Monday, June 25, 2012

The Master Race

Ever run into a racial supremacist?  They're a surprisingly diverse bunch.  Seems every way we can divide up humanity, someone is convinced that that is the correct way and coincidentally, they're part of the best one.  Weird how often that happens.

To start off, I don't actually think the concept of a superior race is impossible.  If we fully understood genetics, which we don't, it seems possible to determine which racial group or subgroup is the best-suited to the modern human existence and as an added bonus, will do well in the predicted future.  That would be the master race.

There's a problem, well several, but let's start with our ignorance: we are nowhere near the point of actually being able to identify the best genes for humans.  That means that anyone claiming to have identified the master race is just making things up.  You knew that, of course.

Maybe you've tried to point this out.  I don't think there's much use to it.  I'm sure that if I thought I was descended from gods or at least not ascended from monkeys, I'd be pretty eager to keep my own delusional sense of superiority.  So the "you don't know what you're talking about" line of argument isn't going to get anywhere.  People don't like not knowing things, which is why we invented spies and lies, so we could know or at least pretend.

On the opposite spectrum, I bet we'd have a shot at identifying inferior genes.  We've already found many debilitating genetic diseases.  This hints at a process of elimination approach, of identifying the inferior and steadily removing them until all that is left is superior.  Beside that phrasing making that an utterly absurd statement, there is another problem: evolution.

Even if we could, and we can't, identify a superior or inferior race, it would be stupid to act on that information.  Why?  Let's try an analogy.

Imagine that we're designing rocket fuel.  I make a fuel that provides more thrust per unit of mass than yours and the cost difference is negligible compared to the performance gain.  Obviously the rocket surgeons are going to use my fuel for their rockets.  And that's that.  Notice how I don't mention that your rocket fuel and formula will be banned, destroyed, and forgotten.  Why would we destroy knowledge?  At some point, we might be launching from Mars and find that the particular characteristics of the atmosphere there make your fuel the one with the greater thrust and it's cheaper too.  Or maybe the combustion product of your fuel kills Martians and our ambassadors aren't making any progress on preventing war.  Now your inferior fuel is actually the superior one.  Sometimes at least.  It's a good thing we didn't destroy the formula.

But that is exactly what happens when people try to purify the gene pool.  The genes which were useful in certain contexts are gone.  The genes which were harmless mutations are gone.  The genes that are insignificantly different are gone.  But change is not gone.  So when the world changes and humanity is pressured, suddenly it seems pretty stupid to not have those genes around anymore.  It reduces our ability to adapt and survive.

That's the great irony of it all, the pursuit of a master race: it weakens humanity rather than strengthening it.  It is precisely diversity which allows survival because it is through diverse beings that we get diverse responses to the world.

As a concrete example, imagine a world where all African genes are eliminated (let's overlook the human origin in Africa, since we are playing by the absurd assumptions of racists).  And then malaria mutates and finds a new way to spread, without needing mosquitoes, and breaks free of geographic barriers.  The sickle cell mutation isn't of much use when malaria is far away, and sometimes very harmful or difficult to treat, but if malaria were to spread, then suddenly a minor genetic 'disease' is actually a major genetic savior.

No one knows how many other genetic diseases may have been adaptations to past conditions, or may be waiting for a future when they are useful.  Even if we knew exactly what was best for the present, we will never know what is best for the future, so let's not throw away something that may very well be useful.  That's the thing about evolution: it isn't an upward trajectory, or any trajectory at all: it's survival in the situation and survival in the next.

And of course I'm not much a fan of starting multi-generational international wars over delusions of truth.

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