four things

four things i’ve been meaning to mention about inbreeding and altruism (and other social behaviors). well, i’m sure there’s waaay more than just four things that could be said about the subject, but i’ve got four on my mind (it’s like spinning plates!), so here goes…

1) we’re talking here about the evolution of “genes for altruism” (and other social behaviors) — evolution by natural selection — and evolution takes some time — and depends on what selection pressures are/were involved;

2) given #1, and knowing how biology/natural selection works in general, then there must be different “genes for altruism” (and other social behaviors) — and different types of altruistic (and other social) behaviors — and, like other traits, their presence/frequency probably differs in different populations;

3) inbreeding can make the evolution of “genes for altrusim” (and other social behaviors) easier;

4) inclusive fitness means it pays off to be more altruistic (or more of those other social behaviors) to some individuals than others — i.e. those individuals who share more genes with you. individuals that are more inbred than others ought to show more altruistic (and other social) behaviors to their family members on average than non-inbred individuals since they share more genes with their family members. this should also apply to whole populations (especially considering #3) — however, #1.

points #1 and #3 are why i’ve been so interested in how long a population has been inbreeding or outbreeding. a population is not just going to become more or less altruistic overnight. we’re talking about the evolution of traits — not some magical inbreeding determinism — so there will be some lag-time.

for instance, if you somehow persuaded the entire population of saudi arabia to outbreed as much as possible in the next generation — really shuffle up the extended families there — you would not automatically wind up with a population behaving the way europeans do towards family members and strangers, because whatever “genes (alleles) for altruism” they possess would still be there in great numbers.

you would, however, have altered the conditions in which their altruism genes act, so you would think you would see some differences in behavior patterns. you should, i would think, see some changes in inclusive fitness-related behaviors (#4) since individuals would no longer be sooo related to their family members.

how long would it take to get rid of, or substantially change, whatever “genes for altruism” a population happens to have? i dunno. as you have prolly already figured out, i’m NOT an evolutionary theorist/population geneticist — and i don’t even play one on the innerwebs. (but i do want to be one when i grow up! (~_^) )

where it gets confusing (ok, ok — it’s ALL confusing) is when you realize that the social structure of a population — who is related to whom, and by how much — is not just a product of mating patterns, but is also part of the environment in which humans live and love and try to reproduce successfully.

so you have “genes for altruism” being selected for, or against, due to the conditions in whatever environment in which they’re operating (assuming that they matter at all for the fitness of individuals, which they prolly do) — but, meanwhile, these “genes for altruism” are also partly creating that very environment. talk about a feedback loop!

in other words … it’s complicated.

previously: which altruism genes? and setting the stage? and and so my next question naturally is…

(note: comments do not require an email. great moments in evolution.)

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24 Comments

  1. It’s not just natural selection, don’t forget but sexual selection too. Women like their heroes on the battlefield for example (if they come back alive). That’s a kind of altruism too, which they are encouraging. In the case of traditional nobilities it was loyalty to a class that mattered, which was the basis of honor and may or may not have had an element of consanguinity.

    As for how many generations it takes to get from a highly inbred society to one more like ours, I wonder what it feels like for the very first generation. It could be schizophrenic I imagine.

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  2. @luke – “It’s not just natural selection, don’t forget but sexual selection too.”

    sure. i tend to think of sexual selection as just one type of natural selection — but, yeah — sexual selection, too.

    @luke – “I wonder what it feels like for the very first generation.”

    you would think the first outbred generation would feel somewhat differently from their parents and wonder why they should care so much about their first-cousins that mom keeps nagging them to be nice to. (~_^)

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  3. “you would think the first outbred generation would feel somewhat differently from their parents and wonder why they should care so much about their first-cousins that mom keeps nagging them to be nice to.”

    Plus they would have first cousins from two unrelated moieties (is that the right term?). In other words, divided loyalties.

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  4. I’ve been mulling this too, in my uninformed, otiose Italian fashion.

    And guess what. I think Italians are a perfect test population for “lag time”. Undoubtedly they are now “historically more inbred”, yet the tribal ethos (this is what I call it for convenience) is still very much in effect — I see it in non-familial conflicts like ‘Ndrangheta v. the state, or fascisti v. anarchisti in Rome, or just the general social climate. What northerners and Americans see as weird even kinda retarded groupiness — a love of group photos, late night parties, discos, cookouts, family trattorie or tavernas, etc. — is to my mind a fully urban expression of tribal behavior, and at certain levels such as ‘Ndrangheta, full on tribal ethos.

    So although they’ve switched to outbreeding, they’re still behaving as “inbred”. No doubt also a function of their quite narrow habitat, both the nation and the layout of their cities (Durkheimian faits sociaux, better than “environment”).

    This is good news for it means that, even while these populations decline (breeding out is a problem when one’s people is suspicious!), they’ll hang on to their bristly clannishness — and put obtrusive outsiders in their place whenever they can get away with it.

