Jared Diamond on the Indo-European Expansion - Peter Myers, February 10, 2002; update July 7, 2002. My comments are shown {thus}.
Diamond is one of the leading Jewish thinkers today, and, unlike some others, rarely ruffles feathers. Here he summarises the case - exceptionally well, in my opinion - for an Indo-European expansion covering the last 5000 years. Diamond supports Marija Gimbutas rather than Colin Renfrew.

Jared Diamond, The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, Vintage Books, London 1991. Later published as The Third Chimpanzee.


More than 4,000 years before the recent expansion of Europeans over all other continents, there was an earlier expansion within Europe and western Asia that sired most of the languages spoken in that region today. Although those earlier conquerors were illiterate, much of their language and culture can be reconstructed from shared word roots preserved in modern Indo-European languages. Their conquest of much of Eurasia, like the subsequent overseas expansion of their descendants, appears to have been an accident of biogeography. ...

Today, most European languages and many Asian languages as far east as India are very similar to each other ... Only 140 of the modern world's 5,000 tongues belong to this language family, but their importance is far out of proportion to their numbers. Thanks to the global expansion of Europeans since 1492 - especially of people from England, Spain, Portugal, France, and Russia - nearly half the world's present population of five billion now speaks an Indo-European language as its native tongue.

To us it may seem perfectly natural, and in no need of further explanation~ that most European languages resemble each other. Not until we go to parts of the world with great linguistic diversity do we realize how weird is Europe's homogeneity, and how it cries out for

{p. 226} explanation. ...

Of all the processes by which the modern world lost its earlier lingulstic diversity, the Indo-European expansion has been the most important. Its first stage, which long ago carried Indo-European languages over Europe and much of Asia, was followed by a second stage that began in 1492 and carried them to all other continents (Chapter Fourteen). When and where did the steamroller start, and what gave it its power? Why was Europe not overrun instead by speakers of a language related to, say, Finnish or Assyrian?

While the Indo-European problem is the most famous problem of histoncal lingulstics, it is a problem of archaeology and history as well. In the case of those Europeans who carried out the second stage of the Indo-European expansion beginning in 1492, we know not only their

{p. 227} vocabulary and grammar but also the ports where they set out, the dates of their sailings, the names of their leaders, and why they succeeded in conquering (Chapter Fourteen). But the quest to understand the first stage is a search for an elusive people whose language and society lie veiled in the pre-literate past, even though they became world conquerors and founded today's dominant societies. ...

{p. 232} As of 500 BC, Latin was confined to a small area around Rome and was only one of many languages spoken in Italy. The expansion of Latin-speaking Romans eradicated all those other languages of Italy, then eradicated entire branches of the Indo-European family elsewhere in Europe, like the continental Celtic languages. These sister branches were so thoroughly replaced by Latin that we know each of them only by scattered words, names, and inscriptions. With the subsequent overseas expansion of Spanish and Portuguese after 1492, the language spoken initially by a few hundred thousand Romans trampled hundreds of other languages out of existence, as it gave rise to the Romance languages spoken by half a billion people today.

If the Indo-European language family as a whole constituted a similar steamroller, we might expect to find its trampled debris in the form of older non-lndo-European languages surviving here and there. The sole such vestige surviving in Western Europe today is the Basque language of Spain, without known relations to any other language in the world. (The remaining non-lndo-European languages of modern Europe - Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, and possibly Lapp - are relatively recent invaders of Europe from the east.) However, there were other languages that were spoken in Europe until Roman times, and of which enough words or inscriptions have been preserved to identify them as non-lndo-European. The most extensively preserved of these vanished tongues is the mysterious Etruscan language of northwest Italy, for which we have a 281-line text written on a roll of linen that somehow ended up in Egypt as wrapping for a mummy. All such vanished non-lndo-European languages were part of the debris left from the Indo-European expansion.

Still more linguistic debris was swept up into the surviving Indo-European languages themselves. To understand how linguists can recognize such debris, imagine that you, as a freshly arrived visitor from outer space, were given one book each, written in English by an Englishman, an American, and an Australian, about his or her country.

The language and most of the words in all three books would be the same. But if you compared the American book with the one about England, the American book would contain many place names that were obviously foreign to the basic language of the books - names like Massachusetts, Winnepesaukee, and Mississippi. The Australian book would contain more place names equally foreign to the language but

{p. 233} unlike the American names - such as Woonarra, Goondiwindi, and Murrumbidgee. You might guess that English immigrants coming to America and Australia encountered natives who spoke different languages, and from whom the immigrants picked up names for local places and things. You would even be able to infer something about the words and sounds of those unknown native languages. We actually know the native American and Australian languages from which those borrowings took place, and we can confirm that your indirect inferences from the borrowed words alone would have been correct.

Linguists studying several Indo-European languages have similarly detected words borrowed from vanished, apparently non-lndo-European languages. For example, about one-sixth of Greek words whose derivations can be traced appear to be non-lndo-European. These words are just the sort that one might expect to have been borrowed by invading Greeks from the natives they encountered: place names like Corinth and Olympus, words for Greek crops like olive and vine, and names of gods or heroes like Athene and Odysseus. These words may be the linguistic legacy of Greece's pre-lndo-European population to the Greek speakers who overran them.

Thus, at least four types of evidence indicate that Indo-European languages are the products of an ancient steamroller. The evidence includes the family-tree relationship of surviving Indo-European languages; the much greater linguistic diversity of areas like New Guinea, that have not been recently overrun; the non-lndo-European languages that survived in Europe into Roman times or later; and the non-lndoEuropean legacy in several Indo-European languages.

Given this evidence for an Indo-European mother tongue in the distant past, can one reconstruct something of this tongue? At first, the notion of learning how to write a vanished unwritten language seems absurd. In fact, linguists have been able to reconstruct much of the mother tongue by examining word roots shared among its daughter languages. ...

{p. 235} By such methods, linguists have been able to reconstruct much of the grammar and nearly 2,000 word roots of the mother tongue, termed proto-lndo-European but usually abbreviated as PIE. That is not to say that all words in modern Indo-European languages are descended from PIE: most are not, because there have been so many new inventions or borrowings (like the root 'sheep' replacing the old PIE root owis in English). Our inherited PIE roots tend to be words for human universals that people surely were already naming thousands of years ago: words for

{p. 236} the numbers and human relationships (as in the table on page 226); words for body parts and functions; and ubiquitous objects or concepts like 'sky', 'night', 'summer', and 'cold'. ...

The obvious next questions are: when was PIE spoken, where was it spoken, and how was it able to overwhelm so many other languages? Let's begin with the matter of 'when', another seemingly impossible question. It is bad enough that we have to infer the words of an unwritten language; how on earth do we determine when it was spoken?

We can at least start to narrow down the possibilities, by examining the oldest written samples of Indo-European languages. For a long time, the oldest samples that scholars could identify were Iranian texts of around 1000~00 BC, and Sanskrit texts probably composed around 1200-1000 BC but written down later. Texts of a Mesopotamian kingdom called Mitanni, written in a non-lndo-European language but containing some words obviously borrowed from a language related to Sanskrit, push the proven existence of Sanskrit-like languages back to nearly 1500 BC.

The next breakthrough was the late-nineteenth-century discovery of a mass of ancient Egyptian diplomatic correspondence. Most of it was written in a Semitic language, but two letters in an unknown language remained a mystery until excavations in Turkey uncovered thousands of tablets in the same tongue. The tablets proved to be the archives of a kingdom that thrived between 1650 and 1200 BC and that we now refer to by the biblical name 'Hittite'.

In 1917 scholars were astonished by the announcement that the Hittite language proved on deciphering to belong to a previously unknown, very distinctive and archaic, now-vanished branch ofthe Indo-European family, termed Anatolian. Some obviously Hittite-like names mentioned in earlier letters of Assyrian merchants at a trading post near the Hittite capital's future site push the detective trail back to nearly 1900 BC. This remains our first direct evidence for the existence of any Indo-European language.

Thus, as of 1917, two Indo-European branches - Anatolian and Indo

{p. 237} Iranian - had been shown to exist by around 1900 and 1500 BC, respectively. A third early branch was established in 1952, when the young British cryptographer, Michael Ventris, showed that the so-called Linear B writing of Crete and Greece, which had resisted deciphering since its discovery around 1900, was an early form of the Greek language. Those Linear B tablets date to around 1300 BC. But Hittite, Sanskrit, and early Greek are very different from each other, certainly more so than are modern French and Spanish, which diverged over a thousand years ago. That suggests that the Hittite, Sanskrit, and Greek branches must have split off from PIE by 2500 BC or earlier. ...

The usual conclusion from either glottochronology or pants' seats is that PIE may have started to break up by 3000 BC, surely by 2500 BC, and not before 5000 BC.

There is still another, completely independent approach to the dating problem - the science termed linguistic paleontology. Just as paleontologists try to discover what the past was like by looking for relics buried in the ground, linguistic paleontologists do it by looking for relics buried in languages.

To understand how this works, recall that linguists have reconstructed nearly 2,000 words of PIE vocabulary. It is not surprising that these include words like 'brother' and 'sky', which must have existed and been named since the dawn of human language. But PIE should not have had a word for 'gun', since guns were not invented until about 1300 AD, long after PlE-speakers had already scattered to speak distinct languages in Turkey and India. In fact, the word for 'gun' uses different roots in different Indo-European languages: 'gun' in English, fusil in French, ruzhyo in Russian, and so on. The reason is obvious: different languages could not possibly have inherited the same root for 'gun' from PIE, and they each had to invent or borrow their own word when guns were invented.

