Degeneracy of Type

If “evolution” is a word that comes up a lot in the late 1800s (even before Darwin,) “degenerate” is the word of the 1930s and 40s.

In Kabloona, (1941) an ethnography of the Eskimo (Inuit) of northern Canada, de Poncins speaks highly of the “pure” Eskimo, whose ancestral way of life remains unsullied by contact with European culture, and negatively of the “degenerate Eskimo,” caught in the web of international trade, his lifestyle inexorably changed by proximity and contact with the West.

In Caughey’s History of the Pacific Coast, (1933) he writes:

The Northwest Coast Indians felt the ill effects of too much contact with British, Russian, and American traders. The rum of the trading schooners was one of several factors contributing to the degeneracy of those not actually exterminated.

In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, (1939) Dr. Price argues that modern foods are low in nutrient value and inferior to many native, ancestral diets, and that the spread of this “white man’s food” caused an epidemic of disease, tooth decay, and skeletal mal-formation, which he documents extensively. Dr. Price refers to the change in appearance from one generation to the next, coinciding with the introduction of modern foods, as “interrupted heredity.” The parents represent “pure racial type,” with strong teeth and bones, while the children, bow-legged and sick, suffer physical degeneration.

(This kind of language that Dr. Price uses sometimes confuses us moderns, because we flinch reflexively at phrases like “racial type” when in fact his argument is the inverse of the racist arguments of his day.)

From SMBC--there's something wrong with this comic. I bet you can figure out what it is.
From SMBC–there’s something wrong with this comic. I bet you can figure out what it is.

Now, there is something twee about anthropologists (and historians) who long for the preservation of other peoples’ cultures when the people within those cultures seem to prefer modernity. Igloos and teepees may seem fun and exotic to those of us who don’t live in them, but the people who do might genuinely prefer a house with central heat and a toilet. Obviously the whole anthropologist schtick involves people who really like studying cultures that are distinct from their own, and if the people in those cultures adopt Western lifestyles, then there just isn’t much to study anymore.

(Imagine if we found out tomorrow that all of what we thought were variations in human DNA turned out to be contamination errors due to local pollen, and vast swathes of this blog became moot.)

It is easy to write off such notions as just feel-good sentimentalizing by outsiders, but these are at least outsiders with more first hand knowledge of these cultures than I have, so I think we should at least consider their ideas.

The degeneracy described as a result of contact with the West is not just physical or cultural, but also moral. A culture, fully-fledged, is one of humanity’s greatest technologies, a tool for the total transmission of a group’s knowledge, morals, and behaviors. Your ancestors, facing much the same environment as yourself, and armed with similar tools, struggled to obtain food, marry, raise children, and survive just as you do. The ones who succeeded passed down the lessons of their success, and these lessons became woven into the tapestry of culture you were raised in, saving you much of the trial-and error effort of reproducing your ancestors’ struggles.

picture-144Some people claim to believe that all cultures are equally valuable and important. I don’t. I think cultures that practice things like cannibalism, animal sacrifice, and child rape are bad and I don’t cry for their disappearance. But virtually every culture has at least some good features, or else it wouldn’t have come about in the first place.

Cultural lessons stem from the practical–“Ice the runners of your sled to make it run more smoothly”–to the moral–“Share your belongings in common with the tribe”–to the inscrutable–“don’t eat the totem animal.” (Some of these beliefs may be more important than others.) Throughout all of recorded human history, most of us have passed on bodies of moral teachings under the name of “religion,” whether we believe in the literal truth of mythic stories or not.

Rapid cultural change–not the gentle sort that percolates slowly across generations, but massive variety precipitated by an industrial revolution or the sudden introduction of a few thousand years’ worth of technological advancement to a long-isolated people–outstrips a society’s ability to provide meaningful moral or practical guidance. Simply put: people don’t know what to do.

Take alcohol. People have probably been producing fermented beverages for at least 10,000 years, or for about as long as we’ve been trying to store pots of grain and fruit. The French have wine, Mongolians have fermented horse milk, the Vikings fermented honey and the Founding Fathers drank a lot of apple cider.

