Where Anthropology Went Wrong

Obviously I read a lot of anthropology. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart. Some anthropological works are really good (these I try to share with you here.) Others are drek. (Sometimes I share these, too–but in the spirit of, “Ew, this tastes really weird… Here, try some!” Goodness only knows why people do that.)

In my opinion, anthropology has two main purposes:

  1. To document human cultures, with priority given to those at greatest risk of disappearing
  2. To make human cultures mutually understandable.

I’m reminded here of the response Napoleon Chagnon gave when asked what the Yanomamo thought he was doing, studying their tribe:

“They arrived at their own conclusion, which I thought was very logical: I’m trying to learn how to become human.” –Napoleon Chagnon

So let’s add #3: Learn what it means to be human.

Some anthropologists specialize in #1. Others are talented at #2. A few can do both. Collectively, the enterprise might get us to #3.

For example, many anthropologists have amassed reams of data on kinship structures, marriage taboos, food/wealth distribution, economic systems (eg hunter-gathering, pastoralism, etc.) If you want to know whether the average milch pastoralist thinks cousin marriage is a good idea, an anthropologist probably has the answer. That’s task #1.

But information doesn’t do much good if it just molders away in some dusty back room of a university library, and the average person doesn’t want to read an anthropologist’s field notes. This is where good writing comes in–crafting an enjoyable, accessible ethnography, like Kabloona, which gives the average reader some insight into another culture. That’s task #2.

Anthropology isn’t supposed to be politicized, but in practice it’s difficult not to get sucked into politics. Anthropologists generally become quite fond of the people they’ve studied and lived with for years. Since they prioritize cultures in danger of disappearing, they end up with both practical and sentimental reasons to side against the more powerful groups in the area–no anthropologist wants to see the people he just spent a decade living with starve to death because a mining company moved into the area and dug up their banana farms.

As a result, the anthropologist often becomes a liaison between the people he studies and the broader world he wants to protect them from.

Additionally, like the quantum physicist, the anthropologist changes the society he studies merely by being present in it. He is an outsider, a person with his own ideas about morality, violence, gender relations, education, money, etc., and moreover, entirely alien to the local economic and social system. He cannot simply slip, unnoticed, into village life without disrupting it in some way–this is the existential problem of anthropology, but since it cannot be solved, (and the wider culture has no qualms about disrupting native life in far larger and more damaging ways, like bulldozing it,) as a practical matter it must simply be laid aside.

One thing anthropologists tend not to do is look very closely at the negatives of the societies they study, such as disease, infant mortality, drug abuse, or violence. After all, who wants to produce a book that boils down to, “I studied these people, and they were brutish, nasty, and unpleasant”?

Let’s compare for a moment two classic works: Elizabeth Thomas’s The Harmless People, whose very title lays out her assertion that the Bushmen are less violent and less capable of killing people than other, more technologically advanced peoples; and Chagnon’s Yanomamo: The Fierce People.

Chagnon actually bothered to calculate how many murders his subjects committed, and discovered that the Yanomamo have murder rates much higher than modern first-world nations. For his efforts he has been thoroughly condemned and attacked by his own profession:

When Chagnon began publishing his observations, some cultural anthropologists who could not accept an evolutionary basis for human behavior refused to believe them. Chagnon became perhaps the most famous American anthropologist since Margaret Mead—and the most controversial. He was attacked in a scathing popular book, whose central allegation that he helped start a measles epidemic among the Yanomamö was quickly disproven, and the American Anthropological Association condemned him, only to rescind its condemnation after a vote by the membership. Throughout his career Chagnon insisted on an evidence-based scientific approach to anthropology, even as his professional association dithered over whether it really is a scientific organization.

Thomas does not bother to offer numerical proof of her claims that Bushmen are more peaceful than other groups, but anyone with a mind for numbers can look at the murders she does report, divide by the number of Bushmen, and conclude that homicide rates are most likely higher in Bushman society than ours.

Of course, Thomas has not been castigated and condemned by the AAA for asserting that first world societies are more homicidal than third-world hunter-gatherers without proof.

It would be simplistic to assert that Marxists and Freudians produce bad anthropology; I am sure they would have equally negative things to say about people like me. Rather, the dominance of anthropology by adherents of any particular political ideology is problematic.

(Anthropologists also tend not to examine very critically the reasons people might want to change their societies.)

The second big problem with anthropology is that most “primitive” societies have disappeared or are mere remnants of their former selves. 100 years ago, we didn’t know there were people living in the middle of Papua New Guinea (and the folks there, I gather, didn’t know about the rest of us.) There were still cannibals, uncontacted tribes of hunter-gatherers, and igloo-dwelling Eskimo. Atlases still had blank spots marked “unexplored.”

By the time Thomas wrote “The Harmless People,” the Bushmen were disappearing. Indeed, the book’s epilogue, in which a private land owner fences off a watering hole where the Bushmen had formerly drunk in the dry season, leading several tribe members to die of thirst, followed by the remaining tribe members’ removal to a settlement, where all of the vices of alcoholism and violence set in, makes for difficult reading.

What’s a modern anthropologist to do? Sure, you could write an incredibly depressing ethnography on the ways traditional lifestyles are disappearing, or you could write a dissertation on the intersection of hip-hop culture and queer identity. (And you can do that without spending ten years in some third-world village with malaria and no internet.)

The result of all of this is that anthropologists sometimes stick their noses where they don’t belong, for purely political reasons. Take, for example, the American Anthropological Association (them again!)’s statement on race:

In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences.

“Conditioned!” Because there is no evidence that pre-verbal infants notice racial or ethnic differences:

Do babies react differently when they are looking intently at the faces of people of different races?

Psychologist Phyllis Katz has cleverly used habituation to try to answer this question. Katz studied looking patterns among 6-month-old infants. She first showed the babies a series of pictures, each of them was shown a person that was of the same race and gender (e.g., four White women). After four pictures, the babies began to habituate to the pictures, and their attention wavered. Next, Katz showed the babies a picture of a person who was of the same gender but of a different race (e.g., a Black woman), or a picture of a person who was of the same race but of a different gender (e.g., a White man). The logic behind the study was that if the infants didn’t register race or gender, they wouldn’t show a different response to these new pictures– that is, they would continue to show habituation. However, if they registered a difference, the babies should dishabituate, and again look with interest at this new stimulus.

The findings clearly showed that the 6-month-olds dishabituated to both race and gender cues—that is, the infants looked longer at new pictures when the pictures were of someone of a different race or gender. But some other interesting findings emerged. Among these was the finding that for both Black and White infants, the infants attended longer to different race faces when they had habitutated to faces that were of their own race.

Back to the AAA:

Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.

This is dumb. This is really, really dumb. Humans and chimpanzees share 96% of their DNA, but that doesn’t make us the same species. Humans and mice share 92% of our DNA.

Put a dog and a wolf together, and if they don’t kill each other, they’ll breed. Dogs, wolves, dingos, and golden jackals can all interbreed and produce fertile offspring, but we still consider them different species.

I’m not saying human races are actually different species. I’m saying the AAA is full of idiots who parrot popular science articles without understanding the first thing about them. If these are your “scholarly positions,” you don’t fucking deserve your PhDs.

Oh, and by the way, humans don’t always interbreed. Sometimes one group just exterminates the other. Just ask the Dorset–oh wait you can’t. Because they’re all dead.

Physical variations in any given trait tend to occur gradually rather than abruptly over geographic areas.

The fact that “blue” and “green” shade into each other on the rainbow does not mean that blue and green do not exist.

And because physical traits are inherited independently of one another, knowing the range of one trait does not predict the presence of others. For example, skin color varies largely from light in the temperate areas in the north to dark in the tropical areas in the south; its intensity is not related to nose shape or hair texture.

