As if we should have ever doubted it, Andrew Sullivan let his racist freak flag fly again in his column in New York magazine, which seems to be his venue of choice for exposing the tendencies he typically denied before.
Last weekend, a rather seismic op-ed appeared in the New York Times, and it was for a while one of the most popular pieces in the newspaper. It’s by David Reich, a professor of genetics at Harvard, who carefully advanced the case that there are genetic variations between subpopulations of humans, that these are caused, as in every other species, by natural selection, and that some of these variations are not entirely superficial and do indeed overlap with our idea of race. This argument should not be so controversial — every species is subject to these variations — and yet it is. For many on the academic and journalistic left, genetics are deemed largely irrelevant when it comes to humans. Our large brains and the societies we have constructed with them, many argue, swamp almost all genetic influences.
Humans, in this view, are the only species on Earth largely unaffected by recent (or ancient) evolution, the only species where, for example, the natural division of labor between male and female has no salience at all, the only species, in fact, where natural variations are almost entirely social constructions, subject to reinvention. We are, in this worldview, alone on the planet, born as blank slates, to be written on solely by culture. All differences between men and women are a function of this social effect; as are all differences between the races. If, in the aggregate, any differences in outcome between groups emerge, it is entirely because of oppression, patriarchy, white supremacy, etc. And it is a matter of great urgency that we use whatever power we have to combat these inequalities.
That last paragraph is jaw-dropping — apparently, he thinks he has accurately described the views of the academic left, of people like me. He has not. This is a collection of willful lies and distortions.
the only species on Earth largely unaffected by recent (or ancient) evolution: I’ve only ever heard this absurd claim from the kind of racist who accuses opponents of “cultural marxism”. It is stupidly false. No one thinks humans have somehow ‘escaped’ evolution.
the natural division of labor between male and female: He gives himself away with that magic word, “natural”. What is that natural division of labor? I’m going to guess it’s whatever the current status quo says it is.
natural variations are almost entirely social constructions: There’s that word, “natural”, again. We know there are genetic variations. They’ve been mapped and catalogued. No one denies them. How they are translated into behavior and culture are largely unknown.
We are, in this worldview, alone on the planet, born as blank slates: Oh, fuck you, Andrew Sullivan. “Blank slate” is another magic phrase from the conservative playbook. Let’s pretend that leftists deny all human nature, when what scientists actually say is that human behavior is complex and plastic and can’t be wedged into the rigid categories that conservatives would like to claim are the only “natural” behaviors.
Whenever someone tells me that anyone who disagrees with their narrow views must be a “blank slater”, all I see is a great big blinking neon sign appearing above their heads that says “WRONG”. If you rely so grossly on mischaracterizing your opponents position, you can be disregarded.
Sullivan provided further evidence for that a little farther down.
I felt a genuine relief reading the op-ed because it was so nuanced and so low-temperature; it reflects precisely my own thoughts on the subject; and it’s hard to smear a Harvard geneticist for being a white supremacist (the usual gambit).
On a matter that is life or death for some people, on a belief that has led to centuries of oppression, that allows the police to get away with murdering people because of their race, Andrew Sullivan thinks that being cool and nuanced is a virtue. There are times when a righteous anger is the only appropriate human response, and this continued casual approval of racism and sexism is one of them.
Yeah, we know, you like the op-ed because it reflects your own fucking racist/sexist views. That is not an endorsement.
Holy shit, seriously? You know that Harvard is an elitist organization that for years was at the forefront of the eugenics movement, right? Just a taste, from a Harvard zoologist:
In Genetics and Eugenics, Castle explained that race mixing, whether in animals or humans, produced inferior offspring. He believed there were superior and inferior races, and that “racial crossing” benefited neither. “From the viewpoint of a superior race there is nothing to be gained by crossing with an inferior race,” he wrote. “From the viewpoint of the inferior race also the cross is undesirable if the two races live side by side, because each race will despise individuals of mixed race and this will lead to endless friction.”
It’s damned easy to rightfully accuse a Harvard geneticist of white supremacy (not that I’m saying that of Reich). Since when did being a Harvard professor give you immunity to holding bad ideas?
Andrew Sullivan’s opinions on this matter are pure garbage, badly supported, and full of dishonest misrepresentations. There are qualified responses to Reich’s op-ed — they are made with respect for his actual scientific contributions while pointing out that he has bungled the interpretations of actual scientists who study the genetics of human populations. This statement, signed by a number of scientists, is a good example.
Reich frames his argument by positing a straw man in the form of a purported orthodoxy that claims that “the average genetic differences among people grouped according to today’s racial terms are so trivial when it comes to any meaningful biological traits that those differences can be ignored.” That orthodoxy, he says, “denies the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations” and is “anxious about any research into genetic differences among populations.”
This misrepresents the many scientists and scholars who have demonstrated the scientific flaws of considering “race” a biological category. Their robust body of scholarship recognizes the existence of geographically based genetic variation in our species, but shows that such variation is not consistent with biological definitions of race. Nor does that variation map precisely onto ever changing socially defined racial groups.
Reich critically misunderstands and misrepresents concerns that are central to recent critiques of how biomedical researchers — including Reich — use categories of “race” and “population.”
No wonder Sullivan liked it. Like him, it builds an argument around straw men.