Are genes the key to the Yankee Empire?

By Razib Khan | December 31, 2011 1:49 pm

That’s the question a commenter poses, albeit with skepticism. First, the background here. New England was a peculiar society for various demographic reasons. In the early 17th century there was a mass migration of Puritan Protestants from England to the colonies which later became New England because of their religious dissent from the manner in which the Stuart kings were changing the nature of the British Protestant church.* Famously, these colonies were themselves not aiming to allow for the flourishing of religious pluralism, with the exception of Rhode Island. New England maintained established state churches longer than other regions of the nation, down into the early decades of the 19th century.

Between 1630 and 1640 about ~20,000 English arrived on the northeastern fringe of British settlement in North America. With the rise of co-religionists to power in the mid-17th century a minority of these emigres engaged in reverse-migration. After the mid-17th century migration by and large ceased. Unlike the Southern colonies these settlements did not have the same opportunities for frontiersmen across a broad and ecological diverse hinterland, and its cultural mores were decidedly more constrained than the cosmopolitan Middle Atlantic. The growth in population in New England from the low tends of thousands to close to 1 million in the late 18th century was one of endogenous natural increase from the founding stock.


This high fertility regime persisted down into the middle of the 19th century, as the core New England region hit its Malthusian limit, and flooded over into upstate New York, to the irritation of the older Dutch population in that region. Eventually even New York was not enough, and New England swept out across much of the Old Northwest. The last became the “Yankee Empire,” founded by Yankees, but later demographically supplemented and superseded in its western reaches by immigrants from northwest Europe who shared many of the same biases toward order and moral probity which were the hallmarks of Yankees in the early Republic.

While the Yankees were waxing in numbers, and arguably cultural influence, the first decades of the American Republic also saw the waning of New England power and influence in relation to the South in the domain of politics. This led even to the aborted movement to secede from the union by the New England states in the first decade of the century. By the time of Andrew Jackson an ascendant Democrat configuration which aligned Southern uplanders and lowlanders with elements of the Middle Atlantic resistant to Yankee cultural pretension  and demographic expansion would coalesce and dominate American politics down to the Civil War. It is illustrative that one of the prominent Northern figures in this alliance, President Martin Van Buren, was of Dutch New York background.

But this is a case where demographics was ultimate destiny. Not only were the Yankees fecund, but immigrants such as the German liberals fleeing the failures of the tumult of 1848 (e.g., Carl Schurz) were aligned with their anti-slavery enthusiasms (though they often took umbrage at the anti-alcohol stance of the Puritan moralists of the age, familiarizing the nation with beer in the 1840s). The Southern political ascendancy was simply not tenable in the face of Northern demographic robustness, fueled by both fertility and immigration. Because of overreach on the part of the Southern elite the segments of the Northern coalition which were opposed to the Yankees eventually fractured (Martin Van Buren allowed himself to be candidate for the anti-slavery Free Soil party at one point). Though there remained Northern Democrats down to the Civil War, often drawn from the “butternuts” whose ultimate origins were in the Border South, that period saw the shift in national politics from Democrat to Republican dominance (at least up the New Deal). Curiously, the coalition was an inversion of the earlier coalition, with Yankees now being integral constituents in a broader Northern and Midwestern movement, and Southerners being marginalized as the odd-men-out.

 I review all this ethno-history because I think that to a great extent it is part of the “Dark Matter” of American political and social dynamics. Americans are known as “Yankees” to the rest of the world, and yet the reality is that the Yankee was one specific and very distinctive folkway on the American scene. But, that folkway has been very influential, often in a cryptic fashion.

Both Barack H. Obama and George W. Bush are not culturally identified as Yankees in a narrow sense. Obama is a self-identified black American who has adopted the Chicago’s South Side as his community. The South Side is home to black culture which descends from those who arrived at the terminus of their own Great Migration from the American South. George W. Bush fancies himself a West Texan and a cowboy. He was governor of Texas, and makes his residence in Dallas, while much of his young adulthood was spent in Midland. But the reality is that both of these men have Yankee antecedents. This is clear in Bush’s case. His father is a quintessential Connecticut Yankee. Bush is the product of Andover Academy, Yale, and Harvard (by and large thanks to family connections). Barack H. Obama is a different case entirely. His racial identity as a black American is salient, but he grew up in one of the far flung outposts of the Yankee Empire, Hawaii. But perhaps more curiously, many of his mother’s ancestors were clearly Yankees. Obama has a great-grandfather named Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham.

Within and outside of the United States there is often a stereotype that white Americans are an amorphous whole, a uniform herrenvolk who oppressed the black minority. This ideology was actually to some extent at the heart of the dominance of the early Democratic party before the rise of the Republicans fractured the coalition along sectional lines. In many Northern states one saw populist Democrats revoking property rights which were race-blind with universal white male suffrage.  But white Americans, and Anglo-Americans of British stock at that, were not one. That was clear by the 1850s at the latest. And they exhibit a substantial amount of cultural variation which remains relevant today.

