Posted on July 7, 2023

Are We Doomed?

Jef Costello, American Renaissance, July 7, 2023

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Edward Dutton, Breeding the Human Herd: Eugenics, Dysgenics and the Future of the Species, Imperium Press, 2023, 306 pp., $29.00.

Rarely a book comes along that significantly changes how I view the world. I felt this way about Ricardo Duchesne’s The Uniqueness of Western Civilization and Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. Edward Dutton’s Breeding the Human Herd is just such a book, and I’ll bet that readers of American Renaissance will feel the same way.

Prof. Dutton is an unusual person. He read theology at Durham University and then went on to complete a Ph.D. in religious studies at Aberdeen University in 2006. In 2012, however, he switched his focus to evolutionary psychology and has since produced a remarkable number of books, and has an entertaining YouTube channel called “The Jolly Heretic.” He holds no fulltime university position but has been a guest researcher or research associate at universities in Sweden and Saudi Arabia and has been appointed honorary professor of evolutionary psychology at universities in Poland and Russia.

Breeding the Human Herd is an ideal introduction to the topic of eugenics. In admirably clear and engaging prose, Prof. Dutton’s book lays out the basic concepts of eugenics as well as the history both of its rise and its decline. Prof. Dutton defines eugenics as “the study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population in order to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable.” “Positive” eugenic policies are intended to increase the prevalence of desirable traits in a population (e.g., encouraging intelligent people to have children), while “negative” eugenics involves decreasing undesirable traits (e.g., “incentivizing those with low intelligence to limit their fertility”).

If all the book did was explain the basic concepts of eugenics, it would perform a valuable service. But the heart of Breeding the Human Herd is a demonstration of the power of eugenic theory to explain the decline of the West. Drawing upon a vast number of studies in the social sciences, Prof. Dutton argues that what we have witnessed since the advent of the Industrial Revolution is a dysgenic collapse, resulting in a steep decline in mental and physical health, as well as the decline of vital social institutions and social cohesion.

Particularly worthy of note is Prof. Dutton’s treatment of Leftist perversities as the result of a lack of genetic fitness. Leftists are, to use his unforgettable term, “spiteful mutants” whose “high mutational load” results in an unusually large number of physical and mental abnormalities. In the pre-industrial era, such individuals would probably have never reached adulthood. Prof. Dutton supports these claims by appealing to cutting-edge research in the social sciences — for example, studies that show a high correlation between espousing left-wing views and various heritable psychopathologies. This part of the book is particularly fascinating.

The basic thesis that the West is headed for dysgenic collapse is, of course, not new. It was predicted by scientists in the mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, these predictions led to the rise of the modern eugenics movement. Darwin himself argued that modern civilization had thwarted natural selection and had embarked on a dysgenic course. His words (quoted by Prof. Dutton) provide an ideal introduction to the topic:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of everyone to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

Up until the Second World War, eugenics was popular among the educated classes. This included those on the political Left — such as progressive novelist H.G. Wells and Nobel laureate and communist Hermann Muller. Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, and Bertrand Russell were also eugenicists. Until the Pope condemned eugenics in 1930, it had many Catholic advocates. Feminists and suffragettes were often outspoken eugenicists. Activists in Europe and the United States succeeded in getting many eugenic measures enacted, such as sterilizing violent criminals and prohibiting the mentally retarded from marrying.

Endowed chairs, journals, and entire academic departments were established in the name of eugenics. Interestingly, opposition came primarily from conservatives, who objected to eugenics mainly on religious grounds. Today, of course, the situation is reversed, and only those on the far-right speak positively of eugenics, with leftists opposing it with febrile intensity — though largely on grounds no more rational than appeals to religious faith (e.g., the insistence that “all lives are valuable” and that standards of mental and physical health are “oppressive”).

Now that the Left has a stranglehold on the mainstream media and the educational system, eugenics has been totally anathematized. What led to this reversal? If you think that all the blame can be laid at Hitler’s door, think again. The real story is more complicated. Later on, we will very briefly explore Prof. Dutton’s take on the decline of eugenics. But first we must turn to the heart of the book: his case for the dysgenic nature of modern civilization and his evolutionary explanations of modern pathologies.

