Why the Industrial Revolution? Why not an Industrial Counter-Revolution?

My friend Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz emailed me “King Kong and Cold Fusion: Counterfactual Analysis and the History of Technology,” by Joel Mokry. The piece was originally Chapter 10 in Unmaking the West. The piece is very deep, and should definitely be read on paper.

The article focuses on the question of why there was an Industrial Revolution in the west at the time there was. That is not just where there was this or that invention, but why all of a sudden there this rush of economically productive innovations that’s still going on.

The Industrial Revolution ended the Starving Years (the Malthusian Era) that began some 12,000 years ago. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, technological growth was slow enough in non-violent societies that population growth always kept up, leading to just enough resources to keep the population alive at its standard of living. (East Asians, being more hygienic, required less calories to keep alive, and so suffered worse living conditions. Western Europeans, being filthy, suffered higher losses from disease, and thus more nutritious diets.)

The Industrial Revolution is around 200 years old, but note that’s includes the years of growth that preceeded the return to Malthusian normalcy. It took until about 150 years ago that the average Englishman’s living standards were as high as there were when Columbus discovered America.


From A Farewell to Alms, page 195

The article that Lexington sent makes a big deal of evolutionary analysis, and it’s right to do that. As both the article and Enterra CEO Stephen DeAngelis note, evolution is a process of random change and non-random selection. Two ideas flow from this:

  1. Any change that actually takes hold was preceded by many identical changes that did not take hold
  2. Selection can be unfriendly

For the first, consider that while Europeans can drink milk because of one specific mutation, the ability to drink milk may have evolved 25 times in our species’ history.

For the second, consider the history of technological relapse. In a matter of years, the Chinese lost their ability to navigate the oceans, and would be defeated by an island nation that may not have been worth the bother of conquering in Admiral Zheng He’s time. The Mokyr articles notes some other examples of relapse:

The religious strictures that prevented Islam from adopting the printing press for centuries and the politics of insulation and the ban on firearms practiced in Tokugawa Japan…

Thus, we have two questions. “Why was there potential for an Industrial Revolution in Europe at al” and why “Why did the Industrial Revolution happen in Europe” and “why didn’t an industrial counter-revolution occur there, as well?” Why did Europeans have the ability to innovate? And why didn’t Europeans revolt against the machines in the way that the Chinese, the Japanese, the Muslims — and for that matter, the Tasmanians — did?

The first question is quite possibly the result of climate resulting in and interacting with culture and genetics.

To answer the second question: the Europeans did try to overthrow the machines, of course. William Blake, writing in 1804:

And was Jerusalem builded here

among these dark Satanic Mills?

Less obliquely, the Luddites just killed people. There was an Industrial Counter-Revolution, and this was a real war.

However, the European states set themselves to fighting this counter-revolutionary movement. This is strange, because the landed classes should have been united in their fear of industry. The Luddites, the breakers, all those criminals and terrorists, were fighting for King and Country, to defend the Predatory State and extend the Starving Years. The counter-revolutionaries were fighting to keep their chains.

I think the answer is cooperative competition, that existed in Europe but did not exist to the same extent in China or Japan. While primitive by modern standards, Europe in 1800 constained a system of nation-states. England fought the breakers because the English were more afraid of the Dutch than they were of the Revolutionaries.

Fortunately for us, the distracted Europeans focused on fighting each other, allowing the Revolution to overtake them all.

Practical Eugenics

Gideon, writing at a public defender, criticizes castration of violent felons because those violent felons may be rehabilitated:

Prof. Berman asks whether chemical castration (if proven to work) should be employed (actually, why shouldn’t it be). As readers might guess, I am uneasy with this proposition. There are several assumptions here: That we know that “high-risk” offenders will re-offend; that all “high-risk” offenders will re-offend. This does dip into some “Minority Report” territory. I’m quite uneasy by the idea that we will assume that all high-risk offenders are going to re-offend and we need to stop that by subduing the sexual urge by reducing levels of testosterone.

Those are some mighty assumptions and I’m uncomfortable with that. There are (have to be) better alternatives to this. What if we have an offender that, despite being “high-risk” is rehabilitated and wishes to live a normal life?

However, to a large extent, speaking about rehabilitation of violent felons misses the point.

Consider: violent crime is heritable:

Estimates of heritability for antisocial behaviour from recent research in quantitative genetics cluster around 0.50. The most reliable estimates come from contemporary studies in the Netherlands, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Australia and the US, because these studies examine large, representative samples using sophisticated quantitative modelling techniques. A complementary meta-analysis of 51 twin and adoption studies yielded an estimate of heritability of 0.41 for the genetic influence on antisocial behaviour. Estimates of heritability below 0.20 tend to emerge from studies with unusual design features; for example, observational measures, small sample sizes, very wide age ranges, small groups of girls, or adults being asked to report childhood symptoms retrospectively. Similarly, some, but not all, studies yielding estimates above 0.70 have non-optimal designs, such as small sample sizes or adults being asked to report their childhood symptoms retrospectively….

