Why do people watch so much TV?

Honestly, left to my own devices, I wouldn’t own a TV. (With Mythbusters canceled, what’s the point anymore?)

Don’t get me wrong. I have watched (and even enjoyed) the occasional sitcom. I’ve even tried watching football. I like comedies. They’re funny. But after they end, I get that creeping feeling of emptiness inside, like when you’ve eaten a bowl of leftover Halloween candy instead of lunch. There is no “meat” to these programs–or vegan-friendly vegetable protein, if you prefer.

I do enjoy documentaries, though I often end up fast-forwarding through large chunks of them because they are full of filler shots of rotating galaxies or astronomers parking their telescopes or people… taalkiiing… sooo… sloooowwwwlllly… And sadly, if you’ve seen one documentary about ancient Egypt, you’ve seen them all.

Ultimately, time is a big factor: I am always running short. Once I’m done with the non-negotiables (like “take care of the kids” and “pay the bills,”) there’s only so much time left, and time spent watching TV is time not spent writing. Since becoming a competent writer is one of my personal goals, TV gets punted to the bottom of the list, slightly below doing the dishes.

Obviously not everyone writes, but I have a dozen other backup projects for when I’m not writing, everything from “read more books” to “volunteer” to “exercise.”

I think it is a common fallacy to default to assuming that other people are like oneself. I default to assuming that other people are time-crunched, running on 8 shots of espresso and trying to cram in a little time to read Tolstoy and get the tomatoes planted before they fall asleep. (And I’m not even one of those Type-A people.)

Obviously everyone isn’t like me. They come home from work, take care of their kids, make dinner, and flip on the TV.

Why?

An acquaintance recently made a sad but illuminating comment regarding their favorite TV shows, “I know they’re not real, but it feels like they are. It’s like they’re my friends.”

I think the simple answer is that we process the pictures on the TV as though they were real. TV people look like people and sound like people, so who cares if they don’t smell like people? Under normal (pre-TV) circumstances, if you hung out with some friendly, laughing people every day in your living room, they were your family. You liked them, they liked you, and you were happy together.

Today, in our atomized world of single parents, only children, spinsters and eternal bachelors, what families do we have? Sure, we see endless quantities of people on our way to work, but we barely speak, nod, or glance at each other, encapsulated within our own cars or occupied with checking Facebook on our cellphones while the train rumbles on.

As our connections to other people have withered away, we’ve replaced them with fake ones.

Google “America’s Favorite Family“:

OZZIE & HARRIET: The Adventures of America’s Favorite Family

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was the first and longest-running family situational comedy in television history. The Nelsons came to represent the idealized American family of the 1950s – where mom was a content homemaker, dad’s biggest decision was whether to give his sons the keys to the car, and the boys’ biggest problem was getting a date to the high school prom. …When it premiered, Ozzie & Harriet: The Adventures of America’s Favorite Family was the highest-rated documentary in A&E’s history.

(According to Wikipedia, Ozzie and Harriet started on the radio back in the 30s, got a comedy show (still on radio) in 1944, and were on TV from 1952-1966.) It was, to some extent, about a real family–the actors in the show were an actual husband and wife + their kids, but the show itself was fictionalized.

It even makes sense to people to ask them, “Who is your favorite TV personality?“–to which the most common answer isn’t Adam Savage or James Hyneman, but Mark Harmon, who plays some made-up guy named Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

The rise of “reality TV” only makes the “people want to think of the TV people as real people they’re actually hanging out with” all the more palpable–and then there’s the incessant newsstand harping of celebrity gossip. The only thing I want out of a movie star (besides talent) is that I not recognize them; it appears that the only thing everyone else wants is that they do recognize them.

According to The Way of the Blockbuster: In entertainment, big bets on likely winners rule:

in Blockbusters: Hit-Making, Risk-Taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment, the new book by Anita Elberse, Filene professor of business administration. Elberse (el-BER-see) spent 10 years interviewing and observing film, television, publishing, and sports executives to distill the most profitable strategy for these high-profile, unpredictable marketplaces. … The most profitable business strategy, she says, is not the “long tail,” but its converse: blockbusters like Star Wars, Avatar, Friends, the Harry Potter series, and sports superstars like Tom Brady.

Strategically, the blockbuster approach involves “making disproportionately big investments in a few products designed to appeal to mass audiences,” … “Production value” means star actors and special effects. … a studio can afford only a few “event movies” per year. But Horn’s big bets for Warner Brothers—the Harry Potter series, The Dark Knight, The Hangover and its sequel, Ocean’s Eleven and its two sequels, Sherlock Holmes—drew huge audiences. By 2011, Warner became the first movie studio to surpass $1 billion in domestic box-office receipts for 11 consecutive years. …

Jeff Zucker ’86 put a contrasting plan into place as CEO at NBC Universal. In 2007 he led a push to cut the television network’s programming costs: … Silverman began cutting back on expensive dramatic content, instead acquiring rights to more reasonably priced properties; eschewing star actors and prominent TV producers, who commanded hefty fees; and authorizing fewer costly pilots for new series. The result was that by 2010, NBC was no longer the top-rated TV network, but had fallen to fourth place behind ABC, CBS, and Fox, and “was farther behind on all the metrics that mattered,” writes Elberse, “including, by all accounts, the profit margins Zucker and Silverman had sought most.” Zucker was asked to leave his job in 2010. …

From a business perspective, “bankable” movies stars like Julia Roberts, Johnny Depp, or George Clooney function in much the way Harry Potter and Superman do: providing a known, well-liked persona.

So people like seeing familiar faces in their movies (except Oprah Winfrey, who is apparently not a draw:

the 1998 film Beloved, starring Oprah Winfrey, based on Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison’s eponymous 1987 novel and directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme … flopped resoundingly: produced for $80 million, it sold only $23 million in tickets.

Or maybe Beloved isn’t just the kind of feel-good action flick that drives movie audiences the way Batman is.)

But what about sports?

Here I am on even shakier ground than sitcoms. I can understand playing sports–they’re live action versions of video games, after all. You get to move around, exercise, have fun with your friends, and triumphantly beat them at something. (Or if you’re me, lose.) I can understand cheering for your kids and being proud of them as they get better and better at some athletic skill (or at least try hard at it.)

I don’t understand caring about strangers playing a game.

I have no friends on the Yankees or the Mets, the Phillies or the Marlins. I’ve never met a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide or the Clemson Tigers, and I harbor no illusions that my children will ever play on such teams. I feel no loyalty to the athletes-drawn-from-all-over-the-country who play on my “hometown” team, and I consider athlete salaries vaguely obscene.

I find televised sports about as interesting as watching someone do math. If the point of the game is to win, then why not just watch a 5-minute summary at the end of the day of all the teams’ wins and losses?

But according to The Way of the Blockbuster:

Perhaps no entertainment realm takes greater care in building a brand name than professional sports: fan loyalty reliably builds repeat business. “The NFL is blockbuster content,” Elberse says. “It’s the most sought-after content we have in this country. Four of the five highest-rated television shows [in the United States] ever are Super Bowls. NFL fans spend an average of 9.5 hours per week on games and related content. That gives the league enormous power when it comes to negotiating contracts with television networks.”

Holy shit. No wonder Borders went under.

Elberse has studied American football and basketball and European soccer, and found that selling pro sports has much in common with selling movies, TV shows, or books. Look at the Real Madrid soccer club—the world’s richest, with annual revenues of $693 million and a valuation of $3.3 billion. Like Hollywood studios, Real Madrid attracts fan interest by engaging superstars—such as Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese forward the club acquired from Manchester United for a record $131.6 million in 2009. “We think of ourselves as content producers,” a Real Madrid executive told Elberse, “and we think of our product—the match—as a movie.” As she puts it: “It might not have Tom Cruise in it, but they do have Cristiano Ronaldo starring.

In America, sports stars are famous enough that even I know some of their names, like Peyton Manning, Serena Williams, and Michel Jackson Jordan.

I think the basic drive behind people’s love of TV sports is the same as their love of sitcoms (and dramas): they process it as real. And not just real, but as people they know: their family, their tribe. Those are their boys out there, battling for glory and victory against that other tribes’s boys. It’s vicarious warfare with psuedo armies, a domesticated expression of the tribal urge to slaughter your enemies, drive off their cattle and abduct their women. So what if the army isn’t “real,” if the heroes aren’t your brother or cousin but paid gladiators shipped in from thousands of miles away to perform for the masses? Your brain still interprets it as though it were; you still enjoy it.

Football is man-fiction.

Micro solar panels for Detroit?

We Americans like to think we live in a first world country, but there are plenty of areas–like inner cities or far rural regions–where the complex supply chains people take for granted in the suburbs (“Of course I can buy raspberries in January. Why wouldn’t I?”) don’t work or don’t exist.

