Neuropolitics: “Openness” and Cortical Thickness

Brain anatomy–gyruses

I ran across an interesting study today, on openness, creativity, and cortical thickness.

The psychological trait of “openness”–that is, willingness to try new things or experiences–correlates with other traits like creativity and political liberalism. (This might be changing as cultural shifts are changing what people mean by “liberalism,” but it was true a decade ago and is still statistically true today.)

Researchers took a set of 185 intelligent people studying or employed in STEM, gave them personality tests intended to measure “openness,” and then scanned their brains to measure cortical thickness in various areas.

According to Citizendium, “Cortical thickness” is:

a brain morphometric measure used to describe the combined thickness of the layers of the cerebral cortex in mammalian brains, either in local terms or as a global average for the entire brain. Given that cortical thickness roughly correlates with the number of neurons within an ontogenetic column, it is often taken as indicative of the cognitive abilities of an individual, albeit the latter are known to have multiple determinants.

According to the article in PsyPost, reporting on the study:

“The key finding from our study was that there was a negative correlation between Openness and cortical thickness in regions of the brain that underlie memory and cognitive control. This is an interesting finding because typically reduced cortical thickness is associated with decreased cognitive function, including lower psychometric measures of intelligence,” Vartanian told PsyPost.”

Citizendium explains some of the issues associated with too thin or thick cortexs:

Typical values in adult humans are between 1.5 and 3 mm, and during aging, a decrease (also known as cortical thinning) on the order of about 10 μm per year can be observed [3]. Deviations from these patterns can be used as diagnostic indicators for brain disorders: While Alzheimer’s disease, even very early on, is characterized by pronounced cortical thinning[4], Williams syndrome patients exhibit an increase in cortical thickness of about 5-10% in some regions [5], and lissencephalic patients show drastic thickening, up to several centimetres in occipital regions[6].

Obviously people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty remembering things, but people with Williams Syndrome also tend to be low-IQ and have difficulty with memory.

Of course, the cortex is a big region, and it may matter specifically where yours is thin or thick. In this study, the thinness was found in the left middle frontal gyrus, left middle temporal gyrus, left superior temporal gyrus, left inferior parietal lobule, right inferior parietal lobule, and right middle temporal gyrus.

These are areas that, according to the study’s authors, have previously been shown to be activated during neuroimaging studies of creativity, and so the specific places you would expect to see some kind of anatomical difference in particularly creative people.

Hypothetically, maybe reduced cortical thickness, in some people, makes them worse at remembering specific kinds of experiences–and thus more likely to try new ones. For example, if I remember very strongly that I like Tomato Sauce A, and that I hate Tomato Sauce B, I’m likely to just keep buying A. But if every time I go to the store I only have a vague memory that there was a tomato sauce I really liked, I might just pick sauces at random–eventually trying all of them.

The authors have a different interpretation:

“We believe that the reason why Openness is associated with reduced cortical thickness is that this condition reduces the person’s ability to filter the contents of thought, thereby facilitating greater immersion in the sensory, cognitive, and emotional information that might otherwise have been filtered out of consciousness.”

So, less meta-brain, more direct experience? Less worrying, more experiencing?

The authors note a few problems with the study (for starters, it is hardly a representative sample of either “creative” people nor exceptional geniuses, being limited to people in STEM,) but it is still an interesting piece of data and I hope to see more like it.

 

If you want to read more about brains, I recommend Kurzweil’s How to Create a Mind, which I am reading now. It goes into some detail on relevant brain structures, and how they work to create memories, recognize patterns, and let us create thought. (Incidentally, the link goes to Amazon Smile, which raises money for charity; I selected St. Jude’s.)

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The Mainline Paradox: Memetics and Liberal Christian Collapse

Warning: Just a theory

I wanted a graph that went back further in time, but this is what I found.
Courtesy of Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape”

Liberal Christian denominations (ie, Mainline Protestants) are caught in a paradox: even though they have increasingly defined themselves as open to everyone, their membership roles keep decreasing. It’s as if the more people they let in, the fewer people show up.

[insert Groucho Marx cartoon about not wanting to belong to the set of all clubs that would have him.]

Recent data from Minnesota highlights the precipitous decline:

Mainline Protestant churches have been hit the hardest. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Minnesota has lost almost 200,000 members since 2000 and about 150 churches. A third of the remaining 1,050 churches have fewer than 50 members. The United Methodist Church, the second largest Protestant denomination in Minnesota, has shuttered 65 churches since 2000.

Catholic membership statewide has held steady, but the number of churches fell from 720 in 2000 to 639 last year, according to official Catholic directories.”

Note the timeframe: we’re not talking about change over the course of a century. The Presbyterian church of Minnesota has lost 42% of its members since 2000.

Meanwhile, membership is basically holding steady at conservative denominations that practically define themselves by whom they don’t let in. Evangelicals and fundamentalists are not hemorrhaging nearly as badly as their more welcoming brethren.

Among Mainline Protestants, the only denomination that’s basically holding steady is the American Baptist Church, which has gained black souls as it has lost white ones.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church has more than doubled in size.

Interestingly, a conservative spin-off of the Presbyterian church is doing fine, and the notorious Southern Baptists are doing fine. [source for denomination data.]

The Amish, who are practically their own ethnic group due to only marrying other Amish, have been nearly doubling their population every 20 years, and that’s even with a significant number of children leaving each generation. Of course, the Amish have plenty of children.

Of course, one of the biggest factors in the decline of liberal denominations is fertility–the Amish have a lot more kids than Mainline Protestants.

But why have the Mainlines, with their open and tolerant ideologies and welcoming attitude toward nearly everyone, not attracted more members as society in general has moved leftward on many issues? If you have read Dumbing of Age for as long as I have, then you are well aware of the main character, Joyce’s, rejection of the particular brand of conservative Christianity she was raised and homeschooled in over the issue of homosexuality, and her subsequent search for a more liberal church (which has so far involved freaking out at an Episcopalian service because it smacked of papistry.)

Why are Presbyterians failing to attract the Joyces of the world?

I propose this is because functionally religious identity is about group identity, and a group identity that hinges on “openness to outsiders” is not a functional group identity.

Now you might be saying, “Wait, I thought religious identity had to do with what you think God, or ethics, or how the world was created. People give some sort of rational thought to their beliefs, and then pick the church that best suits them.”

No. I don’t think anyone ever said, “Hey, the religion where you can’t eat pigs sounds much more rational than the religion where you can’t eat cows.” Nor did anyone logically think that the religions with animal sacrifice sounded more logical than the one where the feces of priests are holy, or where alien ghosts are causing all of your problems. (Basically, every religion that isn’t whatever you happen to practice is full of totally illogical beliefs.)

This is why conversations between atheists and theists are so boring. Atheists try to explain that religion doesn’t make sense, and theists try to explain that religion is about faith, not logic.

The nation of Pakistan is 96.4% Muslim, and it didn’t get that way because everyone in Pakistan spontaneously decided when they were about 16 years old that they all agreed that Islam was the only true religion. Israel is 74.7% Jewish, not because all of the Jews logically examined all of the world’s religion and then spontaneously agreed that Judaism was the best one. No; most of the world’s Muslims are Muslim because their parents were Muslim. Most of the world’s Jews were born to other Jews. Most Christians were born to Christians, and so on.

Multi-religious states exist, but within those states, people tend to marry within their own religion or abandon religion altogether, for religion is ethnicity.

3,000 years ago, this would have been an unexceptional statement. The People of the Crocodile God worshiped crocodiles and were certain those folks over there worshiped the Snake God were up to no good. Note that they didn’t deny the existence of the Snake God; they just didn’t worship it.

