quaker individualism

so … the quakers. where was i?

oh, yes: from the north of england originally — mostly from the highland zone (and we know what that usually means).

the general pattern seems to have been closer marriages (i.e. greater inbreeding) for a longer period in the north and west of england than in the south and east (except for parts of east anglia), but more data would be nice. that would fit the topography of britain, as well as the family patterns found by todd in britain in the 1500-1900s — nuclear families more in the south and east, extended (“stem”) families more in the north and west. (i think that the connection is: the greater/longer the inbreeding, the larger the families become [extended families/clans/tribes] — the greater/longer the outbreeding, the smaller families get.)

barry levy points this out in Quakers and the American Family — that family structure was not the same across seventeenth century england. yes, in the southeast the english were all about nuclear families — their “little commonwealths” — but in the north and the west of england (not to mention wales), it was the extended family that still held sway [kindle locations 452-461, 635-637]:

“Many middling northwestern lineages, nevertheless, did survive without the means to form ‘little commonwealths’ or compensatory formal institutions. Lacking alternatives, many northwesterners relied upon the family. They tended to emphasize familialism, as would the northwestern Quakers. In order to provide family continuity and personal dignity in the face of scarcity and individual household poverty, however, many middling northwestern households had learned to pool their meager resources among a number of different people and households. These alliances did not merely highlight the economic deficits of northwestern middling households; they provided the sinews of northwestern society. Northwestern Quakerism would develop as a radical, charismatic version of northwestern farmers’ traditional reliance on informal human relations.

Many northwestern farmers preferred an ‘extended commonwealth’ to the ‘little commonwealth’ of southeastern English and New English fame. An impressive number of very poor middling northwesterners left wills for just this reason…. In Wales, will-writing was inspired partly by English law. Welsh people were forced legally to translate their wills into English or Latin. Poor Welsh people accepted this insult in order to avoid a worse indignity: English intestate law which confined intestate distribution of wealth to the nuclear family and thereby violated the way northwest people had learned to preserve their own families and dignity….

“Because they were middling northwesterners, northwestern Quakers were fascinated by the potentialities of familial relations. Because they were sincere religious fanatics, they sought to change the ethics of northwestern British middling society at the most intimate level. Quakers came to disagree with most northwestern farmers over the farmers’ emphasis upon clan honor and their willingness to merge their households and children promiscuously with their neighbors and landlords.”

the quakers were obviously a self-sorted group of individuals, so, on the one hand, while the characteristics of the broader population from which they sprang might tell us something about them — something about their behavioral traits and evolutionary history — on the other hand, this self-sorted group probably had a lot of rather unique traits and was somewhat unlike its parent population in many ways. that, after all, is why they split off from their parent population.

one remarkable thing about the quakers, which levy dwells on a lot, is that they abandoned the extended family. at the same time, though, they became hyper-focused on the nuclear family AND the “family of god” (i.e. their fellow quakers). so they didn’t leave familialism behind entirely. in my opinion, they sound like part of a population in flux. the northern and western english were some of my “in-betweeners” — northwest europeans who came a bit late to the outbreeding project, so still in the late medieval/early modern period they were dealing with shedding their extended family-ness — something which seems to have been over and done with amongst my “core europeans” (who began outbreeding earlier) as early as, perhaps, the thirteenth-/fourteenth-centuries. but the individuals who became quakers in the north of england in the 1600s were those at the leading edge of this delayed outbreeding project in that corner of the world.

here are some quotes from levy related to the sort of individualism that seventeenth century northerners/quakers displayed. to me, the quakers sound more like anti-institutional individualists (along the lines of southern libertarians or greeks or moi) rather than individualist-collectivists:

“The Friends’ great tenets and the outlines of their early history are widely known…. Quaking when the power of Truth first struck them in meeting and rudely invading the pulpits of more staid Protestants, the early Friends believed that God’s Truth, Grace, or Light was reborn on earth with the birth of every individual. They insisted that Truth in both individuals and society could only be hampered by excessive external coercion. They rejected intolerance, university-educated ministerial authority, and most forms of civil and international force.” – [kindle locations 74-77]

When George Fox and other Quaker prophets appeared in these hills in the late 1650s, they appeared defiantly, yet plausibly, anti-institutional…. The central medium of Quaker worship was not the reception of a well-produced sermon, as among the Puritans, but a silent meeting, a gathering where all social criticism or support was purposefully suspended to reveal and communicate the divine truths embedded in the spiritual human body…. Each Quaker was an embodiment of the Word and therefore preached within or without meeting, or with or without words, to other Quakers or ‘tender’ people.” – [kindle locations 161-167]

and from Albion’s Seed:

“The ecclesiology of the Quakers was an extension of their theology. They invented a system of church government which differed radically from those of Anglicans and Puritans. Quakers condemned what they called a ‘hireling clergy,’ and ‘steeple house ways.’ They repudiated all sacraments, ceremonies, churches, clergy, ordinations and tithes, and maintained no ministers in the usual sense — only lay missionaries and exhorters whom they were sometimes called ministers.” – [kindle locations 7032-7036]

i don’t think it was very strange, then, that when the quakers set up their ideal society in the new world, it looked like this [from colin woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America – kindle locations 1620-1631]:

The Quakers’ ideals proved to be at odds with successful governance. Believing that all people were followers of Christ and innately good, the Quakers assumed citizens could govern themselves through mere self-discipline and the application of the Golden Rule. This turned out not to be the case, as Quakers were also by nature inclined to challenge authority and convention at every juncture. The community’s leaders quarreled with one another over doctrinal questions while government fell into disarray, failing to maintain public records or to pass laws essential to the functioning of the court system. The governing council couldn’t manage to hold regular meetings, while the colony went through six governors in its first decade. The Dutch, Swedes, and Finns of the ‘lower counties’ became so desperate for proper government that they broke away to form one of their own, founding the tiny colony of Delaware in 1704. ‘Pray stop those scurvy quarrels that break out to the disgrace of the province,’ Penn wrote from London. ‘All good is said of [Pennsylvania] and but little good of [its] people. These bickerings keep back hundreds [of settlers], £10,000 out of my way, and £l00,000 out of the country.’ In desperation Penn finally appointed a succession of outsiders to run the place, including a Yankee Puritan (John Blackwell), a successful Anglican merchant from Boston (Edward Shippen), and an arrogant English gentleman (David Lloyd). None of them succeeded in getting Quaker leaders to assume responsibility for the community they’d created.”

not quite individualist-collectivists, yet. (~_^)

previously: geographical origin of the quakers and on the topographical origins of the quakers and the flatlanders vs. the mountain people and random notes: 07/30/13 and the myddle people and more on consanguinity in england (and scotland) and traditional family systems in medieval britain and ireland and the radical reformation

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invention of the modern world

there’s a very interesting series of lectures by alan macfarlane on youtube in which he outlines, from an historical/sociological p.o.v., the things we’ve been discussing around here: familialism/collectivism vs. individualism, civic societies, trust — and why the english are so odd in all these regards.

i’ve watched two so far — the one on friendship & kinship and the one on associations, trusts & civil society:



about halfway through the second video, macfarlane talks at length about, and very fondly of, the english public house. (^_^) i ask you: is there anything better than an english pub (<< been there)?! (correct answer: an emphatic no!)

the lectures were given @tsinghua university, beijing, so he offers some suggestions to the chinese audience on how they can get china to be modern just like the anglo world. unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have offered any biological solutions (at least not in the two videos i watched), so i doubt they'll have much luck.

still, macfarlane has a lot of info and some good insights to share, so they're worth the watch if you're looking to chill in front of the "tv" for a couple of hours.

he's also turning the lectures into a book, apparently, which is currently being serialized on The Fornightly Review. not quite half of the chapters have been posted so far.

previously: but what about the english?

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corporations and collectivities

i’ve been referring to western society — especially since the middle ages and forward — as being “corporate” in nature, i.e. that unrelated individuals in western societies tend to get together and form “corporate” sorts of groups, like guilds and mutual aid societies and even quite a few protestant churches, more than people in other societies do. this is as opposed to more family-based societies where social life and affairs are based on … yeah … the family — especially the extended family or clan or tribe. i thought i picked up the term “corporate” from avner greif [opens pdf], but he talks about “corporatism” and not strictly a society having a “corporate” nature, so i guess i sorta coined it myself (sorta) or got it from elsewhere.


in Family in Contemporary Egypt [available on questia] by andrea rugh, the author uses the term “corporate” or “corporations” not to refer to the individualistic groupings in western society, which she calls “collectivities”, but to family-based societies instead. i’ll let her explain it [pgs. 32-34]:

“Corporateness is used here to define that sense the Egyptian has of the inviolability of his social groups, of their indivisible unity that persists regardless of the constituent members. The term is contrasted with the concept of collectivity which is meant to refer to the Western perception of groups as collections of individuals joining to achieve the common interests of the individual members. Within the collectivity individual rights supercede group rights and are only restricted where they may conflict with the rights of other individuals. It is the exception to discern in the collectivity any supra-individual rights that might devolve on the larger group. The individual is generally protected by legal rule or social custom from too great a tyranny of the group.

“In a corporation, the group comes first and the individuals are expected to sacrifice their own needs for the greater good of the group. The personal status of individual members is defined by the group and not more than incidentally by individual achievement. Individual behaviors are evaluated primarily by how they reflect on the group, the group taking the blame or the rewards for these behaviors. Personal lapses in behavior, if kept secret, are of little consequence; it is only their public acknowledgement and association with the lowering of group status that causes an individual a sense of shame and personal guilt.

“The collective view, by contrast, considers the individual on his own merits. He can excel or not live up to the expectations of his group without reflecting more than marginally on that group. The individual draws on the group for support in achieving his own status level. He can personally overcome the deficiencies of his group, and the world will recognize his achievements. Society, as a result, holds him responsible for developing his own potentialities and only in special cases of disadvantage accepts the view that his group might hinder this effort.

