Sc2218 Lecture 3 (2008a)


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Lecture 3: Human Diversity (Not in Our Genes)

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Sc2218 Lecture 3 (2008a)

  1. 1. SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition Lecture 3: Human Diversity ( It’s Not in Our Genes ) Eric C. Thompson Semester 2, 2007/2008
  2. 2. In this lecture… <ul><li>Preview selections of “The Journey of Man” </li></ul><ul><li>“ The form is fixed… and culture takes off.” </li></ul><ul><li>Why is race “old-fashioned” and unuseful? </li></ul><ul><li>Redefining Evolution (and unlearning outdated, inaccurate definitions). </li></ul><ul><li>Qualitative changes (evolution) among humans of the past 50,000 years have been social and cultural; not biological. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Journey of Man <ul><li>Why does Spencer Wells describe his research as tracing the journey of Man ? </li></ul><ul><li>What is meant by the comment in film that “After 50,000 years ago . . . the form is fixed and culture takes off.”? </li></ul><ul><li>What were the major routes taken by humans out of Africa? What are the significance of the Kalahari, Australia, India and Central Asia in understanding the “journey of man”? </li></ul><ul><li>How does Spencer Wells’ interest in and portrayal of San people in the film compare to that of Lee, Wilmsen and others we have read about in this course? </li></ul><ul><li>Why does the Wells argue that “Old fashioned concepts of race are not only socially divisive but scientifically wrong”? If he is correct, what are the implications for societies like Singapore? How do we explain difference without the concept of race? </li></ul>
  4. 4. Journey of MAN : Tracing the Y chromosome
  5. 5. “ The Form Is Fixed . . .” <ul><li>2.5 Million Years Ago – Homo habilis (the “handy man”) </li></ul><ul><li>1.8 Million Years Ago – Homo erectus (first out of Africa) </li></ul><ul><li>100,000 to 50,000 years ago – Modern Homo sapiens* </li></ul>*Wells calls this “the Great Leap Forward” and “First Big Bang” in modern Human cultural evolution. Marking a qualitative difference between Homo sapiens and others; like Homo erectus . (pp.151)
  6. 6. “ . . . and Culture Takes Off” <ul><li>Biological change in humans has been largely & literally superficial for 50,000 years . </li></ul><ul><li>Human diversity is primarily cultural not physical or racial. </li></ul>
  7. 7. All Humans have the Same Capacity for CULTURE <ul><li>Culture is a cognitive capacity for concept formation. </li></ul><ul><li>Handwerker* argues that all mammals (and some other species, like birds) share this capacity. </li></ul><ul><li>Human’s just have an extremely more complex version than other species. </li></ul><ul><li>All humans alive today; and all humans who have lived for the past 50,000 to 100,000 years have the same capacity for Culture – i.e. all !Kung San, all other Africans, all Europeans, all Chinese, all Malays, all Indians . . . Everybody. </li></ul>* Origins and Evolution of Culture (1989; in Course Pack)
  8. 8. Humans are to Culture what Giraffes are to Necks Do animals have culture like people? Animals think and conceptualize… but is that really CULTURE? Do other animals, have necks? They have stubby connections between their head and body … but is that really a NECK?
  9. 9. “ Old fashioned concepts of race…” <ul><li>The Idea of Race is based on “coherence” of traits (esp. biological). </li></ul><ul><li>Traits do not cohere. </li></ul><ul><li>94% of biological/ genetic variation occurs within human populations </li></ul><ul><li>6% occurs between populations </li></ul>
  10. 10. Race: Essentialist Categories Ethiopian Malayan Mongoloid American Caucasoid Blumenbach’s Classification (1775) “ Scientific” Approach Based on “Coherence” of Traits
  11. 11. Trait 1: Skin Color Trait 2: ABO Bloodgroup Trait 1 varies North-South Trait 2 varies East-West
  12. 12. Racial Categories? 30 26 4 3 Type B Type A Type O Reflectivity of Skin? ABO Blood Type?
