We are all the same

We are the same (1 of 1)

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

We are tribal and have been for a long time. According to suppositions made from our DNA, about 50,000 years ago, humankind was down to around 1,500 individuals composed of ten to twenty isolated tribes. Several tribes, about 600 individuals in total, left Africa and, over the last 50,000 years, they have populated the rest of the world. If they were like today’s hunter gatherer tribes and, the evidence suggests they were, the tribes were constantly fighting over territory (which was probably a primary driver to human dispersal). None of that is very controversial.

I have been reading A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade and in it he postulates that humans, H. sapiens, have continued to evolve, locally, to their environment, both in and out of Africa, since that diaspora. That we have continued to evolve is controversial, however. Wade further postulates that this evolution has resulted in five major races – with lots of slightly different regional gene pools – and that these five races are, each, slightly different with different abilities because they are evolving in different environments. This goes against almost everything that I believe.

Among many other things, Wade presents an excellent case that people living in Europe and Eastern Asia – China, Korea, and Japan – have evolved to be less violent because the greater population densities of those areas have pushed the evolving humans in that direction. The inference from what Wade is saying – and inference may be too soft a word – is that Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court ruling upholding a sentence of 1,000 lashes for jailed liberal blogger Raif Badawi, that we Westerners find so despicable, is not just a result of Saudi culture but also because the Saudis are genetically more violent.  This goes against our liberal mantra, We are all the same.

Everybody I have talked to about this has disagreed; vehemently (I haven’t talked to any white supremacists but I suspect that they would agree). Nobody has put their hands over their ears, saying I hear no evil, but damn near.  I know that feeling, for as long as I can remember, We are all the same has been at the center of my belief system. It is the main reason why I am against capital punishment (that and the practical matter that, because of all the appeals, it costs more and it delays closure).  We are all the same is why I get so bothered when people demonize whomever we are currently bombing as if they were not as human as us.

But, what if Wade is right, what if the Saudis are more violent than the English? What if young blackmen in the hood in Baltimore are more violent than young whitemen in Appalachia? Not just more violent because of culture or circumstances but more violent, as a group, because of their DNA? What if we aren’t all the same? What if different groups aren’t the same? Just writing this makes me feel uncomfortable and I have to keep reminding myself that we are talking about groups not individuals that can vary wildly within each group (only a fool would think Jalāl Rūmī was more violent than Joseph Goebbels).

Thinking about Wade’s thesis, I wonder if, in a way, saying We are all the same is sort of a cop out.  If everybody is the same, it is much easier for us to accept them, to not prejudge them, it makes it much easier to love them because they are just like us (and, we are certainly lovable). But if we are not all really the same,  will we still be able to accept The Other, will we be open to Love someone who is different? Will we still be able to judge someone for who they are rather than for what group they are a member? If they really are The Other, will that make a difference?

I don’t know, I like to think not but I don’t know, and I understand why this is such an explosive book.

5 thoughts on “We are all the same

  1. I’ve been trying to form a comment to this for quite some time, thinking about ideas such as wanting to believe in free will, and if hot tempered or friendly, is a cultural trait rather than something genetic. I am finding studies about bacteria in Japanese guts to digest seaweed, effects of trauma being passed down in mice sperm, there is no “depression gene” yet discovered, and there are many genetically transmitted causes for depression, and so forth, so a tendency towards violence is probably an inherited trait somehow as well. And if something is inheritable, then it will be more concentrated in populations where it is most beneficial and the descendants of those populations.

    And we are all individuals. Everyone is an other. For women and men to ever fall in love proves that we can love an Other, because how different (and the same) can any groups of people be than men and women.

    We all bleed, we all grieve, we all hope to love and be loved. We all deserve not to be prejudged by our inheritance.

    1. Arlene, I really liked Wade’s “Before the Dawn”, so I wanted to read this book when it first came out, but reading reviews – like this one and other reviews in the same vain – steered me away (temporarily). The problem with this review, and other like it, is that they sort of back into their answers, saying that “saying races are different causes huge social, psychological, and cultural problems, so it must be wrong”, except that, just because it causes problems, doesn’t make it wrong. I think the book is worth reading, I don’t think that it is the definitive answer. The whole field of human evolution is changing on an almost daily basis as we get more information – yesterday, I read that Europeans are a combination of three different tribes. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29213892 – and I am sure that we will get more info.

  2. Whoops – that was from Richard not Tracy – I can’t speak for her regardless of what my browser thinks.

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