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Richard Dawkins

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From my new column in Taki’s Magazine:

As a Christmas present, I received the book version of The Hard Problem, the latest play by Sir Tom Stoppard. It’s the great Tory playwright’s first new work for the stage since his Rock ’n’ Roll in 2006. …

I’ve been reading Stoppard’s plays for forty years now. Despite the new work’s seemingly forbidding highbrow subject matter—the title refers to the “hard problem of consciousness” formulated by philosopher David Chalmers—this may be the most lucid and serene of all of Stoppard’s works. It’s not as ambitious or as emotionally resonant as Stoppard’s 1993 masterpiece Arcadia, but then what play is? Nonetheless, it offers the most straightforward introduction to Stoppard’s work since his 1982 romantic dramedy The Real Thing, which preceded his turn toward science as subject matter in the late 1980s.

The bickering neurobiologists of The Hard Problem return to the moral philosophy questions—Does God exist? What is virtue? How can free will be reconciled with the study of nature and nurture? Can altruism exist without consciousness?—that were argued with such manic wit by rival academic philosophers in his 1972 farce Jumpers.

Read the whole thing there.

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The Iraqis’ fierce resistance to foreigners (us) invading their country was predictable on any number of grounds. But perhaps the most interesting is the most fundamental: the theory of “ethnic nepotism.” This explains the tendency of humans to favor members of their own racial group by postulating that all animals evolve toward being more altruistic toward kin in order to propagate more copies of their common genes.

Which doesn’t mean that kin groups always cooperate—they also compete among themselves, in a sort of sibling rivalry writ large. But nepotistic solidarity still matters.

Even the notoriously fractious Afghan Pashtuns think in terms of: “I against my brother. My brother and I against my cousin. My cousin and we against the world.” (Note that, by maintaining a smaller footprint in Afghanistan and letting the Afghans go back to being Afghans, we’ve provoked much less nationalist backlash there.)

You may not have ever heard of ethnic nepotism before. That’s largely because the most media savvy-explicators of Darwinism—such as Richard Dawkins, recently voted Britain’s top public intellectual by Prospect magazine—are terrified that their entire field might be tarred as “racist” if the concept is given a fair public discussion.

The term “ethnic nepotism” was introduced in the 1981 book The Ethnic Phenomenon by Pierre L. van den Berghe, a white sociologist born in the old Belgian colony of the Congo.

Disgusted by white oppression of Africans, van den Berghe became a fairly conventional liberal on race. But, as he overcame his Eurocentric focus on white crimes, he realized that race-based exploitation and violence are universal human curses. This led him to sociobiology and its bedrock finding: the late William D. Hamilton‘s theory of kin selection and inclusive fitness—the more genes we share with another individual, the more altruistic we feel toward him.

There are no clear boundaries between extended family, tribe, ethnic group, or race. So van den Berghe coined the term “ethnic nepotism” to describe the human tendency to favor “our people.”

Ethnocentrism, clannishness, xenophobia, nationalism, and racism are the almost inevitable flip sides of ethnic nepotism. (I say almostbecause it’s important to note that you can be patriotic and work forthe good of your own fellow citizens without overtly wishing ill toward any other country. Nonetheless, even patriotism still implies discrimination against noncitizens.)

The Ethnic Phenomenon is the book Karl Marx should have written. Rather than focusing on the relatively minor phenomenon of class, he should have explored the global importance of kinship.

Hamilton, the leading evolutionary theorist of the second half of the 20th Century, had figured out the mathematics and extraordinary implications of an explanation for nepotism that had been kicking around half-formed among biologists.

Hamilton pointed out that it was often useful to think of “survival of the fittest” from the point of view, as it were, of individual genes. A gene that encourages you to sacrifice your life to save two brothers or eight cousins would tend to spread.

Hamilton used his new perspective to explain a mystery that hadperplexed Darwin a century before: the extreme degree of nepotistic self-sacrifice among social insects. Worker ants give up reproducing in order to help their sister, the queen, reproduce on a vast scale. Hamilton pointed out that while most species’ siblings share 50 percent of their genes, ant sisters share 75 percent. This makes self-sacrifice by workers more genetically profitable.

This gene-centric viewpoint was made understandable to the reading public by Edward O. Wilson’s 1975 book Sociobiology and Richard Dawkins’ celebrated 1976 book, The Selfish Gene . (A better title for Dawkins’ book would have been The Dynastic Gene, since your genes spread by helping promulgate copies of themselves in one’s relatives).