New England in particular stands out over the long historical scale. In many ways of the all the colonies of Great Britain it was the most peculiar in its relationship to the metropole. Unlike Australia or Canada it was not an open frontier, rich with natural resources which could absorb the demographic surplus of Britain. Unlike India it was not a possible source of rents from teeming culturally alien subjects. Unlike the South in the mid-19th century there was no complementary trade relationship. In economic terms New England was a potential and incipient rival to Old England. In cultural and social terms it may have aped Old England, but its “low church” Protestant orientation made it a throwback, and out of step with a metropole which was becoming more comfortable with the English Magisterial Reformation (which eventually led to the emergence of Anglo-Catholicism in the 19th century). Like modern day Japan, and England of its day, New England had to generate wealth from its human capital, its own ingenuity. This resulted in an inevitable conflict with the mother country, whose niche it was attempting to occupy (albeit, with exceptions, such as the early 19th century, before the rise of robust indigenous industry, and the reliance on trade). Today the American republic has pushed England aside as the center of the Anglosphere. And despite the romantic allure of the frontier and the surfeit of natural resources, it is ultimately defined by the spirit of Yankee ingenuity (rivaled by the cowboy, whose violent individualist ethos seems straight out of the Scots-Irish folklore of the South, transposed to the West).

What does this have to do with genetics? Let’s go back to the initial colonial period. As I’ve noted before: the Yankee colonies of New England engaged in selective immigration policies. Not only did they draw Puritan dissenters, but they were biased toward nuclear family units of middling background. By “middling,” that probably refers at least toward the upper quarter of English society of the period. They were literate, with at least some value-added skills. This is in contrast with the Irish Catholic migration of the 19th century, which emptied out Ireland of its tenant peasants (attempts to turn these Irish into yeoman farmers in the Midwest failed, with fiascoes such as the consumption of their seed corn and cattle over harsh Minnesota winters).

So the question is this: could “middle class” values be heritable? Yes, to some extent they are. Almost all behavioral tendencies are heritable to some extent. Adoption studies are clear on that. But, is one generation of selection sufficient to result in a long term shift? First, let’s dismiss the possibility of random genetic drift and therefore a bottleneck. The one generation shift in allele frequencies due to drift is inversely proportional to effective population. If you assume that effective population is ~5,000, then the inverse of that is 0.0002. So you’d expect the allele frequency at any given locus shift by only a tiny fraction. So we have to look to selection.

Let’s do some quick “back of the envelop” calculations. We’ll use IQ as a proxy for a whole host of numbers because the numbers will at least be concrete, though the underlying logic of a quantitative continuous trait remains the same. First, the assumptions:

– Truncation selection on the trait which lops off the bottom 75 percent of the class distribution

– A correlation between the trait and genetic variation, so that you lop off the bottom 50 percent of the IQ distribution

– A heritability of IQ of 0.50

The top 50 percent of the IQ distribution has a median/mean IQ of ~110. Assuming 0.50 heritability implies half way regression back to the mean. Therefore, this model predicts that one generation of selection would entail a median IQ of 105 in the second generation, about 1/3 of a standard deviation above the norm in England.

Is this plausible, and could it result in the differences we see across American white ethnic groups? It is possible, but there are reasons to be skeptical. I think my guess of the top 25 percent of the class distribution is defensible from all I’ve read. But the correlation of this with IQ is probably going to be lower in the pre-modern era than today, where you have meritocratic institutions which channel people of different aptitudes. Second, the heritability of IQ was probably lower back then than now, because of wide environmental variance. Please note, I don’t dismiss the genetic explanation out of hand. Rather, this is a case where there are so many uncertainties that I’m not inclined to say much more than that it is possible, and that we may have an answer in the coming decades with widespread genomic sequencing.

But there’s another option, which is on the face of it is more easy to take in because so many of the parameters are well known and have been thoroughly examined. And that’s cultural selection. While we have to guess at the IQ distributions of the early Puritans, we know about the distribution of their cultural tendencies. They were almost all Calvinists, disproportionately literate. Because of its flexible nature culture can generate enormous inter-group differences in phenotypic variation. The genetic difference between New England and Virginia may have been small, but the cultural difference was wide (e.g., Yankee thrift vs. Cavalier generosity). Yankees who relocated to the South would assimilate Southern values, and the reverse (there is some suggestion that South Carolinian John C. Calhoun’s Unitarianism may have been influenced by his time at Yale, though overall it was obviously acceptable to the Deist inclined Southern elite of the period).

Before New England human societies had an expectation that there would be a literate segment, and an illiterate one. By and large the substantial majority would be illiterate. In the Bronze Age world the scribal castes had almost a magic power by virtue of their mastery of the abstruse cuneiform and hieroglyph scripts. The rise of the alphabet (outside of East Asia) made literacy more accessible, but it seems likely that the majority of ancient populations, even in literary capitals such as Athens, were functionally illiterate. A small minority was sufficient for the production, dissemination, and propagation of literary works. Many ancient books were written with the ultimate understanding that their wider “reading” was going to occur in public forums where crowds gathered to listen to a reader. The printing press changed this with the possibility for at least nominal ownership of books by those with marginal surplus, the middle class. By limiting migration to these elements with the means to buy books, as well as an emphasis on reading the Bible common to scriptural Protestants, you had a society where the majority could be readers in the public forum.

