Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?
Sun, 26 Jan 1997 15:11:41 -0600 wrote:

> They also suppose that what they call "racism," an
> anti-concept if there ever was one, would vanish if human subpoulations
> did not meet the biologists criteria of race.

I don't think so. But racist concepts are argued at many levels, and
refuting the idea that they have a basis in physical anthropology is
important -- or rather, letting it stand would be important.

> This would mean that race is not a viable *concept*, not that there are
> races in certain animals and not in others.

Well, the term is pretty imprecise. I think that probably 'sub-species'
would be rather more precise, although the two are very closely related.
The latter involves a mechanism for reproductive isolation, usually
geographical, in place for long enough for genetic differences to emerge
but not so long that speciation takes place. Doesn't work for modern
humans, from what I can see.

> Cavalli-Sforza's methods (the guy has been around for quite a while) come
> in for some pretty rough criticism. And remember that other schools of
> taxonomy (these are the pheneticists vs. the cladists) rely on gross
> traits rather than gene counts.

Certainly C-S's approach ahs been criticized. As I noted in another post
today, I've referenced C-S as someone who does these genetic analyses and
who _still_ doesn't accept the utility of the race concept. Look at some
of the critiques of his language/gene correlations, for example. But those
critiques -- or at least the ones I know of -- would give still less comfort
to proponents ofrace theory than does C-S.

And again, I don't think anyone's going to argue that human population
variation doesn't exist. But that comes in for two important caveats:
(1) people speaking of human races have traditionally based their
reconstructions on a very limited number of gross phenotypic features,
with absolutely no idea of variation in other, invisible features, with
no idea of the selection pressures on those features and with no idea
of the temporal stability of those features while (2) at the same time,
they emphasize the 'racial' variation in things like intelligence or
cultural potentials, which we'd expect to be under extraordinarily
strong selection pressure and so not to vary from population to
population! And in fact what they're doing is confusing historical
power relationships of the last few centuries with biological

> But this is a problem
> that is pervasive throughout biology, and I fail to see its special
> implication for the issue of races in general and in humans in most
> particular.

Three issues come up. (1) Humans deal with environments in qualitatively
different ways than do most other animals, most of the time. We use culture,
which works at different temporal scales than does natural selection.
(2) Humans are extremely mobile, which may well have an effect upon the
temporal stability of population features. (3) Again, race and racism are
pretty closely tied together. There's more riding on this with humans
than with finches, so you have to get it right before any evolutionary
claims are made.

#1 and #2 are off the top of my head; I'm no evolutionary biologist. But #3
is important. Look at Philipe Rushton's work as an example; he posits
higher intelligence among sub-Arctic human populations than tropical ones,
on the grounds that selection pressures are higher. Those are large
claims, and he uses them to talk about dumb, violent, sexually-voracious
Africans and smart, peaceful Asians with low libidos. But he never
addresses the questions of (a) whether tropical environments are actually
easier on humans than temperate/sub-Arctic ones and (b) whether we know
where these populations actually originated. And if you're going to
make those sorts of claims about a significant part of the world's
population (why one would want to I have no idea), you'd bloody well
better hold yourself to higher standards of proof than when working with
worms or naked mole rates.

> Such authors a Philippe Rushton have claimed at most a ten percent

And look at the cultural conclusions drawn from that 10%...

> I fail to see how Coon was so misguided.

I think that you partially answer this below.

> It certainly seems that both Caucasoids and Mongoloids were a
> well-traveled bunch.

And that's a lot of the problem. So were most other populations. These
populations moved around, they interbred, they exchanged cultural elements.
All of that looks to me inimical to the establishment of discrete,
stable races. Populations certainly, but if these shift their
characteristics and associations and relationships through time, as
I think they do, how important can they be for setting people into
little racial straightjackets today? I thinks that you'll find this
one of those cases, not where answers haven't been found, but where
the question ceases to be interesting. (Hell, I wouldn't be talking
about it if these racists weren't.)

And I think that one of Coon's problems was in not taking this
mobility among 'primitive' peoples into account.

> So what is all this race denial about?? I'm glad to find a specialist in
> African linguistics.

Nope. Not that. An archaeologist there, so I have to know something about

> So tell me whether the taxonomic disputes are over
> matters more fundamental than splitting vs. lumping.

My impression is that the basic Greenberg four-phylum arrangement is
pretty widely accepted. See R. Blench, 'Recent developments in
African language classification', in _The archaeology of Africa: foods,
metals, towns_ edited by Andah et al, pp. 126-138. Routledge, London,

> The "civilization
> deniers" are called "world-systems" thinkers and think that there has been
> enough trade flow (cf. gene flow) between civilizations that the globe
> started becoming "one" when Egypt and Mesopotamia started fighting each
> other

I think that it'd be pretty tough coming up with 20-30 'civilizations' in
the 1st place. How does China count? Chou and Han and T'ang and Ming and
everything in between all one? Republican and imperial Rome? Seems to
me to be a sort of naming tyranny; I'd prefer to look cross-culturally.

> I could say, "so what?", but I'll just ask how it came about that other
> primates have so much more variation at the gene count level (I think you
> mean) than humans.

Again, I think that environmental and geographical mobility among modern
humans would be key.


Scott MacEachern
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Bowdoin College
Brunswick, ME 04011

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