July 31, 2007

Pinker on Sailer

Steven Pinker's "Inherit the Wind: Our Weird Obsession with Genealogy" is the cover story in\ the August 6, 2007 issue of The New Republic. Here's an excerpt:

In the struggle between society and family, the exponential mathematics of kinship ordinarily works to the advantage of society. As time passes or groups get larger, family trees intertwine, dynasties dissipate, and nepotistic emotions get diluted. But families can defend themselves with a potent tactic: they can graft the twig tips of the family tree together by cousin marriage. If you force your daughter to marry her first cousin, then your son-in-law is your nephew, her father-inlaw is your brother, your parents’ estate will be worth twice as much per grandchild, and the couple will never have to bicker about which side of the family to visit on holidays. For these reasons, clans and dynasties in many cultures encourage first-or second-cousin marriage, tolerating the slightly elevated risk of genetic disease. Not only does cousin marriage amplify the average degree of relatedness among members of the clan, but it enmeshes them in a network of triangular relationships, with kinsmen valuing each other because of their many mutual kin as well as their own relatedness. As a result, the extended family, clan, or tribe can emerge as a powerfully cohesive bloc—and one with little common cause with other families, clans, or tribes in the larger polity that comprises them. The anthropologist Nancy Thornhill has shown that the prohibitions against incestuous marriages in most societies are not public-health measures aimed at reducing birth defects but the society’s way of fighting back against extended families.

In January 2003, during the buildup to the war in Iraq, the journalist and blogger Steven Sailer published an article in The American Conservative in which he warned readers about a feature of that country that had been ignored in the ongoing debate. As in many traditional Middle Eastern societies, Iraqis tend to marry their cousins. About half of all marriages are consanguineous (including that of Saddam Hussein, who filled many government positions with his relatives from Tikrit). The connection between Iraqis’ strong family ties and their tribalism, corruption, and lack of commitment to an overarching nation had long been noted by those familiar with the country. In 1931, King Faisal described his subjects as “devoid of any patriotic idea ... connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil; prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever.” Sailer presciently suggested that Iraqi family structure and its mismatch with the sensibilities of civil society would frustrate any attempt at democratic nation-building. [More]

Overall, Pinker does an excellent job of synthesizing what I've been writing for years, with one lacuna, which I'll explain at another time.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Josh said...

Ok. Lets pack up-and git!

Fylfot said...

Steve gets ink, Steve is excited!

Anonymous said...

Have you read Emmanuel Todd's The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structure and Social Systems ? The Arab world falls under the following of his categorizations (as broken down by a reviewer at Amazon):

5. Endogamous Community Family:
a. Spouse selection: Custom, frequent marriage between the children of brothers.
b. Inheritance: Egalitarian - equality between brothers.
c. Family Home: cohabitation of married sons with their parents.
d. Representative Nations, Peoples, Regions: Arab world, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan.
e. Representative Ideology: Islam.

Eric said...

It's a testament to Gladwell that he quotes you admirably in his story given your prior spat. It also highlights that you make really good, novel, points, and so for all those who aren't as forgiving as Gladwell, try to give them the benefit of the doubt in terms of motive.

Fred said...


That was Steven Pinker quoting Sailer, not Gladwell. As far as I know, Sailer hasn't had a spat with Pinker.

Mark Seecof said...

Pinker passed very lightly over one important concept in his review of human kinship: race. He didn't think or (more likely) didn't wish to review the fact that humans, taken generally, are not all equally related, but tend to fall into a few large groups of "somewhat inbred extended families" (thank you, Steve).

In Pinker's terms, though every person's pedigree collapses, large groups of people (races) still have quite different pedigrees, until you go back very, very far.

"Outside of a small family circle," Pinker wrote, "the links of kinship are biologically trifling..."

Well, they aren't so trifling if you look at the way people behave when they perceive racial differences. Pinker discussed some of the ways people recognize kin. He could have added that people seem to apply a race-based heuristic in many cases-- especially when choosing sides between strangers. Often people will affiliate with others of the same race regardless of (possibly, but not always, harder to discern) social or economic factors.