For example, relatives of mine who live in a rural part of the country and therefore are not hooked up to a city water pipe are dependent on well water. But a recent drought dried up their wells, and they ended up with no running water for several years. Thankfully the drought ended and they now have water, but droughts recur; I would not be surprised if they ended up without water again sometime within the next couple of decades.

Likewise, there are people in Detroit who lack running water, though for very different reasons (my relatives were amply willing to pay for water if anyone would pipe it over to them.)

I was reading the other day about the difficulties surrounding gentrification. Basically, you start with an urban neighborhood that’s run down or perhaps has always been kind of shitty, and eventually someone clever realizes that there’s no sensible reason why one piece of urban real estate should command higher prices than another piece of urban real estate and starts trying to fix things. So they buy up decrepit old buildings, clean them up, get new businesses to move into the area, and generally try to turn a profit–house flipping on the neighborhood scale. Of course, as soon as the neighborhood starts looking nicer and stops scaring people away, the rents go up and the original residents are forced out.

Which is a big win if you’re a developer, because those original residents were a large part of the reason why the neighborhood you’re trying to flip was so shitty in the first place, but kind of sucks if you are one of those people who can no longer afford rent. Which means, among other things, that you’ll often get  local kick-back against your gentrification schemes: (h/t Steve Sailer)

Hardline tactics succeed in keeping outsiders away from Boyle Heights, the Latino community that is the last holdout to Los Angeles gentrification.

A realtor who invited clients to tour the neighbourhood for bargain properties and enjoy “artisanal treats” felt the backlash within hours.

“I can’t help but hope that your 60-minute bike ride is a total disaster and that everyone who eats your artisanal treats pukes immediately,” said one message. “Stay outta my f****** hood,” said another.

Fearing violence, the realtor cancelled the event.

So you end up with a lot of articles about people who want to gentrify neighborhoods but swear up and down that they don’t want to drive out the local residents or destroy their lives, and some of these folks might actually be honest. But these goals are often incompatible: gentrification raises rents, which drives out the lowest classes of society.

As I see it, economically depressed areas, be they urban or rural, have one thing in common: low complexity. Rural areas have low complexity because that’s just a side effect of being far away from other people; urban areas end up with low complexity either because of shifts in economic production (eg, the death of American manufacturing leading to abandoned factories and unemployed people across the “rust belt,”) or because the folks in them can’t handle complexity.

Human society is complicated (and American society, doubly so.) Businesses don’t just get opened and people employed because someone wants to; there’s a whole lot of paperwork involved before anything gets done.

I am reminded here of a passage in Bourgois’s In Search of Respect: Selling crack in el Barrio, where a Harlem drug dealer who wanted to go straight and get a legal job attempted to open a small food store, but got shut down because his bathroom was not wheelchair accessible. So the guy went back to selling crack.

On a similar note, when my relatives ran out of water, there existed an obvious technical fix: deepen the well. But drilling wells is neither cheap nor easy, if you lack the right tools, and beyond the average individual’s abilities. How lucky, I thought, that there exist many charities devoted to drilling wells for people! How unlucky, I discovered, that these charities only drill wells in the third world. I made some inquiries and received a disheartening response: the charities did not have the necessary paperwork filled out and permits granted to drill wells here in the US.

Much regulation exists not because it benefits anyone (trust me, a wheelchair-bound person is better off with non-ADA compliant food store in their neighborhood than a crack house,) but to shut down smaller businesses that cannot handle the cost of compliance.

In simple terms: More regulation => more suffering poor people.

Everyone has a maximum level of complexity they can personally handle; collectively, so do groups of people. Hunter-gatherer groups have very low levels of complexity; Tokyo has a very high level of complexity. When complexity falls in a neighborhood (say, because the local industries move out and rents fall and businesses close,) the residents with the most resources (internal and external) tend to move out, leaving the area to the least competent–greatly increasing the percentage of criminals, druggies, prostitutes, homeless, and other transients among folks just trying to survive.

Attempting to raise the level of complexity in such an area beyond what the local people can manage (or beyond what the environment itself can handle) just doesn’t work. Sure, from the developers’ POV, it’s no big deal if people leave, but from the national perspective, we’re just shifting problems around.

Obviously, if you care about poor people and want to do something to help them, step number one is to decrease regulations/paperwork. Unfortunately, I don’t have much hope of this short of a total societal breakdown and reset, so in the meanwhile, l got to thinking about these small-scale development projects people are trying in the third world, like micro-solar panels, composting toilets, or extremely cheap water pumps. Now, I agree that most of these articles are pie-in-the-sky, “This time we’re totally going to solve poverty for realsies, not like all of those other times!” claptrap. The problem with most of these projects is, of course, complexity. You install a water pump in some remote village, a part breaks, and now the villagers have no idea how to get a new part to fix it.

If you’ve read Josephine and Frederick’s account of their attempt to drive from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa–a distance of about a thousand miles, or 1,500 km–in the DRC, then you’ve probably noticed how much of the infrastructure in parts of the third world was built by the colonizers, and has degenerated since then do to lack of maintenance. These systems are too complex for the people using them, so they de-complexify until they aren’t.

So for third-world development schemes to work, they can’t be too complex. You can’t expect people to spend three weeks trekking through the bush to order parts in the nearest cities or to read thick manuals, and they certainly don’t have a lot of money to invest.

So when these projects are successful, we know they have managed to deal adequately with the complexity problem.

Micro solar panels, for example, might provide enough power to charge a cell phone or run an electric light for a few hours, and can be easily “installed” by clipping them onto the outside of a high-rise tenement window, where they are relatively safe from random thieves. For people who can’t afford electricity, or who have to chose between things like paying rent and having hot showers, such panels could make a difference.

In rural areas with unreliable water supplies, cheap pumps could run water from local streams to toilets or filtration systems; composting toilets and the like provide low-water options.

Such projects need not be run as charities–in fact, they probably shouldn’t be; if a project increases peoples’ economic well-being, then they should be able to pay for it. If they can’t, then the project probably isn’t working. But they might require some kind of financing, as cost now, savings later is not a model most poor people can afford.

Cathedral Round-Up #10

… as Vattimo suggests, the “accomplished nihilism of the real (Western) world gives us nothing substantial for our rhetorics except an insubstantial rhetoric. .. I criticize intellectual practices that are too close to the narcissism of insiders, whose proposition and theories, despite their critical appearance, recode forms of stabilization; I seek instead to affirm the possibility of something like a nonrationalizing (counternarcissistic) intellectual endeavor. –Sande Cohen, Academia and the Luster of Capital

Chances are you recall the uprisings on college campuses around the country last fall, sparked by the Yale Halloween Costume Email controversy and the Missouri protest. The protestors presented their respective colleges with Demands, largely centering on public apologies for past injustice, mandatory SJW-indoctrination for all students and faculty, and more money for minority teachers, staff, students, and programs.

So I wanted to check up on how colleges have responded. (List is not inclusive; I have tried to focus on the most well-known institutions.)

Response to Amherst College Demands:

President Martin’s Statement on Campus Protests

On Thursday night I attended a student-organized protest against racism and other entrenched forms of prejudice and inequality. … Over the course of several days, a significant number of students have spoken eloquently and movingly about their experiences of racism and prejudice on and off campus.  The depth and intensity of their pain and exhaustion are evident. … It is good that our students have seized this opportunity to speak, rather than further internalizing the isolation and lack of caring they have described.  What we have heard requires a concerted, rigorous, and sustained response.

The organizers of the protests also presented me with a list of demands on Thursday evening.  While expressing support for their goals, I explained that the formulation of those demands assumed more authority and control than a president has or should have. … I explained that I did not intend to respond to the demands item by item, or to meet each demand as specified, but instead to write a statement that would be responsive to the spirit of what they are trying to achieve—systemic changes that we know we need to make. … I was asked to read this statement to students today in Frost Library and did so at noon.

Also:

• Trustees abandon Lord Jeffery Amherst, commander who endorsed plan to “extirpate” Indians with smallpox-laden blankets, as symbol and unofficial mascot of Amherst College. School name will remain.

Response to Boston College Demands:

… the university announced it would convene a university committee on race. The Undergraduate Government at Boston College set a January 19 deadline for the administration to release a plan to “create a more racially inclusive campus,” but the administration missed the deadline and didn’t release any statement as to when an action plan would be released. …
Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn that suggest there isn’t any problem that needs to be addressed. In November, Dunn stated, “The supposition that BC is an institutionally racist place is a difficult argument to make … I think that’s a false assumption, an unfair assumption, and impugns the integrity of so many good people on this campus who’ve joined this community precisely because they’re people of good will who oppose all elements of bigotry,” according to an article in the college’s independent newspaper, The Heights.

Response to Brandeis University Demands:

Acting Brandeis University President Lisa M. Lynch is pushing for changes she hopes will increase diversity in the student body and staff — but she won’t do it on a timetable set by student protesters.

