Your country’s not your blood

I have to disagree with Henry: I don’t think there’s been selection for ethnic nepotism. I somewhat suspect that there may have been recent selection for more accurate altruism, in some populations.

Imagine that in much of history, people lived in small groups that often fought with their neighbors.  In that sort of situation,  selection for group altruism is at least possible, since the group is full of close relatives, while the opponents are less  closely related.  Both sides are probably members of the same broad ethnic group or race, but that doesn’t matter : only the kinship coefficients matter.

Suppose that many people emerge on to the stage of history with this impulse to fight for their side: in the past, this always meant closely related people.  Now, with the emergence of states, they find themselves fighting in armies, which feel like their side, but are no longer closely related – not a bunch of cousins and such.  It could well be that many  individuals are actually willing to risk themselves for that state.  They’re willing to die for truth, justice and the Assyrian Way.  It’s not genetically smart, but their adaptations  are wired for past circumstances. In the same way, you might eat saccharin instead of sugar, or date a replicant instead of an actual human female , especially if the replicant looks like Sean Young in Bladerunner.

Over time, this misfiring of altruism should decrease.  Patriotism burns itself out. Dying for Assyria doesn’t do your close relatives any good at all.  Some people will be more prone to this, some less, and that tendency will be heritable. Those with a tendency to volunteer (in the service of anything other than close relatives) should dwindle away over time.  But states are older in some places than others, and some have made greater demands than others. Imagine a region where states have been around longer,  a place in which the locals have lived through empire after empire after empire.  They should have had the patriotism bred clean out of them. They should feel altruistic about their families, maybe their clan – and nothing else.

Ibn Khaldun talked a lot about asabiya, a  kind of social solidarity. According to him, it arose spontaneously in tribes and other small kinship groups, and could be intensified by a religion.  Ibn Khaldun considered how this cohesion carried groups to power, while the gradual loss of it eventually caused the fall of the dynasty.  In the conquests he describes, conquering nomadic tribes took over and started intermarrying with generic farmers and townies – all of whom had probably lost all their genetic tendencies to asabiya thousands of years earlier.

Peter Turchin has talked about asabiya’s role in the rise of empires, and how it seems to gradually be used up, never to return.

A certain amount of asabiya is probably really helpful in a republic.  You need to have lots of people willing to restrain themselves when in power, and at least some willing to land on Omaha Beach.  The degree of ethnic purity is not in itself key: the important things is that they haven’t had the asabiya, the genetically foolish wide-field altruism, bred out of them.  If they have it, they can cooperate just as if they were related.

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89 Responses to Your country’s not your blood

  1. B says:

    >Over time, this misfiring of altruism should decrease. Patriotism burns itself out. Dying for Assyria doesn’t do your close relatives any good at all.

    Eh, maybe, but when you consider that people’s close relatives more often live within the same large state or empire than not, it stands to reason that their well-being correlates with that of the empire. The longer-lived the empire, the more they should correlate (since people tend to move to wherever their relatives are doing best, imperial service is rewarded with sinecures which can be converted to genetic advantage, plus intermarriage takes place.) So you see guys like Mohammad Atta and Abu Walid Al Masri, who are the products of an imperial environment lasting 5KY, risking their lives altruistically in the service of an abstract, transnational cause, or Israeli Beduins proudly serving in the IDF against their cousins.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Look, imagine that some Roman has a gene that makes him willing to make some sacrifices for his family. If he dies saving three of his own children, the frequency of that gene goes up. If he dies saving 9 first cousins, it goes up. If he dies saving Rome, it goes down among Romans. Down, I say !

      Middle Easterners are lousy at giving a shit about large organization like states. They make terrible soldiers and awful citizens. They are the wave of the future..

      • B says:

        But you are making the classic Western cognitive error of thinking of this Roman as an individual. Whereas, in fact, he probably has a bunch of cousins, siblings, and maybe kids. He’s part of a tribe. If he valorously dies in battle for SPQR, he will increase their prestige, chances of getting married well, ability to swing deals, and, by proxy, evolutionary fitness. Of course, eventually dysgenic trends took over and the higher up in Roman society you were, the less kids you were likely to have survive to adulthood, but it was different in the early days.

        Arabs are lousy at just about EVERYTHING, no doubt there, but are quite good at sacrificing their lives altruistically for an abstract cause mostly being fought by people unrelated to them. Look at the stream of asshole foreign fighters coming into Iraq and Afghanistan. The Afghans especially tend to use them for money and suicide bombings, since they’re whiny, undisciplined assholes on the battlefield. But no shortage of self-sacrifice! Furthermore, the Middle East is not just Arabs. The Turks have historically shown no lack of ability to fight and die for their empire, which was a crazy genetic mishmash.

        • gcochran9 says:

          It takes fairly special circumstances for pro patria to confer a selective advantage. We’re sure about the being dead part: you’re guessing about all the advantages accruing to the surviving relatives. They’d have to be big, and I can compute how big. You might look at Italians today and see how it all worked out.

          As for Arabs being great suicidal warriors, that’s balderdash. You have no sense of scale. The stream of foreign fighters entering Iraq (other than Americans, natch) was something like a thousand a year, out of the entire Arab world (pop around 250 million). Peanuts. Tennessee could produce 30,000 volunteers out of a population of about one million, in the Mexican War. Or compare the Japanese, in World War Two? What fraction was willing to fight to the death? Virtually all of them.

          Arabs have the asabiya of scorpions in a bottle.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        The arab spring crap we were handed was bullshit. History will view it as the first of what will be a long string of increasingly bad food riots. When you study the economics of projected food prices around the world (The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done this) you can clearly see what is going to happen. We don’t even need population to increase to project bulk food prices to continue a steady increase in real dollars. As the two billion plus people in China and India have their quality of life significantly increase they will eat far better, consuming far more. World food production is reaching it’s maximum. Food prices in some third world countries are projected to exceed average national income. What do you think happens then?

      • hbd chick says:

        @greg – “Middle Easterners are lousy at giving a shit about large organization like states. They make terrible soldiers and awful citizens. They are the wave of the future.”

        middle easterners have been inbreeding really closely (first- & double-first cousins in a father’s brother’s daughter marriage system to boot) for a very, very long time (since before mohammed). their intense inbreeding and the length of time it’s been happening could’ve resulted in them acquiring some serious frequencies kin-oriented altruism alleles (which is, perhaps, why they give a sh*t about large organizations like states).

        they aren’t an indication of the future of nw europeans, because nw europeans are, to the contrary, some of the world’s greatest outbreeders.

