Archives for posts with tag: biology and culture

pinker, that is. staffan wins, of course! (^_^)

if you haven’t read staffan’s latest post, you really should! it’s terrific!: The Myth of the Expanding Circle or You Can’t Learn How to Be an English Vegetarian.

here’s a short excerpt:

“[Goldstien] argues that it was Enlightenment (aka the Age of Reason), beginning from late 1600s, that expanded the circle of empathy, a process driven by the thinkers of that era,

“‘…if you look at the history of moral progress, you can trace a direct pathway from reasoned arguments to changes in the way that we actually feel. Time and again, a thinker would lay out an argument as to why some practice was indefensible, irrational, inconsistent with values already held.’

“We wouldn’t like to be kept as slaves, we wouldn’t like this for our family or friends either, so why would we like it for foreigners? Reason compels us to widen our circle of empathy.

“She then proceeds to illustrate her point with some humanitarians like Bentham, Erasmus, John Locke, Mary Astell etc. Pinker concedes and they both reflect on how this reason-driven process will make our grandchildren think of us as barbarians given how much further their circle of empathy will reach. End of story.

“And yet at the beginning of the dialogue Pinker stated,

“‘My fellow psychologists have shown that we’re led by our bodies and our emotions and use our puny powers of reason merely to rationalize our gut feelings after the fact.’

“This of course refers to Jonathan Haidt and others whose research makes a good case for such post hoc rationalization being an important aspect of human nature. To illustrate this behavior he likens our emotions with an elephant and our reason with the rider. The elephant, being much stronger, walks about as he pleases while the helpless rider pretends that he is in complete control.

“Given this statement, it’s a bit disconcerting how easily Pinker ignores the obvious risk that their conclusion might also be post hoc rationalization. After all, two top notch academics agreeing that all you need is reason sounds a bit like two hippies agreeing that all you need is love. So is it post hoc? It definitely has some conspicuous flaws that suggest so.

“As Pinker himself pointed out back in 2002 in his book The Blank Slate, all behavioral traits are highly inheritable and change very little over the lifespan and, most importantly, they are unaffected by shared environment, such as schools, education – and humanitarian essays. But width of empathy must, by any reasonable definition, be a behavioral trait. But by their logic it would be a trait like no other, strongly affected by shared environment, even though all other traits, thus including very similar traits like ingroup loyalty and identification, aren’t. So either width of empathy isn’t a behavioral trait – which is crazy – or it is somehow a completely unique trait affected by shared environment. Either way Pinker and Goldstein have some serious splaining to do.”

(~_^) read the whole post @staffan’s — it’s definitely NOT to be missed!

(note: comments do not require an email. The Blank Slate.)

THIS is the best article i’ve read all week! possibly all month. in fact, it’s soooo interesting, i’m going to read it over and over again! (pretty sure i’ve got it memorized already actually…. (*^_^*) )

by ed west, The Church v the Family appeared in The Catholic Herald a couple of weeks ago:

“So why is Europe different? The answer is the Catholic Church. Christianity in our minds is linked to ‘family values’, as Right-wing politicians used to say before an imminent sex scandal, but from the beginning it was almost anti-family, and Jesus told his disciples to leave theirs. Whereas Judaism had been heavily kinship-based, Christ voiced the view that the noblest thing was to lay down one’s life for a friend – a gigantic moral leap. This universal ideal was spread by St Paul who famously stated that there would be neither Jew nor Greek, ‘for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’.

“Although both large Abrahamic faiths are universalist, western Christianity was far more jealous of rival loyalties, such as could be found in the clan, and wanted to weaken them. St Augustine of Hippo and St Thomas Aquinas both encouraged marrying out as a way of widening social ties, and in Summa Theologica Aquinas objected to cousin marriages on the grounds that they ‘prevent people widening their circle of friends’. He wrote: ‘When a man takes a wife from another family he is joined in special friendship with her relations; they are to him as his own.’

“The influence of the Church caused Europeans to be less clannish and therefore made it easier for large territorial magnates to forge nation-states.

“Another consequence was the nuclear family, which developed in the North Sea region around the turn of the millennium. It was influenced by the western European manor system of agriculture, under which peasants managed their own farms let out to them by the lord of the manor, owing him obligations of work. This encouraged adult children to move out of the family home, whereas in most cultures three generations lived together under a paterfamilias.

“With the nuclear family came a move away from group identity and towards the western concept of individual rights and liberalism. It was a revolutionary idea and in parts of the world where the clan still rules it is still an alien one.”

