Sunday, July 8, 2012

Under the Enemy's Radar: The 10,000 Year Explosion

Cochran, Gregory and Henry Harpending.  The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.  (New York: Basic Books, 2009), ill., 288 pp., hardback, $27.00.

Here is another one that just flew in under the enemy's radar.

The popular concept of Darwinian evolution is that it involves the slow accumulation of mutations over periods of millions of years.  But evolution can also move quickly, assert Cochran and Harpending, a fact that has been overlooked by people working in the humanities and the social sciences who assume that humanity has gone unchanged since its emergence “out of Africa.”  Cochran and Harpending, both professors of anthropology at the University of Utah, amass data to prove that “A burst of innovation followed the expansion of modern humans . . . . the pattern became much stronger in Europe some 20,000 years later, after anatomically modern humans had encountered and displaced the Neanderthals” (p. 64).

Evolution has accelerated in recent millennia because mutations have greatly increased in number with the increase of population.  Most of these mutations were detrimental to survival and soon disappeared, but others, beneficial, were soon dispersed throughout large populations.  The authors assert that “In fact, history looks more and more like a science fiction novel in which mutants repeatedly arise and displace normal humans – sometimes quietly, simply by surviving, sometimes as a conquering horde” (p. 67).

The mutant gene for light skin color among Europeans “came into existence about 5,800 years ago.”   A different gene explains light skin color among East Asians. “The genetic changes underlying light skin in Europe and East Asia are almost entirely different” (pp. 93-4).   Biblical fundamentalists should note that caucasoids came into being about the same time that Adam and Eve were created, according to Ussher's biblical chronology, around 4,000 B.C.  It is at least a remarkable coincidence that the biblical account of the Adamic creation matches in time this evolutionary theory of the origin of European man.

Note also the final sentence of the following:  “A number of the new, rapidly spreading alleles found in the recent selection surveys have to do with the central nervous system . . .  And there are new versions of genes that play a role in brain development: genes that affect axon growth, synapse formation, formation of the layers of the cerebral cortex, and overall brain growth.  Again, most of these new variants are regional: Human evolution is madly galloping off in all directions” (p. 98).

The rise of agriculture displaced the old rough-and-tumble egalitarianism that prevailed in hunter-gatherer societies.  Stratified societies came into being.  “ Since the elites were in a very real sense raising peasants, just as peasants raised cows, there must have been a tendency for them to cull individuals who were more aggressive than average, which over time would have changed the frequencies of those alleles that induced such aggressiveness ” (pp. 11-2). “ Selection for submission to authority sounds unnervingly like domestication.  In fact, there are parallels between the process of domestication in animals and the changes that have occurred in humans during the Holocene period ” (p. 112).

Cochran and Harpending refute Jared Diamond (p. 121)and frankly assert that  “ the biological equality of human races and ethnic groups is not inevitable: In fact, it’s about as likely as a fistful of silver dollars all landing on edge when dropped.  There are important, well-understood examples of human biological inequality: Some populations can (on average) deal far more effectively with certain situations than others ” (p. 157).

A survey of the origin and dispersal of the Proto-Indo-Europeans (pp. 175f.) is followed by a lengthy final chapter which considers how the Ashkenazic Jews (i.e., Jews living in Europe) developed their intellectual preeminence in so many fields.

“The majority of the Ashkenazim seem to have been moneylenders by 1100, and this pattern continued for several centuries. Such occupations (trade and finance) had high IQ demands, and we know of no other population that had such a large fraction of cognitively demanding jobs for an extended period” (p. 197).  (How selection for intelligence occurred among Jews is summarized on pp. 222-4.)

It seems euphemistic for Cochran and Harpending to refer to moneylending and finance as "white-collar jobs" back in the medieval period, but the authors are remarkably frank in other areas.   They do not belabor the backwardness of sub-Saharan Africa, but they refuse to dismiss it as simply a matter of cultural lag.  Other, interesting inferences can be drawn from their work.  Thus, does international finance Jewry have the implicit goal of domesticating the masses of the world the way that the feudal elites sought the domestication of the peasants?  Indirectly, Cochran and Harpending would seem to offer support to Kevin MacDonald’s thesis that Judaism is “a group evolutionary strategy.”

The 10,000 Year Explosion has gotten into more public libraries than academic libraries.  It belongs in both.  It is also a book which is worth buying.



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