        • Laban says:

          “middle easterners have been inbreeding really closely …for a very, very long time … they aren’t an indication of the future of nw europeans”

          Are you sure ? The Muslim population of the UK is doubling every 10 years. Compound interest is a wonderful thing.

          “The sheer scale of Bradford’s birth defect problem has been laid bare in a new report on child deaths. The report shows that two in every five child deaths in the district are caused by genetic anomalies – the most common cause of death among under-18s. And further analysis suggests around a third of these deaths involve parents who are related to each other and carry the same faulty gene. Consanguineous relationships – those between blood relatives – are particularly common in the district’s South Asian population, where they make up around 60 per cent of all marriages. “

      • hbd chick says:

        correction: …why they DON’T give a sh*t…

      • “When are people willing to sacrifice for the common good? What are the benefits of friendship? How do communities deal with betrayal? And what are the costs and benefits of being in a diverse community? Using the life histories of more than forty thousand Civil War soldiers, Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn answer these questions and uncover the vivid stories, social influences, and crucial networks that influenced soldiers’ lives both during and after the war.

        Drawing information from government documents, soldiers’ journals, and one of the most extensive research projects about Union Army soldiers ever undertaken, Heroes and Cowards demonstrates the role that social capital plays in people’s decisions. The makeup of various companies–whether soldiers were of the same ethnicity, age, and occupation–influenced whether soldiers remained loyal or whether they deserted. Costa and Kahn discuss how the soldiers benefited from friendships, what social factors allowed some to survive the POW camps while others died, and how punishments meted out for breaking codes of conduct affected men after the war. The book also examines the experience of African-American soldiers and makes important observations about how their comrades shaped their lives.

        Heroes and Cowards highlights the inherent tensions between the costs and benefits of community diversity, shedding light on how groups and societies behave and providing valuable lessons for the present day.

        Dora L. Costa is the author of The Evolution of Retirement: An American Economic History, 1880-1990. She teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles. Matthew E. Kahn is the author of Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment. He also teaches at UCLA. Costa and Kahn are research associates at the National Bureau of Economic Research.”

      • Ryan says:

        There are several threads on several websites where it seems like everyone is making the same mistake, focusing on the downside, ignoring the upside.

        So to use your analogy, if a Roman has a gene which makes him willing to valorously risk his life to save Rome, and he saves Rome, and when he returns he’s given a title and domesticus, and spends a week fornicating with the emperor’s concubines, then the frequency of that gene goes up up and away.

        If there is such a thing as a valor or nationalistic loyalty genes, they would be found among people who’ve long lived in societies with strong states capable of rewarding those traits (Hi China/Japan), and not found in societies with weak states or outright tribalism (those lousy Middle Eastern soldiers you brought up).

        And maybe some military historians should chime in, because everyone assumes that a gene for valor makes you more likely to die in war. But it’s possible it makes you less likely to die, fortune favoring the bold and all.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t successful conquest a great win in term of reproductive success? Kill all of the other side’s men and then you can father children by their women. Let’s say two tribes of equals size go to war. One has a heroism score of 1, stdev .1, the other has a heroism score of 1.5, stdev .1. The braver side lose 30% of their most heroic men, slaughter all the men of the losing tribe and take their women as concubines. My statistics skills are very shaky, but as far as I can tell, a generation later the the average heroism score across both tribes is 1.36, an increase from the prewar average of 1.25.

  3. gcochran9 says:

    Try to think harder about this. Imagine that these guys invade someone else again: can you see the trend?

  4. FredR says:

    Is this Hamilton’s argument in “The Innate Social Aptitudes of Man,” or was he getting at something else?

    • harpend says:

      I think that this was just what he was getting at. His models were leading to extremely high kinship coefficients within groups, and these have never been observed in humans to my knowledge.

      I think Sam Bowles has written about this same issue recently, having looked at real data from hunter-gatherers, but I don’t know the source.

  5. iberian says:

    B – You could have said… Middle east is mostly nom “Arab” – Turkish, Azeris, Persians, Armenians, Kurdish,Circassians,Israelis, Greeks, etç… are the vast majority. Plus, you have to ad the semitic groups whitout any “Arab blood”, Assyrians, Maronites, Jews (not the same as Israelis), Samaritans, all the christians in generall… Groups that speak arab (also) but not share the etnic identity. After all, like many muslims (Druses, Ismaelites,etç…) that only recently start to call themselves “Arab”.
    Gcochran – If there is something amazing is how a small bunch (and messy)of nomads from Arabia, start a wave that impose Islam to most of Asia, great part of Africa and even Europe. A wave that destroyed great Empires (Persians, Bizantines) and start others (Ottomans, Moghuls). A wave that impose the arab language to the Greeks, Arameans, Egyptians, Berbers, Romans, Visigoths, etç.. and turn most of them in “Arabs”…
    Plus… Not only our Laws and Institutions came from Rome, but also Italy was the most developed place in Europe, whitout interruption, from first century BC to the XVII. In fact, was the most advanced in the world most of the time…

  6. j says:

    Yet coalitions are possible and effective. God instructed the Hebrew to make war in their tribes, and each man fought surrounded by his brothers and cousings and clansmen, and the land that they conquered was divided up so that each tribe had its own small country. Never a mixed multitude but well ordered coalition of tribes. When of the tribes, the tribe of Dan, had received and settled its portion and refused to go on making war with theother tribes, it was collectively punished – all the men of the Dan tribe were killed by the rest of the coalition. Tribalism was bred out of the Hebrew very early on. Altruism (well, not exactly, but disposition to teamwork) was bred in.

    I wonder if multiracial teams are more or less effective than “band of brothers and cousins”. In futbol (soccer), the world champions are the German and British teams are the best, and they are all multiracial. All African and all White teams cannot compete against “diverse” teams composed by players with different capabilities. I think that it is the same in all co-operative sports. Humans are inborn xenophobes but we are also very good at teamwork. We can team up with dogs and horses, why not with other humanoids?

    • Rick says:

      Brazil has won the most World Cups with 5, followed by Italy with 4 and Germany with 3.

