Writing, which is itself a form of code, enable humans to communicate code. Cities grow as code evolves. –Auerswald
Welcome to The Code Economy: A Forty-Thousand Year History, by Philip E. Auerswald. Chapter Two: Code looks at two epochal developments in human history: writing and cities.
One of the earliest pieces of writing we have uncovered is the Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi, Goddess of Beer, which contains, yes, a recipe for making beer (translation by Miguel Civil):
Your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.
Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.
You are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
Ninkasi, you are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date] – honey,
You are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.
You are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
Ninkasi, (…)(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
The filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, the filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.
When you pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
You guys requested beer or wine with your books, so here you go.
The hymn contains two layers of code–first, there is the code which allows each symbol or character to stand for a particular sound, which let the author write down the recipe and you, thousands of years later, decode and read the recipe; and second, there is the recipe itself, a code for producing beer.
The recipe’s code likely far predates the hymn itself, as humans had begun brewing beer at least a couple thousand years earlier.
Writing and cities go hand in hand; it is difficult to imagine managing the day-to-day need to import food (and water) for thousands of people without some ability to encode information. As cities grow larger, complexity grows: one man in the woods may relieve himself behind a tree; thousands of people packed into a square mile cannot.
Each solved problem, once routinized, becomes its own layer of code, building up as the city itself expands; a city of thousands or millions of people cannot solve each person’s problems anew each day.
But which came first, the city or the alphabet? Did the growth of cities spur innovations that improved agricultural output, or did agricultural innovations spur the growth of cities?
For example, settlement and construction appear to have gotten underway at Jericho (one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities) around 9 or 10,000 BC and at the mysterious Gobekli Tepe site began around 7-9,000 BC, before agriculture emerged in the region.
Writing developed a fair bit later, developing from clay shapes to shapes impressed in clay between 8,000 and 4,000 BC.
Others of the world’s earliest civilizations had either no or very little writing. The Norte Chico civilization of Peru, for example; by the time the Spaniards arrived, the Inca had an accounting system based on the quipu, a kind of string abacus, but appear to have not yet developed a true writing system, despite their palaces, cities, roads, emperor, and tax collectors. (Here is my previous post on Norte Chico.)
The extensive Indus Valley civilization had some form of symbolic encoding, but few of their inscriptions are longer than 4 or 5 characters–the longest inscription found so far is 26 symbols, spread over three different sides of an object. Not exactly an epic–but the Indus Valley Civilization was nevertheless quite large and impressive, supporting perhaps 5 million people. (Previous post on the Indus Valley.)
Auerswald documents some of the ways cities appear to drive innovation–and to “live”:
The Santa Fe team found that cities are like biological organisms when it comes to “metabolic” urban processes that are analogous to nutrient supply and waste removal–transportation, for example, ha a branching structure much like veins or bronchi–but that cities differ fundamentally from biological organisms when it comes to indicators reflecting the creation and transmission of code. measuring the size of cities based on population and on the urban “metabolism” using metrics such as wages, GDP, electric power and gasoline consumption, and total road surface, the team found a systematic relationship between city size and indicators of the supply of “nutrients” and waste removal… However, while metabolic indicators do not keep pace with the size of cities as they grow, indicators relating to the creation and transmission of code increase at a greater rate than city size. … In short, the creation of ideas accelerates with city growth, whereas the cost of new infrastructure is minimized.
This intriguing macro-level departure from the inverse relationships that hold for organisms ends up risking more questions about the evolution of cities than it answers: What mechanism enables larger cities to produce disproportionately more innovation and wealth than smaller cities?
An amalgam of terms that have been used for parallel conceptions of the Smart City among them cyberville, digital city, electronic communities, flexicity, information city, intelligent city, knowledge-based city, MESH city, telecity, teletopia, ubiquitous city, wired city.
However the one I would like to propose, with population movement in mind, is The Learning City.
The term is based on a combination of two theories The Ego City and The Flynn Effect.
In 2009 Neurobiologist Mark Changizi from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute released a paper entitled Ego City: Cities Are Organized Like Human Brain.
Changizi sees strikingly real similarities between the brain and a city.
The central idea being that they organise and evolve similarly due to the need for efficiency.
As brains grow more complex from one species to the next, they change in structure and organisation in order to achieve the right level of reciprocity.
This is analogous to the widening of streets in cities.
The research team found mutual “scaling laws” for brains and cities.
For example, as the surface area of a brain or city grows, the number of connectors (neurons or highways) increased at a similar rate for each.
Likewise, a bigger city needs more highway exits in the same proportion as a bigger brain needs more synapses connecting neurons.
“The brain is like a city.
Cities develop and grow bigger and may get problems with roads and infrastructure, which is similar to what happens to our brains when we get older”, notes Håkan Fischer, Professor of Biological Psychology at the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University.
The learning city
This is curious when taken in the context of The Flynn Effect.
Intelligence Researcher James Flynn found that every decade without fail the human population scored higher on IQ tests.
An average increase of 3 points per decade.
His thesis suggests that the more information we as humans have to absorb and compute leads to an increase in IQ.
In this instance the increased information is data collected within the city.
As cities gain more data they adapt and in turn get smarter.
Human brains faced with a busier world filled with more information brings about an increase in IQ from generation to generation.
As people migrant to cities creating a more complex environment for the city it to must gather this data, learn and raise its Smart City IQ.
This is The Learning City.
