Anthropology Friday: The Land of Perfection

Today we are continuing with excerpts from Smith’s Aborigine Myths and Legends. As usual, I am using “” instead of block quotes for readability.

In the chapter on religion, Smith tries to claim that Aborigine religion resembles Christianity. “Notwithstanding this lack of ceremonial religion, the believe in a Great Spirit, and the son of this Great Spirit.”

I believe Smith is overstating the resemblance.

Here is the chapter’s next section:

“The Land of Perfection

“On the Plain of Nullarbor [ed. note: probably Latin for “no tree”] there existed a wonderful and beautiful country. From legendary accounts it had the appearance of a city surrounded by four white walls, which varied in height from five hundred to a thousand feet. … Along the top of each wall there were domes and spires. The outside of the walls was composed of white quartz stone, and the inside was formed of a sky-blue stone resembling slate. …

“Thus in the land of perfection there was no need for one creature to prey upon another to live. … So all things lived in harmony. The most remarkable thing about this country was that n one had knowledge of it, or was conscious of its existence until he became ill or diseased in body, mind, or soul. … But before a soul could find entrance into that perfect land of bliss it must pass along a narrow ledge of rock. On one side of this ledge was a perpendicular wall, one thousand feet high, with a perfectly smooth surface. … On the other side of the ledge was a chasm–deep, dark, and unfathomable. …

“Beyond the ledge, upon the boundary line of the Perfect Land, were two cone-shaped crystals, that stood about two hundred feet high and measured about six hundred feet round the base. Round thee two crystals were coiled two snakes … Biggarroo is the good snake, and Goonnear the evil snake. …

Gumbaynggirr elder, Uncle Larry Kelly, with the Rainbow Serpent.
Not a picture of Biggaroo or Goonnear, but of a Rainbow Serpent, along with Uncle Larry Kelly, Gumbaynggirr elder

“A sick man journeyed along the road. … At last he reached the place where the two crystals stood. … Biggarroo and Goonnear called softly in their musical voices to the sick man, “This way, my friend. To me you may come. We were once of the same totem as you. Our mothers are one. You are my brother, and I am your brother.” …

“Biggarroo and Goonnear both proclaimed the same message. Biggarroo told the truth, but Goonnear lied. The sick man could not decide which one was the physician. … He took three strides toward the wicked Goonnear. Then his inner soul gave vision to the mental eye and perfect sight to the physical eye… He saw deceitfulness in the wicked, cruel eyes of Goonnear. Straightway he turned and walked into the open jaws of Biggarroo, the physician.

“After he had walked sixty pace or more along the monster’s throat … he decided that he would chose a quiet spot where the grass grew like a green carpet and flowers blossomed upon a bush, and that there he would lie down and rest. …

“He pressed on eagerly until he came to the middle of the snake. There he saw others of the human race. Some belonged to his tribe, and others ti tribes that were strange to him in the outer world. But in this inner world they all spoke one language; each held intercourse as a friend with friend, all being in sympathy. The thoughts of all were pure and free, but the people differed in their endowments. The more intelligent guided those of less understanding. All round in the interior of the snake there was abundant evidence that the human race passes from on from stage to stage until it is made perfect. …

“He awoke and rose up slowly, and walked to the open mouth of Biggarroo. He stepped to the summit of the cone and stood upright, with both hands clasped behind his back, with the dignity of some monarch beholding his kingdom. Suddenly there appeared a third eye on his face. … It was a wonderful eye, a magical eye, and it gave him wide vision and the power of looking through the veil of time. …

“The pilgrim’s soul desired to see the past once more… His single eye, the mirror of the soul, with keen vision traced the course of the sunbeams as they penetrated into the earth. First the frozen water, like a pavement of solid crystal covering portions of the earth, began to melt and flow in liquid state. Then the earth staggered and rolled and trembled as if in dreadful agony. Rocks rose and formed mountains, hills, and valleys, and the silvery liquid rolled between as rivers, streams, and lakes. When this work was completed, the Goddess of Light drew her mantle around her comely form, and retired into the darkness of everlasting night.

“Then the pilgrim’s soul led him again to the open jaws of Biggarroo. … [Biggarroo said,] ‘My child, it is the will of the Father Spirit that you, and all of the human race who resemble you, shall be like unto the Mother Goddess. The only way to attain eternal youth is to dwell within me for a season…’

“The pilgrim slept soundly, and a century passed before he regained his self-consciousness. He stepped forth out of the snake, and once more he walked to the summit of the crystal cone. … He looked, and was amazed to see that the barren earth had changed, that it was covered with vegetation that was very beautiful to behold. … Generation after generation of forest life forms came, grew, decayed, and passed on, and were buried and changed into other forms of matter far below the surface of the earth.

“He stood motionless, it seemed for only a day; in reality centuries came and went, passing the boundary line of the evermore. … The earth revolved, and time went on. The great monsters of the Reptile Age died out. Centuries again passed. Then came a pageant most wonderful to behold–the Bird Age…

“After the pilgrim beheld this wonderful sight, Biggarroo said to him, ‘ Go now, my child; enter the Land of Perfection.” … Then there came a time when a great and mighty storm arose in the south. It raised the water of the ocean with tremendous force, and drove it through the wall of the land of perfection. Then the Father Spirit… transferred the Land of Perfection to the Sacred Land, now known as the Milky Way.”

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Cathedral Round-Up #9 (and One year blog-a-versary): Vote Early and Vote Often

Hey, everybody, EvolutionistX is now one year old. *Clinks glasses* Here’s to another year!

While you celebrate, please nominate your favorite posts for inclusion in the “favorite posts” section, or suggest a topic for future posts!

Carrying on with our monthly Cathedral Roundup:

Even a critic as skeptical as Edward Said succumbs to the temptation of university, academic employment: the university’s self-legitimations stand unchallenged. … This synthesis of internal and external factors is such that university-based intellectuals are guaranteed autonomy (“specific context”) in the name of the intellectual reduced to a social agent who agrees with Enlightenment–“investigation” becomes social improvement (“promoting human community.” –Sande Cohen, Academia and the Luster of Capital

I have obtained a copy of the Harvard U. Board of Overseers 2016 election pamphlet. In case you haven’t been following Ivy League politics, Ron Unz of Unz Review fame and some other folks have gotten themselves onto the ballot via petition. Somewhat amusingly, theirs is the “free stuff and ethnic animosity” campaign, banking on Asians being pissed that Harvard (and other schools) discriminates against them for doing too well on the SAT. This position is controversial because not-discriminating against Asians might mean taking fewer blacks and Hispanics who are currently being accepted on “soft” criteria rather than top SAT scores.

You have until May 20 to get your vote in (if you’re a Harvard alum and believe in voting,) so let’s see who’s running.

Eight of the candidates have been proposed by the Harvard Alumni Association Nominating Committee. Five candidates were nominated by petition, and are so identified. … The order of the candidates in each category is determined by lot.

The slate of candidates nominated by the Harvard Alumni Association is half male and half female; ethnically it is 3/4s white, with one black and one Asian candidate (based on black and white headshots). The nominated by petition slate is all male, 2/5s Asian and 3/5s white. (I’m not totally sure about Unz’s ethnicity, but I’m guessing white.)

We’ll start with the Alumni Association nominees.

Kent Walker:

… believes that the breadth of Harvard’s academic excellence uniquely positions it to have an influence far beyond its gates. … “I hope the University will continue its great tradition of integrating discoveries in science and technology, advances in the social sciences, and insights from the humanities to inspire change around the world.” … He has a special interest in global humanitarian and refugee programs. He is active with the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children, and he advises the Mercy Corps Social Venture Fund.”

Ketanji Jackson:

… is a federal judge who serves on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She was nominated for this lifetime position by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2013. As a judge, she has a particular interest in criminal justice and sentencing policy, having served a a vice chair and commissioner of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and as an assistant federal public defender in D.C.

Helena Foulkes:

“I would be honored to contribute whatever I can to Harvard’s immensely important role in improving the health and well-being of people around the world. And I’d value the chance to help encourage students, whatever their career paths, to focus on not just doing well but doing good.”

One of the side effects of spending much of your spare time trying to refine your writing abilities is that you become hyper-sensitive to minor glitches in other peoples’ writing that normal folks probably don’t even notice–like the 11 unnecessary words in Mrs. Foulkes’s two sentences.

John Moon:

…whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Korea, experienced firsthand the benefits of education, and he views educational access as a key to opportunity for others.

(As opposed to everyone else in the country, who didn’t get educations?)

“I would like to help ensure that Harvard remain a world-class educational and research institution that continues to lead globally. Equally important, Harvard should not only remain open to but actively seek out a diverse student body at the College and its graduate schools.”

Harvard is… already doing this. But I like to imagine he’s a stealth Free Harvard, Fair Harvard candidate.

Alejandro Magana:

“I hope to bring a continued international approach to the Board of Overseers, building on Havard’s status as a genuinely international institution, mindful that we continue to attract the most promising students and scholars from around the world and that we continue to encourage truly responsible global citizens.”

Damian Woetzel:

… former principal dancer with NYC Ballet, has combined his creative passion with his master’s in public administration from Harvard Kennedy School to become a leader, public advocate, and activist for the arts.

“The arts are an essential element in education at every level. At a time when universities face pressures to focus on specialized job skill, Harvard is committed to the full range of liberal arts education. As an Overseer, I would relish the opportunity to draw on my national work engaging the arts in society, to focus on Harvard as a leader and model for the value of arts in the university environment.”

He is the artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival.

Karen Green:

“My experiences at Harvard literally transformed me.”

I hope she became a butterfly.

“Learning experiences inside and outside the classroom caused me to adopt a much larger worldview and fostered in me a love–not only for lifelong learning, but also for Harvard.”

Darn.

At least her goals are unobjectionable:

“I wold like to work to ensure that Harvard continues to attract the very best students, regardless of their economic circumstances, and remain accessible and affordable to students of modest means.”

P. Lansdale:

… has dedicated her social science career to enhancing the lives of children through teaching and mentoring, research, and translating research into policy and practice. Much of her work addresses family strengths that lead to children’s positive social and educational outcomes in the context of economic hardship. …

“I believe strongly in addressing equity and inclusion, and in building diverse communities that thrive while simultaneously exploring new knowledge and debating various perspectives.”

“simultaneously exploring new knowledge and debating various perspectives.”

Wow. For writing a sentence that terrible, she gets to be my least favorite.

