Red Flag of Twin Studies

Consider this a public service announcement. The moment someone turns to twin studies as reliable and meaningful evidence, it’s a dead give away about the kind of person they are. And when someone uses this research in the belief they are proving genetic causes, it demonstrates a number of things.

First and foremost, it shows they don’t understand what is heritability. It is about population level factors and can tell us nothing about individuals, much less disentangle genetics from epigenetics and environment. Heritability does not mean genetic inheritance, although even some scientists who know better sometimes talk as if they are the same thing. The fact of the matter is, beyond basic shared traits (e.g., two eyes, instead of one or three), there is little research proving direct genetic causation, typically only seen in a few rare diseases. All that heritability can do is point to the possibility of genetic causes, but all that allows is the articulation of a hypothesis to be tested by actual genetic research which is rarely done.

And second, this gives away the ideological game being played. Either the person ideologically identifies as a eugenicist, racist, etc or has unconsciously assimilated eugenicist, racist, etc ideology without realizing it. In either case, there is next to zero chance that any worthwhile discussion will follow from it. It doesn’t matter what is the individual’s motivations or if they are even aware of them. It’s probably best to just walk away. You don’t need to call them out, much less call them a racist or whatever. You know all that you need to know at that point. Just walk away. And if you don’t walk away, go into the situation with your eyes wide open for you are entering a battlefield of ideological rhetoric.

So, keep this in mind. Twin studies are some of the worst research around, opposite of how they get portrayed by ideologues as being strong evidence. Treat them as you would the low quality epidemiological research in nutrition studies (such as the disproven Seven Countries Study and China Study). They are evidence, at best, to be considered in a larger context of information but not to be taken alone as significant and meaningful. Besides, the twin studies are so poorly designed and so sparse in number that not much can be said about them. If anything, all they are evidence for is how to do science badly. That isn’t to say that, theoretically, twin studies couldn’t be designed well, but as far as I know it hasn’t happened yet. It’s not easy research to do for obvious reasons, as humans are complex creatures part of complex conditions.

For someone to even mention twin studies, other than to criticize them, is a red flag. Scrutinize carefully anything such a person says. Or better yet, when possible, simply ignore them. The problem with weak evidence that is repeated as if true is that it never really is about the evidence in the first place. Twin studies is one of those things that, like dog whistle politics, stands in for something else. It is what I call a symbolic conflation, a distraction tactic to point away from the real issue. Few people talking about twin studies actually care about either twins or science. You aren’t going to convince a believer that their beliefs are false. If anything, they will become even more vehement in their beliefs and you’ll end up frustrated.

* * *

What Genetics Does And Doesn’t Tell Us
Heritability & Inheritance, Genetics & Epigenetics, Etc
Unseen Influences: Race, Gender, and Twins
Weak Evidence, Weak Argument: Race, IQ, Adoption
Identically Different: A Scientist Changes His Mind

Exploding the “Separated-at-Birth” Twin Study Myth
by Jay Joseph, PsyD

“The reader whose knowledge of separated twin studies comes only from the secondary accounts provided by textbooks can have little idea of what, in the eyes of the original investigators, constitutes a pair of ‘separated’ twins”—Evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin, neurobiologist Steven Rose, and psychologist Leon Kamin in Not in Our Genes, 19841

“The Myth of the Separated Identical Twins”—Chapter title in sociologist Howard Taylor’s The IQ Game, 19802

Supporters of the nature (genetic) side of the “nature versus nurture” debate often cite studies of “reared-apart” or “separated” MZ twin pairs (identical, monozygotic) in support of their positions.3 In this article I present evidence that, in fact, most studied pairs of this type do not qualify as reared-apart or separated twins.

Other than several single-case and small multiple-case reports that have appeared since the 1920s, there have been only six published “twins reared apart” (TRA) studies. (The IQ TRA study by British psychologist Cyril Burt was discredited in the late 1970s on suspicions of fraud, and is no longer part of the TRA study literature.) The authors of these six studies assessed twin resemblance and calculated correlations for “intelligence” (IQ), “personality,” and other aspects of human behavior. In the first three studies—by Horatio Newman and colleagues in 1937 (United States, 29 MZ pairs), James Shields in 1962 (Great Britain, 44 MZ pairs), and Niels Juel-Nielsen in 1965 (Denmark, 12 MZ pairs)—the authors provided over 500 pages of detailed case-history information for the combined 75 MZ pairs they studied.

