Monday, March 12, 2018

Thoughts on the Italian election

Matteo Salvini - leader of Lega and the center-right coalition (Wikicommons)

What do I think of the Italian election results? How well do they bear out the predictions I made last November? In some ways, the nationalists did better than I expected, and in some ways worse. First the good news.

Western Europe's first nationalist government

Lega Nord (now simply Lega) went into the election as a junior partner in a center-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi. It is now the senior partner. Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia, did poorly, getting only 14% of the popular vote in comparison to Lega's 17%. Given that 4% of all votes went to the other nationalist party in the coalition, Fratelli d'Italia, we see that Italian support for the center-right is much more nationalist than conservative.

With a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, Matteo Salvini will likely form the next government. He will bring a new perspective to the job of Italian prime minister:

Matteo Salvini embraces a very critical view of the European Union (EU), especially of the euro, which he once described a "crime against humanity". Salvini is also opposed to illegal immigration and the EU's management of asylum seekers.

On economic issues, he supports flat tax, tax cuts, fiscal federalism, protectionism and, to some extent, agrarianism. On social issues, Salvini opposes same-sex marriage, while he supports family values and the legalisation of brothels. In foreign policy he opposed the international embargo against Russia of 2014 and supported an economic opening to Eastern Europe and to countries of the Far East such as North Korea. (Wikipedia 2018)

Lega's success is in contrast to the situation in France, the Netherlands, and Germany, where nationalist parties have done well but have never been part of a ruling coalition. We thus have the strange sight of Angela Merkel looking for coalition partners on the left and even the far left, while studiously ignoring Alternative für Deutschland, a party that won 13% of the popular vote in her country's last general election.

Now the bad news:

A hung parliament and false friends

Without a majority in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the center-right coalition will need support from the Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement), which came second with 33% of the popular vote. Unfortunately, that party will be far from supportive. It is not at all nationalist—contrary to what you may have read or heard.

Yes, the co-founder of the Five Star Movement, "Beppe" Grillo, has called for deportation of "terrorists" and people with no right to asylum:

"The migratory situation is out of control," Grillo wrote on his blog. "Our country is becoming a place where terrorists come and go and we are not able to recognise and report them and they can wander all over Europe undisturbed thanks to Schengen." "Those who have the right to asylum should stay in Italy, all the others should be repatriated at once, starting from today." "Schengen must be revised," he said, adding it should be suspended "immediately and border controls reinstated" when there is an attack until the suspects have been captured. (ANSA 2016)

Also, the current leader of the Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, has called for "an immediate stop to the sea-taxi service", i.e., the ferrying of African migrants to Italy by NGOs (Reuters 2017).

Tough words. Keep in mind, however, that similar words have been spoken by conservative politicians elsewhere—Deport terrorists! No fake refugees! The problem, here, isn't that such promises have often been broken. The problem is that the issue of population replacement isn't even being addressed. The deconstruction of Europe thus continues, and at an ever higher rate.

Furthermore, if we look at actual party policy, and not personal opinions, we get a different picture of the Five Star Movement. In 2014 its members voted to decriminalize illegal immigration:

The Five Star Movement activists say no to the crime of illegal immigration. The majority of votes, which were cast online on Beppe Grillo's blog, were in favor of repealing the crime of illegal immigration. Yes for the repeal: 15,839. No: 9,093. There were 24,932 voters. (Corriere del Sera 2014)

Admittedly, that was four years ago, but only this year Luigi Di Maio reacted angrily when “extremist” remarks were made about immigration by the center-right candidate for Lombardy, Attilio Fontana.

"Berlusconi says that we are worse than the post-communists, that they are moderate and we extremists, but after Fontana's phrase about the white race are we sure that they are the moderates? If they are moderate then I am Gandhi. [...] We want to know if Fontana remains their presidential candidate [for Lombardy]." (ANSA 2018b)

Were Fontana's remarks extremist? Judge for yourself:

This is not an issue of being xenophobic or racist, but a question of being logical or rational. We cannot [accept all asylum seekers] because we won’t all fit in, so we have to make choices. We must decide if our ethnicity, if our white race, if our society, should continue to exist or if it should be wiped out. A serious State should plan and program a situation of this type. It should say how many we consider it right to receive and how many migrants we don't want to allow in, how we want to assist them, what jobs to give them, what homes and schools to give them. At that point, when a government prepares a project of this type, it submits it to its citizens.

It is absolutely unacceptable to say that we have to accept them all. It is a scheme that we must react against, that it is necessary to rebel against. We cannot accept them all because, if we did, we would no longer be ourselves as a social reality, as an ethnic reality. Because there are many more of them than us, and they are much more determined to occupy this territory. (ANSA 2018a; ANSA 2018b)

On March 4, the people passed judgment on Fontana: he was elected governor of Lombardy.

In all this, the Five Star Movement comes across as being too worried about its image and not sufficiently concerned about offering a coherent policy. This is a common failing of populist movements.


With this election, the bloc of nationalist states has welcomed a new member—a country near the core of the Western world-system. There is now a continuous stretch of territory from the Baltic to the Mediterranean where post-nationalism is no longer a “consensus.”

This new reality has not gone unnoticed, and there will likely be efforts to turn back the clock. The Italian parliament will become mired in one stalemate after another, and Salvini may have to go directly to the people, using his bully pulpit to rally support for his measures. Don't expect to see the Five Star Movement play a constructive role.

Salvini will also face determined opposition from the courts, the civil service, and the media—what we call the deep state. The situation, however, isn't the same as in the United States, where the elites don’t feel much in common with the American people and see no reason why they should. If Salvini can present his arguments boldly and energetically, he will mobilize support even among his country’s elites.


