Why POC is a Terrible Term

In my line of blogging, I refer, frequently and often, to groups of people. This means I spend a lot of time thinking about ethnonyms (perhaps too much time.)

So what’s wrong with People of Color?

Simply put, it doesn’t actually correspond with any meaningful, real-world group.

Whenever we speak of one group of people, we of course imply the existence of everyone else who is not of that group. We can speak of Chinese and non-Chinese, whites and non-whites, Poles and non-Poles. But it is clear from this phrasing that “non-X” is not a group defined by any common characteristic, but by lack of a characteristic–whatever X is. No one attempts to describe what it is like to be “non-Chinese” because there is no such real-life group as “non-Chinese,” and there is therefore no single experience that non-Chinese people have.

The term PoC attempts to imply that there such a thing as a unitary non-white experience, and by contrast, a unitary white experience. Take, for example, this comic, which is supposed to “[explore] a subtle kind of racism many people of color experience”:

picture-15abFun personal story time: Despite having been married for many years, doctors and maternity ward staff have assumed I’m single. (There’s special paperwork for single moms.)

Meanwhile, Asians are PoC, and yet these are not questions that people typically ask Asians, because there’s no stereotype that Asians have high teen pregnancy rates and are bad at school. Asians do have to deal with racism and dumb questions, but since Asians aren’t black, their experiences aren’t black experiences.

Indeed, the girl drawn in the comic is clearly not Asian, Indian, or Hispanic, but black! The author purposefully wrote about a black person, and yet the person promoting the comic decided to ignore this and pretend that the comic is about the experiences of all non-white people (and, of course, never the experiences of whites.)

This duality is false.

Whites are not particularly unified. It wasn’t so long ago that Germany invaded Poland and killed 1/5 of the population (not to mention all of the other people who died on various sides during WWII.) In 1932-33, the Soviet Union committed genocide against millions of Ukrainians (also white). During the Second Anglo-Boer war, the English committed genocide against the Dutch-descended people of South Africa. The Irish, Italians, and Jews are still claiming to be exempt from historical “white privilege” arguments due to discrimination against their ancestors.

Jayman's map of the American Nations
Jayman’s map of the American Nations

I could go on–the list of European wars and inter-ethnic conflicts extends approximately forever, after all.

In the US, of course, “white” is a more meaningful term than in Europe, but even here, there are major distinctions of class, culture, and genetics. The average white person from West Virginia is not the same as the average white from New York, Texas, or Minnesota. Not only were these places originally settled by different groups of whites–Appalachia received whites from the “borderlands” region of Britain while Minnesota is heavily Scandinavian–but they currently have very different cultures.

Class further complicates matters, with Southern and rural whites generally seen as low-class (and treated accordingly) by other whites. Much of our current political debate can be seen as a fight between white social classes, with wealthy whites using a coalition of non-whites as a cudgel against poor whites.

clk4xrpugam65ajIronically, Asian and Indian (not Native American) migrants are wealthier and higher-class than whites (though there are distinctions even among these, as “Asian” is not a single, homogenous group.)

screenshot-2016-05-07-17-07-13

Now, I can hear some of you saying, “but race is a social construct, and yet you use terms like ‘black’ and ‘white’ as though they were meaningful! How are these more meaningful than ‘PoC’?”

Look, “race” is a social construct the way “color” is a social construct. There is no sharp dividing line between “red” and “orange,” but we don’t go saying that the electromagentic spectrum is a myth.

Racial groups are culturally, historically, and genetically real. Sub-Saharan Africans are more closely related to Sub-Saharan Africans than to Europeans. Europeans are more closely related to other Europeans than to Asians. And Asians are more closely related to other Asians than to Aborigines. Here is Haak et al’s full graph of modern human DNA (except for the far left portion, which comes from old skeletons):

Picture 1Picture 2

The “light blue” portion is found only in Africa. The “orange” is Europe and Asia. The “yellow” is east-Asian.

There’s an entire field of science devoted to tracing ancient migrations via the patterns found in modern human DNA, because the DNA of different ethnic groups is different. Black, white, and Asian are, in fact, fundamental genetic groupings as a result of early human migrations.

There’s another, related field devoted to ethnic variations in responses to medical care. Organ donation, sickle cell anemia risk, and even medications can be significantly impacted by race:

Although organ transplants can occur between races, matches are more difficult to achieve for blacks. Transplant recipients must have similar genes in their immune systems to those of the donor. Otherwise, the body will reject the organ.

G6PD deficiency is protective against malaria
G6PD deficiency is protective against malaria

And from Racial and ethnic differences in response to medicines: towards individualized pharmaceutical treatment:

Pharmacogenetic research in the past few decades has uncovered significant differences among racial and ethnic groups in the metabolism, clinical effectiveness, and side-effect profiles of many clinically important drugs.

The interactions between genetics and medication are complicated, and doctors have to know this because it puts their patients at risk not to.

No word is perfect. Every ethnonym represents a compromise between absolute accuracy and being able to make any statements about human groups at all. Not all English are the same, but we can still make some generalized statements that are basically true for most English people. Not all Chinese are the same, but we can still speaking meaningfully about “the Chinese.” There is a huge amount of variation among “whites,” “blacks,” and “Asians,” but even at this coarse level, we can still say some meaningful things.

“PoC” is a political term that corresponds to no real-world culture or group.

The West has no Idea how to Handle Islam

ETA: more terrorist attacks have happened since I wrote this. I give up on covering them all.

Most of the world’s ethnic groups divide up pretty neatly–if not into countries, then into distinct groups spread across several different countries. Alliances between countries are normally formally announced, so that you know that if you attack, Japan circa 1942, you’re likely to be counter-attacked by Germany. You don’t have to worry, though, about being attacked by China, or random Chinese people living in your own country, because China isn’t Japan, doesn’t have an alliance with Japan, and the Chinese people don’t particularly care what you do to Japan so long as you don’t do it to them. (In fact, the Chinese were pretty pissed at Japan by that point.)

As long as two countries don’t have an alliance, you can normally attack one without worrying about the other.

Islamic identity seems to function somewhat differently (at least in some cases.)

