Welcome to the jungle: Unamusement Park explores the Congo (part 4)
Nov 12th, 2011 by Unamused
Welcome back to the jungle. Let’s review.
In part 1, we held our noses, tried to hold our lunches, and took a queasy look at life (short and miserable) and love (nonconsensual) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: airborne crocodiles crashing planes, penis theft by gold-ringed sorcerers, the protective powers of Pygmy sodomy, Congolese military tactics (with an emphasis on shooting 5-year-old girls in the vagina), epidemics of AIDS, malaria, measles and diarrhea, and a typically African birth rate that ensures the cycle of slaughter need never cease.
In part 2, we sat down for a second sickening serving of “unimaginable brutality” (in the words of a UN human rights expert) on the part of those incorrigible Congolese. Whether it’s fistulas or forced incest, cannibals or child witches, sex slaves or soccer sorcerers, or even just a herd of innocent goats languishing in prison on trumped-up charges, the fun truly never stops in the DRC.
Did I say fun? I meant torture.
By the third installment of the series, we’d had our fill of cataloging the utter horribleness of the DRC, and moved on to wild theorizing.
Specifically: given that the Congo is the way it is (horrible in every way imaginable, and a few other ways besides), why is the Congo the way it is?
Two theories occur.
First consider the purely environmental theory of Congolese horribleness: “Today, the Congo sucks because many years ago it was colonized by Belgians, who screwed everything up for everyone.” (It is easily generalized to a theory of African horribleness.)
To this admittedly oversimplified explanation, we may generously add every other conceivable environmental factor besides Belgian colonialism: “Furthermore, the Congo sucks because it’s hot and sticky and full of diseases and brain parasites and airborne crocodiles and venomous vipers and carnivorous flowers and whatnot. Basically, it’s like Jumanji in there. But the really important thing to remember is there are no genetic factors involved whatsoever. Screw the genes. They don’t mean shit.”
According to this theory, you can just forget about nature, because it all comes down to nurture (if you want to call paying $50 to have your child tortured by an exorcist “nurture”). The Congolese are Noble Savages with a Blank Slate between their ears, wholly defined by their environment. They are exactly like us in every way, only (1) darker and (2) so hampered by the legacy of colonialism, the venomous vipers, the humidity, and so on, they’re forced to imprison innocent goats, cast spells on soccer players, torture child “witches,” and devour each other’s hearts.
When is the environment not “environmental”?
At this point, we must distinguish between
- environment as proximate cause, such as a parasite that crawls in your ear while you’re sleeping, burrows into your brain and lays thousands of eggs there, impairing your cognitive ability and eventually causing your head to explode, to pick one obvious example; versus
- environment as ultimate cause, for as a general evolutionary principle, different environments act upon genetic diversity (which is present in all species) through adaptation (or natural selection, popularly known as “survival of the fittest”) to produce observable differences, which correspond to genetic differences, between reproductively isolated populations.
“Observable differences caused by genes?” The pure environmentalist recoils in horror. “That, sir, will not do.” Environment-as-ultimate-cause clearly does not belong in the purely “environmental” theory.
Nevertheless, it must be accounted for. The Congo is a very different environment from, say, northern Europe or south-east Asia, either now or thousands of years in the past. We should therefore expect (again, as a general evolutionary principle) that the human populations of the Congo, northern Europe and south-east Asia (etc.), evolving for thousands of years in near-total reproductive isolation, would diverge in both phenotype (observable traits) and genotype. Eventually, these populations would qualify as distinct subspecies.
In fact, this has already happened. We just call them races.
[human] races could be called subspecies if we adopted for man a criterion suggested by Mayr (1963) for systematic zoology. Mayr’s criterion is that two or more groups become subspecies when 75 percent or more of all the individuals constituting the groups can be unequivocally classified as belonging to a particular group. As a matter of fact, when human races are defined fairly broadly, we could achieve a much lower error of classification than 25 percent, implying, according to Mayr, the existence of human subspecies.
A 25 percent error rate? That sounds feasible. Consider this passage from Neven Sesardic’s “Race: A Social Destruction of a Biological Concept” (p. 156):
a study that covered 17 populations over the world and that relied on 34 different measurements managed to assign 98% of the specimens to their correct major racial group.
(That study: A.M. Brues (1990), “The once and future diagnosis of race,” in Skeletal attributions of race, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, Albuquerque.)
Another more recent study had a success rate of 80% in distinguishing between American Whites and Blacks, although it used just two variables. With seven variables, however, it reached the reliability of 95%, and with 19 variables the probability of correct classification rose to 97%.