Lynch, with the backing of the Waltham school’s board of trustees, sent a multipage letter to the campus community this weekend after meeting with students who have occupied the Bernstein-Marcus Administrative Center — which includes Lynch’s office. …

“The atmosphere described by our students is painful to hear and calls on all of us to address these issues,’’ Lynch wrote. In her letter, Lynch aligned herself broadly with the goal of increasing diversity at all levels of the university …

Also:

• After a 12-day sit-in, Brandeis commits to increasing applicants of color (now 17 percent) by 5 to 10 percentage points annually and to double underrepresented faculty members (5 percent in 2014) by 2021.

See also: Reaffirming and Accelerating Brandeis’ Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Justice and Statements of Support and Commitments to Action to Advance Diversity and Inclusion at Brandeis University by Department, School, and Program

Response to Brown University Demands:

On Monday, Nov. 16, … Concerned Graduate Students of Color at Brown University came together to publish a list of demands and request a written response from the administration within one week. The working draft of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP) was released by President Christina Paxson’s office on Nov. 19, 2015. … We, Graduate Students of Color, reject this plan as a response to our demands.

The anticipated 10-year, $100 million investment in diversity and inclusion sounds impressive, but note that this is a mere 3 percent of Paxson’s new $3 billion Brown Together capital campaign.  …

See also Brown U releases $100 million plan to increase inclusivity, ; plan later increased to $165 million.

Also:

• Brown faculty vote on Feb. 2 that Columbus Day will be known as Indigenous People’s Day, prompted by students objecting: “We don’t celebrate genocide.”

Response to Claremont McKenna College Demands:

• Mary Spellman, dean of students at Claremont McKenna College in California, steps down after making a statement about students not fitting “our C.M.C. mold.”

Response to Dartmouth College Demands: (warning PDF)

… we write as members of the senior leadership of the College and people who care deeply about Dartmouth. We want to share a message with the community: we hear your concerns about ensuring that Dartmouth is not only diverse in numbers, but also a place where all community members thrive. …

We couldn’t agree with you more. Diversity is one of the cornerstones of our academic community and, like you, we want Dartmouth to be a campus where our students gain the confidence and skills to work and lead in a global society. … Recently, a presentation of the “Freedom Budget” document highlighted for us that we, as the administration, must engage the campus more effectively in current and future action to achieve our shared vision for Dartmouth …

  • More than $30 million will be invested in the Society of Fellows program to bring recent post-doctorates to campus. Post-doctoral programs have been an effective tool for recruiting diverse faculty from other campuses. …
  • The E.E. Just Program, which supports the academic success of under-represented students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, will undergo a major expansion.
  • The Office of the President is sponsoring a three-year program project to help make Dartmouth Outing Club activities accessible to students receiving financial aid.
  • Dartmouth will provide $1 million in recurring funds to support the cost of hiring faculty who bring diverse perspectives to campus.

We can and will do more.

Response to Duke U Demands: (also PDF)

In response to student demands presented at the Duke Tomorrow forum Nov. 20, President Richard Brodhead sent an email last Tuesday to the students who organized the forum assuring them of his commitment to deal with the concerns they raised. … Brodhead’s email noted that the Task Force on Bias and Hate Issues will be responsible for considering many of the demands presented. He added that orientation programs and faculty diversity efforts—which were also included in the demands—are already in place.

“We look forward to working with all members of the Duke community to make the University a better place,” Brodhead wrote in the email.

Response to Emory Demands:

• Emory promises task force to “examine the feasibility of a geofence” to block the social media app Yik Yak in university ZIP codes to protect African-American students from what a black student group calls “intolerable and psychologically detrimental material.”

Response to Georgetown Demands:

• Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall — named for Georgetown presidents who organized the sale of 272 slaves to settle university debts — are renamed. Students further demand the creation of an endowment, at the current value of the sale’s profit, to recruit “black identifying” professors.

Response to Harvard U Demands:

HLS seal re-designed by "Reclaiming HLS"
HLS seal re-designed by “Reclaiming HLS”

[Minow] has already taken several steps to respond to some of the student demands and formulated her own plans to improve race relations at the schools. She has appointed a committee to consider changing the school’s seal, which she said last Monday would require the Harvard Corporation’s approval; administrators have also said they will work to create a more diverse faculty and hire a staff member to focus on diversity issues. …

On Friday, however, Minow primarily watched and listened as students spoke. “Thinking, listening, thank you,” she said, after Leland S. Shelton, the president of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, reiterated each demand and asked if she was prepared to immediately agree to any of them. …

In an email sent to Law School affiliates on Friday, Minow wrote that she will carefully consider the student demands.

“I listened carefully,” Minow wrote. “I will do my best to ensure that we find ways to work together, joining students, staff, and faculty to address proposals and above all to strengthen this School and its possibilities to be better and to make the world better.”

Also:

College officials released the working group’s report Thursday. It included recommendations to diversify the College, and to support affinity-based students groups on campus and in multicultural centers, among others.

Harvard Law School has decided to officially chance the seal, though I don’t know yet what to.

Response to Ithaca College Demands:

Thomas R. Rochon, president of Ithaca College, pens an opinion piece asserting college presidents should step up, not down; in January, he announces he will step down, effective next year.

Response to Johns Hopkins Demands: (also)

Called on to address the student’s demands, Daniels pointed to the new Faculty Diversity Initiative, a multimillion dollar effort designed to help each of the university’s divisions find, attract, and retain the most talented faculty representing a broad diversity of backgrounds and experiences. The effort, unveiled earlier Monday, has been in the works for more than a year.

In response to a question suggesting that the initiative could lead to more qualified candidates being passed over, Provost Robert C. Lieberman said: “I would very, very strongly resist the premise of your question, which is that sometimes diversity and excellence or standards are opposed to each other. They in fact reinforce each other, and we will only be excellent to the extent that we are diverse.”

Daniels pledged transparency on the topic in the form of a report on the composition of the faculty, to be issued every two years. He also announced plans to strengthen the university’s Center for Africana Studies with the addition of five new faculty members—two in the center, two in the Department of History, and one interdisciplinary scholar.

One of the students’ requests was for a mandatory cultural competency course for all undergraduates. Daniels said that a single course required for all students “goes against the grain of choice that is embedded in our curriculum,” but that “other approaches to that issue are on the table.” He said possibilities open to discussion include establishment of a distribution requirement, mandating that students choose from among a set of courses in which cultural differences are considered.

Daniels also backed establishing a comprehensive diversity training program for the faculty, staff, and all students. A pilot training program was implemented at student orientation this past fall, and a working group to develop training recommendations will be launched by the start of the spring semester.

Response to Missouri State U Demands (not to be confused with U Missouri):

The joint statement from MSU president Clif Smart and Board of Governors Chair Stephen Hoven explained ongoing efforts to increase diversity and inclusion, announced plans to expand multicultural programming and outlined numerous ways students can help shape decisions.

“Recently, a group of students took the time and initiative to remind us of our responsibility and commitment to provide you with an inclusive environment that fosters learning, growth and opportunity. Pointing to the ongoing challenges that our nation continues to face in terms of diversity and inclusion, these students have presented important questions, made requests, and asked that we stop what we are doing to listen and respond,” …  “We have stopped, we are listening and we offer this letter in another effort to address those concerns.” …

MSU officials, in the Tuesday statement, noted that improving diversity and inclusion has been a top priority in recent years and said that commitment will continue with three overarching goals:

• Expand diversity programs

• Increase enrollment and retention of diverse students from “underrepresented” backgrounds

• Expand the pool of diverse faculty and staff

The president of MSU is not-ironically named Clifton Smart III.

Response to NYU Demands:

???

Response to Oberlin Demands: (PDF)

• Oberlin dining services promises “culturally sensitive menus” after demands for more traditional foods, including fried chicken, at Afrikan Heritage House, and for more indigenous versions of General Tso’s chicken and banh mi. Oberlin president finds 14 pages of other “demands and not suggestions” (e.g., eliminate Western-centered course requirements) even less palatable. In January, he announces he won’t respond to them.

Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t: one of the complaints protesters lodged against UC Irvine:

a. In 2011, to begin the Cross Cultural Center’s 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. symposium, UCI’s Hospitality and Dining services served fried chicken and waffles in “honor” of the event.

I don’t think there’s any agreement on whether serving fried chicken is “culturally sensitive” or “horribly racist”–which I find especially weird because everyone in the South, white and black, eats fried chicken. Also, BBQ is totally better than fried chicken.

Response to Princeton Demands:

Last week, the president of Princeton University agreed to implement or consider the demands of student protesters who had taken over his office, including providing black students a cultural space on the Ivy League campus and initiating discussions about “cultural competency” training. Christopher Eisgruber also agreed to open a debate about Woodrow Wilson’s legacy at Princeton. …

Cecilia Rouse, the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, welcomes the discussion. Rouse agrees that changing a name would be an easy thing to do, and that much more difficult challenges remain, such as how to develop a curriculum that is less focused on Europe, how to have course readings that are more reflective of the world, and how to ensure that faculty are comfortable talking about race.

