“Ethnic Genetic Interests” Do Not Exist (Neither Does Group Selection)
Just as mainstream wisdom on human psychology and evolution is filled with heaps of rubbish (rubbish which I’ve covered here extensively – see 200 Blog Posts – Everything You Need to Know (To Start)), the space of dissenting voices on this matter is also filled with its own share of rubbish – and worse. I’ve gone over some of it here (The Problem with HBD, the Dark Enlightenment, Neoreaction, Alt-Rightism, and All That Jazz), but one pernicious piece of nonsense is the idea of “ethnic genetic interests.”
In short, this is the idea that natural selection has, through inclusive fitness, shaped humans to favor those in their own ethnic or racial group when members of other groups are present. This idea was formulated by Frank Salter and Henry Harpending, and later discussed by J. P. Rushton. Salter & Harpending (2012) review it:
While much of inclusive theory has been developed in terms of the coefficient of relationship, everything is easier when it is written in terms of the coefficient of kinship. For example the coefficient of relationship, the ‘‘fraction of shared genes’’ is unity with oneself. But what if a person is highly inbred? Then we need some-hing to recognize that such a person is ‘‘more related’’ to himself than the offspring of a random mating or an outbred mating.
Imagine for example that conditions are Malthusian and that one can share a transient surplus with a neighbor, thereby increasing the latter’s individual fitness. If a person can recognize ethnic kin using cultural or heritable markers, he can pick a neighbor with kinship of 0.06 almost every time, corresponding to kinship with a great-grandchild. If at marginal cost he confers some fitness benefit on this neighbor, this is equivalent to increasing his own fitness by 12% (0.06/0.50) of that benefit. On the other hand if he confers the same benefit to a neighbor with kinship 0.06, that decreases his own fitness by the same 12%. Discrimination can therefore cause an action or relationship to yield a 24% difference in fitness. This is an extraordinarily strong selective force, and any quantitative trait that favored ethnic kin discrimination would be rapidly selected with consequences easily visible within a few hundreds to thousands of years.
The gist of this idea is that the presence of outsiders supposedly increases the relative relatedness between unrelated co-ethnics, since (according to the theory) relationship would be judged relative to the total genetic background involved.
The problem is that this reasoning is flawed. The normal way of assessing kinship, the coefficient of relationship, is as follows (from Wikipedia):
|Relationship||Coefficient ofrelationship (r)|
|0||identical twins; clones||100%|
|2||full siblings||50% (2−2+2−2)|
|2||3/4 siblings or sibling-cousins||37.5% (2−2+2⋅2−4)|
|2||half siblings||25% (2−2)|
|4||double first cousins||25% (2−3+2−3)|
|3||great grandparent-great grandchild||12.5% (2−3)|
|4||first cousins||12.5% (2⋅2−4)|
|6||quadruple second cousins||12.5% (8⋅2−6)|
|6||triple second cousins||9.38% (6⋅2−6)|
|4||half-first cousins||6.25% (2−4)|
|5||first cousins once removed||6.25% (2⋅2−5)|
|6||double second cousins||6.25% (4⋅2−6)|
|6||second cousins||3.13% (2−6+2−6)|
|8||third cousins||0.78% (2⋅2−8)|
|10||fourth cousins||0.20% (2⋅2−10)|
As we can see, the coefficient of relationship drops to insignificance beyond second cousins. This is the probability that a given relative of an individual possesses a copy of an allele the individual possesses. This affects kin selection given by Hamilton’s rule (also from Wikipedia):
rB > C
r = the genetic relatedness of the recipient to the actor, often defined as the probability that a gene picked randomly from each at the same locus is identical by descent.
B = the additional reproductive benefit gained by the recipient of the altruistic act,
C = the reproductive cost to the individual performing the act.
When this is inequality is true, the altruistic trait is selected for.
An altruistic allele leads to behavior that makes this inequality true will tend to increase in frequency in the population. All other altruistic alleles will decrease with time. This is the basis of kin selection.
(Though note, the coefficient of relationships given above are for outbred populations. Inbred populations have higher coefficients of relationship, and this forms the basis for HBD Chick’s theory. More on that shortly.)