“A person holding a corporate view or a collective view organizes his life quite differently from one holding the opposing view. Each view is so deeply engrained in the cultural consciousness of a people [i would say in the biology of a people – h. chick] that it is difficult for people to stand outside their own cultural perspective and project themselves into the consciousness of those holding the opposing view. People conceive of their own world view as representing logic, common sense, and other valued characteristics, and, indeed, given the whole social system within which the world view functions, it *is* the view with the best ‘fit’ to provice coherence for the society as a whole.

“The following illustration demonstrates the conflict in world view that occurs when member of a society that is corporate-based are to comment on the principles of a collectively based society:

“‘An American literature class in an Egyptian University had just finished Thoreau’s ‘Walden’. The American professor had explained all the pertinent points of Thoreau’s return to nature, his attempt at realizing self-sufficiency, his strong sense of individualism. The class was clearly uncomfortable with what they had been reading and were having difficulty in putting the book into some sort of familiar perspective.

“‘”How do you feel about Thoreau, the man, and do you think that a life style like his would be appropriate in the Egyptian context?” the professor asked. Hands flew up and a number of answers came at once:

“‘”He is a miser–he lacks generosity.” The student based his comments on the lengthy accounting Thoreau made of all the materials he had bought to sustain himself in the woods. “What is the purpose of going off and living alone? What kind of life is that?” “Doesn’t he have any family? He doesn’t speak about them. How can he leave all his responsibilities behind like that?”

“‘The consensus of the class was that Thoreau was not accomplishing anything useful by his anti-social behavior; he had abrogated his role as a social being. He should in fact be considered “crazy” and would be so considered if he should try to live in this way in the Egyptian context. The concept of self-realization and self-reliance were totally lost on the students.’

“Individualism has little positive value in Egyptian society, and often is equated with a number of negative outcomes. As one student later commented: ‘Individualism leads to sexual license and social chaos since everyone is seeking his own ends.'”

whatever way you wanna use the words — corporate vs. family-based or collectivities vs. corporations — what matters here is that, broadly speaking, there are two different types of societies: individualistic and group oriented. and the group oriented societies are based, not on random groupings of individuals, but on extended families, clans and tribes. and you get varying degrees of all that by greater or lesser amounts of inbreeding; you get individualism by outbreeding.

one thing i’d really like the hbd-o-sphere to think about and understand even more, though, is what rugh said about the difficulties that the two types of peoples have in understanding one another:

“Each view is so deeply engrained in the cultural consciousness of a people that it is difficult for people to stand outside their own cultural perspective and project themselves into the consciousness of those holding the opposing view.”

it’s not just difficult for people to stand outside their own cultural persepctive to understand others — it’s difficult for people to stand outside their own biological natures to understand other peoples’ biological natures. and this applies to all areas of human biodiversity, not just the inbreeding/outbreeding thing.

it’s hard to understand other individuals or peoples, unless you try, which most people don’t. most people don’t even ever consider trying to view things from a totally different perspective than their own. they don’t and/or can’t imagine that other people might, on a very fundamental level, think and feel differently about life.

for instance, if you’re one of those people who can wait on eatin’ the marshmallow so that you can have two later (mmmmmm!), imagine that there are some people who can’t do that. it’s not just that they choose not to wait, they CAN’T. then imagine what they must think about people who do. it’s not easy for either side. (i suspect it’s easier for higher iq people to imagine how others experience the world — if they bother trying — but think about the legions of people with below average iqs….)

anyway. enough soapboxing. (^_^) different peoples are different. i know you know that already, but think about it some more anyway. that is all! (^_^)

update: a couple of more passages from rugh [pgs. 281-82]:

“Corporateness has other social implications that can be discovered by reviewing some of the points made in earlier chapters….

First, group — most often family — becomes the bottom line for most kinds of social and economic organization. There is little use in talking about how an isolated individual copes in his socioeconomic environment since so much depends on the back-up support he commands….

Second, people feel a strong sense of who stands in a relation of outsider or insider, however they may momentarily define these categories. The zero-sum game, attributed to Egyptian social behavior, is based to a large extent on the sliding perception of who stands outside and who inside the group in any attempt to garner resources. Kin of varying degrees of distance can at different times fall in or outside the circle of alliance depending upon the activity at hand….

The villain for the individual Egyptian is almost always perceived as an outside aggressor rather than the Egyptian himself, his failings, or the failings of someone of his committed inner circle. This allows projection of problems on outside others rather than on introspective self-doubts or vital group members. The greater good requires that these kinds of deceptions be sustained by everyone concerned lest the solidarity of group be threatened. To combat the outside threat people seek to consolidate groups which can either strengthen life’s chances or spread life’s burdens. Limited and versatile groupings like the family are effective tools under these circumstances.

Third, confidence between people is based on trust which in turn is more likely to occur where structural relationships of group exist. The stronger the overlay of ties, jural and affective, the more confidence a person invests in another person. The jural ties of kinship are strongest, even without affective ties, for there is a strong moral obligation for kin to come to the aid of other kin, even when there have been no effective relationships between them over a long period of time…..”

previously: mating patterns and the individual

update: see also family type in egypt and mating patterns in egypt

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