Saturday, December 31, 2016

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Race? Part Three.

Continuing With The Various Forms Of Racism.

"As for the immigrants, they are the ones to whom it can be accounted a merit to be Americans. For they have had to take trouble for their citizenship, whereas it has cost the majority nothing at all to be born in the land of civic freedom." Albert Einstein [1].

In the first post I discussed basic definitions surrounding racism. In the second post in this series, I looked at some of the most common forms of racism. Beyond blatant racism, it is racist to:

  • Prejudge someone based on race.
  • Use the behavior of an individual (or individuals) to judge others in a race.
  • Exaggerate our fears of the threats of others.
  • To claim that having a friend of a certain race is a defense while being prejudiced against others of that race.
  • Select anecdotes to prove a racist point.

I will continue to look at the various forms in which racism expresses itself.

Various Forms of Racism, Part Two.

  • Statistics and racism.
  •   Selective statistics.
  •   False statistics.
  •   Exaggerating the meaning of statistics.
  • Sins of omission.
  • Reverse discrimination.

Why do we fear those whom we fear? I know someone who is afraid of bears. This person has never encountered a bear outside of a zoo and has never lived in an area where bears are prevalent. Other than those who wrestle bears for a living, the rest of us are thousands of times more likely to be killed by a human than a bear. So, why aren't we afraid of humans? Oh, that's right, we are afraid of humans, and that's what I'm writing about.

Statistics and Racism.

Statistics don't lie: people lie. People can lie with words and they can lie with statistics. At their best, statistical processes act like a sieve to wash out the sand and save the gold nuggets.

However, statistics are often wielded like they are pre-packaged and indisputable truths. A few basic tests will allow you to flag statistics that are probably lies. These same tests can be sorted into means by which statistics are misused by racists.

Other websites point out how false conclusions can be packed into statistics. For example, they look at how the average is misleading and how linking two findings together doesn't mean they are related. I'll talk a little bit about these at the end of this section, under the section of good statistical hygiene. However, I find that racists tend to misuse statistics in a much more basic way: they select out statistics that prove their point and ignore the context or statistics that disagree; they exaggerate what the statistics say; and, they just out-and-out invent statistics.

Selective Statistics, or: Statistical Anecdotes.

I ended my previous post by describing racism by anecdote. Similar to this is using selective statistics. This is one of the most common forms of lying with statistics. It is easy to select a single bit of information that misleads or which even contradicts the overall picture.

I have written a fair amount on the decrease in violent crime that has taken place in the United States since its peak in the early 1990s. Overall, the violent crime rate has dropped by approximately 50% with murders down by a similar number.

A popular game among fear-mongers is demonstrating the violent crime rate is going up by grabbing a small bite of the data.

Here are the figures for murder rates in Alabama by year, per 100,000 population:

  • 2014, 5.7
  • 2015, 7.2

Now, this represents an alarming 26.3% increase. However, if we look at these years in context, we have:

  • 2012, 7.1
  • 2013, 7.2
  • 2014, 5.7
  • 2015, 7.2

It is bad that the numbers rose from 2014, however, the bigger picture says that 2014 was unusually low and that the murder rate has stayed steady. Individual numbers that jump around are called blips. Rule one: Do not pay attention to blips. Rule two: whenever the focus of a claim becomes strangely narrow, the person is probably trying to distract you from the bigger picture.

While the murder rate in Alabama could possibly be the stuff of racist comments (Alabama is 33% minority) or demonstrate anti-Southern sentiments, let's look at an example more directly applied to racism.

Trump not only chose anecdotes to support his statement that illegal aliens brought crime, he provided statistics. "Thousands of Americans have been killed by illegal immigrants."

As detailed in this article, Trump gave no time frame and provided examples which included a case of a legal alien who injured but did not kill someone in 1990. Illegal aliens make up about 3.5% of the national population. With approximately 16,000 homicides per year, if this population murdered at an equal rate, this would be about 500 murders per year. Given enough years, the number can total into the thousands.

The states bordering Mexico (California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico) have all had dramatic decreases in violent crime in murder in the past 25 years, outperforming other areas of the country, some of which have shown increases. California has had the second largest improvement of any state. [detailed here]

It is very common these days to say "urban crime is rising" by pointing to an individual city where crime has gone up. In this case, there is two dimensions to the lie: a slice of time and a slice of geography.

False Statistics.

Those promoting an agenda often simply resort to invented statistics. For Donald Trump, inner city and African-American appear interchangeably (even though blacks in metropolitan areas mostly live in the suburbs).

Similarly, from the second debate, Trump referenced "inner city" on nine occasions. In seven of these he referred to the residents as African-Americans or Latinos.

"But I want to do things that haven't been done, including fixing and making our inner cities better for the African-American citizens that are so great, and for the Latinos, Hispanics, and I look forward to doing it." Donald Trump, October 9, 2016.

Murders, 1960-2014, U.S., FBI Uniform Crime Report [source]

Beyond the lie that inner city crime has reached record levels (it has dropped to its lowest numbers in fifty years), Trump has presented invented numbers to state that black crime is rampant. He passed along this graphic that claims that 81% of whites are murdered by blacks, a retweet from WhiteGenocide. This is a wholly invented statistic, a lie and extreme racism. Blacks are the perpetrators in 15% of homicides where the victim is white in the 62% of cases where the perpetrator is found. (About 9% overall.)

A Trump Tweet.
Hysteria around violent crime rates in big cities is a common theme in recent news stories with phony statistics added to support the argument.

This story which ran on the last day of 2015 from Breitbart has both phony statistics and statistics out of context. It points out a 54% homicide increase in Washington, D.C. in 2015 over 2014. This is using a statistical anecdote to contradict a long term trend. The homicide rate in the period 2012 to 2014 homicide rate was the lowest since the 1960s and through December 30th, have dropped approximately 16% for 2016 (162 in 2014, 136 this year). [Numbers here]

The same article goes on to mention a 20% increase in homicides in New York City. The actual number was 5.7%. (It is down 3.8% through 12/25 this year, with totals 333, 352 and 330 (so far) 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively). [numbers here]

Nevertheless, there will always be a city to pick on where crime has gone up.

How do you defend against the false statistic sort of racism? Not easily. These statistics are often "hit and run," they appear in the middle of a piece, sometimes without supporting background info, sometimes with a phony source (Trump's tweet about homicide rates: there is no Crime Statistics Bureau - San Francisco).

If a person or website puts out these sorts of statistics several times, it is not a coincidence. They have an agenda. Avoid going there.

Statistics without hygiene.

For a statistic to be honest it should compare scrubbed apples to scrubbed apples. The amount of yearly deficit (the annual amount by which governmental spending exceeds income) must be adjusted for inflation. Dollars in 1975 are 22% of dollars in 2016. In terms of financial health, the numbers should be adjusted by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In 1985 there were 89 murders in the city of Phoenix. In 2015 there were 113. This represents a 27.0% increase. The population in 1985 was 890,746. In 2015, it was 1,563,025, a 75.5% increase. Consequently, the murder rate fell by 27.7%. [Uniform Crime Report, FBI, derived from their historical table for Phoenix]

Not adjusting for this is a lie. Expect a minimum amount of hygiene with the statistics. Otherwise, someone is selling you a lie.

Exaggerating the meaning of statistics.

As mentioned in a previous post, the exaggeration of fear leads to prejudice. Even when a statistic does elucidate a fact accurately, it is necessary to place that fact in relation to others.

This story at US News & World Report discusses some of the actual differences in race crimes. Do African-Americans have a higher crime rate than whites in America? Yes. And from an honest starting point accounting for such factors as poverty, crime rates can be discussed.

And, when it's all said and done, they still don't support racism; they don't support danger from some random individual of another race (fear of others). In America, 41.7% of murders are performed by family and those you know, 45.4% of unknown relation, and 12.8% by strangers. Not a mysterious stranger on which we project our fears. (3.3 times more likely to be murdered by someone you know than by a stranger [Source].

Sins of Omission.

That car that was stolen in Washington, DC which I spoke about in the previous post. After it was found I got a call to pick it up at an Anacostia tow-yard. When I got there, there was another individual waiting to pick up his car, a young black man. We were not far different in age, he was dressed a little better than me. Before claiming his car he was asked for his driver's license for ID. He (foolishly) didn't bring it and was told he'd have to return. That was reasonable. I wasn't asked for an ID.

I tell this story because for me, it was an instance in which discrimination was both subtle and vivid.

Reverse Discrimination.

What is reverse discrimination? I started this process by going to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online.

Reverse discrimination: discrimination against whites or males (as in employment or education).

(In England, the term reverse discrimination refers to discriminating in favor of a minority rather than against a set of individuals.)

After having twice being rejected for admission at the University of California Davis Medical School, Allan Bakke sued the school citing the fact that school had set aside 16 openings (out of 100) to minorities and that this practice discriminated against him for being white. In 1978, the Supreme Court sided with him, saying that although schools could use race as a consideration in admission, they could not create specific numbers (quotas or set-asides). (California was one-third minority by population in 1980. Being a state-run medical virtually all admissions would be in-state. Sixteen out of one-hundred admissions set aside still underrepresented the state demographics.)

At that time, I was a pre-med undergraduate student. An alumnus, a former pre-med student, came visiting our campus on an official recruiting visit promoting the medical school where he'd been spent his first year. He declared that by considering his school you didn't have to worry about reverse discrimination: only one student out of two hundred was a minority. I raised my hand and asked how did they manage to keep it down to a single student without forward discrimination? I was told the school was rural and minorities prefer urban environments. (Insulting on several levels and ludicrous: there is no medical school applicant who is going to turn down acceptance solely because a school is rural.)

These were my introductions to the concept of reverse discrimination and affirmative action. From early on, it seemed to me to be a numbers game. Bakke applied for admissions where there were 100 spots. Sixteen were set aside for minorities. That meant he definitely didn't score in the top 84. Let's make an ungenerous assumption (ungenerous against the minority applicants): only half of the sixteen would have been accepted by the standards of the top 84. That leaves Bakke among or below the bottom eight (possibly being below the bottom eight because there is little reason to believe that he had exactly the 101st best application in both times he applied). In other words, he didn't have that impressive an application.

There are deeper issues here. Why is minority used as a near synonym of disadvantaged? Yes, there are other forms of being disadvantaged which are not adequately addressed. Yes, there are good numbers of minorities who come from a background of financial well-being. Yes, there are a good number of white people who come from poverty. None of these change the fact: being a minority is a disadvantage.

Forward discrimination exists and is a potent force. More on this below, but an example here. There have been many studies that have shown discrimination against minorities. Typical of these is a résumé sent out with an "African-American sounding" name (e.g. Jamal and Lakisha) or a "white sounding" name (e.g. Greg and Emily). The qualifications are identical, the names are switched. The same application got 50% more requests for interviews for the "white-sounding" names.

In summary, I believe reverse discrimination exists. However, overall, it is a small arrow pointing in the opposite direction of the huge arrow that is discrimination.

Reverse Discrimination as Racism Against the Majority.

Reverse discrimination is also used to describe racism directed from a minority against the majority. Of course, such racism exists. Minorities are not saints who are immune from fear or hatred. Is there less racism from minorities? One argument is that being a minority "sensitizes" an individual to prejudice. Einstein, whom I have quoted at the beginning of these posts, mentioned this. He described how, being Jewish, having just escaped from Nazi Germany, he felt the plight of the African-American. A second argument is that if one is a minority in an environment where most of the population is majority, then there is less fear of the other. Many "others" are among the people you know. A third argument is that the media for a long time has provided many idealized examples of whites. They are Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Chris Evans, stars who sometimes work with a black sidekick. Yes, more recently there are positive role models for blacks in media. [Completely by coincidence and because I have a nine-year-old son and didn't personally choose the station, on the television while writing this are several really painful black stereotypes being played for laughs].

In contrast to reverse discrimination, "forward" discrimination has the force of a majority. Forward discrimination also shapes public attitude and public policy in the way that a majority can. The numbers behind this are explored in this post..

In summary, this section has looked at how statistics can be used selectively to promote racist statements, looked at racism by omission, and the matters of reverse discrimination in terms of affirmative action and in racism directed toward the majority.

The notion of reverse discrimination as a numbers game is further explored in the coming post.

In the final section I hope to put this together to answer the questions: Is what I did racist? Is there a way to reduce prejudging on my part?

[1] Albert Einstein as cited in Einstein on Race and Racism. Fred Jerome and Roger Taylor, Rutgers University Press.

Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press

Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.

Hard cover: Amazon US
Kindle: Amazon US
Hard cover: Amazon UK
Kindle: Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble 

Monday, December 26, 2016

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Race? Part Two.

The Various Forms of Racism.

"Well, there is no magic solution [to the problem of racism]. I would only hope that where there is a will there is a way. I think probably that Americans will have to realize how stupid this attitude is and how harmful it is, also, to the standing of the United States." Albert Einstein [1].

In the first post in this series, I went over the definitions of race, racism and racist. I pointed out that race has several meanings, including nationality, shared culture and ethnicity.

I proposed that as a first step we should direct our attention away from the question of whether someone is a racist and look at whether someone commits racist acts. Ultimately, the latter is the evidence of the former and with a collection of racist acts, a determination can be made.

So what are racist acts? Well, they come in several varieties, flagrant, subtle and in-between. Interestingly, the subtle acts, of which there are many, can have a greater cumulative damage.

I'd like to propose a taxonomy of applied racism. First a list of what's coming and then the discourse.

Einstein (second from left) served with Paul Robeson (right) on a committee to stop lynchings.

Various Forms of Racism, Part One, an outline.

  1. Blatant racism.
  2. Prejudging Leading to Discrimination.
  3. Racism as Fear.
  4. Fear of the Other.

Several housekeeping questions, including:

Isn't everybody somewhat racist? Isn't it hardwired into our genes?
Aren't you ignoring the fact that there are some out there that want to harm me? Are you saying that I shouldn't be afraid of them?

       5. Anecdotal racism.

#1. Blatant Racism.

Occurrences that few would deny as racism. Can be violent and criminal, can be the cruelty of words or decisions.

Sometimes it seems like this is the only kind that Hollywood knows. In fiction this is presented as slobbering bigots versus angelic victims, as though you had to slobbering versus angelic for this to have meaning. In the news this is presented as, "Oh, how awful." I have frustration with the discussion about this, because too often this gets all of the focus.

Okay, I need to lower my hackles. This occurs, historically and currently. It is the most obscene form of racism.

I don't feel the need to discuss it as it is well-discussed already. Let's go on to other types of racism which are less flagrant but more prevalent.

Medgar Evers, in life.

#2. Prejudice Leading to Discrimination.

In the mid-1980s, Tony Kornheiser, then a columnist for the Washington Post Magazine, wrote an essay about a conversation he'd had with the owner of a jewelry shop in an upscale section of Connecticut Avenue. The shop owner said he refused to "buzz in" young black males, denying them entrance to his establishment. Kornheiser agreed with the owner's judgment.

In this brief scenario, Kornheiser presented a succinct example of prejudice and racism and gave it his blessing. Prejudice because the owner saw people whom he prejudged. Racism, because he provided only three qualifiers to those he would not allow in: young, male and black. Young black male equaled threatening. If other young males were equally threatening, he could easily have stated that.

Making a judgment based on race without other qualifying factors is racism (and sometimes those qualifying factors are added as decoration).

The Sunday following this column I attended church at St. Augustine's on 15th Street, a church whose congregation was, at that time, at least 95% black. The sermon was emotional and blistering. "Are they telling me that my son cannot shop for jewelry because of this man's fears?"

I am not saying Kornheiser is a racist. People are tens of thousands of complex things. I am saying that in this instance he supported racism.

#3. Racism as Fear.

Mrs. O'Connell, one of my eleventh grade teachers, taught me that, in the same way that there are primary colors which mix together to produce secondary colors (blue plus red equals purple), there are primary emotions that mix together to make secondary emotions. Fear and anger are among the primary emotions. Hate arises from fear. Although simplistic, this is the basic formula: "They threaten me (fear). They have no right to threaten me (anger). They should be afraid of me (hate)."

Prejudice and bigotry against groups begins with fear. Xeno means foreigner. Phobia means fear. The word xenophobia is fear - but not just fear. It is "fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign." [Merriam-Webster]

Another long-winded story. I became eligible to vote about two weeks before the 1976 election. I went to the local Democratic and Republican campaign headquarters to get posters of their candidates (national and local) for a presentation at my church. When I gathered these, I left out the fact that the purpose of these posters was a Halloween "horror gallery." Jimmy Carter's poster became Jimmy "Jaws" Carter, he smiled so hard he ate his own head. I added a zig-zagging scar to Gerald Ford's head and bolts to his neck and he became "Fordenstein," the first monster to die an accidental death. Then I dressed up as the halfback of Notre Dame and, with flashlight in hand, led visitors on a tour of the gallery of monsters.

One of the viewers got very nervous and upset. The priest suggested maybe I tone it down. I thought, "Oh, come on, but this is so phony, so ridiculous." Upon reflection, I saw that the priest was right, and this incident was my first realization that some people are easily frightened.

Let me go from here to a more familiar situation. In the 1980s, back when city crime was nearing its peak, I lived in what my landlord called "an aggressively urban neighborhood" in Washington, DC. Drugs were regularly sold in the open along the block. While at a party in a different, more upscale part of town, I listened to someone (white, suburban) comment on the time he got lost and drove into the wrong part of DC and how lucky he was to survive [2]. I realized it was my neighborhood that he spoke about (and the street was single block long between two major thoroughfares, so he could hardly have been lost for more than a few seconds.) This person would probably scoff at the person who was frightened by the presidential monster posters, but his fears were also extremely exaggerated.

The block where I lived had way too high of a crime rate. Still, if you lived there a whole year, you would probably not be a victim of anything [3]. (I lived there a year without being a victim. I'm not sure I would place a similar bet on five years.)  The odds of something happening to someone driving by for a brief time on a single night, was virtually nothing. And yet this, probably otherwise intelligent, person saw it as fear. Was the fear racist? I cannot say with certainty, although he did bring up another story about one time when he had to take the bus up 14th Street in Washington and he was the only white person on board. [4]

Donald Trump, Junior, tweeted a message to express his objections to allowing in Syrian refugees into the United States. "If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That's our Syrian refugee problem."

So, out of about 100 Skittles in the bowl, three would kill you. Not just three would harm someone, somewhere. This was old school fear mongering: they are going to kill you. The fear of presidential monster posters was more rational.

Several media outlets tried to put the absurdity of these numbers in perspective, from the probability that a Syrian refugee will plan a terrorist attack 3/1000ths of a percent to the number of Skittles the bowl would need to be correct for a terrorist attack (10 billion) which killed you.

This is no joke. This message kills. This wildly and cowardly irrational fear will set public policy and people will die (the men, women and children refugees). They have something real to fear.

I believe we all have a set-point to our fears. Some of us are afraid of comically drawn presidential posters and some are afraid of Skittles. Recognizing this and doing our best to adjust to reality, is one of the best defenses against racism.

#4. Fear of the Other.

"I'm not a racist. I have friends who are [fill in the blank]." The distinction of having friends who belong to a particular group that experiences racism is not a defense that someone is not racist: it is a feature of a certain kind of racism.

For some, blacks are not bad. "I have a good friend at work who's black. He's a regular guy. The problem are those blacks who live in certain neighborhoods (presumably working somewhere else) and engage in crime, ..."

This attitude is often directed between cultural divides. A rural person may have minorities for friends, but still say, "look at the cities, big city corruption, crime, things are horrible" and associate those fears with urban blacks. On the flip side of the coin, a black person in the city may have whites for friends but say, look at the rural areas: small town justice, a history of the KKK–they fear us and hate us. And you can select news items to prove both these propositions. And that crazy guy in the office named Joe? He's Crazy Joe, just get used to him. Knowing people is a cure for racism. We can't know everyone, so we need to assume the ones we don't know are similar to the ones we know.

I grew up without knowingly encountering gay people and at a time when they almost never appeared in national media (which was ruled by three broadcast television networks.) I had a fear of gay people. They were the people over there. This changed (slowly) as I met gay people who were (...drum roll...) people. As I met more I found that I could not distinguish between good people and bad people based on sexual orientation. The gays I got to know were not always saints, but then neither were the heterosexuals.

To some extent, we are Kevin McAllister in Home Alone afraid of the boogie man, creepy Mr. Marley next door.

Intermission (Dealing with several related matters):

Some people might ask: Aren't we all to some degree racist? Isn't a fear of others hard-wired into our genes?

I'm not a big fan of the "blame it on evolution," argument as an excuse. Let's say it is natural that we have a fear of the dark. Before light was readily available, caveman did have to be concerned that a lion could sneak up on him at night. The hunter-gatherer had to plan the day to get back to safety before nightfall. But, you know what? We built the tools to be safer in the dark and overcome fears. To continue to have an irrational fear of the dark or other people is: irrational. It harms us, it harms others.

Another form of this question, might be phrased as: by writing this are you claiming you are not racist (or never were)?

I am writing this in part to explore the instances of racism in myself, why they occur and how I can do better.

Another question. Aren't you ignoring the fact that there are some out there that want to harm me? Are you saying that I shouldn't be afraid of them?

First of all, this is the internet and I don't know who you are. So, do I know whether there are people out there who want to harm you? Yes, I do know and yes, some do want to hurt you. I can say that with confidence because in this world there is a lot of irrational hatred out there, enough to go around for everyone. For many people that threat is very small in the realm of one in millions. Two of the main goals of these posts are to place the threat in perspective and to look at our end of the equation. Even in the face of threat, racism and exaggeration, is counterproductive.

#5. Racism by Anecdote.

This post is running long, so I'm going to divide up the topics and finish this section as part one.

One of the most common forms of racism is racism by anecdote. Why this exists, well, I've never been able to wrap my head around the reason. Let me explain what I mean.

I owned a car which was stolen twice. The first time it was stolen it was found by the police, out of gas and abandoned on the main thoroughfare in a predominantly black neighborhood (Anacostia, Washington, DC). Considering the neighborhood and the car's quick desertion, I would guess that the most likely scenario is that it was stolen by a black person or persons who took it on a joy ride.

The second time the car was stolen, the thief had a minor accident, and abandoned the car before the police could be called in. The thief was seen while fleeing: he was white.

Other than having a nebulous anger directed at the unknown thieves in the first incident, why should I be angry at any black person who didn't steal my car? Why should I be angry at whites in general for the second time my car was stolen?  These were single incidents, and, in telling, anecdotes.

In making the announcement for his bid for the United States presidency, Donald Trump stated, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." There is some additional context which is included below [5].

Three weeks later, Trump latched on to the murder of Kathryn Steinle to support his proposal to build a wall.

Twitter message (one of several):
.@marcorubio what do you say to the family of Kathryn Steinle in CA who was viciously killed b/c we can't secure our border? Stand up for US.

Trump cites Steinle's death to prove he was right. [source]

Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez on July 3rd, 2015 in San Francisco. He was illegally in the United States and had been deported five times, only to return. He has claimed the shooting was an accident. The bullet which hit her ricocheted off the pavement and traveled about 90 feet before striking her in the aorta. His trial is set to begin in 2017.

With 15,809 homicides in the United States (2015), it would be possible, even simple, for Trump to latch on to a murder by any group against any group. Anecdotes are there for the choosing. If you choose an anecdote that demonstrates a prejudice, that is a form of racism.

But what about statistics? Statistics exist that break down crime according to race. That will be a topic for the next post.

Coming Up: Various Forms of Racism, Part Two.
  • Statistics and racism.
  •   False statistics.
  •   Selective statistics.
  •   Exaggerating the meaning of statistics.
  • Sins of omission.
  • Reverse discrimination.

[1] Albert Einstein, interviewed by Peter A. Buckey as presented in Einstein on Race and Racism.
[2] I included the basics of this story in my novel, "Never Kill A Friend."
[3] If you were part of the D-Day Invasion, you'd stand a one-in-sixty chance of dying that day. This place was no Omaha Beach.
[4]  In fairness, at the time, I couldn't figure out what the man with the bus anecdote meant by his of being the only white person aboard the bus. Was he saying, I'm cool, it's not as though being surrounded by black people meant danger? Or did he mean, again, how on earth did I survive?
 [5] From Trump's presidential announcement, June 16, 2015.
"When do we beat Mexico at the border? They're laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they're killing us economically.
The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else's problems.
Thank you. It's true, and these are the best and the finest.
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Also, follow-up comments:
"I can never apologize for the truth. I don't mind apologizing for things. But I can't apologize for the truth. I said tremendous crime is coming across. Everybody knows that's true. And it's happening all the time. So, why, when I mention, all of a sudden I'm a racist. I'm not a racist. I don't have a racist bone in my body."

–Trump, interview on Fox News' "Media Buzz," July 5, 2015

"What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc."

As presented in The Washington Post, July 8, 2015.
Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press

Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.

Hard cover: Amazon US
Kindle: Amazon US
Hard cover: Amazon UK
Kindle: Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Race?

In my previous entries (1), (2), (3), I've talked about white supremacy and some of its fallacies. In these next several posts, I will talk about racism: what it is, how to recognize it, and how to recognize it in ourselves.

First, unfortunately, I have the tedious task of laying the groundwork. I hope to make the subsequent entries more interesting. Let's look at the terms: race, racism, racist, prejudice and discrimination.

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Race?

"Race prejudice has unfortunately become an American tradition which is uncritically handed down from one generation to the next. The only remedies are enlightenment and education." Albert Einstein [1].

"Donald Trump is for Americans first. ... And Mexico, Mexicans, that's not a race. You’re not racist if you don't like Mexicans. They're from a nation." Ed Martin, former head of the Missouri Republican Party [2].

The words race, racism and racist get tossed around and too few seem to recognize what they mean. This confusion comes in part because, as with most words, they have multiple meanings and multiple layers. These include dictionary definitions and historical meanings.

For the purposes of this essay, these three definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary apply to race (noun) [3].

  • a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock
  • a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics.
  • a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits

So, race is not only a major subdivision of the human species such as black or white (definition 3), it is used to refer to people of the nation (definition 1) or shared interests (such as religion, definition 2).

Using pseudoscience or genetics are more recent approaches to defining race, therefore, historically, the above definitions were once roughly the same: the category of humankind was nation, ethnicity and culture. Nations were often described as separate races to fit prejudices.

There was (is) the notion of the Irish race and Irish racism.

"[Of Ireland:] I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black one would not see it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours."
—Cambridge historian Charles Kingsley, 1860 (more on this topic can be found at reference 4.)

In summary, race can be any of a variety of groups: people are described at times by nation, ethnicity, culture, or religion. In some cases and sometimes for purposes of discrimination, such as Jews and Mormons, religion and race have been used interchangeably.

Racism, Prejudice and Discrimination.

Again, Merriam-Webster.

Racism: racial prejudice or discrimination [5].

This is somewhat helpful, but introduces two more critical terms: prejudice and discrimination.


Merriam-Webster has several overlapping definitions of prejudice. Here are two.

  • preconceived judgment or opinion.
  • an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.
These describe thought processes: judgment, opinion, and attitude.

Discrimination (M-W).
  • the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually 
  • prejudiced or prejudicial outlook, action, or treatment

Put together, not surprisingly, racism is prejudging a someone of a different race (a thought process) or discriminating against the person (most commonly, an act).


This leaves one more definition on my list: racist.

Merriam-Webster fails here, saying only that it is derived from racism. The Oxford Dictionary online presents two significant meanings. The first of these is an adjective.

racist, adj. Showing or feeling discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or believing that a particular race is superior to another.

The second is a noun.

racist, noun. A person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

The first problem is that these include the words "feels" and "believes." Short of mind reading, or having the person inform us (truthfully), we don't know what a person feels or believes.

"Shows" discrimination or prejudice is easier to judge. However, even when the person performs a seemingly racist action, there are some potential problems. A person may be rude to everyone. Alternatively, the person may be insensitive toward the member of a particular race without that insensitivity being race-based. And finally, there are, on occasion, genuine misunderstandings, particularly those between cultures unfamiliar with each other. Beyond this, of course, is the degree of racism displayed, mild is more easily misattributed than flagrant. I'll talk about the different forms of racism in the coming posts.

I'd like to propose this rule for racist as an adjective. It doesn't matter whether you can prove intent. In the case of someone who is rude to everyone, I would put that person in the category of "racist-plus." In the second and third examples where insensitivity is misattributed to racism or where a misunderstanding occurs, these are rare enough so that, for an innocent person, a single incident can be shrugged off (assuming that it was not particularly flagrant or hostile), and multiple incidents fall beyond the realm of coincidence: they demonstrate a pattern of racism.

The second problem is for the noun: how often does a person have to commit racist acts before they are a racist? Once? Twice? Regularly? To some extant, there is a "I know it when I see it" factor here.

Again, I'm going to make a radical suggestion. Rather than worrying about whether a person is a racist, look at whether they perform racist acts. If they perform racist acts, they are functioning as a racist, even though the true intent or how hardcore a racist that person is, may be difficult to determine.

My ultimate goal is this. To construct a means by which we (myself included) can examine ourselves and answer the question: Is what I did racist?

Coming up next: the different forms of racism.

Citations and notes.

[1] Albert Einstein. Interview the Cheyney Record, October, 1948 as cited in Einstein on Race and Racism.
[2] Ed Martin, as quoted in St. Louis' Riverfront Times, August 30, 2016.
[3] The Oxford Dictionary online presents this sentence example along with its definition of race:
A group of people sharing the same culture, history, language, etc.; an ethnic group.
'we Scots were a bloodthirsty race then'

[4] As cited in Wikipedia.
[5] The Oxford Dictionary has a more complete definition of racism. "Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior."
[6] The four relevant definitions of prejudice at Merriam-Webster.
  • preconceived judgment or opinion
  • an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge
  • an instance of such judgment or opinion 
  • an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics

A couple of other relevant definitions moved here to speed along the above discussion which is already definition heavy.

bigot: (noun)
a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance. (The definition of bigotry doesn't add much. It is ""the state of mind of a bigot" or "acts or beliefs characteristic of a bigot.")

intolerant: (adjective)
unable or unwilling to endure
unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression especially in religious matters
unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights

Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press

Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.

Hard cover: Amazon US
Kindle: Amazon US
Hard cover: Amazon UK
Kindle: Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Bell Stops Here. God, Democracy, Evolution, Human Migration and Prehistory.

I have dedicated these several posts to examining the fallacies of the white supremacist's creed. I believe this is an important effort because a superficial look at questions of race cause some to adopt toxic behaviors and promote toxic public policies.

In the first entry, I described how geography and climate combine to define where knowledge accumulates. This knowledge led to the technological advancement of civilization occurring more rapidly in some places than others.

In the second entry, the topics of genetics, intelligence and race were introduced. Intelligence is complex and is represented by a variety of genes. Race has little meaning in the context of genetics.

In this entry, I will look at whether race can genetically define intelligence. First, however, one advantage of the transition between posts is that it allows me to take a necessary diversion.

Genes and Humans and God.

Until the late eighteenth century, the predominant theory of the differences among groups of people was: God ordained it. This justified the birthright of kings and aristocracy, the birthwrong of those in the lower classes, and the enslavement of those "others."

Among some, this is still an explicit or implicit belief. Halley's Bible Handbook, a guide to the Bible, which has sold over five million copies included up until in the late 1990s, the story of how Noah had cursed black people to live a life of subjugation.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, two major assaults came to the theory that God had ordained the rulers and the ruled. The first was that democracy took hold as both a philosophy and as a practice. The people, not the king, knew what was better for the people. The founding fathers of America kicked King George's ass, not only on the battlefield, but intellectually. Simón Bolívar one-upped Washington by winning independence for several nations while at the same time freeing their slaves.

The second challenge came in the mid-19th century: Darwin detailed the elements of evolution. Evolution not only impacted science but profoundly changed philosophy and how people saw the world. The meaning of evolution varied according to people's viewpoints. Those who believed in democracy over aristocracy saw evolution as a validation of merit, those who performed better succeeded. Some saw evolution as not only an assault on King, but on God. Beyond the notion of whether God created the whole diversity of life at the time of Genesis, churches had hierarchies who claimed that God had decided such matters as that only men could become priests (and bishops and popes).

Evolution sparked revolution. If people should be allowed to succeed on merit, then why shouldn't women be evaluated according to their abilities? If individuals should be allowed to succeed or fail, why not open universities to women and to all races?

In contrast, others interpreted evolution in favor of the empire. Those believing in the subjugation of races and nations saw those who had not succeeded as being inferior and those who had succeeded as superior. Now, "God ordained it" did not need to be their battle cry: science ordained it. With the 20th century, evolution, genes and intelligence theories, the supremacists had new elements needed to decorate their hatred.

Neither evolution nor God dictate any such conclusions. Those seeking to justify their bigotry will claim any and everything validates their beliefs, whether it be The Sermon on the Mount, evolution or their latest fart.

Survival of the fittest? I'm fond of saying that if evolution allowed only the strongest to survive, the kiwi bird would have disappeared long ago. (For those who aren't familiar, the kiwi is what would happen if you made one of those bobbing sippy bird toys out of pipe cleaners and a potato.)

Let's look at survival of the strongest in another light. Eugenicists are people who worry that weak genes are infiltrating humankind. A woman has type-1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes, a genetically heritable trait. That woman can take insulin and survive and have a productive life. Why? Because mankind has the ability and compassion to discover the need for insulin and produce that insulin. Evolution is not about whether that woman would survive for long if shipwrecked on a desert island. Not many of us would, and of those who did, half would start talking to volleyballs. Humans have the ability to modify their surroundings and their lives in order to live and thrive.

In Norway, it gets very cold, especially in the winter. Naked humans do not have the genes for surviving the cold outdoors. So a long time ago humans invented warm clothing. Humans invented shelter. Genes have provided us with the ability to adapt, so we adapt. People who use clothing and houses are no different from the woman who uses insulin, the latter being a more recent invention. Both enhance their lives and survive using things someone else invented.

Back to Race and Genes and Intelligence.

When I ended the last post, I mentioned that race has relatively little meaning genetically, but that it does have some meaning. Is it possible that intelligence might cluster with race?

Let's state this as a theory.

There exists a genetic difference among the intelligence of people that is defined or described by race.

Problem #1. The Polygenic Nature of Intelligence.

The first problem is that, as previously described, intelligence is extremely multi-faceted. Each aspect is a trait. With so many different traits, we can say that intelligence is polygenic, mapped on different genes. It is unlikely that all the genes should exist on the same chromosome.

As mentioned in the previous post, inheriting genes is, to some extent, like rolling dice. Each chromosome is a dice being rolled. With all of the dice throws that take place from generation to generation among large groups of people, the intelligences will balance out.

But evolution is not only dice throws: evolution involves selection. Could there have been selective pressures that required more intelligent people in one set to survive?

Problem #2. If selection pressures aided in the survival of one set of intelligent humans over another, when did this happen? And how could it have happened genetically?

Let's look at the migration of humans throughout the world.

Timeline of Human Migration.

  • 200,000 years ago. Homo sapiens appear, Southern Africa.
  • About 80,000 to 60,000 years ago. Humans migrate out of Africa into the Middle East and spread across Asia.
  • About 70,000 years ago. Evidence suggests 3,000 to 10,000 humans.
  • About 45,000 years ago, Humans moved to New Guinea and on to Australia.
  • About 40,000 years ago, Homo sapiens make it to Europe.
  • About 14,000 years ago, Humans migrate into North America.
  • (All times are approximate and argued, but not so much as to make these numbers meaningless)

Here we have a major problem. Races, to the extent that they exist genetically, diverged tens of thousands of years ago. If one group was smarter than the other, why did it take thousands to tens of thousands of years for one group to contrive the most basic of inventions? And how is it that the most basic of inventions appeared in diverse places? (Table below.)

How is it even possible to have a polygenic trait spread over a sizeable group, such as a founding population? Within a group, a small number of some who are smarter seems within the realm of possibility, but how does this help the "average" intelligence? Genes are handed down, not passed around.

This gets back to one of the fundamental principles put forth in the first post, and one that has the most and most obvious evidence to support it: you don't have to invent something if you acquire it. We can live in skyscrapers, talk on cell phones, visit the internet not because we are smarter than those people 150 years ago, but because we adopt and assimilate inventions into our lives. Acquired knowledge is good enough.

How does this relate to the perils of cave living? If a group of cave dwellers is being challenged by a particular nasty winter, if smarts are needed to survive, they don't need the smarts of the group as a whole. Not everyone invented a better way of sheltering their fires. If one person did and the others adopted it, that was enough. And that one person who may have been bright, did next to nothing to change the gene pool.

Here is a table listing the major inventions of the last 200,000 years and their locations, up to the invention of writing. I left out a few that were repetitive, e.g., the domestication of yet another animal.

Prehistoric Inventions.

  • About 170,000 years ago, Evidence of clothing, Southern Africa.
  • About 63,000 years ago, Bow and arrow invented, Southern Africa.
  • About 42,000 years ago, Deep sea fishing, New Guinea.
  • About 40,000 years ago, Cave art, Spain and New Guinea.
  • About 36,000 years ago, Weaving, Turkey.
  • About 28,000 years ago, Clay figures, Czechoslovakia.
  • About 20,000 years ago, Clay pottery, China (and we still call dishes china!)
  • About 15,000 years ago (or earlier), Humans domesticate dogs, first clear evidence, Germany.
  • About 11,000 years ago, Agriculture, Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, China.
    • Agriculture developed along a band of latitude stretching from China (rice, e.g.); to the Mediterranean (e.g., wheat, barley).
  • About 11,000 years ago, Domestication of sheep, Mesopotamia.
  • About 11,000 years ago, First villages, Middle East.
  • About 8,700 years ago, Lead smelting, Turkey.
  • About 6,500 years ago, Copper smelting, Serbia.
  • About 5,500 years ago, The Wheeled Vehicle, uncertain as to Central Europe, Southern Russian or Middle East.
  • About 5,200 years ago. Writing is invented, Middle East.
  • *Although I talk about Middle East and Mesopotamia, the current popular phrasing is the Levant region which includes the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.

In the first post, I wrote about historical progress through knowledge. When you had writing, knowledge was made solid and passed along and things moved forward at a relative quick pace. The invention of writing is the official definition of the beginning of history versus prehistory. So, what drove prehistorical progress? In this case, climate superseded geography.

Okay, climate is, in a sense, applied geography. What do I mean by that? First of all, obviously, our planet is very cold in the Arctic and Antarctic and warm in the middle. Beyond this, the location of deserts and jungles are determined by rainfall and latitude, the former of which is defined by bodies of water and mountain ranges. The latter is location.

It might surprise some to learn that we are currently in an Ice Age. This is not a comment on global warming, nor is it a comment on the number of sequels the movie Ice Age has generated,  it's just that the time when  the world was very cold from 110,000 years until approximately 10,000 years ago was a "glacial period" and part of the current Ice Age which began about 2.5 million years ago. Okay, with that bit of trivia out of the way, let's have one more table. This will list the major climate events of the last 200,000 years.

Climate Events of Human Pre-History.
  • 110,000 years ago. Glacial period began. Why this is significant. Glaciers covered Northern Europe. Europe and Northern Asia remained relatively inhospitable. Glaciers prevented transit across Siberia to Americas.
  • 25,000 years ago, Peak glaciation. After this point the glaciers recede.
  • 15,000 years ago, With the relative warming, the Sahara is moist and habitable.
  • 15,000 years ago. With the relative warming, humans can cross from Siberia to the Americas.
  • 10,000 years ago, Major glaciation has disappeared.
  • 8,200 years ago, the collapse of the Laurentide ice shelf in North America leads to drier conditions in Mesopotamia. This concentrates the population around the Fertile Delta.

Climate and geography explain why Mesopotamia area and the Levant region in general became the cradle of civilization. With the desert at either side and the fertile land in the middle, agriculture became a better idea than hunting and gathering. It is widely accepted that agriculture drove human progress for millennia.

In summary:
  • For much of history, God was considered the power behind class divisions.
  • When democracy and evolution took hold as ideas, two thought-lines diverged. One group said that evolution proves people should be judged by their merit. The other group said evolution proves that some had less merit.
  • It is virtually impossible for a polygenic trait to cluster in what are called races.
  • The migration of humans is inconsistent with the theory that one race is smarter than the other and does not support genetic differences in intelligence.
  • The pre-historic progress of humans was not defined by race but was defined by climate and geography.

Up next: What do we mean we talk about race?
Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press

Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.

Hard cover: Amazon US
Kindle: Amazon US
Hard cover: Amazon UK
Kindle: Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Bell Stops Here: Genetics, Intelligence and Race

What we have thus far.

In my previous post, while addressing the myth of white supremacy, I discussed at length how geography and climate affect the advancement of civilization.

  • The acquisition, storage and maintenance of knowledge defines the advancement of civilization.
  • The ability to acquire, store and maintain knowledge is most determined by geography and climate.
  • The places where civilization advanced are those that had the optimal geography and climate.

Here I will begin to tackle the alternative theory, the one embraced by white supremacists: superior genes have provided certain races with more intelligence thus advancing those races.

Genes and Intelligence.

My contentions combine information from several different subjects: genetics, intelligence, race, evolution, prehistory, history, geography and climate. I am not following someone else's template to put this together, but rather weaving the various threads on my own and trying not to end up with an ugly Christmas sweater. After trying for a too-ambitious presentation which would have had this a very lengthy post, I decided to divide up this post into more modest-sized chunks, even though that means critical pieces will be presented later. In this post, I hope to add to the picture the basics of genetics, intelligence and race.

An Introduction to Genetics.

I liken genetics to the study of atomic physics. The theory of atoms comprising the particulate building blocks of matter goes back to ancient Greece and India, although early theories thought of every material having their own atom, i.e., wine was composed of wine atoms. The idea that only a certain number of elements mixed and matched to make molecules and chemicals was championed by Dalton at the beginning of the 19th century. It was only at the beginning of 20th century that we determined that atoms were made up of protons, neutrons and electrons, a microscopic solar system which is still easy to wrap the mind around. But then these were found to be made up of six types of quarks, six types of leptons, twelve regular bosons, and the Higg's boson. Waves are particles and particles are waves. Uncertainty is the ruling principle. Atomic physics is complicated.

Genetics is the same. Many people have a basic concept of Mendelian genetics: the genes from one parent mix with the genes of another and the child has a mix of traits. For centuries breeding has told us that if you put together a schnauzer with a Chihuahua you get a Chi-schnauzer. Many people know that genes are written out in something called DNA, a chemical that looks like a spiral staircase.

In reality: genetics is complicated. DNA doesn't look like a spiral staircase. It exists all bunched up with parts of it being shut down by proteins or chemically modified. There are jumping genes, silent genes, silenced genes, epigenetic events, transposed sections, promoters, etc.
The increasing complexity of DNA conformation from double-helix to chromosome.

And even when DNA is expressed, the products can be bound up with hairpins, blocked by antisense coding, and have to overcome molecules which attack them.

Rule #1 of genetics: Anyone who claims genetics is simple is lying.

Rule #2: Because genetics is not simple it is easy to weave jargon around their pet theories. These people will tell you the others are liars. Don't trust them.

Rule #2a: Don't trust me.

Seriously. Maintain a degree of skepticism toward anyone claiming to be expert. Test everything. Hold fast to what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Being able to separate the real from the bullshit is a necessary survival skill, more so these days with the internet tailoring information to feed biases.

A Brief Genetics Glossary.

I have a habit of talking over some people's heads, even when I think I am being clear. So that everyone is on the same page, here is a brief glossary of the genetic terms I'll use.

Trait: Any feature of an individual, whether it be physical, functional, or mental.
Heritable: Something that can be passed from parents to child or, in the bigger picture, from ancestors to descendants. A tall parent can have tall children. A parent who loses a leg in a car accident will not have a child who is missing a leg.
Gene: A single heritable trait. Sometime the word is used imprecisely to refer to a chromosome (below).
Genes: Collectively, all traits that can be inherited.
DNA: This is the chemical that makes up the genes. Your DNA can be thought of as a long series of letters that spell out the blueprint that is you. In humans, 3 billion letters long. In book form, this would be about equal to 5,000 books with 100,000 words of six letters apiece, a decent-sized library.
Chromosomes: Genes are bundled into long strands of DNA called chromosomes. Humans have 23 pairs of these, one member of each pair is received from each parent.
Evolution: The science of diversity within species and between species.

Before I go on to genes and intelligence, let's look at intelligence.

An Introduction to Intelligence.

One reason I brought up the analogy of atomic physics is that a parallel argument can also be made in regards to the second topic: intelligence.

For centuries, intelligence was not quantified, but rather expressed as a relative term: one person versus another, one group versus another. The proof of intelligence was individual mental skills, either basic (e.g., the ability to read) or advanced (e.g., the ability to compose abstract arguments or music or invent), or group skills (e.g., the degree of civilization). The last of these three was often retrofitted to define the ruling class and the ruled.

Near the beginning of the 20th Century, when humans finally got around to quantifying individual intelligence they came up with a single number: IQ. (Intelligence Quotient). Seriously. So-called intelligent people put forth that an individual's intelligence could be summarized as a single point on a line. Intelligence had no breadth, no width, no height, no shading.

Around 1940, intelligence was given two forms. Over the course of the 1990s, the modern theory developed and there were eight broad abilities each with their own bundle of narrow abilities. Linguistic intelligence is not necessarily mathematical intelligence, etc. This is the theory of Howard Gardner. Others have focused on the dimensions of intelligence, by analogy, depth being acquired knowledge, width being ability to process the knowledge, and length being editing, imagining, etc.

So how does one go about determining who is more intelligent given multiple forms of intelligence? Do you average them up? Why? Why should each be treated as an equal part to overall intelligence? Do you determine that some forms are more important than others? Which? Don't some of them overlap? Are these seventy forms of intelligence even the last word?

Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, another and influential way of dividing up intelligence

Let me add a few more aspects of intelligence. I once had a boss who was intelligent. He had a PhD and at times he could give brilliant, thought-provoking presentations. The problem was he had the emotional control of a two-year-old and this served to dim any amount of brightness and it sabotaged any intelligent output. When confronted with a personal error, he would insist on a conspiracy. He interpreted the most benign of statements as a personal attack. Having determined the conspiracy, he would rewrite his own work and dismiss those of his employees. In summary, he was a self-destructive buffoon. Intelligence has an emotional component.

In a different line, numerous studies have shown that child nutrition is linked to educational performance. In other studies, in third world countries where intestinal worms can lead to anemia, eradicating this parasite led to an increase in IQ. These findings makes instinctive sense: low energy and trouble concentrating equal low intellectual performance.

Energy level and ability to concentrate are also related to hormones. Too little thyroid or too much glucocorticoids can dull one's intelligence (or dull brain development). This is not only need to be seen as a disease condition in life, but could be related to the inherited levels.

Too little sleep can make a person dull. Beyond environmental or lifestyle causes, this could be the result of a variety of heritable factors, such as anatomical obstacles which lead to sleep apnea.

I have taken two formal IQ exams as an adult. I don't respect these tests enough to present the results, but I will say on the two days they were 20 points apart. That much, I believe. There are days when I'm smarter than others.

Low blood sugar, too much sugar, anemia, too little sleep, emotional control. Taken together, I'd like to propose the obvious: on top of all of the various forms of intelligence, intelligence has a dimmer switch. In the right circumstances it can be put on high or low.

Intelligence and Genetics: What We Have Thus Far.

Adding the above to the discussion of genetics, let's define two more terms.

Polygenic traits: Features of an individual that can be mapped to different genes.

Intelligence, with its many forms and influencers, is a polygenic trait. It appears on different genes and, because it has so many components, it is likely spread out over several chromosomes.

What does this mean when it comes to inheriting intelligence? This is a bit like Yahtzee. Yahtzee is a game where you role five dice. Even if your first role is a six, there is no guarantee you will have a high total, the numbers tend to balance out. Another way of putting this (for those who have no experience with Yahtzee), is saying that intelligence is like the lottery. Not that 1 in 10 million lottery, more like the Pick 3. Luck happens, but luck cannot be reliably counted on.

The results of this can be often seen historically. Although there have been geniuses who have had children of equal genius, there are many more with children of ordinary accomplishments.

Up to this point, I have not delved much into environment and intelligence. How much of intelligence is genetic and how much is the environment you grow up in? No one has the answer (or rather, everyone has a different answer). I've seen the number 50/50 just because people like to compromise and the reason why that number is chosen is because the person is making a statement that in the absence of a rigorously defined number, both should be considered equally. In the absence of a definitive answer, I guess that's an okay, although not precise way of looking at it.

I've seen many in favor of gene theories toss out numbers like 90% genes, 10% environmental. I look at these with suspicion because of the complexity of intelligence and how that can't be a single number. At least the 50/50 people admit that it isn't scientific.

There are those who believe they can translate "divided twins studies" into genetic versus environmental influences. Identical twins have the exact same genes. Those identical twins who are divided at birth and adopted by two different families in theory would provide a perfect opportunity to look at to what degree specific traits are inherited and to what degree they are environmental. They do provide some insight with the following limitations: the pregnancy environment was the same for both children; intelligence, being many things, it ends up with a lot of things to study and compare; epigenetic events (described below) which are both environmental and genetic; biases that can affect intelligence assessment (if both have dark skin, they may be treated with the same biases in intelligent assessment, in upbringing, or in teaching). In regards to the last of these, a world prejudice, genes can define environment and interactions.

There is another way in which environment and genes are linked. People inherit not only those genes that shout out their traits, they inherit genes that only speak up in the proper circumstances. This leads up to the next definition.

Epigenetic events: DNA is not only written down and passed down from parent to child, DNA can be turned on or off. If a gene is kept silent, it is as good as not being there. For example, without the person having the proper nutrition a gene might not be expressed.

To me, this is somewhat comforting. We not only inherit traits, we inherit potential.

In summary, X percentage of intelligence is genes; Y percentage is environment.  Even when saying intelligence is in the genes, it is not the same as saying intelligence is passed along: there is a mix and match of a various clusters of intelligence. As with anything you get from your parents, you get a little of this and a little of that.

On to the next subject.

Race and Genetics.

Hoo-boy. Where to start and more important how to limit a discussion about race? Something must be said about race, because the supremacy in white supremacy has an adjective in front of it. I'll keep it short, because, although the internet is free and you may think this is all I do, my time is not infinite.

Perhaps this sums up genetic research into race the best: ". . .racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance. . ." Richard Lewontin as quoted in Race Finished. What does this really mean? As described in the link, the overwhelming amount of differences between people are differences within individuals and not between what are called racial groups (about a 10-fold difference in favor of individuals). By lumping people together as groups, we miss out on 80-90% of who that person is. By analogy, race is noise; individual people are the signals. To rely on noise to get the message, we lose the message.

Wait a minute. Not much is defined by race? That's not nothing. And skin color, eye color, hair color, well several things at least, if not absolutely proscribed, do tend to strongly cluster in what are commonly called races. Why not intelligence?

I'll continue this in the next installment.

In summary:
  • Genetics is complicated.
  • Intelligence is complicated.
  • Intelligence is many things and polygenic.
  • It is difficult to reliably inherit intelligence.
  • In terms of genetics, race does not mean a lot.
In my upcoming post I will look at how several diverse topics apply to this discourse: God, Democracy, Evolution, The Migration of Humans and Prehistory.

Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press

Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.

Hard cover: Amazon US
Kindle: Amazon US
Hard cover: Amazon UK
Kindle: Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Bell Stops Here: The Advancement of Civilization

I stated that the philosophy of white supremacy is a toxic brand of ignorance. Let me elaborate. In doing so, I doubt that I will sway anyone with entrenched views, but I hope to do a small part to prevent those with open minds from accepting the wrong-headed tenets of such poisonous doctrines.

White supremacy is founded on notions of race, genetics, superiority and inferiority, intelligence, history and civilization. These are each complex matters, in fact, one of the pitfalls that leads to wrong conclusions comes from simplifying subjects. So, don't consider this a final word, only a primer. In this installment, I will deal with the rise and development of civilizations, the nature of progress and the role intelligence, crucial knowledge and other factors play.

The Bell Stops Here.

White supremacists are people who took a peek in the mirror and decided that others who look like they do are the smartest, most advanced people in the world. Because. . . Mozart. Or, rather their pale skin connects them to Mozart. Or rather, beneath the skin there swims a massive school of genes which combine to create a thing called race and their race has the better swimmers.

One point they make to support this argument is that a more advanced and technologically sophisticated civilization appeared in Europe before it appeared in other parts of the world. Depending on the supremacist, they might accept or dismiss the historical impact of China, India and various other elsewheres and focus on how some of the remaining areas lagged behind, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, Australia and the pre-Columbian Americas.

So, let's deal with the underlying question: why did technology advance in some places ahead of others? I am hardly the first to broach this highly charged question. My answers come from my reading and my own thoughts on the subject as they have accumulated over the years. I am a scientist who has researched among other subjects, genetics (non-human genetics, but the same principles apply). I have bachelor degrees in Biology and Psychology, a doctorate in Pharmacology and minors in Chemistry, English and Physiology.

The Nature of Knowledge, of Progress, and of Civilization.

What is deemed intellectual advancement is primarily the product of a cumulative and refined base of knowledge. The reason the internet didn't exist 2,000 years ago was not because the human population had a substantially lower intelligence, it was that there were many (many) incremental advances in knowledge and technology required for its creation, including the methods for testing the validity of such knowledge (the scientific process). Similarly, it was not Da Vinci's stupidity that had him fail to create the internet, or despite some elaborate drawings, a working helicopter. Genius is measured by what it can do given what it has, not by what it does. Otherwise, everyone who can punch numbers in a calculator is a greater mathematical genius than Newton -- certainly they can find mathematical answers faster than he could. Along these lines, the standard definition of intelligence is the ability to acquire, understand, and use knowledge, not the possession of knowledge.

I am going on about this at length to state that it is not superior to be born in a specific place and time. Even though the concept of genetic superiority agrees with this, this message is often lost. Look at how advanced my world is, is not the same as stating why the world is advanced.

Looking at the other side of this equation, much of Europe in the 14th century was primitive by today's standards. Agriculture often depended on either an ox or a horse, a plow, manure and lots of manual labor. Superstition led to a belief in flying witches and phony medicines. This same "primitive" society was mirrored in many parts of the world and continues today*. To redefine the question at hand, what happened that led to a greater surge of invention in some parts of the world over others?

*It might be noted that the advent of the internet has revealed how many people believe in things equally as silly as flying witches and whole industries have evolved around phony medicines. Also I will put aside for a moment, the degree to which advanced civilization did appear in the cities of Europe and in many parts of the world. That part of the story is important and telling, but it will be dealt with later.

What didn't happen. The difference between the 14th century and today was not a sudden explosion of genetic superiority. Genes, what they can do and what they cannot do, will be discussed more in the second part of this series of posts.

What did happen was an accumulation of knowledge made possible by a series of inventions. I've seen various arguments that the most important advancements of the past millennium were eyeglasses (extending by decades the productivity of scholars), the printing press (few would argue its impact), the scientific method, gunpowder, and advancements in nutrition and sanitation -- among others.

The contribution of these connects to a pair of very important points: knowledge is cumulative and the acquisition of knowledge is a feed-forward process. Let's compare feed-forward to feedback. Feedback is when a fever causes sweating which reduces fever. A feed-forward process can be seen in a fever that rises and shuts down the ability to sweat which allows the fever to rise even more. (In this analogy, death becomes the ultimate feedback system.) Extending this analogy in another direction, knowledge is an uncontrolled fever.

Let me put this another way. If I were to present two equal persons the objective of building a house and gave one an iron hammer, nails and a saw, and the other a rock and an obsidian knife, the first person would be able to construct a sophisticated shelter. The latter could, with more work, put together a livable hut. The one who put together the sophisticated shelter would be better protected against the elements, would live longer, would be able to store seed more safely, and would have more time to contemplate things other than survival. Over centuries and over a great number of people, such advantages increase like compound interest.

Each piece of knowledge becomes a brick toward building a higher tower, or as Isaac Newton put it, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." (And Newton was not a modest man.)

So, again, let's rephrase that original question. Why did some places develop (or take advantage of) inventions which facilitated progress that allowed them to advance more quickly? Why did some have the iron hammer and the others have a stone?

The Essential Elements.

Jared Diamond has pondered these matters most particularly in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel in which he looked at how geography shapes civilization. His work is profound and worth reading.

One of my favorite of his arguments is how much easier it is for civilization to advance along latitude, (east-west, west-east), than it is along longitude (north-south, south-north). This is due to the fact that more similar climates and growing seasons exist along latitudes. Winter's length is very different in the tundra than it is in the are surrounding the Mediterranean. The same sort of wheat which will grow in one area will not necessarily grow in another.
An East-West Axis more readily allows for agricultural advancement and agriculture was the most significant determinant of civilization for millennia.

This is significant because the initial impetus for civilization was agriculture. The same essential plants that created a stable diet moved humanity beyond hunting and gathering and allowed for the growth of urban centers and a hierarchy for the specialization of work. You had the farmers, the merchants who bought and sold the extra grain, the carpenters who built the homes for the merchants, etc.  All of this relied on the sort of planting seasons that could be found along the lines of what we think of as horizontally stretched areas (e.g., Europe through Asia), in preference to those along vertically stretched areas (e.g.,South America). Parts of Argentina have a wonderful climate for agriculture, not too hot, not too cold, and an excellent length to the growth season. But to spread its agricultural advances the people would have to pass the Amazon jungle, the jungles of Central America and the Sonoran desert before they could find broad stretches of similar temperate climates and growing seasons in North America (or leap over the Andes and the Atacama desert for a small bit of Chile). Africa, to a great degree, stretches north to south. The broadest east-west area is the inhospitable Sahara.

Diamond also argues how the influence of the horse could not be matched by other animals in other places (horses were not native to the pre-Columbian Americas). Zebras, reindeers and llamas don't nearly match up. Camels are better than the previous three examples, but they have their own limitations.

Diamond makes similar arguments for the advantages of wheat in its range of growth and in its use as a staple over corn. The minerals and metals available provided a further advantage.

These are but examples, and there are many others. All in all, Diamond makes the argument that most of Europe, the rim of North Africa and parts of Asia as having those essential elements that helped boost it on its way to civilization.

Agriculture, farming and herding, has dominated much of human history. Consider this: in the Bible, there are many parables of seeds, harvests, and shepherds. The 20th Century was the first time in history when these stories became abstract to the majority of people in the world rather than part of daily life, the first century wherein more of the population was urban rather than rural.

Putting together several of the major points from Guns, Germs and Steel.

The Compilation of Knowledge.

In the 1400s, Gutenberg invented the moveable type printing press, up to that time, the single greatest advancement in the compiling and dissemination of knowledge and maybe the single greatest impetus for the progress of civilization as a whole. More readily available books became the catalyst for the Reformation, for modern education, for modern democracy and for the scientific method to take hold. Most all of the later inventions have relied on a foundation of readily stored knowledge.

This invention appeared not only because of a bright idea which many could have had before, but because all of the elements were available to make the machine work. These included: an alphabet where you could arrange letters in different orders to create different words, a paper that would be receptive to the creation of books, ink that would stamp the letters and advances that enabled the production of the metals and gears that would constitute the bulk of the machine. Innovation requires more than necessity or an idea. It requires the tools and parts to be available.

As one of the most important inventions in the service of creating further inventions, let's look at paper. Before paper there was writing on animal hides. Animal hides had a variety of competing uses including mukluks, groovy jackets, and the walls of teepees. The material, however, tended to decompose over time and more quickly in tropical environments.

There was writing on stone and clay tablets. You could store information for centuries, but not a lot of it and walking to school with your textbooks was back-breaking. You didn't need a permutable alphabet for this sort of writing: you just couldn't write that much, in fact, pictures could convey more information in a small space.

We think of papyrus, an Egyptian invention, as being the first paper, however, it is of a limited utility: fine for scrolls, problematic for books.

Modern, fiber pulp paper was invented in China in 100 A.D. Variations on its formula slowly spread over the coming centuries, first to the Middle East where it helped establish and codify the Islam faith and create an Islamic scientific revolution and then on to Europe with the dawn of the second millennium. This paper could be pressed into smooth sheets and could be bound and handed over to scholars who meticulously hand-copied and decorated important texts. It was thin and lightweight, allowing for thick volumes with what were at that time massive amounts of information. These books stored knowledge and allowed knowledge to readily move.

When this paper was used with the printing press, a large number of identical volumes could be printed. Paper illustrates the steps involved: an innovation (100 AD, China). Its movement, albeit over centuries, in part because China was isolated from western Asia and Europe. Finally, its adoption and addition to other technologies. Let's talk about the spread of knowledge.

The Spread of Knowledge.

The single most important factor in the advancement of civilization is the spread of knowledge. You don't have to invent paper from scratch if you adopt the process from elsewhere. This principle could be seen in hundreds of examples. There have been cases of simultaneous inventions, but much more often history is dictated by the arrival of gunpowder or steel or paper from one place to another.

As mentioned above, the book was one of the significant inventions forwarding this, but as to where knowledge spread, that is a matter of geography, its conduits and obstacles and the means of transportation.

Generally speaking*, until the development of the telegraph, knowledge had to be passed along from place to place by human movement. You needed a ship to haul communications from the king to the colonies. You needed the Pony Express line to deliver mail cross-country (quickly made obsolete by a telegraph line).

*There are exceptions with limited utility including smoke signals, pigeons, or floating a letter down-river.

The movement of knowledge therefore followed the patterns available for human movement and was blocked by the obstacles to human movement. As a result of this, many of the great civilizations were built at the crossroads of human travel.

Until the twentieth century and the advent of the airplane, humans traveled by land or water. Land passage was by far the less efficient of these two. Beyond dealing with deserts, mountain ranges, and difficult to cross rivers, the humans and their beasts and their carts had to carry most things necessary for the trip along with whatever cargo they were transporting.

Commerce* and trade grew up along waterways and ports. In contrast to land, the barriers over water were significantly fewer. The vessel could carry a mass of supplies and cargo. The seascape was relatively flat, as were often the broad rivers, at least until they encountered the obstacles of rapids or waterfalls.

Travel by water had some other difficulties. In the northern and mountainous areas, rivers froze, shutting down traffic and perhaps delaying the development of these areas. Long distance travel over seas was limited for many centuries. This had problems including a lack of landmarks, the lack of a safe port to ride out storms and having sufficient space for fresh water and other supplies.

*Although I am talking about commerce which drives the development of cities and states, it is the exchange of information and innovation that moves with commerce that is my ultimate point.

So, for a very long period, the interchange of commerce and the growth of civilization centered around bodies of water, the optimal port being at the outlet of a river providing fresh water for drinking and agriculture and serving as a nexus for upriver commerce. There are several corollaries which flow from this. Until ships could be made to travel great distances, the ideal place for travel would be in an enclosed sea where you would never be days away from land. A purely coastal commerce would exchange less than a commerce between differing lands. If the place had a relatively more tranquil sea that would provide more reliable passage, for example, the Mediterranean versus the Baltic. Sites with the greatest degree of exchange of communication and permeation of knowledge would be of two sorts: peninsulas (or long islands, in both cases, more coastline and less distance overland) and those positioned at the gateways to the rest of the world.

Those areas which are isolated were penalized. This isolation can be due to geographical barriers: being landlocked (the middle of the Himalayas), being separated by a great desert or jungle (sub-Saharan Africa has both obstacles) or mountains or tundra, being a faraway island (Iceland), or just plain not being in the middle (Australia as any Risk player knows). Such sites often grew individualized great civilizations, but did not gain the advantage of cumulative knowledge that comes with the interchange of information. And as noted, any one piece of progress can greatly impact further progress.

Before I weave these pieces together, let's look at two more interrelated factors. The maintenance of information and climate.

Knowledge and its Maintenance.

Almost as important as acquiring and storing knowledge, is maintaining the stores of knowledge. Great civilizations bloomed in the jungles of the world and then were overtaken by the jungle. Some examples of these are the Mayan culture, Angkor Wat, and the pre-Columbian kingdom of Zimbabwe.

My argument has been that civilizations bloom based on knowledge. Before modern technology, knowledge was maintained either by word of mouth or else by writing it down. Oral communication has obvious limits, including the amount of information and its decay over time. Homer and the early Greeks tried to overcome the scarcity of writing by transforming history into poems that could be memorized. (It helped for the sake of posterity that many of important works did make it into writing.)

Stone tablets and carving or painting information on stone walls had a permanency, but were restricted as to how much information could be conveyed. Papyrus was an important advance and was a reason for the rise of Egypt as one of the early world civilizations, but was inferior to later paper forms.

As discussed above, improved paper was a significant contributor to the rise of modern civilization. The technology of paper penetrated some areas far better than others and this was based on both the pathways of human movement and climate. In the case of the latter, in the jungle and very humid areas, paper quickly rots. Animal hides also rot and are consumed by fungus and insect. In contrast, in relatively dry areas, knowledge written on paper continues on for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. This is one reason why Israel, Egypt and the desert worlds were cradles for history and why, occasionally, pre-Christian crumbling documents are still found.

Furthermore, the tropics, both then and now, have pernicious diseases. The moistness allows for the growth of most anything, including organisms that infest the water supply. By having water that is close in temperature to that of human blood, organisms can more readily jump from the environment to humans. In my laboratory work, the standard temperature for growing up a batch of bacteria is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius), that of human blood. Other malevolent creatures have evolved around this. The life cycle of mosquitoes include standing water and they become the carriers of a variety of human pathogens.

Why is this important? This gets back to the two men who built the house and how much time they ultimately have to pursue other aspects of life beyond survival. That time is both measured in day to day survival and in life span. If you look at a map of the world and ask which are the least prosperous countries, the large majority of poorer countries and disease-devastated countries are south of the Tropic of Cancer and north of the Tropic of Capricorn.

An Aside: Peninsulas and the Tropics.

The peninsula and long stretched-out bits of land, such as a long island, allow for a greater degree of access to the sea and possess a greater ability to have knowledge permeate their land-masses. With several exceptions in places which suffer from isolation and/or inhospitable climates, e.g., Kamchatka, the Aleutian peninsula and Baja Mexico, if you look at the major non-tropical peninsulas and longish islands of the world you will find many of the most successful nations from history and those which are successful today.

Non-tropical peninsulas: Greece, Italy, Denmark, Europe as a whole, Scandinavia, Turkey, Qatar (highest per capita GDP in the world), Korea, Florida.

Non-tropical elongated islands: Japan, England, New Zealand.

Although I do not intend to go into the military matters at great length, islands and peninsulas are easier to defend against invaders, islands in particular being natural forts. Germany was able to march across most of Europe but did not invade England. The difficulties of making a beachhead along the north of Europe during World War II limited the Allied advance.

Putting This Together.

Here is a list of the ideal factors that historically went into whether a site is ideal for the growth and advancement of civilization.

  • Location, location, location.
  • Centrally located in terms of being a crossroads of commerce and knowledge.
  • Not being in an extreme location.
  • On the water, preferably a seaport.
  • Being next to an enclosed sea rather than one that requires distant passages.
  • Being on a peninsula or longish island.
  • Temperate climate but not too dry to inhibit agriculture.
  • Less inviting to tropical diseases.
  • Stored information will not disappear due to rot.
  • Stretching east to west rather than north to south.
  • Luck: having horses instead of llamas.

Applying These to Civilizations.

Let's look at some ancient and not-so ancient civilizations in terms of advantages and disadvantages as to growing an advanced civilization.


Advantage: at a time when being a center of agriculture was good enough to be a world center, they had the fertile crescent of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Furthermore, with nearby deserts, the people were pressed together in this area. The dry climate of the area limited tropic diseases (still a delta has swamps).

Disadvantages: A time of stone writing, inefficient, although somewhat permanent and that is one reason why we know of them. Symbolic characters for writing limit what can be conveyed. Isolation.

Verdict: Early civilization bloomed around agriculture which was fed by the rivers which traversed the desert. A great place to start, but not much more.


Advantages: At the cross-roads of two continents and not that far from a third. Relatively mild and dry climate. Papyrus and the library of Alexandria. At the mouth of a great river which provided fertile land.

Disadvantages: Hieroglyphics, although advanced for their time, could never be the equal of a permutable alphabet. Although at the crossroads of Africa and Asia, these two continents involved crossing the desert. A great river, but a single river, constricted their spread.

Verdict: the love for knowledge as evidenced by the library of Alexandria allowed Egypt to be an early advanced society with fantastic feats of architecture. Israel possessed several of these qualities including being at a crossroads and in a dry climate.


Advantages: A long coast for water commerce along with fat rivers. North of the tropics and south of very cold territories. Some advances in technology helped promote further advances. Rice is one of the world's great grains.

Disadvantages: For many centuries, isolated from much of the world except by a difficult journey overland. Isolated from India by the Himalayas and from southeast Asia by jungles. A non-alphabetic script could not match the versatility of an alphabetic script.

Verdict: China provided us with paper, the clock, gunpowder, pasta (thank you) and other advances. They were limited by their isolation and the less flexible character-based script. Still, within these limitations, they did a lot to advance the world.

India has many of the same advantages and disadvantages as did China, however, with a more tropical climate.

Sub-Saharan Africa.

Advantages: Some good rivers. Some isolated areas with a positive climate for agriculture.

Disadvantages: Isolation by the world's largest desert and by a large jungle. Tropical diseases. Rot of documents.

Verdicts: Great civilizations bloomed and died off in sub-Saharan Africa. The wisdom was there, but did not stand a chance to accumulate or cross-pollinate with others.

North, Central and South America.

Advantages: Some areas with very reasonable climates. Some major rivers for commerce.

Disadvantages: Isolated from the rest of the world. One part isolated from another by formidable geographical boundaries including the Mojave-Sonora desert, the Arctic, Central American jungles, the Amazon and the Andes. Large areas with tropical climate. Large portion with tropical diseases. Oriented north to south. Llamas are poor substitutes for horses, and buffaloes can't replace oxen. The Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico are not equal to the Mediterranean in promoting commerce due to tropical climate, greater distances and hurricanes.

Verdict: Some great civilizations. Some bloomed and died off. Some were killed off by the conquistadors. The less threatening were allowed to continue on.

The Mediterranean.

Advantages: Temperate climate. Enclosed sea. Some great peninsulas, including Italy, Turkey and Greece (which, not coincidentally, became three great empires and places where civilization advanced, one topping the other). True permutable alphabet with the letters representing sounds. Borders three continents and ultimately benefited from world trade. Italy had the advantage of being centrally located and the Iberian peninsula had the disadvantage of being on the extreme.

Disadvantages: Although the Mediterranean was great for internal commerce and exchanging information among the different local cultures, it was isolated from the advances that went on in most parts of Asia. In fact, it was the crossing of these barriers that initiated great historical advances. (e.g., Marco Polo.) The Alps were a moderately strong barrier to parts of the north.

Verdict: Of all of the regions of the world, this area had the most advantages involving sea commerce, a less hostile climate and the passing on of knowledge.

Northern Europe.

Advantages: The Baltic is fairly well enclosed, Denmark and Scandinavia are peninsulas. England is a long island. Borders southern Europe which dictated culture and religion for centuries, including religious scholars. The cold could help with food storage.

Disadvantages: This area had to fight the elements of cold and a wilder sea passage (North Sea especially) than southern Europe. The rivers froze over for the winter. Moderate growth season, harsh winters. Mountains dominated the center of Scandinavia and the Alps limited overland travel to the south.

Verdict: Northern Europe became important for the progress of history, especially as the technology for sea passage increased (Vikings), and the ability to fight back against the cold improved.

Race and Racism and Genetic Supremacy Theories.

This first section was dedicated to the arguments as to how geography and the movement of knowledge affect the advancement of civilization.

There are probably some who are reading this and who are chomping at the bit. I've not discussed race or racism or colonialism or how one human might prevent another from advancing. Sometimes these obstacles were explicit. Pre-Civil War, in every state in the Southern US, it was against the law to teach a slave to read. Might not that have had some effect?

Short answer: Yes, absolutely. However, this comprises such a long discussion that I would prefer to leave it for a subsequent post.

On the other side of the coin is the even thornier topic of race and IQ. What is race? What is IQ and does it measure intelligence? What is intelligence and how is it connected to genetics?

These questions I'll also leave for the upcoming post: Genetics, Intelligence and Race and the third installment, God, Democracy, Evolution, Human Migration and Prehistory.

Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press

Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.

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