Thursday, April 27, 2017
Book Review: A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade
Since joining Mensa (and Japan Mensa) I have met literally hundreds of exceptionally brilliant people. In all of the gatherings, I have always been the only black person. This spurred my interest in studying racial differences in intelligence ultimately leading me to the ‘race realism’ movement and discussions with various alt-right figures. To gain more insight I decided to do more serious reading on the subject. I had already read The Bell Curve by Charles Murray some years ago. I sought out something more focused on biology and evolution. Thus I was led to Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance.
The basic thesis of the book is that there are meaningful biological differences between races that influence not only physiology but also behavior and intelligence. He argues that human evolution has been, “recent, copious, and regional.” By “recent” he is referring to the last 50,000 years, the point in time when scientists believe the first humans migrated out of Africa eventually settling in Asia and Europe. These three groups gradually adapted to their local environments beginning a process of differentiation that would have eventually led to them becoming separate species. The clearest evidence of these regional adaptations is the difference in appearance – skin color, bone structure, face shape, etc.
At this level few people argue the biological reality of race. Where things get thorny is when we examine what evolution may have done to differentiate our brains. Wade dives deep into studies of the human genome and presents evidence of differences between ethnic groups in the expression of alleles that influence the brain. The evidence, though not conclusive, suggests that some of the differences in behavior and intellect between races may in fact be genetic.
With race relations in America as tumultuous as ever, the question of group differences has only grown more relevant. What the national dialogue needs is more clarity, honesty, and courage. Wade brings all three to the table in Inheritance. He engages critics head on in every chapter. He skillfully tackles the "race does not exist" argument. He addresses the legitimacy of IQ studies. He examines the cultural and economic arguments for group differences. Perhaps most importantly, he makes the case for why we must not be afraid of examining human biodiversity. Wade cites several examples of social scientists willfully ignoring evidence of racial differences out of fear that it could lead to unpleasant consequences. Early in the book Wade discusses the reasonableness of this fear by showing how the American eugenics movement influenced Nazi Germany. Yet in spite of this Wade argues that in order to improve the lots of people all around the world, we must follow the science, and the science points to race being a very influential phenomena.
He makes a strong argument. Why would evolution halt virtually all progress 50,000 years ago choosing to change nothing about humans save their appearance? Clearly there is more difference between say Africans and Chinese than just their appearance; under the hood there seems to be some different wiring. Evidencing that this isn’t simply culture is the fact that those differences tend to persist even when these groups are put into different environments and even across generations.
The popularity of websites like Ancestry.com and 23andme suggest that people are actively seeking out this knowledge. People want to know their ethnic heritage. It is the most fundamental of human questions: Who am I? Clearly race is part of the answer in most people’s minds. Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics all intuitively recognize that their race constitutes part of what makes them unique. We see this in memoirs, stand up comedy, and unfiltered conversations among friends. The same is true of sex. We understand much about our fundamental nature by identifying as a man or a woman. I wish Wade had actually tackled the subject of evolved differences between the sexes but alas, that topic needs its own book.
Inheritance is a great read because it is not very long (~200 pages) and yet it is extremely informative. The subject matter does not feel dumbed down, as many science books for lay people often are. Wade’s prose does a lot to help the medicine go down. He knows how to spin a good analogy. Each chapter tells its own little story. The structure of the book is excellent as it leaves you feeling like you are learning something tangible every few pages. One great example of this is in his section on Ashkenazi Jews and how their unique history has led them to a position of disproportionate success and influence in the modern world.
The difference in outcomes among the various ethnic groups is a key topic and one that Wade handles carefully. He walks a tightrope, arguing on the one hand that there are evolved differences that have led some racial groups to greater success in the modern world and on the other hand that no group can claim to be superior to all others. Though you could call it a “race realist” book, it does not support White Supremacism or racial discrimination against any group. Nazi types looking for evidence of the superiority of their Aryan genes might be a bit disappointed by the evidence and history presented here.
