Is Race a Social Construct?

Karl-Olov Arnstberg’s latest Sunday essay is below; many thanks to our Swedish correspondent LN for the translation.

The translator includes this prefatory note:

Karl-Olov Arnstberg, born in 1943, is a Swedish ethnologist (former professor of ethnology at Stockholm University), author and debater. He has written several well-known books, including Typically Swedish. Prof. Arnstberg is known as a debater and commentator on issues related to, among other things, political correctness, the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, cultural Marxism, and a critic of Sweden’s migration policy.

Prof. Arnstberg’s essays are posted at the blog Invandring och mörkläggning. A list of his previous translated pieces is at the bottom of this post.

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Before I get to the translation, I’d like to offer a few remarks on the question of the biological basis of race.

The issue would not be so contentious if it weren’t for racial differences in intelligence. Discussing that aspect of the debate (without simply pre-emptively refuting it) is a career-ender for anyone in academia, the media, or politics.

It isn’t contentious that there are racial differences in, for example, athletic prowess. That’s because blacks are generally more accomplished in that area — not just in basketball and football, but also track and field and other athletic pursuits. And it’s also OK to find racial differences in, say, musical ability, because blacks are generally the ones with a better sense of rhythm. Not to mention better dancers.

But racial differences in intelligence? Uh-uh, better stay away from that. Otherwise you may never work in this town again.

More than fifty years ago, in (I think) 1972, I wrote a term paper on race and intelligence for a college course in physical anthropology. I drew on the work of Professor Arthur Jensen, who was in the process of being cancelled, even at that time. The Southern Poverty Law Center referred to him as the “father of modern academic racism”.

And for all I know, he really was a “racist”. But what difference does that make, if his data were good? If he didn’t falsify results, or leave out potentially contradictory information, and if his methodology was sound, then it doesn’t matter whether he considered non-white races to be inferior.

But Dr. Jensen got cast into the Outer Darkness, as have so many other people who have dared to point out what the data indicate about persistent, measurable difference in intelligence between racial groups that can be distinguished by genetic differences. In the fifty-two years since I wrote that paper, a huge mass of additional data has been accumulated, augmented by computer-assisted DNA analysis and other tools that allow researches to drill down into the differences among the races. Race-based differences in intelligence are now undeniable, but the entirety of polite society denies them, anyway, because the implications are simply too awful to contemplate.

I don’t have a job to get fired from or a career to be ended, so I can say what I want about these matters.

The general breakdown is this: Ashkenazi Jews are the most intelligent people on the planet. The Chinese and the Japanese are a few IQ points behind, followed by Northern Europeans and then Southern Europeans. After that come North Africans, Middle Easterners, and South Asians, and then American Indians. At the bottom are sub-Saharan Africans and Australian Aborigines.

These are statistical differences. They have nothing to do with differences among individuals. If Joe Biden and Thomas Sowell were ever to share a podium, we would see a brilliant man and a moron side by side. But it wouldn’t be the black man who was the imbecile.

There are geniuses and simpletons in every racial group. The differences lie in where the bell curve of IQ peaks for each group.

As a matter of interest, the curve for Europeans has longer tails — that is, Europeans have the greatest numbers of outliers when it comes to intelligence. There are more geniuses among whites, and also more idiots. The effect is also more pronounced among males than females — white men are more likely to be super-geniuses, and also infra-dolts.

If these differences in intelligence were ever to be generally accepted, it would simplify the making of public policy. Affirmative action would no longer be needed, and the relentless attack on merit-based employment practices could be abandoned. Every person could be educated and employed based on his or her demonstrated capabilities.

Unfortunately, that world is a remote dream. Human nature being what it is, I expect the current denial of reality to continue, and even get worse.

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Now for the translated essay by Prof. Arnstberg:

Is race a social construct?

by Karl-Olov Arnstberg
May 12, 2024

For as long as languages have existed, the peoples of the world have probably had words meaning ‘people who are different from us.’ It has been common to refer to one’s own tribe as humans and everyone else as non-humans. Some of the world’s oldest books, such as the Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’ and the Indian Vedas, contain racial divisions. The term race entered the English language in the late 16th century and was originally used to refer to people with a common origin and culture. In Europe, it became popular to group races based on skin colour — white, black, yellow, brown and red.