What were the positive cultural feedback loops generated? And what sort of cultural dampeners may have allowed for the new stable cultural equilibrium to persist down the centuries? These are open questions, but they need to be explored. I’ll leave you with a map of public school expenditures in 2003. In the 1840s and 1850s one of the more notable aspects of the opening of the Western frontier with the huge difference between states settled by Yankees, such as Michigan, and those settled by Southerners, such as Arkansas. Both states were settled contemporaneously, but while Michigan had numerous grammar schools, Arkansas had hardly any….

* British Protestantism has shifted several times from a more “Catholic” to “Radical Protestant” direction. Its peak in officially sanctioned Radical Protestantism was probably during the reign of Edward VI, decades before the Stuart kings (the exception being the republic)

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    Excellent speculations.

    It is also worth noting in reference to the notion of political and social “dark matter” that ideological tendencies on various issues has been much more stable going as far back as it is possible to go in U.S. history (and into the Colonial era) than one would expect.

    For example, on hawk v. dove issues, the alignment of the states in the Northeast and Southeast U.S. is almost identical in all recent political debates on the issue to what it was when Congress was debating creating the original U.S. Navy to fight the Barbary pirates.

    County level maps of the Presidental vote in elections from the 1880s and the 1980s are almost identical, except that in the 1880s the Republicans were the liberals and in the 1980s that role had shifted to the Democratic party.

    If I were looking for a gene to distinguish Yankee v. Southerner, I don’t think that IQ would be were I would start looking. Instead, I’d look for genes associated with the cultural distinctives of each. For example, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a gene that codes for a particular cascade of emotional and psysiological responses to insults and aggression – possibly linked the historical food production methods of the putative ancestral populations.

    It is also reasonable to investigate if the Puritanal inclination v. Anglo-Catholic inclination in British Protestantism itself had an ethnic corrolate or was associated with peoples who had differing historical food production and cultural origins. For example, without making any claim that this is true, Anglo-Catholicism might be associated with urban lifestyles of longstanding and Norman French roots, Puritanical tendencies might be associated with lowland farmer Celtic roots, and Scotch-Irish populations of the South might have highland herder Celtic roots.

  • http://www.gmail.com ogunsiron

    ohwilleke said :

    Puritanical tendencies might be associated with lowland farmer Celtic roots,

    What about the Anglo-Saxons ?

    I’m not sure just how much of England’s native british population was replaced by the germanic invaders of the 4th to 5th century, but I’m sure that some regions like East-Anglia are known to be genetically anglo-saxon rather than keltic.
    Wasn’t East-Anglia one of the major sources of puritan and hence yankee migrations ?

    I’ve been reading this online book called suicide note, by Mitchell Heisman, in which the author develops the original sounding ( to me at least) idea that there’s an extremely important ethnic rivalry that has had enormous influence on both English and USA history : The anglo-saxon vs norman conqueror rivalry.

    He portrays the mid 19th americam dichotomy as :
    A democratic, middle class values infused, anglo-saxon North versus
    an aristocratic, martial values infused , Norman headed South. I don’t remember how he ethnically characterised the non elite southerners though. Whoever they were, they didn’t come from the anglo-saxon Core country which is East-Anglia.

    I find it interesting but I’m staying skeptical because I don’t have enough background knowledge to gauge the reliability of the author’s theses.

  • John Emerson

    This is very nitpicky, but your use of thye term “low church” is now misleading. Ca. 1700 “low church did mean Puritans and non-conforming Anglicans, but since some time in the 19th c. “low church” has meant less-ritualistic, more evangelical, less “Catholic” Anglicans, and the old “low churches” are now called dissenters or non-conformists.

    The Norman v. Anglo-Saxon dichotomy was also a factor in 18th c. British debates, with the anti-royalists claiming to represent the free Anglo-Saxons against the feudal Normans. A similar Frank / Gallo-Norman dichotomy was made by aristocratic ideologues in 19th c. France. Both strike me as pretty mythical, and the revival for the US equally so.

    I’m the odd man out here at GNXP as far as this question goes, but this kind of searching for distant genetic causes for complex historical and social phenomena which already are densely multicausal strikes me as futile.

  • Roger Bigod

    ogunsiron,

    Look at a map for western Shropshire that’s close enough to show village place names. There’s a sharp line between Welsh and A-S place names. There’s also a survey of Y markers in which some are unique to Wales. Clearly there was fairly complete replacement.

    There were two sources of support for secession. The descendants of the VA gentry at the time of the Revolution had spread out over the Lower South when the VA economy collapsed around 1820-30 and they contributed a few cultural items like mansions with columns, but they formed a minority of big slaveholders. The better explanation is Marxian economic determinatism: they were going to lose their largest item of property and source of ongoing income with abolition. Many small farmers didn’t like the social upheaval of freed slaves, though they didn’t own many. But they also had the Borderlands hatred of distant authority telling them what to do. In a Marxian formulation, that might have been against their class interest.