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  5. @uh – “So although they’ve switched to outbreeding, they’re still behaving as ‘inbred’.”

    well, southern italians have actually been inbreeding quite a LOT — up until very recently (and maybe even nowadays — i don’t know). or maybe that’s what you meant? that they just switched to outbreeding recently?

    some first-cousin marriage rates for southern italians in the ’60s were the equivalent of what you find in arab countries today! and that’s not even including second-cousin marriages. mamma mia! (^_^)

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  6. Quit the bloody clichés, seriously.

    “that they just switched to outbreeding recently?”

    I believe so. I don’t know how much you know about Italy, but as one would expect, the Mezzogiorno has changed very much since ’60 – ’64. While I have no doubt that first cousin marriages are still relatively high in Sicily, it would astound me to find that the rates have held. If urbanization means anything consistent it is certainly a weakening of family ties by plunging more people into promiscuous relation, so first cousin marriage would logically (and empirically do) suffer.

    In fact, with two exceptions — Caltanisetta and Agrigento, two very rural south-central provincie — the percentages all show decline, so this already reflected in that chart, at least.

    For as long as I live I shall never forget a brief series of reports made by the BBC of some recent African immigrants down in Ragusa. The locals were happy to have them around, gave them to mangia mangia! freely of their pasta, no doubt in anticipation of taking their daughters to bed willy-nilly. Point is, this would not have happened even in the ’80s. I would wager they’ve abandoned even mbd marriages to a marked extent to allow for this sort of absent-minded oxytocinfest. Perhaps also reflects depopulation of the countryside, leaving a bunch of defenseless idiots, as may be seen in the Midwest. And of course, perhaps just smiling for the British cameras come to watchdog.

    By the way, I think jealousy is the explanation for the rarer incidence of fbd — the father exercises jealous propriety and, having given her way, this jealousy is institutionalized as strongly paternal tribalism. Not so much jealousy in mbd, though jealousy is a major facet of southern Italian society. There may some conflict in that, and one could in theory go at this from the angle of crimes of passion / vendette, still common around Napoli and Calabria. But here again I believe urbanization has greatly weakened these behaviors, restricting them to the mafiosi able and willing to kill over points of honor.

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  7. @uh – “If urbanization means anything consistent it is certainly a weakening of family ties by plunging more people into promiscuous relation, so first cousin marriage would logically (and empirically do) suffer.”

    you would think so — that does seem to make logical sense — but cousin marriage rates in italy (and throughout europe) actually went UP significantly in the 1800s and had been lower before that (apparently — cavalli-sforza, unfortunately, didn’t published the actual numbers for before the early 1900s), so inbreeding/outbreeding rates are not necessarily tied directly to rural/urban conditions. mating patterns are, i think, connected to economic conditions, but not necessarily urban/rural environments. some rural northern italians married out during the middle ages, even — and it was the urban crowd who married in the most.

    @uh – “Point is, this would not have happened even in the ’80s. I would wager they’ve abandoned even mbd marriages to a marked extent to allow for this sort of absent-minded oxytocinfest.”

    well, this relates to the lag-time i was talking about in #1 — how quickly can the frequency of altruism (or jealousy) genes in a population shift? does the shift in sentiments in sicily nowadays as compared to the ’80s reflect a genetic shift, or has there not been enough time? i dunno.

    @uh – “Quit the bloody clichés, seriously.”

    eh! this is my blog and i can indulge in all the clichés and stereotypes and other politically incorrect behaviors that i like. you don’t like it? v*ff*nc*l*! (~_^)

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  8. Heh, so you’re the living proof of recent Calabrian outbreeding. Interesting.

    That’s really what I was driving at. The old “Zwei Seele wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust.” Gives me headache most days.

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  9. “The old “Zwei Seele wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust.” Gives me headache most days.”

    So I was right about that? Scizophrenic loyalties.

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  10. @luke – “So I was right about that? Scizophrenic loyalties.”

    you know, john derbyshire mentioned something along these lines @takimag — just in passing — only about mixed-race individuals:

    “The old folk wisdom about race is that full-bloods are easy with themselves, while it’s the half-castes who endure psychic torment and dysfunction. Barack Obama seems to ratify this, writing that weird, needy paean to his neglectful black father while his much more attentive and loving white mother was dying of cancer. As the father of two racial half-breeds myself, naturally I fret about this stuff.”

    wonder if there’s anything to it? possible way to look for it — more mental illness in individuals of mixed ethnicity/race. of course, more mental illness in mixed-race people would prolly be put down to society not being more accepting of them.

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  11. of course, more mental illness in mixed-race people would prolly be put down to society not being more accepting of them.

    A favorite scare tactic of the left. But this isn’t a Bessarabian village of 1740, this is Kwa where everything goes. That there are hybrids means our society has allowed for and promoted this promiscuity, so there is no lack of acceptance. It is, in fact, how “tolerance” is diffused horizontally throughout the population — someone’s grandson is half black, so not only is grandma obliged to accept him, her acquaintances are too, etc.

