Saturday, 12 February 2011

Does hereditary psychology explain broad cultural types and trends?


I have for more than a decade been using the three stage division of culture set out by Ernest Gellner into simple hunter-gatherer, agrarian and industrial.

I tend to think that the agricultural phase can also be sub-divided into simple agriculture - such as sedentary gathering of large resources (e.g of shellfish), herding, and slash-and-burn agriculture or gardening to supplement hunting and gathering; and complex agriculture with division of labour and re-use of land in annual cycles.

This economic division is not one of desirability or virtue or goodness - but is based on the degree of division of labour and the potential for efficient extraction of resources, and potential for the size of the culture.


The divisions and transitions are usually explained in terms of factors such as culture or geography or sometimes religion - but the types of society also correspond to what we know of approximate levels of average general intelligence (measured in terms of IQ); rising from about 50-60 for hunter gatherers; 70-80 for simple agriculturalists; 80-90 for complex agricultural societies (with cities, complex technology etc.); and 90-100 plus for industrial societies.

Of course, the average IQ works as a permissive factor (necessary but not sufficient) and of course a society can be kept at less than the level of potential complexity indicated by its average IQ (since there is also an important role for cultural and geographical and political and religious - or anti religious - factors).

And, more confusingly, this refers to the endogenous nature of a society; the type of society it gravitates toward; and  a society can be raised to a higher level of complexity than is endogenous by an interaction with a more complex society, by drawing-upon the organizational and technological resources of a more complex society.

And (related) hybrid states can result from population mixing between types of society (although whether these gene-pool mixings are sustainable over many generations is unproven - so far they seem temporary phases en route to something else).

So my view is that the increased IQ has a variety of evolutionary causes (e.g. see Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark and the 10,000 Year revolution by Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending) - and increased IQ itself, in turn, causes cultural change - including religious transformation.


And, taking this further, religion is stratified in a similar way.

It is the middling societies, agriculturally-based and with an average IQ of around 80-90, which seem to be the most devoutly religious - whether pagan or monotheistic.

Hunter gatherer societies are animistic, with totemism coming-in with simple agriculture along with larger scale organization and technology - and the industrial societies with high IQ have a very abstract religion tending towards atheism.

As average intelligence in a society becomes higher; so religiousness becomes less spontaneous, less intuitive, less realistic, less supernatural, less personal.

This can even be seen at a relatively fine level of discrimination within Christianity, with a gradient in average IQ among the denominations.
I think it no coincidence that even in Catholicism, the more rational Roman Catholics tend to dominate higher IQ societies than the more mystical Eastern Orthodox.


This is all a part of my larger thesis that higher average intelligence drove modernization (including industrialization) - but, mainly due to its effect in weakening spontaneous religiousness, is also destroying it.


And it is part of my belief that high IQ is a curse as well as a benefit.

The benefits are clear, the curse is not appreciated: indeed, high IQ people pride themselves on their disability.

People with a high IQ (high, that is, by historical and international standards; by which I mean above about 90) should regard themselves as suffering from a mental illness - almost a psychosis - since their perception of the world is so distorted by a spontaneous, compulsive abstraction which is alien to humans.


But high IQ in and of itself (no matter how supported culturally) cannot lead to endogenous industrialization - modernization requires genius: which requires both high IQ and creativity.


I have not touched on personality here; but much of what I said about IQ applies also to personality.

Complex agricultural societies provide a strong selective force for re-shaping and taming personality, promoting conscientiousness, docility (reducing spontaneous aggression and violence) and reducing spontaneous creativity.

These are the marks of the 'civilized' personality. 


This is because creativity is based on the loose, associative, primary process, dream-like mode of thinking which is commoner in children or in lower IQ - for instance this is the style of thinking of 'animism' or shamanism among hunter gatherers. However, creativity alone is not genius - it must be combined with high intelligence which enables fast learning and evaluation of the ideas generated.

And this is why genius is so rare: because creativity and intelligence are reciprocally correlated at the population level, yet both must be present in an individual for genius to happen.


(That is, the reciprocal correlation between intelligence being considerably less than perfectly linear - there are some individuals in the population who  buck the trend - see H.J. Eysenck's book Genius - where he depicts this graphically. And also see where I deploy these ideas.)


