“genes for altruism”

in Genes underlying altruism published in october of last year, three biologists/researchers think through what “genes for altruism” ought to look like and how we will recognize them (“we” meaning teh scientists!):

(i) Genes underlying altruism should satisfy Hamilton’s rule of rb > c, where r is relatedness of actor to recipient, b is benefits to the recipient and c is costs to the actor. Altruism exists, and to the extent that this type of behaviour has evolved, we expect genetic variation to underlie it. In this sense, there must be genes ‘for’ altruism (genes showing allelic variation that is statistically associated with variation in altruistic behaviour) that are potentially detectable….

(ii) Genes underlying altruism should be environmentally sensitive. If genes for altruism are to evolve, then at least some carriers must reproduce. This inference implies that genes underlying altruism should be conditionally expressed as a function of their social environment….

(iii) Genes underlying altruism should increase in number and complexity with social-behavioural sophistication….

(iv) Genes underlying altruism should coevolve with, or depend on, the previous evolution of genes for kin recognition….

(v) Genes for altruism may reside in regions of low recombination, exhibit co-expression and show modular genetic architecture….

(vi) Genes underlying altruism should be at least partially additive. The evolution of altruism requires heritable variation, and we therefore expect genes for this and other evolved social traits to have significant additive effects that are responsive to kin-mediated selection….

(vii) Genes underlying altruism should exhibit strong pleiotropy. Pleiotropy (multiple phenotypic effects of alleles) should be fundamental to the evolution of altruism, given that it involves combinations of costs and benefits that may be simultaneously physiological, morphological, reproductive and behavioural….

the authors offer some candidate “genes for altruism” (this is a truncated version of their table. i’ve only included the ones for humans here — they also suggested some for eusocial insects):

genes underlying altruism - table

i think teh scientists should also look for some genes related to violence — particularly tempermental, hotheaded sorts of violence — the kind that raises the testosterone levels of scots-irish, but not yankee, folks when they’re insulted. those types of fly off the handle behaviors, i think, are often altruistic in nature, since the hotheaded individual can be more willing to sacrifice himself in a fight or in battle for his kin.

also, i guess that “genes for altruism” ought to be found in differing frequencies — even variations — in different human populations, especially long-term inbred versus long-term outbred ones.


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inbreeding and outbreeding

i keep saying that i’ll define more clearly what i mean by “inbreeding” and “outbreeding,” but i never do. finally! — here i am, and i’m gonna do it! (^_^)

from the oxford dictionary of biology:

inbreeding: “Mating between closely related individuals, the extreme condition being self-fertilization, which occurs in many plants and some primitive animals.” (see also wikipedia.)

outbreeding: “Mating between unrelated or distantly related individuals of a species.”

great. but what’s “closely related” or “unrelated” or “distantly related”? self-fertilization doesn’t really apply to humans (at least not very often — i hope), so where to draw the line between “closely related” and “distantly related”?

i’m primarily interested in the evolution of altruism and other “innate social aptitudes” in man [pdf] — and here’s where inclusive fitness comes into the picture, btw — and the role that inbreeding and outbreeding might play in all that.

inbreeding in and of itself does not change the frequencies of genes in a population — it just moves them around, concentrating them in certain lineages. however, wade and breden showed in some mathematical wizardry modelling that, under certain circumstances, long-term, sustained inbreeding can, in fact, lead to increased frequencies of “genes for altruism” in a population.

wade and breden looked at four inbreeding scenarios: 1) self-fertilization (doesn’t happen in humans); 2) if the mating individuals shared half (50%) their genomes in common (like parent-offspring matings or sibling matings); 3) if the mating individuals shared 20% of their genes in common (this is somewhere in between first cousins and double-first cousins or uncle-niece/aunt-nephew); and 4) if the mating individuals shared no genes in common (not the typical pattern in human matings). most human populations do not practice parent-offspring/sibling matings — in fact, it’s usually avoided and considered by most as really icky. but quite a lot of peoples regularly marry first cousins, and some (in the arab world/middle east) even often marry double-first cousins — nor is the world short on uncle-niece pairings (southern india, for example — or hasidic jews).

