Saturday, November 28, 2015

A pauper's death

The Pauper, 1894-1895, Theodor Kittelsen. This and other works by Kittelsen have appeared on Norwegian black metal albums


Black metal is a musical subgenre that grew out of death metal and, more broadly, heavy metal. In general, it pushes certain aspects of this genre to even farther extremes: fast tempos, shrieking vocals, and violent stage acts. Black metal bands can be found almost anywhere—Europe, North America, East Asia, even Indonesia and Israel.

In one country, however, it has developed differently, taking violence off-stage and into the political arena. That country is Norway. In the early to mid-1990s, black metallists launched a wave of arson attacks on churches, including one dating from the 12th century. By 1996 there had been 50 church burnings, with similar attacks spreading to Sweden.

Those convicted showed no remorse, and lack of remorse still prevails among many in the black metal scene:

Many, such as Infernus and Gaahl of Gorgoroth, continue to praise the church burnings, with the latter saying "there should have been more of them, and there will be more of them". Others, such as Necrobutcher and Kjetil Manheim of Mayhem and Abbath of Immortal, see the church burnings as having been futile. Manheim claimed that many arsons were "just people trying to gain acceptance" within the black metal scene. Watain vocalist Erik Danielsson respected the attacks, but said of those responsible: "the only Christianity they defeated was the last piece of Christianity within themselves. Which is a very good beginning, of course". (Wikipedia, 2015b)

Why this hostility to Christianity? And why is it more extreme in Norway? These questions are raised in a review of black metal around the world:

Individualistic and anti-Christian rhetoric is common across the American death metal scene, and metal bands worldwide look to native traditions as a means to combat cultural hegemony [...], yet nothing on the scale of the crimes in Norway has occurred elsewhere. (Wallach et al., 2011, p. 198)

One reason is the role of organized religion in Norwegian life. Although there are other denominations, the Church of Norway is the leading one and receives State support. Despite recent legislation in 2012 to weaken this relationship with the State, all clergy remain civil servants, the central and regional church administrations remain part of the state administration, all municipalities must support the Church of Norway's activities, and municipal authorities are still represented in its local bodies (Wikipedia, 2015a)

As either a partner or a rival of the government, the Church of Norway has helped to make public policy: first, the postwar expansion of the welfare state and, later, the boycotts against South Africa. Now, it is leading the push for large-scale non-European/non-Christian immigration, which began in the early 1990s through the "sanctuary movement." By 1993, as many as 140 congregations were housing 650 Albanians from Kosovo. By reframing immigration in moral terms, the Church made it that much harder to place limits on it, since morality is normally perceived in absolute terms, e.g., murder is always wrong, and not wrong within limits (Lippert and Rehaag, 2013, pp. 126-129).

After a lull, this movement is once more on the upswing:

As the group of unreturnable refugees in Norway has risen over recent years, churches have again become places for public appeals for these groups, through hunger strikes, tents camped as protest at the walls of central churches, and asylum marches following old pilgrimage paths. (Lippert and Rehaag, 2013, p.129).

The Church of Norway is now working with Lutherans elsewhere in Northern Europe to facilitate immigration from Africa and the Middle East. At a meeting this year in Trondheim, the Lutheran World Federation pushed for three measures: expansion of Italy's Mare Nostrum initiative to the entire Mediterranean; creation of "safe passage" corridors for migrants; and "just distribution" of migrants within Europe (Anon, 2015).

Norway is not the only country where churches have been promoting African and Muslim immigration, but church involvement is especially pivotal there and in Scandinavia as a whole. Because immigration was very limited until recent decades, it is legitimized much more by Christian universalism than by a pre-existing tradition of immigration, as in the United States, Canada, and France. A second reason is the relative dominance of one State-supported church and the unthinking adherence of most Scandinavians, even atheists, to the Lutheran tradition. Thus, in comparison to other predominantly Christian societies, they can more quickly reach a policy consensus, or have one imposed on them.

When a stage act leaves the stage

This was the social context that radicalized Norway's black metal scene, causing it to go beyond the fake violence of stage performances. Wallach et al. (2011, p. 196) argue that the acts of arson had their roots in "disaffection and alienation from the dominant society," which many musicians tried to channel into "an extended campaign to return Norway to an idealized pagan past through acts of destruction."

