Death Memes, pt 2

This is part two: Why are there suicide memes? If you don’t know what a suicide meme is, please see part one: What are Suicide Memes?

Memes, as used on this blog, are units of ideas. A suicide meme happens when you adopt the memes of people who want you dead. To the gazelle, the lion is a monster; to the lion, the gazelle is lunch. It does not benefit a gazelle to adopt the lion’s idea that gazelles are tasty, nor does it benefit the lion to sympathize with the gazelle.

Concurrent with the suicide memes infecting the West is an increase in actual suicides, which carry over into an overall increase in death:

suiciderates
From the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
2300_white_death_1_0323
Source: New research identifies a “Sea of Despair” among white, working-class Americans

Suicide memes aren’t exclusive to America. They pervade the West, from Britain to New Zealand. If you are inside the meme, you likely cannot see it–the world is simply operating in a rational way; once you are outside the meme, you cannot unsee it–the world is absurd.

The moment of fully understanding the suicide meme and realizing society is filled with them is, for many people, gut-wrenching. It is like having the ground suddenly pulled out from under you. Many people refer to it as “taking the red pill,” in homage to the scene in The Matrix in which Neo decides to wake up from delusion.

ETA: A friend linked me to this excellent account of the feeling: 

As I read the article about the photos, I felt a sense of disbelief. I wasn’t quite sure what I was reading was correct. … I spent the next few hours searching the subject online and found quite a bit more information, but no serious or credible refutation of the stories I’d just learned. The facts therein did not appear to be in much dispute. …

Then the strangest feeling came over me. …

The best description I can come up with is that it was a regret so intense it morphed seamlessly into guilt, as though I were responsible for something terrible, though I didn’t know exactly what. …

I sat in front of my computer and put my face down on the keyboard. I stayed in that position for a few minutes, energyless and drained. When I lifted my head I was surprised to find a few tears on my cheeks.

The experience was something akin to being married for thirty years, thinking your husband loving and faithful, and then by chance coming across evidence that he’d been living a double life all that time, with a wife and kids in another town. A sense of deep betrayal of a basic trust.

Waking up to the fact that you are surrounded by liars is not psychologically simple. How much of what you thought you knew is actually false? It is easy at this stage to feel like you are falling down a rabbit hole, to accept things as true simply because they go against popular narratives, to decide that reality must lie in some other, starkly different direction. Attempts to bring you back to reality are resisted because “reality” has already been proven to be a malicious lie bent on destroying you.

By coincidence, as I write this, Zero Hedge opines:

How to account for Americans being the most anxious, fearful, and stressed-out people among the supposedly advanced nations? Do we not live in the world’s greatest democratic utopia where dreams come true? 

What if the dreaming part is actually driving us insane? What if we have engineered a society in which fantasy has so grotesquely over-run reality that coping with daily life is nearly impossible. …

You end up in a virtual world of advertising and agit-prop where manipulation is the primary driver of human activity. That is, a world where the idea of personal liberty (including any act of free thought) becomes a philosophical sick joke, whether you believe in the possibility of free will or not. You get a land full of college kids trained to think that coercion of others is the highest-and-best use of their time on earth — and that it represents “inclusion.” You get a news industry that makes its own reality, churning out narratives (i.e. constructed psychodramas) to excite numbed minds.

When people realize they are surrounded by lies and suicide memes, they start looking for someone to blame. If there are death memes, then someone must be trying to kill them.

This is when people start blaming the Jews.

Explicit aside: I don’t.

A young man recently walked into a synagogue in Poway, California, and opened fire. His rampage was stopped by an off-duty border patrol agent who was also carrying a gun, otherwise it most likely would have been far worse; as it was, one person died.

Why a synagogue? The Poway shooter blamed the Jews for the “white genocide” he saw around him.

population_fig-2
Graph of change in population demographics by race of California from 1970 to 2015 from the Public Policy Institute of California

“But there is no white genocide,” you might be objecting. Remember that the shooter lived in California. In 1970, California was 77% non-Hispanic white. Today, it is 38% white. 27% of Californians are immigrants, born in other countries. Since the Hispanic population is growing much faster than the others, the population of Californian children is 51% Hispanic and only 27% white.

