Twenty-five years ago I met a professor from the medical faculty who had decided to go into anthropology. He was excited by the concept of gene-culture co-evolution and wanted to get in on the action. But he stressed the need for "prudence." He would first earn his credentials as an anthropologist before tackling this sensitive subject, and he would do so gradually and prudently.
He was already a man of a certain age, and I wondered whether he would have time for all of this, but I said nothing. He knew better than me how to plan his life. And his proposal for research on gene-culture co-evolution had been thoroughly worked out. This was no back-of-the-envelope thing.
Over the next quarter-century he carried out fieldwork and published journal articles, but he never touched the subject that had inspired his move to anthropology. Did he change his mind? I suspect the reason was less thought out. Once you begin your research from a certain angle, it is hard to break away and approach it from a totally different angle—you would have to find new sources of funding and make friends with new people. You would also lose friends. So you take the easy way out, for the time being. And you wait for the right moment, which never comes.
Charles Darwin himself had fallen into that trap. When a non-biologist anonymously wrote and marketed a book about evolution, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, the resulting controversy impressed on Darwin the need to become a reputable biologist before writing on the topic. So he bided his time and published, published, published … on other topics in biology. One day, however, fate forced his hand. Another biologist sent him a manuscript that set out the very theory that Darwin had kept under wraps for so long. The rest is history.
You may be thinking: "That was Darwin, and this is me. And my situation is different, very different. And this is a completely different issue. It's really important for me to wait until the time is right!"
I hear you. Maybe your situation is different. And who am I to judge?
This essay presents four academics—Richard Dawkins, Claude Lévi-Strauss, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides—and how they negotiated the gap between personal conviction and mainstream discourse. All four came to the conclusion that human populations differ not only anatomically but also in various mental and behavioral predispositions. These differences are statistical and often apparent only between large groups of people. But even a weak statistical difference can affect how a society will develop and organize itself. Human biodiversity is therefore a reality, and one we ignore at our peril.
Yet most academics do ignore it, their ignorance being either real or feigned. It is easy to forgive the truly ignorant. But what about the ones who know better? What's their excuse? "I don't have tenure yet." "I'm not well enough known yet." "I don't have enough clout yet." Some will just say: "Please come into my office. Others may hear us talking in the corridor."
And so, among those who do know better, the common response is ... no response. But what else is there to do? How does one go about saying something that is offensive to most people? Is it better to do it gradually? Or all at once? Or is it better to say nothing at all and wait for someone else to speak out?
There are no easy answers, and that may be part of the problem. Too many people are looking for answers that are easy—that cost little in terms of reputation, career prospects, or acceptance at the next cocktail party. Why not instead assume that everything worthwhile has a cost and then look for ways to minimize the cost?
Once you accept that rule of life, everything will fall into place. This intellectual maturity became a source of strength for one of the above academics, Claude Lévi-Strauss, who had to face bitter criticism for what he said. There was an énorme scandale. People were upset and shocked. Yet he carried on as if nothing terrible had happened. Was he so fascinated by his ideas that he simply ignored what others might think? Perhaps. More likely than not, he pondered his dilemma, weighed the pros and cons, and decided that the only sensible thing was to speak out.
How will you decide? Will you speak out or remain silent?
Frost, P. (2014). Negotiating the gap. Four academics and the dilemma of human biodiversity, Open Behavioral Genetics, June 20http://openpsych.net/OBG/2014/06/negotiating-the-gap/