Saturday, September 22, 2007

Four Brides for Seven Brothers

Rise in India`s female foeticide may spark crisis

Experts warn that fewer women will spark a demographic crisis in many parts of country.

"There already is this phenomenon all over the country where there is a lot of sexual violence and abuse against women and children across the country," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, a New Delhi based think-tank.

"But when there are less women in the population and more men of the same age group, there is certainly going to be much more demand for women for marriage, for sex and this pressure will certainly increase violence against women."

Experts say practices such as polyandry -- where several men, often brothers, share the same wife are already emerging in areas where there are fewer women.

Brides are also now being sold and trafficked by their parents to areas like Haryana and Punjab where bachelors are being forced to look beyond their own culture, caste and social grouping to find a wife.

Activists say these women have to adapt to an alien culture with a different language, diet, and social norms and are often treated as second-class citizens by the community who view their value based on their ability to produce male off-spring.

"There is this myth that fewer women will give them better status in society but this is a fallacy," said activist Sabu George.

"Women in India are already being treated as commodities to be bought and sold and their plight will worsen as sex ratios continue to decline."


Compared to this, the shortcomings of Western feminism are insignificant. But you wonder when the proverbial lightbulb will go off over the collective cultural brain of traditional India. In a global economy a daughter working outside the home or in the home can bring in income to the family, and is more likely than a son to support her parents, if given the choice. Even putting aside the stark inhumanity of their traditional social values, they are misusing and devaluing one of their most productive economic resources. There are some instances where creative descruction can't work fast enough.

68 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Query: if this is 'traditional,' why didn't it reach the crisis point centuries ago?

September 22, 2007 11:15 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry,
They didn't have ultrasound centuries ago. Plus there was no global economy back then.

Traditions only "work" in relation to the options.

September 22, 2007 11:28 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

But they had infanticide.

September 22, 2007 12:37 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Well, Harry, human misery never caused a regime to collapse.

September 22, 2007 4:13 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Plus, a study of human history will show that humanity is always at a crisis point. That's where we live.

September 22, 2007 4:24 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I wasn't asking because I know the answer. I don't.

I'm skeptical that ultrasound is used in a large percentage of Indian pregnancies.

Getting rid of girl babies after they are born has a widespread provenance -- Greece to China to the Pacific islands. Probably other places I haven't heard about.

Is there something about the modernizing economy or society that has accelerated the dispatch of Indian girls?

Why is it more of a problem today than it was 100 years ago?

September 22, 2007 4:54 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

It's not more of a problem. It's a tragedy, then and now.

September 22, 2007 5:50 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

A lot more ultrasound pre-natal gender determinations, better health care and abortion techonology, and the fact that abortion is more socially acceptable than infanticide. The overall lower rate of fertility, making it more important to sex select.

It would be interesting to find out, but I would put money on ultrasound being using a significant percentage of Indian pregancies. The Indian Parliament felt it necessary to gender determination in 1983. I doubt the availability of the technology has decreased signficantly in the subsequent 25 years.

According to the Washington Post, there are at least 25,770 ultra sound machines in India, as that is how many are registered with the government. Given that a new machine is only $17K and a refurbished one $11K, and the demand for the server, I expect there are a lot more illegal than legal ones. There are clinics that do nothing but gender determination, it's so lucrative. So, my money's on "it's used a lot".

September 22, 2007 5:50 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Maybe. I am constantly being surprised by how far modernism is penetrating formerly backward parts.

Still, there are 900K villages in India.

September 22, 2007 10:54 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

In a global economy a daughter working outside the home or in the home can bring in income to the family, and is more likely than a son to support her parents, if given the choice. Even putting aside the stark inhumanity of their traditional social values, they are misusing and devaluing one of their most productive economic resources.

So what you are saying is, why kill them when they can be put to a lifetime of productive work to support you? Don't those crazy traditional Indians realize how hard it is to get good help these days? Is this why you think Americans value their daughters?

Like Harry, I'm suspicious this is as one-directonal as you paint. But you have given us a great example of the modern mind that, when confronted by a new invention that upsets centuries of traditional custom, reacts by getting enraged at the custom.

