June 21, 2011

"The Tribal Imagination" by Robin Fox

Roger Sandall writes in his review of anthropologist Robin Fox's The Tribal Imagination in The American Interest:
Fox begins this chapter by describing New York Times columnist John Tierney’s bafflement in September 2003 upon discovering that the lavish weddings regularly taking place in his Baghdad hotel were mostly marriages of first cousins who were the children of brothers. Questioned about this practice, the young people told Tierney, “Of course we marry a cousin. What would you have us do, marry a stranger? We cannot trust strangers.” 
... It is also a truth, Fox believes, that we ignore at our peril as we go stumbling about in far-away strange places where tribes rule with an authority denied the more-or-less absent state. The pride and latent violence of groups of mutually suspicious kindred must be the starting point, Fox says, for anyone venturing into this political landscape. Such men and women are not the free individual citizens of a recognized territorial jurisdiction; nor are they people with clearly defined and defensible legal rights with respect to the state, whether in Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan. 
... While primates have kin, they do not have in-laws. 
Unpacking this highly condensed formulation reveals a whole range of connected evolutionary phenomena: the dispersal of animal populations, the need for genetic variability and the origin of language, the last enabling social structures to form in time and space among men and women who have never seen each other and in some cases never will. Other primates don’t do this, and here Lévi-Strauss was right. The uniquely human cultural fact that arose was something new, and it formed “the enduring relationship between natal kin separated by marriage but linked by kinship, by descent from a common ancestor.” 
All mammals ensure genetic variability through population dispersal. Fox argues that this observation applies as far back as “the emergence of self-replicating matter, and the crucial revolution that produced sex to replace cloning.” Sexual reproduction, plus dispersal, spontaneously produces the genetic variability natural selection needs to work on. If mammalian populations did not disperse, close inbreeding would result in a loss of such variability, and “hence mechanisms evolved to avoid it.” At the same time too great a dispersal—so great that separated bands lost contact with each other—meant that beneficial features of kinship association might be lost. So it is that “organisms breed out to avoid losing variability, but not so far out that they dissipate genetic advantages.” Not too close, but not too far; that was the evolutionary Golden Rule and, of course, the plinth of tribal society itself. 
Which brings us back to what was going on in that Baghdad hotel. In human terms, the Darwinian imperatives of dispersal, variability and natural selection eventually produced a social world in which marriage with cousins was preferred. Historically, that’s how it has been in most traditional preindustrial societies until quite recently. And for Fox it is an integral part of the tribal default system of humanity everywhere.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

At the same time too great a dispersal—so great that separated bands lost contact with each other—meant that beneficial features of kinship association might be lost. So it is that “organisms breed out to avoid losing variability, but not so far out that they dissipate genetic advantages.” Not too close, but not too far; that was the evolutionary Golden Rule and, of course, the plinth of tribal society itself.


Reminds of what a commenter on another blog said about interracial dating/marriage.

If a White man's daughter goes on to have a child with a black man, he would be more genetically related to any random White child than he would to his own grandchild.

Anonymous said...

Woo, they seriously need some of that Swedish sperm.

TGGP said...

Steve, you are woefully deficient in self-promotion. You should have linked to your own writing on cousin marriage.

Tribes may not be the real human default. We spent more time as hunter-gatherers, in which we may have lived in smaller bands. Islamic social structures are rooted in agricultural (herding, specifically) civilization.

I bet German Dziebel will be popping up to talk about kinship (and of course his out-of-America theory of human origins).

Anonymous said...

2nd Anon:

Can someone like a source for that statemnt I've heard it several times, and it seems plausible but I can't seem to track down its origin or rather basis.

Anonymous said...

"Tribes may not be the real human default. We spent more time as hunter-gatherers, in which we may have lived in smaller bands."

But we're still evolving. Check out Harpending and Cochran. Why do we look so far in the past for "default" human behavior?

