Our AI future

edmond-de-belamy-framed-cropped
AI generated art

The First AI-Generated Piece of Art Comes to Auction:

AI artwork sells for $432,500 — nearly 45 times its high estimate — as Christie’s becomes the first auction house to offer a work of art created by an algorithm

I honestly think that within ten years or so, a large percent of the “media” people consume, from TV to porn to news to music to art, will be computer-generated and only vaguely checked/edited by humans for errors.

We’re already halfway there. The news content in your feed is already curated by computer algorithms. Your YouTube playlists and recommendations are curated by algorithms.

Walmart uses Big Data, not human logic, to determine that Poptarts should be stocked next to the hurricane supplies. Walmart never had to think, “People want tasty food that doesn’t require cooking in waterproof packaging when hurricanes are coming” to notice a trend in the data and stick the poptarts next to the bottled water.

But those are algorithms dealing with human-produced inputs; some human did actually invent the poptart.

AI generated story (the bold text was my input):

The dark elf walked into an inn, carrying a harp and dagger.  He approached the bed when a rous’do shouted, “Oh, that’s my archer! I got you!”  “Hah! I told you to leave me alone.”  Dark elf pulled out a weapon he found lying on the bed, pointing it at the hooded man, “Oh, I thought that you wouldn’t be so clever. I’ll take your archer with me!  So please, don’t come back!”
Dark elf shouted, “I ain’t leaving you alone!  Don’t come back, you filthy, rotten little whore!”  “I ain’t leaving you alone!  No, this time I’m taking all you have and turning you into a fine specimen!”  “I ain’t leaving you alone.”
The hooded man yelled, “Oh, my God!”  “Don’t you know we have enough to eat?  Come to my house, we’re on the list to have your head on a plate!  I will have you punished!”
“No no!  I can’t.  It’s not fair.”  “I said you can’t!”  “Oh, really?  That’s a great idea!

Some AI generated news:

Donald Trump proposed buying Greenland today.  I wonder if we could do to ourselves what he did to Scotland, to Greenland. Trump’s promise to build a barrier around Greenland would be a major change in tone, considering his attitude toward North Korea as well.
We were reminded recently that it has been three decades since the last time a major American leader came to Greenland to visit.  I can recall only one visit–and it was a very short visit.  I imagine the President’s visit could be as small or as large as he wants, without much of a change in tone.  So maybe we could do it too.
What did George W. Bush do for the people of Greenland?  Well, we probably got our oil, but no oil.  There’s just enough room for one of his family’s homes–but the rest of the land is off limits.  Trump has not been shy in his praise of Greenland’s icecaps, saying: When I see it there, you see the majesty of the icecaps…. When I look and see how Greenland has been working since this summer, people are thanking me for all this ice…. I know Greenland well.  From Greenland is a country where you have to learn about your country.  Ice is also a key economic component for Greenland.

AI generated porn, coming soon:

These technologies aren’t great yet, but they’re improving fast. And besides, how do you know your memes weren’t AI-generated already?

3cvyu3szyid21
What does this thing even mean?

In some areas, like art, the AI will be vastly better than us humans. Cameras already are; algorithms trained on the likes of Kinkaid, Wyland, Rembrandt, and Monet will churn out cheap, beautiful art (and calendars) in any style you want.

In other arenas, like novels and news articles, the results will be bad, mostly because so much nuance goes into human language, politics, and communication. People will consume these anyway.

Once the main use of AI-generated art isn’t avant-garde but beautiful, people will argue that it isn’t “real art” and only plebes will buy beautiful AI-generated paintings, while AI-generated news will seep into your feed without you even noticing. Entire classes will consume AI-gen news without blinking an eye.

In a way, they already are.

AI-generated porn has the potential to be good, but in practice will be terrible because no one cares if their porn is terrible.

Eventually, whether one consumes media made by actual humans will become a social marker of sorts–probably first of low status, as only rich people can afford $400,000 paintings; later of high status, as AI-generated memes and incoherent news articles flood the timelines of people who are, unfortunately, not smart enough to realize that they don’t make sense.

tay-says-you-are-dumb-too
Burned by the machine

Of course, AI will not be neutral. Remember the time Microsoft released an AI chatbot and let it just interact with the internet, but forgot that the internet is full of humans and humans love teaching parrots to curse, so they had to shut it down?

When you think about it, humans are really the weak link in AI-generated content.

The Amish, of course, will just go on about their lives, interacting with real humans while the rest of us watch AI-generated superhero mashups with a never-ending AI-news ticker in the bottom right hand corner of our VR dome, probably while sipping bug-protein based soylent replacement because people were afraid soymilk would give them boobs.

The video games will be awesome, though.

Advertisements

Islamic Law

1024px-samarkand2c_registan2c_ulugbek_medressa_28623856502029
Photo of the lovely Samarkand Ulugbek Madrassa by Arian Zwegers

Welcome back to Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. Today we’ll be discussing Islamic law; with any luck, someone who actually knows something on the subject will drop by and weigh in.

Strictly speaking, what traditional Islamic courts enforced was not Shari’a, God’s Law, but fiqh, jurisprudence, the imperfect human attempt to deduce from religious sources what human law ought to be. That fact helps explain how Sunni Islam was able to maintain four different but mutually orthodox schools of law. There could be only one correct answer to what God wanted humans to do but there could be more than one reasonable guess.

This sounds like a bit of technicality that I am skeptical of people observing in practice, so I went over to Pew.

The World’s Muslims: Beliefs about Sharia: 

gsi2-chp1-2

According to the survey findings, most Muslims believe sharia is the revealed word of God rather than a body of law developed by men based on the word of God. Muslims also tend to believe sharia has only one, true understanding, but this opinion is far from universal; in some countries, substantial minorities of Muslims believe sharia should be open to multiple interpretations. …

Although many Muslims around the world say sharia should be the law of the land in their country, the survey reveals divergent opinions about the precise application of Islamic law.

Pew doesn’t distinguish between “sharia” and “fiqh”

In 17 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims say sharia is the revealed word of God. (For more information on sharia see text box.) In no country are Muslims significantly more likely to say sharia was developed by men than to say it is the revealed word of God. …

gsi2-chp1-3In 17 out of 21 countries, “there is only one interpretation of sharia” beat “there are multiple interpretations.”

Support for making sharia the official law of the land varies significantly across the six major regions included in the study. In countries across South Asia, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East-North Africa region most favor making sharia their country’s official legal code. By contrast, only a minority of Muslims across Central Asia as well as Southern and Eastern Europe want sharia to be the official law of the land.

In South Asia, high percentages in all the countries surveyed support making sharia the official law, including nearly universal support among Muslims in Afghanistan (99%). More than eight-in-ten Muslims in Pakistan (84%) and Bangladesh (82%) also hold this view. The percentage of Muslims who say they favor making Islamic law the official law in their country is nearly as high across the Southeast Asian countries surveyed (86% in Malaysia, 77% in Thailand and 72% in Indonesia).

In sub-Saharan Africa, at least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say they favor making sharia the official law of the land, including more than seven-in-ten in Niger (86%), Djibouti (82%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (74%) and Nigeria (71%).

Support for sharia as the official law of the land also is widespread among Muslims in the Middle East-North Africa region – especially in Iraq (91%) and the Palestinian territories (89%). Only in Lebanon does opinion lean in the opposite direction: 29% of Lebanese Muslims favor making sharia the law of the land, while 66% oppose it.

So I have a little skepticism of the authors’ claim that Muslims normally distinguish between Sharia and Fiqh and that they’re totally okay with multiple, co-existing interpretations of the law.

More likely, the average Muslim believes multiple, vaguely contradictory things about Sharia that are basically piety signals, because most Muslims are just trying to live their lives and feed their families, not legal scholars.

“Should we run the country according to God’s laws?” the pollster asks, and the faithful reasonably respond that “Yes, of course we should run things according to God’s laws.”

“Does God’s law come from God or from man?” the pollster asks, and the faithful responds, “From God, obviously. It’s in the name.”

With those caveats, let’s get back to Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. The authors then explain the five-fold division of acts in Islamic law, which I have converted to a rough table:

Obligatory act:         God rewards for performing,      Punishes for not performing
Recommended act: God rewards for performing,      No punishment for not performing
Permissible act:       No reward for performing,          No punishment for not performing
Offensive act:          No punishment for performing,   Reward for abstaining
Unlawful act:           Punishment for performing,         Reward for avoiding

… Islamic law is more nearly a system of morality than a system of law, since its rules primarily describe how one ought to act, only secondarily the legal consequences of action. …

How was fiqh deduced and applied? The scholar started with the sources of revealed knowledge–the Koran itself and the words and acts of Mohammad and his companions as reported in hadith, traditions. From that information a sufficiently learned religious scholar, a mujtahid, deduced legal rules. Over time, the scholars separated into four schools… The schools were generally similar but differed in the details of their approaches to interpretation and the rules they deduced; each regarded the others as orthodox.

