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Species vs Race?

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Species vs Race?

Postby geb » Thu Feb 07, 2008 3:28 pm

I hope I can get a little direction here.

I'm sitting around the breakfast table with a couple of family members on a beautiful winter morning. Heated bird bath and two filled feeders just beyond the window. Someone expresses fascination that the bird varieties "instinctively" know better than to interbreed. Here we go again. Knowing better, I can't help myself.

"You mean, when compared to humans?"

"Sure! I mean.. the robin doesn't mate with the bluebird!"

I can't be helped at this point. "...but the norwegian human mates with the peruvian human?"

..suspiciously she says "Yeah"

.................and here we go again.


I'm often irritated at the misapprehensions regarding this stuff. I realize that it is at the heart of many of the nastier shades of racism. I happen to be the one at the table with the most time spent in college I feel like I can shed some light. But I suspect that the argument may not be as succinct as I'd like it to be.

With some confidence I explain that a robin is to a bluebird what a human is to a raccoon. There are many species of bird, but only one of man. That while a poodle may compare to a bulldog as a robin is to a bluebird, this is a misapprehension of species. Poodles and bulldogs are of one, robins and bluebirds are separate from one another. Dog varieties are merely human adaptations of wolf/canine stock. I tell my audience that the norwegian and peruvian can produce offspring as they are of the same species. But a robin is to a bluebird as a human is to a hippo. .....can't be done.

"Do you know all this as a fact?" ..I'm asked

I have to admit that I have no single source of fact for this. I studied government in college. I go to the internet to print out something concise enough for general comprension and am amazed at how difficult this is to nail down with any clear boundaries.

Can anyone point me to a good little primer that would make this as clear as possible?
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Postby Jones » Thu Feb 07, 2008 4:29 pm

Do you mean that the Robin persives the Bluebird as so completely different from itself that it in turn makes it unfit as a mate in the Robins mind?
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Postby alextemplet » Thu Feb 07, 2008 5:04 pm

You have the right idea, although I suspect you might be letting your metaphors compicate the picture a bit more than they should. The simple fact is that, as you said, there are many species of birds but only one of man. Different species cannot interbreed but individuals within a species can. I don't see a need for further explanation than that.

Of course, given the inherent closed-mindedness of racism, I doubt if any argument, however logical, will make much of an impact on your audience.
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Postby mith » Thu Feb 07, 2008 5:41 pm

I see...then are the people of mexico simply the offspring of Indians and Spanish who didn't know any better?
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Re: Species vs Race?

Postby geb » Thu Feb 07, 2008 6:06 pm

It's still seems that a lack of real clarity to point to that fosters more close-mindedness. We'll just retreat from something that requires so much effort, back into old habits of thinking.

I agree completely that it's these metaphors that complicate the picture. I'm here to ask the experts to help me clean them up where possible.

I've been hearing for a while that "race" should be eliminated in discussions of ethnicity since we humans are about 99.95 percent genetically identical. But I wonder if that is, after all, merely culturally sensitive semanitcs. What is meant by any of these terms? Cannot "race" be compared to "breed" among dogs? That dogs have been specifically (consciously) bred for physical and behavioral traits is not necessarily too far off from the behavioural, physical, ethnic distinctions among humans shaped by the "accidents" of geography and climate, and the willful contributions of war, emigration, and other factors.

In another thread here it is mentioned that the Amish forbid marriage outside of the community. A community based on faith? Skin color? Geographic origin?Language? Obviously some combination of these that they are comfortable with - like many groups. I'm not implying that the Amish constitute a race, but just using them as an example of willful exclusion. We seem capable of determining the outward characteristics of humans by our actions. (generally for the worse, in my own opinion)

According to anthropologists, there are 4 human "races".

Mongoloid (people of Asian descent - this includes the Native American peoples as well)
Caucasoid (people of European descent - this includes Middle Eastern peoples as well)
Negroid (people of African descent)
Australoid (people of Australian descent - the native Aborigines)

No doubt this is pretty arguable. For the sake of my breakfast conversation, here are a few of the rubs I see.
There is is no evidence that any human groups are incapable of "interbreeding". Apparently the last time it was a matter for debate was during out encounter with neanderthals and, I don't know here, did we kill them off in conflict or did we mate with them? But we are incapable of mating with other primates (or at least in producing offspring).

Is the definition of "species" therefore unequivocally that likes may produce offspring? Bird types constitute different species, but when suitable mates are not available, classifications without distict boundaries will sometimes make due. Obviously not a Wren with a Bald Eagle, but do we know where the lines are drawn? A Carolina wren and a Jenny wren? Wren and Sparrrow?

The "Zeedonk", "Liger", and Mule and "jaglion" are examples of such types that will opportunistically mate. They seem to be genetically exceptional in that they are incapable of producing offspring beyond their type. Grey area. Many other "hybrids" exist, but since that term so loosely applys to breed (dogs for example) it doesn't really help much here.

Obviously I'm no scientist. That's exactly the point. I'd like to be able to understand as clearly as possible where the lines are drawn in this subject in order to most effectively deconstruct these myths that humans harbor any of the instictive disincliations to mix types that we observe in other animals around us.

Any help here?
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Re: Species vs Race?

Postby geb » Fri Feb 08, 2008 1:40 am

you guys are really letting me down here.
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Postby mith » Sun Feb 10, 2008 1:56 am

If you want to know about race the wikipedia article talks a lot about different ways of drawing the lines of what is a species and what is not. For example, how do you define bacteria by reproductive isolation when pretty much all bacteria can mate(or at least exchange DNA) with others? How is it possible that sea urchins and sea squirts can mate even though they're not even of the same phylum!

I think you'll have to look towards history and the founders of biological study such as Linneaus to understand why we even have these terms. Maybe it's simply a way for humans to organize a world that isn't neatly black and white. Why not simply accept the modern usage of phylogenics and acknowledge that there is more of a spectrum of genetic variation than any real "classes"?

As far as race goes, I think all that's been said has been said. Personally I think it's more of a social construct than anything even though you could argue that gene sequencing shows you can identify different "races" from each other. Both Nicholas Wade and Jared Diamond have written books if you want to delve into the controversy more with considerations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race,_Evol ... d_Behavior
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Re: Species vs Race?

Postby bbrubaker » Mon Feb 11, 2008 9:39 am

"Someone expresses fascination that the bird varieties "instinctively" know better than to interbreed."

Those that didn't wasted energy and resources on unsuccessful mates and their DNA is no longer around?

:?:
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Re: Species vs Race?

Postby geb » Mon Feb 11, 2008 4:57 pm

I have this thread going at two boards now. The results have been very interesting to me.
If there is a common tone to them it seems that among those who have had already digested a good portion of genetics and taxonomy, that being the majority of people who drop in here, there is bewilderment that so much if it isn't just common sense to the great unwashed. I'm not one who gripes about "ivory tower" mentalities. I've spent most of my effort in arguments defending against those perceptions. But where is the perspective here?

I challenge anyone to ask the next twenty people "on the street" what would happen if a Sparrow mated with a Bluebird and I'm pretty sure that far more than half of them would take a stab at some hybridization of color resulting. For the less educated, it's a simple matter of A is to X what B is to ??? Sparrow and Bluebird. Physically, almost indistinguishable but for color. Norwegian and Peruvian. Similarly so. So these sidewalk respondants are what.. just idiots? Irredeemable? If anyone has even the tiniest interest in how racism infects, wouldn't you wonder the same thing I am? How do I communicate something in any form more digestible than undergraduate coursework in biology?

I may be back where I started. Maybe there is no way to put this stuff simply. It remains, for a depressingly large number of people around us, a matter of 'you'll have to take my word on this'. And you're suprised when your neighbor's kid wants to know why he can't study creationism in his public school.
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Postby alextemplet » Tue Feb 12, 2008 6:19 pm

I agree with most of what you say, geb, except for that last bit; I wonder what creationism in public schools has to do with the species vs race issue. Are you simply referring to scientific ignorance in general? Sorry, I'm always cautious when that topic comes up since evolution debates have a bad habit of going nowhere around here.
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Re: Species vs Race?

Postby geb » Tue Feb 12, 2008 6:48 pm

Oh no. Creationism simply as a comment on scientific ignorace. More of a comment on willful ignorance. Like I'd said, it's all there. It's not hard at all to see. If anyone really needs to believe anything their imagination can drum up, there will always be ample 'evidence' to support that belief. Creationism just happens to be a pretty popular one.

But since I'm starting to 'editorialize' in this thread, I guess I'll just quit it here. As I started out, I am disappointed that I am unable to explain away some of the common misapprehensions of race and species to people that desperately need to know better. It's too damn bad. But it does give me a little more understanding of the depth of misunderstanding. I am a little more patient with such faulty reasoning.
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Postby mith » Tue Feb 12, 2008 9:29 pm

Try explaining why buying lottery tickets makes you poorer....to people who don't understand probabilities.
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