The three subsequent TRA studies were published in the 1980s and 1990s, and included Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr. and colleagues’ widely cited “Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart” (MISTRA), and studies performed in Sweden and Finland. In the Swedish study, the researchers defined twin pairs as “reared apart” if they had been “separated by the age of 11.”4 In the Finnish study, the average age at separation was 4.3 years, and 12 of the 30 “reared-apart” MZ pairs were separated between the ages of 6 and 10.5 In contrast to the original three studies, the authors of these more recent studies did not provide case-history information for the pairs they investigated. (The MISTRA researchers did publish a few selected case histories, some of which, like the famous “Three Identical Strangers” triplets, had already been publicized in the media.)

The Newman et al. and Shields studies were based on twins who had volunteered to participate after responding to media or researcher appeals to do so in the interest of scientific research. As Leon Kamin and other analysts pointed out long ago, however, TRA studies based on volunteer twins are plagued by similarity biases, in part because twins had to have known of each other’s existence to be able to participate in the study. Like the famous MISTRA “Firefighter Pair,” some twins discovered each other because of their behavioral similarities. The MISTRA researchers arrived at their conclusions in favor of genetics on the basis of a similarity-biased volunteer twin sample. […]

Contrary to the common contemporary claim that twin pairs found in TRA studies were “separated at birth”—which should mean that twins did not know each other or interact with each other between their near-birth separation and the time they were reunited for the study—the information provided by the original researchers shows that few if any MZ pairs fit this description. This is even more obvious in the 1962 Shields study. As seen in the tables below and in the case descriptions:

  • Some pairs were separated well after birth
  • Some pairs grew up nearby to each other and attended school together
  • Most pairs grew up in similar cultural and socioeconomic environments
  • Many pairs were raised by different members of the same family
  • Most pairs had varying degrees of contact while growing up
  • Some pairs had a close relationship as adults
  • Some pairs were reunited and lived together for periods of time

In other words, in addition to sharing a common prenatal environment and many similar postnatal environmental influences (described here), twin pairs found in volunteer-based TRA study samples were not “separated at birth” in the way that most people understand this term. The best way to describe this sample is to say that it consisted of partially reared-apart MZ twin pairs.

The Minnesota researchers have always denied access to independent researchers who wanted to inspect the unpublished MISTRA raw data and case history information, and we can safely assume that the volunteer MISTRA MZ twin pairs were no more “reared apart” than were the MZ pairs

Old Debates Forgotten

Since earlier last year, I’ve done extensive reading, largely but not entirely focused on health. This has particularly concerned diet and nutrition, although it has crossed over into the territory of mental health with neurocognitive issues, addiction, autism, and much else, with my personal concern being that of depression. The point of this post is to consider some of the historical background. Before I get to that, let me explain how my recent interests have developed.

What got me heading in this direction was the documentary The Magic Pill. It’s about the paleo diet. The practical advice was worth the time spent, though other things drew me into the the larger arena of low-carb debate. The thing about the paleo diet is that it offers a framework of understanding that includes many scientific fields involving health beyond only diet and also it explores historical records, anthropological research, and archaeological evidence. The paleo diet community in particular, along with the low-carb diet community in general, is also influenced by the traditional foods approach of Sally Fallon Morrell. She is the lady who, more than anyone else, popularized the work of Weston A. Price, an early 20th century dentist who traveled the world and studied traditional populations. I was already familiar with this area from having reading Morrell’s first book in the late ’90s or early aughts.

New to me was the writings of Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz, two science journalists who have helped to shift the paradigm in nutritional studies. They accomplished this task by presenting not only detailed surveys of the research and other evidence but in further contextualizing the history of powerful figures, institutions, and organizations that shaped the modern industrial diet. I didn’t realize how far back this debate went with writings on fasting for epilepsy found in ancient texts and recommendations of a low-carb diet (apparently ketogenic) for diabetes appearing in the 1790s, along with various low-carb and animal-based diets being popularized for weight-loss and general health during the 19th century, and then the ketogenic diet was studied for epilepsy beginning in the 1920s. Yet few know this history.

