Albion’s Seed and discreet vs. overlapping groups

Scott Alexander (of Slate Star Codex) recently posted an entertaining review of David Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, basically the longer version of Woodard’s American Nations, which ended, somewhat amusingly, with Scott realizing that maybe creating a democracy with a bunch of people whose political ideas you find morally repugnant isn’t a good idea.

A few notes:

1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Puritans names like “Maybe” or “Notwithstanding” weren’t so much random words from the Bible as first words from favorite verses or parts of verses that had been assigned so that the names of the children together formed the complete line (see the Quakers for this sort of name.)

2. The lack of farmers among early Puritan stock might explain why they nearly all starved to death the first couple of years.

3. When people talk about the Cavaliers who settled the Deep South, they all seem to note that of course the underclass of society was not Cavaliers, but then kind of gloss over where the British underclass came from. Most of them, I suspect, were Borderers or their near-equivalents from other parts of the isle, such as thieves and the urban underclass.

I think people tend to imagine these groups (Puritans, Quakers, Borderers, and Cavaliers,) as supposed to be regionally distinct, but most of the time I think we are looking at layers which overlap multiple regions in varying thicknesses. The Borderers, for example, spread across the Deep South, Florida, Texas, the Mountain West, California, Quakerdom, and probably even New England (though the harsh New England climate was probably not as kind to them.) But the trajectory of the Deep South was shaped more by its Cavalier overclass with its African slaves (thus inspiring the Civil War) than by its Borderer underclass. Appalachia, by contrast, was not suited to plantations, and so there the Cavaliers never settled in great quantities and the Borderers are thus a much larger % of the overall society.

So when people ask why Appalachia tends to vote in line with the Deep South, despite these supposedly being two separate groups, I think they are just missing that the majority of whites in the Deep South and Appalachia come from the same or very similar groups of people. The Cavalier overclass was never more than a small % of the Deep South’s population, and obviously blacks vote Democrat.

Also, the Civil War seems to have left a long-term impact on people’s loyalties, where people who strike me as “pretty conservative” but hail from Massachusetts still vote Democrat because they perceive Republicans as the party of those Confederate-flag-waving bigots down in the South.

Yay tribalism leads to rational, optimal political outcomes!

4. Scott does not note that the reason the white Cavalier underclass became “sluggish and indolent” was massive rates of hookworm infection. IIRC, around 1910, de-worming campaigns found that about 25% of Southern children were already infected; who knows what the % was among adults.

Hookworms are intestinal parasites that came over from Africa (with the slaves) and are spread by stepping barefoot into human feces crawling with parasite larvae.

Life before flush toilets was thoroughly disgusting.

Anyway, bad enough that the poor slaves had parasites, but the whites hadn’t even had thousands of years to adapt them, leaving them especially susceptible. The parasites cause anemia, which causes people to act “sluggish and indolent.”

Things got better when they introduced “shoes” to the South.

5. I suspect the disappearance of the Quakers happened not because they “tolerated themselves out of existence” (or not just because) but because they had fewer children than everyone else around them. Plenty of immigrants have arrived, after all, in virtually all parts of the US, but Quakers today are rarer than hen’s teeth. Compare the 16% Quaker female non-marriage rate to the near 100% Puritan marriage rate. The Quakers also spawned the Shakers, who abstained from marriage (and having children) all together.

Of course, this may represent a failure to reproduce their religion rather than their genetics–Quakers resemble “normal people” closely enough that their children may have simply felt that it was unnecessary to attach a religious label to it.

6. Quakers may represent the “normal” position in American politics today in part because they were in the middle of the country, both physically and ideologically. People might not want a country dominated by some group from the extreme end of the geography, but perhaps we can be comfortable with the folks from right in the middle.

7. “It occurs to me that William Penn might be literally the single most successful person in history.”

I raise you a Jesus, Mohammad, Genghis Khan, Karl Marx, and Gautama Buddha.

8. While it is true that Southern Baptist denomination absolutely dominates the entire country south of the Mason-Dixon, it is slightly less popular in Appalachia than in the Deep South.  I think the interesting thing about Borderer religion is the popularity of Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations, which are rarer in the rest of the country.