Response to Tufts U Demands:

???

Response to UCLA Demands:

After heads rolled over a Kanye-Western themed frat party at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), several adjustments to the UCLA campus climate have been made, including suspension of the social groups that hosted the party for alleged “racist undertones” of their event.  …

On October 22, UCLA’s vice chancellor Janina Montero responded … that she is open to many of the ASU’s demands, including exclusive funding for the ASU, revision of the school’s anti-discrimination policies, an “Afro-house” for black students, a student advisory board for campus diversity, increased enrollment of black students, and creation of a Black Student Leadership Task Force. She also said that the chancellor has collaborated with the LAUSD to build the Horace Mann UCLA Community School in South Los Angeles.

Response to U of Kentucky Demands:

Each time our student passes the images on his way to class or a movie or a speaker, this student — one of us — must confront humiliating images that bear witness to how we still fall short of being citizens together in what Dr. King called the “beloved community.” And countless other current students, faculty, staff, prospective students and their families, and other visitors to our campus, endure the same pain when they walk into one of our University’s signature and busiest venues. Moreover, this is often the first exposure people have to our campus, our culture, and our values.

This cannot continue. In spite of the artist’s admirable, finely honed skill that gave life to the mural, we cannot allow it to stand alone, unanswered by and unaccountable to the evolutionary trajectory of our human understanding and our human spirit.

Before:

After: 

Both photos Credit Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader

Response to U of Missouri Demands:

• Charged with a sluggish response to racist incidents, Timothy M. Wolfe and R. Bowen Loftin, top University of Missouri officials, cave when football players threaten to strike, raising the specter of a forfeit penalty of more than $1 million.

Response to Yale U Demands:

Yale President Plans ‘Significant Changes’ In Response To Student Demands

Declaring that there is still much “unfinished work,” Yale University President Peter Salovey Tuesday offered a detailed response to student demands in the wake of rising racial tensions on campus.

Salovey, under intense pressure from the Yale community, proposed “a structure to build a more inclusive Yale” that would add faculty, multicultural training for staff, expanded resources for cultural centers, enhanced financial aid for low-income students and creation of a “prominent university center” to address issues of race, ethnicity and social identity. He said these are “the central issues of our era.”

“I have heard the expressions of those who do not feel fully included at Yale, many of whom have described experiences of isolation, and even of hostility, during their time here,” Salovey said.

It is just so HAAAARD to be a student at Yale. WAH.

Also:

• Erika Christakis quits teaching at Yale, citing lack of “civil dialogue and open inquiry” after a brouhaha over her criticism of university guidelines on culturally sensitive Halloween costumes. …

• Yale promises to devote $50 million in resources over five years for faculty members “who would enrich diversity” (currently 6 percent are underrepresented minorities). …

(In the interim, three portraits of Calhoun are removed from the college.)

At Yale, a stained-glass window depicting John C. Calhoun has been altered to remove the image of a chained slave. Credit Andrew Sullivan for The New York Times

Finally:

• Harvard and Princeton drop the title of “master” — term dating to medieval universities — for heads of residential colleges; Yale is mulling the same.

The award for shortest list of demands goes to Ithaca College:

The resignation of College President Tom Rochon or for him to be removed from his position.

The award for longest list goes to UVA, which, at 6259 words, was twice as long as the second-longest list, and included demands such as:

Posters in First-Year dorms and on Stall Seat Journals, and other educational, promotional tools should focus on prejudice and oppression, and should offer examples of implicit biases in student-to-student, faculty-to-student interactions. and student-to-Charlottesville resident interactions. Student-run University agencies such as The Honor Committee and The Student Council should prioritize the creation of initiatives aimed towards engaging the student body in conversations surrounding race and inclusivity as elements of our University ideals. …

Students of the University of Virginia must be knowledgeable and conscious about the history of racial oppression and discrimination in the current and historic U.Va. and Charlottesville communities. …

[A mandatory course on the history of UVA] …

Every course should strive to recognize minority perspectives and every department should make it a goal to offer multiple courses that include or focus on minority perspectives within their field each semester. For example, Biology could study genetics across minority communities, …

O RLY.

Well, at least I got a good laugh out of this one.

The hominin braid

Much has been said ’round the HBD-osphere, lately, on the age of the Pygmy (and Bushmen?)/everyone else split. Greg Cochran of West Hunter, for example, supports a split around 300,000 years ago–100,000 years before the supposed emergence of “anatomically modern humans” aka AMH aka Homo sapiens sapiens:

A number of varieties of Homo are grouped into the broad category of archaic humans in the period beginning 500,000 years ago (or 500ka). It typically includes Homo neanderthalensis (40ka-300ka), Homo rhodesiensis (125ka-300ka), Homo heidelbergensis (200ka-600ka), and may also include Homo antecessor (800ka-1200ka).[1] This category is contrasted with anatomically modern humans, which include Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens idaltu. (source)

According to genetic and fossil evidence, archaic Homo sapiens evolved to anatomically modern humans solely in Africa, between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago, with members of one branch leaving Africa by 60,000 years ago and over time replacing earlier human populations such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus. (source)

The last steps taken by the anatomically modern humans before becoming the current Homo sapiens, known as “behaviourally modern humans“, were taken either abruptly circa 40-50,000 years ago,[11] or gradually, and led to the achievement of a suite of behavioral and cognitive traits that distinguishes us from merely anatomically modern humans, hominins, and other primates. (source)

Cochran argues:

They’ve managed to sequence a bit of autosomal DNA from the Atapuerca skeletons, about 430,000 years old, confirming that they are on the Neanderthal branch.

Among other things, this supports the slow mutation rate, one compatible with what we see in modern family trios, but also with the fossil record.

This means that the Pygmies, and probably the Bushmen also, split off from the rest of the human race about 300,000 years ago. Call them Paleoafricans.

Personally, I don’t think the Pygmies are that old. Why? Call it intuition; it just seems more likely that they aren’t. Of course, there are a lot of guys out there whose intuition told them those rocks couldn’t possibly be more than 6,000 years old; I recognize that intuition isn’t always a great guide. It’s just the one I’ve got.

Picture 1( <– Actually, my intuition is based partially on my potentially flawed understanding of Haak’s graph, which I read as indicating that Pygmies split off quite recently.)

The thing about speciation (especially of extinct species we know only from their bones) is that it is not really as exact as we’d like it to be. A lot of people think the standard is “can these animals interbreed?” but dogs, coyotes, and wolves can all interbreed. Humans and Neanderthals interbred; the African forest elephant and African bush elephant were long thought to be the same species because they interbreed in zoos, but have been re-categorized into separate species because in the wild, their ranges don’t overlap and so they wouldn’t interbreed without humans moving them around. And now they’re telling us that the Brontosaurus was a dinosaur after all, but Pluto still isn’t a planet.

This is a tree
This is a tree

The distinction between archaic homo sapiens and homo sapiens sapiens is based partly on morphology (look at those brow ridges!) and partly on the urge to draw a line somewhere. If HSS could interbreed with Neanderthals, from whom they were separated by a good 500,000 years, there’s no doubt we moderns could interbreed with AHS from 200,000 years ago. (There’d be a fertility hit, just as pairings between disparate groups of modern HSS take fertility hits, but probably nothing too major–probably not as bad as an Rh- woman x Rh+ man, which we consider normal.)

bones sported by time
bones sported by time

So I don’t think Cochran is being unreasonable. It’s just not what my gut instinct tells me. I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong if I am.

The dominant model of human (and other) evolution has long been the tree (just as we model our own families.) Trees are easy to draw and easy to understand. The only drawback is that it’s not always clear exactly clear where a particular skull should be placed on our trees (or if the skull we have is even representative of their species–the first Neanderthal bones we uncovered actually hailed from an individual who had suffered from arthritis, resulting in decades of misunderstanding of Neanderthal morphology. (Consider, for sympathy, the difficulties of an alien anthropologist if they were handed a modern pygmy skeleton, 4’11”, and a Dinka skeleton, 5’11”, and asked to sort them by species.)

blob chart
blob chart

What we really have are a bunch of bones, and we try to sort them out by time and place, and see if we can figure out which ones belong to separate species. We do our best given what we have, but it’d be easier if we had a few thousand more ancient hominin bones.

The fact that different “species” can interbreed complicates the tree model, because branches do not normally split off and then fuse with other branches, at least not on real trees. These days, it’s looking more like a lattice model–but this probably overstates the amount of crossing. Aboriginal Australians, for example, were almost completely isolated for about 40,000 years, with (IIRC) only one known instance of genetic introgression that happened about 11,000 years ago when some folks from India washed up on the northern shore. The Native Americans haven’t been as isolated, because there appear to have been multiple waves of people that crossed the Bering Strait or otherwise made it into the Americas, but we are still probably talking about only a handful of groups over the course of 40,000 years.

