Where Anthropology Went Wrong

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

In my opinion, anthropology has two main purposes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the AAA:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to AAA:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Thread: Announcement

341ea6e08a49012ee3c400163e41dd5bI’m starting some new IRL projects (that have nothing to do with the blog and won’t be discussed here.) It’s a big time commitment and if all goes well, I’m going to be really busy for the foreseeable future.

Right now I have no idea how this will affect the blog, whether I’ll be figure out how to balance my time and keep up my regular schedule or will need to cut back. I’ll let you know when I find out.

(Update: hooo boy has life been kicking my butt.)

m3-agenesis-carter-worthington-2015In the meanwhile, here’s a graph of the incidence of people who never develop their permanent third molars, broken down by continent (I assume N. and S. America are sampled from Native American populations.)

This is not the same as not getting your wisdom teeth, though I’d wager a graph of that would look similar.

(“agenesis”= does not begin; “m3″= third molar.)

male-heights-from-skeletons-in-europe-1-2000-clark-645x403And a simple graph of heights in the US, Europe and Sweden over the past … 2000 years.

I propose that the recent increase in heights isn’t just because of better nutrition/more food/more milk and protein in the diet, but also because fewer women die giving birth to large babies now that we have c-sections, and large babies likely grow into large adults.

hybridThis is just a joke. It has no deeper meaning.

In interesting news:

Lethal aggression in Pan [chimpanzees] is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts:

Observations of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus) provide valuable comparative data for understanding the significance of conspecific killing. … Lethal violence is sometimes concluded to be the result of adaptive strategies, such that killers ultimately gain fitness benefits by increasing their access to resources such as food or mates. Alternatively, it could be a non-adaptive result of human impacts, such as habitat change or food provisioning. To discriminate between these hypotheses we compiled information from 18 chimpanzee communities and 4 bonobo communities studied over five decades. Our data include 152 killings (n = 58 observed, 41 inferred, and 53 suspected killings) by chimpanzees in 15 communities and one suspected killing by bonobos. We found that males were the most frequent attackers (92% of participants) and victims (73%); most killings (66%) involved intercommunity attacks; and attackers greatly outnumbered their victims (median 8:1 ratio). Variation in killing rates was unrelated to measures of human impacts. Our results are compatible with previously proposed adaptive explanations for killing by chimpanzees, whereas the human impact hypothesis is not supported.

Behind the Murky World of Albanian Blood Feuds:

…He produces a list of recent killings he contends are the result of feuding families – not just random acts of violence in a country awash with guns, but the result of continued adherence to an ancient Albanian code of justice known as the “kanun”, or canon.

There is a farmer who was killed after cutting down his neighbour’s tree, a lover who shot both his girlfriend’s brothers after being denied her hand in marriage, and a returning migrant worker gunned down after he went back to his village, reigniting a decades-old feud.

Such are the rules of the “kanun”, a tribal code of 1,262 rules laid down by the 15th-century Albanian nobleman Lekë Dukagjini, which ordains that “spilled blood must be met with spilled blood”.

But while the Kanun stories remain part of Albania’s cultural and historical DNA, they are also a source of growing concern for Britain’s asylum tribunals. Since 2012 tens of thousands of Albanians have migrated to Europe, many seeking asylum on the basis that they are afraid for their lives as a result of “blood feuds”. …

Darwinian Perspectives on the Evolution of Human Languages:

Herodotus, writing in the Histories, Book II.53 around 450 BCE, remarked that Homer “lived, as I believe, not more than 400 years ago.” Many modern classicists and historians prefer a more recent, mid-8th century date for the Iliad. We (Altschuler, Calude, Meade, & Pagel, 2013) decided to try to estimate a date for the Iliad by investigating patterns of cognacy among the 200 words of Swadesh’s (1952) fundamental vocabulary in three languages: Modern Greek, Homeric Greek from Homer’s Iliad, and Hittite, a language distantly related to both modern and Homeric Greek.

We first recorded whether each word in the Swadesh list was cognate or not between pairs of the three languages. Then, we solved for the date in history that was the most likely for the Iliad, given our knowledge of the rates of change of the words and the patterns of cognacy we observed. Our calculation suggested that the original text of the Iliad was released in approximately 762 BCE. This date is in close agreement with classicists’ and historians’ beliefs arrived at independently by studying historical references and the nature of Homeric Greek as expressed in the Iliad.

Staffordshire Strikes Gold with Iron Age Find:

An archaeological find on Staffordshire farmland is believed to include the earliest examples of Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain.

The collection, which has been named the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs, was discovered by two metal detectorists just before Christmas.

Unveiling the torcs today (February 28), experts said the unique find could date back as far as 400BC and was of huge international importance.

For Comment of the Week, I’ve been enjoying the conversation between multiple commentators about Fishing and Fish Sauce over on What Mental Traits does the Arctic Select For?

E: … I know in terms of iodine deficiency, pre-modern-transport and storage, distance from the sea makes a big difference. And probably in a well-ordered place with relatively good transport like the Roman Empire at its height, fish sauce must have been the easiest way to get the benefits to the most people, regardless of distance from the ocean. (I wonder if there would be any way to test iodine deficiency in bodies in the Alps before, during, and after the Roman Empire…)

Someone get on testing bodies for iodine deficiency!


So, what are you thinking about?

Wise Tim, Crime, and HBD: part 5/5

Okay, so we are finally coming to the end of this series. Today we are going to discuss Flaherty and Sethi’s Homicide in Black and White (pdf):

African-Americans are six times as likely as white Americans to die at the hands of a murderer, and roughly seven times as likely to murder someone. Young black men are fifteen times as likely to be murdered as young white men. This disparity is historic and pervasive, and cannot be accounted for by individual characteristics. … We argue that any satisfactory explanation must take into account the fact that murder can have a preemptive motive: people sometimes kill simply to avoid being killed. As a result, disputes can escalate dramatically in environments (endogenously) perceived to be dangerous, resulting in self-fulfilling expectations of violence for particular dyadic interactions, and significant racial disparities in rates of murder and victimization. … Differences in the manner in which the criminal justice system treats murders with victims from different groups, and differences across groups in involvement in street vice, may be sufficient to explain the size and pattern of the racial disparity.

World-Murder-Rate-Geocurrents-Map-1024x726Well, I must give this one credit for offering up a new hypothesis: black people murder each other so often because they believe that other black people are murderous and are trying to avoid being the victim by killing the other guy first.

This makes sense in a Hobbesian, Napoleon Chagnon studying Yanomamo tribesmen kind of way. (If only there existed some kind of state-run institution that had historically cut discouraged homicide by punishing murderers so that people could go about their business in the heart of American cities without fear of Amazonian jungle-style violence.)

cobiptaumaactcrThe fact that whites do not go out of their way to preemptively murder blacks to the same degree that blacks murder other blacks suggests that whites don’t think blacks are as violent as other blacks do. This is a curious implication, all things considered, but not unreasonable. Aggressively “paranoid” behavior/belief that one’s neighbors are likely to be violent toward you is probably heritable, itself a result of having ancestors whose paranoia about their neighbors enabled them to survive in a hostile, homicide-ridden environment.

