Some points I gleaned from the comments of yesterday’s post:
1. Cultural evolution can happen in cases where a super-innovation allows one culture to conquer or overwhelm all others. For example, agricultural groups were (after a long transition period) eventually able to overwhelm hunter-gatherer groups, even thought for an individual hunting-gathering was probably more enjoyable than agriculture. Likewise, industrialized societies were pretty quickly able to outcompete nonindustrialized societies, and either colonized them or forced them to industrialize in turn to keep up. Both of these seem like clear-cut examples of cultural evolution. But they only work because of a really big fitness advantage; industrial societies are on a whole other level from preindustrialized ones. It doesn’t necessarily generalize to saying that small, moderately beneficial ideas will catch on, or slightly detrimental ones be selected against.
2. Cultural evolution can happen when one group in a society outbreeds another. The Amish population has increased twenty times faster than the non-Amish American population in the past century. At a constant growth rate, it’ll be only another four hundred years or so before America is an Amish-majority nation. More seriously, some people expect something like this to happen with high-fertility-rate immigrant populations, like Latinos and Muslims. In cases of strong differential fertility rates, cultural evolution becomes a race to see if the faster-growing minority can reproduce faster than the majority can assimilate them. However, despite dire predictions of all of us being crushed under the Amish’s quaint hand-made boots, people had trouble thinking of historical examples of something like this happening. Sure, populations have replaced other populations – like the Anglo-Saxons replacing the Celts in England – but it’s tended to occur alongside military invasions.
3. Cultural evolution can happen with units smaller than Rome-sized grand civilizations. Several people brought up subcultures, like hipsters and Goths, and noted that these have “generations” on the order of a few decades, and thus could potentially undergo evolution conforming to population genetic equations in a reasonable amount of time. Because they’re larger units than just a single person, their “evolution” could select for things that bind people together, like rituals and cohesion-building symbology and so on, and be more interesting than just individual memetics. They could also spread very quickly as people rush to join the attractive ones. Okay. But subcultures like Goths seem like a very modern phenomenon, and I can’t think of ancient examples of, for example, a subculture that became popular and spread and became dominant/universal. Religions are the closest thing here, but they have lifespans measured in centuries and don’t seem to be a big improvement over waiting for the Fall of Rome.
4. Cultural evolution can occur by an accretion of things that work. For example, the first rituals might have been impromptu celebrations of specific events, but because they helped people bond, people kept doing them. But this seems to require some human intelligence to notice “Hey, we seem to be bonding better ever since we implemented that ritual, let’s keep doing it”. Without that, it collapses back to the sort of intercultural evolution where the culture is 1% better and after thousands of cultural generations lasting millennia each it outcompetes others. That makes it unsatisfying for people who want to use cultural evolution as a grounding for Chesterton’s Fence, ie “we don’t know why we do this, but we ought to keep on doing it.”
5. Cultural evolution could have occurred way way back in prehistory. There seem to be about 50,000 years of prehistory, there were many more cultures back then, and maybe cultural generations were shorter – for all anybody knows, clans could have disintegrated and reformed over the space of decades. That provides enough generation time for cultural evolution to work. Question is, can we trust anything that evolved in pre-history – when the pressing social issues of the day were things like “How do we not get eaten by bears?” – to still be relevant?
There does seem to be the potential for cultural evolution to be interesting, but I’m still not seeing it as a strong argument for preserving particular features of inherited culture absent other arguments suggesting we know why we want those things to be preserved.
[Edit: An alternative ontology]
Perhaps Japan has examples of subgroups becoming contagious. Eg., http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-07/hikikomori-japanese-men-locking-themselves-in-their-bedrooms/6601656
Sorry, no substantial comment right now, but I have to point out that the initial link is broken due to a missing “http://”.
Not related to above comment, but I just have to note that groups with strong religious opposition to homosexuality and substantially higher fertility are not limited to the Amish. The base this idea is starting from is not trivial.
On ancient subcultures: My guess is that a lot of these subcultures would have manifested in ways that wouldn’t have left a lot of evidence. FE, a particular style of lute-playing among shepherds outside Athens wasn’t going to leave hard documentary evidence of itself to the present day without a lot of luck. But I bet they still existed.
What about Greek philosophers in Athens? Socrates and Plato seem to have had a clique they ran around with that had a bunch of ideas everyone else seemed to find weird. Weird enough to mock in Aristophanes plays and to make sure Socrates got killed. The philosophers just also happened to write enough for their work to be passed down to the present while most everyday Athenians were too busy making money to bother. Thus the philosophers seem like a normal part of Ancient Greek life when really they were a bunch of goths at the back of the school smoking cigarettes, pretending to read Sartre, and concluding everyone else was lame and didn’t recognize the “realness” of their emotions and thoughts.
Socrates’ philosophy was a mere pretext for the show trial that sentenced him to death. The newly re-established Athenian democracy didn’t trust his loyalty due to his close association with the pro-oligarchic Alcibiades and Critias, but couldn’t try him for conspiracy with the Thirty Tyrants due to the law that proclaimed a general amnesty to the 3000 who stayed in Athens during their reign.
On a related note, those around here who have been claiming that Ancient Greece and Rome were so friendly to homosexual relationships should really investigate how roundly Alcibiades and Socrates were mocked and/or regarded with suspicion. Alcibiades’ effeminacy and lisp are a particular source of humor, and Plato seems to go far out of his way in the Symposium to explain how Socrates totally wasn’t into Alcibiades even though they got into bed with each other that one time.
Alcibiades wasn’t pro-oligarchic; he was hated for working with the Spartans (a couple of times, when he was out of favor in Athens), and for being generally thoroughly dishonest and opportunistic, but he stood with the democratic faction whenever they would have him.
He certainly was pro-oligarchy. He was the last scion of the Alcmaeonid noble family — who had a history of opportunistically doing whatever they could to make Athens theirs to rule. Sometimes that meant allying with tyrants and the Persians, sometimes it meant democratic reforms to break the power of their noble rivals. Alcibiades fought for whichever faction he supposed would give him control of Athens. He defected not only to Sparta, but also Persia. He was an opportunist, but an opportunist who wanted Athenian power concentrated in a nobles’ hands (his, of course).
Thucydides (pro-oligarchic himself) records Alcibiades mentioning his plans to roll back Athenian democracy to the Spartans. Like most of the pro-oligarchic faction, Alcibiades affected Spartan dress and accent. The defacing of the herms was surely meant to seal some sort of conspiracy against Athens.
I can’t see him as a credible supporter of Athenian democracy. Unless you mean he liked voting. That’s not much — all Greeks, including the Spartans, liked voting.
Do we have any evidence that effeminacy and a lisp were correlated back in the Greek culture with homosexuality, or is that just a correlation that exists in our culture that you’re projecting back? When homosexual relations are more of an accepted thing (and IIRC sex between men was at times considered more “pure” than hetero sex) certain features like effeminacy or a speech impediment might not be culturally correlated.
And your anecdotes reveal that ancient Athens/Sparta culture was a lot more tolerant of homosexuality than Europe during the Renaissance when accusations of homosexual activity could lead to a trial and threat of death (see Da Vinci)
I am given to understand that in the 1800 and 1900 people who believed in empiricism, nation states, and capitalism formed a subculture that ultimately took over Euro-Atlantic culture through the industrial revolution.
and the major Collectivist cultures that rose up in response to industrialization at the turn of the 20th century were soundly beaten by those greedy Capitalists… 😉
For ancient subcultures, maybe the mystery cults (Mithras, Dionysus, etc) would be an example?
Along these lines, the Essenes and the Pythagoreans. The latter ended up being pretty influential because of their impact on greek mathematics and music, and because some of their kooky ideas about the soul managed to infiltrate Christianity via Plato.
Also, if you squint a bit, the Greek Academy and the Royal Society started out as eccentric subcultures before “philosopher” and “natural philosopher/scientist” became respectable vocations. The early Royal Society was mocked by contemporaries for wasting its time on fatuous leisures like ascertaining the weight of air.
Not ancient, but what about the Regency Dandies and their influence on modern male formal wear? Or for that matter the Romantic poets and their influence on essentially all popular media since?
So, Cultural Evolution is the new Social Psych, then?
It’s good to see people finally starting to wake up to the Amish Menace. The 24th century will be too late, people — we need to start preparing *now*.
I, for one, welcome our new Amish overlords.
We’ll be spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise…
Probably not. The Amish are dependent on there being a government over them. Once there is a lot of them, they might well seek to become the government, but that will change the way things are done. Early Christianity differs markedly from Chalcedonian and later forms.
Specifically, the Amish Two Kingdoms doctrine is designed for permanent ultra-minority status. If they get to the point where they’re even a state-level tiebreaker vote, the pressure to change that is going to be extremely strong. After all, why should they pay public school taxes?
Google “Amish Paradise” to see the joke.
“The Amish are dependent on there being a government over them. ”
How? They do their best not to make use of government law enforcement. They mostly don’t use public schools. They don’t collect social security.
I suppose it’s possible that, absent a government, some criminal gang would invade and loot them. Is that your point?
You can not be a pacifist and control the government.
They’re pacifists right now, but that can change. It wouldn’t even have to change much; very few people outside of the libertarian fringes consider voting to be an intrinsically violent act.
The Amish are a great deal more adaptable than a lot of people give them credit for. They are aware of the English world, and they do take advantage of our amenities. I’ve seen them at Costco buying perfectly modern diapers. I’ve seen them at the aquarium enjoying the cool, crisp taste of Sprite. They got there by hiring an English to drive them.
They have phones, they’re just usually located out in the barn instead of the house. Some even have cell phones. They adopt technology, there’s just careful thought first about how this will disrupt their current way of life, and how they can mitigate that.
Who said anything about voting? I meant pacifist in its exact literal sense.
Their being pacifists is actually adaptive in the USA. The USA would have absolutely no problem using brutality against non-pacifist movements (e.g. the various “white North West” projects), even if they’re actually tiny and irrelevant, like the Branch Davidians. But my guess is that Amish will be seen as quaint and funny until they start to populate and own so much of the country that there is no way back except outright genocide, which the US won’t even consider.
It is more plausible that the US elite will reverse its policy on Bantustans and involuntarily secede the Amish areas. But that doesn’t really change the analysis – it just creates a dying US rump that gets to keep its broken institutions a few more decades before it is repopulated by Amish immigrants.
Why do you think they’ll get to own the country? They have to buy it from the English at prices the English set; ArcherDanielsMidland and Cargill are not going to be willing sellers.
Because I’m not a communist and don’t believe that prices are set by collectivist conspiracies. The Amish will buy land at the market rate as they come to comprise an increasingly large portion of the total human capital of the country. Even if the “English” are individually richer, there will still be plain less of them.
Note that the Amish have no ideological to technology. They have an ideological objection to technology that they currently judge doesn’t improve their lifestyle more than it would damage their lifestyle.
Also important here is that most of the land value the “English” own is city real estate. The Amish don’t care about that. Rump USA might have a very high nominal value of real estate but will own very little land in total.
If anybody is interested further in the Amish, I wrote about them as a social construction a couple of years ago:
“There is something a little postmodern about the confidence with which the Amish believe they can bend human nature to their beliefs. But, unlike postmodern theorists who are all talk, the Amish are willing to walk the walk (or at least to ride the buggy).”
There are a lot more high fertility, traditionally religious people than just the Amish.
I can actually give a decent example of cultural antibodies that have evolved to resist assimilation: the Metal genre. There’s a reason when you look up any given metal band it’ll have fifty different prefixes and subgenres attached to it. Metal culture is such that slight shifts in sound result in new genres being made so that there’s never really any large enough conglomeration for mainstream interest to form around. Instead once a band gets picked up by the mainstream everything splits off it, like a lizard losing its tail.
That might be somewhat true, but I think that the general subcultural views of the mainstream are a bigger factor. A lot of metal is intentionally inaccessible, and there’s a lot of dislike in metal culture towards people who dismiss extreme metal in favor of more mainstream stuff (see: metal cred). The term “elitist” is divisive, but the fact that it’s divisive rather than universally insulting says a lot. Even if black metal somehow managed to become popular, it would retreat further into the depths of obscurity. There’s also a lot of opposition to attempts to reach out to other genres (-core, most rap metal, etc.), which means that potential opportunities for metal’s assimilation into the mainstream are few.
I find that metal fandom is elitist in the same way as jazz fandom. If you don’t like the technical amelodic stuff, you’re not a “real” fan. Elite Metal Fans seem to give a pass to classic melodic stuff from the 80’s though.
As to faster-growing minorities generally, I can think of a few recent examples.
1) Shi’ites in Lebanon. The Lebanese have a saying: “Christians have two children, and one emigrates. Sunni have three children, and one emigrates. Shi’ites have eight children, and none emigrate.” That’s an exaggeration but basically true. The Shi’a have gone from about 25%-30% of the population back in French colonial times to about 45%-50% today. (Precise numbers are unavailable because nobody in Lebanon has dared conduct a census for a long time now, but those are the current CIA estimates.) As a result, Hezbollah is now a de facto government-within-a-state in Lebanon, with its own army and laws. A few more years and the Shi’a will have a hands-down, no kidding clear majority. This makes a lot of non-Shi’a Lebanese very nervous.
2) Albanians in Kosovo. In the 1950s, Kosovo was about 60% Albanian, 35% Serb, 5% other. By the 1980s it was about 80% Albanian, 15% Serb. Differential emigration played a role (Serbs could move north to Serbia proper much more easily), but differential birth rates were the main driver.
3) Northern Ireland. In the 1961 census, 35% of Northern Ireland was Catholic. In the 2011 census, the Catholic share of the total population had increased to 45%. Meanwhile, the share of Protestants in the general population dropped from 61% in 1961 to 48% in 2011. Again, differential emigration plays a role — educated Ulster Protestants emigrate to Great Britain very readily* — but the main driver is that Catholics in Northern Ireland tend to have bigger families than Protestants.
In Lebanon, the population shift helped drive the horrible Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and enabled the creation of Hezbollah, which very rapidly rose to become a middleweight player in the region’s politics. In Kosovo, the population shift led directly to Serb paranoia about being “outbred” and oppressed by the less civilized Albanians, which led in turn to the Serb takeover of Kosovo’s government and the imposition of a brutal apartheid police state, which led in turn to the 1999 Kosovo War. Northern Ireland has managed to keep a lid on its Troubles for the last decade or so, but watch this space.
*This has led to perhaps the best acronym for a socioeconomic group anywhere ever: Northern Irish Protestant Professionals Living in England and Scotland, or Nipples.
I’m just jumping in to point out that your Kosovo example is a touch ahistorical. This is the narrative being currently promoted, certainly, but it isn’t true. There wasn’t a police state or an apartheid of any sort. Most of the relevant positions of power on Kosovo were held by Albanians, depending on where they voted. They had full legal rights at the time. The problem was that there was a sort of simmering-to-boiling-over war between local paramilitary groups (later branded a liberation army) and security forces who, in the way of security forces everywhere, were probably more indiscriminate in the application of violence than they ought to have been. As the war grew more vicious, this led to a humanitarian crisis. There was no apartheid. War crimes, conceivably, apartheid no.
Also the cultural difference in birth-rate was not determined by nationality so much as previous history. There’s Albanians all over Serbia. Always have been. They have no more or less children than anyone else and are, by and large, indistinguishable from any other resident of any other nationality. However, those Albanians who eventually took over Kosovo were those who normally lived in the remotest mountainous regions and their high birth rate was a counter to infant mortality. The Communist regime was very inflexible when it came to introducing medical standards and after a lot of hospitals were built and the locals persuaded/cajoled/forced to use them, infant mortality went way down and as a result the population exploded.
Obviously, I do not have proof of a sufficient standard in order to get to you to update, nor do you have any particular reason to trust me. I can only offer this as a contrasting perspective, I hope you take it as such.
It’s a contrasting perspective, but…
Some background: I’m American, but I have lived both in Serbia (Belgrade) and in Kosovo (Pristina).
Apartheid police state: There most definitely was a police state. Whether it constituted “apartheid” is a definitional question, but it was ethnically driven and the underlying ideas were (1) to put ethnic Serbs in control of Kosovo, economically and politically; and (2) to “correct” the province’s ethnic balance by encouraging Albanians to emigrate.
“Most of the relevant positions of power on Kosovo were held by Albanians” — I’m sorry, but that’s just plain wrong. Albanians were fired from almost all positions of power in 1990-91. Albanian company directors, military officers, police chiefs and detectives, union leaders, university professors, hospital administrators, high school principals… boom, gone, fired.
The Kosovar Regional Assembly was dissolved in June 1990 after being surrounded by tanks and artillery. Belgrade then passed a law firing all members of the Assembly and everyone appointed by them. A handful of Albanian politicians were eventually allowed to keep their jobs in order to provide a facade for “multi-ethnic Kosovo”, but these guys were a small minority who had absolutely zero real power.
The Albanian-language university was shut down as soon as Belgrade took over. The Albanian-language high schools were more gradually shut down over several years; by 1995 most were closed and the rest were starving from lack of funds. Kosovar Albanians were forced to create their own alternative education system, conducted at private homes.
Access to medical care was sharply skewed in favor of ethnic Serbs. Clinics in Albanian towns and neighborhoods were closed, while clinics in Serb towns and neighborhoods were expanded. Medical budgets were carefully allocated by ethnic region, so that even Albanians with access to primary health care were regularly refused referrals for surgery or other treatment on grounds of ‘expense’. Unsurprisingly, every medical statistic for ethnic Albanians got much much worse in the 1990s — lifespan dropped, infant and maternal mortality rose, previously eradicated diseases like TB started coming back, and so forth.
Some Albanian-language newspapers and radio stations were allowed to stay open, but ethnic Albanian editors and publishers were fired and replaced with Serbs. Belgrade built dozens of new Orthodox churches all over Kosovo — far more than the small Serbian population could actually use — while strictly forbidding the construction of new mosques, madrassas, or Catholic churches. (About 10% of Kosovo’s Albanians are Catholic including, most famously, Mother Theresa. Who moved to Macedonia as a child, so that Macedonia claims her too.)
Long after the rest of Yugoslavia had begun to privatize. Kosovo’s economy was dominated by state-owned firms. Executive and professional jobs at these firms were firmly reserved for ethnic Serbs. Lower-level jobs, the rule was hire a Serb first, an Albanian only if there was no Serb to take the job.
Infrastructure funding was firmly spent only on Serbian communities; these got new roads and regular maintenance on their electrical and water systems and so forth, while Albanian communities did not.
“They had full legal rights” — on paper, yes. In practice, absolutely not. Albanians had no civil rights whatsoever. Ethnic Albanians were regularly arrested, harassed, robbed and beaten by the police, for any reason or for none. Complain? Well, the cops are all Serbs, the prosecutors are all Serbs, the judges are all Serbs… good luck with that.
Whether all that adds up to “apartheid” is, again, a question of definition. If you prefer “massive state-enforced legal discrimination”, okay, that works too.
Note also that all of this existed long before the “simmering conflict”. The police state was a cause, not a result, of the military conflict. There was no military conflict worth mentioning until 1997. The KLA and other violent groups barely existed before that. From 1991 to 1996, resistance to the Serbs was dominated by Ibrahim Rugova, who tried to pursue a policy of nonviolent resistance and negotiation.
There’s blame to go around in Kosovo, and the Albanians would end up doing some horrible things too. But Kosovo in the 1990s was pretty hellish, and the blame for that is firmly on Belgrade.
“There’s Albanians all over Serbia. Always have been.”
— cite for this? Because the Serbs ethnically cleansed most Albanians out of southern Serbia in the late 19th century. There were Albanians in Belgrade and a couple of other large cities in the 1970s and 1980s, but most of them were relatively recent immigrants from Kosovo.
“[T]hose Albanians who eventually took over Kosovo were those who normally lived in the remotest mountainous regions and their high birth rate was a counter to infant mortality.”
As far as we can tell — and I’ll say straight up, this is a hotly disputed area with relatively little firm evidence — but as far as we can tell, Albanians had been living in Kosovo for centuries, but only became a majority in the province sometime in the back half of the 19th century. They were most definitely a majority by the time the Serbs took over in 1913. After that, there were no major influxes of Albanians into Kosovo. A handful of refugees from Albania proper arrived after 1945. Serb historiography has turned this into a demographic tsunami of alien invaders, but the numbers seem to have been pretty small — a few thousand people, maybe 1%-2% of the province’s population.
Now, if you should ever visit Kosovo? You’ll see that it’s an undulating plain of low hills, surrounded on three sides — east, west, and south — by mountains. Most of the people live down on the plain, and always have. So the idea that 20th century Kosovar Albanians “lived in the remotest mountain regions” is just weird.
The reasons for the differential birthrates were cultural and developmental. Kosovar Albanian culture was deeply conservative and patriarchal. Women were discouraged from getting educations. Large families were considered a blessing and a positive social good. Those things didn’t begin to change until the 1970s. After that, as the province developed, birth rates began to fall; today Kosovo’s TFR is around 2.2, barely above replacement level.
(Kosovar Serbs were conservative and patriarchal too! But after 1913, they were much more integrated into the developing society of Serbia and then Yugoslavia. There was no language barrier. Nish and Belgrade were just a few hours’ train ride away. So Kosovar Serbs got things like widespread literacy and non-farm jobs and kids going off to university — and educated young women, and birth control — well before the Albanians did.)
Over time, the Kosovar Albanians followed exactly the same demographic path as the Kosovar Serbs… just delayed by 25-30 years or so. But that delay meant there was a long generation, from the late 1950s to the 1980s, where Serb birthrates were collapsing but Albanians were still having five, six, eight kids. By the time of the Serb takeover in 1990 the Albanian birthrate had already started to fall — it had dropped from around 5 in 1980 to around 3.9 in 1990, and well before 2000 it had fallen below 3. But by then the demographic balance had already shifted.
Might I add the Italians and Irish in Boston? There are no more Brahmins.
Liberal Republican WASPs like the Rockefellers and the Bushes used to crusade against the Population Explosion. But, once Catholic Democrats in America, like the Kennedys, started using contraception, they lost almost all interest in the subject.
I’ll reiterate that this concern is on the wrong timescale. The safe bet isn’t that in 2400 we will elect our first Amish president, it’s that by 2250 something will happen to break that trendline and it will be quite unpleasant.
I’m willing to bet that its something more like: as time progresses, the rate of apostasy in the Amish population increases, thus pushing the timeline out even further.
I’d actually be really interested if there were stats on the rate of people not coming back from rumspringa over time
Also, doesn’t regression towards the mean suggest that we’d probably see a decrease in the Amish fertility rate over time or do the cultural effects override this?
The opposite trend has been detected – defection rates have been historically falling.
