By Request: The Modern Ainu pt 1

Old photograph of an Ainu man

Most of the information easily available on the internet speaks of the Ainu in the past tense: The Ainu were hunter-gatherers; the Ainu worshiped; the Ainu were conquered. The photographic situation is similar: an image search for “Ainu” brings up a few dozen century-old photos and not much else.

But the modern Ainu, of course, do not live in the past–they live in today, primarily in the very modern city of Sapporo. The modern Ainu are not hunter-gatherers (although the entire nation of Japan remains highly dependent on fishing for its nutrition;) they are doctors and shop-keepers, office workers and artists. They go to school, keep up with modern fashions, play video games, and ride the shinkansen just like everyone else in Japan.

Wikipedia (and everyone else) estimates that about 25,000 Ainu live today in Japan, with the caveat that since the Ainu don’t always bother to mention their ancestry, there could be a couple hundred thousand who just haven’t been counted.

Due to years of inter-marrying, the vast majority of today’s Ainu are at least part Japanese. One reference I recall estimated that about 300 pure-blooded Ainu remained in 1950; another estimated that 200 remain today.

There are also some Ainu living in Russia; according to Wikipedia, about 100 Russians tried to identify as Ainu in the 2010 census, and nearly a thousand people with some degree of Ainu ancestry live in the area.

Alas for my purposes as a writer, these few remaining folks appear to be living their lives out in anthropological anonymity, rather than posting selfies tagged #RealAinu all over the internet.

The one thing everyone likes to argue about in threads about the Ainu is whether or not they look like white people.

It’s kind of dumb to fight about, since obviously Ainu look like Ainu.

Okay, okay. Don’t start a flame war. According to Wikipedia:

Cavalli-Sforza places the Ainu in his “Northeast and East Asian” genetic cluster.[42] …

Turner found remains of Jōmon people of Japan to belong to Sundadont pattern similar with the Southern Mongoloid living populations of Taiwanese aborigines, Filipinos, Indonesians, Thais, Borneans, Laotians, and Malaysians. …

Genetic testing has shown them to belong mainly to Y-haplogroup D-M55.[49] Y-DNA haplogroup D2 is found frequently throughout the Japanese Archipelago including Okinawa. The only places outside Japan in which Y-haplogroup D is common are Tibet in China and the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean.[50]

Your Y-haplogroup traces your paternal ancestry, because men (and only men) inherit their Y-chromosomes from their fathers. Your M or Mt-DNA, (short for mitochondrial DNA,) hails exclusively from your mother (and both men and women have Mt-DNA, because we all have mitochondria.)

Often when one group of people conquers another group of people, their descendants end up with Y-DNA from the conquerors and MtDNA from the conquered, but there are other ways people come together, like folks intermarrying with their neighbors.

(Presumably this study was done with relatively pure-blooded Ainu.)

The distribution of Haplogroup D-M174 is quite suggestive: Ainu, Tibetans, and Andaman Islanders. These are three (historically) highly isolated groups–one of the world’s few remaining basically uncontacted peoples, the Sentinelese, (they’ll put a spear in you if you land on their island) live in the Andaman Islands. The Tibetans, as I’ve mentioned, have inherited DNA from the Denisovans–cousins of the Neanderthals who interbred with their ancestors–that lets them breathe more easily at high altitudes than anyone else on Earth, making it rather hard for non-Tibetans move there, much less conquer and occupy it [Note: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nepalese or other folks who also live up in the Himalayas also have the adaptation; this isn’t meant to be a discussion of modern political borders.] And the Ainu basically live on the far edge of Asian at the southern edge of Siberia–northern Japan is the snowiest populated place in the world.

“Sinodont” and “sundadont” actually refer to two different tooth shapes.

East Asian genetic tree, showing Ainu, Japanese, Koreans, etc

Tibetans and Andaman Islanders are definitely Asians–they clade with other Asians in the Greater Asian Clade–but they don’t look much alike. You wouldn’t mistake them for Caucasians, though.

Haplogroup D-M174 is believed to have evolved about 50-60-thousand years ago, presumably in Asia. This was shortly after the Out-of-Africa event, which occurred about 70,000 (or possibly 100,000 years ago [there might have been more than one OOA.]) D-M174 is so old that its “parent” haplogroup is DE, which is found in Africa and Asia.

By contrast, the mutation to the EDAR-gene which gives Han Chinese (the Asian ethnic group Americans are most familiar with) and Japanese their characteristic hair, skin, tooth shape, build, etc., (EDAR is pretty incredible in that way) only occurred 30,000 years ago–that is, the Ainu split off from other Asians 20-30 thousand years before what we think of as “the Asian look” had even evolved.

For that matter, Caucasian themselves only appear to have split off from Asians around 40,000 years ago–10,000 years before EDAR mutated, but 10-20,000 years after D-M174 arose.

Or to put it another way:

About 70,000 years ago, an intrepid band of explorers left Africa. Presumably, these people looked African, but I don’t know exactly which Africans these ancient people looked like–perhaps they didn’t really look like any modern group; perhaps they looked a lot like most Sub-Saharan Africans; perhaps they looked like the Bushmen, noted for their tawny skin tones and more “Asian” look than other Sub-Saharans. I don’t know yet.

About 60,000 years ago, the band split, and one group spread far across Asia. Their modern descendants are the Ainu, Tibetans, and Andaman Islanders.

The other group presumably hung out in central Eurasia, until about 40,000 years ago, when it definitively split. One group went west and became the Caucasians; the other became the Han.

Around 30,000 years, the distinctive EDAR mutation that gives east-Asians their “typical” appearance evolved.

Around 10,000 years ago, more or less, Europeans began getting lighter, and “whiteness” as we know it evolved.

Oki Kano, Ainu Musician

So… could the Ainu retain some traits or have never obtained some traits–like epicanthic folds at the corners of their eyes–which make them look more like their ancestral group, to which the ancestors of both Asians and Caucasians belonged? Sure. Could they have just evolved traits to deal with the extremely cold, near-Siberian environment they lived in that happened to resemble traits that evolved in European populations dealing with a similarly cold environment? Sure.

