David A. Johns (
27 Jan 1995 08:45:14 GMT

In article <> (William Tyler) writes:

# In article <3g7se3$>
# (David A. Johns) writes:
# >Someone else has already pointed out that some animal
# >populations cover so much area that individuals at opposite ends
# >might even be considered different *species*. But unless I'm
# >mistaken, no biologist would ever claim to be able to draw the
# >line between those two species.
# >
# >If you want to talk about human variation, that's fine. If you
# >want to sort people into categories, you've got trouble.
# Why? What you seem to be saying is somewhat equivalent to the
# following:
# String comes in various lengths. The variation in length is
# continuous. Therefore it's meaningless to describe a piece
# of string as long or short.
# That's just nonsense.

Of course it's nonsense. But it's your nonsense, not mine.

A proper analogy might be to determine where the left end of the
string stops and the right end starts.

# Because no matter how much you say race is ill-defined, it is
# something that all (or nearly all) people recognize in others. It
# is simply ludicrous to think that most people don't recognize
# something different in the appearance of, say, a Japanese and an
# Arab. And if you paraded the populations of Tokyo and Riyadh
# before a panel of observers, there would be very few
# disagreements in classification.

I nominate this as The Argument that Would Not Die.

The purpose of racial classification is not to be able to label
distinct populations living thousands of miles apart. It's to be able
to categorize *all* humans. And while you can easily distinguish
Japanese from Arabs (or Swedes from Nigerians, etc., as previous
victims of this argument have suggested), you could walk and row from
Riyadh to Tokyo and see one type gradually turn into the other along
the way. Furthermore, since "races" consist of a lot of individual
characteristics, and these characteristics don't have the same
geographical limits, you couldn't even find a place to make an
arbitrary division.

Race is a folk concept, nothing more.

David Johns