It’s like the EDAR gene doesn’t exist:

A derived G-allele point mutation (SNP) with pleiotropic effects in EDAR, 370A or rs3827760, found in most modern East Asians and Native Americans but not common in African or European populations, is thought to be one of the key genes responsible for a number of differences between these populations, including the thicker hair, more numerous sweat glands, smaller breasts, and dentition characteristic of East Asians.[7] …The 370A mutation arose in humans approximately 30,000 years ago, and now is found in 93% of Han Chinese and in the majority of people in nearby Asian populations. This mutation is also implicated in ear morphology differences and reduced chin protusion.[9]

Back to AAA:

Dark skin may be associated with frizzy or kinky hair or curly or wavy or straight hair, all of which are found among different indigenous peoples in tropical regions. These facts render any attempt to establish lines of division among biological populations both arbitrary and subjective.

Haak et all's full dataset
Haak et all’s full dataset

Picture 2So that’s why it’s so hard to distinguish an African from a Caribbean Indian, said no one ever.

Genetically, of course, the divisions between the Big Three main human clades are quite plain.

 

…indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.

Unless you need a bone marrow or organ transplant. Then suddenly race matters a lot. Or if you’re trying to live in the Himalayas. Then you’d better hope you’ve got some genes Tibetans inherited from an ancient line of Denisovan hominins their ancestors bred with, present AFAIK nowhere else on Earth, that help them breathe up there.

Today scholars in many fields argue that “race” as it is understood in the United States of America was a social mechanism invented during the 18th century to refer to those populations brought together in colonial America: the English and other European settlers, the conquered Indian peoples, and those peoples of Africa brought in to provide slave labor.

People in the past did bad things, so all of their conceptual categories for understanding the world must have been made-up. And evil. There’s no way a European who just met an African and a Native American could have accidentally stumbled on a valid observation about human populations that were historically separated for a long time.

Anyway, the article goes on and on, littered with gems like:

During World War II, the Nazis under Adolf Hitler enjoined the expanded ideology of “race” and “racial” differences and took them to a logical end: the extermination of 11 million people of “inferior races” (e.g., Jews, Gypsies, Africans, homosexuals, and so forth) and other unspeakable brutalities of the Holocaust.

Hear that? If you think there are genetic variations between long-separated human groups, you are basically Hitler and the only logical conclusion is genocide. Because no one ever committed genocide before they invented the idea of race, obviously:

A 2010 study suggests that a group of Anasazi in the American Southwest were killed in a genocide that took place circa 800 CE.[15][16]

Raphael Lemkin, the coiner of the term ‘genocide’, referred to the 1209–1220 Albigensian Crusade ordered by Pope Innocent III against the heretical Cathar population of the French Languedoc region as “one of the most conclusive cases of genocide in religious history”.[17]

Quoting Eric Margolis, Jones observes that in the 13th century the Mongol armies under Genghis Khan were genocidal killers [18] who were known to eradicate whole nations.[19] He ordered the extermination of the Tata Mongols, and all Kankalis males in Bukhara “taller than a wheel”[20] using a technique called measuring against the linchpin. In the end, half of the Mongol tribes were exterminated by Genghis Khan.[21] Rosanne Klass referred to the Mongols’ rule of Afghanistan as “genocide”.[22]

Similarly, the Turko-Mongol conqueror Tamerlane was known for his extreme brutality and his conquests were accompanied by genocidal massacres.[23] William Rubinstein wrote: “In Assyria (1393–4) – Tamerlane got around – he killed all the Christians he could find, including everyone in the, then, Christian city of Tikrit, thus virtually destroying Assyrian Church of the East. Impartially, however, Tamerlane also slaughtered Shi’ite Muslims, Jews and heathens.”[24] Christianity in Mesopotamia was hitherto largely confined to those Assyrian communities in the north who had survived the massacres.[25] Tamerlane also conducted large-scale massacres of Georgian and Armenian Christians, as well as of Arabs, Persians and Turks.[26]

Ancient Chinese texts record that General Ran Min ordered the extermination of the Wu Hu, especially the Jie people, during the Wei–Jie war in the fourth century AD. People with racial characteristics such as high-bridged noses and bushy beards were killed; in total, 200,000 were reportedly massacred.[27]

I’m stopping here. This stuff is politicized drek. It obviously is irrelevant to the vast majority of anthropology (what do I really care if the Inuit are part of the greater Asian clade when I’m just trying to record traditional folk songs?) But this drivel gets served up as the “educated opinions of scholars in the field” (notably, not the field of human genetics) to naive students and they don’t even realize how politically-based it is.

I don’t think anthropologists all need to agree with me about politics, but they should cultivate a healthy interest in science.

Anthropology Friday: Reindeer Economies

1024px-reindeer_pulling_sleigh_russiaHello, and welcome to Anthropology Friday! Today we’re having a look at Tim Ingold’s Hunters, Pastoralists and Ranchers: Reindeer economies and their transformations. (1980)

Ingold’s book is not a colorful, entertaining account of life in a reindeer herding community, but an academic attempt to explain why (and how) some arctic peoples have transitioned to reindeer-based pastoralism and some have continued their hunting lifestyle (not a whole lot of gathering happens in the arctic.)

According to Ingold, the most well-documented (as of 1980) arctic Eurasian pastoralists are the Lapps (aka Sami,) Nenets, Reindeer Chukchi, and Reindeer Koryak. Ingold cites several authors whose works may be useful for further reading on the subject, including Manker’s “People of Eight Seasons,” Bogoras’s “The Chukchi of Northeast Asia,” and Jochelson’s “The Koryak.” (On the Nenets, I substitute Golonev and Osherenko’s “Siberian Survival: The Nenets and their story.”)

Ingold is something of a Marxist (he cites Marx explicitly in the prologue) and sets out to prove that cultures (or at least the cultures he examines) don’t evolve in the Darwinian sense because one cultural approach to economic production doesn’t actually produce more babies than a different approach, and thus there is no biological selective mechanism at work. (Rather, he asserts that there are cultural factors at play.)

“Social Darwinism is wrong” is a pretty typical attitude from a Marxist, so with that caveat, let’s head to the book’s interesting parts (as usual, I’m using “”s instead of blockquotes.) Ingold begins with a question:

“Some years ago, I undertook a spell of anthropological fieldwork among the Skolt Lapps of northeastern Finland. These people were, so I imagined, reindeer pastoralists. Yet when I arrived in the field, the promised herds were nowhere to be seen. On inquiry into their whereabouts, I was assured that they did exist, scattered around in the forest and on the fells, and that before too long, a team of herdsmen would be sent out to search for them. Well then, I asked, should I purchase a few animals myself? Certainly not, came the reply, for the chances of ever getting my hands on them again would be remote. They could, after all, take refuge in every nook and cranny of a range of wilderness extending over several thousand square miles. … What kind of economy was this, in which live animal property roamed wild over the terrain, quite beyond the ken of its possessors, and in which simple common sense appeared to dictate against owning any animals at all? …

“[W]hy, if the herds are wild, do we not find a hunting economy[?] …”

EvX: Ingold then backtracks into some necessary ecological background on reindeer and their hunters:

Odin, king of gods, flanked by his ravens Hugninn and Muninn, and his wolves Geri and Freki
Odin, king of gods, flanked by his ravens Hugninn and Muninn, and his wolves Geri and Freki

“Of particular interest is the close, symbiotic association between the raven and the wolf. Flying above the herd, the raven guides the predator to its prey, in the expectation of receiving a share in the pickings… A similarly close relation exists between human hunters and their domestic or semi-domestic dogs, whose partnership with man in the chase is rewarded with left-overs of meat.”

EvX: Man the hunter follows the wolves, and the wolves follow the ravens, and the ravens track the prey. Give man a horse, and he is formidable indeed.

O’er Mithgarth Hugin and Munin both
Each day set forth to fly;
For Hugin I fear lest he come not home,
But for Munin my care is more.[5]

–Poetic Edda

ravens_and_wolves_see_email_3-28Two ravens flew from Óðinn’s
shoulders; Huginn to the hanged and
Muninn to the slain corpses.[9]

–Third Grammatical Treatise(?)