But are they Caucasians? Not even remotely.

And in my opinion, they don’t look Caucasian, at least not when their faces aren’t covered with big, bushy beards. (The modern Ainu tend to shave.) Take, for example, Oki Kano, an Ainu musician. Nothing about his appearance says, “Mysterious tribe of lost Caucasians.”

Back to Wikipedia:

In a study by Tajima et al. (2004), two out of a sample of sixteen (or 12.5%) Ainu men have been found to belong to Haplogroup C-M217, which is the most common Y-chromosome haplogroup among the indigenous populations of Siberia and Mongolia.[49] … Some researchers have speculated that this minority of Haplogroup C-M217 carriers among the Ainu may reflect a certain degree of unidirectional genetic influence from the Nivkhs, a traditionally nomadic people of northern Sakhalin and the adjacent mainland, with whom the Ainu have long-standing cultural interactions.[49]

The Nivkhs live basically next door and have a lot of cultural similarities–for example, both groups traditionally had shamanic rituals involving bears, which they raised and then sacrificed:

Nivkh Shamans also presided over the Bear Festival, a traditional holiday celebrated between January and February depending on the clan. Bears were captured and raised in a corral for several years by local women, treating the bear like a child.[34] The bear was considered a sacred earthly manifestation of Nivkh ancestors and the gods in bear form (see Bear worship). During the Festival, the bear would be dressed in a specially made ceremonial costume. It would be offered a banquet to take back to the realm of gods to show benevolence upon the clans.[29] After the banquet, the bear would be sacrificed and eaten in an elaborate religious ceremony. Often dogs were sacrificed as well. The bear’s spirit returned to the gods of the mountain ‘happy’ and would then reward the Nivkh with bountiful forests.[35]

A very similar ceremony, Iomante, is practiced by the Ainu people of Japan.

While haplogroup D-M174 shows affinity with more southerly Asian groups, like the Tibetans or Andaman Islanders, haplogroup C-M217 is found throughout northern Asia (principally Siberia) and northern North America.

To be continued…

Species of Exit: Israel

Israel is–as far as I can tell–one of the sanest, least self-destructive states in the entire West. (Note: this is not to say that I love everything about Israel; this is actually a pretty low bar, given what’s happening everywhere else.) Their people are literate and healthy, they have a per capita GDP of 36.5k, (33rd in the world,) and they’re 18th globally on the Human Development Index. They don’t throw people off of buildings or have public floggings, and despite the fact that they have birth control and the state actually pays for abortions, the Jewish population still has a positive fertility rate:

The fertility rates of Jewish and Arab women were identical for the first time in Israeli history in 2015, according to figures released by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday….Jewish and Arab women had given birth to an average of 3.13 children as of last year.

According to Newsweek:

This high fertility rate is not simply an artifact of Israel’s growing ultra-Orthodox or Haredi population; the non-Haredi fertility rate is 2.6. (This is, by the way, a far higher fertility rate than that of American Jews, which is 1.9; the replacement rate is 2.3.)

Did you think we were getting through this without a Polandball joke? And they’ve managed to resist getting conquered by their aggressive and numerically superior neighbors several times in the past century.

Not bad for a country that didn’t exist 100 years ago, had to be built from the sand up, and is filled with people whom conventional wisdom holds ought to have been rendered completely useless by multi-generational epigenetic trauma.

Now, yes, Israel does get a lot of support from the US, and who knows what it would look like (or if it would exist at all,) in an alternative timeline where the US ignores it. Israel probably isn’t perfect, just interesting.

Harking back to my Measures of Meaning post, I propose that Israel has 4 things going for it:

Ethiopian Jews
Ethiopian Jewish member of the IDF

1. Israelis have meaningful work. Their work has been, literally, to build and secure their nation. Israelis have had to build almost the entire infrastructure of their country over the past hundred years, from irrigation systems to roads to cities. Today, Tel Aviv is a city with a population of 430,000 people. In 1900, Tel Aviv didn’t exist.

Unlike the US, Israel has a draft: every Israeli citizen, male and female, has to serve in the Israeli army. (Obviously exceptions exist.) This is not seen as state-run slavery but part of making sure the entire society continues to exist, because Israel faces some pretty real threats to its borders.

The IDF even has a special division for autists:

Many autistic soldiers who would otherwise be exempt from military service have found a place in Unit 9900, a selective intelligence squad where their heightened perceptual skills are an asset. …

The relationship is a mutually beneficial one. For these young people, the unit is an opportunity to participate in a part of Israeli life that might otherwise be closed to them. And for the military, it’s an opportunity to harness the unique skill sets that often come with autism: extraordinary capacities for visual thinking and attention to detail, both of which lend themselves well to the highly specialized task of aerial analysis.


I suspect–based on personal conversations–that there is something similar in the US military, but have no proof.

My anthropological work suggests that one of the reasons people enter the military is to find meaning in their lives, (though this doesn’t work nearly as well when your country does things like invade completely irrelevant countries you don’t actually care about like Vietnam.)

2. Like I said, Israelis have above-replacement total fertility–meaning that many Israelis hail from large families, with lots of children, siblings, and cousins. Israelis appear to have managed to achieve this in part by subsidizing births (which probably will have some long-term negative effects for them,*) and in part by explicitly advocating high birth rates in order to prevent themselves from being out-bred by the Palestinians and to show that Hitler what for.

*ETA: See the comments for a discussion of dysgenic fertility on Israel.

I have been saving this picture for so long3. Religion is so obviously a unifying force in Israeli life that I don’t think I need to detail it.

What about that fourth thing? Oh yes: Many of the Jews who don’t like the idea of “nations” and “ethno states” and “religion” probably moved to the US instead of Israel. The US got the SJW Jews and Israel got the nationalist Jews.