Any Muslim readers want to weigh in on how accurate this is?

Anyway, Islamic law then developed over the years the same problems of any legal system: bloat, excessive writing, technological and cultural change, and multiple conflicting interpretations, all of which could make it difficult to determine what the “original” idea of the law had been.

It was necessary to decide for each hadith how certain one could be that it was neither invented by someone at some point down the purported chain [of legal descent] nor inaccurate due to an error in transmission.

The basic rule accepted by all schools was that if there were a sufficient number of independent chains supporting the same hadith, it could be accepted as genuine with certainty.

Muslims inventing the blockchain.

It followed that if at any one time all of the scholars were agreed upon a question, that question was permanently settled.

Law and the State:

After first few centuries and until the rise of the Ottomans, political authority in the Islamic world was fragmented. The local rulers were frequently foreigners to the populations they ruled… What they wanted from the legal scholars was support for their legitimacy. … they were willing for the most part to leave the legal system in the hands of the scholars. … Think of the resulting system as what Anglo-American common law would be if law professors ran the world, law defined not by the precedents set by judges but by the medieval equivalent of law review articles.

So… does it work? How well does it work? In the chapter on Icelandic law, the authors are willing to actually interrogate why Icelandic law broke down (in the Middle Ages) and what made it initially effective and then ineffective. There’s a little discussion in the chapter on Chinese law on how people managed to conduct business effectively despite (or because) of the lack of relevant formal legal rules. But in general the authors shy away from asking how effective the legal systems actually are, which seems like a critical piece of information. If a system works well and the people in it are pleased with the results, then it seems reasonable to see if it is a system with parts that can be felicitously copied, borrowed, or implemented; if a system works badly, (as many do) then it is wise to examine what makes it dysfunctional and try to avoid those components in our own system.

Of course, the functioning of many legal systems probably does come down, as Confucian scholars might say, to the ethics/wisdom inherent in the people in them.

But anyway:

From the perspective of modern American law, the final two stages of the process look like our system turned upside down. In ours,t he court of first impression applies the law to the facts and produces a verdict. If the case is appealed, the appeals court takes the facts as already decided and gives a second and authoritative opinion on the law In their system, the opinion on the law came first, provided by the mufti, followed by the qadi’s application of the law to the facts as he saw them. Under most circumstances there was no way to appeal the qadi’s verdict.

madhhab_map3
Prominent schools of Islamic law (aka madhhab) by region

The authors note that they have described the “traditional account” of how Islamic law developed; some modern scholars claim this is all kind of retconned from existing Arabic law and modified over time as new provinces were conquered. I’m sure this is also to some extent true, as whatever laws people were already using on matters like marriage and murder probably persisted post-conversion.

Anyway, so there are multiple “schools” of Islamic legal thought:

While the schools differed in detail they regarded each other as mutually orthodox. In this respect as in others, the history of Islamic law both resembles and differs from that of Jewish Law. The schools of Hillel and Shammai tolerated each other for several generations, but eventually the majority school suppressed the minority. In the parallel Islamic case, the four schools of Sunni law have continued their mutual toleration up to the present day. …

The four schools of law are all Sunni; the Shia have their own schools and legal rules… While different schools were dominant in different areas, a medieval Muslim city could have had separate courts for the four Sunni schols, the Shia, and the other tolerated religions. It was a polylegal system; disputes within each community would go to that community’s courts. Non-Muslims had to use Muslim courts for criminal cases but had choice of law for civil matters. … What happened in a dispute between parties adhering to different legal systems is not entirely clear…

I wonder how this worked in practice.

While law was in theory independent of the of the state, in practice, in most historical Islamic societies, state-created rules played a significant role. … One reason for the development of parallel state curts may have been the desire of the ruler to maintain control A second was that fiqh had serious limits as a legal system. …

The authors then look at the “breakdown” of the Islamic legal system.

The breakdown of the traditional legal system may, as Hallaq argues, be due to the rise of the nation state, but the connection between that and western imperialism is accident not essence. The causes that led to the rise of the nation state in the west, the replacement of feudalism by absolute monarchy, operated in the Islamic world as well… The annexation of the waqfs by the Ottoman authorities parallels the earlier confiscation of the lands of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The result in both cases was to eliminate institutions that competed with the sate for power and resources. 

This is the kind of theory I like.

Then there is a section with more details on the actual content of the legal code, eg:

The part of fiqh that applies to homicide or bodily injury is called jinyat and appears to be based on the pre-Islamic rules of Arab blood feud.

Blood feuds are interesting and I think there is a chapter later on that looks at feud systems in more detail. But I wonder how these systems translate over geography–that is, across the Islamic world, from Morocco to Indonesia. Did the spread of Islam result in these areas adopting laws that were originally Arabian, or did each region effectively retain its own existing legal system? And how is it all working out today?

Wikipedia has an interesting bit: 

The transformations of Islamic legal institutions in the modern era have had profound implications for the madhhab system.[65] Legal practice in most of the Muslim world has come to be controlled by government policy and state law, so that the influence of the madhhabs beyond personal ritual practice depends on the status accorded to them within the national legal system.[65] State law codification commonly utilized the methods of takhayyur (selection of rulings without restriction to a particular madhhab) and talfiq (combining parts of different rulings on the same question).[65] Legal professionals trained in modern law schools have largely replaced traditional ulema as interpreters of the resulting laws.[65] Global Islamic movements have at times drawn on different madhhabs and at other times placed greater focus on the scriptural sources rather than classical jurisprudence.[65] The Hanbali school, with its particularly strict adherence to the Quran and hadith, has inspired conservative currents of direct scriptural interpretation by the Salafi and Wahhabi movements.[65]Other currents, such as networks of Indonesian ulema and Islamic scholars residing in Muslim-minority countries, have advanced liberal interpretations of Islamic law without focusing on traditions of a particular madhhab.[65]

Old China, New China

I think people have generally been underestimating china. When I was young, China wasn’t doing so well–I mentally classed it alongside India, which is also a mega-country of over a billion people living in similar levels of poverty–but in the past few decades, China has surged ahead.

Yes, China uses tech in ways that sound like dystopian nightmares. Yes, there’s something going on with Uyghirs and camps. Yes, pollution. But it is impossible to deny that the average Chinese citizen has become massively more prosperous and that China is bubbling with innovative energy.

I recently heard a speech–I think it was given by Obama several years ago about Shanghai’s test scores being higher than American ones–claiming that this was our “Sputnik moment.”

No.

It’s not.

Going to the moon is something a command economy can do, even a command economy with capitalist characteristics. The government can allocate a few billion dollars, hire a bunch of rocket scientists, and tell them to go to the moon.

Generalized innovation, energy, and economic growth are not things you can command, which is why the Soviet Union was always stagnant on the ground. America cannot outclass China unless the energy for doing so comes from the people themselves.

But enough about America.

Here’s the zoom on a Huawei phone camera:

You must excuse me if I think the recent buzz about Huawei being evil is due to tech companies like Apple realizing that Huawei is about to eat their lunch with cheaper, better tech.

If you think China isn’t going to eat our lunch, don’t argue with me, just go out there and succeed.

More Laws, Please: Jewish Law is Different from Ours

51ta-us7crlWelcome back to our discussion of Friedman, Leeson, and Skarbek’s Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. Today we’ll be discussing Jewish law.

Jewish law may be the best-recorded legal system in the history of the world; there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of pages of surviving primary sources covering about twenty-five hundred years.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I had this idea once back in college to do a project on parallel legal systems like Gypsy law, and thankfully someone talked me into switching to Jewish law, mostly out of concern for my physical safety.

But Jewish law is also massively better documented.

One thing I find amusing about Jewish law is that Jews seem to actually like the subject. I can’t tell if that’s something people feel like they’re supposed to say in the same way that people feel like they should claim to like school even if they actually hated it, but they certainly give the impression of being rather enthusiastic on the subject. Where the traditional practice of Chinese law can be summarized as “Please go away and leave us alone,” or “good people don’t need law,” the Jewish approach seems like “More laws, please.”

Problems of Divine Law

Jewish law was, in theory, based on a single unchangeable source–the Torah [first five books of the Bible.]… Basing the law in this way rather than on custom, precedent or legislation raised two problems shared with other legal systems similarly based, including Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and American Constitutional Law.

Note: I wrote a post about this: The Talmud and the Constitution. The trouble comes in when two scholars/judges/etc disagree about what exactly the law should be:

In a system that views law as the creation of a legislature, king, or court of last resort, the same authority that made the law can settle disagreements about it. That does not work for a legal system viewed not as created but as discovered, deduced from divinely inspired sources.

Obviously you need some way to resolve disputes about what exactly the laws should be; you also need some way to change laws should new circumstances arise that necessitate doing so.

The initial solution to the problem of legal uniformity was a simple one. Truth is not determined by majority vote but law can be. … the legal scholars took the position that the interpretation to be followed by judges was determined by the views of the majority of legal scholars.