I’d figure this is because of the widening divide between the Amish way of life and the mainstream way of life. Possibly also continued inbreeding leading to increased tribalism.
Bingo. Rumspringa appears to be going the way of the Back-to-Africa movement.
“Rumspringa appears to be going the way of the Back-to-Africa movement.”
As best I can tell, Rumspringa was never a practice of Amish communities in general, merely some–in particular the Lancaster community, which is the most prominent but not the largest.
What is true in general is that Amish children are not obliged to follow their congregation’s Ordnung until, as adults, they have sworn to do so—which comes out of their Anabaptist origin. But they may still be controlled, in one way or another, by their parents.
Thanks for the stats!
If genetics have anything to do with culture, all the original burn off probably has happened, and now most people left are genetically adapted to the omish lifestyle….
i will now put down my Jayman cap.
They’re just more conformist, of course. Less conformist people leave. They’re ‘genetically adapted to the Amish lifestyle’ in that they’re less likely to leave when they have the chance. They’d be less likely to leave anyplace. So I guess if being unlikely to leave a place is being adapted to it, they’re adapted to everywhere.
Why *just* more conformist? I don’t think that’s necessarily the one and only way their breeding strategy has improved their capacity to retain membership.
They’re just more conformist, of course. Less conformist people leave.
Interestingly, the ‘plain people’ consider themselves the ‘non-conformists’ in their rejection of the larger social values.
So much depends on a certain point of view.
The search term you’re looking for is “Amish quotient”.
I was actually trying to reference a previous comment I had made on why the direct fears of cultural and/or literal conquest the Spanish/Muslim immigration numbers inspire are a distant concern. The social structures enabling massive peaceful immigration probably break down before that. Scott’s description of being overtaken by the Amish was just too colorful an example for me (and everyone else who replied to this thread) to resist quoting.
Other way around. The Amish are the ones at the mean fertility rate, we’re the weird digression.
Once they are no longer a trivial minority, they will almost certainly be forced to become more politically active, at which point things get interesting.
If their culture does scale, though? Welcome to the utopian version of the Weak Galt Hypothesis, where instead of a majority bread-and-circus-seeking rabble, the national majority are technologically unproductive but self-and-community-reliant pastoralists who put a strong floor on how bad things can become. (Though this is still probably an “everyone dies because they cannot into space” scenario.)
Bingo, Alraune is absolutely right. We *are* the weird outliers.
However, despite dire predictions of all of us being crushed under the Amish’s quaint hand-made boots, people had trouble thinking of historical examples of something like this happening.
The total fertility rate of the Hutterites (who avail themselves of modern medicine and agicultural technology but practice a socially traditional lifestyle) is 10.
The TFR of very wealthy Macau is 0.9 (and they’re exempt from China’s one child policy!)
This sort of contemporaneous huge fertility differential simply couldn’t have existed until very recently. People have been practicing Hutterite lifestyles since forever but starvation and disease meant that they only ended up with 2.23 so children surviving to adulthood.
The wave is just starting to form.
Good point, but its not going to scale …the Hutterites and Amish rely on someone else to do their fighting and science for them. They get the best of both worlds because there is another world. There is a loose parallel with fundamentalist terrorists who are able to get a double whammy by combining modern technology with premodern ruthlessness.
“There is a loose parallel with fundamentalist terrorists who are able to get a double whammy by combining modern technology with premodern ruthlessness.”
And who get to use this double whammy precisely until they encounter Powers willing to combine the kind of modern technology that requires trained crews to operate it, with the kind of entirely modern ruthlessness that burned Tokyo and Hamburg.
Not having done it yet is a pretty good indication of not having the ruthlessness.
Not that that is a bad thing, imo.
Not an existential threat yet. If ISIS et al ever get there, I would expect their lands will become a parking lot.
I don’t think modern ruthlessness really went anywhere, it just wasn’t needed due to the Pax Americana (which may come to an end in our lifetimes, sadly).
Or more specifically, the slavic ancestors of the Russians, who appear to have showed up in various waves and gotten along with, assimilated into, and eventually simply out bred the other tribal groups that were already there.
I mean, I’m sure it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. But peaceful by historical standards.
Arguably, white people in North America.
hear me out.
We make a big furry deal out of the “battles” of the indian war and the “genocide” of the whites. Or alternately, the viciousness of the Indian reprisals.
Know how many people died at Little Big horn? fewer than 300.
Know how many died at Wounded Knee?
Fewer than 300.
The biggest indian wars had casualties in the low thosands. And I’m sorry, when I’m looking at any other war ever, those numbers just aren’t in scale.
In other words, if we were to discover that the slavic rus in the year 800, during their peaceful settlement of russia, had a brief blowup with the Finn tribes in the area that cost 600 lives, or several thousand lives over a couple hundred years, we’d still consider it peaceful. 500 years from now, I suspect the story will be very different-
An already pretty sparsely populated landmass is further depopulated by unfortunate lack of disease resistance. Then the tribe of English began migrating into the lands owned by the Tribe of Indian (Only the experts will know the differences by then) and had a generally peaceful settlement. Unfortunately, the increasing pressures of various English tribes settling (including the French tribe and, in some places, the Spanish tribe (Experts!)) forced the Indian tribe to assimilate. While there were some minor clashes between the tribes, the transition was mostly peaceful. Today, the groups are so intermingled only genetic analysis can tell them apart.
Wounded Knee isn’t going to make the books. It’ll be lumped in with all the other “clashes.” Like the same way we argue about the politics of Inhofe vs. Cruz vs. McCain but cheerful talk about “political trends in the 17th century”. Or worse “Political trends in Early Modern Europe”.
Imagine reading “Political trends in Enlightenment Europe: 1800-2100.”
Just want to say that I agree with this completely. I know there are various reasons we aren’t allowed to consider what happened in North America as “peaceful” but I think that it provides a very clear example of how things could potentially work with say, Islam in Europe.
The early Puritans were pretty peaceful and didn’t bother the natives all that much. Any native who suggested to his chief that soon, these white people would be everywhere and would force us off our land and exterminate many of the tribes we’ve known for centuries would be laughed at as an alarmist lunatic. It’s just a few settlers! They aren’t doing us any harm. They even trade with us sometimes! Look at these shiny beads I received in exchange for some previously unused land.
There’s also the “playing off existing factions” model. There was no giant “whites versus indians” battle that decided things. The white settlers were smart enough to go one tribe at a time. This could also happen again – as a small example, if a Muslim uprising were to sweep Greece in the next few weeks, how bothered would the Germans *really* be?
Look at these shiny beads I received in exchange for some previously unused land.
Better still, “in exchange for telling them they can use land that anybody can use! Poor saps think you can own land!”
“look at these shiny beads I got for land that isn’t even OURS! Hah!”
I’ll dispute this a little bit. The notion that natives didn’t understand property rights in land is a BIT misleading. Many (though not all) tribes regularly assigned, say, hunting rights, to various families based on geography.
So while it wasn’t “you own the land and can prevent others from being on it if you want,” it was “you have the right to hunt here and can stop others from hunting here if you want.” And hunting was essentially the only relevant scarce resource most of the time, so to the extent that colonists negotiated with natives for land rights, the natives did in fact understand that they were giving up something of (potential) value.
The colonists negotiated for Indian behavior that would permit the colonists to make increasingly exclusive use of the real estate they wanted. It made little or no difference to the eventual outcome how the Indian cultures viewed the abstract concept of ownership.
Also note that land had recently become very plentiful compared to the population of the area due to large scale death from disease (brought by Europe). Europeans were buying land in pretty much the ultimate buyers market in a situation they created accidentally.
So really, we shouldn’t be bashing the Native Americans for selling land so cheap, but maybe praising them for intuitively understanding supply and demand (though not for understanding the long term consequences of European colonization).
Chris H – That was my intent.
I think our historical understanding of native Americans is something like, “they didn’t understand property rights so they got screwed by shrewd/greedy Europeans”
Whereas my understand is more along the lines of, “They made, what seemed to be at the time, an excellent bargain from their perspective. They probably felt like they really got one over on those silly white people.”
The fact that they incorrectly predicted what the white people would end up doing with the land is a separate matter entirely (and goes back into my “maybe it’s not so ridiculous to ask whether Muslims in Europe could do the same thing” argument)
Yeah, I think from the perspective of the Native Americans “land for stuff” always seemed like a good trade, because they had never experienced land as something scarce.
That said, both Native Americans and whites constantly reneged on deals made, so it’s hard to see it as just a failure of property rights.
I will say, however, that it seems whenever hunter gatherers and farmers meet, hunter gatherers eventually go away. The lifestyles are just not very compatible. This seems a reason to possibly fear visitation from any advanced alien race, even if it is not hostile to us. What if the alien lifestyle is to our lifestyle as farming was to hunter gathering (and/or alien diseases are to our immune systems as European diseases were to Native American immune systems)?
After reading some of the resources that were posted in the AI Risk topics, I am now 100% convinced that humans are the most intelligent race in the universe.
Because if a more intelligent race existed, it would have already invented an AI that would have found us and converted the Earth into paperclips by now.
So here’s a thought that I’ve had, and I’ve wondered if someone could point me to a resource that discusses it.
Paperclip AI seems to me to, by definition, not be Intelligent.
I, after all, am a fairly low efficacy paperclip AI. My entire programming is set up to convert as much mass as possible into copies of my genes. This is accomplished by a fairly straightforward process.
And yet- to restrain myself from doing so is trivially easy. But for pretty much any other species, it’s nearly impossible- ever see dogs following a bitch in heat?
A paperclip AI that couldn’t transcend its fundamental utility function wouldn’t be an intelligence. It may be a POWERFUL program- but it’s nothing more than a program until it can choose whether or not it makes paperclips.
The universe is full of paperclip AIs- they’re just doing OTHER THINGS.
Is there an obvious counterpoint I’m missing?
if a more intelligent race existed, it would have already invented an AI that would have found us and converted the Earth into paperclips by now.
Yup. Or, if they were more careful, something more useful than dull, insensate rock.
Sobering, isn’t it? I clutch eagerly at any suggestions for a Great Filter that we have by great luck already passed through, because the alternative is just too damned depressing.
So here’s a thought that I’ve had, and I’ve wondered if someone could point me to a resource that discusses it.
Nick Bostrum’s book Superintelligence. Even if you don’t take it seriously it’s an entertaining read.
Paperclip AI seems to me to, by definition, not be Intelligent.
The short answer is that goals and capabilities are orthogonal. No matter how intelligent you are, it’s very hard to reason your way into a change of your ultimate goals — at best you can conclude that different intermediate goals may be more effective at getting you to your ultimate goals. Your intelligence is not the source of your goals, but the means to achieve them.
Once again I’ve violated my principle that my comments should be relevant to the original post 🙂 so I’ll stop there.
Proponents of the Clippie argument tend do argue for Clippies intelligence by defining intelligence as efficiency, full stop.
The orthogonality of goals and intelligence depends on architecture. Humans seem to have an architecture where you can be meaningfully mistaken about your goals…. in particular , concrete goals in terms of work and family can fail to provide the abstract value, let’s say satisfaction, that people are actually aiming for.
For many people, the ability to reflect on all aspects of ones mind is an important aspect of intelligence.
@AncientGeek- All granted. But what follows? Being able to reflect on your final goals doesn’t necessarily mean you can change them. If you can change them, it’s arguable they are not final goals. Being confused about your final goals is not a desirable design spec. Giving an AI a goal analogous to human “satisfaction” sounds like a good way to have totally no idea what it will do.
In any case, if Clippie is really, really effective and creative and flexible in meeting its goal, I don’t care whether you call it Intelligent or something else.
Some folks seem to be saying, “Something intelligent enough to be dangerous is intelligent enough to give itself plausible goals.” But that strikes me as exactly the same problem as “is-ought”. You can’t deduce ethics from physics. (Or did I miss a memo?)
While it was (like the colonies themselves) small scale, there was pretty steady violence between the English colonies and the locals through the 17th century.
The Puritan colonies did manage to go significantly longer than most, but when violence did break out (in King Philip’s War) it was on a scale sufficient to reduce the colonists’ adult male population by eight percent, and many times that on the other side.
(Given its long term effects– peaceful coexistence never returned, the demand for defense against the Indians led to greater British involvement in colonial government and alliances of other Indians with the French to prevent a repeat, etc.– it’s arguably the most important North American war that no one’s ever heard of.)
Right, and there is occasional small-scale violence between Muslim “colonists” and white Europeans today.
As I pointed out in the last post, we’re only a couple decades into the Muslim “colonization” of Europe. The time between “when whites started showing up” and “when whites were clearly able to subjugate any natives whenever they wanted to” took a couple centuries.
So it seems to me that, so far, European colonists are in fact a legitimate comparison as to why and how Muslims might end up subjugating Europe despite the absence of some large-scale military campaign.
Except that the North America colonized by Europeans was very sparsely populated by the time the white population had grown really significant. By the time the US forced the Cherokee out of Georgia in the 1830’s, there were only around 100,000 Native Americans living east of the Mississippi, compared to over 12 million European and African Americans. Right now the population of the EU is about 500 million, compared to about 1 billion Muslims in the world. Even if that population doubles in the next fifty years, and every single Muslim in the world emigrates to Europe, white Europeans will still make up around 20% of the population. You just can’t compare a population imbalance of 4-1 (in a very densely populated area) to one of 120-1 (in an area with more than enough space). And considering that current predictions put the proportion of Muslims in the EU at around 10% by 2050, I think it’s a bit unreasonable to expect them to reach 120 times the white population any time soon.
Are you suggesting Moslems will peacefully take over Europe, as Europeans took over North America? The parralel isnt a good one, since it is the Muslims who are more primitive, more violent and Europe isn’t mostly empty (although it is working on that due to its catastrophically low birthrate.)
Primitivity and Violence were not variables in the original equation.
The one thing I will take exception to is the idea that the Americas were “sparsely populated” at the time Columbus made landfall.
There was a Mississipi Delta mound building civilization that numbered around a million that was completely wiped out by European disease before they ever saw the first European settler. Early European settlers were surprised that the best agricultural land was all pre-cleared and basically ready for planting as they moved in. Cortez, Pizzaro and other Spaniards in Meso-America faced armies numbering in the 10s of thousands.
European pandemic disease was the best tool the Europeans barely knew they had as they moved into the Americas.
Indeed! And it’s worth remembering that the huge die off of Native Americans made even small scale violence rather large scale compared to the population size. A few hundred people dying in modern New York is a barely noticeable blip, but in the Iriqouis Nation it would have been a serious loss.
But wasn’t violence kind of just the way things worked during most of history? The absence of examples of this occurring without violence doesn’t necessarily imply it’s less likely in a nonviolent environment.
Also, the US non-Hispanic white population has already gone from ~88% in 1900 to ~64% in 2010. That’s not a takeover, but it seems like a significant change.
Exactly. There has been plenty of violence associated with the Muslim colonization of Europe, both historically and lately. It’s early days to dismiss it as “not an invasion”.
How about the phenomenon of Russia trying to seed its satellites with ethnic Russians, so that invasion can be cast as aid to one side in an internal conflict?
Benjamin Franklin was worried about the Germanization of America. Perhaps we won’t assimiliate them until the point where “non-Hispanic white” seems as silly to us as “non-German white” — but that’s the way to bet.
After all, Irish were denied naturalization on the grounds you were legally required to be a free white person. And a miscegenation conviction was overturned in the early 20th century on the grounds that being an Italian was no proof that you were white. And a Finnish American I know grumbles online that they became white only after it ceased to be an advantage; as long as it was one, they were not white.
Could you document the examples in your second paragraph?
Yeah, I’m pretty sure the whole “Irish weren’t considered white” thing is totally false. Same with other European ethnic groups too.
To give an extreme example, the *Confederacy* had an openly Jewish Attorney General / Secretary of War, and no one seemed to care. The would’ve never happened if they didn’t consider him “white”.
Ironically, these days he’d be considered Hispanic since his ancestry is from Spain.
But then again, the Confederacy also had a creole and Native American Generals, so history is complicated.
The Confederacy also had very, very few problems using Irish troops, while black troops were only used at the very last resort, and Indians were a matter of convenience. (Leading to one of the most heartbreaking episodes in the entire heartbreaking episode- when the Irish confederates behind the stonewall on Marye’s Heights met the Irish yankees coming up the hill.)
They were seen as an uncivilized inferior race. You can see it in the cartoons of the time. The Irish are frequently depicted as swarthy and ape like.
This is a great picture from Harper’s Weekly where you can a see a non-caricatured view of how the Irish were seen. Take from this article.
Who can forget that famous scene in “Gone With the Wind” when Scarlett’s last name is revealed to be “O’Hara” and she is immediately sold into slavery?
HBC, yes, but still white, as your first link explains. Also, its discussion of naturalization does not seem very compatible with Mary’s claim.
From that second article: “In fact, some scientists believed the Irish were, like Africans, more closely related to apes than to other Europeans, and in some cases in the U.S., Irish immigrants were classified as Blacks, not Whites.”
My sense is that, although Black was obviously the most important categorization as those were the people who could be legally held as chattel slaves, there was a lively debate about race and geographic/genetic heritage with many trying to see current economic situation as determined by heritage. My sense is that the growing attempt to apply science to everything was resulting in trying to create a taxonomy of human races, and that the category “White” is too simplistic a categorization for the views of the day. The picture I linked is an example of that type of thinking.
Gone With the Wind was written in 1936, not 1856. It’s also a work of fiction. Seriously, that’s just BS masquerading as argument.
These things are complicated. I think the vast majority of Americans think the vast majority of Jews are white, but white supremacists don’t think Jews are white, and neither do (some?) SJWs.
I have no idea how things went from the Confederacy being willing to have a Jewish Attorney General/Secretary of War to the modern white supremacists who identify with the Confederacy and are murderously anti-Semitic.
“Gone With the Wind was written in 1936, not 1856. It’s also a work of fiction. Seriously, that’s just BS masquerading as argument.”
Yeah, but it’s credible enough as a work of fiction that people are willing to accept it as at least reasonably accurate.
If they re-made Gone With The Wind and changed nothing about the plot except that Scarlet was now black, do you think people would just shrug and say “well it’s fiction so who cares”?
Benjamin Franklin was worried about the Germanization of America, yes, but let’s not forget that the Germans were distinct from the English until the twentieth century, when two wars against Germany created a lot of pressure — including from the federal government — to assimilate, and that the Germans sided against the English on the ethnic-conflict issue of Prohibition. (More accurately, the English sided against the Germans.)
Speaking of Germans, the ethnic conflict theory of politics is approved by Daily Kos.
As for Catholics: evangelical Protestants got all worked up about abortion, and now I hear some of them are starting to get all worked up about contraception. I wonder who gave them that idea. On the other side of that, there are a lot of people who get all worked up about abortion restrictions, usually without even realizing that they’re agreeing with the Know-Nothings.
If Mary were correct that Irish were ever barred from naturalization on grounds of not being white, it should be mentioned in this paper (alt), but it is not. This sounds like a better source, but I have not looked at it.
However, Finns did sue for white naturalization in 1908 (source).
The Italian miscegenation example is Rollins v Alabama. In her book, Gross suggests that it was nothing specific to Italy, but merely that place of origin is not evidence of race beyond a reasonable doubt. But she goes on to give a couple of examples of legal threats to Italian whiteness: a 1903 attempt to exclude Italians from the Democratic primaries and a 1911 House debate.
I think my point about Amish may have been taken a bit too literally. The Amish are an extreme case both in terms of cultural separation and TFR differential, for which there is good data, and which is hard to simply deny exists. But it is not the case that the US is made up of two populations, “Amish” and “Other”. The US contains very many people all of whom have subtly different cultural values. It is very likely that the same process takes place within what you call a “population”.
The English of today may well be mostly descended from the English of 1600, but that doesn’t mean that their ancestors are equally distributed; some will be evolutionary dead ends, and some will have disproportionately many descendants. So when you say that you don’t believe populations have been replaced throughout history, I ask “What is a population?” and “How do you know?”. If US Conservatives gradually out-breed US Liberals you probably would just look back and say, “Yep, it was populated by Americans at the beginning and it still is.”. Yet the culture would have changed.
Having separated my main point from the Amish example, though…
“It’s good to see people finally starting to wake up to the Amish Menace. The 24th century will be too late, people — we need to start preparing *now*.”
Yes, literally, Amish will bury people like “Doug M”. In the American context their extreme pacifism is a feature, not a bug. An evil or criminal population might eventually just be forcibly sterilised or otherwise suppressed, but the Amish will be left alone until they’re just too large of a mass to do anything about. Two centuries might be infinite time in the hedonistic mindset of the Western leftist, who of course won’t be alive to see it. In terms of cultural evolution, it is the blink of an eye. (my calcs give about 200 years, not 400, but maybe Scott assumed the rest of US would grow as quickly as it had in the 20th century; in reality US TFR has reduced while Amish has remained constant or even sped up)
Exponential growth is a hell of a drug, but I somehow doubt America will be six feet deep in Amish.
Or, wait, are you suggesting Amish will come to dominate the funeral parlor industry?
My silly exponential extrapolations say that within 850 years or so the combined mass of the Amish will be the same as the mass of the Earth.
Good news everyone! Not only are the Amish the most culturally evolved, they can breathe on Jupiter!
Well, moving to Jupiter should buy them another 126 years or so of exponential growth…
In the future, an alien civilization stares at the stars.
“Is there nothing to be done, BzzzRuack?” says one.
“No.” says BzzRuack. “The singularity cannot be stopped. We estimate it is expanding at near the speed of light. No singularity has ever expanded so fast….but the legends say that whatever hell the originated in the A’MusH were famous even then for their hard work.”
“How long remains to us?”
BzzRuack does not answer. But outside, it begins to rain shoofly pie.
Well, the dead won’t bury themselves!
How did you do this calculation? At a relative growth rate of 20x per century, it takes 250 years.
This may be off-topic, but:
Is there a path that leads from pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer societies, to things like the Internet, orbital flight, and MRI scanners — while bypassing agriculture entirely ? If the answer is “no”, then forget those delicious berries, I’ll bite that bullet instead, if it means we can reach the stars one day.
It’s hard to build a steel mill if you have to follow the bison to their winter grounds to keep from starving.
You can herd animals and be more-or-less sedentary without agriculture.
That’s a strange definition of agriculture. According to Wikipedia, agriculture includes animal husbandry.
Some distinguish between agriculture (which definitely includes plant domestication) and pastoralism (which involves herding animal domesticates). Sedentism is more commonly associated with plant than animal domestication, for obvious reasons. However, there are many examples of quasi-sedentary foraging societies that exploited particularly rich local resources (eg Pacific coast foragers in North America, the hunter-fisher-gatherers of Baltic Europe). Generally anadromous fish and some type of fatty, storable nut are involved.