On the other hand, the data Auerswald cites–from the “Santa Fe Team”–only looks at cities from the US, China, the EU, and Germany. How would this data look if it incorporated other megacities, like Manila, Philippines (the world’s densest city); Sao Paolo, Brazil; Bombay, India; Caracas, Venezuela; Karachi, Pakistan; or Jakarta, Indonesia? Of the world’s ten biggest cities, only two–Seoul, #1, and Tokyo, #10–are in the first world. (#9 Shanghai, is well on its way.)
#2 Sao Paolo might be more energy efficient than villages in the Brazilian hinterland (or it may not, as such towns may not even have electricity,) but does it produce more innovation than #11 New York City? (No American city made the top 10 by population.)
If cities are drivers of innovation, why are so many of the biggest in the third world? Perhaps third world countries offer their citizens so little that they experience a form of extreme brain drain, with everyone who can fleeing to the most productive regions. Or perhaps these cities are simply on their way–in a century, maybe Sao Paolo will be the world’s next Shanghai.
The city, by definition, is civilization–but does the city itself spur innovation? And are cities, themselves, living things?
Geoffrey West has some interesting things to say on this theme:
“How come it is very hard to kill a city? You can drop an atom bomb on a city, and 30 years later, it’s surviving.”
On May 25,  under the guidance of Cao Yi’ou—wife of Maoist henchman Kang Sheng—Nie Yuanzi, a philosophy lecturer at Peking University, authored a big-character poster (dazibao) along with other leftists and posted it to a public bulletin. … Nie insinuated that the university leadership, much like Peng Zhen, were trying to contain revolutionary fervour in a “sinister” attempt to oppose the party and advance revisionism.
Mao promptly endorsed Nie’s dazibao as “the first Marxist big-character poster in China.” Nie’s call-to-arms, now sealed with Mao’s personal stamp of approval, had a lasting ripple effect across all educational institutions in China. Students everywhere began to revolt against their respective schools’ party establishment. Classes were promptly cancelled in Beijing primary and secondary schools, followed by a decision on June 13 to expand the class suspension nationwide. By early June, throngs of young demonstrators lined the capital’s major thoroughfares holding giant portraits of Mao, beating drums, and shouting slogans against his perceived enemies.
There are no hard numbers on how many people died during the Cultural Revolution. Some were executed. Others were tortured to death. Some committed suicide to stop the torture. Others were sent to the countryside, where they were worked to death. The most likely death tolls are estimated around 3 million people.
…in the Western countries, the Maoism of China acquired an intellectual panache. The flower of French intellectual life—Sartre, Foucault, and many others—aligned themselves with the Maoist cause in the various ways that Richard Wolin has described in his book, The Wind From the East. The intellectuals, some of them, may even have derived from their Maoism, or to have attributed to it, a number of clever cultural insights, which made for an odd moment in the Maoist craze, a confluence of novelty and nonsense. …
The original Maoist movement in the United States was a tiny splinter of the Communist Party USA, which itself was none too big by the 1960s. The splinter group eventually called itself the Progressive Labor Party, or PL, and it inspired the creation of a couple of other tiny Maoist parties after a while. …
In France, the Maoists established a political base at the École Normale Supérieure, which is the elite college where Louis Althusser provided philosophical guidance … And, in the United States, the Progressive Labor Party established its own base in the student movement at Harvard. The supremely brilliant young philosopher Hilary Putnam was one of PL’s Harvard intellectuals. And from those origins, PL succeeded, in 1969, in taking over a genuinely mass and popular American organization, Students for a Democratic Society, originally a social democratic organization with roots going back to Jack London in 1905, and just then at its highpoint, with a national membership somewhere around 100,000 people. …
In the United States, the people who felt the allure [of Maoism] responded, however, mostly by constructing Americanized and slightly watered-down Maoisms of their own, distinct from PL. There was a version that melded the orthodox Maoist vision of a Chinese alternative universe with the hippie world of drugs and rock ’n’ roll. This was the version of one of the largest factions within Students for a Democratic Society, the “Revolutionary Youth Movement 1,” which was anti-PL, whose purpose was to create its own guerrilla mini-army, the Weather Underground, with a politics of countercultural Maoism. SDS’s “Revolutionary Youth Movement 2,” meanwhile, generated a more conventional Maoist faction in California, the Revolutionary Communist Party, which still survives. The paramilitary Black Panther Party offered another version, with its own fully-military-armed guerrilla subsplinter, the Black Liberation Army. And still other factions and armed factions arose in the same Mao-in-America style, sometimes expressing a North Korean variation on Maoism (quite strong in the Black Liberation Army), or with a touch of Cuban Guevarism. …
The gay-liberation movement, in the early phases of its eruption into public affairs in 1969, was visibly tinged with Maoist inspirations (even if, in the Maoist China that actually existed, homosexuality was monstrously punished).
“When I came to Berlin, there were many Marxist-Leninist organizations. Many students were taking part in training sessions, reading Marx’s ‘Capital’ and texts about the workers’ movements etc. And China and the Cultural Revolution played an important role,” said Gottfried SchmittToday, he still has a copy of Mao’s bible in his bookcase. The other shelves are full of literature and art books. Mao sits besides Picasso and Giacometti. Schmitt’s “Red Book” is a well-maintained pocket-edition from 1968. The collection of quotations and texts by Chairman Mao Zedong was printed and published in the People’s Republic of China.
