Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Crisis of the 2020s

Anthropologist Peter Frost explains:
Two years ago I wrote about "The Crisis of the 2020s." I argued that this decade would see a worsening confrontation between two world views ...

The evolution of social complexity is far from easy. One of the main challenges has been the creation of large societies in which economic transactions take place mostly between unrelated individuals. Such societies are impossible in most of the world because of the high level of mistrust between unrelated individuals. Each transaction has to be checked and double-checked for lying, cheating, and outright theft. Many transactions never take place because they just aren't cost-effective.

This obstacle has been overcome in northwest Europe and East Asia. In both areas, the solution is behavioral and psychological. Northwest Europeans are more individualistic, less loyal to kin, and more trusting of strangers. Because they attach less importance to kinship, they have been able to build large, functioning societies on the basis of “impersonal prosociality,” i.e., willingness to obey universal social rules, affective empathy toward nonkin, and feelings of guilt for unwitnessed rule breaking (Frost 2017b; Frost 2019b; Schulz et al. 2019). East Asians are less individualistic but just as willing to obey universal rules, which are enforced more by shame than by guilt. ...

Let's be frank. The high productivity of North America, Western Europe, and East Asia has profound behavioral and psychological causes. It is not due to political ideals, universal education, or a particular legal system. It is due to a higher level of social trust, as well as a higher level of cognitive ability and a lower level of personal violence. When immigrants enter that kind of environment, their productivity dramatically rises. They are now working in a society where laws are observed, where information is reliable, and where disputes are not normally settled through violence. We all benefit from that kind of society — simply by virtue of living in it.

That’s the "unearned privilege" that antiracists and right-wing economists love to denounce. Their argument is deceptively simple: “By what right do we deny this privilege to others? It’s a mere accident of birth! Just think, they’re less productive because we’re keeping them out. So let them in! We’ll all be better off!”

Well, no. Do I have to explain why?
I guess this stuff must be obvious to an anthropologist. People are different in obvious and important ways. You can debate nature-nuture all you want, but people do not change easily. Some changes have taken a millennium or more to affect the whole population. We are in the midst of a vast and dangerous demographic experiment.

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