It isn’t racist to believe in genetic differences

It isn’t racist to believe in genetic differences. By Daniel Finkelstein.

Humans are animals too, after all, so our social organisation, our behaviour, our hierarchies, our urges will, to some extent at least, be the product of our biology. …

Edward O. Wilson

Marxists and radicals, well represented in American universities, saw it not as a scientific hypothesis but as a political attack. Their argument was that human behaviour was overwhelmingly the product of social and economic organisation. Humans were, in essence, a blank slate, one very much like another. If [Edward O. Wilson] was right, then this idea was wrong. If Wilson was right, societies were going to be harder to change. If Wilson was right, people might not come out equal even with all the social engineering in the world. So Wilson simply couldn’t be allowed to be right.

Confronted with an obviously correct idea that reduces their power, what’s a leftist to do?

The weapon of choice in the battle to take down sociobiology was the accusation of racism. Wasn’t Wilson arguing that the problems faced by African-Americans were a result of their biological inferiority? And didn’t he belong to the same intellectual tradition as the eugenicists and the Nazis, obsessed with breeding the “perfect” human?

At his lectures people chanted “Racist Wilson, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide”. Posters called him “the right-wing prophet of patriarchy” and encouraged people to bring “noisemakers” to his talks.

It is tempting to dismiss all this as juvenile student nonsense. The logical flaws in the arguments against him are glaring enough to be funny. It is absurd to argue that biological differences justify discrimination or, worse still, eugenics. And this would be ridiculous even if it were the case that Wilson was suggesting there were differences in abilities or character between races. But he absolutely was not. …

Science is unraveling the genome. Increasingly, we know whether it’s nature or nuture.

Wilson was achingly, obviously right. How likely is it that human beings are the one species whose capacities and behaviour aren’t largely influenced by biology? If every other animal’s behaviour demands an evolutionary explanation, how can it possibly be that ours does not?

And the more knowledge advances, the clearer it is that individual behaviour and capacity varies because our genes vary. Alcoholism, obesity, academic performance, they are all strongly influenced by our genetic differences. Many of our abilities are heritable.

If we ignore this we are making social policy impossibly hard. As the egalitarian and geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden argues in her recent book The Genetic Lottery: “Genetic differences between us matter for our lives. They cause differences in things we care about. Building a commitment to egalitarianism on our genetic uniformity is building a house on sand.

We don’t have to live with the outcome of genetic disadvantages. That would be like saying that although I’m short-sighted I shouldn’t be allowed glasses. But we do have to recognise genetic differences, or we end up denying glasses on the grounds that short-sightedness is the fault of capitalism and we need to nationalise the water industry first.

The left insist that all large groups of people are statistically identical, because it suits them politically. Therefore any differences in outcome, they say, must be due to discrimination — such as “systemic racism”, which is otherwise undetectable. The left claim they can engineer society to correct all such differences. But that’s a PC fantasy based on a PC falsehood.