Derridean deconstruction is judiciously brought to bear on Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance.
This is Part I of a planned series of essays, ‘deconstructing’ (at least) two texts: Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: Race, Genes, and Human History (Part I), and the Harry Potter corpus (Part II).
The relatively recent and quasi-ironic rise of ‘NazBol’ highlights an important phenomenon: the (re-)appropriation of historically left-wing analytical tools by Third Positionist (and, to some extent, even strictly right-wing) discourse. This was likely an intellectual-historical inevitability. Since at least the 1990s, left-wing ‘thought’ has been little more than an undifferentiated slurry of name-checks: Marx, Freud, Adorno, Foucault, Derrida, Butler, etc. As a result, the idea that there might be serious and important and perhaps even irreconcilable ideological differences between these figures – for example, and not to put too fine a point on it, the idea that Marx might have had serious reservations about the presence of Jews in European society1 – would doubtless come as an enormous shock to the virtual totality of Leftists, from those wearing Che Guevara t-shirts to those wearing Antifa balaclavas.
To be clear, the descent of left-wing analysis, from ideas (such as Marx’s) that needed to be taken seriously even if they were seriously wrong, into pure rage at the mere existence of majority-white societies, is a large topic that deserves its own extended discussion. My only point in bringing it up here is to note that the mark of a serious idea is its wide and unpredictable applicability, the double-edged cut of its blade. For example, Slavoj Žižek, steeped in Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxist theory, has come out swinging against ‘degenerate’ bourgeois vegetarianism2 and the presence of ‘transgender’ biological males in the women’s room.3 One need not agree with Žižek in every particular to realize that much of what he has to say, particularly regarding what we would call ‘Woke Capital’, is true.
Thus, at the risk of being branded overly sympathetic to those who evidently want us and our children erased from the face of the Earth, I would like to suggest that – in the same way that Marxist class analysis of the economic structure of American society can illuminate the networks of ethnic nepotism responsible for much of its social division and material inequality – so, too, can Derridean deconstruction be made to work for us rather than against us. Of course, this point is subtle and requires careful clarification. The term ‘deconstruction’ is often used by both Left and Right as a kind of catch-all, referring to a general process of subversion: the Gramscian ‘march through the institutions’ as applied to the reading and analysis of texts, most particularly the seminal texts of the Western canon. On this account, to ‘deconstruct’ Aristotle or Shakespeare means to hunt, like a truffle pig, for the whiff of a real or imagined slight against Equalism, at the expense of any meaningful engagement with the actual content of these (hopelessly ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, etc.) texts.
I would like to suggest, on the contrary – without endorsing wholesale everything the Jewish Algerian Derrida had to say – that ‘deconstruction’ is an in-principle non-ideological analytical tool. To ‘deconstruct’ is only to demonstrate the manner in which a text may, and perhaps at some level must, betray its author. That is to say: the greater the disconnect between the author’s agenda and the truth of the matter, the less stable the equilibrium of the text’s internal rhetorical forces, and so the more the text will work against both itself and the author. Careful attention to detail will disclose these ways in which the text escapes the author’s intention, revealing realities that the author had consciously or unconsciously meant to keep hidden.
This may seem hopelessly abstract. What does this mean, in practical terms? Let us turn our attention to the first case study, Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: Race, Genes, and Human History (2014).
I. A Troublesome Inheritance
Molecular biologists and human population geneticists are in an impossible situation. Prior to the advent of the microcomputer and the sequencing of the human genome, it was epistemically possible for cultural anthropologists – who were, by the mid-20th century, spearheaded by the Jewish chair of the anthropology department at Columbia University, Franz Boas, who dictated the terms of humanistic inquiry to everyone else – to assert, boldly and without empirical evidence, that human populations differed only in their learned behaviours. Within the academy, the victory of this Blank Slate Equalist view, held by the cultural anthropologists and their heirs in the various grievance studies and social ‘science’ departments, as well as the still-rapidly metastasizing ‘diversity’ bureaucracy, was complete. And, to the extent that academicians set the cultural agenda for American society as a whole, most saliently with respect to the national mass media and corporate human resources departments, this view still holds enormous sway. The slightest hint of disbelief in or insufficient enthusiasm for the wonders of ‘diversity’, ‘equality’, and ‘inclusiveness’ can reduce even the most productive members of society to penury, as we are all too well aware.
