May 26, 2008

Razib on Crotty's cow-centric theory of history

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon on Google Books part of When Histories Collide by the late Irish farmer turned economist Raymond Crotty. This book, unfinished up on the author's death in 1994, presents a cattle-centered history of the world, with an emphasis on the deep roots of individualistic capitalism in Western Europe. It's of particular interest because it marks an early milestone in including divergent recent evolution in history -- Crotty focuses closely upon the vast consequences of the emergence of a mutation for lactose tolerance, allowing adults to drink milk in some parts of the world. At GNXP, Razib has summarized the book -- it doesn't quite live up to its ambitions, but it deserves to be much better known in the U.S. than it is.

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

8 comments:

Ronduck said...

Thanks for the link to the book review. It seems to be an interesting theory as to why the West diverged from the rest of the world.

I didn't see a notice saying that comments are moderated, but my thanks didn't show after I posted it.

Anonymous said...

Nobody's cow crazier than the Nilotic peoples of East Africa. The Nguni peoples of South Africa are also about as cow centric as you can get.

That is Dinka, Nuer, Masai, Tutsi, and your new favorite Africans, the Luo. Not to mention the Zulu and Xhosa in SA.

TGGP said...

Some claim that lactose tolerance evolved to drug the individualism out of hunter gatherers.

John S. Bolton said...

A big problem for any of these theories is the one of 'altruism'. If everyone is to be assumed to be doing what is best for them in the circumstances, why wouldn't there be more uniformity, at least across climate zones? The following repeated comment might solve the problem of (real or theoretical)'altruism' in genetic theories of population differences relating to spontaneous cooperation.
The lactose-tolerance theory of geographic performance differences is a formidable candidate. Look at Murray's Human Accomplishment maps for Europe and America. The historical dairying region from New England to Wisconsin and Iowa, is the high concentration area, Likewise in Europe, of areas excluding low-density of population ones, the match-up is high between lactose-tolerant districts and high significant-figures ones. Similarly in the world, comparing only districts above some threshold corresponding to longtime full agricultural occupation of land, the correlation looks exceedingly high for lactose-tolerant districts with high significant figures ones, on Murray's mapping. One suggestion is that the haplotype of lactose tolerance is 1million DNA units long, so huge that it could be a target of recognition in which people are pushed towards treating those who share it as relatives, cousins or otherwise much more closely related than they are for other genes. This would allow more large-scale cooperation without compulsion, more freedom from aggression, since there is less of a role for a despot to force competing families to cooperate as if they were much more closely related than they are. Possibly a lactobacteria could induce this effect, tricking the kin recognition systems into falsely registering those who share only the one giant lactase haplotype, as much closer relations. This would benefit the lactobacteria as the spread of the whole-milk consuming culture gains acreage. One such lineage would gain over others. The connection to significant figures would be that they get the rich and powerful to treat them as kin, or by a merit system, when the other districts are stuck in the patronage-for-close-relatives-only pattern, which ignores great merit.

John S. Bolton said...

A relevant experiment for this might be to take a group with all lactase-persistents, which has been treated with antibiotics in such degree that they would have insufficient lactobacteria alive, and see if they can perform as a group on a task requiring maximal spontaneous cooperation, in comparison to controls. Alternatively, observe the performance of a lactase-persistent group, with a majority of newcomers introduced, one pure for the character, against the result with another such new group entirely lacking in it. Not that such results would prove the mechanism, but they could disprove it. The genetic haploytpe yielding the tolerance would have to be the same one though.

David said...

Canadian cows give the brainiest milk! Your ticket to riches, Steve - find a bottler, you already have your slogan.

I notice a number of cows in India...

Bill said...

Being lactose tolerant allows people to indirectly consume cellulose without thinning their herds. That's a huge advantage in less fruitful climates. Areas such as prairie, that would have been seen as wasteland to others, suddenly become a source of wealth and prosperity.

Mongols are not generally lactose tolerant, but they found ways to process milk that gave them some of the same benefits. They drink a lot of yogurt (Mongol yogurt is a liquid), and drink koumis. It would be interesting to see whether these culturally acquired methods of processing milk led to the Altaic expansion from the forests of NE Asia into the plains of Central Asia.

Zimri said...

There's a fascinating book out, although you will probably have to order it, called "The Horse, The Wheel, And Language". It's mostly about the horse (of course, of course) but there is quite a bit about the sheep and its evolution from long-haired to woolly.

As for the cow, it mentions the Rig Veda which was possibly known among the Mitanni in Late Bronze Syria (c.f. king's names with the rta / "cosmic-order" element). Cattle raid poems are a commonplace of the more conservative Indo-European peoples.

One bit of strangeness: around Afghanistan, some guy called Zoroaster (who spoke a language very like to proto-Sanskrit) wrote a poem from the cow's point of view complaining about the cattle raids...