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Civilization: Whites vs Asians

March 10, 2012
Japanese matchlocks

Japanese foot soldiers using matchlocks.

Some time ago I read the abbreviated version of Rushton’s Race, Evolution & Behavior, and I think it provides an extremely satisfactory theoretical unification of many interesting facets of human bio-diversity. But a little while ago Skarphedin (of Unsafe Harbour) gave me a copy of the full version, and I’m finally working through it.

One of Rushton’s key elements of Rushton’s account is the idea that Whites consistently rank between East Asians and Blacks on a host of physiological and behavioural measures. So, for example, here’s a reproduction of the ‘personality’ section of the table ‘Relative Ranking of Races on Diverse Variables’:

Orientals Whites Blacks
Activity Level Lower Intermediate Higher
Aggressiveness Lower Intermediate Higher
Cautiousness Higher Intermediate Lower
Dominance Lower Intermediate Higher
Impulsivity Lower Intermediate Higher
Self-concept Lower Intermediate Higher
Sociability Lower Intermediate Higher

On the whole, the gap between Asians and whites is smaller than that between whites and blacks, but there are still only two places where Rushton ranks Asians and whites at the same level: administrative capacity and cultural acheivements—in each case, whites and Asians are both described as ‘higher’ and blacks as ‘lower.’ These both strike me as quite interesting cases.

If you looked at cultural accomplishments at an individual level, I would expect Asians to come out on top. For example, they’re probably more likely to play instruments and to have more refined sensibilities around etiquette. But if we look at the totality of civilizational (or racial) accomplishments, whites are clearly out front, probably by a very good margin.

In some ways, Asians also look better in terms of social and political organization. China has been managing vast numbers of people with a sophisticated bureaucracy for a ridiculously long time. The most orderly place in the world right now is probably Japan, which also has a history of rather astonishing bureaucratic accomplishments. On the other hand, East Asian administrative systems often seem to be quite closed and sclerotic. Even Japanese democracy is a very odd beast. Northern European democracy, though not necessarily as orderly as Asian systems, is clearly the gold standard for political organization.

It seems that Europe actually benefited from its fractured and competitive nature in ways that monolithic China could not. China could and did roll back innovations when they seemed to threaten social order. Japan rapidly became the world’s largest producer of guns in the 16th century, and then successfully eradicated guns altogether once the country was unified. But Europeans kept competing and so pulled ahead of everyone else. Likewise, democracy, though messier than an ideally benevolent monarchy, does better because it manages competition rather than suppressing it.

It may be that Europeans have never even been capable of an Asian degree of order and sophistication. Paradoxically, that allowed—and perhaps forced—Europeans to rise to new administrative and civilizational heights.

But I’m out of my depth here, so feedback is very welcome.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2012 1:52 pm

    Very good points! I think there is something very special about the European race that cannot be quantified- it is something more esoteric. We are the most creative race on Earth- and that includes technical innovations as well as artistic ones.

    I think that intergroup competition, as well as a culture of individualism and universalism (which is de facto meritocratic, to a degree) allowed talent to flourish where it otherwise would have been oppressed.

    It could be that our creative outliers were allowed a bit more leeway than in East Asia, where they would not have been seen as a threat to social harmony. If these outliers then became successful and had many children in Europe (and they did not in Asia) then they could pass on their creative genes onto many generations.

    I would not be surprised if Europeans in general have a wider distribution along the IQ Gaussian. I know that men do, which explains why there are more male geniuses and why men drive social progress. As most advances have been made by Europeans one could argue that they do posses something that sets them apart.

    • March 10, 2012 11:05 pm

      I seem to remember Steve Sailer saying that variance in IQ was relatively low in blacks—I don’t know about other races, but I’d be curious.

      I agree that the culture of individualism is also relevant here. Of course you could think of individualism as making the most of what otherwise be a bad situation: namely having people that aren’t as able to get along so harmoniously.

      With regards to creativity, I sometimes think that whites occupy a sort of sweet spot in terms of intelligence and impulsivity or independence. Uncooperative enough to do lots of fresh things, smart enough to make something of it.

      On the other hand, Asians came up with lots of innovations which got squashed for social reasons. But perhaps there’s some truth to both things.

  2. March 10, 2012 11:00 pm

    Much would be explained if Rushton’s position was proven. But it will only ever be provable with modern studies on modern people. Until then the difference between ‘innate characteristic’ and ‘deeply ingrained cultural traits’ will be pretty much indistinguishable.

    But I think this is a topic that requires many blog posts.

  3. Gunn permalink
    March 11, 2012 11:11 am

    I think some of this conjecture may be premature.

    When white/western civilisation is compared to chinese civilisation, it must be borne in mind that we’re cherry-picking a period of about 400 years for the west, vs. millenia for china. There is every reason to suppose that the current western dominance is largely a result of the embrace of pure capitalist / free market principles (i.e. the absence of socialism or collectivism in general). What we’re seeing for large parts of the west now though is a reversion to centrally managed collectivist society, which is likely to pull the west into a new dark age.

