Behavioral Evolution, Science Times, and “A Farewell to Alms”

From a Science Times Story:

Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, believes that the Industrial Revolution — the surge in economic growth that occurred first in England around 1800 — occurred because of a change in the nature of the human population. The change was one in which people gradually developed the strange new behaviors required to make a modern economy work. The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save emerged only recently in human history, Dr. Clark argues.

Because they grew more common in the centuries before 1800, whether by cultural transmission or evolutionary adaptation, the English population at last became productive enough to escape from poverty, followed quickly by other countries with the same long agrarian past.

OK, seriously. While it is certainly true that human populations have evolved social behaviors over time. It is utterly ridiculous to think it would happen so quickly.

Most historians have assumed that evolutionary change is too gradual to have affected human populations in the historical period. But geneticists, with information from the human genome now at their disposal, have begun to detect ever more recent instances of human evolutionary change like the spread of lactose tolerance in cattle-raising people of northern Europe just 5,000 years ago.

Notice, they think 5,000 years is fast. Dr. Clark is talking about a couple hundred.

Genetic drift, and other factors can’t be ignored when trying to determine whether a creature has evolved to any serious degree.

Simply, did those who weren’t suited to factory life die off? And did only those who were suited breed? Of course not. Was there no interbreeding between the newly genetically evolved humans and the non-evolved humans?

I find this downright stupid. Were the Romans evolved to be Roman, and then out of nowhere, did they devolve? Romans, as a group, were quite productive. Slaves usually are. Who do you think built the Colosseum?

Come on. Of course our species is subject to evolution. And our behavior is no different. But, evolution is a bit more complex than all that.

Human Behavior has likely not changed dramatically for thousands of years. There just haven’t been the selective forces to make it happen. The fact is, we are quite productive as a species, when we NEED to be. But, those in the first world (presumably, as a group, the most productive economically) are also among the more clinically depressed people on earth. Particularly Americans. Is there a correlation?

Productivity does not equal happiness. If we were better evolved to be productive, don’t you think there might be a positive emotional response that went along with it? Isn’t our unhappiness a sign that we are stretching ourselves beyond our bounds?

African Slaves, exploitation of laborers, Chinese railroad workers, etc. This is where the rise in productivity really came from. It nearly always does.

Trade helps. Specialization helps. We don’t need a giant genetic behavioral shift to benefit from these.

If Dr. Clark is serious about the reason why the industrial revolution succeeded being that there was a recent change in the genetic make up of our species, then he is in dire need of a Biological Evolution class.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

One response to “Behavioral Evolution, Science Times, and “A Farewell to Alms”

  1. The information of your page is entertainment and very well organized.

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