Until around 1800, Westerners were subject to harsh Darwinian conditions that selected for robust genetic health. Infant mortality was at about 50 percent, and those born with disadvantageous mutations (and virtually all mutations are disadvantageous) simply did not survive long enough to pass along their genes. Those who did survive were ideally adapted to their environment. They tended to be intelligent, mentally and physically healthy, and to possess “pro-social” personality traits (a concept we will explore later).

The Industrial Revolution resulted in substantially improved standards of living, as well as important medical breakthroughs. In turn, this caused the rate of child mortality to plummet (today it is only about 1 percent in the West) and the population to increase substantially. There were not just more people, but people with higher mutational loads. Under Darwinian conditions, most of these newcomers — Prof. Dutton estimates about 90 percent — would have been purged every generation. But now they were surviving long enough, in many cases, to reproduce. And it was the aforementioned Hermann Muller who taught us that mutational load increases with each subsequent generation if natural selection is removed from the equation.

Hermann Muller

We tend to think of genes as having very localized effects in the body. However, genes may affect more than one trait or indirectly impact others (a phenomenon known as pleiotropy). Thus, we tend to find that mutations that have a deleterious effect on physical characteristics may also have an impact on cognitive capacities or mental health — and vice versa. Physical and mental mutations therefore tend to parallel each other. As Prof. Dutton notes, the genetically unfit populations that arose in the post-industrial West

would be expected to deviate in all directions from the population of 1800 due to their greater genetic diversity, this diversity being specifically caused by damaging low frequency genetic variants that arose recently as new mutations and didn’t get removed by Darwinian selection pressures. This would be especially obvious in terms of intelligence, average personality and related inclinations, and physical and mental health. [These] would be inter-related due to pleiotropy and the brain would be a huge mutational target [given that 84 percent of our genes are expressed in the brain].

To make matters worse, in advanced societies, the genetically healthy are now less likely to pass along their genes, while the genetically unhealthy are, so far as they are able, more likely. We are thus witnessing the decline of adaptive traits of all kinds, and a rise in maladaptive ones. Intelligence is declining, as well as pro-social personality, religiousness (which neo-Darwinians argue is adaptive), mental health generally, and physical health. The weakening of selection pressures means that not only are certain positive traits disappearing, but the opposite traits are being selected for. This process of the “crumbling genome” is essentially what is meant by “dysgenics.”

Let’s consider first the decline in intelligence. Studies of identical twins have confirmed that IQ is in the region of 0.8 heritable, which means that 80 percent of differences in individual intelligence are the result of genetics. The environmental component to intelligence is intellectual stimulation and nutrition, which is needed to push a child’s IQ to realize its full potential. IQ is correlated with wealth: wealthy people tend to be smarter, because intelligence is needed to create wealth. Even in the case of inherited wealth, intelligence is needed to maintain it or cause it to increase. The flipside of this is that poverty is correlated with low intelligence. In pre-industrial England, wealthy people had more children, as they were better able to care for them, whereas the poor were most impacted by child mortality. Some couples had no children who survived into adulthood.

This pattern has now been completely reversed — a fact that is well known to readers of American Renaissance. Today, the lower one’s IQ and socio-economic status, the more likely one is to have children. And most of these children survive, given that even indigent mothers can avail themselves of modern medical advances and social welfare programs. By contrast, affluent people with high IQs have few children or none at all. This means people with low IQ are proliferating.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to this situation. Since the use of contraception is associated with impulse control and the ability to plan for the future, more intelligent people tend to use it — exactly the opposite of what we would wish to be the case. Feminism has encouraged intelligent women to devote their most fertile years to education and career, which means they have few children or none.

The rise of the welfare state removed any incentive for low-IQ, low-income individuals to limit their number of offspring. Indeed, state child-support payments have incentivized these people to be even more fertile. Prof. Dutton (echoing the views of Volkmar Weiss) even argues that democracy itself has impacted the relationship between fertility and intelligence: “[Those] of low socioeconomic status vote . . . for parties that redistribute resources from the productive to them, allowing them to be ever less concerned about limiting their fertility.”

