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I wonder if there’s a gene for thinking there’s a gene for everything

It’s so predictable. Every time a book on “scientific racism” appears, you can trace its roots right back to the same small number of familiar racists. The SPLC reviews Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance.

Wade bases his belief in genetically-enhanced Jewish intelligence on a single paper, which he describes as “[t]he only serious recent attempt by researchers to delve into the links between Jewish genetics and intelligence.” This paper, from University of Utah researchers Henry Harpending, Gregory Cochran, and Jason Hardy, “elaborates the hypothesis that the unique demography and sociology of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe selected for intelligence.”

That hypothesis is the brainchild of Kevin MacDonald, an evolutionary psychologist and director of the racist American Freedom Party (formerly “American Third Position”), which he founded with lawyer William D. Johnson, who has proposed repealing the 14th and 15th Amendments, replacing them with a Constitutional amendment which reads:

No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race, in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood, nor more than one-eighth Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood, provided that Hispanic whites, defined as anyone with an Hispanic ancestor, may be citizens if, in addition to meeting the aforesaid ascertainable trace and percentage tests, they are in appearance indistinguishable from Americans whose ancestral home is in the British Isles or Northwestern Europe. Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.

MacDonald has published several books arguing that the Ashkenazim eugenically self-selected for high intelligence over several centuries, thus explaining the modern Jewish community’s “general disproportionate representation in markers of economic success and political influence,” and ability “to command a high level of financial, political, and intellectual resources in pursuing their political aims.”

It’s all fruit of a rotten tree, carrying the taint of human xenophobia, and now all tied up in a twisted view of the all-powerful gene. Language Log also has a round up of reviews, but I found most valuable this older documentation of Wade’s gene-centric obsessions. It begins like so:

Nicholas Wade is an inveterate gene-for-X enthusiast — he’s got 68 stories in the NYT index with “gene” in the headline — and he’s had two opportunities to celebrate this idea in the past few days: “Speech Gene Shows Its Bossy Nature”, 11/12/2009, and “The Evolution of the God Gene”, 11/14/2009. The first of these articles is merely a bit misleading, in the usual way. The second verges on the bizarre.

That gene-for-X nonsense is everywhere, and it drives me nuts, too. Although I’ve got to say that Liberman’s hypothetical hat gene does mesh well with my fictional experiences.

Comments

  1. MetzO'Magic says

    Wow. That proposed replacement for the 14th and 15th amendments has to be the most racist thing I’ve ever read (OK, I don’t get out much). Please tell me it’s a poe.

  2. sugarfrosted says

    Interesting. For over a century in the United States the racists in this country painted the Jews and eastern Europeans as dumb. They used a flawed application of IQ tests to establish this (by giving English IQ tests to immigrants who didn’t really know English.) Now the racists claim that people of Ashkenazi descent are more intelligent than everyone else.

    Also that suggested amendment strips almost everyone’s citizenship. The Spanish tried doing something similar in Spain, they stopped when the people in power realized they all had Arabic and/or Jewish ancestors.

  3. sugarfrosted says

    minor edit: …almost everyone’s citizenship, probably even Dr. MacDonald’s.

  4. Al Dente says

    MetzO’Magic @1

    Johnson’s Pace Amendment, so-called because he used the pseudonym “James O. Pace” when he promulgated it, is not a poe.

  5. Prios says

    Wait, fictional? You lied to us, PZ! D:
    And about the sacred hats, too. You’ll never get to be president now.

  6. says

    Saying “It’s a Poe” doesn’t mean it’s satire. It means that it’s impossible to tell whether it’s the real thing or satire, because the real thing is so extreme that satire fails in the face of it.

    It’s not an encouraging thing.

