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The Twists of History and DNA 337

Posted by Zonk
from the dna-certainly-is-curved dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The New York Times has a piece today talking about the possible connection between genetic evolution and history." From the article: "Trying to explain cultural traits is, of course, a sensitive issue. The descriptions of national character common in the works of 19th-century historians were based on little more than prejudice. Together with unfounded notions of racial superiority they lent support to disastrous policies. But like phrenology, a wrong idea that held a basic truth (the brain's functions are indeed localized), the concept of national character could turn out to be not entirely baseless, at least when applied to societies shaped by specific evolutionary pressures."
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The Twists of History and DNA

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  • Just a Clue-In (Score:2, Informative)

    by those.numbers (960432) * on Sunday March 12, 2006 @09:45PM (#14904618)
    For those of us who didn't already know much about the concept of national character, Google defines it as "studies based on the assumption that collectively members of a society have a distinctive set of psychological qualities." Interesting article.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 12, 2006 @09:50PM (#14904633)
    This amazing book sums up what happens to humans when placed in different geographies. Just like animals, certain traits are more advantageous and lead to increased specialization.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @10:05PM (#14904688) Homepage Journal
    Actually the UK did receive help from the US after the war. Not as much as the rest of Western Europe but it also didn't the level of destruction that the rest of Europe did. It was an extension of the Lend Lease program and not the Marshal Plan but it did get some help.
  • buy it (Score:5, Informative)

    by r00t (33219) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @10:29PM (#14904768) Journal
    If you were able to take a baby from ancient times and transplant him to the present, he'd grow up to about the same as the rest of us, because "the rest of us" have enough variation that you'd not notice any difference.

    Take 10000 ancient babies and 10000 modern babies though, place them in equal situations, and you'll see a pattern of differences between the groups.

    It's easy to prove this for physical attributes like height. The Mayan and Inca people of Central America were very short. If you brought one to the modern world, part of that difference would go away (better food) and part would remain. Maybe the guy is 5'4" instead of the average 5'10", but you couldn't say for sure if it was something particular to an ancient person. If you got 10000 of these people though, and the average was 5'4", then you'd know there was a difference.
  • Not all men are created equal.

    I agree with your point, but just for the record, that phrase by the Founding Fathers did not mean "equal in ability" or even "equal in value". It meant that no one is born divine, in the sense of more than human. This was a direct attack on the idea that kings are ordained by God.

  • by r00t (33219) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @10:59PM (#14904878) Journal
    Some weirdo actually weighed testicles removed from cadavers. The asians were smallest. The others didn't differ all that much. The same is true of penis measurements, but note that africans look better equipped because the "flacid" state isn't as flacid as that of other populations.
  • by maelstrom (638) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @11:29PM (#14904981) Homepage Journal
    What the hell are you even talking about? The phrase indicates that all men are equal UNDER THE LAW. In no way does it mean that I'm somehow equal to Linus Torvalds when it comes to kernel programming or any other such nonsense.
  • by tenchiken (22661) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @11:41PM (#14905024)
    A couple of notes, Hitler did do sterilization, primarily for political opponents and homosexuals. They (the catholics, the protestants, the homosexuals, etc) died in the camps, but they were not systematically wiped out.
  • by just_forget_it (947275) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @11:41PM (#14905026)
    I think a small community of smart people intelligent enough to divide resources evenly and work together towards a common cause would be a lot more likely to survive than a multitude of violent, stupid rednecks who's large community uses up resources quickly and tears itself apart with infighting.

    A good example is the Rapanui of Easter Island. Their population grew to 10,000, larger than the island could handle and soon all of its resources were used up. Why? Because instead of working together, the leaders made a bad choice and began using everything to build big stone heads. They had no idea what kind of shit they were in until it was too late. The majority starved to death and the remaining people had to resort to eating the dead to survive. The population fell to 111.

