A while back, a commenter wrote:
Our cultures are all at various levels of development, for a variety of reasons, (none of them being genetic- read “why the west rules”, by head professor at Staford), and everyone has unique genetic benefits to share, hopefully as far and wide as possible.
I replied that I’d read the book. It’s been a while since then, but better late than never.
Why the West Rules, by Ian Morris, belongs to a genre of books that race-denialists like to claim as evidence that race-realists are mistaken and ignorant. These books, though read by few, are important to the race-denialist ideology; they form the basis of its “Thick-book tactic,” which I wrote about in my very first post:
Back in the days when I was part of the religious Jewish community, I took note of a common tactic to defend accepted dogma. I call it “The Thick Book Tactic”. The way it works is that a famous person, regarded as a scholar, writes a long book supposedly disproving the targeted heresy. Back in those days, I had my own “heresy” and I actually went through the trouble of reading the “thick books”. I discovered that they were practically devoid of real content, instead referring to other works – which, in turn, were easy to debunk. Those “thick books”, when actually read, were card houses. But the truth is that they were never intended to be read, at least not by the general populous. Instead, the main intention was to give people something to point to and say, “Do you see this thick book? It debunks your heresy. People wiser than you have already resolved your issues”. Of course, when I wrote my own opinions, well founded as they were, few were interested in reading them because I was not famous. The masses would much rather point to nonsense written by a famous person, than actually consider an opposing view. They’re comfortable in their faith and those “thick books”, even if never read, help support their ideology.
Today, “liberals” have their own “thick books” that they use to defend their racial orthodoxy. Very few actually read them of course. Those thick books would intimidate the vast majority of those who would question racial orthodoxy because they are so thick. Not only that, but they use technical terminology and refer to other works that few laymen have even heard of.
Why the West Rules belongs in the same category as Guns, Germs and Steel, Empire, The Emperor’s New Clothes, What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee and The Skull Measurer’s Mistake. The authors don’t always claim that their motivation, in writing their books, was to combat “racism” – but the ignorant masses have been citing them, as weapons against “racism” nevertheless. Professor Morris quotes Guns, Germs and Steel and Empire several times in his book.
Almost from the start, Morris writes (pgs. 50,51):
Racists are often eager to pounce on such details to justify prejudice, violence, and even genocide. You might feel that taking the time to talk about a theory of this kind merely dignifies bigotry; perhaps we should just ignore it. But that, I think, would be a mistake. Pronouncing racist theories contemptible is not enough. If we really want to reject them, and to conclude that people (in large groups) really are all much the same, it must be because racist theories are wrong, not just because most of us today do not like them.
It is clear that, according to Morris, “racism” is any belief that acknowledges meaningful racial differences between humans – exactly the types of differences that would help explain the course of civilization, and progress, in our world. Morris refers to “racist theories” numerous times in his book – and yet he never specifies what they are, and why they are wrong. We can only surmise that, according to him, if you believe in racial differences, then you must be a Nazi or a Nazi supporter.
Morris almost entirely ignores sub-Saharan Africa in his book. Instead he (conveniently) focuses on civilization as it developed in the West (by which he means the Middle East, North Africa and Europe) and the East (by which he means China, Korea and Japan). I don’t know of any race-realists who believe that East Asians are less intelligent (overall) than Europeans. In fact, we tend to consider them a bit more intelligent.
I would classify Why the West Rules as a history book more than anything else. The history it deals with is specifically Chinese versus Western history. Morris’ frequent jabs at “racist theories” must be directed specifically at white supremacists, who consider all other races to be inferior. Since most of us, who write and read this blog, do not fit into this category, I could simply conclude that any anti-racist arguments in this book do not apply to us.
Except that Morris, citing similarities between Chinese history and Western history, repeats (more times than I could count) that “people (in large groups) really are all much the same.” I suppose this might make sense if we excluded Africans, Native Americans and Austronesians from being “people.” It appears as if he believes that the more often he repeats his belief, the more true it becomes.
And it is true. People are “much the same” all over the world. That is to say, our similarities far outweigh our differences. A smile means more or less the same thing in Madagascar as it does in Portland. Laughter, a scowl or a hug also have similar meanings all over the world. Each of us can travel to any country, learn its language, listen to its music and enjoy its cuisine. But we are not all exactly the same (even in large groups), and I believe Morris is mistaken when he assumes that our similarities prevail when it comes to large groups of people.
Poor people are “much the same” as wealthy people. Animists are “much the same” as Christians or Muslims. Less educated people are “much the same” as the well-educated. Yet we find vastly different rates of crime and dysfunction around the world. Tolerance toward sexual minorities (such as homosexuals and transsexuals) differs as well. The same can be said for environmental conscientiousness. Clearly, small average differences in populations can lead to vast differences in the types of societies they produce. It’s the cumulative effect of small differences; large societies magnify such differences. They do not cancel them out, as Morris seems to believe.
