Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Don't fear knowledge

In writing this article, I suspect that Reich must have felt like a devoted missionary on discovering his new assignment was to an island with a reputation for cannibalism. Up for the challenge but fearful of the consequences. From How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’ by David Reich.

Reich has undertaken to bring the message of science to the passionately committed devotees of instersectional social justice postmodernism. In other words, he is bringing science to the secular readers of the New York Times who assiduously deny any scientific fact which does not accord with their postmodernist catechisms.

In this specific instance, he wants to introduce the idea to New York Times readers that genetics has predictive value and that there are predictive genetic variances between men and women and between populations of people.

I envisioned the comments section from the NYT readers:

Crashing, oh! Four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it... it's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It's smoke, and it's in flames now; and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity! - Herbert Morrison

The comments are not quite that unseated though there is much clutching of pearls and extended anemic protestations.

Reich makes a reasoned case though he is desperate to ensure that no one mistakes him as someone unconcerned about intersectional social justice and constantly takes swipes at strawmen ideas and bete noires of the left.

I understand his trepidation. When I grew up, the received wisdom was that the Out of Africa thesis was the most probable description of human evolution. Which was convenient. We all come from Africa and any apparent differences are of recent and shallow origin. By the eighties and nineties it was apparent that evolution was occurring faster than we had anticipated. The 2000s brought the revelation that different human populations had interbred with remnant branch populations such as Neanderthals.

But I think my concerns were misplaced, as are Reich's. The humanist belief that we are all born equal and blessed with equal human rights has always been a normative belief, not a scientific claim. While Marxism requires humans to be identical and completely malleable, that has never been the reality. Within families, between individuals, among groups, differences are apparent, and in many ways glorious.

The fact that science is revealing a larger role for genes in individual outcomes, the fact that science is revealing real differences between the sexes and between populations is a challenge for those who wish us to be fungible. It poses no challenge to those committed to the notion that we are all equal in our humanity and in our human rights.

I think Reich's other motivating fear is also misplaced. People need no justification for finding differences that then allow a separation of in-groups and out-groups. We are a social creature and the distinction between in and out-groups is a universal human trait. There is no value in denying it or denying that there are human differences. Acknowledging that we are inclined to artificially create in and out groups puts the onus on ourselves to manage that inclination. Reading Reich and perceiving his fear of people using the emerging knowledge of differences, I could not help but think of the old religious joke.
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."

"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.

"Well, there's so much to live for!"

"Like what?"

"Are you religious?"

He said: "Yes."

I said: "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"


"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"


"Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"


"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"

"Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"

"Reformed Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"

He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."

I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.
Race, religion, class, gender, etc. The issue is not the scientific facts of each of these categories. The issue is the scientific fact of our disposition towards in- and out-groups.

I agree with Reich's goal. Do not fear knowledge, do not hide it. Instead, focus on managing our own behaviors and actions. Behave with humanity, don't foster ignorance.

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