4. A sense of themselves as a distinct nation. As I’ve discussed before, this is not exactly genetic, due to different Jewish groups having absorbed about 50% of their DNA from the folks around them during the diaspora years, and of course a big part of the country is Arab/Palestinians, but there is still much genetically in common.

There is probably a lot I’m missing.

15han-2-master675Of course there are religious Jews in the US (and their numbers are growing relative to the secular Jewish population.) While Jews as a whole voted 70% for Hillary, only 56% of the Orthodox supported her. (I’ve seen different numbers elsewhere, but these are the ones I’ve been able to find a source for.)

(I suspect that America’s high-IQ secular Jews suffer from being in America instead of Israel. They don’t have religion to guide them, children to focus them, nor (in many cases) meaningful work. Without something positive to work towards, they turn to politics/ideology to provide meaning in their lives, while simultaneously suffering the psychological stress of knowing that the Holocaust was directed at people like them.)

But that’s irrelevant to Israeli Jews.

Long-term, I’m not bullish on Israel, given its precarious location, surrounded by nations that aren’t very fond of it–and I am not offering any opinions about the Israeli/Palestinian situation–but as first world nations go, it at least desires to keep existing.

Rafflesia: the Parasitic Flowers of Breath of the Wild

Let’s consider the similarities between the fairy fountains found in Nintendo’s new Legend of Zelda installment, Breath of the Wild, and the enormous blooms of our terrestrial Rafflesia genus.

Rafflesia Arnoldii hold the record for world’s largest flowers, growing regularly to a width of 3 feet and weighing up to 24 pounds. Their central chamber is large enough to put a baby in, if you aren’t too perturbed by their odd spiky structures and horrific smell.

The Fairy Fountain is obviously the largest flower in Breath of the Wild and has a central chamber similar to Rafflesia’s; an enormous fairy woman lives inside.

Rafflesia is a parasitic plant which actually has no stems, leaves, roots, or even chlorophyll! (This has made tracing its genetic relationships to other plants difficult for scientists, because most of what we know about plant relationships is based off comparing differences in their chlorophyll’s DNA.) The only visible parts of the plant are its buds and, subsequently, the flowers they open into.

Likewise, the Fairy Fountain has no leaves, stems, or other visible plant parts–it is just a bud that opens into a flower. (However, the fairy fountain bud is green. Perhaps it would have looked too much like a giant nut if it were brown like the true Rafflesia.)

The rest of Rafflesia’s structure is hidden within the vines it parasitizes. When not in bloom, it’s just a network within the vine, just as a mushroom’s principle structures lie hidden within the ground or rotting logs.

The Fairy Fountain is surrounded by mushrooms, which suggest their similarity to the fountain’s hidden structure.

Rafflesia’s enormous size is due to the fact that it is pollinated by carrion flies, who are attracted to the largest carcasses they can find. Unfortunately, this also means that Rafflesia smells like rotting meat, earning it various unsavory names like “corpse flower.” It also possesses the remarkable ability to generate heat, creating a warm, comfortable environment for flies to congregate in.

In Breath of the Wild, the Fairy Fountain is also home to flies, though these are thankfully the much less smelly, tiny winged fairy kind.

What about pollen? According to Harvard Magazine:

“The pollen is incredible,” Davis continues. In most plants, the pollen is powdery, but in Rafflesia, it is “produced as a massive quantity of viscous fluid, sort of like snot, that dries on the backs of these flies—and presumably remains viable for quite a long time,” perhaps weeks. In their pollinating efforts, the flies may travel as much as 12 to 14 miles.

I don’t have a very good sense of scale in Breath of the Wild, but 12 or 14 miles between Fairy Fountains sounds about right. By picking up fairies at one fountain and carrying them to the next, Link is helping this likely endangered Hylian species reproduce.

Likewise, the center of the enormous Fairy Fountains is filled not with powder, but some kind of… liquid.

Flower snot.

Or it might just be water:

Vines move massive quantities of water, which may be one of the physiological reasons that Rafflesia colonize them, he explains. The flowers, which to the touch are like “a Nerf football that is wet,” are mostly water themselves, and the exponential growth of the blooms in the final stages of development is made possible “primarily by pumping massive quantities of water into the flower.”

That’s a lot like what I imagine the Fairy Fountain would feel like, too.

But the really interesting thing about Rafflesia is their genes:

Given his mandate to establish a phylogeny for the order Malpighiales, Davis set out, dutifully, to duplicate the published result for Rafflesia. What he found was not just unexpected. It absolutely astounded him. Some of the genes he sequenced confirmed that Rafflesia were indeed part of Malpighiales—but other sequenced genes placed them in an entirely different order (Vitales)—with their host plants. Davis had stumbled upon a case of massive horizontal gene transfer, the exchange of genetic information between two organisms without sex. …

The work is also facilitating the identification of Rafflesia’s past hosts, since many of the transgenes Davis found came from lineages of plants other than Tetrastigma, the current host. These ancient parasite/host associations, a kind of molecular fossil record, could be used to elucidate the timing and origin of plant parasitism itself.

Davis found that the host plant contributed about 2 percent to 3 percent of Rafflesia’s expressed nuclear genome (genes in the cell nucleus), and as much as 50 percent of its mitochondrial genome (genes that govern energy production). The sheer scale of the transfer was so far-fetched, his collaborator at the time at first didn’t believe that the findings could be accurate. The paper, published in 2012, demonstrated that intimate host/parasite connections are potentially an important means by which horizontal gene transfers can occur. And it showed that the physiological invisibility of Rafflesia within the host is echoed in its genes: the host and parasite share so much biology that the boundaries between them have become blurred.

Intriguingly, some of the transferred genes swap in at precisely the same genetic location as in the parasite’s own genome. “One of the ideas that we are exploring,” says Davis, “is whether maintaining these transferred genes might provide a fitness advantage for the parasite. Might these transfers be providing a kind of genetic camouflage so that the host can’t mount an immune response to the parasite that lives within it?”

