Social cycles in history due to cognitive differences

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Steve points me to this Jason Richwine piece, Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?. Richwine states:

Religion would seem to be the clear choice of smart people in this hypothetical example, but there would still be a positive correlation between IQ and atheism. The correlation exists not because smart people have necessarily rejected religion, but because religion is the “default” position for most of our society.

This same principle works in places where the default and iconoclastic beliefs are reversed. Japan, for example, has no tradition of monotheistic religion, but the few Japanese Christians tend to be much more educated than non-Christians in Japan. By the logic of someone who wants to read a lot into the Stankov study, Christianity must be the wave of the future, perhaps even the one true faith! But, of course, the vast majority of educated Japanese are not Christians. Just as with atheism in the West, the correctness of Christianity cannot be inferred from the traits of the minority who subscribe to it in Japan.

On the specific issue Richwine is right, Christianity is associated with higher socioeconomic status vis-a-vis non-Christianity across much of East Asia. You can go look in the WVS or Statistics Singapore. Though I do have to note that only in South Korea does there seem to be a positive correlation between theism and socioeconomic status (e.g., in Singapore those with no religion and Christians both have high SES and tend to be concentrated among young professional class Chinese, those with lower SES tend to be Muslims [Malays] and followers of Chinese folk religions). Additionally, in Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore it seems that Buddhism has reworked itself to mimic the aspects of Christianity which made it more appealing to middle-class professionals. This is a classic case of a new equilibrium being attained after the initial outside cultural “shock” of Christianity. Finally, in Japan Christians are basically a rounding error (a few percent at most), so the example of Korea, where they are 1/3 of the population is of more relevance.

But I was struck by a general implication from Richwine’s model. Two premises:

1) Elites, cognitive or otherwise, tend to deviate from the “default” norms of society for various reasons (it could be signalling costly behavior to show that they are “above” conventional considerations and such).

2) Eventually, the masses often emulate in the elites in subsequent generations.

The inference would be that cultural cycles should exhibit a pattern where the masses serve as lagging indicators of elite sensibilities. Once the masses start attempting to “catch up,” of course the elites have moved on. Empirically implausible? I’ll let readers dissect it.

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10 Comments

  1. Similar to Japan and Christianity, most of the people who practice Eastern religions in the GSS are high IQ white people. 
     
    Stark and Bainbridge noted that people who join cults are typically educated, upperclass, and urban.

  2. yeah. jews are way overrepresented in NRMs.

  3. also, re: japan. for wvs wave 5 the N for xtians = 30. tiny, but they are WAY more educated than the typical japanese. OTOH, the japanese who don’t give a religious denomination (the majority) are more educated than the large minority who say they’re buddhist (these are more likely to be women and older).

  4. Japanese example makes me wonder if fair number of Christians in Japan aren’t even Japanese. Their immigration is restricted to only the very elite. So, the few foreigners that they allow in would have very high educational status and likely be high percentage western. And of course a fairly high percentage of westerners are at least nominal Christians.

  5. sg, 
     
    1) there’s been a rather influential minority of native japanese xtians since the meiji restoration (apparently many women in the imperial family were christian or christian-sympathizers). these xtians are atypical in asia insofar as “mainline protestantism” is actually dominant last i checked, as opposed to evangelical protestantism which is more the norm in china or korea. japan is the only non-western country where unitarian christianity had some impact to my knowledge (perhaps india is another). 
     
    2) actually, i assume that many of the ‘foreigners’ would be japanese brazilians who came back. the majority of japanese brazilians are roman catholic.

  6. There’s very little plausibility for the idea of the masses’ phenotype being a lagging indicator of the elites’. Simples case: fashion in baby names. Lieberson in A Matter of Taste shows that there’s not really anything to the idea. 
     
    When a new name becomes fashionable, it strikes high and low classes at more or less the same time. I think it’s slightly earlier in the elites, but not by much — probably just because they’re more in touch with what’s hot and what’s not, so they can jump on the bandwagon earlier. 
     
    Same is true for clothing. Lower classes today don’t dress like the upper classes of yesterday, in general. (They do dress more colorfully, though, like elites used to.) Keep price the same — you still don’t see working-class people wearing some variant on a white shirt, dark jacket, and dark pants. Blue-jeans and a black t-shirt is more like it. 
     
    And there were other elite belief systems akin to religion — Marxism, for one. As far as we can tell, that never caught on big-time among the working classes of industrialized countries. Unions, sure. But I mean the larger belief system of how history works, what important forces there are, etc. — just like how religions explain the history of the world, our place in the universe, etc. Working people never bought into that aspect of Marxism. 
     
    I think a better model is that the masses don’t change as much as the elites do over time. True for homicide — elite violence fell much more sharply than lower-class violence over the past 500 years. 
     
    So, it looks like the lower classes now are copying the violent behavior of yesterday’s nobility. But in reality, the same secular trend is striking at both groups’ level of violence, just more strongly among elites. Maybe elites have easier access to information, people to discuss things with, etc., so that the influence these things have on changing behavior long-term affect the elites more strongly.

  7. And there were other elite belief systems akin to religion — Marxism, for one. As far as we can tell, that never caught on big-time among the working classes of industrialized countries. Unions, sure. But I mean the larger belief system of how history works, what important forces there are, etc. — just like how religions explain the history of the world, our place in the universe, etc. Working people never bought into that aspect of Marxism. 
     
     
    well, the majority never really “get” ideology, so i don’t see that that’s relevant to what i’m saying. but there is data that secularism in the united states is “normalizing” demographically. that doesn’t mean that the average non-believer is reading george h. smith or michael martin. 
     
    i don’t know if the point about marxism is totally correct either, eurocommunism was a working-class phenomenon from what i recall, while even non-communist left parties like the SPD and labour were influenced by marxism. i also don’t think marxism was every as common among the elite as something like secularism was. the broadening of the franchise resulted in the expansion of socialist parties and the collapse of liberal parties all over europe (with conservatives staying where they were).

  8. When a new name becomes fashionable, it strikes high and low classes at more or less the same time. I think it’s slightly earlier in the elites, but not by much — probably just because they’re more in touch with what’s hot and what’s not, so they can jump on the bandwagon earlier. 
     
    this is a persuasive point. so i wonder if there’s a possible disjunction between material and ideas embedded in institutions.

  9. “eurocommunism was a working-class phenomenon from what i recall” 
     
    I imagine that you want to say with “eurocommunismo” is “West European communism”, and not exactly the ideology that it was known as “eurocommunismo” (who was, basically, Gorbachov-15-years-before). There is some overlapp between the 2 concepts, but they are not the same: Portuguese and Greek CP never were “eurocommunists”, but hard-line traditional communists, and they were and are parties with strong support in the working-class; also the French and Italian CP were strong working-class parties even before his conversion to eurocommunism (in reality, specially in the french case, can be argued that the adoption of eurocommunism was the begining of the transformation of the CP from working-class parties to parties of “progressive intelectuals”)

  10. tx miguel. i was actually talking about france & italy (or that’s what i hand in mind), though you’re right, sloppy use of the term.

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