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What Makes Caucasian Culture Unique?   [Copy link] 中文

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What Makes Western Culture Unique?

Kevin MacDonald

In general, cultural uniqueness could derive from either nature or nurture—the same old ageless dichotomy, but I think now we are in a better position to deal with these issues than in times past, and I will be arguing that both are important.  Western cultures have experienced certain unique cultural transformations that cannot be predicted by any biological/evolutionary theory, but they also have had a unique evolutionary history.  Western culture was built by people who differ genetically from those who have built the other civilizations and cultures of the world.  In the following I will argue that Western cultures have a unique cultural profile compared to other traditional civilizations:

  • The Catholic Church and Christianity.
  • A tendency toward monogamy.
  • A tendency toward simple family structure based on the nuclear family.
  • A greater tendency for marriage to be companionate and based on mutual affection of the partners.
  • A de-emphasis on extended kinship relationships and its correlative, a relative lack of ethnocentrism.
  • A tendency toward individualism and all of its implications: individual rights against the state, representative government, moral universalism, and science.

My background is in the field of evolutionary biology, and one of the first questions that struck me when I was exposed to the evolutionary theory of sex was "why are Western cultures monogamous?"  The evolutionary theory of sex is quite simple: Females must invest greatly in reproduction - pregnancy, lactation, and often childcare require an extraordinary amount of time.  As a result, the reproduction of females is highly limited.  Even under the best of conditions women could have, say, 20 children.  But the act of reproduction is cheap for men.  As a result, males benefit from multiple mates, and it is expected that males with wealth and power should use their wealth and power to secure as many mates as possible.  In short, intensive polygyny by wealthy, powerful males is an optimal male strategy i.e., it is behavior that optimizes individual male reproductive success.

This theory is well supported.  There are strong associations between wealth and reproductive success in traditional societies from around the world. Wealthy, powerful males are able to control very large numbers of females.  The elite males of all of the traditional civilizations around the world, including those of China, India, Muslim societies, the New World civilizations, ancient Egypt and ancient Israel, often had hundreds and even thousands of concubines.  In sub-Saharan Africa, women were generally able to rear children without male provisioning, and the result was low-level polygyny in which males competed to control as many women as possible.  In all of these societies, the children from these relationships were legitimate.  They could inherit property and were not scorned by the public.  The Emperor of China had thousands of concubines, and the Sultan of Morocco is in the Guinness Book of World Records as having 888 children.

To be sure, there are other societies where monogamy is the norm.  It is common to distinguish ecologically imposed monogamy from socially imposed monogamy.  In general, ecologically imposed monogamy is found in societies that have been forced to adapt to very harsh ecological conditions such as deserts and arctic conditions. Under such harsh conditions, it is impossible for males to control additional females because the investment of each male must be directed to the children of one woman.  The basic idea is that under harsh conditions a woman would be unable to rear children by herself but would require provisioning from a male.  If these conditions persisted for an evolutionarily significant time, one might expect to find that the population would develop a strong tendency toward monogamy.  In fact, one might imagine that the tendency toward monogamy could become so strong that it would result in psychological and cultural tendencies toward monogamy even in the face of altered ecological conditions.  Later I will propose that this is exactly what happened in the evolution of Europeans.

Richard Alexander used the term "socially imposed monogamy" (SIM) to refer to situations where monogamy occurs even in the absence of harsh ecological conditions.  Harsh conditions imply that men are needed to directly provision children, but in other situations we expect and generally find that males compete to have as many wives as they can command.

The First Example of Western Uniqueness

Whereas all of the other economically advanced cultures of the world have been typified by polygyny by successful males, Western societies beginning with the ancient Greeks and Romans and extending up to the present have had a powerful tendency toward monogamy.

Ancient Rome had a variety of political institutions and ideological supports that tended toward monogamy.  The origins of socially imposed monogamy in Rome are lost in history, but there were several mechanisms for maintaining monogamy, including laws that lowered the legal status of offspring born outside monogamous marriage, customs opposing divorce, negative social attitudes toward non‑conforming sexual behavior, and a religious ideology of monogamous sexual decorum.  Variations of these mechanisms have persisted throughout Western history down to the present.

During the period of the Roman Republic, there were also mechanisms that prevented political despotism by any one aristocratic family, including term limits on the consulship, having two consuls concurrently.  Legal requirements for the political representation of the lower orders gradually developed e.g., the Tribune of the Plebes.  There were also extensive laws that prevented close relatives from marrying.  These laws prevented the concentration of wealth within kinship groups and thus prevented the predominance of any one aristocratic family.

Roman monogamy was far from complete.  This was especially so in the Empire when there was a general breakdown of the earlier family functioning due to increases in divorce, and a decline in the ideology of monogamous sexual decorum that typified the early Republic.  Nevertheless, from a legal point of view, and at least in theory, Roman culture remained monogamous to the end. Polygynous marriage was never sanctioned in law, and children born outside of monogamous marriage had no inheritance rights and took the social and legal status of the mother.

Battles over monogamy became an important feature of the Middle Ages as the Catholic Church attempted to impose monogamy on elite males.  The Catholic Church is a unique aspect of Western culture.  When Marco Polo visited the Chinese in the 13th century and when Cortez arrived among the Aztecs in 1519, they found a great many similarities with their own society, including a hereditary nobility, priests, warriors, craftsmen, and peasants all living off an agricultural economy.  There was thus an overwhelming convergence among the societies.  But they did not find societies where the religious establishment claimed to be superior to the secular establishment and was successfully regulating the reproductive behavior of the secular elite.  Nor did they find a king like Louis IX (St. Louis) who ruled France while living like a monk with his one wife and went on a Crusade to free the Holy Land.