Flaherty and Sethi continue:

The magnitude of the difference in murder and victimization rates far exceeds any difference in characteristics that appear to predispose people to kill and be killed: being poor, being a highschool dropout, living in a dense urban environment, or being raised in a single-parent household, for instance. Blacks are about 2.75 times as likely as whites to be poor, 2.2 times as likely to be high-school dropouts, 2.9 times as likely to live in a large city, and 2.7 times as likely to grow up in a single parent household–all ratios that are far below the observed ratios for murder victimization and offending.

Well, that’s interesting.

Moreover, the racial homicide gap is long-lasting and widespread, and is much greater in cities and among young men than in other places or among other age-gender groups. In rural areas, there is no racial disparity in murder. The homicide gap is also much larger than the racial disparity in aggravated assault–in some ways the crime closest to murder–and there is no racial disparity in aggravated assault among young men.


Picture 4

Source: Color of Crime

Okay, so, our authors are clearly lying: blacks commit aggravated assault at 7x the rate of whites, which is not that different from their rate of 8.5x murder rate. (And, in general, the Color of Crime report demonstrates that incarceration rates reflect actual offending rates.)

crdgu1gwgaaycfbUnfortunately, the authors don’t cite any evidence to back up their claim that in rural areas, blacks and whites have equal homicide rates, but as mentioned before, this seems a little problematic, given that the entire continent of Africa has fairly low population density and still has fairly high homicide rates. And why would rural environments make white people more likely to murder each other and black people less likely? Why would cities cool whites’ murderous tempers while inflaming blacks’? Why aren’t any of the world’s most violent cities located in India or China?

Even if we are just looking at selection effects–murderous whites like living in the countryside; murderous blacks like living in cities–we still have to wonder Why?

The Wikipedia page on Statistical Correlations of Criminal Behavior doesn’t mention neighborhood density.

The Atlantic notes:

There’s a big increase in crime as density rises from rural to urban, because crime thrives on anonymity–you don’t rob your neighbors, not necessarily because you like them, but because the likelihood of being identified is very high.  In an urban environment, random assaults like Matt’s are much easier to get away with.

While researching this post, I came across some very interesting thoughts on Density and Human Behavior:

Researchers in the social sciences have long tried to explain the effects of urbanization on the human animal. Of special interest has been the observed rates of crime and deviant behavior found in cities. In the United States city crime rates are higher than suburban rates, which in turn are higher than rural rates. …

Two major theories have developed to explain the effects of density on human behavior. Wirth’s (1938) is the most common with his famous statement that size, density and heterogenity explain the effects of urban life on the human animal.  The experiments done by Milgram (1970) suggest that when people are confronted with a large number of strangers in everyday life, they tend to withdraw and take less interest in the community in order to protect themselves from overload. Wolfgang (1970), among others, suggests that urban withdrawal and anomie resulting from density explains higher urban crime rates.

Animal studies made famous by Calhoun (1962) show that crowding in the animal world results in what he calls the behavioral sink. Normal behavior and reproductive habits fail. Aggressive behavior increases when density passes a certain point as animals compete for resources. In the experience of the reviewer, those who deny any possible connection between any human behavior simply say that humans are not animals so there can be nothing learned from animal experiments. However, human animals do seem to exhibit much lower fertility rates in cities than is true in rural areas. …

Using data from the Toronto Mental Health and Stress study (Turner and Wheaton 1992), Regoeczi looks at crowding in housing using the measure of persons per room. …

There is an optimal relationship between crowding and withdrawal.  The optimal point is 1.18 persons per room. This relationship holds even when the control variables are introduced. “The threshold for aggression is identical to that for withdrawal: 1.18 persons per room. After this point, the deleterious effect of density begins to take off and increased crowding leads to more aggressive responses among individuals.”

Cabrini Green, circa 1960
Cabrini Green, circa 1960

In other words, it’s probably safe to conclude that Cabrini Green and Pruitt Igoe, despite the good intentions behind them, were inhuman hellscapes that would drive any sane person to despair.

On the other hand, Manila, Philippines, is (according to Wikipedia) the densest city in the world, at 41,500 people per square kilometer, (or 107,500 people per square mile,) and it isn’t even ranked in the top 50 most murderous cities.

So while density may cause anomie, despair, plunging birth rates, and even anime consumption, it is clearly not the only ingredient involved in making some people murder their neighbors at higher rates than other people.

The best explanation I’ve come across for why our authors might have found closer to equal crime (not murder, haven’t found that) rates in rural areas than in urban areas comes, again, from La Griffe du Lion’s Politics, Imprisonment, and Race:

We all know that African Americans are imprisoned disproportionately to their numbers in the general population. According to the last decennial census a black man was 7.4 times more likely than his white counterpart to be incarcerated. In the language I’ll use today, we would say that the disparity or incarceration ratio was 7.4. State-by-state, the figures varied widely from 3.1 to 29.3. But contrary to expectation, the highest disparity ratios turned up mostly in politically progressive states, while the smallest ratios were mostly found in conservative states. Though the numbers change a bit from year to year, this racial-political pattern of imprisonment endures. One of the questions I will answer today is, why?

La Griffe’s answer is that more conservative (read, rural) states criminalize more behavior and so put more people in prison. Liberal states are more likely to put only the worst criminals behind bars, resulting in even more disproportionate imprisonment of blacks.

But returning to our PDF:

We begin with a baseline model in which race is the only visible characteristic, and the distribution of unobserved characteristics may differ across groups. In this setting, we explore two possible mechanisms through which significant racial disparities in homicide rates can arise. First, suppose that the costs of committing murder are contingent on the identity of the victim, with murders less likely to be solved and less aggressively prosecuted if the victims are black. … But this means
that blacks face greater danger in all their interactions, and are more likely therefore to kill preemptively. Anticipating this, whites will be more likely to kill preemptively in interactions with blacks than in interactions with other whites.

ct4h54nviaa6mabWhile it appears to be true that people who murder blacks (primarily other blacks) receive lesser sentences than people who commit similar crimes against whites*,** (which makes the disparities between black and white prison populations all the more concerning,) I don’t think this gets us to “blacks are vastly more likely to murder each other than whites are to murder blacks.” If it’s perceived as “open season” on killing blacks, then blacks and whites will kill blacks. And if blacks are killing back in self-defense (or perceived self-defense,) then they’re going to kill other blacks and whites.

*Note that there is an even greater disparity in sentencing between people who kill men and people who kill women, but no one suggests that this disparity is driving male-on-male violence.