Salter’s/Harpending’s/Rushton’s idea for ethnic nepotism doesn’t work for this key reason: the presence of outsiders doesn’t alter the frequency of altruistic alleles. The payoff remains the same in both cases. As I said before:
The problem is that alleles for altruistic behavior itself are of interest. New alleles always originate in a single individual. Now how could said putative alleles have grown in frequency if the targets of altruism – hence selection for these alleles (distant relatives or even unrelated people) were highly unlikely to carry it? The fitness of the bearer goes down but the allele does not increase in frequency to compensate.
The reason is simple: if an altruistic act isn’t going confer a fitness benefit when outsiders are absent (thanks to Hamilton’s rule), it isn’t going to suddenly confer more fitness when outsiders are present: the degree of relationship to your co-ethnics is the same in both scenarios, and so is the fitness payoff to you.
Misdreavus gave perhaps the most succinct treatment of the matter (emphasis in original):
1) It is impossible for such a thing as a “race altruist gene” to evolve, because sacrificing yourself on behalf of strangers does nothing to increase the frequency of the gene under any set of circumstances. It doesn’t matter if the frequency of a such a gene “magically” originated with a frequency of 4 in 10 Chinese people. The Chinese who don’t have the gene, on average, would have a higher fitness, resulting in the frequency decreasing monotonically over time.
2) On the other hand, it is entirely possible for complex social arrangements to evolve between completely unrelated people — and the more that strangers have in common culturally (e.g. speaking a common language, sharing a common religion, etc.) the stronger such ties will be. But that has absolutely nothing to do with “altruism”, in the strict evolutionary sense. All participants in the social network either have something to gain (e.g. the help of one’s neighbours during a famine), or at least something terrible to lose (e.g. being sent to a prison camp for insulting Kim Jong Un). And all societies, virtually everywhere, have social mechanisms in place that penalize shirkers, cheaters, moochers, and all other people who do not uphold their end of the social bargain.
3) Once any such social bargains erode away, there is absolutely stopping individuals from betraying their “racial interests” [sic] to enrich themselves and their close kin, or any other people with whom they have arranged better social bargains. Sincere idealists of any stripe are a relatively small minority among any population. The entire sum of human history of a testament to the fact the vast majority of people stop giving a damn about their tribe when the going gets tough — just what do their “genes” have to gain by not betraying important secrets to the enemy army, in exchange for an important official post?
3) Assortative mating is real thing, but that has nothing to do with “racial interests”, either. If you’re a pretty white women who happens to love handsome white men — that has absolutely nothing to do the degree of genetic overlap, especially not if you reject short, ugly white men who are just as related to you. (And before you retort with something like “beautiful people are more likely to have genes in common” — well ugly people don’t seem to be very keen on each other in any society. Why not, similar genes and all?)
And that also applies in the opposite direction — for some people, their best bet really is to mate with someone of a different race, “purity” be damned. Fifty percent is a lot better than zero.
4) Throughout the vast majority of human history, the vast majority of people never even saw someone of a different race. Forget about “racial genetic interests”. That’s like suggesting that human beings have evolved a congenital distaste for three-eyed creatures from the Andromeda Galaxy, during the event of an invasion of Earth by extraterrestrials — except no we haven’t. Sure, the tendency exists, and must be partly rooted in genetics, but it is virtually impossible for it to have evolved that way.
I suppose a key misunderstanding in the matter is the failure to realize that each individual gene contributes to fitness independently. Each gene is “out for itself”, so to speak. It just so happens that in any given organism, genes achieve success by working together (most of the time). As such each individual gene’s “aim” is to make more copies of itself. What’s going on in the rest of the genome is tangential to this. Each gene would be just as happy to mix with any other gene, so long as its own fitness is increased in the process.
But this doesn’t seem to stop some of the sentiments floating around the “alt-right” sphere as of late, especially with the latest “cuckservative” meme. Some of the idiocy is captured with this:
“I would be proud to have a (half) black grandkid”
As I’ve said before:
There is no impact on one’s fitness from the race of one’s mate (or an offspring’s mate) so long as close relatives are off the table as mates (aside from the fitness impact of the particular genes such mates were bringing in the environment in question). The fitness impact to a White man’s genes if his daughter marries a Black man is the same as if she married an unrelated White man (again, fitness from gene function notwithstanding).