ANSA (2018a). White race at risk - Fontana on migrants (2). Centre-right Lombardy candidate says not question of racism, ANSAen Politics, January 15

ANSA (2018b). Attilio Fontana si scusa per la 'razza bianca' ANSAit. Lombardia, January 17

ANSA (2106). Grillo calls for mass deportations (2).ANSAen Politics, December 23  

Corriere della Sera. (2014). Grillo, gli iscritti del M5S dicono no al reato di immigrazione clandestine, January 13

Reuters (2017). Italian prosecutors widen investigation to include MSF over migrant rescues: source, World News, August 5

Wikipedia (2018). Matteo Salvini

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Why universal human rights aren't universal

Jean Piaget (1896-1980). A renowned Swiss psychologist, he argued that moral development is linked to cognitive development.

Are intelligence and morality interlinked? This was what Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget concluded from his studies of child development. With increasing age, children develop not only intellectually but also morally, growing out of infantile self-centredness and into adult decentered-ness:

According to Piaget, moral development — the ability to judge ethical problems in an impartial and unbiased way — relies on prior cognitive development. Indeed, cognitive and moral development are structurally similar. In both is acquired a well-founded, reasonable structure. As Jean Piaget (1948/1932, p. 404) stated: "Parallelism exists between moral and intellectual development: ... Logic is the morality of thought just as morality is the logic of action." And this parallelism is based on the cognitive nature of morality, e.g. to behave ethically one has to take the perspective of third parties. (Rindermann and Carl 2018, p. 32)

This view has become popular and is even central to much of present-day thinking. If people are better educated, they will presumably become not only smarter but also more empathic and, thus, more considerate of their fellow humans. This view, as popular as it is, doesn't seem quite true. Many of us have known people who are intelligent and yet lacking in empathy. We call them psychopaths. Usually, they're explained away as aberrations. They're sick, aren't they? In reality, the line between 'normal' and 'psychopath' is arbitrary—like most mental traits, the capacity for empathy is distributed continuously along a bell curve. Lots of seemingly normal people have little empathy.

Nor does Piaget's view seem true if we look farther afield. Many moral systems attach little importance to empathy. Indeed, of all the world religions, Christianity seems unique in advocating the moral duty not only to help others but also to feel their pain, even when they aren't fellow Christians. Yes, most Christians fail to meet this standard of universal selflessness, but other religions don't set the bar so high. 

Indeed, the ideal of universal selflessness isn’t at all universal. It developed essentially within a single cultural context, the Christian world:

In Judaism and Christianity, "God created man in his own image" (Gen1:27 ESV). Humans being the image of God, "God-likeness", implies treating humans in a respectful way. Of course, at first blush, history reveals large discrepancies between the message of Christianity and the actual behavior of Christians. However, this does not mean that such behavior was consistent with the Christian message, and in many cases it was criticized by prominent Christians at the time. The Christian message had a corrective function. For instance, the inhumane treatment of American Indians by Spanish colonists was criticized by the Dominican priest Bartholomé de Las Casas (as mentioned above). The abolitionist movement was organized by Protestants and led by the Evangelical Christian William Wilberforce. The horrors of war were mitigated by charities such as the Red Cross, which was founded by the evangelical Christian, Henry Dunant. (Rindermann and Carl 2018, p. 34)

The Muslim world imported as many slaves as did the Christian world, yet a Muslim abolitionist movement never arose, and the trade was ultimately abolished worldwide through the intervention of Christian nations, particularly Great Britain. Today, the slave trade has left no legacy of guilt among Muslims, while it definitely has in those nations that strove to bring it to an end.

This apparent paradox has led Heiner Rindermann—a well-known psychologist in HBD circles—to challenge the Piagetian idea that moral development is linked to intellectual development. These two mental traits are distinct and have followed their own trajectories in different moral traditions.

To prove his point, he teamed up with sociologist Noah Carl to study how respect for human rights is related, cross-culturally, to cognitive ability and religion. They found a stronger relationship with religion than with cognitive ability. Specifically, the percentage of Christians in a society had a stronger positive impact (r = .62) on respect for human rights (Rindermann and Carl 2018) than did educational level (r = .54) or cognitive ability (r = .50 to .51).

One can quibble about the methodology. The study defines human rights largely as the right to make choices on one's own, regardless of existing social norms. Freedom of religion, for instance, is defined as the freedom not only to practice one's religion but also to convert to another. As the authors themselves note, this is not a legitimate freedom in much of the world, unless one is converting to the majority religion. Freedom doesn’t mean that a minority is free to become the majority.

Nonetheless, there does seem to be a correlation between Christianity and respect for human rights as long as we define the latter, at least in part, as maximization of personal choice and autonomy. 

Is Christianity confounded with European ancestry?

Correlation isn't causation. Couldn't Christianity be a proxy for "European-ness"? Indeed, most Christians are at least partly of European ancestry, and even more live in societies founded and still largely run by people of European origin.

To control for this confounding factor, one could compare Christian and non-Christian societies within a region where European ancestry is minimal. Sub-Saharan Africa comes to mind. Even in South Africa, the European minority is down to the single digits.

Rindermann and Carl (2018, p. 60) did make that comparison:

Within sub-Saharan Africa [...] the percentage of Christians is still positively (but weakly) related to human rights (r = .10; N = 48), and the percentage of Muslims is still negatively (but weakly) related to human rights (r = -.12).

Those correlations are indeed weak. Moreover, the one between Christianity and respect for human rights is largely due to the relatively stable societies of southern Africa, i.e., South Africa itself, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Those societies enjoy a judicial and administrative legacy that may not last much longer, given recent events and the example of Zimbabwe.

