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Henry Harpending (1944-2016) died this past Sunday. He had a stroke a year ago, and then a second one three weeks ago, but apparently he died of a lung infection. This is one of the risks of getting older: you dodge one bullet only to get hit by another.

The cemeteries are full of people who die before their time, but this is one case where I really wish death had held off a while longer, so that he could see more of the fruits of his labors, particularly in the area of gene-culture coevolution.

No, he wasn’t the only academic to show that culture and genes have coevolved in our species. In fact, the idea probably originated with Claude Lévi-Strauss in the early 1970s:

When cultures specialize, they consolidate and favor other traits, like resistance to cold or heat for societies that have willingly or unwillingly had to adapt to extreme climates, like dispositions to aggressiveness or contemplation, like technical ingenuity, and so on. […] each culture selects for genetic aptitudes that, via a feedback loop, influence the culture that had initially helped to strengthen them. (Lévi-Strauss, 1971)

This idea of gene-culture coevolution became popular in the 1980s through papers by L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, Robert Boyd, Peter Richerson, and Pierre van den Berghe. It then fell out of fashion because … well, because. When Paul Ehrlich wrote Human Natures(2000), he returned to the conventional wisdom that cultural evolution had largely replaced genetic evolution in our species. As one became more important, the other became less so.

In 2007, Henry Harpending turned this thinking on its head with a study on changes to the human genome over the past 80,000 years. With four other researchers, he found that these changes actually sped up more than a hundred-fold some 10,000 years ago, when hunting and gathering gave way to farming, which in turn led to population growth and larger, more complex societies. Our ancestors were no longer adapting to relatively static natural environments but rather to faster-changing cultural ones of their own making. They created new ways of life, which in turn influenced who would survive and who wouldn’t.

As Henry and his co-authors pointed out, this estimate of a hundred-fold acceleration is actually conservative:

It is sometimes claimed that the pace of human evolution should have slowed as cultural adaptation supplanted genetic adaptation. The high empirical number of recent adaptive variants would seem sufficient to refute this claim. It is important to note that the peak ages of new selected variants in our data do not reflect the highest intensity of selection, but merely our ability to detect selection. Due to the recent acceleration, many more new adaptive mutations should exist than have yet been ascertained, occurring at a faster and faster rate during historic times. (Hawks et al., 2007)

Few ideas belong solely to one person, but Henry deserves credit for perseverance. Most of the others, like L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, eventually found it expedient to focus on other ideas. Henry pushed on, not only by co-writing a book with Greg Cochran, but also by continuing to do original research.

I would like to say that Henry was allowed to work in peace. That’s how things are in a free society, no? Unfortunately, he was repeatedly warned to stop, subtly at first and then not so subtly. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center added his name to its list of “extremists”—a list that, curiously, omits people whose skin is darker than peaches and cream.

In its “Extremist File” the SPLC describes him as follows:

Harpending is most famous for his book, co-authored with frequent collaborator Gregory Cochran, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, which argues that humans are evolving at an accelerating rate, and that this began when the ancestors of modern Europeans and Asians left Africa. Harpending believes that this accelerated evolution is most visible in differences between racial groups, which he claims are growing more distinct and different from one another. The evolution of these racial differences are, in Harpending’s account, the driving force behind all of modern human history. He is also a eugenicist who believes that medieval Europeans intuitively adopted eugenic policies, and that we should recognize the importance of eugenics in our own society. (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2015)

I would give that summary a D+.

– The book’s argument was that genetic evolution slowly accelerated as modern humans spread outward from a relatively small area in Africa, beginning some 80,000 years ago. Much later, this acceleration greatly increased when farming began to replace hunting and gathering some 10,000 years ago. The actual Out of Africa event—when modern humans spread out of Africa some 50,000 years ago—was tangential to this process of accelerating genetic evolution, yet the SPLC summary makes it seem pivotal (perhaps to show that Henry was obsessed with black people?).

– The book’s argument was that culture and genes coevolve: culture drives genetic evolution just as much as genes drive cultural evolution. And this process can take place within groups that are not normally thought to be “racial.”

– The last sentence is way off the mark. Yes, a culture will make it harder for some individuals to survive and reproduce, thereby removing certain predispositions and personality types from the gene pool, but this process is no more a “eugenic policy” than is natural selection itself. It’s silly to use words like “eugenics” and “policy” for something that happens unconsciously in any culture, even in small bands of hunter-gatherers.

I don’t mind people making unfounded criticisms. That’s par for the course in academia. But was the SPLC interested in academic debate when it listed Henry as an “extremist”?

Indeed, what’s the point of that list? Information gathering? Or is it more like incitement to extrajudicial punishment and, yes, extrajudicial violence? “Look folks, this is a BAD PERSON, so go and do what the justice system is too cowardly to do!” Isn’t that the point of the exercise? And isn’t that exactly what the KKK was condemned for doing?

A strange role reversal has taken place between the long-dead KKK and the SPLC. It’s now the latter that tries to enforce its notions of good behavior through intimidation, veiled threats, public shaming, and blacklisting. It’s now the SPLC that is conspiring, literally, to deny people their civil rights.

Anyway, Henry Harpending seemed unfazed by the SPLC’s blacklisting. He was apparently one of those rare tenured professors who put his tenure to good use and blissfully went on doing what he had always been doing. I wish he had lived longer. He was irreplaceable not so much because he knew more but because he was unafraid to say and act on what he knew. I will miss him.


Cochran, G. and H. Harpending. (2010). The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, New York: Basic Books.

Ehrlich, P. (2000 ). Human Natures. Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect, Penguin.

Harpending, H., and G. Cochran. (2002). In our genes, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 99, 10-12.