That campaign failed. It foundered on the movement's nihilism and contempt for ordinary men and women. "Extreme metal in general does not lend itself well to inciting social change beyond its own scene, since the lyrics are frequently indecipherable and the musical characteristics are often confounding to the uninitiated listener" (Wallach et al., 2011, p. 196). Moreover, as a haven for disaffected people, the metal scene tended to attract loners, exhibitionists, and other misfits. Though perhaps better at seeing through the lies of mainstream society, they lacked the social skills to win the mainstream over to their point of view.

There were of course other reasons why they failed to win over the mainstream. The burning of historic churches antagonized Norwegians in general, including traditionalists and even many black metallists, thus making it easier for the police to crack down and sentence key individuals to lengthy prison terms. Commercial success caused others to become apolitical: "many black metal musicians are now attempting to focus on their actual music and do not want that to be overshadowed by social and political activism" (Wallach et al.,2011, p. 196).

Today, the black metal scene exists mostly as a weird subgenre:

Isolated acts of vandalism still occur, and some in the scene, like Gaahl of Gorgoroth, still engage in violence. Yet the incendiary rhetoric frequently leveled at Western urban society, multiculturalism, and Christianity has not produced the uprising and pagan resurgence that some in the scene claim to desire. (Wallach et al., p. 196)

And Breivik?

It would be tempting to see the church burnings as a prelude to Anders Breivik and the 2011 Norway attacks. Yet, by his own account, Breivik was never into black metal, preferring hip-hop instead. In his manifesto, he disparaged the Oslo metal scene as quiet and law-abiding, an indication that the church burnings had limited support even within that subculture.

[...] As for the right wing community at that time, it was simple. They loved metal and we loved hip-hop. Being into the very small right wing community or the larger mainstream rock community meant Goth girls and hard rock. I disliked both. The big irony was that they; Edward and his friends, were a lot more "normal" than us during this period. They were peaceful while we were violent. They followed the law and rules while we broke the law and ignored the rules again and again. At the same time, the hip-hop community was cheered by the media, praised as the pinnacle of tolerance among the new generation, while THEY were condemned for their political views, systematically harassed and beaten by non-white gangs, extremist Marxist gangs (Blitz etc) and the police. (Berwick, 2011)

During this time of his life, he saw young Muslim men as role models and looked down on "ethnic Norwegians" as sissies:

If I ever got in to trouble I expected my friends to back me up 100% without submitting or running away, as I would for them. Very few ethnic Norwegians shared these principles. They would either "sissy out", allow themselves to be subdued or run away when facing a threat. [...] The majority of people who shared these principles of pride was the Muslim youths and the occasional skinhead.

In time, Breivik became disenchanted, eventually leaving the hip-hop milieu after a personal incident. The more he associated with Muslims and antifas, the more his respect for them became a simple matter of "necessity":

In Oslo, as an ethnic Norwegian youth aged 14-18 you were restricted if you didn't have affiliations to the Muslim gangs. Your travel was restricted to your own neighbourhoods in Oslo West and certain central points in the city. Unless you had Muslim contacts you could easily be subject to harassment, beatings and robbery. Our alliances with the Muslim gangs were strictly seen as a necessity for us, at least for me. We, however, due to our alliances had the freedom of movement.

In short, there is no reason to believe that the black metal scene helped to push Breivik toward his terror attacks. The only elements common to both are Norway itself, its policy of demographic change, and the weak hold of mainstream culture on marginal individuals.


Aside from a few frozen islands and a brief claim to part of Greenland, Norway never had a colonial empire. Nor was it ever involved in the slave trade. Yet, today, the average Norwegian feels more guilt over having white skin and more deference toward dark-skinned people than do citizens of most European countries, including former colonial powers. This is a relatively recent development, being postwar and mostly post-1960—a time when Norway and other Scandinavian countries were striving to assimilate modern Western values, including antiracism.

Scandinavians have been very good at internalizing and acting out those values. They are like model students who have learned to outdo their teachers. This partly reflects—ironically—their cultural homogeneity and their ability to reach consensus and act collectively with little foot-dragging.

This also reflects certain profound psychological traits that characterize Northwest Europeans in general, with Scandinavians forming the epicenter. To the north and west of the Hajnal line, Europeans have long had weaker kinship ties and correspondingly stronger individualism. This social environment has in turn favored a greater emphasis on absolute, universally applicable rules, combined with a stronger desire to expel rule breakers. This system of morality differs from the relativistic, kin-based morality that prevails elsewhere in the world, where right and wrong are more a matter of whose side you are on ... and who does what to whom.

