Syrian Orontes has long since dried up, to be replaced by the Tiber once more


The paper is out, Ancient Rome: A genetic crossroads of Europe and the Mediterranean:

Ancient Rome was the capital of an empire of ~70 million inhabitants, but little is known about the genetics of ancient Romans. Here we present 127 genomes from 29 archaeological sites in and around Rome, spanning the past 12,000 years. We observe two major prehistoric ancestry transitions: one with the introduction of farming and another prior to the Iron Age. By the founding of Rome, the genetic composition of the region approximated that of modern Mediterranean populations. During the Imperial period, Rome’s population received net immigration from the Near East, followed by an increase in genetic contributions from Europe. These ancestry shifts mirrored the geopolitical affiliations of Rome and were accompanied by marked interindividual diversity, reflecting gene flow from across the Mediterranean, Europe, and North Africa.

If you don’t have access to the paper, the supplements are very good, with lots of visualizations.

The figure above summarizes the main clear dynamic:  the period of cultural and genetic cosmopolitanism of the Imperial period turned out to be ephemeral. The authors express a bit of surprise that the cosmopolitanism of Roman genetics during the Imperial period seems to manifest itself in an ‘eastward’ shift, and hypothesize that this is due to the greater population density of the eastern provinces.

This is almost certainly true.

The western focus of the early Roman Empire was somewhat at odds with the reality that the wealthiest and most populous domains were located in the eastern Mediterranean. The shocks of the 3rd-century resulted in an eastward orientation because that’s where the largest cities and tax base were. The Greek-speaking east, in particular, continued to provide the intelligentsia even throughout the Classical period, and due to the wealth of eastern cities, it is plausible that the mercantile elite of the capital often had eastern roots. The prevalence of Greek inscriptions in burials also is strongly indicative of eastern people in the capital.

That’s all to be expected. But what happened after the fall of Rome? The evidence above shows a western and northern shift. Though the proximal populations that contributed to this shift are somewhat different, overall the distal ancient components (e.g., “Neolithic”) return to frequencies that are closer to Iron Age Latium than the Roman Imperial phase. How did this happen?

Ancient DNA is a great window into the past, but it needs to be synthesized with an understanding of historical and anthropological processes. The Rome of the 400s was still a massive city, only marginally off its imperial peak in terms of population. But the Rome of 600 A.D. was a city filled with emptiness. What happened? A combination of the wars of the 6th-century, which are recorded to have depopulated much of Italy, and the overall decentering of Rome from the Mediterranean system after the ending of the Western Empire, probably resulted in the inevitable contraction of the Eternal City.

Of course, Rome grew again over the centuries. But the new Romans were not the same Romans as those of the Roman Empire, who left few descendants. In addition to far off cosmopolitans, the bulk of the population was probably derived from northern Lazio and southern Tuscany. Rural people whose genetic makeup resembled the Iron Age Italians from whom they descended.

This answers the question that people have been asking for decades: are modern Romans descended from the people of Republican Rome or Greeks and Syrians who transformed themselves into Romans? The answer is neither. Modern Romans descend from Italian peasants, who were less impacted by the predations of the Goths and Byzantines, and had higher fertility than urban dwellers even in peaceful times.

Which brings me to a second paper in the same issue of Science, The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation:

There is substantial variation in psychological attributes across cultures. Schulz et al. examined whether the spread of Catholicism in Europe generated much of this variation (see the Perspective by Gelfand). In particular, they focus on how the Church broke down extended kin-based institutions and encouraged a nuclear family structure. To do this, the authors developed measures of historical Church exposure and kin-based institutions across populations. These measures accounted for individual differences in 20 psychological outcomes collected in prior studies.

The results are not that surprising, though the statistical rigor of the paper is impressive. I first encountered the idea about the instrumental role of the Western Church in imposing a new family order in Western Europe in Adam Bellow’s In Praise of Nepotism (others may have heard about this via HBD Chick). Bellow offers a very simple explanation: the early Roman Catholic Church used its ideological power to prevent the emergence of powerful lineage groups. More concretely, limiting marriage prospects of elite lineages increased the probability that properties of wealthy families would be given to the Church as a gift.

