Is America Done?

East Liverpool, Ohio--a town with "no jobs" and "no recreation"
East Liverpool, Ohio–a town with “no jobs” and “no recreation”

In 1969, Niel Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted an American flag on the moon. In 2016, Americans can’t figure out how to not overdose on heroin:

Unconscious addicts are so frequently dumped in the hospital parking lot that administrators developed a special alert system to treat them. Paramedics have plucked overdose victims from roadside ditches, from the Walmart parking lot, and from living rooms across town. It has become routine for children to see a passed-out parent jolted to life with a dose of Narcan.

“Do you know how many houses we go into that the kids are sitting on the couch watching us?” said paramedic Christine Lerussi. …

The despair here echoes across the country. But the opioid crisis is particularly acute in Ohio. Last year, a record 3,050 people in the state died of drug overdoses. Overdoses from the potent opioid fentanyl more than doubled, to 1,155.

Spend a few days in East Liverpool and it’s easy to see why. Drug dealers from out of state flock to the desolate streets, selling powerful highs for $10 or $15 a pop. For too many residents, there’s little else: No jobs. No recreation. No long-term addiction treatment.

No recreation?

The fuck is this shit?

Pardon my language, but I have a tiny computer that fits in my pocket and lets me instantly access almost the entirety of human knowledge, talk to people from all over the globe, and play Angry Birds any time I want to. My TV offers hundreds of entertainment channels 24 hours a day. My kids are so ceaselessly entertaining and cute, you don’t want to get me started about all of the great things they did today. Like the good folks of East Liverpool, I have woods to walk in, rivers to boat in, lakes to fish in, a garden to tend, libraries to enjoy, and neighbors to chat with.

Where, exactly, does “recreation” come from? The magic recreation fairy? Is it dropped from the sky? Does it happen when someone builds a museum and starts showing Broadway musicals? (This is why no one does drugs in NYC, of course.)

Is there something about the soil in East Liverpool that prevents its residents from going on picnics, forming a sewing club, or reading a good book?

OF COURSE NOT.

There was no heroin epidemic here in the ’50s. Was there more “recreation” then?

No, there was far less. We had like 4 TV channels, and they stopped broadcasting at night. People didn’t have microwaves or clothes dryers, so housewives spent hours every day cooking and cleaning. With no AC and no video games, kids ran around outside, climbed trees, or rode their bikes. On Sunday they went to church. They had far less recreation and they still managed not to overdose on heroin in front of their children.

Recreation comes from people. Jobs come from people. Culture comes from people.

The ugly truth of the matter is that people today would rather drug themselves into oblivion than go on living.

From Alabama.com:

picture-9South Precinct officers responded just before 9 p.m. to an apartment at Tom Brown Village public housing community on Fifth Court North. Neighbors called 911 after hearing the children crying inside the apartment and checked on them, only to find the mother and father unconscious inside.

When police arrived on the scene, they found the 30-year-old father dead on the kitchen floor. The 35-year-old mother was unresponsive on the couch but did have a pulse. Rescue workers were able to revive her with Narcan, and she was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital.

South Precinct Lt. David Rockett said officers found four children inside, all of whom belonged to the couple: a 7-year-old girl, a 3-year-old boy, a 2-year-old boy and a 1-month-old girl.

The WaPo reports:

For more than a day, the 7-year-old girl had been trying to wake her parents.

Dutifully, she got dressed in their apartment outside Pittsburgh on Monday morning and went to school, keeping her worries to herself. But on the bus ride home, McKeesport, Pa., police say, she told the driver she’d been unable to rouse the adults in her house.

Inside the home, authorities found the bodies of Christopher Dilly, 26, and Jessica Lally, 25, dead of suspected drug overdoses, according to police.

Also inside the home were three other children — ages 5 years, 3 years and 9 months.

IF YOU CANNOT LIVE FOR YOURSELF, THEN AT LEAST LIVE FOR YOUR CHILDREN. If you are unconscious, overdosed, or dead, what the hell do you think is going to happen to you baby? If it weren’t for the police, these children would all be dead. Oh, and by the way:

…authorities told NBC affiliate WPXI that the double overdose at the 7-year-old’s home was the second they had responded to on that block in less than a day. … ” In the past year alone we lost over 3,500 Pennsylvanians — a thousand more lives taken than the year before.” … Nationwide, opioids such as heroin and prescription pain relievers killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least half of all opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription drug, the CDC said, adding that the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has nearly quadrupled nationwide since 1999.

Want to stop the drug epidemic? Put people who’ve overdosed in the stocks and let everyone throw rotten tomatoes at them. For a second offense, lashings. Drug dealers are serial killers and should be publicly executed. Set a few dealers twisting in the wind, and I guarantee that far fewer people will be willing to sell drugs.

Then stop making excuses, go out into the world, and LIVE.

Or you’re going to be replaced by people who do.

 

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Cathedral Round-Up #15: Duke

Duke literally looks like a cathedral
Duke literally looks like a cathedral

For this month’s Cathedral Round-Up, I decided to look beyond the Ivies at Duke University, North Carolina. For my non-American readers unfamiliar with our less famous institutions, Wikipedia states:

Duke is the seventh-wealthiest private university in America with $11.4 billion in cash and investments in fiscal year 2014.[9]

Duke is consistently included among the best universities in the world by numerous university rankings,[10][11] and among the most innovative universities in the world.[12] According to a Forbes study, Duke is ranked 11th among universities that have produced billionaires.[13][14] In a New York Times corporate study, Duke’s graduates were shown to be among the most sought-after and valued in the world,[15] and Forbes magazine ranked Duke seventh in the world on its list of ‘power factories’ in 2012.[16]

Duke’s research expenditures in the 2014 fiscal year were $1.037 billion, the seventh largest in the nation.[17] In 2014, Thomson Reuters named 32 of Duke’s professors to its list of Highly Cited Researchers, making it fourth globally in terms of primary affiliations.[18] Duke also ranks fifth among national universities to have produced Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, and Udall Scholars.[19]Ten Nobel laureates and three Turing Award winners are affiliated with the university. Duke’s sports teams compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the basketball team is renowned for having won five NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championships, most recently in 2015.