(That study: S. Ousley et al. (2009), “Understanding race and human variation: why forensic anthropologists are good at identifying race,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 139:68–76.)
Also, estimating generally the reliability of attributing a given data point to one of the five racial categories, another team of experts calculated that under some realistic conditions it is sufficient to use as few as 13 characteristics to have the posterior probability of the correct classification attain the value of 99%.
(That study: L.W. Konigsberg et al. (2009), “Estimation and evidence in forensic anthropology: sex and race,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 139:77–90.)
Yes, the human races are subspecies of Homo sapiens. They diverged over tens of thousands of years as human populations adapted to their environments (our ancestral geography).
That is why black people, who evolved in sub-Saharan Africa, differ genetically from white people, who evolved in Europe (see for yourself). Again, this is merely what we should expect from general evolutionary principles.
Among black people, those of West African descent, who include virtually all the world’s top sprinters, differ genetically from those of East African descent, who excel at marathon running instead (see for yourself).
Among the natives of the Congo, who are of course black, members of the Kongo tribe (or “ethnic group,” if you prefer) differ genetically from, say, members of the Baluba people, also known as the Luba (see for yourself — they’re way at the bottom).
Race differences in genotype, which we know exist, explain race differences in phenotype (observable traits), differences that would be quite mysterious if race were merely “skin deep” or a “social construct.” Apart from skin color, the heritable traits that differ between races include hair color and texture, facial features (such as the nose, lips and eyes), height, build, bone structure, physical maturation rate, lung capacity, resistance to diseases, frequency of fraternal twins, blood types, lactose intolerance, body odor and brain size. See Michael H. Hart’s “Understanding Human History,” available free here.
The aforementioned traits are all physical, of course, but behavioral traits are heritable too. Evolution does not stop at the neck. The functional development of the central nervous system, like every other system, is based on a genetic blueprint. It may be modified by the environment, but there are limits. In case you haven’t noticed, children are generally capable of learning language, but kittens are not — no matter how nurturing their environment.
In particular, intelligence is highly heritable. This goes a long way toward explaining the observed race differences in the distribution of intelligence (in particular, average intelligence), which we also know exist.
The average IQ of a black African is approximately 70, which is more than two standard deviations below the white average of 100. That is a huge difference in cognitive ability. It is certainly part environmental. It is almost certainly part genetic as well.
Not only is there direct experimental evidence for a genetic component to race differences in intelligence, there is also the fact that black Americans, who inhabit about the best environment available (and average 17–18% white ancestry, according to molecular anthropologists) have an average IQ no more than 85, still one standard deviation below the white average (the so-called IQ gap).
It may actually be as low as 78, since the black Americans with the lowest IQs are probably under-represented in many samples. (Would you volunteer to perform tests of cognitive ability in the ghetto?) See, for example, Rushton and Jensen’s 2010 article, “Race and IQ,” which puts the heritability of group differences in intelligence at “between 50 and 80%.”
The average IQ in the Congo is approximately 65. (This estimate is the median of five observed average IQs, all between 62 and 68. See part 3 and Lynn and Vanhanen’s 2006 book “IQ and Global Inequality.”) Again, some of the gap between the Congolese and white people (or, for that matter, between the Congolese and other Africans) is certainly due to differences in environment (e.g., the aforementioned hypothetical ear-burrowing brain parasite). Again, some of it is almost certainly not.
Don’t blame Belgium
Unlike races, borders are not genetic. There is no Congolese race. But the genetic makeup of the Congo, the distribution of alleles in that population, is not the same as that of neighboring Uganda, and even less like the distributions in France and Mongolia.
This leads to the part environmental, part genetic theory of Congolese horribleness: “Today, the Congo sucks, in part, for the same reason it has always sucked, and will continue to suck forevermore (or at least for several thousand years to come): because it’s full of Congolese people, who are not the same, genetically speaking, as French people or Mongolian people (etc.). So give the Belgians a break already! Geez.”
These competing theories — one purely environmental, one part genetic — were basically what British Member of Parliament Greg Mulholland had in mind when he declared that acknowledging race differences in intelligence was “narrow-minded, intellectually bankrupt and morally reprehensible nonsense” (which I must point out is a complete inversion of reality), and that “[n]ot to acknowledge that much of the problems experienced by African nations are down to exploitation by Western nations over the years and centuries is simply to ignore the reality of history” (The Guardian, 2006).
In part 5, we will see how “the reality of history” crushes, rather than supports Mulholland’s notion that any part of contemporary Congolese failure is due to Western “exploitation.”