September 23, 2007 2:27 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Peter,

Modern technology is merely being used to make the age old custom of killing female babies more efficient. Why women are so devalued is a completely different question.

September 23, 2007 4:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

You mean like abortion in the West? We're just doing what we've always done, but more efficiently?

September 23, 2007 4:37 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Yep.

September 23, 2007 4:45 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I don't think so. But I must say I simply can't get my head around folks who think aborting babies because they are babies should be nobody's business and entirely a matter of personal choice, but who think aborting babies because they are female babies is a gross human rights violation and issue of international concern.

September 23, 2007 4:50 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Wow, I really butchured that previous comment, didn't I? Just did another demo of new tech and it really scrambles my brain. To clarify,

• ultrasound being using in a significant percentage of Indian pregancie

• The Indian Parliament felt it necessary to ban gender determination in 1983

• the demand for the service being so strong

I also forgot to mention that the gender imbalance is greatest in those areas that have a high tech city surrounded by impoverished villages, which is exactly what'd you expect if the causes I listed are dominant.

September 23, 2007 6:31 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Identifying something hardly means endorsement of it.

Abortion has been with us probably since our first ancestors figured out how babies came to happen.

I was stunned when as a young mother I talked to some very respectable older ladies who were quite candid about the pain, physical and emotional, of aborting their babies during the depression years. It was far more widespread than I ever imagined. The coat hangers that Teddy Kennedy talks about might be the only thing he's ever said that has some truth to it.

Recall too that prior to 1965, contraceptives were illegal! When I was a college freshman in 1952, a student in an all female health class asked about them and the instructress went white and said that it was illegal to speak about that subject.

Less well developed societies abort or kill female babies because in their experience, males were more important to their survival than females. In the modern world, this is no longer true, but old habits/customs die (pun intended) hard.

What amuses me is that we're outraged about selective abortion while we equal opportunity aborters, kill our unborn without regard to sex, race, religion or national origin. Good on us!

September 23, 2007 7:17 AM  
Blogger erp said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 23, 2007 7:18 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

So what you are saying is, why kill them when they can be put to a lifetime of productive work to support you? Don't those crazy traditional Indians realize how hard it is to get good help these days? Is this why you think Americans value their daughters?

Peter, please read more carefully before pulling the trigger. Note that I said "Even putting aside the stark inhumanity of their traditional social values". The devaluing of female life is immoral regardless of the economic considerations. Don't put words in my mouth.

But as we all know, many traditional societies did put economic considerations above moral ones, so one way to argue for a more moral set of values is to point out that the old economic calculus that was used to support the tradition no longer works, and that a more humane treatment of women has the benefit of expanding economic returns as well.

September 23, 2007 7:22 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

What Peter said about abortions.

Duck's last sentence seems to put him on my side in the discussion about free markets over at Great Guys.

Free markets in babies don't work out so well, do they?

September 23, 2007 10:03 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

Harry, your own children and grandchildren ( congratulations, by the way) are one result of the free market in babies. I'm assuming that nobody ordered you and your wife to have kids, or told you that you couldn't. Go ahead and think before you say some of the shit you say.

September 23, 2007 11:00 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I didn't think we were talking about me. I thought we were talking about India.

I see, however, through a link at Lubos Motl's, that allegedly almost all the babies born in northern Greenland (which must be a small number) are girls; and that this is blamed on industrial pollution.

Since India is not doing anything much about that, perhaps the sex imbalance will correct itself as India industrializes.

September 23, 2007 11:16 AM  
Blogger erp said...

I promised myself not to bite again, but then Harry tops himself. If Indian women are deliberately aborting female fetuses, how would industrialization correct the situation?

September 23, 2007 11:59 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Let us assume for a moment that all American women and couples were told they could only have one child. Regardless of what anyone would say publically, what percentage of American men do you think would privately say they would chose to have a boy? Of American women?

I suggest that unless you believe there would be an exact 50-50 split with everyone else saying they don't care, it is simplistic in the extreme to be looking down on Indians and blaming this all on their "traditions".

And BTW, the most consistent force in history against infanticide has been big, bad 'ole monotheism.

