Culture–gene coevolution of individualism–collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene
Sunday March 11, 2012 1:04 pm Leave a comment
It’s rare I leap to defend Christianity, but such a defence is at the heart of my critique of this novel research, or rather its conclusions.
Whilst it is no great surprise to find a genetic marker that predisposes populations towards either collectivism or individualism, I don’t buy the pathogen based explanation. At least not yet. Seems to me equally likely that non conformists might simply have been killed off at a higher rate that conformists and that would have led to a similar excess of the relevant genetic marker. The pathogen excess might have played its part by “justifying” coerced conformity on the grounds of disease protection but the lethal abilities of the authoritarian deserve full examination too.
In the past century we’ve seen just how effective and lethal the authoritarians can be. And we know that the Asian societies have had such authoritarianism embedded in them for just as long as all the western societies. Take society back a couple of thousand years and we were all living in extremely hierarchical authoritarian societies. Any keen student of political history will be aware that the notion of individual liberty is, historically, a very recent phenomenon which emerged in the enlightened thoughts of western philosophers and produced the wave of 18th century revolutions in Europe and America. ONLY.
The major obvious difference is religion. One major advantage (from the point of view of an Anarchist like me) of Christianity is that, initially at least, (and still today in its purest forms), it sanctified individualism and subverted the ruling/owning class. And secular or not, western society is built on mainly Christian inspired tenets.
I would argue, therefore, that it’s possible that, up to, say 1500 years ago, we wouldn’t have found the differences in the Serotonin Transporter gene. But that the spread of individualism nurtured by Christianity permitted the individuals to survive and breed, thus increasing the prevalence of the individualist version of the gene.
And like all good hypotheses, mine is testable. If my conjecture is sound, then my prediction is that we’ll find the same prevalence of the relevant genes in the Islamic community as in the Asian community, because their religion has pointedly not nurtured individualism like Christianity.