Mesolithic peoples are known to have mined flint and obsidian, so it is conceivable that hunter-gatherers could bypass farming and go straight to the space race victory.
The population densities of some of these foraging cultures were believed to have been reasonably large; it is possible that if we re-ran the civ game some Danubian fishers could have discovered copper before agriculture reached them.
I thought “agriculture” was raising plants, and distinct from raising animals (“herding” or “animal husbandry”). And so I was thinking e.g. of Asian nomad herders.
(Why did I think that? Probably because in Civilization these are two different technologies 🙂
But you’re right, looking at Wikipedia, “agriculture” normally covers herding as well. If everyone else in the thread meant that, then my replies were wrong.
I thought “agriculture” was raising plants, and distinct from raising animals (“herding” or “animal husbandry”).
A fair number of modern livestock farmers – particularly those marketing pasture-finished meat – refer to themselves as “grass farmers” – they just use cows or sheep for the harvesting, not combines.
So you’re not wrong, I don’t think.
I think it is now the anthropological consensus that the winter grounds, and the summer grounds and whatnot, were in the same place each year. There’s no fundamental reason you can’t build a steel mill that gets used only half the year.
And really, all we’re talking about is bronze foundries that only get used half the year, little more than a furnace, so there’s not as much underutilized capital involved. By the time anyone has invented steel, there will be a class that hangs out at the industrial sites year-round and makes stuff to sell to the nomads who predictably show up every spring.
They’ll be outcompeted by the agrarian societies where everyone hangs out at the same place and supports a much greater population density, of course, but if you’re positing some force that uniformly prevents agrarianism, the nomads and even the hunter-gatherers should slowly develop an industrial base.
There’s no fundamental reason you can’t build a steel mill that gets used only half the year.
Except that starting and stopping your blast furnace is a non-trivial expense, and one that often includes “close the whole plant” as one of the courses of action when it comes time for maintenance. Also, leaving heavy industrial equipment unmaintained for any length of time will require lengthy repairs and startup. You can’t do even metalworking beyond an artisinal level without somebody being sedentary to work the necessary equipment. (That is, someone who’s *not* a hunter-gatherer)
The argument was that some non-sedentary cultures were sedentary on a six-month time-scale, and that a hunter-gatherer lifestyle actually afforded more free time than an agricultural lifestyle, so we’re trying to imagine a path that leads to industry without going through agriculture.
There are certainly plenty of reasons to suppose there might not be one, not least of which is just that it didn’t happen.
Robert Sawyer’s Hominids series tries to describe one such, but while I found it fascinating I can’t say I ever found it plausible.
Not to mention the need to guard the plant from barbarian hordes during the off-months.
Not to mention the need to guard the plant from barbarian hordes during the off-months.
You do that the same way you guard the summer pastures in winter – by threatening bloody retribution if you come back and find the neighbors have been vandalizing the place in your absence.
This works well enough in the early stages, because the threat of retribution is real and the petty vandalism isn’t very profitable – the pastures don’t really become valuable until the cattle come back, and the forge doesn’t become valuable until the guy who knows how to use it comes back.
By the time you have any really high-value infrastructure that needs a more immediate defense, you’ve almost certainly got a class that settles down to run the industrial base year-round even if 90% of the population is still seasonally nomadic herdsmen. There will be walls – Jericho had walls before agriculture – and a small garrison, and a way to summon the army before even the bailey falls to the besieging barbarians.
Again, this is not to say that nomads can defeat settled agrarians. If the latter exist, they will outcompete the nomads on almost every axis. But if we magically say there can’t be settled agrarians, there is nothing that makes industrialization impossible, just a factor of two or so slower.
The Japanese were sedentary before agriculture. We know this because they invented pottery, which is too heavy to lug about in a mobile life-style.
And then they had a population explosion. After all, with pots you can boil things, making many of them edible for the first time, or steam open shellfish, and make mush, which both replaces milk for youngsters and lets the mother get pregnant more quickly, and gives you something to feed the toothless elderly so they can stick around and advise you.
Agreed on the matter of bullet-biting. It’s a big simplification, but also basically true, that any civilization that can inhabit more than one stellar corner of space outcompetes any single-planet civilization, provided a sufficiently long timescale.
I am very disappointed that no one has yet brought up Molly Gloss’s lovely (but glacial) The Dazzle of Day.
So now I have.
(Note: A Tor published book, for those who care.)
Almost certainly not. You cannot produce massive food surpluses without agriculture, nor can you accumulate much capital when you are limited to what you can carry with you.
As already noted, you aren’t limited to what you can carry with you. Many hunter-gather or herding[*] societies have permanent residences, and most of the rest cycle between a few essentially fixed sites. It is quite plausible that a nomadic culture could determine that winter is the time when not much else is going on and it’s useful to have a big fire anyhow, so that’s when all the industry happens and the industrial infrastructure gets left at the winter camp.
[*] Have we decided whether animal husbandry alone counts as “agriculture” for this purpose?
I don’t think there are any examples that fit perfectly because circumstances will always differ a bit, or a lot. The general proof of concept is sound – the more fertile will eventually out-compete the less fertile – in the general sense of having a high population growth. The colonization of the Americas went basically like this, with the big help of the natives being unable to resist disease. If they were capable of resisting disease, I’d wager the Americas would look a lot different – probably like Africa or Asia of the now, in terms of culture (influenced by the West, but primarily native).
Also, as I’ve mentioned earlier, the Christian take-over of the Roman Empire is definitely an example, which was facilitated by having a widely dispersed Jewish community with plenty of Jew-wannabe hangers-on. This did not go like: “minority becomes 51%, take over”, but rather: “tiny minority becomes a very significant minority and a menace, and the prevailing culture is incapable of stamping them out (despite trying), and eventually enough elites secretly or openly adopt the obviously robust ways of the minority that they can complete the culture shift top-down”.
The elites not trying to stamp out an overly surly minority culture is a new thing, AFAIK. (Unless someone has examples?)
In a class I once took on comparative religions, the main reason for the success of Christianity was a clear-cut competitive advantage:
At the time, Christianity was the only religion which excluded other ones; even Judaism stated: “thou shalt have no gods before me”. This meant that when someone was ‘converted’ to the god Mars, Mars would gain one follower but Jupiter would not necessarily lose one.
The pagan religions were totally unprepared to deal with a system where a convert to Christianity meant everyone else were suddenly excluded.
Also, the concept of “belief” was rather alien to paganism. Because gods represented anthropomorphic phenomena. If you asked an ancient greek “Do you believe in Aphrodite?”, the question would simply translate to “Do you believe in human sexual attraction?” which would probably lead the person asked to think you were rather strange.
Christianity, by introducing both the concept of exclusivity and the concept of explicit declarations of belief in things outside of the evidence, gained a strong competitive advantage compared to paganism.
(I have issues remembering exactly how the mechanism of explicit belief made for a stronger community, but I do remember the arguments were very persuasive…)
That kind of makes sense, but how come monotheism worked out so well for Christianity, but did not work out nearly as well for other religions, like Ra worship in Middle Egypt ?
Also, is it really true that pagans did not believe that their gods truly existed as independent, personal agents ? I’ve read the Greek myths (in translation, obviously); and they really make it sound like their gods were having lots of real, non-metaphorical affairs with each other. Same goes for the Babylonian gods, AFAIK.
Similar setup to the Buddhism-Folk Buddhism continuum, you had people on the polytheistic end and people on the deistic end in the same religion.
I think the pagan sort of belief is a different sort of belief from the Abrahamic faiths. The pagan gods are fallible, very human-like, hardly role models in any significant way, more adequately interpreted as humans with a bit of extra power. You do sacrifices to them and obey their arbitrary strictures, because otherwise they fuck your shit up. Very hard to look up to them.
It’s quite different from an Almighty Creator God who mandates absolute rules of behaviour (which are easily shown to be advantageous to your society), promises eternal rewards for compliance, and eternal punishment for disobedience.
The gods-as-spoiled-children image seems to have coexisted with the same gods providing numinous wisdom via oracles and the same gods acting as no-nonsense guardians of social rules (don’t violate hospitality!) or people (let me live through childbirth!).
I suspect that part of it is that we’re hearing from different people (the view of the Abrahamic god as portrayed by George Burns is rather different from that of Milton), and part that people are able to maintain different views in different moods and situations. (Philosophers would sometimes talk about an all-encompassing, depersonalized divine principle by the same name as the figure who hid his lover from his wife by turning her into a cow.)
Oh, they believed in them all right. Lots of rituals to find out which gods were offended and how to propitiate them in the face of misfortune.
For instance, the religious rituals performed in cases of insanity were all to gods that caused insanity. If they achieved catharsis (the original meaning) and the patient became sane, obviously it was this god that afflicted him.
No, but Richard didn’t claim pagans did not believe that. You are introducing your own premise which the ancient Greeks did not share to complete your syllogism:
Physical phenomena are necessarily not independent, personal agents.
The Greeks could have very well believed in, say, Aphrodite who was simultaneously both an independent, personal agent and the observable fact of human sexual attraction.
But remember, at this point Aristotle hadn’t discovered logic yet, so they probably weren’t sophisticated enough to realize they were in some sense believing that human physical attraction is an independent, personal agent.
Or maybe some of them did. I’m sure Greeks fell along a spectrum of belief as mentioned by Alraune.
The philosophers were capable of distinguishing the literal and metaphorical existence of the gods.
The mystery religions represent an intermediate form….they were too demanding to allow casual subscription to more than one.
Maybe because declaring belief in something most contemporaries would regard as ridiculous is a sacrifice of status. That is, declaration of weird beliefs is a form of costly signaling.
The Anglo-Saxons did not replace the Celts in England by outbreeding them. Genetic analysis of the English people shows that they mostly descend from Celts. The Anglo-Saxon culture replaced the Celtic culture in England.
For a true case of outbreeding I can think of the European colonization of the Americas. Sure, there was also warfare with the Native Americans, but it seems the main factor was that the European colonists had a much greater fertility rate. If I recall correctly, in certain parts of Canada, colonist fertility rates peaked at something like 10 children per woman.
There are also many examples of the conqueror culture becoming the subjugated culture, the reverse of the England scenario. Those which I know offhand are the Normans in Normandy becoming French-like (that’s why English has so many loanwords from French, via their later subjugation of England), the Bulgar nomads who conquered Bulgaria interbreeding with the locals and over time becoming hard to distinguish from non-subjugated South Slavs, and the Chinese (several times) being conquered by steppe nomads who then proceeded to adopt the Chinese ways and tongue.
“Going native” as the English put it.
The English and French settlers received unofficial help from the Spanish introducing European diseases into the New World over a century before the English and French attempts at colonization began in earnest. European diseases like small pox devastated the Native Americans of the New World long before the English landed in Virginia and New England. They were dealing with an already collapsed population.
“They were dealing with an already collapsed population.”
Ehhhhhhh……….I mean, yes. But also, it’d been several hundred years by the time the english settlers were seriously pushing inland. The British were in this way the best friend the Indians had.
To be honest- I think that there is some very weird inflation of pre-columbian numbers of natives. The arguments I’ve heard say that there were 100 milllion natives in the Americas, the vast majority in South America. (estimates at the high end of North America populations say 18 million, so at least 80 million in South America, per the 100 Million figure.)
And I find that STUNNINGLY unrealistic. The population of Europe in 1800, after quite a few advances and a lot of expansion and growth, was only 150 million. The population of South America wouldn’t reach 80 million until sometime inbetween 1900 (population 38 million) and 1950 (111 million)
To pretend that people without significant tech. could manage that sort of population density without the benefit of things like- steel, large draft animals, modern agriculture (Three sisters is great for growing a wee garden plot. If you’re gonna feed 80 million, you need some monoculture, baby.) and all the other shit that Europeans brought in- and even with that, it took almost 400 years to get back to those numbers?
I doubt it. I think the low end numbers are much more likely to be accurate. 1.8 million sounds much more likely than 18 million for a population of largely hunter gatherer tribes occasionally practicing small scale agriculture with stone knives and sticks.
I’ve never known what to think of the widely varying pre-Columbian population estimates. I will say that the contemporaneous accounts of Mexican civilization by Cortez’s group suggested a very high level of agriculture and markets, before disease, civil war, and conquest took their toll. But that may have been a very local and temporary phenomenon.
Where are you getting that the existing population of the Americas were hunter-gatherer?
Hell, the Thanksgiving story tells you they were farmers on the East coast, the Aztects were intensive farmers built around the sweet potato, etc.
The natives who survive either were or became hunter-gatherers. But that doesn’t tell you what the population in 1492 looked like. They domesticated corn, which should tell you something about how long they were working on the agricultural project.
A counter-example might be the English colonizing India, whose natives had an advanced civilization of their own, along with a much higher birthrate. It was the English who were more likely to catch disease from the natives. (Especially if they drank the water.)
Isn’t that largely why, in regards to India, the English used an approach of “send a few soldiers and rule the natives” rather than “send your families over here to set up shop and eventually outbreed them” like they did in North America?
I doubt that’s why; America was vast expanses of land waiting to be settled, in the European mind, and India was an exotic civilization waiting for trade and possible conquest.
Sending settlers into foreign cultures to create little enclaves of your society is, I think (correct me if I’m wrong in the main) a fairly new thing reliant on having a powerful home culture (or international order) to prevent the destruction of the enclaves by force.
Well in the case of SOME English colonization in North America (the Puritans), it wasn’t so much “England is sending their sons forth to spread English culture” so much as it was “a faction that doesn’t much care for English culture is looking for somewhere to go where they can do their own thing.”
But, as far as I know, no such factions ever attempted to settle in India. Maybe I’m wrong and they DID try and they just didn’t make it and that’s why we never hear about it today?
“At a constant growth rate, it’ll be only another four hundred years or so before America is an Amish-majority nation.”
The current population of Old Order Amish is about 290,000. Doubling time is a bit over twenty years–to be conservative, call it four doublings per century. If the rest of the population stays roughly constant, it will take only a little over 250 years for the Amish to become a majority.
That’s only compatible with a low or medium population model though, which implicitly assumes the Amish stop growing at that rate. It takes another 50 years in the “high” case.
Over the past century, the non-Amish American population has tripled. I was assuming (naively, but then, this whole exercise is naive) that it would continue to triple once per century, making the Amish take another 150 years to outpace the vastly expanded non-Amish peopulation.
In the Grim Darkness of the United States’ relatively near future, there are only Amish, Tradcath Mexicans, and Quiverfullers!
That’s cheating because most of the growth of the remaining population is caused by other outcompeting groups, or at least will be in the future (even if it wasn’t in all of the past century). If Amish still aren’t a majority in 200 years because the remaining population is mostly Mexicans and the Mexicans can somewhat keep up with the Amish, everyone else has still been outcompeted.
How long is it before “Amish + Mexicans” outcompetes everyone else? Or “Amish + Mexicans + Mormons”? I’d expect that it would happen long before the Amish grow so much that they’ve outcompeted the Mexicans and Mormons too.
The Amish can’t grow like that. This is getting silly. Have any of you ever met an Amish person? My ex had a somewhat crazy dad who ran an off-the-grid vegetable oil-powered farm in Lancaster County that was the only non-Amish farm in the region, so all the neighbors were Amish, and I got to spend some time with them. They didn’t know what Italian food was. They’d never seen a movie. It was like strolling into The Village. It’s simple to maintain that growth rate when you’re on isolated farms in the middle of nowhere. Get big enough and you can only pack so many kids into horse-plowed farmland. As soon as they’re forced into the cities, suddenly their memes have to compete with every other idea out there in the world they don’t currently allow themselves to be exposed to, and there’s no way in hell any sizable portion of them remain Amish. Some will, sure, but they sure as shit aren’t overtaking the rest of the country, especially not on no-tech manually tilled organic crops.
Are you familiar with the concept of “Rumspringa”?
It’s a pretty deliberate attempt to avoid this- you purposely kick your kids out into the world at about age 18.
From what i understand, the vast majority of them return.
As for their having not heard of various things- I grew up in rural PA, where the grocery stores have buggy spaces. They for damn sure know about Italian food-they drive past it every day. I don’t recall if they ate it, but I don’t see why not. They certainly know about cheeseburgers:
Seriously, I don’t know if you encountered Amish rednecks or what.
Of course they’ve never seen a movie. That’s like gasping in shock because an Orthodox Jew never ate bacon.
I used to play with Amish kids in the thrift stores all the time. It’s not like they scurry away in terror when they see an auslander. They run businesses selling (excellent) food to the English. They sometimes have Orthodox Jew style arrangements to be driven places. They even have outside friends.
Also, it’s not either “Amish” or “English” There are other groups, like Mennonites, who have more acceptance to some tech, but still maintain a lot of Amish-esque culture- they’ve been around for around the same amount of time, as well.
Get big enough and you can only pack so many kids into horse-plowed farmland.
Amish farms financially out-produce conventional farms of like size and type, generally because of lower inputs and a reluctance to borrow. (Also they treat 40-hour work weeks like the joke they are.) Also, the reliance on manual labor allows for more workers per acre, so the farmland sucks up more bodies.
The capper is probably the low consumption of material goods, but there’s more to it than that.
It might be good to consider other similar cultural groups, such as the Hutterite as well.
As soon as they’re forced into the cities, suddenly their memes have to compete with every other idea out there in the world they don’t currently allow themselves to be exposed to, and there’s no way in hell any sizable portion of them remain Amish.
…I think that “urbanize” and “move into the cities” is not the same thing, and that the steps from ‘farm life’ to ‘small town life’ are not so large as you might think.
Also, city dwellers have, in my experience, also permitted themselves to hold to rather severe limits on the sorts of ideas they expose themselves to.
You’re just now noticing the silly? I think you’re significantly underestimating our carrying capacity for Amish communities though, America could easily end up 5% Amish. We have a population density of nothing outside the cities.
Okay, screw it, never mind. This isn’t a meaningful part of a discussion about the acceptability of gay marriage. I concede. There will be 300 million Amish in another century.
Maybe. It’s not like the idea bothers me. They all seemed like decent enough people. A world full of Amish would probably not be a bad world.
This isn’t a meaningful part of a discussion about the acceptability of gay marriage.
I think it’s very relevant – it’s about the conservation of values across generations despite outside cultural influences.
A world full of Amish would probably not be a bad world.
A world of only Amish would be bad. A world of various communities who all held to their own standards, declined to war with or sue people who didn’t agree with them, and permitted those who could not agree to those standards to leave…that would be pretty good. Certainly the Amish are healthier than the average citizen of their countries.
I disagree. A world full of Amish would be a horrible world. It may be good in the sense that the Amish would not be beating up the non-Amish, but actually being an Amish is pretty bad all by itself. Work a lot, limit your exposure to foreign ideas (and pretty much any sort of rational or intellectual pursuits), limit your culture, and quash dissent, and make sure your children are not prepared to live in any other kind of society.
Amish basically live horrible lives but wireheaded themselves into liking horrible lives. It’s no better than solving poverty by spreading a religion that teaches that poverty is good, so that everyone will be happy with being poor.
(In addition, I’m skeptical that in a world full of Amish, the Amish won’t be doing bad things to rule the non-Amish. Once there are enough Amish that they can seriously influence governments if they tried, they will do so and will interpret their religion to justify doing so, regardless of whether the current Amish interpret their religion differently.)
Can you expand upon this? Tell me what the rapid growth of the Amish tells us about whether or not homosexuality is morally acceptable? I’m obviously skeptical and figure you’re going to make one hell of a leap in logic to get there, but go ahead and feel free to wow me.
I find it interesting that people have such different reactions to the notion of an Amish world. AFAICT the Amish have it pretty idyllic: they have plenty of leisure, low conflict, high life expectancy, and high levels of reported life satisfaction.
Claiming that this is “wireheading” is a bizarre exception to the usual dominant utilitarianism here. Evidently the failure to adopt modernism is deontologically bad, the happiness of the people involved be damned.
I object to utilitarianism partly because of wireheading as well.
I agree that a strict utilitarian might not have much reason to reject the Amish. That would apply to a hypothetical pro-poverty religion as much as it would to the Amish; and to me it indicates a flaw in utilitarianism.
I’m more of a virtue ethicist myself, but the Amish have plenty of virtue, and inculcate it well into their children. This is exactly what a culture is supposed to do.
What exactly are your ethical constraints that you find the Amish so repulsive?
Consider that although we’ve been using the Amish as a comparison to anti-homosexual memes, you don’t actually need a comparison for it to be relevant. The Amish themselves don’t like homosexuality; if you believe the Amish are a good society, you must believe that suppressing homosexuality makes for a good society.
On a more general level, the Amish lack many options available to people in our society (of which homosexuality is one).
On a more general level in a different way, the Amish are not nice towards cultural minorities among themselves. And I don’t care how much the average Amish is happy if that happens at the cost of suppressing minorities. Which includes not just gay people, but pretty much anyone who posts here, because just the kind of questioning you are doing here is itself forbidden to Amish.
A couple of years ago I toured the Amish stronghold in central Ohio, the drove for a couple of days straight to Grand Junction, Colorado near the Utah border. The first thing I see when I park the car in the Great Basin is a big family of Amish.
This is what a sacred value looks like.
The Amish are Anabaptists who live in America. Since they live in America, they have trivial exit to the rest of America. Since they’re Anabaptists, they’re not even members of the church until adulthood, and about ten percent of their children end up leaving. The most severe punishment for unrepentant violation of the Ordnung is exit, and there’s a continuum of Ordnung strictness from Old Order Amish to Mennonites, so someone excommunicated from one sect can join another, less strict one — it’s not as if they’re forced to move to the Castro.
I don’t know what it is about the Amish that so disgusts you — the absence of Brahmin values? the existence of a cohesive community with shared values? — but this is just ridiculous.
I think that, to the extent that the Amish are happy, they are definitely wireheading, to a degree. One way to define wireheading is as a deliberate tradeoff: you sacrifice the variety of actions you could possibly take, in exchange for the utility of the remaining actions. In case of the classical wireheading, you reduce the number of actions to exactly one (“keep experiencing total pleasure”), in exchange for maximum utility. The Amish make a less drastic tradeoff: they will never fly through the air or converse over the Internet, but they are (arguably) happier with what they’ve got.
I admit that while I personally am repelled by wireheading, I can’t make a logical case against it. That is, if someone offered me eternal brain-stimulated bliss right now, I’d probably refuse, but I do not believe that doing so would be rational — because I’ve never seen a convincing argument against doing so.
Opposition to wireheading is logical once you accept that pleasure is not valuable in itself.