(^_^) read the whole thing on west’s blog!

previously: whatever happened to european tribes? and st. augustine and st. thomas aquinas and big summary post on the hajnal line

(note: comments do not require an email. manorialism.)

trigger warning: the following post contains much that is speculative. in fact, the entire post is one long speculation. if the thought of speculating when it comes to human biodiversity/sociobiology makes you queasy or fills you with existential angst, this might not be the blogpost for you. no, really. you might want to pass the time in some other way.
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i wrote about this once before, and since i’m extremely lazy, i’m just going to cut-and-paste from the previous post:

“in Innate Social Aptitudes of Man: An Approach from Evolutionary Genetics [pdf], william hamilton suggested that, perhaps, one gets a renaissance by (re-)introducing barbarian altruism genes into a too outbred population, letting the mixture ferment for ca. 800 years or so, and then enjoying the fruits of everyone’s labors. he’s talking here, of course, about the european renaissance of the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries…and classical greece/athens after the dorian invasion of ca. 800 years earlier? i *think*. if it happened at all (link inserted by me):

“‘The incursions of barbaric pastoralists seem to do civilizations less harm in the long run than one might expect. Indeed, two dark ages and renaissances in Europe suggest a recurring pattern in which a renaissance follows an incursion by about 800 years. It may even be suggested that certain genes or traditions of pastoralists revitalize the conquered people with an ingredient of progress which tends to die out in a large panmictic population for the reasons already discussed. I have in mind altruism itself, or the part of the altruism which is perhaps better described as self-sacrificial daring. By the time of the renaissance it may be that the mixing of genes and cultures (or of cultures alone if these are the only vehicles, which I doubt) has continued long enough to bring the old mercantile thoughtfulness and the infused daring into conjunction in a few individuals who then find courage for all kinds of inventive innovation against the resistance of established thought and practice. Often, however, the cost in fitness of such altruism and sublimated pugnacity to the individuals concerned is by no means metaphorical, and the benefits to fitness, such as they are, go to a mass of individuals whose genetic correlation with the innovator must be slight indeed. Thus civilization probably slowly reduces its altruism of all kinds, including the kinds needed for cultural creativity (see also Eshel 1972).’”

william hamilton — probably the greatest evolutionary theorist since darwin and an evil, evil speculator! not to mention crimethinker.

anyway…my own speculation re. the biological substrate of renaissances is that it’s not populations which experience an injection of barbarian altruism genes that wind up having a renaissance, but rather that populations which outbreed (i.e. quit marrying close relatives) for ca. 400 to 800 years (egs. medieval/renaissance europe and archaic/classical greece?) undergo a sort-of wikification of their society which drives intellectual openness and curiosity and sharing — the kinds of behavioral derring-do that you need in order to have a renaissance at all. see the previous post for more on all of those speculations.

today’s speculation is that perhaps the arabized world underwent a reverse renaissance process thanks to the introduction by the arabs of the most inbred form of cousin marriage — father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage — to the populations of the middle east/maghreb (not to mention the introduction of arabs, themselves, who had probably been inbreeding closely for up to nine hundred years before their expansion).

the islamic golden age lasted for a good six hundred years or so, but instead of the scope of islamic philosophy and science and law widening over the time period — instead of a wikification process — the tendency was for thinking in the arabized world to narrow. ijtihad (“independent thinking”) was gradually replaced by taqlid (“imitation”). this narrowing of thought was already widespread in the muslim world by the twelfth century — just about 400-450 years after the arab conquests. (braudel puts the beginning and end dates of the islamic golden age as 813 and 1198, the beginning of al-ma’mun’s caliphate and the death averroes respectively. – pg. 202.)

irfan habib points out that the islamic golden age in science was very much founded on long-established traditions of free inquiry in the near east, from greece to persia [pg. 69 — link added by me]:

“[T]his particular phase in Islamic history was marked predominantly by the Mu’tazilite school of philosophy, which was based on freethinking and rationalism. It was an ecumenical setting for science, where savants of nearly all creeds and origins worked towards a common purpose. And this was not something new, it was a long established pre-Islamic tradition in the Near East, where translation of scientific and philosophical texts from Greek to Syriac took place….

i wonder if what happened was that, with the establishment of the caliphate and all the civilized elements that went with it — good communications over long distances, (relative) peace within the realm, an excess of wealth — a “renaissance” was quickly established. however, that golden age — which happened in the early part of the era of the caliphs — was really a late flowering of whatever had been going on the region previous to the arabs (especially in persia). this renaissance was then reversed — stunted, really — as a result of the centuries of close inbreeding of the populations in the middle east and maghreb thanks to the introduction of fbd marriage by the arabs.

like i said — pure, unadultered speculation! (~_^)

previously: renaissances

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here’s a strange — and sad — set of homicide statistics from sweden (stockholm) in the early 1700s — from manuel eisner’s Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime [pdf - pg. 112]:

“There is one major exception to this pattern [of male preponderance in serious violent crime-h.chick]. In early eighteenth-century Stockholm, women not only accounted for more than 60 percent of property crime offenders but also 45 percent of murder and manslaughter offenders and 41 percent of assault offenders (Andersson 1995). These are probably the highest female participation rates in serious violent crime found anywhere in the world. Scholars examining this phenomenon emphasize a combination of factors including — besides demographic imbalance — a highly specific cultural configuration, which embraced some kind of otherworldly calculus. More particularly, for fear of eternal punishment in hell, suicidal women appear often to have chosen to kill somebody else, usually their offspring, and then suffer the death penalty imposed on them by the judiciary (Jansson 1998). Homicide would bring them to purgatory for a limited period of time, after which they would enter heaven for eternity, which was definitely to be preferred to consignment to eternal hell because of suicide.”

=/

(note: comments do not require an email. galgberget ["gallows hill"] in stockholm.)

from gregory clark’s new book The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility [pgs. 3-10]:

“Most people believe, from their own experience of families, friends, and acquaintances, that we live in a world of slow social mobility. The rich beget the rich, the poor beget the poor. Between the Old Etonian and the slum dweller, between Govan and Richmond Drive, lies a gulf of generations. But a hundred years of research by psychologists, sociologists, and economists seems to suggest that this belief is fictional. Conventional estimates imply that social mobility is rapid and pervasive. The Old Etonian and the slum dweller are cousins.

“Standard estimates suggest high modern intergenerational mobility rates….

“These conclusions from conventional scholarly estimates of social mobility rates, however, sit poorly with popular perceptions of social mobility. People looking back to their own grandparents, or forward to their grandchildren, do not generally see the kind of disconnect in status that these estimates imply. People looking at their siblings or cousins see a much greater correlation in status than is implied by the intergenerational correlations reported above….

“Using surnames to track the rich and poor through many generations in various societies — England, the United States, Sweden, India, Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, and Chile — this book argues that our commonsense intuition of a much slower rate of intergenerational mobility is correct. Surnames turn out to be a surprisingly powerful instrument for measuring social mobility. And they reveal that there is a clear, striking, and consistent social physics of intergenerational mobility that is not reflected in most modern studies of the topic.

“The problem is not with the studies and estimates themselves. What they measure, they measure correctly. The problem arises when we try to use these estimates of mobility rates for individual characteristics to predict what happens over long periods to the general social status of families. Families turn out to have a general social competence or ability that underlies partial measures of status such as income, education, and occupation. These partial measures are linked to this underlying, not directly observed, social competence only with substantial random components. The randomness with which underlying status produces particular observed aspects of status creates the illusion of rapid social mobility using conventional measures.

“Underlying or overall social mobility rates are much lower than those typically estimated by sociologists or economists. The intergenerational correlation in all the societies for which we construct surname estimates — medieval England, modern England, the United States, India, Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Chile, and even egalitarian Sweden — is between 0.7 and 0.9, much higher than conventionally estimated. Social status is inherited as strongly as any biological trait, such as height. Figure 1.6 compares conventional estimates of mobility (for income and years of education) with those yielded by surname measures….

greg clark - fig 1.6

“Mobility is consistent across generations. Although it may take ten or fifteen generations, social mobility will eventually erase most echoes of initial advantage or want.

“Counterintuitively, the arrival of free public education in the late nineteenth century and the reduction of nepotism in government, education, and private firms have not increased social mobility. Nor is there any sign that modern economic growth has done so. The expansion of the franchise to ever-larger groups in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries similarly has had no effect. Even the redistributive taxation introduced in the twentieth century in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Sweden seemingly has had no impact. In particular, once we measure generalized social mobility, there is no sign that inequality is linked to social mobility rates. Instead social mobility seems to be a constant, independent of inequality.”

razib suggests, given clark’s thesis of an underlying “general social competence” to which all the other social status factors correlate, that the book should be called the s factor. (~_^)

(note: comments do not require an email. social mobility indicator.)

update 10/17: some extra notes in the comments about the gss data here and here. thanks for the thought-filled comments, guys! (^_^)
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bennett and lotus (in America 3.0) have the very right idea that anglo-saxons have been living in absolute nuclear families and behaving very “anglo-saxony” for centuries, but they’ve got, imho, the very wrong idea that if other peoples, non-anglo-saxon peoples, just start living like anglo-saxons in absolute nuclear families, they will — via some sort of cultural osmosis or something — start behaving all anglo-saxony, too. i’m not convinced. where, i would ask, is the evidence for this?

in the comments to one of my previous posts on this subject, i pointed out that, for example, italian american families, most of which have been in the u.s. for multiple generations now, are mostly absolute nuclear families — at least they appear to be on the surface. however, italian americans are really strongly attached to their extended families in ways that anglo-americans simply are not. here’s what i said (or, rather, what i quoted):

from “Community and Identity in Italian American Life” in The Review of Italian American Studies (2000) [pgs. 250-251]:

“Family gatherings…are still part of Italian American life….

