Re: Values Added: Expanding the Circle (Robert Wright & Peter Singer)
Partly, there is just a question of what is actually motivating a line of inquiry. It's hard to see why a person who is interested in the origins of liberal democracy might direct their attention to mating practices. It is especially difficult to see the silver lining in a mode of argument that goes something along the lines of "If nonwhites didn't fuck their cousins so much they too could live in liberal democracies." I have no doubt that a person can maybe make a compelling sounding case that this is even true, but this sort of thing can never be verified, regardless of how good our statistical tools get, and I think in this case we definitely have an insurmountable correlation/causation issue that no methodology can evade.
With that said, can mating practices be implicated somehow in state formation? Sure. According to the causal assumptions of the scientific picture of how the world proceeds through time, it is possible to say, for instance, that the reason there are liberal democracies is because the Big Bang happened in just the right way. We could also say that if the Earth hadn't been hit by a meteor 65 million years ago that would have prevented liberal democracy from happening. Maybe if the ice age hadn't ended for some reason humans never would have developed agriculture, thus preventing liberal democracy. These may be true but no one thinks they are important to understanding political science. What are the most proximate causes of the formation of state institutions? People and specific ideas and the history we know that leads to the implementation of those institutions. Can a person credibly argue that medieval changes in marriage practices in Europe made it possible several hundred years later for the founding fathers to write the Constitution? Maybe, but it sure as hell doesn't seem proximal enough an event to warrant entering into our description. And while marriage practices are undoubtedly important to our picture of how societies are constructed, we can never point to some genetic consequence of those marriage practices and say that's the *real* reason a social order was made possible. Even if we could, miraculously, isolate the events of history to some causal channel that would never have flowed without these changes in the law, all we can say then is that something about the changes in the law made the channel possible. We sure as hell couldn't say with any confidence that it had to do with the resulting change in the distribution of common genes in the population.