Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Maybe Individualism predated Christianity

I mentioned some historian criticism of the WIRED (or WEIRD, in the more pejorative form) theory of Western individualism, and here is a separate criticism:
As I note in the abstract, this contrasts with my recently published book Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition: Evolutionary Origins, History, and Prospects for the Future, which proposes that Western individualism, as expressed in the characteristic European marriage system and in a plethora of other cultural expressions, is ultimately the outcome of selection in the ancestral environments of northern Europe and northern Eurasia more widely. This commentary highlights the historical evidence bearing on these alternative explanations for European exceptionalism. The main conclusion is that European individualism, as expressed in kinship structure and social organization, was firmly established before the advent of Christianity.  My paper has 4 sections:

1. Primordial Tendencies toward Western Individualism: the key issue is signs of individualism in the Indo-Europeans and Northern Hunter-Gatherers that make up the core populations of Western Europe.

2. Sources and Targets of Church Power, where the key issue is whether the Western European tradition of monogamy predated Church influence.

3. How Widespread Was Compliance with the Church’s Rules on Incestuous Marriage? A basic claim of Shulz et al. is that the Church eradicated widespread cousin marriage. I present the case that cousin marriage and clan-type social organization were never characteristic of the West.

4. The Geography of Church Influence. I show that Western individualism does not at all map onto the research on Western family history which shows that some areas of Western Europe long under Church influence (e.g., southern France) retained collectivist family patterns, while some areas of Western Europe that were Christianized late are the most individualistic (Scandinavia).

I am not sure about this. Scandanavia does not seem to individualistic to me. They are individualistic about some things, but not others.

Christendom was the result of (1) Christianity; (2) Greek and Roman civilizations; and (3) pre-Christian culture of Northern Europe. That last factor is harder to evaluate, because we do not have so many written records of it.

So when the Church eradicated clan-type social structure, was it following religious teaching or extending trends that pre-dated Christianity? I do not know how to answer that questions. I am not sure it matters. If millennia of development made the WIRED people different from the rest of the world, then that is a difference that will probably persist for a few more centuries. We need to understand it.

Update: Ricardo Duchesne writes, about Henrich's book:

This book offers a substantial answer to a question white identitarians are continually asking: why whites are allowing themselves to be replaced in their own homelands? Simply put, because whites are weirdly unattached to their own ethnic in-groups but believe instead that humans across the planet are just like them, individualistic, capable of impartiality, and fair play. Whites don't know what Henrich's book (implicitly) teaches: non-Weird people are nepotistic and highly biased towards their own ethnic in-groups.
He then goes on to discuss the role of 16th century Protestant literacy. Maybe that had a role in making Europeans different, or maybe Europeans were already different.

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