william hamilton wondered if renaissances/enlightenments happened in places roughly 800 years after some hardy altruism genes were introduced by barbarians into panmictic (really outbred) populations. i wonder instead if what happens is that renaissances/enlightenments occur after ca. 500 years or so of outbreeding which results in nepotistic altruism (or clannishness) being reduced or even mostly eliminated which, in turn, leads to greater cooperation and reciprocal altruism within the populations — conditions i think you might need to have a renaissance at all (see also here).
where intensive outbreeding (and manorialism) happened in medieval europe — and there is a lot of good, strong evidence for it — certainly seems to match well with where the european renaissance occurred. after some fits and starts in the 500s to 700s, the practice of avoiding close cousin marriages really took hold in exactly the areas where the renaissance/reformation/scientific revolution/enlightenment later happened — i.e. core europe — in short: england, france, the netherlands, germany, and northern italy. scandinavia a bit, too. oh…and the lowlands of scotland.
the evidence for outbreeding in ancient greece is much more tenuous. it appears fairly certain that the upper classes outbred during the archaic period in greece (800-480 b.c.). whether they outbred during the entire time period or began the practice sometime before or after 800 b.c., i don’t know. it may also be, judging by something hesiod said, that the lower classes followed suit, but it’s impossible to know for certain going by just one comment from one ancient writer.
some circumstantial evidence that might offer further support to the outbreeding-in-archaic-greece theory is that, in the 400s to 200s b.c., there was a shift in kinship terminology in ancient greece. the distinctions in the greek language between the paternal and maternal sides of the family began to disappear — for example, uncles on both sides came to be called just “uncle,” rather than there being specific words for paternal vs. maternal uncle, and so on and so forth. the same sort of linguistic shift happened in medieval europe. in germany, for instance, that shift happened between the 1100s and 1400s. at the end of the day, all cousins came to be called simply “cousin” rather than “father’s brother’s cousin” or “mother’s brother’s cousin.” the lesson seems to be: change the kinship structures and the long-term mating patterns in a society, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the kinship terminology will also change. no need to specify different sorts of cousins if all of them are off-limits as marriage partners.
michael mitterauer points out that there was a time lag in the linguistic shifts in medieval europe — the terminology changed ca. 300 to 600 years after the mating patterns began to change. perhaps something similar happened in archaic greece — the linguistic shift happened in ca. the 400s to 200s b.c. so perhaps we can infer that the mating patterns had changed to a more outbred form a few hundred years earlier. maybe right around the end of the greek dark ages and the beginning of the archaic period. dunno. complete speculation.
now i’ve come across another piece of circumstantial evidence that outbreeding may have been happening in archaic greece and that is that there was a(n incomplete) shift in the society during the time period from being a shame culture to being a guilt culture. i’m getting this from The Greeks and the Irrational, a book originally published in 1951 and written by classical scholar e.r. dodds (who was kicked out of oxford for supporting the easter rising — troublemaker! (~_^) ). presumably there have been works criticizing dodd’s thesis written since the 1950s, but i’m afraid i haven’t read any of them yet. i’m just going to run with dodd’s idea for now, but, please, consider this a sort-of thought experiment. more speculation.
first of all, in shame cultures, bad behavior is checked by the fear of being caught — of being shamed and embarassed. in guilt cultures, bad behavior is checked by one’s inner voice — feelings of guilt occurring before any action is taken. these are behavioral traits that must have been variously selected for in different human populations. secondly, shame cultures are all tied up with honor — especially family honor. japan — with its meiwaku and seppuku — is the classic example of a shame culture, but china with its confucian filial piety is not far behind. the arabized populations are definitely shame cultures with their honor killings and all their talk of respect. even european mediterranean societies are arguably more honor-shame cultures than guilt cultures [pdf].
