Modern “Anthropology”

Over the past couple years of Anthropology Friday, I have tried to highlight works that cast a light on the varied and myriad human experiences. Not all of them are great works of literature, but they show what anthropology can be. We’ve read about the Eskimo in Kabloona, Jane Goodall’s research with the Gombe chimps in In the Shadow of Man, records of prisons and criminal gangs, Appalachia and Siberian reindeer herders. We’ve read first-hand accounts like Isaac Bacirongo’s Still a Pygmy and the Slave Narrative Collection.

Anthropology, done right, makes the alien familiar and expands our understanding of the many varieties of human experience.

Done wrong, well… Here’s the abstract from Professor Dwayne Dixon’s Endless Question: Youth Becomings and the Anti-Crisis of Kids in Global Japan:

This layered, latitudinal (trilateral), anthropological project traces how three groups of Japanese young people redefine youth through bodily practices, identities, and economic de/attachments. Young Japanese—skateboarders, creative workers, and returnee schoolchildren—embody various relations to the city, visual media, globalized identities, temporary jobs, and education. The dissertation itself is non-linear; it formally enacts the multidirectional, diverse youthful experiences amidst intense global connections, transitioning identities, and uncertain social and economic futures. Multi-media and electronic text create lines of connection between sites and events in the young people’s experiences and larger histories of gender and labor, city life, and global dreams. Against crisis narratives, Japanese youth are creating improvisational, social connections amidst intense change.

Can we translate this into functional English?

Sentence 1: “This layered, latitudinal (trilateral), anthropological project traces how three groups of Japanese young people redefine youth through bodily practices, identities, and economic de/attachments.”

Translation: This anthropology project follows three groups of Japanese youths, documenting their body piercings, identities, and which brands they eagerly consume or shun.

The word “identity” in this sentence is difficult to translate because it is vague and undefined–sexual identities? gender identities? Japanese identities? Millenial identities?–and more importantly, because most people do not bother to think about their “identities” at all.

Sentence 2: “ Young Japanese—skateboarders, creative workers, and returnee schoolchildren—embody various relations to the city, visual media, globalized identities, temporary jobs, and education.

Translation: Young Japanese skateboarders, artists, and continuing-education students live in the city, watch and make videos, have “globalized identities,” work temporary jobs, and go to school.

“Embody” was a difficult word to translate because it means nothing that makes sense in this context. To embody is to “be an expression of or give a tangible or visible form to” something, eg “Romeo embodies love;” or to “include or contain something as a constituent part,” eg, “Freedom of expression is embodied in the Bill of Rights.” We could use “contain” or “symbolize” as synonyms, but neither “Young Japanese… contain various relations to the city…’ nor “Young Japanese… symbolize various relations to the city…” make sense.

“Identities” makes a second apperance and again contributes very little.

Sentence 3: “The dissertation itself is non-linear; it formally enacts the multidirectional, diverse youthful experiences amidst intense global connections, transitioning identities, and uncertain social and economic futures.

Translation: This dissertation is non-linear because the subjects’ lives are too complex to express chronologically.

(I don’t think “formally” means what he thinks it means.)

Sentence 4: “Multi-media and electronic text create lines of connection between sites and events in the young people’s experiences and larger histories of gender and labor, city life, and global dreams.

Translation: Young people use cell phones to text each other about skateboarding events and post videos of themselves skateboarding on the internet.

Sentence 5: “Against crisis narratives, Japanese youth are creating improvisational, social connections amidst intense change.

Translation: You might have heard that Japanese youth are in crisis, but actually they’re making new friends in the middle of this protracted economic malaise.

Dixon’s original is not only unclear and vague, but parts of it aren’t even grammatical. Strip away the buzzwords, and you’re left with “Japanese youth use cellphones and make friends”–not exactly shocking observations.

Let’s compare with missionary Sidney L. Gulick’s account of Japan, written in 1903, on the Japanese character and effects of modernization:

Many writers have dwelt with delight on the cheerful disposition that seems so common in Japan. …. And, on the whole, these pictures are true to life. The many flower festivals are made occasions for family picnics when all care seems thrown to the wind. There is a simplicity and a freshness and a freedom from worry that is delightful to see. But it is also remarked that a change in this regard is beginning to be observed. The coming in of Western machinery, methods of government, of trade and of education, is introducing customs and cares, ambitions and activities, that militate against the older ways. …

The judgment that all Japanese are cheerful rests on shallow grounds. Because, forsooth, millions on holidays bear that appearance, and because on ordinary occasions the average man and woman seem cheerful and happy, the conclusion is reached that all are so. No effort is made to learn of those whose lives are spent in sadness and isolation. I am convinced that the Japan of old, for all its apparent cheer, had likewise its side of deep tragedy. …

Enough of Japan. Here’s an abstract from Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Modeling Population Health: Reflections on the Performativity of Epidemiological Techniques in the Age of Genomics, by Susanne Bauer:

Risk reasoning has become the common-sense mode of knowledge production in the health sciences. Risk assessment techniques of modern epidemiology also co-shape the ways genomic data are translated into population health. Risk computations (e.g., in preventive medicine, clinical decision-support software, or web-based self-tests), loop results from epidemiological studies back into everyday life. Drawing from observations at various European research sites, I analyze how epidemiological techniques mediate and enact the linkages between genomics and public health. This article examines the epidemiological apparatus as a generative machine that is socially performative. The study design and its reshuffling of data and categories in risk modeling recombine old and new categories from census to genomics and realign genes/environment and nature/culture in novel and hybrid ways. In Euro-American assemblage of risk reasoning and related profiling techniques, the individual and the population are no longer separate but intimately entangled.

Note the preponderance of obfuscatory bullshit phrases: “mode of knowledge production,” “data are translated into public health,” “techniques mediate and enact the linkages between,” “the epidemiological apparatus as a generative machine that is socially performative,” etc.

I will attempt to translate this quickly into English:

People care about health risks. People are interested in whether genetic data can uncover health risks. Medical care and health information on the internet bring health-risk assessment into people’s everyday lives. I observe how European doctors use information about genetic risk factors to help treat their patients. This article examines how doctors interact with their patients. I did a study that mixed up and re-combined categories like “census” and “genomics,” “culture” and “environment” in new ways.* In the West, doctors are now using population-level risk assessments to make decisions about individual patients.

*I am not satisfied with the translation of this sentence, but it didn’t make any sense in the original.

Here is an abstract from the journal of Anthropological Theory, The civility of strangers? Caste, ethnicity, and living together in postwar Jaffna, Sri Lanka:

The question asked by this article is as follows: How do different kinds of people live together in a hierarchical world that has been challenged and transformed through the leveling effects of deep ethnicization and war? … When ethnic mobilization—the possibility of egalitarian mutuality and solidarity as well as the pain, trauma and sacrifice of war, and ethnic cleansing—emerges within deeply hierarchical worlds that continually produce modes of distinction, what kinds of struggles arise within inter-ethnic and intra-caste relations? Given that public life is historically built on unequal participation, and that living together has been a historical struggle, we need to ask how we understand the particular embedded civilities that have made living together such a problem over time. Rather than see civility as an abstract code of prescriptions in relation to the maintenance of non-violent order, I suggest that it is possible to see different modalities of civility produced with regard to specific others/strangers. These modalities can conflict with each other, given that civility can be either hierarchically produced or governed by an egalitarian drive toward public forms of dignity and equality. I propose that civility has a social location, discourses, and understandings in hierarchical worlds that are necessarily different depending on who is speaking.

