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Northwest Europe

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The Pauper, 1894-1895, Theodor Kittelsen. This and other works by Kittelsen have appeared on Norwegian black metal albums. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Black metal is a musical subgenre that grew out of death metal and, more broadly, heavy metal. In general, it pushes certain aspects of this genre to even farther extremes: fast tempos, shrieking vocals, and violent stage acts. Black metal bands can be found almost anywhere—Europe, North America, East Asia, even Indonesia and Israel. In... Read More
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We like to think that all people feel empathy to the same degree. In reality, it varies a lot from one person to the next, like most mental traits. We are half-aware of this when we distinguish between "normal people" and "psychopaths," the latter having an abnormally low capacity for empathy. The distinction is arbitrary,... Read More
Compendium on agriculture, Japan, 1782. Rice farming, which requires community planning of water use and irrigation, may have favored a less individualistic mindset in East Asia (Wikicommons)
Kinship is the organizing principle of small human societies, such as bands of hunter-gatherers or small farming villages. This is seen in their notions of right and wrong—the same behavior may be wrong toward kin but right toward non-kin, or at least not punishable. Morality is enforced by social pressure from fellow kinfolk, which in... Read More
A burning car during the 2005 riots.  Credit: Strologoff at Wikimedia Commons
The gruesome attack on Charlie Hebdo has earned condemnation around the world. It has been called "cowardly" and "evil" by Barack Obama, "a barbaric act" by Stephen Harper, and an "infamy" by François Hollande. Yes, violence is serious. It's a crime when done by an individual and war when done by a country. It's a... Read More
Yale was founded by English Congregationalist ministers. Today, only 22% of its student body has a Christian European background of any sort. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Last year, around this time, friends and acquaintances offered me all sorts of religiously neutral salutations: Seasons Greetings! Happy Holidays! Joyeuses fêtes! Meilleurs vœux! Only two people wished me Merry Christmas. One was Muslim, the other was Jewish. They meant well. After all, isn't that the culturally correct greeting? In theory, yes. In practice, most... Read More
Anti-UKIP protest in Edinburgh.  (Credit: Brian McNeil, Wikimedia Commons). \"Conservative\" increasingly means pro-white.
Are liberals and conservatives differently wired? It would seem so. When brain MRIs were done on 90 young adults from University College London, it was found that self-described liberals tended to have more grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas self-described conservatives tended to have a larger right amygdala. These results were replicated in... Read More
In a previous post, I discussed why the capacity for affective empathy varies not only between individuals but also between populations. First, its heritability is high: 68% (Chakrabarti and Baron-Cohen, 2013). So natural selection has had something to grab hold of. Second, its usefulness varies from one culture to another. It matters less where kinship... Read More
Collection box for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society circa 1850.  Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Throughout the world, kinship used to define the limits of morality. The less related you were to someone, the less moral you had to be with him or her. We see this in the Ten Commandments. The phrase "against thy neighbor" qualifies the commandment against bearing false witness and, implicitly, the preceding ones against killing,... Read More
The ratio of index finger length to ring finger length provides an index of sexual differentiation. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Are men and women more alike in some populations than in others? It's possible. First, boys and girls differentiate from each other to varying degrees during adolescence, and this process of sexual differentiation is genetically influenced. There are even conditions, like Swyer syndrome, where an individual is chromosomally male (46, XY) and yet develops externally... Read More
Adam and Eve, Jan Brueghel de Oude en Peter Paul Rubens. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Did the Christian doctrine of original sin create the guilt cultures of Northwest Europe? Or did the arrow of causality run the other way?
By definition, gene-culture co-evolution is reciprocal. Genes and culture are both in the driver's seat. This point is crucial because there is a tendency to overreact to cultural determinism and to forget that culture does matter, even to the point of influencing the makeup of our gene pool. Through culture, humans have directed their own... Read More
The Classic of Filial Piety, Ma Hezhi, 12th Century Credit: Wikimedia Commons
In a previous post, I asked, "How universal is empathy?" The question is tricky because empathy has three components: 1. pro-social behavior - willingness to help people out, hospitality to strangers, acts of compassion. 2. cognitive empathy - capacity to see things from another person's perspective and to understand how he or she feels. 3.... Read More
In a recent post, Fred Reed asks: The short answer is that any killing, for whatever reason, increases the likelihood of killing for other reasons. One exception is self-defence, but that's not done for pleasure. Another exception is capital punishment, but that, too, is not done for pleasure. More to the point, no single citizen... Read More
Bronislaw Malinowski with natives on the Trobriand Islands (1918 - source). Pro-social behavior seems to be a human universal, but is the same true for full empathy? What is empathy? It has at least three components: - pro-social behavior, i.e., actions of compassion to help others - cognitive empathy, i.e., capacity to understand another person's... Read More
Reconstructed Mesolithic roundhouse near Northumberland, Great Britain (source: Andrew Curtis) At different times and in different regions, humans have entered larger social environments that are no longer limited to close kin. Because there is less interaction with any one person and more interaction with non-kin, correct behavior can no longer be enforced by the to... Read More
Ruth Benedict first made the distinction between “shame cultures” and “guilt cultures” (source). Pervasive feelings of guilt are part of a behavioral package that enabled Northwest Europeans to adapt to complex social environments where kinship is less important and where rules of correct behavior must be obeyed with a minimum of surveillance. Is this pervasive... Read More
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