 

Moving on, Ingold outline the traits which make the reindeer suitable for domestication. They are, first of all, herd animals, a necessary prerequisite for pastoralism. (Pigs, by contrast, don’t form large herds, preferring to live in groups of <10.) This was not surprisng; the importance of predators in making a species suitable for domestication, however, was:

“The association between a pack of wolves and a reindeer herd on which it preys is a very close one. Packs are known to follow wild herds throughout their nomadic wanderings and seasonal migrations, whilst the deer are so accustomed to the presence of wolves that only those deer in the immediate vicinity of a wolf show any concern for their safety…

“Wolves are able to gorge enormous quantities of meat in a short time, and then to go for two weeks or more without food … This ability overcomes the necessity for meat storage in the face of irregularities in food supply.”

EvX: Ingold notes that wolves generally pose little threat to healthy, full-grown reindeer, but exact significant losses among fawns.

raven-pecks-at-reindeer-carcass-scandinavia-video-id1b08577_0005“Very heavy losses are recorded among reindeer fawns during the first months of life under ‘wild’ conditions. McEwan (1959) estimated that 33.5 per cent of fawns of both sexes died in the first three months among barren-ground caribou, and similar figures (33 to 44 per cent in the first four months) are given by Nowosad (1975) for the introduced reindeer herd of the Mackenzie Delta. Among Labrador caribou, fawn mortality over the first nine months (June to March) was found to be as high as 71 per cent, compared with an annual adult mortality rate of only 6 per cent (Bergerud 1967:635). These figures, although not strictly commensurable, present a striking contrast to the 12 per cent fawn mortality recorded by Skunke (1969) during the first six months under pastoral conditions in Swedish Lapland. It is clear that the surveillance of fawns, to the extent that it confers protection from the principal agents of mortality, represents a critical factor in pastoral herd growth. …

Very young fawns may be taken not only by wolves but also by smaller predators such as fox and wolverine, as well as by birds of prey. They may also succumb to wind chill and other adverse weather conditions encountered whilst on the fawning grounds.”

EvX: Until recently, there was little in animal husbandry which quite compares to agriculture’s direct human involvement in plant reproduction, but both agriculture and pastoralism involve human effort to deter our food’s other natural predators. In agriculture, we protect plants from bunnies, worms, insects, and stampeding herds to increase yields. In pastoralism, we protect animals from death by exposure, starvation, or predation by wolves to increase herds.

(I am reminded here of my grandfather’s dog, a German Shepherd, who killed all of the male coyotes in the area and then mated with the females, resulting in litters of hybrid coydogs.)

Interestingly, Ingold notes that:
“At this stage, losses of male and female fawns are about equal… However, sex ratios in adult herds always favour females by a large margin. The figures tabulated by Kelsall (1968:154) for barren-ground caribou of breeding age show a variation of between thirty-four and sixty-four males per hundred females, despite a roughly equal ratio at birth. …”

EvX: But enough about wolves; what about human hunters? Ingold argues that it would be nigh impossible for even the most nomadic humans to actually keep up, as wolves do, with a herd of reindeer:

caribou_feed_on_lichens_and_moss-_the_bird_is_an_alaskan_raven_-_nara_-_550384“Rather, the strategy is to intercept cohorts of the moving herds at a series of points on their migration orbits. The route connecting these points may cover the same distance as that travelled by the herds, or only a small part of it, but in no case is it identical to the itinerary of any one group of reindeer. Thus, hunters will frequent one location as long as game are present or passing through, building up a store of food if the kill is more than can be immediately consumed, and moving on to another location once supplies are exhausted. The strategy requires that hunters are able to anticipate rather than follow the movements of their prey and that, once located, enough animals can be killed to tide them over until the next encounter. …

“The wolf preying on reindeer has no difficulty in locating its resource, the problem is to isolate vulnerable targets. On the other hand, for human hunters, who are not in continuous
contact with the herd, the problem lies entirely in being in the right place at the right time. Once located, reindeer are remarkably easy to kill, even with primitive equipment … Moreover, the uncertainty of location encourages hunters to kill when they can;…

“In summer and autumn, deer can be hunted with dogs: the dog scents and chases the deer, holding it at bay until the hunter arrives within shooting range. This is perhaps among the most widespread of all human hunting practices, combining the superior strength of dogs as coursers with the ability of men to kill from a distance.”

EvX: The domestication of the dog and its long cooperation with man is a fascinating subject in and of itself. According to Wikipedia:

The closest living relative of the dog is the gray wolf and there is no evidence of any other canine contributing to its genetic lineage.[4][5][33][7] The dog and the extant gray wolf form two sister clades,[7][8][9] with modern wolves not closely related to the wolves that were first domesticated.[8][9] The archaeological record shows the first undisputed dog remains buried beside humans 14,700 years ago,[34] with disputed remains occurring 36,000 years ago.[35] These dates imply that the earliest dogs arose in the time of human hunter-gatherers and not agriculturists.[5][8] The dog was the first domesticated species.[9][10]

Where the genetic divergence of dog and wolf took place remains controversial, with the most plausible proposals spanning Western Europe,[36][5] Central Asia,[36][37] and East Asia.[36][38]

Further:

The Newgrange and ancient European dog mDNA sequences could be largely assigned to mDNA haplogroups C and D but modern European dog sequences could be largely assigned to mDNA haplogroups A and B, indicating a turnover of dogs in the past from a place other than Europe. As this split dates older than the Newgrange dog this suggests that the replacement was only partial. The analysis showed that most modern European dogs had undergone a population bottleneck which can be an indicator of travel. The archaeological record shows dog remains dating over 15,000 YBP in Western Eurasia, over 12,500 YBP in Eastern Eurasia, but none older than 8,000 YBP in Central Asia. The study proposed that dogs may have been domesticated separately in both Eastern and Western Eurasia from two genetically distinct and now extinct wolf populations. East Eurasian dogs then made their way with migrating people to Western Europe between 14,000-6,400 YBP where they partially replaced the dogs of Europe.[16]

Indicating that: 1. Humans + their dogs likely wiped out all of the wolves in their area, the same wolves their dogs were descended from, and 2. Modern European dogs are likely descended from dogs who accompanied the original Indo-Europeans, the Yamnaya, when they conquered Europe (also Iran, India, etc.) Continuing:

Ancient DNA supports the hypothesis that dog domestication preceded the emergence of agriculture[2][5] and was initiated close to the Last Glacial Maximum 27,000 YBP when hunter-gatherers preyed on megafauna, and when proto-dogs might have taken advantage of carcasses left on site by early hunters, assisted in the capture of prey, or provided defense from large competing predators at kill-sites.[2] … The earliest sign of domestication in dogs was the neotonization of skull morphology[78][79][80] and the shortening of snout length that results in tooth crowding, reduction in tooth size, and a reduction in the number of teeth,[55][78] which has been attributed to the strong selection for reduced aggression.[78][79]

As the Taimyr wolf had contributed to the genetic makeup of the Arctic breeds, a later study suggested that descendants of the Taimyr wolf survived until dogs were domesticated in Europe and arrived at high latitudes where they mixed with local wolves, and these both contributed to the modern Arctic breeds. Based on the most widely accepted oldest zooarchaeological dog remains, domestic dogs most likely arrived at high latitudes within the last 15,000 years. …

In 2015, a study found that when dogs and their owners interact, extended eye contact (mutual gaze) increases oxytocin levels in both the dog and its owner. As oxytocin is known for its role in maternal bonding, it is considered likely that this effect has supported the coevolution of human-dog bonding.[120]

I recall asking some time ago whether the domestication of animals had influenced the evolution of human empathy. In order to profitably live and work with dogs, did we develop new, inter-species depths to our ability to understand and be moved by the needs of others?