On to the Free Harvard/Fair Harvard petition slate!

First we have Ralph Nader, who was a surprise to me:

“Even with restrictions on portions of its $38 billion endowment, Harvard is easily capable of ending net tuition at the undergraduate level and setting an example for other well-endowed Universities.” …

As an advocate, author and organizer, he has been responsible for starting many enduring civic groups, including Public Citizen, Center for Study of Responsive Law, Center for Auto Safety and the student public interest groups in many states.

He has been instrumental in the passage of numerous health, safety, water pollution, air pollution and product safety laws and agencies, along with the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 and the historic Freedom of Information act of 1974.

(So how did Nader get involved in all of this?)

Stephen Hsu:

His research areas include quantum field theory, cosmology, and computational genomics. … “As a scientist, university administrator, and technology entrepreneur, I believe I have unique insight into the challenges facing modern research universities.”

Ron Unz:

“Its 38 BILLION endowment has transformed Harvard into one of the world’s largest hedge funds, with tax-exempt annual income twenty-five times greater than net college tuition revenue. Forcing families to pay tuition to a giant hedge fund is unconscionable.”

Unz is trying to play the moral highground card, but does it work? Sure, it seems wrong for Harvard to charge tuition from students who are much poorer than it is, but on the other hand, Harvard is a private institution, not a charity, and can do what it wants. Harvard’s house, Harvard’s rules.

Stuart Taylor:

“My recent work has explored the unnecessary secrecy and unfairness of the higher education admissions process, as well as the decline of of ideological diversity on faculties.” …

Taylor has coauthored two books… Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Fraud. [and] … Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.

Lee Cheng:

“…I support affirmative action, but oppose discrimination. I believe that the University can only become truly diverse, and truly inclusive, by becoming completely transparent about admissions criteria and practices. More transparency has always improved and increased access for the underprivileged.”

… He is known for wiping out “patent trolls.” …

He is married and has 3 children… who will all be identified as ethnically Asian when they apply to college.

The pamphlet also gives us a breakdown of the occupations of the current Board of Overseers: 1 writer (NY Times); 1 lawyer; 4 government (mostly judges); 7 educators (mostly professors); 10 in business and finance; and 7 in non-profits that look a lot like the B&F positions.

Ethnic breakdown of current set based on b&w pictures: 20 white, 10 non-white–4 black, 1 Hispanic?, 3 east Asian, and 2 Indian. 14 men, 16 women.

To be honest, I don’t know how much power the Board of Overseers has to do anything, but the petition is an interesting attempt at a power grab, especially as it rides on the complaint, felt by at least some Asians, that one ethnic minority is being mistreated in order to favor other ethnic minorities.

I think the Republicans had been hoping (before Trump entered the primary race) to capture the Hispanic vote (which is why two of their primary candidates were Hispanics and a third is prominently married to a Hispanic,) in much the same way that the Democrats have captured the black vote. The problem with this strategy, obviously, is that not only is the Republican establishment having a really hard time out-competing the Democrats on “being welcome to Mexican immigrants,” but the rest of the Republican voters want nothing to do with such an agenda.

This leaves me to wonder if there is yet an opportunity for Republicans to ally with Asians (and Indians) who could be convinced that the Democrats are favoring blacks and Hispanics at their expense. Or will that, too, fall flat?

Do atheist objections to homosexuality exist?

One of the more amusing responses to my post on the recent Moldbug/Lambdaconf affair was Orthosphere‘s objection that conservatives cannot make an anti-homosexuality argument that appeals to atheists because, “if God doesn’t oppose homosexuality then there’s ultimately nothing wrong with it.” In other words, the only argument against homosexuality is religious, ergo, atheists will always be pro (or at least neutral) on the subject.

Yes, I recognize that this does not actually have anything directly to do with the Moldbug/Lambdaconf affair. Don’t worry; it doesn’t matter. My relevant bit was:

Take the most common argument against homosexuality: “God says it is a sin.” Young people are fairly atheist, believe in separation of church and state, and think a god who doesn’t like gay people is a jerk. This argument doesn’t just fail at convincing young people that gay marriage is bad; it also convinces them that God is bad.

By contrast, a simple graph showing STD rates among gay people makes a pretty persuasive argument that the “gay lifestyle” isn’t terribly healthy.

A further argument (made elsewhere, I believe, but on the same subject,) is that atheists simply do not believe in moral absolutes, because only god can command belief in moral absolutes, and since the argument against homosexuality is a moral absolute, therefore, atheists cannot be convinced.

So I thought this would make for an interesting bit of rumination: do there exist any arguments that can convince atheists that homosexuality is bad? And if not, why have Republicans harped on a guaranteed losing issue?

(Since my original post was only using the arguments for and against homosexuality as a means of illustrating a broader point germane to the Moldbug/Lambdaconf topic, I attempted to treat the matter quickly and without much depth. The version of those paragraphs I hashed out originally went on for much longer, but little of that could fit in the post without overtaking it and distracting from the actual point.)

First, can atheists hold absolute moral values?

As a practical matter, we do. We might not be able to justify why we believe something, but that doesn’t stop us from believing it.

For example, I believe that child abuse/neglect/rape/murder is absolutely, 100% morally wrong. I am normally a peaceful, tree-hugging person who feels guilty about eating animals, but harm a child, and I want to see you drawn and quartered.

I feel no compelling need to justify to myself why I believe that. It is obviously true, in the same sense that scraping my knee on the sidewalk is obviously painful.

I also believe other things in a fairly absolutest way, like “don’t torture puppies” and “don’t poop on the sidewalk.”

But to use a source with possibly a little more authority than me, the Spring 2006 volume of Religious Humanism, published by the Unitarian Universalists contains an article titled, “Theistic Moral Intuitions in a Secular Context: A Plea for Ficionalism in Moral Philosophy,” by Loobuyck, which essentially proposes that atheists should “fake it till they make it”:

Some essential ideas about the nature of morality are survivals of Judaic-Christian ideas, and function now outside the framework of thought that made them intelligible. Our ideas of the moral self, human dignity, and the Kantian summum bonum also survive from an earlier conception of theistic ethics. All these ideas became “self-evident” and essential elements of our secular moral discourse, but they belong to theistic metaphysics and do not easily fit into secular metaphysical naturalism.

Secular moral philosophers are confronted with the following dilemma: since the moral discourse is useful and confirms our deepest moral intuitions, doing away with it incurs a cost; a price is also paid for keeping a flawed discourse, for “truth” is a very valuable commodity. … the stance of moral fictionalism makes it possible to keep a discourse while knowing it is inherently flawed. …

Nietzsche seems to be suggesting that the acceptance of the death of God will involve the ending of all our accepted standards of morality, but if we look around, this has not proved correct. As for losing our European morality, the opposite is true. We still think about morality as theists did: as a system of objective prescriptive laws with special authority, and many of the so-called universal secular values are values we can find in the Judaic-Christian tradition. We did not reject the slave-morality, and most people will not see the Nietzschean superman as a paragon of moral excellence. We still believe in the intrinsic and equal value of human being, and moreover, we build a whole construction of human rights on these fundamental but religious ideas. …

some intuitions can be so successful that they can persist as self-evident even when the philosophical context that gives meaning to those intuitions vanished. … Secular ethics is modeled upon theological ethics and talks abut a moral agent in such terms that it structurally parallels the  notion of God… someone who argues that morality is a “myth” is seen frequently as maintaining not merely a counter-intuitive position, but also a pernicious or dangerous position. …

we can suggest the stance of “fictionalism”: the possibility of maintaining the discourse but taking an attitude other than belief towards it (disbelieving acceptance.) … atheistic Darwinists live as if their life has and ultimate meaning, we look at our child as if it is the most wonderful baby in the wold, and we think as if there is a real difference instead of a gradual difference between animals and human beings. … We could say that we must live and think as if there are absolute prohibitions, intrinsic values, human dignity and act as if morality is not a Sartrian passion inutile. … fictionalism… helps to save morality in our age of secularization, science, and deconstruction.

Now, I understand that religious folks might not be comfortable with the philosophy of “If we’re all going to act like we have a coherent theoretical basis for our moral intuitions, then let’s just go ahead and pretend we have one,” but as a practical matter, I think that’s what most atheists are basically doing.

Consider that about 20% of Americans are pretty openly atheists, (and about half of the “religious” people seem like they’re just going through the motions.) And yet, these 20-50% of Americans don’t have higher than average rates of murder, theft, abuse, or public defecation than the rest of the country. We also don’t have higher than average rates of sins like gluttony, premarital sex, drug use, or divorce.*

When you encounter an atheist, do you feel a sudden surge of fear that here is someone who might randomly stab you in a fit of Nietzschean ubermenschen glory? Or are you generally pretty confident that this person will act a lot like a normal person who believes in the principles laid down in the Ten Commandments?

To turn this around, to many atheists, the Christian reliance on an outside source for their morality makes their morality seem less absolute. Atheists see, “Do not sacrifice your children to Moloch,” as obvious, not something that needs to be spelled out multiple times. Suppose those verses had not made it into the Bible: would it then be acceptable to sacrifice one’s children to Moloch?

Consider the story of Abraham, Isaac, and the ram. When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham obeyed. God stopped him, not Abraham’s own moral conscience.

To an atheist, this story is horrifying. You do not murder your children. It does not matter if human sacrifice is common in your neighborhood; it does not matter if god told you to. Murdering your children is always immoral.

I can hear your objection: I’ve misunderstood the story; the point is not that sacrificing your kid is good, but human sacrifice was common in Abraham’s time and God changed this by showing Abraham a new, better way. Yahweh was not like those other gods; Yahweh’s morality is superior to those other gods’.

But this is at odds with the text, in which “the Angel of the Lord” praises Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son:

Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. … I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22)

Further, there is that whole affair with Jephthah sacrificing his daughter and not even getting smited for it, but becoming a Judge of Israel.

To be fair, the Bible is pretty anti-human sacrifice overall–there are just exceptions.

I don’t think moral absolutes are supposed to have exceptions.

Nevertheless, every religious person I’ve ever met treats “don’t sacrifice children” as a moral absolute; I certainly don’t feel any fear upon meeting a Christian that they might sacrifice me as a result of an awkwardly worded and poorly thought-out vow.

As far as daily life interactions are concerned, Christians and atheists perform remarkably similar moral actions.

