Re: Eurozine’s How to Change Human History

Some of you have asked  for my opinions on Davids Graeber and Wengrow’s recently published an article, How to change the course of human history (at least, the part that’s already happened):

The story we have been telling ourselves about our origins is wrong, and perpetuates the idea of inevitable social inequality. David Graeber and David Wengrow ask why the myth of ‘agricultural revolution’ remains so persistent, and argue that there is a whole lot more we can learn from our ancestors.

The article is long and difficult to excerpt, so I’m going to summarize:

The traditional tale of how our idyllic, peaceful, egalitarian, small-group hunter-gatherer past gave way to our warlike, sexist, racist, violent, large-city agrarian present gives people the impression that hierarchy and violence are inevitable parts of our economic system. However, the traditional tale is wrong–the past was actually a lot more complicated than you’ve been told. Therefore, there is no historical pattern and the real source of all bad things is actually the family.

The final conclusion is pulled out of nowhere:

Egalitarian cities, even regional confederacies, are historically quite commonplace. Egalitarian families and households are not. Once the historical verdict is in, we will see that the most painful loss of human freedoms began at the small scale – the level of gender relations, age groups, and domestic servitude – the kind of relationships that contain at once the greatest intimacy and the deepest forms of structural violence. If we really want to understand how it first became acceptable for some to turn wealth into power, and for others to end up being told their needs and lives don’t count, it is here that we should look. Here too, we predict, is where the most difficult work of creating a free society will have to take place.

Since “inequality begins in the family” is supported nowhere in the text, we will ignore it.

  1. What about the “traditional narrative”? Did hunter-gathers live in small, peaceful, egalitarian, idyllic communities? Or are the Davids correct that this is a myth?

It’s a myth. Mostly.

While we have almost no information about people’s opinions on anything before the advent of writing, there’s no evidence from any hunter-gatherer society we have actually been able to observe that hunter-gathering leads naturally to egalitarianism or peacefulness.

For example, among the Inuit (Eskimo), hunter-gatherers of the arctic, polyandry (the marriage of one woman to multiple men) didn’t exist because they had particularly enlightened views about women and marriage, but because they had a habit of killing female babies. Too much female infanticide => not enough adult women to go around => men making do.

Why do some groups have high rates of female infanticide? Among other reasons, because in the Arctic, the men do the hunting (seal, fish, caribou, etc.) and the women gather… not a whole lot. (Note: I’m pretty sure the modern Inuit do not practice sex-selective infanticide.)

Polyandry can also be caused by polygamy and simple lack of resources–men who cannot afford to support a wife and raise their own children may content themselves with sharing a wife and contributing what they can to the raising of offspring who might be theirs.

I have yet to encounter in all of my reading any hunter-gatherer or “primitive” society that has anything like our notion of “gender equality” in which women participate equally in the hunting and men do 50% of the child-rearing and gathering, (though some Pygmies are reported to be excellent fathers.) There are simple physical limits here: first, hunter-gatherers don’t have baby formula and men don’t lactate, so the duties of caring for small children fall heavily on their mothers. Many hunter-gatherers don’t even have good weaning foods, and so nurse their children for years longer than most Westerners. Second, hunting tends to require great physical strength, both in killing the animals (stronger arms will get better and more accurate draws on bows and spears) and in hauling the kills back to the tribe (you try carrying a caribou.)

In many horticultural societies, women do a large share of the physical labor of building houses and producing food, but the men do not make up for this by tending the babies. A similar division of labor exists in modern, lower-class African American society, where the women provide for their families and raise the children and then men are largely absent. Modern Rwanda, which suffers a dearth of men due to war and mass genocide, also has a “highly equitable” division of labor; not exactly an egalitarian paradise.

Hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists, and other folks living outside formal states, have very high rates of violence. The Yanomami/o, for example, (who combine horticulture and hunting/foraging) are famous for their extremely high rates of murder and constant warfare. The Aborigines of Australia, when first encountered by outsiders, also had very high rates of interpersonal violence and warfare.

Graph from the Wikipedia
See also my post, “No, Hunter Gatherers were not Peaceful Paragons of Gender Egalitarianism.”

The Jivaro are an Amazonian group similar to the Yanomamo; the Mae Enga, Dugum Dani, Huli, and Gebusi are horticulturalists/hunters from PNG; Murngin are Australian hunter-gatherers.

I know, I know, horticulturalists are not pure hunter-gatherers, even if they do a lot of hunting and gathering. As we’ll discuss below, the transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture is complicated and these are groups that we might describe as “in between”. The real question isn’t whether they bury a few coconuts if they happen to sprout before getting eaten, but whether they have developed large-scale social organization, cities, and/or formal states.

The article protests against using data from any contemporary forager societies, because they are by definition not ancient hunter-gatherers and have been contaminated by contact with non-foraging neighbors (I propose that the Australian Aborigines, however, at first contact were pretty uncontaminated,) but then the article goes on to use data from contemporary forager societies to bolster its own points… so I feel perfectly entitled to do the same thing.

However, we do have some data on ancient violence, eg:

According to this article, 12-14% of skeletons from most (but not all) ancient, pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer groups show signs of violence. Here’s a case of a band of hunter-gatherers–including 6 small children–who were slaughtered by another band of hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago.

Warfare appears to have been part of the human experience as far back as we look–even chimps wage war against each other, as Jane Goodall documented in her work in the Gombe.

Then there’s the cannibalism. Fijians, for example, who practiced a mixed horticulture/hunter-gathering lifestyle (fishing is a form hunting that looks a lot like gathering,) were notorious cannibals when first encountered by outsiders. (Though they did have something resembling a state at the time.)

Neanderthals butchered each other; 14,700 years ago, hunter-gatherers were butchering and eating each other in Cheddar Gorge, England. (This is the same Cheddar Gorge as the famous Cheddar Man hails from, but CM is 5,000 years younger than these cannibals and probably no relation, as an intervening glacier had forced everyone out of the area for a while. CM also died a violent death, though.)

Or as reported by Real Anthropology:

Increasing amount of archaeological evidence, such as fortifications of territories and pits containing dead humans blown by axes, indicates that warfare originated from prehistoric times, long before the establishment of state societies. Recently, researchers studying the animal bones in Mesolithic layer of Coves de Santa Maira accidentally discovered thirty human bone remains of the pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer with anthropic marks, indicating behaviors of human cannibalism.

The article would like to emphasize, however, that we don’t really know why these people engaged in cannibalism. Starvation? Funeral rituals? Dismemberment of an enemy they really hated? Like I said, it’s hard to know what people were really thinking without written records.

There was a while in anthropology/archaeology when people were arguing that the spread of pots didn’t necessarily involve the spread of people, as a new pottery style could just spread because people liked it and decided to adopt it; it turns out that sometimes the spread is indeed of pots, and sometimes it’s of people. Similarly, certain anthropologists took to describing hunter-gatherers as “harmless“, but this didn’t involve any actual analysis of violence rates among hunter-gatherers (yes, I’ve read the book.)

In sum: The narrative that our ancestors were peaceful egalitarians is, in most cases, probably nonsense.

  • 2. The Davids also argue that the transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture was more complex than the “traditional narrative” claims.

This is also true. As we’ve already touched on above, there are many economic systems that fall somewhere in between exclusive hunter-gathering and pure agriculture. Nomadic hunters who followed and exploited herds of animals gradually began protecting them from other predators (like wolves) and guiding the animals to areas with food and shelter. The domestication of goats pre-dates the beginning of agriculture (and dogs pre-date goats;) the domestication of reindeer was much more recent, (I reviewed a book on reindeer economies here, here, here, and here.) Again, there is no absolute line between hunters like the Eskimo who annually exploit migrating wild caribou and Lapp (Sami) ranchers who occasionally round up their herds of “domestic” reindeer. The reindeer appreciate that we humans kill off their natural predators (ie wolves) and provide a source of valuable salts (ie urine.) The origin of domestic goats and sheep probably looked similar, though the domestication of cattle was probably a more conscious decision given the bovines’ size.

The hunting of fish also looks a lot more like gathering or even farming, as a single resource area (eg, a bend in the river or a comfortable ocean bay) may be regularly exploited via nets, traps, rakes, weirs, etc.

Horticulture is a form of low-intensity agriculture (literally, gardening.) Some horticulturalists get most of their food from their gardens; others plant a few sprouted coconuts and otherwise get most of their food by hunting and fishing. Horticulture doesn’t require much technology (no plows needed) and typically doesn’t produce that many calories.

It is likely that many “hunter gatherers” understood the principle of “seeds sprout and turn into plants” and strategically planted seeds or left them in places where they wanted plants to grow for centuries or millennia before they began actively tending the resulting plants.

Many hunter-gatherer groups also practice active land management techniques. For example, a group of Melanesians in PNG that hunts crocodiles periodically burns the swamp in which the crocodiles live in order to prevent woody trees from taking over and making the swamp less swampy. By preserving the crocodiles’ habitat, they ensure there are plenty of crocodiles around for them to hunt. (I apologize for the lack of a link to a description of the group, but I saw it in a documentary about hunter-gatherers available on Netflix.)

Large-scale environment management probably also predates the adoption of formal agriculture by thousands of years.

Where the article goes wrong:

  1. Just because something is more complicated than the “simplified” version you commonly hear doesn’t mean, “There is no pattern, all is unknowable, nihilism now.”

Any simplified version of things is, by definition, simplified.

The idea that hunter-gatherers were uniquely peaceful and egalitarian is nonsense; if anything, the opposite may be true. Once you leave behind your preconceptions, you realize that the pattern isn’t “random noise” but but actually that all forms of violence and oppression appear to be decreasing over time. Economies where you can get ahead by murdering your neighbors and stealing their wives have been largely replaced by economies where murdering your neighbors lands you in prison and women go to college. There’s still noise in the data–times we humans kill a lot of each other–but that doesn’t mean there is no pattern.

  • 2. Most hunter-gatherers did, in fact, spend most of their time in small communities

The Davids make a big deal out of the fact that hunter-gatherers who exploit seasonally migrating herds sometimes gather in large groups in order to exploit those herds.  They cite, for example:

Another example were the indigenous hunter-gatherers of Canada’s Northwest Coast, for whom winter – not summer – was the time when society crystallised into its most unequal form, and spectacularly so. Plank-built palaces sprang to life along the coastlines of British Columbia, with hereditary nobles holding court over commoners and slaves, and hosting the great banquets known as potlatch. Yet these aristocratic courts broke apart for the summer work of the fishing season, reverting to smaller clan formations, still ranked, but with an entirely different and less formal structure. In this case, people actually adopted different names in summer and winter, literally becoming someone else, depending on the time of year.

Aside from the fact that they are here citing a modern people as an argument about prehistoric ones (!), the Pacific North West is one of the world’s lushest environments with an amazing natural abundance of huntable (fishable) food. If I had to pick somewhere to ride out the end of civilization, the PNW (and New Zealand) would be high on my list. The material abundance available in the PNW is available almost nowhere else in the world–and wasn’t available to anyone before the First Nations arrived in the area around 13,000 years ago. Our stone-age ancestors 100,000 years ago in Africa certainly weren’t exploiting salmon in British Columbia.

Hunter-gatherers who exploit migrating resources sometimes get all of their year’s food in only 3 or 4 massive hunts. These hunts certainly can involve lots of people, as whole clans will want to work together to round up, kill, and process thousands of animals within the space of a few days.

Even the most massive of these gatherings, however, did not compare in size and scope to our modern cities. A few hundred Inuit might gather for the short arctic summer before scattering back to their igloos; the Mongol capital of Ulan Bator was oft described as nearly deserted as the nomadic herdsmen had little reason to remain in the capital when court was not in session.

(Also, the Davids’ description of Inuit life is completely backwards from the actual anthropology I have read; I’m wondering if he accidentally mixed up the Yupik Eskimo who don’t go by the term “Inuit” with the Canadian Eskimo who do go by “Inuit;” I have not read about the Yupik, but if their lifestyles are different from the Inuit, this would explain the confusion.)

