The phrase “kinship intensity” is rare in the behavioural science literature, but it’s making a resurgence thanks to new understandings of genetics. Although the concept of kinship intensity has been thoroughly elaborated upon with regards to mate selection, its inevitable profound impact on our political philosophy has yet to occur. This essay gives a foretaste.
Kinship is the primary organising principle of human societies. The reasons for this have been described at length by evolutionary psychologists and by biologists in works such as The Selfish Gene. In short, kinship organises societies because organisms that co-operate socially are more likely to survive and to reproduce than ones who don’t.
The great political philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Chanakya, Machiavelli and Hobbes didn’t know about genes, and so they had no concept of kinship intensity. Aristotle was aware that families organised into villages, and villages into provinces, and provinces into nations, but he didn’t know that it was kin selection on the basis of shared genes that drove all of that.
Back in the old days, before the Age of Exploration and mass transit, almost everyone lived in a state of high kinship intensity. Most people only knew a couple of hundred other people from their village and a few regional luminaries like the local sheriff or priest. Virtually everyone was related to each other in some way. They celebrated each others’ weddings and birthdays all the time.
In the modern world, most people live in a low state of kinship intensity. Living in big cities, many people encounter strangers all day – not only people from other tribes but from other countries and continents. In big cities, one comes into contact with people whose natural behaviour is so different to one’s own that it seems alien.
This change – from medieval to modern – has had profound effects on our political attitudes.
When a society has a high degree of kinship intensity, people are much more generous and co-operative. It’s logical to be, because any given act of kindness is more likely to benefit someone like you. If many of your kin live in the same society, it makes sense to work towards the betterment of that society, perhaps even making sacrifices for it. Your kin will benefit, and will reciprocate.
When a society has a low degree of kinship intensity, people are much less generous and co-operative. This is also logical, because acts of kindness cost the same amount to perform but will benefit someone unlike you, who is unlikely to reciprocate it. If you’re the only one of your kin in a society, there’s very little reason to work hard to better that society.
The West has always been split into a high kinship intensity Old World and a low kinship intensity New World. As mass immigration continues, the kinship intensity of all societies in the West will continue to fall: the Old World will become like the New and the New World will become like Brazil. This will have predictable consequences for human political behaviour.
As the degree of kinship intensity in Western countries continues to fall, people will care less and less about the people on the bottom of society. Once rich people no longer have much in common with poor people, those rich people will stop wanting to pay taxes or donate to charities that help. Decreasing kinship intensity will inevitably lead to both lower taxes and a corporate mentality where other people are viewed as tools to generate profit, and not as human beings.
If the people you’re exploiting aren’t related to you, then who cares?
The more diversity there is in a society, the more willing people in that society are to exploit others. People tend to enslave outsiders if they can, rather than their neighbours. The Barbary Coast slave traders raided Europe for slaves; the plantation owners of the American South bought theirs from Africa. African slaves constitute the largest proportion of slaves traded today, mostly by Arabs.
By contrast, the societies with the least amount of exploitation are the homogenous ones. Japan, South Korea and Scandinavia are characterised by being high-trust, low-crime societies where people habitually contribute to the common good. Societies like these, with high degrees of kinship intensity, are like large families.
We can see from this that kinship intensity predicts a number of outcomes. The higher it is, the less within-group exploitation there is. The lower it is, the greater within-group exploitation there is.
Kinship intensity predicts outcomes such as weight of taxation. In societies with high kinship intensity (like Scandinavia), people are generally happy to pay high taxes, knowing that the tax money will benefit their kin. In societies with low kinship intensity (like America), people don’t want to pay any taxes, because they feel that the tax money will benefit those who aren’t their kin.
It follows logically, therefore, that lowering the kinship intensity of a society through means such as mass immigration will make people less willing to contribute to the greater good. This apparent selfishness makes perfect sense from a kin selection perspective, and will obtain until intermarriage makes the newcomers the same kin as everyone else (or until there is civil war).
So anyone who wants to have a culture in which people contribute to the greater good, instead of exploiting it, better support policies that maintain a high level of kinship intensity. Crucial to this objective is limiting immigration to a level at which the newcomers can be absorbed into the kin networks of the existing population, rather than forming their own parallel networks.
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