“Italian Americans, even the more affluent, remain in inner-city enclaves more than other groups do. When Italian Americans do move, many times two or more generations are involved in the exodus to a new suburban residence. If they do not locate together, Italian American family members find residences within short distances of one another. When upwardly mobile children leave their inner-city parents for the suburbs, they visit them more than any other group. When leaving the extended family, Italian Americans most often move into some modified extended family arrangement characterized by continual economic and social exchanges. Similarly, Italian American middle- and working-class children are more likely to take geographical proximity to the family into account when considering college attendance. Contemporary Italian American youth spread their wings, but not too far.

“Although crude survey data indicate that Italian Americans are increasingly intermarrying, these measures miss the reality that many times it is the non-Italian marriage partner who is drawn into the powerful magnet of the Italian American family. In addition, intermarriage need no diminish the ethnicity of the Italian American partner nor does it mean necessarily that the offspring will not be reared in the Italian American way. Italian Americans are more entrepreneurial than most; family businesses, by definition, provide not only income and independence from outsiders but also keep the family together. Socially mobile Itlaian Americans are willing to sacrifice some career and employment opportunities in order to stay within the orbit of family life.”

and from The Italian American Experience (2000) [pgs. 210-211, 373-374]:

“For a long time, it was believed that this sequence was inevitably moving toward the complete absorption of Italian Americans….

“While intermarriage rates have remained lower than for other groups, exogamy among Italian Americans has greatly increased. Divorce rates, even for the most recent generation, remain very low compared to all other ethnic groups. Italian Americans still maintain a pattern of relatively frequent family contacts, with some studies actually indicating an increase in visiting among relatives for later generations. The strength of family ties has been identified as a deterrent to residential mobility and as a factor in the maintenance of Italian American neighborhoods….

“For Italians, family is an all-consuming ideal as is expressed by Luigi Barzini, among many others. For Italian Americans, ‘families’ usually include grandparents, whose influence on family life can be great….

“*L’ordine della familia*, which connotes precise boundaries, role expectations, and clear values for right and wrong behavior, is taught at a very early age and includes:

“- Always respecting parents and grandparents;
– Placing family needs first, staying physically and psychologically close to other members;
– Not talking about the family to outsiders;
– Sometimes maintaining secrets between family members to maintain personal boundaries; other family members do not need to know everythings, particularly if it will cause harm;
– Showing respect for authority outside of the family, but not trusting it;
– and Working hard, but also enjoying life; livining well is sharing food, music, and companionship with those one loves.”

yeah. just like in every sopranos episode that you ever saw. (~_^) why, then, don’t italian americans behave just like anglo americans? they’ve been in the u.s. a pretty long time now … and they live in absolute nuclear families. ‘sup?
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so i thought i’d check the gss (General Social Survey) to see how anglo-saxony italian americans are. unfortunately, the gss numbers for italian americans with all four grandparents born in the u.s. (in other words, being at least third generation or more, which ought to make one really american, right?) are really tiny. dr*t.

so, i decided to look at german and irish americans instead in comparison to english/welsh americans — to see how anglo-saxony those two groups have become (quick answer for those tl:dr folks out there [SPOILER ALERT!]: not very).

before we start, though, t. greer recently pointed out the ever-present problem in these self-reported sort-of surveys and that is that we’re relying on how the respondents “identify” ethnically. how “german” are any of the “german americans” in the gss? who knows? however, the same problem should apply, i would think, across the board here with the self-identified english/welsh, german, and irish americans (i purposefully have NOT used the “just american” category since i want to get at how anglo americans behave), so it should all even out (i hope).

i’ve picked out questions that related to: “civicness” (see previous posts here and here for more on what that is), because the english are VERY civic-minded; “familism” (see here and here), because the english are NOT very familistic; and a couple of ones related to ideas about government and the u.s. that i thought sounded pretty anglo-saxony and that i just found interesting. let’s start with those.

for all of these questions, i’ve shown the results for respondents with all four grandparents born in the u.s. AND for all respondents — just because i can (and i thought it might be interesting to compare). for ethnicity i selected the “COUNTRY OF FAMILY ORIGIN [ETHNIC]” parameter. [click on charts for LARGER view.]

should we “Allow public meeting protesting the government” [PROTEST 1]?:

gss - anglo saxons - allow public meetings protesting government 02

england/wales: n=455 for all/n=244 for 4 grandparents
germany: n=604/n=248
ireland: n=412/n=151

should we “Allow publications protesting the government” [PROTEST 2]?:

gss - anglo saxons - allow publications protesting government 02

same n’s as above.

