On the Rationality of Ethnic Genetic Interest, Strictly Speaking

I’m not a big fan of Salterian ethnic genetic interest. (For some works by Salter, refer: here and here), but the rationality of the conception is worth defending.

Conceptually ethnic genetic interest is an extension of kin interest. Basically, since preferring Kin to non-kin, ceteris paribus, is evolutionary rational, it follows that preferring one’s ethnos, or extended kin, is also evolutionary rational. This means that if one values one’s own genetic interest, it’s rational to value the genetic interest of those members of one’s ethnos and, in general, to be partisan to those genetically related to one.

Now ethnic genetic interest is really just being partisan along genetic lines. And it’s at least as rationally justifiable as preferring those who are intellectually, culturally, experientially, etc. similar to you — or just preferring yourself to non-self. And people make those later cases quite often. So at very least “caring just because of race, ugh” is as rational as any other type of preferential caring.

Of course, some argue that particular preferring is inherently wrong. For example, Peter Singer, this Peter Singer, argues that the only right thing to do is to respect agents that have wants, rather than value anyone in particular — :

Two of his conclusions are especially startling. He argues that some animals have higher moral status than some humans. His argument begins with the observation that many animals prefer to avoid pain. We know this the same way we know that people prefer to avoid pain: we see dogs and cats and dolphins and rats recoiling from pain, we see them whimper when beaten, and we see them playful when they are pain-free. (We also know that their nervous systems closely resemble ours.) They have other preferences, too. They couple, and they become visibly depressed when separated from their mates and families. They prefer to move freely rather than be confined in cages. And so forth.

Therefore, Singer says, causing these animals pain — killing them for food, caging them while they produce eggs, shackling them and kidnapping them for exhibition in a zoo — subverts their preferences and is wrong. The fact that animals are nonhuman makes no difference. In fact, an intelligent adult ape has more conscious interests than a newborn human infant. Therefore, faced with the choice of rescuing from a fire either a severely retarded infant, who is unlikely to develop many preferences in the future, and an ape, we should rescue the ape. To think otherwise is simple bigotry, an example of speciesism. We should no more be speciesists than racists or sexists.

Singer, of course, tries playing the old Kantian rationalist game of concocting a quasi-Transcendental a la Kant, Habermas, Rawls, and the other Baron of Munchausens (i.e philosophers who try to lift their moral systems up by the bootstrings of those systems). But they simple can’t get away from logic. A mother is hurt by not having her infant saved, and Pete is hurt by the ape not being saved. Pete, following liberal logic to its logical end, of course, says that the ape really has intrinsic priority — that is, the mother should really preference the ape– since it’s more intelligent and can prefer to survive more than her kid can. But why preference the wanting-ape to those one wants — apart from not wanting to be ‘selfish, racist, speciesist’? Having agreed that there is no Transcendent value (refer to: On Nihilism and Rationalism, Jacobi and Nietzsche), an agreement which is the essence of Political Liberalism, and having already decided to prefer something over nothing, whence the imperative — for me — to prefer things that prefer to things I prefer? Moreover, our preferences are really a part of us — or at least as much of a part of us as we are; Neurologically, the preferring neurons in the ape’s head, the one’s that prefer the apes body, are little different from the preferring neurons in the mother’s head that prefer the child’s body. In all these cases, mine likes mine, the ape’s (intentional neuronal circuits) likes its, and so on (1). So this rationality reduces down to me/mine first, you/yours second — where we understand that I always take preference over you, ceteris paribus, and you don’t always take preference over mine, since mine is me, extended.

One way or another, any preferring — or not — is rationally justifiable (in absence of a Transcendent). And being genetically preferential is just as rationally justifiable as being preferential about anything.

