October 31, 2005

Loyalty to one’s ethnic group just as biologically valid as loyalty to family

LONDON, Ontario -- A paper showing a strong genetic contribution to patriotism and in-group loyalty was published in the October issue of Nations and Nationalism, 11, 489-507, entitled "Ethnic nationalism, evolutionary psychology, and genetic similarity theory."

Co-ethnics are as similar to each other as half-siblings when compared to all the genetic variation in the world. Two-random English people are the equivalent of 1/32 cousin by comparison with Germans; 3/8 cousin by comparison with people from the Near East; ½ cousin by comparison with people from India; half-siblings by comparison with people from China; and like full-sibs compared with people from Africa.

The pull of genetic similarity was also found to be fine-tuned, operating within marriages, within friendships, and among acquaintances--and even within families following bereavement.

Studies of adoptees and also of identical and fraternal twins show the preferences for similarity is substantially heritable.

"Likeness leads to liking," said the study's author, J. Philippe Rushton, professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario. "People have a need to identify and be with others like themselves ('their own kind'). It is a powerful force in human affairs."

Rushton anchored the human preference for similarity in the evolutionary psychology of altruism, which suggests that favoritism toward kin and similar others evolved to help replicate shared genes. In-group loyalty is almost always seen as a virtue and extension of family loyalty. This explains why ethnic remarks are so easily taken as "fighting words."

The paper described the group-identification processes as innate--part of the evolved machinery of the human mind. Even very young children make in-group/out-group distinctions about race and ethnicity in the absence of social learning.

"Other than through evolution it is difficult to explain why people group themselves and others using social categories and why these categories assume such powerful emotional and evaluative overtones (including guilt, empathy, self-esteem, relief at securing a group identity, and distress at losing it)."

The politics of ethnic identity are increasingly replacing the politics of class as the major threat to the stability of nations.

Although social scientists and historians have been quick to condemn the extent to which political leaders or would-be leaders have been able to manipulate ethnic identity, the question they never ask, let alone attempt to answer is, "Why is it always so easy?"

The answer lies in the fact that the aggregate of genes people share with their fellow ethnics dwarfs those they share with their extended families. Rather than being a mere poor relation of family nepotism, ethnic nepotism is virtually a proxy for it.

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