In 2003, a study compared the behavior and ethics of chimpanzees, wolves and humans. Cooperation among humans’ closest genetic relative is limited to occasional hunting episodes or the persecution of a competitor for personal advantage, which had to be tempered if humans were to become domesticated.[75][129] The closest approximation to human morality that can be found in nature is that of the gray wolf, Canis lupus. Wolves are among the most gregarious and cooperative of animals on the planet,[75][76] and their ability to cooperate in well-coordinated drives to hunt prey, carry items too heavy for an individual, provisioning not only their own young but also the other pack members, babysitting etc. are rivaled only by that of human societies.

But what does this tell us about cat people?

Hunting dogs make major contributions to forager societies and the ethnographic record shows them being given proper names, treated as family members, and considered separate to other types of dogs.[135][136] This special treatment includes separate burials with markers and grave-goods,[135][137][138] with those that were exceptional hunters or that were killed on the hunt often venerated.[135][139] A dog’s value as a hunting partner gives them status as a living weapon and the most skilled elevated to taking on a “personhood”, with their social position in life and in death similar to that of the skilled hunters.[135][140]

Intentional dog burials together with ungulate hunting is also found in other early Holocene deciduous forest forager societies in Europe[141] and North America,[142][143] indicating that across the Holarctic temperate zone hunting dogs were a widespread adaptation to forest ungulate hunting.[135]

While browsing Wikipedia pages about dogs, I happened across this strange gem of human behavior:

In ecology, the term pariah dog refers to free-ranging dogs that occupy an ecological niche based on waste from human settlements. … All authentic strains of pariah dogs are at risk of losing their genetic uniqueness by interbreeding with purebred and mixed-breed strays. To prevent this from happening, some strains of pariah dogs are becoming formally recognized, registered, and pedigreed as breeds in order to preserve the pure type.

Eskimo (Inuit) girl with her dog -- http://www.canadianinuitdogs.com/
Eskimo (Inuit) girl with her dog

Sure, they’re feral dogs who eat trash, but their bloodlines mustn’t be sullied by mixing with common strays!

Throughout the world, wherever there are men there are dogs: the Arctic-dwelling Eskimo have dogs; Native Americans have dogs; Aborigines have dogs (even though the dogs arrived in Australia after the Aborigines;) the Basenji hails from the Congo rainforest; etc. The only major group I know of that isn’t keen on dogs is Muslims. (Though Muslims probably have mixed attitudes on the matter. After all, Verse 5:4 of the Quran says “Lawful for you are all good things, and [the prey] that trained [hunting] dogs and falcons catch for you.”)

But enough about dogs. Let’s get back to Ingold:

“Upper Palaeolithic men, exploiting herds of gregarious big game principally by battue methods, had little use for hunting dogs, whilst packs of wild dogs could scavenge the waste discarded on the sites of human kills without having to enter occupied camps. … In Europe, on the other hand, the advantages for both species of close partnership gave rise to a process of unconscious selection on the part of man in favour of those qualities enhancing the efficiency of dogs as hunting aids. This contrast could account for the fact that in the tundra and taiga regions of the Old World, hunting dogs are found only in Europe and Siberia west of the Yenisey—Khatanga divide. However, as Meggitt (1965) has shown in the case of the relation between Australian aborigines and dingoes, co-hunting does not necessarily give rise to domestication in the sense of either taming or breeding. Human hunters may equally well follow behind wild packs on their predatory forays; and dogs, as habitual scavengers, derive a concomitant return through their interaction with man.”

EvX: As a bit of an aside, Ingold notes the effects of modern technology on ancient ways:

“The introduction of the gun throughout the circumboreal region has greatly modified the balance of traditional hunting practices by encouraging solitary stalking and coursing techniques at the expense of trapping and collective ambush drives. Possession of a rifle so increases the penetrating power of the individual hunter as to enable him to obtain all the meat he needs without recourse to co-operation beyond the dyadic partnership. Moreover, the consequent dependence on external traders for firearms and ammunition tends to disrupt traditional sharing relations, so that hunting on one’s own is made not only possible but desirable.”

EvX: But back to the Deer. Ingold enumerates the variety of uses circumpolar people have fo reindeer and the difficulties with obtain sufficient fat (humans can’t eat more than about 40 or 50% of their diets as protein without going into starvation mode, and dead deer can only be preserved effectively in the winter months, so lean deer killed in the summer are not consumed very efficiently.) He then compares the nature of hunting in different climes:

“In a number of respects, hunters of the arctic and subarctic are in a very different position from their counterparts in warmer climatic zones. It is now recognized that most so-called hunting peoples derive the bulk of their subsistence from gathering, horticulture or fishing, whereas game provides only a protein supplement to the diet (Lee 1968). Consequently, hunting activity tends to be sporadic, undertaken in response more to whim than to pressing need. Once a hunter has decided to embark in search of game, he may take the first animal of whatever favoured species that comes his way (e.g. Woodburn 1968:53). No attempt is made to kill more animals than can immediately be shared and consumed in camp; meat is wasted only if the victim is too large to be consumed at once. …

“Starvation appears to be all but unknown to such people, whilst the birth-spacing requirement imposed on women by the burdens of gathering and the necessarily long period of lactation renders the growth of population almost imperceptible … Taking into account the great diversity of prey species available to human hunters in tropical biotic communities, as well as the variety of non-human predators competing for the same resources, it follows that the impact of human predation on any one species of prey must be extremely small, and that it could not possibly operate in a density-dependent way. …

1024px-archangel_reindeer3“Consider now the reindeer hunter. He is primarily dependent on a single game species: hunting is for survival. It provides not a supplement but a mainstay to his diet, as well as materials for his clothing and shelter. For this reason, as we have seen, he must slaughter more animals than he can possibly consume in their entirety. Storage over the winter months is not only possible but vitally necessary. Food may be there in nature, but certainly not spread all around. On the contrary, it is both concentrated and highly mobile; whilst abundant in one locale, it may be completely absent from another. …

“The Nganasan, for example, obtain virtually a whole year’s supplies from only four months of hunting…

“If the herds change their accustomed routes, as they frequently do, and if the hunters
fail to locate them, people may starve. …

“It follows that even if we assume a constant human population, the size of the kill will fluctuate in relation to prey abundance. …

“On the basis of repeated reports of starvation among Eskimo and Naskapi reindeer hunters in the Ungava region of Labrador, Elton inferred that the human and reindeer populations must have been subject to linked oscillations of the Lotka—Volterra type: For hundreds of years the Indian population must have starved at intervals, giving the deer opportunities to increase, then killing deer heavily until another failure to cross their erratic tracks caused more Indians to starve . . . We see here the Indian population suffering a slow cycle, lasting over a generation, in much the same fashion as the shorter cycles of the wolf, lynx, fox and marten. It is to be supposed that such cycles among the caribou hunters had from the earliest times helped the elasticity of the hard-pressed herds.”

reindeer being milked
reindeer being milked

EvX: The differences in tropical vs. arctic hunting may help explain why megafauna such as elephants and giraffes have survived in Africa and virtually nowhere else.

Ingold then goes into detail about different reindeer hunting methods, such as setting up “fences” made of flapping cloth that “funnel” the reindeer into a pen and then killing them. It seems to me only a short step from here to deciding, “wait a minute, we can’t freeze these carcases today because it’s too warm out, but if we just kill a couple of deer now and keep the rest in the pen for a few weeks, it’ll get cold and then we can kill them,” and thence to, “Hey, what if we just keep them in the pen all the time and only kill one when we need to?”