Moral universalism and moral absolutism have brought many benefits. They have enabled Northwest Europeans to free themselves from the limitations of kinship and build large high-trust societies that leave greater room for the individual. But such societies have an Achilles heel. They are vulnerable to people who play by a different rule book, be they native deviants who practice "selfishness for me and selflessness for thee" or immigrants from low-trust, kin-based societies ... in short, the majority of humans on this planet.

In the past, this was no problem because Norway received few immigrants and because rule breakers of any origin were ruthlessly ostracized. Over the past half-century, however, Norwegians have been persuaded that the supreme rule is Thou shalt not be racist. It follows, therefore, that racists are supreme offenders who must be expelled from society, like witches and heretics of another age. A psychological mechanism that once enabled Norwegian society to perpetuate itself has been reprogrammed to ensure its self-liquidation.

That outcome is not far off. In a country of five million or so, it doesn't take long to elect a new people. Even remote Arctic communities like Narvik are starting to look like a cross between Mogadishu and Karachi. Will Norwegians stop before it’s too late?

Stopping means dismantling the moral consensus that has legitimized this massive demographic change. But how? Violence simply confirms the judgment that racism is evil. This is what happened after the church burnings and the attacks of 2011. A moral consensus can be dismantled only by moral means denouncing it openly and nonviolently.

That won't be easy. No one wants to be a "bad" person, and in a conformist society like Norway a rule-breaker is “bad” no matter how stupid the rule may seem. As long as the rule is affirmed and never challenged, people will obey and make others obey. Only when enough people challenge it—openly and defiantly—will the moral consensus weaken and collapse. To get from here to there will be difficult but it can be done. Rules of sexual morality were deconstructed. Why not antiracism?

Finally, Norwegians should remember the cost of being "good." A "good" member of a death cult will die just as surely as a "bad" member. And that is exactly what antiracism has become for Norway. A death cult.


Anon. (2015). Europe's Lutherans pledge increased efforts to welcome refugees, The Lutheran World Federation, May 19 

Berwick [Breivik], A. (2011). A European Declaration of Independence. 

Lippert, R.K., and S. Rehaag. (2013). Sanctuary Practices in International Perspectives: Migration, Citizenship, and Social Movements, Routledge 

Wallach, J., H.M. Berger, P.D. Greene. (2011). Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music Around the World, Duke University Press. 

Wikipedia (2015a). Church of Norway 

Wikipedia (2015b). Early Norwegian black metal scene

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Evolution of long head hair

Swan princess, John Bauer (1882-1918). Human head hair is of relatively recent origin, reaching incredible lengths in some groups but not in others.


I've published an article on the evolution of long head hair in humans. The following is the abstract:

In many humans, head hair can grow to a much greater length than hair elsewhere on the body. This is a "derived" form that evolved outside Africa and probably in northern Eurasia. The ancestral form, which is frizzier and much shorter, survives in sub-Saharan Africans and in other groups whose ancestors never left the tropics. This original hair form is nonetheless relatively straight and silky during infancy. Head hair thus seems to have lengthened in two stages: 1) retention of the infant hair form at older ages; and 2) further lengthening to mid-back and even waist lengths. These changes seem to have gone farther in women, whose head hair is thicker and somewhat longer. The most popular evolutionary explanations are: 1) relaxation of selection for short hair; and 2) sexual selection for women with long hair. Neither hypothesis is satisfactory. The first one cannot explain why head hair lengthened so dramatically over so little time. The second hypothesis suffers from the assumption that some populations have remained naturally short-haired because they consider long-haired women undesirable. Almost the opposite is true in traditional African cultures, which have a long history of lengthening and straightening women's hair. It is argued here that sexual selection produced different outcomes in different populations not because standards of beauty differed but because the intensity of sexual selection differed. In the tropical zone, sexual selection acted more on men than on women and was thus too weak to enhance desirable female characteristics. This situation reversed as ancestral humans spread northward into environments that tended to limit polygyny while increasing male mortality. Because fewer men were available for mating, women faced a more competitive mate market and were selected more severely.


Frost, P. (2015). Evolution of long head hair in humans, Advances in Anthropology, 5, 274-281.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

The fellowship instinct

Grace Fellowship Assembly of God, Bloomington, Indiana – Fellowship is what primarily draws people to religion (Wikicommons - Vmenkov).


