Wise Tim, Crime, and HBD: Part 2, the HBD-view expanded

Continuing with our discussion of Leuconoe’s question:

What is your opinion of the “racial invariance hypothesis” which says that poor whites have about the same crime rate as poor blacks and that if you control for socioeconomic status all the differences between the races in crime go away?

This thesis is mainly backed by these studies: Poverty, not race, tied to high crime rates in urban communities, Homicide in Black and White (pdf.)

Since poor whites have a generally higher IQ as equally poor blacks this would also contradict the idea that lower IQ leads to more crime. …

Also this piece by a radical leftist: Nazis Can’t Do Math: Reflections on Racism, Crime and the Illiteracy of Right-Wing Statistical Analysis.

First, let’s be clear about what HBD says (and doesn’t say) about crime, race, and poverty (and while we’re at it, IQ):

  1. Genes influence traits like IQ and criminality.

As JayMan is fond of saying, “All human behavioral traits are heritable.” Okay, but what does this mean? Are we slaves to our genetics? Is there a a murder gene that guarantees that you will go out and stab someone to death? Since JayMan has already written a great explanation, I will quote him and urge you to read the rest:

The First Law emerges from studies of twins, studies of adoptees, and (now) sibling genetic similarity studies. In short, when you look at people’s behavior, virtually without exception … you find some effect of the genes on these traits….

How could this be, you may ask? How could such complex and highly specific things be encoded in the DNA and express themselves despite decades of upbringing and childhood experiences? For one, heritability is only probabilistic, not absolute. Few traits are 100% heritable. …

But, it’s important to understand the meaning of the term heritability. Heritability is the degree of variation in a studied population that can be attributed to genetic variation in that population. The cause is the variance in question is always due to some genetic difference, but it doesn’t tell you how direct such genetic influence is. …

So, how iron-clad is the First Law? Clearly, not all traits are heritable, right? Right. However, there are only a distinct set of exceptions. Traits that are dependent on content aren’t heritable at all. These include what language you speak, in which particular church you worship, what specific political party you identify. However, the degree and manner to which one interacts with these things are very heritable: how proficient you are with language, how church-going you are, how liberal or conservative.

Stolen from JayMan's post, "All Human Behavioral Traits are Heritable."
Stolen from JayMan’s post, “All Human Behavioral Traits are Heritable.” RTWT.

Note that these are not 100% heritable. There is no “guaranteed to stab people” gene, but there are genes that will make you more likely to want to stab people. Environment, “free will,” and random chance also influence how personality traits manifest in individuals.

Edit: It occurs to me that I should actually talk about some of these genes.

An MAOA variant, nicknamed “the warrior gene,” is the most famous of these. Wikipedia states:

A version of the monoamine oxidase-A gene has been popularly referred to as the warrior gene.[30] Several different versions of the gene are found in different individuals, although a functional gene is present in most humans (with the exception of a few individuals with Brunner syndrome).[31] In the variant, the allele associated with behavioural traits is shorter (30 bases) and may produce less MAO-A enzyme.[32] This gene variation is in a regulatory promoter region about 1000 bases from the start of the region that encodes the MAO-A enzyme.

Studies have found differences in the frequency distribution of variants of the MAOA gene between ethnic groups:[32][33] of the participants, 59% of Black men, 54% of Chinese men, 56% of Maori men, and 34% of Caucasian men carried the 3R allele, while 5.5% of Black men, 0.1% of Caucasian men, and 0.00067% of Asian men carried the 2R allele.[23][32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40]

In individuals with the low activity MAOA gene, when faced with social exclusion or ostracism showed higher levels of aggression than individuals with the high activity MAOA gene.[41]

Doubtless there are other genes I’m not aware of.

2.  The frequency of different genes varies between genetically-related groups.

The obvious genes here are ones that code for environmental responses, like lactase persistence in groups that have historically practiced dairy farming and dark skin in areas with intense sunlight.

Everyone on earth shares more genes with the people closely related to them than people less-closely related. For example, the Amish are more genetically similar to other Amish than non-Amish. Pygmies are more closely related to other pygmies than non-pygmies. This is why people look like their parents.

There are a lot of people who claim that “race is a social construct.” From a genetic standpoint, this is simply untrue (look at the top of the blog for an example of how geneticists can distinguish between different genetic groups.)

3. The HBD-theory is that the genes for personality/behavioral traits also vary by genetically-related groups, due to historical environmental (including cultural!) pressures.

For example, Polynesians may have been selected for navigational ability, because good navigators populated Polynesia and bad navigators died at sea. Chinese culture may have selected for people willing to work hard and get along even when they don’t really feel like it; and the Inuit may have been selected for the ability to stand really long, dark winters.

Relevant to our discussion, crime rates vary a lot by region:


and society:

Graph from the Wikipedia
See also my post, “No, Hunter Gatherers were not Peaceful Paragons of Gender Egalitarianism.”

We’ve discussed warfare in pre-state societies over quite a few posts lately, so I’m going to summarize quickly: anthropological, historical, and archaeological records all document extremely high rates of violence in non-state societies. Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon actually kept track of both homicides and births among the Yanomamo, and found that Yanomamo men who had killed more people had more children than Yanomamo men who had killed fewer people, providing a direct mechanism for genetic selection for traits related to homicide and other violence.

Many HBD bloggers, such as Peter Frost and HBD Chick, have discussed the ways in which states have discouraged crime, including (especially) executing criminals and thus preventing them from having children. The observed result:



That all said, there are things that no serious HBD-er claims:

A. That all people or sub-groups within a “race” are identical. As Peter Frost wrote, “No, blacks aren’t all alike. Who said they are?” There are smart black people and dumb black people. Hard-working whites and lazy whites. Extroverted Asians and Introverted Asians. Some white groups (like Russians, apparently,) have significantly higher crime rates than other white groups. Even within the US, there are differences between different groups of whites, with significant ethnic divisions between classes and regions.

B. That environmental effects don’t exist or that humans do not respond to incentives. Obviously if it is cold outside I will wear a coat; if a law is passed that jay walkers will be executed, I will immediately stop jaywalking.

C. Observed differences are set in stone. The world is always changing. Where selection pressures change, so do populations.


So to get back to Leuconoe’s first query, I would not be surprised if controlling for socioeconomic status made all (or most) racial differences in criminality disappear. In fact, this is basically what I would expect, because poverty, criminality, and low-IQ are correlated, so controlling for one will tend to control for all of them.