**Note also that this does not imply that “society thinks black lives matter less than white lives,” as these lesser sentences maybe a result of black juries being more sympathetic toward black criminals than white juries toward white criminals.

Back to the PDF:

The second mechanism is based on costs of murder being contingent on the identity of the offender rather than the victim. Systematically lower incomes and higher rates of unemployment among blacks make the penalties for attempted murder or manslaughter lower for blacks relative to their outside options.

source: https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/epr/99v05n3/9909levi.pdf

This is an interesting theory, but it’s kind of destroyed by the fact that high-income blacks still have higher homicide rates than lower-income whites.

So, even before we get to the paper’s math (and Flaherty and Sethi certainly do a lot of math,) I have a lot of disagreements with the paper’s basic assumptions. I don’t dispute the authors’ basic Hobbesian sense that your chances of being punished for a crime or your fear of being murdered by someone else can influence behavior, and I agree that black communities would probably be better served by locking away more criminals so that innocent black people can live in peace instead of fear, but I also think they are ignoring some pretty big behavioral correlations (ie, the behavior of people in Africa; the behavior of people in other dense places,) and have failed to ask themselves why they think people got the notion that crime rates are high in black communities in the first place.

In other words, they’re not entirely wrong, but they’re missing some big pieces of the puzzle.

Wise Tim, Crime, and HBD: Pt. 4: The Poverty Argument

Leuconoe also points us to Grabmeier’s article, Poverty, not race, tied to high crime rates in urban areas:

A study of Columbus neighborhoods found that violent crime rates in extremely disadvantaged white neighborhoods were very similar to rates in comparable Black neighborhoods.

The violent crime rate in highly disadvantaged Black areas was 22 per 1,000 residents, not much different from the 20 per 1,000 rate in similar white communities. …

In this study, overall rates of violence were nearly three times as high in Black neighborhoods as in white neighborhoods. But that’s because Black neighborhoods are much more likely than white ones to be highly disadvantaged, she said. …

Along with poverty rates, the researchers also compared neighborhoods on other measures of disadvantage: levels of male joblessness, female-headed families, and professionals living in the community. They then calculated a disadvantage index that combined all of these measures.

Violent crime rates were lowest in those neighborhoods with low disadvantage, regardless of whether they were predominantly Black or white. Extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods had violent crime rates that were 16.3 per 1000 higher than rates in low disadvantage neighborhoods.

Do you ever get the impression that some people aren’t quite using all of their brain cells? Like, “Hey guys, we have disproved the theory that every black person is identical, driven by melanin to commit violent crime.”

This is a strawman. Few people seriously believe that all black people are criminals (obviously they aren’t,) or that criminality and poverty aren’t correlated. Criminals do in fact tend to be poor, and poor people are often criminals. This is true for people of all races, yes. If you control for all sorts of factors that correlate with “makes bad life decisions,” then you  are controlling for criminality, which is also a really bad life decision.

Repeat after me: You cannot control for everything.

As I mentioned yesterday, the fact that these correlate doesn’t tell us why blacks are disproportionately likely to be in poor, high-crime communities in the first place.

When people find that criminals tend to be poor, they jump to the assumption that poverty is causing the crime. They don’t seem to consider the option that crime makes criminals poor, makes criminals’ neighborhoods poor, or that people who commit crimes are just dumb, impulsive and suck at making life decisions. In opposition to the “poverty makes people commit crimes” narrative, I present the fact that the US homicide rate rose during the boom time of the 1920s and then fell during the Depression:


It also rose during the Depression. There’s not a whole lot of correlation, though changes in employment level rather than absolute poverty look important.

Returning to Grabmeier:

In addition, the highly disadvantaged Black neighborhoods were more likely than the white neighborhoods to be grouped together, which may intensify the negative effects.

Of course, this could be a real effect. Certain behaviors may amplify and become worse when people who have those traits are in close proximity to one another.

In 1870, St. Louis had 310,864 people. In 1950, it had 856,796. Pruitt-Igoe was built in 1954, and today, St. Louis has about 315,685 people.
In 1870, St. Louis had 310,864 people. In 1950, it had 856,796. Pruitt-Igoe was built in 1954, and today, St. Louis has about 315,685 people.

On the other hand, I also note that almost the entire state of West Virginia is concentrated white poverty, and their homicide rate (4/100k people) still isn’t as bad as St. Louis’s, (59/100k,) Baltimore’s (55/100k,) Detroit’s (44/100k,) or New Orelans’s (41/100k.)

These four heavily black US cities made the list of the world’s 50 most violent cities. No majority white (or Asian) cities made the list, not even cities in impoverished countries like Albania or Cambodia. (Of course, some countries may not keep very good track of homicides.)

World-Murder-Rate-Geocurrents-Map-1024x726Looking globally, China, India, and Bangladesh are all very dense countries with plenty of poverty and homicide rates that are still much lower than much-less densely populated countries in Africa (and Latin America.)

Concentrating poverty may, in fact, be terrible and may encourage criminals to become even more criminal, and crime doubtless lead to feedback loops where everyone who can avoid the neighborhood does their best to leave, leaving behind a concentrated solution of innocent poor people and predatory criminals. And this is exacerbated by the fact that any poor urban population is likely to become highly concentrated simply because it is poor: poor people cannot afford many square feet per person.

But the solution, to spread blacks out more thinly among whites, destroys black communities and exposes them to the danger of white racism/violence/hate crimes, as Tim Wise would point out.

To be continued.


Wise Tim, Crime, and HBD: Pt. 3: Finally getting down to business

Continuing with our discussion of Leuconoe’s questions, today we’re finally going to dive into Poverty, not race, tied to high crime rates in urban communities, Homicide in Black and White (pdf,) and Nazis Can’t Do Math: Reflections on Racism, Crime and the Illiteracy of Right-Wing Statistical Analysis.

I want to begin with a quick note on the nature and effects of crime. Tim Wise, in particular, is highly dismissive of white concerns about black crime, noting that your actual chances of getting murdered by a black person are pretty low (American homicide rates: high when they want to ban guns, low when someone points out the racial composition of murderers.)

But Wise’s focus on homicide trivializes all of the smaller, far more frequent crimes that people are also trying to avoid, like robbery, arson, carjacking, assault, rape, etc. These crimes are thankfully less severe than murder, but they are still horrible.

I am going to share a personal story. A friend’s house was recently robbed. The police received a call from her home alarm, they called her, and she called me to be with her when she got home.

Why me? I live nearby, and she basically has no one else besides her kids–her husband was arrested some time ago for domestic violence and the rest of her family lives across the country. And here was her house–the back windows shattered, glass everywhere, her things scattered everywhere. She collapsed, sobbing and afraid. Why would someone do this? What could she tell her kids? How could they stay in this house, which now had holes instead of windows?