To be honest, I feel little in common with fellow Christians like Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe. Ironically, both of them have a better claim to being Christian than I do, since I refused to be confirmed after attending my confirmation classes.

Is European ancestry confounded with a genetically influenced trait?

If European ancestry is a confounding factor, could it be a proxy for some unknown genetically influenced trait? Rindermann and Carl tried to answer this question by estimating the average "skin brightness" of each country.

Skin brightness is more highly correlated with human rights than is cranial capacity (r = .25 vs. .18). Of course, skin color itself is unlikely to exert any effect; it constitutes a marker for evolutionary pressures that may be associated with culture. (Rindermann and Carl 2018, p. 53)

This is, I suspect, a reference to Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and his belief that humans had to become more intelligent as they spread into harsher northern climates: "those tribes that emigrated early to the north, and there gradually became white, had to develop all their intellectual powers, and invent and perfect all the arts in their struggle with need, want, and misery, which, in their many forms, were brought about by the climate. This they had to do in order to make up for the parsimony of nature, and out of it all came their high civilization" Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume II, Section 92.

Rindermann and Carl seem to be assuming that European skin became white solely as an adaptation to the northern natural environment. They also seem to be assuming that moral development is linked to cognitive development—the very hypothesis they want to test.

A better genetic marker would be the long allele for the 5-HTTLPR serotonin transporter gene. It's less frequent in collectivistic cultures than in individualistic cultures, the latter being the cultures of western and northern Europe—the same cultures that value so much the rights of the individual (Chiao and Blizinsky 2010). In a study of American toddlers, carriers of the short allele were more likely to imitate the way other people behaved (Schroeder et al. 2016).

The study provides additional evidence for the view that Christianity, in itself, doesn't explain why Europeans, and especially northwest Europeans, see all individuals as being endowed with the same rights. Of the three branches of Christianity, Protestantism has the strongest correlation with respect for human rights (r = .48), followed by Catholicism (r = .42), and finally Orthodoxy (r = -.07) (Rindermann and Carl 2018, p. 52). This suggests that Christianity changed as its geocenter progressively moved from the Middle East to southern Europe and then to northwest Europe, along the way becoming more focused on the individual and on individual responsibility. 

Within Christianity, Protestantism stresses conscience, individual guilt, internal control, autonomy and self-responsibility (Weber, 2008/1904). All these traits are conducive for liberty, the rule of law, democracy and human rights (Rindermann and Carl 2018, p. 34)

[...] in Protestant countries, trust is higher, corruption is lower and levels of social and economic freedom are higher (Delhey & Newton, 2005; Harrison, 2013). People tend to be more self-controlled, having internalized social rules, meaning that harsh and violent control by the state is not needed. (Rindermann and Carl 2018, p. 37)

The two authors are aware of the Hajnal Line and its relationship to a suite of psychological and behavioral traits. In societies north and west of a line running approximately from Trieste to St. Petersburg, social relations have long shown a certain pattern:

- men and women marry relatively late

- many people never marry

- children usually leave the nuclear family to form new households

- households often have non-kin members

This is the Western European Marriage Pattern (WEMP). Everyone is single for at least part of adulthood, many stay single their entire lives, and a significant proportion of households have members not belonging to the immediate family or even to kin. In short, an individual is less fettered by the bonds of kinship even within his or her household (Frost 2017).

This led to late marriage, high rates of childlessness (of about half of the cohort), more rights for women, and large investments in education. Going further than Hajnal himself did, it arguably also enhanced delay of gratification, self-control (especially of sexuality), conscientiousness, frugality, industry and cognitive ability. The causes of this marriage pattern can be traced to Roman, Germanic and Christian traditions, to the interests of the church, and to the interests of landlords and guilds. (Rindermann and Carl 2018, p. 39)

The above view is also the one held by *hbd chick, i.e., the WEMP developed after the introduction of Christianity and was, at least in part, a consequence of medieval Christian practices and institutions. Yet there is good evidence for the existence of the WEMP as early as ninth-century France and fragmentary evidence even earlier (Frost 2017). I have argued that the arrow of causality points in the other direction: a pre-existing mindset in northwest Europe was carried over into Christianity, much like the Christmas tree and other pagan traditions. Later, as the center of Christendom moved west and north, this mindset gained importance within Western Christianity and pushed it more and more toward the idea of individual salvation and an individual relationship with God. 

The northwest European mindset is characterized essentially by four interrelated mental traits:

Independent social orientation - independence of the self from others, including stronger motivation toward self-expression, self-esteem, and self-efficacy and emphasis on personal happiness rather than social happiness. 

Universal rule adherence - capacity to obey universal and absolute moral rules, i.e., moral universalism and moral absolutism, as opposed to situational morality based on kinship. These rules are enforced by monitoring not only others but also oneself. Rule-breakers may be branded as morally worthless and expelled.

Affective empathy - capacity to experience the emotional states of other people in order to prevent harm and to provide help if needed. Help is conditional on the other person being judged morally worthy.

Guilt proneness - capacity to self-monitor thoughts and behavior for rule adherence in order to self-judge and, if necessary, to self-punish.


Are universal human rights truly universal? If we look at cultures across space and time, we find that the notion of human rights was nonexistent in most cultures and historical periods. Not until the 18th and 19th centuries did some countries codify this notion in law, although it clearly has antecedents that go farther back, at least to the formulation of canon law by the Catholic Church and perhaps farther. Northwest Europeans seem to have long been predisposed to think in terms of individual rights and universal moral rules.