9. Children physically attacking the school teacher or otherwise preventing the school from operating did not just happen in Borderer regions; it is a major theme in the early chapters of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, set in upstate New York. And as reader Psmith noted back on my review of Lenski’s Strawberry girl:

“Was beating up the teacher some kind of regular thing?”
If we take the song lyrics at face value, seems likely: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/10/02/simpler-times/

Probably the best-recorded incident of this sort, and possibly the original source for all the songs (see the stuff about making a bonfire of the desks), took place at Rugby School in 1797 when the students mutinied and blew down the headmaster’s door with gunpowder, stopped in the end only by a band of special constables armed with swords. (https://www.archive.org/stream/historyofrugbysc00rousuoft/historyofrugbysc00rousuoft_djvu.txt, ctrl+f great rebellion)

From Scott’s post Psmith linked:

To the tune of “Oh My Darling Clementine”:

Build a bonfire out of schoolbooks,
Put the teacher on the top,
Put the prefects in the middle
And we’ll burn the bloody lot.

To the tune of “Deck The Halls”:

Deck the halls with gasoline
fa la la la la la la la la
Light a match and watch it gleam
fa la la la la la la la la
Watch the school burn down to ashes
Fa la la la la la la la la …

To the tune of “On Top Of Old Smokey”:

On top of old smokey
All covered in blood
I shot my poor teacher
with a .44 slug

Unlike Scott, I do remember hearing these sung by my classmates.

I did not enjoy being forced to attend school with those sorts of boys.

10. I have a lot of abstract appreciation for Borderer ideals of liberty, which are pretty much my symbolic idea of “what it means to be an American.” I also have a lot of sympathy for people who just want to go off in the woods and be left alone and not deal with interfering busy-bodies. I don’t now how well I’d actually get along in their society, though.

11. Scott remarks on the close parallels between the traits he’d already observed and attributed to the “Red Tribe” and “Blue Tribe;” and the traits Fischer ascribes to the original settlers of these regions as a point potentially in Fischer’s favor; I propose, however, a caution. Fischer himself is undoubtedly familiar with modern America and the relevant Republican/Democrat cultural divide. Fischer may have–consciously or unconsciously–sought out evidence and presented it to make the colonists resemble their descendants.

12. One of the… interesting aspects of the generalized orthosphere, including much of NRx, is that among American examples, Moldbuggian neocameralism most closely resembles (IMO) the “dystopian” Puritan bargain. The Puritan colonies were corporations owned by shareholders in which temporal and spiritual power were unified, only people who fit in culturally and were sufficiently intelligent were allowed in, and folks who wanted to leave were allowed to do so–the breaking off of Rhode Island as its own colony is a strong precursor for the concepts of patchwork and exit.

Of course, the Puritans still voted, as shareholders must–as long as your king is beholden to shareholders, they will vote. (And in any community where the population density is low enough that each man can be sovereign of his own individual domain, collective decisions are liable to entail, by necessity, a certain amount of consensus.

All of this is grafted onto a group of people who seem to favor the ideals of the Cavalier planter class, while claiming that the Puritans–wielding Quaker ideas–destroyed the moral basis of the formerly functional Borderer society. (Similar arguments are made that liberals have destroyed the moral basis of black society.)

This is not the first time I’ve noticed something like this–the dominant religion of the Deep South (the Cavalier zone,) Southern Baptism, does not resemble the beliefs put forth by deists like Thomas Jefferson, but good ol’ fashioned Puritanism. How exactly the Puritans converted to Unitarian Universalism and the Cavaliers and Borderers converted to Puritanism (or if this is just an artifact of Southern religion changing more slowly than Northern religion and so retaining more of its original character, which was closer to Puritanism in the 1600s than Puritanism is to its own modern descendants, much as Icelandic has morphed more slowly than other Scandinavian languages, allowing speakers of modern Icelandic to read archaic Norse texts that are unintelligible to speakers of other modern Scandinavian languages.

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6 thoughts on “Albion’s Seed and discreet vs. overlapping groups

  1. I’m not sure if I’m missing something or if you didn’t finish the last paragraph. The opening parenthesis that begins the aside on slower religious change is left unclosed (ending in “allowing speakers of modern Icelandic to read archaic Norse texts that are unintelligible to speakers of other modern Scandinavian languages.”), which is odd given how the sentence this parenthesis is contained in seems to be left hanging.

    (I like the post as a whole, but this ending was quite jarring.)

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  2. “Albion’s Seed” does indeed cover where the Cavalier underclass came from. They were disproportionately servants from the South and West of England. Like nearly all the migrations, London was a major port of departure, but Bristol was particular to the Cavalier colonies.

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  3. Puritanism is fine… until you want to be holier than Jesus, which is usually defined as “Overruling St. Paul on marriage, and forcibly freeing other people’s slaves.”

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