wade and breden found that, under certain circumstances, long-term, sustained matings between individuals that share 20% of their genomes in common can lead in an increase in altruism genes in that population. first cousin marriage, probably the most common form of inbreeding in humans, is a little short of what wade and breden looked at, but it’s not terribly far away either (12.5% relatedness vs. 20% relatedness). you would think that the slope of the line for inbreeding at 12.5% relatedness would fall somewhere in between that for 0% and 20% (solid black line) on wade and breden’s lower graph here:

wade and breden 02 small

in clinical genetics, most researchers look at degrees of inbreeding that are between second cousins or closer, commonly referred to in the literature as consanguineous marriages. since i get a lot of my data on inbreeding from such studies, it’s kinda handy for me to define inbreeding as anything between second cousins or closer, but in reconsidering wade and breden’s results, i’m thinking that maybe i should only concentrate on first cousins or closer. for now i think i’ll stick to second cousins or closer, but i reserve the right to change my mind (it is a woman’s prerogative, isn’t it? still?).

so, on this blog:

– inbreeding = in a population, a general pattern of regular and sustained mating between individuals who are related to one another as second cousins or closer.

– outbreeding = in a population, a general pattern of regular and sustained mating in which individuals avoid second cousins or closer.

notice the “regular and sustained” bit. that’s important. we’re not talking here about occasional marriages between cousins. it has to be a regular practice in a society. i’m not sure what the frequency of the inbreeding needs to be. it will vary according to population size, of course — the smaller the population, the more closely related everyone’s going to be anyway (e.g. the yanomamo). in a larger population? — dunno. definitely when 50% of marriages are consanguineous over the long-term i think the frequencies of “genes for altruism” are going to increase pretty rapidly (i’ll come back to what sorts of altruism in another post). 30%? probably. 3%? not really.

outbreeding, too, needs to be “regular and sustained” to have any effect, i.e. to have a population slide back down wade and breden’s slope in reverse. one generation of outbreeding probably won’t have much of an effect, i think. evolution (natural selection) does take some time, after all. also, if one inbreeding group interbreeds with another inbreeding group, that’s NOT outbreeding according to my definiton. technically it is in biological circles, but if we’re talking about two populations that have been inbreeding for a long time and, therefore, have acquired a lot of genes for my “familial altruism,” then all they’re doing by interbreeding is swapping familial altruism genes. for example, if you’re the early medieval irish and are clannish because you’ve been inbreeding for who-knows-how-long, the “outbreeding” that you do with the vikings when they show up (probably) doesn’t count wrt altruism, because they’re a long-term inbreeding group, too.

to have any effect on the frequency of certain “genes for altruism,” outbreeding — like inbreeding — needs, i think, to be regular and sustained over the long-term, as it was with europeans (mostly northwest europeans) since the early medieval period (see also mating patterns in europe series in left-hand column below ↓ for more details) and, perhaps, some other groups like the semai in malaysia.

previously: inbreeding and the evolution of altruistic behavior

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two things

1) inclusive fitness — hamilton’s idea that your genetic success should be calculated by considering both your direct descendants AND other individuals who happen to share copies of your genes and whom you have aided in some way — means that individuals who are more altruistic towards those other individuals with whom they share a good deal of genes, close-ish family members being the most likely candidates, increase their total fitness. inbreeding, because it amplifies the relatedness between family members, can amplify the altruistic behaviors between them.

2) altruistic behaviors are behavioral traits that are selected for under certain conditions (selective pressures) because such behaviors pay off (i.e. increasing an individual’s fitness or inclusive fitness). there are many, many, many types of altruistic behaviors, including those that are on the “dark side” of altruism (bigotry, waaaaycism, genocide), so there cannot possibly be just one “gene for altruism.” inbreeding, because it amplifies the relatedness between family members, can make the evolution of “genes for familial altruism” easier/happen more quickly (see here and here).