We must act now to bring anti-globalist parties to power: the UKIP in Britain, the Front national in France, the Partij voor de Vrijheidin the Netherlands, the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, and the Sverigedemokraterna in Sweden. How, you may ask? It’s not too complicated. Just go into the voting booth and vote. You don’t even have to talk about your dirty deed afterwards.

I wrote the above last January, fearing that Europe would see an acceleration of the massive demographic change already under away—the Great Replacement, to use a term coined by Renaud Camus:

Oh, the Great Replacement needs no definition. It isn’t a concept. It’s a phenomenon, as obvious as the nose on your face. To observe it, you need only go out into the street or just look out the window. A people used to be there, stable, occupying the same territory for fifteen or twenty centuries. And all of a sudden, very quickly, in one or two generations, one or more other peoples have substituted themselves for it. It’s been replaced. It’s no longer itself. We should note that the tendency to consider individuals, things, objects, and peoples replaceable or interchangeable is fairly widespread and in line with a threefold movement whereby people have become industrialized, deprived of their spirituality, and dumbed down. Call it a later and more generalized stage of Taylorism. At first, we replace only the parts of manufactured goods. Then, we replace workers. Finally, we replace entire peoples. (Camus, 2012)

Two breaches have been made in the dike that used to hold back this process of replacement: one in Libya and the other in Syria. Through them is pouring the demographic overflow that has been building up in Africa and the Middle East. Meanwhile, there has been an incredible loss of will among Europe’s leaders to do anything, other than hectoring recalcitrant nations like Hungary for not taking their “fair share.”

I’m not using the word “incredible” lightly. This wave of immigrants won’t be a one-time-only thing. It won’t come to an end when conditions improve in their home countries. Indeed, once it gets under way it can only increase in magnitude, and spreading it over a wider area will do nothing to stop the increase. Instead of being confined to Western and Southern Europe, the Great Replacement will be extended to Eastern Europe. Swell. You call that a solution?

Instead of replacing native Europeans, why not replace their leaders? Why not vote them out of office? That was the solution I advocated back in January and still do. Political change is more certain when done by peaceful means at the ballot box, as opposed to being imposed by coercion and illegal acts. Unfortunately, this option faces a number of obstacles.

The obstacles are threefold:

Unwillingness to play by the rules

In this, the problem lies not so much with Europe’s nationalist parties as with their opponents. It’s the latter who are not willing to play by the rules.

This was the case in Belgium, where in 2004 a court ruling shut down the Vlaams Blok, a party that had won 24% of the popular vote for the Flemish parliament the same year.

In October 2000, the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism, together with the Dutch-speaking Human Rights League in Belgium registered a complaint at the Correctional Court, in which they claimed that three non-profit organisations connected to the Vlaams Blok (its education and research office and the “National Broadcasting Corporation”) had violated the 1981 anti-racism law. The publications which were referred to included its 1999 election agenda and 1997 party platform. The challenged passages included those where the party called for a separate education system for foreign children, a special tax for employers employing non-European foreigners, and a restriction of unemployment benefits and child allowances for non-European foreigners. (Wikipedia – Vlaams Blok, 2015)

Elsewhere, nationalist parties have faced a combination of judicial and extrajudicial harassment. Indeed, when antifas commit brazen acts of violence that go unpunished, one cannot help but wonder whether the correct term is “quasi-judicial.” The antifas are functioning as a kind of secret police that is allowed to do what the regular police cannot do.

Even without the antifas, the level of harassment is considerable. In 2013, for example, the European Parliament stripped Marine Le Pen of her parliamentary immunity for having denounced the illegal blocking of French streets for Muslim prayers:

For those who want to talk a lot about World War II, if it’s about occupation, then we could also talk about it (Muslim prayers in the streets), because that is occupation of territory. …It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of districts in which religious laws apply. … There are of course no tanks, there are no soldiers, but it is nevertheless an occupation and it weighs heavily on local residents(Wikipedia – Marine Le Pen, 2015)

For that comment, she was dragged before the courts, being finally acquitted this year. Compare that with the indulgence reserved for the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur when it featured a tweet on its twitter page that called for the mass rape of women who vote FN. The tweet was removed but there was no apology, and there certainly won’t be any prosecution by the Minister of Justice—as was the case with Marine’s comment.

This is the reality of political debate in Western Europe. One side can speak with impunity, whereas the other has to watch what it says.

Extremist image of nationalism

In 2015, the progress of nationalist parties was not uniform. In Greece, Chrysí Avgí (Golden Dawn) seems to have stalled at 7% of the popular vote. In Norway, Fremskrittspartiet (Progress Party) lost support in local elections, this being part of a decline that began in 2011 … with Breivik’s terrorist attacks.

In Norway, it is now difficult to be a nationalist without being associated with Anders Breivik or church burnings by black metallists. In Greece, nationalism is tarred with Nazi-like rhetoric and imagery—this, in a country that Nazi Germany had occupied during the last war. It is a sign of just how bad things are that so many Greeks are still willing to vote for a party that revels in an extremist image.

This problem is inevitable with any movement that begins on the fringes among people who feel alienated. As nonconformists they tend to be lone wolves, and as lone wolves they tend to act without restraint, sometimes mindlessly. Such people are both a help and a hindrance for any new political movement.

Assimilation into the dominant political culture

There is also the reverse problem. In the Venice state election, the Liga Veneta received 41% of the popular vote. This might seem to be good news, since the Liga Veneta is part of the Lega Nord, which in turn is allied with the Front National in France.

