This will be the first column in a series on the broad human behavioral dimension dubbed “clannishness” by HBD Chick. I’ve talked quite about clannishness here, and of course it is the main theme of HBD Chick’s blog.
Yes, clannishness is a real human quality (as the above make abundantly clear). It is a distinct cluster of behavioral traits and attitudes (see Predictions on the Worldwide Distribution of Personality) that correlate with each other globally (and to an extent on an individual level). All human groups (particularly post agricultural/horticultural ones) fall somewhere on this dimension:
In this series, I will explore different facets of this clannishness dimension. (Each entry in this series probably won’t be sequential, but they will come.) In this entry, I’ll look at one particular aspect of this divide: the “curious” phenomenon of Western inventiveness.
There is little question that Northwestern Europeans have excelled in arena of discovery and science. Indeed, it was Northwestern Europeans that gave us science as we know it. Northwestern Europeans brought about the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions and continue to be at the forefront of discovery today. The modern world as we know it would not exist without Northwestern European contributions.
Periodic table of elements & the countries they were discovered in – All in NW Europe (exceptions also in Europe/US) pic.twitter.com/K26kzKo4QT
— JayMan (@JayMan471) March 27, 2014
Why is this case? Why has one corner of the world contributed so much? Various (mostly stupid) ideas have been put forward to explain this. Most discount the role of biology in leading to these outcomes. As we’ve seen previously (e.g., Demography is Destiny, American Nations Edition), societal differences are driven by biological differences between people. In short, the people make the society. Northwestern European inventiveness is no exception.
Many of those who are biologically aware credit average IQ as having a role, and indeed it does. There won’t be much progress or discovery without raw brain power. Let’s look at the average IQ across the world:
As we can see, average IQ is part of the story, but far from all of it. Particularly, despite having roughly the same average IQ, Eastern Europeans and East Asians underperform relative to Northwestern Europeans (and their offshoots). This isn’t even entirely of matter of lack of “manpower”, as this map of the number of researchers per million shows (from here):
Russia and Eastern Europe, for example, lag noticeably behind the Northwest. Japan and South Korea underperform both in total output (somewhat) as well as in the top prizes (they do perform much better in patents per capita, however). The latter two countries indicate that it’s not just a matter of national wealth or funding that drives these patterns.
A recent paper (discussed by James Thompson – Psychological comments: Asians: bright, but not curious? ) looked specifically at the East Asian-European gap in top prizes. But as we see, there is a noticeable gap within Europe. Particularly, the Northwestern countries are quite a bit ahead both the Southern and Eastern countries (as is the case with so many other things). The north-south disparity is to be expected due to the IQ cline:
Even among the Northwestern countries, the more Germanic countries stand ahead of the rest. Northwestern Europe, particularly the Germanic countries, have long been centers of development and progress. Indeed, Charles Murray wrote a whole book on that. In Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, Murray noted where the great scientists, mathematicians, and artists tended to originate. Overall, the pattern looks like this (as cited by HBD Chick – “core europe” and human accomplish-ment | hbd chick):
This pattern of innovation stemming from “core” Europe persists to the present day, as seen by patent applications per capita there (from here):
Indeed, a project tracing the place of birth and place of death of historically notable people across the world (and particularly Europe and North America) reproduces this pattern. See The History Of Cultural Migration, Mapped. Indeed, the animated visualization of this process over the last 2,000 years is mesmerizing to watch. You can actually watch civilization appear before your very eyes:
Interestingly, the latter video shows the rise of modern Europe and its siring of the American Nations. In essence, it is a visualization of much of what HBD Chick and I have discussed in our writing.
