Many people think that racial populations are “equal” with respect to their genetic potential for cognitive traits. On this website, we look at a lot of data having to do with racial differences in various traits to assess the validity, or lack thereof, of this assumption. Sometimes, though, it is important to step back and recognize just how impossible the notion of equality truly is. If the races really are genetically equal with respect to most psychological traits, it is nothing short of an evolutionary miracle, and in this article, I will explain why.
We all accept that the races differ in various ways for genetic reasons. For instance, East Asians are shorter than Africans and Europeans. Certain body types were more likely to evolve in different climates. In response to environmental variables such as UV radiation, we evolved differences in skin color, hair color, hair texture, etc. Some historic populations had cows available to milk while others did not and, so, some populations are lactose tolerant while others are not. Some populations had to face malaria, while others did not, and this led to differences in our blood. The list could go on. This is all utterly uncontroversial.
The races also differ in brain size. This has been shown repeatedly, all over the world, dating back more than a century (Last, 2016). More recently, it has been shown that you can predict someone’s race by looking at the shape of their brain (Fann et al. 2015). Yet, it is supposed that, unlike the racial differences in virtually every other part of the body, these ones are due entirely to the environment. This is obviously a political move. Evolution doesn’t care that genetic differences in personality are politically controversial, it sees the brain as just another organ. If we evolved differences in all the others, we probably evolved differences in the brain too.
In fact, the brain is a more likely site for genetic differences between races than most other parts of the body are. Why? Because researchers have shown that genes involved in the brain are the ones that differ most between the races (Wu and Zhang, 2011) .
“Other genes that showed higher levels of population differentiation include those involved in pigmentation, spermatid, nervous system and organ development, and some metabolic pathways, but few involved with the immune system.” – Wu and Zhang (2011) (emphasis added)
Given this, if anything we should expect racial differences in the brain to be larger than other racial differences. The assumption that they are infinitely smaller, such that they do not exist, is not genetically plausible.
Ultimately, this is just common sense. Populations around the world had different food sources. They hunted different kinds of animals and picked different kinds of plants. They lived in different climates. They fought different diseases. These differences impact behavior. For instance, some animals require more group work to kill than others. Harsh winters require more pre-planning and delayed gratification (saving food) than more temperate climates. The more easily acquirable food is around, the less important working with the group is. The more predators and other humans are around, the more physical strength and aggression will be needed. The more pathogens are present, the more important cleanliness will be. This list could go on infinitely.
And maybe you think one of these explanations is wrong and an environmental difference will have the opposite effect of what I have said. That is certainly possible, but the idea that any one of these environmental differences, let alone all of them together, will have no effect whatsoever on the selective pressures for any mental traits is completely implausible.
And this is all before culture comes into the picture. Once that happens, these differences are magnified times a hundred. In some cultures, being smart is the best way to have lots of kids. In others, physical strength, or determination, or social intelligence, etc., will be the most effective way. The notion that in every culture every psychological variable has the exact same association with fertility, which is the logical implication of egalitarianism, is obviously insane.
That culture has sped up evolution is evident in our own DNA. By looking at our genome, researchers can estimate how the speed of evolution has changed over time. In 2007, a landmark paper was released showing that evolution sped up by a factor of 100 within the last 5000 years, suggesting that the development of civilization, which happened at different times and in different ways around the globe, had an extremely dramatic impact on evolution (Hawks et al., 2007).
Even more recently, we are starting to get some idea of how culture influenced evolution. For instance, a 2014 paper found that England’s “war on murder”, a time in which criminals were essentially sent to die for fairly petty crimes, had a significant eugenic effect on the population in terms of criminality (Frost and Harpending, 2015). And, after all, how couldn’t it? If you kill a ton of criminals every generation, genes that predispose people towards criminality are obviously going to become less common.
My pointing in bringing this up is not to suggest that England is especially non-criminal. Other countries no doubt had similar periods and England has had its share of crime problems in its history. Nonetheless, the “war on murder” is a vivid example of the fact that culture can, and in fact must, impact evolution. Anything that differentially impacts people’s probability of reproducing will. Given this, and given the enormous amount of culture diversity which has existed on earth for millennia, it is, once again, lunacy to suggest that this all led to every population on earth possessing the exact same genetic predisposition for every mental trait there is.
On top of all this, there’s the Neanderthals (and others). After humans left Africa they met, and bred with, other species or subspecies of human. These other humans had been evolving separately from us for a really long time and they are universally accepted to have been different from us physically, and mentally, due to evolution. Some populations bred with these groups more than others, and Africans didn’t breed with them at all. This has led to the races differing in their degree of Neanderthal admixture.
Moreover, Neanderthal DNA is associated with various traits, including mental ones. For instance, one researcher described their findings from early last year thusly: “We discovered associations between Neanderthal DNA and a wide range of traits, including immunological, dermatological, neurological, psychiatric and reproductive diseases.” Specifically, they found that Neanderthal DNA was related to traits like nicotine addiction, depression, and other mental traits.
How is it even possible, you might ask, for the races to differ in their level of Neanderthal admixture and still be “equal” if Neanderthals weren’t “equal”? It’s not. For this, and all the other reason’s laid out here, equality is, practically speaking, a biological impossibility.