Archives for posts with tag: reciprocal altruism

i keep saying that i’ll define more clearly what i mean by “inbreeding” and “outbreeding,” but i never do. finally! — here i am, and i’m gonna do it! (^_^)

from the oxford dictionary of biology:

- inbreeding: “Mating between closely related individuals, the extreme condition being self-fertilization, which occurs in many plants and some primitive animals.” (see also wikipedia.)

- outbreeding: “Mating between unrelated or distantly related individuals of a species.”

great. but what’s “closely related” or “unrelated” or “distantly related”? self-fertilization doesn’t really apply to humans (at least not very often — i hope), so where to draw the line between “closely related” and “distantly related”?

i’m primarily interested in the evolution of altruism and other “innate social aptitudes” in man [pdf] — and here’s where inclusive fitness comes into the picture, btw — and the role that inbreeding and outbreeding might play in all that.

inbreeding in and of itself does not change the frequencies of genes in a population — it just moves them around, concentrating them in certain lineages. however, wade and breden showed in some mathematical wizardry modelling that, under certain circumstances, long-term, sustained inbreeding can, in fact, lead to increased frequencies of “genes for altruism” in a population.

wade and breden looked at four inbreeding scenarios: 1) self-fertilization (doesn’t happen in humans); 2) if the mating individuals shared half (50%) their genomes in common (like parent-offspring matings or sibling matings); 3) if the mating individuals shared 20% of their genes in common (this is somewhere in between first cousins and double-first cousins or uncle-niece/aunt-nephew); and 4) if the mating individuals shared no genes in common (not the typical pattern in human matings). most human populations do not practice parent-offspring/sibling matings — in fact, it’s usually avoided and considered by most as really icky. but quite a lot of peoples regularly marry first cousins, and some (in the arab world/middle east) even often marry double-first cousins — nor is the world short on uncle-niece pairings (southern india, for example — or hasidic jews).

wade and breden found that, under certain circumstances, long-term, sustained matings between individuals that share 20% of their genomes in common can lead in an increase in altruism genes in that population. first cousin marriage, probably the most common form of inbreeding in humans, is a little short of what wade and breden looked at, but it’s not terribly far away either (12.5% relatedness vs. 20% relatedness). you would think that the slope of the line for inbreeding at 12.5% relatedness would fall somewhere in between that for 0% and 20% (solid black line) on wade and breden’s lower graph here:

wade and breden 02 small

in clinical genetics, most researchers look at degrees of inbreeding that are between second cousins or closer, commonly referred to in the literature as consanguineous marriages. since i get a lot of my data on inbreeding from such studies, it’s kinda handy for me to define inbreeding as anything between second cousins or closer, but in reconsidering wade and breden’s results, i’m thinking that maybe i should only concentrate on first cousins or closer. for now i think i’ll stick to second cousins or closer, but i reserve the right to change my mind (it is a woman’s prerogative, isn’t it? still?).

so, on this blog:

- inbreeding = in a population, a general pattern of regular and sustained mating between individuals who are related to one another as second cousins or closer.

- outbreeding = in a population, a general pattern of regular and sustained mating in which individuals avoid second cousins or closer.

notice the “regular and sustained” bit. that’s important. we’re not talking here about occasional marriages between cousins. it has to be a regular practice in a society. i’m not sure what the frequency of the inbreeding needs to be. it will vary according to population size, of course — the smaller the population, the more closely related everyone’s going to be anyway (e.g. the yanomamo). in a larger population? — dunno. definitely when 50% of marriages are consanguineous over the long-term i think the frequencies of “genes for altruism” are going to increase pretty rapidly (i’ll come back to what sorts of altruism in another post). 30%? probably. 3%? not really.

outbreeding, too, needs to be “regular and sustained” to have any effect, i.e. to have a population slide back down wade and breden’s slope in reverse. one generation of outbreeding probably won’t have much of an effect, i think. evolution (natural selection) does take some time, after all. also, if one inbreeding group interbreeds with another inbreeding group, that’s NOT outbreeding according to my definiton. technically it is in biological circles, but if we’re talking about two populations that have been inbreeding for a long time and, therefore, have acquired a lot of genes for my “familial altruism,” then all they’re doing by interbreeding is swapping familial altruism genes. for example, if you’re the early medieval irish and are clannish because you’ve been inbreeding for who-knows-how-long, the “outbreeding” that you do with the vikings when they show up (probably) doesn’t count wrt altruism, because they’re a long-term inbreeding group, too.