Though Morris is fond of quoting other liberal professors, such as Jared Diamond and Niall Ferguson, he completely ignores Phillipe Rushton, John Baker, Frank Salter, Gregory Cochran, Henry Harpending and Nevan Sesardic. But on page 569 we do find this:
When psychologists strap people into functional magnetic resonance imaging machines and ask them to solve problems, these scholars point out, the frontal and parietal areas in Western subjects’ brains light up more (indicating they are working harder to maintain attention) if the question requires placing information within a broad context than if it calls for isolating facts from their background and treating them independently. For Easterners the reverse is true.
What does this difference mean? Isolating facts and treating them independently from their context are hallmarks of modern science (as in the beloved caveat “other things being equal…”); perhaps, one theory runs, the contrast in brain function means that Westerners are simply more logical and scientific than Easterners.
But perhaps not. The experiments do not show that Easterners cannot separate facts from their background or that Westerners cannot put things in perspective; only that each group is less accustomed to thinking that way, and has to work harder to pull it off. Both groups can, and regularly do, perform both kinds of tasks.
Go back and reread that last paragraph; it doesn’t pass the laugh test. Obviously, individuals can overcome their natural tendencies, and think outside the box. But it’s ridiculous to claim that an entire civilization would do so consistently over the course of thousands of years – and do so as effectively as another civilization for whom this comes naturally. Among race-realists, it’s generally accepted that East Asians, though possessing high intelligence, have a harder time with inventiveness than their Western counterparts.
Why does the West rule? According to Morris, the answer is geography. The West (specifically Western Europe) had access to the Atlantic, which gave it easy access to the New World – in contrast to China, which had the much wider Pacific Ocean separating it from the New World. In earlier times, it was the Mediterranean Sea that gave the West an advantage (along with a variety of domesticable seeds and animals found in the “Hilly Flanks” (Levant).
Morris makes valid points. There’s no doubt that geography did play a huge role in the early development of Western civilization, but Morris would have done well to read The 10,000 Year Explosion. After all, on pg. 101, he writes:
By imposing such mental structures on their world, Hilly Flankers were, we might say, domesticating themselves. They even remade what love meant. The love between husband and wife or parent and child is natural, bred into us over millions of years, but farming injected new forces into these relationships.
Humans adapt very quickly to new environments. It strains credibility that any non-creationist would fail to consider that civilized humans would evolve to meet these new challenges. If Siberians and Inuit could evolve short extremities (in response to extreme cold), if Tibetans could evolve higher haemoglobin concentrations (in response to low oxygen levels of higher altitudes) and if Indo-Europeans could evolve to digest cow’s milk (as a source of protein), then surely civilized humans could evolve their brains to better cope with the complexities of urban life and government.
The closest thing to an actual objection to HBD (human biodiversity) that Morris provides is on page 67, where he writes:
Within a few thousand years early humans reached a tipping point that was as much demographic as biological. Instead of dying out so often, bands of modern humans grew big enough and numerous enough to stay in regular contact, pooling their genes and know-how. Change became cumulative and the behavior of Homo sapiens diverged rapidly from that of other ape-men. And once that happened, the days of biological distinctions between East and West were numbered.
It would have been nice if Morris spelled out what he really meant. But It sounds like the dispersion theory put forth by Milford Wolpoff and Rachel Caspari in Race and Human Evolution. I’ll quote myself from that post:
The multiregional model, not to be confused with polygenism, holds that the various human populations intermingled sufficiently, over the eons, to both transmit all advantageous genes to all populations and to ensure that the human species did not divide further into separate species.
This is problematic because rarely are genes (or even traits, for that matter) clearly “advantageous” to all. We’re used to assuming that higher intelligence is always an advantage, but we would be wrong. As Miller himself points out (pg. 46), large brains are expensive:
Most of us think that being smart is self-evidently good. Why, then, if Homo habilis had the potential to mutate in this direction, did they putter along for half a million years before “suddenly” morphing into taller, bigger-brained creatures? The most likely explanation lies in the fact that there is no such thing as a free lunch. A big brain is expensive to run. Our own brains typically make up 2 percent of our body weight but use up 20 percent of the energy we consume. Big brains create other other problems too: it takes a big skull to hold a big brain – so big, in fact, that modern women have trouble pushing babies with such big heads down their birth canals…
In our own era, we can plainly see that more intelligent women have fewer babies. From an evolutionary perspective, this would make increased intelligence a disadvantage. Therefore, we cannot simply assume that higher intelligence would have spread throughout the world, and impacted all human populations equally – no more so than we would have all benefited from the Tibetans’ “better” haemoglobin.