And finally, Rafflesia flowers and the Fairy Fountain are basically the same color: both are both reddish with white mottling.

Nature: Domestication or Extinction


Humans have been around for about 200,000 years–longer if we include other members of our genus, such as Homo Erectus–and it took us about 199,800 of those years just to make one billion of us. It took about 120 years to make the second billion of us, and 100 years to make the next six billion.

When will we stop? Will our population stabilize, keep climbing, slowly decline, or suddenly crash? I have no idea. I do know, however, that humanity’s growth–and industrialization–shows no sign of slowing in the short term, putting increasing pressure on the other species we share our planet with.

I like animals. I don’t want elephants or panda bears to go extinct. But how much good can conservation efforts do in a world of increasing numbers of hungry people who also want to use the animals’ habitats?

Since there is nothing I can do about the number of people in the world, I propose a different solution: mass domestication.

Wikipedia estimates that there were about 60 million buffalo (American bison) in the US in 1800. Today, there are about 90 million cattle. Domesticated cattle far outnumber their ancestral species, the auroch. Dogs outnumber wolves. Corn has gone from a dinky little plant growing in Mexico to one of the world’s most common plants. Even rats and pigeons have benefited from their association with man.

How many species could be preserved by mutually-beneficial domestication?

Pere David deer
Pere David deer

Many species of deer or other large herbivorous herd animals could be raised for meat, such as the Pere David’s deer, virtually extinct in the wild:

This semiaquatic animal prefers marshland, and is native to the subtropics of China. It grazes mainly on grass and aquatic plants. …

In the late 19th century, the world’s only herd belonged to Tongzhi, the Emperor of China. The herd was maintained in the Nanyuan Royal Hunting Garden in Nan Haizi, near Peking.[14] In 1895, one of the walls of the hunting garden was destroyed by a heavy flood of the Yongding River, and most of the deer escaped and were killed and eaten by starving peasants. Fewer than thirty Père David’s Deer remained in the garden. Then in 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the garden was occupied by troops and the remaining deer were shot and eaten, leaving the Père David’s deer extinct in its native China.[1]

I hear it’s difficult to farm or raise cattle in marshlands, so why not raise marsh-adapted deer?

The scimitar oryx, similarly extinct in the wild, has lovely horns and lives comfortably in large herds in dry areas.


The Axolotl is an incredible “amphibian” that never develops lungs and spends its entire life underwater:

As of 2010, wild axolotls were near extinction[6] due to urbanization in Mexico City and consequent water pollution. They are currently listed by CITES as an endangered species and by IUCN as critically endangered in the wild, with a decreasing population. Axolotls are used extensively in scientific research due to their ability to regenerate limbs.[7] Axolotls were also sold as food in Mexican markets and were a staple in the Aztec diet.[8]

1280px-three_colors_of_axolotlAxolotls come in a variety of lovely colors and range in appearance from the cute to the intimidating.

And if you want an axolotl in your aquarium, perhaps you’d also be interested in an Alabama cave fish.

rothschildtortoiseGovernments, in order to symbolize their long, peaceful rule, could adopt tortoise mascots, sheltering them on official grounds (there’s plenty of space around the White House for a herd of turtles.)

Imagine a future in which tortoise races are an official function of government. Or diplomats engage in slow-motion jousting matches.

Since turtles and tortoises are temperature sensitive, each government would want to highlight a local species, not an imported one (unless no local species were available.)

Brazilian merganser
Brazilian merganser

The Brazilian merganser:

is a duck in the typical merganser genus. It is one of the six most threatened waterfowl in the world with possibly fewer than 250 birds in the wild and currently 4 kept in captivity at 2 different Brazilian locations. The origin of its name is from its long, sharp-edged beak that has a great number of teeth-looking edges.

I’ve eaten duck eggs. They’re tasty–a lot like chicken eggs, actually.

woman-with-her-pet-baby-giraffe-114493Pygmy elephants, rhinos (if you could breed a non-grumpy variety) and giraffes–imagine delicately proportioned miniature giraffes being taken for a walk through Central Park by their gliteratti owners.

Flightless birds like the kakapo have been decimated by the introduction of invasive hunters like cats. Since they cannot fly, they seem already better suited to being pets than flying birds like cockatoos.

Most primates seem too intelligent for domestication–they’d use their thumbs and smarts to get into trouble–but maybe a few, like lemurs, could make good companions.

Pangolins, seals, and otters are obviously high on my list:

Picture 10 d229e4fb

Brian Davies and seal, Network for Animals--source
Brian Davies and seal, Network for Animals

Obviously this post has been somewhat lighthearted, and there are probably good reasons why some of these animals actually aren’t well-suited to domestication.

But I am also serious; I would far rather live in a world with miniature pet pandas and giraffes than a world where these animals have gone extinct.

If we’re stuck on this planet–and it looks like we are–let’s make it a pleasant place to live.

Which animals do you think we should domesticate?

Just some very quick thoughts

Liberals find repellant the idea of insult*, not because they refuse to be crass or impolite–they are perfectly skilled at being both–but because to say that something is bad and outline the traits that comprise its badness is to say that one thing is better or worse than another thing and that there are certain traits which are, inherently, better or worse than others. Such judgmentalism does not jive with the quest for full equality–equality of spirit, body, and soul.

*except against personal enemies

There’s one strain of thought which holds that liberals (and perhaps conservatives) are a specific ideology that has been transmitted over the centuries, and another that liberality and conservativeness are just personalities that people happen to have.

A related quote:

I'm sorry, I forgot who wrote this. If you know, please let me know so I can credit them properly.
I’m sorry, I forgot who wrote this. If you know, please let me know so I can credit them properly.

I tend toward the personality hypothesis, and that society needs both liberal and conservative personalities for optimal functioning (one side is good at generating novel ideas, and the other side is good at preserving things that shouldn’t be changed,) but this is dependent on both sides recognizing this and letting each other be. (Ideally, this is where something like federalism comes in.)

