Back when I was still sorta young, when OJ's glove was a point of popular water-cooler conversation and the World Wide Web was just a germ in a Petri dish, that's when I spent my Saturdays at the local university library scouring databases for promising references, pulling journals from the stacks or from microfilm reels, and obsessively photocopying anything that captured my attention. At home, I maintained topic-labeled three-ring binders crammed with whatever seemed worth reading twice. Lit-crit and film-crit. Off-center political screeds. Folklore and crime studies. And a big fat one teeming with journal articles by people like Linda Gottfredson, Raymond Cattell, E.O. Wilson, David Lykken, Richard Herrnstein, and Steven Goldberg. I referred to that batch as “sociological pornography,” a term I borrowed from one particularly shrill exhibit in what then registered as a seismically contentious debate over a surprise bestseller called The Bell Curve.
When the first Web terminals were installed, I logged on, pulled up the HotBot search engine, and pecked around until, quite to my surprise, I stumbled upon a loose network of archival sites and webzines – “Upstream,” “Pinc,” and “Stalking the Wild Taboo” are the ones I recall – that provided light-speed access to the kind of material that I had been reading and collecting. So it turned out it was a brand – just like cyberpunk or Milton Bradley. I don't remember the first time I encountered the term “human biodiversity” (a better hook than “sociological pornography,” I admit), but it wasn’t long before I would be humbled to discover a nascent crop of insightful blogs devoted to “HBD” and related subjects. I suppose Steve Sailer and Razib Khan get the lion’s share of credit (or blame) for setting things in motion, but what’s sure is that HBD has since come occupy a peculiar and generally fascinating corner of online culture. Arguments and data sources that were once buried in obscure journals are now posted online by field researchers and dilettantes as a matter of course. Meanwhile, the usual coteries of PC pecksniffs pretend not to notice. Or huff on cue when they do.
At this point, there's little left to do but pick favorites and supply your fix. And for the past few years, some of the choicest cuts of HBD-flavored insight and speculation have issued from the keyboard of a statistically unlikely source: To wit, that of a chick – “HBD Chick.” Though I know her only through email correspondence, I am more than reasonably convinced – by firsthand eyewitness accounts, among other nuances – that, contrary to one tenacious strand of web lore, HBD Chick really is a female representative of the species, complete with ovaries, appropriate estrogen levels, an emoticon-dense writing style, and, I like to imagine, a menagerie of stuffed animals adorably huddled on her bedroom dresser. Of course, what makes H-Chick worth reading isn't her gender, but her bailiwick. While many HBD bloggers seem content to write almost exclusively about race and IQ and social declension, usually with politics in-frame (not that there's anything wrong with that), H-Chick plots a more distinctive – and, to my mind, more interesting – course, curating data sources and promoting theories that shed light on the little-explored relationship between family structure, altruism, culture, and human evolution. She stood out as an articulate objector when that Ron Unz article was making the rounds last year, and while she seems secure in her niche, it should be noted that she never shies away from the more manifestly controversial aspects of HBD-ology – a point that was repeatedly made clear when she agreed to chat with the Hoover Hog about the big, not-so-scary subject that she has come to know as well as she knows the Star Wars universe.
So what do Wookiees and Tusken Raiders have to teach us about human biodiversity? I guess that’s a question I forgot to ask. We did cover a lot of ground, though, and I think there’s a better than average chance you’ll learn something from this one. So wade on in, crimethinkers and naysayers. And feel free to talk back. Nothing’s off limits (though “TITS or GTFO” comments will be deleted or ignored).
THE HOOVER HOG: OK, first things first: What is "HBD," Chick? And while we're laying the foundation, I suppose I should also ask: Why does it matter?
HBD CHICK: What is HBD or human biodiversity? Good question! I recently asked the good readers of my blog to help me define HBD, ’cause it's one of those things that "I know it when I see it" but can be kind of hard to pin down. I'll quote for you a definition that another blogger, Nelson, offered, because he really hit the nail squarely on the head I think:
“HBD: The set of biological and genetic differences between (and within) groups – specifically, the study of such differences.”
I would throw in there, too, something about how these differences are the result of evolutionary processes. Also, that "groups" refers to all sorts of populations: men and women, different races, different ethnic groups – even subgroups within these larger groups, which a lot of people tend to overlook, I think. I guess I'd want to mention as well that these differences between groups are average differences and that we should always keep in mind that individuals within groups usually don't match their group's average exactly.
See? It's complicated!
HBD matters in all sorts of ways, from designing medical treatments for different populations (BiDil, for example) to thinking about immigration policies (if different populations really are innately different in various ways, what are the potential implications of mass immigration?) to helping kids get the most out of their education so that they have a solid foundation on which to build the best possible lives for themselves (in other words, we need to remember that, unlike in Lake Wobegon, all children can't be "above average").
A lot of people out there label HBDers and sociobiologists as “racists” with diabolical plots to repress some group or another. Personally, I want to help people – and I think pretty much all the other HBDers out there feel the same. There are a lot of social problems in this world that need solving, and I’m of a mind that you actually need to understand what the causes of those problems are if you want to effectively do something about them. It seems to me to be a huge mistake to ignore potential biological differences between individuals and/or groups just to be politically correct – a huge mistake that can wind up to be ultimately detrimental to the welfare of so many people.
What prompted your interest in such a troublesome topic? Was there a particular book or article – or an observation – that caught your attention? Something that piqued your curiosity or changed your mind?