The problem, of course, is that molecular biologists and human population geneticists have known with increasing certainty since the 1990s, to the extent that as of 2010 it was simply taken for granted, that there are quantifiable biological differences between human population groups. Moreover, as of 2019, researchers have just within the past few months begun to identify some of the individual genomes responsible for complex polygenic traits such as height4 and intelligence.5 Most scientists, deathly afraid of the Eye of Soros casting its gaze upon them, keep their head down and obscure the implications of their work in a thick mass of impenetrable acronyms (cf. the studies cited above). A few, like professor emeritus of neuroscience Richard Haier, are old enough and distinguished enough to get away with placing their hope in genetic-therapeutical interventions6 aimed at raising the average intelligence of Africans; for others, like James Watson, even a Nobel Prize awarded for discovering the chemical structure of DNA ultimately provided no defence against the ravening hordes of his intellectual inferiors7 come to devour his reputation and his legacy, because he committed the cardinal sin of being honest about what the data show.
It was against this backdrop, with the empirical ground falling out from beneath the feet of those who would deny the biological reality of race, that in 2014 Nicholas Wade wrote what is still today probably the single best work8 of mainstream science journalism on the topic. Carefully summarizing the current state of scientific research, answering all objections with facts and logic, arguing in measured tones, Wade thoroughly dismantles the leftist cultural-anthropological consensus view that ‘there is no genetic basis for race’.
But what interests me about this text is not the historiography in which it is embedded, i.e., the fact that the formerly august and well-respected Wade (editor of The New York Times science desk from 1982 to 2012) was immediately made a pariah within the journalistic establishment; nor is what interests me the fact that his detractors could not find errors of fact or interpretation in his work, and so were forced to resort to the same tired and baseless smears with which we are all so familiar. Rather, what interests me is the (failed) strategy that Wade chose to use in order to inoculate himself against charges of ‘racism’ – both for what it reveals about the truth of the matter, and for what lessons its failure may teach us.
The failed vaccination is delivered at the outset, all at once, through a massive injection of weapons-grade anti-racism, in the second chapter entitled ‘Perversions of Science’. The opening sets the tone for the chapter as a whole (Wade 2014, 16):
Ideas about race, many of them generated by biologists, have been exploited to justify slavery, to sterilize people deemed unfit and, in Hitler’s Germany, to conduct murderous campaigns against innocent and defenseless segments of society such as Gypsies, homosexuals and mentally ill children. Most chilling of all was the horrific fusion of eugenic ideas with notions of racial purity that drove the National Socialists to slaughter some 6 million Jews in the territories under their control.
These ritual incantations are the essence of the defence, and ultimately its most salient feature, but the chapter is structured as a series of point-and-sputter non-arguments. For example, Wade repeatedly rails against what he terms ‘racial purity’ while downplaying historical fears about ‘racial degeneration through interbreeding’ (19), noting that ‘racists are concerned about intermarriage (“the purity of the blood”) lest it erode the basis of their race’s superiority’ (17). What about people (racists?) who don’t believe their race is ‘superior’ to any other, whatever this might mean, and who furthermore recognize that in biology as in life there is nothing that is entirely pure, yet who are nevertheless opposed to intermarriage because they wish for their race to maintain its cultural and biological distinctiveness, to continue to exist as it has existed for thousands or tens of thousands of years? Wade doesn’t say. Such people, who make up the vast majority of ‘racists’ I personally know (including my own ‘racist’ self), are apparently invisible to him. Of course, as we will later address, this also raises the question of certain well-known religious groups that have strict rules and scriptures aimed at maintaining their ethnic homogeneity.
