Archives for posts with tag: the renaissance

northern europeans began to think of — or at least write about — themselves as individuals beginning in the eleventh century a.d. [pgs. 158, 160, and 64-67 – bolding and links inserted by me]:

The discovery of the individual was one of the most important cultural [*ahem*] developments in the years between 1050 and 1200. It was not confined to any one group of thinkers. Its central features may be found in different circles: a concern with self-discovery; an interest in the relations between people, and in the role of the individual within society; an assessment of people by their inner intentions rather than by their external acts. These concerns were, moreover, conscious and deliberate. ‘Know yourself’ was one of the most frequently quoted injunctions. The phenomenon which we have been studying was found in some measure in every part of urbane and intelligent society.

“It remains to ask how much this movement contributed to the emergence of the distinctively Western view of the individual…. The continuous history of several art-forms and fields of study, which are particularly concerned with the individual, began at this time: auto-biography, psychology, the personal portrait, and satire were among them….

“The years between 1050 and 1200 must be seen…as a turning-point in the history of Christian devotion. There developed a new pattern of interior piety, with a growing sensitivity, marked by personal love for the crucified Lord and an easy and free-flowing meditation on the life and passion of Christ….

“The word ‘individual’ did not, in the twelfth century, have the same meaning as it does today. The nearest equivalents were *individuum*, *individualis*, and *singularis*, but these terms belonged to logic rather than to human relations….

“The age had, however, other words to express its interest in personality. We hear a great deal of ‘the self’, not expressed indeed in that abstract way, but in such terms as ‘knowing oneself’, ‘descending into oneself’, or ‘considering oneself’. Another common term was *anima*, which was used, ambiguously in our eyes, for both the spiritual identity (‘soul’) of a man and his directing intelligence (‘mind’). Yet another was ‘the inner man’, a phrase found in Otloh of Saint Emmeram and Guibert of Nogent, who spoke also of the ‘inner mystery’. Their vocabulary, while it was not the same as ours, was therefore rich in terms suited to express the ideas of self-discovery and self-exploration.

“Know Yourself

“Self-knowledge was one of the dominant themes of the age…. These writers all insisted on self-knowledge as fundamental. Thus Bernard wrote to Pope Eugenius, a fellow-Cistercian, about 1150: ‘Begin by considering yourself — no, rather, end by that….For you, you are the first; you are also the last.’ So did Aelred of Rievaulx: ‘How much does a man know, if he does not know himself?’ The Cistercian school was not the only one to attach such a value to self-knowledge. About 1108 Guibert of Nogent began his history of the Crusade with a modern-sounding reflection about the difficulty of determining motive:

“‘It is hardly surprising if we make mistakes in narrating the actions of other people, when we cannot express in words even our own thoughts and deeds; in fact, we can hardly sort them out in our own minds. It is useless to talk about intentions, which, as we know, are often so concealed as scarcely to be discernible to the understanding of the inner man.’

“Self-knowledge, then, was a generally popular ideal.”

there seem to be two broad sociobiological/genocultural packages when it comes to average nepotistic vs. not-so-nepotistic altruistic behaviors in human populations — these are not binary opposites, but rather the ends of some sort of continuum of behavioral traits [click on table for LARGER view]:

nepotistic vs. not-so-nepotistic

the common thread running through the not-so-nepotistic groups of today (primarily northwest europeans) is a long history of outbreeding (i.e. avoiding close matings, like cousin marriage). (and a long history of manorialism. yes, i WILL start my series on medieval manorialism soon!) while individualism and guilt cultures may have been present in northern europe in paleolithic or even mesolithic populations, these behavioral traits and mindsets were definitely not present in the pre-christian germanic, british, or irish populations of late antiquity. those populations were very much all about clans and kindreds, feuding and honor, shame, and group consensus. guilt/individualistic cultures (i.e. not-so-nepostic societies) can come and go depending at least partly on long-term mating patterns. human evolution can be recent as well as aeons old.

the individualistic guilt-culture of northwest (“core”) europeans today came into existence thanks to their extensive outbreeding during the medieval period (…and the manorialism). the outbreeding started in earnest in the 800s (at least in northern france) and, as we saw above, by 1050-1100 thoughts on individualis began to stir. around the same time, communes appeared in northern italy and parts of france — civic societies. violence rates begin to fall in the 1200s, especially in more outbred populations, i would argue (guess!) because the impulsive violence related to clan feuding was no longer being selected for.