“Maoism and the Cultural Revolution were interesting because they were an attempt within the Communist Party of China to put into practice the model of perpetual disempowerment of the elites. The keyword was permanent revolution. Even in socialist societies, there is a tendency for established bureaucracies to develop and basically rehabilitate the old bourgeois structures. Mao saw that very clearly. In Berlin, we had the so called real socialism of the German Democratic Republic before our eyes. But it didn’t provide a model of society that was attractive to young angry and rebellious students.”
In 1967, 159 race riots burned through American cities. The Detroit Riot alone left 43 dead, 1,189 injured, and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings. (And since 1967, employment in Detroit has plummeted as businesses have fled the area for more hospitable climes. The city, once one of the richest in the world, is now one America’s poorest and most violent.)
In Avondale, Cincinnati:
… a thousand rioters smashed, looted and attacked cars, buildings and stores. A witness reported, “there’s not a window left on Reading Road or Burnett Avenue. The youths are doing it and adults are standing by and laughing.”…
By June 15, when the riot had been contained, one person was dead, 63 injured, 404 had been arrested, and the city had suffered $2 million in property damage. …
Avondale’s flourishing business district along Burnet Avenue was eradicated by the riots of 1967 and 1968. Many of the damaged areas were left vacant for a decade. The riots helped fuel beliefs that the city was too dangerous for families and helped accelerate “white flight” to the suburbs. Between 1960 and 1970 the city of Cincinnati lost 10% of its population, compared to a loss of just 0.3% from 1950 to 1960. Cincinnati would continue to lose residents every decade afterwards. Many of the neighborhoods around Avondale experienced steep urban decline, including Avondale itself, which has never recovered from the riots.
black residents, outraged by the slow pace in ending housing discrimination and police brutality, began to riot on the evening of July 30. The inciting incident was a fight between teenagers, which escalated into full-fledged rioting with the arrival of police. Within minutes, arson, looting, and sniping was ravaging the North Side of the city, primarily the 3rd Street Corridor. …
In 1980, twelve years after the passage of Milwaukee’s equal housing ordinance, the city ranked second nationally among the most racially segregated suburban areas.:394 As of 2000, it was the most segregated city in the country according to data gathered by the US Census Bureau.
The protests of 1968 comprised a worldwide escalation of social conflicts, predominantly characterized by popular rebellions against military and bureaucratic elites, who responded with an escalation of political repression.
… In reaction to the Tet Offensive, protests also sparked a broad movement in opposition to the Vietnam War all over the United States and even into London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. Mass socialist movements grew not only in the United States but also in most European countries. The most spectacular manifestation of this were the May 1968 protests in France, in which students linked up with wildcat strikes of up to ten million workers, and for a few days the movement seemed capable of overthrowing the government. In many other capitalist countries, struggles against dictatorships, state repression, and colonization were also marked by protests in 1968, such as the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City, and the escalation of guerrilla warfare against the military dictatorship in Brazil.
In the socialist countries there were also protests against lack of freedom of speech and violation of other civil rights by the Communist bureaucratic and military elites. In Central and Eastern Europe there were widespread protests that escalated, particularly in the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, in Warsaw in Poland and in Yugoslavia. … The college students of 1968 embraced the New Left politics. Their socialist leanings and distrust of authority led to many of the 1968 conflicts. The dramatic events of the year showed both the popularity and limitations of New Left ideology, a radical leftist movement that was also deeply ambivalent about its relationship to communism during the middle and later years of the Cold War.
The “vanguard” are proletariat, working-class revolutionaries–your traditional Marxists–concerned with labor union issues. The New Left is composed of university students and educators–“Cultural Marxists”–concerned with social issues like abortion, gay rights, race, and identity politics.
The ideology developed at the Frankfurt School is also known as “Cultural Marxism,” though Wikipedia insists on referring to it as a “conspiracy theory.” There is much debate on this topic, though I am personally of the opinion that “Cultural Marxism” is as good a phrase as any to describe what Marxism became in the US as it ceased to focus on unions and began focusing on feminist, LGBT and racial issues.
Part of the underlying political developments of the 1960s was the USSR’s movement away from Stalinism, which made lots of people feel confused and disenchanted. Somehow worldwide revolution wasn’t happening, workers were still oppressed, the Soviet Union hadn’t become a paradise, etc. This prompted Mao to repudiate Khrushchev and spawn the Cultural Revolution to protect China against Khrushchev-esque “reactionaries,” a move that probably had less to do with ideological purity than ousting Mao’s enemies and returning him to power.
Outside of the Iron Curtain, Communists were split between those who were disenchanted by the USSR’s stagnation and those who were inspired by Mao’s revolutionary fervor.
Many New Left thinkers in the United States were influenced by the Vietnam War and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Some in the U.S. New Left argued that since the Soviet Union could no longer be considered the world center for proletarian revolution, new revolutionary Communist thinkers had to be substituted in its place, such as Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro. …
As far as Marxist-inspired violence goes, the US got off relatively easy. The Weather Underground set off a couple dozen bombs, but primarily targeted property, not people. (Approximately 1,500 bombs were set off by political activists in 1972 alone.)