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the adverse genetic effects of generations of inbreeding! Muslims have been inbreeding for 1400 years.

hbd chick said...

roger sandall said: "Tribal Realism might have a number of practical applications, but its immediate goal would be to vet Western political speeches to delete all references to 'the people' of Libya, or Iraq or Afghanistan. It will then try to decompose this popular collective noun into its actual constituent parts."

he's got the tribal realism part down, but sandall needs to think through the rest of genetic/familial relatedness so he doesn't say silly things like this:

"...Westermarck, the late 19th-century Swedish-speaking Finn...."

swedish-speaking finn? surely he mean a swede who happened to be born and live in the country of finland.

relatedness matters are tough (apparently)!

hbd chick said...

@anonymous - "Muslims have been inbreeding for 1400 years."

the arabs for longer than that (they were inbreeding first, then mohammed invented islam).

anony-mouse said...

And yet WWI. Go figure.

Garett said...

But we're still evolving. Check out Harpending and Cochran. Why do we look so far in the past for "default" human behavior?

Many previous environments of evolutionary adaptedness have had a hand in shaping the genome, not just civilization which is around 10,000 years old. Sexual reproduction, the limbic system, etc. evolved millions of years and yet these primitive mechanisms still shape our behavior today.

Also there is variation among different population groups. Some groups have more experience (i.e. have undergone more evolutionary selective pressures) with certain environments of evolutionary adaptedness than others. For example, Jews, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, etc. groups have greater evolutionary experience under civilization than groups such as northern Europeans, American Indians, etc.

Garett said...

Islamic social structures are rooted in agricultural (herding, specifically) civilization.

Islam appears poised to be the ultimate way European monogamy—first ecologically imposed and then in history socially imposed (Christianity)—may be destroyed to make way for more r-strategic polygynous subspecies of humans.

Polygynous humans are obviously better adapted to high caloric availability provided by technological civilization than are monogamous subspecies—as long as the technical infrastructure built by the monogamous subspecies holds together. What urbanization promoted by Jews has done is replace Christian monogamy with de facto polygyny that their academic authorities usually term “serial monogamy” (it’s really serial polygyny). Basically Islam isn’t as sadistic toward monogamous subspecies since its polygyny is open and honest.

Garett said...

Islam might then be seen as part of the continuing "Middle Easternization" of Europe that began with the Roman Empire and then Christianization.

The Roman Empire and Christianization replaced a key European eugenic practice, formalized single combat to the death as the appeal of last resort in dispute processing, with the centralization of sovereignty necessary for Semites to take theocratic control over Europeans.

Formal single combat as the appeal of last resort in dispute processing allowed Europeans to maintain low male to female gender ratios characteristic of their paleolithic environment, despite the lower mortality male rates implied by agriculture during the neolithic, and do so without mass warfare.

Removal of that eugenic tradition was necessary for Semitic verbal manipulators to centralize authority and occupy the resulting positions of moral authority within European societies that were characteristic of neolithic societies in the Middle East. I suspect Christianity’s socially imposed monogamy was a compromise reached between Jews and Goths as they allied to dismantle the Roman Empire — the precursor to Christendom.

In that respect Christianity’s socially imposed monogamy might be seen as “cowpox” compared to the “smallpox” we’re now seeing, and which was apparently starting to emerge during the latter stages of the Roman Empire’s decadence. But this “cowpox” seemed to have a more general immune suppression that grew over time till Christianity is generally downright hostile to European nations now.

Anonymous said...

Cousin marriage. Very widespread throughout the whole Arab world. As good an explanation as any as for why the Arab world is so backward and wanting.

Luke Lea said...

If nothing else our military venture into the Middle East has been a learning experience. :)

Breeder said...

Don't forget the adverse genetic effects of generations of inbreeding! Muslims have been inbreeding for 1400 years.

Isn't this a way to also breed for and strengthen desired traits among animals?

Unfortunately, it requires "throwing away" those offspring that do not inherit and display the desired traits.

Even with this approach, mammals tend have a lot of recessive genetic diseases that become more common with such interbreeding.

