Thursday, May 29, 2014

Taming Ourselves: The Genetic Evolution of the Bourgeois Virtues Through Self-Domestication?

MAKING FRIENDS  Beginning in 1959, researchers on a farm outside the city of Novosibirsk in Siberia selectively bred silver foxes to encourage a single behavior: friendliness toward humans.  Over the generations, other traits that distinguish dogs from wild canids emerged, including spotted-colored coats and wagging tails.  [From the National Geographic.]

A DOG'S LIFE  Alisa, one of two Novosibirsk foxes living as pets in a wealthy home outside St. Petersburg, is friendly with her human companions and with the family's yellow Labrador.

BRED TO BE BAD  This brown rat's angry display at the photographer reflects 73 generations of breeding for hostility to humans.  Scientists at Novosibirsk and in Germany are comparing the aggressive rat genome to that of rats selected for friendliness, attempting to untangle connections between DNA and behavior.

The big history of human social evolution from the Paleolithic to the present shows two great revolutions.  In the agrarian revolution, human beings moved from foraging to farming (beginning about 10,000 years ago).   In the modern revolution, human beings moved from agrarian states to industrialized commercial republics (beginning about 500 years ago and accelerating about 200 years ago into the Industrial Revolution).

In Abraham Lincoln's "Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions, his "Address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society," and in his meeting with some American Indian chiefs, Lincoln laid out his conception of cultural evolution as moving through three stages of society--from foraging societies to agrarian societies to societies based on commercial exchange and free labor.  Thus did Lincoln anticipate David Christian's account of deep history.

These social revolutions certainly required evolutionary changes in human culture--changes in cultural ideas and institutions.  But did they also require evolutionary changes in human biology--changes in the genetic propensities of human nature?  Many biologists (like Stephen Jay Gould and Ernst Mayr) and evolutionary psychologists (like John Tooby and Leda Cosmides) have said no, because they assume that human biological evolution stopped sometime shortly after our ancestors expanded out of Africa 40,000 to 50,000 years ago.  But recently, Gregory Clark (A Farewell to Alms), Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending (The 10,000 Year Explosion), and Nicholas Wade (A Troublesome Inheritance) have marshaled the evidence and reasoning for the claim that these social revolutions required genetic changes as well as cultural changes.

I find the evidence too skimpy and the reasoning too speculative to prove the case for genetic evolution in these two social revolutions.  But as I suggested in a post a few weeks ago, one of the most plausible lines of reasoning for the genetic explanation is based on the research of Dmitry Belyaev in showing how the selective breeding of silver foxes in Siberia has made them as tame as dogs in only 40 years.  This suggests that a genetic change in human behavioral propensities could occur in a human population if the social circumstances create a selective pressure for tameness or less violent and more cooperative behavior.  Human beings might have evolved by self-domestication to be genetically inclined to the bourgeois virtues that support liberal regimes.

The crucial feature of the transition from foraging to farming was the domestication of animals and plants.  This was the ancient beginning of biotechnology, because farmers were artificially selecting plants and animals to satisfy human desires in ways that created new species.  Without understanding genetics, they were engaging in the genetic manipulation of organisms to make them more useful to human beings. 

It's good to keep this in mind while listening to those today who oppose biotechnology as a modern human disruption of the natural order of things.  Contrary to what people like Leon Kass say, the use of biotechnology to master nature for the relief of the human estate was not an invention of modern science, because it began 10,000 years ago, and it's the most important turn in human history.

An important part of Darwin's argument for his theory of natural selection was the analogy between natural selection and artificial selection.  Just as plant and animal breeders select those naturally heritable traits they favor and thus over time create new varieties and species that are adapted to human needs, so does natural selection favor some heritable traits over others and thus creates new species that are adapted to their environment.  This was the argument for the first chapter of The Origin of Species (1859) and for the Introduction to his massive two-volume book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868).

Of the 146 large mammalian species of animals, only 15 have been domesticated.  Apparently, most animals lack the genetic potentiality for domestication.  So, for example, while horses were one of the first species to be domesticated, zebras have resisted all attempts to domesticate them.

In what might have been the first domestication of an animal, wolves (Canis lupus) evolved into dogs (Canis familiaris).  Actually, this might have occurred through a combination of natural selection and artificial selection.  Any attempt of prehistoric people to artificially select wolves for domestication would have created a cultural niche to which wolves might have become adapted by natural selection.

Similarly, we must wonder whether our human ancestors were domesticating themselves by creating new cultural niches--first farming life and large settlements and then modern commercial regimes--to which they became adapted by both artificial and natural selection.  If this is what happened, then we might explain liberal political thought as evolutionary niche construction: liberal norms and institutions become a cultural niche favoring some behavioral traits over others, and if these traits are genetically influenced, then human beings could evolve genetically to be better adapted to this liberal niche.  If so, then classical liberalism is an exercise in human biotechnology.

But for this to happen, genetic evolution would have to occur over rather short periods of time by evolutionary standards--over thousands or even hundreds of years.  We generally assume that that's the speed of cultural evolution but not genetic evolution.

Belyaev showed that a selective-breeding program could bring about such genetic evolution in a few decades.  He believed that the domestication of dogs had been selection for the behavioral trait of tameness.  To test this, he set out to domesticate the silver fox (Vulpes vulpes), an animal that had never been domesticated.  He selected foxes for tameness and against aggression.  After 40 years, and 30 to 35 generations of selection, he had created foxes that were doglike in their friendliness to human beings.

Belyaev and his colleagues also bred another line of foxes for their aggressiveness.  Now, one can see the contrast between those foxes bred to be doglike in their tameness and those bred to be wolflike in their aggressiveness.  They have done the same thing for rats.

Domesticated animals show a common suite of traits that Darwin identified and that now can be explained as pedomorphosis or neoteny--the retension of juvenile traits by adults, which include behavioral traits like submissiveness and gregariousness.

Since we do not know exactly how genes influence behavior, we cannot prove that there has been genetic evolution here that explains behavior.  But we can make a plausible case that there are genes that influence the development of the brain and nervous system so as to change the neurochemical and hormonal mechanisms that underlie behavioral propensitiesTherefore animals can evolve genetically to be better adapted behaviorally to their cultural environment, and this should be as true for human beings as for other animals.

If this is so, then it's possible that the cultural evolution from foraging to farming and then into modern liberal commercial societies was also a genetic evolution.  In the first step, settling into farming communities with large populations required breaking away from the tribalism of foraging bands bound together by kinship ties, so that people became less violent and fearful of outsiders.  In the second step, people had to adopt the bourgeois virtues of modern commercial society--self-control, deferral of gratification, industriousness, tolerance of strangers, and willingness to engage in the extended order of global trade and cosmopolitan mobility.