This could have been an interesting article on life in post-war Sri Lanka, but then it descended into a bunch of post-modernist gobbeldy goop. I find this style of writing utterly self-centered–there is nothing in this abstract about how actual Sri Lankans relate to each other, and much of this abstract could be cut and pasted onto a study of almost any culture without losing anything. Public life in America, Mali, China, and Japan involve unequal participation. Civilities are part of every culture. And, yes, what is considered polite changes depending on who is in the conversation, congratulations, you’ve figured out that people talk to their best friends differently than they talk to their bosses.

The problem with anthropology is that somewhere along the way, someone got the idea that they needed to produce Great and Profound Truths rather than just describe people.

[And here is the point where the rest of this post got accidentally deleted because WordPress updated something in their internal software, causing it to no longer communicate with my 11 year old computer.]

Let’s compare this to the Amazon blurb for Philippe Bourgois’s
ethnography of Puerto Rican crack dealers in NYC:

In this compelling study of the crack business in East Harlem,
Philippe Bourgois argues that a cultural struggle for respect has led
some residents of ‘El Barrio’ away from the legal job market, and into
a downward spiral of crime and poverty. During his many years living
in the neighborhood, Bourgois eventually gained the confianza of
enough Barrio residents to present their hopes, plans, and
disappointments in their own words. The result is an engaging and
often disturbing look at the problems of the inner-city, America’s
greatest domestic failing.

Whether you agree with Bourgois or not, at least you can tell what his
thesis is: cultural struggle for respect leads some people away from
legal jobs and into crime and poverty. (In other words, people don’t
want to do legal jobs that are low-status or lead to others treating
them with disrespect.) By contrast, I’m not sure what the author of the article on post-war Sri Lanka is trying to argue.

Obviously these examples do not represent all modern
anthropology–there are plenty of good and interesting writers out
there (like Bourgois.) But the field is absolutely riddled
with narcissistic crap. Where people should use words that vibrantly
describe their subjects, they instead use vague, nebulous words that
sound erudite but give us no real information. “Study of the crack
business in East Harlem,” sounds interesting, “This layered,
latitudinal (trilateral), anthropological project traces how three
groups of Japanese young people redefine youth,” sounds like you once
dropped your ethnography notes and didn’t bother to put them back in
order again, and “this article offers a phenomenological investigation
of the indeterminate structures of ethical experience,” sounds like
you don’t know the first thing about how ordinary humans think.

Many (if not most) modern anthropologists are deeply motivated by
political concerns that have nothing to do with describing varieties
of human cultures (an anthropologist’s job) and everything to do with
the deep culture of academia (the institution that pays them and
publishes their work.) So of course modern anthropology must be
written to support the anthropologist’s own cultural norms, even if
those norms are at complete variance with their ostensible goal.

Few stories reveal this clash better than Napoleon Chagnon’s. In 1964,
Chagnon began his now-famous study of the Yanomamo, producing what is
in my opinion one of the greatest works of anthropology that I have
not yet read. But I’ll let Amazon tell the story, from the blurb on
Chagnon’s recent book, Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous
Tribes–the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists:

 When Napoleon Chagnon arrived in Venezuela’s Amazon region in 1964
to study the Yanomamö Indians, he expected to find Rousseau’s “noble
savage.” Instead he found a shockingly violent society. He spent years
living among the Yanomamö, observing their often tyrannical headmen,
learning to survive under primitive and dangerous conditions. When he
published his observations, a firestorm of controversy swept through
anthropology departments. Chagnon was vilified by other
anthropologists, condemned by his professional association (which
subsequently rescinded its reprimand), and ultimately forced to give
up his fieldwork. Throughout his ordeal, he never wavered in his defense of science. In 2012 he was elected to the National Academy of
Sciences.

So if you want some modern anthropology, go read Chagnon and let me
know what you think of it.

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Anthropology Friday: Our Moslem Sisters pt 4/4

Samuel Zwemer

I desired to read a good ethnography of Middle Eastern life in the 1800s, but not happening upon one, I settled for Our Moslem Sisters: A Cry of Need from Lands of Darkness Interpreted by Those Who Heard It, edited by Annie Van Sommer and Samuel M. Zwemer. (Published in 1907.)

Sommer, Zwemer, and the book’s other contributing authors were Christian missionaries who lived in a variety of Islamic countries or areas around the turn of the 19th century. Often these missionaries brought much-needed medical supplies (and sometimes food) into poor areas.

Zwemer’s legacy lives on via the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies.

Turkey:

“We know the paucity of literature of all kinds in Turkey, where government press regulations prohibit any general output of publications; this, combined with the very general poverty of the people, makes many a home bookless, and the great majority of lives barren. …

“I have travelled on the railroad in Turkey with Moslem women, in the special compartment, where in the freedom of the day’s travel, they have thrown back their veils and silken wraps, showing their pretty French costumes and the diamonds upon their fingers, as they offered their Frank fellow-traveller cake, or possibly chocolates, and have more than once felt the embarrassment of a missionary purse too slender to allow of such luxuries, with which to return the compliment. Once a Moslem woman took from her travelling hand-basket paper and pencil, and proceeded to write, as I was doing! Page after page she wrote, though in just the reverse manner from our writing, and we soon established a feeling of comradeship.

“I have been also a deeply sympathetic witness of moving scenes in which the proverbial love of the Turkish father for his children could not be concealed. As the train awaited the signal for departure from a station, one day, the evident distress of a pretty girl opposite me, broke into crying. She had climbed into the corner by the window, and the guard had not yet closed the door. Involuntarily my eyes followed the child’s grieved gaze, until they rested upon a tall, gray-bearded Turkish officer standing by the station, who was evidently striving to control his emotion answering to the grief of the child. Finally he yielded to the heart-broken crying of the little one, and came to the car door to speak soothingly to her.”

Baluchistan:

“Throughout the Province, but especially among the Afghans and Brahuis, the position of woman is one of extreme degradation; she is not only a mere household drudge, but she is the slave of man in all his needs, and her life is one of continual and abject toil. No sooner is a girl fit for work than her parents send her to tend cattle and she is compelled to take her part in all the ordinary household duties. Owing to the system of walwar in vogue among the Afghans, a girl, as soon as she reaches nubile age, is, for all practical purposes, put up for auction sale to the highest bidder. The father discourses on her merits, as a beauty or as a housekeeper, in the public meeting places, and invites offers from those who are in want of a wife. Even the more wealthy and more respectable Afghans are not above this system of thus lauding the human wares which they have for sale. The betrothal of girls who are not yet born is frequent, and a promise of a girl thus made is considered particularly binding.

“It is also usual for an award of compensation for blood to be ordered to be paid in this shape of girls, some of whom are living, while others are not yet born. …

Modern Hazara girls wearing red traditional hijabs, with Tajik and Pashtun girls in Ghazni, Afghanistan.

“A wife in Baluchistan must not only carry water, prepare food, and attend to all ordinary household duties, but she must take the flocks out to graze, groom her husband’s horse, and assist in the cultivation. … Hence it happens that among Afghans, polygamy is only limited by the purchasing power of a man; and a wife is looked on as a better investment than cattle, for in a country where drought and scarcity are continually present, the risk of loss of animals is great, whilst the offspring of a woman, if a girl, will assuredly fetch a high price.”  …

“Regarding polygamy, the average man is unable to afford more than one wife, but the higher classes often possess from thirty to sixty women, many of them from the Hazare tribes of Afghanistan, whose women and children, during the rebellion in the late Amir’s reign, were sold over into Baluchistan and Afghanistan. In nearly every village of any size one sees the Hazare women, and the chief will talk of buying them as a farmer at home will speak of purchasing cattle.”

