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View Full Version : Cultural Differences: A DNA Link?


Margaret McGhee
March 19th, 2006, 12:18 AM
I found this article that offers some conjecture about a genetic basis for cultural differences. I thought some here would find this interesting - as I did. ;)

It starts off:

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East Asian and European cultures have long been very different, Richard Nisbett argued in his recent book "The Geography of Thought." East Asians tend to be more interdependent than the individualists of the West, which he attributed to the social constraints and central control handed down as part of the rice-farming techniques Asians have practiced for thousands of years.

A separate explanation for such long- lasting character traits may be emerging from the human genome. Humans have continued to evolve throughout prehistory and perhaps to the present day, according to a new analysis of the genome reported last week by Jonathan Pritchard, a population geneticist at the University of Chicago.

So human nature may have evolved as well.

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The rest of article is at:

Int. Herald Tribune Article (http://www.iht.com/bin/print_ipub.php?file=/articles/2006/03/12/news/genes.php)

TomJrzk
March 21st, 2006, 02:24 PM
I found this article that offers some conjecture about a genetic basis for cultural differences. I thought some here would find this interesting - as I did.
Yes, very interesting, thanks!

It also argues for a genetic basis for psychological traits, which is what Evolutionary Psychology should be all about and a favorite topic of mine.

Margaret McGhee
March 22nd, 2006, 11:19 AM
Tom, I have no problem with the idea that many aspects of human psychology are inherited and influenced by evolution. But, several parts of this discussion make me uncomfortable. I've been thinking about this because it seems to be a recurring theme. I think my discomfort is both scientific and ethical.

Scientifically, I'll admit that I am not really qualified to judge. But, I do see that there are reputable scientists on both sides of the debate. I also see many questions about innate ability or IQ that don't have good answers. The Flynn Effect for example.

On the ethical side, I really don't trust claims about science that always seem to end up as evidence supporting things like eugenics, immigration control, etc. Such things are used to justify the unequal power and wealth held by some in society at the expense of others. In my experience, some people are willing to devote tremendous personal energy and cleverness to such things, especially if they are highly competitive - and in today's volatile political climate I am highly suspicious of any such claims. Read a few of the essays at this website to get a feeling for why I am uncomfortable with such ideas.

Steve Sailer's V-DARE Website (http://www.vdare.com/sailer/index.htm)

I also find that some of these assumptions just don't make sense to me. For example, when I started my small company back in 1980 I certainly thought that hiring smart people was to my advantage. It's not unreasonable to suggest that a small company that was struggling to survive has similarities to an organism doing the same. I could freely hire and fire to increase our fitness.

What I actually found after several years was that having really smart people on the payroll was not always such a good thing. For one thing, they get paid more (they consume more of my organism's resources). But, do they provide a greater return on that investment than less brilliant employees? That depends.

One lesson I learned was that one medium intelligence employee who really wanted to help me make the company profitable - and was willing to help me worry about that from the perspective of their area of responsibility - was worth more than several really smart folks who were only renting me their minds for eight hours a day.

Also, I found that really smart folks often have an attitude about their abilities. This was especially true for men, who seemed to spend a lot of time thinking about how they could use the experience they acquired as my employee to make them more valuable to my competitors or perhaps even to start their own company to compete with me (which one of them did).

I sensed that some men would have been happier working for another highly competitive man who could demand their loyalties like a football coach - than for a woman who expected them to offer those loyalties willingly for the benefit of the company that was paying their wages.

To be fair, one of my best employees was a very smart man - who willingly used his skills to help me make the company successful. As a word of advice, especially for anyone working for a small company, if you bring that kind of wonderful attitude to your job, you will be very highly regarded by your employer. I would often go to bed at night thinking how fortunate I was to have him working for me.

Perhaps there are good evolutionary reasons why there are not more examples of Ashkenazim IQ out there. Maybe only in certain contrived environments, like Northern Europe one-thousand years ago and university scientific research departments today, do thing like high IQ become highly selected for - and for most things in life they are a mixed blessing.

My experience as an employer suggests to me that a group of 150 early humans who had cultural traditions (and perhaps genes) that valued equal respect for all members of the group regardless of their individual abilities, and therefore secured the loyalty and cooperation of all 150, were able to work together more effectively to solve their problems and were therefore highly fit.

They could well have been more fit than a group of 150 geniuses living in a tribe that fetishized individual competition and who all wanted to be chief and who therefore used their intellectual skills and mental energy forming political alliances and plotting to make that possible.

Anyway, those are some of the problems I have with IQ in an evolutionary sense. I'd be interested to hear other views on these things. ;)

Margaret

TomJrzk
March 22nd, 2006, 12:56 PM
My experience as an employer suggests to me that a group of 150 early humans who had cultural traditions (and perhaps genes) that valued equal respect for all members of the group regardless of their individual abilities, and therefore secured the loyalty and cooperation of all 150, were able to work together more effectively to solve their problems and were therefore highly fit.