The recent electoral victories in Europe for the right-wing, anti-immigrant political parties is a reminder that this evolution of human political psychology away from ancient tribalism and towards liberal cosmopolitanism has not yet fully succeeded.  The importance of evolving beyond tribalism for the move from "extractive" regimes to "inclusive" regimes is a big theme for Wade's new book.

In thinking about classical liberalism as evolutionary niche construction working through self-domestication, it might help to compare the argument of Helen Leach for the evolution of human self-domestication and the argument of Brian Hare and Richard Wrangham for bonobo self-domestication.  Hare and Wrangham explain why bonobo psychology differs from chimpanzee psychology:  because of relaxed feeding competition among bonobos, there was selection against male aggression and for social tolerance, because female coalitions forced males to be less aggressive and less dominant over the females, which created a cascade of effects leading to neotenous development through self-domestication.  Classical liberalism might have created the cultural environment for human self-domestication so that human beings became more inclined to peaceful cooperation, and thus more like bonobos than chimpanzees.


Cieri, Robert L., Steven F. Churchill, Robert G. Franciscus, Jingzhi Tan, and Brian Hare, "Craniofacial Feminization, Social Tolerance, and the Origins of Behavioral Modernity," Current Anthropology 55 (2014):419-443.

Gibbons, Ann, "How We Tamed Ourselves," Science, October, 2014.

Hare, Brian, Victoria Wobber, Richard Wrangham, "The Self-Domestication Hypothesis: Evolution of Bonobo Psychology Is Due to Selection Against Aggression," Animal Behaviour 83 (March 2012): 573-85.  Available online.

Leach, Helen M. "Human Domestication Reconsidered," Current Anthropology 44 (2003): 349-68.  Available online.

Ratliff, Evan, "Taming the Wild," National Geographic, 219 (March 2011): 34-50.  Available online.

Trut, Lyudmila, "Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment," American Scientist, 87 (March-April 1999): 160-69.  Available online.

Wade, Nicholas, "Nice Rats, Nasty Rats: Maybe It's All in the Genes," New York Times, July 25, 2006.  Available online.

Wilkins, Adam S., Richard W. Wrangham, and W. Tecumseh Fitch, "The 'Domestication Syndrome' in Mammals: A Unified Explanation Based on Neural Crest Cell Behavior and Genetics," Genetics 197 (2014): 795-808.

Wilson, Peter J. The Domestication of the Human Species (Yale University Press, 1991).

There are some good videos on Belyaev's fox experiments.

Other posts on some of these points can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Loathing Lincoln and Executive Prerogative

I enjoyed a pleasant day Saturday in Chicago with John and Susan Barr.  We met at the Abraham Lincoln Bookstore, where John was being interviewed for a live "virtual book signing."  He was there to promote his new book Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present (LSU Press).  The other author in the same interview was William Blair, the author of With Malice Toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era (University of North Carolina Press).  After the interview, we went to see a matinee performance of "In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story."  This was my second time seeing this play, which was the topic for a post earlier this month.

John shares my interest in Lincoln and Darwin and in the ways that their lives and ideas are connected.  John has taught a course at Lone Star College in Houston on comparing Lincoln and Darwin.

In thinking about the discussion at the bookstore and the play, I was reminded of one similarity between Lincoln and Darwin--that they have both elicited strong reactions of either love or loathing.  Lincoln has been revered by many as a mythic, even godlike hero.  But he has also been denounced as a deceitful opportunist and racist who exercised tyrannical power in ruining America.  Similarly, Darwin has been celebrated as a hero of modern scientific enlightenment.  But he has also been scorned as a scientific racist and atheist who subverted traditional moral and religious values in a manner that prepared the way for communist and Nazi tyranny and for degrading materialism.

If you go to John's website, you'll see his defense of Lincoln against the charge of being tyrannical in his use of the executive power.  As you can see in a previous post, I generally agree with what he says.  But unlike John, I do not accept John Yoo's interpretation of presidential power as including Lockean executive prerogative.  My argument is that the Constitution was written so as to specify the emergency powers of government in ways that would make it unnecessary for the President to step outside the Constitution to meet the demands of an emergency.  And I think that in almost everything Lincoln said, he was careful to find all of his power within the Constitution, and so he never claimed Lockean executive prerogative as power to step outside the Constitution.

One can make a Darwinian argument for such strict constitutional limits on executive power as a necessary check on the evolved propensity of those with political ambition to seek domination over others.  Some of my reasoning for such a Darwinian politics is elaborated here,.

I have also written here about Lincoln's classical liberalism as based on "the principle of self-government"--"each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as he in no wise interferes with any other man's rights."

Friday, May 23, 2014

Human Biodiversity (6): Would the Recent Genetic Evolution of Human Beings Subvert Darwinian Natural Right?

The most provocative claim of Nicholas Wade's Troublesome Inheritance is that "human nature changes over time" (151).  Of course, anyone who accepts the Darwinian theory of human evolution must believe that human nature changes over long periods of evolutionary time, because the human species arose from ancestral species over a long period of hundreds of thousands or millions of years.  This suggests that the biological human nature that we know today is not eternally unchanging, but it is relatively stable, in that the rate of genetic change is very slow.  But what happens if we are persuaded by Wade that human genetic evolution has been occurring over periods of thousands or even hundreds of years; so that, for example, Greg Clark might be right that the English Industrial Revolution required the genetic evolution of "bourgeois virtues" in the English over a 400-500 year period?

I am wondering if this subverts my argument for "Darwinian natural right," which assumes the stable reality of evolved human nature, including the 20 natural human desires, as setting the natural standard for judging moral and political traditions.

In Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological  Ethics of Human Nature I respond to the objection that the Darwinian evolution of the human species promotes a radical relativism because it denies the eternal or everlasting permanence of the species (232-38).  If the human species, like any evolved species, is not eternal or everlasting but a contingent result of evolutionary history that can change and even pass away, does that indicate that the human good as relative to the natural desires of the evolved human species is contingent and unstable?  If the human species is in flux, does this lead us to relativism or nihilism?

That the good of a species exists only as long as the species exists should not disturb us, I argued, unless we believe that the objective reality of the human good depends on its being an eternal good.  Even if species are not eternally fixed or everlastingly permanent but have evolved from ancestral species and are headed for extinction in the future, that does not make them any less real for as long as they endure.  Even if we cannot appeal to the permanent things, we can appeal to the enduring things.