Religiosity is moderately heritable—25 to 45% according to twin studies (Bouchard, 2004; Lewis and Bates, 2013). These figures are of course underestimates, since any noise in the data gets classified as ‘non-genetic’ variability. So the estimates would be higher if we could measure religiosity better.

But what does it mean to be religious? Does it mean adhering to a single organized religion with a clergy, a place of worship, and a standardized creed? This definition works fairly well in the Christian and Muslim worlds, but not so well farther afield. In East Asia, people often have more than one faith tradition: “If one religion is good, two are better.” Moreover, 'religion' has never controlled East Asian societies to the extent that Christianity and Islam have controlled theirs, as Francis Fukuyama notes in The Origins of Political Order. This word becomes even more problematic in simple societies. Did hunter-gatherers have religion? If we take the example of the Inuit, they believed in spirits of various kinds, but those spirits were indifferent to humans and their concerns, being not at all like the fellow in the Christmas jingle: 

He sees you when you're sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!

Simple hunter-gatherers had no idea that a moral God exists. Nor did they see morality as being absolute or universal. A human action could be good or bad, depending on who was doing what to whom. Morality could not be separated from kinship. Your first moral obligation was to yourself, then to your family, then to your close kin. Beyond, who cares?

So what exactly is the heritable component of religiosity? Or should we say components? These questions were addressed by a recent twin study, which concluded that "religiosity is a biologically complex construct, with distinct heritable components" (Lewis and Bates, 2013). The most important one seems to be 'community integration,' which is the desire to be among people who befriend each other and help each other on a regular basis. Much research shows that religious people have stronger social needs than the rest of us, and they tend to lose interest in religion when such needs are no longer met. When former Methodist church members were asked why they left their church, the most common response was their failure to feel accepted, loved, or wanted by others in the congregation (Lewis and Bates, 2013).

The second most important component seems to be 'existential certainty'—belief in a controlling God who will ultimately take care of everything. Belief in divine control reduces anxiety and actually increases one's sense of personal control. As such, it provides "an epistemic buffer from a range of factors such as unpredictability, instability, and concerns over mortality that exist in this world."

In sum, this study found that community integration accounts for 45% of innate religiosity and existential certainty for 11%. These two components represent most of the genetic variability.

Just one thing. The study was done with a sample of Americans who were 85.1% Christian, the rest being mostly atheist, agnostic, or ''no religious preference." Would the results have been similar with participants from the Middle East, Africa, or East Asia?

I don’t think so. Religiosity, by its very nature, should be very sensitive to gene-culture coevolution. It's moderately heritable and serves different purposes in different cultural environments. Any one religion will favor its own ways of being and acting, and people who conform will do better than those who don’t. Thus, over successive generations, the gene pool of believers will become characterized by certain predispositions, personality traits, and other heritable aspects of mental makeup. These characteristics will tend to persist even if the believers cease to believe and become secularized.

This point is made by the authors, albeit indirectly. On the one hand, a community of believers will modify their religion to suit their social and existential needs:

[...] religion per-sé may not be the sole organization or system able to fill the niche created by human needs for community and existential meaning. The succession, displacement, and evolution of religions can be viewed in this light as the shaping of religious systems by their adherents to maximize the extent to which their needs are met.

On the other hand, a religion will modify its community of believers by favoring the survival of those with the "right" mindset and by removing those with the “wrong” mindset:

[...] this ''exchangeable goods'' notion of religion may fail to acknowledge the tight fit between religious belief and human psychology: ''religious practices and rituals co-evolved with religiously inclined minds, so that they now fit together extremely well."

In short, Man has made religion in his own image, but religion has returned the favor. In a very real sense, it has made us who we are.


Bouchard, T. J. Jr., (2004). Genetic influence on human psychological traits: A survey. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 148-151. 

Lewis, G.J. and T.C. Bates. (2013). Common genetic influences underpin religiosity, community integration, and existential uncertainty, Journal of Research in Personality, 47, 398-405.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The missing hour of sleep

Rêverie, Adrien de Witte (1850-1935), Wikicommons

African Americans sleep on average almost an hour less than do Euro Americans. The two groups have mean sleep times of 6.05 hours and 6.85 hours. This finding has recently been discussed by Brian Resnick in National Journal and by our Steve Sailer.

Researchers reject a genetic explanation: "There is a consensus that innate biological differences between blacks and whites are not a factor" (Resnick, 2015). So what is the cause?

One study points the finger at racism:  "If you can take out that discrimination piece, the average African-American and the average Caucasian look at lot more similar. [...]  "It's not perfect, but in terms of sleep, a lot of the disparity goes away" (Resnick, 2015).

