02.06.17 | What Science Says About Race and Genetics

We're all familiar with the Nature/Nurture debate i.e. how much of an individual's attributes is the product of inherited (genetic) biological factors and how much is a function of one's post-conception environment. Our focus article, “What Science Says About Race and Genetics” (http://time.com/91081/what-science-says-about-race-and-genetics/?iid=sr-link1) applies that question to culture itself. 

Advances in human genome decoding over the past ten years provide some new insights that update the widely-accepted theories of natural selection set forth in Darwin's 1859 Origin of the Species.

New genetic measurements have updated some old assumptions about evolution. Scientists are now reasonably certain that no less than 14% of the genome has changed in modern times (i.e. over the last 30,000 years).  One might say, so what?, but the “so what” is that it opens the door to seeing evolution, not as strictly a prehistoric phenomenon, but rather as both ongoing and regional.

If, indeed, changes to the genome code are the result of natural selection, then it follows that separate evolutionary strains have responded to their unique environments with genetically-based adaptive characteristics. Thus the supposition: parallel yet separate tracks of human development during this so-called modern period have resulted in a biological basis for differences among the races -- Africans, East Asians, and Caucasians.

What we regard as culture itself may be largely biological i.e. more than merely a social construct. Take behavior. Humans lived (per the article) 185,000 years as hunters and gatherers. Nation states evolved at a glacial pace, each race in accordance with at a different timetable (again suggesting regional evolution at work). Some early civilizations evolved in and out nation state status only to end up fundamentally tribal e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan.

(With reference to our 8/29 Member Monday discussion of the NYT article, “How The Arab World Came Apart”, how was it that this perspective never figured into our post-9/11 nation building ambition? It would seem it takes more than a voting booth and a pamphlet on Jeffersonian democracy to erase tribal genomes.)

But perhaps the effect of natural selection can be seen on a timetable not measured in millennia but centuries. So it is in the cited case of the Industrial Revolution. What lifted England out of its subsistence-level agrarian economy of the 1200s era was not its sudden access to technology (which it possessed) but some change in the nature of its populace. What's posited is four behavioural  traits --  repudiation of interpersonal violence, literacy, propensity to save, and propensity to work -- suffused the culture through the magic of natural selection (as a surplus of royalty worked its way down through the population).

Discussion Items/Questions re theory of this "modern" Darwinism:

The role of genetics in the Industrial Revolution (Bob Davis);

How to account for the fact civilizations appear to have developed independently in separate locales (Roger Briggs)?;

Does evolutionary biology account for highly complex features evolving through separate lineages? (RB);

What does this all say about artificial (i.e. non-natural) selection (RB)?;

Implications as to Highland Institute's efforts to change consciousness.

Steve SmithComment