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The Argument From Cultural Evolution

[Content note: Discussion of debate over gay marriage]
[Epistemic status: Very preliminary. Probably missing something. Looking forward to hearing what.]

The term “cultural evolution” is getting used a lot nowadays. In its simplest form, it just means cultures preserve useful ideas and tips. For example, as per Carcinization:

[The Lost European Explorer] experiment has been repeated many times when European explorers were stranded in an unfamiliar habitat. Despite desperate efforts and ample learning time, these hardy men and women suffered or died because they lacked crucial information about how to adapt to the habitat. The Franklin Expedition of 1846 illustrates this point. Sir John Franklin, a Fellow of the Royal Society and an experienced Arctic traveler, set out to find the Northwest Passage, and spent two ice-bound winters in the Arctic, the second on King William Island. Everyone eventually perished from starvation and scurvy. The Central Inuit have lived around King William Island for at least 700 years. This area is rich in animal resources. Nonetheless, the British explorers starved because they did not have the necessary local knowledge, and despite being endowed with the same cognitive abilities as the Inuit, and having two years to use these abilities, failed to learn the skills necessary to subsist in this habitat.

Presumably, the Inuit neither conducted deliberate centralized experiments to determine what food in their area was edible, nor derived the information from explicit understanding of the principles of nutrition. Rather, over thousands of years, various proposals like “eat those yummy-looking red berries that grow on the small bushes” and “always hunt seals in large groups” were accidentally tested, with the successful ones spreading until they became universal tradition and the disastrous ones being warned against as taboo. Without any deliberate effort, the Inuit ended out with a remarkably effective set of survival techniques.

Something like this seems so obviously true as to not require further discussion.

However, recently “cultural evolution” has slipped, without much consideration, into a much stronger meaning. For example, in his commentary on Ross Douthat’s article on gay marriage, Tumblr user severnayazemlya writes:

What Douthat is saying is that there was some system that existed sometime in the past that was more human-shaped than Marcotte’s vision for the future. Gavin McInnes has said the same.

The conservative argument is that the cultural inheritance that the past hands down to the present is more human-shaped than most reforms proposed in the present – because there were reformers in the past, and, absent major breaks in the continuity, past reforms have had time to be tested for their fit: those that worked were kept, and those that didn’t were discarded.

Likewise, on one of my recent blog posts, commenter Steve Johnson writes:

Every surviving cultural tradition on Earth is hostile to homosexuality – that’s no accident. That’s cultural evolution in action.

This form of cultural evolution seems to work something like so: our culture, and indeed most cultures, used to have a certain conception of marriage. That conception of marriage outcompeted other conceptions of marriage from the distant past all the way to the present. Societies with alternative conceptions of marriage seem to have died out. That suggests that this conception contains something useful; even if we can’t see it we should be wary of interfering with it, in the same way we are wary to disrupt our body’s metabolic balance or alter genes willy-nilly.

The difference between the obvious Inuit form of cultural evolution and the non-obvious marriage form is that of within-culture versus between-cultures evolution.

Consider: one Inuit tries the red berries and discovers they make her sick. Out of pure self-interest, she decides not to eat them again, and tells her friends the same. Also out of self-interest, they decide not to eat them; those who think they can get away with eating them anyway are quickly disabused of the notion. The taboo against eating red berries quickly spreads throughout the culture.

Marriage doesn’t seem to work that way. If one person decides not to marry in the usual way, it doesn’t necessarily hurt that person. They might have lots of affairs, and enjoy them. Or they might get gay married, and enjoy that. Any claim that cultural evolution argues against gay marriage because it’s bad for the actual gay-married person must face the fact that actually gay-married people seem totally okay with it, and in fact are urging their friends to do it, the exact opposite of the red berry situation.

So I interpret it as a different claim: a culture that allows gay marriage will, for various reasons, become weak and unsuccessful. Then it will be crushed by other cultures, either militarily, economically, or in a sort of marketplace of ideas where people convert to or assimilate into the other culture because it’s more attractive and successful.

Note that THIS IS REALLY DIFFERENT FROM THE FIRST TYPE OF CULTURAL EVOLUTION. In fact, it might be diametrically opposite. For example, gay sex may be lots of fun – and as people figure this out and tell their friends, it will be positively selected through the first type of cultural evolution. But it might weaken a culture’s Moral Fabric – in which case it will be negatively selected through the second type of cultural evolution.

This is sort of group selectionism, but in this case I’m okay with it. Consider the analogy of a cancer cell. Becoming cancerous makes a cell much more likely to spread within its organism – the equivalent of positive intracultural selection – but also makes its organism at a severe disadvantage compared to other organisms – the equivalent of negative intercultural selection. As a result, we expect organisms to evolve strong internal defenses against cancer – which in fact they have. In the same way, it’s plausible that cultures might evolve strong internal defenses against actions that are fun but Weaken Moral Fabric, and sure enough we find that everything halfway enjoyable comes with a lecture from our elders about Why We Shouldn’t Do It. Presumably if these things really Weaken Moral Fabric in an important way, then those cultures that develop strong internal defenses against them – for example, a strong and well-enforced religious taboo against gay marriage – will be more likely succeed while other cultures die out.

So in principle this kind of intercultural selection could happen. In practice I think the effect is negligible.

Evolutionary biology has a lot of equations to calculate how long it will take a positively-selected trait to spread. It depends on a lot of different things, but the most salient here are the length of a generation for the affected organism, and the extent of the selective advantage conferred by the trait.

How long is a “generation” in cultural evolution? Rome lasted a thousand years, Byzantium another thousand. It took about three hundred years for Christianity to replace paganism in Rome; Enlightenment values have been replacing Christianity for three hundred years already and aren’t nearly done. Any sort of evolutionary process that involves waiting for Rome to fall is a process that will take way longer than human history to come to any sort of conclusion.

How much advantage can an individual cultural trait confer? Probably very small in the grand scheme of things. Compare Judeo-Christian attitudes about sex to Greco-Roman attitudes about sex. One might argue that the Judeo-Christian attitudes are superior, since Christianity did eventually take over Rome. On the other hand, both Greece and Rome took over Israel at various points; various Jewish texts record that during that time a lot of Jews were defecting to Greco-Roman culture and there were precious few defections the other way. It would seem that all of the other differences between Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian culture – theology, non-sexual mores, geography, technology, philosophy – had a lot more effect than the sexual mores.

This is also unsurprising from a population biology perspective. Suppose that one of my children gets a mutation causing 1% less risk of infectious disease. This is fine, but they might get killed in a car accident before their tenth birthday, or be too ugly to find a partner, or get an infectious disease anyway because 1% less risk isn’t really much less risk. If my child survives, and passes her mutation on to millions of other people all with their randomly distributed level of other good and bad genes and good and bad luck, then maybe eventually over thousands of generations, people with the new beneficial mutation will take over from people without it.

But, as mentioned above, we don’t have thousands of generations for cultural evolution to do anything. Communism, which basically took all of the worst ideas in history, combined them together into a package deal, and said “Let’s do all of these at once”, took almost a century to collapse, and still hasn’t collapsed in a couple of places. Imagine if instead of Communism happening, twenty different countries had adopted one Communist ideal each and we’d waited to see which ones grew and which ones declined. We’d still be waiting, and probably instead of getting any useful information we’d just end up seeing the Rise of China and not being sure whether it was because of their Communist ideal or something else.

The closest thing I can think of to anyone actually gaining useful information out of cultural evolution is the failure of various small communes and social experiments. But once again, these only failed because they tried all the bad ideas at once, and a big part of their failure was intracultural evolution – the people involved noticed they, personally, were poor and unhappy, said “screw this”, and went back to non-communal living.

So overall, I think any appeal to intercultural evolution as having proven anything is on very shaky ground. Appeal to intracultural evolution is much more reasonable, but crucially, can’t be used to override people’s own decisions about whether they’re happy doing something or not. If someone says “I enjoy this, and I’ve been doing it a few years and not noticed any bad consequences, and I suggest you do it as well”, then you’re going to have a hard time arguing against the practice on grounds of cultural evolution.

[EDIT: Actually, this leaves out a possible third kind of cultural evolution, where cultures try good ideas, learn to like them, and stick with them; or try bad ideas, learn to hate them, and stop. For example, China experimented with Maoism, that didn’t work, then experimented with a variant of capitalism and liked it enough to stick with it thus far. Given that something similar is happening on smaller scales (eg experimentation in policing, education, budgeting, etc) all the time, you could eventually end up with a pretty finely-tuned culture. This obviously happens, but it seems loaded to think of this as ‘cultural evolution’ instead of just ‘guess and check’ or ‘learn from history’. The former formulation suggests something illegible to understanding; the latter formulation suggests that it happens by deliberate human responses to bad consequences, and makes it less of an excuse for general conservativism.

If you say “Let’s be Maoist!” I can say “No, the Chinese tried that, it led to X, Y, and Z consequences, and then they switched to something else and things got better.” The cultural evolution argument for traditional sexuality seems to be trying to argue in the absence of, or in parallel to, such observable historical lessons.

Likewise, there’s a cultural evolution argument that we tried traditional sexuality, that made a lot of people unhappy, and now we’re trying something else. It’s unclear how this is different from the Maoism example in a way that makes jettisoning Maoism good, but jettisoning traditional sexuality bad.]

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674 Responses to The Argument From Cultural Evolution

  1. Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

    I think, offhand, that some cultural traits might confer significant advantage. However, this effect might generally be limited to niche applications.

    Just as a totally random stab in the dark, the Swiss penchant for hiding in the mountains and ignoring everybody else’s problems.

    Importantly, this falls under the first type of cultural evolution. One person builds his house really high in the mountains, and the Austrian Army looking for him gets fed up and leaves before finding him. Someone else wanders out of the mountains, and get murdered by the same army and his children are shipped off to the New World as indentured servants (roughly part of my family history). Individuals notice which strategy is more effective and the practice spreads.

    But being able to hide in the mountains presupposes you have mountains to hide in so it is at best a niche adaptation.

    I think, maybe, an interesting suggestion for the second type might be dueling? Individual duelers see significant benefits to the practice. Honor, and such like. But society as a whole pushes strongly to ban the practice and eventually it disappears. Whether that is because the new norm is superior, or the arbitrary and capricious spasms of culture are significantly stronger than individual actors is… debatable?

    I don’t think “gay sex is fun so don’t do it” is one that confers much advantage.

    • nydwracu says:

      Just as a totally random stab in the dark, the Swiss penchant for hiding in the mountains and ignoring everybody else’s problems.

      Compare the Semai and the Moriori.

      • Nornagest says:

        The Wikipedia page on the Semai seems mostly concerned with noble-savage stuff that I distrust. Got a better source?

        • In Cannibals and Kings Marvin Harris names the Semai as one of a handful of peoples who have never been reported to wage war (that is, organized intergroup homicide), along with the Andaman Islanders, the California-Nevada Shoshone, the Yahgan, the California Mission Indians and the Tasaday (although it turned out after the book was published that the Tasaday were probably a hoax).

  2. DanielLC says:

    I think it’s pretty obvious why cultures tend to evolve to oppose gay marriage. People who oppose gay marriage are more likely to end up in heterosexual relationships, have children, and pass on their standards to them. If you don’t care about this, you shouldn’t be worried about gay marriage. If you do care about having tons of kids, I suggest donating sperm.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I think it speaks volumes that it didn’t even occur to a post analyzing cultural evolution and gay marriage to consider the aspect of actual physical reproduction. The only aspect which occurred to him was “is this fun?”

      • anodognosic says:

        Um, maybe because homosexuality has somehow not been obliterated by evolution already.

        • keranih says:

          That a trait exists in the population does not make it advantageous – see cleft palates.

          • anodognosic says:

            The point is that it has survived.

          • keranih says:

            No, it keeps appearing. That doesn’t mean it helps at all, just that whatever process leads to the condition – like, for another example, Down’s Syndrome – is too conserved to change. This isn’t an indication that the trait has “survived.”

        • Deiseach says:

          homosexuality has somehow not been obliterated by evolution already

          Depends on what the genetic bases for it are; is it a chromosomal abnormality like Down’s Syndrome (so you can keep aborting foetuses diagnosed with Down’s, and preventing them from reproducing, but it’s not going to extinguish Down’s Syndrome from reoccurring in the population unless or until we find a way to diagnose and correct errors in the aging maternal ova before fertilisation) or is it something more like eye colour?

          • onyomi says:

            My guess is that it is an inevitable side effect of having sexual dimorphism in the first place. Any man must also have within him the genes for making a woman, and while women don’t have Y chromosomes, they still must contribute half of the other genes to making a successful man.

            Though there is probably some nurture/environment component (identical twins don’t always share the same sexual orientation, though they very often do), sexual orientation probably depends on the precise calibration of all sorts of hormones and such. And we know that it’s not as if men have no estrogen and women no testosterone. It’s just that the levels are different. If a certain ratio of hormones produces “be attracted to men,” then that combination is bound to occur in some men, even if evolution biases it toward occurring in women.

            Even if we assume that homosexuality is maladaptive (which it is for the individual’s reproduction, but which I don’t think it is for the genes’ overall chances of survival via relatives), it probably cannot be eliminated any more than women with relatively deep voices or men with gynecomastia could be eliminated.

        • J.V. Dubois says:

          There is a research that strongly linked male homosexuality to fertility of female relatives. This can explain why homosexuality was not selected against during evolutionary process. So at least in this case it seems that homosexuality is at least sideffect of a process beneficiary to reproduction.

          • Ethologist says:

            Precisely. The whole cultural evolution argument of homosexuality is nonsense. But I think that it has to do with increased fertility in an indirect way. It has to do with increased attraction to male characteristics. Females that are more attracted to male characteristics will tend to reproduce more. And their male siblings that are also more attracted to male characteristics will tend to be more homosexual. For millions of years humans have been evolving towards less sexual dimorphism, which means less attraction to male characteristics. Ironically, selecting for male characteristics fosters the very type of tournament species environment in which homosexuals (at least those on the “receiving” end) are derided and picked on. Tournament species male primates mount other males as a display of dominance. Many humans haven’t evolved out of this stuff as many call “gay” anything that is seen as “unmanly”, “weak”. This obsession with masculine characteristics and strength is the typical point of view of tournament species male primates and their groupies. One of the worse insults that is hurled at others is “coward” which again shows that many still function as tournament species primates.

      • Texan99 says:

        Cultural reproduction works by transmitting ideas and getting people to adopt them. Having kids and raising them in an effort to get them to agree with your ideas is only one way to get people to adopt ideas–an important one, but not necessarily the dominant one from the point of view of the “natural selection” analogy that operates in cultural evolution.

        We may find that societies wealthy enough–or otherwise successful enough–to maintain a replacement-level rate of reproduction don’t have to worry about a noticeable percentage of people opting out of traditional sexual relations and reproduction. Maybe in the past this was rarely feasible, and therefore scarcely tolerated. It’s not yet clear whether it’s feasible now, but the issue is not solely with homosexuality: I’d guess that birth control is a lot more dangerous experiment.

        • Skeptical Enlightenment says:

          I think of it as “wealth disease”. As the society grows in affluence there is a greater quantity if idle, non-productive time in which to pursue fanciful notions not tied to productive endeavors. Soon they forget that productivity is a necessary condition of survival and it’s all downhill from there.

          I think it started when we moved from subsistence farming into organized agriculture and therefore enabled the rise of the priest and ruling classes who no longer needed to produce materially for their own individual survival.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Whenever I run across somebody who is clearly a total waste of space, like a self-important bureaucrat or a shrieky performance artist, I try to think, “Go humans: we are so successful that we can support even this excrescence!”

            I don’t always succeed, of course.

          • Matt M says:

            Doctor Mist: I feel the same way dealing with my leftie friends on Facebook whenever they complain about athletes or movie stars making so much money and saying “if only we spent that on feeding the homeless.”

            I usually respond with something like, “Wow, it’s amazing that we’re so lucky to live in a society with such unbelievable wealth that we can reasonably support paying people hundreds of millions of dollars to play a game that provides us with mild amusement for a few hours a week!”

    • Anon says:

      “People who oppose gay marriage are more likely to end up in heterosexual relationships, have children, and pass on their standards to them.”

      How does opposing gay marriage lead to ending up in a heterosexual relationship? Wouldn’t supporting gay marriage be preferred, as it removes potential competitors? This would seem to indicate that men should be in favor of SSM for homosexual males but not females, which is….not the observed reality, to put it mildly.

      • Mary says:

        Most homosexuals of this day who have children did so by sleeping with a member of the opposite sex.

        You desire this for your children and other relatives, you have more grandchildren and other relatives. Your genes get passed on.

        Remember that those closest to them have more interest in their having children than in their not competing.

        • Anonymous says:

          Does “interest” refer to what people want, or what gets their genes passed on?

          Because the two can be diametrically opposed. (And if the latter wins out . . . it’s Moloch all the way down.)

        • Advael says:

          It seems from what I’ve read that homosexual behavior is common among a lot of animals, and has been common in humans for at least large portions of recorded history. It also seems like there’s a genetic component to one’s sexual orientation. However, I think the particular Abrahamic-tradition abhorrence of homosexuality has colored our culture in a key way: Sexual orientation is viewed as a key component of one’s identity, not merely a behavior.

          I totally buy that most people have a genetically-encoded strong preference for opposite-sex partners, and that there exist genes that tend to produce people with strong preferences for same-sex partners. However, in cultural traditions that weren’t strongly influenced by Abrahamic religion, let’s say greco-roman because it’s already been brought up and is a good example, often individuals with the means to will engage in sex with partners of both sexes, even while strongly preferring one or the other. This is also in line with behaviors exhibited by close relatives of humans.

          This implies to me that sexual orientation is similar to gender in this way: Something with a biological component that cultures can become obsessed with, double down on, and produce identity-groups that may be divided on somewhat phenotype-dictated lines, but also contain rules (Straight people shalt not ever have gay sex, gay people shalt not ever have straight sex, bisexuals are a group in and of themselves, all of these groups have telltale ways they act and dress and look) that are not strongly implied by the phenotypes, and may even be unrelated, essentially cultural cruft.

          This seems like a kind of “subcultural evolution” in itself. A culture that puts social mores in place about something that doesn’t directly impact survival (as opposed to e.g. eating red berries) will often form subcultures on both sides of the issue. After all, if you’re in a culture that says “no gay sex”, then you either conform and identify with your culture, i.e. as someone who never has gay sex, or you like gay sex enough to say “no, that’s stupid and I like gay sex, I’m forming a splinter group” (Or more realistically, form a splinter group in secret for a long time until they stop stoning homosexuals to death). Either way, human tribalism plays out. Groups band together and outgroup people not in their group to better their survival, a time-tested human strategy. Tribes form traditions and also stereotypes about outgroups, and thus cultural cruft around these dichotomies of identity tends to start accumulating.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            However, I think the particular Abrahamic-tradition abhorrence of homosexuality has colored our culture in a key way: Sexual orientation is viewed by these cultures as a key component of one’s identity, not a behavior.

            Given that the idea of “sexual orientation” didn’t come about till the 19th century, I think there must be other factors behind this than just the Abrahamic religions and their sexual ethics.

    • kernly says:

      Wrong. Cultures oppose homosexuality and other perversions simply because perversion is harmful. Why? Well, we’ve gotta go case by case. Homosexuality is obvious: disease, plus people neglecting their duty to have children. The wrong sort of marriages – polygamy, or cousin marriage – create very strong and large families, which proceed act in their own interests, harming the state and the church. Polyamory leads to disease, the wrong sort of marriage, and children with less resources. Incest leads to much lower quality offspring. BDSM creates potential injuries, and if tolerated cover for real abusers. Female led relationships make the leader of the household and the person who can easily be held to account different people. Oral and anal sex create new disease routes. Adultry makes marriages weaker, spreads disease, and leads to children without dedicated fathers.

      One might point out that while those problems might once have been very severe, for various reasons they might be much, much less important than they were in the old days. Disease, for instance, is much less threatening. States are much more powerful, better able to handle rebellious elements of society should they become troublesome. Abortions and contraceptives are available, and that means sex and procreation are trivially decoupled. Children don’t go hungry because a family simply can’t get food, though parental incompetence does still make some become hungry and/or malnourished. There are far more of us, and we’re far more wealthy than ever before, so we a lot of things that would have been devastating may now be trivial.

      That’s fine, and I actually think it’s a compelling set of reasons to tolerate lots of weird, previously intolerable sexual behaviors. The issue I have is that while the problems of yesterday might not apply, new problems seem to be cropping up. The most obvious is dysgenics – stupider people reproduce more, in the modern age. This wasn’t a problem in the past because so many children died that if you were at the bottom of society it was pretty bad for your reproductive prospects, regardless of how much you copulated. Ironically the feeble remnants of our old, restrictive order serve mostly to make this problem worse by preventing the dispensation of free birth control and sex education. But I think our new world order is a much bigger problem, as it has effectively crushed any discussion of eugenics, which survived in the past despite strident church opposition.

      There is also the matter of societal cohesion. Even if strict standards do nothing else, they create a more cohesive society. All militaries are fond of forcing soldiers, when not in battle, to obey various rules that are pointless in and of themselves. But the enforcement and adherence to rules, even if completely silly and arbitrary, binds people together. Our society seems to me to be flying apart, with polarization and alienation becoming more and more widespread. I seriously doubt that this all can be laid at the door of relaxed sexual norms, but it might not be a good idea to strip away anything that was holding us together, without making some effort to replace it with something else.

      • ozymandias says:

        So, wait, cultures ban BDSM so it doesn’t provide cover for abusers, but… fail to ban abuse?

        • Moshe Zadka says:

          Ozy, I’m so impressed that you managed to slog through the grandparent comment, I’m awarding you a charity gold star!

          I must admit that I gave up the 3rd time “wrong marriage” was mentioned without any a-priori criteria for what is “right marriage”.

          • kernly says:

            This is like objecting to a list of various poisons because “it doesn’t mention anywhere what the right thing to put in your mouth is!” Keep up the good work.

        • kernly says:

          They did ban “abuse.” Of course. Leftists think the state can solve every problem, and despite what people here seem to think they didn’t magically spring into existence in the past few decades. They have been with us in this country for as long as it existed, bless their hearts.

          http://www.debunker.com/texts/ruleofthumb.html

          The Massachusetts Bay Colony prohibited wife-beating as early as 1655. The edict states: “No man shall strike his wife nor any woman her husband on penalty of such fine not exceeding ten pounds for one offense, or such corporal punishment as the County shall determine.”

          …according to an 1882 Maryland statute, the culprit could receive forty lashes at the whipping post; in Delaware, the number was thirty. In New Mexico, fines ranging from $225 to $1000 were levied, or sentences of one to five years in prison imposed. For most of our history, in fact, wife-beating has been considered a sin comparable to to thievery or adultery. Religious groups — especially Protestant groups such as Quakers, Methodists, and Baptists — punished, shunned, and excommunicated wife-beaters. Husbands, brothers, and neighbors often took vengence against the batterer. Vigilante parties sometimes abducted wife-beaters and whipped them.

          The article you linked was typical leftist idiocy. It was not “the feminist movement” that oh so bravely began to challenge wife-beaters – the anti wife-beater movement has much, much deeper roots in this country. As anyone with any knowledge of our history ought to know. Feminists pushed that beyond any bounds of reason, and now a man can be arrested for being hit by his wife. So that’s nice, I guess.

          Obviously by our modern standards the justice system of yesteryear was quite inadequate, even compared to our modern justice system. Then even more than now, the primary avenue for dealing with minor problems did not involve the state. The police don’t get involved for every scuffle, whether it’s in the streets or in a home. Maybe they should. It would require a radically different police force, which might be possible now but certainly wasn’t gonna happen in the past.

          Saying “don’t hit your wife” is simpler than “don’t hit your wife, well, unless she said she was OK with it.” I have no idea how you enforce the latter principle, unless people start getting in the habit of signing sex contracts. Which they won’t fucking do. Cultures ban (noteworthy) BDSM partly *as a side effect* of banning “abuse.” People who are willing participants just don’t usually run to the police. If you get a black eye and go to the police, and say “my husband did this…” I’ll bet your husband is gonna get a visit very shortly, even if you enjoyed it. Even if you tell them you enjoyed it. Even if you signed a sex contract and show it to them.

          If you need further clarification, let me know.

      • Brendan Long says:

        This is interesting, but I think you’ve been (probably unintentionally) cherry-picking. Why are these particular behaviors so intolerable when society will tolerate much worse?

        For example, you mentioned “disease” several times, but pre-modern cultures were remarkably tolerant of people dumping feces into the water supply, into streets, etc. Our own culture tolerates huge amounts of pollution for personal pleasure (the entire meat industry, for example).

        You mentioned strong families being a problem several times, but I was under the impression that strong clan-style families were the norm before modern times. Also, if various sexual preferences were selected against so strongly due to this, I’d wonder why we also have traditions that strengthen clan-style families (like transferring women between families when they get married instead of allowing them to be part of both).

        And if BDSM is bad because it could cause injuries, why do we treat people who participate in sports so differently than people who participate in BDSM? And if BDSM is bad enough to be selected against, how is it that pretty much every time period has something like gladiator battles, jousting, or rugby?

        • kernly says:

          Why are these particular behaviors so intolerable when society will tolerate much worse?

          Like what? I can think of lots of “worse” things. There are two problems. One, they’re worse in my opinion. What actually gets the whacks is something that most people think is bad, which means that lots of things that lots of people think are the worst thing ever will be naturally tolerated simply because most people are indifferent.

          Two, they’re often part of a subset of things that are important, and might be difficult to extricate – for example, I have a lot of problems with the behavior of bankers but I think they are net-beneficial in this system. In order to actually deal with the malfeasance I have to do it in a way that doesn’t crush their productivity, and that other people agree with. So there can be something that everyone thinks is bad, but nobody agrees about how to deal with, and nothing happens.

          For example, you mentioned “disease” several times, but pre-modern cultures were remarkably tolerant of people dumping feces into the water supply, into streets, etc.

          They were just pig-ignorant. If the people in charge back then believed our modern disease theory, they would have acted very differently.

          You mentioned strong families being a problem several times, but I was under the impression that strong clan-style families were the norm before modern times.

          As I alluded to before, families can’t be too strong – that’s absolutely disastrous. Huge efforts went into destroying the strength of families, and the results have been incredibly great (in my opinion.) Of course, that’s not pertinent to what I was writing about, which was not “families” of anywhere near the breadth and strength of the clans of old (and of modernity, in some places), but the nuclear “family.” Which should be “strong” in the sense of “resilient” as opposed to other kinds of “strength,” like military or political or whatever.

          I’d wonder why we also have traditions that strengthen clan-style families (like transferring women between families when they get married instead of allowing them to be part of both).

          We’ve gone to incredible lengths to destroy clan-style families in the west, even banning sixth-cousin marriage at one point, and banning re-marriage. I don’t know what you’re trying to say about “transferring women.” They have to go somewhere. Unless they’re capable of mitosis, they’re gonna be in one place or the other. It’s not like the family of women who got married act like they’re unrelated afterwords, or ever did so.

          And if BDSM is bad because it could cause injuries, why do we treat people who participate in sports so differently than people who participate in BDSM?

          Well, we didn’t allow women to participate in rough sports. The “women getting hurt” is the real issue, then and now. We still keep women off football fields (the not-soccer kind) and out of combat.

          I wouldn’t say “BDSM was selected against” – I WOULD say “the kind of society that accepts BDSM was selected against.” Radical sexual permissiveness is necessary for whipping women to be kosher, and while women getting whipped in and of itself isn’t a problem as far as I can reason, the permissiveness certainly is.

          • Susebron says:

            So some disease-spreading behaviors were selected against by the blind forces of cultural evolution, but ignorance meant that other, significantly worse disease-spreading behaviors were perfectly fine?

        • Null Hypothesis says:

          Taking a stab in the dark here. Sports and tournament fighting provide large-scale entertainment, and encourage fitness and military skill. Which is likely a very good trade-off for risk of injury.

          Risking equivalent injury to get a thrill out of your weird kink? Probably not so much. I’m not saying your point is wrong, but you’ll have to do better than comparing BDSM to sports to claim a discrepancy of aversion to risk of injury.

        • Anong says:

          if BDSM is bad because it could cause injuries, why do we treat people who participate in sports so differently than people who participate in BDSM?

          Because sports aren’t impossible to tell from abuse from the outside.

          If two thousand men gather to watch two men box or wrestle, every last man jack knows what’s going on, sees the whole thing, understands the social context, knows there are referees present, &c. &c. If a woman shows up with a shiner or huge bleeding whipmarks and then claims she was asking for it and it’s fine, it’s no big deal, anyone rational will be wildly suspicious. And even if convinced it was consensual, her relatives might be the shit out of/kill the husband — and this is all taking for granted that wanting to engage in BDSM isn’t an inherently sick impulse, which I think is accepted as given far more readily and more often than it ought to be.

      • anodognosic says:

        Lesbianism has a far lower rate of STI transmission than heterosexual sex. Is it thus more adaptive?

        • Jiro says:

          I think it is fair to say that lesbianism has had less stigma than male homosexuality.

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          I think there are a number of problems with kernly’s argument, but I don’t think this is one of them. Lesbianism doesn’t have the problem of disease, but still leads to “people neglecting their duty to have children.” So based on these values it may make sense (depending on how you value disease prevention versus reproduction) to oppose lesbianism, but to oppose it less vigorously than male homosexuality. Which is exactly what you see in socities, past and present, where homosexuals are persecuted: the penalties for female homosexuality are in most cases much less severe than the penalties for male homosexuality.

      • Illuminati Initiate says:

        “Female led relationships make the leader of the household and the person who can easily be held to account different people.”.

        I definitely do not get this one. Why is it harder to hold female household heads accountable?

        • Alraune says:

          Honestly, I’m not sure what he means by that one. I’m guessing legal double standards?

          • ReaperReader says:

            I was puzzled too. Reluctance to throw pregnant women in the stocks, or deprive babies of their mother? (Back when pregnancy was much more common.)

        • kernly says:

          Because the main person responsible for keeping a wife’s behavior in line was her husband. Of course there were and are legal double standards, but they aren’t nearly as relevant.

          • wysinwyg says:

            It is a weird notion — I don’t think women are especially more prone to bad behavior than men are.

            In fact, young men engage in a lot more risk-taking and violence than women of any age as far as I can tell. I also tend to think it’s fair to extrapolate that tendency into other cultures as I suspect it’s partly physiological.

            It seems more likely to me that in the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural ones, men became more important because of the necessity for a class of professional soldiers, which men were simply better suited for. I don’t think we need to conjecture about some female incapacity for “being held to account”.

            A specific example of how women can’t be “held to account” might help — I’m really not sure what you mean by that phrase.

          • Deiseach says:

            By that argument, who keeps the husband’s behaviour in line? If the misbehaving wife who breaks the laws or offends custom is to be disciplined by her husband, who disciplines the law-breaking male?

            Your argument breaks down there, as if a society produces female-led households, then there will be some means of keeping them accountable the same way as male-led households are kept accountable; if not a formal legal structure, or hierarchical structure where the head of the guild/village headsman/liege lord was responsible, then the family, clan or other blood-relations, e.g. from “The Law of the Couple” (a legal text of Early Irish law covering broadly a period from the 9th-12th centuries):

            Union of an heiress: (3) Union of a man on a woman’s contribution: in that case, the husband goes in the track of the wife and wife in the track of the husband. If he is a man of service he receives a ninth of the corn; and of the salt meat, if he is a ‘head of counsel’ who controls the people of the household with advice of equal standing. The sixth of milk produce is divided in two: one half (1/12) goes to the vessels; of the other half, the husband receives two-thirds (1/18). He receives a ninth of the handicraft when they divorce. If they divorce by mutual consent, they part in this way.

            If either of them is badly behaved, the labour third of the badly-behaved partner is forfeit to the well-behaved one. In the case of a cétmuinter*, everything is forfeit to the party that carries out his/her marital duties, apart from what the other is entitled to in respect of land and breeding stock. But they part as they came together: what survives of what each brought in to the other, that is what each brings away on parting, or its replacement out of the profits if it no longer survives.

            But he is a husband who is paid honour-price in accordance with his wife’s status if she holds all the property, unless he has higher property qualifications in his own right than his wife or is more godly, more high-born or more estimable than she.

            *Cétmuinter – chief wife, wife of highest legal standing; also could mean spouse and sometimes also husband; found in the Cáin Lánamna (Law of the Couple).

          • Unique Identifier says:

            [Note: abortion, infanticide]

            It’s not that women are particularly prone to bad behavior. It’s that they repel ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’, much like a duck repels water. Women are victims – they deserve sympathy.

            Here’s a well known example of how women cannot be held accountable. Say that a man and a women have unprotected sex, and the woman gets pregnant. Can it be argued, that by choosing to have sex, she has taken on responsibility for the developing fetus? Of course not.

            But, of course, the man has taken on such a responsibility. It is obvious, in all developed countries, that if the woman chooses to have the child (the father has no say in the matter), the man is obligated to provide for them financially (regardless of whether he is allowed to see his child).

            For a more grotesque example – a mother lives alone with her one year old child. She is chatting with a boyfriend over the internet, and they are talking about disciplining their child for unruly behavior. The mother winds up holding the child upside down in a bucket of water and drowning her. [The child was likely not intended to die from this.] Note, again, that the man is hundreds of miles away, literally in a different country.

            The mother was sentenced to eight years in prison. The man was sentenced to nine. (!?)

          • wysinwyg says:

            It’s not that women are particularly prone to bad behavior. It’s that they repel ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’, much like a duck repels water. Women are victims – they deserve sympathy.

            I frequently see women blamed for all kinds of things. Where they do “repel” blame or responsibility, it seems as likely to me that it’s the result of modern mores as anything congenital.

            To get me to accept your bare assertion here holds in all relevant cases, you’ll need to propose a plausible mechanism and, preferably, some evidence.

            Say that a man and a women have unprotected sex, and the woman gets pregnant. Can it be argued, that by choosing to have sex, she has taken on responsibility for the developing fetus? Of course not.

            It certainly can be and very often is by about 50% of the US population that she has taken on responsiblity for the developing fetus. But again, I think you’re applying modern mores to conjecture about ancient cultures, and I’m not sure it’s applicable.

            But, of course, the man has taken on such a responsibility. It is obvious, in all developed countries, that if the woman chooses to have the child (the father has no say in the matter), the man is obligated to provide for them financially (regardless of whether he is allowed to see his child).

            Again, modern mores and laws are not strictly applicable to the sorts of situations we’re talking about. I’m looking for the general case that women are unaccountable, not the case that they’re unaccountable in modern European or US culture.

            Also, you seem to be taking a strictly legalistic point of view. The man will often have a very strong say in whether or not a woman will have a child. While my mother could have taken my father to court to sue him for child support, she opted not to do so.

            Also, child support is specifically money for the child, and usually not enough to pay all the child’s living expenses. A man paying child support does not necessarily have to pay to support the mother herself. You seem to be reaching a little bit.

            The mother was sentenced to eight years in prison. The man was sentenced to nine. (!?)

            Again, this helps make the specific case in our culture with regards to the law. It doesn’t do much to make the case in our culture with respect to culture (the fact that you and I find this horrific demonstrates that there’s a distinction). And it does nothing to establish the general case that women are necessarily unaccountable or whatever it is that’s being claimed.

            Also, without knowing more specifics about the case, I’m not sure that the sentence cited is necessarily so unjust. If the chat logs show the boyfriend in question suggesting immersion and then egging the woman on in face of initial doubts on her part, then the sentence doesn’t seem unjust at all.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            I’m discussing modern mores, because the point is precisely the failure of attempts to define women as equal and legally independent. The egalitarian ideals lose their momentum, when they butt up against intuitions about female innocence.

            To better understand what I mean by women as innocent, consider how we treat children and imbeciles. It seems absurd to apply the same standards to these as to adults. Men respond to punishment. Children and imbeciles need guidance and protection. Our instincts tempt us to place blame not with them, but with the guardians around them.

            Where do women go? With the men or with the children? The modern placeholders for the pater familias are ‘institutions’, ‘society’ and of course, ironically, the ‘patriarchy’.

            This mismatch between equality and responsibility has to go. The idea that we can entertain fairy tales about glass ceilings and forbid women from selling sex, while at the same time pretending they are truly equal, is absurd. A man doing anabolic steroids is an idiot. A woman cutting herself is a victim.

            [I’m from a country which has reached this curious arrangement, that selling sex is legal, while buying these services is not. Beautiful, isn’t it?]

            Now, of course, this leaves us with a choice – we can revert the pretend-equality (which does have, at least, some historic precedent) – or we can get rid of special treatment in favor of actual equality (which, if not exactly a proven strategy, can at least be pitched as daring and heroic).

          • wysinwyg says:

            I’m discussing modern mores, because the point is precisely the failure of attempts to define women as equal and legally independent. The egalitarian ideals lose their momentum, when they butt up against intuitions about female innocence.

            Ah, OK. I was asking kernly to back up his apparent claim that women are necessarily unaccountable. I’m not really interested in discussing whether contingently, in our society women are unaccountable.

            To better understand what I mean by women as innocent, consider how we treat children and imbeciles. It seems absurd to apply the same standards to these as to adults. Men respond to punishment. Children and imbeciles need guidance and protection. Our instincts tempt us to place blame not with them, but with the guardians around them.

            Pretty much every point of that is arguable. In what sense do “men respond to punishment” in ways that children and imbeciles do not? Is this a general claim, or a contingent claim about our society? Certainly there seem to be societies where punishing children is encouraged (ours was one until quite recently). Punishing imbeciles was not only countenanced until fairly recently, but even rather vile mistreatment of them was condoned.

            Perspectives on childhood and its meaning are very culturally dependent. Until fairly recently, what we now call an “adolescent” would have been considered essentially an adult even in our society. Many hunter gatherer societies seem to have a laissez-faire attitude towards child-rearing as opposed to the “guidance and protection” model you cite.

            A woman cutting herself is a victim.

            I’ve never seen this assertion made before; I have no doubt there are some SJW types who would do so, but I doubt it’s as widely-held as you imply with your rhetoric.

            Most of the women who self-harm who I’ve talked to have said that it makes them feel in control, so my best conjecture is it’s a stereotyped response to feelings of powerlessness. I’d guess it’s a culturally conditioned response rather than congenital, but that’s pretty purely conjecture. I’d count evidence of self-harm in other cultures as strong evidence against it.

            Edit to add:

            Most of your complaints about attitudes towards women in our society seem to be legalistic. On an interpersonal level, I feel I know about as many unaccountable men as unaccountable women. Women seem to want to hold themselves responsible for their actions in most cases, even if the law doesn’t always agree.

          • Matt M says:

            “I’m from a country which has reached this curious arrangement, that selling sex is legal, while buying these services is not. Beautiful, isn’t it?”

