Luxury, Fertility, and Demographic Suicide

Luxury in the fair sex, while it inflames perhaps the passion for enjoyment, seems always to weaken and frequently to destroy altogether, the powers of generation.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

The demographic collapse in advanced modern countries, coupled with overpopulation in poor countries, has a precedent in classical antiquity. Two types of problem should be distinguished: (1) differential fertility within a society, nation, or race, in which the intelligent and successful breed less then the poor and improvident, and (2) subreplacement fertility, leading to a collapse of population across the board.

The latter occurred in third century B.C. Greece, in the years leading up to the Roman conquest. As Polybius wrote:

In our own time the whole of Greece has been subject to a low birth rate and a general decrease of the population, owing to which cities have become deserted and the land has ceased to yield fruit, although there have neither been continuous wars nor epidemics …. For as men had fallen into such a state of pretentiousness, avarice, and indolence that they did not wish to marry, or if they married to rear the children born to them, or at most as a rule but one or two of them, so as to leave these in affluence and bring them up to waste their substance, the evil rapidly and insensibly grew.*

Luxury and self-indulgence led to the neglect of child rearing. The Boeotians in particular exemplified this trend:

Childless men, when they died, did not leave their property to their nearest heirs, as had formerly been the custom there, but disposed of it for purposes of junketing and banqueting and made it the common property of their friends. Even many who had families distributed the greater part of their fortune among their clubs, so that there were many Boeotians who had more feasts to attend each month than there were days in it.

Nor were the ill effects of luxury confined to fertility. Luxury also led to intellectual impoverishment – “abandoning themselves to good cheer and strong drink sapped the energy not only of their bodies but of their minds” – and submission to a foreign power. Polybius states that the cause of the indolence of the Boeotians was the welfare state. His description of the corrupting effects of the welfare state serves as well today as it did then.

public affairs in Boeotia had fallen into such a state of disorder that for nearly twenty-five years justice, both civil and criminal, had ceased to be administered there, the magistrates by issuing orders, some of them for the dispatch of garrisons and others for general campaigns, always contriving to abolish legal proceedings. Certain strategoi [literally, generals – but in this period, the strategoi were more politicians than military leaders] even provided pay out of the public funds for the indigent, the populace thus learning to court and invest with power those men who would help them to escape the legal consequences of their crimes and debts and even in addition to get something out of the public funds as a favour from the magistrates. The chief abettor of these abuses was Opheltas, who was constantly contriving some scheme apparently calculated to benefit the populace for the moment, but perfectly sure to ruin everyone at the end. Incident upon all this was another most unfortunate mania. [the passage quoted above follows]

Parallel events can be observed in ancient Rome. While there is some evidence that Roman population did decline in the latter empire, before the barbarian tribes overran it, this is hard to document. Better evidence exists for the former type of problem – low upper-class fertility. We have seen Juvenal, writing in the second century, assert that rich women were disinclined to bear children.

These poor women, however, endure the perils of child-birth, and all the troubles of nursing to which their lot condemns them; but how often does a gilded bed contain a woman that is lying in? So great is the skill, so powerful the drugs, of the abortionist, paid to murder mankind within the womb.

The Julian law, established by Augustus Caeser in 18 B.C., was an attempt to deal with the decline in Patrician fertility that threatened the Roman elite. Men were required to marry, and bachelors taxed. The problem of low fertility among rich women went back to the second century B.C., luxury having gained a secure foothold in Rome only after the Second Punic war, when the example of Scipio Africanus began to weaken the traditional mos maiorum. Augustus introduced the Julian law by quoting a speech given by Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus, once a consul and then a censor, in 131 B.C., in which he said

If we could survive without a wife, citizens of Rome, all of us would do without that nuisance; but since nature has so decreed that we cannot manage comfortably with them, nor live in any way without them, we must plan for our lasting preservation rather than for our temporary pleasure.