In the 18th century, the naturalists Carl von Linné [Linnaeus] and Johann Blumenbach divided populations into races based on morphology, i.e. visible physical differences such as pigmentation, skin shape and skeletal type. By the mid-19th century, scientists had realised that the different races were not only morphologically different but also had different personalities and intellectual characteristics. These differences made it possible to create a hierarchy, with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom.

This racial theory coincided with the colonisation of the New World by Europeans. In both South and North America, the invaders displaced and in many cases exterminated the original peoples. In the New World, they imported black Africans and incorporated slavery into their social systems. The consequences were devastating even after slavery was abolished.

In anthropology, the early 20th century saw a scientific backlash, not only against the idea of a racial hierarchy, but against the very idea that races exist at all. Its most prominent spokesman was Franz Boas, a pioneering anthropologist and fierce opponent of what he condemned as ‘scientific racism’. One of his students, the British anthropologist Ashley Montagu, emotionally ratcheted up the rejection in his book Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, first published in 1942. Since then, it has been translated into many languages and published in many editions. It states that ‘Race is the witchcraft of our time, demonology.’

As the American political scientist Charles Murray notes in his book Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class (2020), he thereby set the rhetorical tone for today’s academic orthodoxy.

In the 1970s and 1980s, scientists’ aversion to the concept of race was given new ammunition in the form of two claims, based on research:

  • The genetic differences between human populations are insignificant.
  • Humans left Africa too recently for important differences to have developed.

These arguments were put forward by geneticist Richard Lewontin and the palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould, both of Harvard University. In 1972, Lewontin published an article entitled The Apportionment of Human Diversity. He had analysed the genetic diversity within races using the tools available at the time and found that less than 15% of all genetic diversity was explained by differences between groups. He concluded with a passage that has since become canonical with respect to racial research:

It is clear that our perception of relatively large differences between human races and subgroups, compared to the variation within these groups, is indeed a biased perception. Based on randomly selected genetic differences, populations are remarkably similar to each other. Most of the genetic variation is explained by the differences between individuals. Classifying people by race has no scientific value and is purely destructive of social and human relations. Since such racial classification is now considered to have no genetic or taxonomic meaning, it cannot be justified.

Twelve years later, Stephen Jay Gould wrote much the same thing in his column in Natural History Magazine. Late in life, at the turn of the millennium in 2000, he claimed that ‘natural selection is almost irrelevant in human evolution. There has been no biological change in man for 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilisation we have built with the same body and brain.’

The implication was obvious: The concept of race was a trick, which was about consolidating the power of the white majority and enabling it to control and oppress minorities. More academically: race is a social construct. This was a view confirmed in 2003 by The American Sociological Association. Members were warned of the danger of contributing to the popular misconception that race was a biological concept. And in 2019, The American Association of Physical Anthropology made the official statement that “The Western concept of race should be understood as a classification system that arose out of, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination.”

Jared Diamond, the popular science author of the bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel (1998), put the final nail in the coffin with the assertion that those who claim that races exist are comparable to flat-earthers, those who believe that the earth is flat.

There was a backlash. In their book The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (2009), the anthropologists Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending criticise the notion that evolution stopped before humans began migrating from Africa. They write that it is some kind of politically correct wishful thinking. If it were true, Finns and Zulus would look the same and, as we know, they do not. There are strong reasons to believe that even after the migration from Africa, human evolution is not only theoretically possible but even probable. It is quite obvious that it has happened and is happening, because people are different from each other.

The most famous backlash came from the American journalist Nicholas Wade in 2014 with his popular science book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. In Sweden, the book was passed over in silence, while it was much debated in the United States, despite stating the near-obvious, namely that regional differences in evolutionary pressures have led to today’s human races. Distinct populations have developed different traits under different conditions via natural selection — a theory that is widely recognised in the animal and plant kingdoms. Naturally, he was accused of being a racist.

Charles Murray, in the 2020 book mentioned above, notes that Franz Boas and Ashley Montagu were right when they said that many 19th-century ideas about race were caricatures, divorced from biological reality. Richard Lewontin was right that racial differences account for only a small part of the biological variation that exists among humans. Stephen Jay Gould was right to reject the widespread view that humans had evolved independently over hundreds of thousands of years in Europe, Asia and Africa. Orthodoxy is not entirely wrong, but it goes too far in concluding that race is biologically irrelevant.

