Angola and Atomization

Quick excerpt from God of the Rodeo: The Quest for Redemption in Louisiana’s Angola Prison:

Before the rodeo [Terry Hawkins] had graduated out of the fields to the position of fry cook. It was better than being A.D.H.D. (A Dude with a Hoe and a Ditch)–after stirring fried rice or flipping hotcakes on a sove ten feet long, he could grill hamburgers, bag them, and stuff them down his pants to sell in the dorm. Sometimes he snuck out with fried chicken under his shirt and cuts of cheese in his socks. Payment came in cigarettes, the prison’s currency. Later he would stand outside the canteen, and trade a few packs for shampoo or soap or deoderant, or “zoo-zos”–snacks of candy bars or sardines. He knew which guards would allow the stealing, the selling. He made sure to send them plates of fried chicken.

While reading this I thought, “This man has, at least, something to offer his neighbors. He can sell them food, something they’re grateful for. The guy with cheese in his socks and hamburgers in his pants is probably a respected member of his community.”

What do I have to offer my neighbors? I have skills, but they’re only of interest to a corporate employer, my boss. I don’t make anything for sale. I can’t raise a barn or train a horse, and even if I could, my neighbors don’t need these services. Even if I had milk for sale from my personal cow, my neighbors would still prefer to buy their milk at the grocery store.

All of these needs that we used to fill by interacting with our neighbors are now routed through multinational corporations that build their products in immense sweatshops in foreign countries.

I don’t even have to go to the store to buy things if I don’t want to–I can order things online, even groceries.

Beyond the economic, modern prosperity has also eliminated many of the ways (and places) people used to interact. As Lewis Mumford recounts (H/T Wrath of Gnon):

The Bible would have been different without public wells

To sum up the medieval dwelling house, one may say that it was characterized by lack of differentiated space and differentiated function. In the cities, however, this lack of internal differentiation was offset by a completer development of domestic functions in public institutions. Though the house might lack a private bake-oven, there was a public one at the baker’s or the cook-shop. Though it might lack a private bathroom, there was a municipal bath-house. Thought it might lack facilities for isolating and nursing a diseased member, there were numerous public hospitals. … As long as the conditions were rude–when people lived in the open, pissed freely in the garden or the street, bought and sold outdoors, opened their shutters and let in full sunlight–the defects of the house were far less serious than they were under a more refined regime.

Without all of the little, daily things that naturally brought people into contact with each other and knit them into communities, we simply have far fewer reasons to talk. We might think that people could simply make up for these changes by inventing new, leisure-oriented reasons to interact with each other, but so far, they’re struggling:

Americans’ circle of confidants has shrunk dramatically in the past two decades and the number of people who say they have no one with whom to discuss important matters has more than doubled, according to a new study by sociologists at DukeUniversity and the University of Arizona.

“The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be,” said Lynn Smith-Lovin, Robert L. Wilson Professor of Sociology at Duke University and one of the authors of “ Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades.” …

It compared data from 1985 and 2004 and found that the mean number of people with whom Americans can discuss matters important to them dropped by nearly one-third, from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004.

Researchers also found that the number of people who said they had no one with whom to discuss such matters more than doubled, to nearly 25 percent. The survey found that both family and non-family confidants dropped, with the loss greatest in non-family connections.

I don’t know about you, but I just don’t trust most people, and most people have given me no reason to trust them.


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.

Anthropology Friday: Gypsies

Vincent Van Gogh, The Caravans
Vincent Van Gogh, The Caravans

It is easy to romanticize the Gypsies–quaint caravans, jaunty music, and the nomadic lifestyle of the open road all lend themselves to pleasant fantasies. The reality of Gypsy life is much sadder. They are plagued by poverty, illiteracy, violence, the diseases of high consanguinity, and the meddling of outsiders, some better intentioned than others.

I’m going to start off with something which, if true, is rather poetic.

The Gypsies refer to themselves as Rom (or Romani.) I prefer “Gypsy” because I am an American who speaks English and “Gypsy” is the most accepted, well-known ethnonym in American English, but I am also familiar with Rom.

Anyway, there are a couple of other nomadic groups which appear to be related to the Rom, called the Lom and Dom (their langauges, respectively, are Romani, Domari, and Lomavren.) Genetically, these three groups may be the results of different waves of migration from India, where they may have originated from the Domba (or Dom) people.

All four groups speak Indo-European languages. According to Wikipedia:

Its presumed root, ḍom, which is connected with drumming, is linked to damara and damaru, Sanskrit terms for “drum” and the Sanskrit verbal root डम् ḍam- ‘to sound (as a drum)’, perhaps a loan from Dravidian, e.g. Kannadaḍamāra ‘a pair of kettle-drums’, and Teluguṭamaṭama ‘a drum, tomtom‘.[2]

The Gypsy flag features, appropriately, a wheel
The Gypsy flag features, appropriately, a wheel

Given the Gypsies’ reputation for musical ability, there is something lovely and poetic about having a name that literally means “Drum.”

Unfortunately, the rest of the picture is not so cheerful.

Isabel Fonseca recounts in Bury me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey:

The new socialist government in postwar Poland aspired to build a nationally and ethnically homogenous state. Although the Gypsies accounted for about .005 percent of the population, “the Gypsy problem” was labeled an “important sate task,” and an Office of Gypsy Affairs was established under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs–that is, the police. It was in operation until 1989.

In 1952 a broad program to enforce the settlement of Gypsies also came into effect: it was known a the Great Halt … The plan belonged to the feverish fashion for “productivization” which, with its well-intentioned welfare provisions, in fact imposed a new culture of dependency on the Gypsies, who had always opposed it. Similar legislation would be adopted in Czechoslovakia (1958), in Bulgaria (1958), and in Romania (1962), as the vogue for forced assimilation gathered momentum. … by the late 1960s settlement was the goal everywhere. In England and Wales … the 1968 Caravan Sites Act aimed to settle Gypsies (partially by a technique of population control known as “designation” in which whole large areas of the country were declared off-limits to Travelers). …

But no one has ever thought to ask the Gypsies themselves. And accordingly all attempts at assimilation have failed. …

In a revised edition of his great book The Gypsies in Poland, published in 1984, Ficowski reviews the results of the Big Halt campaign. “Gypsies no longer lead a nomadic life, and the number of illiterates has considerably fallen.” But even these gains were limited because Gypsy girls marry at the age of twelve or thirteen, and because “in the very few cases where individuals are properly educated, they usually tend to leave the Gypsy community.” The results were disastrous: “Opposition to the traveling of the Gypsy craftsmen, who had taken their tinsmithing or blacksmithing into the uttermost corner of the country, began gradually to bring about the disappearance of … most of the traditional Gypsy skills.” And finally, “after the loss of opportunities to practice traditional professions, [for many Gypsies] the main source of livelihood became preying on the rest of society.” Now there really was something to be nostalgic about. Wisdom comes too late. The owl of Minerva flies at dusk.

That a crude demographic experiment ended in rootlessness and squalor is neither surprising nor disputed… “

Cabrini Green, circa 1960
Cabrini Green, circa 1960

Of course, Gypsy life was not so great before settlement, either. Concentrations of poverty in the middle of cities may be much easier to measure and deplore than half-invisible migrant people on the margins of society, but no one appreciates being rounded up and forced into ghettos.

I am reminded here of all of the similar American attempts, from Pruit Igoe to Cabrini Green. Perhaps people had good intentions upon building these places. New, clean, cheap housing. A community of people like oneself, in the heart of a thriving city.

And yet they’ve all failed pretty miserably.

On the other hand, the Guardian reports on  violence (particularly domestic) in Gypsy communities in Britain:

..a study in Wrexham, cited in a paper by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2007, found that 61% of married English Gypsy women and 81% of Irish Travellers had experienced domestic abuse.

The Irish Travellers are ethnically Irish, not Gypsy, but lead similarly nomadic lives.

“I left him and went back to my mammy but he kept finding me, taking me home and getting me pregnant,” Kathleen says. She now feels safe because she has male family members living on the same site. “With my brother close by, he wouldn’t dare come here.” …

But domestic violence is just one of the issues tackled by O’Roarke during her visits. The welfare needs, particularly those of the women and girls, of this community are vast. The women are three times more likely to miscarry or have a still-born child compared to the rest of the population, mainly, it is thought, as a result of reluctance to undergo routine gynaecological care, and infections linked to poor sanitation and lack of clean water. The rate of suicides among Traveller women is significantly higher than in the general population, and life expectancy is low for women and men, with one third of Travellers dying before the age of 59. And as many Traveller girls are taken out of education prior to secondary school to prevent them mixing with boys from other cultures, illiteracy rates are high. …

Things seem set to get worse for Traveller women. Only 19 days after the general election last year, £50m that had been allocated to building new sites across London was scrapped from the budget. O’Roarke is expecting to be the only Traveller liaison worker in the capital before long – her funding comes from the Irish government.

“Most of the women can’t read or write. Who is supposed to help them if they get rid of the bit of support they have now?” asks O’Roarke. “We will be seeing Traveller women and their children on the streets because of these cuts. If they get a letter saying they are in danger of eviction but they can’t read it, what are they supposed to do?”

August Von Pettenkofen, Gipsy Children
August Von Pettenkofen, Gipsy Children

Welfare state logic is painful. Obviously Britain is a modern, first-world country with a free education system in which any child, male or female, can learn to read (unless they are severely low-IQ.) If Gypsies and Travellers want to preserve their cultures with some modicum of dignity, then they must read, because literacy is necessary in the modern economy. Forced assimilation or not, no one really needs traditional peripatetic tin and blacksmiths anymore. Industrialization has eliminated such jobs.

Kathleen, after spending time in a refuge after finally managing to escape her husband, was initially allocated a house, as opposed to a plot on a [trailer] site. Almost immediately her children became depressed. “It’s like putting a horse in a box. He would buck to get out,” says Kathleen. “We can’t live in houses; we need freedom and fresh air. I was on anti-depressives. The children couldn’t go out because the neighbours would complain about the noise.”

