Putin’s Law of Inheritance

Some time ago, Vladimir Putin went through what he considers important characteristics of the Russian people. As a nation, Putin claims, Russians are characterized by self-sacrifice, generosity and knowledge of a higher moral virtue. The Russian people's moral qualities are explained not only by culture and history, but also by a "powerful genetic code".

We all might want to emphasize what we find rich and good in our own culture and society, some more than others. Not only prime ministers would be inclined to say that “being good is typically Norwegian”. But to say that a "people" have moral virtues superior to others, and that this can partly be explained by a "powerful genetic code", that is digging way beneath the surface of twentieth century racial theory.

Putin apparently tries to sweeten the race pill by relating the unique Russian gene code to the mixing and transfer of genes between different human populations. But this does not make sense. Transfer of genes between populations blurs differences and prevents local adaptations. This idea of a superior Russian people require that gene combinations are fixed through historical time, throughout the Russian Empire - a unique genetic composition resulting from strong natural selection, maintained despite gene exchange, chance and changing environmental conditions.

Putin's statement is not based on what is known about the maintenance of characters and traits in populations of living beings, humans included. Human virtues and honorable characteristics are not the result of genes being present or not in different geographical areas. Behavioral traits are determined by complex interactions between environment, culture and a large number of genes.

There are small genetic differences between different ethnic groups in the world. This is so because we are a young species, having travelled extensively ever since the beginning, and often exchanging more than goods and ideas on our way. Within Europe it is difficult to find significant genetic structure at all. Russia contains somewhat greater differences between people in different regions, often due to genetic stochasticity in populations separated by vast distances. However, it will be difficult, to say the least, to find gene combinations that are prevalent within, but not outside of Russia's political and cultural boundaries. That such gene combinations should explain differences in virtues between Russians and other peoples is not mildly unlikely, it is absurd.

Having skipped a biology class or two is not necessarily an obstacle for making correct political decisions. Putin might have other reasons than purely scientific when presenting himself as leader of a morally superior people carrying high-quality genetic material. This is in itself not much more disturbing than Norwegian self-righteousness. One only needs to be alert when self-proclaimed carriers of high virtue genes set out to free society from degenerate DNA.

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