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Biohistory Meets Oswald Spengler: Gerhard Meisenberg's In God's Image
A couple of months ago, I by accident came across a book called In God's Image: The Natural History of Intelligence and Ethics. One of the blurbs on the back was written by Richard Lynn, so I thought it might be worth a look. However, I was unable to find a single book review online. At Amazon, In God's Image had only three copies in stock as of Wednesday, February 10.
This is unfortunate. In God's Image was written by Gerhard Meisenberg, [email him] a professor and chairman of the biochemistry department at Ross University in Dominica. Although the book was published in 2007, before Cochran and Harpending's seminal work on biohistory, In God's Image is one of the few books that take genes seriously when analyzing the rise and fall of civilizations.
The first two thirds of the book are about how our brains work and mistakes people make in thinking about important issues.
Why can't we get people to wake up to the demographic crisis America is facing? Mostly because prehistoric man gained little from thinking about the distant future.
There are only a few evolutionary reasons why one would commit altruistic acts. One is kin selection. But it makes much more sense to care about your four children than eight potential grandchildren. Without the direct offspring being fruitful, the more distant descendants don't exist.
Also, before private property, there wasn't much you could do for those more than one generation removed from you anyway. So evolution selected those who looked after themselves and their own children, and against idealists who dreamed of changing the world.
People may also commit altruistic acts hoping to get paid back, but when the issue is sacrificing for future generations, reciprocity doesn't apply. Thus, even when the elites agree on the importance of an issue—like tackling the Social Security deficit—nothing can get done if people are asked to sacrifice the present for the future. Eugenics probably falls into the same category.
We make similar mistakes when thinking about history, both the written and evolutionary kinds. For example, when we hear that proto-humans "replaced" the Neanderthals in Europe, we think of conquest and genocide. But another kind of replacement has always been much more common. Meisenberg asks us to assume that 1,000 Cro-Magnons invaded a continent of 100,000 Neanderthals. If the former raised 2.1 children to adulthood per woman, and the latter 1.9, then in only 100 generations, or 2,500 years, there would've been 130,000 Cro-Magnons and just 600 Neanderthals!
Death rather than advancement is the fate of most species.
In modern times we've watched races and ethnies replace each other through differential fertility. Northern Ireland used to be 80 percent Protestant and 20 percent Catholic, but now the two religions have about an equal number of adherents. The white population of South Africa stayed constant over the twentieth century while the number of blacks doubled every few decades. The whites are now being driven out of the country that they built.
Meisenberg believes that he's come up with a theory about the workings of history. Think Oswald Spengler meets biohistory. It works like this:
At the most primitive level of development, people have only magical explanations of the workings of the universe. Manliness and patriarchy are in style. Intelligence is selected for, as the very weakest die out.
The intelligent tribe's population grows. More people means more inventions. The population then grows further, because people still have their old habits and haven't yet realized that more children means a lower standard of living. The "Flynn Effect", an absolute rise in IQ likely caused by improved nutrition, takes hold and people become even smarter.
Thus although high intelligence is no longer selected for, improvements in environment mask any decline in the gene pool. The society's higher IQ leads to even greater progress.
But this doesn't go on forever. There is only so much that nurture can do to improve cognitive functioning. So, although IQ improved by about thirty points in the twentieth century, with most of the gains coming at the middle and left of the bell curve, the Flynn Effect has now hit its limits in the modern West.
Finally decadence sets in. Hedonism, feminism and materialism are the preferred values. Faith declines, and scientific (or at least scientistic) arguments replace religious and magical ones. The population drops as people smart enough to plan ahead limit their fertility in order to have more money for self-fulfillment.
Meisenberg quotes Spengler:
"Children do not happen, not because children have become impossible, but principally because intelligence at the peak of intensity can no longer find any reason for their existence...When the ordinary thought of a highly cultivated people begins to regard 'having children' as a question of pro's and con's, the great turning point has come. For nature knows nothing of pro and con."
See this video from Iranian TV mocking Westerners for treating the decision to have children as one treats the decision to buy a dog or cat.
But the stupid and irresponsible continue to breed away, as compassion and medical advancement make sure that almost anyone who is born lives to pass on his genes. Instead of the eugenic Flynn effect, we see dysgenics. Civilization collapses and people go back to their original primitive state.
Meisenberg calls this yo-yo evolution.
In the early twentieth century, the Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski made an interesting observation. While studying Melanesian people living off the coast of New Guinea, he saw one a man came back from a year's absence and greeting his wife and his new son, whom he embraced. Malinowski was surprised and asked another islander why the man wasn't upset about his wife's infidelity.
It turns out that the residents of the island had no idea that sex led to pregnancy. Teenagers had sex as soon as they could and would do so into adulthood. Some would get pregnant, but there was no way of knowing why. Besides, it couldn't be sex that leads to children because after a young unattractive girl had gotten pregnant, all the men in the island had denied having relations with her!
Meisenberg reasons that, since some contemporary tribes never figured out the connection between pregnancy and sex, this understanding must have come very late in our evolutionary history. From there, we may assume that evolution never selected for a desire for children per se. Women desire sex and desire to mother once they have children, but don't think ahead and desire the creation of the baby.
Evolution, according to Meisenberg, is like the military and works on a need-to-know basis. This helps explain the low birth rates in the modern world.