We ascribe, however, different origins to our beliefs. Atheists attribute theirs to “common sense,” Christians to “God.” Perhaps common sense is actually God or was created by God, allowing atheists and theists alike to act like moral beings, or perhaps religious people have just as much common sense as everyone else.

Personally, I think morality is basically instinctual.

First, most people–atheist or theist–tend not to think too much about philosophical issues like, “What if we had a 2-ton Hitler on rollerskates to push in front of the trolley? Then would it be moral?” We all use mental shortcuts that make dealing with 99.99% of everyday life easier rather than spend time thinking about the 0.01% exceptions. Likewise, I am content to proclaim that it absolutely morally wrong to torture babies without wasting my time trying to think up extremely rare exceptions.

Second, people who murder their own children have historically probably been evolutionary failures, while people who have a strong urge to nurture and protect their children have had better luck at actually passing on their genes to the next generation. As a result, any genes that lead to murdering one’s own children probably get selected against, while genes that lead to caring for one’s children are selected for.

The result is an instinctive desire to protect and care for your children. This desire to care for your children is so strong that it can even be triggered by baby animals, cute toys, and other people’s unborn fetuses.

Can I hug it? (source)
Can I hug it? (source)

Obviously there is some cultural variation on this; some groups today still practice ritual child sacrifice, though typically apparently not of their own children, but of other people’s children whom they’ve kidnapped. But I don’t live in one of these societies; I live in a society where human (and animal) sacrifice has never been practiced. So for me, at least, child sacrifice is a giant NO.

We can extend this argument to all sorts of behaviors, like not stealing from your neighbors, that have lead to evolutionary success over the generations. In short: if your morals lead to you dying out without descendants, then your morals die with you. If your morals lead to you leaving lots of descendants, then lots of people end up believing in your morals. We don’t even need a genetic mechanism to cause this, but there is plenty of evidence in favor of one.

“Evolutionary morality” (and “game theoretic morality”) are the keys Loobuyck needs to unlock why atheists still have moral intuitions.

Second: Having established that atheists do basically act like they believe in moral absolutes, do there exist any arguments against homosexuality that would actually work on atheists?

Now, obviously, the argument, “God says so,” does not work with atheists. (It doesn’t always work on Christians, either, given that the New Testament forbids women from braiding their hair or wearing pearls, and commands them to keep their hair covered.) When atheists do engage in moral reasoning, they tend toward utilitarian arguments–X makes people happy, Y makes people sad, therefore X is good and Y is bad.

There are many critiques of utilitarianism, especially when it comes to experiences outside of people’s normal, everyday lives, but it’s not a bad way of articulating why you shouldn’t hit your brother. Therefore:

Potential Argument A: “Homosexual Happiness” 

If you can demonstrate that homosexuality causes harm/suffering and that somehow convincing people not to be gay prevents this harm/suffering, then you have a good chance of convincing the atheists.

So far, people have not convincingly made this argument. Yes, gay folks have high suicide rates, but no one has convincingly argued that being gay causes this and that, say, outlawing gay marriage or convincing gay people that homosexuality is wrong lowers their suicide rate. By contrast, the other side argues pretty loudly that gay people are less happy when you tell them they’re immoral, and more happy when you say they aren’t.

Of course, you do not actually have to prove a point so much as argue it loudly and effectively. Most people are not strict utilitarians who check the statistical validity of other people’s arguments–they just react to the funny pictures they see on TV and process things in a fairly instinctual way. If they are surrounded by the narrative that gay people are happy being gay and that only meanie pantses who make them sad are opposed to them, then they will be fine with gay people. If they are surrounded by the narrative that gay people are miserable, rape children, and die of AIDS or suicide unless convinced to reject homosexuality, then they will (probably) view homosexuality as a weird aberration.

Outside of San Francisco and a few scattered neighborhoods across the US, most people encounter very few gay people in real life, just because gay people are a relatively small % of the population that is highly concentrated in a few places. (The 10% statistic turns out to be false.) Perhaps you know 2 or 3 gay people–of those, maybe one reasonably well. What do you know, genuinely, about them? How happy are they? How productive? How much do they give back to their community or civic organizations? By contrast, how many gay people have you encountered in books, TV shows, movies, or newspapers?

I’ll go ahead and admit it: far more of my “knowledge” of gay people comes from fiction of various sorts than from real life. The random vagaries of life simply have not led to me knowing that many gay people.

(Which means that that my entire conception of “what gay people are like” could be wrong.)

You will point out that there are practical issues with influencing the media narrative. So there are. No one ever said convincing people was easy. But conservatives do get enough opportunities to share their point of view that people are amply familiar with their arguments on the subject of homosexuality–so I don’t see this as a good reason to use arguments that don’t work.

Potential Argument B: “Disease Rates”

Whether you are concerned for gay people themselves or just concerned about diseases, gay people do catch STDS at a higher rate than straight people. Personally, I happen to really dislike being sick, so anti-disease arguments work pretty well on me.

An anti-disease argument doesn’t have to be rational. My fear of Ebola may not be rational, because I worry about it even though no one in my entire continent, to my knowledge, has the disease. I just think Ebola is really scary. Likewise, put some disease statistics and quotes from “bug chasing” forums on TV or in the papers every so often, and you’ll completely disgust and horrify people. Even atheists will want to hear about “gay rights” about as much as the average person wants to hear about poop.

Yes, a libertarian would argue that it’s gay people’s business if they want to engage in high-risk activities, but it does not follow that lots of people would therefore go out of their way to advocate in favor of gay peoples’ rights to do risky things. I believe that people have the right to bathe in pudding if they feel like it, but I don’t spend much time advocating it.

Further, most people are not libertarians, which is why the libertarian candidate never gets to be president.

Someone partial to gay people would point out that bug chasers are not representative of the gay population as a whole and that non-promiscuous gay people who use condoms don’t get a bunch of diseases, but since this is an argument based on triggering peoples’ instinctual disgust mechanisms, they’re probably not going to hear anything over their brains going “EW EW EW.”

Most people act on instinct, and one important instinct that’s pretty solidly embedded in most people is to avoid disease vectors. This is why poop and rotting corpses are icky–so icky, you might actually throw up from being near them.

So, even though someone could make all kinds of reasonable counter-arguments about personal liberty, medical advances, safe sex, monogamy, etc., you can may be able to hijack people’s instinctual fear of disease to make them completely unwilling to even listen to counter-arguments.

Potential Argument C: “So Few Homosexuals”

Americans vastly overestimate the number of gay people–when Gallop asked people to estimate the % of people who are gay, 33% of responders estimated that more than 25% of people are gay; 20% of responders estimated that 20-25% of people are gay. Only 9% of people got the correct answer, “Less than 5%.” (Actually, about 3.8% of people are gay.) Of these, about 60% say they would like to get married–or 2.3% of Americans.

Let’s step back for a moment and wonder at the fact that liberals and conservatives alike have devoted untold hours and dollars to fighting over the legal marriage status of 2.3% of Americans while 8% of people are unemployed; in 2013, 2.5 million American children were homeless, and 15% of Americans live in poverty and face “food insecurity.” 52% of Americans will be victims of multiple violent crimes in their lives; 1 in 30 black men will be murdered. About 50% of marriages end in divorce; the Iraq war cost between 2 and 6 trillion dollars (not to mention the continuing cost of fighting ISIS). And if you are the kind of person who cares about people in other countries, there are a few billion poor people in the third world who would appreciate some help.

In other words, there are a lot of problems in this world that a reasonable person might consider higher priority than whether or not gay people should be allowed to “get married” or have “civil unions.”

Why let the other side take the moral high ground? Whenever the subject comes up, just divert to something else that affects far more people and claim that your opponent is trying to use an obscure, tiny issue to distract from the real problems facing America.

Potential Argument D: “Functional Purpose”

This is very close to an argument that conservatives do make, which is that the purpose of marriage is to produce children. This, of course, sounds like total nonsense to young people, who don’t think marriage has a function other than to serve as a means of saying “we like each other.”

Skipping over the potential misunderstanding, let’s talk about things like insurance benefits. Why does one spouse working entitle the other spouse to health insurance?

So that one spouse can work while the other takes care of the children. “Taking care of children” and “making socks” are both activities that someone has to do for society to keep functioning, but we recognize that factories produce better socks and parents produce better children, so we try to keep sock-making in factories and child-rearing at home.

Sometimes people get confused on this point, so I’m going to spell it out in more detail: not all valuable work is paid. You could pay someone to wash your dishes, sweep your floors, cook your meals, and take care of your children, or you could do all of these jobs yourself and get the exact same benefits. These are all things that have to get done; sweeping the floor does not become “legitimate work” just because you pay someone to do it and stop being “legitimate work” the moment you do it yourself.

100 years ago, most people lived on farms and did almost all of their work themselves–they planted their own crops, built their own houses, installed their own plumbing (or outhouses), sewed their own clothes, cooked their own food, and raised their own children. Few people were formally employed. The vast majority of economic production occurred–and was consumed–within families or small communities.

But this does not mean the economic production did not occur.

Today, the locus of employment has shifted outside the home–to factories, offices, shops, etc.–and we have decided to route many valuable social functions–like health insurance–through paid employers.

This runs into a problem, because some people (mainly women) are still engaged in the valuable economic work of raising children and running households. Moms get sick, too, so the health insurance men get through work extends to cover their non-working spouses.

The same is true of various other legal/inheritance benefits accorded by marriage–they basically exist to protect the non-working spouse who is raising children instead of engaging in paid employment.

Health insurance is not some special perk society decided to give people just because they’re in love. You’re not supposed to marry someone just to get health insurance benefits. That is an abuse of the system. If you have no intention of having children (or cannot have children,) then there is no reason for you to stay home while your spouse works: you can get your own job and qualify for your own health insurance.

Of course, some gay people do have children, whether biologically or through adoption, and I see no reason to deny these children health insurance, inheritance, etc. But even fewer gay people want children than want to get married–only about 16% of gay people have children.

________________________________________

The point of this post has not been give any of my own, personal opinions on the morality of homosexuality or gay marriage, but to explore potential arguments on the subject besides “God doesn’t like it.”

Some of these arguments are appeals to emotion or otherwise dishonest, but they still exist; people could have used them. Instead, Republicans have chosen for the past 20 years to focus primarily on an argument that comes across to young people as violating the establishment clause of the Bill of Rights, which I suspect has done more to alienate young people than convince them.