      There is no British soccer team. The different countries of the United Kingdom compete separately. England has won the World Cup once and has been generally mediocre.

      Italy has pretty much always had all-Italian teams. Germany as well has not really been “diverse”.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        Yes it’s actually quite interesting how non-diverse (internally) the most successful teams are.

      • says:

        The Brazilian and Italian teams tend not to have non-Brazilians and non-Italians on their teams, so they’re not diverse that way. Though genetically Brazilians are quite diverse, and Italy is the most genetically diverse country in Europe.

      • Smith says:

        The Brazilian and Italian teams tend not to have non-Brazilians and non-Italians on their teams, so they’re not diverse that way. Though genetically Brazilians are quite diverse, and Italy is the most genetically diverse country in Europe.

      • j says:

        You are right about the Brits. The 2010 World Cup was won by the Spanish team with no Africans. Now I dont know which teams are more effective: diverse or homogeneous ones.

  7. Greying Wanderer says:

    I think scale is paramount. What is true at the small scale may not be true at a medium or larger scale.

    At the extended family or clan scale the idea of group altruism developing or spreading seems plausible because any sacrifice made is definitely for close kin but once you get past a certain population size selection for group altruism in wartime seems likely to be selected against and maybe very strongly i.e. it’s young Horatius types who are the ones most likely to get killed and not reproduce.

    But what if the selection isn’t in wartime?

    Say group altruism evolves naturally at the small scale and when group size jumps to a middle scale where it would be selected against strongly in wartime the successful groups that survived into the present were the ones that devised ways of selecting for the same traits in peacetime e.g. by developing competitive, athletic team sports where the star quarterback gets the cheerleader, has a bunch of children with her before he gets his brains bashed out being heroic on a bridge in his 30s or 40s.

    “Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton” as the Duke of Wellington may have said.

    (and on football fields when football was really just a big fight between two villages).

    I think this is especially feasible in tribal warfare. An island divided into dozens of warring tribes might have a constant stream of casualties from skirmishs and ambush over the course of 25 years but not neccessarily a lot at once. The same island split into two modern nations might have 25 years of peace followed by a devastating war. I think the altruism-killer effect in the second case would be much greater as in the tribal case the men getting killed would be of varying ages and in dribs and drabs so most of them would have reproduced already – especially the star quarterbacks or lacrosse players.

    Even without specific cultural pathways designed to try and pair athletic heroic altruists with the healthiest females the thing about heroic altruism is it is very attractive to a lot of women – which makes perfect sense if you think about it. It may not be in an individual’s interest to be an altruist because of the free rider problem but it is in their interest to marry one – because they and their offspring get to be the free rider.

    I think this covers most of human history as most of human history has been either small scale bands or clans or medium scale tribes and city-states or coercive large-scale empires comprising a collection of medium scale tribes and city-states held together by military force which revert back to their component medium scale parts when imperial military force eventually fails.

    The *voluntary* large scale option or nation-state is a relative novelty which arose in a specific part of the world for what i assume must have been quite unusual reasons?


    “Ibn Khaldun talked a lot about asabiya, a kind of social solidarity. According to him, it arose spontaneously in tribes and other small kinship groups, and could be intensified by a religion. Ibn Khaldun considered how this cohesion carried groups to power, while the gradual loss of it eventually caused the fall of the dynasty. In the conquests he describes, conquering nomadic tribes took over and started intermarrying with generic farmers and townies”

    Isn’t it easier to equate asabiya with close blood-ties which then get diluted post-conquest? For example a large Arab tribe conquers Morroco, Tunisia and Algeria. The large tribe divides into three constituent smaller tribes to rule each of the three terriotories. The small tribes subdivide into their constituent clans to rule the different regions of the three terriotories in the standard semi-feudal way. At this point they are still an Arab elite. They try and maintain this by inter-marriage among themselves but it is not 100% so they fairly rapidly become an Arab-moroccan, Arab-algerian and Arab-tunisian ruling elite. Then they become an Algerian-arab, Morrocan-arab and Tunisian-arab elite and then finally a Morrocan, Algerian and Tunisian elite.

    The advantage they had during the invasion was greater ethnic cohesion (and consequent group altruism?) than the conquered and it simply got diluted when they spread out and settled down to rule. If they wanted to maintain asabiya – close blood-ties in my view – as a ruling elite they’d have to maintain Arab endogamy and the problem with that with an open elite is that an ethnic distinction between ruler and ruled provides a permanent casus belli for rebellion. So to maintain their asabiya they’d need to be both an endogamous and invisible ruling elite.


    Personally i think there’s also another element in the recurring pastoral / barbarian conquest of settled farmers theme which is i believe there’s a specific killer type or types and civilization and a rule of law breeds them out over time. I think the opposite is true among warring tribal populations and semi-settled populations which rely on vendetta for their law because in those situations each group will tolerate their own killers for protection against the other side’s killers.

    I can’t remember the name but i recall reading a quote from a Greek writer who said that in a battle it was only 1 man in 50 who did all the killing. If the settled population had only 2% killers while the attacking nomad pastoralists had 6% then i think that would be a pretty huge advantage unless the settled population’s soldiers made up for the difference in training and organization.

    A warrior ruling elite might try and maintain that distinction too but a higher percentage of killers is only beneficial in the context of constant warfare, otherwise they’re a liability e.g. after the Norman conquest the law was if a Norman killed a Saxon it was automatically manslaughter and not murder but that kind of thing has to be changed eventually or the lords start to get shot in the back with arrows while they’re out hunting, so eventually they get bred down to the residual level of killers – although this process would likely be slower on the borders where the killer types could distract themselves raiding.


    “A certain amount of asabiya is probably really helpful in a republic. You need to have lots of people willing to restrain themselves when in power, and at least some willing to land on Omaha Beach. The degree of ethnic purity is not in itself key

    This is a very big subject but for the sake of argument one quick thought might be that the absence of ethnic purity might not be key but the presence of ethnic purity in the sense of very inbred clannish groups with very strong group altruism but only for their group and not the nation as a whole might be very key. Say you have a large-scale group that was completely deracinated individuals who cooperated well because they were deracinated individuals and then you add lots of small-scale clannish or medium-scale tribal groups who weren’t deracinated at all and acted solely in their group interests even if that conflicted with the common interest. In this case the deracinated group would be the altruists and the ethnically pure would be the free riders. Eventually if there were enough of them the ethnically pure interlopers would bring down the deracinated republicans.