Since the early 19th century, we in the West have tried to impose these rights on the entire world, initially through the suppression of the slave trade and then through the efforts of missionaries and colonial authorities to ban certain practices, like the custom of sati in India. Such efforts became an integral part of Western imperialism and "the white man's burden."

Although this burden has since been taken up by truly international bodies, like the U.N., the notion of universal human rights still reflects a Western view of people as atomized individuals who mainly seek to maximize their wealth, happiness, and personal autonomy. This is not how most humans view the purpose of existence. For that matter, this view was not originally held by northwest Europeans, whose understanding of moral universalism has steadily radicalized and expanded in scope over time.


Chiao, J.Y. and Blizinsky, K.D. (2010). Culture-gene coevolution of individualism-collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277: 529-537.

Frost, P. (2017). The Hajnal line and gene-culture coevolution in northwest Europe, Advances in Anthropology 7: 154-174.

Rindermann, H. and N. Carl. (2018). Human rights: Why countries differ, Comparative Sociology 17: 29-69.

Schopenhauer, A. (1974)[1851]. Parerga and Paralipomena, English translation by E. F. J. Payne, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2 volumes.

Schroeder, K.B., Asherson, P., Blake, P.R., Fenstermacher, S.K., and Saudino, K.J. (2016). Variant at serotonin transporter gene predicts increased imitation in toddlers: relevance to the human capacity for cumulative culture. Biology Letters 12(4).

Monday, February 26, 2018

Cheddar Man

Skull of Cheddar Man (Wikicommons)

The first modern Britons, who lived about 10,000 years ago, had "dark to black" skin, a groundbreaking DNA analysis of Britain's oldest complete skeleton has revealed.

The fossil, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough's Cave in Somerset. [...] It was initially assumed that Cheddar Man had pale skin and fair hair, but his DNA paints a different picture, strongly suggesting he had blue eyes, a very dark brown to black complexion and dark curly hair.

The discovery shows that the genes for lighter skin became widespread in European populations far later than originally thought. (Devlin 2018)

An ancient DNA study has made a big splash in the news. Its authors took the unusual step of releasing their findings to the media before presenting them at a scientific conference or in an academic journal. Not until more than a week later did they provide a paper describing their methods and their results. This paper was made available on BioRxiv, a preprint online repository, and it has yet to be accepted by a peer-reviewed journal.

Not surprisingly, these findings have been discussed in an atmosphere of Gotcha! journalism and trite moralizing. One of the authors, Yoan Diekmann, opined in an interview that the connection between Britishness and whiteness is "not an immutable truth. It has always changed and will change" (Devlin 2018). 

Well, obviously. If I could travel back in time, I would encounter people who look less and less like me the farther back I go, and this would be true for any people anywhere in the world. We think of the Amerindians as being native to the Americas, yet their ancestors had earlier replaced a people with very dark skin and frizzy hair, similar in appearance to the natives of Papua New Guinea (Frost 2018). In Europe, the first modern humans to arrive some 45,000 years ago would have looked very African—not only in their skin color but also in their hair form, face shape, and body proportions. 

This is what evolution is about, perhaps more so with our species. Human evolution is like a logarithmic curve. More genetic change has happened over the past 10,000 years than over the previous 100,000. And more has happened during those 100,000 years than over the previous one million. Our species is unique in having to adapt not only to a slowly changing natural environment but also to a faster-changing and increasingly diverse range of cultural and social environments (Hawks et al. 2007).

Another point: the Cheddar Man finding wasn't unexpected. We've already examined the DNA of two other Mesolithic humans, one from Loschbour in Luxembourg, dated to 8,000 years ago, and the other from La Braña in Spain, dated to 7,000 years ago. Both show the same combination of dark skin and blue/green eyes (Lazaridis et al. 2013; Olalde et al. 2014). How dark is 'dark'? They would have been much darker than a normal native European. The alleles in question are now so rare in native Europeans that anyone with them today most likely has a recent African ancestor. 

Yes, this study has been criticized for inferring skin color from alleles at 16 genes. Although this number is adequate for European and Asian individuals, it isn't for Africans—among whom skin color is determined by alleles at many more genes (Barras 2018). This is the case with most genetically influenced traits: Europeans and Asians have much less genomic variability than do Africans because their ancestors left Africa as small 'founder' groups that took with them only a fraction of the original variability. But Cheddar Man, despite his skin color, was European; he was descended from humans who went through the Out-of-Africa bottleneck. Therefore, the study's methodology should work.

So Western Europe was once home to hunter-gatherers who, other than their blue eyes, were still largely African in appearance. Again, this is to be expected. If we go far enough back in time, we come to ancestors who didn't look like us. Perhaps less expectedly, we don't have to go very far back. The dark-skinned Mesolithic individual from Spain lived some 7,000 years ago, and there is no reason to believe he was the last of his kind. Indeed, dark skin seems to have persisted into the early Neolithic in some parts of Western Europe, like a Neolithic individual from England nicknamed 'Sven' and dated to 4,000-5,000 BP: "Sven most likely had intermediate to dark skin pigmentation, brown eyes and black possibly dark brown hair" (Brace et al. 2018). That last date puts us within the realm of recorded history—almost the time of Hammurabi.

All of this is consistent with earlier findings. Palaeontologists Marcellin Boule and Henri V. Vallois noted the African-like appearance of many Neolithic remains from Western Europe:

'In Brittany, as well as in Switzerland and in the north of Italy, there lived in the Polished Stone period, in the Bronze Age and during the early Iron Age, a certain number of individuals who differed in certain characters from their contemporaries', in particular in the dolichocephalic character of their skull, in possessing a prognathism that was sometimes extreme, and a large grooved nose. This is a matter of partial atavism which in certain cases, as in the Neolithic Breton skull from Conguel, may attain to complete atavism. Two Neolithic individuals from Chamblandes in Switzerland are Negroid not only as regards their skulls but also in the proportions of their limbs. Several Ligurian and Lombard tombs of the Metal Ages have also yielded evidences of a Negroid element.