But how enduring is the human species?  In my book, I quote a remark by Stephen Jay Gould: "Species are stable entities with very brief periods of fuzziness at their origin."  But this is exactly what Wade denies, because he argues that human genetic changes--including genetic changes that influence personality and behavioral traits--have actually accelerated over the last 10,000 years.  And therefore people like Gould--as well as the evolutionary psychologists like Tooby and Cosmides--are wrong in their assumption that human genetic evolution mostly stopped 10,000 years ago.  The "fuzziness" of the human species has continued right up to the present.

Wade does indicate, however, that the rate of genetic change is always much slower than the rate of cultural change.  "A primary effect of genetics is to add a substantial degree of inertia or stability to the social behavior and hence to the institutions of each society.  Rapid change must be due to culture, not genetics, but if the core social behaviors of each civilization have an evolutionary foundation, . . . then the rate of change in their relationships is likely to be constrained" (246).

One should also notice that the recent genetic changes claimed by Wade are not changes that have transformed the human species into a new species, but changes that create differentiation within the human species.  Like Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending (in The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution), Wade compares the genetic differentiation of different human populations to the similar differentiation of dog breeds through artificial selection.  All dogs belong to the same species, but the different breeds are quite different.  Border collies are a whole lot smarter than beagles.  And your chances of being attacked by a pit bull terrier are about a 1,000 times greater than your chances of being attacked by a border collie.

As I have indicated in previous posts, Wade has not proven his case.  He admits that he cannot demonstrate the truth of his claims, because he cannot point to the exact genetic changes underlying changes in human social behavior that he postulates to exist, and so he is forced to engage in a lot of speculation unsupported by empirical proof.

Furthermore, I don't see that the recent genetic evolution that he sketches in his speculative history causes any great problem for Darwinian natural right, because I don't see that he shows that there has been any change in the 20 natural desires, which constitute the evolved human psychological ground for natural right.

If the good is the desirable, and if evolved human nature shows a stable profile of 20 natural desires that have not radically changed over the past 10,000 years, then we have an enduring standard for judging some societies as more desirable than others. 

In fact, we see Wade engaged in just this kind of judgment throughout his book. He repeatedly argues that some social orders are better than others--"inclusive" social orders are better than "extractive" social orders--because the better societies are better at satisfying the full range of natural human desires.

I have written some other posts on the biological and moral reality of species here and here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Human Biodiversity (5): Cultural Group Selection Through Migration and Assimilation

In A Troublesome Inheritance, Nicholas Wade writes: "Behavioral traits are particularly likely to be retained, but 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).  He also observes that "the forces of differentiation [of the races] seem now to have reversed course due to increased migration, travel, and intermarriage" (71).

Here and elsewhere in his book, Wade points to the power of cultural group selection and gene-culture coevolution, which has been studied by Darwinian theorists of cultural evolution.  Some of these theorists--such as Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson--have suggested that the historical turn towards liberal capitalism could be explained as a process of cultural group selection driven by immigration and assimilation.  And that seems to be what Wade is pointing to in the above passages.

In some papers--found here and here--Boyd and Richerson have argued that one important mechanism of social evolution is cultural group competition for immigration in which people "vote with their feet."  Although it is true, that groups have often competed through violent conflict and conquest, they argue (as did Darwin) that a more powerful form of group competition is cultural competition for immigration.  People tend to move from poorer, violent, and exploitative societies into richer, peaceful, more just societies.  And thus immigration tends to promote the spread of ideas and institutions that favor prosperity, peace, and justice. 

A dramatic example of this was the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, which showed how an oppressive regime might have to use barbed wire and armed border guards to keep its people from leaving in the pursuit of a better life elsewhere.

Boyd and Richerson also cite the example of two neighboring village societies in New Guinea.  The Gebusi were driving themselves into extinction through disruptive witchcraft trials and executions.  Some of the Gebusi were able to migrate to the society of the Bedamini, who had a better social order.

Similarly, some of the ancient empires--such as Rome and China--flourished because their institutions (such as Roman law and Confucian bureaucracy) attracted immigrants from other societies that were disordered and oppressive.

Beginning in the 18th century, classical liberal regimes based on Lockean political thought--like Great Britain and the United States--have attracted immigrants because of the prosperity, peace, and justice that liberal regimes promote.

Wade captures this same idea when he speaks of the historical move from "extractive" institutions that provoke people to leave to "inclusive" institutions that attract immigrants looking for a better life.

There are genetic propensities at work here.  The natural propensity to "better one's condition" (as Adam Smith called it) motivates people to migrate to societies that offer opportunities for improvement.  And "the universal instinct to conform to social rules" (in Wade's words) ensures that the immigrants will assimilate into their new societies.  This latter corresponds to what Boyd and Richerson identify as the genetically evolved disposition for social learning by conforming one's behavior to the social norms of the majority in the population, which explains why the children of immigrants can pick up the norms of their surrounding culture.  In this way, the process of cultural group selection through migration and assimilation is part of a gene-culture coevolution.

And thus one can explain the power of classical liberal ideas and institutions as cultural traditions that appeal to natural human desires and thus tend to win the competition with illiberal regimes.

Some of these points have come up in previous posts here, here, and here.

Gillian Brown and Peter Richerson have written an excellent paper comparing "cultural evolution," "human behavioral ecology," and "evolutionary psychology" as three schools of evolutionary social science.

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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Human Biodiversity (3): Nicholas Wade, Abraham Lincoln, and Racial Genetics

The debate over Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance reminds me of the debate over whether Abraham Lincoln was a racist.  In contrast to the myth of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, his critics insist, he was actually a racist and a white supremacist.  The reason for this debate is that while Lincoln affirmed the principle of the equal right to self-government as stated in the Declaration of Independence, he also acknowledged racial differences that might prevent the races from living together on terms of perfect social and political equality, which for his critics is an expression of his racist bigotry.  (This debate over Lincoln is well surveyed in John Barr's new book--Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present [LSU Press, 2014].)  Similarly, Wade rejects the racist assertion that any race is so superior to any other as to have the right to rule others, and yet he also recognizes racial differences that are genetic, which his critics condemn as racism.  The question in both debates is whether one can see the reality of racial differences without being a racist, or whether the only way to avoid the evil of racism is to deny that race is real.

