Thursday, June 16, 2005

Case History (4th order trope-wrangling)

Posted by Trent Walters at 8:11 AM
This is an example of the fourth order of Mundane thought (there’s no hierarchy of people here--just an organization of thought). There’s a goddamn anthology of stories in this concept alone, never mind all the other tropes that need to be called into question.

Racism. A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. [Webster's]

The superman trope in genre. A belief that segments of the human race will evolve traits superior to the rest of the human race.

Do you still not want to question the genre’s use of tropes?

If that isn’t clear to you, consider the case history of John W. Campbell comforting Philip Klass at the end of WWII and the revelation of Jewish concentration camps that Campbell thought the Jews were homo superiorus.

Yeah, but--one might protest--the supermen are usually suppressed by the weaker. True, but isn’t that the reasoning of Nazis who thought themselves superior, that the weaker were financially suppressing the superior?

Do you still not want to question the genre’s use of tropes?

In defense of Campbell, it’s true that the human species has gone through a number of changes. The human brain has grown larger over a half million years, but then the Neaderthals had a larger brain than ours--assuming size matters (they also cared for the sick and buried their dead before we did--shouldn’t such an advanced species be more favored by survival of the fittest?).

Moreover, fifty-years later, a Pulitzer-prize-winning biologist still spoke in terms of superiority via survival of the fittest in a manner like Campbell’s, used perhaps to comfort the superior human species or to comfort the guilt of “inferior” humans:

“It’s easy to recognize two reasons why my impression that New Guineans are smarter than Westerners may be correct.... Intelligent people are likelier than less intelligent ones to escape those causes of high mortality in traditional New Guinea societies.... [N]atural selection promoting genes for intelligence has probably ben far more ruthless in New Guinea than in the more densely populated, politically complex societies, where natural selection for body chemistry was instead more important.... [I]n mental ability New Guineans are probably genetically superior to Westerners.”

--Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel

I don’t accuse Campbell or Diamond of racism, but their reasoning is perilously problematic as their ideas continue to percolate through society (neither party claims his race superior, but that is unimportant in the above definition of racism; moreover, both attitudes still segregate qualities of peoples). Natural selection tends to select against unfit traits rather than for a trait (creatures taken by disease or the weakest culled by predators). Although some herd species reproduce only with the most fit male (albeit even with some less fit females), many other species simply pair up.

Since the loss of the New Guinea unfit due to wars and murder and hunger are Diamond’s principal methods of selecting for intelligence, I must express some dubiousness that poverty can be necessarily equated with a lack of intelligence. These examples, however, are examples of selection against the unfit.

The problem, of course, is this perpetual notion of progress: that we are superior to our parent’s generation; our SF is better than the previous generations’, our philosophy and religion is better than Aristotle’s and Jesus’. We know better because we’re alive and they’re dead (see? They were unfit).

We do have superior science and technology, but we seldom humbly recall anymore that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Since the intelligent in our enlightened society tend not to reproduce as often, one in favor Darwinian descriptions of human society might conceivably claim that Homo superiorus died long ago.

20 Comments:

Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"Do you still not want to question the genre’s use of tropes?"

-- more than ever. These days when someone like you raises the spectre of "racism", what I smell is a would-be secret-police censor.

6/16/2005 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

I also note a refusal to engage when someone questions your assumptions.

6/16/2005 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger Trent said...

I haven't censored anyone, S.M.

I can only take one major issue at a time.

But what are my assumptions here? What am I missing?

You do realize you have biases of your own, no? I see in Clute's Encyclopedia your work has been pigeon-holed as violent (definitely) and conservative.

Tell me what one specific issue you want addressed, and I'll try to get to it this weekend. I compose these damn things as carefully as I can and they take forever.

BTW, I like both Campbell's and Diamond's work. Did your assumptions of my assumptions include that I disliked them, their work, or their politics? I'm a moderate. All I seek is truth, in whatever guise: spiritual, philosophical, scientific. I don't give a damn where anyone lands along these continuums so long as their system is consistent.

6/16/2005 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"But what are my assumptions here? What am I missing?"

-- to start with, your assumption that Campbell's and Diamond's intellectual framework was somehow implicitly racist, or gave support to racist ways of thinking.

In fact, they're both merely applying commonsense Darwinism.

Like all species, humans have regional genetic differences.

(Though we have less genetic variation than most species, probably due to a fairly recent near-extinction event that created a genetic bottleneck.)

More generally, your assumption that you're seeing things more clearly than others.

Bit hubristic, there. But then, this whole "mundane" thing is, if in a mind-bogglingly naive manner.

To anyone with much experience, it smells of bien-pensant arrogance.

"I see in Clute's Encyclopedia your work has been pigeon-holed as violent (definitely) and conservative."

-- that must be because of the black lesbian heroine in the "Island in the Sea of Time" series.

It's no accident that I quoted Niven's Law: "There is a technical, literary term for people who mistake the opinions of a character in a book for those of the author. This term is 'idiot'."

6/17/2005 01:13:00 AM  
Blogger Trent said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/17/2005 06:01:00 AM  
Blogger Trent said...

BTW, I agree the character is not the author although I think the author is responsible for the theme. Just my humble opinion and not too related to the discussion.

6/17/2005 06:03:00 AM  
Blogger Trent said...

There's a large gap between "genetic differences" and "genetic superiority." The latter does give support to racism. The former is well worth scientific plundering.