Well, I think my interest in HBD has been coming on for a long time, actually. I remember as a kid having a picture book/lexicon – it was a book for preschoolers or kindergarteners – and in it were a few pages devoted to different sorts of humans – Eskimos and Indians, that sort of thing – and I was absolutely transfixed by them! Fast forward a few years and I wound up studying anthropology in college, but pretty much only the cultural side of it, although I did eventually become aware of evolutionary psychology (the Tooby & Cosmides variety) and stuff like Pinker's The Blank Slate. One sunny Saturday afternoon I got it into my head (I can't remember why) to google "genes and behavior," or something like that, and I discovered Steve Sailer and GNXP, and ... well ... that was it. I was hooked!
If you spend enough time reading and poring over graphs, it's easy to forget how this stuff is likely to be received in polite company. We now have access to so much information – psychometric and behavior-genetic research, genomic and haplotypic data, and an unprecedented wealth of statistical tools – yet it seems that this has done little to change the broader intellectual atmosphere where ideas and issues are discussed. I guess it's sort of OK to mention, say, twin research as a point of general interest, but the moment you broach the social implications that might follow, the mood changes and it's back to blank-slate decorum. And of course, scholars who stray outside the bounds of the prevailing (public) discourse are still routinely subjected to ridicule and censure. So, I guess I'm curious about a couple of things. First, how would you compare your experience chatting up HBD online versus "in real life" – or do you find the interpersonal stuff isn't worth the bother? Second, if you agree that the situation is hypocritical or paradoxical or just weird or whatever, what do you think accounts for the disconnect between public and private (or anonymous) discourse where matters of society and biology are at issue? Are things getting better for those of us who favor intellectual freedom over taboo? Are they getting worse?
Oh, I’m an inveterate coward when it comes to discussing HBD in real life! When I do discuss HBD face-to-face with others, it’s usually with another HBDer or someone who, bless their hearts, generally tolerates my eccentricities for whatever reasons. (^_^) I’ve recently become a bit braver in broaching the subject with a couple of acquaintances who are quite politically correct – I’ve been trying to introduce the subject to them gradually to see if I can make any headway in their thinking. I’ll let you know how it goes!
There is definitely a disconnect between what most people say they think about human differences and how they behave. We see this in the sorts of friends people generally have, where they choose to live, whom they marry, whom they want their daughters to marry. HBD-denial is hypocritical, but I don’t think it’s a very conscious hypocrisy coming from most people. Man is a social creature, and most people just really want to “fit in” and belong to the group – to be accepted. So whatever the prevailing majority opinion is – whether it be political correctness or tulip mania – most individuals are just going to swing in that direction. I used to find it weird, and even annoying as hell, but once you understand that that it’s simply human nature, it’s just better to get on with it. What requires more explanation, in a way, is where us contrarians come from! (~_^)
Are things getting better or worse for those who favor intellectual freedom? Depends on what day you ask me that! Sometimes I’m optimistic when I see the kind of research that’s (quietly) being done out there, or the kinds of books being published by actual scientists (The 10,000 Year Explosion, for instance), or the ever-increasing number of HBD blogs out there being added – practically weekly! – to the list of long-established ones (Jayman’s, Nelson’s, and Human Varieties are just a few examples of some of the new ones)! On the other hand, most academics are still – justifiably! – afraid of being "Watsoned" out of their careers simply for committing the crimethink that there may be biodiversity within the human species. That is not a healthy state of affairs for society at all.
The answers – and I’m sure it’ll all be much more complicated than anyone right now supposes – are coming down the pipeline, though, and they will be here sooner than those who support political correctness expect. As many of the folks reading out there are probably already aware, the Chinese are not afraid of looking into HBD (see the Beijing Genomic Institute’s Cognitive Genomics Project, for example), so the data are coming whether we like it or not!
Your web persona is sort of summed up in your tagline, "the exception that proves the rule." Why do you think the subject of biological differences in human populations is so disproportionately engaged by the y-chromosome club? This seems to be true in scholarly circles as well as in the blogosphere – and speaking of the latter, does it surprise you that "HBD" has come to represent a niche of web culture?
That there are more men than women into human biodiversity is just another example of human biodiversity in action! (~_^) I think there are a number of reasons why there are not many women HBDers out there (and probably a bunch more that I haven’t thought of).
First, human biodiversity/sociobiology has been very much focused on intelligence (IQ) – for good reason! The intelligence of individuals, and the average intelligence of a population, is extremely important with regard to success or failure in life. But intelligence studies come with an awful lot of tables and charts and mathematics – lots of technical stuff that, I think, is very off-putting to most women. (Although there are/have been more female researchers in intelligence than you might think: Linda Gottfredsen is probably the most well-known nowadays, but there are/were also women like Nancy Bayley, Sarah Broman, and Mary R. Davies. I think the interest in IQ for a lot of those women was related to children, though – their studies were connected to child development and education and so on, so that was the draw there – as opposed to pure psychometrics, I mean.)
I confess that all the psychometric technical stuff often makes my eyes glaze over! I commented to someone recently that I think that’s why the focus of my own blogging has been geared more (much more!) towards mating patterns and altruism and the nature of extended families and clans rather than IQ. I mean, who marries whom and which families fight with each other? It’s like following a big soap opera! (~_^)
Women are also, in general, much more social than men, so what I said above about people being driven to accept the majority opinion applies more to women than to men, I think. For that reason, I think you get fewer women HBDers, since these ideas are still beyond the pale right now. Finally, more men are on the far right end of the intelligence scales so again you’ll simply have more guy HBDers than chicks, especially while the focus in HBD remains on IQ which requires lots of nerdy math skills. Come to think of it, many women probably wouldn’t like to hear that there are more men on the far right end of intelligence scales (people take these things so personally!), so that’s likely to turn some of them off HBD right there.