My answer to this question is that one can recognize racial differences, such that races will not be equal in all respects, while also recognizing that all human beings are by their nature equal in their right to self-government, so that no one has the right to rule over others without their consent; and consequently one can condemn racism as a violation of that equal right to self-government.  This is clearly stated by Lincoln, and it's implicit in Wade's book.

In his speech on the Dred Scott decision (June 26, 1857), Lincoln noted that Stephen Douglas, his opponent, was appealing to "a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people, to the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races."  He said that Douglas
"finds the Republicans insisting that the Declaration of Independence includes ALL men, black as well as white; and forthwith he boldly denies that it includes negroes at all, and proceeds to argue gravely that all who contend it does, do so only because they want to vote, and eat, and sleep, and marry with negroes!  He will have it that they cannot be consistent else.  Now I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave, I must necessarily want her for a wife.  I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone.  In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others" (Speeches and Writings, Library of America, 1:397-98).
He then went on to explain his interpretation of the principle of equality of rights in the Declaration of Independence:
"I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects.  They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity.  They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal--equal in 'certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'  This they said, and this meant.  They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon.  They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere" (1:398).
In his speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act (October 16, 1854), Lincoln insisted that "the poor negro has some natural right to himself," and thus he has a natural right to self-government rooted in the human nature of self-ownership.  "My faith in the proposition that each man should do precisely as he pleases with all which is exclusively his own, lies at the foundation of the sense of justice there is in me."  He denied Douglas's claim that the right of self government gave people in the western territories of the United States the right to vote for becoming slave states.
"The doctrine of self government is right--absolutely and eternally right--but it has no just application, as here attempted.  Or perhaps I should rather say that whether it has such just application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man.  If he is not a man, why in that case, he who is a man may, as a matter of self government, do just as he pleases with him.  But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself?  When the white man governs himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government--that is despotism.  If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that 'all men are created equal;'  and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another" (1:328).
He concluded that the principle of self-government is grounded in the idea that "no man is good enough to govern another man, without that other's consent."

So while Lincoln recognized that human beings are naturally unequal in many respects, including racial differences, he also saw that they are equal in those minimal emotional and intellectual capacities that sustain a moral sense and thus identify them as members of the human species.  This understanding of human equality requires not equality as identity but equality as reciprocity:  although unequal in many ways, all normal human beings will resist exploitation, will claim ownership in themselves and their property, and will demand social cooperation based on mutual consent to reciprocal exchange.

He argued: "This is a world of compensation; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave" (2:19).  "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master" (1:484).  Thus did Lincoln capture the logic of equality supporting republican government.  Human beings are unequal in many respects.  But our natural resistance to exploitation is such that no normal person would consent to be a slave, and so no one can consistently seek mastery based on any principle of superiority without exposing himself to being enslaved against his will.  Lincoln reasoned:
"If A can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B--why may not B snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A?--
"You say A is white, and B is black.  It is color, then;  the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker?  Take care.  By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.
"You do not mean color exactly?--You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them?  Take care again.  By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.
 "But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another.  Very well.  And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you" (1:303).
As I have argued in some previous posts, there is a Darwinian logic against slavery and for the classical liberal principle of equal liberty that runs through Lincoln's reasoning as well as Charles Darwin's own opposition to slavery.  Slavery is a form of social parasitism, and human beings are naturally evolved to detect and resist parasitic exploitation.  As Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (in Why Nations Fail) have argued, slavery was an integral part of the "extractive institutions" by which elites have exploited those under their rule, and it was the aim of liberal thought to replace such bad institutions with the good "inclusive institutions" that are responsible for the prosperity and liberty of the modern world.  (What they call "inclusive institutions" corresponds closely to what Douglass North, John Wallis, and Barry Weingast would call "open access societies," which was the subject of a previous post.)

Although he doesn't elaborate the point as clearly as Lincoln, Wade does at least implicitly embrace this same Darwinian logic for equal liberty and against racist exploitation.

At the beginning of his book, however, Wade tries to evade the moral and political implications of his scientific reasoning about racial evolution in human history.  He does this by invoking the is/ought dichotomy.  He claims: "Racism and discrimination are wrong as a matter of principle, not of science.  Science is about what is, not what ought to be.  Its shifting sands do not support values, so it is foolish to place them there" (7).  If that were true, then morality and politics would belong to a normative realm of moral values that transcends the empirical realm of natural facts studied by science.  But is this really true?  If science were to discover that some races were genetically adapted for slavery, so that they were naturally inclined to serve their masters and never to resist their exploitation, wouldn't this provide empirical evidence that the enslavement of such races is right? 

In fact, some of the proponents of slavery in the nineteenth century argued that the African race was biologically adapted for slavery, and that this race was actually a separate species.  One of the main motivations for Darwin's writing of The Descent of Man was to refute this claim.  He recognized the many differences--both physical and mental--between the races, and yet he saw the fundamental similarity--including the moral sense--that showed that all the races belonged to one human species.

Wade agrees with this.  "Human nature is essentially the same worldwide" (244).  While racial science shows that some races have "relative advantages in some traits" in some environments over other races, there is no evidence that any race is "superior in any absolute sense," which is "the essence of racism" (8, 250).  "The central premise of racism, which distinguishes it from ethnic prejudice, is the notion of an ordered hierarchy of races in which some are superior to others.  The superior race is assumed to enjoy the right to rule others because of its inherent qualities" (17).  This premise is false.  "People being so similar, no one has the right or reason to assert superiority over a person of different race" (9).

Notice how Wade here violates his fact/value dichotomy.  The fact of people being similar supports the value condemning racism.  Notice also the implicit logic of Darwinian liberalism that allows for the free expression of individual and racial differences, while denying that anyone claiming racial superiority has the right to rule others without their consent.

Wade's Darwinian liberalism becomes clear in his endorsement of the argument of Acemoglu and Robinson on the need to move from "extractive institutions" to "inclusive institutions" (Wade, 148-49, 175, 180, 193-96).  Inclusive institutions are more innovative, more productive, more peaceful, and therefore better institutions, because they are based on the liberal principle that the right of self-government belongs equally to all human beings.

As Wade indicates, the move to inclusive liberal institutions must overcome tribalism, which is the instinctive xenophobic propensity to favor one's own group over others.  Racism is an expression of such tribalism, in favoring one's race over others.  Here one can see clearly why Wade's argument is not racist: at the core of his argument is his claim that the tribalism of racial ethnocentrism belongs to an ancient stage of human evolution that has to be overcome to move into modern states and inclusive institutions (see 136, 173-82, 196-97).