Ancel Keys was one of those powerful figures who, in suppressing his critics and silencing debate, effectively advocated for the standard American diet of high-carbs, grains, fruits, vegetables, and industrial seed oils. In The Magic Pill, more recent context is given in following the South African trial of Tim Noakes. Other documentaries have covered this kind of material, often with interviews with Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz. There has been immense drama involved and, in the past, there was also much public disagreement and discussion. Only now is that returning to mainstream awareness in the corporate media, largely because social media has forced it out into the open. But what interests me is how old is the debate and often in the past much more lively.

The post-revolutionary era created a sense of crisis that, by the mid-19th century, was becoming a moral panic. The culture wars were taking shape. The difference back then was that there was much more of a sense of the connection between physical health, mental health, moral health, and societal health. As a broad understanding, health was seen as key and this was informed by the developing scientific consciousness and free speech movement. The hunger for knowledge was hard to suppress, although there were many attempts as the century went on. I tried to give a sense of this period in two massive posts, The Crisis of Identity and The Agricultural Mind. It’s hard to imagine what that must’ve been like. That scientific debate and public debate was largely shut down around the World War era, as the oppressive Cold War era took over. Why?

It is strange. The work of Taubes and Teicholz gives hint to what changed, although the original debate was much wider than diet and nutrition. The info I’ve found about the past has largely come from scholarship in other fields, such as historical and literary studies. Those older lines of thought are mostly treated as historical curiosities at this point, background info for the analysis of entirely other subjects. As for the majority of scientists, doctors and nutritionists these days, they are almost entirely ignorant of the ideologies that shaped modern thought about disease and health.

This is seen, as I point out, in how Galen’s ancient Greek theory of humors as incorporated into Medieval Christianity appears to be the direct source of the basic arguments for a plant-based diet, specifically in terms of the scapegoating of red meat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Among what I’ve come across, the one scholarly book that covers this in detail is Food and Faith in Christian Culture edited by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden. Bringing that into present times, Belinda Fettke dug up how so much of contemporary nutritional studies and dietary advice was built on the foundation of 19th-20th century vegan advocacy by the Seventh Day Adventists. I’ve never met anyone adhering to “plant-based” ideology who knows this history. Yet now it is becoming common knowledge in the low-carb world.

On the literary end of things, there is a fascinating work by Bryan Kozlowski, The Jane Austen Diet. I enjoyed reading it, in spite of never having cracked open a book by Jane Austen. Kozlowski, although no scholar, was able to dredge up much of interest about those post-revolutionary decades in British society. For one, he shows how obesity was becoming noticeable all the way back then and many were aware of the benefits of low-carb diets. He also makes clear that the ability to maintain a vegetable garden was a sign of immense wealth, not a means for putting much food on the tables of the poor — this is corroborated by Teicholz discussion of how gardening in American society, prior to modern technology and chemicals, was difficult and not dependable. More importantly, Kozlowski’s book explains what ‘sensibility’ meant back then, related to ‘nerves’ and ‘vapors’ and later on given the more scientific-sounding label of ‘neurasthenia’.

I came across another literary example of historical exegesis about health and diet, Sander L. Gilman’s Franz Kafka, the Jewish Patient. Kafka was an interesting case, as a lifelong hypochondriac who, it turns out, had good reason to be. He felt that he had inherited a weak constitution and blamed this on his psychological troubles, but more likely causes were urbanization, industrialization, and a vegetarian diet that probably also was a high-carb diet based on nutrient-depleted processed foods; and before the time when industrial foods were fortified and many nutritional supplements were available.

What was most educational, though, about the text was Gilman’s historical details on tuberculosis in European thought, specifically in relationship to Jews. To some extent, Kafka had internalized racial ideology and that is unsurprising. Eugenics was in the air and racial ideology penetrated everything, especially health in terms of racial hygiene. Even for those who weren’t eugenicists, all debate of that era was marked by the expected biases and limitations. Some theorizing was better than others and for certain not all of it was racist, but the entire debate maybe was tainted by the events that would follow. With the defeat of the Nazis, eugenics fell out of favor for obvious reasons and an entire era of debate was silenced, even many of the arguments that were opposed to or separate form eugenics. Then historical amnesia set in, as many people wanted to forget the past and instead focus on the future. That was unfortunate. The past doesn’t simply disappear but continues to haunt us.

