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Home arrow History arrow Life History Evolution and Sociology: The Biological Backstory of Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010


1. As reviewed by the present author (Herder 2015c) and treated in other sources (Raath 1990; Gross 1996; Leimar et al. 2006; Pfennig and Pfennig 2012), morphs are extremes of morphological and behavioral variation contained within a species. Combing close paraphrasing and quotation from Herder (2015c), the following passage illustrates morphological variation through one of its acknowledged exemplar species:

Uta stansburiana, the male side-blotched lizard, while still being contained within the same species, has three distinct behavioral and physical forms: The large orange throated lizard is aggressive and dominant; the dark blue throated lizard is highly territorial, staking a modest claim but defending it vehemently; the yellow throated lizard is furtive, stealing copulations from unsuspecting conspecifics (Bodine 2003).

In effect, a side blotched lizard can survive by brute force, vehement territoriality or clandestine treachery. All three morphs are competing for the same goal (mating opportunities), but doing so with distinct strategies and correspondingly distinct physical forms (Hawley 2011).

In five of the six years of observing these competing lizard factions, the aggressive orange throated lizards were superior, meaning that orange lizards were more successful than blue and yellow rivals in securing mates and producing offspring (Bodine 2003). While proportions fluctuate annually, it seems that the dominance of orange throated lizards cannot drive the other two morphs from representation within the population.

If there were, by happenstance, an excessive abundance of dominant orange throated lizards, the territoriality of the blue throated lizard and the stealth of the yellow throated lizard would become more adaptive, thereby correcting the imbalance. Aside from this example, morphological variation has been catalogued in many phylogenetically diverse species.

  • 2. Asymmetrically fissile bacteria simply imply non-symmetric division during replication. Instead of budding along a midline or a midpoint, asymmetrically fissile bacteria bud by cleaving a small portion of their total size.
  • 3. Malthusian is the adjectival use of Malthus, referring to Thomas Robert Malthus (1878), an English divine and early demographer who wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population: Or, A View of Its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness, with an Inquiry Into Our Prospects Respecting the Future Removal or Mitigation of the Evils Which It Occasions. As described by Cremaschi (2015) or Hughes (2015), for instance, one finds that Malthus’s writing on competition influenced Darwin’s conception of natural selection. This is because selection of superior over inferior types can only occur amidst finite resources.
  • 4. Hewlett, Lamb, Leyendecker, and Scholmerich, (2000, p. 160) are cited here because they conducted an anthropological study from a life history perspective wherein the Aka and Ngandu peoples of Africa were compared with “Euro-American households ... located in relatively wealthy suburban Washington, D.C.” As Hewlett and colleagues document, “infant mortality in such communities is less than 1%, child mortality less than 5%.” Hewlett et al. additionally report that “Mid-adulthood mortality is rare in upper- middle-class communities, and chronic diseases are the primary causes of death in adulthood (e.g., coronary artery disease, cancer).” So, in what seems to be a wealthy superzip in the greater Washington area, the K strategy is expressed and is consonant with the low extrinsic mortality of the environment.
  • 5. Hiding behind the word structure is an unfortunate morass of complexity. The body of the text will describe how the environment changes across space and through time, but it avoids the important issue of the social environment. Physical and temporal environmental change certainly drives life history evolution, but humans themselves, in competition with one another, actually drive much within population variation across life history traits. This is why it is possible to get the great degree of life history variation that Murray describes even within White America which descends more or less exclusively from Europe. To pursue this topic fully, the reader is referred to Hertler (2015c) which describes the same process while treating the overlapping concept of personality. To pursue the theme presently, the following synopsis is provided:

Certain biological traits work best in one form, and so are driven to fixation. Fixation indicates no variation. Very often, evolution grinds forward in this way, enforcing a homogenizing tendency; ensuring that the one best solution, whether it is acute vision or bipedalism, continues as the only solution. Alternatively, there are traits which are selectively neutral. Evolution does not stoop to notice them. These traits are allowed to vary because they are not affected directionally by evolutionary pressures. Variants a and p are equally functional, so no homogenizing tendency operates. Life history, like personality style and immunological profile, is among those few traits that are both evolutio- narily important and stably diverse. Such traits vary because no one value is best; rather a particular value represents a tradeoff that will bring advantages and disadvantages. A range of values across the trait results.