By what standard would we argue that Whites are superior to other races? They are not the smartest – east Asians have a higher average IQ and Jews outperform them by numerous measures. They are not physically the most capable - Africans, the 'prototype' and most genetically diverse racial group, consistently outperform them in athletics. They are not the fastest growing – Africans, Indians, and Middle Easterners have far higher fertility, evolution’s gold standard for a group’s success. They don’t control the most territory anymore – Europe abandoned its colonies last century for various reasons. As the Indians and Chinese get better at copying Caucasian economic and technological ideas, Whites will eventually lose their title as the wealthiest and militarily strongest.
The argument I generally get from the Stormfront crowd is an appeal to history - the impressiveness of European innovations and cultural dominance over the centuries. Yet even this is a weak argument. Caucasians dominated for only a few hundred years, far less than the Egyptians, Chinese, and Saracens. For most of their history, Caucasians were at the mercy of their neighbors, lucky to benefit from geographic land barriers and well-timed plagues and civil wars among their enemies. Europeans just happened to dominate at a historically important moment – a technological tipping point leading toward a new globalist paradigm. When we take the longer view of human history, the claim that Caucasians have been the "master race" becomes ludicrous.
So no, Whites are not the superior race. But then again, neither are any of the other racial groups. As Wade meticulously explains, each group simply adapted to its unique environment. This led to the founding of very different cultural institutions. The European adaptations led eventually to the concept of the rule of law and capitalism. White Europeans pioneered the very concept of liberalism and open societies. The idea of the 'melting pot' - the notion that a foreigner can come to a country, settle for a few years, and then enjoy the same standing as a native - this is a uniquely western idea. It is alien to Japanese, Arabs, Nigerians, etc. This concept enticed the best and brightest from other civilizations to immigrate to White western countries, fueling their economic growth. This migration has proliferated in recent decades, perhaps best demonstrated by the illegal immigration problem in the United States and the refugee crisis in Europe. Given demographic trends, it is possible that western civilization may ultimately be undone by its own value system. Or perhaps not so much 'undone' as displaced or transformed.
This would not be a good outcome for our species. Diversity actually is a strength. I strongly agree with the point made by Wade towards the end of the book – that humanity has benefited tremendously from the fact that different races evolved in the first place. Had our ancestors all stayed in Africa 50,000 years ago, we would likely not have advanced as much as a species; we may very well still be living in huts just as the Europeans discovered Africans were a few centuries ago.
I genuinely hope a thousand years from now there are still Africans, Asians, and Caucasians. For this reason I respect the right of people to establish ethnostates – nations that willfully maintain a dominant ethnicity. While I think some migration and miscegenation is also good for our species, I think primarily single ethnicity states can have lots of advantages, as my time in Japan has shown me. In fact the majority of nations today qualify as ethnostates anyway. Whether it is South America, Africa, Asia, or Europe – what you find is that most countries have a single racial group that vastly outnumbers all others. People generally do not seem to take issue with this except for in the case of majority Caucasian countries, which may seem curious but actually makes sense in a way. It is only the Caucasian countries that have espoused a philosophy of liberalism and pluralism, thus people are simply holding them to that standard while not expecting other countries to follow suit.
Inheritance does not prescribe solutions to this or any other dilemma. Wade suggests that there may be evolutionary reasons for why some racial groups (such as blacks) perform below the level of Caucasians by various metrics. He does not make any sort of recommendations as to how to resolve this. There are no easy answers offered here and for that I give Wade credit. A less confident or less honest writer would have opted for some cliched feel-good call to action. A topic this serious deserves better. Inheritance is a concise book to a fault. My biggest criticism is that it does not offer enough evidence to feel very conclusive. To be fair much of that comes from the fact that the jury is still out on a lot of the science. We still know relatively little about how specific genes affect the brain. Inheritance will put ideas in your head, but it will not make you an expert. Still, I liked the starkness of the book's concluding sections. The ending feels like a splash of cold water in the face. It spurs you to think harder about the issues raised. I know I did.