On Welsh Indians and White Genes
Today I have two short topics to discuss: first, a Welsh art project on the search for Welsh Indians in American, and second, a new book that argues that white people are genetically adapted for wealth, dominance, and success because of prehistoric events.
The Quest for Welsh Indians
Blog reader Nicholas Waller directed me to an interesting article in today’s Times of London (behind a pay wall) by the Welsh musician Gruff Rhys, who discussed how the hunt for a lost tribe of “Welsh” Indians in the United States inspired Rhys’s new project, American Interior, which is a combination of album, film, book, and app. The project traces the life of John Evans, a Welshman who fell victim to the hoaxes of Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg), who fabricated a great deal of “evidence” for Welsh history. Evans believed that the medieval Welsh prince Madoc (Madog) colonized America, and he devoted his young life to exploring Spanish Louisiana in hopes of finding a lost tribe of Welsh descendants. He became bitterly disappointed when the Mandan tribe turned out to be neither as white nor as Welsh as he had hoped. At the age of 29, Evans, broken in spirit, vanished into the Louisiana swamps and became lost to history.
His quixotic quest might have been forgotten except for the fact the Thomas Jefferson sent the results of Evans’s work during a Spanish expedition to find the Northwest Passage to Lewis and Clark to help them cross America. In a letter of January 22, 1804, Jefferson wrote to Lewis: “In that of the 13th inst. I inclosed you the map of a Mr. Evans, a Welshman, employed by the Spanish government for that purpose, but whose original object I believe had been to go in search of the Welsh Indians, said to be up the Missouri.” From this there arose a modern myth that Jefferson intended to find the Welsh Indians.
Rhys is no believer in lost Welsh tribes, and he has interesting things to say about the way Welsh history and culture contributed to the myth of Welshmen in ancient America:
Gwyn “Alf” Williams, the late professor of Welsh history, remarked once that myths themselves can become an operative historical reality: you could argue that Madog was used as a kind of warrant for the British crown to colonise lands occupied by the Spanish in the name of a Welsh prince. So Evans was escaping colonisation in Wales by possibly aiding the colonisation of someone else’s land. I’m not looking to canonise him: there are contradictions in his life, which only makes it more interesting and poignant.
The Tudors, particularly, made use of the myth to justify colonization; John Dee told Elizabeth I that English colonies in North America were justified because Madoc had reached America before Columbus, therefore giving Wales—and its English masters—legal title to the land. Native Americans, of course, did not count; and even if they did, they were really Welsh anyway.
Book Claims White People Genetically Adapted for Modern Life
I’ve talked often enough about the racist undercurrent of efforts to justify colonization, particularly in terms of how searches for “white” inhabitants of the pre-Columbian Americas have historically been used to deny Native American title to American lands. It is therefore troubling to read about the new book from former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade called A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History (Penguin, 2014). The book argues that the “three principles races” of humankind—white, black, and Asian—evolved differently to adapt themselves to particular cultural, political, and economic conditions. (He also counts Native Americans and Pacific Islanders as races, but less interesting ones.) Therefore, white people are genetically adapted to neo-liberal capitalism, while Asians are genetically adapted to authoritarian dictatorship and blacks to “tribalism.” (Apparently the wars of European nationalism are somehow more sophisticated than mere tribalism.)
This, Wade says, goes back to the Paleolithic, when light skinned peoples rose to dominance through campaigns of genocide against dark-skinned peoples in Europe and Asia. He argues that Paleolithic people lived in small tribes with extremely limited intergroup genetic contact, something that modern genetics simply does not support. Early humans were so frisky they even got it on with Neanderthals for crying out loud! Worse, he claims that the Neolithic Revolution inspired a genetic shift among (future) white people that made them less aggressive, taming the constant and hostile warfare of hunter-gather society. Here he seems wilfully blind to the fact that the first evidence for warfare emerges everywhere right around the time when groups began settling down and were therefore unable to resolve conflicts by walking away to a new land.
For Wade, evolution works on different timetables for different races—blacks and Asians maintain their primitive associations from early prehistory to today, even when living in different cultures; however, white people evolved into a new breed of better-adapted masters of industry, thrift, and democracy within a few generations. This occurred, he says against evidence, because rich people (he cites medieval Britain here) had more and superior children than the poor, so many in fact that some of these children became the new poor, raising the overall genetic fitness of Britain through superior genes.