The Catholic Church was the heir to Roman civilization where monogamy was ingrained in law and custom, and during the Middle Ages it took it upon itself to impose monogamy on the emerging European aristocracy.  To be sure, the level of polygyny found among European aristocrats in the early Middle Ages was quite low compared to the harems of China and the Muslim countries, but that may well have been due partly to the relatively undeveloped economic situation of the early Middle Ages.  After all, the emperor of China presided over a vast and populous country with huge surplus economic production.  They were much wealthier than the tribal chieftains of early medieval Europe, and they used that wealth and power to obtain vastly more women.

In any case, polygyny did exist in Europe, and during the Middle Ages it became the object of conflict between the Church and the aristocracy.  The Church was "the most influential and important governmental institution [of Europe] during the medieval period" and a major aspect of this power over the secular aristocracy involved the regulation of sex and reproduction.  The result was that the same rules of sexual conduct were imposed on both rich and poor. The program of the Church "required above all that laymen, especially the most powerful among them, should submit to the authority of the Church and allow it to supervise their morals, especially their sexual morals.  It was by this means, through marriage, that the aristocracy could be kept under control.  All matrimonial problems had to be submitted to and resolved by the Church alone."

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Attempting to understand the behavior of the Church during this period in terms of evolutionary psychology is beyond the scope of this paper. However, one might note that the desire for power is a human universal but, like all human desires, it need not be linked with reproductive success.  In the same way, people desire sex, but engaging in sex does not necessarily lead to having lots of children even though Mother Nature designed it that way.

One unique feature of the Church is that its popularity was aided by the image (and reality) that the Church was altruistic.  The medieval Church successfully portrayed the image that it was not concerned with controlling women or having a high level of reproductive success.  This was not always the case.  Before the reforms of the Middle Ages, many priests had wives and concubines.  Writing of the French Church in 742, Saint Boniface complained to the pope about "so-called deacons who have spent their lives since boyhood in debauchery, adultery, and every kind of filthiness, who entered the diaconate with this reputation, and who now, while they have four or five concubines in their beds, still read the gospel."

Nevertheless, reform among the clergy was real.  No English prelate of the 13th century is known to have had a wife or family.  Married clergy even at lower levels were exceptional during this period in England, and low levels of clerical incontinence continued into the Reformation period.

The Church therefore projected the image of chastity and altruism.  Its power and wealth were not directed at reproductive success.  True reproductive altruism appears to have been a factor in the very widespread attraction of extremely ascetic monastic lifestyles.  This asceticism was an important part of the public’s perception of the Church during the high Middle Ages.  During the 11th and 12th centuries thousands of monasteries were founded.  Composed of celibate and ascetic males and recruited mainly from the more affluent classes, monasteries "set the tone in the spirituality of the whole church, in education and in art, [and] in the transmission of culture . . ."  The image of monastic altruism was also fostered by an ideology in which the prayers of monks were believed to aid all Christians.

These orders provided a very popular public image of the Church.  During the 13th century, mendicant friars (Dominicans, Franciscans) were instrumental in reforming the Church to extend the power of the Pope over the Church, to enforce rules on clerical celibacy, to prevent nepotism and simony (the buying and selling of Church offices), and to give the Church substantial power over secular powers, including the ability to regulate sexual relationships. "The voluntary poverty and self-imposed destitution that identified the early Mendicants with the humblest and most deprived sections of the population, in loud contrast to the careerism and ostentation of the secular clergy and the corporate wealth and exclusiveness of the monasteries, moved the conscience and touched the generosity of commercial communities."

It is one of the most remarkable phenomena in the whole of history that in the high middle ages . . . many members of the highest and wealthiest or at least prosperous strata of society, who had the best chances of enjoying earthly pleasures to the full, renounced them. . .  The flow of new candidates was particularly impressive in those places where the rules of monastic life had been restored to their ancient strictness, imposed more rigorously or even redefined more severely. . .  We must assume that the main motive for the choice of a monastic life was always the eschatological ideal of monasticism, even if this may have lost something of its driving force in the course of a long life or was mixed with other motives from the start.

During the 13th century, the mendicant friars were typically recruited from the aristocracy, the landed gentry, and other affluent families.  Their parents often disapproved of their decision, presumably because, like most parents, they wanted grandchildren.  "It was a nightmare for well-to-do families that their children might become friars."  These families began to avoid sending their children to universities because of well-founded fears that they would be recruited into a religious life.

At the center of society was an institution with an ideology that people ought to be altruistic, that they ought to be celibate even when they were born to wealth.  This explains popular acceptance of the authority of the church in matters of marriage and sex, but it still makes one wonder why these well-off people were entering monasteries and becoming celibate in the first place.  Like it or not, whatever else one might say about Western Europe during this period, eugenics was not a part of the picture.

The medieval Church was a unique feature of Western culture, but a theme of this paper is that in critical ways it was most un-Western.  This is because medieval Europe was a collectivist society with a strong sense of group identification and commitment, and I will be arguing that Western societies are also unique in their commitment to individualism—that in fact individualism is a defining feature of Western civilization.

The collectivism of Western European society in the late Middle Ages was real.  There was intense group identification and group commitment to Christianity among all levels of society, as indicated, for example, by the multitudes of pilgrims and the outpouring of religious fervor and in-group fervor associated with the Crusades to free the Holy Land from Muslim control. The medieval Church had a strong sense of Christian group economic interests vis-à-vis the Jews, and often worked vigorously to exclude Jews from economic and political influence and to prevent social intercourse between Christians and Jews.

As described above, there were also high levels of reproductive altruism, particularly among the mendicant friars, many other religious personnel, and eventually the secular elite.  Reproductive altruism among the secular elite was mainly the result of coercion but there are also cases of voluntary restraint, as in the case of Louis IX of France—St. Louis. St. Louis was not only a paragon of proper Christian sexual behavior.  He also had a powerful sense of Christian group economic interests vis-à-vis the Jews and he was heavily involved in the crusades to return the Holy Land to Christian control.  Europeans considered themselves part of a Christian in-group arrayed against non‑Christian out-groups (particularly Muslims and Jews) who were seen as powerful and threatening enemies.

