Having perused “What it Means to Be 98 Percent Chimpanzee” by Jonathan Marks, I have some comments. As soon as I saw, in the acknowledgments, that the work was funded by the National Science Foundation and had begun in Berkeley, I knew it would contain claptrap about race. Still, it looked to be interesting and well-written.
As long as the book spoke of DNA and the differences/similarities between humans and the apes, all was well. There are some great insights as well as interesting facts.
As soon as Marks starts talking about race, however, the trickery begins. Let me list some of the ways he tries to fool his readers:
1) Implying that racial theories were invented at specific times for political reasons. Thus he writes (pg. 52), about the ancients, “But there was no hint of the existence of any small fundamental number of natural human kinds.” Aside from being false, this claim is meant to imply that Europeans of later times invented the concept of race in order to justify their subjugation of non-white populations. He also writes that the theory of polygenism “reached its zenith during the American Civil War” (pg 53) – implying that the theory was meant to justify slavery and, therefore, that we may safely disregard it. The underlying assumption: A theory can be discredited if we show that the motivations for advancing it were less than noble. By this reasoning, perhaps we should reject all the scientific innovations from the World War Two era. After all, they were only invented to further the cause of war.
2) Pointing out the errors of early race science in an attempt to discredit the entirety of race science. Thus we find the author ridiculing Linnaeus for his infamous “Homo sapiens monstrosus” (pg. 56). Likewise (ibid.) he criticizes Linnaeus for inconsistencies in categorizing humans versus other animal species. He goes on and on quoting outdated and, by today’s standards, ridiculous racial generalizations. The intent is to make the reader laugh at the absurdity of it all and, by extension, the absurdity of race science in general. But there is plenty to laugh about with 18th century medicine as well. Does this mean we can shrug off the entire field of medicine as “absurd”?
3) Marks spills much ink gratifying himself with the fact that there are not always clear distinctions between the races. That human variety is a continuum of gradations. This, in his mind, invalidates the concept of race. We must assume then, that Marks does not recognize the colors blue or green – since there are many shades between them that are hard to define. Also, racial distinctions sometimes are seen abruptly from one place to another, such as with large geographical barriers. I think we should ask ourselves, what kind of person takes solace in confusion and chaos? It seems to me that a true scientist would seek to find order and meaning in that which he observes.
4) Marks makes much ado about blood groups and how their distribution seems to have little relationship to race in the classical sense. He delights in this fact – even though he mentions that the apes possess the same blood groups. It never seems to occur to him that the races developed long after the appearance and distribution of the various blood types. Marks wastes pages detailing the shenanigans of the Russian science quack Manoilov and his clearly fraudulent blood tests (which could, supposedly, reveal nationality and sexual orientation). It is a common tactic of those who wish to deceive: cite the most absurd specimens of the opposing camp in order to discredit them.
5) In the past, many people had a notion of “pure races”. Some still do. Yet this notion is, by no means, central to the recognition of race as a valid biological concept. Marks is typical in that he shows us the absurdity of the “one-drop rule”, as practiced in some Southern states, and then expects us to view this as proof that there is no such thing as race. If Marks is targeting a specific audience, with these anecdotes, I would suggest it be American blacks. After all, Obama seems perfectly content to consider himself “black” even though at least half his ancestry is white. As for the question “who is white?”, I’ve dealt with this elsewhere.
To his credit, Marks at least admits the obvious: “People are similar to those geographically nearby and different from those far away.” (pg. 65). In this sense, he admits the existence of race. What he objects to are actual boundaries between various races. He claims (pg. 66) that:
peoples of Somalia are far more similar to the peoples of, say, Saudi Arabia or Iran – which are relatively closer to Somalia – than they are to the Ghanaians on the western side of Africa.
One wonders what he means by “similar”. After all, the entire first part of the book deals with why it is impossible to arrive at precise percentages and comparisons of one genome to another. All we can say is that one genome is “very close” to another but no more than that. Given that all humans are “very close” to each other, how can Marks know that Somalis are more similar to Iranians than to Ghanaians? This is a clear contradiction.
Marks claims (pg. 66) that the only reason we Westerners have the notion of discrete racial groups is that most of the Africans we encounter are of West African origins, and most of the Asians we encounter are of East Asian origins. Hence we get the illusion of clear racial differences. According to Marks, those of us who believe in race, have only the most rudimentary and simplistic grasp of it. Therefore, when confronted with realities that challenge our assumptions, we will eventually let go of the idea of race altogether.
