Some Notes on the Development of Our Species

In recent days there has been a bru-haha in the conservative blogosphere as a result of Rich Lowry dismissing John Derbyshire from his position as a writer for National Review Online. The occasion was an controversial article on race relations written by Mr. Derbyshire.

The fight is basically political. Rich Lowry is associated with the Catholic, classically-establishment Establishment, wing of the conservative moment. John Derbyshire is associated with the atheist, scientifically-educated, insurgent wing of the conservative movement.

I want to talk about this in some upcoming posts, but as the occasion for the fight relates to the science of human origins, I thought I would share a brief history of our species. Much is tentative and subject to possible revision, but this should provide some context to the discussion. (As both Catholics and atheists tend to view Creationism derisively, this should not be controversial, either).

Around six million years ago, the ancestors of human beings, chimpanzees, and bonobos (“dwarf chimps”) were part of the same ancestral population. As the modern populations feature behaviors such as murder, suicide, warfare, terrorism, bisexuality, care for the injured, tool making, and purposeful deception, it seems sensible that the ancient population from which humans, chimps, and bonobos derive did, too.

The three populations began to diverge after an environmental catastrophe associated with a shift in the Congo River. This catastrophe also impacted gorillas. Chimps evolved in an area where they were in competition with gorillas. They became the most interpersonally vicious of the populations. Bonobos evolved in a forested environment without gorillas. They became the most interpersonally peaceful. Our ancestors seem to have left the forest to compete with wild hogs in the woodlands.

As the old saying goes, “Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Only pigs treat us as equals.”

While our ancestral population remained small in absolute terms, their ability to move in woodlands allowed them to spread out over much of Africa.

Humans slowly evolved. The general trend appears to have been an increase in absolute size (important for woodland competition), a decrease in sexual dimorphism (a not-fully-understood development that may have been cause by an increase willingness of human “betas” to murder “alphas” for perceived unjust behavior), and a darkening of skin color (chimps and bonobos both have white skin). These trends continued until all human populations were larger than bonobo or chimp populations, all human populations featured a smaller relative size difference between males and females than any bonobo or chimp population, and all human populations had brown-to-black skin tone.

Ancestral humans left Africa in multiple waves. Different waves were adapted to different conditions. Finally, hundreds of thousands of years ago, all of Eurasia was patrolled by human populations. Three important ones were Neanderthals (based in Europe and west Eurasia), “Peking Men,” (based in Asia), and Anatomically Modern Humans (based in Africa and the Near East). These populations overlapped in the way that other megafauna do.

All modern populations derive from some combination of these ancient populations. All modern populations appear to be primarily descended from Anatomically Modern Humans. Europeans contain a measurable degree of Neanderthal admixture. Asian populations contains measurable degrees of Peking Men admixture. African populations appear to be exclusively descended from Anatomically Modern Humans.

Some time after the mixture-and-replacement of other populations with Anatomically Modern Humans and their hybrid descendents, Behaviorally Modern Humans emerged in the Near East. The oldest cities, such as Jericho, are older than agriculture. From this is seems clear that the major advantage of Behaviorally Modern Humans against ancient populations was the ability to live in large coordinated groups, or “eusociality.” Behaviorally Modern Humans appear to be about as eusocial as ants or bees.

The eusociality of Behaviorally Modern Humans allowed them to develop caste systems of leaders, warriors, and slaves, just like other eusocial animals. With the advent of slavery farming became possible, and with the advent of a distinct military caste (that is, the first gradient of modern warfare) military campaigns became possible.

Behaviorally Modern Humans created a new form of war in which a military caste, led by a leadership caste and fed by a farmer caste, would invade neighboring communities, exterminate males and children, and rape and impregnate females. This led to rapid hybridization and spread, such that Behaviorally Modern Humans soon replaced nearly all Anatomically Modern Human communities.

Resource competition between Behaviorally Modern Human societies led to an increase in the rate of human evolution. Humans have evolved more in the past 10,000 years than in any other 10,000 year period of our species.

Traits in which there is a ‘correct’ number of expressions are soon fixed in a population. Humans have 2 eyes, 1 nose, and 10 fingers, for example.Traits which are generally unimportant (or are basically social traits which exist in some equilibrium) follow a normal distribution. General intelligence, time-orientation, and the five factors of personality follow normal distributions. From this we can conclude that for most of our accelerated period of evolution, there was no ‘right’ amount of these traits to have.

These traits are both inherited and culturally transmitted. It makes no sense to talk of ‘nature vs. nurture.’ Our cultural environment determines how these inherited traits are expressed. A better phrase might be “nature via nurture.”

Human populations differ in terms of the averages in these traits. For instance, newborn (1 day old) Chinese are more afraid of strangers (more “introverted”) than newborn Kenyans. Likewise, there is variation within these populations. There is more variation within populations than between population. There are, for example, a very many extroverted Chinese, and a very many introverted Kenyans. People talk of differences in “averages,” but this is a misleading way to talk. The difference between the 50th percentile and the 53rd percentile in extroversion, for example, is likely to be barely noticeable.

