July 11, 2006

A classic example of the hole in the center of English-language intellectual discourse.

Niall Ferguson, the Scottish Victor Davis Hanson (i.e., a talented historian who publishes too much in the popular press for his own good) gives a convenient illustration of why the lack of family-centric thinking leaves Anglo-American pundits unarmed for intellectual combat:

We must understand why racist belief systems persist:
Racial differences may be genetically few, but human beings seem designed to attach importance to them

Niall Ferguson
Tuesday July 11, 2006; The Guardian

OK, let me see if I've got this straight. According to this highly publicized historian:

- A. Racial groups don't really exist biologically.

- B. But we "seem designed" to act as if they do exist.

- C. So, apparently, we evolved via natural selection under the pressure of something that doesn't actually exist but still acts upon us physically.

Hmmhhmmhh ... Forgive me for being crass, but wouldn't Occam's Razor be handy here? If you define a racial group as a partly inbred extended family, which clearly do exist, then an explanation gets an awful lot simpler.

A General Theory of Cooperation and Conflict would suggest that the pressures of nepotism and "neposchism" (or sibling rivalry writ large -- i.e., the tendency to contend with one's closest relatives over resources; thus, the French and Germans are more likely to fight over Alsace-Lorraine than either is to go to war with Tibet over yak pasturage) are fairly well balanced, as Hamilton's calculus of kin selection says. You share half your variable genes with your siblings, children, and parents, and half you don't share. This makes family life full of interest!

Thus the the decision over who will team up and who they will fight will depend upon circumstances, and thus will be likely to change over time. As the Afghans say:

I against my brother.
My brother and I against our cousins.
Our cousins and us against the world!

European history in recent centuries is to a surprising degree an account of the struggle to "right-size" the state. Combining small polities, as with the German-speaking principalities up through 1870, makes for larger armies with which to win wars. But too large a polity, as with the Austro-Hungarian empire or recent Yugoslavia, means that the people of the empire don't have their heart in it, feeling exploited by other internal groups.

In European history of the last few hundred years, the key variable in right-sizing has typically been language. Across a medium to large-sized realm, such as France, the development of modern technology in printing, travel, and bureaucracy means that language can be standardized, allowing the inhabitants to communicate with each other conveniently (making intermarriage more likely), thus setting in motion the development of a French nation in the hearts of the French. But across too large an expanse, languages are harder to standardize and thus national sentiment harder to cultivate, and thus polities are prone to fracture, as in the Soviet Union.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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