Noble visiting the Zenana, or women’s quarters

India:

“Let me give you a few of my experiences with regard to Mussulman women, especially during my stay in Hyderabad. One zenana we used to visit belonged to an old man who professed to be a great reformer, but whose women were still in strict purdah. He several times told us that he would be delighted if we could persuade his wife and daughters to go out with us, but of course they would not hear of such a thing. To their minds it is only the very poor and degraded who wander about unveiled or even drive in an open carriage, and would not all the ladies of their acquaintance be horrified at the bare idea of their leaving their old habits. …

“With this lady and her daughters we one day went to a fair for women only. We had to submit to having our carriage covered with a very large sheet so that no eye could see through the closed venetians, and when, after great difficulty, the lady had been placed in the carriage we drove to the enclosure where the fair was to be held. Right into the enclosure drove the carriage, and then the ladies, carefully shrouded in sheets, were conducted through a narrow gateway into a second enclosure, and there were thousands of women and children. Not a man was to be seen anywhere. It was so strange to see them wandering about freely in their bright-colored garments and to remember the streets of the great city they had come from, where hardly a woman is ever seen. These women never crossed the threshold of their houses before perhaps, so it was like fairyland to them. …

“Still progress is being made, we feel quite sure, and one thing seems to prove this. Though the Mohammedans in South India are backward and full of things to be deplored, yet they are innocent of many things which are evidently carried on in other Mohammedan countries. We, in South India, who have for years worked amongst Moslems never heard of the customs which seem to prevail in Egypt. Divorce is rarely heard of. Possibly it is too expensive, as the husband must return the dower. A woman being married to half a dozen husbands in succession is unheard of.”

Turkestan:

“Some fifty years ago there lived in Kashgar a man called Chodsha Burhaneddin. … He married a woman of noble descent, and for some time contented himself with his one wife. But according to Islam it is a merit to take if possible four wives, in order to increase the number of the adherents of Islam. For this reason Chodsha brought home another wife whenever he travelled on business to the Russian town of Andishan on that side of the Tienshan, until the number of four was full. The consequence was that he not only neglected his first wife, but even had her do all the housework alone, thus making her the servant of his three other wives.

“She had to serve them from early morning till late at night. Without grumbling and with great diligence the poor woman took all the work upon herself; secretly, however, she bewailed her hard lot and employed her few free hours for the education of her little daughter. However, she did not succeed in satisfying her husband. He always found fault, beat her, and bade her not show her face before him. His wife submitted patiently and silently…Four years passed.

“Meanwhile several political revolutions had taken place in Kashgar. In China the numerous Chinese Mohammedans had revolted, and the revolt had spread over the western countries. In eastern Turkestan the Chinese officials as well as the soldiers and the merchants had been killed by the Mohammedans; only a few escaped death by accepting Islam.

“This state of matters was put an end to by Jakob Beg. He had come from Chanab Chokand, north of the Tienshan, under the pretext of helping the descendant of the old Kashgarian dynasty of the Chodshas to the throne. In due time he put the Prince aside and founded a kingdom of his own, which included the whole of eastern Turkestan. After taking hold of the government he tried to weaken the Chodshas in every way possible, some of them were assassinated, others put in prison in order to be executed. One of the latter was Chodsha Burhaneddin.

“As soon as his wife heard that her husband had been made a prisoner, she hurried to her father, who was well esteemed at Jakob Beg’s court, and besought him to make the most of his influence in order to save her husband. Then she prepared a meal, took it to her imprisoned husband, and encouraged him. At his request she roused her father still more so as to betake himself at once to Jakob Beg, and to prevail on him to set the prisoner at liberty that same night.

“Chodsha Burhaneddin returned to his house and entered the room of his wife whom he had so long neglected, in order to thank her for his delivery. Afterwards she had one more child, a boy.”

Cathay (China):

“The social condition of Mohammedan women in Kansu Province in Northwest China is not so hard as those of their sisters in the more western countries. The Mohammedans, having been in China now about a thousand years, have, save in the matter of idolatry, practically adopted the Chinese customs, even to the binding of the feet of their little girls.”

EvX: I would like to note that footbinding sounds pretty hard to me.

“Among the wealthier Mohammedans, as with the wealthier Chinese, polygamy is common, many having two or three wives, and among the middle class, when there has been no issue by the first wife, many take unto themselves a second wife. Divorces are of rare occurrence.

“There are no harems. The better-class women are not seen much on the streets, but in the country places, the farmer’s wife, daughters, and daughters-in-law go out into the fields, weed and reap the corn, carry water, gather in fuel, and wear no veil. The daughters and daughters-in-law of the better class, from the age of fifteen to thirty, often wear a black veil when going on a visit to their friends, as also do the Chinese. …

“Speaking of the Mohammedan male population in our prefecture of Si-ning, the vast majority are ignorant of the tenets of the Koran, know little of anything, save that Masheng-ren is their prophet, and that there is a Supreme Being somewhere …

“After the rebellion of 1895, when retribution fell heavily on the Mohammedans, thousands of them were reduced to the verge of starvation; women, who had been accustomed to the comforts of a good home, were deprived of their warm winter clothing and left only with thin summer tattered garments, right in the depth of winter with a thermometer registering below zero (Fahrenheit). By the help of many kind friends in different parts of China, we were enabled to open a soup-kitchen and provide hot food every day for six weeks, during the bitterest part of the winter, to an average of three hundred persons each day, and also to give away several warm garments to those in direst need.”

Book Club: The Code Economy, Chapter 11: Education and Death

Welcome back to EvX’s book club. Today we’re reading Chapter 11 of The Code Economy, Education.

…since the 1970s, the economically fortunate among us have been those who made the “go to college” choice. This group has seen its income row rapidly and its share of the aggregate wealth increase sharply. Those without a college education have watched their income stagnate and their share of the aggregate wealth decline. …

Middle-age white men without a college degree have been beset by sharply rising death rates–a phenomenon that contrasts starkly with middle-age Latino and African American men, and with trends in nearly every other country in the world.

It turns out that I have a lot of graphs on this subject. There’s a strong correlation between “white death” and “Trump support.”

White vs. non-white Americans

American whites vs. other first world nations

source

But “white men” doesn’t tell the complete story, as death rates for women have been increasing at about the same rate. The Great White Death seems to be as much a female phenomenon as a male one–men just started out with higher death rates in the first place.

Many of these are deaths of despair–suicide, directly or through simply giving up on living. Many involve drugs or alcohol. And many are due to diseases, like cancer and diabetes, that used to hit later in life.

We might at first think the change is just an artifact of more people going to college–perhaps there was always a sub-set of people who died young, but in the days before most people went to college, nothing distinguished them particularly from their peers. Today, with more people going to college, perhaps the destined-to-die are disproportionately concentrated among folks who didn’t make it to college. However, if this were true, we’d expect death rates to hold steady for whites overall–and they have not.

Whatever is affecting lower-class whites, it’s real.

Auerswald then discusses the “Permanent income hypothesis”, developed by Milton Friedman: Children and young adults devote their time to education, (even going into debt,) which allows us to get a better job in mid-life. When we get a job, we stop going to school and start saving for retirement. Then we retire.

The permanent income hypothesis is built into the very structure of our society, from Public Schools that serve students between the ages of 5 and 18, to Pell Grants for college students, to Social Security benefits that kick in at 65. The assumption, more or less, is that a one-time investment in education early in life will pay off for the rest of one’s life–a payout of such returns to scale that it is even sensible for students and parents to take out tremendous debt to pay for that education.

But this is dependent on that education actually paying off–and that is dependent on the skills people learn during their educations being in demand and sufficient for their jobs for the next 40 years.

The system falls apart if technology advances and thus job requirements change faster than once every 40 years. We are now looking at a world where people’s investments in education can be obsolete by the time they graduate, much less by the time they retire.