Unfortunately, things are not as they might seem. When a new party comes closer to power, it tends to assimilate mainstream values because its leaders now have to navigate within that culture—daily encounters with the media, meetings with campaign donors, invitations to wine and cheese parties … The result may be seen in the Liga Veneta’s political platform for 2010-2015:


What sort of ideas will guide our elites twenty years from now? You can find out by observing university students, especially those in the humanities and social sciences. One popular idea is that race doesn’t exist, except as a social construct. Its proponents include Eula Biss, a contributor to the New York Times Magazine:

Whiteness is not a kinship or a culture. White people are no more closely related to one another, genetically, than we are to black people. […] Which is why it is entirely possible to despise whiteness without disliking yourself. (Biss, 2015, h/t to Steve Sailer)

The last sentence needs little explanation. It’s possible to like yourself a lot while despising your own people. Such individuals have existed since time immemorial. But what about the second sentence? One often hears it among the educated, even those who dislike genetics and biology. Where does it come from?

From a study by geneticist Richard Lewontin, in 1972. He looked at human genes with more than one variant, mostly blood groups but also serum proteins and red blood cell enzymes. His conclusion:

The results are quite remarkable. The mean proportion of the total species diversity that is contained within populations is 85.4%, with a maximum of 99.7% for the Xm gene, and a minimum of 63.6% for Duffy. Less than 15% of all human genetic diversity is accounted for by differences between human groups! Moreover, the difference between populations within a race accounts for an additional 8.3%, so that only 6.3% is accounted for by racial classification.

[…] It is clear that our perception of relatively large differences between human races and subgroups, as compared to the variation within these groups, is indeed a biased perception and that, based on randomly chosen genetic differences, human races and populations are remarkably similar to each other, with the largest part by far of human variation being accounted for by the differences between individuals. (Lewontin, 1972)

The problem here is the assumption that genetic variation within a human group is comparable to genetic variation between human groups. In fact, the two are qualitatively different. When a gene varies between two groups the cause is more likely a difference in natural selection, since the group boundary also tends to separate different natural environments (vegetation, climate, topography) or, more often, different cultural environments (diet, means of subsistence, sedentism vs. nomadism, gender roles, state monopoly of violence, etc.). Conversely, when a gene varies within a population, the cause is more likely a random factor without adaptive significance. That kind of variation is less easily flattened out by the steamroller of similar selection pressures.

This point isn’t merely theoretical. In other animals, as Lewontin himself noted, we often see the same genetic overlap between races of one species. But we also see it between many species that are nonetheless anatomically and behaviorally distinct. Some two decades after Lewontin’s study, this apparent paradox became known when geneticists looked at how genes vary within and between dog breeds:

[…] genetic and biochemical methods … have shown domestic dogs to be virtually identical in many respects to other members of the genus. […] Greater mtDNA differences appeared within the single breeds of Doberman pinscher or poodle than between dogs and wolves. Eighteen breeds, which included dachshunds, dingoes, and Great Danes, shared a common haplotype and were no closer to wolves than poodles and bulldogs.

[…] there is less mtDNA difference between dogs, wolves, and coyotes than there is between the various ethnic groups of human beings, which are recognized as a single species. (Coppinger and Schneider, 1995)

Initially, this paradox was put down to the effects of artificial selection. Kennel clubs insist that each breed should conform to a limited set of criteria. All other criteria, particularly those not readily visible, end up being ignored. So artificial selection targets a relatively small number of genes and leaves the rest of the genome alone.

But is natural selection any different? When a group buds off from a population and moves into a new environment, its members too have to conform to a new set of selection pressures that act on a relatively small number of genes. So the new group will diverge anatomically and behaviorally from its parent population, and yet remain similar to it over most of the genome. This is either because most of the genes respond similarly to the new environment—as with those that do the same housekeeping tasks in a wide range of species—or because they respond weakly to natural selection in general. Many genes are little more than “junk DNA”—they change slowly over time, not through the effects of natural selection but through gradual accumulation of random mutations.

With the extension of population studies to nonhuman species, geneticists have often encountered this paradox: a gene will vary much less between two species than within each of them. This is notably the case with sibling species that have emerged since the last ice age, when many new and different environments came into being.


Is sociopathy an illness? We often think so … to the point that the word “sick” has taken on a strange secondary meaning. If we call a ruthless, self-seeking person “sick,” we mean he should be shunned at all costs. We don’t mean he should take an aspirin and get some rest.

Sociopathy doesn’t look like a mental illness, being much less incapacitating than schizophrenia and most mental disorders. A sociopath can deal with other people well enough, perhaps too well. As Harpending and Sobus (2015) point out:

It is a psychopathology because of what sociopaths do to us, and it has significant legal, political, and moral consequences for all of us. Most criminals are probably sociopaths according to some definition (the figure of 80% is often quoted).

Sociopaths regularly present the following characteristics:

  • onset before age 15, childhood hyperactivity, truancy, delinquency, disruption in school
  • early and often aggressive sexual activity, marital histories of desertion, non-support, abandonment
  • persistent lying, cheating, irresponsibility without visible shame
  • sudden changes of plan, impulsiveness, unpredictability
  • charm and a façade of sensitivity
  • high mobility, vagrancy, use of aliases

Sociopaths follow a life strategy that is adaptive for themselves but ruinous for society. Harpending and Sobus (2015) argue that they succeed so well because they know how to manipulate social relationships to their advantage.

Sociopathy is at least moderately heritable (Hicks et al., 2004). Interestingly, it seems to cluster with hysteria in first-degree relatives, with sociopathy being expressed in the males and hysteria in the females. Harpending and Sobus (2015) argue that “hysteria is the expression in females of the same genetic material that leads to sociopathy in males.” In short, “sociopathy in females is the result of a greater dose of the genetic material that leads, in smaller doses, to hysteria, namely, hysteria is mild sociopathy.”

If sociopathy is adaptive, why does it affect only a minority of us? It seems that the rest of us have developed counter-strategies of looking for signs of sociopathy and expelling suspects from society … and the gene pool. This is probably why sociopaths tend to be always on the move—if they stay too long with the same people, they risk being detected and dealt with.