There follows an amusing story about some rabbis who were arguing about whether an oven could be cleaned. The majority of rabbis held one opinion; the dissenting rabbi’s opinion was closer to the original religious text. God steps in on the dissenting rabbi’s side, at which point the other rabbis basically tell Him to back off, this is a rabbi matter.

His position was summed up by another Rabbi as “The Torah has already been given at Mount Sinai. We pay not attention to a heavenly voice because You have already written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, ‘Follow the Majority.'”

According to the story, God smiled and said to himself, “My children have bested me.”

Most people I have discussed this story with object to it. They just can’t fathom the idea of telling God to buzz off and let the humans interpret divine law. Yet, as a parent, there have certainly been times when my children, as God put it, bested me. And in those moments I didn’t feel irritated or angry, but proud of them for their growth and maturity.

Anyway, as for the Jews, the authors make a good point that you’re much more likely in normal life to encounter cranks and grifters claiming divine revelations than you are to encounter actual divine revelations, so it’s a good idea to just reject divine revelations.

There is an interesting parallel between the conflict between the two schools of Jewish law, ending in the victory of one of them, and the development of Muslim law almost a thousand years later. In the early centuries of Islam, Sunni legal scholars divided themselves into four schools of law named after, and to some degree based on the teaching of, four of the early legal scholars. The schools differed in details of legal interpretation but regarded each other as mutually orthodox–and still do. …

One solution to the problem of [Jewish] legal diversity was the development of geographical schools Judges in France mostly went by the legal opinion of whoever was currently the most prominent legal scholar among French Jews…

This makes sense, given the difficulties of disseminating legal opinions to a diasporic population spread thinly across thousands of miles before the invention of cheap printing and fast transportation.

One of the other difficulties with Jewish law is that after 2,500 or so years, so much has been written that the whole mass has gotten terribly unwieldy:

Once the Talmud was complete, legal scholarship was built on top of three layers. The first was the Torah. That was followed by rabbinic legislation and commentary and interpretation based on the Torah, culminating in the Mishnah. That was followed by commentary on the Mishnah, culminating in the Talmud. Scholarship thereafter consisted largely of commentary on the Talmud, which had the previous two layers embedded in it, along with additional legislation. Further layers were added as one or another work based on those sources–the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides is one example–itself became the subject of further commentary.

This has generally been resolved via books summarizing previous decisions accompanied by more detailed legal books if one needs them, and the development of the previously mentioned local or communal law. Of course, sometimes this led to conflicts between different levels of interpretation or commentary.

There follows an interesting discussion of how marriage customs and especially the laws around marriage could have been modified to increase parental control over whom their children marry, but it is too long to quote here–you will have to read the chapter yourself.

A theory on kosher rules:

Careful observance of such rules is evidence that the observer believes in the religion, since he is willing to bear substantial costs in order to conform to its requirements. The fact that he believe sin the religion means that he will be reluctant to sear, falsely, for fear of supernatural punishment.

Well, maybe. It’d be nice to have some data on the matter.

Maimonides [a famous Jewish legal scholar] goes on to describe in some detail the rules associated with the avenger of blood,t he heir of a killer’s victim, and the cities of refuge–of which, like kings of Israel, there had been none for more than a thousand years. A killer was supposed to go to one of the cities of refuge, be brought from there to the court of the city where the killing occurred, tried and, if guilty of deliberate murder, put to death by the avenger of blood. If found guilty of unintentional killing he was to be sent back to the city of refuge to remain there until the high priest, also nonexistent in Maimonides’ day, died. En route to or from the city of refuge he could be killed by the avenger of blood without penalty.

That looks rather like the remnant of a pre-existing feud system, untidily integrated into its replacement.

It’s late and I’m pretty tired, so let’s wrap things up. I’m sorry I don’t have more to say, but I’ve already hit the point of exhaustion and I said a lot on the subject back in Why Does my Fridge Have a Sabbath Mode? and The Talmud and the Constitution.

AI not working as intended

ft_19.07.11_socialmediacompanies_younger-republican-men-less-likely-see-need-remove-offensive-content_2
source

As we have previously covered, there has been a push in recent times for social media companies to censor posts containing offensive remarks, Fake News, Russian bots, or slowed down videos of Nancy Pelosi. Social media companies have been dumb enough to along with this demand (mostly because the people who run them are also the kinds of people who think social media companies should censor more,) but as a practical matter, they are of course incapable of reading and evaluating every post that comes their way.

So these companies need algorithms to trawl their millions of posts for offensive content.

Unfortunately (for someone) any AI trained on things that people actually find offensive will censor things the Woke don’t want censored:

On LGBTQ pride month, we share some of the main findings of our research looking at the impacts of Artificial Intelligence on LGBTQ speech. Our goal is to shed some light on the gaps and biases that may be present in AI technologies that are currently being developed to moderate content on internet platforms and demonstrate how they might have significant implications for LGBTQ rights.

The results of this study are unintentionally hilarious:

By training their algorithm to learn what pieces of content are more likely to be considered as “toxic”, Perspective may be a useful tool to make automated decisions about what should stay and what should be taken down from the internet platforms. …

We used Perspective’s API to measure the perceived levels of toxicity of prominent drag queens in the United States and compared them with the perceived levels of toxicity of other prominent Twitter users in the US, especially far-right figures. …

After getting access to Twitter’s API, we collected tweets of all former participants of RuPaul’s Drag Race (seasons 1 to 10) who have verified accounts on Twitter and who post in English, amounting to 80 drag queen Twitter profiles.

We used Perspective’s production version 6 dealing with “toxicity”. We only used content posted in English, so tweets in other languages were excluded. We also collected tweets of prominent non-LGBTQ people (Michelle Obama, Donald Trump, David DukeRichard SpencerStefan Molyneux and Faith Goldy). These Twitter accounts were chosen as control examples for less controversial or “healthy” speech (Michele Obama) and for extremely controversial or “very toxic” speech (Donald Trump, David DukeRichard SpencerStefan Molyneux and Faith Goldy). In total, we collected 116,988 tweets and analysed 114,204 (after exclusions).

grafico_com_drags
“drag queens are in blue; white supremacists in red; Michelle Obama in green and Donald Trump, in orange.”

It turns out that drag queens are really rude and Richard Spencer is pretty polite. Even Donald Trump, who is kind of rude sometimes, is more polite than the majority of drag queens.

Of course, anyone who has actually read their tweets would have known this already. As the study notes, drag queens are likely to pepper their tweets with phrases like “I love you bitch” and “I’m a faggot,” while white supremecists are likely to say things like “Italy has a lovely history and culture and we should preserve it.” Drag queens also know their speech is protected (back in the early days of systems like AOL Online, you weren’t allowed to use words like “bitch” and “fuck,” but today they are allowed,) while WNs know that they are being watched and that if they step out of line, there’s a good chance their accounts will be deleted.

Any algorithm trained on actual rudeness as perceived by normal humans will of course tag drag queens’ typical tweets as offensive; it will take intervention by actual humans to train the algorithms to pick up on the words creators actually want to censor, like “Donald Trump” or “Chinese detention camps”.

 Speaking of which:

Van de Weghe has continued to study Chinese AI—how it tracks people with ever-improving facial recognition software. He describes the new “social credit” programs that use AI to combine data from numerous sources, assign scores to people’s behavior and allocate privileges accordingly. In 2013, when Liu Hu, a Chinese journalist, exposed a government official’s corruption, he lost his social credit and could no longer buy plane tickets or property, take out loans, or travel on certain train lines. …

Jennifer Pan, an assistant professor of communication, explains why Chinese citizens accept social credit programs. “People think others spit in the street or don’t take care of shared, public facilities. They imagine that social credit could lead to a better, more modern China. This is an appealing idea. Political dissent is already so highly suppressed and marginalized that the addition of AI is unlikely to have anything more than an incremental effect.”

The result for journalists is that actual prisons (where many are currently held) are replaced by virtual prisons—less visible and therefore more difficult to report on. In the face of this, Van de Weghe says, many journalists he knows have quit or self-censored. And while reporters outside China can critique the general practice of censorship, thousands of individual cases go unnoticed. Government computers scan the internet for all types of dissidence, from unauthorized journalism to pro-democracy writing to photos of Winnie-the-Pooh posted by citizens to critique President Xi Jinping, who is thought to bear a resemblance. AI news anchors—simulations that resemble humans on-screen—deliver news 24/7. The government calls this media control “harmonization.” The Communist Party’s goal for sustaining its rule, according to Pan, “is to indoctrinate people to agree. Authoritarian regimes don’t want fear.”

There is a lot of amazing technological progress coming out of China these days, for good or bad:

If you think mass AI-censorship and surveillance sounds scary in China but totally good and awesome in the US, you haven’t thought this through.