This makes sense if you figure that genes for cooperative phenotypes will prosper the more if they can advertise, so appearance/ demeanor is likely full of clues regarding cooperation (including misleading clues from selfish traits). Those clues are probably more discernable within races since genes circulate more within races than across them. When it's time to cooperate, humans will often prefer to ally with people of similar race, because they can probably "read" their social cues better, and (back to Pinker) because the more someone resembles your close kin, the more likely your built-in kinship- detecting- facility is to accept him (socially) as kin.

Steve Sailer said...

Right, the point of "pedigree collapse" is that we can't be descended from the whole human race in equal measure, we have to have had some ancestors who fill multiple slots on our family trees. So, we are each more descended from some people than from other people, so we can be assigned to some partly inbred extended families better than we can be assigned to others.

Mark Seecof said...

Well, yes, but Pinker didn't write what you just wrote, Steve. He wrote:

"The same arithmetic that makes an individual's pedigree collapse onto itself also makes everyone's pedigree collapse into everyone else's. We are all related--not just in the obvious sense that we are all descended from the same population of the first humans, but also because everyone's ancestors mated with everyone else's at many points since that dawn of humanity. There aren't enough ancestors to go around for everyone to have a family tree of his or her own. [...] This brings up another corollary of the mathematics of kinship: a single mating between people from two ethnic groups results in all their descendants being related to both groups in perpetuity. So even occasional couplings across racial and ethnic lines can entangle family trees, explaining why humans, that peripatetic and sexually omnivorous species, are genetically fairly homogeneous, despite our worldwide distribution."

That sounds like happy-talk to me. Sure, even one cross-racial mating gives people of different races a nominal "relationship." But in terms of actual, genetic kinship, most people are much more "related" to others of the same race than they are to people of some other race.

This time out, Pinker talks about individuals, about small families, about large families (the 1st- and 2nd- cousin- marrying kind), and humanity as a whole. He omits to discuss the intermediate groupings we commonly term race, which I think is too bad because they seem often to affect the way people behave.

tggp said...

Matt Yglesias' readers have jumped on him for taking Sailer seriously. I wonder how Pinker's peers feel about him citing such a person who is not even a tenured academic or mainstream journalist, but a blogger.

Mark Seecof: I haven't read the whole article, but if he's just talking about Iraq race doesn't really come into it. The people fighting each other are mostly Arabs, with the Shi'ites being relatively recent converts who aren't that much different from their Sunni Arab neighbors. See this from Razib. The major non-Arab ethnic group are the Kurds, who are almost all Sunni in Iraq and actually outnumber the Sunni Arabs, but have long been at odds with them. However, the Kurdish areas tend to be the most peaceful in Iraq.

Mark Seecof said...

tggp my friend (may I call you that?), only one paragraph in that article concerns Iraq. Most of it is very general.

I think Pinker's article is fine so far as it goes but I think it leaves out (perhaps to make it politically publishable) an important part of the story it wants to tell.

Pinker writes about the nature and effects of humans' real kinship and about some ways people can be recruited (into what I, not Pinker) term socially-mediated pseudo-kinship. He omits to discuss race, either as a category of real kinship or as a basis for pseudo-kinship (though social movements call on race quite as often as politics or religion). By this omission he suggests that the concept of race is empty.

If Pinker's readers take away that notion, he will not have served them very well.

Steve Sailer said...


Right, Pinker leaves out the impact of many generations of virtual endogamy on a large scale extended family.

As anthropologist Henry Harpending has pointed out, if he didn't know his own grandchildren, he would have a hard time distinguishing them from the other white children playing on the street, but he'd have no trouble whatsoever distinguishing the white kids from the kids of other races.

Steve Sailer said...


Don't get Pinker and Gladwell confused, for heaven's sake!

Anonymous said...