It’s always good when your college is good at playing keep-away.

From Duke Magazine’s special all-language-articles edition:
The Power of Pronouns:

This past February I was invited to give a lecture at a Duke seminar called “LGBTQ Activism and History.”

[People declared their preference to be addressed with gender-neutral pronouns]

I’ll admit all this seems newish and complicated to me. It was only a few months ago that a neighbor’s teenage daughter explained to their parents and friends that they were “pan-sexual” (the sexual attraction to a person of any sex—male or female—or gender—masculine, feminine, or somewhere in between). Now the request was for us to use gender-neutral pronouns. We tried but flubbed it, until finally the thirteen-year-old exclaimed, “Please respect my pronouns” —and the light went on. What they were saying was, “Please respect who I am.”

Please stop having deep discussions with your neighbor’s barely pubescent teenage daughter about who she wants to bang. It makes you sound like a creep.

We don’t let 13 yr olds drive cars, work, live alone, vote, sign contracts, or have sex, because 13 yr olds are idiots who are still dependent on their parents to take care of them and keep them alive. Children should be treated with kindness and compassion, but we don’t respect their ideas on adult matters for the same reason we don’t let them live on their own.

The Places Words Go:

Intersectionality, a concept that started in academia and became popular among grassroots activists, recently has exploded in broader culture. … So when Hillary Clinton, on March 6, 2016, tweeted that: “We face a complex, intersectional set of challenges…” it signaled intersectionality’s full entrance into the mainstream.

Yet, what does it mean for this discourse, which originated in black feminist circles, to now enjoy popularity in a variety of contexts and uses? …

Clinton’s usage of intersectional language, while maybe well-intentioned, displays the slippage and de-radicalization that attends many popular uses. Intersectionality becomes a matter of drawing connections between multiple problems and multiple solutions. Losing sight of larger structural critiques of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy, the problems become about discrimination and about a lack of opportunities or parity for various identities within our economic system. Instead of challenging neoliberal policies that prioritize privatization and investment, the market—by including everyone and improving the stakes of those already within it—becomes the foundation to break all barriers. …

Daniel José Camacho is a master’s of divinity student, pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

In related news: Can an atheist lead a Protestant Church? A battle over Religion in Canada:

The Rev. Gretta Vosper is a dynamic, activist minister with a loyal following at her Protestant congregation in suburban Toronto. She is also an outspoken atheist.

“We don’t talk about God,” Vosper said in an interview, describing services at her West Hill United Church, adding that it’s time the church gave up on “the idolatry of a theistic god.” …
Ordained in 1993, the 58-year-old Vosper says she began questioning God’s existence 15 years ago and openly came out as an atheist in 2013.

Vosper said that the United Church has a tradition of “pushing the envelope” and pulling down barriers — in accepting the ordination of women, embracing the LGBT community and performing same-sex marriage. She said her views about religion have evolved. After initially rejecting the idea of a supernatural god and the idea of god as “the father,” she moved eventually to rejecting God completely. Instead, she preaches values, including justice, compassion and love. …

Like other mainstream denominations, the United Church of Canada, founded in 1925 as a merger of several denominations, has seen its numbers fall sharply in recent years. It reported having 436,292 members at the end of 2014, less than half the 1,063,951 it had at its peak in 1964.

Long story short, the church is struggling to remove her on the grounds that being an open atheist is kind of counter to the basic founding documents of the church:

“It’s tough on the United Church because we’ve created this mantra of inclusiveness and now it’s been tested. It goes against the grain to tell somebody that you have to leave.”

A Way to Protect All Ideas:

I attended two conferences, interviewed ten women, met another fifteen remarkable women, and produced twenty YouTube videos in eight short weeks just to answer one question: How do we address online hate speech while maintaining free speech?

Well, that certainly sounds like a randomized, large-N, unlikely to be biased sample of people.

I would like to think I began my research as an objective bystander. … As much as I hated the dangers women faced online, I also abhorred content-based censorship. I thought my desire to protect both women and speech online would ensure my objectivity.

Then the interviews began and my objectivity faltered. I listened as women told me how their ex-boyfriends non-consensually shared nude photos of them online; …

Conservatives have been telling women for years that it’s a bad idea to send naked pictures of themselves out into the world. Guess they were right.

I noticed a common theme to these stories: men using online hate and violence to silence women. I could barely fathom why hate speech intended to silence women was acceptable, but censorship of same hate speech is unacceptable. So I used my voice to speak against hate speech; I proudly declared myself a feminist in a YouTube video.

Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), my declaration didn’t end the misogynistic speech. While the First Amendment guarantees protection from Congress silencing my feminist speech, there would be no guaranteed protection against a cyber-mob trying to silence me with rape and death threats. …

It’s not enough to protect freedom of speech from a government violation. We must also protect the freedom of speech of the disempowered from the empowered.

That’s not easy, but I realized that it is marginally easier when we speak together. That was the most rewarding part of my summer research: meeting all the women who, supported by their tight-knit community, courageously and collectively speak out against online hate.

Meanwhile in the real world:

Trump Supporter Beaten with a Crowbar:

Police in Northern New Jersey say a 62-year-old man was beaten with a crowbar outside a restaurant for wearing a T-shirt in support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. …

The victim was treated on the scene for injuries to his forearms, hands and thighs shortly after 6 p.m., the website reported.

“The motorist inquired why [the man] was wearing the shirt, directing profanities at him,” Bloomfield Police spokesman Ralph Marotti said, the New Jersey Star Ledger reported Tuesday. “The [victim] continued to walk away as [the] motorist followed him.”

Trump supporter sucker punched to the ground by Mexican at Trump Rally in San Jose:

I’ve yet to find any articles in Duke Magazine about respecting people’s right to walk in public without being viciously beaten for their political beliefs.

