Almost a Psychosis

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

As societies become more complex — moving from hunting and gathering, to herding and slash-and-burn agriculture, to complex agriculture with division of labor, to modern industrialism and post-industrialism — the individuals within those societies seem to become more intelligent and less impulsive, which, Bruce Charlton says, is both a blessing and a curse:

It is the middling societies, agriculturally-based and with an average IQ of around 80-90, which seem to be the most devoutly religious — whether pagan or monotheistic.

Hunter gatherer societies are animistic, with totemism coming-in with simple agriculture along with larger scale organization and technology — and the industrial societies with high IQ have a very abstract religion tending towards atheism.

As average intelligence in a society becomes higher; so religiousness becomes less spontaneous, less intuitive, less realistic, less supernatural, less personal.

This can even be seen at a relatively fine level of discrimination within Christianity, with a gradient in average IQ among the denominations.

I think it no coincidence that even in Catholicism, the more rational Roman Catholics tend to dominate higher IQ societies than the more mystical Eastern Orthodoxy.

This is all a part of my larger thesis that higher average intelligence drove modernization (including industrialization) — but, mainly due to its effect in weakening spontaneous religiousness, is also destroying it.

And it is part of my belief that high IQ is a curse as well as a benefit.

The benefits are clear, the curse is not appreciated: indeed, high IQ people pride themselves on their disability.

People with a high IQ (high, that is, by historical and international standards; by which I mean above about 90) should regard themselves as suffering from a mental illness — almost a psychosis — since their perception of the world is so distorted by a spontaneous, compulsive abstraction which is alien to humans.

But high IQ in and of itself (no matter how supported culturally) cannot lead to endogenous industrialization — modernization requires genius: which requires both high IQ and creativity.

I have not touched on personality here; but much of what I said about IQ applies also to personality.

Complex agricultural societies provide a strong selective force for re-shaping and taming personality, promoting conscientiousness, docility (reducing spontaneous aggression and violence) and reducing spontaneous creativity.

These are the marks of the ‘civilized’ personality.

And this is why genius is so rare: because creativity and intelligence are reciprocally correlated, yet both must be present for genius to happen.

Genius is necessary for modernity, for industrialization, because it is genius which produces ‘breakthroughs’; and modernity requires frequent breakthroughs in order to outrun Malthusian constraints.

Europeans produced, in the past, the most geniuses proportionatly — but why?

I think it was because European society experienced a powerful and rapid selective force towards increased IQ, which left the creative personality trait more-intact than did the longer and slower selection for intelligence which happened in East Asia.

The longer and slower selection in East Asia led to (even) higher intelligence, but a greater taming/ civilization of the personality.

Consequently the average East Asian personality is both more intelligent (and more civilized) and less creative than the European.

(However, genius is now apparently a thing-of-the-past — even in the West; and therefore — lacking breakthroughs — modernity will grind to a halt and reverse; indeed this has already begun.)

We should regard high IQ rather as we regard sickle cell anaemia — a useful specific adaptation to certain specific selection pressures in certain types of society, but one which takes its toll in many other other ways and in other situations.

The most obvious disadvantage of high IQ is reduced fertility when fertility becomes controllable. In the past, any effect of IQ on lowering fertility was minimized by the lack of contraceptive technology, and was (at least in complex agricultural societies) more-than-compensated by the reduced mortality rate of more intelligent people.

So in complex agricultural societies with a high age-adjusted mortality rates, high IQ is adaptive — because reduced death rates have a more powerful effect on the number of surviving children; but in modern industrial societies with low age-adjusted mortality rates then high IQ is maladaptive because reduced birth rates have a more powerful effect on the number of surviving children (especially when fertility rates among the high IQ have fallen below replacement levels).

(See Why are women so intelligent?)

Clearly, the social selection pressures which led to increased IQ in stable complex agricultural societies have — for several generations — reversed; and the selection pressure is now to reduce IQ in industrialized countries.

But, fertility aside, the major disadvantage of high IQ (and one which works faster than genetic changes) is the compulsive abstraction of high IQ people.

High level abstraction, while enabling genius, is also mostly responsible for the profound and pervasive spiritual malaise of modernity: for alienation, relativism and nihilism.

This tendency to [alienation, relativism and nihilism] among individual intellectuals is amplified by IQ stratification and large population size which creates an IQ-meritocracy; within which abstraction becomes compulsive and mutally-reinforcing and finally (in some people) inescapable.

So that in an IQ-elite the intellectuals are are often proud of their inability to perceive the obvious, and their lack of ability to perceive solid reality, and their compulsive tendency to live in a changing state of perpetually deferred judgment and lack of committment.

But these are bad traits not virtues; intellectuals should be ashamed of them, and humble about their deficiencies — not proud of the inability to perceive and stand-by the obvious.


  1. Bruce G Charlton says:

    My main piece of evidence that it is the erosion of religious devoutness that primarily causes the reproductive sterility of the high IQ (above 90), is that in the rare situations when there is a group of intelligent but also devoutly religious Christians, then the fertility may be high (at least above replacement levels): e.g. Mormons (who use birth control), and groups who do not (or seldom) use birth control such as the Anabaptists (e.g. Amish and Hutterites) or ultra-Orthodox Jews.

    So far as I know, among those of IQ above 90, no atheist, agnostic or modernist-religious groups attain even replacement levels of fertility under modern conditions.

    So, naturally enough, while high IQ people can in principle choose to be of high fertility, as a matter of observation they apparently never do actually make this choice en masse — except when orthodoxly religious.

  2. Isegoria says:

    I suppose the evidence that high-SES women are having children at less than the replacement rate is pretty clear, but is this situation permanent? Modern technology increased the opportunity cost of having children. Future technology may reduce the cost of having them. In-vitro is only going to get better, right?

  3. Bruce G Charlton says:

    Well, it’s apparently still getting worse.

    But — if the West survives — it would of course eventually self-correct. For instance, in the US, Mormons would probably become the dominant ruling elite within 100 years based on current trends.

    And, in general, those high-SES women who did have three-plus children would find their genes (including genes carrying the predisposition to have three-plus children) amplified as a proportion in each succeeding generation. (While the genes carrying the predisposition to be a sterile career-first women would become extinct very rapidly.)

    But I suspect other factors will supervene before these types of evolution could take effect.

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