Our ancestral memetic environment was very different from our modern one because most people couldn’t travel far and mass media didn’t exist. As a result, people tended to only interact with their own group; outsiders were demonized and war was frequent. To be part of a tribe was to worship the tribe’s totems or ancestral deities. In an uncertain world where wind and rain, life and death were mysteries in the hands of capricious deities, to not worship the tribal gods was akin to saying you did not care whether your brothers lived or died.

Indeed, the big issue Rome had with Christians and Jews was less that they worshiped some strange god with weird food rules and transubstantiation–the empire had a pretty inclusive attitude of adopting new deities as it encountered them–but that Christians and Jews refused to adopt the empires deities into their pantheon. More to the point, they refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, which the Romans believed would bring the wrath of the gods on them and showed very poor civic spirit. As Tertullian complained in the second century:

They think the Christians the cause of every public disaster, of every affliction with which the people are visited. If the Tiber rises as high as the city walls, if the Nile does not send its waters up over the fields, if the heavens give no rain, if there is an earthquake, if there is famine or pestilence, straightway the cry is, “Away with the Christians to the lions!

Monotheism of course triumphed over paganism by taking over the empire itself. The conquering of pagans and thus their gods happened on a small scale within Judea, then on a large scale with Rome and Mecca. The big religions now expanded past pure ethnic lines, but still functioned for ordinary people as ethnic identities due to the lack of long-distance travel–Christians, for example, were members of “Christendom,” which stood in contrast with the pagan, barbarian, and non-Christian hordes–places which, of course, the average christian never saw.

But modern technology has drastically changed our memetic environment. Today you can hop in a car or plane and within hours be hundreds or thousands of miles away–distances your ancestors would have taken months to walk. You can pick up your phone and talk to a friend on the other side of the planet, or read headlines detailing the spread of disease in a foreign country. (I have written extensively about this change in the memes category.)

In the ancestral memetic environment, almost everyone you talked to and got information from was either your immediate family or lived in your community. As a result, memes that promote the survival of you, your family, your community, and your genes tend to dominate. Memes that promote the survival of strangers don’t do as well.

In our modern memetic environment, most of the people you talk to and get information from are strangers. You get movie recommendations from strangers on Rotten Tomatoes; you learn about new business ideas from the reporters at Forbes or Wired or The Wall Street Journal; you get parenting advice from a nanny on TV and medical advice from WebMD. You no longer raise barns or herd goats with your brothers, cousins, and extended family, but work in a cubicle farm with a hundred people who probably aren’t even 5th cousins.

As a result, the modern memetic environment favors the horizontal (rather than vertical, ie from parent to child,) meme transfer. This environment favors the spread of memes that prioritize the interests of strangers, simply because so many of the people you are talking to and interacting with are strangers.

The liberal churches–in particular, the Mainline Protestants–have worked hard to signal openness to others, because this is how horizontal morality works. (The group identity of people who define themselves as open to others thus has as its group it’s defined against as “people who aren’t open to others.”) But if religion itself is about group identity, then a group identity of “let’s be open to others and not have a strong group identity” is going to leave people unenthusiastic about attending liberal churches.

Group identity used to be more intuitive for people, again, because they mostly interacted with members of their own group. Modern religious identity for most Christians is no longer explicitly ethnic (not if you want a place in polite society,) so the “outgroup” has switched gay people, who are such a small percent of the population (2-3%) that they’re effectively a symbolic issue for most parishioners. Unlike those dastardly followers of the Snake God, homosexuals have never made their own army, invaded a neighboring tribe’s territory, massacred all of the women and carried off the men.

(This is, in my opinion, a very silly rock to build one’s church on. Certainly churches for the first 1,900 years of Christianity didn’t make this a major, defining point of what makes them different from their competitors. Jesus himself didn’t say a whole lot about gay people.)

And getting back to fertility, people with stronger group identities–such as people whose religions tell them they should have a group identity and it is good to have a group identity that excludes those [evil outgroup people] tend to have more children, who are the literal future of the church.

Summary version: Religion is about group identity, but the modern memetic environment, ie liberalism, is anti-group identity. Churches that try to set themselves up in opposition to group identity therefore fail. But since ethnic identity is no longer in fashion, conservative religious groups now define themselves in opposition to homosexuals, a somewhat symbolic opposition considering that homosexuals have never constituted a military threat to anyone’s ethnic group.

Stereotypes, Expertise, and Class

Tom Nichols’s book, The Death of Expertise, has a passage that inspired a tangent that I’d like to discuss separately from my main review:

“You can’t generalize like that!” Few expressions are more likely to arise in even a mildly controversial discussion. People resist generalizations–boys tend to be like this, girls tend to be like that–because we all want to believe we’re unique and can’t be pigeonholed that easily.

What most people usually mean when they object to “generalizing,” however, is not that we shouldn’t generalize, but that we shouldn’t stereotype, which is a different issue The problem in casual discourse is that people often don’t understand the difference between stereotypes and generalizations, and this makes conversation, especially between experts and laypeople, arduous and exhausting. –Tom Nichols

Nichols brings up a good point, but is wrong about stereotypes–to generalize, most stereotypes are true, and people object to stereotypes and generalizations for the exact same reasons. Or as Psychology Today puts it:

“Stereotypes” have a bad name, and everybody hates stereotypes. But what exactly is a stereotype?

What people call “stereotypes” are what scientists call “empirical generalizations,” and they are the foundation of scientific theory. That’s what scientists do; they make generalizations. Many stereotypes are empirical generalizations with a statistical basis and thus on average tend to be true. If they are not true, they wouldn’t be stereotypes. … 

SAT scores by race and parental income

We only call them “stereotypes” when we don’t like the information they convey. “African Americans have more melanin, on average, than non-African Americans,” is not a controversial statement; “African Americans score worse on the SAT, on average, than non-African Americans” is controversial, even though both are empirically true.

Nichols grasps for this false distinction between “generalizations” and “stereotypes” because Nichols sees himself as a Good Person, not an Evil Racist, and only Evil Racists use stereotypes. (We know that because the liberals said so.)

Except for the uncomfortable fact that most stereotypes are basically true, otherwise people wouldn’t bother to have them. This leaves Nichols in the uncomfortable position of eternally trying to explain to people why it’s okay when he, an expert, says mean things about the Russians, but totally not okay when ordinary people say mean things about the Russians.

I can almost hear Nichols objecting, “It can’t be racist if it’s true,” to which I raise the average Somali IQ:

In the US, the cutoff for “mental retardation” or “intellecutal disability” is set at an IQ of 70 or below. The averaged measured Somali IQ is in the low 70s. Almost half of Somalis would be, in the US, legally retarded.

The only way to dull the sting of this statement is to note that 1. of course the majority of Somalis aren’t retarded; 2. Somali migants are heavily selected from the smarter end of the Somalia, because they’re the folks who were clever enough to escape; 3. Somali IQ is probably being depressed by terrible local conditions. Still, if you work for Google, I don’t recommend writing any memos trying to give a nuanced version of “Somalis have low average IQs.” For that matter, I don’t recommend writing that if you work anywhere except in an explicit IQ-related job. If your coworkers are IQ-experts, they might already be familiar with Somali IQs; otherwise you will get sacked immediately for being racist.

Everything is fine for experts if they promote ideas that people already believe or want to agree with. Saying that “Fast food is bad for you,” raises few hackles. Everyone knows that.

The findings of the now-discredited Implicit Association Test were widely touted because people wanted evidence that “everyone is a little bit racist,” (or at least that whites are all subconsciously racist, even the ones who say they aren’t.) The IAT was obviously bogus from the start, but confirmation bias and wanting it to be true led people to latch onto it.

When experts and common wisdom agree, all is well.

It’s when experts and lay-people disagree that problems arises. If the matter is purely scientific–What is the atomic weight of cesium?–people will usually defer. But if the matter is personal or involves deeply held religious beliefs, people resist. (We evolutionists have been dealing with this for a long time.)