(ok. so technically that’s more than just two things. so sue me! (^_^) )

regarding the first point — inbreeding, because it amplifies the relatedness between family members, can amplify the altruistic behaviors between them — let’s take two examples: a population that breeds entirely randomly (doesn’t really exist in humans) and a population that inbreeds (cousins marry cousins regularly, for instance).

in the randomly breeding (diploid) population, the relatedness between the various family members looks like this. in such a population, first-cousins will probably share 1/8th (12.5%) of their dna in common; that’s an inbreeding coefficient of 6.25%.

first-cousins in the regularly inbreeding population will share a greater amount of dna in common because they share so many ancestors in common, so their inbreeding coefficients will be higher. for instance, some first-cousins from pakistan and saudi arabia, two societies with very long histories of cousin marriage, have inbreeding coefficients of 11%, almost double those in a randomly mating population.

so, all else being equal (which is obviously never the case), if we take a totally made-up example of an altruistic behavior — the sharing of bananas — one would expect to find that the first-cousins in the inbreeding population, since they are more closely related to one another, share more bananas with each other on average than the first-cousins in the randomly mating population. the first-cousins in the randomly mating population should share more bananas with each other than they do with their second-cousins, because they share more genes with each other than they do with their second-cousins — but overall their altruistic behaviors won’t hold a candle to the inbred first-cousins.

got that? (^_^)

macaque monkeys provide a good example of how more closely related family members are more altruistic towards one another than more distantly related family members. the closer the genetic relationship, the more grooming between two macaque relatives; the more distant the relationship, the less grooming

confused beetles provide a good example of how more inbred family members are more altruistic towards their close relatives than randomly mated family members are. in this case, we’re talking about an example of the “dark side” of altruism: randomly mated confused beetles cannibalize other related confused beetle larvae more than inbred ones.

steve sailer applied these ideas to humans way back in 2003. from Cousin Marriage Conundrum:

“Are Muslims, especially Arabs, so much more loyal to their families than to their nations because, due to countless generations of cousin marriages, they are so much more genealogically related to their families than Westerners are related to theirs? Frank Salter, a political scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany whose new book ‘Risky Transactions: Trust, Kinship, and Ethnicity’ takes a sociobiological look at the reason why Mafia families are indeed families, told me, ‘That’s my hunch; at least it’s bound to be a factor.’

“One of the basic laws of modern evolutionary science, quantified by the great Oxford biologist William D. Hamilton in 1964 under the name ‘kin selection,’ is that the more close the genetic relationship between two people, the more likely they are to feel loyalty and altruism toward each other. Natural selection has molded us not just to try to propagate our own genes, but to help our relatives, who possess copies of some of our specific genes, to propagate their own.

“Nepotism is thus biologically inspired. Hamilton explained that the level of nepotistic feeling generally depends upon degree of genetic similarity. You share half your personally variable genes with your children and siblings, but one quarter with your nephews/nieces and grandchildren, so your nepotistic urges will tend to be somewhat less toward them. You share one eighth of your genes with your first cousins, and one thirty-second with your second cousin, so your feelings of family loyalty tend to fall off quickly.

“But not as quickly if you and your relatives are inbred. Then, you’ll be genealogically and related to your kin via multiple pathways. You will all be genetically more similar, so your normal family feelings will be multiplied. For example, your son-in-law might be also be the nephew you’ve cherished since his childhood, so you can lavish all the nepotistic altruism on him that in an outbred family would be split between your son-in-law and your nephew.

“Unfortunately, nepotism is usually a zero sum game, so the flip side of being materially nicer toward your relatives would be that you’d have less resources left with which to be civil, or even just fair, toward non-kin. So, nepotistic corruption is rampant in countries such as Iraq, where Saddam has appointed members of his extended family from his hometown of Tikrit to many key positions in the national government….”

what i got interested in was the flip-side of what steve talked about. in other words, if inbreeding leads to the sort of nepotistic behaviors we see in the middle east, maybe not-so-much inbreeding — or even outbreeding — leads to the opposite. lots of inbreeding in humans seems to lead to all sorts of family-oriented, clannish behaviors, not just nepotism. it even seems to, as randall parker pointed out, impede the development of democracy because everyone’s so focused on their extended families/clans/tribes. again, maybe outbreeding does just the opposite. i think there’s a lot of pretty good evidence pointing in these directions (see the Mating Patterns series down below ↓ in the left-hand column), but so far it’s all circumstantial.