  13. 13. Conclusions about Race <ul><li>Race is not a scientifically useful scheme for categorizing human diversity. </li></ul><ul><li>Biological traits do not cohere enough to make race useful. </li></ul><ul><li>Mental & attitudinal traits (e.g. IQ) cohere even less. </li></ul><ul><li>Race is a set of social and cultural categories; arbitrarily related to human diversity </li></ul>For a more detailed contemporary view of “race” by professional anthropologists, see the 1998 “Statement on Race” of the American Anthropological Association.
  14. 14. “ Incoherent” Traits (Example of Biological and Cultural Traits) “ African” and “European” men wearing “Asian” batik.
  15. 15. Coherence of Traits: Race and Ethnicity <ul><li>“ Race” is group identity a symbolic interpretation of Biological Traits </li></ul><ul><li>“ Ethnicity” is group identity based in the interpretation of Cultural Traits </li></ul><ul><li>Racial group theory and primordial Ethnic group theory are based on an assumption of within-group “coherence of traits”. </li></ul><ul><li>Biological and anthropological (sociological) research indicate that traits do not cohere enough to make racial or primordial ethnic theories valid or useful. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Race and Ethnicity: Folk Categories / Scientific Categories <ul><li>More often than not, “folk categories” (used in everyday life) conflate race and ethnicity (i.e. they use biological characteristics and cultural characteristics at the same time). </li></ul><ul><li>Example 1: Americans use mostly (but not only) biological traits to categorize people by “race”. </li></ul><ul><li>Example 2: When Malaysians (and Singaporeans?) use the word “race” they mean something closer to what anthropologists call “ethnicity” </li></ul>
  17. 17. Example 1: American use of “race” <ul><li>Barak Obama is first “Black” nominee for president of a major political party. </li></ul><ul><li>Some people question if he is “really black”; NOT mainly because of biology, but because of culture (e.g. the schools he went to; the way he talks). </li></ul>
  18. 18. Children have to learn how to classify people “correctly”
  19. 19. Example 2: Malaysian use of “race” <ul><li>Who is “Malay”? </li></ul><ul><li>What counts as “Malay”? </li></ul>
  20. 20. What is Evolution? <ul><li>Merriam-Webster Dictionary ( ) : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>a process of change in a certain direction </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a process of gradual and relatively peaceful social, political, and economic advance </li></ul></ul><ul><li>These are all BAD definitions according to contemporary scientific research in the field of evolution!!! </li></ul>
  21. 21. “ A Certain Direction” <ul><li>Evolution DOES NOT proceed “in a certain direction”. (Error of “teleology” or assuming that because something did happen that it had to happen ). </li></ul><ul><li>Example: Marsupials (mammals with pouches; like kangaroos) are the predominant mammals in Australia. Other sorts of mammals are more common other most parts of the world. It could have happened the other way around. </li></ul>
  22. 22. “ Lower, Simpler, Worse… to Higher, More Complex, Better” <ul><li>Contemporary evolutionary thought does look at emergence of complex systems out of simpler ones. But… </li></ul><ul><li>“ Lower to Higher” and “Worse to Better” are value judgments, NOT science. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Complexity” only means “more working parts”; NOT “better” </li></ul>Progress?
