Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?

Gerold Firl (
28 Jan 1997 21:48:19 GMT

In article <>, writes:

|> (Gerold Firl) wrote:

|> > The fact is, race among humans
|> > is a real, biologically-based fact of our history, and we have to deal
|> > with it on a basis of both truth and justice. Pretending it doesn't
|> > exist is just not a viable solution.

|> I disagree, when speaking of biology. Again, what makes this quite
|> limited set of characteristics take precedence over all other axes of
|> human variation, if not the _culturally_-determined associations attached
|> to it?

For me, the significance of racial markers is the simple fact that
they serve as signs of evolutionary divergance. They are evidence of
breeding isolation and/or adaptation, and thus provide information
regarding our history.

|> > Actually, humans have a very strong isolation mechanism: the fact that
|> > we spread over the entire planet. Rough estimates of genetic diffusion
|> > times from one end of the old world ecumene to the other give figures
|> > of about 10,000 years; possibly enough to maintain the genus as a
|> > single species, but not fast enough to blur local adaptation.

|> I find it paradoxical that human mobility can be conceived of as
|> an isolating mechanism...

Sort of - after human mobility established residents in environments
as disparate, and isolated, as the tundra, the rainforest, the deserts
- all the various ends of the earth occupied by man - we were
confronted by an isolating mechanism: sheer distance, coupled with the
different demands of survival in different environments. Some local
adaptations (such as frost-bite resistance) simply were not useful
beyond their place of origin, and hence did not diffuse widely into
other populations. Others, which would be useful in any environment
(such as the various forms of human intelligence) spread widely and
rapidly, though inevitable lag-times are imposed by distance.

|> And it seems to me that we are not necessarily
|> concerned with genetic exchange across the whole Old World when speaking
|> of 'racial' differentiation, but rather with exchange at smaller
|> scales. If genetic interchange at continental or sub-continental
|> distances is sufficient to generate a series of strong clines between
|> areas, then the discrete nature of particular 'races' -- read
|> sub-species now, as far as I can see -- becomes less and less easy
|> to define, and less and less useful.

I don't see why; geographical barriers to gene transfer will create
sudden steps in the cline: think of the rainforest/savanna transition
in africa, or the sahara barrier, or the mountains enclosing the
indian subcontinent. Each of these has produced sharp genetic
gradients between neighboring peoples, corresponding to radically
different ways of life and cultural norms. An understanding of where
these transition zones exist in space and time is very useful for
understanding our history.

|> And with
|> "...possibly enough to maintain the genus as a single species...",
|> I presume that you're not arguing that moderns belong to more than one
|> species.

Obviously. But what about the recent past? When modern h. sapiens
reached the islands of indonesia and australia, and encountered
archaic humans, did they constitute a single breeding population? Or
were the archaic forms simply extirminated? Evidence from australia
indicates that hybridization took place; I'm not sure about java.
Perhaps the repercussions from that encounter can still be discerned
in the respective cultures.

|> > and kinship rules. Our cultures restrict the possible range of
|> > marriage partners, accelerating the pace of subspeciation.

|> Ummm, genetic interchange doesn't actually require marriage. The
|> preoccupations of groups seeking to maintain 'racial purity' is a
|> testament to the disregard that people have for such boundaries.

True. And lets not lose sight of the role that rape has played in
maintaining the oneness of mankind. But still, marriage does
correlate, to a greater or lesser degree, with paternity, and cultural
restrictions on potential mates does play a role in funneling gene
flow. Seduction is trickier when you don't speak the same language,
and such encounters have been comparitively rare throughout human

|> > Any other animal which exhibited the level of geographical variation
|> > found in man would be classified as having subspecies.

|> (1) On what characteristics? How do we decide upon those?

*Any* visible distinguishing physical or behavioral characteristic
will suffice.

|> (2) 'Breeding
|> isolation' and adaptation are tough. In your example, Swedes and Inuit
|> are pretty far apart, for example (but what 'race' do Saami belong to?),
|> while the situation of 'pgymies' is actually pretty complex, since we're
|> talking as much about an economic and cultural classification as we are
|> a physical one -- similar to the battles about the historical status of
|> San-speaking populations in southern Africa.

My information regarding the african pygmies is at variance with the
picture you present; it appears to me that the pygmies constitute a
population of longstanding distinction. The pygmy adaptations to the
rainforest environment are cultural and economic, but they are also
physical. Such adaptations take many generations, and can not be
shrugged off as a classificatory transient. The stature of the pygmies
is exactly the same adaptation as is found in many other rainforest
species; the economic relationship between pygmy hunters and the
neighboring negro agriculturalists is a *consequence* of pre-existing
biological adaptations.

|> (3) The sets of adaptations that
|> you're speaking of are culturally mediated, and human physique seems often
|> to respond pretty quickly to cultural influences. Look at stature
|> changes through generations, for example, or changes to stress loads
|> with agriculture.

Simple nutrition, not biological evolution. If a child is
malnourished, then the adult will be short. Historically malnourished
populations, adequately fed, will become taller. But biological
adaptation evolves over many many generations, and a well-fed pygmy
will grow up to be around four and half feet tall. That is adaptation,
not malnourishment.

|> my point stands: if people want to establish such a system for
|> humans, they're going to have to come up with a stable classification.
|> So... how many 'races' of humans do you think exists, anyway? Do
|> Swedes, Inuit, Pgymies, Nubians, Ainu and Japanese all belong to
|> different races, for example?

I'm more of a splitter than a lumper, simply because I want more
detailed information. For me, all the groups listed above are
different races - as for how many races exist, I don't have sufficient
evidence to name a figure. I think a minimum of maybe 25 could give a
reasonable picture of human diversity, but I expect a finer
classification would be required for cladistic consistancy.

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