There were indeed gaps between the ideal of a unified Christian society based on the power of the Church and sexual restraint among the elite.  But these gaps must be balanced by the recognition that many medieval Christians, and especially the central actors in medieval society such as: The monastic movements, the mendicant friars, the reforming popes, the fervent Crusaders, the pious pilgrims, and even many elite aristocrats, saw themselves to be part of a highly unified, supranational collectivity.  It is this fundamentally collectivist orientation—so foreign to contemporary Western life—that renders the high levels of group commitment and altruism characteristic of the medieval period comprehensible in psychological terms.

Social Controls & Ideology Maintaining Socially Imposed Monogamy in Western Europe

In Western Europe the Church adopted an ecclesiastical model of marriage that was diametrically opposed to the reproductive interests of the aristocracy.  As a direct result of these efforts, there was a transformation of family structure and the social imposition of monogamy by the Christian Church by the end of the 12th century.  The following factors appear to have been most important in the imposition and maintenance of monogamy:

Prohibitions on Divorce.  Wealthy males benefit most by being able to divorce easily because they can more easily remarry.  While divorce was common in other Eurasian societies and was legal among the pre-Christian tribes of Europe, the Church’s point of view was that marriage was monogamous and indissoluble.  Divorce became ever more restricted under the Christian Roman emperors, and between the 9th and the 12th century the Church engaged in a successful conflict with the aristocracy centering around a series of divorce cases involving the nobility.  For example, in the late 12th century, King Phillip of France was prevented from divorcing his wife even though he disliked her and she was infertile.  The king had to apologize to a group of religious personnel at an abbey in Paris.

At times divorce was allowed, but only if the goal was to obtain a male heir in cases where the first marriage had failed to produce one e.g., Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine in Medieval France.  (But the Pope did not allow Henry VIII to divorce his wife even though they did not produce a son.)  Divorce "was virtually impossible except for a handful of the very rich" in England until the reform of 1857.  But even then divorce rates remained very low.  "In those parts of Europe that had legalized divorce in the sixteenth century, it was three hundred years and more before any line of divorce could be distinguished from the horizontal axis of a graphic depiction of divorce rates."  In England the divorce rate remained at less than 0.1/1000 marriages until 1914 and less than 1/1000 until 1943 (Stone 1990); in 1910 no European country had a divorce rate higher than .5/1000population.  So far as I know, this powerful tendency in opposition to divorce is unique to Western European civilization.

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Penalties for Illegitimacy.  From an evolutionary perspective, the most crucial aspect of social controls related to reproduction is the control of concubinage.  Controls on illegitimacy oppose the reproductive interests of wealthy males by making concubinage difficult or impossible and by affecting the prospects of illegitimate children by, e.g., preventing them from inheriting property.

The Church was actively opposed to concubinage, especially concubinage in the presence of a legitimate wife.  It would appear that social controls on the abilities of illegitimate children to inherit were often effective.  Church held the attitude that legitimate marriage produced legitimate children and that others had no legal standing, although in certain periods bastards had more standing than others (see below).  The estates of bastards were subject to confiscation by the Church or the state, so that even if a man wanted to leave property to a bastard his wishes could be thwarted by the authorities.  Bastards disappeared from wills altogether during the Puritan era in England.

Besides direct Church influence, there were a variety of other penalties attached to illegitimate birth arising from the secular authorities and public opinion.  Being the father and especially the mother of an illegitimate child were causes for ostracism and jail, and it was common for the woman to take every effort to conceal the pregnancy, including leaving the area.  These social controls had effects on mortality of illegitimate children.  Infant mortality was higher for illegitimate children in both early modern England and France.  Women often abandoned illegitimate children.  Illegitimate children were often reported as stillborn, indicating infanticide, and women sometimes sought to avoid bearing illegitimate children via abortion.

Controls on Concubinage among the Elite. Controls on concubinage by elite males became increasingly effective during the Middle Ages.  The 12th century thus appears to be pivotal.  There are good examples from this period of elite males who were able to avoid social and ideological controls favoring monogamy as well as examples where such individuals were entirely monogamous.  The general patterns may be perceived by considering the illegitimate fertility of English kings.  Ten of the 18 kings who ruled England from 1066 to 1485 are known to have taken mistresses, and are known to have fathered 41 illegitimate offspring who can be identified with a fair degree of certainty.  Henry I, who ruled from 1100 to 1135 sired 20 of these, and 5 more are listed as probable.  No other Medieval king sired more than 3, and no certain illegitimate children are recorded for 8 of the kings.  Henry I is unique in his apparent interest in obtaining large numbers of offspring to further his territorial ambitions.  However, Henry treated his illegitimate children far less well than his legitimate children, the latter being pampered, tutored at court, and prepared for life as great nobles.  Bastards, on the other hand, were excluded from inheriting the throne, and they were often not offered marriages.  Reflecting the general change in attitudes and practices related to marriage occurring in the 12th century, there is a decline in both the numbers and importance of illegitimate children in the following centuries.

Policing Sexual Behavior in the Middle Ages and Later. One of the prime goals of the medieval Church was to police sexual behavior outside of monogamous marriage Policing sexual violations was an important function of the ecclesiastical courts beginning in the Middle Ages and extending at least to the end of the 17th century.  These courts were very active in 17th century England prosecuting cases of fornication, adultery, incest, and illicit cohabitation. Although the effectiveness of these ecclesiastical sanctions varied by region and period, there were examples of devastating consequences in which "the victim was hounded by his fellows, deprived of his living by a community boycott, and treated as an outcast".