  23. 23. Survival of the Fittest… (Darwin Revisited)
  24. 24. Which of these is Best? (Which is “ FITTEST ”? ) A B C D
  25. 25. “ Survival of the Fittest” <ul><li>“ Survival of the Fittest” does not mean “best” in an abstract way (e.g. strongest, smartest, fastest, etc.) </li></ul><ul><li>Fittest is better thought of as “that which fits the best” (like a puzzle piece) </li></ul><ul><li>Fitness depends on context . </li></ul>
  26. 26. Which of these is Best? (Which is “fittest”? ) A B C D
  27. 27. “ Fitness” is a meaningless concept without a Context
  28. 28. Context (e.g. environment) determines “fitness”
  29. 29. What is “fittest” in one context…
  30. 30. … May be “unfit” in another context
  31. 31. … May be “unfit” in another context
  32. 32. … May be “unfit” in another context
  33. 33. “ Survival of the Fittest” versus “Survival of the Minimally Adequate” <ul><li>Both mean the same thing (though the second may be slightly more accurate) </li></ul><ul><li>They have different social implications (the first has been used in justifying eugenics in ways the second might not). </li></ul>
  34. 34. “ Gradual and Relatively Peaceful … Advance” <ul><li>Much evidence shows that evolution may proceed through “punctuated equilibrium”: periods of relative stability punctuated by relatively rapid change. </li></ul><ul><li>Evolutionary change may be “peaceful” but may be very violent. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Advance” is yet another unscientific value-judgement (i.e. “advanced” civilization vs. “primitive” civilization). </li></ul>
  35. 35. So… What is Evolution? <ul><li>Change in a system over time resulting in a qualitatively different system. </li></ul><ul><li>The qualitative difference may or may not entail greater complexity . </li></ul>
  36. 36. Some Examples of Evolved Systems <ul><li>Biological Species </li></ul><ul><li>Language </li></ul><ul><li>Bird Songs </li></ul><ul><li>Ecosystems </li></ul><ul><li>Settlement Patterns </li></ul><ul><li>Modes of Production </li></ul><ul><li>Kinship Systems </li></ul>
  37. 37. Recent Human Evolution? <ul><li>Human evolution in the past 50,000 years? </li></ul><ul><li>Biologically – No </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Biologically, humans are not qualitatively different from each other or from humans alive 50,000 years ago </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Socially and Culturally – Yes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Some aspects of human society and culture are qualitatively different than human society 50,000 years ago. </li></ul></ul>
  38. 38. Agricultural Revolution* <ul><li>10,000 – 5,000 years ago </li></ul><ul><li>Humans start routinely planting and harvesting food </li></ul><ul><li>Surplus production (especially of grains – rice, wheat, etc.) </li></ul>*Wells calls this the “Second Big Bang” ( The Importance of Culture, pp.150-151)
  39. 39. Agricultural & Surplus provide conditions for: <ul><li>Settled Populations </li></ul><ul><li>Specialization in non-agricultural production </li></ul><ul><li>Increased interdependence </li></ul><ul><li>Increased trade and exchange </li></ul><ul><li>Hierarchy and State Building </li></ul>Complex Social Networking Mesopotamian Ziggurat: Representation of State Power
  40. 40. First Urban Revolution <ul><li>From 5,500 – 2,500 yrs ago </li></ul><ul><li>Urban Centers appear in: </li></ul><ul><li>Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley (5,500-4,500 y.a.) </li></ul><ul><li>China (3,800 y.a.), Central & South America (2,500 y.a.) </li></ul>Mesopotamia Egypt Indus Valley + + +
  41. 41. Second Urban Revolution <ul><li>First Urban Revolution was associated with the Agricultural Revolution (about 10,000 years ago) </li></ul><ul><li>Second Urban Revolution is associated with the Industrial Revolution (since about 200 yrs ago) </li></ul>
  42. 42. Population Growth <ul><li>Population Explosion from about 1800 C.E. </li></ul><ul><li>10,000 y.a.: 8 million </li></ul><ul><li>1750 C.E.: 800 million </li></ul><ul><li>1820 C.E.: 1 billion </li></ul><ul><li>1930 C.E.: 2 billion </li></ul><ul><li>1960 C.E.: 3 billion </li></ul><ul><li>1976 C.E.: 4 billion </li></ul><ul><li>1987 C.E.: 5 billion </li></ul><ul><li>2002 C.E.: 6.3 billion </li></ul>
  43. 43. A few final thoughts on social and cultural complexity . . . <ul><li>Are greater complexity and all evolutionary changes a “good” thing? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Militarism? Hierarchy? Patriarchy? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>As Wells points out, settled agriculture actually reduced quality of life for most individuals (e.g. more disease, less autonomy, warfare) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Is everything in industrial society more complex than a foraging society? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Compare Ju/’hoansi knowledge and reckoning of kinship to that of the average Singaporean? </li></ul></ul>