Applications and Misapplications of Darwinismon December 29, 2006 at 12:00 am
With the determination of a naked emperor walking down the street, Graves continues his confused attack on the concept of race (a largely factual division of humanity into localized breeding population) and the concept of racism (a normative argument that membership in a certain historical breeding population should determine one’s lot in life). The third section of his presentation of Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium, entitled “Applications and Misapplications of Darwinism,” runs from page 105 to page 154.
However, I wish to begin by stepping up from Graves-style rhetoric and present a testable hypothesis. Describing an early racist named Fritz Lenz, Graves writes that “Lenz considered liberal politics, money-making, and sexual proclivities as racial and genetic characteristics of the Jews” (132). Stripping down this statement to that which most interests me, Lenz is saying there is some Jewish genotype whose presence correlates with support for liberal policies. Both of these can be measured. One might measure Jewish blood through mitochondrial (female-line) allelles that tend to predominate in self-reported Jews, Y-chromosome (male-line) allelles that tend to predominate in the send, or perhaps some combination thereof. If you wanted sacrifice some scope for precision, you could measure the genetic Cohenim population that is spread throughout the world (Behar, et al., 2003, etc.). Then measure political persuasion through standard scales. Once you’ve defined your independent and dependent variables, such a statement becomes factually testable and loses much of its emotionality. It is known that politics that genetic background explains much of the variation in political persuasion (Alford, Funk, & Hibbing 2005; Alford & Hibbing 2006), so I would not be surprised if it is true. And if it is false, it is false.
Should there be any outrage, or horror, or distaste, or any emotional reaction at all to an experiment like the proposed mentioned above? I don’t think so. To do so implies that there are some questions that are morally wrong to ask. However, if we are confident of the answer, then they should be asked and answered with abandon. If we are confident that the median political orientation of Jews is not atypically liberal, or that the median political orientation of Germans for that matter (at least before 1933, see below) is not atypically authoritarian, then we can confidently predict exactly what answers a well designed experiment will not give. Indeed, scientific taboos only make sense when we are not sure of the answer. When we are afraid of the truth.
Another such factual question is found a few pages later in Graves’ book on page 139. He describes how Germany lost a greater percentage of her citizenry in the Second World War than did the Russian and Slavic Nations. Certainly it would be fair to describe this as selection, whether natural or artificial, as not all citizens were equally at risk of dying. It would be determine how the German nation was changed by this tragedy. If one would test a random sample of living Germans, and a random sample of buried bodies, for instance, could one establish that the selection was on some meaningful genetic basis? For instance, did those who tend to be bravery, or more political, die at a greater risk than others. It seems logical that Dopamine, which correlates with risky behavior — “too much gambling, too much sex, too much drinking… How would one define ‘too much politics’?” (Carmen, 2006, 21) – was selected against. So perhaps there was a reduction in high-Dopamine Germans. Are we to believe this has no impact on Germany’s policies, domestic and international?
However, I enjoyed Graves’ discussion of the “ostensibly scientific” tests that were at the heart of the Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka decision, among others, which ended segregation. Reflecting on Graves’ description, it occurred to me exam amounted to an Implicit Association Test. Implicit Association Tests attempt to get at internal beliefs that are not accurately reported through standard questionnaires. IATs can be powerful, and similar technology has been used to predict vote choice (Todorov, Mandisodza, Goren, & Hall, 2005). However, as measured by IATs, half of blacks have negative attitutes toward blacks (Bower, 2006). If changing IAT performance was the purpose of Brown, has this happened? Alternatively, if IAT performance is not a purpose of school integration (and so academic achievement, income equality, etc, are), then why the focus on IATs in the first place?
Alford, J., Funk, C., & Hibbing, J. (2005) Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted? American Political Science Review, 99(2), 154-168.
Alford, J., & Hibbing, J. (2006). Could Political Attitudes Be Shaped by Evolution Working Through Genes? Tidsskriftet Politik: August 2006 edition.
Behar, D.M., Thomas, M.G., Skorecki, K., Hammer, M.F., Bulygina, E., Rosengarten. D., Jones, A.L., Held K., Moses, V., Goldstein, D., Bradman, N., & Weale, M.E. (2003). Multiple origins of Ashkenazi levites. American Journal of Human Genetics 73: 768-779.
Bower, B. (2006). The Bias Finders: A Test of Unconscious Attitudes Polarizes Psychologists. Science News, 169(16), 250.
Carmen, I. (2006). Genetic Configurations of Political Phenomena: New Theories, New Methods. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior.
Graves, J. L., Jr. (2001). The emperor’s new clothes: Biological theories of race at the millennium. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Todorov, A., Mandisodza, A.N., Goren, A., & Hall, C.C. (2005). Inferences of competence from faces predict election outcomes. Science 208(5728): 1623-1626.
Reactions to The Emperor’s New Clothes, part of Biopsychological Development
1. The Origin of the Race Concept
2. Darwin and the Survival of Scientific Racism
3. Applications and Misapplications of Darwinism
4. Biological Theories of Race At the Millennium