            From a nordic country? Because this is called “the nordic model” and feminists around the world are loudly agitating for it to be introduced everywhere. I think they’ll win and it will be, despite how insanely ridiculous the arrangement is…

          • kernly says:

            By that argument, who keeps the husband’s behaviour in line?

            The state, through brutal punishments. Or society at large. Here, check it out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skimmington

            In response to a man being dominated by his wife, folks band together… And make a concerted effort to humiliate *him.* This is how you keep the wife in line, you see – through the husband, even if that husband is not the head of the relationship. That’s how hard it is to hold women to account directly, compared to men. But of course the indirect means is effective enough. Utterly humiliating your husband isn’t good for your reputation, and could have catastrophic effects on your household finances, not to mention your relationship. Pretty effective motivation to stay in line.

            if a society produces female-led households

            This is like saying “if a society produces homosexuals…” Society does not produce aberrations like this. Biology does. Society can effectively force people who came out ‘wrong’ to suppress, or at least hide their nature.

          • onyomi says:

            “Where do women go? With the men or with the children? The modern placeholders for the pater familias are ‘institutions’, ‘society’ and of course, ironically, the ‘patriarchy’.”

            I think this is an excellent point, and relates to the Greeks’ apparent lack of feeling of responsibility for the debts incurred by their own government on their behalf, and to the AOL interns who feel no obligation to uphold their word.

            It also supports what to me seems an obvious trend: the state is actually an ANTIsocial institution in that it ends up replacing voluntary Schelling fences and other such mores about honor, honesty, etc. with non-voluntary legal rules which end up setting the bounds for behavior.

            Everyone is just “playing the game with the rules they’re given.” You can’t blame a CEO for raiding the pensions if that’s what the system incentivized him to do. You can’t blame the single mother or her deadbeat partner for the lack of supervision of their child if that’s what the system incentivized them to do. If the system allows me to sue you, then that’s what I’m going to do, even if you honorably upheld your end of the agreement.

            Whether I *should* sue you doesn’t even enter into the equation. Can I make money by suing you? Then I will. Don’t blame me. Blame the laws which allow it.

            The state has become the father and us all its unruly, sneaky children. Witness how nasty people become in socialist countries: informing on their neighbors and always pushing the limits of what they can get away with.

            This is why it makes me so angry when people accuse libertarians of being anti-social. We are PRO social. The state is the greatest decivilizing force I can think of (other than major disasters and wars, though wars are usually caused by states).

    • naath says:

      1)Memes are not as certainly heritable as genes. My parents are opposed to same sex marriage, I am not.

      2)Many same-sex marriage supporters are not gay

      3)Gay people can have children (gamete donation, surrogacy).

      • Brett says:

        Re: #3,

        It’s hard to find exact numbers, but I did find this census report that gives percentages of households containing children under 18 (see tables 8 and 9).

        Same-sex households with children: 16.4%
        Unmarried opposite-sex households with children: 40.8%
        Married opposite-sex households with children: 40.0%

        It’s not quite what we’d want (mean number of children for straight vs. gay individuals), but it is revealing nonetheless, and suggests that the difference in number of children is probably substantial.

        • anodognosic says:

          I’d suggest that the fact that child-rearing is necessarily opt-in for same-sex couples is carrying most of the explanatory burden of this discrepancy.

          • Brett says:

            Uh, OK. That may well be a reason for the difference in fertility. But since we were (I thought) discussing whether there were differences in fertility, I don’t understand why you brought it up.

  3. E. Harding says:

    “On the other hand, both Greece and Rome took over Israel at various points; various Jewish texts record that during that time a lot of Jews were defecting to Greco-Roman culture and there were precious few defections the other way.”
    -Percentage-wise, yes, numbers-wise, no. There were lots of conversions to Judaism during the Graeco-Roman period, probably crowding out the defections.

    I also recall reading somewhere that Leviticus was the first law code to explicitly prohibit all male homosexuality.

    • randy m says:

      Also, wasn’t there one Jewish sect that did see lots and lots of Roman and Greek converts?

      • Schmendrick says:

        You mean that Rabbi Yeshua the Nazarene, called Kristos by the Greeks? Whatta loony! Kidding, kidding, kidding!!

      • Harald K says:

        There was one Jewish sect that was so successful in seeing Roman and Greek converts that it won over virtually every Jew who approved of proselytizing the Greeks. Before Christianity, Judaism had a lot more universalist elements. Besides Christianity, the diaspora was the other big factor undermining universalist tendencies in Judaism.

    • I have heard claims like this but am unfamiliar with any sources; I would be really, really interested in seeing sources for this, because this is a very interesting narrative.

  4. Galle says:

    Are there a lot of high-profile fallen civilizations that WEREN’T hostile to homosexuality? It seems an awful lot like hostility to homosexuality is the default position for humans, and the reason that there are so few surviving cultures accepting of it is that there have been so few cultures accepting of it period.

    • Lightman says:

      Ancient Greece.

      • Jiro says:

        They were still hostile to homosexuality in the modern sense of relationships between equal members of the same sex.

        • Carinthium says:

          If you’re going that way, it should probably be pointed out that equal relationships are a major cultural innovation. Modern relationships are more equal, but it is ludicrous to say relationships were equal in 1950 and at best questionable in, say, 1980.

          • Jiro says:

            Yes, but there are degrees of equality. For instance, having a lifelong commitment makes the weaker and stronger partners more equal, but the ancient Greeks diudn’t have gay marriage.

        • vV_Vv says:

          I don’t think so, do you have a reference?

          If I understand correctly, while the most typical form of homosexual relationships in Greece was between an adult man and an adolescent boy, relationships between adult men were also possible, although they were considered demeaning to the one who took the passive role (as he became “like a woman” and women were considered inferior to men in the Greek society).

          Gay marriage, however, did not exist in any ancient civilization, as far as I know.

          • Mary says:

            They were considered demeaning, period. The argument that they were considered “passive” founders on the issue that male adulterers were also called by the term that certain moderns insist means “passive” — rather than “lustful” which even makes more sense in most contexts where it’s used.

            I recommend Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens by James N. Davidson.

          • William O. B'Livion says:

            “The Greeks invented Sex. The Romans introduced it to women”.

            Apparently this joke isn’t as widely known as I’d thought.

        • ryan says:

          I believe it varied from city state to city state. Especially with Sparta historians seem to think adult/adult sexual relations were normal, at least in the military.

          I’ve also read that in the city states where male homosexuality was a normal part of society, they tended to have laws requiring men to get married and have children, make sure they replace the people who died in the wars they were always fighting.

        • ReaperReader says:

          They were very hostile to the idea of equal relationships between people of the opposite sex.

      • Mary says:

        In Plato’s Symposium, one character lightly mentions that male homosexuals must be legally forced to marry and begot children.

    • Steve Johnson says:

      Nixon famously observed that the last six Roman emperors were gay.

      Not strictly true but not far off either.

      • JME says:

        Which last six Roman emperors? The last of the house of Palaiologos in Constantinople, or the last Ricimer/Gundobad-appointed emperors in Ravenna, or what? All of the emperor’s I’ve heard of as likely-gay were in the early-to-mid empire, although maybe it’s just that I’m more familiar with history in that period in general.

      • Davide says:

        I never heard of that, but I read that mentioned that Claudius was considered unusual because he only liked women.

    • Shenpen says:

      Homosexuality is a modern construct. In Ancient Greece and Rome it was simply cut differently: it was OK for an adult male to do the dominant, penetrating role, and the submissive, penetrated role could be women, slave men, or boys.

      THIS is actually what seems biologically normal: the “top” the dominant one being a normal masculine man and “not gay” and only the “bottom” i.e. man in a womans role (submissive) being strange.

      You see the same in Viking sagas they brag like “I fucked you, man, and you are pregnant with my child”. This does not mean “I am gay”, this means “you are submissive to me”.

      Let’s not dwell on how misogynist the whole thing is, the whole point is that the most widespread view is that a man should not take the womans role. But a man taking a mans role with other men who are submissive because e.g. they are slaves was usually okay.

      This is still the rule in highly masculine societies e.g. Russian prisons.

      • Mary says:

        I recommend, again, Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens by James N. Davidson on the “passive” claim. I particularly note that while you could be “boy-mad” or “woman-mad”, doing basically anything dumb because of your passion for a boy got you labelled “boy-mad” while “woman-mad” was reserved for men who did such incredibly dumb things as commit adultery, for which you could be killed on the spot.

      • “You see the same in Viking sagas they brag like “I fucked you, man, and you are pregnant with my child”.”

        I don’t remember that–any particular saga you are thinking of?

        The Tale of Sarcastic Halli has several sodomy jokes that imply that accusing someone of being sodomized is an insult, but not that it results in pregnancy.

        • Joseph W. says:

          It’s in the Volsung Saga…Siegmund (I believe) is about to fight someone and gets into a sedda (contest of insults)…his insults against the other guy are on the order of, “Do you remember the last festival? I buggered you and sired cubs on you…”

          If I remember, the notes to my copy said that accusing someone of passive sodomy was indeed a horrific insult and making the accusation could be punished with outlawry.

          (Been quite a few years since I read it but that stuck in my mind.)

          • Thanks.

            I don’t think “Volsungasaga” when thinking about the sagas, since it’s an Icelandic retelling of a German story. The characters are not Icelanders or even Norse, and the setting isn’t mainly Iceland and Norway.

            I don’t know if that particular detail comes from earlier German sources or was added by the Norse author.

            The exchanges between Halli and Harald Hardrada, on the other hand, are definitely Norse.

      • Anong says:

        in Viking sagas they brag like “I fucked you, man, and you are pregnant with my child”.

        This isn’t bragging. This is niđ. In the Elder Westgeatlaw, saying that a man was fucked like a woman or that a man is pregnant are both explicitly counted among the words of full justice, the nine things which a man has the legal right to kill you over if you say them to him. You wouldn’t “brag” this way, these are things you just can’t say for any reason. (In comparison, just murdering a guy does not entitle anyone to kill you in retaliation, you just have to pay his wergild.)

        All of the words of full justice imply that a man is a woman, which is apparently the worst conceivable thing you could say about a man among the Danes (not “Vikings”, a misnomer of outsiders).

        That being said, the idea that Romans, at least, cut the distinction in terms of active/passive is just a falsity, one made pernicious by being spread along apparently ideological lines — because people want to believe it, not to put too fine a point on it. You don’t need to go further than Suetonius to see copious negative judgment of men who engage in “active” homosexuality, and those guys are emperors. (Preëmptively: the argument “but he’s just trying to tear them down for political reasons!” is irrelevant for what I think should be obvious reasons, but I keep hearing it anyway, so let me point out explicitly that even if that’s the case, it only means that “he was an active-type homosexual!” was a highly-efficacious slur at the time and a go-to method of ripping on men in high places.)

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t know what “cut the distinction” means, but they certainly cut some distinctions, for example, what was a capital offense for a soldier to do.

          • Anong says:

            Sorry, English isn’t my first language. I mean the distinction wasn’t made in terms of active and passive the way that’s often claimed. Yes, passive is worse — passive has always been worse, everywhere, as far as I know — but it’s not the case that active was considered perfectly normal and legitimate behavior for a man, as many like to believe about the Romans nowadays.

          • Anonymous says:

            Everywhere except in the hegemonic culture of today, the culture of northern Europe, including America. A historical outlier, but the culture of most of the readers of this blog.

            I don’t know if you are correct about the details of Rome, but even if so, you are missing Shenpen’s point. He didn’t say that Rome was special. On the contrary, he said modern Europe is special and just gave Rome as one example of typical views. He was addressing people who belong to northern European culture and explaining that they are the exception.

          • Anong says:

            There appears to be a difficulty in communication somewhere here — my fault, I’m sure. Shenpen said:

            Homosexuality is a modern construct. In Ancient Greece and Rome it was simply cut differently: it was OK for an adult male to do the dominant, penetrating role

            I am merely pointing out that this “and Rome” is demonstrably incorrect, and that the Romans had a view of this matter far more similar to the, let’s say almost-contemporary, view that homosexuality is simply disgusting and unacceptable period — albeit being the passive party is worse. If I read you correctly your objection here is that “northern European culture” makes no distinction at all, but this is patently false since “flamboyant” or “queenish” homosexuality, clearly associated with being the “passive” partner whether that’s factually the case or not, is and was particularly reviled by those who do such reviling.

            More importantly however, I firstly don’t see how

            I don’t know if you are correct about the details of Rome, but even if so, you are missing Shenpen’s point.

            is actually relevant since I only wrote my comment to correct the details on Rome, and secondly, how correction could be missing the point of the claim that (almost-)modern Europe is a special exception when I just pointed out that his example of the norm is actually an example of a society largely identical in its attitudes on the point to that of (almost-)modern Europe.

            As far as I know, although I did not originally intend to comment on it (I choose to do so now), the claim that (almost-)modern Europe is an exception and that, e.g.,

            THIS is actually what seems biologically normal: the “top” the dominant one being a normal masculine man and “not gay” and only the “bottom” i.e. man in a womans role (submissive) being strange

            is incorrect. It appears that the so-called “European view” IS the biologically normal one and that the structure Shenpen described is the exception, occurring only in a few cultures at large (e.g. parts of Greece in antiquity — it’s worth note that the practices of Athens can NOT be generalized as those of Hellas), and in particular, extreme exigencies (e.g. sex-segregated prisons). Many of the examples frequently employed to “prove” otherwise are, like the Roman one, merely exaggerated, cherry-picked, or more or less deliberately misread. Thus in this context it would not be irrelevant to point out the falsity of the Roman example if I wished to argue the point, although in fact I only did so originally intending to increase accuracy for its own sake.

          • Anonymous says:

            What is the ideological reason for this interpretation of Rome? Why would people want to believe it?

          • Anong says:

            Simply in order to be able to believe that our conception of homosexuality is a modern construct and historically abnormal, thus subject to long-term alteration. Mind you, I don’t even mean they want to be able to claim it to others; fundamentally I think people seek out this “proof” to satisfy themselves in their own hopes.

            In my experience it is clear that many homosexuals and allies want to believe our attitudes are abnormal essentially because they want to believe that hostility to homosexuality is at least somewhat evitable long-term, at least against some homosexuals — compare the constant quest by certain feminist groups for a large historical matriarchal or egalitarian society, which always seems to exist in the time just before any definite evidence. These are basically God-of-the-gaps theories, and although they don’t necessarily bear any direct causal relation to someone’s concrete political ambitions, the association between believing in them and having certain ideological drives seems apparent to me.

            (Another but less apt comparison which occurs to me is the belief that standards of beauty are largely culturally constructed and could really be pretty much anything, despite all rational reason and all available proof being to the contrary; to be a bit on the nose about it, I have never known a single hourglass-shaped woman who believed this.)

            For my own part I would classify myself as being broadly in favor of feminism and LGBT equality, but I’m pretty much resigned to all of it being a reform in and for our own lifetimes — I have a very pessimistic view of the long-term prospects of these social changes. In the terms used by “severnayazemlya” quoted in Scott’s original post, I think they’re very far from being human-shaped, and I think we’ll spontaneously revert to a more human-shaped society at the first significant strain on the present societal order. We are, so to speak, in a metastable state.

    • Buddhism, and some Native American cultures (sort of: “two-spirits”).

      • Davide says:

        Which forms of buddhism? I’m pretty sure some traditional ones are quite strongly opposed to homosexuality.

  5. Martin Spencer Hyman says:

    Could you, or anyone else, link to a good resource that describes the evolutionary bio equations for trait spreading? I’ve never heard of these

    • chosenonemore says:

      Not very easy to understand but the best I could find on a quick google search.

      http://www.dls.ym.edu.tw/ol_biology2/ultranet/Hardy_Weinberg.html

      • I did some research on the evolution of altruism for an article I wrote a while back, and I ran into several of these Price-equation-style-attempts to mathematically predict the spread/stable frequencies of altruistic behaviours in populations. To be honest I found the use of such things to be a partial exercise in marketing. The outcome of the equations looks to be very sensitive to the variables you feed in, and so they’re not very useful for any behaviour that might arise from more than one cause or trait. At best if you’re really certain about your numbers and empirical evidence matches it, then you’ve got a plausible explanation. But stuff like altruism is influenced by appearance of altruism vs actual altruism, enforcement, a variety of factors like kin selection, group selection and genetic reciprocation (all of which have slightly different altruistic profiles), and the big wildcard, culture.

        The same can be said for such equations in general. They’re highly sensitive to any innacuracy in your numbers, and become useless fairly quickly if you’re looking at anything that’s multicausal, ambiguous, or has competing evolutionary forces at work.

    • US says:

      Boyd and Richerson’s book The Origin and Evolution of Cultures includes quite a bit of formal modelling dealing with how *cultural* traits may spread and fix in human populations, including in the modelling framework considerations such as e.g. the impact of having multiple relevant levels of selection (e.g. group vs individual – not everything good for the group is necessarily good for the individual…), equilibrating mechanisms and stability conditions of equilibria (e.g. which sort of punishments or monitoring mechanisms are required to support cooperation given specific circumstances?), etc. The book is somewhat theoretical, at times quite technical and it takes a lot of time to read and understand, but it’s probably also in my opinion a must-read for people who want to have an opinion on matters like these (…I say, without having more than skimmed the original post…).

      If you want a book less focused on humans and culture, Okasha’s Evolution and the Levels of Selection is a really nice book. Most population genetics textbooks will also deal with these topics in a lot of detail, though of course they probably won’t talk much about human cultural traits. I have limited experience with these books, but Gillespie’s Population Genetics text is a good (if again a bit technical) book on these topics. I’m however sure there are plenty of other pop gen texts out there dealing with the same topics.

      (Ah, I only now realize that what was wanted was a link, not a book recommendation… Oh well… If zolltan hadn’t already linked to the Price equation article I probably would have done this here.

      I’ll leave up the comment in case you (or others) get curious enough to have a closer look at these things, in which case the books I’ve mentioned may be useful resources to be aware of).

    • Andrew G. says:

      Joe Felsenstein’s draft book / lecture notes:

      http://evolution.genetics.washington.edu/pgbook/pgbook.html

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What a diverse set of answers. Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium is a side track separate from selection, but it’s usually taught first. The Price equation seems an excessively advanced answer. I guess the breeders’ equation is, in some sense, the right answer to the question of trait spreading, but you should probably start with the topic of genes spreading before moving on to phenotypes.

      The very first equation (eg, II.5 in Andrew’s book) is exponential growth. If an allele reproduces itself more than the alternative, the ratio is written as 1+s, and s is called the selective advantage. If the proportion with the advantageous allele p is small, then it grows exponentially, multiplied every generation by 1+s. If the proportion with the alternate allele is small, it decays exponentially, muliplied every generation by 1-s. More generally, it follows the logistic curve. Thus it takes about 1/s generations to go from rare to common.

  6. Unknowns says:

    I think it’s pretty obvious that gay marriage is selected against in the first way.

    A gay person marries, has fun, says, “this is great,” has no kids, and that’s it. It’s over.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      That’s biological selection, though, not cultural selection; and there’s weak evidence here and there that it’s not as simple as that; gay men and women will work towards benefiting their sibling’s children, and therefore ensuring the spread of their genes in a very different way.

      • Watercressed says:

        kin selection as the primary factor for homosexuality is not plausible; there’s no way the effects are near the size required.

        • Anonymous says:

          Some kind of heterozygote advantage like effect or the gay gene being beneficial when when expressed in the opposite sex are far more plausible theories.
          The gay uncle theory could work as group selection in a tribe oriented society, if it was still advantageous you would see people listing “I have a gay brother” in their okcupid profiles.

          • Anonymous says:

            Is it necessarily true or rather merely politically convenient that homosexuality confer some kind of advantage to someone somehow? There are plenty of things that can go wrong when instantiating a human being (the first thing that comes to mind is Down Syndrome though we know the mechanic for this error is not the same; the second is sickle cell anaemia which actually does have a compelling apology; club foot might serve as a plain example) and though we are of course interested in the causes (a cornerstone of medicine no less) I don’t feel any need to apologise for all the flaws / fragilities of the human construction that lead to organic dysfunction. We evolved; we are contrived; many things can and will go wrong. Might homosexuality not be one of them?

          • keranih says:

            Is it necessarily true or rather merely politically convenient that homosexuality confer some kind of advantage to someone somehow?

            A good question. There’s a spectrum of “not 100% human-typical” – from red hair through a variety of lethal traits. (Downthread, someone brought up left-handedness, which is a good addition to your list of non-normalities, being something with mild negatives that we pretty much shrug off as not important).

            Another thought – myopia. This is a condition that is not universally present in the human race, and appears to be increasing, possibly due to our built environment/culture. We can’t say (I don’t think) that reading created the genes for shortsightedness, but the latent condition is (probably) triggered by our (geologically) new habits of inside close work.

            I have not a clue what might be “triggering” homosexual expression, even if this is a valid analogy.

          • stillnotking says:

            It’s extremely unlikely there’s any such single thing as a “gay gene”. I know of no geneticist or evolutionary psychologist who regards that as plausible. If nothing else, concordance between identical twins is far too low.

            The leading theories are that homosexuality is either the result of epigenetic effects in the womb (also a postulated cause of gender dysphoria), or a complex of multiple genetic factors that just happen to create the predisposition to be gay, given certain environmental influences — like some people are predisposed to be accountants despite the obvious ludicrousness of an “accountant gene”. The concept of homosexuality as an identity is of modern vintage; such factors could easily have been irrelevant or individually beneficial in the ancestral environment. (Ironically, this means widespread acknowledgment of obligate homosexuality could eventually doom it to extinction… in another few millennia.)

      • The argument works if you assume cultural as well as genetic heritability. The gay couple doesn’t pass on their attitude to their children because they don’t have any, assuming they don’t adopt. The heterosexual couple does pass on theirs.

      • eh says:

        If I remember correctly, the slutty sister argument has taken over from the gay uncle argument. Unfortunately, my attention span isn’t long enough to allow me to find a source for it. I believe Scott has posted about it previously.

      • Aaron says:

        There seems to be a tendency in this discussion to conflate biological fitness and cultural fitness. I strongly doubt they are related. It’s not clear to me what the unit of selection is in the context of cultural evolution. Ideas maybe? I am not familiar with what the leading theories are.

        I would speculate that the “fitness” of a cultural idea is based on its attractiveness to the human mind and on some kind of social context. Consider the evolution of Christianity and its fragmentation into multiple sects (species?). I don’t know how one would characterize the “fitness” of, say, methodism versus quakerism. Or of any of Christianity’s many permutations.

        It seems to me more likely that cultural ideas follow an evolutionary logic very different from biological evolution. The high level patterns are similar but the mechanisms of change, transmission, selection pressure, and so on seem quite different.

        • Adam says:

          Someone pointed this out above, but ideas as memes themselves are successful as memes to the point that their content includes a propensity to spread. It might be because it’s an attractive idea, might be that it confers a survival or reproductive advantage to people that hold it, might be that the idea itself contains the mandate to spread it (chain letters/evangelism). But ideas, apart from being memes, also spread because they’re attached to people who militarily conquer other people, and that tends to have very little to do with the memetic quality of the idea. And we have the additional problem that every single one of these things is completely independent of the moral quality of the idea, yet virtually everyone citing this type of thing is doing it in service of moral prescriptivism.

          • Aaron says:

            Very good points. This topic can easily slide into the is/ought fallacy.

          • Tom Womack says:

            Conquerors don’t last as long as the best memes do, so you get to see what sort of memes endure when the conquerors have moved on. Lots of cities founded as Alexandropoli and Iskanderia retain those names; Han Chinese with no perceptible Mongol ancestry still eat the stew of the fat-tailed sheep; in England they still speak a Saxon-Norse patois and the butcher still turns sheep and cows into beef and mutton; you can make quite an interesting nuisance of yourself looking for Korean-originated details in contemporary Japanese culture.

    • nico says:

      By the same argument, Gay should be selected against as well. Obviously, that isn’t happening.

      So whatever it is that keeps Gay around is probably supporting Gay Marriage too, no?

      • MawBTS says:

        Isn’t gay marriage a pretty recent concern for homosexuals?

        Commenter Misdreavus (a gay man who posts at Westhunt) tells me that in the 60s and 70s homosexuals had basically no interest in getting married. Marriage was very uncool – something squares and breeders did.

        In his words: “Unless you think the majority of gay activists during the 1970s were virulent homophobes, there’s nothing wrong with opposing gay marriage.”

        • There’s a big difference between not being interested for your own purposes, and being against for other people’s.

          And Hunt’s argument would mean that being anti gay marriage is only ok as part of a counter cultural package, which ithardly ever is.

          • Foo says:

            They may have cared about preserving their culture, which had an anti-gay marriage gay meme.

        • Nestor says:

          That is amusing, but there’s a clear difference between not wanting to marry and opposing the right to marry.

      • Henk says:

        There may well be a “gay selection paradox” at work here, where gays remain childless under tolerance and have children under oppression.

  7. Grumpus says:

    I’m really confused by your sense of scale here. There have been humans a lot longer than there has been recorded history inventing grand narratives of competing civilizations. The Enlightenment “replacing” Christianity in the West is not much more significant wrt cultural evolution as cars replacing walking wrt biological evolution.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      When would you date cultural evolution from? Anatomically modern humans are 200,000 years old, and Behaviorally modern humans are 50,000 years old.

    • The_Dancing_Judge says:

      Absolutely, it is weird to only consider cultural evolution for the last 2000 years or so.

      I find it not all too outlandish to imagine 2-5k years ago, amongst the churn of civilizations, that whenever a civilization stopped being able to maintain its population as a result of cultural breakdown, a fecund, rival population that did not have gay marriage could come in and replace it…leading to most all the civilizations that we know of restricting gay marriage.

      I think the decoupling of marriage, lifetime commitment and children is probably the most important aspect of the cultural evolution theory with respect to marriage. Cultures that dont reproduce at replacement level eventually die out. And even if their structures remain (think late roman empire), the culture’s genetics are totally replaced. Its easy to imagine some civilization running chronically low on manpower because of a reduced emphasis on child-rearing and then suffering from conquest or replacement.

      Imagining how this would work on the individual level: all the cool gays dont have kids and get to party and have fun and have neat high paying careers with all their free time. So marginal wife and husband decide not to have kids like their cool, trendy gay friends.

      Doesnt seem THAT far fetched

      • Ano says:

        “I find it not all too outlandish to imagine 2-5k years ago, amongst the churn of civilizations, that whenever a civilization stopped being able to maintain its population as a result of cultural breakdown, a fecund, rival population that did not have gay marriage could come in and replace it…leading to most all the civilizations that we know of restricting gay marriage.”

        Many cultures have strong traditions of monasticism and celibacy (such as in Catholic Christianity, or in Buddhism). If it’s such an imperative that 100% of the population needs to be baby-making all of the time, then how have these traditions survived?

        • keranih says:

          The habits of monasticism in Christianity and Buddhism are similar but not the same – in Christianity it tended to be a life calling but a transitional phase for most Buddhist monks.

          In Christianity, the Church was the profession of choice for third and fourth sons who would not inhererit the father’s farm. In times of low child survival, there were fewer monks and priests.

          (It is helpful to remember that the European tradition was that only one son inherited the farm, preserving the ability of that son (and his wife) to raise a family. In contrast, in China, landholdings were divided amongst all the sons, resulting in smaller and smaller plots, until a war and revolution reset property holdings.)

          • Ano says:

            “The habits of monasticism in Christianity and Buddhism are similar but not the same – in Christianity it tended to be a life calling but a transitional phase for most Buddhist monks.”

            I question how temporary monkhood can be for Buddhists. A male whose family rely on him to sustain them and is legally considered the head of household cannot just take a seven year holiday of begging for alms and sleeping under hedges. And even a man who becomes a monk and then later abandons that lifestyle to get married and raise a family is giving up his most productive and fertile years.

            “In Christianity, the Church was the profession of choice for third and fourth sons who would not inhererit the father’s farm. In times of low child survival, there were fewer monks and priests.”

            And homosexuality, if the statisticians are to be believed, is also the province of third and fourth sons.

            So my earlier point stands; if cultural evolution is selecting against gay marriage or acceptance of homosexuality in general, why doesn’t it also select against monastic traditions?

            “It is helpful to remember that the European tradition was that only one son inherited the farm, preserving the ability of that son (and his wife) to raise a family.”

            That depends, before the High Middle Ages many parts of Europe practiced Salic Law which did divide land between sons. It was the practice in England, for example, before the Norman Conquest.

          • Nornagest says:

            I question how temporary monkhood can be for Buddhists. A male whose family rely on him to sustain them and is legally considered the head of household cannot just take a seven year holiday of begging for alms and sleeping under hedges.

            Think younger.

          • keranih says:

            a man who becomes a monk and then later abandons that lifestyle to get married and raise a family is giving up his most productive and fertile years

            Mormons seem to be managing ‘mission years’ pretty well.

            if cultural evolution is selecting against gay marriage or acceptance of homosexuality in general, why doesn’t it also select against monastic traditions?

            Because there’s more to the difference between homosexuality and monastic traditions than just the similarities?

            before the High Middle Ages many parts of Europe practiced Salic Law which did divide land between sons.

            Good point, thanks for the correction.

            (I need to go back and look at what the Black Death did to property rights, as I think that’s an interesting corollary to the Asia war-prosperity-poverty-war cycles.)

          • The_Dancing_Judge says:

            I agree that is a strong objection. To overcome it there would have to be some sort of strong contagion effect (spreading low birth rates throughout the rest of society) as a result of homosexuality over and above monasticism. It’s possible homosexual marriage rides along with other fertility reducing cultural adaptations that is not the case with monastic lifestyles. I haven’t looked, but i doubt the middle ages had low birth rates – especially among married couples. This is in contrast to today’s western birthrates.

            One thing to note is those societies most hostile to gay marriage today, also have the highest birth rates. Now we dont desire high birthrates b/c of humanitarian and comfort reasons, but if things remain the same, its not hard to see how, in the mid term, gay marriage again goes extinct.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Similarly, it strikes me that the description of “defensible” cultural evolution is a little stark. Sure, if the red berries make you sick, you’ll stop eating them. I wouldn’t bother to characterize that as cultural evolution. What if they just impose an unacceptable load on your liver function, slight enough that no individual ever notices the connection? It’s still plausible that over thousands of years people would stop eating them.

      The process of making maize a nutritious staple has always astonished me. Step one is to soak it in lye, and if you don’t do that you get a niacin deficiency! But I doubt there was a pre-Columbian Einstein who figured this out.

      It’s this kind of cultural evolution — every bit as mindless and emergent as biological evolution — that people are analogizing to institutions like marriage. Whether the analogy is fair is perhaps open to argument, but let’s stay on the same page.

      An evolved institution may be as baroque and convoluted as the immune system, but you monkey with it only at some risk, for the same reasons. (Note: I do not oppose gay marriage. I do sometimes worry that my reasons for not opposing it are short-sighted.)

      • nydwracu says:

        The process of making maize a nutritious staple has always astonished me. Step one is to soak it in lye, and if you don’t do that you get a niacin deficiency! But I doubt there was a pre-Columbian Einstein who figured this out.

        See also: ayahuasca.

  8. Daniel Speyer says:

    Cultures seem to be full of complex things that can’t be individual-selected. There doesn’t seem to be intelligent design. Evolution by differential survival of entire cultures seems like the simplest explanation.

    Maybe most of this evolution happened really early, when 20-year states were the norm?

    • Texan99 says:

      I wondered that, too, whether the “generation length” for a cultural experiment wasn’t shorter for most experiments than the century or so we associate with something like communism. On the other hand, we’ve had biological evolution for billions of years, while you might say that cultural evolution cropped up only in the last 10,000 to 100,000 years, depending on how you look at it, and maybe became really important only in the last 7,000 to 8,000 years at most. That’s still a lot fewer generations to work with.

  9. “Every surviving cultural tradition on Earth is hostile to homosexuality – that’s no accident. That’s cultural evolution in action”

    I’d say: Every traditional culture is hostile to sex except under rigid controls. That’s no accident. The purpose of this was obviously to deal with the risk of unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Also to raise male investment in child-rearing by reducing uncertainty about paternity. These concerns are mostly obsolete for obvious reasons. Homosexuality got caught up in all of this because the anti-sex meme is simpler and easier to spread and explain if it doesn’t have an exception for gays.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      There are cultures in which men care for their sisters’ children, not their sexual partners’. Also, there’s quite a bit of evidence that Homosexuality was accepted in a lot of cultures before european imperialism, and even accepted in Europe until the 1200s or so, and this is something we don’t learn about because our modern culture is trying to cover it up.

      • yea that’s a fair point. I didn’t mean to come off so absolutist. I just mean there’s a pretty big trend of anti-sex-ism. Especially in agricultural societies.

      • Homosexuality was… even accepted in Europe until the 1200s or so

        [citation needed]

        More specifically, I want to know which parts of Europe you’re talking about, and what you mean by “accepted”. I wouldn’t be astonished to hear that the Germanic peoples were accepting of male-dominant homosexuality along the lines of the ancient Greeks and Romans, although this isn’t something I’ve previously seen ascribed to them. And there was (and is) widespread tolerance of homosocial behavior among the upper classes and priesthood in many Christian societies. But I’m very skeptical of the notion that homosexuality was ever officially condoned by any official body within Christian Europe, especially since the concrete examples that have been put forth (eg. the Byzantine rite of adelphopoiia) are nothing of the sort.

    • chaosmage says:

      Cultures run on attention, and compete with sex for attention. This is particularly obvious in religious cultures, which in rituals try to monopolize attention in order to facilitate retention and reproduction over generations.

      I’d go as far as to say that cultures makes sure the humans that belong to them have enough food, in order to stop them obsessing about food and freeing attentional resources that culture can use.

    • stargirl says:

      “These concerns are mostly obsolete for obvious reasons.”

      This is not really true. Engaging regularly in male/male homosexual sex is apparently shockingly dangerous. Studies seem to put the percentage of gay and bisexual men with HIV at 15% plus. For example the CDc says this:

      “Results of HIV testing conducted in 20 cities as part of the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System (NHBS) indicated that 18% of gay and bisexual men tested in 2011 had HIV and that HIV prevalence increased with increasing age.” here http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/gender/msm/facts/

      I do not think it is beneficial to pretend that male/male sex is not extremely risky. Even if HIV is mostly treatable in the West it can be very expensive to treat. And the effects on one’s long term health are definitely not positive. It increases the odds of all sorts of problems.

      I will note I am about as pro-lbgt as they come.

      disclaimer: maybe widespread use of pre exposure HIV drugs will finally make male/male sex tolerably safe. But this is yet to occur.

      • Oscar_Cunningham says:

        Note that HIV prevalence in the USA is much (by a factor of 4 or so) worse than in Europe.

      • Creutzer says:

        So we have an argument for promoting long-term monogamy among homosexuals, and hence gay marriage. Pity that nobody will listen to it because nobody opposes homosexuality on such grounds without mediation by disgust reactions.

        • stargirl says:

          I am certainly pro game marriage. I was just pointing out I found a claim inaccurate. The claim basically support my policy views but I still think I should point out I think it is false.

          • Creutzer says:

            I wasn’t criticising you, just observing a somewhat ironic consequence of what you were saying.

          • “I am certainly pro game marriage.”

            If being hunted wasn’t enough, now wild game has to escape humans trying to capture and MARRY them. What is the world coming to 😛

        • Texan99 says:

          Agreed–from a disease-transmission point of view, what’s wildly dangerous is promiscuity, whether or not hetero.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            And what’s dangerous isn’t jumping from a cliff, it’s the hitting the ground at the end.

            There are reasons why gloryholes aren’t a big hit with heterosexuals.

          • Adam says:

            Surely glory holes are a super common thing for gay people to do.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            No, they aren’t super common, but they are a very illustrative example of the mind-boggling differences between male-male and male-female promiscuity.

          • Snodgrass says:

            Glory-holes with a woman on the other side are a fairly routine, if not common, component in male-targetted porn; it is the lack of enthusiastic undiscriminating fellatrices in the real world that makes them a pure fantasy for heterosexual men.

            (or maybe you were making the more subtle point that it was uncommon for heterosexual women to fantasise about being the one behind the glory-hole)

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Is this what subtlety has come to?

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            Calling promiscuity wildly dangerous is very misleading. Promiscuity is pretty safe if you do it, well, safely (condoms, vaccinations, testing will all help reduce transmission risk), and STDs spread as much as they do because people do not do this. And even if someone is not doing stuff other than the condoms, its not “wildly dangerous”.

            Edit: making things clearer

          • Unique Identifier says:

            At this point, -just use condoms- isn’t a new idea, and HIV isn’t anything recent or mysterious. Ideally, some magic wand called responsibility would make the problem go away.

            But what we have are numbers like these:
            https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/statistics/

            And at this point, it doesn’t seem like anything short of a vaccine or cure will do it. In fact, a number of STDs which are perfectly treatable and were practically eradicated in developed countries, are making a resurgence in gay communities.

            See for instance syphilis, particularly in Europe.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            Actually my previous comment still seems to make things seem worse than they are.

            Edit: I’m going to try and do some quick very rough estimates with these* number. There is a decent chance I’ll screw something up though mathematically… What should I use as the number of partners and amount of penis-vagina or anal sex (for gay men) acts with them for a standard “promiscuous” person? (I’m thinking x # of one night stands plus a smaller number of people they have repeated sex with (friends? short relationships?), then a very few with lots of sex (longer term romantic partners?)? Although trying to do calculations that way has the problem of assuming everyone else is at whatever level of promiscuity they are already at.

            *https://srconstantin.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/std-statistics/

  10. Sam says:

    Why are you treating communities that adopt common ideas about marriage norms as being on the scale of the Roman Empire? My sense is that especially throughout history, most such communities have been much smaller. The Roman Empire was a potpourri of many different cultures, and we only vaguely label it “Greco-Roman” out of ignorance, similar to the generic label “Western” today.

    To get a sense of the lifetimes of those smaller “thought communities,” look at the big generational gaps on matters like gay marriage today. Just looking over recent history, most idea generations seem to last about as long as the generation of people advocating them. A generation in this sense is then only about 50-100 years long maximum.

    The mechanism of selection in this case is also pretty direct: If you’re not raising kids, your influence on the next literal generation is minimal, and your thought community will die out, absent migration from other communities. The obvious counter, then, is that the reason a gay-affirming thought community might survive today is that we have enough social mobility for outcasts from other communities to migrate there, which is exactly what’s happened in the Bay Area. (These communities are probably on the order of neighborhoods to towns.)

    • Matt M says:

      “If you’re not raising kids, your influence on the next literal generation is minimal, and your thought community will die out, absent migration from other communities.”

