Why ‘Older’ Cultures Are More Dishonest
Have you ever wondered why Chinese, Indians and Italians are generally less honest than Germans, Swedes or even Russians? Some of you might think that this difference is somehow linked to latitude, amount of sunlight in winter or genes. I have a different theory based on an old observation-
The general level of honesty prevalent in any group of people is inversely proportional to the time their ancestors lived under a large, centralized and highly hierarchical state based on violent coercion.
The first “civilizations” (aka ponzi schemes) started in the lower (and warmer) latitudes. Therefore parts of the world such as the Middle-East, Mediterranean Coast, Mesoamerica, India, Egypt, China had towns, cities and large kingdoms a few thousand years before anything comparable arose in Northern and Western Europe. It is my belief that the development of “civilizations” based on intensive and static agriculture based under a centralized and hierarchical regime is the single biggest reason behind the widely varying level of dishonesty across different cultures.
Here is why-
Humans beings have lived as hunter-gatherers for most of their history as a species. For all its supposed faults, this particular life-style had some major advantages over those of people in ALL pre-industrial agricultural societies. Apart from a low incidence of malnutrition and endemic infectious diseases, these societies had a very shallow hierarchy and those at the top of that hierarchy were in the same boat as their followers. Coupled with the inability to accumulate and transmit wealth over generations, these groups were remarkably free of people who were dishonest to their followers. Even the introduction of transient and semi-permanent agriculture did not change this situation to a significant extent.
Then large-scale static agriculture happened.
While this mode of food production and social organization had many differences from its predecessors; I am going to concentrate on one of those differences- effect on settlement size. While previous groups of humans rarely exceeded a few thousands, static and intensive agriculture allowed that number to routinely reach into the tens or hundreds of thousands. The leaders of such large groups (first kingdoms) were increasingly able to isolate themselves from their followers and potentially exploit them in ways that were hitherto not possible. The need to administer and efficiently exploit such groups also necessitated the development of needlessly complex and ‘tall’ hierarchies with all sorts of sociopath-friendly laws and regulations.
So here is my question- What type of personality would gain power in a very hierarchical society with many laws and regulations?
The answer is obvious, but seldom discussed in “polite” society. Such socio-economic systems would select, concentrate and reward people with significant sociopathic tendencies. This unnatural concentration of sociopaths near the lever of power has two knock on effects.
1. To survive under such a regime people would adopt the behavior and attitudes of their “elites”. Therefore such societies would quickly become cesspits of backstabbing, treachery and generalized dishonesty.
2. If sociopaths are successful and sociopathy is partly inherited- it is possible that older civilizations might have a higher percentage of sociopaths just because more offspring of sociopaths survive and attain power.
Now you might wonder- Is it possible to reverse dishonesty in cultures? The answer is.. Yes with one caveat. The process of doing that is kinda messy and involves destroying all major institutions (and their members) in a given society which translates into about 10-20% of the population. Only a fairly deep social reset, be it through natural disasters, war, or internal collapse can reliably make a society less sociopathic.
What do you think? Comments?