I haven’t ever really thought about whether or not it’s odd that HBD has become a niche on the internet, but now that you mention it, it is interesting! Having said that, I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet (way too much time!), since the early days of the web really, and the entire virtual environment – up until a couple of years ago when the Facebook crowd discovered the internet (~_^) – has always been one populated by specialist, niche groups (many of which are unmentionable!), so the presence and growth of the HBD corner never struck me as very odd, really.
Do you think the "under-representation" of female voices in HBD forums – or in science generally – is a cause for concern? Would things be different if more girls traded fashion magazines for Tooby & Cosmides? Would a plurality of HBD chicks alter the tenor or substance of the conversation, or the common perception that HBD is, um, sexist and racist?
The imbalance in the number of men versus women in the HBD-o-sphere or in science is something that I lose ZERO sleep over at night. Really – it’s something that doesn’t worry or bother me in the slightest. All I wish for any discipline or profession is that the best able and most qualified persons for the job are there doing it, regardless of the ratios of men to women or whites to blacks or tall to short people or whatever.
This is something that I think the politically correct, pro-diversity (but biodiveristy-denying) crowd gets completely wrong. They seem to want a sort-of superficial, Benetton-billboard diversity in which a variety of individuals of different sexes and colors are included in … whatever … but who all wear the same clothes from Banana Republic and drink Starbucks and have iPhones and, of course, have the same politically correct ideas. What they’re missing out on in this one-size-fits-all version of diversity is that, thanks to biodiversity, individuals and groups have different strengths (and different weaknesses, too – we’re all human!) – strengths that we ought to be tapping into (in reality our society still does this to a large extent, thank goodness).
Steve Sailer (and I) wrote about a very interesting and amusing human biodiversity documentary series that came out of Norway a couple of years ago – “Brainwash.” One episode was about Scandinavia’s “gender equality paradox” – i.e., the fact that, in Scandinavia, where they have bent over backwards to ensure that the sexes have absolute equality in education and career opportunities, etc., etc., something like 90% of nurses are women and 90% of engineers are men. This is a great example of the phenomenon that – to the horror, I’m sure, of all feminists and politically correct persons everywhere – the more the environment is equalized for everybody in society, the more people’s innate interests and abilities come to the fore.
And what is wrong with that?! If we’ve got, on the one hand, a large segment of the population that is good at caring for others and likes to do that, and on the other we’ve got another large segment of the population that is good at designing bridges and likes to do that, society ought to make use of that! – to the benefit of us all. Of course keep the opportunities open so that the exceptions to the rules can do what suits them best, but don’t work against the grain of nature either. That just seems like a lot of wasted energy and resources to me.
It's funny: even though I've lived in West Virginia my entire life, I don't think I had ever thought seriously about cousin marriage until I read Steve Sailer's classic article on the subject. But this seems to be an area where you've done a lot of heavy lifting, or at least I think it's fair to say that consanguinity and related matters – familialism, nepotism, familial altruism -- account for a distinctive point of focus in your project. Can you explain, perhaps with a few clarifying examples, why family structure is an important subject, and how it ties in to human evolution?
You asked earlier if there was a single book or article that got me interested in human biodiversity, and I said that there really wasn’t, that it was more of a gradual thing; but that classic article of Steve’s – “Cousin Marriage Conundrum” – really set me off in one direction within HBD! It was that article, plus Stanley Kurtz and Parapundit’s writings on the issue, that really piqued my interest in cousin marriage (and mating patterns in general) and the effects that it can have on a society.
To sum up Steve’s article, he pointed out that, in societies with a lot of cousin marriage, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, the extended family is much more important to people than here in the West, so it’s difficult to establish and maintain things like liberal democracy and a low-corruption, low-nepotism society, since everybody is more focused on accruing benefits for their respective extended families than on what is best for the commonweal. Which got me to thinking: if those societies don’t manage democracy and are corrupt because they have cousin marriage, perhaps we in the West have democracy and aren’t so corrupt because we don’t practice cousin marriage. Which, to make a long story short, seems to be the case – at least I think I’ve accumulated an awful lot of circumstantial evidence that strongly indicates this to be the case.
The key to it all, I think, is the selection for altruistic behaviors thanks to what is known as inclusive fitness in biological circles. Evolution via natural selection means that the traits of the most “fit” individuals – i.e., those that survive the best in an environment and manage to produce the most viable offspring – will be selected for. Inclusive fitness takes that idea a step further and predicts that any individual can increase his fitness if he helps close relatives to reproduce as well, since those close relatives will share a great number of genes in common with him. This, then, is how genes for altruistic behaviors can be selected for in a population: Since those individuals having genes for altruistic behavior help their relatives to reproduce more than those who do not, their altruistic genes spread because, in addition to leaving copies of their own altruism genes behind in the next generation (in their own kids), they help to pass on additional copies of those same altruism genes possessed by their relatives.
Long-term close mating can accelerate this selection for altruism genes. Since the members of families that regularly marry cousins (or other close relatives) share a greater number of genes in common with each other than those in families that don’t inbreed, the inclusive fitness payoffs for inbred individuals are, on average, greater than for individuals who are not inbred. What you wind up with, I think, is a sort of intense evolutionary arms race of altruism genes in inbred societies. Those families that are more altruistic towards their members succeed in having the most offspring – until some new and improved altruistic behavior pops up in another extended family, which then becomes more successful because of that trait, and so on, and so on. And the numbers of these “familial altruism” genes increase more rapidly in an inbreeding society since the inclusive fitness payoffs are greater.