In the 17th century the ability of the High Commission of the Ecclesiastical Court system to impose sanctions, including sanctions for adultery, on the propertied who could expect to be immune from other judicial processes: "This enforcement of equality before the law did not endear the court to those who mattered in seventeenth-century England".  The secular authorities, such as justices of the peace, also stood ready to prosecute such offenses.  For example, pursuant to Elizabethan statutes, Justices of the Peace in the 16th and17th centuries commonly sentenced sexual offenders of both sexes to a public whipping while stripped to waist (the woman "until her back be bloody") and placed in the stocks.

Ideologies Promoting Monogamy. Although ultimately relying on social controls, the Medieval Church developed elaborate ideologies to promote monogamy and sexual restraint. In general these writings emphasized the moral superiority of celibacy and the sinfulness of extra-marital sex of any kind.  All sexual relationships, apart from monogamous marriage, were universally condemned by religious authority throughout the early modern period into contemporary times.  Marital sex was viewed as a regrettable and sinful necessity, and excess passion towards one’s wife was considered adultery.  While there was a relative relaxation of attitudes during the 18th century, a powerful anti-hedonist religious sexual ideology rose to prominence in the 19th century.

Conclusion.  Beginning in the Middle Ages an elaborate system of social controls and ideologies resulted in the more or less complete imposition of monogamy in large areas of Western Europe. "The great social achievement of the early Middle Ages was the imposition of the same rules of sexual and domestic conduct on both rich and poor.  The King in has palace, the peasant in his hovel: neither was exempt."  Nevertheless, the system was by no means completely egalitarian.  There was a positive association between wealth and reproductive success throughout pre-industrial Europe.

In Western Europe there has been a remarkable continuity within a varied set of institutions, which have penalized polygyny and channeled non-monogamous sexuality into non-reproductive outlets or suppressed it altogether.  Despite changes in these institutions and despite vast changes in political and economic structures, Western family institutions deriving ultimately from Roman civilization have clearly aimed at the social imposition of monogamy.  By and large, this effort has been successful.

Effects of Monogamy

Monogamy is a very central aspect of Western uniqueness with some important effects.  Monogamy may well be a necessary condition for the unique European "low-pressure" demographic profile.  This demographic profile results from late marriage and celibacy of large percentages of females during times of economic scarcity.  The connection with monogamy is that monogamous marriage results in a situation where the poor of both sexes are unable to mate, whereas in polygynous systems an excess of poor females merely lowers the price of concubines for wealthy males.  For example, at the end of the 17th century approximately 23% of both sexes remained unmarried between ages 40-44.  But, as a result of altered economic opportunities, this percentage dropped at the beginning of the 18th century to 9%, and there was a corresponding decline in age of marriage.  Like monogamy, this pattern was unique among the stratified societies of Eurasia.

In turn, the low-pressure demographic profile appears to have had economic consequences.  Not only was the marriage rate the main damper on population growth, but this response, especially in England, had a tendency to lag well behind favorable economic changes so that there was a tendency for capital accumulation during good times rather than a constant pressure of population on food supply:

The fact that the rolling adjustment between economic and demographic fluctuations took place in such a leisurely fashion, tending to produce large if gradual swings in real wages, represented an opportunity to break clear from the low-level income trap which is sometimes supposed to have inhibited all pre-industrial nations.  A long period of rising real wages, by changing the structure of demand, will tend to give a disproportionately strong boost to demand for commodities other than the basic necessities of life, and so to sectors of the economy whose growth is especially important if an industrial revolution is to occur.

There is therefore some reason to suppose that monogamy, by resulting in a low-pressure demographic profile, was a necessary condition for industrialization.  The overall pattern, then, is not one in which there is a constant tendency toward late marriage and/or celibacy in females.  Instead, marriage is influenced by economic constraints.  In times of prosperity the age of marriage for both sexes declined and fewer females remained non-reproductive. The result was a marriage system which is highly sensitive to resource availability: "An important distinguishing feature of Europe, the pivot upon which the system turned, was the flexible marital regime, which allowed population to adjust to economy."  This suggests that monogamy may indeed be a central aspect of the necessary architecture of Western modernization.

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Monogamy and investment in children.  Polygynous mating systems tend to result in resources being devoted to reproduction and relatively less to investment in children.  For a male in a polygynous society it is attractive to invest in another wife or concubine and her low investment offspring.  In polygynous societies, investment in additional concubines tends to have a large payoff and requires little investment in children.  Offspring of concubines were typically given relatively small inheritances and allowed to descend the social ladder.  There is a low sex ratio of offspring among harem women—a preponderance of daughters.  In theoretical terms this implies a bias toward low investment offspring because in general it is easier for females to be able to mate.  Although the daughters of these concubines will have low social status compared to their father, they will tend to mate.  On the other hand, sons of the upper classes were targets of dowry competition for lower status families.  In either case, there is little need for fathers to invest time, energy, or money in the offspring of their concubines.

Monogamy, however, restricts the investment of individual males to the offspring of one woman.  With the decline in extended kinship relations (see below) and the institutionalization of monogamy on all social classes, support for children came to rest completely upon the independent nuclear family.  As described below, this "simple" family was the critical vehicle of Western modernization.

Decline of Extended Kinship Relations and the Rise of the Simple Household

As in the case of monogamy, the Church also had a role in the decline of extended kinship relationships.  In this case, however, Church policy was aided by the rise of strong central governments, which discouraged extended family relationships and replaced the role of the extended family in guaranteeing individual interests.