On such a trait, a population will exhibit a mean around which all members will fluctuate. Graphically, a trait like life history, though it will have a mean, will not form a peaked bell curve, but one flattened by excessive standard deviation. The mean, and the persons and familial lines that populate it, is ultimately calibrated by the environment. Were the environment stable and predictable, we would likely see less life history heterogeneity than we now observe. However, in addition to the physical and temporal variation described in the body of the paper; the environment also “can be conceptualized as social, and its variation can be conceptualized as socially generated” (Hertler 2015c; Gutierrez et al. 2013). So with this, there are three sources oflife history variation: geographic, temporal, social.

White America, though approximating an interbreeding population, will still derive moderate life history variation from the first source of environmental heterogeneity, being that it is a nation of immigrants. The second form of environmental heterogeneity can come slowly via climatic shifts or rapidly via anthropogenic change. Either way, staying in the same place is not a guarantee of the stability of an environment or its selective regime. The third form, the socially imparted source of environmental heterogeneity, most powerfully creates and maintains diversity. Diversity of types creates a mosaic of niches, often likened to a coral reef (Sherman et al. 2013). Again, in consequence of the joint operation of these forms of environmental heterogeneity, one does not get a bell curve, so much as a plateau or continuous distribution across which tradeoffs are made between somatic maintenance and reproductive effort, quality and quantity of offspring, late and early reproduction, which may have differential payoffs in the contexts of peace and war, surfeit and want, safety and violence. With unending phenotypic plasticity disallowing full facultative shifts in behavior, individuals are consequently selected to fall somewhere along the life history continuum. Thus r and then K strategists will be favored more or less across space, through time and within micro-niches.

  • 6. Phenotype refers to the ultimate expression of observable behavior; while plasticity refers to flexibility. Phenotypic plasticity is essentially the opposite of reflex and instinct. A behavior or organism is phenotypically plastic to the extent that they adjust their behavior to present demands.
  • 7. This remark can apply to programs like the National Educational Association’s Action Plan for Reducing the School Dropout Rate http://, but mostly refers to the many national campaigns now in place:
  • 1. National Responsible Fatherhood Clearing House 1. https://www.
  • 2. Promoting Responsible Fatherhood 2.
  • 3. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (3.
  • 4. The President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (4. http://www.
  • 5. announces-steps-reduce-dropout-rate-and-prepare-students-college-an

This link describes how the “Obama Administration has committed $3.5 billion to fund transformational changes in America’s persistently low-performing schools. Additionally, the President’s FY 2011 budget includes $900 million to support School Turnaround Grants. President Obama also emphasized the importance of investing in dropout prevention and recovery strategies to help make learning more engaging and relevant for students, and announced new efforts to invest $100 million in a College Pathways program to promote a college readiness culture in high schools, through programs that allow students to earn a high school diploma and college credit at the same time.”

  • 8. This can be seen when elephants or other undulates find their way onto a predator free island. While resources remain abundant, their life histories remain stable (Hertler 2016). Also, see MacDonald (1997) who discusses how resource gluts can actually promote a fast life history.
  • 9. Darwin 1874, Descent of Man, pp. 151-152; quoted in Hofstader 1944/ 1992, p. 91)
  • 10. Boasian is the adjectival use of Boas, the surname of Franz Boas, an influential German-American anthropologist famed for his ostensible refutation of hereditarian, biological, and Darwinian explanations. With Margaret Meade, Robert Lowie, Alfred Kroeber, Ruth Benedict, Otto Klineberg, and others of note among his students, Boas perpetuated a non-reductive and circular explanation of human nature and cultural variation. In the words of Meade, “we are forced to conclude that human nature is almost unbelievably malleable, responding accurately and contrastingly to contrasting cultural conditions” (Degler 1991, p. 134).
  • 11. Muller’s Ratchet, named for H. J. Muller, refers to the way in which asexually reproducing organisms accrue mutations across generations, which cannot be shed (Muller 1964). Mutations ratchet upward. Sex brings genomic recombination; and recombination allows mutations to be purged and counterweighted (Felsenstein 1974; Crow 2005). The Red Queen, named for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland character, denotes an evolutionary arms race between species. The pathogens that we contend with have very short lives. Some bacteria reproduce every 20 minutes, and this fast generation time allows them to evolve extremely quickly (Sherrat and Wilkinson 2009). This can be seen in multiple drug-resistant bacteria.

