Archives for category: reality check

here’s an excerpt from ed west‘s latest kindle single, Asabiyyah: What Ibn Khaldun, the Islamic father of social science, can teach us about the world today (u.k. link) [kindle locations 256-286]:

“As a rule, the English are not a very family-orientated people. Social life lacks the warmth of the Mediterranean world with its joyful and welcoming extended families. In contrast, many English people don’t especially like their relatives or are apathetic towards them. My father never took much interest in his relations, many of whom are fascinating, lovely people, and it was largely left to my Irish mother to maintain a connection. Meanwhile her family have always been close and this extends to first and second cousins in the more traditional west of Ireland. To the English, although family connections do count, they matter less, and associations with a school, club or other institution define them more.

“Yet despite there being no big fat English weddings with lots of relations called Nigel or Rupert, there are great advantages to a society with weak family connections. It is not a total coincidence that it was in England that clubs first took off in the 17th century, playing an important role in the country’s political and economic growth; in specific cases clubs allowed inventors to meet investors, but they also helped expand the general levels of trust. Countries that are not clannish tend to have far more clubs, institutions and other organizations that are collectively called ‘civil society’. In contrast societies with strong families tend towards low civic capital and in consequence higher corruption. This is reflected in the political cultures of different states.

“Asabiyyah, therefore, can work in two ways; the group feeling can lie at the nationwide level, or it can exist within tribes, clans or religious communities, and this has a profound effect on a state’s institutions and how well a democracy can function.

“At the other end of the spectrum to the English are the Bedouin, whose famous phrase ‘me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the world’ reflects concentric circles of trust, one limited to family members.

“Mark Weiner wrote in The Rule of the Clan about countries governed by ‘clannism’ that: ‘These societies possess the outward trappings of a modern state but are founded on informal patronage networks, especially those of kinship, and traditional ideals of patriarchal family authority. In nations pervaded by clannism, government is co-opted for purely factional purposes.’

“In these societies, especially in the Middle East and Africa, ‘the nuclear family, with its revolutionary, individuating power, has yet to replace the extended lineage group as the principle framework for kinship or household organization’.

“Clannish states have little sense of wider civic asabiyyah and therefore civic responsibility. Indeed, as social anthropologist Stanley Kurtz wrote, tribes were used to preying on others: ‘Once a particularly powerful tribe or tribal coalition actually captured a state, they simply routinized their predation under official guise. (Saddam and his Sunni tribal allies fit the bill.) The state, such as in the Middle East, offers but a thin alternative to ‘the war of all against all’. Too weak to provide public utilities, policing, or impartial justice, most Middle Eastern states are just reincarnations of the predatory, winner-take-all tribal coalitions of old. Why exchange the protection of your family, tribe, or sect for submission to a weak or predatory state?’

“The relationship between this type of state and the tribal peasant, wrote Philip Carl Salzman of McGill University in Canada, ‘is that of the shepherd to his flock: the state fleeces the peasants, making a living off of them, and protects them from other predators, so that they may be fleeced again’. Salzman describes such clan-based states as ‘cliques determined to impose their power for the pleasure of dominance and the profit of extortion’. The inevitable result of clannism is kin-based corruption whereby resources, positions and other rewards are monopolised within family groups. Nepotism is found wherever humans are, but is far more widespread in clannish societies, and this affects both a country’s corruption levels and its ability to sustain democracy.”


see also: The Islamic historian who can explain why some states fail and others succeed from ed west, Ed West’s Kindle Single on ibn Khaldun and Asabiyyah from steve sailer, and Introducing: Asabiyah from t.greer.

previously: asabiyyah

(note: comments do not require an email. ibn khaldun.)

i’ve been trying to think through polygamy and if there’s any potential there for the selection for clannishness like i think there is with long-term cousin marriage. (i think i might have sprained a parietal lobe while doing so. (*^_^*) ) i very much have subsaharan african societies in mind here, but, of course, polygamy occurs elsewhere, too.

on the surface it seems obvious that long-term polygamy ought to set the stage for the possible selection for clannish behaviors like cousin marriage (imho) does. like repeated cousin marriage, strict polygamy ought to narrow the relatedness within a population — the result of strict polygamy should be a greater number of half-siblings in a population than in a randomly-mating population, and, of course, half-siblings are more closely related to one another than non-siblings, so a society full of half-siblings could potentially lead to an accelerated selection for nepotistic altruism in a way similar to cousin marrying societies.

however, one big difference is that in polygamous societies generally — even in subsaharan african societies (where there’s a lot of polygamy) — people do not marry/mate with their half-siblings. (it does occasionally happen in some subsaharan societies, but only occasionally.) so, unlike in cousin-marriage societies, “genes for nepostistic altruism” (whatever they might be) might *not* become concentrated in family lineages. yes, there are a lot of half-siblings in polygamous societies, but any particular nepostistic altruism (“clannishness”) genes they might have (gotten from their fathers) will get diluted as they move out into the general population and marry non-relatives. if polygamy isn’t a driver of accelerated selection for nepotistic altruism (and i’ve rather persuaded myself that it isn’t), that could explain why subsaharan africans are generally pretty civic-minded, comparatively speaking. (the poor outcomes seen in african nations are perhaps more the result of other factors like low iq, high disease rates, etc., rather than clannishness. dunno. Further Research is RequiredTM.)

i should note here that polygamy in subsaharan africa is extremely variegated — in some societies, it’s typical for the first wife to actually be a cousin, and then the rest not. so there can be a layer of cousin marriage in amongst the polygamy. in other societies, cousin marriage is completely avoided. in yet other societies, the series of wives might be sisters (sororal polygyny), which makes all the offspring not only half-siblings (because they have the same father) but also cousins (because their mothers are sisters). here you would think that any selection for nepotistic altruism should very much be amplified. of course, in many subsaharan african societies — especially the polygamous ones — there’s often a lot of hanky-panky going on, so not all of the siblings will truly be half-siblings, etc. that’ll dilute your genes for nepotistic altruism right there.