{p. 238} The gun example suggests that we should take a series of inventions whose dates we know, and see which of those do and which do not have reconstructed names in PIE. Anything - like gun - that was invented after PIE began to break up should not have a reconstructed name. Anything like brother - that was invented or known before the break-up might have a name. (It does not have to have a name, because plenty of PIE words have surely become lost. We know the PIE words for 'eye' and 'eyebrow' but not 'eyelid', although PIE speakers must have had eyelids. )

Perhaps the earliest major developments without PIE names are battle chariots, which became widespread between 2000 and 1500 BC, and iron, whose use became important between 1200 and 1000 BC. The lack of PIE terms for these relatively late inventions does not surprise us, since the distinctness of Hittite had already convinced us that PIE broke up long before 2000 BC. Among earlier developments that do have PIE names, there are words for 'sheep' and 'goat', first domesticated by around 8000 BC; cattle (including separate words for cow, steer, and ox), domesticated by 6400 BC; horses, domesticated by around 4000 BC, and ploughs, invented around the time that horses were domesticated. The latest datable invention with a PIE name is the wheel, invented around 3300 BC.

Therefore, linguistic paleontology, even in the absence of any other evidence, would date the break-up of PIE as before 2000 BC but after 3300 BC. This conclusion agrees well with the one reached by extrapolating the differences between Hittite, Greek, and Sanskrit backwards in time. Hence if we wish to find traces of the first Indo-Europeans, we should be safe concentrating on the archaeological record between 2500 and 5000 BC, and perhaps slightly before 3000 BC.

Having reached fair agreement about the 'when' question, let's now ask: where was PIE spoken? Linguists have disagreed about the PIE homeland ever since they first began to appreciate its significance. Almost every possible answer has been proposed, from the North Pole to India, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific shores of Eurasia. As the archaeologist J.P. Mallory puts it, the question is not, 'Where do scholars locate the Indo-European homeland?', but 'Where do they put it now?'

To understand why this problem has proved so difficult, let's first try to solve it quickly by looking at a map (see page 228). As of 1492, most surviving Indo-European branches were virtually confined to Western Europe, and only Indo-lranian extended east of the Caspian Sea. Western Europe would be the most parsimonious solution to the search for the

{p. 239} PIE homeland, the solution that required the fewest people to move long distances.

Unfortunately for that solution, in 1900 a 'new' but long-extinct Indo-European language was discovered in a triply unlikely location. Firstly, the language (Tocharian, as it is now known) turned up in a secret chamber behind a wall in a Buddhist cave monastery. The chamber contained a library of ancient documents in the strange language, written around 600-800 AD by Buddhist missionaries and traders. Secondly, the monastery lay in Chinese Turkestan, east of all extant Indo-European speakers and about a thousand miles removed from the nearest ones. Finally, Tocharian was not related to Indo-lranian, the geographically closest branch of Indo-European, but possibly instead to branches used in Europe itself, thousands of miles to the west. It is as if we suddenly discovered that the early medieval inhabitants of Scotland spoke a language related to Chinese.

Obviously, the Tocharians did not reach Chinese Turkestan by helicopter. They surely walked or rode there, and we have to assume that central Asia formerly had many other Indo-European languages that disappeared without the good fortune to be preserved by documents in secret chambers. A modern linguistic map of Eurasia (see page 228) makes obvious what must have happened to Tocharian and all those other lost Indo-European languages of central Asia. That whole area today is occupied by people speaking Turkic or Mongolian languages, descendants of hordes that overran the area from the time of at least the Huns to Genghis Khan. Scholars debate whether Genghis Khan's armies slaughtered 2,400,000 or only 1,600,000 people when they captured Harat, but scholars agree that such activities transformed the linguistic map of Asia. In contrast, most Indo-European languages known to have disappeared in Europe - like the Celtic languages Caesar found spoken in Gaul - were replaced by other Indo-European languages. The apparently European centre of gravity of Indo-European languages as of 1492 was actually an artifact of recent linguistic holocausts in Asia. If the PIE homeland really was centrally located in what became the Indo-European realm by 600 AD, stretching from Ireland to Chinese Turkestan, then that homeland would have been in the Russian steppes north of the Caucasus, rather than in Western Europe.

Just as the languages themselves gave us some clues to the time of PlE's break-up, so too they contain clues to the location of the PIE homeland. One clue is that the language family to which Indo-European has the clearest connections is Finno-Ugric, the family that includes Finnish and other languages native to the forest zone of north Russia (see map on page 228). Now it is true that the links between Finno-Ugric and Indo-European languages are enormously weaker than those between German

{p. 240} and English, which stem from the fact that the English language was brought to England from northwest Germany only 1,500 years ago. The links are also much weaker than those between the Germanic and Slavic language branches of Indo-European, which probably diverged a few thousand years ago. Instead, the links suggest a much older propinquity between the speakers of PIE and of proto-Finno-Ugric. But since Finno-Ugric comes from the north Russian forests, that suggests a PIE homeland in the Russian steppe south of the forests. In contrast, if PIE had arisen much further south (say, in Turkey), the closest affinities of Indo-European might have been with the ancient Semitic languages of the Near East.

A second clue to the PIE homeland is the non-lndo-European vocabulary swept up as debris into quite a few Indo-European languages. I mentioned that this debris is especially noticeable in Greek, and it is also conspicuous in Hittite, Irish, and Sanskrit. That suggests that those areas used to be occupied by non-lndo-Europeans and were later invaded by Indo-Europeans. If so, the PIE homeland was not Ireland or India (which almost no one suggests today anyway), but it also was not Greece or Turkey (which some scholars still do suggest).

Conversely, the modern Indo-European language still most similar to PIE is Lithuanian. Our first preserved Lithuanian texts, from around 1500 AD, contain as high a fraction of PIE word roots as did Sanskrit texts of nearly 3,000 years earlier. The conservatism of Lithuanian suggests that it has been subject to few disturbing influences from non-Indo-European languages and may have remained near the PIE homeland. Formerly, Lithuanian and other Baltic languages~vere more widely distributed in Russia, until Goths and Slavs pushed the Balts back to their current shrunken domain of Lithuania and Latvia. Thus, this reasoning too suggests a PIE homeland in Russia.

A third clue comes from the reconstructed PIE vocabulary. We already saw how its inclusion of words for things familiar in 4000 BC, but not for things unknown until 2000 BC, helps date the time when PIE was spoken. Might it also pinpoint the place where PIE was spoken? PIE includes a word for snow (snoighwos), suggesting a temperate rather than tropical location and providing the root of our English word 'snow'. Of the many wild animals and plants with PIE names (like mus meaning mouse), most are widespread in the temperate zone of Eurasia and help to pin down the homeland's latitude but not its longitude.

To me, the strongest clue from the PIE vocabulary is what it lacked rather than included - words for many crops. PIE speakers surely did some farming, since they had words for plough and sickle, but only one word for an unspecified grain has survived. In contrast, the reconstructed proto-Bantu language of Africa, and the proto-Austronesian language of

{p. 241} Southeast Asia, have many crop names. Proto-Austronesian was spoken even longer ago than PIE, so that modern Austronesian languages have had more time to lose those old names for crops than have the modern Indo-European languages. Despite that, the modern Austronesian languages still contain far more old names of crops. Hence PIE speakers probably actually had few crops, and their descendants borrowed or invented crop names as they moved to more agricultural areas.

{p. 242} That conclusion presents us with a double puzzle. Firstly, by 3500 BC farming had become the dominant way of life in almost all of Europe and much of Asia. That severely narrows down the possible choices for the PIE homeland; it must have been an unusual area where farming was not so dominant. Secondly, it begs the question why PIE speakers were able to expand. A major cause of the Bantu and Austronesian expansions was that the first speakers of those language families were farmers, spreading into areas occupied by hunter-gatherers whom they could outnumber or dominate. For PIE speakers to have been rudimentary farmers invading a farming Europe turns historical experience on its head. Thus, we cannot solve the 'where' of Indo-European origins until we have come to grips with the hardest question: why?

In Europe just before the age of writing, there were not one but two economic revolutions so far-reaching in impact that they could have caused a linguistic steamroller. The first was the arrival of farming and herding, which originated in the Near East around 8000 BC, leapt from Turkey to Greece around 6500 BC, and then spread north and west to reach Britain and Scandinavia. Farming and herding permitted a large increase in human population numbers over those previously sustainable by hunting and gathering alone (Chapter Ten). Colin Renfrew, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge in England, recently published a thought-provoking book arguing that those farmers from Turkey were the PIE speakers who brought Indo-European languages to Europe.

My first reaction to reading Renfrew's book was, 'Of course, he must be right!' Farming had to produce a linguistic upheaval in Europe, just as it did in Africa and Southeast Asia. This is especially likely since, as geneticists have shown, those first farmers made the biggest contribution to the genes of modern Europeans.

But - Renfrew's theory ignores or dismisses all the linguistic evidence. Farmers reached Europe thousands of years before the estimated arrival of PIE. The first farmers lacked, and PIE speakers possessed, innovations

{p. 242} like ploughs, wheels, and domesticated horses. PIE is strikingly deficient in words for the crops that defined the first farmers. Hittite, the oldest known Indo-European language of Turkey, is not the Indo-European language closest to pure PIE, as one might expect from Renfrew's Turkey-based theory, but is instead the most deviant language and the one least Indo-European in its vocabulary. Renfrew's theory rests on nothing more than a syllogism: farming probably caused a steamroller, the PIE steamroller requires a cause, so farming is assumed to have been that cause. Everything else suggests that farming instead brought to Europe the older languages that PIE overran, like Etruscan and Basque.

Yet around 5000-3000 BC - at the right time for PIE origins - there was a second economic revolution in Eurasia. This later revolution coincided with the beginnings of metallurgy and involved a greatly expanded use of domestic animals - not just for meat and hides, as humans had been using wild animals for a million years, but for new purposes that included milk, wool, pulling ploughs, pulling wheeled vehicles, and riding. The revolution is richly reflected in the PIE vocabulary, through words for 'yoke' and 'plough', 'milk' and 'butter', 'wool' and 'weave', and a host of words associated with wheeled vehicles ('wheel', 'axle', 'shaft', 'harness', 'hub', and 'lynch-pin').