But why on earth would you do this? If we control for bad decisions, most differences in intelligence disappear. If you control for enough differences, differences disappear. But as JayMan says, you can’t just control for a groups entire history; likewise, you can’t just control for all their traits.

Moreover, this still doesn’t get at why different groups have different rates of criminality or poverty in the first place, nor whether A causes B, B causes A, or C causes A and B. And even if you could prove that poverty causes crime, you still haven’t answered why there’s so much more poverty in black communities than in white (or Asian) ones.

What do we know about race and crime in America?

I have written a few posts on the subject, like When Crime is a Euphemism for Lynching; Bullying Pt 2: Race, Crime, and the Police; South Africa, Democracy, and the Dangers of Demographics (okay that one is on South Africa, not America); Rupert Murdoch is a Lying Liar; Sorry, Les Mis: Criminals Gonna Criminal.

Given that I’ve written nearly 500 posts, this is clearly not my main focus. I therefore recommend everything by La Griffe du Lion, including Crime in the Hood; Crime and the Hispanic Effect; Politics, Imprisonment, and Race; Aggressiveness, Criminality, and Sex Drive by Race, Gendder, and Ethnicity; The Color of Death Row; and Analysis of Hate Crime. And if that is not enough for you, here is the entire updated Color of Crime, from whoever publishes it. Here are a few of its major findings:

  • The evidence suggests that if there is police racial bias in arrests it is negligible. Victim and witness surveys show that police arrest violent criminals in close proportion to the rates at which criminals of different races commit violent crimes.
  • There are dramatic race differences in crime rates. Asians have the lowest rates, followed by whites, and then Hispanics. Blacks have notably high crime rates. This pattern holds true for virtually all crime categories and for virtually all age groups.
  • In 2013, of the approximately 660,000 crimes of interracial violence that involved blacks and whites, blacks were the perpetrators 85 percent of the time. This meant a black person was 27 times more likely to attack a white person than vice versa. A Hispanic was eight times more likely to attack a white person than vice versa.
  • If New York City were all white, the murder rate would drop by 91 percent, the robbery rate by 81 percent, and the shootings rate by 97 percent.
  • Both violent and non-violent crime has been declining in the United States since a high in 1993. 2015 saw a disturbing rise in murder in major American cities that some observers associated with “depolicing” in response to intense media and public scrutiny of police activity.
source: https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/epr/99v05n3/9909levi.pdf
source: https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/epr/99v05n3/9909levi.pdf

So much for controlling for income. It looks like equally poor whites and blacks still have massively different homicide rates. (Of course, I should note that the US welfare system attempts to put a minimum floor below which people don’t fall. Without intervention, equally poor whites and blacks might be more similar.)

West Hunter noted about the effects of lotteries:

Lotteries can be useful natural experiments; we can use them to test the accuracy of standard sociological theories, in which rich people buy their kids extra smarts, bigger brains, better health, etc.

David Cesarini, who I met at that Chicago meeting, has looked at the effect of winning the lottery in Sweden. He found that the “effects of parental wealth on infant health, drug consumption, scholastic performance and cognitive and non-cognitive skills can be bounded to a tight interval around zero.”

As I once mentioned, there was an important land lottery in Georgia in 1832. The winners received an 160-acre farm. But by 1880, their descendants were no more literate, their occupational status no higher. The families in the top 2/3rds of income managed to hang on to some of their windfall, but lower-income families did not.

West Hunter does note that there is probably a level below which material deprivation really will harm (or kill) you, and that a random windfall in such a situation will do you good, but virtually no one in the modern West lives in famine or near-famine conditions.

Picture 3  Picture 3

Picture 5

(I suspect it is really easy to catch car thieves in Hawaii.)


source http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Serial%20Killer%20Information%20Center/Project%20Description.htm
source: Radford University Serial Killer Information Center

Occam’s razor suggests that something is going on here.

To be continued…

Wise Tim, Crime, and HBD: Part 1, an introduction to the HBD-osphere

Frequent poster unknown128 (okay, I’ve got to give you a nickname–you’re now Leuconoë,) has asked me to weigh in, from an HBD-perspective, on several studies about race, crime, poverty, etc:

What is your opinion of the “racial invariance hypothesis” which says that poor whites have about the same crime rate as poor blacks and that if you control for socioeconomic status all the differences between the races in crime go away?

This thesis is mainly backed by these studies: Poverty, not race, tied to high crime rates in urban communities, Homicide in Black and White (pdf.)

Since poor whites have a generally higher IQ as equally poor blacks this would also contradict the idea that lower IQ leads to more crime.

Basically I wonder why none in the HBD/Nrx/alt Right hasnt confronted these studies. …

Also this piece by a radical leftist: Nazis Can’t Do Math: Reflections on Racism, Crime and the Illiteracy of Right-Wing Statistical Analysis.

Well, Leuconoe, This might take a while.

We’re going to have to start with basic definitions: What are HBD, NRx, and the Alt-Right?

These are separate but obviously somewhat overlapping spheres of thought.

Nobel-prize winner and personal hero, James Watson
Nobel-prize winner and personal hero, James Watson

HBD, or Human Bio-Diversity, is the somewhat disreputable (by mainstream standards) end of normal human genetics/evolutionary theory. We start with a scientifically accepted point–evolution is true–and propose that evolutionary pressures have affected recent human development, including the development of personality traits.

If different groups of people are exposed to different environmental pressures, then evolution will select for different traits in different groups of people. “Groups” here can refer to men, women, social classes, isolated tribes, entire races, cultures, etc.

This is the short version. If you want the long version, try the Human BioDiversity Reading List. It is long. It goes into A LOT of detail. Any topic you think HBD-ers haven’t addressed is probably addressed in there somewhere.

The most controversial HBD-related claims are that that racial differences in IQ and criminality are probably genetic. James Watson got watsoned for saying as much, proving that no amount of scientific reputation or expertise in the field will save your reputation from the shrieking accusation of “racism.”


NRx, or Neo-Reaction, is a set of political ideas/philosophies popularized by Mencius Moldbug. This is hard to summarize, but one of the core underlying ideas is the application of evolutionary theory to systems, groups, countries, ideas, and ideologies.

