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Re: [evol-psych] Public policy and the genetic basis for race

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  • Fredric Weizmann
    I thought the context of my comments made it clear that I was talking primarily about xenophobia based on racial grounds. If my use of the word ethnically
    Message 1 of 30 , Aug 31, 2001
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      I  thought the context of my comments made it clear that I was talking primarily about xenophobia based on racial grounds. If my use of the word 'ethnically' in that context obscured that fact, let me take this opportunity to clarify matters. If what you are saying is that people have a tendency to divide the world into insiders and outsiders I not only have no problem with this, I think Wiener's model, which I endorsed, assumes something like this.

      With regard to the genetic basis of xenophobia, my exact words were that the idea that xenophobia is "in the genes" has "often been taken in order  to explain/justify ethnic conflict and/or to argue that civic democracy does not work." That is demonstrably true. I did not say that people who argue the former necessarily do so to justify the latter. However, the converse is often true; those who argue the latter often invoke the former as an explanation --and a justification. The fact that I mention Rushton and McDonald should have made it clear that my remarks were directed at those who argue that hostility based on race is inevitable ..

      Furthermore I did not say that I--or perhaps more to the point "you"-- believe in "innate xenophobia". My remark was directed at those who do indeed believe hatred of other racial groups is innate; or do you believe that such people do not exist. When I made my remarks I was not aiming at you or people who hold positions similar to yours. I had not even seen your comments on this thread before writing my message. Moreover, I do not think sociobiology is inherently racist. However, it is true that people like Rushton and McDonald do use sociobiology to enuciate positions that can be considered racist and anti-democratic.

      I think a fair reading of my message should have made this all clear. I think I deserve the break.

      Fredric Weizmnn

      Herbert Gintis wrote:

       At 10:14 PM 8/29/01 -0400, Fredric Weizmann wrote:
      There have been a number of people who have argued that xenophobia is in the
      genes. Phillippe Rushton, for one has argued this, as has Kevin McDonald. There
      have also been many articles published in journals such as Mankind Quarterly to
      this effect. This is a position that has
      I, and most of my coworkers also think that this is a very credible position, in the following form: human individuals are genetically predisposed to identify with their own "group" as "insiders" and sacrifice in favor of this group and against other groups ("outsiders") at a cost to themselves. Moreover, human individuals are predisposed to use physical and linguistic markers to judge who are insiders and who are outsiders.
      The assertion that this position is merely a political cover for those who would like to promote and/or justify ethnic conflict or undemocratic forms of government is narrow-minded and unfair. My relatives died in the Holocaust, and I have written whole books claiming that democracy is the basis for human progress (e.g., Capitalism and Democracy, Basic Books, 1986). The idea that believing in insider/outsider models, or suggesting that xenophobia has an evolutionary basis, is politically reactionary is ludicrous and of the type commonly deployed by anti-sociobiologists against sociobiology. It doesn't hold water.
      There are a number of difficulties with the thesis; one is that the modern kind
      of "racially" or ethnically based conflict is just that:; modern. It seems not
      to have existed among ancient civilizations, including ancient Egypt or Greece.
      (The Greeks considered all foreigners "barbarians", but this was a blanket
      judgement not based on ethnicity or race. Egyptians then as now came in a
      variety of skin colors and tones, but this did not seem to have much social
      meaning. Secondly, if the desire to limit "breeding" to members of our own group
      is such a powerful deterrant, how come it fails so often.
      This is quite false. Hunter-gatherer societies behave similarly. Moreover, insider/outsider is present in Egypt and Greece as well. The fact that outsiders are relatively undifferentiated is beside the point.
      Skin color is not always the basis for xenophobic behaviors. There are many physical, behavioral and linguistic markers that can be brought to bear.
      As far as Bosnian Servs and Muslims go, both are populations of South Slavs,
      indistinguishable from one another until parts of the former Yugoslavia were
      conquered by the Turks 400 years ago. Although much was made in the recent
      conflict of the "resurgance" of long-standing ethnic hatreds lying behind the
      recent conflict, many of the people and scholars familiar with the region, state
      the there was not much tension but there was considerable interaction--including
      intermarriage-- between these groups until modern politicians began stoking the
      The "objective" distance between groups does not determine their insider/outsider relationships. Very closely related groups can make very bold and contrasting distinctions where others see almost nothing (Dr. Suess's right- and left-handed Sneeches, for instance).
      Xenophobia is a genetically-based potentiality that might or might not be phenotypically exhibited in any particular form at any particular type. But it is readily energized and deployed under appropriate circumstances (e.g., recent ethnic bloodshed in Yugoslavia, as well as the Tutsis and Hutus).
      This brings up one of the things that puzzles me about the "in the genes" theory
      of xenophobia. In many  instances of ethnic conflict, the peoples involved have
      lived together in relative tranquility for generations, or in some cases
      hundreds of years. No one seems to notice that if one believes in innate
      xenophobia as an explanation of ethnic tension, than the question of how groups
      have lived together in peace is a phenomenon in need of explanation.
      Straw man here: there is no "innate xenophobia": all phenotypes are interactions between nature and environment. Give me a break.