Curtis Austin states that by late 1968, Black Panther Party ideology had evolved to the point where they began to reject black nationalism and became more a “revolutionary internationalist movement”:
“[The Party] dropped its wholesale attacks against whites and began to emphasize more of a class analysis of society. Its emphasis on Marxist–Leninist doctrine and its repeated espousal of Maoist statements signaled the group’s transition from a revolutionary nationalist to a revolutionary internationalist movement. Every Party member had to study Mao Tse-tung’s “Little Red Book” to advance his or her knowledge of peoples’ struggle and the revolutionary process.“
I don’t know how many people were murdered (or attempted) by the Black Panthers, but a quick scan of their article gives the impression that they killed each other more often than they killed non-Panthers. The Black Liberation Army has been accused of committing 13 murders and hijacking an airplane.
The Zebra Murders of at least 15 (and potentially 73) people by black Muslims paralyzed San Francisco in the early 70s, but pale in comparison to Maoist guerrillas in Peru, where the Shining Path has killed over 37,000 people, or the Maoist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, which killed an incredible 1/3 of their country.
Congress and the public have come to accept that the U.S. must stop interfering in Cambodia’s affairs, which will surely result in well-deserved victory of the revolutionary forces led by Prince Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge.
News of U.S. bombing in Cambodia drones on. U.S. support for political repression in Vietnam continues. …
The bombing, as some belated reporting from the area is starting to show, is directed against an indigenous Cambodian revolutionary movement, the Khmer Rouge, a force numbering in the hundreds of thousands which is attempting to topple the Lon Nol regime, Nixon’s two-year-old creation. …
For nearly a decade, The Crimson has called for an end to American involvement in Indochina. We repeat that call today. The war has brought more death and destruction to one area of the globe since Adolf Hitler’s armies devastated Europe in World War II. The United States should cease its bombing and all other overt and covert military operations in Indochina. The genocide must stop.
Reporting from Cambodia is scanty and shoddy, the outlines of the political dispute there are hazy, and the revolutionary Khmer Rouge, to which many Harvard students would be attracted, is still a shadowy and elusive force.
As a consequence, Watergate, which is close to home, has gripped students here as well as the rest of the nation while the more monstrous Nixon crimes go unnoticed.
Of course, once the US withdrew, the Khmer Rogue committed one of the worst genocides in history. The Crimson reflected:
What was happening in Vietnam and Cambodia meant a lot to us at The Crimson; for us it seemed to be the first good news from Indochina in years. Since late in the 60s we had editorially supported the Khmer Rouge and National Liberation Front in Vietnam, both nationalist groups affiliated with foreign Communist parties, and both of those characteristics–the independence and the socialist egalitarianism–appealed to us. …
At first The Crimson was against the war because it was a bad and wasteful thing for America to do; supporting the liberation movements, a step most of the anti-war movement didn’t take, was for us a logical next step.
I don’t know what we all expected the Khmer Rouge to do when it came to power. …
With Cambodia it’s an old dilemma–do we look at events in Indochina as Americans with liberal values or as the Indochinese must look at them? The Khmer Rouge can certainly no longer meet with our approval on our own terms, because they violate our feeling that anything worthy need not be accomplished through violence and cruelty. On their own terms they continue to be most of what we supported them for–staunch nationalists, socialists, remakers of their own society. It is a conflict that I am not ready to resolve. Although The Crimson has yet to commit itself, I continue to support the Khmer Rouge in its principles and goals but I have to admit that I deplore the way they are going about it.
1940-70: Millions of black people move from the mostly rural South to Northern cities in the Great Migration
In 1963, a Communist assassinated Kennedy, making LBJ president.
The global Left, feeling disenchanted due to the USSR’s failure to achieve a utopia and repudiation of Stalinism, turns to China for inspiration. It abandons proletarian-driven communism in favor of student-driven communism.
1967: 159 race riots burn down American cities, protesting segregation and police brutality. Many cities never recover.
1975: Cambodian Genocide begins: Khmer Rouge kills 1/3 of their country
The version of this story we usually hear:
Whites were mean and wouldn’t let blacks live in their cities. They forced blacks into ghettos, which were mysteriously full of crime and oppressed by the police. Everything in the ghetto fell apart and the students couldn’t learn anything. After MLK was murdered, integration began, prompting evil white flight. Today, the police are still oppressing black people.
The version you don’t hear:
The “Great Migration” started an urban crime wave that lasted for 3 decades, destroying inner cities and murdered thousands of people. Black rioters in the 60s and 70s burned down thousands of buildings, driving businesses out of black neighborhoods. Factory owners decided to relocate to China to import Mexicans to avoid hiring blacks, decimating the working class.
The version you hear:
Nixon was a bad man who authorized the Watergate Hotel break-in.
The version you don’t hear:
Nixon was fighting the Maoist Khmer Rogue. The media’s campaign to drive Nixon from office resulted in one of the worst genocides in human history.
A rare perpetrator’s memoir described one such recent crime in Virginia. The author, at the time a teenager, was hanging out on his neighborhood corner with his friends one afternoon when they saw “a white boy, who appeared to be about eighteen or nineteen years old… pedaling a bicycle casually through the neighborhood.” One of the black fellows pointed him out to the others, called him a derogatory name, and suggested that he must be crazy to have come there. … They ran after the white boy, knocked him, and beat him unconscious while cars drove past. They kicked his head until blood gushed from his mouth… one of his comrades continued “like he’d gone berserk” and even topped off the episode by picking up the bicycle and smashing it down on the victim as hard as he could. …
“Fucking up white boys like that made us feel good inside,” he wrote, adding that as they walked away they laughed… He said that when his older brother got his driver’s license, the gang would cruise around nearby white neighborhoods, picking out vulnerable targets and beating them close to death. — from Evil: Inside human violence and cruelty, by Baumeister
Wikipedia estimates that about 50-100 lynchings occurred per year between 1868 and 1923, with a peak in 1892 of 161 deaths.