September 23, 2007 12:18 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

erp, if all the babies are girls, then killing some will still leave all girls.

peter, not so sure about that. See 'The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance' by John Boswell.

This shows that the rescue of foundlings in early Christian Europe was adopted from Greek practice.

And, as we know, the indictment of the Phoenecians for infanticide turned out to be a Judeo-Christian calumny. Excavation of an all-infant cemetery in Carthage showed that the babies had not been sacrificed but were all stillborn.

My erratic readings in ethnology don't show any patterns about babies.

September 23, 2007 3:33 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Mr. Burnet;

I am unable to grasp your point. If we can't blame it on Indian traditions, on what can it be blamed? The GE LOGIQ portable ultrasound machine?

September 23, 2007 3:43 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Harry a thousand pardons, I didn't make the connection between your comment that industrialization caused a preponderance of female babies to be born in Greenland and your supposition that should India become industrialized, a similar phenomenon might correct the problem of disproportionate female fetuses being aborted. That makes sense. If there aren't enough male babies being born, then females will have to take up the slack.

Please correct me if I still haven't grasped your meaning.

September 23, 2007 4:54 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Erp:

Yes, I am familiar with such stories, as I assume most of us are. They are why my own personal view on squaring this circle is to close my eyes and ears and leave the first trimester in the private hands of women, asking only that they don't talk about it. There is something in the male brain which fights compromise on this issue. Too much philosophy, maybe.

But modern women have made a huge mistake by convincing themselves past abortion restrictions were all about male power and privelege. It left them blind to history and unable to forsee that disposing of love-children would suit modern men very well. Women may have thought they were fighting an "I own your body" mentality, only to meet up with "I support your right to an abortion, sweetie. The appointment is tomorrow at 2:00pm. Please don't be late."

SH:

No, I am not blaming a machine, but this is crazy. Now that we have free and safe abortions in North America, do you blame our traditions for the consequent high rate of abortion?

Duck:

I'm sure you are viscerally appalled by the stark humanity of something, but you sure aren't making it clear what is is exactly. Do you think American abortions are morally permissable and an expression of woman's freedom because they are gender-neutral, but Indian ones appalling and to be prevented or condemned because they are gender selected? I'm just a country boy, Duck, and I don't get it. How have you managed to talk yourself into the position that a high abortion rate is to be blamed on anybody's religious tradition?

September 24, 2007 6:40 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Put another way, Duck, would your sense of outrage be assuaged if Indian women responded to it by agreeing to abort more boys?

September 24, 2007 6:51 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Sorry, I meant "stark inhumanity", of course.

September 24, 2007 7:04 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter I wasn't arguing on the inhumanity of aborting female babies, but of the practice of treating women as practically worthless commodities. Even if Indian women did not abort any babies that would still be a terriblly inhumane tradition.

I'm against abortion whether here or in India, and I'm not arguing that sex neutral abortions are less immoral than sex specific abortions. But morality requires more than just allowing babies to be born. Commoditizing women is a terrible evil, and on that score I still say that Western society's treatment of women is far superior to traditional asian tribal culture.

September 24, 2007 9:17 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Not to rehash an old argument, but I'd like to take abortion out of the legislature or the courts and put it back where it belongs in the hands of the people involved including the parents of minors, both the putative parents and their health care providers. Naturally, there should be no convenient abortion clinics aka planned parenthood propaganda mongerers street store fronts and no public money should be provided for abortion unless it's a medical procedure decided upon by the persons named above and is performed in a hospital.

Any rules and regs about trimesters, etc. should come from the medical establishment.

The problem now as I see it, is that abortion is a convenient and cheap method of birth control that is 100% effective. Why bother with the expense and stress of remembering to take a pill or the inconvenience of other methods of birth control that aren't even sure things. Pregnant? Don't want the hassle of it. Just get rid of it quickly and efficiently and get on with your life.

The sad part is that the women having all these millions of abortions in the U.S. aren't teenagers who have been raped or tragic victims of poverty. They're the daughters of the middle and upper classes who should and do know better.