The economic significance of this revolution was to increase human population and power far beyond the levels made possible by farming and herding alone. For instance, through milk and its products one cow gradually yielded many more calories than did its meat alone. Ploughing allowed a farmer to plant much more acreage than he could with a hoe or digging stick. Animal-drawn vehicles allowed people to exploit far more land and still bring its produce to their village for processing.

For some of these advances it is hard to say where they arose, because they spread so quickly. For example, wheeled vehicles are unknown before 3300 BC, but within a few centuries of that date they are widely recorded throughout Europe and the Middle East. But there is one crucial advance whose origin can be identified: the domestication of horses. Just before their domestication, wild horses were absent from the Mideast and southern Europe, rare in northern Europe, and abundant only in the steppes of Russia eastwards. The first evidence of horse domestication is for the Sredny Stog culture around 4000 BC, in the steppes just north of the Black Sea, where archaeologist David Anthony has identified wearmarks on horses' teeth that indicate use of a bit for riding.

Throughout the world, wherever and whenever domestic horses have been introduced, they have yielded enormous benefits for human societies (Chapter Fourteen). For the first time in human evolution, people could travel overland faster than their own legs could propel them. Speed helped hunters run down their prey and helped herders

{p. 243} manage their sheep and cattle over large areas. Most importantly, speed helped warriors to launch quick surprise raids on distant enemies and to withdraw again before the enemies had time to organize a counterattack. Throughout the world the horse revolutionized warfare and enabled horse-owning peoples to terrorize their neighbours. The stereotype that Americans hold of Great Plains Indians as fearsome mounted warriors was actually created only recently, within a few generations from 1660 to 1770. Since European horses reached the US West in advance of Europeans themselves and other European goods, we can be sure that the horse alone was what transformed Plains Indian society.

Archaeological evidence makes clear that domestic horses had similarly transformed human society on the Russian steppe much earlier, around 4000 BC. The steppe habitat of open grassland was hard for

{p. 244} people to exploit until they could use horses to solve the problems of distance and transport. Human occupation of the Russian steppe accelerated with horse domestication and then exploded with the invention of ox-drawn wheeled vehicles around 3300 BC. The steppe economy came to be based on the combination of sheep and cattle for meat, milk, and wool, plus horses and wheeled vehicles for transport and supplemented by a little farming.

There is no evidence for intensive agriculture and food storage at those early steppe sites, in marked contrast to the abundant evidence at other European and Mideast sites around the same time. Steppe people lacked large permanent settlements and were evidently highly mobile - again in contrast to the villages with rows of hundreds of two storey houses in southeast Europe at the time. What the horsemen lacked in architecture they made up for in military zeal, as attested by their lavish tombs (for men only!), filled with enormous numbers of daggers and other weapons, and sometimes even with wagons and horse skeletons.

Thus, Russia's Dnieper River (see map on page 243) marked an abrupt cultural boundary: to the east, the well-armed horsemen, to the west, the rich farming villages with their granaries. That proximity of wolves and sheep spelt T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Once the invention of the wheel completed the horsemens' economic package, their artifacts indicate a very rapid spread for thousands of miles eastwards through the steppes of central Asia (see map). From that movement, the ancestors of the Tocharians may have arisen. The steppe peoples' spread westwards is marked by the concentration of European farming villages nearest the steppes into huge defensive settlements, then the collapse of those societies, and the appearance of characteristic steppe graves in Europe as far west as Hungary.

Of the innovations that drove the steppe peoples' steamroller, the sole one for which they clearly get full credit is the domestication of the horse. They might also have developed wheeled vehicles, milking, and wool technology independently of the Mideast's civilizations, but they borrowed sheep, cattle, metallurgy, and probably the plough from the Mideast or Europe. Thus, there was no single 'secret weapon' that alone explains the steppe expansion. Instead, with horse domestication the steppe peoples became the first to put together the economic and military package that came to dominate the world for the next 5,000 years especially after they added intensive agriculture upon invading southeastern-Europe. Hence their success, like that of the second-stage European expansion that began in 1492, was an accident of bio-geography. They happened to be the peoples whose homeland combined abundant wild horses and open steppe with proximity to Mideastern and European centres of civilization.

{p. 245} As archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, from the University of California, Los Angeles, has argued, the Russian steppe peoples who lived west of the Ural Mountains in the fourth millenium BC fit quite well into our postulated picture of proto-Indo-Europeans. They lived at the right time. Their culture included the important economic elements reconstructed for PIE (like wheels and horses), and lacked the elements lacking from PIE (like battle chariots and many crop terms). They lived in the right place for PIE: the temperate zone, south of Finno-Ugric peoples, near the later homeland of Lithuanians and other Balts.

If the fit is so good, why does the steppe theory of Indo-European origins remain so controversial? There would have been no controversy if archaeologists had been able to demonstrate a rapid expansion of steppe culture from southern Russia all the way to Ireland around 3000 BC. But that did not happen; direct evidence of the steppe invaders themselves extends no further west than Hungary. Instead, around and after 3000 BC, one finds a bewildering array of other cultures developing in Europe and named for their artifacts (for instance, the 'Corded Ware and Battle-axe Culture'). Those emerging Western European cultures combine steppe elements like horses and militarism with old Western European elements, especially settled agriculture. Such facts cause many archaeologists to discount the steppe hypothesis altogether, and to see the emerging Western European cultures as local developments.

However, there is an obvious reason why the steppe culture could not spread intact to Ireland. The steppe itself reaches its western limit in the plains of Hungary. That is where all subsequent steppe invaders of Europe, such as the Mongols, stopped. To spread further, steppe society had to adapt to the forested landscape of Western Europe - by adopting intensive agriculture, or by taking over existing European societies and hybridizing with their peoples. Most of the genes of the resulting hybrid societies may have been the genes of Old Europe.

If steppe people imposed PIE, their mother tongue, on southeastern Europe as far as Hungary, then it was the resulting daughter Indo-European culture, not the original steppe culture itself, that spread to derived granddaughtter cultures elsewhere in Europe. Archaeological evidence of major cultural change suggests that such granddaughter cultures may have arisen throughout Europe and east to India between 3000 and 1500 BC. Many non-lndo-European languages held out long enough to be preserved in writing (like Etruscan), and Basque still survives today. Thus, the Indo-European steamroller was not a single wave, but a long chain of events that has taken 5,000 years to unfold.

As an analogy, consider how Indo-European languages came to

{p. 246} dominate North and South America today. We have abundant written records to prove that they stem from invasions of Indo-European speakers from Europe. Those European immigrants did not overrun the Americas in one step, and archaeologists do not find remains of unmodified European culture throughout the sixteenth-century New World. That culture was useless on the US frontier. Instead, the colonists' culture was a highly modified or hybrid one that combined Indo-European languages and much of European technology (such as guns and iron) with American Indian crops and (especially in Central and South America) Indian genes. Some areas of the New World have taken many centuries for Indo-European language and economy to master. The takeover did not reach the Arctic until this century. It is reaching much of the Amazon only now, and the Andes of Peru and Bolivia promise to remain Indian for a long time yet.

Suppose that some future archaeologist should dig in Brazil, after written records have been destroyed and Indo-European languages have disappeared from Europe. The archaeologist will find European artifacts suddenly appearing on the coast of Brazil around 1530, but penetrating the Amazon only very slowly thereafter. The people whom the archaeologist finds living in the Brazilian Amazon will be a genetic mishmash of American Indians, blacks, Europeans, and Japanese, speaking Portuguese. The archaeologist will be unlikely to realize that Portuguese was an intrusive language, contributed by invaders. to a hybrid local society.

Even after the PIE expansion of the fourth millenium BC, new interactions of horses, steppe peoples, and Indo-European languages continued to shape Eurasian history. PIE horse technology was primitive and probably involved little more than a rope-bit and bareback rider. For thousands of years thereafter, the military value of horses continued to improve with inventions ranging from metal bits and horse-drawn battle chariots around 2000 BC to the horseshoes, stirrups, and saddle of later cavalry. While most of these advances did not originate in the steppes, steppe peoples were still the ones who profited the most, because they always had more pasture and therefore more horses. As horse technology evolved, Europe was invaded by many more steppe peoples, among whom the Huns, Turks, and Mongols are best known. These peoples carved out a succession of huge, short-lived empires, stretching from the steppes to Eastern Europe. But never again were steppe peoples able to impose their language on Western Europe.

{p. 247} They enjoyed their biggest advantage at the outset, when PIE bareback riders invaded a Europe entirely without domestic horses.

There was another difference between these later recorded invasions and the earlier unrecorded PIE invasion. The later invaders were no longer Indo-European speakers from the westem steppes, but speakers of Turkic and Mongol languages from the eastern steppes. Ironically, horses were what enabled Turkish tribes from central Asia in the Eleventh Century AD to invade the land of the first written Indo-European language, Hittite. The most important innovation of the first Indo-Europeans was thus turned against their descendants. Turks are largely European in their genes, but non-lndo-European (Turkish) in their language. Similarly, an invasion from the east in 896 AD left modern Hungary largely European in its genes but Finno-Ugric in its language. By illustrating how a small invading force of steppe horsemen could impose their language on a European society, Turkey and Hungary provide models of how the rest of Europe came to speak Indo-European.

Eventually, steppe peoples in general, regardless of their language, ceased to win in the face of Western Europe's advancing technology. When the end came, it was swift. In 1241 AD the Mongols achieved the largest steppe empire that ever existed, stretching from Hungary to China. But after about 1500 AD the Indo-European-speaking Russians began to encroach on the steppes from the west. It took only a few more centuries of tsarist imperialism to conquer the steppe horsemen who had terrorized Europe and China for over 5,000 years. Today the steppes are divided between Russia and China, and only Mongolia remains as a vestige of steppe independence.