  7. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Johnson’s Pace Amendment, so-called because he used the pseudonym “James O. Pace” when he promulgated it…

    WHA? An Amendment proposed under a pseudonym?? Is that even worth considering as adopting? The pseodononymous authorship makes me, also, say “Poe”. Was he totally serious about this amendment or did he just propose it as a “false flag” satire to point out how racist Murikans were at the time? ^_^

    If there is a gene for intelligence, does that mean there is a gene for racism? Look at how many generations of racists have been … breeding … in the South. hmmm …

  8. sugarfrosted says

    twas brillig (stevem) @8

    If there is a gene for intelligence, does that mean there is a gene for racism? Look at how many generations of racists have been … breeding … in the South. hmmm …

    I know this is a joke and Southerns are an acceptable class of people for ridicule, but this really doesn’t help things. Even in jest this is pretty fucked up. There are sociological reasons behind the racism in the South that are really depressing and it’s not really a funny thing to joke about. (Spoilers: It has a lot to do with the South being poor and disenfranchised. The way they deal with this is constructing a mythos to make themselves feel better about their role in history and give a reason behind their poverty. Then the more well to do Southerns take advantage of this and fan the flames in order to give themselves more power and to protect their own power. I’m not trying to say their blameless, since the Civil War thing was in fact their ancestors fault as was the premature ending of reconstruction, but just explain why this isn’t funny.)

  9. twas brillig (stevem) says

    re @9:

    :-(
    I am Sorry.
    Yes, I agree, it was a poor attempt at satire. I know it FAILed cuz any satire that needs to be explained, FAILS. Explanation: The joke was a bad attempt to attack the “Gene for anything” meme, by stating one possible consequence of extrapolating that meme to other objectionable behaviors.
    [...time to stop digging...]

  10. tsig says

    PZ, can you tell me more about these hats? I’ve been hatless all my life but lately have felt a strange emptyness about my head so maybe my fate is to be hatted. I also have a cat, can she be hatted also?

  11. marcus says

    PZ “That gene-for-X nonsense is everywhere, and it drives me nuts, too.”
    There’s a gene for that.

  12. Jeremy Shaffer says

    Now the racists claim that people of Ashkenazi descent are more intelligent than everyone else.

    Which is how you know the Jews are running everything; even the anti-Semites!

    /snark

  13. says

    This John Cleese video makes much the point you asked about, except it talks about there being a spot in the brain that is responsible for people believing there is a spot in the brain that is responsible for everything. But it is much the same point.

  14. Moggie says

    tsig:

    PZ, can you tell me more about these hats? I’ve been hatless all my life but lately have felt a strange emptyness about my head so maybe my fate is to be hatted. I also have a cat, can she be hatted also?

    A cat in a hat?
    What a terrible thought!
    It’s happened before,
    And what damage it wrought!

    Cats that are hatted
    Cause no end of trouble
    There’s a danger your house
    Could just end up as rubble!

  15. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    tsig:

    PZ, can you tell me more about these hats?

    Try a cowboy hat.

    Tryst me.

    Will go great with the chaps and cowboy boots.

  16. karmacat says

    I think one factor that drives racism is a need to be special. It is ironic that these people have ignored history. Because each wave of immigrants was considered below the ones who came before. So the Irish and Italians were all stupid until the Hispanics came and so on. Racism is also used to justify taking something that is not yours, i.e. “manifest destiny,” which is basically saying “I’m so special that I’m going to take land from the Native Americans.”

  17. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    karmacat:

    My representative in the US House is Lou Barletta. The guy who, as mayor of Hazleton, forced through a law making it illegal for anyone to have any economic dealings with any illegal alien. Which basically, to him and most of the people in Hazleton, meant Hispanics (the ones opening up old neighborhood stores that had been closed for decades, the ones buying ramshackle houses and fixing them up, the ones who reversed the shrinking population trend, you know, the bad guys). Because, according to him, they form gangs and neighborhood groups and support groups.

    Lou Barletta’s family came to the US about 1900. From Italy. And they faced entrenched racism, economic segregation, institutional and government oppression. Which they combated by forming gangs, neighborhood groups, and support groups.

    ———–

    Some years back, I was interviewed for a public TV documentary and I spoke about immigration. And one of the things I said was that every immigrant group quickly goes from being stepped on to stepping on others. When the Germans showed up in this part of PA, the English called them a bunch of beer-swilling reprobates. Then, when the Irish started to arrive, the Germans and the English both called them whiskey swilling papists. But, when the Hungarians and Poles began showing up, the English, Irish and the Germans were united in calling them subhuman slavs. And when the Italians and Greeks and Lebanese started showing up, the Hungarians, Poles, Germans, English and Irish all kept them down. Until the next group showed up.

    So, yeah, karmacat, there is a lot of ignored history.

  18. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    Er, ‘tryst’ should be ‘trust.’

    All Hail Tpyos!

