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Henry Harpending

Henry Harpending was a controversial anthropologist at the University of Utah who studied human evolution and, in his words, “genetic diversity within and between human populations.”

About Henry Harpending

Harpending is most famous for his book, co-authored with frequent collaborator Gregory Cochran, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, which argues that humans are evolving at an accelerating rate, and that this began when the ancestors of modern Europeans and Asians left Africa. Harpending believes that this accelerated evolution is most visible in differences between racial groups, which he claims are growing more distinct and different from one another. The evolution of these racial differences are, in Harpending’s account, the driving force behind all of modern human history. He is also a eugenicist who believes that medieval Europeans intuitively adopted eugenic policies, and that we should recognize the importance of eugenics in our own society. Harpending has given talks on these ideas at white supremacist conferences, and is widely celebrated among white supremacists on forums like Stormfront and the Vanguard News Network, who see a champion for their cause behind his academic rhetoric.

In His Own Words:

“The reason the Industrial Revolution happened in 1800, rather than the year one thousand, or zero, which it could have, the Romans certainly could have done it, is that a new kind of human evolved in northern Europe, and probably northern Asia. And that this led to the Industrial Revolution—this new kind of human was less violent, had an affinity for work. When you view your parents or grandparents, and you know that they're retired, they could relax. But afterwards they can't just sit on the couch and relax, they've got to go and get a shop and work on a cradle for their grandchildren… I've never seen anything like that in an African. I've never seen anyone with a hobby in Africa. They're different.”
—“Preserving Western Civilization” conference, 2009

“Group differences, as far as we know, are in the DNA. Nobody yet has found any credible environmental effect on IQ or academic achievement. And believe me, people have been frantically looking for one for sixty, seventy years. Nothing. If you look at the quantitative genetic analyses, they’ll talk about a contribution from genes, and a contribution from environment. What that contribution from environment is, is random error. It doesn’t matter who raised you, as long as they didn’t hit you on the head with a hammer. It doesn’t matter whether you have high or low self-esteem. Everything has been shown just not to be there. The gap between ethnic groups is not closing in this country. There have been announcements that it’s closing for at least the last twenty years, usually in the New York Times, it’s not there, there’s no difference. There’s no change. Nothing changes.”
—H.L. Mencken Club meeting, 2011

“Among Herero there is no such thing as an accident, there is no such thing as a natural death, witchcraft in some form is behind all of it. Did you have a gastrointestinal upset this morning? Clearly someone slipped some pink potion in the milk. … Our [African] employees were so adamant to show me the truth that they pooled their money so they could take me to the local witch doctor, who would turn me into a frog. ‘Of course he can do that, it is easy for them to do, even to white people’ they said. … A colleague pointed out a few weeks ago, after hearing this story, that if it is nearly pan-African then perhaps some of it came to the New World. Prominent and not so prominent talkers from the American Black population come out with similar theories of vague and invisible forces that are oppressing people, like ‘institutional racism’ and ‘white privilege’.”
—“My friend the witch doctor,” West Hunter blog

“In other words, as an anthropologist looking around the world, what I see is that men work and produce things when they're forced into it, and when they're not, they quit. And I'm thinking about, you know tribes in central Africa, but you know it's true in Baltimore too, right? Experimentally, if you raise the income of welfare recipients, the divorce rate goes up. Great Depression comes along, and the divorce rate goes way down. Threaten a guy's children, and that's how you make him work.”
—“Preserving Western Civilization” conference, 2009


According to Henry Harpending, innate racial differences are the defining element of human society. Harpending believes that all variation between racial and ethnic groups—including cultural differences, social and economic disparities, and achievement gaps—are the result of recent and ongoing human evolution. Harpending’s most thorough elaboration of these beliefs is found in his book, co-authored with Gregory Cochran, called The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution. Much of what Harpending and Cochran claim in The 10,000 Year Explosion builds on the work of economist Gregory Clark, who believes that the Industrial Revolution and British global dominance can best be explained evolutionarily.

