Cannibalism, Abortion, and R/K Selection.

Reindeer herder, from "Quarter of a Million Reindeers to be Butched... after Anthrax Outbreak" : "Serbian officials have demanded a huge cull of a 250,000 reindeers by Christmas over the risk of an anthrax outbreak. Currently 730,000 animals are being kept in the Yamal Peninsula and the rest of the Yamalo-Nenets region."
Reindeer herder, from Quarter of a Million Reindeers to be Butched… after Anthrax Outbreak: “Currently 730,000 animals are being kept in the Yamal Peninsula and the rest of the Yamalo-Nenets region.”

In Hunters, Pastoralists, and Ranchers: Reindeer Economies and their Transformations [PDF,] Ingold describes the social distribution of food among hunter-gatherers. In normal times, when food is neither super-abundant nor scarce, each family basically consumes what it brings in, without feeling any particular compulsion to share with their neighbors. In times of super-abundance, food is distributed throughout the tribe, often quite freely:

Since harvested animals, unlike a plant crop, will not reproduce, the multiplicative accumulation of material wealth is not possible within the framework of hunting relations of production. Indeed, what is most characteristic of hunting societies everywhere is the emphasis not on accumulation but on its obverse: the sharing of the kill, to varying degrees, amongst all those associated with the hunter. …

The fortunate hunter, when he returns to camp with his kill, is expected to play host to the rest of the community, in bouts of extravagant consumption.

The other two ethnographies I have read of hunter-gatherers (The Harmless People, about the Bushmen of the Kalahari, and Kabloona, about the Eskimo aka Inuit) both support this: large kills are communal feasts. Hunter gatherers often have quite strict rules about how exactly a kill is to be divided, but the most important thing is that everyone gets some.

And this is eminently sensible–you try eating an entire giraffe by yourself, in the desert, before it rots.

Even in the arctic, where men can (in part of the year) freeze food for the future, your neighbor’s belly is as good as a freezer, because the neighbor you feed today will feed you tomorrow. Hunting is an activity that can be wildly successful one day and fail completely the next, so if hunters did not share with each other, soon each one would starve.

Whilst the successful hunter is required to distribute his spoils freely amongst his camp fellows, he does so with the assurance that in any future eventuality, when through bad luck he fails to find game, or through illness or old age he can no longer provide for himself and his family, he will receive in his turn. Were each hunter to produce only for his own domestic needs, everyone would eventually perish from hunger (Jochelson 1926:124). Thus, through its contribution to the survival and reproduction of potential producers, sharing ensures the perpetuation of society as a whole. …

Yet he is also concerned to set aside stocks of food to see his household through at least a part of the coming winter. The meat that remains after the obligatory festive redistribution is therefore placed in the household’s cache, on which the housewife can draw specifically for the provision of her own domestic group (Spencer 1959:149). After the herds have passed by, domestic autonomy is re-establisheddraws on its own reserves of stored food.

But what happens at the opposite extreme, not under conditions of abundance, but when everyone‘s stocks run out? Ingold claims that in times of famine, the obligation to share what little food one has with one’s neighbors is also invoked:

We find, therefore, that the incidence of generalized reciprocity tends to peak towards the two extremes of scarcity and abundance… The communal feast that follows a successful hunting drive involves the same heightening of band solidarity, and calls into play the same functions of leadership in the apportionment of food, as does the consumption of famine rations.

I am reminded here of a scene in The Harmless People in which there was not enough food to go around, but the rules of distribution were still followed, each person just cutting their piece smaller. Thomas described one of the small children, hungry, trying to grab the food bowl–not the food itself–to stop their mother from giving away their food to the next person in the chain of obligation.

Here Ingold pauses to discuss a claim by Sahlins that such social order will (or should) break down under conditions of extreme hunger:

Probably every primitive organization has its breaking-point, or at least its turning-point. Every one might see the time when co-operation is overwhelmed by the scale of disaster and chicanery becomes the order of the day. The range of assistance contracts progressively to the family level; perhaps even these bonds dissolve and, washed away, reveal an inhuman, yet most human, self-interest. Moreover, by the same measure that the circle of charity is
compressed that of ‘negative reciprocity* is potentially expanded. People who helped each other in normal times and through the first stages of disaster display now an indifference to each others’ plight, if they do not exacerbate a mutual downfall by guile, haggle and theft.

Ingold responds:

I can find no evidence, either in my reading of circumpolar ethnography, or in the material cited by Sahlins, for the existence of such a ‘turning-point’ in hunting societies. On the contrary, as the crisis deepens, generalized reciprocity proceeds to the point of dissolution of domestic group boundaries. ‘Negative reciprocity’, rather than closing in from beyond the frontiers of the household, will be expelled altogether from the wider social field, only to make its appearance within the heart of the domestic group itself.

Thus the women of the household, who are allowed to eat only after the appetites of their menfolk have been satisfied, may be left in times of want with the merest scraps of food. Among the Chipewyan, ‘when real distress approaches, many of them are permitted to starve, when the males are amply provided for’…

In situations of economic collapse, negative reciprocity afflicts not only the domestic relations between husband and wife, but those between mother and child, and between parent and grandparent. If the suckling of children is the purest expression of generalized reciprocity, in the form of a sustained one-way flow, then infanticide must surely represent the negative extreme. Likewise, old or sick members of the household will be the first to be abandoned when provisions run short. Even in normal times, individuals who are past labour have to scavenge the left-overs of food and skins (Hearne 1911:326). In the most dire circumstances of all, men will consume their starving wives and children before turning upon one another.

Drawing on Eskimo material, Hoebel derives the following precepts of cannibal conduct: Not unusually . . . parents kill their own children to be eaten. This act is no different from infanticide. A man may kill and eat his wife; it is his privilege. Killing and eating a relative will produce no legal consequences. It is to be presumed, however, that killing a non-relative for food is murder. (1941:672, cited in Eidlitz 1969:132)

In short, the ‘circle of charity’ is not compressed but inverted: as the threat of starvation becomes a reality, the legitimacy of killing increases towards the centre. The act is ‘inhuman’ since it strips the humanity of the victim to its organic, corporeal substance. If altruism is an index of sociability, then its absolute negation annuls the sodality of the recipient: persons, be they human or animal, become things.

297px-world_population_v3-svgThis is gruesome, but let us assume it is true (I have not read the accounts Ingold cites, so I must trust him, and I do not always trust him but for now we will.)

The cold, hard logic of infanticide is that a mother can produce more children if she loses one, but a child who has lost its mother will likely die as well, along with all of its siblings. One of my great-great grandmothers suffered the loss of half her children in infancy and still managed to raise 5+ to adulthood. Look around: even with abortion and birth control widely available, humanity is not suffering a lack of children, but an over-abundance.


c08pnclw8aapot6Furthermore, children starve faster and are easier to kill than parents; women are easier to kill than men; people who live with you are easier to kill than people who don’t.

No one said GNON has a heart.

Before we condemn these people, let us remember that famine is a truly awful, torturous way to die, and that people who are on the brink of starving to death are not right in their minds. As “They’re not human”: How 19th-century Inuit coped with a real-life invasion of the Walking Dead recounts:

“Finally, as the footsteps stopped just outside the igloo, it was the old man who went out to investigate.

“He emerged to see a disoriented figure seemingly unaware of his presence. The being was touching the outside of the igloo with curiosity, and raised no protest when the old man reached his hand out to touch its cheek.

