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February 12, 2003

Man the animal

Melvin Konner reviews The Blank Slate by Steve Pinker & Darwinian Politics by Paul Rubin. He gives them a fair shake. But a few quibbles with his quibblings I do have....


Unlike race, gender is a valid and significant biological and psychological category, which, despite huge overlaps between male and female, does help us predict some aspects of behavior and mental life.

Well, wait another generation Melvin, just wait....

As we settled into agricultural and pastoral villages, gradually building them into what we are pleased to call civilization, the intensity and ubiquity of group conflict greatly increased. Conquest often entailed slaughter, usually of men. Women, especially young ones, were kept alive for partly reproductive reasons, and this pattern also may have had genetic consequences, although there has not been enough time since the rise of towns for much genetic change. If you doubt these patterns, you can read excellent new research in archeology and anthropology or, to save time, you can just reread the Bible.

Konner refers to activities that will obviously change the frequency of genes in any given population, killing men and hording women, but asserts blandly that not enough time has occurred to result in genetic changes. 10,000 years was long enough for lactose tolerance to spread through much of humanity. It was also long enough for myopia to become prevelant at different rates in different ethnic groups. Certainly, of the more than 6 billion people alive today, we trace most of our ancestry from only a small subset of the less than 1 million people alive 10,000 years ago.

Posted by razib at 07:21 PM




Don't forget the biggest reason people think race exists- the obvious gross superficial appearance differences between groups.

There was obviously some time that passed whereby the different groups were isolated enough to account for these differences. Even if the academicians someday come to a consensus that race does not exist, the people will still use the term to differentiate themselves by appearance.

In any reasonable definition of race, there needs to be given strong consideration of accounting for these appearance differences (much more than even less apparent differences like myopia) due to the profound socio- cultural impact.

Posted by: -R at February 12, 2003 08:10 PM


i brought up myopia & lactose tolerance as two phenotypic differences between hunter gathers and societies based on agriculture & division of labor. but your general point is spot on.

Posted by: razib at February 12, 2003 08:27 PM