 

 

Election Priorities

  1. No wars
  2. No “open borders;” decrease low-IQ immigration in favor of high-IQ immigration
  3. Decrease paperwork/bureaucracy/over-legalization/unnecessary government (or civil) intrusions into people’s lives

1 & 3 have been priorities for approximately forever; on point 2, I’ve changed over the past decade from favoring the libertarian position of fully open borders to favoring the “Hive Mind” hypothesis that the nation’s well-being depends on our % of smart people.

Number 3 may require explanation–there is just a tremendous amount of overhead gumming up everything. I think small business owners get this–every new regulation ends up being yet another hour they devote to paperwork instead of business. The net result is that regulations are, effectively, a form of taxation–a tax on time and ability to act.

I don’t think the general impression that it is nigh-impossible to get stuff done these days is just an illusion.

Imagine, for a moment, running a small business in the late 1800s. There were no payroll taxes, no insurance requirements, no pensions to keep track of, no deductions, no environmental impact surveys, no chance of getting sued over the ethnic/gender composition of your workforce, far fewer licensing requirements, etc.

Not that I want to die in a fire or from drinking polluted, feces-laden water, but there is a cost-benefit tradeoff to every regulation.

The Empire State Building, for example, was built in little more than a year, between January 22, 1930 and April 11, 1931. Wikipedia does not tell how much time–if any–was spent getting building permits prior to construction, but does note that the architectural plans were drawn up in two weeks.

By contrast, after the 9-11 attacks, folks began drawing up architectural plans for the new WTC building in 2002 and finally finished their plans, 3 years later, in 2005. Construction began a year later, in 2006, and finished in 2013. Tenants were finally allowed to move in yet another year later, in 2014–a mere 12 years after the project began.

The WTC cost an estimated 3.9 billion, or about $1,500 per square foot (in 2007). The Empire State Building cost $637,172,100 in 2016 dollars, or $283 per square foot. (Assuming square footage is calculated the same way for both buildings.)

On the plus side, it looks like no one died in the construction of the new WTC, whereas 5 people died building the ESB (though it looks like two people almost died and had to be rescued by the fire department.)

In a more mundane example, we frequent a local park with a new playground and a lovely, unoccupied restaurant building. It has stood unoccupied for several years, ever since the park opened. Every day hundreds of children and their parents play here; all summer thirsty children and their parents would love to buy lemonade and hot dogs and snow cones, but no one sells them.

Finally an enterprising Mexican appeared with a cart, selling corn on the cob and lemonade. Why corn? I don’t know, but it was good corn. Did he have a license? Was he legally allowed to have his cart there? Probably not; he disappeared after a couple of months.

Now there is no one selling lemonade; the restaurant is still empty.

The legal/judicial system is horribly inefficient. Consider the time, expense, and stress endured by a person falsely accused of wrongdoing in attempting to establish their innocence. False accusations should not destroy innocent people’s lives, but they do.

A female acquaintance of mine was accused of domestic violence and arrested by the police. The whole matter was bogus and the police dropped the case without even going to trial, but in the meanwhile she lost her job, was evicted from her apartment, lost numerous friends, had to spend a tremendous amount of money (and time) dealing with the case, and faced the possibility of actually going to prison. Basically, it ruined her life.

A friend who had started a small tech company was sued by a much larger company for patent infringement. The friend won the case, because none of the tech they used had anything to do with the patents in question, but the expense (and time they had to spend on it,) nearly destroyed the company.

The average person has neither the skills nor the expertise to defend themselves in a patent case; they must hire a lawyer, and lawyers aren’t cheap. Larger corporations can afford to throw bogus IP infringement cases at smaller companies until the cows come home or the smaller companies are driven out of business–obviously not how we want free-market economic competition to work.

As for #1: I don’t want to die in Syria. I don’t want my friends or relatives to die in Syria. I don’t want other Americans to die in Syria.

I also don’t want to die fighting Russia.

Soviet atomic bomb, 1951
Soviet atomic bomb, 1951

I suspect the chance of war is, from lowest to highest:

Sanders < Clinton < Trump < other Republicans

Trump has a belligerent personality, which makes me worry that he’d start or get involved in a war, but from what I’ve seen so far of the debates, he is ironically less inclined to get into a war than the other Republican candidates.

My impression of Open Borders sentiment:

Trump < other Republicans < Sanders < Clinton

Trump’s plan to build a wall seems a bit 30 years too late if you’re worried about Mexican immigration, (and enforcement might cost more than the migrants, anyway,) but Clinton and Sanders seem likely to greatly expand low-IQ immigration.

Nobody campaigns on an anti-paperwork platform, but Trump seems like the kind of guy who’d hate regulations on businesses.

I decided this was more cheerful than a picture of the Vietnam Memoorial
How TVA flattens a flood

The Democrats have the good luck to have two candidates they can feel truly enthusiastic about–Hillary as the first serious female presidential candidate; Sanders as the first Socialist. After all, when’s the last time you heard someone say, “I’m a Democrat, but I don’t believe in female empowerment/expanding social programs to help the poor”?

Republicans, by contrast, are amusingly divided over Trump. Sure, he’s the front-runner (as of when I wrote this,) with a fairly sizeable lead over the other candidates. And Trump’s supporters tend to be very enthusiastic, which is a good thing for getting your votes to actually make it to the polls come election day.

But the Republican leadership appears to be losing its shit over the matter.

It’s Time for an Anti-Trump Manhattan Project:

If the Trump contingent should succeed in this endeavor, the party would not emerge refreshed or improved; it would be summarily returned to where it was languishing back in early 2009. And if that should happen? Well, suffice it to say that it would be an unmitigated, unalloyed, potentially unsalvageable disaster. For the first time in years, the Right’s defenses would be completely destroyed, perhaps never to be rebuilt. …
Now is the time to throw everything at Trump, and to stop this disaster in its tracks. Will our children wonder why we were so reluctant?
Incidentally, when I say “everything,” I really do mean everything. Tomorrow night, as they stand on either side of Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz must find their resolve and all-but-machine-gun the man to the floor.
I feel like the author needs a reassuring pat on the head. Don’t worry, your children really won’t care who you voted for in the primaries when they were five.

Donors Ask Independent Consulting Firm to Research 3rd-Party Bid:

A group of Republicans is moving quickly to research ballot-access requirements for independent candidates in case Trump wraps up the GOP nomination next month.

Sure, Trump is loud and rude and disreputable, but more importantly, he came out of nowhere to upset the Republican front-runners simply by loudly opposing illegal immigration from Mexico.

Speaking naively, the odd thing is not that Trump opposes illegal immigration, (which is, after all, illegal because people oppose it,) but that no one else was making it a prominent part of their platforms. But in retrospect, in a field where the establishment darlings were Cruz, Rubio, and Jeb–two Hispanics and one guy married to an Hispanic–it seems clear that the Republican elites had decided on a strategy of courting Hispanics.

After all, if Dems have black voters, why shouldn’t Repubs have Hispanics? Hispanics are 17% of the population (compared to Blacks at 12 or 13%)–nothing to sneeze at, demographically.

The problem with this strategy is that while liberal whites may get excited about the prospect of voting for a suitable black or female president, conservative whites aren’t excited about the prospect of voting for the nation’s first Hispanic. The Hispanic Vote might “save” the Republican party by helping it to victory in future elections, but conservative whites care more about their own self-interest than the continued existence of a particular political organization. Let it go the way of the Whigs; life will go on regardless.

The Republican field before Trump entered the race was almost shockingly dull and uninteresting–not good for winning. While I have nothing against (or for) Jeb as a person, who in their right mind would consider him for president? Is the party so lacking in leadership and foresight that the best they can come up with is literally the little brother of the previous Republican president and son of the Repub. before that? No, a good leader should go to waste just because other members of his family were also talented, but there are a great many positions besides president in which a truly talented person can serve his country–Secretary of State, Attorney General, Supreme Court Justice, governor, etc.

That people find the Trump’s success at all surprising is, well, strange. What, Republican voters aren’t keen on illegal immigration? I am shocked, absolutely shocked! It is like discovering that Democrats think that Black Lives Matter. What else shall we learn, that Libertarians favor individual freedom?

The Republican leadership is in direct opposition to its own base. The leaders want to promote their pro-Hispanic strategy; the base is anti-immigration. Hypothetically, Hispanic voters who are legally in the country might resent people who break the law to do what they jumped through hoops and worked to do legally, but as a practical matter:

  1. People who oppose illegal immigration often oppose legal immigration;
  2. People who oppose illegal immigration are often opposed to Hispanic migrants in general;
  3. Hispanics immigrants may simply desire more Hispanic immigration, without caring about the legal details.

All of which makes the Trump campaign potentially problematic for the Republican elites.

Religion’s Remarkable Memetic Conservation

As a means of memetic conservation, religions are amazing.

The Catholics still release all of their official documents in Latin, a language that disappeared in its natural habitat about 1,500 years ago (and conducted all of their rituals around the world in Latin until 1964).

Many Protestants, while not quite as archaic, prefer the now fancy sounding language of the King James Bible, with its “Thou”s and “art”s. (And many other Christian denominations preserve other archaic languages, like Koine Greek in the Greek Orthodox Church, Coptic in Coptic churches and Church Slavonic in, I guess, Slavic churches, and German among the Amish.)

Islam preserves the 7th century Arabic of the Qu’ran (apparently “written” Arabic and “spoken” Arabic are quite distinct, somewhat like if everyone in Italy spoke “Italian” but wrote in 7th century church Latin.)

Diasporic Judaism preserved Hebrew for almost 2,000 years after the destruction of the Temple, and managed to do a good enough job that it has been revived and is now the official language of Israel. (I think Arabic is, too.)

Sanskrit plays the same role for Hinduism, Jainism, and some Buddhist sects. The oldest known work in Sanskrit, the Rigveda, was composed a bit over 3,000 years ago, though I do not know if modern Sanskrit speakers find the Rigveda any more intelligible than I find Beowulf. [note: see the comments for a better explanation of the origins of the Rigveda.]

According to the Wikipedia,

Theravada Buddhism uses Pali as its main liturgical language, and prefers its scriptures to be studied in the original Pali. In Thailand, Pali is written using the Thai alphabet, resulting in a Thai pronunciation of the Pali language.

… In some Japanese rituals, Chinese texts are read out or recited with the Japanese pronunciations of their constituent characters, resulting in something unintelligible in both languages.[1]

(Apparently the Tamil language is also important in Hinduism.)