Continuing:

“At first glance, the wolf and the pastoralist might be seen to have much in common (Zeuner 1963:47, 124). Both follow particular bands of reindeer, more or less continuously. Both slaughter for immediate needs, keeping their stores of meat ‘on the hoof. Both are selective in their exploitation of the herds. …

“A herd-following adaptation may be a necessary condition of pastoralism, but it is certainly not a sufficient one. There are three critical differences between the exploitation of herds by wolves and by human pastoralists. Firstly, pastoralists protect their herds against wolves, whereas wolves never offer protection against man. Secondly, pastoralists select intentionally, whereas selection by wolves is unintentional. Thirdly, the impact of pastoral selection on different age and sex classes in the herds is quite different from that of wolf predation. …

“The selection strategy of wolves … tends to maximize the sustained yield of meat from the herd. This is achieved primarily through the slaughter of a large proportion of the annual crop of fawns … Pastoralists, on the other hand, are reluctant to slaughter fawns, though some may have to be killed for their skins. Otherwise, the rule is to castrate males surplus to reproductive requirements, allowing them to survive well into maturity; and not to slaughter females at all unless or until they have become barren. This is a strategy for maximizing not the productivity but the numerical size of a herd, or the ‘standing crop’ of reindeer. It cannot be accounted for on the basis of human demographic pressure, since the yield is no greater than that which would be obtained by a random pattern of exploitation.”

EvX: So here is Ingold’s Marxism bleeding through. He wants to prove that pastoralism supports no more people than hunting, because reindeer function like currency for pastoralists, and so they become obsessive reindeer hoarders, preferring to grow their herds rather than produce more children.

He doesn’t cite any anthroplogical/ethnographic evidence on this count, though, and I am, frankly, skeptical. I recall, for example, a study of a spontaneous economy that sprang up in a POW camp in which inmates used cigarettes as currency which they used to trade for food, and the authors noted in passing that the camp’s smokers were thinner than everyone else because they were trading away their food to get currency just to smoke. Just because something is valuable doesn’t mean you won’t consume it. Ingold wants to prove that the preference for hunting or pastoralism stems from cultural factors–do people want to be pastoralists?–and not from one or the other offering biological, Darwinian advantages in the form of producing more children, as this would support the idea of Social Darwinism, which of course is evil Nazi heresy.

But this theory is dependent on the idea that, in fact, pastoralists and hunters have the exact same number of children–which I am not convinced of.

But let’s let Ingold have the last word (for today):

“To sum up: comparing the ecological relations of hunting and pastoralism, we find the latter to be chronically unstable, and unable to support a human population any higher than the former. Indeed, human population density under pastoralism may be lower than that which could be sustained by a hunting economy. It is for this reason that the pastoral association between men and herds is unique, having no parallels amongst other vertebrates. There is no selective mechanism on the Darwinian model that could account for a predator’s stimulating the increase of its prey at the expense of its own numbers. …

“From this contrast, I deduce the ecological preconditions of pastoralism: the herds must be followed, protected against predators and exploited selectively. Comparing the pastoralist and the wolf as exploiters of reindeer, I conclude that pastoralism cannot be regarded as an ‘intensification’ of hunting, and that the transformation from hunting to pastoralism marks a step towards overall ecological instability whose rationale must be sought on the level of social relations of production.”

So Cultural Marxism is just a “Conspiracy Theory”

Search for “cultural Marxism” on Wikipedia, and you get redirected to “Frankfurt School Conspiracy Theory“:

‘Cultural Marxism’ in modern political parlance refers to a conspiracy theory which sees the Frankfurt School as part of a movement to take over and destroy Western society.[52][53][54][55]

To clear things up, here’s some Cultural Marxism in action:
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 Heterosexualism and the Colonial / Modern Gender System, by Maria Lugones, published by Hypatia Press https://muse.jhu.edu/article/206329
From Heterosexualism and the Colonial / Modern Gender System, by Maria Lugones, published by Hypatia Press

picture-2a

ctotbhfwcaaunbaRemember:

In 1933, the Soviet government, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, recriminalised homosexual activity with punishments of up to five years’ hard labor. …

During the Soviet regime, Western observers believed that between 800 and 1,000 men were imprisoned each year under Article 121.[14] The precise reason for the new law is still in some dispute.[citation needed] … Whatever the precise reason, homosexuality remained a serious criminal offense until it was repealed in 1993.[16]

In the People’s Republic of China:

Even as late as the early 1980s, there were some Chinese men seeking asylum in other countries reported that they had faced systematic discrimination and harassment from the government because of their sexual orientation as well as similar mistreatment from family members [1]. Likewise, the Chinese government did treat homosexuality as a disease and subjected gay men to electric shock therapy and other attempts to change their sexual orientation [34]

And Palestine:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in the Palestinian territories are often spoken of in the geopolitical and cultural context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It remains one of the most taboo human rights issues in the region. Homosexuality is illegal in the Gaza Strip but not in the West Bank, although LGBT rights are not protected in either. …

Gay Palestinians frequently seek refuge in Israel fearing for their lives, especially fearing death from members of their own families.[7] “According to lawyer Shaul Gannon, from the Israeli LGBT organisation Aguda, around 2,000 homosexuals from the Palestinian territories live in Tel Aviv at any one time.”[5]

Oh, I guess I have a few more:

cyoi2oxxaaaaxcr

Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro
Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro

cylauolxcaa71uk

But sure, Cultural Marxism isn’t real. Nothing to see; move it along.

In Defense of Columbus

I have, obviously, a great love for exploration, from the navigation feats of the Polynesian mariners to Armstrong and Aldrin’s first steps on the moon. Everything about these tales is incredible, from the bravery of the navigators to the fact that any of them survived the amazingly harsh conditions they encountered.

This was being passed around on FB the other day:

13925375_1009347419180339_7303719590160982869_nOh, I know the answer! I know! *waves hand wildly in the air* Pick me! PICK ME!!! *cries* oh god why don’t they ever pick me?

It’s the Taino. Yes, I knew that before he said it. Obscure ethnic groups are one of my things, bro.

Somehow I don’t think “knowing the Taino were the people Columbus encountered” actually gets me to “agreeing with this guy’s political agenda.” This guy probably has lots of nice, not-very-aware students in his classes who’ve never heard of the Taino but still think Columbus was a bad person.

Me? I’d rather study Columbus than the Taino, because Columbus discovered the New World, and they didn’t. (They didn’t discover the Old World, either.) Columbus is one of the single most important people who ever lived because his discoveries completely altered the path of human history.

To be fair, Columbus didn’t act alone–he didn’t invent or build the ships he sailed, build up a fortune and finance his endeavor, invent the compass or astrolabe, nor the printing press that allowed for the distribution of his findings. Had Columbus never lived, sooner or later, someone else would have done the same things he did. Nevertheless, Columbus lived, and he’s the guy who found the Americas.

The Taino might indeed have been the nicest, sweetest people in human history, and Columbus may have been a colossal jerk, but Columbus is still the guy who changed history.

We’ve been discussing lately the accomplishments of Vitus Bering, a Russian-employed Dane who led a massive undertaking across Siberia and got to Alaska before, as far as I can tell, the much nearer Chinese and Japanese had mapped the area. (Though the Japanese did conduct trade with the Spaniards in the Pacific and traveled with them over to Spanish-ruled Mexico back in the 1600s.) This was a tremendous undertaking, which cost a great many lives and rubles.

Nothing like the Age of Exploration happened before, and unless we explore the stars, it likely won’t again.

It is a history worth remembering.

Quick thoughts on the “replication crisis” and calls to make the field more mathematically rigorous

If you aren’t familiar with the “replication crisis,” in social psychology, start here, here, and here.

I consider the courses I took in college on quantitative and qualitative methods the most important of my undergraduate years. I learned thereby a great many important things about how not to conduct an experiment and how to think about experimental methodology (not to mention statistics.)

If I were putting together a list of “general education” requirements I wanted all students to to take in order to declare them well-educated and ready to go out into the world, it’d be a course on Quantitative and Qualitative Methods. (Much like current “gen ed” and “distribution requirements,” the level of mathematical ability required would likely vary by field, though no one should be obtaining a college degree without some degree of numerical competence.)

