CHAPTER 21. ECOLOGICAL SOURCES OF HUMAN DIVISIONS

The ecological perspective is an antidote to culturalism. Culturalism is the international equivalent to national moralism of America. The American culture is not the superior culuture, but just one of many. And cultures are adaptation to political patterns that are in turn adapted to ecological settings.

This book has stressed that man is an animal by nature. As an animal, man shares the same basic insecurities and fears that plague other animals. And like the animals man fights over territory. However, man's "territories" have become much more complex that just fighting over geographical territory. Humans fight over such issues as race, religion, social values, different economies, and many other divisions.

This chapter explains how ecological variables are ultimately the sources of the main divisions between and among different peoples. These divisions are in turn a major factor in determining the nature of the socio-political systems existing in the world. It is important to emphasize ecology because of the American tendency towards culturalism. Americans believe their society has a superior culture to others. This is reinforced by the moralism of America and its tendency to justify their conflicts in terms of "good" and "evil." This tendency to moralize human conflicts blinds American social scientists to an objective understanding of political systems.

Peopling of the World

Around 50,000 to 40,000 years ago modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens) moved into Europe. About 40,000 years ago land bridges connected New Guinea to Australia and Borneo to Indochina, but did not join Australia/New Guinea to mainland Asia. The settlement of Australia and New Guinea probably began about this time with the help of simple boats. Some 35,000 to 25,000 years ago humans settled Siberia and reached Japan some 30,000 years ago (see Fagan 1990).

At various times a land-bridge stretched across the Bering Strait to join Alaska to Siberia. Around 11,500 to 11,000 years ago humans crossed this strait and arrived in North America. The last places reached by man were Hawaii (some 1,400 years ago) and New Zealand (just 1,000 years ago).

An Ecological Approach to Race

As modern humans moved throughout, the world the evolutionary forces of mutation and natural selection operated to adapt man to the new environments. The end result was the creation of different races.

The basic unit of classification in biology is the species, defined as a group that interbreeds successfully. Not only are the different races of man part of one species -- they are actually of the same subspecies. Indeed, modern races are really just different forms of the sub-species Homo sapiens sapiens. This means that the bodily differences between the forms of man are very superficial indeed.

The similarities between the races are actually more significant than the differences. New research in genetics shows that the genetic differences between races are small when compared with the genetic differences between two randomly chosen individuals from within one race (Fagan 1990). But it is not biology that insists that race is important. In fact, biology teaches us the opposite. Most stereotypes of racial differences are created by one racial group claiming superiority over another. In other words, race is more of a sociological than a biological concept. Indeed, writers have overstressed the importance of race with western natural and social scientists all too often placing non-white races in subhuman categories.

There are so many different race typologies available that the races are hard to delineate. The racial classification of C.S. Coon, S. Garn, and J. Birdsell (1950:140) delineates the following races: Murraylan, Ainu, Alpine, Northwest European, Northeast European, Lapp, Forest Negro, Melanesian, Negrito, Bushman, Bantu, Sundanese, Carpentarian, Dravidian, Hamite, Hindu, Mediterranean, Nordic, North American Colored, South African Colored, Classic Mongoloid, North Chinese, Southeast Asiatic, Tibeto-Indonesian Mongoloid, Turkic, American Indian Marginal, American Indian Central, Landino, Polynesian, and Neo-Hawaiian. However, it must be reiterated that this is only one of many racial classification systems. Differences between races include, among other things, skin color, body size and shape, and facial form. All these features were important for adaptation to different ecological environments. Natural forces favored certain features because these helped adapt humans for survival in different biomes.

Starting with skin color, the evidence indicates that Homo sapiens sapiens originated in Africa and had black skin (Fagan, 1991). It is believed that light skin evolved in order to maintain an ideal level of Vitamin D in the body. This vitamin is necessary for proper bone growth. It is produced in the deep layers of the skin through the action of ultraviolet rays. The further one gets away from the tropics, the more the sun's ultraviolet rays are filtered out by the earth's atmosphere. This lowered ultraviolet level creates deficiencies of Vitamin D. The Caucasian race originated because light colored skin is more sensitive to the sun's rays, thereby compensating for the lower amount of ultraviolet light. This simple ecological fact is the reason for the white skin of Europeans. The skin of Mongoloid peoples is less sensitive to ultraviolet rays than the white skin of Europeans. This is the result of a thickened corneum that is packed with keratin (which acts as an ultraviolet filter and gives the skin a yellowish color).

Besides skin differences, there are differences in body size and shape. The human body loses heat via radiation and sweat evaporation from the skin. Differences in the size and proportions of the human body are related to this natural system of temperature regulation. In hot climates people are often generally slender in shape and tall in size. This shape provides a large skin surface relative to body volume, thus ensuring maximum heat loss. For example, the Dinkas of Sudan live in a very hot climate and have tall, slender bodies. People in cold climates need to conserve body heat. In terms of shape they tend to have heavier, stockier bodies and are smaller in size. This minimizes heat loss because of the relatively smaller area of exposed skin. For example, the Lapps of Scandinavia have short, stocky bodies to minimize the surface through which heat is lost.

