Thursday, 20 June 2013

A crude classification of societies by average intelligence


Average intelligence constrains the complexity of societies.

(Note: The level of intelligence does not guarantee complexity - complexity can be suppressed. Also, complexity can be imported from more- to less-complex societies. Also intelligence is necessary but not sufficient - average personality/ or 'national character', in particular, is very important.)


Assuming current average intelligence among natives in England as IQ 100:

115 - (i.e. average intelligence in England 120 years ago and probably for several hundred years previously). Can sustain an extremely complexly differentiated and specialized modern society based on continual medium term economic growth and the expectation of such growth, and underpinned by a continual stream of major technological breakthroughs.

(Note: breakthroughs  also require creativity, very high intelligence is necessary but not sufficient.)

100 - Can not sustain modern society; but can sustain a large scale and complex but static agriculture and trade-based society. Innovations and breakthroughs happen but are too infrequent, dispersed and insufficiently revolutionary to affect the basic nature of the society - they simply lead to a greater population density and per capita wealth reverts to pre-innovation levels.

In the long term a society with an average IQ of around about 100 will stabilize at a no-greater-complexity than that of a moderately-complex but essentially static agrarian society - with moderately large cities, and moderate societal specializations - something like the Roman Empire. 

85 - Simple agriculture, pastoralism, limited specialization of social function. No cities - only villages and towns. Simple technology.

70 and below - Immediate return hunter gatherer lifeways. Very little technology, no long term food storage, very little social differentiation, highly egalitarian.


Given that The West has probably gone from 115 to 100 in about 150-200 years (actually, I think the change has been somewhat greater or faster than this); it is interesting to speculate how far and how fast the process could continue.

Of course, at some point, social breakdown will reimpose the extreme harshness of natural selection on those of lower intelligence, but in the short to medium term, warfare, starvation and disease may mean that intelligence may continue to be selected against for a long time.

It seems conceivable, therefore, that the extreme rapidity of intelligence decline may - with a time lag, as societies benefit temporarily from the residual technological legacy of their ancestors - lead to a considerable overshoot of intelligence decline; such that there may be a reversion of two steps, not one.

The West may go all the way from modernity to simple agrarian societies - passing only briefly through a phase of complex agrarian 'empires' - in the space of a single digit number of generations from now.



JamesP said...

Do you believe that could exist such thing as an traditionalist eugenics program?

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - what do you mean? Do you mean something different from the eugenics policies of the past?

BTW - as a Christian I am anti-pro-eugenics as a public policy. If you search this blog for eugenics you will see previous postings.

JamesP said...


Eugenicists of the past were old-fashioned progressives or race nationalists.

A christian society couldn't have its own eugenics program?

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - I don't see how a Christian society could have a eugenics programme.

A Christian society would run on Christian lines, and the effect on societal genetics would be a case of 'what will be, will be'.

BUT, a Christian society was and would be honest and realistic about the causes and effects of differential reproduction - and could therefore potentially develop coping mechanisms to make the best of things - while secular societies are not honest, and do not develop coping mechanisms, and deny harm and the probability of harm, rather than trying to ameliorate it.

dearieme said...

I'm always amused when someone starts talking about the IQ of American Presidents - people whose IQ results, if any, we normally don't know. (Apparently JFK's was measured; I've seen it quoted variously as 117 and 119.)

So let us turn to a far more interesting question: what was the IQ of classical Athens, then?

Bruce Charlton said...

I would presume Average classical Athenian IQ would have to be at-least in the 115 region - although how that happened, I don't know.

Luqman said...

Christian society has already had a eugenics program, the forbidding of consanguineous marriage. Traditional societies, which regulate intercourse and marriage, could also be considered similarly. Casted societies go even further, but that would be decidedly un-Christian.

The kind of meddling eugenics that is the stuff of science-fantasy and leftist nightmare both seems evil though.

Kevin Nowell said...

Clearly a Christian society where birth control is forbidden and with family input and authority over who a daughter marries will result in industrious, intelligent men or sons of industrious, intelligent men marrying earlier in life and therefore producing more offspring than their counterparts; and, likewise, for daughters of industrious, intelligent men as they will have a more substantial dowry.

Commodore said...

So how do you account here for stratification of society? In the US it certainly feels like we're breaking into fairly distinct bands, one society of ~120, one of ~100, and one of ~80. The citizens of Athens that made it "Athens" probably were very smart, but they were supported by quite a few presumably dull peasants.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

The Catholic catechism includes a right to economic countries. Practically, this means non-white third worlders flooding into white countries, combined with Church support for forced integration.

Therefore a white, Christian country has a powerful dysgenics program. It cannot hit bottom till there is nowhere in the world that dark people would be economically worse off than in that formerly white, wealthy country.

And, via the "bowling alone" effect, the same policy destroys the cohesion necessary to overturn that policy and act steadily for collective survival.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT - "a white, Christian country has a powerful dysgenics program."

Untrue. Christianity is 2000 years old. I refute you thus.

@C - I don't get your point. Of course there is variation around the mean...

@KN - I think that the *main* effect in the past was near total mortality for the children of the poor/ ignorant/ feckless.

Natural Selection is not a nice thing.

Commodore said...

BC- I don't get your point. Of course there is variation around the mean...

Right, but I wasn't speaking about that variation, I was speaking of three (at least!) very distinct societies forming, a separation that if anything seems to be increasing. Complex modern society needs an average IQ of 115; I'll grant that. In this increasingly dysgenic environment, is it more likely that the West is driving itself downward, or that two or more distinct societies are forming?