Amish Law: Different from ours

Legal Systems Very Different from Ours: The Amish

…the Amish have done surprisingly well in their relations with the US government. In 1955 Social Security became mandatory for self-employed persons. The Amish objected to participating, in part on the basis that they believed they were religiously obligated to take care of each other and should not be transferring that obligation to the state, in part on the grounds that insurance programs, which Social Security at purported to be… are “gambling ventures that seek to plan and protect one’s fortune rather than yielding it to God’s will.” Many refused to pay Social Security taxes, with the result that the IRS eventually began filing liens on farm animals and other assets. The conflict was only ended in 1965, when federal legislation exempted self-employed Amish from having to pay Social Security taxes, an exemption later extended to Amish employees in Amish owned businesses.

51ta-us7crlWelcome back to our discussion of Legal Systems Very Different from Ours., by Friedman, Leeson, and Skarbek. I apologize if today’s post is a bit rushed; I have been extremely busy lately with the homeschooling and normal parenting and it has left me asleep during my normal writing hours.

Today we are discussing the Amish. (Have I written anything significant on the Amish? A quick browse through the archives suggests only in passing.) The Amish, as I’m sure you already know, are one of America’s fastest growing religious groups in an era when most other Christian denominations are shrinking:

Amish Population:

1920 5,000
1928 7,000 +4.30%
1936 9,000 +3.19%
1944 13,000 +4.70%
1952 19,000 +4.86%
1960 28,000 +4.97%
1968 39,000 +4.23%
1976 57,000 +4.86%
1984 84,000 +4.97%
1992 128,150 +5.42%
2000 166,000 +3.29%
2010 249,500 +4.16%
2019 341,900 +3.56%

(Source: Wikipedia)

This growth has continued despite the fact that almost no one converts to Amish-ism, the Amish lifestyle involves a ton of manual labor that most people assume is unpleasant, and a decent percent of Amish children leave the faith each generation.

To be Amish, one must simultaneously abide by two legal systems: The US system and the Amish system. This sounds rather annoying to most non-Amish, who find the US system alone laws enough. The Amish have no prisons, though, so the authors discuss how the Amish effectively enforce Amish law:

While subject, with a few narrow exceptions, to U.S. and Canadian law, the Amish have succeeded in maintaining their own systems f rules (Ordnung) and enforcing them on heir members, ultimately by the threat of excommunication and sunning (Meidung).

Slightly aside: We talk a lot in these legal discussions about coercion, which obviously gets people to put up with annoying laws, and last week we discussed the desire of people like the Gypsies to be around their own families, which also encourages them to follow the rules of their parallel legal system, but it occurs to me that a group like the Amish have a third factor, which is that being Amish effectively shields them from a lot of the inconvenience, legal or otherwise, that the rest of us have to deal with.

For example, you, office slave, may be “on call” even in the evening and weekends. Your boss may email you with a sudden, “must be done now” project on Friday evening or expect you to come in on Saturdays. I remember many Saturday mornings spent coloring under my mother’s desk while she worked.

The Amish have to muck out a lot of stalls, but they don’t have to spend much time dealing with the IRS or filling out tax forms; it’s a trade-off between labor-saving technology and paperwork.

Which means that the Amish, in order to keep doing their Amish thing, have to make sure that the borders of Amish-dom, which protect them from the evils of paperwork and enmeshment in annoyingly non-amish systems, have to be defended. And the borders of Amishdom are, of course, which technology you use.

If that sounds a little recursive, let me try again:

Being Amish confers certain benefits on the Amish that they enjoy, like not doing a lot of paperwork and getting to be around other Amish people

Some of these benefits are informal (friendships), some are practical/functional, and some are legal (ie, leaving school early).

The Amish only get to enjoy these benefits if they stay Amish. If the fringes of what it means to be Amish start to fray, then “Amish” loses some of its meaning and the benefits slip away.

As a result, the Amish are very careful about which new technologies they allow, checking carefully how the technology will change their lives.

The basic unit of an Amish community is the congregation, typically of twenty-five to forty households; there is no higher level with authority over the individual congregation. Since the Amish are unwilling to build churches or meeting houses, the number of households in a congregation is limited to the number that will fit in a large farmhouse or barn.

Wait, they don’t have churches? What do they do at church? How does this work?

Each congregation has its own version of the Ordnung, some stricter and some less strict… Congregations whose Ordnungen are about equally strict may be in fellowship with each other, making them part of a single affiliation…

The typical congregation has a bishop, two ministers, and a deacon all of whom normally serve for life and none of whom have an formal training. They are unpaid. Ministers and deacons are selected by lot out of a group of ten men nominated by the congregation…

How does this organizational structure work? Is there any formal structure? Any organization that formally owns property, or is it all hosted in privately owned barns?

The Ordnung specifies the rules that members of the congregation are required to live by. Typically they include prohibitions on activities such as filing a suit, serving on a jury or joining a political organization, along with the use of those modern technologies viewed as likely to disrupt the Amish social system…

Basically, nothing that would enmesh you or other Amish with the outside world.

The ordnung is specific to the congregation, which has no legislature. What changes the ordnung is the practice of the members and the response to it by the leadership.

There is very little overt coercion in this system (though possibly plenty of soft coercion). Should someone break the rules (say, by riding in a car or wearing modern clothes,) they’ll first be visited by the church authorities and encouraged to confess their sins. If that doesn’t work, they’ll be encouraged to confess some more, and if that doesn’t work, everyone will avoid them for six weeks.

If that still doesn’t work, they’ll be kicked completely out of the community and shunned.

On the one hand, getting shunned isn’t nearly as bad as going to prison, but on the other hand, losing all of your friends and not being able to talk to your family just because you want to drive a car is pretty harsh.

The authors ask whether the Amish can be described as a democracy or a competitive dictatorship:

If it is a dictatorship, it is a competitive dictatorship. A member who is sufficiently unhappy with the ordnung of his congregation … is free to shift to a nearby congregation better suited to his tastes. Some congregations are, in effect, territorial sovereigns, so that changing congregations requires a geographical move. In other communities, especially where there are congregations with substantially different Ordnungen near each other, it may be possible to shift allegiance with no shift of residence.

The Amish get on reasonably well with the outside world:

Romani in most places have been subject to hostility from outsiders and themselves regarded outsiders as ignorant and unclean. The Amish, in contrast, appear to get along with their neighbors… Non-Amish may view hem as quaint, but for the most part without hostility and even with some admiration.

That’s because the Amish don’t steal chickens and their communities aren’t trash-filled ghettos.

You know, the authors state in the introduction or thereabouts that each of the legal systems discussed in the book are valid systems that have worked for the people in them (otherwise they wouldn’t exist) but frankly, I don’t think the Gypsy system works all that well for the people in it.

Anyway, the authors propose that people’s generally positive perceptions of the Amish account for their decent relationships with the state, including legal exemptions such as not being required to pay Social Security taxes, exemption from the draft, and leaving school after eighth grade. I think it’s more that the Amish are competent, orderly, and well-behaved, which both makes people generally favorable toward them and equips them to push back against government intrusion into their lives.

To be fair, Gypsies probably also manage to avoid paying Social Security taxes, evade the draft, and drop out of school early, just via less legal means.

Since people generally like the Amish, according to the authors, they have good relations with their neighbors:

Some non-Amish operate “Amish taxi services,” providing automobile or van transportation for Amish when they need to go farther than horse and buggy can conveniently carry them…

In an earlier chapter, I suggested that in North America toleration might eventually destroy the status of the Romani as self-governing communities by making it too easy for unhappy or ostracized members to defect into the surrounding community. Along similar lines, it is arguable that the emancipation of European Jews, starting in the late eighteenth century, was responsible for the decline of the Jewish communities as effectively self-ruling polities. Yet the Amish have maintained their identity, culture, and ordnung, enforcing the latter by threat of ostracism, despite the lack of any clear barrier to prevent unhappy or excommunicated members from deserting.

Despite… or because? As the Amish who don’t want to be Amish depart, those left behind are the ones who most want to be Amish. It’s a kind of sifting, natural selection in action: over time, the less Amish leave and the Amish themselves become more intensely “Amish.”

print_graphics_denom_switching
Denominational switching among Jewish Americans, courtesy of the Pew Research Center

The same process is at work in Orthodox Jews, who have enough children that the defection of  50% or so of them each generation to less rule-oriented strains of Judaism (and from there, to atheism and assimilation) still leaves behind a growing core of people who effectively decided to stay Orthodox.

A similar process could happen for the Gypsies; I know nothing about their population numbers.

The same process has certainly happened for various regions of the US and on a smaller scale, black communities. Rural communities have lost people to cities, leaving behind the people most inclined toward rural lifestyles or least capable of moving to a city; racial integration has seen the smartest black kids move from formerly segregated black communities to college and then careers. We could expand this pattern to the global level, with people from various countries immigrating to new homes in other countries.

This proposes an interesting pattern for modern life: the flow of people who are less-ideal members of their own group into a kind of vast, undifferentiated city-fied middle, while the groups on the edges, the ones that lose members, become culturally (and biologically, for that matter,) more and more distinct. (Is this… happening with trans people, too?)

