Driving and Thinking, part 1
by Richard Gerrison
RECENTLY MY WIFE AND I drove two hours to our home town to visit with family for Easter lunch, and on longer dives we always enjoy a good conversation to pass the time. These talks will be about anything and everything: plans for the summer, reorganizing furniture in the house, how we think our daughter is doing lately, and so on. But in the last two years since my conversion from Christianity to Cosmotheism, a topic she finds contentious and distasteful often rears its head during these drives: race. Being a devout Christian herself, my wife firmly holds that god (the Judeo-Christian god Yahweh/Jehovah, that is) created all humanity equal and that any perceived inequalities between various groups is merely a superficial matter of culture and circumstance that can be overcome, and that any one person has as much potential as any other, regardless of their racial identity.
Yesterday on our drive she tried to assert this point once again. “Richard. I’m a teacher, and I’m telling you that circumstance has a greater impact on intellectual and artistic development than anything else. We have two foster children in our center right now, brothers. The older one, who is four, spent three years with his neglectful mother and is behind on all metrics; from speech, to motor skills, to social behavior. But the one-year-old who was taken from the mother on day one and has only ever known the healthy environment of his foster home is progressing excellently in all markers. Now, because of the poor nutrition and lack of parental support, the older one will take time to recover from being behind, if he ever fully does; his brain might have missed enough key nutrients and stimulation during early development that it will never reach its potential. Meanwhile his younger brother is being well taken care of physically and mentally, and was from day one, and he will be able to reach his potential much more easily. They have the same genetics, but circumstances are going to make all the difference for them.”
I had heard her make this point before, not necessarily this anecdote, but the general concept was one she held to firmly. And this time I was prepared with a sound reply to her position. “I completely agree that circumstance is the primary determinant of potential and performance, the difference here is that you look at individuals on a short timeline and I look at groups on a long timeline. Let’s say Group A and Group B are both populations of a hundred thousand individuals that start out at the same baseline for intelligence, cultural and artistic development, and emotional expression. Group A moves into an environment where they will be able to provide pregnant mothers and growing children with perfect nutrition, and with everything they need for physical development; while Group B lives in an environment that provides relatively poor-quality food that won’t always provide enough nutrition — and sometimes not even enough calories.”
To follow the set-up of the scenario, I asked her “Would this create a difference in the physical and mental development of the two groups?”
She replied, “Yes, it would.”
I asked her, “Before I continue, would you also say that you agree that genetics does play at least some part in determining a person’s physical and mental development? My brother and I have the same parents who fed us the same food growing up, had the same education at the same school by all the same teachers, but my brother is five inches taller than me with a leaner build, while I always performed far better academically than he ever did, leaving the only real factor to explain the differences between us would be our different genetics.” She thought it over for a moment and said “I suppose that makes sense to a degree.”
So I continued. “Ok then, moving on — let us take the circumstances for Group A and for Group B and suppose that they will remain relatively consistent for several thousand years, tens of thousands possibly. Then the case we will have is that Group A will be full of individuals who are meeting their physical genetic limiters, people who reach the maximum height that their genes support because they will get all the nutrition needed to do so, for example. They will also be able to develop their brains to the maximum potential allowed by their genes. And, humans being humans, they will generally be attracted to the more physically developed and intelligent members of the opposite sex, yes?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“So that means through unconscious natural selection over thousands of years, in a group of people where nearly all are hitting their genetic potential, those with greater genetic potential will be picked over those with lower; the stronger and healthier, and the intelligent and creative, are more likely to be chosen by quality mates to reproduce. Over time this selection will slowly raise the group’s average of physical and mental prowess, as people select for these qualities in their mates — making these averages much higher than they were when the group started out thousands of years ago. Is that fair to say?”
It was at this point, I think, my wife began to see where this was going because she was very caution and tentative in providing an affirmative “yes” to what I had outlined.
“So then compare that to Group B, among whom nutrition is the main limiting factor rather than genetics — that means that the latent genetic potential of individuals who could possibly be more intelligent or more fit is rarely if ever revealed and actualized, because none of them are reaching it. From which would follow that the entire population would be more ‘average’ with fewer and smaller differences between the best and the worst individuals compared to Group A. So those selecting mates in Group B will be less particular because there are no real ideal mates to chase after, and comparatively fewer poor mates to avoid. So, over the thousands of years in our timeline, those in Group B will be almost completely stagnant as far as raising their group’s average genetic potential is concerned.”
At this point, my wife was rather quiet. I assume she had come close to guessing the conclusion I was building toward, and realized her own argument had been turned against her — and that the points she had used to defend her disagreement with my Cosmotheist beliefs had actually been shown to be an affirmation of my position.
So, having laid the groundwork and received the necessary concessions on her part, I sallied on with the last part of my argument.
“So, if after thousands to tens of thousands of years of raising the average genetic potential of Group A through unconscious selective breeding, and thousands to tens of thousands of years of the stagnation of the average genetic potential of Group B; what would happen if we suddenly moved Group B into Group A’s territory? Group B will now be able to begin reaching their genetic potential because they will finally benefit from an abundance of nutrition and sufficient caloric intake. And, according to your initial argument, now Group B should be able to begin competing with Group A in terms of physical and mental prowess, yes?”
She had to have known her premise had been undermined, so she gave a concession to me in an attempt to be able to still hold her position to some degree. “Well no, not right off the bat; it will probably take a couple generations for Group B to really start benefiting from their new environment.”
Which was just the opening that was needed to deal the final blow in this verbal duel. “I’m sure they would start benefiting from it immediately, but even if you gave them one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred years of being able to benefit from this new circumstance, in reality, how much is that going to compare against thousands to tens of thousands of years of benefit? Even after 300 years, any improvement by Group B wouldn’t even be noticeable to members of Group A because Group A was so much more advanced than B when they were put together — and Group A isn’t just going to stop advancing themselves, giving B the time to ‘catch up eventually.’”
To my surprise, my wife then opened the door for further conversation on this matter when she asked me, “Yes but wouldn’t Group B be able to develop at a faster rate because of their exposure to Group A’s more advanced society?” And that part of the conversation will be covered in part 2.
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