Now this I am more sympathetic to. While I dislike traveling, largely because my kids always get carsick, I understand that plenty of people actually like being nomadic. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were genetically inclined to be outside, to move, to be constantly on the road, while others were genetically inclined to settle down in one place. To try to force either person into a lifestyle contrary to their own nature would be cruel.

Disease, lifestyle, and consanguinity in 58 American Gypsies:

Medical data on 58 Gypsies in the area of Boston, Massachusetts, were analysed together with a pedigree linking 39 of them in a large extended kindred. Hypertension was found in 73%, diabetes in 46%, hypertriglyceridaemia in 80%, hypercholesterolaemia in 67%, occlusive vascular disease in 39%, and chronic renal insufficiency in 20%. 86% smoked cigarettes and 84% were obese. Thirteen of twenty-one marriages were consanguineous, yielding an inbreeding coefficient of 0.017. The analysis suggests that both heredity and environment influence the striking pattern of vascular disease in American Gypsies.

Genetic studies of the Roma (Gypsies) A review:

Although far from systematic, the published information indicates that medical genetics has an important role to play in improving the health of this underprivileged and forgotten people of Europe. Reported carrier rates for some Mendelian disorders are in the range of 5 -15%, sufficient to justify newborn screening and early treatment, or community-based education and carrier testing programs for disorders where no therapy is currently available. …

12881_2001_article_6_fig2_htmlReported gene frequencies are high for both private and “imported” mutations, and often exceed by an order of magnitude those for global populations. For example, galactokinase deficiency whose worldwide frequency is 1:150,000 to 1:1,000,000 [56,57] affects 1 in 5,000 Romani children [44]; autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) has a global prevalence of 1:1000 individuals worldwide [58] and 1:40 among the Roma in some parts of Hungary [17]; primary congenital glaucoma ranges between 1:5,000 and 1:22,000 worldwide [59,60] and about 1:400 among the Roma in Central Slovakia [61,62].

Carrier rates for a number of disorders have been estimated to be in the 5 to 20% range (Table 3). …

Historical demographic data are limited, however tax registries and census data give an approximate idea of population size and rate of demographic growth through the centuries (Table 4). A small size of the original population is suggested by the fact that although most of the migrants arriving in Europe in the 11th-12th century remained within the limits of the Ottoman Empire [1,75], the overall number of Roma in its Balkan provinces in the 15th century was estimated at only 17,000. …

12881_2001_article_6_fig4_htmlDuring its subsequent history in Europe, this founder population split into numerous socially divided and geographically dispersed endogamous groups, with historical records from different parts of the continent consistently describing the travelling Gypsies as “a group of 30 to 100 people led by an elder” [1,2]. These splits, a possible compound product of the ancestral tradition of the jatis of India, and the new social pressures in Europe (e.g. Gypsy slavery in Romania [76] and repressive legislation banning Gypsies from most western European countries [1,2]), can be regarded as secondary bottlenecks, reducing further the number of unrelated founders in each group. The historical formation of the present-day 8 million Romani population of Europe is therefore the product of the complex initial migrations of numerous small groups, superimposed on which are two large waves of recent migrations from the Balkans into Western Europe, in the 19th – early 20th century, after the abolition of slavery in Rumania [1,2,76] and over the last decade, after the political changes in Eastern Europe [7,8]. …

Individual groups can be classified into major metagroups [1,2,75]: the Roma of East European extraction; the Sinti in Germany and Manouches in France and Catalonia; the Kaló in Spain, Ciganos in Portugal and Gitans of southern France; and the Romanichals of Britain [1]. The greatest diversity is found in the Balkans, where numerous groups with well defined social boundaries exist. The 700-800,000 Roma in Bulgaria belong to three metagroups, comprising a large number of smaller groups [75].

Current Developments in Anthropological Genetics reports:

picture-2 picture-3

Of course, if you want the full details on consanguinity in Gypsies, you have to read HBDChick:

the actual cousin marriage rates vary though from (as you’ll see below) ca. 10-30% first cousin only marriages amongst gypsies in slovakia to 29% first+second cousin marriages amongst gypsies in spain [pdf] to 36% first+second cousin marriages amongst gypsies in wales [pdf]. these rates are comparable to those found in places like turkey (esp. eastern turkey) or north africa…or southern india.

I’m not quoting the whole thing for you; you’ll just have to go read the whole thing yourself.

Health Status of Gypsies and Travellers in England:

The 1987 national study of Travellers’ health status in Ireland11 reported a high death rate for all causes and lower life expectancy for Irish Travellers: women 11.9 years and men 9.9 years lower than the non‐Traveller population. Our pilot study of 87 Gypsies and Travellers matched for age and sex with indigenous working class residents in a socially deprived area of Sheffield,12 reported statistically and clinically significant differences between Gypsies and Travellers and their non‐Gypsy comparators in some aspects of health status, and significant associations with smoking and with frequency of travelling. The report of the Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in the UK, 1997–1999, found that Gypsies and Travellers have “possibly the highest maternal death rate among all ethnic groups”.13

picture-1And as Dr. James Thompson notes, Gypsies do not do well on IQ tests, with many groups scoring in the 60-85 range. (White Americans average 100.)

This is all kind of depressing, but I have a thought: if Gypsies want to preserve their culture and improve their lives, perhaps the disease burden may be lessened and IQs raised by encouraging young Gypsy men and women to find partners in other Gypsy groups from other countries instead of from within their own kin groups.

According to Wikipedia:

Further evidence for the South Asian origin of the Romanies came in the late 1990s. Researchers doing DNA analysis discovered that Romani populations carried large frequencies of particular Y chromosomes (inherited paternally) and mitochondrial DNA (inherited maternally) that otherwise exist only in populations from South Asia.

47.3% of Romani men carry Y chromosomes of haplogroup H-M82 which is rare outside South Asia.[18] Mitochondrial haplogroup M, most common in Indian subjects and rare outside Southern Asia, accounts for nearly 30% of Romani people.[18] A more detailed study of Polish Roma shows this to be of the M5 lineage, which is specific to India.[19] Moreover, a form of the inherited disorder congenital myasthenia is found in Romani subjects. This form of the disorder, caused by the 1267delG mutation, is otherwise known only in subjects of Indian ancestry. This is considered to be the best evidence of the Indian ancestry of the Romanis.[20]

Map of Gypsy migrations into Europe
Map of Gypsy migrations into Europe

I must stop here and note that I have painted a largely depressing picture. It is not the picture I want to paint. I would like to paint a picture of hope and triumph. Certainly there are many talented, hard-working, kind, decent, and wonderful Gypsies. I hope the best for them, and a brighter future for their children.

So Merkel broke the EU (or, Brexit Explained for Confused Americans)

I thought this was funny
I thought this was funny

Watching the continuing Brexit debate has been… interesting. Since most of the people I know are Americans, so are most of the people I see commenting on it, and I don’t really think we Americans have much of a right to go telling the Brits what to do, largely because we don’t live there, we don’t have first-hand experience with whatever is going on in Britain, and we don’t have to live with the results either way. Still, I am going to try to offer, as best I can from my outsider’s perspective, an explanation for my confused compatriots about why (and what) just happened.

The EU
The EU

First, some background. According to Wikipedia:

The European Union (EU) is a politico- economic union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe.[12][13] It has an area of 4,324,782 km2 (1,669,808 sq mi), and an estimated population of over 508 million.

The EU has developed an internal single market through a standardised system of laws that apply in all member states. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital within the internal market,[14] enact legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintain common policies on trade,[15] agriculture,[16] fisheries, and regional development.[17] Within the Schengen Area, passport controls have been abolished.[18] A monetary union was established in 1999 and came into full force in 2002, and is composed of 19 EU member states which use the euro currency.

Britain still uses the Pound, not the Euro.

Not all European countries are part of the EU–notably, Norway and Switzerland, both of which seem to be doing fine, though I don’t know the details of what treaties they have with other countries.

The EU exists for two main purposes: to make Europe richer by making trade easier, and to make Europe more peaceful by discouraging nationalism. This is supposed to be accomplished via free trade, a common currency, and free movement of people within the Schengen Area.

Parallels with the original 13 US colonies merging under the Articles of Confederation and later the federal system established under the Constitution are obvious. The Federal government regulated interstate trade, dealt with foreign nations, and organized collective defense (ie war) efforts. The individual states managed their own internal affairs.

800px-EU-regions_GDP_per_capita_PPPOf course, if you are a British or Spanish or Finnish nationalist, the American example cannot inspire much confidence in your country’s long-term independent existence. When cracks emerged in the American coalition (mostly regarding trade, monetary policy, and slavery, which had a rather large effect on the economy,) and member states attempted to leave, the result was a rather devastating Civil War.

There are some rather obvious cracks in the EU, like fights between Greece and Germany over economic policy. (Germany’s rather strong economy and Greece’s weak one would most likely benefit from different economic policies, and the Greeks tend to express the sentiment that Germany is running roughshod over them.) (It strikes me that “Germany is running roughshod over other European countries,” is a rather common complaint.)

While Greece is clearly doing badly and Germany is clearly doing well, Britain seems pretty split, perhaps reflecting the close split of the British voters on the Brexit issue (52 to 48%.)

ClwmYPkUgAAXPZbSo what are the arguments against being part of the EU? Here are the main arguments I’ve seen (in no particular order):

  1. General cantankerousness
  2. Desire to control one’s own country
  3. “This has been secretly imposed on us”
  4. Immigration (Merkel)

These are not entirely separate things.

We’ll start with Number One, the least important. In any large enough group  of people, you’re bound to get someone who doesn’t want to go along with things. In the US, we have folks who don’t want to be part of the UN or think the Rothschilds are running the New World Order or that fluoride and chemtrails are poisoning them. So Britain has its cranky people, who don’t want to part of the EU.

CmFJjXSUYAASsDbDealing with (or ignoring) people who disagree with you–even if you think their ideas are flat out wrong–is one of the side effects of democracy. You get a vote, they get a vote. (In this case, if you’re an American, they get a vote and you don’t.)

I have seen several liberal acquaintances questioning, “Why was this even put up to a vote? Whose bright idea was it to let the people of Britain vote on something that could negatively affect corporations? Dumb people are messing things up for everyone else because they don’t understand economics!”