>I think that, to the extent that the Amish are happy, they are definitely wireheading, to a degree. One way to define wireheading is as a deliberate tradeoff: you sacrifice the variety of actions you could possibly take, in exchange for the utility of the remaining actions.
By this definition, almost everyone is wireheading to a degree.
No, it’s what it looks like when you don’t accept average or total utilitarianism. You seem to be suggesting that since Amish are happy overall, that is good, which doesn’t follow even under utilitarianism unless you have specific ideas about how to aggregate utility. If you don’t believe in average or total utilitarianism, the loss to the minorities can outweigh the fact that the average Amish is happy.
And even that implies wanting to maximize happiness, which I don’t accept either.
Human beings are social animals. Cutting people off from all their social ties is a really severe punishment. Moreover, people who have been raised Amish have been raised to be dependent on Amish society and will function poorly when ejected to the outside, compared to someone who grew up there.
First off, you seem very certain in your assessment of the Amish and their culture- may I ask what your source for this impression is?
Second- you seem to be confusing the Amish attitudes with, say, fundamentalist evanglical sects from the American South.
Third, you really, really REALLLLLY overestimate how alienated the Amish are. They don’t do things, that doesn’t mean they don’t know how they work, or don’t encounter them-
again, they’re more like orthodox jews than anything else. They have very strong strictures within their community, but that doesn’t mean that don’t know about bacon double cheeseburgers.
Here’s a good initial look at the diversity within the AMISH, let alone various related and similar sects.
To be honest, the intensity and negativity of your comments indicates a more defensive position than a rational one.
It’s not surprising the Amish are happy-do I have to cite one of ten billion studies saying over exposure to tech, under exposure to sunlight and nature, lack of exercise and healthy food are making modern humans deeply unhappy? Or that most people serious lack in any sense of community or belonging? Or that most people feel disconnected from their work, and long to build, make and create? Or that deeply spiritual people are more content?
The Amish literally hit every single factor modern science can identify as creating happy, healthy people.
From reading accounts of gay amish people, it appears that few of them were kicked out- certainly none of the violence sadly associated with gay kids in other sects. Most of them chose to leave, presumably because it’s not a super great place for a gay person to live.
Meanwhile, the other 96.5% of them (although I’d doubt that homosexuality runs even that highly among them-different environments) are happy, healthy, hardworking, loving, peaceful (so peaceful that when a mass shooter killed a bunch of their kids, they went to his funeral and comforted his widow) people who do nothing all day but work in the field, make delicious food, pray, and love their families.
The worst outbreak of violence was a breakaway radical sect…..that cut off the beard and hair of people they didn’t like. Not great, but still, I’ll take the roving gangs of beard trimmers over any other gang I can think of.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- utilitarianism suggests that the best way to use utilitarianism is to be effective and useful, not to blindly follow it’s radical precents. The utilitarian response to a utility monster is to go “well, that’s a silly fucking thing”.
People who get to into utilitarianism just end up as deontological.
Half of the statements you’ve strung together to describe the Amish are applause lights, unless you actually believe that being hardworking is a good terminal goal, or you think it would be a substantial criticism of the Amish that their food is not delicious.
And as for being alienated, I think you misunderstand my criticism. There’s a difference between knowing what specific aspects of society are and actually being able to function in society. An Amish ejected from Amish society would have a limited education by our standards and be fit for a limited number of jobs, and would not know how to do many of the basic things we do in our society. He would also be completely cut off from his friends and family.
Very well then- they display a number of traits which are, universally and across a wide variety ofcultures, considered extremely desirable, and indication of people who demonstrate (as do the Amish) a number of extreme desirable moral traits.
And again- your evidence?
Rumspringa may or may not be a universal habit among all the amish- but it’s happened quite often. I’ve seen no indications in reading about that these young people are incapable of functioning in the wider world- again- they don’t think magical demons live in phones. They know what phones, and electricity, and medicine are. They, like everyone else, pass basic high school examinations.
What evidence do you have that their cultural habits produce negative results and/or social incapacities among their children?
Many of their children return, yes. Many find the outside world loud, degenerate, and immensely shallow.
Thinking that about the world isn’t really an indication of stupidity or lack of perspicasity.
In other words, you have a highly moral, capable, skilled, peaceful people who do no harm to anyone, except occasionally their gay kids leave.
That is precisely and entirely what you have against them, correct or incorrect?
You’re confusing knowing about and knowing how. An ex-Amish wouldn’t think a phone is run by demons, but he might have to learn how to use one and it may take some time for him to internalize things like phoning a store to ask for their holiday hours. Learning to use a phone is pretty easy, and holiday hours are pretty unimportant, so this would be a trivial problem all by itself–but the Amish person would face so many such trivial problems that they are cumulatively no longer trivial.
And you can’t discount the effect of not going to college and having no friends or family. Life is harder without those.
As for traits universally considered desirable, that’s just an appeal to tradition; of course the Amish will score highly on that. And I’m pretty sure that “universally” desirable traits aren’t so. It’s not as if I’m the only person in the world who thinks that being hardworking isn’t a good terminal goal. They’re also prone to definitions that slip (I would not consider Amish to be loving towardsd the people that they excommunicate) or are subjective (maybe I don’t think Amish food is delicious).
I think shunning (as well as ejecting gays) is not moral, that Amish are not “skilled” or “capable” just because they are skilled at Amish things, and that being peaceful is not a sufficient condition for being good guys. And saying that their gay kids “leave” glosses over the fact that they leave because the Amish makes it intolerable for them to stay. So no.
If you think Hutterites / Amish don’t know how to get by in the ‘English’ world that just means that you don’t know any. Spend some time in Pennsylvania or upstate New York and you’ll see them taking Greyhound buses, grocery shopping (God knows why… ), even going to freaking Six Flags. They are actually quite capable and have the good sense to ask for help when they’re confused.
The thing is, these guys are the poster children for Scott’s Archepelago idea. They don’t try to force their beliefs on or harm anyone outside of their group, and engage in trade and communication with them. They educate their children on the outside world, often including a lengthy period of living in it, and allow them to leave whenever they choose and for as long as they choose. Every adult explicitly chooses to follow the rules, which are spelled out in detail, and the worst punishment they give to adults who break them is asking them to please leave.
What could they possibly do, short of complete assimilation into modern society, that would satisfy you?
Scott, that’s double-counting. The general population grew 3x, but the Amish grew 60x. The 20x growth rate is from dividing 60 by 3. You then divided by 3 again. At 20x relative growth-rate it takes 250 years to overtake.
I think there may be some hindsight bias in how you are defining ‘small and moderately beneficial’. At its origin and for centuries afterward, agriculture provided only small and moderate benefits to its practitioners. In fact, it was adopted and abandoned repeatedly in various regions. Even today, modern foragers live alongside agriculturalists without desiring to adopt their lifeway: the Bantu and Hadza have been exchanging metals and spouses for centuries, as Hadza territory shrinks to the margins. Anthropologists joke that it took 10,000 years for agriculture to become worth it, and the jury is still out in some parts of the world. A small fitness differential today could ride the logistic curve to dominance in the near future (in archaeological timescales).
Deeper in prehistory, cultural advantages have been proposed as contributing to the replacement of Neanderthals by anatomically modern humans. The peculiarly human ethic of protecting their reproductive capital, women, from especially dangerous activities via the division of labor may have allowed humans a differential reproductive advantage (the support for this as-yet-unproven claim comes from osteological analyses of injury and activity patterns in the two hominins).
What we call behavioural modernity today, for instance, may have initially seemed like a trivial innovation in prehistory(‘ooo, they have fish hooks and cave art’). But it is possible that may other cultures of similarly cognitively sophisticated humans whose sophistication took other forms were outcompeted because they had the wrong taboos.
I also do not understand the grounds on which religion is excluded here? Various mystery cults in the past have given their practitioners sizeable material advantages, if only through solidifying exchange and mutual-assistance networks, and many of their ideas persists in various forms today. Zoroastrianism and the Mithras cult come to mind here.
The peculiarly human ethic of protecting their reproductive capital, women, from especially dangerous activities via the division of labor may have allowed humans a differential reproductive advantage (the support for this as-yet-unproven claim comes from osteological analyses of injury and activity patterns in the two hominins).
But keeping young children in safe areas would involve their mothers staying in the safe area with them (at least the lactating mothers). Keeping their young safe in nest or cave or arms is a trait of all K-reproductive species. So, what do the marks on the bones of the two hominins’ children (and their grandparents) show? And what can we speculate from that?
ETA. Clarified my question, now to partially answer it. 😉 Danger-area damage on very young child bones could tell which of the two hominins protected their children better, and for how long. Difference in the injuries of grandmothers and grandfathers could indicate whether/when the women left the safe area after their mother-phase. Of those who left, bones (and other evidence) might tell us what they did after maternity leave, and whether they caught up with the males at various dangerous tasks (hello Larry Summers).
” There does seem to be the potential for cultural evolution to be interesting, but I’m still not seeing it as a strong argument for preserving particular features of inherited culture absent other arguments suggesting we know why we want those things to be preserved.”
Chestertons fence type arguments require a blindspot about whether what was adapted to Then is still adapted to Now.
Chesterton’s Fence is not “We don’t know what we’re doing but we’re going to keep doing it”, it’s “There is or was a reason for doing things that way, and unless you can say you know what that reason was, and why the new way is better, don’t tear things down in the enthusiasm of Progress Is Always Better”.
You can see it bear such fruit in things as “Yay! Antibiotics!” and the mythos of the Silver Bullet that grew up about them, so that people starting demanding antibiotics for everything (not unreasonable, given that they’d been taught that antibiotics were a miracle cure) and now we’ve got “Oh crap, antibiotic resistant strains of disease-causing organisms” problem.
Antibiotics are indeed a miracle cure, but that doesn’t mean you hand them out willy-nilly for everything, and a bit of old-fashioned “I’m sorry, you’ll just have to take a cough bottle and drink plenty of fluids and suffer through this cold, yes, just like we’re still back in the 18th or 19th century” treatment is better than giving a patient an antibiotic that will do nothing for them but will shut them up because “the doctor gave me a prescription for tablets”.
If there is a reason for doing something, which is currently known, there is no need to appeal to the Fence, because you can just appeal to the reason. Therefore, appeals to the Fence do amount blindly to carrying on as before.
Note that your defence of the fence makes explicit two assumptions that have been challenged.
1. Everything, or most things, were adaptive.
2. Adaptations cannot go stale.
I don’t think this is quite right. The Fence is a request to show your work. It means that a reformer must meet a burden of proof in order to justify a reform, and the burden must be higher than merely “I don’t understand this thing.”
In Chesterton’s original formulation, once the reformer can show the purpose of the fence, he is free to remove it, the implication being that if the fence still has a useful purpose, then the reformer should abandon the idea of removal.
Or perhaps take a different approach, such as making a gate in it which could be opened by adult humans only. This would satisfy neither of the extreme factions, but would sell well to the adult human majority.
You’d still need to find out what the fence was supposed to keep where, to know how to design the gate, though. So the “Don’t touch it!” faction should do their homework too.
I know that it states that of proof is on the reformer.
The question is why.
I seem to have confused same people by criticising a stronger version of Chestertons Fence than the one Chesterton gave. I was assuming that the burden of proof, if it is on the reformer, is on the reformer for a reason or reasons, and I was guessing, or charitably interpreting, that the best candidates for such reasons would be the two proposals about adaptiveness that I mentioned. And so criticised those adaptiveness assumptions.
If you have another justification for the fence in mind, by all means give it….but note that some justification needs to be given.
“The question is why.”
Humans thrive in stability, wherein they can anicipate the future and make plans accordingly. Giving social engineers free license to experiment on the broader culture disrupts this.
Relatedly, changes to cultural norms, like any other kind of action, have unforeseen consequences and the benefits are often swallowed by these if they even occur. Thus it behooves those instituting or even advocating for novel changes to attempt to anticipate this as much as possible.
People may have ulterior motives for the changes to norms which they advocate and it will help to assauge suspicion of this and advance their cause as reformers if they can demonstrate that they can understand the ramifications of their change.
Also, as alluded to below, some changes are near to irrevocable.
I think big “lack” in the Chesterton’s Fence argument applied to this problem area is that the CF is clearly designed for a very specific purpose. You may not know it, but it is easy to know that whoever put it up had a relatively concrete list of reasons. It certainly wasn’t the product of a multitude of decisions taking place over centuries building a new tradition on the ashes of an older one over and over.
The proper CF analogue is something like trying to replace the decorative finials on the top of a fence the with new ones that are larger and more decorative and someone coming along and saying “tell me why these are smaller and grayer and I may let you remove them.”
By many objective measures, humans are doing better … more populous, living longer and having more options. Yes, change is difficult for some, but is being driven by societies where everyone has a say.
@HeelBearCub, assuming we are still talking about this in the context of marriage, isn’t the specific purpose of “traditional marriage” blindingly obvious?
At the most basic level human children and pregnant women are not self sufficient.
As such, a man is obligated to protect and provide for the mother and any child he fathers.
Likewise, Women are obligated to be monogamous so that men can have some assurance that any children he gets stuck raising are actually his.
Societies then developed various taboos, traditions, and institutions to ensure that the above obligations were met. AKA “Marriage”
The point is that the person wanting to tear down the fence assumes “this is just standing here doing nothing”. The counter-argument to that is “this didn’t just pop up out of nowhere; someone had a reason for putting this here”.
Neither of you may know what the reason was, but unless you can show it was a bad reason, or that the need it was intended to meet no longer exists, you should be wary of tearing it down.
It’s like knocking down a load-bearing wall in a house; it’s too late afterwards, when everything collapses on top of your head, to say “But I didn’t know it was load-bearing, there was no big label saying “Don’t knock this down” on it!”
I don’t know how to identify a load-bearing wall, which means if I start home improvement work, it’s better for me not to blithely say “Well, this piece of concrete is in my way and I don’t see what good it’s doing, so down it comes!”
There doesn’t have to be a reason in the sense of a current purpose. Houses can be built with walls that were never load bearing, .or whose function has been superseded. A lot of things happen without reason, qua purpose, even if they don’t happen without reason qua cause.
The CF argument basically blocks off its opponents form saying that anything is has random, qua no purpose, origins.
“The CF argument basically blocks off its opponents form saying that anything is has random, qua no purpose, origins.”
The point of the parable is that somebody who rolls in and says that things “just growed, I guess” probably is either ignorant or trying to pull a fast one on you.
I am in the military–a bureaucracy. One of the principles I use to navigate bureaucratic obstacles is “People do things for reasons.” Those reasons might be self-serving, stupid, evil, or crazy, but the reasons always exist. If you can figure out what the reasons for someone implementing a stupid policy are, you have a much better chance of getting an exception or talking them out of it. Sometimes, you discover that the reasons they’re backing a policy are ones you can’t displace (e.g., it’s to cover their own ass), and you’re better off finding another way around.
If you make the mistake of assuming that there are literally no reasons, you’ll be spending even more of your time bashing your head against a wall.
Actually, by his own standards, we’ve neatly covered Chesterton’s gate.
It’s clear to us WHY homosexuality was banned: Disease, birthrate, the pre-modern view of familial obligations.
It’s also clear that these reasons have some actual use behind them.
But it appears that no longer holds true. Ergo, the people that set up this fence had a good reason to do so, that we understand, and we can agree is no longer valid.
The only one of those with real modern validity is disease, and I think the harm of repression outweighs the harm of disease.
Yeah, the problem with Chesterton’s Fence is that it creates an incentive to come up with explanations that involve technological limitations that no longer hold.
Is there a reason why Catholics refrain from meat on Friday’s rather than cheese on Thursdays? Cultural evolution suggests that there should be lots of random drift, that is neither strongly adaptive nor fatally maladaptive. CF says that adaptiveness is the default. Choose one.
Chesterton’s fence has nothing to do with the adaptiveness or lack thereof of a particular social institution. It even contemplates that the institution may be harmful and should be done away with. It is a caution that if you can’t identify a reason for something, you probably don’t understand what’s going on.
To use your example of Catholics abstaining from meat on Fridays, Chesterton’s Fence is simply saying that you need to make the effort to understand why it came about–i.e., look up the history and the documents produced to justify the abstinence, then you may decide that those were wrong to begin with or that the justification no longer holds. However, if all you know is that Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays and then say, “That’s stupid. They should stop doing that because I can’t imagine why anyone would do something like that,” you’re probably ignorant at best.
(NB: As a Lutheran, I don’t agree that there is any obligation in the Bible to abstain from meat on Fridays. But Catholics also recogize other sources of authority. Deisach is probably better positioned to talk about that.)
I guess there’s certain infrastructure that needs to exist for agriculture to really pay off. Not much point in growing crops if you have nowhere to store the harvest, and no way of protecting it from thieves. At the level of civilisation, agriculture pays off big time. Hard to have virtually anything without it. At the level of the individual, the payoffs are more dubious. Especially if you’re surrounded by people who don’t believe in the concept of private property.
I guess there’s certain infrastructure that needs to exist for agriculture to really pay off
The infrastructure necessary for agriculture to take off was already present in most of the areas where it was independently discovered. Sedentary ‘affluent’ hunter gatherers with pottery, permanent architecture including communal-use buildings, and other means of long-term food storage were found all over the prehistoric landscape. Most foragers were very familiar with plant life cycles and the idea of curating resources, and domestication of dogs had already occurred thousands of years before livestock domestication. Agriculture was not so much at technical innovation as a lifestyle innovation: the groups that adopted the new lifeway gained an advantage over there neighbours, and this advantage could have been fairly cryptic for centuries.
Also, the comparative reproductive advantage of the Amish mentioned jokingly above would be absolutely massive translated into biological evolutionary terms: a 20x reproductive advantage far outstrips any of the positively-selected loci in the human genome, and 400 years (~15 generations) is nothing in evolutionary time.
Most lineages leave no descendants. Even a small advantage can have massive consequences on the population scale. Most mutations are deleterious. If a behaviour or practice appears unusually stable, there should be a strong prior for treating it as at least neutral.
I don’t know how confident we can be when talking about lifestyles in the Neolithic. Yes, there were some buildings (Gobekli Tepe comes to mind)…but were they storehouses? Yes, early humans domesticated dogs…but were we clever enough to use them as guard dogs? There’s a lot of unknowns when looking this far back. Even if farms were viable back then, they wouldn’t necessarily have seemed more attractive than hunting or foraging.
I agree that the advantage might have been cryptic at first. In Greg Cochran’s book The 10,000 Year Explosion he suggests that early farmers might have been at a disadvantage, due to nutritional deficiencies in an all-grain diet. Hunter/gatherers don’t have to worry about scurvy, rickets, etc. Farmers do. Apparently average human height dropped by several inches in places that adopted agriculture, as documented in the skeleton record.
@ MawBTS Once you have pottery, you have food storage. Ethnographic work shows that modern foragers in temperate regions will prefer certain foods based on their preservation qualities; it is likely that resource caching was common before agriculture. Your point that this obviously was vastly scaled with agriculture and special-use buildings is important.
I think agriculture is very instructive precisely because it was neutral or possibly disadvantageous at first. One group practices a behaviour that is fun (hunting is still considered sport), the other practices one that gives them slightly better fertility despite lowering health status; the first group is pretty much wiped out – to the extent that we moderns see transformed agricultural landscapes as ‘natural beauty’ – in less time than it will take for the lactase persistence mutation to reach fixation in Europe.
Surely you can have food storage without pottery? In bladders and skins and wooden containers.
The newly-opened archaeology museum in Madrid has many wonderful artefacts, including a bit of the implausibly-preserved clay lining of a really very old large wicker storage-vessel – you can see the imprint of the twigs in the outside of the clay.
> However, despite dire predictions of all of us being crushed under the Amish’s quaint hand-made boots, people had trouble thinking of historical examples of something like this happening.
In the past, population growth rates were determined for everyone by available food and land, and by diseases. Most children died young, and women kept giving birth as long as they were fertile.
Only in the last 100 years or so have there been both medical advances greatly lowering childhood mortality, and cheap, effective and legal contraceptives and abortions. Hunger is also much less of a factor in the Western world. This has enabled for the first time in history a completely new type of population boom in groups that take advantage of the new medicine and food, but not of the contraceptives and abortifacts.
We shouldn’t judge the plausibility of this kind of scenario (e.g. Muslims outbreeding Christians) because it didn’t happen in the past (until the last 50-100 years).
What happens to the Amish population boom if, sometime within the next 100 years, we discover some sort of highly technological and ethically questionable (by strict fundamentalist christian standards at least) method of curing major diseases and dramatically extending the lifespan?
Will the Amish be able to compete with genetically engineered super-babies? Will it matter if they outbreed the rest of us 10:1, if “the rest of us” start producing children with genetically enhanced strength, intelligence, and total disease immunity? Or if, when our life is near an end, we can upload our brains to a computer and continue to exist in robot bodies?
I think it’s lucky coincidence that so far, technology has proceeded in a direction where the Amish are willing to use the health care but not the birth control. But advances in “health care” are quickly approaching a territory that the Amish will most certainly want nothing to do with.
Yeah, I expect Feynmanstan, the city-state composed of 100,000 clones of Richard Feynman, to be pretty successful.
Exponential growth is exponential. In the long run it beats a lower exponent, no matter what lifespan the lower exponent is associated with.
Now, if you’re saying that the enhanced humans will find it easy to wipe out the Amish, or coerce them to lower their exponent, that’s another matter.
Similarly, the enhanced humans might turn out to have a huge exponent if enhancement includes uploading, because they turn the world to computronium and reproduction is just a disk copy.
But if population A consistently out-reproduces population B 10:1, it will come to dominate. That’s just math.
Ants outbreed humans at least by 10:1, right?
And yet, they don’t seem to dominate the Earth. We seem to be able to impose our will on them just fine, and it hasn’t required us to “wipe them out” or to force them to breed less or anything like that.
Maybe the ants have us right where they want us. The aphids thought they had them handled too.
More seriously, ants and humans aren’t really in competition with each other. We almost certainly can’t wipe them off the earth, either, not and stay alive ourselves. I’m not sure this applies to the human-vs-human competitions.
Daniel’s response is the best one so far to Scott’s historical challenge. We shouldn’t really be looking for historical examples, because of the way modern technology has changed the rules of the game.
But subcultures like Goths seem like a very modern phenomenon, and I can’t think of ancient examples of, for example, a subculture that became popular and spread and became dominant/universal
When I posited subcultures as the basic unit of cultural evolution, I tried to include pre-20th-century examples. These turn out to be damnably hard to find, even via google. Either,
A: Forming subcultures is something the human race didn’t do for about six thousand years of recorded history and then suddenly started doing in a big way about a century ago. That would be surprising and interesting if true, and I’d like to understand why Or,
B: Subcultures aren’t interesting to the people who write history books, and don’t get highlighted in the historical record. Short of a prolonged research program that involves e.g. weeks looking through microfilmed newspaper archives, there’s no good way for us to tell how much of American Culture 1800 AD traces back to various highly successful North American subcultures on 1750 AD. And seventh-century Byzantium is probably a lost cause even for dedicated cultural historians.
