Once upon a time I was poking through my local library seeking something interesting to read. A thick tome caught my attention – more, I admit, out of morbid curiosity than any thirst to broaden my intellectual horizons. The book was titled “Mutants” by an author I had never heard of: Armand Leroi. So I checked it out and soon discovered I had stumbled upon both a treasure among books and a treasure among authors.
It didn’t take long for me to recognize that Prof. Leroi is probably far more intelligent than anybody else whose books I had previously read. He described, in meticulous detail, how dozens of mutations might arise during the early phases of human development. Though, admittedly, I did not understand every last thing that he wrote, still I found myself miniaturized to the size of single cells and even proteins where I could witness the most intimate accidents of nature as they unfolded before me.
Seeing things through Prof. Leroi’s eyes is like peering through a giant and powerful microscope. Few secrets can withstand his gaze and they reveal themselves each in their turn. Though he is a molecular biologist, I found myself comparing the depth of Prof. Leroi’s understanding to that of other authors (mostly anthropologists) and their stature was diminished to that of dust mites.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I admire Prof. Leroi and so I was doubly pleased when he broached the subject of race:
I would like to know about variety. Most of this book has been about the rare mutations that damage the body. If I have mentioned variety, I have done so only in passing. By variety I mean the normal variation in human appearance and attributes that we see in healthy people around us. I mean the variety that can be found within the smallest Scottish hamlet, with its brown-, green- and blue-eyed inhabitants. But I also mean the differences in form between populations of oeople who live near to each other, but are somehow distinct; short pygmies versus taller Bantu farmers, for example. And I also mean the differences in skin colour, hair curliness and eye shape that distinguish – more or less – people who originate from different continents. one of the things, then, that I want to know about is race.
Race has long been under siege. Among scientists, geneticists have led the assault. Their attack has been predicated on two empirical results that have emerged from the study of patterns of genetic variation across the globe. The first was the discovery that most of the variety so abundantly visible in our genomes does not divide humanity along lines that correspond to the races of traditional and folk anthropology. All genes come in different variants, even if most of those variants are ‘silent’ and do not affect the structure of the proteins they encode. Inevitably, some variants are more common in some parts of the world than others. But the ubiquity and rarity of most variant genes across the globe do not correspond to traditional racial boundaries. Racial boundaries are usually held to be sharp; gene variant frequency changes are generally smooth. Changes in variant frequencies are also inconsistent between one gene and another. If there are lines to be drawn through humanity, most genes simply don’t show where they go.
The second discovery that caused, and causes, geneticists to doubt the existence of races is the ubiquity of genetic variation within even the smallest populations. About 85 per cent of the global stock of genetic variation can be found within any country or population – Cambodians or Nigerians, say. About another 8 per cent distinguish nations from each other – the Dutch from the Spanish – which leaves only a parltry 7 per cent or so to account for differences between continents or, in the most generous interpretation of the term, ‘races’. To be sure there are genetic differences between a Dutchman and a Dinka, but not many more than between any two natives of Delft.
… Generations of scientists have expounded these results much as I have here – and asserted that, as far as genetics is concerned, races do not exist. They are reifications, social constructs, or else they are the remnants of discredited ideologies.
Most people have remained unconvinced. They have absorbed the message that races are, somehow, not quite what they used to be. Far better, then, to avoid the word and substitute ‘ethnicity’ or some similar term that comfortably conflates cultural and physical variety… I suspect that the reason the lesson of genetics has been so widely ignored is that it seems to contradict the evidence of our eyes. If races don’t exist, then why does a moment’s glance at a stranger’s face serve to identify the continent, perhaps even the country, from which he or his family came?
The answer to this question must lie in that 7 per cent – paltry though it is – of global genetic variation that distinguishes people in different parts of the world. Seven per cent is a small part of global genetic variation, but it is large enough to imply the existence of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of genetic polymorphisms that are common, even ubiquitous, on one continent but rare, or even absent, on another.
… Forensic anthropologists in the United States and Britain are quite adept at telling whether a given skull, perhaps evidence of some foul deed, once belonged to someone of African or European ancestry. That they can do so after decades, even centuries, of co-existence, not to mention generous amounts of admixture, suggests that our differences are not, as is often said, merely skin deep, but extend to our skulls – if not to what they contain.
Leroi then goes on to explain why the study of human genetic variation (which some of us call “H.B.D.”) is important. What I did notice – and this may not be obvious from what I quoted above – is that Leroi makes enough statements that seem to deny the validity of race to keep him out of trouble. If leftists come after him with torches and pitchforks, he can always defend himself by quoting one of those statements and the angry, ignorant mob might leave him alone to pursue some other hapless intellectual. I, for one, was not fooled; it was obvious to me that Leroi is too brilliant to be a race-denier. After reading his book, I never once doubted that this was the case. Only later did I bother to look up online sources and found copious material supporting this impression. here, here and here for example. So it seems that, since writing his book, Prof. Leroi has taken a more outspoken and courageous stance. While I don’t imagine he is a white nationalist (though we can never really know for sure), his writings should be studied and his contributions recognized.