Much racist nonsense has been written about the supposed superiority of Indo-European peoples themselves. Nazi propaganda invoked a pure Aryan race. In fact, Indo-Europeans have never been unified since the PIE expansion of 5,000 years ago, and even PIE speakers themselves may have been divided among related cultures. Some of the most bitter fighting and vilest deeds of recorded history pitted one Indo-European group against another. The Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs whom the Nazis sought to exterminate conversed in languages as Indo-European as that of their persecutors. Speakers of proto-lndo-European merely happened to be in the right place at the right time to put together a useful package of technology. Through that stroke of luck, theirs was the mother tongue whose daughter languages came to be spoken by half the world today. {end}

Stalking the wild taboo.

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond joins the debate over racial differences in IQ. In a few ex cathedra pronouncements, Diamond brands the genetic argument "racist" (pp. 19-22), declares Herrnstein and Murray’s (1994) The Bell Curve "notorious" (p. 431), and states: "The objection to such racist explanations is not just that they are loathsome but also that they are wrong" (p. 19). He summarises his solution to one of philosophy and social science’s most enduring questions in one credal sentence: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among people’s environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves" (p. 25).

The book grew out of an attempt to answer "Yali’s question." Yali, a New Guinea native, allegedly asked Diamond, an evolutionary biologist, "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" "Cargo" refers to all that technology—airplanes, guns, steel axes—European whites brought to New Guinea, whose dark-skinned inhabitants were still using stone tools. Diamond’s answer, is that the peoples of the Eurasian continent were environmentally rather than biologically advantaged. They had the good fortune to have lived in centrally located homelands that were oriented along an east-west axis, thereby allowing ready diffusion of their abundant supply of domesticable animals, plants, and of cultural innovations.

According to Diamond’s reckoning, there are only 148 species of large, wild creatures that can be tamed (and of these only 14 species have made it to the farm). In the plant realm, only several hundred of 200,000 species can yield good protein. The ancestors of these mammals and plants — which include pigs, barley, and rice — just happened to be in the Fertile Crescent and China. Moreover, only the Eurasian continent has an east-west axis allowing diffusion of plants, animals, and people across similar, somewhat Mediterranean-style climate and terrain. The north-south axis of Africa and America inhibited diffusion due to severe changes in climate. For example, the tropical jungle of central America effectively stopped the southward migration of domestic corn from Mexico and the northward migration of the domestic llama from Peru. Five thousand years after llamas had been domesticated in the Andes, the Maya, Aztecs, and all the other native societies of Mexico remained without pack animals. Similarly, the Saharan desert and tropical rainforests of Africa impeded the southward spread of technology from the Fertile Crescent of the Middle-East.

Thus, agriculturally wealthy Eurasians had a long head start in developing a surplus population with a division of labor that enabled the tools of civilization to arise. Agricultural settlements led small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers to coalesce into village-based tribes. These grew into chiefdoms comprising thousands of people from many villages. Chiefdoms led conflict-mediating laws to be codified. Ruling classes and elites emerged to mobilize citizens and their resources to wage war, build public works, and increase political power. Finally, the state arose and with it the large populations and technological developments including political organizations that produced fleets of soldiers engaging in transoceanic conquest.

Astonishing, for example, is how Diamond describes the case of the island of Madagascar. It was colonized around 500 A.D. (about the same time as Hawaii) by an Austronesian-language people (similar to Polynesians) from Borneo, some 4,000 miles across the Indian Ocean, rather than by East Africans living only 250 miles away. Diamond’s answer (again) is that conquerors had better homelands rather than better brains. The immediate reason why Austronesians crossed the Indian Ocean was because they invented ocean-going canoes. They did this by outrigging dugouts, to stop them from capsizing, by lashing two smaller logs parallel to the hull and several feet from it, one on each side, connected to the hull by poles, with sails added later.

According to Diamond, the underlying explanation of why the Austronesians were more inventive than Africans and developed a technology that Africans did not dream of is that they were colonizing farmers originating in south China where they had achieved a head start through domesticating pigs, chickens, dogs, and rice. They simply loaded their domesticated products into their ocean-going canoes and moved on to replace the original tropical southeast Asians (possibly hunter-gathering Negritoes). The Austronesian expansion began in Taiwan (3,500 B.C.), then moved to the Philippines (3,000 B.C.), Indonesia (2,000 B.C.), New Zealand (1,000 A.D.) and the Pacific Islands (500 A.D.).

Data Unexplained
As a card-carrying "race-realist" (Rushton, 1995), I should register my objection to Diamond’s claim that Guns, Germs, and Steel is a good faith effort to solve one of the most controversial and enduring controversies in the history of philosophy and social science. However well written, however encyclopedic in scope, and however much truth there may be in this book about 10,000 years of human history, Diamond does not give his readers the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In fact, he gives them much less. Inexcusably for an evolutionary biologist, Diamond fails to inform his readers that it is different environments that cause, via natural selection, biological differences among populations. All of the Eurasian developments he described created positive feedback loops selecting for increased intelligence and various personality traits (e.g., altruism, rule-following, etc.).

Racial differences in brain size and IQ map very closely to the same cultural histories Diamond explains. Although Diamond dismisses such research as "loathsome", he fails to tell his readers what, if anything, might be scientifically wrong with any of it. One hundred years of research has established that East Asians and Europeans average higher IQs than do Africans. East Asians, measured in North America and in Pacific Rim countries, typically average IQs in the range of 101 to 111. Caucasoid populations in North America, Europe, and Australasia typically average IQs from 85 to 115 with an overall mean of 100. African populations living south of the Sahara, in North America, in the Caribbean, and in Britain typically have mean IQs from 70 to 90.

Discoveries using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which creates a three-dimensional image of the living brain, have shown a strong positive correlation (.44) between brain size and IQ (see Rushton & Ankney, 1996, for a review). And there is more. The National Collaborative Perinatal Project on 53,000 children by Sarah Broman and her colleagues, showed that head perimeter at birth significantly predicts head perimeter at 7 years — and head perimeter at seven years predicts IQ. It also shows that Asian children average a larger head perimeter at birth than do White children who average a larger head perimeter than do Black children.

Racial differences in brain size have been established using a variety of modern methods. Using endocranial volume, for example, Beals et al. (1984, p. 307, Table 5) analyzed about 20,000 skulls from around the world. East Asians averaged 1,415 cm3 , Europeans averaged 1,362 cm3, and Africans averaged 1,268 cm3 . Using external head measures to calculate cranial capacities, Rushton (1992) analyzed a stratified random sample of 6,325 U.S. Army personnel measured in 1988 for fitting helmets and found that Asian Americans averaged 1,416 cm3, European Americans 1,380 cm3, and African Americans 1,359 cm3. Finally, a recent MRI study found that people of African and Caribbean background averaged a smaller brain volume than did those of European background (again see Rushton & Ankney, 1996, for review).

As discussed in Herrnstein and Murray’s (1994) The Bell Curve, and Rushton’s (1995) Race, Evolution, and Behavior, the heritability of intelligence is now well established from numerous adoption, twin, and family studies. Particularly noteworthy are the genetic contributions of around 80% found in adult twins reared apart. And most transracial adoption studies provide evidence for the heritability of racial differences in IQ. For instance, Korean and Vietnamese children adopted into white American and white Belgian homes were examined in studies by E.A. Clark and J. Hanisee, by M. Frydman and R. Lynn, and by M. Winick et al. Many had been hospitalized for malnutrition. But they went on to develop IQs ten or more points higher than their adoptive national norms. By contrast, the famous Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study marked black/white differences emerged by age 17 even though the black children had been reared in white middle-class families (Weinberg, Scarr & Waldman, 1992).

Although Diamond (pp. 38-40) acknowledges the accumulating evidence in favor of the "Out-of-Africa" theory of human origins that Homo sapiens arose in Africa 200,000 years ago, expanded beyond Africa in an African/non-African split about 110,000 years ago, and then migrated east in a European/East Asian split about 40,000 years ago, he refuses to acknowledge any relationship between this evolutionary sequence and the parallel ranking of Africans, Europeans, and East Asians in brain size and other behavioral traits. Nor does he tell his readers that evolutionary selection pressures were different in the hot savanna where Africans evolved than in the cold Arctic where East Asians evolved.

In recent years, the equalitarian dogma has been hit hard by some bad karma. In the wake of the success of The Bell Curve and other recent books about race (including my own) to provide race-realist answers to the question of differential group achievement, there has been an intense effort to get the ‘race genie’ back in the bottle, to get the previously tabooed toothpaste back in the tube. It is in such times that Diamond provides an answer that, just coincidentally, shores up the walls of the politically correct fortress, when they are being threateningly undermined by scientific research.

Secrets of Success

By Joel Mokyr

Conquests and Cultures: An International History, by Thomas Sowell, New York: Basic Books, 493 pages, $35.00

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond, New York: Norton, 480 pages, $27.50

Global economic history is "in" again. Along with the two books reviewed here, I could mention David Landes's The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Richard Easterlin's Growth Triumphant, Robert McC. Adams's Paths of Fire, and Patrick Verley's L'échelle du Monde. More are on the way. All of these books are trying, in one way or another, to answer the question posed by Thomas Sowell: Why does 17 percent of the world produce four-fifths of its output? A more elegant way of raising the same issue is what Jared Diamond calls "Yali's question." Yali is a New Guinea notable who one day asks Diamond why white people have so much "cargo"--Western manufactured goods desired by New Guineans --while New Guinea produces no cargo of interest to Westerners.

Everyone understands that these questions can never be answered in a definitive way, comparable to proving Fermat's Last Theorem. The distribution of prosperity is hopelessly "overdetermined": There are far too many answers that all seem to be right. Culture, geography, institutions, war, religion, and even historical accidents all seem to have played a role. But what role, and which factors are most important, remain matters of controversy.