The Davids also cite the behavior of the 19th century Plains Indians, but this is waaay disconnected from any “primitive” lifestyle. Most of the Plains Indians had formerly been farmers before disease, guns, and horses, brought by the Spaniards, disrupted their lives. Without horses (or plows) the great plains and their bison herds were difficult to exploit, and people preferred to live in towns along local riverbanks, growing corn, squash, and beans.

We might generously call these towns “cities,” but none of them were the size of modern cities.

  • 3. Production of material wealth

Hunter-gathering, horticulture, fishing, and herding–even at their best–do not produce that much extra wealth. They are basically subsistence strategies; most people in these societies are directly engaged in food production and so can’t spend their time producing other goods. Nomads, of course, have the additional constraint that they can’t carry much with them under any circumstances.

A society can only have as much hierarchy as it can support. A nomadic tribe can have one person who tells everyone when to pack up and move to the next pasture, but it won’t produce enough food to support an entire class of young adults who do things other than produce food.

By contrast, in our modern, industrial society, less than 2% of people are farmers/ranchers. The other 98% of us are employed in food processing of some sort, careers not related to food at all, or unemployed.

This is why our society can produce parking lots that are bigger and more complex than the most impressive buildings ever constructed by hunter-gatherers.

The fact that, on a few occasions, hunter-gatherers managed to construct large buildings (and Stonehenge was not built by hunter-gatherers but by farmers; the impressive, large stones of Stonehenge were not part of the original layout but erected by a later wave of invaders who killed off 90% of Stonehenge’s original builders) does not mean the average hunter-gatherer lived in complex societies most of the time. They did not, because hunter-gathering could not support complex society, massive building projects, nor aristocracies most of the time.

It is only with the advent of agriculture that people started accumulating enough food that there were enough leftover for any sort of formal, long-term state to start taxing. True, this doesn’t necessarily mean that agriculture has to result in formal states with taxes; it just means that it’s very hard to get that without agriculture. (The one exception is if a nomadic herding society like the Mongols conquers an agricultural state and takes their taxes.)

In sum, yes, the “traditional story” is wrong–but not completely. History was more complicated, violent, and unequal, than portrayed, but the broad outlines of “smaller, simpler” hunter gatherer societies to “bigger, more complex” agricultural societies is basically correct. If anything, the lesson is that civilization has the potential to be a great force for good.

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Cathedral Round-Up: Checking in with the Bright Minds at Yale Law

Yale Law’s Coat of Arms

Yale Law is the most prestigious lawschool in the entire US (Harvard Law is probably #2). YL’s professors, therefore, are some of the US’s top legal scholars; it’s students are likely to go on to be important lawyers, judges, and opinion-makers.

If you’re wondering about the coat of arms, it was designed in 1956 as a pun on the original three founders’ names: Seth Staples, (BA, Yale, 1797), Judge David Daggett aka Doget, (BA 1783), and Samuel Hitchcock, (BA, 1809), whose name isn’t really a pun but he’s Welsh and when Welsh people cross the Atlantic, their dragon transforms into a crocodile. (The Welsh dragon has also been transformed into a crocodile on the Jamaican coat of arms.)

(For the sake of Yale’s staple-bearing coat of arms, let us hope that none of the founders were immoral in any way, as Harvard‘s were.)

So what have Yale’s luminaries been up to?

Professor Yaffe has a new book on Criminal Responsibility, titled The Age of Culpability: Children and the Nature of Criminal Responsibility. The blurb from Amazon:

Gideon Yaffe presents a theory of criminal responsibility according to which child criminals deserve leniency not because of their psychological, behavioural, or neural immaturity but because they are denied the vote. He argues that full shares of criminal punishment are deserved only by those who have a full share of say over the law.

The YLS Today article goes into more depth:

He proposes that children are owed lesser punishments because they are denied the right to vote. This conclusion is reached through accounts of the nature of criminal culpability, desert for wrongdoing, strength of legal reasons, and what it is to have a say over the law. The heart of this discussion is the theory of criminal culpability.

To be criminally culpable, Yaffe argues, is for one’s criminal act to manifest a failure to grant sufficient weight to the legal reasons to refrain. The stronger the legal reasons, then, the greater the criminal culpability. Those who lack a say over the law, it is argued, have weaker legal reasons to refrain from crime than those who have a say, according to the book. They are therefore reduced in criminal culpability and deserve lesser punishment for their crimes. Children are owed leniency, then, because of the political meaning of age rather than because of its psychological meaning. This position has implications for criminal justice policy, with respect to, among other things, the interrogation of children suspected of crimes and the enfranchisement of adult felons. …

He holds an A.B. in philosophy from Harvard and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford.

I don’t think you need a degree in philosophy or law to realize that this is absolutely insane.

Even in countries where no one can vote, we still expect the government to try to do a good job of rounding up criminals so their citizens can live in peace, free from the fear of random violence. The notion that “murder is bad” wasn’t established by popular vote in the first place. Call it instinct, human nature, Natural Law, or the 6th Commandment–whatever it is, we all want murderers to be punished.

The point of punishing crime is 1. To deter criminals from committing crime; 2. To get criminals off the street; 3. To provide a sense of justice to those who have been harmed. These needs do not change depending on whether or not the person who committed the crime can vote. Why, if I wanted to commit a crime, should I hop the border into Canada and commit it there, then claim the Canadian courts should be lenient since I am not allowed to vote in Canada? Does the victim of a disenfranchised felon deserve less justice than the victim of someone who still had the right to vote?

Since this makes no sense at all from any sort of public safety or discouraging crime perspective, permit me a cynical theory: the author would like to lower the voting age, let immigrants (legal or not) vote more easily, and end disenfranchisement for felons.

Professor Moyn has a new book on Human Rights: Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World. According to the Amazon blurb:

The age of human rights has been kindest to the rich. Even as state violations of political rights garnered unprecedented attention due to human rights campaigns, a commitment to material equality disappeared. In its place, market fundamentalism has emerged as the dominant force in national and global economies. In this provocative book, Samuel Moyn analyzes how and why we chose to make human rights our highest ideals while simultaneously neglecting the demands of a broader social and economic justice. …

In the wake of two world wars and the collapse of empires, new states tried to take welfare beyond its original European and American homelands and went so far as to challenge inequality on a global scale. But their plans were foiled as a neoliberal faith in markets triumphed instead.

As Yale puts it:

In a tightly-focused tour of the history of distributive ideals, Moyn invites a new and more layered understanding of the nature of human rights in our global present. From their origins in the Jacobin welfare state

Which chopped people’s heads off.

to our current neoliberal moment, Moyn tracks the subtle shifts in how human rights movements understood what, exactly, their high principles entailed.

Like not chopping people’s heads off?

Earlier visionaries imagined those rights as a call for distributive justice—a society which guaranteed a sufficient minimum of the good things in life. And they generally strove, even more boldly, to create a rough equality of circumstances, so that the rich would not tower over the rest.

By chopping their heads off.

Over time, however, these egalitarian ideas gave way. When transnational human rights became famous a few decades ago, they generally focused on civil liberties — or, at most sufficient provision.

Maybe because executing the kulaks resulted in mass starvation, which seems kind of counter-productive in the sense of minimum sufficient provision for human life.

In our current age of human rights, Moyn comments, the pertinence of fairness beyond some bare minimum has largely been abandoned.

By the way:

From Human Progress

Huh. Why would anyone think that economic freedom and human well-being go hand-in-hand?

The Dramatic Decline in World Poverty, from CATO https://www.cato.org/blog/dramatic-decline-world-poverty

At the risk of getting Pinkerian, the age of “market fundamentalism” has involved massive improvements in human well-being, while every attempt to make society economically equal has caused mass starvation and horrible abuses against humans.

Moyn’s argument that we have abandoned “social justice” is absurd on its face; in the 1950s, the American south was still racially segregated; in the 1980s South Africa was still racially segregated. Today both are integrated and have had black presidents. In 1950, homosexuality was widely illegal; today gay marriage is legal in most Western nations. Even Saudi Arabia has decided to let women drive.

If we want to know why, absurdly, students believe that things have never been worse for racial minorities in America, maybe the answer is the rot starts from the top.

In related news, Yale Law School Clinics Secure Third Nationwide Injunction:

The first ruling dramatically stopped the unconstitutional Muslim ban in January 2017, when students from the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC) mobilized overnight to ground planes and free travelers who were being unjustly detained. The students’ work, along with co-counsel, secured the first nationwide injunction against the ban, and became the template for an army of lawyers around the country who gathered at airports to provide relief as the chaotic aftermath of the executive order unfolded.

Next came a major ruling in California in November 2017 in which a federal Judge granted a permanent injunction that prohibited the Trump Administration from denying funding to sanctuary cities—a major victory for students in the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) …

And on February 13, 2018, WIRAC secured yet another nationwide injunction—this time halting the abrupt termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). … The preliminary injunction affirms protections for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers just weeks before the program was set to expire.

And Rule of Law Clinic files Suit over Census Preparations:

The Rule of Law Clinic launched at Yale Law School in the Spring of 2017 and in less than one year has been involved in some of the biggest cases in the country, including working on the travel ban, the transgender military ban, and filing amicus briefs on behalf of the top national security officials in the country, among many other cases. The core goal of the clinic is to maintain U.S. rule of law and human rights commitments in four areas: national security, antidiscrimination, climate change, and democracy promotion.

 

Meanwhile, Amy Chua appears to be the only sane, honest person at Yale Law:

In her new book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations (Penguin, 2018), Amy Chua diagnoses the rising tribalism in America and abroad and prescribes solutions for creating unity amidst group differences.

Chua, who is the John M. Duff, Jr. Professor of Law, begins Political Tribes with a simple observation: “Humans are tribal.” But tribalism, Chua explains, encompasses not only an innate desire for belonging but also a vehement and sometimes violent “instinct to exclude.” Some groups organize for noble purposes, others because of a common enemy. In Chua’s assessment, the United States, in both foreign and domestic policies, has failed to fully understand the importance of these powerful bonds of group identity.

Unlike the students using their one-in-a-million chance at a Yale Law degree to help members of a different tribe for short-term gain, Amy Chua at least understands politics. I might not enjoy Chua’s company if I met her, but I respect her honesty and clear-sightedness.

 

On a final note, Professor Tyler has a new book, also about children and law, Why Children Follow Rules: Legal Socialization and the Development of Legitimacy. (Apparently the publishers decided to stiff the cover artist.) From the Amazon blurb:

Why Children Follow Rules focuses upon legal socialization outlining what is known about the process across three related, but distinct, contexts: the family, the school, and the juvenile justice system. Throughout, Tom Tyler and Rick Trinkner emphasize the degree to which individuals develop their orientations toward law and legal authority upon values connected to responsibility and obligation as opposed to fear of punishment. They argue that authorities can act in ways that internalize legal values and promote supportive attitudes. In particular, consensual legal authority is linked to three issues: how authorities make decisions, how they treat people, and whether they recognize the boundaries of their authority. When individuals experience authority that is fair, respectful, and aware of the limits of power, they are more likely to consent and follow directives.

Despite clear evidence showing the benefits of consensual authority, strong pressures and popular support for the exercise of authority based on dominance and force persist in America’s families, schools, and within the juvenile justice system. As the currently low levels of public trust and confidence in the police, the courts, and the law undermine the effectiveness of our legal system, Tom Tyler and Rick Trinkner point to alternative way to foster the popular legitimacy of the law in an era of mistrust.

Speaking as a parent… I understand where Tyler is coming from. If I act in a way that doesn’t inspire my children to see me as a fair, god-like arbitrator of justice, then they are more likely to see me as an unjust tyrant who should be disobeyed and overthrown.