“His skin was cold. …

The figures, of course, were the last survivors of the Franklin Expedition. They had buried their captain. They had seen their ship entombed by ice. They had eaten the dead to survive. …

Inuit nomads had come across streams of men that “didn’t seem to be right.” Maddened by scurvy, botulism or desperation, they were raving in a language the Inuit couldn’t understand. In one case, hunters came across two Franklin Expedition survivors who had been sleeping for days in the hollowed-out corpses of seals. …

The figures were too weak to be dangerous, so Inuit women tried to comfort the strangers by inviting them into their igloo. …

The men spit out pieces of cooked seal offered to them. They rejected offers of soup. They grabbed jealous hold of their belongings when the Inuit offered to trade.

When the Inuit men returned to the camp from their hunt, they constructed an igloo for the strangers, built them a fire and even outfitted the shelter with three whole seals. …

When a small party went back to the camp to retrieve [some items], they found an igloo filled with corpses.

The seals were untouched. Instead, the men had eaten each other. …

In 1854, Rae had just come back from a return trip to the Arctic, where he had been horrified to discover that many of his original Inuit sources had fallen to the same fates they had witnessed in the Franklin Expedition.

An outbreak of influenza had swept the area, likely sparked by the wave of Franklin searchers combing the Arctic. As social mores broke down, food ran short.

Inuit men that Rae had known personally had chosen suicide over watching the slow death of their children. Families had starved for days before eating their dog teams. Some women, who had seen their families die around them, had needed to turn to the “last resource” to survive the winter.

Infanticide, cannibalism, and human sacrifice were far more common prior to 1980 or so than we like to think; God forbid we should ever know such fates.

According to Wikipedia:

“Many Neolithic groups routinely resorted to infanticide … Joseph Birdsell believed that infanticide rates in prehistoric times were between 15% and 50% of the total number of births,[10] while Laila Williamson estimated a lower rate ranging from 15% to 20%.[6]:66 Comparative anthropologists have calculated that 50% of female newborn babies were killed by their parents during the Paleolithic era.[12] Decapitated skeletons of hominid children have been found with evidence of cannibalism.[13]

400px-Magliabchanopage_73r“Three thousand bones of young children, with evidence of sacrificial rituals, have been found in Sardinia. Pelasgians offered a sacrifice of every tenth child during difficult times. Syrians sacrificed children to Jupiter and Juno. Many remains of children have been found in Gezer excavations with signs of sacrifice. Child skeletons with the marks of sacrifice have been found also in Egypt dating 950-720 BCE. In Carthage “[child] sacrifice in the ancient world reached its infamous zenith.”[11]:324  …

“According to Shelby Brown, Carthaginians, descendants of the Phoenicians, sacrificed infants to their gods.[25] Charred bones of hundreds of infants have been found in Carthaginian archaeological sites. One such area harbored as many as 20,000 burial urns.[25]

Picture 4Plutarch (c. 46–120 AD) mentions the practice, as do Tertullian, Orosius, Diodorus Siculus and Philo. The Hebrew Bible also mentions what appears to be child sacrifice practiced at a place called the Tophet (from the Hebrew taph or toph, to burn) by the Canaanites. Writing in the 3rd century BCE, Kleitarchos, one of the historians of Alexander the Great, described that the infants rolled into the flaming pit. Diodorus Siculus wrote that babies were roasted to death inside the burning pit of the god Baal Hamon, a bronze statue.

“… the exposure of newborns was widely practiced in ancient Greece, it was even advocated by Aristotle in the case of congenital deformity — “As to the exposure of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.”[30]

“The practice was prevalent in ancient Rome, as well. … A letter from a Roman citizen to his sister, or a pregnant wife from her husband,[35] dating from 1 BC, demonstrates the casual nature with which infanticide was often viewed:

“I am still in Alexandria. … I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it.” [36][37]

CgxAZrOUYAEeANF“In some periods of Roman history it was traditional for a newborn to be brought to the pater familias, the family patriarch, who would then decide whether the child was to be kept and raised, or left to die by exposure.[39] The Twelve Tables of Roman law obliged him to put to death a child that was visibly deformed. …

“According to William L. Langer, exposure in the Middle Ages “was practiced on gigantic scale with absolute impunity, noticed by writers with most frigid indifference”.[47]:355–356 At the end of the 12th century, notes Richard Trexler, Roman women threw their newborns into the Tiber river in daylight.[48]” …

400px-Kodeks_tudela_21“Philosopher Han Fei Tzu, a member of the ruling aristocracy of the 3rd century BC, who developed a school of law, wrote: “As to children, a father and mother when they produce a boy congratulate one another, but when they produce a girl they put it to death.”[63]

“Buddhist belief in transmigration allowed poor residents of the country to kill their newborn children if they felt unable to care for them, hoping that they would be reborn in better circumstances. Furthermore, some Chinese did not consider newborn children fully “human”, and saw “life” beginning at some point after the sixth month after birth.[65]

“Contemporary writers from the Song dynasty note that, in Hubei and Fujian provinces, residents would only keep three sons and two daughters (among poor farmers, two sons and one daughter), and kill all babies beyond that number at birth.[66]”

Sex Ratio at birth in the People's Republic of China
Sex Ratio at birth in the People’s Republic of China

“It was not uncommon that parents threw a child to the sharks in the Ganges River as a sacrificial offering. The British colonists were unable to outlaw the custom until the beginnings of the 19th century.[82]:78

“According to social activists, female infanticide has remained a problem in India into the 21st century, with both NGOs and the government conducting awareness campaigns to combat it.[83] …

“In the Eastern Shoshone there was a scarcity of Indian women as a result of female infanticide.[100] For the Maidu Native Americans twins were so dangerous that they not only killed them, but the mother as well.[101] In the region known today as southern Texas, the Mariame Indians practiced infanticide of females on a large scale. Wives had to be obtained from neighboring groups.[102]

Meanwhile in the Americas:

In 2005 a mass grave of one- to two-year-old sacrificed children was found in the Maya region of Comalcalco. The sacrifices were apparently performed for consecration purposes when building temples at the Comalcalco acropolis.[2] …

Archaeologists have found the remains of 42 children sacrificed to Tlaloc (and a few to Ehecátl Quetzalcóatl) in the offerings of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan. In every case, the 42 children, mostly males aged around six, were suffering from serious cavities, abscesses or bone infections that would have been painful enough to make them cry continually. Tlaloc required the tears of the young so their tears would wet the earth. As a result, if children did not cry, the priests would sometimes tear off the children’s nails before the ritual sacrifice.[7]

And don’t get me started on cannibalism.

James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti
James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti

It is perhaps more profitable to ask which cultures didn’t practice some form of infanticide/infant sacrifice/cannibalism than which ones did. The major cases Wikipedia notes are Ancient Egypt, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (we may note that Judaism in many ways derived from ancient Egypt, and Christianity and Islam from Judaism.) Ancient Egypt stands out as unique among major the pre-modern, pre-monotheistic societies to show no signs of regular infanticide–and even in the most infamous case where the Egyptian pharaoh went so far as to order the shocking act, we find direct disobedience in his own household:

3 And when she [Jochebed] could not longer hide him [the baby], she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.4 And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.

pharaohs_daughter-15 And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.

6 And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

7 Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?”

8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” And the maid went and called the child’s mother.

9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, “Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.” And the women took the child, and nursed it.

10 And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, “Because I drew him out of the water.”

–Exodus 2:3-10

I don’t know the actual infanticide numbers in modern Muslim countries (le wik notes that poverty in places like Pakistan still drives infanticide) but it is officially forbidden by Islam.