The flip-side of being altruistic towards your family is being un-altruistic towards non-family, which is exactly what you see in inbreeding societies. In inbred clannish or tribal societies, like those found in the Arab world or in Iraq or Afghanistan, the altruism that is directed towards family members comes at the expense of any potential altruism that may have been directed towards neighbors or other members of society. Not only that, I think that these un-altruistic behaviors can also be selected for in inbred societies. A lot of the – what seems inexplicable to us – types of violence that we see in place like Syria, where there is just an endless series of battles between clans, starts to make sense if you know that these populations have been inbreeding literally for millennia.
Most populations in the world have long histories of some form or another of cousin marriage – everyone from the Arabs to the Chinese to the Mayans to the Yanomamo and Eskimos inbreed (or have inbred up until very recently) to different degrees. One of the odd exceptions to this rule is Europeans, in particular northwest Europeans (especially the English, the Dutch, the Belgians, the northern French, the northern Italians, the Germans, the Scandinavians to a slightly lesser degree, and probably some others like the Swiss). Europeans have been outbreeding since the medieval period thanks, in large part, to the Roman Catholic Church (and some of the later Protestant churches). I think that this resulted in the selection for a whole other set of altruism genes in northwest Europeans – rather than the “familial altruism” behaviors we find in more inbred parts of the world, northwest Europeans possess (I think) a greater number of traits related to “reciprocal altruism” which have provided the foundation for things like liberal democracy and low corruption societies.
The main lesson to be drawn from all this (if any of it is correct at all!) is that it will be difficult, if not impossible, in the short-term, to transfer to other societies many of the curious and unique developments that occurred in western societies in the last five hundred to one thousand years, since those developments have depended upon the innate nature of northwest Europeans, the evolution of which was driven in part by the long history of the avoidance of cousin marriage in Europe.
It makes a lot of sense. But if inclusive fitness explains familial altruism, what explains reciprocal altruism? Is it your view that genes for fair play and extra-familial trust were individually selected, with Christendom acting as a kind of cultural accelerant? Or does that merely beg the question as to why Catholic (or catholic) ideas reached critical mass in the first place?
Ah. Well, first of all, inclusive fitness doesn’t explain only (what I’ve dubbed) “familial altruism.” Inclusive fitness simply means that, if you were to try to figure out how “fit” any individual organism was, i.e., very roughly speaking how many viable offspring that individual leaves behind in the next generation, you shouldn’t just add up the number of children that individual had, but also – since reproduction is really ultimately about genes and not organisms – any genes that the individual shared with relatives in the next generation. So, if you were to sit down to calculate how fit you are, you should add up all of your genes in your kids plus any copies of your genes in your nieces and nephews and, maybe, your cousins’ kids and so on and so forth. To paraphrase a popular bumper-sticker, he who dies with the most genes in the next generation wins!
Inclusive fitness, then, can help to explain all sorts of altruistic behaviors, not just my special case of “familial altruism.” Even in a very outbred society (like most of western Europe and most populations in the United States), it also “pays” – in terms of inclusive fitness – to be altruistic towards close family members (siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins), because you do share a good deal of genes with them. When explaining inclusive fitness, everyone likes to quote the British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane who, in response to being asked if he would sacrifice himself for a drowning brother, said no, but he would for two brothers or eight cousins. Which is the right calculation – if one wanted to break even, genetically-speaking! – since probability says we share half of our genes with siblings and one-eighth of our genes with first cousins.
What a lot of people seem to have overlooked, though (at least I haven’t seen very many people writing about this), is that once you start inbreeding, you are more related to your siblings and first cousins than someone who doesn’t inbreed. I’ve seen figures for regularly inbreeding populations in which first cousins probably (this is a probability figure) share, on average, twice as many genes with each other than individuals in an outbreeding society do with their first cousins. So this is why I figure that in inbreeding societies the “inclusive fitness payoffs” must be greater than in outbreeding societies; and this, I think, is what pushes for the rather rapid selection for “familial altruism” behaviors in inbreeding populations. But altruistic behaviors are still selected for in outbreeding populations thanks to inclusive fitness, just not so … intensively (I think!).
My working theory (which could be completely and fantastically wrong, of course!) is that, as a result of the odd circumstance of long-term outbreeding being imposed on European populations – especially northwest European populations – any selection for “familial altruism” behaviors was relaxed and greater selection for “extra-familial altruism” behaviors as you put it (I like that!) was able to happen. Over the course of the medieval period in Europe, the population was simply prohibited from marrying cousins. As a result, the degrees of relatedness between individuals in the population shifted from people being very closely related to extended family members to being much less so. Consequently, the inclusive fitness payoffs for being altruistic to extended family also decreased. People no longer shared (let’s suppose) one-quarter of their genes with their first cousins, but only one-eighth. The difference between the amount of genes they shared with their first cousins versus, say, a neighbor wasn’t so great anymore. So it might start to pay okay to be altruistic towards your neighbor, too, not just your extended family members. Traits for “extra-familial altruism” could now be selected for – and were, I think – thanks to the loosening of genetic bonds between family members in Europe.
Some people might want to view this as some sort of “group selection” favoring altruism towards the broader group rather than the family or something like that, but that is incorrect. From what I understand – and I defer to real population geneticists on this issue (which is something I really hate to do, by the way – I like to understand something myself, so one of these days I’m going to have to actually learn some population genetics!) – natural selection works on individuals and not on groups (except for in a very few special circumstances, apparently). As far as I can see, these various types of altruistic behaviors – either familial or extra-familial – are being selected for in individuals, not between groups. Depending on the circumstances (i.e., the selection pressures), either individuals who are more altruistic towards family members, or individuals who are comparatively not so altruistic towards family members, are the fittest. That’s all. It may look like some sort of behavioral pattern is being selected for across a whole group, but I think everyone needs to remember that a group is just a bunch of individuals.
