Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Human Biodiversity (4): The Importance of Culture in Gene-Culture Coevolution

The readers of Nicholas Wade's Troublesome Inheritance should notice the importance of culture in his argument.  While he rejects the "culture alone" or "all-culture" position, he embraces a "mostly culture" view of institutions in his account of gene-culture coevolution (6, 57-61, 241). 

Consider the following comments.  "Culture is far more important in most short-term interactions.  As with most human behaviors, the genes provide just a nudge in a certain direction" (53).  "A society's achievements, whether in economics or the arts or military preparedness, rests in the first place on its institutions, which are largely cultural in essence.  Genes may nudge social behavior in one direction rather than another, thus affecting the nature of a society's institutions on the timescale of the generations and setting the framework within which culture operates, but this is a long-term effect that leaves ample room for culture to play a major role" (250).  "The genes that govern human behavior seldom issue imperatives.  They operate by setting mere inclinations, of which even the strongest can be overridden.  There are almost certainly genes that predispose people to regard incest as abhorrent, yet cases of incest are far from rare because those neural prohibitions can be ignored.  Because the prompting of behavior genes can be resisted, ingrained social behavior may be subject to a variety of manipulations, ranging from education and social pressure to tax incentives.  In short, many social behaviors are modifiable and this is probably the case even if they are genetically influenced.  Where behavior is concerned, genetic does not mean immutable" (250-51).

One might even see here a gene-culture-judgment coevolution.  Genes constrain but do not determine culture, and genes and culture jointly constrain but do not determine judgment.  Within the constraints of genetic nature and cultural traditions, individuals are free in their judgments in ways that can alter the course of human history.

There are many examples of the power of culture in Wade's argument.  He notes that "the universal instinct to conform to social rules seems to ensure that the political behaviors of the host country supplant those of the immigrants.  Chinese Americans do not organize themselves into authoritarian structures, nor Arab and African Americans into tribal ones" (188).

Even in Africa, the African tribalism that has impeded economic development has recently shown some signs of change.  Over the past 15 years, sub-Saharan Africa has had some of the fastest rates of economic growth in the world.  Wade acknowledges this, and he observes: "fierce pressures are clearly at work in the continent, and people will adapt to them.  These adaptations may include a reduction of tribalism" (176-77).  (A good survey of the remarkable improvements in Africa over recent decades was written by Oliver August as a long special report for The Economist, March 2, 2013.)

The cultural environment can also have a powerful effect on IQ scores.  Wade observes:
"IQ scores increase 10 or more points in a generation when a population becomes richer, showing clearly that wealth can raise IQ scores significantly.  East German children averaged 90 in 1967 but 99 in 1984.  In West Germany, which has essentially the same population, averages range from 99 to 107.  This 17 point range in the German population, from 90 to 107, was evidently caused by the alleviation of poverty, not genetics.
"There is a 10 to 15 point difference in IQ scores between the richer and poorer countries of Europe, yet these differences disappear when the inhabitants migrate to the United States, so the differences are evidently an environmental effect, not a genetic one.  If European IQ scores can vary so widely across different decades and locations, it is hard to be sure that any other ethnic differences are innate rather than environmental" (192).
This shows the "Flynn effect"--IQ scores rising as the result of environmental changes, particularly modern education that stimulates improving cognitive abilities.

As another example of how cultural conditions can change genetic nature, Wade indicates that while the races have arisen when people were fragmented into small tribal groups with little intermarriage, the modern move away from ethnocentric tribalism to inclusive societies is bringing increasing intermarriage that is reversing the racial differentiation of the human species (71, 78-80).  This ultimate triumph of inclusive institutions through racial intermarriage could eliminate racial tribalism.

What one sees here is that far from being racist, Wade's scientific argument for overcoming ethnocentric tribalism is actually a powerful argument against racism as belonging to a primitive stage of human evolution.


Anonymous said...

I know that it's long been a dream of Marxists to get beyond racial ethnocentrism, but the reality of the situation is that people are probably hard-wired to be ethnocentric:

Reading list on race and genetic ethnocentrism:

I think Wade knows this but just doesn't want to talk about it.

Here's a classic Sailer piece on it:

Even Dawkins has admitted (see Miele interview in Sailer article) that people are probably hardwired to be ethnocentric.

And now it seems that even babies are hardwired to be favor their own race:

Larry Arnhart said...

Racial ethnocentrism belongs to an earlier stage of human social evolution--tribalism. The core of Wade's argument is that the transition into modern states and inclusive institutions requires the evolutionary move beyond tribal ethnocentrism (see Wade, 136, 173-82, 196-97). If you reject that, then you reject Wade's entire argument.

Anonymous said...

Wade has argued that favoring one's own racial in-group probably has a biological / chemical basis.


Have you read Robert D. Putnam's study on racial diversity and social trust?

Larry Arnhart said...

Yes, of course, racial tribalism has ancient biological roots in our tribal past. But Wade's point in his new book is that human beings must evolve beyond tribalism if they are to move into modern states with inclusive institutions.

The failures of tribalism should be evident in countries like Afghanistan and in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Anonymous said...

Tribalism is destructive in those places because the tribes fight one another. If you have secure borders and a homogenous population, you will not have the constant warfare of intra-border tribalism. The best way to have both diversity and peace is to have secure borders and homogenous populations: the borders ensure macro diversity, the homogeneity cuts down on tribal disputes.

Anonymous said...

So the UK, Germany, and so on weren't modern nations before they were multi-racial? Humbug. You could make the argument that Europe advanced because tribalism came to an end in that the tribes were wiped out one by one until you had only the dozen or so tribes who were left standing in their nation states. It wasn't some moral epiphany or the invention of inclusive institutions, it was just that certain tribes had won and defeated all the other local tribes until there was no one around left to fight. The vikings, celts, vandals and all the rest were gone leaving homogenous locally peaceful nation states. (Which then went on to fight each other in the world wars.)

Larry Arnhart said...

So you reject Wade's argument that "tribal organization is incompatible with that of a modern state" (173)?

What would be an example of a modern state with a "homogeneous population"?

Larry Arnhart said...

Did the "homogeneous population" of Germany include the Ashkenazi Jews?

Anonymous said...

It depends on what kind of tribe you mean. A tribe as a family clan that fights other local families ala Africa, Afghanistan and so on, is incompatible with a modern nation (see hbdchick's stuff on cousin marriage and kin altruism). If you consider ethnostates as just really big tribes, then tribes are perfectly compatible.

Japan, South Korea. Most European ones before the recent decades of mass immigration.

Anonymous said...

"Did the "homogeneous population" of Germany include the Ashkenazi Jews?"

And of course there was never any conflict between those two groups.

Larry Arnhart said...

As long as Germany had inclusive institutions, there was no conflict between the Ashkenazi Jews and other Germans. The conflict arose when the Nazis established extractive institutions.

Troy Camplin said...

There is research that shows that with the right institutions, ethnic/racial heterogeneity creates more entrepreneurship and more wealth (among the reasons why California, Texas, and New York are much wealthier than West Virginia, Alabama, and Kentucky). However, with the wrong institutions, racial/ethnic heterogeneity results in conflict and poverty. Institutions matter a great deal.

Larry Arnhart said...


Yes, I agree. I think this is what Wade means when he argues for the evolution of "inclusive institutions."

It is strange that the proponents of human biodiversity who favor "homogeneous populations" that exclude outsiders have endorsed Wade's book without noticing that his whole argument rejects their tribalism.

Anonymous said...

It's truly sad that your anti-racism extends to genocide. Strange, indeed.

Otherwise, good reviews. I enjoyed reading them.