In some ways, this paper has nothing to do with the first. But note that the period when the Western Church began to transform the familial structure of Western Europe is at the end of the Roman Empire. Between the 6th and 9th centuries the Roman Church was a particularly cosmopolitan institution in a rapidly barbarizing Western Europe. In the 7th and early 8th century, there were a series of ethnically Syrian Popes, to give one example. As the post-Roman world in the West began to devolve into localism, the Western Church remained international. Global.

Consider then this Late Roman institution, the Western Church, a locus of urbane cosmopolitanism reflecting the civilian values of the ancient Roman aristocracy, surrounded by a rising tide of unlettered barbarism in the form of marginally Christianized Lombards and their ilk. This cultural tension during these centuries of Late Antiquity may lay at the root of the ideological program promoted by the Western Church against the ascendent barbarian elites which had inherited the mantle of Rome.

Finally, a map within this paper showing the role of kinship in modern societies illustrates a striking pattern:

In Victor Lieberman’s Strange Parallels he asserts that Southeast Asia, like Europe, is part of a “protected zone” against the predations of the steppe. As such, it retained stability and continuity which allowed for the emergence of modern nation-states. Notice that Theravada Southeast Asia has a low kinship index, just like Europe (Vietnam, like China, has a high kinship index probably because of Confucianism’s focus on family as the atomic unit of society). Japan, also part of the “protected zone”, has a low kinship index.

It strikes me that exploring the role of institutions and historical contingency in these regions in decreasing the importance of familialism might be something that needs to be done. With that being said, the fact that the Western Church inherited Greco-Roman aversion to polygamy and innovated its own aversion to consanguinity resulted in a very unique familial configuration in Western Europe. Monogamous. Deemphasizing the extended kinship group.

We live in a time when some people would assert that “Western civilization” is a racist term. But it seems to me that these tendencies within Western civilization are highly correlated with flourishing and innovative societies.

27 thoughts on “Syrian Orontes has long since dried up, to be replaced by the Tiber once more

  1. The link given to the Supplements is for the second paper on kinship, not the first paper on Ancient Roman genetics.

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  2. >Of course, Rome grew again over the centuries. But the new Romans were not the same Romans as those of the Roman Empire, who left few descendants. In addition to far off cosmopolitans, the bulk of the population was probably derived from northern Lazio and southern Tuscany. Rural people whose genetic makeup resembled the Iron Age Italians from whom they descended.

    This doesn’t seem to be true at all – Iron Age inhabitants of Latium are either Iberian/French-like or Cypriot-like, whereas the Renaissance inhabitants plot closest to Sicilians and other South Italians. Had the rural population preserved the ancestry of those Iron Age samples, the Late Medieval and Renaissance samples would look quite different.

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  3. Is it such a striking figure? They state: The KII is an omnibus measure for kinship intensity that captures the presence of cousin-marriage preferences, polygamy, co-residence of extended families, clan organization, and community endogamy.

    But how does the measure emerge? Is it a natural composite that emerges through mutual correlation between underlying variables, or is it an artificial measure that emerges through combining multiple different variables into a single bag?

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  4. The largest depopulating event of sixth century urban centres was Justinian’s Plague. Kyle Harper documents a flight to the countryside.

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  5. My understanding was that Greek was a major prestige language, so I’m not totally sure that Greek inscriptions on tombstones in Rome necessarily reflects immigration from the East.

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  6. @Matt

    There seems to be correlation between the variables used to calculate KII, according to supplements where the method is detailed. There is at least one glaring issue which has led to errors in their KII calculation at country level however: several, even European, ethnicities are absent in the Ethnographic Atlas where the variables come from. It’s available here: https://d-place.org/

    The authors used an algorithm to extrapolate KII for the missing ethnicities from their linguistic relatives, but said algorithm worked less than perfectly. For example, the KII value for Dutch (from which values for all Germanic groups almost certainly have been extrapolated as they are not in the Atlas, to a result that looks plausible) and Ingrians (Protestant ethnic Finns living in Russia) is similar, but the KII of Finns in Finland (missing from the Atlas as well) which in reality would be the on the level of the aforementioned groups is on the other hand extrapolated and elevated by the algorithm, probably because the source is some non-Finnic Eastern Orthodox or pagan Uralic group deep from Russia.