Still another body difference is found in facial forms, which vary a great deal. The oriental face is generally thought to have developed in the cold conditions of the last glacial period. In cold climates round faces, like round bodies, conserve heat. In addition, small noses and ears minimize heat loss and prevent frostbite. Fat pads around the eyes also provide protection from cold damage.

Nose forms also vary with the climatic factors of temperature and moisture content of the air. The nose serves to moisten inspired air, so in the drier regions of the world people have longer, more narrow noses which possess a greater surface area of mucous membrane. This helps account for the long Mediterranean nose of peoples from that area. Among the black peoples of Africa the occupiers of the drier highlands of East Africa have long narrow noses, while the tropical dwellers in the Congo Basin have wide noses.

Fictional Racial Differences

There is a tendency among peoples to exaggerate racial variation. This makes other races appear more fearsome, thereby justifying social abuse of one race by another. The most common exaggeration is to maintain that some races are inherently more intelligent than others. However, for most of man's history the conditions of living were largely the same. After all, the more productive period of agriculture is no more than 5,000 years old. Since the different races faced quite similar mental problems, there was no or little natural selection on the basis of intelligence. Given this fact, it is doubtful that innate mental differences exist among the races of modern man.

Real but Popularly Ignored Differences

More confirmation that race is primarily a sociological rather than a biological consideration for man is that many physical differences within races are overlooked. An example is the native American peoples where there is actually a wide, but largely ignored, diversity. The same can be said of African peoples.

Some racial differences are only detectable by chemical tests. These include the blood groups, several serum proteins, enzymes, hemoglobin, and the ability to taste or smell certain substances. But most people are not interested in these more substantial differences. This is understandable considering that, as regards race, sociology is more important than biology.

Language Differences

The peopling of the earth not only led to the development of different forms of human beings, but to different languages as well. As people filled up every nook and cranny of the earth's surface they became isolated by ecological factors such as mountains, rivers, different climates and vegetation, and many other factors. The end result was a multiplicity of languages and additional bases for human misunderstanding and abuse. As an example, take the Indo-Iranian languages. It is thought that the steppes of southern Russia is the ancestral home of this parent language from which most European tongues, as well as those of Iran and much of India, have descended. This includes the following languages: Dardic (which includes Sanskrit, Hindu and Farsi of the Persians); Greek; Albanian; Armenian; Celtic (which includes the Gaelic of the Irish and Welsh); Italic/Latin (which includes French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and Romanian); Germanic (including the Scandinavian languages, Dutch, English, and German); Slavonic (including Belorussian, Great Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Polish, and Czechoslovakian); and Baltic (including Lithuanian and Latvian).

And yet the Indo-Iranian language group is only one of many languages. Other languages include Caucasian (from the Caucasus area); Sino-Tibetan (including Chinese-Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, and Burmese); Semito-Hamitic (including Arabic and Hebrew); Dravidian (spoken in either Indian, Ceylon, or Pakistan); Japanese; Uralic-Altaic (including Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Turkish, Mongolian, and Manchurian); Southeast Asian (including Vietnamese); Korean; Burushaski (Pakistan); Paleo-Siberian; Ainu; Andamanese; African; Khoin (includes Hottentot and Bushman); Malayo-Polynesian; Papuan; Australian; and Amerindian. Needless to say, the above by no means covers all the individual languages. These are far too numerous to list here.

Once language difference arose, they became the basis for unfavorable differentiations between peoples. These language differences often reinforce racial differences making for even increased conflict.

Other Sources of Man's Diversity

There are many ways in which humans make invidious distinctions between groups of people. One source is found in different economic ways of life. A well known example of the damage that can be inflicted by differing economies was the division in the United States between the capitalist society of the North and the slave society of the South. In order to abolish slavery, over 600,000 men died in the American Civil War.

Sectional or regional differences often breed different religions among people. Religious distinctions then often form the basis for social divisions. As one religion breaks off from another the different groups often come into conflict with each other. In the west Christianity broke away from Judaism. The Jewish people in the Christian world then became a minority group often facing severe discrimination. When the Islamic faith arose, Christian Europe fought a number of crusades against the "infidels." Even today in the near east a three way conflict between Christians, Jews, and Moslems persists.

National or territorial origin can also become a source of division. For instance, immigrants to another country often become ethnic minorities facing prejudice and discrimination in the new host nation. The different sources of social cleavage can combine to produce multiple social divisions. For instance, in Canada differences in national origin and geographic concentration reinforced the language differences between the English speakers on the one hand and the French speakers in the province of Quebec on the other.

However one looks at the differences between and among peoples, they often become the sources of invidious comparison and hence, sources of conflict. It is sad to say, but the history of man has been one of constant strife and warfare. (It is interesting to note that today modern methods of communication via satellite and the increased speeds of transportation have worked to overcome some of the isolation created by natural ecological barriers.)

 

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