i cheated

so, i’m about half-way through “A Farewell to Alms” (ok, ok — one-third of the way) and i have to admit that all of clark’s charts are starting to make my eyes glaze over … so i cheated. i (re-)read steve sailer’s posts (here and here) on the book as well as nicholas wade’s review in the nyt just to get a quick over-view of clark’s thesis.

so, what i got out of reading those (and the first third of the book) is that clark looked at historical records (parish records, wills, etc.) in england from 1200 through 1800 and found that well-to-do people left behind more descendants than poorer folks — in fact, the surnames of some poorer folks disappeared altogether during the time period — and, therefore, by the time of the industrial revolution the english were mostly the descendants of medieval well-to-do folks. furthermore, because of this, for either cultural or genetic reasons (i’ll put my money on genetic), the nineteenth century english were the bearers of “middle class values”: “nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save.”


but, by the 1200s in england, the fundamental social unit in society was the nuclear family (see also jack goody) — and not even the stem family (nuclear family + one set of grandparents) as is found in many european societies. nope. it was just the bare-bones nuclear family in england. and this is important because the earlier state of affairs — tribal britain — would not have been conducive to any of the middle-class values that clark talks about. you needed to get rid of the tribes first before you could have the eugenic scenario clark outlines.

tribes and nonviolence? not possible. tribes and violence go together like laurel and hardy. the basic premise of tribal society is hostility toward non-members — hostile toward non-members of your sub-clan or your clan or your sub-tribe or your tribe. h*ck, you might even be hostile toward your brother. the “rules” of inclusive fitness are simply built into tribal society on such a basic level that tribal societies are never, ever going to evolve to be non-violent. to be non-violent in a tribal society means you lose. losers don’t leave descendants behind.

you have to get rid of tribes before you can become (relatively) non-violent. at least non-violent on a day-to-day basis. war is still possible in non-tribal societies, of course (think wwi and wwii) — but the regular beating-your-neighbor-over-the-head-with-a-club just sorta disappears when you loosen up tribal genetic ties. (a high average iq prolly helps to become non-violent, too — everyone can see that all the violence is non-productive.)

tribes and literacy? well, literacy could be something cultural — but it also points to a high-ish average iq, no? this is just me thinking out loud — but i wonder if being tribal is dysgenic iq-wise, not just because of possible inbreeding depression effects (and, of course, inbreeding with the “right” selection pressures can lead to high iq), but also because all the individuals in a tribe, no matter how smart or dumb, get carried through life by the tribe. even the dumbest might get to reproduce via arranged marriages with other not-so-smart cousins. (i don’t know if this is true or not — just speculating here.) nuclear families, on the other hand — they’ve got to survive alone — or almost alone — maybe they ally with friends or neighbors, which you would think would select for other traits not seen so much in tribal societies (more reciprocal altruism?). but you have to be pretty smart to survive as a nuclear family — not so much opportunity for riding along on someone else’s coat-tails, you know?

tribes and long-working hours? heh! this goes back to the previous point — nuclear families have got to be prepared to work long and hard in order to survive ’cause they only (or mostly) have themselves on which to rely. not so in a nice, big tribe. plenty of time for slacking off.

tribes and a willingness to save? not possible. if you happen to become the Big Man in your tribal society, you’ve go to share with your really extended family. it’s just not possible to save ’cause you’re expected to redistribute. a lot of individuals in tribal societies might even be put off working too hard in order to obtain lots of wealth ’cause they’d just have to share with their second-cousin-once-removed. why bother?

the “Farewell to Alms” theory and clark’s evidence is really neat (altho i think steve sailer is right in that he didn’t exactly demonstrate why the industrial revolution happened in england as opposed to, say, the netherlands — altho maybe i should finish the book before saying that!). but none of these middle class values would’ve appeared in the english population had they remained tribal. and the only reason the english didn’t remain tribal was ’cause they started to outbreed — (oddly) thnx to the church. it’s a funny old world!

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

(note: comments do not require an email. another fine mess….)



  1. “altho i think steve sailer is right in that he didn’t exactly demonstrate why the industrial revolution happened in england as opposed to, say, the netherlands”

    I think the Netherlands (and maybe parts of Switzerland) went into this process first. You can see it in the explosion in Dutch/Flemish science/literature/economy/empire that started a few decades before England.



    I think the key difference may have simply been numbers.

    If we look at this in terms of synergy then exogamy allowed larger-scale co-operation (and therefore greater synergy) but i think any equation for synergy would include the maximum number of people contained in the group e.g

    Synergy = (number in group) to the power of (co-operativeness)

    Holland wasn’t big enough to generate the neccessary minimum amount of synergy?


  2. @g.w. – “I think the Netherlands (and maybe parts of Switzerland) went into this process first. You can see it in the explosion in Dutch/Flemish science/literature/economy/empire that started a few decades before England.”

    yes, i think you’re right. iirc, gentlemen from england who wanted to be doctors or scientists often went to the netherlands for training during this time period. also, it’s all the fault of the dutch for the crazy spellings we have in english, like “school.” they’re the ones who printed up the earliest english dictionaries ’cause they were so advanced in printing back in the day. thanks a lot, dutch people! (~_^)

    it’s interesting that you point this out, tho, ’cause my buddy michael mitterauer in “Why Europe?: The Medieval Origins of Its Special Path” argues that the beginnings of feudalism — medieval manoralism — originated in austrasia, which is basically parts of eastern france, parts of western germany, the netherlands, belgium and luxembourg. and there’s a whole connection between outbreeding and manoralism — you can’t get to manoralism without getting rid of tribes (i.e. outbreeding) — and once you have manoralism, well that whole system encourages even more outbreeding. the franks were some of the germanic peoples to start outbreeding quite early on — then they invented manoralism — and, then, many centuries later, the beginnings of the industrial revolution start there.

    yay for outbreeding (and high iqs)! (if you’re a fan of the industrial revolution, that is. (~_^) )


  3. yes maybe that whole band of terriotory had the potential for it but either lacked the minimum size of political unit or the relative geographical safety to not have to focus too many resources on military issues. geography + exogamy.


  4. An interesting paper by Clark, discussed here by Steve Hsu:

    “In my recent book, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World I argue two things. First that all societies remained in a state I label the “Malthusian economy” up until the onset of the Industrial Revolution around 1800. In that state crucially the economic laws governing all human societies before 1800 were those that govern all animal societies. Second that was thus subject to natural selection throughout the Malthusian era, even after the arrival of settled agrarian societies with the Neolithic Revolution.

    The Darwinian struggle that shaped human nature did not end with the Neolithic Revolution but continued right up until the Industrial Revolution. But the arrival of settled agriculture and stable property rights set natural selection on a very different course. It created an accelerated period of evolution, rewarding with reproductive success a new repertoire of human behaviors – patience, self-control, passivity, and hard work – which consequently spread widely.

    And we see in England, from at least 1250, that the kind of people who succeeded in the economic system – who accumulated assets, got skills, got literacy – increased their representation in each generation. Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial Revolution man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern economic world. Modern people are thus in part a creation of the market economies that emerged with the Neolithic Revolution. Just as people shaped economies, the pre-industrial economy shaped people. This has left the people of long settled agrarian societies substantially different now from our hunter gatherer ancestors, in terms of culture, and likely also in terms of biology. We are also presumably equivalently different from groups like Australian Aboriginals that never experience the Neolithic Revolution before the arrival of the English settlers in 1788.”



  5. @kiwiguy – clark said: “The Darwinian struggle that shaped human nature did not end with the Neolithic Revolution but continued right up until the Industrial Revolution.”

    and is ongoing. (~_^)


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