The concept of race has undoubtedly been misused, but it is always unscientific to establish scientific truths. What characterises science is that its truths are provisional. Scientists need to be able to abandon long-held positions if newer science proves them wrong. Moreover, the claim that observable biological differences such as skin colour are biologically irrelevant is almost laughable.

Genetically speaking, the argument against biological human races is based on the fact that 99.9% of all human DNA is the same. However, this is not true for genes but for so-called base pairs. A gene can contain a very large number of base pairs and a single altered base pair can dramatically change the function of the gene. Thus, the proportion of genes that differ between people can be very large even if the proportion of base pairs that differ is very small. Genetics has also identified differences between ethnic groups, such as resistance to malaria, lactose tolerance and the brain enzyme monoamine oxidase, which can be linked to personality traits and behaviour. The correct statement is that, at its current level, research has not been able to demonstrate any meaningful links between what is commonly referred to as race and genetics.

However, research is on its way. The previously held ‘truth’ that the cradle of humanity is in Africa has been shown, not least through the research of Swedish Nobel laureate Svante Pääbo, to be as wrong as the hypothesis that all humans come from Kalmar. Pääbo has mapped the Neanderthal genome, discovered an extinct human form and proved that cross-breeding took place between Homo sapiens and our extinct relatives, the Neanderthals and Denisovans. The Denisovans were discovered via a small bone fragment from the Denisova cave. It is not in Africa but in Siberia. Modern humans in some areas carry up to six per cent Denisovan DNA. So the first humans were in more places than Africa. Plus, the time span is much longer. The last common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans lived about 800,000 years ago. Research also showed that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens had children with each other during the tens of thousands of years they were contemporaries.

I am confident that genetic research will be able to explain not only why we humans look different, but also in what ways we are different. Whether we organise these differences using the concept of race or find a less loaded concept, it is only a question of time. Race is a biological reality, not a social construct.

Previous posts by Karl-Olov Arnstberg:

2022   Mar   13   “We Need Not Celebrate Our Own Disintegration”
        16   What I Understand About Ukraine
    Aug   7   Talking to the Elephants
    Sep   7   Socialism is the Loser of History
2023   Jan   2   The Clever and the Stupid
    Mar   19   Ukrainian Nazism
    Jul   9   The Ascendancy of the Neocons
        16   Don’t Romanticize Volodomyr Zelensky

4 thoughts on “Is Race a Social Construct?

  1. “The general breakdown is this: Ashkenazi Jews are the most intelligent people on the planet. The Chinese and the Japanese are a few IQ points behind, followed by Northern Europeans and then Southern Europeans. After that come North Africans, Middle Easterners, and South Asians, and then American Indians. At the bottom are sub-Saharan Africans and Australian Aborigines.”

    So said “The Bell Curve”, Herrnstein and Murray.

  2. So apparently these people believe that “races” are a social construct, but in the same breath they claim that “racism” is alive and thriving in western societies.

    Well let me point out the logical fallacy here; if there is no such thing as races, then there cannot be racism either. The one hinges on the other. The very definition of racism is to treat others differently based solely on racial characteristics.

    But that’s not how it works in the dense and very logic-depraved brains of the new red brigades….

    The truth is that the woke use racism as an opportunity to foist their Marxist ideology on us, and at the same time do their darnedest to dismantle everything our civilisation has discovered through actual hard science and reason.

    And unfortunately they are very successful at it.

    • “Well let me point out the logical fallacy here; if there is no such thing as races, then there cannot be racism either. The one hinges on the other.”

      Let me point out the scream-at-the-sky fallacy with your explanation: You’re attempting to use logic/reason to explain the hysterical ravings of infantile Bolsheviks (i.e., commie-toddlers). The latter always trumps the former, resulting in very plump Pampers…..with no change in the weather.

  3. I remember, maybe twenty years ago, a friend tellng me she’d been to a lecture at (I think) Birkbeck College, part of London University. The speaker was discussing recent research, demonstrating that black Africans were more genetically diverse than the rest of humanity, and this diversity was to be (you guessed it) celebrated.

    As my friend pointed out, it could also mean that conditions in Africa, predators and bugs notwithstanding, were relatively benign; the people who left had to endure harsher conditions, and only the fittest survived (“fitness” being particularly about intelligence and adaptability).

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