Friday, 19 June 2015

A “negative-negative” relationship between religion and animal cooperation?

Over the past few months, I have absorbed a study by Carlos Botero of belief in “moralising high gods” – largely because of my interest in why atheism and consequent demographic decline and big government have become so persistent in the urban Enriched World, leading to the region’s likely economic obsolescence as it becomes unaffordable to live in due to crippling taxes and regulations.

For many years, the main arguments for the urban Enriched World’s atheism have been somewhat contradictory:
  1. the scarcity of natural resources and land in the Enriched World making family formation unaffordable (e.g. Mary Eberstadt’s How the West Really Lost God)
  2. extreme abundance of water, nutrients and protein producing natural egalitarianism and atheism in the Enriched World, hinted strongly at (if not explicitly) by a variety of authors such as:
    1. Tim Flannery in The Future Eaters
    2. John Snarey in ‘The Natural Environment’s Impact upon Religious Ethics: A Cross-Cultural Study.’
    3. Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel
    4. Gordon Orians and Antoni Milewski in ‘Ecology of Australia: the Effects of Nutrient-Poor Soils and Intense Fires’
It was for this reason that I was strongly attracted to Russell Gray and Carlos Botero’s ‘The Ecology of Religious Beliefs’ when it was published last November. I had hoped to find explanations for the cultural differences observed in the so-called developed world between conservative Australia and Red America and liberal Europe, East Asia, Blue America, Canada and New Zealand (the Republican West is quite morally liberal though extremely individualist and free-market).

As it turns out, whilst there are some explanations given for the atheism of today’s Enriched and Tropical Worlds, which fits very well with theory 2) about abundance of resources tending to discourage cooperation between individuals, Botero’s study has serious problems.
Societies with moralising high Gods in blue (top; from ‘The Ecology of Religious Beliefs’) versus percentage of avian cooperative breeders (middle; broadly defined from Dustin Rubinstein’s ‘Environmental Uncertainty and the Global Biogeography of Cooperative Breeding in Birds’) versus coefficient of variation of annual runoff (bottom; from Thomas Aquinas McMahon’s ‘Global Hydrology Part 3: Country and Climate Studies’)
The most crucial problem, of course, is that European societies with moralising high gods inherited the Christian God from Southwest Asia – a region which ecologically, as suggested by:
  1. Dustin Rubinstein’s study of cooperative breeding plus Holger Kreft and Walter Jetz in ‘A Framework for Delineating Biogeographical Regions based on Species Distributions’
    • (Southwest Asia is probably part of Afrotropical rather than Palearctic)
  2. Thomas Aquinas McMahon in Global Runoff: Continental Comparisons of Annual Flows and Peak Discharges
    • (Southwest Asia in part at least may share high runoff variability of Australia and Southern Africa)
is certainly closer to Australia and Africa than Europe. For an idea of the impact of European environmental conditions, it would be essential to study pre-Christian European societies, which Botero admits possible via written records.

A second point is that, since 1900 when the study was done, Indigenous Australians have become Christian to an extent greater than the European population, whereas indigenous Americans and Siberians have not accepted Christianity significantly despite longer efforts at evangelisation. Although one might sensibly argue conversions of indigenous Australians are analogous to those of Europeans and do not demonstrate suitability of Australia for moralising high gods, this does suggest that a map of moralizing high gods should focus upon indigenous populations and religion indigenous to a region much more than it is.

From the map, one sees that not all areas with frequent cooperative breeding (e.g. equatorial Africa) or high runoff variability (e.g. the Norte Chico in Chile) possess the other feature. It is, however, striking that several regions possess a distinct lack of all three traits monitored within the above charts:
  1. temperate South America
  2. Andean South America
  3. the Amazon Basin
  4. the Arctic Ocean drainage area
  5. the North Pacific Rim
  6. extratropical East Asia
In contrast, if we are careful about indigenous conversions brought about externally, only the Middle East seems to strongly possess all three traits, and does not do so to the most extreme extent with any single one. This implies that the three traits we have been studying may be much more linked by absence rather than by presence.

In my opinion, if absence of moralising high gods, absence of cooperative breeding in birds, and very low runoff variability are more closely linked than their opposites, it is likely that these three traits evolved in the Arctic and Pacific Rims in very recent geological times. Mountain uplift (which provides steep terrain that increases runoff ratios) and extreme oceanic enrichment (which provides animal protein in quantities unknown in previous geological eras) select very firmly against cooperation, especially in humid coastal lowlands adjacent to the mountains. Even when these regions have evolved agriculture and stratified societies, the underlying radical individualism has expressed itself – for example in emperor-worship and samurai culture where the law allowed the samurai to kill almost anyone he wanted to. It is seen even more clearly, as Rod Dreher notes, today.

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