Note: I do not know the race/s of the robbers. This anecdote is not about race. It is about the pain crime causes. It is about a neighbor who has always been kind to me. Tim Wise only looks at homicide, completely neglecting the many other crimes people commit. But crime is not trivial. Robbery is not trivial. Home invasion is not trivial. Once someone has suffered like this, if they can move, there is a good chance they will. Personally, I hate all crime, but this post is specifically in response to questions about black vs. white crime rates and black-on-white crime.

What are a white person’s chances of being the victim of a violent crime if they live in a black neighborhood? Luckily for us, La Griffe du Lion has already calculated the answer:

From La Griffe du Lion, Crime in the Hood
From La Griffe du Lion, Crime in the Hood

“John” is just a name La Griffe has assigned to his hypothetical white person.

From La Griffe du Lion, Crime in the Hood
From La Griffe du Lion, Crime in the Hood

La Griffe du Lion explains both the math and statistics he used to create these graphs in extensive detail, so if, like Tim Wise, you doubt his ability to do math, (though I must note that La Griffe is probably not a Nazi,) you can go double-check his work. Besides, I strongly recommend the article, if you haven’t read it already.

By contrast, Tim Wise claims:

So if the data say, and they do, that less than seven-tenths of one percent (0.7 percent) of blacks will violently victimize a white person this year and that only about one-quarter of one percent (0.25 percent) of all whites will be violently victimized by a black person this year, that isn’t what matters. …

That these incidents — awful though they are — do not a social trend make, seems to escape some people. … After all, for every one of these violent crimes committed against a white person by a black person, there will be at least 4 such crimes committed against whites by other whites. And yet, racists never seem to think much of this; they don’t assume that white criminals represent white America generally, or that their depredations against their fellow whites say anything about the inherent pathologies of their white brothers and sisters.


I mean, there really isn’t a pattern here. It’s just a bunch of dots. I don’t know why anyone would think there is a connection between blacks and crime.

Let’s return to La Griffe du Lion:

The data reveal two causes of white victimization by blacks. First, a black is 3 times more likely than a white to commit violent crime. However, as a neighborhood turns black, this factor could increase black-on-white violence at most by a factor of 3, and then only when a neighborhood is virtually all black. The observed level of white victimization is much too high to blame on general tendencies of blacks to be violent. A more important reason is simply that blacks prefer white victims. 

   The best and most complete evidence comes from the Justice Department. Its annual National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) canvasses a representative sample of about 80,000 Americans, from roughly 43,000 households. From this survey, a picture of crime is painted by its victims. The last full report of the NCVS was issued in 1994. From it we learn that blacks committed 1,600,951 violent crimes against whites. In the same year, whites committed 165,345 such offenses against blacks. Despite being only 13 percent of the population, blacks committed more than 90 percent of the violent interracial crime. Less than 15 percent of these had robbery as a motive. The rest were assaults and rapes. 

   The asymmetry of interracial crime goes still deeper. More than half the violence committed by blacks is directed against whites, 57 percent in 1994. Less than 3 percent of the violence committed by whites is directed against blacks. Population and NCVS statistics reveal that in 1994 a black was 64 times more likely to attack a white than vice versa. In the city, the races live mostly apart from one another, so that the most convenient victims of thugs are others of the same race. Only a hunter’s mentality could account for the data. Given a choice, a black thug will select a white victim. Ironically, so will a white thug. 

I’m just going to re-post one of yesterday’s graphs:

Picture 5

That said, Wise does make one good point:

And although interracial homicide in either direction is quite rare, the fact is, any given black person in the U.S. is almost three times as likely to be murdered by a white person as any given white person is to be murdered by someone who is black.

There are, as you may have noticed, more white people than black people in this country. If 10% of whites commit crimes against blacks, and 10% of blacks commit crimes against whites, then a lot more black people will be victimized by whites than whites will be victimized by whites. But since there are a lot more whites than blacks, a black person’s chances of being victimized by any particular white, and a white person’s chances of being victimized by any particular black, are exactly the same.

Wise is correct, and this reality is probably quite distressing to black people, who of course don’t like being crime victims any more than anyone else. In the real world, being a minority matters in many ways. But from an HBD perspective, it’s irrelevant–it’s just an effect of the sizes of the populations, not some intrinsic feature of the people involved–and the solution, if you want to solve it, is just to keep whites away from blacks. (Which seems to be the opposite of what Wise desires.)

Additionally, Wise notes simultaneously that whites avoid black neighborhoods (the much-reviled “white flight”) and that whites are not often victimized by black people.

Well DUH. That’s because they’re avoiding black neighborhoods. Whites in high-crime neighborhoods (of any race, obviously) are likely to be victimized.

It’s like when people ask why we’re incarcerating so many people even though crime rates have fallen. They have fallen because the criminals are in prison.

I tried to look up Tim Wise’s address, because the ultimate test of whether he believes what he preaches is whether or not he lives in a poor black neighborhood, but couldn’t find it. I found some posts where people claimed to have his address, but when I popped those addresses into the county tax assessor’s website, found that the property belonged to a totally different person who is probably really annoyed at all of the hate mail they receive. (I don’t blame Tim Wise for not wanting his address to be easily findable on the internet. He, too, would like to avoid violent crime.)

Okay, enough of Tim Wise. You can agree with his numbers, or you can agree with La Griffe’s. Either way, I don’t think anyone wants to live in a high-crime neighborhood.

To be continued…


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

Continuing with our discussion of Leuconoe’s question:

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Genes influence traits like IQ and criminality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


and society:

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

What do we know about race and crime in America?

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

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

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

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

West Hunter noted about the effects of lotteries:

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

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

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

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

Picture 3  Picture 3

Picture 5

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


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

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

To be continued…

Anthropology Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, pt 3/3

Welcome back. Today we’re finishing up with The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years a Wanderer among the Aborigines.

Buckley (in case you missed parts 1 and 2 of our adventure,) was an English convict sent to Australia in the early 1800s. He escaped from the prison ship, hoping to make it to Sydney, which turned out to be about 1000 miles away. He had nearly died of thirst before some friendly Aborigines found him, saved his life, and, believing him to be a recently deceases relative returned from the grave, adopted him into their tribe.

Unfortunately, life in the “state of nature” was horribly violent, with tribes frequently attacking each other. Buckley blames most of the violence on fights over women, but occasionally notes the ways local animist beliefs also contribute to unending cycles of murder and revenge, in this case after a man who’d joined their community died of a snake bite:

1426857301587“The cause of this sudden unprovoked cruelty was not, as usual, about the women, but because the man who had been killed by the bite of the snake belonged to the hostile tribe, and they believed my supposed brother-in-law carried about with him something that had occasioned his death. They have all sorts of fancies of this kind, and it is frequently the case, that they take a man’s kidneys out after death, tie them up in something, and carry them round the neck, as a sort of protection and valuable charm, for either good or evil.”