Right now, people are trying to make up for the decreasing returns to education (a highschool degree does not get you the same job today as it did in 1950) by investing more money and time into the single-use system–encouraging toddlers to go to school on the one end and poor students to take out more debt for college on the other.

This is probably a mistake, given the time-dependent nature of the problem.

The obvious solution is to change how we think of education and work. Instead of a single, one-time investment, education will have to continue after people begin working, probably in bursts. Companies will continually need to re-train workers in new technology and innovations. Education cannot be just a single investment, but a life-long process.

But that is hard to do if people are already in debt from all of the college they just paid for.

Auerswald then discusses some fascinating work by Bessen on how the industrial revolution affected incomes and production among textile workers:

… while a handloom weaver in 1800 required nearly forty minutes to weave a yard of coarse cloth using a single loom, a weaver in 1902 could do the same work operating eighteen Nothrop looms in less than a minute, on average. This striking point relates to the relative importance of the accumulation of capital to the advance of code: “Of the roughly thirty-nine-minute reduction in labor time per yard, capital accumulation due to the changing cost of capital relative to wages accounted for just 2 percent of the reduction; invention accounted for 73 percent of the reduction; and 25 percent of the time saving came from greater skill and effort of the weavers.” … “the role of capital accumulation was minimal, counter to the conventional wisdom.”

Then Auerswald proclaims:

What was the role of formal education in this process? Essentially nonexistent.

Boom.

New technologies are simply too new for anyone to learn about them in school. Flexible thinkers who learn fast (generalists) thus benefit from new technologies and are crucial for their early development. Once a technology matures, however, it becomes codified into platforms and standards that can be taught, at which point demand for generalists declines and demand for workers with educational training in the specific field rises.

For Bessen, formal education and basic research are not the keys to the development of economies that they are often represented a being. What drives the development of economies is learning by doing and the advance of code–processes that are driven at least as much by non-expert tinkering as by formal research and instruction.

Make sure to read the endnotes to this chapter; several of them are very interesting. For example, #3 begins:

“Typically, new technologies demand that a large number of variables be properly controlled. Henry Bessemer’s simple principle of refining molten iron with a blast of oxygen work properly only at the right temperatures, in the right size vessel, with the right sort of vessel refractory lining, the right volume and temperature of air, and the right ores…” Furthermore, the products of these factories were really one that, in the United States, previously had been created at home, not by craftsmen…

#8 states:

“Early-stage technologies–those with relatively little standardized knowledge–tend to be used at a smaller scale; activity is localized; personal training and direct knowledge sharing are important, and labor markets do not compensate workers for their new skills. Mature technologies–with greater standardized knowledge–operate at large scale and globally, market permitting; formalized training and knowledge are more common; and robust labor markets encourage workers to develop their own skills.” … The intensity of of interactions that occur in cities is also important in this phase: “During the early stages, when formalized instruction is limited, person-to-person exchange is especially important for spreading knowledge.”

This reminds me of a post on Bruce Charlton’s blog about “Head Girl Syndrome“:

The ideal Head Girl is an all-rounder: performs extremely well in all school subjects and has a very high Grade Point Average. She is excellent at sports, Captaining all the major teams. She is also pretty, popular, sociable and well-behaved.

The Head Girl will probably be a big success in life…

But the Head Girl is not, cannot be, a creative genius.

*

Modern society is run by Head Girls, of both sexes, hence there is no place for the creative genius.

Modern Colleges aim at recruiting Head Girls, so do universities, so does science, so do the arts, so does the mass media, so does the legal profession, so does medicine, so does the military…

And in doing so, they filter-out and exclude creative genius.

Creative geniuses invent new technologies; head girls oversee the implementation and running of code. Systems that run on code can run very smoothly and do many things well, but they are bad at handling creative geniuses, as many a genius will inform you of their public school experience.

How different stages in the adoption of new technology and its codification into platforms translates into wages over time is a subject I’d like to see more of.

Auerswald then turns to the perennial problem of what happens when not only do the jobs change, they entirely disappear due to increasing robotification:

Indeed, many of the frontier business models shaping the economy today are based on enabling a sharp reduction in the number of people required to perform existing tasks.

One possibility Auerswald envisions is a kind of return to the personalized markets of yesteryear, when before massive industrial giants like Walmart sprang up. Via internet-based platforms like Uber or AirBNB, individuals can connect directly with people who’d like to buy their goods or services.

Since services make up more than 84% of the US economy and an increasingly comparable percentage in coutnries elsewhere, this is a big deal.

It’s easy to imagine this future in which we are all like some sort of digital Amish, continually networked via our phones to engage in small transactions like sewing a pair of trousers for a neighbor, mowing a lawn, selling a few dozen tacos, or driving people to the airport during a few spare hours on a Friday afternoon. It’s also easy to imagine how Walmart might still have massive economies of scale over individuals and the whole system might fail miserably.

However, if we take the entrepreneurial perspective, such enterprises are intriguing. Uber and Airbnb work by essentially “unlocking” latent assets–time when people’s cars or homes were sitting around unused. Anyone who can find other, similar latent assets and figure out how to unlock them could become similarly successful.

I’ve got an underutilized asset: rural poor. People in cities are easy to hire and easy to direct toward educational opportunities. Kids growing up in rural areas are often out of the communications loop (the internet doesn’t work terribly well in many rural areas) and have to drive a long way to job interviews.

In general, it’s tough to network large rural areas in the same ways that cities get networked.

On the matter of why peer-to-peer networks have emerged in certain industries, Auerswald makes a claim that I feel compelled to contradict:

The peer-to-peer business models in local transportation, hospitality, food service, and the rental of consumer goods were the first to emerge, not because they are the most important for the economy but because these are industries with relatively low regulatory complexity.

No no no!

Food trucks emerged because heavy regulations on restaurants (eg, fire code, disability access, landscaping,) have cut significantly into profits for restaurants housed in actual buildings.

Uber emerged because the cost of a cab medallion–that is, a license to drive a cab–hit 1.3 MILLION DOLLARS in NYC. It’s a lucrative industry that people were being kept out of.

In contrast, there has been little peer-to-peer business innovation in healthcare, energy, and education–three industries that comprise more than a quarter of the US GDP–where regulatory complexity is relatively high.

Again, no.

There is a ton of competition in healthcare; just look up naturopaths and chiropractors. Sure, most of them are quacks, but they’re definitely out there, competing with regular doctors for patients. (Midwives appear to be actually pretty effective at what they do and significantly cheaper than standard ob-gyns.)

The difficulty with peer-to-peer healthcare isn’t regulation but knowledge and equipment. Most Americans own a car and know how to drive, and therefore can join Uber. Most Americans do not know how to do heart surgery and do not have the proper equipment to do it with. With training I might be able to set a bone, but I don’t own an x-ray machine. And you definitely don’t want me manufacturing my own medications. I’m not even good at making soup.

Education has tons of peer-to-peer innovation. I homeschool my children. Sometimes grandma and grandpa teach the children. Many homeschoolers join consortia that offer group classes, often taught by a knowledgeable parent or hired tutor. Even people who aren’t homeschooling their kids often hire tutors, through organizations like Wyzant or afterschool test-prep centers like Kumon. One of my acquaintances makes her living primarily by skype-tutoring Koreans in English.

And that’s not even counting private schools.

Yes, if you want to set up a formal “school,” you will encounter a lot of regulation. But if you just want to teach stuff, there’s nothing stopping you except your ability to find students who’ll pay you to learn it.

Now, energy is interesting. Here Auerswsald might be correct. I have trouble imagining people setting up their own hydroelectric dams without getting into trouble with the EPA (not to mention everyone downstream.)