Thomas Sowell's Conquests and Cultures is the third volume of a trilogy, preceded by Race and Culture and Migrations and Cultures. Sowell, a noted economist and social commentator at Stanford's Hoover Institution, raises the interesting issue of what happens when two culturally and economically different societies clash militarily and one of them "conquers" the other. Using this general framework, he analyzes four historical cases in which conquest played a major role: England, Africa, the Slavic people, and the Western Hemisphere Indians. These chapters show that conquests do not have much in common, yielding a somewhat confused picture. In Africa, conquest led to slavery for a large proportion of the population; in the Western Hemisphere, to the physical destruction of much of the indigenous population; in Eastern Europe, where conquerors and conquered changed positions over time, to an unstable and variable clash of cultures.

Conquests come in many forms, from the long-term occupations of the Romans in the Mediterranean to the short-lived mega-empires of Tamerlane. Some of them led to a forced or voluntary assimilation of the conquered to the language and customs of the victors, but in other cases the reverse occurred (for example, the Roman conquest of Greece or the Mongol conquests of China). Sowell points out that being conquered often led to a long-term increase in living standards and economic performance, and in some cases when the occupiers withdrew (as the Romans did from Britain in the fifth century) the occupied countries sank into poverty and barbarism. In Sowell's view, exploitation and theft do not go nearly as far in explaining economic differences as culturally caused differences in productivity.

The key concept in Sowell's view of history is "cultural capital," which is transferred and diffused among societies. The concept is nowhere defined with any precision, and at times it seems to be interchangeable with "human capital," though Sowell uses that term rather loosely as well, often more in the sense of mentalité and social institutions than in the sense employed by economists (an economically useful formal education). Yet his overall view of history is quite clear: People are born with very similar innate abilities, but their economic achievements differ enormously due to differences in "cultural capital," which determines not only such matters as technological sophistication but also "attitudes" such as diligence, honesty, and ambition. For Sowell, the most important form of cultural capital is freedom, which is Britain's gift to the world. Free markets and the aggressive pursuit of economic success within them are the central answers to Yali's question.

The question of why and how these ideas caught on or did not occupies the bulk of Conquests and Cultures. Some of the themes announced at the start, especially the effects of "conquest," are lost in the shuffle, and when the reader puts the book down, its basic message remains fuzzy. What is clear is that, much like David Landes, Sowell believes that Western culture and values hold the key to economic progress. His knowledge of economic history, unfortunately, cannot hold a candle to Landes's, and because of his very cursory discussion of the key elements in this story, the book will probably only preach to the converted and irritate the skeptics.

This is not to say that Conquests and Cultures has no valuable messages. Sowell points out that statements about general characteristics of a large group (ethnic, racial, religious) are not necessarily inadmissible if these groups share a culture or an environment that might affect their traits. Essentialism (the notion that groups share certain inherent traits), fervently denounced by politically correct scholars, is not the same as racism. Sowell also points to the dynamic role played in economic history by population movements and minorities, perhaps not a novel insight but worth stressing. At times immigrants and minorities enriched the local inhabitants with their culture and knowledge; in other cases they were the winners.

Sowell surely will annoy some pious liberals by noting that the lighter the skin color of American blacks, the higher their scores on tests of intelligence "and other social qualities." This, he proclaims, is not a subjective perception or a stereotype but a fact. The explanation is that the lighter-skinned group had "earlier and better access to higher levels of European culture." Without, of course, endorsing oppression and slavery, Sowell argues that the more Africans (in either hemisphere) had contact with European culture, the better off they were economically.

Even more courageously, Sowell admonishes us to examine seriously racist theories that correlate genetics with achievement. While these theories are incorrect, he says, something useful can be learned from the conversation with racists, and blanket dismissals are uncalled for. For instance, biological differences between races may exist even if they are not caused by genes: Norwegians are taller than the Japanese (and Americans are fatter than anyone else), but this is primarily due to environmental and nutritional differences, not genetics.

As a work of scholarship, unfortunately, Sowell's book is broad rather than deep. Although the book contains an amazingly large number of notes (1,626, to be exact), they point mostly to textbooks, atlases, works of reference, and well-known (usually dated) syntheses. Of course, nobody can be an expert on the huge literature of any of the four cases that Sowell analyzes, let alone all four. All the same, the net result is that many of his chapters read like potted histories, distilled from the secondary literature.

At least for the small subset of Sowell's material on which I can claim some expertise, the research behind this book does not inspire confidence. The small section on the British Industrial Revolution seems to have evaded every important book written on the subject in the past two decades. Sowell's pitiful survey of Ireland, seemingly a superb case through which his theories about the effects of conquest on the diffusion of cultural capital could be tested, contains the howler that the dire poverty of the Irish in the early 19th century is indicated by a life expectancy of 19 years.

The actual number is probably twice as high (see Cormac Ó Gráda's Ireland Before and After the Famine, 1993, page 18). And unbeknownst to Sowell, modern research has discovered that the Irish were taller than their English contemporaries, indicating that measures of "poverty" and "backwardness" are ambiguous. In a brief section supposed to explain how "religion played important roles in the secular development of the world," Sowell somehow fails to mention either Max Weber or Lynn White. My point is not to nitpick on one or two errors so much as to point out that in books such as this one no reader knows the "topic" as a whole; if a reviewer finds glaring errors and poor coverage in an area in which he has some expertise, his confidence in the rest of the story is inevitably reduced.

Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, shares with Sowell's the premise that all nations and ethnic groups possess the potential for economic success, even if that potential is not realized to the same degree everywhere. Otherwise, the two books are quite different. Diamond is a professor of physiology at UCLA's medical school whose range marks him as one of the true Renaissance scholars of our time. He is also a highly original thinker whose scholarship in many areas is sound and reliable. This book, honored recently with a Pulitzer Prize, is mandatory reading for anyone who purports to engage big questions in the area of long-term global history.

Diamond, to put it bluntly, is a geographical determinist. The shape and location of continents, original flora and fauna, microbes, water, climate, topography--all are truly exogenous to history. The rest is endogenous. Geography, of course, has a terrible reputation in historical explanation. Landes, in his Wealth and Poverty, starts off by recounting how geography departments were closed around the country without a tear; he notes that "no other discipline has been so depreciated and disparaged." Simple-minded explanations that submit that "Britain had an Industrial Revolution because it had coal" have long been abandoned.

Yet before we dismiss Diamond's book as another simplistic tale, we have to face the fact that he knows his stuff inside out, to the point where any thought of using the adjective crude (traditionally preceding determinist) evaporates as we turn the pages. Diamond fires off a barrage of facts and observations based on half a dozen disciplines, from archeology to botany to linguistics. He argues that the world's population bifurcated for geographical reasons. Once the different paths were established, "Eurasia" diverged from Africa and America more and more through positive feedback effects, in which geography fed into technology and technology fed into power structures and culture, which fed back into technology and growth, until we got a world of Western economic hegemony.

Diamond emphasizes that human wealth and success depend on interaction with the environment. Economic history, in his view, is a game against nature, not primarily a social process. Production, especially in agriculture, depends on the geographical hand we have been dealt. Yet Diamond, unlike most geographers, focuses not on soil fertility and minerals but on the ability of humans to domesticate plants and animals. Unlike Sowell, he says all societies and cultures initially had similar abilities to manipulate nature, but their raw materials were different.

To exploit large animals for food, energy, or other uses, you need domesticable wild animals, something that did not exist in pre-Columbian America (where the arrival of Homo sapiens 13,000 years ago apparently led to their extinction). Such animals have to satisfy certain conditions: They must be able to breed in captivity, they must be safe around children, and so on. Diamond lists five major species of large, domesticable animal species--cows, goats, sheep, pigs, and horses--and nine minor ones, including reindeer, yaks, and llamas. Of these 14, only one was native to South America (llamas and their close cousins, alpacas) and none to North America.

Diamond argues persuasively that the hippos and giraffes of Africa, the jaguars of the Amazon, and the kangaroos of Australia were not domesticable. He says the domesticated llamas, alpacas, turkeys, and dogs of America could not pull it off either. North America's other large herbivorous mammals all turned out to be nondomesticable. Eurasia, on the other hand, was lucky enough to have the wild animals from which our cows, sheep, horses, and chickens could be bred. This gave the Europeans huge advantages not only in the development of technology (mixed farming and wheeled transport, for example) but also in resistance to infection, providing them with immunity against diseases caused by proximity to domestic animals. When Europeans traveled to other continents, the infectious diseases they carried overwhelmed the natives.

Eurasia was also lucky to have a much larger stock of plants that lent themselves to domestication. Eurasian plants were more nutritious, easier to cultivate, and more resistant to disease. Botanical wealth, says Diamond, determined agriculture, and agriculture determined everything else. Eurasia won because its supply of wild plants, which provided the gene pool for domesticated crops, was larger, richer, and better. If you think this explanation is simplistic, read the chapters on "How to Make an Almond" and "Apples and Indians."

Diamond realizes, of course, that the Americas contained a considerable number of highly nutritious crops, many of which were transplanted successfully to Eurasia after 1500. Yet he maintains that because of diverse climates and the narrow connection between North and South America, such crops did not proliferate as readily as in Eurasia. Doubts begin to emerge here: Corn and potatoes are hardy plants that grow in a wide variety of conditions, and Diamond never quite nails down the reason for their failure to spread earlier and more widely in pre-Columbian times.

Perhaps, as Diamond seems to believe, they would have, had there been more time. Had Columbus arrived a millennium or two later, North America might have been a very different society. Surprisingly, Diamond says little about the potential of the lowly potato, which merits only cursory mentions in his book even though it radically transformed the societies in which it was adopted. Such doubts notwithstanding, this is a serious, informed, and well-thought-out argument. If in the end we are not wholly convinced, thinking of how to refute Diamond will make us wiser.