The rise of the West was not some cultural accident. It was the direct result of the evolution of European populations as they adapted to the geographic and military conditions of their particular ecological habitat…From an evolutionary perspective, an imminent decline of the West seems unlikely. Western social behavior, the source of the open society and open economy with their rewards to innovation, has been shaped by evolution as well as by culture and history and is unlikely to change anytime soon.
The trouble is that these “adaptations” are not timeless or eternal; Europe was a cultural backwater as recently as the 1400s, and modern neo-liberal social democracy as we know it isn’t even a century old. The European economy was a protectionist racket as recently as Napoleon’s Continental System, and the Soviet experience belies the supposed “natural” rewards for innovation. Was society really “open” under Louis XIV, Wilhelm II, Mussolini, or Tito?
For wade, evolution has also granted Europeans more “delicate manners” and sensitivity to others. But those manners were not biological, any more so than Japanese bowing or Chinese kowtowing. Every culture has rituals; to claim one more sophisticated than another is to impose an ethnocentric view. Louis XIV imposed what we call “manners” on his court to keep his sniping aristocrats from doing violence to one another at table and to distract them from plotting against him; it’s why he had all of the butter knives rounded, which they remain to this day. Europeans used to enjoy watching unspeakable acts of animal cruelty. This changed in the Austrian crown lands not because genes made them kinder but because Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II had a visceral reaction to seeing such “sport,” banned it, and tried to encourage better behavior. Perhaps Joseph was genetically predisposed, but certainly all of the Habsburg Empire didn’t change their DNA just because he changed his mind, and it was recently enough—less than 300 years ago—that it would be a rather dramatic change to affect all of Europe so quickly. We’re still breaking up cockfighting and dogfighting rings here in the U.S.
Wade also says that evolution explains black African violence and “the adaptation of the Jews to capitalism.” Yes, the Jews are genetically programmed to covet money! In fact, any and every stereotype turns out to be the result of a genetic predisposition. In his earlier 2007 book Before the Dawn Wade even wondered if the Chinese carried a gene for superior ping pong skills. Populations move all the time; when the Huns came out of Asia and fathered children with Europeans, did that somehow turn Europe authoritarian? Did the influx of Spanish genes somehow give Native Americans gentleness and thrift?
The trouble with Wade’s thesis, as anthropologist Jonathan Marks wrote in a review in In These Times, is that it risks arguing that the perceived “winners” in society are determined by unbreakable natural law and their social positions are therefore inherent and unchangeable. The rich are rich because they’re just better; the West is dominant because their genes are stronger; etc.
Scientific American has a review that explains Wade’s scientific fallacies in great detail, and it also links to many other negative reviews of the book. For my purpose, however, it’s important to see that the overarching theme of a racial component to human history—and the role of race in determining history’s winners and losers—remains as potent today as it was a century ago. Fringe historians aren’t alone in looking for ways to justify and defend the current social order through appeal to a largely fictional past.
An Over-Educated Grunt
5/27/2014 04:11:33 am
Reminds me of discussions of why slavery survived so long in the southern US. Generations on generations of the thinking classes of the south - lawyers and clergymen, in this case - either thought that slavery would wither away "eventually," in the best-case scenario, or that it was divinely ordained and supported by the example of history. The worst case scenario was probably that offered by Roger Taney in Dred Scott, where, boiled down, "black people are inferior because I said so."
5/27/2014 11:09:46 am
Jason wrote, "Fringe historians aren’t alone in looking for ways to justify and defend the current social order through appeal to a largely fictional past."
An Over-Educated Grunt
5/27/2014 01:03:47 pm
Steve, you're a chowder-headed numbskull.
5/27/2014 01:05:20 pm
Steve, you again misunderstand the difference between text and subtext by assuming that what is not in the text cannot therefore be in the subtext.
5/27/2014 02:20:57 pm
Over Educated Grunt, Steve isn't the only one to make that mistake. The site is laid out poorly. The comment form for the main article appears after all of the reply buttons for all the other comments. Clicking the first "Reply" button normally works, but not here.