Gene-culture coevolution

We adapt to our cultural environment as we do to our natural environment. More so in fact. The last 10,000 years have seen far more genetic change in our ancestors than the previous 100,000, this speeding up of evolution being driven by the entry of humans into an increasingly diverse range of cultural environments.

Sociopathy may thus propagate itself more easily in some cultures than in others, with the result that its incidence may likewise differ from one to another. In a small band of hunter-gatherers, a sociopath will not last long because he is always interacting with the same small group of people:

In a 1976 study anthropologist Jane M. Murphy, then at Harvard University found that an isolated group of Yupik-speaking Inuits near the Bering Strait had a term (kunlangeta) they used to describe “a man who … repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and … takes sexual advantage of many women—someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment.” When Murphy asked an Inuit what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, he replied, “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”(Lilienfeld and Arkowitz, 2007)

In a larger community, a sociopath may evade detection long enough to reproduce successfully and pass on his mental traits. Finally, in some cultures he can use his manipulative skills to dominate the community, becoming a “big man” and enjoying very good opportunities for reproduction.

This Pandora’s Box was opened when humans gave up hunting and gathering and became farmers. First, farming supported a much larger population, so it became easier for sociopaths to move about from one group of unsuspecting people to another. Second, farming created a food surplus that powerful individuals could use to support underlings of various sorts: servants, soldiers, scribes, etc. There was thus a growing class of people who did not directly support themselves and whose existence depended on their ability to manipulate others.

Finally, in the tropical zone, farming greatly increased female reproductive autonomy. Through year-round farming, women could provide for themselves and their children with less male assistance. Men accordingly shifted their reproductive strategy from monogamy to polygyny, i.e., from providing for a wife and children to inseminating as many women as possible. This kind of cultural environment selected for male seducers and manipulators rather than male providers. Conversely, it selected for women who feel only an intermittent need for male companionship and who from time to time are able to coax assistance from people who are not so inclined:

Ethnographic descriptions of women who live in social contexts of low male parental investment portray women who are very demanding. Young women demand help from kin on behalf of children. When the help is not forthcoming the mothers often summarily dump or deposit the child or children at the door of a relative who (in their judgment) will not turn the children away. Women demand gifts from boyfriends for themselves.(Harpending and Draper, 1988)

In women, this selection pressure favors a condition known medically as Briquet’s syndrome and more commonly as “hysteria”:

When males are not good risks for parental investment, females will adjust their behavior accordingly. A common clinical characterization of Briquet’s syndrome is a woman who exaggerates need, who demands high levels of attention and investment, who deceives herself and others as to her requirements. The strategy (learned or inherited) makes sense for a woman with high exposure to low investment males. These males, however, are so fickle and so mobile that they can be dunned only in the short run.(Harpending and Draper, 1988)

Sociopathic behavior, be it hysteria or full-blown sociopathy, is not favored in hunter-gatherers, since both sexes invest heavily in their offspring and in each other. The selection is for men and women who can bond strongly with one partner:


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 one country, however, it has developed differently, taking violence off-stage and into the political arena. That country is Norway. In the early to mid-1990s, black metallists launched a wave of arson attacks on churches, including one dating from the 12th century. By 1996 there had been 50 church burnings, with similar attacks spreading to Sweden.

Those convicted showed no remorse, and lack of remorse still prevails among many in the black metal scene:

Many, such as Infernus and Gaahl of Gorgoroth, continue to praise the church burnings, with the latter saying “there should have been more of them, and there will be more of them”. Others, such as Necrobutcher and Kjetil Manheim of Mayhem and Abbath of Immortal, see the church burnings as having been futile. Manheim claimed that many arsons were “just people trying to gain acceptance” within the black metal scene. Watain vocalist Erik Danielsson respected the attacks, but said of those responsible: “the only Christianity they defeated was the last piece of Christianity within themselves. Which is a very good beginning, of course”.(Wikipedia, 2015b)

Why this hostility to Christianity? And why is it more extreme in Norway? These questions are raised in a review of black metal around the world:

Individualistic and anti-Christian rhetoric is common across the American death metal scene, and metal bands worldwide look to native traditions as a means to combat cultural hegemony […], yet nothing on the scale of the crimes in Norway has occurred elsewhere. (Wallach et al., 2011, p. 198)

One reason is the role of organized religion in Norwegian life. Although there are other denominations, the Church of Norway is the leading one and receives State support. Despite recent legislation in 2012 to weaken this relationship with the State, all clergy remain civil servants, the central and regional church administrations remain part of the state administration, all municipalities must support the Church of Norway’s activities, and municipal authorities are still represented in its local bodies (Wikipedia, 2015a)

As either a partner or a rival of the government, the Church of Norway has helped to make public policy: first, the postwar expansion of the welfare state and, later, the boycotts against South Africa. Now, it is leading the push for large-scale non-European/non-Christian immigration, which began in the early 1990s through the “sanctuary movement.” By 1993, as many as 140 congregations were housing 650 Albanians from Kosovo. By reframing immigration in moral terms, the Church made it that much harder to place limits on it, since morality is normally perceived in absolute terms, e.g., murder is always wrong, and not wrong within limits (Lippert and Rehaag, 2013, pp. 126-129).

After a lull, this movement is once more on the upswing:

As the group of unreturnable refugees in Norway has risen over recent years, churches have again become places for public appeals for these groups, through hunger strikes, tents camped as protest at the walls of central churches, and asylum marches following old pilgrimage paths. (Lippert and Rehaag, 2013, p.129).