Whether you call that “genocide” or not, the shooter is in fact living through a time when he can observe his own ethnic group shrinking as a share of the population. Meanwhile, housing prices in California have become absurd and the middle class is being squeezed out, but any suggestion that maybe immigration levels should be curbed is met with charges of racism, fascism, or worst of all, being a closeted Donald Trump lover.

So this guy looks around, realizes something is not right, and concludes that someone must be doing it on purpose. Of course, the Jews:

To my family and friends. I can already hear your voices. “How could you throw your life away? You had everything!…” I understand why you would ask this. But I pose a question to you now. What value does my life have compared to the entirety of the European race? Is it worth it for me to live a comfortable life at the cost of international Jewry sealing the doom of my race? …

“How does killing Jews help the European race? The European race is doomed? What are you talking about? These Jews were innocent!” Every Jew is responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the European race.

So… he’s a bit off.

The real reason society has gone off the tracks is far less exciting than international conspiracies cackling in the night–the real reason is technology.

The internet is an interesting place. You have sites devoted to every possible interest, from coffee to AfroPop; you have communities at every level of reputation, from total anonymity to real names only. And it has long been observed that communities which allow anonymous posting swing more to the right, while communities where people use their real names swing to the left.

Reputation, at least in our society, is liberal.

There are several reasons for this, but the core, underlying one is probably mathematical: there are more people who aren’t you than are you. There are more people who aren’t white than are white. If you are talking to everyone (as social media platforms strive for) and you care about your reputation, then you want as many people as possible to like what you have to say.

“I love me and want to benefit myself at the expense of everyone else,” is not a message that is popular with everyone else.

“I love everyone else and want to benefit them at the expense of myself,” is a message that everyone else loves.

And that, right there, is how the suicide meme is born. The more time you spend on the internet in real-name, real-reputation circles, the more pressure you will feel to espouse leftist values, because these are high-status memes and because if you don’t, an angry mob might get you fired. See: James Damore.

When we come right down to it, most people are greedier than they want to appear. We’d all like to look like angels while not exactly acting like angels, and we’d like our neighbors to actually act like angels. There’s a lot of social pressure on people to behave like angels, and on the internet, where words are all that we see, the pressure to behave and desire to seem get blended into one enormous holiness spiral.

By contrast, in anonymous circles, things you say have much less impact on your reputation. It’s hard to holiness spiral if your words have no connection to you.

But let’s back up a minute, before the creation of WEIRD societies. HbdNrx on Twitter has a thread that perfectly sums up what I want to say, so this is a quote with some expansions: 

homicide_in_europe_1200_2000“For the first few million years of our existence, humanity consisted of hunter-gatherer tribes who constantly conquered and raped and pillaged each other. Even chimpanzees fight wars over territory, killing and cannibalizing other chimps in the process. Violence was ubiquitous.

“The development of agriculture allowed larger settlements to form. Civilization began, first in the Middle East. Of course, people used their new-found technology and organization to firmly conquer and pacify their neighbors, in an orgy of violence followed by peace; we can still see the results in studies of Y-chromosomal diversity–it plummeted.

“Broadly speaking, in most areas suitable for agriculture, tribal disputes gave way to larger wars with armies. Cooperation was needed to compete. The spread of Christianity and the Catholic Church through the Roman Empire resulted in the break-up of tribal affiliations and reduced cousin marriage, especially within the Hajnal Line. IQ and cooperation were selected for during the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance was the eventual result.

“The printing press and base-ten numbers were imported and literacy exploded. We can probably blame Protestantism directly on the press, as with literacy and book ownership came the idea that ordinary people could read the Bible and form their own relationship with God. The power of the Church weakens, feudalism begins to fade, and parliaments are strengthened. Ideas like equal rights under the law are established during the Enlightenment.

“Slavery had been around since the tribal era, but now even slaves could read and write. For example, In 1789, Olaudah Equiano, an Igbo who had been kidnapped, enslaved, and then earned his freedom, published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah EquianoThe book (plus the actions of other members of abolitionist societies) soon convinced the British to abandon slavery.