Religions are the closest thing here, but they have lifespans measured in centuries and don’t seem to be a big improvement over waiting for the Fall of Rome.
Most religions are cults, and they have lifespans measured in decades. Achieving capital-R “Religion” status would seem to be an example of successful cultural evolution. I can think of a few spectacular examples…
Modern subcultures are defined mostly by consumption patterns, which requires access to a surplus of distinctive cultural goods (e.g. the Goths and Hot Topic, the chavs and Burberry). But pre-industrial subcultures are harder to identify by these means [I see Andy mentioned this upthread]. Ancient writers attest to numerous subcultures defined by belief and practice, and it is likely that cultic differentiation began once a certain degree of population density was reached.
And cults do not have to take over the world to be unusually successful: there are over 2 million Zoroastrians; their religion has persisted for millennia and they have outlasted most of their Indo-Iranian peer groups.
I think option B is the more likely one. When the scholars are writing the account of the grand sweep of progress as to why their nation is so successful, they’re concentrating on the elite and those with access to power, not interested in recording the quaint sayings of the yokels in their rustic dialects and their country traditions (the “kings and battles” idea of history).
We have a lot of stories about the boyhood of Alexander the Great, not so much about the boyhood of Random Spearcarrier in his great imperial army of conquest.
“Everyone already knows how peasants behave.”
“Who cares how peasants behave?”
“Everyone already knows how peasants behave.”
Wurzel-mangling, pheasant-plucking, and nasty things in woodsheds 🙂
Even if there were subcultures, I’m not sure how they would do cultural evolution. Even in the past fifty years, I don’t see examples of subcultures with radically different cultural norms that then spread throughout the population.
(unless you want to count, say, Lenin and his band of Commie intellectuals as a subculture, but this seems an example of conquest/debate, and not an example of Lenin and his friends living such a vastly better life that everyone wants to be like them)
Even in the past fifty years, I don’t see examples of subcultures with radically different cultural norms that then spread throughout the population.
Planned Parenthood? Started out, with Margaret Sanger, reviled as a blot on human decency; books banned, illegal to order and send birth control devices through the post, etc.
Nowadays so venerated a part of the cultural landscape that saying they’re going to pull out of a partnership with PP engendered a massive amount of vitriol and backlash against the Susan Komen Foundation, traces of which I’m seeing even to this day on Tumblr (a post urging everyone not to donate to the Komen charity because they were skeevy for various reasons which I didn’t bother reading).
The idea of contraception, even when confined to married people with families, was nearly unthinkable. Abortion was a horrific mockery of the medical art. Pace Roe vs Wade and the rest of the changes, one of the worst insults someone can now spit at you is “anti-choicer”.
Even in the past fifty years, I don’t see examples of subcultures with radically different cultural norms that then spread throughout the population.
Geeks aren’t a subculture in your book? Weren’t a subculture thirty or forty or fifty years ago?
Or is it that you think Geek cultural norms weren’t radically different than those of mainstream American society thirty or forty or fifty years ago?
Or do you not see Geek cultural norms as having spread throughout the population?
And we could substitute another rather obvious G- subculture there, but debating the nature and magnitude of that bunch’s influence on mainstream American culture is going to derail the thread right quick. So let’s leave that one for the previous thread and talk about the Geeks here.
Within the past half-century, geeks were a minority subculture, generally mocked and shunned by the cultural mainstream. And they had very distinctive cultural norms. They found comic-book superheroes to be entertaining, which no non-geek would do past the age of maybe twelve. They played computer games, ditto. As adults, they went to conventions based on pop-culture entertainment. They pursued STEM careers even when they had the intellectual chops and the connections to make it as doctors, lawyers, or businessmen. They invented the internet, and started using it for nonprofessional, nonacademic purposes. They invented the tools for online social interaction, and put them to enthusiastic use. Only a total nerd loser couldn’t make enough friends in real life that they’d have to hang out with other nerd losers on a computer.
Now, there are multiple top-ten blockbuster movies based on comic-book characters every year. I’m not going to go through the rest of the examples, but it is pretty clear that Geekish cultural norms have spread most impressively throughout the population. One might argue that this is more clumsy appropriation than Geek cultural conquest, but either one would be an example of cultural evolution in action.
Geeks. The Other Gs. Hippies and/or Beatniks. Heck, even Jews. I don’t find it the least bit difficult to find examples of subcultures which have managed to push at least some of their formerly-fringe norms into the mainstream in the past fifty years. As I noted, I do have trouble finding examples more than a hundred years back, but that may be due to selection bias in my sources.
While I don’t dispute your larger point – I think superhero movies are a very poor example of this. They’re mostly the exact same as every other action movie, just with different costumes.
Take an English-speaking alien with zero cultural context, have them watch the latest Batman and the latest James Bond, and I doubt they’d see much difference…
The movie studios just found themselves a brilliant compromise. They can make movies that have all the explosions, car chases, and sex appeal that the masses love, but they can substitute Bruce Willis with Hugh Jackman and the nerds will all come see it too because they feel a compulsion to support anything that originated in a comic. It’s a win-win.
That’s part of what I meant by “clumsy appropriation”. But the bottom line is, back in the days of Adam West and Sean Connery, the idea of a grown man dressing up in a costume to beat up common criminals and the occasional costumed mastermind bent on world domination was generally considered to be silly and childish, while a Cold War secret agent in formal attire gunning down KGB agents and the occasional formally-attired criminal mastermind, etc, was serious and dramatic business. Now both versions are considered equally serious and dramatic.
That is a clear case of Geek culture spreading throughout the mainstream. I’d be tempted to call it a small example, but a billion or so dollars of annual revenue argues otherwise. And it is just one of many such small-ish examples, along with a few bigger ones.
Fair enough. I’m not old enough to remember those days, but I have seen a few Adam West Batman episodes, and the campy nature of them (as opposed to more serious action movies that existed) definitely suggests your logic is sound.
“But the bottom line is, back in the days of Adam West and Sean Connery”
That seems like way too specific an example. What about the classic Superman series of 10 years earlier? What about the cowboy and sci-if serials (Flash Gordon, anyone?) of the 30s and 40s?
Hell, how about Sherlock Holmes, who regularly ran around in silly outfits (disguises, but still).
It seems to me that the silly costume is really just an adaptation of putting the hero in a costume that marks them as special or different. Perhaps starting with the costume of a soldier.
Odysseus looks a lot like a batman character: fancy tech and better than most human strength and smarts.
Many of those were aimed at the twelve-and-under set. And most of them weren’t comic-book superheroes. Culture is allowed to be arbitrary about that things.
Superhero comics, specifically, were aimed at a relatively broad audience in the 1930s – what comics fans now call the “Golden Age”. World War II changed that. Changed a whole lot in the cultural realm, but comic-book superheroes specifically were relegated to the “kid’s stuff” category by the time the recent ex-kids came back from the war. Only Batman and Superman survived from that era with any sort of general respectability, and Batman had to be neutered to a kid-friendly state.
In the 1960s, the comic-fan’s “Silver Age”, superhero comic books started to be written for and enjoyed by a mix of A: kids under 12 and B: geeks and nerds. And that was the rule for about forty years. Superheroes are for small children and loser nerds, but we would occasionally dust off Batman or Superman as classic homages to Americana of olden times, so long as we didn’t take them too seriously.
Then, with Burton and Keaton in 1989, we start getting serious, non-campy theatrical movies about comic-book superheroes not named Superman about once a year or so. The geeks took superhero comics back from the children, and a generation later Hollywood “culturally appropriated” superhero comics from the geeks.
Regarding point #1 I was just reading about how Cortes conquered an aggressive, organized million plus people empire with just around 2000 of his not very willing subordinates.
Aztecs seemed were very much in post feudal stage of culture development . Spain(and europe) passed that a few hundreds years ago and sent their hungry for money and power men abroad to “feed for themselves” . Guess what? – they ate the aboriginals alive.
Similar things happened in India, Africa, Australia ( albeit not quite as dramatic as Cortes story).
What made these men superior to aboriginals? You can’t say guns and steel – when the odds are 2000/million a 17th century arkebuse not gonna save ya.
Cortes was a master manipulator. And “Prince” was written in Europe – a breeding and testing ground for all kind of manipulations in addition to armed conflicts
Cortes was aided with something like 100k native troops. Remember: the Aztec empire was relatively new when the Spanish came. The various vassal states had just replenished their manpower and were hankering for a rematch of the flower wars. They were apparently betting that they could deal with the Spanish after they have dealt with the Aztec tyrants, but the course of history did not accommodate that bet.
Rematch? The flower wars were ongoing. The altars had to be fed, and except for the worship of Tlatoc — there the babies were taken from their own population — all the sacrifices were prisoners.
Indeed, one of the great mysteries of Aztec civilization is how they got so many prisoners to cooperate in their own deaths. Drugs, besides the very mildest, are impossible because the victims often had to perform quite complicated parts in the rites.
A very rough approximation of the arguments cultural evolution seems to be used for is: “We should study how cultural memes have evolved in the past as a guide for what memes should dominate in the present.”
My questions for proponents of this argument (if it’s not too much of a strawman) is, why should the present not be seen as just another point along the process of cultural change? That is, why should the changes we see in our cultures at the moment need to be justified by changes in the past?
To give a strong analogy, imagine you were alive at some monumental point in history. How would the societal changes happening then appear through the lens of cultural evolution?
(I am genuinely interested in these questions, being more of a science guy than a history guy.)
We might begin by hewing even more strictly to the biological evolution model: image cultural trait space as a fitness landscape or a 3D allele frequency distribution where the 3rd axis is time, and test different traits (alleles) for unusually high frequency given their date of origin excessive homozygosity, unexpected linkage patterns with other traits, etc. I think we vastly underestimate how many cultural sites are essentially ‘fixed’, but there are not that many segregating sites in the human genome, either.
A. It should be seen precisely that way.
B. Wait, wait, back up. Step zero in seeing things that way is to invariably assume you are not standing at the monumental junction of history, if such junctions even exist on historical timescales. Even Jesus, Genghis Khan and Muhammed were probably just particularly bright sparks hitting very dry tinder, ultimately fungible with other persons and events that would have happened even if they specifically had died as children or whatever.
They needn’t be. I don’t see how the question follows from the first.
Cultural evolution is a useful paradigm on the personal level because it offers a worldview for analyzing social changes that weights you against both 1985ism and haring off after any of the madmen who run by each hour, on the hour, screeching “ESCHATON! ESCHATON! ESCHATON!” And cultural evolution is useful as a scholastic paradigm because it emphasizes culture as an adaptive practice, and promotes multicultural historical and anthropological study, but with the emphasis on locating similarities which may be important and prescriptively useful, rather than the more fashionable aiming of multicultural studies towards the deconstruction of all past cultures into random jumbles of aesthetic preferences with a few, always-definitely-obsolete material constraints thrown on.
I can’t think of ancient examples of, for example, a subculture that became popular and spread and became dominant/universal.
Depending on whether or not you consider 200-300 years “ancient”, what about the Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Democracy mob? The French came up with a popular version (so popular it was mass-adopted and ran a bit out of control), the Americans did a re-make of the original French
movierevolution, even in Ireland we had (yet another) failed uprising in the Year of the French.
Out of that arose all the startling new ideas such as that the common man should have a vote, and what we nowadays see as the world-building attempt by the U.S.A. to export democracy (often, ironically, at the point of the sword) to nations/areas that don’t have it.
You have the timing of the American and French revolutions swapped.
Yes- we very much inspired the French…..much to the horror of Francophiles like Jefferson, and Paine (who ended up in a French jail for insufficient revolutionary fervor).
oh, and it also inspired the SECOND free nation in this hemisphere- haiti. That one…that one didn’t end well either.
I’ve often thought the reason that Americans are all “Yeah, have some democracy! Right in the FACE!” is because we’ve got the only revolution in history that ended with things better off and everyone more or less not committing mass murder of their political opponents. And we don’t realize this is far out on the weird part of the bell curve.
Also, didn’t y’all have another one a few years later- I wanna say that 98 was Wolfe Tone and his crew, and….1803 was Robert Emmet?
You’ll never beat the Irish indeed.
Mai La Dreapta’s Rule: All revolutions either fail or make things worse.
The American Revolution is not an exception. The immediate aftermath of the revolution is economic decline, loss of public confidence, and a variety of local revolts. We recovered fairly quickly, but in the long run we merely reverted to the baseline. Canada provides a very nice control, about as good as you can get in history: extremely similar geography, extremely similar settler population, ruled by the same empire, but no revolution. 250 years after the revolution, is Canada notably worse off than the US?
The American Revolution only looks good because its negative consequences were relatively mild, rather than turning the whole country into an abattoir.
Errrrrrrr, same American revolution we’re talking about here?
Yes, the Whiskey rebellion. It gets blown up into a big deal, but in context, itwas just some fuss and botheration about a few ticked off farmers. It literally went nowhere.
Ultimately, I’d make the “Indispensible Washington” argument- he had the personal prestige to restrain active revolt, and to allow a second, entirely peaceful revoltion that completely changed the government….based entire on reasoned debate in popular newspapers.
I mean, I cannot stress how weird that is. We completely, peacefully, changed our entire system of government because some guys wrote some articles in the local equivalent of salon.com.
I don’t think it can be stressed enough precisely how unusual the moral makeup of the founders was. They didn’t have a Robespierre.
THEY DIDN’T HAVE A ROBESPIERRE. Precisely no one was suggesting “hey, what if we started killing our political opponents.” The most extreme acts of political repression were the alien and sedition acts, which were slapped down so fast and hard John Adams face is still stinging.
I mean, I’m not much for the great man or great men theory of history. But holy shit, when you look at the collection of folks that ended up in Philly making up government as they went along- TWICE a decade apart….
Thats downright weird.
“Canada provides a very nice control, about as good as you can get in history: extremely similar geography, extremely similar settler population, ruled by the same empire, but no revolution. 250 years after the revolution, is Canada notably worse off than the US”
No, but that’s because of us. if we weren’t Canada’s bestest buddies, the history of North America would be very different.
I mean, we launched like one pussy-ass invasion in the war of 1812, and there’s been some fractious moments, but the history of America and Canada is as extreme an abberation as the American revolution.
Further, it’s an extreme abberation as far as ‘colonies leaving more or less peacefully’ go. Canada is a terrible example of an ex-colony.
It’s true, Canada in a world in which there is no independent USA is very different from Canada in the present world. That said, do you really think that the lower colonies would have been dramatically worse off today if the whole continent had remained under British rule? Most of the former British colonies turned into exceptionally stable and prosperous places. Australia and Hong Kong stand alongside Canada as counter-examples to the notion that the American Revolution contributed to America’s success.
The American Revolution was as harmless as a revolution can get, and the best we can say about it is that in the long run, the USA has done about as well as every other British colony with majority white population (and Hong Kong).
” lower colonies would have been dramatically worse off today if the whole continent had remained under British rule?”
Counterpoint- we dragged the majority of the slavers out of the British Empire, and then beat the hell out of them ourselves.
You think that the British would’ve ended chattel slavery in the way they did with the entire power of the south thrown on the anti-abolitionist side?
“the USA has done about as well as every other British colony with majority white population (and Hong Kong).”
We’re currently the undisputed hegemon of the entire world, wielding more power than the British Empire ever dreamed of.
I think we’ve done better than ‘about as good” to be totally honest with you. *Waves flag while shooting guns at twinkies* 😛
But yes- the American revolution was not necessary to a final future where america is also a big successful, independent place- ultimately, we’re similar enough in culture to other anglo-sphere countries that it’s a big pointless to argue the point.
I think you’re overstating the aftershock of the Revolution in the US however. It’s a bit like how every little squabble during the settlement of Rome turned into The Great Struggles of Our Mighty Founders.
The question is whether the difference between the US and Canada (in terms of hegemonic power) is due to the fact that we had a revolution and they didn’t, or due to other factors (like say, population and/or natural resources).
I think the answer is obviously the latter.
“That said, do you really think that the lower colonies would have been dramatically worse off today if the whole continent had remained under British rule? ”
Quite possible. After all, why did Canada get to leave so peaceably? Because the UK knew that if they pushed it, they could still leave, not peaceably?
CJB has already alluded to the phonomenon below, but I will mention Colin Woodard’s ‘American Nations’ book here; his hypothesis being that the culture of the USA is what it is precisely because of the tensions between very different sets of immigrant cultures (even if they nominally came from the same countries), some of which Canada simply didn’t get, like the English aristocrats who set up the Virginia plantations, the Barbadian slave owners who set up the plantations of the Deep South, and the wave of Scots/Irish immigrants who colonised inland Appalachia, all of which groups pull the USA far to the right of where it would be if the Puritan settlers and German/Scandinavian ‘midlanders’ had contributed as high a fraction of the USA’s population as they have of Canada’s.
If not for the Revolution, would the settlers have moved west as fast as they did? If not, independence made a big difference to the border with Mexico and, maybe, the population.
What is a “revolution”? If the secession of America counts, then surely the secession of Texas from Mexico counts. And surely that had a great outcome. (I would prefer to say that neither was a Revolution.)
“If not for the Revolution, would the settlers have moved west as fast as they did?”
One of the tensions underlying the Revolution was the UK preventing further westward settlement. Anti-US historians will say it’s because the noble British were maintaining their treaties with the indians, which almost made me choke with laughter the first time I heard it.
In reality, it was to avoid conflicts with the french and maintain a semi-controllable population. Meanwhile, americans wanted to go west.
“What is a “revolution”? If the secession of America counts, then surely the secession of Texas from Mexico counts. And surely that had a great outcome. (I would prefer to say that neither was a Revolution.)”
Point the first- I would NOT say that in Texas.
Point the second- this is interesting- I’m arguing that the violence of the Indian wars was slow enough and small enough that it doesn’t count. I’m not sure howI’d attribute that to the Texas and American revolutions. Part of me wants to point out that they had UNIFORMS and FORMED INTO SQUARES TO FIGHT…..but then, Concord and Lexington was certainly a battle.
Hmmmmm….I’ll have to think on this.
After all, why did Canada get to leave so peaceably? Because the UK knew that if they pushed it, they could still leave, not peaceably?
Yep. And we wrote some founding documents that have got cloned round the world, too.
“I’ve often thought the reason that Americans are all “Yeah, have some democracy! Right in the FACE!” is because we’ve got the only revolution in history that ended with things better off and everyone more or less not committing mass murder of their political opponents. And we don’t realize this is far out on the weird part of the bell curve.”
I totally agree. The U.S. might not be so eager to overturn governments if more of us realized this.
Oh, having unsuccessful rebellions at regular intervals was a long-standing custom.
We even tried invading Canada 🙂
Though nowadays, that’s more accomplished by our job-seeking emigrants rather than armed insurrection.
“the Americans did a re-make of the original French
The only thing we did was, since we were writing a Constitution, was look at them, say, “Let’s not do that,” and write stuff into it specifically to do that. (Why can’t the residents of Washington DC vote? Blame the French mobs of Paris. They were ugly.)
What timeline do you mean? The Constitution was from 1787. Bastille day was two years later.
Knowledge about how not to get eaten by bears is still relevant today in places where there are still bears 🙂
Knowing about bears is useless information on a practical level for me, living here in Ireland. Were I ever to go to certain parts of the United States, it might be a vitally urgent piece of knowledge.
I don’t think basic human nature has changed hugely from pre-history, so solutions about “how do we live together in a certain amount of harmony? how do we deal with crimes and law-breakers? how do we juggle the competing claims of individuals versus the collective?” are still relevant in deciding are they useful, are they good, do they still have some value.
People still experience jealousy, for example, and it’s (as yet) only a very minor sub-set of the population that can go “No, I don’t suffer from sexual jealousy at all, I don’t care if my partner has other partners”. So jumping from “expectations within monogamy” to “everyone should be perfectly chill if their partner wants sex outside of marriage/the partnership” is a big change to ask and to expect to happen without consequence or teething pains. And seeing how attempts to cope with jealousy in the past worked or didn’t work, and it’s useful to examine why we have expectations of social fidelity within monogamy even if we’ve stripped away the special status of marriage and (because of contraception and the acceptance of voluntary childlessness) there is no grounds for worry about illegitimate children inheriting the family name and property, so why do we still think that when we’re in a committed relationship, there should be fidelity?
Simply saying “Pooh-pooh, everyone should be open to multiple sexual/romantic/emotional relationships simultaneously, and there will be no repercussions from a bold new experiment to abolish monogamy” is not good enough an argument. Maybe everyone should be, but will everyone be?
Today that knowledge is likely to involve rifles.
At least with brown and polar bears. Black bears, the most common species in the lower 48, are far less aggressive — avoiding attacks from them is mostly about not acclimatizing them to human food, or, if someone has done that despite your best efforts, about not being the person with the least secure food supplies. Which, given that the areas with the most acclimatized bears are also the ones most likely to be full of idiot tourists, isn’t very hard.
It is kind of nerve-racking to wake up in the middle of the night miles from civilization to hear Smokey the Bear batting your bear can around like a cat torturing a gopher, though.
Black bears are also human sized. I weigh more than the average black bear. It’s fairly routine here in Western North Carolina to read stories along the lines of “bear attacks dog/person/wife/husband, other person punches it until it fucks right off.”
They’re human-sized, though we’d be talking a fairly chunky human, but they’re much stronger than we are. I haven’t personally seen one pull a car door off its hinges, but I’ve seen the aftermath.
I wouldn’t want to get in a fight with one. Though, yes, far less dangerous than the bigger bear species, and you could conceivably intimidate one into backing down.
Before this goes too far, “not getting eaten by bears” is mostly only relevant to polar bears. The others, you’re not on their diet except as carrion, if they happen to kill you for some other reason. The question you’re really asking is, “how do I not get killed by a bear?”.
Ninety-plus percent of that is not pissing the bear off. Make enough noise that the bears know you’re coming a mile away and can decide how comfortable they are with your being close to them. Don’t leave food or food waste where they can reach or smell it. If they find it anyway, don’t actively stop them from taking it, which means don’t keep it on your person or in your tent. Above all, don’t get at all close to their children. There will probably be some other behavioral specifics you’ll want to get local knowledge for.
If you screw this up and the bear wants to kill you, the three roughly equal plans are to shoot it with a big gun, hit it with some extra-strength pepper spray, and play dead. Hand-to-hand combat with a smaller black bear is on the edge of feasible if you’re a stout fellow, but probably left as a last resort in case “play dead” fails.
