By Troy Anderson
May 11, 2018

The Science of Ancient Racism

Yam & Troy the Science Boys

Here comes another possibly quite upsetting yarn, you have been warned. So, it turns out, that racism actually served a function in the early days of humanity. However, when I say racism, I don’t mean the kind exhibited in Nazi Germany or by those who love to throw around the odd slur. What I do mean, is more akin to the traditional definition of xenophobia, which is a deep-rooted fear (and in some cases, disgust) of people who are foreign to you, which believe it or not, actually served a useful biological function. When humanity was young, we had to figure out how to survive (i.e., not die) to learn and understand what things were fucking us up in the first place. Disease, famine, predators etc. were all reasonably high up the list of things that were prematurely cutting us down as a species. Disease is probably one of the more interesting killers, however—particularly where infectious disease is concerned. How does one protect against invisible killers without knowing they even exist? 

For the most part, the human immune system is pretty onto it. Our bodies quickly adapt and learn how to fight a great many illnesses which is why vaccines happen to serve a valuable purpose. But what about in the pre-medicine days? What about during the times when you lived in an ancient community of several hundred? A time where being in the right place at the wrong time could drastically ruin your group.

In the early days, our immune systems were far narrower in the range of things they could combat, simply because they had encountered such a small amount of what nature had to offer. If one day, your community encountered another out in the wilderness, there was a genuine chance of trading pathogens that your bodies simply weren’t ready for. This sort of encounter would be catastrophic as a great percentage of your population is wiped out for reasons unknown. However, a population that exhibited traits of xenophobia would not encounter this kind of devastation. They would be more inclined to either steer clear of other populations or engage in warfare.

Although the risk of death was very real, a highly valuable benefit is lost. Interacting with other populations in ancient times could be unbelievably beneficial. If each population could cope with any diseases or illnesses the other might carry, much could be gained. Great amounts of new insight and knowledge, as well as resources and trade, could come of such an interaction.

A remote tribe of Stone Age folks of the east coast of India known as the Sentinelese are an excellent real-world example of this. Almost all attempts to contact these folks have ended in aggression and violence. There’s a good chance that this group wouldn’t cope with the illnesses of the modern world, as the only two adults from the community to spend time with a British expedition promptly died from illness. 

With that said, you’ll note ‘ancient racism’ in the title. That means that modern racism serves no meaningful purpose anymore. It also means, don’t be a cunt.


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