EvX: Note that Buckley’s adoptive family, his sister and brother-in-law, who’ve been helping him since the tribe saved his life years ago, was killed in this incident.

I recently read an account of Florence Young’s missionary work in the Solomon Islands (which are near Australia.) I haven’t been using these Christian Heroes books for Anthropology Friday sources because they aren’t first hand sources and I have no capacity to judge their accuracy, but they are still pretty interesting if you’re a middle schooler hankering to read about Christian missionaries. Anyway, the book recounts an identical justification for the cycle of violence on the Solomon Islands (which was quite threatening to Florence herself.) Every time someone died of any natural cause, their family went to the local witch doctor, who then used magic to determine who had used malicious magic to kill the dead guy, and then the family would go and kill whomever the witch doctor indicated.

The advent of Christianity therefore caused a power struggle between the missionaries and the witch doctors, who were used to being able to extort everyone and trick their followers into killing anyone who pissed them off. (See also Isaac Bacirongo’s account of the witch doctor who extorted his pre-pubescent sister as payment for a spell intended to kill Isaac’s wife–note: Isaac was not the one buying this spell; he likes his wife.)

Returning to Buckley, after the death of his friends:

“I should have been most brutally unfeeling, had I not suffered the deepest mental anguish from the loss of these poor people, who had all along been so kind and good to me. I am not ashamed to say, that for several hours my tears flowed in torrents, and, that for a long time I wept unceasingly. To them, as I have said before, I was as a living dead brother, whose presence and safety was their sole anxiety. Nothing could exceed the kindness these poor natives had shown me, and now they were dead, murdered by the band of savages I saw around me, apparently thirsting for more blood. Of all my sufferings in the wilderness, there was nothing equal to the agony I now endured.” …

“I returned to the scene of the brutal massacre; and finding the ashes and bones of my late friends, I scraped them up together, and covered them over with turf, burying them in the best manner I could, that being the only return I could make for their many kindnesses. I did so in great grief at the recollection of what they had done for me through so many years, and in all my dangers and troubles. ”

After this, Buckley cares for his deceased relatives’ children, a blind boy and a little girl. This goes about as depressingly as expected:

“Our small community remained in perfect harmony for many months, until, unfortunately, a young man about twenty years of age, belonging to another tribe, arrived. This youth was taken seriously ill a few days after joining us, and although we did all we could for him he died. This event created great distress, and by way of changing the scene, our small party broke up, and left the Karaaf on a short hunting excursion. After a time we fell in with the deceased young man’s family, who, on being informed of his death, expressed great astonishment and rage, fancying it had been brought about by some unfair means on our part. This excitement arose to such a height, as to approach what it would be mercy to describe insanity. After a time, they forced the poor blind boy away from me, and killed him on the spot, because he had happened to be in the same hut in which the young man died, believing he had been in some way the means of his death.

“After this, they roasted the body in the usual manner; but whilst this was going on I left, with the little girl, moving on, and on, until meeting the tribe to which the man belonged to whom in her infancy she had been promised; I explained all the particulars of the sacrifice of her poor blind brother. They immediately vowed vengeance, and two or three of them set out for the purpose of murder, returning in a few days with the intelligence that they had killed two
of the children of their enemies. …

“Having transferred her to the care of these people, I set off alone, determined to live by myself in order to avoid a repetition of the scenes I had witnessed, and all further intercourse with the natives.”

EvX: Buckley didn’t live entirely alone–he got married twice in this period–but he did try to avoid large tribal gatherings for a long while, and lived mostly alone for some time, out of both grief and a practical desire to avoid danger. During that time he built himself a couple of huts and a fishing weir that served him well. After several years it appears he resumed interacting more with others, as he reflects later:

“I had seen a race of children grow up into women and men, and many of the old people die away, and by my harmless and peaceable manner amongst them, had acquired great influence in settling their disputes. Numbers of murderous fights I had prevented by my interference, which was received by them as well meant; so much so, that they would often allow me to go
amongst them previous to a battle, and take away their spears, and waddies, and boomerangs. My visits were always welcomed, and they kindly and often supplied me with a portion of the provisions they had, assuring me, in their language, of the interest they took in my welfare.”

Stanley island rock art showing European ships
Stanley island rock art showing European ships

EvX: Despite his friends and remaining family, at the first news of English ships in the area, Buckley rushed to the spot. He attempted to make contact, but couldn’t swim out to the ship and couldn’t convince the ship to send a boat to him (Buckley had, at this point, forgotten how to speak English.) Buckley was again heartbroken until another ship showed up, and he found the English colonists and tried to approach them:

“Presently some of the natives saw me, and turning round, pointed me out to one of the white people; and seeing they had done so, I walked away from the well, up to their place, and seated myself there, having my spears and other war and hunting implements between my legs. The white men could not make me out–my half-cast colour, and extraordinary height and figure [Buckley was around 6’5” or taller,]–dressed, or rather undressed, as I was–completely confounding them as to my real character. At length one of them came up and asked me some questions, which I could not understand; but when he offered me bread–calling it by its name–a cloud appeared to pass from over my brain, and I soon repeated that, and other English words after him. …

The first settlers discover William Buckley, by Frederick Woodhouse, 1861
The first settlers discover William Buckley, by Frederick Woodhouse, 1861

“Word by word I began to comprehend what they said, and soon understood, as if by instinct, that they intended to remain in the country; that they had seen several of the native chiefs, with whom–as they said–they had exchanged all sorts of things for land; but that I knew could not have been, because, unlike other savage communities, or people, they have no chiefs claiming or possessing any superior right over the soil: theirs only being as the heads of families. I also knew that if any transactions had taken place, it must have been because the natives knew nothing of the value of the country, except as hunting grounds, supplying them with the means of present existence. I therefore looked upon the land dealing spoken of, as another hoax of the white man, to possess the inheritance of the uncivilized natives of the forest, whose tread on the vast Australian Continent will very soon be no more heard, and whose crimes and sorrows are fast fading away amongst other recollections of the past.”

EvX: Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on the Wathaurong people, with whom Buckley lived, claims that they did have chiefs:

Prior to European settlement, 25 separate clans existed, each with an arweet, or clan headman.[5] Arweet held the same tribal standing as a ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people.

The page on ngurungaeta says:

Ngurungaeta is a Woi-Wurrung word meaning ‘head man’ or ‘tribal leader’. Used by Clans of the Woi-Wurrung tribes and Taung Wurrung Ngurai-illum Wurrung ref First Peoples, GaryPresland.[1] Ngurungaeta held the same tribal standing as an Arweet of the Bunurong and Wathaurong people. The current Ngurungaeta is Murrundindi.