Alcohol has beneficial effects–few pathogens survive the fermentation process–and obviously harmful effects. Societies that traditionally produced large quantities of alcohol have evolved social norms and institutions to help people enjoy the beneficial effects and avoid the bad ones. France, for example, which in 2014 produce 4.5 billion liters of wine and consumed 2.8 billion liters of the same, is not a nation of violent, wife-beating, car-crashing drunkards. French social norms emphasize moderate wine consumption accompanied by food, friends, and family.

By contrast, in societies where alcohol was suddenly introduced via contact with whites, people don’t have these norms, and the results–like rampant alcoholism on Native American reservations–have been disastrous. These societies can–and likely will–learn to handle alcohol, but it takes time.

chart_of_gonorrhea_infection_rates_usa_1941-2007Our own society is undergoing its own series of rapid changes–industrialization, urbanization, post-industrialization, the rise of the internet, etc. Andean cultures have been cultivating coca leaves for at least 3,000 years, apparently without much trouble, while the introduction of crack/cocaine to the US has been rather like dropping bombs on all of our major cities.

The invention of fairly reliable contraception and the counter-culture of the ’60s and ’70s led to the spread of “free love,” which in turn triggered skyrocketing gonorrhea rates. Luckily gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics (at least until it becomes antibiotic resistant,) but it’s still a nasty disease–one internet acquaintance of mine caught gonorrhea, took antibiotics and thought he was in the clear, but then doctors discovered that the inside of his penis was full of scar tissue that was dangerously closing off his bladder. They had basically cut him a new urethra once they were done removing all of the scar tissue, and he spent the next few months in constant, horrible pain, even while on medication.

latestAnd to add insult to injury, everyone in his social circle just thought he was bitter, jealous, and trying to make his ex-girlfriend look bad when he tried to warn them that they shouldn’t sleep with her because she gave him gonorrhea.

Of course, gonorrhea is just the tip of the horrifying iceberg.

By contrast, the Amish look pretty darn healthy.

Degeneracy isn’t just a sickness of the body; it’s a falling apart of all of the morals and customs that hold society together and give people meaning and direction in their lives. You don’t have to waste years trying to “find yourself” when you already have a purpose, but when you have no purpose but to feed yourself, it’s easy to become lost.

I should note that Dr. Price didn’t just examine the teeth of Eskimo and Aborigines, but also of Scots, Swiss, and Americans. His conclusion–nutritional degeneracy due to contact with modern foods–was the same regardless of culture. (Note: nutrition and food production have changed since 1939.) Or as Scott Alexander recently put it:

I am pretty sure there was, at one point, such a thing as western civilization. I think it involved things like dancing around maypoles and copying Latin manuscripts. At some point Thor might have been involved. That civilization is dead. It summoned an alien entity from beyond the void which devoured its summoner and is proceeding to eat the rest of the world.

Well, that sounds a fair bit more dire than Dr. Price’s assessment. Let’s assume Scott is being poetic and perhaps exaggerating for effect. Still: massive cultural changes can sweep the normative rug out from beneath your feet and leave you injured and confused. It will take time–perhaps centuries–for society to fully adjust to the technological changes of the past hundred years. Right now, everyone is still muddling through, trying to figure out what will kill us and what will save us.

Did European Filthiness lead to Prohibition?

Part 2 is here: Beer, Cholera, and Public Health

Prohibition is a strange period in American history. Disparate bedfellows–women, Puritans, even the Klan–united in their hatred of Irish drunkenness (and the Germans who enabled it) to actually pass a Constitutional amendment banning alcohol for the whole country.

These days, everyone likes to laugh and point fingers at our dumb idiot ancestors who were so dumb, they thought the Irish were bad immigrants. What they miss, of course, is that the Irish immigrants of the 1800s and early 1900s actually were problematic and were involved in a lot of crime, much of it drunken. (My general impression is that the Italians were involved in more crime, but the Irish were more numerous.) Things were so bad, people thought Prohibition sounded like a good way to improve matters.

