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We are One Species

We are One Species

Homeless camp and salmon mural under Morrison Bridge, Portland, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The world is a mess, in both social and ecological terms, mired in unjust and unsustainable systems. Responsibility for this condition is not shared equally. Powerful nations define world politics that has produced dramatic wealth inequality, and rich nations contribute more to global warming and ecosystem collapse. But along with efforts to change those conditions and address the crises today, we should reflect on how we got here. How did one species end up so fractured?

First, it should be uncontroversial to assert the antiracist principle, anchored in basic biology, that we are one species. There are observable differences in such things as skin color and hair texture, as well as some patterns in predisposition to disease based on ancestors’ geographic origins, but the idea of separate races was created by humans and is not found in nature.

There are no known biologically based differences in intellectual, psychological, or moral attributes between human populations from different regions of the world. There is individual variation within any human population in a particular place (obviously, individuals in any society differ in a variety of traits). But there are no meaningful biologically based differences between populations in the way people are capable of thinking, feeling, or making decisions. We are one species. We are all basically the same animal.

Although we are one species, there are obvious cultural differences among human populations around the world. Those cultural differences aren’t a product of human biology; that is, they aren’t the product of any one group being significantly different genetically from another, especially in ways that could be labeled cognitively superior or inferior. So why have different cultures developed in different places?

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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