If you want to preserve a language, write some religious texts in it and then insist that everyone has to learn your language in order to participate in your worship services and go to Heaven.

On top of this, the Christian Bible preserves the Jewish scriptures that predate it. You’re probably so used to this that you don’t even really notice it, but it’s actually pretty weird. So you’re going along in your Christian Bible study, learning about Jesus and whatnot, and then there are these obscure bits of Judean political history from 1,000 BC or something. Like that time King Ahab wanted to buy a field but the farmer wouldn’t sell it to him, so the queen had the farmer executed and then he took it. Or that time in Judges when Ehud assassinated King Eglon.

The Bible also preserves the Jewish Law, which, of course, Christians don’t actually follow. EG:

When men fight with one another, and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand. Deuteronomy 25:11-12

Okay, so if your wife tried to physically drag you out of a fight by your testicles you would probably be in horrible pain as a result, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of situation that comes up very often. But remember, the law also bans pork. I can understand why the Jews think it’s important that their religious book still have all of the notes about not eating bacon or boiling goats in milk or wearing mixed fibers, because The Law is still really important to them. But why on Earth do Christians?

Then take a festival like Purim. Purim is kind of like the Jewish Halloween, but with more Bible and no devils. Kids dress up in costumes, eat a bunch of sweets, go to synagogue, listen to the story of Queen Esther, and everyone makes a bunch of noise to “blot out the name” of some Persian court official who tried to massacre the Jews about 2,500 years ago.

Of course, if there weren’t a holiday devoted to the subject, no one would remember the guy’s name at all; at this point, we’re not even sure if the story is true.

The fact that Judaism is considered a “major world religion” at all is because a chunk of it is inside Christianity; there actually aren’t that many Jews. More people practice some form of Voodoo/Vodun than Judaism, but when’s the last time you saw Voodoo listed as a major world religion?

I got laughed at in school for listing Voodoo as one of the 5 major world religions.

The Christmas rituals (gifts, tree,) also date back thousands of years to ancient Roman and German pre-Christian practices.

And, of course, there’s morality. Obviously many liberal branches of religion toss out moral precepts and adopt new ones as they see fit, but the presence of a line in the text explicitly banning (or encouraging) something seems to have a long-term effect. (Take snake-handling Christian sects, which take the line in the Bible about Christians being able to drink poison and handle snakes without getting killed very seriously.)

Personally, I think the Gospels have a very socialist feel to them. Of course, I am applying a completely anachronistic political label to something that predates “socialism” by nearly two millennia, but I think you know what I mean. All of that business about “give away allof your earthly goods to the poor and come follow me,” or “it is easier for a rich man to fit through the eye of a needle than to enter Heaven,” or the disciples holding all of their property in common in the Book of Acts.

As a result, Christianity has created many charitable or even socialist movements over the past two thousand years, and will probably keep doing so. The “Christian Communists” of the 1800s, like the Shakers, are one set of examples.

Secular “religions” can be memetically conservative, too. Take the American “Thanksgiving”–every year, people get together with their families to eat turkey (the ritual feast) and watch football because approximately 400 years ago, some Pilgrims had a good harvest and so didn’t all die in the winter. Most of us probably aren’t even related to the Pilgrims, but we do it anyway.

Conservatives, as I’ve noted, treat the Constitution kind of like a religious founding document.

Much of the time, the explicit justification for religious rituals has little to do with why people actually observe them. Most Americans don’t really care about the Pilgrims one way or another; I bet most Jews don’t care about Haman anymore, either. Most Catholics probably think it’d be fine if the church just started publishing official documents in Italian, and even atheists give each other gifts on Christmas. The function of these rituals is often very different from their form–Thanksgiving is really about family togetherness, not Pilgrims. Likewise, the current push to get rid of Columbus day and replace it with Indigenous Culture Day isn’t really a statement that indigenous peoples were better than Columbus (after all, the Aztecs were cannibals.)

The functions of religion are myriad, but marking important life transitions, assuaging fears of death, teaching morality, and binding the community together are all obviously significant. Perhaps religion functions better when the memes are older than when they are newer. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter whether or not you can understand the liturgy, but a liturgy that gives you the impression of being connected to your ancient ancestors may function better than one that doesn’t; a generic “Thanksgiving is a time to be with our families,” may not work as well as a “Thanksgiving is a celebration of the feast between the Pilgrims and the Indians.”

Do you have any other good examples of this phenomenon?

Updated Tentative map of Neanderthal DNA

Picture 1

Based on my previous tentative map of archaic DNA, plus recent findings, eg Cousins of Neanderthals left DNA in Africa, Scientists Report. As usual, let me emphasize that this is VERY TENTATIVE.

Basically: Everyone outside of Africa has some Neanderthal DNA. It looks like the ancestors of the Melanesians interbred once with Neanderthals; the ancestors of Europeans interbred twice; the ancestors of Asians interbred three times.

Small amounts of Neanderthal DNA also show up in Africa, probably due to back-migration of people from Eurasia.

Denisovan DNA shows up mainly in Melanesians, but I think there is also a very small amount that shows up in south east Asia, some (or something similar) in Tibetans, and possibly a small amount in the Brazilian rainforest.

Now some kind of other archaic DNA has been detected in the Hazda, Sandawe, and Pygmies of Africa.

What Ails Appalachia? Pt 3 (possibilities)

(Skip back to: Part 1, Part 2)

By the way, guys, I have not been able to write as much as I would like to, lately, so I am dropping the Wed. post and only going to be updating 4 times a week. Hopefully I’ll get more time soon. 🙂

It is very easy to dismiss Appalachia’s problems by waving a hand and saying, “West Virginia has an average IQ of 98.”

(98.7, actually.)

But there are a hell of a lot of states that have average IQs lower than West Virginia, but are still doing better. For that matter, France has a lower average IQ, and France is still doing pretty well for itself.

So we’re going to discuss some alternative theories.

(And my apologies to WV for using it as a stand-in for the entirety of Greater Appalachia, which, as discussed a few days ago, includes parts of a great number of states, from southern Pennsylvania to eastern Texas. Unfortunately for me, only WV, Kentucky, and Tennessee fall entirely within Greater Appalachia, and since it is much easier to find data aggregated by state than by county or “cultural region,” I’ve been dependent on these states for much of my research.)

At any rate, it’s no secret that Appalachia is not doing all that well:

 From The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy I really wish this were a graph instead of a map.county-economic-status_fy2015_mapsupertues2White-Death-by-State2

 

Screenshot-2015-11-03-21.49.26

US Suicide Rates
US Suicide Rates

 

The Death of Manufacturing

Having your local industries decimated by foreign competition and workforces laid off due to automation does bad things to your economy. These things look great on paper, where increasing efficiency and specialization result in higher profits for factory owners, but tend to work out very badly for the folks who have lost their jobs.

Indeed, the US has barely even begun thinking about how we plan on dealing with the effects of continued automation. Do 90% of people simply become irrelevant as robots take over their jobs? Neither “welfare for everyone” nor “everybody starves” seem like viable solutions. So far, most politicians have defaulted to platitudes about how “more education” will be the solution to all our woes, but how you turn a 45-year old low-IQ meat packer who just got replaced by a robot into a functional member of the “information economy” remains to be seen.

Of course, economic downturns happen; fads come and go; industries go in and out. The Rust Belt, according to Wikipedia, runs north of Greater Appalachia, through Pennsylvania, New York, northern Ohio, Detroit, etc. These areas have been struggling for decades, but many of them, like Pittsburgh, are starting to recover. Appalachia, by contrast, is still struggling.

This may just be a side effect of Appalachia being more rural; Pittsburgh is a large city with millions of people employed in a variety of industries. If one goes out, others can, hopefully, replace it. But in a rural area with only one or two large employers–sometimes literal “company towns” built near mines–if the main industry goes out, you may not get anything coming back in.

Appalachia has geography that makes it difficult to transport goods in and out as cheaply as you can transport them elsewhere, but then, so does Switzerland, and Switzerland seems to be doing pretty well. (Of course, Switzerland seems to have specialized in small, expensive, easy to transport luxury goods like watches, chocolate, and bank deposits, while Appalachia has specialized in cheap, heavy, unpleasant to produce goods like coal.)

Ross PerotBut I am being over-generous: America killed its manufacturing.

We killed it because our upper classes look down their noses at manufacturing; such jobs are unpleasant and low-class, and therefore they cannot understand that for some people, these jobs are the only thing standing between them and poverty. Despite the occasional protest against outsourcing, our government–Republicans and Democrats–has forged ahead with its free-trade, send-everything-to-China-and-fire-the-Americans, import-Mexicans-and-fire-the-Americans, and then reap-the-profits agenda.

Too Much Regulation

Over-regulation begins with the best of intentions, then breaks your industries. Nobody wants to die in a fire or a cave-in, but you can’t regulate away all risk and still get anything done.

Every regulation, every record-keeping requirement, every mandated compliance, is a tax on efficiency–and thus on profits. Some regulation, of course, probably increases profits–for example, I am more likely to buy a medicine if I have some guarantee that it isn’t made with rat poison. But beyond that guarantee, increasing requirements that companies test all of their products for toxins imposes more costs than the companies recoup–at which point, companies tend to leave for more profitable climes.

Likewise, while health insurance sounds great, running it through employers is madness. Companies should devote their efforts to making products (or services,) not hiring expensive lawyers and accountants to work through the intricacies of health care law compliance and income withholding.

The few manufacturers left in Appalachia (and probably elsewhere in the country) have adopted a creative policy to avoid paying health insurance costs for their workers: fire everyone just before they qualify for insurance. By hiring only temp workers, outsourcing everything, and only letting employees bill 20 hours a week, manufacturers avoid complying with employee-related regulations.

Oh, sure, you might think you could just get two 20-hour a week jobs, but that requires being able to schedule two different jobs. When you have no idea whether you are going to be working every day or not until you show up for work at 7 AM, and you’ll get fired if you don’t show up, getting a second job simply isn’t an option.

I have been talking about over-regulation for over a decade, but it is the sort of issue that it is difficult to get people worked up over, much less make them understand if they haven’t lived it. Democrats just look aghast that anyone would suggest that more regulations won’t lead automatically to more goodness, and Republicans favor whichever policies lead to higher profits, without any concern for the needs of workers.