According to Abortions in America: • Black women are five times more likely to abort than white women. • 69% of pregnancies among Blacks are unintended, while that number is 54% among Hispanics and 40% of pregnancies among Whites. • Planned Parenthood, ... has located 80% of its abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods
According to Abortions in America:
• Black women are five times more likely to abort than white women.
• 69% of pregnancies among Blacks are unintended, while that number is 54% among Hispanics and 40% of pregnancies among Whites.
• Planned Parenthood, … has located 80% of its abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods

Today, between the spread of Abrahamic religions, Western Values, and general prosperity, the infanticide rate has been cut and human sacrifice and cannibalism have been all but eliminated. Abortion, though, is legal–if highly controversial–throughout the West and Israel.

According to the CDC, the abortion rate for 2013 was 200 abortions per 1,000 live births, or about 15% of pregnancies. (The CDC also notes that the abortion rate has been falling since at least 2004.) Of these, “91.6% of abortions were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; … In 2013, 22.2% of all abortions were early medical abortions.”

To what can we attribute this anti-infanticide sentiment of modern monotheistic societies? Is it just a cultural accident, a result of inheritance from ancient Egypt, or perhaps the lucky effects of some random early theologian? Or as the religious would suggest, due to God’s divine decree? Or is it an effect of the efforts parents must expend on their few children in societies where children must attend years of school in order to succeed?

According to Wikipedia:

In ecology, r/K selection theory relates to the selection of combinations of traits in an organism that trade off between quantity and quality of offspring. The focus upon either increased quantity of offspring at the expense of individual parental investment of r-strategists, or reduced quantity of offspring with a corresponding increased parental investment of K-strategists, varies widely, seemingly to promote success in particular environments. …

In r/K selection theory, selective pressures are hypothesised to drive evolution in one of two generalized directions: r– or K-selection.[1] These terms, r and K, are drawn from standard ecological algebra as illustrated in the simplified Verhulst model of population dynamics:[7]

d N d t = r N ( 1 − N K ) {\frac {dN}{dt}}=rN\left(1-{\frac {N}{K}}\right)

where r is the maximum growth rate of the population (N), K is the carrying capacity of its local environmental setting, and the notation dN/dt stands for the derivative of N with respect to t (time). Thus, the equation relates the rate of change of the population N to the current population size and expresses the effect of the two parameters. …

As the name implies, r-selected species are those that place an emphasis on a high growth rate, and, typically exploit less-crowded ecological niches, and produce many offspring, each of which has a relatively low probability of surviving to adulthood (i.e., high r, low K).[8] A typical r species is the dandelion Taraxacum genus.

In unstable or unpredictable environments, r-selection predominates due to the ability to reproduce quickly. There is little advantage in adaptations that permit successful competition with other organisms, because the environment is likely to change again. Among the traits that are thought to characterize r-selection are high fecundity, small body size, early maturity onset, short generation time, and the ability to disperse offspring widely. …

By contrast, K-selected species display traits associated with living at densities close to carrying capacity, and typically are strong competitors in such crowded niches that invest more heavily in fewer offspring, each of which has a relatively high probability of surviving to adulthood (i.e., low r, high K). In scientific literature, r-selected species are occasionally referred to as “opportunistic” whereas K-selected species are described as “equilibrium”.[8]

In stable or predictable environments, K-selection predominates as the ability to compete successfully for limited resources is crucial and populations of K-selected organisms typically are very constant in number and close to the maximum that the environment can bear (unlike r-selected populations, where population sizes can change much more rapidly).

Traits that are thought to be characteristic of K-selection include large body size, long life expectancy, and the production of fewer offspring, which often require extensive parental care until they mature.

Of course you are probably already aware of Rushton’s R/K theory of human cultures:

Rushton’s book Race, Evolution, and Behavior (1995) uses r/K selection theory to explain how East Asians consistently average high, blacks low, and whites in the middle on an evolutionary scale of characteristics indicative of nurturing behavior. He first published this theory in 1984. Rushton argues that East Asians and their descendants average a larger brain size, greater intelligence, more sexual restraint, slower rates of maturation, and greater law abidingness and social organization than do Europeans and their descendants, who average higher scores on these dimensions than Africans and their descendants. He theorizes that r/K selection theory explains these differences.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that the article states, “Rushton’s application of r/K selection theory to explain differences among racial groups has been widely criticised. One of his many critics is the evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Graves, who has done extensive testing of the r/K selection theory with species of Drosophila flies. …”

Genetics or culture, in dense human societies, people must devote a great deal of energy to a small number of children they can successfully raise, leading to the notion that parents are morally required to put this effort into their children. But this system is at odds with the fact that without some form of intervention, the average married couple will produce far more than two offspring.

Ultimately, I don’t have answers, only theories.

Source: CDC data, I believe
Source: CDC data, I believe

Do Chilblains Affect Blacks More than Whites?

toes afflicted with chilblains
toes afflicted with chilblains

While tromping through a blizzard, seeking insight into circum-polar peoples, I discovered a condition called chilblains. The relevant Wikipedia page is rather short:

Chilblains … is a medical condition that occurs when a predisposed individual is exposed to cold and humidity, causing tissue damage. It is often confused with frostbite and trench foot. Damage to capillary beds in the skin causes redness, itching, inflammation, and sometimes blisters. Chilblains can be reduced by keeping the feet and hands warm in cold weather, and avoiding extreme temperature changes. Chilblains can be idiopathic (spontaneous and unrelated to another disease), but may also be a manifestation of another serious medical condition that needs to be investigated.

The part they don’t mention is that it can really hurt.

The first HBD-related question I became interested in–after visiting a black friend’s house and observing that she was comfortable without the AC on, even though it was summer–is whether people from different latitudes prefer different temperatures. It seems pretty obvious: surely people from Yakutsk prefer different temperatures than people from Pakistan. It also seems easy to test: just put people in a room and give them complete control over the thermostat. And yet, I’d never heard anyone discuss the idea.

Anyway, the perfunctory Wikipedia page on chilblains mentioned nothing about racial or ethnic predisposition to the condition–even though surely the Eskimo (Inuit) who have genetic admixture from both ice-age Neanderthals and Denisovans:

“Using this method, they found two regions with a strong signal of selection: (i) one region contains the cluster of FADS genes, involved in the metabolism of unsaturated fatty acids; (ii) the other region contains WARS2 and TBX15, located on chromosome 1.” …

“TBX15 plays a role in the differentiation of brown and brite adipocytes. Brown and brite adipocytes produce heat via lipid oxidation when stimulated by cold temperatures, making TBX15 a strong candidate gene for adaptation to life in the Arctic.” …

“The Inuit DNA sequence in this region matches very well with the Denisovan genome, and it is highly differentiated from other present-day human sequences, though we can’t discard the possibility that the variant was introduced from another archaic group whose genomes we haven’t sampled yet,” Dr. Racimo said.

The scientists found that the variant is present at low-to-intermediate frequencies throughout Eurasia, and at especially high frequencies in the Inuits and Native American populations, but almost absent in Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africans have their own archaic admixture, but they have very little to no ice-age hominin–which is probably good for them, except for those who’ve moved further north.

Imagine my surprised upon searching and discovering very little research on whether chilblains disproportionately affects people of different races or ethnicities. If you were a dermatologist–or a genetically prone person–wouldn’t you want to know?

So here’s what I did find:

The National Athletic Trainers Association Position Statement on Cold Injuries notes:

Black individuals have been shown to be 2 to 4 times more likely than individuals from other racial groups to sustain cold injuries. These differences may be due to cold weather experience, but are likely due to anthropometric and body composition differences, including less-pronounced CIVD, increased sympathetic response to cold exposure, and thinner, longer digits.3,6

I think CIVD=Cold-Induced Vasodilation

The Military Surgeon: Journal of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, Volumes 36-37, states:


c2ijvyvveaaehdz c2ijw49vqaajuou

The text continues with descriptions of amputating rotting feet.