    Similarly, I think it likely that it would be possible to cherry pick a portion of chinese history that was every bit as dramatic as the expansion of current western civilisation.

    In other words, I think the political structure matters more for white / asian races than base genetics, and expansion and rapid technological advancement is a direct consequence of enforced property rights, capitalism, and free markets.

    One other very interesting example is the Indus Valley civilisation. This is the least known ancient civilisation, but it spanned an area larger than egyptian and the mesopotamian civilisations combined and appears to have been extremely advanced technoligically (e.g. sewerage systems 2500 years before Rome). Additionally, it was a trade based civilisation that appears not to have been dominated by a religious or other oligarchical hierarchy (in fact, there is evidence to support that there was rule by councils, perhaps equivalent to republic / democratic setups). Its entirely possible that it was based on capitalist / free-market principles, as it was simply too big to have been run in a centrally dictated fashion (also, other pointers include standardised weights and measures, and a known script that has been conjectured to have been designed to be used by people with different base languages). Genetically, this civilisation is considered to have been identical with or very similar to modern day north-west India / pakistan populations, i.e. its people would probably be classed as caucasian with some limited mixture of mongloid / negroid genes; in other words, likely to be similar in characteristics to the ‘white’ race per your post.

    Again, that civilisation’s peak was around 500 years long; the current thinking is that following environmental changes/disasters, there was a gradual migration eastward. My suspicion is that the disasters that befell the people probably made them turn more instinctively to collectivist forms of political organisation, which over time degraded their civilisation to the point where other cultures (buddhist, then later islamic) were able to dominate.

    Finally, I think that the proposition per your post could be challenged in the case of blacks if we were able to pinpoint an african civilisation in the past that demonstrated a significant period (say 300 years or so) of regional dominance based on culture and technology. I’m not aware of any such examples, but then I’m not particularly interested in black / african history and so have never actively looked.

    • March 11, 2012 12:08 pm

      I agree that a lot of what makes the West look special is pretty recent. But the recent stuff has deep roots (David Landes’ *Wealth and Poverty of Nations* is great on this). It’s also true that the West has a pretty long history of accomplishments—for instance, the Greek philosophical tradition has never really been paralleled anywhere except again by Europe in the last few hundred years. (Although Indian philosophy is pretty interesting, too.) Chinese speculative thought in general never as far as I can see reaches anything like the heights of the ancient or medieval worlds.

      But I accept that political structure may yet prove to be more important for whites and ancients than genetics. Arguably it already has. Anyway part of my point was that political structure (specifically fragmentation and competition) is really important. Now that East Asian countries have been forced to compete with the West, they’re doing pretty well.

      India is an interesting case that I will certainly be addressing at some point in the future. I’d be interested in any specific reading recommendations you might have.

  4. March 12, 2012 2:58 am

    Interesting study in press, to be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society: “Culture-gene coevolution of individualism-collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR)”.

    From the Daily Mail (yes, I know):

    The study, by the department of psychology at Northwestern University in Illinois, suggests that the individualism seen in western nations, and the higher levels of collectivism and family loyalty found in Asian cultures, are caused by differences in the prevalence of particular genes.

    ‘We demonstrate for the first time a robust association between cultural values of individualism–collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene,’ said Joan Chiao, from the department of psychology at Northwestern University.

    Also interesting given the Rushton framework:

    Chiao suggests that the version of the gene predominating in Asian populations is associated with heightened anxiety levels and increased risk of depression.

    • March 12, 2012 3:46 am

      Oh, that’s odd. I just realized this study was already published in 2010. The Daily Mail is reporting it now as if it’s an upcoming article…

      See a criticism of it: “Testing the null hypothesis: comments on ‘Culture-gene coevolution of individualism–collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene’”

  5. April 27, 2012 9:05 am

    And you find nothing lacking about Rushton’s methodology and sources?

    • April 27, 2012 9:45 am

      I’m not an expert in this stuff. Do you have anything in mind in particular?

      At the blog I linked, Skarphedin has some posts up about Rushton. He doesn’t think all of Rushton’s claims have held up all that well. Until I look into it further myself, I’ll have to take his word for it. But I find the overall picture pretty persuasive.

      • April 27, 2012 10:05 am

        Rushton lacks peer-reviewed support for his gradation in ethnic genital sizes, performs random sampling of ethnic males at a mall to ask how far they can ejaculate and proposes that intelligence varies with the temperature of the country where a person is born. He uses one unsubstantiated source (Forbidden Fields in Anthropology) as the basis for his ethnic ‘sexual maturation’ data which is now used by many Internet racists to claim that Asian males have smaller penises. See here for instance: http://ethnicmuse.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/lynn-on-rushton-on-mongoloid-penises-10/

  6. Dave permalink
    May 28, 2012 2:23 am

    Lets keep this simple.

    Whites are superior to Asians in terms of Science and technology.
    Asians are superior to Whites in terms of Culture.

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