Lincoln saw racial tribalism as the deepest obstacle to achieving "perfect social and political equality."  The disgust elicited by racial intermarriage was one powerful expression of such tribalist bigotry.  Eliminating such bigotry might require promoting racial intermarriage so that racial differences would eventually disappear.  It is altogether fitting and proper, therefore, that on the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth in 2009, President Barack Obama spoke at the Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois.

Wade indicates that if human racial differentiation were to continue at the same rate as it has for the past 50,000 years, the human races at some time in the future could become separate species.  But this is unlikely to happen in modern inclusive societies, because "the forces of differentiation seem now to have reversed course due to increased migration, travel, and intermarriage" (71).  For example, African Americans share a high proportion of their genomes with Europeans (101).  The final triumph of inclusive institutions might be ever extensive racial intermarriage so that racial differences would disappear, and consequently racial tribalism would be extinguished.

Some of these points are elaborated in other posts herehere, here, here, here, here, and here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Human Biodiversity (2): The Genetic Evolution of Capitalism and the Bourgeois Virtues?

In a paper that summarizes his book A Farewell to Alms (2007), Gregory Clark states as his thesis that there has been a Darwinian history of recent genetic evolution that explains the triumph of capitalism and the bourgeois virtues:
"Before 1800 all societies, including England, were Malthusian.
The average man or woman had 2 surviving children. Such
societies were also Darwinian. Some reproductively successful
groups produced more than 2 surviving children, increasing their
share of the population, while other groups produced less, so that
their share declined. But unusually in England, this selection for
men was based on economic success from at least 1250, not
success in violence as in some other pre-industrial societies. The
richest male testators left twice as many children as the poorest.
Consequently the modern population of the English is largely
descended from the economic upper classes of the middle ages.
At the same time, from 1150 to 1800 in England there are clear
signs of changes in average economic preferences towards more
“capitalist” attitudes. The highly capitalistic nature of English
society by 1800 – individualism, low time preference rates, long
work hours, high levels of human capital – may thus stem from
the nature of the Darwinian struggle in a very stable agrarian
society in the long run up to the Industrial Revolution. The
triumph of capitalism in the modern world thus may lie as much
in our genes as in ideology or rationality" (1).
Clark presents historical evidence for the emergence of four behavioral patterns in the English that eventually brought on the Industrial Revolution:  declining violence (as measured by homicide rates), high literacy, self-control reflected in delayed gratification and increasing saving (as measured by low interest rates), and a propensity to work long hours.  These middle-class or bourgeois values increased the productive efficiency of the British economy.  Then, with the sudden spurt in the growth of the English population between 1770 and 1860, the Industrial Revolution occurred in England before spreading to other parts of the world.  Previously, such spurts in population growth had led to collapse as population outran resources--the Malthusian trap.  But now for the first time in history, a nation had escaped the Malthusian trap, because its bourgeois virtues in a free market economy provided the innovation and productivity necessary for unprecedented economic growth.

Most economists and economic historians explain the British Industrial Revolution as a product of institutional changes--parliamentary government, the rule of law, property rights, and free markets--that created incentives for innovation and productivity.  Clark recognizes the importance of these institutional factors, but he argues that there also had to be a change in the innate social behavior of the English that would incline them to respond to those institutional circumstances in such a way as to produce the Industrial Revolution.  And that required a genetic change in human nature.

According to Clark, this genetic change came through a process of "survival of the richest."  Beginning in the Middle Ages, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, and thus those with the genetic propensities for money-making and commercial life could pass their genes onto the next generation.  In this way, a bourgeois culture spread through English society through Darwinian evolution.

In A Troublesome Inheritance, Nicholas Wade has adopted Clark's theory as a crucial part of the argument for recent biological evolution as explaining human history.  In this case, the modern triumph of Western bourgeois culture and capitalist economics is explained as the culmination of a biological evolution favoring the social behavior and cognitive capacities necessary for peaceful cooperation and exchange in a modern liberal state. 

For Wade, this evolution began 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, with the transition from hunting-gathering bands and tribes to settled villages and finally large centralized states based on agricultural production.  For thousands of years, people in centralized states with Hobbesian Leviathan governments were forced to reduce their tribal tendencies to violence, and this favored evolutionary adaptations to the circumstances of agrarian states.  The next great evolutionary transition was the move into the open society of modern capitalist societies--starting in England--which made possible the explosion of population and prosperity over the past two centuries.

This seems implausible because we generally assume that genetic evolution--as opposed to cultural evolution--is so gradual that it cannot occur in only a few centuries.  Wade's response to this is to cite the famous research of Dmitriy Belyaev in showing how the selective breeding of foxes can make them as tame as dogs in only 40 years (160-61).  This suggests that a great evolutionary change in social behavior can occur in a human population if the social circumstances create a selective pressure for tameness or less violent and more cooperative behavior. 

Here Wade is adopting the argument of Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending--in The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Basic Books, 2009)--who point to the breeding of domesticated animals and plants to show how fast evolution can occur.  One might object that the human domestication of animals and plants is artificial selection rather than natural selection.  But their response is to point out that the process of evolutionary change is the same for both artificial and natural selection--some naturally occurring variations are favored by the environment and gradually increase in frequency over time.  Indeed, Darwin himself began The Origin of Species by comparing the domestication of plants and animals to natural selection in explaining his theory.

Cochran and Harpending argue that when foragers became farmers, they came under the rule of elites in bureaucratic states who acted as breeders.  "Since the elites were in a very real sense raising peasants, just as peasants raised cows, there must have been a tendency for them to cull individuals who were more aggressive than average, which over time would have changed the frequencies of those alleles that induced aggressiveness" (111-12).  This would have selected for "bourgeois virtues"--"the traits that make a man successful rather than interesting"--such as the ability to defer gratification over long periods of time and to refrain from violence.  If Clark is right about the genetic evolution of capitalism in England, this was the culmination of a process that began 10,000 years ago.

This suggests that the evidence of evolutionary trends towards declining violence that Steven Pinker has surveyed could be evidence not just of cultural evolution but also biological evolution.  Remarkably, however, Pinker refuses to accept this conclusion because it contradicts the "standard assumption in evolutionary psychology" that human nature has not changed over the past 10,000 years and that this is supported by the "psychic unity of humankind" (612-13).  This is the fundamental assumption of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, the founders of evolutionary psychology. 