  19. says

    That amendment would keep me out. One of my great-great-grandmothers was part Zulu, through the South African branch of my family. I fail the one-drop rule.

    Couldn’t we accommodate them? I’m betting they probably don’t believe in climate change either. Maybe we could swap them, we’ll get the people from Bikini Atoll and other nuke-polluted places, settle them somewhere decent – swap them into the AFPs’ homes, if they want to live in the US – with a good income, and send the AFP types to live in a Pacific paradise. Give them a copy of their Constitution, with their replacement amendment, maybe offer to let them change a few others while they’re at it, then type it up for them, print it, laminate it, and give them a copy.

    They can be the United Society of Assholes. In about fifty years, they’ll re-enact this, and that’ll be that.

  20. Blondin says

    I wonder if there’s a gene for thinking there’s a gene for everything.

    I bet Steven Wright wishes he thought of that.

  21. says

    I thought those right wing types hated illegal immigration. Yet Johnson’s lovely little amendment would deprive Native Americans of their rights in favour of the offspring of a bunch of illegal European immigrants.

  22. mothra says

    I wonder why I wonder why (because there is a gene),
    I wonder why I wonder (because there is another gene).
    I wonder (because there is yet another gene) why I wonder why (because there is one more gene)
    I wonder why, I wonder (because there are all those damn genes).

  23. dianne says

    Two questions: 1. What the heck is a “discernible trace of Negro blood”? A single polymorphism associated most commonly with people of African ancestry? How unbalanced does the allele frequency have to be to “count” as African? For example, is someone who has sickle trait automatically out or can they claim it’s their 1/16th Middle Eastern ancestry and get in anyway?
    2. Why 1/8th for the other non-Anglos? Is he working on some bizarre principle of dilution here or what? And if so why are Africans the exception to this rule?

    Yes, I know. I should simply be horrified and not wasting my time trying to sort the logic or actual genetics of this dystopian fantasy of Wade’s but I can’t help it. Every time I read something by racists I’m struck not by how evil they are–I can take that as given–but how stupid and ignorant of the realities of genetics and how genes interact with the environment.

  24. Al Dente says

    tsig @11

    I’ve been hatless all my life but lately have felt a strange emptyness about my head so maybe my fate is to be hatted.

    Join the military. They’re big on hats, everything from metal helmets to ball caps. Or become a Jew so you can wear a yarmulke. I’d recommend moving to France except that berets have gone out of fashion there.

    I also have a cat, can she be hatted also?

    They don’t have cats in the military and they’re notoriously atheistic so your cat is out of luck unless she’s a very specific cat.

  25. What a Maroon, el papa ateo says

    Al Dente @28,

    they’re notoriously atheistic

    I thought they were more autotheistic.

  26. ck says

    dianne wrote:

    2. Why 1/8th for the other non-Anglos? Is he working on some bizarre principle of dilution here or what? And if so why are Africans the exception to this rule?

    Cynical answer? The exemption is probably just big enough for the author of this dubious amendment to squeeze through and still qualify.

  27. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    You have a head sized hole in your hat.

    Conversely, it could be a hat sized bolus on the top of your head.

  28. cicely says

    No person shall be a citizen of the United States [...] nor more than one-eighth [...] American Indian [...]

    *irony meter explodes*
    *sarcasm generator overloads*
    -

  29. says

    Blesch. The proposed amendment was the most disgusting thing I’ve read this half of the day. One of the things I love about America is its diversity-so many talented people of every race and nationality, from as far as the coast of Kenya, can get in here and help create a finer, wealthier, and less tribalistic society than their home governments can create at present. Though I’m all for solidly enforcing existing immigration laws, I have never thought effectively barring all non-white immigration into the U.S. would significantly help America. Immigration privileges should be skill-based, not race-based.

    I thought those right wing types hated illegal immigration. Yet Johnson’s lovely little amendment would deprive Native Americans of their rights in favour of the offspring of a bunch of illegal European immigrants.

    -They hate illegal immigration as determined by U.S. Government laws, not as determined by the laws of the Native Americans. Native Americans were deprived of citizenship since the founding of the country, and were only given it in the 1920s. They should have been given it much earlier.

    BTW, I would qualify for U.S. citizenship under the proposed racist amendment.

  30. Sili says

    I’d love to see Liberman, Pullum, Zwicky and the other LLoggers invited to skeptical events.