Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Blue And The Red

I found a really interesting article on how thermodynamics affects political persuasion. Conservatives and Liberals.

The Theory of Island Biogeography is a theory of species population distribution. There are major evolutionary implications in the ability of a species to distribute itself across space and time, not to mention the curious thermodynamics associated with this distribution. That is, species that can modulate their thermodynamic properties in response to environmental changes dramatically increase their probability of survival. In humans, there is no better example of thermodynamic modulation than conservatism and liberalism.

One of the more prominent biogeographic variations between conservatives and liberals is population density. The conservative-liberal asymmetries in population density are easily seen in the voting patterns of urban, suburban, and rural environments. As a general rule, the greater the population density, the more liberal the population. In the 2004 US Presidential Election, the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, won every city with a population over 500,000. This same pattern was repeated in 2008 with Barack Obama.

The mystical and long-standing relationship between liberalism and urbanism is common across all cultures, and raises several interesting questions: is this a self-selection process, whereby the conservatives flee to the suburbs leaving the big cities to the liberals; or, does urban life liberalize people? There is certainly much evidence for the self-selection effect, but we also believe that high-density living tends to liberalize people, although the evidence is less clear.
I had an interesting discussion with the author. I said that it was interesting that reproduction is lower in cities than in lower density areas. He said that was true of animal studies and seemed to be true for humans but it was not well researched in humans.

Here is an interesting bit:
In their groundbreaking study of island biogeography, M&W noted some interesting trends that apply directly to the study of political-religious disposition. First, a species that is able to establish populations on more than one island in an archipelago greatly reduces the risk of extinction. At first blush, this seems to be irrelevant to the study of conservatives and liberals. However, it is founded upon two behaviors that improve species viability: the ability to increase habitat range; and the ability to create genetic diversity. In other words, increase the habitat and genetic ranges, and increase the survival probability of a species, not to mention the acceleration in the rate of evolutionary change. From our information gathered so far, we believe that conservatives increase habitat range to a greater extent than liberals, and liberals increase genetic diversity to a greater extent than conservatives. Interestingly, conservatives and liberals, at opposite ends of the political spectrum, seem to be at the center of the survivability of the human species.
There is much more and it is one of the most interesting things I have read in a long time. Need I say that you ought to read it too?

What is my conclusion relative to politics? Both political parties are right about the proper way to live. In their ecological niches. If we wanted to help people prosper where ever they live we would have to change the geographical distribution of borders. But that might require a change to a City State model. Tough when things are already intermixed. How to square that circle? A libertarian model of politics would work. That is to say the government imposes the very minimum of social rules so that people can best live according to their particular geographical niche.

A book that covers the idea that political and technical change is geography specific from a somewhat different perspective is Geography and Revolution.

Cross Posted at Classical Values


Dymphna said...

This is fascinating. The book is pricey at 48.00, though. Even the used ones aren't cheap.

I went to the website, too. Good images to underline his points.

I'm going to ask my co-blogger to print that one out.

Must admit, I'm partial to counter-intuitive meta-explanations for behavior. Or maybe "meta" isn't the right term since he seems to be drilling down here...

...anyway, enthralling to read. When I'm done reading maybe I'll understand why more people are beginning to call themselves 'conservatives' than ever before.

Karridine said...

"Few things support the long-term reproductive capacity of a population better than an appropriate mixture of conservatives and liberals, as the conservatives optimize reproduction across space, and the liberals optimize it across time."

Lib-Con CORRIDORS... optimizing growth of BOTH

"I will raise up a NEW RACE of MEN..." might mean 'humans who understand and respect BOTH lifestyles while embracing neither'

Ms. Cris Ericson said...

it's simple. thermodynamics correctly interpreted
in relation to city people
as compared to non-city people proves that
city people live more closely together
where as non-city people
do not share heat.

A non-city person's home stands alone
surrounded by a yard or fields or woods
and does not emit any thermodynamic heat waves
which will reach their neighbor.

Now, the reason the city folk are voting so dumb
is in proportion to earlier in history
when it was proven
that the people in more northern climates
appeared to be more intelligent because they
HAD TO INVENT MORE to survive.

Now, the dummied down city folk have gotten lazy
so they want a commie socialist government.

Notice how smart that Alaskan Sarah Palin is?

Karridine said...

Not everyone KNOWS that the adaptation is organic but guys like me, who've left my (English-language) birthplace and learned to APPRECIATE Korean culture and Thai culture, IN Korean and IN Thai, have often learned that
'different' means 'its done differently here', and does NOT necessarily mean 'better here OR there' BECAUSE of the contextual Adaptative Imperative.

tomcpp said...

First of all, the "end state" of both ideologies should be mentioned. The "target" of progressive selection is the mindless automaton, 100% controlled by the state. People so hugely incapable of taking care of themselves that killing millions of them is easy. The "target" of conservatism is just the opposite : the lone family. Living in a tiny, self-sufficient village where the only reason for it's size is the number of men necessary for it's military defense, and otherwise as small as possible. One is totally free, but almost no-one can help when things go wrong. You see this in history : huge, city-bound civilizations, like the mayans or the muslims were eradicated in a time period that barely exceeds 10 years, when they overexerted centralized resources. Going from being the dominant military power of 2 continents to being hard-to-remember and totally abandoned.

