Saturday, 28 March 2015

It Was Nice While It Lasted

I'm reading a rather fascinating book, "Biohistory, Decline and Fall of the West," a book sent me by its publisher for review. I'm nowhere near finished it, but already the author is developing some very interesting theories, backed by genetic evidence. Two of the factors contributing to the decline of a society are decreased sexual restraint and increased permissiveness with children, two of the very factors we are seeing today.

It all has to do, in part, with the overall general level of the hormone testosterone in a society's citizenry. High levels, as I understand it, lead to more aggressive, self centred people. Slightly lower levels are associated with people with more patience, more willing to work toward a yet-unrealized goal, more willing to focus on the common good. Therefore, successful long-term civilizations tend to be made up, counter intuitively perhaps, of those with generally lower testosterone levels. Not radically lower, but only slightly, as a societal whole. Factors in slightly lower levels are delayed sexual activity and increased self discipline. Most world religions have similar views on sexuality, tending toward restraint, so religion has a role to play in building a successful society, and falling away from, or rejecting religion, as we see happening now, tends to lead toward that society's decline. What I believe is the increasing self-centeredness, selfishness, lack of moral restraint and power given to the young we see today are also factors in our slow but eventual decline.

Will we be able to reverse these two factors? I'm not betting on it, but I suppose anything can happen.

I may report further on this book as I progress through it.

Take care


Warren said...

I'm looking forward to hearing more. Does the author have anything to say about studies showing that testosterone levels have been steadily dropping in American men in recent decades?

John K said...

Hi Warren,
It took a while to get back, and it's a rather complicated subject but I'll try to explain some of it briefly. After all, it took the author nearly 300 pages to say it for himself. I have inserted a link to it on Amazon in the original post, above.
Basically the author begins by outlining two characteristics affecting a particular society. He labels them 'C', for civilization, and 'V', for vigor. These factors may vary from high to low for either one.
High C results from moderate food restriction, moderate sexual restraint and high control/discipline of children. Each of these has actual biological results, according to the author. Citizens of high C society are harder working, better at trade and commerce, willing to work for a future benefit, and are supportive of strong states.
Humans, in their natural state, are low C, so to become high C requires some discipline. The biggest factor in reducing C is wealth. Changes don't happen instantly, because C is determined by parents setting examples with their children, so C tends to decline over generations. Wealth means people no longer have to work hard to accomplish some future benefit, they increase their intake of high calorie foods, drugs, and morals tend to decline.
V has to do with aggression. Combined with high C it means that people with high V have a pioneering spirit (willing to move and take over new territory) and are willing and able to fight as a group - controlled aggression with discipline. A contributing factor to V is intermittent stress, such as fear of predators or famine. A contributing factor is male children raised in infancy by anxious mothers, but becoming dominant when older. Thus, a patriarchal society is a great contributor to V.
Next, the author brings into his theory the concept of cycles, using lemmings as an example. That lemmings actually stampede to the sea in a mass suicide is a myth, but what actually happens, apparently, is that, in a certain cyclical manner, their population explodes and they head out en masse to find new territory, often crossing rivers, where many of them die. This happens approximately every ten generations. With humans this would be a cycle of about 300 - 400 years.
His theory of the decline and fall of the west is based, way more complicatedly than I am able to say, on the interaction of these cycles of C, V and the, "lemming-type" cycle. He compares empires of Rome, Japan and Britain and claims some accuracy, looking back. I guess the only proof of the pudding looking forward is what happens to our current society. One thing is sure. Every great empire of the past has fallen, so I'm not sure we can be overly confident that it will not happen to ours as well.

In any case, I expect to be gone long before this fully happens, but I did find it an interesting read.