if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll recognize all of those shame cultures as having had long histories of inbreeding: maternal cousin marriage was traditionally very common in east asia (here’re japan and china); paternal cousin marriage is still going strong in the arabized world; and cousin marriage was prevelant in the mediterranean up until very recently (here’s italy, for example). it’s really, once again, the outbred northwest “core” europeans who are unique here with their guilt culture (although perhaps there are other guilt cultures out there as well). my guess is that long-term inbreeding tends to result in shame-honor cultures, while long-term outbreeding leads to guilt cultures. i’ve said so before.
back to dodd, his thesis is that ancient greece went through something of a transition from a shame to a guilt culture, but that shift was incomplete. the trend may even have reversed in classical athens. dodd points to several thematic shifts in greek literature from the iliad to the writings of plato including: a move away from blaming human failings on atē or the direct, external influences of the gods to more personal “demons,” often seen only by the individual person; the gradual adoption of the idea that individual humans have “souls” or independent “personalities”; a move away from the idea that people’s failings are due to a lack of knowledge (again coming from outside the person) as opposed to, perhaps, their own culpability; that zeus over time becomes more and more a dispenser of justice rather than just a being who capriciously interferes in human affairs (justice being important in guilt cultures as opposed to revenge in shame-honor cultures); and that philosophers and thinkers increasingly complained that the inheritance of guilt down through a family line was unjust. here from dodd on that last point [kindle locations 669-671]:
“Solon speaks of the hereditary victims of nemesis as άυαίτιοι, ‘not responsible’; Theognis complains of the unfairness of a system by which ‘the criminal gets away with it, while someone else takes the punishment later’; Aeschylus, if I understand him rightly, would mitigate the unfairness by recognising that an inherited curse may be broken.”
the idea that only the transgressor should be punished (as in guilt cultures) as opposed to additional or all of his family members (as in shame-honor cultures) doesn’t actually occur to these writers, so they haven’t quite arrived fully into a guilt culture, but they do seem to have been on the way there. much more so than earlier writers anyway. again, dodd emphasizes that [kindle locations 587-588]:
“[M]any modes of behaviour characteristic of shame-cultures persisted throughout the archaic and classical periods. There is a transition, but it is gradual and incomplete.”
the transition may have been incomplete — in fact, may have even gone into reverse — because inbreeding (cousin marriage) became increasingly common in classical athens (see here). from “Agnatio, Cognation, Consanguinitas: Kinship and Blood in Ancient Rome” in Blood and Kinship: Matter for Metaphor from Ancient Rome to the Present [pgs. 24-26], we saw in a previous post that while “aristocrats in early [archaic] Greece…married beyond the limits of their *patris*”, in classical athens “members of the *anchisteia*, the legally defined kinship group including first cousins once removed, were the preferred marriage partners.” the ancient greeks might’ve gone from being a (presumably) inbred/shame culture in the dark ages, to an outbred/quasi-guilt culture in the archaic period, and back to an inbred/shame culture over the course of the classical period. maybe. Further Research is RequiredTM.
(yes, i know. it’s all very tenuous. i told you it was speculative!)
in any case, evolution is not progressive. (heh! i’ve just been dying to say that. (~_^) ) there’s nothing to say that evolution cannot go in reverse, although perhaps it wouldn’t go back down the exact same pathway it came up. there’s no reason why we — or, rather, our descendants — couldn’t wind up, as greg cochran says, back in the trees*.
i think the way to think of the evolution of behavioral traits like nepotistic and reciprocal altruism in humans — especially perhaps in recent human evolution — is like a big simmering cauldron of stew where bubbles of certain behaviors rise up in some places only to sometimes pop and deflate and almost disppear again. outbreeding appears to have occurred many places, although whether or not over the long-term is not always clear: archaic greece (maybe), ancient rome, the bamileke of cameroon, the igbo of west africa, the turkana of east africa, the semai of malaysia, the bushmen of southern africa (aka The Harmless People), and europeans since the early medieval period — especially northwest europeans. the ancient greek experiment seems to have run out of momentum and collapsed on its own; the roman example probably popped thanks to the barbarian invasions; and the northwest european one is…currently ongoing. for now.
*“Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.”
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