Trellis model
Trellis model

Still, the mixing is there; as our ability to suss out genetic differences become better, we’re likely to keep turning up new incidences.

So what happens when we get deep into the 200,000 year origins of humanity? I suspect–though I could be completely wrong!–that things near the origins get murkier, not less. The tree model suggests that the original group hominins at the base of the “human” tree would be less genetically diverse than than the scattered spectrum of humanity we have today, but these folks may have had a great deal of genetic diversity among themselves due to having recently mated with other human species (many of which we haven’t even found, yet.) And those species themselves had crossed with other species. For example, we know that Melanesians have a decent chunk of Denisovan DNA (and almost no one outside of Melanesia has this, with a few exceptions,) and the Denisovans show evidence that they had even older DNA introgressed from a previous hominin species they had mated with. So you can imagine the many layers of introgression you could get with a part Melanesian person with some Denisovan with some of this other DNA… As we look back in time toward our own origins, we may see similarly a great variety of very disparate DNA that has, in essence, hitch-hiked down the years from older species, but has nothing to do with the timing of the split of modern groups.

As always, I am speculating.

On overlapping bell curves and the irony of being an outsider

Suppose you have a population–we’ll call it PopA. PopA can be just about any group of people–farmers, classical music lovers, Ukrainians, women, etc. In any population, you’re going to get a range of traits (unless you’ve selected your population in some exact way). Farmers, for example, vary in the sizes and productivity of their farms; women vary in height and weight. Variation in many (though not all) traits can be modeled with a bell curve:

2014-10-03-blogbellcurve

Take height: some people are very short, and some are very tall, but most cluster near their group’s average.

Where we have two (or more) groups, they must vary on the distribution of some trait/s. (Otherwise they would not be separate groups.) For example, the group of classical music lovers tends to listen to more classical music than the group of rap music lovers (who, in turn, tend to listen to more rap music.) Women, on average, are shorter than men. But few groups are absolutely distinct–there are some classical music lovers who also listen to some rap music, and rap fans who listen to a few classical compositions, just as there are men and women who are the same height.

We can figure ut something else from thi graph: men lie about their heights
Men and women arranged by height

Picture 9

A graph of male and female heights

In America, the biggest groups people tend to be aware of (or act like they are aware of) are gender and race:

Picture 10

Asians, whites, Hispanics, and blacks.

You can pick just about any trait to label this graph. We’ll use introversion/extraversion. Introverts are on the left; extroverts are on the right.

“Normal” people–that is average ones–tend to have, by definition, a lot of traits in common with the other people in their group. These folks fit in comfortably. For our example, a normal member of Group A, while more introverted than the national average, is perfectly at home among most other members of Group A. A normal member of Group C, while more extroverted than the national average, is perfectly happy among other members of Group C.

Picture 6

To be explicit: normies have it pretty good. They are constantly surrounded by people who are just like themselves. Outliers, by contrast, tend to be alone (and are often ostracized, bullied, or otherwise attacked by more normal people.)

The thing about traits is that they tend to cluster. People from Pakistan, for example, tend to be Muslim, speak Urdu + a second language, and have brown skin. People with a specific mutation of the EDAR gene–found primarily in east Asians–have thicker hair, more sweat glands, smaller breasts, and differently shaped teeth than people without it. People who like country music are more likely to be pro-life than people who like techno. Women tend to like handbags, diets, and babies, while men tend to like sports and cars.

If traits didn’t cluster, we wouldn’t have groups.

One of the results of this is that normal people on one bell curve probably won’t get along all that well with normal people on another bell curve. To use a somewhat simpler graph:

Picture 5 copy

Normies A, B, and C get along well with normal people from their own groups, but tend not to get along all that well with normal people from other groups. Normie A, for example, is a perfectly normal introvert from group A, and finds most people from groups B and C way too extraverted and regards interacting with them as quite unpleasant. Normie C is a perfectly normal extravert from Group C, and finds most people from groups A and B way too introverted. Normie B thinks there are some perfectly reasonable members of Groups A and C, but that most As and Cs are extremists, and that both sides need to be more like B.

But this is not generally a problem, as normies can just hang out with other people from their own group, who tend to be like themselves.

Let’s talk about outliers:

Picture 5 copy2

Our outliers are, by definition, far from average. Our extremely extraverted member of Group A is simply way too extraverted for other As, and our introverted member of Group C doesn’t get on well with the average C at all. But our extraverted A gets on just fine with normal members of Group C, and our introverted C gets on fine with normal members of Group A.

Obviously my graphs have been rather arbitrarily chosen (actually, chosen for their ability to show up well on the screen rather than their accurate portrayal of the ethnic breakdown of introversion/extraversion.) It is easy to imagine traits that vary in all sorts of interesting ways between groups, depending on the shapes of their relative bell curves. Despite the limitations of my visuals, I hope the overall idea, however, is clear.

Anyway, this was all inspired by conversations/observations I was reading the other day on the kinds of people who enter into interracial marriages. No, I wasn’t reading Stormfront; these were perfectly mainstream-to-leftist people who probably approve of interracial marriage. For example, I have read several complaints from Asian women who say that they get a lot of attention from really creepy guys who have some kind of weird Asian fetish. (And here I just assumed that guys like Asian women because Asian women are less obese.) Another post, written by the (grown) child of an interracial couple, asserted that his dad had married interracially because he was too socially incompetent to attract a woman of his own race.

Harsh, but from the normie perspective, people who get along well with members of other races may in fact be outliers from their own, and are thus considered “socially incompetent.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, anecdotal observation of white women who marry black men suggests that they, too, are not “average,” but instead have a lot in common, personality-wise, with black men. They tend also to have more limited social opportunities due to poverty. (This should be a caution, by the way, for people trying to model the effects of racial admixture: admixture is unlikely to come from a random sample of the population, but to have been selected in some way.)

I feel like repeating here that even though normal people are harsh on outliers, does not automatically mean that being an outlier is morally reprehensible. Highly intelligent people and criminals are both outliers; very short and very tall people are outliers. Blind people and homosexuals are outliers. Outliers can be good, bad, or totally neutral. They’re just not normal, and normal people think that being normal is morally good, because they’re normal, and people default to thinking that they and people like them are good.

As I noted back in the post about adoption, 61% of whites say they’re okay with intermarriage, but only about 2% of them have mixed or other-race children, including step and adopted kids. Given the number of minorities in the country + random chance, about half of the whites who say they’re okay with intermarriage ought to have a mixed-race family–30% of whites, not 2%. Breaking it down by liberal vs. conservative doesn’t help–2% of conservative whites live in mixed-race families, vs. 2.4% of liberal whites, which is really not much of a difference to crow about.

Being okay with intermarriage is a normative value among whites (and probably other racial groups, too,) but differences in the distribution of personality traits may prevent most normal people from forming a lot of friendships (or romantic relationships) with people from different races. By contrast, outliers may get along better with people of other races. Ironically, this means that people whom normals might characterize as “racist” are likely to actually get along pretty well with people of other (or certain) races.

Hence why Derbyshire, a “white advocate,” is married to an Asian woman.

Do small families lead to higher IQ?

Okay, so this is just me thinking (and mathing) out loud. Suppose we have two different groups (A and B) of 100 people each (arbitrary number chosen for ease of dividing.) In Group A, people are lumped into 5 large “clans” of 20 people each. In Group B, people are lumped in 20 small clans of 5 people each.

Each society has an average IQ of 100–ten people with 80IQs, ten people with 120IQs, and eighty people with 100IQs. I assume that there is slight but not absolute assortative mating, so that most high-IQ and low-IQ people end up marrying someone average.

IQ pairings:

100/100    100/80    100/120    80/80    120/120 (IQ)

30                 9                9                 1               1            (couples)

Okay, so there should be thirty couples where both partners have 100IQs, nine 100/80IQ couples, nine 100/120IQ couples, one 80/80IQ couple, and one 120/120IQ couple.

If each couple has 2 kids, distributed thusly:

100/100=> 10% 80, 10% 120, and 80% 100

120/120=> 100% 120

80/80 => 100% 80

120/100=> 100% 110

80/100 => 100% 90

Then we’ll end up with eight 80IQ kids, eighteen 90IQ, forty-eight 100IQ, eighteen 110 IQ, and 8 120IQ.

So, under pretty much perfect and totally arbitrary conditions that probably only vaguely approximate how genetics actually works (also, we are ignoring the influence of random chance on the grounds that it is random and therefore evens out over the long-term,) our population approaches a normal bell-curved IQ distribution.