Why POC is a Terrible Term

In my line of blogging, I refer, frequently and often, to groups of people. This means I spend a lot of time thinking about ethnonyms (perhaps too much time.)

So what’s wrong with People of Color?

Simply put, it doesn’t actually correspond with any meaningful, real-world group.

Whenever we speak of one group of people, we of course imply the existence of everyone else who is not of that group. We can speak of Chinese and non-Chinese, whites and non-whites, Poles and non-Poles. But it is clear from this phrasing that “non-X” is not a group defined by any common characteristic, but by lack of a characteristic–whatever X is. No one attempts to describe what it is like to be “non-Chinese” because there is no such real-life group as “non-Chinese,” and there is therefore no single experience that non-Chinese people have.

The term PoC attempts to imply that there such a thing as a unitary non-white experience, and by contrast, a unitary white experience. Take, for example, this comic, which is supposed to “[explore] a subtle kind of racism many people of color experience”:

picture-15abFun personal story time: Despite having been married for many years, doctors and maternity ward staff have assumed I’m single. (There’s special paperwork for single moms.)

Meanwhile, Asians are PoC, and yet these are not questions that people typically ask Asians, because there’s no stereotype that Asians have high teen pregnancy rates and are bad at school. Asians do have to deal with racism and dumb questions, but since Asians aren’t black, their experiences aren’t black experiences.

Indeed, the girl drawn in the comic is clearly not Asian, Indian, or Hispanic, but black! The author purposefully wrote about a black person, and yet the person promoting the comic decided to ignore this and pretend that the comic is about the experiences of all non-white people (and, of course, never the experiences of whites.)

This duality is false.

Whites are not particularly unified. It wasn’t so long ago that Germany invaded Poland and killed 1/5 of the population (not to mention all of the other people who died on various sides during WWII.) In 1932-33, the Soviet Union committed genocide against millions of Ukrainians (also white). During the Second Anglo-Boer war, the English committed genocide against the Dutch-descended people of South Africa. The Irish, Italians, and Jews are still claiming to be exempt from historical “white privilege” arguments due to discrimination against their ancestors.

Jayman's map of the American Nations
Jayman’s map of the American Nations

I could go on–the list of European wars and inter-ethnic conflicts extends approximately forever, after all.

In the US, of course, “white” is a more meaningful term than in Europe, but even here, there are major distinctions of class, culture, and genetics. The average white person from West Virginia is not the same as the average white from New York, Texas, or Minnesota. Not only were these places originally settled by different groups of whites–Appalachia received whites from the “borderlands” region of Britain while Minnesota is heavily Scandinavian–but they currently have very different cultures.

Class further complicates matters, with Southern and rural whites generally seen as low-class (and treated accordingly) by other whites. Much of our current political debate can be seen as a fight between white social classes, with wealthy whites using a coalition of non-whites as a cudgel against poor whites.

clk4xrpugam65ajIronically, Asian and Indian (not Native American) migrants are wealthier and higher-class than whites (though there are distinctions even among these, as “Asian” is not a single, homogenous group.)

screenshot-2016-05-07-17-07-13

Now, I can hear some of you saying, “but race is a social construct, and yet you use terms like ‘black’ and ‘white’ as though they were meaningful! How are these more meaningful than ‘PoC’?”

Look, “race” is a social construct the way “color” is a social construct. There is no sharp dividing line between “red” and “orange,” but we don’t go saying that the electromagentic spectrum is a myth.

Racial groups are culturally, historically, and genetically real. Sub-Saharan Africans are more closely related to Sub-Saharan Africans than to Europeans. Europeans are more closely related to other Europeans than to Asians. And Asians are more closely related to other Asians than to Aborigines. Here is Haak et al’s full graph of modern human DNA (except for the far left portion, which comes from old skeletons):

Picture 1Picture 2

The “light blue” portion is found only in Africa. The “orange” is Europe and Asia. The “yellow” is east-Asian.

There’s an entire field of science devoted to tracing ancient migrations via the patterns found in modern human DNA, because the DNA of different ethnic groups is different. Black, white, and Asian are, in fact, fundamental genetic groupings as a result of early human migrations.

There’s another, related field devoted to ethnic variations in responses to medical care. Organ donation, sickle cell anemia risk, and even medications can be significantly impacted by race:

Although organ transplants can occur between races, matches are more difficult to achieve for blacks. Transplant recipients must have similar genes in their immune systems to those of the donor. Otherwise, the body will reject the organ.

G6PD deficiency is protective against malaria
G6PD deficiency is protective against malaria

And from Racial and ethnic differences in response to medicines: towards individualized pharmaceutical treatment:

Pharmacogenetic research in the past few decades has uncovered significant differences among racial and ethnic groups in the metabolism, clinical effectiveness, and side-effect profiles of many clinically important drugs.

The interactions between genetics and medication are complicated, and doctors have to know this because it puts their patients at risk not to.

No word is perfect. Every ethnonym represents a compromise between absolute accuracy and being able to make any statements about human groups at all. Not all English are the same, but we can still make some generalized statements that are basically true for most English people. Not all Chinese are the same, but we can still speaking meaningfully about “the Chinese.” There is a huge amount of variation among “whites,” “blacks,” and “Asians,” but even at this coarse level, we can still say some meaningful things.

“PoC” is a political term that corresponds to no real-world culture or group.

Community round-up, Comment of the Week, Open Thread, and Similar Matters

Cognitive Bias Codex--you'll need to zoom in
Cognitive Bias Codex–you’ll need to zoom in

I’ve been thinking of doing some form of regular “comment of the week” to highlight particularly good comments, along with “most interesting things I read elsewhere.” And sure, it can be an Open Thread, too, though really, you’re pretty free to treat every thread like an Open Thread. 🙂 This would be in addition to the regular posts, not in place of them. Which day do you think would be better: Wedensday or Saturday?

So this week’s Comment of the Week award goes to Ertuğrul Aşina, for adding yet more information to my post on the Turkic Peoples:

There are Turks in Turkey, like my family, that still uses their Asian family names. Mine are called Aşinas, which probably is a corrupted form of Ashina Clan and Meteçanyus which is likely to refer to Moduchanyu. … My paternal family hails from a pretty isolated town of northern Turkey, where almost everyone looks like blonde Asians and talk in a manner that rest of the Turks don’t really understand easily. …

I encourage you to read the whole comment.

(L-R) Daniel C. Dennett, Napoleon Chagnon, David Haig, Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham, John Brockman, with thanks to Edge.org
(L-R) Daniel C. Dennett, Napoleon Chagnon, David Haig, Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham, John Brockman, with thanks to Edge.org

In other news, I read a fabulous interview with Napleon Chagnon, Blood is their Argument. (Also staring Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham, Daniel C. Dennett, David Haig, and Richard Dawkins.) Chagnon wrote Yanomamo: The Fierce People, in which he showed–via extensive demographic data–that the Yanomamo tribesmen who had the most children were also the ones who had killed the most other people.

For this significant accomplishment, of course, he has been “vilified by other anthropologists, condemned by his professional association (which subsequently rescinded its reprimand), and ultimately forced to give up his fieldwork. Throughout his ordeal, he never wavered in his defense of science. In 2012 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.”

But back to the interview:

STEVEN PINKER:  You’re one of the last of the classical ethnographers, someone who goes in to study a relatively uncontacted, technologically traditional hunting people.  That’s not the way a lot of anthropology is done these days. I remember a conversation at a faculty lunch with a professor of anthropology, and I asked him what tribe he studied. He said he studied the nuclear engineers of Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico.

I believe he is referring to Hugh Gusterson’s Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War, thought it is actually set at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. (That is a really easy thing to mix up.)

… Can you just tell us what’s it like to go out and study an uncontacted people in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest? Do you pack a steamer trunk full of bug spray and peanut butter, and hire someone to drop you off and say, “Pick me up in six months?”

NAPOLEON CHAGNON:  Well, remarkably, Steve, that’s pretty much the way some of it happened. But when I first walked into the Yanomamö village thinking I was going to do the perfunctory one-year field research or maybe less, go back to my university, write my doctoral dissertation, publish a book maybe, after two or three years of thinking about it, then return to the tribe ten years later and do the expected thing about,  “Woe is me, what has the world and technology done to my people?” But the minute I walked into my first Yanomamö village I realized that I was witnessing a really precious thing, and I knew I would have to come back again and again, and I did.

There is too much great information in this interview to excerpt. You’ll just have to RTWT.

Some interesting graphs:

cvg9n_bwyaa6_20 cve3bzuuaaav2j0 cva27guweaa8wun cva1ft4weaa3_hl

cvz3gn9wcaq682uSince this is the first week I’m trying this, I’ll stop here with the links/graphs and open the floor to discussion:

I don’t think it mere coincidence that all of the men in the picture above are, well, men. Aside from Jane Goodall and HBDChick, are there any significant [living] women doing ground-breaking work in anthropology/human evolution/genetics/related fields?

The most racist post on this blog

Jesus loves the little children
All the little children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
All are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

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From a review of Tomie dePaola’s Legend of the Indian Paintbrush:

The story is improperly sourced. Stories are a means to teach lessons for survival. Since this is a European perspective of a fantasy romanticized Indian of the past, this becomes another instance of whites with long lost culture dressing up and playing Indian . We need to know what tribe this story originates, the true setting and purpose of the original story, and the intended audience. The retelling doesn’t reflect the setting, material artifacts or even the specific nation it attempts to depict. The story and illustrations improperly depict native people as a mono-culture. The book makes native dialogue overly mystic. The use of words like “brave” “and papoose” instead of “man” and “child” dehumanize an entire group of people. Reading this to children will definitely perpetuate damaging stereotypes of the distinct cultures still alive and well today.

 

Degeneracy of Type

If “evolution” is a word that comes up a lot in the late 1800s (even before Darwin,) “degenerate” is the word of the 1930s and 40s.

In Kabloona, (1941) an ethnography of the Eskimo (Inuit) of northern Canada, de Poncins speaks highly of the “pure” Eskimo, whose ancestral way of life remains unsullied by contact with European culture, and negatively of the “degenerate Eskimo,” caught in the web of international trade, his lifestyle inexorably changed by proximity and contact with the West.

In Caughey’s History of the Pacific Coast, (1933) he writes:

The Northwest Coast Indians felt the ill effects of too much contact with British, Russian, and American traders. The rum of the trading schooners was one of several factors contributing to the degeneracy of those not actually exterminated.

In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, (1939) Dr. Price argues that modern foods are low in nutrient value and inferior to many native, ancestral diets, and that the spread of this “white man’s food” caused an epidemic of disease, tooth decay, and skeletal mal-formation, which he documents extensively. Dr. Price refers to the change in appearance from one generation to the next, coinciding with the introduction of modern foods, as “interrupted heredity.” The parents represent “pure racial type,” with strong teeth and bones, while the children, bow-legged and sick, suffer physical degeneration.

(This kind of language that Dr. Price uses sometimes confuses us moderns, because we flinch reflexively at phrases like “racial type” when in fact his argument is the inverse of the racist arguments of his day.)

From SMBC--there's something wrong with this comic. I bet you can figure out what it is.
From SMBC–there’s something wrong with this comic. I bet you can figure out what it is.

Now, there is something twee about anthropologists (and historians) who long for the preservation of other peoples’ cultures when the people within those cultures seem to prefer modernity. Igloos and teepees may seem fun and exotic to those of us who don’t live in them, but the people who do might genuinely prefer a house with central heat and a toilet. Obviously the whole anthropologist schtick involves people who really like studying cultures that are distinct from their own, and if the people in those cultures adopt Western lifestyles, then there just isn’t much to study anymore.

(Imagine if we found out tomorrow that all of what we thought were variations in human DNA turned out to be contamination errors due to local pollen, and vast swathes of this blog became moot.)

It is easy to write off such notions as just feel-good sentimentalizing by outsiders, but these are at least outsiders with more first hand knowledge of these cultures than I have, so I think we should at least consider their ideas.

The degeneracy described as a result of contact with the West is not just physical or cultural, but also moral. A culture, fully-fledged, is one of humanity’s greatest technologies, a tool for the total transmission of a group’s knowledge, morals, and behaviors. Your ancestors, facing much the same environment as yourself, and armed with similar tools, struggled to obtain food, marry, raise children, and survive just as you do. The ones who succeeded passed down the lessons of their success, and these lessons became woven into the tapestry of culture you were raised in, saving you much of the trial-and error effort of reproducing your ancestors’ struggles.

picture-144Some people claim to believe that all cultures are equally valuable and important. I don’t. I think cultures that practice things like cannibalism, animal sacrifice, and child rape are bad and I don’t cry for their disappearance. But virtually every culture has at least some good features, or else it wouldn’t have come about in the first place.

Cultural lessons stem from the practical–“Ice the runners of your sled to make it run more smoothly”–to the moral–“Share your belongings in common with the tribe”–to the inscrutable–“don’t eat the totem animal.” (Some of these beliefs may be more important than others.) Throughout all of recorded human history, most of us have passed on bodies of moral teachings under the name of “religion,” whether we believe in the literal truth of mythic stories or not.

Rapid cultural change–not the gentle sort that percolates slowly across generations, but massive variety precipitated by an industrial revolution or the sudden introduction of a few thousand years’ worth of technological advancement to a long-isolated people–outstrips a society’s ability to provide meaningful moral or practical guidance. Simply put: people don’t know what to do.

Take alcohol. People have probably been producing fermented beverages for at least 10,000 years, or for about as long as we’ve been trying to store pots of grain and fruit. The French have wine, Mongolians have fermented horse milk, the Vikings fermented honey and the Founding Fathers drank a lot of apple cider.

Alcohol has beneficial effects–few pathogens survive the fermentation process–and obviously harmful effects. Societies that traditionally produced large quantities of alcohol have evolved social norms and institutions to help people enjoy the beneficial effects and avoid the bad ones. France, for example, which in 2014 produce 4.5 billion liters of wine and consumed 2.8 billion liters of the same, is not a nation of violent, wife-beating, car-crashing drunkards. French social norms emphasize moderate wine consumption accompanied by food, friends, and family.

By contrast, in societies where alcohol was suddenly introduced via contact with whites, people don’t have these norms, and the results–like rampant alcoholism on Native American reservations–have been disastrous. These societies can–and likely will–learn to handle alcohol, but it takes time.

chart_of_gonorrhea_infection_rates_usa_1941-2007Our own society is undergoing its own series of rapid changes–industrialization, urbanization, post-industrialization, the rise of the internet, etc. Andean cultures have been cultivating coca leaves for at least 3,000 years, apparently without much trouble, while the introduction of crack/cocaine to the US has been rather like dropping bombs on all of our major cities.

The invention of fairly reliable contraception and the counter-culture of the ’60s and ’70s led to the spread of “free love,” which in turn triggered skyrocketing gonorrhea rates. Luckily gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics (at least until it becomes antibiotic resistant,) but it’s still a nasty disease–one internet acquaintance of mine caught gonorrhea, took antibiotics and thought he was in the clear, but then doctors discovered that the inside of his penis was full of scar tissue that was dangerously closing off his bladder. They had basically cut him a new urethra once they were done removing all of the scar tissue, and he spent the next few months in constant, horrible pain, even while on medication.

latestAnd to add insult to injury, everyone in his social circle just thought he was bitter, jealous, and trying to make his ex-girlfriend look bad when he tried to warn them that they shouldn’t sleep with her because she gave him gonorrhea.

Of course, gonorrhea is just the tip of the horrifying iceberg.

By contrast, the Amish look pretty darn healthy.

Degeneracy isn’t just a sickness of the body; it’s a falling apart of all of the morals and customs that hold society together and give people meaning and direction in their lives. You don’t have to waste years trying to “find yourself” when you already have a purpose, but when you have no purpose but to feed yourself, it’s easy to become lost.

I should note that Dr. Price didn’t just examine the teeth of Eskimo and Aborigines, but also of Scots, Swiss, and Americans. His conclusion–nutritional degeneracy due to contact with modern foods–was the same regardless of culture. (Note: nutrition and food production have changed since 1939.) Or as Scott Alexander recently put it:

I am pretty sure there was, at one point, such a thing as western civilization. I think it involved things like dancing around maypoles and copying Latin manuscripts. At some point Thor might have been involved. That civilization is dead. It summoned an alien entity from beyond the void which devoured its summoner and is proceeding to eat the rest of the world.

Well, that sounds a fair bit more dire than Dr. Price’s assessment. Let’s assume Scott is being poetic and perhaps exaggerating for effect. Still: massive cultural changes can sweep the normative rug out from beneath your feet and leave you injured and confused. It will take time–perhaps centuries–for society to fully adjust to the technological changes of the past hundred years. Right now, everyone is still muddling through, trying to figure out what will kill us and what will save us.

Notes on Timbuktu

Medieval trade routes through the Sahara and Timbuktu
Medieval trade routes through the Sahara and Timbuktu

“Much has been written on the Fondo Ka’ti, the huge collection of old manuscripts in Arabic now preserved in a library in Timbuktu with considerable aid from the government of Andalucia. The collection’s founder seems to have been a ‘Goth’ (al-Quti) from Grenada, who left Spain circa 1468 AD.”

Timbuktu is an ancient, famous town in modern-day Mali. Today it is a tiny, super-dry, and far from the beaten track, but in previous centuries it was an important crossroads for cross-Sahara trade, famed for its gold, scholars, and university.

