Many people believe inbreeding—the mating of closely related individuals, such as parent-child or brother-sister relationships—lead to genetic deficiencies of their offspring, especially mental retardation.
However, research suggests that is not entirely accurate: inbreeding can indeed increase the chance of offspring being affected by recessive traits, but the decreasing of the variety and thus fitness of the population, also called inbreeding depression, only occurs after several inbreeding iterations. While inbreeding initially decreases life expectancy and reproduction rates, what is typically deemed as retardation” (broadly conceived as any form of noticeable shortcomings) can only develop through generations.
Some time ago I started contemplating the potential occurrence of the same phenomenon on the larger intellectual scope of the Slovenian society. Namely, Slovenia is a country of two million inhabitants and with a limited academic and higher education activity: until 2003, only two universities operated in the country. Higher education institutions in Ljubljana and Maribor were joined by a third (public) university as late as 2003. Since then, several private higher education centers or institutions have developed.
Until the onset of the third millennium, then, only two institutions in the country catered for its higher education needs. A number of fields were even taught at only one of them—or even none. As most new higher-ed institutions in the country teach liberal arts, which are arguably less expensive to teach and especially research if compared to natural sciences and technology, several fields remain under-researched. The (private) University of Nova Gorica tries to fill in some gaps and void.
Knowledge regarding most fields of life and society thus derives from a very limited pool of knowledge and ideas. Professors and lecturers at higher education institutions typically largely perpetuate the same fundamental ideas they had been exposed to when they were students. Following the latest trends in their own fields might be difficult (though all but impossible). Language can be a barrier, especially for those who are not comfortable reading and communicating in the English language. Probably, there are not many of them—but those who are inevitably delay the circulation of the latest ideas among their students.
As in species reproduction, inbreeding of ideas decreases the (mental) variety and fitness of the population. Several iterations of inbreeding, or generations of students that listen to a single professor, may result in inbreeding depression of ideas or—more simply—depression. When Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia, universities operated in a system comprising six republics, five nationalities, four languages, and three religions—hence, in a very varied pool of ideas. After 1991, all those figures decreased to one. Indeed, Slovenia is now part of the European Union and embedded in international research organizations and circuits, and there are a number of professors and scholars conducting cutting-edge research and spreading avant-garde ideas. Yet, some of them or even entire departments lag behind as English, German, French, or any other languages are proving simply too foreign for their professors. As some subjects or fields are taught only at individual institutions within Slovenia, they are especially at risk of falling behind in terms of global development.
Speaking a language that is only spoken by two million native speakers is a serious shortcoming: many seminal works of poetry and literature, let alone sociological or philosophical essays, are not translated into the Slovenian language due to the relatively high costs associated with it. Book circulation in Slovenia amounts to several thousand copies printed per edition, and many books are only printed in the hundreds, preventing the apportioning of printing rights and translation fees on a high number of copies. But if a literary work is not translated into a language, this puts the ideas published in that work out of reach of the readers of that language: entire populations remain unexposed to new and challenging ideas. I thus believe traveling, academic and professional exchanges, and extensive coverage of international issues in the media are essential for a sustainable development of the Slovenian society.
When I first came up with this idea months ago I was excited about having developed a new philosophical or psychological concept. I eventually realized the concept of intellectual inbreeding had been known for years. Rather than amazing the world with a new idea, I thus simply bring back an old one, perhaps slightly revamped. Regardless, these lines will hopefully provide readers food for thought and a new perspective, and inspire them to engage in international dealings and comparisons more often.