Edit, 3/26/16 [Listen also to this podcast by Sam Harris, specially the sections between time points 45:00 and 51:00. The realities of the achievements of Northwestern European societies relative to rest of the world are discussed ***End Edit***]
What is responsible for this pattern? Kura, te Nijenhuis, and Dutton blame the difference on a composite of novelty-seeking, social anxiety, fear of exclusion, and individualism. In their paper, they claimed that “Europeans” (all Northwestern Europeans) were less socially anxious, less fearful of exclusion, more novelty-seeking, and more individualistic than East Asians. Readers here will be familiar with this pattern: these are elements of personality differences as described previously in Predictions on the Worldwide Distribution of Personality, where I discuss variation in global personality in the HEXACO system. Particularly, more individualistic and more novelty seeking are facets of high Openness to experience. Fear of exclusion is an aspect of high Emotionality (and possibly high Agreeableness). And social anxiety is a facet of low eXtraversion. See also Staffan’s post on the Northeast Asian variant of the shame culture, the face culture: Honor, Dignity, and Face: Culture as Personality Writ Large | Staffan’s Personality Blog
The HEXACO captures variation in clannishness across the world. However, I wouldn’t want to reduce the difference to variation in personality dimensions, because ultimately the HEXACO is a theoretical construct (and an incomplete one) which partially captures the underlying variation. The variation is real; the system of personality traits and our various other measures merely approximate it. In any case, I think something deeper and more fundamental is going on here than just personality.
Others have suggested that the difference is creativity; East Asians are simply less creative than Westerners, so the story goes. The title of this entry is a reference to a quote “Genius is a zigzag lightning in the brain which other men have not,” which itself was quoted by Steve Sailer in an old VDare article discussing Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms. Sailer noted that Clarkian selection produced intelligence in both Northern Europe and East Asia, but it could not have been responsible for the apparent creative ability of some of the former. I suspect that raw creative ability is involved, but I think that’s hardly the whole story.
For one, I’m not sure we can say Northwestern Europeans are the most creative people in the world. Blacks have demonstrated substantial creativity, particularly in music and entertainment. But likely this doesn’t translate into scientific ability in good part because of Blacks’ lower average IQ. But nonetheless, I think here’s something more fundamental going on here:
To which group does the flower on the bottom belong? This was the subject of a few of HBD Chick’s posts (do you think like a westerner? ; do you think like a westerner? (repeat); and east vs. west?). Essentially, research pioneered by Richard Nisbett found that “Westerners” (all Northwestern European in descent) tend to group the flower with group B, while “Easterners” (East Asians) group the flower with group A. Essentially, this is a test of abstract vs. holistic thinking between each group. This videos discuss it in further detail:
In the flower example, NW Europeans will group the flower with group B, because they all share the same stem. It’s a crisp rule that sharply delineates one from type of flower from the other. East Asians, on the other hand, will group the flower with group A, because they share “superficial” characteristics. The first video gives another example at time point 36:57. A set of three objects, a giant panda, a monkey, and a banana, were presented to Whites and to East Asians. Participants were asked to group two of the objects together. Westerners grouped the panda and the monkey (since they’re both animals). Easterners, on the other hand, grouped the monkey and the banana (since monkeys eat bananas).
This may seem like a simple and seemingly meaningless difference, but it goes to the core of one of the key ways WEIRDO people are different from the rest of humanity. The ability to think abstractly and understand crisp linear rules of how things relate to each other is fundamental to being an effective scientist. I’ll argue that development of the Northwestern European penchant for abstraction is directly responsible (among other traits) for the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions.
Additionally, the video discusses another key difference between Western vs. Eastern (i.e., WEIRDO vs. clannish) thought: the former see things (and themselves) as atomized individuals, while the latter view objects in the world as part of an interconnected whole. This is a defining aspect on the clannishness dimension: low-clannishness peoples (WEIRDOs) see themselves as atomized individuals, who form associations voluntarily and not necessarily based on kinship. High-clannishness peoples see themselves as inherently part of the group (e.g., family, clan, tribe, village/town, etc.). Kura et al were correct in that a penchant for individualistic thought is an essential ingredient for new discovery. Here I highlight the underlying characteristic (i.e., clannishness) of which individualism is an aspect.
