When I sit around thinking of silver linings in History and indulging the all-too-human tendency to think that “everything happens for a reason” and “this is the best of all possible worlds” (and honestly, I do know it’s a mirage, like seeing a face in a random pattern on a cliff face) I tell myself the best thing about WWI is that it led to WWII which in turn put paid forever to the idea of eugenics as an open thing that you can just use to support your theory.
Not that eugenics is a wrong idea, precisely, at least not with non-human populations. Men have applied this idea to their domesticated animals since ever, though it turns out there isn’t that much genetic difference between wolves and dogs. But the difference there is has meant a co-evolution history for men and dogs for millennia.
And anyone who has kept livestock knows that yeah, you can reinforce good traits, provided you are totally heartless with culls. Something my grandmother never was, and some day I’ll talk of the collection of mutants we had among both chickens and cats. Not that cats were bred PRECISELY so that brings us to humans.
My grandmother’s cats weren’t bred because they were not confined. They were mostly barn cats and whatever litters of kittens people threw over her backyard wall. They’d be “feral” except they all had names, came when called and she fed them and petted them. But the mechanics of genetics were close to feral. This meant sometimes a litter of kittens grew up to take a sophisticated interest in dear old mum. Since there was usually only one female alpha (I suspect she ran off or killed the other females) this meant that we had litters of eyeless kittens, for instance. Okay, they usually didn’t live long, but we were into Egyptian-dynasty dysfunctional.
What does this have to do with humans, except that way back in the mists of history in the fertile crescent some of those bloody stupid matings were considered “sacred?” (If you want humans to act totally irrationally, tell them that the gods – or history, or progress – will it.)
What it has to do is that humans like unconfined, unaltered cats are sneaky and self willed. It’s hard to breed humans for the same reason it’s hard to control the breeding of feral cats. You might think you arranged things just so, and then… Next thing you know there is a Persian who got in in the mix of your perfectly healthy street cats.
Then there is the fact that I believe in humans. I believe in individuals. I believe variety in the genetic sense is literally strength.
We know that in the past there were only thirty some individuals left to carry on the species (we are that inbred, as humans, so please, stop squabbling about races, already.) Fortunately they appear to have been of very varied backgrounds (and no, I don’t want to think how people of very varied backgrounds, in a primitive culture, just happened to be the ones to survive some unnamed cataclysm and to be close enough to each other to breed. It makes my head hurt. I can give you three sf answers and one fantasy one, but I can’t give you any scientific/historical/logical answers.)
That is precisely the point. The more genetic variety, the better chance we have of surviving the next plague/asteroid-winter/whatever. And sometimes – often – harmful genes in humans are coupled with beneficial genes. (It should be noted here Mother Nature is a b*tch. She doesn’t care if you have the dread awfuls after you’ve had your kid, just that you be good to have that kid. And yes, what I mean by this is that there is no one at the controls there, and if your condition doesn’t manifest till after 30, then fine. There is some – not a lot, these things are hard to research – evidence that people with early onset Alzheimer’s are brighter and more attractive when young. Which means the gene will keep being passed on.)
What this means is that any culling done by humans (particularly culling done for bloody stupid pseudo-archetypal traces of a mythical race [No, really. There are Arians. They’re Indian, though, not blond, blue eyed perfect-bodied barbarians of the Germanic forests] which will probably eliminate all sorts of useful stuff to no purpose) in the end will turn out to be bad news.
Besides, as a person of a faith and a libertarian, I believe in the inherent value of each individual, value which might not be visible to mere human eyes.
So, when I think of the bloody mess of Europe’s long war (the one in the 20th century. They’ve had so many) I think that the only good thing to come of it was to make eugenics a not-respectable theory, at least not openly. (Though there is an awful lot of it in the covert areas of “the right people” and “the best” getting to rule us.)
Yeah, you have to get this deep in for me to say that while I agree with the general thrust of Kate’s essay yesterday, I disagree with the specifics about selection of human populations leading to certain traits.
This is not Kate’s fault, but she’s been in the US a shorter time, and I don’t think has done much reading in the history of the last 100 years or so. And I have clue zero how much she’s delved into the history of slavery as it connected to transport to the Americas.
First, American history:What has happened to America’s ethnic populations (not just black, it’s having the same influence on Latins) is not genetics, but politics. In the comments, mention was made of what happened to Germany under communism, and how East Germans, after just three generations (not really enough for a genetic cull) are a completely different breed from West Germans. (And towards the end of my life, I get to see how that emulsified.)
The Germans are particularly interesting, because – coming to industrialization late – they used to be considered the sloppy and slapdash part of Europe. I found this of all things reading an history of the culinary art in Europe, and the disparaging comments made on the German ability to organize, even in the eighteenth century when this thing was written, would give a cold shock to any 20th century and later human.