The late Andy Grove wrote insightfully on the subject: How America Can Create Jobs: (h/t Steve Sailer)

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman recently encapsulated this view in a piece called “Start-Ups, Not Bailouts.” His argument: Let tired old companies that do commodity manufacturing die if they have to. If Washington really wants to create jobs, he wrote, it should back startups.

Friedman is wrong. Startups are a wonderful thing, but they cannot by themselves increase tech employment. Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.

The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that’s the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs. …

As time passed, wages and health-care costs rose in the U.S. China opened up. American companies discovered that they could have their manufacturing and even their engineering done more cheaply overseas. When they did so, margins improved. Management was happy, and so were stockholders. Growth continued, even more profitably. But the job machine began sputtering.

The 10X Factor

Today, manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry is about 166,000, lower than it was before the first PC, the MITS Altair 2800, was assembled in 1975 (figure-B). Meanwhile, a very effective computer manufacturing industry has emerged in Asia, employing about 1.5 million workers—factory employees, engineers, and managers. The largest of these companies is Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn. The company has grown at an astounding rate, first in Taiwan and later in China. Its revenues last year were $62 billion, larger than Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Dell (DELL), or Intel. Foxconn employs over 800,000 people, more than the combined worldwide head count of Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Intel, and Sony (SNE) (figure-C).

Companies don’t scale up in the US because dealing with the regulations is monstrous. Anyone who has worked in industry can tell you this; heck, even Kim Levine, author of Millionaire Mommy (don’t laugh at the title, it’s actually a pretty good book,) touches on the subject. Levine notes that early in the process of scaling up the manufacture of her microwavable pillows, she had dreams of owning her own little factory, but once she learned about all of the regulations she would have to comply with, she decided that would be a horrible nightmare.

I don’t have time to go into more detail on the subject, but here is a related post from Slate Star Codex:

I started the book with the question: what exactly do real estate developers do? …

As best I can tell, the developer’s job is coordination. This often means blatant lies. The usual process goes like this: the bank would be happy to lend you the money as long as you have guaranteed renters. The renters would be happy to sign up as long as you show them a design. The architect would be happy to design the building as long as you tell them what the government’s allowing. The government would be happy to give you your permit as long as you have a construction company lined up. And the construction company would be happy to sign on with you as long as you have the money from the bank in your pocket. Or some kind of complicated multi-step catch-22 like that. The solution – or at least Trump’s solution – is to tell everybody that all the other players have agreed and the deal is completely done except for their signature. The trick is to lie to the right people in the right order, so that by the time somebody checks to see whether they’ve been conned, you actually do have the signatures you told them that you had. The whole thing sounds very stressful.

The developer’s other job is dealing with regulations. The way Trump tells it, there are so many regulations on development in New York City in particular and America in general that erecting anything larger than a folding chair requires the full resources of a multibillion dollar company and half the law firms in Manhattan. Once the government grants approval it’s likely to add on new conditions when you’re halfway done building the skyscraper, insist on bizarre provisions that gain it nothing but completely ruin your chance of making a profit, or just stonewall you for the heck of it if you didn’t donate to the right people’s campaigns last year. Reading about the system makes me both grateful and astonished that any structures have ever been erected in the United States at all, and somewhat worried that if anything ever happens to Donald Trump and a few of his close friends, the country will lose the ability to legally construct artificial shelter and we will all have to go back to living in caves.

and an eloquent post from Free Northerner:

The current socio-economic system is designed by rootless, soulless, high-IQ, low-time preference, money-/status-grubbing homo economicus for benefit of those same homo economicus. It is a system for designed for intelligent sociopaths. Those who are rootless with high-IQ and low-time preference can succeed rather well in this system, but it destroys those who need rootedness or those who are who are low-IQ or high time preference.

Kevin says, “Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster.” But he’s wrong, there was a disaster, but no just one, multiple related disasters all occurring simultaneously. …

Every support the white working class (and for that matter the black working class) had vanished within less than a generation. There was a concerted effort to destroy these supports, and this effort succeeded. Through minimal fault of their own the white working class was left with nothing holding them up.

Personally, I lack good first-hand insight into working class cultural matters; I have no idea how much Hollywood mores have penetrated and changed people’s practical lives in rural Arkansas. I must defer, there, to people more knowledgeable than myself.

focus_group_3-1024x878Death Rates

While death rates have been falling for the rest of the developed world and for America’s blacks and Hispanics, death rates have been rising over the past couple of decades for American whites–middle aged and younger white women, to be exact. They’re up pretty much everywhere, but Appalachia has been the hardest hit.

The first thing everyone seems to cite in response is meth. And indeed, it appears that there is a lot of meth in Appalachia (and a lot of other places):

Picture 17But I don’t think this explains why death rates are headed up among women. Maybe I’m wrong, (I know rather little about drug use patterns,) but it doesn’t seem like women would be more likely to OD on meth than men. If anything, I get the impression that illegal drugs that fuck you up and kill you are more of a guy thing than a gal thing. Men are probably far more likely to die of alcohol-related causes like drunk driving and cirrhosis of the liver than women, for example, and you don’t even have to deal with criminals to get alcohol.

drug-related-deaths-for-whites2So, while I agree that drugs appear to be a rising problem, I don’t think they are the problem. (And even still, drug overdoses only beg the deeper question of why more people are using drugs.)

As I mentioned a few posts ago, SpottedToad ran the death rate data by county and came up with three significant correlations: poverty, obesity, and disability. (I don’t know if he looked at meth/drug use by county.)

I, for one, am not surprised to find out that disabled, overweight people are not in the best of health.

XB5PnEfl sCObwySl QXqVso7lHere are SpottedToad’s graphs, showing the correlations he found–I recommend reading his entire post.

Obviously one possibility is that unemployed people feel stressed, binge on cheap crap, get sick, get SSDI, and then die.

But then why are death rates only going up for white women? Plenty of white men are unemployed; plenty of black men and women are poor, fat, and disabled.

Obviously there are a ton of possible confounders–perhaps poor people just happen to make bad life decisions that both make them poor and result in bad health, like smoking cigarettes. Perhaps poor people have worse access to health care, or perhaps being really sick makes people poor. Or maybe the high death rates just happen to be concentrated among people who happen to be fat for purely biological reasons–it appears that the British are among the fattest peoples in Europe, and the Scottish are fatter than the British average. (Before anyone gets their hackles up, I should also note that white Americans are slightly fatter than Scots.)

And as many people have noted, SSI/SSDI are welfare for people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify.

Environment

In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Dr. Price (a peripatetic dentist who traveled the world in search of good teeth in the 1930s,) writes:

In my correspondence with an observing teacher in the hill country of western Pennsylvania, she reported that in her school a condition was frequent in the families, namely, that the children could not carry prescribed textbook work because of low mentality. This is often spoken of, though incorrectly, as delayed mentality. In one family of eight children only the first child was normal. The mental and physical injuries were increasingly severe. The eighth child had both hare-lip and a double cleft palate. The seventh child had cleft palate and the sixth was a near idiot. The second to fifth, inclusive, presented increasing degrees of disturbed mentality.

In my cabin-to-cabin studies of families living in the hill country of North Carolina, I found many cases of physical and mental injury. Among these cases arthritis and heart disease were very frequent, many individuals being bed ridden. A typical case is shown in the upper part of figure 148 [sorry, I can’t show you the picture, but it is not too important,] of a father and mother and their one child. The child is so badly injured that he is mentally an imbecile. They are living on very poor land where even the vegetable growth is scant and of poor quality. Their food consisted largely of corn bread, corn syrup, some fat pork, and strong coffee.

As the title of the book implies, Dr. Price’s thesis is that bad nutrition leads to physical degeneration. (Which, of course, it does.) He was working back when folks were just discovering vitamins and figuring out that diseases like curvy, pellagra, and beriberi were really nutritional deficiencies; figuring out the chemical compositions necessary for fertile soil; and before the widespread adoption of artificial fertilizers (possibly before their invention.) Dr. Price thought that American soils, particularly in areas that had been farmed for longer or had warmer, wetter weather, had lost much of their nutritional content:

My studies of this problem of reduced capacity of sols for maintaining animal life have included correspondence with the agricultural departments of all of the states of the union with regard to maintaining cattle. The reduction in capacity ranges from 20 to 90 per cent… I am advised that it would cost $50 an acre to replace the phosphorus alone that has been shipped off the land in large areas.

There is an important fact that we should consider; namely, the role that has been played by glaciers in grinding up and distributing rock formations. One glacier, the movement of which affected the surface soil of Ohio, covered only about half the state; namely, that area west of a line starting east of Cleveland and extending diagonally west across the state to Cincinnati. It is important for us to note that, in the areas extending south and east of this line, several expressions of degeneration are higher than in the areas north and west of this line. The infant mortality per thousand live births in 1939 is informative. In the counties north and west of that line, the death rate was from 40 49 per thousand live births; whereas, in the area south and east of that Line, the death rate was from 50 to 87.

It is of particular interest to us as dentists that studies show the percentage of teeth with caries to be much higher southeast of this line than northwest of it.

Picture 2bSo I Googled around, and found this map of the last glaciation of Ohio:

Okay, I lied, it’s obviously a map of ACT scores. But it actually does look a lot like the glaciation map.

Australia’s soils, from what I understand, are particularly bad–because the continent’s rocks are so geologically old, the soil is extremely low in certain key nutrients, like iodine. Even with iodine supplementation, deficiencies are still occasionally a problem.

I don’t know anything about the soils of Appalachia, but I know the Appalachian mountains are pretty old. The WV Encyclopedia article about Agriculture says:

Many of the soils in the state are steeply sloping and tend to be shallow, acidic, and deficient in available phosphorus. As early as the late 19th century progressive farmers used rock phosphate, bone meal, and lime to increase crop yield and quality. Since the mid-20th century farmers have used soil tests and corrected mineral deficiencies. Most crop land and much of the pasture land are no longer severely deficient in essential nutrients. West Virginia has always been primarily a livestock producing state. Land on steep slopes is best suited to producing pasture and hay.

Nutritional deficiencies due to poor soil could have been a problem a century ago, just as Pellagra and hookworms were a problem, but they seem unlikely to be a big deal today, given both modern fertilizers and our habit of buying foods shipped in from California.

What about pollution?