The Christian Church – and secular princes and kings – imposed this practice of outbreeding on Europeans without, I think, much understanding of what the long-term consequences might be – except for Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, who were both concerned about building a “Christian society.” Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica that “incest would prevent people widening their circle of friends” and that “when a man takes a wife from another family he is joined in special friendship with her relations; they are to him as his own” – so he (and he based his ideas on St. Augustine’s) intuited that too much close marriage would not be a good thing for building God’s Kingdom Here On Earth, so to speak. They probably didn’t understand the biological implications of their little genetic engineering project, but some of the early church theologians really did have a pretty good grasp of human nature!
I don’t think I had ever heard of the “Hajnal line” before I encountered the term in your blog. Can you explain what it is, and where it informs your thinking?
Oh, the good old Hajnal line! No, I hadn’t heard of it before last year either. In the 1960s, John Hajnal noticed a curious feature in Europe populations and that is the fact that, compared to just about everybody else in the world, northwest Europeans have this history (going back to at least the 1500s) of marrying quite late (mid-20s+) and/or not marrying at all. The line divides eastern and western Europe, but some other areas – like southern Italy and Spain, Ireland, and parts of Finland – are also “outside” the Hajnal line.
I picked up on it from an historian of medieval Europe and family history, Michael Mitterauer. In his book, Why Europe?, Mitterauer discusses at some length how the Hajnal line coincides in space with the extent of manorialism in medieval Europe, the connection being that, because young people often had to wait to take possession of a farm within the medieval manor system, they also had to wait to marry. I suspect that, over time, this led to the selection for, as they call it, “low time preference” in northwestern Europeans – or, at least, that this was the start of it in Europe. In other words, those individuals who could “restrain themselves” were eventually rewarded with reproductive success in the form of having access to a dedicated piece of farmland on a manor. These are (some of) the people who successfully reproduced in the Middle Ages (along with the aristocracy).
Interestingly, the Hajnal line seems to coincide with other curious features of northwestern European society, too, such as little or no cousin marriage. Mitterauer makes the (convincing, I think) argument that the various bans on cousin marriage across medieval Europe enabled the spread of manors eastwards across the continent out of the Frankish heartland in northeast France/Belgium, since the cousin marriage ban weakened European clans, and clans and manorialism did not go together, the manor system being based around nuclear families. Mitterauer points out the eastern limit of manorialism in Europe coincides with the Hajnal line and with the earliest and strongest bans on cousin marriage. Cousin marriage was, eventually, banned in eastern Europe (Russia, for example), but much later than in western Europe. Also, extended families seem to be more important “outside” the Hajnal line, in eastern Europe for example. Even average IQs appear to be generally higher “inside” the line than out, so I suspect that Hajnal’s discovery is much more important biologically than folks have supposed up ’til now. Population geneticists and evolutionary biologists really ought to take a very close look at it.
Most folks out there who are interested in human biodiversity and the differences we see in American society today have probably read Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, but I cannot recommend enough Mitterauer’s Why Europe? for really understanding where Europeans came from! It should really be on everyone’s shelf next to “Albion’s Seed” (or also on their Kindles). I think, taking a page out of “The 10,000 Year Explosion,” that the medieval period really shaped Europeans – even transformed them (us!) – especially northwest Europeans. And I think the population’s switch to regular outbreeding (i.e., the avoidance of cousin marriage) played a huge role in that transformation because it set the stage for a whole new range of selection pressures to act on the population. The loosening of genetic ties in medieval Europe led the population down a path towards greater individuality versus collectivity, greater feelings of universalism versus particularism, and less of an orientation towards the extended family and more of a focus on the commonweal. These are all really a very unique set of traits compared to most other human populations, and the roots of those traits are biological, and their origins not that old. At least that’s what I think!
Something I like about your project is that you never seem to push a political agenda, at least not overtly. But it’s easy to see how a bio-realistic account of human nature – like any theory of human nature, I suppose – can, and perhaps should, inform debate over public policy. Immigration is one fairly obvious area where bio-social factors might be relevant, but if you are right about the relationship between consanguinity and liberal or trust-based institutions, there would seem to be real-world implications related to foreign policy and military goals, and maybe such knowledge should influence how we view laws that restrict or prohibit intra-familial marriage or other marriage arrangements. You can address the politics of cousin marriage if you like, but I’m more interested in your thoughts on the general relationship between sociobiology and policy, or if you prefer, between “is” and “ought.” Is HBD “right” or “left,” or something else? Or is it just empiricism?
I, personally, would prefer it – and I think it would be better for everybody concerned (and that pretty much means everyone on the planet) – if the study of human biodiversity, sociobiology, was completely divorced from politics. It should just be empiricism – it should just be a science (with maybe a little history and anthropology thrown in). It really needs to be because, again, I think that if we’re ever to have a field called “applied human biodiversity” – you know, where we try to solve some of those problems in society or between societies – then we need the data first – we need the facts – we need to know what’s going on – how it works.
Sociobiology/human biodiversity should be just the same as studying beetles or butterflies. But, of course, since the subject matter is ourselves, it’s pretty much impossible for us to leave our feelings and drives completely at home. We can try, but we’ll never manage to be fully objective about ourselves. How could we be? We can’t get out of our own heads. But at least if we try to be aware of our biases and be upfront about them – well, that would go a long way in helping to make the study of human biodiversity as unbiased as possible.
