Re: the G- word, reply to Whitehead

Eve Pinsker (U56728@UICVM.BITNET)
Fri, 16 Dec 1994 09:38:28 CST

I'm a little scared that some people will react to Lieber's last post by
assuming that intra-species differences in humans (esp. at the level that
is culturally constructed by terms like "race" and "ethnicity") are being
compared to intra-species differences in dogs ("breeds."). The range of
variation in phenotype and genotype among what we call "dogs" is much larger,
clearly, than the range in humans -- from my understanding of what a "species"
is, some "breeds" of dogs do constitute separate species, because they can't
interbreed, at least not without considerable help (course, from what I
understand, some species of "purebred" dogs can't even give birth to their own
progreny without human intervention, like Caesarean sections). This leads to
the question of
whether the definition of species as necessarily not being able to produce
fertile offspring means out of a Petri dish and an implanted pregnancy, or
possible with no outside intervention or something in the spectrum in betweeen.
Re dogs, not being a dogbreeder I don't
know much, but when I was growing up there was a small female terrier down the
street that was playing around with a Great Dane and her owners had her
neutered because they said it would kill her to have his pups. [;) -- note, the
rest of this is intendedto be semi-humorous, please don't take offense]
How they managed
to "play around" to the extent that her owners got worried about that I'm not
sure, and no one explained it to me at the time. WIth humans on the other
hand, however, I have observed that people who do seem physically incompatable,
or at least have marked phenotypic differences in height, sometimes manage to
produce offspring (e.g. Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson). For me personally,
I regard anyone about 6'5" or over as a separate species (I'm 4'11"); the
thought of attempting to interbreed with them seems ludicrous and at the least
extremely awkward. But this does seem to be a matter of personal preference
rather than genetic incompatibility or physical impossibility (either of the
mating part or childbirth). Also probably has something to do with the fact
that I find it difficult to maintain eye
contact with someone a foot and a half or more taller than I am (at least if
we're both standing up, I get a crick in my neck) and so it's difficult to
escalate the relationship to the level of intimacy necessary for (consensual)
interbreeding. Maybe dogs have problems with crossed signals too. Although
most Micronesians (where I did my fieldwork) would say no -- they regard all
dogs as willing to mate with anyone or anything(they say humans who act like
that are acting like dogs, not "tomcats"), so whatever differences in
"learning biases" different subspecies of dogs exhibit it doesn't include that,
as least not in Micronesian ethno-canine-ethology.
All of which means, though, that without human intervention there wouldn't be
the same kind of clear subspecies of dogs we can observe now in "breeds."
So that, while dog breeds may indeed provide useful
insights into the relation between genes and mammalian behavior, intraspecies
genetic variation among dogs should not be thought of as a model for existing
intraspecies variation among humans, or any other naturally occuring mammalian
population that some other species hasn't messed with.
Eve Pinsker