Using proxies for intelligence (such as reaction-time studies conducted in the 19th century) as well as the results of modern IQ testing (which has been used since 1904), researchers have estimated that intelligence has been declining in the post-industrial West by about one IQ point per decade. If this trend continues, the average IQ of white Westerners, currently 100, will be around 85 by the middle of the next century, which is the current average IQ of American blacks.

Blue Plaque- World’s First IQ Test, Haslingden Health Centre. Photo credit: Robert Wade, CC BY-SA 2.0

However, as noted earlier, it is not just intelligence that is declining. There is also a measurable decline in “pro-social” personality, which is exactly what it sounds like: the sort of personality that is conducive to peaceful, cooperative relations with others in a social group. Pro-social personality overlaps with what has generally been considered to be “good character.” Psychologists argue that it comprises the following elements: extraversion, low neuroticism, high conscientiousness, high agreeableness, and high openness (e.g., intellectual curiosity and a desire for novelty). These traits are substantially independent of intelligence (e.g., there are highly intelligent extroverts and introverts), and they predict important life outcomes.

Prof. Dutton argues that the Industrial Revolution led to the breakdown of selection for pro-social personality. As noted earlier, the elimination of conditions of Darwinian selection entails a rise in mutational load. This increase has been about 1 percent per generation, or a 4 percent increase in mutational load over the last one hundred years. In other words, more people are surviving and reaching adulthood who deviate from the traits selected for up until around 1800. Among other things, this means that there would be substantially more people exhibiting lower extraversion, high neuroticism, low conscientiousness, low agreeableness, and low openness. Insofar as pro-social traits are measurable, studies show that they have indeed declined over the last century. Of course, to confirm Prof. Dutton’s thesis — that this decline is due to the increase in mutational load — we would need solid evidence that the pro-social traits are heritable. Aside from neuroticism, to my knowledge that has not yet been clearly demonstrated.

However, a number of mental illnesses have certainly been proven to be heritable: these include depression, psychopathy, schizophrenia, and ADHD. There has, in fact, been a significant increase in the incidence of these disorders — and others — over the last 100 years, consistent with what we would expect if mutational load is rising. In 1938, between 1 and 5 percent of American university students scored above the cutoff point for various measurable psychopathologies. By 2007, this had increased to an astonishing 40 percent. Around 23 percent could be characterized as schizophrenic (a six-fold increase), 6 percent as depressive (a seven-fold increase), and 40 percent as suffering from “hypomania,” one of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. And these are just three examples. Even if we grant that criteria for having these disorders may have changed and that psychologists could be casting a somewhat wider net, these figures are disturbing.

Prof. Dutton argues that the weakening of Darwinian selection pressures would be expected to result in a rise in leftism, along with the rise in mental disorders. This is one of the most interesting aspects of his book. Readers are doubtless familiar with attempts by leftists to label “racism” or conservatism in general as a mental disorder. Prof. Dutton is not engaging in this sort of tactic, however. Instead, he appeals to recent studies showing a high correlation between far-left views and psychopathology. In contrast, holding conservative views is associated with a lower incidence of heritable psychopathologies — as well as a lower incidence of congenital abnormalities of all kinds.

Ultimately, Prof. Dutton’s conclusion is that the rise in mutational load results in the rise of the looney Left and accounts for the androgynous, effeminate men and shapeless, unfeminine women one often sees marching for “social justice.” High mutational load usually entails, as noted earlier, physiological weaknesses of various sorts and often an unattractive appearance. Interestingly, test subjects in psychological experiments tend to rate the faces of anonymous, self-identified conservatives as more attractive. Such characteristics as having a symmetrical face and body and (in men) significant height and strength are considered attractive and are associated with genetic health (i.e., low mutational load).