Look, this is how democracy works. If you don’t like it, let me offer you some Unqualified Reservations. Perhaps a bit of monarchy or neocameralism would be more to your liking.

But Britain is a democracy, and so that means the people of Britain, even the curmudgeonly ones with unpopular opinions, get to vote on things. (And by the way, the US is also a democracy, so if Brexit has you worried, hang onto your seats.)

Number Two: Outside vs. Inside Control

Mere cantankerousness does not a Brexit make, as there aren’t that many cranky people, even in Britain, so let’s get to the real reasons.

Any treaty or organization imposes duties and obligations on people. Being part of the EU removes part of a nation’s natural sovereignty and transfers it to the organization as a whole, just as being part of the US removes part of the individual states’ sovereignty and transfers it to the Federal government.

There are times when this trade-off is worthwhile, like when several small states must band together for their common defense, or when a free-trade zone makes everyone within it better off. There may also be times when this trade-off is not worthwhile–the liberalization of French trade policies with Britain shortly before the French Revolution, for example, decimated French textile industries by introducing competition from the British wool and cotton industries, which ultimately worked out very badly for Louis XVII’s head. Modern-day Greece, as previously mentioned, may not be benefiting from being in an economic union with Germany.

The people of Britain may be completely fine with most (or all) EU features, like open borders and free trade, but still want to have control over these things–and the option to decline them–in their own hands. I like being able to control my own destiny; so do they.

Merkel’s decision last year to throw open Germany’s doors and take in as many Syrian refugees (or people pretending to be Syrian refugees) as possible has had a huge effect on other EU nations. Once these refugees are granted citizenship, they will be permitted to any EU nation they want, not just the one that accepted them.

And just in case it’s not obvious: the people of Britain did not vote for Andrea Merkel, and don’t necessarily want to have to live with her decisions.

Refugees at the Hungarian/Serbia border fence
Refugees at the Hungarian/Serbia border fence

Merkel’s decision had an almost immediate effect on the EU, even before the Brexit vote, as countries threw up barbed-wire fences along formerly open borders:

The Schengen Area /ˈʃɛŋən/ is the area including 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their mutual borders. It mostly functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy

As a result of the ongoing migration crisis and terrorist attacks in Paris, a number of countries have temporarily reintroduced controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states. As of 22 March 2016, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden have imposed controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states.[2]

Views of the Jungle the Immigrant site In Calais Site 6 Months Apart.
Views of the Jungle, Calais, 6 Months Apart.

The EU responded to countries like Hungary refusing to allow Germany to dictate their immigration policies by reaffirming their independence proposing heavy fines:

BRUSSELS—The European Union’s executive body on Wednesday proposed controversial new asylum rules forcing member countries to take in refugees, and it gave a green light to visa-free travel for Turkey and Kosovo.

The new rules from the European Commission, which have ruffled feathers among central and Eastern European states, would require nations to pay €250,000 ($287,000) for each asylum seeker they refuse.

(And let’s not forget that Turkey, which has one small chunk of territory in Europe and 80.5 million people, is a major bone of should-it-be-in-the-EU? contention.)

Migrants boarding lorry at Calais
Migrants boarding lorry at Calais

This does not exactly apply to Britain, which has its own special immigration setup within the EU that I don’t know much about, but the setup sounds awfully similar. I can understand, though, that it may be very worrying to Brits to watch the EU try to bully other member states into taking migrants it clearly doesn’t want, particularly from the Calais “Jungle” Camp. As The Independent reported:

Hundreds of refugees and migrants have stormed a motorway leading to the port at Calais in desperate attempts to board lorries heading for the UK. …

Local newspaper La Voix du Nord reported that up to 400 people climbed fences on to the motorway and attempted to stop traffic so they could hide on lorries.

Clashes reportedly broke out, seeing migrants throw rocks and projectiles at riot police, including one that injured a lorry driver.

The Daily Express has a similar story:

More than 50 refugees can be seen swarming around the truck at the French port of Calais, helping their comrades into the cargo hold before closing the doors behind them.

Others run alongside the lorry, even trying to pull off an underside panel in a desperate bid to climb on board. …

British lorry drivers have said they fear for their lives every time they travel through the notorious port, with migrants resorting to increasingly violent tactics in a desperate bid to reach the UK.

The situation is so bad that drivers now refuse to work the Calais route and many freight companies are close to pulling out of the UK market all together. …

“All these guys are trying to do is deliver goods into the UK. The situation is damaging the UK economy and is affecting the supply chain.”

Number Three: Secrecy


How Immigration Came to Haunt Labour:

But “Young Blair” … was briefly silenced during a fraught meeting early in Labour’s second term in which a worrying rise in the number of asylum cases was being discussed.

The gravest offence, in Lord Irvine’s eyes, was to call into question Britain’s solemn commitments on human rights, notably those made after the second world war in the European convention on human rights (ECHR). When ministers dared to broach the issue of drawing back from some aspects of the ECHR as a way of curbing asylum applications, Irvine’s response was sharp. … The discussion was brought to a swift conclusion when Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, pointed out that Britain would be in breach of its EU membership terms if it sought to wriggle out of its responsibilities under the separate ECHR.

… it is easy to forget just how much immigration and asylum haunted Downing Street throughout New Labour’s time in office. Between 1997 and 2010, net annual immigration quadrupled, and the UK population was boosted by more than 2.2 million immigrants, more than twice the population of Birmingham. In Labour’s last term in government, 2005-2010, net migration reached on average 247,000 a year. …

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, has made capital out of his claim that the Labour government embarked on a deliberate policy to encourage immigration by stealth. Ukip often cites an article by Andrew Neather, a former No 10 and Home Office adviser, who wrote that the Labour government embarked on a deliberate policy from late 2000 to “open up the UK to mass migration”.

From Neather’s article, Don’t Listen to the Wingers, London Needs Immigrants:

So why is it that ministers have been so very bad at communicating this? I wonder because I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls. …

That speech was based largely on a report by the Performance and Innovation Unit, Tony Blair’s Cabinet Office think-tank.

The PIU’s reports were legendarily tedious within Whitehall but their big immigration report was surrounded by an unusual air of both anticipation and secrecy.

Drafts were handed out in summer 2000 only with extreme reluctance: there was a paranoia about it reaching the media.

Eventually published in January 2001, the innocuously labelled “RDS Occasional Paper no. 67”, “Migration: an economic and social analysis” focused heavily on the labour market case.

But the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural.

I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended – even if this wasn’t its main purpose – to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. …

Ministers were very nervous about the whole thing. For despite Roche’s keenness to make her big speech and to be upfront, there was a reluctance elsewhere in government to discuss what increased immigration would mean, above all for Labour’s core white working-class vote. …

And this first-term immigration policy got no mention among the platitudes on the subject in Labour’s 1997 manifesto, headed Faster, Firmer, Fairer. …

Right. So immigration increased, a lot, and without any big official announcement. The Guardian thinks this was basically an accident they couldn’t figure out how to avoid, whereas Neather asserts that the policy was both purposeful and intentionally kept secret because voters would reject it otherwise.

Picture 20Picture 19

Nothing to see, move it along…

And finally, #4, Immigration:

From The Telegraph:

Record number of migrants arrive in UK without jobs as Net migration rises to 333,000… The figures also show that 77,000 EU migrants have come to the UK without employment. …

Responding to the latest ONS figures, Boris Johnson, who is campaigning for Brexit, said the figures mean “we are adding a population the size of Oxford to the UK every year just from EU migration”.

The former London Mayor insisted a vote to leave is the “only way to take back control of immigration”.

He added that people have watched: “Prime Minister after Prime Minister make promises on immigration that cannot be met because of the EU and this has deeply damaged faith in our democratic system.” …

Asylum claims in the UK have jumped by more than a third to the highest annual level for more than a decade, according to the local ONS figures. …

The highest number of applications came from nationals of Iran (4,305), followed by Eritrea (3,321), Iraq (2,805), Sudan (2,769), Pakistan (2,669) and Syria (2,539).

Picture 13Picture 14

And from the Guardian article quoted above:

Between 1997 and 2010, net annual immigration quadrupled, and the UK population was boosted by more than 2.2 million immigrants, more than twice the population of Birmingham. In Labour’s last term in government, 2005-2010, net migration reached on average 247,000 a year. …

the key players of the time show in candid conversations that they were struggling to cope with a new world of rapid population movement across porous borders. At times they felt they were stumbling from one move to another, unsure of the present, let alone the future.

There is some very interesting information here about how the confused, messed-up bureaucratic system contributed to politicians feeling like they couldn’t control the number of people flowing into Britain, but I can’t quote all of it.

“We were entering an age where a number of things were happening at the same time – you’ve got cheaper air fares, you’ve got mass telecommunications, it was a different world in which people travelled much more easily,” …

At the time Roche gave the speech, the fact that Britain could not control immigration from the EU was a relatively uncontentious issue. In the early years of the Blair government, income levels in most of the 15 member states were on a par with UK levels. Migration from the three poorer EU members at the time – Greece, Spain and Portugal, which joined in the “southern enlargement” of the 1980s – was relatively low, thanks in part to the generous EU funding of infrastructure projects in those countries.

Then ten new countries, most from the former Soviet Block, enter the EU. The government tries to predict how many migrants Britain will get from them and fails miserably–they predicted 5-13k per year, and got over 50k. (The guy who gets blamed for this points out that his numbers were off because Germany didn’t open its borders at the same time and so they got a bunch of migrants who would have gone to Germany.) It turns out that when you can move relatively easily from a poor country to a rich country, massive numbers of people will, while relatively few people want to move from rich countries to poor countries.

And while America may still be a land of great plains and wide open spaces, Britain isn’t.

But as Sir Stephen Wall, Tony Blair’s former EU adviser explains:

…there was a strong moral case for providing free access to workers from eastern Europe. “The primary argument was the political one – this was the right thing to do, we attached a lot of importance to them as democratic countries and keeping our position as the number one friend of eastern and central Europeans.”