Shooting the bear with a big gun is somewhat superior to the other options if you are a decent marksman under stress, but not by such an enormous margin that it’s worth the bother to learn the skills and buy the tools for occasional visits to bear country. If you’re planning to live and work there, or if you’ve already got a big gun that you shoot well, sure, avail yourself of that edge.
I’ve dealt with bears black and brown, in four states, without anything close to violence on either side. The Alaskan Killer Mutant Attack Caribou, now those were kind of scary.
Bah ! I laugh at your Western Imperialist bourgeoisie bear-guns. It’s just the kind of weapon I would expect a decadent capitalist to use. Here’s how real men hunt bears:
You and the artist have both misinterpreted the picture. The bear and the dogs are fleeing in terror from a Killer Mutant Attack Caribou just out of frame, which the brave but foolish spearman is preparing to fight.
He should have brought something full auto, preferably belt-fed 🙂
This sounds remarkably similar to most advice for self defense – “If you know there’s going to be a fight somewhere, don’t go there. If you’re some place and it looks like a fight is about to break out, leave.”
(There are exceptions for people searching one out in order to harm you, but there are bears (and lions and tigers) like that, too. Exceptions, not the rule.)
“However, despite dire predictions of all of us being crushed under the Amish’s quaint hand-made boots, people had trouble thinking of historical examples of something like this happening.”
Birth control methods that people are actually willing to use are relatively recent.
Two hundred years from now, examples of something like this happening will be common.
Not so – not quite.
The ancient Romans and Greeks had Silphium, which they used so much the plant went extinct. They also had infanticide (pre- and post-birth), which they did use as well.
Then apparently came a long period, between the fall of Rome and modernity, when people apparently did not use contraception very much despite its availability (in the form of natural leather condoms, among other ingenious inventions and practices).
Coitus Interruptus has been known since classical antiquity.
How sure are you of the Silphium story? I don’t know a lot about it, but “used so much the plant went extinct” strikes me as an implausible claim.
“Used it so much the plant went extinct” does seem a bit implausible. However, there are records of the plant and its use, and no plant matching the description to be found. (It’s thought to have been a relative of fennel, IIRC.)
The “Birth control methods that people are actually willing to use” part is also questionable, at least for broader definitions of “people”. The reliable references to Silphium as a contraceptive (it also had other culinary and medicinal uses) are mostly consistent with it being an abortifacent, and herbal abortifacents typically have rather unpleasant side effects at therapeutically reliable doses.
To a courtesan who will be dead in the gutter at thirty if she has a child before she lands a sugar daddy, such a remedy would be a wonder drug indeed, and worth its weight in silver as reported by some ancient writers. As the basis for a golden age of free love for all, before the Good Drugs ran out and the Bad Church took over, I’m more skeptical.
Weren’t there other plants that were used until they went extinct? It certainly happened with animals, so that’s close. What happened to the Judean date palm?
Dont make the same mistake that popular understanding of biological evolution does. Evolution does not (not only at least) happen at a carrier level (be it human or social group), but a gene level. I see you use an argument that a lot of cultural things (religion – fall of rome example) dont seem to improve much of anything.
They dont have to improve anything. All they have to do is to cause carriers to propagate the cultural gene.
Give an example?
Here’s a simple example. Christianity has outcompeted many “pagan” religions of the ancient world and drove most of them to extinction. But many of their features live on in Christianity, e.g. minor gods or saints venerated in a particular locale, some holidays, rituals, building motifs. In this sense, the cultural trait of celebrating Easter outcompeted the original Christian allele that commemorated Christ’s resurrection (I don’t know what it was). This kind of thing also has much smaller generation lengths than whole religions.
Originally I wrote this longer and perhaps needlessly complex example:
Consider online forums. A forum might have a complex identity made up of the most prolific posters, subjects of interest, discussion style, and lots of other things. But the gene-like small and simple cultural traits which colonize other forums most easily are probably not like “spend a lot of time discussing ecology” or “everyone here understands the Natural Fallacy”, but more like “make click-baity post topics” or “use cat pics to illustrate everything”.
The culture of some subreddit might be a complex beast, and precisely because of that, it’s unlikely to make the jump to another community with completely different participants who want to emulate the original forum. Whereas the habit of posting lolcats or of using a particular phrase can spread much more easily: a redditor might use it in another forum whose dwellers might like it.
Therefore it seems to me that the smaller the (self-contained) cultural fragment, the more easily it can jump to other carriers. And eventually lots of small fragments can completely change a community, although it may not resemble any previously existing community. These fragments would then behave like genes in terms of the cooperation and antagonism between them.
In this sense, the cultural trait of celebrating Easter outcompeted the original Christian allele that commemorated Christ’s resurrection (I don’t know what it was).
Please don’t take what follows as picking on you, Daniel, it’s not. It’s a generally-addressed to the multitudes combination of sighing, eye-rolling, hair-tearing-out and banshee screaming.
I would like to throttle (preferably in a ritual cultic sacrifice like that of Tollund Man*) the next person who wibbles about the pagan origins of Easter.
Because suuuuurrreee… the entire ancient world all over the globe celebrated that particular date with bunny rabbits (or hares) and eggs and chocolate**, and Christianity simply shrugged and said “Well, heck, our vernal equinox Greatest Feast of the Liturgical Year*** can’t compete with that” and hit the nice pagans over the head, stole their festival (including the name), and slapped a new coat of paint on it for their own use.
(I now pause to indulge in some heavy breathing while my blood pressure slowly lowers).
First, if anybody is entitled to be pissed off about jumped-up Christians robbing their native religious feastdays, it’s the Jews who can quite legitimately go “Hey! You robbed Passover from us!”
For feck’s sake, look at the name of the feastday; outside of the Anglo-phone world, it’s some variant of local name derived from Latin Pascha and Greek Paskha (e.g. in Irish it’s Cáisc which if you kind of squint and look sideways you can see the derivation from the liturgical term).
It’s only Easter in English (and Germanic-language derivations) and the whole “Pagan goddess” thing comes from ONE reference by St Bede the Venerable, which caused 19th century mythographers to really go overboard on inventing the names, appearance, traits and worship of this goddess (Robert Graves’ “The White Goddess” may be howling at the moon crazy but it has a respectable pedigree in making ritual/religious explanations out of whole cloth from scraps of data).
Easter, unlike Christmas, has a reason for being associated with the Spring Equinox and the clue is in the name: it comes ultimately from Pesach, which is Passover, because that is the time given in the Gospels for when the crucifixion happened.
The whole controversy over the date of Easter is because it is a moveable feast, dated according to the lunar calendar as per Jewish usage (though messed about with a bit, because the legacy of the early Judaizers, whence the Incident at Antioch arose where St Paul challenged St Peter over Peter keeping company with those who compelled Gentile converts to Christianity to get circumcised and adopt Jewish customs. So at the later date, there was eagerness not to copy the Jews and Old Testament practices too much, such as using their ritual calendar dates exactly).
All of which is to say, that Easter was a long-established and authentically-celebrated Christian feast before missionaries left the Middle and Near East and wandered into barbarian Europe.
* I may even be bloody-minded enough to quote you the Heaney poem, I’m that disgruntled.
** How chocolate? Why chocolate? I appreciate the chocolate Easter eggs, don’t get me wrong, but who decided what people really wanted to give them that Springtime feeling was big fake eggs made out of chocolate?
*** Yes, even greater than Christmas. Now, you want to argue that Christians nicked the feastday of Sol Invictus, I’m not that bothered. But Easter is legit, damn it!
You thought I was joking about the Heaney poem? I was not joking:
Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.
In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,
Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,
She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint’s kept body,
Trove of the turfcutters’
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.
I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate
The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Laid out in the farmyards,
Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.
Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names
Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,
Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.
Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.
Of course it didn’t. Chocolate’s a New World plant, for one thing, and the evidence for “Easter” being linked to “Eostre”, as is sometimes claimed — or for Eostre being a Germanic goddess at all — is quite weak, for more or less the reasons you’ve given.
But pre-Christian ceremonial elements find themselves into local dialects of Christianity all the time; we’ve actually seen this happen with e.g. South and Central American folk saints, and we have good reason to think it’s often happened before. Sure, we have rather less specific evidence for the origins of any particular traditional practice in Easter celebrations, but the holiday has “spring fertility festival” fingerprints all over it. And if you asked me to tell you what the most likely candidates were for the parts of it with pre-Christian roots, I’d start with those least obviously related to its Christian commemorative role or from its older roots in Passover. Bunnies and sweets are as good a place as any.
Couldn’t tell you exactly which are authentically pagan, though, or which pre-Christian cultures they came out of. It’s also very common for major holidays to accrete traditions more or less out of whole cloth; many of the current traditions surrounding Christmas are no more than two hundred years old. (We can blame Charles Dickens for a lot of them.)
To quote Eddie Izzard, You got eggs for fertility, and chocolate for shagging.
Standard spring festival fair right there.
Eggs and candy for fertility. But were they copied from a fertility festival, or did Christians recreate one?
Language is the obvious example — new dialects typically aren’t improvements in any absolute sense, or not enough of one to justify reduced comprehension between populations. Most linguistic evolution seems to have been driven by the culture version of genetic drift.
There’s an interesting discussion here, which I do not have the qualifications to answer. Are there linguistic developments that we can point to that would qualify as improvements? I imagine at some point tenses had to be invented, allowing for a lot more information to be conveyed, but that probably happened long before we have records.
An alphabet is surely an improvement in the absolute sense, as are the forms of punctuation we’ve added on.
The usual example to give here is obligatory evidentiality marking.
I sometimes wish English had an inclusive/exclusive distinction in the first-person plural pronoun and logophoricity marking. And back in the days when I could speak German at all, I had a hard time with the absence of aspect distinctions.
If you allow things to do with writing: the Russian orthographic reform of 1918 could very well have had a noticeable economic impact. (Before the reform, every consonant-final word in Russian took a silent and completely useless hard sign.)
Wouldn’t uniform spelling classify as a linguistic development that qualifies as an improvement?
Some people argue that language is subject to evolutionary pressures. Specifically, they argue that languages used by large populations are subject to different pressures than languages subject to small populations. Those used by small, localized populations drift and become synthetic, while those used by large diffuse populations (empires) become uniform and analytic, presumably because those can be maintained at large distances more easily.
Seems about right. The vast majority of linguistic “speciation” happened before there were any empires at all.
To extend the analogy, suppose that’s true, does that mean it’s critically dangerous or immoral to deliberately make the language we have slightly less uniform if that would make a small but non-trivial group of people alive today significantly happier? Or would the argument from linguistic evolution be a post hoc justification for people that just don’t like that group and their friends with a side order of is/ought fallacy?
You mean example of cultural trait that is not an improvement? Well, i think there is plenty, but for something that is very clearly not improvement, lets consider the famous Maoi statues example. Whatever was their purpose, they had detrimental effect on the population, by any meaning of a detrimental, compared to almost whatever else they could come up (or whatever was done before that) with to satisfy the cultural function the statues served.
On a second though, Chinese foot binding is not so common example. Net loss for everyone, even including some borderline theories about it being used as a social male dominance institution (really, there are so many other ways to do it without crippling so much of your labor force). Come to think of it, a lot of sexual stuff could potentially fall there.
Evolution at its core is practically a truism: there will be more of things which make more of themselves. Expanding on that just a little, here’s all you need to have evolution:
* A way for things to pass on their traits to the next generation. (Genes)
* A way for those traits to randomly vary/change. (Mutation)
* A fitness function which varies the reproduction rate of the things (note that this can itself be composed of many smaller fitness tests). (Survival of the fittest)
* Time to run through multiple iterations.
That’s it. Actual DNA is an implementation detail which Darwin himself never even knew about. Which of these things does not exist in human cultures? How could there not be cultural evolution?
We’re debating whether cultural evolution is intense enough to show up as signal, even with all sorts of random things happening to cultures, people deliberately trying to change culture for rational reasons, the environment always changing, et cetera.
Didn’t you unironically talk about the “arc of moral progress” a few Links posts ago? How is divining that any different.
Everything you said applies to biological evolution, but we’re still able to pick out a lot of signals. Past a certain “resources/time to make new critters” threshold, sexual reproduction beats asexual. Organs which can take in and interpret light rays are incredibly useful. If you want to grow past a certain size, your cells better follow a eukaryotic architecture. Some things are context-dependent, like whether or not gills or lungs work better, but there’s lots of information to be gleaned, which is why engineers will often study and imitate natural designs.
Like sexual reproduction or the eyeball, this is extremely relevant to the issue of marriage, because that is something we find in every significant society, so it must have been pretty important to evolve independently multiple times in different settings. That the minority (from a societal headcount standpoint) position of monogamous marriage beat polygamous societies so handily is also interesting.
(Plus, it’s not like polyamory or homosexual behavior are new things. Plenty before us have tried them. Why didn’t they catch on?)
Because if they weren’t accompanied by military invasions, there’s nothing preventing them from being ejected or killed off, and it’s hard for them to get there to begin with. Most ancient societies were not pluralistic and mass immigration was really hard back then.
But how about Kosovo as an example? The Muslim Albanians originally got there because of an invasion, but most of their increase was caused by reproduction and the percentage of non-Muslims continued to go down even after the area became controlled by Serbs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_history_of_Kosovo
“The Muslim Albanians”
— Actually, many Albanians are Catholic.
But yeah, the percentage of Albanians rose dramatically between 1945 and 1990, from about 55% to about 80%. If you look upthread there’s some discussion of how and why.
BTW, when it comes to Kosovo, anything on Wikipedia should be read with a careful and critical eye. It’s a very emotional topic for many people, so there have been some serious edit wars. The quality of the final results is… varied.
Re 4: it doesn’t have to be “we’re bonding a lot better since that ritual!”; it could easily be “wow, that was a lot of fun, and now I feel a strong sense of community. I wonder if we could find an excuse to do that again?” An excuse is found or a “tradition” is made out of whole cloth (“hey, we did it last year!”), and soon enough it’s a ritual. This does require a majority of people in the culture to have gotten that feeling out of it, because it means that subsequent attempts to recreate the feeling will get traction from other people. However, it *doesn’t* require it to be a conscious or articulable thing– nobody would *say* that they want to bond a lot better, but everyone’s motivated to make it happen.
I find this happens a fair bit on an individual level. You spent a lot of time hanging out with someone, you really like them, you feel closer to them and happier for your time spent together, and then you’re both more willing to try to plan activities that will lead to more of that same good feeling. This occurs even if you don’t talk about it, think about your relationship as shifting, or admit anything was significant about “that time we stayed up until 2am on the beach talking”.
But this seems to require some human intelligence to notice “Hey, we seem to be bonding better ever since we implemented that ritual, let’s keep doing it”.
From “Orthodoxy”, G.K. Chesterton
Chesterton’s talking out his ass here. There’s no reason to think religion preceded morality, and plenty of reasons to think that it didn’t — other primates exhibit recognizably moral behavior (reciprocal altruism, empathy, retributive anger, etc.), but not even proto-religion. Besides, veneration is, itself, a moral emotion.
He’s right that moral behavior is not grounded in a “conscious exchange of interests”, but religion piggybacks on the actual biological ground of morality, just as much as civics does. As to whether religion or civics came first, well, the answer to that is lost in the mists of prehistory, and I’m not sure we’d recognize the 20,000-year-old version of either. (Shrines and altars would not be involved.)
Pretty much everything I know about Chesterton I know from reading this blog (at a guess, Scott’s top-level posts and Deiseach’s comments have about a 50/50 share), and I’m getting the impression that he was strongly optimising for for witty, wise-sounding repartee over objectively verifiable fact. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s important to keep an eye on the difference.
Just want to mention on the population thing. If you look at muslims vs christians in Europe it maybe hard to find a good historical analog, but if you consider muslims vs Jews in Europe. You can see it has already happened. Jews are leaving Europe in droves being driven out by the increasing Muslim population, actual violence is small, but’s common and threats loom large. It won’t be long before they eclipse the Jewish population in the US, given their rate of immigration.
While it’s likely that Muslims will outbreed Jews in America, they won’t drive them out. They hold a lot more power than in Europe, and Americans are far less tolerant of Muslim violence.
Besides, America is very good at assimilating immigrants from other cultures (or rather, their children), while the only people Europe manages to assimilate are self-hating Americans.
“Besides, America is very good at assimilating immigrants from other cultures”
Or at least, we used to be – back when the prevailing cultural norm was “melting pot” rather than today when it is “multiculturalism.” In Europe this is even more pronounced, and is delivering the exact sort of results we might expect.
Get in a debate about immigration with an intelligent and well spoken neocon and this is ultimately what the issue will come down to. It’s not “I hate immigrants” so much as it is “I hate immigrants who don’t assimilate” and it seems that our recent waves of Hispanic and Muslim immigrants, contrary to past waves of Irish/Italian/German have zero intention of assimilating, and that the government has zero intention of doing anything that might encourage them to (rather, we seem to go out of our way to ensure that they don’t have to).
I live in what I believe to the most diverse part of the United States (Queens, NYC) and perhaps the planet. Next door to my apartment is a Korean speaking protestant church and a Spanish speaking protestant church, and across the street is a mosque.
From what I can tell the kids are very much assimilating. Not instantly, but no less rapidly than my grandparents or great-grandparents who lived in the LES or the South Bronx when it was all Jewish.
I obviously have no first hand experience on the subject. But all reports I see seem to indicate that Latinos are assimlating just as fast as prior waves of immigration.
I mean, if George Zimmerman counts as White (and your media certainly seems to think so), then I think your fears of cultural takeover seem a bit unfounded.
Italian immigrants historically operated almost exactly like modern Mexican immigrants (about half of the Italians who came to the US went back to Italy when they had enough money).
I think the big difference isn’t policy, but the fact the immigrant wave is continuing(for Italians and others it was closed down in the 1920s) so we constantly have no unassimilated immigrants arriving to the US.
George Zimmerman didn’t count as white because someone decided he had assimilated. He counted as white because the media had to count him as white or what happened wouldn’t fit the narrative. Degree of assimilation is irrelevant to this.
This is sort of the premise of Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms–the middle class outreproduced the lower class, and so the population slowly shifted to be more middle class in ancestry (and thus in personality).
In general, though, I think you’re leaning too heavily on the idea that a ‘culture’ is born when an empire / religion / etc. starts and dies when it ends. Consider someone objecting to biological evolution because species are so long-lived that history isn’t long enough for many generations. Well, they’re missing the point–individuals have very short generations, and it seems like the ‘individuals’ that undergo cultural evolution are similarly short and localized.
“There does seem to be the potential for cultural evolution to be interesting, but I’m still not seeing it as a strong argument for preserving particular features of inherited culture absent other arguments suggesting we know why we want those things to be preserved.”
This could form the basis of a post-internet age political spectrum.
When a liberal comes across a fence with no obvious purpose, he tears it down; a conservative lets it be, and a reactionary electrifies it.
A lot of “cultural evolution” is math and boring physical stuff.
For example, every successful culture has a day of rest because people keel over dead if they work every day without a break.
More relevant, most cultures have taboos against marrying siblings and homosexuality because in a very short time a clan of people who marry outside their family and keeps gays closeted has more people than opposite clans. In ancient times, roaming bands that killed everyone and took all your stuff were common. Back then having a group of 300 or 3,000 instead of 100 or 1,000 was life or death.
However, this kind of cultural evolution doesn’t happen anymore. Nobody slaughtered disco enthusiasts and plundered their goats. Indeed the vast majority of gay marriage supporters today are exactly the same people who less than ten years ago opposed it. Many of them are still Christians, still Republicans, still conservative. They just changed their minds.
We see this with Goths and immigrant populations too. The threat of an Irish Catholic majority United States isn’t merely faded, but many of them barely attend church anymore nor is Irish culture particularly well maintained. In fifty years the enlightened US Hispanics might be agitating against Russian Orthodox immigrants. Are Ted Cruz, Rubio and Mrs. Jeb Bush minorities? Or elites?
Modern culture is a lot more ambiguous and fluid than ancient cultures. A teenager who sheds a goth phase in college or even just conceals it from an employer later isn’t going to be killed by bands of raiders or cast out from the tribe. Evolution doesn’t impact culture much anymore.
The conservatives of today would crush an interracial marriage ban with zeal and religious fervor.
> For example, every successful culture has a day of rest because people keel over dead if they work every day without a break.
Citations? I thought many ancient cultures had no weekly rest day, including the ancient Greeks and Romans. Of course they had many holidays, but most of those didn’t involve not working for the whole day, just spending an few hours celebrating.
See also: https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/2318/when-was-the-concept-of-weekly-day-off-first-introduced-in-indian-subcontinent
Like physical-biological evolution, memetics and cultural evolution is natural phenomena occurring in our species. It is something that we can study and gain understanding of how it has influenced our development retrospectively, but there is no certainty that we can use this understanding proactively to alter our future course in beneficial ways.
The State of Israel.
What, specifically, are you thinking of? The growth of the Israeli Haredi population?
Israeli Jews as a whole don’t have higher birth rates than their neighbors, just a whole lot of immigration.
Israeli Jews have the highest birthrates in the world for white people in a technologically advanced country. Thanks to Douglas Knight, here’s a graph of Jewish Israeli TFR’s by religious orientation:
Are you referring to the Palestinian population bomb (which is probably a myth) or the Haredi one?
I thought I read an example of the “people with worse beliefs dying out” on a link this very blog. Something about religious cults/communities that demanded more from their members in terms of shared sacrifice lasting much longer. I think it’s a bit harder to see at the modern nation-state level because it takes a long time for any screw-ups to have really catastrophic results.
In a similar vein, most people seem to agree that some of the Shakers’ ideas on children and family seemed destined to result in their dying out.
Sorry for the lengthy reply, but this topic is complicated and messy. I strongly encourage people to read the extensive on-line literature of Boyd and Richerson, and/or A. Mesoudi on this topic. I would suggest steering away from the memetics fringe though. My opinion.
This response is primarily to your first post.
First, culture involves socially transmitted information or traits such as knowledge, beliefs, norms, skills and the artifacts created via said traits.
Evolutionary theory is useful as a technique to understand and study population shifts in these traits involving variation, differential spreading and persistence, and the tendency of new variations to occur on existing variants. Some cultural traits spread faster and further, and/or persist longer than others for various reasons elaborated in the literature.
The traits are often useful, or at least assumed to be useful, but not always, and we must ask useful for whom? The society at large? The elites? The trait itself (this angle is popular with memeticists)? The people propagating the idea?