Duck, you may surprised to learn that according to feminists, your supposition that our treatment of women is superior to Asia's, is far from true. The reasoning is torturous, so if you can't wrap your mind around why bikinis and burqas are equally destructive to women, don't even bother to check it out. It goes something like this: burqas take away the competition among women to look like a preconceived ideal that only a handful of women can ever aspire to, so wearing a burqa is liberating. Likewise, women in Asian society are protected and cosseted removing them from the dangers inherent in living in a dangerous violent society like ours. There's more, but it doesn't make any more sense.

September 24, 2007 10:01 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

erp, I am surprised to find you saying something kind about academic elites.

Anyhow, you got my reasoning about Greenland right, but I wasn't being serious.

First, I don't know whether sex ratios in Greenland really do approach 100% girls.

Second, the proportion of boys in industrial areas has been falling, but very slightly.

Third, when you think about it, nearly even sex ratios in humans are hard to understand on darwinian grounds.

I never brought this up in our dingdong battles about evolution, but if all Orrin knows about it is what he cribbed from Duane Gish, it's not my job to supply him better arguments.

If the natural Homo sapiens sex ratio is close to 50:50, then some cherished-by-leftists ideas about mating are difficult to sustain.

Males aren't needed in anything like equal numbers to females. At the end of the Gran Chaco War, there were 25,000 men in Paraguay in a population of 2 million.

Within one generation, the sex ratio was about equal again.

It used to be thought that the natural sex ratio was about 105:100 in favor of boys, and the reason was supposed to be that since boys had a higher death rate, this produced an even split by about the time of puberty.

When you think about it, this is odd. In many traditional societies, older men marry younger girls. Over a long haul, an even sex ratio would work there, but over actual human lifetimes you'd tend to get disequilibria.

Too, there have been plenty of societies in which some men get more than one woman and some none; and other societies in which largish numbers or men and/or women take themselves out of the breeding pool voluntarily.

Not to mention war, trade, disease etc. that kill off one sex preferentially.

It's quite weird when you think about it, that under those selection pressures, you'd get equality or close to it.

++++

Otherwise, again, what Peter said.

++++

My view of feminism is that whatever exists will be blamed on men, and if the situation were stood on its head (as in fact it pretty much has been), they'd blame that on men, too.

They're sick in the head.

September 24, 2007 11:41 AM  
Blogger Ali said...

"The sad part is that the women having all these millions of abortions in the U.S. aren't teenagers who have been raped or tragic victims of poverty. They're the daughters of the middle and upper classes who should and do know better."

Really? I thought most abortions were conducted on young, poor, ethnic minority women.

September 24, 2007 11:54 AM  
Blogger David said...

Isn't there some evidence of sex selection in American abortions? If I remember correctly, second children are more likely to be aborted if they are girls.

September 24, 2007 1:48 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'I thought most abortions were conducted on young, poor, ethnic minority women.'

Possibly there's a tendency that way, but it's spread out over all sectors.

If I had to guess, I'd guess the largest single class would be white college girls.

Poor black (and Hawaiian) girls just have the babies.

September 24, 2007 1:56 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Any rules and regs about trimesters, etc. should come from the medical establishment.

Hmm, ok erp, and how about we leave capital punishment to the legal profession?

September 24, 2007 2:37 PM  
Blogger erp said...

It's not so odd that men marry younger women, Recall that until the advent of modern medicine, many women died in childbirth, so a man could easily bury two or even three ever younger wives.

Middle and upper class women have the most abortions. Twenty years ago when I retired, one out of four girls had an abortion during their undergraduate years. These girls were among the smartest and most wealthy in the country. The reason, as stated, birth control was too much trouble. Haven't kept up, but I doubt the numbers would be going down.

Harry, please refresh my memory. When did I say something nice about academic elites? I must be further along in my dotage than I previously thought. PS: I always assume someone is kidding until proven otherwise.

Ali, ya gotta stop getting your information from the msm. ... abortions were conducted on young, poor, ethnic minority women. Conducted on?? You can't seriously think that poor girls are dragged off the streets and forced to have abortions? Not here at least. The uproar would make a hurricane look like a gentle summer breeze in comparison.