From an evolutionary perspective one can scarcely overestimate the potential importance of kinship relationships.  Because of the ties of biological relatedness, kin are expected to have common interests and lower thresholds for cooperation and even self-sacrificing behavior.  The Germanic tribes who settled much of Western Europe at the end of the Roman Empire were organized as kinship groups based on biological relatedness among males.  They tribes had a strong sense of group solidarity based on these ties of kinship. "Since the early Germans could not rely upon the protection and assistance of a bureaucratic empire when they were threatened with attack or famine, it was incumbent upon each man and woman of the community to adhere to the fundamental sociobiological principle of group survival embodied in the bonds of familial and communal solidarity."  It was this world of tribally based kinship groups that the kings and the Church wanted to eradicate.

Forces Opposing Extended Kinship.  The eradication of large, powerful kinship groups was in the interests of both the Church and the aristocracy.  A higher degree of centralized state power by itself has a tendency to lessen the importance of extended kinship relations, especially if that power protects the interests of individuals.  From an evolutionary perspective, extended kinship groups have costs and benefits.  The benefits accrue from the protection and support provided by the wider kindred, but these benefits entail costs in terms of: 1.) increased demands by kin for reciprocated services; 2.) the fact that kin will tend to prevent any individual from rising too much above the others in the kinship group; and 3) the difficulty of establishing oneself in a kinship structure which is far from egalitarian.  As a result, individuals are expected to avoid becoming enmeshed in extended kinship groups when their interests are protected by other institutions i.e., the benefits of extended kinship are removed, but the costs remain.  In general individuals tend to seek the protection of the extended kinship group when centralized power fails, and they correspondingly flee the extended kinship group when state power is sufficient to protect their interests.

The picture one gets is the gradual development in the West of an aristocracy based on the simple family and freed from obligations to collateral kin dominating a peasantry characterized by the simple family and embedded in a society of neighbors and friends, not an extended kinship group.  This social structure was an achievement of the late Middle Ages.  Extended kinship relations were not important among the peasantry in late Medieval England or France.

Church Policy.  For its part, the Church contributed to the eradication of extended kinship ties in Western Europe by opposing consanguineous marriage (marriage of blood relatives) and supporting marriage based solely on consent of the partners.  In the case of consanguinity, the Church prohibited marriage between an ever-expanding set of individuals.  In the sixth century the prohibition was extended to second cousins and by the eleventh century it was extended to 6th cousins i.e., individuals with a common great-great-great-great-great grandfather.  Clearly these prohibitions on consanguinity go far beyond those predicted by evolutionary theory.  Moreover, biological relatedness was not crucial here, since marriage was forbidden to similarly distant affinal relatives (i.e., relatives by marriage) as well as to individuals with spiritual kinship (i. e., relatives of godparents).  The effect of the policy was to undermine extensive kinship networks and to create an aristocracy freed from obligations to the wider kin group.

Whatever the rationale given to these prohibitions by the Church, there is evidence that the aristocracy obeyed the ecclesiastical rules.  There were very few marriages closer than 4th or 5th cousins among the French nobility of the 10th and 11th centuries.  These practices weakened the extended kinship group, since the expanded range of incestuous marriages prevented the solidarity of extended kinship groups by excluding "the reinforcing of blood with marriage."  The result was that biological relatedness was spread diffusely throughout the nobility rather than concentrated at the top.  The direct descendents of the family rather than the wider kinship group also benefited: "Men in high secular positions . . . strove to consolidate their fortunes and their families in order to secure as much as possible for their direct descendants to the detriment of wider kin."

In addition to its policy on consanguinity, the Church’s doctrine of consent in marriage acted as a force against extended kinship relationships.  "The family, the tribe, the clan, were subordinated to the individual.  If one wanted to marry enough, one could choose one’s own mate and the Church would vindicate one’s choice."  Marriage came about as a result of consent and was ratified by sexual intercourse.  By removing the fundamental nature of marriage from the control of the family and the secular lord to the individuals involved, the Church established its authority against the traditional ties of kinship and family.  Freedom of choice of marriage partner was the rule in England throughout the modern period and that parental control was exercised only in the top 1% of the population.

An Ethnic Basis for Western Individualism

The Magian [Eastern] man is but part of a pneumatic "We" which, descending from above, is one and the same in all members.  As body and soul he belongs to himself alone, but something else, something alien and higher, dwells in him, making him with all his glimpses and convictions just a member of a consensus, which, as the emanation of God, excludes all possibility of the self-asserting Ego.  Truth is for him something other than for us i.e., for us of specifically European mentality.  All our epistemological methods, resting upon the individual judgment, are for him madness and infatuation and its scientific results a work of the Evil One, who has confused and deceived the spirit as to its true dispositions and purposes. Herein lies the ultimate, for unapproachable secret of Magian though in its cavern world — the impossibility of a thinking, believing, and knowing Ego is the presupposition in all the fundamentals of all these religions.

The Faustian Worldview: "In Wolfran von Eschenback, Cervantes,  Shakespeare, and Goethe, the tragic line of the individual life develops from  within outward, dynamically, functionally." " . . . willing to question even God if the mask that he shows—or is said  to have shown—rings hollow when struck," Oswald Spengler.

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Post time 2012-5-2 10:28:31 |Display all floors
This post was edited by Transhumanism at 2012-5-2 11:26

Thus far one might suppose that the creation of the individualistic nuclear family based on consent and love, monogamy, and the decline in the importance of extended kinship is simply the result of the social processes I have mentioned. But the fact is that these changes occurred much more quickly and much more thoroughly than in other parts of the world.  The Western world remains the only culture area fundamentally characterized by all of the markers of individualism: Monogamy, the conjugal nuclear family, representative government with individual rights against the state, moral universalism, and science.  Further, this culture was built on the robust base of Roman civilization, which had several of these features.  I suggest therefore that these tendencies are unique to the Western European culture area and that they have an ethnic basis.  I do not suppose that Western Europeans have any unique biological adaptations, only that we differ in degree in adaptations characteristic of all humans and that the differences are sufficient to enable the evolution of a unique human culture.  Similarly, all humans have the distinctively human mental abilities like symbolic representation and language, but races show quantitative differences in IQ sufficient to have major effects on their cultures—perhaps sufficient to result in at least some qualitative differences.