The largest estimates of heritability tend to emerge from studies using measures able to array individuals along a continuum from non-antisocial to severely and persistently antisocial. These are studies using other-reported delinquent or aggressive behaviours (such as the Child Behaviour Check List (CBCL) externalizing scale), and self-reported personality traits (such as the MPQ aggression scale). These studies tend to include a very large number of items inquiring about a variety of antisocial attitudes and behaviours. Some of these items, such as robbery, are exhibited rarely by people, but others, such as enjoying violent films, are exhibited commonly. As a result, the instruments are sensitive to population variation in the severity of antisocial behavior. Overall, the distribution of more than 100 estimates of heritability from recent papers approximates a bell-shaped normal curve. This distribution is to be expected from a sample of more than 100 imperfect estimates of a true effect that equals 50% in nature.

Further, we are currently undergoing dysgenics as the most violent mate with each other:

As well as the possibility that genes influence antisocial behaviour, it is also possible that antisocial experience can influence how genes are distributed in the population. This is an implication of the finding that men and women mate on the basis of similarity between the partners’ antisocial behaviour (this is called assortative mating), and that couples in which both people exhibit antisocial behaviour tend to have more children than the norm. Assortative mating on a genetically-influenced phenotype, such as antisocial behaviour has consequences for genetic variation in the population. Because people form unions with other people like themselves, the result is that families differ more from each other on average than they would if people mated randomly. If successive generations mate assortatively, genes relevant to the phenotype will become concentrated within families. Consider height as an example. Whole families clearly differ from other families in terms of height, yet families are made up of persons who are similar in height. Part of the explanation for this phenomenon is likely to lie in the positive assortative mating that occurs for this trait.

Castration of violent criminals, besides reducing the likelihood of a particular criminal breaking the law again (and quite possibly inflicting a punishment seen as worse than a 20 year sentence), does even more good to future generations. Violent criminal parents tend to have violent criminal children, so unless we want future generations to experience violent crime, we need to fight the causes of violent crime.

And part of the solution is eugenics.

On the web: Genetics and Human Behavior: The Ethical Context: Current findings: Quantitative Genetics.

Hidden Selection

Stein, R. (2008). Abortions hit lowest number since 1976. Washington Post. January 17, 2008. Available online: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/16/AR2008011603624.html?hpid=topnews.

As someone who believes in the equal worth of every human person, this is good news:

The number of abortions performed in the United States dropped to 1.2 million in 2005 — the lowest level since 1976, according to a new report.

The number of abortions fell at least in part because the proportion of women ending their pregnancies with an abortion dropped 9 percent between 2000 and 2005, hitting the lowest level since 1975, according to a nationwide survey.

Some data:

The total number of abortions among women ages 15 to 44 declined from 1.3 million in 2000 to 1.2 million in 2005, an 8 percent drop that continued a trend that began in 1990, when the number of abortions peaked at more than 1.6 million, the survey found. The last time the number of abortions was that low was 1976, when slightly fewer than 1.2 million abortions were performed.

The abortion rate fell from 21.3 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 2000 to 19.4 in 2005, a 9 percent decline. That is the lowest since 1974, when the rate was 19.3, and far below the 1981 peak of 29.3.

The abortion rate varies widely around the country, tending to be higher in the Northeast and lower in the South and Midwest. The rate in the District dropped 20 percent but remained higher than that of any state at 54.2. Virginia’s rate fell 9 percent, to 16.5, while Maryland’s rate rose 8 percent, to 31.5.

The proportion of pregnancies ending in abortion also declined, falling from 24.5 percent in 2000 to 22.4 percent in 2005 — a 9 percent drop and down from a high of 30.4 in 1983.

It’d be interesting to see the source of these numbers in more detail.

On first glance, it would appear that abortion is a highly effective informal genetic selection program against political liberals and those of low general intelligence.

Certainly the article implies that “blue states” have higher abortion rates than “red states,” and I would guess the politically conservative (who tend to oppose abortion as a lifestyle choice) practice it less than the politically liberal (who tend to support it as a lifestyle choice). Likewise, as a commonly cited reason for abortion is necessity, I would imagine that abortions are more common among the poor than the rich. As wealth correlates with general intelligence, abortion is thus a eugenics program that increases societal general intelligence across generations.