Did European Filthiness lead to Prohibition?

Part 2 is here: Beer, Cholera, and Public Health

Prohibition is a strange period in American history. Disparate bedfellows–women, Puritans, even the Klan–united in their hatred of Irish drunkenness (and the Germans who enabled it) to actually pass a Constitutional amendment banning alcohol for the whole country.

These days, everyone likes to laugh and point fingers at our dumb idiot ancestors who were so dumb, they thought the Irish were bad immigrants. What they miss, of course, is that the Irish immigrants of the 1800s and early 1900s actually were problematic and were involved in a lot of crime, much of it drunken. (My general impression is that the Italians were involved in more crime, but the Irish were more numerous.) Things were so bad, people thought Prohibition sounded like a good way to improve matters.

The Germans

The Germans started showing up en masse after the failed rebellions of 1848. The losers–mostly middle to upper-class Germans with ideas about democracy and socialism–decided to head somewhere they were less likely to get killed by the state. Many German immigrants, however, were just folks in search of new opportunities for a better life. Like in the Ostsiedlung, German migration to the US was not a free-for-all, but often consisted of organized groups of like-minded academic revolutionaries like the Latin Settlements (whereby “Latin” we mean, “people who spoke Latin”) or created by folks like the Giessener Emigration Society, whose goal was the creation of a new German state within the US. The Germans generally found their new settlements nice enough in the sense of not being in immediate danger of decapitation, but kind of boring, especially now that they had no evil aristocrats to struggle against.

Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the emigration of Germany’s most anti-authoritarian people left behind a German population that was, as a result, far more temperamentally pro-authoritaian, resulting in Bakunin’s observation that an anarchist revolution could never succeed in Germany because the Germans were the statiest of people.

By 1872, Germany was America’s largest source of people, settling primarily in the North:

German Population in the US by 1872
German Population in the US by 1872

Take note of the little patch of Germans in Texas and in the corner of Texas-Louisiana-Arkansas, then compare to today’s map of counties where Prohibition is still in force:

Wet counties = blue; dry counties = red; yellow counties = mixed laws
Wet counties = blue; dry counties = red; yellow counties = mixed laws

Where there are Germans, beer tends to be legal. (The Germans in Pennsylvania and Ohio are perhaps a different sort from the rest.)

The Germans brought with them a talent for large-scale production of high-quality products–in this case, beer. Yes, beer (and other forms of alcohol) had been produced in the US ever since some ancient Indian left some watery grain or fruit out too long and it began to ferment, and the original colonists had brewed plenty British ales and apple ciders, but German immigrants brought the lagers that became the characteristically “American lagers” we know today.

Anheuser-Busch? Founded by Germans.

“Adolphus Busch was the first American brewer to use pasteurization to keep beer fresh; the first to use mechanical refrigeration and refrigerated railroad cars, which he introduced in 1876; and the first to bottle beer extensively.[1][11][12] By 1877, the company owned a fleet of forty refrigerated railroad cars to transport beer.[12] Expanding the company’s distribution range led to increased demand for Anheuser products, and the company substantially expanded its facilities in St. Louis during the 1870s.[13] The expansions led production to increase from 31,500 barrels in 1875 to more than 200,000 in 1881.”

Budweiser? Named after Budweis, a city in the modern Czech Republic. Michelob is named for the Czech town of Michalovice.

Miller Light, produced by the Miller Brewing Company (now after many company mergers and acquisitions part of MillerCoors,) founded in Milwaukee in 1855 by Friedrich Eduard Johannes Müller of Riedlingen, Württemberg.

Coors was founded in 1873 by German immigrants Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler, using a recipe they’d bought from a Czech immigrant.

The oldest and biggest (by volume) beer company in the US today is D. G. Yuengling & Son, (founded 1829,)where Yuengling is an anglicization of Jüngling, which was, of course, simply David Gottlob Jüngling of Aldingen, Kingdom of Württemberg‘s last name.

Johnny-come-latey Boston Beer Company (maker of Sam Adams ale) often ties Yuengling for sales. Sam Adams was founded in 1984 by Jim Koch, yet another German, who supposedly brewed up the first few batches in his kitchen using an old family recipe.

If you want more on the history of German beer making in America, here’s the Wikipedia page on American Beer and a slightly more detailed article on Beer History.

Long story short, all of those “American” beers are German/Czech.

The Irish

The Irish, unlike the Germans, were a disorganized mass of peasants fleeing the great famine and continuing Irish poverty. They were not suave, classically-trained academic revolutionaries, but tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of Europe’s teeming shore, homeless and tempest-tost.

So desperate were the Irish to escape that many were willing to crowd into the horrific coffin ships, where conditions were so bad that 30% of the passengers died. Still, they managed to arrive in numbers that rivaled the Germans.

Unfortunately, despite this sympathetic start, the Irish managed to make themselves unpopular in their new home:


In 1871, the Orange Riots over a Protestant Irish parade in NYC resulted in the deaths of 63 people, putting modern NYC parade-related crimes to shame. The parade celebrated an old victory of Protestant Irish over Catholic Irish, so the Catholic Irish decided to attack the parade, despite the presence of 5,000 policemen and state militia, who of course shot back at the rioters.

In the 1860s, the Irish comprised over half of all arrests in NYC; amusingly, they were also almost half of the police. To this day, the Irish continue to serve their communities as police officers and fire fighters, and also criminals. According to the Wikipedia, “the Irish topped the charts demographically in terms of arrests and imprisonment. They also had more people confined to insane asylums and poorhouses than any other group. The racial supremacy belief that many Americans had at the time contributed significantly to Irish discrimination.[136]

Things were bad enough that in 1856, the “Know Nothings” a nativist, anti-immigrant party carried Maryland and many Southern counties, (though we might note that their tactic of running former President Fillmore as their candidate without asking him first might not have been the most ethical.) Of course, by 1860 everyone had decided that the Irish were just fine, so long as they fought on their side, but once the Klan got going, it remembered the old mission of hating Papists and immigrants.

By 1872, the Irish population distribution within the US looked much like the German:


It was a synergistic relationship; the Germans were good at making the beer and the Irish were good at drinking it.

Of course, the Irish did not commit all of the crime–the Fins were drunker, Mexicans more murderous–but these migrant groups were far smaller than the Irish (especially in the mid-1800s; the southern and eastern European immigration waves began much later than the German and Irish waves):


From Bonger's "Race and Crime," courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Bonger’s “Race and Crime,” courtesy of Those Who Can See


From Bonger's "Race and Crime," courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Bonger’s “Race and Crime,” courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Commons's Races and Immigrants in America, courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Commons’s Races and Immigrants in America, courtesy of Those Who Can See

Of course, since this was still the era of Segregation, “Coloreds” didn’t live among Puritans, but the Irish did.

The peaceful Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans tended to settle in the countryside, while the Irish and Italians, unable to afford train fare, stayed where they landed, giving the North East coastal cities a particularly strong tradition of crime-ridden ethnic enclaves. As the immigrant %age of American cities soared toward 50%, the police found themselves unable to control the resulting crime waves, and rival immigrant gangs were left to deal with each other.