      At the risk of making a “it’s all the liberal media’s fault!” argument, could we not point to child-rearing practices having so dramatically changed that parents are now just one of many potential voices and primary influencers children are exposed to? Thus – you no longer have to be a parent to have the opportunity to influence the youth. You can be a pop star or a baby sitter or a teacher or a nanny or a children’s author or any of the other influential professions – all of which seem to be largely dominated by the left.

      • Texan99 says:

        I’m curious about this. Can we really say that the nuclear family has less opportunity to monopolize its kids’ indoctrination than it did 50, 100, or 300 years ago? I hear the argument about pop stars and public schools and so on, but on the other hand I imagine the upbringing of a kid in a village some centuries back involved taking in a whole culture in such a way that a single family would have been hard-pressed to push back in favor of a more idiosyncratic worldview.

        • Matt M says:

          Most likely, in the village scenario, the people who help you raise your child are other people very much like you. They’re your parents and your brothers and your sisters and your neighbors and your friends.

          In modern America, they’re a housekeeper who doesn’t even speak your language, a public school teacher who specifically and deliberately teaches your child things that directly opposes your own values (and encourages the children to educate YOU on why you are wrong), and Spongebob Squarepants.

          So yes, in a village you take in a “whole culture” but it’s a MUCH more homogeneous and less diverse culture.

          • wysinwyg says:

            a public school teacher who specifically and deliberately teaches your child things that directly opposes your own values

            I’d guess that for every case of this, there’s three or four teachers who are terrified to talk about evolution in class because they know they’re going to hear from the parents.

            Maybe it’s just because I live in liberal New England, but I don’t get this anxiety that public school teachers are brainwashing your kids. Every teacher I know is terrified of the parents of their students.

            This is because parents can complain to the administration about the teachers, the administrators can put pressure on the teachers, but the teachers can’t do diddly squat in response. Public school teachers have no power to enforce anything or even defend themselves from false claims made by parents or students. They’re really not very scary at all.

            If you have a problem with a teacher, two or three calls to the school’s administration will almost certainly fix it.

          • Matt M says:

            You may be right, it’s certainly a case by case basis.

            But of course, the risk is substantially higher in the modern “public school” model than it was in ancient days where the parents did all the rearing themselves.

            Consider, if you home-school, there is virtually a 0% chance your child will learn anything contrary to your values.

            Let’s say that in public school, due to fear of upsetting parents, there is only a 10% chance any given teacher will risk teaching something that goes outside typical parental values. Seems low enough. Except that you get (at least) one new science teacher every year for 12 years. So now it’s statistically likely that you’ve had at least one teacher that instructed you in something that was opposed to your parental values.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Except that you get (at least) one new science teacher every year for 12 years. So now it’s statistically likely that you’ve had at least one teacher that instructed you in something that was opposed to your parental values.

            It’s statistically likely that 5 minutes of watching television will do the same.

            I’m not debating that public schools expose kids to stuff that’s against their parents’ values, though I’d argue that the vast majority of that comes from other students rather than teachers (who tend to have very little influence on students’ opinions about the world in my experience). I’m arguing that the moral panic that seems to exist about this in some quarters is ridiculous and overblown.

            Edit: It can also be very hard to separate indoctrination from correcting mistaken information. I have a conservative relative who has impressed on his daughter the threat posed to the nation by the evils of voter fraud. Is it undermining his conservative values to point out — factually — that there has been no significant amount of voter fraud in US elections since this became a big issue for the right?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            It’s statistically likely that 5 minutes of watching television will do the same.

            Is this supposed to be an argument for television watching families to let their children attend public school? Because it seems to me more like an excellent reason for homeschoolers to dispose of their sets.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          The mass media does mean that a far smaller group of people can have a big impact, though. A few hundred people working for a major broadcasting corporation have much greater reach than they would do scattered throughout a series of mediaeval villages.

    • Tom Womack says:

      Are you really arguing, for example, that Katy Perry’s influence on the purchasers of her eighty million singles is going to be in aggregate less than her influence on her maybe-as-many-as-three as-yet-unborn children?

      A large number of Catholic scholastics have influenced thought communities to this day despite having not one child between them.

      A child is much more influenced by the surrounding culture than by its parents.

      • Adam says:

        Heck, Jesus himself arguably influenced the whole western hemisphere more than any person except maybe Aristotle? Newton? He had zero children. Did Aristotle and Newton have children? Did Gutenberg? Whoever invented indoor plumbing and gunpowder did as much to spread European ideas to the world as any breeder.

        This is, by the way, the entire point of cultural evolution. It’s why we have culture in the first place. Ideas can spread without the need for the idea-generators to biologically replicate themselves.

      • Anonymous says:

        You’re completely forgetting to average out over the chances of actually being Katy Perry… Once you do that you’re asking the question: Who has more aggregate influence on the average American? the set of people who don’t have children, or the set of people who do have children (including that person’s parents). I think the answer is obvious.

        • Matt M says:

          Maybe less obvious than it was 20 years ago, and growing less obvious every day.

          What percentage of active “cultural influencers” (journalists, politicians, media, entertainers, etc.) are childless?

        • Tom Womack says:

          It’s obvious that the answer is ‘people who aren’t that person’s parents’; the question of whether cultural influencers happen to have children is utterly immaterial, to the point that Wikipedia doesn’t bother recording whether Anne Wood or Andrew Davenport (the creators of the Teletubbies, to pick something absolutely purely child-targetted) have children.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think you misunderstood the question. The questions was which group had more proportional influence, the set of people with children, or the set of people without children. The parents of an individual already count as a large freebie for the “have children” group, enough so that they’re pretty much guaranteed to win the competition without having to look to closesly at the details for the remaining people. There division between “that persons parents” and “not that persons parents” is irrelevant and not what the question was about.

          • wysinwyg says:

            The parents of an individual already count as a large freebie for the “have children” group, enough so that they’re pretty much guaranteed to win the competition without having to look to closesly at the details for the remaining people.

            This is not very convincing. We’d need some way of comparing contributions via culture vs. contributions via parenting.

            If you put Bill Gates in a room with 300 random people, their income is a rounding error and Gates’ income dominates an average income measure. If childless people can be similarly disproportionately influential, then your argument doesn’t follow at all.

      • Sam says:

        The point isn’t that this is the selective pressure today, but that it’s the selective pressure of the vast majority of human cultures in the past, when this cultural evolution is said to have been taking place. Sure, there are exceptions like Catholic monks and Jesus, but those are few and far between.

        • wysinwyg says:

          Sure, there are exceptions like Catholic monks and Jesus, but those are few and far between.

          Are they? How do you know?

  11. zolltan says:

    While I agree that culture-level selection is not a good argument against gay marriage, I don’t think it’s reasonable to just ignore it altogether, because for stuff very unlike gay marriage, the selective advantage can be very significant. For instance, Peter Turchin’s idea (grossly simplified by me here) that culture-level selection is a mechanism that led to the creation of Empires from more egalitarian (but much less able to fight off invaders) societies in ancient Eurasia seems not immediately crazy.

  12. I don’t think you can make that analogy to evolutionary biology. Organisms do not look at other organisms in their species, use General Intelligence to evaluate which genes might be useful, and intentionally copy them. Humans absolutely do that with cultural practices. Cultural evolution is a mixture of two optimization processes Intelligence and Natural Selection. It can be way faster than Natural Selection alone.

  13. dtsund says:

    It sounds to me like the people advancing these arguments are people who kind-of sort-of have some familiarity with evolutionary theory, but aren’t familiar with the notion of a selfish gene.

    Homing endonucleases sure as hell don’t increase the inclusive fitness of the organisms unfortunate enough to carry them, but they’re very effective at propagating themselves across a population nonetheless. “Don’t accept homosexuality” strikes me as being potentially in the same boat, and not just because you yourself are more likely to find a reproductive mate if you endorse it. If Ug is going to hit his son over the head with a club if he’s caught romancing another man, Ug’s son is more likely to suck it up and try romancing a woman. So while this meme doesn’t directly bear on the inclusive fitness of a culture, it (historically) had an impact on the inclusive fitness of individuals within that culture, resulting in it spreading endonuclease-style. It’s a selfish meme, if you will.

    Somewhat unrelated, but I also think parts of the cause and effect in your post may, at least sometimes, be backward. Instead of, to borrow your example, an Inuit trying red berries, discovering them to be toxic, and tabooing them as a result, it’s also plausible that various Inuit subtribes have differing taboos, some of which proscribe eating the red berries out of sheer accident. The subtribes that eat the berries get outcompeted by the ones that don’t, and “don’t eat red berries” reaches saturation.

  14. Sam says:

    I think that if you narrow the scale (and, particularly, look at instances where formal rules Matter and have a shortish feedback loop), you can see cultural group selection in action—at least, if you’re willing to weather allegations of Whiggishness. Specifically, I’m thinking about constitutional/parliamentary law and also ecclesiology, and the defences they’ve built up to defend themselves against threats that emerged from within—or, as it may happen, from studying the failures of similar systems. The French Fifth Repulic, for instance, was very explicitly designed to have a stronger presidency than the Fourth Republic so that something Algerian Crisis-shaped could be decisively dealt with by the executive earlier; religious freedom and tolerance has generally only emerged in the West (or re-emerged, if you prefer) after seriously bloody ethno-religious conflicts; civilian control of the military has been an effective way of stopping coups.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      civilian control of the military has been an effective way of stopping coups

      That sounds pretty circular to me. How do you know that you have civilian control of the military? Because you don’t have coups.

      It’s funny that you give that example right next to the example of the transition from Fourth to Fifth Republic. Maybe civilian control of the military is a social technology that should be attributed to certain times and places, but such a statement is quite misleading because of the widespread ignorance of the prevalence of coups.

      • Sam says:

        OK, you’ve got me bang to rights. I would hedge and say that one swallow does not make a spring WRT the Generals’ putsch, but that doesn’t solve the circularity argument—I think that that’s a problem of definitions, though. I accept that there’s room for equivocation and no-true-Scotsmanning around ‘civilian control’.

        How about this for a tighter definition: having the highest echelon(s) of the military chain of command accountable to (elected) civilians makes coups much less likely? That is non-circular and potentially even testable: you could fairly objectively rate each country according to its top brass’s accountability, and then after a few years of coup-watching you could see if high civilian control -> low P(coup). (Doing a historical analysis might be possible, but blinding is an issue.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          It’s not just that there was a successful coup in France in 1958, but there were a ton of unsuccessful attempts against de Gaulle. Not only were there attempts, but he fought them by donning his uniform, so he thought that civilian control was inadequate. Maybe France has had civilian control of the military since ditching Algeria in 1962 or 1969 when de Gaulle resigned. But it’s not just France. Greece and Korea have had postwar coups. What does Propaganda Due tell us?

          “Accountability” does not sound to me much more specific than “Control,” but that is the least of the problems. Maybe you can propose an objective measure of control, but that does not make it copyable social technology. Height is not a tool for being allowed on a roller coaster. It is merely a continuum measure that encompasses a binary goal. The same might be true with civilian control and coups (or at least for some operationalizations of “control”).

  15. John Wentworth says:

    After the post on politics and the zombie apocalypse I thought a bit about how gay marriage fits into that theory on the conservative side. The obvious guess is that conservatives have a strong disgust response to gay marriage, which in practice seems to be true. That would make opposition to gay marriage just another example of purity/contamination ethics. I’ve also heard (although I haven’t checked into this) that gay intercourse carries much higher risk of disease propagation, which is exactly what purity/contamination ethics evolved for.

    So under this picture, gay relationships actually WERE disadvantageous for much of history, primarily because they increased disease risk. HIV is the most recent and salient example, but I’m sure there have been others.

    On the other hand, I’ve also heard (and, again, not checked) that females with gay relatives have an evolutionary advantage. Combine this with the increased disease risk, and it makes sense to support gay relationships IF there is a low disease risk. Based on the zombie apocalypse picture, people who don’t feel a strong disease risk should lean liberal.

    It’s important to note that disease risk was generally higher for agricultural humans than for humans in the ancestral environment. So it makes sense that gay feelings were evolutionarily o.k., but seemed disgusting in times of high disease risk. Thus, gay relationships were generally frowned upon by agricultural societies, which typically had much-higher-than-ancestral disease rates. We might even go out on a limb and predict that nomadic cultures are more accepting of gay marriage (I haven’t checked that either).

    Most important, since the mid-20th century the risk of virtually all infectious diseases has dropped precipitously in first-world countries. Thus, gay marriage doesn’t carry nearly the disease risk it once did, especially if couples are careful about getting tested.

    Finally, this whole theory suggests an approach to discussing gay marriage with conservatives. Even though most complaints are nominally religious, it’s probably driven mainly by the disgust reaction, and needs to be addressed on that level in order to make real progress. Conservatives need to be shown, somehow, that gay love is not gross, but natural and beautiful.

    • nico says:

      I’ve also heard (although I haven’t checked into this) that gay intercourse carries much higher risk of disease propagation, which is exactly what purity/contamination ethics evolved for.

      The mechanisms I’ve heard to support this are somewhat HIV-specific. Namely:

      1. It’s pretty hard for an insertive partner to get HIV from a receptive one. Gay men are the one special case where someone could be an insertive partner one day and receptive the next.
      2. Rectum? Hell, it killed him!

    • AnonymousLurker says:

      “HIV is the most recent and salient example, but I’m sure there have been others.”

      There haven’t. Or rather, the others are equally recent. Syphilis is the most notable example, and it was not highly associated with homosexuality until the past several decades.

      • keranih says:

        Not correct. The elevated rate of hepatitis B in gay men, for example, was noted in And the band played on.

        past several decades – this is the sticking point, I think – the increased acceptance and transparency of homosexuality has overlapped with better disease tracking abilities. I am interested in what we will discover wrt homosexuality and mental illness, as the public stigma against homosexuality decreases (which has been blamed for many of the mental issues of homosexuals) and the state of the science in mental health improves.

        • anodognosic says:

          “and the state of the science in mental health improves”

          Good luck with that one.

    • Texan99 says:

      A lot of religious traditions, and certainly those associated with American conservatives, are cool if not hostile to hedonism. Risk-free casual sex is strongly associated with hedonism. You can see this as buzzkill Church-lady attitudes if you like, but you’ll have more success communicating with an orthodox Christian if you acknowledge that they believe people have a hard time being right with God as long as they treat sexual appetite–or any other appetite–as something they’re entitled to indulge to the hilt without consequences. They believe it’s an attitude that undermines the most important thing in life, which is communion with God. In a nutshell, that’s why Popes don’t care for birth control.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Hm. That might be a reason why Popes recommend ‘rhythm method’ birth control. It discourages sex, but it doesn’t work very well, so they get the babies with less sex.

  16. chosenonemore says:

    I think it’s much simpler than any specific gay-marriage thing. Cultures have evolved to encourage people to form a stable family unit with children. This is favorable for a lot of obvious reasons, at the level of the individual (stability, economic safety net, joint childrearing) and the culture (more children, the culture spreads).
    Gay relationships and marriage threaten that, again at the level of the individual (a specific individual not having children) and that of the culture, because individuals start trends.

  17. Alraune says:

    There’s a cultural evolution argument that we tried traditional sexuality, that made a lot of people unhappy, and now we’re trying something else. It’s unclear how this is different from the Maoism example in a way that makes jettisoning Maoism good, but jettisoning traditional sexuality bad.

    Maoism did not make people unhappy, it made them dead.

    • CJB says:

      Define “a lot of people.”

      There’s very, very VERY little evidence that all those people in their little boxes made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same were or are unhappy.

      It turns out that when you’re happy with a quiet job and a quiet family and your GI bill house, you don’t really feel a great need to fuck off to New York and write folk songs.

      So the only people writing folk songs anymore are people that couldn’t hack it in the burbs.

      This has been my theory for a while- art tends to come out of dissatisfaction. Small town rural Mayberry-esque* american towns are very, very satisfying places to live- so they suck at peddling their culture.

      (Ironically enough, Mayberry is experiencing a large revival because it’s BECOME countercultural. )

      And I’ve lived in a few of those small carolina towns- not far from where Andy Griffith grew up in Mount Airy. In 2015, I can report to you- the Andy Griffith show is very, very close to reality. Our town had three cops, one of whom was about 80 and didn’t give parking tickets because he felt bad about it. You walk down the street and wave to the local shopkeepers sweeping the sidewalk. Small town parades with 8 year olds saluting 90 year old vets while everyone cheers. It isn’t perfect, but it’s realllllllly nice.

      It also doesn’t make for great music, sadly. The people making the traditional mountain music tend to be the poor and suffering. These people are a lot more Lawrence Welk than anything else.

      *For people not familiar- “The Andy Griffith Show” was about Andy Taylor, the sensible sheriff of a small town in, pretty much, western North Carolina. It’s Norman Rockwell on the silver screen, essentially.

  18. nico says:

    I’ll posit a reason why cultures near-universally dislike homosexuality:

    Parents want grandkids. Gay relationships don’t give kids, so parents dissuade their children from gay relationships. Over time, individual dissuasion becomes cultural disgust.

    This theory applies equally well to male and female homosexuality.

    • gattsuru says:

      I’m not sure why that would be tabooed more than simply not having a sexual relationship at all, which is often lower-status but seldom nearly as taboo as homosexuality.

      • Anon says:

        Because there’s a lot less need to taboo celibacy! Monogamy with a cute woman (which is what the parents in this case would be most afraid of, as there’s not even a chance of progeny) is a lot more fun than celibacy.

    • So why is religious celibacy as prevalent as it is?

      And if you have a traditionally sized family, only one of your own 11 children failing to reproduce isnt going to be that impactive.

      • Matt M says:

        Historically, religious celibacy was accompanied by a rise in socio-economic status that was otherwise unavailable to the lower classes.

        So yes, your son who goes off to become a monk won’t produce grandkids for you, but at least he’s engaging in some combination of pleasing God and bettering his status, so you can have some pride and bragging rights in that as well.

        • Aaron says:

          History is full of cultures and cultural ideas that are astonishingly self-destructive: religious suicide cults, Nazism, nuclear mutual assured destruction and so on. They are also filled with a variety of cultural superstitions that work against biological survival in smaller ways (e.g., anti-vaxxers and anti-medicine religions).

          Instead of cultural evolution conferring biological advantage it seems more likely that they are frequently at odds.

        • LeeEsq says:

          The entire idea of one son inheriting the land was more common in some European countries than other. English inheritance law was much more forgiving of primogeniture than French inheritance law, which tended to force you to provide something for all your children.

        • That doesnt answer the question: the issue is not what motivate people to do it, but how a society of 3% non reproductive religious celibates survives, when having 3% nonrreproductive gays would apparently cause a collapse.

          • Alraune says:

            Again, high fertility is a constraint, not an optimization target. Cultural and technological innovations act as strong force multipliers for human bodies, but they can only act as force multipliers for the bodies that you actually have. If you aren’t keeping up the body supply, you’ll be supplanted in the long game by literally anyone. When you’re competitive though, having 3% more warm bodies around than you need as breeders and soldiers is entirely possible and channeling some of that excess into whatever it is priests do can be advantageous.

            The relevant question here is not “do homosexuals resemble non-reproductive priesthoods?”, it’s “does that priesthood resemble a death cult?”

          • Matt M says:

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but one of the reasons that historically, parents had many more children is that some of them were expected to die in childhood, and then more were expected to die in early adulthood fighting in a war, and then more were expected to die from influenza, etc. such that, if you wanted to have at least one child live long enough to take care of you in your old age and inherit your estate, you should probably start with 5-6 babies.

            In this case, babies #3 – 6 that live through and reach adulthood are essentially superfluous. They were an emergency buffer supply that you ended up not needing. So sending them off to the Priesthood is fine. So long as everyone keeps doing that, the Priesthood can replenish itself, and regular society is still replenishing itself at its own desired rate.

          • Alraune says:

            True, but somewhat missing the point. That’s a material constraint, not a cultural one.

            The high-fertility constraint on cultures is that a culture that promotes less reproduction than a decade-and-a-half of biennial births is trivially beaten by a culture that cribs all its other notes but has 6-8 children per couple. A variation of current western culture where you’re encouraged to marry at the start of college rather than the end, for instance, would win handily, and that’s such a trivial mutation that I expect to see it in our lifetimes.

          • Tom Womack says:

            ‘a culture that cribs all its other notes but has 6-8 children per couple’

            is a complete nonsense, because having that many children closes off all sorts of options which are required for being able to use the other features of the culture. No chance of the blocks of uninterrupted free time in which entrepreneurial ideas develop; no chance of the spare money to throw private-tutors at the areas that the State schools have difficulty with; no chance of one room per child so the ten-year-old kids can get on with their homework in peace, quite likely no chance of one computer per child ditto.

            Marrying at the start of university means childbirth during first- and second-year examples and divorces during Finals, which doesn’t seem great for promoting a positive learning environment; there is one family of my acquaintance where Mum and Dad are both doctors and all three children arrived before either parent’s medical training finished, but they’re sufficiently impressive characters that I would not recommend that for everybody.

          • @Alraune

            But cultures that had reeligious celibacy weren’t beaten by ones that didn’t. Facts beat theories where I come from… and slightly more refined theories will tell you why.

        • Yes, I can see how it worked in terms of the actual values of traditional societies, values designed to not only sustain the population, but avoid mass starvation, maintain status, etc.

          The rhetorical question was how it works in terms of Johnson’s background assumption that mouths that fecundity is all.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        First of all, I don’t think religious celibacy is *that* prevalent. Catholic and (some) Orthodox clerics, sure, but Protestant pastors are allowed to get married, and so (as far as I know) are Imams and Rabbis. Pre-Christian Greece and Rome didn’t have any celibacy requirement for their priests. (Maybe the Vestal Virgins, but there were only ever a dozen or so of them at a time, and they were vastly outnumbered by all the non-celibate priesthoods.)

        Secondly, and probably more importantly, religious celibacy has traditionally been seen as abandoning a good thing (child-rearing) for an even better thing (serving God). “I want to be celibate so that I can serve and please God” is probably going to be an easier sell than “I want to avoid marrying so I can shack up with another man and have lots of anal sex.”

        • onyomi says:

          Buddhist monks and nuns are also celibate throughout South and East Asia. And yes it is often viewed as a prestige thing: ideally, each Tibetan family should contribute at least one son to the monasteries.

          The fact that men seem to have taken up these lifestyles somewhat more often than women, globally speaking, does seem to speak to the relative superfluity of a large percentage of men in almost any given population, reproductively speaking–and all the more so in polygamous societies.

        • Adam says:

          I’m not convinced this even requires explanation. All this stuff about low birth rates hurting cultures seems like a very contemporary concern. Maybe it happens to Italy, and as far as I know, they’ll be the first (would it be ironic if the first country to die of inverted demographic pyramid is the most Catholic of all countries?). It may or may not have been food constraint, but there was a reason we never passed a billion people on the planet until roughly the time of the industrial revolution. Whether it was building enough roads, putting in enough sewage, figuring out how to pump in an adequate supply of water, there has never been a place that could afford six surviving children per family indefinitely for very long without some sort of war, famine, or pandemic wiping out a whole bunch of them. The fact that one in five sons became a monk in a few wealthy families that could afford scholarship hardly seems like it would have put a perceptible dent into anything. The Black Plague killed 50 million people, 60% of Europe. There have never been 50 million monks.

        • By Johnson’s theory, religious celibacy should have zero prevalence, for the same reasons that has, according to him, tolerance of homosexuality has zero prevalence.

      • Alraune says:

        So why is religious celibacy as prevalent as it is?

        A. Fucking the locals is a common failure mode for traveling missionaries, and traveling missionaries are a major religious vector.

        B. If you wish to cultivate a parallel political structure in a society ruled by hereditary monarchs, rendering yourself unable to create a bloodline dynasty dramatically increases the chance you will be tolerated.

        • John Schilling says:

          C: When, not if, you wind up with a priest who uses his office for private gain, the eternal Church still gets it all in an insignificant generation.

        • By Johnson’s theory, religious celibacy should have zero prevalence, for the same reasons that has, according to him, tolerance of homosexuality has zero prevalence.

  19. Carl Shulman says:

    “Note that THIS IS REALLY DIFFERENT FROM THE FIRST TYPE OF CULTURAL EVOLUTION. In fact, it might be diametrically opposite. For example, gay sex may be lots of fun – and as people figure this out and tell their friends, it will be positively selected through the first type of cultural evolution. But it might weaken a culture’s Moral Fabric – in which case it will be negatively selected through the second type of cultural evolutio”

    Something like this seems so obviously true as to not require further discussion.”

    You discussed individual level learning and imitation about immediate costs and benefits (horizontal transmission), and group selection through conflict. But you didn’t consider differential reproduction and vertical cultural transmission.

    If a religion encourages higher fertility, and can be passed down with reasonable fidelity (enough so that the fertility boost makes up for net defections) then it will become more common in the population. The Amish and Hutterites have become increasingly common with time, even though far more people leave them than join as converts, because their cultural practices. A similar process is making Judaism increasingly Orthodox in both the United States and Israel as more secular denominations have fewer children while stricter sects have more. More broadly, in general the highly religious are having more children under modern conditions while losing more converts than they gain.

    Trading kids for fun may win the horizontal memetic competition for converts, while losing the vertical competition for rearing more kids holding the meme.

    Of course the result isn’t some kind of mysterious Burkean wisdom: one can clearly see the tradeoffs. Traditional rules about only having procreational sex, in marriage, with no abortion or contraception, favored having more kids at the expense of various kinds of liberty and happiness. You can then directly assess where you want to be on that spectrum. And denying many people the liberty to be happy with their romantic lives in order to ensure more bisexuals take opposite-sex partners, and to trap gay and lesbian people in torturous (but fertile) opposite-sex marriages, would be a very cruel and vicious tradeoff that we can directly critique and condemn.

    “Imagine if instead of Communism happening, twenty different countries had adopted one Communist ideal each and we’d waited to see which ones grew and which ones declined. We’d still be waiting, and probably instead of getting any useful information we’d just end up seeing the Rise of China and not being sure whether it was because of their Communist ideal or something else.”

    Say there are hundreds of little changes with an impact of 1% each that are initially set independently in each of many cultural bundles. Then you’ll get a roughly normal distribution of advantage across bundles, and if there are many cultures the top might have an advantage of, many percent, enough to double in a few generations.

    Also, just as in biological evolution, sex can allow for the concentration of helpful ideas.

  20. Alex Z says:

    It’s also worth pointing out there are all sorts of correlated traits where only some of the correlated traits confer an advantage. Maybe disliking homosexuals is highly correlated with being pro law and order and societies that are pro law and order have an advantage. And so if you break the correlation between the two, you can get the beneficial trait (being pro law and order) without the non-beneficial trait (being anti-homosexual). But I think your argument makes more sense.

    • DiscoveredJoys says:

      Indeed. It seems that at least part of ‘being gay’ has a genetic component but if that gay component (I am so not using a singular ‘gay gene’) was genetically associated with fertility or good health (say) then a family that had 10 children, one of which was ‘gay’, would still leave more copies of their genes than a family that had only 5 ‘straight’ kids – those copies including the gay genetic component.

      Interestingly I’ve read that the later in birth order a male is the more likely they are to be gay. Which suggests to me some interaction between genes and the development environment within the womb.

      As for ‘cultural evolution’ my somewhat cynical view is that although it can be powerful it is just ‘dressing up’ building on top of the basic genetic and environmental factors. YMMV.

  21. Anonymous says:

    As I read them, the quotes don’t necessarily posit “intercultural evolution.” Absent context, it seems like they could just as well be talking about the “guess and check” phenomenon you discuss at the end. The Tumblr quote especially seems to be talking about “guess and check.”

    gay sex may be lots of fun – and as people figure this out and tell their friends, it will be positively selected through the first type of cultural evolution. But it might weaken a culture’s Moral Fabric – in which case it will be negatively selected through the second type of cultural evolution.

    But also, if people notice their Moral Fabric decaying they will try to react instead of waiting for their culture to be wiped out.

    Likewise, there’s a cultural evolution argument that we tried traditional sexuality, that made a lot of people unhappy, and now we’re trying something else. It’s unclear how this is different from the Maoism example in a way that makes jettisoning Maoism good, but jettisoning traditional sexuality bad.

    I think the point is that you are supposed to be strongly biased in favor of tradition because it’s been through lots of guess-and-check cycles. This reasoning seems to recommend being extremely skeptical of Maoism in the first place.

  22. Evan Þ says:

    Are there any actual recorded instances of the first type of cultural evolution happening with food or other necessities of life? AFAIK, all we have are tribes showing up in their respective territories, with their respective diets, at the beginning of recorded history in that region; and other tribes moving to new territories and learning the local diets and other customs from the previous inhabitants. But, I haven’t studied the subject in any detail – do we actually have any records of tribes figuring it out by trial and error over time?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There are lots of modern examples.

      All the Admirals copied Grog when his sailors didn’t die of scurvy. They copied his practice of putting lemon in his grog, which he did for unrelated reasons. Renaissance Europe knew that swamps caused malaria, and thus that it could be prevented by draining swamps. Since malaria reached Europe in historical time, this discovery might be documented. Many New World crops spread around the world. Copying might not count for this question, but figuring out that the potato was suited to Ireland and Poland does count. Native Americans adopted horses (not very well documented).

      • LHN says:

        Though the failure to fully understand the mechanism led to a second wave of scurvy problems in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly for Arctic explorers.

        (It would have hit the Navy too once it started substituting West Indian limes, which had much less Vitamin C, for lemons. But faster ships fortunately meant that scurvy rarely had time to set in.)

  23. Oliver Cromwell says:

    Thank you for a stupendously interesting post, or at least for bringing stupendously interesting ideas a little closer to the mainstream. I have a few points of disagreement that should not be taken as too strong criticism of the thrust of the post.

    “The difference between the obvious Inuit form of cultural evolution and the non-obvious marriage form is that of within-culture versus between-cultures evolution.

    “Marriage doesn’t seem to work that way. If one person decides not to marry in the usual way, it doesn’t necessarily hurt that person. They might have lots of affairs, and enjoy them. Or they might get gay married, and enjoy that. Any claim that cultural evolution argues against gay marriage because it’s bad for the actual gay-married person must face the fact that actually gay-married people seem totally okay with it, and in fact are urging their friends to do it, the exact opposite of the red berry situation.”

    I think you are falling into an old trap of thinking that evolution drives a progression from ‘worse’ to ‘better’ in terms of humanistic values. Evolution drives a progression from less to more fit in reproductive terms. It does not matter if people enjoy gay marriage; what matters is its effect on their rate of reproduction. It is possible that selection can take place purely within one society simply be permitting people freedom to pursue unfit habits: everyone who wants to have fun gay sex all the time goes off and has no children, while conservatives who are disgusted by that idea have four kids. A few centuries later the descendants of the latter group are in power regardless how powerful and successful the former group may have been in its own lifetime.

    As you point out, late Rome and early Rome did not have the same culture. Was that due to people adopting values that were somehow more fun, due to military pressure, or due to differential birth and survival rates within the society? Unfortunately hard data is now lacking, but as early as Gibbon it was remarked that the famous families of the Republic just disappeared from the records by the time of the Dominate, so I think it must be considered a plausible mechanism.

    “So I interpret it as a different claim: a culture that allows gay marriage will, for various reasons, become weak and unsuccessful. Then it will be crushed by other cultures, either militarily, economically, or in a sort of marketplace of ideas where people convert to or assimilate into the other culture because it’s more attractive and successful.”

    Or by immigration. ‘Fun’ cultures full of people who don’t reproduce seem like easy prey for population displacement by somewhat-more-conservative incomers.

    “How long is a “generation” in cultural evolution? Rome lasted a thousand years, Byzantium another thousand. It took about three hundred years for Christianity to replace paganism in Rome; Enlightenment values have been replacing Christianity for three hundred years already and aren’t nearly done. Any sort of evolutionary process that involves waiting for Rome to fall is a process that will take way longer than human history to come to any sort of conclusion.”

    I agree with you that in the broad brush military competition probably isn’t the most important factor. But here’s a counter-example: Nazi Germany. The, err ‘unique’ Nazi culture totally disappeared in just six years, never to return. Regimes like NK are no less evil – but they are docile enough that they don’t assemble grand coalitions against them. I think one can make a strong argument that the Nazis died out because of their values. And conversely, had the war gone better for them, a whole lot of other peoples’ values would have died out.

    “Societies with alternative conceptions of marriage seem to have died out. That suggests that this conception contains something useful; even if we can’t see it we should be wary of interfering with it, in the same way we are wary to disrupt our body’s metabolic balance or alter genes willy-nilly.”

    Is there really such a space for ‘even if we can’t see it’? Essentially all developed societies have sub-replacement birthrates. If you exclude recent immigrants, I think actually all of them. Many of them have native TFRs in the region of ~1, i.e. halving of the population each lifetime. Of course that doesn’t mean that humanity will die out. It means that the currently most important swathes of humanity will have ceased to be important (or change that culture) within a few hundred years. Someone else will inhabit the land and constitutional forms in many places may well still have continuity.

    Who will replace them? Just look at the demographic data. The US as a whole has a TFR of around 2; urban liberals have a TFR of around 1; Amish have a TFR of around 6. In the long run, are the currently dominant cultural values of urban liberals going to survive? How much life does gay marriage have in it? Probably more than one human lifetime, but more than ten? And that’s why cultural taboos are so important for a society. They stop people doing things that really are beneficial to themselves, and from which they will suffer few or no consequences personally, but which will devastate the society in the long run.

    Note I am not saying developed world TFRs are solely a result of gay marriage. But gay marriage, women in the workforce, welfare, contraception, abortion, and cultural anti-natalism are very much a package deal. Today’s most rapidly growing cultures are the ones that have the fewest of these.

    The other alternative is to try to produce a hermetically sealed monoculture that is not exposed to this sort of internal evolutionary cultural pressure: ban immigration, build up a strong military force, and suppress anyone who has values that result in a too high TFR. But at this point 1. we are back at extreme cultural conservatism, just with a different set of values, and 2. those values are probably totally dysfunctional in between-group selection – how long is a US whose population halves every eighty years really going to hold on to its land?

    • Steve Johnson says:

      The recent women’s soccer World Cup typifies the important trends.

      The US team defeated the Japanese team. Healthy athletic women all of whom have zero children competed on the world stage and won fame and glory. Those women will go on to a life where their expectations for mates are so out of line with their value to the opposite sex that most of them will have a very hard time finding a husband and having children. Hey, but they proved that women can accomplish stuff, right?

      The US women’s team also lost to a 17 and under boys team in a scrimmage 8-2. In the past they’ve lost to 15 and under boys teams also.

      • NL says:

        There were four US players with kids. Many of the rest are married or engaged. Mostly to other athletes.

        • Sylocat says:

          Hush, you’re making poor Steve’s head hurt.

          (if Steve Johnson’s comments contribute positively to the discourse here, then so does mine)

      • PSF says:

        “Those women will go on to a life where their expectations for mates are so out of line with their value to the opposite sex that most of them will have a very hard time finding a husband and having children”

        I’m not really sure what you mean by this. Is your claim that members of the USWNT would be unable to find a husband if they wanted? This seems…unlikely at best.

        (EDIT: Whoops, should’ve refreshed)

        • Steve Johnson says:

          I’m not really sure what you mean by this. Is your claim that members of the USWNT would be unable to find a husband if they wanted?

          The claim is that women have specific demands in looking for a mate and will remain alone (well, not actually alone – sexually available to the men who meet her standard) if she can’t meet those criteria.

          Women demand men that are more athletic than they are, that are more accomplished than they are and are more famous, more intelligent, etc. These women have gone out and gotten famous and believe themselves to be highly athletic (although they did get destroyed by a team of 17 year old and younger boys) so their standards are extremely high.

          The problem is that these accomplishments that these women think make them massively valuable don’t make them massively valuable to men. There’s a huge mismatch between her assessment of her value and her value to men. Hypergamy.

          * Looking at pics of the team – lots of obvious lesbians there. No loss to the marriage market I suppose.

          • NL says:

            And yet Carli Lloyd is engaged to her high school sweetheart who’s a golfer that came in at the bottom of his US Open sectional qualifier (below both two 15 year olds and a 17 year old).

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            You are mistaken, while it’s a recent meme that female athletes are just as good and should totally get the same attention as male athletes, the athletes themselves probably understand the huge gap that exists.

            That is besides the point of whether your claim about athleticism is true. From my (obviously not generalizable) observation, it is true in the sense that most traditional gender conceptions are: It is broadly appliable to most of the population, but there is a non-negligible segment of the population for whom it isn’t, and I’d expect female atheletes to be overrepresented in that segment.

          • ” Women demand men that are more athletic than they are, …”

            Weren’t you arguing that 15 year old boys are more athletic than the US women’s soccer team?

          • Richard says:

            @TheAncientGeek
            I suspect that was the entire point. The women athletes THINK they are the best in the world, and so want men who are best in the world, NOT counting the gender difference in athletic ability. This means they are vastly overestimating their own athletic ability and consequently narrows their selection pool a lot more than is healthy or sane.

            My personal experience with women who are top athletes tells me that the entire premise is complete and utter nonsense, but given those premises, the argument is coherent.

          • AbuDhabi says:

            Weren’t you arguing that 15 year old boys are more athletic than the US women’s soccer team?

            Athleticism does not necessarily mean raw effectiveness in athletic pursuits. For example, an average couch potato of a man is likely stronger than an average professional athlete of a woman. Does that make the man more athletic?

      • Deiseach says:

        Healthy athletic women all of whom have zero children competed on the world stage and won fame and glory. Those women will go on to a life where their expectations for mates are so out of line with their value to the opposite sex that most of them will have a very hard time finding a husband and having children. Hey, but they proved that women can accomplish stuff, right?

        I’m sorry, I’m trying to parse those sentences and I can’t make any sense of it.

        Unless you’re trying to say “Men don’t like masculine women! Women like that are probably lesbians! Sport makes women all muscly and looking like men and probably turns them into lesbians too, so ladies – stick to flower arranging and you’ll get a man, but anything above the level of gymnastics – where girls can look small and pretty while they dance with the pretty ribbons, for instance – will render you A Hideous Loveless Hag”.

        This does not take into account that women who could do (and were expected to do) hard physical work did manage to get married, even if they were “beef to the heel like a Mullingar heifer”. Generations of rural Irish women who were able to work with the men on farms did manage to find husbands and have children.

        Are there no men who have expectations for mates out of line with their value to the opposite sex? Or is this yet more “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” thinking – women are less attracted by appearance than men, so ugly men have a chance of getting good-looking women (but not vice versa). However, this is because Girls Don’t Like Boys, Girls Like Cars and Money, so women are gold-diggers who only care about the size of a man’s – wallet.

