Jared Diamond notices that early development of complex civilizations had ongoing consequences: peoples that developed such things way later or not at all continue to do poorly today, even if they encountered Western technology and technologists several hundred years ago. “We see in our daily lives that some of the conquered peoples continue to form an underclass, centuries after the conquests or slave imports took place.” p 25 ” Yes, the transistor, invented at Bell Labs in the eastern United States in 1947, leapt 8,000 miles to launch an electronics industry in Japan – but it did not make the shorter leap to found new industries in Zaire or Paraguay. The nations rising to new power are still ones that were incorporated thousands of years ago into the old centers of dominance based on food production, or that have been repopulated by peoples from those centers. Unlike Zaire or Paraguay, Japan and the other new powers were able to exploit the transistor quickly because their populations already had a long history of literacy, metal machinery, and centralized government. The world’s two earliest centers of food production, the Fertile Crescent and China, still dominate the modern world, either through their immediate successor states (modern China) or through states situated in neighboring regions influenced early by those two centers (Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Europe), or through states repopulated or ruled by their overseas emigrants (the United States, Australia, Brazil). Prospects for world dominance of sub-Saharan Africans, Aboriginal Australians, and Native Americans remain dim. The hand of history’s course at 8000 B.C. lies heavily on us.” p 417.

Some economists have noticed this same pattern: Was the Wealth of Nations determined in 1000 BC?

This is not what his overall theory would lead us to expect. If people in New Guinea or the Mato Grosso are smarter than Europeans or east Asians, or even just the same, why can’t they adopt (and then go on to advance) new technologies? Yet they haven’t. Why aren’t people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo building particle accelerators? Even if they’re too broke right now, they could be sending theorists, mathematicians and physicists, off to CERN. All they need is chalk. Yet they don’t. Neither does the African diaspora.

Diamond says ” peoples who until recently were technologically primitive – such as Australian Aborigines and New Guineans – routinely master industrial technologies when given opportunities to do so. ” p 19. That’s just false. There’s a world of difference between using a smartphone and designing & manufacturing one. Toddlers can use smartphones, but it’s the rare two-year old that know enough about computers and electrical engineering to build one. sub-Saharan Africans, Aboriginal Australians, and Native Americans play almost no part in modern technological development.

Why should a certain level of development in the Bronze Age predict modern economic success? To be exact, most (but not all) populations that had high civilization levels back then are capable of playing the game ( on average) today. Populations that reached that level of development much later, or not at all, are not very good at it.

Could it be an effect of institutions? Well, it’s a bit hard to see how. There are very few institutions that have existed continuously for the past three thousand years. And if it’s a question of gradual accumulation of organizational knowledge – why hasn’t anyone written it down? Couldn’t people trying to catch up read a book? Japan did, although I think they forgot to read Chapter 9.

Even if institutions were an important factor, in some mysterious way, couldn’t individuals from those peoples with late development of agriculture and states simply immigrate to better-organized countries and swiftly catch up? They do immigrate: but they don’t swiftly catch up. That’s the long-lived underclass thing Diamond mentions.

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64 Responses to Persistence

  1. BucardoReal says:

    From the good savage to the supreme savage.

  2. MawBTS says:

    Diamond is frustrating because he continually says things that might sometimes be true (or true to a small extent) and exaggerates them into THE truth. It’s hard to argue against, because he very seldom tells an outright lie. GG&S is taco meat where he mixes some good stuff in amongst the amputated chihuaha feet and ground-up capybaras.

    • Patrick L. Boyle says:

      Yes, what you say about Diamond is true but he could conceivably be hired at Google whereas Greg Cochran on the basis of this one essay alone will never be acceptable on the Google campus. This doesn’t matter so much now, but Google may very well take over the world.

  3. dearieme says:

    “early development of complex civilizations had ongoing consequences: peoples that developed such things way later or not at all continue to do poorly today” – surely that’s wrong? While Sumer flourished my ancestors were presumably collecting shellfish and hazelnuts around the British coast or living in tents on the Russian Steppes.