The study is by Tomfohr et al. (2012). It found that duration of deep sleep and duration of Stage 2 of light sleep correlated in African Americans with perceived discrimination, which is defined as "the extent to which an individual believes that members of his or her ethnic group have been discriminated against in society."

Nonetheless, as the authors note, sleep duration still differs significantly between African and Euro Americans even when the difference is adjusted for the effects of perceived discrimination. So we are left with a curious finding: two separate causes, one genetic and the other environmental, are producing the same pattern of effects. Both are reducing deep sleep and Stage 2 light sleep in African Americans while not affecting Stage 1 light sleep.

Whenever I see this kind of finding, I start looking for confounds. Is one cause a sock puppet for the other? It may be that perceived discrimination increases with African ancestry. Perhaps African Americans who feel conscious of discrimination also tend to be darker-skinned and more visibly African than those who don’t. This confound has actually been shown by several studies, such as the following:

This study tested the extent to which skin color is associated with differential exposure to discrimination for a sample of 300 Black adults. Results revealed that dark-skinned Blacks were 11 times more likely to experience frequent racial discrimination than their light-skinned counterparts; 67% of subjects reporting high discrimination were dark-skinned and only 8.5% were light-skinned. (Klonoff and Landrine, 2000; see also Keith and Herring, 1991)

Even if perceived discrimination could fully explain the race difference in sleep duration, we still couldn’t exclude a genetic explanation, since the degree of perceived discrimination is confounded with the degree of African ancestry.

In reality, perceived discrimination accounts for only part of the race difference, and since this difference remains significant even if we factor out that putative cause, the most parsimonious explanation is a genetic cause. Only that cause can fully account for shorter sleep duration in African Americans.

Studies in Africa

Another way to solve this puzzle is to look at Africans living in Africa. Do they show the same pattern we see in African Americans?

We know less about sleep patterns in Africa, but what we do know suggests that Africans, too, have shorter sleep duration. When Friborg et al. (2012) studied sleep in Ghanaians and Norwegians, they found that Ghanaians slept about an hour less than do Norwegians on weekends and between a quarter and half an hour less on weekdays. Oluwole (2010) studied sleep in Nigerian undergraduates and found they slept an average of 6.2 hours plus another 70 minutes in the afternoon. This pattern is actually typical in the tropical zone. People prefer to get some sleep when the temperature is at its peak and spend more time awake when it's more bearable.

But why would this pattern persist in African Americans? Perhaps it’s hardwired to some degree. When siestas become the cultural norm, there is selection for those individuals who enjoy being normal (and against those who don't).

Sleep patterns are heritable:

Assessed self-reported sleep data from 2,238 monozygotic (MZ) and 4,545 dizygotic (DZ) adult twin pairs born in Finland before 1958. Results indicate a significant hereditary effect on sleep length and on sleep quality. When the data were examined in subgroups defined by sex, age (18-24 yrs and 25+ yrs), and cohabitation status of the twin pair, the highest heritability estimates for sleep length were for Ss living together aged 25 yrs or older. For Ss living apart, the heritability estimates were statistically significant in all Ss aged 25 yrs or older. For sleep quality, significant heritability estimates were found for all groups except women living together. Results indicate that a significant proportion of the variance in sleep length and quality was due to factors that make MZ Ss more similar than DZ Ss. (Partinen et al., 1983)

A single genetic polymorphism seems to explain much of the variability between individuals in sleep patterns, particularly deep sleep and slow wave activity (SWA):

Here we show in humans that a genetic variant of adenosine deaminase, which is associated with the reduced metabolism of adenosine to inosine, specifically enhances deep sleep and SWA during sleep. In contrast, a distinct polymorphism of the adenosine A2A receptor gene, which was associated with interindividual differences in anxiety symptoms after caffeine intake in healthy volunteers, affects the electroencephalogram during sleep and wakefulness in a non-state-specific manner. Our findings indicate a direct role of adenosine in human sleep homeostasis. Moreover, our data suggest that genetic variability in the adenosinergic system contributes to the interindividual variability in brain electrical activity during sleep and wakefulness. (Retey et al., 2005)


So African Americans are getting enough sleep at night. It’s just that they're not getting enough afternoon naps. But aren't naps for kids? Or old fogeys? Actually, they’re quite normal for adults in much of the world. In the Nigerian study, 82% of the participants regularly took afternoon naps.