Those Who Can See quotes Frank Tannenbaum’s Crime and the Community:

The Jewish gangs that grew up to protect the Jew against the Irish, the Italian gangs later in conflict with the Jewish gangs, the old comment in certain parts of Chicago that “Every Irish kid was raised to kill a Swede,” the conflict between Negro and white that led to race riots in Chicago and East St. Louis, all trace the long-time irritation and conflict that contributed to the habit of violence, that led to coalescence of groups practicing violence against their neighbors,… ”

These days, of course, everyone wants to be Irish, because American “oppression” of Irish criminals means that Irish is now one of the few ethnicities a white person can proudly proclaim without getting accused of white privilege. Who wants to be English anymore? What did England ever contribute to the world, besides the works of Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin; the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism; the ability to find longitude at sea; the Smallpox vaccine and epidemiology? LAME-O. Same for being an “American.”

In their defense, Irish crime appears to have been mostly drunken brawling, wife beating, and criminal neglect of their children due to their over-fondness of alcohol, rather than organized murder of the mafia variety, but if I have to read one more sob-story masquerading as “literature” about how the poor Irish couldn’t figure out how to stop drinking long enough to care for their children, well, I guess I will be very annoyed at the author.

(I don’t hate the Irish (who have been generally well behaved lately and certainly haven’t done anything to me personally); I hate the SJWs’ insistence on feigning ignorance about why anyone might dislike people who commit a lot of crime.)

The eventual, perhaps inevitable result was backlash, but we’ll get to that after our discussion of why the Irish drank so much in Part 2: Beer, Cholera, and Public Health.

Is Genius Fragile?

One of the subjects people care most about in ev psych and related disciplines is intelligence. Teachers would love it if all of their students suddenly began scoring in the 90th %; so would parents, of course. Tons of psychological studies have been done on subjects like “Do people score better on tests after thinking about famous scientists,” (without finding much useful,) not to mention millions of dollars spent on education reform without, as far as I can tell, much real change in school performances.

Since “IQ”–our best attempt at measuring and quantifying intelligence–appears to be at least 50% genetic, genes are a good spot to look when attempting to unravel the mystery of genius.

One of my theories on the subject is that if there are two kinds of dumb, perhaps there are two kinds of smart. Obviously dropping someone on their head is probably not going to result in genius, but perhaps there are some people who are smart due to having the good luck to have a variety of genes that generally code for things leading to high IQ, while other people are smart because they have a few particular genes or mutations. The folks with the generally IQ-boosting all-around genes are people who come from a background of parents and extended families with similar IQs to themselves, but folks with rare, particular, or novel mutations/genes would likely stand out even from their families. Such genes might have deleterious side effects or only confer genius in one or two particular arenas, resulting in, say, the stereotypical absent-minded professor or idiot savants.

If genius is fragile–my definition of fragile, not necessarily anyone else’s–then it is easily damaged; the difference between high-IQ and low-IQ in a particular population will be related to the possession of deleterious mutations that damage IQ. If IQ is not fragile–that is, if it is robust–then we would find rare, beneficial genes that boost IQ.

Environmentally, it is already obvious that genius is fragile–that is, it is much easier to drop someone one their head and subtract 40 IQ points than to find any intervention that will reliably add 40 points, but this does not necessarily preclude a variety of interesting genetic findings.

Perhaps I am thinking about this all wrong, but that’s the structure I’ve got worked out so far.

Anyway, so people have been searching for genes linked to IQ. Will they find specific IQ-boosting genes that highly intelligent people have, but dump people don’t? Or will they find specific IQ-damaging genes that dumb people have but intelligent people don’t? (Or maybe a combination of both?)

So, Neuroscience News recently covered a study published in Molecular Psychology that looked at genetic differences between highly intelligent people and the general population.

Now, I’m going to have to stop and point out a potential design flaw, at least according to the article:

“Published today in Molecular Psychiatry, the King’s College London study selected 1,400 high-intelligence individuals from the Duke University Talent Identification Program. Representing the top 0.03 per cent of the ‘intelligence distribution’, these individuals have an IQ of 170 or more – substantially higher than that of Nobel Prize winners, who have an average IQ of around 145.”

Duke TIP is aimed at middle schoolers, based largely on their elementary school test scores Anything that starts out by comparing the IQs of elementary school kids to people who’ve already won Nobel Prizes may not be saying much.

Second, I’d just like to note that while the article is unclear, they are probably not claiming that all Duke TIP participants have IQs over 170, since they don’t–Duke TIP’s own website states that they only require IQ scores over 125. Rather, I suspect they used the test scores submitted to the TIP program to select students with IQs over 170. If some confusion has occurred and they actually used people with 125s, well, results may not be as claimed.

Quick rough calculations indicate that 1,400 people in the top 0.03% is not an unreasonable number, since it would only require 4.667 million people, and there are about 4 million kids per grade level in the US, TIP takes from multiple grades, and they could have used multiple years’ worth of participants. But I don’t know how many kids TIP takes each year.

Anyway, results:

“The study focused, for the first time, on rare, functional SNPs – rare because previous research had only considered common SNPs and functional because these are SNPs that are likely to cause differences in the creation of proteins.

“The researchers did not find any individual protein-altering SNPs that met strict criteria for differences between the high-intelligence group and the control group. However, for SNPs that showed some difference between the groups, the rare allele was less frequently observed in the high intelligence group. This observation is consistent with research indicating that rare functional alleles are more often detrimental than beneficial to intelligence. …

‘Rare functional alleles do not account for much on their own but in combination, their impact is significant.

‘Our research shows that there are not genes for genius. However, to have super-high intelligence you need to have many of the positive alleles and importantly few of the negative rare effects, such as the rare functional alleles identified in our study.’

Or as the abstract puts it:

We did not observe any individual protein-altering variants that are reproducibly associated with extremely high intelligence and within the entire distribution of intelligence.* Moreover, no significant associations were found for multiple rare alleles within individual genes. However, analyses using genome-wide similarity between unrelated individuals (genome-wide complex trait analysis) indicate that the genotyped functional protein-altering variation yields a heritability estimate of 17.4% (s.e. 1.7%) based on a liability model. In addition, investigation of nominally significant associations revealed fewer rare alleles associated with extremely high intelligence than would be expected under the null hypothesis. This observation is consistent with the hypothesis that rare functional alleles are more frequently detrimental than beneficial to intelligence.

*What does “and within the entire distribution of intelligence” mean in this sentence?

To be honest, I’m not sure about the interpretation that only genetic differences between high IQ and low IQ people is that the low-IQ have more deleterious mutations and the high-IQ don’t. For starters, we observe ethnic variation in IQ scores, and I find it difficult to believe that vast swathes of the planet, some of which have very different marriage patterns, have abnormally high levels of deleterious, fitness-reducing mutations that other swathes of the planet don’t.

I certainly can believe, though, that there are deleterious mutations that reduce IQ.

What do you guys think?




The architecture of communication

I was thinking today about the Bay of Pigs fiasco–a classic example of “groupthink” in action. A bunch of guys supposedly hired for their ability to think through complex international scenarios somehow managed to use the biggest military in the world to plan an invasion that was overwhelmingly crushed within 3 days.

In retrospect,the Bay of Pigs Invasion looks like an idiotic idea; everyone should have realized this was going to be a colossal disaster. But ahead of time, everyone involved thought it was a great idea that would totally succeed, including a bunch of people who got killed during the invasion.

Groupthink happens when everyone starts advocating for the same bad ideas, either because they actually think they’re good ideas, or because individuals are afraid to speak up and say anything counter to the perceived group consensus.

There’s not much you can do abut dumb, but consensus we can fight.

The obvious first strategy is to just try to get people to think differently.

Some people are really agreeable people who are naturally inclined to go along with others and seek group harmony. These folks make great employees, but should not be the entirety of a decision-making body because they are terrible at rejecting bad ideas.