The Germans

The Germans started showing up en masse after the failed rebellions of 1848. The losers–mostly middle to upper-class Germans with ideas about democracy and socialism–decided to head somewhere they were less likely to get killed by the state. Many German immigrants, however, were just folks in search of new opportunities for a better life. Like in the Ostsiedlung, German migration to the US was not a free-for-all, but often consisted of organized groups of like-minded academic revolutionaries like the Latin Settlements (whereby “Latin” we mean, “people who spoke Latin”) or created by folks like the Giessener Emigration Society, whose goal was the creation of a new German state within the US. The Germans generally found their new settlements nice enough in the sense of not being in immediate danger of decapitation, but kind of boring, especially now that they had no evil aristocrats to struggle against.

Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the emigration of Germany’s most anti-authoritarian people left behind a German population that was, as a result, far more temperamentally pro-authoritaian, resulting in Bakunin’s observation that an anarchist revolution could never succeed in Germany because the Germans were the statiest of people.

By 1872, Germany was America’s largest source of people, settling primarily in the North:

German Population in the US by 1872
German Population in the US by 1872

Take note of the little patch of Germans in Texas and in the corner of Texas-Louisiana-Arkansas, then compare to today’s map of counties where Prohibition is still in force:

Wet counties = blue; dry counties = red; yellow counties = mixed laws
Wet counties = blue; dry counties = red; yellow counties = mixed laws

Where there are Germans, beer tends to be legal. (The Germans in Pennsylvania and Ohio are perhaps a different sort from the rest.)

The Germans brought with them a talent for large-scale production of high-quality products–in this case, beer. Yes, beer (and other forms of alcohol) had been produced in the US ever since some ancient Indian left some watery grain or fruit out too long and it began to ferment, and the original colonists had brewed plenty British ales and apple ciders, but German immigrants brought the lagers that became the characteristically “American lagers” we know today.

Anheuser-Busch? Founded by Germans.

“Adolphus Busch was the first American brewer to use pasteurization to keep beer fresh; the first to use mechanical refrigeration and refrigerated railroad cars, which he introduced in 1876; and the first to bottle beer extensively.[1][11][12] By 1877, the company owned a fleet of forty refrigerated railroad cars to transport beer.[12] Expanding the company’s distribution range led to increased demand for Anheuser products, and the company substantially expanded its facilities in St. Louis during the 1870s.[13] The expansions led production to increase from 31,500 barrels in 1875 to more than 200,000 in 1881.”

Budweiser? Named after Budweis, a city in the modern Czech Republic. Michelob is named for the Czech town of Michalovice.

Miller Light, produced by the Miller Brewing Company (now after many company mergers and acquisitions part of MillerCoors,) founded in Milwaukee in 1855 by Friedrich Eduard Johannes Müller of Riedlingen, Württemberg.

Coors was founded in 1873 by German immigrants Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler, using a recipe they’d bought from a Czech immigrant.

The oldest and biggest (by volume) beer company in the US today is D. G. Yuengling & Son, (founded 1829,)where Yuengling is an anglicization of Jüngling, which was, of course, simply David Gottlob Jüngling of Aldingen, Kingdom of Württemberg‘s last name.

Johnny-come-latey Boston Beer Company (maker of Sam Adams ale) often ties Yuengling for sales. Sam Adams was founded in 1984 by Jim Koch, yet another German, who supposedly brewed up the first few batches in his kitchen using an old family recipe.

If you want more on the history of German beer making in America, here’s the Wikipedia page on American Beer and a slightly more detailed article on Beer History.

Long story short, all of those “American” beers are German/Czech.

The Irish

The Irish, unlike the Germans, were a disorganized mass of peasants fleeing the great famine and continuing Irish poverty. They were not suave, classically-trained academic revolutionaries, but tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of Europe’s teeming shore, homeless and tempest-tost.

