Who could have known?

Now and then people experiment with changes in basic social arrangements.  They may institute polygamy, or start marrying their first cousins, or worse yet their sisters.  They may, as a society, decide that their brightest young women should waste their reproductive years on careers. Anyone who understood much about genetics would know that those experiments were bound to have bad consequences, but back in the past, nobody knew anything about genetics, with the possible exception of some farmers.  Of course nobody knows anything it today, either.   In fact,  no popular ideology is at all based on any kind of genetic knowledge or understanding, and some strongly oppose the actual facts on the ground.  Others simply don’t give a rat’s ass about the long-term consequences.

But you can’t beat the facts.  The advanced paternal age associated with polygamy increases genetic load.  Cousin marriage increases infant mortality and decreases IQ.  The Hapsburgs turned into a mess, the Ptolemies went straight downhill, and King Tut had more things wrong with him than you could shake a stick at.

History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men.


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28 Responses to Who could have known?

  1. Kiwiguy says:

    ***In fact, no popular ideology is at all based on any kind of genetic knowledge or understanding***

    David Friedman noted a certain irony a few years ago in a post entitled “who is against evolution?”:

    “Almost everyone on the left believes that he believes in evolution. Yet I find it hard to think of any proposition popular on the left that is deduced from that belief. And, as I think I have shown, important dogmas of much of the left are inconsistent with it.”

    ***They may, as a society, decide that their brightest young women should waste their reproductive years on careers.***

    Even James Flynn decided to warn people that the NZ population (and probably most western populations) was going to get dumber. Unfortunately most people seemed to miss his main point (idiocracy) and instead got upset at his possibly tongue in cheek suggestion of a contraception in the water supply.


    • ziel says:

      I like the ending quote in that article: “Rather than talking about encouraging smart women to have babies and dumb women not to have babies, what we do need to do is make the commitment to good quality education.”

      Yes, why do something we know would work when we can spend enormous amounts of money on something that we’re really not sure how to do. Or God forbid we try to do both.

  2. winestock says:

    At least that inter-marriage among the Hapsburgs had some benefits. “Others fight. You, happy Austria, marry.” If the choice is a between acts of incest and acts of war, then the principle of double-effect strongly leans towards incest as the lesser of evils.

    In an earlier post, you predicted that a highly altruistic group that engages in plenty of wars would tend to see that altruism selected out of the population. If that highly-altruistic population avoids wars, then that altruism may have a chance to hold on if not flourish. If I’m not mistaken, the Austrians and Hungarians are more altruistic and effective at civilization than their neighbors in the Balkans.

    Too bad about the War of the Spanish Succession.

    • athEIst says:

      It was the Spanish Hapsburgs. Two kings married to first cousins, two kings married to nieces. The result was the imbecile king Charles II and yes the War of the Spanish Succession

  3. ziel says:

    You can cite all the facts you want, but I for one will not even consider anything that smacks of the long discredited pseudoscience of eugenices.

  4. a very knowing American says:

    Across cultures, polygamy and cousin marriage tend to go together. Polygamy means marriageable women tend to be in short supply, which encourages men to develop rules leading to inmarriage. (You or your son or grandson can marry my sister or daughter or granddaughter, or whatever, if I/mine can marry yours; see any good introduction to the anthropology of kinship for some of the possibilities.) Australian aborigines are famous for complicated marriage rules, with abundant ritual and theological rationalization, which serve the interests of polygamous elders. Presumably if Mormon schismatic “fundamentalists” — another gerontocratic theocratic group –carry on with polygamy long enough, they’ll figure out they can use Australian-style rules of marriage and kinship to regulate competition.

  5. dave chamberlin says:

    Nature has its ways of correcting things. I too am extremely concerned about our future. When women who drop out of high school average twice as many children as women with graduate degrees it makes our future look bleak.

    But do not rule out that before idiocracy comes infertility. Eugenics doesn’t need nazis it needs prospective parents who can’t have kids but who in the worst way want to have kids. So they go to the nearest fertility clinic and spend big bucks to have a child. These clinics now regularly place ads in the nearest high quality university newspaper for donors. I have absolutely no idea how many grandchildren I have, all I know is it is A LOT. I recently found out that my eldest son made some nice side money donating his sperm while he was a broke college kid ten years ago. It seems his description high IQ, six foot four, blond, and handsome made him a best seller. My son is now thirty years old married with two kids and really really worried about this. He is afraid that a whole bunch of juniors whom after they reach the age of twenty one will come looking for him. Personally, I’m amused, it would seem very likely that in two hundred years whatever I do in my life won’t matter nearly as much as how my son raised money for a few college beer parties.

  6. Evan says:

    Never attribute to stupidity that which can be attributed to unenlightened genetic self-interest.

    The worst unenlightened genetic self-interest we are now experiencing utilizes high intelligence of a kind—a sort of narrow and intense intelligence that just can’t keep its fundamentals straight even as it solves problems that are the equivalent of proving the four color map theorem. Is it possible to describe someone with a 180 IQ as merely stupid when they grab control of high office and positions of influence while raking in hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars? Of course not—even if they cause the needless deaths of hundreds of millions, including themselves, it is hard to describe them as stupid, although they certainly appear that way.

  7. Matt says:

    Well, do societies that frown more on women deferring reproduction for career than men really have more babies among highly educated or intelligent women, earlier, and younger fathers?

    I find it hard to believe that societies that encourage men to swan around having careers really have those men contributing as fathers… and surely this would delay reproduction for men and women (particularly if norms allowing gerontocratic polygyny are frowned upon).

