Ethnic nationalism, evolutionary psychology and Genetic Similarity Theory


(---) Nonetheless, in The Descent, Darwin (1871) intuited the solution when he wrote, ‘sympathy is directed solely towards members of the same community, and therefore towards known, and more or less loved members, but not all the individuals of the same species’.

(---) In 1971, Hamilton extended his formulation and hypothesised that altruism would result from any degree of genetic relatedness, not just that based on immediate kin.

(---) For humans, both spouses and best friends are most similar on socio-demographic variables such as age, ethnicity and educational level (r = 0.60), next most on opinions and attitudes (r = 0.50), then on cognitive ability (r = 0.40), and least, but still significantly, on personality (r = 0.20) and physical traits (r = 0.20).

Even marrying across ethnic lines ‘proves the rule’. In Hawaii, men and women who married cross-ethnically were more similar in personality than those marrying within their group, suggesting that couples ‘make up’ for ethnic dissimilarity by choosing spouses more similar to themselves in other respects. Evolution has also set an upper limit on ‘like marrying like’ – incest avoidance. Too close genetic similarity between mates increases the probability of ‘double doses’ of harmful recessive genes. The ideal mate is one who is genetically similar but not a close relative.

(---) The history of the Jewish people provides a well-documented example of how genetic similarity theory intersects with Anthony D. Smith’s ethno-symbolic approach. As shown by Batsheva Bonne-Tamir at Tel Aviv University, Jewish groups are genetically similar to each other even though they have been scattered around the world for two millennia. Jews from Iraq and Libya share more genes with Jews from Germany, Poland and Russia than either group shares with the non-Jewish populations among whom they have lived for centuries.

(---) The political pull of ethnic identity and genetic similarity also explains voting behaviour. The re-election victory of George W. Bush in the 2004 US presidential election was largely attributed to White votes and to the higher value placed by these voters on ‘values’ than on the economy. A closer look at the demographics reveals that ‘values’ may be, at least in part, a proxy for ethnic identity and genetic similarity. The majority of White Americans voted based on which candidate – and candidate’s family – they believed most appeared to look, speak and act like them.

(---) The hypothesis presented here is that because fellow ethnics carry copies of the same genes, ethnic consciousness is rooted in the biology of altruism and mutual reciprocity. (...) Moreover, shared genes can govern the degree to which an ideology is adopted. Some genes will replicate better in some cultures than in others. Religious, political and class conflicts become heated because they affect genetic fitness.

(---) It is because genetic interests are a powerful force in human affairs that ethnic insults so easily lead to violence. Although social scientists and historians have been quick to condemn the extent to which political leaders or would-be leaders have been able to manipulate ethnic identity, the questions they never ask, let alone attempt to answer are, ‘Why is it always so easy?’ and ‘Why can a relatively uneducated political outsider set off a riot simply by uttering a few well-delivered ethnic epithets?’

(---) Although the modern idea of citizenship has replaced the bond of ethnicity (‘people who look and talk like us’) with that of values (‘people who think and behave like us’), the politics of ethnic identity are increasingly replacing the politics of class as the major threat to the stability of nations. Patriotic feeling is much more than a delusion constructed by elites for their own purpose. The ethno-symbolic approach anchors the psychology of social identity in national identities and in previously existing ethnicities and their ‘sacred’ traditions and customs. Ethnic communities have been present in every period and have played an important role in all societies on every continent. The sense of common ethnicity remains a major focus of identification for individuals today. Genetic Similarity Theory helps to explain why.