  • John Emerson

    Descriptions of the Southern decision to start the war consistently show a small, determined, ruthless minority bullying and swindling everyone else into seceding. A large number of Southerners fought for the North. I think that one lesson of modern history is that if a determined elite minority controls the media, the law, and the weaponry, the opinions of the rest of the population are irrelevant.

  • Amanda S

    I’m with John Emerson on this one. Looking for a genetic explanation for complex historical and cultural phenomena is futile. If the East Anglians really had genes that made them more intelligent, wouldn’t you expect them to show a comparative regional advantage in England as well as America? East Anglia was a relatively densely populated area of England in the medieval period containing most of its largest towns. Since then the region stagnated relative to other regions of England and is relatively more rural than the midlands, the north or the south east of England.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    If the East Anglians really had genes that made them more intelligent, wouldn’t you expect them to show a comparative regional advantage in England as well as America?

    did you read the post? if so, you lack reading comprehension ability, since you describe a model which doesn’t exist in the post.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I’m the odd man out here at GNXP as far as this question goes, but this kind of searching for distant genetic causes for complex historical and social phenomena which already are densely multicausal strikes me as futile.

    i don’t think genetic causes should be eliminated a priori. if something is multicausal, why are genetic causes taken off the table in all cases as a cause? (granted, i’m skeptical of genetic causes in this particular case, but i’m open to them for some of the reasons hinted above in terms of the precise historical dynamics operative in early new england)

  • Wes

    Everything is futile, until it isn’t. Why the rush, by some, to rule out the possibility of genetic influence on culture, behavior and political inclination? I used to be a Blank-Slater back in the day, and I am constantly amazed by how large a role genes play. By the way, the only way to stop being the slaves of our genes is to understand how they are playing us.

    There are certain patterns of group behavior that go back at least 300 or 400 years (that we have historical records for). If we are going to understand the role genes play in our behavior, what better place to look than these groups in which relatively good evidence across many generations can be found.

  • Wes

    John Emerson says,

    “Descriptions of the Southern decision to start the war consistently show a small, determined, ruthless minority bullying and swindling everyone else into seceding. A large number of Southerners fought for the North.”

    But this doesn’t seem quite right either. I am sure the elite played a big role, but as a person with Southern ancestry on at least several sides of my family (and they were mostly middle class), I can assure you Southern sentiment ran really, really strong. The elite may have prodded them, but it didn’t take much, and it more or less continues to this day, without encouragement from elites. Hank Williams Jr. can make a fortune appealing to it and his target audience is not the upper class to be sure.

  • Darkseid

    kinda off topic but i thought about this when watching Ken Burn’s “National Parks” – all the people discovering these great, beautiful forests couldn’t *wait* to cut them down. It seemed like the cynical, selfish way they thought about the land was almost self selected (since they were pretty new to the area.) All the cowboys came over from Europe because they were born cowboys and they weren’t about to change?

  • pconroy

    In terms of the same ethnicity scoring much lower in the South than in the NorthEast – especially the long established British and Irish, couldn’t some of the disparity be that Southern Whites have non-negligible African ancestry?

    Also in terms of spending on schools, isn’t there supposed to be less trust and common goodwill between mixed-ethnic communities than more mono-ethnic communities – so this may explain some of the lower funding of education in places like the South.

    Also, isn’t it generally true that Whites in the South don’t go to public school – based on my anecdotal evidence of the Southerners I’ve known – so wouldn’t vote in favor or more spending on them, right?!

  • Martijn

    “And that’s cultural selection.”

    But you don’t see these big differences between Calvinist and non-Calvinist parts of Germany/Austria and The Netherlands/Flanders. And Calvinism never got a foothold in the Scandinavian countries that generally have the highest average education levels in the world.

  • Danny

    From ‘Ride with the Devil’:

    You ever been to Lawrence KS young man? […] As I saw those northerners build that town, I witnessed the seeds of our destruction being sown. […] It was the schoolhouse. Before they built their church, even, they built that schoolhouse. And they let in every tailor’s son… and every farmer’s daughter in that country. […] they rounded every pup up into that schoolhouse because they fancied that everyone should think and talk the same free-thinkin’ way they do with no regard to station, custom, propriety. And that is why they will win. Because they believe everyone should live and think just like them. And we shall lose because we don’t care one way or another how they live. We just worry about ourselves.

  • http://mikethemadbiologist.com/ Mike the Mad Biologist

    Is there a source for the grammar school map? It looks interesting.

  • John Emerson

    My specific objection was to trying to trace a genetic cause back to the Norman Conquest or Charlemagne, as in #2 and French 19th c. aristocratic ideology. Where you have well established, distinct gene pools, that’s another thing (though I’m still a nay-sayer).

