Sunday, July 18, 2010

Social Darwinism: 21st century edition

This is a nice summary of economic historian Gregory Clark's views on recent human evolution. See related posts. I think one standard deviation of change in population averages is possible over 1000 years, given plausible values of heritability and correlation between reproductive success and quantitative trait values.

Clark makes a good case (please follow the link and read the paper!). Will modern research rehabilitate the old Social Darwinist ideas of the 19th century?

The Domestication of Man: The Social Implications of Darwin

... Until recently, however, the one creature in the modern farmyard that was believed to be unchanged from Paleolithic times was man himself. We are assumed to still remain in our original wild form. “Our modern skulls house a stone age mind”1. For humans the Darwinian era was presumed to have ended with the Neolithic Revolution. Based on ethnographies of modern forager societies, at the dawn of the settled agrarian era people were impulsive, violent, innumerate, and lazy. Abstract reasoning abilities were limited. If we are biologically identical with these populations then only the thin patina of civilization separates us from the underlying violence and impulsivity of human nature. Scratch away that restraint and we would revert to our natural passions.

In my recent book, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World I argue two things. First that all societies remained in a state I label the “Malthusian economy” up until the onset of the Industrial Revolution around 1800. In that state crucially the economic laws governing all human societies before 1800 were those that govern all animal societies. Second that was thus subject to natural selection throughout the Malthusian era, even after the arrival of settled agrarian societies with the Neolithic Revolution.

The Darwinian struggle that shaped human nature did not end with the Neolithic Revolution but continued right up until the Industrial Revolution. But the arrival of settled agriculture and stable property rights set natural selection on a very different course. It created an accelerated period of evolution, rewarding with reproductive success a new repertoire of human behaviors – patience, self-control, passivity, and hard work – which consequently spread widely.

And we see in England, from at least 1250, that the kind of people who succeeded in the economic system – who accumulated assets, got skills, got literacy – increased their representation in each generation. Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial Revolution man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern economic world. Modern people are thus in part a creation of the market economies that emerged with the Neolithic Revolution. Just as people shaped economies, the pre-industrial economy shaped people. This has left the people of long settled agrarian societies substantially different now from our hunter gatherer ancestors, in terms of culture, and likely also in terms of biology. We are also presumably equivalently different from groups like Australian Aboriginals that never experience the Neolithic Revolution before the arrival of the English settlers in 1788.

The argument here thus unites the doctrines of Malthus and Darwin in studying human history. This is intellectually satisfying since Charles Darwin himself proclaimed his inspiration for On the Origin of Species was Malthus’s On a Principle of Population. ...


David Backus said...

Interesting, still not sure I get it. OK, since 1200 or so rich had more kids so their genetic differences were passed on. Could be true, interesting idea to consider. But the big change with the industrial revolution was that Malthusian population dynamics changed: rich people and societies had fewer kids, not more. So I don't see Clark's mechanism working the same way over the last 150-200 years -- more likely the opposite. Did I miss something?

steve hsu said...

You have it right -- the last 200 years may have been different. He's really talking about the earlier period.

Clark claims to have plausible evidence for the rich replacing the poor in the 600+ years leading up to the industrial revolution, in places that had agriculture (at minimum) and possibly fastest in places that had well-developed markets, rule of law, etc. (i.e. -- nations of shopkeepers :-)

The most uncertain connection is between heritable traits and economic success. But people familiar with the IQ or personality trait (e.g., Conscientiousness, future time orientation) literature would find this plausible, I think.

Michael Manley said...

I suppose the author might also claim that Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians, etc. are less likely to develop the diseases of civilization like obesity, insanity, blogging, etc.

"impulsive, violent, innumerate, and lazy" vs. "patience, self-control, passivity, and hard work"

negative, negative, negative, negative vs. positive, positive, ?, positive.

"We are also presumably equivalently different from groups like Australian Aboriginals"

Who's "we"?

"And we see in England, from at least 1250, that the kind of people who succeeded in the economic system – who accumulated assets, got skills, got literacy – increased their representation in each generation."

Again, who is "we"?
You should have posted the evidence for this statement Prof Chung. What you have posted has no evidence.

steve hsu said...

I suggest you read Clark's paper and perhaps his book.

steve hsu said...

The title of my post was probably confusing. I don't mean that Clark claims that this kind of selection is still operative (actually, most likely the opposite). What I meant was that it would be amusing if 21st century research ends up vindicating the views of Social Darwinists from 200 years ago.

Jin Dih said...

That would take some time. I started listening to his UCLA talk. Less than a minute in I got that sick feeling in my stomach. This guy isn't very smart. He's probably never heard of Henry Maudsley. That laugh after every sentence. The absurd chart of living standards which shoots up at 1800.

botti said...