Americans are used to thinking of religion as a set of beliefs, eg, “God made the world in 6 days,” or “Enlightened people move on to a higher plane of existence,” or “You shouldn’t turn on the lights on Saturday.” Religion therefore falls under our philosophical notion of freedom of conscience, enshrined in the First Amendment.

But throughout much of the world, religion functions much more like ethnicity than like belief. Yes, technically people from different religions believe different things, but as a practical matter, the belief that “We are people who follow the true religion and they are people who follow the false religion,” is more important than the specific details of the religions involved.

If you don’t believe me, just ask yourself what were the theological underpinnings of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland?

It’s a near meaningless question. Knowing that the Catholics have a Pope and the Protestants don’t because centuries ago because King Henry VIII wanted a divorce tells you nothing useful. You just need to know that Catholics and Protestants see themselves as different groups.

Judaism is the only religion Westerners have much experience with and are used to thinking of as operating like an ethnic group. Most Westerners I’ve discussed the subject with seem vaguely confused about what exactly Judaism is, but they understand pretty well that if you start massacring Jews in your country, you should expect a visit from the Israeli air force.

But Jews are a relatively small group, with only one official country which has clearly articulated alliances with others, so there is not too much confusion on the point.

Recent random terrorist attacks in the West have included a Pakistani couple who opened fire at a Christmas party in an Bernardino, CA; a Moroccan Tunisian man who drove a truck into a crowd of French folks celebrating Bastile Day; and an Afghan teenager who attacked a train full of Germans with an axe.

The US is not at war with Pakistan*, France with Morocco, nor Germany with Afghanistan. Random American, French, and German citizens abroad do not, to my knowledge, make politically motivated mass-attacks on their host countries.

*Or is the US? I know Obama has authorized drone strikes on targets within Pakistan, among other countries. It was easy under Bush II to keep track of America’s military engagements, because they were big, declared, and obvious. Under Obama, we are not exactly at war with Pakistan, but we do sometimes kill people who happen to be living in Pakistan, like Osama Bin Laden. It’s confusing.

At any rate, according to Wikipedia, the Farooks were motivated by the desire to be jihadis and allegiance to ISIL, not Pakistan. Riaz Ahmadzai, the 17 year old Afghan, also appears to have acted on behalf of ISIL (though probably not on ISIL’s instruction,) not Afghanistan’s. Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the Tunisian armed with a 19-ton truck, also committed his attack on behalf of ISIL, not Tunisia. Fun fact: “A UN report from May 2015 shows that 25,000 “foreign terrorist fighters” from 100 countries have joined “Islamist” groups, many of them working for ISIL or al-Qaeda.[393]

Picture 4

The US, France, Germany, Russia, India, and probably the majority of the world are, in fact, at war with ISIL, which makes it kind of incredible that it still exists–the rest of the world has forgotten how to conduct wars.

You might think that ISIL draws its supporters from the ranks of the super-devout, but the opposite is most likely true:

“I always thought the people most likely to join a terrorist group were the people praying five times a day with a beard and being very pious and going to a radical mosque,” says Usmani, who is Muslim and was born in Pakistan. He came to the U.S. to do his PhD at Florida Institute of Technology.

But what he found is that they are more likely to go from secular to radicalized. They are often educated online — among the 5,000+ YouTube videos from supposed Muslim “scholars.” Technology has enabled an explosion of content that is far from true Islam.*

Now, this is a rotten pickle. It’s bad enough to worry about about Japanese-Americans when you are at war with Japan; it’s another thing entirely to have to worry about anyone whose parents were vaguely Buddhist.

I am particularly saddened by all of this for personal reasons. This isn’t the world I asked for; I certainly don’t want this conflict.

I assume the solution is to actually defeat ISIL instead of pussy-footing around so that it stops being a problem. But look how well that went the last time we tried to take over a country in the Middle East and replace its government with a more favorable regime.

 

*Phrases like “true Islam” annoy me because as far as I know, there is no Islamic “Pope” who gets to decide what is and isn’t “true Islam.” Nevertheless, it remains a constant in my experience that really devout people (of whatever religion) tend to believe more in principles like “love everyone because we are all God’s children,” than moderate religious folks.

 

America: State or Thede?

Liberal reactions to the Oregon militia standoff have been more interesting than the standoff itself. My only reaction to the standoff was, “Oh, ranchers in dispute with the Feds? Eh.” After all, Rural Americans’ distrust of and conflicts with the “gummint” and “revenuers” are well-documented and frequent subjects of humor:

snuffy images-1

(The Beverly Hillbillies probably did this gag a hundred times.)

So you may imagine my confusion when I encountered liberal acquaintances (and pundits) calling the militia “terrorists” and “traitors” and demanding that the FBI go in, guns blazing, to put down the uprising.

These are the same folks who’re just fine with the Black Lives Matter folks shutting down streets and bridges in the middle of major cities in their protest against the police (who are, I note, as much government employees as the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management folks the Oregon Militia guys are opposed to.)

The whole affair highlights a crucial difference in the ways liberals and conservatives conceptualize “America.”

Liberals see “America” as a state, a formal, legal, structural governing institution (created, of course, via some form of “social contract,”) possessing a specific geographic area. The American people, therefore, can be anyone at all, so long as they have met the legal requirements.

Conservatives see “America” as a thede, (their thede), that happens to have a government.  Many conservatives see this government as having been imposed from the outside (in the South, this is actually true,) and as being run by people not from their thede (like Obama.)

Conservatives are loyal to their thede; liberals are loyal to the state. One can join a thede (generally by marrying in, converting to the religion, and adopting the local lifestyle,) but the formal process of acquiring US citizenship does not make one a member of the thede. Thus many legal Americans are not thedic Americans by conservative standards.

Liberals see the Black Lives Matter activists as blacks opposed to whites, which they are fine with. But they see the Oregon Militia as whites opposed to the state, which they see as treason.

To conservatives, the Black Lives Matter movement is acting against the interest of their thede, while the Oregon Militia, even if they disagree with it, (note: the vast majority of them disagree with it) is merely opposing the state.

