Saturday, 25 November 2006

Race Is

Pot is bad for you, and good for you. In doses smaller than a joint, it's bad; in large doses good- but all pot degrades into smaller doses. They're working on the first quantum computers. We may be able to make hearts from one stem cell from a baby. Molecules provide an anchor for memories. Black holes spin really fast. And the article for today's musings: race seems to be based on DNA .

Geneticists have found that humans can vary as much as 12% in their genetic code, putting paid to the notion that we are 99.9% identical. That idea of mass similarity seems to have no scientific merit, as attractive as it is. About 12% of our DNA varies in the number of copies it has- and this tends to correspond with the ethnic group self-identification of individuals. Basically there are genetic differences between those of European, African, and Asian descent. And this isn't a crack-pot study- it's the third study recently to indicate massive differences by race.

How does this work, considering recent studies have indicated that we are 97% the same as chimpanzees and 99.5% the same as Neanderthals? How then can we as humans be 12% different? As I understand it, our DNA between one human and another is still much more similar than between us and another species or subspecies. We still have a much smaller genetic diversity than most species, indicating perhaps a historical bottleneck. However, up to 12% of our DNA varies- and this corresponds to traditional racial classifications. It's been long known that there are differences in certain points, such as the African-American heightened tendency towards sickle-cell anemia. But this is the first study to quantify the difference to such a great degree.

What it doesn't indicate: that one group is superior to another, or that genetics are the big deal. As the study mentions, wolves and dogs are almost completely genetically the same, but they act and look far different. Culture and gene expression both play a role in differences.

And yet, this should come as no suprise. It is standard evolutionary fare: a population breeding separately with another population will start to build up genetic differences. Indeed, this is how we are able to determine that the Austrailian Aboriginals isolated themselves from the rest of the species long ago, 30,000 years ago- the oldest isolation split we know of. The longer a group is isolated, the more different one would expect the genes to be, leading eventually to a speciation event.

Perhaps there's something here to celebrate. And to learn. We are different, yet equal. It's hard to grasp. But it's what we find in the Garden. Eve is created as a help-meet, equal to Adam. And yet she is far, far different. God calls the most different, male and female, to learn to love each other. Love is not easy, and it's not supposed to be. It's harder especially to love those that are different. It's far easier to love myself, or at the very least, my clone. I think that's a big reason why God calls us to love a woman- to learn to love the different.

And now we see how this opportunity is present in groups of people as well. Not only are they different culturally, but also biologically. Yet just like men and women, no group is inferior or should be subservient to another. We are suddenly impressed with the huge realization that "those other people" are really different. And equal to me, both spiritually and hopefully in the world of human affairs. It's no longer a matter of my group being better, or pretending that we are all the same in a giant melting pot. I now have to learn what true love is- loving the different. I now have the opportunity to struggle through that to reach true love.

Perhaps one day there will be discovered that there are certain genetic tendencies that make one group better than another in certain areas- stronger legs or some such. But probably at that point we will have reached the future state that everyone is predicting- through interbreeding we are all dark-skinned, with those recessive traits of blond hair and blue eyes nearly bred out of existence. It's through the process of loving the different that I discover my basic similarity to them.


@bdul muHib said...

Quaintance said: I tell my students that those in my classes (nearly all, really) who have more melanin than me do a better job of thwarting skin cancer and osteoporosis. I probably do a better job than them where we live of aborbing Vitamin D and digesting milk as an adult.

I don't think Hafnet will be pleased with these findings. It was importnat to him that there were bigger differences within races than between.

@bdul muHib said...

I told my students the same thing. I think darker people got the better end of that deal. But interestingly, I've heard the argument that cancer is not a selective advantage, but merely some sort of spandrel- since most child-bearing years would occur before the onset of cancer, and 500,000 years ago most people died of other things like giant sloths before cancer even began to show up.

Hafnet? Is that Hafner? Or someone else?

I like the idea of less difference between than within too. Se la vie.

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