furthermore, point number two from the top: inbreeding, because it amplifies the relatedness between family members, can make the evolution of “genes for familial altruism” easier/happen more quickly. not only are inbred populations of humans more likely to be more altruistic to their near kin than not-so-inbred populations because they are more closely related to one another (like the confused beetles), various “altruistic alleles” related to familial altruism ought to develop more quickly and be more frequent in the inbred populations (again, see here and here).

greg cochran’s not convinced. he said: “Your general notion that the degree of inbreeding does something, by itself, in the short run, is incorrect.”

i think he’s misunderstood my argument (well, how much can one communicate in a couple of comments to a blog post?). i am not arguing that “inbreeding does something by itself — except for potentially amplifying already existing altruistic behaviors (see the beetle example again). nor am i arguing that “inbreeding does something, by itself, in the short run.” no. of course, any “genes for altruism” would have to be selected for (or not) over some amount of generations.

wade and breden found that inbreeding accelerates the spread of altruism genes in a population, and that “genes for altruism” would already be on the increase after just fifty generations if the selection was strong and the genes dominant. populations like arabs in the middle east have certainly been inbreeding closely for well over fifty generations (i’ve over-estimated the length of generations at 25 years/generation to come up with a conservative guess of how long they’ve been inbreeding). and northwest europeans have been doing just the opposite for something like fifty generations or so. the one group is almost freakishly oriented towards the extended-family/clan/tribe; the other, as m.g. miles put it, to the commonweal.

i think there’s been an almost exactly opposite evolutionary history in terms of altruism in these two populations over the last one thousand years (how cool is that?!) — an evolution that’s ongoing, of course, since middle easterners are still inbreeding and northwest europeans are outbreeding more and more.

greg also said:

“Imagine that in much of history, people lived in small groups that often fought with their neighbors. In that sort of situation, selection for group altruism is at least possible, since the group is full of close relatives, while the opponents are less closely related. Both sides are probably members of the same broad ethnic group or race, but that doesn’t matter: only the kinship coefficients matter.

“Suppose that many people emerge on to the stage of history with this impulse to fight for their side: in the past, this always meant closely related people. Now, with the emergence of states, they find themselves fighting in armies, which feel like their side, but are no longer closely related – not a bunch of cousins and such. It could well be that many individuals are actually willing to risk themselves for that state. They’re willing to die for truth, justice and the Assyrian Way. It’s not genetically smart, but their adaptations are wired for past circumstances….

Over time, this misfiring of altruism should decrease. Patriotism burns itself out. Dying for Assyria doesn’t do your close relatives any good at all. Some people will be more prone to this, some less, and that tendency will be heritable. Those with a tendency to volunteer (in the service of anything other than close relatives) should dwindle away over time.

yes. familial altruism (all sorts of behaviors!) can be misapplied in new circumstances. but i think that what greg describes would only occur IF you started off with a population with lots of smaller, somewhat related but inbred sub-groups which had lots of “genes for familial altruism” and then brought them together into a state. maybe like the roman empire. or any of the chinese empires.

BUT there are other sorts of altruism beyond familial altruism — like reciprocal altruism — tit-for-tat sorts of behaviors, for example.

if you started off, not with a population that consisted of sub-groups with lots of “genes for familial altruism,” but rather a population with more “genes for reciprocal altruism,” the patriotism may not be quite so artificial. i suspect — but have no real proof, of course — that northwest europeans are such a population.

to quote myself from over @west hunter [links added]:

“i wondered before, though, if an opposite of these sorts of kin-oriented altruism alleles might be certain types of reciprocal altruism alleles. you know: the ones behind tit-for-tat sort-of behaviors, etc.