Anthropology Friday: Reindeer Economies: Hunters, Pastoralists and Ranchers (pt 4/4)

From Ingold
From Ingold

Hello everyone, and welcome to the final Anthropology Friday: Reindeer Economies: Hunters, Pastoralists, and Ranchers [PDF] by Ingold. As usual, I am using “” instead of block quotes and in some cases I have skipped his in-line citations in order to increase readability.

“It would appear to require no more labour to manage a pastoral herd of two thousand than a domestic herd of two hundred. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, the animals need no longer be tame, and do not therefore demand the same degree of attention. Secondly, whereas the solidarity of a domestic herd rests upon the sum of dyadic ties between individual animals and the herdsman, stability in a large pastoral herd is maintained as a result of bonding between the animals themselves. Thirdly, since the pastoralist has relinquished his dependence upon the herds of wild reindeer, he is in a better position to prevent his animals from straying to join the wild population. There is therefore a kind of ‘take-off point, beyond which the only limits to growth are the absolute Malthusian checks of famine and disease. …

“[Since women tend to milk animals] In short, there is some justification in the milch pastoralist’s equation of wealth in large stock with ‘wealth’ in women and children. Milch animals must be tame, and are therefore incorporated into a structure of domestic relations that includes human subordinates in the household. In effect, every household head commands the services of two reproducing populations, of women and of female stock, and his main concern is to balance the growth of the one against that of the other. The greater the number of his human dependants, the more animals must be available to feed them; yet the larger the herd, the more labour is required for its management. A wealthy owner may distribute surplus stock as gifts or loans among friends and kin who may be in need, in the expectation of a delayed return. Alternatively, he may acquire additional labour through the exchange, in marriage, of a part of his stock-holding for a woman who will eventually found a new sub-household, and thereby make possible a further increase in the herd. …

reindeer being milked
reindeer being milked

“Milch pastoralism therefore combines a pressure to maximize the reproductive potential of women with a tendency towards maximal dispersion of animals. It follows that the overstocking of pastures ‘can be as much of men as of their beasts, the latter being merely the consequence of the former’…

“Consider now the carnivorous pastoralist. The supply of labour is not, for him, an immediate constraint on herd growth: it is normally enough that each household can call upon the services of a single herdsman, or perhaps two if the herd becomes large. However, to supply the needs of himself and his family, he has actually to destroy a part of his wealth. Far from constituting a measure of prosperity, the accumulation of dependants places a direct drain on his material assets. No wonder, then, that he prefers to restrict the size of his domestic group, …

“In brief, hospitality among milch pastoralists breaks out upon the multiplication of the herds; among carnivorous pastoralists it accompanies their decimation.

“The propensity of carnivorous pastoralists for miserliness, and the marked unevenness in the distribution of wealth that ensues, contrasts most strongly with the wide range of social involvement and comparative equality in stock-holding for which milch pastoralists are noted…

Rachel and Jacob by William Dyce
Rachel and Jacob by William Dyce

“More commonly, pastoral assistants are not impoverished householders, but propertyless bachelors, who come to occupy a position not unlike that of sons in their masters’ households. They may indeed be made into ‘sons’, through the legal fiction of adoption, or through uxorilocal marriage to the master’s daughter …

Genesis 29 Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.

And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well’s mouth.

And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them.

10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. …

13 And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things.

14 And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month.

15 And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?

16 And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

17 Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.

18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.

19 And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.

20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.

21 And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.

22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.

23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.

24 And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid.

25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?

26 And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.

27 Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.

28 And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.

“Though the contract is of the same type, an exchange of herding labour for subsistence plus a cut of each year’s calves, assistantship of this kind must be viewed in relation to the devolution of property within the household, rather than as a form of mutual aid between households. Two questions immediately arise. Firstly, what social conditions are likely to give rise to propertyless or disinherited youths? Secondly, why should a household that is short of manpower seek to expand by adopting ‘fictitious’ sons, instead of breeding sons through real or ‘fictitious’ wives?…

“By sending surplus sons into the service of the rich, as herding assistants, the poor pastoral household can prevent the division of its herd into units of a size below the viable minimum. By taking in assistants, the rich household secures not only additional labour, but also potential heirs. …

“Superficially, pastoralists look very much like capitalists. Their individualism, pragmatism and competitiveness, and above all, their desire to accumulate material wealth, appear to indicate significant convergences on the level of values and ideologies. …

“Thus the Latin word for money, pecus, referred equally to a herd of domestic livestock; whilst the Greek word for interest on a financial loan, tekhos, denoted also the progeny of an animal. Marx long ago pointed out the implications of deriving the meaning of ‘capital’ from its folk etymology:

“‘Were the term capital to be applicable to classical antiquity . . . then the nomadic hordes with their flocks on the steppes of Central Asia would be the greatest capitalists, for the original meaning of the word capital is cattle’…

From Ingold
From Ingold

“Though qualitatively distinct from hunting and pastoralism, ranching combines elements of both: ecologically, the relation between men and herds is one of predation; socially, ranching contains a principle of divided access to live animal property. This combination, I shall argue, follows from the introduction of a market in livestock, and entails, in turn, the division of control over more or less exclusive blocks of territory. …

“It is perhaps understandable that ranching peoples have, at least until recently, received very little positive attention or sympathy from anthropologists, for they may be held directly responsible for the obliteration of native cultures from large areas of the globe, including much of North and South America, southern Africa, and Australasia. But their neglect is unfortunate, since a comparison with ranching could greatly enhance our comprehension of the nature of pastoralism. …

“A few examples will serve to emphasize the predatory character of herd exploitation under ranching. In Argentina, the ranch economy originated in the hunting of feral cattle, which were initially valued for their hides. On the High Plains of North America, the Texas longhorns that were introduced to stock the ranges in the early days of the great cattle boom were ‘almost as wild as the buffalo that they supplanted, . . . for behind them were generations of untamed ancestors’. These beasts, which had turned feral during the period of the Civil War, were collected up in communally organized ‘cow-hunts’, on which were modelled the roundups of the range country. In northern Brazil, in the Rio Branco region described by Riviere, the development of ranching apparently proceeded through the appropriation of herds of wild cattle whose numbers had increased rapidly following their initial introduction into a vacant niche: The ranching technique requires the cattle to fend entirely for themselves on the open savanna.