Together, abstract thought along with individualism helped foster NW European development. East Asians and others may have made many discoveries and possessed fair technological ability throughout their history (in line with their high average IQ), but they, by and large, lacked the ability to put it all together in a coherent system of analysis and discovery – i.e., science. East Asians (and for that matter, North eastern Europeans) didn’t begin to excel in these areas until they were introduced to the scientific method (and by that, I mean the whole linear abstract way of thinking) by NW Europeans.
Now, some may be wondering the following: East Asians are known for mathematic ability, and indeed, they do seem to posses higher average mathematic ability than NW Europeans. And math is perhaps the most abstract matter there is (with good reason, I believe). Yet we see less by way of top ability from East Asians. This is not due to East Asians possessing a narrower standard deviation in IQ than NW Euros. Nonetheless, the Fields Medal statistics clearly show East Asians (and Eastern Europeans) lagging well behind NW Europeans in top accomplishments. This confirms that their worse Nobel performance isn’t just due to institutional barriers or other social limitation, but lower ability to make novel advancements.
Despite all this, one thing that abstract thinking is NOT all that good for is understanding people. It’s difficult to brute-force “reason” through what makes people think and how they’ll behave. You have to understand this intuitively. Indeed, the human brain is heavily dedicated to social reasoning and understanding how people think. Clannish peoples have taken this a step further because of the low trust that prevails in clannish societies . Referring back to my post Predictions on the Worldwide Distribution of Personality, the H of the HEXACO, Honesty-humility, captures one key element of the clannish dimension. Clannish peoples are much lower on this dimension than WEIRDOs. Machiavellianism – talent at deceptive manipulation – requires an intuitive understanding of how people tick. Indeed, to illustrate, let’s hear it as told by a master:
“Holistic” thinking is better for understanding people and anticipating their motives (and for figuring out how to take advantage of them). This reigns in clannish societies because deception (and hence, the need for the ability to detect deception) are par for the course in them.
By contrast, in WEIRDO societies, excessive abstraction is common, particularly when it comes to people (example: all of libertarianism). NW Euro liberals are susceptible to this naive abstraction about people. An example from Sweden (quote Google Translated from Swedish):
Municipalities will be required to accept refugees if it is not possible to reach a voluntary agreement. The distribution between the municipalities should take greater account of their economy. … There is a big difference on how many refugees Swedish municipalities receive. Labour Minister Ylva Johansson (S) is now presenting a proposal on how the distribution will become more even. – My assessment is that this skewed distribution is not sustainable. It must become fairer and more reasonable, says Ylva Johansson.
Indeed, there’s a fairly good correlation between Nobels per capita and the fraction Muslim in the country (data source for Muslim population). In this analysis, I excluded Bulgaria and Russia (as their Muslim populations stem more from conquest than from immigration). I also excluded Luxembourg as an outlier:
As well there is a modest correlation between Nobels per capita and those reporting positive attitudes towards immigration from outside the European Union (source for attitudes here):
And indeed, a recent study by Thomas Talhem, Jonathan Haidt, et al found that Liberals Think More Analytically (More “WEIRD”) Than Conservatives. They ran various tests of abstract vs. holistic thinking on American, British, and Chinese subjects. They found that the more liberal ones in each country trended towards more abstract thinking. Now, in the Anglo countries, there may have been some ethnic confounding. But if so, this would still be consistent with the apparent global pattern. Nonetheless, for greater certainty, we need tests of abstract vs. holistic thinking from more countries, especially more non-WEIRDO ones.