    Another case is my area of the Upper Midwest, which is always lumped in with the New England Yankees due to first settlement and original institutions (1850-1880 or so), but which because of the 19th c migrations is now overwhelmingly continental European: German, Scandinavian, Dutch, and Slavic, with less specifically British or even Irish presence than almost anywhere in the US. (My source is a Facts and File Atlas of Contemporary America.)

    As far as the South goes: since the end of the Civil War the Lost Cause theme has permeated American and Southern culture, slavery is no longer an issue, and the original gentry lost a lot of its wealth. And in 1860, these weren’t the most important issues: a lot of the Southern resistance to secession was primarily Unionist, unwillingnes to split the Union. The last issue is no longer a factor, partly because Southern politicians have worked the system very successfully, and someone can be as Southern and neo-Confederate as they want to and also be a loyal or even chauvinistic American. But in 1860 that choice had to be made, and a lot of people resisted. In 1860 Breckenridge got 18% of the national vote and got absolute majorities in only 6 Southern states (plus SC), and state decisions to secede were heavily, violently contested. According to (this book, 100,000 white Southerners and 200,000 citizens of border states (which often are thought to be Southern) fought in the Union Army.

    American mythology portrays aristocrats as effete and wimpy, but historically aristocrats honored physical courage, boldness and willingness to take risks, and the willingness and ability to use violence, and they used these superiorities as both their justification and their method for dominating their inferiors. This is not an accusation, this was their own ethic, and in the South their claims tended to by honored. And from what I have read, that’s how secession was pulled off.

  • Danny

    Scotland is supposed to have been much more literate and advanced than other countries since Calvinism encouraged Bible reading, and thus literacy. But it doesn’t seem that nowadays Scotland enjoys any advantages compared to the rest of Europe.

    French sociologist Emmanuel Todd has found a correlation between family structure and encouragement of education (which in turn encourages economic prosperity). He finds that among traditional family structures, the family structure that best favors education is the ‘authoritarian family’ prevalent in the Germanic world (and also among Jews, Japanese, Basques and a a few other ethnic groups). This structure combines cohesiveness, and although patriarchal, allows a relatively prominent position for women which promotes education. (I can’t recall Todd’s explanation with any degree of accuracy, but one can glimpse his way of thinking here).

  • Handle

    Danny’s Ride with the Devil quote about Lawrence (Named for Amos Adams Lawrence, Main street = Massachusetts Avenue) makes the point about the short, conscious-invasion period of the Yankee Empire in the late ante-bellum period following the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854.

    In a very short period of time, the settlers from Eli Thayer’s New England / Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company conquered both states. While the total population shift was not too substantial, it was enough to tip the balance of power and kick off the Bleeding Kansas era (which included many of the violent exploits of John Brown). I think the Dunhams moved from Indiana to Wichita sometime shortly after the Civil War.

    One fact about the Plymouth Pilgrim Puritans that always surprised me (in that it never seemed to get any mention in my American History classes) is that this particular group of Dissenters weren’t exactly “fleeing religious persecution”. They were exiles but had already found a a refuge of peace and tolerance in the Protestant Netherlands. The decision to leave for the New World was mostly about fears of assimilation and a desire to preserve their Anglo-Saxon culture.

    Here’s Wikipedia on the “Decision to Leave”.

    Edward Winslow’s list was similar. In addition to the economic worries and missionary possibilities, he stressed that it was important for the people to retain their English identity, culture and language

    .

    Did anybody else ever have this aspect of the Pilgrim migration emphasized in their education?

  • John Emerson

    All three of my own pre-1650 New England ancestors were “Strangers”, neither Pilgrims nor Puritans. (Miles Standish was a Stranger.) One, Edward Doty/Dotey, an indentured servant, is suspect of having led a rebellion on the Mayflower, through which he may have gained some concessions. They were just too short on manpower to hang him and his accomplices; as it was, only 19 adult males survived the first winter.

    I’ve never seen it done, but an analysis of the less-pious, more-egalitarian Stranger streak of American culture might be interesting.

  • Jason Malloy

    “But the correlation of [social class] with IQ is probably going to be lower in the pre-modern era than today, where you have meritocratic institutions which channel people of different aptitudes. Second, the heritability of IQ was probably lower back then than now, because of wide environmental variance.”

    These are reasonable inferences, however I think the literature suggests they weren’t as low as many would assume. Data from rural Africa and Asia, and other low development areas appear to show that A) correlations between IQ and social variables like class and productivity are similar to correlations found in developed areas, and B) the heritability of IQ is surprisingly similar in developed and low development populations.

    So to the extent these associations might be smaller in pre-modern contexts, they don’t seem to be a lot smaller, much less trivial.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    I knew about border states remaining with the union, but I hadn’t heard of many citizens of confederate states fighting against their old neighbors, despite the “war between brothers” label often applied to the “civil” war.

