November 6, 2011
To be posted on

David P. Goldman (Online column “Spengler”)
c/o Tablet Magazine
Music Editor
37 West 28th Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Dear David Goldman:
I have read How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too) Regnery Publishing Inc. Washington DC 2011 with great interest and much learned.  I shall post this letter on my own web site and I urge my readers to read your book.

First let me get the readers up to speed by doing my best to summarize your position in my own fashion.  As I take it from you, people generally have lived under one of three arrangements. 

First, people have lived as small, isolated, traditional, subsistence bands.  In the aggregate, these have been are extremely stable, but on a finer scale each band is subject to being wiped out by another force so survival at the band level, not to mention the individual level, is extremely precarious.  Furthermore, such societies are prone to disintegrate when thrust into contact with modern society.  Given the presence of globalization, the subsistence band is not at present a truly viable option.

Second, people can gather in cooperating groups in which the interest of each individual is subordinate to the collective interest.  The modern nation state is the most obvious current example.  Blood, land, religion, king, city and so forth have been the focus of such groups.  These always end with a kind of loss of energy, a spiritual dearth and a falling birth rate with depopulation, collapse and essential extinction.  Much of the world already has this on the horizon – Europe, the Islamic world and Japan you have pointed out.  (I should add from my own studies that just about every other part of the world has that just over the horizon.) 

There are two exceptions.  Orthodox Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity are at present able to survive in modern circumstances and still maintain a viable birth rate.  What they have in common is a society that puts the importance of the individual above that of the group.  Each individual is expected to have a personal relationship with divine power and this is correlated with a continued willingness to invest in children.  The down side of these exceptional societies is that it requires considerable nerve.  Each person must bear the responsibility for existence and purpose.  And that nerve can be shattered by sufficient trauma such as the Thirty Years War delivered to Europe and the Civil War delivered to mainstream Protestantism.  (I should add, that given the ability of the modern world to deliver shocks of unprecedented horror the long term outlook even for the exceptional two is in serious doubt.)

There is a problem.  Let’s fix it.  Seriously, I think we have between us the resources.  I have only one small thing to offer, but it is crucial.  To get that thing you will have to clear two hurdles. 

I have explained this many times.  Usually I leave religion out altogether or bring it in apologetically at the end.  Since you are comfortable talking about religion, this time I shall start there.

There were two trees in the garden.  One was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  We took the fruit of that tree and have been paying for it ever since.  We judge.  We look at people and we see good and evil.  It is hard to describe a society with terrible problems without saying or implying that it is a lesser society.  It is hard to read and comment on a book of such scope and power as your own without saying, “Yes, that’s a good point,” or “Oh, but you should have mentioned ...”  I shall attempt not to be judgmental. 

But that was the lesser tree.  That was the one we didn’t need.  But the great tree, the be all and end all, the most important thing in all the world, was the Tree of Life.  It is hard to get to it.  I can take you there, but there is an angel that guards it.  Of course the angel is not real.  He doesn’t have to be.  He only needs to frighten you away.  For that he wields a flaming sword.

And what of swords?  I am no expert, but crudely speaking fighting with a sword is simply the application of five parries (actually eight, but no worries).  Each sweeps your own blade, held horizontally or vertically, across your center mass to sweep away a thrust and to protect one of five vulnerable areas.  The attack is either a thrust or an attack on one of these areas named after the relevant parry.  An attack in one means an attack that is guarded against by parry one.  (Again to simplify we assume everybody is right handed, and we are not.) 

So you are walking along sword in sheath on a dangerous street escorting a woman.  She knows the drill and rests two or three fingers on your right elbow, not enough to encumber you but so you always know where she is without looking for her.  Your enemy appears and without warning draws and lunges at you.  Without time to draw, you pull your sword part way out of the sheath and pump with your right hand as you would a right jab.  That knocks his thrust off to your left.  That’s why you don’t want the woman walking on that side.  You have just parried in one. 