This difference also manifests itself the two sides’ different attitudes toward the Constitution/Bill of Rights. To Conservatives, the Constitution is like the Bible: the founding document of their thede. Its role is mythic, not legalistic. (Without this understanding, Conservative statements about “activist” judges and the Obama administration running roughshod over the Constitution make no sense at all.) And they do have one vaguely valid point: the Constitution doesn’t actually say anything about issues like abortion or gay marriage, and the idea that there can exist no recognized right to gay marriage in the Constitution for over 200 years, and then suddenly one appears, involve highly questionable logic.

From a legalistic standpoint, re-interpreting the Constitution is one of the Supreme Court’s prerogatives (and from a practical standpoint, a necessity, given that new technologies and situations arise over time.) From a mythical standpoint, it’s like saying you’ve found a verse in the book of Mark where Jesus says he’s cool with gays.

Unfortunately, people are often really bad at articulating their points. So you get a lot of nonsense that has to be carefully picked apart before you can figure out where people are really coming from.

My liberal acquaintances seem curiously unaware of the general culture of Rural Americans. Perhaps this is just because I have relatives who live in rural America, and so I am vaguely acquainted with their culture and attitudes toward the government. I know that ranching and farming can be difficult, (especially in the areas that have been hit by droughts,) and yes, conflicts happen over grazing rights or land management, (though of course the vast, vast majority of ranchers pay their fees and obey the laws and generally act with loyalty to both the state and their thede.)

I also find it curious that the same people who recognize that the Black Lives Matter movement involves ethnic conflict do not recognize the ethnic conflict between different groups of whites.

Curious, not unexpected.

Are “Whites” Real?

Click for full size
From Haak et al.

I may have given the impression the other day that a “race” exists if and only if it shows up as a singel color (or almost a single color) on Haak’s graph. Certainly mon-=color groups satisfy the requirements for genetic distinctiveness, but mon-chronicity is not a requirement.

Homogeneity is more important than mono-chronicity.

For starters, the number of colors in certain parts of Haak’s graph pobably hhas more to do with the number of ancient skeletons that have been analyzed htan net common ancetry–as you can see from the left side of the graph, scientists have analyzed the genomes of numerous ancient European skeletons (all of which show continuity with modern European people,) but they’ve analyzed rather few ancient sub-Saharan skeletons. This isnt’ ebcause they dislike ancient sub-Saharan skeletons or anything, but because the DNA content breaks down very quickly in the Sub-Saharan environment. Many of the groups here identified as mono-chromatic or nearly mono-chromatic may begin showing up as multi-chromatic as our powers of analysis continue to develop and we learn more about ancient human migrations.

But back to homogeneity. Let’s take a look at the Japanese. (One of the Yellow/Red groups on the right side of the graph.) The Japanese genome, like most east-Asian peoples’, composed of two distinct colors. And in this case, we even have names for these two groups, the Jomon and Yayoi people (not to be confused with the Yanomami or Yamnaya.) (Maybe we should institute a system where all cultures are given a set of coordinates based on physical location and era. EG, the Jomon would be J-35N,139E-12,000BC. Okay, maybe that’s not an improvement for ordinary conversaton, though when I’m trying to look up a group like the Evens, it would be.)

But this does not mean that the “Japanese” possess a great deal of ethnic diversity. The Japanese people are fairly homogenous–notice that the border between red and yellow is very smooth. Almost every Japanese person has the exact same % of Jomon and Yayoi ancestry as every other Japanese person.

This is because the merger of the Jomon and Yayoi cultures happened a long time ago, and the modern Japanese are descended from a single, homogenous population. The Japanese are a single people.

By contrast, take a look at the Evens, a Siberian group, (E-62°N,153°E-Today.) There is no homogeneity in the Evens’ genomes; they are a very mixed group in which different individuals have vastly different genetic heritages. The Evens may exist as a cultural, ethic, or linguistic group, but genetically they are a bunch of different things. The Turks, likewise, have a very choppy profile, though in this case the anomaly is easy to figure out: some “Turks” are Greek. The Ojibwa, Nama, and Yukagir are all jagged–these are groups with a great deal of recent mixing, in which many individuals are not closely related to other group members or share much DNA with them at all.

Zooming back out, let’s take a general look at the European cultures. From Greece through Spain, southern France through Ukraine, we see a smooth, three-color pattern. The blue is perhaps most concentrated in Lithuania, the orange in the Basque, and the teal in Greeks. There is a bit of purple in the south and red in the north east. But overall, the pattern is found, with consistency and evenness, throughout Europe, and not found outside of Europe.

Yes, the borders of Europe are fuzzy–Turkey, the Caucasus, and a variety of steppe-peoples are obviously related to some of the same guys as Europeans. But these do not show the same pattern as the Europeans, and beyond these border zones, the resemblance disappears entirely.

 

So, yes, we may speak of the Orange/Blue/Teal people, and call the “Whites” or “Europeans” if we so desire. They are a real genetic grouping, just like the “Japanese” and the “East Asians” and the Onge.

 

How to decrease defection and encourage cooperation?

As I was saying yesterday, functional societies are places where people cooperate rather than defect (prisoner’s dilemma style), but now people are trying to advance their own personal interests by accusing others of defecting–that is, in effect, defecting against them. Our particular class and racial dynamics have exacerbated–or perhaps caused–this dynamic.

So how to change things? A few thoughts:

1. Government has the most obvious power to curb defection and increase cooperation, and indeed, this should probably be thought of as one of the prime functions of government. All societies require cooperation merely to exist, and more cooperation => more society.

Libertarianism has many fine points in its theory, but it deals poorly with multipolar traps. In cases where someone can profit themselves by being a free rider (defecting,) chances are they will–and they will pass on this advantage to their children, until you have a nation of cheaters. I remember an example from my own school days: A group of farmers gets together one year to higher a crop-dusting plane, and they all enjoy a larger harvest as a result. But the next year, the guy with the field in the middle of the area being dusted decides not to pay in. His field gets dusted anyway, just because it’s impossible not to dust it in the process, and so he gets all of the rewards of crop dusting without paying the price.