But what if I set up my own windmill in my backyard? Can I connect it to the electric grid and sell energy to my neighbors on a windy day? A quick search brings up WindExchange, which says, very directly:

Owners of wind turbines interconnected directly to the transmission or distribution grid, or that produce more power than the host consumes, can sell wind power as well as other generation attributes.

So, maybe you can’t set up your own nuclear reactor, and maybe the EPA has a thing about not disturbing fish, but it looks like you can sell wind and solar energy back to the grid.

I find this a rather exciting thought.

Ultimately, while Auerswald does return to and address the need to radically change how we think about education and the education-job-retirement lifepath, he doesn’t return to the increasing white death rate. Why are white death rates increasing faster than other death rates, and will transition to the “gig economy” further accelerate this trend? Or was the past simply anomalous for having low white death rates, or could these death rates be driven by something independent of the economy itself?

Now, it’s getting late, so that’s enough for tonight, but what are your thoughts? How do you think this new economy–and educational landscape–will play out?

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

Yale Law’s Coat of Arms

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

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

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

So what have Yale’s luminaries been up to?

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

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

The YLS Today article goes into more depth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Yale puts it:

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

Which chopped people’s heads off.

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

Like not chopping people’s heads off?

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

By chopping their heads off.

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

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

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

By the way:

From Human Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Rule of Law Clinic files Suit over Census Preparations:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on the Loss of Social Capital

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

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

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

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

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

Things have only gotten worse since 2004.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Community Breakup

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthropology Friday: The Way of the Wiseguy by Donnie Brasco, pt. 3/3

An FBI surveillance photograph of Joseph Pistone, Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero and Tony Rossi.

Welcome to the final installment of The Way of the Wiseguy, by Joseph D. Pistone aka Donnie Brasco. Brasco infiltrated the mob between 1976 and 81, providing the FBI with a great deal of evidence that lead to, according to Wikipedia, “over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions of Mafia members.”

Between Donnie Brasco and Dobyns’s No Angel (about his infiltration of the Hells Angels), you may be wondering how any organization can protect itself against infiltration. I suspect that any organization that takes in new members is vulnerable. Even if you have to know a guy who’s already in the organization to get in, people who are already in the organization can turn state’s evidence and start working with the government. (Therefore I recommend not organizing to commit crimes.)

However, several factors probably make an organization significantly harder to infiltrate:

1. Conduct business in a language other than English (or the local language, wherever the organization is)

2. Only accept members from an isolated group that feels little connection to the broader culture

3. Difficult to fake entrance requirements (such as killing someone.)

The Mafia is not America’s only organized criminal organization. We have all sorts of criminal gangs from virtually every ethnic group. Most criminal organizations draw heavily from people who are isolated from the mainstream culture–folks who either don’t see their way to success in mainstream culture or don’t care if they prey on it.

I enjoyed this book; unfortunately it is still under copyright and the author is still alive, so I’m not quoting as much as I’d like to. I encourage you to pick up the book and read it yourself.

But let’s let Pistone talk. On the Wiseguy Way–and getting what you want out of life:

Say you’re out for a night on the town… And the maitre d’ says, “sorry, you have no reservation.” …Here’s what ninety-nine percent of the population would do–they would turn right around and leave.

Now here’s what wiseguys would do. …

Wiseguys never ever make restaurant reservations. They just show up at some five star joint and give the maitre d’ some made up name. When no reservation is found, that’s when wiseguy do their wiseguy thing. …

“What do you mean, no reservation?” Lefty demanded, his voice rising… “Check again.” … pretty soon all of us were angry and yelling and making a fuss… “No table? How can there be no fucking table? Check the fucking book again.”

Within minutes, we had the best table in the house. …

… they satisfied our demand, however irrational it was, imply to get us to stop making a fuss. Most people don’t like fusses…

The fact is, most people don’t have the stomach for confrontation that wiseguys have. Wiseguys are absolutely unafraid to confront people, even if they know they are dead wrong about something. For wiseguys, a wrong can be turned into a right simply by arguing your point loudly and forcibly. The value of getting in someone’s face and knocking them off-balance cannot be overstated. Wiseguys know this–wiseguys understand the currency of fear. …

you pretty much get what you ask for in this life, and most people are too timid to ask for what they want.

Personally, confrontations make me almost physically nauseous. I have trouble telling a waiter my order is incorrect, much less making a fuss over anything.

The Wiseguy Strut:

You can spot a wiseguy a block away from the way he walks. … They walk around like they own the streets, which, in effect, they do. … in their neighborhoods, on their streets, wiseguys basically announce themselves as wiseguys. It is a badge of honor to be connected in their neighborhoods, and, as a result, they are respected and even admired by their neighbors…

Of course, if you don’t respect them, you might get killed, but matters seem to go beyond that:

Ordinary people in wiseguy neighborhoods get something in exchange for showing mobsters this respect. Neighborhoods that are dominated by wiseguys are also considered to be under the protection of these wiseguys. There are far fewer robberies, rapes, or muggings in wiseguy neighborhoods than in even the safest precincts of the city. … You would have to be one stupid burglar to come into a mobbed-up neighborhood and knock up the corner bar. … There isn’t a police force in the world that deters crime as well as the presence of wiseuys. ….

Pistone may at times exaggerate, but I think he is basically correct that roughing up a business that has paid protection money to the mob is a mistake.

In our next book we’ll be reviewing, Frank Lucas’s Original Gangster, there’s a story about a man named Icepick Red. The police were after Red because he kept putting icepicks into people, killing them. Frank, then a teenager In Harlem, saw Red around the neighborhood fairly regularly and even interacted with him, but the police somehow couldn’t find him. Finally Red killed a guy who worked for “Bumpy” Johnson, a Harlem crime boss. Bumpy’s men immediately got Red, brought him in, and Bumpy had fire ants eat him alive.

Bumpy’s methods might not be Constitutional, but he did what the police, for some reason, had failed to do.

I suspect the same holds for Italian mobsters.

Wiseguys do not come into neighborhoods and make those neighborhoods worse. … Wiseguys take great pride in knowing that their street are safe and clean and filled with happy citizens walking their dogs, pushing their kids, living their live–and respecting the wiseguys.

This mutually beneficial relationship between laypeople and the mobsters that live among them is the reason it is so hard for law enforcement agencies to root out wiseguys. … If there is any police activity in a certain neighborhood, any extended surveillance by feds in parked cars or vans, the citizen of that neighborhood are going to know about it, and they are going to make sure the wiseguy know about it, too.

Sure, if your choice is between Bumpy Johnson and Icepick Red, you pick Bumpy.

So here’s a question: did mob-controlled neighborhoods actually have lower crime rates (mob-related deaths perhaps excluded) than non-mob controlled ones, and what were the effects of Pistone’s infiltration (76-81) and the Mafia Commission Trial (85-86) on local crime? Certainly the crime rate rose steadily from the 1950s onward, bounced around a bunch post 1970, and finally peaked in 1990. Did cracking down on the Mafia help crime rates go down 4 years later? Or does Stop and Frisk deserve the credit? (Or does some other factor deserve the credit?)

Unemployed men outside a soup kitchen opened by Al Capone in Chicago during the Depression, February 1931

Back to Pistone:

One of the most famous bosses of all time, for instance, was Al Capone, the notorious gangster who ruled Chicago in the ’20s and early ’30s. Capone consolidated his authority by whacking seven members of the Irish-American O’Banion gang in the fabled St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. His incredible power over the gangs and illegal trades of Chicago was broken only when the feds nabbed him… He truly thought of himself as a shrewd entrepreneur who ran a sweeping and profitable empire…

In the end, mob bosses are just that–bosses. They oversee a variety of business endeavors, supervise a big team of employees, and settle disputes with other enterprises. … If this sounds pretty boring, that’s because it is.