(I am, finally, trying to read through some of the many ancient PDFs cluttering up my desktop. Today’s is The Meanings of Timbuktu, though I must admit that at nearly 400 pages, I’m mostly skimming and reading the conclusions of chapters. Note: many of the contributors to this book cannot write and I can’t recommend it unless you are A. dying to know more about Timbuktu and B. willing to wade through Marxist academic bullshit.)

Centuries ago, the area was much wetter–about 8.5 thousand years ago, there were some major lakes nearby, perhaps because the climate was different or the river had taken a course through some low-lying areas. Even just a few centuries ago the area was wetter than it is today (the river has shifted, making Timbuktu much less important than it used to be. Archaeological surveys show a bunch of old, abandoned settlements (including possibly cities) in nearby areas that are now uninhabited desert, but Mali doesn’t exactly have money for archaeology. (And the security situation isn’t great, either.)

In other words, there appears to have been a massive reduction in the number of people in the area and the scale of organization in the past 500-1,000 years, with possibly greatly shifting population levels over the millenia.

Today, people in Timbuktu write with erasable ink (eg, charcoal,) on wooden slates, much like people using chalk on slate or carving into beeswax and then smoothing the beeswax. The art of paper-making typically spread alongside the spread of Islam (for the production of Qurans and the like,) but paper-making never took off in Timbuktu, even during eras when suitable materials were more abundant.

The lack of paper-making makes me think the book is over-rating Timbuktu’s role as an historical mecca for sub-Saharan scholars. It may have been relatively important, compared to the rest of the area, but probably small on the global scale.

Nonetheless, there are about 20,000 old books/scrolls in Timbuktu’s archives, most probably in need of preservation. Another survey mentioned in the book estimates 100,000+ books/scrolls in the area. (Mali doesn’t have a lot of money to devote to preserving fragile old manuscripts.) Most of these are probably religious documents (eg, Qurans, hadiths, legal opinions on the application of Islamic law, etc.) but some are philosophy, poetry, history, etc.

Due to age and degradation, the book I am reading deals primarily with more recent, less fragile texts.

Around 1750, a genre of historical writing emerged and then disappeared.

Muslim preference for hand-written Qu’rans appears to have retarded the development of printing in Islamic areas (at least around Timbuktu.) Source cited on page 151 claims first printed book arrived in Mauritania in 1861, though printed books were probably imported before then.

Note the importance of printed Bibles in the development of European literacy. Even today, so many Bibles are printed that cheap copies are practically disposable.

Estimate of a quarter to half a million books owned in northern Nigeria in 1900, most of them religious texts, many (religious) school texts.

There clearly were boom periods [in books]–first the sixteenth and then the nineteenth centuries–with different books coming to hand … but I think overall the book trade did not ‘work’ in West Africa. For example, in 1900 there were few if any ‘modern’ books either available to buy or in circulation in Kano… There was no waaf-financed library buying books systematically, no bookseller importing contentious texts for an avid reading public. … Did the shortage of local books lead to a pre-colonial ‘brain drain’?

The author concludes that the local scholars were highly dependent on private collections (as are modern scholars in the area.) These private collections were hidden during the colonial period (their owners were concerned about colonialist authorities stealing their books,) leading to a mis-perception that they did not exist. Since the end of colonialism, folks have been trying to gather up and properly preserve the manuscripts, but being buried and otherwise hidden for years has not been kind to them.

Timbuktu conjures a string of fond memories of my own youth. For the sake of the people of Mali, I hope Timbuktu (or any other city, perhaps one situated closer to the Niger’s modern course,) rises once again to its former glory.

Kalamazoo, Timbuktu, Katmandu, Machu Picchu…

Moderatism? pt 2 Also Lightning

The best arguments (I’ve come up with) in favor of moderation are A. humans are imperfect, so let’s be careful, and B. Let’s avoid holiness spirals. The best argument against it is that sometimes moderatism doesn’t work, either.

But we haven’t defined what moderatism is.

People are generally moderates for four reasons:

  1. They are not very bright, and so cannot understand political or economic arguments well enough to decide whether, say, global warming is real or the budget needs to be balanced, so they don’t.
  2. They are bright enough to evaluate arguments, but they aren’t interested. Economics bores them. So they don’t bother.
  3. They can evaluate arguments and they care, but their opinions don’t slot neatly into “left” or “right”–for example, they may believe simultaneously in fiscal conservatism and gay marriage.
  4. They just like the status quo.

The last group bugs the crap out of me.

There are lots of people who say they want something–say, an end to global warming, or more pie–but won’t actually do anything in support of their goals, like buy a more fuel efficient car or fruit filling. There are also a lot of people who say that they want something–libertarianism, say–but then claim not to want to end up at the logical end of the libertarian road. (Pot smokers who don’t want free association, I’m looking at you.) Plenty of people who supported the Russian Revolution merely wanted to end that awful war with Germany and redistribute some of the land and wealth, not starve millions of Ukrainians to death and turn the whole country into a communist nightmare, but that’s what the revolution got them.

Claiming you want a moderate outcome while supporting an approach that leads somewhere very different is the height of either dishonesty or idiocy.

But back to our question, I think we can define a “moderate” as:

  1. Someone who takes a position between two extremes, (consciously or unconsciously,) often trying to promote consensus;
  2. Someone who wants to preserve the status-quo;
  3. Someone who wants to move in a particular direction, but doesn’t embrace their philosophy’s extreme end.

It would probably amuse most readers of this blog to know that I think of myself as a “moderate.” After all, I hold a lot of ideas that are well outside the American mainstream. But my goals–long-term stability, health, and economic well-being for myself, my friends, family, and the country at large–are pretty normal. I think most people want these things.

But I don’t think continuing the status quo is getting us stability, health, prosperity, etc. The status quo could certainly be worse–I could be on fire right now. But the general trends are not good and have not been good for a long time, and I see neither the traditional “liberal” nor “conservative” solutions as providing a better direction–which is why I am willing to consider some radically new (or old) ideas. (Besides, “moderate” is much easier to explain to strangers than, “I think democracy is deeply flawed.”)