September 24, 2007 2:49 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

erp, if you don't think the medical establishment is an academic elite, you must not have met any doctors.

I haven't noticed any 'medical bioethicists' working in private business.

September 24, 2007 3:20 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Peter, Ones health care providers aren't adversaries.

September 24, 2007 3:59 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yes, and policemen are my friends.

September 24, 2007 4:32 PM  
Blogger erp said...

They are here.

September 24, 2007 7:16 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

But I must say I simply can't get my head around folks who think aborting babies because they are babies should be nobody's business and entirely a matter of personal choice, but who think aborting babies because they are female babies is a gross human rights violation and issue of international concern.

Your conundrum is self solving.

Unless, of course, you think these Indian mothers are getting rid of their female babies because they want to.

Let us assume for a moment that all American women and couples were told they could only have one child. Regardless of what anyone would say publically, what percentage of American men do you think would privately say they would chose to have a boy? Of American women?

Good question, although far more pertinent to China than India.

My guess is that the preference would skew towards boys. At first. But, as girls gained more scarcity value, it would go the other way, then oscillate.

I do think it is worth blaming the Indians and their traditions (purdah and the caste system being two traditions worth all the opprobrium that can possibly be gathered). What is worth scorning is the root of the problem, which is treatment of women as cattle.

... the most consistent force in history against infanticide has been big, bad 'ole monotheism.

Even when monotheism isn't killing infidel infants, that claim is a little strong. Check the etymology of the surname "Esposito."


David:

Isn't there some evidence of sex selection in American abortions? If I remember correctly, second children are more likely to be aborted if they are girls.

If I remember correctly, such gender-selective abortion as there is in the US is used to balance a family.



Harry:

that allegedly almost all the babies born in northern Greenland (which must be a small number) are girls; and that this is blamed on industrial pollution.

Fighter pilots seem to have a high frequency of daughters; over a two year period when I was stationed in Idaho, something like 70% of the babies with pilot fathers were girls.

No on knows why.

Males aren't needed in anything like equal numbers to females.

Depends. Children have an extremely long dependency. Unless a minority of men have a lock on enough resources to provide for all the women, and their children, then a woman's interests are best served by having 100% of one man, than having a time-share.


erp:

away the competition among women to look like a preconceived ideal that only a handful of women can ever aspire to, so wearing a burqa is liberating. Likewise, women in Asian society are protected and cosseted removing them from the dangers inherent in living in a dangerous violent society like ours. There's more, but it doesn't make any more sense.

[sarcasm]Much more of that, and you'll be cruising for a banning.[/sarcasm]

September 25, 2007 8:10 AM  
Blogger erp said...

... banning?

September 25, 2007 8:23 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Technical question? Why doesn't bloglines bring one directly to the latest comment?

September 25, 2007 8:25 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

erp;

Because the URL link is just numbers, but the anchor label has a leading 'c' so your browser can't find the right place.

Mr. Eager, Skipper;

You two are far too teleological in your views on gender ratios. It's irrelevant whether 50% males are "necessary" or optimal, it matters only how gender ratios affect the inclusive fitness of the parents. So you need to look it not from a "planning" perspective, but a "what's in it for me?" perspective.

September 25, 2007 8:34 AM  
Blogger erp said...

SH Can that be corrected for?

September 25, 2007 8:41 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I thought I was looking at it in terms of inclusive fitness.

Based on the variety of strategies adopted in different societies, all of which survived, there doesn't seem to be an optimum strategy. But if that's right, why do the sex ratios converge?

Just a hangover from some earlier, nonhuman ancestor where equal sexes was an optimum strategy?

Sexual dimorphism usually leaves largish numbers of males who never mate at all. We are not excessively dimorphic but somewhat.

Under modern conditions, most males could mate (unlike in not-yet modern India), but according to posters at the Daily Duck and common observation, largish numbers prefer not to do so.

Something strange going on. I don't pretend to understand it, but then the population biologists' division of reproductive strategies in R and k always seemed too cute.