NRx asserts that  Democracy creates bad long-term incentive structures. In particular, democracies are liable to trade off long-term well-being for short-term votes, increase the franchise to get more votes, and create ethnic strife by pitting different groups against each other. It also claims that the basic idea underlying democracy, that “All men are created equal,” is basically untrue–some men are smarter than others, some are taller, some are more conscientious, etc.–and that society should recognize natural hierarchies.

source: Introduction to Reaction Times

Or as Wikipedia puts it:

The Dark Enlightenment, or the neoreactionary movement (also simply neoreaction; abbreviated NRx by proponents), is an anti-democratic and reactionary movement that broadly rejects egalitarianism and Whig historiography.[1][2] The movement favors a return to older societal constructs and forms of government, including support for monarchism and traditional gender roles, coupled with a libertarian or otherwise conservative approach to economics.[3] Some critics have labeled the movement as “neo-fascist“.[2][4]

Most neo-reactionaries probably believe in at least some version of HBD.

The Alt-Right can be defined narrowly or broadly. Narrowly speaking, the term refers to white identitarian (ie, white nationalist or white supremacist) groups. Most of these groups, traditionally, had little to do with NRx, which they see as having been started by autistic Jews. However, some NRxers are white identitarians, and vice versa. Likewise, some alt-rightists believe in HBD, but it’s not required, and some HBDers are white identitarians, but not all.

Broadly defined, the alt-right includes everyone who is not a liberal nor a traditional, mainstream GOP conservative. This is an umbrella term that defines people more by what they are not than what they are. Lots of folks who probably aren’t identitarians, such as Steve Sailer, Roosh V, and Pat Buchanan fall into this category.

Almost everyone in HBD is, very broadly speaking, alt-right, because mainstream conservatives are actively hostile to “evolution” and mainstream liberals are hostile to the idea of genetic or even cultural differences between different groups. Some of them, however, aren’t really traditionalists or identitarians, and some seem to be otherwise pretty liberal. HBDers are an eclectic lot.

Also lived from Reaction Times

The point of all of this verbiage is that you’ll probably get a different answer to your question depending on whether you ask someone who’s primarily interested in NRx, HBD, or white identity.

The white identitarians will probably tell you to fuck off, concern troll, they don’t care. They don’t care that much whether the causes of ethnic differences are genetic or cultural–they just prefer being around whites to being around non-whites and the rest is just details.

The NRxers would probably say that this is more egalitarian propaganda and besides, they’ve figured out a way to align incentives so that criminals get punished and society becomes more peaceful over time.

And the HBDers would say, yes, they have heard of this “environmental” hypothesis, here are a few reams of data on the subject, would you like to read Lynn’s IQ and the Wealth of Nations?

Yes, I am being a bit flippant. But if you’re wondering why so few of us have looked at these specific studies/posts, it’s just because we’ve already looked at a whole bunch of data on the subject and aren’t necessarily interested in yet one more study. Personally, I consider IQ and criminality basically settled issues. They vary by race and gender, they have a genetic component, and I’m not sure how much more you can say about that without getting repetitious.

But sometimes it’s a good idea to discuss things things again, so we’ll take a look at these other theories (tomorrow next week.) 🙂

Happy 200 Posts! Come join the party


It’s a sedate party, I admit. But the canapes are delish.

There are two themes to this fairly open thread: How I Came to Be Me and Your Favorite Posts

It’s funny, but way back when I began typing little theories about human behavior into my graphing calculator during highschool math, I had no idea that the whole topic matter was taboo. Actually, I didn’t even believe in evolution back then–at least, I was pretty sure that evolution was a thing that Christians were not supposed to believe in. Nebraska Man and all that, you know. So I didn’t think of my theories as having anything to do with evolution, just “things that made sense.”

I remember one of them, on the symbolic/physical importance of sharing food among friends. For me to take some of my food and give it to you both helps ensure your continued existence, and decreases my my chances of existing. To give a friend a french fry or cookie from one’s own lunch tray was a sign of valuing the friend’s life enough to be willing to risk a threat to one’s own life to help the friend. This was the symbolism, I wrote, underneath both the importance of ritual food sharing with strangers–bread and salt in Russia, the inviting of people to tea or dinner–and more elevatedly, Eucharistic communion itself: the giving of Christ’s literal life, blood and body in the breaking of bread and giving of it to his disciples, ensuring their lives continued by ending his own.

Years later, when highschool days had largely faded from my mind, I was reminded rather vividly of this essay when a new Jewish friend promptly escorted me to their home and set out a kosher dinner, a good portion of which was bread.

Since this is my party, help yourself to the metaphorical bread and salt, wine and cheese. Or coffee, if you prefer.

But back to our story. I somehow passed highschool bio and got into college, despite being more or less a Creationist, where I did all of the normal college things. Alas, college is wasted on the young. Eventually I read a book on human evolution and decided that the book sounded a lot more sensible than that anti-evolution video they’d shown us once in Sunday School. The last chapter of the book–sadly, I no longer remember the title–wasn’t about bones and teeth and people trying to figure out which skeletons were hoaxes, but the evolution of human families in which grandparents exist. Now, sure, all that business about australopithecines sounded reasonable enough, but that last chapter blew me away: a complex emergent behavior / idea-thing like a family could also have been created by evolutionary adaptation.

At the time, I considered myself a liberal of the most upstanding character. I did all of the good liberal things–feminist, pro-trans, fat acceptance, LGBQ friendly, Pagan friendly, anti-war, anti-meat, anti-racism, anarchist, etc.

Then came Facebook and similar systems. Since I like debating politics, I tried to write entertaining essays for my friends, and promptly lost most of my friends. I also got kicked out of my feminist community for some trivial bullshit–I think I posted a response to another poster in the wrong section of a message board.

Now, I am not stranger to internet flame wars, but by this time, the whole business was starting to grate. Friends who were basically on the same side of the political system ought to be able to discuss political details without antagonism or declaring that the other person is secretly evil. At the very least, there ought to be some trust that your friends have good hearts and are trying hard. But I lacked some of the meta-level understanding of what was going on in liberalism necessary to safely traverse these waters–for example, I thought pretty much all liberals accepted evolution as true. It turns out that they only believe in evolution when conservatives are around. Among themselves, they deny that humans have “instincts” or that gender exists, and insist that the application of evolutionary theory to the study of human behavior is actually evil.

Then something major happened: I had a kid.

I lost friends over that, too, but I realized several important things:

  1. Childbirth is absolutely horrific.
  2. There is no possible way the differences in the amount of energy/risk men and women entail to reproduce could not cause different evolutionary pressures that would lead to different optimal mating strategies.
  3. Feminist claims that parents teach their children gender roles are total bullshit.
  4. Gender is mostly nature, not nurture.
  5. Natural childbirth is a horrible idea (for the record, c-sections are also horrible and the recovery is worse.)
  6. People politicize a bunch of issues that should not be politicized.