The government effectively solves this problem by eliminating the possibility of being a free rider. Everyone now has to pay a tax that goes to hire the annual crop-dusting plane, and you must pay your taxes or go to jail.

2. The vague–or not so vague!–sense that others are defecting while you are cooperating may just be instinctual. Therefore, it is probably in the interests of any government to put in place some kind of measures to make sure people aren’t defecting and to reassure people about this.

However, it is critical that such systems not get turned into further vehicles for defection.

For example, many (if not most) of the lawsuits corporations lodge against each other are totally bogus and exist for the sole purposes of A. inconveniencing the opposition and B. benefiting the lawyers. Millions upon million of dollars and hours of human labor are poured each year into activities that only serve to mutually weaken corporations.

In lawsuits over patents that actually get all the way to court, to give a sub-example, it is extremely common for the patent itself to simply get thrown out on the grounds that it is a bad patent that should have never been granted. (I’ve seen estimates between 25% and 77%.) In many of these lawsuits, a company will just scatter-shot sue a dozen or two different companies all at once over a clearly bogus patent, in the hopes that the sued companies will cut their losses and settle out of court. There are even businesses whose entire model is just to buy crappy old patents companies don’t want anymore before they expire and then sue everyone in sight. It’s called “patent trolling.”

Assuming we want patents to keep existing, then people have to be able to sue others for infringement, but patent trolls need to be shut down. The obvious solution here is to identify patterns of patent troll behavior and then punish the trolls for it. First, once a lawsuit has been filed, don’t allow the parties to settle out of court. They must go before the judge/jury. Second, companies that lose due to patent invalidation must pay the sued-party’s legal costs.

I could go on, but people who are actually trained in legal matters can do a far better job of recommending fixes to the patent system than I.

To make another example: there’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about whether or not the police are killing and imprisoning black people at higher rates than whites. The police should be (and be perceived as) trustworthy. This is a matter that the government should solve–figure out who is actually doing the defecting, publicize the results, and then do some trust-building between the police and their communities.

3. If white Yale professors think Yale needs fewer white professors and more black ones, the easiest way for them to demonstrate that they are not defecting against other white professors (who might otherwise receive those spots) is to give up their own professorships in order to make room for black candidates. Alternatively, they could just give up their paychecks to provide funding for the new positions.

4. People seem most willing to cooperate when they are all ethnically similar. Not only are they surrounded by people who are obviously behaving the same as they are, thus reducing concern about misbehavior, they have a genetic interest in cooperating. Defecting against your children or your siblings is a bad strategy in the genetic sense, because fewer copies of your genes end up existing, so people who defect against their own families tend to weed themselves out of the gene pool, leaving behind people who are good at cooperating with their kin.

Japan is an example of a society that is extremely ethnically homogenous. Just look at their little section in the graph at the top of the blog! (They’re on the far right.) Compare the smooth transition from yellow to cream with the jagged lines of the Uzbeks or the Bedouins. And the spirit of public-minded cooperation in Japan is extremely strong. The Japanese are clean, helpful, polite, and commit vanishingly little crime.

By contrast, high levels of ethnic diversity are correlated with high levels of violence, civil war, etc. in countries. There are a few exceptions to this rule, in countries that are so shitty that no one wants to move there, like Haiti. But in general, where people see themselves as ethnically different from their neighbors, they tend to defect on their neighbors.

Hartshorn ran a computer simulation of ethnic cooperation and defection strategies, with colored tiles on a board randomly assigned to cooperate or defect with tiles of their own color and to cooperate or defect with tiles of different colors. (4 different strategies in all.) In every simulation, the tiles that cooperated with their own colors and defected on other colors eventually took over the entire board.

So if two ethnic groups are living in close proximity, there’s a good chance that A. one or both of them will in fact be defecting, B. The group that defects more will actually benefit itself at the expense of the other, thus “winning”; and C. that both groups will become hyper paranoid about watching the other group for possibilities of defection, even if it isn’t happening. This is how wars get started.

The obvious answer to ethnic conflict is don’t have ethnic conflict. Only let people into your country who you would be willing to marry (in the hypothetical sense, not the literal,) and in such numbers that you can absorb them. You might also be able to let in people who are similar enough in behavior that you don’t really notice that they are ethnically different–for example, the Mormons are polytheists who tend to marry other Mormons, but they are generally polite, clean, hardworking, and easy enough to get along with. You could live next door to a Mormon and never even notice.

If the groups in a country do not effectively merge, you end up with two separate groups in one nation, which more often than not results in a bunch of people living in ghettos, and then you are very likely to fall into the mutual-defection trap. If having two (or more) separate groups in your country is inevitable (say, because they’re already there,) then I see two possibilities: A. try very hard to get everyone to think of each other as brothers and sisters in a metaphorical sense, perhaps through national holidays or forced conscription; or B. Give each group a bit of space so that they have fewer opportunities to defect on each other, and don’t set up systems that make people think defection is happening. Letting the Mormons live in Utah, for example, solved the problem of everyone thinking Mormons were weirdos back in the 1800s; letting the Amish be basically self-contained keeps them from getting into too much conflict with their neighbors today. (I think. I don’t have much experience with the Amish.)

Federalism was thought up as a way to let different people in different places effectively manage their own affairs. This system requires, however, that people actually abide by it. If we all agree that each community can educate its own children as it sees fit, and then one community decides it doesn’t have enough money for its schools, then the other communities have to be able to withstand the pressure to bail it out. Once you start bailing out other communities, they aren’t independent communities anymore but your wards, and they have to start abiding by your rules just as children obey their parents, or else we’re back to defection.

(Obviously helping each other out in times of environmental emergency may be perfectly reasonable.)

 

Judeo Ethnogenesis

Ethnogenesis, as the name implies, is the process whereby a new ethnic group is created. An ethnicity is more or less a group with a shared culture, belief in common ancestry, and that preferentially marries within itself rather than outside of itself. Over time, this creates a group that is ethnically distinct from its neighbors, even under conditions of close proximity.