Since the publication of Verneau's memoir, discoveries of other Negroid skeletons in Neolithic levels in Illyria and the Balkans have been announced. The prehistoric statues, dating from the Copper Age, from Sultan Selo in Bulgaria are also thought to portray Negroids. In 1928 René Bailly found in one of the caverns of Moniat, near Dinant in Belgium, a human skeleton of whose age it is difficult to be certain, but which seems definitely prehistoric. It is remarkable for its Negroid characters, which give it a resemblance to the skeletons from both Grimaldi and Asselar.

It is not only in prehistoric times that the Grimaldi race seems to have made its influence felt. Verneau has been able to see, now in modern skulls and now in living subjects, in the Italian areas of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia, Tuscany, and the Rhone Valley, numerous characters of the old fossil race (Boule & Vallois 1957: 291-292).

So the Western European hunter-gatherers didn't die out completely. They represent about 25% of the ancestry of Neolithic British individuals and about 10% of the ancestry of present-day white British (Brace et al. 2018). Nonetheless, they were largely replaced by people from elsewhere, perhaps beginning in the late Mesolithic—as suggested by the more intermediate skin color of the Loschbour individual (Brace et al. 2018).

How, then, did Western Europeans become white? When ancient DNA was first being retrieved, the answer seemed simple: the last hunter-gatherers in Western Europe were dark-skinned and the first farmers in Central Europe were light-skinned. Therefore, the modern European phenotype must have been brought to Europe by those farmers, who had apparently come from Anatolia (present-day Turkey). 

This picture changed with retrieval of ancient DNA from hunter-gatherer sites in northeastern Europe, specifically Motala in Sweden (8,000 BP), Karelia in Russia (7500-7000 BP), and Samara in Russia (7,500-7000 BP). Those individuals had a fully modern European phenotype: pale skin with diverse hair colors (red, blond, black) and diverse eye colors (blue, brown) (Anthrogenica 2015; Eupedia 2015; Frost 2014; Frost et al. 2017; Mathieson et al. 2018). The modern European phenotype must have emerged even earlier, most likely during the last ice age of the Upper Paleolithic within an area stretching from the Baltic to mid-Siberia. To date, the earliest known individual with the derived allele for blond hair is from Afontova Gora (c. 18,000 BP) (Mathieson et al. 2018).

But what about the Neolithic farmers? How did they get to be white-skinned? Most likely through introgression. As they advanced into Europe, they intermixed with the native population.

Agriculture in a region may have been introduced by immigrants, but that does not mean that the immigrants carried mainly Near Eastern genes (Richards 2003; Rowley-Conwy 2004b; Zvelebil 2005). The LBK, for example, originated in the Carpathian Basin; the population that moved westward emerged there carrying a complex mix of European and Near Eastern mtDNA and no doubt picking up more as it moved. (Rowley-Conwy 2011: S434)

In some cases, farming communities took in hunter-gatherer individuals, especially women. In other cases, replacement was followed by reverse replacement, as with Neolithic culture in northwestern France: "After a couple of centuries it disappeared, replaced by a more widespread local Neolithic. Agriculturalized foragers appear to have absorbed the immigrants" (Rowley-Conwy 2011: S439).

In Western Europe, hunter-gatherers made a smaller contribution to the Neolithic gene pool (~25%) because of their low population density. The situation was like that of European settlers and native Amerindians in North America. Introgression was greater during the long time (7500-6000 BP) when the advance of Neolithic farmers stalled along a line stretching from the Low Countries in the West to the Black Sea in the East. To the north, along the shores of the Baltic and the North Sea, were hunter-fisher-gatherers with a relatively high population density (Frost 2017; Price 1991).

So to what degree are Europeans today descended from native Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and to what degree are they descended from Neolithic farmers of Anatolian origin? This question still has no reliable answer. On the basis of mtDNA, Skoglund et al. (2012) estimated Anatolian admixture at 95% in Sardinians, 52% in northwest Europeans, 31-41% in Swedes, and 11% in Russians. This methodology has a major flaw, however: if a group is a mixture of two other groups, its allele frequencies are assumed to be determined solely by the degree of intermixture. No allowance is made for differences in natural selection.

If we compare late hunter-gatherers with present-day Europeans, we see that the main change to mtDNA has been the loss of haplogroup U. Today, this haplogroup reaches high levels only among the Saami of Finland and the Mansi of northwestern Siberia, both of whom were hunter-gatherers until recently (Derbeneva et al 2002). Does the hunting-gathering lifestyle somehow favor this haplogroup? Balloux et al. (2009) argued that trade-offs between thermogenesis and ATP synthesis favor some haplogroups over others. In particular, haplogroup U is associated with reduced sperm motility—an indication that the energy balance is shifted from producing ATP to producing heat. Being nomadic, hunter-gatherers spend more time in the cold, especially when sleeping in temporary shelters. In contrast, farming makes possible a more sedentary lifestyle, including a warmer sleeping environment, and would therefore select against genetic variants, like haplogroup U, that increase body temperature at the expense of ATP production.

This hypothesis is testable. If haplogroup U disappeared because Anatolian farmers partially replaced native hunter-gatherers, this genetic change should coincide with the time boundary between late hunter-gatherers and early farmers. If this haplogroup disappeared through natural selection, the change should have occurred gradually over a longer period. The second scenario seems closer to the truth. In a study of 92 Danish human remains from the Mesolithic to the Middle Ages, Melchior et al. (2010) found that high incidences of haplogroup U persisted long after the advent of farming and apparently as late as the Early Iron Age.