Something non-political also happened: the baby got sick. After a week of especially sleepless nights, I figured out what was wrong and how to fix it. I remember that moment, the sudden energy that came over me: NO ONE was going to stand between me and helping my child.

When feminists speak of “empowering” women, this is the feeling they mean. The feeling that you will do whatever the hell it takes to accomplish your objectives, and no one and nothing will stop you. I don’t think you can “empower” someone. It comes from within. It comes from the evolutionary urge to protect your children.

As it turned out, no one got in my way and everyone was actually super-helpful and the whole business ended well, with a happy, healthy child. Luckily my husband is an upstanding fellow who loves his children, too. But helpfulness is not one of life’s givens.

Around this time, the whole SJW movement was picking up steam, and the “privilege” concept became an unexpected sticking point. I thought the idea was basically nonsense, and said so. I later came across a conversation between–I thought–a friend and one of my best friends. “EvolutionistX isn’t worth talking to,” said the best friend.

I didn’t break up with liberalism. Liberalism broke up with me.

It had become increasingly obvious to me that the people in these feminist and SJW communities weren’t just wrong on a few issues, but that many of them were deeply psychologically disturbed, and the politics had become a cover/excuse/justification for not getting help and dealing with their issues. Many of them, to be frank, were disconnected from reality, and pointing out that physical facts contradicted them (I don’t mean totally controversial theories like evolution, but just basic stuff,) resulted in anything from banning to death threats. Unfortunately, the memeplex was becoming increasingly dominant, infecting communities that had nothing to do with politics and were officially apolitical.

By this point, I’d learned to just keep my mouth shut, and found some new things to do with my time. My husband introduced me to Jayman’s blog, and I read every word of it. Same for Evo and Proud, the sadly defunct Neuropolitics, and West Hunter. These guys are awesome. I learned so much anthropology I hadn’t learned in anthropology class, without the post-modern bullshit and constant negativity that had infected academia. I was still vaguely afraid of talking, but at least I had some good reading material.

Shortly after, I beheld, with terrifying clarity, the abyss. Suddenly I understood why liberals hate HBD and ev psych.

My break with the left came over an obscure case: protests surrounding the death of Marshall Coulter, a teenager who climbed over a homeowner’s 6-foot fence at 2 am and then got shot in the head.


The elites will always defend the bullies.

Now, I understand that there are some innocent excuses for being in someone’s yard at 2 am, like being so drunk that you think you’re at your own home when you aren’t, or jumping a fence for a dare, with no intention of committing any harm. But it remains, like driving 120 miles per hour or poking bears, an activity that I regard has having a very high chance of killing you, and you should not do if you do not accept those risks. You certainly do not blame the bear for eating you after you poke it.

Likewise, if you act like you are breaking into someone’s house in the middle of the night, the natural and only reasonable consequence is that home owner (or resident) kills you.

Salon weighed in, with an article about what a sweet kid Marshall was.

Protestors weighed in, claiming that Marshall was just an innocent kid who hadn’t done anything wrong and didn’t deserve to die, demanding that the homeowner (who was being charged with attempted murder) be, well, charged with attempted murder.

In fact, Marshall already had a criminal past before he got shot in 2014:

  • October 2009: disturbing the peace
  • November 2012: criminal trespassing
  • December 2012: disturbing the peace
  • December 2012: burglary of an inhabited dwelling
  • March 2013: possession of stolen things and theft
  • April 2013: possession of marijuana

Ironically, the police had actually been discussing Marshall as a possible suspect in a string of recent burglaries the day before he was shot trying to burglarize someone’s house.

The attempted homicide charges were only dropped against the homeowner because Marshall recovered enough from the bullet in his head to get arrested for three more crimes:


During the Trayvon Martin case, I had understood how someone could hear the story of a teenager walking home with a pack of Skittles and think that a great injustice had been done. This case had no such ambiguities. I realized the left had abandoned liberalism, in every traditional sense of the word. This was not about freedom; this was an explicit denial of the right of self-defense against someone intent on harming you, at least if you were white and they were black.

Every betrayal suddenly made sense. The meta-politics became clear. I felt like I finally understood everything, and I leapt into the abyss.

Around this time, my husband found Moldbug’s Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives, and I wandered into Slate Star Codex. All of the words I’d been holding in began spilling out, in a torrent, so I made this blog.

A friend of mine (if you’re reading this, hi!) had kept telling me that life is too short to worry about assholes. If I had to walk on eggshells around my other “friends,” then they weren’t my friends and I should get new friends.

Sage advice.

So here we are, 200 posts in, and people actually like my blog.

Thanks for reading, guys. I hope you like the next 200 posts.


I’m going to open up the floor. Tell me your stories, ask questions, or just chat. And if you feel like it, tell me your favorite posts for inclusion in the sidebar.

Effective Altruists are Cute but Wrong

Note: For a more complete derivation, start with Survival of the Moral-ist (and Morality is what other People Want you to do.)

Effective Altruists mean well. They want to be moral people. They just don’t quite get what morality is. This leads to amusing results like EAs stressing out to themselves about whether or not they should donate all of their money to make animals happy and, if they don’t sacrifice themselves to the “save the cockroaches” fund, are they being meta-inconsistent?

The best synthesis of game-theoretic morality and evolutionary morality is that morality is about mutual systems of responsibility toward each other. You have no moral duties toward people (animals, beings, etc.,) who have none toward you. Your dog loves you and would sacrifice himself for you, so you have a moral obligation to your dog. A random animal feels no obligation to you and would not help you in even the most dire of situations. You have no moral obligation to them. (Nice people are nice to animals anyway because niceness is a genetic trait, and so nice people are nice to everyone.)

The EA calculations fail to take into account the opportunity cost of your altruism: if I donate all of my money to other animals, I no longer have money to buy bones for my dog, and my dog will be unhappy. If I spend my excess money on malaria nets for strangers in Africa, then I can’t spend that money on medical treatment for my own children.

If you feel compelled to do something about Problem X, then it’s a good idea to take the EA route and try to do so effectively. If I am concerned about malaria, then of course I should spend my time/money doing whatever is best to fight malaria.

As I mentioned in my post about “the other”, a lot of people just use our ideas/demands about what’s best for people they really have no personal interest in as a bludgeon in political debates with people they strongly dislike. If you are really concerned about far-off others, then by all means, better the EA route than the “destroying people’s careers via Twitter” route.

But morality, ultimately, is about your relationships with people. EA does not account for this, and so is wrong.