The Amish, for example, after splitting off from the Swiss in the 1600s over religious differences (remember, religion is ethnicity,) arrived in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s, so we may mark Amish ethnogenesis around the mid 1600s or early 1700s People today make fun of Ben Franklin for complaining that the German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania were problematic and not integrating with the rest of the population, but you know, the Amish still haven’t integrated. They still speak German, follow their own religion and traditions, and don’t inter-marry with the rest of the Pennsylvania population, such that they are quite ethnically distinct, at least on a genetic level.

The Hui of China are another example; they were not really considered an ethnic group before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China circa 1949. The Chinese decided to just lump all of their Muslim minorities–some of them quite distinct–under one term. (Historically, the term “Hui” also referred to Christians and Jews and was just a general catch-all.) Hui now marry other Hui preferentially enough that the Wikipedia page goes into detail on known cases of inter-marriage with the Han, but a fellow Hui from across the country may be regarded as just another Hui, and so a preferred partner.

Anyway, so that got me thinking about the establishment of Israel. Normally when I think of Jews, I am actually thinking of Askenzim, and you probably are, too. But Israel is actually 61% Mizrahi Jews–Jews from predominantly Muslim countries.

You know the general story: Once upon a time, all of the Jews lived in Israel. These people were probably pretty similar, ethnically, to the Palestinians, assuming the Palestinians are anything like the region’s residents 2000 years ago, and don’t have a massive influx of Turkish DNA or something like that.

Then the Jews got conquered and scattered to the winds. Most famously after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, but also during the Babylonian  and Assyrian eras, etc. Anyway, for the past 2000+ years or so, there have been significant Jewish communities in a lot of places that aren’t Israel, eg:

Uzbeki Jews
Uzbeki Jews
Chinese Jews
Chinese Jews
Ethiopian Jews
Ethiopian Jews
Cochin Jews
Cochin Jews
Lemba Jews?
Lemba Jews?

Then in the late 1800s, the Jews–mostly Ashkenazim, I think–got sick of this state of affairs and decided to exit Europe and go back to Israel. Unfortunately, they didn’t really succeed until 1948, at which point Jews from all over the world started pouring in.

Since most people are genetically similar to their neighbors, eg the Palestinians and Syrians, or Han and She, I began wondering how similar Jews were to their neighbors of millenia verses their similarity to each other.

Here’s a graph showing major genetic lineages of a bunch of different ethnic groups, including several Jewish ones:

nature09103-f3.2

Broad cultural zones are easily distinguished, like East Asians in yellow, South Asia in greens, Europeans with their large dark blue chunk, Middle Easterners with their big patches of light green and light blue, and the rust-tones in sub-Saharan Africa. This data set is great, because it lets us compare various Jewish groups to their immediate neighbors, eg:

J1

I made a condensed version of the graph that highlights the measured Jewish groups and their neighbors, (sadly, some of the samples are pretty small, making them hard to read):

J1

And an even more condensed version that just compares the Jews to each other:

j2

(Note that the pure green section on the right-hand side is not a Jewish group, but just a chunk of the graph that happened to overlap the text due to the Cochin Jewish section being so small.)

Observations: Most Jewish groups are significantly more similar to their immediate neighbors than they are to other Jewish groups, especially when we look at the furthest-flung folks. Cochin Jews and Ethiopian Jews, for example, show almost no DNA in common (in this graph.)

Given what all Middle Eastern groups look like in the sample, we may speculate that the original Jewish group primarily had a large section of light blue and a slightly smaller section of light green, with probably a smidge of sub-Saharan. Several of the Middle Eastern Jewish groups still have this genetic makeup.

Three Jewish groups show a more European makeup, with a large dark blue chunk characteristic of Europeans and North Africans: the Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Moroccan Jews. They look closest to Cypriots, though I compared them to Spaniards and Tuscans as their nearest neighbors in the graph.

Since the Ashkenazim are estimated to be about half Italian, it’s not surprising that they have about half as much dark blue as the Italians. Even within European groups, while they look fairly similar at this level of resolution, some groups are quite distinct from each other–Italians and Germans, for example, or Brits and Greeks. Geneticists can determine whether your ancestors were Italians or Germans or Greeks just by looking at your DNA, but those kinds of small details don’t really show up all that well on a graph that is trying to show the differences between Sub-Saharan Africanss and Asians. So while Moroccans, Sephardim, and Ashkenazim all look rather similar here, there may be finer grained differences that just don’t show up at this scale.

What’s up with the Moroccan Jews? They do not look like Moroccans; I therefore speculate a more recent migration of Moroccan Jews from somewhere else that’s not Morocco, like Spain.

The Jews who migrated to the East, however, lost a significant portion–almost all–of their light blue component, replacing it with dark green more typical of Indians and other SE Asian populations.

I don’t think this dataset contains Uzbeki Jews (or the Lemba, who are not Jewish enough to be considered Jewish, but still have a few Jewish traditions and folktales and a bit of Jewish ancestry,) which is sad, but I’d wager the Uzbeki Jews look a lot like other Uzbeks.

One of the things I’ve heard often from Jews is that all Jews are Jews, part of one great big Jewish family descended from Abraham (even the atheist ones!) and thus Jews should always try to be kind to each other, all Jews are welcome in Israel, etc. This is a perfectly sensible philosophy when you’re a peasant in Poland and the only foreign Jews you’ve ever met were from Lithuania. But 2000+ years of diaspora have resulted in far flung groups becoming quite ethnically distinct from each other. Like the Amish, isolated groups in Cochin or Ethiopia have become their own ethnies distinct from their ancestors, but unlike the Amish, they have inter-married significantly with the locals. (The Amish do not marry non-Amish.)

The Roman Exile, therefore, should be regarded as a major ethnogenesis event–the beginning of the creation of most current Jewish ethnic groups.

The creation of the state of Israel constitutes a second major ethnogenesis event, a bringing together of these multiple ethnic groups into one population that views itself as one population. I expect a great deal of mixing between these historically distinct groups into a more homogenous whole, (though some groups may not mix terribly well.)

Melanin, aggression, and sexuality

I began researching melanin and its effects based on rumors that injecting it into animals makes them more aggressive. The search, so far, has led me down even weirder rabbit holes than usual.