September 25, 2007 9:52 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Not too much more to say. I guess our abortions are just great while theirs are appalling and must be stopped. And of course this has nothing to do with the modern family planning Gestapos--it's all about tradition. Skipper, I take it you beieve the planners have given Indian women the modern glories of free choice about contraception, but they are just helpless pawns when it comes to abortion.

such gender-selective abortion as there is in the US is used to balance a family.

China and India used to go in for balanced families too, but it is pretty hard to balance a family of one.

September 25, 2007 10:29 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

As far as sex ratios, here's a link to Wikipedia (for what Wikipedia is worth) on the notion of parental expenditure. Seems like what AOG just said, and seems straightforward enough; so I'm a little surprised at all the chin-scratching. Nice bit about the elephant seals (88% of the lovin' done by only 4% of the males --ouch.)

September 25, 2007 10:44 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

I promise I won't start something, but are you familar with David Stove, the atheist philospher who attacked Darwinism mercilessly as an explanation for human history and human affairs? In discussing the "religious" fervor of its adherents, he points out how professional Darwinists are often puzzled by "quirks" or "problems" that wouldn't trouble anyone else with a modicum of common sense, who would just see them as disproofs of the tale. His two favourite examples are Dawkins wondering why mothers resent folks who snatch their babies (thus freeing them to have more) and E.O. Wilson wondering why his bitterly feuding academic colleagues don't try to kill one other, as both thought such would favor fitness and survivability. Do you think maybe we can add the "puzzle" or "problem" of why males boys and girls are born in equal numbers to that list?

September 25, 2007 11:43 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Mr. Eager;

Echoing Mr. Shropshire, the point is that if the gender ratios are unbalanced, it pays to cheat. If the normal ratio were 1:19 as you suggest, then parents could increase their own inclusive fitness at the expense of everyone else by cheating and producing at, say, 1:15 instead. This is because given a 1:19 ratio, each male child is worth 20 grandchildren but a girl child is only worth 20/19 grandchildren. Like crabs in a bucket, if the ratios shift the cheaters will force it back to balanced.

So even if the species would be better for having an unbalanced ratio, the advantages of cheating force things back to balanced. Remember, evolution doesn't generate optimality, only superiority.

September 25, 2007 1:01 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

SH:

the point is that if the gender ratios are unbalanced, it pays to cheat. ... if the ratios shift the cheaters will force it back to balanced.

Full points. While I don't think my guess qualified as teleological -- there is reproductive fitness associated with securing resources -- even if it possesses some glimmer of truth, it suffers the fatal flaw of addressing only one unique case, were your explanation applies across the board.

Which defenders of Stove, who fall to quickly to argument from incredulity, should keep in mind.

erp:

I was hoping the faux-sarcasm tag would indicate I was only kidding, in that I was equating the kind of feminist reasoning you were relating with particularly foul language, or something along those lines.

Peter:

I guess our abortions are just great while theirs are appalling and must be stopped.

I don't recall anyone saying ours are great, do you?

To the extent that the women involved are acting under coercion, then the coercion needs removing.

Skipper, I take it you beieve the planners have given Indian women the modern glories of free choice about contraception, but they are just helpless pawns when it comes to abortion.

As indicated by purdah, and the link above, I do think that in far too many cases, women are helpless pawns, as a consequence both of their maternal dependency, and significant deficit in physical strength.

Judge from the evidence: do societies change when women become educated?

China and India used to go in for balanced families too, but it is pretty hard to balance a family of one.

That is absolutely true in China.

It is not in India, as there are no imposed limits on family size.

In any event, my comment was in response to David's, which was limited strictly to the US.

September 25, 2007 4:02 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Peter, I'm not familiar with Stove but am generally with the argument.

It doesn't trouble me as a darwinian, because, as you might have noticed, I don't try to explain human history by natural selection. We've decoupled, we no longer are earthbound.

I also don't believe it is proper darwinism to translate the behaviors of one species to another. Thus, I am not a sociobiologist.

(The example I used to use, many years ago, was of one of our primate cousins in Malaya that evolved a pump in the mammaries. The moms can squirt enough milk into the babies to last them two days while mom goes out for groceries. That would solve some problems for working moms but it isn't an option for us.)

joe and SH, yes, it works with abtract numbers, but not necessarily in life. It would obviously pay any oyster to have one offspring that it nurtured and cleared a space to light on etc., but once you start going down any evolutionary path, you close many doors behind you.