By contrast, some people are assholes who like to be difficult. While you might not want to look specifically for “assholes,” the inclusion of at least one person with a reputation for saying unpopular things in any decision-making group will ensure that after a disaster, there will be at least one person there to say, “I told you so.”

You may also be able to strategically use people with different backgrounds/training/experiences/etc. Different schools of thought often come up with vastly different explanations for how the world works, and so can bring different ideas to the table. By contrast, a group that is all communists or all libertarians is likely to miss something that is obvious to folks from other groups; a group that’s all ivy league grads or all farmers is likewise prone to miss something.

Be careful when mixing up your group; getting useless people into the mix just because they have some superficial trait that makes them seem different from others will not help. You want someone who actually brings a different and valuable perspective or ideas to the group, not someone who satisfies someone else’s political agenda about employment.

Alternatively, if you can’t change the group’s membership, you may be able to break down consensus by isolating people so that they can’t figure out what the others think. Structure the group so that  members can’t talk to each other in real life, or if that’s too inefficient, make everyone submit written reports on what they’re thinking before the talking begins. Having one member or part of the group that is geographically isolated–say, having some of your guys located in NY and some in Chicago–could also work.

But probably the easiest way to remove the urge to go along with bad ideas for the sake of group harmony is to remove the negative social repercussions for being an asshole.

Luckily for us, the technology for this already exists: anonymous internet messageboards. When people communicate anonymously, they are much more likely to say unpopular, assholish things like “your invasion plan is fucking delusional,” than they are in public, where they have to worry about being un-invited to Washington cocktail parties.

Anonymous is important. In fact, for truly good decision-making, you may have to go beyond anonymous to truly a-reputational posting with no recognizable names or handles.

The internet helpfully supplies us with communities with different degrees of anonymity. On Facebook, everyone uses their real names; Twitter has a mix of real names and anonymous handles where people still build up reputations; Reddit and blogs are pretty much all pseudonyms; 8Chan is totally anonymous with no names and no ability to build up a reputation.

Facebook is full of pretty messages about how you should Be Yourself! and support the latest good-feel political cause. Since approximately everyone on FB have friended their boss, grandmother, dentist, and everyone else they’ve ever met, (and even if you don’t, employers often look up prospective applicants’ FB profiles to see what they’ve been up to,) you can only post things on FB that won’t get you in trouble with your boss, grandmother, and pretty much everyone else you know.

I have often felt that Facebook is rather like a giant meta-brain, with every person an individual neuron sending messages out to everyone around them, and that so long as all of the neurons are messaging harmony, the brain is happy. But when one person is out of sync, sending out messages that don’t mesh with everyone else’s, it’s like having a rogue brain cell that’s firing at it’s own frequency, whenever it wants to, with the result that the meta-brain wants to purge the rogue cell before it causes epilepsy.

I know my position in the Facebook meta-brain, and it’s not a good one.

The Facebook architecture leads quickly to either saying nothing that could possibly offend anyone, (thus avoiding all forms of decision-making all together,) or competitive morality spirals in which everyone tries to prove that they are the best and most moral person in the room. (Which, again, does not necessarily lead to the best decision-making; being the guy who is most anti-communist does not mean you are the guy with the best ideas for how to overthrow Castro, for example.)

Twitter and bloggers are anonymous enough to say disagreeable things without worrying about it having major effects on their personal lives; they don’t have to worry about grandma bringing up their blog posts at Thanksgiving dinner, for example, unless they’ve told grandma about their blog. However, they may still worry about alienating their regular readers. For example, if you run a regular Feminist blog, but happen to think the latest scandal is nonsense and the person involved is making it all up, it’s probably not worth your while to bring it up and alienate your regular readers. If you’re the Wesleyan student paper, it’s a bad idea to run any articles even vaguely critical of #BlackLivesMatters.

Places like 8Chan run completely anonymously, eschewing even reputation. You have no idea if the person you’re talking to is the same guy you were talking to the other day, or even just a few seconds ago. Here, there are basically no negative repercussions for saying you think Ike’s invasion plan is made of horse feces. If you want to know all the reasons why your idea is dumb and you shouldn’t do it, 8Chan is probably the place to ask.

Any serious decision-making organization can set up its own totally anonymous internal messageboard that only members have access to, and then tell everyone that they’re not allowed to take real-life credit for things said on the board. Because once you’ve got anonymous, a-reputational, a-name communication, your next goal is to keep it that way. You have to make it clear–in the rules themselves–to everyone involved that the entire point of the anonymous, a-name messageboard is to prevent people from knowing whose ideas are whose, so that people can say things that disrupt group harmony without fear. Second, you have to make sure that no one tries to bypass the no reputations by just telling everyone who they are. You can do this by having strong rules against it, and/or by frequently claiming to be everyone else and stating in the rules that it is perfectly a-ok to pretend to be everyone else, precisely for this reason.

Obviously moderation is a fast route to groupthink; your small decision-making messageboard really shouldn’t need any moderation beyond the obvious, “don’t do anything illegal.”

The biggest reason you have to make this extra clear from the get-go is that anonymous, a-reputational boards seem to be anathema to certain personality types–just compare the number of women on Facebook with the number of women on Reddit–so any women in your decision-making group may strongly protest the system. (So may many of the men, for that matter.)

Personal experience suggests that men and women use communication for different ends. Men want to convey facts quickly and get everything done; women want to build relationships. Using real names and establishing reputations lets them do that. Being anonymous and anomized and unable to carry on a coherent conversation with another person from minute to minute makes this virtually impossible. Unfortunately, building relationships gets you right back to where we started, with people neglecting to say uncomfortable things in the interests of maintaining group harmony.

This basic architecture of communication also seems to have an actual effect on the kinds of moral and political memes that get expressed and thrive in each respective environment. As I mentioned above, Facebook slants strongly to the left; when people’s reputations are on the line, they want to look like good people, and they make themselves look like good people by professing deep concern for the welfare of others. As a result, reading Facebook is like jumping onto Cthulhu’s back as he flies through the Overton Window. By contrast, if you’ve ever wandered into /pol/, you know that 8Chan slants far to the right. If you’re going to post about your love of Nazis, you don’t want to do it in front of your boss, your grandma, and all of your friends and acquaintances. When you want to be self-interested, 8Chan is the place to go; without reputation, there’s no incentive to engage in holiness spirals.

I don’t know what such a system do to corporate or political decision making of the Bay of Pigs variety, but if your want your organization to look out for its own interests (this is generally accepted as the entire point of an organization,) then it may be useful to avoid pressures that encourage your organization to look out for other people’s interests at the expense of its own.

The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism (part 3/3 ruminations on Indians and Puritans)

(Part 1: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder; part 2: Species of Exit: Memes, Genes, and Puritans.)

Before I got distracted by pre-Civil War election data, we were discussing the Puritans.

Where, exactly, ideas and behaviors come from is always a matter of debate in conversations like these; were the Puritans Puritans because of their conversion to a particularly strict version of Calvinism, or was it just something genetic? (Or could it be both?)

Interestingly, the Puritans decided to do an experiment on the subject, in their attempt to convert the local Indians to memetic Puritanism.

Once the Massachusetts colonies got off the ground (that is, once they stopped losing half their population to starvation and disease every winter and had enough food to start thinking about the future,) they began taking seriously the Biblical injunction to preach the Gospel to all four corners of the Earth. In 1651, the Puritans established Natic as the first “Praying Town” for Indian converts. Soon many more popped up across Massachusetts and nearby Connecticut.