Therefore the combination at an individual level of high genius and high creativity (i.e. potential genius) is very rare indeed, even in the relatively more creative European populations; but even rarer in the less creative East Asian populations - where creativity has been 'tamed' out of the population.


Genius is necessary for modernity, for industrialization, because it is genius which produces 'breakthroughs'; and modernity requires frequent breakthroughs in order to outrun Malthusian constraints. 

Europeans produced, in the past, the most geniuses proportionately - but why?

I think it was because European society experienced a powerful and rapid selective force towards increased IQ, which left the creative personality trait more-intact than did the longer and slower selection for intelligence which happened in East Asia.

The longer and slower selection in East Asia led to (even) higher intelligence, but a greater taming/ civilization of the personality. 

Consequently the average East Asian personality is both more intelligent (and more civilized) and less creative than the European.

(However, genius is now apparently a thing-of-the-past - even in the West; and therefore - lacking breakthroughs - modernity will grind to a halt and reverse; indeed this has already begun.)


We should regard high IQ rather as we regard sickle cell anaemia - a useful specific adaptation to certain specific selection pressures in certain types of society, but one which takes its toll in many other other ways and in other situations.

The most obvious disadvantage of high IQ is reduced fertility when fertility becomes controllable. In the past, any effect of IQ on lowering fertility was minimized by the lack of contraceptive technology, and was (at least in complex agricultural societies) more-than-compensated by the reduced mortality rate of more intelligent people.

So in complex agricultural societies with a high age-adjusted mortality rates, high IQ is adaptive - because reduced death rates have a more powerful effect on the number of surviving children; but in modern industrial societies with low age-adjusted mortality rates then high IQ is maladaptive because reduced birth rates have a more powerful effect on the number of surviving children (especially when fertility rates among the high IQ have fallen below replacement levels).

Clearly, the social selection pressures which led to increased IQ in stable complex agricultural societies have - for several generations - reversed; and the selection pressure is now to reduce IQ in industrialized countries.


But, fertility aside, the major disadvantage of high IQ (and one which works faster than genetic changes) is the compulsive abstraction of high IQ people.

High level abstraction, while enabling genius, is also mostly responsible for the profound and pervasive spiritual malaise of modernity: for alienation, relativism and nihilism.

This tendency to ARN among individual intellectuals is amplified by IQ stratification and large population size which creates an IQ-meritocracy; within which abstraction becomes compulsive and mutually-reinforcing and finally (in some people) inescapable.


So that in an IQ-elite the intellectuals are are often proud of their inability to perceive the obvious, and their lack of ability to perceive solid reality, and their compulsive tendency to live in a changing state of perpetually deferred judgment and lack of commitment.

But these are bad traits not virtues; intellectuals should be ashamed of them, and humble about their deficiencies - not proud of the inability to perceive and stand-by the obvious.


This is why devout, traditional Christianity is the only hope of the West if it is to remain 'the West' (and of East Asia); but devout Christianity is pushing-against the psychological traits of the intellectual elite which have been strengthening in the West since at least the Great Schism of the Catholic church a thousand years ago.

Christianity is the only hope because it is the only religion which has humility as a virtue; indeed at its core.

(Note: Humility is quite different from submission.)

However, it is possible that modernity would not have happened without this pathology of the elite, the pride at the pathologies of abstraction, this celebration of psychotic delusionality - in which case modernity always-was almost-certainly doomed. 


It is a big ask that the intellectual elite humble themselves and defer to the world view of those with lower intelligence and less civilized (more violent, impulsive and less hardworking) personality.

Of course, it would be for their own good in the long term and overall (and it would, of course, enable their salvation - which they don't believe-in); but still it is a big ask - especially when intellectuals can only perceive the world indirectly (via abstraction) and relativistically.

And, so far, the intellectual elite are choosing the opposite: choosing proudly to celebrate their sickness, their psychotic delusionality, to embrace and to celebrate alienation, relativism and nihilism - indeed, to regard these psychological defects as signs of greater sophistication and more complex culture.

(As indeed they are, in a sense; but so what?).  


But, most likely, the intellectual elite will continue to base their self-respect on their psychological deficiencies (rather than their strengths), and will continue to lead their societies back to the agricultural cultural stage, or further.

