So far as we can make out, from here in the radio shack:
Science writer Nicholas Wade decided to revive the old boy Darwin’s idea that race matters. Except that today it doesn’t.
Look, the skinny: The gene will just not do that for you any more.
Anyway, here’s Slate:
Wade is clearly intelligent and thoughtful, and his book is informed by the latest research in genetics. His explanations seem to me simultaneously plausible and preposterous: plausible in that they snap into place to explain the world as it currently is, preposterous in that I think if he were writing in other time periods, he could come up with similarly plausible, but completely different, stories.
As a statistician and political scientist, I see naivete in Wade’s quickness to assume a genetic association for any change in social behavior. For example, he writes that declining interest rates in England from the years 1400 to 1850 “indicate that people were becoming less impulsive, more patient, and more willing to save” and attributes this to “the far-reaching genetic consequences” of rich people having more children, on average, than poor people, so that “the values of the upper middle class” were “infused into lower economic classes and throughout society.”
Similarly, he claims a genetic basis for the declining levels of everyday violence in Europe over the past 500 years and even for “a society-wide shift … toward greater sensibility and more delicate manners.” All this is possible, but it seems to me that these sorts of stories explain too much. The trouble is that any change in attitudes or behavior can be imagined to be genetic—as long as the time scale is right. For example, the United States and other countries have seen a dramatic shift in attitudes toward gay rights in the past 20 years, a change that certainly can’t be attributed to genes. Given that we can see this sort of change in attitudes so quickly (and, indeed, see large changes in behavior during such time scales; consider for example the changes in the murder rate in New York City during the past 100 years), I am skeptical of Wade’s inclination to come up with a story of genetics and selection pressure whenever a trend happens to be measured over a period of hundreds of years. More.
We are skeptical too. Here’s why (in our case): We assume that people (unlike fungi or crabs) are intelligently observing their environment and deciding if they want to be part of a long term pattern. Or start a new one.
Tom Bethell on the “Troublesome Inheritance” controversy: Evolution and race “Bethell: Murray writes about genes as though they are well known to code for traits, or characters. But that idea belonged to an older conception of the gene.”
Real clear racism: Does it mean that as long as you front Darwin, you can be a racist?
Real racism means not liking Mexican food: It’s so last century to see racism as being about race or something.
Rod Dreher’s take on Wade wade-ing into evolution and race: Maybe the point is just to see what people can be got to accept if you call it “evolution” that they would despise if you called it, who knows – family values?
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