“Pretty soon whites across the literate world were saying, in essence, “Hey, those slaves are people too, why don’t they have rights?” Slavery was abolished in Britain in 1807; in 1794 and again in 1848 in France; throughout much of Latin America around 1826; Canada in 1833; the US fought a war that ended slavery in 1865. (By contrast, Mauritania didn’t abolish slavery until 1981, and Amnesty International estimates that 43,000 people are still enslaved in Mauritania. Slavery is also still a problem in Libya, and of course the territory controlled by ISIS.)

“So ideas about equality and cooperation were extended further and further, from slavery to voting to the Civil Rights Act. Whites, being fair-minded people who deeply believe in equality, listened to complaints from nonwhites of oppression and tried to make things better–so we got busing, school integration, affirmative action, and now, cities just straight up not prosecuting crimes.

“The point here is that there’s a trend from the very beginnings of civilization toward expanding circles of equality–from tribe to nation/empire to the inclusion of other racial groups (and animals, especially among vegetarians), and white people have been selected more for this than any other people on the planet.

“The trend is a natural result of technological changes, from literacy to the internet, and the need for broader cooperation in order to compete in the new tech environment–it takes a lot of trustworthy people working together to build a nuke or a railroad. Fast boat and air travel enabled mass immigration, and radio, TV, and the internet allowed us to hear the voices of those who might formerly have been called savages. The current “anti-racism” ideas are an extension of this trend, into the new memevironment of social media.

“A substantial portion of whites would never have been able to resist pleas for equal rights nor open borders. These whites look at the apparent unfairness of borders or seemingly arbitrary rules like apartheid and they naturally sacrifice to increase fairness. At least 20% of whites in the US are fundamentally hippie libs like this. Much of the ideological problem is that these people look at disparate outcomes and assume that there must be something unfair causing this inequality (completely ignoring biology and culture).

“Then you have the cuckservative types–the people with no ideological defense to the liberal accusations who just go along with it, and the people who actively promote cheap labor because it’s in their immediate interests. Most of them see themselves as “conservatives” simply because they believe in the liberalism of 30 years ago, rather than today. That’s most of the mainstream Republican party, >30% of whites.

“So we have at least half of whites basically opposed to doing anything to stop this trend, and we have nearly all the nonwhites advocating for their own interests. If you’re looking for people to blame, there it is–a majority of the population.

“Of course, we can also blame individuals like LBJ and other politicians at the time who pushed the civil rights act and the immigration act, and we can blame some of the acceleration of identity politics on postmodernist academics and the Frankfurt school. But by and large the trends are bigger than all of them, especially now that we have social media accelerating everything.

“These values of equality and cooperation are deathwish values in the global context, as we can see by the declining white % globally. So, the trend toward increasing equality and cooperation won’t go on forever because its strongest proponents are being selected against.”

In other words:

Technological and economic progress have expanded people’s social circles from their immediate tribes to cities and nations. These changes promote the spread of universalist memes. Many of these ideas were probably adaptive when they first arose, when people were just dealing with other people in their immediate communities, but are no longer adaptive due to our rapidly increasing ability to travel and communicate.

Horizontal (viral) memes have proliferated and adapted in the new environment of the internet, with nonwhites, especially, advocating for their own interests with the language of fairness/oppression.

Meanwhile, in academia, postmodernism–the idea that we should analyze why someone wrote what they wrote and how their background identity influences their opinions, rather than analyze what they actually wrote–has kicked objective reality out the window. See, for example, this list:characteristics of white supremacy

In general, suicide memes are a natural development of social and technological activity, although some groups are more into them than others. High-IQ, high-class people tend to favor suicide memes because they want to signal to potential partners their willingness to cooperate, not defect. Most of these people are well-meaning.

To summarize:

First, new technology makes communication easier, giving us suicide memes.

Second, people notice suicide memes and conclude that someone is trying to kill them.

Third, they decide that the Jews (who are disproportionately represented in academia and the real-name parts of the internet due to social status,) are trying to kill them.

Fourth, they strike back.

If you’re Jewish, this is a good time to realize that this trend is not working in your favor. (Please see my Open Letter on this subject.)

So how do I know the Jews aren’t secretly conniving in backrooms to fling open the borders and offer Affirmative Action to all?