Cl2fYojVYAAhvhJOf course, people started noticing the sudden surge in migrants:

According to the memo, roughly 14,000 eastern European immigrants had arrived in Southampton within the previous 18 months. This was placing immense pressure on maternity services and leading employers to lower wages. …

Outlining the impact on the everyday lives of his constituents, Denham argued at the time that resentment of immigration would grow. “One of the problems was that people were supposed to register if they were employed but many came as self-employed,” Denham says. “The biggest impacts were in self-employed trades like construction, where you didn’t have to register.” In the memo, Denham stated that the daily rate for a builder in the city had fallen by 50% since 2004. He also noted that hospital accident and emergency services were under strain because migrants tended not to use GPs as a first port of call.

The Atlantic reports:

The force that turned Britain away from the European Union was the greatest mass migration since perhaps the Anglo-Saxon invasion. 630,000 foreign nationals settled in Britain in the single year 2015. Britain’s population has grown from 57 million in 1990 to 65 million in 2015, despite a native birth rate that’s now below replacement. On Britain’s present course, the population would top 70 million within another decade, half of that growth immigration-driven.

British population growth is not generally perceived to benefit British-born people. Migration stresses schools, hospitals, and above all, housing. The median house price in London already amounts to 12 times the median local salary. Rich migrants outbid British buyers for the best properties; poor migrants are willing to crowd more densely into a dwelling than British-born people are accustomed to tolerating. …

Now throw in the possibility that anyone in the EU–such as Merkel–can throw open their nation’s doors to whomever they like and the rest of the EU will just have to accept these migrants, fait accompli, and you’ve got a situation that 52% of British voters have decided they just don’t like:

If any one person drove the United Kingdom out of the European Union, it was Angela Merkel, and her impulsive solo decision in the summer of 2015 to throw open Germany—and then all Europe—to 1.1 million Middle Eastern and North African migrants, with uncountable millions more to come.


The Hikikomori Nations

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare defines hikikomori as people who refuse to leave their house and, thus, isolate themselves from society in their homes for a period exceeding six months.[2] (wikipedia)

The Hikikomori Nations:


Text from the seclusion edict of 1636:

“No Japanese ship (…), nor any native of Japan, shall presume to go out of the country; whoever acts contrary to this, shall die, and the ship with the crew and goods aboard shall be sequestered until further orders. All persons who return from abroad shall be put to death. Whoever discovers a Christian priest shall have a reward of 400 to 500 sheets of silver and for every Christian in proportion. All Namban (Portuguese and Spanish) who propagate the doctrine of the Catholics, or bear this scandalous name, shall be imprisoned in the Onra, or common jail of the town. The whole race of the Portuguese with their mothers, nurses and whatever belongs to them, shall be banished to Macao. Whoever presumes to bring a letter from abroad, or to return after he hath been banished, shall die with his family; also whoever presumes to intercede for him, shall be put to death. No nobleman nor any soldier shall be suffered to purchase anything from the foreigner.”

Obviously Japan was the original Hikikomori country. “Sakoku” or “closed country” is the term used to describe Japan’s foreign policy between 1633, when the Tokugawa shogunate decided to kick out almost all of the foreigners and outlaw Christianity, and 1853, when Commodore Perry arrived.

Oh, look, I found the relevant Polandball comic:

ojHujNhThe Sakoku period is very interesting. The Shogun basically decided to severely reduce contacts with due to concerns that the Portuguese and Spanish were destabilizing the country by importing guns and converting the peasants to Christianity. The revolt of 40,000 Catholic peasants in the Shimbara Rebellion was the final straw–the shogun had 37,000 people beheaded, Christianity was banned, and the Portuguese were driven out of the country. (The now largely empty Shimbara region was re-populated by migrants from other parts of Japan.)

Shimbara was the last major Japanese conflict until the 1860s, after the US re-introduced guns.

During the Sakoku period, Japan carried on trade with the Chinese, Koreans, Ainu, and Dutch (who were more willing than the Spaniards and Portuguese to leave their religion at the door.) I believe that internal movement within Japan was also greatly restricted, with essentially passports required to travel from place to place.

According to Wikipedia, “The [Edo] period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population*, popular enjoyment of arts and culture, recycling of materials, and sustainable forest management. It was a sustainable and self-sufficient society which was based on the principles of complete utilization of finite resources.[1]

*The population doubled during the early part of the Edo period, then leveled out.

It was illegal to leave Japan until the Meiji Restoration (1868).

North Korea is obviously the most extremely isolated country on earth today, except for North Sentinel island, which is technically part of India but no one can go there because the natives will kill you if you try. At least North Korea occasionally lets in basketball stars or students or something, though personally, I’d rather take my chances with the Sentinelese.

Ahahaha I think I am going to spend the rest of my post writing time reading Polandball comics.

Okay, I lied, I will write a real post.

So North Korea is a lot like Edo Japan, only without the peace and stability and the most people eating, though to be fair, there were famines in Edo Japan, too, it was just considered normal back then.

I don’t think I really need to go into detail about North Korea to justify its inclusion in this list.


According to this article I was just reading in Harvard Mag, Myanmar has fewer cell phones than North Korea. Myanmar has spent most of the post-WWII period as a military dictatorship cleaved by civil war and cut off from the rest of the world. Socialism has gifted Myanmar with one of the world’s widest income gaps and one of the lowest Human Develop Index levels–making it one of the world’s worst non-African countries. (And one of the most corrupt, ranking 171 out of 176 in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

Despite recent reforms, the country is still largely off-limits to outsiders:

Since 1992, the government has encouraged tourism in the country; however, fewer than 270,000 tourists entered the country in 2006 according to the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board.[250]

much of the country is off-limits to tourists, and interactions between foreigners and the people of Myanmar, particularly in the border regions, are subject to police scrutiny. They are not to discuss politics with foreigners, under penalty of imprisonment and, in 2001, the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board issued an order for local officials to protect tourists and limit “unnecessary contact” between foreigners and ordinary Burmese people.[254] …

According to the website Lonely Planet, getting into Myanmar is problematic: “No bus or train service connects Myanmar with another country, nor can you travel by car or motorcycle across the border – you must walk across.”, and states that, “It is not possible for foreigners to go to/from Myanmar by sea or river.”[255] There are a small number of border crossings that allow the passage of private vehicles, such as the border between Ruili (China) to Mu-se, …

In regards to communications infrastructure, Myanmar is the last ranked Asian country in the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index (NRI) – an indicator for determining the development level of a country’s information and communication technologies. With 148 countries reported on, Myanmar ranked number 146 overall in the 2014 NRI ranking.[340] No data is currently available for previous years.


Isolationist Butan couldn’t stand in starker contrast to Myanmar. Sure, it’s almost impossible to immigrate to Bhutan, (unless you are Indian,) but if you do manage to get in, they probably won’t kill you!

A tiny country at the top of the Himalayas, Bhutan has dispensed with this “GDP” concept and instead claims to be trying to maximize “Gross National Happiness.” Bhutan has so far resisted the siren call of “modernization,” opting instead to try to retain its traditional culture. The government only allowed TV into the country in 1999 (“In his speech, the King said that television was a critical step to the modernisation of Bhutan as well as a major contributor to the country’s gross national happiness … but warned that the “misuse” of television could erode traditional Bhutanese values.)

Last time I checked, it cost $250 a day to visit Bhutan, and it is the only country I know of that has completely banned smoking.


Nepal has historically been isolated,due to being on top of the Himalayas, but it has a lot of tourists these days. I don’t know how open the country is otherwise.

Tibet: See Nepal

North Sentinel Island

North Sentinel Island, part of the Andaman Island chain, is technically owned by India, but anyone who tries to set foot on it gets poked full of holes by the natives, so no one goes there.


Okay, I now China has historically been way more open to trade and contact with other countries than everyone else on this list. But I got to thinking: why didn’t China discover Australia?

I mean, it’s not that far away, and there isn’t that much open ocean to cross–it’s mostly island hopping. Sure, PNG seems a bit inhospitable and full of cannibals, but Australia, from what I hear, is a pretty nice place. So why were the Dutch and the Brits the first folks to actually record Australia on their maps? The Chinese seem to have had a pretty decent navy. (I have a vague memory of having read about China having sent its navy out on an expedition that reached Africa, came back and never went out again.)

China also has a great big wall on its northern border (but if you had the Mongols on your northern border, you’d have a great big wall, too.)


What about Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia? Do any of them qualify?

Species of Exit: Pilgrims, Memes, and Genes (Part 2/3 ruminations on Puritans and Indians)

Part 1: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder; part 3: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism

The Puritans really get a bad rap these days. “The Pilgrims” get favorable treatment in some children’s books, but “the Puritans” are lucky to get a neutral description anywhere, much less a positive one. Much of the time they described in outright hostile terms, as bad people who oppressed women and children and nature and the Indians and so on and so forth.

Much of that is basically true, but what those accounts tend to leave out is that pretty much every other group on Earth was also terrible by modern standards.

You ever wonder what happened to Roanoke colonists? Chief Powhatan told Captain John Smith that he’d killed them all. Why? The colonists had gone to live with another Indian tribe in the area, Powhatan and his soldiers attacked and slaughtered that tribe for local tribal politics reasons.

As I’ve said before, hunter-gatherers (and low-scale agriculturalists) were not peaceful paragons of gender equality.

To be clear: the Roanoke (and Jamestown) settlers were not Puritans. Totally different group. I’m just commenting here on the behavior of the Powhatans, who massacred their neighbors, including the Jamestown settlers themselves (an attack that left a quarter of them dead.)

But if you pick up a children’s book about Pocahontas, do you read how the Powhatan people massacred the Roanoke colony and later tried to wipe out Jamestown? Or do you read about how the Powhatan loved nature so much they were constantly surrounded by a chorus of singing birds and magic trees?

Do you ever read a story about the Puritans in which they are surrounded by magical choruses?

I am picking on the Powhatans because they come up in the relevant literature, even though they had nothing to do with the Puritans. I could just as easily talk about the Killing Fields of Cambodia; ISIS; or folks like King Gezo and Madam Efunroye Tinubu, who became wealthy selling people into slavery and didn’t hesitate to slaughter hundreds of slaves for religious sacrifices.