Then there is the selection process of black slaves to send to the Americas done in Africa. Contrary to the romanticism of Roots, most slave hunters were not white. Look, even the Portuguese, (which apparently had malaria in the eighteenth century, running rampant through the peninsula, to judge by the memoirs of the Napoleonic war soldiers both French and English, which in turn make me raise my eyebrows about climate change) were too subject to malarial fevers to penetrate very deeply into Africa. Most settlements until the twentieth century were coastal.
So most of the slave hunting was carried on by ancient networks of natives and Arab traders.
Now someone in the comments said that native Africans now have a myth about having sent us their laziest, most passive elements. Yeah, they would.
Uh. Ah. Or they could have sent us the trouble makers. Like Europe did. Like I suspect China did and does.
This actually DOES get us into the waters of natural selection, but not the way you’d expect.
For now let us say that a lot of the people shipped over were defeated tribes (not all of them un-war like) and those who were burdensome in their own families, often because they had sharp tongues or argued with the elders.
In other words, the Africans shipped over, except for more genetic variety and the fact that most of them as opposed to some of them came in chains were basically like the Irish and Scots that came over, either through starvation, losing wars, or being too fractious to fit in in their tribe.
And until Marxism intervened, black people in America were on their way up, despite having started really low and despite suffering more at the onset than most newcoming groups. (Not a lot more, though. I mean, a lot of other groups got treated as subhuman, Irish, Italians, etc.)
What happened to the African (mostly. I understand that the melting pot has melted and that the correct race for Americans with dark skin is “Caucasian” due to all the interbreeding that has gone on. I heard this from among other people real-stone-cold South African racists in the time when an abandoned baby was a critter who must be typed as to race before being taken care of. For instance, most Americans of somewhat African ancestry have blue eyed babies, which is one of the “marks” of Caucasians. [Which also means older son is, but younger son isn’t. Genetics are funny that way.])
We’re treading in un-researched waters here, by necessity, and partly because of the long war of the 20th century. And I have stuff to say about that.
And partly because humans are a mess. I mean, partly, yeah, we’re genetic beings. I’ve seen in my own kids things I couldn’t even guess were inheritable, habits and traits I don’t have but which my parents have/had. My kids have spent maybe a cumulative total one month with my parents, and they don’t have a common language. And yet my younger son and my dad might be the same man, separated by 60 some years. Not just looks, either, but interests, habits of mind and casual behavior.
Then there’s nurture. Cultures are not as plastic as the left likes to think, but they are incredibly plastic. What I mean is that shaping culture is kind of like breeding cats. You might try to breed for a trait and get others – eyeless kittens, instead of good mousing – the mistake of the left is NOT thinking you can change humans through culture, but thinking you can control the change and change it in the way you wish.
One of their biggest mistakes is to think that what you tell people is what they “get.” IOW the root of the whole self-esteem thing: if you tell people they’re good and worthy then they’ll work harder.
They think this because, being largely people who live by theory and are devoid of empathy, (a problem common to academics of every stripe) they don’t understand anyone is NOT like them.
If they felt better about themselves, they would be more daring and take more risks, and work harder. So everyone must be the same.
The problem is that most people aren’t. If you tell a kid he’s already perfect, with no effort, what happens is unfounded self esteem which keeps the kid from changing in the way needed to succeed.
In the same way, if you tell entire “ethnic” (and these are funnily defined. The only reason that “Latins” got caught in this was date of arrival. Fifty years earlier it would have been Italians and thirty years before that Irish) populations that they’re exploited, there’s nothing they can do, that racism against them is so ingrained even those who think they don’t have it, have it and that the world is out to get them, but the government will, in compensation, make them some small payment to keep them from dying off, you’ll get dysfunctional populations, sure they deserve compensation for every slight real and imaginary, and incapable of integrating/achieving anything on their own.
Because their “ethnic” identity is ALL they have, they’ll cling to the trapping of it, even when those trappings are imposed from outside, and even when they are contra productive.
As Stephen Green reminded me – and I knew, because it’s one of the areas older son tastes very well on, and the test is administered through music – musical talent is ALMOST fully covalent with mathematical talent. Absent the disdain of “acting white” and the poisonous self-hatred of western culture we could have hundreds of thousands of brilliant mathematicians and physicists coming out of the black communities in the US. That we don’t shows criminal neglect and willful poisoning of the well by those who think people are widgets defined by melanin content.
And now you say “but you’re saying there are genetic traits to populations.”
Yeah, granted, but it’s complicated, because of us being social apes. People can and do turn themselves inside out to “fit in” particularly since human populations have an habit of pounding to a pulp any individual who sticks out too far (metaphorically or physically.)
So, though there are genetic traits to various populations, there’s also culture. For instance, Portuguese wherever they go, often end up as grocers and more often as merchants. Culture or heredity?