Why do people tan? Not physically, but cosmetically. Cosmetic tanning is probably unhealthy (skin cancer,) costs money if you use a tanning salon, historically novel, and boring as fuck.

Tanning is especially confusing if you take the ideas of Critical Theory/White Privilege seriously, because then why would anyone want to look ethnically darker than they actually are? Are millions of whites unconsciously trying to pull a Doleazal?

But women do not pair their tans with darker hair; they pair their tans with lighter hair. The result, I suppose, is like a dark-skinned German. It makes about as much sense to me as ganguro girls.

ganguro-girl

The obvious answer is that women tan because it gets them sexual interest from men, which is the answer to virtually every question along these lines, but this only kicks the question back a notch: why are men sexually interested in tan women? Of course, something could arise, chicken and egg, as nothing more than a signal of sexual availability that men then respond to as a signal of availability. But this is a dull hypothesis, so let’s abandon it and carry on.

First, a  quick note on what melanin is: melanin is a kind of “natural pigment” found in your brain, (eg, the substantia nigra,) skin, irises, the feathers of birds, squid ink, fungi, plants, micro-organisms, etc. There are a few different types of melanin, which cause different skin colors.

White people, btw, aren’t albino.

Overall, I find that conservative and politically moderate women tend to tan, (and bleach their hair,) while liberal women do not. I suspect that conservatives and moderates do more of almost any image-enhancing thing, perhaps because they are more often on the sexual market (conservatives have more divorces than liberals and become sexually active younger.) It’s not clear to me, though, if this is just a “thing dumb people do” rather than a specifically conservative/moderate thing.

Peter Frost suggests that melanin plays a role in visually identifying adults (and men.) Children (of all races) tend to be lighter skinned/have less melanin than adults*, like this girl from Vanuatu, whose hair is that color naturally:

Blonde_girl_Vanuatu

Her hair will darken with age, just like many other blond children.

*I suspect this is just because adults have spent a longer total amount of time in the sun than children.

Women generally have lighter skin than men, which Frost proposes is a neotenous trait which thus:

1. Increases the male desire to provide for women, making marriage more likely

2. Decreases male aggression toward females, making marriage less likely to result in dead women

3. implies a lack of sexual experience with other men.

He suggests that the tanned appearance, therefore, implies sexual maturity; purposeful tanning or glorification of tanning, therefore, implies a desire for sexual availability rather than virginity.

In a culture where evolutionary success is determined by the stability of one’s monogamous pair-bond, people valued and cultivated traits that led to or implied that one would be a good partner. In a culture where success is determined by one’s ability to get multiple partners over one’s lifetime, traits that enhance sexual availability will be valued.

Men also tan, (often in conjunction with weightlifting,) in order to better fit the archetype of “tall, dark, and handsome” and thus get laid. On one post I found contained explicit denunciation of PUA “personality” and “conversation” techniques as just for men who want stable, long-term relationships rather than lots of one night stands with hot chicks, the body-builders’ goal. Well, that’s a new criticism.

Does more melanin actually lead to more sex? Certainly there is a correlation among humans between pigmentation levels and (reported) frequency of sex. According to Rushton’s article, “Do pigmentation and the melanocortin system modulate aggression and sexuality in humans as they do in other animals?” Ford and Beach (1951) report that Pacific Islanders and Native Americans claim to have sex 1 to 4 times per week, US Whites 2–4 times, and Africans from 3 to >10. Rushton and Bogaert (1987 and 1988) concluded, based on Kinsey data, that Blacks more sex than whites. The WHO reports that, (for married 20-somethings,) the Japanese and Chinese have sex 2.5 times per week, American whites 4 times per week, and American blacks have sex 5 times per week. Also,

“A Los Angeles study found that the age of first sexual activity in high school students was 14.4 years for Blacks, 16.4 years for East Asians, with Whites in the middle. The percentage of students who were sexually active was 32% for East Asians and 81% for Blacks, with Whites again between the other two. In another study, White Americans reported more sex guilt than Black Americans and that sex had a weakening effect. Blacks said they had casual intercourse more and felt less concern about it than Whites.”

Correlation, correlation, correlation.

Luckily (for our purposes, anyway,) there appears to be a sub-population of people actively injecting themselves with chemicals intended to increase the amount of melanin in their skin, and reporting the effects on the internet. (While some of the posts on the subject sound too similar too each other, and thus I suspect they were made by shills trying to market the drugs they’re selling, I think some of these posts are legit.)

First, a digression: Yes, there are people out there making injectible tanning drugs. No, I don’t recommend them, because everything about them comes with a big warning label that says, “THIS MIGHT CAUSE CANCER.” They haven’t been approved by the FDA, so you can’t buy them from legal sources.

Why invent a tanning drug? Aside from the obvious reasons, because there are people with vitigilio and rare skin conditions that make them super-prone to burning who could potentially use it. The drugs aren’t injectible melanin. (I haven’t seen anything about anyone injecting actual melanin.) They’re an artificially synthesized chemical similar in structure to α-Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (a-MSH,) which, as its name implies, stimulates the body to produce melanocytes, which are cells that produce melanin.

So, what happens when people inject themselves with a drug kinda like a-MSH? Well, they get tan. They get a better night’s sleep. And they get constant erections.

Apparently, the drugs are also being investigated as an alternative to Viagra.

One thing almost no one seems to be noticing is aggression. One guy did note he was feeling some anger, but everyone else responded that they’d felt nothing of the sort, so it was probably just some random thing going on with one guy. That said, I’m not convinced that people are all that good at realizing that they’ve become more aggressive–they tend to just blame their aggression on other people suddenly sucking more. I also assume that people who are getting constant erections are going to try to do something about it, which could lead to more sexually aggressive behaviors, without causing, say, random fights.

So, Melanotan II/melanin/a-MSH does seem to have some causal relationship with sex, but so far nothing shows that it increases aggression.

Some black people have noticed that whites are injecting themselves with Melanotan II to make themselves look darker and get more erections, and while some of them think this is absolutely hilarious, others take it very badly. (This is interesting, but slightly off-topic, so I will reserve these observations/comments for a later post.)

Anyway, back on subject.