Laban said...

"One of the problems in the debate is that many figures get bandied about but really good data on the health effects of first-cousin marriage is lacking.

The Born in Bradford study, tracking 10,000 children from birth through their first two decades of life aims to rectify this.

Around 50% of children born in Bradford are to Pakistani parents.

Dr Peter Corry, a consultant paediatrician at Bradford Teaching Hospitals says they have identified almost 150 of these rare genetic conditions in the city - much higher than would be expected.

And data collected by the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit has shown since 1997 there have been 902 British children born with neurodegenerative conditions and 8% of those were in Bradford which only has 1% of the population.

He too advocates better genetic testing for families affected.

"Different populations have different patterns of genetic conditions.

"In Bradford, these conditions are much more prevalent than you would expect but they're still pretty rare.

"I would guess there is a genetic or metabolic test for about half the conditions and each time in Bradford a new gene is discovered there are two or three families who can be offered testing," he added.

The Born in Bradford study is collecting information on the family tree of those taking part but will also look at environmental issues which may have an impact on health.

"Of the first 1,100 pregnant Pakistani women recruited, 70% are from consanguineous marriages," he said."


Link

Anonymous said...

"Lionel" "Tiger" and "Robin" "Fox" wrote a book called The Imperial Animal? Are those pen names?

Whiskey said...

It certainly would have surprised Caesar Augustus, and Diocletian, and Constantine, that they were Semites. Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, and Louis the XIV would have been astonished that all this time, who knew, they were Jews?

I'm embarrassed by the historical idiocy here. The Greeks (who knew of Jews, and found them dumb and stubborn) had cities in places like Marseille by 500 BC or so. The Romans who (reminder for the historically illiterate) conquered and dispersed the Jews founded most of the great cities in Western Europe. The Dark Ages saw many destroyed or reduced to nothing, until recovery around 1000 AD, often around Cathedrals, Bishoprics, and trading centers. Bruges by 1200 was the richest city in the world, all off the Wool Trade.

Cities are vital for trade, specialization, craftsmanship, and what might be called "the Medieval Crafts revolution."

R-based Islamic societies are totally dependent on outside sources for food, and most of that is not financially sustainable (given uneven oil/gas deposits). Egypt which was the ancient bread basket of the world, cannot now feed itself. Nor can it pay for food with anything of value. Given China's own excess males and gender imbalance and hyper-aggression that results, that is not a good place to be.

Steve Sailer said...

""Lionel" "Tiger" and "Robin" "Fox" wrote a book called The Imperial Animal? Are those pen names?"

My guess is that they had parents with similar senses of humor.

"Tiger" I'm guessing was the Canadian equivalent of an Ellis Island Anglicized surname. But "Lionel" shows the family was in for a penny, in for a pound.

Robin Fox might or might not have been intentional. It became funnier when he became best friends with Lionel Tiger.

Wandrin said...

"Not too close, but not too far; that was the evolutionary Golden Rule...And for Fox it is an integral part of the tribal default system of humanity everywhere."

Yup and the not "too close" part varies over time as the ability to gain benefits from larger scale co-operation changes e.g. with technological cahnges.

Middle-east + Arab conquest = two steps forward, three steps back.

Personally i don't see the medical aspects of cousin marriage as the main problem because although the rate of medical flaws may be higher it's still not that great as a percentage (if i understand it right). I think the bigger problem is the greater relatedness of extended families acts as a barrier to co-operation beyond those clan boundaries.

(And also as a source of internal conflict which is the other side of the same coin.)

.
"Tribes may not be the real human default. We spent more time as hunter-gatherers, in which we may have lived in smaller bands."

Yes, the smaller bands must be the base layer.

.
"But we're still evolving...Why do we look so far in the past for "default" human behavior?"

Layers.

x amount of time in one environment e.g. hunter-gatherer bands, lays down a set of traits with a set of frequencies.