According to Clark’s book A Farewell to Alms, which Harpending has described as “one of the greatest books in human biology,” most living Britons descend from the upper classes of the medieval period. Because the wealthy left approximately twice as many surviving children as did the poor, Clark argues that the traits that defined the wealthy were selected for, and became prevalent in British society. And, unsurprisingly, Clark argues that the wealthy achieved their wealth by virtue of superior qualities like peacefulness, diligence, and intelligence; these traits were thus bred into the genetic heritage of white Britons. This became what Harpending calls the evolution of a “new kind of human,” found only in populations of western European and East Asian descent.

Harpending takes Clark’s argument further. He believes that present-day hunter-gatherer societies prove that the “old kind” of human is “impulsive, violent, innumerate, illiterate, and lazy.” He insists that everyone knows this to be true about non-European, non-Asian populations, but that anthropologists aren’t allowed to say so because these are considered “hate facts.” Instead, academics are forced to pretend “that these are really all charming, lovely people who are just the victims of capitalism.”

Harpending and Cochran are also co-authors of one of the most prominent “HBD” blogs, West Hunter. HBD, or “human biodiversity,” is the latest iteration of a long tradition of scientific racism. Proponents of HBD maintain a vocal online presence, and are at the forefront of efforts to mainstream white supremacist thought. West Hunter features a mixture of anthropology, HBD, and generic racist, far-right musings. As an example of the latter, Harpending once proposed concentration camps as part of a solution to deal with illegal immigration, saying: “I personally favor mass deportation. …  It might not be so difficult: there must be a large number of FEMA trailers that could be used to stock processing centers and in Utah, the site of several WWII Japanese internment camps, plans and blueprints must exist to reconstruct those camps.”

In other articles and book chapters, Harpending has made often bizarre claims about race, biology, and social structures. These include the idea that sociopathy and “hysteria” are adaptive traits in men and women respectively, as well as support for Jean-Philippe Rushton’s idea that a genetic “ethnic nepotism” explains racial solidarity and racism, and that “diversity decreases national cohesion and the ability of governments to make rational economic decisions”.

In one article, coauthored with Peter Frost, an HBD blogger and columnist with no current academic affiliation, Harpending proposed another explanation for why western Europeans were supposedly genetically predisposed to be less violent than other racial groups. In this article and in talks he has given to friendly, non-academic crowds, Harpending has argued that the introduction of the death penalty in medieval Europe contributed to the “genetic pacification” of the population through “the steady removal of individuals who were more genetically prone to personal violence.” He has even suggested that this took place because medieval Europeans invented institutions like governments, courts, and contracts, which Harpending apparently believes had never existed anywhere before being introduced in 11th century England.

Possibly his strangest argument is that Amish populations in the United States experience evolutionary selection towards “Amishness,” which can be expressed in terms of an “Amish Quotient,” or “AQ.” According to Harpending, a high “Amish Quotient” translates to increases in “affinity for work, perseverance, low status competition, respect for authority, conscientiousness, and community orientation.”

The model for “Amishness” is based on earlier work found in Harpending’s most controversial paper, coauthored with Cochran and Jason Hardy, “A Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence.” The piece, in their own words, “elaborates the hypothesis that the unique demography and sociology of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe selected for intelligence.” That hypothesis is based on the work of Kevin MacDonald, a discredited evolutionary psychologist and current director of the racist American Freedom Party, formerly known as American Third Position.

MacDonald has published a trilogy of books arguing that the Ashkenazim eugenically self-selected for high intelligence over several centuries, thus explaining the modern Jewish community’s “general disproportionate representation in markers of economic success and political influence,” and ability “to command a high level of financial, political, and intellectual resources in pursuing their political aims.” In other words, European Jews bred themselves to be smarter, allowing them to control the world’s banks and governments.

Harpending, Cochran, and Hardy do not endorse MacDonald’s anti-Semitism (though they do not repudiate it either). Nevertheless, their portrayal of Jewish populations as an alien presence in Europe, behaviorally, psychologically, and biologically distinct from the cultures they live within but stand apart from, traffics in centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes.