“How close do you feel to America” [CLSEUSA]?”:

gss - anglo saxons - how close do you feel to america

england/wales: n=262/n=205
germany: n=367/n=242
ireland: n=245/n=170

wtf german americans?!

so on those three questions there’s anywhere from a four to a fourteen point spread between the responses of german and irish americans versus anglo americans, with anglo americans consistently being more pro allowing protests against the government of different sorts and more pro american. i agree, four points is not much of a difference, but fourteen is — and, as you’ll see below, this is a consistent pattern, i.e. that third+ generation anglo americans are more anglo-saxony than either third+ generation german americans or irish americans.
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the familism questions (again, see previous posts on familism here and here). for all of these:

england/wales: n=96/n=72
germany: n=150/n=100
ireland: n=106/n=70

“How often does R[espondent] contact uncles or aunts [UNCAUNTS]?”:

gss - anglo saxons - how often contact uncles aunts

“How often does R contact nieces or nephews [NIECENEP]?”:

gss - anglo saxons - how often contact nieces nephews

“How often does R contact cousin [COUSINS]?”:

gss - anglo saxons - how often contact cousins

the differences in the familism scores, then, are not that great. still, with the exception of “how often contact nieces/nephews”, both the german and irish american scores reflect greater familism on their part than on the anglo americans. slightly greater, but greater nevertheless.
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finally, the civicness questions (again, see previous posts on civicness here and here). for all of these:

england/wales: n=96, n=72
germany: n=150, n=100
ireland: n=106, n=70

“Participated in a charitable organization in past 12 months [GRPCHRTY]“:

gss - anglo saxons - charitable organization

“Participated in activity of a political party [GRPPOL]“:

gss - anglo saxons - political party

“Participated in activity of a political party [GRPUNION]“:

gss - anglo saxons - trade union

“Participated in activity of church in past 12 months [GRPCHURH]“:

gss - anglo saxons - church

“Participated in sports group in past 12 months [GRPSPORT]“:

gss - anglo saxons - sports group

so, again, with the exception of participation in a sports group, the anglo americans score higher than the other two groups on all of the questions. the differences range from just two points to eighteen. in the case of sports, german americans scored just a tad (one point) higher in participation than anglo americans and irish americans four points, but anglo americans are out in front on the other four civic behaviors.

you might be thinking that the not-all-that-great differences in civicness scores between these three groups illustrates that german and irish americans are, in fact, becoming more like anglo americans. (why it should be taking so long is curious though — these are THIRD+ generation groups after all.) however, if we look at the very same questions from the world values survey (2005-2008 wave), we find the SAME pattern!: great britain ahead of germany on all the civicness metrics. (unfortunately, ireland was not included in this wvs wave.) (see also previous post.)

great britain: n=1012-1035
germany: n=2039-2050

note that non-whites are included in these figures. ethnicity was, apparently, not asked in germany, because … well, you know … everybody’s the same, so i didn’t parse out non-whites from the results for britain, either. doesn’t seem to make much difference to the scores — one point here and there — since there are not that many non-whites included in the british survey.

gss - anglo saxons - wvs civicness metrics

as you can see, same patterns again: great britain ahead of germany on all of these civicness measurements. and the differences between the two populations — the (mostly) anglos in britain and the (mostly) germans in germany — are very similar to the differences between the two populations in the u.s. — AFTER THREE+ GENERATIONS of being in the u.s.!:

- charitable organization: u.s.=11%, euro=21%
- political party: u.s.=6%, euro=6%
- trade union: u.s.=5%, euro=8%
- church: u.s.=3%, euro=1%
- sports group: u.s.=1% (higher in germany), euro=5%

i strongly suspect that german americans are not becoming like anglo americans, or if they are, it’s NOT happening very quickly. german americans:anglo americans::germans:anglos. nor do i see any reason to think that other groups like the irish or the italians are becoming anglo-saxons either.
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the evidence i’ve presented is not conclusive. obviously. (it’s just a blog post!) Further Research is RequiredTM.

anglo-saxons — or the english of today — have been living in absolute nuclear families for a very long time, but this is more of a symptom of anglo-saxonness than its cause (although there undoubtedly has been feedback between the family type and societal structures). it took the anglo-saxons a looong time to get from being a kindred-based germanic “tribe” to the anglo-saxony individualistic-collectivistic english society that we know today (and have known since about the 1200s-1400s). it’s going to take other societies a similarly looong time to get to the same place — if they will even ever get to exactly the same place — since we are talking about biological processes here including the selection for certain behavioral traits. simply plunking germans — let alone italians (especially southern italians!) — down in absolute nuclear families will NOT turn them into anglos overnight. apparently it won’t even turn them into anglos in three+ generations.

no. anglo-saxons are exceptional. innately so. we should try not to destroy that, since it benefits so many of us.

previously: the anglo-saxons and america 3.0 and the saxons, the anglo-saxons, and america 3.0 and civic societies and civic societies ii and hispanic family values and familism in the u.s. of a.