to have any effect on the frequency of certain “genes for altruism,” outbreeding — like inbreeding — needs, i think, to be regular and sustained over the long-term, as it was with europeans (mostly northwest europeans) since the early medieval period (see also mating patterns in europe series in left-hand column below ↓ for more details) and, perhaps, some other groups like the semai in malaysia.

previously: inbreeding and the evolution of altruistic behavior

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i really like this! bjk suggests (link and emphases added by me):

“White guilt, I was thinking about it. Steve Sailer thinks that white guilt has nothing to do with guilt but with status striving. But status doesn’t seem an adequate explanation, and it’s not really very fair to liberals, who say they have honest intentions, and why not? So then what explains the really deep emotional bitterness many liberals feel towards southerners? Not that they’ve ever met somebody with a confederate bumper sticker, but the disdain for Bubba goes deeper than the surface. So then I thought about a wife marrying a new husband. Suddenly she’s dependent on him and his income, maybe on her parents if things go bad, and then on her in-laws, in that order. But if the extended family is weak and distant, and the parents are poor or on bad terms with her, she rightly sees herself in a very vulnerable situation. So she votes for democrats. Compare her with someone who marries a cousin. Now she is not dependent on just her husband, but her husband depends on her also, and there is a strong reinforcement of the marriage from the in-laws.

“So in the perspective of both women, there are three kinds of people: nuclear family, in-laws, and strangers. The first woman, dependent to a great extent on her nuclear family, looks to the strangers as an insurance policy, either literally (by buying insurance) or through the state. But the second women sees the state as simply strangers – she is much better off relying on her extended family, which is large enough to serve as insurance, and includes her in-laws.

So you might figure these two cases are symmetrical, but they’re not. Lady a indirectly relies on lady b, but not vice-versa. Lady b doesn’t think about a at all, except to try to avoid the revenuer. But lady a gets spittle-spewing furious at b if she can’t rely on b, but b just shrugs her shoulders. Not her problem.

So to get back to liberal guilt, what we call liberal guilt is really altruistic punishment directed against other whites (blacks may be the plaintiff but are not really party to the dispute). This altruistic punishment is directed at whites (crackers, bubbas and other racists) who do not engage in stranger-stranger reciprocity via the state ie are shirking their duties.

“So white guilt is not misnamed – it’s the attempt to makes other whites feel guilty, not any feeling of guilt whites feel towards blacks.”

that’s really good. thanks, bjk!

and the southern lady — lady b — doesn’t even have to marry her cousin nowadays to not be so interested in helping out lady a. she, and a majority of her fellow southerners, might just have very different altruistic attitudes than yankees due to their different evolutionary histories (i.e. puritans vs. border reivers and cavaliers).

(and, yeah … blacks and other minorities [such as they are for now!] definitely seem to be pawns in this game … whatever the h*ck it’s all about.)

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so i think the connection between inbreeding (or outbreeding) and the evolution of the “innate social aptitudes of man” [pdf] works something like this:

inbreeding in and of itself does not change the frequency of genes (alleles) in a population [pg. 65], but it does move them around, concentrating them in certain family lines.

if, then, some sort of genetic mutation arises in one family line which, let’s say for the sake of argument, results in the carriers somehow behaving more altruistically towards their fellow family members than strangers, and this results in them being able to increase their inclusive fitness, then that genetic mutation will be selected for.

it will really be selected for (i.e. the selection rate will be accelerated) because of the inbreeding because: 1) since the inbred family will have greater than average numbers of this “altruism gene” because it is inbreeding, its members will likely execute a greater total number of altruistic behaviors towards one another and, so, they will really benefit fitness-wise from this new gene. also, 2) perhaps — perhaps — all else being equal, the inbred family members will feel even more strongly altruistic towards their fellow family members than an outbred family would since they are so much more genetically similar to their family members. to be honest with you, i’m not so sure about that second proposition, so i’m just going to skip it for now and focus on the first one.