That earlier debate was a struggle between explanations and narratives. With modernity fully taking hold, people wanted to understand what was happening to humanity and where it was heading. It was a time of contrasts which made the consequences of modernity quite stark. There were plenty of communities that were still pre-industrial, rural, and traditional, but since then most of these communities have died away. The diseases of civilization, at this point, have become increasingly normalized as living memory of anything else has disappeared. It’s not that the desire for ideological explanations has disappeared. What happened was, with the victory of WWII, a particular grand narrative came to dominate the entire Western world and there simply were no other grand narratives to compete with it. Much of the pre-war debate and even scientific knowledge, especially in Europe, was forgotten as the records of it were destroyed, weren’t translated, or lost perceived relevance.

Nonetheless, all of those old ideological conflicts were left unresolved. The concerns then are still concerns now. So many problems worried about back then are getting worse. The connections between various aspects of health have regained their old sense of urgency. The public is once again challenging authorities, questioning received truths, and seeking new meaning. The debate never ended and here we are again, and one could add that fascism also is back rearing its ugly head. It’s worrisome that the political left seems to be slow on the uptake. There are reactionary right-wingers like Jordan Peterson who are offering visions of meaning and also who have become significant figures in the dietary world, by way of the carnivore diet he and his daughter are on. T?hen there are the conspiratorial paleo-libertarians such as Tristan Haggard, another carnivore advocate.

This is far from being limited to carnivory and the low-carb community includes those across the political spectrum, but it seems to be the right-wingers who are speaking the loudest. The left-wingers who are speaking out on diet come from the confluence of veganism/vegetarianism and environmentalism, as seen with EAT-Lancet (Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet). The problem with this, besides much of this narrative being false (Carnivore is Vegan), is that it is disconnected from the past. The right-wing is speaking more to the past than is the left-wing, such as Trump’s ability to invoke and combine the Populist and Progressive rhetoric from earlier last century. The political left is struggling to keep up and is being led down ideological dead-ends.

If we want to understand our situation now, we better study carefully what was happening in centuries past. We are having the same old debates without realizing it and we very well might see them lead to the same kinds of unhappy results.

Eugenics: Past & Future

So far, I’ve written five posts where I mention or discuss race and eugenics, although I may have briefly touched on the idea of eugenics in other earlier posts: Race & Racism,  Slavery & Eugenics, Part 2, Black Superiority, and Racial Reality Tunnel. The first post listed (and the first in order of being posted) only briefly mentions eugenics so as to dismiss it from the central point of my thoughts. The other four posts directly consider eugenics and its implications for the American racial order.

Out of curiosity, I Googled these search terms: slavery, eugenics, and miscegenation. You might think that hundreds or even thousands of results might come up. But that isn’t the case. Only 22 results were given. Of these, there was an interesting Wikipedia article on slave breeding in the United States and a few other articles worth reading (here, here, here, and here). On a related note, there is also a thorough Wikipedia article on eugenics in the United States and a small section of a Wikipedia article about compulsory sterilization in the United States.

The last of the anti-mescegenation laws were overturned only in 1967. That is 8 years before I was born, 22 years after my mom was born, 25 years after my dad was born, and 2 years after my parents were married. Just imagine that. When my parents married, it would still have been illegal in some states for them to have been married if they had been legally determined to have been of different races. My parents are old enough to remember what America was like during the height of Jim Crow in the 1950s. My dad even remembers Jim Crow laws from when he visited his maternal grandmother in the Deep South where he and his brother wondered about the water fountains with signs that said “Colored”.

Also, consider that the last forced sterilization happened in 1981. Prior to that, over 65,000 forced sterilizations were done all across the United States. These weren’t just done to minorities, but that was one of their major targets.

This is all still fresh in the minds of many Americans. Many blacks who voted for the first black president didn’t even have the right to vote for much of their early life. The victims of Jim Crow, of anti-miscegenation laws and forced sterilizations are still with us today and they are a significant portion of the population. Heck, the last Civil War veteran was still alive when my parents were growing up (around when my dad would have been starting high school) and there still is a child of a Civil War veteran who is presently living (last I heard) and receiving a Civil War pension.

One point I made in my posts about race and eugenics is how it applies to the human biodiversity (HBD) view of recent human history and evolution. I mention how HBDers like hbdchick like to discuss the manorial system which allowed feudal lords to decide who could marry and so was one of the earliest somewhat systematic attempt at eugenics. I don’t know that it was the intention of feudal lords to breed a better human, but HBDers believe that was the result in the creation of a specific genetic inheritance for large areas of Western Europe.