Because the Lutherans are just as bad. Ever since the Biafran Airlift:

The Biafran Airlift was an international humanitarian relief effort that transported food and medicine to Biafra during the 1967-70 secession war from Nigeria (Nigerian Civil War). It was the largest civilian airlift, and after the Berlin airlift of 1948-49, the largest non-combatant airlift of any kind ever carried out. The airlift was largely a series of joint efforts by Protestant and Catholic church groups, and other non-governmental organizations (NGO)s, operating civilian and military aircraft with volunteer (mostly) civilian crews and support personnel. Several national governments also supported the effort, mostly behind the scenes. This sustained joint effort, which lasted one and a half times as long as its Berlin predecessor, is estimated to have saved more than a million lives.[1]

–or perhaps before–Christian churches in the US have played a significant role in both aid to Africa and resettling refugees in the US. The Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, Catholic Charities, and Arrive Ministries are responsible for resettling at least 10,000 Somalis in Minnesota–a coincidentally very profitable business.

Remember this?

We Are the World” is a charity single originally recorded by the supergroup United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa in 1985. It was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian for the album We Are the World. With sales in excess of 20 million copies, it is one of fewer than 30 retail singles to have sold at least 10 million copies worldwide. …

Before the writing of “We Are the World”, American entertainer and social activist Harry Belafonte had thought for some time to have a song recorded by the most famous artists in the music industry at the time. He planned to have the proceeds donated to a new organization called United Support of Artists for Africa (USA for Africa). The non-profit foundation would then feed and relieve starving people in Africa, specifically Ethiopia, where around one million people died during the country’s 1983–1985 famine.[1][2]

There are a lot more Christians trying to resettle refugees in the US than Jews.

Moreover, undermining Western Civilization doesn’t benefit the Jews. America is the least anti-Semitic country in the world. Antisemitism is much higher in Latin America than the US. It’s much higher in Africa and China. It’s a little higher in most of Europe. It’s way higher in Islamic countries. So outside of a couple other WEIRD countries in northwest Europe, immigration from pretty much any other country on Earth is bad for the Jews.

Jews don’t want to die, and they bleed just like anyone else. I’ve met Jews who’ve fled South Africa, Detroit, New York, and LA. Always because of violence (sanitized as “crime”).

Here’s Bret Weinstein, formerly of Evergreen College, on the death memes that drove him out:

There’s an excellent three-part documentary on Youtube about how the (mostly) black students at Evergreen rioted, hunted Bret down with bats and tazers, and eventually drove him out of the university for the literal crime of teaching on campus while white.

Bret’s Jewish, in case you missed that. As far as non-whites are concerned, Jews are white and are treated accordingly. It’s in the Jewish interest for America and Britain to be nice, civilized, non-antisemitic countries that support Israel; not for them to degenerate into crime-ridden, antisemitic shitholes where Jewish wealth is taxed to fund welfare programs for non-whites.

If you’re looking for someone to blame, maybe blame the guys hunting down white academics with bats and tazers.

Of course, even if they aren’t trying to destroy civilization to benefit themselves, Jews could just be accidentally doing it because they’re stupid. This wouldn’t be a conspiracy, but people do actually do stupid things rather often. Jews are, in fact, disproportionately left-wing in the US (but not in other Western countries–in Britain, for example, they vote for the Tories).

But there is very little functional difference between liberal Jews and liberal non-Jews. Unitarian Christians and Reform Jews are practically the same (and many Reform Jews attend Unitarian churches). Orthodox Jews are conservative, keep to themselves, and basically avoid American politics; they certainly aren’t encouraging people to crossdress or get abortions, and most of them voted for Trump (54%–which is identical to the percent of whites who voted for Trump.)

Okay, so we know we have a problem: suicide memes, and we have a second problem: people who are getting violent about suicide memes.

What are the solutions? Getting violent isn’t a solution. Violence only works if you have the support of society behind you, and society supports people with high-class reputations. Society supports death memes; society does not support fighting back against death memes. Right-wing violence does not work because reputation is leftist. Making things worse is not a solution, but getting around the reputation problem could be.

The next bright idea I’ve seen people advocate is trying to convince everyone that humans races don’t exist.

This is a lie, and lying to people who are already onto the fact that you are lying to them is not going to work. They will just conclude that you are lying because you want to kill them. Remember that one of the indicators that genocide is likely to happen–as articulated by Genocide Watch–is “Systematic official denial of the existence of particular distinct groups.” By claiming that races don’t exist, you are walking straight into the paranoia of people convinced that you are trying to genocide them.