According to In Appalachia, Coal Mining Costs $9-$76 Billion More Per Year Than It Pulls In:

20090713-mountaintop-removal-coal-mineLooking at statistics from 2005 (the latest for which mortality rates are available) the researchers found that though coal mining brought in about $8 billion to the state coffers of Appalachian states, the costs of the shorter life-spans associated with coal mining operations were nearly $17 billion to $84.5 billion.

Coal mining areas in Appalachia were found to have nearly 11,000 more deaths each year than other places in the nation, with 2,300 of those attributable to environmental factors such as air and water pollution.

The Nation reports that:

In 2010, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in southern West Virginia killed twenty-nine miners. Later that year, an explosion at a West Virginia chemical plant killed two workers and released toxic fumes into the surrounding areas. This past year, West Virginia led the nation in coal-mining deaths. …

One study found that residents of areas surrounding mountaintop-removal coal mines “had significantly higher mortality rates, total poverty rates and child poverty rates every year compared to other…counties.” Another study found that compared to residents of other areas in the state, residents of the state’s coal-mining regions were 70 percent more likely to suffer from kidney disease, over 60 percent more likely to develop obstructive lung diseases such as emphysema and 30 percent likelier to have high blood pressure.

In 2014, the Elk River Chemical spill left 300,000 residents of West Virginia without potable water. Five months later, another spill happened at the same site, the fourth in five years. (The chemicals involved are used int he processing/washing of coal.)

According to Plundering Appalachia:

Overloaded coal trucks are a perpetual menace on the narrow, winding roads of the Appalachian coalfields. From 2000 to 2004, there were more than seven hundred accidents involving coal trucks in Kentucky alone; fifty-three people died, and more than five hundred were injured. …

After the coal is washed, a slurry of impurities, coal dust, and chemical agents used in the process remains. This liquid waste, called “coal sludge” or “slurry,” is often injected into abandoned underground mines, a practice that can lead to groundwater contamination. … In public hearings, many coalfield residents have attributed their health problems to water wells polluted after the coal mining industry “disposes” its liquid waste by injecting coal slurry underground. The primary disposal practice for coal slurry is to store it in vast unlined lagoons or surface impoundments created near mountaintop-removal mines. Hundreds of these slurry impoundments are scattered across the Appalachian coalfields. Individual impoundments have been permitted to store billions of gallons of waste. … In 2000 a slurry impoundment operated by the Martin County Coal Company in Kentucky broke through into abandoned mineworks, out old mine portals, and into tributary streams of the Big Sandy River. More than 300 million gallons of coal slurry fouled the waterway for a hundred miles downriver.

So, living near a coal mine is probably bad for your health.

Concentration of Land

Wikipedia claims that land in Appalachia (or maybe it was just WV) is highly concentrated in just a few hands–one of those being the government, as much of Appalachia is national parks and forests and the like. Of course, this could be an effect rather than a cause of poverty.

Brain Drain

Appalachia may be “isolated” and “rural,” but it’s quite close to a great many cities and universities. Parts of West Virginia are close enough to DC that people apparently commute between them.

In the early 1900s, so many people left Appalachia for the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest that U.S. Route 23 and Interstate 75 became known as the “Hillbilly Highway.” (BTW, I don’t think Appalachians like being called “hillbillies.”)

Compared to Appalachian areas in Arkansas or Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky are particularly close to the industrial regions and coastal universities. As a result, they may have lost a far larger number of their brightest and most determined citizens.

While the Appalachian states don’t have particularly low IQs, their IQ curve seems likely to be narrower than other states’. West Virginia, for example, is only about 3% black, 1% Hispanic, and 0.5% Asian. MA, by contrast, is 9% black, 11% Hispanic, and 6% Asian. Blacks and Hispanics tend to score lower than average on IQ tests, and Asians tend to score higher, potentially giving MA more people scoring both above and below average, while WV may have more people scoring right around the middle of the distribution. With its brightest folks heading to universities outside the region, Appalachia may continue to struggle.

Personality

And finally, yes, maybe there is just something about the kinds of people who live in Appalachia that predispose them to certain ailments, like smoking or over-eating. Perhaps the kinds of people who end up working in coal mines are also the kinds of people who are predisposed to get cancer or use drugs. I don’t know enough people from the area to know either way.

 

To the people of Appalachia: I wish you health and happiness.

(Skip back to: Part 1, Part 2)

Presidential Poison

The Founding Fathers never intended for the President to be all that big a deal–each state was supposed to basically do its own thing and mind its own affairs, Congress was supposed to take care of the matters that required interstate coordination, and the President was just supposed to be there for those times when we really needed a single guy to do something, like present a coherent foreign policy to foreign sovereigns.

Since then, of course, the Presidency has increased both in power/scope and in the amount of attention people pay to it. People who can’t be bothered to vote for the mayor or city council that runs their cities somehow find time to watch endless news coverage of presidential debates, buy t-shirts and tote bags promoting their favorite candidates, and broadcast their presidential preferences all over every social media platform they have available to them.

I was reading this morning about cuts to the services disabled people receive in Oklahoma, and (as you might expect) more generally about economic malaise throughout Appalachia.

Whether Obama or the Democrats can do anything about joblessness in Greater Appalachia is a matter of some debate; whether they should is another. But people have gotten so fixated on their hatred of the President and the Democrats more broadly that they are willing to vote blindly for the Republicans, whether the Republicans actually accomplish their goals or not.

The inverse is also true in liberal areas, where people vote Democratic because they hate Republicans.

This fixation on hating the president instead of paying attention to and trying to improve one’s own community is a kind of poison. At best, it’s a worthless distraction; at worst, you give up your own self interest in order to symbolically defy someone living in another part of the country.

Just to give an example of such politics in action:

7% of Americans like Obamacare, but dislike the Affordable Care Act.

9% of Americans dislike Obamacare, but are fine with the Affordable Care Act.

And according to Reuters,

Reuters/Ipsos polling reveals a remarkably high level of approval for nearly all the provisions of the act, often in the 80 percent range, even though respondents oppose the legislation, commonly known as “Obamacare,” by 55 to 45.

Chances are, the average person has no idea what is actually in the bill; support or disapproval is based entirely on political identity–if you think abortion is bad, then you think “Obamacare” is also bad; if you think abortion is good, then you probably think Obamacare is also good.

Of course, this is an idiotic way to determine health care policy.

You know best your own business; second best, your friends’ and loved-ones’ businesses; worst, strangers’. We do the most good by serving our local communities–caring for our families, helping our friends, cleaning up our own streets and being decent to others. But instead we spend our energy watching TV and complaining about health care plans we don’t understand. We want to “fix” schools we’ve never set foot in, without the slightest idea what’s wrong with them. We invade other countries and expect them to thank us for the favor.

And who wins?

You? Me?

Probably not.

How many years of Republican voting have resulted in a preservation of anything Republicans hold dear? Job, society, religion?

Oh, yes, we got tax cuts for the rich.

 

Appalachia pt 2: Background

(Skip back to: Part 1 or forward to: Part 3)

Warning! Posting while drunk

Disclaimer: while I am probably 25% Appalachian by blood and lived there for a bit as a small child, I really know diddly squat about the region. But if my Appalachian contacts are to be believed, Appalachia is the awesomeist place ever and everywhere else is full of lame strivers. (Note: the majority of people I have talked to, no matter where they are from, like the culture they grew up in.)

So with that in mind, let’s take a look back at the history of Appalachia:

Once upon a time, lots of different groups lived in Britain (and Ireland):

1.17136uk-origins3

wood_landingand a great many of them moved to the US, where they spread out, creating broad cultural zones that may have persisted to this day, like Yankeedom and the Deep South. Folks from the borderlands between Scotland (many of whom had apparently first moved to Northern Ireland) skipped over the coastal flat region and headed for the mountains.

You might think that the border between Scotland and England would be a partially-Englishy place that would somewhat resemble the monoraialized English further south, like the guys who settled New England, with the highlanders from further north being the really wild folks, but it turns out that the border was apparently kind of a lawless place because if you committed a crime in Scotland you could just hop over to the English side to avoid prosecution, and vice versa. So I hear, anyway. So instead of being, like, half manorialized, the border was more like anti-manorialized.

According to Wikipedia,

The first trickle of Scotch-Irish settlers arrived in New England. Valued for their fighting prowess as well as for their Protestant dogma, they were invited by Cotton Mather and other leaders to come over to help settle and secure the frontier … The Scotch-Irish radiated westward across the Alleghenies, as well as into Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.[37] The typical migration involved small networks of related families who settled together, worshipped together, and intermarried, avoiding outsiders.[38]

… Most Scotch-Irish headed for Pennsylvania, with its good lands, moderate climate, and liberal laws.[citation needed] … Without much cash, they moved to free lands on the frontier, becoming the typical western “squatters”, the frontier guard of the colony, and what the historian Frederick Jackson Turner described as “the cutting-edge of the frontier.”[39]

… With large numbers of children who needed their own inexpensive farms, the Scotch-Irish avoided areas already settled by Germans and Quakers and moved south, down the Shenandoah Valley, and through the Blue Ridge Mountains into Virginia.[citation needed] These migrants followed the Great Wagon Road from Lancaster, through Gettysburg, and down through Staunton, Virginia, to Big Lick (now Roanoke), Virginia. Here the pathway split, with the Wilderness Road taking settlers west into Tennessee and Kentucky, while the main road continued south into the Carolinas.[41][42]

Gutierrez map of 1562 showing Appalachia
Gutierrez map of 1562 showing Appalachia

The name “Appalachia,” btw, is one of the oldest place names in the US, hailing from the name of an Indian tribe or something that made it onto a map way back in the 1500s.

Anyway, these folks moved to the mountains, probably because they were rough-and-tumble sorts who could survive out in the harsh wilderness where more wilting types fainted from the lack of square corners and nicely plowed fields and then got killed by Indians. Also according to Wikipedia:

Because the Scotch-Irish settled the frontier of Pennsylvania and western Virginia, they were in the midst of the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s Rebellion that followed.[43] The Scotch-Irish were frequently in conflict with the Indian tribes who lived on the other side of the frontier; indeed, they did most of the Indian fighting on the American frontier from New Hampshire to the Carolinas.[44][45]

Mountains tend to remain wilderness areas long after flatlands are settled and conquered, you you had to be tough to survive in the mountains. So the Appalachians attracted and rewarded a particular sort of person who could survive in them.

800px-Davy_Crockett_by_William_Henry_Huddle,_1889*Davy, Davy Crocket. King of the wild frontier…*

If you want to know more about the recent history/culture of West Virginia, I recommend “When I was Young in the Mountains,” unless you don’t like picture books.

