Day By Day

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Morlocks, Eloi and "Scientific Racism"

This article is getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere, and it should.

From the Daily News:
Human race will "split into two different species"

The human race will one day split into two separate species, an attractive, intelligent ruling elite and an underclass of dim-witted, ugly goblin-like creatures, according to a top scientist.

100,000 years into the future, sexual selection could mean that two distinct breeds of human will have developed.

The alarming prediction comes from evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry from the London School of Economics, who says that the human race will have reached its physical peak by the year 3000.

Read it here.

Most of the attention has been focused on the similarity of this argument to that advanced by H. G. Wells a century ago. At that time "scientific racism" a respectable doctrine. There are actually a few important points underlying that article.

An emerging study in anthropology and medicine is "human biodiversity" which refers to the continuing evolutionary pressures on human populations. The implications of this are disturbing because it repudiates the idea that all men are created equal or that we are all the same under the skin. Couple this with the idea of "sociobiology" or as it is now called, "evolutionary psychology", and the argument is being made by serious scientists that different groups of humans have different innate capabilities and psychological tendencies. This article reflects that new "scientific consensus" -- one that is directly at odds with some of our most cherished beliefs [brotherhood of man, egalitarianism, etc.] Moreover, it lends scientific credibility to racist doctrines. There are real moral and political implications to assertions like this.

As an historian I have long been aware of this phenomenon. The European aristocracy, for instance, increasingly over time looked very different from commoners. Their physical characteristics became quite distinctive. They always claimed that their mental and emotional characteristics were also distinctive -- in fact, that was the justification for their authority [they claimed to be better people than commoners]. Anti-aristocrats responded that the lords and ladies were inherently inferior. Either position recognizes that the aristocracy was a restricted breeding pool that was evolving in ways different from the general population.

The only journalist of whom I am aware who has written interestingly on this subject is David Brooks of the New York Times. He has worried in print that our current system of "meritocracy" is restricting interbreeding among different classes of the population. Rich people marry other rich people, the education system, the hiring and promotions system, and a host of other institutional arrangements ensure that young people increasingly interact with people of their own social standing or that of their parents. Bosses no longer marry their secretaries, doctors no longer marry their nurses, etc. In other words, we are segregating ourselves into distinctive, class-based breeding pools that will diverge evolutionarily. Meritocracy was supposed to produce an ever churning rule by the most talented people -- "the best and the brightest" [the Clintonians, like the Kennedy crowd, in their insufferable arrogance, used to use that term to describe themselves -- maybe they still do]. Instead meritocracy is producing a self-perpetuating professionalized upper class.

The great middle-class ideal was the idea that all men are created equal and that divergence is due either to fortune or commitment. The old aristocrats claimed that differences were inherent and inbred. Are we going back to that? Many "scientists" seem to be tending in that direction.

This is why I am sympathetic to the notion that "scientific" authority must be balanced against political, economic and moral concerns.


Thanks to the father of five for pointing me to this article.


John Hawks demonstrates that the Daily News article makes absolutely no sense in terms of population genetics. [here] The human race as a whole will never split into two species, one pretty the other ugly. However, my larger point -- that custom, social differentiation, and the like can produce restricted breeding populations that over can diverge from the general population physically and perhaps cognitively -- still holds.