A PDF from the UK, titled “Cold Injury,” notes:


Notice that the incidence of chilblains is actually less in extremely cold places than moderately cold places–attributed here to people in these places being well-equipped for the cold.


Finally I found a PDF of a study performed, I believe, by the US Military, Epidemiology of US Army Cold Weather Injuries, 1980-1999:


While I would really prefer to have more ethnic groups included in the study, two will have to suffice. It looks like trench foot may be an equal-opportunity offender, but chilblains, frostbite, and other cold-related injuries attack black men (at least in the army) at about 4x the rate of white men, and black women 2x as often as white women (but women in the army may not endure the same conditions as men in the army.)

On a related note, while researching this post, I came across this historic reference to infectious scurvy and diabetes, in the Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Volumes 4-5 (published in 1902):


Note: this is why it is important to discard bad theories after they’ve been disproven. Otherwise, you kill your scurvy victims by quarantining them instead of giving them oranges.

Open Thread: International Solidarity

polandballworldOne of the things I find interesting about the online community I find myself more-or-less in (that is, you guys who comment here, the folks who link to me and their commentators, folks on Twitter, etc.,) is the sense of, shall we say, international solidarity.

This is all rather novel for me.

picture-2Those of us in America have been expressing concern about events unfolding in Britain and even Sweden. I have received (for the first time in my life!) kind words about America from from French people. And I like to think that with Trump’s election, the Russian people have been reassured that not all Americans want to go to war with them. (Just Hillary Clinton.)

t3_5g2114One of my long-standing issues with the left is the sheer negativity; they don’t call it a circular firing squad for nothing. “Call-out culture” is very toxic, cultish, and poisonous. (How exactly SJW ideology functions like a cult is a long post for another day, but it does.) So here we have, on what, the right? an emerging belief that one’s culture is unique and worth having and respecting the fact that other people love their own cultures and want to preserve them, too, without going down that path where Americans end up attacking confused Japanese women for wearing kimonos at an art exhibit about kimonos.

I don’t know enough about foreign politics to comment much at all on it. I don’t know who would be the best leader for this or that country. But that doesn’t stop me from appreciating other countries and wishing the best for their people.

Hrm, on to the (hopefully) interesting links section of this post:

Iberian Bell Beaker teaser (Roth 2016) :

Before we get to chew on the Bell Beaker behemoth, probably early next year if not sooner, here’s an appetizer on a similar topic…

Genome-wide analyses for personality traits identify six genomic loci and show correlations with psychiatric disorders:

The first genetic dimension separated personality traits and psychiatric disorders, except that neuroticism and openness to experience were clustered with the disorders. High genetic correlations were found between extraversion and attention-deficit–hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and between openness and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.


I hear Anomie, Anime, and the Alt-Right is good, though I haven’t read it yet.

The Genetic History of Horses:

The oldest successfully extracted DNA came from the skeleton of a wild horse that lived in the Yukon between 560,000 – 780,000 years ago. Such samples are especially important because there are very few wild horses left alive, and modern horse breeding practices have obscured the genomic signature of early domestication qualities like geography. Thanks to data from ancient DNA, geneticists have learned that a previously unknown group of now-extinct wild horses were also ancestors to modern horses.

Remarkably, the majority of Y-chromosomes carried by modern domestic horses can be traced back to just a few stallions. This could be because only a few males were originally used in domestication, but it could also result from carefully controlled modern breeding practices where a single male sires a huge number of offspring. The ultimate cause of this very low Y-linked diversity is still debated, but strict selective breeding has almost certainly contributed. In contrast, a much larger number of females than males contributed ancestry to domestic horses. According to Librado and colleagues, it seems that wild mares were continuously introduced into human-controlled herds throughout the process of domestication.

And a map of Roman Londinium around 200 AD

Comment of the week goes to N8 N3K:

“How do you get states to start forming so that criminals can be punished and revenge spirals halted?”

Criminals compete with each other. Everything some other criminal steals is something you can’t steal yourself. And the theft discourages production in general. So it might make sense for a gang of criminals to eradicate all others and to fund a state to protect their monopoly on violence. …

and Sam J:

Here’s a video made in 1922, American silent documentary film by Robert J. Flaherty about the Eskimos and their way of life. I liked it. Might interest your kids.

Nanook of the North

And now I’m opening up the floor to all of you. What’s everyone thinking about today?

Ethnic Groups of India, Pakistan, Asia, and Australia


Source: Haak et al., Massive Migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European langauges in Europe.

Note: There is a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. I am not trying to wade into that dispute or pass judgment on who really controls what. Also, I don’t know what distinguishes the 4 Gujarati samples, so they’re just in ABC order.

And finally, greater Asia (plus Australia):


Note that I had to leave off some groups from this map that appeared on earlier maps, like most of the Caucasian ethnicities. (Note that central Siberia is not actually as badly sampled as it looks, because this is a Mercator projection which makes Siberia look bigger than it actually is. Yes, I know, I don’t like Mercator projections, either, but it’s hard to find a nice, blank map with Asia on the left and Alaska on the right, and a cylindrical projection allows me to just switch the two halves without messing up the angles of the continents.)

And we’re done!

Where are the Ethnic Groups on Haak’s Graph?

Click for full size

Do you ever take a look at Haak et al’s wonderful graph of admixture in different human ethnic groups and wonder where, exactly, the Tlingit or Inga are from?

americasI certainly have, so I’ve been working on this handy map that shows the location of each group (except for the Surui, because apparently there are two groups called the Surui, and I haven’t determined yet which is in the dataset, but they’re both in Brazil.)

Note also that the Chipewyans, Algonquins, Ojibwe, and Cree all have very large ranges; I have only been able to approximate their locations.

Today I finished the Americas; tomorrow I’ll start work on the rest of the world.

In the grand human family tree, all of these American groups are on the “Asian” branch, but most of them split off from the other Asians long ago (the Inuit, Aleuts, and Tlingit appear to have arrived more recently in the New World and be closely related to various groups in Siberia.)

I’ve gone into the details of the groups before, so I won’t bore you by rehashing them now.

Note also I did not use Haak et al’s full graph, but a very cropped version. I tried using the full thing, but it was horribly unwieldy.

Happy November Open Thread

The German town of Wesel, after Allied carpet bombing
The German town of Wesel, after Allied carpet bombing

As our planet whirls away on its axis, shedding leaves in the northern hemisphere and growing them again in the southern, it seems as good a time as any to pause and reflect on things we’re thankful for, and maybe come up with something more original than “toilets” and “not polio.”

This morning I saw a man, in a wheelchair, who had no limbs. No arms, no legs.

There but for the grace of God go I.

Every problem I have in life–in fact, every problem faced by everyone on Earth who isn’t imminently dying–pales in comparison to this guy’s.

I have so much to be thankful for. I am alive. I have no chronic or terminal diseases. I have all of my limbs and they all work as they should. I have a warm home to live in and delicious food to eat. A family to love and that loves me back. Good friends.

It’s easy to take these things for granted, but there are so many people who can’t tick off everything in this list. People who are sick, or disabled, or missing limbs, or homeless, or hungry, or just plain lonely.

So remember to be thankful, grateful, and kind to others.

Okay, on to the discussion questions:

  1. What are you grateful for?
  2. Do you think men and women have different conversation styles? (Explain.)
  3. Propose your own question.
And now I don't remember whom I should credit for finding this graph. Sorry!
And now I don’t remember whom I should credit for finding this graph. My apologies.

