What is the Viewpoint of Hemoglobin, and Does It Matter?
252 jonathan marksOrder Primates. 3 When the anatomist Edward Tyson had dissected thefirst chimpanzee to survive the trip from Africa to Europe in 1699, hewas so struck by the similarity of its anatomy to ours that he could notbelieve it was not made to walk the same way that we do. But since hehad not actually seen it walk like a person, he drew it standing up withthe aid of a cane, which remained with standard depictions of the apesfor over a hundred years (Montagu 1943; Gould 1983).What is significant is how we are not apes. That is what evolution hasdone – it has made us different from apes, while nevertheless constructingthat difference out of roughly the same parts in roughly the same relations.This is what the synthetic theorists appreciated when they derided thereductive approaches of “nothing-butism,” cladistic classification, andthe viewpoint of hemoglobin: these all fail to acknowledge evolution,namely the fact that humans and apes are different. This is the fact thatrequires an explanation, which Darwinism provides. To see humansas apes is to see them as not having evolved. It is ignoring or denyingevolution; it is playing for the other team.This is about the interpretation of difference. It can be measured,it can be analyzed, but it is only rendered meaningful in a culturalcontext that tells you whether the differences are more importantthan the similarities, or vice versa; and whether you are looking at twoslight variants on a single theme, as it were, or two different kinds ofbeings. Genetics is valuable in a narrow context here, as documentingdifference, but it does not help us to make sense of the difference weobserve. Indeed in many cases, the observed difference is documented soesoterically that genetics actually obscures or mystifies the relationships,rather than clarifying them.For example, the same base-for-base DNA comparison that has usat 98.6% identical to chimpanzees must also have us greater than 25%identical to daffodils, simply by virtue of the fact that you have a 1 in 4chance of matching any DNA base purely at random. But there is onlyone way that you could see yourself as being over one-quarter daffodil,or a very abnormal daffodil, and that is genetically (Marks 2003).For another example, a genetic test that explains a client’s “ancestry”on the basis of an analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is subtlyredefining the concept of ancestry. The client’s cells inherited, on theaverage, 12.5% of their DNA from each great-grandparent, but inherited3Cicero’s quotation from the lost work is “simia quam similis turpissima bestia nobis” in On theNature of the Gods, from 46 BC; Ennius probably wrote those words 150 years earlier. The line is alsoquoted by Francis Bacon in The New Organon, ch. 30 (1620), so it was certainly not obscure.
Viewpoint of Hemoglobin253their mtDNA from only one of the eight great-grandparents. The onlyway that mtDNA can be considered to represent a client’s ancestry isto reduce ancestry to a tiny fraction of the client’s genetic constitution,tracking a single mitochondrial ancestor in every generation, while thenumber of actual ancestors doubles with each past generation.Race, Genetics and the Voice of DarwinGenetics and taxonomy intersect in another zone of meaning, namelyrace. Geneticists cannot resolve race because race is not a geneticentity and thus they do not have access to it, which is why even todaygeneticists are multi-vocal about it. Races are not human groups that aredifferent, since all human groups are different (Madrigal and Barbujani2007). Races are human groups that are different in some importantand meaningful way. In 2003 this still merited the cover of ScientificAmerican, as geneticists squabbled about the ontology of race, assumingthat race is a domain to which they have privileged access. But it is not.Race is, like the other issues I have raised here, an issue of classificationand, consequently, is a bio-cultural affair. The great mistake of race is theillegitimate reduction of a biocultural reality to a biological one.That is why, in a cultural context that highlighted differences amongEuropeans (but not among Asians or Africans), a racial scholar couldunproblematically identify one kind of Asian and one kind of African,and several different kinds of Europeans, without bothering to confrontthe culturally constructed aspects of those findings (Stibbe 1938; Boyd1963). The simple fact is that you do not have to be a trained physicalanthropologist to tell northern Europeans from southern Europeans.The question is whether they represent two natural kinds of people orone. Their passports will tell you they are two kinds of people and thegeneticist can measure a correlate of their difference for you and caneven reduce the answer to a single number (if you are the kind of personthat likes answers in single numbers). What the geneticist cannot answeris the question I actually posed. Are they representatives of two naturalkinds of people, or of one natural kind of people?There is only one natural kind of people; to the extent that humanscluster themselves into bounded groups, those groups are definedculturally, that is to say, in terms of language, beliefs, taboos, dress,passports, and the like. The fairly small proportion of human diversitythat is not cultural and can be separately analyzed as biological orgenetic variation, is structured principally as polymorphism (that isto say, different populations having the same variants, but in different