Academic journal article Theory in Action

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History

Academic journal article Theory in Action

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History

Article excerpt

Book Review: Nicholas Wade, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. New York: Penguin Press, 2014. ISBN13: 978-1594204463 (Hard Cover). 288 Pages. $27.95.

[Article copies available for a fee from The Transformative Studies Institute. E-mail address: journal@transformativestudies.org Website: http://www.transformativestudies.org ©2014 by The Transformative Studies Institute. All rights reserved.]

We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade's conjectures.2

In A Troublesome Inheritance, Nicholas Wade articulates his vision of race and humanity in the 21st century. Wade believes that race determines life chances at the genetic level, and, therefore, Europeans are wealthy and powerful because they have superior genes. Sub-Saharan Africans, on the other hand, are poor and powerless because they have inferior genes.

Does this sound familiar? It should because, far from articulating a new vision of race, Wade has simply applied fresh makeup to an ugly brand of scientific racism: eugenics. For those unfamiliar with the term, eugenics is a 19th century school of thought originated by Francis Galten, a cousin of Charles Darwin.

The lure of Gabon's eugenics was his belief that society would be better off if the intellectually eminent could be encouraged to have more children. What scholar could disagree with that? (Wade, 2014, P-27)

Well, since he's asking...I for one don't find Gabon's eugenicist bait the least bit alluring. Wade may, but that's where he and I differ.

Eugenicists like Galton argue that some genes are better than others. Therefore, the key to improving the human condition is to cultivate good genes and cull bad genes. The criteria that eugenicists use to distinguish good from bad genes depends entirely on the pet prejudices of the eugenicist in question: Hitler hated Jews, but other eugenicists have had it in for Africans, Native Americans, indigenous Australians, etc. Eugenicists tend to be obsessed with eccentric notions of racial purity and many have advocated horrific social policies, ranging from sterilization to genocide, to prevent "inferiors" from sullying the gene pool:

The primary reason for restriction of the alien stream...is the necessity for purifying and keeping pure the blood of America. (Wade quoting Congressman Robert Allen from a floor debate about US immigration policy, 2014, p. 31)

In Chapter 2, titled "Perversions of Science," Wade wags his finger at those eugenicists who, over the years, have gotten carried away with the whole racial purity thing. After all, Hitler was a bag egg, and no reputable eugenicist would want to be associated with him.

Hang on a second, ''reputable eugenicist"? Isn't that an oxymoron?

Apparently not. At least not in the context of Wade's curiously convoluted argument. You see, sometimes scientific exegeses are dauntingly difficult to comprehend because the phenomena they elucidate, such as dark energy or quantum entanglement, are profoundly difficult to understand. In other cases, authors intentionally obfuscate scientific ideas because, were they to articulate their ideas in clear, straightforward language, they would invite censure from outraged readers. The calculated murkiness of Wade's argument falls into the latter category.

No doubt, Wade would cry foul for my suggestion that his thesis is a half-baked rehash of 19th century eugenics. After all, Wade cites a fair number of scientists whose research is on the cutting-edge of evolutionary biology and genetics. Though Wade does cite those scientists, those also happen to be the scientists whose open letter repudiates Wade's thesis.

Wade adopts a similar attitude toward recycling eugenics. Just because a few eager beavers, like Adolf Hitler, may have gone overboard, Wade contends that it would be unfair to tar all eugenicists with the same brush. Wade tips his hand early on by launching an oddly caustic defense of Samuel Morton, a 19th century craniometrist. …

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