How much of the performance of non-Europeans was constrained by their environment, and how much was their own making? In Diamond's view, the answers are "all" and "none." But this is by no means clear. For example, Diamond says one of the disadvantages encountered by the indigenous people of what is now the eastern United States was a lack of wild plants that could be turned into crops. Yet he concedes that some native species might have done nicely. He describes sumpweed, with 32 percent protein, as "a nutritionist's ultimate dream." He explains that the flower did not make it to the rank of corn, potatoes, and rye because it causes hayfever, smells bad, and can cause skin irritation. Are we sure that these vices could not have been bred out of sumpweed, just because they were not? All domesticated plants originally had undesirable characteristics, but through deliberate and lucky selection mechanisms they eventually got over them. Wheat, rye, and maize, which feed much of the world's population, all had humble beginnings.

To be fair, Diamond's argument is not entirely ex post. He points out that our ability to improve plants depended largely on whether the code for certain characteristics was carried by more than one gene. People could select for a particular trait as long as it was caused by one or very few genes; if it was controlled by many genes, breeding specimens that displayed the trait would be unlikely to fix it in the population. Diamond offers a few examples, but he does not persuade me that this problem was especially pronounced in the societies he identifies as geographically challenged.

There is a similar weakness in Diamond's view of technology. In a chapter cleverly named "Necessity's Mother," he notes the many links between geographical constraints and technical options. Why would a society produce wheels if it had no horses or oxen to pull them? Wheelbarrows and rickshaws might have been an option, but maybe draft animals came first. Not all questions can be answered this way: Some indigenous populations in America might have built seaworthy ships, or managed to develop a technology we cannot imagine today. If they did not, is this because they tried and failed, or because they never tried?

Diamond offers two reasons to believe that links between geography and technological progress may be significant. One is that geography constrains mobility of knowledge. Assume, somewhat implausibly, that the idea of a wheelbarrow occurred to just one person in history, but that it spread to people seeing their neighbors use one. If this happened in Central Asia, it may well have reached China, France, and Yemen within a few centuries, but before 1500 it would never have gotten to America or Australia. And Diamond notes that agricultural technology diffuses more easily from east to west than from north to south, since changing longitude has a stronger effect on climate and seasonality than changing latitude--giving Eurasia an advantage over America and Africa.

Diamond also resurrects the late Julian Simon's argument that technological success often depends on population density and the ability of a society to produce a surplus beyond subsistence, so that there are resources available for tinkering and experimenting. Maximum population density was largely a function of the environment's ability to feed people. Writing, for instance, required large and dense settlements with complex hierarchical institutions, much different from hunting and gathering tribes.

The notion that much of economic history is a game against nature, in which people form certain views about its regularities and use these to manipulate their environment and improve their material conditions, is a powerful one. Diamond's insight is that nature differs from place to place and that certain environments are easier to manipulate than others.

The economic historian must addtwo qualifications to this. First, environments can be manipulated or abandoned. While Diamond describes in detail prehistoric population movements (which he deduces from linguistic evidence), he does not realize that he tells the story of regions, not necessarily of people living there, who always had the option of moving to a more generous and flexible area. Second, it could be argued that much technology emerges precisely because the environment is not generous and requires hard work and ingenuity. It is here that Sowell's "cultural capital" comes in, directing us to another important set of variables. The difference between the two approaches is that in Diamond's account culture itself is determined by location: Geography truly is destiny.

How can we be sure? We cannot. When all is said and done, the overdetermined nature of the issue remains: There are many explanations for the observed gaps in income and economic success, and they all make sense; they all are consistent with the evidence. Our models of history, however, are still unable to rank them by importance or assign weights to them. Is culture really determined by geography, as Diamond thinks, or is technological success above all a rebellion against the dictates of the environment? If everything in global history is interrelated with everything else, who can blame our students for being bewildered? After all, Fermat's Last Theorem took three centuries to prove, and this problem is a lot harder.

Joel Mokyr, a professor of economics and history at Northwestern University, is the author of The Lever of Riches (Oxford University Press).
Imperial Science

By Eugene Goodheart

Edward O. Wilson is a world-renowned Harvard biologist and founder of sociobiology. In his long career, he has written about everything from the social lives of ants to the planet’s fragile network of organisms, which he calls "biodiversity." In his eloquent memoir, Naturalist (1994), Wilson showed himself capable of an intense lyricism that many readers associate more with poets than with scientists. But if his arguments on behalf of biodiversity have earned him plaudits from the environmental and cultural left, his views on human behavior and heredity have stirred controversy. Insisting that culture and behavior are largely products of evolutionary development, he grants genetic inheritance enormous weight. To the social constructionists who inhabit large segments of the academy, such views are not only outlandish, but they also are downright dangerous. They summon the specter of biological racism and eugenics that inhabited the halls of Western science and medicine for a good portion of the last century.

In 1998 Wilson provoked controversy with the publication of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. In this book, he argued that although the various disciplines of learning at first appear fragmented, they can ultimately be integrated–if one knows how to look at them properly. In short, Wilson made a claim for a unified field theory of knowledge. He pointed out, for example, that ethics require no prior grounding in metaphysics, but rather can be described as an extension of the cooperative behavior that so often occurs between organisms. By this and other illustrations, Wilson's theory presumed biology to be the science that explains all other sciences and disciplines. It made biology emperor.


Consilience can be viewed as the latest salvo in a culture war that began in the romantic period, a war between science and poetry that has not yet abated. Wilson's precursors are C. P. Snow and Thomas Huxley. In his Rede lecture, "The Two Cultures" (1959), Snow castigated literary intellectuals for their ignorance of the fundamental laws of science. For his part, Huxley, in "Science and Culture" (1881), championed the cause of science at the expense of studying the ancient classics. Snow's principal literary antagonists were F. R. Leavis and Lionel Trilling. Huxley's major opponent was Matthew Arnold, whose notion of "the best that has been known and thought in the world" remained long on the study of literature and short on scientific inquiry.

How did the antagonism between science and poetry arise? Any explanation must begin with the decline of traditional religious authority in post-Enlightenment Europe. Arnold's formulation in "The Study of Poetry" (1880) is memorable: "There is not a creed which is not shaken, not a received tradition which does not threaten to dissolve. Our religion has materialized in the fact, the supposed fact; it has attached its emotion to the fact, and now the fact is failing it." Arnold thought poetry would take the place of religion, whose doctrines were under assault from rational-scientific investigation. "The future of poetry is immense, because in poetry, where it is worthy of its high destinies, our race, as time goes on, will find an ever surer and surer stay. . . . Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact. The strongest part of our religion today is its unconscious poetry" (emphasis added).

Arnold expresses the romantic claim for the spiritual authority of the poetic imagination that Blake and Wordsworth initiated. The rival contender for authority is the science of Newton and Locke, which Blake disparagingly characterized as "natural religion." For Blake, modern science is not simply a description of things as they are, but a reduction of the world to its material aspect, and therefore a debasement of it. According to Blake, the senses alone cannot provide adequate access to the truths of the world. Only the imagination can realize those truths.

In our time, poetry is a private religion for the few. Even its great modern exponent, T. S. Eliot, chastised those who presumed to conflate poetry with religion. James Joyce knew by the time he wrote Ulysses that Stephen Dedalus's high-flying ambition to re-create the conscience of his race was aesthetic hubris. Modern champions of science, however, increasingly emboldened by its triumphs, particularly in biology, have no such qualms about claiming the ground once occupied by religion. For Wilson, science is the via media to saving the planet from ecological extinction. He shares with Snow the Enlightenment belief that salvation will come from the triumph of the scientific method. He regards the humanities and the social sciences in their present incarnation as largely irrelevant mystifications of their subject matter. "Philosophy, the contemplation of the unknown, is a shrinking dominion," Wilson writes in Consilience. "We have the common goal of turning as much philosophy as possible into science."

According to Wilson, philosophy has become obsolete in its understanding of mental activity and should yield its claim to wisdom about mind to the cognitive and neuroscientists. From Descartes to Kant, philosophers’ reflections proceed from introspection and draw us away from the actual operations of the brain, which is essentially "a machine assembled not to understand itself, but to survive."

Why self-understanding and survival are mutually exclusive is not clear by any means. But Wilson goes on to insist that religion, too, must yield its authority to science: "Could Holy Writ be just the first literate attempt to explain the universe and make ourselves significant within it? Perhaps science is a continuation on new and better-tested ground to attain the same end. If so, then in that sense science is religion liberated and writ large." Perhaps–if religion is considered merely an attempt to understand the causal workings of the material universe. The fact that religion might have anything to do with the pursuit of spiritual fulfillment does not enter Wilson's imagination.


On Wilson's view, even literary theory becomes the domain of science. Literary theorists must give way to evolutionary psychologists who have formulated the rules that will explain the emergence of genius and creative achievement. "Human nature," Wilson writes, is the set of "epigenetic rules, the hereditary regularities of mental development that bias cultural evolution in one direction as opposed to another and thus connect the genes to culture." At a Brandeis University seminar devoted to the subject of consilience, a participant asked Wilson whether knowledge of the genetic rules that govern art–assuming they exist–would be of value to a creative artist. Wilson answered yes. When someone suggested that knowledge of the rules and their application could just as easily prove obstacles to creative originality, Wilson's reply was telling. As evidence for a rule-bound view of the creative imagination, he cited the formulas that guide scriptwriting for film and television.

The social sciences predictably receive severe criticism for their failure to root their work in the natural sciences, in particularly in biology. Wilson’s model for the unity of science is the hierarchy that exists in the natural sciences, in which disciplines are reducible to one another. He provides this example:

To make any progress [researchers] must meditate on the networks of cause and effect across adjacent levels of organization–from subatomic particles to atoms, say, or organisms to species–and they must think on the hidden design and forces of the networks of causation. Quantum physics thus blends into chemical physics, which explains atomic bonding and chemical reactions, which form the foundation of molecular biology, which demystifies cell biology.

