RE: Group Selection

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 18 Feb 1999 09:40:11 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 09:40:11 -0600
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: RE: Group Selection
In-Reply-To: <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B200CAE91@DELTA.newhouse.akzo

At 09:23 AM 2/18/99 +0100, Gatherer, D. (Derek) wrote:
> Aaron wrote:
> 'Chapter 1 of
>> _Hutterite Society_ (Hostetler, 1974) clearly documents that the idea
>> of
>> communal living, sharing of goods, and detachment from family ties
>> were
>> founding principles of the first Hutterite colonies. Moreover, those
>> early
>> colonies were formed evangelically from populations that would not
>> have had
>> any special level of inbreeding. Clearly, the communalism preceded any
>> genetic homogenization that emerged as a result of the isolation that
>> set
>> in later in reaction to persecution. Therefore, a special level of
>> genetic
>> homogeneity is not a reasonable hypothesis in explaining the
>> communalism.
> Yes, I think it is an important point that communalism preceded
>genetic homogenization. I'd therefore agree with you (wow!) that this
>has to be memetic. However, we also have to ask the question - how was
>it maintained? The Hutterites made a success of communal living,
>whereas more recent attempts (Hippie communes etc.) and older attempts
>(English communal religious sects of the 18th and 19th centuries)
>were/are usually abject failures. A memetic effect sets the ball
>rolling, but it may be necessary to invoke a genetic explanation of how
>it rolled uphill (so to speak). So yes, I share your skepticism towards
>sociobiology (I know by now you are probably asking, who is this person
>and what has he done with Derek...), but I think that where odd genetic
>effects like inbreeding are involved we may need it for a full
> Derek

Hi Derek.

I finally set off that love fest meme with an embedded subliminal text
message. Looks like it's working!

Still, I am not convinced that a genetic effect is necessary to explain how
Hutterites persisted. We should expect a vast difference between a band of
several hundred that hit upon a memetic formula for 10 children per couple
versus a band of several hundred that hits upon a formula for just a few
children per couple. With similar dropout rates, the former movement can
grow rapidly while the latter gradually goes extinct. Hutterite communalism
is different from other varieties in that there is virtually no extra child
raising effort or expense resulting from having a new child. (Lynch, 1996)
This and other memetic factors (e.g., birth control taboos) are sufficient
to explain the high birth rate, and that in turn makes the difference
between a movement that fizzles versus one that persists and grows. As this
is sufficient, it may not be *necessary* to invoke a genetic mechanism to
explain the growth of the Hutterites.

That said, I agree with you that odd genetic effects probably play at least
*some* role. The modern Hutterite dropout rate is under 10 % (Hostetler,
1974). This may result in part from the effects of inbreeding on cognitive
functioning: a lower level of cognitive functioning may make it harder for
one to pick up the skills needed to function in the complex mainstream
cultures of modern North America. I would add, however, that isolation in a
slower, simpler culture should also contribute to less cognitive
development in Hutterite children, again favoring low dropout rates.

Anyway, good to see us finding areas of agreement.

Peace and love... :-)

--Aaron Lynch

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