It’s ironic that the “r word” has been injected into this debate. If a behavior deviates from the white American norm, and if racism is held responsible either directly or indirectly, one is assuming that this deviation is pathological. It is “deviant.” It shouldn’t exist and something should be done about it. The white American norm thus becomes a norm for all humans, and all humans—if they want to be fully human—should strive toward it.

In reality, there is no single human nature. Genetic evolution didn’t slow down when humans began to split up and settle the different continents. It accelerated. And not just because our ancestors were adapting to different natural environments. Most of the acceleration took place long after the globe had been settled from the equator to the arctic. It happened when humans began to adapt to an increasingly diverse range of cultural environments. And those adaptations were mostly behavioral and psychological.

One of them is the way we sleep. The African sleep pattern is normal in its native environment. It is simply an adaptation to a particular set of circumstances, just as the northern European sleep pattern is an adaptation to another set of circumstances.


Friborg, O., B. Bjorvatn, B. Amponsah, and S. Pallesen. (2012), Associations between seasonal variations in day length (photoperiod), sleep timing, sleep quality and mood: a comparison between Ghana (5°) and Norway (69°). Journal of Sleep Research, 21: 176-184.

Keith, V. M., and Herring, C. (1991). Skin Tone and Stratification in the Black-Community. American Journal of Sociology, 97(3), 760-778.

Klonoff, E. A., and Landrine, H. (2000). Is skin color a marker for racial discrimination? Explaining the skin color-hypertension relationship. Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 23(4), 329-338.

Oluwole, O. S. A. (2010), Sleep habits in Nigerian undergraduates. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 121, 1-6.

Partinen, M., J. Kaprio, M. Koskenvuo, P. Putkonen, and H. Langinvainio (1983). Genetic and environmental determination of human sleep. Sleep: Journal of Sleep Research & Sleep Medicine, 6(3), 79-185.

Resnick, B. (2015). The Black-White sleep gap, National Journal, October 23

Retey, J.V., M. Adam, E. Honegger, R. Khatami, U.F.O. Luhmann, H.H. Jung, W. Berger, and H.P. Landolt. (2005). A functional genetic variation of adenosine deaminase affects the duration and intensity of deep sleep in humans, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A., 102, 15676-15681

Sailer, S. (2015). Racism never sleeps: "The Black-White Sleep Gap: An Unexpected Challenge in the Quest for Racial Justice",  The Unz Review, October 29

Tomfohr, L., M.A. Pung, K.M. Edwards, and J.E. Dimsdale. (2012). Racial differences in sleep architecture: The role of ethnic discrimination, Biological Psychology, 89, 34-38.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The contradictions of polygyny

Chief Makwira and his wives, Malawi, 1903 (Wikicommons). Older men had first priority. Younger men could gain access to women only through war or adultery.


In my last column, I reviewed the findings of Butovskaya et al. (2015) on testosterone and polygyny in two East African peoples:

- Testosterone levels were higher in the polygynous Datoga than in the monogamous Hadza. This difference is innate.

- Datoga men were more aggressive than Hadza men on all measures used (physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger, and hostility)

- Datoga men were larger and more robust than Hadza men

- All of these characteristics seem to be adaptive under conditions when men have to compete against other men for access to women

Testosterone levels were not only higher in the Datoga but also more variable. Alvergne et al. (2009) studied this variability in Senegalese men, finding that the monogamous ones differed from the polygynous ones in the way testosterone levels changed with age. The levels were higher in the polygynous men than in the monogamous men between the ages of 15 and 30. After 45, this pattern reversed: the monogamous men had the higher levels. At all ages, the polygynous men were more extraverted than the monogamous ones, this quality being defined as "pro-social behavior which reflects sociability, assertiveness, activity, dominance and positive emotions." Extraversion may assist a reproductive strategy of seducing women, rather than providing for them.

Thus, when Africans gave up hunting and gathering for farming, there was selection for a new package of male traits. Some of these traits are physiological (higher testosterone levels), some anatomical (denser bones, greater arm and leg girth; changes to muscle fiber properties, etc.), and some behavioral (polygyny, aggressiveness, extraversion, etc.). But this selection didn't eliminate older genotypes, at least not wholly. There seems to be a balanced polymorphism that allows a minority of quieter, monogamous men to thrive in a high-polygyny society like Senegal. When polygynous men become too numerous, they may spend too much time looking for mating opportunities and not enough checking up on their current wives to avoid being cuckolded. It might be better for some to live continuously with one wife.