“if you have a population that oubreeds A LOT (nw europeans from the middle ages onward) in which family and kin connections are downplayed (prolly because of the outbreeding) — AND you have the ‘right’ sort of selection pressures (something that selects for cooperation and corporate behavior, like medieval manorialism and farming in a cold climate) — then maybe the frequencies for whatever alleles code for reciprocal altruism increase because lots of reciprocal altruism increases your success at reproducing.”

if you kept warring, you would still burn through the most patriotic members of the group (think wwi and wwii), but you wouldn’t be left with clans at the end of the day (see the rest of greg’s comment below). perhaps bunches of self-oriented nuclear families/individuals, but not clans.

speaking of misapplied altruism, i think our reciprocal altruism is now being misapplied in the face of migrating mexicans and muslims and all sorts of third world populations who, on the whole, are not big into reciprocation.

finally, greg said:

“But states are older in some places than others, and some have made greater demands than others. Imagine a region where states have been around longer, a place in which the locals have lived through empire after empire after empire. They should have had the patriotism bred clean out of them. They should feel altruistic about their families, maybe their clan – and nothing else.

yes, they do — middle easterners (the strongest of the inbreeders) and to a lesser extent the chinese (who also have a very long history of inbreeding) feel more altruistic about their families and their clans, but that’s not because they had the altruism/patriotism bred out of them. they’re sooo inbred (the muslims way more than the chinese) that they never had any patriotism in the first place! they have such strong drives for familial altruism that anything like patriotism doesn’t even enter into the picture. feelings of patriotism — nationalism — have historically been strongest amongst northwest europeans — the most outbred, civic, and “corporate” peoples in the world.

i think there are some really cool evolutionary histories that led to these differences in altruistic behaviors — differences which are some of the most profound, innate differences between human populations that are out there — the instinctive feelings guiding us in how to treat the others around us.

see also: Giving Bigotry a Chance and Your country’s not your blood from henry harpending and greg cochran @west hunter (who seem to have caught the inbreeding/outbreeding & altruism bug! (~_^) ).

previously: inbreeding and the evolution of altruistic behavior and four things and which altruism genes? and inclusive inclusive fitness

(note: comments do not require an email. altruism. what’s in it for me?)

me and max

weber, that is. (^_^)

here’s a bit from alan macfarlane’s “The Origins of English Individualism” which i started reading last night [pgs. 50-51]:

“Behind Weber’s work there is a general evolutionary model that sees societies originating in a stage at which kinship dominates all life and large ‘clans’ absorb the individual, moving through an intermediate phase in which the larger grouping have been broken down by various pressures, to modern society where the family and kinship no longer dominate economic and social life. In China and India such a movement has never occurred. In China ‘the fetters of the kinship group were never shattered,’ every individual was completely submerged in the clan system, and any nascent move towards individualistic capitalism was crushed by the power of kinship groups, by the intimate link between family and land. In Europe, however, a number of factors worked together to break the original ‘clan’ system, according to Weber. One was Christianity, which encouraged an abstract, non-familistic attitude, stressed the individual believer: ‘every Christian community was basically a confessional association of individual believers, not a ritual association of kinship groups.’ This ‘all-important destruction of the extended family by the Christian communities…’ was the foundation upon which an autonomous bourgeoisie developed in the cities of western Europe. But while Christianity in general was a dissolvent of the earlier state, Protestantism was especially powerful in its attack on the earlier kinship ‘fetters.’ Weber argued that:

“‘[T]he great achievement of ethical religions, above all of the ethical and asceticist sects of Protestantism, was to shatter the fetters of the kinship group. These religions established the superior community of faith and a common ethical way of life in opposition to the community of blood, even to a large extent in opposition to the family.’