We are in the same position today. The world will be peopled. If we want it to be peopled by our kindred, by people who will preserve our history and all we hold most holy, and want thereby to attain a kind of immortality** – if we want this, we must produce those people ourselves. Neither magic nor prayers will avail us.


* The context of the passage is significant. Polybius is making the point that we are responsible for our fates, and that demographic collapse ought to be fought by marrying, rearing many children, and passing laws to ensure that

For my part, in finding fault with those who ascribe public events and incidents in private life to Fate and Chance, I now wish to state my opinion on this subject as far as it is admissible to do so in a strictly historical work. Now indeed as regards things the causes of which it is impossible or difficult for a mere man to understand, we may perhaps be justified in getting out of the difficulty by setting them down to the action of a god or of chance, I mean such things as exceptionally heavy and continuous rain or snow, or on the other hand the destruction of crops by severe drought or frost, or a persistent outbreak of plague or other similar things of which it is not easy to detect the cause. So in regard to such matters we naturally bow to popular opinion, as we cannot make out why they happen, and attempting by prayer and sacrifice to appease the heavenly powers, we send to ask the gods what we must do and say, to set things right and cause the evil that afflicts us to cease. But as for matters the efficient and final cause of which it is possible to discover we should not, I think, put them down to divine action. For instance, take the following case. In our own time the whole of Greece has been subject to a low birth-rate and a general decrease of the population, owing to which cities have become deserted and the land has ceased to yield fruit, although there have neither been continuous wars nor epidemics. If, then, any one had advised us to send and ask the gods about this, and find out what we ought to say or do, to increase in number and make our cities more populous, would it not seem absurd, the cause of the evil being evident and the remedy being in our own hands? For as men had fallen into such a state of pretentiousness, avarice, and indolence that they did not wish to marry, or if they married to rear the children born to them, or at most as a rule but one or two of them, so as to leave these in affluence and bring them up to waste their substance, the evil rapidly and insensibly grew. For in cases where of one or two children the one was carried off by war and the other by sickness, it is evident that the houses must have been left unoccupied, and as in the case of swarms of bees, so by small degrees cities became resourceless and feeble. About this it was of no use at all to ask the gods to suggest a means of deliverance from such an evil. For any ordinary man will tell you that the most effectual cure had to be men’s own action, in either striving after other objects, or if not, in passing laws making it compulsory to rear children. Neither prophets nor magic were here of any service.

** Many times Man lives and dies / between his two eternities / that of Race and that of Soul

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Luxury, Slavery, and Decline

In this post on Juvenal I highlighted his explanation of Roman decadence as the consequence of luxury. [We are now suffering the evils of a long peace. Luxury, more deadly than war, broods over the city, and avenges a conquered world.]

Such ideas are a commonplace in the ancient world, and also the early modern – Byron, for example, identified a cycle of luxury and decadence as the pattern of all history. This appears prominently in Herodotus, who saw the freedom of the ancient Greeks as the product of hardship, in contrast with eastern imperial luxury, as F. Roger Devlin explains here.

The Roman historian Tacitus noted that acquiring a taste for luxury was an important step in the reduction of barbarian tribes to servitude, for when “a liking sprang up for our style of dress, and the “toga” became fashionable. Step by step they were led to things which dispose to vice, the lounge, the bath, the elegant banquet. All this in their ignorance they called civilisation, when it was but a part of their servitude.” The same had happened to the Romans under the empire: “the charm of indolence steals over us, and the idleness which at first we loathed we afterwards love.”

Not are such ideas new in the American context. Dan Beard, founder of the Sons of Daniel Boone (later merged into the Boy Scouts), saw things similarly. He wrote:

The writer has emphasized the danger of edged tools for beginners, but he did that to make them careful in the use of the axe, not to discourage them in acquiring skill with it. We must remember that there is nothing in life that is not dangerous, and the greatest danger of all is not firearms, is not edged tools, is not wild beasts, is not tornadoes or earthquakes, avalanches or floods, but it is LUXURY ; expressed in boy language, it is ice cream, soda water, candy, servants and automobiles; it is everything which tends to make a boy dependent upon others and soft in mind and muscle and to make him a sissy. But hardship, in the sense of undergoing privation and doing hard work like chopping trees and sawing logs, makes a rugged body, a clean, healthy mind, and gives long life. So, boys, don’t be afraid to build your own little shack, shanty or shelter, to chop the kindling wood for your mother, to split up logs for the fun of doing it, or just to show that you know how. Don’t be afraid to be a real pioneer so that you may grow up to be a real Abe Lincoln ! If I am talking to men, they need no detailed definition of luxury ; they know all about it, its cause and its effect ; they also know that luxury kills a race and hardship preserves a race. The American boy should be taught to love hardship for hardship’s sake, and then the Americans as a race will be a success, and a lasting one.

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The Flynn effect does not disprove dysgenics

Intelligence does not always aid in the search for truth. For those without good character, intelligence often merely enables the invention of sophisticated rationalizations for one’s prejudices. Intelligent people often find themselves able to win any debate they enter through superior mental agility, and consequently never bother to inquire seriously into the facts or arguments pertaining to the issues about which they believe themselves to be knowledgeable.

You can see this phenomenon in this xkcd cartoon:

The self-rightous character points out that despite our dysgenic fertility patterns, average IQ is increasing (the Flynn effect). This is true, but ignores the difference between genotype and phenotype. Take a parallel example, replacing intelligence by height. Suppose we knew that short people were reproducing at higher rates than tall people. Since height is largely genetic and heritable, we could conclude that people were getting shorter on the level of genes. If average height were increasing, we could conclude that some other factor was in play – improving nutrition, perhaps. Since such environmental benefits can’t continue to increase height at the present rate indefinitely (no matter how good your nutrition you can’t make yourself a foot taller) the effect will eventually peter out, and the decrease in height determined by fertility patterns will set in.

The same applies mutatis mutandis for intelligence.

(The turn to moral and social decline in the latter panels is not just a non sequitor, but also completely wrong. More harm has been caused by panic over decline than by decline itself? Dude… ever heard of the collapse of Rome? Building technology and sanitation didn’t reach Roman levels until the 19th century. Or how about comparing Greece in classical antiquity versus today.)

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In Search of the Rational Anti-Racist, part 9: Francis Galson

Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, was an important pioneer in statistical research and the inventor of the term eugenics. He was one of the first thinkers to concern himself with the scientific study of heredity in humans. In his book Hereditary Genius Galton aimed “to investigate whether and in what degree natural ability was hereditarily transmitted.” We will look at Galton’s conclusions on race, as well as his general vision of human improvement.

He was cautious about theorizing on race, observing (as did Hume) that many writers express dubious generalizations about race very freely, but noted the importance of race in colonial policy:

The importance to be attached to race is a question that deserves a far larger measure of exact investigation than it receives. We are exceedingly ignorant of the respective ranges of the natural and acquired faculties in different races, and there is too great a tendency among writers to dogmatise wildly about them, some grossly magnifying, others as greatly minimising their several provinces. It seems however possible to answer this question unambiguously, difficult as it is.

The recent attempts by many European nations to utilize Africa for their own purposes gives immediate and practical interest to inquiries that bear on the transplantation of races. They compel us to face the question as to what races should be politically aided to become hereafter the chief occupiers of that continent. The varieties of Negroes, Bantus, Arab half-breeds, and others who now inhabit Africa are very numerous, and they differ much from one another in their natural qualities. Some of them must be more suitable than others to thrive under that form of moderate civilization which is likely to be introduced into Africa by Europeans, who will enforce justice and order, excite a desire among the natives for comforts and luxuries, and make steady industry, almost a condition of living at all. Such races would spread and displace the others by degrees. Or it may prove that the Negroes, one and all, will fail as completely under the new conditions as they have failed under the old ones, to submit to the needs of a superior civilization to their own; in this case their races, numerous and prolific as they are, will in course of time be supplanted and replaced by their betters.