I suggest thatover the course of their recent evolution, Europeans have been less subjected to between-group natural selection than Jews and other Middle Eastern populations.  This was originally proposed by Fritz Lenz, who suggested that, because of the harsh environment of the Ice Age, the Nordic peoples evolved in small groups and have a tendency toward social isolation. Such a perspective would not imply that Northern Europeans lack collectivist mechanisms for group competition, but only that these mechanisms are relatively less elaborated and/or require a higher level of group conflict to trigger their expression.

This perspective is consistent with ecological theory.  Under ecologically adverse circumstances, adaptations are directed more at coping with the adverse physical environment than at competing with other groups, and in such an environment, there would be less pressure for selection for extended kinship networks and highly collectivist groups.  Evolutionary conceptualizations of ethnocentrism emphasize the utility of ethnocentrism in-group competition.  Ethnocentrism would thus be of no importance at all in combating the physical environment, and such an environment would not support large groups.

European groups are part of the North Eurasian and Circumpolar culture area.  This culture area derives from hunter-gatherers adapted to cold, ecologically adverse climates. In such climates there is pressure for male provisioning of the family and a tendency toward monogamy because the ecology did not support either polygyny or large groups for an evolutionarily significant period.  These cultures are characterized by bilateral kinship relationships which recognize both the male and female lines, suggesting a more equal contribution for each sex as would be expected under conditions of monogamy.  There is also less emphasis on extended kinship relationships and marriage tends to be exogamous i.e., outside the kinship group.  All of these characteristics are opposite those found in the Middle Old World culture area, comprising the lower part of Eurasia.  This culture group includes Jews and similar Near Eastern groups.

This scenario implies that Northern European peoples are more prone to individualism because they existed for a very long period in an ecological context that did not support large tribal groups based on extended kinship relations.  Based on mitochondrial DNA, around 80% of European genes are from people who arrived in Europe from the Middle East 30-40,000 years ago. These populations persisted through the Ice Ages.  Presumably European populations who evolved in the cold and cloudy environments of the North for 40,000 years developed not just blond hair and blue eyes but temperaments and life style preferences to go with it.

These populations were hunters and gatherers, not agriculturalists. Because of the relatively low level of economic production, hunting favors male provision of females.  This is because the energetic requirements of the human brain can only be met with a high quality diet.  The human brain makes up only 2% of body mass but requires 20% of all energy, 70% in the fetal period.  This then led to pair bonding—the psychological basis of monogamy—in which there is cooperation between nurturing females and provisioning males beginning around 500,000 years ago. Hunting also required "considerable experience, quality education, and years of intensive practice"—in other words, it requires high-investment parenting.  It also pulls for intelligence because hunting for humans relies on cognitive abilities rather than running ability or strength.  The hunting scenario is complex and ever changing.  Every animal species as well as individuals demonstrate unique behavioral characteristics depending on internal conditions of sex, age, weather, topography, etc.  All of these trends are intensified in Northern areas because there is less energy per unit area.

The historical evidence shows that Europeans, and especially Northwest Europeans, were relatively quick to abandon extended kinship networks and collectivist social structures when their interests were protected with the rise of strong centralized governments.  There is a general tendency throughout the world for a decline in extended kinship networks with the rise of central authority.  But in the case of Northwest Europe this tendency quickly gave rise, at least by the late Middle Ages and probably earlier, to the unique Western European "simple household" type.  The simple household type is based on a single married couple and their children.  This household style was typical of Scandinavia  (except Finland), British Isles, Low Countries, German-speaking areas, northern France.  It contrasts with the joint family structure typical of the rest of Eurasia in which the household consists of two or more related couples, typically brothers and their wives.  Before the industrial revolution, the simple household system was characterized by late age of marriage as well as methods of keeping unmarried young people occupied as servants and circulating among the households of the wealthy.  The joint household system was characterized by earlier age of marriage for both men and women, a higher birthrate, as well as means of splitting up to form two or more households when the need arises.

This simple household system is a fundamental feature of individualist culture.  The individualist family was able to pursue its interests freed from the obligations and constraints of extended kinship relationships and free of the suffocating collectivism of the social structures typical of the rest of the world.  Marriage based on individual consent and conjugal affection quickly replaced marriage based on kinship and, even considerations.

This relatively greater proneness to forming a simple household type is likely ethnically based.  Not only does the simple household make compelling ecological sense for people adapted to harsh climates, but as previously pointed out, this tendency is stronger among the Germanic peoples.  It is an intriguing finding that there are major differences within France corresponding to the division between the Germanic peoples who lived northeast of "the eternal line," which connects Saint Malo on the English Channel with Geneva in French-speaking Switzerland.  This area developed large-scale agriculture capable of feeding the growing towns and cities, and did so prior to the agricultural revolution of the 18th century.  It was supported by a large array of skilled craftsmen in the towns, and a large class of medium-sized ploughmen who "owned horses, copper bowls, glass goblets and often shoes; their children had fat cheeks and broad shoulders, and their babies wore tiny shoes.  None of these children had the swollen bellies of the rachitics of the Third World."  The northeast became the center of French industrialization and world trade.

The northeast also differed from the southwest in literacy rates.  In the early 19th century, while literacy rates for France as a whole were approximately 50%, the rate in the northeast was close to 100%, and differences occurred at least from the 17th century.  Moreover, there was a pronounced difference in stature, with the northeasterners being taller by almost two centimeters in an 18th century sample of military recruits.  Ladurie notes that the difference in the entire population was probably larger because the army would not accept many of the shorter men from the southwest.  Family historians have noted that the trend toward the economically independent nuclear family was more prominent in the north, while there was a tendency toward joint families as one moves to the south and east.