African Americans versus Euro Americans

The above differences within sub-Saharan Africa (Datoga vs. Hadza, polygynous Senegalese vs. monogamous Senegalese) are also seen between African Americans and Euro Americans. In all these cases, the differences are of degree and proportion, rather than absolute and non-overlapping.

Testosterone reaches high levels in young African American adults (Pettaway, 1999; Ross et al., 1986; Ross et al., 1992; Winters et al., 2001). African Americans are also likelier to have alleles for high androgen-receptor activity (Kittles et al.,2001). Lifetime exposure to testosterone is reflected in development of prostate cancer, with African American men having the world's highest incidences (Brawley and Kramer, 1996). It was once thought that lower incidences prevail among black West Indians and sub-Saharan Africans, but underreporting is now thought to be responsible (Glover et al., 1998; Ogunbiyi and Shittu, 1999; Osegbe, 1997).

In African Americans, blood testosterone levels peak during adolescence and early adulthood, being higher than those of Euro Americans of the same age. Levels decline after 24 years of age, and by the early 30s are similar to those of European Americans (Gapstur et al., 2002; Nyborg, 1994, pp. 111-113; Ross et al., 1986; Ross et al., 1992; Tsai et al., 2006; Winters et al., 2001). This is the same pattern we saw in polygynous Senegalese men versus monogamous Senegalese men. In short, polygyny seems associated with a more exaggerated pattern of variation with age.

The demographic contradictions of a high-polygyny society

Testosterone levels are normally higher in all young men, but why are they higher still when polygyny is common? The reason seems to be the scarcity of available women. High-polygyny societies generate a shortage of mateable women, and this shortage is managed by giving priority to men who are at least ten years past puberty. For instance, among the Nyakyusa: "[...] there is a difference of ten years or more in the average marriage-age of girls and men, and it is this differential marriage-age which makes polygyny possible" (Wilson, 1950, p. 112).

By concentrating celibacy among young men, this age rule compels them to seek sex through warfare or illicit means. According to Pierre van den Berghe (1979, pp. 50-51):

Typically, the more men are polygynous in a given society, the greater the age difference between husbands and wives. [...] The temporary celibacy of young men in polygynous societies is rarely absolute, however. While it often postpones the establishment of a stable pair-bond and the procreation of children, it often does not preclude dalliance with unmarried girls, adultery with younger wives of older men, or the rape or seduction of women conquered in warfare. Thus, what sometimes looks like temporary celibacy is, in fact, temporary promiscuity. These young men often devote themselves to warfare during their unmarried years and sometimes homosexuality is tolerated during that period.

For young men in a high-polygyny society, warfare—typically raids against neighboring communities—is the main way to gain access to women. In a sense, war becomes a means of resolving the demographic contradictions of a high-polygyny society. Polygyny creates a wife shortage among young men, and this contradiction is resolved by turning it outward. As warriors, young men are encouraged to satisfy their sexual urges through raids against neighboring peoples. Warfare thus becomes endemic.

This relationship between polygyny and war has often been noted in studies of African societies:

Dorjahn (1959) says African warfare emphasized taking captives, rather than killing the enemy. Kelly's discussion of Nuer warfare provides an interesting perspective on this phenomenon. In Nuer warfare the main casualties were younger men and older women, with male and female mortality being almost equal. Younger women and children were captured. Female captives were valued because they could be used to generate bridewealth when they were married to other Nuer, whereas captive boys were adopted into the lineage of their captor and would require bridewealth payment when they married. Consequently, few males were taken captive (Kelly 1985:56-57). (White and Burton, 1988)

In their cross-cultural study of the causes of polygyny, White and Burton (1988) conclude that "polygyny is associated with warfare for plunder and/or female captives":

[...] polygyny is seen as associated with the expansion of male-oriented kin groups through favorable environments, facilitated by capture of women or bridewealth via warfare. Following this analysis, it is difficult to see polygyny as having benign effects upon the lives of all women. Rather, polygyny produces benefits for senior wives, who have sons and can mobilize the labor of junior wives and children (Hartung 1982); it has negative effects on women who become slaves, captives, or junior wives, or who do not have sons.

We now come to a leading cause of the African slave trade. Polygyny led to warfare, which led to a surplus of unwanted male captives. These captives could be sold as slaves, but local markets would soon be saturated. The excess supply had to be sold farther away, with the result that slave trading networks began to reach the Middle East as early as the time of Christ (Frost, 2008).