He studied examples of eminent men in pursuits both intellectual and athletic, such as outstanding literary men, scientists, poets, painters, rowers, wrestlers, and so on. He is not concerned with IQ – that concept is unknown to him, so he is concerned with ability more generally (although the abilities he considers do covary with IQ). He examined genealogies to see to what extent excellence ran in families, and then attempted to determine in each case whether the man’s achievement was due to innate talent or the encouragement of the family.

While Galton’s methodology is limited, and cannot definitively rule out environmental explanations, his book is still a very interesting first attempt at studying the problem he chose, and one whose conclusions have been to a great extent borne out by later work.

Men are to be divided by talent according to a alphabetical scheme, so that men who are one grade above the mean are type A, those who are one grade below are type a, those two grades above are type B, those two grades below type b, and so on. Galton’s “grades” are determined according to the following table.

Today we would do this according to variance, so that grade A was (say) .5 standard deviations above the mean, grade B was 1.0 standard deviation above, grade C 1.5 above, etc. Plugging the numbers Galton uses in his third column from the left (“Proportionate, viz. one in”) into a standard normal distribution, we get that Galton’s first six grades correspond to the following in terms of standard deviation:

Grade     Standard deviations above mean
A              0.674
B              0.967
C              1.534
D              2.155
E              2.821
F              3.54

Galton’s dividing lines are a bit haphazard, and I am at a loss to explain the anomalously small gap between class A and B (or a and b). If anyone does read Galton’s explanation in full and finds an explanation, please let me know. As far as I can see it’s just a lapse on Galton’s part. It’s of no consequence for his study, in any event.

Galton’s primary aim is to study hereditary talent within the British isles, but he still has time to discuss the very important racial question. Concerning the merits of the races, Galton’s has this to say:

Let us, then, compare the negro race with the Anglo-Saxon, with respect to those qualities alone which are capable of producing judges, statesmen, commanders, men of literature and science, poets, artists, and divines. If the negro race in America had been affected by no social disabilities, a comparison of their achievements with those of the whites in their several branches of intellectual effort, having regard to the total number of their respective populations, would give the necessary information. As matters stand, we must be content with much rougher data.

First, the negro race has occasionally, but very rarely, produced such men as Toussaint l’Ouverture, who are of our class F; that is to say, its X, or its total classes above G, appear to correspond with our F, showing a difference of not less than two grades between the black and white races, and it may be more.

Secondly, the negro race is by no means wholly deficient in men capable of becoming good factors, thriving merchants, and otherwise considerably raised above the average of whites—that is to say, it can not unfrequently supply men corresponding to our class C, or even D. It will be recollected that C implies a selection of 1 in 16, or somewhat more than the natural abilities possessed by average foremen of common juries, and that D is as I in 64—a degree of ability that is sure to make a man successful in life. In short, classes E and F of the negro may roughly be considered as the equivalent of our C and D—a result which again points to the conclusion, that the average intellectual standard of the negro race is some two grades below our own.

Thirdly, we may compare, but with much caution, the relative position of negroes in their native country with that of the travellers who visit them. The latter, no doubt, bring with them the knowledge current in civilized lands, but that is an advantage of less importance than we are apt to suppose. A native chief has as good an education in the art of ruling men, as can be desired; he is continually exercised in personal government, and usually maintains his place by the ascendency of his character, shown every day over his subjects and rivals. A traveller in wild countries also fills, to a certain degree, the position of a commander, and has to confront native chiefs at every inhabited place. The result is familiar enough— the white traveller almost invariably holds his own in their presence. It is seldom that we hear of a white traveller meeting with a black chief whom he feels to be the better man. I have often discussed this subject with competent persons, and can only recall a few cases of the inferiority of the white man,—certainly not more than might be ascribed to an average actual difference of three grades, of which one may be due to the relative demerits of native education, and the remaining two to a difference in natural gifts.