Sorry, Les Mis: Criminals gonna Criminal

“3 in 4 former prisoners in 30 states arrested within 5 years of release” (from the Bureau of Justice Statistics press release, April 22, 2014.)Inspired by my recent musings, I thought I would refresh my memory on recidivism stats–I have a vague memory that murderers tend not to recidivate, (murderers tend to stay in prison for a very long time) and that car jackers do, but it’s a bad idea to make claims based on vague memories of old data.

So here’s what the press release has to say:

“An estimated two-thirds (68 percent) of 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years…

More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year.”

We could probably save some time and effort if we could effectively identify those third before releasing them. HOWEVER, I don’t know what percent of these people are being re-arrested on parole violations that the rest of us might not really consider “crimes”, like missing a meeting with one’s parole officer or forgetting to register one’s address.

“Recidivism rates varied with the attributes of the inmate. Prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were the most likely to recidivate. Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders.”

I’m guessing violent offenders spent longer in prison, and thus were older when released.

“Recidivism was highest among males, blacks and young adults. By the end of the fifth year after release, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of males and two-thirds (68 percent) of females were arrested, a 10 percentage point difference that remained relatively stable during the entire 5-year follow-up period.

Five years after release from prison, black offenders had the highest recidivism rate (81 percent), compared to Hispanic (75 percent) and white (73 percent) offenders.”

So, while while the chances of being a criminal vary widely between groups, criminals from all the groups recidivate at fairly similar rates. This suggests that we are probably actually arresting the subset of people who are criminals most of the time.

“Within five years of release, 61 percent of released inmates with four or fewer arrests in their prior criminal history were arrested, compared to 86 percent of those who had 10 or more prior arrests.”

Maybe guys with 10 prior arrests shouldn’t be released until they’re well over 40?

Some finer grain on recidivism by specific crime, after five years (note: this does not tell us the new offense,) from the PDF:

Violent: 71.3%
Homicide: 51.2
Murder: 47.9
Nonnegligent manslaughter: 55.7
Negligent manslaughter: 53.0
Rape/sexual assault: 60.1
Robbery: 77.0
Assault: 77.1
Other: 70.4
Property: 82.1%
Burglary: 81.8
Carjacking: 84.1
Fraud/forgery: 77.0
Drug: 76.9%
Possession: 78.3
Trafficking: 75.4
Public order: 73.6%
Weapons: 79.5
Driving under the influence: 59.9

Looks like my vague memories were correct. Murderers are the least likely to recidivate, probably due to the personal nature of many murders (you’ve got to really hate that guy,) and murderers being older when released, but they are still folks who aren’t great at solving inter-personal problems or running their lives. Rapist probably figure out non-illegal ways to have sex, or else get old enough to be less interested in it. Drunks probably learn to call a cab when drunk.

Relatively speaking, of course. A 50 or 60% recidivism rate still isn’t something that inspires great confidence. To be clear, again, this is not data on how many released murderers commit another murder or how many released rapists commit another rape–this is arrest for any crime. A further breakdown of re-arrest by new crime vs. old crime would be interesting.Carjacking, by contrast, looks like the Xtreme sports of crime–people attracted to this form of violent thrill-seeking seem unlikely to change their spots or find more legal alternatives.

On a related note, The role of parenting in the prediction of criminal involvement: findings from a nationally representative sample of youth and a sample of adopted youth.

From the abstract: The role of parenting in the development of criminal behavior has been the source of a vast amount of research, with the majority of studies detecting statistically significant associations between dimensions of parenting and measures of criminal involvement. An emerging group of scholars, however, has drawn attention to the methodological limitations-mainly genetic confounding-of the parental socialization literature. The current study addressed this limitation by analyzing a sample of adoptees to assess the association between 8 parenting measures and 4 criminal justice outcome measures. The results revealed very little evidence of parental socialization effects on criminal behavior before controlling for genetic confounding and no evidence of parental socialization effects on criminal involvement after controlling for genetic confounding.

In other words, looks like my basic thesis is holding up. Overall, I suspect it is far easier to fuck up a kid so they don’t meet their full potential (say, by abusing/neglecting) than to get rid of the effects of negative traits. It’s probably best to try to work with people’s inclinations by finding them life-paths that work for them, rather than trying to mold them into something they aren’t.


Oh look, W. Hunter posted about Lotteries.
“Lotteries can be useful natural experiments; we can use them to test the accuracy of standard sociological theories, in which rich people buy their kids extra smarts, bigger brains, better health, etc.

David Cesarini, who I met at that Chicago meeting, has looked at the effect of winning the lottery in Sweden. He found that the “effects of parental wealth on infant health, drug consumption, scholastic performance and cognitive and non-cognitive skills can be bounded to a tight interval around zero.” “

I count this as evidence in favor of my theory that winning the lottery does not have a significant effect on a person’s likelihood of committing crimes (eg, drug consumption,) and that the converse, becoming suddenly poor, probably also has no major effect.

There’s also a somewhat garbled reference in the article to an interesting 1800s land-lottery in Georgia; I recall the longer post on the subject and recommend it if you can find it.

AIDS and California

If reading about CVTs (canine venereal tumors) makes you want to wash (even though as a non-dog you are very unlikely to catch a dog-specific cancer/STD,) reading a lot about AIDS will basically make you want to wash with bleach, then wash again.

‘Patient Zero’ and the early days of HIV/AIDS This is the main source for the quotes in this post; quotes from other sources will be noted as they come up.

I know nothing about this particular source/forum, but they have compiled a bunch of excerpts from doctors and the like about the early days of AIDS (70s and 80s), and it’s pretty freaky.

1. The past is a freaky place. I mean, it is just plain weird.
2. CA past is especially freaky.
“I’ve been spending some time researching some history in respect to California during the 1960s and 1970s and it has taken me through events like the Counterculture, Occultism, cults like the Manson Family and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, the proliferation of serial killers during that time, and the exploding population of homosexuals in San Francisco and the role they played in spreading HIV.”

Right, that stuff. WTF, California?
I get the impression that liberalism in the 60s and 70s included far more drug use and far more sex with children than it does today, in ways that are difficult for those of us who didn’t live through it to imagine, particularly since the latter is now totally taboo. Today it is perfectly normal to be a liberal and have no interest at all in drugs; in the 60s and 70s, I suspect such a person would have been largely out of place. Eventually the War on Drugs and public education campaigns probably had some effect, but I suspect the crack epidemic of the inner cities transformed “drugs” in people’s minds from something rich, white college kids did to something poor blacks did, which made them way less cool.