There is one huge mistake in the article :

"Liberals do a much better job at the other major behavior associated with species survival, which is the ability to rapidly modulate their thermodynamic properties to match the available energy of a given habitat"

This presumes that there exists such a thing as a habitat with constant "thermodynamic properties", ie. a habitat where the food supply is constant. Where the weather (esp. from year to year) is constant.

In other words, progressives can only survive where there is massive pressure from the environment equalizing all other factors.

If this is true, in the middle ages there would hardly be any progressives at all, as they'd be quickly killed, if not by thieves, then by a famine, resulting in civil war in their high density environment.

It's also strange : I can see how this applies to the roman empire and medieval christians. BUT anyone who knows even a modicum of middle eastern (or even Indian or Australian) history knows these things don't apply there.

The middle east had exclusively high density population centers, and it was not possible to construct a countryside due to environmental limitations. Muslims very, very rarily spread to the countryside, no matter the amount of pressure there was behind it. If cities depopulated in the middle east, which happened regularly, they mostly died out. The end result was generally a large majority of christians in those areas.

Australia was just the opposite. Central cities shine mainly through their absence. For some reason the original southeast asians (not the people currently living there, either in australia, indonesia or even up until china) never made very big cities (even moderately large cities were more than a rarity), and only invasion could bring them.

Most of Northern America was similar until Columbus.

This is an interesting datapoint, but it's not the full story. Ideologies affect these mechanics.

M. Simon said...

First off I don't see an end state. I see interchange between city culture and country culture. Tending to moderate both.

And I disagree about Islam. There is a city culture and a country culture. The Wahhabis dominate Sunni Islam.

And the Taliban dominate in Afghanistan.

The Wahhabis are from a place called the empty quarter in Saudi Arabia. And the Taliban dominate in mostly rural Afghanistan.

Islam is rather unique in that it is really a two culture religion if you judge by the Koran. The "early" stuff is city culture and the later stuff is rural (nomad) culture.

As to energy modulation. True to at least some extent. It is why abortion is popular in city culture.

Cities of the future will be built under large transparent domes. It would cut energy use by 90 to 99%. It would requite an all electric city including transportation. It may be a while.

RavingDave said...

I have another explanation. Liberals are created by prosperity. The cities are hubs of trade, and excessive money and power are to be found their first.

I have a very well written book called "Leftism Revisited" that alleges all socialist movements are created and funded by the indolent wives and children of Wealthy and Powerful men.

New York was destined to be wealthy just because of it's geography. Same goes for the West coast of the U.S. where the port cities are.

The City mindset may contribute to the phenomenon, but it looks like wealth is the key factor to me. After all, poor people cannot afford stupidity. Only the rich can.

Jimmy said...

The world is much more boring than you might think. Middle class [generally white] people flee to the suburbs when they have children because they want to escape the busing system in America that buses their kids to non-neighborhood schools in neighborhoods populated by racial minorities. That move usually gets them to buy property--rather than rent--too, which means they start paying property taxes and have to deal with zoning boards and neighborhood governments. Children and real property ownership push suburb folk to the right.

M. Simon said...


You can be stupider in cities because resources are concentrated there.


That is true. You also have to consider that reproduction rates in cities are not self sustaining.

WHT said...

Mixing cause and effect perhaps.

Plus what does this have to do with thermodynamics?

The population of cities follows a power law which reflects closely the simple dispersion in travel.

If you are interested in this, read my latest post on http://theoildrum.

M. Simon said...


I'm partial to studies which confirm parallel behavior in humans and animals.

In addition dispersion in cities may not be the same as dispersion in a rural/city habitat.

Thermo is about heat and the ability to do work. Among other things.

Does your piece explain why there might be significant differences in culture between city and rural folks? I'll soon find out.

Well it made me think any way. And I have something else along similar lines in the works.

WHT said...

Might as well mention this article on the 2nd Law.

I finished reading the basis article. Some interesting connections between energy, entropy, and economic progress.

WHT said...

Oh, and to answer your question, no.

The model was a pure application of the Maximum Entropy Principle. No distinction was made between urban and rural. It all gets mashed up as entropic spread.

Stephan said...

My personal thoughts on rural vs. urban politics center on how well the people of the region understand government efficiency.

In rural areas, your average resident understands their tax money pays for goods and services rarely used (county sheriff, fire department) or poorly administered. (schools, roads, ect.) In this case, poorly administered equates to anything that could be bought more cheaply by pooling funds with neighbors. In rural areas, the system is nearly transparent, as residents can easily see what tax dollars are doing for them.

In urban areas, government provides a dizzying array of services with a level of complexity understood by few. Yet the system continues to function, year after year, so the average taxpayer assumes with a shrug that things are administered well, since it never required personal involvement. Urban systems are more likely to be horribly inefficient, facing few challenges from taxpayer oversight. Urban residents generally have no clue how much they overpay in taxes to cover all the waste generated by government entities.

Rural folks tend to want a smaller, more accountable government. Perhaps the city dwellers would want the same, if they had a clue.