She slips around behind still touching you gently.  You proceed with the fight.  The parry in one, if you have drawn, is vertical blade point down sweeping to the left.  The parry in two is vertical blade point down sweeping to the right.  The parry in three sweeps up from two with vertical blade sweeping to the right.  Four sweeps back to the left.  Five sweeps with horizontal blade from low to high winding up where the head is protected.  Got it?  You’re going to need it.

So we now go to the tree.  It is only a few steps.  Then the angel will drive us away.  The secret is to be willing to keep coming back.  As we approach we see that the fruit of the tree is letters glowing in the purest white.  Choose your favorite alphabet or language.  It is always the same.  The letters spell:

Marry the right relative to have children.

Watch out!  Here comes the angel.

He first attacks in one.  “Marry a relative?  But that’s incest.  That’s inbreeding.  It’s disgusting.  All your children will have two heads.” 

Well inbreeding is relative.  What the tree means is that you consider your intended and then you go back in time for ten generations and count how many ancestors you share back then.  You want to share no more than about 64.  Otherwise, yes you will pay a fertility penalty.  Don’t take my word for it.  I shall soon show you the published data and you can choose your own numbers.  If you share more than 64 ancestral slots or fewer than eight, that isn’t the right relative.  Modern genetic screening can eliminate almost all genetic inbreeding risks, but inbreeding is more than genes.  Even if all the genes are perfect there is an epigenetic component that will cause problems.  It has to be epigenetic.  It changes too fast to be genetic.  And inbreeding depression has been proven in plants to be due to an epigenetic effect.  (Epigenetic means anything that controls the genes.  Usually it involved adding a methyl group to the DNA.  Here’s a reference.  (Elizabeth Pennisi Epigenetics Linked to Inbreeding Depression SCIENCE vol. 333 no. 6049 September 16, 2011 page 1563 reviewing work by a team led by Philippine Vergeer, Hugens Building, Room HG 01.132, Radboud University Nijmegen, Molecular Ecology, Heyendaalseweg 135, 6525 AJ Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Now here is something.  All those Arab families in which they marry first cousins.  You might be able to get away with it for a while.  But every generation the number of shared ancestors goes up and up.  You could get far past the 64 (out of a possible 1024) shared ancestor limit.  That, in theory, could be the cause of the catastrophic fertility decline you have described in the Muslim world.  If so, fixing it could be problematic.  Here’s what I mean:

A study was done in Iceland comparing kinship of a couple with fertility.  They calculated kinship by going back ten generations and counting how many ancestors the couple shared.  Sure enough, kinship has an effect.  By and large, the closer kin the more children.  This of course is not what common belief is.


(That’s “Helgason.”  Sorry.)

Then they looked at grandchildren.

An Association Between Kinship And Fertility of Human Couples,  Agnar Helgason, Snaebjoern Palsson, Daniel F. Guobjartsson, Pordur Kristjansson and Karl Stefanson, SCIENCE vol. 319 8 February 2008 page 813 figure 3.

Without claiming to have done a formal statistical analysis, it looks to me that most of the limited variation in the first graph is accounted for by the variation in the second graph and vice versa.

So here, quite possibly, we see Muslim societies at the far left hand side of the second graph.  They are not infertile because their spouses are too closely related but because their parents were.  The cure should be to marry somebody less kin, say out to the fifth set of error bars.  That should reverse the inbreeding depression.  But looking back at the first graph, that would entail a very large fall in fertility in the first generation, a fall they cannot afford. 

I see no way out, but nobody else even sees the problem.  Actually I don’t believe it.  My guess would be that, because the timing is the same as the rest of the world, they are actually far out to the right, like the rest of us.  But a cure still seems elusive. 

As I promised, you can now get the reference and decide just how many ancestors you can share and still have adequate fertility.

So that is the parry in one.  No.  I do not suggest inbreeding.  That would be a catastrophe.