        • Deiseach says:

          Honestly, I’m trying to work out what “value to the opposite sex” can mean, and what I’m getting is:

          – you must be pretty in the acceptably conventional way. So a level of fitness is required, but not too much fitness. Don’t look like an athlete, that is unfeminine and unappealing and besides, only men can be proper sportsmen. It’s your responsibility to remain attractive and appealing to the man who selects you, so no letting yourself go after marriage. Also, you cannot be as fussy about your requirements for good looks in a man as a man can have expectations for what he finds appealing in a woman; women are supposed to like men for their character, intelligence and achievements, not how good they look (but don’t be a gold-digger!)

          – you should be smart, but not quite as smart as your man. Let him be that bit smarter than you. Men don’t like bookworms or swots. But they don’t like brainless women (other than as diversions, not marriage material) either. You have to be able to take an intelligent interest in what his interests are, but by no means know more about the topic than he does. Let him instruct you.

          – you should work, because the days of being a parasite on the labour of your husband are over and you should not be a gold-digger. But not in any kind of job that is higher status or better-paid than your husband works. He is the breadwinner and your career should be subordinate to his (e.g. if his work requires that the household moves across the country, you quit your job and move. But you cannot and should not expect reciprocal treatment if your career involves uprooting the household and moving across the country, much less asking him to quit his job, because that would negatively impact his career).

          – you should have children (actually, I agree on this: the purpose of marriage is children) but not too many, and you are the primary caretaker of those children, they’re your responsibility. If anyone has to stay home and take care of them, it’ll be you, but not for too long or as a stay-at-home wife and mother, you’ll need to go back to a proper job (see above re: the days of leeching off men to support you). Unless your husband wants you to stay at home and look after the kids, the household, and his needs. That’s different.

          • Viliam Búr says:

            I’ll try to give my personal opinion of how I (a heterosexual male) perceive these things about a potential partner:

            fitness = generally, fitness is great! The problem is that sports, especially when you compete internationally, require a lot of muscles. You can get bigger muscles by getting testosterone injections. That makes one seem less feminine, and therefore less attractive to me. Fitness is not a problem; testosterone and developing male sexual characteristics is.

            intelligence and money = awesome! Just don’t forget that having children will impact your income, at least for a while.

            For example if you expect 30 years of a successful career, and you want to have 3 children, and you want to take care of each of them for about 2 years, that reduces your total career time by 20%; if everything goes according to your plans. (Your own numbers may be different.) So you should multiply your income by 0.8 to get your effective long-term income. If it is still a huge number, and if you really live on at most 80% of this sum and save at least the 20%, I repeat: awesome!

            The problem with intelligence and money usually comes from the other side; at least the internet says so, but my experience also supports it somewhat. Women often say that they could not respect a man who is less inteligent or makes less money than them. (Sometimes they use code-words such as “successful”, “knows what he wants”, or just vaguely say “a man I could respect” and refuse to be specific; but after additional questions I typically find out that a man without university diploma is a “loser”, and a smart man without above-average income is “lazy” and “wasting his potential”, which are all negative character traits, and of course a self-respecting woman should never accept that from her partner.) If such a woman still somehow settles down for a man with less intelligence or less income than she has, I suspect she rubs it in his face at least twice a week.

            So while I don’t have a problem with either intelligence or money — honestly, I love them both! — dating a woman that visibly exceeds me in either category might be a recipe for a bad, potentially even abusive, relationship. I’m speaking theoretically here, because I have a relatively high IQ and income, so I never had much opportunity dating this kind of women. But it might be a realistic risk for average men.

            woman taking care of children = well, as a man I can’t do neither pregnancy nor breastfeeding, which kinda limits our options. When these two things get out of the way, I would be okay staying home with the children, if my wife could make enough money. When all children are old enough to visit school, depending on the number and age of the children, I think the primary caretaker (which hypothetically could be me) could also take a part-time job; and when the children are old enough to help with the household, even a full-time job.

            (Actually, I think being the primary caretaker is a great opportunity to try your own creative project you can do at home or online — e.g. writing a novel or a blog; creating a computer game — because you have a lot of work that keeps your hands busy but your brain relatively unoccupied; so you can spend a lot of time thinking, and then use an hour or two in the evening to implement it.)

            Again, these are my personal preferences; I may be very atypical. But I would expect a typical male to differ mostly in the paragraphs about doing your own projects; he might prefer better food or more comfort at home.

          • Adam says:

            Dude, female soccer players don’t make that much money and they mostly retire from the sport in their early 30s. And zero of them are remotely muscular. They’re super lean, but won’t be as soon as they stop practicing for ten hours a day, seven days a week.

        • AbuDhabi says:

          I think he means hypergamy; that these women, having their status inflated by being star athletes, will not accept any man of lesser status as husband, thus heavily restricting their pool of potential mates.

      • Texan99 says:

        This is a fascinating trend in Comment-World that I’ve been observing for some years now: a bunch of guys are supremely irritated that women have more social influence and broader choices than formerly. They make unwarranted assumptions about how such women choose their mates, then make dark predictions about how unsuccessful and unhappy the women are as a result–“See, they’re not really powerful, they’re miserable! (So if they rejected me, they’ll get their comeuppance.)”

        None of it appears to be borne out in real life. To tell the truth, it seems mostly like sour grapes.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          They are mostly pointing out that female childlessness, divorce rates and single parent households are going up. This were, of course, things they predicted were going to happen back when traditional marriage was being modernized – predictions which were widely ridiculed.

          It can of course be argued that women are much better off, despite these changes, but the opposite position is hardly just ‘sour grapes’.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Does it say which women are the ones who feel worse off? If salaries are displayed, the worse off feel envious. Maybe the same thing is happening here.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Or it could be argued that some women are better off and some worse. I suspect the single mothers are mostly doing worse than the professional soccer players (where those sets are disjoint).

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          >They make unwarranted assumptions about how such women choose their mates, then make dark predictions about how unsuccessful and unhappy the women are as a result–“See, they’re not really powerful, they’re miserable! (So if they rejected me, they’ll get their comeuppance.)”

          A study shows that women are actually less happy now (both in absolute terms and relative to men). While “blah blah one study blah blah” applies, the source of the study makes it more credible than one would expect of studies with such a result.

          It’s true that only a trend has been found, and is disingenuous to just make unwarranted assumptions about the reasons of this decline, but it’s also not great to make unwarranted assumptions about the thought processes of those making them.

          • Texan99 says:

            Perhaps it would be best for me not to speculate about the thought processes of people who say things like “Those women will go on to a life where their expectations for mates are so out of line with their value to the opposite sex that most of them will have a very hard time finding a husband and having children.” On the other hand, the thought process there is on bright display, and the offensiveness of the thought process lies in its willingness to speculate about the thought processes of women these guys haven’t the faintest clue about.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I was talking more about the whole “losers’ impotent rage” angle. I have no issue with criticizing a person’s explicitly stated thought process (I even had a different disagreement with it further upthread).

    • Stuart Armstrong says:

      > ‘Fun’ cultures full of people who don’t reproduce seem like easy prey for population displacement by somewhat-more-conservative incomers.

      Or another way of phrasing that, fun cultures are great at co-opting members of other, less fun cultures…

      • Oliver Cromwell says:

        Absolutely. The mainstream bet seems to be that assimilation totally washes out reproduction of the un-assimilated. But this is nonsense. Even a tiny community that persists with pro-natalist values will eventually replace the TFR < 2.0 community completely.

        In 1920, there were 5,000 Amish. Today, there are over 300,000. So this is not idle speculation.

        The only way out for the mainstream society is to actively suppress high TFR minorities. But that means cultural conservatism. It also means doom in inter-group competition.

        • Tom Womack says:

          You don’t need explicit cultural conservatism to suppress high TFR minorities; you need Hollywood and McDonalds and the agriculture < service < manufacturing productivity-per-person rule. Archaic agrarians are limited by the amount of land they can buy from people who agree that most uses of land are preferable to agriculture.

          • Oliver Cromwell says:

            Western culture suppresses the TFR of the cultural majority. Cultural minorities are by definition populations with a different culture.

          • Mary says:

            That culture is a roadblock, like measles or lactose intolerance. It’s purging the community of those who can be subverted.

        • J. Quinton says:

          “In 1920, there were 5,000 Amish. Today, there are over 300,000. So this is not idle speculation.”

          I think this would be a better argument if you used fraction of the total population instead of absolute numbers.

          There are 300 million people in the USA. 300,000 is 1% of this. I don’t have numbers on hand, but is 5,000 greater than, equal to, or less than 1% of the USA population in 1920?

          • AbuDhabi says:

            106,021,537 in 1920.

            So… USA increased three-fold in that time, while the Amish increased 60 times.

          • Alraune says:

            There were 106 million Americans in 1920. The Amish have increased their prevalence by a factor of 21.

          • Adam says:

            How many times over has the atheist population increased since 1920?

          • AbuDhabi says:

            Atheists have high fertility now?

            AFAIK, they become atheists chiefly by conversion, rather than inheritance of parents’ values.

          • Alraune says:

            How many times over has the atheist population increased since 1920?

            Harder to look up, but Gallup’s “Religion: None” has jumped from polling between 1% and 2% to polling in the midteens, so about 10x.

          • Mary says:

            None doesn’t mean atheist; it also includes Unaffiliated.

          • Alraune says:

            Obviously, yes. But unless you expect that atheists have also become 10x more prevalent within “None” relative to mere non-affiliation, it won’t change that estimate.

          • Adam says:

            @AbuDhabi

            Atheists have high fertility now?

            AFAIK, they become atheists chiefly by conversion, rather than inheritance of parents’ values.

            That’s the entire point. Ideas don’t need to confer high fertility to spread faster than other ideas.

          • Not Robin Hanson says:

            Could one make an “antibiotic resistance” argument (as Mary alluded to above)? If convertibility to non-fertile cultures is heritable, the non-fertile culture might still be out of luck once they’ve converted (and, being the non-fertile culture, bred out) too much of the convertibility in the fertile culture.

            Has there been any noticeable change in the Amish out-conversion rate since 1920?

    • Creutzer says:

      But gay marriage, women in the workforce, welfare, contraception, abortion, and cultural anti-natalism are very much a package deal.

      Well, historically, not exactly – only one of them – the thing which you call “cultural anti-natalism” which has nothing to do with philosophical anti-natalism – was available throughout human history. Women in the work force were a given, and welfare, contraception and abortion are dependent on the technological and economic progress of the last century. And if you don’t have contraception and abortion, an anti-natalist culture might not do all that much unless people are really smart and good at “natural” birth control or have extremely high rates of infanticide in consequence. So I’m not convinced yet that this explains why intolerance of exclusive homosexuality is practically universal. I can see how it might work, but I think it’s not a priori obvious that the numbers come out right.

      • keranih says:

        contraception and abortion are dependent on the technological and economic progress of the last century

        I wonder if we have enough data on infancide, abandonment and child farming to use these as historical proxies for contraception & abortion.

    • alexp says:

      “everyone who wants to have fun gay sex all the time goes off and has no children, while conservatives who are disgusted by that idea have four kids”

      This reminds of that anti-gay televangelist (Ted Haggert, I think) who insisted that we needed to suppress homosexuality because sex with men is more fun than sex with women and that if we didn’t, then men would only have sex with other men and there would be no more children. Obviously, he turned out to be a closeted homosexual.

      I know your point was more expansive than that, but it was an amusing connection.

      “as Gibbon it was remarked that the famous families of the Republic just disappeared from the records by the time of the Dominate, so I think it must be considered a plausible mechanism.”

      I think the most plausible mechanism was the periodic purges by paranoid emperors. Aristocrats with old names tended to be bigger potential threats than bricklayers two generations removed from slavery. At least until the Crisis of the 3rd Century.

      There was also natural attrition. Families tended to die out randomly back when disease and death from childbirth were huge issues.

      As for the rest, I think lower birth rates a feature, not a bug. Too high of a birth rate really isn’t sustainable, generally it comes down by itself even in poor nations. For example, TFR for second generation Latino immigrants in the US is about the level of everyone else.

      “Fun” culture, as some have alluded to above, is very good at assimilating people. I consider myself thoroughly indoctrinated into Western Liberal values despite my East Asian origin.

  24. Steve Johnson says:

    One might argue that the Judeo-Christian attitudes are superior, since Christianity did eventually take over Rome. On the other hand, both Greece and Rome took over Israel at various points; various Jewish texts record that during that time a lot of Jews were defecting to Greco-Roman culture and there were precious few defections the other way. It would seem that all of the other differences between Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian culture – theology, non-sexual mores, geography, technology, philosophy – had a lot more effect than the sexual mores.

    “Greco-Roman” civilization is a huge simplification. Pre-Greek Roman culture (before Rome conquered and absorbed Greece) had much tighter sexual morality. Afterward original Roman religion died and was replaced by a Greek pantheon that commanded no respect and sexual mores into a late-stage American / Weimar-like state (Caesar, a Sketch by Froude goes into detail about this). Divorce and infidelity were rampant – and the republic collapsed. The aristocratic class had degenerated into pure hedonism and spared no attention for ruling while the mob was incapable of ruling (being a mob). Caesar ended that state (and got ended in turn). Augustus was the first to try to reign in the depravity – with mixed results. Over time, Christianity grows – specifically because martial fidelity and disapproving of homosexuality means men invest in building wealth rather than consuming it. Christian women make excellent wives for upper class Romans (gotta love paternal certainty for causing men to think about the future) which furthers the spread of the religion through conversion of men who are looking for chaste wives.

    That doesn’t look like a coincidence. That looks like cultural evolution finding a solution that’s in line with human biology and that solution out competing the progressive solution.

    Of course, this is much more about the attitudes and understanding of the relationship between men and women than it is about sex between men and the implications of the attitudes towards that – but it’s not likely an accident that those are bundled together. Men who have sex with other men form bonds and look out for one another – they don’t seem to exclusively partner off (even when “married”) but create a hedonistic sub-culture. They don’t have children so they don’t have a stake in the future (in the present day they’re more likely to use drugs, have STDs, etc.). Think of someone like Bryan Singer working as a palace servant instead of a movie director and you get an idea of the danger to the administration of a country.

    Post-Rome Europe was in turmoil for hundreds of years with dozens of competing ethnic groups each with cultures – none of the ones that survived revived the late Roman traditions of women’s liberation and homosexual acceptance*. That’s cultural evolution that comes to a conclusion. It’s possible that each of the outcomes is coincidence but there are also strong fundamental reasons you can point to predict the outcomes. The combination of the two is the evidence.

    *Well, possibly except for the Cathars – they didn’t do too well in the self defense department though.

    • Deiseach says:

      Christian women make excellent wives for upper class Romans (gotta love paternal certainty for causing men to think about the future) which furthers the spread of the religion through conversion of men who are looking for chaste wives.

      Hmmm – I think your argument there is rather undercut by the traditional martyrologies of women refusing to marry, or being forced into marriage but maintaining that their vows of virginity over-rode that, or defying their fathers and husbands and their authority, e.g. St Cecilia, St Perpetua.

      You may as well argue that part of the success was that Christianity discouraged infanticide of daughters, and wasn’t too big either on having those unwanted daughters sold off into brothels, so that it had a huge appeal for women – you seem to be under-rating the influence of women in supporting the early church, particularly rich noblewomen such as St Jerome’s patroness, the wealthy widow Paula. And that vows of virginity and/or the consecrated life gave women a way of being independent, in a limited fashion, of the traditional authority of husbands and fathers.

      • Randy M says:

        What were the relative frequencies of those differing Christian female philosophies?

    • Shenpen says:

      You left out the “feminist” aspects. Pagan Greece / Rome had a huge rape industry. Look up pornai. Christians preached to slaves of both sex that they won’t get raped and to women that when their husbands gets bored of them he won’t sell them to the rape traders (pornobaskoi or what was the name, I forgot it – the owners of the slave bordelles). And Christians teached the only lawful sex is with the womans consent: given at the marriage altar. Formerly, this simply did not matter.

      So the point is Christianity, for that age, was “feminist”. This attracted women and slaves.

      • Randy M says:

        Yes, but I don’t see that weakening the argument–cultural evolution mediated by values.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Can you explain the “Romans adopting Greek gods” part? I had always had the impression that the Roman gods were always much the same as the Greek gods through general Indo-European-ness, and just picked up some of the Greek elaborations and sophistications on the mythology.

      I was thinking of mentioning the Cathars in this post, but after looking around I couldn’t find much evidence that they were actually homosexual, as opposed to “the Catholics accused them of that along with everything else.”

      • Mary says:

        General Indo-Europeanness was much overstated by the Victorian mythic studies. Compare Norse and Greek.

        (Fun fact: which Greco-Roman god did the Romans identify Odin with? Mercury)

        • Creutzer says:

          Right. There is also evidence that the Greeks didn’t come up with their religion all by themselves, but took some inspiration from the Hittites.

        • alexp says:

          It makes sense in a way. First, 1st century BC Suebii or Cheruscii Wotan was probably a very different figure from the 9th century Norse Odin. And from the perspective of the worshipper, the most important aspect of both Mercury and Odin was that they both led souls to the afterlife.

          • Mary says:

            Very different? How would we know so?

            But they were also the gods of trickery and magic.

      • Steve Johnson says:

        Initially the Roman pantheon was primarily comprised of deities that were personifications of virtues – from Froude’s Caesar a Sketch:

        Unlike the Greeks, the reverential Romans invented no idle legends about the supernatural world. The gods to them were the guardians of the State, whose will in all things they were bound to seek and to obey. The forms in which they endeavored to learn what that will might be were childish or childlike. They looked to signs in the sky, to thunder-storms and comets and shooting stars. Birds, winged messengers, as they thought them, between earth and heaven, were celestial indicators of the gods’ commands. But omens and auguries were but the outward symbols, and the Romans, like all serious peoples, went to their own hearts for their real guidance. They had a unique religious peculiarity, to which no race of men has produced anything like. They did not embody the elemental forces in personal forms; they did not fashion a theology out of the movements of the sun and stars or the changes of the seasons. Traces may be found among them of cosmic traditions and superstitions, which were common to all the world; but they added of their own this especial feature: that they built temples and offered sacrifices to the highest human excellences, to “Valor,” to “Truth,” to “Good Faith,” to “Modesty,” to “Charity,” to “Concord.” In these qualities lay all that raised man above the animals with which he had so much in common. In them, therefore, were to be found the link which connected him with the divine nature, and moral qualities were regarded as divine influences which gave his life its meaning and its worth. The “Virtues” were elevated into beings to whom disobedience could be punished as a crime, and the superstitious fears which run so often into mischievous idolatries were enlisted with conscience in the direct service of right action.

        On the same principle the Romans chose the heroes and heroines of their national history. The Manlii and Valerii were patterns of courage, the Lucretias and Virginias of purity, the Decii and Curtii of patriotic devotion, the Reguli and Fabricii of stainless truthfulness. On the same principle, too, they had a public officer whose functions resembled those of the Church courts in mediaeval Europe, a Censor Morum, an inquisitor who might examine into the habits of private families, rebuke extravagance, check luxury, punish vice and self-indulgence, nay, who could remove from the Senate, the great council of elders, persons whose moral conduct was a reproach to a body on whose reputation no shadow could be allowed to rest.

        Such the Romans were in the day when their dominion had not extended beyond the limits of Italy

        As Rome expanded they took on the deities of the conquered peoples because the Romans viewed religion as the cornerstone of social stability and virtue. Maybe any religion is destined to devolve into cynicism as it becomes more and more successful – to put it in modern terms religion offers benefits that accrue mostly to society while offering fewer benefits to individuals or even imposing costs. Evolution would select for cynicism and free riding. Maybe contact with other religions is inherently undermining because it exposes the arbitrariness of a belief system – either way – by the time of Caesar (Froude again):

        Religion, once the foundation of the laws and rule of personal conduct, had subsided into opinion. The educated, in their hearts, disbelieved it. Temples were still built with increasing splendor; the established forms were scrupulously observed. Public men spoke conventionally of Providence, that they might throw on their opponents the odium of impiety; but of genuine belief that life had any serious meaning, there was none remaining beyond the circle of the silent, patient, ignorant multitude. The whole spiritual atmosphere was saturated with cant–cant moral, cant political, cant religious; an affectation of high principle which had ceased to touch the conduct, and flowed on in an increasing volume of insincere and unreal speech. The truest thinkers were those who, like Lucretius, spoke frankly out their real convictions, declared that Providence was a dream, and that man and the world he lived in were material phenomena, generated by natural forces out of cosmic atoms, and into atoms to be again resolved.

        Re: the Cathars I was thinking more along the lines of the social status of women.

      • Nornagest says:

        For general Indo-Europeanness, compare e.g. the Slavic Perun to the Norse Thor — there are points of similarity (thunder and lightning, association with a particular weapon, a cart pulled by goats) but also major differences (Perun is the chief god of his pantheon, Thor is not; Perun is a war god, while Thor is a supernatural protector but is not strongly associated with war or the warlike classes). And those are fairly close branches on the Indo-European evolutionary tree; Celtic mythology is further off, and Indian further still.

        The Greek and Roman pantheons are far closer to each other, although even their similarity is often overstated by later writers.

      • alexp says:

        Roman religion was much more numanistic; Gods were less personified and more invisible forces. After contact with the Greeks, they sort of forced Greek gods into the closest Roman equivalent and conflated them. Similar to how they associated the Germanic god Wotan with Mercury/Hermes.

        That said, Ancient Greek religions was much more diverse and gods much less human than Hercules and Xena may have you believe.

        So like the rest of his post, Steve Johnson vastly overstates his case on this point.

    • Brian Donohue says:

      “Augustus was the first to try to reign in the depravity…”

      Heh.

    • I’m no fan of hedonism, but that doesn’t seem quite historically right to me. The early Romans were culturally quite heavily influenced b the Etruscans, who I remember as being famously sexually… well… expressive. A brief online search appears to confirm a wide range of sources that describe the Etruscans this way. Could you be more specific as to your claims of who and when? It seems that non-culturally specific decadence springing from economic success aligns better with “permissive” views of sexuality.

  25. gattsuru says:

    For steelman’s sake, at least some of the stronger versions of this argument focus on same-sex marriage or similar structures (where most historical examples are complicated at best) rather than same-sex sexual conduct. If you model as a change from, you can come across an at least not facially wrong case.

    The flip side is that there’s a pretty huge number of cultures that actually did have normalized or at least ritualized same-sex conduct, and I’m really hard-pressed to believe that social status markers matter that much. I’m not a social animal, though, so perhaps I’m overestimating things.

    The more worrying thought to me is that if you actually believe this stuff, you really need to consider how different we already have become from the ancestral environment of, say, thirty years ago. Evolutionary fit is a two-way street, and removing the sacredness-nature of marriage seems almost an afterthought compared to … uh, pretty much everything related to the word Dunbar Number.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      The flip side is that there’s a pretty huge number of cultures that actually did have normalized or at least ritualized same-sex conduct,

      They did, but even then I can’t think of any societies where same-sex relationships were regarded as being literal marriages. The Romans might have accepted Hadrian’s dalliance with Antonius, but Emperors like Nero or Heliogabalus who conducted marriage ceremonies with their male lovers were widely regarded as insane.

    • Deiseach says:

      The flip side is that there’s a pretty huge number of cultures that actually did have normalized or at least ritualized same-sex conduct

      That’s true, but those cultures would not recognise what we mean by the term, and the behaviours we wish to inculcate. Roman attitudes to homosexual sex would be fairly horrifying to our egalitarian notions and would incur accusations of sexism, racism, exploitation, etc.

      I see people liking to use concepts such as berdache and “two-spirits” to argue that “way back before nasty old European Christian colonialism there were happy native tribes frolicking through the prairies in full sexual and gender equality”, which is a total load of cobblers. I’m willing to bet the attitudes of those cultures in practice was different to the modern idealised version (for example, I’d bet they had every bit as strong ideas about gender roles and what gender expression should be), and if you look at present-day societies where there are such roles, they’re not utopias of sexual and gender freedom and equality by any means: the roles allotted to the hijra for instance, and present-day activism for legal equality, or the bacha bazi in Afghanistan which is pretty much child sexual abuse.

      • gattsuru says:

        The left tends to be a little over-aggressive on these matters (prototype: “gay” giraffes), and I’ll admit I’ve fallen for it before.

        The flip side is that it’s very easy to dismiss societies that weren’t frolicking through the prairies in full gender and sexual equality as those of today, and in doing so miss where their hangups didn’t match the culturally evolved ones that we’re supposing might be important.

  26. MawBTS says:

    With evolution, you just don’t learn much trying to force an adaptation-based explanation on everything. Why do we have hearts on the left side of our chests? Why do Caucasians have wet earwax and Asians dry? Who knows.

    At least in biology there’s tools that let us untangle selection vs drift to a limited extent. I’m not aware of any equivalent for comparing traits in cultures.

    No doubt there’s something to the idea that the status quo got to be the status quo for a reason. But it’s worth remembering that most artifacts of culture (churches, governments, even vague concepts like the Golden Rule and Jante Law) evolved in a world decades or centuries removed from the world today. “This is the culturally-evolved optimum”…the optimum for *when*? Now, or a world 300 years ago that lacked cars and industry and internet etc?

    • Adam says:

      This seems to be like the far more salient critique of the idea. There’s far too much randomness and far too few cultural innovations. This isn’t like biology where we’ve had however many quadrillions of mutations that made it to phenotypic expression selected for over billions of years and we can reasonably infer at least some of the reasons.

      Telling a just-so narrative about why one civilization survived and another didn’t is way too amenable to bias. It seems to me, for instance, that North American native cultures largely died because they weren’t resistant to European diseases. What the heck does that tell us about the adaptive fitness of their non-agricultural sexual mores? I think if our main concern is the survival of our particular “culture,” then the main areas of focus should be medicine and ensuring an adequate food supply sufficient to overcome local ecological disasters. It also seems really simple to explain why the Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, Mongol Empire, British Empire, and every other empire all fell, without resorting to an investigation of the sex lives of the emperors. It’s a lot easier to conquer than it is to rule.

    • Yes nice post. While evolution may have given birth to culture, it doesn’t seem likely to reliably predict its outcome, any more than a physics degree will let you predict the outcome of a cricket match. On the other hand, I’m totally willing to agree that some areas have steady evolutionary forces applied to them across cultural specifics. For example, the way people deal with power and social status. But given that moral views and norms can change so fast, its hard to see how they could be the exclusive or even top causal factor for those views.

  27. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    I agree that the argument from cultural evolution is weak, but I don’t agree with your explanation of why. I think cultural evolution can happen on a shorter timescale than your comparison to the rise and fall of Rome makes it seem (essentially because a culture changes more as its people reproduce and die than an organism does as its cells reproduce and die), and that instances in history where one culture completely destroys another culture through military action or otherwise (e.g. Europeans vs. various indigenous peoples) provide pretty clear evidence for the first culture being “better” than the second according to this very narrow notion of “better.”

    To me a bigger problem is the analogue of junk DNA and vestigial structures: it seems hard to tell if any given part of our current cultural package was an important contributor to our culture’s current success or just there along for the ride. (I think there is a better argument roughly along these lines to be made, though, which is a Chesterton’s fence argument: see, for example, this.)

    Another problem is that modern data points are highly correlated: you shouldn’t update independently on every instance of a modern culture rejecting homosexuality because most modern cultures have been thoroughly influenced by Western culture and, in particular, by Judeo-Christian attitudes towards homosexuality (e.g. through colonialism).

    But maybe the biggest problem is highlighted by the example of Europeans vs. indigenous peoples: a cultural trait that enables you to outcompete other cultures may be a good thing to keep, or it may just be a way of sacrificing other cultures to Moloch.

    Edit: Okay, in the specific case of homosexuality an arguably even bigger problem is that there’s no reason to expect that cultural evolution has kept up with the accelerating pace of technological development. Just for technology relevant to sexual norms we have the pill, condoms, paternity tests, better ways of detecting and treating STDs, in vitro fertilization…

    • Randy M says:

      Off topic, mostly, but haven’t we found uses for much of what was considered junk DNA yet? As signalling sites for transcription or something?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        No. A tiny amount of non-coding DNA is known to be used for controlling transcription. Maybe much more is, but there is no evidence for this. You are probably thinking of a recent widely-heralded paper that claimed that some huge amount, maybe 75%, is transcribed into RNA. It claimed that this showed that the DNA was useful, an inference that seems to me ridiculous. But even if it is true, it does not show what the use is.

  28. Deiseach says:

    But, as mentioned above, we don’t have thousands of generations for cultural evolution to do anything.

    Eh. I think this argument is proving too much; you could say the same thing the next time some evolutionary biologist (or I suppose really the news media report on what they said) trots out the theory that “The reason men would like to bonk as many women as they can get away with bonking but women like romance novels and watching Colin Firth as Mister Darcy is because the trait for liking sexy costume drama adaptations developed when we were primates roaming the Serengeti”.

    I think cultural evolution has the same generations as other forms of evolution do. To take your Inuit example: if the red berries are poisonous, then it doesn’t matter a damn how many Inuit Romantic poets or bold rebels against social convention try eating the berries in defiance of cultural taboo, they’ll end up dead as doornails and the pressure on not being a Bold Taboo-Breaking Pioneer will continue.

    • Tom Womack says:

      So you need to look at cultural taboos against eating edible things: Britons don’t eat horses, rarely eat goat, eat an incredibly narrow range of seafood by Iberian standards, and are weirdly suspicious of mushrooms by central-European standards, there’s that Jared Diamond assertion that Greenland Vikings didn’t eat fish.

      My guess is that making canned octopus as popular as canned tuna would be a matter of a bit of food science and an expensive marketing campaign, whilst getting Brits to eat horsemeat in meaningful quantities would be actually hard.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Or they reused the fish bones for tools, or crushed them for fertilizer.

      • keranih says:

        Europeans in general don’t eat a lot of horse, because of the historical Papal edicts against it, when the cavalry was needed to hold off the Turks.

        This had a large shift in France during the revolution, because horses were strongly associated with the aristocrats, and eating the rich man’s horse was a sweet revenge indeed. And because the new republic wasn’t going to be beholden to the Church.

        How much of the English/Brit resistance to horsemeat comes from “if the French like it, then it must be horrible” I don’t know.

        • LHN says:

          I don’t know if this is idiosyncratic to Iceland, but when people there started converting to Christianity, one of the things they had to promise was to abstain from horseflesh. My recollection is that it’s this is inferred to be because horse meat was generally the result of ritual sacrifice to the Norse gods, though I’m not sure if that’s been confirmed. (I’m sure David Friedman for one knows more about it than I do.)

    • I think the point was that if the culture doesn’t confer individual benefits within the culture, then the only way anything like natural selection could occur is when entire cultures die (eg. Ancient Roman). If a lifespan for a culture is 400 years, then we’re looking at 1000s or 10,000s of years before there’s a chance for the evolution to have noticable effects of forming something. In which case, either we might be looking at wisdom that evolved when we were still entirely nomadic (relevance?), or we’re not looking at anything at all because other more fast/powerful forces have wiped out such a slow trend in the meanwhile.

  29. Daniel says:

    The first difficulty with intergroup selection in culture is intergroup selection in meta-culture. Meta-culture, as in, “when in doubt, become more permissive.”

    For centuries, the technologically advanced nations have been growing more socially permissive. For centuries, those same nations have become increasingly predominant in military success, income of their citizens, and number of international fans of their music groups.

    So the meta-cultural trait of “move in a socially permissive direction” has a really good track record. If you want to show that some particular cultural trait might be bad, it’s not enough to say, “here’s some evidence for a rule against this trait.” You have to also show “this is a higher standard of evidence than we had for all those other social rules we now judge stupid.”

    • Tracy W says:

      For centuries? English culture became noticeably more puritan between the 18th and 19th centuries. Eg the bowdlerisation of Shakespeare.

    • Sort of makes me wonder though is cultural permissiveness the cause or the effect of their military success? Either seems possible.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Talking about something vague like Moral Decay seems like a bit of a weak man to me, albeit a very popular one on all sides. IMO the most compelling theory behind the origin of anti-homosexual traditions is avoidance of disease transmission. Risk of at least some STDs is much higher in homosexuals (50x for HIV): http://lesswrong.com/lw/ksf/quantified_risks_of_gay_male_sex/. (And note those numbers are *with* the availability of condoms and modern medicine).

    This helps explain why male homosexuality is often more taboo than female, and the fact that the receptive partner is more vulnerable also helps explain why one-way man-on-boy relationships have historically been more tolerated than (possibly two-way) man-on-man – the opposite of modern morality.

    Anti-gay-marriage is likely just a combination of anti-gay-in-general with Christian conservatism.

    • Qiaochu Yuan says:

      I find this moderately compelling, but then I tried to look up the actual history of Christian attitudes towards homosexuality and got this much more compelling hypothesis I don’t know how to evaluate that the impetus for anti-homosexuality in the Christian tradition was a political maneuver designed to curtail the power of eunuchs.

      • Anonymous says:

        Interestingly the article describes the original anti-gay condemnation as being specifically targeted against normally-heterosexual men who at some point took the role as the receptive partner with a man, which is precisely the kind of behaviour that’s likely to spread disease from the gay population to the straight one.

        It’s probably true that specific quirks of Christian history resulted in stronger anti-gay attitudes than elsewhere.

      • Steve Johnson says:

        Yep.

        I was making that point above:

        Of course, this is much more about the attitudes and understanding of the relationship between men and women than it is about sex between men and the implications of the attitudes towards that – but it’s not likely an accident that those are bundled together. Men who have sex with other men form bonds and look out for one another – they don’t seem to exclusively partner off (even when “married”) but create a hedonistic sub-culture. They don’t have children so they don’t have a stake in the future (in the present day they’re more likely to use drugs, have STDs, etc.). Think of someone like Bryan Singer working as a palace servant instead of a movie director and you get an idea of the danger to the administration of a country.

  31. Daniel says:

    I can imagine one good test of intercultural selection. That’s the spread of religions.

    Religions encode a lot of social mores. What’s more, religions differ from each other on traits people treat as culturally significant.

    Let’s weigh intercultural selection in those mores against other hypotheses for why a religion spreads. The obvious hypotheses:

    1) Religion is imposed by authority. Subjects imitate their masters to keep their masters happy.

    2) Religion is spread by proximity. People adopt religions prominent among neighbors.

    3) Religion is spread by individual satisfaction. People adopt religions that they personally are drawn to, independent of neighbors or masters.

    4) Religion is spread by community advantage, not just proximity. Some religions make their communities more effective at conventional success. These religions will have “conversion splotches” where an initial nucleus became high-status and has been imitated.

    All right. We have hypotheses. Now, data!

    (Googles “map of world religions.”)

    Okay. First, we have strong support for “proximity” — these maps are far more contiguous than even maps of historical conquest. Note, for example, the swath of Eastern Orthodox belief running from Greece up through Russia — Russia never conquered Greece, nor vice versa. Likewise, the North American map is a lot less patchwork than, say, a map of “Republican-voting counties” and “Democratic-voting counties.” In countries with multiple prominent religions, people really, really tend to have the same religions as their neighbors. So clearly, a big part of all major religions’ spread has been proximity.

    Second, we have pretty good support for “imposed by authority,” for all the big religions but one. A high fraction of the religious borders are also state borders, which implies people either converting to match authority or fleeing to a religiously aligned authority. The exceptional religion is Buddhism, whose borders seem much less aligned with state borders.

    Third, this map doesn’t report the data we’d need for “individual satisfaction.” My intuition is that it’s not that significant — the proximity-spread evidence is so strong — but I could be wrong.

    Fourth, this map is missing the “expanding conversion splotches” predicted by community advantage. Where we have clear splotches, they’re either because of migrants, not converts (Jews), and/or they’re low-income communities in sparse rural areas (Shiite Muslims outside Iran), or they’re “mixed-belief areas” (most sub-Saharan Africa).

    Having said that, we have *possible* weak evidence for intercultural advantage for Buddhism. Unlike other major religions, Buddhism shows little sign of being imposed by authority — the belief borders don’t match state borders. Yet we see it in three different centers on the map — three different regions (Southeast Asia, the Tibetan highlands, and Mongolia) where communities based on Buddhism spread and became dominant.

    Unfortunately, this is very weak evidence, since all three regions are quite close to one another, and in fact the Tibetan Buddhists were in close cultural link with the Mongolian Buddhists. So even Buddhism is more of a proxmity story than it looks.

    In sum: no major world religion displays a strong pattern of spread implying community advantage, outside the automatic advantage of agreeing with your existing neighbors or rulers.

    So intercultural selection has been small enough in history that the cultural differences among current world religions, often regarded as big, are not big enough differences to display the effects of that selection.

    If, despite this, you really want to look for community-advantageous traits, you should probably investigate Buddhism.

  32. Shenpen says:

    “So I interpret it as a different claim: a culture that allows gay marriage will, for various reasons, become weak and unsuccessful.”

    No. I would propose a different interpretation.

    I think it is a whole lot easier – while currently marriage means “people making their love public and official” it used to mean “your parents telling you who will be the other parent of your kids”.

    An old-time, kids-focused marriage as gay marriage would be simply like a cheap comedy where two guys try to make a kid and really don’t understand why the bottom guy cannot get pregnant.

    The point is, that there were several steps in changing marriage, for example first the abolition of arranged marriage, then abolition of the need for parental consent, then divorce then no-fault divorce etc. etc several steps each moving it away from the idea of “kids incubator” to “romantic love made official”.

    Moreover, even the idea of kids moved from “do your duty to your country, make soldiers” or “do your duty to your family, clan, continue the family name, line, dynasty” to “have kids if you like because they are really cute”

    Here is the point: the charitable reading of anti-gay-marriage is that these guys oppose NOT THIS STEP of the process but the WHOLE process of marriage going from familial or social reproductive duty to personal love and pleasure.

    Opposing SPECIFICALLY THIS STEP would be indefensible on secular grounds, there is no difference between gay marriage and Hollywood marriage, they both are hedonistic.

    Opposing the WHOLE PROCESS is more rationally defensible, including opposing divorce, opposing the lack of arranged marriage etc. because it essentially means opposing moving for “survive” to what you call “thrive” or what the Inglehart Scale calls “self expression values”.

    When your parents arrange a spouse for you and you two start pumping out kids because you owe it to your family to continue the line or your country to make soldiers, it is “survival values”.

    Marriage out of love / having kids because they are cute is “thrive” or “self-expression values”.

    THIS STEP did not change much, the original marriage was already killed by the previous steps. It just really REAFFIRMED the process. The old time survivalist marriage was poured out of the can long ago, all that happened now that the empty can was thrown away.

    • Yes, this. I’ll proudly identify as someone who opposes the WHOLE PROCESS, not that my personal opposition really matters at this point. Indeed, throughout the right-wing blogosphere I have seen basically everyone saying that gay marriage was a logical outcome of beliefs adopted a long time ago, and that we deserved this. One’s position on the reactometer could be calculated by how many steps backwards one wanted to go, with a lot of people pointing out that no-fault divorce had to go, but the more rigorous and thoughtful sorts pointing out that bourgeois companionate marriage itself was part of the problem.