by the 1300-1400s, after an additional couple hundred years of outbreeding, the renaissance was in full swing due to the “wikification” of northern european society — i.e. that nw europeans now possessed a set of behavioral traits that drove them to work cooperatively with non-relatives — to share openly knowledge and ideas and labor in reciprocally altruistic ways. the enlightenment? well, that was just the full flowering of The Outbreeding Project — an explosion of these not-so-nepotistic behavioral traits that had been selected for over the preceding 800 to 900 years. individualism? universalism? liberal democracy? tolerance? reason? skepticism? coffeehouses? the age of enlightenment IS what core europeans are all about! hurray! (^_^) the Project and its effects are ongoing today.

it could be argued that the fact that certain mating patterns seem to go together with certain societal types is just a coincidence — or that it’s the societal type that affects or dictates the mating patterns. for example, i said in my recent post on shame and guilt in ancient greece that:

“shame cultures are all tied up with honor — especially family honor. japan — with its meiwaku and seppuku — is the classic example of a shame culture, but china with its confucian filial piety is not far behind. the arabized populations are definitely shame cultures with their honor killings and all their talk of respect. even european mediterranean societies are arguably more honor-shame cultures than guilt cultures [pdf].

“if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll recognize all of those shame cultures as having had long histories of inbreeding: maternal cousin marriage was traditionally very common in east asia (here’re japan and china); paternal cousin marriage is still going strong in the arabized world; and cousin marriage was prevelant in the mediterranean up until very recently (here’s italy, for example).”

perhaps, you say, the causal direction is that nepotistic, clannish shame-cultures somehow promote close matings (cousin marriage or whatever). well, undoubtedly there are reinforcing feedback loops here, but the upshot is that both ancient greece and medieval-modern europe clearly illustrate that the mating patterns come first. (possibly ancient rome, too, but i’ll come back to that another day.) the pre-christian northern european societies were clannish shame-cultures until after the populations switched to outbreeding (avoiding cousin marriage) in the early medieval period. late archaic-early classical greek society was rather (a bit borderline) universalistic, individualistic [pg. 160+] and guilt-based until after they began to marry their cousins with greater frequency (at least in classical athens). the not-so-nepotistic guilt-culture we see now in northwest european populations is particularly resilient, i think, because the outbreeding has been carried out for a particularly long time (since at least the 800s) and thanks to the complementary selection pressures of the medieval manor system (which ancient greece lacked), but it did not exist before the early medieval period.

so, the direction of causation seems to be: (long-term) mating patterns –> societal type (nepotistic vs. not-so-nepotistic).

i think.

previously: there and back again: shame and guilt in ancient greece and big summary post on the hajnal line and individualism-collectivism

(note: comments do not require an email. earliest formal self-portrait, jean fouquet, 1450.)


william hamilton wondered if renaissances/enlightenments happened in places roughly 800 years after some hardy altruism genes were introduced by barbarians into panmictic (really outbred) populations. i wonder instead if what happens is that renaissances/enlightenments occur after ca. 500 years or so of outbreeding which results in nepotistic altruism (or clannishness) being reduced or even mostly eliminated which, in turn, leads to greater cooperation and reciprocal altruism within the populations — conditions i think you might need to have a renaissance at all (see also here).

where intensive outbreeding (and manorialism) happened in medieval europe — and there is a lot of good, strong evidence for it — certainly seems to match well with where the european renaissance occurred. after some fits and starts in the 500s to 700s, the practice of avoiding close cousin marriages really took hold in exactly the areas where the renaissance/reformation/scientific revolution/enlightenment later happened — i.e. core europe — in short: england, france, the netherlands, germany, and northern italy. scandinavia a bit, too. oh…and the lowlands of scotland.

the evidence for outbreeding in ancient greece is much more tenuous. it appears fairly certain that the upper classes outbred during the archaic period in greece (800-480 b.c.). whether they outbred during the entire time period or began the practice sometime before or after 800 b.c., i don’t know. it may also be, judging by something hesiod said, that the lower classes followed suit, but it’s impossible to know for certain going by just one comment from one ancient writer.