“Today there are still completely wild herds that are never rounded up and that carry no brand; these are said to have been even more numerous in the past. Even those cattle that have an owner and are regularly rounded up are half wild.  In the chase, these Brazilian cattle can outrun horses, especially in wooded or rocky terrain, and once having taken refuge in such an area, they are almost impossible to root out. The native term for the roundup, campeada or ‘campaign’, with its connotations of military conflict, epitomizes the character of the relation between man and animal, which here seems to have erupted into one of mutual and violent antagonism. …

“The second factor to distinguish the association between men and herds under ranching from that which obtains under pastoralism follows from the first: if animals are not under the continuous supervision of herdsmen, they cannot be defended against predatory attack. It will be recalled that the pastoralist, by protecting his herd, aims to eliminate the destructive impact of predation rather than the predators themselves. The rancher, by contrast, faced with a threat of this kind to his stock, will embark on offensive campaigns aimed directly at the extermination of agents of predation. Chief among these have often been indigenous populations of human hunters, whose traditional grounds were overrun by the stockman and his herds. On the High Plains of North America, for example, native Indian hunters reasonably considered the range cattle of the white man to be as fair game as the buffalo which he had slaughtered in such huge numbers in order to make way for them. The response of the stockman was not to protect the herd but to hunt the Indian…

John Wayne
John Wayne

“[Ranching] also tends to promote an overtly egalitarian ethic, celebrating  technical competence, physical strength and masculinity. The cowboy on the North American Plains derives esteem from his skill in the hazardous tas  of controlling a herd of wild cattle from horseback, just as the Indian hunter before him competed for esteem in running down the herds of buffalo. …

“Among the cattlemen of Roraima, the contract between owner and ranch-hand is formally of the same kind as that between master and assistant among, say, the Chukchi. Each year, or sometimes every two years, the vaqueiro receives one quarter of the calves found in the annual roundup. …

“work as a ranch-hand represents a fairly sure path to future economic independence. The case of the man who began his career as a propertyless waif and is now in possession of more than 5000 head of cattle, managed by vaqueiros of his own, may be matched by precisely similar success stories among the Chukchi. Moreover, the parallel is confirmed on the ideological plane: the Roraima ranch-hand, like the Chukchi assistant, is regarded as a member of the family, raised by the ranch-owner as he would raise his own sons. …

“The Lappish pastoral band (sit’da) comprises a small number of families who reside and migrate together, and who co-operate in the management of an aggregate herd of individually owned stock. In size, the siida is of the same order as the Athapaskan local band, with a population of a few tens, or around two to six households; though occasionally a single household might migrate on its own. Manker’s census of siidas among the Swedish mountain Lapps gives an average of around five households, or twenty persons, per unit. There is a tendency towards seasonal aggregation and dispersal: the larger summer herding units segment into two or more smaller bands at the onset of winter, and regroup in spring. …

“To translate these extremes on the scale of prestige and influence in terms of a dichotomy between ‘wealth’ and ‘poverty’ is, in my view, fundamentally misleading, for it obscures the fact that the object of accumulation is to give stuff away. Strathern’s point, with regard to the informal leaders or ‘bigmen’ of the New Guinea Highlands, that ‘it is not the fact of wealth but its deployment which is important’, applies with equal force to the Eskimo umealik and the coastal Chukchi e’rmecin. For this reason, I prefer to regard these figures as ‘men of influence’ rather than of wealth, through whose hands is channelled the flow of raw materials and finished products from producers to consumers. The produce of the leader’s own labour, and that of his followers, is pooled in the household store, for subsequent redistribution to a wider range of recipients. Prior to redistribution, the store may be full to overflowing; but subsequently it might be the ‘man of influence’ himself who is materially impoverished.

“In times of scarcity, too, ‘it was the successful hunter and his family who might go hungry, since in his generosity he gave away whatever he had at hand’. In short, wealth in the products of hunting can only generate prestige if its amassment is followed promptly by its disbursement. The man who hoards at the expense of his neighbours does so in flagrant disregard to his own self-respect.”

EvX: Compare this to our own society, in which the only similar things I can think of are weddings and to some extent children’s birthday parties and Christmas. These can be pretty substantial, but few people undertake them with the goal of wiping themselves out economically.

“Indeed, the effect of the transition from hunting to pastoral relations of production appears to be to pit strength against wealth. To gain influence, the hunter directs his energies, in competition with his rivals, towards the immediate extraction of animals from nature. By contrast, if the pastoralist is to use his superior strength to secure control over the wealth on which influence depends, he must direct it towards the expropriation of animals from other people. It is in this light, I suggest, that we should interpret the theme of violence permeating Reindeer Chukchi ideology. For the e’rmecin, in stereotype, is not merely ‘strong’ and ‘influential’, but is also the perpetrator of assault in the form of theft and homicide. Courage and endurance are matched not by an open-handed generosity, but by treachery and deceit. Chukchi lore abounds in tales of ‘strong’ assistants who plot to murder their masters in order to usurp their position in the ‘front’ of the camp …

“Violence of this kind is unknown in the maritime communities. Here the strong man achieves mastery by virtue of his superiority as a provider for the people of his settlement; and if he violates the rights of others, it is not by seizing their property, but by refusing to share with them what is initially his… In short, as the live animal resource passes into the domain of human property relations, competitive strength is redirected from the interaction between men and animals to the interaction between men in respect of animals. The pastoralist becomes a predator on his own kind, deploying his physical capabilities in the practice of negative reciprocity.”

