“history as biology”

the best opening paragraph of a history book. ever!

from a book entitled Expansions: Competition and Conquest in Europe since the Bronze Age by an icelandic historian (or an icelandic fellow who trained as a historian, anyway), axel kristinsson [pg. 1]:

“1. History as Biology

“We are animals and the study of animals belongs to the realm of biology. I do not wish to sound extreme but the logic is inescapable. Our societies belong to the same general category as the societies of wolves or ants — groups of animals living together, interacting and depending on each other for their survival. Humans may very well be more interesting than either wolves or ants (at least to ourselves) and our societies are far more complex, which is why several scientific disciplines are dedicated to researching them. Nevertheless, they are *the same sort of things* as the societies of other animals, which is why we can expect some general principles of biology also to apply to humans and human society. In particular, human history should have some affinities to evolutionary biology. The evolution of human societies is the evolution of biological phenomena and the principles of evolution established by Charles Darwin might prove illuminating for human history as well.”

hear, hear!! (^_^)

unfortunately, he loses the thread pretty quickly [pg. 2]:

“Genetic evolution is an extremely slow process depending on random mutations and a reshuffling of genes to produce solutions that are beneficial to survival. These new genes then only become dominant over many generations as their benefits slowly assert themselves in the population. Significant changes often take millions of years.”

wrong. wrong, wrong, wrong.

still — the spirit is definitely right! (^_^)

(note: comments do not require an email. what icelandic people do for fun.)

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16 Comments

  1. @axel kristinsson “Significant changes often take millions of years.” The key word of course is “often.” Would an opposable thumb for a horseshoe crab not be considered significant? They haven’t made it yet.
    But by and large DNA is very stable. Mutations are rare. That’s not to say evolution must wait for a mutation. There are lots of ways an organism can store up inactive but potentially active DNA.
    Also one should consider epigenetic effects. These are control mechanisms, turning genes on and off. There are a lot of them and they change fast. People were surprised when they found that some epigenetic markers could be carried from generaiton to generation. And epigenetic changes can occur in response to environmental factors. Talk about something that goes counter to a century of dogma.
    As a historian, Kirstinsson would not be expected to know a lot about epigenetics. But as and Icelander it is amazing that he has not heard of the Helgason study that shows how fertility falls as kinship falls in the first and in the second generation as well. Obviously something inherited changed in response to an outside event and this fall occured in one or two generations. If he has something more significant than fertility in mind, we’d all like to know what it might be.

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  2. @tom – “Your first and last ‘wrong’ come from the same blowhard.”

    i guess you must’ve meant blowhards — since there are the two of them.

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  3. “Your first and last “wrong” come from the same blowhard.”

    The speed of evolution depends on a combination of time and the strength of the selection pressure – obviously so. So denying that evolution could be speedy – measured in centuries say – is effectively saying that only weak selection pressure is possible – which is dumb.

    However much more significantly imo, as humans are a group animal you don’t need to evolve new genes over a few centuries for human populations to become very different over a few centuries. There only needs to be strong selection for the frequency of *pre-existing* genes. If genes are the result of random variation over millenia then as long as they’re not 100% fatal they can exist in small frequencies in a population for millenia only becoming dominant in a new environment where they are needed.

    So for example “dad” genes could have arisen by random mutation in a “cad” environment where a woman (and her long-lived but menopausal mother) could feed the offspring on their own but didn’t expand beyond a small frequency in that population for millenia but then one day when the descendents of those people moved into an environment that required a male provider and where each male could only provide for one family then the dad genes suddenly explode and the cads drop to a small frequency instead.

    (Which suddenly makes me wonder about dramatic founder effects.)

    Similarly genes for high, low and average intelligence could have existed for millenia but the proportions they settled into within the average human population – which would lead to a certain *average* intelligence – would be matched to the set of tasks they were confronted with. If most of these tasks were a mixture of high physical ability and medium cognitive ability where the added benefit of very high intelligence wasn’t matched by the added costs of the energy consumed then there is no reason for the average intelligence to change. However if a population like that moved into an environment where only the rightmost 80% of the original population could survive then the average intelligence would increase – no new genes just reshuffled proportions.