On the other hand, sometimes things are against the rules for reasons kids don’t understand. One of my kids, when he was little, thought turning the dishwasher off was the funniest thing and would laugh all the way through timeout. Easy solution: I didn’t turn it on when he was in the room and  he forgot. Tougher problem: one of the kids thought climbing on the stove to get to the microwave was a good idea. Time outs didn’t work. Explaining “the stove is hot sometimes” didn’t work. Only force solved this problem.

Some people will accept your authority. Some people can reason their way to “We should cooperate and respect the social contract so we can live in peace.” And some people DON’T CARE no matter what.

So I agree that police, courts, etc., should act justly and not abuse their powers, and I can pull up plenty of examples of cases where they did. But I am afraid this is not a complete framework for dealing with criminals and legal socialization.

Maybe Terrorists are Actually Just Morons?

Gwern has a fascinating essay about terrorism, Terrorism-is-not-about-Terror:

There is a commonly-believed strategic model of terrorism which we could describe as follows: terrorists are people who are ideologically motivated to pursue specific unvarying political goals; to do so, they join together in long-lasting organizations and after the failure of ordinary political tactics, rationally decide to efficiently & competently engage in violent attacks on (usually) civilian targets to get as much attention as possible and publicity for their movement, and inspire fear & terror in the civilian population, which will pressure its leaders to solve the problem one way or another, providing support for the terrorists’ favored laws and/or their negotiations with involved governments, which then often succeed in gaining many of the original goals, and the organization dissolves.

Unfortunately, this model, is in almost every respect, empirically false.

It’s a great essay, so go read the whole thing before we continue. Don’t worry; I’ll wait.

Done?

Good.

Now, since I know half of you didn’t actually read the essay, I’ll summarize: terrorists are really bad at accomplishing their “objectives.” By any measure, they are really bad at it. Simply doing nothing would, in most cases, further their political goals more effectively.

This is in part because terrorists tend not to conquer and hold land, and in part because terrorism tends to piss off its targets, making them less likely to give in to the terrorists’ demands. Consider 9-11: sure, the buildings fell down, but did it result in America conceding to any of Al-Qaeda’s demands?

The article quotes Abrams 2012:

Jones and Libicki (2008) then examined a larger sample, the universe of known terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006. Of the 648 groups identified in the RAND-MIPT Terrorism Incident database, only 4% obtained their strategic demands. … Chenoweth and Stephan (2008, 2011) provide additional empirical evidence that meting out pain hurts non-state actors at the bargaining table. … These statistical findings are reinforced with structured in-case comparisons highlighting that escalating from nonviolent methods of protest such as petitions, sit-ins, and strikes to deadly attacks tends to dissuade government compromise. … Other statistical research (Abrahms, 2012, Fortna, 2011) demonstrates that when terrorist attacks are combined with such discriminate violence, the bargaining outcome is not additive; on the contrary, the pain to the population significantly decreases the odds of government concessions.3

(Aside: Remember, right-wing violence doesn’t work. It’s stupid and you will fail at accomplishing anything.)

Another “mystery” about terrorism is that it actually doesn’t happen very often. It’s not that hard to drive a truck into a crowd or attack people with a machete. Armies are expensive; coughing on grocery store produce is cheap.

If terrorism is 1. ineffective and 2. not even used that often, why do terrorist groups exist at all?

Terrorists might just be dumb, stupid people who try to deal with their problems by blowing them up, but there’s no evidence to this effect–terrorists are not less intelligent than the average person in their societies, anyway. People who are merely dumb and violent tend to get into fights with their neighbors, not take airplanes hostage.

Gwern suggests a different possibility: People join terrorist organizations because they want to be friends with the other terrorists. They’re like social clubs, but instead of bowling, you talk about how going on jihad would be totally awesome.

Things people crave: Meaning. Community. Brotherhood.

Terrorist organizations provide these to their members, most of whom don’t actually blow themselves up.

Gwern quotes Sageman’s Understanding Terrorist Networks:

Friendships cultivated in the jihad, just as those forged in combat in general, seem more intense and are endowed with special significance. Their actions taken on behalf of God and the umma are experienced as sacred. This added element increases the value of friendships within the clique and the jihad in general and diminishes the value of outside friendships.

Enough about terrorists; let’s talk about Americans:

“Jihad” is currently part of the Islamic cultural script–that is, sometimes Muslims see some form of “jihad” as morally acceptable. (They are not unique in committing terrorism, though–Marxist terrorists have created trouble throughout Latin America, for instance, and the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka were one of the world’s deadliest groups.)

Thankfully, though, few major groups in the US see jihad or terrorist violence as acceptable, but… we have our exceptions.

For example, after a Jewish professor, Bret Weinstein, declined to stay home on a “Day of Absence” intended to force whites away from Evergreen State College, WA, violent protests erupted. Bands of students armed with bats and tasers roamed the campus, searching for Weinstein; the poor professor was forced to flee and eventually resign.

(More on Evergreen.)

Antifa are a growing concern in the US, both on-campus and off. As Wikipedia notes:

Antifa groups, along with black bloc activists, were among those who protested the 2016 election of Donald Trump.[10][44] They also participated in the February 2017 Berkeley protests against alt-right[47][48][49][50] speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, where they gained mainstream attention,[27] with media reporting them “throwing Molotov cocktails and smashing windows”[2] and causing $100,000 worth of damage.[51]

Antifa counter-protesters at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 “certainly used clubs and dyed liquids against the white supremacists”.[39]

During a Berkeley protest on August 27, 2017, an estimated one hundred antifa protesters joined a crowd of 2,000–4,000 counter-protesters to attack a reported “handful” of alt-right demonstrators and Trump supporters who showed up for a “Say No to Marxism” rally that had been cancelled by organizers due to security concerns. Some antifa activists beat and kicked unarmed demonstrators[51][63] and threatened to smash the cameras of anyone who filmed them.[64]

Antifa, like terrorist groups, typically attract folks who are single and have recently left home–young people who have just lost the community they were raised in and in search of a new one.

The article recounts an amusing incident when a terrorist organization wanted to disband a cell, but struggled to convince its members to abandon their commitment to sacrificing themselves on behalf of jihad. Finally they hit upon a solution: they organized social get-togethers with women, then incentivised the men to get married, get jobs, and have babies. Soon all of the men were settled and raising children, too busy and invested in their new families to risk sacrificing it all for jihad. The cell dissolved.

Even Boko Haram was founded in response to the difficulties young men in Nigeria face in affording brides:

Our recent study found that marriage markets and inflationary brideprice are a powerful driver of participation in violence and drive recruitment into armed groups. Armed groups often arrange low-cost marriages for their members, help members afford brideprice, or provide extra-legal opportunities to acquire the capital necessary to take a wife. In Nigeria, in the years in which Boko Haram gained influence under founder Mohammed Yusuf, “items required for [a] successful [marriage] celebration kept changing in tune with inflation over the years.”66  A resident of the Railroad neighborhood of Maiduguri, where Yusuf established his mosque, recalled that in just a few years, Yusuf had facilitated more than 500 weddings. The group also provided support for young men to become “okada drivers,” who gained popularity for their affordable motorbike taxi services — who often used their profits to afford marriage. Thus, Boko Haram’s early recruits were often attracted by the group’s facilitation of marriage. Even in the aftermath of Yusuf’s assassination by the Nigerian state and the rise of Abubakar Shekau, the group has continued to exploit obstacles to marriage to attract supporters. The women and girls that are abducted by the group, estimated to number more than 6,000, are frequently married off to members of the group.

Antifa of course aren’t the only people in the US who commit violence; the interesting fact here is their organization. As far as I know, Dylan Roof killed more people than Antifa, but Roof acted alone.

source

I suggest, therefore, that the principle thing driving Antifa (and similar organizations) isn’t a rational pursuit of their stated objectives (did driving Milo out of Berkley actually protect any illegal immigrants from deportation?) but the same social factors that drive Muslims to join terrorist groups: camaraderie, brotherhood, and the feeling like they are leading meaningful, moral lives by sacrificing themselves for their chosen cause.

Right-wingers do this, too (the military is an obvious source of “meaning” and “brotherhood” in many people’s lives).

And the pool of unmarried people to recruit into extremist organizations is only growing in America.

We have always been at war with Eurasia--I mean, supported gay marriage
CONFORM

But we don’t have to look to organizations that commit violence to find this pattern. Why change one’s avatar to a rainbow pattern to celebrate gay marriage or overlay a French flag after the Charlie Hebdo attack?

Why spend hours “fighting racism” by “deconstructing whiteness” online when you could do far more to help black people by handing out sandwiches at your local homeless shelter? (The homeless would also appreciate a hot lasagna.) What percentage of people who protest Islamophobia have actually bothered to befriend some Muslims and express support toward them?

The obvious answer is that these activities enhance the actor’s social standing among their friends and online compatriots. Congratulations received for turning your profile picture different colors: objective achieved. Actions that would actually help the targeted group require more effort and return less adulation, since they have to be done in real life.

Liberal groups seem to be better at social organizing–thus I’ve had an easier time coming up with liberal examples of this phenomenon. Conservative political organizations, at least in the US, seem to be smaller and offer less in the way of social benefits (this may be in part because conservatives are more likely to be married, employed, and have children, and because conservatives are more likely to channel such energies into their churches,) but they also do their share of social signaling that doesn’t achieve its claimed goal. “White pride” organizations, for example, generally do little to improve whites’ public image.

But is this an aberration? Or are things operating as designed? What’s the point of friendship and social standing in the first place?

Interestingly, in Jane Goodall‘s account of chimps in the Gombe, we see parallels to the origins of human social structures and friendships. Only male chimps consistently have what we would call “friendships;” females instead tend to live in groups with their children. Male friends benefit from each other’s assistance in hunting and controlling access to other food, like the coveted bananas. A single strong male may dominate a troop of chimps, but a coalition can bring him to a bloody end. Persistent dominance of a chimp troop (and thus dominance of food) is thus easier for males who have a strong coalition on their side–that is, friends.

Man is a political animal:

From these things therefore it is clear that the city-state is a natural growth, and that man is by nature a political animal, and a man that is by nature and not merely by fortune citiless is either low in the scale of humanity or above it … inasmuch as he is solitary, like an isolated piece at draughts.

And why man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal is clear. For nature, as we declare, does nothing without purpose; and man alone of the animals possesses speech. … speech is designed to indicate the advantageous and the harmful, and therefore also the right and the wrong; for it is the special property of man in distinction from the other animals that he alone has perception of good and bad and right and wrong and the other moral qualities, and it is partnership in these things that makes a household and a city-state.

Most people desire to be members in good standing in their communities:

Thus also the city-state is prior in nature to the household and to each of us individually. [20] For the whole must necessarily be prior to the part; since when the whole body is destroyed, foot or hand will not exist except in an equivocal sense… the state is also prior by nature to the individual; for if each individual when separate is not self-sufficient, he must be related to the whole state as other parts are to their whole, while a man who is incapable of entering into partnership, or who is so self-sufficing that he has no need to do so, is no part of a state, so that he must be either a lower animal or a god.

Therefore the impulse to form a partnership of this kind is present in all men by nature… –Aristotle, Politics, Book 1

A couple of other relevant quotes:

From Eysenck’s work on political extremism

Source

The spread of the internet has changed both who we’re talking to (the people in our communities) and how we engage with them, resulting in, I hypothesize, a memetic environment that increasingly favors horizontally (rather than vertically) transmitted memes. (If you are not familiar with this theory, I wrote about it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Vertically spread memes tend to come from your parents and are survival-oriented; horizontal memes come from your friends and are social. A change in the memetic environment, therefore, has the potential to change the landscape of social, moral, and political ideas people frequently encounter–and has allowed us to engage in nearly costless, endless social signaling.

The result of that, it appears, is political polarization:

Source
Source

According to Pew:

A decade ago, the public was less ideologically consistent than it is today. In 2004, only about one-in-ten Americans were uniformly liberal or conservative across most values. Today, the share who are ideologically consistent has doubled: 21% express either consistently liberal or conservative opinions across a range of issues – the size and scope of government, the environment, foreign policy and many others.