I try to leave my own political opinions at home as much as I can when I think and blog about human biodiversity, because I really don’t want my own sentiments to cloud my judgment or presentation of the facts. But it’s difficult! They do slip out sometimes. Plus we all have all those cognitive biases and whatnot, so … it’s really hard work trying to be as objective as possible! And, again, none of us can be completely objective. That’s impossible.
I also can’t see why anybody would care about what my political opinions are! – except maybe to inform them on what some of my biases might be. So, for the record, I’m something of a conservative, although I’m very socially liberal (I don’t care what you do at home as long as you’re not hurting someone – against their will – although I’d prefer it if you kept it at home). My main conservative bug is immigration: I think there’s too much today, and it’s happening too fast, especially given what little we understand about human biodiversity so far and, due to that lack of understanding, that we don’t know what the ultimate consequences of all this mass immigration will be (although history does offer some clues, none of them very nice). I like Steve Sailer’s “citizenism” a lot – “Americans and their government should be biased in favor of the welfare of our current fellow citizens” – and I think I always come down on the side of Americans over potential immigrants when deciding what sort of policy I’ll support or which politician I will vote for (none of them, usually!). I’m not actually very optimistic that citizenism will catch on or be successful any time soon (human nature argues against it ever working fully), but it does match my own sentiments rather well. I also think we should quit interfering so much with the business of other nations, especially insisting that they should be democratic just like us. Other populations have very different cultures from us, not to mention different evolutionary histories. Democracy (and other elements of Western civilization) just might not fit their societies. Why should we keep insisting that they adopt our ways?
In today’s world, HBD seems to fit better with the conservative end of the political spectrum. Conservative ideas tend to hover around the notions that humans are imperfect and that there’s not much to be done about it really except to come up with some clever workarounds and then hope for the best; so in that regard HBD and conservatism go quite well together – unless you bring religious conservatives into the picture who don’t buy evolutionary theories. But I don’t think HBD must necessarily belong only to conservatives. Many socialists in the past actively promoted eugenical ideas – Margaret Sanger, for instance – so it’s not impossible for leftist, progressive individuals to also understand and accept ideas relating to human biodiversity. It’s just that today the political left is all caught up in political correctness – most of them are a bit (quite a bit!) lost at the moment – but I don’t think it has to be that way.
In my ideal world (which I realize can never exist due to the nature of humans, but I can still dream!), the sociobiologists would be sent out to gather the data, and then we’d all sit down afterwards to discuss the findings – in a civil manner – and work towards agreements on how best to apply the knowledge gained for the benefit of all. I’m sure I could do this with some leftists out there (Jayman, for instance!), but most people on the left would not be interested because currently they’re too politically correct. Most people on the right today wouldn’t manage, either, for that matter.
The subjects you write about are generally controversial in the sense that they tend to grate against politically correct sensibilities, but I thought it might be fun to pick your brain about some controversies that play out within the HBD community. You’ve already mentioned group selection, so maybe we can begin with homosexuality. It’s an interesting case, I think, because, at least in the U.S., the prevailing (politically correct) view seems to be that gay people are “born that way,” which is to say that sexual orientation is wholly or mostly a product of biology and, often implicitly, genetics. The weird part, of course, is that people who credulously hold this (strong HBD) view are very often hostile toward other bio-deterministic explanations of human behavioral differences, including differences between men and women. It’s even weirder when you consider that the behavior-genetic evidence suggests that homosexuality is significantly less heritable than, say, IQ or conscientiousness. And it’s yet a notch weirder when you add in the fact that it’s extremely difficult to come up with evolutionary scenarios that would have selected for and sustained same-sex attraction (at least between men) since common sense suggests that true “gay genes” would be quickly pruned out of the mix as carriers failed to pass those genes on through sexual reproduction. What’s your take on this curious flip-flop of popular sentiment? Do you think there are good arguments for the existence of “gay genes”? And what do you make of Gregory Cochran’s “gay germ” theory that homosexual orientation is more likely to be transmitted pathogenically?
That so many politically correct people, who otherwise would vehemently deny that there could be anything to HBD, believe that gays are “born that way” is just … fascinating! This is such a goofy phenomenon in its own right that IT deserves to be studied!
I can see why they believe it though – because some quite young kids really do seem and feel gay (or, at least, they say that they remember feeling gay – or “different” somehow) and then many of them apparently wind up being homosexual as adults (I remember a kid at school who seemed so gay, and he came out as gay as an adult) – so it might, indeed, appear to everyone as if they really were born that way.
And maybe they were! But that, of course, doesn’t mean we’re talking about genes here. Perhaps their mothers were infected by something when they were pregnant, and the fetuses, too. This could be a developmental issue – something in the developmental process thrown off by an infectious agent. Who knows?
Greg Cochran’s “gay germ” theory does make a lot of sense, though, because it is hard (impossible!) to see how sustained same-sex attraction could be selected for. And this is the other reason why I think a lot of people are quick to believe that there’s a gay gene: because they don’t understand that evolution takes place via natural selection (plus some other processes like genetic drift, etc.). Many people out there who believe themselves to be modern, secular individuals who naturally acknowledge that we got where we are today via evolution haven’t got a clue how evolution works. Most of them, I think, know it has something to do with incremental changes over time, but they miss out on the selection part. (This was something pointed out to me by a reader, Bob, namely that most people who say they “believe” in evolution don’t know how it works – and the more I thought about it and queried folks I know, the more I realized Bob had it right – so, thanks Bob!)