Ngurungaeta include:

  • Bebejan – one of the seven ngurungaeta who signed the 1835 treaty with John Batman[2]

Signing of the threaty between John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders (artist's impression)
Signing of the treaty between John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders (artist’s impression)

John Batman is the leader of the colonists Buckley is here discussing. By all accounts, Batman was not a nice guy–he massacred villages, kidnapped children, and negotiated treaties with people who had no hope of understanding what he really meant.

According to Buckley, the Aborigines had intended to murder Batman and take all of his trade goods–something was definitely opposed to. Despite his friendships with the natives, Buckley longed to be rescued and return to English society. He therefore worked hard to convince the Aborigines not to kill Batman, and likewise, tried to stop the settlers from killing the Aborigines (including acting as an interpreter in a capital murder trial, successfully preventing an Aborigine man from being executed for a crime he didn’t commit.) In the end, of course, there was nothing Buckley could do about white treatment of the Aborigines, a subject matter far too vast for me to deal with it here.

I find it interesting that throughout these sorts of accounts–and I include here Napoleon Chagnon’s account of the Yanomamo, famed for their violence–people still tend to believe in the essential goodness of their companions. Buckley does not say, “Oh, these Aborigines, they’re evil people who kill people and eat them!” No, he repeatedly states his gratitude to them for saving his life, taking them in, and treating him kindly. His feelings of grief upon the loss of his Aborigine family appear quite genuine. He does not think they should murder and eat each other, but he does not seem to attirbute these behaviors to character flaws. Likewise, though Buckley criticizes the English for their mistreatment of the Aborigines, he does not declare them evil, either.

Nor does Napoleon Chagnon dislike the Yanomamo tribesmen he’s lived with, despite the fact that he knows full well that a great many of them are murderers!

Which leaves us with our ultimate questions:

What does it mean to be good?

What does it mean to be evil?

Anthropology (yes!) Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years a wanderer amongst the Aborigines…

William Buckely
William Buckely

Hey everyone, today we are reading The Life and Adventures of William Buckley: 32 years a wanderer amongst the Aborigines of the then unexplored Country Bound Port Phillip, the province of Victoria. (That is a long title.)

Buckley, a British soldier caught stealing a bolt of cloth, was shipped out to their penal colony in Australia, ran away to the bush, nearly died, and was rescued by the Aborigines, who taught him how to live off the land. He lived with them for 32 years (from 1804 through 1835,) without sight nor sound of another Englishman, and had likely given up hope of ever returning to civilization when colonists finally arrived in the area. In 1852 he dictated his life’s adventures to John Morgan, who wrote the book, and wow is it Hobbesian.

We’ll start with Buckley’s first encounter with the Aborigines:

Approximate location of Buckley's wanderings
Approximate location of Buckley’s wanderings

“…I thought I heard the sound of human voices; and, on looking up, was somewhat startled at seeing three natives standing on the high land immediately above me. They were armed with spears, and had opossum skins thrown over their shoulders, partially covering their bodies. Standing as they did, en an elevated position, armed too, and being myself totally defenceless, I confess I felt alarmed … They were however soon upon my track, and shouting what I considered to be a call for me to come out, I resolved to do so; indeed I could not have remained there long on account of the water.

“With but faint hopes of meeting with good treatment at their hands, I crawled out from my shelter, and surrendered at discretion. … After seizing both my hands, they struck their breasts, and mine also, l making at the same time a noise between singing and crying: a sort of whine, which to me sounded very like premeditated mischief. Pointing to my hut, they evinced a desire to examine it, so we entered. … One made up a large fire, another threw off his rug and went into the sea for crayfish, which, on his return, he threw alive into the flames, at the same time looking at me with an expression as much as to intimate that they intended to grill me next, by way of a change of diet. I can afford to smile, and even laugh now at the recollection; but, at the time, I assure the reader, I was by no means satisfied with the prospect before me, or with my visitors. At length my suspense ended, by their taking the fish, fairly dividing them, and handing to me the first and best portion.”

EvX: In his defense, the Aborigines in the area did practice cannibalism, though I think of the ritual variety.

Buckley parts ways with his new acquaintances, nearly dies of thirst, then encounters some more Aborigines:

Buckley's escape from the convict ship and discovery by the Aborigines, by Tommy McRae, Aborigine artist
Buckley’s escape from the convict ship and discovery by the Aborigines, by Tommy McRae, Aborigine artist

“Whilst searching for the gum already mentioned, I was seen by two native women, who watched me unperceived. … Presently they all came upon me unawares, and seizing me by the arms and hands, began beating their breasts, and mine, in the manner the others had done. After a short time, they lifted me up, and they made the same sign, giving me to understand by it, that I was in want of food. The women assisted me to walk, the men shouting hideous noises, and tearing their hair. When we arrived at their huts, they brought a kind of bucket, made of dry bark, into which they put gum and water, converting it by that means into a sort of pulp. This they offered me to eat, and I did so very greedily.

Artist's interpretation of Buckley's apperance
Artist’s interpretation of Buckley’s apperance

“They called me Murrangurk, which I afterwards learnt, was the name of a man formerly belonging to their tribe, who had been buried at the spot where I had found the piece of spear I still carried with me. They have a belief, that when they die, they go to some place’ or other, and are there made white men, and that they then return to this world again for another existence. They think all the white people previous to death were belonging to their own tribes, thus returned to life in a different colour. In cases where they have killed white men, it has generally been because tkey imagined them to have been originally enemies, or belonging to tribes with whom they were hostile. In accordance with this belief, they fancied me to be one of their tribe who had been recently killed in a fight, in which his daughter had been speared also. …

Wathaurong people, from the tribe Buckley joined
Wathaurong people, from the tribe Buckley joined

“I remained with them all that night, but in great anxiety, not knowing their intentions; I thought several times of endeavoring to make my escape, but in my weak state, it was impossible. The women were all the time making frightful lamentations and waillings–lacerating their faces in a dreadful manner. All this increased my anxiety and horror, which was added to in J the morning, When I saw the frightful looking demons they had made themselves. They were covered with blood from the bounds they had inflicted, having cut their faces and legs into ridges, and burnt the edges with fire sticks sticks. …”

EvX: Once Buckley learned their language, he figured out that all of this lamenting was for “his” sake, since they believed him to be their family member whose death they were still sad about, and whom they thought had returned from the dead after suffering such horrible traumas that he had clearly lost his memory, forgotten how to speak their language, and become a half-starved idiot who didn’t know how to gather food.

Once the mourning ends, there proceeds a great deal of singing, dancing, and celebration:

“The reader, in these colonies, will be aware that what I had witnessed was nothing more than a great Corrobberree, or rejoicing, at my having come to life again, as they supposed. After eating some roots I lay down by the side of my new friends, and although so recently highly exited, yet I enjoyed a sleep undisturbed by dreams, either of the past, the preset, or the future.”

r331409_1494994EvX: So Buckely is basically “adopted” into the Wathaurong tribe, taking the place of the dead man everyone believes him to be. “His” sister and brother-in-law take charge of him, making sure he has food and water, teaching him to hunt and speak, etc.