The Church of Norway is now working with Lutherans elsewhere in Northern Europe to facilitate immigration from Africa and the Middle East. At a meeting this year in Trondheim, the Lutheran World Federation pushed for three measures: expansion of Italy’s Mare Nostrum initiative to the entire Mediterranean; creation of “safe passage” corridors for migrants; and “just distribution” of migrants within Europe (Anon, 2015).

Norway is not the only country where churches have been promoting African and Muslim immigration, but church involvement is especially pivotal there and in Scandinavia as a whole. Because immigration was very limited until recent decades, it is legitimized much more by Christian universalism than by a pre-existing tradition of immigration, as in the United States, Canada, and France. A second reason is the relative dominance of one State-supported church and the unthinking adherence of most Scandinavians, even atheists, to the Lutheran tradition. Thus, in comparison to other predominantly Christian societies, they can more quickly reach a policy consensus, or have one imposed on them.

When a stage act leaves the stage

This was the social context that radicalized Norway’s black metal scene, causing it to go beyond the fake violence of stage performances. Wallach et al. (2011, p. 196) argue that the acts of arson had their roots in “disaffection and alienation from the dominant society,” which many musicians tried to channel into “an extended campaign to return Norway to an idealized pagan past through acts of destruction.”

That campaign failed. It foundered on the movement’s nihilism and contempt for ordinary men and women. “Extreme metal in general does not lend itself well to inciting social change beyond its own scene, since the lyrics are frequently indecipherable and the musical characteristics are often confounding to the uninitiated listener” (Wallach et al., 2011, p. 196). Moreover, as a haven for disaffected people, the metal scene tended to attract loners, exhibitionists, and other misfits. Though perhaps better at seeing through the lies of mainstream society, they lacked the social skills to win the mainstream over to their point of view.

There were of course other reasons why they failed to win over the mainstream. The burning of historic churches antagonized Norwegians in general, including traditionalists and even many black metallists, thus making it easier for the police to crack down and sentence key individuals to lengthy prison terms. Commercial success caused others to become apolitical: “many black metal musicians are now attempting to focus on their actual music and do not want that to be overshadowed by social and political activism” (Wallach et al.,2011, p. 196).

Today, the black metal scene exists mostly as a weird subgenre:


I’ve published an article on the evolution of long head hair in humans. The following is the abstract:

In many humans, head hair can grow to a much greater length than hair elsewhere on the body. This is a “derived” form that evolved outside Africa and probably in northern Eurasia. The ancestral form, which is frizzier and much shorter, survives in sub-Saharan Africans and in other groups whose ancestors never left the tropics. This original hair form is nonetheless relatively straight and silky during infancy. Head hair thus seems to have lengthened in two stages: 1) retention of the infant hair form at older ages; and 2) further lengthening to mid-back and even waist lengths. These changes seem to have gone farther in women, whose head hair is thicker and somewhat longer. The most popular evolutionary explanations are: 1) relaxation of selection for short hair; and 2) sexual selection for women with long hair. Neither hypothesis is satisfactory. The first one cannot explain why head hair lengthened so dramatically over so little time. The second hypothesis suffers from the assumption that some populations have remained naturally short-haired because they consider long-haired women undesirable. Almost the opposite is true in traditional African cultures, which have a long history of lengthening and straightening women’s hair. It is argued here that sexual selection produced different outcomes in different populations not because standards of beauty differed but because the intensity of sexual selection differed. In the tropical zone, sexual selection acted more on men than on women and was thus too weak to enhance desirable female characteristics. This situation reversed as ancestral humans spread northward into environments that tended to limit polygyny while increasing male mortality. Because fewer men were available for mating, women faced a more competitive mate market and were selected more severely.


Frost, P. (2015). Evolution of long head hair in humans, Advances in Anthropology, 5, 274-281.


Religiosity is moderately heritable—25 to 45% according to twin studies (Bouchard, 2004; Lewis and Bates, 2013). These figures are of course underestimates, since any noise in the data gets classified as ‘non-genetic’ variability. So the estimates would be higher if we could measure religiosity better.

But what does it mean to be religious? Does it mean adhering to a single organized religion with a clergy, a place of worship, and a standardized creed? This definition works fairly well in the Christian and Muslim worlds, but not so well farther afield. In East Asia, people often have more than one faith tradition: “If one religion is good, two are better.” Moreover, ‘religion’ has never controlled East Asian societies to the extent that Christianity and Islam have controlled theirs, as Francis Fukuyama notes in The Origins of Political Order. This word becomes even more problematic in simple societies. Did hunter-gatherers have religion? If we take the example of the Inuit, they believed in spirits of various kinds, but those spirits were indifferent to humans and their concerns, being not at all like the fellow in the Christmas jingle:

He sees you when you’re sleeping.

He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!

Simple hunter-gatherers had no idea that a moral God exists. Nor did they see morality as being absolute or universal. A human action could be good or bad, depending on who was doing what to whom. Morality could not be separated from kinship. Your first moral obligation was to yourself, then to your family, then to your close kin. Beyond, who cares?

So what exactly is the heritable component of religiosity? Or should we say components? These questions were addressed by a recent twin study, which concluded that “religiosity is a biologically complex construct, with distinct heritable components” (Lewis and Bates, 2013). The most important one seems to be ‘community integration,’ which is the desire to be among people who befriend each other and help each other on a regular basis. Much research shows that religious people have stronger social needs than the rest of us, and they tend to lose interest in religion when such needs are no longer met. When former Methodist church members were asked why they left their church, the most common response was their failure to feel accepted, loved, or wanted by others in the congregation (Lewis and Bates, 2013).

The second most important component seems to be ‘existential certainty’—belief in a controlling God who will ultimately take care of everything. Belief in divine control reduces anxiety and actually increases one’s sense of personal control. As such, it provides “an epistemic buffer from a range of factors such as unpredictability, instability, and concerns over mortality that exist in this world.”

