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?

  1. Webe
    July 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    What also moderates dishonesty is reality and necessity. Perhaps the demands posed by temperate climates (heat, good housing, warm clothing, hoarding crops to last the winter) kept people a little more honest (survival), and perhaps it also goes some ways to explaining the development path of western soceity.

    Nope, the northern part of China has a very temperate climate- but that did not translate into a more honest society than the one in its southern sub-tropical part. It comes down to static agriculture.

  2. samseau
    July 16, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    There are plenty of agricultural societies that were never that sociopathic.

    Agriculture is necessary, but not sufficient for sociopathy.

    Yes, that is correct. That is why I talked about the need for agriculture to be both static, intensive and under a centralized state.

    • May 8, 2016 at 6:05 pm

      Those “agricultural” societies that weren’t very sociopathic were most likely those practicing permaculture (which is more efficient, more productive and less labor intensive than static agriculture) and a marginal amount of agriculture, horticulture and hunting-gathering for variety. Permaculture supported larger population densities with little to no environmental degradation. Examples abounded in pre-Columbian North, Central and South America.

  3. July 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    While I generally like the evo-psych worldview, there are a few problems with this piece. It doesn’t mention the incredible level of corruption in Africa, where people have not lived for long under centralised hierarchies. Much of the continent was under European rule until the middle of the previous century.

    Corruption is not the same as dishonesty. Honest people can become very corrupt to stay alive.

    And can I take issue with this sentence:

    “…also **necessitated** the development of **needlessly** complex and ‘tall’ hierarchies…”.

    Was the complexity of the hierarchy necessary or not?

    I suspect that sociopaths can flourish under flatter structures than you think.

    They don’t survive for long under flatter systems.

  4. Joe
    July 16, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    “The answer is obvious, but seldom discussed in “polite” society.”

    Have you considered why this is the case? This deserves a few posts on its own. It seems the general public is not blameless if they’re unwilling to admit a problem even exists. Psychopathic behavior doesn’t get far in a vacuum, it must be enabled or ignored to a degree by normal people.


    Yes, so called ‘normal’ people do infact enable sociopaths in numerous and crucial ways. Will write about it an upcoming post.

  5. July 17, 2012 at 1:21 am

    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.

    Didn’t the Russians try that ? Instead they got a new generation of sociopaths…(insert ‘in soviet russia’ joke)

    • Trucidator Daemonum
      July 17, 2012 at 8:05 am

      This guy Advocatus of Shit is a fraud. He’s brainwashing you all into accepting population number reduction by pretending that he wants to eliminate “sociopaths”.

      • P Ray
        July 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

        There already is a population number reduction:
        It’s caused by 80% of women, chasing 20% of men.
        Don’t confuse number of births with number of adults – not everybody born, makes it to adulthood.
        So while he can try eliminating sociopaths, women have their own ideas.
        (Which lead to a lot of good drama movies). 🙂

  6. jhbowden
    July 17, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Honesty is a luxury item. It is a prerogative of powerful individuals and powerful civilizations, arising when one can tell others exactly what they think of them without consequence. Dishonest bullshitting (chivalry, courtesy, etc.) becomes more common politically disorganized periods, like the European middle ages. When there is no central authority, anyone getting dissed can have lethal consequences, both for the powerful and the powerless. People start using fake, flowery social conventions to prevent such unhappy outcomes from emerging.

    It isn’t an accident that the rise in the stock of honesty as a virtue coincided with the rise of capitalism, science, and Protestantism in Europe. Personal integrity was a sign one was part of the elect, that God was on your side. The irrational willfulness of honesty stands in sharp contrast to the rational dishonesty that resides at the soul of India. I like Indians; if they lack a capacity for great deeds, it is balanced by a similar inability to perform great evils.

  7. jhbowden
    July 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Many hippie whites like to believe Indian philosophy is mystical, just as they like to believe Indians are tolerant, selfless, agreeable, and forgiving, more Christian than Christians. This is pure sentimentality. All of India’s philosophies are excessively rational, more rational than anything found in Europe’s intellectual tradition. The spergy attitude is that if reason leads to counter-intuitive conclusions, well, so much for intuition.

    Why are Indians agreeable? They believe they can catch more flies with honey, not because they’re good Samaritans, because they like catching flies. Why are Indians tolerant? India has hundreds of tribal, Jew-like identities dividing people, yet hippies mistake Indian indifference to those in out-groups as a love of all God’s children, when the attitude is quite uncompassionate. Indian forgiveness is calculated cowardice, applicable at an individual level only and subject to change like the weather; the attitude is like, is there is a profit in holding a grudge? And Indian selflessness is pure greed. If I offered random Americans on the street a large sum of money in exchange for licking the dirt off my shoes for my own amusement, they may be a few people who take me up on the offer, though I’d risk getting my ass kicked, even and perhaps especially by lower income people for such insulting behavior. (SWPLs would be the ones most likely to degrade themselves.) In India, I’d risk getting swarmed by takers. They’re selfless because there is no strong sense of self; many readily steal because they calculate it is convenient and rational to do so. It is a spergish attitude more easily experienced than described.

    These cultural differences, in my view, are a mix of biological temperament and unstated theological/assumptions, which often amount to the same thing. In Spain, France, Italy — Catholic Mediterranean countries — one is supposed to sin, like racking up spiritual debt on a credit card to be paid off later. Are they Catholic because they are more sensual, impulsive, and in the moment, or are they sensual, impulsive, and in the moment because they are Catholic? A: Yes.

  8. Matt Strictland
    July 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    A pogrom tends to just replace one group of sociopaths with another. What you’d need is eugenic genetic engineering after the boom something we cannot do yet.

    Given the type of people ‘running’ the show at the moment, another group of sociopaths might be an improvement.

    • P Ray
      July 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      Eugenic genetic engineering is already happening.
      But it’s not apparent.
      I bring the exhibit of paternity fraud, false rape accusations, divorce theft, sexual harassment.
      All 4 of which boost women along to the dicks that they really want.
      Of course, such a genetic bottlenecking is now resulting in people less literate or rational.
      Oh well, few women care for the personality behind a dick if that’s all they want … 🙂

    • J.M.
      August 10, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      Well Advocatus, you can ask the Russians how well the other group of sociopaths did after the czar times were over…hahaha

  9. Mauro
    March 30, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Yours is a very keen observation, which can/ should be implemented with more observations and ramifications. A proof that you are right is that in Italy because of WW2 all its elite and system of power was removed and changed. During the following 25 years Italians were happier, became wealthier, generous, and with great human qualities. It didn’t last long, as the centralized system formed again, stronger than before, esp. built by parties with a strong centralized State ideology (leftist, communists, Catholics, right wing etc), with millions employees, “managers”, politicians, bureaucrats etc pretending they are necessary for the society, and the only way to run it, but who actually exploit all its resources, mainly by taxing as hell the remaining population, controlled with millions laws and rules, mostly debatable. So now there are widespread falsity, rudenessess, scheming people of all kinds, untrustworthyness etc.

  1. July 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm

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