Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?
Tue, 28 Jan 1997 10:11:31 -0600 (Gerold Firl) wrote:
> and yet, of all those different markers, C-S will use contour-maps of
> blood-type frequency to illustrate the capriciousness of human
> taxonomy. It's things like that which make me question whether
> political concerns are coming into play for C-S.

I don't see why, especially. Take a look at the world distributions
in the back of _History and Geography_; he could make the same point
easily enough using all of the other markers in there, which vary in
quite different ways. I think he uses blood type because people will
recognize it as a well-known, and significant, characteristic of

> just because racists try to twist it. 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? The main problem here isn't politics, IMHO; it's with the
imprecision of the term when it's used to describe human groups, both
biologically and culturally.

> 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... 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 think that the genetic data
that I quoted in the last post substantiates that. 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

> 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.

> 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? (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. (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. Again, presumably such classifications are to be
established because of their utility to biologists and/or anthropologists
-- but where does that utility lie here?

I wouldn't be surprised to find that this could be used as a more
general critique of the denomination of sub-species by biologists in
other species -- simply more clear-cut because of the attention we pay to
it within our own species.

> Heh - there's a problem whenever a species attempts to classify
> itself.

Well, since we're the only species that (presumably) has ever attempted
it, I guess that we'll never know, will we? In any case, I think that
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?


Scott MacEachern
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Bowdoin College
Brunswick, ME 04011
-------------------==== Posted via Deja News ====----------------------- Search, Read, Post to Usenet