Another reason people may tan is that it appears to trigger the release of endorphins, leading to speculation that some people are actually addicted to tanning:

“While many report that the desire for a tanned appearance is the strongest motivation for sunbathing and tanning bed use, tanners also report mood enhancement, relaxation, and socialization. It has been suggested by the popular media and suspected by dermatologists for years that one reason tanning is so popular is that UV light is addictive. …

“UV light has been shown to increase release of opioid- like endorphins, feel-good chemicals that relieve pain and generate feelings of well-being, potentially leading to dependency.

“A 2006 study used naltrexone, a drug that blocks the endorphins produced in the skin while tanning, to induce symptoms of withdrawal in frequent tanners. … These symptoms were not observed in any of the infrequent tanners given naltrexone in the study.

“Another study found that frequent tanners were able to distinguish between otherwise identical UV and non-UV light-emitting tanning beds. Tanners in this study showed an overwhelming preference (95 percent) to tan in the UV light-emitting bed. Participants suggested that UV tanning created a more relaxed mood and even relieved pain, possibly due to endorphin release.”

A former tanning addict writes:

“I was a tanning addict. Being brown was being me. If I wasn’t tanned, then I didn’t look like “me”. Silly I know, but that’s just the way I felt. Having a tan made me feel better about myself. I used to say it was like a “tonic” – it made me feel more confident and more healthy.”

Here’s her picture:

_81126249_tancomp

Tanned and bleached. But I think the ganguro girl rocked the style better.

What does the scientific literature have to say about melanin levels and aggression? Like, what happens when you inject a mouse with melanin-inducing hormones, or breed mice to have low melanin levels?

Luckily for me, Takase et al have done a meta-analysis of studies done on mice who’ve been genetically modified not to produce much melanin. “MCH” stands for Melanin-Concentrating Hormone. As far as I can tell, More MCH => More Melanin. Phrases like “MCH knockout,” “MCH deletion,” and “MCH deficiency” all refer to mice that have been modified so that they don’t make much (or any) MCH. So Less MCH => Less Melanin. (If I’ve got thi wrong, please tell me.)

From the paper:

“Overall, the meta-analysis revealed that the deletion of MCH signaling suppressed non-REM sleep, anxiety, response to novelty, startle response, stress-induced hyperthermia, conditioned place preference, and olfaction (p<0.05) and that MCH signaling deficiency enhanced locomotor activity, wakefulness, alcohol preference, motor activation by psychostimulants, aggression, male sexual behavior, and social interaction (p<0.05).”

So, in plain speak, Less Melanin => crappy sleep, anxiety, aggression, and sex.

However, I would like to caution that you are not a mouse. There are some big differences between you and mice, like that mice can synthesize vitamin C and you can’t. Also, your body has had thousands of years to adapt to your melanin levels, to keep you healthy under certain environmental conditions. MCH-deficient mice don’t have that same luxury; their bodies might just not be adapted to cope with some side effect of MCH deficiency.

So let’s keep looking.

Demas at all have an interesting article, “Adrenal hormones mediate melatonin-induced increases in aggression in male Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus)

From the article:

“In Experiment 1, male Siberian hamsters received either daily (s.c.) injections of melatonin (15 Ag/day) or saline 2 h before lights out for 10 consecutive days. In Experiment 2, hamsters received adrenal demedullations (ADMEDx), whereas in Experiment 3 animals received adrenalectomies (ADx); control animals in both experiments received sham surgeries. Animals in both experiments subsequently received daily injections of melatonin or vehicle as in Experiment 1. Animals in all experiments were tested using a resident–intruder model of aggression. In Experiment 1, exogenous melatonin treatment increased aggression compared with control hamsters. In Experiment 2, ADMEDx had no effect on melatonin-induced aggression. In Experiment 3, the melatonin-induced increase in aggression was significantly attenuated by ADx. Collectively, the results of the present study demonstrate that short day-like patterns of melatonin increase aggression in male Siberian hamsters and suggest that increased aggression is due, in part, to changes in adrenocortical steroids.”

“Several studies have demonstrated photoperiodic changes in aggression in both male and female rodents (Badura and Nunez, 1989; Fleming et al., 1988; Garrett and Campbell, 1980; Jasnow et al., 2000). For example, male Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) maintained in short days for 8 weeks undergo gonadal regression and display increases in aggression compared with long-day hamsters, despite basal serum concentrations of testosterone (T) (Garrett and Campbell, 1980). Interestingly, prolonged maintenance (i.e., N15 weeks) in short days triggers gonadal recrudescence and the short-day increases in aggressive behavior largely disappear, returning to long-day levels of aggression by 21 weeks…”

(I think “gonadal regression” means the gonads got smaller, which would imply less sexual activity.)

“…both pinealectomy and treatment with exogenous melatonin within species-typical physiological ranges also affect aggression in photoperiodic species. For example, pinealectomy eliminates the short-day increase in aggression in female Syrian hamsters, whereas exogenous melatonin treatment augments aggression in long-day-housed animals (Fleming et al., 1988). Short-term treatment with exogenous melatonin also increases aggression in male Syrian hamsters without altering serum T concentrations (Jasnow et al., 2002).”

Now we’re getting somewhere, right? Except, wait, that’s MELATONIN, not melanin. Different chemical. Melatonin is a chemical your brain makes (in your pineal gland) in response to darkness/dim light helps you fall asleep and helps keep your circadian rhythms functioning properly. Increasing melatonin appears to decrease melanin–“As early as 1917, Carey Pratt McCord and Floyd P. Allen discovered that feeding extract of the pineal glands of cows lightened tadpole skin by contracting the dark epidermal melanophores.” (from the Wikipedia.) This makes sense: Longer days => less darkness => less melatonin => more melanin so you don’t burn in the sun. Shorter days => more darkness => more melatonin => less melanin so you can absorb more of the limited sunlight.

But I suspect that here we have found the source of the original rumor: Someone read a study about melatonin, which makes hamsters cranky and aggressive, and confused it with melanin, which appears to make mice less aggressive.

But wait. Aren’t hamsters (and other rodents) nocturnal? Whereas humans generally aren’t?