Most of the folks lynched in the US South had been accused of violent crimes such as rape, assault, and murder; many had already been arrested and were awaiting trial when they were dragged out of jail and killed. Lynching functioned, therefore, not like random crime–a bunch of serial killers run amok–but as a form of extra-legal law-enforcement.
A posse of random citizens stringing up horse thieves makes sense in rural, frontier areas where prisons and courts hadn’t yet been built and the nearest police officer might be hundreds of miles away, but 1890s Georgia was hardly the frontier. Neither can we assume that the mobs were afraid that these (mostly black men) would have been acquitted had they gone to trial–the South’s all-white juries tended not to be favorable to black defendants.
If your desire is simply to get accused criminals off the streets, lynch mobs and courts probably returned similar results. (Note: I am not passing judgment on whether or not the accused were actually guilty.)
But court proceedings are banal; prisons are hidden from sight and executions–at least these days–tend not to be public spectacles. Lynchings were public, almost communal events–people even made postcards out of photographs of lynched bodies.
I have said before that intra-racial killing is crime, and inter-racial crime is war. People who commit crimes are entitled to a lawyer, a fair trial, a jury of their peers, and a chance at rehabilitation if they are not clearly psychopaths. People who commit war (or treason) do not get trials; they get rounded up in a counter-raid and executed back.
(Really, one wonders how the North thought this would all turn out.)
The media is great for whipping up this kind of sentiment, as seen in the targeting of whites during the recent Milwaukee riots over the death of a black man at the hands of a black police officer.
Furthermore, lynching–or beating random whites who happen across your protest–sends a loud, visceral message to the other side that merely arresting lawbreakers does not: We will kill you.
In 1968 my father was walking home from work through the alley off of Ohio street in downtown Chicago. He had done this for years.
At the time he was 60 years old. One day a group of 7 black teens and young men decided that they wanted to beat a white man to a pulp. He told my mother that they surrounded him and started calling him racial slurs and then proceed to beat him. They did not rob him. Someone found him and took him to the hospital where they had to cut into his eyelid to release the pressure and blood. He had bruises and cuts all over his body, face, and head. …
He made it through, but that was after being in a coma for three weeks and having to have brain surgery to relieve the bleeding on his brain. … He had small seizures and grand mall seizures all of the time until at the end, one took his life. — “Letter from a Dead Father“
I bet people in ISIS-controlled territory are very careful about how they act.
I couldn’t find the percent of blacks who were lynching victims, so I used data from the Tuskegee Institute + census to calculate it myself. I went into some detail on my methodology in the previous post.
Obviously lynching was not reserved exclusively for African Americans. In the aftermath of the Civil War, angry Southerners lynched many whites suspected of helping helping the Union. Asians, Hispanics, and Indians were also lynched. In one of the largest lynchings, 13 Italians were lynched by New Orleans Irish after an Italian guy killed an Irish guy. But these lynchings died down relatively early, while about 100-50 blacks continued to be killed each year through about 1922.
At the height of the violence, just over two blacks per 100k were lynched every year (or 0.002%.) To put that into perspective, the homicide rate in the US (as of 2013) is 3.9 people per 100k. Japan’s homicide rate is 0.3 per 100k, Canada’s is 1.4, Mexico’s is 15.7, and Honduras’s is an astonishing 84.6.
The “Great Migration” is a little-known part of American history in which millions of black people headed north. Wikipedia, like many others, asserts that lynching was one of the prime motivators that inspired blacks to move:
In the Great Migration, particularly from 1910 to 1940, 1.5 million African Americans left the South, primarily for destinations in northern and mid-western cities, both to gain better jobs and education and to escape the high rate of violence. From 1910 to 1930 particularly, more blacks migrated from counties with high numbers of lynchings. …
The industrial buildup to World War II acted as a “pull” factor in the second phase of the Second Great Migration starting in 1940 and lasting until 1970. Altogether in the first half of the 20th century, 6.5 million African Americans migrated from the South to leave lynchings and segregation behind. Unlike the first round, composed chiefly of rural farm workers, the second wave included more educated workers and their families who were already living in southern cities and towns. In this migration, many migrated west from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to California in addition to northern and midwestern cities, as defense industries recruited thousands to higher-paying, skilled jobs. They settled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland.
To unpack this for a second, we can identify three important economic factors that prompted the Great Migration:
The continuing mechanization of agriculture meant that fewer workers were needed to produce the same quantity of crops, and wages for agricultural workers in the South subsequently dropped;
WWI and WWII triggered the creation of massive numbers of manufacturing jobs in the North;
And the Immigration act of 1924, which massively cut the number of immigrants allowed into the country (particularly from southern and eastern Europe,) forced factory owners to pay their workers better wages.
(We may also add that the hookworm eradication campaign started around 1910 improved the health of Southern whites, who who were more vulnerable to the parasite than blacks, making them better workers.)
By 1910, the lynching rate had fallen bellow 1 per 100k, and by the 20s it had fallen to less than 0.25 per 100k, which suggests to me that people were more motivated more by the overall unpleasantness of Jim Crow and segregation than the lower-than-your-chance-of-being-murdered-in-Japan chance of lynching.