The truth of the “human races share 99.9% of their DNA in common” statement lies in the fact that the changes to our DNA that make genes do different things are, in fact, very small. The lie is that the size of the changes matters at all.

Mike came in the house, put away the groceries, cooked dinner, set the table, and said, “Let’s eat, kids!”

Mike came in the house, put away the groceries, cooked dinner, set the table, and said, “Let’s eat kids!”

These sentences are over 99% identical. What’s the big problem?

And besides, humans managed to slaughter their neighbors for millions of years before we discovered genetics; we’ll certainly be able to keep slaughtering each other even if we forget about genetics.

The best solution I can think of to suicide memes is to become aware of them,  stop spreading them, and point out when others spread them.

 

By the way, if you haven’t read my previous work on memes or aren’t very familiar with meme theory, here are a few relevant posts: Dangerous Memes, Mitochondrial Memes, and more memes. 

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Who were the Jomon?

 

700px-Historical_expanse_of_the_Ainu.svg

The modern people of Japan are descended from two main groups–the Yayoi, rice farmers who arrived in the archipelago around 800 BC, and the Jomon, hunter-gatherers who arrived thousands of years before.

The oldest known skeletons in Japan are about 30,000 years old. The first 20,000 years of Japanese history are the Paleolithic; the Jomon period, marked by distinct pottery, begins around 14,000 BC.

Despite being hunter-gatherers, the Jomon reached a relatively high level of cultural sophistication (Wikipedia has a nice collection of Jomon art and buildings,) probably because Japan is a naturally lush and pleasant place to live. (The popular perception of hunter-gatherers as poor and constantly on the brink of death is due to the best land having been conquered by farmers over the past few thousand years and enormous population growth over the past hundred. Neither of these factors affected the Jomon at their peak.)

Who were the Jomon? Were they descended directly from the paleolithic peoples of Japan, or were they (relative) newcomers? And what happened to them when the Yayoi arrived? Did they inter-marry? Are the Ainu their modern descendants?

An interesting new paper posted on BioRxiv, Jomon genome sheds light on East Asian population history, examines the DNA of a 2,500 year old individual:

After the major Out-of-Africa dispersal of Homo sapiens around 60 kya, modern humans rapidly expanded across the vast landscapes of Eurasia[1]. Both fossil and ancient genomic evidence suggest that groups ancestrally related to present-day East Asians were present in eastern China by as early as 40 kya[2]. Two major routes for these dispersals have been proposed, either from the northern or southern parts of the Himalaya mountains[1,35].

So far the genetic studies have suggested a southern migration route, but archaeological evidence suggests a northern route or at least significant northern trade routes.

Note: the paper claims that the Jomon invented the world’s first pottery, but this appears to be incorrect; according to Wikipedia, the oldest known pottery is from China. However, the Jomon are very close.

To identify the origin of the Jomon people, we sequenced a 1.85-fold genomic coverage of a 2,500-years old Jomon individual (IK002) excavated from the central part of the Japanese archipelago[15]. Comparing the Jomon whole-genome sequence with ancient Southeast Asians, we previously reported genetic affinity between IK002 and the 8,000-years old Hòabìnhian hunter-gatherer[15]. This direct evidence on the link between the Jomon and Southeast Asians, thus, confirms the southern route origin of East Asians.

Ideally, it would be nice to have a bunch of much older samples, but is difficult to get older DNA from Japanese skeletons because Japan is generally warm and humid, which interferes with preservation. It’s really amazing that we can get what little old DNA we can.

I’m going to call IK002 “Ikari” from here on.

Ikari’s mother hails from mitochondrial haplogroup N9b1, which previous studies have established as common in ancient Jomon people. It’s quite rare in modern Japan, however–which is somewhat unusual, since invading armies usually like to turn the local women into war brides rather than wipe them out entirely. The mitochondrial DNA of Latin American people, for example, hails primarily from native women, while their Y chromosomes hail primarily from Spanish conquistadors.

jomon
“Principal component analysis (PCA) of ancient and present-day individuals from worldwide populations after the out-of-Africa expansion. Grey labels represent population codes showing coordinates for individuals. Coloured circles indicate ancient individuals.”