As for morality, as the above case suggests, there is nothing particularly “destructive or irrational” about being openly preferential in a non-leftist way– except to Liberal-leftist ideology –and likewise there is nothing particularly “destructive or irrational” about preferring genetic similarity as compared to some other quality. The moral issue is not an issue of which-preference, but an issue of how, when, and in what way. For example, while I preference Europeans, ceteris paribus, that preference would not tell me to, say, kick a non-European guy off of a life raft just because a European guy needed a spot — I deal with sentient/non-sentient and humans/non-humans as a moral category in some circumstances, race/non-race and ethnos/non-ethnos in others, family/non-family still in others, and finally self/non-self in others. If at least in some non-trivial circumstances it’s morally justifiable to preference myself over yourself or my family over your family then the same follows for my group, however defined. One might have reasons to consider some preferencings immoral or inappropriate, but that’s quite different from considering all non-trivial preferences for X, Y, or Z to be immoral or inappropriate. (See: The Consensus Against Racialism: Practical Sense or Social Narrative?)

That said, there is nothing meta-rational, strictly speaking, about preferring those genetically similar or even being evolutionarily rational. There is even nothing meta-rational about being a preferer (i.e. Hater!)

While there is nothing irrational about it — there is nothing that entails that this logic or rationality, this or any preferring, is inherently rational. You can make a case for doing otherwise, and if you do otherwise — and many do — your head won’t explode. Try it — it’s Nirvana!. Try not preferring yourself for a bit. Do it too much and you won’t be around very long; if your family did it, you wouldn’t be around; if your ethnoculture did it, both your family and yourself wouldn’t be around. But that surely doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. In a parallel manner, it’s evolutionarily rational to procreate, but it could be quite rational to be celibate.

There is no rational basis to preferring anything more than anything other. Rationality means you are just following the logic of your preference and avoiding contradictions. If you want to kill yourself, using a shotgun is rational; Using a butter knife to making small cuts on your arm is not rational. Is killing yourself irrational? — It could be, but it need not be. It depends on the purpose. If you love your family, does it rationally follow that you should love your extended family? — It could, but it need not. If you love your family on the basis of evolutionary rationality, it does. But it simply does not follow that because you love your family, it’s rational to love your extended family — and it doesn’t matter if the disposition to love your family evolved out of genetic interest. Evolutionary logic is not Evolutionary rationality — the latter says what one should do assuming a first order preference for genetic similarity and the former has says how second order dispositions came about. And between the two, there is a large gap.

This leaves us with the real issue: does it make sense to be evolutionarily rational? It’s hard to see how it could not make sense to prefer this to that or these to those, in general — except when you are punished for doing so, which may or may not make societal sense. But what about preferring these people on the basis of bio-cultural coherence and genetic similarity? It’s not irrational or immoral to, per se — but does it make sense? Well, what does that mean? It means something like: 1) is doing so coherent and functional? and 2) does doing so fit with how you feel?

As for the first part, it’s clearly coherent and functional in societies that don’t punish it — at least understood in a plural rational way. With regards to that, it’s not hard to show examples of systems where proracial and proethnic behavior are harmonized with other impulses. Moreover, we could make an infinite number of rational idiosyncratic systems and social ideologies, but the system that are going to work and are going to be healthy, in the long run, are the system which are built off of and which works around our evolved dispositions — and not in opposition to them. So coherence and functionality really tie into the question of how fitting is it?

The question is whether it goes with the grain of one’s dispositions, our second order preferences — whether it’s fitting for you, depends on your particular appreciation for your bioculture and your instinctive dispositions (3). If you have no inclination for your bioculture(2) and no instinctive predispositions to genetic similarity , then it’s not. If you do, then it is:

Regardless, being evolutionarily rational is at least as rational as embracing the rationale of indistinct universalism.

1. We all know, of course, that ‘self’ is a mental construct, perpetuated by some so they can unjustly claim biological and “boundary” privileges.

2. For that mauvaise foi about population and culture, refer here:
Laland, Odling-Smee, and Myles, 2010. How culture shaped the human genome: bringing genetics and the human sciences together

Gintis, 2010. Gene-Culture Coevolution and the Nature of Human Sociality.

Chiao, 2009. Cultural neuroscience: Visualizing culture-gene influences on brain function;

Chiao and Ambady, 2007. Cultural neuroscience: Parsing universality and diversity across levels of analysis.

3. Dispositions for ethnic and racial preferences are partially heritable, see: Bates and Lewis, 2010. Genetic Evidence for Multiple Biological Mechanisms Underlying In-Group Favoritism.

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