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  7. I agree with Markos opinion.Modern central italians anyway is more levantine shifted then theirs Iron Age predcessors.Seems that they looked like modern north italians but with more Anatolia_N component.Approximately 60% for modern Northern Italians and 70% for Iron Age Lazio inhabitans.

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  8. Yes, the color for Finland is a way off. This has never been a clan society, and in modern times, many families have been ripped apart, for various reasons. For small minorities like Finnish Romani or Ingrians it might be different. The latter _had_ to be more family oriented, just to survive Stalin.

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  9. @A. Karhumaa

    The Ethnographic Atlas they use as a source has Ingrian data from the early 1900’s, it doesn’t really differ from Dutch when it comes to variables of the KII, that is to say Ingrians do not look like a clannish group at all. Hence my comment about Finnish KII being based on something more distant and definitely not Protestant by denomination.

    France may also be poorly treated in the map, the Atlas has data points from Basques and Walloons but nothing from any French speaking population from the territory of mainland France and Corsica.

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  10. Whatever happened to that Roman DNA project from 2011? They crowdsourced thousands of dollars, but did they ever do anything? The website is still around but filled with ads and no update for years.

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  11. @Gade, practices of imputing data from isolate populations which may be unrepresentative sounds like could be a problem then. Although I guess I can’t really comment on how pervasive or absent that is from their dataset.

    One thing that did strike me is that their global maps shows fairly low intensity of KII in the Philippines, compared to China (except for some reason Yunnan?), similar to Razib’s observation that Notice that Theravada Southeast Asia has a low kinship index, just like Europe (Vietnam, like China, has a high kinship index probably because of Confucianism’s focus on family as the atomic unit of society). , although of course he confined his observation to MSEA (because of the Strange Parallels model of religious parallels between Theravada and Catholicism, which the Philippines doesn’t fit).

    But when we turn to indicators of genomic indicators in “Population histories of the United States revealed through fine-scale migration and haplotype analysis”“cROH lengths are particularly long for South Asians (median cROH= 10.3 cM), Southeast Asians (median cROH = 7.8 cM), and Middle Easterners (median cROH = 8.2 cM), potentially reflecting inbreeding patterns found in their ancestral regions” and “This Southeast Asian clade is predominantly represented by Filipinos with a branch of individuals with more Oceanic origins (shown in grey and yellow, respectively). Admixture proportions vary among the Southeast Asian individuals, likely due to the large number of ethnolinguistic groups that are found in the Philippines and neighboring islands., while the East Asians have a fairly low cRoH, fairly close to most European populations (Finns for’ex).

    That seems like an incidence where Kinship Intensity Index seems to fairly poorly predicts actual close breeding? Since it’s sourced on a mixture of ethnography, which is dependent on what people *say* is important. While you would perhaps predict better from simply knowing that the Philippines has a fairly broken insular and mountainous geography with lots of linguistic groups.

    adna will probably tell us more about exactly when and where inbreeding patterns (and cousin marriage of various degrees) actually emerged. E.g. note – https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6466/731“Kinship-based social inequality in Bronze Age Europe” and https://www.pnas.org/content/114/38/10083Female exogamy and gene pool diversification at the transition from the Final Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age in central Europe, where you see specific patterns of exogamy combined with socially stratified households over time. No village or kinship based endogamy seems to be present there for example? And cousin marriage really is the only church based mechanism they talk about here (maybe polygamy?).

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  12. Thinking again about their cousin marriage data though, it may actually be really difficult to test with adna. If you take their evidence in their Fig 1b, they don’t actually predict that *large* changes in cousin marriage rate have large consequences!

    That is, the difference correlations with cousin marriage rate are log scale, and there looks to be little to no systematic difference within their sample of countries with 10-80% (reported) cousin marriage rate. So their hypothesis is actually that somehow reductions on cousin marriage in the range of 5%-0.25%, of decreasingly small absolute difference, drive individualism. Small differences at the lower bound drive their correlation.

    If that is the case, and though I find this an extremely strange idea, it may be difficult to test with adna, because of the sample sizes needed. It also means that their hypothesis is heavily dependent on whether their data source has an accurate account of cousin marriage within “Western Church” countries on the 5-0.25% range, and really largely in the 2.5%-0.25% range. If their data source turns out to be somewhat in ascribing 2.5% to more collectivist countries and 0.25% to less collectivist countries, the correlation would probably shift. Heavily dependent on very low bound accuracy in the data source.