    So either way i think a viable republic’s citizens need to be all the same – ethnically the same or equally deracinated – but the same.

  8. Matt says:

    It seems like it could be cyclic, depending on whether the alleles selected for small group altruism in a state situation are still advantageous, equally good or have a disadvantage when there is a return to a weak state equilibrium:

    1. Altruism for small groups is positively selected -> 2. State Formation -> 3. Altruism for large groups negatively selected -> 4. State breakdown -> 5. Possibly more simple and elegant and efficient original small group altruism from 1. regains its selective advantage -> 6. Goto 2.

    Ethnic replacement and downward mobility (?) by the winners of Asabiyah related conflicts might also retard the dynamic somewhat.

    It’s interesting that Chinese ethnic nationalism and state loyalty appears strong while Chinese states are also old and persistent (relative to Western states). Perhaps they just didn’t fight very much for anyone beyond their close kin (even with those horse nomads and their early history of state agglomoration), meaning the original state of kin altruism was left relatively preserved. But I don’t find that very plausible.

  9. Steve Sailer says:

    The biggest political issue might be what could be called the “rightsizing” of one’s political entity. George Washington is famous because he played a central role in two major changes that have endured: breaking off the part of the British Empire and then consolidating the 13 colonies. Abraham Lincoln is famous because he played a central role in this process not repeating itself.

    It’s not inherently obvious what the right size of one’s political entity should be. Big and small have their pros and cons. Their are rewards for getting it right for your own situation and penalties for getting it wrong. Some of those rewards and punishments might impact gene frequencies, although they’d work faster culturally. But both nurture and nature would tend to push in the same direction.

    It could be that different geographies or technologies would push in different directions. Literacy and printing, for example, might push toward larger political entities.

    • TWS says:

      I think we are discounting nurture over nature entirely here. The Marines can and do take _anyone_ who can meet their entrance requirements. They then require that the servicemen complete their obligation. Regardless of background, personal history, or what happens after they get out of the ‘Corps’ they are forever Marines.

      They probably have no more genetic connection than any other relatively fit and moderately (at a minimum) intelligent young men but when they chips are down they act like they are truly brothers. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the unit and throw themselves into situations that parents often would abandon their children in.

      At a minimum it appears that the nation state can build a ‘pseudo-family’ with young men of a certain age. So we must be hardwired pretty deep for something like that. Perhaps one of the common experiences of our ancestors was young men working together bonding in a deep and enduring fashion.

      The Marines have been around for about 10 generations of human breeding. You would think that would allow enough time for there to be some changes if this kind of pseudo-family did not continue to work. Some cultures may not be able to pull it off but I will wager that if a child from say Egypt, were raised in the dominant American rural culture (including an American family) he would respond on average like any other American child when being processed through the Corps.

      I think the reason that Arabized cultures are so dysfunctional is because they have adopted the parent _culture’s_ values because to do anything else would put them at a disadvantage vs their neighbors in the same culture.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “At a minimum it appears that the nation state can build a ‘pseudo-family’ with young men of a certain age.”

        But the question is does that process happen naturally in a gang / clan made up of brothers and cousins? Is the effect (at the clan scale) magnified the more related they are and vice versa?

      • uh says:

        You ever watched videos of the Taliban, dude?

  10. dearieme says:

    “… they find themselves fighting in armies, which feel like their side, but are no longer closely related – not a bunch of cousins and such”: that rather overlooks the point that their regiments or companies may be closely related. A touch of American parochialism there?

  11. chris says:

    Genetic Evidence for Multiple Biological Mechanisms Underlying In-Group Favoritism

    In-group favoritism is ubiquitous and associated with intergroup conflict, yet is little understood from a biological perspective. A fundamental question regarding the structure of favoritism is whether it is inflexibly directed toward distinct, “essentialist” categories, such as ethnicity and race, or is deployed in a context-sensitive manner. In this article, we report the first study (to our knowledge) of the genetic and environmental structure of in-group favoritism in the religious, ethnic, and racial domains. We contrasted a model of favoritism based on a single domain-general central affiliation mechanism (CAM) with a model in which each domain was influenced by specific mechanisms. In a series of multivariate analyses, utilizing a large, representative sample of twins, models containing only the CAM or essentialist domains fit the data poorly. The best-fitting model revealed that a biological mechanism facilitates affiliation with arbitrary groups and exists alongside essentialist systems that evolved to process salient cues, such as shared beliefs and ancestry.

    Your thoughts?

  12. Ben Atlas says:

    I am not sure if the world “religion” is mentioned once around here. Most of the wars in recent history have been thought based on an ideology. Certainly the WWIII not to mention the Crusades, etc. And the ideologies like religions sometimes they overlap with the tribes and sometimes they don’t. The argument if an ideology is worth fighting for is a different story but it is not an exaggeration to say that most people died in a battle for an ideology, rather than a blood a tribe.

    There is a Zionist poem that describes two Jewish brothers during the WWI, one lives in Greece and the other in Turkey and they meet each other on the opposite sides of the front line.

    Speaking about the same topic. Someone mentioned the great Alleppo and Turkey in regards to the local blonds over there. Please do me a favor and Google “Varangian Guard”. That is at least a 500 years of the Byzantine history.

  13. Ben Atlas says:

    P.S. Note that the “Varangian Guard” were considered the most fierce fighters in Byzantium, the would unleash them in most critical parts of the battles.

  14. Jim says:

    I wonder if the slaughter of Europeans in the twentieth century in WWI , WWII, the Spainish Civil War etc. has significantly changed the genetics of Europeans. Some subpopulations such as the Swedes and Swiss would not have been much affected. Also European descended Americans
    would not have been much affeected.

  15. Grad Student says:

    “Your country’s not your blood”

    Isn’t it a matter of perspective? An English man would probably be around 150x more closely related to a random co-ethnic than to a Bantu African. He’d be 109x more closely related to a Dane than to a Bantu. Fighting for the survival of fellow Brits in a hypothetical Bantu invasion could certainly increase his inclusive fitness.