Wilson thinks of himself as a friend of all disciplines, despite that their ways must be corrected by science. His fellow sociobiologist Richard Dawkins puts the imperial case for his discipline even more forcefully. In his best-selling book, The Selfish Gene (1976), Dawkins asserts, "we no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there meaning to life? What are we for? What is man? After posing the last of these questions, the eminent zoologist G. G. Simpson put it thus: 'The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 [the publication date of Darwin's Origin of Species] are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely.'"

In the endnote to the paperback edition, Dawkins responds to those who have taken offense at Simpson's quotation by rubbing it in–without making an argument:

I agree that, when you first read it, it sounds terribly philistine and gauche and intolerant, a bit like Henry Ford's 'History is more or less bunk.' But, religious answers apart (I am familiar with them; save your stamp), when you are actually challenged to think of pre-Darwinian answers to the questions 'What is man?' 'Is there a meaning to life?' 'What are we for?', can you, as a matter of fact, think of any that are not now worthless except for their (considerable) historic interest? There is such a thing as being just plain wrong, and that is what, before 1859, all answers to those questions were.

If Dawkins had contented himself with the claim that Darwin had made worthless other answers to the questions, Where do we come from? and, How have we evolved? (empirical questions), he would have offended only creationists. But anyone of the most elementary intellectual sophistication knows that questions about meaning and purpose are of another order–and continue to be the legitimate concern of literature and philosophy. They are not simply reducible to knowledge about our genetic structure.

Could our knowledge of genetic structure affect our understanding of ethical matters such as human meaning and purpose? Perhaps, though the sociobiological argument from the evidence so far, namely that our genes are selfish and determinative of our character and behavior, is controversial even within its own discipline. Biologists Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin oppose the sociobiologists’ genetic reductionism because of their failure to give an adequate account of the interaction between biological and cultural factors. Genetic reductionism is also banal when translated into ethical terms, for it amounts to little more than an assertion that people need to learn to control their destructive selfish impulses. Does knowledge of our genetic structure, however complete, make the worthless speculations of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Montaigne, and Rousseau? The question doesn't deserve an answer. Dawkins distinguishes his scientism from "religious answers," though of course his own commitment to science has all the features of a faith. Wilson, in effect, admits this when he speaks of science as "religion liberated and writ large." In its overreaching, sociobiology is what Blake would call "a natural religion."


In tracing Wilson’s thought back to Snow and Huxley, I need to make the important qualification that Huxley was never guilty of this kind of intellectual hubris. Unlike Wilson, he would not have conflated a question about origins with a question about the value and meaning of human life. In his essay "Evolution and Ethics" (1893), he contrasts "the cosmic process" and "the ethical process." He writes, "since law and morals are restraints upon the struggle for existence between men in society, the ethical process is in opposition to the principle of the cosmic process, and tends to the suppression of the qualities best suited for success in that struggle." Which is not say that a knowledge of the cosmic process is irrelevant to our thinking about ethical matters, but that ethics cannot be reduced to biology. "Evolution and Ethics" was an answer to the social Darwinism of Huxley's contemporary Herbert Spencer, who believed that evolution contained the desired ethical model for human conduct. It could be an answer as well to our contemporary sociobiologists.

Yet sociobiology is not alone in its imperial ambition for science. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, another national bestseller, distinguished scientist Jared Diamond provides what he considers a scientific history of the past thirteen thousand years. In his "history of everything," he aims for " ultimate explanations." Whereas Wilson approaches evolution from the point of view of genetics, Diamond approaches his subject from the point of view of geography. What both share is the belief that the complexity of life can be reduced to scientific explanation. Diamond sets himself the task of explaining why certain societies have triumphed at the expense of others. Why, for instance, has Europe surpassed Africa and Asia in technological and industrial progress? According to him, the "ultimate explanation" lies in the relative fertility of land and the availability of animals that can be domesticated. Effective food production frees people for a variety of other activities, for example, crafts. Diamond has done impressive work in addressing the question of why different continents demonstrate such different historical trajectories. Much of his detailed exposition regarding food production, animal domestication, and migration is persuasive. But in his truncated view of history, various factors such as culture, ideology, irrational behavior, luck, and great individuals play a negligible role.

In the final chapter of his book, titled "History As a Science," he dismisses the work of practicing historians in the crudest terms: "Most historians do not think of themselves as scientists and receive little training in acknowledged sciences and their methodologies." True enough. But does it follow from that deficiency that their sense of history is "nothing more than a mass of detail" or that "history is just one damn fact after another" or that it "is more or less bunk"? Do these characterizations apply to Thucydides or Tacitus or Gibbon, or, for that matter, to any contemporary practicing academic or nonacademic historian?

Narrative history is hardly a mass of details, or just one damn fact after another. Accomplished historians carefully select their facts on the basis of what can be considered significant and what will contribute to the intelligibility, coherence, and persuasiveness of the story told, and they interpret these facts. Diamond has no appreciation of history as a literary art. If we were to take his characterization of nonscientific history as evidence of the empirical understanding in which he takes pride, we would have reason to suspect his authority elsewhere. In defending ultimate explanation, he argues that he is dealing with history on a large timescale rather than a smaller one in which proximate causes operate. But scale is not simply a matter of time; it may also be a matter of the moment's magnitude. Napoleon's presence on the scene in postrevolutionary France was of immense significance to subsequent world history–as was Hitler's rise in Germany between the two world wars.

The nonscientific humanist view is that history, like literature, invites a series of interpretations that might share common ground, but may also differ from and be in conflict with one another. And the nonscientific historian–like the nonscientific literary critic–embraces the variety of interpretation as enriching our understanding of the subject. Nonscientific historians make objective claims for their views, but the conflicts among them cannot be scientifically adjudicated. Variety and conflict do not preclude the possibility of objectivity and common ground among interpreters, but they do preclude singular explanation.

Consider, for example, Diamond’s attempt to explain why China "lost its huge early lead to Europe," given its "undoubted advantages: a rise of food production nearly as early as in the Fertile Crescent; ecological diversity from North to South China and from the coast to the Tibetan plateau, giving rise to a diverse set of crops, animals and technology." Diamond explains it as "a typical aberration of local politics that could happen anywhere in the world: a power struggle between two factions at the Chinese court (the eunuchs and their opponents)." The eunuchs favored the "sending and captaining of fleets," their opponents, prevailing in the power struggle, "dismantled the shipyards . . . and forbade oceangoing shipping." Politics, not geography, is the decisive factor here, though Diamond does not acknowledge that this troubles his thesis in any way. And although he persuasively shows the geographical conditions that constrain choice, he conflates constraint with inevitability. Scientific explanation, dedicated to the finding of cause and effect, looks for the inevitable patterns of existence; historical understanding, based on belief in human freedom, imagines the possibility of alternative outcomes in the past.

It may be that reductionism has an important role to play within the sciences, though it is a contested view, certainly in its imperial manifestation, as I have indicated in my reference to Gould's and Lewontin's critiques of sociobiology. When, however, reductionism is extended to the humanities and the social sciences, it displays a singular lack of understanding and tact. Reductionism takes several forms. In the humanities, literary works are often reduced to ideological motives that have to do with gender, class, or race. While it is one thing to acknowledge, interpret, and evaluate these factors’ significance in a work of literature, it is quite another to reduce the work to its supposed ideological message. In Shakespeare's The Tempest, Prospero may refer to his daughter as "his foot" in a flash of resentment when she begs him not to treat her beloved Ferdinand too harshly, and his treatment of Caliban appears to be that of the colonial oppressor. But an exclusive and obsessive focus on Prospero as a Eurocentric imperial man, Miranda as protofeminist consciousness, and Caliban as the voice of postcolonial oppression displaces focus from the deep affection and concern father and daughter have for each other and from the play's realism about human relationships at the time. What we have instead in various reductionist readings is a kind of retrospective moralizing about the play based on contemporary standards of justice and decency. What suffers in the process is our perception of the literary achievement.


I have alluded to Wilson's adversaries within his own discipline. Sociobiology has another adversary in the radical skepticism of postmodernism, which denies the natural sciences, as it does to other discourses, any claim to objective knowledge, despite the amazing progress sciences have made in, for example, our understanding of the genetic makeup of living creatures. (I place "our" in quotation marks because we delegate scientific understanding and conviction to scientists. Our faith or trust in them–these modern-day Prosperos, if you will–is based in part on the evidence of the technology and medical advances that have come out of science.) One is not required to defend the scientism of Wilson and Diamond to affirm the scientists’ claims for the objectivity of their discoveries. It is, of course, true that scientific claims are always provisional and can be superseded by new knowledge. But there are claims that have been consolidated and not superseded, and those claims that have been superseded can be placed on a curve of progress to a better understanding of phenomena. My purpose here, however, is not to defend science–for it needs no defending–but rather to reflect on the opposition between two isms: scientism and radical postmodernism. Both are, in my view, detrimental to the cause of science and of the humanities.

For Wilson, scientism–he calls it the Enlightenment–and postmodern epistemology would appear to be the either/or of theoretical debate in the academy. "Postmodernism is the ultimate polar antithesis to the Enlightenment. The difference between the two extremes can be explained as follows: Enlightenment thinkers believe we can know everything, and radical postmodernists believe we can know nothing." One theory aims for the unity of knowledge, the finding of ultimate explanations for everything; the opposing theory aims for a radical skepticism about the possibility of any certain knowledge. What they have in common is that both theories are grand theories–radical postmodernists would bridle at the attribution–with the ambition to account for everything. They are reductionist and therefore interdisciplinary in a bad sense, for they display an insufficient respect for the integrity and autonomy of the disciplines. Both theories are dogmatic and therefore incapable of that mixture of confidence and epistemological modesty that says, "This we can know, this we may yet know, this remains in the realm of mystery, subject to a variety of speculation and interpretation that cannot be resolved to certain knowledge."

