The communists believed in the creation of a New Soviet Man: a strain of human beings who would be altered memetically, not genetically (remember: Lysenko proved that genes don't control the phenotype of descendants – social conditioning of their ancestors does!) to be more docile slaves of the state: hard working, uncomplaining, willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the
party leadership The People &tm;.
(The digression where we talk about a socialist government funding, teaching and enforcing ideological conformity to a fictional theory that – wait for it! – gives government greater power over people is a fun one, but I don't really have the time to talk about AGW right now. [ ed: "oh, snap!" ])
Human nature is pretty darned fixed. People are the same around the world.
…which is not to say that beliefs and societies are the same around the world. They're not.
Plant a bean in one soil and it will grow one way, and plant it in another and it will grow another way.
…but the crucial thing is that the genetic theory explains reality far better than Lysenkoism does. Grow a given species of bean plant in sandy soil for a generation or two, then transplant it back over to rich loamy soil and it will revert to type.
So these analogies to "plants" and "soil type" are all well and good, but what are the facts on the ground that alter human behavior?
More and more I'm coming around to believe that they're fundamental aspects of geography, natural resource distribution, general levels of wealth, the organization of the economy, and population density.
Yes, yes, history matters, culture matters. Christianity has muddled through two thousand years ( a bit more, according to some) and is now rarely used to justify the kinds of atrocities that it was, upon occasion, used to justify in the past). Englishmen have their Magna Carter, and speaking of widely quoted, little read, and utterly unenforced pieces of paper, we Americans have our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
…but in the end, the rootstock is still the same, and I strongly believe that if you stuck Americans in an unfarmable kingdom where all wealth flowed from a few easily controllable oil wells, within a few generations those wells would be in the hands of the few, and those few would use oil proceeds to buy off the rest of the population with welfare checks, and the welfare recipients would use the money to drink themselves into stupors (on the sly, of course) and beat their wives.
"Wait, wait" I hear you say "you're dismissing culture too quickly. Yeah, maybe geography and natural resources matter a bit, but culture controls men."
But where does culture come from?
Much more of it than we like comes from geography, natural resources, and population density.
A Lebanese friend was talking the other day about the lack of a tradition of sophisticated cheese-making in Lebanese society.
This reminded me of a theory that I give strong credence to: cooking traditions come largely from the environment and the economy.
Northern Europe has seasons such that milk giving animals feed themselves during the spring and summer, and require human labor to keep them alive during the winter. Thus, a prudent farmer solves the mini-max problem of resources in to resources out (with weather, disease, and bad luck taking the role of player #2) by raising his animals in the good weather, slaughtering most of them in fall, and keeping the precious calories in milk and meat on a shelf instead of on the hoof. Thus, Northern Europe has traditions of charcuterie and cheese making.
Temperate Mediterranean climates allow cows and goats to graze year round, and thus Greeks and Turks make their feta and sour cream and not a ton else.
As we know from various places, rice supports a high population density in Eastern Asia. A high population density means (a) lots of bodies, (b) fewer trees.
North western Europe's cloudy climate lent itself to lower food densities ( and therefore lower population densities), and required more labor per calorie produced but provided lots of free fuel in the form of peat and more trees per unit population.
In Asia, where fuel is scarce but labor is plentiful we see a labor-intensive and fuel-stingy tradition of cooking that involves finely chopping foods (to raise their surface-to-volume ratio, and thus lowering the amount of time they require to cook), and then building a quick high intensity fire and rapidly cooking the food before the fire goes out.
In North western Europe, where fuel is plentiful but labor is scarce we see a labor-stingy and fuel-intensive cooking tradition that involves throwing large cuts of meat and large root vegetables into pots and simmering them for hours and hours without human intervention.
Or let's move away from food and talk about patterns of marriage and child raising. Social conservatives are horrified by the epidemic of bastard births in the West over the past few decades. Once confined to the ghetto (and African Americans), this is becoming much more common in all demographics, locations, and skin colors.
So-cons like to paint this as a question of morals, and that's a fine way to slice the world, but there are many ways to use an analytic knife to cleave the problem.
Another way, no more or less true, but perhaps more useful, is to look at the distribution of risk, and the caloric surplus we generate with our labor in 2011 versus 1811.
Today you can work a minimum wage job (call it $7/hour), earn $56 per day (call it $50 after taxes) and purchase 500 calories per dollar or 25,000 calories total.
That's enough to keep 12 people alive.
Sure, sure, it ignores huge swaths of details like quality of food, shelter, clothes, and more, but the point is that even the least skilled among us now is far far FAR from the starvation line.
The middle class 200 years ago was much closer to the starvation line. A middle class family would be lucky to reliably generate even twice the calories they consumed.
There's a huge difference between 12x and 2x. 12x gives you lots of breathing room. Sure, I know, it's not easy being poor in American and trying to afford your second television
…but when you're poor in modern America, you can lose your job, get unemployment for 99 weeks, then go onto welfare, and then crash on friend's couches for years. The haunting howl of the wolf is light years away.
…and when the wolf is that far away, you can double or triple your household's caloric needs by popping out a few children and STILL feel far safer than even the most diligent and prudent farmer of centuries past.
Conservatives love to point to supply and demand curves.
Humans, as a species, have a demand curve to generate children without lasting commitments.
That curve was forged in the fires of millions of years of evolution.
That curve does not move appreciably because of working moms, godless communists, gay marriage, or fluoride in the water.
The cost curve, though, moves a lot, based on geography, available calories, and how cold the winters are (both literally and metaphorically).
The various child creating behaviors of an Afghan farmer and his two wives, an American farmer in 1811, and an American accountant in 2011 have less to do with Islam, Protestantism, and post-Christian agnosticism than they have to do with the calories and the climate.
Christ did not create a New Christian Man.
Nazism did not create the Pure Aryan Man.
The Soviets did not create a New Soviet Man.
The modern Pan-national Progressive SWPLs have not created a …well, whatever the hell that New-mumble-Man-thing would be called.
(I think I can – with out being accused of being a budding theocrat – give a shout out to Christianity for being the one ideology in the list above that explicitly said that human nature doesn't change, and existence consists in muddling through and doing our best given that)
Human nature does not change.
Keep that maxim in mind the next time you read a SWPL prog talking about how mankind has evolved, or such-and-so is "outdated" or "backwards".
Evolution is not teleological and neither is social change.
Both react to situations on the ground.
Crank up the calories per person and we'll take more leisure time, have more kids out of wedlock, and hang out on street corners during the middle of the day (and by "street corners", I of course mean "Twitter and Facebook").
Crank down the calories per person, and we'll have more marriage, more savings, and more prudence generally.
Increase the risk of catastrophe and we'll clamor for more government to keep us safe (or at least give us security theater, whether that's TSA agents or FEMA bomb shelters, or useless CDC plans for bio-attack).
Decrease the risk of catastrophe and we'll …well, it seems we'll clamor for government to keep us entertained. GM is a pension plan with a car manufacturer attacked, and the Roman empire was a bread-and-circus welfare state with some legions.)
We can't change human nature. (Well, not yet yet.)
…but we can, to some degree, alter our environments which lead to different expressions of our human nature.
Some of the time.
Last 5 posts by Clark
- Ideological Turing Test (mainstream liberal democrat edition) - May 23rd, 2013
- depression - May 9th, 2013
- Mayday, Mayday...we are under attack - May 4th, 2013
- too good to fact check - May 3rd, 2013
- thought-crime and punishment - May 2nd, 2013