I must give credit to hbdchick. Her posts are heavy on the data and she makes a very strong case for this, intentional or not, (proto-)eugenics practice of social/genetics engineering. HBDers like hbdchick, however, are less upfront about how this eugenics past could or should apply to our present. I doubt most of them are willing to go back to a time of anti-miscegenation laws and forced sterilizations (whether in terms of slavery or Jim Crow), but it is less than clear what they see as the practical implications of their racialist ideology. I would guess that some of them at least favor heavy-handed segregation through isolationist or semi-isolationist immigration laws and maybe some old school repatriation of unwanted or ‘illegal’ populations.

Vagueness or obfuscation aside, I do think HBDers make a good argument and I think it should be taken very seriously. I take it so seriously that I extend their argument into even more recent history. I see all of slavery and Jim Crow as a centuries-long eugenics program. It wasn’t always systematic in its application and its success is questionable at best, but it must be considered in its totality. As I’ve pointed out, the highly atypical bimodal distribution of racial genetics in the United States offers strong evidence for at least partial success of this state-sanctioned eugenics.

I honestly don’t know what to think of a lot of this. I’m a proponent of civil rights, both in terms of social freedoms and individual liberties. Yes, oppressive laws and practices are bad. But the world is becoming increasingly complex.

Between GMOs and DNA screening, we are truly entering a brave new world of genetic engineering. It always comes down to who is making the choice and who is suffering (or benefiting) from the consequence. Is embryonic eugenics all that much different from Spartans throwing their unwanted babies off of cliffs? I don’t know. But just imagine if feudal lords and slave-owners had the genetic knowledge and ability we have today. When HBDers look at the data about the past, the present real world implications are stark.

It gets me wondering, as it gets many people wondering. Certainly, it has caused more than a few fiction writers to wonder, from Philip K. Dick to Margaret Atwood.

How do our potential futures reflect our past? If we don’t learn from the past, what might we repeat? What if society finally succeeded in creating separate races of humans, what would that mean? And if some powerful nation such as China took up such a project, who would stop them? Is this dystopian vision an inevitable reality? Is a genetically engineered future necessarily dark and oppressive? Will humans ever learn to use our power responsibly?

What motivates my thinking is a single insight that, as far as I can tell, is original. Like others, I keep repeating that race isn’t biologically real. However, unlike others, I argue that race could be made biologically real. It matters not if it merely began as a social construct and opponents are naive to dismiss the power of beliefs such as these.

I wonder why I haven’t come across this insight before. What is so unusual about it? Why does it go against so much of the polarized debate about race and racism? To my mind, this insight naturally follows from the disagreement between the race realists and social constructionists, a bridging of the divide that may not make either side happy. To argue that there was an at least partially successful American eugenics project to create a black race is about as taboo as it gets when it comes to political correctness.

Eugenics in general rarely gets much attention in the mainstream media. There is something in all of this that our society is still afraid to face, even as it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. It is the territory of the dark imagination, of unmentionable possibilities.

Black Superiority

Now that I caught your attention with my title…

An interesting thing happened the other day. After writing my second post on slavery and eugenics, I came across a passage from a book that spoke directly to my stated hypothesis. I was just conjecturing for the fun of it. I wanted to see how human biodiversity (HBD) logic could be turned on its head, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of actual evidence.

The book I was reading is The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America by Steven Fraser. The passage covers various studies and so it is a longer passage. I won’t quote the passage in full. Instead, I’ll just give you the conclusion (Kindle Locations 501-509):

There are a total of seven studies providing direct evidence on the question of a genetic basis for the B/W IQ gap. Six of them are consistent with a zero genetic contribution to the gap (or with very slight African superiority) based just on the raw IQ numbers, and though all of these six suffer from some interpretive difficulties, they mostly boil down to a single objection. If it was very low IQ whites who mated with blacks (or very high IQ blacks who mated with whites), the results could be explained away. (One study, which compared blacks and whites in the same institutional environment, is free from this objection.) The self-selection factor would have had to be implausibly great, however, and would have had to be present under a variety of circumstances, in several very different locales, at several different time periods. The remaining study-the only one that the authors write about at any length-is at least on the face of it consistent with a model assuming a substantial genetic contribution to the B/W gap. But that study has as many interpretive problems as the others, including the two studies which the authors mention only to dismiss. Any reader would surely reach very different conclusions about the likely degree of genetic contribution to the B/W gap by virtue of knowing the facts just presented than by reading the highly selective review presented in The Bell Curve.