That is true Mark Seecof.

But Pinker leaves out the big difference between Americans (and Westerners) and Muslims: family formation.

Almost everything about Muslims are alien and outside of American/European experience. Unlike Muslims we do not marry our cousin. We do not form gigantic extended clans as a political force (see Saddam Hussein). We most assuredly do NOT practice polygamy.

Much if not all of the basic conflict between the Muslim world and the West comes from close contact between the worlds from globalization and global trade. The two systems: European/American "yeomanry" i.e. single-spouse marriage, outside family (no cousin marriage), freedom for women, national identity, and individualism allowing the average man the ability to marry and form his own family; and the Muslim cousin-marriage, tribal-clan collective identity, no nationalism, and masses of enforced bachelors due to polygamy and dowries, along with oppression of women; simply cannot co-exist.

THIS complete and total incompatibility suggests it is not religion, nor Iraq, nor Israel, nor Kashmir, nor Thailand, nor the Philippines, nor any other issue that causes the Muslim world to make war upon the West.

Rather it is: Western Individualism, freedom to marry outside the clan, freedom for women (to marry who they want), nationalism (as an alternative to clan/tribal identities) that causes the War. Because Muslims cannot survive as Muslims if they cease to marry within the family. If every man can marry who he wants. If there is no more polygamy. No more masses of enforced bachelors ready for jihad.

That means stay or go in Iraq, it doesn't matter. Israel doesn't matter. The only way to stop the War is either end completely global trade (unlikely) or one side totally destroys the social arrangements i.e. family organization of the other.

After reading this, Steve's article, and let's be fair Stanley Kurz on National Review Online who's made the same points and done some research of his own, I understand why Muslims rage on and on. It's not really about religion. It's about how they organize their families and the West's model threatening their entire system.

Anonymous said...

Sailor has written for National Review and writes for American Conservative, two mainstream journals (i.e they sell them at Barnes and Nobles). Pinker already had a chapter about this subject written by Sailor when he edited “The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004”, which is pretty legit.


Pinker is doing a fine job legitimizing biology and social sciences; let’s not push him too far with race. Having the elite start thinking a little about less taboo subjects like gender or even cousin marriage is a good start.

However I am not convinced cousin marriages are actually an important cause for present day tribalism, rather than a proxy for it. It’s easy to imagine the general low cooperation-low trust mentality of middle easterners being the cause of problems. But I have a hard time thinking about actual examples where cousin marriage IN ITSELF mattered.

A better case could be made with the link being that cousin marriages historically helped maintain clan-based societies that determined the current culture, even though the direct importance of both has declined sharply. Are city dwelling arabs/persians/kurds with weak clan identities really less tribalistic in their political/social behavior?

PS. Don’t underestimate the indirect importance of Islam in this: While there is no specific encouragement of cousin marriage. But it matters tremendously, by restricting natural interaction between young people outside the family. Cousins are the only young people of the opposite sex thy might have interaction with. Or in traditional environments even get a good look at, since women were (in many places still are) covered if in public. It’s not just the clan thing where the family decides, even when they would let the kids choice they might take one of the cousins, both because of interaction and information effects, rather than taking someone you might not even have seen.

For example: my Kurdish grandmother married my grandmother because he saw her once by chance when walking by her house as a conscript (he likes and proposes, they show him to her somehow, she agrees). Otherwise chances are both might have married their cousins, whom they knew.

Mark said...

everyone's ancestors mated with everyone else's at many points since that dawn of humanity - Steven Pinker

With Australian aborigines? With Andaman Islanders? Not for 45,000 years or so, at least. That's roughly 2,000 generations.

As anthropologist Henry Harpending has pointed out, if he didn't know his own grandchildren, he would have a hard time distinguishing them from the other white children playing on the street...

If Harpending's grandkids live in Utah, as does he, then he'd have his work cut out for him - lots and lots of white kids playing on the street.

THIS complete and total incompatibility suggests it is not religion, nor Iraq, nor Israel, nor Kashmir, nor Thailand, nor the Philippines, nor any other issue that causes the Muslim world to make war upon the West. Rather it is: Western Individualism, freedom to marry outside the clan...

Ummmm...no. Whatever the biochemical reactions are behind the psychological impulses, the ultimate motivation, conscious or subconscious, is simple: survive, conquer, and spread your genes far and wide. The Middle East has been a hothouse since time immemorial. Assyrians, Turks, Persians, Mongols, and Babylonians have all added their DNA to the mix, in proportions large or small. Removing them from that culture and changing their environemnt a little isn't going to change that.

How unfortunate for us to live in a time when biology has been outlawed.

Anonymous said...


I'm looking at this comment in amazemenet:

Steve gets ink, Steve is excited!

One of those moments when a man feels ashamed of his sex. A pseudo-male with a worm-like heart. How pathetic!

Steve brings up the issue of consanguinity -- just as he touches Pinker as one of the rare mainstream people touching these politically incorrect issues -- every now and then, and you, a bug human form, get giddy with a perceived opportunity to attribute such pettiness to the guy.

You're definifely a liberal. Such a moth-like mind cannot not result in a liberal.

Even if you consider yourself a conservative, you're a liberal in larval stage. In moth form, you'll grow into a neocon.


P.S. There's also the possibility that you're either Levitt or Gladwell, but it's too painful to consider.

Anonymous said...

The gentlemen who frequent this blog seem to be completely unaware of the fact that "Turk" is a dubious label. Turk as a designator of an allegedly (but hardly) homogenous group is of recent usage (last 85 years, comprising the duration of the Turkish republic). Believe it or not, the Ottoman dynasty (which has intermarried with Greek/Byzantine, Jewish, Russian, Hungarian, etc., lineages so heavily that you'd be amazed) viewed, towards the middle period of the empire, the Turks with nothing but contempt. Turks of genuine Turkish descent were quite a small fraction of the demographics already by then, and were very poor and ignorant, so they called them "ETrak-i bi-idrak," a heavily Arabicizes phrase in which "ETrak" stands for the plural of "Turk" and "bi-idrak" means totally lacking in consicousness.

Ottoman subjects were from a multitude of tribes. Please do a bit of homework on this, and try to leave behind the idiotic assumption that we're the descendants of Genghiz who mixed with towel-heads.

Large sections of the upper classes of the Ottomans were the natives of the Aegean and Balkan provinces invaded by them who were converted by the more or less well known arrangements: stay Christian and pay jizyah, or convert to Islam. An offer quite hard to refuse -- although equally hard to enjoy.

I, as a descendant of an Ottoman family, know none of the practices you attribute to all Muslims: no cousin marriages (our elders always advise us to make sure whoever we've picked as partners be at least seven degrees moved from us); no polygamy (which was practiced only very rarely -- e.g. 0.03% --, mostly by the affluent, and only when the first marriage failed to provide male offsprint (therefore even then after the menapause of the first wife) (I have no one in my lineage for at least the last 2 centuries with any bigamous arrangement); our women/girls can pick whoever they want (in fact, it is expected that they do since we would consider it pretty vulgar to even try to arrange a marital partner to one of our girls); I don't remember any part of the extended family, the whole clan in fact, having any fights over estates, etc.

The thing is -- and that's something that saddens my racialist heart -- during the last 50 years, 2 generations of our women have married to members of tribes with whom my ancestors wouldn't want to be related to: Kurd, Laz, Azeri, even Arab. And that's because our republic, with its "unitarian" and therefore heavily centralized structure, has decided to "integrate" us so that we can have a more nationalistic nation.

What you seem to frequently overlook is, when you try to integrate multiple tribes who have co-existed under an empire, the result is ultra-nationalism. How? Each group is suspicious of the others, each knows the heavily centralized structure of the state means you can only gain access to riches by taking it over and enriching your relatives and cronies. So, the subgroups engage in a one upmanship of who's more nationalistic -- since failure to up the ante is always followed by accusations of "treason" due to your lineage being such and such (not-one-of-us).

To assume that biological relatedness, aloof of the multifarious interactions in such intricate political arrangements, always result predictably in one and only one type of outcome is naive at best. But for groups who have been so homogenous for so long like you, it is understandable that your knee-jerk reaction when you see a national label is to assume that it constitutes either a very homogenous single tribe, or multiple homogenous tribes who fail nationalism simply because they don't mix.

Steve Sailer said...

That's fascinating about Turkish nationalism.

Turkey is a remarkable country that practically nobody in America pays attention to ... other than Greeks and Armenians.

Anonymous said...

How much longer can a Jew who teaches at Harvard last before he teeters over the edge into full-blooded, frank race realism?

Watch this space...

tommy said...

In the talkback section of the Pinker article, somebody made the exact same point I made to you in email before concerning the ridiculous Da Vinci Code: the genome is essentially discrete, so even if we are all related to each other genealogically, we really aren't all that related to each other genetically beyond those things that make us humans. Here is what the commentator said:

It's interesting that in ably explaining the exponential number of one's ancestors, Pinker neglected to point out that this couples with the discrete nature of genes and inheritance to guarantee that you are not related at all to many of your ancestors, once you trace back enough generations.

How so? There are on the order of 2^15 (32,000) or fewer genes in the human genome. So go back 16 generations (400 years, give or take - say to the time of the European settlement of North America), to where you have 2^16, or 65,000 ancestors. Even if assortment of genes during mating were perfect, fully half of those ancestors would not have contributed a single gene to your genome.

Of course, this assume that you had 65,000 ancestors at that remove, which as Pinker's argument points out, is quite unlikely. Cousins were breeding with cousins all along the way, reducing the ranks of your 16 generations-removed ancestors potentialy to the point where you are "related" in the genomic sense to all of them.

Of course, the author is assuming you get exactly one gene from each spot in the ancestral tree--this is unlikely. Also, most genes have, at the very most, a few hundred different alleles so, even if you didn't get a gene directly from an ancestor, there is still a good chance you might have received the same copy from another. All the more likely, if your ancestors are of the same race. Still, each person's genetic ancestry pool can be measured in the tens of thousands.

Anonymous said...

With all respect, Pinker is still at work throwing around typical liberal palliatives: by and large, we are related to so many ancestors that our differences don't matter; just as we develop an incestuous reaction to adopted siblings, we can develop a strong sexual desire to biologically related relatives if we don't grow up with them, etc.

Let me, a non-expert, try my hand at picking these apart:

- You'd think after somebody showing that we, humans, and chimps have a 98% common DNA profile, the "small differences don't matter" would shut up. No such luck. Maybe a more concrete example would convince them: if they'd scan my DNA and compared it to that of say my mother or my brother, I'm sure the differences would be infinitesimally small. How else do liberals think parenthood is established based on DNA evidence?

Assume a scenario like this: you're on a tour with your mom and your brother somewhere down in South America along with a dozen people, and you're taken hostage by a bunch of sadistic killers in a jungle. They want to hold you for ransom, and if the money is not paid at a certain hour, they'll start killing you one by one. Since "we're all the same," it shouldn't matter whether they kill that gentleman from Germany (who turns out to be a Turk) or that lady from France, or your mother or brother, should it?

Let's move a few stages further, and say you three are the only hostages left. It's one of your turn. Who goes first? Hey, it just could not possibly matter, since "we're all the same," so why no you go first? In fact, you could thus sacrificially save time for your brother and mother, and since we're all the same, even if you die, your brother could live your life with the same genetic profile, no?

