Wednesday, August 25, 2021

From Eyes to Isopoints (2021)

Book Review from the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

How to Argue With a Racist: History, Science, Race and Reality. By Adam Rutherford. Weidenfeld & Nicholson £8.99.

Rutherford defines racism as ‘a prejudice concerning ancestral descent that can result in discriminatory action’, and his book is an extended argument against racist ideas. Race exists, he says, because it is a social construct, but its lack of scientific validity is illustrated by the fact that racists cannot even agree on how many races there are. The concept of race was invented during the era of European exploration and exploitation, as a way of justifying the mistreatment of subject people.

The first chapter deals with the complex interactions between genes and inheritance. Even standard schoolbook examples such as red hair and eye colour are far more complex than they appear, and a child can in fact have any colour eyes, whatever the combination of their parents’ eyes. Over the millennia humans have moved around a great deal, and, as one example of the consequences, a small number of white Yorkshiremen have Y chromosomes most commonly found in countries such as Guinea-Bissau, a gene flow that may date back to Roman Britain. Homo sapiens originated in Africa, and pale skin is an adaptation via natural selection to exposure to a weaker sun in northern regions. But even then there is no simple correlation between skin colour and latitude, and there were diverse skin colours well before the human dispersal from Africa.

Going backwards in time, family trees frequently intersect, and the genetic ‘isopoint’ is the time when the whole population is the ancestor of the entire population today. For Europe the isopoint is the tenth century CE, so all Europeans are related in this way. As Rutherford says, ‘every Nazi has Jewish ancestors’. True ‘indigenous Brits’ lived here a million years ago, and were not sapiens. There is ‘no such thing as racial purity’.

A discussion of links between ancestry and athletic and other kinds of ability is interesting. Long-distance running was once dominated by Finns, but now the medal-winners are largely from specific areas of Ethiopia and Kenya. This seems to be explicable by a combination of lean body shape and a culture of running, not some supposed racial advantage. Most classical musicians are white, while most jazz musicians are black, and this is clearly due to cultural traditions. Intelligence is not a single thing, so measuring it by a single IQ score is not sensible, and IQ tests are culturally biased.

Rutherford’s book gives a clear and well-argued account of the fallacies of racist ideas. However, it is unfortunate that some of the works mentioned in the text are not included in the list of references. Also that it is necessary to deduct 26 or so from the page numbers stated in the index in order to find the actual discussion of the terms in question.
Paul Bennett

Obituary: Robert Vallar (2021)

Obituary from the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

ROBERT VALLAR (20 July 1920 – 9 June 2021)

Born over 100 years ago, Robert Vallar was a remarkable man. To his family he was dad or grandpa, to a selected group of others he was Comrade Vallar, but to everyone else who knew him – friends, customers and acquaintances – he was simply Bert.

The son of Prince Vallar and Margaret Collis, Bert had a younger brother, Stephen and a younger sister Hetty. Growing up in a loving family in the 1920s and thirties Bert saw at first hand the massive inequality, economic hardship, political turmoil and social deprivation capitalism created.

Influenced by his family and what he saw around him, in his youth Bert began to look to socialism as a way of creating a better society and way of life for everyone.

A highly intelligent person and a gifted artist Bert entered Glasgow School of Art in 1938. However, the start of the Second World War the following year saw him moving to Ireland to live with relatives. As someone with strong socialist beliefs and pacifist principles Bert fully recognised the futility of becoming cannon fodder in what was essentially a war between opposing capitalist systems.

While living in Ireland Bert gained citizenship and an Irish passport through his Irish connection. While he was in Ireland he met Teresa O’Neill. They married in 1944 and had three children: Joyce, Lorraine and Brendan; five grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren.

After the war Bert joined his father Prince, then Scotland’s preeminent tattoo artist, in his studio at 404 Argyle Street, taking over when his father died in 1947. Over the years he developed an increasingly useful side-line in supplying professional photographers with mounts, albums and photo frames.

In 1965 Bert closed the studio and moved to new premises in York Street to concentrate on developing and expanding his new business – supplying professional photographers and manufacturing and selling picture frames. Bert continued to work full time well into his eighties.

These core values and the economic and social deprivation that he saw growing up led Bert to want to change the world he and others were forced to live in under the yoke of capitalism. In 1943 he joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain. He remained a member for the rest of his life, constantly developing and enhancing his understanding and knowledge of how our economy and society really works. For many years he was one of the key members of the party’s Glasgow Branch. An accomplished public speaker Bert conducted public meetings and membership drives across the city right up until the 1970s. Bert stood as the party’s Parliamentary candidate for the Glasgow Woodside constituency on three occasions in the 1960s. For Bert and his family the annual Mayday meetings in Glasgow, to which he usually invited comrades from the Party’s London Branch, were one of the highlights of the year.

His wife, Teresa died in 1994 and he is survived by his two daughters and son, his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

(From the eulogy delivered at his funeral).