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been reading America 3.0 written by two of the chicago boyz (hey chicago boyz! *waves*). i got interested in the book after reading daniel hannan’s review of it in the telegraph a couple of weeks ago in which he said:

“Their conclusion? That English, later Anglosphere, exceptionalism, is very real. That the rise of our language and culture to their current unprecedented dominance – what one commentator terms ‘Anglobalisation’ – is based on a series of properties that are either unique to the English-speaking peoples, or shared only with a handful of kindred cultures in northwestern Europe. Among these properties are the common law, representative government, Protestantism, dispersed landownership, civil associations separate from the state and – of particular interest to these authors – the unusual nature of the family.

They show that the Anglosphere dispenses with the extended family structures which, in most places, have legal as well as cultural force. In many societies, the peasant family has traditionally been treated as a kind of collective landowner, within which there are reciprocal responsibilities. Children, even in adulthood, have been expected to work on the family plot, receiving board and lodging. Marriages are typically arranged, and daughters-in-law come under the authority of the head of their new household. Even when the law recognises individual autonomy, custom is often slow to follow.

“The Anglosphere scarcely resembles the Eurasian landmass in its family structures. Our notion of the family is limited and nuclear. Most English-speakers in most centuries wanted to set up home on their own, independently, with just their spouse and children – although economic circumstances did not always allow that aspiration to be fulfilled.

The notion that the limited family underpins Anglosphere exceptionalism – which draws heavily on the work of the French anthropologist and demographer Emmanuel Todd – is intriguing. I see the cultural difference all around me in the European Parliament. In most Continental states, your social life is largely taken up with your extended family: you have an endless stream of weddings and christenings to go to, sometimes of very distant cousins. Britons and Americans, by contrast, expect to leave their parental home in their teens, either to go to university or to work. We make friends away from home, and they become the core of our social life. Indeed, the word ‘friend’ carries more force in English than in many European languages, in which it is bestowed quickly and generously, but often means little more than what we mean by a Facebook friend. When a Spaniard says of someone ‘es muy amigo mío’, he simply means that he gets on with the chap.”

oh, emmanuel todd! i love emmanuel todd!

i disagree with lotus and bennett on two major points.

firstly, that the u.s. is on the verge of an economic/societal upturn that will be even bigger and better than those of the past (thus the title of the book). meh. maybe. i’m not so hopeful as they are, but that’s probably just because i’m a pessimist. i’ll be very happy to be proven wrong!

my other disagreement with the authors is more of an irreconcilable difference [pgs. 25-26, 60-61]:

“What we have found in our research is that our distinctive and exceptional American culture has extremely deep roots, stretching back over a thousand years, long before our own national Founding and our Constitution, long before the the first English settlements in North America….”

yes, definitely. i’d agree with that. but…

“The word ‘culture’ may seem amorphous, something you would know by intuition but cannot necessarily pin down. Even professional anthropologists, whose job it is to study and understand culture, seem to have trouble pinning down exactly what they mean by it. For our purposes, we define culture as the distinctive patterns of behavior within a specified group of people that are transmitted from one generation to the next and are not genetic in origin.

It is very important to understand that culture is not genetic. Adopted children and immigrants may come from entirely different genetic backgrounds, but they adopt artifacts of culture such as language, values, and customs as readily as do biological children of parents within that culture. It is indisputable that the culture we describe in this book can be and has been adopted by people of every possible ethnic background….”

well, no … not exactly.

“[T]he strictly racial explanation for the Germanic roots of English liberty is simply and demonstrably incorrect. We now know more about human biology and genetics than did the writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We know for a fact that there is no genetic basis for the English way of life. There is nothing special in the DNA of any English ‘race’ that especially suits them for liberty….

“The historical record as it now stands, based on documents, archeology, and genetic evidence, shows that *the foundations of English liberty were not genetic or racial, but cultural, institutional, legal, and political*.”

oh, no, no, no, no, no!

i’m actually not interested in debating this in this post, but, in response to these passages, i will just ask my one, favorite, hopefully irritating question: where does culture come from?
_____

i do want to nitpick a small-ish point with lotus and bennett, though. their main argument is that the anglo-saxon absolute nuclear family goes way, waaaay back — pretty much to, or nearly to, the time of the settlement of the anglo-saxons in england — and, thanks to that, both england and america have been characterized by all sorts of neat things like: individualism, a love of liberty, nonegalitarianism, competitiveness, an enterprising spirit, mobility, voluntarism, middle-class values, an instrumental view of government, and suburbia (a spacious home and backyard for each and every nuclear family).