The new survey finds that as ideological consistency has become more common, it has become increasingly aligned with partisanship. Looking at 10 political values questions tracked since 1994, more Democrats now give uniformly liberal responses, and more Republicans give uniformly conservative responses than at any point in the last 20 years.

This, of course, makes it harder for people to find common ground for compromises.

So if we want a saner, less histrionic political culture, the first step may be encouraging people to settle down, get married, and have children, then work on building communities that let people feel a sense of meaning in their real lives.

Still, I think letting your friends convince you that blowing yourself is a good idea is pretty dumb.

Homeschooling Corner: Math ideas and manipulatives for younger grades

Archimedes

When you love a subject and your kids love it, too, it’s easy to teach. When you’re really not sure how to approach the subject or your kids hate it, it gets a lot trickier. (See: spelling.)

So I thought I’d make a list of some of our favorite math related materials–but please remember, all you really need for teaching math is a paper and pencil. (Or less–Archimedes did math with a stick and some sand!)

Countables

Little ones who are just learning to count and add benefit from having something concrete they can hold, touch, and move around when thinking about concepts like “two more” or “two less.”

You can count almost anything–pebbles, shells, acorns, pennies, Monopoly money, fingers–but having a box of dedicated, fun, colorful countables on hand is useful. My favorites:

Abacus. The abacus has the lovely advantage that all of its counters are on rods and so don’t get scattered around the room, stepped on and lost. I made my own abacus (inspired by commenter Dave‘s abacus) out of a shoe box, plastic beads, pipecleaners, and tape. You can count, add, subtract, multiply, divide, etc., on an abacus, but for your purposes you’ll just need to learn addition and subtraction.

Different abaci have different numbers and arrangements of beads. If your kids are still learning to count/mastering addition and subtraction up to ten (standard kindergarten goals,) I’d use an abacus with 9 beads per string. (Just like writing numbers, after you get to nine on the “ones” string, you raise up one bead on the “10” string.)

We adults tend to take place value for granted (“it’s obvious that we use the decimal system!”) but switching from column to column can be confusing for young kids. There’s no intuitive reason why 11 doesn’t = 2. The abacus helps increase awareness of place value (typically taught in first grade) because you simply run out of beads after 9 and have to switch to the next row.

Once kids have the basic idea, you can switch to a more advanced abacus like the Soroban. The top bead on the Soroban is worth 5, so students count 1-2-3-4, then click the 5 bead and clear the unit beads, then add unit beads to the five to count 6-7-8-9, then click one bead in the tens column and clear all of the beads in the unit and five column. My apologies if it sounds complicated; it really isn’t, it’s just a little tricky to put into words.

You can get abacus workbooks; I have not used any so I cannot review them but they look fun. Rather, I just use the abacus as a complement to the other math problems we are already doing. (I have read Mr. Green’s How to Use a Chinese Abacus, which was the only book my library had on the subject. It is a very good introduction aimed at adults.)

Counting Penguins

There is nothing magical about penguins; I just happen to like them. The set has 100 penguins in ten sets (distinguished by color) plus ten “ice bars” that hold ten penguins each. (Besides addition and subtraction,) I find these useful for introducing and visualizing multiplication , eg, 3 rows of 5 penguins = 3×5.

Counting Cubes

For bigger numbers, we have a bag of 1,000 interlocking cubes. Kids will want to just plain build with them, like Legos, which is fine–a fun treat after hard work. You can easily use these to represent 1s, 10s, and 100s (it takes a while to assemble a full 1,000 cube,) and to represent operations like 3x3x3, helping bridge both place value and multiplication. Legos work for this, too, though you’ll probably want to sort out ones that are all the same size and shape.

 

Pattern Blocks

(I think I’ve been incorrectly calling these tangrams, though the principles are similar.)

These pattern blocks are a family heirloom, sent to me by my grandmother upon the birth of my first child. I played with them when I was a child; my siblings played with them; now my children play with them. Someday I will pass them on to my grandchildren… but you can also get them on Amazon. (We use these with a book of pattern block activities that hails from the 80s; I am sure there are many good books of a similar nature published within the past couple of decades.

Apparently there are workbooks with pattern block activities aimed all the way up to 8th grade, but I have not read them and cannot comment on them.

Cuisenaire rods

We didn’t use cuisenaire rods when I was young, but I think I would have liked them. Similar to the tangrams pattern blocks, there are lots of interesting workbooks, games, and other activities you can do with these.

Building toys

Open-ended building toys (Legos, Tinker Toys, blocks, magnetic tiles) come in almost endless forms and can be used to build all sorts of geometric shapes.

Fractions

Fraction blocks and fraction circles are both handy.

Games

Almost any kids’ board game can be transformed into a math game by adding cards with math problems to be solved before completing a turn or using math dice. Your local games shop can help you find dice with numbers higher than six, or you can just tape paper onto an existing cube to make a custom die of your liking (like an + and – die). There are also tons of fun logic games; I pull these out whenever kids start getting restless.

Books

There are so many great math books, from Sir Cumference to Penrose, that I can’t hope to list them all. I encourage you to check out your library’s selection. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat (plus sequels) makes a very pleasant enrichment portion of our daily maths. Each day we read one of Penrose’s stories (on subjects like Fibonacci numbers, primes, operations, etc) and do a short, related math activity.

Penrose is probably most appropriate for kids in mid to late elementary, not little ones just learning to count and add. (Note: the first story in the book was about binary, which flew over my kids’ heads.) Sir Cumference is more appropriate for younger learners.

Mathematicians are People, Too: biographies of great mathematicians. I’m not keen on the title, but my kids liked the chapter on Archimedes.

Balance Benders These workbooks come in different levels, from beginner to expert. Each puzzle presents students with a drawing of a balance with shapes on either side, and asks them to figure out, from a choice of answers, which statements about the shapes are true, eg “One circle equals two squares” after viewing a balance with two circles and four squares. (We also do logic puzzles and picture sudoku.)

 

Textbooks

I am not recommending any textbooks because I don’t have any idea which is the best. We don’t use a pre-packaged curriculum, because they tend to be expensive–instead I’ve just picked up a whole bunch of different math texts at the second hand shop and been gifted some lovely hand-me-downs from relatives. At this point I might have too many math books… I use 3 or 4 interchangably, depending on exactly which concepts we’re covering and whether I think the kids need more practice or not. I recently lucked into a volume of the “What your X Grader Needs to Know” series, and it gives a very nice overview of grade-level math expectations (among other things.)

Incidentally, the local public school math expectations appear to be:

Kindergarten: Reliably add and subtract the numbers 0-10; add small numbers to numbers between 10 and 20; be able to write all of the numbers from 0-20; count to 100.

1st grade: Place value; add and subtract one and two digit numbers with no regrouping.

2nd grade: Add and subtract multiple two an three-digit numbers.

I think they only explain regrouping in third grade.

In my experience, kids can do a lot more than that. These aren’t the standards I use in my classroom. But if you’re struggling to get your kindergartener to concentrate on their math worksheets, just remember: professional teachers don’t actually expect all that much at these ages. (And my kids don’t like doing a bunch of worksheet problems, either.)

Don’t sweat it. Do a few problems every day, if you can. Try teaching the same material from different angles, if necessary. Don’t be afraid to pull out pencil and paper and just make up a few problems and work through them together. Make patterns. Play games. Relax and have fun, because math at these ages really is beautiful.

Anthropology Friday: Japan part 2

Incense burns at the graves of the Forty-Seven Ronin at Sengaku-ji, Japan

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’ll be continuing with Sidney L. Gulick’s Evolution of the Japanese, Social and Psychic, published in 1903. Gulick was a Puritan missionary who moved to Japan shortly after the “opening of Japan” and Meiji Restoration. He wrote at a time when very Japanese society was changing at break-neck speed and very few accounts of Japan existed at all in the West.

Gulick’s account may not be accurate in every respect–perhaps no native can ever be accurate in every respect–but his affection for his adopted society and desire to explain it to his fellow Westerners is clear.

Heroes:

“If a clue to the character of a nation is gained by a study of the nature of the gods it worships, no less valuable an insight is gained by a study of its heroes. … Japan is a nation of hero-worshipers. This is no exaggeration. Not only is the primitive religion, Shintoism, systematic hero-worship, but every hero known to history is deified, and has a shrine or temple. These heroes, too, are all men of conspicuous valor or strength, famed for mighty deeds of daring. They are men of passion. The most popular story in Japanese literature is that of “The Forty-seven Ronin,” who avenged the death of their liege-lord after years of waiting and plotting. This revenge administered, they committed harakiri in accordance with the etiquette of the ethical code of feudal Japan. Their tombs are to this day among the most frequented shrines in the capital of the land, and one of the most popular dramas presented in the theaters is based on this same heroic tragedy.

Two of the Forty-Seven Rōnin: Horibe Yahei and his adopted son, Horibe Yasubei, by Utagawa Kunisada c1850

“The prominence of the emotional element may be seen in the popular description of national heroes. The picture of an ideal Japanese hero is to our eyes a caricature. His face is distorted by a fierce frenzy of passion, his eyeballs glaring, his hair flying, and his hands hold with a mighty grip the two-handed sword wherewith he is hewing to pieces an enemy. I am often amazed at the difference between the pictures of Japanese heroes and the living Japanese I see. This difference is manifestly due to the idealizing process; for they love to see their heroes in their passionate moods and tenses.

“The craving for heroes, even on the part of those who are familiar with Western thought and customs, is a feature of great interest. Well do I remember the enthusiasm with which educated, Christian young men awaited the coming to Japan of an eminent American scholar, from whose lectures impossible things were expected. So long as he was in America and only his books were known, he was a hero. But when he appeared in person, carrying himself like any courteous gentleman, he lost his exalted position.

What was Oda Nobunaga’s power level?

“Townsend Harris showed his insight into Oriental thought never more clearly than by maintaining his dignity according to Japanese standards and methods. On his first entry into Tokyo he states, in his journal, that although he would have preferred to ride on horseback, in order that he might see the city and the people, yet as the highest dignitaries never did so, but always rode in entirely closed “norimono” (a species of sedan chair carried by twenty or thirty bearers), he too would do the same; to have ridden into the limits of the city on horseback would have been construed by the Japanese as an admission that he held a far lower official rank than that of a plenipotentiary of a great nation. …

“there is nevertheless a class whose ideal heroes are not military, but moral. Their power arises not through self-assertion, but rather through humility; their influence is due entirely to learning coupled with insight into the great moral issues of life.”

Children’s Day kites

Children

“An aspect of Japanese life widely remarked and praised by foreign writers is the love for children. Children’s holidays, as the third day of the third moon and the fifth day of the fifth moon, are general celebrations for boys and girls respectively, and are observed with much gayety all over the land. At these times the universal aim is to please the children; the girls have dolls and the exhibition of ancestral dolls; while the boys have toy paraphernalia of all the ancient and modern forms of warfare, and enormous wind-inflated paper fish, symbols of prosperity and success, fly from tall bamboos in the front yard. Contrary to the prevailing opinion among foreigners, these festivals have nothing whatever to do with birthday celebrations. In addition to special festivals, the children figure conspicuously in all holidays and merry-makings. To the famous flower-festival celebrations, families go in groups and make an all-day picnic of the joyous occasion.

“The Japanese fondness for children is seen not only at festival times. Parents seem always ready to provide their children with toys. As a consequence toy stores flourish. There is hardly a street without its store.”

