Evolution did not stop during the last ice age, but, on the contrary, even accelerated and continues to this day. As the human genome has been deciphered, our knowledge has grown significantly.
Nicholas Wade's book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History is nothing like the massive brick thrown through the intellectual window. If you wrap it in paper and write that “this is not a brick,” you get an ingenious installation in the spirit of Magritte (this is a famous Belgian surrealist artist - approx. Transl.).
Wade's book seeks to dispel the belief that racial differences are just differences in skin color - nothing more, nothing less. Over the past decade, as the human genome has been deciphered, our knowledge of human evolution has increased significantly. And now, in contrast to the scientific dogmas that existed a generation ago, it is now believed that evolution did not stop during the last ice age, but, on the contrary, even accelerated and continues to this day. Evidence that human evolution, according to Wade, continues "is its ubiquitous and regional character." Evidence has accumulated gradually, but it has not yet firmly established itself in the mass consciousness. And so, Wade's book just intends to fix this matter.
The question arises: is Wade's book compelling enough to shatter stereotypes? Does Wade need to, so to speak, smash the window panes to promote his views?
Some of the evidence Wade relies on is familiar even to laymen. So, for example, the Tibetans, unlike other peoples, at the genetic level have adapted to life at high altitudes; this adaptation has taken place over the past three thousand years. (True, in the works that have appeared since the publication of Wade's book, it is argued that the genes responsible for the adaptation of the inhabitants of Tibet arose as a result of the mixing of the local population with the Denisovans, that is, with the hominids that died out several millennia ago, with which Homo sapiens, apparently, also crossed). Another example is lactose tolerance. This is a slightly older, but much more important mutation that arose in the inhabitants of Northern Europe and Africa. It is believed to have caused the rapid expansion of Indo-European and Bantu languages.
All this was already known. Scientists have already had the opportunity to observe examples of microevolution in the animal kingdom for a long time, and also to be convinced many times (during selection) that physical and behavioral characteristics can change in relatively short periods of time. All of these examples help us gain a deeper understanding of the origins of both individuals and entire communities. It often happens like this: on the one hand, a person seems to share the generally accepted view of evolution, but, on the other hand, is trying to take advantage of the latest advances in genomics, trying to trace his own ancestry. However, our society is reluctant to accept the consequences of scientific advances - for example, the fact that there seem to be very significant differences between different ethnic groups.
The reluctance of our society to accept these conclusions, Wade continues, is due to the fact that many people are really afraid that the horrors of the 19th and 20th centuries will suddenly repeat again - social Darwinism ("the poor need not be helped"), forced sterilization of mentally ill people, terrible crimes of the Holocaust, supposedly designed to improve the human race - Wade, according to him, just as we are shaken by all this abomination. True, he adds that our fears are largely unfounded: real, genuine science does not at all seek to prove that some group of people, they say, is superior to other groups, so Wade does not see any racist inclinations in his work. He assures us that we can fearlessly study human evolution; the study of human evolution is not dangerous, since it has no political background, because in general, they say, the conclusions of science as such do not affect political views, and our moral and political convictions should not depend on the state of scientific knowledge about the origin of man.
But is it really so? What does Wade think about this?
And here we have a certain skepticism. First, Wade describes the course of human evolution, starting with the exodus of ancient people from the African continent, and in the second part of the book, the scientist ponders the course of human history with might and main. But his reflections automatically raise all kinds of political and moral questions to which, as Wade had previously assured us, the theory of human evolution supposedly cannot lead us in any way.
The diversity of human tribes, Wade says, is underpinned by a genetic basis; it is this factor that prevents the formation of nations in most countries in Africa and the Middle East. On this basis, Wade argues that the war in Iraq was a completely predictable act of insanity, since the modern Western democratic system cannot be implanted among the tribes inhabiting Iraq. Thus, Wade cannot help but see that the science that studies human origins actually leads to moral and political consequences.
And so we see that the war in Iraq has really become an act of madness, and modern Western-style democracy has not been able to take root there. But in order to substantiate this point of view, it was not at all necessary to bring the genetic basis for tribalism. As Wade himself admits, different groups of people with a similar genotype can adapt to the environment in their own way. Thus, Japan has gone from isolationism to openness and Westernization; overcoming fanatical and nationalist-tinged militarism, this country made the transition to a consumer economy and democracy - and all these changes have taken place in just a hundred years. But at the same time, Japan has never ceased to be a traditional and ethnocentric society, which has never forgotten what "loss of face" means. But most importantly, Wade will not be able to provide any evidence to support his argument that the desire for tribal isolation is in the genes of some people, while others do not. Proving that genetic differences have been a critical factor in social development will require a deeper knowledge of the genetic basis of behavioral differences (and we do not have such information, which Wade is well aware of).
Similar difficulties arise with proving some of the other theories that justify historical development with the help of genetics, which Wade speaks with approval. For example, he liked Gregory Clarke's argument that the Industrial Revolution in England was the result of behavioral changes in the population. Clarke says that in the Middle Ages, rich English families had more children than poor people. As a result, over the centuries, a significant part of the population of England began to be the descendants of those who were once able not only to receive wealth, but also to keep it in their hands. But why, then, a similar situation was not observed in China, Egypt, Persia, as well as in other societies in which civilization existed much longer than in England, and these societies were much closer to the "Malthusian trap"? There may have been significant genetic differences between people living in the pre-agricultural era and sedentary civilizations, which are undoubtedly worth studying; but all these hypotheses need to be tested very seriously before jumping to conclusions and extending them to the whole of human history.