History (and the modern world) has a lot of groups in it I wouldn’t want to live in or near. The Puritans, by contrast, are downright pleasant. When everyone else kept telling them their religion was annoying, they politely moved away from everyone else so they could go about their business peacefully. They were never much involved in the slave trade, worked hard, attempted to lead virtuous lives, taught their children to read, and even established schools for the Indians so they could learn to read.

So who were the Puritans?

Puritan Genetics

These four pictures all came from Jayman’s Maps of the American Nations posts, which are all inspired by Colin Woodard’s book, American Nations, which I should probably read:


Here we have a map showing genetic clusters in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Eastern England obviously has the most red, a product of Anglo-Saxon admixture. (Note that the A-S component isn’t a majority, even here.) Western England is more varied, showing less of the Anglo Saxon and more of the old Celtic (or perhaps pre-Celtic) bloodlines, simply because the Anglo Saxons et al landed on the south eastern shore and spread inward from there, leaving a fringe of less mixed native people on the western (and, obviously, northern) side of the Island. (Note also that “Celtic” is not a homogenous group, but more of a catch-all for everyone who just doesn’t have a lot of A-S.) Cornwall, Wales, eastern and northern England, and the English/Scottish border region all show up quite distinctly on this map.


And here we see where people from each region headed. They did not move randomly, but shipped off with their friends and families, aiming for places where people like them were already established. The Jamestown settlers, as I mentioned before, were not Puritans; they were in it for the economic opportunities and hailed largely from the western side of the island.

The Puritans hailed from the east side of the island, the Anglo-Saxon zone, but obviously were not a random assortment even here, as they were members of a relatively small religious sect that wasn’t all that well tolerated by the other locals. Personality wise, they remind me a lot of the Dutch (and not just because they lived in Holland for a few years.)


Here we can see where the various groups landed and then spread. The Puritans arrived in Massachusetts in 1620 and spread quickly:


Jayman's map of the American Nations

to their fairly reliable present locations.

The Wikipedia claims that in contrast to the Jamestown colony, which was largely populated by men hoping to get rich, the Puritans consisted of a more even mix of men, women, and children who intended to raise children and build a civilization, a “Shining city upon a hill.”


Puritan Memes

The Puritans basically believed that god wanted them to run their lives via a joint-stock corporation with a semi-democratically elected board of directors.

Religiously, Puritanism is the kind of movement you’d expect from the Little Ice Age. They hated nice-looking churches, fancy decorations, and, one suspects, anything that smacked too much of “fun,” all of which they associated with their hated enemies, people who had insufficiently purged themselves of all vestiges of Catholicism. Their idea of a “good time” was attending church in a plain wooden building, then having a sedate meeting at home to discuss the sermons. (Anne Hutchinson got banished for hosting insufficiently sedate sermon discussions, after which the Puritans attempted to generally crack down on women enjoying church too much.)

Basically, the Puritans were trying to route religion through the logic parts of the brain. I don’t know if this is just because they had some other reason to hate Catholics, because they simply wanted to be rational about their religion, or if they just lacked the basic impulse toward irrational emotional experiences and so found ritual inherently strange and repellant.

Whatever the reasons for their attempt at striping down their religion to its barest, calmest bones, I suspect that religious belief is dependent on emotional rather than rational experiences, and thus attempts to conduct religion “rationally,” no matter how well-intentioned, quickly result in atheism. Ritual, symbolism, mysticism, and other altered, transcendent states instill an overwhelming sense of divine presence that mere logic cannot match.

By the 1660s, just 40 years after the Pilgrims had landed, the Puritan churches were undergoing a bit of a crisis due to the children and grandchildren of the original Puritans just not being as into church as their forefathers.

This is not much of a surprise; when it comes to breeding for particular traits, one must always deal with regression to the mean. The original stock of New World Puritans consisted of people who were so concerned about the English government not doing enough to root out the last few vestiges of Catholicism from the Church of England that they decided to risk death so they could start a new community on the other side of the ocean. Their children and grandchildren, having regressed a bit toward the religious mean, were not quite so devout.

This is a pattern I see among super-religious people today; they try their very hardest to pass on their religious fervor, but their children rarely turn out as religious as their parents.

Today, the Puritan church has morphed into the basically atheist Unitarian Universalist Church and the United Church of Christ, which promotes, “liberal views on social issues, such as civil rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights, and abortion rights,” and practices open communion (that is, anyone can walk in and take communion; you don’t have to be an official member of their church like you do in Catholicism.)

The Puritans haven’t quite shaken the habit of attending church, even though they stopped believing in all of this “god” business long ago.

What else made the Puritans Puritans?

One thing I have noticed about Yanks is their almost compulsive drive to create organizations. (I swear, these people cannot hang out and watch TV together without establishing a set of by-laws and a treasury to handle snack funds.)

The Puritan colonies were not just a random assortment of huts tossed up on Massachusetts’s shores. They were company towns set up by joint-stock corporations like the London Company, Plymouth Company, and most famously, the Dutch East India Corporation, which preceded the London Company by about 4 years, making the Dutch the first people to use joint-stock corporations for international trade and settlement, which is why the whole business strikes me as so very Dutch.

I wrote about the development of these joint stock corporations and their importance in the history of the United States and Europe back in Les Miserables.

The original British and Dutch colonies of Jamestown, New York, Plymouth, etc., were literally corporations whose purpose was to make money for their stock holders by harvesting timber (England had cut down pretty much all of its trees and was reduced to burning mud and rocks,) growing tobacco, and carrying on trade with the Indians. In practical terms, this was the only way the Puritans could get the funding necessary to buy the boats and supplies they needed to get from England to New England.

Wikipedia has an interesting description of how these corporations came to be:

“On April 10, 1606 King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) granted a charter forming two joint stock companies. … Under this charter the “first Colony” and the “second Colony” each were to be ruled by a “Council” composed of 13 individuals. The charter provided for an additional council of 13 persons to have overarching responsibility for the combined enterprise. Although no name was given to either the company or council governing the respective colonies, the council governing the whole was named “Council of Virginia.”

“The investors appointed to govern over any settlements in the “first Colony” were from London; the investors appointed to govern over any settlements in the “second Colony” were from the “Town of Plimouth in the County of Devon.”[citation needed] The London Company proceeded to establish Jamestown.[5] The Plymouth Company under the guidance of Sir Ferdinando Gorges covered the more northern area, including present-day New England, and established the Sagadahoc Colony in 1607 in present-day Maine.[6]”

(The Maine colony failed.)

Different colonies probably differed in how they handled the exact details of administration, but the general gist of things is that the Puritans believed that democracy was divinely ordained by John Calvin. Adult males who were formal members of the Puritan Church and had been “sponsored by an existing freeman and accepted by the General Court” (wikipedia) were allowed to vote for the colony’s governors.

Despite a deeply held religious conviction that they should work hard and build the best joint-stock corporation they could, the early Puritans had a very rough time of it in the New World and a great many of them died, which had a major negative impact on profits for the first few years. The investors in the Plymouth Colony decided to cut their losses in 1627, and sold the colony to the colonists, at which point they were technically an independent republic. The Massachusetts Bay company followed a similar path, first by relocating their annual stockholders meeting from England to Massachusetts, and then by buying out the remaining non-Massachusetts residents’ stock shares.

The British at this time were content to basically ignore the colonies (aside from the 10,000 or so who emigrated,) until after the English Civil War, when the newly restored king decided he was going to take over the colonies and rule them himself. Of course, you know how that eventually ended; the Puritans were too numerically dominant in their area and 1700s tech still too limited for Great Britain to control them for long.


As for daily life in the colonies, once they got the houses insulated and the crops growing, it wasn’t nearly so bad. There was plenty of land to till, child mortality was low, interpersonal violence was low, and the people seem to have been basically happy and productive.

I spent a while trying to decide whether the Puritans or the Jamestown colonists were more “liberal,” and eventually decided that “liberal” and “conservative” are meaningless, at least in this context. Virginia produced democracy-loving deists like Jefferson, whereas the Puritans were, well, Puritans. Jamestown has been block-voting with the rest of the South pretty much since George Washington retired (and probably before Washington was even born), and Plymouth Colony has voted against Jamestown in almost every election, so we should probably just chalk the political divide up to “ethnic differences dating back to the Anglo-Saxon and Norman conquests of Britain” and leave it at that.

Previously: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder (Part 1); next up: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism

Judeo Ethnogenesis

Ethnogenesis, as the name implies, is the process whereby a new ethnic group is created. An ethnicity is more or less a group with a shared culture, belief in common ancestry, and that preferentially marries within itself rather than outside of itself. Over time, this creates a group that is ethnically distinct from its neighbors, even under conditions of close proximity.

The Amish, for example, after splitting off from the Swiss in the 1600s over religious differences (remember, religion is ethnicity,) arrived in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s, so we may mark Amish ethnogenesis around the mid 1600s or early 1700s People today make fun of Ben Franklin for complaining that the German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania were problematic and not integrating with the rest of the population, but you know, the Amish still haven’t integrated. They still speak German, follow their own religion and traditions, and don’t inter-marry with the rest of the Pennsylvania population, such that they are quite ethnically distinct, at least on a genetic level.

The Hui of China are another example; they were not really considered an ethnic group before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China circa 1949. The Chinese decided to just lump all of their Muslim minorities–some of them quite distinct–under one term. (Historically, the term “Hui” also referred to Christians and Jews and was just a general catch-all.) Hui now marry other Hui preferentially enough that the Wikipedia page goes into detail on known cases of inter-marriage with the Han, but a fellow Hui from across the country may be regarded as just another Hui, and so a preferred partner.

Anyway, so that got me thinking about the establishment of Israel. Normally when I think of Jews, I am actually thinking of Askenzim, and you probably are, too. But Israel is actually 61% Mizrahi Jews–Jews from predominantly Muslim countries.

You know the general story: Once upon a time, all of the Jews lived in Israel. These people were probably pretty similar, ethnically, to the Palestinians, assuming the Palestinians are anything like the region’s residents 2000 years ago, and don’t have a massive influx of Turkish DNA or something like that.