Third gen:

80/80  80/90  80/100  90/90  90/100  90/110  100/100  100/110  100/120  110/110  110/120  120/120

1             2            5             4            9             2              6                9               5              4             2             1

2 80         4 85      10 90      8 90     18 95      4 100       1,4,1       18 105     10 110        8 110       4 115        2 120

3 80, 4 85, 18 90, 18 95, 8 100, 18 105, 18 110, 4 115, and 3 120. For simplicity’s sake:

7 80IQ, 18 90IQ, 44 100IQ, 18 110IQ, and 7 120IQ.

Not bad for a very, very rough model that is trying to keep the math very simple so I can write it blog post window instead of paper, though clearly 6 children have gotten lost somewhere. (rounding error???)

Anyway, now let’s assume that we don’t have a 2-child policy in place, but that being smart (or dumb) does something to your reproductive chances.

In the simplest model, people with 80IQs have zero children, 90s have one child, 100s have 2 children, 110s have 3 children, and 120s have 4 children.

oh god but the couples are crossed so do I take the average or the top IQ? I guess I’ll take average.

Gen 2:

100/100    100/80    100/120    80/80    120/120 (IQ)

30                 9                9                 1               1            (couples)

60 kids        9 kids       27 kids       0              4 kids

6, 48, 6

So our new distribution is six 80IQ, nine 90IQ, forty-eight 100IQ, twenty-seven 110IQ, and ten 120IQ.

(checks math oh good it adds up to 100.)

We’re not going to run gen three, as obviously the trend will continue.

Let’s go back to our original clans. Society A has 5 clans of 20 people each; Society B has 20 clans of 5 people each.

With 10 high-IQ and 10 low-IQ people per society, each clan in A is likely to have 2 smart and 2 dumb people. Each clan in B, by contrast, is likely to have only 1 smart or 1 dumb person. For our model, each clan will be the reproductive unit rather than each couple, and we’ll take the average IQ of each clan.

Society A: 5 clans with average of 100 IQ => social stasis.

Society B: 20 clans, 10 with average of 96, 10 with average of 106. Not a big difference, but if the 106s have even just a few more children over the generations than the 96s, they will gradually increase as a % of the population.

Of course, over the generations, a few of our 5-person clans will get two smart people (average IQ 108), a dumb and a smart (average 100), and two dumb (92.) The 108 clans will do very well for themselves, and the 92 clans will do very badly.

Speculative conclusions:

If society functions so that smart people have more offspring than dumb people (definitely not a given in the real world,) then: In society A, everyone benefits from the smart people, whose brains uplift their entire extended families (large clans.) This helps everyone, especially the least capable, who otherwise could not have provided for themselves. However, the average IQ in society A doesn’t move much, because you are likely to have equal numbers of dumb and smart people in each family, balancing each other out. In Society B, the smart people are still helping their families, but since their families are smaller, random chance dictates that they are less likely to have a dumb person in their families. The families with the misfortune to have a dumb member suffer and have fewer children as a result; the families with the good fortune to have a smart member benefit and have more children as a result. Society B has more suffering, but also evolves to have a higher average IQ. Society A has less suffering, but its IQ does not change. Obviously this a thought experiment and should not be taken as proof of anything about real world genetics. But my suspicion is that this is basically the mechanism behind the evolution of high-IQ in areas with long histories of nuclear, atomized families, and the mechanism suppressing IQ in areas with strongly tribal norms. (See HBD Chick for everything family structure related.)

 

 

Anthropology Friday: Smith’s Sacrifice Among the Semites

Guys, I was really excited to bring you W. Robertson Smith‘s Sacrifice Among the Semites, (1889) but it turned out kind of disappointing. It contains, in fact, very few descriptions of sacrifice, among the Semites or anyone else.

Like Tyler, he has an “evolutionist” view of religious history, but the essay feels more proto-Freudian; it was with no surprise that I found that the very next essay in my textbook deals directly with Freud.

Nevertheless, it does have some interesting parts that I think are worth sharing. Smith doesn’t offer (at least in this essay) much support for his claims, but he did spend much of his life studying Semitic religion. According to Wikipedia,

After graduation he took up a chair in Hebrew at the Aberdeen Free Church College in 1870. In 1875 he wrote a number of important articles on religious topics in the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. … took up a position as a reader in Arabic at the University of Cambridge, where he eventually rose to the position of University Librarian, Professor of Arabic and a fellow of Christ’s College.[1] It was during this time that he wrote The Old Testament in the Jewish Church (1881) and The Prophets of Israel (1882), which were intended to be theological treatises for the lay audience.

In 1887 Smith became the editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica after the death of his employer Thomas Spencer Baynes left the position vacant. In 1889 he wrote his most important work, Religion of the Semites, an account of ancient Jewish religious life which pioneered the use of sociology in the analysis of religious phenomena. He was Professor of Arabic there with the full title ‘Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic‘ (1889–1894).

However, it also says (regarding the work from which today’s quotes are taken):

After 75 years Evans-Pritchard, although noting his wide influence, summarized criticism of Smith’s totemism, “Bluntly, all Robertson Smith really does is to guess about a period of Semitic history about which we know almost nothing.”[25]

With those caveats, let’s begin (for readability, I am just using “” for Smith’s portions):

“The sacrificial meal was an appropriate expression of of the antique ideal of religious life, not merely because it was a social act and an act in which the god and his worshipers were conceived as partaking together, but because… the very act of eating and drinking with a man was a symbol and a confirmation of fellowship and mutual social obligations. The one thing directly expressed in the sacrificial meal is that the god and his worshipers are commensals, but every other point in their mutual relations is included in what this involves. Those who sit at meat together are united for all social effects, those who do not eat together are aliens to one another, without fellowship in religion and without reciprocal social duties. …

“Among the Arabs ever stranger whom one meets in the desert is a natural enemy, and has no protection against violence except his own strong hand or the fear that his tribe will avenge him if his blood be spilt. But if I have eaten the smallest morsel of food with a man, I have nothing further to fear from him; “there is salt between us,” and he is bound not only to do me no harm, but to help and defend me as if I were his brother. So far was this principle carried by the old Arabs, that Zaid al-Khail, a famous warrior in the days of Mohammed, refused to lay a vagabond who carried off his camels, because the thief had surreptitiously drunk from his father’s milk bowl before committing the theft. It does not indeed follow as a matter of course that because have eaten once with a man I am permanently his friend, for the bond of union is conceived in a very realistic way, and strictly speaking lasts no longer than the food may be supposed to remain in my system. …

“The Old Testament records many cases where a covenant was sealed by the parties eating and drinking together. In mot of these indeed the meal is sacrificial, so that it is not at once clear that two men are bound to each other merely by partaking of the same dish, unless the deity is taken in as a third party to the covenant.”

The Lord makes a covenant with Abraham:

15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,[a]
    your very great reward.[b]

He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.” … He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 …

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram… (Genesis 15:1-18)

Isaac and Abimelek make a covenant:

26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?”

28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.”

30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully. (Genesis 26:26-30)

But the covenant between David and Jonathan involves no food:

16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

“Now in the most primitive society there is only one kind of fellowship which is absolute and inviolable. To the primitive man all other men fall under two classes, those to whom his life is sacred and those tho whom it is not sacred. The former are his fellows; the latter are strangers and potential foemen, with whom it is absurd to think of forming any inviolable tie unless they are first brought into the circle within which each man’s life is sacred to all his comrades.”

EvX: The gist of this is, I suspect, basically true, and I note it for its contrast with the modern world, in which not only are we supposed to be concerned with the lives of all strangers, but simultaneously, there is no longer anyone (outside of our nuclear families) to whom our lives are sacred.

“But that circle again corresponds to the circle of kinship, for the practical test of kinship is that the whole kin is answerable for the life of each of its members. By the rules of early society, if I slay my kinsman, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, the act is is murder, and is punished by expulsion from the kin; if my kinsman is slain by an outsider I and every other member of my kin are bound to avenge his death by killing the manslayer or some member of his kin. It is obvious that under such a system there can be no inviolable fellowship except between men of the same blood. For the duty of blood revenge is paramount, and every other obligation is dissolved as soon as it comes into conflict with the claims of blood. I cannot bind myself absolutely to a man, even for a temporary purpose, unless during the time of our engagement he is put into a kinsmans’ place. And this is as much as to say that a stranger cannot become bound to me, unless at the same time he become bound to all my kinsmen in exactly the same way. Such is, in fact, the law of the desert; when any member of a clan receives an outsider through the bond of salt, the whole clan is bound by his act, and must, while the engagement lasts, receive the stranger as one of themselves.

“The idea that kinship is not purely an affair of birth, but may be acquired, has fallen out of our circle of ideas; but o, for that matter, has the primitive conception of kindred itself.”

EvX: I don’t know about you, but I remember as a kid declaring myself “blood brothers”* with my friends, often with some kind of made-up ritual. Perhaps we’d gotten the idea from TV (I remember a scene in something or other I’d watched in which two or three kids cut their thumbs and pressed them together, then declared themselves blood brothers, but I never did that because AIDS is icky.) and perhaps the TV got the idea from the Indians or something like that. But either way, it was a thing we kids did.

