Thursday, 3 November 2011

Crime - it's a 'black thing'

Yesterday I posted an article on what I called the stupidity of basing morality on a ‘Darwinistic’ or evolutionary foundation. My point was not that the evolutionary case cannot be made — it can be and is increasingly being made — but that it is not how we operate in real life.
In real life, we do not simply rationalize about the evolutionary ‘causes’ of behaviours and assess them according to ‘Darwinian’ principles. Rather, we get steamed up about things we feel to be wrong and passionate about what we feel to be right. I doubt that anyone currently camped around St Paul’s cathedral, for example, is there on evolutionary grounds.
In real life, we operate on common-sense assumptions about morality.
But like I said, there are plenty of people who are arguing that this is naive and, ultimately, illusory. And an anonymous correspondent posted a link to the Human Biological Diversity site, devoted to research and reading material which takes exactly this point of view.
The outcome, however, is striking, not least when it comes to the subject of Crime and HBD because, you see, basically, “it’s a black thing”.
The Truth of Interracial Rape in the United States’? It’s a black thing. ‘The Color of Crime’? I think you can guess. ‘Sweden Tops European Rape League — But Why?’ No prizes for the right answer.
The really interesting thing about the site, however, is that when you look at the main articles under ‘Ethnocentrism & Ethnic Genetic Interests’, they seem scientifically impeccable: Axelrod, Robert, R. A. Hammond & A. Grafen. ‘Altruism via kin-selection strategies that rely on arbitrarytags with which they coevolve’, Evolution 58, no. 8 (2004). Hamilton, W.D. Narrow Roads of Gene Land: The Collected Papers of W. D. Hamilton Volume 1: Evolution of Social Behaviour, (Oxford University Press, 1998). The list is long and redolent of bibliographies in scientific journals.
Now it may well be that the ‘respectable’ people in the latter section (if such they are) would very much like to distance themselves from the ‘dubious’ people in the former. But it isn’t so easy when both are using the same methodology and paradigm.
Moreover, there is no obvious reason, at least in terms of the fundamental assumptions of research, why any distancing should be required or necessary. I am old enough to recall the outrage caused by the publication of H J Eysenck’s Race, Intelligence and Education, in 1971. Indeed, I had to read and review it for my psychology degree.
Eysenck was perhaps the most influential behavioural psychologist in his generation and certainly neither a fool nor a charlatan. Unfortunately for him, his reading of the statistical evidence suggested a genetic component to intelligence which basically meant some races are smarter than others and he published the results in a deliberately ‘popular’ format. Instead of a dispassionate examination of the evidence, however, Eysenck was personally vilified and attacked.
Yet from a strictly scientific point of view, his was an unexceptionable conclusion. There is no a priori reason why genes should not be a determinant of intellectual ability. Moreover, if that’s where the evidence goes, that is where we must follow if we are real scientists. Four years earlier, Desmond Morris had published, in a similarly popular format, The Naked Ape, subtitled A Zoologists Study of the Human Animal, and it went on to be a best-seller. Why was Eysenck treated any differently?
The trouble is, when it comes to specifically racial differences, we’ve been there before and we’ve seen where it leads, and few people want to go there again.
And this is the problem. Part of us wants to go with the ‘evolutionist’ paradigm, not least because it seems to provide a neat ‘explanation’ of human altruism: you don’t have to be religious to be good — it’s in our genes. (See, e.g., Dawkins passim for an elaboration of this.)
But when others want to apply that same evolutionary paradigm in ‘unsavoury’ ways, something else kicks in. Like the Apostle Peter in John’s Gospel, we feel someone leading us where we do not want to go.
The question is, are we right at this point, or are we simply being irrational? Is the person who fears the social implications of such an approach unenlightened, or are those who want to follow wherever it may go at whatever the price darkened in their understanding?
John Richardson
3 November 2011
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  1. The problem here is the way people, and newspapers, abuse statistics. If anyone dares to publish any suggestion that people of any race are even very slightly more likely to commit crime, or very slightly less intelligent, or that women are even very slightly more submissive by nature than men, that is immediately misinterpreted by many as implying that all people of that race are stupid and potential criminals, and that women are incapable of leadership. What only a few people realises is that any such tiny differences are completely swamped by the huge variations between individuals.


  2. Agreed, Peter! Well said. There is indeed a genetic component to many human traits. Your last sentence says it best. I totally understand having had these sort of discussions in graduate level stat classes.

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