Then we get to the exciting part.

The authors use numerous methods to compare Ikari’s DNA to that of other people, ancient and modern. The graph at right shows Ikari (the red diamod) closest to the Kusunda, a modern day people living in Nepal! According to Wikipedia, there are only 164 Kusunda left, with only one surviving speaker of their native language, itself an isolate. (Though the Wikipedia page on the Kusunda language claims that 7 or 8 more speakers were recently discovered.)

The other shapes close to Ikari on this graph are are Sherpas and another iron-age individual from Tibet.

The Ainu are not shown on this graph, but Ikari is closely related to them, as well.

Second, when using a smaller number of SNPs (41,264 SNPs) including the present-day Ainu[34] from Hokkaido (Fig.S1), IK002 clusters with the Hokkaido Ainu (Fig.S4), supporting previous findings that they are direct descendants of the Jomon people[14,3441].

200px-Mongoloid_Australoid_Negrito_Asia_Distribution_of_Asian_peoples_Sinodont_Sundadont(I have written previously about the Ainu, who are, of course, still alive:

Taken together, all of the evidence is still kind of scanty, but points to the possibility of a Melanesian-derived group that spread across south Asia, made it into Tibet and the Andaman Islands, walked into Indonesia, and then split up, with one branch heading up the coast to Taiwan, Okinawa, Japan, and perhaps across the Bering Strait and down to Brazil, while another group headed out to Australia.

Later, the ancestors of today’s east Asians moved into the area, largely displacing or wiping out the original population, except in the hardest places to reach, like Tibet, the Andaman Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon Rainforest, and Hokkaido–the fringe.)

That was quite speculative, but an actual genetic link between Tibetans (broadly speaking, peoples of the Tibetan plateau) and the modern Ainu is pretty exciting.

Of course, the Jomon did not die out entirely when the Yayoi arrived–about 10% of the modern Japanese genome resembles Ikari’s, along with 6% of the nearby Siberian Ulchi people’s.

By contrast, the Yayoi are more closely related to the modern Han Chinese.

Further analysis reveals more fascinating details about the ancient peopling of Asia and the Americas: Ikari’s ancestors likely split off from the other Asians before the Native Americans headed to Alaska, giving us a rough time estimate for the Jomon’s arrival–older than the 26,000 year old split between East Asians vs Siberians & Native Americans, but younger than a particular 40,000 year old group that split off in China, found in Tianyuan.

This indicates that the Jomon are most likely descended from the Japanese Paleolithic people, who arrived around 30,000 years ago and simply developed pottery a few thousand years later, rather than more recent migrants.

220px-AinuManStilflied
Ainu Man showing off his beard

People have long speculated about whether the Ainu are related to Caucasians (whites, Europeans, Westerners, whatever you want to call them,) due to their abundantly bushy beards. There is some West-Eurasian admixture in the ancestors of East Siberians and Native Americans that pre-dates the peopling of the New World, but this admixture is not found in Ikari; the Ainu likely did not get their beards from wandering European hunter-gatherers.

As the tooth studies suggested, however, the Jomon and Ainu are related to the Taiwanese Aborigines, like the Ami and Atayal. (However, the final portion of the paper is a little confusing, so I may have misinterpreted something. Hopefully the authors can clarify a bit in their final form.) It is otherwise a fine paper, and I encourage you to read it.

Book Club: Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

chinua
After a request for “some fiction,” the Book Club picked Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

I have not read this book and know nothing about it (I’ve read some other Achebe, but that was a long time ago.) Hopefully it will be good.

After that, I hope to read Freedman’s Legal Systems very Different from Ours. As always, these can be obtained at the library; our discussion of Things Fall Apart should begin in about a month.

Everyone’s using “social construct” wrong

Well.

Dr. Seers is close.

A “social construct”–in the context of groups of people–is just a stereotype. We’ll call it an “idealized version.” We learn this idealized version by interacting with many individual instances of a particular type of thing and learning to predict its typical behaviors and characteristics.

Suppose I asked you to draw a picture of a man and woman. Go ahead, if you want; then you can compare it to the draw-a-man test.