So desperate were the Irish to escape that many were willing to crowd into the horrific coffin ships, where conditions were so bad that 30% of the passengers died. Still, they managed to arrive in numbers that rivaled the Germans.

Unfortunately, despite this sympathetic start, the Irish managed to make themselves unpopular in their new home:


In 1871, the Orange Riots over a Protestant Irish parade in NYC resulted in the deaths of 63 people, putting modern NYC parade-related crimes to shame. The parade celebrated an old victory of Protestant Irish over Catholic Irish, so the Catholic Irish decided to attack the parade, despite the presence of 5,000 policemen and state militia, who of course shot back at the rioters.

In the 1860s, the Irish comprised over half of all arrests in NYC; amusingly, they were also almost half of the police. To this day, the Irish continue to serve their communities as police officers and fire fighters, and also criminals. According to the Wikipedia, “the Irish topped the charts demographically in terms of arrests and imprisonment. They also had more people confined to insane asylums and poorhouses than any other group. The racial supremacy belief that many Americans had at the time contributed significantly to Irish discrimination.[136]

Things were bad enough that in 1856, the “Know Nothings” a nativist, anti-immigrant party carried Maryland and many Southern counties, (though we might note that their tactic of running former President Fillmore as their candidate without asking him first might not have been the most ethical.) Of course, by 1860 everyone had decided that the Irish were just fine, so long as they fought on their side, but once the Klan got going, it remembered the old mission of hating Papists and immigrants.

By 1872, the Irish population distribution within the US looked much like the German:


It was a synergistic relationship; the Germans were good at making the beer and the Irish were good at drinking it.

Of course, the Irish did not commit all of the crime–the Fins were drunker, Mexicans more murderous–but these migrant groups were far smaller than the Irish (especially in the mid-1800s; the southern and eastern European immigration waves began much later than the German and Irish waves):


From Bonger's "Race and Crime," courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Bonger’s “Race and Crime,” courtesy of Those Who Can See


From Bonger's "Race and Crime," courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Bonger’s “Race and Crime,” courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Commons's Races and Immigrants in America, courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Commons’s Races and Immigrants in America, courtesy of Those Who Can See

Of course, since this was still the era of Segregation, “Coloreds” didn’t live among Puritans, but the Irish did.

The peaceful Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans tended to settle in the countryside, while the Irish and Italians, unable to afford train fare, stayed where they landed, giving the North East coastal cities a particularly strong tradition of crime-ridden ethnic enclaves. As the immigrant %age of American cities soared toward 50%, the police found themselves unable to control the resulting crime waves, and rival immigrant gangs were left to deal with each other.

Those Who Can See quotes Frank Tannenbaum’s Crime and the Community:

The Jewish gangs that grew up to protect the Jew against the Irish, the Italian gangs later in conflict with the Jewish gangs, the old comment in certain parts of Chicago that “Every Irish kid was raised to kill a Swede,” the conflict between Negro and white that led to race riots in Chicago and East St. Louis, all trace the long-time irritation and conflict that contributed to the habit of violence, that led to coalescence of groups practicing violence against their neighbors,… ”

These days, of course, everyone wants to be Irish, because American “oppression” of Irish criminals means that Irish is now one of the few ethnicities a white person can proudly proclaim without getting accused of white privilege. Who wants to be English anymore? What did England ever contribute to the world, besides the works of Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin; the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism; the ability to find longitude at sea; the Smallpox vaccine and epidemiology? LAME-O. Same for being an “American.”

In their defense, Irish crime appears to have been mostly drunken brawling, wife beating, and criminal neglect of their children due to their over-fondness of alcohol, rather than organized murder of the mafia variety, but if I have to read one more sob-story masquerading as “literature” about how the poor Irish couldn’t figure out how to stop drinking long enough to care for their children, well, I guess I will be very annoyed at the author.

(I don’t hate the Irish (who have been generally well behaved lately and certainly haven’t done anything to me personally); I hate the SJWs’ insistence on feigning ignorance about why anyone might dislike people who commit a lot of crime.)