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia page on the Wathaurong people doesn’t say much about their traditional culture or lifestyle beyond:

Wathaurong, also called the Wathaurung and Wadawurrung, are an Indigenous Australian tribe living in the area near Melbourne, Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. They are part of the Kulin alliance. The Wathaurung language was spoken by 25 clans south of the Werribee River and the Bellarine Peninsula to Streatham. They were sometimes referred to by Europeans as the Barrabool people. They have inhabited the area for at least the last 25,000 years, with 140 archaeological sites having been found in the region, indicating significant activity over that period.

Personally, I am extremely skeptical of any group sticking around in the same spot for 25,000 years, but I’m not in the mood to go hunting down the relevant archaeological journals to see if someone has proved conclusively how to distinguish Wathaurong artifacts from those of their neighbors and that those same artifacts were being produced in the area 25,000 years ago (or someone could dig up an ancient skeleton and test its DNA to see who it matches.) Regardless, someone was living there.

From here the book is dominated by accounts of violence, eg:

“in the mean time, the women behind the huts were all fighting with clubs and sticks. Presently the men, excepting the two with me, rushed toward them, in order to separate the combatants, after which they brought roots which they roasted and offered me. What the fight was about I could not understand, but think it must have originated in the unfair division of the food.”

“At break of day, I heard a great noise and talking; at length I saw that a quarrel had ensued, for they began to flourish their spears as a token of hostilities I should here observe, that these spears are very formidable weapons, about twelve feet long, sharp at one end; others are about half that length, being made of a kind of reed with pointed sticks joined to them; these are sharpened with hard cutting stones, or shells. …

“After a little time, and a great deal of challenging bluster, the two tribes commenced fighting in reality. When my relations, for so for convenience, I suppose, I must sometimes call them, saw what was going on, they led me a short distance off, where they remained
with me, looking at the conflict. It was any thing but play work–it was evidently earnest. One man was speared through the thigh, and removed into the bush, where the spear was drawn, A woman of the tribe to which I had become attached, was also speared under the arm, and she died immediately. At last peace was restored, and the parties separated, except about twenty of the tribe to which the woman belonged who had been killed…”

“we left this place, and joined a friendly tribe, about fifty in number, and on the evening of our meeting had a Corrobberree. The next day we all started together to meet another tribe; but on joining, from some cause or other, they quarrelled, commenced fighting, and two boys were killed. I could not then understand what all these quarrels were about, but afterwards understood that they were occasioned by, the women having been taken away from one tribe by another, which was of frequent occurrence. At other times they were caused by the women willingly leaving their husbands, and joining other men, which the natives consider very bad.”

“After the skirmish just mentioned was over, the tribe to whom the boys belonged retired farther into the bush, when we made our huts, as I have described, with boughs and bark. Suddenly in the night, the others came upon our party and drove us away. The bodies of the two boys who were killed were laying in one of the huts, so they cut off their legs and thighs, carrying them away; the remains of their bodies our people burned in the usual manner…”

“On our arrival at the battle ground, about twenty miles distant, we found five different tribes all collected together, and ready for action. The fight commenced immediately, and it lasted about three hours, during which three women were killed, for, for strange to say, the females in these quarrels generally suffered the most. These continual contests alarmed me, for the contending parties were always pointing toward me, as if I had been their origin, and I again began to think I should be sacrificed as a peace offering. Quiet was at length restored, and the tribe we had joined separated from the others, and came toward where I was standing. ”

Waddies made by the Aranda people (wikipedia)
Waddies (Aboriginal war clubs) made by the Aranda people

“we were unexpectedly intruded upon by a very numerous tribe, about three hundred. Their appearance, coming across the plain, occasioned great alarm, as they were seen to be the Waarengbadawa, with whom my tribe was at enmity. … The women ran with their children into the bush, and hid themselves, and being a living dead man, as they supposed, I was told to accompany them. On the hostile tribe coming near, I saw they were all men, no women being amongst them. They were smeared all over with red and white clay, and were by far the most hideous looking savages I had seen. In a very short time the fight began, by a shower of spears from the contending parties. One of our men advanced singly, as a sort of champion; he then began to dance and sing, and beat himself about with his war implements… Seven or eight of … our opponents, then got up also, and threw their spears at him; but, with great dexterity, he warded them off, or broke them every one, so that he did not receive a single wound. They then threw their boomerangs at him, but he warded them off also with ease. After this, one man advanced, as a sort of champion from their party, to within three yards of him, and threw his boomerang, but the other avoided the blow by falling on his hands and knees, and instantly jumping up again he shook himself like a dog coming out of the water. At seeing this, the enemy shouted out in their language “enough,” and the two men went and embraced each other. After this, the same two beat their own heads until the blood ran down in streams over their shoulders.

“A general fight now commenced, of which all this had been the prelude, spears and boomerangs flying in all directions. The sight was very terrific, and their yells and shouts of defiance very horrible. At length one of our tribe had a spear sent right through his body, and he fell. On this, our fellows raised a war cry, on hearing which, the women threw off their rugs, and each armed with a short club, flew to the assistance of their husbands and brothers; I being peremptorily ordered to stay where I was, my supposed brother’s wife remaining with me. Even with this augmentation, our tribe fought to great disadvantage, the enemy
being all men, and much more numerous.

“As I have said in the early part of this narrative, I had seen skirmishing and fighting in Holland; and knew something therefore, of what is done when men are knocking one another about with powder and shot, in real earnest, but the scene now before me was much more frightful, both parties looking like so many devils turned loose from Tartarus. Men and women were fighting furiously, and indiscriminately, covered with blood; two of the latter were killed in this affair …

“Soon after dark the hostile tribe left the neighbourhood, and, on discovering this retreat from the battle ground, ours determined on following them immediately, leaving the women and
myself where we were. On approaching the enemy’s quarters, they laid themselves down in ambush until all was quiet, and finding most of them asleep, laying about in groups, our party rushed upon them, killing three on the spot, and wounding several others. The enemy fled precipitately, leaving their war implements in the hands of their assailants and their wounded to be beaten to death by boomerangs, three loud shouts closing the victors triumph.”

EvX: After a while I got tired of recording battles and decided just to count them:

Fights: 34
Deaths: 60

I can’t promise that I caught 100% of them; some sections of the book were badly scanned and hard to read. Also, the numbers only reflect the deaths Buckley specifically reported. In instances where he merely said something like “a few people died,” or “many people died,” I recorded only that a fight had occurred, not deaths. So the real death toll must actually be much higher than my accounting.

To be fair, these occurred over the course of 32 years, but Buckley began trying to avoid fights later in the book, so there may have been many more fights his tribe was involved in that didn’t make it into the book.