      More mainstream conservatives, it seems to me, do take the idea that THIS STEP is wrong but the previous N steps were fine, but this is obviously unsupportable.

      I will pick one nit: literal arranged marriages determined by parents have always been a rarity in Europe in historical times. Marriages have usually been entered into voluntarily by their members, but everyone involved understood that a marriage was an economic and procreative partnership, not a pair of BFFs.

      • Alraune says:

        More mainstream conservatives, it seems to me, do kind of take the idea that THIS STEP is wrong but the previous N steps were fine.

        aka the “We must preserve the traditional moral values of the year 1985” argument.

      • LeeEsq says:

        I think the difference between literal arranged marriages in Europe and elsewhere were that they took place in fewer social classes in Europe. From what I’ve read, literal arranged marriages were practiced by all social classes from top to bottom in many non-European societies in Asia. In Europe, only those with the most power and wealth engaged in literal arranged marriages. The lower and middle levels of society married for reasons of economic and procreative partnership but it wasn’t formally arranged but informally assumed. So an apprentice would marry his master’s daughter or widow.

        • Matt M says:

          Which makes sense from the economic perspective too. If you’re a peasant, it probably doesn’t matter which other peasant your daughter marries. Maybe if she’s REALLY cute you try and get her in with a merchant or something but you’re probably not expecting much.

          Meanwhile, if you’re a Hapsburg, who your daughter marries is vitally important – your entire dynasty and the future of the empire is at stake! The difference among Princes is much more pronounced and significant than the difference among peasants is, so of course you’re going to be more likely to officially arrange specific marriages.

          • Slow Learner says:

            Actually this is fundamentally wrong. Peasants in any society where they actually have land rights have been as keen on marrying children off (to e.g. get a single contiguous patch of land to work, or gain the X family’s grazing rights in the Lord’s woodland, etc) as any noble family.
            Sure if they’re pure serfs with no rights things are a little different, but as soon as they have anything that can be inherited (some subset of them) will be scheming to make sure their children have a better life than they did.

          • Mary says:

            Especially when, if you choose wrong, your grandchildren can literally starve.

          • LeeEsq says:

            Even the upper classes of Europe thought that you should at least make the couple go through the motions of courtship rather than be really crass and open about what is happening.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If this is true, making gay marriage your rock to die on was incredibly stupid, since it allowed the entire effort to promote traditional values to be dismissed as stupid bigots who didn’t like people who were different than them.

      Given that a lot of people seemed to have had really strong opinions about gay marriage anyway, I suspect that only a tiny minority of people actually thought this way.

      • Only a tiny minority thought this way, because the vast majority lack the historical perspective and intelligence to think it through. But this is always true of all political arguments.

        In any case, it doesn’t matter. People objected to no-fault divorce, and were dismissed as religious fundamentalists who wanted to chain people in loveless marriages. People objected to contraception, and were dismissed as sex-hating Puritans and papists who wanted to suppress healthy, loving sexuality. Slippery slopes were invoked in both cases, but no one paid attention.

        It doesn’t matter which hill you choose to die on, you still get called a bigot, and you still die.

        • Erik says:

          Moreover, as with Elaine Photography and Masterpiece Cakeshop, gay marriage is also a far more visible “hill” where a lot more other people get dragooned in from a variety of professions, with less opportunity to refuse. Refusing to contribute in such cases gets you found guilty of unlawful discrimination.

          No-fault divorce affected few others than attorneys. Moreover, if you were to call up an attorney wanting him to draft some no-fault divorce papers, the attorney refused (because he feels no-fault divorce is immoral horsepuckey), and you decided to sue the attorney for not taking your case… apart from attorneys being allowed greater discretion to refuse cases, you’re suing an attorney. Bad move.

          I feel I should also mention the Diosdado v. Diosdado case. Long story short, the married couple of Mr and Mrs Diosdado signed a contract saying that if one of them were to commit adultery, that one was to be held at fault and pay lawyer fees in eventual divorce suit.

          One of them then committed adultery and appealed to the court “please give me a no-fault divorce anyway” and the court said “sure, we gotta protect marriage” and threw out the contract in a surreal opinion talking about the inadmissibility of evidence of wrongdoing and how public policy was that people must be free to break promises without penalty, therefore they can’t voluntarily enter into agreements with penalty clauses.

          Imagine you went 30-40 years back in time and told people that no-fault divorce was going to be the start of a slippery slope down to penalty-free adultery by married couples (who had an explicit no-adultery agreement on top of the usual marriage agreement). They’d have thought it was absurd.

          • No-fault divorce affected few others than attorneys.

            Don’t forget the millions upon millions of children! The children traumatized by divorce outnumber those adopted by gay married couples by a ratio of probably 1000:1, which is why divorce actually agitates me more. That is the hill I would prefer to die on, except the enemy already holds it.

          • Steve Johnson says:

            Actually you’re already far down the slippery slope when you use the modern progressive definition of adultery to mean marital infidelity rather than the original meaning of sexual relations with a married woman (look at the common root of adultery and adulterate for an etymological clue).

            That’s already hiding the purpose of marriage (an exchange of paternal certainty for paternal provisioning so that society remains in a high paternal investment equilibrium rather than degenerating into an African-style low paternal investment equilibrium) in the name of “equality”. The point is that women and men have different needs in a marriage contract and that reshaping it to a symmetrical contract is a step in vitiating it completely.

            Gay marriage is another huge step in that direction.

          • Science says:

            @Steve

            Do you have anything other than just-so stories? Evidence maybe, or at the very least some sort of plausible experiment that could falsify your apparently strongly held claims about the world?

        • Randy M says:

          Yeah, we’re running out of rocks.

      • Unique Identifier says:

        The puzzle is resolved once you realize that this ‘making gay marriage a rock to die on’ was a spin or a framing, which was promoted exactly to enable that dismissal.

      • Alraune says:

        The thoughtful sort realized that a decade ago and started arguing for, in the rather rare cases they bothered, government disentanglement from marital status. The 1985ers weren’t choosing their battles rationally to start with, just reacting to a very visible values violation.

      • Shenpen says:

        Yes, it was incredibly stupid. The Schelling fence was no-fault divorce. Once “Hollywood marriage” became normal, it was absolutely pointless to defend it anymore. Some idiots will probably even oppose poly marriage which is the predictable next step. Intelligent conservatives would use both as a bargaining chip.

        But you know politics doesn’t work like that, it is all about “do I want to give more status points to these people? Do I want to deduct status points from those people?”

        Conservatives did not want to give status points to gays, liberals wanted to deduct status points from fundies… then this happened.

      • Shenpen says:

        Come to think of it, you should expect conservatives to be stupid – it just doesn’t mean being wrong. Intelligence would correlate with being right if only not for this pesky “cleverness” problem i.e. the propensity of intelligent people to optimize for sophisticated, awesome, brilliant solutions instead of working and functional ones.

        So in the gap, where intelligence does not confer a high advantage but “cleverness” confers lot of a disadvantage, in the gap where it is fairly easy to find simple and right answers while there are far too many brilliant, complicated and wrong answers, in that gap conservatives tend to be closer to being right.

    • Texan99 says:

      I agree completely. I admit to the queasy feeling that we’ve stepped off the deep end in imagining that we can turn marriage into a 100% individual-gratification exercise, but gay marriage is hardly the big step here. For one thing, it affects too few people: the big change came with the abandonment of familial involvement in marriage contracts, easy divorce, non-marital cohabitation, and contraception. I respect the orthodox Christian objection to homosexuality, without agreeing, but I have a very hard time understanding why we as Christians are completely comfortable living, working, and playing among non-believers who co-habitate, divorce, and use contraception freely, while suddenly being incapable of living next-door to a couple of gays living in flagrant sin.

      • Adam says:

        Where else are you going to live? Aside from a few tiny desert outposts in the middle of nowhere and Muslim theocracies, where are there places full of people who don’t live together or have sex until they’re married and never use contraception?

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I don’t think it’s a matter of “being incapable of living next-door to a couple of gays living in flagrant sin”, but of not wanting flagrant sin to be actively supported. Even people who support no-fault divorce generally couch their arguments in terms of necessity (“But what if a woman needs to escape from an abusive marriage?”) rather than saying that divorce is a positive social good and that we ought to celebrate it. Ditto the other things you mention: saying you’re against cohabitation might get you a few funny looks, but the government isn’t taking steps to officially promote unmarried couples living together.

        The furore over the HHS mandate is probably relevant here: most orthodox Christians were willing to live in a society where people use contraception regularly, but when ordered to pony up for other people’s contraceptives, they got a lot more vocal. Similarly with homosexuality, few people wanted to recriminalise it or drive gays back into the closet; the fuss started when the government began giving official support to homosexual relationships.

  33. Xibalba says:

    Hi Scott,

    Generally, I agree with you a lot, and I think you’re really smart and cogent on the positions you take on many issues, but I think there are a number of mistaken ideas and leaps in logic here that are frankly somewhat appalling! For you, at least. There is also a lack of effort to make connections to other thinkers who theorize on sociocultural evolution, of which there are many, in a hallowed tradition dating back all the way to St Augustine and Ibn Khaldun. From your article its almost like ‘cultural evolution’ emerged spontaneously in a moment of abstract theorizing by modern university professors in a vaccumm.

    I think that the biggest issue here is the emphasis placed on generation time, which also illuminates some problems with the entire conception of cultural evolution described by those who exaggerate its similarity with biological evolution. Generation time is a big factor in biology because each generation can only differ in small ways from the previous one, so it takes a shorter time for mice to evolve some change than, say, a galapagos turtle cos there’s just not enough variation in the turtle’s population over a short time. But more importantly, in biology there is very little variation across the entirety of a population at any given time, period. Much less those populations/individuals in close proximity.

    However the cultural variation for humans is extremely large for humans in even a small space. The boundaries between ‘populations’ are extremely abrupt, and there is almost *always* sufficient variation in the culturesphere in a subcontinent for selection to explain how so many people became ‘Romans’ or ‘Han Chinese’ in such a short time. Either Roman culture/Chinese culture was more successful in passing itself into the next batch of humans vertically, by causing the physical destruction of those with other cultures or increasing the fertility/survival of those in its own culture(at least initially), or it was more successful at spreading horizontally, within the current batch of humans, by enticing those in other cultures to leave their own culture and join the Imperium. In real life we know its both.

    Francis Fukuyama invoked cultural selection to explain how states with tradeable, alienable land and property rights formed despite the fact that people in tribal agricultural society are universally wedded to ‘the bones/land of their ancestors/kinship group’, to such an extent as to be practically rooted to the ground: be it the Papuans, Amerindians, etc.. States with alienable land simply dispossessed everyone else, because the state as a cultural form was much more successful at empowering the meat vessels it infects to enact organised violence, thus spreading the cultural form at the expense of others. A state with ‘politicized ethnicity’ is of course even better at doing this.

    What you got right is the idea of group vs. individual selection. Ibn Khaldun and Oswald Spengler modified the framework described above with the idea that some cultural complexes become so successful at producing prosperity and pacifying a large space, that they begin to support parasitic memes. A coherent cultural complex contains ideas that work together to elicit ‘altruistic’ behaviours from its members–often ‘heroic’ ones that come at great personal cost–that further promote the spread of the complex. As powerful societies enter periods of empire and prolonged peace, various individualistic persons can begin to exploit the peace by promoting selfish, enjoyable, or fashionable signalling behaviours that undermine the success of the cultural complex in the long run. Eventually new, vigorous groups from outside the civilisation come in and reshape everything. This is basically the theory of Khaldun and Spengler rephrased in modern terms. Periods of war, crisis and migration lead to increased group selection pressure and favours coherent cultural complexes, that clash and displace with the suddenness of an all-or-nothing contest; long periods of peacetime selects for individuals and parasitic memes, and slow cultural ferment and decay.

    Even Edward Gibbon, or Tocqueville(!) can be said to fall under this intellectual tradition. Tocqueville mentioned in his letters how the collusion of irresponsible intellectuals and the masses led to ‘periodic revolution’ in France, which was twisting the definition of the word ‘Liberty’ to breaking point, and was a harbinger of that ‘periodic anarchy’ which characterized those ‘old races’. Even he understood that cultures with exessively long histories of civilisation in the centers of Eurasia are very nepotistic, hierarchical and survivalist, with feckless and enervated intellectual elites; they are incapable of self-organisation without an authoritarian despot, in great contrast to the kind of society he wanted to see. It broke his heart, poor man.

    Where does that place gay marriage? It is instructive that, throughout history, while many, perhaps most, societies tolerated or sometimes celebrated homosexuality, no society ever condoned *exclusive* homosexuality, much less gay marriage. Ditto for most other socially liberal ideas.

    But then, without a period of war, instability and migration, how would we ever know?

    Houellebecq tried to guess.

    Then again, maybe Progress will save us all.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Conquest is certainly a much faster way to get around the normal cultural generation time. And being a nation-state could be a “killer app” that is stronger than all of the usual noise about which cultures are fit or unfit.

      But that doesn’t increase my confidence that relatively minor aspects of culture are selected for or against. Everything can’t be a killer app.

      • Gbdub says:

        I still think your “generational length” argument in “type 2”, and rejection of “type 3” is flawed.

        “Civilizations” don’t need to “die” in order to evolve. “Cultures” are just collections of memes, and can change and evolve within a civilization. For example, “Stalinism” was a distinct culture in the early USSR that mostly evolved away well before the fall of the USSR, such that late-Soviet culture was very different even though the civilization was the same.

        Hell, if you really wanted to you could call Stalinism “late Imperial Russian” and consider it an extension of the czarist civilization, even though the culture was vastly different.

        Has the American civilization ever died? No, but our culture has evolved to be nearly unrecognizable to late-18th century America.

        And so on. The relevant time scale actually seems to be very much human-generational – adults tend not to change their cultural preference much but their children are often quite different culturally. “Guess and check” IS evolution, it’s just that the civilization doesn’t need to die in order to try on a new memeplex.

    • Thanks for the mention of historical references to cultural-evolution-like ideas. If we’re talking history I’d just add Herbert Spencer who seems to have immediately jumped on the first modern understanding of evolution and applied it in the social context.

      I think you raise an interesting point about the amount of change and number of required generations. However wouldn’t Scott’s point sort of stand in that case, because the obvious instability of the forces creating those wild changes would destroy any process that could reliably be called social evolution? At least in the case of the overwhelming majority of things we call culture?

  34. Thursday says:

    I wouldn’t call it cultural evolution, but modern conditions, where reproduction is more of a choice, select for two particular kinds of people:

    1. Social conservatives who deliberately have lots of kids.
    2. The utterly irresponsible who just kinda have a lot of them.

    All behavioural traits are heritable, and social conservatives have a rather massive reproductive advantage over liberals and libertarians, so it looks like the leaders of society in the future will be mostly social conservatives.

    Individual level selection seems more than adequate to explain this.

    • Thursday says:

      See here.

    • PSJ says:

      It doesn’t seem like this should be any more true now that it has been in the past 150 years, but somehow Cthulhu kept swimming left in America. Why did this theory not come true over that time period, but you expect it to come true over the next 150 years?

      • Mary says:

        Cthulhu kept swimming left in America.

        You notice how segregation, Prohibition, and involuntary eugenic sterilization are still with us and stronger than ever?

        Cthulhu always swims left is something leftists tell themselves after having the Ministry of Truth try to rewrite history so their failures are not leftist any more.

        • Anonymous says:

          I hadn’t noticed. Perhaps you can point out some actual examples.

          • Randy M says:

            Those were examples of leftism that we swam away from, if I am reading Mary correctly. (Also I assume her segregation includes state enforcement).

          • Anonymous says:

            Indeed, I didn’t even recognize them as examples of leftism.

            (Or, maybe things have changed in ways more complex than can be conveyed by the notion of a powerful entity from speculative fiction swimming in a straight line.)

        • James Picone says:

          NRX is left-wing now?

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I’m not sure NRX was a thing in the times of the prohibition.

          • James Picone says:

            “Cthulu swims left” is an NRX phrase, though.

            I guess I’d have less to complain about if Mary used the phrase “Whig history” or something like it.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I need to be more up to date on my internet slang. Do people still use l33t and LOL?

            EDIT: More seriously, though, I guess the proper term that Progressives/Leftists/”Whatever these terms even mean anymore” use for this “phenomenon” would be something like “Being on the right side of history”.

          • Adam says:

            More to the point, the last few centuries in the west have seen a general trend toward increasing social permissiveness and cosmopolitanism. This has almost nothing to do with what happens to be adopted by those who identify as left or right at any particular time or the success of anything else they advocate. This is a lot more accurate than “-however the fuck you spell it- always swims left.”

          • Anonymous says:

            “Being on the right side of history”

            As a card-carrying Whatever, I hate this phrase.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >As a card-carrying Whatever, I hate this phrase.

            I agree, it’s downright obnoxious.

            However, I realize that recently we’ve had a trend of generalization and demeaning of other tribes, and that’s bad, but you will agree with me that it’s something that comes mostly from the “left”, right? Hell, I think (but am not educated enough to assert) that it comes from Marxist dialectic.

          • Nornagest says:

            Hell, I think (but am not educated enough to assert) that it comes from Marxist dialectic.

            Marxist dialectic is compatible with the sentiment, but I think that particular phrase comes from garden-variety, non-Marxist leftism. Marx isn’t the first guy to have come up with an ideal of Progress, though he might have been the first guy to enshrine it to that extent.

          • Mary says:

            “Cthulu swims left” is an NRX phrase, though.

            Not in my experience.

          • Alexp says:

            Why would leftists describe their side winning as “Cthulu?”

            When we use the concept, we’ll rather use phrases like, “Reality has a well known liberal bias,” “we’re on the right side of history,” or with a bit more self awareness “Whig history”

        • blacktrance says:

          “Cthulhu always swims left” is a far-right catchphrase, not a left-wing one. Neoreactionaries (and conservatives in general) feel like their side is losing and therefore the left is winning. But the left thinks that in some important ways, Cthulhu has swum rightward.

          • onyomi says:

            This latter claim always strikes me as demonstrably false.

            What would have been a mainstream conservative position 50 to 100 years ago (opposition to social security or medicare, for example), would now be considered a radical right wing position today, but the reverse is not true.

            When liberals today complain about how the Republican party has “gone mad,” it seems to me they are just bemoaning the increase in partisanship which was the backlash from them pretty much always getting their way over the past 100 years.

          • blacktrance says:

            In the 30s and even more recently, communism was an acceptable position among intellectuals, and calls for worker ownership of the means of production were within the Overton Window. Now they’re too far left to be considered. In a different sphere, some feminists wanted to ban porn, and now that’s an unpopular position, at least in the US.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >In a different sphere, some feminists wanted to ban porn, and now that’s an unpopular position, at least in the US.

            [Insert by now tired “What the hell do we even mean with left and right anymore?” comment here]

          • Randy M says:

            “In the 30s and even more recently, communism was an acceptable position among intellectuals”

            I feel that for some reason that escapes me, this is in a different category than other examples of intellectual drift.
            Also, feminists come down on both sides of pornography (“degrading” and “empowering”).

          • Jiro says:

            There are still feminists on both sides, but it seems to me that the overall degree of opposition to porn has gone down drastically.

            Although sometimes it seems that feminists still hate porn and are just granting an exception to actual porn. If it isn’t porn but shows a woman who is scantily clad or has prominent breasts, feminists still criticize it by comparing it to porn, claiming that it “objectifies”, etc.–even though porn itself is perfectly fine to them.

          • onyomi says:

            “In the 30s and even more recently, communism was an acceptable position among intellectuals, and calls for worker ownership of the means of production were within the Overton Window. Now they’re too far left to be considered.”

            I’m not sure communism was ever a mainstream position in the US outside of academia, where, arguably, it is still a mainstream position. To the extent it was ever in the Overton Window, I think it was the Cold War coupled with repeated, horrific failures of explicit communism which kicked it out, more than any rightward creep of acceptable opinion.

            The window of acceptable opinion is always going to center roughly around the status quo, and the status quo today is demonstrably way far left of where it was 50 or 100 years ago. The appetite for radical change may be less than it was under FDR, but that is speaking from a place far left of where the country was when he was president.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Maybe in social issues, but back then you seemed to have some sort of comfy corporativism that the left is super nostalgic of nowadays.

          • JE says:

            What would have been mainstream leftist positions 50 to 100 years ago (collectivization, abolition of private property) would also be considered extreme today. I think you need to go further in depth to show an overall rightwards trend, rather than some ideas becoming more prominent and others less so.

          • onyomi says:

            It does seem as if the labor movement has largely been abandoned by the mainstream left. What I think US liberals are really missing is that heyday sometime between WWII and Vietnam when it seemed like unionization was a reliable path to widespread prosperity.

            That said, even if they’ve (rightly) abandoned the labor movement as too radical (and if you want to find unalloyed Marxism being espoused in a mainstream US venue you need look no farther than an organized labor meeting), I think the mainstream left has absorbed many of its assumptions: that it is the business of government to constantly push to make existing jobs “better” (at the expense of jobs that will not come into existence, as well as the young, the male, and the healthy) by mandating higher minimum wage, more paid sick leave, etc. etc.

          • Matt M says:

            I feel like this can be explained by a combination of the left aiming further and further down the socioeconomic ladder for its core base, and labor unions being almost TOO successful at what they were trying to do.

            These days, having a unionized job puts you quite safely into the middle class in almost all situations. But middle class people don’t need welfare and handouts and safety nets – so the primary message of the left falls on mostly deaf ears as far as they are concerned.

            Meanwhile, the primary demographic for the left now, the povery-stricken and those who are wholly dependent on the state see union laborers as greedy jerks who are engaging in economic protectionism and trying to keep them out. And they aren’t wrong.

          • Alraune says:

            What I think US liberals are really missing is that heyday sometime between WWII and Vietnam when it seemed like unionization was a reliable path to widespread prosperity.

            Also the period most US conservatives are missing.

            It turns out that if you can convince everyone else to kill large parts of their population, blow up all of their factories, and heavily indebt themselves to you while still being willing to trade afterwards, everything goes really amazingly for a while.

          • Adam says:

            That shit always gets me, too, all these people saying we need to get back to the 50s when America was competitive. Of course we were competitive. The only other major global force bombed most of its cities to the ground and killed half of its working age males. Competing is a lot harder when it’s against competition.

          • “What would have been a mainstream conservative position 50 to 100 years ago (opposition to social security or medicare, for example), would now be considered a radical right wing position today, but the reverse is not true.”

            Yes it is. Massive nationalization and central planning were ,mainstream positions of the left 100 hears ago, now they are radical.

            (Disclaimer: may never have been mainstream in the US. The US may never have had a real left)

          • onyomi says:

            “Yes it is. Massive nationalization and central planning were ,mainstream positions of the left 100 hears ago, now they are radical.”

            They are not radical. We now have massive nationalization and central planning of education, healthcare, housing… They may take a slightly different form than their proponents envisioned 100 years ago, but they are there. To be *against* federal involvement in health care and education is now a radical position.

            Which is a more radical position: to argue for a quadrupling of the level of taxation at a time when taxation is 1%, or to argue for a doubling of the level of taxation when it is already 50%?

        • nydwracu says:

          Did the CPUSA have a line on involuntary sterilization or Prohibition?

      • Thursday says:

        Uh, reliable birth control is only a few decades old. Reproduction is now about choice.

    • Tom Womack says:

      Does it matter which details of belief select for having lots of children, when we’re living in a society which is astoundingly good at getting children to believe in the local beliefs of society rather than the parochial beliefs of their parents.

      If your parents arrange a marriage for you which you disapprove of, the nice people in blue hats with silver badges will unarrange it with reasonable effectiveness.

      • AbuDhabi says:

        Does it matter which details of belief select for having lots of children, when we’re living in a society which is astoundingly good at getting children to believe in the local beliefs of society rather than the parochial beliefs of their parents.

        This is probably (almost certainly) temporary. The culture imposed by the mass media happens to be a culture of low fertility. This, in effect, makes susceptibility to indoctrination into said culture a reproductive defect. Those who lack the defect (are resistant to indoctrination into the present culture) have a reproductive advantage.

        See the case of the Amish. Or the Orthodox Jews.

        • Tom Womack says:

          I think you under-estimate how vigorously the present culture will start assimilating subgroups who grow large enough to be meaningful market targets; the Amish population may be growing fast, but is still smaller than Iceland.

          • Mary says:

            Or try to. The thing is, that just make it one more evolutionary road block.

            Evolution has been working on getting people to make babies for three and a half billion years. The present culture’s assimilation capabilities are going to be somewhat limited.

          • Creutzer says:

            Evolution has been working on getting people to make babies for three and a half billion years. The present culture’s assimilation capabilities are going to be somewhat limited.

            Why? Evolution hasn’t had to do that much more than want people to have sex in order to get them to have babies. That’s not going to provide memetic immunity here.

          • Anonymous says:

            “Evolution has been working on getting people to make babies for three and a half billion years.”

            No. People have not been around even a hundredth of that time. Bacteria, maybe. But then we’re talking about asexual reproduction.

          • keranih says:

            “Evolution has been working on getting people to make babies for three and a half billion years.”

            No. People have not been around even a hundredth of that time. Bacteria, maybe. But then we’re talking about asexual reproduction.

            Yes. The result of all that ‘trial and error’ of bacteria, ect, is the behaviors and traits of humans (and other life forms.)

            We do other things, but mostly, we have babies. Or else we wouldn’t be here.

  35. Daniel says:

    Anyway, “intercultural selection” has usually been a fancy name for “military conquest.”

    Look at the English language. Why do so many common English words come from French? (Beef! Joy! March!) Because a band of French-speaking adventurers sailed over and conquered England.

    Or, why do Moroccans share religion and customs with Pakistanis? Because the armies of early Islam conquered both.

    Or, why are Christians in the United States mostly Protestant, and those in Mexico mostly Catholic? Because one region was more thoroughly subjugated by the British, and the other by the Spanish.

    So “traits seen in winning cultures” are largely “military conquerors’ cultural traits.” If all we want is to make sure our culture wins any future war, we should say so! Then we could focus on the important thing — military preparedness.

    Of course, a neoreactionary might argue that hatred of gays and praise of monogamy is important to military preparedness. This would be news to the bisexual conqueror Alexander the Great, not to mention the polygamous conqueror Muhammad.

    At any rate, claiming social traits affect military strength has the same “where’s the effect already?” problem as many other neoreactionary arguments.

    Right now, the United States is the state with the greatest military force, and the only state in recent decades to feel comfortable sending armies far from its borders. Yet the USA is more permissive on sexual identity and religious practice than most of Europe, let alone China or Russia.

    Napoleon and Alexander the Great were both more liberal than most of their opponents, and that didn’t keep them from being victorious. Heck, Genghis Khan and his family had far more liberal attitudes about women than the settled states they conquered.

    There have been a few conservative conquerors — possibly Muhammad, depending on the comparison; certainly Hitler; pre-Hitler Prussia swings back and forth; Rome was more liberal than half its conquests, more conservative than the other half.

    But if there’s a majority among high-impact conquerors, it’s a liberal majority.

    So the argument that cultural conservatism brings military success gets little support in the evidence.

    We could do “special pleading” for the hypothesis. We could argue that Alexander the Great wasn’t really bisexual, and the USA isn’t really the strongest military, and so on. But at that point we’re saying “conventionally read, the available data don’t support my hypothesis, so I’m sure this data is wrong.” This is usually a bad move.

    So, a lot of “keeping your culture around” amounts to “win your wars,” and if that has a social implication at all it seems to be a liberal one.

    This is actually pretty weird. Traditionally, liberals want a small military budget, and conservatives a large one. But the social customs that correlate with military victory, independent of the budget itself, seem to be liberal customs, not conservative ones.

    Obviously in any war I’d bet on the side with a better-funded, better-trained army, even if it had a traditionalist social culture. But in practice, the countries that are able to field well-funded well-trained armies seem most often to be the comparatively liberal ones.

    This probably goes back to the meta-cultural observation that “move in a socially permissive direction” has been good advice for a long time. Maybe social openness correlates with being open to new technology and new, up-to-date military organization.

    I kind of doubt that being bisexual made Alexander a better general. But I can easily imagine that being part of a more flexible, experimental culture than the Persians gave Alexander a better army.

    • The_Dancing_Judge says:

      What about ( in ancient times): High birth rates -> military power, military power -> spread of cultural practices, homosexual marriage -> lower birthrates, ergo…?

      • Daniel says:

        Pre-industrial populations were limited by food supply, not birth rate. It wasn’t the number of kids but the quantity of sheep or farmland that controlled how many warriors you could field.

        Also, elites in homosexual-tolerating societies generally seem to have been able to “do their duty” and impregnate women even if their true loves were men. (This is a common story in certain strata of both classical Greece and Edwardian England.) So there doesn’t seem to have been a birthrate effect.

        Third, until you get to muskets (1550AD+), quality soldiers are more important than numerous soldiers. The Mongols didn’t win by being more numerous than the Chinese; they won by being more experienced, better equipped and better led.

        Fourth, as noted, sexual tolerance seems to have gone along with tolerating new ideas. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon all succeeded in large part by capitalizing on military or organizational innovations.

        Of course, we can imagine a society with, say, 90% homosexuality and no tradition of “doing your duty” to provide children even with an unsexy heterosexual partner. That society would indeed have a depopulation problem big enough to undermine its army size!

        But actual historical homosexuality just hasn’t been a population depressor, so these other effects predominate. This shouldn’t surprise you — today, in the US, only something like 10% of the population self-identify as gay, and many of those would probably be able to procreate heterosexually if depopulation seemed like a serious imminent threat.

        Basically, any “smaller population effect” you’re looking for is getting swamped by a more important “openness to new ideas effect”.

        Now, both these effects are probably in turn swamped by other factors. Rome, Prussia, etc. had more important factors going for them besides openness to ideas. There are plenty of historical cases where a large conservative country has crushed a small permissive one.

        But if you had to choose between two less-important factors, “being a society that’s open to new ideas” historically had far more military value than “being a society that works extra hard to maximize births.”

        • Xibalba says:

          If you think homosexuality is somehow related to opnenness to new ideas…. I suppose it also comes along with feminism, love of social fluidity, etc?

          Half of what passes for homosexuality in in the world in the past was pederasty. Much more akin to the tourist scourge in certain sectors in Thailand and Cambodia than in the manifestation in some western democratic countries–which is of course far more presentable, else it won’t be public.

          Quite possibly the only society today with a widespread tolerance for homosexuality today, (as in it is mainstream amongst men) akin to the kind of sexual scene you found in ancient greece, is among Pashto males and the Baccha bazi boys in the highlands of Afghanistan. Indeed, the commoner dynamic across history where >50% of men engaged in homosexuality, was between a master and slave… It was near unheard of among those rude egalitarian tribes like the germanics, the mongols, or the scythians, and was so fashionable in the aristocracy of so many Caliphates+ the Ottoman Empire+ the Samurai of Japan, hardly paragons of fuzzy humane virtue.

          Rome, in turn was more egalitarian than athens, which was more egalitarian than sparta. Make of that what you will.

          Did you know that a disproportionate number of prominent leaders in neo-nazi and fascist movements across Europe are gay? Not least in the original movement itself. Gay people have written about it themselves. Hell, the pioneer of the right-wing masculinist movement, Jack Donovan, is himself gay and a proud member of the white nationalist movement. With a shaved head. Not that that has prevented his writings from being popular.

          Sometimes, our modern intellectual biases prevent us from seeing those ruts and grooves in the mind (which were nevertheless apparent to ancient writers) where consciousness and culture can travel along routes of least resistance…

          ‘Liberalism’? Well….

          • Daniel says:

            I regret to say this is almost completely wrong, both in implication and (in several places) in simple fact.

            Premodern sexual callousness about children occurred on both sides of the hetero/homosexual divide. Medieval Europe had child marriage for the nobility; Renaissance Europe had castration for church singers.

            Meanwhile, the claim of “lots of gay Nazis” is an old canard (see reportage on “The Pink Swastika”). Ernst Rohm and some of his subordinates/friends certainly were, but one man does not make a trend. The claim of throngs comes from anti-homosexuality advocates. Even in the 50s and 60s when it was fashionable to despise gays, mainstream historians were not, in fact, turning up lots of gay Nazi leaders.

            Likewise, your suggestion that “rude egalitarian tribes” didn’t have nonstandard sex roles is simply wrong. The Lakota, for example, had a variety of nonstandard-gender roles for people, including pretty much all the sexual and marriage arrangements you can think of.

            And Rome was less egalitarian than Athens, not more, except for the militarily crucial category of admitting people to citizenship. Among citizens, Rome was a far more class-stratified society. Athens had nothing comparable to Roman divisions among senators and equestrians, patricians and plebians, or rural and urban vote citizenships. Egalitarian is a relative correlate of military strength, not an absolute cause. Compared to the Greeks, Rome improved one militarily crucial species of egalitarianism and mostly tilted conservative on the rest.

            As for the classical “Germanics” or “Scythians”, contrary to your remark, we barely know anything trustworthy about these people’s heterosexual customs, let alone their homosexual ones.

            (With these cultures we’re pretty much limited to what we can deduce from burial goods — e.g., we conclude the Sarmatians had many women warriors, because they buried elite women with weapons.)

          • Xibalba says:

            Well on Rome you are correct.

            What else exactly about the post is wrong, except the single statement about Nazis, which I admit does stand on wobbly ground? But grounded it is.

            Of course there was sexual callousness towards children: note that what you call *’sexual callousness’ towards adolescents and prepubescent boys, almost certainly from a lower social class and often disproportionately foreigners, was the **primary** form of homosexual expression in the ancient world, or in any society where homosexuality is widely mainstreamed among males.* This is in great contrast to how the male-female bond was conceived; that was the point. There is nothing like the canonization of adult male-male relationships we have now, though the more ‘classical’ side of things still goes on, judging by the statistics in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

            You need to read that article.

            On homosexuals and Nazism, there is extremely little information, which is why the Pink Swastika was universally panned. But what information we do have, we have it circumstantially and from multiple scources, not least Rohm himself. It is extremely suggestive to say the least.

            “” The gay art historian Christian Isermayer said in an interview, “I got to know people in the SA. They used to throw riotous parties even in 1933… I once attended one. It was quite well-behaved but thoroughly gay. But then, in those days, the SA was ultra-gay.”

            There is quite literally no evidence whatsoever that homosexuality even existed as a concept among the Germanic peoples. Well, there is ‘effeminacy’, but that exists everywhere. Ample records of their heterosexual practice exists from the romans, and from early church and missionary records, which do tell us they were very monogamous.

            If there is a third gender, that quite obviously excludes that gender from being ‘homosexual’, doesn’t it? It isn’t just a matter of semantics.

            I’m gay myself, and have explored that side of the gay intellectual movement that has attempted to reclaim the ‘masculine’ and the ‘aggressive’. You meet these people, read the books, look at the history (Adolf Brand et al), and realise that this is a pretty dangerous headspace. The mindset is rare now, the nakedly masculinist, aristocratic, anti-materialist, dionysian connotations make it deeply incongruent with the prevailing zeitgeist. But it has an illustrous history, not least in the classical empires, with their emphasis on being the penetrator, and on avoiding being penetrated at all costs.

            Some people have theorized that the reason why Paul was able to say ‘there is neither jew nor gentile, male nor female, slave nor free’, when literally no one in the Axial age believed that on any continent, was because a far more egalitarian social ethos was already put in place by Judaism, arising as an emergent phenomenon from the banning of homosexual relationships and the steady emergence of a tradition of monogamy. I for one find this believable.

      • ” homosexual marriage -> lower birthrates, ergo…”

        It remains a weak argument. It only takes small increase in fecundity to make up for a likely ra,te (<5%, probably <3%) rate of exclusive homosexuality, and as Daniel, but too few other people have noticed, the real brake on population is food supply.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Life-long, monogamous marriages were a solution to the food problem, too. Married men work harder. And if marriage is the best way for men to get regular sex, and demonstrating how good they are at providing is the way for men to get married, then even the single men dedicate themselves to becoming good producers.

          • There’s only so much you can do with hard work when land is limited.

            And the point is not whether marriage is good for heterosexuals, the point is whether homosexuals are bad for anything,

        • The_Dancing_Judge says:

          I’m curious how much the food supply was really a limit to population growth at any given time. The nomading barbarian of the classical period could always have a ton of kids above the nominal population limit and then migrate. I would be interested in seeing something showing food supply really was a hard limit.

          • A successful nomadic warrior could grab resources.for their large brood, but that would mean someone else starving. Once you’re at carrying capacity, its zero sum.

    • Shenpen says:

      >So, a lot of “keeping your culture around” amounts to “win your wars,”

      But win your wars essentially means “1) export your people 2) into a dominant position”. After the dust has settled, Morrocan and Pakistani peasants bowed to Arab lords. This was the long-term result.

      My point: immigration accomplishes 1) of this. It exports people, albeit in a more submissive position, not into a dominant one.

      However… back then every culture, how to put it, really believed in their values. Today the West doesn’t.

      I think a very good argument could be made that liberalism essentially means the lack of a unifying culture: liberalism means you may do anything that does not harm others, while culture means stricter rules. Liberalism was invented in the US and only later imported to Europe: because in the US from day 1 different cultures lived, and there was liberalism not inside the cultures, but between them. Utah Mormons could be theocratic, just not force it on Boston Catholics.

      The point is, the kind of liberalism that the US used to have only between cultures not inside them, is now the universal rule all over the West and cultures are close to being dead.

      So… today, we have immigration, exporting people just like as wars do, but in a submissive, not dominant position, but they have a culture (have other rules than do whatever that does not harm others) and we don’t.

      Isn’t it going to result to we adopting their culture?

      • Anatoly says:

        Today people of the West believe in their values. They often don’t believe in forcibly exporting them, that is true. But that’s not at all the same thing.

        I’m not sure where this image comes from, of people in say the Muslim world/Russia/China/whatever being really serious about their values, and the West not really caring about theirs. Maybe it’s because the West signals their caring less, and that’s because there’s less feeling of a threat.

        There’re way more people in Russia going “we’re being assimilated into the perverted and hedonistic American culture” than the reverse.

      • ” Liberalism was invented in the US and only later imported to Europe”

        Hmmmmmmmmmmmm…..

        That’s the sound of Paine, Rousseau and Voltaire spinning in the.ir graves.

        “because in the US from day 1 different cultures live”

        Whereas there were no bloody bust ups between Catholics, Protestants and Jews in Europe, andnthe Europeans didn’t invent liberalism to deal with them, and didn’t export multiple cultures … quakerism, mainstream Protestantism, catholicism into the US ….?