    Last month British media jubilantly reported that some absurd percentage of British citizens are “of mixed race”, yet read the naysayers at Guardian and it’s still a world where snobby whites will look down their noses at mulattoes. “They’ll have trouble at school!” You mean that school dominated by busybodies from the Equality and Humans Rights Commission? or that other school dominated by the BNP? Oh, wait …

    But actually, black/white children do appear less susceptible to mental instability, and of course fall between whites and blacks by intelligence, proving that old leftish retort that the back-alley mutt is “the picture of mental health”. Higher IQ = higher frequency of mental instability. Dienekes blogged about a study that found higher tendency to psychological disorder among white-Asian children: http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2008/08/mental-health-of-biracial-asian.html

    Now, the “behavior problems” associated with mulatto children are different from “psychological disorder”, the former resulting from lowered IQ and peer pressure to be a thug, basically, where the latter comes of some complex neural alchemy it’s just too early in the morning for me to fathom, but obviously arising from the crossing of two high IQ types — like crossing one nervous, highly intelligent strain of dog with another.

    Obviously I am neither. I just can’t help seeing the “inbred”, patriarchal southern Italian mentality at war with the “outbred”, easygoing and inquisitive English mentality in my own person.

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  12. @uh – “Dienekes blogged about a study that found higher tendency to psychological disorder among white-Asian children”

    interesting! thnx for the link.

    @uh – “I just can’t help seeing the ‘inbred’, patriarchal southern Italian mentality at war with the ‘outbred’, easygoing and inquisitive English mentality in my own person.”

    i’m not quite so outbred, but a bit. i come from a long line of roman catholic, inbreeding peasant farmers (parents came from different regions of the old country, tho), but with a dash (one great-grandparent) of germanic protestant peasant farmers, so i’ve got a bit of a dual nature, too, i often feel. i really “get” in many ways how inbred europeans feel, especially about their extended family … but i’ve also got some hard germanic logic … at least i think it’s my germanic side. (~_^)

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  13. I’m also the outbred product of two different inbred lines. Also smarter than both my parents, if not by much.
    I’m in no conflict though. Much more at ease with modern anglo norms than with inbred peasants. We must agree this is progress. I know my still inbred extended families back in the countryside, have no attachment whatsoever. Couldn’t care less.

    Perhaps my altruist genes were erased in my parents’ crossing?

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  14. @luke – “Ok, I am going to guess that hbd* chick is largely of Polish extraction, assuming she’s not French…. Or she could be Irish — that would explain the gift of gab.”

    ooooor … maybe i’m a siciliana with one parent from say … oh … südtirol? that would account for the temperament. (~_^) or, perhaps, spanish with one errant great-grandpa. (^_^)

    @ihtg – “hbdchick’s true affiliation is with the Nerd Race. ;)”

    well, that’s ABSOLUTELY correct! (~_^)

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  15. “for instance, if you somehow persuaded the entire population of saudi arabia to outbreed as much as possible in the next generation — really shuffle up the extended families there — you would not automatically wind up with a population behaving the way europeans do towards family members and strangers, because whatever “genes (alleles) for altruism” they possess would still be there in great numbers.”

    i think one type of altruism really is a simple “we are us” borg-style inbred-ness which is simply unconscious selfishness that only requires recognition of genetic closeness and which is expressible in simple mathematical terms as acceptable percentage chance of dying to save a brother, a cousin, a 2nd cousin etc from a burning building and which declines dramatically with genetic distance. if youspend time with very inbred groups you can sort of “feel” it. like you mentioned in some of your earlier posts they’re less of an individual and more of an us.

    I also think relatedness = trust and it operates in a zero-sum manner. as maximum outsider relatedness can’t exceed insider relatedness (where insider is extended family to nth cousin and outsider is beyond) then expressed numerically i think a people can only be one out of a fixed set of possibilities e.g. (taking 8 as representing maximum relatedness) 8/0, 7/1, 6/2, 5/3, 4/4.

    In terms of your hypothesis these numbers might then represent
    8/0 = hunter gatherers
    7/1 Libya
    6/2 Italy or Greece
    5/3 Northern Europe
    4/4 England, Holland

    in going from say 8/0 to 7/1 a people’s outsider relatedness would go up from 0 to 1, an infinite increase. going from 7/1 to 6/2 outsider relatedness increases from 1 to 2 or a 100% increase. from 6/2 to 5/3 is only a 50% increase. from 5/3 to 4/4 only a 33% increase, so diminishing returns.

    so taking relatedness = trust, i think there could be quite dramatic changes in social structure after one generation, although as you say obviously not a single jump to a Dutch level.

    in my reading round i think you can actually see this happening in the post-colonial educated class around the world.

    on top of that i do agree there are specific altruistic behaviour type traits as well which i assume have their own genes and gene frequencies in different populations.

    the reason i make the distinction is if you have dealings with very inbred groups their very high levels of in-group altruism often seem to be combined with exceptional hostility and cruelty towards outsiders whereas empathic altruism, although it might be positively proportional to genetic distance, doesn’t flip over into hostilty, it just gradually tapers off.

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