The twists of intellectual fashion in our society are often quite peculiar, especially when “touchy” topics are involved.
Consider, for example, the analysis of human behavior. Whatever most people may privately believe or say, the vocal academics and activists who control the commanding ideological heights of our media tend to claim that people act as they do largely because of social conditioning, and they often denounce or vilify those accused of the thoughtcrime of “genetic determinism.” Note the example of (former) Harvard President Larry Summers.
But all rules have exceptions, and for some unknown reason those same activists and media organs have decided that homosexuality is genetically based, denouncing anyone who suggests otherwise. Thus, genes officially determine gayness and nothing else, which hardly seems the most logical possibility in the world. But pointing out such inconsistencies can get you into hot water, so few people do.
Given the remarkable dishonesty of our media elites across such a wide range of topics, there is a natural tendency to assume that the truth is probably the opposite of whatever they say about anything. This undermines the credibility of the Gay Gene hypothesis, as does its proponents’ practice of treating scientific disagreement as religious heresy.
But frankly, the other side of the debate sometimes seems little better in its behavior. I think one of the most highly vilified rivals to Gay Gene theory is “Gay Germ theory,” the suggestion that some sort of virus or microorganism is responsible for the behavior in question. And just a few days ago, I noticed that evolutionary theorist Gregory Cochran, one of the leading Gay Germ proponents, had viciously insulted the intelligence of my old professor E.O. Wilson for his remarks supporting the Gay Gene side.
Although I’ll admit I’ve never much investigated this particular aspect of evolutionary biology theory, the whole academic dispute has always seemed a little strange to me. As near as I can tell, the two battling hypotheses—Gay Gene vs. Gay Germ—are hardly all that much opposed, and may even blend into one another when we draw the proper distinction between proximal and ultimate causation.
First, consider the genetic hypothesis. From what I’ve read here and there, there does seem to be a substantial degree of apparent heritability in the orientation, with the tendency running in families and the concordance being much higher in identical than in fraternal twins. But the heritability is far too low to be explained by a simple genetic on/off switch, therefore implying at the very least some sort of stochastic environmental trigger, and quite possibly some set of modifier genes as well.
Now consider the rival “germ” hypothesis. There seems no evidence that the agent is infectious in the usual sense of the word, so any such germ is likely to ambient in our society, with many or most people being constantly exposed and individual susceptibility to the virus being the determining factor. But such susceptibility is likely to have a important genetic component, as seen in the evidence for partial heritability. Thus, the hypothetical germ merely represents a particular example of the environmental trigger assumed by the genetic model, and the two theories are essentially the same.
Cochran and others ridicule the gene model as absurd, arguing that strong selective pressure would have rapidly eliminated any such genes from the population, and this is not unreasonable. But similar criticism could applied to their own model, since genetic susceptibility to the germ would obviously be subject to equally powerful selective disadvantage.
Actually it seems to me quite easy to imagine circumstances in which the genes in question would be maintained in dynamic equilibrium, with the selective disadvantage of the orientation being balanced by other sorts of advantages, much as Sickle Cell genes survive because of the heterozygous resistance they provide to malaria. Suppose, for example, that a GG homozygous condition together with a germ contact or some other environmental trigger (plus perhaps some modifier genes) produced the orientation, but that the heterozygous Gg combination provided some small selective advantage, quite possibly in something as mundane as digestion efficiency or iron transport. The result would be the permanent maintenance of the genes and behavior in question. I am certainly not suggesting that this particular model—which took me less than five minutes to produce—is correct, merely that I don’t see how it can be so easily dismissed out of hand based on the limited empirical evidence.
I suspect that one reason academic partisans of these rival theories are sometimes so arrogant in their certainty is that they tend to contrast their scientific-based ideas with the ridiculous Freudian nonsense that dominated the subject during the second half of the twentieth century, and assume that since those contrary ideas were probably 100% wrong, their own must therefore be 100% right.
On a different matter, Prof. Kevin MacDonald has responded to my criticism of his claims regarding the important role of Chinese polygamy, but I’m afraid I don’t find any of his new evidence very persuasive.
He correctly notes that some Chinese emperors were recorded as having many hundreds or even thousands of wives and concubines, and that polygyny was legal among all Chinese classes, but I’m still not aware of any evidence that the practice was widespread. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a large majority of China’s tens of thousands of government officials had concubines, as well as many wealthy merchants; but such elite groups constituted just a negligible fraction of a total population numbering in the hundreds of millions.
In an effort to confirm my impressions, I went back and consulted the indexes of five or six of my books providing detailed sociological studies of particular Chinese villages, and just as I remembered, the numbers of second wives or concubines was close to nil. Indeed, one of the authors pointed to the total absence of additional wives as being due to the huge costs involved, given how difficult it was for most Chinese villagers to afford acquiring even their first wife. Interestingly enough, the major exceptions were exactly the ones I remembered, namely villagers who had moved away to a city and there become wealthy enough to maintain multiple families, one of which was often eventually sent back to their ancestral village to look after their local property. The other typical case was that of villagers who had permanently relocated for work to a distant city or even moved overseas. They sometimes formed new families in that location, while their original wife remained a “grass widow” at home; but I think this situation was also sometimes found in America’s Old West of the nineteenth century. I stand by my impression that fewer than one percent of adult Chinese males living in rural villagers seem to have been polygamous.
And was the polygamous nature of China’s tiny ruling elite really so totally different than that of Europe’s kings or barons during the same centuries? I’m hardly an expert on medieval sociology, but my impression is that most members of the royalty or nobility tended to have numerous mistresses and often multiple families, even though this practice was frowned upon by the Church. As an extreme example, in the early eighteenth century King August the Strong of Poland was reported by contemporary sources to have sired nearly 400 children. The point is that the although the practices of the tiny slice of ruling elites may attract great historical attention and produce major cultural influences, they are unlikely to shape the innate characteristics of a large population.
Meanwhile, I’m pleased to see that my original Chinese Social Darwinism article continues to attract additional interest, with an Indian blogsite reprinting the entire piece and tweeting it out to over 20,000 recipients. My paper was also highlighted by UCLA Professor Cameron Campbell, a leading world authority on East Asian demographics, two of whose books I had read as part of the background research for my own analysis.
On a somewhat less favorable note, some blogger named Alan Baumler has denounced my article as “Yellow Peril 3.1,” juxtaposing his criticism with a description of fictional accounts advocating the total extermination of the Han race. He also described as particularly “loony” my suggestion that Chinese social-conformism may have roots in 2,000 years of strong central government authority, without apparently realizing that I was merely quoting the views of Bruce Lahn, a brilliant Chinese-born genetics researcher. I’ll admit that I don’t really know anything about the blogger in question, but he does seem to have serious problems in reading comprehension.