    Their actual country data is visible in Fig S1.2 from supplement (excerpted – https://imgur.com/a/d3X7KRB). (On topic of previous post, this ascribes the Philippines at a low rate of 0.1-2.4%, seems somewhat in contradiction to genetic data). It’s a shame that the log transformed data were not visualized on a map, as this is really what drives their correlation and the absolute difs don’t really matter. As is, the log scaled differences which drive their data are compressed on their map!

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  13. @Matt
    Yunnan might be reflecting the Bai locals less affected by Confucian tradition. The Atlas has no sampled Yunnan Han.

    Philippines has several sampled groups, here are some KII variable values:

    Visayas:
    Cousin marriage: 0
    Polygamy: 0
    Co-residence of extended families: 0 & 0 (two variables, domestic organization and post-marital residence)
    Lineage organization: 0
    Community organization: 0

    The largest ethnic group in the Philippines therefore had even lower KII than rural Northern Europeans belonging to the Western Church in the first half of the 20th century. Irish and Ingrian score in Co-residence of extended families due to virilocality and Dutch due to ambilocality and small extended families, though all other variables are 0 for them. Looks like this is how they got the low Philippines KII on the map.

    Northern Kankanaey have similarly low KII. Manobo somewhat higher due to limited polygyny and virilocality, but generally Philippines groups do have low scores to explain the map.

    Comparing indigenous Hunter-Gatherers of Oceania and Southeast Asia, Great Andamanese had a row of 0’s but scores were higher for polygamous and patrilocal Australian Aborigines. Certain types of hunter-gatherers therefore do get very low scores in this but I’m not sure all of these are totally without “clannishness”. In a genetic sense Andamanese would likely have long RoH’s due to low founder population size, even if cousin marriage is avoided marrying more distant relatives long enough will result in long RoH’s.

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  14. There is data on Veddas, there’s an example of a monogamous hunter-gatherer group which nonetheless has higher KII due to clan structure and parallel-cousin marriage.

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  15. The paper essentially posits admixture from Imperial cluster (which looks like a mix between varied sources on the Mycenaean-Armenian-Lebabon triangle with some Italic to explain the northern end) and Germanic like (the early medieval Bavarians who are shifted towards Scandinavia compared to modern ones) sources into an Iron Age Roman like population, though their best temporally appropriate proxy for that is the Germany_Roman FN_2 that overlaps only with the northernmost and slightly outlying of the Iron Age Roman individuals. It’s possible that the “resurgence” didn’t come from absolutely local populations to the area but nearby, related ones of course but the lack of data on that front hurts any potential models.

    Naturally you need the kind of more eastern admixture that a Germanic-Imperial mix can provide to result in the less EEF-heavy modern populations but if one looked at the Imperial cluster on its own, it’d probably look much more dramatic than what the models they use in the paper show.

    The result for the main Roman cluster isn’t particularly surprising given the other results for Europe so far. There generally has been a reduction in EEF ancestry in the south due to simultaneous northern European and Eastern Mediterranean/Near Eastern input and a reduction in HG-steppe ancestry in the north due to admixture with geographically more southern European sources.

    I personally find the R850 outlier interesting. It looks like the sample that might be harder to relate to something more specific compared to the rest, especially because they couldn’t get an 1-source model with Mycenaeans, despite the close placement on the PCA and their Roman_CA – Armenia_LBA working model also seems a bit strange. They should have probably shown models for him with the main Iron Age cluster as well, just for clarity’s sake.

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  16. “overlaps only with the northernmost and slightly outlying of the Iron Age Roman individuals”

    To slightly correct that part, the closely placed R435 is somewhat later/Republican so I suppose he could have potentially been a more northern-western individual drawn to the area of Palestrina in the first place, unless we’re missing existing structure.

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  17. That extended kinship is important is a natural thing for humans, it works fairly good on the lower level always and on a higher level very often. But there is a negative aspect it too, and that’s its incompatibility with a functioning, developed state. Because if your kin is so much more important to you than the state, you will not just sometimes, but ALWAYS decide in favour of your kin rather than the state. If an idiot 3rd degree cousin asks for a job in the administration, or an incompetent, corrupt brother in law for a state order for this company, you will give it to them, even though its bad for your reputation and bad for the state.