wrt the first proposition, that the rate of selection of “genes for altruism” is faster in an inbreeding population is exactly what wade and breden found when they ran some models — the more inbreeding, the more rapid the selection of the altruism genes:

you can imagine why.

if you have a bunch of different families in a population, and one of those families possesses some sort of “familial altruism” gene which means that its members help each other out (or whatever) more than the members of the other families do, and this increases the fitness of a majority of this special family’s members, then they are simply going to be more successful than the other families. they’ll leave more descendants behind and, thus, more of those genes behind. IN ADDITION, if this successful family ALSO inbreeds, each of its members is much more likely to have at least one, or even two, copies of this familial altruism gene, so more members of this successful family will be even more altruistic to each other and voilà! — they’ll increase their fitness and success even more than they would have done without the inbreeding.

these familial altruism genes — genes that lead to behaviors in which individuals somehow favor their own family members over non-family members — and by family members i mean extended-family members — are only going to arise, of course, in a population in which there is more than one family. if you’ve got some tiny band somewhere that has absolutely no contact with any other group (doubt that’s ever existed), then my evolutionary scenario simply won’t happen. it’s the competition between the individuals from the different families that is driving this.

naturally, genes in any population — even an inbreeding one — won’t remain restricted to any one family for very long. no family anywhere inbreeds 100% exclusively, so if some successful familial altruism genes do arise in some inbreeding family somewhere, they will quickly spread to the other families in that population. thus, there is probably an ongoing familial altruism genetic arms race in inbreeding populations.

also, i think fewer familial altruism genes — or not such strong ones, perhaps — are going to arise in a comparatively outbreeding population. the accelerated selection due to the inbreeding won’t be there, nor will this arms race to keep one step ahead of the joneses when it comes to familial altruism. additionally, i think that in an outbreeding population, there’ll be greater selection pressures than in an inbreeding population for “reciprocal altruism” genes — i.e. genes which lead people to be willing to cooperate more with non-family members — since more of those sorts of behaviors will likely be required to be successful in life.

so what do these “familial altruism” genes look like?

i dunno.

maybe there are differences in oxytocin-related genes? — the luuuuv hormone that “turns out to be the hormone of the clan.”

or — ya’ll know that i’m kinda fascinated by interclan fighting which is the flip-side of being nice to your family (i.e. be extra un-nice to your non-family) — so maybe one familial altruism gene is the “warrior gene” (MAO-A gene)? dunno.

one that i speculated about before is CYP21A2, the gene connected to congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), a recessive genetic condition which affects the production cortisol which, in turn, affects the production of androgens (like testosterone) — notably, in the most common form of CAH, androgen levels are increased. the condition is a recessive one, so you need to have two copies of the deleterious allele to have the condition, but as i mentioned in my previous post on CAH, carriers with one copy of the allele have been found to have excess androgens — and androgens have been connected to aggression. (also, children with CAH have been found to have smaller amygdalae, so … they’re less fearful? don’t know if this also holds true for adults with CAH.)

increased aggression? fighting at the drop of a hat? interclan fighting? see where i’m going with this?

the interesting thing is — at least i think it’s interesting — is that there are different frequencies of CAH found in different populations. what we’d really want to know, of course, are the gene frequencies for CAH for different populations, but in lieu of those … here are some incidence rates of classical CAH in different populations [numbers acquired from or via here and here]:

1:282 – Yupik Eskimos, Alaska
1:2,141 – La Reunion
1:4,081 – Western Australia Aborigines
1:5,000 – GLOBAL
1:5,000-7,000 – Moroccan Jews
1:5,041 – Zurich, Switzerland
1:7,000 – Kuwait
1:10,866 – France (Whites)
1:10,866 – Italy (Whites)
1:11,500 – Sweden
1:11,764 – Netherlands
1:14,300 – Hungary
1:14,403 – Croatia
1:14,500-23,344 – New Zealand
1:14,869 – Western Australia
1:15,518 – Emilia-Romagna, Italy (Whites)
1:15,800-18,000 – Japan
1:17,098 – Scotland
1:19,939 – Minas Gerais, Brazil
1:20,000 – Norway

i dunno, but i see — maybe — the more inbred clannish fighters (yupik eskimos, moroccan jews, kuwaitis) having more cases of CAH than the more outbred peaceniks (new zealanders, norwegians, even northern italians). also…