Fourthly, the number among the negroes of those whom we should call half-witted men, is very large. Every book alluding to negro servants in America is full of instances. I was myself much impressed by this fact during my travels in Africa. The mistakes the negroes made in their own matters, were so childish, stupid, and simpleton-like, as frequently to make me ashamed of my own species, I do not think it any exaggeration to say, that their c is as low as our e, which would be a difference of two grades, as before. I have no information as to actual idiocy among the negroes—I mean, of course, of that class of idiocy which is not due to disease.

The Australian type is at least one grade below the African negro. I possess a few serviceable data about the natural capacity of the Australian, but not sufficient to induce me to invite the reader to consider them.

In equating negro class c with Anglo-Saxon class e, we see (by subtraction, from the data given above) that Galton is asserting that there is a 1.287 standard deviation difference between negro and Anglo-Saxon ability. Again, Galton is not discussing IQ, but ability more generally. Still, since IQ is more easily objectively quantified than Galton’s broader metrics, it’s worth comparing the results of modern science with Galton’s conclusions. IQ testing has shown a gap (favoring whites) of very roughly 2 standard deviations between whites and black Africans, and of 1.1 standard deviations between whites and African Americans (who have better educations, cognitive stimuli, and nutrition than black Africans, but who also have a considerable degree of European admixture). Of course there’s no reason to expect that the gap in, say, poetic accomplishment, should equal the gap in IQ. Still, this does seem to indicate that Galton’s imprecise methodology has given pretty accurate conclusions, which have not been much altered by alterations in social conditions of blacks.

Modern studies concerning IQ do seem to support Galton’s claim that the Australian aborigine is inferior to the negro. Given that he was reduced to eyeballing and guesstimation, Galton’s accuracy is very impressive.

This accuracy becomes more questionable when Galton tries to analyse the ability of historical peoples. Since he measures a race’s ability by counting the number of eminent figures it produced as a proportion of its population, the flourishing of Athens in the 5th century B.C. leads him to believe the Athenian man to be of a very high ability:

the average ability of the Athenian race is, on the lowest possible estimate, very nearly two grades higher than our own – that is, about as much as our race is above that of the African negro.

In reading Galton’s analysis of classical Athens, we see why environmentalists reacted so violently against the overeager first generation of hereditarians. It would be easy to address specific criticisms against Galton’s argument, but it’s hardly worth the time. (None of this is to say that biological causes cannot contribute to great civilizational events, just that it’s silly to credit a sudden and short-lived cultural flourishing like Athens’s golden age or Elizabethan English literature principally to biological causes, as if the English suddenly became biologically superior in the 16th century but suffered racial degeneration not long thereafter.

So much race. Now for eugenics. Galton had great hopes for our ability to direct evolution to our benefit, by encouraging differential fertility favoring the most capable members of society.

In conclusion I wish again to emphasise the fact that the improvement of the natural gifts of future generations of the human race is largely, though indirectly, under our control. We may not be able to originate, but we can guide. The processes of evolution are in constant and spontaneous activity, some pushing towards the bad, some towards the good. Our part is to watch for opportunities to intervene by checking the former and giving free play to the latter. We must distinguish clearly between our power in this fundamental respect and that which we also possess of ameliorating education and hygiene. It is earnestly to be hoped that inquiries will be increasingly directed into historical facts, with the view of estimating the possible effects of reasonable political action in the future, in gradually raising the present miserably low standard of the human race to one in which the Utopias in the dreamland of philanthropists may become practical possibilities.

There’s almost a sort of liberalism in the utopian dreams that can accompany eugenics. At least, I’m sure conservative Christians will want to make such an argument. A more sophisticated version of the argument might admit that eugenics is neither left nor right, but still (perhaps) liable to similar criticism.

The great vision of a more capable mankind, Galton tells us, is in our grasp:

There is nothing either in the history of domestic animals or in that of evolution to make us doubt that a race of sane men may be formed who shall be as much superior mentally and morally to the modern European, as the modern European is to the lowest of the Negro races. Individual departures from this high average level in an upward direction would afford an adequate supply of a degree of ability that is exceedingly rare now, and is much wanted.