5/27/2014 04:09:30 pm
Steve St Clair strikes out again!
5/27/2014 05:36:42 pm
One thought and one input, Walt.
5/27/2014 05:58:26 pm
Understood, but I don't think it's just Steve. My first comment here was the same way, although I only did it one time since I saw where it showed up.
5/27/2014 06:25:05 pm
I make no excuses or apologies for Grunt. All I can say is, sometimes the silliest things can be a burr under the saddle. It happens to the best of us.
5/27/2014 08:06:51 pm
Fair enough, but I think that's Steve's goal. Everytime someone other than Jason responds, they're being outwitted by someone they consider a dimwit.
An Over-Educated Grunt
5/28/2014 01:31:30 am
Oh, I think this all the time. He opens his figurative mouth and I instantly dismiss him. I just normally ignore it. Frankly, even the things Steve St. Clair claims to be good at are stupid and pointless to me; obsessing over whether one is related to a family that was mildly important in a corner of the North Sea six hundred years ago is genetic onanism. As I said, though, I look at a reply to me as a reply to me - which means it's an invitation for reply in kind.
5/28/2014 02:35:06 pm
"Only Me" (or whomever he is) typed this wonderful observation regarding myself and our DNA / Genealogy study, "obsessing over whether one is related to a family that was mildly important in a corner of the North Sea six hundred years ago is genetic onanism"
5/28/2014 03:55:12 pm
Hey, Steve, you might want to check again. The observation you're addressing came from An Over-Educated Grunt, not me.
5/28/2014 04:53:33 pm
Of course you realize Steve that genealogical study is so popular due to promotion by the Mormon church (which runs ancestory.com and other resources) for their own religious purposes?
5/29/2014 12:47:18 am
That would imply that Steve has reading comprehension, lets not raise our expectations to high. We are talking about someone who thought his family's templar treasure was at the bottom of a well in New England.
An Over-Educated Grunt
5/29/2014 01:15:08 am
So let me get this straight, Steve. Your defense of trying to prove the unprovable - that you're descended from a guy who lived six hundred years ago - is that lots of people do it, so it must be good? Let's go back to the defense of slavery to see whether that particular rhetorical device is valid.
5/28/2014 02:25:57 am
The invention of the cotton gin was a contributing factor.
5/28/2014 07:10:40 pm
in the 1800s, yes...
An Over-Educated Grunt
5/29/2014 01:22:19 am
The cotton gin, like any other technical achievement, will enable society, for good or ill, but by itself it won't dictate behavior. Case in point, pesticides and chemical weapons made mass murder easier for the Nazis, but they didn't make mass murder possible. Precision manufacturing made the American Civil War and World War I bloodier, but they weren't the first wars ever. Cheap, reliable steam power made transatlantic migration easier, but didn't by itself open continents.
5/27/2014 04:42:48 am
So reading this I guess Wade does not seem to acknowledge at all the fact that the Chinese have a long history and a very successful record at establishing a civilization. I find if hard to shallow that one could easily ignore the cultural advancements of the Chinese that long predated Western Culture. I guess it is all in the eye of the beholder but it seems more-so that Wade let his own ignorance guide his theories than anything else.
5/27/2014 06:40:45 am
And it's not just China, either; Europe's civilizations are thousands of years younger than those of Sumer, Indus Valley, and Egypt--heck, Mycenaean Greece is even younger than Peru's Norte Chico civilization, and not much older than the Olmec, which is puzzling if white Europeans are genetically programmed for advanced high culture.
5/27/2014 08:38:37 am
Ah but don't you know white aryans built every civilization on earth?So all those cultures you mentioned were really built by white atlantians.
5/27/2014 06:44:44 am
My apologies, I didn't notice Mandalore's post about Egypt and the Near East. I hadn't refreshed the page in a while.
5/27/2014 09:20:50 am
These are lies.
5/27/2014 05:37:04 am
People can cherry-pick history to prove any point they want. Clearly Mr. Wade already had his conclusions before beginning his 'research'. I find the evident abuse of history most aggravating. There are so many reasons that different peoples exist as they do today that don't require any fallback on genetic determinism.
