Arnold Kling  

Challenging My Most Absurd Belief

Behavioral Politics... Hansonism...

J. Carter Wood writes,

presumably Kling would have to argue that the same now-and-then relationship would also apply when exchanging babies born in Stockholm in 1600 and 1740? Remember, there appears to have been at least a 10-fold decline in violence in the intervening time.

I encourage you to read the entire post.

In my original post, what I said was that my most absurd belief is that human nature has changed. I did not say that a change in human nature accounts for all of the cultural improvements that have occurred the past 300 years. My absurd belief is that human nature has changed enough to make a noticeable difference. However, I am not brave enough to suggest that most of the difference in, for example, the propensity toward violence, is due to a change in human nature. Institutions (in Douglass North's broad sense of the term) matter.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Blackadder writes:

If you think human nature has changed over the past 300 years, my questions would be: (1) why? (2) how? What is the evidence that there has been a change in human nature, and what is the mechanism by which this change occurred?

J.C. Wood writes:

Thanks for the link. I hope you read my commentary in the (challenging-yet-friendly) spirit intended...

Why not take your argument one step further and say that if human nature has changed, than it is because human institutions have changed?

Institutional change (up to now!) has been very, very slow on the time scale of individual human life. Couple that with the loss of institutional memory caused by death, and you have an explanation for your observation (which is essentially correct, on my view) that human nature has improved over the centuries -- but very, very slowly.

It's difficult to be quantitative about these things. But the way to start is to be clear-eyed about our qualitative analysis, ignoring the people who disagree but cannot provide REASONS for their disagreement.

Dan Weber writes:

Human behavior can evolve not just through human DNA, but also through bacteria. If this is a time in history when being less violent is a benefit, the bacteria that make us less aggressive will promulgate. Most babies are colonized with their mother's bacteria during birth, so transporting live babies back 300 years might have that effect, and it just might propogate to other humans around them. (Or they might end up overwhelmed and colonized by the "violent" bacteria they're surrounded by.)

The role of bacteria is a whole 'nother wrinkle in the nature-versus-nurture debate. I'm not enough of a biologist to be able to say just big a role that is.

Independent George writes:

Aaaagh - white text on black background! Why?!!

Floccina writes:

Just my observation but it seems to me that breeders have bred much of agressiveness out of dogs in just the last 30 years.

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