The Jesuit missionaries up in Canada had attempted to convert the Indians without significantly changing their lifestyles–to create Christian Indians, if you will. By contrast, the denizens of the new Praying Towns were expected to become Puritans.

A Puritan, I suspect, could see it no other way. Divine election was manifest in one’s behavior, after all, and Puritans took behavior seriously. And being Puritans, they outlined the Rules of Conduct for the “Praying Indians” of the Praying Towns:

I. If any man shall be idle a week, or at most a fortnight, he shall be fined five shillings.
II. If any unmarried man shall lie with a young woman unmarried, he shall be fined five shillings.
III. If any man shall beat his wife, his hands shall be tied behind him, and he shall be carried to the place of justice to be punished severely.
IV. Every young man, if not another’s servant, and if unmarried, shall be compelled to set up a wigwam, and plant for himself, and not shift up and down in other wigwams.
V. If any woman shall not have her hair tied up, but hang lose, or be cut as a man’s hair, she shall pay five shillings.
VI. If any woman shall go with naked breasts, she shall pay two shillings.
VII. All men that shall wear long locks, shall pay five shillings.
VIII. If any shall crack lice between their teeth, they shall pay five shillings.

Aside from the lice cracking, which seems more of a petty hygiene concern (crack lice with nails, not teeth,) the list likely preserves for us the behaviors Puritans valued most, and those at most at variance between the Puritans and Indians.

Idleness tops our list, coming in both at number 1 and again at number 4. The Puritans definitely believed in hard work; that is how they managed to build a civilization in the wilderness.

The low-key hunter-gatherer / horticulturalist lifestyle of the Indians, (without draft animals, they had little ability to plow or pull wagons,) did not require the kind of constant effort and energy inputs as the more intensive Puritan agricultural and technological systems, so this may have been a matter of contention between the groups.

Rules 2 and 3 protected women, 2 from the predations of unmarried men and 3 from domestic violence. (Of course, prominent historians like Howard Zinn would have you believe that such rules show how much the Puritans oppressed women.)

And 5-7 details Puritan clothing norms–they still thought it morally imperative to dress like they were in blustery England, even during the wretched Massachusetts summers.

The existence of the Praying Towns is credited largely to Reverend John Elliot, who devoted his life to converting the Indians and printed America’s first Bible, Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God, translated into the Massachusett-Natick language. Elliot received funding from “A Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England,” created by the British Parliament, which raised about £12,000 pounds sterling. (How exactly this corporation was supposed to make money, I’m not sure.)

How successful were the Praying Towns?

Unfortunately, the websites I’ve found on the subject, (Wikipedia etc.,) don’t give many details about life in the Praying Towns or what the Puritans–and other Indians–thought of them. There are indications that things were not going as well as Elliot would have liked–the Wikipedia claims, broadly:

“While the idea of praying towns was somewhat a success, they did not reach the level John Eliot had hoped for. While the Puritans were pleased with the conversions, Praying Indians were still seen as second rate citizens and never gained the degree of trust or respect that they had hoped the conversion would grant them. It has also been argued that the Natives had a difficult time adjusting to the impersonal English society, since theirs had been built upon relationships and reciprocity, while the English were more structured and institutionalized. According to this view, this difference made it hard for Natives to see the institutionalized structures as a whole, and John Eliot had failed to see the need for adaptations appropriate for smoother transitions.[4]

In other words, the Indians were more tribal than the Puritans. They probably didn’t have the same ideas about compulsive working, too. If you want compulsive workers, hire Germans or Japanese. They have been selected for the past 1,000 years or so for their ability to work hard in feudal agricultural systems. If you want someone who’ll ignore the hungry cattle lowing to be let into the pastures, hire a hunter-gatherer. Horticulturalists lie between these two extremes; if you want to convert horticulturalists to intensive farmers, then it’ll take at least a few generations.

Chances are good that few people on Earth could ever quite live up to the Puritans’ standards of behavior, including the Puritans themselves.

The experiment came to an abrupt and terminal end as war broke out in 1675 between the colonists and some of the local Indians. The Puritan population had grown from 0 to 50,000-80,000 people in 55 years, bringing them into competition with the Indians for land and other resources. Estimates of the Indian population vary; a colonial census in 1680 came up with 1,000 Indians; others estimate 20,000. Given the tech levels and disease (epidemics caused by exposure to European germs had wiped out potentially 90% of the local population before the Pilgrims arrived,) I suspect the number was about 5,000 to 10,000 Indians.

Conflicts intensified until the Indians decided to kick out the colonists, attacking and massacring a bunch of towns. The colonists fought back and, obviously, won–the time to go slaughtering the colonists was back when a few smallpox-ridden fishermen showed up on the beach, not once the Indians were massively outnumbered in their own land. Like most wars, it was brutal and nasty; thousands of people died, most of them Indians.

The colonists weren’t sure what to do with the Praying Indians, who weren’t quite Puritans, but also weren’t the guys massacring Puritans.

So the Puritans moved the Praying Indians to an island off the coast, where winter + no food promptly killed most of them.

As I’ve said before, once you are a demographic minority, there is absolutely nothing to stop the majority from herding you into concentration camps and murdering you and your children, except for how much they pity you.

John Elliot seems to have been truly concerned about the fate of his Indian friends, but his attempts to help him were thwarted by other, more militaristic colonists. In this the colonists sinned; they showed themselves bad allies to their brothers in faith. If they felt they could not be certain about the Indians’ loyalty, then they should not have been moving them into little towns in the first place.

It’s not clear what happened to the few Praying Indians after the war, or how long some of the towns lasted, but the Indians are still around and still Christian, unlike the Puritans.

(Part 1 in this series: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder; part 2: Species of Exit: Memes, Genes, and Puritans.)

Ben Carson on Jesus’ Tax Plan

Ben Carson was just asked which tax plan Jesus would endorse, his or Trump’s.

Carson answered incorrectly.

The correct answer is, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.”

Has Carson not read the Bible?

(Yes I am being subjected to the Republican debate. Why can’t someone declare that they are going to go ride tigers with Putin?)

Southern Election Data

Picture 13

Picture 8

(I divided the spreadsheet so it would fit comfortably on your screen.)

So I got curious about trends in the Southern election data, (see yesterday’s post on Northern election data and last week’s post about my migration/Civil War theory,) thinking to myself that perhaps an opposite trend happened in the South–maybe poor sods who couldn’t catch a break in slavery-dominated states decided to go test their luck on the frontier, leaving behind a remnant population of pro-slavery voters.


I took as the “South” all of the states south of the Mason-Dixon. This turned out to be incorrect for Delaware and Maryland, which both tended to vote against the Southern states; Delaware, IIRC, voted with Massachusetts more often than “Northern” New Jersey.

The practice of having the legislators rather than citizens vote for president persisted for longer in the South than in the North, especially in SC, which did not have popular voting until after the Civil War; all of SC’s votes here, therefore, come from the legislature.

A “yes” vote means the state voted with the Southern Block during the age before individual vote counts were recorded or the state did not allow individual voting. A “no” vote means the state voted against the Southern Block under the same circumstances.

Originally I had planned on using VA as my touchstone for determining the “Southern” candidates, but VA did not always vote with the rest of the South. So I decided which candidates were the “Southern” ones based primarily on how badly they polled in MA.

A few of the elections had some weird anomalies.

Four candidates ran in the 1824 election. Only one of them was popular in NE, so that was easy, but the other three each won electors in the South, which resulted in the election being decided by the House of Representatives. In this case, Jackson carried most of the Southern states, but not VA or KY, so I decided to count only votes for Jackson.