That humans can choose to breed or not -- unlike any other animal -- just makes the calculation more complex.

The extreme example was the Ottoman law that required a new sultan to kill all his brothers (which sometimes extended to cousins, too). That one should give the game theorists fits: What is the optimum strategy for the second son?

Northern elephant seals don't have to work that out. (But on the other hand, they have 0 genetic diversity, which means that, following Dawkins, it makes no difference whatever who breeds.)

September 25, 2007 10:19 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I don't try to explain human history by natural selection. We've decoupled, we no longer are earthbound.

Darn, I was afraid one of you pagans would finally figure that out. Now we theists really have our work cut out for us.

Any thoughts on how that decoupling came about, Harry? I heard somewhere that it started when someone ate an apple, but that can't be right, can it?

September 26, 2007 4:53 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Skipper, I saw that your comment was sarcasm and tossed it right back at ya. Banning being the reason for the addictive PJA blogs and why I seldom see the light of day or the stars at night.

September 26, 2007 6:23 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

The decoupling occurred with the invention of language. Language creates the ability to have long term extra somatic information and makes that information self modifying / self interacting. And things with that latter property are very different from things without it. Just ask a physicists about "linear" vs. "non-linear" systems. Or a computer scientist about self modifying code. It is really a qualitative difference.

September 26, 2007 7:07 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Oh heck, let's let 'er rip!

SH, that sounds plausible, but:

A) How can you be sure that language developed (I assume you didn't mean "invented") before, say, weapons, cave-paintings or burials? I agree it makes no end of difference, but so do other things and I'm intrigued why you are so confident it was the trigger.

B) Where did this need for long term extra somatic information come from? Was it a need driven by the survival imperative or just a really neat side effect of something else?

C) How exactly would language be the cause of alienation, guilt, anxiety or morality?

I'm not baiting here. I think most religious folks (except the ones in Skipper's nightmares)accept that big E Evolution is a plausible explanation for how we got to the human stage and that "something" special or weird then happened that changed all the rules. This is really what Genecis is all about, not natural or biological history. The decoupling argument is a far more intelligible rationale than nonsense about memes or altruistic genes or other neo-Darwinian fantasies. Do you think whatever it is discoverable by scientific inquiry?

September 26, 2007 7:55 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Peter,

Regarding (A) and (B), my belief is that the invention of trade drove the rapid development of language. There was probably some primitive language before that, but trade was the primary driver.

What I love about such discussions is one can make up anything one wants and its not disprovable!

September 26, 2007 9:08 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Bret:

I know, it's great, isn't it? But trust an economist/libertarian to pin it all on trade. Me, I think is was either to woo foxy cave-women or debate whether God exists. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

September 26, 2007 9:48 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Whatever it was, it wasn't an immortal soul.

If you want to make Genesis a metaphor, Peter, you're going to have to leave the Catholic church.

September 26, 2007 9:49 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Oh, no. But will I be able to play the piano?

September 26, 2007 10:00 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

A) I'm not sure language developed / was invented first. It's not relevant to my point. I am confident it was the trigger for the decoupling because of my extensive experience with complex systems and how non-linearity / self interaction is the hallmark of such decoupling in those systems.

B) just a really neat side effect of something else.

C) Because you need the introspective and communicative abilities of language to create those concepts. It is necessary to be able to envision counter-factuals for those things, which requires language. But that's not relevant to my point, which is about the tipping point when human evolution / development became qualitatively different from other species.

September 26, 2007 12:18 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

B) Perhaps a neat side effect of this something else.

I think most religious folks (except the ones in Skipper's nightmares)accept that big E Evolution is a plausible explanation for how we got to the human stage and that "something" special or weird then happened that changed all the rules.

Except that, according to surveys -- especially after OJ gets done torturing them -- somewhere between many and most do not.

The decoupling argument is a far more intelligible rationale than nonsense about memes or altruistic genes or other neo-Darwinian fantasies. Do you think whatever it is discoverable by scientific inquiry?