      Herbert Gintis

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    • Ralph L Holloway
      Frankly, I think Gintis had it essentially right. The human brain and human society do have a terrible potential for xenophobia. To make any kind of dicotomy
      Message 2 of 30 , Aug 31, 2001
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        Frankly, I think Gintis had it essentially right. The human brain and
        human society do have a terrible potential for xenophobia. To make any
        kind of dicotomy between innate vs culturally acquired misses something
        enormously important about ourselves as animals, which weds a certain sort
        of militant enthusiasm (was this Tinbergen or Lorenz's phrase?) which
        probably is essentially hard wired with the ability to be manipulated by
        arbitrary symbol systems. When I first read your first message on this, I,
        as an editor of the book "Primate Aggression, Territoriality, and
        Xenophobia", 1974, wondered why I had ever bothered to look at the problem
        in a comparative perspective, as I got the strong impression that such
        efforts were
        being linked by yourself to the efforts by Rushton and others to explain
        racial (I use this purely in its adjectival form) perceptions. You utterly
        fail to explain why this insane species is so prone to mass
        murder, genocide, throughout the world, irrespective of varieties of
        human social organiations, presumably without genetic hard
        wiring. Frankly, I wish you would stop using such a broad brush to paint
        what you regard as the opposition as a set of racist cranks.

        Ralph L. Holloway
        Dept. Anthropology
        Columbia University
        NY, NY 10027
        Fax= 212-854-7347
      • Irwin Silverman
        ... I suppose the case could be made, with some notable exceptions, but I don t think this was the intention of the editors - Eibl was scored in the German
        Message 3 of 30 , Sep 2 2:27 PM
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          On Fri, 31 Aug 2001, Herbert Gintis wrote:

          > I read that chapter and found it very interesting. However, as I
          > mentioned in my amazon.com review of the book, I thought the editors went
          > over backwards to avoid the notion that there is a genetic component to
          > xenophobia---even the title of the book suggests this.

          I suppose the case could be made, with some notable exceptions,
          but I don't think this was the intention of the editors - Eibl was scored
          in the German press at about the time the book was in progress for
          his statement that xenophobia is innate. Frank Salter, his co-editor,
          wrote at least one piece critical of mine and similar theories (I saw
          and commented on it in draft form, but don't recall where it was eventually
          published). Progress generally takes the form of competition between
          polar views - Perhaps there is some reaction to the van den Berghe
          position that was very popular for a time; i.e. kin selection is the
          only concept needed to explain ethnocentrism.
          I am pleased, however, that you found the chapter interesting.

          > Why might average acceptable costs be low, as you assert?

          My notions about this harken back to the theories and data
          (including some of my own) on the "functional nature of attitudes"
          (Dan Katz's term), circa social psychology of the 1960s/70s - also,
          my own experience at about the same time, working the streets in the north
          (Buffalo) and the south (Florida) in the desegregation movement. Simply
          stated, pragmatism trumps ethnocentrism, which is somewhat incompatible
          with "extra-familial kin selection" or "ethnic nepotism" or the like
          One anecdote from those far off days is illustrative - I was
          working with a group called HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) and we
          were helping enforce compliance with the new NY laws outlawing
          discrimination in housing sales. We were "block busting" - helping
          racial minorities get into previously "restricted" neighborhoods of their
          choice. Our first success was an affluent and high status person - a
          celebrity of sorts - and the neighborhood welcomed him - Some time later,
          we helped a second candidate buy a house in that neighborhood and the
          residents took up a petition against it, on the grounds that an infusion
          of more than one would precipitate a drop in their housing values.
          Among the signees was the first person we had helped.