Likewise, I get the impression that norms for sexual behavior were totally in flux; the “radical feminism” of the later seventies and eighties that was (is) so vehemently concerned with rape and child rape (causing at least some substantial legal changes on the subject) seems to have been an actual reaction to what we would now call “rape” and “child rape” but which was not particularly regarded as such during the earlier period. So now we have the problem of notable figures from the period like SF/F superstar Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband raped and abused small children, including her own daughter:

” The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away.

I put Walter [MZB’s husband/the speaker’s father or stepfather] in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment.

I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family “home.”

None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.”

From what I have read, MZB and her husband operated completely out in the open, sometimes molesting other people’s children right in front of them, and no one cared, no one did anything about it. “Those were just the times.” You may find that attitude unbelievable, but there it is.

This is rather problematic because, aside from having been a popular and prolific writer, MZB was a lesbian and feminist writers whose works have been credited with literally saving their readers’ lives, and now her fans have to go wash themselves with bleach.

Shit changes. The past is not the present. The past is often highly alien.

3. Social trends were not invented yesterday.
We often act like they were, like we’re the first people to ever hop onto a particular bandwagon and begin advocating for Issue X, even when people have been protesting about X for decades. I first noticed this habit back when I was young enough to not hate college students.

In this case, we have a tendency to imagine that “the past” (anytime prior to last Tuesday, more or less, was a terrible time for gays. Truth is, though, that huge numbers of gay people moved to NY and SF, where they lived as they wanted without interference. Yes, it sucked to spend 4 years of one’s life stuck in a highschool in rural Texas, but you could then spend the rest of your life elsewhere, which isn’t so bad when you remember that virtually no one wants to stay in rural Texas.

“Well, number one was the baths, because we knew that was the main source of AIDS transmission. A gay man could pick up one or two partners in a bar, and they’d go off someplace to have their fun. There were back rooms in the bars, in the baths, too. They were called orgy rooms, where ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, forty men were dancing around with almost no light, and of course, anything happened there. That explained to us why a gay man would say, “I don’t know who I got it from. I never saw his face.” That sort of thing.

The bars were not the best places to be, but at least, they would limit the amount of contact a man could have. In a bookshop, in a small sex club, out in the park–these places limited the contact. But in the baths… At a four-story bathhouse, Club Baths south of Market I think it was, 350 men would gather on a Saturday night at $10 a crack, and they got their $10 worth. And more. Including drugs in addition to poppers.”

“Now, there were gay men who were aggressively out, the S&M, sadomasochist, men, the leather boys we called them, who walked up and down Market Street dressed in leathers with leather caps like the old Nazi men, and chains, and leather boots.”

“Of the little over 300,000 voters in the city, about 120,000–100,000 let us say–were gay voters.”

From AIDS and Immune Systems: “For me, gay life in New york City before the dawn of AIDS was like living in the Promised Land. I went dancing almost every night. There were always exciting places in Manhattan to see and be seen, night-and-day sex at the piers off West Street, backroom bars and sex clubs that were packed till dawn. Whatever fantasy you had, you always knew you could satisfy it any time, night or day, at one of the many sexual playgrounds …

Urban gay male life had evolved over a decade from personal salvation into a communal identity and now, as the Saint [a famous disco] became our weekly Mecca, into a quasi-religion. Several thousand muscled, shirtless gay men in black 501 jeans … Upstairs was a huge darkened balcony converted into carpeted bleachers where hundreds of stoned men fucked all night and into the day.

To lose oneself so completely in the wall-to-wall men moaning in the dark … soaring on a hit of ethyl chloride … was like being transported to some heavenly other planet somewhere beyond the stars.”

“For those unfamiliar with the name: Christopher Street is in Manhattan’s West Village. During the pre-AIDS gay-party days, it was Ground Zero for homosexual cruising and partying.

If Fire Island was acres of beef on the hoof, Christopher Street was Mardi Gras in New Orleans, only with fewer inhibitions and without a female to be seen. One club or bar after another … Each establishment, and the street itself, filled with exuberant gayguys in freaky costumes … Music, drugs, and booze everywhere … Carousing of a pitch that would put beer-drinking Spring Break jocks to shame …”

On trying to fight AIDS:
“Well, the battle to close the bathhouses began to simmer then, but we were aware of the problem and trying to do something at least sub rosa to diminish it long before that in fighting the STD diarrheal diseases there. In ’82, we were aware of Gaetan Dugas [“AIDS patient zero”] and the connections between him and so many people that he met here in San Francisco at the baths, and his open announcement that, “Well, I’m off to the baths tonight, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He came to my office and said, “It’s my right to go where I want to.”

We were becoming reasonably sure that this was a disease caused by a transmissible agent. It seemed to be concentrated in gay men who were very sexually active. (I’m leaving out the question of the hemophiliacs.) The place where they could be most sexually active, most traumatically active, was in the baths.

Well, Silverman met with the bath owners–fifteen or twenty men. I was there. It was a hot meeting. Silverman tried to be politic, calm. He was a very, very good administrator and a good public health man. But these people came primed for battle. He tried to explain the difficulties and that if they could at least tone down the opportunities for infection, raise the level of lighting in the “orgy room” where 100 men could have indiscriminate contact without even knowing who they were being in contact with, if they could take the doors off the cubicles, cut down the privacy a little tiny bit– They wouldn’t have it.”

“The pervasive argument that turned around even the strongest gay backers I had for closing the bathhouses was, if government closes the bathhouses in San Francisco, which is seen as this bastion of gay liberation, what message does that send to less liberal states and communities? And then the next step is, well, obviously people get picked up in gay bars, so you close the gay bars. And then the sodomy laws would either be enforced or reinstated, depending on what the status was in any given state.

I remember having one very important person in the gay community who had been supporting me for bathhouse closure, who had been active in politics and still is, call me up and say, “Merv, I can’t support you any more.” I said, “Why?” And he gave me the above argument.”

More on Gaetan Dugas, the guy who proved AIDS was infectious by giving it to everybody:
“I knew that Gaetan Dugas was still in town. I couldn’t get to him, but I put word out, “If you see Gaetan Dugas, let him know I want to see him.” He came up. I told him, “Look, we’ve got proof now.” I didn’t tell him how scientifically accurate the information was. It wasn’t inaccurate, but it wasn’t actually scientifically proven. I said, “We’ve got proof that you’ve been infecting these other people. You’ve got AIDS, you know. We know it’s transmissible now, because you’re transmitting it.” He was the active partner in all this gay business, anal-genital sex. “You’ve just got to cut it out.”