While outsiders from the Middle East and Europe would later get more and more involved, becoming not only traders but also captors, it was Africans themselves who initially controlled the supply chain. In its early stages, and even later, this trade was driven by factors internal to Africa.

Contrary evidence

Whenever I discuss this subject, some people will counter that certain studies have shown an absence of racial/ethnic differences in testosterone levels. Let me discuss these studies at some length.

This meta-analysis concluded: "After adjustment for age, black men have a modestly but significantly 2.5 to 4.9% higher free testosterone level than white men." Here, “adjustment for age” means comparing black and white men of the same age. The conclusion isn't surprising, since African American men have a testosterone advantage only from puberty to their early 30s. At other ages, their testosterone levels are either equal to or less than those of Euro American men. 

This meta-analysis has two other flaws. First, it included only studies on "men," thus excluding studies on teenagers, among whom the race difference is greatest.

Second, it included Rohrmann et al. (2007). This study suffers from serious methodological problems, as I will now explain. 

This study concluded that "contrary to the postulated racial difference, testosterone concentrations did not differ notably between black and white men."

This study also found that 45-69 year old black men have higher testosterone levels (5.62 ng/ml) than do 20-44 year old black men (5.35 ng/ml). Such a finding is paradoxical and indicates a faulty dataset. The authors used serum samples from the National Center for Health Statistics that had been earlier collected for its Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). The authors state they used 1,479 samples that remained out of an initial total of 1,998. Over 25% of the original samples were missing. The authors state that some samples were missing because they were being used for another study.

The same serum bank had in fact been used for research on a sexually transmitted disease. This was the study by Fleming et al. (1997), who reported that more than 25% of adults between 30 and 39 years of age were positive for HSV-2 (Herpes Simplex virus type 2). Those samples may have been set aside either for further testing or for legal reasons. The serum bank would have thus lost some of its most polygynous donors.

This study measured salivary testosterone in young men (15-30 years) from the United States, Congo, Nepal, and Paraguay. Americans had the highest levels (335 pmol/l), followed by Congolese (286 pmol/l), Nepalese (251 pmol/l), and Paraguayans (197 pmol/l).

Who were these Americans? They are simply identified as ... young Americans—a demographic that is now less than 60% of European descent. In Boston, where the study was conducted, public schools in 2005 were 46% black and 31% Latino (mainly Puerto Ricans and Dominicans). The authors also state that "the USA participants were recruited by public advertisement." The pool of participants may have therefore resembled that of people who give blood in exchange for payment, i.e., it may have been disproportionately poor and non-white. In any event, the results are unusable without any information on racial background.

The Congolese participants were likewise unrepresentative of Congolese in general. They were Lese who inhabit the Ituri forest in proximity to the Efe pygmies. Many Lese are, in fact, partly of pygmy ancestry. As such, their testosterone levels would be closer to that of hunter-gatherers with lowers levels of polygyny and less male-male competition for mates.

This study concluded that testosterone levels did not differ between African American and Euro American boys between the ages of 6 and 18. Such a finding is to be expected for the first few years of this age range, when no difference should exist between the two groups. The main flaw, however, is that the participants were compared not by age but by Tanner stage. Since African Americans enter puberty earlier, this study compared younger African American boys with older Euro American boys.

Testosterone levels may differ between the two groups because of earlier maturation by African American boys. But why would this difference persist beyond adolescence and into the mid-twenties? This question remains unresolved because none of the participants were older than 18.

Various African studies

Several studies have found lower testosterone levels in African populations than in North Americans. This difference might be partly due to the effects of malnutrition or infectious diseases, notably among the Zimbabwean subjects studied by Lukas et al. (2004). The main reason, however, is that these studies mostly had middle-aged or even elderly participants. Lukas et al. (2004) report a mean age of 42.18. The scatter plot (Fig. 2) suggests a logarithmic decline in testosterone with age, but there were too few participants below 25 for analysis of that age group. The same criticism applies to Campbell et al. (2003), a study of testosterone levels in Ariaal pastoralists from northern Kenya. The mean age was 46.8.

In addition, some of these studies concern hunter-gatherers, like the !Kung of Namibia and the Ituri Forest pygmies of the Congo, who have low polygyny rates and weak male-male competition for mates (e.g., Winkler and Christiansen, 1993). Their low testosterone levels are thus to be expected.


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