2013 April 13 Saturday
Will Modernity Win Against Selective Pressures It Has Unleashed?

In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined Steven Pinker highlights the rise of the forces of modernity.

How, in particular, are we to make sense of modernity‐of the erosion of family, tribe, tradition, and religion by the forces of individualism, cosmopolitanism, reason, and science?

My concern: countervailing forces are building. Selective pressures produced humans capable of creating modernity. But modernity creates new selective pressures that create larger populations that are immune to modernity and characterized by high fertility and in some cases higher clannishness. If the forces of modernity can not cause fertility to sharply drop in high total fertility regions and Western subpopulations then individualism, cosmopolitanism, reason, and science will lose.

The rise of the nuclear family (and corresponding decline of clans) was a key development enabling the rise of modernity. Clans allowed into Western societies undermine those societies. Unless the forces of modernity undermine consanguineous (cousin) marriage where it is prevalent tribalism isn't going to die and it might even increase due to higher fertility rates among the cousin marriers.

My guess is that the nuclear family with two parents is the ideal family structure for a Western society. However, less intelligent women are having more kids outside of marriage than more intelligent women are having inside marriage. That is one of many forces at work against modernity.

Many of the features of modern society are epiphenomenal, the result of other attributes of modernity. If people lacking strong support for individualism and reason can survive and grow in modern societies then many core features of modernity will be lost in time.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 April 13 12:39 PM 

WJ said at April 13, 2013 5:54 PM:

Polygamy is one behavior that enables tribalism, because it creates large families with numerous closely related relatives: lots of male relatives, close in age, who are governed by a strong authority figure - the father. The families can be large enough that they form the largest part a person's social network, and they enable a degree of trust seldom shared with mere friends.

The suppression of polygamy in the West, both in the Middle Ages and among Mormons of the 1800s, was one of the wisest things Western governments ever did. But it is not something we're willing to do again, because the temptation to "live and let live" is too strong so long as the lights stay on and there's food on the table. No one cares if the lights stay on only because our government mortgages us to the hilt.

The prosperity we've been experiencing since WW2, coupled with endless cheap diversions (television, video games, porn) and the ability to fornicate promiscuously without fearing the traditional consequences of that behavior, is going to kill us.

Big Bill said at April 13, 2013 6:38 PM:

HBD Chick has some wonderful history on nuclear families and how they created modern Europe.

She notes in particular how the early Church deliberately set out to destroy clannishness and force people to marry broadly, thereby linking many families together and causing the creation of "nations" rather than clans and tribes.

The Church destroyed the tribes by preventing them from reinforcing by cousin marriage, and it worked.

Abelard Lindsey said at April 14, 2013 8:16 AM:

Something to note is that fertility among the lower classes, particularly Hispanics, has declined more than the upper classes since the onset of the current recession.

James Bowery said at April 14, 2013 10:43 AM:

Pinker's definition of "individualism" is typical of those who promote human dysgenics: "Sovereignty" does not imply "force".

No, Pinker is just another Moses promoting group selection in the guise of "peace" when group select is war.

bbartlog said at April 15, 2013 8:47 AM:

China doesn't have such a long dysgenic history and is I think in no danger of losing this race.

Check it out said at April 15, 2013 2:44 PM:

Well, I pretty much agree on everything. I do believe that the nuclear family with two parents is the ideal family structure for a Western society and it is under attack.

Good post.

Randall Parker said at April 16, 2013 8:24 PM:


I expect the Chinese will very quickly embrace biotechnology for embryo selection tied to genetic testing to raise IQ.

shiva1008 said at April 18, 2013 2:54 PM:

Interesting observation re: the downfall of intellectual curiosity and individualism and the resurgence of clannishness. I must have been born after the time period when individualism flourished, because I tried to live up to the ideal of a rugged individualist that was celebrated by the famous writers, and it has caused me nothing but trouble.

If I had kids, I'd tell them to be mindless social robot conformists, and they'd probably have much happier lives. But in the near term it is useful to try and gravitate towards those populations which still appreciate intellectual curiosity and individualism (which aren't equally distributed in genetic populations and socioeconomic strata).

shiva1008 said at April 18, 2013 2:57 PM:

The British come to mind as an example. Brits are known to accept and appreciate eccentricity, and they are a fairly high IQ population. Eccentricity is also much higher among the high IQ population, while proles are more conformist and clannish.

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