Here is the hypothesis from my previous post:

Several centuries of black women were impregnated by upper class whites (slaveholders, aristocrats, business owners/employers, etc). According to HBD logic, these upper class white men carried superior genetics in terms of social and economic success, including higher average IQs. The continuous infusing of these supposed superior genetics, if HBD theory is correct, should lead to an increasing concentration of superior qualities among blacks. Thus, a super black race should have been created.

I was just playing around with this notion. It was fun to think of an alternative perspective. I didn’t think that I would come across a conclusion of the evidence as I found in the above quote. Let me repeat it because the key assertion is so mind-blowing:

“There are a total of seven studies providing direct evidence on the question of a genetic basis for the B/W IQ gap. Six of them are consistent with a zero genetic contribution to the gap (or with very slight African superiority) based just on the raw IQ numbers”

Basically, when you control for all the confounding factors, blacks aren’t shown to have inferior genetic-based intelligence and if anything they show some superiority. If you support HBD theory, this is a challenging conclusion, to say the least. It is the absolute polar opposite of what standard HBD logic leads one to conclude, as based on preconceived premises and cherrypicked data.

Of course, I’m wary of this style of thinking. Science is complex, especially about genetics. I’ve yet to meet an HBDer who seems to fully comprehend this compexity. As far as I can tell, the research hasn’t yet reached a level where a fair conclusion can be made with any great degree of certainty. So, even the evidence referred to in the above quote is just more data. It is interesting, but I wouldn’t take any conclusion too seriously. It merely proves that HBD theory is more conjecture than anything else at this point.

Anyone can hypothesize anything they want, but they are near impossible to prove or disprove, mostly non-falsifiable. I’m not against speculating on evidence. It is fun. I just think people should be very upfront that is all they are doing. Also, people should be honest with themselves why they continually argue for certain hypotheses while dismissing equally or even more plausible hypotheses. HBDers should ask themselves why they feel so drawn to try to prove blacks are inferior, especially considering the evidence is so weak.

Slavery and Eugenics: Part 2

In my last post about slavery and eugenics, I used the logic of human biodiversity advocates (HBDers) in order to come to the opposite conclusion about the most probable expected results.

The alternate premise I used for the HBD-style logic was that of how for most of US history defiant blacks were more often imprisoned, killed or otherwise removed from the breeding pool. Hence, defiance-related genetics would have been severely lessened in the African-American population. As I concluded in that post, if the HBD theory is applicable to how genetics and society actually interact in terms of human behavior, American blacks should be the least defiant (and so most submissive, obedient, rule-following, law-abiding, non-violent, non-criminal, etc) demographic among all Americans. My point was that this is the opposite of the conclusions of HBD theory, at least as presented by the typical HBDer.

There is another argument that HBDers (and race realists) often present. I wish to turn it on its head as well.

This other argument is that blacks are so aggressive and criminal because generations of black women were raped by aggressive and criminal white men. So, the premise is that the white genetics that American blacks possess (on average 20% with 1/10 having +50%) is disproportionately the worst possible white genetics. Let me reverse this premise by pointing out that many of the white men impregnating black women throughout history have been white men with power (slaveholders or friends of slaveholders, employers, etc). So, actually the white genetics would quite likely be disproportionately from whites who were the most successful, often from Southern aristocracy or other elites (e.g., Thomas Jefferson).

I began thinking about this second line of thought because another book I’m reading: Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. Here is the relevant passage (The Definitive Griffin Estate Edition, Kindle Locations 1906-1928):

He told me how all of the white men in the region craved colored girls. He said he hired a lot of them both for housework and in his business. “And I guarantee you, I’ve had it in every one of them before they ever got on the payroll.” A pause. Silence above humming tires on the hot-top road. “What do you think of that?”