Studies have shown that being left-wing correlates with low agreeableness, low conscientiousness, and high neuroticism. More than 50 percent of females under the age of 30 who identify as far-left have been diagnosed with a mental illness, most often depression. Depression is significantly less prevalent on the political right. Being far-left has also been found to correlate with the so-called “dark triad” personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. The most conspicuous of these traits is narcissism — something we have all noticed in SJW-types. These are highly insecure individuals with a fragile sense of identity who crave approval and adoration from others. They attempt to achieve these by signaling their adherence to the values and beliefs that prominent authority figures have declared to be morally correct. They expect, in return, approval and “likes,” from which they derive a sense of self-worth. But this situation is highly unstable. If those beliefs are questioned — or, worse yet, if their signaling is met with skepticism or ridicule — they fly into fits of narcissistic rage. Interestingly, transsexualism strongly correlates with borderline personality disorder and narcissism.

Leftists claim that they are concerned about equality and about injustice done to others. Conservatives suspect that they are insincere, and psychological testing largely bears this out. Leftists do identify with groups or individuals whom they see as low in power, but this is because they perceive themselves as weak and thus also low in power. They place so much emphasis on equality because they feel they deserve more power than they have. Leftists are also concerned with harm avoidance, insofar as they feel that others have power over them, which makes them feel oppressed. Since they perceive themselves as physically weak, leftists feel they have no choice but to try to acquire power by any means.

Thus, they virtue signal about equality and harm avoidance. This is clever, because most people fail to recognize it as a strategy for attaining status and power. Leftists also “victim signal,” another covert means of attaining power, strongly correlated with narcissism and Machiavellianism. As Prof. Dutton writes, the leftist “loudly proclaims that he is compassionate and kind in order to hide the fact that he is selfish and ruthless and in order to allay his own feelings of inferiority by convincing himself and others of his moral superiority.” He cites one psychological study that identifies “malicious envy” as the single biggest motivator of radical leftists.

I will note that although these findings are extremely interesting, they add little to what Friedrich Nietzsche was already saying about the Left in the 19th century. Principally in The Genealogy of Morals (1887), Nietzsche theorized that leftists (as well as the first Christians) were constitutionally weak individuals whose envy and resentment of the strong led them to concoct a “slave morality,” which inverts natural values and celebrates instead weakness, victimhood, and asceticism.

Nietzsche held that this morality is an expression of the concealed “will-to-power” of the “slave types,” who are essentially in revolt against life and everything that promotes health, happiness, and normalcy. To be sure, there is no talk of genetics in Nietzsche; no talk of mutational load. But Nietzsche intuited that something like this was the case, since he was adamant that a difference in “physiology” was the explanation for why some gravitate toward life-affirming values and others toward values that are life denying. Nevertheless, the “high mutational load” theory of the far left — which may turn out to be Prof. Dutton’s most important contribution — does improve upon Nietzsche by offering a precise causal explanation, in contrast to Nietzsche’s vague references to “physiology.”

Friedrich Nietzsche around 1869.

The result of the leftists’ Machiavellian play for power, Prof. Dutton theorizes, is a kind of runaway “ideological arms race” in which they compete with one another to denounce and undermine every evolutionarily adaptive practice or institution as somehow promoting inequality or injustice. Thus, we have now arrived at a point where logic is “racist”; masculinity is “toxic”; motherhood is denigrated as regressive; deviant sexuality is celebrated; and people are beautiful — and healthy — “at any size.” Eventually leftists wind up signaling that they are so moral and so consumed by guilt that they will abjure reproduction entirely (which, in the case of many of them, is making a virtue of necessity). In another of his books (Spiteful Mutants, 2022), Prof. Dutton aptly calls leftism a “death cult.” Nietzsche would agree.

Prof. Dutton describes leftist theories as “clever-silly,” meaning that they are the sort of silly ideas that intelligent people often manage to convince themselves of. For example, arguments supporting the idea that sex and race are “social constructs” are impressively sophisticated — in the literal sense that they exhibit sophistry. The ancient sophists were adept at devising clever arguments for falsehoods. The trouble is that most people are not trained in logic and so are intimidated by the pretentious jargon and casuistry of these arguments.