    Yet it was their descendants who effected what might be the biggest single advance in human history, the Industrial Revolution.

    The mystery is (I suggest) why the North West Europeans are the only mob to have come late to civilisation and yet to have advanced it massively.

    • Labayu says:

      Only a portion of Northwestern European ancestry came late to civilization, especially considering the Iran/Caucasus part of Yamnaya ancestry probably came from Fertile Crescent expansion. In any case, Northwestern Europeans must have inherited a lot of the relevant alleles giving them a head start in the selection process.

    • teageegeepea says:

      I wondered the same thing. The Middle East today isn’t especially involved with scientific/technological advancement (with Israel being something of an exception that proves the rule). Greece, another early civilization, lags behind cultures more barbarous thousands of years ago. Some of the earliest texts in existence are Hindu rituals, but while India is able to export many H1-B workers today, it doesn’t seem to have hit east asian levels of catch-up.

    • pyrrhus says:

      Not much of a mystery. Read ‘A Farewell to Alms’…..

      • RCB says:

        All this clannishness stuff from hbdchick could be right, but I don’t get the feeling that she gets the full scope of what limited dispersal can do to inhibit local altruism. Correct me if I’m not giving her/you a fair shake, of course. I’m thinking of a somewhat classic paper from Taylor.

        Here’s a nice description of that paper’s result from a later paper (
        (In abstract) “Because it increases relatedness between interacting individuals, population viscosity has been proposed to favour the evolution of altruistic helping. However, because it increases local competition between relatives, population viscosity may also act as a brake for the evolution of helping behaviours. In simple models, the kin selected fecundity benefits of helping are exactly cancelled out by the cost of increased competition between relatives when helping occurs after dispersal.”
        (In intro) “Analysing a situation where adult individuals help their group neighbours after dispersal and where relatedness depends on group size and migration rates, Taylor (1992a,b) showed that the kin selected fecundity benefits arising as a result of limited dispersal are exactly cancelled out by the cost of increased competition between relatives. Taylor’s results has lead to the widespread view that limited dispersal (population viscosity) cannot favour the evolution of altruism when helping occurs after dispersal (e.g. Queller 1992; Taylor 1992a; Chapuisat et al. 1997; Mittledorf & Wilson 2000; West et al. 2002, 2006; Yamamura et al. 2004; Trontti et al. 2005).”
        (In discussion) “In Taylor’s (1992a,b) model, the indirect fecundity benefits of helping are exactly cancelled out by the increase in kin competition. This is a pivotal result for the evolution of helping behaviours in viscous populations because it provides a null model for comparative analyses and identification of life-cycle conditions promoting or inhibiting the evolution of helping in subdivided populations.”

        i.e. reduced migration and inbreeding increases local relatedness, but it also increases competition among these same relatives. In a simple (linear) model, the effects cancel out; dispersal rate or distance has no effect on altruistic behavior toward neighbors.

        Now, when you drop the simple assumptions, things can change. Sometimes viscosity can indeed help kin altruism; in fact, that’s what most of the above linked paper is mostly about! So the clannishness hypothesis could still be true. But I don’t get the sense that hbdchick understands the subtleties of this problem – basically, i don’t think she’s heard of Taylor 1992.

    • Gorch Fock says:

      Professor Cochran mentions Native Americans, but as far as I know, Native Americans have a somewhat higher mean IQ than North Africans (83) or people from south-west Asia (84). It’s also interesting that despite more than 5 decades of immigration into Europe and the West in general, people from classical Muslim countries who immigrated and enjoyed all the advantages of a modern first-world society have not won any Noble Prizes in the hard sciences (but there are immigrant groups who did). As far as I know, there is one Pakistani who, in the 70s, won a Noble Prize in physics, and in 2015, a Turkish molecular geneticist won a Noble Prize with two other European scientists in medicine. That’s about it. Not really impressive given that Muslims—who are mostly from North Africa, South-West Asia and Asia minor—make up about 1/4 of the world’s population.