Nichols gives the example, “Russians are more corrupt than Norwegians.” It’s absolutely true, unless we’re using some strange definition of “corrupt.” And Nichols, a guy who speaks Russian and has been studying Russia for decades, has the relevant expertise to make such a judgment. But normal people who don’t know anything about Russia (or Norway) get their hackles up because the statement sounds mean and contradicts their deeply held belief that all groups of people are morally and intellectually equal.

If the only difference between a stereotype and a generalization is that a stereotype offends the hearer, then “Russians are more corrupt than Norwegians” is a stereotype.

Life is hard for experts if they contradict things people deeply believe, but it’s even harder if they contradict things believed by their own social class.

Scientists studying evolution face criticism and disbelief from people who believe that humans were created by God from a ball of dirt on the sixth day of creation, but evolution is a “high class” belief and creationism is “low class,” so scientists face no loss of social standing by advocating for evolution and generally don’t even associate socially with creationists.

By contrast, a geneticist like Harvard’s David Reich, who recently admitted in the New York Times that “race” is biologically, even genetically real, is contradicting the beliefs of his own social class that “race is a social construct.” Harvard is full of people who believe creationist nonsense about the biology of men, women, and racial groups, but since these are high-class religious beliefs, Reich faces a loss of social standing by contradicting them and will have to actually deal with these people in real life.

Slate Star Codex recently posed, “Can Things be Both Popular and Silenced?” a discussion of whether authors like Jordan Peterson, who has received a ton of media attention lately and sells millions of books and is doing quite well for himself, can be accurately described as “silenced” in some way.

SSC briefly touches on social class and then moves on to other important matters, but I think social class really ties matters together. Peterson is a book-writing professional with a medical degree, (I think. I haven’t read any of his work,) that is, an academic intellectual. Reich is a Harvard professor doing ground-breaking, amazing work. James Watson won a goddam Nobel prize. Bret Weinstein was a professor at Evergreen State. Etc. These are high class academics in conflict with the rest of their social class, which can cause a great deal of anxiety, the loss of friends, and outright conflict, as when students at Evergreen college literally tried to hunt Professor Weinstein down with bats and tazers for the crime of not leaving campus on “no white people on campus day.” (Relevant posts on Weinstein and Evergreen; See also the James Damore incident at Google and the Christakis incident at Yale.)

A conservative person living in a conservative part of the country probably doesn’t lose much social standing for criticizing stupid things liberals believe, but someone in a liberal profession or social environment will. Even if he is actually an expert who is actually correct, he still faces hoards of ignorant people who are socially more powerful than he is and will happily punch him silent in defense of their religious beliefs. (The same is probably also true in reverse; I wouldn’t want to be openly pro-choice in a highly conservative workplace, for example.)

A lot of what gets called “silencing” is just class insecurity or conflict. Fox News rails against “the media” even though it is the media; more people watch Fox than listen to NPR, but PR is high-class and Fox is low-class. It’s not that “the media” is liberal so much as that the upper class is liberal and the lower classes don’t like being looked down upon.

You can rail against Fox News or Infowars or whatever for being stupid, but this is a democracy, so if one side tries to be objective, correct, or have high-status experts, then the other side will rail against all of that. If one side tries to promote cute puppies, the other side will become the anti-cute-puppies party.

Experts run into troubl when their research leads them to believe things that fit with neither party, or only with the opposite social class from the one they run in. This is both very uncomfortable for the individual and hard to describe to outsiders.

Ultimately, I think class is far more important than we give it credit for.

Cathedral Round-Up #20: The Ideological Cult of the SJW

Let’s talk about cults.

I. In Educating Teachers: Harvard gets serious about training its graduates to teach in the classroom, Sophia Nguyen writes:

This is something that’s interesting about HTF,” Quan Le ’15 said. “We literally cry every day.” …

Note: Quan Le is male.

Sometimes the crying became infectious. On one morning in early June, the fellows sat in a basement classroom for their daily “teaching lab,” where they studied and rehearsed classroom management strategies that they could try out on the high-schoolers later that day. They broke up into two discussion groups, and, while debating last night’s reading on cultural sensitivity, one-half of the room broke down. Voices rose: I just want to push back a little on what you said. I think this is very problematic. I’d like to ask you to unpack this point. I don’t think that’s the culture of low-income people—I think that’s a deficit-based model. The fellows, freshly graduated from the College, were fluent in left-leaning liberal-arts classroom etiquette. Yet the conversation grew tenser, then tearful, even as everyone insisted they had no real conflict. Someone burst out, frustrated, “I agree with you!”

“It’s not like class,” one of them said, finally, face in hands. “It really matters to me. I feel really attacked. I care so much about this stuff, and when the whole group disagrees with me, I can’t take it.”

Noah Heller, HTF’s master teacher-in-residence for math, interceded gently. “We need to work on tuning together. I don’t hear people disagreeing with you, I really don’t. We’re having a robust discussion.”

“It’s so exhausting. I’m so sorry, I cry all the time.” The fellow took a breath. “I’m getting really defensive. I think we all really need to remember that we’re all here to help kids.” At some point, everyone in the circle of chairs had begun holding hands. “There’s not always agreeing or disagreeing,” someone offered helpfully. “Sometimes it’s just—this stuff is really hard, and we’re just trying to figure out what we feel.”

The students in this article are not recruits going through Basic Training in the military. They are not doctors enduring 48 hour hospital shifts. They are Harvard grads learning to be teachers. I have a great deal of respect for teachers and know they work hard, but there is absolutely no reason they should be weeping every day.

Seriously, if anything in this excerpt sounds like your real life, please get help immediately. THIS IS NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY OR NORMAL.

 

II. One of the things I appreciate about memetics is that it allows us to think about the spread and propagation of ideas independent of the intentions of the people who hold them. Or as Wikipedia puts it:

Memetics is the theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, originating from the popularization of Richard Dawkins‘ 1976 book The Selfish Gene.[1] Proponents describe memetics as an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer.

The meme, analogous to a gene, was conceived as a “unit of culture” (an idea, belief, pattern of behaviour, etc.) which is “hosted” in the minds of one or more individuals, and which can reproduce itself, thereby jumping from mind to mind. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen as an idea-replicator reproducing itself in a new host. As with genetics, particularly under a Dawkinsian interpretation, a meme’s success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of its host.

Memetics is also notable for sidestepping the traditional concern with the truth of ideas and beliefs. Instead, it is interested in their success.[2]

In other words, “memes” (ideas) act like viruses or, as I wrote previously, “mitochondria.” (Note: unlike real viruses, most ideas you believe are probably beneficial.)

We like to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings who believe things because we’ve concluded that they make sense, but taking the example of religion, the idea that millions of people in North Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, etc., have all independently and logically decided that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet, every generation, for over a thousand years–and people in Europe have decided similarly that God is a Trinity, became man, and was sacrificed for your sins; people in India have believed that your soul can be reincarnated; and people in Central America once decided that the most logical thing was to rip people’s still-beating hearts out of their chests in order to keep the sun in the sky (I mean, sure, maybe the world won’t end even if we don’t sacrifice 400 virgins, but do you really want to take the chance?)–defies logic.

If we can look at religions as memeplexes–networks of interrelated ideas–that exist over time independent of the particular people who believe in them, we can similarly interrogate political ideologies. Like your religious beliefs (or non-belief,) your professed political ideology likely has a good deal to do with factors entirely outside of “logical thought,” like genetics, social class, or the region of the country you live in (otherwise it is strangely coincidental that the Deep South has been “conservative” relative to the rest of the country for hundreds of years.)

As we discussed in the previous Cathedral Round Up, You are the Hope of the World, what we see as “modern” Progressivism existed back in 1917. 1917 is not some special year–Progressivism actually began long before then, but we’re not tracing the idea’s history; you can get your fix of that from Moldbug.