Next time Japan invades…

EvX: Even though the Japanese have one of the world’s lowest birth rates, which would seem to make life difficult for toy stores, I still have the impression that the nation produces a great many high-quality, nice toys. Everything from Nintendo, for example. But back to Gulick, on the treatment of children more generally:

“A still further reason for the impression that the Japanese are especially fond of their children is the slight amount of punishment and reprimand which they administer. The children seem to have nearly everything their own way. Playing on the streets, they are always in evidence and are given the right of way. …

“A fair statement of the case, therefore, is somewhat as follows: The lower and laboring classes of Japan seem to have more visible affection for their children than the same classes in the Occident. Among the middle and upper classes, however, the balance is in favor of the West. In the East, while, without doubt, there always has been and is now a pure and natural affection, it is also true that this natural affection has been more mixed with utilitarian considerations than in the West. Christian Japanese, however, differ little from Christian Americans in this respect. The differences between the East and the West are largely due to the differing industrial and family conditions induced by the social order.”

EvX: Remember that Gulick is a missionary, and so apt to think that being Christian or not is a big deal. Interestingly, he sees “being Christian” as more than just a minimalist “believes Christ is God made man and died for your sins,” but also as a suite of cultural norms like “monogamy” and “universalism.” Of course, who chooses to become Christian is not random, but it’d be quite interesting to know whether belief in Christianity in a place like Japan actually does carry with it increased adoption of other social norms. But back to Gulick:

“The correctness of this general statement will perhaps be better appreciated if we consider in detail some of the facts of Japanese family life. Let us notice first the very loose ties, as they seem to us, holding the Japanese family together. It is one of the constant wonders to us Westerners how families can break up into fragments, as they constantly do. One third of the marriages end in divorce; and in case of divorce, the children all stay with the father’s family. It would seem as if the love of the mother for her children could not be very strong where divorce under such a condition is so common. Or, perhaps, it would be truer to say that divorce would be far more frequent than it is but for the mother’s love for her children. For I am assured that many a mother endures most distressing conditions rather than leave her children.

“Furthermore, the way in which parents allow their children to leave the home and then fail to write or communicate with them, for months or even years at a time, is incomprehensible if the parental love were really strong. And still further, the way in which concubines are brought into the home, causing confusion and discord, is a very striking evidence of the lack of a deep love on the part of the father for the mother of his children and even for his own legitimate children. One would expect a father who really loved his children to desire and plan for their legitimacy; but the children by his concubines are not “ipso facto” recognized as legal.

“One more evidence in this direction is the frequency of adoption and of separation. Adoption in Japan is largely, though by no means exclusively, the adoption of an adult; the cases where achild is adopted by a childless couple from love of children are rare, as compared with similar cases in the United States, so far, at least, as my observation goes.”

countries that adopt babies vs countries that send babies out for adoption–only European cultures adopt other countries’ babies

EvX: Adoption of non-kin is a very European/American phenomenon, almost unknown everywhere else in the world. Ever wonder why Americans adopted so many Korean babies? It’s because other Koreans didn’t want them.

Back to Gulick:

“Infanticide throws a rather lurid light on Japanese affection. First, in regard to the facts: Mr. Ishii’s attention was called to the need of an orphan asylum by hearing how a child, both of whose parents had died of cholera, was on the point of being buried alive with its dead mother by heartless neighbors when it was rescued by a fisherman. …

“In speaking of infanticide in Japan, let us not forget that every race and nation has been guilty of the same crime, and has continued to be guilty of it until delivered by Christianity.

“Widespread infanticide proves a wide lack of natural affection. Poverty is, of course, the common plea. Yet infanticide has been practiced not so much by the desperately poor as by small land-holders. The amount of farming land possessed by each family was strictly limited and could feed only a given number of mouths. Should the family exceed that number, all would be involved in poverty, for the members beyond that limit did not have the liberty to travel in search of new occupation. Infanticide, therefore, bore direct relation to the rigid economic nature of the old social order.”

Husbands and wives:

“Shortly after my first arrival in Japan, I was walking home from church one day with an English-speaking Japanese, who had had a good deal to do with foreigners. Suddenly, without any introduction, he remarked that he did not comprehend how the men of the West could endure such tyranny as was exercised over them by their wives. I, of course, asked what he meant. He then said that he had seen me buttoning my wife’s shoes.

“I should explain that on calling on the Japanese, in their homes, it is necessary that we leave our shoes at the door, as the Japanese invariably do; this is, of course, awkward for foreigners who wear shoes; especially so is the necessity of putting them on again. The difficulty is materially increased by the invariably high step at the front door. It is hard enough for a man to kneel down on the step and reach for his shoes and then put them on; much more so is it for a woman. And after the shoes are on, there is no suitable place on which to rest the foot for buttoning and tying. I used, therefore, very gladly to help my wife with hers.

“Yet, so contrary to Japanese precedent was this act of mine that this well-educated gentleman and Christian, who had had much intercourse with foreigners, could not see in it anything except the imperious command of the wife and the slavish obedience of the husband. His conception of the relation between the Occidental husband and wife is best described as tyranny on the part of the wife.”

EvX: I include this excerpt because, as an amusing misunderstanding, it warns against overconfidence in interpreting the actions of folks from another culture that may have perfectly mundane explanations, and because it casts light on the speaker’s own assumptions.

Adoption:

“Another evangelist, with whom I had much to do, was the adopted son of a scheming old man; it seems that in the earlier part of the present era the eldest son of a family was exempt from military draft. It often happened, therefore, that families who had no sons could obtain large sums of money from those who had younger sons whom they wished to have adopted for the purpose of escaping the draft. This evangelist, while still a boy, was adopted into such a family, and a certain sum was fixed upon to be paid at some time in the future. But the adopted son proved so pleasing to the adopting father that he did not ask for the money; by some piece of legerdemain, however, he succeeded in adopting a second son, who paid him the desired money. After some years the first adopted son became a Christian, and then an evangelist, both steps being taken against the wishes of the adopting father. The father finally said that he would forego all relations to the son, and give him back his original name, provided the son would pay the original sum that had been agreed on, plus the interest, which altogether would, at that time, amount to several hundred yen. This was, of course, impossible.

“The negotiations dragged on for three or four years. Meanwhile, the young man fell in love with a young girl, whom he finally married; as he was still the son of his adopting father, he could not have his wife registered as his wife, for the old man had another girl in view for him and would not consent to this arrangement. And so the matter dragged for several months more. Unless the matter could be arranged, any children born to them must be registered as illegitimate. At this point I was consulted and, for the first time, learned the details of the case. Further consultations resulted in an agreement as to the sum to be paid; the adopted son was released, and re-registered under his newly acquired name and for the first time his marriage became legal. The confusion and suffering brought into the family by this practice of adoption and of separation are almost endless. …

“In the first place, the affectionate relation existing between husbands and wives and between parents and children, in Western lands, is a product of relatively recent times. In his exhaustive work on “The History of Human Marriage,” Westermarck makes this very plain. Wherever the woman is counted a slave, is bought and sold, is considered as merely a means of bearing children to the family, or in any essential way is looked down upon, there high forms of affection are by the nature of the case impossible, though some affection doubtless exists; it necessarily attains only a rudimentary development. …

“We must remember, in the second place, what careful students of human evolution have pointed out, that those tribes and races in which the family was most completely consolidated, that is to say, those in which the power of the father was absolute, were the ones to gain the victory over their competitors. The reason for this is too obvious to require even a statement. Every conquering race has accordingly developed the “patria potestas” to a greater or less degree. Now one general peculiarity of the Orient is that that stage of development has remained to this day; it has not experienced those modifications and restrictions which have arisen in the West. The national government dealt with families and clans, not with individuals, as the final social unit. In the West, however, the individual has become the civil unit; the “patria potestas” has thus been all but lost.

Did tobacco become popular because it kills parasites?

While reading about the conditions in a Burmese prison around the turn of the previous century (The History and Romance of Crime: Oriental Prisons, by Arthur Griffiths)(not good) it occurred to me that there might have been some beneficial effect of the large amounts of tobacco smoke inside the prison. Sure, in the long run, tobacco is highly likely to give you cancer, but in the short run, is it noxious to fleas and other disease-bearing pests?

Meanwhile in Melanesia, (Pygmies and Papuans,) a group of ornithologists struggled up a river to reach an almost completely isolated tribe of Melanesians that barely practiced horticulture; even further up the mountain they met a band of pygmies (negritoes) whose existence had only been rumored of; the pygmies cultivated tobacco, which they traded with their otherwise not terribly interested in trading for worldy goods neighbors.

The homeless smoke at rates 3x higher than the rest of the population, though this might have something to do with the high correlation between schizophrenia and smoking–80% of schizophrenics smoke, compared to 20% of the general population. Obviously this correlation is best explained by tobacco’s well-noted psychological effects (including addiction,) but why is tobacco so ubiquitous in prisons that cigarettes are used as currency? Could they have, in unsanitary conditions, some healthful purpose?

From NPR: Pot For Parasites? Pygmy Men Smoke out Worms:

On average, the more THC byproduct that Hagen’s team found in an Aka man’s urine, the fewer worm eggs were present in his gut.

“The heaviest smokers, with everything else being equal, had about half the number of parasitic eggs in their stool, compared to everyone else,” Hagen says. …

THC — and nicotine — are known to kill intestinal worms in a Petri dish. And many worms make their way to the gut via the lungs. “The worms’ larval stage is in the lung,” Hagan says. “When you smoke you just blast them with THC or nicotine directly.”

Smithsonian reports that Birds Harness the Deadly Power of Nicotine to Poison Parasites:

Smoking kills. But if you’re a bird and if you want to kill parasites, that can be a good thing. City birds have taken to stuffing their nests with cigarette butts to poison potential parasites. Nature reports:

“In a study published today in Biology Letters, the researchers examined the nests of two bird species common on the North American continent. They measured the amount of cellulose acetate (a component of cigarette butts) in the nests, and found that the more there was, the fewer parasitic mites the nest contained.”

Out in the State of Nature, parasites are extremely common and difficult to get rid of (eg, hookworm elimination campaigns in the early 1900s found that 40% of school-aged children were infected); farmers can apparently use tobacco as a natural de-wormer (but be careful, as tobacco can be poisonous.)

In the pre-modern environment, when many people had neither shoes, toilets, nor purified water, parasites were very hard to avoid.
Befoundalive recommends eating the tobacco from a cigarette if you have intestinal parasites and no access to modern medicine.

Here’s a study comparing parasite rates in tobacco workers vs. prisoners in Ethiopia:

Overall, 8 intestinal parasite species have been recovered singly or in combinations from 146 (61.8 %) samples. The prevalence in prison population (88/121 = 72.7%) was significantly higher than that in tobacco farm (58/115 = 50.4%).

In vitro anthelmintic effect of Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) extract on parasitic nematode, Marshallagia marshalli reports:

Because of developing resistance to the existing anthelmintic drugs, there is a need for new anthelmintic agents. Tobacco plant has alkaloid materials that have antiparasitic effect. We investigated the in vitro anthelminthic effect of aqueous and alcoholic extract of Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) against M. marshalli. … Overall, extracts of Tobacco possess considerable anthelminthic activity and more potent effects were observed with the highest concentrations. Therefore, the in vivo study on Tobocco in animal models is recommended.

(Helminths are parasites; anthelmintic=anti-parasites.)

So it looks like, at least in the pre-sewers and toilets and clean water environment when people struggled to stay parasite free, tobacco (and certain other drugs) may have offered people an edge over the pests. (I’ve noticed many bitter or noxious plants seem to have been useful for occasionally flushing out parasites, but you certainly don’t want to be in a state of “flush” all the time.)

It looks like it was only when regular sanitation got good enough that we didn’t have to worry about parasites anymore that people started getting really concerned with tobacco’s long-term negative effects on humans.

Thoughts on the Loss of Social Capital

Spotted Toad posed a question on the loss of Social Capital, my response to which I have been encouraged to encapsulate in a post:

Do you tend to think of reduced social capital as more the result of overgrown education, government, etc “crowding out” other institutions or those institutions withering on the vine of themselves?