Wade devotes many pages to the problem of dividing humanity into racial groups characteristic of different continents. Nevertheless, the author was unable to adhere to this "continental scheme": he cannot decide on the answer to the questions about whether the inhabitants of Northeast and Southeast Asia belong to the same group. Should the residents of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia be distinguished into separate groups? And most importantly, he first deals with classification, and then understanding, as if he is putting a cart in front of a horse: given Wade's interest in explaining behavioral differences, it would be worthwhile to first identify individual ethnic groups with similar behavioral characteristics, and then find out if they have common ancestors, and find examples of other types of evolutionary adaptation (as, for example, among the inhabitants of Tibet and the Andes). Instead, Wade begins to group peoples according to the principles of "common sense," and then tries to provide explanations for behavioral differences, many of which are themselves not well defined.
Interestingly, the hypothesis put forward by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending (i.e., the hypothesis of a high IQ in Ashkenazi Jews), Wade greeted with slightly less enthusiasm than those put forward by Clarke. The Cochran-Hardy-Harpending hypothesis is that the high level of mental development of Ashkenazi Jews is due to a combination of factors such as the small size of the Jewish community in northern and central Europe at the end of the Middle Ages, as well as the desire of these Jews to engage in usury. It was these factors that shaped the need for high intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews, especially of the kind that would facilitate the perception of abstractions and work with them. In addition to mentioning a high level of intelligence, Cochran, Hardy and Harpending also point to genetic diseases (according to Mendel), most often found among Ashkenazi Jews and due to the growth of nerve fibers. According to the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending hypothesis, these genetic diseases are a by-product of exposure to the factors listed above.
The Cochran-Hardy-Harpending hypothesis is too speculative. As Stephen Pinker pointed out in his critical article published in The New Republic, its validity depends on the correctness of a number of as yet unproven sub-hypotheses in history and biology. It is for this reason that the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending hypothesis, like any other hypothesis with so many vulnerabilities, will not be so easy to resist. But compared to many of the other theories chosen by Wade, the merit of the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending hypothesis lies in the falsifiability (according to Popper) of a causal relationship between genetic mutation, biological change, and behavioral effect.
However, believing that the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending hypothesis "works" only to a limited extent, Wade nevertheless believes that the implantation of literacy by Talmudic Judaism could indeed lead to the emergence of an ethnic group whose members became highly intelligent and could contribute to the evolution of others. peoples.
Now about the main drawback of Wade's book. Instead of carefully collecting evidence, the author prefers abstract reasoning about the general course of human history. In this sense, the book "Troubled Legacy" paradoxically resembles one of the works she criticized - Jared Diamond's book "Guns, Germs and Steel", in which you can also find some poorly developed ideas (for example, the contribution of domesticated animals to the development of civilization), claiming to explain a wider range of phenomena.
But the problem lies not only in the persuasiveness of Wade's reasoning when he speaks of historical events, but also in his claims that the science he popularizes does not generate any moral or political consequences. Compared to other civilizations, Wade believes, the West has the most powerful creative potential, which is explained by genetically determined behavioral characteristics. This conclusion, of course, testifies to the fact that racial theories in one way or another cannot but affect our morality. If this property of Western civilization, as Wade believes, arose thanks to the social-Darwinian forces operating in the Middle Ages, then his theory, of course, begins to throw up arguments in favor of the truth of eugenics.
If Wade turns out to be right and the differences between ethnic groups are really significant, then stronger argumentation will be required to refute racial theories that were very popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as to prove that no ethnic group is superior to the other. … How can you not recall the following thought of Abraham Lincoln: it is natural for a person to exalt himself and belittle others, but he does not like to have stronger and more intellectually developed people belittle him; therefore, the most important equality is moral equality. If we say that inequality is a natural property of people, then this fact should cause, rather, human sympathy, and not racism: in particular, it can serve as a powerful basis for countering meritocratic delusions, according to which it is believed that, they say, in relations between people just need to treat each other fairly (not sympathy) and have equal opportunities for competition.
Now about eugenics. It would be nice if Wade emphasized the following idea: universal adaptation, that is, universal human fitness does not exist at all; for the sake of some adaptive mechanisms one has to sacrifice others. The main reason for diversity is that we don't know what kind of adaptive mechanisms we will need in the future; the main argument against eugenics is that we do not know which properties we will lose in the future. Moreover, from the point of so-called "common sense" the concept of fitness is inevitably a product of our own (possibly genetically determined) preferences. What we seemingly like now and is most suitable for the future may have nothing to do with our fitness.
It is a pity that Wade has largely focused on historical concepts in his book, while there are many other areas in which the science he touted could actually be of practical use. For example, it would be very useful for physicians to study the characteristics of diseases and their treatment in various ethnic groups; it would be helpful for psychologists to understand that not all people are cognitively like American students; It would be useful for teachers to have an understanding of the learning characteristics of different ethnic groups, and based on this information, develop recommendations for teachers, taking into account a specific ethnic group.
At present, science has achieved great success not at all because it promises to create some kind of another "theory of everything" that can explain the universe, but thanks to thousands of small scientific discoveries - these small steps that help not only man to adapt to the world around him, but also to adapt the surrounding world to man for the prosperity of all mankind.
Figuratively speaking, the assumption that in terms of cognitive and behavioral characteristics all groups of the human family are identical is not even a window that can be broken, but a real wall on the path of progress. As science discovers new and new facts confirming the difference between human populations from each other, this wall becomes less and less strong, but a new wall is gradually being built to replace it. However, we should not assume that the new walls erected by science will please us and coincide with our ideological principles or common sense. You must always be prepared for the unexpected. And be truly impartial.