Most people usually encounter these arguments in universities, where clever-silly ideas are produced nearly in assembly-line fashion. Students are actively discouraged from asking critical questions about such ideas. But declining intelligence means that fewer and fewer are able even to formulate the questions. Prof. Dutton argues that one of the most dangerous things about spiteful mutants is their ability to corrupt the healthy. Individuals who would not otherwise be drawn to maladaptive beliefs or practices such as atheism, anti-natalism, white self-hatred, or deviant sexuality are frequently influenced at least to dally with them by the spiteful mutants who dominate education and social media.

Prof. Dutton writes:

As mutational load rises, [relatively healthy people] will increasingly come into contact with mentally unhealthy people, such as congenital sufferers from depression. This will cause a sense of depression throughout society, because there is a strong environmental element to depression and it has been shown to be contagious. These people tend to think in maladaptive ways: they promote the view that life is pointless, they promote atheism and the view that life has no meaning, and, being high in negative feelings, they attack traditional and adaptive societal institutions, such as organized religion which has been shown to be adaptive. In effect they indirectly help to increase mental illness in society [by] promoting nihilism and materialistic ways of thinking.

The discussion of religion and atheism in Breeding the Human Herd is another of the book’s highlights. Prof. Dutton defends at length the thesis that religion is evolutionarily adaptive. Studies show that religious people have lower rates of physical and mental illness. When they do become ill, they are more likely than atheists to recover. They are longer lived, more likely to be married, less likely to divorce, and far more likely to have children. They have lower rates of depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction, and they report higher subjective levels of happiness and satisfaction with life. None of this means that religion is true; it simply means that having a religion seems significantly to promote human flourishing.

This should be unsurprising. Religion is a human universal: there is no culture on earth without religion. From the standpoint of the evolutionary psychologist, religion must have evolved because it is highly adaptive. Furthermore, it evolved in all human societies, because it appears to be critically important both to the health of individuals and the cohesion of groups. Prof. Dutton thus argues that atheism — which has only become prominent in the post-industrial West — can be understood as a mutation, given the strong association between atheism and poor physical health and physical asymmetry. Atheists also have higher rates of mental illness, including autism, and on personality tests they tend to score low in agreeableness, low in conscientiousness, and high in neuroticism. In short, the typical profile of the atheist is similar to that of the leftist, and it is no accident that the vast majority of atheists are leftists.

There is much else here that is extremely interesting, but at this point we must consider what Prof. Dutton projects for the future of the West. Unsurprisingly, he argues that the only way to arrest our dysgenic decline is through fairly drastic eugenic measures. We would need positive eugenic programs, such as giving financial incentives for healthy and intelligent couples to have as many children as possible. The problem here is that judgments would have to be made as to which couples are healthy and intelligent and which are not. Such judgments are currently forbidden in the modern West, where even the concept of health has been challenged as oppressive and “exclusionary” (it excludes the unhealthy, which might hurt their feelings).

Furthermore, negative measures would be necessary, such as incentivizing the unhealthy and unintelligent not to have children. Since this would not be foolproof, it would also be necessary in some cases actively to prevent the worst genetic material from reproducing. This would mean that large numbers of blacks and the lowest-IQ members of other races would have to be stopped from breeding. Indeed, Prof. Dutton argues that this should apply to anyone with an IQ below 92. At present, of course, this is culturally and politically impossible.

Needless to say, the specter of Hitler would immediately be invoked. In addition, even many of those one would expect to be in favor of such measures are likely to oppose them. We have discussed at length the relative physical and mental health of conservatives, and, surprisingly, Prof. Dutton even cites evidence that there is a high correlation between being rated as physically attractive (as conservatives often are) and accepting the principles of evolutionary psychology. Attractiveness, as we’ve already seen, connotes physical symmetry, which in turn connotes low mutational load. Such people are more mentally healthy, thus more logical, and thus, in Prof. Dutton’s words, “less overwhelmed by feelings of resentment which might cause them to try to create a self-esteem enhancing yet empirically inaccurate worldview.”