    Survival isn't just about how many offspring you produce. It's the quality, or output to society as a whole from each person that makes the difference.
  • Re:Germans (Score:5, Informative)

    by MarkusQ (450076) on Sunday March 12, 2006 @11:53PM (#14905067) Journal

    To date, there heve been exactly zero scientific studies that point to a genetic component of personality, including the famous twins studies of the late 1990s. Yet there have been literally thousands of studies that point to a cultural component, including those that show that early childhood trauma can result in physical damage to the brain.

    This is, to put it bluntly, wrong (search for personality or behavior) [nih.gov]. For that matter, most people doesn't consider early childhood trauma to be "cultural". If someone were intending to show a genetic component to personality, he or she would first have to show a physiological component to personality. That has yet to happen. So your analogy of shortness and strongness, which are physiological traits, can not be applied to personalities, which are not physiological. The brain may be genetic, but we are many, many years from proving or even suggesting that personality traits are.

    This too is wrong, and sounds a lot like some sort of vitalistic voodoo; in other words, much less scientific than the notion that genes influence personality. It is also inconsistent with what you said above (where you used the causal chain [early childhood trauma] --> [physical damage to the brain] --> [personality]).

    --MarkusQ

    P.S. "Strongness" isn't a word. I think you were looking for "Strength."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 12, 2006 @11:53PM (#14905070)
    Britain on the other hand got squat from the Marshal Plan, and struggles to this day with pre-war infrastructure that in nearby countries was destroyed and subsequently replaced.

    The British got about $14 - $20 billion of war material from the US via the Lend-Lease program during 1941-1945. This was in 1940s dollars, so it really was a substantial fraction of GDP. None of this was repaid in cash; rather, in return, the US got leases on various British naval bases.

    Now, the name "Lend-Lease" is a bit misleading. It was only named that to make the deal palatable to stingy American voters.

    The "Lend" part refers to the idea was that the materials (tanks, trucks, ships, aircraft, food, fuel, clothing, etc.) would be lent to the allies, and that when the emergency was over, the allies would give back whatever was still in usable condition. Of course, at the end of the war, almost all these materials had been destroyed or otherwise used up, so basically nothing was returned.

    The "Lease" part of course refers to leases on British naval bases. This is not a small matter. These bases have helped the US to project military power on the world ever since then. It is hard to put a dollar value on them.

    When the US ended the program suddenly in 1945, there was a remainder of material still on its way to Britain. This was sold for about 10% of its market value. The British government paid for it with a loan at a 2% annual rate, which the UK still has not paid off. [wikipedia.org] (At 2% interest, who can blame them?) Again, this is separate from the Lend-Lease deal, which was repaid in bases, not money.

    This was meant to be a good deal for the British, and it probably was. But it had a terrible effect on British industry. Part of the terms of Lend-Lease required that the UK not export the sort of materials that it was being given by the US. People were put to work at other wartime tasks, and so by the end of the war, industrial capacity in the UK was much reduced. Of course, in the US it was the opposite story.

    The UK also got more than $3 billion from the Marshall Plan [wikipedia.org] -- which is more than any other country got, but still small compared to the Lend-Lease aid. IIRC, roughly half of this was in the form of a loan that had to be repaid, whilst the rest was basically an outright grant.

    Most of this was justified in the US more by naked self-interest than pure charity. Otherwise there would have been comparable aid to the Axis powers during WWII and to Eastern Europe during the Cold War. But there is nevertheless a pretty clear case of American generosity and idealism in the great aid effort during the First World War which saved tens of millions of Europeans from starvation, [bbc.co.uk] but nowadays is almost entirely forgotten.
  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday March 13, 2006 @02:06AM (#14905402) Homepage
    I enjoyed Guns, Germs, and Steel [amazon.com] a lot myself. Still, it must be taken with a grain of salt and accompanied by opposing views. While Diamond has experience in the fields of physiology and ecology, he is no expert in the numerous other fields which contributed to his book. Some of the anthropology has already been criticized as way off.

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