Rather, average differences matter in the extremes. If you take 1,000 random Kenyans and 1,000 random Chinese, and you take the top 20 of that group of 2,000 in terms of extroversion, that top 20 will be overwhelmingly Kenyan. Likewise, if you take the top 20 in terms of introversion, that 20 will be overwhelmingly Chinese.

Approximately 2,000 years ago, the leadership caste of China undertook a massive reorganization of society to reduce the military caste to peony and to establish a “Civil Government.” This was the greatest cultural revolution in human affairs since the invention of agricultural slavery 8,000 years previously. Through a trial-and-error process, the Chinese leadership class eliminated the centers of powers of the military caste and replaced it with a standing civil service supported by secured property owners. While the new system naturally attracted barbarian predators, the cultural transformation proved imperious to counter-revolution. Within a millennial the system was being tentatively mimicked from London to Edo.

The emergence of Behaviorally Modern Humans led to an unprecedented acceleration in human evolution. The creation of Civil Government had a likewise world-altering impacted. Society under the Civil Government was strongly downwardly-mobile. It was nearly impossible to improve one’s lot in society, but very easy to make foolish decisions that reduced one to rags. Every generation the foolish would lose property, and poor would starve to death, and the healthy children of the survivors acquired the survival traits of higher general intelligence and longer time orientation.

The increase in the concentration of wealth enabled by Civil Government allowed the new societies to invest massive resources in exploration efforts, in search of further resources to exploit and extract. World-historical empires such as Britain, France, Spain, the Ottoman Empire, and the Great Ming wrecked destruction on their backwards cousins. The mobilizations for war of these societies, and the increase efficiencies of Civil Government, led to greater and greater demand for labor (that is, surplus of capital). The Great Ming solved this by creating the most effective sanitation system in the world, allowing organic population increase to meet its needs. The Ottoman Empire solved this issue through enslaving neighboring populations. The Western European Civil Governments (which had missed out on the economies of scale that come from creating a secure geographic core) established a “triangle trade” that relied on tenuous geographic centers in Europe, Africa, and the Americas to supply their capital, labor, and natural resources requirements, respectively.

The geographically diverse, scattershot nature of the European empires meant that they (unlike Near Eastern, central Eurasian, or East Asian societies) experienced regular sociogenetic shocks. The Western European Civil Governments found that their African client states controlled land that was inhospitable to Europeans, largely because of genetic adaptations against malaria possessed by West Africans but not Europeans. Likewise, the living conditions established by the Central Governments in the New World proved inhospitable to the native populations there. Likewise, the Civil Governments encouraged different groups to settle in different areas, such that (for example) the Yankee core of the future United States was settled by English who had experienced more rapid downward mobility than the Scotch-Irish who settled the future southeastern united States.

This all goes to say that the New World may exhibit the most human diversity on the planet, close only to Africa. The more settled and stable populations of Eurasia, by contrast, are comparatively monocultural with limited genetic diversity.

Americans use the term “race relations” to refer to the cultural and genetic human diversity in their midst. Unsurprisingly, both the cultural and genetic pathways of the populations that settled in the United States remain relevant, often in unexpected ways. Anyone with a naive understanding of psychometric methods would expect East Asians and Western Europeans to have a disproportionate share of wealth in the United States, and of course they do. Who could have expected, however, that much of African-American culture would be a hybrid of west Africa with the highlands of Scotland? Talk of historical contingency!

It is with this context that John Derbyshire wrote his article on Taki Magazine. Every point Derbyshire makes is predictable if one assumes he is writing of a population that did not experience rapid downward mobility in historic times that spent centuries under the leadership of a different population with a different appearence but a similar pre-Civil Government ethic.

To put it slightly less obtusely, John Derbyshire wrote an article describing personal safety in the presence of the descendents of West Africans whose ancestors were controlled by the Scotch-Irish.

To put it even more plainly, Derbyshire wrote about blacks and violence.

And that is why he is no longer employed.

18 thoughts on “Some Notes on the Development of Our Species”

  1. “As the modern populations feature behaviors such as murder, suicide, warfare, terrorism, bisexuality, care for the injured, tool making, and purposeful deception, it seems sensible that the ancient population from which humans, chimps, and bonobos derive did, too.”

    How did you rule out convergent evolution?

  2. Hey jonh,

    As you no doubt guessed, I didn’t. πŸ™‚

    I also overlooked discussions of how much gene flow it would take to Australia & the New World to spread the Behaviorally Modern Human genotype there before their discovery (very very little, I suspect), the origin of the Pygmies, the nature of the Hobbits, etc.

    Brevity, after all, is the soul of wit. πŸ™‚


    Thanks so much! The context for this post is this thread on Chicago Boyz [1], and in particular onparkstreet’s not-even-wrong comments.