Out in reality, there are about 7 billion men and women; there is no way you drew someone who looks like all of them. Chances are you drew the man somewhat taller than the woman, even though in reality, there are millions of men and women who are the same height. You might have even drawn hair on the figures–long hair for the woman, short for the man–and some typical clothing, even though you know there are many men with long hair and women with short.

In other words, you drew an idealized version of the pair in order to make it clear to someone else what, exactly, you were drawing.

Our idealized pictures work because they are true on average. The average woman is shorter than the average man, so we draw the woman shorter than the man–even though we know perfectly well that short men exist.

Once an ideal exists, people (it seems) start using artificial means to try to achieve it (like wearing makeup,) which shifts the average, which in turn prompts people to take more extreme measures to meet that ideal.

This may lead to run-away beauty or masculinity trends that look completely absurd from the outside, like foot binding, adult circumcision rituals, or peacocks’ tails. Or breasts–goodness knows why we have them while not nursing.

Our idealized images work less well for people far from the average, or who don’t want to do the activities society has determined are necessary to meet the ideal.

Here’s an interesting survey of whether people (in this case, whites) consider themselves masculine or feminine, broken down by political orientation.

DxuYyOUX4AIiTkU
“In General, would you describe yourself as…”

The same trend holds for women–conservative women are much more likely to consider themselves to be very feminine than liberal women. Of course, ideology has an effect on people’s views, but the opposite is probably also true–people who don’t feel like they meet gender ideals are more likely to think those ideals are problematic, while people who do meet them are more likely to think they are perfectly sensible.

And this sort of thinking applies to all sorts of groups–not just men and women. Conservatives probably see themselves as better encapsulating the ideal of their race, religion, nationality (not just American conservatives, but conservatives of all stripes,) while liberals are probably more likely to see themselves as further from these ideals. The chief exceptions are groups where membership is already pre-determined as liberal, like vegetarians.

esquireThis may also account for the tendency people have, especially of late, to fight over certain representations. An idealized representation of “Americans” may default to white, since whites are still the majority in this country, but our growing population of non-whites would also like to be represented. This leads to pushback against what would be otherwise uncontroversial depictions (and the people who fit the ideal are not likely to appreciate someone else trying to change it on them.)

What they Want you to See…

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H/T Matthew Montoya)

I have not seen Captain Marvel, and thus cannot judge it, but I have seen the articles claiming that the only reason people don’t like Captain Marvel is because they’re evil patriarchs who hate female empowerment.

My sans-spoilers review for Alita is here and my massive spoilers reflections on cyborgs and Alita is here. I liked the movie quite a bit.

Ironically, these are both movies featuring female superheroes; if you are an evil patriarch who hates female superheroes, you will presumably hate both movies.

There is nothing deep, here, only an observation that the “culture war” is but sound and fury, signifying nothing. 58,000 men did not go on Rotten Tomatoes to review a movie just because they “hate women,” though some of them might have been motivated by humorless scolds lecturing them about how much they hate women, nor did 23,000 people show up to rate Alita just because they something something love empowering female teenagers.

If the only thing you want out of a movie is a chance to show off your politics, then you will miss out on the entire rest of the range of human experiences that reveal through narrative.

And if we could only see the official reviews, we might miss out on a great deal, because it seems that official reviewers are bad at their job.

So much of what passes for modern “politics” is this mere sound and fury; tempests in teapots over great big nothings. I don’t even want to comment on much of it, because it is so pathetic (I just happen to have a strong emotional attachment to Alita, which even I find a bit curious.) The things that pass for “politics” in our modern world are so detached from reality I can’t help but wonder if we are all just being fed bread and circuses to keep us distracted from the things we ought to be doing. If you care about women, go help at your local battered women’s shelter. If you want to help trans people, volunteer with one of the charities that sends letters to incarcerated trans people. If you want to help the poor, volunteer at a soup kitchen or donate clothes and toys to foster kids–or better yet, adopt one. If you want to help people, go outside and HELP someone, but for goodness’ sakes, don’t think that you’re advancing any social cause by watching a movie.

Meanwhile, Asia Review reports that half of the world’s self-made female billionaires are now Chinese. The world is changing and we Americans are off squabbling about our genitals instead of getting out there and DOING SOMETHING.

So get out there.

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.

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?