March 11, 2015

Genetic pacification of Western Europeans (?)

Evolutionary Psychology – 2015. 13(1): 230-243

Western Europe, State Formation, and Genetic Pacification

Peter Frost, Henry C. Harpending

Through its monopoly on violence, the State tends to pacify social relations. Such pacification proceeded slowly in Western Europe between the 5th and 11th centuries, being hindered by the rudimentary nature of law enforcement, the belief in a man’s right to settle personal disputes as he saw fit, and the Church’s opposition to the death penalty. These hindrances began to dissolve in the 11th century with a consensus by Church and State that the wicked should be punished so that the good may live in peace. Courts imposed the death penalty more and more often and, by the late Middle Ages, were condemning to death between 0.5 and 1.0% of all men of each generation, with perhaps just as many offenders dying at the scene of the crime or in prison while awaiting trial. Meanwhile, the homicide rate plummeted from the 14th century to the 20th. The pool of violent men dried up until most murders occurred under conditions of jealousy, intoxication, or extreme stress. The decline in personal violence is usually attributed to harsher punishment and the longer-term effects of cultural conditioning. It may also be, however, that this new cultural environment selected against propensities for violence.

Link (pdf)


Fiend of 9 worlds said...


pnuadha said...

wow. the irony of the last statement.

batman said...

Aha! So European civilization and "state formation" was invented by the church?

Well - of coure, Doc. Finally I understand that it's not me, but You Sir, that are Napoleon.

eurologist said...

"The pool of violent men dried up ..."

This is complete garbage, since even in the 20th and 21st century capital punishment is at best erratic and often aimed at the wrong persons.

In late medieval times, surely capital punishment was mostly a personal vendetta of the rich, ruling parties and had nothing to do with actual crimes.

On the contrary, long-standing wars beyond the Swedish invasions and the 30-year war would have selected for violence, but obviously did not.

Generally speaking, a few hundred years here and there do not select for such traits.

UncleTomRuckusInGoodWhiteWorld said...

Uhm, so how do you explain Russia?

Ross said...

Interesting that Western Europeans and their descendants (USA, Canada, Australia, NZ)fought more and bloodier wars in the 20th century than anyone else.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this, as it touches on what might become the subject of my Master's Thesis: "Are we selecting for 'tameness' in our own species?"

In a study tangentally related to the one you shared (, dogs were genetically analysed, alongside famous tamed, gray, Russian foxes (the only other domesticated canid), comparing them to their wild kin (wolves and wild foxes). It was hypothesised (even, dare I say it, hoped), especially in the dog, that perhaps we'd selected for *intelligence,* which led to docility. However, their results indicated two things: 1) intelligence is not closely correlated to docility, and 2) we mainly selected for docility by choosing animals whose genes for *aggression* were non-functional mutant versions (and almost as an aside, 3) while we were selecting for docility, we accidentally selected for lower intelligence, even though they aren't related).

I want to take this research a step further and find the human and other great ape analogues to canid aggressive/docile genes/SNPs. As I will be doing preliminary work, I will be presuming that *any* changes between our great ape cousins and us is a result of a complex combination of natural, sexual, and/or other forms of outside selection (such as social control via killing off violently aggressive men who reach child-siring age before they father kids, as in the article you shared).

That brings me to the next step: testing to see if are we selecting for docility *today* by cultural means, such as those mentioned in this Frost et al study. For instance, I believe that our incarceration rate in the U.S. is potentially impactful on both aggressiveness and intelligence, potentially reducing the prior, while increasing the latter. Now, if I can show that we *are* selecting for and against specific genes, will that bring about an ethical quandary, or will people welcome the idea that we can breed ourselves out of criminality? Could this lead effectively to 'genetic sterilisation' of at least men (possibly women too?) who possess "too aggressive" genes? Do we require aggressiveness to stimulate us to protect ourselves sometimes? Does aggressiveness affect ego to the end that it affects the very will to do science? And once the vast majority is pacified at the genetic level, how do we prevent ourselves from being taken over by one majorly aggro asshole, like a Saddam Hussein? I have confidence we will prevail in peace, however questions like these will arise, so we might as well discuss how such selection might affect us for good or ill.

Grey said...

Makes sense imo.

I think it happened other places too but earlier. The European case sticks out because it came relatively late and so was recorded.

Fiend of 9 worlds said...

Eurologist - violence of this nature is nothing like being in the army. People like that who have outbreaks of random violence get weeded out there quickly.

Saxon law for example was hilariously light in most of its nonpolitical punishments. There were incredible rates of serious crime even though the political powers were firmly in control.

It's always been obvious to me that the relatively pacific nature of europeans and east asians did not come out of the blue but only after discovery of farming and successive generations of punishing crime. Even nonlethal punishments are also more than a deterrent, they have an effect on reproductive success of criminals as well, especially when economy is tight as has always been the case until modern golden age of easy living.

Fanty said...

I read statements like this (not exactly like this but broader) years ago.

Back then it was claimed that "culture" does affect the genepool.
It would produce people that better fit into that kind of culture and weed out missfits.

Fanty said...

"On the contrary, long-standing wars beyond the Swedish invasions and the 30-year war would have selected for violence, but obviously did not."

Longstanding wars select for cowardice, not for violence. ;)

Because in a war, the brave die and the cowards live. ;-)

What kind of reminds me of some of HItlers last utterings.

He said, the German civilisation should be eliminated to the last. Because the good ones have fallen in the ones who are worthy to continue their bloodlines have fallen on the battlefields now. And everyone who is still alive, is worthless blood. So stripped from the blood of heroes, Germany has no future anymore. So it better dies now....

Katharós said...

At the end of the day it’s more a state of mind than anything else.
Western nations may reflect their violence outwards against a more or less diffuse enemy, as state run violence. In contrast to other "nations" that reflect their violence inwards against each other, based on tribal, religious or other conditions.
I would say it’s more a condition of the mind, of how the majority in a state define them self.
In the case of Europe, as a by-product of absolutism.


Mr. Spock: Interesting. You Earth people glorify organized violence for 40 centuries, but you imprison those who employ it privately.

Grey said...


"Interesting that Western Europeans and their descendants (USA, Canada, Australia, NZ)fought more and bloodier wars in the 20th century than anyone else."

One follows from the other. The decline in interpersonal violence leads to more organized states and bigger armies.

China was the same but a lot earlier.

eurologist said...

Let me explain my statement a bit more.

Firstly, during the wars I mentioned, most soldiers were mercenaries. While eventually conditions got so bad that young people just signed up to have food, they definitely didn't fight for glory. Most people who died were not soldiers but the general public (about 2/3 of the population) - due to food shortages and disease.

Battles were short, only lasting a few minutes, followed by retreat. The majority of soldiers had a good chance to survive. The most reproductive ones were those who stole the most food from farmers and raped the most women (both violent traits), and of course also those who in addition were smart to avoid serious injury or death, and smart enough to marry a local farmer's daughter after the war was over (there was a shortage of acceptable men).

apostateimpressions said...

"Back then it was claimed that "culture" does affect the genepool.
It would produce people that better fit into that kind of culture and weed out missfits."

Fanty, Nietzsche writes about the effect of culture, especially Christianity on genetic personality.

This is an extract from Zarathustra's Prologue, on The Last Man. The culture is in danger of domesticating "herd" citizens to mediocrity and compliance to the point of no return. He later talks in Zarathustra about how the misfits, the dissatisfied, are the potential ancestors of the superman.


When Zarathustra had spoken these words, he again looked at the people, and was silent. "There they stand," said he to his heart; "there they laugh: they understand me not; I am not the mouth for these ears.

Must one first batter their ears, that they may learn to hear with their eyes? Must one clatter like kettledrums and penitential preachers? Or do they only believe the stammerer?

They have something whereof they are proud. What do they call it, that which maketh them proud? Culture, they call it; it distinguisheth them from the goatherds.

They dislike, therefore, to hear of 'contempt' of themselves. So I will appeal to their pride.

I will speak unto them of the most contemptible thing: that, however, is THE LAST MAN!"

And thus spake Zarathustra unto the people:

It is time for man to fix his goal. It is time for man to plant the germ of his highest hope.

Still is his soil rich enough for it. But that soil will one day be poor and exhausted, and no lofty tree will any longer be able to grow thereon.

Alas! there cometh the time when man will no longer launch the arrow of his longing beyond man—and the string of his bow will have unlearned to whizz!

I tell you: one must still have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: ye have still chaos in you.

Alas! There cometh the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There cometh the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself.

Lo! I show you THE LAST MAN.

"What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?"—so asketh the last man and blinketh.

The earth hath then become small, and on it there hoppeth the last man who maketh everything small. His species is ineradicable like that of the ground-flea; the last man liveth longest.

"We have discovered happiness"—say the last men, and blink thereby.

They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loveth one's neighbour and rubbeth against him; for one needeth warmth.

Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbleth over stones or men!

A little poison now and then: that maketh pleasant dreams. And much poison at last for a pleasant death.

One still worketh, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

One no longer becometh poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wanteth to rule? Who still wanteth to obey? Both are too burdensome.

No shepherd, and one herd! Every one wanteth the same; every one is equal: he who hath other sentiments goeth voluntarily into the madhouse.

"Formerly all the world was insane,"—say the subtlest of them, and blink thereby.

They are clever and know all that hath happened: so there is no end to their raillery. People still fall out, but are soon reconciled—otherwise it spoileth their stomachs.

They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

"We have discovered happiness,"—say the last men, and blink thereby.—

Gary said...

Both the United States and Russia as well as the other former Soviet Union display much higher than average homicide rates. An interesting point: murders in the US tend to be concentrated among descendants of the enslaved population. Likewise, serfdom was abolished in the former Russian empire about the same time as it was banned in America.

Fanty said...

"Nietzsche writes about the effect of culture, especially Christianity on genetic personality."

Reading Nietzsche about Christianity is like reading a Book, written by the Nazis, if you want to know something about Jews. ;)

LivoniaG said...

This paper is amazing. It’s like reading a blind person’s description of the color of a rose. The essential things are exactly the things they leave out.

First of all, the article about some kind of genetic condition that creates some kind of impulse to use violence to the point of murdering someone. But for a very long time, legal “murder” has been the exact opposite of impulsive killing. The essence of the murder charge is premeditation -- planned, cold-blooded, calculated killing. Classically, the murder charge needs “malice afterthought.”

The crime of murder has not been about people who are ready with violence or impulsively can’t help but kill people. It’s been about those who coldly plan to kill someone. The authors don’t know that or don’t care.

Of course, if these were truly impulsive killers, there is no reason to think they would “defend their kin,” as the authors seem to think. The economics of inheritance made their kin the first to kill, as so many noble families showed in the Middle Ages. (In fact, the most punitive and publicized Roman laws again homicide, that survived into the Middle Ages, were against patricides and killing other relatives.)

The article says the old laws didn’t call for the death penalty for homicide but instead monetary damages. That’s true. But it’s mainly because homicide was first of all an economic crime. Not only the family of the victim could demand a pay out, but also a landlord who lost rent. The word “murder” itself first referred to the killing of a foreign merchant and the fine the community would have to pay to the king if the killer wasn’t found. The king lost tax money and someone would have to pay. The essence of the crime was not revenge or defense. It was economic loss. Revenge simply increased the economic loss to the upper classes.

And, of course, there was no better time to be a paid killer than the early Middle Ages. If you read the chronicles of the post-Roman era, you’ll see there were daily combat during the whole period, not between “states” but between paid armies. It’s not a joke that the Truce of God adopted in the 900s finally banned hostilities on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

From Caesar to William the Conquerer, the speeches of their leaders was about nothing but the economic rewards of victory.

And, until the reforms of the 1800’s, by far most laws prescribing the death penalty were not about homicides. They were economic crimes. “222 crimes were punishable by death in Britain, including stealing, cutting down a tree, and robbing a rabbit warren...”

The funniest quote from the article is “...The violent young male goes from hero to zero. At best, he is pushed to the margins of society and forced to consort with prostitutes.”

Yeah, that would really cut back on reproduction. Being “forced” to consort with dozens of prostitutes instead of one wife.