So I think that these two things – that some individuals really do seem gay at a very young age and that most people don’t understand how evolution works – contribute to many of them being very willing to accept the “born that way” idea. I suppose, too, that most people wouldn’t like to think that a large part of their personality – of who they are – was the result of an infectious agent. I can understand that. We humans like to think of ourselves as being 100% in control of our choices and actions, and if we’re not – well, then, at least that our choices and actions are somehow an innate part of ourselves (like a result of our genes) – not some alien force. You might have to be someone who’s really fond of biology, and awestruck by how amazing it all is, to be okay with the fact that we might be influenced from outside, too – more often than we think!
Another sub-controversy concerns the life history perspective advanced by the late J.P. Rushton to explain profound racial variation in term of an r/K selection continuum, where different population groups adopted divergent reproductive strategies (with physical and temperamental correlates) in response to different climatic and geographic pressures. What’s your take? Has Rushton been refuted? And if not, do you think his Big Idea can be useful in understanding less conspicuous differences between modern populations, such as between nations or even classes?
Well I guess I should start off by confessing that, although I’ve read quite a bit about it, I’ve never read Rushton’s Race, Evolution, and Behavior, so I’m not in a very good position to comment on it. (Personally, I find the differences between smaller-sized human populations – Europeans vs. Arabs or even north Europeans vs. south Europeans – to be more niggling, so I don’t actually pay all that close attention to the race discussions.) Having said that, I can’t see why the r/K selection – or life history – theory shouldn’t apply in some way to different human populations. It seems to be a pretty well-established theory in biology, and humans are just biological creatures, so … where exactly is the problem?
I am familiar with some of the info Rushton presented (or maybe it’s info that others have presented on the topic), and to me I think the variations in the maturation rates between the races are very persuasive – but, again, I haven’t ever read the book, so I haven’t got a clue where the data came from. (I’ve been meaning to read up on life history theory for the last half a year or so, by the way, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. There are only so many hours in the day, unfortunately!)
OK. I think it’s fair to say that one of the most polarizing figures in the HBD-o-sphere is Kevin MacDonald, whose work is mostly concerned with the evolutionary psychology of Judaism. I remember reading his book, A People That Shall Dwell Alone (long before that Cochran/Harpending/Hardy paper), and thinking that he made a fairly plausible case that Jewish identity could be understood as an evolutionary outcome. But when I got around to reading The Culture of Critique – a genuinely captivating book, whatever its merits – I came away with the impression that it was ultimately more of a polemic than a scientific treatise. Do you see value in MacDonald’s work, or is he off the reservation? More generally – and I could just as easily cite the work of Richard Lynn or Frank Salter in this context – how do you approach scholarly work that seems to be politically motivated?
Before I answer any of those questions, I’m just going to come right out and say that I admire Kevin MacDonald (and Richard Lynn and Frank Salter) very much. Anyone who stands their ground in the face of sometimes truly vitriolic political correctness deserves respect as far as I am concerned. I mean, as far as I can tell (and I haven’t read all of his books), MacDonald has compiled plenty of historical evidence in support of his theories. His theories may be wrong, or you may disagree with his theories or his approach, but he’s not making stuff up off the top of his head. (If he were, that’d be a different story.) If people object to what he has to say, they simply need to refute his evidence and/or argumentation. It’s really that simple. There’s no need for protests in his classroom or personal attacks in newspapers, etc., etc.
I don’t think MacDonald’s work is off the reservation at all – or if it is, so, too, is the work of people like Stephen Jay Gould and Jared Diamond (and many others!). I’ve only read A People that Shall Dwell Alone and three chapters from The Culture of Critique that happen to be floating around online – the one on Boasian anthropology, the one on the Frankfurt School, and the one on Jewish involvement in shaping U.S. immigration policy. I haven’t read Separation and Its Discontents at all. I don’t recall thinking that The Culture of Critique was very polemical, but perhaps that comes out more in the conclusion/other chapters (?).
I wouldn’t hesitate in reading MacDonald’s books even if he does have an ulterior political motive for writing them for the same reason that I still read Jared Diamond’s and other leftist academics’ books: because there’s often a lot to be learned from them! And now I’m talking about simply acquiring knowledge – getting my hands on new info or data – although I suppose one could also learn something about what motivates people to write academic books in the manner that they do. (~_^) Maybe MacDonald does primarily want to convey his social/political message in his books. So what? And Gould didn’t? It’s not the way I’d like it to work, but as one of my high school teachers once said – she was a nun, by the way – books are for inspiring thought, not dictating it.
Having said all that, if I might go off track for a sec: While I think that MacDonald is right in pointing out that quite a few European Jews have been highly influential in Western academia, culture, and politics in the last couple of centuries, I don’t think he’s got the explanation for why that has been the case right. As I said earlier, I don’t buy group selection theories, and so I don’t think that how European Jews behave, on average, is a “group evolutionary strategy.” Secondly, I don’t think he’s got the explanation for why non-Jewish Europeans behave in the ways they do right, either.
With regard to European (Ashkenazi) Jews, Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending [pdf] have (I think convincingly) shown that, because of some pretty special selection pressures which the European Jewish population experienced during the Middle Ages in Europe, they now have a higher average IQ than other European groups. I would guess that the special selection pressures they experienced also selected for different frequencies of other traits as well. There is some evidence to suggest, for instance, that verbal IQ is stronger in Ashkenazi Jews, on average, than some of the other aspects of general intelligence (spatial skills, for instance). I also read ages ago, and unfortunately I don’t have the reference for it, that ADHD rates are comparatively high in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. I imagine that, on the whole, the frequencies of other personality/behavioral traits probably differ between Ashkenazi Jews and, say, Poles – just as the frequencies of personality/behavioral traits differ between Poles and southern Italians – or the English and the Scots – or the French and the Albanians – due to somewhat different evolutionary histories of the (individuals in those) different groups. That’s all.