“In addition to Christianity and Protestantism, there were other pressures. The growth of towns in the middle ages also put a stress on the individual rather than the wider kinship group. Furthermore, the politcal system of feudalism was incompatible with extended kinship ties; ‘the land is divided by the feudal lord, in independence of clan and kinship…. We may simplify Weber’s ideas into the argument that there had been three stages in the evolution of modern society. First was ‘clan’ society, where kinship was paramount and the basic economic, social and religious unit was a wide group of kin; this had disappeared in north-western Europe by at least the thirteenth century, although traces remained. This was replaced by a second, intermediate, phase in which the basic unit was the household of parents and children…. This configuration was finally destroyed, Weber argues, first in England from the later fifteenth century, and later elsewhere, allowing for the third stage — the separation between family and business and the economic isolation of the individual.”

like i said before, bigger and (much!) better brains than mine have thought long and hard about the individualistic nature of northwest europeans, which stands in stark contrast to just about everybody else on our little planet, and how we got this way. but what most (all?) of them missed is the biology of it.

and that’s O.K.! ’cause they’ve been historians and philosophers and so on, and weren’t really thinking about biology (although it’s high time that they did! and a lot of them now are, which is a good thing.) and max weber was busy, you know, laying the foundations of sociology and other disciplines, so it’s ok that he missed the biology of it.

otherwise, i think he was right on target here. he really identified some of what i think were the major selection pressures on medieval european populations that resulted in their shift from clannish to individualistic societies. macfarlane criticizes weber for getting the timing wrong (i haven’t finished the book yet, but i think this is where he is going) — i.e. that english individualism happened a lot before weber’s suggestion of the fifteenth century — but otherwise i think weber was very much on target.

i think he might’ve been wrong about protestantism, though. weber seems to have been imagining that sentiments and attitudes are mutable in a blank slate kinda way — like these things just float out of the ether or something. obviously this is not the case — people have natures that are innate — and different peoples have different natures (not completely different — we are all human). and, so, to get from clannishness to individualism, you need some change in the nature of the people.

my guess is that this change has to do with, for one thing anyway, genes related to altruistic behaviors — and since altruistic behaviors are related to (heh) relatedness — then the changes in nw european behavior, i think, came from changes in mating patterns (which would’ve changed the relatedness) rather than just some abstract notions like “confessional associations.” in other words, you need to break down — biologically — the clans before you can get to the “confessional associations.”

why do i think weber was wrong about protestantism? many protestant sects — particularly in germany, but interestingly not in scandinavia nor, i think(?), in england (have to check that) — actually reversed the roman catholic church’s edicts on cousin marriage. iow, cousin marriage was once again allowed after luther’s day in large parts of europe (the specifics vary from place to place and time to time), so protestant europe was not the source of the breakdown of genetic ties in europe. it was the catholic church that got that ball rolling. i think that what many of the more ascetic, individualistic protestant sects were (are) were an expression of the newly forged individualistic natures of nw europeans. but, i could be wrong about that.

macfarlane’s quotes from weber come from weber’s “General Economic History,” so i guess that’s another book to add to the list. (^_^)

(note: comments do not require an email. not this max.)

china and landlordism

if western europeans in the middle ages had a belief system that put a damper on clannishness and a socio-economic system that discouraged marriage at a young age, the chinese, it seems, had eons of just the opposite. (this is all new territory for me, btw, so feel free to correct me where i’m wrong.) where western europeans had christianity, the chinese had neo-confucianism. and where western europeans had manorialism, the chinese had landlords [pg. 12]:

“Fu Zhufu has pointed to another difference between manorialism and landlordism. In the serf-based manorial system, the lord had to look to the subsistence and reproduction of his workers, lest the very basis of the manorial economy be undermined. But the Chinese landlord was under no such constraints. He could seek the highest possible returns that the land-rental market would support. Though Fu skirts the issue here, it is obvious that such principles became harshest when the pressures of social stratification were joined by the pressures of population; under those conditions, a tenant who failed to survive could always be replaced by another. Landlordism could become an institutional system in which the poor tenants were pressed below the margins of subsistence.”

sounds like that, in the time-periods and areas of china where landlordism existed, and maybe where the landlord wasn’t your relative, there were some pretty harsh selection pressures on farmers during china’s history. farm successfully, or … die probably.

and under “the pressures of population”? china has been under severe levels of population pressure since practically forever. “core” europeans, with their late marriage and comparably low fertility, have had it easy compared to the malthusian world that the chinese have lived under for literally millennia. if you weren’t a productive tenant, it would’ve been real easy for your landlord to replace you [pgs. 328-29]:

“Combined with ‘normal’ peacetime rates of mortality, fertility was high enough to sustain a population growth of as much a 1 percent or even more a year. China did not require, as early modern England did, the protoindustrialization that would break down late marriage and low nuptiality to usher in population growth of such an order.