Staffan has previously noted that this divide between WEIRDO and clannish thinking is visible in entertainment, particularly movies: Why a Good Story Must Be Archetypal and Why Modern Storytellers Must Lie About It | Staffan’s Personality Blog
it seems like archetypes are something like hardwired predispositions, and that a good story is one which will resonate with this wiring … Now, given that a modern [WEIRDO] person is partly freed of moral foundations and clannishness, it would make sense to argue that such a person is also partly freed from his archetypal predispositions too … he is also less prone to archetypal thinking, which should make him a pretty poor storyteller. … there was a brief period of time when modern people were dominant in Western culture – the 1960s and 1970s – and they could do pretty much as they pleased. They made arty, existential, surrealistic and generally experimental films. Given the amount of modern films created during this period the film studios no doubt thought it was the next big thing. But like any stories that lacks that archetypal magic, they appealed to the critics – a group that is clearly modern – but they were never a big hit with the broader audience.
Modern movies have fared better when they returned to more archetypal-bases. A good example may be the difference between 1979′s Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the following film in the franchise, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The former film is very abstract and cerebral, and didn’t resonant with people all that well. By contrast, Star Trek II is still generally regarded as the greatest film in the franchise. Director Nicholas Meyer took Star Trek II in a more archetypal direction. It depicts a classic battle of good vs. evil between forceful characters, and that gave us a memorable film.
How did this penchant for abstraction come about among NW Europeans? I suspect that part of it has to do with the rise of high-trust and social atomization (i.e., individualism) in NW European societies. As clannishness disappeared, and as people were no longer bound to their families or clans (and indeed, we were free to interact with non-relative in cooperative ventures), people became more free to engage in intellectually stimulating thought. Mental space previously devoted understand one’s place in society and keep ahead of schemers now could be used on more abstract pursuits. Indeed, perhaps this was favored in the NW Euro way of life. I will discuss the evolution of NW Euro traits further in future entries in this series.
Edit, 9/22/15: [Several of the commenters seem to be really confused on a basic point. The reality is that evolution proceeds much quicker than you think. Just as HBD'ers generally understand that human evolution didn't stop 50,000 years ago, it also did not stop 10,000 years ago, or even 1,000 years ago, or even 500 or 200 years ago. Evolution continues right up to the present day. The reason I bring this up is because I keep hearing about how X group was doing this 2,000 years ago or about how Y group was doing this 1,000 years ago, so how could they be so different now? The reason is that they have changed since that time.
You can have considerable change in a population over the course of 400-500 years if they are under a sustained selective pressure. As an example, see this comment over at Chick's:
the major gradient of genetic/ancestral differences in Spain is perpendicular to the gradient in IQ, clannishness, and other key traits! This is strong evidence for recent evolution (within the last few centuries), because this indicates that, despite being different genetically, people in [adjacent] corners of Spain (along the east-west direction) nontheless developed similarities in key traits. In other words, convergent evolution.
I hope everyone is clear on that, and I stop getting comments about this problem. Evolution is fast enough so that people 1,000 years ago can be different from today’s people, but not fast enough that average IQ could have declined one standard deviation in the West since Victorian times.
Also, while I’m editing, here’s a bonus map that displays the same pattern as the above maps of intellectual achievement (source):
The Northwestern European penchant for abstraction (along with many other unique psychological characteristics of this group) gave us the modern world as we know it. What allowed NW Europeans to once dominate the world now leads to poor decisions, such as allowing mass migration from clannish societies into NW European countries. As I said, demography is destiny, and the people make the society. Allowing mass migration large enough possibly lead to partial population replacement – as NW Europeans are now doing – will greatly erode what sustains modern civilization. Left unchecked, NW European society will disappear – just as the Roman Empire did before it. This would objectively be a great loss to the entire world. Hopefully, things turn around before the situation gets that bad, but, only time will tell.
Edit, 9/23/15: [See HBD Chick's response to this: a few thoughts | hbd chick ***End Edit***]
For the ending theme, one interesting exercise in the contrast between abstract and holistic thinking is to compare German classical music with Italian operas. The contrast between mechanistic structure in one and emotion and human interest concerns in the other is fascinating. Look up the lyrics for this.