In the Amish case, this seems to work because they produce enough children to keep the numbers in their favor and as far as I know, aren’t just losing their smart people. (High rates of defection by your smartest will turn your group into into idiots over time.)

A critic of he Amish might argue that their upbringing, with schooling ending in eighth grade, leaves potential defectors unqualified for life in the modern world. The obvious response is that there are a lot of jobs in the modern world for which the willingness to work and the training produced by an apprenticeship starting at age fourteen are better qualifications than a highschool diploma.

Plenty of Hispanics leave their families behind, and move to America with less than an 8th grade education + apprenticeship, and still find jobs–and they have to learn a whole new language and deal with the complexities of being international immigrants. Unhappy Amish can just move to Mennonite communities.

As some evidence of the adequacy of Amish education, Amish seem to do quite well at starting and running their own small-scale businesses.

Amish education isn’t that different from what everyone’s education looked like back when the guys who built nukes and sent rockets to the moon were in school. People massively over-rate the importance of highschool and college degrees for pretty much everyone whose career doesn’t require advanced maths or medicine. People observe that smart people tend to have degrees, and so assume that it’s he degrees that make them smart, just as you might observe that rich people have yachts, and therefore yachts make people rich.

The Amish know they don’t need these advanced degrees to do the same kinds of farm work that people were doing without them back in the eighteen hundreds, so they simply avoid them. Not having to save up 40k-200k per child for college (or pay for houses in “good neighborhoods” “for the schools”) allows the Amish to invest more resources into actually producing children, which is why folks leading a “subsistence lifestyle” doing backbreaking labor all day who never even saw a highschool can “afford” more children than you, a person living in a modern industrial city.

Modernity selects for those who resist it.

Of course, the Amish lifestyle isn’t perfect and it is probably coercive in various ways. I don’t know; I haven’t heard any exposes of Amish–dom in the same way that I’ve heard people from various more “normal” evangelical Christian type cults complain about their upbringings. This is probably because the Amish are an older and more stable group that has settled into patterns that are basically beneficial toward their members, whereas new religious groupings tend to turn exploitative and flame out within a couple of decades.

That’s all for today. What did you think? Has anyone ever met any Amish? Are you ex-Amish yourself? Take care, and we’ll discuss the next chapter next week.

Many Feminisms

If you’ve ever spent half an hour reading anything about feminism, you’ve already discovered one of its biggest flaws: it’s completely incoherent. There’s sex positive feminism and sex negative feminism, radical feminism and intersectional feminism, trans-inclusive feminism and TERFs, first wave and third wave, third world and first world, etc, etc.

There’s a simple reason for this: women don’t have that many major issues that they universally share.

Groups of women have interests in common, just like any groups. Women in Alaska have certain interest in common that are different from women in Arizona. Women in their 80s have interests in common that they don’t share with women in their 30s (yet). Single women, women married to men, and women married to women all have distinct interests. Women who don’t want to get pregnant have an interest in abortion, women who do want to get pregnant aren’t so interested in abortion, and female fetuses in countries where sex-selective abortion is rampant have an inverse interest in abortion.

The one thing we all have in common is that we’d like women to be treated decently. We have this in common with most men, too, and most of us would also like men to be treated decently. Conservatives want to treat women decently. Liberals want to treat women decently. Pretty much everyone who isn’t a sociopath thinks other people should be treated decently. This is not a philosophy, much less an overriding political position.

It makes as much sense to think that all women could have political interests in common as to think that all of the French could, and then be surprised to find that France has more than one political party fighting over what is in the best interests of the French.

Since “the interests of all women” can’t be a political position, we’re left instead with people using the motte and bailey trick to claim that their particular self-serving position is really in the interests of all women–rather like if all of the political parties in France decided to call themselves the French Party. (Note: all political positions are self-serving, of course.) Then if you don’t agree that some particular self-serving point in your interest, you get hit with the “What, you don’t support the interests of all women?”

Since no one on the left wants to admit to not supporting the universal interests of all women, we get instead a plethora of feminisms, each purporting to be the One True Feminism, and absolutely nothing coherent.

You’re all watching Sesame Street, now

So. I encountered this “TV” thing while on vacation (they had DirectTV at the hotel, and I needed the kids to stay put while packing and unpacking).

Now, obviously we watch some TV, mostly Minecraft videos and some educational things, but regular TV is something else.

It’s awful.

My kids actually demanded that we turn it off and maintained this policy through out the trip (even nixing Cartoon Network).

How do people watch this thing?

I didn’t find the basic content of the programs themselves objectionable. We saw a program featuring amateur music and dance numbers that had plenty of nice performances, for example. However, I find the way these programs are structured very unappealing:

  1. Onscreen clutter: For example, any news program will have scrolling tickers, waving flags, and other distracting, on-screen motion that has nothing to do with the things being discussed
  2. Frequent camera movement: Like the onscreen clutter, frequent camera movement and moving transitions between video clips keep changing what’s on the screen
  3. Too many cuts in the footage. This contributes both to visual clutter and makes it more difficult to keep track of what’s going on because subjects keep changing.
  4. Ads. Ads ads and more ads. They are guilty of all of the above and more.
  5. Many ads have the additional problem of making me feel like advertisers think I am an idiot, which makes me angry.
  6. We saw one ad on Cartoon Network in which kids (teens? I forget) made smoothies out of disgusting things and then drank them. This was not entertaining. This did not make my children want to watch the show being advertised. I have seen many absurd Youtube videos, but this took the cake.
  7. Filler.

I think it was Sesame Street that was first written with the idea that children have very short attention spans and thus the show needs to cut to something new every few minutes. This was obviously wrong, as kids will happily play for hours, day after day, with toys that they like. Crayons, bikes, slides, trains, dolls, trees, other kids–the average kid has no problem paying attention.

The difficulty was getting kids to pay attention to TV, which was still pretty new in the 60s and featured mostly black and white programs aimed at adults. Getting kids who wanted to go ride their bikes to pay attention to a black and white TV was hard. Sesame Street, as an educational project, began with the then-novel idea of using research on children to get them to pay attention so they could learn from the show. 

So they pioneered the technique of using frequent visual/narrative switches to constantly ping your “Hey! Pay attention!” reflex.

I don’t know what the technical term for this reflex is, or if it even has one, but you’ve surely noticed it if you’ve ever heard your name randomly spoken at a crowded dinner party. Here you were, conversing with one person, not paying attention to the other conversations around you, when suddenly, ping, you heard your name and your head snapped up. Your brain efficiently filters out all of the noise that you don’t want to listen to, but lets that one word–your name–through all of the gates and filters, up to the conscious level where it demands your attention.

Sudden scene changes, well, they don’t happen in nature. If the lake you are looking at suddenly transforms into a mountain in real life, something has gone very wrong. But things do suddenly move in nature–pouncing lions, fleeing gazelles, occasionally boulders falling down a mountain. Moving things are important, so we pay attention to them.

At least Sesame Street had good intentions. Car advertisers, not so much.

So now television programming and advertisements, in order to keep you from getting bored and wandering away, has been optimized to constantly ping your “pay attention!” reflex. They have hijacked your basic survival instincts in order to get you to watch them so you will watch their ads and so they can make money selling you things that you probably didn’t need in the first place (otherwise they wouldn’t have needed to work so hard to get you to watch their ads).

And you pay for this thing!

The whole thing is like a scaled down version of an arcade or casino, where the whole point is to get you to enjoy paying for the privilege of being separated from your money.

To be fair, I don’t hate all advertising. Sometimes it is useful. I understand that when I download some silly little free game, it has ads. The ads pay for the game, and since it’s on my tablet, I never have sound on and I can just put it down and ignore the ads. But I also spend very little time playing such games.

I feel like the whole thing is designed to turn your brain to jelly. If you thought for too long, you might realize that this entire storyline is stupid, that you’re wasting your time, that you don’t actually care about this thing on the news, and you’d really rather read a book or go for a walk. Instead the scene changes every few minutes so you never have time to concentrate on how meaningless it all is. (Yes, it’s all Harrison Bergeron, all the time.)

PS: Twitter’s bad for you, too.

It’s not Stealing if they’re Gadje: Legal Systems very Different from Ours pt 2

51ta-us7crlWelcome back to Leeson, Skarbek, and Friedman’s Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. Today we will be discussing Gypsy law, in a chapter that I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t already read Isabella Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey.

Usage note: I use “Gypsy” instead of “Romani” for the same reason that I refer to “Germans” and not “Deutsch”: because “Gypsy” is the proper English ethnonym. Romani is not an English word, and it doesn’t even translate to Gypsy–it means “people,” and you and I are people, too. In American parlance, “Gypsy” is neither an insult nor a slur, so I will not dance around like it is one.