Moldbug (and many others,) also suggests that Progressivism is really a religion, just stripped of the explicit references to God. Whether or not this is literally true, from a memetics perspective, both religions and political ideologies function similarly. As Jonas Kaplan states:

Perhaps this is due to some underlying aspect of human cognition or social structure, or perhaps successful memes all share certain features that enhance their spread and temporal persistence. Either way, we can productively use the same vocabulary and concepts to discuss both.

 

III. Most people recognize that cults exist and that cults are bad, but few people who are actually in cults believe that they are in a cult. As Boze Herrington notes in The Atlantic, The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult:

For three weeks, Hannah and I had been trying to contact leaders at [International House of Prayer; no relation to the restaurant] about a prayer group that we, Bethany, and many of our friends had been part of—a small, independent community that drew on IHOP’s teachings. In February, I had been formally excommunicated, and Hannah had left in June. Looking in from the outside, both of us saw the group differently than we had when we were part of it: We saw it as a cult.

Several years ago, the founder of IHOP, Mike Bickle, created a list of seven ways to recognize the difference between a religious community and a cult. Written down, the signs seem clear:

1. Opposing critical thinking
2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving
3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture
4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders
5. Dishonoring the family unit
6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership)
7. Separation from the Church

But when it’s your friends, your faith, your community, it’s not so obvious. For several years, roughly two dozen people, all younger than thirty, had been living together in Kansas City, Missouri, and following the leadership of Tyler Deaton, one of our classmates from Southwestern University in Texas. In the summer of 2012, Tyler had married Bethany; by the fall, she was dead. What started as a dorm-room prayer group had devolved into something much darker.

You can find many different definitions of “cult” out there; obviously “Crossing Biblical boundaries,” does not apply so much to political ideologies.

Reminder: some people actually think this way

Personally, I’d say that among the critical defining characteristics of cults:

  1. Cults teach people that their self-worth (the salvation of their souls, their essential goodness, etc.,) is dependent on adherence to the cult’s teachings
  2. They use of social ostracism to punish even slight deviation from a very rigid set of beliefs.
  3. They isolate their members from everyone outside the cult.

People who have been convinced to cut off contact with friends and family end up far more vulnerable to ostracism by the cult because they now have nowhere left to go nor anyone to help them if they leave.

If you were a real SJW, you’d pay $35 for this sweatshirt

Note, though, that there is no particular thing cultists need to believe, besides in the absoluteness of the cult. Memetically speaking, cults typically do not generate their own ideologies, but rather are metastisized versions of regular ones. Cults work, in part, because the people in them already believe in the importance of the basic ideas the cults are based on–there wouldn’t be much point in joining a cult you didn’t believe in.

Christian cults therefore draw in people who already believe in Christianity; New-Agey cults draw in people who believe in New-Agey sorts of things; Islamic cults draw in people who believe in Islam. This pre-existing belief primes people to believe the cult’s message, and also makes it hard to distinguish between the cult and regular, non-cultish believers of the same memeplex. The cult essentially hides behind the legitimacy of regular believers while simultaneously attacking them for being insufficiently rigorous in their beliefs.

Let’s take Marie Shear’s oft-repeated adage, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

Pretty much everyone agrees that women are people. I wager that even under the most female-oppressive regimes on Earth, the vast majority of people agree that women are “people,” not unicorns, glorified fungi, or inanimate objects. Talk to someone from Saudi Arabia, and they’ll tell you that their country is great for women, because they protect women from rape and sexual objectification.

(I have actually read an academic article arguing that female genital mutilation can be seen as pro-women in certain contexts.)

The quote’s appeal is two-fold: first, it implies that “feminism” is a mainstream belief because everyone who believes that women are people are feminists, and second, it implies that anyone who doesn’t identify as a feminist doesn’t believe that women are people. All sensible, right-thinking people, therefore, are clearly feminists–and feminists are sensible, right-thinking people.

In reality, though, we know that this is not a useful definition of feminism.

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex has helped popularize Nicholas Shackel’s phrase “Motte and Bailey doctrine” to refer to the practice of using an easily defended but not very useful (to the feminist) rhetorical position, eg, “Women are people” to protect a large swathe of much harder to defend but more useful positions, like “abortion should always be legal,” or “college campuses aren’t doing enough to prosecute rape.”

A motte-and-bailey is a kind of Medieval fortress in which an earthenwork tower (the motte) is used to defend a large field with a wall around it. The field is difficult to defend, but a good place for farming; the hill is easy to defend, but bad for farming.

Cults use this same technique to portray their beliefs as reasonable–things all good members of members of Group X believe, and aren’t you a good member of Group X?–while hiding their unreasonable beliefs and the harm they do to their members.

 

IV. You have probably already figured out that I think modern Social Justice Warrior ideology is effectively a cult.

Now, there are some folks around these parts who see any liberalism as dangerous or inevitably leading in a bad direction. I tend to see both “liberalism” and “conservatism” personality types, heavily influenced by genetics, independent of the particular politics of the day. A functional society benefits from the strengths of both types, so long as everyone is behaving themselves and not behaving like cult members out to crush any and all deviation from their particular version of the One True Truth.

In his post titled “Untitled,” Scott Alexander discusses feminists’ reaction to a comment by quantum computing genius Scott Aaronson. We’ll start with an excerpt from Aaronson’s original comment:

I check Feministing, and even radfem blogs like “I Blame the Patriarchy.” And yes, I’ve read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the “privilege” and “entitlement” of the nerdy males that’s keeping women away from science. …

I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year. …

I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. … I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males—especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact—are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.

Because of my fears—my fears of being “outed” as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal—I had constant suicidal thoughts. …

At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me (I had researched which ones), because a life of mathematical asceticism was the only future that I could imagine for myself. The psychiatrist refused…

To repeat my comment from the beginning of this post, if anything in this excerpt sounds like your real life, please get help immediately. THIS IS NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY OR NORMAL.

People who are not familiar with modern feminism (this includes many of my liberal friends, who are too busy with jobs, kids, friends, etc., to keep up with the Outrage du Jour,) might feel tempted to write off Aaronson’s experience as just one weird guy’s absurd, abnormal reaction–surely normal people don’t become suicidal or try to castrate themselves after reading about microaggressions. After all, feminism is just the idea that women are people, right? Surely feminists, being reasonable people, reacted to Aaronson with the explanations he’d been looking for (or at least links to them) and some compassion for his suicidal state.

Alexander quotes famous feminist Amanda Marcotte’s response:

[Aaronson’s post] is the whole “how can men be oppressed when I don’t get to have sex with all the hot women that I want without having to work for it?” whine, one that, amongst other things, starts on the assumption that women do not suffer things like social anxiety or rejection…It was just a yalp of entitlement combined with an aggressive unwillingness to accept that women are human beings just like men. [He is saying that] “having to explain my suffering to women when they should already be there, mopping my brow and offering me beers and blow jobs, is so tiresome…I was too busy JAQ-ing off, throwing tantrums, and making sure the chip on my shoulder was felt by everyone in the room to be bothered to do something like listen.” Women are failing him by not showing up naked in his bed, unbidden. Because bitches, yo.

The eternal struggle of the sexist: Objective reality suggests that women are people, but the heart wants to believe they are a robot army put here for sexual service and housework.

Alexander notes, “Anyway, Marcotte was bad enough, given that she runs one of the most-read feminist blogs on the Internet. But much of the rest of the feminist “discussion” on Tumblr, Twitter, and the like was if anything even worse,” then discusses an article by Laurie Penny in New Statesman, called “On Nerd Entitlement: White Male Nerds Need To Recognize That Other People Had Traumatic Upbringings Too And That’s Different From Structural Oppression”:

Feminism is not to blame for making life hell for “shy, nerdy men”. It is a real shame that Aaronson picked up Andrea Dworkin rather than any of the many feminist theorists and writers who manage to combine raw rage with refusal to resort to sexual shame as an instructive tool. Weaponised shame – male, female or other – has no place in any feminism I subscribe to.