Morris takes another vague jab at HBD on pages 72,73:
The debate over multiregional origins drags on, and as recently as 2007 new finds from Zhoukoudian and from Xuchang were being trumpeted as showing that modern humans must have evolved from Homo erectus in China. Even as the publication announcing these finds was being printed, however, other scholars drove what looks to be the final nail into the multiregionalist coffin. Their sophisticated multiple-regression analysis of measurements from more than six thousand skulls showed that when we control for climate, the variations in skull types around the world are in fact consistent with the DNA evidence. our dispersals out of Africa in the last sixty thousand years wiped the slate clean of all the genetic differences that had emerged over the previous half million years.
Racist theories grounding Western rule in biology have no basis in fact. People, in large groups, are much the same wherever we find them, and we have all inherited the same restless, inventive minds from our African ancestors. Biology by itself cannot explain why the West rules.
Why the West Rules was written for laymen. I have no degrees in biology, history or archeology, yet I was able to understand everything Morris wrote. I didn’t have to have my dictionary handy, or consult professors, in order to translate the text into plain English; it’s already written in plain English. But the first paragraph above left me scratching my head. What does he mean by “sophisticated multiple-regression analysis… control for climate?” If certain climates favor specific skull types, it would have been nice if Morris let us in on the secret. What I don’t see here is any attempt to explain cause and effect. Multiple regression analysis shows us correlations; it does not show us causes and effects. If people in colder climates have larger skulls, perhaps it’s because cold weather necessitates higher intelligence, which in turn leads to larger skulls. I don’t see Morris addressing this at all. – which is odd, because on page 55 he writes:
The very fact that Heidelberg Man could survive at Heidelberg, well north of the 40-degree line, is itself evidence of a smarter ape-man.
The second paragraph is just as vexing. Is Morris implying that evolution ceased once our ancestors left Africa? He presents no evidence of this – aside from the fact that he says so.
Similarly, on pages 60 and 61 he writes:
The spread of modern humans wiped the slate clean. Evolution of course continues, and local variations in skin color, face shape, height, lactose tolerance, and countless other things have appeared in the two thousand generations since we began spreading across the globe. But when we get right down to it, these are trivial. Wherever you go, whatever you do, people (in large groups) are all much the same.
The evolution of our species and its conquest of the planet established the biological unity of mankind and thereby the baseline for any explanation of why the West rules. Humanity’s biological unity rules out race-based theories.
Evolution would not dare bring about any non-trivial variations. To do so might upset people like Professor Morris, and we can’t have that. We know that modern humans “wiped the slate clean,” and that the conquest of our planet “established the biological unity of mankind” because… Professor Morris says so.
In reality quite the opposite is true. Any such unity that might have existed before the African exodus would have been lost as humans settled more and more diverse environments. A diversity of environments means a diversity of humans. In order to survive, from the frigid tundra of the north to the steamy jungles of the south, we absolutely had to adapt – and lose any “biological unity” that might have originally existed. The human brain, being the most versatile organ in the body, would have been the first to adapt and change according to the environment.
Professor Morris is a member of the educational establishment elite, as his biographical information in Wikipedia makes clear, and as we see on page 598, where he writes:
Late in 2006, my wife and I were invited to a conference at Stanford University called “A World at Risk.” This star-studded event, featuring some of the world’s leading policy makers, took place on a bright winter’s day…
Members of this elite are, as a rule, adherents of the Church of Liberalism. Morris’ faith guides him throughout his book, yet he remains oblivious to his own indoctrination. On page 513 he writes:
In fact, for growing numbers, faith seemed less of an issue altogether, and new creeds such as socialism, evolutionism, and nationalism filled the place religion had so long held.
Noticeably absent is his own creed, “liberalism” – unless he meant to include it in “socialism.”
I’ll give credit where credit is due. Professor Morris does make an effort to be balanced. Though his natural aversion to whites sometimes comes out (on pages 509 and 519, he refers to white settlers as the “White Plague.” He borrows this term from Nial Ferguson’s Empire, but uses it in a more derogatory manner), he’s harsh in his criticism of non-white empires as well.
Throughout the book, Morris points out deficiencies in gender-equality throughout history. Thus he calls ancient Greek democracy “male democracy” (pg. 260) and spills much ink on Chinese foot-binding (pgs. 424, 425). He glorifies (not necessarily their morality, but their power and leadership) the few women who ruled (or co-ruled) empires, such as Empress Theodora of Byzantium (pgs. 344, 345) and Empress Wu of China, to whom he dedicated an entire section (pgs. 337-342).