The trouble, however, is that conservatives are likely to be religious, which in the West usually means Christian. Christianity acts to thwart the healthy tendency of its adherents toward what we might call “natural eugenics” (i.e., the “gut feeling” that health and intelligence are good and that those with them should breed, and those without should not). As noted earlier, in the modern West, opposition to eugenics has frequently come from religious conservatives. Whatever psychological benefits may accrue to its adherents, Christianity is a fundamentally dysgenic belief system, for it preaches egalitarianism and opposes “love of one’s own” with an impossible ideal of “universal love.” (Nietzsche was right about Christianity, too.)

Prof. Dutton theorizes that the decline and anathematizing of eugenics was not so much due to Hitler as to the dysgenic decline itself. Rising mutational load entails the proliferation of people who would fervently oppose eugenics precisely because eugenic measures would have made their own existence impossible. Prof. Dutton argues that high mutational load is responsible for the rise of individualism — that is, the tendency to think selfishly in terms of the individual good rather than the good of the whole. Large numbers of Westerners are now individualists, either because they are spiteful mutants or because they have been influenced by them. In such a world, how can eugenics, with its emphasis on the good of the group over the individual, ever get off the ground?

Does this mean we are doomed? Not quite. We can attribute the proliferation of those with high mutational load in the last two hundred years to the fact that while industrialization drastically reduced infant mortality, for a long time people continued to reproduce as if the child mortality rate were still high (i.e., they still reproduced as if they were expecting some, or most, of their children to die). This is no longer the case, and native Westerners now produce far fewer children. In addition, rising mutational load means a rise in maladaptive beliefs or practices, which diminish the likelihood that “mutants” will reproduce.

As Prof. Dutton puts it, “rising mutational load results in a growing percentage of mentally unstable people with maladaptive inclinations but where these lead to them not desiring to breed then the relatively high presence of such people can only be transient.” Those who do want to have children tend, as we have seen, to be conservative and traditionally religious. Thus, we can expect that this population — which Prof. Dutton treats as effectively “a remnant population from pre-industrial times” — will gradually grow, while the number of spiteful mutants will decline. Unfortunately, given current trends, we should not expect the victors in the competition for reproduction to be particularly bright. Nevertheless, there will always be outliers, including those with unusually high IQ. Here lies the hope.

There is much else of interest in Breeding the Human Herd that I haven’t the space to cover. I must say that I do have some reservations about Prof. Dutton’s approach. Like most Darwinians, he tends to oversell genetics to the point of almost entirely discounting the role of environment, as well as the power of ideas. For example, it is entirely true that more people in the West today are depressed than ever before. But is this because of rising mutational load, or because the lives of modern Westerners are almost totally devoid of meaning? A friend once reported that his twenty-something daughter said to him, “My generation is the generation that discovered life is meaningless.”

There is a general consensus that our cultural decline speeded up in the 1960s. But is genetics really a plausible explanation for that? Has the genetic profile of Westerners really changed that much since the middle of the last century? Are there really that many more spiteful mutants? Prof. Dutton does discuss the power of spiteful mutants to corrupt the relatively healthy, but I do not think he gives this sufficient emphasis. Yes, we’ve all noticed those shapeless, raging leftists that social-media accounts such as Libs of TikTok specialize in showcasing. Spiteful mutants appear to be a real thing, but they appear to be a relatively small minority. The real political problem in our society is that large numbers of relatively healthy and normal people have been influenced by this small minority at least to pay lip service to bad ideas.

They do this for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is due to cowardice and conformity, which one sees even among professional athletes (i.e., people with symmetrical bodies and thus low mutational load). Sometimes it is due to the fact that people cannot see the problems that come along with bad ideas and have accepted them in good faith. But this means that our efforts cannot be entirely focused on out-breeding leftists. We must also continue trying to change minds — at least those minds that can be changed.

That being said, Breeding the Human Herd is fascinating and thought provoking. Truly, only a spiteful mutant could dislike Edward Dutton and his book. Prove your genetic fitness and read Breeding the Human Herd today.