“We must remember that a 1 percent per year increase is sufficient to double a population in 72 years, and quadruple it in 144, and that given the sustained periods of peace during China’s long imperial era, population expansions of several-fold were not at all uncommon. In this perspective, the nearly threefold increase in population between 1700 and 1850 in China, so often referred to as ‘the population explosion,’ was actually but the most recent of a series of peacetime population expansions in Chinese history. Each expansion was interrupted, and sometimes reversed, by the wars and famines of dynastic transition. Thus, the Qin-Han saw Chinese population reach possibly 60,000,000. It then dropped severely during the long centuries of division that followed, then expanded again during the Tang-Song, to reach perhaps 110,000,000, only to be drastically reduced once more and then expand again during the Ming. What was different about the final wave of expansion of the imperial era, in the 150 years between 1700 and 1850, was not the rate of growth but the starting base of 150,000,000. The nearly threefold expansion to 430,000,000 in fact required only a growth rate of 0.7 percent, modest even by premodern standards, and puny in comparision to the more than 2 percent rate of postrevolutionary China and most of the contemporary Third World, societies in which modern medicine has sharply reduced the mortality rate before socioal-economic change has had a chance to usher in the lower fertility rates associated with the modern ‘demographic transition.’

“If the above speculations are valid, they suggest that China’s demographic change was driven by alterations in the mortality rate, not in the fertility rate as in early modern Europe. Early and universal marriage saw to the doubling of populations in a century or less during peacetime, until drastic rises in mortality curtailed the rate of increase or reduced the total population. In early modern Europe, by contrast, late and less-than-universal marriage saw to low fertility rates and little population growth, until protoindustrialization raised fertility rates by lowering the age of marriage and increasing the proportion of ever-marrying…. Early modern and modern Europe’s demographic change, in short, was principally fertility-driven, whereas China’s was mortality driven.”

chinese emperors had a long history of encouraging the small, independent farmer, as well as promoting (via laws) inheritance systems in which all the sons inherited some property. this meant that all sons could marry and marry young. from very early on, farms were independently owned and so could be bought and sold. if you inherited a very small farm from your father, you might try to buy a bigger one. or you could go into tenancy and work for a landlord. either way, most or all sons in china would marry, whereas in many european societies, only the first son was guaranteed that opportunity (“an heir and a spare”) [pgs. 327-28]:

“Under a system of primogeniture (or unigeniture), the heir cannot become economically independent until he inherits the farm on the death of the father. That may cause later marriage, as it did in Europe before protoindustrialization provided alternative sources for economic independence. All the siblings, moreover, have to seek alternative sources for economic independence. That may lower the rate of the proportion ever marrying, as it did in Europe before the coming of protoindustrial employment. Partible inheritance, on the other hand, ensures the economic survival of all siblings, even if at lowered standards of living, and hence enable higher nuptiality. Where it is accompanied by household partitions during the lifetime of the father, it also encourages earlier marriage. Early and universal marriage, of course, produces higher fertility rates in the population.

“The ability of the peasant economy of the Warring States period [475-221 b.c.] to support an entire household with as small a farm as Shang Yang envisioned was due at least in part to technological advance that came with the ‘iron age.’ Contemporary sources document an already well-advanced and highly intensive agricultural regime, with planting in furrows; iron plows pulled by animals; hoes and spades for weeding, turning, and pulverizing the loess soil to preserve moisture; irrigation; crop rotation; and so on. The perfecting of the curved-iron moldboard for the plow during the Han was not to be matched in European agriculture until the eighteenth century. It was this combination of technological advance and the active promotion of early and universal marriage that produced the high-density small-peasant economy.

