"Human Diversity" by Mike Eschman.
I wrote this article for a classroom session
on the nature of racial differences today.
The scientific principals upon which this book rests
is to be found in:
by A Lewontin, Richard.
Scientific American Library.
New York, 1995.
paperback, halftones, index.
TOPIC : The realities of human biological variation.
----Book Review (excerpts) -----
Scientific American Library 1995
A book review by Danny Yee - http://dannyreviews.com/ - Copyright ©
Differences between people or groups of people, and the biological bases
of such differences,
are common subjects for dinner-party debates and mass-media stories,
especially when sex,
intelligence, or race are involved. But popular thinking in this area
is beset with confusions -
perhaps not surprisingly given that such confusions and inaccuracies
are all too common among
scientists and scholars, even in fields such as anthropology. A straightforward,
explanation of the realities of human biological diversity, Human Diversity
a vital need.
it presents must, I think, be high on any ranking of "essential human
knowledge", if only because
bad science in this area has played a role in some terrible deeds.
It really should be in every
25 December 1998
---End of book review excerpts ------------
An Essay on "Human Diversity" by Mike Eschman
Life on Earth is about half over. The first traces of life in
the fossil record are three
billion years old. About four billion years from now, the Sun
will become a red giant,
consuming the inner planets of the Solar System, and extinguishing
whatever life remains on
Earth. Failure is an intrinsic result of living. Among
all discovered species, only .001%
are known to survive today. The typical carnivore genus survives
about the million years.
The lifespan of individual species within that genus tends to be much
shorter. As for individuals,
the outcome can not be modified by intentions and behaviors.
Death is a fundamental condition of
life at every level of organization.
The human family is about ten thousand generations old, diverging into
geographic variants, or races,
fifteen hundred generations ago. Due to the mechanism of migration,
we have remained a single species,
with a common gene pool. In the West, humanity humanity has embarked
on the road to a common culture
and environment. Physical human variation has passed high tide,
and is no longer a significant trend.
Americans defend the equality of all peoples, and, with equal or greater
vigor, the right of each of
us to our personal, religious and ethnic diversity. Make us identical
in every way, and many of us
would lose the will to live. By bloodtype, a black grandfather
from Chicago, a white carpenter in New
Orleans, and a Vietnamese female executive in Washington, D. C. may
be alike, but few of us would have
trouble distinguishing one from the other. The black, or white,
however, might have trouble distinguishing
a Vietnamese from a Cambodian or a Thai. In the case of identical
twins, the parents are usually able to
distinguish between the pair with ease. That same couple might
have trouble "separating" another couples'
twins. That difficulty would vanish, however, if the similar
offspring differed in sex.
What factors account for the ability to perceive individuality at a
glance? Why is this ability common
within social groups, but rarely across them?
Three factors may account for this.
First, social conditioning.
Second, sex and gender differentiation.
And, third, modern concepts of individuality.
Society trains us to assign meaning to individual variation, and to
make decisions about what
differences are to receive attention, particularly when an unfamiliar
group is being evaluated.
By this process, objective differences between the groups are developed
By this process, objective differences between the groups are developed
These differences may be physical, linguistic, or in terms of social
power. They eventually
extend to patterns of sickness and mortality.
"The inequalities of status, wealth, and power in the world are not
distributed at random.
There are poor and rich nations, and, within nations, social classes
to which families
belong for many generations. In the United States, social class
is confounded with race
and ethnic origins. The existence of permanent hereditary underclasses
is even more of a
challenge to political notions of freedom and equality than is inequality
Americans are uncomfortable with the notion of a caste system, and want
an objective basis to
order classes within society. We believe mental ability gives
us a "golden mean". We have faith
in the power of reason. Modern industrial society is based upon
abstract reasoning. As a result,
we constantly test each other for everything, and at every opportunity.
"The important social claim of mental testing in not simply that IQ
tests measure intelligence,
but that they explain the variance in social success." Being
able to identify the abilities
that lead to social success, we could foster those abilities in all
of our children from an
early age. If this were a reasonable premise, we might attain
the elusive "more perfect union"
in the span of a few generations. "Historical statistics clearly
demonstrate that, for male heads
of households in the United States, factoring income, occupation, and
years of schooling, a man of
average IQ from an upper class family has an advantage of 7.5 times
over a man of the same IQ from
the poorest family."