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Post time 2012-5-2 10:28:48 |Display all floors
This post was edited by Transhumanism at 2012-5-2 11:27

These findings strongly suggest that ethnic differences are a contributing factor to the geographical variation in family forms within Europe.  The findings suggest that the Germanic peoples had a somewhat greater biological tendency toward individualism—a greater tendency toward nuclear family social structure because of selection occurring in a prolonged resource-limited period of their evolution in the north of Europe.  These groups were less attracted to extended kinship groups, so that when the context altered with the decline of extended kinship networks, the simple household structure occurred quickly.  This simple family structure was adopted relatively easily because this group already had relatively powerful psychological predispositions toward the simple household system resulting from its unique evolutionary history.

Although these differences between the Germanic peoples and other areas of Europe system are important, they do not belie the general difference between Western Europe and the rest of Eurasia.  Although the trends toward simple households and the demographic transition occurred first in the northwest of Europe, they spread relatively quickly among all the Western countries.

Another element of Western uniqueness was the custom of placing young people from peasant families as servants in the homes of others in areas of Northwest Europe characterized by the simple family.  Between 30 and 40% of the youth in pre-industrial England were in service, the largest single occupational group until the 20th century.  The practice of taking in servants went beyond simply providing for one’s needs by bringing in outsiders.  People would sometimes have their children go to work as servants elsewhere while at the same time taking in unrelated servants.  It was not just the children of the poor and landless who became servants, but even large, successful farmers sent their children to be servants elsewhere.  In the 17th and 18th centuries individuals often took in servants early in their marriage, before their own children could help out, and then passed their children to others when the children were older and there was more than enough help.

This suggests a deeply ingrained cultural practice, which resulted in a high level of non-kinship based reciprocity.  The practice also bespeaks a relative lack of ethnocentrism because people are taking in non-relatives as household members.  These pre-industrial societies are not organized around extended kinship, and it is easy to see that they are pre-adapted to the industrial revolution and modern world generally.  In the rest of Eurasia, there was a strong tendency for households to consist of kin.

Interestingly, in a sexually competitive society such as classical China, the female servants would be concubines of the head of the household, so that the resources of the household could be directly translated into reproduction.  Thus in the Western European model wealthy males were supporting far more non-relatives than in the sexually competitive societies of Eurasia.  It is intriguing that hunter-gatherer societies living in harsh climates often have very elaborate systems of reciprocity aimed at sharing resources such as meat.  I suspect that the system of non-kinship based reciprocity so typical of pre-industrial Western Europe was another relic of a prolonged evolution in harsh northern climates.

This establishment of the simple household freed from enmeshment in the wider kinship community was then followed by all the other markers of Western modernization: limited governments in which individuals have rights against the state, capitalist economic enterprise based on individual economic rights, and science as individualist truth seeking.  Individualist societies develop republican political institutions and institutions of scientific inquiry that assume that groups are maximally permeable and highly subject to defection when individual needs are not met.

Individualistic Marriage:  Consent, Love, and Companionship as the Basis of Marriage

The rise of the simple household based on consent between the partners meant that personal qualities of the mate became more important compared to the situation where families are enmeshed in extended kinship relationships.  In situations where the extended family reigns supreme, marriage is typically consanguineous and affected by family strategizing.  In the simple household system, the personal characteristics of the mate become more important, i.e., all those characteristics on which humans choose mates, including intelligence, personality, psychological compatibility, and socioeconomic status.

While collectivist societies emphasize genealogy and degree of genetic relatedness in marriage, individualist societies tend to emphasize personal attraction, e.g., romantic love, common interests.  John Money has noted the relatively greater tendency of Northern European groups toward romantic love as the basis of marriage.  Frank Salter has suggested that Northern European groups have a number of individualistic adaptations related to sexual behavior, including a greater tendency toward romantic love and genetic rather than social control mechanisms to prevent cuckoldry.  At the psychological level, the evolutionary basis of individualism involves mechanisms like romantic love in which adaptive behavior is intrinsically rewarding rather than imposed by family strategizing or coerced, as in collectivist cultures.  It is the difference between individual courtship between freely consenting and more or less equal partners, versus institutions like the purdah of Near Eastern civilization where the woman is sequestered and controlled by her male relatives until an arranged marriage is concluded.

There has been a trend, beginning in the Middle Ages, toward the companionate marriage based on affection and consent between the partners, eventually affecting even the marriage decisions of the high aristocracy.  "Whereas in industrial Western societies the emotional relationship between man and wife is primary, it is not the pivot of social structure in the majority of societies."  Indeed, this is a general point of contrast between Eastern and Western stratified societies.  The idealization of romantic love as the basis of monogamous marriage has also periodically characterized Western secular intellectual movements, such as the Stoics of late antiquity and 19th‑century Romanticism.  It’s not that love and affection between mates do not exist in other societies; it is just that there is greater emphasis on this in Western societies.

Individual consent to marriage, a characteristic of Western marriage since the Middle Ages, is expected to result in individuals weighing more heavily the personal characteristics of a prospective mate.  One effect of this is greater age parity in marriage partners. Relative age parity of spouses combined with a late age of marriage is a mark of the Western European system of marriage.  The age of marriage for women was higher in Western Europe than elsewhere in Eurasia or Africa, including peasant societies characterized by joint families.  Indeed, in a large English sample from 1550-1775 the average age of marriage for females fluctuated around 26 years of age until 1675, when it began a decline to slightly above 24 years of age in 1800.