- “The Texas data indicate a lower disease frequency in African-Americans when compared with Caucasians, and international data indicate higher frequencies in native Yupik Eskimos, Brazilians, residents of La Reunion, and Filipinos.” [source]

- “The prevalence of the disease [non-classical CAH] in Ashkenazi Jews was 3.7%; in Hispanics, 1.9%; in Yugoslavs, 1.6%; in Italians, 0.3%; and in the diverse Caucasian population, 0.1%.” [source] (non-classical CAH refers to a less severe form of CAH which might not get noticed until adulthood when it expresses itself in features like a woman having, perhaps, a bit too much facial hair.)

again, what we’d really want to know are the gene frequencies for CAH in different populations. then the über-human savants that we call population geneticists could do their math wizardry to see if these genes were under positive selection or not (zey hav vays av mayking ze data talk). (another interesting thing, btw, is that there are many different mutations in this gene which cause a range of CAH conditions from mild to severe — and different mutations are more common in different populations — see here and here and here for instance.)

of course, maybe these mutations in CYP21A2 aren’t being selected for for increased aggression/upside-down familial altruism. maybe it’s something else. witchel, et al., found that heterozygotes for mutated CYP21A2 alleles (i.e. individuals with just one copy of the cr*ppy gene) had increased cortisol levels and cortisol is, apparently, important for the immune system, so maybe these mutants simply survive infections better. others have found a possible connection between higher iq and CAH (masculinization = higher iq?) — see here and here and here — so maybe that’s it.

or maybe these genes are not being selected for at all. however, fertility rates of people (women) with CAH are low, so it seems like a strange bunch of genes to have around if they don’t have some sort of benefit.

previously: inbreeding and the evolution of altruistic behavior and looking for altruism genes and visions of altruism genes

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Ancestral link places Mexican-Americans at greater risk for metabolic disease“Mexican-Americans with an ancestral link to Amerindian tribes were found to have higher insulin resistance levels, which is an indication of several chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes….”

Most mutations come from dad“Humans inherit more than three times as many mutations from their fathers as from their mothers, and mutation rates increase with the father’s age but not the mother’s….” see also Father’s Age Is Linked to Risk of Autism and Schizophrenia. and see also greg cochran (h/t jayman!).

Human responses to unfairness with primary rewards and their biological limits“[H]umans care about being treated fairly when bargaining with primary rewards, and, together with a broader literature suggest that such reciprocal altruism may be particularly prominent in humans.” – note that the study seems to have been conducted on “w.e.i.r.d.” students.

African National IQs, redux“The average for 40 African nations comes out to 75.” – from chuck.

Solutions, Again – jayman’s ideas for a better future!

Working memory training does not improve IQ – from the inductivist.

Male Circumcision and Health Care Costs – @the breviary.

A decade after Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, why is human nature still taboo? – from ed west.

Hypergamy In China Cutting Fertility Of High Ranking Women – from parapundit.

Do Drivers Make Way In Your Country? – from anatoly.

Divergent Whole-Genome Methylation Maps of Human and Chimpanzee Brains Reveal Epigenetic Basis of Human Regulatory Evolution“Hundreds of genes exhibit significantly lower levels of promoter methylation in the human brain than in the chimpanzee brain…. Differentially methylated genes [in humans] are strikingly enriched with loci associated with neurological disorders, psychological disorders, and cancers.”

Dusting Off GOD“The implication — that religion is basically malevolent, that it ‘poisons everything,’ in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens — is a standard assertion of the New Atheists…. Before you can know for sure, you have to figure out what religion does for us in the first place.”