In my view, one can only come to such a conclusion by ignoring obvious evidence to the contrary. Young girls all over the world fantasize about having children. The author must've never seen the teenage mothers who appear on the Maury Povich show!
On much more solid ground are Meisenberg's theories about the rise and fall of civilizations. He is able to draw on much circumstantial evidence for his theories.
From the tenth to the sixth centuries B.C., the Greeks were able to form colonies from Spain to the Caucasus. Geneticists can still find traces of this colonization across the Mediterranean basin. When Ancient Greece was at its peak in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., writers considered the city-states overpopulated. But by the second century B.C., Polybius would write:
"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 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."
As Greece fell, Rome rose. The evolution of that civilization seems to have been similar. After Hannibal and his troops wiped out 80,000 Roman soldiers in the third century B.C. there was no trouble in raising a new army. But only two centuries later Ovid would lament, "Rare is in our time [the woman] who wants to be a parent." [Raraque in hoc aevo est quae velit esse parens.]
The emperor Augustus passed laws to increase fertility, but they were a failure. The rulers of the Antonine dynasty remained childless. They were able to maintain good governance that way because there were no incompetent or evil sons to take power. Unfortunately, there would soon be nobody to govern.
Actually, not everybody stopped breeding. There was one small cult the encouraged its flock to "be fruitful and multiply". That cult was, of course, Christianity.
To have a respectable hypothesis about why Christians displaced pagans, all we have to do is use the same logic that might explain why the Cro-Magnons replaced the Neanderthals. If from 50 A.D. to 450 A.D. Christians had a 20 percent higher fertility rate than Pagans, Christians could've gone from two percent of the population to 20 percent. And the difference in birth rates was probably much larger.
In Europe today, whites are the new Pagans and Muslims the new Christians.
Meisenberg brings the same analytical tools to discovering why Muslim civilization fell while Europe has dominated the last few centuries. The degeneration of the Middle East has been dramatic. In an encyclopedia of Muslim scientists, 64 percent produced their work before 1250 and none did after 1750. The Middle East IQ is today 85 and it's hard to understand why the region was more advanced than China or Europe a thousand years ago.
The author blames Islam's fall on contraception. While Muslims have always reproduced in great numbers, there was no restriction on what a couple could do to limit fertility. Even abortion in Islam is accepted as long as it takes place within the first 120 days of a pregnancy.
And, as in Ancient Greece and the modern West, those with more smarts and foresight had a greater tendency to take advantage of ways to get out of becoming a parent.
Meanwhile, in Christendom Thomas Aquinas would teach that to "depart from the inseminating use [i.e. coitus interruptus, accepted in Islam] of the sexual act is to offend God directly." The Church was so effective in stomping out knowledge that contraception methods known to the Ancients were lost until the Renaissance. Even after science overcame religion among the elites, Western thinkers still thought that the availability of information on preventing pregnancies was harmful and that such knowledge needed to be suppressed.
In God's Image concludes with the idea that Westerners will eventually either take control over our reproduction through technology and progress in a positive direction—or go the way of the Ancient Greeks.
It seems impossible that there will ever be a regression in technology. As Francis Fukuyama wrote in The End of History and the Last Man, the genie is out of the bottle and there will always be information on how to make cars, air conditioners, medicine, etc. available to anybody with enough time to study and a high enough IQ to understand complicated texts. The proportion of such people may be shrinking, but it's going to be a long time before there's any sort of complete collapse.
So, like Richard Lynn (and myself), Meisenberg sees the future of the West in the long run as a tug-of-war between technology used for eugenic purposes pulling us one way, and dysgenic differential fertility and immigration pulling another. (The patriotic immigration reform movement might be included on the first side).
But I find this unlikely. The lower classes of the future are going to be a diverse lot and thus unlikely to work together towards any goals, even if there were any smart people left amongst the poor to lead them.
In God's Image isn't perfect. Meisenberg's writing style grated on me. He doesn't seem able to go a paragraph without making a joke. I'm all for making a work lively, but there is such a thing as over doing it.
Another annoyance is how often Meisenberg reaches for Hitler or the Nazis to make his point. For example, to show that idealism is more dangerous than selfishness he quotes Himmler calling for great sacrifice. Nazis are referred to at least ten separate times. About two hundred pages in, I told myself that if I read one more reference to them I would throw the book against the wall. Thankfully, it was interesting enough that I kept reading anyway.
Finally—in his chapter on intelligence, Meisenberg claims that according to his computer simulation, a person with an IQ of 120 has a 70 percent chance of getting through medical school without failing a semester, but that with an IQ of 70 a person has a 20 percent chance. But all calculations have to be checked against common sense. Since an IQ of 70 is technically retarded, the odds of someone with such an IQ becoming a doctor is more like zero.
Despite these faults, In God's Image is worth reading for those who think that historians have ignored genes long enough.
Harpending and Cochran hoped to found a new field called biohistory with their 2009 The 10,000 Year Explosion. After a half century of American Lysenkoism and the race deniers' Reign of Terror, most theories about how culture and genotypes have interacted throughout recorded history are necessarily underdebated and sketchy
But we have to start somewhere. In my opinion, In God's Image is that start.
Richard Hoste (email him) writes prolifically on race, immigration, political correctness and modern conservatism. His articles have appeared at The Occidental Observer, The Occidental Quarterly and TakiMag among other places. His blog is HBD Books, where he regularly reviews classic and modern works on these topics.