“Don’t be silly, I won’t cut it out. It’s my life. I’ll do what I want.” I said, “Yes, but you’re infecting other people.” “I got it. Let them get it.” I said, “You’ve got to cut it out!” “Screw you.” He walked out. I never saw him again. It was a pity, because he was apparently an intelligent man, except on this one point. And he was very, very sexually active. He was a presumptive proof that AIDS was something transmissible from an infected person directly to the uninfected person.”

“It was at this time that rumors began on Castro Street in San Francisco about a strange guy at the Eighth and Howard bathhouse, a blond with a French accent. [Gaetan Dugas] He would have sex with you, then turn up the lights in the cubicle, and point out his Kaposi`s sarcoma legions.

“I`ve got gay cancer,“ he`d say. “I`m going to die, and so are you.“”

Amazingly, no one seems to have thought of hauling him out into the desert and shooting him.

“In ’78, there were already 4 percent infected. When we went back retroactively and tested the bloods of the hepatitis B vaccine trials, 4 percent of them were already HIV positive. We didn’t even know there was such a thing as AIDS then. By ’84, 60 percent to 70 percent of a gay population was infected. Now, the general population of males in the city, by the time I retired [1984], was less than 1 percent infected.”

These are not people whose activities were being curtailed by social norms.

“Craigslist’s entry into a market results in a 15.9 percent increase in reported HIV cases, according to research. When mapped at the national level, more than 6,000 HIV cases annually and treatment costs estimated between $62 million and $65.3 million can be linked to the popular website, the authors state.”

“”It was like living through a war,” remembers longtime congregant Sharyn Saslafsky. “Our world went upside down and inside out. So many of our friends died young.”

“I remember the devastation of hearing the names on the Kaddish list of young people,”… “During the service, everyone stands, links arms and sings ‘Hinei Mah Tov.’ I remember the utter sadness when there were people we couldn’t put our arms around anymore.”

“You were on call 24/7,” he says. “There was no easing up. Every day there were more casualties and, as things progressed, more fatalities. Until things started to taper off, I and an awful lot of my friends were losing, on average, a friend or acquaintance once a week for probably five years.”

At High Holy Days, he found himself unable to utter out loud the U’netaneh Tokef prayer, which reads in part, “On Yom Kippur it is sealed … who shall live and who shall die … who by earthquake and who by plague.””

4. Unfortunate confluence of “liberation” and “identity”
Gay people catch diseases when they have sex with a bunch of unprotected partners. So do heterosexuals, eg, prostitutes in Kinsasha in the 20s. Gay and straight people who don’t engage in such behaviors don’t catch a ton of diseases. The solution to AIDS is actually trivially simple: don’t have sex with thousands of people.

Unfortunately, “have unprotected anonymous ex with thousands of people” was a core part of the gay scene, and people protected it as part of the expression of their identities:

“I estimate I’ve had approximately 3,000 men up my butt … I estimate that I went to the baths at least once a week, sometimes twice, and that each time I went I had a minimum of four patners … I also racked up about three men a week for five years at the Christopher Steet bookstore …Then of course there was the MineShaft; the orgies; the 55th Street Playhouse; the International Stud backroom …
Let me present my own history of STDs. From 1973, when I came out, to 1975, I only got mononucloeosis and non-specific urethritis, or NSU. In 1975, I got my first case of gonorrhea. Not bad, I thought. I’d had maybe 200 different partners, and I’d only gotten the clap twice. But then, moving from Boston to New York City, it all began to snowball.​

First came hepatitis A in ’76 and more gonorrhea and NSU. In 1977, I was diagnosed with amebiasis, an intestinal parasite, hepatitis B, more gonorrhea, and NSU. In 1978, more amebiasis and my first case of shigella, and of course, more gonorrhea. Then in 1979, hepatitis yet a third time, this time non-A, non-B, more intestinal parasites, adding giardia this time, and an anal fissure as well as my first case of syphilis … By 1981, I got some combination of STDs each and every time I had sex …​

At age twenty-seven I’ve had: gonorrhea, syphillis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis non-A, non-B; intestinal parasites including amebiasis, e. historicia, shigella, giardia; herpes simplex types one and two; venereal warts, mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus, and now cryptosporodiosis, for which there is no known cure.​”

Again, if getting sick “built up the immune system,” these guys would have had the immune systems of doom and AIDS would not exist.

“I can recall about that same time seeing a patient who was a young Ph.D. scientist from the Peninsula [south of San Francisco], a very good-looking man with Kaposi’s sarcoma who I was caring for. He had AIDS. He was sitting in my clinic on Parnassus. He was kind of impatient. I said, “I’m sorry I’m running late; I can tell you’re impatient. What’s wrong?” He said, “I wish you’d hurry up; I’m going to the bathhouses.” My reaction was, “Wait a minute.”

But being the typical doctor, it just never occurred to me that he was still out there having sex. He had Kaposi’s sarcoma–AIDS, this horrible new, fatal disease. My line to him was, “Somebody must think you’re smart, because they gave you a Ph.D. How come you’re still going to the bathhouses?” He said, “There’s nothing wrong with that. I probably caught it there, and so my view is, it’s there and I’m going to have sex.” I said, “Are you telling the people that you’re having sex with that you’re HIV-positive”–it wasn’t even called HIV then–“that you have AIDS?” He said, “No. I figure that they ought to be smart enough to understand that there’s AIDS out here, and that they can catch it. It’s their responsibility as much as mine.” I think that that, more than any other single event, called into focus for me the notion that someone needs to speak out.”

Haiti got AIDS from Americans, not Africans:

“there had been in 1977 a conference of gays in Haiti, and a lot of gay people had come down from New York for this conference. After all, Haiti was a great spot for gay vacations. The poverty there had lots of young boys acting as prostitutes.”

5. over-trust in medicine/technology
” From what I’ve seen already, these guys had a shitload of venereal diseases already swimming through their systems and were on all sorts of illegal drugs, plus a lot of penicillin. There is no way that these weren’t co-factors in what later became AIDS. In NYC, there were gay doctors that were going to Fire Island and stocked up with penicillin and were shooting it into themselves and their friends before they went out to parties and got high.”

Remember, we had only recently–within a few decades–gone from a society where many people still used outhouses, had no running water or electricity, no cars, etc., to winning WWII, exploding atomic bombs, the Polio vaccine, rural electrification and running water for everyone, cars and highways, contraceptives, microwaves and men on the moon. It’s not unreasonable that people thought they lived in a time of truly unlimited scientific progress and that science could cure all problems and all of the old social norms could be discarded. Then AIDS hit like a terrifying brick to the face. We can’t even cure the common cold, you know.