Planet of the apes“What we really know about our evolutionary past – and what we don’t” – nice review of a couple of human evolution books.

bonus: Octopuses Gain Consciousness (According to Scientists’ Declaration)

bonus bonus: The Racial Divide on … Sneakers

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there’s some good evidence that, on average, people:

- feel more grief over the death of a child who was most like themselves;

- care more for their grandchildren with whom they share the most genes (at least grandmas do anyway);

- are sexually attracted to individuals with whom they share genes if they don’t experience westermarck imprinting (or is it reverse imprinting?), and are more sexually attracted to those individuals with whom they share more genes.

all of this makes sense from an inclusive fitness point-of-view. on average, people really seem to behave according to the “two brothers or eight cousins” rule.

so i’ve been thinking, if you took two human populations with exactly the same evolutionary histories so that they had all of the same sorts and frequencies of genes — including those for altruism (and other social behaviors) — and then had one of the groups inbreed for a generation or two, the inbred group ought to start being more altruistic/whatever to their family members, on average, simply because they would share more genes with — be more genetically similar to — their family members than the non-inbred group members would be to their family members.

i’m guessing, then, that there are two things going on with inbreeding/outbreeding and altruism/other innate social behaviors:

- genetic similarity within a population directly and immediately affecting how people behave towards one another,
- and the evolution of genes for altruism over the longer term.

greying wanderer is ahead of me on this one (^_^):

“I think altruistic behaviour is the *product* of two separate things: relatedness and altruistic genes multiplied together, so the more related people are the less strong their altruistic genes need to be. If the human default is inbreeding then i think this makes more sense as an inbred group would then only have needed to develop very small amounts of altruism genes to create an altruistic effect. If so then it’s only when people outbreed that they need to develop *more* altruism genes to compensate for the drop in relatedness and it’s this that explains how those people can then come to display altruistic type behaviour towards non-kin.”

i thought before that maybe oubred groups evolved different altruism genes (i.e. ones for reciprocal altruism vs. familial altruism) rather than more altruism genes, but i like g.w.’s idea, too. definitely food for thought!

of course, genetic similarity+inbreeding+altruism is pretty much what steve sailer talked about in “Cousin Marriage Conundrum.” (^_^)

see also j.p. rushton’s genetic similarity theory.

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1) inclusive fitness — hamilton’s idea that your genetic success should be calculated by considering both your direct descendants AND other individuals who happen to share copies of your genes and whom you have aided in some way — means that individuals who are more altruistic towards those other individuals with whom they share a good deal of genes, close-ish family members being the most likely candidates, increase their total fitness. inbreeding, because it amplifies the relatedness between family members, can amplify the altruistic behaviors between them.

2) altruistic behaviors are behavioral traits that are selected for under certain conditions (selective pressures) because such behaviors pay off (i.e. increasing an individual’s fitness or inclusive fitness). there are many, many, many types of altruistic behaviors, including those that are on the “dark side” of altruism (bigotry, waaaaycism, genocide), so there cannot possibly be just one “gene for altruism.” inbreeding, because it amplifies the relatedness between family members, can make the evolution of “genes for familial altruism” easier/happen more quickly (see here and here).

(ok. so technically that’s more than just two things. so sue me! (^_^) )

regarding the first point — inbreeding, because it amplifies the relatedness between family members, can amplify the altruistic behaviors between them — let’s take two examples: a population that breeds entirely randomly (doesn’t really exist in humans) and a population that inbreeds (cousins marry cousins regularly, for instance).

in the randomly breeding (diploid) population, the relatedness between the various family members looks like this. in such a population, first-cousins will probably share 1/8th (12.5%) of their dna in common; that’s an inbreeding coefficient of 6.25%.

first-cousins in the regularly inbreeding population will share a greater amount of dna in common because they share so many ancestors in common, so their inbreeding coefficients will be higher. for instance, some first-cousins from pakistan and saudi arabia, two societies with very long histories of cousin marriage, have inbreeding coefficients of 11%, almost double those in a randomly mating population.

so, all else being equal (which is obviously never the case), if we take a totally made-up example of an altruistic behavior — the sharing of bananas — one would expect to find that the first-cousins in the inbreeding population, since they are more closely related to one another, share more bananas with each other on average than the first-cousins in the randomly mating population. the first-cousins in the randomly mating population should share more bananas with each other than they do with their second-cousins, because they share more genes with each other than they do with their second-cousins — but overall their altruistic behaviors won’t hold a candle to the inbred first-cousins.

