[Paleopsych] Pierre van den Berghe reviews Frank Salter's book On Genetic Interests

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Pierre van den Berghe reviews Frank Salter's book _On Genetic Interests_
(Peter Lang, 2003, 388 pp. £23.00). in _Nations and Nationalism_
2005 vol. 11 (1), 163-165.

This is the kind of book which social scientists should read if they ever hope 
to become literate about human biology and its implications for our social 
behaviour. For many, if not most social scientists, human sociobiology (or 
evolutionary psychology, or behavioural ecology, or ethology, or whatever label 
you want to give to the biology of behaviour) is simply anathema, on both 
theoretical and ideological grounds. However, increasing minorities of 
anthropologists, psychologists, economists, political scientists and 
sociologists are beginning to absorb the social implications of human evolution 
and genetics. All ideological trends, by the way, are represented among these 

Salter's book is divided into three parts. First, he expands W. D. Hamilton's 
'inclusive kinship' theory to ethnies. Then he draws the policy implications of 
ethnic nepotism. Finally, he concludes with the ethics thereof. No summary can 
do justice to a work so rich and novel in content, but let me try.

In the first 75 pages, Salter essentially extends Hamiltonian kin selection 
from family to ethny, as I suggested should be done a quarter of a century ago. 
But he goes an important step beyond my simple formulation of ethnic nepotism 
as an extended and attenuated form of family nepotism. Salter persuasively 
argues that one should not only take into account genes shared by common 
descent, as in the classical Hamiltonian coefficient of relatedness, but all 
shared genes, whether by common descent or not, as in R. A. Fisher's 
coefficient of kinship. According to H. Harpending's calculations, the average 
coefficient of kinship in many ethnies that have practiced a large degree of 
endogamy for generations (the very definition of an ethny) is about as high as 
between half-siblings, aunt and nephew, or grand-parent and grand-child. Thus, 
ethnic nepotism is not a weak form of family nepotism, but virtually a proxy 
for it. I was even more right than I knew! Furthermore, as we have many more 
co-ethnics than relatives, the aggregate mass of genes shared with the former 
dwarfs that shared with the latter.

The liberal, 'multicultural' counter to this is that, since all humans share 
something like 99.9 per cent of their genes with one another, we are all 
virtually identical twins under the skin, and should extend our fraternal 
embrace to humanity as a whole. We are also over 98 per cent chimp, by the way. 
Relatedness is always relative to others with whom we compete for scarce 
resources. Therefore, it is those extra shared genes within the family or ethny 
which increase our fitness compared to our less related competitors, and which 
make us uniquely different from them. Vive la différence is the royal road to 
inclusive fitness maximisation. Show me a society where parents routinely think 
their neighbours' children are 99.9 per cent as good as their own, and allocate 
their bounty according to this fine principle. A few tried (Hutterites, 
Kibbutzim) but failed.

The second and much longer part of the book (some 190 pages) applies this model 
of ethnic nepotism to policies or strategies of allocation of resources within 
and between states and ethnies controlling territories with finite carrying 
capacities. It is impossible to summarise adequately the countless implications 
of this model to immigration policies, citizenship law, affirmative action, 
multiculturalism, etc., except to say that Salter sees the universalisation of 
the genuine nation-state, i.e. the mono-ethnic one, as the best 'stable 
evolutionary strategy' for our species.

Finally, Salter concludes with a shorter section (some 40 pages) on ethics. If 
we consider it eminently moral for parents to care preferentially for their 
children so long as they do not harm their neighbours' offspring, why should we 
stigmatise preference for our own ethnic kind who are, after all, extended kin? 
He thus advocates an ethic of 'adaptive utilitarianism' in which 'the ultimate 
form of liberty is the freedom to defend one's genetic interests' (p. 283), 
restrained only by the equal right of others to do likewise, and a prohibition 
to harm others.

No doubt, Salter's position will raise many accusations of fascism or racism, 
but let me state here that he is not at all the conventional reactionary! He 
advocates a liberal, democratic nation-state; he is acutely aware of the 
problem of elite parasitism; he expresses horror at the orgies of genocide and 
war provoked by nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; he is 
very critical of globalisation, which he sees as another form of elite 
parasitism. However, his position also coincides with that of the conventional 
right in opposing open immigration, multiculturalism, affirmative action and 
other sacred cows of the politically correct left.

As a sociobiologist who is also a political anarchist, I applaud Salter's 
extension of inclusive fitness to ethnic nepotism, because it helps us 
understand so much of human affairs; but I am sceptical of his faith in the 
liberal ethnic state. Salter, to be sure, is well aware of its openness to 
elite parasitism, but he is nevertheless overly sanguine about its prospects. 
First, his assumption that the nation-state has an affinity for liberal 
democracy is contradicted by much historical evidence. Nation-states have come 
in all political colours, from genocidal fascism, to 'Herrenvolk democracy', to 
parliamentary, bourgeois democracy, to murderous communism. The nineteenth and 
twentieth centuries the Golden Age of nation-states have been graveyards of 
lethal industrialised warfare and routinised genocides. As for elite 
parasitism, it is not simply a danger to which 'liberal democracies' are 
exposed: it is the very essence of any state. States are essentially killing 
machines run by the few to steal from the many. I, for one, do not mourn the 
current passing of the nation-state, nor the devolution of many of its powers. 
The track record of the past two centuries does not deserve its eulogy.

Finally, there is the question Salter raises early in the book (pp. 7785): do 
contemporary humans living in urbanised mass societies care about their 
fitness, and do they continue to behave accordingly? The answer he gives is, I 
think, correct: yes, but less so than they did when humans lived in their 
environment of evolutionary adaptation, the savannas of Pleistocene Africa. The 
real question thus becomes: how much less? I believe our species has recently 
(in the last century) taken a maladaptive leap by subverting proximate means of 
fitness maximisation to serve purely hedonistic rather than evolutionary ends. 
This is blatantly the case with sexual behaviour, which has been almost 
entirely de-coupled from reproduction. (To be sure, much like Bonobo chimps, we 
have long been 'copulatorily redundant', and exchanged sex for food, 
protection, investment in offspring, companionship and fun, but not in the 
rational, fail-safe way made possible by modern technology.) The current 
epidemics of obesity and drug addictions are other symptoms of this run-away 
hedonism rooted in biological predispositions that were once adaptive, but have 
become acutely maladaptive.

How long can this go on? Probably not very long, but who cares, compared to the 
instant rewards of hedonism? Perhaps we are simply too smart for our own good. 
Perhaps, as a by-product of our encephalisation which brought acutely painful 
self-consciousness and modern bio-technology, we no longer want to play our 
genes' game of reproducing themselves. In a pique of supreme biological hubris, 
we proclaim ourselves more important than the sum of our genes. The future 
demise of our entire species pales by comparison with our own individual 
demise. Après moi le déluge.

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