Let’s call this “meta-moderatism”–perhaps we should distinguish here between moderatism of means and moderatism of goals.

Just as holiness spirals only work if you’re actually spiraling into holiness, so consensus only works if you capture actual wisdom.

I think Scott Alexander (of Slate Star Codex) is the most famous principled moderate I know of, though perhaps principled neutralist is a better description–he tries to be meta-consistent in his principles and give his opponents the benefit of the doubt in order to actually understand why they believe what they do–because “moderate” seems vaguely inaccurate to describe any polyamorist.

It occurs to me that democracy seems inclined toward moderatism of means, simply because any candidate has to get a majority (or plurality) of people to vote for them.

 

… You know what? I’m bored. I’m going to research rare forms of lightning.

St. Elmo's fire
St. Elmo’s fire (see also this awesome picture of red sprites.)

(This case actually caused by snow and wind, not a thunderstorm!)

ball lightning
ball lightning

 

red sprites and elf lightning
red sprites and elf lightning
red sprites and elf lightning
red sprites and elf lightning–good explanation of the phenomenon

Should it be “elf lightning” or “lightning elves”?

red sprite and elf lightning
red sprite and elf lightning, photo taken from space

lightning_sprites2

(same source as the previous picture.)

Can one be a principled moderate?

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot! So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. — Revelations, 3:14-16

“No one likes a Jesus freak.” — Anon, the internet

From a memetic point of view, most ideologies would like their adherents to be strong believers. What good to memetic Christianity, after all, is someone who does not bother to spread Christianity? As a matter of principle, there is something hypocritical–intellectually inconsistent or dishonest–about people who profess to believe an ideology, but lay down some boundary beyond which they do not bother to follow it.

And yet, at the same time, we often feel a very practical aversion to ideological extremists. People who believe in social safety nets so because they don’t want poor people to starve in the streets may also genuinely believe that communism was a disaster.

Ideologies are rather like maps, and I have yet to encounter a map that accurately reflected every aspect of the Earth’s surface at once (Mercator maps of Greenland, I am looking at you.) The world is a complicated place, and all ideological models seek to illuminate human behavior by reducing them to understandable patterns.

Like any map, this is both a strength and a weakness. We do not throw out a map because it is imperfect; even a Mercator map is still a valuable tool. We also do not deny the existence of a sandbar we have just struck simply because it is not on our charts. Even religions, which profess perfection due to divine revelation, must still be actually put into practice by obviously imperfect human believers.

In extreme versions of ideologies, the goal often ceases to be some practical, real world outcome, and becomes instead proving one’s own ideological purity. SJWs are the most common embodiment of this tendency, arguing endlessly over matters like, “Does Goldiblocks’s advertising/packaging de-value girls’ princess play?” or “Asking immigrants not to rape is racist colonialization of POC bodies.” There are many organizations out there trying to decrease the number of black people who are murdered every year, but you have probably never heard of any of the successful ones. By contrast, the one group liberals actually support and pay attention to, “Black Lives Matter,” has, by driving police out of black communities, actually increased the number of black people who’ve been murdered.

Within the holiness spiral, actually denying reality becomes the easiest way to prove to be even holier than the next guy. The doctrine of transubstantiation claims that a piece of bread has been transformed into the body of Christ even though no physical, observable change has occurred. Almost everyone agrees that the police shouldn’t choke people to death during routine arrests; it takes true devotion to believe that the police shouldn’t shoot back at people who are shooting at them.

A holiness spiral is only useful if you’re actually spiraling into holiness.

The simple observation that extreme versions of ideologies often seem to lead their followers to lose contact with reality is perhaps reason enough for someone to profess some form of principled moderatism.

And yet, I know for certain that were I a religious person, I would not be moderate. (I base this on my childhood approach to religion and the observances of my biological relatives–I wager I have a genetic inclination toward intense religiosity.) Since few people convert away from the religion they were raised with, if I were a believer from a Hindu family, I’d be a devout Hindu; if I were a believer from a Catholic family, I’d attend mass in Latin; if Jewish, I’d be Orthodox Jewish. You get the picture.

After all, what is the point of going to Heaven (or Hell,) only a little bit?

To be continued.

 

An Open Letter to the Jewish People

Guys, we need to have a serious discussion.

You’ve been around my whole life–friends, confidants, you’ve even helped me move–and I’m getting worried for you.

Anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe:

Overall, anti-Semitic violence rose by 40 percent worldwide, according to figures provided by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University. A total of 766 violent incidents were recorded worldwide last year, a “sharp increase” over the 554 tallied in 2013, according to the European Jewish Congress, which contributed to the report.

Black Lives Matter’s anti-Israel position and the increasing expulsion of Jews from SJW-spaces:

Milan Chatterjee, a third-year law student at UCLA, on August 24 informed the school chancellor of his decision to leave the university and finish his UCLA law degree at New York University School of Law. In a letter that was made public earlier today, he alleged that since November 2015 he has been “relentlessly attacked, bullied and harassed by BDS-affiliated organizations and students” and that the harassment had become intolerable.

Anti-Semitism on the rise in the US, especially online harassment from the far-right. (Actually, the far-right exists in Europe, too.)

What’s driving this? Trends normally don’t just come out of nowhere.

Muslim immigration appears to be a major factor in Europe, eg:

A number of studies conducted among the Muslim youth in various western European countries have showed that Muslim children have far more anti-Semitic ideas than Christian children- in 2011 Mark Elchardus, a Belgian sociologist, published a report on Dutch-language elementary schools in Brussels. He found that about 50 percent of Muslim students in second and third grade could be considered anti-Semites, versus 10% of others. In the same year Unther Jikeli published his findings from the 117 interviews he conducted with Muslim male youngsters (average age 19) in Berlin, Paris and London. The majority of the interviewees voiced some, or strong anti-Semitic feelings. They expressed them openly and often aggressively.[47]

A large number of violent antisemitic attacks in Europe were done by Muslims- the murder of 4 Jews in Toulouse in 2012 by Mohammed Merah,[48] the 1982 attack on the Jewish Goldenberg restaurant in Paris that was carried out by Arab terrorists, the kidnapping and murder of the French citizen Ilan Halimi in 2006 by a Muslim gang and the antisemitic riots in Norway in 2009 are a few examples to this phenomenon.[47]

This is not really surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention.

