One thing I miss about Twitter is that I don’t seem to come across Razib Khan’s writing as much any more. He has a blog (well, actually it’s a substack these days) which is really one of the best sources for unwoke human genetics synthesis you can find, but I already subscribe to so many damn substacks that most of them just drift past my radar. Fortunately I have friends who still lurk on Twitter so someone sent me this gem:
I’m hesitant to say anything about the article because, I have to admit, I didn’t make it past the third paragraph. It’s really just a steaming pile of soviet newspeak mule shit, consistent with the dumpster fire of woke navel-gazing that the once-respected Scientific American has become. You know what’s coming from the tone of the first sentence. Measuring human traits is racist, bro.
For instance in paragraph 3 (beyond which I had to stop reading because I was afflicted with crippling diarrhea from what I had read, fam) the author tells us that E.O. Wilson was “dangerous” because he “spawned an entire field of behavioral psychology grounded in the notion that differences among humans could be explained by genetics, inheritance and other biological mechanisms.”
OK, so the author contends that human behavior is not influenced by genetics. That’s not a strawman, that’s actually what she said. This of course is why the possession of 2 X chromosomes, as opposed to an X and a Y, has no effect on how people act. As I like to tell my evolutionary biology students, if you don’t believe that small modifications in gene regulation can affect behavior, slap a testosterone patch on your arm and record what you say to people around you for the next few hours.
But of course the real “gotcha” against the “behavioral psychology is racist” people is this: if behavior and intelligence aren’t genetic, how the fuck did we become like we are in the first place? Presumably they agree that humans have different behavioral patterns and intelligence levels compared to the other great apes — did that just sort of, you know, happen? Like, we just felt smarter or some shit when we evolved bipedal locomotion? (But of course even then, the genes that dictated bipedal gait would qualify as behavior-modifying genes, wouldn’t they?)
At its heart this philosophy is one of human exceptionalism, and thus is both a denial of evolution and of a piece with theories of intelligent design and special creationism. But unlike creationism, it offers no alternative explanation of why humans are as they are. Creationists believe that a supernatural power such as a god crafted human consciousness; the woke position is that we just sort of are, I guess, like some kind of cosmic moral quantum accident. As has been said before, wokianity captures all of the worst aspects of religion without providing the redemption arc that makes them enjoyable/productive. At least the creationists have a coherent explanation; the wokian attitude seems to be something like anybody who asks where humans came from is a RACIST.
Of course, the position this writer is taking is absurd, and I can’t imagine that any evolutionary biologist believes it in their own study system, although one despairs to notice that people who study behavioral genetics in fruit flies et al. sometimes exempt humans from the conclusions that come from their research, when it suits their own self-hating wokian religious beliefs. The obvious cognitive barriers to the acceptance that much of one’s beliefs and behaviors are sort of baked-in at birth is also understandable; but there are plenty of other psychologically demanding beliefs that evolutionary biology asks of us, such as the fact that evolution isn’t impressed with your high intelligence, and that no matter how many publications you have or how much money you accumulate, it’s only the number of kids you have that matter to the future of the species.
Well, I guess that last is pretty tough for people to accept, too. I can’t help but notice that the author of this creationist diatribe is a professor at something called the “Family Health Care Nursing Department” at UC San Francisco, specializing in “Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health”. I could be wrong, but a) that doesn’t really sound like an excellent pedigree for dropping hot takes about evolution, and b) it does sound like a bunch of euphemisms for “abortion”, which might shed some light on the author’s position. To be honest, it’s been my experience that people who are passionately partisan in favor of abortion rights don’t like being reminded that, whatever its merits, abortion selects against whatever gene variants make you think that abortion is a good idea. Perhaps the author is really uncomfortable thinking about how genetics might underlie why so many people on Earth really despise what she does for a living?
(Despite my conservatism I’ve always shied away from aggressive abortion takes — partially because the texts my religion is based on are clearly okay with straight-up infanticide by exposure of deformed or unhealthy children, but partially also because it seems like a problem that will solve itself, as Homo sapiens abortifaciens is evolutionarily displaced by populations that are less eager to kill their offspring. Granted it’s a bummer that those populations don’t look much like me, and also don’t much approve of my bloodline’s continued existence in general, but what are you going to do? You can’t blame people for just living, as we are all merely at the mercy of our genes and environments. Western civilization is its own enemy, and its self-annihilation seems like a foregone conclusion at this point.)
In conclusion I would highlight a point made by a commenter to Razib’s tweet which strikes me as underlying much of the brouhaha surrounding Wilson’s legacy — wokianity is an elite, luxury belief, and Wilson was not of the elite:
No question whatsoever as to the truth of this… it was in my face every day once I (briefly) penetrated the world of prestige evolutionary biology. I would remind folks that the best science is, at its heart, a blue-collar endeavor, with sweaty people toiling in a lab, or in a jungle, or on a boat five hundred miles from the nearest shipping lane, or doing crazy shit like lavaging mouse vaginas or fistulating cattle, and all of that is like home turf for the working class. It’s illustrative that wokianity has been far less effective at corrupting the field sciences, based on my own anecdotal experiences. But Ivy League theoretical biology? As I said before, Ed Wilson was a hero of mine, and I hope he gave those assholes heartburn every second he was on the Harvard faculty.