    Societies with low paternal age seem to be those societies that expect all the younguns to be fruitful and multiply, rather than any of them waste time on this “education”, and “career”, and “fun” stuff, not those that expect women to but don’t expect men to.

    I know the analysis tends to show that dysgenic fertility is driven by female education, in the US, but I bet the trend is in both sexes, and is masked by the fact that educated men pair with educated women and the female effect is slightly stronger. Looking at other societies would make that clear. If there was no variation in female education, male education would become a dominant variable.

  8. whatever says:

    *Who could have known?*
    Some early farmers did. Farming is old, really old; so is animal breeding. 4-6000 years ago
    Jacob knew.
    *32 I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.

    33 ….every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me.
    ….that they should conceive when they came to drink.
    41 And it came to pass, whensoever the *stronger cattle did conceive*,….
    42 But *when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s.* – the ancient farmer knows that the vigor and other features are inheritable (selects only *stronger* for reproduction)
    43 And the man increased exceedingly, and *had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses* – same with maid- and menservants, which is, people.

    These early farming societies even knew a bit about reproductive isolation by distance – .*36 And he set three days’ journey betwixt himself and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.”

  9. J says:

    “They may, as a society, decide that their brightest young women should waste their reproductive years on careers.”

    Judging from what I’ve learned on this blog about paternal age and genetic load, it seems more of a waste for bright young men to waste their reproductive years on careers….

    • gcochran says:

      The trend I mentioned is directly selecting for lower IQ, enough to decrease it by something like 0.5-1.0 point a generation.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        That is better than I thought it would be. But that is just one trend bending IQ down per generation, there are others. On the positive side there is now assortive mating with high IQ females pairing up with high IQ males like never before. Very interesting and very important subject which I encourage you to pursue further, which no doubt is exactly what you are doing. I can see societies rising and falling in part because with wealth comes lousy breeding habits that any farmer could easily recognize but we don’t because it hits too close to home.

      • Bob Arctor says:

        ” On the positive side there is now assortive mating with high IQ females pairing up with high IQ males like never before.”

        Assuming that this true (and I’m skeptical that it’s a new phenomenon), it would still have no effect on the overall average IQ of the population. To do that you have to change the relative gene frequencies, and assortative mating doesn’t do that at all.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        My assumption as to why there is now assortive mating of high IQ males and females like never before is based on the fact that it is a relatively new innovation for the best and the brightest of both sexes to be allowed into the best universities. High IQ men and women are in close proximity during their mate selection years both in universities and the follow up job market. As to your second point that this would not impact average IQ scores you are correct. But it has been contended by Cochran and others that innovation and even continued prosperity are quite dependent on that percentage of the population that is out there on the long left tail of the bell shaped curve of human intelligence to be maintained. Without assortive mating practices and continued average IQ decline as Cochran describes it will not be maintained and then it is a matter of time before the shit hits the proverbial fan.

      • Bob Arctor says:

        Thank you for clarifying.

        Still, I’m not exactly sure that assortative mating is an entirely positive trend. A 140 IQ doctor who has four or more kids with his more traditional 125 IQ teacher or nurse wife may do more “good” over the long term than a 140 IQ doctor having one kid with his careerist 140 IQ M&A attorney wife.

  10. sr says:

    Were the Ptolemies really that bad? I understand that Cleopatra was considered attractive and intelligent in her day. She chose the wrong side in the struggle between Antony and Caesar and was crushed by the Romans, but everybody was crushed by the Romans. I don’t think the Ptolemies had a bad run as dynasties go.

  11. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:


  12. JS says:

    Whenever you suggest evolution and genetics be taken into account you were hear the chants of “The fact/value distinction! The fact/value distinction!.” Your typical moral or political philosopher will want to say just from the fact that so-and-so has such-an such an effect you can’t deduce that one ought not do it. We need a new moral/political science of sustainable moral principles, one that accepts the fact/value distinction, but then argues that it doesn’t matter because some values suck, and we’re only interested in the ones that don’t. The Shakers practiced celibacy, with predictable results. Our new politics would say that the Shakers are allowed to go extinct if they want, but here are the values we will practice because they will let us persist and prosper. For example, making sure that the birthrate never drops below 2.

  13. namae nanka says:

    “Judging from what I’ve learned on this blog about paternal age and genetic load, it seems more of a waste for bright young men to waste their reproductive years on careers….”

    and why would they if women were marrying at an earlier age instead of wasting their reproductive years on careers? I am sure the high-iq nerds are more than willing to mate.(assuming there is no child-support slavery for the benefit of statutory rapist)

    Drawbacks to men marrying earlier:

    • Matt says:

      I’d guess because they actually have to take care of children and be fathers, rather than work on their career?

      if men were expected to do nothing further than provide sperm, while women provided all childcare and income, then I don’t doubt that high IQ men would never defer reproduction to concentrate on their careers (it’s not like they have to get pregnant).

      but modern societies and economies would fall apart instantly if they adopted such a foolish tack, since it is a very poor use of the aggregate ability of its society.

      I’d guess this is why societies such as Italy and Japan, despite having a greater focus on male “career” relative to female “career” don’t actually have higher fertility than more generally pro-natal, less pro-career, less-male biased Scando societies, and why the religious communities that have very high fertility are communities where the men basically drop out from public life more or less entirely (less so than the women, but still to a very large extent).

  14. Thanks, Steve. I myself am a product of polygamy, and I can tell you that mental illness runs rampant in my family. I’ve personally spent time at a mental hospital (outpatient). It’s an ugly legacy.

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