got that? (^_^)

macaque monkeys provide a good example of how more closely related family members are more altruistic towards one another than more distantly related family members. the closer the genetic relationship, the more grooming between two macaque relatives; the more distant the relationship, the less grooming

confused beetles provide a good example of how more inbred family members are more altruistic towards their close relatives than randomly mated family members are. in this case, we’re talking about an example of the “dark side” of altruism: randomly mated confused beetles cannibalize other related confused beetle larvae more than inbred ones.

steve sailer applied these ideas to humans way back in 2003. from Cousin Marriage Conundrum:

“Are Muslims, especially Arabs, so much more loyal to their families than to their nations because, due to countless generations of cousin marriages, they are so much more genealogically related to their families than Westerners are related to theirs? Frank Salter, a political scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany whose new book ‘Risky Transactions: Trust, Kinship, and Ethnicity’ takes a sociobiological look at the reason why Mafia families are indeed families, told me, ‘That’s my hunch; at least it’s bound to be a factor.’

“One of the basic laws of modern evolutionary science, quantified by the great Oxford biologist William D. Hamilton in 1964 under the name ‘kin selection,’ is that the more close the genetic relationship between two people, the more likely they are to feel loyalty and altruism toward each other. Natural selection has molded us not just to try to propagate our own genes, but to help our relatives, who possess copies of some of our specific genes, to propagate their own.

“Nepotism is thus biologically inspired. Hamilton explained that the level of nepotistic feeling generally depends upon degree of genetic similarity. You share half your personally variable genes with your children and siblings, but one quarter with your nephews/nieces and grandchildren, so your nepotistic urges will tend to be somewhat less toward them. You share one eighth of your genes with your first cousins, and one thirty-second with your second cousin, so your feelings of family loyalty tend to fall off quickly.

“But not as quickly if you and your relatives are inbred. Then, you’ll be genealogically and related to your kin via multiple pathways. You will all be genetically more similar, so your normal family feelings will be multiplied. For example, your son-in-law might be also be the nephew you’ve cherished since his childhood, so you can lavish all the nepotistic altruism on him that in an outbred family would be split between your son-in-law and your nephew.

“Unfortunately, nepotism is usually a zero sum game, so the flip side of being materially nicer toward your relatives would be that you’d have less resources left with which to be civil, or even just fair, toward non-kin. So, nepotistic corruption is rampant in countries such as Iraq, where Saddam has appointed members of his extended family from his hometown of Tikrit to many key positions in the national government….”

what i got interested in was the flip-side of what steve talked about. in other words, if inbreeding leads to the sort of nepotistic behaviors we see in the middle east, maybe not-so-much inbreeding — or even outbreeding — leads to the opposite. lots of inbreeding in humans seems to lead to all sorts of family-oriented, clannish behaviors, not just nepotism. it even seems to, as randall parker pointed out, impede the development of democracy because everyone’s so focused on their extended families/clans/tribes. again, maybe outbreeding does just the opposite. i think there’s a lot of pretty good evidence pointing in these directions (see the Mating Patterns series down below ↓ in the left-hand column), but so far it’s all circumstantial.

furthermore, point number two from the top: inbreeding, because it amplifies the relatedness between family members, can make the evolution of “genes for familial altruism” easier/happen more quickly. not only are inbred populations of humans more likely to be more altruistic to their near kin than not-so-inbred populations because they are more closely related to one another (like the confused beetles), various “altruistic alleles” related to familial altruism ought to develop more quickly and be more frequent in the inbred populations (again, see here and here).

greg cochran’s not convinced. he said: “Your general notion that the degree of inbreeding does something, by itself, in the short run, is incorrect.”

i think he’s misunderstood my argument (well, how much can one communicate in a couple of comments to a blog post?). i am not arguing that “inbreeding does something by itself — except for potentially amplifying already existing altruistic behaviors (see the beetle example again). nor am i arguing that “inbreeding does something, by itself, in the short run.” no. of course, any “genes for altruism” would have to be selected for (or not) over some amount of generations.