Comments of the Week!

There have been tons of comments this week, and I am still reading through/responding to them. So if I haven’t gotten to you yet, it isn’t personal. There are just a lot. There have been some substantial debates among you people.

First, I’d like to direct you to Cord Shirt’s comment/questions last week on Apology Structures and SJWs:

* What (sub)cultures do prefer “I don’t know why I did it”? Why?

* Everyone, what is “the proper apology format” in your subculture, and why?

Since I am a bad representative of whatever culture I come from, I encourage you guys to answer the question, too.

Second, Alex’s response on why POC might not be a terrible term:

I understand you point, but I do think that, at least in the US, there is a meaningful distinction between the white vs. the non-white experience.

For example: Recently in an election debate, Tammy Duckworth, whose background is white/asian, talked about her own and her family’s military service going back to the American Revolution. She herself is a war veteran who lost both of her legs as a US Army pilot. Her debate opponent, a GOP Senator, snidely replied: “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”

Rule of thumb: don’t be rude to someone who lost both of their legs defending you.

And some interesting links:

Investigating the Genetic Basis of Social Conformity: The Role of the Dopamine Receptor 3 (DRD3) Gene:

People often change their opinions or behavior to match the responses of others, a phenomenon known as social conformity. … However, little is known about the genetic basis underlying individual differences in social conformity. A recent study demonstrated an association between enhanced dopaminergic function and increased conforming behavior. … this study investigated to what extent this polymorphism affects conforming behavior. Methods: We categorized Han Chinese individuals according to the polymorphism and tested them with a facial-attractiveness rating task. Results: We found that individuals with a greater number of the Gly alleles, which are related to an increased dopamine release in the striatum, were more susceptible to social influence and more likely to change their ratings to match those of other people.

According to Wikipedia, “The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Most types of reward increase the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs increase dopamine neuronal activity.”

So, do people get addicted to social approval? But on the other hand:

“Inside the brain, dopamine plays important roles in executive functions, motor control, motivation, arousal, reinforcement, and reward, as well as lower-level functions including lactation, sexual gratification, and nausea. … Dopamine contributes to the action selection process in at least two important ways. First, it sets the “threshold” for initiating actions.[37] The higher the level of dopamine activity, the lower the impetus required to evoke a given behavior.[37] As a consequence, high levels of dopamine lead to high levels of motor activity and impulsive behavior; low levels of dopamine lead to torpor and slowed reactions.”

Maybe dopamine just helps people do quick, on-the-fly adjustments, like change a rating in light of new information they’d just received. Lower dopamine people might just be changing their ratings more slowly, or not absorbing the new information at all.

Paleolithic Site in Northern Iran Much Older than Previously Thought:

According to Vahati Nasab, the researchers also traced the cultural deposits of human activity around Hill No. 8. “We found that during the Palaeolithic era the hill labelled as No. 8, had been a lower embankment in a shallow and wide lagoon. The first season of excavations dated the lower strata of the open site as belonging to between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago,” he concluded.
(That is super old for anything outside of Africa!)

How Chimpanzees Cooperate: if Dominance is Artificially Constrained:

Suchak et al. report an observational study replicating a basic finding from experimental research: Chimpanzees are skillful at recognizing situations in which they need a collaborative partner to acquire food and then collaborating to obtain it

However, experimental research has also found that: (i) chimpanzees would rather acquire food individually than cooperatively, (ii) their cooperation breaks down if the outcome is a single cache of resources that must be peaceably divided by cooperators, and (iii) they do not punish free riders or reward contributors asymmetrically.

So chimps are bad at cooperating under anything but highly controlled experimental conditions. However, I should note that chimps do sometimes hunt cooperatively; chimpanzee cooperation is probably best studied in the context of existing chimp social bonds (eg, parent-child, sibling-sibling, or friend-friend,) as these pairs already do cooperate to some extent in the wild.

It was easily one of the most unearthly and chilling visions that had ever struck the land that would soon become Canada.

Eight or nine lurching figures: Their eyes vacant, their skin blue, unable to talk and barely alive.

It was sometime before 1850 at a remote Arctic hunting camp near the southwest edge of King William Island, an Arctic island 1,300 km northwest of what is now Iqaluit, Nunavut. And these “beings” had seemingly materialized out of nowhere.

“They’re not Inuit; they’re not human,” was how a woman, badly shaking with fright, first reported their arrival to the assembled camp. …

The figures, of course, were the last survivors of the Franklin Expedition. They had buried their captain. They had seen their ship entombed by ice. They had eaten the dead to survive.

It’s a fascinating article.

Okay, now I’m opening the floor. Have at it.

The most racist post on this blog

Jesus loves the little children
All the little children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
All are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

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From a review of Tomie dePaola’s Legend of the Indian Paintbrush:

The story is improperly sourced. Stories are a means to teach lessons for survival. Since this is a European perspective of a fantasy romanticized Indian of the past, this becomes another instance of whites with long lost culture dressing up and playing Indian . We need to know what tribe this story originates, the true setting and purpose of the original story, and the intended audience. The retelling doesn’t reflect the setting, material artifacts or even the specific nation it attempts to depict. The story and illustrations improperly depict native people as a mono-culture. The book makes native dialogue overly mystic. The use of words like “brave” “and papoose” instead of “man” and “child” dehumanize an entire group of people. Reading this to children will definitely perpetuate damaging stereotypes of the distinct cultures still alive and well today.


Kabloona Friday (Summer comes, and with it, the end.)

This is the last installment of quotes from Kabloona, an account of Gontran “Mike” dePoncins’s year spent among the Eskimo of Canada in 1939. To make it easier to read, I am going to dispense with the blockquote:

“Spring was returning to the arctic. The temperature rose till it stood well above zero, and suddenly one day–it was the 25th April–it mounted to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. A nasty warm wind was blowing, the kind of win which, at home, makes us fearful of catching an unseasonable cold. The “heat” was intolerable. …

Light had come to the northern night–or if this was not light, at any rate it was no longer darkness. The air was filled with an eerie glow; the horizon was swollen with the promise of light, and the night was a ruddy purple. … as the days went by the lamp became unnecessary and we had the light of the sky all though the night.

One of the most curious things was our resistance to sleep. … Sleep would not come. I would get quietly out of bed and go out-of-doors to sketch. … Across the northern sky stretched a band like white gold, white and liquid, like gold in a crucible. … The southern sky was a hard bright blue, and so luminous that the caplets of islands and the faraway mountains emerged in the distance with brilliant clarity. … something stirring, something vibrant was present that filled the being with a nameless agitation. It was impossible to be still. You wanted to walk, to run, to go on endlessly from hillock to hillock, shouting verses aloud, singing songs you had never before heard. You were seized by what could easily become delirium and might move you as plausibly to religious ecstasy as to sexual explosion–of itself and without the intervention of your will. The earth was being born again. You were witnessing its creation. You wanted harps to chant its glory’ and you knew that it was moving the missionaries to prayer and urging on the Eskimos to their indefatigable mating. …

It was three o’clock in the morning and children were at play out on the frozen sea. Women, their mothers, sat on the point of a knoll and watched them, called out to them. … They will wander like this all summer long, sleeping only when they are too weary to stand, and sleeping wherever they happen to find themselves

This is the season of Eskimo madness, particularly for the young. I remember a boy of eleven or twelve years, named Ivitaligak, who went out of his mind every spring.  do not know if this malady exists elsewhere in the same way, but with Eskimo youths it takes the form of a violent somnambulism. Ivitaligak would rove like a somnambulist, coming, going shrieking, beating his head with his fists and screaming, “Give me a rifle! Give me a rifle! I want to kill myself!” It would not have been hard for him to kill himself before coming to. That night he picked up in both hands a burning stove and shook it violently without feeling the burns. His friends threw him down and pummeled him to try to wake him, but no one could do it. They smacked him again and again, holding him down on the ground as he twisted and contorted himself: all in vain. … Once awake again, he could remember nothing that had happened and when they told him, he burst out laughing and refused to believe them. His father, Anarvik, said to me that this always happened int he spring, when the boy did not get enough sleep, wandered all night long, night after night, and stretched out occasionally on the bare ground to slumber. Angulalik’s little son, Wakwak, displayed the same symptoms, though not so violently. Once they came to, the boys complained of headaches; but these things pass when they grow to be men.

