Re: What are race promoters promoting?

Gerold Firl (
2 Dec 1996 22:05:11 GMT

In article <>, writes:

|> (Gerold Firl) wrote:

|> . in any
|> .case, if a subpopulation has distinctive physical characteristics, it
|> .doesn't much matter whether they arose by adaptation *or* chance. It
|> .serves to distinguish them as a separate subspecies no matter how the
|> .evolutionary chances came about.

|> What are these sub-species? Name them.

Since the time when biological concepts of species and subspecies have
been put on a solid footing (late 50's/early 60's) a number of
attempts have been made to formulate a coherant human taxonomy. I
could refer you to some, if you're interested. The definitive model
should be forthcoming in the next decade or two, as gene-typing
techniques improve and larger samples are collected worldwide.

There is no single, "correct" human taxonomy. Depending on the level
of discrimination you're looking for, and how you choose to treat
recent hybridized populations, you might have anywhere from a minimum
of 15 or 20 races, up to a maximum of hundreds. For the sake of
discussion, I'll give you an idea of what I would consider a
rough-cut taxonomy:

sub-saharan africa: bushmen, pygmy, negro, nilo-sudanese, afar

The hamitic berbers of the north african coast are a good example of a
hybrid population, formed from a number of different racial groups.
The same goes for much of the middle east, with the arabian semites as
an example of a constituent group which has had comparitively little
admixture from neighboring peoples.

The indo-europeans (IE) complicate the matter, since they have
expanded their territory significantly over the last 4000 years. In
the process they have mixed with other races, notably in iran, asia
minor, and northern india. The IE peoples would constitute a sepatate
race at this level of differentiation; I'm not sure about the basque.
Based on blood-typing, they probably still should count as a distinct
race; there may well be hundreds of such isolated populations, each
with similar levels of genetic uniqueness, most of which I will not
mention here.

Asia: dravidian, siberian, (I include here both the current-day tribal
peoples such as the tungus, golds, and peoples of the amur, along with
the classical north-chinese nomads such as the mongols), han,
south-east asians (I include here the vietnamese, thais, khmers, and
the south chinese "mountain people" who comprise a significant
percentage of the nominal "han" population of southern china), malay-
indonesian (I include most of the phillipines, excluding micro-races
such as the negritos, who should be given their own group).

Austro-nesia: melanesian, polynesian, australian

Americas: innuit, northwest tribes, rest of north america except for
california, mexico/maya, andean, amazonian, pampas/patagonian tribes,
tierra del fuegans. (Note: my model of american taxonomy is a little
shaky; I'm uncomfortable with lumping most north american peoples into
a single race, but I don't know enough about the physical anthropology
of these peoples to do any better.)

That comes to 25 races: bushmen, pygmy, negro, nilosudanese, afar,
hamite, semite, IE, dravidian, siberian, han, SE asians,
malay-indonesian, negrito, melanesian, polynesian, australian, innuit,
NW american, north american (possibly excluding california), mexico-
mayan, andean, amazonian, pampas-patagonian, tierra del fuegan. I
should probably add caucasian-kurdish and finnish-lapp, which would
make 27; there are plenty more which could be added, especially
micro-races such as ainu or vedda.

That's off the top of my head; I may have missed some important
groups, especially in the americas, and I avoided the question of
recent hybrids, but that should be a relatively coherant map of human
diversity. Each of these groups has distinctive physical traits which
evolved over deep evolutionary time, corresponding to major branches
on the human evolutionary tree.

|> .Susan is mistaken about the 3-race model of humanity; such a model is
|> .not at all useful for understanding human variation and evolution. The
|> .rest of what she says is quite correct.

|> Including her "geographic" over genetic relatedness argument?

I think you two were talking past each other on that; as I understood
her position, susan was simply noting the correlation between
geography and genetics.

|> .The races of man developed by
|> .the same processes of breeding isolation, adaptation, and chance which
|> .formed the races of any species.

|> This eludes certain truths. What other species could change their
|> adaptation from arctic to tropical in less than a generation? What other
|> species facilitates gene flow by rapid migration and overcoming various
|> sorts of geographic barriers? The processes are not the "same".

Nothing is "the same", if you mean absolutely identical, but I see
human cultural adaptation as being simply part of the human toolkit.
It certainly helps us to adapt rapidly to different environments, but
it does *not* prevent parallel physical adaptations from occuring. When
humans move to cold climates, they adopt warm clothing, but they also
*adapt* cold-resistant physical changes. Adaptation is much slower
than cultural adoption, but it happens nonetheless.