Additionally, bacteria have mechanisms that actively augment their mutation rates under times of stress. Viral strains also mutate routinely and rapidly. Human generation times are so much slower that we could never match the pathogenic rate of mutation. Instead, variation is gained by sex rather than mutation. By recombining sexually we create unique persons, distinct in chemistry, distinct in natural flora, and distinct in immunological profile. The operation of both Muller’s Ratchet and the Red Queen can be observed in non-obligate sexually reproducing organisms, those that can choose to reproduce sexually or asexually. Among non-obligate sexual reproducers, earthworms near Chernobyl exposed to radiation were observed to more routinely outcross (Wolf and Figueredo 2011) and experimental introduction of bacteria increases outcrossing among C. elegans, a type of round worm (Morran et al. 2011).

  • 12. “Building on the work of Hamilton (1964), Dawkins (1976), Thiessen and Gregg (1980), and others, the kin-selection theory of altruism was extended by Rushton in his Genetic Similarity Theory. Rushton et al. (1984) proposed that, if a gene can better insure its own survival by acting so as to bring about the reproduction of family members with whom it shares copies, then it can also do so by benefiting any organism in which copies of itself are to be found. This would be an alternative way for genes to propagate themselves. Rather than merely protecting kin at the expense of strangers, if organisms could identify genetically similar organisms, they could exhibit altruism toward these “strangers as well as toward kin. Kin recognition would be just one form of genetic similarity detection” (Rushton 2000; p. 74). What Rushton is saying is this: We favor and sacrifice our interests to relatives sometimes because they share our genes ... we ally with family because they are related to us ... extending this, he is saying that we ally with similar others because they possibly are more genetically related to us then dissimilar others. This explains xenophobia, in-group preferences, as well as attraction to friends and mates that are like us not only racially but across a wide spectrum of emotional, value- based, and behavioral traits.
  • 13. This will not apply to immunity; but it does apply to values, behaviors, and life history traits (Thornhill and Gangestad 2008).
  • 14. Assortative mating can effect population change even without the traditional barriers of space, rivers, and mountain ranges. Assortative mating can even lead to speciation; a type of speciation called sympatric speciation which has taken place among the cichlid fish of Lake Victoria (Johnson et al. 1996) and is even now thought to be driving speciation in mole rats, cicadas, and the European corn borer moth (Wolf and Figueredo 2011).
  • 15. Murray uses the term bubble to refer to an insulating subculture of elitism that limits contact with those outside elite areas. He uses a self-rating to

measure the thickness of his reader’s bubbles, asking about anything from beer preferences to television use.

  • 16. Some of this information and much of its ordering was also taken from a timeline that can be found at: htm
  • 17. Of course, there is a potential and oft realized dark side to elite contributions, which take various forms including social control, oppression, exploitation, slavery, peonage, and the like. Elite Kstrategists, like all other people and organisms, are inherently self-interested. So, while their pursuit of selfinterest may raise the mean standard of living and community functionality, because their motivation is subject to conscious and unconscious self-interested calculation it might also be detrimental.
  • 18. A millennium of genetic drift in Iceland (Wade 2006) and the medieval augmentation of Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence (Cochran and Harpending 2009) are among the examples of rapid evolutionary change documented within historical times, which support the recent understanding that human evolution, rather than stopping at the end of the Paleolithic Era, continued into modernity and is still occurring.
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