In 1832, SC decided to cast all of its votes for the “Nullification” (State’s Rights) party. Since “States Rights” is the more polite form of Civil War grievances, I decided to count this as SC voting in line with pro-slavery interests, even though it was not in line with the other Southern states.

In 28 and 32, the states of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama seem unsure how this “voting” thing works, and returned unanimous or near votes for their chosen candidates. Many Northern states also had anomalously high percents in those yeas, IIRC, so this may not be voter fraud so much as everyone just feeling like they ought to vote for the same guy.

In 1836, the Whigs ran four candidates in hopes of throwing the election to the House again, resulting in a fragmented Southern block. I counted all Whig candidates as part of the MA/Puritan side, and so give here the vote percents for Van Buren, the Democratic candidate.

In 1856, the Whig party had disintegrated, and two parties took its place. The Republicans, soon to be very famously anti-slavery, emerged in the North but do not appear to have run at all in the South; I don’t think they were even on the Southern ballots. In the South, an anti-immigrant/nativist party sprang up to balance the Democrats. It won few states, but performed well overall. I couldn’t decide whether to count the Democrats or the nativists as the more pro-South / pro-slavery party, so I wrote down both %s, Dems first and then nativists.

This oddity persists in 1860, when again the Republicans do not appear to have even been on the Southern ballots. The Democrats split in two, with one candidate running in the North against Lincoln, and another candidate running in the South on an explicitly pro-slavery platform, against the the “pro-union” party whose main platform was opposing the civil war. The Union party polled decently throughout the South–taking VA, KY, and Tenn.–but received very low %s in the North. The North, it appears, was not as concerned with trying to stop the Civil War as Virginia was.


The data does not support my suspicion that less-slavery-minded people moved out of the Southern states. In fact, the most ardently pro-slavery, pro-secession states were Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas, who also happen to be the last 5 Southern states admitted to the Union, with last but not least Texas outstripping them all at 75%. In that same election, Virginia, the first Southern state, voted for the pro-union party.

So it looks like the same pattern appears here as in the Northern data: more conservative people have moved Westward.

However, the %s voting for the Southern candidates held fairly steady once the era of unanimous voting ended. Georgia, for example, went from 48% 1836 in to 49% in 1860. Mississippi went from 59% to 59%. VA hovered around 55%-50% until the last election. So I don’t see any clear trend of coastal states becoming more liberal over time, aside from maybe VA.

Pre-Civil War Election Results by State

Picture 11
Simplified version
Picture 10
Detailed version

I wanted to see if I could find any evidence in support of the theory I discussed the other day that emigration of more “conservative” folks from the Northern East Coast toward the American West left behind an increasingly liberal population that became increasingly concerned about slavery.

I decided to use election results as the easiest way to gauge relative “liberal”ness over time. If the theory is correct, we ought to see an increase in the % of the vote going to “liberal” candidates over time on the Northern East Coast, and a lower % of the vote going to “liberal” candidates in the western areas settled by former East-Coasters.

Since the theory does not concern itself with the behavior of Southern voters, I ignored them completely and only looked at election results for states north of the Mason-Dixon.

Ideally, I’d also look at Congressional elections, but I decided that focusing on Presidential elections would let me quickly get a general idea of whether or not I had a potentially viable idea.

Some notes:

The first difficulty in compiling this data was deciding who the “liberal” candidates were. I eventually decided to dispense with the notion entirely (see Friday’s grumbling on the subject of whether the Puritans or Jamestown settlers were more “liberal.”) Rather, there is a very clear pattern in the data of Massachusetts and Virginia voting for different parties; MA and the other Puritan states tend to vote together, while VA and the rest of the South tend to vote together. Taken over the long haul, the voting pattern looks more like two ethnically-based parties than two ideologically based parties. Since I am not interested here in some Platonic ideal of “liberalness”, but merely the ideas that prompted the Northern attitudes toward the Civil War, I decided to regard whichever party was dominant in MA (the most consistently anti-whoever-won-VA state) as the “liberals.”

I’ve ordered the states by year of settlement for the original colonies and year of entry to the US for the rest.

There’s no data on popular votes for most states prior to 1824, mostly because most states didn’t have popular voting back then. These elections I have marked merely “Yes” or “No” for “voted for the Puritan candidate” or “voted against the Puritan candidate.”

There’s a period of mass agreement that affected most–but not quite all–of the states until about 1832. The election of 1820, for example, was nearly unanimous–only one elector chose to vote against James Monroe. This I suspect has more to do with the whole country being relatively novel (and early elections lacking popular voting,) rather than mass Puritan or anti-Puritan sentiment.

Starting in 1840, third parties with anti-slavery platforms appeared on the scene and quickly grew in significance. These parties polled pretty much zero outside of the North. The “detailed” dataset gives both the main party’s total and the third party’s totals; the “simplified” set only shows the composite total. (Since it I’ve been working on this very late at night, I hope the math is all correct, but if you find an error, I’d appreciate knowing about it.) I regard the emergence of these third parties as evidence of further leftward movement of the voting public.

The third party polled particularly well in 1848 due to having a very popular candidate; this should not be seen as evidence that the party itself was as popular as it looks in ’48. Likewise, 1836 had a very unpopular candidate.

Interestingly, this period also saw the emergence of a very small fourth party in the North devoted to opposing immigration. I regard these as local “conservative” parties and so didn’t include them in the graph.

Several states are “border states” that received significant migration from both the North and the South; they should be considered accordingly.


The data looks tentatively favorable to the theory.

If we ignore the period of mass agreement, MA’s support of the Puritan candidate goes from 47% to 62% between 1832 and 1860.

NY holds fairly steady (perhaps because NY is a large enough state that many of its migrants stayed within the state,) but increases from 48% to 54%.

RI: 50% to 61%

Conn holds mostly steady, but increases a bit, from 55% to 58%.

NH: 43% to 57%

New Jersey, a border state, went from 49% to 48%. (Though it was 42% in 1824.)

Pennsylvania, interestingly, did not vote with MA at the beginning, but consistently voted against it. In 1832, it appears that the Puritan candidate wasn’t even on the Pennsylvania ballot. Generously ignoring 1832, Penn makes a remarkable rise from 12% in 1824 to 56% in 1860.

VT: 35% to 76%

Ohio did not originally vote with the North; it went from 25% in 1824 to 52% in 1860.

Indi: 19% in 1824 to 51% in 1860.

Il: 32% in 1824 to 51% in 1860.

ME, formerly part of MA, follows the general coastal New England pattern of mass agreement in the early yeas, then goes from 44% in 1832 to 62% in 1860.

Missouri also seems to have not run the Puritan candidate in 1832, but otherwise went from 4% in 1824 to 44% in 1852, then dropped down to 0% and 10% in the final two elections–most likely due to confusion and campaign difficulties after the Whig party dissolved and the Republicans took their place, rather than a sudden massive shift in attitudes.

Michigan went from 46% in 1836 to 57% in 1860.

Iowa: 50% in 1848 to 54% in 1860.

Wisconsin: 62% in 1848, then down to 57% in 1860.

CA: 47% in 1852, then down to 42 % in 1860.

Minn: 63%

OR: 36%

In the 1860 election, the Puritan candidate polled above 60% in MA, RI, VT, ME, and Minn. Four of those are old Puritan states, and I think Minn is full of Scandinavians.

Puritans polled below 55% in NY (those Dutch!) Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa (all Midwest states,) below 50% in NJ (border state,) and Missouri (both a border state and probably a fluke,) and below 40% in the most Western states, CA and OR.