The US army found, during the korean war, that different soldiers had
different susceptability to frostbite. When we get cold,
vasoconstriction in the extremities limits heat loss, but US GI's from
european ancestry had a subsequent vaso-dilation which limited
frostbite. Afro-americans did not have the vaso-dilation response, and
hence suffered more from frozen extremities. The innuit and the yahgan
of tierra del fuego have even better developed cold-resistance
mechanisms; our ability to employ cultural adaptation is unique among
the animals, but that in no way obviates our physical adaptations. If
anything, culture *increased* human variability, since it allows us to
inhabit so many different environments.

|> If you
|> wish to overlook culture as an important factor shaping human genotypes
|> that is your choice, but it is a silly one.

What makes you think I've overlooked the role culture has played in
shaping human genetics? Actually, I've noted earlier in this newsgroup
that culture accellerates genetic differentiation through our kinship
rules, dictating (and often limiting) the range of potential breeding
partnesr, and hence artificially increasing breeding isolation.
(Sometimes it also artificially *decreases* breeding isolation, as
I've argued in the case of australia.)

It would indeed be silly to pretend that culture plays no role in
shaping the human genotype; what gave you the idea that I had done

|> |> : "Human racial classification is of no social value and is positively
|> |> : destructive of social and human relations. Since such racial
|> |> : classification
|> |> : is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance
|> |> : either,
|> |> : no justification can be offered for its continuance (R. Lewontin in
|> |> : EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY 1972, volume 6 pg 397)"

|> .This is a perfect example of the political basis of the "one-species
|> .no-races" position. Lewontin believes that racial classification is
|> ."positively destructive" of *social* relations - that is the basis for
|> .his crusade. I have some sympathy for his goals - the creation of a
|> .non-racist society - but I believe the dishonesty of his tactics are
|> .counterproductive. Stating that racial classification has no taxonomic
|> .significance is simply false, and will not stand the test of critical
|> .scrutiny. Such a tack should be abandoned if the goal is the creation
|> .of a free society.

|> What is the politcal purpose of doggedly persisting in the use of a term
|> (race) which even in your view describes an entirely different set of
|> propositions than its original usage?

"Race" is the term which is used in population biology to describe
genetic variation within a species; the fact that the meaning of the
term has been refined over time should not be cause for alarm.
Aristotle explained the tendancy of water to flow downhill as being
due to the natural affinity which water feels for the sea; newton
modeled the process as a force which varies as the product of any two
masses with the inverse-square of their distance. Einstein used the
concept of space-time geodesic world lines created by non-euclidean
warpage due to the presence of matter to explain the same phenomenon;
should we then abandon the term "gravity", because the meaning of the
term has changed to reflect our growing understanding?

My "political" purpose in explaining the biological basis of human
race is to support the position that truth should take precedance over
political expediancy, and advocacy should not resort to dishonesty.

|> Sigh. The Truth. Is the truth that different human populations vary in
|> their genetic makeup? I don't fear that at all. Do you really think we
|> have the data to understand the 'truth'? What you have is a hypothesis,
|> not so free of political rational as you might think.

We constantly refine our understanding of truth. You seem to suggest
that we don't have sufficient data to arrive at anything close to the
truth of human origins and development; I don't see it that way. Our
data is far from complete, and will rapidly improve as gene-typing
improves, but I think we can make some useful observations based
purely on anatomy and history.

You claim that I am operating under an unconscious political
rationale; I'd like to hear your opinion about just what that
rationale might be. Do tell.

|> .Race/subspecies is the way biology describes the pattern of genetic
|> .variation within a species.

|> Really? I know quite a few population ecologists who have moved away from
|> this view, and biologists too.

And what is used in its place?

|> . If you create some other way of describing
|> .genetic variation, say using mathematical descriptions of
|> .gene-gradients between populations, you will find that it amounts to
|> .the same thing. The borders between races are due to sudden changes
|> .in those genetic gradients.

|> Whoa. If you aren't describing races in terms of gene-gradients, then on
|> what basis are you describing them?
|> And by "you", I assume you mean YOU, since attempts to do this with single
|> and even multiple attributes has resulted in vastly differing
|> classificatory schemes that often bear little resemblence to one another.
|> With any multivariate analysis you very rarely get that sudden change you
|> speak of along more than a single gradient.

Can you give examples? I would predict that if you mapped genetic
gradients south to north from sri lanka to tibet, you will find
abrupt changes as you move from dravidian to mixed dravidian/IE to
tibetan. The north indian mixture will blur the image somewhat, but
the separation between tibetan and dravidian is ancient, based on
significant differences in environmental adaptation. I predict that a
multivariate comparison of these populations will show a consistant
break in the himalayan foothills; if you disagree, I'd like to hear
your rationale.

|> What were those races again, and where are they?

The system I outlined above is rough-hewn, but should serve as
starting point. If you can detect any taxonomic inconsistancy, I'd
appreciate hearing about it.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf