Re: Genes say: When Rich, have Fewer Kids

Robert Schrader (
Tue, 11 Mar 1997 14:18:00 -0800 (PST)

> No disagreement here, really. The time period that I was referring to
> starts pre-cambrian. Human history is only a tiny part of it.
> Human genes are greatly the result of the evolution of pre-human critters.
> The vast majority of that time there was no wealth, unless clams got money.

> While much of the evolution of morphology might be pre-human, almost
> all of the evolution of /behavior/ likely happened after we took the
> basic shape now doing the behaving. Perhaps most of the perceptions
> evolved before that, but muscular behaviors and social behaviors must
> have evolved much later, after our muscles and groups looked more like
> the ones we have now. Behavioral evolution is very fast.

> The point that I was trying to make was that, if we treat DNA as a
> language, there are no words in the human genome for 'rich', and
> probably insufficient syntax to talk about riches.

> Anything that affects behavior can be 'encoded in DNA'.

> True, but not sufficient. Yes, behaviors can be encoded. However wealth
> is not a behavioral concept. It is a social construction, and there is
> no definite connection between behavior and wealth. Wealth-recognizing
> or wealth-producing behavior in one society doesn't always work in another.
> The very fact that the correlation between wealth and family size is
> cross-cultural is therefore proof that it isn't genetic. QED.

> Sorry, no sale. All it proves is that the particular kind of wealth
> measured in the study was probably not the same as what caused the result.
> To postulate some genetic cause, you would indeed have to have some
> less culturally-biased measure that happens to correlate with wealth.
> Obesity seems like the obvious one. That's something common to the
> wealthy in every primitive society and most modern ones.

What source did you get this from? It's an impressive piece of research if
BTW, even then it's not enough: it of course has to show obesity during
primary childbearing years.

> Any number of things might cause it. Just because the particular measure
> of "wealth" used in the initial study is a modern phenomenon doesn't mean
> that there isn't some more fundamental variable not postulated that
> correlates well with modern wealth.
> "Language of DNA" is not the right way to treat "genes", because it leads
> to the wrong conclusions. The fact that what we call a "gene", i.e.,
> the inheritable whatever-it-is that results in some trait, is implemented
> in DNA is no reason to limit its effects to the proximal effects of
> DNA protein synthesis. Yes, DNA is a language for doing one thing;
> but since the effects 100 steps further along in the chain of causality
> can still materially differ when the DNA differs, and the /difference/
> causes selection, it makes perfect sense to say that this 100-levels-
> removed-from-DNA phenomenon is selected genetically, because it carries
> that chunk of DNA into the next generation regardless of whether it
> "coded" for the trait or not.

I won't quibble over words this time. I agree that the effects of DNA are
not limited to protein synthesis, nor even to subsequent behaviors. And,
yes, *if* there are 100 causally linked events, then even the last is
selected genetically.
But the basic question still remains: can those links survive the
turbulence of society? I still suspect not.

> Again, I'm not saying that there /is/ a genetic basis. I agree that it
> is probably less likely than a cultural one. I only point out that the
> idea of a genetic basis is much less far-fetched than in might sound.

We seem to be agreeing a lot more than disagreeing. I think we have
succeeded in narrowing the issue down to a small grey area that requires
tremendous research to clarify much further. Shall we allow this thread
to retire gracefully?

Robert Schrader