    • Tom Womack says:

      Liberals tend to want a small military budget as a percentage, but it’s a percentage of a staggeringly enormous GDP because liberal ideas are so good at growing economies. The proportion of Britain’s GDP spent on making it immune to existential threat – two hundred one-megaton warheads, two SSBNs at sea – might be as much as 0.2%

  36. Henk says:

    If we were to reason that current gay culture is rainbows instead of disease and death mostly thanks to modern medicine (and much of it: every AIDS patient costs around $600,000 last time I looked it up), it becomes plausible that selection against full acceptance of homosexual practice used to be strong enough to work all the way up to the death penalty for sodomy, within just a few generations.

    (Essentially, reasoning about gays and evolution doesn’t work without imagining away the modern world.)

    • Daniel Armak says:

      HIV only appeared in the 20th century. Prior to that, homosexual sex didn’t involve any more medical risk than hetero sex AFAIK.

      • AbuDhabi says:

        Not exactly. The anus isn’t exactly built to withstand the kind of violations that the vaginal canal is; sodomy, whether male-on-male or male-on-female, carries greater health risks than vaginal intercourse, simply by being applied to a body part less suited towards withstanding wear-and-tear.

      • Nah, prior to AIDS, gay men were already walking petri dishes full of diseases: https://evolutionistx.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/aids-and-california/

        To quote:
        “Let me present my own history of STDs. From 1973, when I came out, to 1975, I only got mononucloeosis and non-specific urethritis, or NSU. In 1975, I got my first case of gonorrhea. Not bad, I thought. I’d had maybe 200 different partners, and I’d only gotten the clap twice. But then, moving from Boston to New York City, it all began to snowball.​

        First came hepatitis A in ’76 and more gonorrhea and NSU. In 1977, I was diagnosed with amebiasis, an intestinal parasite, hepatitis B, more gonorrhea, and NSU. In 1978, more amebiasis and my first case of shigella, and of course, more gonorrhea. Then in 1979, hepatitis yet a third time, this time non-A, non-B, more intestinal parasites, adding giardia this time, and an anal fissure as well as my first case of syphilis … By 1981, I got some combination of STDs each and every time I had sex …​

        At age twenty-seven I’ve had: gonorrhea, syphillis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis non-A, non-B; intestinal parasites including amebiasis, e. historicia, shigella, giardia; herpes simplex types one and two; venereal warts, mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus, and now cryptosporodiosis, for which there is no known cure.​”

      • Anonymous says:

        It involved a hell of a lot less medical risk than hetero sex, quite obviously. Still does.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maternal_death

    • JME says:

      Accepting that the problem with gay males is that they are prone to STIs, then is “stigmatize gay men, drive them into the closet, and have them marry women” a good solution to this? Does “permit marriages between men” make this STI problem worse?

      It seems to me that stigmatization/closeting/bearding are a pretty bad way of controlling STIs. I’m not sure if same-sex marriage is an optimal solution either, but prima facie it seems less likely to propagate STIs (to some degree among gay men themselves, to a much greater degree among the women who are their “would-be” beards).

  37. Daniel Armak says:

    > over thousands of years, various proposals like “eat those yummy-looking red berries that grow on the small bushes” and “always hunt seals in large groups” were accidentally tested, with the successful ones spreading until they became universal tradition and the disastrous ones being warned against as taboo

    Why do you label these examples as “traditions” and “taboos”? Isn’t it more likely that the Inuit have explicit beliefs that “these berries are tasty and nutritious” and “hunting seals in small groups doesn’t work”?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      While you may be right, I’m taking my cue from things like the idea that the Jewish prohibition on pork is because the pork in the area had lots of parasites.

      • estelendur says:

        The parasites thing explains pork but does it explain the other sweeping kashrut prohibitions? What about rabbits? Eels? Snakes? Perhaps there is a completely sensible explanation, in which case I would be happy to learn it.

        I’ve seen Mary Douglas’s theory in Purity and Danger cited, claiming it’s all about tying together wholeness/category-centrality/purity, but I’m not sure how much credence to give it, since structural anthropology seems to be pretty good at just-so stories. Also she apparently later retracted this theory and replaced it with a different one:

        “the dietary laws intricately model the body and the altar upon one another.” For instance, among land animals, Israelites were only allowed to eat animals that were also allowed to be sacrificed: animals that depend on herdsmen. Douglas concluded from this that animals that are abominable to eat are not in fact impure, but rather that “it is abominable to harm them.”

        • Adam says:

          At some indeterminate point in the past, six people each separately eat a rabbit, a pig, a snake, an eel, a few bales of lettuce, and a couple of rats. All six of these people die. Every food becomes taboo. Mostly, they died for unrelated reasons because pre-scientific people were very shitty at accurately inferring causation, but the taboos persisted. Some of them happened to be roughly correct by happy accident.

      • keranih says:

        The prohibition against pork likely had more to do with swine being livestock of settled town people, vs sheep and goats of plains transhumans. (In the same way, camel is not kosher, but it is halal.)

        • Randy M says:

          …I get what you mean, but is that a typical usage of “transhuman”? It has some rather fantasical connotations.

          • keranih says:

            …and I’m so far out of the QUILTBAG community that I had to read this twice before the lightbulb went off and realized you were talking about trans* people.

            Yes, it’s a typical term of art, pretty much replacing ‘nomad’. Specifically, it means a settled pattern of shifting locations based on season, weather, and available grazing/hunting. (Normads are supposed to wander randomly, but there is increasing doubt that any people ever actually did so.)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Keranih, you are wrong on both counts. “Transhuman” is not the QUILTBAG term “trans*.” Nor can I find anyone using it as a noun meaning nomad. I can find people using it as an adjective meaning nomadic, but that is so rare I think it is a typo for “transhumant.”

          • Randy M says:

            Yes, my thinking was in terms of Transhumanism (especially given this blog) wherein humans transcend typical limitations with technological enhancement.

          • keranih says:

            @ Douglas –

            I think you misunderstand me – I know that transhuman is not the QUILTBAG term, but I thought that Randy thought I was using that term like that. If Randy was thinking something else, I would be interested in that. (Perhaps he thought I meant the futuristic movement?)

            And yes, I’ve seen both transhumant and transhuman used for this. There is room for confusion, certainly.

          • alexp says:

            I think Randy was refering to the Sci fi connotations of the word. As in minds uploaded into the cloud rather than anything to do with transgender.

          • Randy M says:

            To be clear: Cyborg Abraham

  38. Anatoly says:

    What are some of the ways the modern life is different from essentially all the past cultures, and which seem way way more dangerous, potentially, to the social fabric than gay marriage?

    No-fault divorce, for one thing. I feel that if I were anti-gay marriage on the “it’s unprecedented and goes against all evolved cultural practices and so may destroy us” platform, then to be consistent I would have to be REALLY frantic about no-fault divorce, an order of magnitude more so than about gay marriage.

    The breaking of the ancestral occupational chain is another thing. Most people don’t do what their parents did anymore, and that was never the case before what, the 20th century?

    What else?

    Feels like there’re plenty of very significant never-before social changes compared to which gay marriage seems rather silly to worry about.

    • Daniel Armak says:

      No hereditary nobility or castes, either legal or customary. No slavery or debt peonage. No legal prostitution in many places. Lending at interest and speculation are legal. Parliamentary democracy with full suffrage, including women. Legal equality of women. Marital rape and corporal punishment of wives and children are illegal. Food, shelter and medical services guaranteed to all citizens (less so in the US, I gather). Over 80% of the population is neither farmers nor soldiers. Mandatory high school and high attendance of college. 80% of US population lives in cities and not small towns or farms. Cheap realtime communication with anyone worldwide and access to all the knowledge, art and news of humanity (online).

      Really, gay marriage seems like such small change.

      • AbuDhabi says:

        No hereditary nobility or castes, either legal or customary.

        No *legal* nobility/castes, but they are there de facto. You will find that almost every US president comes from the same extended family related to the English aristocracy. In England, I recall a study that shows that even under democratic institutions, the same families and surnames show up over and over.

        I could quip that every republic is a noble republic.

        • NL says:

          “You will find that almost every US president comes from the same extended family related to the English aristocracy.”

          Eh. That has more to do with pedigree collapse than any actual nobility.

        • Tom Womack says:

          “In England, I recall a study that shows that even under democratic institutions, the same families and surnames show up over and over. ”

          Yes; this happens, it’s generally a matter of poverty of aspiration, and it’s one of the more important non-obvious things for the school system to teach. Every child of a politician knows that ‘politician’ is a plausible career, is brought up around politicians, gets told on her father’s knee and has absolutely implicit in her mindset that ‘politician’ is a thing people do, and knows what the standard things politicians do are because her father has constantly talked about doing them. Ditto for TV presenter, ditto for academic.

          Unless the school system manages to hammer a reasonable version of the same into a fair fraction of the society, you end up with the group of people aspiring to be politicians, academics and TV presenters containing a lot more children of politicians, academics and TV presenters than you’d expect by chance.

          It also happens the other way round; there are many stories of fathers taking their slightly-too-young son down the mine in order to scare the son into getting a career involving sitting in chairs in front of screens above ground, I was quite deliberately warned off becoming a lawyer by my lawyer father.

    • Maybe you missed the part in which the cultural conservatives are, in fact, frantic about no-fault divorce. I’m frantic about it, and will rant to anyone who listens to me. The emotional tenor is a little less urgent, since it’s been in place for a long time and so doesn’t have the shock of novelty, but it’s more important than two gays in a courtroom.

      • Randy M says:

        Way more important, but then if you are in the passenger seat of a speeding car, you might shout out “Watch out for that cat!” in between saying “Why’d you hit that bus full of orphans you lunatic?!”
        (Note that I haven’t attempted to calculate if the relative util ratios even come close to equivalent).

      • brad says:

        I find that quite implausible. If cultural conservatives were frantic about no-fault divorce there would be one state that had eliminated it. Abortion, where states can’t practically do all that much given SCOTUS decisions and any laws that are passed subject the state to expensive litigation, nonetheless produces a stream of new laws every few years.

        There may be a small idiosyncratic group that opposes no fault divorce, but it isn’t a salient political issue for any non-trivial size political group (and social conservatives are certainly non-trivial).

        • Adam says:

          There’s this.

          This does seem like more of a father’s right thing than conservatism, though. My cousin strongly and vocally supports this kind of thing and is constantly spamming Facebook with it, but he’s also campaigning for Elizabeth Warren for president. To be fair, he actually is very Catholic, but old-school Catholic that thinks materialism is evil and cares about helping the poor, not exactly a model U.S. Republican.

        • brad says:

          I either didn’t know or didn’t remember that no-fault divorce was an MRA boogeyman. That makes a lot more sense than some sort of revival of interest from the traditional social conservatives and also explains why it hasn’t gone anywhere, as they are trivially sized (especially among likely voters).

        • I had a comment eaten twice because I included too many links. In lieu of that, you might enjoy this pastebin with a selection of social conservatives worried about divorce.

          You’re right about one thing though: the mainstream GOP conservative has the attention span of a housefly, and starts adopting liberal shibboleths about five minutes after they cycle out of the headlines.

      • LeeEsq says:

        The very conservative Ronald Reagan was one of the first champions of no-fault divorce. Nor is divorce always looked at with disfavor by religious conservatives. Orthodox Judaism has permits divorce on the grounds that keeping an unhappy couple together would increase the chances of adultery or worse.

    • Moshe Zadka says:

      I’m very pro-same-sex marriage, but I think a no-fault divorce was a big mistake and we should make divorce harder. I think SSM does nothing to threaten the social fabric, whereas easy divorce leads to significant dangers (“The Moral Animal” explains it reasonably well).

      • brad says:

        Fault divorce was a disaster for the court system. Divorce in general is extremely tough for the court system, and leads to one of the the least law-like areas of law. I’d argue if you want to make divorce harder you should do it with social stigma instead of legal barriers.

        Do you know which state was the last state to abolish no fault divorce? It wasn’t Mississippi or Oklahoma, it was New York, less than ten years ago.

        • Adam says:

          It was also introduced to the United States by Ronald Reagan and opposed in New York by NOW. Interesting how who supports what just kind of swings back and forth with the tide.

        • Shenpen says:

          Indeed, fault-divorce was all too often about trying to manufacture evidence of cheating.

          This is why I am down with the pessimistic subset of cultural conservatism. Once culture decides to put individual desire before collective duty, no legislation in hell will prevent that, because people will just game the rules.

  39. Murphy says:

    People really really really don’t understand how slow spread of traits can be even in the face of strong selective pressure.

    So lets talk about smallpox.

    Smallpox was one of the most deadly plagues in human history.
    Hundreds of millions died in the 20th century alone and it was endemic in the European population for centuries. There was a mutation, delta32 which is believed to have conferred resistance or immunity to the disease.

    The disease killed people at a young age before they could breed so it was extremely strongly selected.

    Over the course of about 600 years, about 30 generations it spread to about 10% of the population.

    If civilizations have a generational time of 1000 years and something was as beneficial to the civilization as resistance to smallpox is to someone living in a population where smallpox is endemic then we’d still expect it to take 30 thousand years to spread to 10% of civilizations.

    But, there’s an alternative candidate.

    Founder effects. You get a population bottleneck, for example only a single tribe make the journey across an inhospitable desert and on the other side they find rich hunting grounds, they’re fruitful and multiply. They have a few traits which got them across the desert where others failed but they also have a number of “neutral” traits, things which don’t have much effect overall on survival so if for example 90% of them also happened to have red hair then many generations later 90% of them are still likely to have red hair.

    Most of human societies are decedents of small original populations and a small number of original societies. Founder effects have massive effects.

    So if the first few tribes out of africa who ended up being the progenitors of 90% of the human race have a trait which isn’t strongly selected against then it’s likely to end up insanely common for no good reason.

    Hell genetic evidence indicates humans experienced a bottleneck at one point where there was only about 2000 humans alive about 100K years ago. Any random neutral traits of those 2000 are going to be insanely common for no good reason.

    • AbuDhabi says:

      Your example does not necessarily indicates a strong selection pressure. Smallpox, while being horrible, is not necessarily lethal (per Wikipedia, 20-60% mortality). The resistance-granting gene is just one way of avoiding dying to smallpox. Also per Wikipedia, transmission of smallpox is slow relative to other diseases of the sort, due to the amount of contact one needs to become infected. Couple that with slow overland travel, insular communities, and very visible symptoms of being diseased made smallpox a long-term nuisance rather than an extinction-level threat. Same with the Black Death, but for slightly altered parameters (higher mortality balanced out with more efficient transmission, but there also being a gene for resistance which is present in a minority of modern western Europeans).

      If a single gene grants immunity to just one type of the many dangers that pre-modern people faced, it’s actually a really tiny advantage. It has to compete with genes that give the bearers greater strength, better ability to survive birth, better resistance to cold, better resistance to starvation, greater intellect, better overall (not specialized) immune system, etc.

      • keranih says:

        Smallpox was more lethal than malaria, which also produced a genetic trait for resistance that, in homozygous populations, is nearly as bad as malaria.

        See also, lactose tolerance, which has developed in multiple populations. Small advantages add up.

  40. I suspect there are too few gay people for gay marriage to have any measurable effect on society at large. I don’t think we previously had strong social norms against homosexuality because someone tried it and it worked out badly for society at large, but because we didn’t have the internet and TV and other forms of mass communication in the past, and so the small % of gay people didn’t know about each other and couldn’t network together to advocate for themselves. Likewise, the rest of the population only knew a hundred or two hundred people at all, and so very few people ever even met an openly gay person. With no human face to tie to the idea, people just reacted to the hypothetical with disgust. But now that gay people know that other gay people exist, and straight people know that gay people exist, because you can hear about gay people on TV or the internet, etc., people are more inclined to view homosexuality as just a thing some people do.

    • AbuDhabi says:

      What about the disgust reflex?

      • Slow Learner says:

        Talk to an eight year old – they generally find the idea of all sex disgusting, both heterosexual and homosexual. Without the hormones and desire to do it, that isn’t surprising.
        Alternatively talk to a Muslim about eating pork, and then an English person about eating horsemeat. Both will be disgusted, but your average Catholic Frenchman will not understand either reaction to perfectly good foodstuffs.

        The disgust reaction is culturally influenced and unreliable as an argument for or against anything.

        • AbuDhabi says:

          I am using it here to poke holes in EvolutionistX’s argument that familiarity leads to acceptance, rather than an argument for or against anything.

    • Daniel Armak says:

      This also leads me to think that in the past, open homosexuality and (desire for) homosexual marriage must have been much less common simply because with people living in small groups, the relatively rare homosexual individuals couldn’t reliably meet one another to find mates.

      And if their local cultural traditions didn’t describe homosexuality – not because it was taboo or denigrated, but just because it wasn’t familiar to people as a concept – then some of those people, certainly bisexuals and other sexually flexible types, may not have thought of themselves as homosexuals, or may not have though of non-heterosexual life options.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        That is the first plausible non-biological explanation I’ve heard for why the idea of solely-homosexual people is so new.

        • onyomi says:

          Yes, if the average social unit was only 50-100 people in most of the evolutionary past, and if exclusive homosexuality occurs at a rate of about 5%, then that means, on average there would be around 2 gay men and 2 gay women in any given tribe. If those 2 happened to be widely separated in age or simply not attracted to one another it would seem they are just sort of out of luck.

          • keranih says:

            Eh. Most people were marrying outside the tribal unit, at that stage of social organization. So I don’t think this exactly works.

      • Svejk says:

        The high search cost of homosexuality has been proposed as one of the reasons it is unknown in some modern small scale societies (e.g. the Hadza of Tanzania). However, the Hadza are aware of the existence of homosexual behaviour: it can be observed as pre-adolescent sex play, and is widely tolerated. According to fieldworkers, same-sex relations between adults are neither practised nor prohibited.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        with people living in small groups, the relatively rare homosexual individuals couldn’t reliably meet one another to find mates.

        A hypothesis already explored by Tenacious D.

      • Samuel Delany has suggested that one of the reasons people moved to cities was to find fellow members of sexual minorities.

  41. Simon says:

    Yesterday I listened to the Partially Examined Life episode with Patricia Churchland ( http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2011/07/18/episode-41-pat-churchland-on-the-neurobiology-of-morality-plus-hume%E2%80%99s-ethics/ ) and she made a similar comment. When talking about cultural evolution with regards to memes she said (paraphrased) “I think it’s just a reformulation of ‘good ideas spread’, and it doesn’t really add anything to that”.

    • Adam says:

      Not just “good” ideas, though. It’s ideas that are good at causing themselves to spread. Chain letters are memetically terrific, but I can’t imagine very many people would advocate for them because of this.

    • AbuDhabi says:

      Doesn’t require democracy. China has been doing “try policy X in region Y only to see if it works” for a while now.

  42. Ryan Carey says:

    This is a rare SSC post that I find myself mostly disagreeing with. Here’s my understanding of the post:
    People say that heterosexual marriage is culturally adapted. However, people who have gay marriages claim that they’re being advantaged, and modern civilisations live too long for their evolution to tell us much.

    This seems to be a false dichotomy between individuals and modern civilisations. As you point out, modern civilisations could evolve by adapting without dying – Lamarckian rather than Darwinian evolution. But there could also be evolution occurring on various scales between the level of 1 person and 100 million people. What about families, smaller tribes, cities and so forth? How do gay relationships work in San Francisco, or in the hippy movement? Is there some underlying truth to the conservative claim that gay marriages undermine family values, that is based on historical case studies of extended families?

    If you know me, you’d know I think gay marriage is great, but I think that by just counterarguing against two extreme cases (individuals and mega-civilisations), you’re falling short of solidly counterarguing against the ‘adaptation’ claim.

    Still loving to read your work in general though!

  43. The opposition to homosexuality is overwhelmingly driven by monotheism. Even non-monotheist cultures “took it on” because it was associated with modernity–late C19th Japan for example.

    Leninism spread opposition still further because, hey, not breeding little workers and being different.

    Take out those two factors, and most of the alleged effect goes away.

    • AbuDhabi says:

      You mean Stalinism. After the Revolution and pre-Stalin, the abolishment of the Tsarist laws meant that homosexuality was effectively decriminalized. It seemed to be moving towards legal recognition, but then, well, Stalin.

    • Creutzer says:

      The opposition to homosexuality is overwhelmingly driven by monotheism.

      Are you saying that there is a causal connection, or just that it’s an accident, as in “the monotheistic religions that spread most widely also happened to oppose homosexuality”? If there is supposed to be a causal connection between a religion’s being monotheistic and opposition to homosexuality, why would that be?

      • Adam says:

        Almost certainly the latter. Founder effects, as Daniel mentioned above. All of monotheism descends from a single tribe in one tiny region of the world. Whatever they happened to believe that didn’t put them at a tremendous disadvantage is going to be widely believed all over the world simply due to a couple of influential prophet types telling them to go convert everyone they can find.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I don’t buy this. “Monotheism” is such a broad category that it doesn’t make for much in the way of useful predictions. Just look at how diverse the various monotheisms are (even if you restrict to a tiny subgroup like “Jews”!). Whatever Founder effects there were, there’s been a lot of evolutionary radiation since then.

          This applies even more to the current case; monotheists are not alone in finding “gay marriage” an absurdity.

          • All monotheist religions (Zoroastrianism–a proto-monotheism, but it provides many of the originating ideas), Judaism, Christianity and Islam anathematise homosexuality (particularly male homosexuality). As in “kill them all” anathematise.

            Animist societies rarely do, and most polytheist societies didn’t.

            Lots of (non-monotheist) societies also had some form of same-sex marriage (or at least recognised relationship). Many Amerindian societies for example. The claim same-sex marriage has no history is anthropological nonsense.

      • All monotheist religions (Zoroastrianism–a proto-monotheism, but it provides many of the originating ideas), Judaism, Christianity and Islam anathematise homosexuality (particularly male homosexuality). As in “kill them all” anathematise. No, don’t think it is accidental, because they also go with strict gender roles. The One God is transcendent and doesn’t have sex. So, the only way sex connects to the divine is by conception (i.e. creation of life), therefore …

        Very few animist societies anathematise homosexuality. They observed it in nature (yes, animals do engage in same-sex activity) and being “different” was often a sign of specialness; queer folk seem to have been disproportionately culture-carriers. (If you are unlikely to have kids, you provide a reason for other people’s kids to look after you: providing cultural goods, knowledge, wisdom would do that.)

        Very few polytheist cultures anathematise homosexuality (their deities tend to be a very polyamorous lot). Sex connects to the divine, it does not separate from us. Lots of polytheism had “third gender” priests.

        So, no, not accidental.

    • Shenpen says:

      The breeding workers, soldiers or family members logic is FAR bigger than Leninism. It would say it is the default mode for societies that are not running on a modern Western individualism type of mode.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Indeed, it is the meaning of the word “proletariat.” The Roman meaning.

        • And if queer folk were disproportionately purveyors of (for want a better phrase) “high culture” and you wanted to make a dramatic cultural shift (say from animism or polytheism to monotheism, or to Leninism) , then targeting queer folk was sensible. Both as a way of disrupting the existing culture and of saying “things are really different now”.

          It is one reason why African Christianity is so anti-queer: they are still competing with traditions where it simply was no big deal.

      • Actually, particularly in animist societies, but also in many polytheist societies, queer folk seem to have been disproportionately culture-carriers. If you are unlikely to have kids, you provide a reason for other people’s kids to look after you: providing cultural goods, knowledge, wisdom would do that.

  44. Foobar says:

    So I interpret it as a different claim: a culture that allows gay marriage will, for various reasons, become weak and unsuccessful. Then it will be crushed by other cultures, either militarily, economically, or in a sort of marketplace of ideas where people convert to or assimilate into the other culture because it’s more attractive and successful.

    It could also collapse from the inside as promiscuity becomes increasingly normalized, everyone is born to single mothers, all women have daddy issues, all men act like ghetto alpha males, etc. (I think it’s already starting to happen and the whole Red Pill thing is an early indicator.) Collapse can totally happen meaningfully on a timescale of well under 100 years. Black illegitimacy has more than tripled in the past 60 years. It’s hard to figure out whether illegitimacy represents a legitimate (hah!) social problem… I’ve seen solid arguments on both sides. But it seems inherently implausible to me that e.g. Planned Parenthood has not had a positive impact on society.

    Roissy has a post I won’t bother linking to arguing that the high frequency of open relationships among married gays will lead to a normalization of cheating among heterosexual couples. I remember looking at the data years ago and noting that marriage rates in countries like Spain seemed to start dropping a lot right around the time gay marriage was legalized, so that’s another thing.

    Of course maybe collapse is what we want. It’s hard to say.

    Somewhat relatedly, Robin Hanson says falling fertility is one of the biggest problems our civilization faces, which bodes poorly for new male birth control techs coming out. This seems like an important piece of the puzzle.

    Note that the Earth is not a monoculture. In Europe you can see the white European culture competing and losing against immigrant Islamic cultures. The demographics of Europe and America are going to shift within our lifetimes to be substantially less white. I don’t think it’s obvious that e.g. the Muslims in Europe are about to adopt enlightenment values.

    • Creutzer says:

      It could also collapse from the inside as promiscuity becomes increasingly normalized.

      Except… nothing about gay marriage entails heightened promiscuity (in heterosexuals or otherwise). It’s probably not entirely an accident that the same cultural movement is currently promoting both, but it’s not conceptually necessary by any means.

      Also, I’m not sure we have yet seen any society collapse in the way you have described. If that’s correct, then this isn’t relevant to the evolutionary question.

      • Anonymous says:

        …nothing about gay marriage entails heightened promiscuity…

        I understand the argument to be that since the really serious consequence of an illegitimate pregnancy is off the table, the taboo against promiscuity within homosexual marriages will be weakened. Then, via the, “There is no ‘gay marriage’; there is just ‘marriage’,” conception, heterosexual marriages will be affected by this lowered taboo against promiscuity within marriage. Note that this argument doesn’t seem to make a claim about general promiscuity, just promiscuity within marriage.

      • onyomi says:

        I would bet that acceptance of gay marriage will actually result in *less* promiscuity. This is because gay male culture is notoriously promiscuous, whereas exclusivity is viewed as a precondition for most marriages. Along with the cultural and legal recognition they seek, I don’t think gay married couples can help but also absorb some of the strong expectation of fidelity.

        There are actually some gay activists who are against gay marriage because they view it as gay people saying “me too” to the dominant culture instead of embracing their own unique culture.

        Ironically, all the conservative-minded people who are afraid gay marriage will destigmatize a “deviant” lifestyle have got it backwards.

        • Randy M says:

          If gay couples can’t help but absorb some of the expectation of fidelity, then by extension wouldn’t the straight couples abosrb some of the (quite common, I hear) expectations of openess?

          • onyomi says:

            Gay marriages are more likely to be open marriages? I’ve never heard that myself. I did recently attend a gay wedding, and I’m pretty sure the couple and their friends/family are expecting the same level of fidelity they would expect of a heterosexual marriage.

          • Adam says:

            Openness doesn’t mean promiscuous. My wife and I are in an officially “open” marriage, meaning we figure the likelihood of going 50 years with one partner, especially given how frequently she travels, is negligible and largely irrelevant anyway, given our aim was commitment and resource sharing, not exclusivity of sexual access. In practice, that means she’s had sex with two people other than me ever and I’ve done it once.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      >The demographics of Europe and America are going to shift within our lifetimes to be substantially less white.

      Eh, depends on what you consider “White”. Blacks are not growing in relative size, and interracial marriage is not very prevalent. Latinos are, but a large proportion of them look white enough, and they tend to integrate into the culture and start identifying as “white” a few generations in.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Does history contain any examples of cultures being taken over from the inside, in the way that some people warn Europe will be taken over by Islamic immigrants? (literal colonists don’t count)

      I’m not trying to argue against the taken-over-by-Islamic-immigrants claim, since presumably there’s a lot more immigration going on now than there ever has been in the past, I’m just trying to see whether this would be a plausible mechanism for cultural evolution.

      • AbuDhabi says:

        Offhand:
        – Christians in Rome.
        – Mamluks in Egypt.
        – Also, funnily enough, the Chinese in their own, but nomad-conquered country, several times.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Christians spread by conversion, not immigration, unless you know something I don’t.

          Mamluks I’ll sort of give you, but turning the resentful foreign slaves into your designated warrior caste seems like the worst idea.

          • AbuDhabi says:

            You have to understand where all those Christian converts came from. It’s not like Paul and company simply showed up one day and started preaching to random crowds, in hopes of gaining converts.

            It’s true that *Christians* in Rome came to be by conversion, but the pre-Christian people who became them were by and large the Jewish minority in the Roman Empire. They were everywhere and there was a substantial amount of them, creating communities spread all across the Empire.

            The moral authority of the hellenic faith was in the crapper for a while back then, and these communities drew a lot of Greeks and Romans to them. These weren’t converts – because of the rather strict admissions policy of traditional Judaism – but they were very interested in the monotheistic religion of the Jews.

            When the first Christian missionaries arrived, these people were among the first converts, in large part because the new faith was both better and more easily accessed. A lot of the actual Jews converted as well.

            If Roman policy were to keep the Jews in Israel, this would not have happened.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora#Roman_destruction_of_Judea

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellenistic_Judaism

          • chaosmage says:

            Christians were strictly against abortion and the then common practice of infanticide, and their greater reproduction rates explain much of their spread through the Roman Empire. And their care for each other let them tend to fare better in two devastating epidemics that each killed large numbers of Roman citizens. There was conversion too of course, but not necessarily a lot of it.

            The book is The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark.

          • The_Dancing_Judge says:

            The late roman empire wasnt run at all by romans from rome or even italians.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illyrian_emperors

            I wont say im an expert on these matters but it appears that the genetic romans basically gave up soldiering and administering sometime in the first or second century. The late roman empire had such a shortage of manpower that it was common for german barbarians to come in and raid the empire, get beaten, and then agree to settle down inside the roman borders.

            This doesnt even consider how christianity was sweeping through the population. (i wonder how much of the replacement of roman populations by germanics had to do with the spread of christianity.)

      • Matt M says:

        Why don’t Muslim immigrants to Europe count as “literal colonists”? What is the “literal” difference here between what they are doing and what the English did to North America, other than scale, time, and intensity?

        • Creutzer says:

          Muslim immigrants are not exactly conquering Europe by force, setting themselves up in positions of power, and telling the native population what to do. I expect that’s what was meant by “literal colonists”.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s still early in the process. In most cases, European colonists didn’t use force, weren’t in positions of power, and didn’t go bossing the natives around *right away* either… They showed up, established a small enclave, continued to grow in size/power/influence, adapted to the local climate, began to understand the motivations and desires of the local population, and THEN engaged in all the typical evil jerk stuff we associate with colonialism.

          • Adam says:

            The most obvious difference is the earliest European visitors to North America inadvertently killed 90% of the native population by introducing non-native diseases. Islamic immigrants to Europe aren’t setting up shop in virtually abandoned swaths of resource-rich land and bringing vastly superior military technology with them.

          • Matt M says:

            Obviously there ARE some differences. I was just curious as to Scott’s “literal colonist” modifier. Do you only count as a colonist if you carry foreign disease? If you have access to superior military technology? I think we can find examples of colonists who possessed neither, and I think that what Muslims are doing in Europe actually has quite a bit more in common with what “literal colonists” have done historically than we might initially suspect, because we focus on the obvious details like rifles while not considering the larger context.

            Also the time-span. It took about 200 years to get from Plymouth Rock to the Trail of Tears. So Islam has 150+ years to replicate that level of dominance in Europe order to be considered a valid comparison, right? Seems to me like they’re on pace pretty nicely to get there…

          • Randy M says:

            “Islamic immigrants to Europe aren’t setting up shop in virtually abandoned swaths of resource-rich land ”

            Nope, those swaths of land are indeed quite inhabited by people increasingly of the notion that they have been sold out by their leaders bringing in the most diverse cultures from around the world to rub there noses in all the divisity.

      • J. Quinton says:

        “Does history contain any examples of cultures being taken over from the inside, in the way that some people warn Europe will be taken over by Islamic immigrants? (literal colonists don’t count)”

        The only example I can think of is, ironically, black people. Most popular music originated in black communities and then gets adopted by white people (e.g., jazz, rock-n-roll [i.e. white people blues], rap/hip-hop; all of which are the antecedents of the majority of pop music on the radio) but this is only a 20th/21st century phenomenon. Similar sorts of consternation happened with each iteration (“white youths getting corrupted by black [jazz | blues | rap] music! Save the children!”).

        This doesn’t seem all that destructive to me though; at least not destructive in the Mamluks sort of way.

        Though a lot of conservative blogs seem to think that the larger culture is following the same “downward trajectory” of the smaller black community’s culture, e.g. the black out of wedlock births rate in 2015 will be the national out-of-wedlock births rate in 20 years.

        • Foobar says:

          Yes, you can read Murray’s “Coming Apart: The State of White America” on this. I think he makes a pretty good argument. It’s mostly happening outside the elite costal communities that readers of this blog reside in, so we don’t see it as much.

          By the way, another case of one group out-reproducing another is the Orthodox Jews in Israel vastly outreproducing the secular jews. Obviously I don’t think this bodes well for peace & stability in that region.

    • That is the “really culturally powerful gays” argument — those weird outsiders with their huge hidden powers over the culture. This a perennial (Jews still get it lots) but it never makes much sense.

  45. Gram Stone says:

    This reminds me of substances that are deemed safe that have horrible health effects that don’t get discovered until years or decades later. This is a situation where you would say that you weren’t right but you were rational. Your prior that the substance is safe should be high, and then you should update to a lower probability when you actually see negative effects.

    Even if gay marriage ends up having negative cultural effects in the long run, the effects have thus far been positive, so your prior for positive effects should be high, and you should not update to a lower probability until you see the negative effects.

    I don’t think that gay marriage will have a negative effect.

    • AbuDhabi says:

      the effects have thus far been positive

      Such as?

      • Gram Stone says:

        The satisfaction of the people who wanted to be married and are now able.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          That sounds like equivocation, since the jist of your OP was that it would have positive or negative effects on society. Individual satisfaction has very little to do with social value.

          • Hadlowe says:

            Except in the downstream effect that happier people are more likely to be productive and protective of the society that gives them freedom to be happy.

          • Randy M says:

            We should be able to measure downstream effects. Are gays more likely to be supportive of western culture now than decades ago, or are they more multiculturalist, etc.?

          • Adam says:

            I doubt there is any data on this, but gay people were rioting in the streets and vehemently opposed to marriage at all forty years ago. Now they’re settling in the suburbs, adopting kids, and running for Congress.

    • Anonymous says:

      The entire question is whether cultures have already gone through this process. The idea is that Adam boinked Eve, but Adam probably assumed that boinking Steve was just fine, too. It sure felt similar enough. The other effects of sex (even the ‘trivial’ one like pregnancy in the case of heterosexual sex and non-pregnancy in the case of homosexual sex) don’t get discovered until decades later.

      Therefore, whence taboos on homosexuality?

  46. Ever An Anon says:

    If we’re going to make the analogy between evolution and cultural / memetic ‘evolution,’ there’s a concept from biology that we should probably use more heavily. It’s been implied a few times but this should be explicit.

    The degree of conservation is a very important clue.

    As an example: in my lab, I’m currently working on a transcription factor with a domain that has been almost perfectly conserved (not one residue out of place) across mammalian evolution, and even pops up nearly identical in viral tailspikes and amoeba proteins of unknown function. That was the big clue that this particular domain was critical to function: if it wasn’t, it would be a massive coincidence for it to hold out that long. And indeed that was the case once we characterized it.

    The most worthwhile use of time, in my opinion, if we’re comparing traditions is to look for extremely highly conserved rules. Not necessarily human universals, but things that have persisted nearly unchanged in related cultures for >1 millenium. Those are likely to be highly valuable on later investigation.

    I don’t know enough about history to say whether that’s the case for stigmatizing male homosexuality or an institution of monogamous marriage, some anthropologists say yes others say no. But that would be where I would start looking.

    • Adam says:

      Is-ought gap. Brutal subjugation and rape of the weaker sex has been a near universal across all sexually dimorphic animals until the last few decades, let alone just humans. We can certainly say that’s a behavioral feature that seemed to work, while still morally condemning it and trying to produce a civilization where it is possible to thrive without it.

      • keranih says:

        Brutal subjugation and rape of the weaker sex has been a near universal across all sexually dimorphic animals until the last few decades, let alone just humans.

        …I don’t think I agree with this. It doesn’t match my observations of animals, nor of cultural norms among humans. It is a thing that happens, yes, but it is not typical. In particular, among animals who are seasonal breeders (which is most of them), males will attempt to initiate copulation with “like” females throughout a lot of the year, but nearly always back off when the female displays “not interested” signs. Actual force is rarely successful, even among sexually dimorphic animals.

        (Don’t take this as me saying that rape doesn’t exist in the animal world, because it absolutely does, but it’s not the norm.)

        • Adam says:

          Point against rhetorical restraint? I’m a pretty reasonable person. I’ll admit my knowledge of animal behavior is mostly restricted to great apes, so maybe I’m wrong about the non-social animals, but aside from bonobos, great apes are really, really bad.

          It also has nothing to do with the point that the evolutionary success of a social structure tells us nothing about its moral value. Infanticide works extremely well for gorillas and lions. Clan genocide works very for chimps. Organized warfare works pretty well for ants. The fact that something works in conferring a reproductive advantage doesn’t automatically mean we should continue doing it. Surely there are higher values we aspire to than reproductive advantage?

          • keranih says:

            Primates are just nasty all around, I’ll give you that.

            the evolutionary success of a social structure tells us nothing about its moral value

            I do agree there! (Likewise, that something will bring you happiness or wealth isn’t a definite sign of righteousness of that act, either.)

            However, this also puts paid to the idea that the “natural occurrence” of homosexuality (in humans, other primates, or any species) –

            – which I have seen used as an argument for greater tolerance of homosexuality –

            – makes it morally acceptable. So we’re right back to where we started, I think.

          • Adam says:

            Right back where we started is exactly where we should be. Argue about how permissive of homosexuality we should be based on the effects we expect it to have to actual people today and in the future, not that it’s okay because penguins do it or it’s not okay because pro-fertility religions were really good at spreading.

          • keranih says:

            But that’s not what the original comment said – the original comment said that hostility to homosexuality was highly conserved, and so therefore likely important.

            I took your comment as to say that rape was highly conserved in animal species, and I disputed this.

            So I think the original point stands – there may be something we’re missing about the impact of homosexuality, and this is suggested by the widespread negative reactions.

          • Adam says:

            But it is highly conserved in some species. Which those happen to be is a matter of historical contingency. Pretend for a second that rape was widely conserved in human societies. Would that make it okay? Slavery was certainly widely conserved for a long time. Aristocracy lasted quite a while. Warfare persists. This is just naturalistic fallacy. The fact that something is a widespread practice and even the fact that it confers reproductive advantage is a separate question from its moral acceptability.

      • Hyenas. Bonobos. Hoe-using societies where women owned the land. Steppe nomads with female warriors (20% of Sarmation/Scythian warrior graves are of women). Celtic cultures where if a woman brought in more property to the marriage, she was head of the household.