Alexander responds:

I live in a world where feminists throwing weaponized shame at nerds is an obvious and inescapable part of daily life. Whether we’re “mouth-breathers”, “pimpled”, “scrawny”, “blubbery”, “sperglord”, “neckbeard”, “virgins”, “living in our parents’ basements”, “man-children” or whatever the insult du jour is, it’s always, always, ALWAYS a self-identified feminist saying it. Sometimes they say it obliquely, referring to a subgroup like “bronies” or “atheists” or “fedoras” while making sure everyone else in nerddom knows it’s about them too. …

But it’s not just that. Try to look up something on Iron Man, and you get an article on Iron Man-Child and how “the white maleness of geek culture” proves they are “the most useless and deficient individuals in society, precisely because they have such a delusional sense of their own importance and entitlements.”…

Let’s recap, because this has gotten a little long. Aaronson states that he is “97%” on board with feminism, and explains that his 3% reservation is due to feminism making him feel suicidal for the sin of finding women attractive. Feminists respond with incredible cruelty. One feminist claims that in her universe, feminists aren’t cruel. Alexander responds, with evidence, that feminists are constantly cruel, at least toward people like him and Aaronson.

Ms. Penny, I’m pretty sure gaslighting and lying are also signs of being in a cult.

Just how bad is the left? And are they actually any worse than the right? Perhaps both sides just have their bad apples…

Trump supporter beaten by protestors
protester beaten with hammer by Black Lives Matter protesters
Trump supporter attacked by protesters

Ah, those happy college days!

And let’s not forget the recent violent riots at Berkley, which according to CNN caused $100,000 in damages, (mostly to innocent nearby businesses like refugee-supporting Starbucks,) nor the recent incident at Middlebury, in which a mob of students attempted to shut down a speech by Charles Murray and violently assaulted a professor, who ended up in the hospital:

The more exclusive the university, the richer and more liberal the students. The less exclusive, the poorer and more conservative. Ironically, it’s these elite students (who benefit most from “privilege”) who are violently opposing speakers in the name of “equality,” not conservatives at little podunk-Us.

Here’s an excerpt from Help-giving and moral courage on the Internet, by Suna P. Kinnunen1, Marjaana Lindeman2, Markku Verkasalo3:

(In other words, folks like Amanda Marcotte and the instigators of online Twitter mobs are probably sociopaths. The internet has created an environment where sociopathic behavior can thrive under the guise of “morally courageous action”)

So, to answer our question… No.

 

V. Here’s some more cultish material from the SJWs:

“Everybody to the right of us is literally Hitler.”

Dozens of media outlets all using the exact same language:

Meanwhile, one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country would like you to know that Super Mario Run is sexist and bad for children.

Yeah, there’s nothing at all creepy or harmful about preventing your children from consuming completely innocuous children’s media, cutting them off from the common cultural knowledge of their peer group.

Oh, and by the way, 1985 wasn’t some Dark Age of sexism–we are talking about the era of Great Britain’s first female Prime Minister, after all.

Meanwhile, from the “bodypositivists,” “we don’t understand how attraction works”:

Meanwhile, Ivy League University Penn is apparently a hotbed of racism:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for students whose professors are insufficiently racist, SJWs have put together a handy guide to making family gatherings as unplesant as possible:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VI. Let’s have some conclusions.

Regardless of what you think of leftists in general–and I know many leftists who are basically good-hearted, well-intentioned people–the extreme left, born of academia and particularly active on the internet, works like a cult.

This is a difficult position to explain to someone who has not experienced it personally, or seen a loved one affected by it. During the long process by which this blog came to exist, I struggled to reconcile my own morality–my sense of myself as a “good person”–with the statistical data I was reading. How could a good person believe in statistical differences between groups in criminal offending rates, or measured IQ scores? Did merely believing such a thing make me a bad person?

I tended to keep such ideas to myself; far more innocuous statements in conversation with friends and acquaintances were often responded to with anger, threats, or explicit shunning. I lost most of my college-friends due to shunning, and I’ve had it far better than some.

Since abandoning my identity as a leftist, I’ve also abandoned the idea that my morality is based in believing the correct things. If tomorrow I discovered that there are no group-level differences in IQ or criminal behavior, this would change nothing about how I see myself. (In fact, I’d be perfectly pleased by such a discovery.) Rather, I see my morality in how I treat those around me–family, friends, random strangers I meet in everyday life.

When ideas spread because they are true or useful, they make life better. The Germ Theory of Disease has saved billions of lives. Belief in Santa Claus makes children happy, even if he isn’t real.

But sometimes ideas spread even though they fundamentally lack utility. The classic example of this is the chain letter, which people spread because it tells them to, even though it contains nothing of worth. The modern version of the chain letter are Facebook Memes that say things like, “99% of people don’t love Jesus enough to repost this meme” or “If you really love your relative with cancer, you’ll repost this meme,” or “90% of people can’t answer this simple math problem!” It’s easy to see how #activism slides into pure meme re-posting.

These sorts of memes are annoying but fairly harmless. It’s when memes mutate into ideologies that judge the essential goodness of their believers on their willingness to devote their lives to spreading the meme that they become dangerous. You end up with purity spirals that end in martyrdom–self-sacrifice for the spread of the meme. The spread of such ideas through society can be see, quite reasonably, as cancerous.

One final excerpt, from the LA Times:

Easy Nofemela remembers the evening Amy Biehl died. … a mob of angry young men was looking for symbols of white rule to destroy.

Then the men spotted Biehl, blond and blue-eyed, as she drove through the township in her yellow Mazda.

“Rocks were being thrown at Amy’s car. She got out and ran, and she was stabbed right over there,” Nofemela says, pointing to a patch of grass next to a service station, now planted with a small cross.

Nofemela remembers, 15 years later, because he was part of the mob that killed Amy Biehl.

What he didn’t know then was that Biehl was hardly a symbol of apartheid. She was a Fulbright scholar studying the lives of women in South Africa, a 26-year-old Stanford graduate with a plane ticket for home the next day, from an airport 10 minutes away. …

Today, Nofemela, a compact 37-year-old with a shaved head and a quick wit, is the father of a young girl. And, in an improbable tale of forgiveness and redemption, he and Ntobeko Peni, another of the men convicted of the murder, now work for the charity Biehl’s parents founded here after she was killed. …

An engaging woman of 65 with a blond bob and a warm smile, she has grown exceptionally close to her daughter’s killers. “Easy and Ntobeko are fascinating and I really do love them,” she says. “They have given me so much.”

Linda Biehl and her late husband, Peter, launched the Amy Biehl Foundation in 1994 with donations that arrived, unsolicited, from strangers moved by the news of their daughter’s death. Today, it runs after-school programs for youngsters in Guguletu and other townships and squatter camps that took root during the apartheid era on the Cape flats, about 10 miles east of Cape Town.

Guys, if anyone ever murders me, I encourage you to murder them back.

The Progressive Virus

Last week, I referenced the idea that Progressivism is a meme virus, rather than a meme mitochondria, an idea I want to explore in a bit more detail. How do we know Progressivism is viral rather than mitochondrial?

Simply put, because Progressives do not reproduce themselves. Mitochondria can only reproduce themselves by being passed on to your offspring, and thus are incentivised to maximize your reproductive success. (Or that of close relatives of yours who also carry your mitochondria, like siblings.)

By “reproduce themselves,” I mean “have enough children to keep their population from declining,” or about 2 kids per couple. (Technically, the average has to be slightly higher than 2 just because occasionally, terrible tragedies do occur, and kids die.)