Haplogroup U was likewise found to persist across the Mesolithic/Neolithic boundary when Jones et al. (2011) compared ancient DNA from Latvia and Ukraine. They also used nuclear DNA to compare the Mesolithic and Neolithic samples, as opposed to the mtDNA methodology of Skoglund et al. (2012). This time there was no evidence of Anatolian admixture in any of the Neolithic samples.

This is not to say that Anatolian farmers didn’t contribute to the European gene pool. They did, but researchers have overestimated this contribution by attributing all of the genetic differences between farmers and hunter-gatherers to population replacement. This is particularly the case with haplogroup U—the mtDNA marker that most sharply distinguishes farmers from hunter-gatherers. If mtDNA shows that Russians are 11% Anatolian, while nuclear DNA shows that Ukrainians are 0% Anatolian, the discrepancy is probably due to differences in methodology rather than a real difference between Russians and Ukrainians.


With the end of the last ice age, Europe had three major populations: 

Western Hunter-Gatherers - attested from sites in Spain, Luxembourg, and England
- African appearance except for blue eyes (dark skin, dark curly hair)

Anatolian Farmers - attested from sites in central and southern Europe
- Spread into Europe from the southeast and intermixed with native hunter-gatherers as they advanced northward
- White skin, dark hair, dark eyes

Eastern Hunter-Gatherers - attested from sites in Sweden and Russia
- Fully modern European phenotype: white skin with a diverse palette of hair and eye colors
- By the late Mesolithic, high population densities along the Baltic and the North Sea

The Western Hunter-Gatherers went extinct after 7,000 BP, being replaced by Anatolian Farmers who by then had become heavily intermixed with native hunter-gatherers. After a relatively rapid expansion into southern, central, and western Europe, their wave of advance came to a halt around 7500 BP along a line stretching from the Low Countries to the Black Sea. 

Meanwhile, Eastern Hunter-Gatherers along the Baltic and the North Sea had increased their numbers by exploiting marine resources (fish, shellfish, seals). As fisher-hunters they were able to create semi-sedentary societies with relatively large populations and high social complexity, thus forming a demographic barrier to the advance of farming until around 6,000 BP. They then adopted farming through cultural diffusion rather than population replacement. As farmer-fishers, they now expanded westward and southward, an expansion that continued into the historical period.

In this prehistoric drama, we like to see Mesolithic hunter-gatherers as beautiful losers who were steamrolled out of existence by savvier and more numerous farming peoples. This was true for the Western Hunter-Gatherers. There was another Mesolithic population, however: the hunter-fisher-gatherers along the shores of the Baltic and the North Sea. They achieved levels of population density and social complexity not only on a par with Neolithic societies but also rich in possibilities for future advancement. Of the three major populations in prehistoric Europe, they were the ones who would ultimately have the greatest demographic impact and lead the way to behavioral modernity, i.e., individualism, reduced emphasis on kinship, and the market as the main organizing principle of social and economic life. They not only survived but also went on to create what we call the Western World. Not bad for a bunch of losers.


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Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Haitian Tragedy. Part 3

François Duvalier, President of Haiti (1957-1971)

In 1957, François Duvalier was elected President of Haiti. He won massively: 679,884 votes to the 266,992 of his nearest frontrunner, Louis Déjoie. Once in power he exiled Déjoie's major supporters and had a new constitution proclaimed. He then seized control of the army and created a militia, the Tonton Macoutes, that became twice as big as the army. In 1961, he called a new presidential election and ran as the sole candidate. In 1964, he became president for life. In 1966, he persuaded the Vatican to allow him to nominate the country's Catholic hierarchy. "No longer was Haiti under the grip of the minority rich mulattoes, protected by the military and supported by the church; Duvalier now exercised more power in Haiti than ever." (Wikipedia 2018).

He is still well known almost a half-century after his death:

Duvalier's government was one of the most repressive in the hemisphere. Within the country he murdered and exiled his opponents; estimates of those killed are as high as 60,000.

Duvalier employed intimidation, repression, and patronage to supplant the old mulatto elites with a new elite of his own making. Corruption—in the form of government rake-offs of industries, bribery, extortion of domestic businesses, and stolen government funds—enriched the dictator's closest supporters. Most of them held sufficient power to intimidate the members of the old elite, who were gradually co-opted or eliminated.

Many educated professionals fled Haiti for New York City, Miami, Montreal, Paris and several French-speaking African countries, exacerbating an already serious lack of doctors and teachers.

The government confiscated peasant landholdings and allotted them to members of the militia, who had no official salary and made their living through crime and extortion. The dispossessed fled to the slums of the capital where they would find only meager incomes to feed themselves. Malnutrition and famine became endemic. (Wikipedia 2018).

The noiriste revolution of 1946

This political revolution did not begin in 1957. Duvalier himself said he was continuing what had begun in 1946 with the election of Dumarsais Estimé, the first black president after more than two decades of American occupation and another two decades of authoritarian mulatto rule. Duvalier had in fact served under Estimé, first as Director General of the National Public Health Service and then in 1949 as Minister of Health and Labor. 

