Thursday, February 15, 2018

Group identity/race - the narcissism of small differences

From Five Things Paleogenetics Tells Us About The Human Past by Razib Khan. The study of DNA and the field of genetics are rapidly changing fields owing to new tools of study as well as new models of understanding. It is a fraught field as well. Those of us from a classical liberal background who value knowledge but also accept the principles of human universalism, individualism, and natural rights cannot be blind to the pernicious interpretations of racists from the left (primacy of group identity) and right (traditional racists).

It is hard to keep up with the emerging received wisdom. Khan has a brief summary which comports with my general understanding.
Here are five things you should know. Five things that we know with a very high degree of certitude.
1. Many (most?) modern populations clusters we perceive as clear and distinct date to the last 5,000 years. To give a concrete example, the genetics that we find to be typical of Northern Europeans only comes into being ~5,000 years ago, with the Corded Ware populations. To my knowledge none of the prior populations along the North European plain exhibit the mix of characteristics and ancestries typical of modern Northern Europeans in any way, shape, or form.

2. Concomitantly, many of the physical characteristics we find typical of modern populations are probably relatively recent configurations due to natural selection.

3. Non-African populations, whether European, Middle Eastern, South Asian, (South)East Asian, Amerindian or Oceanian, derive from a population expansion that dates to ~50,000 years BP. These populations experienced a bottleneck on the order of 1,000 to 10,000 breeding individuals.

4. Modern humans are old. Population structure within Africa of modern humans dates to at least 200,000 years before the present, and perhaps even earlier.

5. Population turnover was ubiquitous. Change was the only constant.
On this reading of the current knowledge, many of the issues related to race are very much a narcissism of small differences.

But all this has to be held contingently. Point 5 could be more broadly recast as: For most fields, knowledge turnover is ubiquitous. Change is the only constant. Intellectual humility is a necessity.

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