This is the point in the conversation where Progressives jump in and insist that they really do reproduce themselves. Maybe not personally, of course, but they totally have some gay friends who are going to get on that IVF and have a whole bunch of children now that gay marriage is legal.

I have actually seen this argued.

Of course, any common idiot on the street has noticed by now that there’s no atheist equivalent of the Duggers, and that Mormons have a lot of kids. But if you can’t believe your own lying eyes, maybe statistics will help:

From Jayman's Blog, "Liberalism, HBD, and Solutions for the Future
From Jayman’s Blog, “Liberalism, HBD, and Solutions for the Future

Only conservatives are above replacement. Everyone else, especially the extreme liberals, is being replaced by the children of conservatives.

If you don’t believe Jayman, because he’s too conservative or liberal or whatever for your ad hom tastes, here’s data from NY Mag, which definitely takes a liberal slant:

From NY Mag, "Tell me a State's Fertility Rate, and I'll Tell You How it Voted"
From NY Mag, “Tell me a State’s Fertility Rate, and I’ll Tell You How it Voted

If you’re curious about time, it wasn’t always like this:

From Jayman, "The Liberal/Conservative Baby Gap: Time Depth"
From Jayman, “The Liberal/Conservative Baby Gap: Time Depth” Confusingly, conservatives are BLUE in this chart, and liberals are RED.

Mass media, birth control, abortion, etc., are all very recent inventions.

(In case you’re wondering, this is a world-wide phenomena:

Total Fertility Rate by Country (Wikimedia file)
Total Fertility Rate by Country (Wikimedia file)

Afghanistan (TFR around 7) is not known for its progressive views on women’s rights or homosexuality. In Nigeria (one of the purpleist on the map,) homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. In the slightly less purple Democratic Republic of the Congo, same-sex marriage is banned by the constitution.

A few other maps for comparison:

Picture 8 Trafficking of Females Green 2

1280px-Religion_in_the_world 800px-Analfabetismo2013unesco

Sources: WomanStats Map; Wikipedia: Religiosity, Literacy Rates. H/t Suchanek.

At least currently, all of the “nice” countries that people want to live in or move to have below-replacement fertility.)

But lest I be accused of comparing apples to oranges, let’s go back to our own countries.

What happens when conservatives outbreed liberals? The simple answer is that liberals get replaced.

If you still don’t believe me, I’ll run through it step by step. (If you do believe me, you can skip this part.)

Let’s suppose we start with a town of 10 liberals and 10 conservatives. The liberals have a TFR of 1 (1 child per woman,) for 5 total children. The conservatives have a TFR of of 3, for a total of 15 children. The second generation is therefore 5:15 liberals:conservatives. In the second generation, Liberals have 2 or 3 kids (it’s hard to actually have 2.5 kids,) and conservatives have 22 or 23 kids. Fourth generation, 1 liberal kid, 33 conservatives.

And yet, a quick glance at voting trends in the US over the past 70 years indicates that the country has been moving steadily more liberal. Take, for example, the shift over the past few decades in favor of gay marriage.

Liberals remaining 50% of the electorate isn’t just an artifact of having a 2-party system; liberals have been convincing people to become more liberal. Conservatives, meanwhile, haven’t been convincing people to become more conservative.

Meme mitochondria propagate vertically–from parent to child–not horizontally, and are unattractive to people who weren’t raised with them. Meme viruses propagate horizontally–from peer to peer–and so must be attractive to others.

Progressivism is therefore propagating virally.

To be fair, ideas that began virally can become mitochondrial. Christianity in its early stages was viral, but later became mitochondrial. For an idea to become mitochondrial, it has to confer greater survival benefits on people who hold it than on people who don’t. Right now, Progressivism isn’t doing that.

The interesting question, therefore, is what Progressivism will do over the next 50-100 years. Remember that this situation of liberals not reproducing themselves is (most likely) a novel result of recent technological innovations. Will society keep moving leftward as Progressivism keeps spreading successfully to the conservatives? Or will future conservatives, having been born to the conservatives least susceptible to Progressivism in the first place, become, essentially, “immune”?

Or will the immigration of people with much higher birthrates and very different values render the whole business moot?

Increasing Diversity => Fascism: the difficulty of enforcing social norms via rules

I was recently reading a series of messageboard exchanges on the topic of increased integration of suburban neighborhoods, in which one person happily opined about the benefits of increased Section 8 housing in her neighborhood, and that any fears about declining home values could be solved by simply having stronger HOAs that enforced more rules.

And people call me aspie.

There are two major reasons why this is a bad strategy:

  1. Laws are, at best, an imperfect approximation of social norms; more laws => less freedom
  2. Disparate Impact

Let’s start with #1.

Most social norms are “unstated,” general rules of thumb that people understand almost intuitively, and apply with a fair amount of nuance. Failure to understand social nuance is annoying at best and a major symptom of certain mental disabilities; people who cannot understand social nuance are basically handicapped in social situations. The more rules are unstated, the worse off they are.

When two cultural groups mix, individuals often run into confusion due to having different cultural norms. In some cases these are easily worked out–just remember to take your shoes off when you arrive at your Chinese friend’s home–and in some cases they can’t be. If I think looking people in the eyes is rude, and you think not looking people in the eyes is rude, then we are going to have a conflict.

But let’s take an example that might actually come under an HOA’s jurisdiction. Let’s say you live in a community of about 100 households. The vast majority of the time–199 out of 2oo days, to be exact–everyone in the neighborhood takes their trash to the dumpsters, where it belongs. But 1 out of 200 days, each person has some unexpected thing come up–sickness, broken foot, whatever–and they leave a bag of trash out on their porch overnight. As such, even though everyone in the community agrees “people should not leave bags of trash on their porches at night, because rats,” every other night, there will be one bag of trash out on a porch somewhere in the neighborhood.

Then a new guy arrives. New Guy looks around, sees the bags of trash, and decides it must be okay in this neighborhood to leave bags of trash on one’s porch. New Guy starts putting his trash on his porch regularly–3 nights a week. The neighbors start to complain, but there’s not much they can do about it–the HOA has no rule on the subject, because it was never a problem before.

So after people get into shouting matches with the new guy a few times, the HOA passes a new rule: no trash on porches. New Guy gets a letter from the HOA notifying him that he’s going to get fined if there’s any more trash on his porch.

Pissed off, New Guy wanders around the neighborhood with his camera, photographing bags of trash on other people’s porches. By the end of the month, he has 15 photos of trash on other peoples’ porches, and accuses the HOA of singling him out for something other people are also doing.

The HOA now has to send letters to everyone. Now the vast majority of people getting letters about their trash are people who were leaving their trash out at socially acceptable rates in the first place, and the small utility of occasionally not hauling trash to the dumpsters due to crappy life circumstances has been eliminated.

The HOA could, if it were extremely motivated, pass a law based on frequency of trash bags, and keep track of exactly how often people leave trash on their porches. As long as your trash bags are separated by 200 days, you’re good. But put one out a mere 190 days after your previous one, and get fined. This is unlikely, would require an uncomfortable level of monitoring by the HOA, and would cost more. The more oversight you have to do, the more your HOA fees go up to pay for it all.

Now let’s suppose that there are several New Guys, and they run into more issue than just trash on their porches. They have large dogs, who bark a lot and whose pee starts killing the grass outside the building. There’s no rule against dogs, of course–lots of residents have one or two small dogs, but who has five big ones? The residents all scoop their dogs’ poop, but the New Guys don’t. The New Guys sublet their units to a bunch more new guys–there’s no rule against subletting, after all–creating a parking situation. Neighbors start complaining that their guests can’t park in the guest spots and have to walk a long way because the New Guys’ subletters are always parked in the guest spots, and there aren’t anymore parking spots in the lot. The New Guys have lots of friends who visit frequently, and neighbors complain about car doors slamming in the middle of the night and strangers coming and going in the halls. The New Guys complain that they just want to have a nice time with their friends, you assholes.