By firing mulatto civil servants, and by greatly expanding the civil service, Estimé greatly expanded Haiti's black middle class, and it was especially this group that would provide Duvalier with his core support. Duvalier wanted to reduce mulatto overrepresentation even further, not only in the public sector but also in the private sector. He succeeded, but only made life worse for most Haitians. When the anthropologist Micheline Labelle went to Haiti in the 1970s, she found widespread disappointment among her interviewees:

"Currently, the greatest personal fortunes could be among the blacks (Duvalier, Cambronne ...). There are very rich blacks in the bureaucratic middle class but it amounts to 20, 30 senior officials only. For the others, nothing has changed" (middle-class mulatto man, 25 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 192)

Duvalier did reduce mulatto control of the economy, but at the cost of cultural changes that made wealth creation much harder. Less mulatto wealth did not create more for the black middle class, let alone for blacks in general. These cultural changes are mentioned in Labelle's interviews and involved several areas of behavior.


Haiti is a low-trust culture. Labelle gives the example of a fire at the Tippenhauer plant in 1973:

As in other assembly plants where workers are searched at the exit for fear of theft, all of the emergency exits had been locked to ensure control. A fire broke out and caused around twenty deaths. (Labelle 1987, p. 203)

Mulatto interviewees were wary of blacks from all walks of life:

[...] domestics especially, who become for the [mulatto] women a sort of major referent, an obsessive preoccupation, due to fear of coulage (theft), poisoning, magic; [the interviewees] fear that workers in plants will steal [...]; [they] fear that poor street people will plunder or even murder [...]; [they] fear that the [black] "middle classes" in power will bring objective repression: torture, murders, disappearances, exile [...] (Labelle 1987, pp. 203-204)

Blacks were reportedly no less mistrustful:

[According to middle-class mulattoes] a negro is mistrustful because he is afraid. This is a peasant trait. Blacks have no principles, no education. So they have to fight to keep going. The black man has been traumatized since childhood. He saw his parents bail out [se dégager]. So he will do the same.

Blacks of both sexes spoke about their mistrust of each other:

In this way, the idea of betrayal invades relationships between men and women. Many women are convinced that any man will cheat on any woman morally, physically, and intellectually. Many men, being convinced that behind each woman hides a slut [bouzin], may, by a sort of compensatory response, become compulsive experts in the art of bringing down [faire chuter] a woman previously considered decent [honnête]. (Labelle 1987, p. 229)

"People scorn women here. One doesn't confide in a woman. When you come down to it, she's a whore, ready to do anything for money [...]. We talk about this between men. We laugh about it, and it's deeply anchored. Men, frankly, are buddies with each other [complices]. This is due to the situation of women during slavery. They managed better than men thanks to their sexual attributes. This attitude has perpetuated itself among them. They calculate [...]” (middle-class black man, 45 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 229)

Thus, the middle-class black man, like the man of other social classes, is literally torn between the ideal of a faithful wife and his scorn for a woman, whatever her color: Koko pa gin zorèy, mè l'tandé brui lajan [A vagina has no ears, but it hears the sound of money] (Labelle 1987, p. 229)

[...] the idea that one cannot trust women, independently of their color, remains implicit. The fear of being tricked, poisoned, betrayed by a woman is profound in the peasant milieu. (Labelle 1987, p. 265)

A Haitian man, people say again and again, cannot conceive that he must limit himself to one woman at a time. Women are socialized in this axiom since childhood; they expect men to behave freely and are resigned to this. On the other hand, men cannot conceive that their wives will be unfaithful and are perpetually obsessed by the fear of being cheated on. (Labelle 1987, p. 228)


As noted in my last post, most of the middle-class mulattoes refrained from commenting on this subject. Those who did felt that the black middle class was less honest than the mulatto middle class, while taking care to qualify this judgment:

"If I have to employ someone as an accountant, cashier, or domestic, and if I don't know any of them, I'll choose a mulatto because they have a reputation of being educated and honest, but if I have records and if I see recommendations, I'll choose just as much a black" (middle-class mulatto, 36 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 202).

"There's no better thief than #1 [a figure representing a black man], that's understandable, they're in poverty... In fact I can't categorize. It's a matter of individuals, not of types. Except for the regime. [there] it's widespread. Everybody has the right to a cut...And with Duvalier's police, it's even worse. They've been taking their cut from the top to the bottom, throughout the country" (middle-class mulatto man, 25 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 202).

This kind of observation was also made by many of the middle-class blacks:

"[You] talk about honesty these days in Haiti! You make me laugh. [...] One sees so many things these days. You think so-and-so is honest and you discover he does tons of dirty things [...]. A griffe [three-quarters black, one quarter white] perhaps would be more honest [...]. But in any case not a black man because he'll seek by any means to get in with the mulattoes and crush the others. What's disappointing is that when they get into power, they plunder. All of them do the same thing” (middle-class black woman, 22 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 208)


According to Labelle, the Duvalier era brought an increase in jealousy to middle-class society. "Mulatto women are considered to be generally more frank, resorting less to magic practices against each other, spreading fewer rumors, and being less envious than black women" (Labelle 1987, p. 209). Jealousy became not only more common but also more ruthless:

“Women are fighting among themselves. Jealousy all the time. They seek by any means to hurt you. In the past, it wasn't so hard. These days it's a really big thing. Before there used to be a mulatto elite who had nothing to do with these superstitious things. But black women want to get ahead. They seek by any means to nail you [régler] for things to do with husbands or homes. It's a constant struggle. If you have a conspicuous social condition, you'll be envied, you'll be sent an illness to make you spend money. Someone will find something near a gate [to the house...]. Spirits will be sent to disrupt that house[hold...]. Your child at school will be made fun of [...]” (black middle-class woman, 42 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 209)

Future time orientation, teamwork, self-control, etc.