Consider, for quick comparison, how many people you have personally seen murdered or killed in battle. Chances are none–only 4/100,000 people are murdered in the US every year, and most other Western countries have even lower rates.

Luckily for Buckley, his status as already dead meant that no one thought it worth bothering to kill him again.

Buckley blames the constant warfare on fights over women, but a certain aspect of magical thinking frequently at play in animist religions is also clearly present: any death, even by natural causes, is believed to have been caused by human malice. As I noted back in my previous Anthropology Friday on the Aborigines, they had quite complicated explanations for how someone could have secretly snuck into another tribe’s camp and magically killed them without anyone else noticing. As a result, any death, even by wholly natural causes, could lead to the members of one tribe deciding to exact murderous revenge on another tribe, which would naturally endeavor to return the favor.

In a recent interview, Napoleon Chagnon, the anthropologist famous for studying the Yanomamo, (who are famous for being very violent,) stated:

The important thing that I’ve discovered about the Yanomamö is the answer to the question of a lot of highly educated people in our society who say, “Oh, it would be so wonderful if we could just go back to an earlier time when life was so much simpler, and pleasant, and neighbors cooperated…” And what I found is the further back in time you go, the more that unpleasant things are ubiquitous in your environment. Violence is just around the corner, and wishing for a return to the noble savage past is possibly one of the biggest errors that one might make philosophically. I don’t think life in the state of nature was nearly as pleasant as a lot of people would like it to be.

One example I give from my travels across the United States: I happen to have been invited on a trip into the Grand Canyon by the man who was then Governor of Arizona, Fife Symington, and we had the park ranger, the archeologist for the Grand Canyon area, along with us, and he took us into parts of the Grand Canyon that most tourists don’t see. One of the most astonishing things we saw, Pueblo houses built into the edge of the Grand Canyon, with a 1,000-foot drop below, and these houses were occupied by prehistoric Indians who were so terrified of their neighbors that they’d climb down vines and ropes with their kids on their back, and firewood under their arm, and the day’s catch in their baskets, because they were just terrified of their neighbors. And that’s the way the Yanomamö live. Even the missionaries who have lived among the Yanomamö the longest have pointed out repeatedly to me and other people that these people are terrified of neighbors. It’s like Hobbe’s war of “all against all” in many respects, and Rousseau is way off the mark. …

PINKER:  What about standing back and saying—at some point they must figure this out—”We’re avenging that death, which was caused when they avenged the previous death, and the cycle of violence keeps going on. Is there some way that we can extricate ourselves from this cycle?” Did that thought occur to them? Because they must at some point do the math and realize, well, not every killing could be in revenge.

CHAGNON:  You are asking a profound question here. And the answer to that is best explicated in an incident that happened to me when the Yanomamö began being aware of Venezuelans, for example. It was a territorial capital 200+ miles away, and some of the missionaries sent young guys to the territorial capital to learn practical nursing to come back to the village and treat snake bites, and scratches, and wounds, and things like that, and to give them malaria pills. And they taught them how to use microscopes.

But one of these guys came back and he was just terribly excited when he told me that he discovered policia. I was like, “Well, what’s policia?” “They will grab people and haul them off and put them in these little separate houses, if they do something wrong. And I think we need policia, because my brother killed a man from Iwahikorobateri five years ago, and I’m always worried that the Iwahikorobateri are going to come and kill me, because he’s my brother.” And he thought that if they had law, law would be a good thing. …

PINKER:  So you discovered kind of a Yanomamö Hobbes, who discovered the Leviathan.

CHAGNON:  Right.

We’ll return to both Buckley and Chagnon’s interview (which I must credit with inspiring me to read Buckley’s account) later… Perhaps in Part 2.

When “Crime” is a Euphemism for “Lynching”

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

According to the Tuskegee Institute, 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites were lynched between 1882 and 1968.[7] The Equal Justice Initiative counts 3,959 blacks lynched between 1877 and 1950.[8][9]  (I don’t know if this includes the 1868 election massacres.)

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.

We like to think that we enlightened moderns can rise above the level of the raw, primal chimpanzee bashing another chimp’s brains out with a rock for daring to wander near its territory, but much of the time we don’t.

(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.

picture-121 copy

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.

World-Murder-Rate-Geocurrents-Map-1024x726The “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. …

800px-Percentage_of_African_American_population_living_in_the_American_SouthThe 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:

  1. 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;
  2. WWI and WWII triggered the creation of massive numbers of manufacturing jobs in the North;
  3. 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:

I stole this graph from Steve Sailer
Well, at least we have less Italian crime these days.



According to Baumeister’s book on Evil:

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.

Belle Isle Park, Detroit, 1905--h/t Photos of Detroit's Golden Age
Belle Isle Park, Detroit, 1905–h/t Photos of Detroit’s Golden Age

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.

Detroit Book Depository
Detroit Book Depository, today

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.[71] …

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.[76]

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. …[77]

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.[83] 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.”[84] …

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.[91] … 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.[92]

Modern Detroit

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 September 2008, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (who had served for six years) resigned following felony convictions. In 2013, Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 federal felony counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, and racketeering,[103] and was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.[104]

In July 2013, Michigan state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr asked a federal judge to place the city of Detroit into bankruptcy protection.[105]

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.[106]

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.

Cn_DWIVXEAITNt8Of 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?)

According to Color of Crime:

  • 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. …
  • Picture 201In 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. …

Picture 17 Picture 16New 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:

White: 2.9 percent
Black: 61.8 percent
Hispanic: 31.8 percent
Asian: 2.7 percent
Other: 0.8 percent …

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.

Two Graphs

It’s one of those you need a graph, you gotta make it yourself kind of days. picture-18

Feel free to take and use these graphs for your own essays.

The data for these graphs came from the Wikipedia page on lynchings in the US and the Tuskegee Institute. The Tuskegee Institute may not have counted 100% of lynchings (I don’t think anyone really could,) but these are the ones they documented. “White” in the original dataset I recoded as “non-black” because Tuskegee included Asians, Hispanics, and Indians as “white.”

picture-121 copy

I couldn’t find stats on what % of blacks were victims of lynching, so I used the demographic data from the Wikipedia page on US blacks, which I assume gets its data from the census to calculate the rate per 100k black people.

Since the census is only conducted once every decade and the lynching data was reported for each year, I used the average per-year change between censuses to estimate the population on non-census years.

(I suppose this still does not give us an aggregate total percent.)

I chose “rate per 100k” because that’s how homicide data is normally presented. For example, a rate of just over 2, at the peak of black lynching, means that about 2 out of 100,000 black people were lynched, or 0.002% of the total population.

By comparison, the United States today has an overall homicide rate of 3.9 per 100k people (meaning that any random person walking around the US today is more likely to get murdered than a black person was to get lynched, though of course this does not count non-lynching forms of racially motivated murder.)