Thus I conclude that we see a general trend in most of the Eastern states toward increasing support for the Puritan candidate, while the more Western states, despite their Puritan transplants, showed much less (sometimes decreasing) support.


Species of Exit: Pilgrims, Memes, and Genes (Part 2/3 ruminations on Puritans and Indians)

Part 1: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder; part 3: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism

The Puritans really get a bad rap these days. “The Pilgrims” get favorable treatment in some children’s books, but “the Puritans” are lucky to get a neutral description anywhere, much less a positive one. Much of the time they described in outright hostile terms, as bad people who oppressed women and children and nature and the Indians and so on and so forth.

Much of that is basically true, but what those accounts tend to leave out is that pretty much every other group on Earth was also terrible by modern standards.

You ever wonder what happened to Roanoke colonists? Chief Powhatan told Captain John Smith that he’d killed them all. Why? The colonists had gone to live with another Indian tribe in the area, Powhatan and his soldiers attacked and slaughtered that tribe for local tribal politics reasons.

As I’ve said before, hunter-gatherers (and low-scale agriculturalists) were not peaceful paragons of gender equality.

To be clear: the Roanoke (and Jamestown) settlers were not Puritans. Totally different group. I’m just commenting here on the behavior of the Powhatans, who massacred their neighbors, including the Jamestown settlers themselves (an attack that left a quarter of them dead.)

But if you pick up a children’s book about Pocahontas, do you read how the Powhatan people massacred the Roanoke colony and later tried to wipe out Jamestown? Or do you read about how the Powhatan loved nature so much they were constantly surrounded by a chorus of singing birds and magic trees?

Do you ever read a story about the Puritans in which they are surrounded by magical choruses?

I am picking on the Powhatans because they come up in the relevant literature, even though they had nothing to do with the Puritans. I could just as easily talk about the Killing Fields of Cambodia; ISIS; or folks like King Gezo and Madam Efunroye Tinubu, who became wealthy selling people into slavery and didn’t hesitate to slaughter hundreds of slaves for religious sacrifices.

History (and the modern world) has a lot of groups in it I wouldn’t want to live in or near. The Puritans, by contrast, are downright pleasant. When everyone else kept telling them their religion was annoying, they politely moved away from everyone else so they could go about their business peacefully. They were never much involved in the slave trade, worked hard, attempted to lead virtuous lives, taught their children to read, and even established schools for the Indians so they could learn to read.

So who were the Puritans?

Puritan Genetics

These four pictures all came from Jayman’s Maps of the American Nations posts, which are all inspired by Colin Woodard’s book, American Nations, which I should probably read:


Here we have a map showing genetic clusters in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Eastern England obviously has the most red, a product of Anglo-Saxon admixture. (Note that the A-S component isn’t a majority, even here.) Western England is more varied, showing less of the Anglo Saxon and more of the old Celtic (or perhaps pre-Celtic) bloodlines, simply because the Anglo Saxons et al landed on the south eastern shore and spread inward from there, leaving a fringe of less mixed native people on the western (and, obviously, northern) side of the Island. (Note also that “Celtic” is not a homogenous group, but more of a catch-all for everyone who just doesn’t have a lot of A-S.) Cornwall, Wales, eastern and northern England, and the English/Scottish border region all show up quite distinctly on this map.


And here we see where people from each region headed. They did not move randomly, but shipped off with their friends and families, aiming for places where people like them were already established. The Jamestown settlers, as I mentioned before, were not Puritans; they were in it for the economic opportunities and hailed largely from the western side of the island.

The Puritans hailed from the east side of the island, the Anglo-Saxon zone, but obviously were not a random assortment even here, as they were members of a relatively small religious sect that wasn’t all that well tolerated by the other locals. Personality wise, they remind me a lot of the Dutch (and not just because they lived in Holland for a few years.)


Here we can see where the various groups landed and then spread. The Puritans arrived in Massachusetts in 1620 and spread quickly:


Jayman's map of the American Nations

to their fairly reliable present locations.

The Wikipedia claims that in contrast to the Jamestown colony, which was largely populated by men hoping to get rich, the Puritans consisted of a more even mix of men, women, and children who intended to raise children and build a civilization, a “Shining city upon a hill.”


Puritan Memes

The Puritans basically believed that god wanted them to run their lives via a joint-stock corporation with a semi-democratically elected board of directors.

Religiously, Puritanism is the kind of movement you’d expect from the Little Ice Age. They hated nice-looking churches, fancy decorations, and, one suspects, anything that smacked too much of “fun,” all of which they associated with their hated enemies, people who had insufficiently purged themselves of all vestiges of Catholicism. Their idea of a “good time” was attending church in a plain wooden building, then having a sedate meeting at home to discuss the sermons. (Anne Hutchinson got banished for hosting insufficiently sedate sermon discussions, after which the Puritans attempted to generally crack down on women enjoying church too much.)

Basically, the Puritans were trying to route religion through the logic parts of the brain. I don’t know if this is just because they had some other reason to hate Catholics, because they simply wanted to be rational about their religion, or if they just lacked the basic impulse toward irrational emotional experiences and so found ritual inherently strange and repellant.

Whatever the reasons for their attempt at striping down their religion to its barest, calmest bones, I suspect that religious belief is dependent on emotional rather than rational experiences, and thus attempts to conduct religion “rationally,” no matter how well-intentioned, quickly result in atheism. Ritual, symbolism, mysticism, and other altered, transcendent states instill an overwhelming sense of divine presence that mere logic cannot match.

By the 1660s, just 40 years after the Pilgrims had landed, the Puritan churches were undergoing a bit of a crisis due to the children and grandchildren of the original Puritans just not being as into church as their forefathers.

This is not much of a surprise; when it comes to breeding for particular traits, one must always deal with regression to the mean. The original stock of New World Puritans consisted of people who were so concerned about the English government not doing enough to root out the last few vestiges of Catholicism from the Church of England that they decided to risk death so they could start a new community on the other side of the ocean. Their children and grandchildren, having regressed a bit toward the religious mean, were not quite so devout.

This is a pattern I see among super-religious people today; they try their very hardest to pass on their religious fervor, but their children rarely turn out as religious as their parents.

Today, the Puritan church has morphed into the basically atheist Unitarian Universalist Church and the United Church of Christ, which promotes, “liberal views on social issues, such as civil rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights, and abortion rights,” and practices open communion (that is, anyone can walk in and take communion; you don’t have to be an official member of their church like you do in Catholicism.)

The Puritans haven’t quite shaken the habit of attending church, even though they stopped believing in all of this “god” business long ago.

What else made the Puritans Puritans?

One thing I have noticed about Yanks is their almost compulsive drive to create organizations. (I swear, these people cannot hang out and watch TV together without establishing a set of by-laws and a treasury to handle snack funds.)

The Puritan colonies were not just a random assortment of huts tossed up on Massachusetts’s shores. They were company towns set up by joint-stock corporations like the London Company, Plymouth Company, and most famously, the Dutch East India Corporation, which preceded the London Company by about 4 years, making the Dutch the first people to use joint-stock corporations for international trade and settlement, which is why the whole business strikes me as so very Dutch.

I wrote about the development of these joint stock corporations and their importance in the history of the United States and Europe back in Les Miserables.

The original British and Dutch colonies of Jamestown, New York, Plymouth, etc., were literally corporations whose purpose was to make money for their stock holders by harvesting timber (England had cut down pretty much all of its trees and was reduced to burning mud and rocks,) growing tobacco, and carrying on trade with the Indians. In practical terms, this was the only way the Puritans could get the funding necessary to buy the boats and supplies they needed to get from England to New England.

