Saturday, February 6, 2016

CRAIG EDWARD KELSO, Yaeresmia's Beautiful Blue Eyes

The birth of my youngest daughter Summer of 2015, Yaeresmia, brought about several instances of what I might call insights or epiphanies.

Her mother is on the lighter side, with both her maternal and paternal lineage traced back to Mexico. Mexico, of course, is home to mestizos, a mixture of Native American tribes and European migrants. 

Yaeresmia’s father, myself, is about as European as one can get -- my maternal line stretches back to merry old England with subtle variations through places as exotic as Syria. The paternal line is less clear, as he was adopted, but he was a white dude through and through. 

All my previous children have hazel eyes. Yaeresmia’s mother has brown eyes. Mine are hazel. There was every expectation this child too would have hazel at the very most, brown for sure.

Instead they were blue. Like, really blue.

The chances of this happening were very remote, and, in fact, up until six thousand years ago, it just didn’t happen. 

Blue eyes are a relatively new phenomenon in human populations. They’re a mutation.

To understand blue eyes is to grasp the glory and gravitas of Charles Darwin’s theory of human evolution, explained in wonderful detail some one hundred and fifty years ago. The mechanisms of natural selection and survival of the fittest are the exact ways humans came to be, and in subsequent years since Darwin, biological science has learned his profundity could only be added to (Mendel, for example). 

On chromosome 15, we now know thanks to the furthering of Darwinian theory by the likes of J. Craig Venter mapping of the human genome, rests the OCA2 gene. It’s the gene most commonly associated with eye color in humans. It also turns out in further sequencing, upstream a bit, at the 26,039,213 mark the A has been switched to G in most people of European descent with, you guessed it, blue eyes. 

A common misconception about why blue eyes might have spread in northern parts of Europe had to do exclusively with sexual selection. Maybe for some reason blue eyes became a fad, a kind of rage, and more people with blue eyes were getting laid, thus passing on their genes successfully over time.  Behavioral ecology finds many animals who come up with ornate displays, for example, often attract more mates. 

The key, however, is in Darwinian fitness rather than sexiness.

Danish cellular and molecular scientist, Hans Eiberg, at the University of Copenhagen, studied the blue eye phenomenon, tracing it back to the greatest concentration of blue eyed people, those living around the Baltic Sea. 

Prior to the development of agriculture in the Baltic region, the peoples there lived on a heavy diet of fish and berries – sources rich in Vitamin D. Domesticating the land, developing farm life, resulted in grain harvesting, and, naturally, breads and cereals (Eiberg, et al, 2008). 

Breads and cereals lack Vitamin D, and in that part of the world, especially in Winter, there is very limited ultraviolet light. 

Vitamin D deficiencies run rampant due to the natural climate. And, indeed, paleo-etiologists have found extreme paleness, an obvious adaptation to the surroundings, to be unique to the Baltic area, within about 600 miles, … and by unique I mean to say nowhere else on the planet. 

Interestingly, the Baltic area above the 55th parallel is the only place in that region stable enough for grain production (Sweet, 2002). 

A perfect storm.

Six thousand years ago, it follows, extreme selective pressure fell on Baltic farmers due to changes in their diets brought about by grain harvesting. They needed to be pale now. 

Very pale. 

Pale skin uses sunlight more efficiently to make Vitamin D, a nutrient sorely lacking around the time due to advances in agriculture and local society-building. 

The rest of the syllogism writes itself: lack of Vitamin D means rickets, darker skinned people of the Baltics were fucked, paler people live longer. Living longer means more chances to make babies. Low melanin folks also have low Tyrosine in their cells, Tyrosine is delivered by way of a P protein, P proteins are made in the OCA2, one of OCA2’s switches resides in HERC2, HERC2 is more robust when it has a G instead of an A, and the side effect of that process is … blue eyes.

Rather than genetics pushing cultural change, it appears, cultural change pushed genetic mutation. 

Farming advances in that part of the world changed genetic expression.

That's huge.

We have to be careful not to develop a version of Lamarckism. Mutations are still random. The difference is, seems to be, it is the culture that can set up the selection pressures.  

It means what humans do in the physical world, the decisions a society makes, have real and lasting effects at all levels, including in the eventual phenotype of its members.

The implication is quite radical, if you think about it.

Whereas six thousand years ago, decisions to put down roots and begin farming were done without much thought to the eventual consequences, we now can understand, thanks to biological science, all choices we make in the modern age will have lasting results. 

For my way of thinking, this means our undying trust in top-down management, of governments, has to be rethought. 

We give over our autonomy to the political class, and we can now really, scientifically, begin to realize their decisions carry an enormous weight. Most readers would've already come to this conclusion, be it through war, environmental disaster, pogroms, civil and human rights, and so on.

I mean to suggest something even more important, if you could imagine.

Yaeresmia's blue eyes are the result of a decision made for her some half a dozen millennia ago. She will live with those Baltic changes every time she looks at another person.

Sure, we cannot always know exactly what will happen, what ripples will impact this or that by the decisions we make, but we can no longer claim ignorance at the fact something surely will come of our actions. This means life is too important to cede to authorities, to the arbitrary whims of democratic voting mobs, to martial hordes of government employees. 

The import of human evolution, pitiless, mindless, is the knowledge our actions do impact the future. Perhaps at least one of the best uses of the above information is humility. We simply cannot know what is best for others at any one time, much less all the time, but we do know forcing our will upon others has an impact, and a serious one. 

Issues like diet, housing, trade, commerce, medicine are all too important, too consequential to leave to governments. 

The dream of petty social engineers everywhere, from the most cartoonish sadist who plots eugenic futures to the progressive who thinks she knows what's best for everyone, is to control the fate of human evolution at least at some level. And it's possible. That it is possible means every attempt at resistance to central planners must be made. 

A society's culture happens at the individual level, and this is also where it evidences. The individual should be prized in light of the knowledge larger cultural changes place upon individuals. 

And I mean it.  


Eiberg, Hank, et al. "Blue eye color in humans may be caused by a perfectly associated founder mutation in a regulatory element located within the HERC2 gene inhibiting OCA2 expression," Human Genetics. March 2008, Volume 123, Issue 2, pp 177-187.

Ridley, Matt. The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge. Harper, 2015.

Sweet, Frank W.  "The Paleo-Etiology of Human Skin Tone: Essays on the Color Line and the One-Drop Rule." 2002.



Craig Edward Kelso is a felon, father, husband, controversialist, living in Southern California with his adorable family.

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