Then the Jews got conquered and scattered to the winds. Most famously after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, but also during the Babylonian  and Assyrian eras, etc. Anyway, for the past 2000+ years or so, there have been significant Jewish communities in a lot of places that aren’t Israel, eg:

Uzbeki Jews
Uzbeki Jews
Chinese Jews
Chinese Jews
Ethiopian Jews
Ethiopian Jews
Cochin Jews
Cochin Jews
Lemba Jews?
Lemba Jews?

Then in the late 1800s, the Jews–mostly Ashkenazim, I think–got sick of this state of affairs and decided to exit Europe and go back to Israel. Unfortunately, they didn’t really succeed until 1948, at which point Jews from all over the world started pouring in.

Since most people are genetically similar to their neighbors, eg the Palestinians and Syrians, or Han and She, I began wondering how similar Jews were to their neighbors of millenia verses their similarity to each other.

Here’s a graph showing major genetic lineages of a bunch of different ethnic groups, including several Jewish ones:


Broad cultural zones are easily distinguished, like East Asians in yellow, South Asia in greens, Europeans with their large dark blue chunk, Middle Easterners with their big patches of light green and light blue, and the rust-tones in sub-Saharan Africa. This data set is great, because it lets us compare various Jewish groups to their immediate neighbors, eg:


I made a condensed version of the graph that highlights the measured Jewish groups and their neighbors, (sadly, some of the samples are pretty small, making them hard to read):


And an even more condensed version that just compares the Jews to each other:


(Note that the pure green section on the right-hand side is not a Jewish group, but just a chunk of the graph that happened to overlap the text due to the Cochin Jewish section being so small.)

Observations: Most Jewish groups are significantly more similar to their immediate neighbors than they are to other Jewish groups, especially when we look at the furthest-flung folks. Cochin Jews and Ethiopian Jews, for example, show almost no DNA in common (in this graph.)

Given what all Middle Eastern groups look like in the sample, we may speculate that the original Jewish group primarily had a large section of light blue and a slightly smaller section of light green, with probably a smidge of sub-Saharan. Several of the Middle Eastern Jewish groups still have this genetic makeup.

Three Jewish groups show a more European makeup, with a large dark blue chunk characteristic of Europeans and North Africans: the Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Moroccan Jews. They look closest to Cypriots, though I compared them to Spaniards and Tuscans as their nearest neighbors in the graph.

Since the Ashkenazim are estimated to be about half Italian, it’s not surprising that they have about half as much dark blue as the Italians. Even within European groups, while they look fairly similar at this level of resolution, some groups are quite distinct from each other–Italians and Germans, for example, or Brits and Greeks. Geneticists can determine whether your ancestors were Italians or Germans or Greeks just by looking at your DNA, but those kinds of small details don’t really show up all that well on a graph that is trying to show the differences between Sub-Saharan Africanss and Asians. So while Moroccans, Sephardim, and Ashkenazim all look rather similar here, there may be finer grained differences that just don’t show up at this scale.

What’s up with the Moroccan Jews? They do not look like Moroccans; I therefore speculate a more recent migration of Moroccan Jews from somewhere else that’s not Morocco, like Spain.

The Jews who migrated to the East, however, lost a significant portion–almost all–of their light blue component, replacing it with dark green more typical of Indians and other SE Asian populations.

I don’t think this dataset contains Uzbeki Jews (or the Lemba, who are not Jewish enough to be considered Jewish, but still have a few Jewish traditions and folktales and a bit of Jewish ancestry,) which is sad, but I’d wager the Uzbeki Jews look a lot like other Uzbeks.

One of the things I’ve heard often from Jews is that all Jews are Jews, part of one great big Jewish family descended from Abraham (even the atheist ones!) and thus Jews should always try to be kind to each other, all Jews are welcome in Israel, etc. This is a perfectly sensible philosophy when you’re a peasant in Poland and the only foreign Jews you’ve ever met were from Lithuania. But 2000+ years of diaspora have resulted in far flung groups becoming quite ethnically distinct from each other. Like the Amish, isolated groups in Cochin or Ethiopia have become their own ethnies distinct from their ancestors, but unlike the Amish, they have inter-married significantly with the locals. (The Amish do not marry non-Amish.)

The Roman Exile, therefore, should be regarded as a major ethnogenesis event–the beginning of the creation of most current Jewish ethnic groups.

The creation of the state of Israel constitutes a second major ethnogenesis event, a bringing together of these multiple ethnic groups into one population that views itself as one population. I expect a great deal of mixing between these historically distinct groups into a more homogenous whole, (though some groups may not mix terribly well.)

Some thoughts for homeschooling parents

You can’t build up immunity to a disease by never experiencing it.

I hear a lot of people around these parts vowing to homeschool their kids because of this that or the other public schools are doing–usually something related to modern liberal politics. They’re afraid of their kids learning about gay marriage, or social justice, or something similar, so they decide that the solution is just to keep the kids at home where they can learn without the agenda.

Now, to be clear, I have nothing against homeschooling–all of the evidence and studies I’ve seen on the subject indicate that it is a perfectly fine way to educate a kid, so long as the parents are mentally healthy, not-abusive, etc. If you happen to live in an area where there aren’t a lot of other people around, then you might want to consider conventional schools just because your neighborhood makes it difficult to associate with other humans, but otherwise, I see homeschooling as just another method of educating a kid. If your goal is merely to provide your kid with the best education possible, this post is not for you.

However, if your goal in homeschooling is to prevent your kid from learning about broad social trends, political ideologies, or ideas you don’t like, anecdotal evidence suggests you will fail.

Your kid will grow up, they will leave the house, and then they will learn about all of the stuff everyone else believes. If everyone out there believes X, and your kid is even remotely neurologically normal, then your kid will learn about X and start believing it.

Remember, the vast majority of normal people pick up their ideas and beliefs from the other people around them. This is not a bug. This is a very important ability. Other people are treasure troves of useful information about how to stay alive and not die. Imitating others is how you learned to talk, which things are good to eat, and how to behave in new situations. If you’re standing near a road with your friend, and they suddenly jump back, it’s in your interest to jump back, too.

Inability to properly imitate others is extremely problematic and one of the basic symptoms of autism.

So, like I said, if your kids are remotely normal, they will pick up the values of the dominant culture upon exposure. And then they will decide that you were a looney nutcase.

I’m going to talk about the personal experiences of 5 people I know who were homeschooled by conservative Christians. I’m not cherry-picking; they are all the homeschooled people I know.

One went to Bible college, got pregnant, dropped out, and got married. This person still professes Christian faith, but believes far more in materialism.

The second dropped out of college, became a die-hard SJW, and changed genders. I doubt they are still Christian, and they regard their parents’ faith as a cult.

Third completed college, but has become a die-hard SJW. Has a very dim view of conservative Christianity. No children.

Fourth became an atheist liberal who believes in gay marriage and abortion.

Fifth became a die-hard SJW who hates conservative Christianity, thinks their parents were culty, and makes pornography.

If you want an in-depth look at how this happens, I recommend the webcomic Dumbing of Age.

What happened?

In all of these cases, the parents homeschooled to keep their kids isolated from certain ideas, ideologies, or behaviors. The kids graduated with very little experience of the world. They did not have a thorough understanding of how the world works, the philosophies out there, and why, exactly, their parents disagreed.

As a result, when exposed to the meme-viruses of the world, they get infected. They have no defenses.

In my experience, the vast majority of conservatives cannot articulate a coherent explanation for their beliefs, and do not attempt to explain their underlying reasoning to their kids. Many of them, I suspect, simply believe as they do because of habit, convenience, or because everyone else in their area does. Liberalism, by contrast, has put a lot of effort into making arguments against conservative beliefs.

For example, let’s take gay marriage. Common conservative arguments against gay marriage are “Ew! Gay people are gross!” “God says homosexuality is a sin,” and “The purpose of marriage is to make children.”

Liberals have all sorts of counter-arguments, like, “Ellen DeGeneres isn’t icky,” “Separation of Church and State,” and “But we let infertile people get married.”

In short, if it is really important to you that your kid think gay marriage is a bad idea, you’d better have a better, more coherent argument than that. Same for everything else in your memeplex/ideology/worldview–up to and including the existence of god. You might think your proof for the existence of god is pretty solid, but most of the people your kids will be associating with will probably think rather little of your proofs.

If you can’t explain your ideology and rigorously support it, showing your kids that your explanations of how the world works is better than the dominant ones, then you’d be better off just letting your kid go to public school and then doing your best to defend any objections to the curriculum when they come up. Your kids might think you’re kind of weird (just as I thought my parents were kind of weird in the early 90s for defending the use of aerosols/CFCs and not being concerned about the hole in the ozone layer), but they won’t hate you or think you’re a loon.

Species of Exit: The Sentinelese, the world’s most isolated people

North Sentinel Island
North Sentinel Island
Map showing location of North Sentinel Island (red) relative to the rest of the Andaman Islands
Map showing location of North Sentinel Island (red) relative to the rest of the Andaman Islands
Map showing the distance between the Andaman Islands and land.
Map showing the distance between the Andaman Islands (small islands south of Myanmar) and land.

The Sentinelese appear to have split off from the rest of humanity approximately 48,500 years ago, and aside from occasional contact with other members of the Andaman islands, have remained isolated ever since.

People have occasionally landed on or near Sentinel island, but the islanders have all resisted contact, generally by shooting arrows at anyone who gets too close. Even National Geographic hasn’t got any pictures of them–when they tried to make a documentary on the island, armed with gifts, they had to retreat after the director took an arrow in the thigh. The last guys whose boat accidentally drifted onto their beach got killed and buried in shallow graves on the beach.

North Sentinel Island is technically owned by India, but India has given up trying to make peaceful contact, and it would probably look bad to just bomb the place.

So what do we know about the Sentinelese?

Obviously not a whole lot, since most of what we know of them has been observed from a distance.

The whole island is about the size of Manhattan, and probably inhabited by 40-500 people. They’re generally characterized as Negritos, a term used for the shorter than average but taller than Pygmies, dark-skinned people of the Andaman Islands and certain groups in the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia. The term is only descriptive; different Negrito tribes may not be related to each other at all. (I promised I’d get around to the Negritos eventually.)