6. disease as a badge of honor (still ongoing):
2blowhards source:
“Even so, the health of this crowd pre-AIDS was surprisingly awful. I recall — and Berkowitz confirms — that gay scenesters in the late ’70s often considered sexually-transmitted-diseases to be honorable battle scars: proud signs of their sexual prowess, defiant medals that they’d earned fighting for “liberation.” Just as The Pill was assumed to have ended all worries about pregnancy for straights, medicine was assumed to be capable of dealing with no matter what infection. Scene-making gayguys often had doctors specifically to deal with their STDs — they called them their “clap doctors.”…

“I was really getting into being fucked at the baths on Ecstasy,” he writes. “The drug just obliterated all my inhibitions. But I got gonorrhea after every single trip.” …
When I went on my Christopher Street tour, everyone seemed to be high. Poppers especially were everywhere; you crunched little glass vials beneath your feet as you walked along the sidewalk. Berkowitz: “I did a quick mental inventory of my poppers usage. But the question that came to mind wasn’t how much I’d done, but rather, if I could remember the last time I had an orgasm without them.”

He also recalls a German film from the era: “Taxi Zum Klo,” or “Taxi to the Toilet.” The film — a gay arthouse hit –was about a swashbuckling gayguy… whose sex drive can’t be stopped. The film was meant to be charming and naughty, and it was taken that way by the NY Film Festival audience I saw the film with…

In the film’s comic setpiece, the hero, hospitalized with hepatitis, is feeling horny. He knows he shouldn’t … But he can’t help himself … He breaks out of the hospital, finds a sex partner at a public toilet, and gets himself blown. I watched the scene thinking, “Lordy, this guy is public health enemy #1.” The audience around me, though, cracked up and applauded.”

From the main source:
“In spite of extraordinary research breakthroughs and new effective treatment and prevention, the HIV epidemic continues to chug along. There are 50,000 new HIV infections a year in the United States – a steady flow unchanged since 2007 (the peak was 130,000 a year in the mid-1980s). And the reasons are not so much medical as they are behavioural, psychological and cultural.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that if HIV infections continue to rise at current rates, half of young gay men will have HIV by the age of 50. Infections have been increasing among young men who have sex with men, especially young, black men. Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, reports that a black gay or bisexual man in Atlanta who becomes sexually active at age 18 now has a 60 per cent chance of becoming HIV-positive by the time he turns 30. Nationwide, condom use is steadily dropping and unprotected anal sex is increasing. New HIV infections have proved similarly resistant in Europe and Asia. There are still 6,300 new HIV infections a day worldwide.”

If you really want to bleach yourself forever, go read about “bug chasing”.

Culture Comes from People

The habit of treating culture like some totally independent variable in considering human outcomes is the sort of thinking that makes me want to bang my head on the keyboard. Every time someone says, “[Person] isn’t really [negative trait], they just come from a [negative trait] background that made them act [negative trait],” I want to yell, “Where the hell do you think that background came from? The magical culture fairy?” You get [negative trait] cultures because they are full of people who have those traits. (And they might even think those are positive traits, btw.)

Hilariously, people from highly organized cultures seem compelled to create organizations wherever they go. The converse, unfortunately, is also true.

Memes and Transmission Pathways

From, Why Cultural Evolution Is Real (And What It Is)

(Because watching other people say that thing you were saying and be like ‘omg I was saying that’ and then they give it their own twist and you are like ‘oh yes I see where this is going and it gets back to the morality model’ and then the joy at how much fun it is.)

(Guys guys we are talking about memes, okay. And the big question brought up by the part I quoted is, of course, What are the long-term effects of changing transmission pathways?)

“How Transmission Pathways Matter

In my outline, I mentioned that the transmission pathway – vertical or horizontal – matters a great deal for the content and friendliness of transmitted cultural items.

In biology, there is already support for this model. Parasitic entities like bacteria that are limited to vertical transmission – transmission from parent to child only – quickly evolve into benign symbiosis with the host, because their own fitness is dependent on the fitness of the host entity. But parasitic entities that may accomplish horizontal transmission are not so constrained, and may be much more virulent, extracting high fitness costs from the host. (See, e.g., An empirical study of the evolution of virulence under both horizontal and vertical transmission, by Stewart, Logsdon, and Kelley, 2005, for experimental evidence involving corn and a corn pathogen.)

As indicated in an earlier section, ancient cultural data is very tree-like, indicating that the role of horizontal transmission has been minimal. However, the memetic technologies of modernity – from book printing to the internet – increased the role of horizontal transmission. I have previously written that the modern limited fertility pattern was likely transmitted horizontally, through Western-style education and status competition by limiting fertility (in The history of fertility transitions and the new memeplex, Sarah Perry, 2014). The transmission of this new “memeplex” was only sustainable by horizontal transmission; while it increases the individual well-being of “infected carriers,” it certainly decreases their evolutionary fitness. …”

Okay, right. So your meme-mitochondria will most likely protect you from dying, but don’t much give a shit if you end up killing people who are not-you or at least don’t share your genes. And meme-viruses will try to get you to not kill society at large (which is busy propagating them,) but don’t particularly care if they kill you.


1. Will modern mass-media destroy itself by accidentally destroying the people that use it? Can mass-media be a stable, long-term part of the human cultural/technological toolkit?

2. Does modern mass-media create an actually different moral meme-environment from the vast majority of the human past? Is this good/bad/neutral?

3. Will we evolve to be adapted to this meme-environment, say, by people who believe that Western Education is Sin kidnapping girls, selling them as brides, and then massively out-breeding people who “Lean In”?

The Great Informationing

I’ve never been convinced by the Singularity argument (when graphs start going straight up, my assumption is that a crash is immanent,) but I do believe we are in the midst of a great period of data conglomeration via the wonders of Google, Wikipedia, Snopes, etc., etc., with the effect that many formerly disparate strands of thought will (are) finally find each other, producing new insights.

The process has most likely been going on for quite a while, of course. For evidence, I point to the general plethora of nonsense that was widely believed back in the ’80s–UFOs, faith healing, crop circles, ley lines, ESP, psychics, horoscopes, Satanic daycares, and religion in general–that has drastically declined in popularity since the internet arrived.

The potential for data conglomeration to really benefit people seems most obvious in medicine.

There are probably some downsides, of course. Our general bullshit detection modes aren’t all that advanced, after all. So there’s still a lot of nonsense wandering around. But one can hope for a brighter future.