another thing i also thought of regarding subsaharan and/or polygamous societies is the fact that all of the half-siblings don’t always grow up together. in patrifocal polygamous societies, yes — there you’ll have one man living with all of his wives (poor fellow!) and all of his kids, so all the half-siblings will be raised in the same place and interact with one another — and, presumably, continue to do so as adults. in matrifocal societies, a mother and her children reside with the mother’s family, not her husband and his family. this occurs in some polygamous societies, too.

it seems to me that, even if polygamy was a driver of accelerated selection for nepotistic altruism, such selection couldn’t possibly happen if the carriers of the clannishness genes don’t interact. if the half-siblings from polygamous unions don’t grow up together, or don’t interact much as adults, but rather with their (ordinary, i.e. not inbred) cousins, how would clannishness be selected for? it wouldn’t, i don’t think. or it wouldn’t be selected for in an amplified, accelerated way (which is what i think happens in the long-term cousin marriage scenario).

and that’s as far as i got with thinking through polygamy (i shall return to this topic, i’m sure). but thinking about the patrifocal vs. matrifocal family types got me to thinking about something else.

thought experiment: let’s say you eliminate cousin marriage from a population, but don’t eliminate the extended family. say you get rid of the inbreeding, but individuals continue to interact mostly with their close (extended) family members — more so than with the other members of society who are unrelated to them. you would think that it would take longer for clannishness to disappear — for “genes for nepostistic altruism” to get diluted in the population — than in a society where both cousin marriage AND the extended family were simultaneously eliminated.

i am, of course, talking about medieval western versus eastern europe here. the extended family was eliminated quite early in the middle ages in western europe via manorialism along with cousin marriage (serious changes to both were well underway in western europe by the 800s). in eastern europe, the cousin marriage bans appeared later simply because christianity had arrived later. and, especially the further east one goes (like into russia), the fewer pressures there were to eliminate the extended family. quite the opposite, really. for example, this was the situation in the baltic regions, including belorussia, in ca. the fifteenth century [pg. 440]:

a “…’kinship holding’, was collectively held by the extended family. Rural settlements often contained more than one kinship holding, and each holding was in turn subdivided among smaller households within the extended family….”

and in russia as late as the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries [pg. 444]:

“Russian manorialism was distinctive in several important ways…. In Russia…it was the peasant commune that allocated these taxes and obligations among the households. The village commune in Russia had emerged in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth centuries in response to increasing demands from the state and the landowning elite; peasant communes not only allocated obligations, but also chose their officials, held court, selected recruits for conscription levies, and kept written records of their activities. The communal clerk was sometimes the only member of his commune who could read and write….

“[O]n Russian manors, where hired labour was often not available, the peasant family had to personally perform labour obligations at the same time that it worked its own farm. This required large, often multi-generational, households with enough labour capacity to serve the simultaneous needs of both the manorial economy and the family farm…. As Steven Hoch has shown, however, life in the large household was hardly a rural idyll; household patriarchs formed a communal elite that ruled with despotic brutality, ruthlessly exploiting their families and denying any autonomy to the adults under them. At the same time, however, the large household also protected the peasant family from ruin.”

(hmmm. ever wonder where the russian love for [left-wing] authoritarianism comes from?)

even if eastern europeans/russians began to avoid cousin marriage around, say, 1000 (conversion to christianity), they didn’t quit residing in extended families and mostly interacting with their extended family members until, like, yesterday. (again, this pattern appears to be more pronounced the further east one travels.) so the dilution of nepotistic altruism genes in eastern european populations — via nepotistic behaviors being misapplied to individuals not sharing the same altruism genes (i.e. unrelated individuals) — didn’t happen as quickly as it did in western europe where people began regularly interacting with non-kin much earlier in the middle ages.

family types matter.

that’s all i’ve got for you for now. more soon! (^_^)

previously: start here and cousin marriage in sub-saharan africa and fulani, hausa, igbo, and yoruba mating patterns

(note: comments do not require an email. russian peasants.)

i was thinking about the idea of genetic pacification, specifically via the state or some authority eliminating the most violent individuals from a population (like by execution as frost and harpending propose happened in medieval europe — see also here), and i got to wondering how other societies have meted out justice to violent offenders.

so, like hermione granger, i went to the library (heh! — no, really i just googled it) and found a few interesting things. one of them is that in traditional igbo society, the punishment for murder was left in the hands of the culprit(!) [pg. 285]:

“[T]he Igbo believe that there are both divine and man-made laws, but that the greatest penalties are reserved for breaches of divine law. Thus, a murderer would not be put on trial, because if the evidence were clear and convincing no earthly court could have jurisdiction. Indeed, the penalty prescribed by Igbo tradition is that the murderer is expected to hang himself…. [A]ny Igbo guilty of breaking a divine law would be required to do penance personally to be restored to the good favor of the gods.”

now you might think that leaving enforcement of the death penalty up to the criminal is a really bad idea — and maybe it is — but i was thinking that it might work in a shame culture. an especially strong shame culture. certainly worked in japan (at least among certain classes), which admittedly is the poster child of shame cultures.

couldn’t figure out whether or not igbo society is a shame culture, although most societies lean more toward shame than guilt. however, i do know that igbos — igbo slaves in the new world — had a reputation for committing suicide [pgs. 52-53 and 127-128 – links added by me]:

“Suicide as an ethnic or cultural ‘trait’ is usually associated with Bight of Biafra imports, especially Igbos, in the Americas. As Daniel Littlefield contends, the principle reason why they were among the least desirable of African slave imports was due to the perception among American planters that Igbo or Calabar slaves had ‘a deplorable penchant for committing suicide.’ More recently, Michael Gomez has summarized the historical and contemporary view of Igbos, noting that ‘the sources are therefore unanimous in ascribing to the Igbo greater self-destructive tendencies….’