  • SFG

    “If the East Anglians really had genes that made them more intelligent, wouldn’t you expect them to show a comparative regional advantage in England as well as America? ”

    See, this is an idea I keep seeing in the HBD-sphere: that genetic traits of groups are consistent over centuries. But if natural selection acts on populations, mightn’t two groups with the same ancestors diverge over time in terms of their personality traits? I mean, Italians are warm and disorganized, almost the opposite of ancient Romans. Scandinavians are mild-mannered, but their ancestors were Vikings. The ancient Hebrews were quite the warriors. It’s not as if the group has some ‘racial essence’ that persists over the millennia; group traits change in response to selection over time.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    But if natural selection acts on populations, mightn’t two groups with the same ancestors diverge over time in terms of their personality traits?

    my point was about natural selection. the commenter didn’t bother reading the post closely, or, just misunderstood. also, we don’t need genetics to explain stuff like the scandinavians. look at the japanese and german switch from militarism to pacificism. societies capable of coordinated collective action can “flip” rapidly in these sorts of norms. the scandinavian shift was relatively quick, after sweden’s exhausting early 18th century wars, it tended to avoid conflict (though it was involved in the later napoleonic wars, it wasn’t a huge player).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    In terms of the same ethnicity scoring much lower in the South than in the NorthEast – especially the long established British and Irish, couldn’t some of the disparity be that Southern Whites have non-negligible African ancestry?

    no enough. all that i’ve seen suggests southern whites *definitely* have less non-white ancestry that afrikaners, which is around 5% at most. additionally, there were no blacks in much of the upland south.

    Also in terms of spending on schools, isn’t there supposed to be less trust and common goodwill between mixed-ethnic communities than more mono-ethnic communities – so this may explain some of the lower funding of education in places like the South.

    yes. the only caveat i’d put on this is that some of the patterns are evident in states like oklahoma which don’t have many blacks. and again, school funding is greatly localized. it would be interesting to see funding areas without many blacks, like northern alabama.

    But you don’t see these big differences between Calvinist and non-Calvinist parts of Germany/Austria and The Netherlands/Flanders. And Calvinism never got a foothold in the Scandinavian countries that generally have the highest average education levels in the world.

    i’d be kind of a retard to make calvinism the explanation for everything. e.g., japanese aren’t calvinists. i’m not a webberian. the scandinavian countries didn’t need calvinism when the state pushed for literacy very early on. again, let’s not go into assuming our interlocutor (me) is a retard here.

    Is there a source for the grammar school map? It looks interesting.

    the map is from the nsf:

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/c8/c8.cfm?opt=1&selected=yes&action=map&colname=809

    i misrembered the contrast between michigan and arkansas fyi:

    http://www.amazon.com/Throes-Democracy-American-Civil-1829-1877/dp/B001IDZJ36/ref=pd_sim_b_1

    By 1850, when its sister state, Michigan, had 2,714 public schools and 280 libraries, Arkansas had just 353 schools and 1 library.

    the qualitative result holds, but i had confused libraries with schools! it also needs to be normalized for pop, in 1850 michigan was twice as populous as arkansas.

  • marcel

    Very interesting and thoughtful post. I’m puzzled by the concern with genetic determinism. Given the primary concern of the blog, RZ certainly has to address the issue, and he all but dismisses it after considering the possibility. Seems entirely appropriate. His response to some of the commenters is a bit harsher than I like to think mine would be in his situation, but that likely reflects differences in both personality and age.

    Two comments in response to other commenters, but otherwise off topic to the post itself.

    1) Handle asks:

    Did anybody else ever have this aspect of the Pilgrim migration emphasized in their education?

    I recall this from grade school, that the Pilgrims had moved to the Netherlands and lived there for about 10 years before coming to the New World, and that the reason was that their children were assimilating to Dutch culture. FYI, I’m in my mid 50s, roughly a generation older, I think, than most of this blog’s commenters, and this is what I recall from grade school social studies classes nearly a half century ago first in the Los Angeles area and then in central NY.

    2) Wes says:

    I can assure you Southern sentiment ran really, really strong. The elite may have prodded them, but it didn’t take much, and it more or less continues to this day, without encouragement from elites.

    I just finished an interesting book on the period before the Civil War, one of whose major themes is the breakdown of the 2nd party system (i.e., collapse of the whigs, and the ultimate collapse of the Democrats as a national party): Clash of Extremes by Marc Egnal.* He argues against looking a the South as a homogenous region, and that Southern regions (down to the county level) with strong economic ties to the North had both very weak secessionist sentiment and relatively small slave populations. Manipulation/bullying by elites was certainly an issue but (modal) attitudes of non-slave holders in both the north and the south toward slavery were heavily shaped by both racism and economic ambitions and anxieties. In the south, this meant that whites in areas with large numbers of slaves certainly didn’t want their status to be in any way similar to that of blacks, so it would be relatively easy to organize them in opposition to anything which threatened to lead to that result. (In the north, native born whites didn’t want to be competing with either blacks or slave-owning whites and the best way to achieve that was to block slavery in the territories to reduce competition for land but to leave it alone where it already existed, so that black slaves would stay where they were and not come north. Attitudes of German and Irish immigrants complicate the story, and I’ve oversimplified Egnal’s argument substantially as befits a comment on a blog post.)

