HBD and The Continuum Concept

A few years ago, I read a mystifying discussion on the subject of Sub-Saharan African development. Side A claimed that SSA was inferior because it had no significant development; Side B claimed that “development” was a cultural value that SSA cultures simply didn’t share. It is true enough that SSA has never had much in the way of “development”–cities were few and far between, and even today, some parts are virtually impassible. (This is a fantastic, wild story, btw, about a couple attempting to cross the DRC by truck. I strongly recommend it.) But how could valuing “development” be culturally relative? Didn’t everyone want development?

A couple of weeks later, I happened, (by total coincidence,) on Liedloff’s The Continuum Concept. This is the kind of book that only tends to appear to hippie parents, but if you’re interested in parenting from an evolutionary perspective, I recommend it. In the book, Liedloff goes to live in a “stone age” village in the Amazon Rainforest. At first she is annoyed by the difficulties of life in the village–for example, there’s no running water. Why don’t the people rig up some sort of system to bring running water to the village so they don’t have to trek down to the river every day?

Then Liedloff has a revelation: the villagers like walking down to the stream every day. It’s a pleasant walk, the stream is nice, and they enjoy having a swim together while they’re there. Is it any better to have running water if you’re less happy as a result?

This is what Side B meant. Not everyone wants to live in skyscrapers. Some people are perfectly happy in huts.

Genetics provides one explanation for why cultures are as they are; gene-culture co-evolution a more refined one. But you don’t have to believe in genetics to understand that cultures are a result of the people who make them.

People like to pretend that culture is nothing more than different clothes and fancy foods. This is Culture for Children, the sort of thing you see at an elementary school Culture Fair.

Food is nice, but that’s not what culture is. Culture is the sum of the personalities, values, even neuroses of the people involved. Some people incredibly driven, super-hard workers. Some people are relaxed and easy going. Some are shy. Some are warm. Japan is Japan because the Japanese made it that way; the DRC is the DRC because the Congolese made it that way. No, the Japanese aren’t perfectly happy with their culture, and neither are the Congolese, and neither are we, but each is still the result of the people in it, and people generally want to keep the parts of their culture that are important to them.

We tend to assume that everyone out there secretly wants to be like us. If we just give them democracy, they’ll start acting like us, we think. If we let them immigrate, they’ll act like us. If we just send them to more school, they’ll start acting like us.

Then we are confused when they don’t.

To this day, the Indians are still pissed off that white people sent them to school to try to impart white culture to them. “Cultural genocide” they call it. And they have every right to be pissed–they didn’t want to be white. They had their own culture. They were perfectly happy with it.

So let them be them and you be you.




14 thoughts on “HBD and The Continuum Concept

  1. “they didn’t want to be white. They had their own culture. They were perfectly happy with it.
    So let them be them and you be you.”

    We (our ancestors) took away or did away with everything that allowed the Indians to have their own cultures. Explain how they were supposed to manage.


    • You sound frustrated.
      I don’t think I’ve ever said that losing 90% of you population due to disease and then losing a few wars is going to make anyone happy. I am well aware of the history on this point (we may class learning about it under “formative childhood events” that contributed to the whole wanting-to-be-Mexican thing.) But this is beside the point; “they have suffered a lot already” was not a good excuse for “therefore, let’s force white culture on them.” Forcing Indians to attend white-run boarding schools didn’t improve things.

      Indians do still have their own cultures, and I support their efforts to keep their cultures.


      • And you seem to be projecting. I can see how rock hard facts can mess up a rhetorical flourish or two.

        How were plains Indians who got 90% of their livelihood from buffalo supposed to be themselves after all the buffalo were killed? How were the Creeks who used to grow corn, squash and beans in the bottomlands of Alabama supposed to do that in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma?

        I didn’t say anything about anybody being happy. (Happiness is very overrated anyway.)

        The boarding schools sound pretty bad. I have read personal accounts of immigrant children whose parents were even worse. It all depends upon what the people who are making the decisions think is best. You might think it is OK to teach Ebonics rather than the King’s English, but you would be wrong. Some people thought that they were giving these people a chance to survive, to make it, in the white civilization. In retrospect, it might have been a lot nicer if we had just let them adapt to European culture at their own pace which is what they did for about two hundred years. To be fair, I agree that it does not seem like anyone should have the right to tell other people to change their culture. The fact is that it has always been done and will continue to be done.

        It seems like the fair thing to do when you say let people do without running water if that is what they want. That is only valid if different cultures are isolated from each other, it does not work so well when cultures are clashing and mixing. Should they do without modern medicine and use the witch doctor instead?


      • Emotions/intentions don’t always transfer well over the internet, hence the statement.

        Clarification request: Are you asking me, straightforward, how I would recommend providing for the livelihoods of displaced Indians? Or are you asking rhetoricals as a lead in to suggest that the Indian Boarding Schools were a well-intentioned attempt at teaching people new skills now that their old way of life had been destroyed?