“Surely some refuse,” I suggested cautiously.
“Not if they want to eat – or feed their kids,” he snorted. “If they don’t put out, they don’t get the job.”
I looked out the window to tall pine trees rising on either side of the highway. Their turpentine odor mingled with the soaped smells of the man’s khaki hunting clothes.
“You think that’s pretty terrible, don’t you?” he asked.
I knew I should grin and say, “Why no – it’s just nature,” or some other disarming remark to avoid provoking him.
“Don’t you?” he insisted pleasantly.
“I guess I do.”
“Why hell – everybody does it. Don’t you know that?”
“No, sir.”
“Well, they sure as hell do. We figure we’re doing you people a favor to get some white blood in your kids.”

I wondered what moral and ethical difference there was between this sort of rape by coercion that threatened to starve a person, and rape by coercion that threatened to knife or shoot a person. Newspapers play up as sensational every attempt by a Negro to rape a white woman. Yet this white rape of Negro women is apparently a different matter. But it is rape nonetheless, and practiced on a scale that dwarfs the Negro’s defaults.

The grotesque hypocrisy slapped me as it does all Negroes. It is worth remembering when the white man talks of the Negro’s lack of sexual morality, or when he speaks with horror about mongrelization and with fervor about racial purity. Mongrelization is already a widespread reality in the South – it has been exclusively the white man’s contribution to the Southern Way of Life. His vast concern for “racial purity” obviously does not extend to all races.

(Later I encountered many whites who freely admitted the same practices my companion described. In fairness, however, other Southern whites roundly condemned it and claimed it was not as typical as my informants suggested. None denied that it was widespread.)

Now combine several centuries of decreasing defiance-related genetics with several centuries of superior white genetics. What we’d expect is, according to mainstream American standards, a superior African-American population (whether or not you want to conjecture this constitutes a separate breed of human). African-Americans should share more of the genetics of these upper class whites which, as HBDers argue, would include a stronger genetic predisposition toward higher IQ and such.

However, HBDers argue that the average lower IQ and higher criminalization rates of blacks is primarily genetic. But what is the basis of the HBD argument? Why doesn’t generation after generation of infusing supposed superior white genetics lead to an above average black population on various measures? Maybe because it isn’t primarily about genetics.

In reality, American blacks don’t seem all that different than any other group of people when all other confounding factors are controlled for. The only main difference is the racism/racial-bias with which they are treated.

Slavery and Eugenics

I was reading a book about racism which I just started: Racial Paranoia by John L. Jackson jr. In one passage, the author discussed slavery and the abuse of slaves. This was in the context of violence by slaves in defiance, whether revolts or poisonings, along with the broader context of mistrust and paranoia that continues to pervade our society. But that isn’t the point of this post.

The author’s standard description of slaveholder violence wasn’t unusual, besides the context of the book’s analysis. What got me thinking was an entirely different context, that of human biodiversity (HBD) that originally inspired my reading all these books on race and racism. I was reminded of how much impact such violence would have had.

HBDers speak of social orders acting as intentional or unintentional eugenics/breeding programs. A common example is that of feudal lords deciding who could marry whom. Another example would be Spartans throwing deformed babies off cliffs to their deaths. These weren’t systematic eugenics in the modern sense and for most societies this would have been haphazard.

In the modern era, there are no known eugenics programs that could be declared as successful. The problem is that potentially creating a breed of humans would take centuries to accomplish, without invasive genetic engineering. It takes many generations to create a breed of dog, but it takes less amount of time because dogs have shorter lives and so reach breeding age more quickly; plus, dogs have large litters at a time from which to choose for the next generation of breeding a particular line.

Nonetheless, the closest humans have come to systematically trying to create a new breed of humans was slavery. Slaveholders chose who was allowed to impregnate their slaves and which slaves were allowed to live. Plus, any slave with negative traits such as defiance would have been likely killed, whether intentionally or not. A slave can only defy so often before the whippings, beatings or other abuse takes him or her out of the breeding pool. Even after slavery, through the enforcement of the KKK and Jim Crow, whites continued to eliminate defiant blacks and their genetics. So, combined that is more than three centuries of controlling which black genetics gets passed on the most.

This got me thinking. If HBDers were correct about their theory, a new breed of blacks should have been created. Three centuries is probably more than enough time to create a new breed of humans, assuming such is likely to happen through normal social means as HBDers conjecture.

