The prolonged path to peace and prosperity
When the Cold War ended the west seemed to have pretty much figured out the recipe for peace and prosperity: liberal democracies and open markets. These comprised
- Universalism (e.g. universal laws without discrimination)
Three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall Francis Fukuyama argued in The End of History and the Last Man (1992) that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free-market capitalism of the West and its lifestyle may signal the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government. It only seemed a matter of time before the western model would be adopted worldwide. After all, who doesn’t want to have peace and prosperity?
Fukuyama turned out to be wrong. Not only did his prediction not come true for most hopeful countries, including Russia, but the light seems to be flickering in the US itself, the very beacon of these values. The US is a proponent of these values, but only when it gets an advantage out of it or at least no disadvantage for its economy arises (hypocrisy) and unchecked markets have been starting to fail to bring prosperity, with younger generations being poorer than their parent generation now.
Of course, many non-western cultures seem to be needing more time than previously expected, but after all, it’s only a cultural change that shouldn’t be hard to achieve, right? And yet, many non-western cultures are showing the west the middle finger. What have we overlooked when it comes to foreign cultures? Minds make societies, and minds are at least 50% genetic. So, let’s assume that cultures aren’t merely the product of chance but the underlying mix of minds and genes, a gene-culture coevolution.
Until very recently we were pretty clueless as to what this gene-culture coevolution may have looked like. Jo Henrich’s research is an exception. As weird as it may sound, he suggested that the west became WEIRD, i.e. Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic by reducing endogamy and thus loosening the traditional clannish kinship ties that typically led to nepotism and consequently also what we westerners tend to see as corruption but traditional people tend to see as loyalty to their in-group.
Where do those opposing social forces towards in-group vs universalism come from? Our ancestors lived in roughly three different environments differentiated by subsistence strategies: foraging, farming and mobile pastoralism. I have argued that the underlying differences can be seen in our temperaments/personality differences:
Land and livestock were collectively owned by related individuals and cooperation happened mostly among in-group members with out-group members seen as potential enemies. This kind of tribalism or clannishness was absent from our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who frequently changed band membership in order to avoid inbreeding.
Capitalism assumes that competition and industriousness are the sources of prosperity, they come from farmer and herder genes (food producers). However, these two factors alone aren’t enough for prosperity when innovation (hunter-gatherer openness) is missing. What’s more, these two factors may easily lead to war rather than peace. If we look at history, this is exactly what we see everywhere during the Bronze Age: pastoralists and farmers fighting over dominance and the emergence of the first stratified societies. The Bronze Age also saw the admixture of hunter-gatherer genes (slaves, labourers). During the Iron Age we see universalist and egalitarian tendencies cropping up again and again, most visibly in religious movements such as Christianity and Buddhism (giving to the poor, love for non-relatives and outgroup members, etc.) and the tendency to increased unification and state formation.
What this means is basically that not every society is ready for liberal democracy and fair markets. The measure for readiness is neither a political one, nor an economic one, but a genetic one: the level of genetic inbreeding and the level of genetic equality. The level of genetic equality is simply about equal opportunities for leaving viable offspring. Low diversity in Y-haplogroups correlates with higher recent past genetic inequalities.
Endogamy in Europe is highest in Caucasian cultures, like among the Chechens or in Dagestan, which has been dubbed the “most dangerous place in Europe”.
Reduced male genetic diversity is probably very likely what happened when the Roman Empire came to an end through constant raiding by Steppe pastoralist tribes. The ensuing equality plunged Europe into the Dark Ages, with reduced rule of law and feudalism (which comes down to Mafia-clan ruling).
The Gini coefficient (income equality) may be a somewhat related economic indicator, but only to a certain extent as in unmixed populations of farmers and pastoralists wealth inequalities were never very high. The Gini index would be 0 in forager societies, of course, as they have no concept of unequal wealth and basically everything is shared. Most capitalist economists probably wouldn’t see foragers taking part in a productive economy, as there is no surplus production and therefore zero growth. However, zero growth would be great for our planet and zero inequality would be great for reducing conflicts. Perhaps one day our culture will be WEIRD enough to make this a reality. Until then, we have to concede that many cultures on this planet will have a prolonged path to peace and prosperity and that the west’s ideal of unbridled competitive markets and good greed may not be that great, as probably most people have suspected all along.
Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on April 17, 2022.