Well, partly heredity in the sense that at least remotely there’s a lot of Phoenician in Portuguese, and those were merchants, mostly. Partly culture, because if your father was a merchant and if your cousin who immigrated is a grocer, you’re likely to know how to set up a grocery store, or have advice, at least.
Or take my family, which runs to doctors and engineers. My kids, completely cut off from it, and without help getting there, aspire to the same professions their ancestors have been following time out of mind. My (paternal) grandfather was the youngest of several brothers, at least one of whom ended up a doctor, and one an engineer. Grandad probably had the same problem younger son had when younger. It manifests in slower reading and an inability to concentrate on written stuff. At the time this meant he was “dumb” and so he was trained as a carpenter. HOWEVER his sons, a couple of them with no schooling supporting it, ended up working as engineers, and the grandchildren and great grandchildren have the usual medicine/engineering admixture. Since we had very little contact with grandad’s family (I think they were slightly embarrassed by him) this must be because something inborn pushes us that way. The incidences are way above statistical probability particularly since we’re spread out over the world.
OTOH it is possible when the culture is clamped down on hard, to change those inate tendencies into something else, completely different.
I think, for instance, that Africa itself has suffered from sending all its troublemakers off since the Neolithic. I think that the stagnation and tribalism of the continent before colonization was the result of this millennia old culling of troublemakers. (The point being that this kind of natural selection, at three generations per century or so, takes millennia.)
However note they still had enough troublemakers to ship over to the Americas.
Because the human tendencies reassert themselves, even when selected against. Culture and circumstances can twist it, but they’ll come back.
So when I think of the long wars of the twentieth century, and shrug and go “if they were going to give Europe to Germany, wouldn’t it have been easier to roll over in WWI?” I like to console myself that at least it made eugenics unviable as a government strategy.
However – and this is why I’m so glad that Kate wrote about it yesterday – the downside of THAT is that it made everything genetic about humans unthinkable.
This is a massive problem, and one that is about to ram up our nose (as a species) as we decode more of the human genome and start realizing what some of that stuff does.
Not being able to think/talk about such things as genetic selection in humans leaves us curiously vulnerable to bad ideas.
If you can’t discuss what is culture and what is race, and race is the ultimate uber-taboo subject, then younger people are going to assume the differences ARE due to genetics and race. This will actually resurrect a racism that only exists (mostly. It’s a very old human instinct and impossible to eradicate. And by this I don’t mean racism in the sense only whites can be racist, I mean “it’s different from me, ew” instinctive racism. When I was very young I was afraid of blond people. I’d never seen them) in the fevered imaginations of “studies” professors.
Worse than that, if you can decode and manipulate the human genome and people assume most differences/tendencies are genetic (because there are no rigorous studies of genetics and culture and the link between the two) we’re going to do some really stupid things to ourselves. No, I don’t mean we’re going to manipulate the genetics of humans. THAT’s a given. Rail as you will; make it illegal as you will, we are curious monkeys. If we can do it, we WILL even if it’s quite evil.
The question is “how will we do it?” and “How much genetic diversity will result” and “if you pull that lever will it destroy that cog we didn’t notice, but which is vital.” And also, ultimately “will we consider all humans widgets genetically determined?”
This is all very possible if we can’t talk or think about it.
Eugenics is an evil theory that treats humans as things. So is Marxism. They both have extensive histories of failure where it counts (bringing about a society that allows freedom and comfort to the majority of its citizens).
But if we can’t discuss race, we can’t discuss genetics, we can’t discuss culture, we can’t discuss what parts of us are nature and what are nurture, we’re just going to bring all those ideas back, stealthily, under other names, and now with the lure of the forbidden.
There are studies that must be done. There are things that must be discussed.
Let’s start from “no human being is a widget” and even if you come from a population group that has certain strengths/weaknesses, you are you, not “a member of the group.” (One of my black friends has less musical talent than I have, and guys, that takes TALENT to be that bad.) Let’s start from “no race is uniformly superior” – particularly when race is defined as “skin and eye color” or “language group.”
And let’s find out how this race/culture thing works. Not with an intent to manipulate, because that always ends in tears, but with the intent of appreciating the panoply of different talents and cultures in the human race.
To combat the bad ideas when they come. And to maybe bury once and for all the idea that humans – any humans of any race – can be made into “ideal” creatures be they homo sovieticus or the arian youth.
Study, not dogma.
Barring us going to the stars and evading the tinkerers, knowing enough about ourselves that it’s not black and white or clear cut enough to encourage megalomaniacs trying to create themselves a new people, is our only hope of surviving our own fatal tendency to mess with ourselves.
The barring of the idea of eugenics as a respectable political philosophy is the best thing to come out of the long war. The barring of any thought about human genetics and culture and the poison of multiculturalism are the worst.