    Similarly if an originally average population got a monopoly of an economic niche where success was based on cognitive and verbal ability instead of physical ability the *average* intelligence of the group would go up as the medium to high segment of the population were more successful and had more children. Again no new genes – although there might be as well – just the same genes with the proportions reshuffled.

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  4. @g.w – “…you don’t need to evolve new genes over a few centuries for human populations to become very different over a few centuries. There only needs to be strong selection for the frequency of *pre-existing* genes…. Again no new genes – although there might be as well – just the same genes with the proportions reshuffled.”

    exactly!

    i just discovered rather recently that some folks hanging around the hbd-o-sphere are under the impression that human biodiversity means only that different populations differ in the complete presence or absence of different genes (alleles), when what may also be the case — and, i think, what is probably most often the case (that’s my impression anyway) — is that we’re simply talking about different gene (allele) frequencies in different populations.

    i didn’t realize that that misunderstanding is out there.

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  5. @linton – “That’s not to say evolution must wait for a mutation. There are lots of ways an organism can store up inactive but potentially active DNA. Also one should consider epigenetic effects.”

    yes. and also what i said in the comment above: i.e. that average biological differences between populations (of animals or plants or humans) don’t have to be of the form of the presence or absence of particular genes (alleles). we can also talk about different average frequencies of genes (alleles) between populations, for example that west africans have, as a population, more genes for sickle cell anemia than north europeans populations.

    if you’ve never read it, you might like to read The 10,000 Year Explosion for more on human biodiversity and “quick” evolution. (^_^)

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  6. “i think, what is probably most often the case (that’s my impression anyway) — is that we’re simply talking about different gene (allele) frequencies in different populations.”

    yes i agree. i think there could and probably are new genes as well but it’s not necessary to the argument so i mostly ignore them. it’s so much simpler (and also so cleverly flexible) if you keep *all* of the randomly generated stuff as long as it isn’t extremely lethal and then let the environment select the best *frequency mix* for each individual environment.

    Or in other words God (sorry :) ) throws giant buckets of dice.

    It also makes everything potentially fixable which for a certain kind of white liberal who currently can’t face HBD reality would be a clincher.

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    1. @ Greying Wanderer “It also makes everything potentially fixable” True. And I thought that “gene frequencies” being the key to biodiversity was obvious to all. And that evidently was not true. LIve and learn.
      “Potentially fixable” alas does not mean much. Of course I have spent years on a potentially fixable issue without garnering detectable interest. People, I am told, do not look for information; we look for confirmation.

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  7. @g.w. – “It also makes everything potentially fixable which for a certain kind of white liberal who currently can’t face HBD reality would be a clincher.”

    potentially fixable, but over the course of some amount of time, evolution and selection and all that not happening over night.

    unless we’re talking about the future and genetic engineering. (~_^)

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  8. “potentially fixable, but over the course of some amount of time, evolution and selection and all that not happening over night”

    yes but even so i think they will find it easier to accept a reality where one population went through a process that reshuffled their genes while another population didn’t *but* if that second population *had* gone through the same process or if it did so in the future then it could have an equal effect.

    it might not make sense but i think it’s true for some the more genuinely motivated.

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  9. “i think there could and probably are new genes as well but it’s not necessary to the argument so i mostly ignore them”

    I should say not necessary to this part of the argument. The existence or otherwise of specific genes related to this is a separate thing in itself.

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  10. “Of course I have spent years on a potentially fixable issue without garnering detectable interest.”

    I think you’ll probably be surprised. When the tide turns it will turn dramatically imo. Personally i’d guess a roughly 80% chance of serious dating agencies in places like China, Japan etc within 10 years having an option to submit DNA to judge a couple’s cousinage to see if they fit in the fertility sweet spot between 3rd and 5th cousin.

    Probably not in the Western Kommisariat however. Maybe Russia?

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  11. “And imo if China or Japan does it, at least we shall hear about it.”

    Once the western technological and knowledge lead was offshored alongside the manufacturing the cat was let out of the bag. This stuff is too potentially valuable to ignore. The only reason it’s ignored in the western kommisariat is denying it is *more* valuable to the kommisars – but that only applies here, not outside.

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    1. @Greying wanderer “The only reason it’s ignored in the western kommisariat is denying it is *more* valuable to the kommisars” I take your point and I’ll plug away. Meanwhile, should I come to a sticky end, deny everything.

      Reply

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