Without missing a beat the angel comes all the way around and attacks in two.  “Ah, you must be talking racism.  If you need eight shared ancestors, obviously sharing none must be far worse.”  No, actually not.  If you look at the graphs they seem to saturate.  Fertility falls below replacement at about eight shared ancestors and then levels off.  Montezuma has descendants living in Spain today.  He was recognized as a legitimate king by the Spanish and his children were brought to Spain and married among the nobility.  You can get away with a single episode of extreme outbreeding, or maybe two or three.  But sooner or later the birds come home to roost. 

In all my studies I have found no reason to implicate race in any of this.  All peoples in all places and at all times react to their gene pool size in exactly the same way. 

The angel goes for an attack in three.  “Well if it were true, somebody would have noticed.”  Sure.  If the sun were the center of the solar system somebody should have noticed that, too.  It’s a lot easier to see.  I pursued this tack at some length in the posting on my web site called “Orlando meeting.”  There is plenty of evidence.  Almost, but maybe not quite, enough to produce the major paradigm shift thinking like this calls for.

So the angel comes back around and attacks in four.  “But there are too many babies in the world anyway.”  Maybe, briefly, in a number of places that has been true.  But you above anybody I have even read can say, “Well you have to have some, don’t you?” 

It’s really just the two of us, you know.  I have heard mutterings from others, but when I pursue them they loose interest.  I have one friend I still can communicate with on a professional level.  That’s not much for ten or fifteen years of work. 

Civilizations die because the babies stop coming.  And they stop coming because of bad mating strategy.  Fix the biology and I swear the spiritual problems will become manageable.  Anyway, fail to fix the biology and we all go down the siphon. 

And the angel attacks in five.  I can handle the first four attacks.  They are verbalized and can be met with rational arguments.  But the attack in five is different.  It is not verbal.  It is raw fear.  I have seen it in a dozen faces.  After going through the first four attacks the person I am speaking with stops making good sense.  He reverses himself.  He forgets what he said earlier.  He goes in exactly the wrong direction, and I am talking about highly trained successful professionals in related fields.  It even scares me.  I know it is irrational, but it does.  So hold on.  The angel is going to get to beat you over the head for a few pages while I line up the data.

St. Augustine, as you pointed out, noticed that ancient civilizations had died out before.

Here is a graph of the history of southern Mesopotamia.  The vertical axis is the chance a civilization has of lasting another fifty years.  The horizontal axis is their ages.

Information taken from R. H. Carling THE WORLD HISTORY CHART International Timeline Inc. Vienna, VA 1985.  The experience of Southern Mesopotamia.  The vertical axis is The chance of an empire of any age continuing to rule locally for another 50 years.  The horizontal axis is the ages of the empires. 

You know why they died.  No babies.  It’s just like clockwork.  Regimes in ancient Rome, classical Mayans, Chaco canyon Anasazi, they all follow the same pattern.  Look at the Orlando meeting for the graph.  There is a three hundred year brick wall.  Every one of those civilizations was a polity that had something they believed in that was bigger than the individual.  And the babies stopped right on schedule. 

Chinese and Japanese dynasties also face a three hundred year brick wall.  With them you can see that there is a crisis somewhat more than half way through where there is a decline in survivability reflecting a fall in the fertility of the imperial household.  Remember you said no subsistence farming community ever died out from infertility?  One did.  It was the Longhouse Valley Anasazi. 

Jared M. Diamond, “Life with the Artificial Anasazi,” NATURE, vol 419 no 6907, October 10, 2002 p 567.

The modelled (sic) population is a measure of tree ring width.  The actual population is a census derived from doing carbon fourteen dating on all the charcoal in the fireplaces in the valley to get an annual census.  It seems to me that they were cultivating the trees.  The same notch is visible as in the Asian dynastic experience.  The same three hundred year brick wall stands.