Unfortunately, the Great Migration appears to have triggered its own crime wave:
The lynch mob is still the most vivid symbol of hate crimes in America, but lynchings are largely a thing of the past. There are still plenty of hate crimes today, but they take a different form. Indeed, the very racial direction of hate crimes has seen a fundamental reversal. According to an FBI report on violence during 1993, black people were four times more likely to commit hate crimes than white people.
NYC had 7.3 million people and 2,605 murders in 1990, or a homicide rate of 35.7 per 100k. If NYC were a country, it would have been one of the most violent places in the entire world, but “white flight” remains a mysterious phenomenon wherein evil white people, for no rational reason, suddenly become afraid of black people moving into their neighborhoods and move away.
Few people today seem to remember that Detroit was once one of the country’s richest, most innovative cities. Employment in Detroit’s auto and war-production factories created economic prosperity for millions of people. According to Barry Bluestone, co-author of The Deindustrialization of America:
In the 1950s and ‘60s, when I was growing up in Detroit, it was one of the richest cities—if not the richest—not only in the United States but in the world. The city had the most powerful industry in the world—the auto industry. The General Motors Corporation itself was so huge that its total annual revenue in the mid-1950s was larger than the gross domestic product of Belgium. That made it the 18th largest country in the world—not just company. … That created tremendous wealth and then that wealth was spread at least somewhat more equally because of the powerful auto workers’ union, the UAW, which was able to win at the bargaining table both wage increases and benefit increases—pensions and health care and life insurance—that made auto workers some of the highest-paid workers in the world. The gains made by the UAW not only benefited white workers but also provided black auto workers with the ability to join America’s middle class.
Obviously many factors contributed to Detroit’s decline, but today we’re concerned with crime. According to Wikipedia:
Ethnic whites enjoyed high wages and suburban life styles. Blacks comprised 4% of the auto labor force in 1942, 15% by the war’s end; they held their own and were at 16% by 1960. … a large well-paid middle class black community emerged; like their white counterparts, they wanted to own single family homes, fought for respectability, and left the blight and crime of the slums as fast as possible for outlying districts and suburbs. …
The Model Cities Program was a key component of President Lyndon B. Johnson‘s Great Society and War on Poverty. Begun in 1966, it operated five-year-long experiments in 150 cities to develop new antipoverty programs and alternative forms of municipal government. The ambitious federal urban aid program succeeded in fostering a new generation of mostly black urban leaders. Detroit was one of the largest Model Cities projects. … Detroit received widespread acclaim for its leadership in the program, which used $490 million to try to turn a nine-square-mile section of the city (with 134,000 inhabitants) into a model city. … The Model City program was terminated in Detroit and nationwide in 1974 after major race riots in most of its target cities. Detroit witnessed growing confrontations between the police and inner city black youth, culminating in the massive 12th Street riot in July 1967. Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan National Guard into Detroit, and President Johnson sent in U.S. Army troops. The result was 43 dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. Thousands of small businesses closed permanently or relocated to safer neighborhoods, and the affected district lay in ruins for decades.
Coleman Young, Detroit’s first black mayor, explained the long-term impact:
“The heaviest casualty, however, was the city. Detroit’s losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money. The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could. …
Scholars have produced many studies documenting the fall of Detroit from one of the world’s premier industrial cities in 1945 to a much smaller, weaker city in the 21st century, struggling to survive against the loss of industry and population, against crime, corruption and poverty. …
While Detroit was still 55 percent white according to the 1970 census, by 1980 whites only made up 34 percent of the population. The population shift was even more stark considering that Detroit was 83 percent white at the time of the city’s all-time population high in 1950. The migration of whites to the suburbs left blacks in control of a city suffering from an inadequate tax base, too few jobs, and swollen welfare rolls. According to Chafets, “Among the nation’s major cities, Detroit was at or near the top of unemployment, poverty per capita, and infant mortality throughout the 1980s.” …
Several times during Young’s tenure Detroit is named the arson capital of America, and repeatedly the murder capital of America. Often Detroit was listed by FBI crime statistics as the “most dangerous city in America” during his administration. Crime rates in Detroit peaked in 1991 at more than 2,700 violent crimes per 100,000 people. … the arson rate in Detroit was 6.3 times the national average in 2003 and the murder rate was 5.1 times the national average. …
Around Halloween, a traditional day for pranks in late October, Detroit youth went on a rampage called “Devil’s Night” in the 1980s. … Over 800 fires were set in the peak year 1984, overwhelming the city’s fire department. Hundreds of vacant homes across the city were set ablaze by arsonists….
In March 2014 the indebted Detroit Water and Sewerage Department began cutting off water to customers homes with unpaid bills over $150, or if the payment was more than 60 days overdue. As of the 15th of July, more than 15,000 homes had been cut off.
Whew. Sorry that quote was so long; I just couldn’t decide what to cut.
Apologists are quick to present excuses for crime, but I note that Kentucky has also been facing economic difficulties, and yet Kentucky’s homicide rate is far lower than Detroit’s.
Of course, crime rates have been going down since the early 90s, but how much of this is improvements in medical care?
Looks like a lot of it.
By the way, if all of those stabbed and shot people died, as would be more likely if you were shot in a third world country with little medical care, our homicide rate would shoot over 20/100k.