    • gcochran9 says:

      It won’t increase the relative frequency of an altruistic allele among the British population, unless his efforts are somehow focused on those who carry that allele, rather than Brits as a whole. Sooo,, you’re wrong.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        It seems like the crux of the issue here is the notion of an “altruistic allele” and the conceptual difficulties of that being selected for. But perhaps there are other traits involved.

      • hbd chick says:

        @greg – “It won’t increase the relative frequency of an altruistic allele among the British population, unless his efforts are somehow focused on those who carry that allele, rather than Brits as a whole.”

        altruism alleles won’t get selected for unless the altruistic behavior is directed towards other who carry those alleles, close-ish family members being the obvious others, yes.

        i wondered before, though, if an opposite of these sorts of kin-oriented altruism alleles might be certain types of reciprocal altruism alleles. you know: the ones behind tit-for-tat sort-of behaviors, etc..

        if you have a population that oubreeds A LOT (nw europeans from the middle ages onward) in which family and kin connections are downplayed (prolly because of the outbreeding) — AND you have the “right” sort of selection pressures (something that selects for cooperation and corporate behavior, like medieval manorialism and farming in a cold climate) — then maybe the frequencies for whatever alleles code for reciprocal altruism increase because lots of reciprocal altruism increases your success at reproducing.

      • hbd chick says:

        @greg – “Your general notion that the degree of inbreeding does something, by itself, in the short run, is incorrect.”

        works for beetles. (~_^)

        see also here.

        (of course not inbreeding by itself. alleles — including those for altruistic behaviors — have to be selected for. duh.)

      • whatever says:

        OK. The altruistic allele will not increase in relative frequency in times of war, it is obvious. Mr. Cochran is right; during war the frequency will be decreasing.
        But what about in the times of (victorious) peace, that would follow?
        The war heroes will return home and get the best chicks the society can give them. I have seen few postwar photos from different countries . The society or the tribe seems to reward and *glorify* (lift the status of the carrier of the allele) altruistic behavior, shown in military (and other socially important) circumstances, if the war was victorious. Would not the war *heroes*, thanks to their newly achieved status, be rewarded with the best (and the most) chicks around, hence, with the chance to proliferate the altruistic allele and increase it frequency? The longer the peace period, the higher the increase in relative numbers of this allele in the society. Until the next war, when it will sharply decrease in frequencies again.
        It would not be the same, if the war was lost; there would be no heroes with enhanced ability to reproduce due to a lift in the status; then the altruistic allele would keep decreasing in the period of peace as well; several consecutive wars, that have been lost, and the allele would be eradicated from that society. And vice versa – several consecutive victorious wars, followed by prolonged periods of peace (especially accompanied by prosperity), and the altruistic allele would be going steadily up in frequencies – in long run, thanks to the enhanced access to the reproductive resources of the war heroes; or, at least, the carriers of this allele would not be severely punished by the selection. If the allele in fact decrease in frequency thanks to the free riders, pretending to be war heroes, hence carriers of the altruistic allele, while in fact they are not, the allele would really decrease; but then the next war will be lost.

        But what if the tribe/ society members are tuned to detect free riders and punish them, let say, by castration or social ostracism? Then the altruistic allele would go up again in frequency.

      • harpend says:

        True enough, but why speak of an “altruistic allele”. What if we are talking about something diffusely distributed throughout the genome as additive variance, like IQ and height have turned out to be.

      • whatever says:

        “True enough, but why speak of an “altruistic allele”
        I used it only as a signifier.
        *Altruistic allele* could be in fact a particular expression of the same genetically based complex, that leads to proneness to reciprocity and reciprocal behavior.
        In the ultimate form of *if war – I die for you- (but expect) you die for me, too*. But then, at the moment non-carriers of the complex enter the troop, only pretending they would be reciprocal (Odysseus, pretending to step on land while stepping on its shield), the altruistic complex will start being selected against and will decrease in frequency. But if it is somehow related to the trend for reciprocal behavior, that glues the group, it should not disappear completely; or, if it disappears completely, would endanger each individual member of the group; or the tribe; or the country – and in its ultimate form would damage the relatives of its own carriers the same way, that the altruistic allele would damage its carrier.
        There is no reason a trivial,non-lethal reciprocal behavior, which could be a base for something, that we perceive as war -time altruism – be punished severely by selection in its non-lethal, peace-time expression.
        Could be even a complex that includes trend for for punishment of the lack of reciprocity or war-time altruism. There was enough time to evolve.

      • hbd chick says:

        @henry – “True enough, but why speak of an ‘altruistic allele’. What if we are talking about something diffusely distributed throughout the genome as additive variance, like IQ and height have turned out to be.”

        i’ve been thinking along those lines, too. to quote myself:

        “like genes for height or intelligence, there are probably many genes for altruism, so we have to imagine some sort of cumulative effect of many genes on human behavior….”

        i also don’t see why all human populations have to have the same “altruistic alleles.” like europeans and east asians have different genes for light skin, etc.

      • Evan says:

        I think altruism has a certain mathematical definition.

        Even if there are different “altruistic alleles”, they might have to satisfy this definition. So mathematically speaking, they might all be the same.

  16. tommy says:

    Good post. I’ve noticed that people tend to think of Mideasterners in terms of Bedouins when imagining how gene-culture coevolution occurred, but the Mideast was among the first areas of the world to experience both urbanity and constant warfare on a substantial scale, and I suspect these factors have been more important in shaping the Mideastern psyche than is usually acknowledged.

  17. Hugh says:

    Greg, you are assuming that altruism confers no advantage in fighting between groups. I suggest otherwise.

    For an ancient example, consider a Roman province which thanks to these altruistic genes can raise a legion of 6,000. The neighbours are twelve tribes, each of which can raise a warband of 500. The bands won’t fight for each other. The Roman legion massacres the warbands one by one, and would consider themselves unlucky or badly led if they took more than 50 casualties each time. End result is very much in favour of the altruism gene carriers.

    For modern examples, read N De Atkines “Why Arabs Lose Wars” and compare the casualty rates for the Arab-Israeli wars or the 1991 Gulf War.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I am assuming that you don’t realize that selection works primarily at the individual level. And I’m correct in that assumption.