Yup. So hamsters and mice might actually be designed to be more active when they have more melatonin, and humans might be designed to be less active.

Luckily for us, humans regularly consume supplemental melatonin. According to eHealthMe, “2,237 people reported to have side effects when taking Melatonin. Among them, 32 people (1.43%) have Aggression.”

Honestly, 1.43% is nothing; that’s more like statistical noise in your data.

Some parents who’ve put their autistic kids on melatonin report aggression or aggression-like symptoms:

“…tonight he was grabbing his face and squeezing it(which he has never done before) and just kept crying then fell asleep about ten minutes later???”

“I have used Melatonin to help my Autistic son sleep but when I do he gets very aggressive and knocks things over and lashes out. I actually have to hold him down or wrap my legs and arms around him from behind or he will try and head butt you until he settles and this behavior repeats for a couple of days till the Melatonin leaves his system and then he is mellow again, for takes 72 hours to leave his system. This behavior manifests itself only when I gave him melatonin.”

But other people report the opposite:

” …good things with the Melatonin. It has been a few weeks and aggression is still significantly down as is the stimming.”

“I Started Taking Nightrest With Melatonin And Ive Gotten Much Deeper Nights Sleep. My Work Outs Got Better, Recovery Was Way Better And Aggression Level Decreased…”

Some of the moms suggest that what’s actually happening when the autistic kids become “aggressive” is that they are experiencing some form of night terrors/waking dreams, since melatonin makes people have more/deeper REM sleep, (I think that’s accurate,) rather than actual aggression.

One wonders if scientists could tell the difference between a sleep-walking hamster and a regular one!

Well, shit, this isn’t looking good for any interesting theories. I might end up with a boring result: nothing.

But let’s take a quick look at sexuality. Does summer correlate with conception? I took the birth month data from Live Science, divided by number of days per month and subtracted average gestation length to get the number of conceptions per day:

April: 11k per day

May: 11k per day

June: 11.5k per day

July: 11k per day

August: 11.5k per day

September: 12k per day

October: 12k per day

November: 12.5k per day

December: 12.5k per day

January: 12k per day

February: 12k per day

March: 11.5k per day

So, conceptions per month increase from July through December–that is, as the days get shorter and melatonin increases. Conceptions decrease from Jan through May–as the days get longer and melatonin decreases. This conception schedule is also consistent with the traditional availability of food in the northern hemisphere, with the harvest beginning in July and still enjoyed in December, but the supply dwindling as winter and then spring commence. (On the other hand, LiveStrong claims, ” high levels of melatonin may have a contraceptive effect on those hoping to conceive. Men using the supplement may notice a decrease in sperm count, decreased sperm mobility and increased breast size. Both men and women may experience a decrease in sex drive.” but doesn’t offer a source. The University of Maryland Medical Center says something similar, though, and they seem fairly trustworthy.)

Since rodent gestation lengths and human ones are radically different, I’m not going to bother looking up when mice have babies.

That violent crime (and even political revolutions) goes up in the summer is well-documented, but most theories attribute this to people getting out more or heat making them cranky.

Summary:

No one seems to be injecting melanin, but synthetic versions of melanin-producing hormones do seem to make people horny and tanning releases happy hormones. No one is reporting increased aggression as a result of increased melanin.

Mice who’ve been bred not to produce melanin are more aggressive than mice who haven’t.

Injecting hamsters with melatonin makes them aggressive. Melatonin isn’t melanin, but it sounds similar. Increasing melatonin appears to decrease melanin.

Melatonin supplements don’t really seem to make humans more aggressive. There are some claims that melatonin decreases libido.

Humans do conceive more babies in fall (when melatonin levels are rising) than in spring (when they are falling) and commit more crime in the summer (when melanin is up) than in winter (when it’s down.)

Conclusion: Someone probably mixed up melanin and melatonin.

Doh

I just remembered an essay I wrote back in my school days, comparing rates of Behavior X in the US to various European countries, and recommending that we should, as a public policy matter, adopt legal standards on the matter closer to the European ones, but forgot to control for ethnicity.

In retrospect, it seems like such an obvious thing I should have controlled for when presenting the data. 😦

If Race is just a social construct, why can’t Rachel Dolezal be black?

Iron Eyes Cody–ne Espera Oscar de Corti–was a Sicilian-American who acted in an impressive 200+ movies or TV shows, (plus numerous commercials.) But the most interesting thing about Cody is that nearly all of his roles were American Indians. You know that commercial of an Indian chief who cries at the sight of litter? That’s Iron Eyes Cody.

For all intents and purposes, Cody lived life about as much like an Indian as a non-Indian could manage. He married an Indian woman, went by an Indian name, adopted two Indian children, and told people he was an Indian. He seems to have been a decent and enough guy that he didn’t piss off important people who could have made a stink about his ethnic background, even if they did politely point it out on occasion.

Apparently Cody’s Sicilian features looked sufficiently like an Indian to satisfy Hollywood audiences; I have no idea whether he looked like an Indian to actual Indians. (Experience suggests that there is no particular “look” to Indians other than hair color, given that “Indian” includes a great many ethnic groups, and individuals with a fair variety of African and European admixture, so you get everything from the almost blond-kid holding up her tribal citizenship card on the Cherokee Nation website to Radmilla Cody, 46th Miss Navajo.)

Michael Jackson is a far better known but much less certain case of transracial identity. He may have wanted to look like a white guy (or gal,) or he may have just been coping with vitiligo. Or maybe he just wanted to look however he wanted to look.

And now we have Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane NAACP, up for her 2 seconds of internet fame and notoriety. Mrs. Dolezal appears to have been basically portraying herself as a black person, despite actually being a white person.

So Mrs. Dolezal really likes black people, likes learning about black people and being around black people and thinking of herself as a black person? I don’t give a shit. People can think whatever they want about themselves as far as I’m concerned.

But for the sake of argument, let’s have one. Can a person be, legitimately, transracial, ethnic, or cultural? Does it matter if they were raised in the culture (say, by adoption?) Does it matter if they look like the culture in question? Or are there some essential parts of racial/ethnic/cultural identity that an outsider simply can’t experience?

What does it mean to be anything at all?