        I agree that “people are my neighbors” and “people live on a different continent” are two different situations and therefore may require different policies–people who live within sneezing distance of each other will have to come to some sort of agreement on things like medical care and proper waste disposal. However, the post is primarily about just plain respecting other cultures instead of demanding that everyone act the same.


      • Emotions/intentions don’t always transfer well over the internet, hence the statement.

        My intention is to learn and understand.

        I am not asking for your economic advice to the Indians, although you did make recommendations to them on who not to listen to in the mental health field.

        Yes, I am suggesting that a part of the motivation for Indian Boarding Schools was likely benevolent.

        I usually don’t have any trouble with people wanting to maintain their own culture. I have limits to this tolerance. I do have objections to people who want to have their cake and eat it too.

        Now my point was that your idea that the Indians should be left alone to be Indians is not grounded. They can’t be “Indians” anymore because the whole economic and cultural foundation of their existence was washed away. If some of them want to restore and keep their languages, skills, stories and other cultural markers alive that is just fine with me.

        Demanding that everyone act the same is on the opposite side of the coin from refusing to help those that want to change.


      • There were a lot of caveats on that post, but “you should probably listen to the majority opinion of established experts in this field, rather than this guy who is saying a bunch of stuff that does not appear to be backed up by the evidence we have,” is not actually saying all that much. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, people who are just beginning to look for information on a subject don’t know enough yet to be able to distinguish “things experts believe” from “things one guy believes”, and that distinction can, at times, be useful to the individual in deciding whom to trust. That doesn’t mean anyone has to listen to my advice, nor am I in a position to impose my will on others, nor am I even attempting to impose my will on others. (The broader point of the post was not Indian health per se, but SJW narratives about mental health and epigenetics.)

        The motivation for the Indian Boarding Schools was to “kill the Indian” without using bullets, because bullets (and people trained in using them) were expensive. They established boarding schools specifically so they could remove the Indians from their culture–force them to wear different clothes, speak a different language, eat different food, etc. If any kind-hearted person just wanted to educate the Indians, teach them reading, writing, arithmetic, and other skills, that could have been done more easily and cheaply by establishing schools on Indian lands. Likewise, the economic issues could have been more easily treated by drilling wells so people could irrigate their crops or helping establish herds of cattle, rather than kidnapping their children.

        I consider the Indians a part of my country and therefore part of my zone of mutual obligation. If they want my help (or the help of the broader society,) then I basically believe there exists a moral obligation to help. But in cases where people do not want help–they do not want their children to be kidnapped and sent to boarding school, or they are perfectly happy with their current lifestyles and do not want to change–then I have no particular desire to impose change on them.


  2. Competition between human groups is a normal part of human affairs and it sucks to be on the losing side.
    Even the Sioux were relatively recent arrivals to the Great Plains, enabled in their migration by horses introduced by the Spanish. No doubt some other group once lived in the territory they came to treasure. One might even venture to call that previous group “natives” or “original” but they no doubt impinged on yet another group before them.

    I little expect that Indians would have been merciful had the positions of power been reversed in North America.

    Groups do indeed have different natures that manifest in aggregate. But the outcome of these natures is not at all equal in the great game of territory and survival.
    Ironically, in our modern age, peoples who require minimal wealth for their survival and are content in huts have certain advantages. They can successfully reproduce and spread for far less energy expenditure than a “modern” people requires. In the event they are attacked, they offer few targets of strategic value that would disable their functioning. They haven’t enough wealth to be tempting targets to begin with. The only way to get rid of them is deliberately wiping them out, a tedious and pointless labor which represents a net loss for a great power weighed down by expensive upkeep and political relationships with other powerful peoples.


    • I agree with some of your points. I think the Kiowa were one of the peoples displaced by the Sioux who in turn had been displaced by the immigrant Europeans. I don’t give any group sainted status because they were displaced.

      I am not so sure that losing always sucks. The American South is better off from having lost the War. Of course, it would be even better off if it could have avoided the War completely.

      Barbarians and raiders have always presented a problem for the civilized. I am not sure that genocide is always the appropriate response.


      • Is the South? I suspect slavery would have eventually made its way out, as it had throughout most of the developed world. At which point, what was the point of killing all of those people and burning the crops?


    • Cherokee and some other tribes were, IMO, kind folks–I have heard that the Cherokee sent aid to the Irish during the Potato Famine. The Aztecs, by contrast, were skilled at ripping out the still-beating hearts of their vanquished enemies.

      There is a story, I think in Herodotus but I may be confusing my Greek historians at this point, that after the Spartans had defeated the… what was it, Persians? Anyway, they went to the defeated commander’s tent and marveled at all of the luxuries he had brought with him to this battlefield so far from home. The gist of it, as I remember, was them all wonder that this guy, with all his luxuries, meant to conquer Sparta, with no luxuries at all?


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