Using Toad’s definition of Social Capital as, “the networks of relationships that guide individuals’ behavior and identity (particularly outside of formal economic relationships),” here goes:

First, I’d like to note that Toad’s basic premise is correct. For example, in Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades, researchers found that:

In 1985, the General Social Survey (GSS) collected the first nationally representative data on the confidants with whom Americans discuss important matters. In the 2004 GSS the authors replicated those questions to assess social change in core network structures. Discussion networks are smaller in 2004 than in 1985. The number of people saying there is no one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled. … Both kin and non-kin confidants were lost in the past two decades, but the greater decrease of non-kin ties leads to more confidant networks centered on spouses and parents, with fewer contacts through voluntary associations and neighborhoods.

Things have only gotten worse since 2004.

(Of course, Robert Putnam noticed this in Bowling Alone, which I’ll get to in a minute.)

We could look at a number of other metrics of loneliness/connection: number of kids people have; number of siblings; percent of people who are married; age of first married. Spoiler alert: all of the data is bad. We’re so atomized, we make actual “atoms” look positively social.

The causes of our decrease in social capital are obviously multi-factoral, but here are some important elements I see:

Clan House and Totem pole from Saxman, Alasaka (Haida People, I believe)

1. Few people live where they grew up, much less where their grandparents grew up. People used to live in communities (or houses!) with multiple generations of the same family–cousins, 2nd cousins, etc.

For example, the Northwest Coast Cultures, ie the Tlingit, Haida, Eyak, and Tsimshian peoples, built clan houses that held 20-50 people, most extended family members. Clan houses are found around the world, from Pakistan to China and even Melanesia.

A friend of mine grew up in an actual multi-generational household, including grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, (and liked it there.)

Another friend who moved back in with her parents after graduation once received a surprise phone call from an old friend she hadn’t seen since elementary school. That friend had tracked down her grandparents’ phone number from 25 years ago, and as her grandparents had only moved a block away in that time, it only took a few minutes for the house’s new residents to reconnect the old friends.

But today, most of us expect to move across the country for school and jobs. My grandparents live a thousand miles from where they grew up, so do my parents, and so do I. Calling my grandparents’ old house wouldn’t get you anywhere. Many of us go through decades where we move every year.

In a community where you grew up, and your parents grew up, and your friends grew up, and their parents grew up, you get the classic case of “everyone knows everyone.” Sure, that can be annoying–but it’s also useful when you’re looking for a skilled plumber and you can just hire the guy who did a great job on your grandma’s plumbing last year.

Communities have simultaneously become bigger and more transient. What’s the point of learning your neighbor’s name if they’re just going to move out in a few years?

2. On top of that, we have technology that makes staying inside more pleasant than going outside. We used to go on the porch to stay cool in the summer, giving us a chance to meet our neighbors; now we stay in with the AC on and watch TV/Twitter.

I like being outside and am often vaguely surprised when, on a particularly pleasant evening, suddenly neighbors I’ve never seen before are in their yards.

Even when we do go out, we’re often still immersed in our phones, ignoring the other humans around us.

3. Community Breakup

Of course Putnam wrote the book on declining social capital (linked at the top of the post.) Among the many causes he investigated, diversity has what appears to be the biggest negative effect:

Prof. PUTNAM: Well, I’ve been interested in the questions of our connections with one another for a long time. I sometimes use the jargon of social capital to refer to the connections – our ties with our friends and neighbors and community and institutions and so on.

And about seven or eight years ago, at the request of communities all across America – big communities and small communities – we did a very large national survey, trying to measure the level of civic engagement and the number of friends people have and how they got along with their local government and so on, in 40 very different communities, places you’ve heard of like Los Angeles or Boston or Atlanta or Detroit or Chicago, and places you haven’t heard, little rural counties in the South Dakota or up in the Appalachias in West Virginia, or villages in New Hampshire – places all over. …

But what we discovered in this research, somewhat to our surprise, was that in the short run the more ethnically diverse the neighborhood you live in, the more you – every – all of us tend to hunker down, to pull in. The more diverse – and when I say all of us, I mean all of us. I mean blacks and whites and Asians and Latinos, all of us. The more diverse the group around us, ethnically, in our neighborhood, the less we trust anybody, including people who look like us. Whites trust whites less. Blacks trust blacks less, in more diverse settings.

Why?

3 main factors: first, people from other cultures are literally not from yours; you don’t have the same cultural background and normative expectations as they do. Often people don’t even speak the same language. For a multi-cultural society to work entails creating a new, meta-culture that includes the norms and background knowledge of everyone involved–and that takes time.

Second, the presence of non-cultural members in your community means your community has been physically split apart. Consider an Irish Catholic neighborhood in which all of the locals can walk to the same church, restaurants, shops, and school, where they frequently meet and socialize. Now consider what happens when a new group moves in–let’s say Lutherans. The physical presence of the Lutherans means some of the Irish no longer live near the church or the shops. The old pub gets bought out and replaced with restaurant catering to Lutheran palates. Now you have to go two miles over to get proper mashed potatoes, and maybe you just don’t feel like going that far. The neighborhood has lots its “character.” It withers.

Third, crime. The end of Jim Crow and Great Migration of millions of African Americans to northern cities was marked by a sharp uptick in crime. There were riots–in 1967, the Detroit riot killed 43 people and burned 2,000 buildings. In 1910, Detroit was 98.7% white and one of the world’s richest cities; today it is <10% white, 82.7% black, and a festering wound that anyone who can escape, has.

Where integration happened, it typically didn’t happen in upper-class neighborhoods, but in working class burgs, notably Irish, Italian, and Jewish ones. For example, Harlem, NY, was mostly Jewish and Italian in 1900. In 1910, it was 10% black. By 1930, it was 70%, due to the efforts of enterprising black realtors who saw an opportunity to move blacks into Harlem. Today it is mostly black and Puerto Rican; the Jews and the Italians fled the violence.

When busing began in Boston, Southie’s Irish nearly rioted, hurling rocks at the buses and spit at the students.

Crime soared; inner-city schools became warzones; white students were withdrawn and sent to private schools across town. As neighborhoods cratered families moved, losing the investments they’d poured into their houses. Now moms, dads, and kids all commuted far from their homes every day. (Moms have to pitch in and work, too, to afford the increased housing, school, and transportation costs–so now kids don’t even get to see them after school.) If you were lucky enough to make a friend, you probably weren’t lucky enough to live near enough to hang out.

Few of us today have ever lived in anything resembling a healthy, organic community. Those of us in the suburbs live in HOA-ruled fiefdoms where neighbors report each other for parking in the street or letting their dogs defecate in the back yard, while those in the city are taught to always be alert and never make eye-contact with anyone they pass.

So there are no more organic communities; people commute to work because jobs and “good schools” aren’t in the same place; people stay inside and watch TV instead of go outside and meet their neighbors, etc.

4. Then there’s the big change in employment, from self-employed farmers to employees of larger conglomerates. People used to have individual skills, products, etc. that they could individually trade with each other. Bob might know how to raise a barn; Sally how to milk a goat. Together, Bob and Sally are a pretty good team. Even 50 years ago, even though barns and goats were less important, there were more small businesses, fewer Walmarts.

Today you trade your skills less directly with other humans and more often with corporations. Bob is “skilled with IT systems delivery” and Sally is an “HR representative.” Together they accomplish… not much.

So social capital itself is less important than “selling yourself to the corporation” capital. Maybe we’ll call that corporate capital.

5. There are probably lots of other factors, too, like increasing atheism (the local church is a good place to meet your neighbors if you all attend and a convenient place for community events.) Even an atheist can agree that churches are a great forum for running community events; they have spaces where dinners and weddings can be held; they host ritual gatherings and reinforce moral and social norms. They do charity and host social gatherings.

Further, religious institutions promote a sense of belonging and duty to the group (and maybe there is some inherent utility to believing in a deity.)

Anthropology Friday: Japan pt 1

Sidney Lewis Guilick, 1919

Welcome to Anthropology Friday. Today we’ll be reading Sidney L. Gulick’s Evolution of the Japanese, Social and Psychic, published in 1903.

Gulick, son and grandson of missionaries, born in the Marshall Islands, received degrees from Dartmouth, Oberlin, and Yale, and was ordained as a Congregational (ie Puritan) minister. His own missionary work took him to Japan in 1888, where he lived for 25 years, observing first-hand many of the remarkable changes overtaking that nation.

In writing this book, Gulick doubtless had several objectives, among them describing and demystifying Japan–a nation about which very little reliable information existed and was undergoing an incredible transformation–and refuting the notion of an essential racial character of “Asians,” (an evolutionist notion that respectable American Christians have forcefully opposed.)

After returning to the US, Gulick campaigned for world peace and tried hard to improve American/Japanese relations. Unfortunately he died in 1945–he must have been very sad about the state of the world as he passed away. It’s a pity he didn’t live long enough to see America and Japan becomes friends.

Japan, in case you are unfamiliar with its history, was largely closed to the rest of the world from about 1635 through 1853. During this time it developed in relative isolation, cut off from trade and technological developments going on in the rest of the world. In 1853, the Japanese appeared “backward” to the rest of the world because of their relatively low level of technological development, but this was largely an illusion–once exposed to the outside world, Japan industrialized at an incredible rate. (Probably the fastest industrialization undertaken by a native population without an outside force telling them what to do.)

But let’s let Gulick tell the story (quotes are in “” instead of blockquotes, as usual):

“Seldom, perhaps never, has the civilized world so suddenly and completely reversed an estimate of a nation as it has that with reference to Japan. Before the recent war, to the majority even of fairly educated men, Japan was little more than a name for a few small islands somewhere near China, whose people were peculiar and interesting. To-day there is probably not a man, or woman, or child attending school in any part of the civilized world, who does not know the main facts about the recent war: how the small country and the men of small stature, sarcastically described by their foes as “Wojen,” pygmy, attacked the army and navy of a country ten times their size.

“Such a universal change of opinion regarding a nation, especially regarding one so remote from the centers of Western civilization as Japan, could not have taken place in any previous generation. The telegraph, the daily paper, the intelligent reporters and writers of books and magazine articles, the rapid steam travel and the many travelers—all these have made possible this sudden acquisition of knowledge and startling reversal of opinion. …

“In important ways, therefore, Japan seems to be contradicting our theories of national growth. We have thought that no “heathen” nation could possibly gain, much less wield, unaided by Westerners, the forces of civilized Christendom. We have likewise held that national growth is a slow process, a gradual evolution, extending over scores and centuries of years. In both respects our theories seem to be at fault. This “little nation of little people,” which we have been so ready to condemn as “heathen” and “uncivilized,” and thus to despise, or to ignore, has in a single generation leaped into the forefront of the world’s attention.”

History

“How many of the stories of the Kojiki (written in 712 A.D.) and Nihongi (720 A.D.) are to be accepted is still a matter of dispute among scholars. Certain it is, however, that Japanese early history is veiled in a mythology which seems to center about three prominent points: Kyushu, in the south; Yamato, in the east central, and Izumo in the west central region. This mythological history narrates the circumstances of the victory of the southern descendants of the gods over the two central regions. And it has been conjectured that these three centers represent three waves of migration that brought the ancestors of the present inhabitants of Japan to these shores. The supposition is that they came quite independently and began their conflicts only after long periods of residence and multiplication.

“Though this early record is largely mythological, tradition shows us the progenitors of the modern Japanese people as conquerors from the west and south who drove the aborigines before them and gradually took possession of the entire land. That these conquerors were not all of the same stock is proved by the physical appearance of the Japanese to-day, and by their language. Through these the student traces an early mixture of races—the Malay, the Mongolian, and the Ural-Altaic. Whether the early crossing of these races bears vital relation to the plasticity of the Japanese is a question which tempts the scholar. …

“The national governmental system was materially affected by the need, throughout many centuries, of systematic methods of defense against the Ainu. The rise of the Shogunate dates back to 883 A.D., when the chief of the forces opposing the Ainu was appointed by the Emperor and bore the official title, “The Barbarian-expelling Generalissimo.”