  4. dearieme says:

    “The world’s two earliest centers of food production, the Fertile Crescent and China, still dominate the modern world …. through states repopulated or ruled by their overseas emigrants (the United States, Australia, Brazil). Is he really saying that the US is ruled by emigrants from the fertile crescent? Is he some sort of Nazi?

    • João says:

      No quiet, USA was (and still somewhat) dominated by people of germanic ancrestry, jews came after and have a fair portion of “control” over USA and east asian are become elite too.

  5. Labayu says:

    Off topic, but likely of interest to readers of this thread:

    The first national iodine survey conducted in Israel has revealed a high burden of iodine deficiency among Israelis, posing a high risk of maternal and fetal hypothyroidism and impaired neurological development of the fetus in Israel…

    They found a high burden of iodine deficiency in the general population: 62% of school-age children and 85% of pregnant women fall below the WHO’s adequacy range.

    The median urinary iodine concentration (UIC) among Israel’s pregnant women, only 61 micrograms iodine/liter and for school-age children, the median of 83 micrograms/liter suggest that the iodine status in Israel is amongst the lowest in the world. Iodine adequacy is defined by the WHO as a population median of 150-249 micrograms/liter for pregnant women and 100-199 micrograms/liter for school-age children. Virtually no differences were seen between different ethnicities and regions of the country suggesting that low iodine status is widespread and universal throughout the country.

    I suppose that may explain the discrepancy between what would be expected based on the percentage of Ashkenazi ancestry and the actual national IQ average.

    • Well, also not all Israeli Jews are Ashkenazi, and probably-self selection (smarter Ashkenazis moving to USA) played a part too.

      • Labayu says:

        Only about half of the Jewish ancestry of Israelis is Ashkenazi. According to the Cochran, Hardy and Harpending paper, Ashkenazi IQ is in the 112-115 range. I think Lynn has Sephardi as 98 and Mizrahi at 91. Ethiopian Jews are a pretty small fraction of the population Jewish population. Israeli Arab IQ may be about 84, based on Jordan, but it could be a bit higher since the percentage of Arab Christians is higher and they tend to have a bit higher averages. So with Jews at ~75%, Arabs at ~20.7% and other (mostly ethnic Russians) at ~4.3%, the national average of 95 still seems a bit low. Any estimate is dependent on assumptions about the ratio of various Jewish subgroups, but anything I come up with seems like it should be closer to 100. Iodine deficiency could account for that much of a discrepancy.

        • DataExplorer says:

          If we assume that Ashkenazi intelligence is about 108 average (112 seems very optimistic), and that non Ashkenazi Jews are at 91 because Sephardi are almost non-existent, and all other peoples (mainly Arabs) at 85, then by my math the overall mean IQ would be 95.96.

          • Labayu says:

            Supposedly there are 1.4 million Sephardi Jews in Israel. I suspect that might include people with only one Sephardi parent though, because that’s how Israelis usually identify themselves. I can say at least that Ladino surnames are really common. Many (most?) Israelis are mixed, the ~50% Ashkenazi ancestry is based on surnames in the Israeli census. I don’t know how Sephardi Jews were defined for whatever test data was used, but Sephardi Jews outnumbered other Jews in Ottoman Empire.

            Wikipedia quote (didn’t check the reference):

            The Sephardi Jews were allowed to settle in the wealthier cities of the empire, especially in the European provinces (cities such as: Constantinople, Sarajevo, Salonica, Adrianople and Nicopolis), Western and Northern Anatolia (Bursa, Aydın, Tokat and Amasya), but also in the Mediterranean coastal regions (for example: Jerusalem, Safed, Damascus, Egypt). Izmir was not settled by Spanish Jews until later. The Jewish population at Jerusalem increased from 70 families in 1488 to 1,500 at the beginning of the 16th century. That of Safed increased from 300 to 2,000 families and almost surpassed Jerusalem in importance. Damascus had a Sephardic congregation of 500 families. Constantinople had a Jewish community of 30,000 individuals with 44 synagogues.