EvX: And that’s the end. To be honest, this was a bit of a dry book, and while parts of it were interesting, I am glad to be finished with it.

The Language Instinct

People have long wondered if language is an instinct. If you raised a child without speaking to it, would it begin spontaneously speaking? I hear some folks tried this experience on an orphanage, wondering if the babies would start spontaneously speaking German or French or whatever, and all of the babies died due to neglect.

Of course they wouldn’t have started speaking even if they’d survived. We have no “speak French” instinct, but we do have an instinct to imitate the funny sounds other people make and possibly to “babble”–even deaf babies will “babble” in sign language.

Oh, I found the experiment (I think.) Looks like its a lot older than I thought. According to Wikipedia:

An experiment allegedly carried out by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century saw young infants raised without human interaction in an attempt to determine if there was a natural language that they might demonstrate once their voices matured. It is claimed he was seeking to discover what language would have been imparted unto Adam and Eve by God.

The experiments were recorded by the monk Salimbene di Adam in his Chronicles, who wrote that Frederick encouraged “foster-mothers and nurses to suckle and bathe and wash the children, but in no ways to prattle or speak with them; for he would have learnt whether they would speak the Hebrew language (which he took to have been the first), or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perchance the tongue of their parents of whom they had been born. But he laboured in vain, for the children could not live without clappings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments.”[5]

That said, we likely do have some instincts related to language acquisition.

Wed Open thread: Breath of the Wild?

Hey everyone! It’s been an interesting week with lots to read.

For all of you who enjoy discussions about how private property came to exist, I recommend Privatization in the Ancient World.

And from The Economist, Escape to Another World:

Here’s a graph I happened to have on hand, not from this Economist article:

Meanwhile, for women, the struggle remains real:

And I’m sure this will make it into a post someday, but I thought it worth sharing now:

(Who’s adopting babies from America?)


For everyone else, how are you enjoying Breath of the Wild?

Is Racism an Instinct?

Everyone is a little bit racist–Hillary Clinton

If everyone in the world exhibits a particular behavior, chances are it’s innate. But I have been informed–by Harvard-educated people, no less–that humans do not have instincts. We are so smart, you see, that we don’t need instincts anymore.

This is nonsense, of course.

One amusing and well-documented human instinct is the nesting instinct, experienced by pregnant women shortly before going into labor. (As my father put it, “When shes starts rearranging the furniture, get the ready to head to the hospital.”) Having personally experienced this sudden, overwhelming urge to CLEAN ALL THE THINGS multiple times, I can testify that it is a real phenomenon.

Humans have other instincts–babies will not only pick up and try to eat pretty much anything they run across, to every parent’s consternation, but they will also crawl right up to puddles and attempt to drink out of them.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves: What, exactly, is an instinct? According to Wikipedia:

Instinct or innate behavior is the inherent inclination of a living organism towards a particular complex behavior. The simplest example of an instinctive behavior is a fixed action pattern (FAP), in which a very short to medium length sequence of actions, without variation, are carried out in response to a clearly defined stimulus.

Any behavior is instinctive if it is performed without being based upon prior experience (that is, in the absence of learning), and is therefore an expression of innate biological factors. …

Instincts are inborn complex patterns of behavior that exist in most members of the species, and should be distinguished from reflexes, which are simple responses of an organism to a specific stimulus, such as the contraction of the pupil in response to bright light or the spasmodic movement of the lower leg when the knee is tapped.

The go-to example of an instinct is the gosling’s imprinting instinct. Typically, goslings imprint on their mothers, but a baby gosling doesn’t actually know what its mother is supposed to look like, and can accidentally imprint on other random objects, provided they are moving slowly around the nest around the time the gosling hatches.

Stray dog nursing kittens
Stray dog nursing kittens

Here we come to something I think may be useful for distinguishing an instinct from other behaviors: an instinct, once triggered, tends to keep going even if it has been accidentally or incorrectly triggered. Goslings look like they have an instinct to follow their mothers, but they actually have an instinct to imprint on the first large, slowly moving object near their nest when they hatch.

So if you find people strangely compelled to do something that makes no sense but which everyone else seems to think makes perfect sense, you may be dealing with an instinct. For example, women enjoy celebrity gossip because humans have an instinct to keep track of social ranks and dynamics within their own tribe; men enjoy watching other men play sports because it conveys the vicarious feeling of defeating a neighboring tribe at war.

So what about racism? Is it an instinct?

Strictly speaking–and I know I have to define racism, just a moment–I don’t see how we could have evolved such an instinct. Races exist because major human groups were geographically separated for thousands of years–prior to 1492, the average person never even met a person of another race in their entire life. So how could we evolve an instinct in response to something our ancestors never encountered?

Unfortunately, “racism” is a chimera, always changing whenever we attempt to pin it down, but the Urban Dictionary gives a reasonable definition:

An irrational bias towards members of a racial background. The bias can be positive (e.g. one race can prefer the company of its own race or even another) or it can be negative (e.g. one race can hate another). To qualify as racism, the bias must be irrational. That is, it cannot have a factual basis for preference.

Of course, instincts exist because they ensured our ancestors’ survival, so if racism is an instinct, it can’t exactly be “irrational.” We might call a gosling who follows a scientist instead of its mother “irrational,” but this is a misunderstanding of the gosling’s motivation. Since “racist” is a term of moral judgment, people are prone to defending their actions/beliefs towards others on the grounds that it can’t possibly be immoral to believe something that is actually true.