i generally agree with that assessment, although, as you know, i’d throw mating patterns into the mix there — especially that the mating patterns of the angles and saxons and other germanic tribes probably affected their family types, the general pattern being: the closer the mating types, the larger the families (think: the arabs with their father’s brother’s daughter marriage and their huge clans/tribes), while the more distant the mating types, the smaller the families (think: well, think the english with their avoidance of close cousin marriage for ca. 1000-1200 years and their absolute nuclear families). and, of course, i’d toss evolution and genetic differences between populations in there, too.

lotus and bennett, amongst other points, say of the saxons that settled in england that [pg. 75]:

“- They were free people. They were independent minded, individually and in their tribal organization….
- They owned property individually, not communally, and not as families. Adult children and parents had separate and individual rights, not collective rights as a family.
- They traced their lineages through both the male and female line. This prevented clans or extended families from forming and becoming exclusive, as happens when lineage is traced solely through the male line. As a result extended families or clans did not have collective legal rights, or any recognized political role.”

yes. but this is a slight oversimplification of the situation. no, the pre-christian germanics didn’t have strong clans, but they did have kindreds which were, in fact, very important in many cases when legal issues arose, in particular in the instance of wergeld payment and collection, i.e. compensation for when a member of a kindred was injured or killed. the members of a person’s kindred in germanic society — and this includes anglo-saxon society in early medieval england — were obliged to undertake a feud if wergeld payments were not met — by the guilty party’s kindred. in other words, two whole kindreds were involved whenever someone was injured or killed by another person.

this was a sort of clannishness-lite, then — actual clans did not exist in pre-christian germanic society, but kindreds did. and these extended families were very important in early anglo-saxon society, even though people may have regularly resided in nuclear family units. according to lorraine lancaster, this didn’t change until after ca. 1000 a.d., four- to six-hundred years after the anglo-saxons arrived in england, when wergeld began to be paid/collected by a person’s friends or fellow guild members rather than extended family members [pgs. 373, 375 – see also this post]:

“Phillpotts has effectively demonstrated the weakness of Anglo-Saxon kin groups compared with certain related systems on the continent….

“During the period they ['friends'] gained continued importance as oath-helpers. After the end of the tenth century, it was even permissible for a feud to be prosecuted or wergild claimed by a man’s associates or guild-brothers. If murder was done *within* the guild, kinsmen again played a part….”

so, yes, the importance of the nuclear family does have its roots in germanic and anglo-saxon society, but the extended family in the form of the bilateral kindred was also a very significant element of germanic societies — until quite late in some regions of europe. the importance of the germanic kindred waned over the course of the early medieval period, very much so in england, i think thanks to The Outbreeding Project undertaken by northwest europeans beginning in the early medieval period. (see mating patterns in europe series below ↓ in left-hand column.)

previously: kinship in anglo-saxon society and kinship in anglo-saxon society ii and medieval germanic kindreds … and the ditmarsians and emmanuel todd’s absolute nuclear family and “l’explication de l’idéologie”

(note: comments do not require an email. coooookieeee!)

krsna slava is a traditional serbian (although it seems that there are similar traditions elsewhere in the balkans) celebration of a family’s particular patron saint — and by “family” here i mean an extended, patrilineal family — a celebration by a man and his wife and their sons and their families (if they have any) plus any unmarried daughters. a wife would celebrate the slava with her husband and his family of their patron saint, not the one which she grew up with (although if a woman was the last in her line, her slava might be celebrated in the household, too). the tradition goes right back to at least the medieval period — the earliest known record of slava celebrations is from 1018 a.d. [pg. 68] — although it probably has pre-christian roots.

the krsna slava qualifies as “clannish” as far as i am concerned (even though the serbs might not — surprisingly — be the most clannish of the balkan populations — more on that some other time). the slava is a way of distinguishing one extended family from another — each family has its own patron saint and own slava day (the saint’s feast day, i think) — and there’s some evidence/suggestions that the slava tradition ties back into the days when the serbs (and other balkan populations) were organized more into clans or tribes and not just extended families.

from Serbia [pgs. 42-43]:

“There are many facets of Orthodox religious practice that are central to Serbian culture even for individuals who are not especially religious. One of the most important of these is the custom of celebrating *slava*, a practice which may also be encountered in Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Croatia, although it is most commonly associated with the Serbs. *Slava*, which might be best translated as meaning ‘praise’ or ‘glory’, is the celebration of a patron saint. Each family celebrates its own saint, who is considered to be its protector. A particular *slava* is inherited from father to son and the occasion brings families together as each household, in sharing the same *slava*, is obliged to celebrate the event together. In special cases, such as migration abroad, family members may stage the event separately but as a rule it takes place under one roof, that of the family patriarch.