            Anyway, you used the low end of all the numbers and still came up with one point above the tested average. I’m suggesting the iodine deficiency might account for something like 2 to 4 points.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      if i was younger i’d have started a seaweed farm a few years ago

  6. Pingback: Persistence | @the_arv

  7. AppSocRes says:

    Current research findings seem to support the conclusion that personality and behavioral traits are as genetically determined as intelligence. So different selection effects have probably altered these mental traits much as they appear to have affected intelligence. I suspect that personality and behavioral traits may ultimately be even more important than intelligence in explaining different human clades adaptions to modernity.

  8. pyrrhus says:

    Agriculture requires patience, planning and persistence. All of which are in short supply among hunter gatherers…But agriculture also leads to survival of the unfit and the buildup of mutation load, which likely was a cause of the decline of Fertile Crescent civilizations. And may be a major factor in the current decline of the West….

  9. IC says:

    This modern day (inner) Mongolian guy was born as nomad on grassland. Yet he turned himself into successful business man who never fails any business adventure he started. He even succeeded in the field where many others had failed. If you understand Chinese, you will know how he outthinks others in this documentary. Business is real life IQ test. Jared Diamond hypotheses seems not fitting this guy very well.

    • IC says:

      Billionaire investor Howard Marks said explicitly high IQ is very important for investing.

    • IC says:

      So when people today make any speculation about Genghis Khan, they often assumed him as some retarded barbarian who only know killing. Genghis Khan could not have been dumber than this modern day Mongolian guy. At end of day, a feudal lord was a businessman in heart. All wars or conquering was about acquiring wealth for the lords. They don’t give too much shit about faith or ideology (at least in East Asia). His IQ can not be lower than most of us here.

      • reinertor says:

        Genghis Khan was obviously not stupid, but he was never interested in applying his intelligence to anything but conquest.

        It’s in stark contrast with Amir Timur, who was a great sponsor of the arts and sciences (interestingly, one of his grandsons was not only a sultan but also an astronomer and mathematician), and Timur’s legacy includes a (then) new style of architecture, the timurid architecture.

        By the way Timur was also of Mongolian heritage.

        • reinertor says:

          Mongolian or (Mongoloid) Turk.

        • JerryC says:

          Conquest and, uh, procreation.

        • Cpluskx says:

          To be fair if you are a king during Middle Ages focusing or even spending energy on science doesn’t make that much sense, except military tech. Who could have imagined science would bring industrial rev, internet, ai etc.? These things are really no different than magic. It is actually a 1000 times worse and more stupid that in this age (year 2017) humanity spends trillions of dollars every year for retarded things instead of developing AGI (which may solve every problem about life)

        • Peter Akuleyev says:

          “he was never interested in applying his intelligence to anything but conquest.”

          Think how much intelligence that conquest took. The logistics, the planning, the strategic decisions. Genghis had to keep warring tribes united, pick the right targets in a world without a lot of maps or accurate intelligence reports, pick the right commanders, learn and adopt the enemies tactics (the Mongols used Chinese auxiliaries as siege engineers), conduct psychological warfare against economically and technologically superior enemies, etc. etc. I suspect Genghis was one of the most intelligent men alive at that time. He was born on the steppe in the 12th century, it’s not fair to blame him for not being interested in linear perspective or the ethical implications of artificial intelligence. Timur grew up in a much different world than Genghis.

