If you’ve ever heard about the topic of IQ, race, the Alt Right or any combination thereof you might have noticed the term human biodiversity used sometimes. Human biodiversity or HBD for short was coined by Steve Sailer and it’s a term that describes a concept that’s not exactly new in science but has been gaining more prominence in the scientific blogosphere.
But according to some, HBD is evil. When you look at the first few results of google going into it you see sites describing it as an racist pseudoscientific conspiracy to make scientific racism more appealing! An angry blogger at the progressive Jewish website Forward describes HBD as the ideological successor to eugenics. And Rationalwiki, an emotionally driven pseudo-wiki for radical feminist atheists, describes it as a hip rebranding of scientific racism.
Wow proponents of HBD must be evil white nationalist racist Alt Right types who believe that all non-whites must be purged to usher in a new Aryan utopia…right?
Well…not exactly. These are primarily just smears by politically motivated left-wing activists who behave in a similar manner as how creationists described evolution as racist and eugenicist.
So what is HBD really? Well I’ll be explaining that in this post and show that it’s really more harmless than ideologues make it out to be.
Human biodiversity already tells you a lot already just by the name alone. It’s about the genetic diversity in anatomically modern humans or H. S. Sapiens as we’re classified and how this genetic diversity influences our culture and behavior.
Biodiversity itself is pretty much an accepted fact within science and dates back to Aristotle, who realized that some animals share physical attributes with each other while others do not. And that they can be classified into different groups based on these attributes. This idea has since been refined through Linnaean taxonomy and given more credibility via genomics.
Now we classify animals and ourselves into neat groups that strongly correlate with our genotypic and phenotypic attributes. We are homos due to our human bipedalism and tool use, we are hominids because we are large anthropoid apes, we are mammals because we nourish our young with our mammary glands, we are vertebrates because we have a spine, we are animals because we are multicellular, heterotrophic, lack cell walls and consume energy while moving all at the same time. You get the point.
Human biodiversity, defined with a broad brush, is human taxonomy. It’s basically the idea that genetic differences do not stop at the species, but goes much further. We can genetically classify people into races, ethnicities, families and even individuals because that’s how far our biological diversity goes. And just like any other taxonomic classification we can classify these based on many attributes. Our eye color, skin color, tolerance against certain food, political views, intelligence, lifestyle. It’s a very nuanced and deep discussion that would need more than one article to really grasp.
So in short HBD is the acceptance of genetic diversity playing a big role in who we are and the application of this idea in many scientific fields such as Evolutionary Psychology, Forensic Anthropology and Population Genetics
So exactly why is this such a contested topic? Why do people conflate this simple principle with eugenics, scientific racism and white supremacy? Well there seems to be two reasons.
1. The issue of race. Because among many classifications HBD also accepts racial differences are largely caused by genetics which is of course a juicy political topic
2. The fact that this idea contradicts the Blank Slate view of the nature vs nurture debate. That humans are largely shaped by environmental factors and social constructs.
So let’s clear up the misconceptions and explain what HBD proponents do believe in.
First of all, HBD does not claim that race is a purely objective classification. Even other taxas such as species, subspecies and classes are subjective and up to debate. What HBD is saying is that there are clear genetic variation in populations, and we can average the amount of genetic differences to create different classifications like race.
Second of all, HBD does not claim that every single trait of humans are purely determined by genetics and that environmental factors do not exist. HBDers often consider the issue of nature vs nurture fallacious and that they compliment each other rather than create a dichotomy.
And finally, HBD does not and never has claimed that white people are superior to other races. It’s as ridiculous as saying a monkey is superior to a fish because a monkey climbs trees really well and fish can’t. What HBD does talk about are how races are different from each other and how they evolved within their respective geographical locations. For example:
– Inuits are able to consume food with higher amounts of fats without risking heart diseases because they evolved in a harsh climate where a low fat mediterranean diet is hard to come by.
– Only 10% of Nordic Europeans are lactose intolerant compared to 95% among Sub-saharan Africans and East-Asians because Europeans knew that fermenting milk would reduce lactose in dairy products, helping them to adapt to the products.
– Some races have evolved different adaptations to high altitude.
– Sub-Saharan Africans are the only race where the MCPH1 gene, which is connected to brain development and tonal language, is exceptionally low.
These are just a few examples, some claim that while these differences do exist these complex traits are not proper criteria to classify people into distinct biological races. In fact they say that science has rejected the notion of anatomical and biological differences between races. Yet scientific fields where race, especially anatomical differences between races matter the most not only accept racial differences but pretty much rely on it.
Forensic Anthropology is a practical application of anatomical science and incredibly important to identify a body. In terms of race they still even use the classification of Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid to trace back ancestry. An idea that has been dismissed as 20th century scientific racism can still accurately predict 21st century anatomical data.
And even features that seem trivial at first like hair color and eye color can give some some serious different attributes. For example the gene HERC2 which determines blue eye color can be found in chromosome 15 duplicons which can cause several genetic disorders like Angelman and Prader-Willi syndrome.
So simply put, HBD isn’t as bad as you think. In fact it’s probably one of the most obvious observable concepts that could possibly exist. Yet it’s unfairly demonized for the sole reason that it accepts races as a potential taxonomic classification rather than a social construct. Even though race is only a small part of HBD, there’s so much more to it from behavior, culture, family and you as an individual. Ironically I believe that this is in fact the type of diversity we should celebrate.
I mainly wanted to cover the basic idea behind HBD in a simple to understand manner. In the future want to get into the relation of race and IQ as it’s one of those ideas that give HBD a controversial name as well as addressing some common criticisms of HBD.
Michelle Catlin is a Dutch political activist and blogger who can be found discussing politics and culture on social media. Follow her on Twitter @CatlinNya