What avoiding germs has to do with democracy, dictatorship, and our most cherished beliefs

An interesting article. This could also relate to conservatives (but not liberals) valuing purity as a moral standard and being more sensitive to disgust.

With global climate destabilization and increased warming, beginning not in a few decades but now -- Siberia is getting unprecedented "midsummer" temperatures in April! -- leading to pathogens thriving in more places, are we in for more authoritarianism, hierarchy, xenophobia, and religion?

The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs

(Ethan Watters, Pacific Standard)

... deep interactions between local pathogens and human social evolution may explain many of the basic differences we observe between cultures. How does your culture behave toward strangers? What kind of government do you live under? Who are your sexual partners? What values do you share? All of these questions may mask a more fundamental one: What germs are you warding off?

The threat of disease is not uniform around the world. In general, higher, colder, and drier regions have fewer infectious diseases than warmer, wetter climates.... According to the “pathogen stress theory of values,” the evolutionary case that Thornhill and his colleagues have put forward, our behavioral immune systems—our group responses to local disease threats—play a decisive role in shaping our various political systems, religions, and shared moral views.

If they are right, Thornhill and his colleagues may be on their way to unlocking some of the most stubborn mysteries of human behavior. Their theory may help explain why authoritarian governments tend to persist in certain latitudes while democracies rise in others; why some cultures are xenophobic and others are relatively open to strangers; why certain peoples value equality and individuality while others prize hierarchical structures and strict adherence to tradition. What’s more, their work may offer a clear insight into how societies change. According to Thornhill’s findings, striking at the root of infectious disease threats is by far the most effective form of social engineering available to any would-be reformer....

... severe pathogen stress leads to high levels of civil and ethnic warfare, increased rates of homicide and child maltreatment, patriarchal family structures, and social restrictions regarding women’s sexual behavior....

... Higher temperatures, elevated sea levels, and increased precipitation in some areas—all predicted to accompany climate change—are expected to bring tropical diseases to higher latitudes and elevations in the coming decades. Pathogens that once perished in cold climates and dry soils may find new congenial zones of heat and moisture, and new host populations. Incidents of dengue fever in the U.S., for example, are expected to spread beyond Hawaii and the Mexican borderlands as climate change creates expanding habitats for the mosquito that carries the virus. Unless effective health interventions ward off these new threats, humans in ever higher latitudes may again have to resort to their embedded psychological and cultural defenses. Collectivist group behaviors may yet stage a comeback.

(emphases added)

Read the entire article

Tags: behavioral immune response, collectivist, disease avoidance, individualist, morality, pathogen stress, pathogen stress theory of values, values

Views: 50

Replies to This Discussion

Europe is primed for Dengue to become endemic, due to Climate Destabilization. Will this shift politics toward the Authoritarian/Religious right?

Risk of dengue fever epidemic in Europe

If Hitler rose on the coat tails of of Spanish Flu, what does this fortell?

Here we have rabid Geert Wilders, who has been screaming against Moroccans and their neighbours for too many years. He has followers, but luckily not enough  to change things. Perhaps he'd have more succes if he said that they bring dengue instead of a quran.

GC, interesting article.  I read it all the way through, and thought about it.

It would be interesting to see more scientific data with hypothesis testing and some statistics.  I could go either way on this.

I have often proposed the opposite, more or less.  Without proof or hypothesis testing and statistics.  Which is, that societies that are open to new populations, influx and mixing of cultures, may be more likely to innovate, prosper, and develop.  I think of merchant societies, and militarized empires, like Rome, Greece, Egypt, colonial Spain and England, and the USA.

On the other hand, societies that are sheltered and isolated, could be more likely to succumb to their internalized entropy, stagnation, and lack of innovation.  Also, lack of continuous immune system stimulation and evolution, such as Native American societies decimated by the Colombian exchange, the corrupt and xenophobic Chinese traditional cultures that repeatedly fell to invaders after long periods of stability. 

In the modern world, I think of the vibrant cultural chaos of New York, and the US West coast, and the stagnation and xenophobia of the US South, such as Alabama and Mississippi.  Modern China is ascendent, with adapting of Western, and world, concepts and innovations.  Is Iran prospering?  North Korea?  It seems to me that immigration and mixing of cultures is a big factor in advancing society, and giving it resilience.

There could be a chicken - egg issue too.  In the articles, are isolated cultures more susceptible to disease?  Or does disease make them more isolated?  And in my own pro-mixing hypothesis, is the open society what leads to a cultural jambalaya, is the influx of immigrants what leads to an open society?

In plants, inbreeding / isolation leads to slower less healthy growth.  Monocultures require increasing technology and chemicals to maintain cultural purity and disease prevention.  Diverse ecosystems are much more resilient, and hybrid vigor is a well established horticultural truism.

I don't know.

Very interesting! 

" One’s identity does not derive from the group, but rather is built through personal actions and achievements. " I know this is true for me, but I had expected individualists to be mixed up evenly among all the others. This also explains the flag phenomenon to me: 4th of July in America: nothing but flags, the things you want to see are also covered in flags. King's birthday in the Netherlands: if you look carefully you can see one or two flags, probably on official buildings.

The US is in danger not only of a dengue epidemic but also a Chikungunya epidemic.

Chikungunya poised to invade the Americas

Chikungunya virus is poised to invade and become an epidemic in the Americas, according to a team of researchers. The risk of a "catastrophic" epidemic in the Americas is boosted by the FIFA World Cup, to be held in Brazil next month, what with people coming in from near and from far, says a corresponding author.

Even in temperate Missouri, A. albopictus was found to have a high dissemination and transmission ability for two of the three chikungunya genotypes.

Chikungunya can cause severe joint pain, which can sometimes lead to permanent disability, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mortality has been known to reach 1/1000. The virus' name reflects the condition of many of the stricken, "bent down or become contorted," in the Tanzanian Makonda language.

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