Pinker admits that this assumption is questionable.  "Nothing rules out the possibility that human populations have undergone some degree of biological evolution in recent millennia or even centuries, long after races, ethnic groups, and nations diverge" (613).  But to allow for recent biological evolution would be "politically uncomfortable," because "it could have the incendiary implication that aboriginal and immigrant populations are less biologically adapted to the demands of modern life than populations that have lived in literate states for millennia" (614).

Pinker has a long section in Better Angels on "recent biological evolution" (611-22).  He sees six historical trends towards declining violence--the pacification process, the civilizing process, the humanitarian revolution, the long peace, the new peace, and the rights revolutions.  The time scales for the last four--less than a century--are clearly too short for biological evolution to occur.  But he admits that the longer time scales of the pacification process and the civilizing process make it possible that there could be a biological evolution at play here.

He surveys much of the evidence for recent human evolution, and particularly evidence of biological mechanisms regulating the propensity to violence that could be subject to evolutionary selection.  He notes that new techniques for scanning the human genome to look for evidence of genes that have been targets of recent natural selection suggest that approximately 8% of the human genome has been influenced by positive selection (613-14).  Here he cites a 2009 paper by Joshua Akey.  Wade incorrectly reports that the number from this paper was 14% (2, 108).

Pinker also surveys the evidence from behavioral genetics indicating that the propensity to violence is highly heritable.  And he points to many specific pathways by which natural selection could adjust human genetic propensities away from violence: self-domestication and pedomorphy, brain structure, oxytocin, testosterone, and neurotransmitters (616-18).

From all of this Pinker concludes: "Genetic tendencies toward or away from violence, then, could have been selected during the historical transitions we have examined" (618).  But, then, amazingly, he reverses direction and declares that there is no hard evidence for recent human evolution.  He quickly dismisses Cochran and Harpending's arguments: "none of the selected genes they describe has been implicated in behavior; all are restricted to digestion, disease resistance, and skin pigmentation" (619).  He summarizes Clark's Farewell to Alms in two paragraphs, and then dismisses it in one paragraph:
"A Farewell to Alms is filled with illuminating statistics and gripping narratives about the historical precursors to the Industrial Revolution.  But the Genetically Capitalist theory has not competed well in the struggle for survival among theories of economic growth.  One problem is that until recently, the rich have outreproduced the poor in pretty much every society, not just the one that later blasted off in an industrial revolution.  Another is that while aristocrats and royals may have had no more legitimate heirs than the bourgeoisie, they more than made up for it in bastards, which could have contributed a disproportionate share of their genes to the next generation.  A third is that when institutions change, a nation can vault to spectacular rates of economic growth in the absence of a recent history of selection for middle-class values, such as postwar Japan and post-communist China.  And most important, Clark cites no data showing that the English are innately more self-controlled or less violent than the citizenries of countries that did not host an industrial revolution" (621).
Wade does not think that the four problems brought up here by Pinker are decisive in refuting Clark.  That the rich have generally had higher reproductive success than the poor in most societies is true, but that's exactly what Clark's argument requires:  A history of survival of the richest is the precondition for the Industrial Revolution to spread, and England was the first to start this only because of the sudden increase in the English population.  The examples of China and Japan don't work against Clark's argument, Wade claims, because both countries have been agrarian economies like England, and they were ready to make the transition to modern economies as soon as the institutional restrictions were removed.

Pinker's last problem for Clark's argument is that Clark has not proven that the English are genetically different from other populations that have not yet had an industrial revolution.  Wade says this is an unfair criticism, because "the genes underlying violence are for the most part unknown."  He explains:
"The ultimate proof of Clark's thesis would be the discovery of the new alleles that have mediated the social behavior required for Europeans and East Asians to make the transition to modern economies.  But there are probably many such genes, each with a small and barely detectable effect, so it may take decades before any come to light" (172).
 But notice that Wade is here pointing to a major weakness in Clark's argument and in Wade's argument:  there is no "ultimate proof" for what they are arguing, because there isn't enough knowledge of how exactly genes govern the brain and social behavior to identify the precise genetic pathways for recent human evolution that are merely assumed to exist by Wade and Clark. 

Wade admits that "because the genes underlying social behavior are for the most part unknown, the parallel and independent evolution of such genes in the various races cannot be demonstrated" (85).  Throughout Wade's book, he concedes that he cannot prove his case because genetic knowledge is too limited (see, for example, pages 4, 15, 40-41, 51-54, 56-57, 58, 61, 64, 105-106, 127, 172, 185, 190, 208, 237-38, 243-44).  Consequently, much of his reasoning--particularly in the second half of the book--depends on highly speculative guesses as to what is happening at the genetic level to support his conclusions.  The best that he can do is to try to persuade us that his speculations are plausible enough that they will be confirmed sometime in the future by advances in genetic science.

Some parts of his argument are more plausible than others.  For example, his explanation for the evolution of high intelligence among the Ashkenazi Jews seems very plausible to me, despite the fact that he cannot identify the specific genetic pathways involved in this.

Adopting the work of Cochran and Harpending, Wade argues that Ashkenazi Jews have adapted genetically for occupations that require high cognitive capacity.  In fact, the Ashkenazim are a genetically distinguishable ethnic group within the Caucasian race, as indicated by a distinctive pattern of Mendelian diseases caused by single-gene mutations (such as Tay-Sachs).  They also have the highest average IQ--110 to 115--of any group that has ever been tested.  There are good reasons to believe that there is a connection between these two facts--that the higher IQ is rooted in the genetic nature of the Ashkenazim.

This connection is supported by the history of the Ashkenazim as a group that for many centuries filled occupations like moneylending and international commerce that were cognitively demanding.  Moreover, there is evidence that the wealth earned by these occupations increased the reproductive fitness of those Ashkenazi Jews in those occupations.  One should also consider that until recently Jews were discouraged from marrying outsiders, and thus they became a reproductively isolated group.  One should also notice that many of their genetic diseases seem to be associated with regions of the genome that are connected to brain function.  Even though we are ignorant of the precise genetic pathways for the evolution of high intelligence in the Ashkenazi Jews, all of these various lines of evidence add up to a highly plausible conclusion that over a few centuries the Ashkenazi Jews were genetically selected for high intelligence.

Notice also that if this is true, the evolutionary adaptation of Jewish intelligence for the cognitive challenges of modern commercial exchange was just a stronger version of what might have been happening to other groups in England and elsewhere, who were thus becoming biologically adapted for capitalism.