“Biafran imports were often much cheaper than other Africans. In 1755, Igbo slaves sold in Charleston for only £270 while Africans from other regions cost £300. Henry Laurens — the noted slave merchant of colonial South Carolina — claimed in 1755 that very few Calabar Africans could be sold in the Charleston slave market when others were available. He then recommended the importation of a ‘few fine Negro Men, not Callabars.’ In a letter to Richard Oswald dated May 17, 1756, Laurens also noted that ‘slaves from the River Gambia are preferr’d to all others with us save the Gold Coast, but there must not be a Callabar among them.’

“Much of this prejudice against Igbos and others from the Bight of Biafra was due to their alleged propensity to commit suicide. Guerard complained, ‘As to bite Slaves, I protest against them at any Rate there has been so many instances of their Distroying themselves that none but the Lower sort of People will Medle with them.’ South Carolina planters who did purchase Calabar slaves were advised to buy only ‘young People from 15 to 20’ who were typically ‘not accustom’d to destroy themselves’ like their older compatriots. Based on this assumption, Henry Laurens advised that Bigt of Biafra slaves under the age of fourteen should be the only Africans from that region purchased by Low Country planters. In another assessment by ship captain John Adams, who made ten visits to the Niger River delta between 1786 and 1800, the Ibgo were considered to be ‘naturally timid and desponding, and their despair on being sent on board a ship is often such that they use every stratagem to effect the commission of suicide, and which they would often accomplish, unless narrowly watched.'”

can’t say as i blame them.

the usual explanation offered today for why slaves from the bight so often committed suicide is the belief, widely shared by peoples in west africa, in spiritual transmigration — when you die, you get to go to where your friends and family are — where your living friends and family here on earth still are. so, maybe death was not viewed as a bad solution for a biafran captive who was dragged halfway across the world. in their minds, they’d get to go home. alternatively, maybe they just didn’t want to be slaves. ooorrr…maybe there was an element of shame involved, but that’s pure speculation on my part. would be interesting to find out, though.

no idea if violence is lower among the igbo than other west african groups. need to find out. interesting that they were described as “naturally timid” though.

a further thought i had is that perhaps long-term inbreeding can amplify shame in populations. the japanese used to marry their cousins (although i don’t know how far back that practice went) and they have an extremely strong shame culture. the arabs, too — long-term inbreeders and there’s a lot of shame there, too (family honor, etc.). perhaps shame is a sort-of familial altruism, i guess is what i’m trying to say. dunno. Further Research is Required TM.

in the wake of chanda chisala’s post over at, several people asked me so what about the igbo? are they inbreeders or what?

i haven’t read much about the igbo, but what i do know is that they avoid all cousin marriage. don’t know how far back this goes — whether it’s pre-the introduction of christianity there or not. might be. might not be. they do practice polygamy, though, especially traditionally, which ought to narrow the genetic relatedness between individuals in the population in a way similar to cousin marriage, but…well, more on polygamy another day.

very interestingly, in their traditional society, the igbo had a “quasi-democratic republican system of government” — that’s if wikipedia is to be believed. the igbo also had non-kinship based trading associations or “houses” [pg. 137]:

“In order to exploit the rapidly expanding trade [with the newly arrived europeans] and now having the resources to do so, the delta peoples living in single settlements on the rivers and islands surrounded by protective intricate waterways developed systems of governance for their own city-states. City-states are well known in history, and many have in common a maritime presence. In Europe there were the famous Greek city-states, Athens and Sparta. In East Africa there were the coastal Swahili city-states of Mombasa, Malindi, and Kilwa among others. On the coast of West Africa there were the city-states of the Niger Delta whose citizens devised the means to adminster law and order, justice, and to make war and peace in order to promote their commerce. Each delta city-state, like those of the Greeks, had its own distinct methods of governing. Some had kings elected by the heads of wealthy and prominent families — Bonny, New Calabar, and Warri. Others were like small republics, ruled by the members of political organizations not unlike senates — Brass and those on the Cross River in Old Calabar — Creek Town, Henshaw Town, Duke Town, and Obutong. In the city-states of Old Calabar the *ekpe* or Leopard Association of wealthy men, mostly merchants, ruled the town principally to insure the flow of peaceful trade. Anyone was free to join the *ekpe* if they could afford the exorbitant entry fee that insured that those in power represented only the interests of the wealthy merchants. They regulated the terms of trade with the Europeans and made the rules by which the community was governed by its constituent organizations, known as the ‘house system.’

“Traditional African societies were based on the clans and lineages of large families that were not always the most effective means to carry on business. Rather than the family firm, the house was a cooperative commercial trading company run not by kinship but by the ability of the head of the house, his immediate family, and a host of assistants, servants, and even slaves whose status in the company depended on their success in promoting its trade rather than kinship ties or social privilege.”

the ability to form strong, functioning non-kinship based associations like that usually goes along with long-term outbreeding, in my experience.

well, that’s all i’ve got for you for now.

i finally have admitted to myself — and now i will to you, too, dear readers — that i am too unwell at the moment to write my (what will be a lengthy!) response to prof. macdonald or, unfortunately, to work on my promised (threatened!) medieval manorialism series. am having difficulties putting two coherent thoughts together these days. (yeah, yeah — more so than usual! (~_^) ) so, i’ll just have to leave those on the back burner for now and get to them when i can. i’m due to have some medical tests done in the next few weeks, so hopefully after that, i can get myself sorted out and back in working order. in the meantime, i’ll do some more flakey posts like this which just involve me rambling some of my random thoughts.