I wouldn't be shocked to see complex modern society continue to exist in an overclass that increasingly treats the underclass like Athenians did their slaves, or the English did their empire, a mix of exploitation (for resources to maintain and expand their modernity) and patronization (bringing the benefits to the benighted). Perhaps that is just my hopefulness, though...I'd like to have my grandchildren reap the same modern benefits I do.

Which, frankly, all other quality-of-life metrics aside, is most fundamentally this: I can reasonably expect to never have to bury one of my children. I'd like for them to have that as well.

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - In England the trend is in the opposite direction - with zero legitimacy and indeed active crusading zeal against any such stratification.

FHL said...

@Dr. Charlton

Towards your reply to KN:

Does it go in cycles?

Natural selection eliminates the poor/ignorant/feckless, intelligence increases, technology increases, the world becomes less dangerous as a result, the poor/ignorant/feckless thrive, intelligence decreases, technology decreases, the world becomes more dangerous as a result, natural selection eliminates the poor/ignorant/feckless, intelligence increases... and so on.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FHL - Natural selection never repeats itself - the starting point (genetically) will be different and so will selection pressures.

Anonymous said...

115 - (i.e. average intelligence in England 120 years ago and probably for several hundred years previously). Can sustain an extremely complexly differentiated and specialized modern society based on continual medium term economic growth and the expectation of such growth, and underpinned by a continual stream of major technological breakthroughs.

If the average IQ back then was 115, the average man with a 115 IQ would have been doing fairly conventional, mundane work like farming, working in a factory, etc.

The complex work and technological breakthroughs would have been done by those with IQs above 115.

How many people above which IQ level above 115 would be necessary for complex work and technological breakthroughs to take place?

The population of England and Wales in 1900 was about 32 million. Presumably it's some number of people less than 32 million above a certain IQ threshold.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - I don't think these questions can be answered with any degree of precision.

Also, IQ is non-linear and further the nature/quality of intelligence varies throughout the scale.

For example, at high values of IQ (probably somewhere before the current level of 130) the concept of 'general intelligence/ g' progressively breaks-down into a number of more specific cognitive abilities.

In approximate terms I think there must have been about tenfold more genius threshold intelligence people in Victorian time, which makes for a much greater *concentration' or density of genius - which was perhaps critical; as well as a larger proportion of the population able to understand the products of creative genius.

So both absolute numbers and density are important; and there are other personality and social factors as well. The modern genius is much less likely to be able to make a social impact than 100 plus years ago.

Anonymous said...

I don't think these questions can be answered with any degree of precision.

Perhaps we can make some approximations.

Under a normal distribution, the mean of 115 would also be the median, and thus half of the population of England in 1900, around 16 million, would have had IQs of 115 and above.

With a standard deviation of 15 and a normal distribution, about 5 million would have had IQs above 130. Around 736,000 would have had IQs above 145, and around 64,000 would have had IQs above 160.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - but there is no reason to assume that 1. the true distribution of intelligence is normal several SDs away from the mean. This has never been tested, I don't think (I mean, never tested with a representative sample). 2. There is no reason to assume that distribution would remain constant when the average IQ changes - in fact the more plausible assumption is that it would change.

BTW - 'Anonymous' if you want a conversation with me, have the decency to provide a pseudonym.

Anonymous said...

This has been going around and around in my head for the last few days...

I can't help thinking about the rumors (possibly unfounded) of work on finding genetic markers associated with higher IQ, with the goal of selecting embryos for intelligence.

These reports say that it might be possible to select for children with average IQ's of 5 to 15 points higher than the parents...

Not sure whether this is possible, or just a rumor, or whether the results would live up to say nothing of whether this is ethical or agrees with Christianity.

But given the decline of average intelligence, you would expect a powerful motivation for some groups (elite secular parents in the US, nations that want to gain a geopolitical advantage, etc.) to use these techniques if they are at all practical...


Bruce Charlton said...

@Edward - It is not a matter of what people can do, as what they are motivated to do. For example, we knew how to solve the world economic crisis in 2008 but we did not.

We know how to do lots of things which we don't do, because we lack the motivation to make tough decisions and continue with them through the short term difficulties on the way to long term benefits. In a media run democracy, anyone who tries to do the right thing will be met with the full force of public mobbing.

The only solution to finding motivation is religion - but of course, a strong and effective religion cannot be adopted as a means to an end, but must tap-into viscerally powerful energies.

There are still some geniuses around, and our society tends to ignore, suppress, ridicule, slander, persecute and exclude them - so, as I say, there is not motivation to do what you say; indeed, quite the opposite. Our leaders vigorusly pursue anti-meritocratic schemes.

Having said that I am against eugenic schemes of the kind you describe - I think only a monstrously tyrannical society could pursue them.

We should do the right thing, with complete honesty as to what will probably happen, and cope as best we can with what emerges.

John said...

Yes, you're right of course. The approximations I made were assuming a normal distribution.

You're right that we can't necessarily make any assumptions regarding distribution. However, aren't there certain implications we're making by positing a mean of 115? For example, we're not implying that everyone in the society had an IQ of 115. We're not implying that everyone had an IQ greater than 115 (or lower than 115).

Isn't the point of positing a mean of 115 to make some sort of implications about the right tail of the distribution?

Bruce Charlton said...

@John - Yes, I'm just trying to avoid the lure of attempting precision in an area in which it was not available.