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October 06, 2004

Species Traitor?

In the thread on ethnic nepotism Steve made a reference to the possibility of an alien invasion uniting the human species. This collective behavioral response is on display in movies like Independence Day.

But what if it didn't turn out that way? In Harry Turtledove's alternate history series, beginning with In the Balance, where an alien species commences their invasion in the middle of World War II the various powers do unite in the face of a common threat...but the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto ally themselves with the aliens and turn against their German enemies. I didn't finish the series, but though the leader of the Jews of Warsaw had qualms about allying himself with reptilian aliens, he knew that heading a puppet government under their auspices was the only chance at life for his people.

Now, listen to this report about the Israeli incursions into Gaza, are you so sure that the woman who asserts that "tomorrow we will get them, slaughter their children like goats" woudn't collaborate with alien invaders to kill as many Jews as possible? In the long term even if alien victory guaranteed that the Palestinians were chattel, would they take the opportunity to exterminate Jews if that was the price to be paid? Of course, one would assume that the Israelis would react to the changed circumstances by offering the Palestinians a "better deal," but the problem with these sorts of changes to the dynamic is that there is a lot of history and distrust to breakdown. 50 years of perceived oppression on the part of some Arabs might not be alleviated by any redress that an Israeli government looking to make a common front would be willing to make.

Of course, that's all science fiction and "what if." What about historical examples? One could interpret the Greek repulsion of the invasion of alien hordes under Dauris and later Xerxes an example of a common front that the Hellenes put forward when confronted with a external threat. After the Persian Wars were over the Greeks went back to their intercene conflicts. But is the narrative so simple? I am not particularly knowledgeable in this period (my recollections of the Persian Wars date to my elementary school days when I had an interest in this area), but I seem to recall that the Macedonians looked the other way as the Persian army marched through their territory and many of the Greek cities of the Anatolian coast sent contingents to conquer their co-ethnics (some of these cities had rebelled against Persian rule). In 5th century Britain the High King Vortigern supposedly invited the Germanic tribes to help repel raiding parties of Picts & Gaels, a case where an alien group is used to rebuff threats from closely related, but traditionally belligerent, peoples.

All in all, my hunch is the proximate behavorial patterns shaped by the EEA which emphasized near kin relationships and some distrust of tribal neighbors (middle grade kin?) does not scale up to a transtribal context. From what I gather the first tendencies of ancient Near Eastern monarchs was to abstract and expand near kinship terms, that is, "brother," "father" and "son" in their diplomatic exchanges, with a sense of nationhood developing later. On his own blog Steve seems to suggest that within the past 10000 years there might have been changes that selected for a more expansive ingroup-outgroup awareness. There might be something to this, though of late I have become more skeptical of this line of thought as I suspect that there might be physiological barriers (symbolized by the Rule-of-150) on how much socially relevant information the human brain can process intuitionally.

Related: Dienkes has a follow up to another post related to this topic. He also has a post which has a snip of an important abstract:

...To test the hypothesis of common ancestry within these groups, we compared ethnological and genetic data from five Central Asian populations. We show that, although people from the same lineage and clan share generally a recent common ancestor, no such common ancestry is observed at the tribal level. Thus, a tribe might be a conglomerate of clans who subsequently invented a mythical ancestor to strengthen group unity.

Some have postulated that the various tribes of Israel were formed in this very manner. For example, there is some speculation that the tribe of Dan in particular was a latecomer, that it might have been one of the "Sea Peoples" and been of European provenance.

Addendum: Readers should be aware (if they are not) that my persistant argument that South Asian Americans should engage in auto-genocide is pretty self-interested. My personality type and individual preferences do not gel well with the idea of being closely identified with an organized group whose leaders "speak for them." There are others, no doubt for individuals reasons, who take the opposite view. But, perhaps they also believe in "metaethnic" considerations, that is, the train of thought that puts great importance on the idea than an ethnic group and cultural tradition have some independent importance outside of their relevance as conglomerations of individuals.

Posted by razib at 01:09 PM