E.O. Wilson’s description in his delightful autobiography Naturalist of how he wrestled with Hamilton’s epochal papers during an 18-hour train ride in 1965 is a classic:

“Impossible, I thought, this can’t be right. Too simple… By dinnertime, as the train rumbled on into Virginia, I was growing frustrated and angry… And because I modestly thought of myself as the world authority on social insects, I also thought it unlikely that anyone else could explain their origin, certainly not in one clean stroke… By the time we reached Miami, in the earlyafternoon, I gave up. I was a convert and put myself inHamilton’s hands. I had undergone what historians of science call a paradigm shift.”

In 1975, Hamilton had extended his theory to humans. In a long essay entitled

Innate Social Aptitudes of Man: An Approach from Evolutionary Genetics, (which appears in the first volume of Hamilton’sautobiographical Narrow Roads of Gene Land), Hamilton wrote:

“… I hope to produce evidence that some things which are often treated as purely cultural in humans—say racial discrimination—have deep roots in our animal past and thus are quite likely to rest on direct genetic foundations.”

Richard Dawkins’ tremendous career as a science journalist has been built on his talent at translating Hamilton’s formulas into engaging prose. But he has long denied the possibility of ethnic nepotism, even though Hamilton had published an elaborate model of it the yearbefore Dawkins published The Selfish Gene.

Dawkins’ political correctness was all too apparent the 1995 interview with him conducted by Frank Miele for The Skeptic magazine:

Miele: Shortly after publication of The Selfish Gene, you wrote a letter to the editor of Nature … in which you stated that kin selection theory in no way provides a basis for understanding ethnocentrism. You said you made this statement, in part at least, to counter charges that were being made in the UK at that time by Marxist critics that Selfish Gene Theory was being used by the British National Front to support their Fascist ideology. In retrospect, do you think you went too far in trying to distance yourself from some would-be and very unwanted enthusiasts, or not far enough?

Dawkins: As to distancing myself from the National Front, that I did! The National Front was saying something like this, “kin selection provides the basis for favoring your own race as distinct from other races, as a kind ofgeneralization of favoring your own close family asopposed to other individuals.” Kin selection doesn’t dothat! Kin selection favors nepotism towards your ownimmediate close family. It does not favor a generalization of nepotism towards millions of other people who happen to be the same color as you. Even if it did, and this is a stronger point, I would oppose any suggestion from any group such as the National Front, that whatever occurs in natural selection is therefore morally good or desirable. We come back to this point over and over again. I’m definitely not one who thinks that “is” is the same as “ought.”

The purpose of science, however, is not to proclaim better morals or to distance oneself from the politically unpalatable, but to help us make better predictions.

Dawkins’ ostentatious fear of falling into what David Hume called the “naturalistic fallacy”—assuming “is” implies “ought”—leads him into what Steven Pinker calls the “moralistic fallacy”—assuming “ought” implies “is.”

And in fact Miele easily forced Dawkins to admit that his strident pronouncement against the feasibility of ethnic nepotism was dubious:

Miele: Could there be selection for a mechanism that would operate like this–”those who look like me, talk like me, act like me, are probably genetically close to me. Therefore, be nice, good, and altruistic to them. If not avoid them?” And could that mechanism later be programmed to say, “Be good to someone who wears the same baseball cap, the same Rugby colors, or whatever?” That is, could evolution have a produced a hardware mechanism that is software programmable?

Dawkins: I think that’s possible.

Hamilton could have been describing Dawkins’ political weaseling when he recounted in 1996 the reception his 1975 paper on ethnic nepotism had received in a review by

“noted anthropologist, S.L. Washburn, in which, singling my paper out of the whole volume, he called it ‘reductionist, racist, and ridiculous.’ … I wonder if people who struggle to extend the frontiers of a discipline againsta current of peer disapproval sometimes need to convincethemselves and other that they are not quite the heretics and outlaws everyone thinks and this need is expressed through an extra militancy against further extension in the direction they themselves have been taking… It is a pity to see scientists struggling to tie each other’s hands in respect of some kinds of understanding and in effect crippling themselves …”

Interestingly, the distinguished political scientist Robert Axelrod, who had worked with Hamilton on crucial breakthroughs in the theory of altruism, published a 2003 paper on “The Evolution of Ethnocentric Behavior” showing that “in-group favoritism” was likely to evolve.