    *I came across this on a blog, not this one I think, more likely TNC’s at atlantic.com, but I’m not sure.

  • John Emerson

    Wars are social policy, not individual behavior. But the Viking era Scandinavians were violent person-to-person too — Iceland ca. 1000 AD was a stateless society where you never left the house unarmed. So the level of interpersonal violence has also declined.

  • Grey

    Amanda
    “If the East Anglians really had genes that made them more intelligent, wouldn’t
    you expect them to show a comparative regional advantage in England as well as
    America?”

    It did e.g.

    “East Anglia was a relatively densely populated area of England in the
    medieval period containing most of its largest towns.”

    however

    “Since then the region stagnated relative to other regions of England and is relatively more rural than the midlands, the north or the south east of England.”

    1) As per the header they may have lost a critical slice of their population.

    I don’t think that was the main reason personally.

    2) East Anglia was significant in the agricultural revolution so they lost most of their population to London as labour demands were reduced by technology (unintended consequences of brains maybe).
    3) Industrial revolution. No coal. (And no labour force).

    ~~~

    However i think the main point is if IQ is part hereditary and part environment then two genetically identical populations could have (marginally) different average measured IQ if one had a particularly strong cultural tradition that stressed an environmental bonus e.g. early literacy.

    Danny
    “Scotland is supposed to have been much more literate and advanced than other countries since Calvinism encouraged Bible reading, and thus literacy. But it doesn’t seem that nowadays Scotland enjoys any advantages compared to the rest of Europe.”

    They did. The Scottish contribution to the industrial revolution was disproportionate but most of it took place in England i.e. the brains went south.

    ~~~

    However heredity and environment are related: environmental factors largely derive from high IQ parents squeezing every drop of latent brains out of their offspring. You can only replicate that in a totalitarian system.

    Before sending everyone’s kids to gulag-schools it might be best to test whether environmental factors are proportional. Say people do have a lazy IQ and a maximum IQ. The gap might be 85 and 86 at one end, 100 and 104 in the middle and 115 and 125 at the other end or perhaps the gap is small at both extremes and larger in the middle.

    Either of those seem more likely to me than simply linear.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan
  • syon

    New England’s dominance over American intellectual life during the antebellum period can be neatly demonstrated simply by looking at the major writers who emerged during the period 1830-1860:

    1. Ralph Waldo Emerson (MA)
    2. Hawthorne (MA)
    3. Thoreau (MA)
    4. Dickinson (MA)
    5. Whitman*
    6. Melville*

    Indeed, the only major figure who stands outside of the N E tradition during this period is Poe, who, although born in Boston, was lacking in cultural and ancestral links to New England.

    *Whitman: Although usually counted as a New Yorker, Whitman was born in Huntington, Long Island, a town that was settled by immigrants from Massachusetts and Connecticut (Whitman’s paternal line stems from this migration) and can be considered as part of greater New England. Furthermore, the very framework of his poetry was derived from Emerson.

    *Melville:As with Whitman, Melville was of New England origins on his father’s side;his paternal grandfather was Boston icon Thomas Melvill, the hero of Holmes’ THE LAST LEAF.Similarly, his literary idol was another New Englander, Hawthorne.

  • http://www.futurepundit.com Randall Parker

    An aside: I’m reminded of the recent paper on natural selection among French Canadians where selective pressures raised fertility. Well, how genetically different were the New Englanders who went west as compared to those who stayed in New England? Was reproduction in New England higher among the upper than lower classes in the 19th century? Was the difference less pronounced among those who migrated west?

  • John Emerson

    Melville’s two grandfathers were both war heroes, and both generals or admirals as I remember. His mother’s family was Hudson Valley Dutch.

  • Roger Bigod

    There’s a place named “Alden Bridge” in NW Louisiana. It derives from one Philo Alden (great name) who came from NY State around 1840 and by lore is supposed to be descended from John Alden. He owned a timber mill and the bridge was for transporting logs to the mill. There’s some colorful stories but I don’t want to clutter up the blog. I have some genealogy materials if you’re interested.

  • ryan

    PConroy wrote
    >couldn’t some of the disparity be that Southern Whites have non-negligible African ancestry?

    Why sure it could.

    Except that since most of those who tried to pass went north, African ancestry in antebellum anglo populations followed a cline from the north, not from the south.

    On the other hand, there was a significant difference in ancestries among northern and southern Anglo groups – there was far more Celtic influence among southern whites. Is the bold Mr Conroy, smasher of PC attitudes, willing to follow where the historiography leads? I doubt it.

    Personally, I doubt Celtic ancestry is correlated with idiocy, but one wouldn’t know it from avatars like PConroy.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Personally, I doubt Celtic ancestry is correlated with idiocy, but one wouldn’t know it from avatars like PConroy.

    you should be nicer. i just looked up your past comments and you often verge toward assholery, even when making valid points (this comment is not an invitation for you to respond, i’m telling you something).

  • Sandgroper

    #27 – Scottish engineers also made a disproportionate contribution to Victorian era civil engineering in the British colonies.