Aside from stuff that has randomly washed up on their island or was given to them by folks trying to make contact, they have only stone tools and, according to the Wikipedia, appear not to have fire.

But a little more research suggests that Wikipedia may just be wrong on this point; during the search for the lost Malaysian jetliner, smoke was observed rising from North Sentinele, which implies that the people there probably do have fire.

At any rate, we do know that they have bows and arrows, boats, and spears.

When National Geographic tried to make contact, they left a plastic toy car, coconuts, a live pig, a doll, and aluminum cookware on the beach before getting shot at. After they retreated, they observed the Sentinelese shoot and bury the pig (not eat it?) and, if the Wikipedia is accurate, shoot and bury the doll. They took the coconuts and pans; no word of the car’s fate.

In 1970, a group of Indian anthropologists that came near the island had a decidedly strange incident:

Quite a few discarded their weapons and gestured to us to throw the fish. The women came out of the shade to watch our antics… A few men came and picked up the fish. They appeared to be gratified, but there did not seem to be much softening to their hostile attitude… They all began shouting some incomprehensible words. We shouted back and gestured to indicate that we wanted to be friends. The tension did not ease. At this moment, a strange thing happened — a woman paired off with a warrior and sat on the sand in a passionate embrace. This act was being repeated by other women, each claiming a warrior for herself, a sort of community mating, as it were. Thus did the militant group diminish. This continued for quite some time and when the tempo of this frenzied dance of desire abated, the couples retired into the shade of the jungle. However, some warriors were still on guard. We got close to the shore and threw some more fish which were immediately retrieved by a few youngsters. It was well past noon and we headed back to the ship…

Virtually nothing is known about the Sentinelese language, though it is speculated that it is related to the Onge language of the Andaman islands. However, attempts at using the Onge as translators have failed, as the Onge themselves cannot understand a word of Sentinelese.

A British expedition in the 1880s that got a decent look at the island claimed that, of all the nearby groups, Sentinelese culture most closely resembled Onge culture, so it is still possible that the languages are related, albeit distantly.

Since much more is known about the Onge, I’m going to speak briefly about them:

A member of the Onge collecting Honey on the Andaman Islands
Onge man collecting honey, Andaman Islands

The Onge are marked in blue on the map above; today they live chiefly on Little Andaman Island in the south, but in the past they ranged further north, closer to to the Sentinelese. Contact with the outside world has reduced their population from almost 700 people (1900) to about 100. (There may well have been >700 people before 1900, that’s just the first date I have numbers for.) Strangely, the Onge appear to be the world’s least fertile people, with 40% of couples suffering infertility. Wikipedia estimates their Net Reproductive Rate (similar to TFR, but only looks at daughters) at 0.91, which is below replacement, however, their population appears to have held steady for the past 30 years, so perhaps the problem is working itself out.

Why such infertility? The most obvious guesses (IMO) are some sort of environmental poison/effect; some sort of diseased-induced infertility, like gonorrheal scaring (please note that I have no idea if any of the Onge have ever had gonorrhea, but it is a common cause of infertility;) or a side effect of inbreeding/lack of genetic diversity following their extreme population collapse.

The article Malnutrition and high childhood mortality among the Onge tribe of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands suggests that the real cause of the low NRR is high childhood mortality due to malnutrition/insufficient food, probably due to loss of their traditional hunting/gathering grounds.

Genetically, the Onge appear to have been isolated for an extremely long time. They all share the same mitochondrial DNA, haplotype M32, which is not found anywhere outside of the Andaman Islands. (The larger umbrella-group M, to which all M-varieties belong, is one of the world’s most wide-spread lineages, emerging either shortly before the Out of Africa event, or shortly after it, but is most reliably concentrated in Asia, with several ancient lineages in India.)

The Onge language is related to the languages of some of the other tribes in the Andaman Islands, and speculated to be part of the greater Austronesian language family. (Considering that the whole Indo-European language family is about, what, 4-6,000 years old, I am a little skeptical of our ability to reconstruct too much about a language that may have diverged 40,000+ years ago.)

Onge Y-DNA belongs to Haplogroup D-M174, which emerged in Asia about 60,000 years ago and isn’t found outside of Asia. It is found today among Tibetans, the Ainu, and the Andaman Islanders, suggesting that these people are all (at least partially) descended from a common source that split off from other humans around 60,000 years ago, or just after the OoA (relatively speaking.) D-M174 is also found in small amounts in China and central/east Asia.

The Ainu, IIRC, also have a particular tooth shape that is commonly found in Melanesia, but not outside of it, and a small amount (about 15%, I think,) of Siberian DNA. And, of course, we now have evidence of Melanesian DNA showing up in the Amazon rainforest, not to mention the curious concentration of archaic Denisovan admixture in Melanesians, despite the only Denisovan remains we’ve found so far coming from Russia. However, it appears that there is no Denisovan DNA in the Andaman Islanders, so maybe they split off before the Denisovan admixture advent.

The sum of the evidence suggests a single band of people, perhaps most closely resembling the Negritos, spread 60,000 years ago along the coast of southern Asia and spread far into the interior, reaching at least as far as Tibet, the Andaman Islands, and northern Japan, and possibly even crossing the Bering Strait and down to the tip of South America. (Since Melanesians do not appear to have ever spread to Polynesia, I suspect they did not boat straight across the Pacific, but maybe we just haven’t yet found Melanesian remains in Polynesia.)

Over the ensuing millenia, later population waves, like the Polynesians and the common ancestors of east Asians like the Han and the Japanese, migrated into the area, leaving only a few isolated remnants of Haplogroup D-M174 in far-flung, difficult to reach places like the Andaman islands, the Himalayan Plateau, and the coldest parts of Japan. Likewise, Melanesian DNA in the New World seems to have best survived in one of its harshest, most difficult to penetrate habitats: the rain forest.

This all gets back to my theory of genetic survival at the fringes, (discussed here,) which I hope to devote a full post to soon. The history of the world is the group with better tech conquering the group with worse tech, and then getting conquered in turn by a group with even better tech.

The island of Taiwan illustrates this well; the most recent immigration wave happened in 1949, when the ROC lost their war with the PRC and evacuated 2 million of their people to Taiwan, a nation of 6 million at the time. Taiwan had previously (temporarily) been conquered by the Japanese, and before that, by other Chinese people, who began arriving around 1300. They’ve been gradually defeating/replacing the aboriginal Taiwanese, who are now a very small population, and the aboriginal Taiwanese themselves have legends about having wiped out a negrito-like people who predated their arrival, but I consider such legends only potentially true. Each group got conquered by the next group with better tech.

A couple more pictures of Andaman Islanders:

source Wikipedia
Onge mother and child, Wikipedia


source Wikipedia
Andamanese Couple, Wikipedia

Anyway, back to the Sentinelese.

The available evidence suggests that they split off from the rest of the human population ages upon ages ago, and have been effectively isolated from everyone but their immediate neighbors ever since. Though technically their island is considered part of India, as a practical matter, they govern themselves. They have managed to retain their independent status for so long by living on a tiny, hard-to-reach island and enforcing a strict immigration policy of killing anyone who shows up on their beach.

Given that the Sentinelese would probably all die of the common cold if they ever did let foreigners onto their island, their policy is not unreasonable. You wouldn’t want to let some plague-bearing foreigner kill you with their germs, either. Unfortunately, the disease situation is unlikely to reverse itself; their population is just too small to withstand contact with the outside world. Too-long isolation in such a tiny place has cut them off from all the technological progress of the past 40,000 to 60,000 years, and their population is too small to develop much tech internally. To be fair, their strategy has worked so far. But now they’re stuck, maintaining their tiny island against the odds until someone decides to show up with guns and do some logging, fishing, or whatever they feel like, at which point there’s a good chance they’ll be wiped out.

Long term, total isolation is a policy with very low survival odds.

After some thought, the best option I can think of for the Sentinelese, other than continuing as they are and hoping for the best (after all, the rest of the world could destroy itself in a nuclear holocaust and leave them behind to continue doing their thing for the next 40,000 years,) is to expand their numbers and send excess people to the other Andaman Islands. Sure, most of those people would probably get colds and die, and if not the colds, alcohol’s a likely culprit, but as long as they keep exporting people, eventually some of them will survive, and create a breeding population/intermix with the other Andamanese until they have the numbers/immunity to interact with the outside world.

Do Biker Lives Matter? Harleys, Exit, and Thedic Signaling


We recently discussed the Boers as an example of reactionary exit gone wrong. I posit that motorcycle clubs area uniquely American form of reactionary exit, tribalism, and spontaneous social organization.

I became interested in biker culture shortly after the shootout in Waco that left 9 people dead, 20 injured, 239 detained, and 177 arrested and charged with engaging in organized crime. The bikers who weighed in on the stories had a very different opinion of the day’s events than the official story reported on the news. Many were absolutely convinced that the WACO police, perhaps operating from nearby rooftops, had shot the bikers themselves and then arrested everyone on site. Furthermore, they asserted, the Waco police were targeting any biker who rode through the city for arrest. “It’s open season on bikers.”

Everyone I happened to chat with who wasn’t a biker seemed overjoyed at the opportunity to tweet about hundreds of white criminal gang members killing each other and getting arrested.

After months of protests and arguments over whether the police murdered an innocent black guy or killed a criminal in self-defense, the difference in attitudes toward a possible case of the police murdering nine people who happened to be white was striking.

So what’s up with bikers? Who are they? What makes them tick? Why do they join clubs? And why do they love Harley Davidsons so much?

I’ve discovered that there are not a lot of good ethnographies of biker culture, and those that are out there focus on the 1%s, or Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs (often referred to as OMGs or Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in law enforcement publications.) The focus of my research has not been on Outlaw clubs, because I don’t think it’s very sensible to try to understand 100% of something by only reading about 1% of it, but rather the average Harley-riding motorcycle enthusiast.

Since I don’t have the spare time necessary for real fieldwork in a biker club, I have merely been talking talking with bikers about their experiences and researching them via the internet, rather than taking the immersive approach. I hope that I have not gotten anything terribly wrong, but if I have, feel free to let me know.