In sum, this study found that community integration accounts for 45% of innate religiosity and existential certainty for 11%. These two components represent most of what we call ‘religiosity.’

Just one thing. The study was done with a sample of Americans who were 85.1% Christian, the rest being mostly atheist, agnostic, or ”no religious preference.” Would the results have been similar with participants from the Middle East, Africa, or East Asia?

I don’t think so. Religiosity, by its very nature, should be very sensitive to gene-culture coevolution. It’s moderately heritable and serves different purposes in different cultural environments. Any one religion will favor its own ways of being and acting, and people who conform will do better than those who don’t. Thus, over successive generations, the gene pool of believers will become characterized by certain predispositions, personality traits, and other heritable aspects of mental makeup. These characteristics will tend to persist even if the believers cease to believe and become secularized.

This point is made by the authors, albeit indirectly. On the one hand, a community of believers will modify their religion to suit their social and existential needs:

[…] religion per-sé may not be the sole organization or system able to fill the niche created by human needs for community and existential meaning. The succession, displacement, and evolution of religions can be viewed in this light as the shaping of religious systems by their adherents to maximize the extent to which their needs are met.

On the other hand, a religion will modify its community of believers by favoring the survival of those with the “right” mindset and by removing those with the “wrong” mindset:

[…] this ”exchangeable goods” notion of religion may fail to acknowledge the tight fit between religious belief and human psychology: ”religious practices and rituals co-evolved with religiously inclined minds, so that they now fit together extremely well.”

In short, Man has made religion in his own image, but religion has returned the favor. In a very real sense, it has made us who we are.


Bouchard, T. J. Jr., (2004). Genetic influence on human psychological traits: A survey. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 148-151.

Lewis, G.J. and T.C. Bates. (2013). Common genetic influences underpin religiosity, community integration, and existential uncertainty, Journal of Research in Personality, 47, 398-405.

• Category: Science • Tags: East Asians, Kinship, Religion, Twin Study 

African Americans sleep on average almost an hour less than do Euro Americans. The two groups have mean sleep times of 6.05 hours and 6.85 hours. This finding has recently been discussed by Brian Resnick in National Journal and by our Steve Sailer.

Researchers reject a genetic explanation: “There is a consensus that innate biological differences between blacks and whites are not a factor” (Resnick, 2015). So what is the cause?

One study points the finger at racism: “If you can take out that discrimination piece, the average African-American and the average Caucasian look at lot more similar. […] “It’s not perfect, but in terms of sleep, a lot of the disparity goes away” (Resnick, 2015).

The study is by Tomfohr et al. (2012). It found that duration of deep sleep and duration of Stage 2 of light sleep correlated in African Americans with perceived discrimination, which is defined as “the extent to which an individual believes that members of his or her ethnic group have been discriminated against in society.”

Nonetheless, as the authors note, sleep duration still differs significantly between African and Euro Americans even when the difference is adjusted for the effects of perceived discrimination. So we are left with a curious finding: two separate causes, one genetic and the other environmental, are producing the same pattern of effects. Both are reducing deep sleep and Stage 2 light sleep in African Americans while not affecting Stage 1 light sleep.

Whenever I see this kind of finding, I start looking for confounds. Is one cause a sock puppet for the other? It may be that perceived discrimination increases with African ancestry. Perhaps African Americans who feel conscious of discrimination also tend to be darker-skinned and more visibly African than those who don’t. This confound has actually been shown by several studies, such as the following:

This study tested the extent to which skin color is associated with differential exposure to discrimination for a sample of 300 Black adults. Results revealed that dark-skinned Blacks were 11 times more likely to experience frequent racial discrimination than their light-skinned counterparts; 67% of subjects reporting high discrimination were dark-skinned and only 8.5% were light-skinned. (Klonoff and Landrine, 2000; see also Keith and Herring, 1991)

Even if perceived discrimination could fully explain the race difference in sleep duration, we still couldn’t exclude a genetic explanation, since the degree of perceived discrimination is confounded with the degree of African ancestry.

In reality, perceived discrimination accounts for only part of the race difference, and since this difference remains significant even if we factor out that putative cause, the most parsimonious explanation is a genetic cause. Only that cause can fully account for shorter sleep duration in African Americans.

Studies in Africa

Another way to solve this puzzle is to look at Africans living in Africa. Do they show the same pattern we see in African Americans?

We know less about sleep patterns in Africa, but what we do know suggests that Africans, too, have shorter sleep duration. When Friborg et al. (2012) studied sleep in Ghanaians and Norwegians, they found that Ghanaians slept about an hour less than do Norwegians on weekends and between a quarter and half an hour less on weekdays. Oluwole (2010) studied sleep in Nigerian undergraduates and found they slept an average of 6.2 hours plus another 70 minutes in the afternoon. This pattern is actually typical in the tropical zone. People prefer to get some sleep when the temperature is at its peak and spend more time awake when it’s more bearable.

But why would this pattern persist in African Americans? Perhaps it’s hardwired to some degree. When siestas become the cultural norm, there is selection for those individuals who enjoy being normal (and against those who don’t).