(How much of our soaring healthcare costs are trauma-related?)
In 2013, a black was six times more likely than a non-black to commit murder, and 12 times more likely to murder someone of another race than to be murdered by someone of another race.
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. …
In 2015, police killings of blacks accounted for approximately 4 percent of homicides of blacks. Police killings of unarmed blacks accounted for approximately 0.6 percent of homicides of blacks. The overwhelming majority of black homicide victims (93 percent from 1980 to 2008) were killed by blacks.
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. …
New York City, for example, does not participate in NIBRS but it records the races of arrested offenders, and consistently distinguishes between whites and Hispanics. In 2014, 374 people were arrested for murder. Their races were as follows:
Given a population (page B1 of report) that was 32.8 percent white, 22.6 percent black, 28.9 percent Hispanic, and 13.0 percent Asian, a black was 31 times more likely than a white to be arrested for murder, a Hispanic was 12.4 times more likely than a white, and an Asian was twice as likely.
Approximately 12.5% of modern Americans are black and 63% are white. If an equal percent of whites and blacks were criminals, and if criminals chose their victims at random, we would expect about 12.5% of white victims to have been harmed by a black criminal, and 63% of black victims to have been harmed by a white criminal.
In 2013, there were 4,091,971 violent crimes against whites and 955,800 against blacks. A rate of 12.5% and 63% would result in 511,496 black on white crimes and 602,154 white on black crimes.
In reality, there were 560,600 violent black on white crimes, and only 99,403 white on black crimes. And as noted above, this means that 85% of b-w crime is committed by the group that is only 12.5% of the population.
When whites commit violence they target other whites 82.4 percent of the time, blacks 3.6 percent of the time, and Hispanics 7.8 percent of the time. In other words, white violence is directed overwhelmingly at other whites. When blacks commit violence only a minority — 40.9 percent — of their victims are black. Whites are 38.6 percent and Hispanics are 14.5 percent. Hispanic assailants also attack their own group less often than they attack others. Their victims are: Hispanics — 40.1 percent, whites — 50.7 percent, and blacks — 4.7 percent.
Finally, interracial crime can be expressed in terms of the greater or lesser likelihood of a person of one race to commit violence against a member of the other. In 2012/2013, the actual likelihood of attack was extremely low in all cases, but statistically, any given black person was 27 times more likely to attack a white and six times more likely to attack a Hispanic than vice versa. …
The Department of Justice keeps national records on murder. In 2013, it reported 5,621 single-offender, single-victim cases in which the race of the murderer was known. Like most federal statistics, there is no clear distinction between whites and Hispanics, so the only meaningful racial categories are black and non-black. Blacks killed 2,698 people — 48 percent of the total — and non-blacks killed 2,923 or 52 percent. Since blacks were just 13.3 percent of the population, it meant a black was six times more likely than a non-black to commit murder. Although most murders are within the same race, blacks were 13.6 times more likely to kill non-blacks than non-blacks were to kill blacks.
And don’t give me some bollocks about poor people being more likely to commit crime. I know homeless people who don’t commit crime. No one here is committing violent crime to save themselves from starvation.
If the Great Migration was a sensible response to lynching, then White Flight is a sensible response to black homicide.
Edit: an astute reader pointed out that some of the quoted data was wrong and I have removed it.
We Americans like to think we live in a first world country, but there are plenty of areas–like inner cities or far rural regions–where the complex supply chains people take for granted in the suburbs (“Of course I can buy raspberries in January. Why wouldn’t I?”) don’t work or don’t exist.
For example, relatives of mine who live in a rural part of the country and therefore are not hooked up to a city water pipe are dependent on well water. But a recent drought dried up their wells, and they ended up with no running water for several years. Thankfully the drought ended and they now have water, but droughts recur; I would not be surprised if they ended up without water again sometime within the next couple of decades.
Likewise, there are people in Detroit who lack running water, though for very different reasons (my relatives were amply willing to pay for water if anyone would pipe it over to them.)
I was reading the other day about the difficulties surrounding gentrification. Basically, you start with an urban neighborhood that’s run down or perhaps has always been kind of shitty, and eventually someone clever realizes that there’s no sensible reason why one piece of urban real estate should command higher prices than another piece of urban real estate and starts trying to fix things. So they buy up decrepit old buildings, clean them up, get new businesses to move into the area, and generally try to turn a profit–house flipping on the neighborhood scale. Of course, as soon as the neighborhood starts looking nicer and stops scaring people away, the rents go up and the original residents are forced out.
Which is a big win if you’re a developer, because those original residents were a large part of the reason why the neighborhood you’re trying to flip was so shitty in the first place, but kind of sucks if you are one of those people who can no longer afford rent. Which means, among other things, that you’ll often get local kick-back against your gentrification schemes: (h/t Steve Sailer)
Hardline tactics succeed in keeping outsiders away from Boyle Heights, the Latino community that is the last holdout to Los Angeles gentrification.
A realtor who invited clients to tour the neighbourhood for bargain properties and enjoy “artisanal treats” felt the backlash within hours.
“I can’t help but hope that your 60-minute bike ride is a total disaster and that everyone who eats your artisanal treats pukes immediately,” said one message. “Stay outta my f****** hood,” said another.
Fearing violence, the realtor cancelled the event.
So you end up with a lot of articles about people who want to gentrify neighborhoods but swear up and down that they don’t want to drive out the local residents or destroy their lives, and some of these folks might actually be honest. But these goals are often incompatible: gentrification raises rents, which drives out the lowest classes of society.