They could well have been more fit than a group of 150 geniuses living in a tribe that fetishized individual competition and who all wanted to be chief and who therefore used their intellectual skills and mental energy forming political alliances and plotting to make that possible.
I think it might be good to keep in mind that our species has not always been coddled by Big Mother, and still isn't in many respects. Your views may well pertain to the far distant future but for far too long we've been evolving under whoever could carry the heaviest club. Men will compete for alpha because that's what they've been doing for millenia. And your group of conciliators would probably have been trounced by the group of 150 that culled the weak and took a fancy to your babe in the back.

Asking instincts to respond immediately to the Magna Carta is a bit unrealistic, don't you think?

Margaret McGhee
March 22nd, 2006, 01:32 PM
Tom, You said, Men will compete for alpha because that's what they've been doing for millenia. And your group of concilliators would probably have been trounced by the group of 150 that culled the weak and took a fancy to your babe in the back.

Is that why a peaceful group of accountants and musicians and farmers put down their pencils, guitars and hoes temporarily - to completely destroy the warrior classes of the German Reich and Tojo's armies a few decades ago?

Beware of the self-fulfilling myth ;)

Margaret

TomJrzk
March 22nd, 2006, 01:54 PM
On the ethical side, I really don't trust claims about science that always seem to end up as evidence supporting things like eugenics, immigration control, etc.
I share your concerns (and Alexandra's) but I don't have the tendency to censor my thoughts. I'm just trying to follow the data. I can see not doing something for ethical reasons but I don't think we should avoid learning things that could lead to someone doing something unethical.

I know a lot of this is uncomfortable from your perspective and I wish it could be different. There's always the future...

TomJrzk
March 22nd, 2006, 02:19 PM
Is that why a peaceful group of accountants and musicians and farmers put down their pencils, guitars and hoes temporarily - to completely destroy the warrior classes of the German Reich and Tojo's armies a few decades ago?

Beware of the self-fulfilling myth ;)
Wow, that sounded pretty emotional; I think I may have struck a nerve. Cool!

Do you believe that that "peaceful" group could not have been the 3rd Reich had Hitler been able to amass them instead of the Germans? Were there no musicians in the SS?

And, yes, I could paint that cartoon from memory; I thought it was hilarious but probably not in the same way as was intended.

Margaret McGhee
March 22nd, 2006, 02:48 PM
Good comments Tom. I have to get some work done but I'll get back later on these interesting threads. To give you something to work on, when you say,

Do you believe that that "peaceful" group could not have been the 3rd Reich had Hitler been able to amass them instead of the Germans? Were there no musicians in the SS?

No, I don't. The USA was very reluctant to get involved in foreign wars. We only came in when we were decisively attacked - and probably way too late. As a child who's Dad could have been killed and who never saw him until I was five years old in 1947 - I am a bit emotional about that. Before the war he was an engineering student.

I don't despise warriors, I despise bullies - and their sycophantic followers who glorify (or justify) senseless violent conflict.

IMO the qualities that make peaceful men and women risk everything to defend their families and neighbors are the most honorable of all human qualities.

Bullies who attack those who are weak to enhance their own war-making reputations and ego display the most despicable of all human qualities.

Margaret

TomJrzk
March 22nd, 2006, 03:30 PM
No, I don't.
If you're saying that the government could have kept the US from becoming the 3rd Reich, then I would agree with you (though it didn't keep us out of Iraq). If you're saying that we didn't have enough German-like people here in the US to have been the 3rd Reich without the constitution then I'd have to disagree. And we may never know.

Margaret McGhee
March 23rd, 2006, 02:16 PM
Tom, You raise the question of good vs.evil. You ask - if we don't have free will, how can anyone actually be evil? How can I despise bullies for example, if they really have no choice in their actions?

I think these are good questions. The answer lies in the difference between observing and describing human behavior scientifically on one hand - and being human and being subject to the consequences of our own and others' human decisions on the other. Objectivity vs. subjectivity. We are capable of both. Your questions are part of the latter. This forum ostensibly is part of the former. In order to answer your question it becomes necessary to combine the two - so this answer is no longer just part of objective science. It's part of my own human subjectivity. I think that's OK in a forum like this as long as I admit that up front - and as long as I don't claim that my subjectivity is backed up by science - although it may be.

To answer your questions then, we are all subject to the consequences of our own and others' decisions. We therefore have a legitimate interest in our happiness in how those decisions are made.

We are all born with dispositions. One of those is to be more concerned with our own happiness than we are with others'. If we all followed that disposition to its ultimate conclusion we would live in a terrible world where the strong had complete power over the weak and life would only be worth one's ability to defend it and kill their enemies. Life would be dismal and unhappy for everyone most of the time.

We make decisions to optimize our happiness. Because we have evolved to be able to conceptualize and plan, we can make better (more rational) decisions than other animals who are restricted to instincts. The rational path to happiness is cooperation, kindness and sharing of resources. When societies do that they prosper and advance.