  3. A good popularization: Nature via Nurture by Matt Ridley

    A good (if dated) popularization on the emergence of man: Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade [1]

    On the economic impact of the heritability of time orientation: A farewalm to Alms by Greg Clark [2]

    Good if dated texts On our species-nature: Origins of Human Nature by Borklund & Pellegrini, [3], along with The Psychological Foundations of Culture by Tooby & Cosmides [4].

    I meanted evopsycho is now dated.: Adapting Minds by David Buller & The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker, help put a stake into it. [5]

    Mostly I try to keep up thru Razib Khan [6] and others.

    Earlier on, this blog had much more of this stuff – tdaxp’s evolved thru the years. Here’s an example bibliography page of a series I put up 5 years ago [7], as well as thoughts on these timelines from six years ago [8]


  4. Haven’t finished it yet, but a couple of things have popped into mind:
    1. You’ve mentioned the differences between Chimps, Bonobos and Humans, but what evolutionary path split off the Gorillas?

    2. Was slavery the result of eusociality, per se, or the combination of eusociality with active warfare? I ask because while farmers being on the bottom of the proverbial totem pole is near-universal, the degrees of abuse diverge hugely. Take a need for agricultural labor, though, and exacerbate it with a labor-draining war and some king or general was bound to wonder if those dead war-captives were a wasted resource. Throw in understandable questions about the captives’ loyalty and an all-too-human tendency to see people outside one’s own tribe as less-than-human and you have the beginning of an institution.

  5. I’m done. Two more thoughts.

    1. I’m not sure it’s accurate to say the Chinese leaders reduced the military to peony. One the one hand, you have the generals coming from similar scholarly backgrounds as civilian bureaucrats, the main characters in RED CLIFF being an extreme example. On the other hand, you have the continued institution of the Emperor ruling over bureaucrat and general alike and being served by the regardless if he was a Chinese aristocrat, a successful barbarian invader–or a general-turned-warlord who defeated his opponents in a post-dynastic fight for the throne.

    2. Was Derbyshire’s sin the observation of difference or his prescription for living with it?

  6. Hey Michael,

    Re: Gorillas, Wikipedia says 7 million years ago [1] — so perhaps I should have said proto-gorillas πŸ™‚

    Re: on slavery in pre-Behaviorally Modern societies, you are quite right. This is often the theme of fiction. John Norman’s “Time Slave” painted a picure of this several decades ago with cover art that has excited teenage boys since!

    Rather, farming was the subordination of the majority of soviety into a field of work where they worked more and were less healthy. Chimps — and even Anatomically Modern Humans — could not have pulled that off.

    Specifically, to make it work, you need fictive kinship [2], along the lines of the Roman Pater Familias system [3]. There needs to be a sense that is in some sense a family — even if not of the touchy-feely sort — for it to happen.

    Re: the military, your observations of accurate. I wasn’t referring to the military of the Civil Government, but rather feudalism. The emergence of the Civil Government could be modeled as the successful monopolization of violence by the leader, but in any case this changes everything the change is cemented.

    Re: Derbyshire, the line by which he quit National Review was this:

    “(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway. ”

    While National Review has a long history of having prominent Jewish and Atheist writers on staff, the magazine is basically Catholic in its orientation. Here Derb’s drawing the line as bright as possible, using an incendery topic (to enrage the hoi polloi) while explicitly rejecting Christ’s teachings (to enrage the Catholic elite).


    Thanks for the update on Ridley’s book!

    On Before the Dawk, the current model appears to be ‘Out-of-Africa, Again-and-Again,’ with waves of African diaspora profoundly impacting the human species. Wade’s book, IIRC, was perhaps the last serious work to support a massive Out-of-Africa replacement of around 2,000 individuals around 50,000 years ago led to the extermination of all other human lines that was not already in Africa at the time or exclusively descendent from this small population with no interbreeding.

    I’m aware of no book which concisely summarizes the most recent model, but John Hawks tends to be a pretty good scientist-popularizer[4]


  7. Very interesting read, you have quite an extensive knowledge about the evolution of the human species, combined with a refreshingly logical approach to the realities that have existed and still exist today.

    It begs the question, what is coming?

    We have come a long way to get to this moment in time, surely there is something on the other side of the time paradox our consciousness has created for itself that is utilizes the complex emotional and logical capabilities that human beings have been developing for eras. It will surely be an interesting journey getting there, whatever comes our way.

  8. The mention, in passing, of slave-taking by the Christians and Muslims reminded me of our earlier discussion and got me thinking. In a time of high infant mortality and deaths in childbirth, killing female and underage captives must have come across as even more wasteful than killing able-bodied males.

  9. A bit ago (cannot find it now) Razib Khan had a piece about contemporary slavemasters in the Saharah forcing their female slaves to kill their offspring. Evolutionarily this is insane.

    But what is culture if not evolutionary idiocy writ large? πŸ˜‰

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