The triumph of the Qin entrenched the formula of combining centralized state power with high-density peasant farming in China. Subsequent dynasties were to follow largely the same policy. Each new dynasty typically set out to check the growth of large estates and reinvigorate the small-peasant economy. The Tang instituted the ‘equal field’ system of small cultivators. The Ming decreed that those who resettled the vast areas devastated by the wars of dynastic transition were not to claim more land than they could farm themselves. The Qing, along the same lines, undertook vigorous measure to check the touxian practice of the late Ming, by which smallholders sought shelter from taxation by placing themselves under the big gentry estates. Likewise, Shang Yang’s policy of partible inheritance became the standard social practice among most of the population by Tang times. The Tang code, which served as the model for the later dynasties, contained detailed provisions on how to divide up family property among brothers under all sorts of circumstances.”

so, for millennia, the chinese have been small, independent farmers who married young and had lots of kids who each (all the males) inherited some of the property to start the whole cycle all over again. if you weren’t an independent farmer, you might be a tenant of a landlord (if you were capable enough), but you were still a small farmer. sounds like a very competitive world to me!

and since the prevailing ideology for centuries in china did not discourage close marriages, and even encouraged strong family bonds, the chinese, unlike the europeans, remained clannish. by the early twentieth century, anyway, the clannishness was slightly different in northern china than in the south, but there was — and still is — clannishness almost everywhere in china [pgs. 145, 147-48]:

“Shajing (Shunyi county, Hebei province [north]) and Huayangqiao (Songjiang county, Shaghai municipality [south]), on which we have detailed empirical data from both wartime Japanese field research and my own oral-history research, are good illustrations of more general regional differences between North China and the Yangzi delta….

“The size of descent groups and villages, of course, varied with the age of the community. The Huayangqiao villagers can only trace their originas back to the post-Taiping period, when the present settlements took shape. Ancestral gravesites were limited to four generations, and no household could reconstruct its genealogy beyond four generations. The Zhangs of Shajing, by contrast, counted 60-70 graves for the Mantetsu investigators, and the Suns 40-50. The village had been formed in the early Ming by settlers from Hongdong county in Shanxi, though the families in the survey only dated back to the early Qing, when Hao Family village, as it was then known, was resettled (and renamed) after the devastations of the wars of dynastic transition.

“A second major contrast between the two communities’ residential patterns is the degree to which they reflected kinship ties. In Huayangqiao, the settlements were fundamentally agnatic (i.e. related by male descent). He Family Village [one of the villages within Huayangqiao settlement] was made up exclusively of Hes of the same patrilineal line — seven households in 1940. Xue Family Village had originally been made up entirely of Xues, five households in 1940….

“The central importance of these agnatic ties can be seen in the tendency for a village comprising more than one descent group to form separate hamlets (also called da locally) around each. Thus, Xilihangbang village was divided into Gao Family Hamlet (Gaojiada) in the north, Lu Family Hamlet (Lujiada) in the middle, and the South Hamlet (Nanda, also made up of Lus). The residents of these clusters evince a multi-layered sense of community identity, with the descent group at its core, identifying themselves only to outsiders by their village. In their own minds and those of their fellow villagers, they are from Hamlet X or Hamlet Y. [this reminded me of the somali bantus – hbd chick.] …

“All this stood in sharp contrast to Shajing village. Common descent groups also tended to congregate there, to be sure. Most parents wanted their children to have houses contiguous to theirs, usually built as extensions of the original home. The Yangs, Dus, Lis, and Zhangs lived in such clusters. But those agnatic groups did not represent separated communities. The villagers identified themselves unequivocally as members of Shajing village, never of a sub-entity such as the Li Family Hamlet or Yang Family Hamlet, as they did in Huayangqiao.”

i’m guessing that there must be different mating patterns in northern and southern china that led to the smaller, hamlet-based family units in the south versus the broader, village-based units in the north.

in any case, these are all very different selection pressures than what “core” europeans experienced, so it wouldn’t be strange if the types of innate altruistic (and other social) behaviors amongst the chinese (that’s a LOT of people) were different than in “core” europeans.

previously: what else happened during the middle ages?

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