Chronicles of the Lifeworld

lifeworld–the world of everyday life; the world as experienced.

Social Constructions Have Biological Consequences

Anthropologist Peter Frost has an article in the latest issue of Evolutionary Psychology which explains how the rise of the state selected for peacefulness and submissiveness in male populations at the expense of violent predispositions. This appears to be a case in which a social construction resulted in a change in genotypes in a population. In other words, this is a case of nurture leading directly to nature.

Here’s Frost’s abstract:

Over the last 10,000 years, the human genome has changed at an accelerating rate. The change seems to reflect adaptations to new social environments, including the rise of the State and its monopoly on violence. State societies punish young men who act violently on their own initiative. In contrast, non-State societies usually reward such behavior with success, including reproductive success. Thus, given the moderate to high heritability of male aggressiveness, the State tends to remove violent predispositions from the gene pool while favoring tendencies toward peacefulness and submission.

This perspective is applied here to the Roman state, specifically its long-term effort to pacify the general population. By imperial times, this effort had succeeded so well that the Romans saw themselves as being inherently less violent than the “barbarians” beyond their borders. By creating a pacified and submissive population, the empire also became conducive to the spread of Christianity—a religion of peace and submission. In sum, the Roman state imposed a behavioral change that would over time alter the mix of genotypes, thus facilitating a subsequent ideological change.


Written by Cody

August 5, 2010 at 13:53

Conservatives and Liberals: Intelligence

Using data from the General Social Survey, I put together some demographic and attitudinal statistics of those who label themselves liberals and conservatives. I used the POLVIEWS variable as my base variable and checked it against demographic and attitudinal variables.

You can replicate these findings by going here and placing POLVIEWS in the column field and the following variables in the row field.

Over the next few days I will post more demographic and attitudinal differences between liberals and conservatives, such as age, views on race, views on abortion, etc.

Intelligence and Political Views

Varible: WORDSUM; Recoded: WORDSUM(r:0-3″Below 4″;4;5;6;7;8;9;10)

The WORDSUM variable can be used as a proxy for IQ. Data for this variable was gathered by administering a vocabulary test to respondents. Though a ten question vocabulary would not appear to measure much, Razib Khan found an academic paper that showed a positive correlation (0.71) between the WORDSUM variable and adult IQ. It certainly isn’t a perfect measure. But take it for what it is.

Some of the lower values have small Ns, which can make generalizing problematic. To overcome this problem, somewhat, I recoded the variable and placed the four lowest values–0 to 3–into one category simply labeled “Below 4.”

Three things pop out at me. First, those who scored eight and above on the spelling test tend to be overrepresented on the liberal end of the spectrum. Second, the “Below 4” value appears almost U shaped from one end of the spectrum to the next. Third, liberals tend to be very intelligent and very dim. There are other observations but I’ll leave those for you.

The fun part comes in trying to tease out the causal mechanism(s) behind the relationship. Does being intelligent increase one’s chances of being liberal? The converse, that being liberal tends to increase one’s intelligence, doesn’t pass the smell test.

Written by Cody

August 4, 2010 at 21:36


Written by Cody

July 28, 2010 at 23:20

Posted in sociology

Tagged with ,

The Opaque Society

Ever since I started taking this sociology thing seriously, I have had trouble coming to terms with the concept of “society.” The term is ubiquitous in the field of sociology but suffers from an opaqueness reminiscent of some terms found in philosophy. “Society” is an important concept. Every other word that comes out of a sociologists mouth is “society,” and people act in such a way so as to take this hard to define concept into account when they go about their daily routines.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, society is “a group of people who share a common culture, occupy a particular territorial area, and feel themselves to constitute a unified and distinct entity.” That is not altogether different from ethnicity, which the same dictionary defines as follows: “Individuals who consider themselves, or are considered by others, to share common characteristics that differentiate them from the other collectivities in a society, and from which they develop their distinctive cultural behaviour, form an ethnic group.” The definition for ethnicity takes into consideration differences between collectivities, whereas the definition for society does not. However, if one perceives oneself to be part of “a group of people who share a common culture,” then one would naturally regard one’s culture as being different from other cultures because no two cultures are the same (otherwise there would be no need to differentiate). So society and ethnicity remain in this slightly overlapping conceptual purgatory in which everyone is sure there are differences but cannot quite point them out. “Society” continues to taunt me with its fuzzy boundaries, ensuring that I will not come to terms with it.

