On Race and Human Groups

This post should be read first.

Do you want to know what would happen if White Nationalists in the United States actually got what they wanted? If all of the Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians and other non-whites were all removed from the country?

It would be found, very soon after, that religious divisions among “whites” would become much more salient. People would also begin to segregate themselves, or build a social hierarchy with dependencies on hair and eye color, and height. Much like what was going on in Germany during the Nazi era. Modern white nationalists for the most part don’t like to draw distinctions between different types of white people, but even in the absence of government policies in this regard these types of divisions would appear on their own.

I know this because the “races” that are in the bedrock of modern American society themselves appeared somewhat spontaneously, and of course have absolutely no root in biological fact.

This entire interview should be watched, but Coates has a question at 9:55 that I am going to try to respond to.

http://www.cc.com/shows/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart/interviews/sx47nw/exclusive-ta-nehisi-coates-extended-interview

“I can understand what the end of white supremacy would look like. But I’m going to tell you what deeply scares me.  Do you need someone underneath? Do you need someone to play that role?…[referring to a 14th century Europe HIstorian] She said if the Jews were not there, they would have invented them. That you need somebody to play that role….we invent social systems, and we invent  technology, and we invent different things all the time, right? There’s no reason why…just because it hasn’t existed that it can’t.”

Human beings are social creatures. But this eusociality is not without restrictions and equivocations. Their altruism extends overwhelmingly to one’s own clan, tribe, clade, or gang. The “war of all against all” alluded to by Hobbes has never actually occurred. It does not even seem to be possible. Overwhelmingly, what happens is that groups are formed by people dividing themselves along whatever salient characteristics are close at hand, and conflict arises along those lines so formed.

  • How are these groups formed, exactly?

I don’t have the kind of theory that allow me to say I have the answer to this.

  • Is it necessary for the groups to be antagonistic?

No, not in all cases. I don’t have quantitative details on how dependent the conflict is on these variables, but I expect when the population density increases, competition for resources will become more intense. This is one of the primary drivers of inter-group conflict. I think it will be found that when the economy is going very badly, groups become more antagonistic. This has implications for the capacity of global society to deal with waves of immigration from the Global South into the North as the consequences of climate change and the energy crisis, visited disproportionately on developing nations, drive them from their homes (2).

  • On what scale do groups appear?

There seem to be multiple overlays of different categorizations in play: there are religious divides, nationalistic ones, lines by party, etc. though race seems to have a unique power. What has been of interest to me is the restriction that technology seems to place on the size of groups that may form. Before horses and the printing press, and during the time of city-states, I think it was most common for people to divide along familial or tribal lines (1). Larger states dominated by divisions along ethnic and religious lines may have required both. I wonder if the Civil Rights movement would have been possible without television and radio, and the role they played in creating both national scale black and white identities which could supersede more parochial ones. The advent of the internet suggests we have entered a new regime, with new possibilities.

  • Is there anything special about “race”?

I have come to suspect that the reason for the power of skin color, and other more obvious phenotypic traits is simply that they can be determined at a glance, and at a great distance. You would have to communicate with someone to determine their national origin, or to hear their accent. Ordinarily you would have to know someone fairly well to determine in detail their political leanings. A style of dress can be changed readily. The singular, overwhelming power of race is that membership can be determined for total strangers, and prior to any communication. It is nature’s own team jersey. Once the symmetry is broken along this line, though it is subtle, the non-linearity of the system takes hold and dictates the growth and dominance of the schema.

  • There is something sickeningly Darwinian about this.

Yes (3). And I have neglected invoking terms of thermodynamics to describe what is going on when groups form and engage in conflict. I don’t imagine it would sit well with anyone if I suggested the following: That segregation and group formation is a kind of phase separation like oil and water, and driven by entropy. And because it is driven by entropy, asking a society not to do it is like asking a machine to engage in perpetual motion. That they might both be forbidden by the same laws of physics. I’m not sure of this last part. As far as entropy goes, is creating a more equitable society like building a bridge, or more like trying to get a snowflake to last all summer? Only a quantitative theory could answer this.

—————————–

  1. There will probably be more on this subject later.
  2. No matter how bad it hurts, at some point I have to write down what I actually think is about to happen. The worst effects of climate change won’t be that it’s too hot in July, or that there is a very strong El Niño. They will be fed through such a complex system we won’t even know we did it to ourselves.
  3. Sometimes I think the idiots who believe in creationism have actually better anticipated the implications of Darwinian theory, even while they fail to understand Darwin, and refuse to accept the incredibly stark evidence of evolution. Because the creationists refuse to believe the thing when its consequence is so terrible, and evolutionists are just ignoring the consequence. Sometimes I hear stupid shit even from biologists that we are above the kind of competition animals engage in, and that we are somehow above the core principles of evolution. Nothing could be more wrong – the competition humans engage in must only be of a different kind or at some other, non-individual scale and not so easily recognized when it is seen in the mirror.
Advertisements

2 thoughts on “On Race and Human Groups

Comments are closed.