This breed of blacks would be submissive, obedient and law-abiding for these were the slaves most likely to live long lives and hence have the most children and pass on more of their genetics. It makes no sense that HBDers instead argue that genetics are what cause blacks to be more violent and criminal (i.e., less submissive, obedient and law abiding). If HBDers were correct, blacks would on average be the most loyal patriots, most lawful citizens and most obedient workers who would always do what authorities told them to do. This hypothetical breed of American blacks would be superior to American whites on all these behavioral traits.

What this proves is that either genes aren’t that powerful by themselves in determining behavior or social forces aren’t that effective in creating genetic-determined behavioral traits. Humans, societies and genetics are more complex than HBDers are allowing for in their theorizing.

Healthcare: Right vs Responsibility

Insurance and Social Security…Pet Peeves (blog post by gina from Gaia.com)

Steve said in the comments section:

However, as a Libertarian, I do not see my healthcare as a responsibility of the Federal Government, nor do I consider it a “right”.

I don’t necessarily disagree with this on a philosophical level because it’s a rational perspective.  However, I disagree with it for reasons of compassion which aren’t precisely rational… although I would add that I believe compassion supports rationality when discussing issues specifically pertinent to the human condition.

When I hear statements like this, I immediately wonder about the background of the person making the statement.  I doubt someone who has spent their life in poverty would hold such a belief.  It seems to me a belief of convenience that justifies the person’s position in society.

I’m not picking on Steve for maybe he is just being honest about what he believes.  We all justify our lives with our beliefs.  Even poor people hold beliefs of convenience.  My main complaint is the word “responsibility” in his statement which is a moral judgment which implies poor people are to blame for their own lack of healthcare.  What I’m judging is the tendency in we humans to judge eachother from an assumed position of moral superiority.

I’ve noticed this kind of moral superiority in many people.  It always bugs me.  I know people who have lived righteous lives and who feel justified in their moral superiority, but this is in the context of their being middle to upper class people born into a stable and wealthy society.   What I think many of these people don’t realize is how many advantages they’ve had in life compared to the average person in the world and particularly compared to those on the bottom of society.

And Steve further commented:

But as for me, I do not look toward any other individual or institution to pay my way.  If I get sick and cannot afford my treatments, then all that hope is that I will reach around deep inside myself, find some dignity, and die with it.

This sounds rather convenient.  If he was a poor person born with a disability or who got an illness at a young age, he wouldn’t say something like this.  This is an example of ideology losing contact with human reality.  What is even worse about this statement is that it is one step away from eugenics.  Actually, it is eugenics using a passive methodology.  Just let the poor and needy die of illness and malnutrition.  That way, there is no blood on anyone’s hands.

Could you just imagine all of the sick and dying people crowded around the hospital doors.  No one would let them in because they couldn’t pay and yet they’d have no where else to go.  It would lead to riots and hospitals would become police fortresses and there’d be a black market of stolen hospital drugs.  If the the the chasm between the haves and have nots got too large, walled cities would have to be created and the lower classes would be isolated into ghettoes.

It could end up in some weird kind of Plutocratic Fascism.  Any ideology pushed to an extreme (meaning when the ideologues gain control of political power) ends up with some kind of oppressive political system.  You can start off with Libertarianism, but where you end up may not look so Libertarian.

This is a rather dark vision that I portrayed based on the extreme views of Steve, but it’s far from preposterous.  Many conservatives believe as Steve does.  Conservatives at least used to at least pretend to be compassionate, but that has fallen out of favor.  Since the Republican party has lost much of it’s power, it’s showing more of it’s ruthless nature.  The problem with taking away power from big government is it usually just means instead giving it to big business.  Libertarianism sounds like a good ideal, but sadly small governments seem to be no longer a possibility in the present globalized world.  There will always be some big dog in power, but the best we can do is try to keep it on a short leash.  If you ask me, a big business fascism wouldn’t be a pleasant world to live in unless you were one of the small percentage of wealthy elite.  Then again, Socialism taken to its extremes can also lead to some equally dark ends.  Maybe it’s better to keep all of the big dogs around so that they’ll fight with eachother.  Just tie them to the same leash that way when they try to go in opposite directions they won’t actually get anywhere. 

But that is just me being cynical.  I just get tired of ideologies no matter what they are.  Why is it so difficult to create a socio-political system that actually encourages people to care about and help eachother?  Is our only choice simply to try to curtail people’s selfishness by making laws and hoping that social darwinism will somehow lead to a greater good?