      • TWS says:

        Maybe I am missing something but don’t big events like say ice ages, migrations, introduction of farming impact the fitness of the individual? If a person were in a large scale event like warfare wouldn’t having the genes to cooperate with his group contribute to his survival? All those guys who said, ‘Nope, I’m heading for the hills you folks are on your own’ or ‘do what everyone else is doing and follow orders? Screw that. I’m going to wear my warpaint and look fierce waving my war club then run away if things look bad’, their tribes get conquered and their land and resources goes to the guys who stuck together. And because he was selfish and alone it’s likely he’s dead anyway. Warfare is about cooperation and teamwork.

  18. Greying Wanderer says:

    “It seems like the crux of the issue here is the notion of an “altruistic allele” and the conceptual difficulties of that being selected for. But perhaps there are other traits involved.”

    It doesn’t have to come from war. If the crux of the argument against altruism is the free rider problem then altruism would be most likely to develop in a situation where free riding was beneficial. To be adaptive on balance in a war situation free riding would have to be as low as possible not beneficial so i don’t think conflict makes a good candidate I’d suggest that is naturally the case in the mother-child relationship where an inclination to a certain degree of self-sacrificing behaviour on the part of the mother is likely to be adaptive on balance. If so then that’s all you’d need to develop and spread a low level of altruism alleles among the population. It would spread and increase up to the level where it was adaptive on average including among the male population.

    Once begun it’s adaptiveness or otherwise in war is a separate issue. I think it’s very likely to be adaptive at the band/clan scale and could be at higher scales also although it’s debateable however it doesn’t matter beause it’s not going to be bred out because it’s in the women too.

    This is assuming there is a single allele type involved in both mother-child altruism and defender type war-heroism which i do. I think the basic mechanism is

    altrusitic urge ~ relatedness * empathy

    so empathy is the trigger and it’s effect is magnified by the level of relatedness. The mechanism is the same for a mother reacting to her baby crying or a man standing over his wounded brother’s body during a clanfight. Groups who are very closely related don’t need much empathy for the mechanism to work among themselves.

    (When i say defender type war-heroism i mean in contrast to other traits which may be useful in war but have a separate derivation e.g. bravery, aggression, killer instinct etc, i.e. one man might be brave by nature whereas another might not be except in situations where for example their brother is in danger.)

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “I’d suggest that is naturally the case in the mother-child relationship”

      Should have been

      “I’d suggest free riding being beneficial is naturally the case in the mother-child relationship”

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      A further thought re group selection. What if it happens as a side effect of individual selection?

      Imagine a human group with zero altruism, empathy etc.

      Option 1: A male is born with an empathy mutation. When fighting other groups he is self-sacrificing while the other males aren’t i.e. 100% free riding. I’d say that behaviour is likely to be selected against very strongly – possibly in the first skirmish.

      Option 2: A woman is born with an empathy mutation which leads to her children having a greater chance of survival and reproduction. Passing that gene onto a son might lead back to option 1. Passing them onto a daughter spreads the allele. Even if all her sons go the option 1 route her daughters could end up spreading the allele through the group. Once the allele is spread throughout the group because of the mother-child advantage then *all* the males will have it.

      Once all the males have it you lose the free rider effect in a fight (or a mammoth hunt). All the males are watching each other’s backs and so as a unit they are more cohesive and formidable. At this point you could get group selection as the empathy group takes the best land from less cohesive non-empathy group(s) (or is cohesive enough as a team to be capable of taking on big game which non-empathy groups avoided).

      Option 3: Similar to two. If the woman passes on her empathy mutation to a single son it might lead to an option 1 dead end but what if she has two sons? If in every fight or hunt they’re watching each other’s backs that seems like it might increase both of their chances of survival? So although the allele might need to spread to all or nearly all the males for it to make the whole group adaptive it might only need to spread to the right males – like brothers – to be individually selected for.

  19. Steve Sailer says:

    Maybe altruism isn’t what’s being selected for, maybe it’s something like being good at rightsizing. Call it the Ben Franklin Gene. Franklin was a useful guy to have on your side and he was good at picking the winning side. Eventually, other people started paying attention and doing what he suggested, all without him ever gaining supreme power.

  20. Wes says:

    “The degree of ethnic purity is not in itself key: the important things is that they haven’t had the asabiya, the genetically foolish wide-field altruism, bred out of them. ”

    I am not a technical expert in this field so help me out please. Does this mean that the establishment of any great republic requires what we would call a foolish or maladaptive altruism? Or some sort of genetic predisposition to sacrifice oneself for an “ideal”? It seems contradictory that something so evolutionarily maladaptive would be so advantageous to humanity. Or my missing something? It does have the ring of truth to it I must say.

  21. Wes says:

    Also, what is the impact of importing tens of millions of people who don’t have much history of such foolish altruism? It seems to me, the future the US must be a bit shaky. But I guess the key is how long can you keep getting kids from Tennessee and Georgia to sacrifice their lives for a country that doesn’t particularly like them. I suppose these kids from the South that eagerly join the special forces will continue to do so, no matter what the ethnic makeup of the country is, because they are driven by wide-field altruism. But when that stock dwindles below some critical level – will the US will have the same kind of loyalty to country that we find in places like Guatemala.

  22. harpend says:

    No disagreement with Greg on this since we are talking about different things. He imagines sessile local groups engaging in constant hostile interaction that somehow leads to nations with a lot of asabiya, which certainly has happened. Is he arguing that this is purely a cultural thing? Or is he arguing that somehow this gets picked up by our DNA? He doesn’t say. For the latter to happen, we need some numbers, since he is in the face of a lot of literature about the difficulty with group selection. If the former, we have to go back a step and ask how we evolved to become capable of such concerted gullibility.

    I spent the other day at a retriever field trial. I noticed that there was no particular antipathy between yellow labs and black labs, not even between labs and springers. Greater and lesser scaup hang out together with no apparent hostility nor antipathy. Mallards and pintails get along fine. What is it about humans that leads us everywhere to ethnic tension? Could Belyaev take a colony of beagles and another of bassett hounds and breed them to favor their own and act spiteful toward the other?

    My post pointed out that ethnic antipathy/kin recognition should evolve very well only in a genetically heterogeneous society. The way that could have happened repeatedly in human history is if recurring population eruptions led to the widespread presence of different kinds of people together. The established view is that this never happened before agriculture. I don’t believe it (e.g. look at the Inuit expansion) but I don’t know.