In my opinion, when society is in balance, the richest is able to imagine
life on the lower rungs of
the social ladder with a fair degree of empathy. In the 1700s,
the richest man in town might lose
a daughter to whooping cough, or spend a winter without fresh vegetables.
In the 1910s, the owner
of the town bank might lose a wife to influenza, or step into horseshit
crossing the street, or have
to take a cold water bath. When the Black Plague finally subsided,
the Europeans responded in remorse,
and with considerable relief, by creating the banking system, and,
in the process, the middle class,
which the whole world wants to join today. So much death gave
them a new appreciation of the life about
them, for a time.
In today's world of private health insurance, freeways and suburbs,
it is not unusual to be insulated
from community. Many come to believe that community is a series
of temporary partnerships, based on
convenience. Once that view is adopted, wealth is focused on
maintaining the isolation.
In the process, children of the poor get damaged. Stereotypes
are born. This is unfortunate.
Improper nutrition causes permanent damage in individuals, as does
inadequate medical care.
It's not something you can make up for later, if you have a change
of heart. But when those children
are also denied love, you produce adults that "push back" in really
unpleasant ways. Of course,
that reinforces the urge to isolate. In the end, it might be
more like Hitler's Germany, than like the
country our grandparents grew up in.
Stereotyping is dangerous, as it is self-perpetuating. Once you
let it loose, there's no putting it
back in the box. I can't think of a single human stereotype that
hasn't generated at least a pound of
misery for each ounce of good it may convey.
Sex and Gender Differentiation.
If you go to a friend's house to pick a puppy from a litter, you might
hold each puppy in your hand,
inspecting the puppy's bottom to determine its sex. What work
for a pet would cause serious problems
with work or school mates! With your mates, it is better to LOOK
for signs of breasts, or beards.
Being male or female is a matter of sperm and eggs, not a matter of
bras and facial hair. These
secondary characteristics, gender identity traits, are used to regulate
social behavior. We insist,
even demand, that men and women are fundamentally different, in areas
far removed from reproduction.
"It is connonplace to say that the differences between boys and girls
is genetic. Yet sex has no
heritability, in the sense that height does. Tall parents may
have tall children, and short parents
may have short children, but every boy and girl must have one parent
of each sex. Nor has anyone
discovered a gene that is present in one sex, but not in the other.
The social reality of sex is
that there are differences in self image, in power, in social roles,
in the distribution of males
and females by occupation, by personality type, and by causes of sickness
As children, our parents and families create a framework for our social
lives. A fundamental part
of the framework is gender identity, a set of behaviors. Familial
expectations compel children to
adopt specific modes of behavior, which are rewarded by commonly accepted
social responses. "What
begins as a difference in plumbing fixtures becomes a remodeling of
Modern concepts of Individuality.
In an immutable world, past and present are identical. History
does not, can not, exist. Individuals
exist as a part of a community. They have no meaning taken out
of that context. In reality,
individuals are unique. The tendencies that come together at
birth come apart again when that
person produces sperm or eggs.
The systems that make up the world are in a constant state of flux.
"The present must not simply
follow the past, it must be a consequence of it." We ask how
circumstances that dominate our culture
came to pass, and decide what changes will be made. Yes, that's
right. Decide. "The relevance of
the past for the present does not carry over into the future for most
physical systems." In pursuit
of the future, we do not abandon logic. "No matter how useful
it might be for an organism to be able
to fly, no vertebrate animal has ever been able to develop wings, except
at the expense of a pair of
limbs ... Pegasus was a developmental impossibility."
Individuals in a society are able to distinguish various degrees of
individuality among its members
according to a complex set of rules that constitute the fundamental
social pact. These rules are
based on the expectations of each individual's family, the overall
expectations of the community
towards each member regarding reproduction, and the decision of the
community in allowing a range
of variation in individuals.
It is crystal clear that family life is the mechanism by which social
training is transferred from
the community to the individual. Other aspects of the social
contract are not so clear. In
industrialized societies, and more primitive societies where population
has become unbounded,
reproductive roles require consideration and reflection as never before
in human social history.
The way we agree to distinguish individuals by our laws, and our science,
will determine our collective
future, as well as the future of the concepts that our country embodies.
Our ability to forge consensus
based on tolerance and opportunity, will determine if we are a beginning,
or an end. If we rise above
ourselves, for the sake of our children, we may become more than human,
just like Mom said.