some circumstantial evidence that might offer further support to the outbreeding-in-archaic-greece theory is that, in the 400s to 200s b.c., there was a shift in kinship terminology in ancient greece. the distinctions in the greek language between the paternal and maternal sides of the family began to disappear — for example, uncles on both sides came to be called just “uncle,” rather than there being specific words for paternal vs. maternal uncle, and so on and so forth. the same sort of linguistic shift happened in medieval europe. in germany, for instance, that shift happened between the 1100s and 1400s. at the end of the day, all cousins came to be called simply “cousin” rather than “father’s brother’s cousin” or “mother’s brother’s cousin.” the lesson seems to be: change the kinship structures and the long-term mating patterns in a society, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the kinship terminology will also change. no need to specify different sorts of cousins if all of them are off-limits as marriage partners.

michael mitterauer points out that there was a time lag in the linguistic shifts in medieval europe — the terminology changed ca. 300 to 600 years after the mating patterns began to change. perhaps something similar happened in archaic greece — the linguistic shift happened in ca. the 400s to 200s b.c. so perhaps we can infer that the mating patterns had changed to a more outbred form a few hundred years earlier. maybe right around the end of the greek dark ages and the beginning of the archaic period. dunno. complete speculation.

now i’ve come across another piece of circumstantial evidence that outbreeding may have been happening in archaic greece and that is that there was a(n incomplete) shift in the society during the time period from being a shame culture to being a guilt culture. i’m getting this from The Greeks and the Irrational, a book originally published in 1951 and written by classical scholar e.r. dodds (who was kicked out of oxford for supporting the easter rising — troublemaker! (~_^) ). presumably there have been works criticizing dodd’s thesis written since the 1950s, but i’m afraid i haven’t read any of them yet. i’m just going to run with dodd’s idea for now, but, please, consider this a sort-of thought experiment. more speculation.

first of all, in shame cultures, bad behavior is checked by the fear of being caught — of being shamed and embarassed. in guilt cultures, bad behavior is checked by one’s inner voice — feelings of guilt occurring before any action is taken. these are behavioral traits that must have been variously selected for in different human populations. secondly, shame cultures are all tied up with honor — especially family honor. japan — with its meiwaku and seppuku — is the classic example of a shame culture, but china with its confucian filial piety is not far behind. the arabized populations are definitely shame cultures with their honor killings and all their talk of respect. even european mediterranean societies are arguably more honor-shame cultures than guilt cultures [pdf].

if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll recognize all of those shame cultures as having had long histories of inbreeding: maternal cousin marriage was traditionally very common in east asia (here’re japan and china); paternal cousin marriage is still going strong in the arabized world; and cousin marriage was prevelant in the mediterranean up until very recently (here’s italy, for example). it’s really, once again, the outbred northwest “core” europeans who are unique here with their guilt culture (although perhaps there are other guilt cultures out there as well). my guess is that long-term inbreeding tends to result in shame-honor cultures, while long-term outbreeding leads to guilt cultures. i’ve said so before.

back to dodd, his thesis is that ancient greece went through something of a transition from a shame to a guilt culture, but that shift was incomplete. the trend may even have reversed in classical athens. dodd points to several thematic shifts in greek literature from the iliad to the writings of plato including: a move away from blaming human failings on atē or the direct, external influences of the gods to more personal “demons,” often seen only by the individual person; the gradual adoption of the idea that individual humans have “souls” or independent “personalities”; a move away from the idea that people’s failings are due to a lack of knowledge (again coming from outside the person) as opposed to, perhaps, their own culpability; that zeus over time becomes more and more a dispenser of justice rather than just a being who capriciously interferes in human affairs (justice being important in guilt cultures as opposed to revenge in shame-honor cultures); and that philosophers and thinkers increasingly complained that the inheritance of guilt down through a family line was unjust. here from dodd on that last point [kindle locations 669-671]:

“Solon speaks of the hereditary victims of nemesis as άυαίτιοι, ‘not responsible’; Theognis complains of the unfairness of a system by which ‘the criminal gets away with it, while someone else takes the punishment later’; Aeschylus, if I understand him rightly, would mitigate the unfairness by recognising that an inherited curse may be broken.”