In 2009, Harpending participated in a conference on “Preserving Western Civilization,” where he spoke alongside notorious racists like Peter Brimelow (president and chief contributor to the white nationalist and Jean-Philippe Rushton (president of the eugenicist Pioneer Fund from 2002 until his death in 2012). The statement of purpose from that conference read: “We believe that America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and European identity must be defended. Today, our glorious Western civilization is under assault from many directions. Three such threats will be discussed at this conference. First, the massive influx to the United States and Europe of Third-World immigrants who do not share our fundamental political and cultural values. Second, the threat from Islam, a militant ideology that is hostile to our society and, in principle, committed to destroying it. Third, because of the persistent disappointing performance of blacks (which many whites mistakenly blame on themselves) many whites have guilt feelings that undermine Western morale and deter us from dealing sensibly with the other threats.”

Harpending’s talk at the conference was a full-throated defense of scientific racism. In it, he argued that anthropological analysis could identify and explain traits he claimed were shared by people from central Africa, Papua New Guinea, and Baltimore (his favorite metonym for the African-American community as a whole). These included violence, laziness, and a preference for “mating instead of parenting.” This is especially the case in Papua New Guinea, where, according to Harpending, “[w]hat these guys do is kill their neighbors. That's their favorite activity—oh, they love it! They love it! It's the high point of their lives. They get their DNA into the next generation by being killers, and violent. And if there's evolution going on, that kind of society is selecting for unpredictable, violent males.”

These inherent traits mean that in societies where males are provided with necessities like food, whether from female farmers or from welfare checks, you find that “when there's plenty of food, men do male stuff like putting on make-up, fighting, raiding, and telling stories. Male effort seems to be competitive effort, rather than parental effort.”

Reaffirming his belief in the fundamental similarities between Papuan gardening societies and African-American communities largely dependent on welfare, he later asked: “Where are these [traits] found? In post-industrial cities, among the underclass, you know, street corner males with fancy sneakers, looking good, combing their hair, males strutting around, macho. This is absolutely typical whether it's highland New Guinea or Baltimore.” These traits were contrasted with those of Europeans and northern Asians who have evolved higher intelligence and “tend to be more disciplined than people who take life for granted.”

Harpending has also spoken several times at Paul Gottfried’s Baltimore-based H.L. Mencken Club, which hosts an annual meeting of prominent far-right thinkers and academic racists. In his 2011 talk at the Mencken Club, Harpending argued that money spent towards education is wasted, because variation in test scores is due entirely to the racial makeup of the test-taking populations. He claims that “Anglo” students in every state perform equally well on standardized tests regardless of education expenditures, and that black students are also comparable across state lines, thus the gap between white and black students’ scores is entirely genetic and has nothing to do with the educational environments. He does acknowledge that the data shows there have been gains in average scores of black students relative to white students, but insists that these are not “real.”

Harpending also used his 2011 Mencken Club talk to promote eugenics. Hearkening back to his ideas of “genetic pacification,” Harpending claimed that “[w]hat happened in medieval Europe was brutal enforcement of laws. We didn’t go to the movie on Saturdays, we went to the public hanging. Criminals were treated without mercy.” He added that “this is eugenics. … [W]e killed off the violent folks, we replaced poor folks with the offspring of the prosperous… . Most of us are descended from exactly this process, another point being that the rest of the world isn’t like us.”

He goes on to claim that because the rest of the world has not enjoyed the centuries of eugenic policies that transformed Europeans into a “new kind of human,” non-European peoples are fundamentally incapable of adopting western, democratic norms. This, in Harpending’s view, is the only reason the war in Afghanistan failed to produce a stable, democratic government.

Harpending’s work provided a great deal of the foundation for Nicholas Wade’s controversial 2014 book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History. Wade relied entirely on the Harpending, Cochran, and Hardy paper on Ashkenazi intelligence for one chapter of his book, and much of the rest relied on Harpending’s gloss on Gregory Clark’s work. Notably, when around 140 prominent population geneticists wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times complaining that Wade’s book had radically misinterpreted their research, Harpending sneeringly dismissed this as “preening and posturing,” and a “pretentious pronouncement claiming that ‘they were genetics’ and that Wade was abusing ‘their’ knowledge.”