This is followed by y amount of time in a second environment e.g. small farming or nomadic pastoral, which might overwrite some of the first layer or change the frequencies of the base traits OR over-RIDE some of the first layer traits. (This last would creates a permanent tension between the two from then on).

This is followed by z amount of time in a third environment e.g. high-density urban, which may over-write some of the first or second layer or change the frequencies or over-ride some of it with a third layer etc.

.
"And yet WWI. Go figure."

Same thing.

If you have very close-knit kin groups you get a lot of co-operation within the group but it makes inter-clan co-operation harder.

The shift from clan to tribe rebalances kinship to allow wider co-operation.

At the national scale you can't rely solely on kin-loyalty because relatedness isn't strong enough at that scale except in times of war. One way round this is trying to create wartime cohesion in peacetime i.e. artificial war, or nationalism.

This has more benefits than costs unless you happen to get into a big war after the invention of the machine-gun but before the invention of the tank.

jaakkeli said...

"swedish-speaking finn? surely he mean a swede who happened to be born and live in the country of finland.

relatedness matters are tough (apparently)!"

Apparently so. Some people who speak Swedish are considered Swedes, some Finns; some people who speak Finnish are considered Finns, some Swedes.

Finland had an aborted language shift to Swedish much like a lot of European colonies, leaving behind plenty of Swedish-speaking Finns (though by now the ethnic Finns have mostly swapped back). Just because an Ibo in Nigeria speaks English and only English doesn't mean that he identifies as English or that he would be accepted as English by Englishmen.

Westermarck's ancestry may or may not be from the small number of ethnic Swedish peasantry that settled in the Finnish coasts and Baltic islands... well, probably not.

Hapalong Cassidy said...

hbdchick wrote:
"the arabs for longer than that (they were inbreeding first, then mohammed invented islam)."

Which makes it more remarkable that they were able to defeat two great empires (Persian and Byzantine), North Africa, and Visigothic Spain. It's the one example that goes counter to the HBD theory that Northern people are smarter and more likely to conquer Southern people. And one would have thought that the Southerly Arabs would have been of lower IQ than the Byzantines, Persians, and Visigoths.

Simon in London said...

"In human terms, the Darwinian imperatives of dispersal, variability and natural selection eventually produced a social world in which marriage with cousins was preferred. Historically, that’s how it has been in most traditional preindustrial societies until quite recently. And for Fox it is an integral part of the tribal default system of humanity everywhere."

I find that very unlikely. What's his evidence that brothers marrying their offspring together is the 'default system of humanity everywhere'? Amongst these inbred groups it produces huge numbers of deformities and serious mental disabilities. In the UK the NHS is groaning under the weight of the offspring of such Pakistani cousin-marriages, and often uncle-niece marriages.

Marlowe said...

The good news for their enemies is that Middle Eastern & Indian sub-continent Muslims don't trust each other.

black swan said...

"Robin Fox might or might not have been intentional. It became funnier when he became best friends with Lionel Tiger."

You're missing another meaning: Lying Tiger, Robbing Fox.

Anonymous said...

"Amongst these inbred groups it produces huge numbers of deformities and serious mental disabilities."

I expect a lot of the casualties of inbreeding would have died in the past.

Anonymous said...

Lionel Tiger is associated with the Male Studies, a well-known name in the manosphere.
Also laying the smack down on feminists:

EHRENREICH: You certainly got away from the issue of how you feel about it. See, I'm willing to say how I feel.

TIGER: I'm wholly uninterested in your feelings.

http://mensnewsdaily.com/archive/c-e/chapin/2004/chapin022504.htm

and his name makes his enemies swoon:

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2010/04/21/in-which-i-debate-lionel-tiger-on-male-studies/

"Lionel Tiger is pretty vapid. But I have to say this for him: His name is so cool!"

Anonymous said...

"Given China's own excess males and gender imbalance and hyper-aggression that results, that is not a good place to be. "

how about you look into the gender-imbalance in black ghettos?

hbd chick said...

btw, robin fox has a blog @psychology today.