- As for the sexual thing, what a mess Pinker makes of it. It's the "long tall Sally" trick that Derbyshire mentions here. He takes two extreme reverse cases -- both exceptional, with one (the case of Kathy Harrison) that, if it weren't for political correctness, should have already been classified medically as a "degenerative case" -- and uses them as if they prove that biological selection mechanisms are negligible as contrasted to "nurture." (If you're anything like me, an old fashioned "jerk," you feel nauseaus even by juxtaposing the word "nurture" with the story of a grown woman so utterly fucked up upstairs that she writes a novel exposing a sexual affair with her biological father, but my kind is almost extinct, so you never mind me.)

What liberals don't get is this:

Our bodies are governed by multiple mechanisms which are roughly classified into two: involuntary and voluntary. Blood circulation, for instance, is controlled involuntarily. If you think about it in software-analogic terms, it is hard-coded into the chip. How could it be otherwise? If I had to use conscious thought mechanisms to regulate my blood flow, can you imagine the insanity that would ensue? Having to make umpteen decisions per second just to control every bio-chemical operation going on in my blood. As the joke would go, I can barely do my taxes.

Now consider an incident where my arm is slit by a knife and blood comes gushing out. Could this possibly have been dealt with by an involuntary mechanism? That would have been a terrible design and engineering decision on nature's part since considering the amount of factors to anticipate such an incident and to have an automated outcome, it would take a century to calculate every step.

Which brings me to the realm of so-called "voluntary" acts: acts which -- due to what is called in computer science the "halting problem" and what mathematicians study under "satisfiability" -- are by their very nature stochastic. The realm which is governed by decisions, or so-called human "free will." In other words, the realm of IQ and the g-factor.

The fact that we develop strong attachment to an adopted sibling of a different race does NOT show that biological mechanisms are negligible, or that the mechanisms that regulate that behavior is indiscriminate. (It's amazing how even those like Pinker just can't get over their Jewish paranoia regarding "racism" and deal with this soberly. A Turkish saying: The sanest man in the village is Joe, and we have to tie him to a pole. So much for recognizing evolutionary psychological mechanisms, Mr. Pinker.)

Pinker doesn't even bother to ask: through what cognitive mechanisms do we view adopted siblings as kin? If we have no built-in modules to discriminate people in whom we are to become more heavily invested emotionally -- so that our behavior is regulated to favor this or that outcome in the struggle for survival -- then how is it that even adopted siblings are treated as "family" while others not? If we are so indiscriminate, then how do we develop a "sense" of family at all?

Decision making mechanisms, as the above discussion should demonstrate, are not indiscriminate. To the contrary, behavior for which decisions can be made indiscriminately can be easily automated. It's the processes that require subtle "discrimination" that require "decision making" (cognitive) or "conditioned" (behavioral) mechanisms.

I once wrote Steve that "liberal values" is an oxymoron since "value," by the social mechanism underlying it, is a conservative thing. Same thing here. The fact that we develop strong attachment to adopted siblings, far from demonstrating that our behavior is not biologically determined, only shows the strength of the modules that help us become invested in family. In fact, they are so strong that even partial fulfillment of criteria in decision making mechanisms (such as being raised together although not directly biologically kin) is good enough for their activation and dominance over other mechanisms.

It's dead easy to play with cultural indicators of relatedness since they don't attach to the bone. The funny thing about race is, the guy in this picture is named "Bob Weinstein" (an American film producer), whereas this guy is named "Rasim Basak" (a Turkish basketball player). To still assume (after all the advances in genetics and sociobiology) that this shows that "we're all the same" is sheer madness. This must be the most schizoid belief ever invented.

(A side note: has anybody made a healthy comparison of the "troubles" in homes where siblings are i) all biological, ii) some adopted but of the same race iii) some adopted but of different races iv) all adopted and all of the same race v) all adopted and all of different races? It is not good enough to say we develop a bonding to adopted siblings (of different races? or not?). What matters is the amplitude -- of the attachment and ensuing trauma in case of separation, of the friction and fights in cohabitation, of commitment and sacrifice in decision-making, etc.)