During the Isolation Period

“Of Old Japan little more needs to be said. Without external commerce, there was little need for internal trade; ships were small; roads were footpaths; education was limited to the samurai, or military class, retainers of the daimyo, “feudal lords”; inter-clan travel was limited and discouraged; Confucian ethics was the moral standard. From the beginning of the seventeenth century Christianity was forbidden by edict, and was popularly known as the “evil way”; Japan was thought to be especially sacred, and the coming of foreigners was supposed to pollute the land and to be the cause of physical evils. Education, as in China, was limited to the Chinese classics. Mathematics, general history, and science, in the modern sense, were of course wholly unknown. Guns and powder were brought from the West in the sixteenth century by Spaniards and Portuguese, but were never improved. Ship-building was the same in the middle of the nineteenth century as in the middle of the sixteenth, perhaps even less advanced. Architecture had received its great impulse from the introduction of Buddhism in the ninth and tenth centuries and had made no material improvement thereafter. …

“But while there was little progress in the external and mechanical elements of civilization, there was progress in other respects. During the “great peace,” first arose great scholars. Culture became more general throughout the nation. Education was esteemed. The corrupt lives of the priests were condemned and an effort was made to reform life through the revival of a certain school of Confucian teachers known as “Shin-Gaku”—”Heart-Knowledge.” Art also made progress, both pictorial and manual.”

The Transition from Clannishness to Nationalism

“A natural outcome of the Restoration is the exuberant patriotism that is so characteristic a feature of New Japan. The very term “ai-koku-shin” is a new creation, almost as new as the thing. This word is an incidental proof of the general correctness of the contention of this chapter that true nationality is a recent product in Japan. The term, literally translated, is “love-country heart”; but the point for us to notice particularly is the term for country, “koku”; this word has never before meant the country as a whole, but only the territory of a clan. If I wish to ask a Japanese what part of Japan is his native home, I must use this word. And if a Japanese wishes to ask me which of the foreign lands I am a native of, he must use the same word. The truth is that Old Japan did not have any common word corresponding to the English term, “My country.” In ancient times, this could only mean, “My clan-territory.” But with the passing away of the clans the old word has taken on a new significance. The new word, “ai-koku-shin,” refers not to love of clan, but to love of the whole nation. The conception of national unity has at last seized upon the national mind and heart, and is giving the people an enthusiasm for the nation, regardless of the parts, which they never before knew. Japanese patriotism has only in this generation come to self-consciousness. This leads it to many a strange freak. It is vociferous and imperious, and often very impractical and Chauvinistic. It frequently takes the form of uncompromising disdain for the foreigner, and the most absolute loyalty to the Emperor of Japan; it demands the utmost respect of expression in regard to him and the form of government he has graciously granted the nation.”

Flexibility:

“We naturally begin with that characteristic of Japanese nature which would seem to be more truly congenital than any other to be mentioned later. I refer to their sensitiveness to environment. More quickly than most races do the Japanese seem to perceive and adapt themselves to changed conditions.

“The history of the past thirty years is a prolonged illustration of this characteristic. The desire to imitate foreign nations was not a real reason for the overthrow of feudalism, but there was, rather, a more or less conscious feeling, rapidly pervading the whole people, that the feudal system would be unable to maintain the national integrity. As intimated, the matter was not so much reasoned out as felt. But such a vast illustration is more difficult to appreciate than some individual instances, of which I have noted several.

“During a conversation with Drs. Forsythe and Dale, of Cambridge, England, I asked particularly as to their experience with the Japanese students who had been there to study. They both remarked on the fact that all Japanese students were easily influenced by those with whom they customarily associated; so much so that, within a short time, they acquired not only the cut of coats and trousers, but also the manner and accent, of those with whom they lived. It was amusing, they said, to see what transformations were wrought in those who went to the Continent for their long vacations. From France they returned with marked French manners and tones and clothes, while from Germany they brought the distinctive marks of German stiffness in manner and general bearing. It was noted as still more curious that the same student would illustrate both variations, provided he spent one summer in Germany and another in France.

“Japanese sensitiveness is manifested in many unexpected ways. An observant missionary lady once remarked that she had often wondered how such unruly, self-willed children as grow up under Japanese training, or its lack, finally become such respectable members of society. She concluded that instead of being punished out of their misbehaviors they were laughed out of them. The children are constantly told that if they do so and so they will be laughed at—a terrible thing. …

“The Japanese young man who is making a typewritten copy of these pages for me says that, when still young, he heard an address to children which he still remembers. The speaker asked what the most fearful thing in the world was. Many replies were given by the children—”snakes,” “wild beasts,” “fathers,” “gods,” “ghosts,” “demons,” “Satan,” “hell,” etc. These were admitted to be fearful, but the speaker told the children that one other thing was to be more feared than all else, namely, “to be laughed at.” This speech, with its vivid illustrations, made a lasting impression on the mind of the boy, and on reading what I had written he realized how powerful a motive fear of ridicule had been in his own life; also how large a part it plays in the moral education of the young in Japan. …

“Closely connected with this sensitiveness to environment are other qualities which make it effective. They are: great flexibility, adjustability, agility (both mental and physical), and the powers of keen attention to details and of exact imitation.

“As opposed to all this is the Chinese lack of flexibility. Contrast a Chinaman and a Japanese after each has been in America a year. The one to all appearances is an American; his hat, his clothing, his manner, seem so like those of an American that were it not for his small size, Mongolian type of face, and defective English, he could easily be mistaken for one. How different is it with the Chinaman! He retains his curious cue with a tenacity that is as intense as it is characteristic. His hat is the conventional one adopted by all Chinese immigrants. His clothing likewise, though far from Chinese, is nevertheless entirely un-American. …

“The Japanese desire to conform to the customs and appearances of those about him is due to what I have called sensitiveness; his success is due to the flexibility of his mental constitution.”

Gulick’s explanation for these differences:

“The difference between Japanese imitation and that of other nations lies in the fact that whereas the latter, as a rule, despise foreign races, and do not admit the superiority of alien civilizations as a whole, imitating only a detail here and there, often without acknowledgment and sometimes even without knowledge, the Japanese, on the other hand, have repeatedly been placed in such circumstances as to see the superiority of foreign civilizations as a whole, and to desire their general adoption. This has produced a spirit of imitation among all the individuals of the race. It has become a part of their social inheritance. … The Japanese go to the West in order to acquire all the West can give. The Chinaman goes steeled against its influences. … Under special circumstances, when a Chinaman has been liberated from the prepossession of his social inheritance, he has shown himself as capable of Occidentalization in clothing, speech, manner, and thought as a Japanese.”

EvX: Remember, Gulick is responding to the idea that there exists a singular “racial character” particular to Asians by contrasting Japanese and Chinese, and claiming that the social and environmental conditions in each country result in their differences.

“But a still more effective factor in the development of the characteristics under consideration is the nature of Japanese feudalism. Its emphasis on the complete subordination of the inferior to the superior was one of its conspicuous features. This was a factor always and everywhere at work in Japan. No individual was beyond its potent influence. Attention to details, absolute obedience, constant, conscious imitation, secretiveness, suspiciousness, were all highly developed by this social system. Each of these traits is a special form of sensitiveness to environment. From the most ancient times the initiative of superiors was essential to the wide adoption by the people of any new idea or custom. …

“Susceptibility to slight changes in the feelings of lords and masters and corresponding flexibility were important social traits, necessary products of the old social order. Those deficient in these regards would inevitably lose in the struggle for social precedence, if not in the actual struggle for existence. These characteristics would, accordingly, be highly developed.”

The Value of Viral Memes

Note: “Memes” on this blog is used as it is in the field of memetics, representing units of ideas that are passed from person to person, not in the sense of “funny cat pictures on the internet.”

“Mitochondrial memes” are memes that are passed vertically from parent to child, like “it’s important to eat your dinner before desert” or “brush your teeth twice a day or your teeth will rot out.”

“Meme viruses” (I try to avoid the confusing phrase, “viral memes,”) are memes that are transmitted horizontally through society, like chain letters and TV news.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time warning about some of the potential negative results of meme viruses, but today I’d like to discuss one of their greatest strengths: you can transmit them to other people without using them yourself.

Let’s start with genetics. It is very easy to quickly evolve in a particular direction if a variety of relevant traits already exist in a population. For example, humans already vary in height, so if you wanted to, say, make everyone on Earth shorter, you would just have to stop all of the tall people from reproducing. The short people would create the next generation, and it would be short.

But getting the adult human height below 3″ tall requires not just existing, normal human height variation, but exploiting random mutations. These are rare and the people who have them normally incur huge reductions in fitness, as they often have problems with bone growth, intelligence, and giving birth.

Most random mutations simply result in an organism’s death. Very few are useful, and those that are have to beat out all of the other local genetic combinations to actually stick around.

Suppose you happen to be born with a very lucky genetic trait: a rare mutation that lets you survive more easily in an arctic environment.

But you were born in Sudan.

Your genetic trait could be really useful if you could somehow give it away to someone in Siberia, but no, you are stuck in Sudan and you are really hot all of the time and then you die of heatstroke.

With the evolution of complex thought, humans (near alone among animals) developed the ability to go beyond mere genetic abilities, instincts, and impulses, and impart stores of knowledge to the next generation. Humanity has been accumulating mitochondrial memes for millions of years, ever since the first human showed another human how to wield fire and create stone tools. (Note: the use of fire and stone tools predates the emergence of homo Sapiens by a long while, but not the Homo genus.)

But mitochondrial memes, to get passed on, need to offer some immediate benefit to their holders. Humans are smart enough–and the utility of information unpredictable enough–that we can hold some not obviously useful or absurd ideas, but the bulk of our efforts have to go toward information that helps us survive.

(By definition, mitochondrial memes aren’t written down; they have to be remembered.)

If an idea doesn’t offer some benefit to its holder, it is likely to be quickly forgotten–even if it could be very useful to someone else.

Suppose one day you happen to have a brilliant new idea for how to keep warm in a very cold environment–but you live in Sudan. If you can’t tell your idea to anyone who lives somewhere cold, your idea will never be useful. It will die with you.

But introduce writing, and ideas of no use to their holder can be recorded and transmitted to people who can use them. For example, in 1502, Leonardo da Vinci designed a 720-foot (220 m) bridge for Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II of Constantinople. The sultan never built Leonardo’s bridge, but in 2001, a bridge based on his design was finally built in Norway. Leonardo’s ideas for flying machines, while also not immediately useful, inspired generations of future engineers.

Viral memes don’t have to be immediately useful to stick around. They can be written down, tucked into a book, and picked up again a hundred years later and a thousand miles away by someone who can use them. A person living in Sudan can invent a better way to stay warm, write it down, and send it to someone in Siberia–and someone in Siberia can invent a better way to stay cool, write it down, and send it back.

Original Morse Telegraph machine, circa 1835

Many modern scientific and technological advances are based on the contributions of not one or two or ten inventors, but thousands, each contributing their unpredictable part to the overall whole. Electricity, for example, was a mere curiosity when Thales of Miletus wrote about effects of rubbing amber to produce static electricity (the word “electricity” is actually derived from the Greek for “amber”;) between 1600 and 1800, scientists began studying electricity in a more systematic way, but it still wasn’t useful. It was only with the invention of the telegraph from many different electrical parts and systems, (first working model, 1816; first telegram sent in the US, 1838;) that electricity became useful. With the invention of electric lights and the electrical grids necessary to power them (1870s and 80s,) electricity moved into people’s homes.

The advent of meme viruses has thus given humanity two gifts: 1. People can use technology like books and the internet to store more information than we can naturally, like external hard-drives for our brains; and 2. we can preserve and transmit ideas that aren’t immediately useful to ourselves to people who can use them.

Dangerous Memes

Homo sapiens is about 200-300,000 years old, depending on exactly where you draw the line between us and our immediate ancestors. Printing (and eventually mass literacy) only got going about 550 years ago, with the development of the Gutenberg press. TV, radio, movies, and the internet only became widespread within the past century, and internet in the past 25 years.

