Thursday, 1 May 2008

Geoffrey Sampson on natural Racism

I was listening to a Teaching Company course by John McWhorter on linguistics. He mentioned Pinker's book The Language Instinct which I'm reading now. He also mentioned that for a good rebuttal to consult Geoffrey Sampson's Language Instinct Debate. In googling the author I came across a couple of controversies Sampson has had. One was with Chomsky (who hasn't had beef with the guy?!) and another was an article he put up on his website There's Nothing Wrong With Racism (Except the Name). The Chomsky business consisted of the usual nonsense about Holocaust denial in the preface of Robert Faurisson's book. An outlandish statement from Sampson's website is worth quoting:

I think it was only after writing the encyclopaedia entry that I learned how far Chomsky had been getting into bed with the Neo-Nazi movement

An anarchist in bed with neo-Nazi's! Is that yet another type of anarchism? like you know anarco-capitalism, socialism, communism, gayism, feminism and now anarcho-neo-nazism?!

The other business is is the racism article. Sampson was a councilor for the Conservative Party so it caused a stir in the press. I read it carefully and it struck me as written by someone who is very unfamiliar with evolutionary science. Now I'm no expert, infact my 'expertise' in Darwinian evolution derives from a bunch of Christmas lectures targeted at children that Richard Dawkins gave, however that article is awful. The hypothesis is that there is a biological urge towards racism, it is a completely natural feeling much like wanting to get laid. The reason there is that urge towards racism is our minds equate those that look different from us as have different genes. Sampson points out this of course is irrational, our DNA is remarkably similar even across species but our instincts don't know that.

Sampson goes onto point out how we have a natural inclination to care for our children: we pay for expensive schools, leave them inheritance etc. at the expense of other children not related to us. This leads Sampson to the conclusion that racism is as natural as sexual urges or caring for children, they are all to spread our genes.

But this really misses the point. We don't prefer people who share more of our genes over people who share fewer because the latter have particular outward features that we dislike. We prefer the former because they share more of our genes, and we all want our own genes to become numerous. Biology forces us to want that, which is why it forces us to want to get our bodies entangled with the opposite sex.

This hypothesis would be valid on the assumption that racism only ever applied to the opposite sex. Why is it natural under Sampson's rationale to have a racist inclination towards the same sex? It's impossible to have children with them. If it was about propagating genes racism would only apply in the narrow area of mate selection, which I think it does. I, personally, wouldn't call that racism - it's just taste. Nonetheless, Sampson's Darwnian explanation of racism, if I've understod it correctly, seems to be junk socio-biology. The only perceivable worthy hypothesis one can glean from the article is that humans during mate selection chose those similar to themselves. That is uncontroversial, and I think entirely correct. I think he was trying to work Kin Selection into it, but if so he shouldn't mention sexual selection because it gives the mis-impression that they are both as powerful. Furthermore the theory of Kin Selection can't explain why we know who we are related to. There's evidence to show that the marker of 'this is my sister' goes off in a subjects brain when they are brought up together, the classic example being Israeli kibbutzim children who though not genetically related all married outside the kibbutz. This also all applies to actual kin, sisters, brothers members of the same family. Not some white guy down the road. Dawkins has tackled this head on before,

"The National Front was saying something like this, "kin selection provides the basis for favoring your own race as distinct from other races, as a kind of generalization of favoring your own close family as opposed to other individuals." Kin selection doesn't do that! Kin selection favors nepotism towards your own immediate close family. It does not favor a generalization of nepotism towards millions of other people who happen to be the same color as you. Even if it did, and this is a stronger point, I would oppose any suggestion from any group such as the National Front, that whatever occurs in natural selection is therefore morally good or desirable. We come back to this point over and over again. I'm definitely not one who thinks that "is" is the same as "ought."

Further on Sampson even talks about immigration to the UK being this big bad awful thing that has ruined the natural harmony we had in a Utopian Britan, which was full of British people, all related to each other (no jokes pls!)

When I was a child, England and other European nations were racially very homogeneous. Except for a small Jewish community (who don't look much different from the indigenous English anyway), virtually everyone living in England was related to everyone else

In actual fact, however, there are more Britain's living abroad than immigrants living here. Before you begin complaining about immigration, recall all your own people. Class issues before mass migration were also tense.


I haven't read Sampson's book yet but if someone who has apparently ripped apart the Universal Grammar hypothesis, which uses evolutionary arguments, is this bad at biology, I'm not sure I'll be expecting much.

Edit: apparantly mentinoing Chomsky, holocaust and Faurisson triggers spam bots to post holocaust denial articles!

1 comment:

michael santomauro said...
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