Wade attacks both Joseph-Arthur Comte de Gobineau and Samuel Morton for their belief that ‘the various human populations [represent] not just different races but different species’ (20). In this connection he favourably cites Charles Darwin’s assertion that the races ‘graduate into each other’ (23). However, in what will soon become a pattern, Wade’s own words from a different section of the text betray the abortive attempt at anti-racist inoculation, infecting him despite his best efforts (68):
Consider the following statement. … ‘It is increasingly clear that there is no scientific basis for defining precise ethnic or racial boundaries’, writes Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute in a review of the project’s implications. This form of words, commonly used by biologists to imply that they accept the orthodox political take on the nonexistence of race, means rather less than meets the eye. When a distinct boundary develops between races, they are no longer races but separate species. So to say there are no precise boundaries between races is like saying there are no square circles.
The problem, of course, is that different species also ‘graduate into each other’, and (depending on how closely related) can even interbreed to produce viable offspring, perhaps the most famous example being the viable offspring of humans and Neanderthals that were the ancestors of many European populations to this day. ‘Species’, like ‘race’, is a linguistic construct insofar as it denotes a statistical rather than a metaphysical reality. The boundary between ‘species’ may be more difficult to cross than that between races or sub-species, but it is no more precisely delineable in ultimate, definitive terms. This is why, rather than imprecise and at least partly subjective terms like ‘species’ or ‘subspecies’ or ‘race’, actual practising scientists typically prefer to use objective empirical assessments, such as the ‘fixation index’ (FST), a relative measure of the percentage of the genome held in common between two populations. The fixation index between Africans and Europeans is approximately 0.153, the same as that between wolves and coyotes.9 Does it really matter whether wolves and coyotes are the same species, or different races of the same species? Of course not, and Wade is smart enough to know all this, which is why his invocation of Darwin on this point must be read as a propagandizing strategy rather than a meaningful argument.
Similarly, and surely not by accident, at the point when Wade attempts to draw a more precise connection between American eugenicists and the ‘slaughter [of] some six million’, the text entirely ceases to be intelligible as dialectic. One of Wade’s chief villains in this recounting of how early American population biologists have blood on their hands is the Harvard-educated professor of biology Charles Davenport, whose comments on immigration (disapprovingly cited by Wade, without any further comment) are too delicious not to reproduce: ‘Can we build a wall high enough around this country so as to keep out these cheaper races, or will it be a feeble dam… leaving it to our descendants to abandon the country to the blacks, browns, and yellows and seek an asylum in New Zealand?’ Plus ça change, indeed.
In fact this kind of uncritical moral indignation – as though the prescient declarations of these men of learning, who did indeed know what they were talking about and were furthermore proven right by history, were damning of their character (if not their powers of prognostication), and thus sufficient on their own to demonstrate the moral defectiveness of their utterers – is repeated throughout ‘Perversions of Science’. Wade represents the views of the lawyer and conservationist and proto-anarcho-primitivist Madison Grant10 as being beyond the pale, tut-tutting (32):
Grant’s beliefs were starkly racist and eugenic. He considered that Europeans, based on the skull and other physical traits, consisted of three races, which he called Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean. The Nordics, with their brown or blond hair and blue or pale eyes, were the superior type, in part because the harsh northern climate in which they evolved ‘must have been such as to impose a rigid eliminate of defectives through the agency of hard winters and the necessity of industry and foresight in providing the year’s food, clothing and shelter during the short summer’.
