Reviewing a philosophy book about whether nations have a right to exclude others...
If I were to attempt my own analysis of what Profs. Wellman and Cole are pleased to call “racism,” I would begin by pointing out that Homo sapiens evolved for many thousands of years in small kinship-based hunter-gatherer bands. Survival under such circumstances depended on cooperation within the group, even extending to a willingness of individuals to sacrifice themselves for the group.
On the other hand, survival also depended on success in competition with other hunter-gatherer bands. Relations between such bands, therefore, fluctuated between deep suspicion and murderous hatred. Any mistake in one’s perception of group boundaries was likely to be punished with death.
Over the ages, humans became adapted to this state of affairs through natural selection. They developed a deep sense of the distinction between “our people” and “outsiders.” A dual pattern of behavior developed, involving cooperation and altruism within the group and suspicion or hostility toward those outside. This evolutionary adaptation is still visible in its rawest form among man’s nearest evolutionary relatives, African chimpanzees, which unhesitatingly kill intruders found within the territory of their troop.
We have inherited all of this. But because of our higher cognitive development, the raw tribal instinct is flexible and educable to some extent: men genetically programmed for loyalty to a band of not more than a hundred kinsmen can be taught loyalty to a larger nation. Such education, however, is an entirely different matter from the eradication of all sense of group distinctions recommended by “antiracists” such as Prof. Cole. Group loyalties of some sort are as natural to man as economic self-interest, and attempting to abolish them through exhortation and punishment is about as likely to succeed as the Soviet attempt to make people selfless through enforced collectivization.
A vast scientific literature exists to back up the extremely brief sketch I have just given. It has been produced by students of genetics, animal behavior, childhood development, evolutionary psychology, and even sociology. None of it was produced by philosophy departments. A quick look at our authors’ references makes clear that most of their reading is devoted to the work of other contemporary academic philosophers. Most of this seems to consist of armchair speculation as to what a perfectly fair world of universal love would look like. The work under review is, therefore, likely to reinforce the very worst prejudices against the authors’ own discipline. Political and moral philosophy would find a firmer basis in the careful study of human nature.