more soon! (^_^)

previously: quick review of frost and harpending on the genetic pacification of europeans and fulani, hausa, igbo, and yoruba mating patterns

(note: comments do not require an email. igbo yam festival…in dublin, ireland!)

chanda chisala, formerly a visiting fellow at both stanford and the hoover institution, and who is originally from zambia, has written a blogpost at that’s generating a lot of interesting discussion: The IQ Gap Is No Longer a Black and White Issue.

much of the discussion surrounds whether or not africans that have recently migrated to the u.s. or the u.k. are representative of their populations, or if they’re self-sorted elite groups (i’d guess the latter is probably correct — see dr. thompson’s comment regarding this issue), and, more technically, how regression to the mean works (see here and here) which relates to the question of to what mean are the iqs of the children of african immigrants regressing — a general african mean or are different african groups regressing to different means (see here and here)?

i don’t have the answer to ANY of those questions (doubt i ever will have much insight into them), nor do i think that anyone DOES have good answers to those questions. yet. Further Research is RequiredTM.

i do want to highlight and comment upon something chisala had to say in the comments, though:

“If there are African ‘subpopulations’ (by which I believe you mean nations or tribes/ethnicities etc) that have a genetic mean IQ that is higher than the genetic mean of whites (or black Americans), then the American black-white gap can not be due to the ‘blackness’, genetically, since that subpopulation is also black.”

right. well, that brings us back to one of my “three laws of human biodiversity” and, not very coincidentally, the title of this post:

there’s more to human biodiversity than just racial differences.

the western (or maybe modern) world has a weird focus on the differences between races — at least among those of us who notice differences between people at all — both because racial differences are highly visible (especially physical differences — unless you’ve got your head stuck up your in the sand) and thanks to our unfortunate common history.

but — and i just had this convo with someone on twitter the other day — much of the variation between human populations is NOT found at the level of races, nor does it have anything to do with race.

WHY would it? such a scenario doesn’t make any sense from an evolutionary point of view: not a single one of the races has inhabited in its entirety only one environment or had an evolutionary history that was fully shared by all of its members, so obviously there must be quite a lot of intra-racial variation. and don’t forget, evolutionary histories include societal types (“every society selects for something”) and recent human evolution, so there really is absolutely no reason that all of the variation we see between populations should be found on a racial level.

we all know this to be true already: ashkenazi jews have the highest average iq of any population, and that group is not a race, it is an ethnic group. it’s northeast asians that have the next highest average iq, not all east asians (not indonesians, not filipinos). lactase persistence is found at different frequencies in white european populations, not equally across the wider racial population of which europeans are a part (i call them caucasians), let alone whites. protection against malaria isn’t evenly spread among subsaharan africans, either. and i have been blogging endlessly on possible (probable, imho) differences in innate altruistic behavioral traits between european populations. etc., etc. as jayman said in his most recent post: “Differences between human groups are fined-grained because evolution acts locally.”

who knows if some african subpopulations have higher genetic mean iqs than white or black americans (or other populations)? maybe. i look forward to researchers investigating the possibility. but i am in near complete agreement with chisala: the black-white iq gap is not due to blackness (or subsaharan african-ness), per se.

i say near complete agreement since i think that some of the variation in the average iqs of whites and blacks *might* quite possibly be due to evolutionary processes that affected very large populations (such as entire races+). MCPH1 haplogroup d, for instance, is known to be absent in subsaharan african groups. we have no idea if this gene (allele) is related to intelligence, but microcephalin is related to brain size, so it’s not implausible. i only bring it up to illustrate that some selection in human populations — including stuff related to our brains — has happened on the large scale — but as i said above, much of it also has not.

so it’s complicated.

but i do wish everyone would just ease off on focusing on racial differences all the time. the over-emphasis on race obscures an awful lot of fascinating (possible) biological variation between smaller sized populations, and the evolutionary processes themselves.

previously: hbd chick’s three laws of human biodiversity

(note: comments do not require an email. still not feeling well.)

in a brief article on the church’s role in the development of things like political liberty (belated happy magna carta day, btw!) and prosperity in medieval england, ed west says:

“Last week I was writing about Magna Carta and how the Catholic Church’s role has been written out, in particular the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton.

“But the same could also be said about much of English history from 600AD to 1600; from the very first law code written in English, which begins with a clause protecting Church property, to the intellectual flourishing of the 13th century, led by churchmen such as Roger Bacon, the Franciscan friar who foresaw air travel.

“However, the whitewashing of English Catholic history is mainly seen in three areas: political liberty, economic prosperity and literacy, all of which are seen as being linked to Protestantism.

“Yet not only was Magna Carta overseen by churchmen, but Parliament was created by religious Catholics, including its de facto founder, Simon de Montfort….

“Likewise literacy, which hugely increased in the 16th century and is often attributed to the Protestant attachment to the word, was already increasing in the 15th and the rate of growth did not change after Henry VIII made the break with Rome….”

here’s the graph from max roser on literacy rates in western europe from the fifteenth century onwards [click on chart for LARGER view]:


and more from ed west:

“As for the economy and the ‘Protestant work ethic’, well the English economy was already ‘Protestant’ long before the Reformation.

As one study puts it:

“‘By 1200 Western Europe has a GDP per capita higher than most parts of the world, but (with two exceptions) by 1500 this number stops increasing. In both data sets the two exceptions are Netherlands and Great Britain. These North Sea economies experienced sustained GDP per capita growth for six straight centuries. The North Sea begins to diverge from the rest of Europe long before the “West” begins its more famous split from “the rest”. [W]e can pin point the beginning of this “little divergence” with greater detail. In 1348 Holland’s GDP per capita was $876. England’s was $777. In less than 60 years time Holland’s jumps to $1,245 and England’s to 1090. The North Sea’s revolutionary divergence started at this time.’