The main objection that Dawkins raises to ethnic nepotism is that Hamiltonian kin selection only applies to close kin, presumably because genetic similarity diffuses so rapidly as you move outward in your family tree.

To use Hamilton’s way of calculating, you are 1/2 related to your brother, 1/8 to your first cousin, 1/32 to your second cousin, 1/128 to your third cousin, etc.

So, obviously, ethnic nepotism can’t work because relatedness becomes vanishingly small, right?

Wrong! Because, as Hamilton pointed out in 1975, you can’t ignore the effect of inbreeding—not in the Deliverance sense of marrying your sister, but in the sense that people from, say, Japan usually marry other people from Japan, not random mates from around the world.

Thus genetic anthropologist Henry Harpending long pooh-poohed ethnic nepotism until he finally sat down to do the math. Then,Harpending discovered that the effect was twice as strong as had been suggested. (This discovery is recounted in Frank Salter’s important new book On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethny, and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration).

Take race denier Richard Lewontin’s famous 1972 finding that only 15% of genetic variation is among population groups. This is always interpreted in the popular press to mean that, because there is more genetic diversity within racial groups than between them, therefore (non sequitur alert!) RACIAL DIFFERENCES DO NOT EXIST!!!…

Harpending says the variation between groups is even lower, more like 12.5%, so let’s use that.

What Harpending discovered, and anthropologist Vincent Sarich confirmed, is that Lewontin was using Sewall Wright’s way of calculating relatedness, and you need to about double it to make it equivalent to Hamilton’s way. So, 12.5% times two is 25%, which is the degree of relatedness between an uncle and his nephew…which, after all, is where the word “nepotism” comes from!

In other words, on average, people are as closely related to other members of their subracial “ethnic” group (e.g., Japanese or Italian) versus the rest of the world as they are related to their nephew versus the rest of their ethnic group.

(Sarich and Miele have explained the genetics of Harpending’sdiscovery using slightly more aggressive assumptions than I did above).

So, the genetic basis for ethnic nepotism with each racial group is roughly as strong on average as the etymologically classic case of nepotism among close kin—the uncle-nephew bond.

Ethnic nepotism isn’t a metaphor. It’s a reality.

And we’d better accept it—whether Richard Dawkins thinks it would be good for his career or not.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Richard Dawkins 
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The readers of Prospect magazine, the fine British center-left journal, recently voted veteran science journalist Richard Dawkins the U.K.’s number one “public intellectual.” In turn, Prospect runs in its October edition an excerpt from Dawkins’ new book, The Ancestor’s Tale,called “Race and Creation.”

Dawkins’ Prospect essay is not bad. He considers, but does reject (sort of), the “race does not exist” dogma that led the incoming president of the American Anthropological Association, Alan Goodman,memorably to proclaim:

[Race] doesn’t exist biologically, but it does exist socially… Culturally I’m white-ified. People see me as white. That has something to do with how I look, but it has nothing to do with biological variation.”

[Here's a picture of Dr. Goodman, who looks pretty fly (for a white-ified guy).]

Unfortunately, Dawkins’ essay shows that even being Numero Uno doesn’t make you a clear thinker about a scientific topic—if you allow your political prejudices to murk things up. And it’s easy to get confused about race because of the outright suppression of active scientific debate.

Dawkins’ reputation primarily on one great book, 1976′s The Selfish Gene, which made comprehensible to the reading public the revolution in the evolutionary theory of social behavior innovated principally by the late British biologist William D. Hamilton from 1964 onwards.

In explaining the mathematical basis of nepotism—the tendency of individuals to favor their kin—Hamilton had discovered a new gene-centric view of evolution that provided a more solid footing for all of biology. As Dawkins rightfully said:W.D. Hamilton is a goodcandidate for the title of most distinguished Darwinian since Darwin.”

Unfortunately, Dawkins still doesn’t want to understand the human implications of what Hamilton was driving at with his theory of kin selection: that humans naturally tend to discriminate in favor of relatives, and a racial group is simply a partly inbred extended family. (See my essay “It’s All Relative” for a full explanation.)

Dawkins gets snagged by making the assumption that race, while it exists, is all about surface features:

“Interobserver agreement suggests that racial classification is not totally uninformative, but what does it inform about? About things like eye shape and hair curliness. For some reason it seems to be the superficial, external, trivial characteristics that are correlated with race—perhaps especially facial characteristics.”

