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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Razib Khan on Race, Human Biology, and Revealed Preference



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Back in February, Razib Khan wrote a thoughtful post on the “race question.” Two passages in particular stuck out for me. The first is on the Uyghurs of Central Asia:

We know that the Uyghur are a new population, which emerged in the past 2,000 years due to admixture between a resident West Eurasian population, and Turkic groups. We know this both through genetics (decay of linkage disequilibrium) and history. There is also a great deal of circumstantial evidence that the West Eurasian forebears of the Uyghurs, the Tocharians, were long distance migrants from the west. So who were the indigenes of the Tarim? It may be that due to the local ecology the center of Eurasia has long been relatively underpopulated in relation to the peripheries, with the emergence of new lifestyles (e.g., oasis agriculture, nomadism) resulting in the ethnogenesis of groups which arose recently to occupy the midway position between Europeans and East Asians.

This struck me as particularly interesting because admixture between West Eurasian and East Asian groups is fairly common in a number of English-speaking countries, particularly Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. And as a result, a phenotype that has long been present in Central Asia is emerging in very different places for different historical reasons. The study of human differences is very much the study of the quirks and turning points in human history. 

And there is this passage:

There’s a big difference between revealed preferences and avowed preferences. For example, most Americans espouse a love of diversity. But they sure don’t love diversity when it comes to who they date. These include many people who I know personally, who are diversity loving progressives, but who seem to fall into the trap of disaggregation. Since I don’t love diversity and don’t care about that issue I don’t bring it up with them often. But it’s what I call a revealed preference. Or, to give an amusing example, I said something offensive in one of my posts apparently a few years back, which prompted one outraged reader to leave a long shocked rant about my racism. The comment was trashed, and the reader banned. Nevertheless, I traced their Facebook account. The individual was a young white professional resident in San Francisco. And, their friends list was visible. I did a quick spot check, and estimated that ~90 percent of their San Francisco friends were white. In contrast, about ~50 percent of San Francisco’s population is white. I’m not going to accuse anyone of racism, but there are quite interesting revealed preferences in the world (I saw this when I lived in Berkeley, where a few times I was the only non-white at a party where people were trashing how little diversity there was in Oregon when they found out that that was where I was from). Most people like associate with “their own kind,” however that is defined.

Unlike Razib, I’d be somewhat more inclined to say that I’m drawn to diverse environments and groups, which is part of why I choose to live in New York city. My circle of friends is as a result fairly diverse — certainly more so than average. To some degree, however, this reflects the fact that I grew up in a diverse environment and I was part of an ethnic group that was quite small for most of my formative years. Moreover, the surface diversity of my non-kin-based social network is misleading in that there is a below-the-surface lack of diversity, i.e., most of the people in said network are drawn from broadly similar class and educational backgrounds, etc. So my appreciation for diversity, if you can call it that, is hardly virtuous. It is a product of the circumstances of my upbringing, which have undoubtedly narrowed my experience in other ways. 



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