As I see it, economically depressed areas, be they urban or rural, have one thing in common: low complexity. Rural areas have low complexity because that’s just a side effect of being far away from other people; urban areas end up with low complexity either because of shifts in economic production (eg, the death of American manufacturing leading to abandoned factories and unemployed people across the “rust belt,”) or because the folks in them can’t handle complexity.
Human society is complicated (and American society, doubly so.) Businesses don’t just get opened and people employed because someone wants to; there’s a whole lot of paperwork involved before anything gets done.
I am reminded here of a passage in Bourgois’s In Search of Respect: Selling crack in el Barrio, where a Harlem drug dealer who wanted to go straight and get a legal job attempted to open a small food store, but got shut down because his bathroom was not wheelchair accessible. So the guy went back to selling crack.
On a similar note, when my relatives ran out of water, there existed an obvious technical fix: deepen the well. But drilling wells is neither cheap nor easy, if you lack the right tools, and beyond the average individual’s abilities. How lucky, I thought, that there exist many charities devoted to drilling wells for people! How unlucky, I discovered, that these charities only drill wells in the third world. I made some inquiries and received a disheartening response: the charities did not have the necessary paperwork filled out and permits granted to drill wells here in the US.
Much regulation exists not because it benefits anyone (trust me, a wheelchair-bound person is better off with non-ADA compliant food store in their neighborhood than a crack house,) but to shut down smaller businesses that cannot handle the cost of compliance.
In simple terms: More regulation => more suffering poor people.
Everyone has a maximum level of complexity they can personally handle; collectively, so do groups of people. Hunter-gatherer groups have very low levels of complexity; Tokyo has a very high level of complexity. When complexity falls in a neighborhood (say, because the local industries move out and rents fall and businesses close,) the residents with the most resources (internal and external) tend to move out, leaving the area to the least competent–greatly increasing the percentage of criminals, druggies, prostitutes, homeless, and other transients among folks just trying to survive.
Attempting to raise the level of complexity in such an area beyond what the local people can manage (or beyond what the environment itself can handle) just doesn’t work. Sure, from the developers’ POV, it’s no big deal if people leave, but from the national perspective, we’re just shifting problems around.
Obviously, if you care about poor people and want to do something to help them, step number one is to decrease regulations/paperwork. Unfortunately, I don’t have much hope of this short of a total societal breakdown and reset, so in the meanwhile, l got to thinking about these small-scale development projects people are trying in the third world, like micro-solar panels, composting toilets, or extremely cheap water pumps. Now, I agree that most of these articles are pie-in-the-sky, “This time we’re totally going to solve poverty for realsies, not like all of those other times!” claptrap. The problem with most of these projects is, of course, complexity. You install a water pump in some remote village, a part breaks, and now the villagers have no idea how to get a new part to fix it.
If you’ve read Josephine and Frederick’s account of their attempt to drive from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa–a distance of about a thousand miles, or 1,500 km–in the DRC, then you’ve probably noticed how much of the infrastructure in parts of the third world was built by the colonizers, and has degenerated since then do to lack of maintenance. These systems are too complex for the people using them, so they de-complexify until they aren’t.
So for third-world development schemes to work, they can’t be too complex. You can’t expect people to spend three weeks trekking through the bush to order parts in the nearest cities or to read thick manuals, and they certainly don’t have a lot of money to invest.
So when these projects are successful, we know they have managed to deal adequately with the complexity problem.
Micro solar panels, for example, might provide enough power to charge a cell phone or run an electric light for a few hours, and can be easily “installed” by clipping them onto the outside of a high-rise tenement window, where they are relatively safe from random thieves. For people who can’t afford electricity, or who have to chose between things like paying rent and having hot showers, such panels could make a difference.
In rural areas with unreliable water supplies, cheap pumps could run water from local streams to toilets or filtration systems; composting toilets and the like provide low-water options.
Such projects need not be run as charities–in fact, they probably shouldn’t be; if a project increases peoples’ economic well-being, then they should be able to pay for it. If they can’t, then the project probably isn’t working. But they might require some kind of financing, as cost now, savings later is not a model most poor people can afford.
Update: After many years of unfulfilled promises from the local municipality, the family finally has running water.
A large chunk of my family lives in a part of the country where the wells have run dry due to drought. They survive by filling up a big tank of water when they go into the city and driving it back home. It has been this way for years.
The nearest city has been promising a water pipe out to them for over 7 years. The family gladly and eagerly declares their willingness to pay for running water. Their willingness to help dig the trenches and lay the pipe necessary to get the water. And after seven years, much of the pipe has been laid, but they still can’t get the right people and authorizations out to turn on the water.
Once upon a time, we sent a man to the moon. Now we can’t lay some damn pipes.
The family could have running water with a better, deeper well (maybe not the best water, but hey, they could flush their toilets on a regular basis.) But digging wells is difficult and expensive.
There are multiple charities that dig wells in Africa and other parts of the 3rd world. I have contacted some of them, but they do not have the paperwork and authorizations necessary to dig wells in the US.
We are paperworking ourselves to death.
Another branch of the family, located in a wetter part of the country, belongs to a church that sends aid projects to Ethiopia, digging wells and planting trees (which apparently the Ethiopians keep chopping down). But they do not dig wells for their own kinfolk here in the US.