Who We Are & How We Got Here


A couple of days ago I ordered the recently published book, Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich. The subtitle spells out what the book is about: Ancient DNA and the new science of the human past. The consensus among the kind of people I listen to is that it is an important book slightly marred by Political Correctness.

The wonderful James Thompson claimed Reich’s ‘foray into racial differences was pretty weak’, and could be separated into two parts:

1) Some of this new genetic stuff will upset you
2) I am not a racist.

Greg Cochran at the West Hunter website drew attention to a very PC sentiment in the book. After demonstrating that there is no such thing as a pure-bred population and that we are all mongrels Reich says, ‘Mixture is fundamental to who we are, and we need to embrace it, not deny that it occurred.’

Embrace it? Why? After all, most mixing has been due to one marauding tribe overrunning another, killing the men and enslaving the younger women. I, the product of the mixed DNA of successive invading groups into Britain including the Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans, don’t deny my mixed ancestry but why should we embrace mixing per se. To victors looking back into the past mixing must look good since it brought them into existence. Yet to a British Celt who is about to be genetically sidelined by the arrival of various waves of invaders I’m sure the last thing on his mind is to embrace mixing. From his point of view the best he can hope for is the dilution of his gene pool, the worst total eradication.

The word ‘mixed’ is very elastic. As Greg Cochran pointed out, if you take a tribe of Africans and a tribe of Scandinavians and get them to intermingle for a hundred years you will end up with a few people who are coffee-coloured but most will still be recognisably African or Scandinavian. However, if you continue to mix the two tribes for five thousand years you will end up with a group of people whose genes are so thoroughly mixed that they are now a homogeneous tribe. Their DNA is like a well-shuffled deck of cards.

You can describe this highly homogeneous group as ‘pure’ or ‘mixed’ or ‘mongrel’ or however you like but it won’t change what they are.

Okay, let’s unpack the thing and get reading.

A couple of weeks later.

Here is John Derbyshire’s review of the book, wonderful as always, and rendering my comments above rather redundant. I suppose I should really have placed this link at the top of the page but then you wouldn’t have bothered to read my thoughts, would you?

8 months later

Two thirds of a year gone, half the book read and all I can tell you is that things are more complicated than I had originally thought. Yet ask me in what way and I’d be hard pushed to tell you any specifics: there’s been lots of mixing, lots of moving, some tribes got replaced, some got integrated, present ethnic groups living geographically distant are much more genetically similar to each other than ancient tribes that used to live practically next door to each other. Present ethnic groups are mix of several ancient tribes. That’s the best I can do.

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