But Dawkins doesn’t offer any persuasive evidence for the cliché that race is just skin deep.

And the plain fact is that racial heritage affects real world performance. For example, coming into the Athens Olympics last month, men of West African descent had earned all eight of the spots in the finals of the 100-meter dash for five Olympics in a row. I suggested in my Olympics preview that this incredible streak might come to an end. But instead blacks won all 16 positions in the semifinals!

A similar level of domination is seen at the position of tailback in the National Football League. Chris Harry and Charles Robinson of the Orlando Sentinel wrote in a brave article entitled EndangeredSpecies:”

“Since Craig James ran for 1,227 yards and was voted to the Pro Bowl in 1985, 95 running backs have combined for 235 1,000-yard rushing performances over those 18 years. None has been white.”

One obvious common denominator of the fastest sprinters and strongest tailbacks is tremendous muscular development—they are all “ripped” with large muscles and very little body fat.

So race isn’t just skin deep. At minimum, it’s muscle deep.

And the same male hormones that build muscles affect personality. Blogger Andrew Sullivan, for instance, has written at length about how injecting himself with testosterone has made him more confident and aggressive. (Just what he needed!)

Overall, the pieces of this race puzzle are all starting to fit together. Blacks, when in peak shape, tend to have higher muscle-to-fat ratios, higher levels of aggressiveness, and higher rates of prostate cancer—and not coincidentally, higher rates of male hormones and higher-powered male hormone receptors in their bloodstreams.

Race … it’s not just skin deep.

But what did Dawkins mean by “interobserver agreement” about racial classifications?

To show that racial categories can be informative at the cosmetic level, he writes:

“Well, suppose we took full-face photographs of 20 randomly chosen natives of each of the following countries: Japan, Uganda, Iceland, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Egypt. If we presented 120 people with all 120 photographs, my guess is that every single one of them would achieve 100 per cent success in sorting them into six different categories… I haven’t done the experiment, but I am confident that you will agree with me on what the result would be.”

Dawkins’ heart is in the right place on this issue—but he should do the experiment. He would be surprised. It’s quite likely that outsiders would confuse some of the Ugandans and the Papuans.

The tribes of New Guinea and the nearby Melanesian Islands come in many different looks, but some are very similar in appearance to sub-Saharan Africans. Here, for example are two Papuan boys who, to my untrained eye, look like Africans. And here are some pleasant pictures of nearby Solomon Islanders who belong to an Anglican religious order known as the Melanesian Brotherhood. They look much like these Ugandans, who live 9,000 miles to the west.

I suspect that if you visited the two regions, you would eventually learn to distinguish the two groups with fairly high accuracy. But it would take time.

(There are a few other groups whose appearance can fool observers into misclassifying them. The Nagas of Burma bear a surprising resemblance to American Indians. And even the hyper-acute physicalanthropologist Carleton Coon classified the aboriginal Ainu of northern Japan as Caucasians, although subsequent genetic research typically lumps them in with other East Asians. Of course, less sophisticated viewers frequently make classification mistakes, such as the many Iraqis who have tried to speak Arabic to Mexican-American soldiers.)

So, if a Papuan and a Ugandan look similar enough to be mistaken for each other by outside observers, are they the same race?


Genealogically, they are radically different. Their lineages diverged far back in prehistory and they have had virtually no common ancestors for, perhaps, tens of thousands of years. According to L.L. Cavalli-Sforza’s landmark 1994 book The History and Geography of Human Genes, the two human groups most genetically dissimilar overall to “Bantus,” such as Central Africans, are “New Guineans” and “Melanesians.”

Instead, African-looking Papuans are actually more racially similar to other Papuan tribes that don’t look much like Africans at all.

Looks are skin deep. Race, in contrast, is who your ancestors were.

Classifying people by their looks is simply a crude way to approximate for what human beings are really interested in: family trees.

Race is who your kin are. For example, when Iraqis discover that Latino-American soldiers merely look kind of like them but aren’t related, their feelings of ethnocentric relationship disappear.

Why do people care so much about who is related to whom? Because, as Hamilton’s logic showed, that’s toward whom they are more nepotistic (i.e., altruistic). In turn, ethnocentrism, nationalism, and racism are essentially the inevitable flip side of nepotism. If people discriminate in favor of their relatives, they are going to discriminate against their non-relatives.

By refusing to think about this because it’s politically incorrect, Dawkins is betraying the great Hamilton’s legacy.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Richard Dawkins 
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Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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