I get the impression that the Appalachians were basically left alone most of the time (except for getting invaded during the Civil War, which was pretty sucky since there weren’t even a lot of slaves in Appalachia and the folks there weren’t really in favor of secession, they just got dragged along by the rest of their states. [As I mentioned yesterday, Appalachia seceded from Virginia over the issue,] and the occasional issue like the Whiskey Rebellion.)

Being up in the mountains was probably bad for the development of agriculture, both because it is difficult to plow steep hillsides, (especially without having all of your images-1dirt wash away come the next rainfall,) and also because it was harder to build railways and other transportation networks that could get the crops/produce/meat out of the mountains and down to other markets. Likewise, it was difficult to ship in manufactured goods like factory woven cotton cloth for people to purchase; as a result, the Appalachians were probably rather cut-off from the rest of the expanding economy of the 1800s. I have searched for comparative GDP numbers for the 1800s, but unfortunately found nothing.

Railway lines only really expanded into the area after coal mining became a big deal.

It’s pretty much impossible to talk about the history of Appalachia without talking about coal. Apparently people knew about the coal way back in the 1700s, but it only became a big deal after the Civil War. The massive expansion of the mining industry attracted newly freed blacks from the Deep South and immigrants (mostly Irish but probably also Italians, eastern Europeans, etc.) from the coastal cities. There aren’t a lot of black folks currently in Appalachia, so it looks like they didn’t stick around, but the Irish did.

Coal mining was dangerous, exhausting, terrible work. If you didn’t die in a cave-in or an explosion, there was always miner’s lung. In return for powering the US, miners were paid crap–usually company scrip, only usable in company stores, so that even if they got a raise, the company would just increase the cost of goods at the store. And then there’s the pollution.

Eventually this led to strikes and attempts at unionization, to which the mine owners responded with violence, murdering strikers and assassinating their leaders, which culminated with an “army” of armed miners marching on the mines and Federal troops being called in to put down the “revolt.”

(This is better than the way the British treated their Scottish coal miners, who were literally enslaved for nearly two centuries, but still pretty shitty.)

These were the days when the Democrats were the party of Southern laborers, the Republicans were the party of Northern industrialists, an anarchist shot the President and the Russians executed their Czar.

Anyway, conditions in and around the coal mines gradually improved, until mining became a reasonable way to support a family rather than a death trap. (And if mining wasn’t to your liking, there were garment factories, tobacco farms in the South and steel mills in the North.) It was a time of relative economic well-being–unfortunately, it’s also when mechanization kicked in, and most of the miners became redundant. NAFTA and trade with China killed manufacturing, and the shift away from smoking left tobacco growers with a bunch of plants they could no longer sell.

IQvsGDPThis has been not good for the local economies.

See that X at the very bottom center of the IQ vs. GDP graph? That’s West Virginia. (The X on the far left is Mississippi.) Kentucky isn’t doing much better, though Tennessee, the third state that falls almost entirely within “Greater Appalachia,” isn’t doing too badly.

While it is true that the graph is practically random noise, West Virginia seems to me to be doing worse than it ought to be. There seems to be a basic sort of “floor” below which few of the states fall–were Appalachia on this floor, per cap GDP would be about 4k higher.

There’s a certain irony to all of this. Like Appalachia, Saudi Arabia contains a vast wealth of fossil fuel. To the best of my knowledge, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Oil States have attempted to use their vast wealth to uplift their people and are trying to develop modern, functioning economies that will be able to keep chugging even once the oil dries up. Sure, the Saudi princes get to live like, well, princes, but every one else in Saudi Arabia is probably a lot more comfortable than folks were a few generations back when the primary occupation was nomadic goat herding. (Don’t cite me on that I don’t actually know what the primary occupation in Saudi Arabia was a few generations ago.)

In Appalachia, by contrast, the locals have seen relatively little of the coal wealth (and that after a good deal of violent struggle,) and many areas are still not seeing long-term economic development.

To be fair, the US has tried to uplift the region, eg, LBJ’s War on Poverty, and been fairly successful in some areas. TVA cut flooding, rural electrification brought people lightbulbs, and pretty much everyone these days has a flush toilet and shoes. But many regions of Appalachia are still suffering–and some are doing much worse than they were a generation ago.

We’ll examine possible causes tomorrow.

(Skip back to: Part 1 or forward to: Part 3)

Related articles:

E-WV: Agriculture, How the Coal Industry Impoverishes West Virginia, Rolling Stones: Where the Tea Party Rules, Corporate Responsibility in Appalachia: Coal mining costs more per year than it pulls in, Plundering Appalachia, Friends of Coal: A History of Coal in West Virginia, WV History: The Mine Wars

 

supertues2 Picture 40 Picture 30 GR2009012802033Inequality-and-Trump

What Ails Appalachia?

Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachia
Jayman's map of the American Nations
Jayman’s map of the American Nations

(Skip to: Part 2, Part 3.)

Appalachia is a lovely geographic region of low mountains stretching from southern NY state to northeastern Mississippi; as a cultural region, “Greater Appalachia” includes all of West Virginia and Kentucky; almost all of Tennessee and Indiana; large chunks of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia; small parts of nearby states like Alabama and Pennsylvania; and a few counties in the northwest Florida (not on the map.) (The lack of correspondence between state boundaries and Appalachia’s boundaries makes most state-level aggregated data useless and forces me to use county level data whenever possible.)

While generally considered part of “the South,” Appalachia is culturally and ethnically distinct from the “Deep South,” generally opposed secession (West Virginia seceded from Virginia following Virginia’s secession from the Union in order to return to the Union,) and never had an economy based on large, slave-owning plantations.

Per capita GDP by county (wikipedia)
Per capita GDP by county (wikipedia)

Appalachia is also one of the US’s persistent areas of concentrated poverty (the others are the highly black regions of the Deep South and their migrant diaspora in northern inner-cities; the Mexican region along the Texas border; and Indian reservations.) Almost 100% of the nation’s poorest counties are located in these areas; indeed, the Southern states + New Mexico as a whole are significantly poorer than the Northern ones.

First a note, though, on poverty:

There is obviously a great difference between the “poverty” of someone who chooses a low-income lifestyle in a rural part of the country because they enjoy it and are happy trading off money for pleasure, and someone who struggles to stay employed at crappy, demeaning jobs, cannot make rent, and is miserable. Farming tends not to pay as well as finance, but I don’t think anyone would be better off if all of the farmers parked their tractors and took up finance. Farmers seem pretty happy with their lives and contribute to the nation’s well-being by producing food. By contrast, I’ve yet to talk to anyone employed in fast food who enjoyed their job or wanted to stay in the industry; if they could trade for a job in finance, they’d probably take it.

6398967_origUnfortunately, Appalachia (and parts of the Deep South) appear to be the most depressed states in the country. (No data for KY and NC, but I bet they match their neighbors.) Given that depression rates tend to be higher for whites than for blacks, I suspect the effect is concentrated among Southern whites, but I wouldn’t be surprised if black people in Mississippi are depressed, too.

Of course, depression itself may just be genetic, and the Scandinavian ancestors of the northern mid-west may have gifted their descendants with a uniquely chipper outlook on life, except that Scandinavians have pretty high suicide rates.

US Suicide Rates
US Suicide Rates

(Note also that Appalachia has higher suicide rates than the black regions of the Deep South, the Hispanic El Norte, and white regions in NY.)

This high suicide rate may have something to do with, as Steve Sailer has taken to calling it, “The White Death.” As Gelman has noted, death rates have been increasing for middle aged white women, in contrast to virtually everyone else.

The white death rate is highest in Mississippi, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nevada, and South Carolina, with the greatest increases in death rates in West Virginia and Mississippi.

White-Death-by-State2I have assembled a list of articles and a few quotes discussing the increasing white death rates:

The White Death, Death Rates Up among 25-34 year old Whites, Too, Why are White Women Dying Young? Death Rate Still Rising for Middle Aged White Women, Why are White Death Rates Rising? The White Death:

“When I looked into the dataset that Case and Deaton used (https://spottedtoad.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/correlates-of-middle-aged-white-mortality/ ) and mixed it with Census Data, it appeared that there were three main predictors of county-level death rates for middle aged whites:
1) Median income
2) Obesity
3) SSI-Disability …”  — Spotted Toad

White Death Deaton vs. Gelman, Why are White Women Dying Young?  The White Death and the Black Death:

“I hang out in WV fracking country from time to time. The local community college had a 1 year program to learn how to become a “tool handler” (or something). Get your certificate, and go straight to work making $50k / year – good money is a crummy economy. The program was under-subscribed because the majority of the applicants failed the drug test.” — Jim Don Bob

NY Times: How the Epidemic of Drug Overdose Deaths Ripples Across America, Why are so many Middle Aged Whites Dying? Why did Middle Aged White Death Rates increase from 1998 through 2013? Why is Pennsylvania Outpacing Virginia and Ohio?

“… SSDI (“disability”) culture has been deeply entrenched in West Virginia for decades, particularly in the southern coal counties where work-related injuries have historically been common…” — Chip Smith

But we will get back to death rates later. For now, given high rates of poverty, depression, suicide, and rising death rates, I’m willing to say that Appalachia sounds like it is in distress. Yes, it’s probably a drugs and obesity problem; the question is why?

The generally accepted explanation in HBD circles for Appalachian poverty is IQ–“West Virginia has an average IQ of 98”–and the personalities of its Scotch-Irish founding population. I find this inadequate. For starters, West Virginia’s average IQ of 98.7 is slightly higher than the national average. And yet West Virginia is the second poorest state in the country, with a per capita GDP of only $30,389 (in 2012 dollars.) (Only Mississippi is poorer, and Mississippi has the lowest IQ in the country.)

If IQ were the whole story, West Virginians would be making about $42,784 a year, the national average.

For that matter, Canada’s IQ is 97, Norway, Austria, Denmark, and France has IQs of 98, and Poland and Hungary are up at 99. Their respective per cap GDPs (in 2014 $s, unfortunately): $44,057, 64,856, 46,223, 44,916, 38,848, 24,745, 24,721 (but Poland and Hungary are former Soviet countries whose economies are believed to have been retarded by years of Communism.)

So IQ does not explain Appalachian poverty. But it is getting late, so I will have to continue this tomorrow.

(Head on over to: Part 2, Part 3.)