First, though, a little terminology:

  1. Organizations for motorcycle enthusiasts are called clubs, not gangs. Even the Hells Angels is officially the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.
  2. “Outlaw” motorcycle clubs are a real thing that really exist, and yes, some of them engage in some form of illegal activity. However, Outlaws are a small % of people who like motorcycles. Most motorcyclists are not outlaws.
  3. Some bikers ride things that are not Harleys, but in biker culture, Harleys are the bike.


So. Who are bikers?

While bikers come in all shapes and sizes, from girls just riding their Vespas to work in Tokyo to rich guys puttering around on the weekend, biker culture in the US is solidly working class, white, and male.

In fact, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of bikers are ethnically mostly Borderland Scots + Scots-Irish + Cavaliers from south-eastern England (and Wales?,) but mot of their ancestors have been in this country for a couple hundred years, if not longer. In other words, they are old stock Southerners and Appalachians, and quite ethnically distinct both from the Puritans of the North and from the more recent immigrants, like the Catholic Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, etc. Many of them have ancestors or great- uncles who fought for the Confederacy or at least lived through the war. (Heck, I have sill-living relatives who are old enough that they heard first-hand stories from their relatives about the Civil War.)

Personality-wise, this is a group that is strongly ethno-nationalist and committed to the warrior ethos. I cannot help but see the Scottish reiver, no longer able to ride across the English border to steal cattle or women but still driven by that basic instinct, hopping aboard his Harley and roaring down the open road.

The most common occupation among bikers is military. Some huge percentage of them are vets or even current military; I’m not sure how many, but it’s a correlation that’s impossible to miss.


I don’t think this is just a coincidence; either something about both motorcycles and military employment attract the same group of people, or something about being in the military makes people ride Harleys.

WWII Harley Davidson Motorcycles
WWII Harley Davidson Motorcycles

I suspect it’s a little of each.

Many of the famous clubs were founded by vets; the Hells Angels, for example, are named after the WWII flying squadron Hells Angels:


The useful thing about this is that the attitudes of bikers are therefore likely to be similar to the attitudes of army grunts I’ve been sorta-studying, since there’s a huge overlap between the two groups.

The other thing motorcyclists are really into is religion, chiefly Protestant Christianity. I know the Southern Baptists are big in the South, but I don’t get the impression that Bikers are particularly Baptist–rather, I get the impression that they prefer more independent churches that cater more to the working/lower class (probably a lot of Charismatics), while Baptists lean more middle class.


In other words, Guns, God, and Glory.


To summarize, bikers are primarily working class, white, Southern men whose ancestors hailed from parts of Britain outside the Hajnal Line; they’re veterans, deeply religious, and strongly nationalist.

This is a group that, in every day life, is treated by the rest of society as low-status in pretty much every way. Elites look down on devout Christians and equate their beliefs with actual mental illness; Southerners and their symbols are despised; nationalistic whites have no place in polite society; and it is really harder to get lower in any social ladder than being screamed at by your superior officers in the army and then shot at by the enemy.

Being a biker, I theorize, not only satisfies a variety of instinctual/mental desires, like the enjoyment of riding down the open road, but also serves as a way to create an alternate society (exit) in which they are on top, rather than on the bottom. At work, you might just be an average Joe who lays carpet or digs ditches all day for crappy pay, but hop on your Harley and you are the king of the road and no one fucks with you.


What makes bikers tick?

Bikers are generally anarcho-tribalists who would die to defend their family or nation, but view the Federal Government as a hostile, occupying force that would march them into a mushroom cloud to save a few dollars on animal subjects for radiation testing. Most don’t use the term “Cathedral,” but they understand the concept intuitively.

Back in the 60s and 70s, I suspect that many clubs were explicitly whites-only, but in my all of my conversations with bikers, I have not heard a single racist word. Even if a lot of the symbolism dates back to the Confederacy or has white power undertones, today the symbols seem to function more as a “fuck you” to society and represent in-group solidarity more than out-group dislike.

In-group solidarity and loyalty are vitally important in the biker world. “Band of Brothers” doesn’t just refer to guys in the army; it’s also a motorcycle club. Motorcycle clubs–and biker culture more generally–provide a sense of fierce tribal identity in a society that is otherwise anonymous, anomized, indifferent and huge.

The shared experience of being military veterans, as mentioned before, is an inseperable part of the biker experience. For many of these guys, war–be it WWII, Korea, Vietnam, or Iraq–was a traumatic experience, and they received little to no support upon returning to civilian life. The adrenaline rush of the motorcycle, fuck all attitude, and brotherhood of riders appealed to the returning war veteran’s psyche and provided the status and support society lacked.


Why Motorcycle Clubs?

One of the most interesting things about biker clubs is that they exist at all. Why do guys whose whole mystique is “fuck the system” form their own organizational structures with rules?

The obvious reason is that it’s safer to ride in groups than alone; cars have this nasty habit of accidentally running over bikers. Riding in packs makes bikers more visible and thus safer:


The other reason is that the club is a thede, an ethny, a tribe. People who are only a few centuries removed from a actual tribal clan system still have an instinctual desire to belong to a tight-knit group that has each other’s backs against the world.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of bikers, you’ve probably noticed that the pictures hardly ever show their faces. Rather, they show the backs of their jackets, where their club patches are displayed:

Picture 4

These are the Sentinel Knights Riders Against Child Abuse; photo from their Go Fund Me campaign.

As far as I know, every club has its own, unique patches, but they all seem to have the same basic structure–a large central patch, with two more patches directly above and below it. EG:


1) Top rocker – used for club name
2) Club logo plus MC (Motorcycle club) patch
3) Bottom rocker – used for territory
4) 1% signifying “outlaw” intent (Note that the vast majority of bikers do not belong to Outlaw clubs)
5) Club name or location
6) Office or rank held within club
7) Side patch

(Source: Wikipedia)

The basic structure is remarkably similar across clubs–so whether you ride with an anti-child abuse club, a religious club, a charity club, a “we just like bikes” club, or even a housewives club, chances are your patches will still have the same basic layout as even the most outlaw of Outlaw clubs.

Source: Wikipedia
Christian Motorcycle Association colors. Source: Wikipedia

The patches are big so they can be easily read at a distance, and loudly proclaim each wearer’s tribal identity. (In fact, many clubs’ names even include words like “tribe,” “pagan,” or otherwise evoke a tribal identity.)

This should go without saying, but don’t wear a patch you haven’t earned.

While there are probably some clubs you can join just by filling out a form and paying some dues, most clubs appear to have pretty strict rules about who can and can’t join, and some clubs are harder to get into than Harvard. Like all goods, that which is obtained cheaply is not worth much. Brotherhood is not given easily; you don’t promise to have someone’s back without first making sure their back is worth having.

Practically speaking, if you’re going to be publicly associating yourself with a group of people, it makes sense to be careful about who you take into that group. If one of your club members makes a big stink at a bar, the owners might not let your club back into the bar. If one of your club members gets into a fight with another club, retribution could come down on you.

Since the available ethnographies all focus on Outlaw clubs, (and they’re quite old,) I only know about their procedures, and long story short, you have to know a guy. A prospective club member gradually meets and gets to know everyone in the club. He hangs out with them for a year or so, and then they vote on whether or not to accept him into the club. If anyone votes “no,” that’s a no.

One of the useful things about basing one’s tribal identity around motorcycle ownership is that it is a very difficult identity to fake. Motorcycles are expensive, joining a club is difficult and members are often well-known to each other, and the patches function like very large ID cards.

If you are extending brotherhood and solidarity to others in your tribe, it is best to make sure your thedic symbols are difficult to counterfeit.


Motorcycle clubs are a form of spontaneous human organization and ethnic symbolism. No one sat down and said, “Hey, know what will make motorcycle riding way more awesome? A government to make a bunch laws about it!” but that is precisely what they’ve done. They have made their own society.

If you want to make a better world, go out and make it.


Why Harley Davidsons?

While many people ride things that are not Harleys, for many bikers, the Harley is the only bike.

This is a Harley:


These are not Harleys:


Picture 3

Don’t ride a Vespa to Sturgis.

Harley riders have an intense level of brand loyalty and a passion for their machines that we mere car drivers rarely match. Honestly, I don’t consider it unusual to see a half-assembled motorcycle sitting in biker’s living room.

There are two, possibly three main reasons for this loyalty:

  1. Harley Davidson is an American brand, and bikers are strongly nationalistic. Why would a red-blooded American send his money to anyone other than a fellow American worker, making a fellow American motorcycle?
  2. The Harley looks more like a bad-ass working class bike, whereas the BMW and Kawasaki bikes look like futuristic designs for rich people. The aesthetics are totally different. (And obviously the Vespa is right out.)
  3. Price and modifiability? Working on the bike is a biker past time; guys with limited incomes would prefer to be able to fix their own bikes.

This is also a Harley:



Women and Motorcycles


The motorcycle world is mostly male but obviously some bikers are female, and if Google image search is anything to go by, they are all very well-endowed and scantily clad.

Most of the women who are into motorcycles are probably married to or dating men who are into motorcycles, and like doing fun things with their partners. Some are also really into the bikes; the world is vast; it contains multitudes.

The female bikers I have talked to have not had much appreciation for feminism as a political or practical philosophy. As one of the anthropologists who has studied bikers noted, Women’s Lib hasn’t really reached the biker world, at least as of when they were still calling it Women’s Lib. Nevertheless, biker chicks are not wilting damsels keen on wearing pretty pink shoes and shopping. In fact, I strongly recommend against insulting them or pissing them off, as getting punched really hurts.


Do biker lives matter?

I certainly hope so.

Bikers represent one form of exit, the creation of a parallel society with its own tribes, institutions, and rules, within which bikes are high-status and enjoy the benefits of tribalism. They are anarchists who spontaneously made governments in order to advance their own freedom. Their thedic symbols (principally motorcycles and patches) are difficult to fake and therefore high-value. The motorcycle itself provides a great deal of enjoyment, perhaps assuaging some primal, instinctual need to ride fast on the open road.

And the bikers I know are good folks whose company I enjoy.