        Biology and anthropology are a lot more diverse than folk tend to realise.

  47. PGD says:

    I like this post, but there’s a certain simplistic element to it. Cultural evolution is enormously complex and path-dependent and the dependencies between a stage in a culture’s evolution and the one that precedes and follows it are very difficult to fully determine. For example, I would argue that Maoism was on net a major success in China, since it laid the groundwork for Chinese unification and autonomy, which was necessary for China’s later state capitalist turn. (To appreciate this, you need some familiarity with the disastrous history of China over the century prior to Mao’s revolution). Likewise, one could say that instead of replacing Roman civilization the Christian religion fused with the late Roman empire, and that fusion was enormously beneficial for the spread and consolidation of Christianity.

    I’m not sure that this perspective would change the conclusions of the post, as it makes it even more difficult to say when one culture has ‘defeated’ another, and points toward an even lengthier process of cultural ‘competition’ and evolution. But I think it’s an important perspective.

    • Tracy W says:

      I’d be interested to hear what arguments you’d make for it. The obvious counter-factual would be that the Nationalists unified China after WWII, in the absence of a Communist insurgency and China as a whole developed like Taiwan did under the Nationalists who fled there from mainland China: nasty dictatorship but economic growth not mass famine and eventual democratisation.

      • PGD says:

        The ‘after WWII but before Mao’ period you are referring to is what, three years? Four years? That’s no test of whether the nationalists unified China.

        And Taiwan was a totally different situation than mainland China, much smaller and dominated by migration of the Chinese upper classes.

        If you want a different comparison than China 1849-1949 to China post-1949, compare Chinese mortality (disease/famine) and development outcomes to India, a Western-style democracy. China looks pretty good overall. The emphasis on the Mao’s Great Leap Forward famine (admittedly horrible) causes people to ignore the very extensive progress made in mortality and other outcomes over the other years of his reign, along with the achievement of internal peace.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          India’s a horrible comparison. It has a much higher population density, lower starting literacy, more ethnic conflict and democracy (The KMT wasn’t democratic until the 1980s I think).

  48. Sammy Martin says:

    Although this is tangential to the main argument, another major possibility is memetic selection. The metaphor of ideas as genes is often taken too far; the major important insight is just that some ideas can spread because the ideas themselves have qualities that make them spread well, regardless of whether they were deliberately designed that way by advertisers or philosophers, or selected group norms, or created something that looks like natural selection on mostly random variation.
    I would say that whether a group norm persists (even if it persists in every culture) is not very good evidence that particular norm is good for the group, as it could merely be a persistent bug (e.g. religion). Even if a group norm is provably good for the group’s success, that is also not very good evidence for whether it is good for the individuals in the group from a utilitarian standpoint (e.g. fascism).

    There is a sliding scale that runs from Utopian Social planning, to Learning from History, to following the Wisdom of Group Norms, and ending up at following Tradition and just assuming it will be best for us. They are all different, progressively less strict ways of choosing the right memes (cultural norms). As you move along, you sacrifice more to moloch, and therefore your societies won’t fail in unpredictable ways. But as you move along that scale you are also throwing more and more of your own values out.

  49. sourcreamus says:

    A culture that is riddled with STDs is not one that is going to have an effective army. In most campaigns of the past disease has killed more soldiers than battle. WW2 was the first war Americans fought where combat deaths outnumbered deaths due to disease and accidents. The US spent alot of money during WW2 to warn its soldiers against STDs.

    Mary Eberstadt had a good article about how morality is being changed from being sexed focused to being food focused. 150 years ago when 90% of people were farmers the idea that killing and eating a chicken was immoral would never have entered most people’s heads. At the same time sleeping with someone before marriage was universally thought to be immoral. Now people sleep around and morality is not thought of but people really struggle with the conditions under which the chicken was raised.
    This is because of health. Before antibiotics an STD was a sentence to a short lifetime of pain. Now that many forms of ill health are caused by obesity and poor diet, people are starting to apply morality to food and think of what to eat as being a moral choice.

    • Tom Womack says:

      I don’t believe your assertion ‘an STD was a sentence to a short lifetime of pain’.

      If you caught the clap from a camp follower while campaigning, you’d be ineffective for a few weeks, which isn’t great from a military point of view if the Battle of Utrecht is coming up, but it wouldn’t kill you.

      If you caught the pox from a camp follower while campaigning, you might well die of it very unpleasantly in fifteen years time, at which point you’re well beyond military age.

  50. sourcreamus says:

    This post treats gay marriage as its own phenomenon. However, I think of it as the logical extension of the Hollywood marriage. The purpose of marriage used to be stability and reproduction. The rise of easy divorces and single motherhood has changed the institution into one whose purpose is the happiness of those getting married. Just read Kennedy’s SSM ruling if you can stomach it. When the purpose of marriage was reproduction and stability, gay marriage made no sense. Now that its purpose is happiness, the idea is gay people deserve to be happy too.
    The problem is that the Hollywood marriage does not seem to be a great thing for society. It has been great for people trapped in loveless marriages, but it does not seem to have been good for kids and poor people. Poverty rates have fallen for every type of family over the past forty years but overall poverty rates have not fallen due to Simpson’s paradox. We know that single parenthood leads to worse outcomes for education, abuse, criminality, and income but rates of single parenthood have skyrocketed.
    Since gay marriage only effects 3% of the population it is unlikely to change society much directly but it seems like the final nail in the coffin of traditional marriage.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Isn’t the Simpson’s Paradox explanation consistent with non-traditional families becoming more common and poverty increasing unrelatedly?

      Like, suppose we rank people on a scale of 1 (very poor) to 100 (very rich). Suppose in 1980, anyone numbered 20 or below would have a non-traditional family; today, anyone numbered 50 or below will.

      The average wealth of a non-traditional family increases from 10 to 25; the average wealth of a traditional family increases from 60 to 80. Poverty decreases in all categories of family, but overall poverty rates do not fall; but this is unrelated to family composition.

      • PGD says:

        wait a minute — in your toy model, poverty is *totally related* to family composition, non traditional families have way less wealth than traditional families.

        Presumably that’s a reason why traditional marriage is good.

        • sourcreamus says:

          PGD is correct. In the hypothetical poverty is totally related to family structure.
          A hypothetical in which it was totally unrelated would mean that it was just coincidence that in the past single mother led families were more likely to be in poverty. Single motherhood rates have tripled in the last 40 years, so if single mothers were as likely to end up in poverty as the rest of the population then as their numbers grew their poverty rates would regress toward the mean.
          This has not happened at all. The poverty rate for single mothers are 31% and the poverty rate for married couple families is 6%

    • Deiseach says:

      I wonder – certainly, attitudes towards divorce changed radically in a short period of time; I recently read a detective story series from 1925 in which there were two clashing attitudes – a woman, for instance, accused by her husband of adultery in order to get a divorce practically broke down in hysterics and threatened suicide due to the disgrace such a charge would put on her character and which would shame her children. On the other hand, there were several matter-of-fact instances about married men with fiancées whom they were going to marry once they’d got their divorce (the old standby of “my wife doesn’t understand me” and “she hasn’t been a real wife to me for years” because the couple were living separately). There was certainly no implication that the husbands were living celibate chaste lives until they were free to remarry, even if the implication was that they weren’t sleeping with the fiancée, at least not if she was the designated Good Girl in the story.

      So perhaps it was simply the sexual double standard of the time, but there does seem to have been a post-First World War shift in attitudes, where divorce had been this scandalous thing but now was acceptable as “first marriage has broken down, I’m in love with a new woman, I’ll divorce and re-marry” (that being said, how the new women could trust, in a second marriage, men who were proven adulterers is beyond me, but again perhaps it was the ‘Hollywood marriage’ notion of “Ah but this time it’s True Love!”)

      Anyway, getting back to same-sex marriage – yes, I think undoubtedly it will have an effect on the battered institution of marriage. But it may also have a reactive effect on attitudes to sexuality; I know there are some progressive types writing news articles and opinion pieces about how gay sexual culture, once introduced into marriage, will loosen up the straights and finally let us have open marriage without jealousy. But there is equally a fear that marriage is too mainstream and will dilute queerness, will co-opt lesbian and gay couples into the conventional norms of bourgeois society, and they’ll eventually settle for the house in the suburbs, two kids and a dog lifestyle and give up cottaging and the liberated sexual politics of the 70s.

      So maybe that will happen – instead of “At long last the oppressive structure of matrimony and the nuclear family has been dynamited, and all kinds of new unions and found families and structures of choice will flourish”, it really will be “Now when boys and girls realise they’re gay, instead of embracing queerness and exploring sexual freedom, they’ll be just as locked into the idea of love and romance and marriage and conventional family life as straight kids – what a tragedy!”

  51. candles says:

    A really interesting historical experiment with these kinds of cultural arrangements:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_in_the_Soviet_Union

    TLDR: The early Soviet Union experimented with lots of what we would recognize as very liberalizing family policies. The results were calamitous on child investment. So they quickly ratcheted back in much, much more conservative directions.

    The Soviets suffered incredible casualty figures in repelling Germany in World War 2. Their much more conservative family policies were obviously crucial to their being able to do that. It’s possible (?) that if they had stuck with their original more liberal social arrangements, the outcome of World War 2 would have looked drastically different.

    It seems like, given the right circumstances, these changing policies and attitudes can have incredible impacts at a much faster rate than you’re suggesting here.

    • Jaskologist says:

      You may also be interested in this 1926 article from The Atlantic: The Russian Effort to Abolish Marriage.

      So one of the first decrees of the Soviet Government abolished the term ‘illegitimate children.’ This was done simply by equalizing the legal status of all children, whether born in wedlock or out of it, and now the Soviet Government boasts that Russia is the only country where there are no illegitimate children. The father of a child is forced to contribute to its support, usually paying the mother a third of his salary in the event of a separation, provided she has no other means of livelihood.

      At the same time a law was passed which made divorce a matter of a few minutes, to be obtained at the request of either partner in a marriage.

  52. Anonymous says:

    As many people have commented before, you’re stuck in a common misconception about evolution. You’re treating happiness as the measure of evolutionary success of an idea or cultural practice, rather than ability to spread to others, i.e. reproductive success. Quite simply, people who marry and have kids basically have several targets they will almost certainly succeed at spreading their cultural ideas to (their kids). This is all that is necessary to explain the popularity of with homosexuality, because it is tied so much more directly to memetic reproductive success than any other explanation you could cook up involving happiness and telling other people to become gay.

    And even then, memetic success as you noted is separate from group success. To make this point obvious, think about sex ratios. Every surviving culture has a sex ratio of between 49-54% male child population. So “clearly” raising a higher percent female population is completely culturally unfit…

    It has exactly the same problem as group selection at the genetic level.

  53. Randy M says:

    You have neglected the point that for most of human history hetersexual marriage was pretty much the only retirement plan around.
    Yes, an affectionate gay uncle might be cared for in his dotage, etc., but that adds to the old generation without increasing the next, making that less economically tenable.
    It was probably a lot less “Hey, gay marriage is not that fun, guys” than “Gee, I’d better see about getting some offspring to care for me if I become weak.” Doubly so for women, I’d imagine.
    (Don’t bring up life span unless it is adjusted for childhood mortality, of course)
    One could argue that this no longer applies (at least in modern industrial nations), but from what I hear about pension underfunding, I wouldn’t bet heavily on that argument.

    • Alraune says:

      You have neglected the point that for most of human history hetersexual marriage was pretty much the only retirement plan around.

      Babylonian law used contract-adoptions for that, interestingly. (They also punished bigamy by death.)

  54. TomA says:

    Scott, the conceit that’s built into your discussion of cultural evolution is that we can “use” our current understanding of this form of evolution in order to improve the future course of humanity in general (or one’s own cultural in particular). The extreme example of this theoretical notion is eugenics; i.e. why bother with slow and imprecise cultural evolutionary meddling when we now have the tools to tinker directly with gene structure. Perhaps this form of social-control arrogance will (over evolutionary time) prove to be a strong fitness advantage for some future people, but that is a future we cannot predict with accuracy. It’s best to think of all evolutionary processes as cauldrons of chaos in which perceived order is often a fleeting sensation.

    • Anonymous says:

      To nitpick: Eugenics *doesn’t* tinker directly with gene structure. In fact, it doesn’t tinker with gene structure at all. It *may* have a passing chance at changing allele frequencies in a population (which is what evolution is).

  55. Matt H says:

    I think this argument fails on organizational complexity grounds.
    1. In pre-history, there were really lots of small cultural units competing and being extinguished if they choose poorly.
    2. The surviving mega-cultures were hostile to homosexuality.
    3. But the surviving mega-cultures today are stronger and face less competition, cultural evolution is much slower.
    4. Still, I think in pre-history Homosexuality was unlikely to be selected for or against, it just wasn’t an issue. In bands of less than 100, if you were only attracted to members of the same sex, it was unlikely there was someone else in you age cohort who would be interested in exploring that with you. Homosexuality, in the way we understand it is a farming culture thing, that exists in communities over 1000 people.

    • The_Dancing_Judge says:

      The mid level political unit of the classical period city state likely was subject to severe manpower pressures whenever it ran into a hostile force…so i cant imagine homosexual marriage was selected for during that period.

  56. Tom says:

    I can’t help but think of the old anecdote:

    Fred was recently married to his love Susan. While he enjoyed his new wife’s cooking, he found it odd that when she made pot roast, she would always cut it in half before putting it in the oven.

    One day he asked her, “Honey, why do you always cut your pot roast in half?”

    Susan replied, “Oh, that’s how my mother always did it.”

    Fred’s curiosity was piqued. At the next dinner with his in-laws, he asked his mother-in-law: “I notice that Susan always cuts the pot roast in half when she cooks it. I asked her about it and she said she picked it up from you. Why do you cut the roast in half?”

    The mother-in-law replied, “Oh, that’s how my mother always did it.”

    At this point Fred determined to get to the bottom of the matter. At Christmas, Susan’s grandmother made a fine feast and afterward Fred broached the topic. He asked her how this culinary custom came to be.

    The grandmother replied: “We were poor in those days and the biggest pot I had was too small to hold an entire pot roast, so I cut it in half.”

    • Randy M says:

      Yes, and there’s also the annecodte about the artillery crews odd formations when shooting cannons, a carry over from when they needed an extra set of hands to calm the horses spooked by the explosions.

      It may well be that every practical concern over gay marriage has been mitigated by technology. Yay progress, if so. We seem bound to find out, so I guess this is a good time to place your wagers.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Plenty of anecdotes go the other way, too. To take a very neutral one:

      Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) account for around 45 percent of all of Japan’s stop-and-go signals and that proportion is growing as local authorities cotton on to their economising possibilities compared with regular incandescent lights.

      But in wintery northern Japan the lights have encountered a problem — drivers can’t see them because they don’t get warm enough to melt accumulated snow.

      Akira Kudo of Aomori Prefectural Police said snow has to be removed manually between December and mid-February during blizzards.

      Note that this was even a case where they knew why the “fence” was there. They just didn’t know what they didn’t know, namely, because their old system also quietly solved a problem they didn’t even know they had.

  57. Earthly Knight says:

    Part of the problem seems to be that commenter Steve Johnson’s model of cultural evolution is crudely adaptationist and so assumes that any cultural trait which persists must persist in virtue of its contribution to fitness. But if we’re going to import concepts from evolutionary biology to the cultural sphere, it’s going to have to be the whole caboodle, which means we’ll also have to worry about constraints, byproducts, drift, fitness landscapes, etc. And I think the picture here becomes much clearer just as soon as we consider hypotheses other than adaptation. Probably the cultural trait for stigmatizing homosexual behavior has historically been neither adaptive nor maladaptive, but hangs around because it’s soldered to the trait of belief in Christianity, which is highly adaptive. Decoupling the pair requires us to water down (i.e. alter the body plan of) Christianity so much that its adaptiveness plummets, as the six or seven people who still belong to mainline protestant denominations can attest.

    This isn’t quite right, because religion is one of the places memetics has a major edge over the cultural evolution research program. The spread and persistence of religions seems mostly indifferent to their contributions to earthly life, so it’s probably more useful to conceive of them as symbionts with fitness values of their own, rather than as characters of human society whose success is necessarily tied to ours. This doesn’t mean we have to follow Dawkins and co. in seeing Christianity as a parasite (it might, for all we know, be commensal or weakly mutualistic), but it shouldn’t come as a shock that the appeal of a religion which beatifies celibates and martyrs has a lot more to do with what it promises concerning things unseen than its tangible, this-worldly benefits. So an alternative explanation is that Christianity is extremely good at propagating itself, and opposition to homosexuality is a neutral byproduct too deeply embedded in the religion’s body plan to be excised without severing an artery or two in the process. Similar remarks go for Islam.

    Generally, once we start looking at mechanisms of cultural evolution other than selection, it stops being safe to infer from the antiquity of a practice that it has any function at all (for the record, arch-cultural-evolutionists like Boyd and Richerson are keenly aware of this). This is a problem I’ve always had with Chesterton’s fence, actually: it’s sneakily but naively pan-adaptationist. The metaphor loses a lot of rhetorical force when you realize that the bulk of the world’s fences are ornamental.

    • Hadlowe says:

      This is a problem I’ve always had with Chesterton’s fence, actually: it’s sneakily but naively pan-adaptationist. The metaphor loses a lot of rhetorical force when you realize that the bulk of the world’s fences are ornamental.

      Which is why I prefer the metaphor of Chesterton’s Kerplunk®. All of the pegs are ornamental and load bearing. You can safely remove any one peg from the game, and probably the majority of the pegs, but eventually the structure will be weak enough that it can’t support its weight and the game ends.

      • “But eventually the structure will be weak enough that it can’t support its weight and the game ends.”

        Unless you are also putting in new pegs….

    • keranih says:

      the bulk of the world’s fences are ornamental

      This is non-obvious to me. How do you know this is so?

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Here’s the best way I can think of to make this argument: imagine a man was plucked at random from America circa 1880 and transplanted to present-day Times Square. What do you think his reaction would be? My guess is that it would go something like, “Holy hell! New York has been conquered by a cacophony of debauched wizards!” It’s easy to forget how much things have changed– art, technology, and social mores have all undergone pretty thorough revolutions in the past century and a half. But if a majority of the features of society in 1880 were adaptations, our reckless experimentation should have brought us to ruin a long time ago. Now, some of this will be because new niches have been created and old cultural adaptations have been superseded by shinier, better adaptations. I suspect, though, that a lot of it will be because what appeared to 19th century Americans to be the pillars holding up society turned out to be architecturally inert spandrels instead. If the welfare state, unrestricted artistic freedom, equal rights for everybody, and mind-boggling advances in technology not only didn’t cause society’s downfall but instead led to noticeable improvements in quality of life, the truly vital fences must be few and far between.

        We do, of course, occasionally encounter fences which are a colossal mistake to uproot, with “don’t butcher millions of people in the vain hope of creating an egalitarian utopia” being an obvious example. And it may often be difficult to tell in advance which fences are important and which merely decorative. But I think the claim that most cultural traits are adaptations can be safely rejected at this point as widely out of step with our experiences.

        • onyomi says:

          I think we also need to remember that history isn’t a straight line: I see many cultural developments of the 20th and 21st centuries as regressions to the mean rather than truly “new” developments: Victorian Age sexuality is very much the exception in the world and throughout history, for example. Take a 19th century British person and stick them in 21st c. Times Square and they would probably think “what scandalous clothing,” but bring an ancient Greek or a Mbuti tribesman of today to the same place and they might think everyone is ashamed of their bodies: “you wear clothing to exercise??”

          That said, there are many “means” which we want to avoid regressing to. Victorian Age sexuality is probably not healthy, but monogamy and patriarchy do have their uses, even if “unnatural.” Similarly, constant intertribal warfare and slavery come very naturally to humans, but that is also not a mean we want to regress to.

        • Alraune says:

          Earthly Knight: OK, sure, but your metaphor requires the majority of LITERAL fences be ornamental. Which is trivially false, since most fencing is to keep livestock a place, and even if you restrict yourself to fences in urbanized areas, almost certainly untrue.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Oh, I agree completely. The claim was that for Chesterton’s fence to be an apt metaphor, the bulk of the world’s fences would have to be ornamental. This not being the case, the metaphor is misleading. Sorry for the confusion.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          Unfortunately I’d guess that if you kept him around longer than a few minutes he would start to notice other things too.

          Like “why are there literally dozens of sex shops within two minutes walk of Times Square?” To be perfectly fair that actually has improved, they used to be just one or two blocks out.

          Or “Why does Washington Heights look like a bomb went off in some central African city?” That was an interesting one to explain to my gf, that no actually it’s much cleaner and safer than it used to be.

          Probably his biggest would be about the NYPD armored vehicles, thick sheet metal shutters and concertina wire that make it look lIke the city is under enemy occupation. Again there are worse places, evidently England has much scarier fences, but it still isn’t encouraging.

          New York has bounced back quite well actually, if anything it’s a model city, but it’s got surgical scars from a lot of dubious social experiments. If that was his first impression of modernity, he might not be quite as keen on a lot of the 20th century agenda.

        • nydwracu says:

          If the welfare state, unrestricted artistic freedom, equal rights for everybody, and mind-boggling advances in technology not only didn’t cause society’s downfall but instead led to noticeable improvements in quality of life, the truly vital fences must be few and far between.

          If.

          Send the man to Camden.

      • The quote was ornamental AND LOAD BEARING, ie collectively load bearing.

        We have strong evidence of some traditional practices being terribly maladaptive, eg in basic hygiene.

    • Jaskologist says:

      The spread and persistence of religions seems mostly indifferent to their contributions to earthly life, so it’s probably more useful to conceive of them as symbionts with fitness values of their own, rather than as characters of human society whose success is necessarily tied to ours.

      [Citation needed]

      Even our esteemed atheist host has admitted that studies show religiosity* correlating with better mental and physical health, longer life, and more kids.

      * Admittedly, as Western studies, this probably only covered Christians.

      • Adam says:

        He said “indifferent” to the effect, not that it has no effect. I believe he’s just referring to the doctrinal component of Christianity saying you shouldn’t care about earthly things like your own wealth, well-being, or even whether you live or die, because your rewards are all in the afterlife and pleasures of the flesh are just distractions from your relationship with God.

        • Randy M says:

          The context makes it seem he means to say that the temporal effect is negligible in their memetic fitness. Of course, Earthly Knight can clarify it himself (if he can find the comment amongst the hundreds)

      • Earthly Knight says:

        “Even our esteemed atheist host has admitted that studies show religiosity* correlating with better mental and physical health, longer life, and more kids.”

        Maybe you’re referring to different studies, but the studies I’ve seen along those lines are (as you say) correlational, with at best a few controls, and fail to distinguish between avowed atheists and people who are just too lazy and apathetic to go to church. This makes me extremely suspicious that almost all of the difference is the effect of whatever personality trait (conscientiousness, most likely) leads people to devote themselves to a belief system. Also worth noting that the most developed countries in the world today are among the most secular, and most of them teem with atheists.

        I don’t really want to insist on this point, though, and I certainly don’t want to rule out the possibility that faith offers a few smallish improvements in quality of life. But this will explain, at most, why some religion rather than none, and leave open the larger question of why the differential fitness of the various religions does not seem to be connected to the worldly benefits they offer believers. It will be helpful to compare this to an ideal case for cultural evolution. Suppose that for hundreds of years humans have used technology A, but one day along comes technology B, which fills the same need but is cheaper, more durable, and more effective. Technology B, naturally, is a smash hit, and quickly radiates outwards from its place of invention until everyone on the planet is using it. Here there is no problem treating the piece of technology like an adaptation and identifying its fitness with the advantage it offers its users. The process by which technology B supplanted technology A is not so different than the process by which bipedalism supplanted the stoop in our distant ancestors.

        But religions don’t seem to follow this pattern at all– if they did, the US should be seeing mass conversions to Judaism and Buddhism, whose adherents claim a higher standard of living than Muslims and Christians by any measure. For Christianity, as the other commenter noted, this is pretty much the way the religion was designed– it instructs believers to renounce wealth and the pleasures of the flesh in exchange for immaterial rewards like a just and orderly world, the abiding love of god, salvation in the next life, and so on. The upshot is that it will be very difficult to account for the differential success of religions by pointing to the material benefits they offer believers. Something else is going on, and it seems to me that by far the most straightforward explanation is that the memes for Christianity and Islam are, for a variety of reasons, far better at propagating themselves and holding onto believers than other faiths. And, because their success at reproducing from mind to mind is largely independent of their contributions to human life, it makes a lot more sense to see them as symbionts with their own fitness values rather than as adaptations.

  58. Hofstadter says:

    I guess pop evolutionary psychology wasn’t quite flexible enough of a framework for the masses of uneducated authors who just want to tell just-so stories, dammit. Pop evolutionary anthropology, now there’s a broad canvas!

  59. John Schilling says:

    I think it’s very nearly cheating to define the “generational” period for cultural evolution by reference to the Eastern and Western Roman Empires combined. The vast majority of human nation-states have lifespans one to two orders of magnitude shorter than that of the Romano-Byzantine Republic/Empire, and if national culture survives the fall of the State it tends to do so in greatly modified form.

    And it isn’t clear that the nation is the right level for cultural evolution in the first place. National cultures have multiple competitive subcultures; most of these will either flourish or fail in no more than a few decades. The ones which fail may take a century or more to become literally extinct, but they aren’t passing on their memes. The successful subcultures, tend to be co-opted and largely assimilated by the national culture as a whole.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the “reproductive fitness” of a successful culture can be huge. The most successful gene imaginable, if present in one percent of the population in this generation, is unlikely to exceed two percent in the next. Successful memes can do far better than that.

    So, yes, we have had thousands of generations for cultural evolution to do something. And they have been powerful generations, in evolutionary terms, with great potential for selective pressure to transform cultures. What you see in the world around you and in the history behind you, is the result of that.

    If it doesn’t make you happy, or if you see that it makes some other people unhappy, understand that individual happiness has never been the goal of either biological or cultural evolution.

    • TomA says:

      The genesis of the cultural evolutionary process likely began contemporaneous with our specie’s development of complex language, which is the central vehicle of memes. This facet of our evolutionary past has been extant for at least several tens of thousands years, and hence predates recorded history.

  60. Mars says:

    Personally I find it odd that the US has legalized gay marriage, which has zero cultural or historical precedent, even among cultures that were not inherently anti-gay, yet polygamy, which has historical and cultural precedents in our own nation is still illegal. Especially when you consider that those cultures which do practice polygamy have much higher fertility than any western nation. But then, partially this is self interest. As a man who views monogamy as an utterly unnatural state of affairs polygamy makes sense to me.
    On the other hand I am of the belief that we are experiencing the last few decades of western culture so while I find it odd, I do not find it particularly surprising.
    I am looking forward to seeing the reactions of those who have spent so many decades tearing apart western culture when the barbarians eventually overrun us though.

    • Matt M says:

      Cthulhu swims left. Polygamy is something mormons also enjoy, so many leftists are reluctant to support it. We’ve set up a “winner takes all” political system that deals very well with “our side versus your side” arguments, but not so well with “some people on our side and some people on your side versus most people on both sides” arguments. It’s tougher to adopt the absolute, “good versus evil” style mindset that we’ve seen adopted in the homosexuality debate in this case, so people aren’t as passionate about it, so it lags behind.

      • Mary says:

        “Cthulhu swims left. ”

        “Left” being of course “where Cthulhu swims.”

        • Matt says:

          If you think about it, is that not the entire point of being a reactionary, i.e. “reacting”? If Cthulhu = everything that you don’t like, and you are on the right, then quite obviously Cthulhu swims left. There has to be an initial force to react to, and when you look at historical groups that are considered “reactionary” they almost always fall on what we call the “right” as far as I know.

    • Adam says:

      Don’t worry. Polygamy is next. It’s just been tainted by the history of U.S. fundamentalist sect leaders effectively enslaving 13 year-old girls, so it has a little more baggage to overcome than gay marriage.

  61. Adam says:

    What exactly is the envisioned end game that people worried about the weakening of our moral fabric see happening anyway? Socially conservative immigrants so badly out-reproduce liberal whites that they eventually take over the government and then what? They ban gay marriage? Isn’t that what you want anyway? Or do you envision a literal Idiocracy because brown people are so genetically inferior to whites that we’ll end up with a country that elects a wrestler to president and we all die because we start watering crops with Gatorade?

    • Alraune says:

      End of the Pax Americana, therefore the globally integrated economy falls apart, therefore humanity fails to sufficiently leverage the transient cheap petrochemical energy phase to jump up to permanent extra-planetary settlement, therefore we go extinct.

      • John Schilling says:

        A bit hyperbolic towards the end, but something like that.

        Much of what is good about the present world order, much of what we often take for granted as the inherently civilized and enlightened nature of the modern age, is the result of Red Tribe American (well, Anglospheric and friends) soldiers, sailors, and airmen being willing and able to defend Blue Tribe values around the world. And sometimes aggressively impose them.

        There are limits to how much cultural strife the US can withstand before this balance fails, and those limits are poorly understood.

        • Adam says:

          Fast-reproducing non-liberal immigrants have made up a pretty sizable portion of that overseas expeditionary force. Heck, I’m Mexican and even I went over and aggressively imposed some American values, though I hesitate to identify as descended from immigrants considering my family was here in Texas way before it became part of the U.S.

          I mean, I largely agree with you, but really? Gay marriage is what’s going to defeat our military? If anything, it seems that budgetary concerns and the failure of long-term occupation is what’s going to cripple public support for continued military adventurism.

          Edit: Also, I’m obviously just one person, but the military as a whole has a much greater prevalence of ethnic minorities than American society in general.

          • Alraune says:

            I thought you were asking about concerns related to “weakening moral fabric”, not “too many ethnic minorities”?

          • Adam says:

            I was under the impression that the reason weakening moral fabric is a concern is that it results in ethnic minorities outbreeding white people. Isn’t the whole point of this that cultures that allow gayness eventually get replaced by those that don’t? If the thesis is as soon as one of the world’s dominant cultures allows gayness, humanity goes extinct, that seems significantly less supported by any plausible narrative of cultural evolution.

          • John Schilling says:

            Gay marriage per se is unlikely to be a major factor in any military decline, but as Shenpen and Mai have been pointing out gay marriage is just one step in a much broader “assault” on traditional marriage.

            And I’ve seen firsthand what no-fault divorce and the associated social attitudes can do to readiness and cohesion; I suspect you have as well. One part of the recipe that has traditionally worked for maintaining American military strength is, soliders’ wives wait for them. Now, they all too frequently don’t. What’s the recipe for maintaining morale in the face of that reality?

            And yes, with you on the importance of “non-liberal minorities” to the US military. Tex-Mex included. I expect they mostly want their wives waiting when they get home as well.

          • Adam says:

            Absolutely I’ve seen it. I myself got divorced, and it wasn’t exactly my choice, and I’m sure being gone all the time didn’t help in my wife’s decision. It had an adverse effect, sure, but that was overwhelmed by the fact my country has an Air Force and nuclear weapons and our enemies mostly don’t. It sucked for a while, then I found another wife. That’s really the primary reason I’m not all that concerned. Decaying social fabric can only do so much in the face of overwhelming technological progress. Our current military would kick the shit out of our 1940’s military, even though we’d more likely come home to find our wives cheated on us, took the kids, and 80% of our housing allowance while we were gone.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            @Creutzer

            You can actually fully delete your post by editing it and removing all its content.

          • John Schilling says:

            Our current military would kick the shit out of our 1940’s military, even though we’d more likely come home to find our wives cheated on us, took the kids, and 80% of our housing allowance while we were gone.

            Which might be tolerable if we were fighting the US military of the 1940s. The problem lies in the fact that we are not.

            In spite of having had the Air Force and the nuclear weapons for seventy years now, we still keep the Army around. Because we can’t win the wars we are now fighting with just airplanes and missiles. Really, from the looks of things, we can’t win them at all, though that’s no fault of the troops on the ground.

            And the wars we are fighting twenty years from now, will probably be against people who have nuclear missiles of their own. That’s going to require every asset we have, some that we don’t yet have, and it’s going to place unique demands on the morale and cohesion of our forces.

            So I’d rather not have any gratuitous demands added on the home front. And while gay marriage isn’t the direct and immediate threat to military morale, it isn’t entirely orthogonal (we definitely need that word in the dissent) to it.

          • dieter says:

            We keep the military around because the red tribe desperately wants welfare but its pride won’t let it accept it. So we give them killing people as a make work job, and tell them that makes them special sacrificing warriors rather than immoral welfare queens.

            And for our trouble we get called unpatriotic layabouts who hate america.

          • Alraune says:

            We “keep the military around” because we are elbow-deep in the empire business.

          • Adam says:

            Eh, we win wars just fine. It took us a few months combined to obliterate both the Taliban and Republican Guard. What we can’t do is indefinitely occupy a country and force them to build a stable government from scratch. That isn’t really supposed to be a military function, though. Don’t worry about us Soldiers. Literally the greatest homefront threat right now is guys dying in car accidents, especially motorcycles. You want to lobby for something that will help the Army, ask Texas why it needs to have every single highway in the state under nonstop construction for a decade and hang whoever came up with the idea for frontage roads.

          • Adam says:

            Actually, while I’m ranting anyway, if you want something more in line with your politics, how about sexual harassment and rape prevention? I’ll tell you the one thing that hurt my own unit more than anything else that ever happened to us. We had an augmentee that didn’t want to deploy, so he accused one of my gunners of sexually assaulting him so he could get transferred to another unit. CID investigated, found the charge was completely unsubstantiated, but of course, the guy got what he wanted and transferred out, and the Colonel decided to take away the accused stripes and kick him out of the unit too anyway, I guess so he could get a nice SHARP bullet on his OER. You wanna know why we’re losing wars? That’s probably at least one reason. The Secretary of the Army said two years ago that rape prevention was a bigger priority for him than winning in Afghanistan. You win the wars you prioritize, one. Two, the reason Soldiers divorce so much isn’t that divorce is too easy. It’s that the military is too small and we have them in too many places, so the same guys deploy over and over, six times in ten years, and their families don’t even know them.

          • Matt M says:

            Let’s not forget that due to BAH and on-base housing and a wide variety of other things, the economic incentive to get married for someone in the military is *significantly* higher than it is for someone who is a civilian, particularly at young ages.

            It turns out that getting a bunch of 18 year olds together and telling them all they’ll basically get paid more and be given an easier lifestyle if they get married is a GREAT way to produce a shit-ton of marriages that should never have happened in the first place and lead to very quick divorces.

          • Alraune says:

            What we can’t do is indefinitely occupy a country and force them to build a stable government from scratch. That isn’t really supposed to be a military function, though.

            “Go forth and restore order.” only works when there’s an order to restore.

            It’s almost as if the government is used to thinking of the Middle East as a province in rebellion rather than a foreign country.

      • Adam says:

        Seems I vastly underestimated the ability of the panicked to catastrophize.

        • Butterfield says:

          All of human history has been directed towards its supreme culmination, America’s greatest generation, which thrived in the God’s own garden of Eden, 1950s America. Now, of course, we have been kicked out and have to live in a degraded, decadent, and doomed society. That’s the way of things.

        • Alraune says:

          Which step are you considering negligibly unlikely?

          • Adam says:

            First two. I think the chances of world peace and the entire global economy falling apart specifically because brown people outbreed white people, and specifically because white people do things like stop stigmatizing gayness, is infinitesimally close to zero. It could happen for a million other reasons, though. Nuclear war and ecological crisis seem like the most likely culprits to me.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      But it’s what plants crave…

      Anyway the concern of population replacement beyond simple dysgenics is that there is no “we” anymore once we’ve been replaced. Chinese people, for example, are smarter harder working and broadly speaking more civilized than white Europeans but how many of us would be willing to see America become a majority Chinese nation? I can personally bite that bullet but most people can’t, particularly on the left if my own family / social circle counts for anything.

      • John says:

        Which would you prefer:
        A US filled with ethnically Chinese people with a culture firmly and clearly derived from modern American culture of the variant you like best

        OR

        A US filled with ethnically Scotch-Irish/German/West African/Italians/etc (i.e. decedents of the present population) with a Chinese derived culture?

        • nydwracu says:

          That second one isn’t so far out. If my father has not read Confucius, it’s not at all obvious to me that he hasn’t. And, well…

        • Ever An Anon says:

          From the point of view of wanting to have more similar descendants (or have descendants at all), the second would obviously be preferable. That’s assuming you don’t get to cheat and say “see it’s the same percentage because everyone is 13% black and a third German” anyway.

          My main rationale is, actually, based on recent Chinese history. “Communism with Chinese Characteristics” is basically just Chinese Characteristics at this point, the same way Singaporean Parliamentary Democracy is a de facto one party state. You see fragments of the founding beliefs but what one could call the natural tendencies of the populations seem to have won out rather quickly.

          I would bet that in either case of your hypothetical anything too foreign (in terms of mindset) would be jettisoned almost immediately by the native population(s).

    • Alraune says:

      I was under the impression that the reason weakening moral fabric is a concern is that it results in ethnic minorities outbreeding white people.

      Oh, no, it’s not that. “The extinction of the white race”/”rise of Islam” alarmism is all based on blind straight-line trend-projection, and would be on a significantly longer time scale than the relevant problems even if it weren’t misguided. The social structures that currently allow large-scale peaceful migration will collapse generations before population replacement, and even if Islam sweeps away all ideological contenders, Islamicized Berlin and Beijing will start the work of sanding off the corners and gluing on the extra bits necessary to create Protestant and Confucian Islam five seconds after swearing there is no god but allah. Our fears should be of internal disruption, not external.

      First, the weaker the moral fabric gets, the more laws must be thrown up to patch the holes, and the bigger the part of the empire’s force must be applied to its own population in order to get the same outcomes. (Are we in more danger today than ever? No, but after adjustment for both population and inflation, the US state governments of 2015 spend 6x more on policing than the state governments of 1915 did on everything combined.) I additionally believe this trend is self-reinforcing, as people are forced to prioritize navigating (and circumnavigating) legal minutia further and further ahead of adhering to social norms.

      Second, the “moral fabric” is a major and representative component of the several that make up social cohesiveness. American social cohesiveness is measurably decaying, and we have no idea when it’s going to give way or what’ll go wrong first after that, but we do know that the entire world order presupposes American social cohesion.

      • I think that you’ve briefly recapitulated this argument about anarcho-tyranny (possibly deliberately).

        • Alraune says:

          Didn’t have it in mind as I was writing, but I’ve read it before. I’ve always found the social technology metaphor connotatively off-point. The main “social technology” seems to be a high density of multi-functional personal relationships which allow strife to be resolved in the particular, without needing to declare and enforce a new global rule. Those relationships cannot be mass-deployed in a technological fashion.