Unlike ourselves, the Eskimos are still children of nature. Spring, the season of rut in the animal kingdom, induces physiological mutations in them. They change color: from earth brown they turn purple, a red glow lies over their cheekbones, and their eyes shine with a strange gleam. Here at Perry River a frenzy of sexuality had spread through the camp, embracing every member of it. Day and night they copulated in a sort of delirium, inexhaustible and insatiable.

Imagine a world covered by  the waters of an endlessly wide lake, and the waters receding until only peaks emerge like islands over the lake-bottom. There were hundreds of these peaks as far as the eye could see, with here and there a ridge that ran like a prehistoric river bank, its smoothly worn slope covered with pebbles that appeared from far away as fine as sand. Infinite in distance, hushed, seemingly deserted by man and beast, it was the landscape of a fairytale. Far away. farther away than I have ever been able to see anywhere in the world, the sun burned on the rim of a ridge, and every peak and slope and hillock stood bathed in a ruddy pink light, a rose that was unreal in its liquid softness. There were days enough when the land of the Eskimo, with its blizzards and its grey and horizonless air, had seemed to me in truth a ghastly world; but on this day, seeing this immensity spread out before me, being conscious of the solitude in which I stood gazing at it, I recognized the right of the Eskimo to the pride he took in his land, and fancied that in his mind this was an offering made to him by who knows what god, and that he too felt himself a member of a chosen people. Here, I told myself, is their Eden, this wide world stocked by the Great Giver with the magnificent game that came up year after year to feed them and arm them and clothe them and surrender itself, the constituent fundament of their households.

I thought of the months on the trail, of the hardships and even miseries I had endued, and of a sudden I began to miss them with an intensity which amazed me and which, since then, has never left me. … God knows we were poor enough. Our poverty was total. We possessed nothing: not even the snow was our own. … But there was a cheer and a contentment in our existence which I continue to muse upon and cannot altogether explain to myself. Was it because infinite poverty lent infinite price to the least object? There was more to it than this. I had lost all I owned, but had found great riches. Like a religious, I possessed the veritable treasures, those which could not be taken from me. I had lost the world, but I had found myself, had exchanged the glitter for the gold. Within me had lain potentialities for moral serenity;, and I had not known it. Storm and danger had been my salvation, an without them my spirit should have dropped heedlessly off to sleep in my flesh. Thee on that Arctic tundra I had constructed myself from within. Up though the lined and frozen layers of skin on my face, my true visage had begun to emerge, the visage that God had meant all men to show to one another; and that visage all the blizzards, all the adversity in the world could not decompose. …

I say “we” but I cannot pretend of course to lend to the Eskimos these thoughts I now express. The poverty that was my salvation had from the beginning of time been theirs … These men about whom I knew properly nothing at all, these beings of another race separated from me by thousand of years of the evolution of my kind, had stood shoulder to shoulder with me in the blizzard. With my friends Outside there had always been differences, we had always remained personalities, individuals. Here, after the first few weeks of my probation, none of this existed: he contact was direct, devoid of the detours of personality. Day after day a wind would raise, a sign of danger would appear in the air, and we would respond together, each forgetting himself and striving in the common cause. Outside, it wanted war and flood to give man this sense of brotherhood: here it was a commonplace of life. …

I stood on the shores of Ellice Island and said to myself that I did not want to leave this land. … And as I turned and walked down the hill, I knew that my fate lay elsewhere; and I know now that it lies in France. … for a Frenchman of our time, the trail back leads home.”

And thus de Poncins returns home just in time for World War II.

Kabloona Friday

I finished Kabloona, though I still have a few excerpts for you guys.

De Poncins does eventually discover that he feels warmer after eating the Eskimo’s food than after eating bread. It is really a pity that all those guys who died of scurvy on their ways to the poles did not know that.

Oh, and I think I may have figured out the mystery of why arctic peoples don’t have fur. De Poncins describes in one passage how his beard (which he could not shave while on the trail,) had become laden with ice in the -50 degree weather, and periodically the ice would crack and a chunk of beard would get ripped out of his face.

Polar bears handle fur just fine, but their noses jut out much further than ours; our exhalation goes directly down our faces.

Additionally, one of the constant concerns in the arctic is keeping properly dry. You get snowy, you go indoors to warm up, the snow melts, now you’re wet. Head back outside, and the wet freezes.

Bare skin probably dries faster than fur.

Anyway, back to our quotes:

A group of Eskimos were sitting in an igloo. Night had fallen, and they sat laughing and smoking after a good day of sealing. … the idea of a coming feast excited the men, and the pitch of their conversation rose and became playfully crude. At that moment the word was spoken. Not an insulting word, not a direct slap, but a word mockingly flung forth and therefore more painful, a word that made a man lose face before the others, that crippled him if he had no retort. One of the younger men had spoken. Encouraged by the laughter of the rest he hand gone further than he intended. Planted before an older man, who was lying back on the iglerk, [sofa made of snow] he said to him scornfully, “When you don’t miss a seal, you certainly strike him square. If we were all as accurate as you are, the clan would have to get along without eating.”

The old man’s blood rushed to his face, but except for a single flash of the eyes he remained impassive. He sat still, unable to reply. … He got up after a moment and slipped out of the igloo. His igloo. This made it more unbearable. …

He strode to the other end of the camp, and crawled into Akyak’s igloo. There, without a word, he sat down. Akyak was alone. She looked at him and wondered what the old man was doing in her igloo when he had guests at home. But she asked no questions. Causally, she picked up the teapot and poured him out a mug of tea. He drank it at a gulp, and then said suddenly:

Inut-koak“–“I am an old man.”

Astonished, Akyak protested vaguely; but he was not listening. Already he was on his way out. …

The old man went sealing with the rest. But those words gnawed at him unbearably. … Bowed over his hole in the ice, he brooded. If he had been able to kill several seals in a row, he would have resumed his place as the great hunter of the clan, and it would have been his privilege to speak mockingly to the younger man. But fate was against him. He missed seal after seal. …

The day came when he would no longer sit with the rest in another Eskimo’s igloo. While they laughed and feasted, he remained at home, motionless on his iglerk, eyes shut, arms hanging loose, like a sick doll. He had stopped going with the others out on the ice. He was beginning to mutter to himself. He was forgetting to eat. His dogs would howl, and he would not so much as go out of doors to beat them.

…Still, the other would come to see him, whether out of curiosity or malice it is hard to say. They would find him sitting at his end of the iglerk, saying over and over to himself:

Inut-koak“–“I am an old man.”

Some would try to cheer him up.

“Com, come!” they would say. “You have the best wife in the camp. There’s nobody like you with a woman.”

Inut-koak!” he would repeat obstinately.