The amusing thing about Wade’s citation of Grant here, and the main reason why I have framed this essay as a ‘deconstruction’, is that despite his obvious and dripping disdain for the man, in fact Wade substantiates Grant’s central (‘starkly racist and eugenic’) claims. The races are indeed physiologically different from each other, not only with respect to skin colour, but indeed precisely in terms of skull shape, a fact that Wade already documented earlier in ‘Perversions of Science’, during his brief overview of the Jewish evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould’s disastrously failed attempt11 to refute this scientific reality (19–21). And later on (70), Wade furthermore acknowledges that ‘by taking just a few measurements, physical anthropologists can tell police departments the race of a skull’s former owner with better than 80% accuracy’. In terms of contemporary statistical population genetics, the European branch of the Caucasian race may be subdivided into Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean elements.12 Most amusingly of all, however, in his subsequent account of the exit of modern Homo sapiens from Africa approximately 40,000 years ago, Wade writes (76–77):
To get away from one another and find new territory, bands started moving north into the cold forests and steppes of Europe and East Asia. The evolutionary pressures for change on these small isolated groups would have been intense. Those migrating eastward faced new environments. Living by hunting and gathering, they would have had to relearn how to survive in each new habitat. The groups moving northward from the equatorial zone of the first migration would have encountered particularly harsh pressures. The last ice age did not end until 10,000 years ago. The first modern humans who moved northward had to adapt to conditions very different from those of their tropical homeland and develop new technologies, such as making tightly fitting clothes and storing food for the winter months. The climate was far colder, the seasonal differences were more pronounced and the problems of keeping warm and finding sustenance during the winter months were severe.
You don’t say?
Continuing his ritual denunciation of Madison Grant, Wade invokes the poem associated with the Statue of Liberty by way of thematic contrast (32–33):
Emma Lazarus saw the United States as a beacon of hope for the refugees from Europe’s savage wars and hatreds. Grant had a less expansive vision to offer: ‘We Americans must realize that the altruistic ideals which have controlled our social development during the past century, and the maudlin sentimentalism that has made America ‘an asylum for the oppressed’, are sweeping the nation toward a racial abyss. If the Melting Pot is allowed to boil without control and we continue to follow our national motto and deliberately blind ourselves to all ‘distinctions of race, creed, or color’, the type of native American of Colonial descent will become as extinct as the Athenian of the age of Pericles, and the Viking of the days of Rollo’.
What is most noteworthy here is Wade’s refusal to do anything except object to the ‘moral’ side of the question. Of course Grant’s claim is self-evidently true. If even a small fraction of the 1.5 billion Africans currently alive (to say nothing of the projected 5 billion by 2100, let alone the Mesoamericans and Asians) ‘migrate’ to Europe and the United States, the white race will vanish within a few generations. In fact the white race may already be doomed to genocidal extinction, at least in the United States, even without any further ‘migration’ of ‘refugees’. All of this is patently obvious to anyone with a 5th-grade understanding of mathematics.
But Wade does not connect these dots. White people, in the rhetorical world of his text, are not allowed to have interests. On the other hand, he begins and ends ‘Perversions of Science’ with ritual denunciations of ‘anti-Semitism’, which are repeated periodically throughout the rest of the text. Interestingly, however, he does seem to be at least dimly aware that the vehement opposition to recognizing the biological reality of race mostly originates with a certain ethnic group:
The politically driven distortion of scientific views about race can be traced to a sustained campaign from the 1950s onward by the anthropologist Ashley Montagu, who sought to make the word race taboo, at least when referring to people. Montagu, who was Jewish, grew up in the East End district of London, where he experienced considerable anti-Semitism. He was trained as a social anthropologist in London and New York, where he studied under Franz Boas, a champion of racial equality and the belief that culture alone shapes human behavior. He began to promote Boas’ ideas with more zeal than their author. Montagu developed passionate views on the evils of race. … In the postwar years, with the horror of the Holocaust weighing on people’s minds, Montagu found ready acceptance of his views. These were prominent in the influential UNESCO statement on race, first issued in 1950, which he helped draft. He believed that imperialism, racism, and anti-Semitism were driven by notions of race and could be undermined by showing that races did not exist.