Eugenics, for Galton, is not just an opportunity. It is a positive duty:

I conclude that each generation has enormous power over the natural gifts of those that follow, and maintain that it is a duty we owe to humanity to investigate the range of that power, and to exercise it in a way that, without being unwise towards ourselves, shall be most advantageous to future inhabitants of the earth.

As usual, I need to point out that the usual arguments against “racists” are wrong. Was Galton merely a chauvinist? Given that he placed the Athenian man well above the Englishman, that seems unlikely. But perhaps he was a white supremacist, merely rationalizing colonial domination and Eurocentrism? This too seems to be wrong, as Galton thought well of Chinese ability, and even came up with a proposal to make use of it:

My proposal is to make the encouragement of the Chinese settlements at one or more suitable places on the East Coast of Africa a part of our national policy, in the belief that the Chinese immigrants would not only maintain their position, but that they would multiply and their descendants supplant the inferior Negro race. I should expect the large part of the African seaboard, now sparsely occupied by lazy, palavering savages living under the nominal sovereignty of the Zanzibar, or Portugal, might in a few years be tenanted by industrious, order loving Chinese, living either as a semi-detached dependency of China, or else in perfect freedom under their own law.

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Plutarch on the Nature of a Husband’s Authority

From Plutarch’s Advice to Bride and Groom:

Rich men and princes by conferring honours on philosophers adorn both themselves and the philosophers; but, on the other hand, philosophers by paying court to the rich do not enhance the repute of the rich but lower their own. So is it with women also; if they subordinate themselves to their husbands, they are commended, but if they want to have control, they cut a sorrier figure than the subjects of their control. And control ought to be exercised by the man over the woman, not as the owner has control over a piece of property, but, as the soul colonists the body, by entering into her feelings and being knit to her through goodwill. As, therefore, it is possible to exercise care over the body without being a slave to its pleasures and desires, so it is possible to govern a wife, and at the same time to delight and gratify her.

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In Search of the Rational Anti-Racist, part 8: Watson and Crick

Are the opinions on race and intelligence I’ve collected in recent posts a mere relic of the scientific dark ages? Hardly. By now James Watson’s opinions are well known, as are those contained in the letters of Francis Crick:

22 February 1971
Dr. John T, Edsall
Fogarty International Center
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland 2 0014

Dear John,

I have been very distressed to see the letter to the President of the National Academy by you and six other Academy members regarding a Proposal by Dr. [William] Shockley [Nobel laureate in physics]. Like you I have not published anything on the population problem, but I have become fairly familiar with the literature of the subject. I have also talked to Dr, Jensen when he visited the Salk Institute recently.

Unlike you and your colleagues I have formed the opinion that there is much substance to [Berkeley psychologist Arthur] Jensen’s arguments. In brief I think it likely that more than half the difference between the average I.Q. of American whites and Negroes is due to genetic reasons, and will not be eliminated by any foreseeable change in the environment. Moreover I think the social consequences of this are likely to be rather serious unless steps are taken to recognize the situation.

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Obama on title 9

In Newsweek Obama celebrates pushing lots of men out of college sports. While title 9 has been terribly destructive for non-revenue sports, I can’t get too excited about it. Men will benefit themselves more by focusing on their careers and character than by playing games. Individual athletic training does not require intercollegiate sports.

But Obama has a bigger, nastier program:

Title IX isn’t just about sports. From addressing inequality in math and science education to preventing sexual assault on campus to fairly funding athletic programs, Title IX ensures equality for our young people in every aspect of their education. It’s a springboard for success: it’s thanks in part to legislation like Title IX that more women graduate from college prepared to work in a much broader range of fields, including engineering and technology. I’ve said that women will shape the destiny of this country, and I mean it. The more confident, empowered women who enter our boardrooms and courtrooms, legislatures, and hospitals, the stronger we become as a country.

In other words, the fewer men in positions of power we have, the better off we’ll be. How’s that been working out for us over the last 40 years? It’s not like we really needed the married family to raise children or anything.

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