But the real problem with the social science fields is not lack of rigorous statistical background, but overwhelming ideological conformity, enforced by the elders of the fields–advisers, hiring committees, textbook writers, journal editors, etc., who all believe in the same ideology and so have come to see their field as “proving” their ideology.

Ideology drives both the publication biases and the wishful thinking that underlie this crisis. For example, everyone in “Women’s studies” is a feminist who believes that “science” proves that women are oppressed because everyone they know has done studies “proving” it. You’re not going to find a lot of Women’s Studies professors aiming for tenure on the basis of their successful publication of a bunch of studies that failed to find any evidence of bias against women. Findings like that => no publication => no tenure. And besides, feminist professors see it as their moral duty to prove that discrimination exists, not to waste their time on studies that just happened not to be good enough to find the effect.

In the Social Sciences more generally, we get this “post modern” mish-mash of everything from Marxists to Freudians to folks who like Foucault and Said, where the goal is to mush up long-winded descriptions of otherwise simple phenomena into endless Chomsky Sentences.

(Just reading the Wikipedia pages on a variety of Social Science oriented topics reveals how very little real research or knowledge is generated in these fields, and how much is based on individual theorists’ personal views. It is often obvious that virtually anyone not long steeped in the academic literature of these fields would not come up with these theories, but with something far more mundane and sensible. Economists, for all their political bias, at least provide a counterpoint to many of these theories.)

Obviously different fields study different aspects of phenomena, but entire fields should not become reduced to trying to prove one political ideology or another. If they are, they should label themselves explicitly, rather than make a pretense of neutrality.

When ideology rather than correctness become the standard for publication (not to mention hiring and tenure,) the natural result is incorrectness.

More statistical knowledge is not, by itself, going to resolve the problem. The fields must first recognize that they have an ideological bias problem, and then work to remedy it by letting in and publishing work by researchers outside the social science ideological mainstream. It is very easy to think your ideas sound rigorous when you are only debating with people who already agree with you; it is much more difficult to defend your views against people who disagree, or come from very different intellectual backgrounds.

They could start with–hahahaha–letting in a Republican.

Cultural Marxist Happy Hour

or ragey hour, whichever emotion you want to go with.

I was recently asking myself, “What happened to drag queens? Sure, you hear about trans folks all the time these days, but what about good ol’ fashioned drag queens? Are people just not doing that anymore?”

I’m sure you ask yourself these sorts of things all of the time, so take heart! I’ve found some, and it turns out that politically active drag queens are crazy Cultural Marxists. Who knew?

I wasn't going to post a picture, and then I saw this.
I wasn’t going to post a picture, and then I saw this. (BTW, this pic got over 1,000 “likes.”)

Yup, it’s those guys I highlighted the other day, Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian, claiming that Norway was “colonizing” black people by expecting migrants to Norway to obey Norwegian laws and hosting voluntary classes to explain to the immigrants some of the ins-and-outs of Norwegian social codes.

Alok and Janani have degrees from Stanford University.

This time, they’re back to helpfully explain to us how, exactly, Norway is “colonizing” people who moved there voluntarily. I was going to just post a screencap, but I keep wanting to respond to individual lines, so we’re going to quote:

This has been said so many times but I’m reading some troubling comments about the news from Norway (https://tinyurl.com/norwaycolonialism) and I suppose it needs to be constantly pushed.

Yes, constantly push that narrative! Constantly! Push, push!

Gender based violence can never be discussed outside of colonialism because gender based violence is foundational to colonialism.

Concrete used in my sidewalks can never be discussed without discussing the World Trade Center, because concrete is foundational to the World Trade Center. It’s also foundational to almost every large building on Earth, so discussing this crack in the sidewalk outside my house is going to take a really, really long time.

Also, colonialism was about conquering land and making money.

Also, Norway hasn’t colonized anyone since the Viking era.

Norway’s training of refugees in European “sexual norms” is part of a long history of the West understanding Black & brown masculinities as “backwards” and white feminism as the answer.

Actually, it’s an immediate response to these migrants raping Norwegians.

Funny how people who are quick to proclaim that “race is a social construct” will turn around and talk about “The West” as though it were a single, coherent entity–of which Norway constitutes less than half of one percent!

Norway, with no history of colonialism and no (until now) imported minority of non-Europeans, has no “history” of “understanding” black and brown “masculinities”–at least, not until they altruistically let in a bunch of people who started raping the locals.

White supremacy would have you dwell on the particular (“But who did Norway colonize anyways?” “Isn’t it harmless?”) without addressing bigger systems and ideologies. Whiteness is the privilege to observe the particular and not experience the structural.

Who needs facts? What facts? Sure, all of the facts might actually contradict all of the bullshit I’m blathering, but that’s some kind of “white privilege” to notice actual reality! Nonwhites get to notice “structures”, even when those structures are completely contradicted by actual facts.

The West isn’t a saint because it’s taking in (a few) refugees because it was the West who drew the borders the refugees are being forced to cross to begin with!

1. Norway had nothing to do with the drawing of anyone’s borders.

2. The Syrian refugees are genuinely fleeing violence, but the black migrants are went to Norway voluntarily.

Blah blah blah…

The fact that you are unaware about the long and brutal history of the West “training” the Global South into gender and sexual norms (read: imposing Victorian sexual ethics, codifying the gender binary, importing homophobia and transmisogyny, etc.) has everything to do with colonialism. The fact that it’s easier for you to think of Black & brown masculiniteis as sexist/homopohbic moreso than white European culture (the most (trans)misogynist of all!) has everything to do with colonialism.

Oh hey, you know how people claim that whole “Cultural Marxism” thing is just a conspiracy theory? (How does anyone who has ever been to college claim such a thing?)

Marxism became a popular ideology among the de-colonializing nations because colonialism was capitalist, and Marxism is anti-capitalist. Cultural Marxism takes the original Marxism’s economic arguments and replaces them with cultural arguments. So we get this weird and completely a-historical argument about colonization having to do with gender oppression and homophobia.

Of course, no statistics are given on rates of homophobia, transmisogyny, etc. Statistics are like “facts”; things that only white people use. But hey, since I am white, how about some poll data on what Muslims think of homosexuality?

From Pew Research Center, Muslim Views on Morality
From Pew Research Center, Muslim Views on Morality

Yeah, whites are SOOO homophobic.

It reveals a deep and misplaced anxiety that white supremacy has always held: that immigration is really about penetration, that opening white imposed borders for Black & brown men is inviting in rape.

Someone here is a Freudian, and it isn’t me.

Just as economists don’t discuss Marxism anymore, especially since the major test case crashed and burned, psychologists don’t discuss Freud anymore, since his theories were found to lack predictive value.

This is the point where one might want to cite some data that proves that black and brown men rape at the same rate as white men.

Of course he doesn’t, because data is for white people he knows the data overwhelmingly contradicts him.

(Newsflash: White people already did this very thing: it’s called colonialism!) Colonialism IS rape culture.

Wait, now he’s arguing that invasion is rape?

White feminism is never the answer unless your solution to ending gender based violence involves mass criminalization, detention, torture, bombing, occupation, and war. … White feminism is never the answer because it actually can and will never be about the liberation of all women and femmes: it will always only be about the conditional safety of white women and femmes. Never forget: White men have used the alleged “safety” of white women as an excuse to occupy the whole world haven’t they?

Nope. They haven’t.

It keeps going, and going, and going, like the Energizer Bunny of made-up history and bad logic. I’m going to stop here, because it really isn’t worth continuing with this idiocy, but you can read the whole delusional thing if you want to.

The sad thing is that this is not some obscure, random voice, but a post that received over a 1,000 likes.

“Indigenous Culture Day” celebrates genocidal cannibals who were even worse than Columbus

Cranky writing is best writing!

The only reason why we started celebrating “Columbus Day” was to make the Irish and Italians feel like Catholics can be real Americans, too, not just Protestants.