Are you going to make rules about all of these things? If you make a rule about subletting, will you also enforce it against guys whose gfs are sleeping over? They also contribute to the parking problem, after all. And how on earth are you going to enforce a rule about car doors at night or forbid people from having guests in their own units?

After about a hundred angry letters from the HOA, many fights with their neighbors, and a bunch of fines, let’s suppose the New Guys realize that they all come from a different ethno-cultural group than everyone else. If they’ve received more fines from the HOA than their ethnically different neighbors, then the HOA is guilty of Disparate Impact, (see, eg, Griggs,) and they can sue the HOA for being racist.

“In United States anti-discrimination law, the theory of disparate impact holds that practices in employment, housing, or other areas may be considered discriminatory and illegal if they have a disproportionate “adverse impact” on persons in a protected class. Although the protected classes vary by statute, most federal civil rights laws protect based on race, color, religion, national origin, and gender as protected traits, and some laws include disability status and other traits as well.” —Wikipedia

In the case of Griggs Vs. Duke Power, the SCOTUS found that Duke Power’s policy of only hiring employees with either a highschool diploma or who had received a particular score on an IQ test was racist because it disproportionately affected blacks, who are more likely than whites to drop out of highschool and score worse on IQ tests.

If the HOA’s rules impact people from different cultural groups with different norms of behavior at different rates–and it seems nearly impossible for them not to, given that, you know, different people are behaving differently–then you have disparate impact. If the HOA’s rules aren’t impacting people from different cultural groups differently, then you aren’t enforcing the community norms that you had in the first place.

The examples I have given are all minor ones. In real life, people have much larger issues. What do you do about the neighbor who decides to disassemble a car on his lawn, or the guy whose party guests crash drunkenly into your car? Or people with different norms about the acceptability of shoplifting or honor killing? Polygamy or child brides?

There’s a certain irony in this. When I think of “People I wish lived in my neighborhood,” (generally friends who have moved to far-flung places due to the vagaries of life, college, and jobs,) I don’t think, “So long as I clearly articulate all of my rules, my friends will be able to learn how to behave so they don’t crash the home values in my area,” because people I think are nice to be around are already people who share my ideas of acceptable behavior. Saying that people of other ethnic groups need to learn the rules of acceptable behavior implies, therefore, that you do not think these people know how to behave themselves or that their cultures are immoral/bad/incorrect.

I have mentioned before (though I can’t find it now, so maybe it wasn’t here,) that I think liberalism is (or ought to be) a meta-value of allowing other people in other places to do what they feel like without interfering, so long as they aren’t affecting you. The Amish can do their thing, and I can do my thing, and we don’t need to mess with each other. The Sentinelese and Pygmies aren’t hurting me, so I leave them alone. This breaks down when people with radically different beliefs live in close proximity to each other. If your neighbors believe in human sacrifice and you don’t, you will come into conflict. If your neighbors believe that women who don’t wear burkas are whores and you believe in sex-positive feminism, you will come into conflict. Then either someone will have to step in and start enforcing a bunch of new rules to sort the mess out, or you will punch each other until someone gives in.

There is nothing particularly wrong with trying to clearly articulate the rules, but it is not a solution for a lack of shared values and understanding of social norms.

Some thoughts for homeschooling parents

You can’t build up immunity to a disease by never experiencing it.

I hear a lot of people around these parts vowing to homeschool their kids because of this that or the other public schools are doing–usually something related to modern liberal politics. They’re afraid of their kids learning about gay marriage, or social justice, or something similar, so they decide that the solution is just to keep the kids at home where they can learn without the agenda.

Now, to be clear, I have nothing against homeschooling–all of the evidence and studies I’ve seen on the subject indicate that it is a perfectly fine way to educate a kid, so long as the parents are mentally healthy, not-abusive, etc. If you happen to live in an area where there aren’t a lot of other people around, then you might want to consider conventional schools just because your neighborhood makes it difficult to associate with other humans, but otherwise, I see homeschooling as just another method of educating a kid. If your goal is merely to provide your kid with the best education possible, this post is not for you.

However, if your goal in homeschooling is to prevent your kid from learning about broad social trends, political ideologies, or ideas you don’t like, anecdotal evidence suggests you will fail.

Your kid will grow up, they will leave the house, and then they will learn about all of the stuff everyone else believes. If everyone out there believes X, and your kid is even remotely neurologically normal, then your kid will learn about X and start believing it.

Remember, the vast majority of normal people pick up their ideas and beliefs from the other people around them. This is not a bug. This is a very important ability. Other people are treasure troves of useful information about how to stay alive and not die. Imitating others is how you learned to talk, which things are good to eat, and how to behave in new situations. If you’re standing near a road with your friend, and they suddenly jump back, it’s in your interest to jump back, too.

Inability to properly imitate others is extremely problematic and one of the basic symptoms of autism.

So, like I said, if your kids are remotely normal, they will pick up the values of the dominant culture upon exposure. And then they will decide that you were a looney nutcase.

I’m going to talk about the personal experiences of 5 people I know who were homeschooled by conservative Christians. I’m not cherry-picking; they are all the homeschooled people I know.

One went to Bible college, got pregnant, dropped out, and got married. This person still professes Christian faith, but believes far more in materialism.

The second dropped out of college, became a die-hard SJW, and changed genders. I doubt they are still Christian, and they regard their parents’ faith as a cult.

Third completed college, but has become a die-hard SJW. Has a very dim view of conservative Christianity. No children.

Fourth became an atheist liberal who believes in gay marriage and abortion.

Fifth became a die-hard SJW who hates conservative Christianity, thinks their parents were culty, and makes pornography.

If you want an in-depth look at how this happens, I recommend the webcomic Dumbing of Age.

What happened?

In all of these cases, the parents homeschooled to keep their kids isolated from certain ideas, ideologies, or behaviors. The kids graduated with very little experience of the world. They did not have a thorough understanding of how the world works, the philosophies out there, and why, exactly, their parents disagreed.

As a result, when exposed to the meme-viruses of the world, they get infected. They have no defenses.

In my experience, the vast majority of conservatives cannot articulate a coherent explanation for their beliefs, and do not attempt to explain their underlying reasoning to their kids. Many of them, I suspect, simply believe as they do because of habit, convenience, or because everyone else in their area does. Liberalism, by contrast, has put a lot of effort into making arguments against conservative beliefs.

For example, let’s take gay marriage. Common conservative arguments against gay marriage are “Ew! Gay people are gross!” “God says homosexuality is a sin,” and “The purpose of marriage is to make children.”

Liberals have all sorts of counter-arguments, like, “Ellen DeGeneres isn’t icky,” “Separation of Church and State,” and “But we let infertile people get married.”

In short, if it is really important to you that your kid think gay marriage is a bad idea, you’d better have a better, more coherent argument than that. Same for everything else in your memeplex/ideology/worldview–up to and including the existence of god. You might think your proof for the existence of god is pretty solid, but most of the people your kids will be associating with will probably think rather little of your proofs.

If you can’t explain your ideology and rigorously support it, showing your kids that your explanations of how the world works is better than the dominant ones, then you’d be better off just letting your kid go to public school and then doing your best to defend any objections to the curriculum when they come up. Your kids might think you’re kind of weird (just as I thought my parents were kind of weird in the early 90s for defending the use of aerosols/CFCs and not being concerned about the hole in the ozone layer), but they won’t hate you or think you’re a loon.

Happy 200 Posts! Come join the party

Cocktail-party-_2502341b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then something major happened: I had a kid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protestors-for-Marshall-Coulter-592x442

The elites will always defend the bullies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14877254-large

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

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

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

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

Sage advice.