    At any rate what is called for here is numbers, not assertions.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Hostiles don’t necessarily have to look different from friendlies. Jared Diamond talks about the custom of when two strangers meet on a trail in the jungle in New Guinea, they converse about everybody they know until they finally find a mutual third cousin or whatever, so they can know they are kin and, if one killed the other, he’d be ostracized for killing kin.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “He imagines sessile local groups engaging in constant hostile interaction that somehow leads to nations with a lot of asabiya, which certainly has happened.”

      There’s two separate things in that. On the one hand if a population is involved in constant low-level violence that ought to directly select for traits that are useful in low-level violence e.g. bravery, fast reflexes, good eyesight, killer instinct etc. So a tribal desert population or viking norse *should* have a much higher frequency of these traits than a settled farming population where violence is at a much lower level. It’s two distinct environments where a trait like fast reflexes has a dramatically different impact on survival within each environment.

      If the desert tribe or the viking clan conquer the farmers and settle down in the less violent environment then the selection pressure on them changes and over time the frequency of those traits should decline to a similar level to the farmers. Traits like bravery and killer instinct might be hard to pin down but i’d assume most people would accept things like fast reflexes and good eyesight as examples of traits that might be selected for more strongly in an environment of raiding and clan warfare especially if a lot of it takes place in the form of ambush.

      This is the individual selection component which i think is a large part of the recurring barbarian / nomads conquer the farmers theme. If you read a lot of ancient history the idea that the barbs/nomads/clannish hill people are more ferocious and warlike is more or less a given.

      Then there’s the second aspect of group cohesion or asabiya. Again i imagine most people would agree that group cohesion is useful in violence and at the scale of violence i’m talking about here a lot of the time the group could be 2-3 people or 20-30. However if in theory traits that improved group cohesion would be adaptive in an intensely violent environment but only if everyone in the group had them it’s hard to see how they it would be selected for individually unless it happened by accident i.e. traits that turned out to be adaptive in war were selected for individually for some other individually adaptive reason.

      Given that the environment for this to develop would be small human groups that were highly inbred by default then it seems reasonable to assume that traits which were selected for individually but which also turned out to be beneficial for the group would be traits that act proportionately to relatedness. If the trait was empathy for example you don’t want a mother to care *equally* about her sister’s kid or her cousin’s. To be adaptive if all three kids are crying the mechanism would need to make her blank out the other two and worry about her own. If hers was quiet and the other two were crying the mechanism would want to make her look to her sister’s kid first etc. Similarly in a fight where a man’s brother and cousin had both fallen off their horse.

      That’s why i think it’s logical to assume the mechanism would have to work

      altruistic urge ~ relatedness * (altruistic trigger)

      and the altruistic urge could be increased either by increasing relatedness or increasing the trigger (which i think is empathy).

      If it did work this way then the invading nomads would have a high level of asabiya simply because they started out with a high level of inter-relatedness and they lose it over time through inter-marriage with the locals. The sons of two Norman knights who took Saxon wives in different parts of England would be less related to each other than their two fathers were.

      (Organised crime that is successful for more than one generation works exactly the same way. It’s always clannish and family based and i wouldn’t be surprised if the big cases of mafia families crumbling to law enforcement happened after too much marrying out.)

      Contagious yawning and empathy:

      Contagious yawning and relatedness:

      I think if you got a group of young mothers, including relatives, ranked them for their individual level of empathy (somehow?), filmed each of their baby’s crying and then showed them all the films you’d find the level of distress was separately related to both the woman’s relatedness to the kid and her individual level of empathy i.e. the low empathy ones would still be distressed by their own kid’s crying but the level would drop off precipitively with the level of relatedness whereas the women with high empathy would taper much more gradually.

      If the mechanism is multiplicative then i think it follows that populations who are currently or were recently from an environment where highly inbred and clannish populations engaged in perpetual clan warfare and raiding or were from populations which currently or recently lived under a vendetta system would have low levels of empathy simply because the higher the relatedness the less you’d need to trigger the altruistic effect.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “If the former, we have to go back a step and ask how we evolved to become capable of such concerted gullibility”

      If a clever person noticed some maladaptive bahaviour – say something to do with hygiene – and explained it rationally to their group some proportion might see the point and make a rational decision to change their behaviour. Some wouldn’t. If that same person proclaimed themselves a priest and said people would go to hell if they didn’t change the behaviour then that proportion of the group which was inclined to believe in the power of the supernatural might react to that. So basically as long as the portion of a religion that is adaptive is greater than the portion that isn’t then religiosity becomes partially adaptive too i.e. a certain type of irrationality could be adaptive in a group setting where behaviour is defined by a more intelligent leadership as long as the leadership is also 51%+ benign leadership.

      “What is it about humans that leads us everywhere to ethnic tension?”

      I’d have thought it was that humans can dominate their environment so they were constantly expanding up to the point of extreme resource competition. This creates conflict which creates an environment where traits adapted to conflict get selected for including those which give a predisposition for liking conflict thus creating a feedback loop.

      “My post pointed out that ethnic antipathy/kin recognition should evolve very well only in a genetically heterogeneous society.”

      Wouldn’t it depend on at what level resource competition is occurring though? If you have small clan groups in violent competition for thousands of years and these groups inbreed more or less by default then they’d be more like the Druze than the modern French and might that not be heterogenous enough if the level of competition was intense enough? People certainly used to be like that everywhere and they still are in a few places.

      If the French would have been like the Druze once, if not more so, then it may be more the case that traits which suited that environment of perpetual clan-based violence, like very strong kin recognition, were developed and now going through a long process of de-evolving it i.e. either becoming more peaceful simply because the population got more physically homogenous or gradually losing the ability to recognize small kin differences because it stopped being needed or a bit of both. If so then the level of ethnic antipathy (defining ethnic elastically as extended family upwards depending on context) would be highest in those groups which hadn’t gone through the homogenizng process.

  23. Sean says:

    True as far as it goes, but being a dead hero is a special case of being killed in war, a rare one I think. More usually the context is doing a duty that was far from certain to result in death, but did. Some armies require less than others. As Kevin MacDonald points out, human groups can monitor and enforce compliance . You seem to be ignoring the possibility that those with a genetic predisposition for freeloading could get killed by their own side for trying to avoid danger. Moreover, discharging your duties effectively gets you a good reputation and status, which brings resource and reproductive benefits that could spead your genes.