Furthermore, I am opposed to ethnonymic creep; it is a very annoying part of my job here at this blog to try to figure out what group I am reading about if the name it goes by has changed over the course of years and I cannot track down reliable references. This recent trend of accelerated ethnonymic shift exists mainly to give intellectuals with lots of time on their hands to learn the latest terms something to feel superior about while confusing ordinary people, who are left wondering “Huh? Romani?”

Don’t worry; we here at EvX have enough ways of feeling superior without resorting to confusion–like semicolons.

Background: The Gypsies are a peripatetic ethnic group that left India about a thousand years ago and have since spread across the rest of the Indo-European world. They have traditionally filled the economic niche of traveling blacksmiths, tinsmiths, tinkerers, salesmen, and occasional chicken thieves. Interestingly, in places where the Gypsies never reached, like Ireland, an equivalent group of people emerged to fill the same economic niche–the Travellers–suggesting that this is a real economic niche that people needed filled, albeit minus the part about the chickens.

Globally, there are about 2-20 million Gypsies, with concentrations in the United States, Brazil, Romania, and Turkey. About 1 million Gypsies live in America, a population bigger than the Amish. It’s hard to find really good statistics on Gypsies because Gypsies don’t believe in keeping statistics, much less cooperating with government officials who seem intent on prying into their business and pinning them down. Note that because Gypsy communities are widely scattered across the globe and have not had, until recently, any good way of communicating with each other across great distances, what is true of one band or group may not be even remotely true of another group. Gypsies in one country may be settled, school-going city dwellers, while Gypsies in another country move about in caravans. Few sell horses these days (but many sell cars). Some speak the dominant local language; some speak a Gypsy variety. Some Gypsy languages are mutually intelligible; others are not. To say anything of Gypsies as a whole is probably wrong, so please forgive the limits of language.

Back in the Middle Ages, people didn’t mind the traditional Gypsy lifestyle too much, so long as chicken thefts were kept to a minimum. People needed tinkerers, and if the Gypsies didn’t send their children to school, well, neither did the locals. The traditional lifestyle clashes tremendously with the modern state, which wants people to stay put, carry ID, fill out their forms, pay taxes, and send their children to school. Stalin grounded the Gypsies of the Soviet Union (and stole their gold–not that they were rich to begin with, but you know, people can’t have anything nice in the Soviet Union) so the state could better control them. Gypsies in less coercive modern states have been less coercively encouraged to settle, to varying degrees of success.

My impression is that America has been less coercive toward its Gypsies, encouraging mandatory school attendance, but otherwise putting up with folks who feel like moving from town to town.

Traditional Gypsy law, as the authors note, exists separate from the regular laws of the state. The extent to which state law applies to them has varied over time, depending on how much the local officials wish to interfere. Where they are left to mostly manage their own affairs, we have a polylegal system:

Polylegal systems, systems in which different people in the same country were under different legal authorities, existed in medieval and Renaissance Europe. The status of Jewish communities in the diaspora, discussed in Chapter 4, is one example, the millet system of the Ottoman Empire another. It is possible that the fifteenth century Romani persuaded Sigismund that they were entitled to similar treatment.

Whether or not fifteenth century Romani obtained a grant of de jure judicial autonomy from a fifteenth century emperor, Romani communities through the centuries have been strikingly successful in maintaining de facto autonomy, staying below the radar of the official legal system while imposing their own rules on their own members.

I have long wondered why anyone would bother obeying two legal systems at once–why obey both American and Jewish law, for example? Obeying complicated restrictions is annoying, even difficult, so why don’t people just slowly default to following only one to make their lives simpler?

This chapter offers no solution, but Chapter 9 does. The Amish, of course, are a community whose lifestyle can only be maintained by adherence to Amish law, but Gypsy law does not guarantee a Gypsy lifestyle. But adhering to Gypsy law does mean that one is part of a Gypsy community (since the strongest punishment available in Gypsy law is getting kicked out of the community,) and Gypsies love their communities:

Part of the painfulness of being denied contact with one’s own people, whether to be in a jail, a hospital, or a job, is that of being alone. To be among a group of Rom [masculine singular declinsion of Romani] is the natural everyday context within which a person lives, learns, and expresses his personality; to be among a group of gaje [outsiders] is to be alone. Wherever he travels or lives, a Rom is rarely alone. More often he is surrounded by large numbers of relatives and friends.

Of course, whether one follows the law also depends on whether there are any better options elsewhere, and for much of history, Gypsies have not had much hope of joining a nearby community if they decided their band’s purity laws were overly burdensome.

The authors’ analysis of Gypsy law is based off accounts of two groups of Gypsies–the Kaale of Finaland and the Vlach Rom of California, circa 1970 (and thus out of date). Be careful of over-extending any of this to other Gypsy groups, and frankly, given the described delight the Gypsies took in deceiving their ethnographer back in the 70s, I wouldn’t assume it was completely accurate back then, either.

(Ethnographers are often deceived by people who think it’s funny or that the ethnographers are being way too nosy.)

Social Structure:

The basic unit [of the Vlach Rom] is the familia, a couple their adult sons, daughters-in-law, unmarried daughters and grandchildren. Above the familia is the vitsa, a larger kinship group descended from an ancestor some generations back. … Above the vitsa is the Natsiya, nation. The Vlach Rom are divided into four Natsiya

So family, extended family, and clan.

Marriage is by purchase, a payment from the family of the groom to the family of the bride. Payments are substantial, typically several thousand dollars as of 1970. While consent of bride and groom is required, it is up to a man’s parents to find him a wife and negotiate with her parents. The wife lives in her husband’s familia; in the early years of the marriage she is expected to do much of the work of the household.

Note that the family structure of the Kaale Gypsies of Finland is completely different.

The geographical unit above the Familia is the kumpania. The original meaning seems to have been an encampment, a group of households camping together. In the modern American context, it describes a unit such as the Romani settlement in Richmond. A Kumpania usually has  Rom Baro, a “Big Man,” who plays an important role in interactions with authorities such as the police and welfare department and among the Rom.

Here we see the difficulties of using an ethnonym from a foreign language–“Rom” means man (eg, Rom Baro = Big Man). You cannot play an important role in interactions among the man. You play a role among the men, plural. The plural of Rom is Roma. (The adjective is Romani. Romni is a woman.)

Anyway, in a move that clearly violates American anti-discrimination laws that the rest of us are required to follow, different kumpanias decide who gets to live there:

It may be a closed Kumpania, meaning that Romani families require permission to move in, likely to be based on vitsa membership and kinship to those already there, or it may be open. Restrictions on entry are typically enforced by the Rom Baro’s influence with local authorities. An unwelcome family can be reported to the police for crimes they id or didn’t commit, to the welfare department for violations that would otherwise go unreported. Restrictions on entry serve in part to protect current residents against competition in income-earning activities such as fortune telling.

Remember that this only works if you’re a Gypsy; if a white person tries to prevent people from entering their town or country in order to protect their job, they’re a dirty racist and deserve universal condemnation. Gypsies using the police to kick their neighbors out of their homes on false charges is totally fine, but you doing that is illegal and a sign that you are a terrible shit person.

Anyway, on to the laws:

Romania, the system of rules can be grouped into two categories. One consists of ordinary legal rules covering the obligations of Romani to each other, including extensive obligations of mutual help, especially but not exclusively between relatives. …

Obligations apply to fellow Rom not to outsiders, Gaje. … swindling or stealing from an outsider comes under Romania only to the extent that it creates problems for other Rom.

“Gaje” means outsiders; it can also be spelled “gadje.” The authors quote the source they are relying on for this amusing tidbit:

There is no word for all men and women. Human beings are either Roma or gadje.

When you use the term “Romani,” you are implicitly agreeing with this notion that Gypsies are people are you are not.

It is only a mild exaggeration to say that Romani view the non-Romani population not as part of their society but as part of their environment.

Do you ever get the impression that different people are held to different standards?

I was surprised the authors were this frank on the matter; usually people try to dance around and hide such attitudes, since they definitely reflect badly on the Gypsies.

avopix-550135045
Gypsy neighborhood in Belgrade, Serbia: So much purity!

The second category covered by Romania is an elaborate system of purity and pollution Orthodox Judaism on steroids.

I would not believe this had I not also read it elsewhere. Many Gypsies do in fact have complicated, annoying purity laws regarding washtubs, pregnant women, clothes, and body parts, but for some reason these laws don’t extend to the trash around their communities.

 

Because pollution is contagious and Gaje neither know nor follow the rules to prevent it, association with them is sharply limited. Vlach Rom in America [in the 70s, at least] if they have to eat in a non-Romani setting such as a restaurant, prefer paper plates; they may eat with their fingers instead of utensils for fear that the latter may be polluted.

Note: I guarantee you that there are Gypsies who love restaurants and use the silverware.