“Columbus Day” isn’t really about celebrating Columbus. Not as a person. Nobody says, “Read this biography of a great man from infancy to dotage and try to be more like him!” Columbus day is about celebrating what Columbus did–find a New World and launch the Age of Exploration and discovery.

Do I care about Columbus Day? No. Don’t be silly. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually celebrates Columbus Day, but maybe the Italians are really into it. If so, I don’t begrudge them a holiday. However, I do care about Columbus’s accomplishments.

“But Columbus was an idiot who only found the New World by accident!” I hear someone protest.

Yeah, well, I don’t see you discovering any continents lately. Where does that put you on the intellect ladder? Also, Penicillin was discovered by accident, so I guess it doesn’t count, either.

Here, I’ll take all of the penicillin, and you can go play with rodents. We’ll see which of us survives the longest.

“But Columbus was an asshole,” someone protests. “He conquered and enslaved people!”

Guys, it was the 14 hundreds. Pretty much EVERYBODY in the 1400s thought it was okay to conquer and enslave people. If you start applying modern standards to people from the 1400s, you’ll discover that none of them meet your standards.

You want to celebrate “Indigenous Culture Day” instead of Columbus Day? Do you know what kind of assholes indigenous cultures were full of?

400px-Magliabchanopage_73r

Let’s hear it for the Aztecs, one of those peaceful wonderful indigenous cultures Columbus’s Spanish employers went and conquered as a result of his voyages.

They liked to rip people’s beating hearts out of their bodies as human sacrifices to their gods.

Also, they were cannibals who caught people, sacrificed them, butchered them, and then ate them.

The Spaniard’s pigs, however, they just killed and threw in a well. WTF do you do with one of those things? They didn’t know. Humans, however, they knew what to do with: eat them.

The Wikipedia records many documented cases of Aztec cannibalism:

  • Hernán Cortés wrote in one of his letters that his soldiers had captured an indigenous man who had a roasted baby ready for breakfast.
  • Francisco López de Gómara (c. 1511 – c. 1566) reported that, during the siege of Tenochtitlan, the Spaniards asked the Aztecs to surrender since they had no food. The Aztecs angrily challenged the Spaniards to attack so they could be taken as prisoners, sacrificed and served with “molli” sauce.
  • The Historia general… contains an illustration of an Aztec being cooked by an unknown tribe. This was reported as one of the dangers that Aztec traders faced. …Bernal Díaz’s The Conquest of New Spain (written by 1568, published 1632) contains several accounts of cannibalism among the people the conquistadors encountered during their warring expedition to Tenochtitlan.
    • About the city of Cholula, Díaz wrote of his shock at seeing young men in cages ready to be sacrificed and eaten.[1]
    • In the same work Diaz mentions that the Cholulan and Aztec warriors were so confident of victory against the conquistadors in an upcoming battle the following day, that “…they wished to kill us and eat our flesh, and had already prepared the pots with salt and peppers and tomatoes”[2]
    • About the Quetzalcoatl temple of Tenochtitlan Díaz wrote that inside there were large pots, where human flesh of sacrificed Natives was boiled and cooked to feed the priests.[3]
    • About the Mesoamerican towns in general Díaz wrote that some of the indigenous people he saw were—:
    eating human meat, just like we take cows from the butcher’s shops, and they have in all towns thick wooden jail-houses, like cages, and in them they put many Indian men, women and boys to fatten, and being fattened they sacrificed and ate them.[4]

    Díaz’s testimony is corroborated by other Spanish historians who wrote about the conquest. In History of Tlaxcala (written by 1585), Diego Muñoz Camargo (c. 1529 – 1599) states that:

    Thus there were public butcher’s shops of human flesh, as if it were of cow or sheep.[5]

Is that what you want to fucking celebrate? THIS IS WHAT YOU THINK WAS BETTER THAN COLUMBUS?

No, hunter-gatherers were not peaceful paragons of gender equality. Stop fucking saying that. It is a lie. There is no evidence to back it up. Primitive, pre-modern societies had absolutely atrocious crime rates. There are real live fucking cannibals living right now in the Congo rainforest. They eat the Pygmies (and each other.)

And this is supposed to be my fault? “White privilege” is the magic sauce that explains why some cultures produce penicillin and others produce cannibals.

Of course, the Aztecs are only one group. The Pueblo peoples also practiced cannibalism. Cannibalism was practiced among various coastal tribes stretching from Texas to Louisiana.

When Captain John Smith of Jamestown fame inquired about the fate of the lost Roanoke Colony, Chief Powhatan–you know, the Pocahontas’s dad, the guy who’d tried to kill John Smith–confessed to having massacred them all. Historians aren’t sure if this is actually true–Powhatan might have just confused them with some other guys he’d massacred–but the fact remains that Powhatan and his people went around massacring their neighbors regularly enough that, “Oh yeah, we killed them all,” was seen as a reasonable explanation by everyone involved.

It wasn’t too many years later that the Powhatan tried to do the same thing to Jamestown, killing about a quarter of the people there.

Celebrating Columbus was never about Columbus, and denigrating Columbus isn’t about Columbus, either. Celebrating Columbus is about celebrating American history and the contributions of Catholic-Americans to that history; denigrating Columbus is about denigrating American history and European contributions to it.

Who should be the America’s moral superior and successor? Whose successes should we celebrate instead of Columbus’s? Should the people of Mexico overthrow the culture of their evil oppressors and go back to holding human sacrifices in the middle of Mexico City?

Funny, I don’t see a lot of people trying to go live in Mexico, much less return to the actual lives of their indigenous ancestors. Most people seem to like having things like penicillin, cell phones, cars, air conditioning and sewers, and dislike things like cannibalism and constant tribal warfare. The process by which civilization was made was not pretty, but civilization is good and we should celebrate it.

We should not attack people’s cultural heroes just to denigrate their nation.

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving, since the backlog means that this post isn’t going up for a month.

Frida Kahlo and the Library

So I was researching the Mexican Revolution the other day–because hey, revolution–and you know, 1910-1920 really was a high point for socialism.

You know, this aesthetic would look great in a movie
Pancho Villa, Mexican Revolution

We had the Mexican Revolution, the Russian Revolution, that election when instead of Dems vs. Repubs we had the International Socialist (Wilson) vs. the Nationalistic Socialist (Teddy Roosevelt) vs. whatever Taft was, normal conservatism or something. Wilson won and gave us the income tax (so we could tax the rich to give to the poor, and also a massive standing army,) the League of Nations, and the Federal Reserve.

Anyway, so I was researching the Mexican Revolution, and happened across Diego Rivera–you know him, he’s famous for being married to Frida Kahlo, who’s famous for being one of the twentieth century’s most over rated artists.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Frida Kahlo, self portrait
Frida Kahlo, self portrait

No, wait, Frida Kahlo is famous for having been married to Rivera, who’s famous for being an actually pretty good artist who painted a bunch of pictures of Marx and Lenin and the like inside the Mexican capital building. Which I suppose explains why Trotsky died in Mexico.

Detail of Man at the Crossroads, fresco at Palacio de Bellas Artes
Detail of Man at the Crossroads, fresco at Palacio de Bellas Artes
Detail of Man at the Crossroads, fresco at Palacio de Bellas Artes
Detail of Man at the Crossroads, fresco at Palacio de Bellas Artes
Detail of The History of Mexico showing betrayed revolution in the Mexican capital building
Detail of The History of Mexico showing betrayed revolution, located in the Mexican capital building (note Marx)

Anyway, yes, so Diego and Frida were hipsters. But I got to thinking–how is it that I know the name of Diego Rivera, (and even Frida Kahlo!) the guy who painted at least part of the Mexican capitol building, but I don’t even know the name of the guy who painted the US Capitol building?

I got 11 months of white history a year in school, and I don’t even know Diego Rivera’s opposite number?

Yes, there were probably multiple guys involved in painting the US Capitol building (and the Mexican Capitol.) But can you name any of them?

