‘n/a’ provided a link to Frank Salter’s On Genetic Interests. (Available in a variety of formats.)
That gift follows from the latest exchange on the topic, based on this Jayman post. Some (Salterian) contention from Pumpkin Person (here) and n/a (here). It’s a fascinating discussion, that has divided Cochran and Harpending, which is an indication of its seriousness. Sadly — if understandably — it tends to generate massive rancor very quickly, as is evident in the tone of some of these posts. That’s especially unfortunate because, heated race politics aside, there’s a massive amount of philosophical substance underlying it. (Maximum coldness would certainly be appreciated here.)
A suggestive remark from Salter (p.28), on the disrupted equilibrium between ‘ultimate’ and ‘proximate’ interests (a crucial and thought-provoking distinction):
The equilibrium applying to humans has been upset in recent generations, so that we can no longer rely on subjectively designated proximate interests to serve our ultimate interest. We must rely more on science to perceive the causal links between the things we value and formulate synthetic goals based on that rational appraisal.
So (subject to correction as the argument progresses) Salter proposes an explicit, rational proxy for the ‘ultimate interests’ of genetic propagation, now inadequately represented by change-shocked phenotypes (and, most importantly, brains). This is a Principal-Agent problem, applied to human biology.
Here is Salter laying out his problem at greater length:
Certainly we can no longer rely on our instincts to guide us through the labyrinths of modern technological society. But there is one innate capacity we possess that, combined with one or more motivations, is capable of solving this problem. Humans are uniquely equipped with analytic intelligence, the ability to tackle novel challenges. This ‘domain general’ problem-solving capacity evolved because it allowed our ancestors to find solutions to novel threats that arose in the environments in which they lived. General intelligence is distinguished from ‘domain specific capacities, such as face recognition and speech, specialized mental modules for solving recurring problems in the environments in which we evolved. We are flexible strategizers par excellence, able to construct our own micro environments across a great diversity of climates and ecosystems. Abstract intelligence is physiologically costly because it requires a large brain, difficult childbirth and extended childhood. Nevertheless it has been so adaptive that it distinguishes our species. It allows us to consciously assess dangers and opportunities and to devise novel solutions, or to choose a well-rehearsed routine from our extensive repertoire to apply in a given situation. Now changed environments have effectively blinded us to large stores of our genetic interests, or to put it more accurately, for the first time situated us where we need to perceive those interests and be motivated to pursue them. This blindness is not cured by a people’s economic and political power, as documented in Chapter 3, regarding the decline of Western populations. We must rely on our intelligence to adapt, not only using science to perceive our fundamental interests in the abstract but devising ways to realize these interests through proximate interests, the short-term goals of which we are aware and towards which we are motivated to act.
There’s a far more general topic here than racial antagonism (without wanting to dismiss the importance of that). Putting it up here now is a test of whether it can be discussed without throwing people into a rage. If so, it could become an engaging conversation.
(Googling Moravec’s concept of ‘replicator usurpation’ for a cite, it seems that I’m the only person who’s being talking about it for over a decade. That’s disappointing, because its relevance to these questions seems obvious. I’m going to need to look it up again in order to come back here with a helpful quote.)
ADDED: Gloss and critical commentary from David B. at Gene Expression (2005): “It is essential to understand that Salter is not presenting a biological theory of how people have evolved, how they will evolve in future, or why they behave in the way they do. [Note 2] As Salter puts it himself: ‘the present work is not primarily a theory of human behavior, but of interests. Rather than being a work of explanation, this is mainly an exercise in political theory dealing with what people are able to do if they want to behave adaptively (p.85)… my main goal in this chapter is not to describe how people actually behave. Rather, I explore how individuals would behave if they were attempting to preserve their genetic interests (p.257)’. Some of these remarks might suggest that Salter is merely setting out an option that people may wish to follow or not, according to their own values, but it can hardly be doubted that Salter himself positively advocates the pursuit of ethnic genetic interests, principally through the control of immigration. The use of such terms as ‘adaptive’, ‘fitness’, and ‘ultimate interests’ could in principle have a neutral biological sense, but in practice Salter uses them with an evaluative force: he regards the policies he discusses not just as possible but desirable. Otherwise why say that we ‘need to perceive’ our genetic interests and ‘be motivated to pursue them’? From time to time he overtly uses the mode of recommendation rather than mere analysis, for example, ‘Multiculturalism and other versions of ethnic pluralism… are types of ethnic regime that majorities should certainly avoid (p.188)… Since genetic interests are the most fundamental, liberals [sic] should support social policies that take these vital interests into account (p.250)’. And some of the language and comparisons Salter uses are strongly emotive … much of Salter’s book is concerned with immigration, and especially immigration from third-world countries to the West. In my view there are sound arguments against large-scale, uncontrolled immigration from the third-world, not least the danger of civil strife resulting from the presence of large unassimilated groups holding values and beliefs incompatible with those of the host society. But it would be unwise for people who object to uncontrolled immigration on these grounds to latch onto Salter’s ideas. Whatever Salter’s own motives, his theory is being taken up enthusiastically by racists (as a Google search will confirm), and anyone who follows their lead will be tainted by association. Since even by Salter’s own account his theory is not a scientific thesis, but more of a political manifesto, there can be no compelling reason for non-racists to accept it.”
David B.’s final point is especially relevant to some of the issues hinted at in the post here (targeted for future development): “… Salter’s doctrine is profoundly anti-eugenic. For Salter, it is in the interest of an individual to preserve and promote the gene frequencies of his own ethnic group, whether the existing gene frequency is good, bad or indifferent, as judged by qualitative criteria. So, for example, it is in the interest of American blacks to promote their own gene frequencies against those of American whites, even if in some respects it would be better for blacks themselves to change those gene frequencies. The doctrine of genetic interests is inherently backward-looking and conservative. In contrast, the eugenic position is that we are able to make value judgements about what characteristics are desirable (such as health, intelligence, and beauty) and undesirable (such as stupidity, mental illness, and physical disabilities) and then to take reproductive decisions based on those judgements. Of course eugenics is controversial, but many of those who might feel vaguely sympathetic to Salter’s approach would also feel vaguely sympathetic to eugenics, and they should at least be aware of the conflict between them.”