*Yes we were girls but we still called it that.

“To us kinship has no absolute value, but is measured by degrees, and means much or little, or nothing at all, according to its degree and other circumstances. In ancient times, on the contrary, the fundamental obligation of kinship had nothing to do with degrees of relationship but rested with absolute and identical force on every member of the clan. To know that a man’s life was scared to me, and that every blood-feud that touched him involved me also, it was not necessary for me to count cousinship with him by reckoning up to our common ancestor; it was enough that we belonged to the same clan and bore the same clan name. … But the essential idea of kinship was independent of the particular form of law. A kin was a group  of persons whose lives were so bound up together, in what must be called a physical unity, that they could be treated as parts of one common life. The members of one kindred looked on themselves as one living whole, a single animated mass of blood, flesh, and bones, of which no member cold be touched without all the members suffering.”

EvX: There is a play by Voltaire which I read some years back, Zaire. The story, shortly, is of a slave girl (Zaire) in the Sultan’s court. The sultan has fallen in love with her and because of her virtue and modesty they are going to get married. But then Zaire discovers her father (whom she’d never met before, having been raised in the sultan’s court) is a French Christian. Her father dies a few minutes later and Zaire is now wracked with doubts because how can she marry a Muslim when she is a Christian? The sultan observes her strange, secretive behavior, concludes that she is having an affair, and kills her.

Back when I read this, it made no sense at all. Zaire’s spontaneous adoption of Christianity had nothing to do with a theology or belief–all that happened in the play to make her suddenly become Christian was that she discovered that her dying dad, whom she’s known for all of five minutes, was Christian.

I was attempting to understand the play’s actions through the lens of our modern understanding of religion as a matter of personal conscience, and ethnicity a matter of background genetics.

But Voltaire was clearly working within a tribalist framework, where Christianity = ethnicity, and ethnicity = tribe and you cannot marry outside your tribe.

Continuing on:

“This point of vie is expressed int he Semitic tongues in many familiar forms of speech. In a case of homicide Arabian tribesmen do not say,”the blood of M. or N. has been spilt,” naming the man; they say,
Our blood has been spilt.” In Hebrew the phrase by which one claims kinship is “I am our bone and your flesh.” Both in Hebrew and in Arabic “flesh” is synonymous with “clan” or kindred group.”

In the days when the judges ruled,[a] there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. …

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. Ruth 1:1-19

 

Corporations and the Litigious Environment that is Destroying America

I’ve been thinking about whether we should quit creating various forms of corporations–like LLCs–for for the past 15 years or so–ever since Bakunin, more or less. But other than the fraud post a few days ago, I think the only other piece I’ve really written on the subject was a short explanation of my opposition to letting corporations have any kind of political rights (eg, donating to campaigns, freedom of speech,) on the grounds that they are non-human organisms (they are meta-human organisms,) and since I am a human and rather speciesist, I don’t want non-humans getting power.

The problem with discussing whether corporations should exist (or in what form, or if they are good or bad,) is that people are prone to status-quo fallacies where they forget that  corporations are just legal fictions and act instead as though they were real, physical objects or forces of nature created by the Will of God, like mountain ranges or entropy.

But a “corporation” is not so much a big building full of people, but a piece of paper in your filing cabinet. Modern corporate structures did not exist throughout most of humanity’s 200,000 year existence, and in fact only came to exist when governments passed laws that created them.

All that takes to change them is a new law. Unlike mountains, they only “exist” because a law (and pieces of paper tucked away in filing cabinets,) says they do. What man has made, man can unmake.

So let’s talk about lawsuits.

America is a litigious society. Extremely litigious. Probably the most litigious in the world. (We also incarcerate a higher % of our people than any other country, though on the bright side, we summarily execute far fewer.)

Sometimes I think Americans are the kinds of people who solve disputes by punching each other, but we’ve gotten it into heads that lawsuits are a kind of punching.

At any rate, fear of litigation and liability are ruining everything. If you don’t believe me, try setting up a roadside stand to sell some extra radishes from your garden or build a bridge over a creek on your own property. You have to pass a background check just to help out on your kid’s school field trip, and children aren’t allowed to ride their bikes in my neighborhood because, “if they got hit by a car, the HOA could get sued.” As farmer Joel Salatin put it, “Everything I Want to do is Illegal.” (All Joel wants to do is grow and sell food, but there are SO MANY REGULATIONS.)

100 years ago, the kind of litigation people are afraid of simply wouldn’t have happened. For example, as Stanford Mag recounts of campus violence around 1910:

Black eyes, bruises, and occasional bouts of unconsciousness didn’t seem to alarm the administration. … Farm life came with a brutish edge. Some freshmen slept in armed groups to ward off hazers, a state of affairs apparently enabled by the administration’s reluctance to meddle. “Persons fit to be in college are fit to look after their own affairs,” Stanford President David Star Jordan said.

Fast forward a century to MIT getting sued by the parents of a student who killed herself:

Elizabeth Shin (February 16, 1980 – April 14, 2000) was a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student who died from burns inflicted by a fire in her dormitory room. Her death led to a lawsuit against MIT and controversy as to whether MIT paid adequate attention to its students’ mental and emotional health, and whether MIT’s suicide rate was abnormally high.

… After the incident, MIT announced an upgrade of its student counseling programs, including more staff members and longer hours. However, the Shins claimed these measures were not enough and filed a $27.65 million lawsuit against MIT, administrators, campus police officers, and its mental health employees. …

On April 3, 2006, MIT announced that the case with the family of Elizabeth Shin had been settled before trial for an undisclosed amount.[7]

Universities, of course, do not want to get sued for millions of dollars and deal with the attendant bad publicity, but these days you can’t say “Boo” on campus without someone thinking it’s the administration’s job to protect the students from emotional distress.

All of this litigation has happened (among other reasons) because corporations are seen (by juries) as cash cows.

Let’s pause a moment to discuss exactly what an LLC is (besides a piece of paper.) What’s the difference between selling your extra radishes as yourself and selling your extra radishes as a corporation? If you are selling as yourself, and one of your radishes makes a customer ill and they sue you, then you can be held personally liable for their sickness and be forced to pay their $10 million medical bill yourself, driving you into bankruptcy and ruin. But if you are selling as a corporation, then your ill customer must sue the corporation. The corporation can be found liable and forced to cover the $10 million bill, but you, the owner, are not liable; your money (the income you’ve made over the years by selling radishes) is safe.

(There are some tax-related differences, as well, but we will skip over those for now.)

There are doubtless many other varieties of corporations, most of which I am not familiar because I am not a specialist in corporate law. The general principle of most, if not all corporations is that they exist independent of the people in them.

This is how Donald Trump’s businesses can have gone bankrupt umpteen times and he can still have billions of dollars.

But precisely because corporations are not people, and the people who own them are protected (supposedly) from harm, people are, I suspect more likely to sue them and juries are to award suits against them.

As a lawyer I spoke with put it, he was glad that his job only involved suing corporations, because “corporations aren’t people, so I’m not hurting anyone.”

Suppose MIT were just a guy named Mit who taught math and physics. If one of his students happened to commit suicide, would anyone sue him on the grounds that he didn’t do enough to stop her?

I doubt it. For starters, Mit wouldn’t even have millions of dollars to sue for.

When people get hurt, juries want to do something to help them. Sick people have bills that must get paid one way or another, after all. Corporations have plenty of money (or so people generally think,) but individuals don’t. A jury would hesitate to drive Mit into poverty, as that would harm him severely, but wouldn’t blink an eye at making MIT pay millions, as this hurts “no one” since MIT is not a person.

You might say that it is kind of like a war between human organisms and corporate organisms–humans try to profit off corporations, and corporations try to profit off humans. (Of course, I tend to favor humanity in this grand struggle.)

The big problem with this system is that even though corporations aren’t people, they are still composed of people. A corporation that does well can employ lots of people and make their lives better, but a corporation that gets sued into the gutter won’t be able to employ anyone at all. The more corporations have to fear getting sued, the more careful they have to be–which results in increased paperwork, record keeping, policies-on-everything, lack of individual discretion, etc., which in turn make corporations intolerable both for the people in them and the people in them.

So what can we do?

The obvious solution of letting corporations get away with anything probably isn’t a good idea, because corporations will eat people if eating people leads to higher profits. (And as a person, I am opposed to the eating of people.)

Under our current system, protection from liability lets owners get away with cheating already–take mining corporations, which are known for extracting the resources from an area, paying their owners handsomely, and then conveniently declaring bankruptcy just before costly environmental cleanup begins. Local communities are left to foot the bill (and deal with the health effects like lead poisoning and cancer.)