Then there’s my own personal theory about the effects of long-term close mating and “familial altruism” that I described above (which, again, might be completely wrong!) – that comes into play here, too, I think, with European Jews since they necessarily mated closely for a very long time being a relatively small, endogamous group. Genetic studies have shown, for instance, that all Jews are as related to one another as if they were fourth or fifth cousins. Plus there is also some evidence that European Jews had rather high cousin marriage rates, at least at some points in time – 22% in Germany in the 1920s, for instance. If I’m at all right, then it shouldn’t be surprising that European Jews are more oriented towards themselves and their extended families and their group than they are towards outsiders; this is the case in all “clannish” groups, as far as I can tell. Couple these insular altruistic attitudes with their high (verbal) IQs and other traits, and I think that you just wind up with a bunch of people that are very good at looking after their own interests – which is what all peoples do, just to varying degrees, in different ways, and with varying success rates. In other words, no “group evolutionary theory” necessary.
Where I think MacDonald has got non-Jewish Europeans wrong is that he believes the general spirit of individualism that we see in Westerners is something that has roots in our Paleolithic past (the referenced article was published in 2002 – it could be that his thinking has changed on this since then, I don’t know). Instead, I think this is something that developed in the Middle Ages, along with the decline in kinship and “clannishness” in northern Europe, something which MacDonald actually discusses at some length in the same article. The two things are tied together – or are opposites, rather – either you are “clannish” and kin-oriented, as most peoples are, or you are individualistic and less kin-oriented. The difference, as far as I can tell, appears to be a result of mating patterns: inbred versus outbred (regular, long-term close matings versus more distant matings). All the evidence suggests that pre-Christian northern Europeans were clannish and tribal in nature, not individualistic. The origins of the individualistic European – and by that I really mean the individualistic northwestern European – lie in the Middle Ages, not the Paleolithic.
Sorry for going so off-piste. Just wanted to get all of that off my chest! I feel better now. (^_^)
Well, then. I feel like I have to ask you about epigenetics, if only because the subject seems to be buzzing of late. It’s a fascinating area of research, but I am wary of what I take to be a kind of neo-Lamarckian spin in many pop-scholarly articles that have been making the rounds. What, from an HBD perspective, is the relevance of epigenetic expression? Is it a game-changer, as we are sometimes led to believe? Or is it just a new wrinkle in an old story?
I think the politically correct HBD-deniers are jumping the gun A LOT in (wishfully) thinking that epigenetics is going to save us all from these horrible, innate differences. At the same time, though, it is quite early days in epigenetic research, so it’s hard to know at this point how important it will turn out to be in terms of human evolution and biodiversity, although I suspect not as much as all these folks hope.
There was some research published recently that found that a small number of epigenetic changes (I don’t actually know what that small number was) was found in 0.9% of germ cells (in mice, of course). Those changes might produce some amount of variety between the individuals who possess them, enough for natural selection to do its work, but contrast that number with the number of genetic mutations passed on in humans from parents to their kids on average each generation: mothers contribute 15 mutations, and fathers – well that depends on their age – an average of 45 mutations if a father is thirty years old. And it’s likely that mutations will be present in EVERY (or maybe most) germ cell(s), not just the 0.9% of germ cells in the epigenetics case. Furthermore, the mutations can be carried down through each generation going forward; it’s not certain at all that the epigenetic changes will be carried forward. In fact, it’s pretty likely that they’ll be erased. So, it’s hard to see how epigenetic changes can have that big of an impact, especially when considered over several generations.
And the question that automatically popped into my mind upon first hearing about epigenetics was: Where do these changes come from? I mean, how does it work? As I keep saying, epigenetics is not magic – it must be regulated somehow. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a lot of research into this, yet, either, but I did find one study looking at how genes regulate epigenetic effects in mice [pdf] – in other words, genes are at the bottom of epigenetics, so we could very well be back to HBD differences again with epigenetics. Perhaps different individuals – different populations, even! – experience different epigenetic effects because they have different “genes for epigenetics” (thanks to natural selection, of course).
You’ve been blogging on HBD and related topics for a few years now and it seems that you have garnered not only a significant following, but also a reputation as a reliable source for data-rich insight and analysis. You’ve sparred with Ron Unz and you recently received a nod of qualified approval from a contributor to Daily Kos (!) in a widely-read article that expressed suspicion about the ascendance of HBD web culture. So, is this all leading up to something? Do you have any plans to step away from the blogger's dashboard and enter the scholarly arena? Maybe a book in the offing?
I’m planning to hold off until someone is interested in purchasing the movie rights! Maybe even throw in a few prequels, too. (~_^)
The plan is to keep blogging for the moment. I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about trying to work out what made northwest Europeans (particularly the English) so individualistic and universalistic and so on, so I’m just going to have to follow through on that until I satisfy my Aspergian urges. (~_^) I hope to start looking at some actual genetic data, soon – need to get greater computing power up and running at home first – so keep an eye out for that.
What the world is sorely in need of is an introductory book on human biodiversity – one which would explain to people that the topic is not that scary or dangerous after all. I’m not sure I’m the right person for such a project – plus someone would either have to clone me or figure out how to slow down the rotation of the planet (to get more hours in every day!) – but I very much like the thought of some sort of collaborative effort on such a project with other HBD bloggers/thinkers/writers. A biodiverse human biodiversity project maybe? (^_^)
Thanks so much for your time.