  10. IC says:

    Hohhot was a Mongolian city on steppe built by Mongolian lord according to Ming dynasty Han city plan as result of failed trading relationship with Ming Empire. Ming Empire refused to accept across border trade with Mongol. Also building great wall to prevent Mongol looting raid invasion for material that Mongol could not produce.
    Finally the Mongol lord decided to built own city and invite Han farmers settle around Hohhot to reduce the need to trade or loot with Ming Empire. At end, Mongol lord even surrendered himself as subordinate to Ming Emperor and offered Hohhot as 归绥 (meaning Surrender).
    Again, this incident did not fit Jared Diamond theory very well.

  11. Jim says:

    The Roman Empire bordered on Black populations in Egypt for centuries with far less transmission of classical culture to those populations than to far off populations in Ireland and the Ukraine.

    • dearieme says:

      As far as I know there was no transmission of classical culture from the Roman Empire to Ireland. It seems to have happened after the end of the Empire in the west, at the hands of missionaries from Britain and the continent. Such transmission of classical culture as happened must have been accidental: their purpose was to transmit Christianity not Homer.

      • Jim says:

        But classical culture was readily absorbed by the Irish when the missionaries arrived and Ireland became a center of learning in Western Europe. But blacks in the southern Nile Valley don’t seem to have absorbed any classical culture although they lived next to the Roman Empire for centuries not terribly far from the great center of learning at Alexandria.

        • carol2000 says:

          From Abu Simbel in the southern Nile valley to Alexandria in the north is 1,041 km by road.

          • Jim says:

            That’s much closer than Alexandria is to Kiev or Ireland. Also the Nile provides a means of communication from Southern Egypt to the North Coast. Traveling from Southern Egypt up the Nile and then over Alexandria is a much shorter distance than Archimedes had to travel from Syracuse to Alexandria to study there.

            Egypt was part of the Hellenistic world for many centuries. Alexandria was founded about 320 BC. It fell to the Arabs in 641 AD. It was part of the Hellenistic world for almost 1,000 years. The library of Alexandria contained a huge collection of Greek texts many of which were translated into Egyptian. It was much more accessible to blacks in southern Egypt than to Slavs in the Ukraine. But classical culture did not spread much south of the third cataract of the Nile while Kiev eventually became a great center of classical learning.

        • Seriously says:

          Ireland was not really a center of learning. The Irish did not “save civilization” through a few monasteries. Were not talking anything fundamentally different from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church here.

          The level of dialogue in comments on this blog should ideally be above the wishful thinking of the frog-idiots.

          • Erik says:

            How about you start by not attacking strawmen. No one here said the Irish saved civilization, through monasteries or otherwise.

  12. luisman says:

    I think there must be a special “deferral of gratification” module in the human brain that is evolved, highly heritable and may devolve in the right environment. Walter Mischel (1970 cookie experiment) made the connection between deferral, IQ and impulse control (the latter connects to aggressivenes).

    This “deferral of gratification” module has no advantages in a lush environment where everything is available for the taking at all times. But this module is needed for agriculture. If you have to work like mad without getting anything, then wait 6 months or a year for the harvest, only those with a high enough IQ for farming will survive. The further north people went, the higher their IQ (ability to defer) had to be in order to make it. This deferral module may then extend to projects that take many years to complete and enjoy the fruits of (like big stone houses, walled cities, deforrestation to make land arable, etc.).

    For the last 50-100 years the West has been in a lush “environmental” phase of plenty, where the deferral module plays not much of a role for the individual. But for a society it does. If the social systems persist in feeding those uncapable of deferring gratification, there will be more of them. These systems depend on the ability and willingness of those with a high degree of “deferral capability” (IQ) to feed the others. This gets out of balance when those with average IQ recognize that their deferral leads to no advantage -> Baldwin effect.

    • Agreed. Deferral of gratification is a common feature of societies that plan ahead.

    • RCB says:

      “This “deferral of gratification” module has no advantages in a lush environment where everything is available for the taking at all times.”

      Everything available for the taking at all times? Come on. I don’t think such an environment ever existed, except perhaps when humans entered new continents and islands and killed everything in sight – but those are short lived conditions. Otherwise, killing prey and collecting wild forage is pretty hard work, I hear. Prey don’t want to be killed, after all.