The eventual, perhaps inevitable result was backlash, but we’ll get to that after our discussion of why the Irish drank so much in Part 2: Beer, Cholera, and Public Health.

Making Sense of Maps–violence and grain

So I was looking at this map, trying to figure out what might be causing different rates of violence:

No data for non-EU countries like Norway and Russia
No data for non-EU countries like Norway and Russia

Clearly it’s not degree of Germaness, as the Germans have less (reported) violence than their cousins in France, the UK, and Denmark. Doesn’t look like a Hajnal line effect, as France is solidly inside the line and Greece isn’t. Doesn’t look like latititude, is Ireland and Denmark and Latvia are all around the same latitude. Probably not an immigration thing, as it’s a stretch to blame violence against half of Denmark’s women on whatever relatively small % of the population is immigrants, while Spain and Italy (which I’m sure also have immigrants) are down in the 20%s.

Then I thought, aside from Ireland, it does look rather like a map of when grain arrived in Europe. Maybe the violence is fueled by alcohol, and groups that have been exposed to alcohol for longer are more resistant to its effects. (And Ireland, btw, does not have as much of an alcohol problem as is generally claimed.)

So here is a map of the spread of wheat in Europe:

Poor Finland got left off the map
From Science News: Wheat Reached England before Farming

Since grain originated (as far as Europe is concerned) in Turkey, I suspect that it became a dominant dietary staple faster after introduction in Spain, whose climate is probably similar to Turkey, than in more northerly places like Scotland or Finland. Ireland does not appear to lag significantly behind England, but northern Scotland does. Sadly, this map does not show us the Baltic and Scandinavia, where I gather the hunter-gatherer-fisher-herder lifestyle held on much longer.

Here is another map, of alcohol-related deaths:



This map sheds some light on why the UK comes out with more violence than Ireland: the Scottish. The English look pretty okay overall, but the Scots apparently get drunk and beat their wives with the vigor of, well, I guess the French.

I’d really like to see more complete versions of these maps, but oh, well. (Though I’m glad they left off Russia, which I suspect would change the scale on the graph, compressing the rest of the data into uselessness.)

Here are my suspicions: Grain (particularly wheat) started out over in Turkey and spread to Greece, Italy, Spain, the south-Slavic regions, southern French coast, and Germany, in about that order. These areas all seem to have low rates of domestic violence and, except for the Slavs, low rates of alcohol-fueled death. Perhaps the stats on that reflect differences in density or drunk driving laws, or the later admixture of another population like the Magyars that has less alcohol tolerance. East Germany clearly stands out as an anomaly that is probably due to the Cold War.

Wheat farming reached northern Europe later, reaching Scotland, Denmark, the Baltic, and Scandinavia last. Lower rates of alcohol-related death in some of these spots probably reflect people driving drunk less often due to local factors.

According to “investoralist”, in “The geo-alcohol belts of Europe,” “Episodic drunkenness seems embedded in the Nordic culture, so much so that most Scandinavian states have outrageously high alcohol taxes to discourage binge-drinking.  In a country where alcohol is the most common cause of death among working-aged adults, Finland raised its alcohol taxes twice in the 2008-2009 period.”

He further quotes, “[W]hen Finns drink, they drink heavily. The important thing is that I believe that they are not only drinking away their cultural neurosis; they actually value the cathartic effect of Dionysian drinking. This leads to a situation where, as I have put it, you can’t single out the alcoholics at our parties because everyone is as dead-drunk as alcoholics. This leads to a cultural tradition where drunkenness is positively valued among rather large segments of the population. Therefore, there exists no cultural consensus regarding the positive effects of moderation.”

According to the Wikipedia article on binge drinking, Denmark has the most binge drinkers.

Oh look:

Is this a map of where Scandinavians (and Germans) settled in the US?
Is this a map of where Scandinavians (and Germans) settled in the US?

Your thoughts?