wade and breden found that inbreeding accelerates the spread of altruism genes in a population, and that “genes for altruism” would already be on the increase after just fifty generations if the selection was strong and the genes dominant. populations like arabs in the middle east have certainly been inbreeding closely for well over fifty generations (i’ve over-estimated the length of generations at 25 years/generation to come up with a conservative guess of how long they’ve been inbreeding). and northwest europeans have been doing just the opposite for something like fifty generations or so. the one group is almost freakishly oriented towards the extended-family/clan/tribe; the other, as m.g. miles put it, to the commonweal.

i think there’s been an almost exactly opposite evolutionary history in terms of altruism in these two populations over the last one thousand years (how cool is that?!) — an evolution that’s ongoing, of course, since middle easterners are still inbreeding and northwest europeans are outbreeding more and more.

greg also said:

“Imagine that in much of history, people lived in small groups that often fought with their neighbors. In that sort of situation, selection for group altruism is at least possible, since the group is full of close relatives, while the opponents are less closely related. Both sides are probably members of the same broad ethnic group or race, but that doesn’t matter: only the kinship coefficients matter.

“Suppose that many people emerge on to the stage of history with this impulse to fight for their side: in the past, this always meant closely related people. Now, with the emergence of states, they find themselves fighting in armies, which feel like their side, but are no longer closely related – not a bunch of cousins and such. It could well be that many individuals are actually willing to risk themselves for that state. They’re willing to die for truth, justice and the Assyrian Way. It’s not genetically smart, but their adaptations are wired for past circumstances….

Over time, this misfiring of altruism should decrease. Patriotism burns itself out. Dying for Assyria doesn’t do your close relatives any good at all. Some people will be more prone to this, some less, and that tendency will be heritable. Those with a tendency to volunteer (in the service of anything other than close relatives) should dwindle away over time.

yes. familial altruism (all sorts of behaviors!) can be misapplied in new circumstances. but i think that what greg describes would only occur IF you started off with a population with lots of smaller, somewhat related but inbred sub-groups which had lots of “genes for familial altruism” and then brought them together into a state. maybe like the roman empire. or any of the chinese empires.

BUT there are other sorts of altruism beyond familial altruism — like reciprocal altruism — tit-for-tat sorts of behaviors, for example.

if you started off, not with a population that consisted of sub-groups with lots of “genes for familial altruism,” but rather a population with more “genes for reciprocal altruism,” the patriotism may not be quite so artificial. i suspect — but have no real proof, of course — that northwest europeans are such a population.

to quote myself from over @west hunter [links added]:

“i wondered before, though, if an opposite of these sorts of kin-oriented altruism alleles might be certain types of reciprocal altruism alleles. you know: the ones behind tit-for-tat sort-of behaviors, etc.

“if you have a population that oubreeds A LOT (nw europeans from the middle ages onward) in which family and kin connections are downplayed (prolly because of the outbreeding) — AND you have the ‘right’ sort of selection pressures (something that selects for cooperation and corporate behavior, like medieval manorialism and farming in a cold climate) — then maybe the frequencies for whatever alleles code for reciprocal altruism increase because lots of reciprocal altruism increases your success at reproducing.”

if you kept warring, you would still burn through the most patriotic members of the group (think wwi and wwii), but you wouldn’t be left with clans at the end of the day (see the rest of greg’s comment below). perhaps bunches of self-oriented nuclear families/individuals, but not clans.

speaking of misapplied altruism, i think our reciprocal altruism is now being misapplied in the face of migrating mexicans and muslims and all sorts of third world populations who, on the whole, are not big into reciprocation.

finally, greg said:

“But states are older in some places than others, and some have made greater demands than others. Imagine a region where states have been around longer, a place in which the locals have lived through empire after empire after empire. They should have had the patriotism bred clean out of them. They should feel altruistic about their families, maybe their clan – and nothing else.

yes, they do — middle easterners (the strongest of the inbreeders) and to a lesser extent the chinese (who also have a very long history of inbreeding) feel more altruistic about their families and their clans, but that’s not because they had the altruism/patriotism bred out of them. they’re sooo inbred (the muslims way more than the chinese) that they never had any patriotism in the first place! they have such strong drives for familial altruism that anything like patriotism doesn’t even enter into the picture. feelings of patriotism — nationalism — have historically been strongest amongst northwest europeans — the most outbred, civic, and “corporate” peoples in the world.