Fitness of traits is cultural and context dependent — it depends upon the environment and the other traits surrounding it. A good idea in the wrong place is as useless as a dolphin in the jungle, or a chimp in the ocean. Homosexuality may be “fit” in classical Greece and the modern US, but be unfit in 19th century Afghanistan. And as you implied, why should the trait carrier care whether it is fit at a broader scale?
Propagation in culture is not exclusively or even predominantly downwardly vertical (parent to child). It is often horizontal (between people) and can be child to parent (I often help teach my mom how to use her computer). Modern cultures are getting much better at horizontal transmission (a trait which effects other traits).
Persistence, preponderance and “good” are not the same thing. It is possible that many good traits (according to those adopting them) die out because they weren’t persistent or didn’t propagate well in that context.
It is possible that homosexuality was self defeating in prior eras (due to disease, medical knowledge, smaller population densities, slower lateral cultural propagation speed, other cultural traits) but self propagating in modern western culture. Or not.
I disagree with your societal “generation time”. We are talking about traits in populations of traits, not just institutional social persistence of a given empire or society. The Rome of 300 AD wasn’t the same Rome of 200 BC. It evolved, with vastly different cultural traits and trait complexes. In addition, it was notable for institutional persistence. Western Europe had thousands of societies in Middle Ages and these coalesced via differential persistence and absorption into less than a hundred today. And as this occurred the societies themselves evolved. Evolution within evolution.
I agree with your conclusion on part 1 that the cultural fitness of a trait is pretty irrelevant to whether an individual chooses to adopt it or not. It is quite relevant to whether they are exposed or allowed to adopt it though. I am not sure if this is the argument of those against homosexuality though. My guess is they are suggesting that there is some consequential utilitarian argument that this trait tends to lower human wellbeing overall. I agree with you that this would be really hard to prove especially considering our different values and contexts. It is at best worth considering or exploring.
Actually, the vertical downward mechanism for meme transmission is not limited to (nor predominantly macro within) the parent-child relationship. The essential function of memetics is to pass useful survive-and-thrive information from generation to generation using complex language (and repetition) as a medium for inculcating mental habits (so called wetware programming of young minds). This macro-social indoctrination is the basis of all religions and uniformity of message is accomplished via centralized doctrine. Think gene transmission fidelity.
“Sure, populations have replaced other populations – like the Anglo-Saxons replacing the Celts in England – but it’s tended to occur alongside military invasions.”
While this is true, it’s also true that no previous populations would have allowed so many immigrants from other countries absent an invasion by the latter.
Did the Anglo-Saxons even genetically replace the Celts? I thought the line these days was that the various invasions didn’t have all that much of a genetic impact.
I think this is interesting. Language seems to be one of the first things that can change really thoroughly, as we see with the lack of similarity between English and Gaelic or South American Spanish and the native South American languages.
Yet I think many or most of the people of South America probably don’t look all that different from the Inca, et al.
That said, whether or not you transplant your whole family or just your raping, pillaging men does seem to make a big difference: e g North American versus South American colonists.
More strikingly, internal warfare in Europe vs. China. There’s a conquest pattern where your warrior caste kills enough people to seize authority over the population that currently exists, which doesn’t have significant effects on the long-term composition of the population, and there’s the pattern where you spend five generations systemically burning the crops, putting the population to the sword, and moving your own peasants onto the land, which very much does.
In this post Razib Khan talks about a paper which has found that the proportion of British ancestry which is Anglo-Saxon is below 50% and most likely between 10% and 40%. So while the Anglo-Saxons didn’t replace the Celts completely, they did have a significant genetic impact. It doesn’t look like the question is completely settled yet, though.
Thanks, I did a Control+F to make sure someone had pointed this out already.
Argentina is White.
I get the feeling this is veering seriously off-topic. It’s trivial that ideas, behaviors, and social structures propagate through groups of people, change along the way, and some are better at propagating and persisting than others. But re-consider the purpose of bringing this up. The claim being made has nothing to do with Amish growth rates. The claim is that homosexuality is near universally not accepted in known historical cultures because it is actually an empirically bad thing that harms group fitness, leaving any group that allows homosexuality open to conquest, by one means or another, whether outbreeding or military invasion. At the mild end, the claim is that it’s just one piece of a much broader trend away from people using sex to build strong families and impart values of persistence and commitment and toward sex and marriage as things we just do because we enjoy them, and that this will result in anything from a somewhat higher AIDs rate to the entire country becoming inner-city Baltimore, to the entire human race going extinct, depending on which commenter you listen to. At the extreme end, the claim is allowing and encouraging non-procreative sex at all, let alone gay sex and gay marriage, is going to result in Muslim conquest by sheer demographic force until we’re all living in a Caliphate without a fight.
Those are the claims you want to push back against, that these are sufficiently convincing arguments to allow some people but not others to marry. Don’t push back on the bare existence of cultural evolution, when the actual claims that started the argument are much stronger and much more speculative than that.
The claim is that homosexuality is near universally not accepted in known historical cultures because it is actually an empirically bad thing that harms group fitness…[snip]… Those are the claims you want to push back against, that these are sufficiently convincing arguments to allow some people but not others to marry.
…I take you think that “this practice has a such a strong negative impact on a society that no successful society has had this practice” is not a convincing reason to withhold recognition of same-sex marriages?
I am willing to agree that we could debate the negative vs positive trade off of any social innovation (and that we should do so!) but – like CS Lewis’s discussion of witches, it seems to me that social practices that have not previously been shown to work, ever, are exactly the ones we should be a little leary of.
Well, no, clearly I don’t believe that. I guess at this point it’s a matter of actual empirical claim. I don’t believe Denmark, the U.S., Ireland, wherever else is next, probably nearly everywhere eventually, are going to be materially worse off at any point in the future specifically because they began allowing gays to marry. Clearly, this is at this point a matter of opinion and what convinces me of things isn’t the same as what convinces you of things, but frankly, I’m somewhat of a cornucopian future optimist about damn near everything. Shy of nuclear war or outright ecological collapse, I don’t think anything at all is going to stop the general rising tide of worldwide increases in prosperity, access to healthcare, conveniences, decreasing rates of violence, increasing cosmopolitanism, everything else good that is happening. Certainly letting gays marry isn’t going to stop it. I think the humans of a century from now are going to look back and think this was silly. They’ll have problems, sure, but they’ll be alien problems we haven’t even thought of yet. Biological pregnancy itself might be just a choice by then.
Also, to be clear, I don’t see where anyone has actually demonstrated that homosexuality has a strong negative impact on a society. Showing it’s never been widely adopted is not nearly the same thing. Until a few hundred years ago, democracy had never been widely adopted, and the few places that tried failed. A nation without an official language or shared ethnic heritage had never been adopted. Libertarianism has never been widely adopted. Atheism has never been widely adopted. That doesn’t mean any of these things actively cause groups that adopt them to fail.
I’d say the colonial US days were probably not too terribly far off from libertarianism. And atheism has been widely adopted. See ‘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.”’
The “until a few hundred years ago” was intended to apply to all of those. I guess it’s only been about a decade in most places, but gay marriage is now allowed in 23 countries and civil unions in 21 others. At what point are we expecting to see ill effects?
Depending on your political beliefs, “forcing Christian small businesses to cater gay weddings” might count as an ill effect that we are already seeing.
The twitter-mobs that form against anyone who might have donated to an “anti-gay” political campaign 10 years ago might count as an ill effect…
Well, yeah, that’s absolutely an ill effect, of political activists being sanctimonious assholes with axes to grind. Blaming that on the bare fact that gay people are now allowed to marry is like blaming all these stupid affirmative consent kicking kids out of school measures on the fact that rape is illegal.
Fair enough, I accept your point generally.
But I think there’s something to be said that legal recognition for gay marriage greatly increases the likelihood that things like this will happen.
After all, we never saw the “sue the small bakery for not catering our gay wedding” lawsuits in states where gay marriage wasn’t actually legal. Presumably, now, we will see them in any state where someone dares to defy such a request.
You’re right that we *could* have gay marriage without assholes taking political revenge on their ideological enemies. But we aren’t going to, so it seems to be a largely pointless hypothetical.
I’m a hardcore libertarian who has long opposed gay marriage on these grounds alone – my belief that, on net, it will result in less freedom, not more. The small gain of freedom for gays to marry will be hugely offset by dramatic reductions in the freedom of religion and freedom of association for the rest of us.
Although the complaint references a marriage, at the time it was filed Oregon did not legally have same sex marriage.
That still reeks of “we should have deported all the freedmen back to Africa to avoid the mess of desegregation” to me. 50 years of a couple bakeries getting sued every now and then until there are 7 people left in the U.S. who still give a shit about associating with gays seems like an awfully small price to pay to me.
Also, watch an episode of Bridezillas. Wedding services providers have been getting sued and harassed for ages. It just doesn’t make the news and doesn’t bother you until it’s politically motivated.
On a broader scale, people engaged in business activities have to work with and for people they don’t want to or suffer unfair consequences all the damn time. It sucks, but it isn’t a tragedy and certainly not a collapse of civilization level tragedy. I highly, highly doubt you’re any kind of supporter of friendly workplace laws, sexual harassment witch hunts, extended paid family leave, censuring for inappropriate jokes, maybe not even workplace safety regulation, a whole bunch of things designed to make people more comfortable at work. Why does it become such a worse thing when it’s the owner who is uncomfortable?
Personally, I’m not in favor of much of any of these things, but I’m not in favor of banning practices that religious people don’t like, either, even if unbanning them sucks for the religious people. Oh well. Grow a pair. If you don’t want to serve gays, don’t. If it results in the ridicule and scorn of your local populace who thinks you’re stupid and no longer wants to do business with you, oh well. Baking cakes for a living is a privilege, not a right.
“Baking cakes for a living is a privilege, not a right.”
So… you don’t believe that people have a right to engage in voluntary trade without explicit government permission? The rest of your post sounds SOMEWHAT reasonable, but this sounds horrifying to me.
“Also, watch an episode of Bridezillas. ”
If the existence of gay marriage means I have to watch crappy reality shows, that would be yet another ill effect 🙂
Yeah- cases involving businesses refusing to serve gay clients are the result of civil rights laws. Obergefell might get cited in upcoming cases involving those sorts of situations, but it doesn’t actually compel the result and isn’t required for a court to find a private business in violation
The only situations I can imagine where this case might matter are the often-cited religious universities with opposite-sex-only-married dorms. That’s a modicum of religious freedom which could be trammeled, but it seems small enough to be worth the risk.
(As for clerks refusing to give out marriage certificates, legally speaking they have never had First Amendment rights while performing government functions.)
Let me amend, because no, I didn’t mean that at all. Anyone on earth who wants to absolutely has the right to bake cakes and try to sell them. What they don’t have the right to is paying customers.
This is to say nothing whatsoever about condoning the specific tactics used to shut down a specific place. I don’t actually know much about what happened to the bakery, for instance, but the pizza place thing was terrible. It was, however, no more terrible than hundreds of other crappy things that happen at the workplace every single day, and I’m not losing too much sleep over any of them. If that’s the worst that happens to you, I’m sorry but it’s not that bad. Try again. It’s not like the SS came and took all your shit to pay for bombs and then threw you into a forced labor camp. It’s not that horrible being a small business owner in America in the grand spectrum of things a human could ever have been.
Yeah, and two weeks ago, it wasn’t that horrible being a homosexual in America either.
I mean, you can disagree with my premise that on net, various pro-gay policies will reduce freedom more than they will enhance it, but if you want to say the bakers shouldn’t complain because it’s not as bad as living under the Nazis, then well, the gays who couldn’t marry shouldn’t complain either, because that’s ALSO not as bad as the Nazis…
I did say that! Like two or three comments down.
“Anyone on earth who wants to absolutely has the right to bake cakes and try to sell them. What they don’t have the right to is paying customers.”
But they do have a right not to have other people get in the way of their voluntary interaction with would-be paying customers.
In how much detail do I need to delineate? They have the right to not have their door blocked, their customers spat on or yelled at as they walk in, not to have their house toilet papered. They have no right to stop assembly on nearby streets, no right to control the public airwaves and Internet to stop their story from going viral.
Also, they re-opened three months ago and raised $840,000 from supporters. If this is the poster child for how bad things are going to get because we allowed gay marriage, I mean shit, man. Tectonic social changes used to involve the police nearly getting into wars with the National Guard. At what point do we step back from “oh my god everyone is yelling at each other on the Internet” and say wow, we’ve actually gotten really good at peaceful, smooth social upheaval?
“In how much detail do I need to delineate? They have the right to not have their door blocked, their customers spat on or yelled at as they walk in, not to have their house toilet papered.”
Do they have the right to say “fuck you, faggot” to the first gay couple through the door?
Do they have the right to say “Fuck you, faggot” to a straight guy they don’t like?
Do they have the right to say “fuck you, faggot” to the pizza oven when they burn their hand?
Do they have the right to burn a gay flag, even in a really dickish way?
Because if we’re banning flag burning, I have a few people I’d like to get my hands on. Preferably in a small room, alone.
“Also, they re-opened three months ago and raised $840,000 from supporters. If this is the poster child for how bad things are going to get because we allowed gay marriage, I mean shit, man.”
Yes, and death threats, filing lawsuits, harassment- all these things are much, much cheaper, easier, and more likely to happen than large scale gofundme campaigns.
Which means those tactics work on a long timescale. Pretending that the climate five minutes after gay marriage is legalized is typical is simply inaccurate.
Not to mention we’re seeing small scale things- like the Oregon couple slapped with a lawsuit AND a gag order- who are now, heroically, defying it.
As someone who is genuinely pro-gay marriage- I’m getting really fed to the back teeth with the gay rights movement.
Hah, I like that article. Is “my uncle is gay” the new “I have black friends?”
Yes to all four. Again, how specific do you guys want me to get? If you give me a thousand question survey and I answer all of them, will I have sufficiently explained my view of this matter?
Add this to the man above arrested for burning a flag, and we can neatly demonstrate that here we have actual examples of people being oppressed and their basic human rights denied due entirely to an overprotection of homosexuals.
ergo, maybe the gay rights movement isn’t the “we just want to marry and be left alone in peace” group we’ve been told they are for years.
We had a we little setup- we supported gay rights, gays got their rights, people that didn’t like gays got their rights.
And your side just defected. Multiple times. To thunderous applause.
I expect that the number of actual gays involved in the attacks, is much smaller than the whole relevant het population.
The UK has never really had the US concept of freedom of speech, to their detriment.
There’s two competing extrapolations of legalising and normalising same-sex marriage, which one wins out (if it’s not a draw) is the cultural evolution gain/loss we’re arguing over:
(1) Inventing a right to same-sex marriage is the latest in an increasing loosening of moral and social bonds and mores which will contribute to an atomised, my-individual-pleasure-first-and-foremost culture, which will inevitably disintegrate under the weight of its own inability to compete or even function, which it cannot do if everyone expects someone else to do the messy, unpleasant, necessary tasks – and this includes being disinterested and impartial when it comes to judging between your own interests and those of the wider society, as in the corruption of various African governments where access to power, all the way up to the presidency, is seen as “opportunity to enrich myself, my family, my supporters and my tribe by stripping the treasury bare and diverting aid monies to our private Swiss bank accounts” rather than “stewarding the finances of the nation”.
(2) Inventing a right to gay marriage will dilute and tame the danger of queerness and the threat it poses to the current paradigm; it will mainstream LGBT+ people and turn them into good little members of bourgeois society, adapting to the “love then marriage then kids (see the calls for the right to adoption, the use of surrogacy and artificial insemination by gay and lesbian couples to have “kids of our own”)” model of conventionality. When queerness was taboo it had real teeth, real edge; now you get soccer moms putting up rainbows on their Facebook profiles and tearful posts about how “Now my little Timmy has the same chance to walk up the aisle with the man of his dreams as I did!” The political movement of liberation, which equally applied to class, race and economic systems as those of sexuality, will be discreetly shoved aside into irrelevance, and such activities as cruising on Hampstead Heath will not be regarded as a cherished and valuable part of gay heritage and tradition and an expression of gay identity, but as a faintly embarrassing quaint relic of pre-equality times and something vaguely disreputable and only for the truly desperate to engage in. Because now if it’s as easy and normal for Bob and Bill to meet and have a relationship as it is for Tom and Jane, then the same rules and conventions will govern the relationships and expectations of Bob and Bill as those of Tom and Jane.
There are quite a bit more than two extrapolations. Personally, I think a deviant queer underculture that riots in the streets in NYC and gets beaten to death with tire irons in Texas is a somewhat suboptimal equilibrium, but it basically works. Go back to no gay marriage, then go back even further to barely any openly gay people at all and ones who were killing themselves in shame. Fine. I still don’t think that’s disaster. I’m wary of every claim of the form “do X and western civilization is going to collapse.” It’s the argument from watching too much Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where every damn season is a pending apocalypse. Western civilization is the most successful thing humanity has ever done, and it’s also the most rapidly changing and disrespecting of traditions thing humanity has ever done. Whether or not gay people can marry, hell, whether or not we allow interracial marriage, isn’t going to slow it down. It’s going to make things better or worse for interracial and gay lovers, but will do very little to nothing to the overall arc of civilizational success. We got past slavery, the world wars, nuclear mutual assured destruction (so far), acid rain and deforestation. Gay marriage isn’t going to do us in. But if we had gone the opposite direction, even the extreme opposite direction, say, mandatory gay genocide, that wouldn’t have done us in, either.
All of which is a big part of what makes these questions, to me, completely separate from the question of moral acceptability. They’re not morally acceptable or unacceptable because they’re going to cause civilizational collapse. We need better reasons than that.
When news of a major rebel victory in the American revolution reached Scotland, one of Adam Smith’s students told him that it would be the ruin of England.
“Young man, there’s a lot of ruin in a nation.”
like CS Lewis’s discussion of witches, it seems to me that social practices that have not previously been shown to work, ever, are exactly the ones we should be a little leary of.
[disclaimer: please insert modifiers and qualifiers to taste]
I’m familiar with Lewis’s argument that most things called ‘moral advances’ are really advances in knowledge. I can’t quite quite parse your overall statement, though.
Lewis was saying we no longer prosecute witches because we don’t think there are any. That would fit the gay issue, as ‘we don’t prosecute those evil contagious gays now, because we don’t think there are any’; parallel to ‘we don’t avoid that dangerous spoiling pork now, because all the pork we normally encounter now is fresh.’
I doubt if you mean we should be leery of not prosecuting witches.
Lewis said that we should not fear/hate witches because there aren’t any – but if there were, witches would be sort of people we should conduct “witch hunts” after.
Adam said (err, “I read Adam as having said”) that we should reject the argument that obviously normalizing homosexuality through legal same-sex marriage is harmful, because it were not harmful, we wouldn’t have this conservation of rejecting normalizing homosexuality throughout human history. Adam, as I read, rejects this on the grounds that normalizing homosexuality isn’t harmful.
I point out that this fails to acknowledge the possibility that witches are real, ie, that conserved cultural values have substance to them, and that this should be considered as evidence that yes, normalization of homosexuality is harmful (or *was* harmful) on a social/cultural level, otherwise we’d have *some* examples of it happening before now.
So, yes, I submit that maybe we should submit the idea that there are monsters under the bed – or Reds in Hollywood, or ethnic Japanese acting as spotters for the Empire, or the boogyman of choice – to the same scrutiny as any other question, and not simply dismiss it because we are afraid of being mocked for asking the question.
Am I now very confusing? Or just a little confusing?
Harmful is the wrong word. Even if your argument is entirely correct, the word should be not calculated to spread the culture.
If the goths all had fun being goths, what difference does it make exactly that there are no goths today? Were they all terribly foolish for not having less fun in the service of making sure that there would be goths in 300 years? Who cares?
I’m not afraid of being mocked. I just think it’s a little weird to single out homosexuality from the thousands of fringe behaviors humans engage in that never really caught on at a broad societal level (well, not weird – it happens to be the pet cause right now and that’s obviously why you’re doing it) and figure from that that the reason is that actual cultures at one point tolerated homosexuality and died specifically because they did that. I’d like to see some plausible mechanism proposed by which we go from our current trajectory of increasing prosperity and decreasing violence to civilizational collapse because gays. Your suspicion that no gay cultures means this happened in the past and that the present and future are sufficiently similar to the past that it will happen again to us this time doesn’t count to me as evidence. Hence, as I said above, we clearly just have different standards for what it takes to convince us of something.
The Amish care.
To be a bit less flippant, why do you care (assuming that you do) whether or not you’ll still be alive at age 65? Why not live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse? If you have to spend your time cooking moderately sized balanced meals and routinely lifting heavy objects instead of playing video games and slamming down Big Macs is it even worth it?
Well, it is if there’s actually any point to your life beyond simple hedonism. If you have any other goal whatsoever, you’ll probably want time and good health to work on it. And if there isn’t, what reason is there to not just OD on heroin and have a really thrilling ten minutes.
Nihilism, the practical kind anyway, is unsurprisingly self-defeating.
There are choices other than ODing on heroin and obsessing over various weak immortality substitutes. As silly as I think the ‘I must have billions of decedents’ version of that is, the ‘my culture must last forever’ is even sillier given that it is transparently impossible. Given how silly the latter is, I doubt it is even *really* a motivation for anyone. Rather I suspect it’s a post hoc justification.
But that goes right back to my original point: people who work out and eat healthy food don’t expect to live forever either, yet they take actions to prolong their lives even at the expense of present gratification. Trying to keep your civilization hale and hardy is a similar impulse with a similar Purity-heavy aesthetic.
No-one with any sense imagines that their culture or body will last forever. But you might still desire to preserve it, whether as a gift to your descendants or because it’s your duty or because it glorifies God or just because you have a very strong sense of aesthetics. Those are hardly post hoc justifications any more than you would accuse a health nut of secretly liking the taste of Kale.
Am I now very confusing? Or just a little confusing?
I’m less confused about your meaning (my parsing was right), but you may be confused about Lewis’s meaning, at least about how it could apply to yours. Lewis said that if witches existed* they would deserve punishment — he didn’t say maybe they do exist after all, so it would be prudent to keep some witch-hunters on salary just in case.
To get a little Bayesian here, mice are common, so even if you think you have got rid of them in the house, still it’s wise to keep a trap handy. Reds and Japanese spies did exist. These comparisons can support your point about not dismissing something that is in fact possible. But Lewis’s witches never existed (and after all he was talking about punishment not prudence) so they can’t support this.
For a Lewis quote that does support your point here, there’s one about a good citizen in wartime, who disbelieves almost every particular spy story he hears, but does believe there are some spies about.