In other words, for 99.99% of human history, “mass media” didn’t exist.

How did illiterate peasants learn about the world, if not from books, TV, or Youtube videos? Naturally, from each other: parents passed knowledge to children; tribal elders taught their wisdom to other members of their tribes; teenagers were apprenticed to masters who already knew a trade, etc.

A hundred years ago, if you wanted to know how to build a wagon, raise a barn, or plant corn, you generally had to find someone who knew how to do so and ask them. Today, you ask the internet.

Getting all of your information from people you know is limiting, but it has two advantages: you can easily judge whether the source of your information is reliable, (you’re not going to take farming advice from your Uncle Bob whose crops always fail,) and most of the people giving you information have your best interests at heart.

Forgoing reproduction tends to be a pretty big hit to one’s reproductive success (source)

The internet’s strength is that it lets us talk to people from outside our own communities; it’s weakness is that this makes it much easier for people (say, Nigerian princes with extra bank accounts,) to get away with lying. They also have no particular interest one way or another in your survival–unlike your parents.

In a mitochondrial memetic environment (that is, an environment where you get most of your information from relatives,) memes that could kill you tend to get selected against: parents who encourage their children to eat poison tend not to have grandchildren. From an evolutionary perspective, deadly memes are selected against in a mitochondrial environment; memes will evolve to support your survival.

By contrast, in a viral meme environment, (that is, an environment where ideas can easily pass from person to person without anyone having to give birth,) your personal survival is not all that important to the idea’s success.

Total Fertility Rate by Country–odd that the Guardian’s anti-fertility message wasn’t aimed at the people with the highest fertility

So one of the risks of viral memes is getting scammed: memetically, infected by an idea that sounds good but actually benefits someone else at your expense.

In the mitochondrial environment, we expect people to be basically cautious; in the viral, less cautious.

Suppose we have two different groups (Group A and Group B) interacting. 25% of Group B is violent criminals, versus 5% of Group A. Folks in group A would quite logically want to avoid Group B. But 75% of Group B is not violent criminals, and would logically not want to be lumped in with criminals. (For that matter, neither do the 25% who are.)

If you think my numbers are unrealistic, consider that the NAACP says that African Americans are incarcerated at 5x the rates of whites,  and if you look at specific subpops–say, black men between the ages of 15 and 35 vs white women over the age of 40–the difference in incarceration rates is even larger (HuffPo claims that 33% of black men will go to prison sometime in their lifetimes.)

In an ideal world, we could easily sort out violent criminals from the rest of the population, allowing the innocent people to freely associate. In the real world, we have to make judgment calls. Lean a bit toward the side of caution, and you exclude more criminals, but also more innocents; lean the opposite direction and innocent people have an easier time finding jobs and houses, but more people get killed by criminals.

Let’s put it less abstractly: suppose you are walking down a dimly-lit street at night and see a suspicious looking person coming toward you. It costs you almost nothing to cross the street to avoid them, while not crossing the street could cost you your life. The person you avoided, if they are innocent, incurs only the expense of potentially having their feelings hurt; if they are a criminal, they have lost a victim.

Companies also want to avoid criminals, which makes it hard for ex-cons to get jobs (which is an issue if we want folks who are no longer in prison to have an opportunity to earn an honest living besides going on welfare.) Unfortunately, efforts to improve employment chances for ex-cons by preventing employers from inquiring directly about criminal history have resulted in employers using rougher heuristics to exclude felons, like simply not hiring young African American males. Since most companies have far more qualified job applicants than available jobs, the cost to them of excluding young African American males is fairly low–while the cost to African Americans is fairly high.

One of the interesting things about the past 200 years is the West’s historically unprecedented shift from racial apartheid/segregation and actual race-based slavery to full legal (if not always de facto) racial integration.

One of the causes of this shift was doubtless the transition from traditional production modes like farming and horticulture to the modern, industrial economy. Subsistence farming didn’t require a whole lot of employees. Medieval peasants didn’t change occupations very often: most folks ended up working in the same professions as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents (usually farming,) probably even on the same estate.

It was only with industrialization that people and their professions began uncoupling; a person could now hold multiple different jobs, in different fields, over the span of years.

Of course, there were beginnings of this before the 1800s–just as people read books before the 1800s–but accelerating technological development accelerated the trends.

But while capitalists want to hire the best possible workers for the lowest possible wages, this doesn’t get us all the way to the complete change we’ve witnessed in racial mores. After all, companies don’t want to hire criminals, either, and any population that produces a lot of criminals tends not to produce a whole lot of really competent workers.

However, the rise of mass communication has allowed us to listen to and empathize with far more people than ever before. When Martin Luther King marched on Washington and asked to be judged by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, his request only reached national audiences because of modern media, because we now live in a society of meme viruses. And it worked: integration happened.

Also, crime went up dramatically:

While we’re at it:

Integration triggered a massive increase in crime, which only stopped because… well, we’re not sure, but a corresponding massive increase in the incarceration rate (and sentences) has probably stopped a lot of criminals from committing additional crimes.

Most of these homicides were black on black, but plenty of the victims were white, even as they sold their devalued homes and fled the violence. (Housing integration appears to have struck America’s “ethnic” neighborhoods of Italians, Irish, and Jews particularly hard, destroying coherent communities and, I assume, voting blocks.)

From the white perspective, integration was tremendously costly: people died. Segregation might not be fair, it might kill black people, but it certainly prevented the murder of whites. But segregation, as discussed, does have some costs for whites: you are more limited in all of your transactions, both economic and personal. You can’t sell your house to just anyone you want. Can’t hire anyone you want. Can’t fall in love with anyone you want.

But obviously segregation is far more harmful to African Americans.

Despite all of the trouble integration has caused for whites, the majority claim to believe in it–even though their feet tell a different story. This at least superficial change in attitudes, I believe, was triggered by the nature of the viral memetic environment.

Within the mitochondrial meme environment, you listen to people who care about your survival and they pass on ideas intended to help you survive. They don’t typically pass on ideas that sacrifice your survival for the sake of others, at least not for long. Your parents will tell you that if you see someone suspicious, you should cross the street and get away.

In the viral environment, you interact far more with people who have their own interests in mind, not yours, and these folks would be perfectly happy for you to sacrifice your survival for their sake. The good folks at Penn State would like you to know that locking your car door when a black person passes by is a “microaggression:”

Former President Obama once said in his speech that he was followed when he was shopping in a store, heard the doors of cars locked as he was walking by, and a woman showed extremely nervousness as he got on an elevator with him (Obama, 2013). Those are examples of nonverbal microaggressions. It is disturbing to learn that those behaviors are often automatic that express “put-downs” of individuals in marginalized groups (Pierce et al., 1977). What if Obama were White, would he receive those unfair treatments?

(If Obama were white, like Hillary Clinton, he probably wouldn’t have been elected president.)

For some reason, black people shoplifting, carjacking, or purse-snatching are never described as “microaggressions;” a black person whose feelings are hurt has been microaggressed, but a white person afraid of being robbed or murdered has not been.

This post was actually inspired by an intra-leftist debate:

Shortly after the highly successful African-star-studded movie Black Panther debuted, certain folks, like Faisal Kutty, started complaining that the film is “Islamophobic” because of a scene where girls are rescued from a Boko Haram-like organization.

Never mind that Boko Haram is a real organization, that it actually kidnaps girls, that it has killed more people than ISIS and those people it murders are Africans. Even other Black African Muslims think Boko Haram is shit. (Though obviously BH has its supporters.)

Here we have two different groups of people with different interests: one, Muslims with no particular ties to Africa who don’t want people to associate them with Boko Haram, and two, Black Muslims who don’t want to get killed by folks like Boko Haram.

It is exceedingly disingenuous for folks like Faisal Kutty to criticize as immoral an accurate portrayal of a group that is actually slaughtering thousands of people just because he might accidentally be harmed by association. More attention on Boko Haram could save lives; less attention could result in more deaths–the dead just wouldn’t be Kutty, who is safe in Canada.

Without mass media, I don’t think this kind of appeal works: survival memes dominate and people take danger very seriously. “Some stranger in Canada might be inconvenienced over this” loses to “these people slaughter children.” With mass media, the viral environment allows appeals to set aside your own self-interest and ignore danger in favor of “fairness” and “equality” for everyone in the conversation to flourish.

So far this post has focused primarily on the interests of innocent people, but criminals have interests, too–and criminals would like you to make it easier for them to commit crime.

Steve Sailer highlighted the case of social justice activist and multiple award winner Simon Mol (quotes are from Mol’s Wikipedia article):

Simon Mol (6 November 1973 in Buea, Cameroon – 10 October 2008) was the pen name of Simon Moleke Njie, a Cameroon-born journalist, writer and anti-racist political activist. In 1999 he sought political asylum in Poland; it was granted in 2000, and he moved to Warsaw, where he became a well-known anti-racist campaigner. …

In 2005 he organized a conference with Black ambassadors in Poland to protest the claims in an article in Wiedza i Życie by Adam Leszczyński about AIDS problems in Africa, which quoted research stating that a majority of African women were unable to persuade their HIV positive husbands to wear condoms, and so later got caught HIV themselves. Mol accused Leszczyński of prejudice because of this publication.

Honorary member of the British International Pen Club Centre.

In 2006 Mol received the prestigious award “Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression”.

In February 2006, further to his partner’s request for him to take an HIV test, Mol declined and published a post on his blog explaining why not:

Character assassination isn’t a new phenomenon. However, it appears here the game respects no rules. It wouldn’t be superfluous to state that there is an ingrained, harsh and disturbing dislike for Africans here. The accusation of being HIV positive is the latest weapon that as an African your enemy can raise against you. This ideologically inspired weapon, is strengthened by the day with disturbing literature about Africa from supposed-experts on Africa, some of whom openly boast of traveling across Africa in two weeks and return home to write volumes. What some of these hastily compiled volumes have succeeded in breeding, is a social and psychological conviction that every African walking the street here is supposedly HIV positive, and woe betide anyone who dares to unravel the myth being put in place.

On the 3rd of January 2007 Mol was taken into custody by the Polish police and charged with infecting his sexual partners with HIV. …

According to the Rzeczpospolita newspaper, he was diagnosed with HIV back in 1999 while living in a refugee shelter, but Polish law does not force an HIV carrier to reveal his or her disease status.

According to the police inspector who was investigating his case, a witness stated that Mol refused to wear condoms during sex. An anonymous witness in one case said that he accused a girl who demanded he should wear them that she was racist because as he was Black she thought he must be infected with HIV. After sexual intercourse he used to say to his female partners that his sperm was sacred.

In an unusual move, his photo with an epidemiological warning, was ordered to be publicly displayed by the then Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro. MediaWatch, a body that monitors alleged racism, quickly denounced this decision, asserting that it was a breach of ethics with racist implications, as the picture had been published before any court verdict. They saw it as evidence of institutional racism in Poland, also calling for international condemnation. …

After police published Mol’s photo and an alert before the start of court proceedings, Warsaw HIV testing centers were “invaded by young women”. A few said that they knew Mol. Some of the HIV tests have been positive. According to the police inspector who had been monitoring the tests and the case: “Some women very quickly started to suffer drug-resistant tonsillitis and fungal infections. They looked wasted, some lost as many as 15 kilograms and were deeply traumatized, impeding us taking the witness statements. 18 additional likely victims have been identified thereby”. Genetic tests of the virus from the infectees and Simon proved that it was specific to Cameroon.

In other words, Simon Mol was a sociopath who used the accusation of “racism” to murder dozens of women.

Criminals–of any race–are not nice people. They will absolutely use anything at their disposal to make it easier to commit crime. In the past, they posed as police officers, asked for help finding their lost dog, or just rang your doorbell. Today they can get intersectional feminists and international human rights organizations to argue on their behalf that locking your door or insisting on condoms is the real crime.

Critical criminology, folks.