But this is a choice; and at any time (although it is difficult) intellectuals can choose to admit their own weird incapacities.

Of course, part of being a modern intellectual who dwells in a world of shifting abstractions, is to entertain doubts about the reality of free will.

Nonetheless, the mass of people in the world now and throughout history regard free will as a given - just as they regard the soul as a given, and objective reality as a given.

If intellectuals cannot spontaneously perceive such things for themselves - and I certainly find it very difficult - then they need to admit that this is an inability and not a reflection of reality; that this is their problem - and not a problem in the nature of things.


(Note: I have slightly edited the above in the interests of clarity - and added a few links.)


  1. "Christianity is the only hope because it is the only religion which has humility as a virtue; indeed at its core."

    I just heard a talk by a friend in which he was puzzling over John Paul's comment that we should philosophize "in Mary." Why her? What did she ever do or say that has anything to do with philosophy? And why is she "Mary, Seat of Wisdom"? The answer, of course, is that she is supremely receptive, and that's how we get beyond concept and assertion to reality.

  2. I think it was because European society experienced a powerful and rapid selective force towards increased IQ, which left the creative personality trait more-intact than did the longer and slower selection for intelligence which happened in East Asia.

    Vital creativity is a sexually selected trait. Almost all recognized creative accomplishment is male, occurs during the prime reproductive years, and declines gradually with age. Violent crime, athleticism, and creative output follow the same age curve for men due to their shared purpose and origin in the male sex hormones. Violence, athleticism, and creative display are all competitive male drives which work to attract female sexual partners. Then as men age or enter committed relationships the male sex hormones abate, so paternal traits increase and these mating traits decrease.

    State antiquity is similar for East Asians and Europeans, and shouldn't explain the difference in sexual traits. Asian males have a weaker mating drive than European males and the best paradigm for explaining population differences in mating effort right now is differential pathogen exposure.

  3. @Jason - the papers I have seen on differential pathogen exposure seemed very poor, so I have ignored them.

  4. The pathogen paradigm suffuses the sociobiology literature in explaining individual differences in sexual strategies (e.g. the female choice between good gene CADS and good commitment DADS). Both Hamilton and Trivers favored it specifically for the Rushtonian pattern, But it's also the standard for explaining population level differences in polygyny more generally. For example Low 1990, Gangestad & Buss 1993, Quinlan 2007, and Barber 2008.

    Europeans are more oriented towards mating effort because they have a stronger legacy of polygynous behavior. And pathogens are the standard sociobiological paradigm for explaining polygyny. While climate history also seems relevant, it invites skepticism over assumptions of evolutionary stasis. As Razib commented, with all the cold adaptation theories for Asians you'd think that Guangdong was a tundra.

  5. All right then. Photon Courier linked over here, and I see you are touching on many of my favorite topics here. Glad to have found you, and I think I may spend the evening here.

    By way of explanation why this enchants: I am a psychiatric social worker, past president of a high-IQ society, father of five, both natural and adopted from Romania: evangelical with strong Catholic leanings, interested in prehistory, social history, and the largely tribal ways we still organise our politics and society. I don't see where you are touching on my other passions of historical linguistics ("Tyne" is, BTW, likely one of the few Brythonnic survivals, from the PIE word for river that gives us Danube, Dniepr, Dniester, Don, Donets), maps, and Lewis/Chesterton/Tolkien, but perhaps something will show up.

    For openers, I have taken to saying that while IQ has been one of the dominant needs for development to date, adaptability - which was always useful anyway - may surpass it in the coming years.

  6. Largely concur. I would venture that I was of moderate psychoticism in my younger days, but have moved lower because of duty - to children and church originally, then later to job, friends, and ultimately to many societal traditional values.

    Note: Isaac Asimov suggested that schools identify who was reading science fiction for pleasure and mark them for fast-track science training, regardless of whether they had shown any other aptitude. That net may indeed catch a disproportionate number with both intelligence and creativity.

    Geniuses in any field are often autodidacts or have nontraditional education. Mandelbrot comes to mind. It may be notable that Einstein was the only one of his graduating Doctoral class not to be offered a professorship, because he had proved hard to get along with. Edison invented a lot of fairly stupid things, such as concrete houses, in addition to his world-changers.