“In fact GDP per capita in England actually decreased under the Tudors, and would not match its pre-Reformation levels until the late 17th century.”

so there are three big things — political liberty, prosperity, and literacy — all of which improved significantly, or began on a trajectory to do so, already by the high middle ages in northwestern or “core” europe (england, netherlands, nw france, ne germany, scandinavia, etc.).

there are additionally some other large and profound societal changes that occurred in core europe which also started earlier than most people think:

– a marked reduction in homicide rates, which has been studied extensively by historians of crime like manuel eisner, was written about at great length by steven pinker in his Better Angels, and most recently was suggested by peter frost and henry harpending to be the result of genetic pacification via the execution of criminals in the middle ages (i think they’re partly/mostly right!).

here’s the example of england (from eisner 2001):

eisner - homicide rates in england

“In the thirteenth and fourteenth century, the mean of almost 40 different estimates lies around 24 homicides per 100,000. The average homicide rates are higher for the late fourteenth century than for the thirteenth century, but it seems impossible to say whether this is due to the difference of the sources used or reflects a real increase related to the social and economic crises in the late Middle Ages. When estimate start again after a gap of some 150 years, the average calculated homicide rates are considerably lower with typical values of between 3-9 per 100,000. From then onwards, the data for Kent line up with surprising precision along a straight line that implies a long-term declining trend for more than 350 years.” [pg. 622]

while it is likely that the state’s persistent execution of violent felons over the course of a couple of hundred years in the late medieval/early modern period resulted in the genetic pacification of the english (and other core europeans — this is the frost & harpending proposal), it is also apparent that the frequency of homicides began to drop before the time when the english state became consistent and efficient about its enforcement of the laws (basically the tudor period) — and even before there were many felony offences listed on the books at all. homicide rates went from something like 24 per 100,000 to 3-9 per 100,000 between the 1200s and 1500s, before the state was really effective at law enforcement [pg. 90]:

“As part of their nation-state building the Tudors increased the severity of the law. In the 150 years from the accession of Edward III to the death of Henry VII only six capital statutes were enacted whilst during the next century and a half a further 30 were passed.”

the marked decline in homicides beginning in the high middle ages — well before the early modern period — needs also to be explained. you know what i think: core europeans were at least partly pacified early on by the selection pressures created by two major social factors present in the medieval period — outbreeding and manorialism.

– the rise of the individual, which began in northwest europe at the earliest probably around 1050. yes, there was a rather strong sense of the individual in ancient greece (esp. athens), but that probably came and went along with the guilt culture (pretty sure these things are connected: individualism-guilt culture and collectivism-shame culture). and, yes, individualism was also strong in roman society, but it seems to have waned in modern italy (probably more in the south than in the north, and possibly after the italian renaissance in the north?). siendentorp rightly (imho) claims that it was the church that fostered the individualism we find in modern europe, but not, i think, in the way that he believes. individualism can come and go depending, again i think, on mating patterns, and the mating patterns in northwest europe did not shift in the right direction (toward outbreeding) until ca. the 700-800s (or thereabouts) thanks to the church, so individualism didn’t begin to appear in that part of the world until after a few hundred years (a dozen-ish generations?) or so of outbreeding.

in any case, the earliest appearances of individualistic thinking pop up in nw europe ca. 1050, which is quite a bit earlier than a lot of people imagine, i suspect.

– the disappearance of and dependence upon the extended family — the best evidence of this of which i am aware comes from medieval england. the early anglo-saxons (and, indeed, the britons) had a society based upon extended families — specifically kindreds. this shifted beginning in the early 900s and was pretty complete by the 1100s as evidenced by the fact that members of the kindred (i.e. relatives) were replaced by friends and colleagues (i.e. the gegilden) when it came to settling feuds. (see this previous post for details: the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society.)

the usual explanation offered up for why the societies in places like iraq or syria are based upon the extended family is that these places lack a strong state, and so the people “fall back” on their families. this is not what happened in core europe — at least not in england. the importance of the extended family began to fall away before the appearance of a strong, centralized state (in the 900s). in any case, the argument is nonsensical. the chinese have had strong, centralized states for millennia, and yet the extended family remains of paramount importance in that society.

even in the description of siedentorp’s Inventing the Individual we read: “Inventing the Individual tells how a new, equal social role, the individual, arose and gradually displaced the claims of family, tribe, and caste as the basis of social organization.” no! this is more upside-down-and-backwardness. it’s putting the cart before the horse. individualism didn’t arise and displace the extended family — the extended family receded (beginning in the 900s) and then the importance of the individual came to the fore (ca. 1050).

there are a lot of carts before horses out there, which makes it difficult to get anywhere: the protestant work ethic didn’t result in economic prosperity — a work ethic was selected for in the population first and, for various reasons, this population then moved toward even more protestant ideas and ways of thinking (and, voila! — the reformation. and the radical reformation as a reaction to that.) a strong state did not get the ball rolling in the reduction in violence in nw europe or lead to the abandonment of the extended family — levels of violence began to decline before the state got heavily involved in meting out justice AND the extended family disappeared (in northern europe) before the strong state was in place. and so on and so forth.