As for lying, the authors quote:

The Rom often lie to each other about everyday matters, but they almost always lie to the gaje. There is no particular shame attached to lying to each other… but to lie to the gaje is certainly correct and acceptable behavior…

When ‘caught out’ in this way [that is, caught in a lie] I never saw anyone show embarrassment. They enjoyed it when a good story was put over on them as much as they enjoyed putting one over on someone else.

There is a Gypsy court system called a kris, at which major decisions are made. The court may decide to ostracize someone or declare that certain behavior is good or bad; it may declare a punishment on one group of Gypsies that caused trouble for another group, etc. The functioning of the court is not terribly consistent over time and space, since Gypsy law is unwritten and based primarily on whatever the local elders think it is.

The pollution and ostracism rules provide the most effective means (besides calling the police) that Gypsies have of regulating each others’ behavior:

Ostracism is a way in which an embedded legal system, one that exists under the rule of a state with much greater resource of coercion than the community possesses, can function. Refusing to associate with someone is not illegal, so the marime [unclean] penalty can be enforced without coming into conflict with state law.

(Oh really? It’s not illegal to refuse to associate with someone? I’ll be sure to remember that next time I’m selling a house.)

Status:

Outside the family structure, the Romani are strikingly unwilling to engage in hierarchical relationships. Men who work together in groups do it as partners, not employer/employee. When Romani find it necessary to work for the gaje, picking crops for example, they do it as day labor not long-term employees.

Exit means you don’t have to put up with annoying people lording it over you.

On feuds:

A Romanichal who believes his rights to have been violated responds by demanding, with threats of violence, compensation. … As with any well-functioning feud system, while the incentive to obey the laws or norms is provided by the threat of private violence, actual violence is the exception rather than the rule.

Feud systems are not actually known for their lack of violence, but people are easily misled by an ethnographer who says something like, “Well, I never personally saw anyone get murdered, so the murder rate in this community must be much lower than the nation as a whole.”

Now, I’ve been a bit harsh, but I do think this case shines an interesting light on how legal systems developed in the first place, top up and bottom down. Every pre-state community had some kind of norms and rules in place to manage relationships, ease business transactions (even hunter-gatherers trade with each other), and manage food production/distribution. Farmers must determine who gets which plot and how to cooperate during planting and harvesting; hunters must split their catches effectively in an environment where meat cannot be stored because refrigeration has not yet been invented. There are religious rules, intended to keep the gods happy, and purity rules to avoid contamination and germs. There are the obligations of children and parents to each other, and matters of marriage and kinship to iron out.

(We discussed this back Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.)

People did all of these things for themselves long before states got in on the game, and state law has historically not interfered too much with local administration. Take marriage, which we now see as indelibly tied up in the legal system: in the 1700s, most marriages had nothing to do with the state. People were married because they said they were married, told their friends and neighbors they were married, and then moved in together and started having children. Today we call this a “common law marriage.” People will of course have big wedding parties if they can afford them, but most people throughout history were poor, and even still, these parties did not need to involve the state.

It is only recently, for tax (and insurance) purposes, that the state has started getting particularly nosy about who is married to whom, and suddenly people have developed this ridiculous notion that only Uncle Sam can determine who is and isn’t married, even though marriage has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years longer than the US has even existed.

It is natural that these local, tribal laws people developed thousands of years ago would only dictate behavior within the local tribe and not dictate obligations to people outside one’s tribe; after all, they’re different people in different tribes who are following their own laws. We only see the emergence of “universal” laws like “murder is bad whether you murder a kinsman or a stranger” within empires that rule over multiple ethnic groups (though Hammurabi’s code still declares some murders less bad according to the victim’s hierarchical status). Empires don’t care about people so much as they care about taxes, and empires can collect more taxes when people get along, conduct trade, and don’t have feuds with each other.

Which leads naturally to the question of whether national or polynational systems are better. Empires by their nature, are polynational–that is, they contain more than one ethnic group. One of the beliefs enshrined in early 20th century liberalism was the Self-Determination of all Nations–see Woodrow Wilson’s 13 points at the end of WWI. Self-determination was the idea that the interests of the Irish people would be best served by a government composed of Irish people, who would be disinclined to let their kinsmen die of famine. The interests of Poles would be best served by an independent Poland; the interests of Germans would be best served by all of the German people living in one country run by Germans.

Current liberal thinking, however, is that polynational (or multiethnic) systems are best, presumably due to the difficulties inherent in creating single-nation states when a population is not located in a single place or two populations are already mixed together. In a polynational state, if no single ethnic group can get the upper hand and thus become dominant, then the interests of different groups may balance and the state can effectively mediate between them.

In practice, both systems have their downsides.

A true nation-state enjoys the simplicity of being able to declare local laws state laws, and the difference between how I treat my co-ethnics and foreigners is simplified by a national border between us and them.

A polyethnic state has to find a way to mange different legal systems in different regions. Sometimes states give local communities significant leeway to conduct their own affairs, staying out of the way for most everything except tax collection; sometimes, as in the USSR, states decide to completely stamp out local systems and bring everyone under a unified system. In general, modern states are far more nimble (since the invention of communication and transportation technologies like telephones, video cameras, cars, and planes that make gathering information and extending power over long distances much easier,) than their predecessors, and so take a much deeper interest in their citizens’ everyday lives.

America is in the process of transitioning from a nation of nations–it was about 90% white in 1900, with the remnants of federalism still somewhat functioning–to a polynational state in which an increasingly invasive government does its best to make sure that whites adhere to the empire’s desire for universal laws and norms.

But enough about that; on to the Kaale, Finnish Gypsies who seem to have convinced an ethnographer that they don’t understand this concept of “marriage.”

The Kaale, the Finnish Romani, a small population isolated for centuries, carry the Vlach Rom attitude towards the lower half of the body even further than other Romani, refusing to openly admit the facts of human reproduction. They have no institution of marriage. Couples that wish to reproduce are expected to first leave their family households, flee far enough away so that the woman’s kin cannot find them and retrieve her, and return only when their child is weaned and so no longer requires a visible association with its mother. On returning, the father is expected to show the humility appropriate to one who has violated the norms of his society while the women of the mother’s generation smuggle mother and child into the household, where the child will be expected to treat all of the women of his mother’s generation as equally mothers.

No way this story started as a way to avoid explaining kinship structures to some nosy outsider who kept asking too many question.

Several obvious problems suggest themselves. First, the system is stupid. Second, it makes no sense. Third, the couple have to like each other enough to want to elope for a couple of years, find a new home, and go through pregnancy, birth, and weaning before returning, but afterward are apparently supposed to pretend like they don’t have a relationship?

Let us assume that the Kaale have a fertility rate above 1 child per woman: must a woman who already has a child disappear again for two or three years every time she or a man she is interested in wants to have sex? Do they simply not have sex anymore after the birth of their first child?

One result of the Kaale rejection of sexuality is to eliminate many of the taboos associated with it among other Romani groups. There can be no restrictions associated with menstruation since enforcing them would require recognition of the fact of menstruation, and similarly with pregnancy.

Oh…kay.  I can tell this book was written by men. Guys, there is no way for women to not recognize the “fact of menstruation.” Not recognizing the fact that you menstruate means dripping blood down your legs and onto the floor/chairs. Absolutely not going to happen. Just because some women didn’t want to talk to an anthropologist or other nosy outsider about their menses doesn’t mean they aren’t aware that it happens and have some sort of way of dealing with it.

In most societies, the restrictions/taboos surrounding menstruation have little to do with pregnancy (which is pretty removed in most people’s minds) and has everything to do with keeping the bloody mess contained, (which was much trickier before the invention of modern menstrual hygiene products like pads and tampons,) and I guarantee you the Kaale don’t want blood all over their chairs anymore than you do.

A Kalle woman living in the household of her or her partner’s kin conceals the fact of pregnancy until shortly before delivery …

Guys, have you ever seen a pregnant woman? Pregnancy is not something you can conceal.

Then there are some bits about feuding, which sound more likely to be true: dead bodies are easy to count.

For Kaale feud, the relevant unit is the household, not, as among the Romanichal, the individual. All households are considered peers and here exists no mechanism above the household for peacefully settling disputes. …

Conflict between individuals of different households, if sufficiently serious, leads to duels. … If death or serious injury does occur,t he result is a blood feud. … There is no equivalent of the court procedures or arbitrated settlements that terminated Icelandic feuds.

The authors speculate for a while on why the Vlach Rom and Kaale Gypsies are so different from each other. If you ask me, it’s probably because they’re different groups of people living in completely different environments about 10,000 miles apart. Yes, they were probably part of the same group hundreds of years ago, but they split (perhaps because they didn’t like each other’s rules in the first place,) and have been developing on their own ever since. There is nothing about Kaale life that differs from Vlach Rom life in a way that leads us to conclude, “Ah, therefore it makes sense for them to pretend reproduction doesn’t exist and settle their disputes via feuds instead of courts.”

Different groups are just… different.

Is the Canadian Legal System… Very Different from Ours?