    The Dark Side of Oxytocin

    • Steve Sailer says:

      How often do ex-soldiers marry a war buddy’s sister? Seems to me it happens a lot. I haven’t seen any data, but (spoiler alert) that’s how “Harry Potter” ends, and J.K. Rowling has made more money than any author in history, so I’d say she’s pretty good at figuring out what people all over the world find right and fitting. When a brother tells his sister, “I have a friend who risked his life for me,” that’s not a bad foundation for romance.

  24. Sean says:

    In areas where the state has a long history ethnic antipathy would have evolved away from the impulse to directly do the fighting required for the defence of the Empire, but that does not mean ethnic antipathy would die out. Ethnic antipathy could have taken more indirect forms. For example, the base population of the empire could have some other group in the Empire to do the fighting, and dying. An army is not necessarily made up of the dominant ethnic group (eg Mamluk, Janissary. The British army was disproportionately Scottish and Irish. The Union army was full of German and Irish immigrants.) So multi ethnic states would not necessarily have resulted in genetic altruism being restricted to the close family and clan only. Ethnic antipathy of the the kind that impels you to help your wider genetic community by fighting and dying for them in battle would get rarer, the post is right about that. But, there are more more subtle forms of helping your wider genetic community, at some cost to yourself, than dying in battle. The subtle kind of ethnic antipathy could become more common in an ethnic group with a long history of living in a multi ethnic state.

  25. Steve Sailer says:

    “Mallards and pintails get along fine.”

    Indeed. On the other hand, groups of mockingbirds harass crows, and groups of crows harass hawks in struggles over territory. I saw a big red tailed hawk being harassed by a half dozen crows, and it looked like a WWII movie of a Lancaster bomber being set upon by German fighters. I’ve seen a couple of hundred crows surround a hawk trying to eat a squirrel and hoot and holler until he gave up.

    On the other hand, it would be pretty stupid for one crow to take on one hawk. So, the crows seem to have some urges to engage in coalitional activities, to summon other crows and to be summoned. Individual crows don’t engage in kamikaze attacks on big hawks, but they do take on a higher risk of getting slashed by a talon by pestering the hawk. Why do they do this?

  26. Steve Sailer says:

    I’ve never seen one hawk come to the defense of another hawk whom crows are ganging up on. I would imagine that if hawks engaged in teamwork, they could make short work of crows. But I haven’t seen them do that. Perhaps crows’ teamwork has something to do with how they like to all get together in a big tree about and squawk for about an hour before sunset.

    • hbd chick says:

      @steve – “I’ve never seen one hawk come to the defense of another hawk whom crows are ganging up on.”

      i saw a pair of falcons take on some crows who were pestering them last summer. they were adolescents, though, and i reckoned they were siblings. some of the crows really got their feathers ruffled! (~_^)

      • Cracker1 says:

        Falcons have been observed to take time away from what they should be doing (go out of their way) to pester other birds.

  27. AG says:

    In imperial China, altruism was promoted by emperors through rewarding family survivors of fallen heros. Loyalty and obedience (a form of altruism) were encouraged through Confucianism.

  28. spandrell says:

    So who’s the last group who has any assabiya left? The Pashtuns?

    Maybe we should let them fulfill their destiny and form an empire from Bengal to the Mediterranean.

  29. whatever says:

    After re-reading the tread, I doubt that biological altruism, the kind which drives parents to invest in their offspring, the kind Hamilton once described, exists beyond the very close kin; what we perceive as altruism in war times, may not be the same thing. (otherwise it would not be there for too long; but if it disappears completely, parents would stop caring for their offspring, which is not the case)
    No fellow soldier/compatriot is an actual kin-member, worth dying for in compliance with Hamilton’s formula – hence, there is a different mechanism in play for the war time heroism).
    Then what we see are probably different forms of reciprocity. (the Arab soldiers are not driven in Afganistan by assabiya, but by the urge to engage Afgans in reciprocal behavior – *what we do for you, you will do for us*.
    If the altruism could not possibly exists (the math argument of gcochran9) and be applied on non-kin base, than it does not exist or is never being applied beyond kin..

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “If the altruism could not possibly exists”

      It can exist if the selection for the trait isn’t during wartime and the trait being individually selected for just happens to be beneficial in any group context.

      If the altruistic formula is relatedness * empathy then highly related groups need less empathy to create the same amount of altruism. What follows is that more inbred or clannish populations would show very high levels of cooperation within their clan group and very low level towards outsiders – which is seen throughout human history.

      If a group became more outbred then they would have to develop higher average levels of empathy over time to maintain the same average level of group altruism.

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  31. Doug1 says:

    There’s no doubt that the US military encourages, fosters and deepens reciprocal altruism, especially in infantry bands. This leads soldiers to risk their lives for their platoon buddies and so on.

  32. Max says:

    It’s interesting, then, that 2 major universalist religions originated from tribal, Semitic populations.

    Islam may be a memeplex which, like Christianity, transfers loyalty for family and ethny to a larger memetically controlled group which may itself be controlled by a hypocritical ethnic elite that taxes the large memetically controlled multi-ethnic population.

  33. tmtyler says:

    Patriotism may be harder to get rid of than you expect. It’s a rapidly evolving meme. It is engineered to be effective at compromising the minds of individuals by the rich and powerful. States which are more effective at making use of patriotism tend to be the ones that we see around. It’s actually hard for genes to “defend against patriotism” since the small genetic component of the memetic immune system has to operate through an embryological tangle to get anything done.

  34. social says:

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  38. JayMan says:

    So here’s a paper that claims, using simulations involving a type of prisoner’s dilemma, ethnocentrism tends to become a dominant evolutionary strategy:

    The Evolutionary Dominance of Ethnocentric Cooperation

    Of course, the strategies themselves were specified beforehand (but allowed to mutate). No word on how they would arise in the first place. But, at least it doesn’t use kin selection.

  39. Cracker1 says:

    “Over time, this misfiring of altruism should decrease.”
    Only if you lose.

  40. Cpluskx says:

    ”Middle Easterners are lousy at giving a shit about large organization like states. They make terrible soldiers and awful citizens. They are the wave of the future..”
    How would they look like with very low asabiya and avg iq of 100 instead of mid 80s? Still terrible?

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  42. Pingback: How Ethnocentrism Could Evolve | Jason Bayz

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