Huxley had his adversary in Arnold, Snow in Leavis and Trilling. In both episodes, the adversaries of the proponents of science as the master discipline were the defenders of literary enterprise as a distinct and separate activity. Huxley does not deny the separate integrity of literature; nor does he conflate ethics and evolution. Even Snow, who complains about the politics of writers and literary intellectuals, and wishes they would serve the interests of a benign science devoted to alleviating human misery, assumes a distinction between literature and science. However, the case of Wilson and his postmodern adversaries is different. Wilson acknowledges the difference between literature and science, but not between the study of science and the study of literature. The project of Wilson and his supporters is to subsume all the disciplines under the aegis of the biological sciences, specifically, genetics. For Wilson, literature as well as literary theory can be understood according to the genetic rules that determine human life.

However, his postmodern adversaries in the humanities, unlike the adversaries of Huxley and Snow, do not defend the literary enterprise against scientific imperialism. They do respond to the hubristic version of Enlightenment belief that everything can be known with an equally hubristic dogmatic skepticism that all knowledge is uncertain. But they do not defend literature, because they extend to literary production the same kind of skepticism that they apply to the sciences–or else they reduce literature to ideology. It is, of course, an irony of radical skepticism that it flaunts its own certainties. The trajectory that I have been describing from romanticism to the present moment reflects a weakening of advocacy of the cause of the humanities.

In a time like the present when the interdisciplinary is the rage, one should be aware of how it can become a vehicle of reductionism, the impoverishing translation of one field into another. Political theory becomes the scientific study of statistics, history of geography, literature of ideology, religion of a scientific understanding of our origins. Too often, the desire for the interdisciplinary is a symptom of a loss of confidence in the integrity of one's own discipline. Unless it is based on mutual respect among disciplines and a sense of its own limits, interdisciplinary work becomes vacuous.

Scientific theory may not necessarily converge with the arts. It may be that each discipline has its own imperatives, which may or may not cross or converge with another discipline. And in the end, the prospect of disciplines going off in various directions or conflicting with one another, unconstrained by the demand for consilience, may bring greater intellectual rewards than the opposite and illusory prospect so tantalizing to Wilson: the unity of all knowledge.

From The Common Review Volume 1, Number 4

Sociobiology at Age 25

by Steve Sailer
National Review
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis -- 25th Anniversary Edition, by Edward O. Wilson (Harvard University Press, 697 pages, $75.00 cloth, $29.95 paper)

[This is the last of the various versions I wrote for NR. No doubt it differs in some fashion from what they actually printed. -- Steve Sailer, www.iSteve.com]

Great fiction does not grow obsolete. Nor in it's own way does great propaganda. In contrast, truly important scientific books render themselves obsolete by opening new fields for subsequent scholars to elaborate. Edward O. Wilson's 1975 landmark Sociobiology, which introduced neo-Darwinism to the public--and which has now been reissued to mark its 25th anniversary--is just such a book. Vast yet coherent, Sociobiology demonstrated in rigorous detail how Darwinian selection molded the various ways in which all animals--from the lowly corals to the social insects to the highest primates--compete and cooperate with others of their own species.

Outraging the leftists who dominated academia, Wilson suggested numerous analogies between animal and human societies. While men have drawn such parallels since long before Aesop, Wilson's command of natural history and the power of neo-Darwinian theory in unifying this vast body of knowledge lent credibility to his grand ambition to reduce social science to a branch of biology, just as, Wilson argued, biology could ultimately be reduced to chemistry and chemistry to physics. .

Tom Wolfe has lauded Wilson as "the new Darwin," but that's somewhat overstating the case. Wilson is more the workaholic synthesist who brought to wide awareness the insights of even more original but lesser-known sociobiologists like the manic-depressive Robert Trivers and the late English genius William D. Hamilton. It was Hamilton who launched the neo-Darwinian era in 1964 with his theory of "kin selection," which mathematically answered a question that had long nagged Darwin: Why do social creatures, whether ants or humans, tend to be nepotistic? Why do we sacrifice for our children and even for our more distant relatives? Hamilton showed that acting altruistically toward your kin can be in your genes' self-interest even when it's not in your own. Richard Dawkins, another sociobiologist inspired by Hamilton, popularized this insight in his 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene.

Only the last of Sociobiology's 26 chapters is devoted solely to human societies, yet it blazed a trail that many others followed. In recent years, this genre has become wildly popular with readers of serious nonfiction books. Amazon.com lists 416 titles under "sociobiology" and 1,218 under "human evolution." While Wilson's archenemy, the Marxist media hound Stephen Jay Gould, has largely been reduced to negativity and obfuscation, many others have responded gallantly to Sociobiology's challenge. Among the most enjoyable introductions to neo-Darwinism are The Third Chimpanzee by the bracing Jared Diamond and How the Mind Works by the entertaining Steven Pinker. Matt Ridley's Thatcherite perspective adds rigor to The Red Queen and The Origin of Virtue. Robert Wright's neoliberal The Moral Animal is a good read but sometimes tries to make Darwinism sound like a beta release of Clintonism.

Despite the success of neo-Darwinism in answering some fundamental questions about human behavior and in attracting many of the best minds of our time, it has not been terribly popular with either left or right. Ironically, while the religious right futilely attacks Darwin's theory of what we evolved from, the left clamps down upon Darwin's theory of what we evolved to. The left has long denounced sociobiological research for validating what conservatives have assumed all along: that human nature--with its sex differences and its stress on individual, family, and ethnic self-interest--is an innate heritage, not a blank slate that can be wiped clean by speech codes, sensitivity workshops, and re-education camps.

Not that the left hasn't tried: Stalin shipped his Darwinists to the Gulag. In the politically correct West, evolution-oriented scientists haven't been murdered. Yet Wilson had a bucket of ice water poured on his head, IQ scientist Arthur Jensen needed a bodyguard, the police investigated racial difference scholar J.P. Rushton for six months, the U. of Edinburgh fired IQ researcher Chris Brand despite 26 years of tenure, and a mob of protestors beat up Hans Eysenck, Britain's most prominent psychologist.

Wilson's orthodox Darwinian sociobiology made it countless enemies in academia. Centrist anthropologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides accordingly re-launched sociobiology under the neutral name of "evolutionary psychology." Pronouncing themselves the truest True Believers in equality, Tooby & Cosmides portrayed human nature as almost monolithically uniform, and proclaimed that evolutionary psychology should only study human similarities.

But while egalitarianism served as a useful cover story for infiltrating neo-Darwinism into academia, it proved a largely useless methodology for learning about humanity. Why? Because knowledge consists of contrasts. To learn much about human nature, we need to look for patterns of similarities and differences among humans. Ironically, therefore, evolutionary psychology has become primarily the study of sex differences. Impressively -- considering the stranglehold feminism has on academia -- many of the leading scholars in the field are female. Evolutionary psychologists like Sarah Blaffer Hrdy often began as feminist avengers, seeking to demonstrate that the importance of females in Darwinian selection had been grossly underrated. Yet their work on how women choose and manipulate mates ultimately undermined the feminist convention of women as the powerless victims of patriarchy. They thus confirmed what conservatives, not to mention any guy struggling to get a date, had always known: women exercise enormous informal power.

The biophobia of the politically pious originates in their dread of admitting the importance of human biodiversity. Old-fashioned leftists like Karl Marx hated evolutionary logic's implication that mankind was not perfectible. Paradoxically, new-fangled "identity politics" leftists have been driven berserk by the Darwinian research that suggests their obsession with gender and race might stem from the actual existence of innate differences between groups. However, Princeton philosopher Peter Singer has recently suggested that the left should follow evolutionary psychology by abandoning feminist resentment in favor of (limited) biological realism. In Singer's new book A Darwinian Left, he argues that leftists could use the insights of neo-Darwinism to "promote structures that foster cooperation rather than competition." The sophomoric Singer doesn't grasp that sociobiological altruism is a two-edged sword: the most effective way to get males to cooperate with each other is to get them fired up about competing with somebody else. For example, black and white college football players work together far better than the other students on campus precisely because if they don't, their opponents will crush them. Without competition to impose costs, people naturally discriminate in favor of their kin and race.

You might think that conservatives would give sociobiology a sympathetic hearing, if only because anything Steven Jay Gould abhors can't be all bad. And, indeed, many rightwing heavyweights like James Q. Wilson (The Moral Sense), Francis Fukuyama (The Great Disruption), and Charles Murray ("Deeper into the Brain," NR, January 24, 2000) have increasingly built their worldviews upon a Darwinian plinth. Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full is The Great Human Biodiversity Novel. Note how Wolfe carefully describes each character in terms of his muscle to fat ratio. (This is far less wacky than it sounds because testosterone levels influence both muscularity and masculine personality traits like aggressiveness.).

This is a natural evolution for American conservatism. After all, Darwin himself was crucially inspired by the free market economics of conservative icon Adam Smith. And as Pope John Paul II's endorsement of Darwinism demonstrated, the theory of natural selection is reasonably compatible with the main creeds in the Judeo-Christian tradition, except for the kind of ultra-literalist fundamentalism that makes a fetish out of the universe being created in 4004 B.C.

Having shot itself in the foot over Galileo, the Roman Catholic has wisely learned not to bet its prestige on one side of a scientific controversy. Science works best with theories that are falsifiable, religion with beliefs that aren't. Creationism, an extremely easily falsified theory, just makes religion in general look stupid. Similarly, when conservatives are excessively solicitous of the feelings of Creationists, they end up looking dim, too. Worse, anti-Darwinism keeps conservatives from noticing that neo-Darwinian science is corroborating and extending much of the conservative world-view. It's time to wake up and realize: we're winning.

Steve Sailer (www.iSteve.com) is a columnist for VDARE.com and an Adjunct Fellow of the Hudson Institute.