It is hopeless to try and devise definitions for each term that will be etched permanently on the pages of all future sociology handbooks and textbooks. Sociologists must have wiggle room to define their terms because the social world does not conform neatly and precisely to well thought out definitions willed into existence by social researchers. As long as researchers define their terms accurately and uses them consistently throughout their work, the opaqueness of common sociological terms should not be a problem. Unless, of course, two researchers defined their terms in radically different ways, therefore making comparisons next to impossible. Then you have a problem. And we’re back at square one.

Written by Cody

July 28, 2010 at 08:11

Posted in sociology

Tagged with , ,


From David Henderson at EconLog:

Here’s what I’m wondering. If a local government in Pacific Grove or elsewhere got rid of such laws, how many extra productive jobs would be created? How many people would hire workers to cut down trees, build extra rooms, etc.? The city of Pacific Grove is also hostile to anyone who wants to have a medical marijuana clinic. It also doesn’t allow bars. If the city government started allowing these things, how many extra jobs would be created? I know that jobs are not the measure of wealth, but in all these cases, the jobs would create wealth.

This is an example of economic reductionism–the act of reducing social life into a narrow set of economic variables, namely wealth and productivity. Wealth and jobs are important. Communities live and die by them. But wealth is not always the most important factor by which communities thrive. Other factors are important too, such as community solidarity and happiness. Introducing policies designed to increase wealth and productivity could have destabilizing effects on solidarity and happiness, a sort of mini-“creative destruction,” if you will.

I’m not against communities introducing wealth producing policies, or un-policies (deregulations). Those decisions should ultimately lie with local governments, which tend to have a better understanding of the wants and desires of their constituents than state or federal representatives.

Written by Cody

July 24, 2010 at 18:40

Posted in economics, sociology

Tagged with , ,

Are women more ethically Kantian than men?

That question overstates things. However, taking into consideration the second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative which states that one should treat a person as an end and not merely as a means to an end,  it appears women agree with that sentiment more than men.

Using variables from the General Social Survey, I generated the table below.  Male and female respondents were asked if it was okay for someone to develop friendships because they would be of use to him or her.

Regardless of sex, people tend to disagree with the statement than agree. But relative to each sex, more women disagree with it than men. I also controlled for subjective class classification, age, and race and this pattern remained constant.

Variables: SEX, USEFRDS

Written by Cody

July 23, 2010 at 21:46

Posted in sociology

Tagged with , ,

Adam Smith: Behaviorist

In book one, chapter two of The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith credits reason and speech for the propensity for individuals to truck, barter, and exchange. Through reason and speech, human beings coordinate their wants and needs with others. Smith argues that this propensity facilitates the division of labor. A person, for example, say, a tribesman, could fashion his own bow and arrow and trek out into wild and hunt for game. If he had a special talent for making bows and arrows but was an average hunter, he could concentrate on bow and arrow making and exchange his wares for game from hunters who are exceptional hunters. Smith does not give this phenomenon a name, but he is discussing the concept of comparative advantage. The example above also points to the topic of stratification.

Further, Smith claims that the difference in abilities between individuals is the result of the division of labor and can be attributed to habit, custom, and education. He remarks that the differences between children are little but widen as they enter into their respective occupations. This view would place Smith firmly in the nurture camp of the nature-nurture debate.

Written by Cody

July 23, 2010 at 10:45

Posted in economics

Tagged with , ,