If it weren't for those processes through which we have become hardwired to discriminate who our siblings are, who our sexual partners are, etc., our acts would have been entirely random. Just as we cannot have a Swahili man and a Japanese woman copulate and end up with a Norwegian baby, we cannot say "it's all social" without defining through what part of our cognitive mechanisms we adopt the "discriminating" (i.e. "chosing," "decision-making") behavior: we would treat our mother decently when she gives us chocolate, and leave her house and move to another family when she insists on bathing us. In fact, we wouldn't develop any attachment to anyone -- even to those we're raised with -- and be really affirmative in all our actions. Hey, why should we treat even our adopted brother better than that Zulu woman over at the other side of the pond? That's discriminatory and evil.

(For instance, as a guy, I find it very discriminatory that women don't say yes to me all the time. I try to counter it with "sex is not the answer; sex is the question, yes is the answer" to no avail -- they don't listen. Perhaps we need affirmative action on this so that women shall accept being banged indsicriminately by total strangers to achieve certain quotas. For instance, has Rose McGowan fulfilled her quota of banging a conservative jerk like me this week?)

I don't believe Pinker is indulging in these liberal clich├ęs simply to avoid being ostracized. I think even in his best moments he cannot come to terms with the fact that Jews, a people that shall dwell alone, are obsessed with blaming others with "racism" since after two millennia of life in diaspora it has become ingrained in their behavior to use guilt-tripping others to further their particularist interests. In other words: it's not a conspiracy, stupid; it's an ethny.


Svigor said...

Assume a scenario like this:

Devil's advocate, a liberal neatly sidesteps the entire argument by stating his indifference to genetic relatedness (which isn't important, remember?).

What matters is the amplitude

Indeed. "Every group does it" is such an ingrained human (western?) behavior, I sometimes wonder if it's genetic; It rears its head even among HBD types, even WNs. I think it's safe to say it's default behavior, and will always manifest unless actively resisted by the speaker. Two (smart) WNs were discussing intra-Euro-American conflict recently and one of them made a blatant "every group does it" error.

David said...

Svigor, "every group does it" is not from nature, but nuture. In earlier ages, the default position was "we are the humans (or the True People) - those on the other side of the mountain are not."

Ethnocentrism is the norm among all groups even today. Ask La Raza and the ADL.

Correction: not ALL groups. Guilty white liberals are the exception. This may relate to genetics in the sense that these people are leaving the gene pool.

Mark Seecof said...

A comment on Steve's recent post about Michael Vick drew attention to a story that reflects the racial angle on social coalition-building that Pinker tiptoed around so carefully.

"At his Richmond clothing store, Brown [a black man] said he'll continue stocking Vick merchandise, though others have pulled it from shelves. He likened black support for Vick's cause to the support for O.J. Simpson's acquittal.

"'Black people didn't care about O.J.,' he said. 'But we felt like we finally won.'"

In other words, many people think racial (real- or quasi-) kinship[1] outweighs considerations as strong as: the disgust they feel for a man who tortures dogs; their fear that such a man might threaten humans as well; the risk of provoking customers' anger or disgust; the social distance between, for example, a haberdasher and a pro football star; and the evident paucity of economic interests they share with people like Vick.

Other people quoted in the story feel similarly. Mr. Hardy dislikes rich people who buy land in his "working-class" county, unless they are black like Vick. So racial kinship makes even a zero-sum economic competitor a friend to Mr. Hardy!

Best of all for Mr. Vick, he didn't have to persuade or entice all those people to rally to his side. He made no speeches, sent forth no disciples. Many black people who know Vick only from seeing his picture on TV are acting like his close kin. Each resembles no stereotype so much as the slovenly mother of a young hoodlum who declares to the reporters in the courthouse hallway that her vicious son is a "good boy" who "would never do anything wrong." Racial solidarity serves Vick as well as political affiliation served Alger Hiss or religious affiliation Tony Alamo.

Perhaps Pinker will discuss this effect in some future essay.

[1] Before today I would write "pseudo-kinship," but I have decided henceforth to write "quasi-kinship" instead.