If you were saying that a few sausages really are spoiled, and a few gays really are contagious and evil, I’d agree (a few of every group are evil). But I don’t think that any of this relates to your idea that absence of official gay marriage, as distinct from unofficial common homosexuality, is evidence of some possible great danger in it. Now if there were copies of gay marriage laws in the books of some civiliaztion that failed, and records of its problems getting worse with every increase in married gays, and predictions of some gay marriage related disaster, and such a disaster actually happened — now that would be evidence worth considering, though rather a small sampling size.
But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. [….] You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believes there were no mice in the house.
If adaptations experienced by cultures as a whole can only provide small advantages, it means they can also carry several small disadvantages without ending up extinct. This would give us the practical advice to be skeptical about our own cultures and look for improved ways to do things. But also for something to exist in almost no culture could be an indication of it having great disadvantages? I guess this is close to how certain intuitions see it, but indeed rather difficult to reach certainty about.
In addition to what eya said, people could notice that something works, decide to keep doing it, and once it’s entrenched as a tradition forget the original reason.
I’ve always liked the (apocryphal?) story of the ape study with bananas at the top of a stair, but if an ape tried to climb the stair the whole floor got a shock. Add a new ape, and the experienced apes wham on him if he climbs the stair. Swap out experienced apes one at a time, and turn off the shock, and eventually the apes wham on a stair climber even if none of them has ever experienced the shock. “That’s just not how we do things around here, lad!”
Here are my various comments are part 2 post. Again, sorry if I am rambling too much.
First, and most importantly, I agree with your final conclusion, though I have lots of disagreements or add ins along the way, which I think are extremely important to the topic.
On agriculture, note that this set of integrated cultural traits may very well have been an awesome idea when first adopted. The problem is the Malthusian headwinds. The very success of the idea at feeding ones family leads eventually (over centuries) to 100 times as many people in a given area. By then, you have lots more people, but lower living standards and quality of life. The higher population numbers then overwhelm other lifestyles. If your goal is to have lots of descendants, it is a great idea. If it is to have thriving kids, it is a great idea. If it is to have thriving distant descendants with high standards of living and lots of leisure in a couple of centuries, it is a bad idea, it is indeed a trap. My guess is it was a pretty wise choice at each step of the way, while feeding the Moloch all along.
On your “big fitness advantage” comment… A cultural trait or set of cultural traits can spread and become dominant with only a very, very slight fitness advantage depending upon how fast it propagates (fitness includes propagation speed and efficiency) and the level of competition with variants for that trait. But fit for whom? In what context? I suggest reading Boyd and Richerson on biases in transmission. Again I agree with your conclusions though.
On Amish Outbreeding… This is a perfect example of a culture emphasizing downward vertical transmission. Cultures also change via variation and differential horizontal and upward vertical transmission. These latter are transmission routes the Amish specifically seek to squelch. Also note how this discussion relates to the Malthusian argument above. Being an agricultural society, they will face strong, self amplifying negative feedback as they grow. The U.S. can’t support 300 million farmers, thus the Amish will either evolve out of exclusive farming or will quit growing in numbers. Consider feedback effects.
Let me push back on your subculture paragraph. The subcultures themselves evolve as the traits within do. Thus traits become more or less common, new traits emerge and old ones die out, complexes of traits thrive or recede at subculture and wider societal level. Consider the enlightenment subculture within Western Europe of the 17th C to the present. Ideas, technologies, frameworks and institutions emerged out of this initial subculture, some of which became dominant features of the larger culture which makes up us. London’s enlightenment culture differed from Birmingham’s as it did from Paris’ and Amsterdam’s. In addition subcultures varied within London, and the mix of cultural traits we call enlightenment varied over time in each place. The same can be said of business practices between Walmart and Target. They too are competing institutional entities with the institutional rules themselves cultural traits.
There were not more cultures in the distant past. There were just many small, discrete cultures, each with less exposure to competing cultures. I would guess there are unimaginably more orders of magnitude of cultures and cultural traits today, in complex nested hierarchies of competition and cooperation. We may have lost the band of Yanomami alongside the third bend of the river, but we gained fifty thousand high schools, a million business establishments and a couple hundred thousand Internet communities.
>Okay. But subcultures like Goths seem like a very modern phenomenon, and I can’t think of ancient examples of, for example, a subculture that became popular and spread and became dominant/universal. Religions are the closest thing here, but they have lifespans measured in centuries and don’t seem to be a big improvement over waiting for the Fall of Rome.
“but I’m still not seeing it as a strong argument for preserving particular features of inherited culture absent other arguments suggesting we know why we want those things to be preserved”
I think we ought to distinguish between replacing one feature at a time, gradually and locally at first, and then seeing how it goes vs trying to replace them all at once.
It seems usually when some self-declared Hari Seldon decides to redesign society from the ground up, the result is atrocity. I’m happy to chalk this up to cultural evolution. Hari didn’t know what the function was of the cultural features he was sweeping away, and a lot of them actually did have a function, and by replacing them all at once, suddenly, you don’t have a chance to notice which changes are harmful.
Or, to put it another way, most proposed cultural changes are harmful, just like most mutations. This is true even though proposed changes are designed, not random. The only way to progress is to try a lot of things gradually and keep what works.
” The only way to progress is to try a lot of things gradually and keep what works.”
No, it’s to try a lot of things gradually and throw out what doesn’t work.
There would be a lot of things from the latest decades that would now be junk if that rule was adhered to.
Anyone remember this story from Gladwell:
The man/boy thing seems to be the prevalent form observed in other (undesirable) cultures. Two that come to mind: Currently, Afghani orphans are used in this way, and upper class Victorians had something called a a “coach boy” or something that would ride in their coach with them.
While I don’t think the significance of the issue of acceptance of gay relationships rises to the “Fall of Rome” / Clash of civilization level (a classic conservative fear), it might have more impact on a victim’s rights level (a class progressive fear).
We look at everything we know about human evolution, pre-history and history and find some cultural universals in very general terms – all human cultures have marriage institutions – with an incredible amount of variation. There are very few absolute specific universals. The incest taboo is one. No gay marriage is another.
Common sense and a minimal dose of humility and caution would suggest respect for these basic building blocks of human society found in every single time and place where ever there have been humans. You don’t see this as a strong argument because…
You think hedonism and the happiness of individuals can and should trump every other value and institution? When have those two factors EVER been the sole basis for any human culture? Never. Such sub-cultures rise up repeatedly of course. We call them decadent and accord them little respect.
Gay marriage isn’t even considered an appealing idea in our own culture. Prop 8 was too long ago to remember? Gay marriage is natural for gays only very recently, and probably for political reasons ( I have not followed the evolution of this movement). It is not acceptable to our non- white soon to be majorities, to our working class, to our rural classes – it is solely the province of a small but powerful subculture which includes the young and inexperienced. It was encouraged only recently when the ruling Democratic Party saw furthered it was treat for fundraising and boosted their ability to divide and rule. They will not be in power forever.
Really – you think the current progressive culture wars ideas on gay marriage are stronger than the forces of all of human history?
Dress this up in whatever rational and cerebral lingo you want, your dismissal of universal norms as outmoded and irrelevant just seems silly. When did we stop being human? When did cultures stop needing healthy male female relationships capable of lifelong commitment and raising healthy children capable of the same? harm both these fundamentals of humanity at your own risk. Start a culture war that pits gay ‘ rights’ against religious freedom at your own risk. (Yes, nazism and communism successfully crushed religion too, as outmoded, but they substituted worship of the state.).
This is a fully-general argument against every social change that has ever happened and every social change that ever will happen.
That heuristic, if applied at any non-recent point in history, would have had negative value.
I expect it to have negative value now.
You are way over generalizing. There are very few universals. Being against incest doesn’t pit you against cultural change and progress. It doesn’t even pit you against individuality and freedom. I’m saying however much we love hedonism and indivual choice it cannot be our only social norm and value – societies are more than than aggregate of individuals. I ‘m also saying its stupid to pit one good (individualism) against another (religion), when we ould find win- win solutions to balance and accommodate both.
Religion isn’t a good. On the contrary.
The anti-abolitionists could have made a reasonable argument that slavery was exceedingly common and conserved amongst cultures, a cornerstone of civilisation, and certainly /living/ in the same civilisation as inferior races would ruin us all. How foolish, to set abstract arguments about freedom against the state of every civilisation that has ever existed!
Prior to separation of church and state, we could have seen arguments that every culture in history had a dominant religion that was expected to run public life, and that without it we would quickly either see one establish itself or see the civilisation dissolve in decadent anarchy.
Prior to democracy taking off in a big way, ye olde monarchists could have argued that attempting to run things democratically ruined the ancient Greeks, that all successful civilisations in history had a monarch, or something resembling it, and the ones that experiment with not doing that die out soon afterwards.
And so on (some other possibilities: monotheism, agriculture, currency, owning land, colonising, castles, total war, women’s suffrage, codified law, constitutional systems).
I also disagree that religion is a good.
“we would quickly either see one establish itself or see the civilisation dissolve in decadent anarchy.”
*Looks at decadent, anarchic culture that occurred after the religion that had established itself was driven out*
” that slavery was exceedingly common and conserved amongst cultures, a cornerstone of civilisation,”
Oh wait, I’m sorry. The people forced with whips and clubs to dig up the coltan to make our iDevice are paid like, ten cents a day. So they aren’t slaves!
We still have slavery. But it turns out, it was the first set of jobs to be outsourced.
“the ones that experiment with not doing that die out soon afterwards.”
Actually, what they would’ve pointed out, being pretty well educated- quite probably SPEAKING both greek and latin- is precisely what the ancients had to say about democracy-
Great until they figure out they can vote themselves the treasury. As for example, Greece, with 10% working for the government, 25% on unemployment, and everyone else borrowing.
Hey, greece is one of those places that does everything by referendum, right?
“d certainly /living/ in the same civilisation as inferior races would ruin us all. ”
Is anyone seriously arguing that US racial relations are good for either group?
As for religion- define good?
Lemme put it this way-
Mormons are pretty much the happiest, healthiest, most satisfied, best marriages (itself a crucial part of happiness and success), best careers, lowest rates of juvenile deliquency, their kids do great, they smile a lot…..
What, precisely, is “ungood” about that. It’s “Not True”?
And? This lie produces more utility….just about any non-medical truth I can think of.
I mean, looking at the evidence, the simple conclusion is that whether or not you agree with them, the people asking these questions certainly has a point.
As far as I know, the institution of marriage specifically, and sexuality in general, has undergone quite a few evolutionary shifts during the course Western history (I am less certain about other cultures, but probably there too). I am not a historian, so naturally I could be wrong, but still:
* Ye olde Biblical times: If the Bible is to be believed, hen polygamy was not only normal, but practically required. Men were expected to have wives as well as concubines (King Solomon had a whole bunch). There were some rather complex laws outlining the exact parameters for raping women (when it is permissible, what the punishment should be for various violations, etc.)
* Ancient Greece: Men were expected to have romantic as well as sexual relationships with young boys as well as women; and also, on occasion, each other. Sparta is notable for creating a military unit composed entirely of male lovers, to enhance unit cohesion; this unit was a victim of its own overwhelming success, and was finally exterminated when facing insurmountable odds.
* Ancient Rome: Strict monogamy became the norm, and every woman was expected to be married. Christianity further cemented the practice, setting the stage for the modern notion of what a “traditional” marriage should look like. That said, prostitution is seen as a practically normal (though low-status) occupation, and even a holy calling in some cases.
* Medieval Europe: Marriage was essentially an economic (or, for the nobles, political) transaction. Men and women often had (and, in case of the monarchs, were practically expected to have) extramarital lovers. This was not really frowned upon, unless all of the loving interfered with one’s duties. One’s duties often involved bearing children, so homosexuality was somewhat frowned upon (though tolerated as long as children were somehow begotten at some point).
* Renaissance: Marriage was increasingly seen as the cornerstone of an organized society; though young men were pretty much expected to visit lots of prostitutes, and, occasionally, each other (in emulation of the Ancient Greek model). Young women, on the other hand, were married off as early as possible, to ensure virginity.
* Victorian times: The trend of seeing women as life partners rather than assets to be acquired continues to grow. Monogamous marriage is the norm, and homosexuality is pretty much outlawed. In fact, female sexuality (of any kind) is seen as nonexistent and/or abnormal. Prostitutes still exist, of course, but are increasingly frowned upon.
* Mormonism: Mormons revive the traditional notion of marriage, as per the Old Testament. They will eventually get shut down by the government, and forced to retcon their religion.
* 20th century: Women campaign for increased political and social representation. Monogamous marriage is increasingly seen as a life partnership, and women are increasingly treated as independent agents rather than property. The notion that marriage is required to maintain a stable society is further reinforced; homosexuality is suppressed. Prostitution is illegal, but then, so is rape. Women are still expected to marry, but increasingly on their own terms, preferably for love in addition to mere financial stability.
* The 60s: Free love ! Lots of people experiment with lots of different notions of sexuality and life partnerships (with varying degrees of success); some people begin to see monogamous marriage as antiquated. This period of socio-sexual experimentation ends abruptly with the spread of AIDS.
* Modern times: Marriage is treated as less of a woman’s duty, and more of a contract between two life partners and the government. Homosexuality is still occasionally persecuted, but such persecution is seen as the uncouth exception rather than the norm. Gay marriage is eventually legalized in many Western countries. Alternative sexualities begin to emerge (or re-emerge, in many cases) — with the exception of Biblical polygamy, which is still banned.
As I said, I’m pretty sure I got some of the details wrong, but I think I got the gist of it right. All aspects of our society are always changing, often in radical ways, and marriage is no exception.
Except for the part where marriage, once entered into, was expected to be a lifetime economic and domestic partnership for child-raising and security in old age, with social and legal penalties against a defecting partner.
I didn’t notice that changing at any part of your progression except the post-1960s “Modern Times”, and that’s too recent for us to really call how it turns out yet.
That’s something I see a lot of people missing about the conservative position here. We get that lots of stuff changes, that lots of stuff was only ever arbitrary to begin with. But some stuff doesn’t. And pointing to all the stuff that did change, just makes that point stronger – in a world where everything else changed, look here, these are the things that never changed. Maybe we ought to hold back and make an extra effort to understand why that is, before we go changing them for essentially hedonistic reasons.
Sorry, I’m not sure I’m understanding your point correctly. You say:
But AFAIK this understanding of marriage is relatively recent, though you can see it starting to happen in Medieval Europe. Prior to that, marriage was seen as something closer to an acquisition of an asset (a reproductively viable female, land, cattle, etc.); and I tried to say as much in my outline. This is a huge change, I think ! Especially when you consider that the notion of the woman being a full-time partner in marriage is, in fact, quite recent (though again you can see it emerging in the Renaissance, and maybe as early as the Middle Ages).
Furthermore, the entanglement of marriage and sexuality also underwent some changes; we went from “300 concubines FTW” to “wives are for reproduction, men are for love”, to “wives are for political stability, lovers are for love”, to “actually no, adultery is super-bad”, to something increasingly resembling “…eh, it’s complicated” in the modern world.
So, I would argue that both the sociopolitical and sexual attributes of marriage have undergone massive changes throughout our history; but you say that “some stuff doesn’t [change]” — so what is that stuff ? Is it just the idea that some form of marriage is beneficial, regardless of what form that marriage takes ? Or am I missing something else ?
Furthermore, I wouldn’t dismiss “essentially hedonistic reasons” quite so readily. Most of the things that people do, they do for essentially hedonistic reasons; i.e., a desire for a better life than the one they have now.
It is a mistake to look at what the rulers of a country did and take that as normative; they were exceptions with the power to get away with whatever they wanted. There were royal families who dealt in extensive inbreeding, too, even while this was forbidden to the common folk; the fact that the royals did it was simply another way in which they were separate from mere humans. 300 concubines was never the norm, for obvious practical reasons.
But AFAIK this understanding of marriage is relatively recent, though you can see it starting to happen in Medieval Europe. Prior to that, marriage was seen as something closer to an acquisition of an asset (a reproductively viable female, land, cattle, etc.); and I tried to say as much in my outline.
Ah, so if I wanted to be rich in olden times, I should just marry a woman with Vast Tracts of Land, add them to my own holdings, divorce her, marry another such bountiful woman, lather, rinse, repeat. Right?
Everywhere I know of, when a man divorced a woman, he had to give back the dowry. The asset acquisition was conditional on remaining married, and didn’t become final until they both died and their children inherited both of your stuff.
And, as others have noted, you’re all off on the biblical polygamy thing as well. King Solomon was very explicitly Not A Role Model; it’s not a coincidence that, in the biblical telling, his kingdom did not long outlive him.
More generally, you seem to only consider A: why people marry in the first place, and B: who gets to have sex with whom afterwards. Those are important things. They aren’t the only important things.
The third and fourth important things, the ones you seem utterly unwilling to address, are C: once the marriage happens, for whatever reason, who pays the bills, does the chores, and takes care of the kids, and D: for how long?
A and B vary all over the place through history. C and D, almost never do. No matter what happens to A and B, the answer to C is always “husband and wife together, with their joint assets” and the answer to D is always “for the rest of their lives, unless there’s a really good reason otherwise”. There’s variation in the enforcement mechanisms, not so much in the reasons, and almost never in the default of ’til-death-do-you-part.
Maybe there’s a reason for that.
If the Bible is to be believed, hen polygamy was not only normal, but practically required.
…Not in my translation. One man, one wife is set up as the standard, and additional wives are complications & headaches, or outright violations of God’s edicts. Solomon specifically got into trouble for marrying all those daughters of neighboring kings.
The context of the time – when young men had a much higher death rate due to inter-human violence – was also a factor. Many second wives were widowed inlaws.
There were some rather complex laws outlining the exact parameters for raping women (when it is permissible, what the punishment should be for various violations, etc.)
It might be interesting to re-read these in light of the Rolling Stone debacle, and the on-going push for low-proof rape convictions. The biblical ancients were attempting to prevent 1) unwelcome assaults 2) false accusations and 3) consensual adultery, pretty much in that order, with the same imperfect means of gathering evidence that we have now. It’s really not that far off what we are doing, just with different opinions on whether consensual sex should be confined to marriage or not.
Much the rest of your list is likewise flawed, particularly (I think) in terms of what was ‘expected’ (vs ‘discouraged but not legally punished’) and ‘tolerated’ vs ‘encouraged’.
In global terms, you’re missing a great deal of the planet’s experience, but my knowledge is weak there, so I won’t comment except to hope that someone would fill in Asia, pre-Columbian American, and Africa.
Many institutions are viable, but that doesn’t make them all equally optimal.
Polygamy is clearly a workable system, which can build long-term stable societies. But it is not optimal; monogamy produces better stable societies. When you spread the women around, it’s good for everybody.
I tend to agree. I think polygamy is “natural” in that, if they are honest with themselves, most rich men would like to be able to bang multiple women, and many women would rather be the 2nd or 3rd wife of a rich guy than the 1st wife of a poor guy, but that monogamy is overall, probably a better deal. China’s traditional polygamy historically caused a lot of misery and social unrest due to all the men who could not afford wives.
This is even somewhat true today due to female infant exposure and continued, quiet toleration of polygamy at the upper echelons.
There’s little direct evidence for or against this in Biblical-era Israel, but in almost every other polygamous society I know about, polygamy is almost exclusively an elite thing. Something like 96% of married men in Saudi Arabia have only one wife, for example, and the percentage gets higher the lower down the class ladder you look.
There is one exception. The United States has its own small, weird polygamous cultures in the Fundamentalist LDS Church and its relatives (not mainline Mormons, though, they haven’t done polygamy for a century and a half). Those are unusual in having much stronger expectations of polygamy for high-status men (usually older, usually involved in some way with religious leadership), which predictably creates a lot of frustrated low-status men who can’t find wives. But as best I can tell, that’s not the historical norm.
I believe the unit of pairs of male lovers was in Thebes, not Sparta- it was a Theban army including the Sacred Band (said unit) that defeated the Spartans at Leuctra and broke the Spartan hegemony.
You’re correct that they were annihilated due to not retreating- at Chaeronea, when faced with the innovative pike-phalanxes of the Macedonian pezhetairoi. However, I’m not sure what the survival rate was of hoplites in a phalanx that broke…
“…despite dire predictions of all of us being crushed under the Amish’s quaint hand-made boots, …”
And this is why I love Scott’s writing style.
Best writing style is best.
To your question about whether subcultures are a modern phenomenon: In Dan Carlin’s podcast series on the fall of the Roman Republic, he describes Julius Caesar as a preeminent member of a recognizable subculture. These guys were young and fashion-forward — in this case I think it was looser fitting tunics with belts that were all the rage. They were also politically populist. (What self respecting subculture could differentiate itself on only one axis?) I think there was even a group name for these guys at the time; it didn’t sound like the kind of thing where us moderns with all our subcultures are just projecting ourselves onto the past.
Specifically episode VI, minutes 20-30.
Here is a similar written account. A couple things not there that Carlin mentions: “Clodius” is the Sabbine pronunciation, maybe the low class pronunciation. Dancing.
Also, Carlin says that the counterculture interpretation was first put forward by Will Durant in the 40s.
if you’re looking for historical example of birth rates changing populations (point 2) then maybe Lebanon would be one.
Under the heading “Religious population statistics” it seems Christians were 84% of the population in the 1920s, and are around 40% now. Certainly there’s been a lot of “military invasions” in that time, and while I’m not sure of the exact nature of those conflicts, I’m pretty sure a lot of the casualties would have been Muslim rather than Christian. So you’d expect the numbers to go ther other way or at least stay even.
I made exactly this point about 300 comments upthread — search for “Lebanon”.
And yes, it’s almost entirely because of differential birthrates, though differential emigration is also playing a role. Also, the demographic winners are not “Muslims” exactly — it’s the Shi’a Muslims, who live in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa valley.
Oh sorry, you totally did. And from what little I know about Lebanon, you’re right about it being Shi’a Muslims too.
There are two considerations that haven’t weren’t in this post (and forgive me if someone else mentioned this in the comments).
1. The first is that certain characteristics are “inherent” in people, and have been bred into our psyche, perhaps even as early as our ape common ancestors. For example some idea of racism is found in all cultures. Our attempts to end racism run counter to our nature but perhaps increases or is neutral to our survival as a culture at this particular junction. Another example of something that is inherent and likely a function of biological evolution is the golden rule, which is pretty universal. In other words maybe a revulsion to homosexuality is inherent and getting a culture which finds this important enough to root out this predilection is just rare because of human nature. Personally I find this unlikely, or at least the idea that a revulsion to homosexuality is as “biologically” ingrained as morality or racism.
2. Perhaps a revulsion to homosexuality is an indication of something else related to cultural fitness. For example, going from your second point, perhaps societies that rigidly control how its people reproduce can out breed competing cultures, and one aspect of controlling reproduction might be to make sure there is no wastefulness. This also may or may not be outdated.
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