    Some Subsaharan Africans described that very well if the reported in a honest way. As soon as they show, as individuals, skill and success, the relatives being lined up with their demands and you have either the choice to give in or to alienate yourself form your kin. You might even get threatened and fear bad consequences for yourself and your immediate family. Also, in such a system, if the luck leaves you, who will come to help you?! Only your clan is a secure social network in such failed states, so you have a vicious circle at work.

    South Vietnam and Nationalist China fell, in part, exactly because of such problems! The leadership was not that bad in itself, the ideals and ideas also, but they had this rat-tail of problems because of the traditional liabilities all leading families faced. The Communists too, but much less so, because they broke up with much of their national traditions in a radical way.

    In a way Communism in China and Vietnam might have reduced the kinship importance and prepared them for a more Western style better than a different system would have. Any system would have needed to face that kinship problem in these two countries. Its still there, but weakened right now.

    Which leads to the opposite problem of the Western style kinship system, which is, if there is no strong socio-economic incentive for large families, prone to do rigid birth control, one way or another, because kinship and large families with many children are not as much a value in itself. I would even say that it is not by chance Buddhist countries have the same problem, because like Nietzsche said already, Christianity and Buddhism are both decadence religions insofar, as they deny the importance of the world. So if your physical life and the world is not that important, what role has your kin? In Hinduism your kin has a religious role at least, in Christianity and Buddhism not really. Even worse, the biggest role have celibate priests and monks! Now thats a problem for your kin, a huge problem. Some of the best educated people, some of your closest kin, have, to make a spiritual difference, die childless!

    That really ruins any traditional and biologically meaningful value system completely! It tears it to the grounds!

    This quite obviously results in negative selection, especially for those social classes for which socio-economic (and even spiritual-ideological!) success comes first and before anything else.

    This is evident in ancient Rome in a milder and somewhat different form, were not just urban elite and middle classes, but also the rural ones, had consistently low birth rates! They were replaced by foreigners not just because of the stream of immigrants, slaves, traders and Eastern elites alike, but also because of their own low birth rates. This made Western urban centres more of a demographic sink than cities are in general! This is very important to notice, because despite the negative effects urban life has everywhere, the way of life makes a huge difference too!
    Christianity was in this context of an already bad demographic base the final blow. It all just crumbled.

    The same can be applied to modern Westerners and their demographic catastrophy, but also to all other people which live the same way. This means we now have, with the Western way of life, a worldwide multi-level negative selection. Not just genetically, but also culturally. Because some cultural attitudes don’t grow in one generation, even if the genetic base is solid, but in more than one!

    Take again China as and example and use their old language for cultured people: You have growing cities with masses of rural people flowing in. Now those which stay and develop good become “cooked”, adapt to the new way of life, learn, from one generation to the next, to live the new way of life and rise socially.
    But then, many of these lineages being severed! Because they have between 0 and 1 children, just a few have much more. So you have invested in people, which came to the urban centres, proved to be successful and skilled, so they have a certain niveau, they probably even adopted views positive for the state, and then they largely disappear from the bigger demographic picture.

    China has the advantage that it can replace those losses from within, from its own people largely, that’s a huge plus, but its still a negative selection and negative socio-cultural process, because at some point they have to reach sustainability. Their chances are good if they act now, but they don’t have that much time left and they really spend a lot of their socio-biological capital for a fast growth in an unsustainable way.
    So do the Western countries, but that is a different story and the Chinese have their own, long term planning elite, so they should really recognise the problem and act in time. Not being as stupid, delusional and corrupted as the Western “elites” which ruin their countries.

    Rome did the same, it did it 2000 years ago and Augustus saw it coming, he tried to make a change, but he did not enough and what happened in the centuries after was all just bad (civil unrest and wars, introduction of Christianity) for the long term development of the Empire. If you have a society with low kinship importance in which many children being seen as a burden (now to the planet even in some circles) for your socio-economic success of you and your family, you are on bad, bad path into hell. Like some authors wrote: Roman family fathers were scolded for having many sons, because that ruined the wealth and standing of his family, because he had to split the fortune, making them all rather poor. And like Juvenal said, not just that the Orontes flew into the Tiber, but also how people down looked upon aristocratic families which could no long afford their luxurious way of life. That is decadence, that is ruinous.
    What about those wealthy families, if they have just one or even two sons? If one died in battle, the other from a plague? Did they still laugh at the fecund compatriot? Then they could ADOPT new inheritors to keep their lineage alive ON PAPER. But quite obviously, they died out genetically and it was, after all, not undeserved.

