Sunday, December 26, 2004

the allure of h-bd

In one post at GNXP, gc_emeritus perfectly illustrates why the "h-bd" (human biodiversity) paradigm is a stale avenue of scientific inquiry. While the fact that there are genetic variations between the races is essentially obvious, where h-bd falls flat is its attempt to consistently extrapolate from their existence into the spheres of politics and social policy.

gc begins by laying out an impressively detailed and factual case for South Africa's impending economic collapse. He ties together numerous sources of information brilliantly, making a rigorous argument. And then he blows it:

Sophists and h-bd deniers will denounce anyone who makes the unfortunate but true observation: no nation or polity composed primarily of sub-Saharan Africans has maintained a technological infrastructure. The coming collapse is the predictable consequence of black rule. It is a sign of our times that the person who makes such an observation is considered more evil than the person who pretends that up is down, and black is white...and who whistles past the graveyard of the half a million murders that have taken place since the end of apartheid.

I'm not an h-bd denier and neither will I blame the future collapse of South Africa upon racism. As GC's case study explained well, the root problem is institutionalized reverse-discrimination which is all to susceptible to corruption.

However, to argue that the coming collapse is the "predictable consequence of black self-rule" betrays the danger of taking h-bd too seriously. What GC is trying to say is that statistically speaking, success of a given nation state in Africa is inversely correlated with whether the government is comprised of black people. That statement may be true. What is not true, but is certainly implied by the GC's assumption that race has predictive power for a nation's success, is that the failure of all black states in the past is due to the fact of their being black nations, as opposed to them being (for example) post-colonial nations, resource-poor nations, disease-afflicted nations, low-education nations, external-debt nations, subsistence-farming nations, etc.

There's a good dialog to be had on why South Africa might fail and what that failure will mean for the rest of Africa as a whole. The allure of h-bd however obscures that debate by making race relevant.

Here's the litmus test however. Were the racial situations perfectly reversed in South Africa, would the white majority have prevailed under the precise same conditions, history, and political environment where the present black majority is now failing?

UPDATE: via Dean, comes this story about an experiment in black freedom and self-determination during the Slavery era - in the South. The success of Israel Hill can only be fit into GC's "predictive" model as an outlier, which is as much a head-in-the-sand approach regarding h-bd's limits as h-bd denial itself.

I've had numerous discussions with Razib at GNXP about h-bd's close ties to those (unlike GC) who really do argue racial politics in bad faith. I have been convinced by Razib's arguments that "race" is a meaningful and useful construct with utility in specific fields (for example, in medical treatment, where acknowledging genetic diversity allows racially-optimized patient care). However, the main problem is the obsession of those such as gc with the so-called "predictive" power of racial correlation. I think that this attitude misuses correlation statistics in much the same way that philosophers misuse quantum physics for their existential arguments. correlation is, as ever, not causation.

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