Some of my other posts on these topics can be found here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Human Biodiversity Supports the Natural Right to Equal Liberty: Responding to Nicholas Wade and Charles Murrray

Nicholas Wade is a famous science writer, who has written for Nature, Science, and The New York Times.  His new book--A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History--will provoke a fierce controversy.  (Time has published a short article by Wade summarizing some of the major points of his book.) 

The controversy over this book might even be as fierce as the earlier controversies over Ed Wilson's Sociobiology (published in 1975) and Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve (published in 1994).  The emotional intensity of these controversies is due to the fact that these books challenge  a fundamental assumption of the modern social sciences--that human social behavior, in both its uniformity and diversity, is largely if not entirely shaped by culture rather than biology.

Charles Murray has sketched some of the lines in this debate in his review of Wade's book for the Wall Street Journal.  Last summer, Murray summarized his own position on the biology of human nature and human diversity at the Mont Pelerin Society conference in the Galapagos.  I wrote a post on my assessment of his lecture as largely agreeing with my lecture there on "The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism."

If this debate were between the assertion that it's all culture and the assertion that it's all biology, then we would have to say that both sides are wrong.  What we need is a science of social behavior that explains the complex interaction in human history of human biology, human culture, and human judgment.  Charles Darwin suggested how to do that--particularly in his Descent of Man--in his theory of human social behavior as shaped by the coevolution of biological instinct, cultural learning, and individual judgment. 

Modern social scientists are afraid of such a Darwinian social science because they are afraid that it promotes two great evils--sexism and racism.  Wade's book is part of a new intellectual movement to allay this fear by arguing that a Darwinian science of sexual and racial differences is both scientifically grounded and morally defensible, and that it does not support sexism or racism.  I would also argue that this Darwinian science of human nature and human diversity sustains the classical liberal principle that all human beings have a natural right to equal liberty.

Wade states his main idea in one sentence that he repeats many times: "human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional" (4).  More fully stated, he argues:
"that there is a genetic component to human social behavior; that this component, so critical to human survival, is subject to evolutionary change and has indeed evolved over time; that the evolution in social behavior has necessarily proceeded independently in the five major races [sub-Saharan Africans, Caucasians, East Asians, Australian and New Guinean aborigines, and American Indians] and others [including ethnic groups such as the Ashkenazi Jews]; and that slight evolutionary differences in social behavior underlie the differences in social institutions prevalent among the major human populations" (242).
The reason this argument will provoke vehement scorn, particularly among academic intellectuals, is that it seems to promote racism.  The biological concept of race as a product of evolutionary history has been used to justify slavery, the forced sterilization of those identified as unfit, and Hitler's campaign to defend the purity of the Aryan race by persecuting and murdering those who were said to belong to inferior races.  After World War II, the revulsion against such horrible events motivated an intellectual strategy to defeat biological racism with two lines of reasoning.  The first was that human biological evolution stopped long ago before modern humans moved out of Africa some 50,000 years ago, and since then all of the evolutionary change in human beings has been purely cultural.  The second line of reasoning was that races have no biological reality because they exist only as arbitrary social constructions.  Wade rejects both of these claims as false and thus seems to vindicate the scientific validity of biological racism as grounded in biological evolution.  Consequently, for Wade to succeed, he must persuade us that human biological evolution has continued throughout human history right up to the present, that racial differences are real products of this biological evolution, and yet that believing all of this gives no support to biological racism.

The deep issue at stake here is whether Darwinian evolutionary science supports or subverts the liberal principle of equal liberty--that all human beings are created equal in being equally endowed with natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  If Darwinian evolutionary history has differentiated human beings into racial groups with unequal natural endowments, how is it possible to believe in human equality?

In fact, according to the proponents of creationism and intelligent design theory, this shows that Darwinian science is morally and politically corrupting, because it denies the religious belief in the equal moral dignity of human beings as created in God's image, and it affirms, instead, the brutal rule of the stronger races over the weaker in an evolutionary survival of the fittest.  After all, Darwin himself indicated this in the subtitle of The Origin of the Species, which is The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.  They can insist, as Richard Weikart and others have, that there really is a clear line from Darwin to Hitler.

To be continued . . .

Sunday, May 04, 2014

In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story

I have just seen a new play presented by the Lookingglass Theatre Company of Chicago--"In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story."  It's a wonderfully thoughtful story of the marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin, written by Sara Gmitter and directed by Jessica Thebus.  All of the acting is superb, and especially the performances of Rebecca Stone (as Emma) and Andy White (as Charles)

There is a good study guide for the play.

The story presents the Darwins' marriage as a life-long conversation over the apparent tension between Charles' science and Emma's faith.  Ever since the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859, the whole world has been engaged in this conversation.  Does Darwinian evolutionary science deny religious faith--particularly the Biblical beliefs in God as Creator and in the immortal destiny of the human soul in the afterlife?  Or can Darwinian science and Biblical faith be compatible?  If human beings are just highly evolved animals, does that render human life meaningless?  Do the human experiences of love, death, and the longing for eternal life point to a spiritual reality of the human soul that transcends natural science?  Or can natural science account for those human experiences in a manner that is not degrading?  We see Charles and Emma struggling with these great human questions as a personal drama within their loving marriage.

As the play indicates, one of the most troubling periods of their marriage came during the illness and death of their child Annie, who died at age 10 in 1851.  Why did Annie die?  Charles cannot give a scientific explanation.  But neither can Emma give a religious explanation.  Annie probably died of tuberculosis, but at the time there was no understanding of what causes this disease.

In 1877, a friend sent Darwin an article by Dr. Robert Koch, who would later discover the bacillus that causes tuberculosis. The article contained the first photographs of bacteria, along with Koch's argument that such microorganisms could cause diseases. Darwin replied: "I well remember saying to myself between twenty and thirty years ago [about the time of Annie's death], that if ever the origin of any infectious disease could be proved, it would be the greatest triumph to Science; and now I rejoice to have seen the triumph."

So now Darwin's science can explain why his daughter died. She died because she lost her struggle for life in the war of nature with tubercular bacteria.  Would this have satisfied Emma?

What I found most instructive about the play is how Emma emerges as a strong intellectual partner for Charles.  Although she recognizes the superiority of his mind, she engages him vigorously but lovingly as she challenges him to think about the implications of his science.  Moreover, by the end of the play, they seemed to have reached common ground.  In the second edition of the Origin, Darwin inserted the phrase "by the Creator" into the last sentence of the book: "There is grandeur in this view of life, which its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one: and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."  Charles tells Emma that he wants "by the Creator" to suggest "space" for scientists and believers to find agreement on the possibility of a supernatural uncaused cause of everything.