Things have changed since the writing of this book. Now we have plenty of immigrants from various “in between lands”. And yet, we are growing more conscious of race as a result. Not less conscious. In Marks’ mind, the presence of East Indians, who are as dark as African blacks, sport Caucasian features but live in Asia, would throw our racial views into disarray. Now we see that this is not so. Instead, the presence of groups such as Indians has only made America’s racial politics more complex. I wonder if it ever occurred to Marks that the various groups he writes of consider themselves as discrete groups. That Samoans, Indians and Pakistanis prefer their own kind and see others as “outsiders”. If these groups see themselves as distinct populations, who is Marks to deny them that honor?
Marks makes much of the distinction between “race” and “population”. The former, in his view, is gross, inaccurate and carries too much baggage. The term “population”, on the other hand, is more accurate and carries no baggage. Over time, the definition of “race” has changed dramatically. Not long ago, one could speak of “the English race” or the “Polish race” because, back then, it simply meant “nationality”. It made some sense because nations have, historically, derived their justification/meaning from common ancestral origins. Even when Scotland and England shared the same king, under James VI, this did not mean that these two nations were now one. It seems to me that, among race-realists, the current trend is to recognize finer racial distinctions and not to merely focus on the continental ones. Thus, the debate between Marks and the rest of us, may only be a semantic one.
Other than the deceptions listed above, Marks uses the usual old mental tricks leftists always like to pull out of their sleeves: that there is more variation between individuals than between races, that race science never advanced beyond Carleton Coon, that cultural differences are more important than genetic ones, or that skull shapes are malleable. All of the above have been debunked, or shown to be meaningless, by others. Sometimes we find a statement that reveals such ignorance, arrogance or both, that we simply must quote it (pg 92):
… many factors go into a performance, only one of which is ability. Thus, when we encounter the question of whether poor performance – even over the long term – is an indication of the lack of cognitive ability, the only defensible position from the standpoint of biology is agnosticism. We do not know whether human groups differ in their potentials in any significant way. More than that, we cannot know, that is a crucial distinction.
There is so much wrong with the above statement, it is hard to know where to begin. I shall simply ask Prof. Marks the following question: If we cannot know whether there are innate mental differences between blacks, whites and Asians, does it make sense to spend billions of dollars of tax money under the assumption that they do not exist?
On the matter of Neanderthals, Marks wants them to be considered a subspecies of humans – for the simple reason that this would reduce the temptation to categorize living races of humans into subspecies. Earlier in his book, he describes skeletal differences among humans as “quite subtle” (pg. 72). Conveniently, he ignores Australian aboriginal skulls.
Regarding behavioral genetics, Marks cherry picks several findings – which had made headlines – and shows how the genes in question were actually pathological and not involved in normal behavior. Fair enough. But does he really believe that “normal” genes have no influence on behavior and that these genes cannot vary from one population to another? The author’s bias is exposed when he writes (pg. 109):
And certainly if the history of anthropology has shown us anything, it is that science can easily be invoked to naturalize social inequalities, to make it seem as though they are nature’s fault (and not the fault of greedy and evil people), and thus discourage any attempt to make the world better. And that’s bad both for people and for science.
Let us turn this around and see if it makes any less sense:
And certainly if the history of leftist ideology has shown us anything, it is that politics can easily be invoked to demonize nature’s inequalities, to make it seem as though they are the fault of innocent people (and not the fault of nature), and thus discourage any attempt to make the world better. And that’s bad both for people and for science.
I think this second version is more in line with reality today and it is what we should be mainly concerned about.
At one point, Marks criticizes William C. Boyd (pg. 132) and others for recognizing a variety of races amongst Europeans while lumping all Africans together into one race. On this point, Marks is right. Any attempt to classify the various races of Man, should strive to be objective and many of them were not. A reasonable person would then strive to be more scientific and objective in his research – not give up the research altogether and throw out the baby with the bath water as Marks suggests.
