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September 29, 2004

Dissin' Dawkins

Richard Dawkins' latest column on race makes some decent points regarding racial classification, makes a few, perhaps surprisingly "conservative", political suggestions, is ambiguous on the topic of racial differences, and makes a few irrelevant and probably wrong points (the average "man on the street" could probably not, contra Dawkins, tell apart random samples of sub-Saharan Africans and Papuans, although this is meaningless). One thing this column did not mention, however, and I'm not sure why it should have, was the meaning of racial prejudice in modern human societies. If it's a sin of omission to not talk about possible race differences or the origin of racism in every possible public discussion of race then I imagine Dawkins is a sinner. This is certainly the feeling I got reading Steve Sailer's Vdare comments on Dawkins' article, in which Dawkins is accused of political bias, political correctness, and apparently even scientific betrayal!

Dawkins' essay shows that even being Numero Uno doesn't make you a clear thinker about a scientific topic-if you allow your political prejudices to murk things up.

. . .

Why do people care so much about who is related to whom? Because, as Hamilton's logic showed, that's toward whom they are more nepotistic (i.e., altruistic). In turn, ethnocentrism, nationalism, and racism are essentially the inevitable flip side of nepotism. If people discriminate in favor of their relatives, they are going to discriminate against their non-relatives. By refusing to think about this because it's politically incorrect, Dawkins is betraying the great Hamilton's legacy.


If by "refusing to think about" Steve literally means Dawkins has ignored this subject in his writings then he is, without doubt, incorrect (as will be demonstrated below) and should probably retract these harsh words. But if by "refusing to think about" Steve simply means that Dawkins just doesn't agree with/promote the exact same evolutionary theories of racism that Steve Sailer does, then he is being utterly over-zealous. Dawkins has rejected some ideas about kin selection that Sailer seems to support, but if smears such as “political correctness” and “political prejudice” mean anything at all, I think Steve has an obligation to respond to the precise criticisms made by Dawkins rather then pretending that they don’t exist (or even worse, not knowing that they do).

I will expand on this but first of all has Dawkins really - literally - "refused to think about" how kin selection may help explain racism? Consider these words straight from The Selfish Gene:

"Blood-feuds and inter-clan warfare are easily interpretable in terms of Hamilton's genetic theory"

. . .

"If animals had a tendency to behave altruistically towards individuals who physically resembled them, they might indirectly be doing their kin a bit of good. Much would depend on details of the species concerned. Such a rule would, in any case, only lead to `right' decisions in a statistical sense. If conditions changed, for example if a species started living in much larger groups, it could lead to wrong decisions. Conceivably, racial prejudice could be interpreted as an irrational generalization of a kin-selected tendency to identify with individuals physically resembling oneself, and to be nasty to individuals different in appearance".

pgs. 99-100


So Dawkins clearly does think about these topics and they haven’t really been ignored because of ‘political correctness’ or any other reason. This leaves only the second option, that Steve thinks Dawkins is being unscientific by not adequately promoting something, something allegedly proven by William Hamilton, but what is it? From Sailer’s same article:

Unfortunately, Dawkins still doesn't want to understand the human implications of what Hamilton was driving at with his theory of kin selection: that humans naturally tend to discriminate in favor of relatives, and a racial group is simply a partly inbred extended family. (See my essay "It's All Relative" for a full explanation.)

Ah, so human racism is modeled by Hamilton’s theory of kin selection, and Dawkins is denying (we’ve already debunked ignoring) this fact because he is a coward? But does Hamilton’s theory of kin selection really tell us about how an Asian and an African should react to eachother? Dawkins, as well as many other names you have probably heard of, has commented on this interpretation of Hamilton, and I’ll present their comments later, first though a quick summary of “Ethnic Nepotism” the first major application of kin selection to human race relations.

Sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe’s book The Ethnic Phenomenon was an early and note-worthy attempt to describe ethnicity through a biological paradigm, mainly by putting it in the context of an extended family. While ‘ethnicity’ is usually defined by the property of “metaphoric or fictive kinship” between people of a shared cultural group, van den Berghe noted that the endogamy of shared cultural groups would to some extent create real genetic patterns of kinship overlapping and correlating with the fictive sentiments. Steve Sailer’s later description of a racial group as “an extended family that is inbred to some degree” owes much to this earlier description by van den Berghe of an ethnic group as a sort of greatly extended family. Van den Berghe’s next idea was the application of Hamilton’s kin selection - the selection pressure for altruistic behavior in animals towards close relatives – to this idea of ethnic groups as families to form a biological theory of ethnocentrism. Van den Berghe argued that the strength of evolved altruism in man and animals depended on the coefficient of relatedness, with altruistic behavior more likely directed towards kin than towards non-kin and towards close kin than towards distant kin. Since ethnic group members are, on average, more genetically related to co-ethnics than they are to members of other ethnic groups, and since the strength of altruistic behavior is determined by the coefficient of relatedness, ethnocentrism is a predictable outcome of kin selection. Ethnic group members should be expected to exhibit more altruism to fellow ethnics than to members of other ethnic groups because they share more genes with co-ethnics than with out-ethnics. Van den Berghe called this behavioral impulse “ethnic nepotism”. It can also be called “extended kin selection”.

The largest problem with Pierre van den Berghe’s theory of ethnic nepotism is that it is fundamentally in contradiction with kin selection, and I would consider it a mistaken argument for group selection. For this reason you can be sure that Richard Dawkins has challenged this idea. Not only that, but we can also be sure that he has not challenged this idea because it is “politically incorrect”. How? Because the context in which these ideas were challenged by Dawkins were made before race was ever associated with them. The major fallacy of van den Berghe’s theory was first made by anthropologist Simon Washburn, not a supporter of sociobiology but a critic of kin selection, and not in the context of race or ethnocentrism, but of species-wide/inter-species altruism. Washburn argued in 1978 that kin selection didn’t make sense because “Individuals whom Sociobiologists consider unrelated in fact share more than 99% of their genes” therefore if shared genes were really the reason for altruism then all humans would be altruistic to each other, and probably to the great apes as well . . . and for that matter – as Margo Wilson and Martin Daly have wryly commented – selection would have also favored altruism towards monkeys over dogs and mosquitoes over marigolds. In Richard Dawkins 1979 paper Twelve Misunderstandings of Kin Selection this earns the illustrious position of number 5 and is named as follows: “an animal is expected to dole out to each relative an amount of altruism proportional to the coefficient of relatedness”, precisely van den Berghe’s mistake, and lives on under the title of “Washburn’s Fallacy”. Washburn’s Fallacy is when the r variable in William Hamilton’s theoretical equation is misunderstood as ”the probability or proportion of genes shared in common between two individuals.” As J. Maynard Smith clarified in his original definition of the term though, kin selection can only account for altruism toward close kin, that is kin selection operates not by an absolute percentage of shared genes but as a probability of sharing the same genes from the same recent ancestor. We’re entering the domain of the same problems faced by Wynne-Edwards – genes in animals that spread their nepotistic altruism thin down to the ninth and twelfth cousin would be over-run by genes that just had animals give all their favors to immediate off-spring. Dawkins clarifies in The Selfish Gene how the driving force in kin selection is not overall genetic similarity but evolutionary stability:

"Kin selection is emphatically not a special case of group selection . . . If an altruistic animal has a cake to give to relatives, there is no reason at all for it to give every relative a slice, the size of the slices being determined by the closeness of relatedness. Indeed this would lead to absurdity since all members of the species, not to mention other species, are at least distant relatives who could therefore each claim a carefully measured crumb! To the contrary, if there is a close relative in the vicinity, there is no reason to give a distant relative any cake at all Subject to other complications like laws of diminishing returns, the whole cake should be given to the closest relative available."

Pg. 290

To quote myself from a debate with a White Nationalist on another forum who claimed using this same model that “The theory of kin selection . . .demonstrates that ethnocentrism is obviously an adaptive trait”:

Kin selection is the mechanism through which altruism towards close relatives evolves. As Dawkins points out, kin selection is not a mechanism for some infinite behavior of expanding genetic favoritism, (which would actually contradict the possible benefit of close relatives and therefore nullify any kin selection!) for the reasons addressed in the cake problem, and thus [this model] couldn't be adaptive. Ethnocentrism may be adaptive, but the theory used to describe how can't be kin selection. Feel free to explain a new process, even one with similarities to kin selection, by which conflict with relatives of an arbitrary distance could have been selected for. Please keep in mind while doing so the conditions of the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness

Although Dawkins presented these arguments divorced from any reference to the ethnocentrism theories, later he did apply them to this subject after Stephen Rose and some neo-nazis claimed kin selection supported racist ideas (Dawkins, R. “Selfish genes in race and politics.” Nature 289: 528). But you’ll note that both interpretations of Sailer’s statement - that Dawkins refuses to think of the race related implications of kin selection because he’s too politically correct - are wrong. First, I have shown at least two different places where Dawkins has demonstrably thought about how kin selection might apply to human race relations (and I by no means have dug very deep), so this statement must be retracted. But if the point of the statement was that Dawkins hasn’t really thought about the implications (i.e. accepted “Washburn’s Fallacy”), than this is ludicrous. Why is a scientist obligated to accept/promote a theory which he has presented satisfactory arguments against? Further, the idea that Dawkins rejects these theories of ethnocentrism simply because they are too ‘politically incorrect’ seems to be contradicted by the fact that he rejected their theoretical foundation (a bastardized version of kin selection) before it was ever clearly linked to race, or touchy social subjects, in any way.

“Political Correctness” is of course the obvious accusation because the camps of people who represent the two sides of this idea split almost cleanly down the line of those, well, politically correct* evolutionary psychologists who have dedicated themselves to human similarities and who are mostly politically liberal and those stridently politically incorrect psychologists who dedicate their research to racial differences and are right-wing in their political dedications. The most clear example of this is well-known evo psych author Robert Wright’s Slate article, where he re-christens Washburn’s Fallacy as “the National Review Fallacy” after Richard Lynn’s negative National Review review of The Moral Animal (Lynn, like Sailer, criticizes Wright for omitting discussion of this theory).

Other familiar evolutionary psychologists such as Margo Wilson and Martin Daly and John Tooby have commented on this theory squaring off with familiar (infamous?) names from the racial differences camp such as Lynn’s IQ and the Wealth of Nations co-author Tatu Vanhanen, the above mentioned Kevin Macdonald, Phillipe Rushton, and ethno-state advocate Frank K. Salter **.

“Political correctness” is the easy reason to give for Dawkins position because it precludes the need for argument and refutation, simply by associating it with a perceived camp that has allegedly fudged the numbers more times in the past (as I admit some evolutionary psychologists have done on the unpopular subject of race). But, as usual, you will not find the correct answer simply by knowing the color of the other team’s shirt.

I plan on making a follow-up post or two on this. If not with further comment on ethnocentrism then on further comments which have been made about atheism.

Update: Interested readers should check-out Ingo Brigandt's The Homeopathy of Kin Selection for a fuller critique of Ethnic Nepotism.

For Steve Sailer's response, complete with Hamilton quotations, look in the comment box below, or read his new column: Where Dawkins Fears To Tread: Ethnic Nepotism And The Reality Of Race.

*Surely this isn’t purely invective, after all it is widely accepted that the shift from Sociobiology to the more family-friendly Evolutionary Psychology was a make-over of sorts for the beleaguered discipline. Defenders of the Truth documents how even E.O. Wilson seemed to become a persona non grata around those parts (see page 363): offending an entire HBES conference by committing the (evo psych over-promoted) “naturalistic fallacy” by suggesting that empirical discoveries about human nature might (Gasp. Faint.) have applicable uses in human political arrangements! Similarly, John Tooby’s Slate suggestion that Kevin MacDonald wasn’t really an evolutionary psychologist after his Trilogy on Judaism (despite the fact he was the HBES secretary!), and his less-racist-than-thou comment that Stephen Jay Gould’s views on group selection were "alarming", shows that image management truly is a priority to the mandarins of the repackaged discipline.

**Of course the names don’t always fall into predictable camps: famous sociobiologist David Barash, who emotionally called Rushton’s Race, Evolution, and Behavior a “piece of shit” in his Animal Behavior review of the book, seemed to support this theory of ethnocentrism in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Van den Berghe, I should also note, is a vanilla academic liberal, as is E.O. Wilson who also appears warm to van den Berghe’s ideas. I can find no convincing statements from Hamilton showing he supported this idea.

Related:
Ethnic Genetic Interests: Part 2
Ethnic Genetic Interests
Interracial Marriage: Salter's fallacy
Limits to Hamiltons Rule
On Genetic Interests
Green Beard and Ethnic Nepotism

Posted by Jason Malloy at 12:09 PM