Now, I know many of you have been in favor of helping Syrian refugees, on the grounds that suffering people fleeing from warzones ought to be helped. It’s a kind impulse, a humanitarian impulse. And it’s not in your own best interest.

If you want to help refugees, then help them get to safety in countries that are similar to their own, where they won’t face major linguistic and cultural barriers to starting new lives.

I know more about the American situation because I live here. Most American Jews, whether liberal or conservative, vote Democrat–even though it’s Republicans who are your staunchest allies. I mean look at this:

picture-5

White Evangelicals are the Jews’ biggest fans, and they like Jews better than any other religious group (except themselves.) By contrast, Jews like Evangelicals less than everyone one–even less than Muslims.

Sure, Evangelicals can be kind of loud, they may support Israel because they think it’s somehow going to trigger the apocalypse, and they seem to think that Jews are just Christians who don’t yet believe in Jesus, but they don’t mean you any harm and they’re still trying to be supportive.

I figure this disconnect is largely due to Jews being heavily concentrated in NYC and LA, while Evangelicals are concentrated in the South. NYC and LA are Democratic strongholds where Evangelicals are disliked for their habit of voting Republican, so Jews have picked up this dislike.

But this is not sensible. Just because something earns you social approval in NYC does not mean it is in your own long-term self interest.

You’ve been involved in the Civil Rights movement since its beginning–again, because you believed it was the right thing to do. Tikkun Olam and all that.

Bernie Sanders was volunteering with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and getting arrested in Chicago during a demonstration. Hillary Clinton was a Young Republican and volunteering with Barry Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Act.

(For the confused, Bernie Sanders is Jewish.)

And what have you gotten for your trouble?

From NBC News

Let’s check in with Louis Farrakhan:

In Part 2 of his Saviours’ Day address at Mosque Maryam in Chicago, Farrakhan received a standing ovation after telling his audience that “the Satanic Jews that control everything and mostly everybody, if they are your enemy, then you must be somebody.”

Farrakhan says a lot of other, similar things. The “Nation of Islam” is not your friend.

Wikipedia notes:

Black Americans of all education levels are significantly more likely than whites of the same education level to be anti-Semitic. In the 1998 survey, blacks (34%) were nearly four times as likely as whites (9%) to have answers that identified them as being of the most anti-Semitic category (those agreeing with at least 6 of 11 statements that were potentially or clearly antisemitic). Among blacks with no college education, 43% responded as the most anti-Semitic group (vs. 18% for the general population). This percentage fell to 27% among blacks with some college education, and 18% among blacks with a four-year college degree (vs. 5% for the general population).[83]

Modern liberals see themselves as a coalition fighting for the rights of non-whites (“PoC”) against white oppression (structural racism.) While Jews are perfectly well aware that they have suffered from racism in white countries, PoC logic dictates that Jews are “white” and Palestinians are “brown,” and therefore Jews are white supremacist oppressors of non-whites.

Did you know that a majority of whites haven’t voted for the Democrats, in a presidential election, since 1964? American politics, viewed from the outside, is pretty darn racial: blacks and Hispanics vote overwhelmingly Democrat (For example, 90% of blacks voted for Gore; 62% of Hispanics and 55% of Asians voted for Gore. By contrast, 55% of whites voted for Bush II.)

To skip forward to the current election, (which, to be frank, is no longer interesting,) of the three major candidates, Sanders is explicitly Jewish; Trump has an Orthodox Jewish daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren; and Clinton’s daughter married a Jew, but does not appear to have converted and her grandchildren therefore aren’t Jewish under Jewish law.

Say what you will for the man, but I don’t think Trump hates his own grandchildren.

One of the weirder parts of this election has been people accusing the candidate with more Jewish family members of saying anti-Semitic things about the one with fewer Jewish family members–as though anti-Semitism were some kind of selling point with the Republican base! (No, that’s Hillary’s base.)

The media, in particular, has been actively pushing the whole “Trump is literally Hitler!” rhetoric for a long while.

Now, you might be saying, “Hey! We aren’t the entire media!”

Yes, I know. But you are visibly over-represented in the media, and many Jewish media folks have been vocally anti-Trump. Fair or not, being a small minority always means that people will be judging you.

To be explicit: You look like you are actively siding with non-whites (who hate you) against whites. With Muslims (who hate you) against the Evangelicals (who like you.) With internationalists (like Hillary) against nationalists who want to promote American interests.

And on top of that, you are super-successful, dominating Ivy League admissions and high-paying professions, way more than your % of the population, (while at the same time claiming that white over-representation in various areas is due to “white privilege.”) You write things like this:

White people need to open ourselves up to a particular type of wounding to genuinely understand and then work toward racial justice. Our comfort and privilege generally keeps us from incurring these wounds naturally, and thus they must be sought out, disseminated, and used to motivate action.

From the outside, this looks really weird.

And this is why the far-right thinks you are doing it on purpose to destroy white America.

Let’s show a little common sense. Stop working against your own long-term interests. Step away from divisive politics. Being simultaneously high-profile and opposed to the interests of the biggest groups in the country is a good way to get the majority of people mad at you. Stop supporting people who don’t support you.  Shame and ostracize Jews who make the rest of you look bad. Figure out who your friends are and be loyal to them.

Do science. Live well. Build civilization with me.

 

Oh, everyone, I know this goes without saying, but please be polite in the comments. Comments that impede discussion will be deleted.