the idea that only the transgressor should be punished (as in guilt cultures) as opposed to additional or all of his family members (as in shame-honor cultures) doesn’t actually occur to these writers, so they haven’t quite arrived fully into a guilt culture, but they do seem to have been on the way there. much more so than earlier writers anyway. again, dodd emphasizes that [kindle locations 587-588]:

“[M]any modes of behaviour characteristic of shame-cultures persisted throughout the archaic and classical periods. There is a transition, but it is gradual and incomplete.”

the transition may have been incomplete — in fact, may have even gone into reverse — because inbreeding (cousin marriage) became increasingly common in classical athens (see here). from “Agnatio, Cognation, Consanguinitas: Kinship and Blood in Ancient Rome” in Blood and Kinship: Matter for Metaphor from Ancient Rome to the Present [pgs. 24-26], we saw in a previous post that while “aristocrats in early [archaic] Greece…married beyond the limits of their *patris*”, in classical athens “members of the *anchisteia*, the legally defined kinship group including first cousins once removed, were the preferred marriage partners.” the ancient greeks might’ve gone from being a (presumably) inbred/shame culture in the dark ages, to an outbred/quasi-guilt culture in the archaic period, and back to an inbred/shame culture over the course of the classical period. maybe. Further Research is RequiredTM.

(yes, i know. it’s all very tenuous. i told you it was speculative!)

in any case, evolution is not progressive. (heh! i’ve just been dying to say that. (~_^) ) there’s nothing to say that evolution cannot go in reverse, although perhaps it wouldn’t go back down the exact same pathway it came up. there’s no reason why we — or, rather, our descendants — couldn’t wind up, as greg cochran says, back in the trees*.

i think the way to think of the evolution of behavioral traits like nepotistic and reciprocal altruism in humans — especially perhaps in recent human evolution — is like a big simmering cauldron of stew where bubbles of certain behaviors rise up in some places only to sometimes pop and deflate and almost disppear again. outbreeding appears to have occurred many places, although whether or not over the long-term is not always clear: archaic greece (maybe), ancient rome, the bamileke of cameroon, the igbo of west africa, the turkana of east africa, the semai of malaysia, the bushmen of southern africa (aka The Harmless People), and europeans since the early medieval period — especially northwest europeans. the ancient greek experiment seems to have run out of momentum and collapsed on its own; the roman example probably popped thanks to the barbarian invasions; and the northwest european one is…currently ongoing. for now.

previously: renaissances and the transition from shame to guilt in anglo-saxon england (and “core” europe) and archaic greek mating patterns and kinship terms and ελλάδα

*“Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.”

(note: comments do not require an email. archaic greek dude.)

in Innate Social Aptitudes of Man: An Approach from Evolutionary Genetics [pdf], william hamilton suggested that, perhaps, one gets a renaissance by (re-)introducing barbarian altruism genes into a too outbred population, letting the mixture ferment for ca. 800 years or so, and then enjoying the fruits of everyone’s labors. he’s talking here, of course, about the european renaissance of the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries … and classical greece/athens after the dorian invasion of ca. 800 years earlier? i think. if it happened at all (link inserted by me):

“The incursions of barbaric pastoralists seem to do civilizations less harm in the long run than one might expect. Indeed, two dark ages and renaissances in Europe suggest a recurring pattern in which a renaissance follows an incursion by about 800 years. It may even be suggested that certain genes or traditions of pastoralists revitalize the conquered people with an ingredient of progress which tends to die out in a large panmictic population for the reasons already discussed. I have in mind altruism itself, or the part of the altruism which is perhaps better described as self-sacrificial daring. By the time of the renaissance it may be that the mixing of genes and cultures (or of cultures alone if these are the only vehicles, which I doubt) has continued long enough to bring the old mercantile thoughtfulness and the infused daring into conjunction in a few individuals who then find courage for all kinds of inventive innovation against the resistance of established thought and practice. Often, however, the cost in fitness of such altruism and sublimated pugnacity to the individuals concerned is by no means metaphorical, and the benefits to fitness, such as they are, go to a mass of individuals whose genetic correlation with the innovator must be slight indeed. Thus civilization probably slowly reduces its altruism of all kinds, including the kinds needed for cultural creativity (see also Eshel 1972).”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

previously: archaic greek mating patterns and kinship terms

(note: comments do not require an email. why i otter…!)