The claim that people are “racist” against members of other races implies, in converse, that they exhibit no similar behaviors toward members of their own race. But even the most perfunctory overview of history reveals people acting in extremely “racist” ways toward members of their own race. During the Anglo-Boer wars, the English committed genocide against the Dutch South Africans (Afrikaners.) During WWII, Germans allied with the the Japanese and slaughtered their neighbors, Poles and Jews. (Ashkenazim are genetically Caucasian and half Italian.) If Hitler were really racist, he’d have teamed up with Stalin and Einstein–his fellow whites–and dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima. (And for their part, the Japanese would have allied with the Chinese against the Germans.)

picture-2Some quotes from the NewScientist article:

The murder victim, a West African chimpanzee called Foudouko, had been beaten with rocks and sticks, stomped on and then cannibalised by his own community. …

“When you reverse that and have almost two males per every female — that really intensifies the competition for reproduction. That seems to be a key factor here,” says Wilson.

Jill Pruetz at Iowa State University, who has been studying this group of chimpanzees in south-eastern Senegal since 2001, agrees. She suggests that human influence may have caused this skewed gender ratio that is likely to have been behind this attack. In Senegal, female chimpanzees are poached to provide infants for the pet trade. …

Early one morning, Pruetz and her team heard loud screams and hoots from the chimps’ nearby sleep nest. At dawn, they found Foudouko dead, bleeding profusely from a bite to his right foot. He also had a large gash in his back and a ripped anus. Later he was found to have cracked ribs. Pruetz says Foudouko probably died of internal injuries or bled out from his foot wound.

Foudouko also had wounds on his fingers. These were likely to have been caused by chimps clamping them in their teeth to stretch his arms out and hold him down during the attack, says Pruetz.

After his death, the gang continued to abuse Foudouko’s body, throwing rocks and poking it with sticks, breaking its limbs, biting it and eventually eating some of the flesh.

“It was striking. The female that cannibalised the body the most, she’s the mother of the top two high-ranking males. Her sons were the only ones that really didn’t attack the body aggressively,” Pruetz says …

Historically, the vast majority of wars and genocides were waged by one group of people against their neighbors–people they were likely to be closely related to in the grand scheme of things–not against distant peoples they’d never met. If you’re a chimp, the chimp most likely to steal your banana is the one standing right in front of you, not some strange chimp you’ve never met before who lives in another forest.

Indeed, in Jane Goodall’s account of the Gombe Chimpanzee War, the combatants were not members of two unrelated communities that had recently encountered each other, but members of a single community that had split in two. Chimps who had formerly lived peacefully together, groomed each other, shared bananas, etc., now bashed each other’s brains out and cannibalized their young. Poor Jane was traumatized.

I think there is an instinct to form in-groups and out-groups. People often have multiple defined in-groups (“I am a progressive, a Christian, a baker, and a Swede,”) but one of these identities generally trumps the others in importance. Ethnicity and gender are major groups most people seem to have, but I don’t see a lot of evidence suggesting that the grouping of “race” is uniquely special, globally, in people’s ideas of in- and out-.

For example, as I am writing today, people are concerned that Donald Trump is enacting racist policies toward Muslims, even though “Muslim” is not a race and most of the countries targeted by Trump’s travel/immigration ban are filled with fellow Caucasians, not Sub-Saharan Africans or Asians.

Race is a largely American obsession, because our nation (like the other North and South American nations,) has always had whites, blacks, and Asians (Native Americans). But many countries don’t have this arrangement. Certainly Ireland didn’t have an historical black community, nor Japan a white one. Irish identity was formed in contrast to English identity; Japanese in contrast to Chinese and Korean.

Only in the context where different races live in close proximity to each other does it seem that people develop strong racial identities; otherwise people don’t think much about race.

Napoleon Chagnon, a white man, has spent years living among the Yanomamo, one of the world’s most murderous tribes, folks who go and slaughter their neighbors and neighbors’ children all the time, and they still haven’t murdered him.

Why do people insist on claiming that Trump’s “Muslim ban” is racist when Muslims aren’t a race? Because Islam is an identity group that appears to function similarly to race, even though Muslims come in white, black, and Asian.

If you’ve read any of the comments on my old post about Turkic DNA, Turkey: Not very Turkic, you’ll have noted that Turks are quite passionate about their Turkic identity, even though “Turkic” clearly doesn’t correspond to any particular ethnic groups. (It’s even more mixed up than Jewish, and that’s a pretty mixed up one after thousands of years of inter-breeding with non-Jews.)

Group identities are fluid. When threatened, groups merged. When resources are abundant and times are good, groups split.

What about evidence that infants identify–stare longer at–faces of people of different races than their parents? This may be true, but all it really tells us is that babies are attuned to novelty. It certainly doesn’t tell us that babies are racist just because they find people interesting who look different from the people they’re used to.

What happens when people encounter others of a different race for the first time?

We have many accounts of “first contacts” between different races during the Age of Exploration. For example, when escaped English convict William Buckley wandered into an uncontacted Aborigine tribe, they assumed he was a ghost, adopted him, taught him to survive, and protected him for 30 years. By contrast, the last guy who landed on North Sentinel Island and tried to chat with the natives there got a spear to the chest and a shallow grave for his efforts. (But I am not certain the North Sentinelese haven’t encountered outsiders at some point.)

But what about the lunchroom seating habits of the wild American teenager?

If people have an instinct to form in-groups and out-groups, then races (or religions?) may represent the furthest bounds of this, at least until we encounter aliens. All else held equal, perhaps we are most inclined to like the people most like ourselves, and least inclined to like the people least like ourselves–racism would thus be the strongest manifestation of this broader instinct. But what about people who have a great dislike for one race, but seem just fine with another, eg, a white person who likes Asians but not blacks, or a black who like Asians but not whites? And can we say–per our definition above–that these preferences are irrational, or are they born of some lived experience of positive or negative interactions?

Again, we are only likely to have strong opinions about members of other races if we are in direct conflict or competition with them. Most of the time, people are in competition with their neighbors, not people on the other side of the world. I certainly don’t sit here thinking negative thoughts about Pygmies or Aborigines, even though we are very genetically distant from each other, and I doubt they spend their free time thinking negatively about me.

Just because flamingos prefer to flock with other flamingos doesn’t mean they dislike horses; for the most part, I think people are largely indifferent to folks outside their own lives.