      That being said, you’re right that there is a difference between “working hard right now to get meat for tonight” and “working hard for the next 9 months to get a lot of grain, most of which will be stored for later.” That’s important.

  13. st says:

    Was the Wealth of Nations determined in 1000 BC?* – it was not. There are locations on earth that have attracted all peoples for many millennia. Some of the hotspots are obvious – Mediterranean region, fertile crescent, ML China, many parts of Europe. Reasons are also obvious -climate, agricultural fertility, environment have been favorable for a living. Promised lands, all of them. All the time, these hotspots were subjects of fierce competition among nations of all times. It must have required some level of competence and fitness for a nation to establish itself there and to successfully defend its spot against other claimants, always present, because of the favorability of the hotspot. Some places switched masters for a long time. Others did not since the ethnicities who took them were competent enough to hold them and were never out-competed. One might find that the nations, substituting former hosts to be equally or even more competent than former inhabitants of these highly desirable places; this naturally would create the illusion of newcomers “inheriting the competence” of the people they have substituted on the highly desirable hotspot and the illusion of the “continuity of civilisation” or other kinds of continuities – like continuity in competence – on certain hotspots from 1000 BC onwards.
    To me, both JD and the authors of * Was the Wealth of Nations determined in 1000 BC?* fell victims to this illusion.
    Most obviously, there are antipodes of the hotspots as well.

    To put it in a different way, say aliens land in Boston and start studying the earthlings with no clue what’s on. Aliens find out that earthlings living in Harward buildings have had maintained persistently higher IQ with 2 STD from the rest of population ever since the year 1700. Soon two hypothesizes emerge – 1. It’s the place, there is something in the building the raises the IQ of inhabitants with 2SD, no matter who they are (JD hypothesis)
    2. It’s the people – the ethnicity, inhabiting the buildings, is different from the ethnicity from the rest of the area;
    Both wrong.

    • Why would the aliens be wrong to chose option 2? It IS the people, because as the aliens have already found out, in your little story, the Harvard people are “2 STD from the rest of the population since year 1700”. The selection is obvious, particularly to aliens able to cross the galaxy and locate Harvard.

  14. dearieme says:

    “the ethnicity, inhabiting the buildings, is different from the ethnicity from the rest of the area”: I gather that is particularly true of Yale.

    • Peter Akuleyev says:

      It is even more true of UPenn. Maybe that’s why the U Penn faculty seems to be more conservative than other Ivy faculties.

  15. Jim says:

    As for the Congolese building particle accelerators I’m not sure they can even produce pencils.

  16. Finns seem to be doing okay.

    • MTA says:

      Finns are 40% German and 40% Baltic. 20% comes from several populations of stone age hunter-gatherers. Wicked smart people. They are just pressing their noses against the indo-european language window hoping that somebody would take notice.

  17. moscanarius says:

    Interesting that you mention Mato Grosso, specifically. Among the poor states of Brazil, this is one with the fastest GDP growth rate; its per capita GDP is now 9th (among 27) in the national rankings, surpassing many of the older, more populous, and theoretically more promissing states, despite Mato Grosso facing the huge disadvantage of being landlocked and far away from the main consumer markets. The place is not great, but has improved tremendously in the last decades.

    Now, I should probably add that the state’s population has not remained exactly the same over the last 40 years, and that the place has been partially colonised and fully administered by people like Blairo Maggi (

    (same thing with Paraguay, now one of the leading soybean producers. Some 6-8% of the countries population is basically a leakage from Southern Brazil – not an amazing place, for sure, but better than the Chaco)

  18. Gord Marsden says:

    I got the feeling reading diamonds books that he drew the conclusions then tried to backfill the logic.

  19. bdavies says:

    I wish you would write a review of Robert Sapolski’s “Behave”. I am partway through and often annoyed. I would like to see the reaction of this forum.

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