      • Adam says:

        You got me there. I now have to broaden my conception of why other people oppose gay marriage to include general sexual permissiveness leads to greater police state spending, potentially weakening external defense. I hadn’t heard that one yet.

    • Schmendrick says:

      Those immigrants aren’t as socially-conservative as you might think, or at least their social conservatism doesn’t translate into either political allegiance or lived practice.

    • TomA says:

      The core issue is not gay marriage or social tolerance toward homosexual behavior. The underlying pathology is productive versus parasitic growth incentive. Parasites are becoming dominant by virtue of co-opting all grievance-driven social subgroups, of which gays are but one example. The cancer is systemic, and cannot be stemmed by the contribution of a few productive gay people that belatedly join the party.

  62. onyomi says:

    I think there’s a useful analogy between being homosexual and being left-handed. It used to be that left-handed people were viewed as somehow weird and forced to learn to use their right hands. This may have conferred some minor benefits in terms of not needing different types of desks and children not feeling “different,” but probably caused more harm than good in the form of a significant chunk of the population doing much of their work with their non-dextrous hand.

    Of course, it’s not a perfect analogy, because heterosexual sex produces children, whereas there is nothing you can do with a right hand you can’t do with a left hand. But I think ultimately it boils down to a “stop liking what I don’t like” typical mind fallacy. I think sticking my penis in a man’s butt is gross and so do the 90% of heterosexual men in society. If 90% of people think something is mildly gross or unsettling then that’s more than enough for it to get encoded into the religion and social mores, even if it’s not causing any harm.

    And maybe the push to conformity itself has conferred evolutionary advantages in the past? That is, while there may be many harmless or even beneficial traits which get quashed by its expression, perhaps the impulse to make fun of and persecute people who are “different” within the tribe conferred enough benefits in terms of tribe cohesion and survival that it was selected for. I think most of us have experienced this as children, and maybe even as adults.

  63. Elias says:

    FA Hayek used your third example exactly, and called it Cultural Evolution. I think you can definitely call it cultural evolution.

  64. Pku says:

    I think a more reasonable argument about cultural evolution would be “ok guys, we have this strong taboo against gay marriage and we’re not sure why, but let’s stop to think for a moment before throwing it away as hard as we possibly can.” In the case of gay marriage I think this actually fails (that is, opposition to gay marriage does seem pretty totally based on false assumptions), but there are a lot of cases (e.g. the people who say “let’s destroy all pronouns and the very concept of gender identification!”) where this is treating subtle and complicated issues with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop.
    (Also, I don’t really get the hate on communism. It seems like the reason it failed badly in Russia and under Mao was more due to the “crazy dictator” part than financial policy – and there’ve been plenty of capitalist places that failed just as badly. Even aside from that it still seems problematic and impractical in a bunch of ways, but I don’t think that the approach that communism “basically took all of the worst ideas in history, combined them together into a package deal, and said “Let’s do all of these at once”” is really justified.)

    • Nornagest says:

      Crazy dictators are a possible failure mode of most hierarchical forms of social organization, so finding a few of them in your sample is probably not enough to sink one. But when a solid majority of your sample turns up crazy dictators before thrashing around for a while and imploding, it might be time to start thinking about possible flaws in your social system.

    • keranih says:

      In Russia and under Mao…

      …and under Pol Pot, and in North Korea, and throughout East Europe…and pretty much everywhere it’s been tried. Awesome theory, completely fails in the field.

      • Adam says:

        It’s a terrible theory. It makes allocation basically impossible without price signalling.

        • keranih says:

          It makes allocation basically impossible without price signalling.

          Having grown up under the tyranny of my parents, who allocated chores, treats, and choice seats on the car on a completely cash-free basis, I don’t hold that prices are required for allocation.

          (I get what you’re saying about communism’s inefficiency vs capitalism, but while I am strongly anti-communist/socialist, I think that “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” is a system that is far more attractive in theory than “I will get what I want because I will pay more for it.” Too bad angelic systems are human non-compatible.)

          • Adam says:

            Well, okay, I guess it’s a nice moral principle, but bad economic theory. Might be possible in the robotopia post-scarcity future.

          • “Having grown up under the tyranny of my parents, who allocated chores, treats, and choice seats on the car on a completely cash-free basis, I don’t hold that prices are required for allocation.”

            Centralized control can work tolerably well for small groups, but it doesn’t scale. Decentralized coordination via prices and free exchange does.

          • Tracy W says:

            Under a capitalist utopia, anyone who wants to live according to the Communist ideal can get together with a bunch of like-minded folks and go for it (as long as they don’t use force or fraud).

            Under a Communist utopia, capitalism is not an option for a sub-group.

            Thus capitalism morally beats communism as a system of social organisation.

          • LeeEsq says:

            I really think that the more adamant capitalist advocates really do not understand how the ravishes of colonialism and imperialism turned off large sections of the world to capitalism in the mid-20th century. You could argue that what they experienced was not really capitalism all you want but they associated capitalism with the worst economic exploitation possible. Thats why communism was attractive to large swaths of the world for decades despite its problems.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “You could argue that what they experienced was not really capitalism all you want but they associated capitalism with the worst economic exploitation possible.”

            The precapitalist economic system also tended to be ridiculously exploitive. Say what you want about capitalism, but it doesn’t require serfs to provide 8 days of labor (the Russian week wasn’t longer; your family was expected to pitch in).

    • Mary says:

      “Also, I don’t really get the hate on communism”

      100 million corpses, and you don’t get it?

      Do you have any idea what that makes you sound like?

      • birdboy2000 says:

        The Black Book of Communism is an overcount. Takes the highest ranges any historian takes seriously and then some more to make it add up to a nice, round, 100 million.

        Also, taking the Black Book’s own numbers, one could fairly argue that Leninism killed 100 million and Luxemburgism 0 (well, maybe not literally zero if you really want to blame them for violence inflicted by the sparticist league even in self-defense, but Luxemburgists were on the receiving end far more than the giving end) or that Leninism killed about a million and Stalinism 99 million, or that Council Communists killed 0 and Leninists 100 million.

        Even Stalinists (who are far fewer now than in 1989, and I don’t consider myself one) one would argue that yes, we killed X people, but capitalism kills far more through imperialism and poverty and war, in addition to taking the low count for deaths their faction caused. While further arguing that most of the deaths from “communism” were caused by that other group of communists we hate.

        • onyomi says:

          “capitalism kills far more through imperialism and poverty and war.”

          I find this completely implausible under any common definition of “capitalism,” especially since it blames capitalism for poverty, which is the exact opposite of the truth. Poverty was the natural state of man for almost all our history. (Free market) capitalism alleviates it.

          That said, I notice that proponents of capitalism and opponents of capitalism are rarely arguing about the same thing. Thus, such debates feel like two ships passing in the night.

          Proponents of capitalism are usually talking about the voluntary world of free market exchange, often abstracted from coercive governmental activity that may or may not be necessary to enable it.

          Opponents of capitalism either are not talking about free markets at all, or else beg the question by assuming that “free markets” are necessarily built on a complex system of coercive privilege, imperialist exploitation, etc. I don’t think this is at all true, either theoretically or historically, but I think opponents need to first make this case.

          Either that, or the free market people should abandon “capitalism” and start talking about “free markets” or some similar, less loaded term.

          Roderick Long does a pretty good job describing the problem:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QsbvE_0Kpc

          To be clear, I think even corporatist, imperialist, war-mongering capitalism is almost always better than communism (though in spite of, not because of the corporatism, imperialism, and war-mongering), but it’s also far cry from the sort of system most capitalism proponents argue for.

    • “and there’ve been plenty of capitalist places that failed just as badly”

      Which capitalist societies in the 20th century had famines that killed thirty to forty million people? Killed off a fifth of their population in five years?

      • birdboy2000 says:

        Congo Free State comes to mind. For those regimes which were not genocidal slave states, Serbia in World War I.

        • onyomi says:

          It seems like you have to dig pretty deep for highly atypical and obscure examples of the failures of capitalism. For the failures of communism we have the USSR, Mao-era PRC…

        • John Schilling says:

          Congo Free State was five to ten million dead over forty years. Not sure what particular aspect of Serbia’s WWI experience you mean to attribute to capitalism, but Serbia’s total losses during the period (including a couple of ideologically-indiscriminate plagues) came to just over one million dead or 15% of the total population.

          • Protagoras says:

            It seems unhelpful to try to defend capitalism on the basis that “that wasn’t really capitalism” or “they were doing it wrong” when the debate is about comparing capitalism to communism. At least, I can’t possibly see how it could be advantageous to put those arguments on the table and thus make them more available to the defenders of communism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I don’t know- the Congo Free State only qualifies as capitalism in the same way the USSR did (they sold stuff on the international market).

            Actual examples of capitalism and famine would be Ireland and India where the British pursued a policy of laissez faire combined with a policy of “squeeze em” in good years. Shockingly the results weren’t food.

          • onyomi says:

            As I state above, opponents of capitalism and proponents of capitalism are usually talking about different things, and both sides have the problem of saying “no, you see, that wasn’t REAL capitalism/communism.”

            As Scott points out, it can be hard to make any arguments about causality when so many things are going on at once. But when you have a whole raft of bad ideas, like Marxism, adopted at once, you can usually see the connection.

            Communists say “you can’t blame communism for the failures of crazy dictators,” for example, but they need to explain why communism always seems to find a crazy dictator. Similarly, it’s not enough for capitalists to say “that wasn’t a real free market.” They need to show why free markets don’t always lead to the corporatism and exploitation its opponents say it does.

            But I’d still take the neo-mercantilist, corporatist monstrosity opponents mean when they talk about capitalism over communism, even as its proponents describe it, any day.

          • Steve Johnson says:

            Communists say “you can’t blame communism for the failures of crazy dictators,” for example, but they need to explain why communism always seems to find a crazy dictator. Similarly, it’s not enough for capitalists to say “that wasn’t a real free market.” They need to show why free markets don’t always lead to the corporatism and exploitation its opponents say it does.

            The difference is that every communist country is a bloody failure with no successes to point to (Cuba is pretty much the communist A-team of success) while you have to dig pretty deep to get to “capitalist” failures and you only get those if you ignore giant differences – Congo Free State? Think maybe there are some confounding factors there? How’s the Congo doing now? How was the Congo doing 1000 years ago? How successful is the Congolese diaspora?

            On the other hand, North Korea / South Korea and West Germany / East Germany are as close as you get to controlled experiments in human history.

          • Nornagest says:

            On the other hand, North Korea / South Korea and West Germany / East Germany are as close as you get to controlled experiments in human history.

            I’d dispute West Germany/East Germany. With the major exception of Yugoslavia, most of the countries of eastern Europe during the Cold War were as much organs of the Soviet Union as independent states; even where their economies were relatively independent (and they often weren’t), they’d be pressured to adopt not just similar forms of government but similar short-term plans and implementation practices. It’s not much of a surprise that they ended up going the same way.

            North Korea was far more isolated, despite technically sharing a border with Russia, so I’d buy that as a relatively good natural experiment.

      • Alexp says:

        The Bengal Famine of 1943. Obviously there were some extenuating circumstances, but it could have been at least improved had the people in charge cared more.

        But really, how do you define “capitalist society?” There have been no large scale pure capitalist economies in all of human history. In fact we’re probably further away from realizing the laissez faire ideal than we have been from realizing the Marxist ideal.

        Are we talking societies with capitalist-ish economies? How do we know to blame the capitalism or the politics? What about societies were violently opposed to communism? Then your answers are obvious, but again we’re not sure whether or not to blame the economic system in particular.

        For example, I despise Mao Zedong, but I will admit that China was in pretty horrific shape between the fall of the Qing dynasty and the triumph of the Communists. How do you describe what was in between? It certainly wasn’t communist and was definitely anarchic. The KMT was at least nominally capitalist in nature and tens if not hundreds of millions needlessly died while they were nominally in charge of the country.

        Of course, you can’t just blame the sorta capitalism. There was complete breakdown in law and order, civil war with multiple sides, and let’s forget an invasion by a bloodthirsty imperialist death cult. You could almost call Mao an improvement over all of that.

        But a lot of these arguments also apply to Communism. Just like you can’t blame capitalism for all the death’s in China between 1911 and 1950 because much of it can be attributed to a breakdown in law and order, civil war and invasion by bloodthirsty imperialist death cult, at lot the death’s under Mao’s watch could be because China was still recovering from that disastrous period. A lot of the death’s in the Soviet Union could be attributed to the collapse of Imperial Russia, the Russian Civil War (where the losing side was supported by capitalist powers) and an invasion by genocidal racist warmongers.

        For the record, I believe that natural experiments such as North v South Korea or East V West Germany fairly conclusively demonstrate the superiority of semi-capitalism to communism. It’s just that simply blaming “communism” for the death of a hundred million people is vastly oversimplifying a complex situation.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          I don’t think people blame the Bengal famines on capitalism anymore than the Soviet famines in WW2 on communism. Wartime when your food producing areas are occupied isn’t a good metric.

        • Alraune says:

          That Chinese transitional period is aptly and officially described as “Warlordism.”

        • “Takes the highest ranges any historian takes seriously and then some more to make it add up to a nice, round, 100 million.”

          Rummel’s count, rounding to the nearest million, is:

          PRC: 77 million
          USSR: 62 million
          Colonialism: 50 million

          For details and sources see:

          https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM

          “but capitalism kills far more through imperialism and poverty and war”

          Hard to make that case, given how successful capitalism has been in eliminating poverty. From the death of Mao to 2010, China’s per capita real income went up twenty fold. c. 1970, almost 30% of the world population was below $1/day, then taken as the measure of extreme poverty. Currently about 5%, using the same definition inflation adjusted.

          Rummel’s figures are for democide, people killed by their own governments, so don’t include combat deaths. I don’t think there have been any substantial wars between capitalist countries in the past century, unless you want to claim that national socialists were really capitalists. For wars between capitalist and non-capitalist countries, I’m not sure how you allocate the bodies.

        • “but I will admit that China was in pretty horrific shape between the fall of the Qing dynasty and the triumph of the Communists.”

          Not clear. I’ve seen a pretty careful analysis arguing that, prior to the Japanese invasion, things were going relatively well, and the opposite picture was created by the Communists for obvious reasons. The book is somewhere around here–if I find it I can post the cite.

          “The KMT was at least nominally capitalist in nature and tens if not hundreds of millions needlessly died while they were nominally in charge of the country.”

          Rummel’s estimate is about ten million total.

    • Tracy W says:

      Plenty of private communes have failed too (if you count people drifting away until little was left), or have drifted away from their principles (eg kibbutz in Israel).

      And it’s noticeable that in virtual worlds, where goods can be created at well, the very popular games allow trading and limit the supply of virtual goods.
      (Note: this argument tends to get some response about cultural programming, but no one ever has counter-examples of large numbers of people voluntarily joining and staying in large-scale communist structures.)

      • James Picone says:

        Kingdom of Loathing has a very strong help-the-newbies, share-the-stuff culture (to the point where one of the large, very established clans is named Nobless Oblige). Clans themselves are close to communist – there’s a large central pool of money and goods people can put stuff into or take stuff out of if they’ve got the right permissions in the clan.

        That said, KOL also has a built-in sell-goods-to-any-other-player thing with the search option explicitly sorting by price, resulting in interesting market-playing shenanigans.

        It’d probably be really interesting to study, from an economics point of view. A friend of mine used to play the markets in-game, and there was usually something going on. Someone once tried to corner the supply of a particular product by buying out everyone who put it on the market, for example, and obviously didn’t take into account that a) there was actually a replacement item with exactly the same function that they weren’t trying to buy out and b) markets as free as KOL will make you really, really regret that.

        EDIT: Actually, let’s get a full explanation of KOL markets out here for people who might be interested:
        – People can play the game and get items.
        – Items have an ‘autosell’ price, which is the amount you get if you just sell it ‘to the game’, which makes it vanish.
        – Most items are marked ‘tradeable’, and can be sold in the Mall.
        – To sell an item in the Mall, players first pay a (relatively small) up-front cost to acquire a store.
        – Then, they add items to the store at some price. All items have the exact same type in a store have the same price. Items have a minimum price (2x autosell, I think?) and a maximum price (999,999,999 gamebucks, which is less than an order of magnitude more than the market price of some items).
        – Store owners can set limits on how many of each item may be bought per account per day. So, for example, they could put a thousand of a sword in the mall, and set it up so that each player can only buy one sword from them a day.
        – Players who want to buy something can search the entire mall for that item, for free. They get a list of stores selling that item, with the price, sorted in ascending order by price. Order for stores at the same price is determined by how much each store has spent on ‘advertising’ in the last unit of time (advertising money vanishes from the system). Items at the maximum price do not appear in search results, and can only be found by going to some account’s store explicitly.

        This has resulted in all the usual market behaviour. Many items in the mall are at their floor price – this is especially true of the items that you run into quite easily and regularly in the main game. Even moderately unusual ‘normal’ items or items requiring significant investment in crafting skills are proportionally quite cheap – hi meins, requiring peak skills from two different classes to craft, go for ~4k gamebucks at the moment, which isn’t exactly nothing but even for the lowest-skilled, lowest-resourced players in the entire game it’s like a quarter of a game-day’s work (which is very little real-time).

        Then there are sets of items derived from limited-time content or real money, which go for on the order of tens of millions of gamebucks up to hundreds of millions of gamebucks. One of these, the Mr Accessory, is often used as a marker for inflation in-game – its price is an important economic indicator (KOL’s economy is very definitely inflating over time, despite many, many moneysinks established by the devs that are just fancy ways of throwing money into a fire – the advertising thing in the Mall, for example). It’s also undergone a few periods of hyperinflation when infinite-money bugs have been discovered.

        tl;dr more economists should study MMORPG economies.

  65. Urstoff says:

    Whatever your favored theory of armchair anthropology, I’m not sure how it could justify placing restrictions on consensual arrangements between adults.

    • Deiseach says:

      how it could justify placing restrictions on consensual arrangements between adults

      Content Warning: Use of racial and ethnic and sexual slurs at the end of this.

      But that’s not the grounds of the question in legalising same-sex marriage. If Bob and Tom can’t get married, there is still nothing stopping Bob and Tom from falling in love, moving in with one another, and being disgustingly lovey-dovey over the breakfast table.

      The question being asked here is “What is the purpose of marriage?” and (at least for now) the answer culturally and socially seems to be “To make me happier”. It’s not about economic survival, it’s not about having children and raising the next generation of humans, it’s not about extended kinship ties: it’s an atomised unit of two persons who share a particular emotional and sexual attraction (until they don’t, and then probably divorce).

      Well, if that is what marriage now is (whether you’re gay, straight, bi or anywhere else on the spectrum), why is the government being invited in to make decisions about personal relationships? We don’t expect the government or the courts to rule on “Everyone has the right to friendship and must be able to make friends just like other persons have friends”.

      The answer there is that there is a raft of legal and financial advantages in law and custom that grew up around marriage – for the support of the institution when it was for creating and strengthening extended kinship bonds, inheritance and alliance, economic survival, pooling of skills, exchange of labour in the performance of gender roles (you go out and earn the money, I keep the house and bear and raise the children), ensuring that children were born (because yes, society has a legitimate interest in having the next generation of workers and consumers and wealth creators and tax payers and inventors and tech whizzes and the people who will crack the problem of Friendly AI come into existence), that the fathers of those children supported them and their mothers, and that the parents did not abandon offspring as too troublesome to take care of, meaning they were either exposed or otherwise disposed of via infanticide or that they were a burden on the public purse, and so forth. The emphasis on marriage being sexual and emotional fulfilment on top of all this may not exactly have started with the Romantic movement, but it certainly got an impetus from them. That then spun off into personal emotional and sexual satisfaction and liberation being of primary importance, and an institution that was collective both on the level of families and on the level of wider society became about individual needs, wants, desires, and satisfactions.

      So now all these contradictory demands have been heaped on marriage, and we don’t seem quite sure what it is or what it is for. The advocates of free love (from William Blake on down) wanted to do away with the restraint on sexuality that marriage imposed; the acceptance of cohabitation before marriage or even instead of marriage, of prevention of having children at all, apart even from reducing family size, divorce and its increasing liberalisation and the idea that Romantic Love was the grand passion that was the only emotion or notion worth anything, that would elevate the partners, that would be the summit of a person’s experiences and the only true bond between them – what has government and joint tax returns to do with that?

      Frankly, if you want “I love X and X loves me and nobody has the right to deny us that”, I’d be all for doing away with marriage completely for everyone. You want one wife or twenty? You have nineteen kids or none? All up to you as individuals, don’t ask the courts to rule on anything but squabbles over “Dad promised me I could have the silver tea set but my sixteen full-blood, half- and step-siblings all want it too” inheritance cases. Child support? If you’re going to demand to be treated as an adult with complete bodily autonomy who is the only person or entity to decide on how, when or if you express your sexuality, then you take having babies seriously enough to sort out before you get pregnant/you get a partner pregnant about who pays what for its upkeep. Joint tax filings etc.? You don’t get to joint file with your mother, and she was in labour eleven hours pushing your big nine pound carcass out of her body. Why should a quiver of desire in the loins and a transient rush of emotion that will likely burn out just like it did the last five times you were in love be of any greater weight. Hospital visitation rights? If you’re the lover, partner, child, parent or Guardian Angel of the person in question, the hospital gets to decide if having to deal with your whiny backside outside of visiting hours is too inconvenient and bothers the other patients, and they’re within their rights to tell you to bugger off.

      Decide what the purpose of marriage is. And if you decide it’s all about Twu Wuv and being able to fuck like rabbits while swinging off the ceiling and inviting that cute couple next door to join in, then good luck to you – but then decide that government should get the hell out of the marriage business altogether, including dropping all the advantages that single people don’t get, because you’re perfectly right: it’s no business of the law or the state who loves who, and it’s as ridiculous to ask the President or the Supreme Court to intervene as it would be to ask them to decide who gets to take Stacy to the Prom – Joe who has been hanging around adoring her from afar for years, or Bill who is that sexy bad boy all the girls are crazy about.

      Which brings me back to where I started: the same-sex marriage movement was not about Twu Wuv, it was about using a social institution for purposes of legitimising and normalising an outgroup. It wasn’t about 3-10% of the population getting a chance to walk down the aisle, it was about moving from tolerance to acceptance, to saying “This is here and this is normal and this is part of society now”. And it’s been very successful, congratulations: now, if you say you do not support same-sex marriage, you are a homophobe, which is the equivalent in sexual orientation discrimination as being a racist, and carries connotations of being irrational and likely to be violent and abusive (either the type of person who bullies gay teens so they are driven to suicide, or who beats unfortunate palaeontologists to death with pool sticks in a redneck bar because when they walked in as you were slurping your gin, you thought they were a faggot sissy towelhead spic dyke kike Democrat tree-hugger):

      They’d grasp each other for comfort instead of seizing the pool cues with which they beat you, calling you a fag, a towel-head, a shemale, a sissy, a spic, every epithet they could think of, regardless of whether it had anything to do with you or not, shouting and shouting as you slid to the floor in the slick of your own blood.

      • Schmendrick says:

        Oh my stars and garters, that was epic.

      • keranih says:

        Had Scott upvotes, I would upvote this for the IYWADML reference alone.

        More to the point – yes, our society has marriage because the social utility of it, not because of love. It helps to manage social cohesion.

        The question remains – concerning all ‘adjustments’ to marriage (age limits, race limits, social acceptance of adultry, social acceptance of adoption, divorce, sisterwives, same-sex marriage, etc) is “does this adjustment change the social utility of marriage to the point where the upsides of the change are outweighed by the bad”?

        I have strong opinions. I don’t have a lot of data.

      • Randy M says:

        The upshot of the homosexual rights push of late is now we have a fitting name for the institution that matrimony, once enduring, insoluble, sacred, and procreative, had very nearly already completly become, fleeting, rooted in emotion, casual, and barren. Gay Marriage indeed, the highest ideal of our culure dedicated to personal fulfillment above all.

        (Oh, and nomination for comment of the week, if you could use another trophy)

      • Snodgrass says:

        That was an excellent bit of writing.

        What the long-term gay couples who are frequently asked about it often say they want out of gay marriage is something you haven’t mentioned above: it’s legal next-of-kin status, so that Steve cannot be turned away from Adam’s hospital bed, and Adam has rights superior to Steve’s parents over the disposition of Steve’s effects.

        • John Schilling says:

          Wait, so we went through all this because Steve was too lazy to draw up a proper will?

          Medical Power of Attorney, maybe that’s a new enough thing that there’s still some advantage to having an old-fashioned marriage certificate when dealing with a recalcitrant nurse or hospital administrator – except that you probably don’t carry the marriage certificate around with you, and in any event hospital staff have other ways of getting rid of whiney visitors that they don’t want around.

          But disposition of effects, that’s a solved problem under the law; any single adult can leave any or all of his property to any other surviving adult no matter what anyone’s parents want. If that’s what someone is claiming as their reason for demanding gay marriage, for putting the rest of us through all of this nonsense, then either they are too stupid to be considered a “consenting adult”, or Deiseach’s right about the real motive being something other than the stated one.

          Deiseach being right about everything in that post is the way to bet, and forceful and eloquent in a way that is rarely found in combination. Preach on.

      • Brian Donohue says:

        “it was about moving from tolerance to acceptance…”

        I can’t decide if this is the shortest of hops or something ominous.

      • James Picone says:

        Which brings me back to where I started: the same-sex marriage movement was not about Twu Wuv, it was about using a social institution for purposes of legitimising and normalising an outgroup. It wasn’t about 3-10% of the population getting a chance to walk down the aisle, it was about moving from tolerance to acceptance, to saying “This is here and this is normal and this is part of society now”.

        (I believe this comment to be true and necessary).

        Wow, it sure is easy to argue with people by impugning their motives!

        You’ve got a bit of work to do on your routine, though. Those dastardly homosexuals, seeking acceptance! That’s only knock-down evidence of malicious motives for people who already agree with you that acceptance for gay people is a bad thing.

        I think it’s entirely fair for people to describe your views (and the views of several of the commentors here) as bigoted. You pretty obviously don’t think gay people are good people.

        If we’re going to play the game where we cynically describe the outcomes of someone’s worldview at their worst, I don’t think Catholic sociosexual mores would come out looking very good either.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          I realize it’s the go-to refutation for all forms of wrongspeak, almost an involuntary reflex devoid of all meaning, but there really isn’t any bigotry in the post you refer to.

        • John Schilling says:

          Thus illustrating exactly what Deiseach pointed out in her next sentence: that we can now denounce anyone who argues in any way against gay marriage, or really any other facet of LGBT activism, as a mindless bigot whose views are necessarily disregarded by all decent people because of their own base motives.

          Some of us have been accused of being bigots, and racists and sexists and fascists and all the rest, too many times to be affected the way you want us to be. It’s only about target identification now. The people who call me and my friends “bigot”, are my enemies. That is, if not necessary, at least helpful to know.

          Really, James: what else were you expecting to accomplish, calling people “bigot” here?

          • dieter says:

            At least it is out in the open. May the best culture win.

          • James Picone says:

            If Deiseach et al are going to rant about how terrible acceptance of gay people is, and get accolades for it, I’m going to express my opinion of Deiseach et al.

            I must admit I’m still not entirely comfortable with my decision to post that, but fuck it, these comments need more people willing to say that ye olde sociosexual mores surrounding homosexuality (and others) really aren’t very nice.

          • Nathan says:

            Really, James, what does it cost you here to say “yes, increasing acceptance of homosexuality is a big part of the gay rights push, and rightfully so,” instead of yelling “Bigot!”?

            I think you’ll find most commenters here are strongly pro gay. They just don’t get upset by probably true things being said by people who disagree with them.

          • John Schilling says:

            Rereading Deiseach’s delightful rant, I get six long paragraphs about how the government shouldn’t be subsidizing or sanctifying commitment-free selfishly romantic marriage for anyone, straight or gay, and the only mention of gay people is to make it explicit that this applies to everyone, straight or gay. Bookended by one short paragraph about how it’s fine for gays to express their identity and practice their sexuality in every other way, and one more about how the gay-rights movement (which is not the same thing as gay people) has not been entirely honest about its motives in this affair.

            And of course the Dinosaur quote, which was just about perfect.

            I seem to have missed the part that could reasonably be read as even mildly critical of accepting gay people. And I couldn’t find the bigotry, either.
            Except in the external context alluded to by that final paragraph, the one where half the US population has been convinced to read any hint of “I’m not entirely sure gay marriage is a good thing…”, as a secret desire to round up all the gays and ship them off to the camps.

            So, yes, one damn well should feel uncomfortable for raising the cry of “bigot!” here. Uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to cover it.

        • Grumpus says:

          I think your comment is pretty clearly untrue. Deiseach did not “impugn” anyone’s motives; she made a claim that those motives were something other than what the mainstream has lately assumed them to be. Gay marriage has recently won a lot of converts on the grounds that it is a beautiful and noble thing to allow gay people to celebrate their love and commitment to one another with official state and social sanction. (Just read that awful wad-of-fluff of a legal opinion that just came out of our highest court.) To point out that rarefying romantic love is not a priority that we’ve had at the group level ever and that early supporters of gay marriage understood this is completely orthogonal to whether you “think gay people are good people”. I think gay sex is morally neutral (and gay people no better or worse than others) and I agree with this analysis.

          Ironically, it’s easier to talk to radical queer theorists about this than standard-issue liberals. They correctly identify marriage as a heteronormative institution directed at regulating the reproductive possibilities of straight sex, and hate it for that reason. I know many a lefty type who thinks marriage is terrible but supports gay marriage activism to the extent that it advances gay acceptance (or, better yet, the destruction of heteronormativity). It’s not impugning anyone’s motives to analyze a social movement in terms routinely used by people who support it.

          Which brings me to my final point, which I believe to be true and necessary: the reason people here are not jumping at Deiseach’s throat is that we like to focus on good, substantive analysis rather than the knee-jerk pieties of our particular cultural moment.

          /sanctimony

          Sorry guys, that comment pissed me off.

          • Nita says:

            we like to focus on good, substantive analysis rather than the knee-jerk pieties of our particular cultural moment

            Yes, we’re all very wise, charitable and even-handed here, so much better than those knee-jerking wankers in their echo chambers! That’s why several people mentioned Deiseach’s mockery of that unfortunate short story as their favourite part of the comment.

      • Upvote. Not a Catholic, but this makes a fair amount of sense. I don’t see any reason to give people tax breaks because they are friends, lovers, or otherwise closely connected, unless that makes social sense.

      • Urstoff says:

        I actually agree with most of what you say here. I do think the movement is definitely (at least in part) about the social legitimation of homosexuality. It should be pretty easy to see why people would view that as a reasonable objective, even if approval by the state is a somewhat odd metric for social legitimation.

        And you’re right that there really isn’t some clear legal rationale for marriage (which supports my preferred solution of getting the government out of the marriage game altogether), but given the patchwork legal framework of marriage we do have, I see no reason why it should be denied to homosexual couples.

        If you (the royal you) want to argue for some specific definition of marriage as a legal institution that excludes homosexuals, I am open to hearing it. My guess is, though, that there will be logical policy consequences to most exclusive definitions that are unacceptable to most in modern society (such as also excluding infertile couples or getting rid of no-fault divorce).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Whatever your favored theory of armchair anthropology, I’m not sure how it could justify placing restrictions on consensual arrangements between adults.”

      So…you’re a 100% libertarian who wants to ban the minimum wage and legalize prostitution and selling yourself into slavery?

      • “So…you’re a 100% libertarian who wants to ban the minimum wage and legalize prostitution and selling yourself into slavery?”

        The last one isn’t entirely clear, since it usually requires the state to enforce the slavery. Even a 100% libertarian may have reservations about what sort of contracts ought to be enforced by third parties.

        The other two are fine.

        • Quaglio says:

          Did you really read through all these posts just so you could find one you could use as a springboard to discuss anarcho-capitalism?

          Is there nothing else you enjoy talking about? Even your father wasn’t this single-minded.

          • onyomi says:

            He posts on a lot of other topics, such as global warming, psychiatry, nature/nurture, sci-fi…

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >Did you really read through all these posts just so you could find one you could use as a springboard to discuss anarcho-capitalism?

            Well, he could’ve done that. Or he could’ve checked the box on the right side of the screen, that informs you of the latest unread comments, and chose to comment in one where anarchism was obviously relevant.

            Besides, it can hardly be considered springboarding when the question was firmly about libertarian/anarchist ideals.

          • Adam says:

            Okay, I laughed, but this wasn’t his only comment, and I’ll +1. I don’t know about outright slavery like people kidnapping cities full of others and owning the next ten generations, but indentured servitude, no minimum wage, legal prostitution, all fine by me. And if it was possible to get consent from a goat and someone wanted to enter into a contract with one to share property, promise not to have sex with other people, and love each other through sickness and health, fine by me, too. And if that means we’re all speaking Chinese in fifty years because our Caligulan moral decadence does us in, whatever. I’ve got nothing against the Chinese. They’ve been doing civilization for a long time, too.

        • Mary says:

          ” Even a 100% libertarian may have reservations about what sort of contracts ought to be enforced by third parties.”

          Nope. A 100% liberatarian thinks that the state exists to protect against force and fraud, and therefore all voluntarily entered contracts must be enforced, as that is the “fraud” requirement.

          • onyomi says:

            Many would say that a “100% libertarian” does not believe the state should exist at all.

      • Urstoff says:

        My point was more epistemological: given that these hypotheses about cultural evolution/competition/etc. are merely hypotheses and thus are on very shaky epistemic ground, they don’t come close to meeting the evidential requirements needed to justify laws restricting consensual acts between humans.

        • Randy M says:

          But no consensual acts have been restricted for decades.

          • Urstoff says:

            If you want to interpret “consensual acts” fairly narrowly, then I guess you can. In that place, read my post as “…given that these hypotheses about cultural evolution/competition/etc. are merely hypotheses and thus are on very shaky epistemic ground, they don’t come close to meeting the evidential requirements needed for justifying denying the legal and financial benefits of marriage to homosexual couples.”

          • Matt M says:

            “But no consensual acts have been restricted for decades.”

            Uh… prostitution? Drug sales? Working for less than the minimum wage?

          • Randy M says:

            Those would not have been relevant to the discussion, ie, “these hypotheses about cultural evolution/competition/etc.”

            Obviously a great many acts have been outlawed for various and sundry reasons not analagous.

  66. Bill Murdock says:

    There has never been an impediment to gay marriage. There has been an impediment to forcing others to recognize it (i.e. State licensing, which of course was created to discriminate – against interracial couples in particular – was denied); there has been an impediment to forcing others to celebrate it with their god (i.e. church-goers don’t want you doing things in their god’s church that they think will anger him); there have been impediments to the legal “rights” which go along with it (e.g. inheritance, hospital visitation, etc.).

    So it boils down to: Remove licensing and any restrictions of contract (so that any couple has access to the same legal “rights,” just as anyone, gay, straight, or otherwise, can form an e.g. LLC).

    Forcing some group of people who wear funny hats and pray to idols hanging on the wall to admit another group into their club makes zero sense.

    So why is it the path we’re taking? Because it aggrandizes the State, gives it more power over more people, opens the door for it to destroy competing entities, i.e. organized religion (by removing their tax exemptions if they don’t cooperate, or by destroying their culture if they’re forced to admit people and practices they don’t want to), and because people are mean and selfish (“I want something for myself, but I won’t be satisfied unless I know that men with guns will make everyone else have to do it, too. I’m not satisfied just to do it; I need victory.”).

    This whole “Gay Marriage” canard is just a distraction.

    • Tom Womack says:

      ‘Forcing some group of people who wear funny hats and pray to idols hanging on the wall to admit another group into their club makes zero sense.’

      Which is why nobody’s proposing doing that; any pair of adults can get a civil marriage, and it was decided (at least in England) that it was not acceptable for a registrar to refuse to officiate unless the adults were of opposite sex, but religious people do get to decide whether they’re willing to perform a same-sex marriage.

      • Deiseach says:

        religious people do get to decide whether they’re willing to perform a same-sex marriage.

        At the moment, they do. The Ashers Bakery case in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage is still not legal but where, however, the decision in a recent case in Northern Ireland, where a bakery was held to be in breach of various legal acts, not alone equality legislation but on grounds of discrimination on political opinion and religious belief under the Fair Employment and Treatment Order might give rise to an alarmist scenario where refusing to conduct a religious ceremony on religious grounds is discrimination. From the judge’s decision (emphasis mine):

        [66] Have the Defendants directly discriminated against the Plaintiff on the ground of religious belief and/or political opinion contrary to Article 3(2) of the 1998 Order? I find that they have. Applying the reasoning in Gill v NICEM, the 2nd and 3rd Defendants disagreed with the religious belief and political opinion held by the Plaintiff with regard to a change in the law to permit gay marriage and, accordingly, by their refusal to provide the services sought, treated the Plaintiff less favourably contrary to the law. If the Plaintiff had chosen graphics which said “support heterosexual marriage” or “support marriage” or if a heterosexual had ordered a cake with graphics “support heterosexual marriage” I am satisfied that the Defendants would have completed the order and would have had every right to do so. It is for the reason that the Defendants objected to the word ‘gay’ as they are totally opposed to same-sex marriage which they regard as sinful that they refused the order.
        [67] If I had been persuaded by the Defendants’ submission that they were not aware of the Plaintiff’s religious belief and/or political opinion or the religious beliefs and political opinion of those with whom he associates, I would in any event have found that the Defendants discriminated against the Plaintiff and treated him less favourably on the grounds of their own religious beliefs and political opinion – see authorities cited in para [50] -[52] – the’ Ryder’ case as applied in ‘Gill”. The Defendants have accepted that the order was cancelled because of their religious beliefs because they are opposed to a change in the law regarding gay marriage which they regard as sinful.
        [68] The 2nd and 3rd Defendants are opposed to the political opinion that supports gay marriage which they regard as sinful and is contrary to their genuinely held religious beliefs. They believe that the Plaintiff holds a different religious belief and political opinion which seeks to extend marriage to same sex couples. I find that this was the reason why the order was cancelled and which is direct discrimination prohibited under Article 3(2) of the 1998 Order and as such cannot be justified.

        This wasn’t simply “You refused to bake a wedding cake that was exactly the same as other wedding cakes except for the cake topper was two grooms/two brides”. This was a cake with the slogan “Support gay marriage” and the logo of QueerSpace, a “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voluntary group”, ordered by a gay rights activist.

        But that was religious as well as political discrimination, which seems to me to be setting the bar low. So if a denomination (such as, say, the Episcopalians in the U.S.A.) permits dioceses to conduct gay weddings/blessings at the discretion of the bishop, and Bishop Smith allows it in his diocese, but Vicar Jones refuses to celebrate the wedding of Charles and Edward or Susan and Jill, I would not be surprised to see someone eventually take a case on the