True to his liberal creed, Morris casts Islam in a positive light. He writes (pg. 351):
Unlike Buddhism, Confucianism, or Christianity, Islam was born on the edge of collapsing empires and came of age amid constant warfare. Islam was not a religion of violence (the Koran is a good deal less bloody than the Hebrew Bible), but Muslims could not stand aloof from fighting. “Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you,” Muhammad had said, “but do not attack them first. God does not love the aggressors”… Compulsion had no place in spreading religion, but Muslims (“surrenderers” to God) were obliged to defend their faith whenever it was threatened – which, since they were pushing and plundering their way into collapsing empires at the same time as spreading the word, was likely to be quite often.
And on page 353:
They came not to bury the West but to perfect it; not to thwart Justinian’s and Khusrau’s ambitions, but to fulfill them.
I can’t help but wonder if Morris thinks that the ongoing rape of British girls, by Pakistani Muslims, is “perfecting the West.”
Some facts are easy for race-realists to explain; we’re willing to look at the whole picture, and we don’t find ourselves contorting our minds into unnatural convolutions. This is how Professor Morris deals with one such fact (pg. 522):
Native Americans never developed indigenous industries and South Asians were much slower to do so than East Asians. Some historians think culture explains this, arguing (more or less explicitly) that white Western culture strongly encourages hard work and rationality, Eastern culture does so only weakly, South Asian culture even less, and other cultures not at all. But this legacy of colonialist mind-sets cannot be right.
When we look at reactions to Western rule within a longer time frame, we in fact see two striking correlations. The first is that those regions that had relatively high social development before Western rule, like the Eastern core, tended to industrialize themselves faster than those that had relatively low development scores; the second, that those regions that avoided direct European colonization tended to industrialize faster than those that did become colonies. Japan had high social development before 1853 and was not colonized; its modernization took off in the 1870s. China had high development and was partly colonized; its modernization took off in the 1850s. India had moderate development and was fully colonized; its modernization did not take off until the 1990s. Sub-Saharan Africa had low development and full colonization, and is only now starting to catch up.
Regarding Africa, it would be helpful to refer to the human development index from Wikipedia. None of the “high development” countries are in sub-Saharan Africa (in other words, non of them are black African) – but they were all heavily colonized. Among the “low development” countries we find Ethiopia, which was never colonized. South Africa, which was subject to white rule until very recently, is near the top of the “medium development” countries. In other words, Morris’ theory doesn’t hold up very well in Africa. If anything, the opposite is true. European colonists were responsible for saddling Africa with one lasting handicap: They gave the curse of “diversity” to Africa. By drawing the borders the way they did, various tribes found themselves within the same borders. Hence, they were at each others’ throats for control over the country.
As for the rest of the world, average IQ explains most of it. Those with higher average IQs were more likely to hold their own against European rule. Their higher IQs were the reason they maintained independence – and the reason they succeeded in the industrial world. Those with lower IQs were easy prey for colonialists – and those same low IQs gave them a disadvantage in the industrial world.
I take issue with Professor Morris’ simplistic interpretation of genetic advantage. He writes* (pgs. 558 and 559):
Very few scholars nowadays propagate racist theories that Westerners are genetically superior to everyone else, but anyone who does want to take this line will need to show that all the mettle was somehow bred out of Westerners in the sixth century CE, then bred back in in the eighteenth; or that Easterners bred themselves into superiority in the sixth century, then lost it in the eighteenth. That, to put it mildly, is going to be a tough job. Everything suggests that wherever we look, people – in large groups – are all much the same.
He seems to believe that a genetic advantage would guarantee success 100% of the time. I’m not aware of anybody who believes that genetics accounts for all of the differences we see among humans – to the exclusion of any environmental factors. Life is never as simple as that. A less intelligent student can sometimes outperform a more intelligent one, in exams, if he studies harder. A slow runner can sometimes outrun a fast runner, if he trains hard enough. A group of genetically gifted people may sometimes fall on hard times due to external factors. A genetically flawed group of people may sometimes get lucky and live better than those who are more gifted. As Morris himself writes (pg. 562):
Thanks to the paradox of development, the lead in social development that geography had given the West at the end of the Ice Age was long-term but not locked in. Collapses are unpredictable things. Sometimes a few different decisions or a little good luck can postpone, reduce, or even head off disaster; our choices can make a difference.
Why the West Rules is a long book, and I could go on and on, but I’ll conclude by saying that, as a history book, it’s a good read. I learned a lot of history from this book, and I found it entertaining (not always in a bad way). But as a rebuttal to race-realism, it fails miserably. If anybody tells you that “racism has been debunked” by this book, show him this link.
*Early in the book, Morris establishes a “development index” where he quantifies, for any give civilization, energy capture (in calories per capita), social organization, war-making capacity and information technology. Based on this index, the West led the East from the dawn of humanity up until the sixth century AD, at which point the East overtook the West. Then the West recaptured the lead in the 18th century, and has kept it until the present.