Pistone’s description of a typical day in the Mafia sounded so boring I wondered why they don’t just give up and get regular jobs.

(I would like to have read about some of the Irish gangs like the O’Banion, but this project has already gone on long enough.)

In search of Respect:

I walked into the back of Jilly’s social club and encountered a roomful of wiseguys with grim mugs. … they we there to gill me on my identity: was I really who I said I was, Donnie Brasco? …

The wiseguys grilling me realized they wouldn’t need to put a bullet in my head. After about six hours, the meeting was over, and I walked back into the main room of the social club with three of the lower-level wiseguys who had grilled me. …

What I did, the minute we left the back and walked into the main room, was pick out the one guy out of the three who wasn’t a made man.

Then I fucking coldclocked him. …”You call me a snitch, you piece of shit?”…

You see, the worst thing you can say about a wiseguy is that he is a snitch. Once they pulled me in the back and interrogated me on the assumption I was a snitch, they left me no choice but th react the way I did. If I hadn’t been upset that I had been called a snitch… that might even have aroused more suspicion. By reacting the way I did, I gained a lot of credibility in the eyes of the members of the Colombo crime family. And the reason this is so can be explained in a single word:

Respect.

The foundation of the entire Mafia is respect. … Wiseguys talk all the time about respect, about giving it and getting it in proper measures.

Pistone notes that he Mafia is less powerful today because the feds, from the 60s through the 80s, gained weapons to use against it, from bugs planted in home to the 1970 RICO act. In 1985, the feds arrested the bosses of all five NY crime families. Additionally, the mob’s basic culture began to change:

The new generation of mobsters just isn’t as devoted to the old Sicilian way of doing things. “Now you had wiseguys with no sense of the history of the Mafia or of its customs and traditions. The organized part of organized crime became just a shadow what it was…”

“the old-timers were involved in importing and distributing drugs. There was simply too much money at stake for them t keep their hands clean. But they did take a dismal view of drugs and people who used drugs … they mad sure to keep narcotics out of their neighborhoods, and certainly they did not use drugs themselves. There was a certain orderliness to the mob drug trade. Today, that caution is out the fucking window. The new wiseguys are far more interested in the money they can make off drugs than they are in keeping it out of their neighborhood or even their own bodies. Lots of wiseguys become addicts and get careless and sloppy. … These are guys who basically have no respect for the old ways of doing things, for the traditions and custom that had kept the Mafia in business for a century. Instead, they believe in instant gratification, making as much money as they can, plying their drug in previously nice neighborhoods and basically acting like common crooks. …

You have more wiseguys turning stool pigeon in the last ten or twenty year than in all the previous decades of the Mafia’s history. … Old wiseguys would get pinched, bite the bullet, button their lips, and do their time. Today, the fist thing a wiseguy does is sing.

You know, it almost sounds like the guy who devoted years of his life to taking down the Mafia is complaining that this new generation of mobsters isn’t keeping up the Mafia’s code to criminal success…

What we’re talking about here is a new breed of wiseguy who is neither as smart nor as forward-thinking as his predecessors. …

The Mafia has more or less lost its stranglehold on the unions. … a lot of it is because new wiseguys do not have the smarts and wherewithal to cultivate the union people like the old wiseguys did.

Wikipedia has an interesting passage within the etymology section on Mafia:

The word mafia derives from the Sicilian adjective mafiusu, which, roughly translated, means ‘swagger’, but can also be translated as ‘boldness’ or ‘bravado’. … In reference to a woman, however, the feminine-form adjective mafiusa means ‘beautiful’ or ‘attractive’.

Large groups of Italian migrant workers, primarily from the south of the country, first arrived in the US due to a US labor shortage. A result of the US Civil War, the end of slave labor, and the hundreds of thousands killed in the war. …

As migrant laborers from Sicily arrived for work they created their own labor system called the ‘padrone’ system based on the ‘boss’ systems which already existed during this period. … A ‘padrone’ or boss was the middle man between the English speaking businessmen and the laborers from Sicily who were unable to speak the language. He was in charge of the labor group including where they would work, the length of their employment, how much they were paid, and living quarters.

Labor laws were non existent during this period and the padrone system like the boss systems were not immune to corruption. … As the 19th century turned into the 20th century the migrant laborers from Sicily and the padrone system became synonymous with distrust. Strong leaders or padroni who were mafiosi became known as the American counterpart ‘mafia boss’, labor contracts became known as mafia contracts…

Modern society is complex, involving large groups of people trying to make their way in huge communities. You can’t possibly learn all of the skills necessary to build modern human cities. Almost everything necessary for human life–like food–requires networking together far more people than you could ever meet and get to know. Which means opportunities for middle men, fixers, bosses, networkers, headhunters, and all the other guys who “know a guy” stepping in to link the parts together to get things done–which, of course, can have its downsides.

 

Cathedral Round-Up: The Forgotten History of Progressive Eugenics


David Starr Jordan, founding president of Stanford U

The first president of Stanford University, David Starr Jordan, was an ardent eugenecist. In 1910, he gave a speech at Harvard University titled The Blood of the Nations. The Crimson glowingly reported:

President David Starr Jordan, of Leland Stanford, Jr., University, will lecture on “The Blood of the Nations” in the Living Room of the Union next Tuesday evening at 8 o’clock. The lecture will be open only to members of the Union.

After receiving the degree of Master of Science at Cornell in 1872, President Jordan has held chairs in various collegiate institutions. In 1885 he became president of Indiana University, which position he held until assuming his present office in 1891.

President Jordan is one of the leading biologists and scientists of the country and his interest in everything that is progressive and humanitarian stamps him as one of the leaders in modern thought. He is prominently connected with the International Peace Movement. He was the founder and is the first president of Leland Stanford, Jr., University. His great success is shown by the fact that today that university is the leading educational institution of the West.

If you need any more proof of Jordan’s good progressive standing, the book version of his speech–The Blood of the Nation: A Study of the Decay of Races Through the Survival of the Unfit–was published in 1902 in Boston by the American Unitarian Association. It is a short book and you may find it useful to read it before continuing, but I will quote briefly for those who don’t:

In this paper I shall set forth two propositions: … The blood of a nation determines its historyThe History of a nation determines its blood. …

“Send forth the best ye breed.” This is Kipling’s cynical advice to a nation which happily can never follow it. But could it be accepted literally and completely, the nation would in time breed only second-rate men. …

This word “progress” is, however, used with a double meaning, including the advancement of civilization as well as race improvement.

Or as Wikipedia put it:

Jordan promoted the concept of improving human genetics, through removal from the breeding pool of those deemed unworthy to reproduce,[17] in his series of publications titled The Blood of the Nation. He then chaired the first Committee on Eugenics of the American Breeder’s Association, from which the California program of forced deportation and sterilization emerged.[18] Jordan then went on to help found the Human Betterment Foundation as a trustee. The Human Betterment Foundation published “Sterilization for Human Betterment,” a text which formed a cornerstone of the Nazi eugenics program. The latter grew to involve not just forced sterilization but also killing, often via gas; this in turn inspired the Nazi genocide programs.

Jordan made a eugenics-based argument against warfare, contending that war was detrimental to the human species because it removed the strongest men from the gene pool. Jordan was president of the World Peace Foundation from 1910 to 1914 and president of the World Peace Conference in 1915, and opposed U.S. involvement in World War I.[4]

Jordan also served as an expert witness in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. Today, people tend to think of the trial as spawned by “creationists” who opposed the teaching of scientific concepts on religious grounds–which indeed they did–but they also opposed it because they opposed eugenics. William Jennings Bryan, of the “you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold” populist frame, was lead counsel for the prosecution and an anti-eugenics activist, with special concern for the Nietzschian, might-makes-right version becoming popular in Germany post WWI.