…He was not thinking, but brooding… There was only one way to be rid of it, and that was death. But whose death? His, or the young man’s?

It was going to be his, and he knew it. He was too old to kill. The thought invaded him, took possession of him, and as he never struggled against it, it undermined him. …

One day he made up his mind. It was evening, his family were there, and the old man spoke.

“Prepare the rope,” he said to his wife.

Nobody stirred. They were all like this, and it was true of all of them that once an Eskimo had made up his mind there was no dissuading him from his decision. Not a word was said. The dutiful wife came forward with a rope made of seal. A noose made in it never slips. …

In the igloo the old man fashioned a running noose. With a single jerk the thing was done. Seated on the edge of the iglerk, his face bent down to the ground, he had strangled himself, and his body lay slack. No one would touch it. they would leave it as it was, and strike camp to escape the evil spirit that had possessed this man. The next day they  were gone and the igloos stood empty in the white expanse.

It was not that they did not care enough to stop him, but that they did not wish to impose upon his freedom to do as he wished.

Going into the other igloo on the second day, I found on the ground a doll. It was a thing that might have been made not only for a child, but by a child–shapeless, covered in caribou hide, shining with fat like the Eskimos themselves, and pigeon-toed as their women invariably are. Tufts of musk-ox fur had been stuck either side of the head to simulate human hair. The thing had no form, was crude, wretched, yet how expressive it was! … It filled me with pity, and with admiration, too, for if it spoke of wretched poverty, it spoke no less of stoicisim. …

On the spot I gave two plugs of tobacco for the doll, and instantly I became the idiot white man. For a bit of hide that the child would no longer play with, I had given two plugs of tobacco. I had hardly left them before they began hastily to manufacture bright new dolls, dressed in new skins. Surely the Kabloona would pay five or six plugs for the new dolls! They were in Algunerk’s igloo the next day before I was out of my sleeping-bag, and when, in triumph, they held up the new dolls, and I wrinkled my nose (the Eskimo sign for “no”), they grumbled angrily and withdrew, convinced now that the white man was surely mad.

After a very long journey, de Poncins finally managed to meet Father Henry:

I am going to say to you that a human being can live without complaint in an ice-house built for seals at a temperature of fifty-five degrees below zero, and you are going to doubt my word. Yet what I say is true, for this was how Father Henry lived; and when I say, “ice house for seals,” I am not using metaphorical language. … An Eskimo would not have lived in this hole. An igloo is a thousand times warmer, especially one built out on the sea over the water, warm beneath the coat of ice. I asked Father Henry why he lived thus. He said merely that it was more convenient, and pushed me ahead of him into his cavern. …

Compared with this hole, an igloo was a palace. From the door to the couch opposite measured four and one half feet. Two people could not stand comfortably here, and when Father Henry said Mass I used to kneel on the couch. “If you didn’t, you would be in my way,” was how he put it. … The couch was a rickety wooden surface supported in the middle by a strut, over which two caribou hides had been spread. On these three plank forming a slightly titled surface, Father Henry slept. …

Father Henry and I took to each other from the beignning. A seal ice-house bring people together moe quickly than a hotel room, and a good deal more intimately. Convesation in such a place is frank and honest, untrammelled by the reticences of society.

“I said to him one day:”Don’t you fidn this life too hard for you, living aline like this?”

“Oh, no,” he said; “I am really very  happy here. my life is simple, iI have no wories, I have everything I need.” (He had nothing at all!) “Only ne thing preys on my mind now and then” it is–what will become of me when I am old?”

He said this with such an air of confessing a secret weakness that my heart swelled with sudden emotion, and I tried clumsily to comfort him.

“When you are old,” I said, “you will go back among the white men. You will be given a mission at Chesterfield, or at Churchill.”

“No, no, no!” he protested, “not that.”

From a conversation reported to our author about himself:

“Does he speak Eskimo?”

At this point, Father Henry said to me: “Observe the delicacy of these men. He might have said, ‘badly.’ Instead, in order not to hurt anyone, he said, ‘All that he has said to us, we have clearly understood’

De Poncins has managed to reach a group of Eskimo with almost no contact with the outside world:

As we moved from camp to camp, I was surprised everywhere by the spaciousness, I might almost have said the magnificence, of these igloos Their porches were invariably built to contain two good-sized niches, one for the dogs, the other for harness and equipment. In some camps I found again the communal architecture of which I had seen a deserted specimen on the trial–three igloos so built as to open into a central lobby. Each igloo housed two families, one at either side of the porch, and was lighted by two seal-oil lamps. I measured them and found they were twelve feet in diameter–so wide at the axis that the iglerk, which in the King William Land igloo fills three quarters of the interior, took up less than half the floor space. The seal-oil lamps, or more properly, vessels, were nearly three feet long. All this luxury was explained by the presence of seal in quantity, whereas round King, seal is, to say the least, not plentiful.

Back of each lamp, on a sort of platform of snow, lay the usual larder of the Eskimo rich in provisions, into which every visitor was free to put his knife and draw forth the chunk of seal or caribou or musk-ox that he preferred. …

What I was seeing here, few men had seen, and it was now to be seen almost nowhere else–a social existence a in olden days, a degree of prosperity and well-being contrasting markedly with the psueduo-civilized life of the western Eskimo and the pitiful, stunted, whining life of the King William clan with its wretched poverty , its tents made of coal-sacks, its snuffling, lackluster, and characterless men clad in rags’ that life like a dulled and smutted painting with only here and there a gleam to speak of what it had once been.

I figure one of the reasons anthropology has changed so much is that today, there’s a  good chance your subjects will read your book, so you might not want to refer to your informants as pitiful, stunted, and whining.


Kabloona Friday

Continuing a series of excerpts from Kabloona, an ethnography of the Eskimos published in 1941.

The homosexual Eskimo:

An apparition at the Post pulled me up one day with a shock of amazement. I am as well aware as the next man that sexual aberration knows no geography and no chronology, that inversion is a phenomenon observable in ancient as in modern times, in primitive as in civilized societies. Yet it was not in my thoughts that I should one day see a homosexual Eskimo; and if I put this man in my notebooks, and write about him now, it is not because of his aberration but because he was, in his repellant way, a singularly comic and glittering figure, at once loathsome and fascinating.

There was never such a master of pantomime as this infinitely strange, perpetually agitated, and yet extraordinarily self-possessed rogue who dropped in one afternoon from Back’s River and was off again the next day. He seemed to take it for granted that neither Gibson nor I would understand his speech, for immediately on coming in he began to display his talent as a mime, and he did it with obvious relish. He had no need of worse: face and hands sufficed him to paint for us his four days on the trail. He had run out of tea on the second day, and he wrote in sign language a poem of the brewing and drinking of his last cup. he had started with only a little coal-oil; and in a moment he was coxing the last drop of oil out of an invisible tin, aping marvelously–how he did it I do not know–the very tin itself, showing us with his hands what emptiness was. … Forgetting himself momentarily, he would speak rapid words, but his pantomime went faster than his words, and he would fasten his eyes on your face with the shrewdness and the childish self-satisfaction of an old actor, as if saying, “Don’t you admire the way I am doing this?”

Another thing: he looked exactly like portraits of Louis XIII’ and not only did I sketch him, but fearing that my drawing might be the fruit of my imagination, I photographed him, and it was Louis XIII to the life who stared at me from the negative. A narrow strip of beard that looked half natural and half makeup, ran down his chin, and he was either all curtsies and scrapings, bowing forward with rounded back to leer at you while his hands sent dismayingly over your person and he murmured over the beauty of your clothes, or he would straighten up abruptly, stick out his chest, and posture stiffly as if posing for his portrait.