        • Irwin Silverman
          ... Warfare, both in terms of frequency and duration, is considerably more prevalent between similar groups (my chapter in The Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism,
          Message 4 of 30 , Sep 3 10:35 AM
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            On Sat, 1 Sep 2001, Steven D'Aprano wrote:

            > In any case, I'm not arguing that the Yugoslav conflicts were not
            > primarily about politics. But it seems suggestive to me that that rape
            > on a vast scale is primarily done during war between "similar" groups --
            > eg Russians/Germans in 1945, or the Japanese against the Chinese for the
            > best part of 1937 to 1945, but not the British in India, or the European
            > powers in Africa.

            > I welcome corrections if anyone knows any counter examples.

            Warfare, both in terms of frequency and duration, is considerably
            more prevalent between similar groups (my chapter in The Sociobiology of
            Ethnocentrism, 1986, has stats and sources).
            In terms of when mass rape occurs and when it doesn't, my
            experience in a US occupation force was that policy rather than individual
            prediliction was the major factor - rape of the civilian population
            carried very harsh penalties, rigorously enforced, and I suspect that the
            situation might have been much different had that not been so.
            These are very significant questions, however.
          • Doug Jones
            A few comments on the thread started by D Aprano 1) D Aprano suggests that inherited differences in appearance between populations might have been selected as
            Message 5 of 30 , Sep 7 2:26 PM
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              Re: [evol-psych] Public policy and the genetic basis f
              A few comments on the thread started by D'Aprano

              1) D'Aprano suggests that inherited differences in appearance between populations might have been selected as badges of group membership. Whether this would work theoretically or not, it doesn't look like a good explanation for race differences, given that until very recently in human evolution most intergroup encounters involved people with very similar inherited appearance, not widely dissimilar races  Non-inherited traits on the other hand, like clothing and language differences, often act as badges of group membership. Nettle and Dunbar have done some computer modeling of language evolution with this in mind. Accounts of language divergence often assume that it's a passive process of languages drifting apart in isolation from one another. But N. and D. look at genes that accelerate the process because carriers actively distinguish their speech from that of outgroup members. They show that given some assumptions about in-group trust and cooperation vs outgroup distrust (in Prisoner's Dilemma type games) natural selection can favor this active language divergence, with language differences as social markers. They also summarize some sociolinguistic research in support.

              Daniel Nettle and Robin I. M. Dunbar 1997 Social markers and the evolution of reciprocal exchange. Current Anthropology 38(1):93-99

              2) I recently published an article on what I called "group nepotism." The basic idea is that while it might not be adaptive for you on your own to be very altruistic toward a distant relative, the situation changes if you can make a deal with other relatives that you'll help the needy party if and only they'll do the same. In this case, your effective coefficient of relatedness can be higher than the familiar Hamiltonian r. I was mainly interested in the classic social anthropology of kinship here: culturally defined kinship seems to be partly a function of the solidarity of the kin group and not just of genealogical distance. But I also briefly suggested that the idea might be relevant to ethnocentrism and ethnonationalism, if adaptations for group nepotism are activated in these cases. Note that there is no expectation from the theory that individuals *on their own* will feel much altruism toward distant kin. Rather, the theory suggests a tendency to organize groups on the basis of (supposed) common descent with socially imposed altruism. But (assuming group nepotism adaptations actually exist and are relevant to ethnocentrism) whether this tendency got anywhere would be very much a function of whether conditions were favorable for collective action, and of the strength of rival non-descent-based forms of group solidarity. I see no basis for thinking, as Weizmann worries, that this theory "justifies ethnic conflict and/or argues that civic democracy doesn't work."

              Doug Jones 2000 Group nepotism and human kinship. Current Anthropology 41(5):779-809 (incl. comments by J Barkow, R Fox, A Rogers, E. A. Smith, J Tooby and L Cosmides, P L Van Den Berghe)
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