But no, I don't claim to see "things more clearly than others" although I might notice things that others might not have yet and vice versa. That's why I like to share. Feel free to share your seeings as well--much preferable to hoarding.

6/17/2005 06:04:00 AM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"There's a large gap between "genetic differences" and "genetic superiority." The latter does give support to racism."

-- no, it doesn't.

It would if the claim concerning 'genetic superiority' were _false_, as many such claims in the past have been, of course. That's pseudoscience.

When the claim is true, it's just... true. Ideology has nothing to do with it.

"Superiority" is of course a matter of context.

West Africans on average have a genetically-based superiority in resistance to _plasmodium falciparium_ malaria vs. a vs. Europeans, for instance. Fewer of them will die when exposed to an environment in which malaria is hyperendemic.

That's a fact.

Europeans in general and the pale ones in particular are similarly superior when it comes to metabolizing vitamin D. Fewer of them will get rickets in a cloudy climate without dietary supplements.

That's a fact. Both are rather transparently diseas and climatological adaptations.

Ashkenazic Jews have superior resistance to intestinal infections that kill by dehydration.

That's a fact. It's due to the fact that they were urbanized before the surrounding populations.

There's strong evidence that Ashkenazic Jews also have (on average, I remind those about to pitch an irrational hissy-fit) more of whatever it is that IQ tests measure.

We don't know what that is, but it's certainly real, and important, and it certainly has a large genetic component.

That's probably what Campbell meant in your original quote, btw.

6/17/2005 08:03:00 PM  
Blogger Fish Monkey said...

Um, I would suggest not confusing Darwinism with social Darwinism -- the phrase 'survival of the fittest' was coined by the latter. Darwin (and darwinists) claimed only survival of those who are fit enough to live to a reproductive age.

Also, I would like to point out that there is absolutely no evidence that IQ (and whatever it measures) is genetically determined; the belief that it is stems largely from Galton (a relative of Darwin and the father of eugenics), and his faulty statistical approach.

However, there is plenty of evidence that access to education increases one's intelligence, and that the differences between groups/ethnicities in that regard often explain their differing IQ scores.

6/18/2005 08:44:00 AM  
Blogger Trent said...

What Fish Monkey said. I would add that what you mention are mostly adaptations to environmental conditions. Diamond's book actually has an argument for why certain groups developed technologies and others did not--and it isn't based on a racial superiority.

6/19/2005 05:23:00 PM  
Blogger Derryl Murphy said...

Good timing, this article on race and genetics:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20050618.wxrace0618/BNStory/Front/

Part of the first paragraph is not showing up for me, but the rest seems to be there.

D

6/19/2005 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Also, I would like to point out that there is absolutely no evidence that IQ (and whatever it measures) is genetically determined"

No doubt that is why slime-moulds have the same average measured IQ as humans - because there is absolutely no evidence that IQ is genetically determined.

6/20/2005 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger Charlie Ellis said...

Can't see where anyone is "obviously superior (or inferior) overall anywhere.

There are winner and loser cultures for sure.

Who's questioning "4th order" ee smith fun and games in the title of this whole thing. Some things are just ingrained, I guess... :-)

6/20/2005 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Trent said...

Murph D,

Wow. Incredible link. Thanks a million.

6/20/2005 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"I haven't censored anyone, S.M."

-- that's why I said "would-be" censor.

7/05/2005 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"BTW, I agree the character is not the author although I think the author is responsible for the theme. Just my humble opinion and not too related to the discussion."

-- on the contrary, it's closely related to the discussion.

To say the author is "responsible" for the character is to open a whole can of rather disgusting worms, not to mention unexamined assumptions.

Responsible to who? By what standards? What ideology?

7/05/2005 11:25:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"Also, I would like to point out that there is absolutely no evidence that IQ (and whatever it measures) is genetically determined; the belief that it is stems largely from Galton (a relative of Darwin and the father of eugenics), and his faulty statistical approach."

-- on the contrary. There have been many studies since and it's been exhaustively proved that a large majority of whatever-it-is-we-mean-when-we-say-IQ is in large measure heritable.

The reason for the tremendous resistance to this is essentially political-ideological.

7/05/2005 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"I would add that what you mention are mostly adaptations to environmental conditions."

-- sure... so? That's all that "superiority" can mean in evolutionary terms; something that makes you more likely to survive and, other things being equal, reproduce. Avoid the teleological fallacy; evolution is not a process 'aimed' at something.

"Diamond's book actually has an argument for why certain groups developed technologies and others did not--and it isn't based on a racial superiority."

-- no; it's based on a very unconvincing type of geographical determinism, which occasionally explains particular developments but which he stretches out of all plausibility.

7/05/2005 11:32:00 PM  
Blogger crazyloko said...

China Wholesalers has been described as the world’s factory. buy products wholesaleThis phenomenom is typified by the rise ofbusiness. Incredible range of products available with China Wholesale “Low Price and High Quality” not only reaches directly to their target clients worldwide but also ensures that wholesale from china from China means margins you cannot find elsewhere and China Wholesale will skyroket your profits.china wholesale productsbuy china wholesalewholesale chinawholesale productsbuy products

9/25/2009 01:43:00 AM  
Blogger aiya said...

Office 2010
Microsoft Office 2010
Microsoft word
Office 2007
Microsoft Office
Microsoft Office 2007
Office 2007 key
Office 2007 download
Office 2007 Professional
Outlook 2010
Microsoft outlook
Microsoft outlook 2010
Windows 7

11/08/2010 12:11:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home