Sleep patterns are heritable:

Assessed self-reported sleep data from 2,238 monozygotic (MZ) and 4,545 dizygotic (DZ) adult twin pairs born in Finland before 1958. Results indicate a significant hereditary effect on sleep length and on sleep quality. When the data were examined in subgroups defined by sex, age (18-24 yrs and 25+ yrs), and cohabitation status of the twin pair, the highest heritability estimates for sleep length were for Ss living together aged 25 yrs or older. For Ss living apart, the heritability estimates were statistically significant in all Ss aged 25 yrs or older. For sleep quality, significant heritability estimates were found for all groups except women living together. Results indicate that a significant proportion of the variance in sleep length and quality was due to factors that make MZ Ss more similar than DZ Ss. (Partinen et al., 1983)

A single genetic polymorphism seems to explain much of the variability between individuals in sleep patterns, particularly deep sleep and slow wave activity (SWA):

Here we show in humans that a genetic variant of adenosine deaminase, which is associated with the reduced metabolism of adenosine to inosine, specifically enhances deep sleep and SWA during sleep. In contrast, a distinct polymorphism of the adenosine A2A receptor gene, which was associated with interindividual differences in anxiety symptoms after caffeine intake in healthy volunteers, affects the electroencephalogram during sleep and wakefulness in a non-state-specific manner. Our findings indicate a direct role of adenosine in human sleep homeostasis. Moreover, our data suggest that genetic variability in the adenosinergic system contributes to the interindividual variability in brain electrical activity during sleep and wakefulness. (Retey et al., 2005)


So African Americans are getting enough sleep at night. It’s just that they’re not getting enough afternoon naps. But aren’t naps for kids? Or old fogeys? Actually, they’re quite normal for adults in much of the world. In the Nigerian study, 82% of the participants regularly took afternoon naps.

It’s ironic that the “r word” has been injected into this debate. If a behavior deviates from the white American norm, and if racism is held responsible either directly or indirectly, one is assuming that this deviation is pathological. It is “deviant.” It shouldn’t exist and something should be done about it. The white American norm thus becomes a norm for all humans, and all humans—if they want to be fully human—should strive toward it.


In my last column, I reviewed the findings of Butovskaya et al. (2015) on testosterone and polygyny in two East African peoples:

– Testosterone levels were higher in the polygynous Datoga than in the monogamous Hadza. This difference is innate.

– Datoga men were more aggressive than Hadza men on all measures used (physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger, and hostility)

– Datoga men were larger and more robust than Hadza men

– All of these characteristics seem to be adaptive under conditions when men have to compete against other men for access to women

Testosterone levels were not only higher in the Datoga but also more variable. Alvergne et al. (2009) studied this variability in Senegalese men, finding that the monogamous ones differed from the polygynous ones in the way testosterone levels changed with age. The levels were higher in the polygynous men than in the monogamous men between the ages of 15 and 30. After 45, this pattern reversed: the monogamous men had the higher levels. At all ages, the polygynous men were more extraverted than the monogamous ones, this quality being defined as “pro-social behavior which reflects sociability, assertiveness, activity, dominance and positive emotions.” Extraversion may assist a reproductive strategy of seducing women, rather than providing for them.

Thus, when Africans gave up hunting and gathering for farming, there was selection for a new package of male traits. Some of these traits are physiological (higher testosterone levels), some anatomical (denser bones, greater arm and leg girth; changes to muscle fiber properties, etc.), and some behavioral (polygyny, aggressiveness, extraversion, etc.). But this selection didn’t eliminate older genotypes, at least not wholly. There seems to be a balanced polymorphism that allows a minority of quieter, monogamous men to thrive in a high-polygyny society like Senegal. When polygynous men become too numerous, they may spend too much time looking for mating opportunities and not enough checking up on their current wives to avoid being cuckolded. It might be better for some to live continuously with one wife.

African Americans versus Euro Americans

The above differences within sub-Saharan Africa (Datoga vs. Hadza, polygynous Senegalese vs. monogamous Senegalese) are also seen between African Americans and Euro Americans. In all these cases, the differences are of degree and proportion, rather than absolute and non-overlapping.

Testosterone reaches high levels in young African American adults (Pettaway, 1999; Ross et al., 1986; Ross et al., 1992; Winters et al., 2001). African Americans are also likelier to have alleles for high androgen-receptor activity (Kittles et al.,2001). Lifetime exposure to testosterone is reflected in development of prostate cancer, with African American men having the world’s highest incidences (Brawley and Kramer, 1996). It was once thought that lower incidences prevail among black West Indians and sub-Saharan Africans, but underreporting is now thought to be responsible (Glover et al., 1998; Ogunbiyi and Shittu, 1999;Osegbe, 1997).

In African Americans, blood testosterone levels peak during adolescence and early adulthood, being higher than those of Euro Americans of the same age. Levels decline after 24 years of age, and by the early 30s are similar to those of European Americans (Gapstur et al., 2002; Nyborg, 1994, pp. 111-113; Ross et al., 1986; Ross et al., 1992; Tsai et al., 2006; Winters et al., 2001). This is the same pattern we saw in polygynous Senegalese men versus monogamous Senegalese men. In short, polygyny seems associated with a more exaggerated pattern of variation with age.

The demographic contradictions of a high-polygyny society

Testosterone levels are normally higher in all young men, but why are they higher still when polygyny is common? The reason seems to be the scarcity of available women. High-polygyny societies generate a shortage of mateable women, and this shortage is managed by giving priority to men who are at least ten years past puberty. For instance, among the Nyakyusa: “[…] there is a difference of ten years or more in the average marriage-age of girls and men, and it is this differential marriage-age which makes polygyny possible” (Wilson, 1950, p. 112).

By concentrating celibacy among young men, this age rule compels them to seek sex through warfare or illicit means. According to Pierre van den Berghe (1979, pp. 50-51):

Typically, the more men are polygynous in a given society, the greater the age difference between husbands and wives. […] The temporary celibacy of young men in polygynous societies is rarely absolute, however. While it often postpones the establishment of a stable pair-bond and the procreation of children, it often does not preclude dalliance with unmarried girls, adultery with younger wives of older men, or the rape or seduction of women conquered in warfare. Thus, what sometimes looks like temporary celibacy is, in fact, temporary promiscuity. These young men often devote themselves to warfare during their unmarried years and sometimes homosexuality is tolerated during that period.

