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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Universal Human: "Looking At This Map For 5 Seconds Will Change How You Think About Race"

Posted by on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 9:13 AM

The map is here. What it shows is that the world map of human races corresponds with the world map of Mean Average Temperatures. See, race begins and ends with place. The anthropologist Nina Jablonski is a leading proponent of this way of thinking...

We are always looking for the universal human. Plato saw the guardians as this kind of subject. Hegel saw it as the civil servants. Marx, of course, saw it as the proletariat. But the universal subject is actually not a product of social history, but an accident of natural processes. This is why Stephen J. Gould got it right when he wrote that humans are "contingently equal." By this he meant: We are equal not because of some design or purpose but by the accident our newness. Humans are really very similar and very new (250,000 years is even less than a blink in deep time). You will find more genetic differences within a community of chimps than humans from any part of this world. The universal subject has only just arrived and it is all of us—the human species.

Indeed, I think our ability to cooperate with strangers (the true genius of human socaility) may have something to do with the speed with which we spread around the world, our newness, and general genetic closeness rather than a consequence of cultural evolution and the social markings that Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd discuss in their important book Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. We have long to go before we reach the noon of the universal subject


Comments (24) RSS

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GeneStoner 1
I agree with the author. Some cultures are worse than mine.

For example: Thug-lyfe. The bain of our existence.
Posted by GeneStoner on February 22, 2013 at 9:33 AM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 2
WOW what an interestingly stunning, strong, intelligent, beautifully proportioned, well spoken woman! Why can't Men be more like a Woman. Huh? What was she talking about? Darwin who?
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on February 22, 2013 at 9:37 AM · Report this
Fnarf 3
I quibble with some of the map data. Indigenous Australians for the most part have extremely dark skin, darker than all but the very blackest Africans, and much, much darker than indigenous Chileans, for instance. They are almost as dark as anywhere on the planet. Yet the map shows bands of medium-to-light. That may be true for the predominant white imports, but the white people there are not arrayed in bands of skin color -- and it is not sensible to rank them on this map anyways, since they are not indigenous.

It's true that most of Australia is a desert climate or a tropical one, or both, and those create hot conditions unlike anywhere else on earth, which might explain the black skin, but it doesn't agree with the map.
Posted by Fnarf on February 22, 2013 at 9:42 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 5
Now Andrew S. will definitely change his tune.

Did you know that Andrew S. is actually one of the unregistered trolls?

And "Unbrainwashed" is the new monkier of "Mister G" after he was banned for mocking shooting victims?
Posted by Theodore Gorath on February 22, 2013 at 9:55 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 6
Now Andrew S. will definitely change his tune.

Did you know that Andrew S. is actually one of the unregistered trolls?

And "Unbrainwashed" is the new moniker of "Mister G" after he was banned for mocking shooting victims?
Posted by Theodore Gorath on February 22, 2013 at 9:57 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 7
Hey, the first post did not show up even after I refreshed mulitiple times.

My bad.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on February 22, 2013 at 9:58 AM · Report this
Yeah...the map is strange. I'm thinking of the Sami and Inuits in the far north and that surely isn't represented here. (No data...)
Posted by SeaPixel on February 22, 2013 at 9:59 AM · Report this
A colleague of mine is a dermatologist. Not a doctor specializing in skin disorders, but a research scientist studying skin. Melanin in particular. She gets calls fairly regularly from pseudointellectuals, wanting her to confirm their racist theories that light skin is better, and she gets sick of it. There's absolutely nothing behind their nonsense, and if anything, there's a clear advantage to having darker skin because it's a defense against UV.
Posted by GermanSausage on February 22, 2013 at 10:06 AM · Report this
GeneStoner 10
Holy Moly! They had "Genus Homos" back then too?

Could they marry back in the day too? She didn't say...

More BS skin-color fetish Chuck Mud. Quit acting like a victim and take what this great country has given you.
Posted by GeneStoner on February 22, 2013 at 10:14 AM · Report this
treacle 11
@8 - I would wonder if the Inuit groups have darker skin due to the extremely high albedo of snow, reflecting the UV back up. They essentially get double the UV that reaches those geographic areas from the Sun alone.
Also, WTF "no data"? Weird.

I've always understood that there is biologically only one human race -- every human is so genetically close to one another that we can all interbreed with no problems at all. One race. The whole skin color differentiation is a tribal-mentality Us vs. Them thing. Nothing more.
Posted by treacle on February 22, 2013 at 10:27 AM · Report this
The correlation is generally strong, but the area west of the Andes shows that there's something amiss - dark skin, but not so hot. I think a map of UV insolation would show a better correlation.
Posted by boyd main on February 22, 2013 at 10:34 AM · Report this
I'm rather skeptical about the skin color map, as the average Ojibwe person and the average French person are most certainly not the same skin tone. It's true that the average temperature and sunlight in a region will have an effect on the people who are indigenous to that area, but it's not quite as clear cut as the map makes it out to be.

I'm also not sure how that map would "change how [I] think about race" unless I'm completely ignorant of people being affected by their climate.
Posted by Zuulabelle on February 22, 2013 at 10:35 AM · Report this
Doh! Forgot the Indians again!
Posted by Ruth Evershed on February 22, 2013 at 10:36 AM · Report this
@11, that's been known for some time. There's no scientific basis for the concept of race based on skin color any more than eye color, hair color, or height.

It's entirely sociological.
Posted by GermanSausage on February 22, 2013 at 10:42 AM · Report this
lark 16
Good Morning Charles,
Hmm? I agree with @3 & @11. I'm a bit skeptical of those maps. When I lived in Central Africa, I thought I saw the darkest humans on earth and deduced the same reasoning as the maps do. Then, I went to India and Australia. Indigenous people there seemed even darker!

Also, @11 is spot on. In one early experience on Mt. Rainier I got slightly sunburnt. It wasn't too bad as I have olive skin. But, my buddy, he was fried! He's a fair skinned Irishman. I recall him getting sunburnt inside his nostrils due to the reflecting snow! When I was in the Andes and in Alaska I did notice indigenous & Inuit having very dark skin. Again, I think it due to sun exposure, snow and/or extended days as in Alaska during the summer.

Whatever, I'm a member of the most exclusive club on earth, the human race. Skin color doesn't mean much to me.
Posted by lark on February 22, 2013 at 11:39 AM · Report this
So is race determined by regulatory rather than structural genes...the author says move to a place with more UV and in five generations your lineage will be darker. Is this from mating with the locals, or is he suggesting the evo-devo Lysenkoan style influence of environment on genes?
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on February 22, 2013 at 11:54 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 18
Race, on a genetic level, is fairly meaningless. If you want genetic diversity, you find it in Africa. If you want isolated gene pools you go to remote areas. It's all just easily modifiable adaptations on the same basic gene sequence.

Skin color is doubly meaningless.
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 22, 2013 at 12:05 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 19
@17 again, regulatory genes are not genes. Silencing and Amplifying DNA stretches have more to do with how it folds, and the siRNA silences, the mRNA bits make chunks that regulate, and it's all very chaotic.

There's never one biochemical pathway. There is always at least three. One main pathway we know a lot about. One secondary pathway we know a little about. And at least a third biochemical pathway that is evolutionarily conserved and turns on during down regulation of the primary and secondary, usually at periods of environmental or personal stress.

Think of it like a multi-layer OS with lots of helper programs that are no longer invoked and a bunch of fun hackers who like to turn stuff on to see if they can restart stuff when the main programs die.
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 22, 2013 at 12:09 PM · Report this
Sean Kinney 20
Skin pigmentation merely maps the territory occupied by our assumptions about "race".

Happily, many of you declare that pigmentation is meaningless and/or irrelevant!!! Good luck with that.
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on February 22, 2013 at 12:17 PM · Report this
The map definitely leaves a lot of questions in the air and could benefit from some explanation/citation. There has been so much migration in the last, say, 500 years, with little time for natural selection to take its course. For instance, is the relative dark skin on the coast of Brazil due to the slave trade? Or were the indiginous groups that dark?

And, as someone else noted, there's something weird going on in the west coast of S. America. Are Peruvians and N. Chileans really as dark skinned as folks in Central Africa?

Re: Australia, it's not clear if whites are included. I just read up a bit on the history of Aboriginal Australians. While they passed through India after splitting off from the main pop of humans, have been in their local for longer than any other population. So they've had the most time to adapt to their clime.
Posted by Jude Fawley on February 22, 2013 at 12:24 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 22
We should look at where we lost our hair. And everything about humans, everything, is a function of evolution. That's why albinism exits in humans. We held our genes from a distant relative. Why? We see albinism in the darkest skin societies.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on February 22, 2013 at 12:44 PM · Report this
Humans of any racial background can interbreed.
Dogs of any "breed" can interbreed.
So the differences between chihuahuas, Great Danes, pugs, and pitbulls are all sociological, right? Just a social construct. I'm sure a Pomeranian can pull a sled just as well as a husky.
Posted by catsnbanjos on February 22, 2013 at 1:21 PM · Report this
Sean Kinney 24
mtDNA mapping has provided us with a solid understanding of when and where large-scale human migrations took place.……

Still, Jablonski's discussion is very specific. She is focused on a very simple claim that the observable range of skin pigmentation is the manifestation of our geographical movement over time; it is a species-wide adaptive capability we possess to response to relative UV conditions.

She manages to avoid conflating this very narrow claim with the larger, complicated, and entirely problematic concept of "race". Why? Because she's smart, yes, but I think also because people have a real problem with "race" as a concept - they seldom deconstruct it, make absurd logical leaps when considering the observable variation in human phenotypes and linking them with cultural assumptions about intrinsic character of other "races" and ethnicities; and often grossly underestimate the tangible physicality of "race".

@23 - WTF?
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on February 22, 2013 at 1:33 PM · Report this
Sandiai 25
Charles, good post. However, you might be confusing these good people with that map of earthly temperatures.

Sure, the dose of UV photons raining down on the earth's surface often correlates well with infrared photons, but not always. And Dr. Jablonski is specifically talking about UV only.

In a way, I think of heat radiation as being negatively correlated with melanin. Since darker skin absorbs more heat, all else being equal it would be actually be advantageous to have darker skin in colder climates. That's why Dr. Jablonski is emphasizing UV radiation as the only* selective pressure for skin color. See, for example, on your heat map: the Himalayan plateau, where it's cold, but very sunny. The few natives that live there have darker skin than one would expect from a temperature map. Someone also mentioned the cold Chilean highlands, where residents are much darker than the temperatures would predict.

*Technically speaking, the selective pressure is really about vitamin D, which also can be separated (evolutionarily) from UV light as contributing to changes in skin color. That's how Northern populations that had/have access to vitamin D from fish, rather than sunlight (I'm thinking Northern Scandanavians and some Inuit) are darker than expected based on UV light levels. Same thing with parts of Japan where fish are a primary part of the diet. Other than that small quibble, I enjoyed your article very much.
Posted by Sandiai on February 22, 2013 at 9:46 PM · Report this

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