While I accept that the notions of memes and genetic predisposition towards altruism have yet to attain the status of "theory", there certainly does seem to be something that can be usefully termed a "meme".

As for altruistic behavior being exclusively human, or not having some fitness enhancing component, this is in very serious need of another explanation.

As for whether ultimate causes can be discerned through scientific inquiry, that is far more problematic. Given the mists of time, and that most, if not nearly all, the evidence was quickly perishable, I suspect not.

That, however, is no reason to leap onto supernatural fairy tales; it is hard to tell a priori which of those gaps will suddenly close.

September 26, 2007 6:44 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Certainly, we wouldn't have gotten where we are without language. Imagine a race that's all autistic.

But I don't think language caused what we're after. It was caused by that.

The word emergent bugs me, because it is used an as explanation (eg, by Gould) when it is only descriptive. However, without using the word, we can describe lots of things that could hardly have been selected for in themselves.

My cat goes nuts when I open a can of tuna, though that can hardly be a directly evolved behavior.

Less trivially, we all (at least in the west) experience the phenomenon of a song stuck in the brain. I don't know whether chimpanzees who live next to discos get 'YMCA' stuck in their little brains.

Something evolved for some purpose that turned out also to be capable of abstraction, nightmares, invention of gods and guilt.

It must have started a long time ago, unless dogs' dreams are an example of convergent but recent evolution.

Dogs do not (we think) invent gods.

As a matter of darwinian principle, I don't find this any more troublesome than that color vision evolved out of monochrome vision.

The origin of altruism seems to me the least mysterious of all these odd capacities. Unlike our ability to instantly recognize some thousands of musical arrangements by hearing the first one or two notes, altruism has some apparent selective advantage that I fail to find in the Village People.

September 26, 2007 10:31 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

Memes are the modern secular equivalent of fairies and leprachauns. They don't exist, but boy do they ever explain a lot.

Harry:

Something evolved for some purpose that turned out also to be capable of abstraction, nightmares, invention of gods and guilt.

Sounds like you are pining away for the good old days, eh?

So, a process driven by the imperative of selective advantage took us beyond the imperative of selective advantage? Anyway, it's nice to see you muse that nightmares and guilt were the product of evolution and not that big, bad 'ole religion.

September 27, 2007 2:31 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Memes are the modern secular equivalent of fairies and leprachauns. They don't exist, but boy do they ever explain a lot.

Wrong. The theory of memes may not be entirely grounded -- in particular, there is no agreement as to what precisely constitutes a meme -- but I don't see how you can assert something like this:

... a unit of cultural information, the building block of cultural evolution or diffusion that propagates from one mind to another ...

does not exist. You may not buy what follows --

... analogously to the way in which a gene propagates from one organism to another as a unit of genetic information and of biological evolution.

-- but that is a far cry from saying they don't exist. Do you wish to assert that the various changes in views of female pulchritude in Brazil do not exist, or do not exist in discreet, and possibly mutually reinforcing, parts?

Memetics may, or may not, have any value. Asserting though, that we may not use the term "meme" to refer to elements of culture, and hope, through that definition, to attain some understanding of the life cycle of those elements, just doesn't wash.

Memes exist. Whether they have any explanatory value is open to debate.

BTW -- did you watch the altruistic behavior link in my previous post?

September 27, 2007 5:14 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Peter, the evolution of nightmares is no nire remarkable than the evolution of sciatica.

But perhaps you believe that sciatica was imposed on us by the Big Spook, along with a soul, to teach us salutary lessons?

One of the curious non-human behaviors that might possibly be of some relevance to the original subject of this post is mobbing sexuality among Hawaiian monk seals.

Monk seals like their sex rough. When the population was large, the damage inflicted on females was spread about and most survived.

The population has fallen very low (1,200 individuals and dropping 5%/yr), and a big part of the reason is that individual females are mobbed for copulation by males and so badly mauled that they often die.

This is at or getting real close to a genuine tipping point, and it's pure darwinism in action.

September 27, 2007 9:32 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yes, that certainly does sound like darwinism in action.

September 27, 2007 9:47 AM  

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