Wikipedia has an interesting description of how these corporations came to be:

“On April 10, 1606 King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) granted a charter forming two joint stock companies. … Under this charter the “first Colony” and the “second Colony” each were to be ruled by a “Council” composed of 13 individuals. The charter provided for an additional council of 13 persons to have overarching responsibility for the combined enterprise. Although no name was given to either the company or council governing the respective colonies, the council governing the whole was named “Council of Virginia.”

“The investors appointed to govern over any settlements in the “first Colony” were from London; the investors appointed to govern over any settlements in the “second Colony” were from the “Town of Plimouth in the County of Devon.”[citation needed] The London Company proceeded to establish Jamestown.[5] The Plymouth Company under the guidance of Sir Ferdinando Gorges covered the more northern area, including present-day New England, and established the Sagadahoc Colony in 1607 in present-day Maine.[6]”

(The Maine colony failed.)

Different colonies probably differed in how they handled the exact details of administration, but the general gist of things is that the Puritans believed that democracy was divinely ordained by John Calvin. Adult males who were formal members of the Puritan Church and had been “sponsored by an existing freeman and accepted by the General Court” (wikipedia) were allowed to vote for the colony’s governors.

Despite a deeply held religious conviction that they should work hard and build the best joint-stock corporation they could, the early Puritans had a very rough time of it in the New World and a great many of them died, which had a major negative impact on profits for the first few years. The investors in the Plymouth Colony decided to cut their losses in 1627, and sold the colony to the colonists, at which point they were technically an independent republic. The Massachusetts Bay company followed a similar path, first by relocating their annual stockholders meeting from England to Massachusetts, and then by buying out the remaining non-Massachusetts residents’ stock shares.

The British at this time were content to basically ignore the colonies (aside from the 10,000 or so who emigrated,) until after the English Civil War, when the newly restored king decided he was going to take over the colonies and rule them himself. Of course, you know how that eventually ended; the Puritans were too numerically dominant in their area and 1700s tech still too limited for Great Britain to control them for long.


As for daily life in the colonies, once they got the houses insulated and the crops growing, it wasn’t nearly so bad. There was plenty of land to till, child mortality was low, interpersonal violence was low, and the people seem to have been basically happy and productive.

I spent a while trying to decide whether the Puritans or the Jamestown colonists were more “liberal,” and eventually decided that “liberal” and “conservative” are meaningless, at least in this context. Virginia produced democracy-loving deists like Jefferson, whereas the Puritans were, well, Puritans. Jamestown has been block-voting with the rest of the South pretty much since George Washington retired (and probably before Washington was even born), and Plymouth Colony has voted against Jamestown in almost every election, so we should probably just chalk the political divide up to “ethnic differences dating back to the Anglo-Saxon and Norman conquests of Britain” and leave it at that.

Previously: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder (Part 1); next up: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism

oppression is in the eye of the beholder (Part 1/3 ruminations on Puritans and Indians)

Part 2: Pilgrims, Memes, and Genes, and Part 3: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism

I remember an article I read ages ago (that, alas, I cannot find now,) on the subject of what the Puritans thought of Indian gender relations. In Puritan society, men were expected to work in the fields or at trades/professions in the cities, while women were supposed to work in the home, raising children, cooking meals, and otherwise doing domestic labor.

In the nearby Indian tribes, by contrast, women worked in the fields, either alongside the men or while the men stayed at home, doing whatever needed to be done about the house or just relaxing with their friends. (This is not just something I read once, btw; here’s an article from Indian Country Today on Why do Tribes Have Matrilineal Societies?)

It is common enough today to read descriptions of the Puritan lifestyle which basically amount to denunciations of the Puritans as evil, patriarchal oppressors, and glowing descriptions of the Indians’ lifestyle as female-empowered matriarchies.

The funny thing is that the Puritans saw the Indians as evil, patriarchal oppressors. They viewed the Indian men like communists view evil capitalist oppressors who sit indolently at home while benefiting from the exploitation of their wives’ labor instead of working industriously in the fields so that their wives can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle at home.

These days, of course, one does not encounter denunciations of the Indians as evil, patriarchal oppressors. In fact, it is difficult to find a respectable source making any kind of denunciation of Indian culture at all, unlike the Puritans.

I’m going to quote Howard Zinn at greater length than I usually prefer to quote, just because I’m having trouble picking the best part:

“Societies based on private property and competition, in which monogamous families became practical units for work and socialization, found it especially useful to establish this special status of women, something akin to a house slave in the matter of intimacy and oppression, and yet requiring, because of that intimacy, and long-term connection with children, a special patronization, which on occasion, especially in the face of a show of strength, could slip over into treatment as an equal. An oppression so private would turn out hard to uproot.

Earlier societies-in America and elsewhere-in which property was held in common and families were extensive and complicated, with aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers all living together, seemed to treat women more as equals than did the white societies that later overran them, bringing “civilization” and private property.

In the Zuni tribes of the Southwest, for instance, extended families- large clans-were based on the woman, whose husband came to live with her family. It was assumed that women owned the houses, and the fields belonged to the clans, and the women had equal rights to what was produced. A woman was more secure, because she was with her own family, and she could divorce the man when she wanted to, keeping their property.

Women in the Plains Indian tribes of the Midwest did not have farming duties but had a very important place in the tribe as healers, herbalists, and sometimes holy people who gave advice. When bands lost their male leaders, women would become chieftains. Women learned to shoot small bows, and they carried knives, because among the Sioux a woman was supposed to be able to defend herself against attack.

The puberty ceremony of the Sioux was such as to give pride to a young Sioux maiden:

“Walk the good road, my daughter, and the buffalo herds wide and dark as cloud shadows moving over the prairie will follow you… . Be dutiful, respectful, gentle and modest, my daughter. And proud walking. If the pride and the virtue of the women are lost, the spring will come but the buffalo trails will turn to grass. Be strong, with the warm, strong heart of the earth. No people goes down until their women are weak and dishonored. . ..”It would be an exaggeration to say that women were treated equally with men; but they were treated with respect, and the communal nature of the society gave them a more important place.

By the way, I didn’t pick Zinn because he’s a famous liberal historian, but because he was the first Google hit when I searched for opinions the Puritans held about the Indians. Zinn strikes me as one of those guys who would insist to my face that I am being oppressed and that my lack of feeling oppressed is just a sign of how oppressed I am, which never fails to infuriate.

Zinn says the women of the Sioux had to learn to kill people and walked around armed because violence against women was so prevalent in their society, and then claims they were treated with respect. A Sioux girl becomes a woman not because she has accomplished some great skill or acquired some learning, but because she becomes fertile and capable of conceiving children, at which point she is lectured on the importance of being dutiful, respectful, and preserving her “virtue,” which sounds a lot like code for virginity to me. If she doesn’t, her tribe will starve, because goodness knows all misfortune comes as a result of women. Eve, Pandora, dishonored Sioux maidens…

Honestly, I have no idea how the Sioux felt (and feel) about women, but this little excerpt is inadequate to support to the idea that women were more respected by the Sioux than by, say, Queen Elizabeth’s England, where women did not even have to walk around armed for fear of constant violence.

A while back, I posted about the similarities between West African Child-Rearing Norms and African-American Norms. The point of this post was not that the two are similar because of genetics–though that would be very interesting if they are–but that the exact same behavior that anthropologists laud as evidence of cultures that respect and empower women, when practiced over in Africa, is derided as the source of all of the black community’s problems over here in the US.