    The Western style cities (!), with Rome as a template, are unsustainable without counter measures to this kind of decadence. So you have a problem with the traditional kinship system (nepotism, corruption, instability, too high birth rates) and with the Western kinship system (hedonism, negative selection, too low birth rates, ignorance to ancestry).

    Quite obviously, the future belongs to the state which manages to keep a balance, to keep both negative tendencies under check and make a modern state and population sustainable. I would bet on a more authoritarian system simply because of the measures needed to achieve that.
    So far no state did so successfully, as this would mean to recognise the problem and do something about it – and people don’t like to see their society and themselves that way. To be just in between is mostly transitional and no solution, because it often means to have negative aspects of both tendencies combined rather than a good balance.

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  18. @Obs:
    if your kin is so much more important to you than the state, you will not just sometimes, but ALWAYS decide in favour of your kin rather than the state. If an idiot 3rd degree cousin asks for a job in the administration, or an incompetent, corrupt brother in law for a state order for this company, you will give it to them, even though its bad for your reputation and bad for the state

    Don’t ignore the flipside possibility though:

    If you are a clan based collectivist you will *not* give that job to an incompetent relative, if it endangers the cohesion, status or survival of the clan. Sorry, idiot third-cousin, la familigia comes first.

    It’s not always good for the clan to put its incompetents in high places. To use a cultural reference, Fredo gets put in Las Vegas, at best, because that’s where he’ll do least damage, and if he takes sides against the family…. (Maybe he’d have been better off in a menial job).

    If you have a superstructure and you promote your incompetent cousin into the bureaucracy, and this comes the attention of lord, then lord will be unhappy with your clan, which is bad, and so it may not happen. (Or if your country has so little superstructure, so little loyalty to the state, that there is no superstructure beyond the clan, this is kind of a dead issue.)

    And this is assuming that these societies are dominated by collective motivations, which is not really the case. Even cultures which are collectivist still tended to be obsessed with rising and falling in their individual status and its implications on their ability to marry and their personal reputation – just as selective pressures being on individual fitness would predict (kin based group selection is vapourware).

    Clan based structures are not happy places for incompetents within the clan to be placed, as far from being beneficiaries who are frequently promoted beyond their status or who can make demands of successful relatives, their status will be low, and their supplications to clan authority will be subject to harshly hierarchical subordination to what the high status in the family think is good for the overall unit.

    (For anyone who does believe that close family structures are always to benefit of low status family members, or anyone who just wants to read a great piece of journalism, check out https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/06/lolas-story/524490/“My Family’s Slave” by the late Alex Tizon, which among other aspects shines a light on the sort of thing which can befall lower status family members. It’s not all cushty positions and non-repaid loans, far from it.)

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  19. Beyond theory though, Europeans had lots of experiences when they encountered the Chinese (supposedly “High Kinship Intensity”) and Japanese. But their observations, were not really I don’t think, of the form that the Mandarins were incompetents who were promoted beyond the competence, or that the Shogun’s men were incompetent nepotistic promotions. Nor were the armies of the Western Europe (and certainly not pre-Enlightenment) in any way meritocratic (purchase of rank was common).

    The problems they had with these countries civil service were more related to outdated technology and an insufficient tax base, not a tradition of government that was in any way ineffectual due to corruption or the appointment of bureaucrats who lacked competency (if anything, the opposite was true; the bureaucracy was limited by its traditions of meritocratic rectitude in civil servants). Those issues could relate to kin structure in society, but also viably not (the usual argument is that they relate to a system of stable competing warring states which intensified military spending, and so tax, but were unable to cohere into a single empire).

    Neither did they find that low Kinship Intensity Index societies outside of the West, such as Russia’s Tsarist bureaucracy, had particuliary uncorrupt states with meritocratic bureaucracies.

    Also consider Greg Clark’s “The Son Also Rises”.

    Clark finds a constant rate of social mobility between societies.
    This has a clear implication for notions that societies with stronger kinship are able to successfully entrench themselves in positions of high status for longer, beyond actual advantages in competency.

    What does it tell us that “individualistic” Western societies have had about the same rate of surname mobility over time s societies with supposedly high kinship intensity…?

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  20. @Matt: I’m not sure about the map to begin with, because if you put France and Russia in the same category, even for, let’s say the 19th century, you are not on the right track.

    I agree with you on some points about the the clan system being efficient, but, they are just not as efficient and mobile. In the West you had kinship and support too, but the difference is in magnitude. In the societies I had in mind you are part of a real clan, of a bigger structure which intermingles with everything and goes very, very deep.

    That a son follows the father if he is no complete failure is also part of what I said: You build up genetic and cultural competence over generations. Only the first generationers of upward mobile families are more caused by chance. From then on, because of homogamy and further social selection, it becomes a trend in a family to either go up, stay or going down. And a society is ruined if those moving up have less children than those incapable, staying or moving down.

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  21. Sure, it may be wrong to put France and Russia in the same category of Kinship Intensity. But that is what their variable does of course, and if that variable is actually mischaracterizing what is actually important about kinship, something deeper is wrong with their study.

    I guess I’m interested in comparing predictions from their model with reality – they’re not just trying to show why societies are “Individualist” but that “Individualism” (I) predicts why “the West” (W) was apparently innovative in new technology and science, and leads to being “Educated, Rich, and Developed” (ERD), which is presumably in their model driven by the fact that innovators can experience more social mobility of destiny in an individualistic society. Why else would I lead to ERD?

    But how does this fit with Clark’s find of a constant of social mobility between pre-modern Western and other societies? (“Gregory Clark reveals that mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated, do not vary across societies, and are resistant to social policies … Clark examines and compares surnames in such diverse cases as modern Sweden and Qing Dynasty China”) Shouldn’t a society with more genuine individualism and lower kinship intensity have lower surname persistence over time? (Or at least surnames move in a more “chunky” all or nothing persistence in high KII societies to reflect that lineal members rise and fall together?).

    The ideas that “Individualism” and low kinship intensity causes efficiency in government through better talent allocation also interested me for the same reason, as an explanation for divergence. Does the evidence show pre-modern states had bureaucratic efficiencies that matched with their kinship intensity variable or match with modern day collectivism? It seems that many states with low intensity of kinship as rated by their variable here (and Russia is one, but Mexico for instance, is also equally low) have had inefficient and corrupt bureaucracies, while some with high kinship intensity like China seem to have been relatively effective when encountered by Europeans. Possibly this is because ordinary corruption of friends and allies simply replaces any kinship corruption, which is anyway kept in check by motivations that are self preserving and kin group preserving. Neither does efficiency in allocating government positions really seem too plausible an explanation for the Great Divergence anyway…

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  22. It’s a complete fallacy to look at the modern United States and claim that this is what Western success was about. Rather, the extreme WEIRDness is just that, the extreme end of a development in a similar direction with all positive and negative consequences, but thats not the same as the root of the occidental success.

    What makes kin based societies unstable is the competition along the tribal and clan based affiliations. A nation state with low extended kinship importance and ethnocultural homogeneity can fully concentrate on the development of his institutions and efficiency instead of constantly balancing the different ethnicities and clans out. The state is more than the price for the strongest group.

    Europe had a great cultural and genetic base for its development, but what it also had were nation states which communicated and competed with each other.
    China and Japan had a similar background until they were united under one rule.

    Like with genes, its not isolation nor panmixture which is ideal, but a large meta-population with competing subpopulations which are in constant communication with each other without fusing regularly.
    Christianity did not just create more individualism and reduced kinship importance, made corruption a clear sin and founded individual moral, but created a cultural network beyond the relatively stable nation states.
    Rome had itself and unequals to compare with. If something went wrong nobody showed them how to make it better.
    In Europe while competing with each other, even in defeat the state cultures constantly learned from each other.

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  23. Even something as important as science and the univerities were growing because of the church AND the competition between states, which wanted to have those prestigious and important institutions and advancements in their country too, not staying behind the development of another competitor. Similarly, space programs would have been much slower and weaker without the cold war competition between the USA and the Soviet Union.

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