This area of behavior was covered in my last post. Both mulatto and black interviewees said that the mulatto man knows how "to make money work." He is business-minded and knows how to team up with others. In contrast, the middle-class black man "accumulates to show off, refuses to invest, spends outrageously, and does not know how to administer his assets." (Labelle 1987 pp. 191-196). In short, mulattoes adhere to middle-class values. "Mulattoes, it is said, have more cohesion, solidarity, respect for their word when given, self-control, sense of responsibility, and scruples. The black man is cunning, mistrustful, thieving, untruthful, treacherous, politically irresponsible, and corrupt" (Labelle 1987, p. 198).


Until the American occupation, Haiti had two parallel societies. On the one hand, the mulatto community held European middle-class values and provided the country with lawyers, doctors, businessmen, merchants, politicians, and civil servants. On the other hand, the black community lived as small farmers with perhaps 10% living in town as artisans, mill and factory workers, petty traders, or government officials of one sort or another. Farmers typically grew enough food to meet their own needs plus a small surplus for the marketplace. Trade was women's work:

The peasant's creativity is perhaps furthered by the widespread custom of polygamy, since each wife acts as the business manager of her household, thus freeing her husband for more spiritual tasks.

[...] The woman is the organizer. She cooks, washes, rears the children, handles the finances, and makes all purchases, excepting the animals. She lugs the produce to the nearest market or sells it to a middleman speculator who in turn peddles it in the city. On market day she can be seen striding along the jungle paths to market, balancing a basket of produce on her head as regally as a queen with an outsize crown. (Diederich and Burt 1969, pp. 21-22)

Business acumen was thus limited to women, and even they lacked some key elements, particularly the willingness to work as a team with non-kin on a common project. For both the private and public sectors, administrative and organizational skills were confined to the mulatto community.

Things began to change with the American occupation. For the first time in Haiti's history large numbers of blacks received postsecondary education and entered the civil service (Kaussen 2005, p. 69). The new American style of education was democratic—it aimed to teach large numbers of people the vocational skills needed for specific jobs. This was in contrast to the old model of providing a small elite with administrative and organizational skills—teaching rulers how to rule, with strong emphasis on law, the humanities, and classical studies:

The Haitian elite followed the aristocratic prejudice of honoring literary and professional work and despising manual labor. Hard physical work was linked in their minds with slavery and regarded as the prerogative of the ignorant and the poor. They feared that American influence might direct their educational system away from French cultural traditions and toward more materialistic goals. (Diederich and Burt 1969, pp. 35).

Duvalier was a product of both systems. He had gone to an old-style lycée for primary and secondary education but then attended an American-reorganized medical school and was later hired for a U.S. army project to control yaws, an infection of the skin, bones, and joints (Diederich and Burt 1969, pp. 36, 48-49).

In 1946, Dumarsais Estimé became Haiti's first democratically elected black president. He sought to expand opportunities for his country's emerging black middle class; first by replacing mulattoes with blacks in the civil service, and second by greatly expanding the civil service. This new middle class would increasingly be at odds with its older mulatto counterpart:

The blacks concentrated on politics but failed to expand their power by developing outside business connections. They simply enriched themselves in an opportunistic fashion by their mismanagement of public funds during a favorable economic period, emerging as a sort of "black elite," thus challenging the mulatto establishment which had a broader base of power.

[…] The behavior of the new black elite, now in privileged positions, caused problems. Their lack of discipline, and often mere greed, began to have repercussions. There was a political-business scandal in the banana industry. Also, some prominent black officials were charged with graft in the construction of the exposition. The rift between black and mulatto widened. (Diederich and Burt 1969, pp. 56-57)

In theory, Haiti should have benefited by making its educational system more democratic, more vocational, and more merit-based. Unfortunately, learning how to work is more than simply learning how to perform a task. A task is performed in a social context where you work with people who are not necessarily your family or kin, where you resolve disputes without violence, where your property rights are respected and theft stigmatized, and where you look beyond the task at hand and assess its long-term consequences. These lessons are not taught at a vocational school. After the American occupation ended, President Sténio Vincent (1930-1941) recognized this shortcoming and sought to remedy it through national Catholic education for the masses, such as Mussolini had introduced in Italy, Franco in Spain, and Pétain in Vichy France. Whether such a social model would have succeeded in Haiti is debatable. In any case, it was no longer realistic by 1941, when the U.S. was preparing for war against the Axis, and when Roosevelt pressured Vincent to step down.  

A tragedy is the inevitable working out of a mistake and its consequences. The 1946 election, and the rise of noirisme, put Haiti on a path that led to Duvalier. Even if he had been deposed, as had almost happened on several occasions, someone like him would have taken his place. The problem was his power base—a black middle class that envied its mulatto counterpart and blamed its failings on everything and everyone, except itself. 

Today, Haiti is a broken nation that has destroyed much of its social capital. This destruction will be especially hard to undo because too many Haitians still disown responsibility for what has happened to their country. One instead hears a litany of excuses: the Napoleonic invasion in 1802, the refusal of the U.S. to recognize Haiti, and the massive reparations to France. Yet the French were finally ousted in 1804, the United States recognized Haiti in 1862, and the final payment to France was made in 1947. In that year, Haiti’s future seemed promising ...


Diederich, B. and A. Burt. 1969. Papa Doc. The Truth about Haiti Today, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kaussen, V. (2005). Race, Nation, and the Symbolics of Servitude in Haitian Noirisme, in A. Isfahani-Hammond (ed.). The Masters and the Slaves. Plantation Relations and Mestizaje in American Imaginaries (pp. 67-88), New York: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Labelle, M. (1987). Idéologie de couleur et classes sociales en Haïti, Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal.

Wikipedia (2018). François Duvalierçois_Duvalier