But this was still before the discovery of Nazi gas chambers, and eugenics was therefore still the darling of progressive minds. As the Foundation for Economic Education puts it:

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, ordinary Americans may generally have been in the grips of ethnic prejudice of one sort or another. The Progressives of that time were not, however, ordinary men, and they knew it. Like their successors today, they dominated America’s universities. With some justification, they thought of themselves as an intellectual elite; and, with rare exceptions, they enthusiastically embraced eugenics and racial theory. …

Wilson, our first professorial president, was a case in point. He was the very model of a modern Progressive, and he was recognized as such. He prided himself on having pioneered the new science of rational administration, and he shared the conviction, dominant among his brethren, that African-Americans were racially inferior to whites.

With the dictates of Social Darwinism and the eugenics movement in mind, in 1907, he campaigned in Indiana for the compulsory sterilization of criminals and the mentally retarded; and in 1911, while governor of New Jersey, he proudly signed into law just such a bill.

Woodrow Wilson also quite famously believed in the “self-determination of nations”–that is, the right of individual ethnic groups to democratically rule over their own countries–and was instrumental in founding the League of Nations. The ideas that different groups of people have their own biological characteristics which lead to the development of their own particular cultures and societies, that they have their own particular interests, and that they are the ones best positioned to pursue their own interests, are not incompatible and find expression in Wilson’s policies.

To return to David Starr Jordan, he feared that war and other violence had stolen the finest of Europe’s men, rendering them unable to contribute to the current generation:

Other influences which destroyed the best were social repression, religious intolerance, and the intolerance of irreligion and unscience. It was the atheist mob of Paris which destroyed Lavoisier, with the sneer that the new republic of reason had no use for savants. The old conservatism burned the heretic at the stake, banished the Huguenot, destroyed the lover of freedom, silenced the agitator. Its intolerance gave Cuvier and Agasiz to Switzerland, sent the Le Contes to America, the Jouberts to Holland, and furnished the backbone of the fierce democracy of the Transvaal.

While not all agitators are sane, and not all heretics right-minded, yet no nation can spare from its numbers those men who think for themselves and those who act for themselves. It cannot afford to drive away or destroy those who are filled with religious zeal, nor those whose religious zeal takes a form not approved by tradition nor by consent of the masses. All movements toward social and religious reform are signs of individual initiative and individual force. The country which stamps out individuality will soon live in the mass alone.

Leland Stanford, Sr. shaking hands (on the left) following the driving of the golden spike and completion of the first trans-continental railroad

You may be wondering what sort of man was Leland Stanford, Sr., to appoint a eugenicist to lead the university named for his deceased son. The elder Stanford was a colorful character–railroad tycoon, robber baron, philanthropist, driver of the “golden spike” that completed the trans-continental railroad. In today’s dollars, his net worth in the late 1800s was well over a billion; about a billion of this was donated to the university, for, as Leland told his wife, “The children of California shall be our children.”[2]

Stanford was founded as a tuition-free, coeducational institution with no (formal) restrictions on race; the founding class included 12 international students, largely from Canada and Japan. In keeping with his vision of a university that served all of California’s children, not just the wealthy, Stanford’s first class included 147 “special” or probationary students (25% of the total.) The program was aimed at older, working students who had not had the opportunity to attend quality highschools and had not met the college’s minimum entrance requirements, but whom Mr. Stanford believed still deserved a chance to attend college.

From Jordan’s The Blood of the Nation:

Not long ago I visited the town of Novara, in northern Italy. There, in a wheat-field, the farmers have ploughed up skulls of men till they have piled up a pyramid ten or twelve feet high. … These were the skulls of young men of Savoy, Sardinia, and Austria–men of eighteen to thirty-five years of age, without physical blemish so far as may be… who met at Novara to kill each other over a matter in which they had very little concern. … here in thousands they died.

Further on, Frenchmen, Austrians, and Italians fell together at Magenta, in the same cause. You know the color that we call Magenta, the hue of the blood that flowed out under the olive-trees. Go over Italy as you will, there is scarcely a spot not crimsoned by the blood of France, scarcely a railway station without its pile of French skulls. You can trace them across to Egypt, t the foot of the Pyramids You will find them in Germany… You will find them in Russia, at Moscow; in Belgium, at Waterloo. “A boy can stop a bullet as well as a man,” said Napoleon; and with the rest are the skulls of and bones of boys, “ere evening to be trodden like the grass.” …

Read the dreary record of the glory of France, the slaughter at Waterloo, the wretched failure of Moscow, the miserable deeds of Sedan, the waste of Algiers, the poison of Madagascar, the crimes of Indo-China, the hideous results of barrack vice and its entail of disease and sterility… The man who is left, the man whom glory cannot use, becomes the father of the future men of France. …

The final effect of each strife for empire has been the degradation or extinction of the nation which led in the struggle.

Whatever faults or sins Jordan had, I think he and William Jennings Bryan–who supported Woodrow Wilson’s presidential bid–would have agreed that the World Wars were horrific events.

Lewis Madison Terman

But let us turn to Stanford’s other famous eugenicist: Lewis Terman. Born in 1877, he joined the university as a professor of educational psychology in 1910 and remained until his death, in 1956.

In 1916, Lewis published the Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Scale, which became the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, one of the world’s most respected IQ tests. Alfred Binet had originally begun work on the test to aid the French government–which had recently passed law mandating universal education–in placing “slow” children in special education programs rather than locking them away in asylums.

Neither Lewis nor Binet developed IQ tests because they wanted to prove that certain people were dumb–rather, they wanted an objective way to assess which students needed special help–or advanced programs–that wasn’t prone to the potential class prejudices or racial biases of teachers who would otherwise be judging the students. IQ tests were also developed in order to identify students who were intelligent but has not received the same educational opportunities as other students.

According to StateUniversity.com:

Terman viewed the widespread adoption of tests in the schools as a reflection of how testing could be of use to American society. It was to be the major means of achieving his vision of a meritocracy; a social order based on ranked levels of native ability.

This is consistent with Leland Stanford’s original vision of a free Stanford at which even students from poorer educational backgrounds could attend.

The SAT has a similar history:

By the mid-1920s, the increasing use of IQ tests, such as the Army Alpha test administered to recruits in World War I, led the College Board to commission the development of the SAT. The commission, headed by Carl Brigham, argued that the test predicted success in higher education by identifying candidates primarily on the basis of intellectual promise rather than on specific accomplishment in high school subjects.[45] In 1934, James Conant and Henry Chauncey used the SAT as a means to identify recipients for scholarships to Harvard University. Specifically, Conant wanted to find students, other than those from the traditional northeastern private schools, that could do well at Harvard. The success of the scholarship program and the advent of World War II led to the end of the College Board essay exams and to the SAT being used as the only admissions test for College Board member colleges.[44]

The point of the SAT is to give colleges an objective measure of applicants’ intellectual abilities without any racial, class, or gender biases tainting the results.