Another consequence of the simple household was that affection and pair bonding became the basis of marriage.  Marriage became much less a matter of political alliance between and within kinship groups or a purely economic affair, or simply an aspect of sexual competition, and became based on interpersonal attraction, including affection.  Affection within marriage became a cultural norm with the rise of the simple household.  The Western phenomenon of courtship (unique among the cultures of Eurasia and Africa) provided a period in which prospective mates could assess personal compatibility; in Malthus’ terms, an opportunity was given for both sexes "of finding out kindred disposition, and of forming those strong and lasting attachments without which the married state is generally more productive of misery than of happiness."

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Post time 2012-5-2 10:37:16 |Display all floors
This post was edited by Transhumanism at 2012-5-2 11:29

Individualism & the Decline in Ethnic Consciousness Among Europeans

Thus far I have sketched a scenario, which may be summarized by saying that Western Europeans are relatively non-ethnocentric because of a prolonged period of natural selection in an adverse environment where extended kinship relationships had relatively little utility.  Freed from the shackles of extended kinship relationships, Westerners returned to their roots, readily adopting the simply household which set in motion all the other features of modernization: companionate marriage, individual rights against the state, representative government, moral universalism, and science.  The result was an extraordinary period of creativity, conquest, and creation of wealth that continues into the present.  However, one of the theses of my books on Judaism is that individualism is a poor strategy compared to cohesive group strategies.  In the West, extended kinship groups were eliminated as a necessary prelude to modernization, but this did not eliminate between-group competition entirely. Beginning in the 19th century there has been competition between Jews as a collectivist, ethnically conscious group and Western individualistic elites.

Anthropologically, Jews derive from the Middle Old World Culture area. This culture area is quite the opposite from the characteristics of Western social organization.  As indicated in Table 1, Judaism is collectivist and highly prone to ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and moral particularism.

European Cultural Origins

Jewish Cultural Origins

Evolutionary History

Northern Hunter-Gatherers

Middle Old World
Pastoralists (Herders)

Kinship System

Weakly Patricentric

Strongly Patricentric

Family System

Simple Household;

Extended Family;
Joint Household;

Marriage Practices



Marriage Psychology

Companionate; Based on  Mutual
Consent and Affection

Utilitarian; Based on
Family Strategizing and
Control of Kinship Group

Position of Women

Relatively High

Relatively Low

Social Structure

Charismatic Leaders


Relatively Low

Relatively High; "Hyper-


Relatively Low

Relatively High; "Hyper-


Stresses Independence,

Stresses Ingroup
Identification, Obligations
to Kinship Group

Intellectual Stance


Dogmatism; Submission to
Ingroup Authority and
Charismatic Leaders

Moral Stance

Moral Universalism:
Morality is Independent of
Group Affiliation

Moral Particularism;
Ingroup/Outgroup Morality;
Is it good for the Jews?

Table 1: Contrasts between European and Jewish Cultural Forms.

A prominent theme appearing in several places in my books on Judaism is that individualistic societies are uniquely vulnerable to invasion by cohesive groups such as has been historically represented by Judaism.  Recent research by evolutionary economists provides fascinating insight on the differences between individualistic cultures versus collectivist cultures.  An important aspect of this research is to model the evolution of cooperation among individualistic groups. People will altruistically punish defectors in a "one-shot" game—a game in which participants only interact once and are thus not influenced by the reputations of the people with whom they are interacting.  This situation therefore models an individualistic culture because participants are strangers with no kinship ties.  The surprising finding was that subjects who made high levels of public goods donations tended to punish people who did not, even though they incurred a cost in doing so.  Moreover, the punished individuals changed their ways and donated more in future games even though they knew that the participants in later rounds were not the same as in previous rounds. The researchers suggest that people from individualistic cultures have an evolved negative emotional reaction to free riding that results in their punishing such people even at a cost to themselves—hence the term "altruistic punishment."

Essentially this research provides a model of the evolution of cooperation among individualistic peoples.  Their results are most applicable to individualistic groups because such groups are not based on extended kinship relationships and are therefore much more prone to defection.  In general, high levels of altruistic punishment are more likely to be found among individualistic, hunter-gather societies than in kinship-based societies based on the extended family.  Their results are least applicable to groups such as Jewish groups or other highly collectivist groups which in traditional societies were based on extended kinship relationships, known kinship linkages, and repeated interactions among members.  In such situations, actors know the people with whom they are cooperating and anticipate future cooperation because they are enmeshed in extended kinship networks, or, as in the case of Jews, they are in the same group.

Europeans are thus exactly the sort of groups modeled by this research: They are groups with high levels of cooperation with strangers rather than with extended family members, and they are prone to market relations and individualism.

This suggests the fascinating possibility that the key for a group intending to turn Europeans against themselves is to trigger their strong tendency toward altruistic punishment by convincing them of the moral blameworthiness of their own people.  Because Europeans are individualists at heart, they readily rise up in moral anger against their own people once they are seen as free riders and therefore morally blameworthy—a manifestation of their stronger tendency toward altruistic punishment deriving from their evolutionary past as hunter gatherers.  In making judgments of altruistic punishment, relative genetic distance is irrelevant.  Free-riders are seen as strangers in a market situation; i.e., they have no familial or tribal connection with the altruistic punisher.

As a very interesting and influential European group, the Puritans exemplified this tendency toward altruistic punishment.  A defining feature of Puritanism was the tendency to pursue utopian causes framed as moral issues—their susceptibility to utopian appeals to a ‘higher law’ and the belief that government’s principal purpose is moral.  New England was the most fertile ground for "the perfectibility of man creed," and the "father of a dozen ‘isms’." There was a tendency to paint political alternatives as starkly contrasting moral imperatives, with one side portrayed as evil incarnate—inspired by the devil. Puritan moral intensity can also be seen in their "profound personal piety"—their intensity of commitment to live not only a holy life, but also a sober and industrious life.  

[continued below]
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