The solution, IMO, is individual responsibility wherever possible. Mining companies could not fob off their cleanup costs if the owners were held liable for the costs. A few owners losing everything and ending up penniless would quickly prompt the owners of other mining companies to be very careful about how they construct their waste water ponds.

People need to interact with and be responsible to other people.

 

The Hikikomori Nations

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare defines hikikomori as people who refuse to leave their house and, thus, isolate themselves from society in their homes for a period exceeding six months.[2] (wikipedia)

The Hikikomori Nations:

Japan

Text from the seclusion edict of 1636:

“No Japanese ship (…), nor any native of Japan, shall presume to go out of the country; whoever acts contrary to this, shall die, and the ship with the crew and goods aboard shall be sequestered until further orders. All persons who return from abroad shall be put to death. Whoever discovers a Christian priest shall have a reward of 400 to 500 sheets of silver and for every Christian in proportion. All Namban (Portuguese and Spanish) who propagate the doctrine of the Catholics, or bear this scandalous name, shall be imprisoned in the Onra, or common jail of the town. The whole race of the Portuguese with their mothers, nurses and whatever belongs to them, shall be banished to Macao. Whoever presumes to bring a letter from abroad, or to return after he hath been banished, shall die with his family; also whoever presumes to intercede for him, shall be put to death. No nobleman nor any soldier shall be suffered to purchase anything from the foreigner.”

Obviously Japan was the original Hikikomori country. “Sakoku” or “closed country” is the term used to describe Japan’s foreign policy between 1633, when the Tokugawa shogunate decided to kick out almost all of the foreigners and outlaw Christianity, and 1853, when Commodore Perry arrived.

Oh, look, I found the relevant Polandball comic:

ojHujNhThe Sakoku period is very interesting. The Shogun basically decided to severely reduce contacts with due to concerns that the Portuguese and Spanish were destabilizing the country by importing guns and converting the peasants to Christianity. The revolt of 40,000 Catholic peasants in the Shimbara Rebellion was the final straw–the shogun had 37,000 people beheaded, Christianity was banned, and the Portuguese were driven out of the country. (The now largely empty Shimbara region was re-populated by migrants from other parts of Japan.)

Shimbara was the last major Japanese conflict until the 1860s, after the US re-introduced guns.

During the Sakoku period, Japan carried on trade with the Chinese, Koreans, Ainu, and Dutch (who were more willing than the Spaniards and Portuguese to leave their religion at the door.) I believe that internal movement within Japan was also greatly restricted, with essentially passports required to travel from place to place.

According to Wikipedia, “The [Edo] period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population*, popular enjoyment of arts and culture, recycling of materials, and sustainable forest management. It was a sustainable and self-sufficient society which was based on the principles of complete utilization of finite resources.[1]

*The population doubled during the early part of the Edo period, then leveled out.

It was illegal to leave Japan until the Meiji Restoration (1868).

North Korea is obviously the most extremely isolated country on earth today, except for North Sentinel island, which is technically part of India but no one can go there because the natives will kill you if you try. At least North Korea occasionally lets in basketball stars or students or something, though personally, I’d rather take my chances with the Sentinelese.

Ahahaha I think I am going to spend the rest of my post writing time reading Polandball comics.

Okay, I lied, I will write a real post.

So North Korea is a lot like Edo Japan, only without the peace and stability and the most people eating, though to be fair, there were famines in Edo Japan, too, it was just considered normal back then.

I don’t think I really need to go into detail about North Korea to justify its inclusion in this list.

Myanmar

According to this article I was just reading in Harvard Mag, Myanmar has fewer cell phones than North Korea. Myanmar has spent most of the post-WWII period as a military dictatorship cleaved by civil war and cut off from the rest of the world. Socialism has gifted Myanmar with one of the world’s widest income gaps and one of the lowest Human Develop Index levels–making it one of the world’s worst non-African countries. (And one of the most corrupt, ranking 171 out of 176 in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

Despite recent reforms, the country is still largely off-limits to outsiders:

Since 1992, the government has encouraged tourism in the country; however, fewer than 270,000 tourists entered the country in 2006 according to the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board.[250]

much of the country is off-limits to tourists, and interactions between foreigners and the people of Myanmar, particularly in the border regions, are subject to police scrutiny. They are not to discuss politics with foreigners, under penalty of imprisonment and, in 2001, the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board issued an order for local officials to protect tourists and limit “unnecessary contact” between foreigners and ordinary Burmese people.[254] …

According to the website Lonely Planet, getting into Myanmar is problematic: “No bus or train service connects Myanmar with another country, nor can you travel by car or motorcycle across the border – you must walk across.”, and states that, “It is not possible for foreigners to go to/from Myanmar by sea or river.”[255] There are a small number of border crossings that allow the passage of private vehicles, such as the border between Ruili (China) to Mu-se, …

In regards to communications infrastructure, Myanmar is the last ranked Asian country in the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index (NRI) – an indicator for determining the development level of a country’s information and communication technologies. With 148 countries reported on, Myanmar ranked number 146 overall in the 2014 NRI ranking.[340] No data is currently available for previous years.

Bhutan

Isolationist Butan couldn’t stand in starker contrast to Myanmar. Sure, it’s almost impossible to immigrate to Bhutan, (unless you are Indian,) but if you do manage to get in, they probably won’t kill you!

A tiny country at the top of the Himalayas, Bhutan has dispensed with this “GDP” concept and instead claims to be trying to maximize “Gross National Happiness.” Bhutan has so far resisted the siren call of “modernization,” opting instead to try to retain its traditional culture. The government only allowed TV into the country in 1999 (“In his speech, the King said that television was a critical step to the modernisation of Bhutan as well as a major contributor to the country’s gross national happiness … but warned that the “misuse” of television could erode traditional Bhutanese values.)

Last time I checked, it cost $250 a day to visit Bhutan, and it is the only country I know of that has completely banned smoking.

Nepal?

Nepal has historically been isolated,due to being on top of the Himalayas, but it has a lot of tourists these days. I don’t know how open the country is otherwise.

Tibet: See Nepal

North Sentinel Island

North Sentinel Island, part of the Andaman Island chain, is technically owned by India, but anyone who tries to set foot on it gets poked full of holes by the natives, so no one goes there.

China?

Okay, I now China has historically been way more open to trade and contact with other countries than everyone else on this list. But I got to thinking: why didn’t China discover Australia?

I mean, it’s not that far away, and there isn’t that much open ocean to cross–it’s mostly island hopping. Sure, PNG seems a bit inhospitable and full of cannibals, but Australia, from what I hear, is a pretty nice place. So why were the Dutch and the Brits the first folks to actually record Australia on their maps? The Chinese seem to have had a pretty decent navy. (I have a vague memory of having read about China having sent its navy out on an expedition that reached Africa, came back and never went out again.)

China also has a great big wall on its northern border (but if you had the Mongols on your northern border, you’d have a great big wall, too.)

 

What about Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia? Do any of them qualify?

What if we just outlawed renting?

ETA: This is probably a dumb idea. Let’s consign it to the realm of “thought experiments.”

I admit, it’d be a big change.

So I was reading this sociology article about eviction and the poor, and got to thinking about what a drain rent is. Month by month, renting is cheaper than owning, but in the long term, it’s likely to be more expensive. (The same is likely true for taking out loans vs paying cash.) So the poorest people are hit with extra expenses just because they’re poor.

The article discussed how after the 2008 housing crash, many people lost their jobs or ended up with greatly reduced wages, but rents didn’t go down. (Working class people formerly employed building houses were particularly hard hit, of course.) The article didn’t mention that immigration helps keep housing prices up, of course.

After thirty years of house payments, an “owner” will have generally paid off their loan and own their house outright, owing only property taxes. A renter of thirty years, by contrast, owns nothing and can still get evicted. Moving is expensive, difficult, and takes time. Moving frequently often means losing one’s possessions because they are just to heavy/expensive to transport. (Not to mention the psychological stress.)

But I got to thinking, what if we outlawed renting?

Suppose we passed a law that only the person on the title deed (and their family,) is allowed to live in a house/condo? (With perhaps an exception for people who need temporary housing, like folks who are just going to be in town for a month.)

Yes, obviously the first thing that would happen is that all of the rental properties would go off the market. But second, everyone who owns rental properties would have to sell, because they would no longer be able to make money by renting them out. The sudden influx of properties onto the market would force prices down to a level the poor can afford.

Even if people lost their jobs, say, and then couldn’t make their mortgage payments, (assuming we still have mortgages,) they could sell their homes and get some money back.

Then, even if they ended up in a position where they couldn’t afford their house payments anymore, they could at least sell the house and get some of their money back. Eviction would be less likely, and people would have more long-term interest in maintaining and caring for their property. (In my experience, people care more for things they own than for things they are merely renting.)

Long-term, developers might have to scale back the size of the houses they build in order to sell them to poorer people who want to live in them rather than wealthy people who want to rent them out.

What would happen to the inner cities if there were no money in being a slumlord?