i think there are some really cool evolutionary histories that led to these differences in altruistic behaviors — differences which are some of the most profound, innate differences between human populations that are out there — the instinctive feelings guiding us in how to treat the others around us.

see also: Giving Bigotry a Chance and Your country’s not your blood from henry harpending and greg cochran @west hunter (who seem to have caught the inbreeding/outbreeding & altruism bug! (~_^) ).

previously: inbreeding and the evolution of altruistic behavior and four things and which altruism genes? and inclusive inclusive fitness

(note: comments do not require an email. altruism. what’s in it for me?)

i had visions of this schematic diagram (along with sugarplums, of course!) knocking around in my head over christmas. for those of you who haven’t been following along, it came to mind ’cause of a brief conversation in this comments thread here.

the slopes might not be exactly right for conveying what i’ve got in mind — if i had actually drawn the graph myself, maybe they’d be more “right” (i brazenly stole and adapted the graph from wikipedia) — but hopefully you’ll get my general meaning. see what you think:

(hint: as the degree of inbreeding in a population increases, the number of reciprocal altruism genes decreases while the number of “sib-altruism” genes increases. and vice versa.)

previously: technical stuff

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

clearly there can be/are probably many different types of altruism genes present in varying frequencies in different human populations — possibly some are not even found at all in some populations.

“genes for altruism” are obviously a good thing, at least in some circumstances, otherwise they wouldn’t be around. but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. (except for chocolate.)

it seems that too many “sib altruism” genes in high concentrations means that you wind up with clannish or tribal societies, which might be great in some places and at some times, but they tend to hinder the development of a modern, liberal, democratic society — if that is your aim.

otoh, perhaps too few “sib altruism” genes means your society weakens too much at the seams and starts to unravel. perhaps too many “genes for reciprocal altruism” can get your society in trouble, especially if it comes up against strong tribalistic societies.

a while back, john quoted this passage from bill hamilton:

“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).”

like pretty much every paragraph written by hamilton, there are at least five original ideas here and about ten really interesting side notes. (~_^)

one thing: hamilton suggests that the occasional invasion by tribal barbarians may be a good thing for civilizations since they prolly introduce some fresh altruism genes into aged societies in which the altruism genes have been watered down too much. that’s probably correct (i can’t see why it wouldn’t be); however, i have been thinking for some time now that a society with watered down altruism genes ought to be able to get back to a more altruistic state simply by stepping up its internal inbreeding a bit. i think that should work, provided there are enough altruism genes left in the population and they haven’t (almost) all been deselected (if that’s the right way of putting it).

problem is, this is not a quick fix. it might take a few generations to get your society back to where you want it to be. and, of course, with too much close inbreeding you run the risk of developing high concentrations of “sib altruism” genes in certain lineages, yada, yada, yada. so you’ve got to know how to inbreed AND when to stop. (don’t ask me what the ideals are!)

also, since it’s quite possible/likely that different populations may have different altruism genes, it’s not certain that any given failing civilization would necessarily want the altruism genes of whatever barbarian group happened to turn up on its doorstep. the barbarians might bring some good altruism genes (just what the doctor ordered!) — then again, they might bring some wacko genes that no one in their right mind would want. in other words, it might be good to choose your barbarian invasion wisely.

another thing (from that hamilton paragraph above): “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.”

this goes back to something i pointed out in an oversimplification: i.e. that wildly altruistic people inevitably wind up benefitting all sorts of people to whom they are unrelated. sure they might be altruistic to a great number of people with whom they share genes in common, but they also might help a great number of people to whom they are unrelated — which is a bit of a FAIL, actually. if you’re keeping score, that is. (and Mother Nature is, btw.)

in my imagined scenario (in my oversimplifed model), the extremely altruistic individuals wound up helping twice as many unrelated individuals as related individuals. i don’t know if that ever really happens in real life, but as we saw earlier today, there are some individuals out there in the world — perhaps especially in the western world — who really go out of their way to help unrelated individuals. it’s very nice of them … but where will it get them in the end?

too much altruism?

previously: four things and which altruism genes? and technical stuff

(note: comments do not require an email. whatcha doin’ there?)


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