellectual world as Chowkwanyun's essay demonstrates. But that's the way it generally is. You don't persuade famous thinkers, like, say, Richard Rorty. You outlive them. A new generation then comes along that doesn't have their egos invested in bad old ideas.

So, I was pleased to see in TNR a reply to the article by Justin Shubow that demonstrates a good familiarity with state-of-the-art thinking on the subject.

Why is Steve seeing a sensible idea getting adopted more quickly? I think the internet has accelerated the speed at which ideas spread. New ideas (or previously marginalized ideas) get put in front of many more pairs of eyes and lots of people who do not have vested interests in the current conventional wisdom decide the current conventional wisdom is wrong.

My guess is that the gap between the conventional wisdom and empirical reality is going to get narrower because the gatekeepers of the conventional wisdom are experiencing a reduced ability to control what people read and hear. Some of the middlemen in the markets for ideas are getting automated out of existence just as distributors of many physical products have gotten replaced with computer systems that allow more direct shipments.

Some pessimists think the defenders of conventional wisdom are still holding the line and keeping everyone in line. But my sense of it is that the intellectual building they constructed to hold everyone inside of might still look strong but it has termites. A lot of people are still afraid to publically speak their minds. But a growing number are changing their beliefs in the privacy of their own minds (or hiding behind pseudonyms as bloggers and blog commenters) and they are waiting looking for signals for when to all start speaking truthfully all at once. Those signals for when honesty becomes possible are coming soon and will come in the form of scientific evidence from DNA sequencing studies.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 June 17 05:05 PM  Cultural Wars Western

John S Bolton said at June 17, 2007 6:02 PM:

'Race is socially constructed' is obvious nonsense if it is to imply that genetic distance or unrelatedness is socially, and not biologically, constructed.
If socially constructed, why can't a group of applicants reference each other as the social constructors of
whatever racial category is advantageous for them to claim, and get into Ivy League schools?
When this has been tried imdividually and by siblings as well, the schools charged fraud, racial fraud, and won their cases.
It takes a deceitful professoriate, funded with money plundered from the net taxpayer,
to try to have it both ways on this racial identity point.
They have no marketplace of ideas to answer to, but tenure to cover almost any degree of mendacity.
Many say science is less affected by this wave of deceit, but they haven't looked at biology and the relevant subject, population genetics, or they would see massive intrusion of dishonesty.

John S Bolton said at June 18, 2007 11:50 PM:

Some other points on definition of the races:
most recent common ancestor is implicated here,
whether he is more remote or more proximate.
Within some few centuries, populations 'coalesce'
such that all the indigenous share a common ancestor, from that indigenous population.
Europeans lived in isolation for thousands of years,
differentiating during the ice age, and over 80% indigenous Europeans
come from a half-dozen or so patrilineages which have been there more than 10,000 years.
Then a mideastern lineage arrived, accounting for another 1/6 or so, and has been there many thousands of years.
Small number of common ancestors, and long isolation give rise to the identifiable
characters of a race. There has to be an occasion of differentiation, and the
Great Races, as they were once called, occupy continents of several billion acres extent.
Genetic distance between races is more than large enough to entrain natural selection
incentives, just because one is too alarmed at the thought of the consequences of
making an all-consuming imperative of such incentives, is no justification for pretending
that the differences are of no great identifiability.

John S Bolton said at June 19, 2007 12:20 AM:

It has been discovered in recent years that the main jumps in genetic distance, such as may be taken as defining
the longtime boundaries of the great races, run through the seas, great deserts and mountain ranges.
Two of the greatest jumps in genetic distance, much different from the theoretical epxectation of gradual
'isolation-by-distance', without discernible boundaries of any size,
are found running through the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert.
No intermediate populations inhabit these lines.
Major genetic distance shifts are found as you cross from the Sub-saharan African, to the North African, and on to the European sides of these lines. The Himalayan range shows another such line, and generally, oceans tend to divide rather than unify, differentiated populations.
Believing that more brotherhood is always better, one would tend to wish for these divisions not to be there,
especially if it means that there will be lasting hostility,as the aggrandizement of one race
may be seen by another as tending towards extermination of the weaker.
Here we have the left straddling this contradiction, idealizing universal brotherhood and equality, while
making the most of any tendencies of the historically losing races to be pushed towards extermination, as if
these leftists were looking to inflame hostilities and keep them going on a racial basis.
Since the academic left holds resolutely to
both positions, which are at cross-purposes,
the intention cannot be honest nor moral, but can
be a manipulation in the service of power-greed.

Dragon Horse said at June 19, 2007 6:40 AM:


Sahara Desert:

Intermediate populations exist in the Sahara.

Turug to name one. There are more if you look at pictures of people in the region. Many Southern Desert Berbers (not just the Turug) are obviously intermediate. Also I would say that many Sudanese/Ethiopians/Upper Egyptians/Somalis are also intermediate.

Mediterranean Sea:

Are you saying that Greeks, Sicilians, Sardinians do not have significant numbers of their populations that can walk around North Africa and draw no attention as a foreigner and vice versa?

Just about every region of the world where there is a steep divide in phenotype has intermediate populations.

Dragon Horse said at June 19, 2007 6:48 AM:


To qualify my statement, genetically North Africans are intermediate between Europeans and Sub-Saharan Africans, however people can't "see genetics" phenotpyically people in Algeria, Tunisia, Lower Egypt, Lebanon, Greece, Southern Italy and Southern Spain do not look very different and can "pass for each other".

In Asia. Nepal is a big intermediate population between Caucasian India and Mongoloid Central/East Asia, also you can argue some areas of Bangladesh are as well.

There really is not barrier between Europe and Asia. If you run from France to China you will see a transition from Caucasoid to Mongoloid that is fairly smooth, although the genetic distance between Korean and French is quite high there is no major “break” not even at the Urals as I can find Caucasoid and Mongoloids on both sides of the Urals, that is an artificial barrier that has never been very significant.

JSBolton said at June 19, 2007 5:05 PM:

The lines of most uncommon acceleration of genetic distance, are just that: lines, not belts
or regions of appreciable width.
The line running through the sea obviously has no population resident.
The 'races can have no definition' attitude, because most land connections between populations of maximal
genetic distance show gradual increase of genetic distance, has to, disingenuously or even with brazen dishonesty,
leave out of account the maritime and other sharp boundaries of genetic distance.

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