Be careful what you believe. Everybody has an agenda. Anthropologists want to push the narrative that non-whites are morally superior than whites, generally by claiming that they are peaceful paragons of gender equality, which turns out to be factually untrue in a lot of ways, especially homicide rates. Conservative Americans want to push the narrative that loss of traditional values and family structures created the social decay, crime, and low educational achievement now seen in African American communities. This is likely also untrue, but I grant the possibility.

Most Sioux probably liked (and like) their culture and did not feel oppressed by it. Most Nigerians probably liked (and like) their culture. Likewise, most of the English probably liked English culture, and most of the Puritan women probably liked Puritan culture. This is the way of people virtually everywhere.

One thing all of these descriptions of Puritan and Indian life tend to miss (though Zinn comes close to noticing it) is that there is an important reason why women were more active in economic production in Indian life than in European life: the European economy (including the Pilgrims’) was more complicated and closer to achieving full industrialization, and industrialization requires specialization. Anyone can gather yams; most people can fish. Men probably have an advantage drawing a bow or throwing a spear, but women are perfectly good butchers of most game.

But working cattle, building windmills, and driving fence posts are hard, difficult tasks that require a great deal of muscle.

Did you know that the Amish use automatic milking machines? Yes, the Amish use some technology, if they decide it will be a boon to their culture. They use milking machines because Amish women are too weak to easily lift the 70 lb milk jugs, and these are people who were raised on a farm.

Obviously European society in the early 1600s had not yet “Industrialized” as we use the word, but it had reached a high level of technical development, including the use of wind, water, and tidal mills for grinding grain; large guilds for the production of standardized goods and regulation of commerce; orderly societies with falling homicide rates; printing presses and widespread literacy.

The Indians practiced low-scale agriculture/horticulture, hunting, gathering, fishing, and some forms of resource management. They also killed all of the wooly mammoths in North America, because they love and respect nature so much just as much as virtually everyone else on the entire planet. They did not have cows or horses (or any domestic animals besides dogs;) so they could not plow or pull wagons. Trade had to be carried one one’s back or a sled dragged on the ground, pulled by a dog. They had no need to fence in large herds of enormous bovines. Farming by hand, as was common in much of the world at that time, does not require the same strength as plowing with oxen, and can easily be accomplished by women.

Lack of task specialization and resource exploitation had little to do with the Indians being fabulous people who loved women and nature way more than the Pilgrims. It was just the result of low levels of technological sophistication that did not therefore require intense labor, specialization, or large-scale resource extraction.

Oppression is in the eye of the beholder.

Part 2: Pilgrims, Memes, and Genes, and Part 3: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism


Frida Kahlo and the Library

So I was researching the Mexican Revolution the other day–because hey, revolution–and you know, 1910-1920 really was a high point for socialism.

You know, this aesthetic would look great in a movie
Pancho Villa, Mexican Revolution

We had the Mexican Revolution, the Russian Revolution, that election when instead of Dems vs. Repubs we had the International Socialist (Wilson) vs. the Nationalistic Socialist (Teddy Roosevelt) vs. whatever Taft was, normal conservatism or something. Wilson won and gave us the income tax (so we could tax the rich to give to the poor, and also a massive standing army,) the League of Nations, and the Federal Reserve.

Anyway, so I was researching the Mexican Revolution, and happened across Diego Rivera–you know him, he’s famous for being married to Frida Kahlo, who’s famous for being one of the twentieth century’s most over rated artists.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Frida Kahlo, self portrait
Frida Kahlo, self portrait

No, wait, Frida Kahlo is famous for having been married to Rivera, who’s famous for being an actually pretty good artist who painted a bunch of pictures of Marx and Lenin and the like inside the Mexican capital building. Which I suppose explains why Trotsky died in Mexico.

Detail of Man at the Crossroads, fresco at Palacio de Bellas Artes
Detail of Man at the Crossroads, fresco at Palacio de Bellas Artes
Detail of Man at the Crossroads, fresco at Palacio de Bellas Artes
Detail of Man at the Crossroads, fresco at Palacio de Bellas Artes
Detail of The History of Mexico showing betrayed revolution in the Mexican capital building
Detail of The History of Mexico showing betrayed revolution, located in the Mexican capital building (note Marx)

Anyway, yes, so Diego and Frida were hipsters. But I got to thinking–how is it that I know the name of Diego Rivera, (and even Frida Kahlo!) the guy who painted at least part of the Mexican capitol building, but I don’t even know the name of the guy who painted the US Capitol building?

I got 11 months of white history a year in school, and I don’t even know Diego Rivera’s opposite number?

Yes, there were probably multiple guys involved in painting the US Capitol building (and the Mexican Capitol.) But can you name any of them?

Neither can I, and I actually posted one of his paintings about a month and a half ago on this blog:

Apotheosis of George Washington, painted by Greek-Italian (naturalized US citizen) artist Constantino Brumidi in 1865
Apotheosis of George Washington, painted by Greek-Italian (naturalized US citizen) Constantino Brumidi in 1865

Brumidi also painted this lovely lady on the White House:

Liberty, by Constantino Brumidi, 1869
Liberty, by Constantino Brumidi, 1869

But Brumidi is clearly a nobody whose work is not worth remembering, whereas Frida Kahlo is so important, she gets a two-page spread in National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of Who. (The book is actually more serious than it sounds.)

From Amazon’s description of the book:

“Introduce young readers to some of the world’s most interesting and important people in this bold and lively first biography book. More than 100 colorful photos are paired with age-appropriate text featuring profiles of each person, along with fascinating facts about their accomplishments and contributions. This book inspires kids about a world of possibilities and taps into their natural curiosity about fascinating role models from education advocate Malala Yousafzai to astronaut Neil Armstrong.”

The book awards Albert Einstein one entire paragraph, but Isabella Bird (who?) Jackie Robinson, and Amelia Earhart all get two-page spreads.

You know, can we please stop using Amelia Earhart as some sort of symbol of female accomplishment and empowerment, considering that Amelia is most famous for having failed spectacularly to fly across the Pacific and probably died horrible in a plane crash? If we have to scrounge around for female role models, can’t we find one who didn’t die hideously while failing at the thing she was supposedly paving the way for women to do? I mean, a woman recently won the Fields Medal, isn’t that some sort of accomplishment? Or do we only talk about math when whining?

Of course, Brumidi doesn’t even make it into the book.

I happened to be at the library because I was looking for a picture book about Teddy Roosevelt, because the kids wanted to know why teddy bears are called teddy bears. Roosevelt is generally acknowledged to be one of our greatest presidents–he once got shot in the shoulder by a would-be assassin, got up, and gave his campaign speech anyway. He won a Nobel Prize (I know, I know,) and folks even bothered to carve a mountain into the shape of his face to make sure that we all remember just how awesome he was.

Of course, there were no picture books about Teddy Roosevelt. I wasn’t surprised. I did find picture books about black female civil rights leaders (besides Rosa Parks;) a picture book about how poor Frida Kahlo was lonely and doubted herself when she moved too the US, but then she did ART and so it was all okay; a picture book about how slaves built the White House; a picture book about Loving v. Virginia; etc.

I did find a book by Newt Gingrich’s wife about how much elephants love America, and one by a Biden relation about a little girl who prays for god to bless our troops. It was shelved next to the children’s picture books about gay parents.

I did manage to find some decent-looking history books, but sadly, nothing on Teddy Roosevelt. I mean, who was he? Some guy who didn’t even make it into the Big Book of Who?