Recently a massive debate has emerged in the HBD blogosphere about the existence of ethnic genetic interests, and scientist Greg Cochran seems to be arguing against their existence. He asks the following excellent question:

All mammals are more closely related to each other than they are to any bird. That’s why an otter or a porcupine will instinctively help a rabbit that’s being chased by a hawk.

Except that they don’t. Why not?

In my humble opinion, there are two answers to this question:

1) A porcupine that helps rabbits escape hawks will increase its inclusive genetic fitness relative to non-mammals, but it will not increase its genetic fitness relative to other porcupines (who are focused on their own safety), thus such inter-species altruism genes would become an increasingly small percentage of the porcupine gene pool.

2) Porcupines lack the intelligence to recognize the physical similarity between themselves and rabbits relative to hawks.

Then Cochran elaborates in the comment section of his blog:

An altruistic gene focused on near kin has a chance of getting started, because your near kin will have a fair chance of carrying it if it’s managed to hang on for even two or three generations.

As for ethnic genetic interests, what this says is that there’s no way for that kind of altruism to evolve. Nor does the world look as if it has: consider Malinche, or Ephialtes, or everything else that has ever happened in history.

Now it is possible to have a rational motive for favoring or disfavoring some population, maybe even the one you’re from: but there’s no natural, innate tendency to do so. Nothing like mother love.

But ethnic groups, races, and species for that matter, start out as near kin. For example, all modern humans are said to be descended from a single black woman who lived in Africa 200,000 years ago (the mitochondrial Eve). Now what if she had a gene that caused her to favor anyone that looked like her kids. Her kids would also have the gene that caused them to favor anyone who looked like her kids. Within a few thousand generations, you could have an entire race of people who favor anyone who looks like Eve`s kids.

Elsewhere in the comments Cochran says to one of the proponents of ethnic genetic interests:

You’re wrong. As I said, it’s impossible for this sort of thing to evolve.

A gene that caused this sort of behavior would not increase its own frequency. If someone in China had such a gene, and sacrificed himself in a way that saved half of the population of China, the gene frequency would go DOWN, not up. It only works if the group the gene targets has a significantly higher-than-average frequency of that same altruistic gene – true of close kin, but essentially nothing else.

But Cochran seems to be assuming the person who sacrifices his life to save half of China is the first Chinese person with the pro-Chinese gene. Then I agree the gene would end with him because he sacrificed his life. But what if the gene had already spread through much of China for some random reason, unrelated to selection. Then the person who saves half of China has indeed caused the pro-Chinese gene frequency to go up because a certain percentage of Chinese people have the gene so by saving half the population of China, he has saved half the people that carry that gene.