As I have indicated in some previous posts, Darwin was careful in distinguishing the "secondary causes" in nature from the "primary causes," and thus he employed a conception of dual causality that had emerged in the Christian and Muslim Middle Ages to reconcile scientific naturalism and religious supernaturalism.

These are deep philosophical and religious issues, and it's rare to see them taken up effectively in a theatrical drama.  "In the Garden" succeeds in doing this.  And I can think of two other stage productions in Chicago in recent years that have done this--"A History of Everything" and "Freud's Last Session"--which have been the subject of some posts here and here.

In his review of the play for the Chicago ReaderJack Helbig claims that the issues raised in the play are not really very interesting today:  "the great philosophical question at its center—whether or not one can reasonably believe in both God and evolution—is not particularly compelling, except perhaps among the fundamentalist fringe. It may have been otherwise in Darwin's time, but most believers now don't insist on the biblical account's literal truth (whatever that might consist in). Darwin himself changed that, along with Freud, and Kierkegaard, and a host of others."

Is this really true?  At one point in the play, Emma and Charles argue about whether he's right that human beings are "just animals," shaped by the same natural evolutionary processes that shape all animals.  Is it true that only "the fundamentalist fringe" are disturbed by this claim?  Can't we see in the continuing debate over sociobiology and evolutionary psychology that many people today are deeply troubled by the Darwinian understanding of human beings as animals?  Don't we see here a kind of secular creationism in the thought that human beings must have some special worth that comes from being separated from and above the rest of the animal world?

Helbig also complains that "In the Garden" is not a well-crafted drama.  Similarly, Chris Jones, the Chicago Tribune critic, describes Gmitter's play as "a smart, carefully structured but rhetorically overstuffed 2 1/2-hour play badly in need of a good edit--the dramaturgical application, you might say, of the survival of the fittest scenes."

I agree that Gmitter could make her play dramatically tighter by cutting a few scenes and rearranging them to follow their actual sequence in the life of Charles and Emma.  She could organize the play around three points--their courtship and marriage, the death of Annie, and the publication of the Origin.  Gmitter moves the death of Annie in 1851 to just after the publication of Origin in 1859, which adds nothing to the dramatic quality of the story.  She also has Charles and Emma attending the famous debate at Oxford University between T. H. Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, although neither Charles nor Emma was actually there.  Moreover, this scene at Oxford is the weakest scene in the play, and it could be cut out, which would shorten the play by 20 minutes or so.

Making a few changes like this would make a good play even better.  In fact, this could become one of the greatest dramatic presentations of Darwinism and its human implications.

Some of my posts on these themes can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here,.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Are the Most Intelligent People Libertarians?

Those who join the Libertarian Party of the United States are required to make this pledge: "I certify that I oppose the initiation of force to achieve political or social goals."  Thus the libertarian or classical liberal position can be reduced to one simple principle--the prohibition of the initiation of force--which protects individual liberty by securing the right of every individual to be free from coercive violence, and thereby securing the conditions for social orders based on peaceful coexistence and voluntary cooperation.  While the initiation of violence is not justified, the reactive use of violence is justified to prevent or punish greater violence.

To decide whether you agree with this, the members of the Libertarian Party suggest that you take "The World's Smallest Political Quiz," which asks whether you agree or disagree with five statements about personal liberty and five statements about economic liberty.  One of the statements of personal liberty is "Government should not censor speech, press, media, or internet."  One of the statements of economic liberty is "Replace government welfare with private charity." 

If you agree with all ten statements, you're a libertarian.  If you agree with the statements of personal liberty but disagree with the statements of economic liberty, you're a left-liberal.  If you disagree with the statements of personal liberty but agree with the statements of economic liberty, you're a conservative.  If you disagree with both personal liberty and economic liberty, you're an authoritarian or statist. 

Notice that if you disagree with any of these statements, then you believe that it is good to initiate violence or the threat of violence to achieve some political or social goals, and thus you disagree with the libertarian belief that violence is never justified except to prevent some greater violence.

Are people with high IQ scores inclined to be libertarians who endorse both personal and economic liberty, who therefore oppose the initiation of violence to achieve political or social goals?  If so, then increasing IQ scores over the past century (the "Flynn effect") might explain declining violence over that time (the "moral Flynn effect").  That's Steven Pinker's argument in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Pinker's claim that there is a "moral Flynn effect" favoring classical liberal attitudes must seem strange to James Flynn, because he is a social democrat who rejects classical liberalism.

A few years ago, I wrote some posts on this here, here, and here. 

As I indicated in those posts, the libertarian or classical liberal character of Pinker's argument becomes clear if one compares his book with James Payne's History of Force and notices how much of Pinker's book was influenced by Payne's.  In comparing the books, one notices that while Payne argues that the continuing evolution away from force should lead to the abolition of compulsory taxation as based on violence or the threat of violence, Pinker is silent about this.  Pinker does perhaps drop a hint of this when he identifies classical liberalism with the principled rejection of all assertive uses of violence and with opposition to the coercive redistribution of wealth by government (663).

As I also indicated in those posts, Pinker is a little deceptive in his use of evidence to show the connection between IQ and classical liberal thinking, in that he makes the evidence look stronger in support of his position than it really is--particularly in how he reports the research of Satoshi Kanazawa and Ian Deary.

What exactly is the connection between intelligence and classical liberalism?  Pinker explains: "The escalator of reason predicts only that intelligence should be correlated with classical liberalism, which values the autonomy and well-being of individuals over the constraints of tribe, authority, and tradition.  Intelligence is expected to correlate with classical liberalism because classical liberalism is itself a consequence of the interchangeability of perspectives that is inherent in reason itself" (662).

Pinker identifies this rational grasp of the "interchangeability of perspectives" with the Golden Rule--do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or don't do to others what you would not want them to do to you (182, 291, 647-48, 666).  He also sees this kind of reasoning in Adam Smith's account of the "impartial spectator" as allowing us to see ourselves mirrored in the eyes of others, so that "we are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it" (669-70).

The classical liberal principle of equal liberty--that each person has the liberty to do as he wills, provided that he does not infringe the equal liberty of every other person--captures the reasoning of the Golden Rule.  This reasoning is rooted in human nature, in the recognition that all human beings are naturally alike in their not wanting to be attacked or exploited, in their propensity to strike back against aggressors, and in their need for the voluntary cooperation of others to satisfy their nature as social animals.

That the Darwinian science of evolved human nature supports such classical liberal reasoning has been the theme of other posts herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.