At one point (pg. 135), Marks attacks the concept of race as a super-extended family. The problem, he says, is that the very concept of “family” is a cultural one. Marriage is typically between two unrelated people – and yet, they form a “family”. I think an underlying defect, with Marks’ thinking, is that he has no trust in nature and no respect for it. For most of human history, the only one way we could distinguish between one of our own and an outsider was by appearance. Clearly, there is a reason that various groups of people look different: to facilitate the defense/continuity of different tribes/ethnic groups/races. We find the same phenomenon with other animals. Various breeding populations have different methods, at their disposal, to distinguish between one of their own and outsiders. Some use scent. Others have mating calls. Yet others depend upon territory alone. With humans, it is appearance more than anything else (though dialect and culture also play important roles). The author does make some good points about similar people’s hating each other – but, even then, his misses the obvious (pg. 142):
It is not, of course, reasonable at all to suppose that group antagonisms occur only between genetically or biologically different peoples. Were the Hatfields and the McCoys biologically distinct from each other? Or the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese? Or the Bloods and the Crips? And that’s precisely the central point, the perception of “otherness,” of alienness – is not based on natural differences. It’s based on language, the deity worshipped, traditions, diet, activities, beliefs – things that are learned, not things that are innate.
Yes, people will always find excuses to fight and kill each other. But it is difficult to feel much animosity toward a group that is thousands of miles away. People develop distastes for what they are exposed to – to their neighbors. Now that people like Marks have forced the various races into close proximity, people will have even more excuses to hate and kill each other. In the past, the average American had no particular opinion about East Indians. Now a whole new set of stereotypes have developed about them. One wonders what Marks thinks about that.
What does Marks do with inconvenient statistics, such as sports statistics that seem to imply black superiority in some fields? Why, he disregards them, of course (pg. 145):
So what can it mean about “black people” if the ten fastest known sprinters are all black? In the first place, it is a gross perversion of statistical sensibilities to characterize a population by its ten most extreme members. And in the second place, the fastest white and yellow people are not too far behind anyway – we’re only talking about the twinkling of an eye here, after all. And how do you know you haven’t missed some really fast white guy somewhere?
Talk about grasping at straws! Who’s to say that those ten sprinters were the “most extreme members” of their race? Why is it any more likely that some fast white or yellow runners were missed than some even faster black runners were missed? If the author is really interested in the answers to his questions above then, as a true scientist, he would encourage serious research to get to the bottom of it. But no. According to Marks, any sort of racial research (pardon me, “population” research) does not even fall under the category of “science” and is socially irresponsible. There are so many things that Marks does not know – and does not want to know (despite his proclamations to the contrary).
It is the same with twin studies (pg. 149). Marks would have us believe, on the basis of one or two spectacular twin stories and his own smears against the Pioneer Fund, that twin studies are of little value, being mostly studies of coincidence.
A chapter is devoted to the “Human Genome Diversity Project” (pg. 202-206). In a nutshell, Marks see no value whatsoever in studying the genomes of indigenous peoples. In his view, there is nothing wrong with a tribe such as the Yanomamo becoming entirely assimilated to the point where there is no vestige of their genetic heritage remaining. In Marks’ world, the entire genetic mosaic of mankind is naught but a chaotic, swirling pot of stew. I wonder about people like him. Do they realize how arrogant they seem? I wonder if they feel the same way about endangered animal or plant species. What they are saying is that we already know everything that is worth knowing about these genomes and, therefore, there is no value in preserving them or studying them.
In the chapter titled “Identity and Descent” (pg. 219), Marks shows how much he cares for the ethnic identity of Native Americans – even to the point of supporting them in their claim to the skull of Kennewick Man. In his view, the fact that Kennewick Man appeared to belong to a different “population” than modern Native Americans is only incidental and it irrelevant to their claims that he is their ancestor because (pg 239)…
… all claims of ancestry and descent from Kennewick Man are nonliteral and nonscientific; they are metaphorical. And we have no objective, scientific basis on which to judge one metaphor’s validity as against another’s.
How touching – and I wonder if Marks affords whites the same level of sensitivity, regarding their ethnic identity, as he does Native Americans. In all fairness though, I thoroughly agree with his sentiment that scientists should avoid needlessly offending people.
In “Essentializing Blood” (pg. 245- 249), Marks takes apart the so-called “Cohanic gene” theory. He does good work here; I’ve never taken that theory very seriously myself and have always considered it more wishful thinking than actual science.
As much as people like Marks would like to wish race away, they also take active roles in making it so. It is not enough for them to show us that “race is an illusion”, they force their version of reality upon us through government legislation in the form of massive immigration and forced integration. While one hand pretends to be a scientist, guiding us through a presentation, the other hand is holding a gun, forcing us to comply. This is not “science”. It is tyranny.