The difference between people is how far they are willing to extend their disposition for cooperation. I am an advocate for extending it to everyone in the world who is willing to reciprocate - and to give people the benefit of the doubt by my own example. I'll admit that this is part of my liberal outlook on life. I believe logically that this approach will provide the greatest happiness for the most people - including me. I believe that we have one life to live and I'd prefer to live mine in as happy a state as possible and I wish the same for others.

Bullies are people who extend their cooperation only as far as it benefits themselves personally. I therefore have an extremely low regard for bullies - and their enablers. They greatly reduce the net happiness in the world. I despise them for that and I will confront them when I can.

Going back to science, I believe there is a specific mechanism in us whereby we make every decision according to our estimate of the results in terms of our net happiness. If bullies, who obviously have little regard for the happiness of others, know they will be made to suffer by society for their behavior, like solitary confinement in prison for example, then they will make better decisions. The result of isolating bullies in prison - away from the rest of us where they can do no harm - will be greater net happiness in the world. I am therefore an advocate for far stricter social sanctions for these jerks - starting in pre-school if necessary.

In our culture however, we are on an ugly swing. We glorify bullies and gangsters and kids want to be like them. Sports heroes are the ones who best figure out how to cheat with steroids and drugs and not get caught. Cheating on taxes is a game that rich people play by financing the elections of friends who would change the rules in their favor. We donate to churches whose leadership condones sexual abuse of children which is probably the ugliest form of bullying I can imagine. Winning is everything. Playing by the rules is for chumps. It's not that there are bullies in the world that bothers me so much as the willingness of so many to look the other way, to enable them or admire them and even to elect them as leaders - and not thoroughly condemn them for who they are and treat them as the despised outcasts they should be.

I may be going against the current these days but when I die at least I'll be able to say I did not look the other way. Gaining a better understanding of how humans evolved and how our brains work is one way that I engage my hopelessly analytical brain toward that end. I came to this forum for that purpose, not to crusade against bullies. I try to avoid confronting them in a forum like this but as anyone can see it's hard for me to ignore bullies when and where I find them.

Margaret

TomJrzk
March 23rd, 2006, 03:21 PM
Objectivity vs. subjectivity. We are capable of both. Your questions are part of the latter.

I had hoped that my question would be answered with objectivity, I know there is plenty of subjectivity out there. But I'm not complaining.

I know you understand that the brain makes its most aggregious distortions of reality the more that emotion is involved. I don't think you can muster much objectivity here and hope you can keep that in mind.
One of those is to be more concerned with our own happiness than we are with others'.

I contend that our social instincts make this statement wrong. The proof in that is that we've not all killed each other yet, since we certainly could. Our offensive weopons have long surpassed our defensive ones. If our net predilection was for our own success regardless of others then I don't think we'd have lasted this long; we must have compassion and altruism, at least in small groups. Once the groups get involved, the mutually assured destruction doctrine might kick in and our own success relies on conciliation with others.

Regardless, we don't have "a terrible world where the strong had complete power over the weak" despite not having modern societies in the past. There's something in us as a result of being social animals.
Bullies are people who extend their cooperation only as far as it benefits themselves personally.

I don't know whether that is true. Some may just see others getting away with it and their fairness gene kicks in. Success has to be such a strong force. I wonder if you'd have the same attitude if you were one of the strong. I, of course, don't think so. Besides, power corrupts; and you seem a bit corrupted already, if you don't mind me saying.
like solitary confinement in prison for example

I'd prefer isolating them on an island where they can be as productive as possible. I agree that society needs tougher consequences if you want to deter bad behavior in starving people and CEOs. I'd just prefer that we focus on giving everyone something to lose and stricter enforcement to help people choose as we'd hope; I really believe that ethics are conditional (which is where religion is actually helpful). And pre-school is not too soon.

I was trying to help you deal with your anger. But, if anger is what you need to get about what you want to do then maybe that's a good thing. I think you're headed in the right direction.

Great stuff!

TomJrzk
March 23rd, 2006, 04:28 PM
Besides, power corrupts; and you seem a bit corrupted already, if you don't mind me saying.

I thought this needed a bit of explanation. I think one of the effects of the corruption of 'good' people is not so much that they get 'mean' but that they stop bothering themselves with details. To maintain that free will is an illusion logically, but then to feel that you can ignore that when you want to express something emotionally (subjectively, in your terms) is a bit corrupt to me.

Margaret McGhee
March 24th, 2006, 12:28 PM
Tom, My first inclination is to not reply at all to posts that don't make sense to me. The same for posts that are patronizing and/or insulting - although those are more easily ignored. But I gave this one several hours to see if it made more sense and I guess I'm still bewildered. I'm not asking for a clarification. I think it's beyond that. But since we were sort of having a convesation I thought it would polite on my part to let you know that I'll lurking for a while and hoping for something more interesting to come around. Todd, where are you?

Margaret

TomJrzk
March 24th, 2006, 03:41 PM
Agreed. :)