Why should this be?  We believe in evolution, and evolution has been around a long time.  Evolution goes nowhere without speciation.  So you cannot turn off speciation.  It seems to occur in about two thousand generations.  Maybe it’s four thousand, but let’s go with two.  Split a population that long and when the chromosomes get back together they can’t do business.  Now suppose the population is a thousand.  That’s two thousand copies of any one chromosome (or piece of a chromosome if you prefer).  So it will take that long for two chromosomes that start out as identical to get back together again.  They will not be able to do business.  The population will die.  But two thousand generations is a long time.  In that time the population will be leaking into other populations.  The whole species will die.

A simple animal like a beetle can evolve rather rapidly.  Just suppressing the excessive population should be adequate.  But for maximum development, for really long runs of evolution, the large local population must be eliminated.  So nature does a kind of census.  If kinship consistently is too low, the mechanism is set to wipe out the local population for the sake of a longer time for the rest of the species to evolve.

That’s right.  Evolution is now out to get rid of us.  Remember the term “biological clock?”  When a woman reached a certain age her body told her to get pregnant.  You needed to help or get out of the way.  Biological clocks are stopping.  Remember how boys used to be proud of their manhood?  Their male development is less, sperm counts are falling and they are less interested in girls.  So nature plays mind games on us.  The call of the sirens beckons us to our doom. 

And if somebody says, “Hey, we need to go back to marrying cousins like we were doing when we had babies,” something says, “Don’t listen.”  That is the angel’s attack in five.  It is still scary.  But at least there is a reason for it to be scary.  So there is the rational parry in five. 

While we are at it, let’s go back and look at the covenant.  You remember that we learned about good and evil back in the garden.  So why in the world would we ever need a list of “Ten Commandments”?  We wouldn’t.  It wasn’t the tree of knowledge again, it was another chance at the Tree of Life.

Look at it as a covenant.  “Thou shalt have no other gods.”  That’s the first half.  It’s repeated in different ways, as is the pattern of Canaanite poetry.  The second half is a list of blessings.  “Though shalt not steal … kill … bear false witness.”  You don’t need a commandment not to lie under oath.  That’s the whole point of an oath. 

The first half can be rendered, “Don’t go outside your own place of worship.”  Marriage used to be strictly a religious ceremony.  So it can be rendered, “Don’t marry a stranger.”  And all those blessing add up to, “And I’ll make you good people.”  That’s the ultimate bribe.  That what humans want above all else, to think well of themselves.  Deny them that and they want to die. 

It may seem mad, and I know no Hebrew.  But I can use an interlinear translation.  The hinge passage is, “Honor thy father and they mother so that thy days shall be long upon the earth …” The last translation I read had a kind of Zionist tone to it, but let’s leave it at that.  Take out the “so that” and it runs, “You will make your parents proud.  You will live a long time.”  Leave it in and it goes, “Do it or I will kill you.”  That is a lot to hang on the phrase “so that.”  And the phrase is an anachronism.  Elsewhere “so that” is rendered as a change in the verb form.  But here it is a single conjunction.  It’s streamlined.  More modern.  And you find it scattered early in the bible to explain things as well as to turn the covenant into a set of laws. 

I think it is the book of Deuteronomy that has the most frequent occurrence.  It was the writer’s favorite word.  There is even a record of how the forged version got “found” and introduced as the original; there was almost a riot, but the king insisted that the new version was the old version.

So this is not a new concept, the message from the Tree.  It has been around for thousands of years, hidden, neglected, suppressed and distorted but always there. 

If you have made it this far, you have truly accomplished something.  There is of course the last hurdle.  To make this public would benefit people greatly.  We could have babies.  I’m sure for many it is too late.  But it is not too late for some.  But it is a blessing you cannot hold.  Use it and the world will know, those you like and those you do not.  As for me, I am happy to let the world know.  As you point out, there comes a time when you are old enough so that the idea of self interest loses much rational content. 

But I cannot do it alone.  I have been trying.

You at least see the demographic catastrophe so much of the world faces.  Let me know if you are interested.  I bet we can get something going.


M. Linton Herbert MD

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