In point of fact, the mythology attached to the Holocaust (including the term itself) did not develop until the 1970s – but this is of course beside the real intent of this passage, which is for Wade to vaccinate himself against accusations of ‘racism’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ so that he might eventually handle the otherwise toxic question of the relationship between Jewish genes and Jewish behaviour. To his credit, Wade devotes an entire chapter (‘Jewish Adaptations’) to the genetic profile of Jews. Unfortunately, he is unable or unwilling to critically analyze his own words (198):
Until the era of rapid DNA sequencing, it could be surmised that Jews were a distinct population because of religious laws that frowned on marriage outside Judaism. But no one knew for certain because in the absence of genetic evidence it was impossible to estimate the amount of intermarriage that might nevertheless have occurred throughout history. DNA analysis shows that Jews are a definable set of populations and that Ashkenazi Jews, at least, can be distinguished genetically from [Europeans]. With each Jewish community, there has been some intermarriage with local populations but at a very slow rate. This neatly explains the observation by Jewish anthropologists that Jews from all over the world resemble one another yet also resemble their host populations.
A sharper critical faculty might have led him to ask: does this well-documented behaviour of Jews, of insisting on remaining a ‘distinct population’, by enforcing ‘religious laws that frowned on marriage outside Judaism’, and as a result only interbreeding slowly if at all, not constitute a certain – how to put it – a certain preoccupation with the ‘purity of the blood’? Is this not precisely indicative of a fear of ‘racial degeneration through interbreeding’, à la Gobineau? An even sharper critical eye might have trained itself upon the strange (very, very strange) coincidence that the three intellectuals whom Wade singles out as the most vociferous champions of the idea that there is no biological basis for race – Franz Boas, Ashley Montagu, and Stephen Jay Gould – were all Jewish. Why would a people who so stridently insist upon remaining a distinct biological population, deny with equal or even greater vehemence that human populations are in any way biologically distinct?
Wade, like any author acceptable for publishing by a mainstream imprint, is thoroughly incapable of understanding – far less asking – this question. Instead, he digresses into the easily and thoroughly debunked canard14 that the average Ashkenazi IQ is a full standard deviation above the European norm, and asserts that this – rather than, say, ethnic nepotism as encoded in the same religious laws that ‘frowned upon marriage outside Judaism’ – is the reason that (212)
Like Chinese immigrant communities, Jews have brought enormous benefits to the economies in which they worked [ed.: citation needed]. Unfortunately their success, like that of the immigrant Chinese, has in many cases elicited not gratitude but envy, followed by discrimination or murderous reprisals, a response that reflects more strongly on the greed than the intelligence of their host populations.
Rather than asking why, as he notes in ‘Perversion of Science’, ‘anti-Semitic statements mar the writings of leading German philosophers, even Kant’ and Wagner, Wade shrugs his shoulders and chalks it up to greed and envy. Wade apparently embraces the idea that the Germans achieved the height of cultural and scientific sophistication, spontaneously began hating Jews for attainments they had no reason to envy, then quietly went back to their normal high-minded sophistication – just like the English, the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Hungarians and the Arabs.
But these questions – among the most critical questions facing Western civilization – practically leap off every page. They cannot help but reveal themselves as questions, because Wade is for the most part honest enough to accurately represent the current state of scientific knowledge. Again, despite these and related problems, A Troublesome Inheritance is very much worth reading, and, in no small part due to its philo-Semitism, quite appropriate as a gentle introduction to race realism for those who are unfamiliar with it or unreflectively averse to it. Consequently, my aim here is not simply to criticize this text, but to ‘deconstruct’ it – that is, to demonstrate the ways in which it inadvertently reveals the truth, despite the best efforts of its author to obscure this truth in those places where it might prove dangerous. Unlike Wade, however, we should be more bold. There is no reason to hide from the truth, no matter what it might be; as somebody famous once said, the truth will set you free.
4Edge, Michael D. and Coop, Graham. ‘Reconstructing the History of Polygenic Scores Using Coalescent Trees’, Genetics, January 1, 2019.
6Haier, Richard. ‘No Voice at VOX: Sense and Nonsense about Discussing IQ and Race’, Quillette, Jule 11 ,2017.
7Belluz, Julia. ‘DNA Scientist James Watson Has a Remarkably Long History of Sexist, Racist Public Comments’, Vox, January 15, 2018.
8Wade, Nicholas. A Troublesome Inheretance: Genese, Race and Human History (Penguin Press: 2014).