Edit: This case absolutely blew up on Twitter after I wrote this post, but before the post actually went up (one of the occasional downsides of maintaining a post-buffer). You have probably heard all about the case already.

This is a fascinating case I’ve been reading about in Canada. Might take a few tweets to get the gist of what’s going on, but I recommend reading the whole thread. The short version is that JY is a dude trying to force immigrant women to wax his balls. These women run waxing services, some in their homes, some will drive to your home, but only for other women, and he is suing them for not being willing to wax his “female testicles.”

Part 1:

 

And part 2, Part 3, and hopefully Part 4.

There is a lot to unpack here.

JY is alleging that these women have discriminated against him because he is trans. This is of course blatantly incorrect; they discriminated against him because he is male, which is something they are allowed to do.

(I refuse to refer to JY as female because he is not. He is a mentally ill man who is either a total grifter trying to sue innocent women for the money or a sick pervert with a soft rape fantasy that involves forcing women to handle his genitals against their will. Either way, I will not lie on his behalf, and besides, I am an American so I can use whatever pronouns I want. FREEDOM, BITCHES.)

There is some interesting expert testimony from someone who teaches waxing at the local cosmetology school to the effect of 1. Waxing male genitals is different from waxing other sorts of body parts, so it does take special training and 2. We don’t offer that training, because the kinds of men who want their genitals waxed often demand sex from the waxer and then become angry and aggressive if you deny them. Which is, hahah not funny, exactly the case with JY, who is actually suing women for refusing to touch his balls.

JY is convinced that “Nazis” are targeting him over these cases because you know Nazis, they love standing up for the rights of poor, brown, immigrant women. JY comes across as mentally off; JY’s parents, who should be reigning him in, are just as nuts as he is, if not moreso–they even threatened goinglikeelsie for taking notes on the case. (Since JY looks like a 35 or 40 year old man in his photos, it is very strange that his parents are so involved in his life.)

We used to have this notion that “perverts” exist and women and children need to be protected from them. The fear was always overrated for most people–children are most likely to be raped by their stepfathers/mom’s new boyfriend–but creepy guys who like to dismember prostitutes still exist and are a real concern for prostitutes. This guy wants to force women to wax his balls in front of small children, and the court system, instead of telling him that if he ever goes near a child he will be put in prison, is helping him. Even if the court eventually finds in the women’s favor, they have already been through hell because of this case.

Interestingly, no one seems to be really focusing on what I assume is the central point of the case: was JY denied service because he is trans? This seems like it would be slam-dunk for the defendants–none of these immigrant women seem to even know what the word “trans” means, much less have enough knowledge about it to discriminate on this basis. JY was rejected because he is male, just like all other men who apply for these services. If he wants to claim that this denial is incorrect because he is not actually male, he is just a girl who has a really unfortunate face, then he could easily take that route–but he has not.

Edit: I noticed in some of the later testimony that JY is now claiming to have a penis and a vagina. If JY has an actual intersex disorder, then his case (ought to be) very different. Most people would be perfectly willing to accommodate an actual woman who merely has an unusual medical condition; all he needs is a doctor’s note and a reasonable explanation about what’s going on and people would be fine. Instead he has claimed to be “trans” (which is defined as having a gender identity opposite to your biological sex, implying that he is not intersex,) and is suing these ladies under the standards established for trans people, not intersex. I think he is only claiming to have a vagina at this late stage because of the obvious idiocy of demanding a “brazilian” wax job when you don’t have anatomy in the relevant shape.

The women JY has sued have suffered greatly because of this idiocy. It is obvious that these sorts of services (eg, women going to other women’s homes to give waxes) cannot exist if those women cannot turn down clients whom they find threatening, dangerous, or unpleasant, and that includes the vast majority of men.

As of my writing, the case hasn’t been decided, but if the court decides that they can’t turn down clients just because they have “female testicles,” they won’t start waxing men’s balls, they’ll just shut down their businesses. Women will be out of work and other women won’t be able to hire them for services they wanted (and, let’s be honest, the men who appreciate bikini waxes will be disappointed, too), and there will still be no one willing to wax JY’s balls. (BTW, you can buy wax and wax your own at home if it’s really that important to you.)

Even in the best case scenario, JY won’t even be chased out of town.

Now, I don’t have that much experience with how court cases are actually run in the US, but I know that things like witnesses and evidence have to be decided beforehand, whereas in this case JY seems to be introducing them willy-nilly (and then trying to remove his own evidence from the record when he realizes he brought in something that reflects badly on himself!) How is this allowed? For that matter, why has the judge not reigned them in? Not that the American legal system is perfect (it’s a dumpster fire on steroids,) but, uh, Canada? What is up with your legal system?

Edit: After some reflection, I wanted to add a few more thoughts. Since the publication ban has been lifted, people have begun referring to JY by name, so I’ve switched to calling him Yanive (his last name).

You know, it’s easy to criticize Yanive, but he is doing something valuable:

He is forcing Canada to clarify an apparently badly written and unclear law about “gender affirmative care,” the rights of trans people to be treated as their chosen gender, and not discriminating against trans people. Most people imagine these laws to mean something like:

  1. I am selling widgets (houses, cars, stocks, hamburgers, etc) that have nothing to do with gender. You, a trans person, walk into my establishment. I cannot refuse to sell you a widget just because you are trans.
  2. You work for me. You come out as trans. I cannot fire you for it.

In other words, if a person would normally be allowed to purchase a good or service, or be employed somewhere, their status as trans should not change this. (The rights of trans people with respect to prisons and medical care are somewhat outside our current scope, since most people don’t run prisons.)

Yanive, however, interprets the law as meaning that since he is a woman, he is entitled any good, service, job, etc, that would normally be reserved for women. IE, if there are male and female changing rooms, he gets to use the female one. If there is a scholarship for female students, he gets to apply for it. If there are female-only dance parties, he gets to attend. And if a nail salon, spa, or waxing parlor says “women only,” then he still gets to frequent them.

Since the story broke, a lot of people, mostly trans activists, have tried to distance themselves from Yanive, saying he’s not a true trans person or that he’s just a grifter, etc., but there is no fundamentally different logic in Yanive’s demand that ball waxing places wax his female balls and demands that trans athletes be allowed to compete in women’s sports or date lesbians. These trends have been going on for a long time, and trying to distance the community now that they happen to have impacted normal humans is disingenuous.

In all of this cultural back and forth, no one (except maybe the Olympics) has bothered to define what a woman actually is, because doing so offends all of the folks who “feel like a woman” but still have testicles. If Yanive is a woman, legally, under Canadian law, then it is kind of weird to turn around and say, “Oh, yes, but you don’t get to do XYZ that other women get to do.” Let’s imagine for a moment that he was simply born a very ugly girl with malformed genitals, but was otherwise undoubtedly female. Would it be sensible to deny her services simply because she is ugly? No, and few businesses would.

The catch here is that, when it comes to actually waxing testicles, people tend to snap out of it and realize that Yanive is not an ugly woman.

The solution, of course, is to realize that self-ID is nonsense. Just because I self-identify as a fighter pilot doesn’t mean the military is going to let me fly a plane. Just because I self-identify as Napoleon doesn’t mean I get to lead the French army. Just because I self-identify as a Yale student doesn’t mean I get to go to Yale, and just because I think I’m Japanese doesn’t mean I am. If certain statuses mean that I am legally or contractually entitled to do things, (fly a plane, attend a school, live in a country, apply for a females-only scholarship, etc) then there has to be some criterion for inclusion that isn’t just “because I want it.” We all want it, buddy.

There are two potential solutions:

  1. Government stops caring about your gender identity
  2. Female-only spaces/services/jobs/etc go away

I don’t care about your gender identity. I certainly don’t see why the government should care. Should there be separate changing rooms for non-binary? Ambigenders? Demimasculines? No. These terms just describe your personality. As long as your personality isn’t “stabs people,” government shouldn’t care about your personality and certainly shouldn’t be legislating that certain personality types get special treatment.

Government can go back to paying attention to biological sex, with the exception of people who have true intersex disorders (and documentation to prove it). People who have actually had SRS and now look like women (or men) can be allowed to do certain things like use the opposite-sex bathrooms because this is the safest and easiest thing.

The other option is to get rid of female-segregated things. If Yanive gets to identify as a woman with testicles, then so do I. So do you. Any scholarships for girls? We’re all girls. Any jobs open only to women? We’re all women. Female employment? Way up!

The left has spent years breaking down the notion that people have a right to free association. Want to control who comes into your country? Racist. Want to live in a low-crime neighborhood? Racist. Mens’ clubs? Sexist. Firing a gay person? Homophobic. The modern standard is that jobs, housing, universities, neighborhoods, shops, and life generally cannot discriminate against people for immutable characteristics like race, sex, sexual orientation, or disability.

Then the left tries to turn around and re-establish exclusive communities based on exactly those characteristics. It’s an intellectual charade with no underlying consistency other than “because we want it.” Great. Let’s end this charade.