Unfortunately, though several drawings and photographs made it into the book, this Louis XIII’s portrait did not. However, it is pretty easy to find portraits of the original Louis XIII:

Louis XIII by Franz Pourbour the Younger, 1620
Louis XIII by Franz Pourbour the Younger, 1620

You know, I can see the possible resemblance.

The WIkipedia notes some rumors on the subject of “Was Louis XIII gay?” and there’s some even weirder stuff on the talk page. I don’t know if this is some real connection, or if people just like to speculate that famous people might have been gay.

At any rate, it is a blow against the claim that homosexuality is unknown among hunter-gathers.

… To heighten the impression of inversion this man dragged along with him, behind him, a child whose features were no less astonishing than his own–a little Aiglon* with romantic locks brushed across his forehead and immense, incredibly ringed eyes that were a little melancholy and rather protuberant.

*According to Google, “Aiglon” is a private boarding school in Switzerland, so I take this as a French term for a school aged child?

What was this? Was it a girl, a boy? A boy, yes, said our Louis XIII, turning round to stroke the passive forehead’ and a very good trapper. He got two foxes the other day. The word “trapper” went very ill with the look of the boy, and I was sure the man was lying about his minion. As the evening wore on, and the child began to droop with sleep, he refused to allow the boy to go off to the igloo alone, explaining with inconceivable gestures that they always slept together (gesture of rocking the child to sleep in his arms) and saying that the boy was never able to go to sleep without him.

…The whole thing was beyond words disconcerting, and I aid to myself that next day, when thi man and the child had moved of over the sea, had vanished into the infinity of the North, I should be perfectly right to believe that the whole thing had been a dream.

It is interesting how our definition of “homosexual” has changed over time to no longer include “synonymous with pedophile.” I don’t know if this is because of a shift in the behavior of gay people, a shift in how people think of gay people, or a mere shift in the technical carving up of categories. The association with actors, however, remains.

The meeting of two worlds:

Trading at a Hudson’s Bay Post is a struggle in which two mentalities, the White and the Eskimo, meet and lock. In the end each is persuaded that he has won the match–the white man because in this barter he has got his “price,” and the Eskimo because he is convinced of having got something for nothing.

Your Eskimos turn up with sacks of foxes and signify that they want to trade. The trading is done at the Store, which stands some forty yards off from the Post proper. You lead them out, and as they troop over the snow there is a good deal of strangled laughter. What a great farce this is! Once again they are going to do the white man in the eye, and once again the white man is not going to know what has happened to him. All those wonderful things that fill the Store are to be theirs for a few foxes. What can the white man want with foxes? in the igloo, a fox-skin will do as a clout, but even to wipe things with, the ptarmigan makes a better rag It isn’t possible that the white man should have so many things that need wiping!

One by one, like Arab into a mosque, they file into the Store, wives and children at their heels. And though they have been inside before, each time that they see these treasures they stand stock still, silent, stunned. … To people for whom a rusted file is a treasure–Amundsent speaks of Eskimos traveling six hundred miles to get a few nails–this is the holy of hollies. They raise their heads and see fifty tea kettles hanging from the ceiling almost within reach. … The notion that thanks to a few tufts of frozen fur they are going to possess these gleaming treasures is too much for them. It sends them off into brief gusts of nervous laughter. And what an amazing being this white man is! Not only does he have all these pots and kettles that you see, but every year a new lot arrives. He must have, buried in his distant country, immense caches of pots and kettles. …

…when he leaves the Store, dragging behind him a wooden box filled with treasures, he senses vaguely that many of these shining objects are of no use to him. Oftener, however, it is simply that he no longer wants those things which, a moment ago, he was unable to resist. And then a second stage of trading begins–that between the natives themselves. And since in their eyes nothing possesses intrinsic value, but the value of an object is great or small accordingly as they desire or disdain it, a handsome dog-collar may be swapped for a clay pipe, or a half sack of flour for a red pencil. A needle thus becomes worth a whole fox, a worn strip of leather has the value of a lamp. And what is most curious is that no Eskimo will ever say to you that he has been had in a trade. It is not that his vanity forbids such a confession but that this can never occur to him. He wanted what he got in the trade; soon after, perhaps, he ceased to want it; but between the two his primitive intellect will not allow him to establish any relationship. Nor is this phenomenon peculiar to Eskimos. In the South Sea islands I have known natives to do sixty miles through the bush and across rives in order to trade for matches they furiously desired because the matches had red heads.

In the interests of fairness, I should note that de Poncins comes around to the necessity of the Eskimos’ ways and mentalities after a fair amount of exhausted traveling about on the ice himself. Much of what he says in the first half of the book is meant to show his own misconceptions. But continuing on with the subjects of trade and culture:

Everything about the Eskimo astonishes the white man, and everything about the white man is a subject of bewilderment to the Eskimo. Our least gesture seems to him pure madness, and our mot casual and insignificant act may have incalculable results for him. Let but a Post Manager say to an Eskimo, “here is a package of needles for your wife,” and he will have started … a train of questions and ruminations that may lead anywhere. The free gift is unknown among the Eskimos: better yet, it is incomprehensible to them. Had the white man said, “Lend me your wife in exchange,” the Eskimo would have understood. An exchange is normal’ a gift passes his understanding. It sends his thoughts going. It i amoral. He will not thank the white man. He will go back to his igloo and ruminate. “Since the white man has given me these needles,” he will in effect say to himself, “it must be that he does not want them, and if he does not want his treasures, why should not I have them?” From that day forth, this Eskimo will be a different man. He will begin by despising the white man, and soon he will plan cunningly to exploit him. Since the white man has proved himself a fool, why not? So the Eskimo becomes a liar and a cheat. A single generous impulse on the part of the white man has stared the moral disintegration of a native.

De Poncins does not tell us how he came to believe in the possibility of this final series of events, whether due to conversation or personal experience or what-have-you. Nevertheless, let us take it as a general warning against the dangers of misunderstood gifts.

On happiness:

Many people imagine that the sun is necessary to human happiness and that the South Sea islanders must be the gayest, most leisurely and most contented folk on earth. No notion could be more falsely romantic, for happiness has nothing to do with climate: these Eskimos afforded me decisive poof that happiness is a disposition of the spirit.

(De Poncins himself, however, develops some serious cabin fever in the middle of winter.)

Here was a people living in the mot rigorous climate in the world, in the most depressing surroundings imaginable, haunted by famine in a grey and sombre landscape sullen with the absence of life; shivering in their tents in the autumn, fighting with recurrent blizzard in the winter, toiling and moiling fifteen hour a day merely n order to get food and stay alive. Huddling and motionless in their igloos through this interminable night, they ought to have been melancholy men, men despondent and suicidal; instead, they were a cheerful people, always laughing, never weary of laughter.

A man is happy, in sum, when he is leading the life that suits him, and neither warmth nor comfort has anything to do with it. I watched these Eskimos at the Post. This house, you would say, ought to mean for them the zenith of well-being and relaxation… But look at them! They are dull, sullen, miserable. Physically, they seem shrunken, their personalities diminished and extinguished. Instead of laughing, they brood; and you see them come in, take their seats on the bench and remain like sleepwalkers, expressionless and spiritless… But open wide the door, fling them into the blizzard, and they come to. they wake up suddenly; they whistle,; their women scurry about, their children crack the triumphant whip, their dogs bark like mad: an impression of joy, of life, fills the environs of the Post.

I suspect that people are basically happy when living in accordance with their natures, active, and possessed of a sense of agency over their lives.