it’s very hard for people to truly understand one another. (this goes for me, too. i’m no exception in this case.) and, for some reason, it seems to be especially hard for people to understand how humans and their societies change. i suppose because most people don’t consider evolution or human biodiversity to be important, when in fact they are ALL important! in coming up with explanations for why such-and-such a change took place, the tendency is to look at the resultant situation in our own society — eg. now the state is important rather than the extended family, which is what used to be important — and to then assume that the thing characteristic of the present (the state in this example) must’ve been the cause of the change. i don’t know what sort of logical fallacy that is, but if it doesn’t have a name, i say we call it the cart-horse fallacy! (alternative proposal: the upside-down-and-backwards fallacy.) explaining how changes happened in the past based on the present state of affairs is just…wrong.

so, a lot of major changes happened in core european societies much earlier than most people suppose and in the opposite order (or for the opposite reason) that many presume.

also, and these are just a couple of random thoughts, the protestant reformation happened in the “core” of core europe; the radical reformation (a set of reactionary movements to the main reformation) and the counter reformation (the more obvious reactionary movement to the reformation) happened in peripheral europe. the enlightenment happened in the “core” of core europe; the romantic movement, in reaction to the enlightenment, happened in peripheral europe (or peripheral areas of core countries, like the lake district in england, etc.). just some thoughts i’ve been mulling over in my sick bed. =/

see also: The whitewashing of England’s Catholic history and The Church’s central role in Magna Carta has been airbrushed out of history from ed west. oh! and buy his latest kindle single: 1215 and All That: A very, very short history of Magna Carta and King John! (^_^)

previously: going dutch and outbreeding, self-control and lethal violence and medieval manorialism’s selection pressures and the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society and the radical reformation.

(note: comments do not require an email. back to my sickbed!)

so the mother of all meta-analyses of twin studies and the heritability of human traits was published the other day: “Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on fifty years of twin studies” [pdf].

the authors looked at “17,804 traits from 2,748 publications including 14,558,903 partly dependent twin pairs, virtually all published twin studies of complex traits.” 14.5+ MILLION twin pairs! as james thompson said, this study pretty much represents “the mother of ‘F*** Off’ samples.” (~_^) in future, if someone says to you that twin studies were debunked a long time ago, blah, blah, blah, just point them to this paper.

and the upshot is: we are not blank slates. we never were.

from the paper, “[A]cross all traits the reported heritability is 49%.” in other words, these researchers found that pretty much half of the variance in all sorts of physical and behavioral traits in humans — the differences that we see between people — can be accounted for by genetics.

here’s a key table from the paper. i took the liberty of jiggling it around a bit so it would fit better on the blog (h2 is what you should be looking at here — that’s narrow sense heritabilty):

twin studies meta-analysis

the press has picked this up as there being an even split between nature and nurture, genes versus “the environment.” here, for example, from the huffington post*:

“Nature Or Nurture? The Long-Running Debate May Finally Be Settled”

“It’s an age-old debate: do our genes make us who we are, or is it the environment in which we were raised?

“There’s long been agreement that both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ play some role in determining many aspects of our physical and mental selves, from our height and weight to our intelligence and disposition. But as to which plays the bigger role in shaping us, scientists have never seemed to agree.

“That debate may now be over, thanks to a sweeping analysis of studies conducted around the world for more than five decades. The analysis — involving more than 14.5 million twin pairs from 39 countries — indicates that nature and nurture are virtually tied.

“Across all of our traits, in other words, genes and environment exert equal influence.”

yeeeessss…but what is “the environment”? on hearing that most people will think of things like reading bedtime stories to kids or playing mozart to your unborn fetus. but those sorts of things are decidedly not what the environment is in this context. from kevin mitchell of wiring the brain:

i’ve blogged this before, but i think we all need to read it again — from steven pinker on “the environment”:

“Even the technical sense of ‘environment’ used in quantitative behavioral genetics is perversely confusing. Now, there is nothing wrong with partitioning phenotypic variance into components that correlate with genetic variation (heritability) and with variation among families (‘shared environment’). The problem comes from the so-called ‘nonshared’ or ‘unique environmental influences.’ This consists of all the variance that is attributable neither to genetic nor familiar variation. In most studies, it’s calculated as 1 – (heritability + shared environment). Practically, you can think of it as the differences between identical twins who grow up in the same home. They share their genes, parents, older and younger siblings, home, school, peers, and neighborhood. So what could make them different? Under the assumption that behavior is a product of genes plus environment, it must be something in the environment of one that is not in the environment of the other.

But this category really should be called ‘miscellaneous/unknown,’ because it has nothing necessarily to do with any measurable aspect of the environment, such as one sibling getting the top bunk bed and the other the bottom, or a parent unpredictably favoring one child, or one sibling getting chased by a dog, coming down with a virus, or being favored by a teacher. These influences are purely conjectural, and studies looking for them have failed to find them. The alternative is that this component actually consists of the effects of chance – new mutations, quirky prenatal effects, noise in brain development, and events in life with unpredictable effects.

“Stochastic effects in development are increasingly being recognized by epidemiologists, frustrated by such recalcitrant phenomena such as nonagenarian pack-a-day smokers and identical twins discordant for schizophrenia, homosexuality, and disease outcomes. They are increasingly forced to acknowledge that God plays dice with our traits. Developmental biologists have come to similar conclusions. The bad habit of assuming that anything not classically genetic must be ‘environmental’ has blinkered behavioral geneticists (and those who interpret their findings) into the fool’s errand of looking for environmental effects for what may be randomness in developmental processes.”

and more from kevin mitchell:

“Just because some trait is not genetic does not mean it is not innate. If we are talking about how the brain gets wired, any number of prenatal environmental factors are known to have large effects. More interestingly, however, and probably a greater source of variance across the population, is intrinsic developmental variation. Wiring the brain is a highly complex procedure, reliant on cellular processes that are, in engineering terms, inherently ‘noisy’. Running the programme from the same starting point (a specific genotype) does not generate exactly the same output (the phenotype) every time. The effects of this noise are readily apparent at the anatomical level, when examining the impact of specific mutations, for example. In many cases, the phenotypic consequences are quite variable between genetically identical organisms, or even on two sides of the same brain. (If you want to see direct evidence of such developmental variation, take a directly face-on photograph of yourself, cut it in half and make mirror-image copies of the left and right sides. You will be amazed how different the two resultant faces are).

If the way the brain is wired is determined, not just by the starting genotype, but, to a large extent by chance events during development, then it is reasonable to expect this variation to be manifest in many psychological traits. Such traits may thus be far more innate than behavioural genetics studies alone would suggest.

in other words, it’s NOT genes + environment (or nature + nurture) — not as most people would think of it anyway. it’s genes + shared environment (which, since it’s shared, i.e. the same for the individuals in question, oughtn’t to make a difference, right?) + nonshared environment (which can include de novo mutations and development noise, which also may be heritable! iow, variation itself might be a genetic trait.). not much room for the effects of nurture here.

so, when you see a figure like 51% for “environmental” causes behind the differences we see in traits between people, remember that that very much includes biological causes like new mutations that are particular to individuals and developmental “noise,” which again may ultimately be regulated by genes.

(and, no, it’s not epigenetics either! see here and here and here.)

h/t once again to jayman for cluing me in on this in the first place! (^_^)

*to give credit where credit is due, the huff post journalist did mention that part of what’s included in “the environment” is measurement error. that is correct. edit: see comment below about measurement error. so the 49% heritabilty figure should be considered a very conservative figure.

p.s. – there’s even a dedicated website where you can have a look at all the heritability numbers for yourself. enjoy!

see also: Gone with the Wind from dr. james thompson, Nature, nurture and noise from kevin mitchell, and About Developmental Noise and Environmental Hereditarianism from jayman.

previously: it’s not nature and nurture…

(note: comments do not require an email. the blank slate.)

you will never understand human biodiversity without first turning an hbd-eye on yourself.

before i elaborate on that, a small exercise. indulge me.

at the end of this sentence, when i ask you to, i want you to raise your eyes from your monitor (or smartphone or tablet or whatever device you’re using), glance around for a few seconds, and then come back here. okay: go!

back? great.

now, i don’t know exactly what you saw during your brief adventure away, but what i do know is that when you looked around your room or office or the coffee shop or your own private tropical island (d*mn you!), you experienced seeing a smooth, undisturbed, flowing picture of your surroundings — it was a video-like experience (hopefully not a shaky cam-like one! if so, get to a doctor, quick!). that experience is a false one, created by your brain to make life easier for you. what happens, in fact, is that each and every time we move our gaze from one object or scene to another, in the intervening nanoseconds, we are effectively blind. we don’t “see” anything for those split seconds. the reason we don’t experience what would presumably be a very disturbing and confusing one — the lights going off and on all day long! — is because our brains fool us. the brain interpolates the visual data captured via eyeballs, etc., and presents it all to its owner (user?) in a nice, even — but unreal — picture of what that individual “sees.”

cool, huh? yeah.

the reason i bring this up is just to illustrate how our brains are not really to be trusted. fantastic, wonderful, unfathomable organ! — but one that fools us. a lot! it deceives us so that we don’t go around bumping into things all day long (the saccadic masking mentioned above). it deceives us (deceives itself!) so that we can decieve others. it probably fools each of us into believing that we are discrete individuals — that we are or have “selves.” h*ck! it even looks like our consciousness is not a stream but more like rhythmic pulses. all for good evolutionary reasons, of course. but, still, there it is: the brain is a trickster.

once you realize this about the human brain — that it’s an indispensible but untrustworthy organ — all of the cognitive biases and dissonances that we suffer from start to make sense. humans are not rational creatures. we are capable of some amount of logic and rational thought (some more than others), but more often than not, our “reason” serves as an excuse generator for our innate drives, desires, and proclivities.

the next thing you need to know — and you really have to internalize this — is that all of those drives and desires and proclivities are innate. all behavioral traits are heritable to some degree or another, which means that genes are behind them, and which means that there’s not much any of us can do to change our natures. for instance, there prolly aren’t specific genes that will make a person a christian versus a muslim, but there are definitely genes “for” religiosity. which religion a person with “genes for” religious belief follows will obviously depend to a large degree on the culture in which he is immersed, but persons with “genes for” religious belief will tend to be religious or spiritual somehow.

all behavioral traits are heritable. and, so, you cannot change people or peoples — not fundamentally. people are what they are. you are what you are, and so most of your thoughts and conclusions and feelings about life and the world around you are expressions of your innate traits. mine, too. (don’t worry. i’ll get to that.) and let’s be honest: innate traits and a deceiving brain are no foundations for uncovering the truth. we cannot rely on our gut instincts in trying to uncover the facts about reality or to (consciously) understand how the world works. the only way around this problem of our lyin’, cheatin’, no-good brains is to rely on science and its finding. of course, since science is conducted by humans, we run into all those cognitive biases, etc., again. but with enough effort, i think we can eventually discover some truths. either that or space stations will some day start falling out of the sky, and we’ll know we’re doing it wrong.

now back to my initial point: you will never understand human biodiversity without first turning an hbd-eye on yourself. first, learn this about yourself — that your thoughts and feeling and behaviors are heritable and largely out of your control — and then try to apply this knowledge to your understanding of other individuals and groups. examine your ideas and your feelings. your gut instincts (be especially suspicious of those!). your beliefs. you may think you have thought through the important questions rationally, but chances are you haven’t. not really. be honest with yourself. and be hard on yourself. but remember to have a laugh about it all, too — how absurd it all is really at the end of the day! (~_^)

remember my three laws of human biodiversity. and don’t ever forget that there are exceptions to the rules — and that you might be one of them — or your neighbor might. always — always! — keep in the forefront of your mind the concept of AVERAGE when you think about the human biodiversity between groups — and that not every member of a group will fit the average. do NOT pick and choose the areas of human biodiversity that suit your tastes and disregard the rest. you won’t get any dessert if you do.

most importantly — and i can’t emphasize this enough — do NOT project your innate feeling and thoughts and inclinations onto others! you might think and feel one way, but the other person sitting next to you might not. and he might really think and feel very differently from you, and have a completely different perspective on the world — different in a fundamental way — that neither he nor you can change, because he was born this way. (or maybe experienced a developmental insult that affected his biology in a similarly permanent sort of fashion.)

do not project your preferences onto other individuals or groups. just because you like to keep a super tidy house (you ocd person) doesn’t mean others do. and just because you and your people feel that living in nuclear families and having loose (or nonexistent) extended family ties is a nice way to live doesn’t mean that other peoples want that. and just because democracy happens to work well in your population — or autocracy, depending on where you’re from — doesn’t mean either of them would transfer well to other populations having different average innate characteristics from your own.

so, below are some aspects of human biodiversity you might want to run through when you’re getting to know thyself. there’s lots more. these are just some things i thought of off the top of my head. (if i were really organized, which i am not, i would’ve linked to how heritable each of these different traits is. maybe i’ll go back and fill those in one of these days. for now, you’re on your own — google ’em. or check jayman’s blog. he’s probably got a lot of the heritability figures over there! (^_^) ) try and see if identifying and recognizing any or all of your innate traits helps you to understand why you think and feel and behave in the ways that you do.

i’ll start.

– are you male or female? men and women on average think and feel differently about an awful lot of things. don’t blame me. i’m just the messenger.

– are you heterosexual or homosexual? or some other sort of sexual? heterosexual men and women on average think and feel differently about quite a lot of things compared to gay men and lesbian women et al. and i don’t just mean about preferred sexual partners. remember that there are always exceptions to these rules. and remember not to PROJECT your thinking/feelings onto other subgroups here (yes, i am looking at you butch lesbian feminists!).

– what is your racial and, to my mind more interesting and important, ethnic background? what other sort of population or subpopulation might you belong to (eg. siberian peoples or sicilians)? are you a person of mixed heritage? plenty of average differences in all sorts of directions here.

– how intelligent are you? what’s your iq? try to remember that people of much lower intelligence than you will have a very hard time understanding a lot of the things that you do, and that you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to grasp the ideas and concepts that people more intelligent than you can. be humble (if you’re able).

– what personality traits characterize you? both big 5 and hexaco. are you open to experiences? people who score low on openness are generally conservative. are you conscientious? in other words, are you efficient and organized or more easy going and (*ahem*) disorderly? are you an extravert or an introvert? if you’re an extravert, you’re probably not enjoying this exercise at all. sorry. (in my experience, extraverts are not very introspective.) are you agreeable? kind, sympathetic, warm. or are you angry all the time? are you neurotic or emotional? or are you more stable? and from the hexaco scale, where do you rank when it comes to honesty-humility?

– how old are you? if you’re under, say, 24, keep in mind that your brain hasn’t finished developing yet. your frontal lobes are incomplete, so you’ve got very little sense. (~_^) if you’re a young male, between say 16 and 24, you might be quite aggressive (although not necessarily violent) and risk tasking. be careful out there! if you’re (*ahem*) older, remember that everything slows down with age. (sorry to remind you of that!) it does get harder to teach old dogs new tricks. and everybody, remember that, in general, each of us becomes more like our true selves as we get older, because we get to choose our preferred environments once we grow up.

– are you religious or areligious — or even irreligious? remember that religiosity/spirituality is highly heritable.

– are you conservative or liberal or something in between? or something more extreme? or apolitical? remember than political orientation is also highly heritable.

– are you an optimist or a pessimist? is the glass half full or half empty? are you a depressive, emo kid or are you one of those always-chipper people? again, all highly heritable.

– are you a follower or a contrarian? i haven’t seen much research on this (i know there is some, but i wish there was more), but i’d bet a ton of $$$ that these traits are highly heritable, too. prolly tie in with all the personality traits above.

– are you on the autism spectrum somewhere? one of simon baron-cohen’s systemizers or empathizers? do you have adhd? ocd? a touch of paranoid schizophrenia? (just because you’re paranoid….) all of these conditions can — and do! — obviously strongly affect the way individuals think and feel about the world around them.

– what about your personality and the dark triad? are you a psychopath? narcissist? machiavellian in your nature? again, all of these relate back to the personality traits above. are you histrionic?

– what’s your 2d:4d ratio? no one’s sure what’s behind the differences of these, but the ratio does correlate with all sorts of traits and behaviors.

– are you from what i call a “clannish” population or not? from a population that historically was located behind the hajnal line or not? you may disagree with me on why i think “clannishness” exists as a set of behavioral traits in different populations, but there’s not much disagreement on the fact that the behaviors do exist (and are measurable): individualism/collectivism vs. familism/non-collectivism; universalism vs. particularism; civic-minded/commonweal oriented vs. not civic-minded/not commonweal oriented; low corruption vs. high corruption; etc. again, you might be an exception to your population’s rule. then again, you may not be.

– do you think like a westerner?

– and, a special shout-out to one super-group: are you eastern european? if so, you might prefer authoritarianism (especially left-wing authoritarianism). keep in mind that others of us don’t.

that’s it! that’s all i’ve got for now. (^_^)

see also: me, myself, and i

previously: what is human biodiversity (hbd)? and hbd chick’s three laws of human biodiversity and you and me and hbd

(note: comments do not require an email. know thyself.)


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