For young men in a high-polygyny society, warfare—typically raids against neighboring communities—is the main way to gain access to women. In a sense, war becomes a means of resolving the demographic contradictions of a high-polygyny society. Polygyny creates a wife shortage among young men, and this contradiction is resolved by turning it outward. As warriors, young men are encouraged to satisfy their sexual urges through raids against neighboring peoples. Warfare thus becomes endemic.

This relationship between polygyny and war has often been noted in studies of African societies:


Humans differ in paternal investment—the degree to which fathers help mothers care for their offspring. They differ in this way between individuals, between populations, and between stages of cultural evolution.

During the earliest stage, when all humans were hunter-gatherers, men invested more in their offspring with increasing distance from the equator. Longer, colder winters made it harder for women to gather food for themselves and their children. They had to rely on meat from their hunting spouses. Conversely, paternal investment was lower in the tropics, where women could gather food year-round and provide for themselves and their children with little male assistance.

This sexual division of labor influenced the transition to farming. In the tropics, women were the main providers for their families as gatherers of fruits, berries, roots, and other wild plant foods. They were the ones who developed farming, thereby biasing it toward domestication of wild plants.

This may be seen in sub-Saharan Africa, where farming arose near the Niger’s headwaters and gave rise to the Sudanic food complex—a wide range of native crops now found throughout the continent (sorghum, pearl millet, cow pea, etc.) and only one form of livestock, the guinea fowl (Murdock, 1959, pp. 44, 64-68). Many wild animal species could have been domesticated for meat production, but women were much less familiar with them. Men knew these species as hunters but had little motivation to domesticate them. Why should they? Women were the main providers.

And so women shouldered even more the burden of providing for themselves and their offspring. Men in turn found it easier to go back on the mate market and get second or third wives. Finally, men had to compete against each other much more for fewer unmated women.

There was thus a causal chain: female dominance of farming => female reproductive autonomy => male polygyny => male-male rivalry for access to women. Jack Goody (1973) in his review of the literature says: “The desire of men to attract wives is seen as correlated with the degree of women’s participation in the basic productive process.” The more women produce, the lower the cost of polygyny.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the cost was often negative. Goody quotes a 17th century traveler on the Gold Coast: the women till the ground “whilst the man only idly spends his time in impertinent tattling (the woman’s business in our country) and drinking of palm-wine, which the poor wives are frequently obliged to raise money to pay for, and by their hard labour maintain and satisfie these lazy wretches their greedy thirst after wines.”

Goody cites data from southern Africa showing that the polygyny rate fell when the cost of polygyny rose:

In Basutoland one in nine husbands had more than one wife in 1936; in 1912, it was one in 5.5 (Mair 1953: 10). Hunter calculates that in 1911 12 per cent of Pondo men were plurally married and the figure was slightly lower in 1921. In 1946, the Tswana rate was 11 per cent; according to a small sample collected by Livingstone in 1850 it was 43 per cent. The figures appear to have changed drastically over time and the reasons are interesting. ‘The large household is now not a source of wealth, but a burden which only the rich can bear’ (Mair 1953: 19). Not only is there a specific tax for each additional wife, but a man’s wives now no longer give the same help in agriculture that they did before. One reason for this is that the fields are ploughed rather than hoed. Among the Pondo, ‘the use of the plough means that the amount of grain cultivated no longer depends on women’s labour’ (Goody, 1973)

Although polygynous marriage has become less common in southern Africa, polygynous behavior seems as frequent as ever. To a large degree, polygynous marriage has given way to more transient forms of polygyny: prostitution and other informal arrangements. Goody also notes that polygyny rates have remained high in the Sahel, where pastoralism has nonetheless increased male participation in farming. He gives the example of Ghana. Polygyny rates are about the same in the north and the south, yet in the north men participate much more in farming.

So what is going on? Goody concludes that “female farming and polygyny are clearly associated in a general way” but ultimately the “reasons behind polygyny are sexual and reproductive rather than economic and productive.” It would be more parsimonious to say that the polygyny rate increases when the cost of providing for a woman and her children decreases for men. Over time, low-cost polygyny selects for men who are more motivated to exploit sexual opportunities. This new mindset influences the subsequent course of gene-culture coevolution.

Such gene-culture coevolution has gone through four stages in the evolutionary history of sub-Saharan Africans:

First stage

Tropical hunter-gatherers were already oriented toward low paternal investment. Men had a lesser role in child rearing because year-round food gathering provided women with a high degree of food autonomy. Women were thus selected for self-reliance and men for polygyny. Pair bonding was correspondingly weak in both sexes.

Second stage

This mindset guided tropical hunter-gatherers in their transition to farming. In short, female-dominated food gathering gave way to female-dominated horticulture—hoe farming of various crops with almost no livestock raising. Women became even more autonomous, and men even more polygynous. There was thus further selection for a mindset of female self-reliance, male polygyny, and weak pair bonding.

Third stage

A similar process occurred with the development of trade. Female-dominated horticulture tended to orient women, much more than men, toward the market economy. This has particularly been so in West Africa, where markets are overwhelmingly run by women. Trade has thus become another means by which African women provide for themselves and their children.

Fourth stage

Female-dominated horticulture has given way to male-dominated pastoralism in some regions, such as the Sahel. Despite higher male participation in farming, the pre-existing mindset has tended to maintain high polygyny rates. We see a similar tendency in southern Africa, where polygyny rates have fallen over the past century, and yet polygynous behavior persists in the form of prostitution and less formal sexual arrangements.

The Hadza and the Datoga

Mode of subsistence, mating system, and mindset are thus interrelated. These interrelationships are discussed by Butovskaya et al. (2015) in their study of two peoples in Tanzania: the largely monogamous Hadza (hunter-gatherers) and the highly polygynous Datoga (pastoralists). In their review of previous studies, the authors note: