Arnold Kling  

A Patriarchy Complex?

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Phillip Longman writes,


Advanced societies are growing more patriarchal, whether they like it or not. In addition to the greater fertility of conservative segments of society, the rollback of the welfare state forced by population aging and decline will give these elements an additional survival advantage, and therefore spur even higher fertility. As governments hand back functions they once appropriated from the family, notably support in old age, people will find that they need more children to insure their golden years, and they will seek to bind their children to them through inculcating traditional religious values akin to the Bible’s injunction to honor thy mother and father.

Societies that are today the most secular and the most generous with their underfunded welfare states will be the most prone to religious revivals and a rebirth of the patriarchal family. The absolute population of Europe and Japan may fall dramatically, but the remaining population will, by a process similar to survival of the fittest, be adapted to a new environment in which no one can rely on government to replace the family, and in which a patriarchal God commands family members to suppress their individualism and submit to father.


Elsewhere in the essay, Longman is even more natalist than my co-blogger.

My own view is that we have reached the point where technological change is faster than demographic change. For example, I expect nanotechnology and surveillance technology to have a much bigger military impact over the next 30 years than will demographic changes.

Technology also may enable people to enjoy affluence in old age without a large cohort of children to support them. See The Great Race.

So I think that I mostly disagree with Longman. Still, it is interesting to speculate on populations that, like the Shakers, essentially un-breed themselves out of existence. I wonder, for example, if liberal attitudes about homosexuality, which reduce the pressure on homosexuals to marry and have children in order to appear normal, will lower the amount of homosexuality in the gene pool at some point.


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CATEGORIES: Economics and Culture



COMMENTS (12 to date)
Matt McIntosh writes:

You're presuming homosexuality is genetic to begin with. It almost certainly isn't; the selection equations just don't work. A gene (or gene complex) that caused preferential homosexuality couldn't possibly persist at rates greater than 0.1% without some additional fitness benefits, but according to survey data the number of gays in North America is greater than ten times that. And there doesn't seem to be any appreciable reproductive fitness benefits associated with homosexuality.

So the default hypothesis here should be that it isn't genetic. It's most likely either pathogenic or due to prenatal hormone imbalances during critical periods of gestation.

silvermine writes:

But if it's due to maternal factors (prenatal hormones, for instance) that's still going to have a significant genetic component. Just a little harder to track than more directly-acing genes.

Randy writes:

Populations change over time. Survival of the fittest and all that. But I don't see any reason to draw any conclusions from this fact. Life isn't lived as a race, a group, or a class. It is lived as a person.

Generations alternate... Mainstream parents, from all points of view, can have atheist anarho-capitalist children which in turn can have radical islamist children.

Re: homosexuality, maybe it's like just any other sexual perference... i.e. starting with a biological basis, life events give a shape.

I read a study saying that british boys are more likely to get a rubber/latex fetish because as children they are sent to school with those yellow rubber coats.

It seems that those sensations imprints on their developing psyche, especially since they're at a development-sensitive stage (remember Freud's stages!) so it sticks with them.

Maybe certain experiences in early childhood make otherwise modal children "turn" gay.

In other words, it might not be biological at all, but rather completely psychological.

Matt McIntosh writes:

Silvermine -- The mother's genes could possibly predispose her more toward the conditions that result in having the occaisional homosexual child (the fitness cost to the mother's genes would be lower here, though not non-trivial), but there's no a priori reason to think that variance in this would be due to genetic factors. It could be entirely explicable by environmental factors. That would be a good question to explore once the cause of preferential homosexuality is fully understood, but my point was just that it almost certainly isn't directly genetic.

Matt McIntosh writes:

Gabiriel, there's a reason why that Freudian stuff isn't taken seriously. It makes no sense to say "it might not be biological at all, but rather completely psychological" because our brains are part of our biology. For it to be plausible you'd have to propose a mechanism that would somehow allow sexual orientation to be flipped like a switch, and show that there's a good evolutionary reason for that to be allowed to happen normally. And it would have to be strong enough to overcome the obvious evolutionary reason for it not to be allowed to happen.

Matt McIntosh writes:

Urgh. Corrections: "not non-trivial" should simply read "non-trivial," and apologies to Gabriel for typoing his name.

Dezakin writes:

"You're presuming homosexuality is genetic to begin with. It almost certainly isn't; the selection equations just don't work. A gene (or gene complex) that caused preferential homosexuality couldn't possibly persist at rates greater than 0.1% without some additional fitness benefits, but according to survey data the number of gays in North America is greater than ten times that. And there doesn't seem to be any appreciable reproductive fitness benefits associated with homosexuality. "

Right, and sickle-cell anemia is impossible also. You dont know a damned thing about genetics.

Matt McIntosh writes:

Gee Dezakin, nice reading skills. You seem to have completely missed the "...without some additional fitness benefits" bit, which was admittedly a gloss but should have been enough of a tipoff that I do, in fact, know a thing or two about genetics. Sickle cell anemia is caused by having two copies of the sickle cell allele and is a necessary by-product of strong selection for heterozygosity in malaria-ridden regions.

It follows the Hardy-Weinberg equation: 1=p^2+2pq+q^2, where p=relative frequency of allele A at a locus and q=relative frequency of allelle a at a locus. p-squared is homozygosity and q-squared is non-sickle homozygosity, which both get you death by either anemia or malaria respectively. Heterozygotes (2pq) are immune and suffer no ill effects, but random mating and assortment ensures that the population will never be 100% heterozygous. Hence there's a persistent level of sickle cell anemia.

So, in order for this model to apply to homosexuality you'd have to show that there's some sort of massive fitness benefit on the level of sickle heterozygosity that causes homosexuality to persist at levels >1%, which more than makes up for the fitness costs of preferential homosexuality. This is a pretty tall order and I don't see it readily in evidence. If you know something I don't, by all means share it with the class. It's a lot more helpful than presuming about what I do or don't know.

Matt McIntosh writes:

BTW: depending on which studies you go by, MZ twins are between 50% (Bailey & Pillard 1991) and 75% (King & McDonald 1992) discordant for preferential homosexuality. This is another pretty huge dent in the "gay gene" idea.

Dezakin writes:

Given that that is significantly higher predictive than the base 5-10% in general population, it certainly isn't a dent in the notion. The 'gay gene' meme is only that sexual orientation is partly genetic and partly environmental, like just about every other personality trait you can think of.

As for fitness benifits, that would be reasonable if there were only one gene for sexual orientation, which is fairly silly. Its most likely an interelation between groups of genes.

Matt McIntosh writes:

Of course it's silly, but you're the one who brought up sickle-cell as if it were comparable to preferential homosexuality, not me.

"The 'gay gene' meme is only that sexual orientation is partly genetic and partly environmental, like just about every other personality trait you can think of."

And you say *I* don't know what I'm talking about? No, there are plenty of traits that are not environmental at all, and you would logically expect sexual orientation to be among them. The fact that humans like sugar has nothing to do with environment. We're not talking about something like intelligence or introversion/extroversion here. From a fitness point of view, sexual preference is as important as nutrition, and what you're proposing is as if there was some genetic element that predisposed people to eat rocks instead of meat or vegetables. It makes zero sense.

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