Just the same, the inclusive fitness impact to a White American is the same whether he focuses his altruistic act on an unrelated White American or on a Namibian; it is zero in both cases. If you adopt children rather than have your own, the fitness hit to you is the same whether your adopted children are White, Black, Chinese, or Venezuelan.
Of course, all this applies to outbred populations. In inbred populations, something akin to “ethnic genetic interests” operating via kin selection does work – but here, it’s much more proximate: it’s clan interest. In an inbreeding population, the relationship coefficients are high enough that a preference for marrying and/or associating with kin can (and does) develop. It does payoff to favor your extended family over than non-relatives. (Indeed, it does so much than it does for an outbred population. This increase in the reach of inclusive fitness forms the basis for HBD Chick’s theory: selection favors kin altruism much more over reciprocal altruism than it does in an outbred population.)
Hence, there is no human ethnic group that exhibits ethnic nepotism. This includes Ashkenazi Jews. Complex rules on who is a suitable partner for reciprocal altruism can develop, and every society has such rules (who is an acceptable partner, and under what circumstances, etc.). But these have nothing to do with ethnic nepotism, didn’t arise via kin selection, and don’t depend on genetic relatedness per se. This includes Ashkenazi Jews.
All of these brings me to another issue: group selection. Group selection is the idea that traits can arise thanks to selection operating on whole groups. More accurately, that traits can arise that are beneficial to the group despite being maladaptive to individuals and their kin. This does not happen. Greg Cochran explains the basic gist why:
You can imagine situations in which natural selection would favor an increase in frequency for a trait that aided group survival while hurting individual reproductive success – but it’s not all that easy. Here’s the problem: imagine a situation in which some individuals in the group have an allele that causes them to fight in a way that saves the collective – the catch is that some get killed in the process. Members of the tribe that don’t have this allele are saved as well, but they don’t pay the price. At the end of this fight, the frequency of the self-sacrificing allele has gone down, not up. So how can the altruistic allele hang around? How would it ever have become common in the first place?
Self-sacrifice can refer to any fitness-reducing behavior, since any allele that consistently reduces fitness will eventually decline to zero frequency (Keller & Miller, 2006).
“Group selection” in a sense can occur, when one group out-competes other groups because of traits the first group possess. But the key fact is that these are traits that individually advantageous within the group. That is, this sort of “group selection” acts in tandem with individual selection, not in spite of it. In that sense, such selection is really a type of individual selection. This is discussed by Bourrat, 2014 (Levels of Selection Are Artefacts of Different Fitness Temporal Measures). In short, looking at different spans of time can make one confuse individual selection for group selection.
The non-existence of group-selection means that any traits any human ethnic group possesses are the result of individual selection (and on close kin as described above).
This includes Jewish peoples. A common trope in this space is that Ashkenazi Jews have group-selected traits that as aided in their success and survival. Of course, that’s rubbish. Any traits they possess are as individually selected as they are for other groups.
The prevalence of such nonsense beliefs in this space speaks to the mindset of some in it. Most humans have some sort of agenda, and it is fairly normal behavior to selectively interpret/acknowledge fact in such a way that suits such an agenda. But no, you can’t excuse your racism by appealing to ethnic genetic interests. Nor can you excuse your misogyny and other hatred by appealing to specious claims about the sexes, children, or other classes of individuals (see “Manosphere” Community Beliefs: Truths and Nonsense, Taming the “Tiger Mom” and Tackling the Parenting Myth, and Obesity Facts).
One feature of these individuals is a visceral opposition to “race mixing” (ignoring the fact that such gave us the modern races we see today). Well to those guys, I say I’ve been busy spreading my Black (and other) genes into the White gene pool here in Maine:
…and have no intentions of slowing down.
There are of course reasons to favor certain policies – such as restricting immigration from certain parts of the world – that have nothing to do with ethnic nepotism. Indeed, such a policy can be solidly self-interested if one favors a better environment for oneself and one’s progeny and close kin.
Mainstream discourse – as well as much of the human sciences in the West – is unfortunately saddled with a belief in liberal creationism. This is an apt term, since one has to deny many facts to make it work, much as those who deny evolution outright must. Unfortunately, those who buck this trend and speak out against this belief often also harbor their own bullshit baggage. One can only hope that eventually, the most rational minds come to dominate.