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).”

“self-sacrificial daring” is probably the equivalent of greying wanderer’s “aggression”, chris’ “drive”, staffan’s “persistence under negative reinforcement”, and/or my “contrarianism” or independent-mindedness.

the connection between these two renaissances might, indeed, be the reintroduction of some good altruism genes, but i think that maybe what these two “rebirths” have in common — what led to them occur at all — are the ca. 400-800 years of outbreeding which happened right before they began. in medieval europe we have the catholic church banning close cousin marriage around the year 500, and many secular authorities banned close cousin marriage at various points after that. and in archaic greece — the period just before classical greece/athens — we apparently have at least ca. 400 years of outbreeding — amongst the upper-classes most probably — and possibly amongst the lower classes, too (hesiod in his Works and Days recommends that a man — an ordinary man, a farmer — marry a nice girl from the neighborhood — from the kome or village — so, if archaic greeks actually did this, their mating patterns would’ve been quite endogamic, but not necessarily to close cousins — maybe third or fourth cousins or something — see A Companion to Archaic Greece).

i think you need some loosening of the genetic ties in populations — enough to get rid of a lot or most of the “clannishness” — so that you can have a “wikification” of those societies, i.e. societies where individuals are really willing to openly share their ideas with other like-minded people (see, for example, harold’s comment on the scientific revolution in england). but outbreed too much, and you might lose that “self-sacrificial daring” — because as hamilton said:

“…the benefits to fitness, such as they are, go to a mass of individuals whose genetic correlation with the innovator must be slight indeed.”

share your innovative ideas — your scientific inventions — with the entire world, and you might wind up benefitting all of those people more than your own descendents (if you’ve got any).

already at the start of the classical period in greece/athens, the mating patterns began to narrow [pg. 67]…

“[W]ith the emergence of the *polis*, exogamy began to give way in some places to endogamy — to marriage within the community. For the upper classes, this meant marriage within a tight circle of aristocratic families living in the same *polis*.”

…so it’s maybe no surprise that the athenians battled throughout the classical period against various aspects of clannishness (cleisthenes’ reforms are one huge example of this struggle) and that their renaissance didn’t last more than a couple hundred years. europeans, on the other hand — especially northern europeans — have continued to outbreed for something like over ca. 1000-1400 years — which, perhaps, is leading to another sort of problem for society — that it’s simplying fraying away at the seams because the weave is not tight enough.

maybe. dunno. all wild speculation on my part, obviously.

previously: archaic greek mating patterns and kinship terms

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