Of course, Lewis Terman was a eugenicist who believed intelligence was hereditary. In 1921, he launched the Genetic Studies of Genius (now known as the Terman Study of the Gifted.) His goal (at which he succeeded) was to disprove the belief that gifted children were weak, sickly, and socially inept. According to Wikipedia:

Genetic Studies of Genius revealed that gifted and genius children were in at least as good as average health and had normal personalities. Few of them demonstrated the previously-held negative stereotypes of gifted children. … they were not weak and sickly social misfits, but in fact were generally taller, in better health, better developed physically, and better adapted socially than other children. … The gifted children thrived both socially and academically. In relationships, they were less likely to divorce.[6] … Though many of the children reached exceptional heights in adulthood, not all did. Terman explored the causes of obvious talent not being realized, exploring personal obstacles, education, and lack of opportunity as causes.[9]

Then came the Nazis. While they definitely did not like mentally disabled or low-IQ people, they also hated smart people:

The Nazi movement was overtly anti-rationalist, favoring appeals to emotion and cultural myths.[90] It preferred such “non-intellectual” virtues as loyalty, patriotism, duty, purity, and blood, and allegedly produced a pervasive contempt for intellectuals.[91] Both overt statements and propaganda in books favored sincere feeling over thought, because such feelings, stemming from nature, would be simple and direct.[92] In Mein Kampf, Hitler complained of biased over-education, brainwashing, and a lack of instinct and will[93] and in many other passages made his anti-intellectual bent clear.[94] Intellectuals were frequently the butts of Hitler’s jokes.[95]

One popular Munich speaker, declaring biological research boring, called instead on racial emotions; their “healthy ethnic instincts” would reveal the quality of the Aryan type.[99]

… Pure reason was attacked as a colorless thing, cut off from blood.[102] Education Minister Rust ordered teachers training colleges to relocate from “too intellectual” university centers to the countryside, where they could be more readily indoctrinated and would also benefit from contact with the pure German peasantry.[103]

An SS paper declared that IQ varied inversely with male infertility, and medical papers declared that the spread of educational pursuits had brought down the birth rate.[104]

This frequently related to the blood and soil doctrines and an organic view of the German people.[105] “Blood and soil” plays, for instance, depicted a woman rejecting her bookish fiance in order to marry an estate owner.[106]

It also related to antisemitism, as Jews were often accused of being intellectual and having a destructive “critical spirit.”[107] The book burnings were hailed by Goebbels as ending “the age of extreme Jewish intellectualism.”[107]

Wikipedia claims that the Nazis got their ideas from the Californians. But whatever Jordan and Terman’s faults–and their faults were many–I don’t think Nazi eugenics were their goals.

The past is a complicated place. The point is neither that Terman and Jordan were evil nor that they were good. But looking at how radically “progressive” morality has changed, let’s be careful about over-confidence in the latest moral fads of our own day–and perhaps we should also be careful about condemning the past:

Two Palo Alto middle schools named after leading advocates of eugenics will be renamed… Trustees voted 5-0 to rename Jordan Middle School… and Terman middle school, because it is named in part after Lewis Terman…

It is also named after Terman’s son, Frederick Terman, who is credited alongside William Shockley as the “Father of Silicon Valley,” which enjoys the world’s third highest per capita gdp.

Of course, Shockley was also a eugenecist.

…the district must incorporate a unit about California and Palo Alto’s role in the eugenics movement into the history curriculum of secondary schools by next year.

The cost of renaming the schools is estimated at $60,000. The article doesn’t say how much the new curriculum will cost.

“There’s been a lot of very moving testimony, and I found the testimony from those who felt personally excluded or discriminated against particularly powerful,” Collins said. “I think that is a very difficult and real burden to bear, and so I agree with that.” …

“To ask a student to walk into a building that is named after someone who fundamentally did not think they had the right to be there is not OK, and I don’t want to ask them to do that anymore,” DiBrienza said.

Jordan and Terman middle schools both perform substantially above the California average, (unsurprising, given the average IQs of Palo Alto’s residents,) so any student who can do well here would, by Jordan and Terman’s standards, “fundamentally have a right to be there.”

The past–and its morals–cannot be judged simply by our present standards. Should statues of Julius Caesar be torn down because he conquered Gaul, and act which no doubt killed many of the Gauls? Rename all you want, but it is still because of men like Jordan, Lewis and Frederick Terman, and Shockley that Stanford and Silicon Valley exist.

exist.

Just a Note on Ethnonyms

Nunavutball

Every now and then I complain about ethnonyms. Here is an excerpt from a recent paper (Paleo-Eskimo Genetic Legacy Across North America) that demonstrates the difficulty:

Current evidence suggests that present-day Native Americans descend from at least four distinct streams of ancient migration from Asia1-3. The largest ancestral contribution was from populations that separated from the ancestors of present-day East Asian groups ~23,000 calendar years before present (calBP), occupied Beringia for several thousand years, and then moved into North and South America approximately 16,000 calBP2. To be consistent with the previous genetic literature we call this lineage “First Americans”, while acknowledging that indigenous scholars have suggested the term “First Peoples” as an alternative…

How do people not understand that “First Peoples” IS NOT SPECIFIC ENOUGH for genetic, ethnographic, or historical literature? Like, maybe there are multiple groups of people on the planet that phrase could refer to, making it completely useless for identifying anyone?

Besides, what if it turns out there were people there before them? Do we go back to all of the old books and papers, cross out “First Peoples” and replace it with “Second Peoples”?

The archaeological record in the Arctic provides clear evidence for the spread of Paleo-Eskimo culture, which spread across the Bering strait about 5,000 calBP, and expanded across coastal Alaska, Arctic Canada and Greenland a few hundred years later. Direct ancient DNA data has proven that the Paleo-Eskimo cultural spread was strongly correlated with the spread of a new people that continuously occupied the American Arctic for more than four millennia until ~700 calBP… Paleo-Eskimo archeological cultures are grouped under the Arctic Small Tool tradition (ASTt), and include the Denbigh, Choris, Norton, and Ipiutak cultures in Alaska and the Saqqaq, Independence, Pre-Dorset, and Dorset cultures in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. … In this paper, we use the genetic label “Paleo-Eskimo” to refer to the ancestry associated with ancient DNA from the ASTt and “Neo-Eskimo” to refer to ancient DNA from the later Northern Maritime tradition. While we recognize that some indigenous groups would prefer that the term “Eskimo” not be used, we are not aware of an alternative term that all relevant groups prefer instead. The terms “Paleo-Inuit” and “Thule Inuit” have been proposed as possible replacements for “Paleo-Eskimo” and “Neo-Eskimo”, respectively19, but the use of “Inuit” in this context might seem to imply that individuals from these ancient cultures are more closely related to present-day Inuit than to present-day Yupik, whereas genetic data show that Yupik and Inuit derive largely from the same ancestral populations (see below). Moreover, the term “Thule” does not cover the whole spectrum of Northern Mar associated with the latest phase of this tradition. We therefore use the “Eskimo” terminology here while acknowledging its imperfections.

Yupik are Eskimo. Inuit are Eskimo. Inuit want to be called Inuit. Yupik probably want to be called Yupik but are happy with Eskimo and think those Inuit are trying to impose this “Inuit” name on them that they don’t use for themselves. There is no way around this that doesn’t involve too many words, which is why I just call them all Eskimo.

The term “Eskimo” is not even pejorative; according to Wikipedia, it means “a person who laces a snowshoe.” Snowshoes are very clever and useful inventions and there is no shame in being able to lace one properly. I mean, I’m an “American”, what’s that, a corruption of an Italian guy’s signature that got mistaken for a map label?

There is a claim that it means “eaters of raw meat.” This sounds like backwards or creative etymology to me, less sound than the snowshoe label. But even if it is true, so what? Eskimo do eat raw meat. So do the French and the Japanese. The traditional Eskimo diet is one of the best, most nutritious in the world and there is no reason to feel ashamed of it.

Maybe we should change “America” to “Burger Eaters.” We’d be the “Golden Arches Land.”

A rose by any other name would smell just as deep fried in oil.

(Also, since the Neo-Eskimo only show up in the archaeological records of North America around 2,000 years ago, a couple thousand years after the Paleo-Eskimo, they aren’t “First People.” More like Second or Third People. Numbering peoples is absurd.)

It is otherwise a good paper and I encourage you to read it; I just feel sorry for the authors for having to spend so many lines defending the concept of conveying information clearly.