***So I don't see Clark's mechanism working the same way over the last 150-200 years -- more likely the opposite. Did I miss something? ***

No, that is correct (see Seymour Itzkoff's book, 'The Decline of Intelligence in America'). As Steve points out, Clark is referring to changes in the lead up to the Industrial Revolution.

Interestingly, over a similar period skulls apparently changed.

"Researchers have found that the shape of the human skull has changed significantly over the past 650 years.

Modern people possess less prominent features but higher foreheads than our medieval ancestors.

They looked at 30 skulls dating from the mid-14th Century. They had come from the unlucky victims of the plague. The skulls had been excavated from plague pits in the 1980s in London.

Another 54 skulls examined by the team were recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose which sank off the south coast of England in 1545.

All the skulls were compared with 31 recent orthodontic records from the School of Dentistry in Birmingham.

Dr Peter Rock, lead author of the study and director of orthodontistry at Birmingham University, told the BBC News website: "The astonishing finding is the increased cranial vault heights.

"The increase is very considerable. For example, the vault height of the plague skulls were 80mm, and the modern ones were 95mm - that's in the order of 20% bigger, which is really rather a lot."

Shawn said...

The PC Left hijacked this area of science; many of the most committed Leftists, such as Stephen Gould, were knowingly deceptive.

I do think that modern research will vindicate theories that were common sense in the days of yesteryear.

Shawn said...

As a compassionate society, we can and should offer many types of assistance to the poor, who tend to be lower IQ and more psychologically unstable. The lower classes have in recent history tended to promote devolution of humans by the fact they have more children than non-Proles. As has been pointed out, this was never the case throughout human history. In order to remain a compassionate country common sense eugenic policies should be part of national policy in order to combat this poisonous trend -- hopefully reversing it.

Jin Dih said...

A century from now will heriditarian wackos try to explain the computer with genetic change in the US population?

There has been change since the Agricultural Revolution. The size of the teeth of various human populations is related to how long that population has practiced farming or pastoralism.

This author seeks a biological explanation for technology. This is prima facie ridiculous. It is an extreme example of what the French call deformation professionnelle.

Capitalism is not anything new, but part of the prevailing ideology is that democracy and capitalism are the same thing.

"Industrial Revolution" (and "Agricultural Revolution") is an example of a term which is assumed by its users to refer to a real thing but doesn't. Technological advances haven't been faster in the last 200 years, they have just been more powerful.

anon said...

Yes, I never thought that "wogs begin at Calais" would reappear as 21st century quantitative biologico-economic history.
Evidently I was not yet cynical enough.

botti said...

Here is another 'bio-history' type paper, this one in relation to the fall of the Roman Empire.

"Over the last 10,000 years, the human genome has changed at an accelerating rate. This change seems to
reflect adaptations to new social, cultural, and behavioral environments, including the rise of the State
and its monopoly on violence. State societies punish individuals, especially young men, who act violently
on their own initiative. This is in contrast to non-State societies, where such behavior is usually vital to
male success. Thus, given the moderate to high heritability of male aggressiveness, the rise of the State
created a new adaptive landscape that removed violence-prone males while favoring their more
submissive counterparts.

This behavioral change is described with respect to the Roman State and its internal war against banditry
and other forms of entrepreneurial violence. By late imperial times, this effort had succeeded so well that
Romans saw themselves as being inherently less violent than the ‘barbarians’ beyond their borders. In
creating a pacified and submissive population, the Empire was also conducive to the spread of
Christianity—a religion dedicated to pacifism and submission. In sum, the Roman State imposed a
behavioral change that over time altered the mix of genotypes in the population, thus facilitating a
subsequent ideological change."

Chuck said...

"A century from now will heriditarian wackos try to explain the computer with genetic change in the US population?"

A century from now, will environmentalist wackos still try to explain all human differentiation in non-genetics terms and try to portray all genetic change as being unrelated to social and technological factors -- even after people have begun to practice widespread genetic-engineering?

Start getting use to the idea of difference. Because that 10,000 years explosion is likely on the verge of acceleration.

Chuck said...

""impulsive, violent, innumerate, and lazy" vs. "patience, self-control, passivity, and hard work""

You sound like an "anti-racist" scold.' If that's the concern -- if it helps -- form a Nietzschean perspective, these domesticated folk, productive as they are, don't represent much of worth. So you could could say: "creative, vital, passionate, and willful" instead "boring, dull, tame, and well trained." Why would you expect a persons who thinks he has been domesticated and house broken to think ill of that?

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