5/27/2014 07:04:54 am
My understanding is that he sees older civilizations as having been adapted to earlier conditions, while Europeans best match modern values and systems (which they, of course, invented and imposed).
Jason says: "...searches for “white” inhabitants of the pre-Columbian Americas have historically been used to deny Native American title to American lands...."
And then there's the realistic account of a probable runestone being found in one of the Dakotas, by an early French explorer. So we see a collection of stoneholes indicating land-uptaking in extreme southeast SD, and we have Mandan accounts and a probable runestone coming from the same general area, all not far west from Kensington, MN.
8/25/2020 05:19:08 pm
Native Americans Did own their lands! GTFO!! You are applying practices of a few nomadic tribes to the whole two continents of the Americas! How convenient for your mythological Vikings. Most Native Nations were sedentary and owned the lands of their ancestors in common. Some even owned their lands individually. You are are painting with a broad brush and making the convenient mistakes that the first Europeans invading hordes did to make them feel better about the massive land theft that took place once the invaders stepped foot on Native land.
5/27/2014 08:05:30 am
I like the way the Welsh discovered America before the Scots (Welsh Welsh Prince Madoc). This explains the Red Indians fondness for welshcakes, bara brith, and especially cawl
5/27/2014 08:19:47 am
Madoc discovered America in 1170, over 300 years before Columbus (Richard Deacon " Madoc and the discovery of America: some new light on an old controversy", 1967)
5/27/2014 08:33:27 am
Molecular biologist Jennifer Raff has blogged about this.You can also read her other blog post concerning Native Americans.
5/27/2014 09:24:23 am
My view is that Fredrick Hayek kind of explained all of this a few decades ago. People have a natural interest to better themselves. Often through trial and error both in terms of science, engineering, and cultural society. cultures that allow more freedom in the individual in trying new methods and then allowing the exploitation of say a new metal working or even institution like marriage which leads to higher living standards and so on will be superior to others if and when they met or go into conflict. As for Europe being superior...it was pretty much a depressed area compared to the Arab lands during the middle ages...the modern western victories are all from the movement to freedom and economic liberty. All that said, some cultures are clearly superior to others given their higher living standards..instead of blaming them, researchers should ask why for example did the US have such a higher standard of living than Mexico? Or why did Asia after throwing off European colonial masters have such high growth rates compared to Africa? If a society or culture promotes certain behavoirs, after a while the population represents both in skills and beliefs these norms...say sound money, rule of law, limited govt/regulations and so on versus feudalism or tribalism..no wonder why Europe or "white" humans won the conflicts..
5/27/2014 11:04:23 am
I have to disagree about European success being due to freedom and economic liberty. Those things are only products of the last 100 to 150 years. In terms of freedom newspapers could and were censored, the political system was almost universally closed to any but the aristocracy, and very few European poor had any actual rights. There was little economic freedom, guilds controlled monopolies and the mercantile system was very much controlled by developing nation-state governments from the top down.
5/27/2014 03:13:29 pm
Well, some modern Western concepts seem to be superior, but not all. Maybe the best of these modern concepts can be attributed to the spread of Christianity? Folks here will love to entertain this likelihood.
5/28/2014 09:58:57 am
Interesting points you raise. I do think we tend to view history as a series of linear events dominated by individuals. For. Example we glorify Alexander the Great yet he was a butcher by even standards of the day. Whose to say Persia was better off under Greek control? For that matter were romans better off under the republic or empire? Our founding fathers thought about history and the individual. Their system they created in hindsight was very pro liberty and pro individual. There was a reason senators were not directly elected and money had to be backed by gold or silver. Read the fatal conceit by Hayek, best book on social science ever written.
8/25/2020 05:32:08 pm
Gunn@ Europeans and African invaders, their Diseases, Christianity, Industrialization, Pollution, Globalism, Multiculturalism were the worst things things ever brought to the Americas! And no, the Native Americans aren’t better off for any of these things.
5/28/2014 07:18:50 pm
j.m keynes + f. hayek could be correct at the same time.
6/1/2014 02:13:16 pm
It doesn't hand a moral position of authority to colonialism at all, unless the population is generally treated better as the result of said colonialism. The natives usually didn't fare well, though.
3/7/2020 10:31:04 am
On justifying the current social order:
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