“During a *slava* the family home is open to anyone who wishes to drop by. It is considered untraditional to actually invite guests outside the family, but visitors are welcomed if they come of their own free will. To be turned away from a Serbian home during a *slava* is unheard of as this would bring disgrace to the household. The Krsna *slava* ritual involves the breaking of bread and the lighting of a candle by a priest. A prayer is said over the *koljivo* — ground cooked wheat — the third of the three ingredients central to the *slava* ceremony (the Serbs have a thing about the number three). Incense is burned and everyone present is blessed with holy water before the priest blesses and cuts the bread in the sign of the cross. The bread is then rotated by the family patriarch, his godfather and the priest before everyone assembled sits down for a meal. Of the various saints’ days, the most commonly celebrated are those of St. Nicholas (Nikolijdan) on 19 December, St. George (Durdevan) on 6 May, St. John the Baptist (Jovanjdan) on 20 January and St. Archangel Michael (Arandelovdan) on 21 November.

The custom of *slava* is believed to date back to the late 9th century when the Serbs were first Christianised. It is thought that each of the Serb tribes adopted its collective saint protector around this time and this is borne out by *slava* variations according to geographical regions. Another commonly held belief, which does not necessarily contradict this, is that the custom of *slava* is a remnant from pre-Christian paganism and that *slava* was a syncretic adaptation in which the qualities of the old Serbian gods found sustenance in the personalities of the new Christian saints. Occasionally, a new *slava* is adopted when it is believed that a particular saint has facilitated deliverances from an afflication such as an illness, in response to prayer.”

interestingly, though:

“As well as individuals and families, various communities such as villages, cities, organisations, political parties, institutions and professions, can have their own *slava*. Belgrade’s *slava* is on Ascension Day, which takes place on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter each year.”

middling inbreeders/outbreeders, the serbs? more in-betweeners? dunno.

james hedman (of the nsa?! (~_^) ) commented the other day:

“The tribes of Arabia were at the time of Mohammed by and large polytheistic pagans, each tribe having its own specific deities to nature, such as oases, trees, and weather.”

quite so. from Islam: A Guide for Jews and Christians [pgs. 41-42]:

“The inhabitants of Arabia assuredly had a religious tradition before Islam, and although we are not particularly well informed about it, it appears to have been quite complex, as we would expect to discover in societies that were splintered into tribes and clans of widely varying sizes, some sedentary and some nomadic, with a number of the latter ranging seasonally over enormously broad terrains.

“The inhabitants of the Hajaz worshiped the way they lived: the small settled populations visited fixed shrines in oases, whereas the Bedouin carried their gods with them. The objects worshiped were principally stones, trees, and heavenly bodies, or rather, the gods thought to reside in them, or possibly — and here we begin to enter a world we do not fully understand — represented by them. Reasonably clear is that in the more recent Arabian past sacred stones were increasingly being shaped into human likenesses, rough or fine, perhaps, it has been surmised, because of the extension of Hellenistic styles into the peninsula.

“However the devotees thought of it, Arabian cultus was highly volatile, the deities often sharing characteristics, being harmonized into families, or passing now into the possession of this tribe and now of that. There is a distinctly tribal notion to the Arabs’ worship of the gods. On the basis of the South Arabian evidence, with which the more meager Arab tradition concurs, each tribe or tribal confederation had a divine patron whose cult gave the group a focus for its solidarity. In a practice that points directly to what was occurring at Mecca, each of these ‘federal deities’ was the ‘lord’ of a shrine that served as the federation’s cult center.”

i feel that the krsna slava of the serbs is just a half step away from the tribal gods of the arabs, and both of them are clearly related to household deities. all of these “clan gods” serve to both unite extended families/clans/tribes AND to distinguish them from all the other extended families/clans/tribes out there.

the best sort of “clan god” worship, imho, has got to be the veneration of the dead. have some shrines in your house to your ancestors — maybe exhume them every now and again just to say hello. how more uniting can THAT be to actually remember, on a regular basis, (former) members of your actual family/clan? it’s very direct. i like that!

i kinda/sorta recognize the family patron saint thing from my own semi-clannish background. traditionally, individuals often had “favorite” saints, and it was not uncommon for kids to adopt their parents’ favorite saints, although, afaik, there were no hard-and-fast rules about this. and there were no party days on the saints’ days (d*rn!). my mother adopted my grandfather’s (her father’s) favorite saint, and i am actually named after that saint. my gradmother’s favorite saint was st. martin de porres:

MartinDePorres

granny was always so daring! (~_^)

previously: mating patterns in medieval eastern europe

(note: comments do not require an email. family shrine – japan.)

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