Neither can I, and I actually posted one of his paintings about a month and a half ago on this blog:

Apotheosis of George Washington, painted by Greek-Italian (naturalized US citizen) artist Constantino Brumidi in 1865
Apotheosis of George Washington, painted by Greek-Italian (naturalized US citizen) Constantino Brumidi in 1865

Brumidi also painted this lovely lady on the White House:

Liberty, by Constantino Brumidi, 1869
Liberty, by Constantino Brumidi, 1869

But Brumidi is clearly a nobody whose work is not worth remembering, whereas Frida Kahlo is so important, she gets a two-page spread in National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of Who. (The book is actually more serious than it sounds.)

From Amazon’s description of the book:

“Introduce young readers to some of the world’s most interesting and important people in this bold and lively first biography book. More than 100 colorful photos are paired with age-appropriate text featuring profiles of each person, along with fascinating facts about their accomplishments and contributions. This book inspires kids about a world of possibilities and taps into their natural curiosity about fascinating role models from education advocate Malala Yousafzai to astronaut Neil Armstrong.”

The book awards Albert Einstein one entire paragraph, but Isabella Bird (who?) Jackie Robinson, and Amelia Earhart all get two-page spreads.

You know, can we please stop using Amelia Earhart as some sort of symbol of female accomplishment and empowerment, considering that Amelia is most famous for having failed spectacularly to fly across the Pacific and probably died horrible in a plane crash? If we have to scrounge around for female role models, can’t we find one who didn’t die hideously while failing at the thing she was supposedly paving the way for women to do? I mean, a woman recently won the Fields Medal, isn’t that some sort of accomplishment? Or do we only talk about math when whining?

Of course, Brumidi doesn’t even make it into the book.

I happened to be at the library because I was looking for a picture book about Teddy Roosevelt, because the kids wanted to know why teddy bears are called teddy bears. Roosevelt is generally acknowledged to be one of our greatest presidents–he once got shot in the shoulder by a would-be assassin, got up, and gave his campaign speech anyway. He won a Nobel Prize (I know, I know,) and folks even bothered to carve a mountain into the shape of his face to make sure that we all remember just how awesome he was.

Of course, there were no picture books about Teddy Roosevelt. I wasn’t surprised. I did find picture books about black female civil rights leaders (besides Rosa Parks;) a picture book about how poor Frida Kahlo was lonely and doubted herself when she moved too the US, but then she did ART and so it was all okay; a picture book about how slaves built the White House; a picture book about Loving v. Virginia; etc.

I did find a book by Newt Gingrich’s wife about how much elephants love America, and one by a Biden relation about a little girl who prays for god to bless our troops. It was shelved next to the children’s picture books about gay parents.

I did manage to find some decent-looking history books, but sadly, nothing on Teddy Roosevelt. I mean, who was he? Some guy who didn’t even make it into the Big Book of Who?

 

Communism’s Death Toll: Bug or Feature?

images 7af3e4a787aab462fa6b9558f63ead61e940d049072332e57b1a314a73019f39 images-1

In your garden-variety discussions of communism verses everything else, someone generally brings up the 85 to 100 million deaths attributed to communist regimes, and of course someone else responds that this is, as it were, merely a bug; a flaw due to having incorrectly implemented Marx’s ideas.

But after one too many death threats from a self-described Marxist (over, if I recall correctly, whether or not Rachel Dolezal is a terrible racist or was just trying to be helpful,) I thought to myself, “You know, what if the whole killing-all-your-enemies thing is really more of a feature than a bug?”

Of course, “Let’s kill lots of people!” tends not to be the greatest rallying cry for polite society, but it is hardly a secret that a great many political regimes have killed lots of people.

Just talk to anyone whose grandparents happen to be German about WWII, and you’ll probably hear a spiel along the lines of “The Hitler Youth just meant a hot meal in a time when people were hungry. Grandpa didn’t really want to invade Poland or kill all the Jews or any of that stuff.”

It’s as though all of these guys mysteriously disappeared:

Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, Rede Adolf Hitler  Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, SA- und SS-Appell

Here’s a theory: most of these people were actually totally on board with the kill-the-enemies agenda.

 

Now, to be honest, most of the people I know personally who call themselves Communists are really nice people who aren’t interested in killing anyone. But some of them I’m not so sure of, and some I’ve met, I’m quite sure would happily ship their enemies off to Siberia. All the while swearing, of course, that they were just in it for the stew.

Communist Party of Great Britain at London May Day march, 2008
Communist Party of Great Britain at London May Day march, 2008

As for the original communists, the ones advocating “class warfare,” killing their enemies was probably the entire point.

This post wouldn’t be complete without hipster Stalin:

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Thoughts?

Open thread / Links / Aaargh

So I wrote this great (by my standards, anyway,) post, and then there was a glitch and it disappeared. Totes frustrating.

So while I re-write it, here’s an Open Thread / Links post. Feel free to chit-chat, ask questions, whatever. Just keep things civil or whatever.

Some things I’ve been reading:

1. The incredible story of one couple’s trip across the Democratic Republic of Congo: Lubumbashi to Kinshasa. (I actually read this a while ago, but have been meaning to recommend it.) Story is notable in several ways:

A. The raw descriptions of what life is actually like in the heart of the DRC, where even Coca Cola can’t go because there are no roads.

B. The perspectives on what has happened since the end of colonialism (basically, the collapse or outright destruction of colonial infrastructure like roads and buildings):

When I walk around our cities, I often think about what their ruins will look like to explorers in a thousand years
“We also pass a ruin of what once must have been a grand building. The walls are marked with logos from a Belgian University. This must have once been some scientific study centre of sorts.”

 

C. It was the first thing I’d read in about a decade that gave an actually positive impression of religion.

 

2. Real History of the World, which is kind of like my blog, but devoted to the conspiracy theory that all human life began in Africa and then spread out from there to the rest of the world. “But wait,” I hear you saying, “Isn’t that, like, the accepted scientific consensus on the origins of humanity?” Why yes, yes it is. But Real History of the World thinks that “they” (“albinos”) are trying to keep you from knowing that.

Their site is part actually accurate, part inaccurate (jfc, “Black Celts” are not black-skinned people, they are Welsh people with dark hair like Catherine Zeta-Jones:

This is what the old books mean by "Black Celts"
This is what the old books mean by “Black Celts”)

and part insight into the irrational paranoia of people who hate you.

This website is a good demonstration, btw, why I don’t believe conspiracy theories.

 

3. More perspectives on people who hate you (or at least me): Black Girl Dangerous’s This Is What Rihanna’s BBHMM Video Says About Black Women, White Women and Feminism

Still from Rhianna's music video about torturing a white woman for money
Still from Rhianna’s music video about torturing a white woman for money

“Yes, there are images of a woman being kidnapped, held hostage, and even hung upside down from the ceiling while topless. These are the kinds of images we see a lot in violent revenge films. They can be upsetting and harmful. I didn’t like seeing them here. But they’re also not the entire story.

Let me tell you what I see when I watch this video: I see a black woman putting her own well-being above the well-being of a white woman. …

if a white woman has to suffer some so that she, a black woman, can survive, so be it. After all, white women have been surviving on our suffering for hundreds of years.” –Black Girl Dangerous (Her bold, not mine.)

Feminists declaring themselves “allies” with people who beat, rape, and murder women is, of course, as much a betrayal of feminism’s goals as Anarchist communities getting taken over by Marxists.

 

4. Rushton’s Race, Evolution and Behavior: A Life History Perspective (second abridged edition.)

Rushton lays out an impressive array of data in support of his theory that different branches of the human family tree (whites, blacks, and Asians,) mature at different rates (eg, different gestation lengths) and have different r/k reproduction strategies.

On a similar note, “Multiplication is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children is actually an anti-racist book. I only read the first few pages before I had to leave the bookstore, but the author had some interesting, Rushton-supporting information about cross-cultural infant development rates, including early crawling in African infants.

 

5. Next, I am totally going to finish Moby Dick.