It seems to me that the notion that race is a social construct, a view that largely took hold among social scientists after I had already left college, is fated (as Trotsky memorably said of the Mensheviks) to the dustbin of history. I don’t believe that it can survive the combination of the mapping of the human genome and genetic testing. That the subject to which Robert VerBruggen turns at RealClearScience, reviewing a book titled A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History:
It’s an important book. It should demolish the idea that race is nothing whatsoever but a “social construct” and jumpstart a conversation about human history. But unfortunately, A Troublesome Inheritance does not equip readers to deal with the broader ramifications of the claims it makes: Though such concerns are arguably outside the realm of science, these theories have the potential to inflame racial prejudices, and Wade’s attempts to address this fact leave much to be desired.
I certainly hope it doesn’t “jumpstart a conversation”. “Conversation” has become an auto-antonym, a word that means both one thing and its opposite like “inflammable”. The dictionary definition of “conversation” is an informal exchange of ideas using speech. It now also means a sermon issued by one person or group to another, very much the opposite of the dictionary definition.
What I hope it jumpstarts is reflection.
Investigations into racial differences have a bad pedigree. They’re frequently used as cudgels to beat some despised group or other with. For example, Mr. VerBruggen repeats one of them:
Wade also digs into Jewish history, relaying theories that the religion’s emphasis on literacy — a skill with little practical value in a farming society — may have driven the less intelligent to join Christianity instead, and that European Jews’ being highly concentrated in intellectually demanding professions like moneylending may have further contributed to increased IQ.
I’m skeptical of that. IMO a more productive investigation might be comparing urbanized Jews with rural Jews or middle class Jews with lower class Jews. My suspicion is that the cultural and social factors overwhelm the genetic ones.
I think that’s the case with cross-racial comparisons of intelligence, too: the variations within races are much more significant than those between races. A prudent society would promote its citizens making the best use of their gifts, regardless of gender (in the case, for example, of the Middle East) or race. That race and gender continue to matter suggests that we continue to have a long way to go.