  • Leor

    like ogunsiron, i’m also very interested in razib’s take on mitchell heisman’s suicide note, especially as concerns us, genetic connections between the normans and the usa southern whites, and between the saxons and the yankees

  • leviticus

    Michael Newton had a pretty good book review, discrediting the Celtic thesis of Southern origins:
    http://www4.uwm.edu/celtic/ekeltoi/bookreviews/vol01/newton03.html.

    I believe he had an article, on a defunct website, that was also a takedown of the theory. In either case, Newton’s point was not all “Celts” acted “Southern” once they settled in the US. Highland Scots in Canada and in the North, like the Catholic Irish, had different historical and social trajectories than the Southerners.

    My own impression is that Southern environmental and economic determinism played a role, combined with the effects of the dominance of frontier Evangelicalism. The Catholic Irish benefited, in the long run, from the counter-Reformation intellectual tradition. The dispersed nature of Southern settlement on the frontier also contributed to a decline of social life or the maintenance of pre-modern behaviors.
    Southern towns weren’t real urban settlements, they were service villages surrounding county courthouses. The question is whether this was a Highland British tradition affecting Southern settlement patterns or whether it was a strictly North American cultural development.

    Personally, I think it more useful, if at first somewhat confusing, to use the terms “highland” (not limited to Scottish highlands) and “lowland” when distinguishing British regional cultures instead of Anglo-Saxon vs. Celtic. Sir Cyril Fox, whose work was so foundational in this field of inquiry and who influenced subsequent scholars like Hackett-Fischer,
    used “highland zone” to describe the upland British societies of England, Wales and Scotland: pastoral based, organized in extended families, dispersed settlement, in contrast to the lowland, more densely settled, richer agricultural regions. Fox believed these differences went back to neolithic times. Fox was an environmental determinist.

    Much of what the Celtic theorists maintain is distinctively “Celtic”: blood feuds, transhumance, tanistry, characterized premodern Germanic societies as well and the distinction of highland vs. lowland one sees in Britain is replayed in non-Celtic areas like Scandinavia. Think Norway vs. Denmark.

    Hacket-Fisher, to his credit, recognized that this Anglo-Celtic borderland region was internally diverse and not simply a Celtic cultural zone, there were important Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Scandinavian elements. He opted for the term “borderer” for this very reason.

    @ryan and @pcconroy,

    That was Mencken’s theory; read his Sahara of the Bozart.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: “celtic.” from what i recall many of these “border” people were not strictly celts in a cultural sense, but descended from people who spoke one of the germanic dialects along the continuum from north english to scots.

  • leviticus

    Right, in a strict linguistic sense the majority of the groups Hackett Fisher calls borderers were not “Celtic.” Their ancestors included Celtic speaking peoples: Strathclyde Welsh, Cumbrians and some Gaelic speakers, but those languages had been defunct for centuries in Northern England and adjacent Scotland.

  • syon

    John Emerson:”Melville’s two grandfathers were both war heroes, and both generals or admirals as I remember. His mother’s family was Hudson Valley Dutch.”

    I believe that Thomas Melvill’s highest rank during the Revolution was major; he was famous in Boston for being a kind if living representative of the Revolutionary generation (cf Holmes’ LAST LEAF).Peter Gansevoort, Melville’s maternal grandfather, was a colonel during the Revolution, and, to the best of my knowledge, did not make general until after 1800.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    “But you don’t see these big differences between Calvinist and non-Calvinist parts of Germany/Austria and The Netherlands/Flanders.”

    Max Weber and a lot of political and economic geographers that walked in his footsteps would beg to differ with you on this point.

    “New England’s dominance over American intellectual life during the antebellum period can be neatly demonstrated simply by looking at the major writers ”

    Alternately, maybe this has something to do with the fact that the folks who devised the literary canon were Yankees, or studied at Harvard or Yale and chose to assimilate culturally.

  • pconroy

    @Ryan,

    I asked a question about African admixture among “Southern Whites” that seems to have upset you?! IMO there are no dumb questions. What’s dumb is people running scared and then making baseless ad hominem attacks…

    I’m from Ireland and come from a large extended family of business owners/large farmers in past generations, to being almost exclusively professionals today, with – I’m guessing – a mean IQ well above 115. I’ve also tested with 23andMe and now have over 800 Relatives, about 500+ of these are clustered in 5 Southern states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana. Most of these people identify as Anglo and some as Scots-Irish, almost all are non-Catholic, many are Quaker.

    The question is assuming they came to the US with a similar IQ average of around 115, then what would lower their IQ in a Southern US setting, over a few hundred years? Razib’s prior mention of hookworms is fascinating, as I had previously mentioned – a few years ago on this blog – that I suspected that worms or other internal parasites may have been responsible for the fact that all my cousins are appreciably taller than their parents – 3 to 6″ for males. That’s something I’d definitely like to see more research on.

    However another result I see in my 23andMe data is that quite a few of these Southern relatives have African mtDNA, but are White phenotypically – that may point to another clue partly.

    Oh, and NO, I’m not PC, as it has no utility to me.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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