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

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

 

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

Remember when Liberals gave a shit about the Environment?

I miss those days.

Sierra Club Supports Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants (Yes, this is from the actual Sierra Club website):

“Today, the Sierra Club announced its support for an equitable path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“The Sierra Club Board of Directors, made up of elected volunteer leaders, has unanimously adopted the position:

“‘Currently at least 11 million people live in in the U.S. in the shadows of our society. Many of them work in jobs that expose them to dangerous conditions, chemicals and pesticides, and many more of them live in areas with disproportionate levels of toxic air, water, and soil pollution. To protect clean air and water and prevent the disruption of our climate, we must ensure that those who are most disenfranchised and most threatened by pollution within our borders have the voice to fight polluters and advocate for climate solutions without fear.

“‘… America’s undocumented population should be able to earn legalization and a timely pathway to citizenship, with all the rights to fully participate in our democracy, including influencing environmental and climate policies. ‘”

Here, you might need this:

BangHeadHere_thumb[9]

Normally I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve heard enough people on the left lately explicitly saying that their organizations favor increased immigration because they believe those immigrants will vote Democrat/otherwise support their organizations that I’m starting to think that “import voters” is actually a Democratic strategy.

Which is cheating, BTW.

(Also, the Republican leadership wants more immigrants to keep wages down. Both sides are terrible.)

As logic goes, this is dumbass logic.

1. If the problem is that illegal immigrants can’t protest unhealthy work conditions without getting deported, then this is a good argument in favor of preventing illegal immigration, not encouraging more of it.

2. What makes them think Hispanic immigrants are suddenly going to start advocating for environmental protections, anyway? (I mean, do I have to drag out statistics here to prove that tree-hugging hippies are overwhelmingly white?)

Mexican citizens in their own country created one of the most polluted cities in the world:

Democracy: doesn't always end pollution
Mexico City

Mexico city manages to top the list of the world’s most polluted major cities:

From Air Pollution in Mexico City, by Hofmann
From Air Pollution in Mexico City, by Hofmann

Somehow, I don’t think lack of legal citizenship is the issue.

3. Population growth is one of the worst possible things you can promote if you give a shit about the environment. The Sierra Club used to understand this, back when their official policy favored population stabilization.

In other words, the Sierra Club is now explicitly advocating policies that result in environmental destruction.

Ultimately, I actually think the “they’ll vote for us!” justification is just that: a flimsy justification for doing what they want to do anyway, whether it actually squares with their other goals or not.

Which is to say, I don’t actually think the Sierra Club’s Board of Directors is delusional enough to think that increasing immigration will actually help the environment. Rather, I think the Board consists of liberals who buy into the pro-unlimited immigration propaganda that moving anywhere you want is a basic human right, and are especially interested in proving how much they love POCs, despite (or perhaps because of) working for one of the most overwhelmingly white organizations in the US. But since unfettered immigration => population growth is actually bad for the environment, some justification must be made to reconcile the two positions.

Meanwhile, about 66% of Americans actually do think Global Warming is happening, and only 15% are really committed to the idea that it isn’t.

But aside from a few people placidly saying they’re concerned about global warming, and a few people vocally responding, where is our leadership on the issue?

Al Gore seems to have had some things to say on the environment, but since he lost the Supreme Court vote, the Democratic base has turned increasingly toward more “people” oriented issues like racism, immigration, and gay marriage. And the kinds of people who care deeply about immigration, racism, and gay marriage may not happen to overlap with the kinds of people who think we should give serious thought to long-term global sustainability.

Here’s a question from the blog, “Ask a White Person: white people answering white peoples questions about race issues“:

“I got into an argument with a friend of mine who is a person of color. They were mad at me because I feel very passionately about protecting the ocean and they said that made me a bad person because I should only care about is social justice. I do care about social justice and I stand up to racism where I can, but how do I reply to that?”

From the response:

“Is client change real? Hell yeah! Is the ocean becoming a mass of plastic? Of course. But right in front of you is your friends pain.”

It’s almost like people who tend toward high time discounting don’t understand the logic of people with low time discounting.

“Since I don’t know you I also want to make sure to offer up that white people have a horrible track record of racism when discussing climate change. I am not saying this is you personally, just the system that we have created around climate issues has become its own thing and often is very racist in its approach. The way people talk about “food deserts” for example (which are almost always lower income communities of color) implies that there is not a food culture in those communities.”

Remember, if you’re concerned about the availability of fresh food in inner city communities, you’re a racist.

BTW, the presence or absence of a grocery store in downtown Detroit is not an environmental issue.

“One of the tricks here though is to keep fighting for climate justice and protecting the oceans while not ignoring your friend, and people of color, here on land. All of this shit is interconnected. The same system that is oppressing people is oppressing the ocean. … If we center black lives in our work then we will have to discuss climate issues, and the ocean. Listen to your friend and maybe what they are saying is that this type of centering in your work around oceans is needed. Maybe it is their not so subtle way of saying that they feel ignored in the larger climate and ocean movement?”

Meanwhile, Democrats are so committed to infinite immigration that openly illegal immigrants are being invited to White House Press Conferences.

 

Now, do whites have a great environmental track record?

No.

But it’d be awfully nice if someone could start having one.

Redwood forest
It’d be nice to have a planet that’s nice to live on.

Has Australia gone Totally Nuts?

Is having a loving family an unfair advantage? from ABC Radio National–the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Or is it just philosophers?

Western moral philosophy is completely broken because “academics” do not understand the basics of how morality works.

Normal people understand morality. People who were dropped on their heads as infants generally understand morality. Philosopher Adam Smith, however, thinks,

‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.

The test they devised was based on what they term ‘familial relationship goods’; those unique and identifiable things that arise within the family unit and contribute to the flourishing of family members.

For Swift, there’s one particular choice that fails the test.

‘Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,’ he says. ‘It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.’

“I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,”

Jesus effin’ Christ, this guy is an idiot.

Of course, anyone who studies inequality and sets themselves up as an expert on the issue and says things like, “I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families,” is an idiot. We have studies on these nifty people called “identical twins” and what happens when they are adopted by two different families and raised in different environments.

What happens is not very much. Within the normal range of parenting (like, not beating your children and locking them in the closet,) measurable life outcomes like criminality, IQ, income, etc., have more to do with the kids’ genes than with their adoptive parents’ parenting.

(Where parenting probably does matter is how much your kids like you. If you’re a jerk to them, they probably won’t call you very often.)

So, no, inequality is not caused by people reading bedtime books to their kids. It’s not caused by sending them to private school, and parents sure as hell don’t need philosophers to come up with complicated theories to justify being nice to their kids, because normal people don’t suffer these delusions.

“According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.

‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’”

Riiiight. Remember, you pay actual money to send your kids to university so they can be taught by these people.

“‘When we talk about parents’ rights, we’re talking about the person who is parenting the child. How you got to be parenting the child is another issue. One implication of our theory is that it’s not one’s biological relation that does much work in justifying your rights with respect to how the child is parented.’

For Swift and Brighouse, our society is curiously stuck in a time warp of proprietorial rights: if you biologically produce a child you own it.”

This is because most humans would knife you before letting you take their children away from them, because the instinct to take care of our children is a basic biological drive honed by thousands of years of evolution. Morality is an evolved instinct for taking care of our children. If you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand morality, though you might get by simply by listening to the collective wisdom of thousands of generations of your ancestors who managed to successfully raise children.

“Then, does the child have a right to be parented by her biological parents? Swift has a ready answer.

‘It’s true that in the societies in which we live, biological origins do tend to form an important part of people’s identities, but that is largely a social and cultural construction. So you could imagine societies in which the parent-child relationship could go really well even without there being this biological link.’”

I am normally a peaceful person, but this guy actually inspires a deep, burning hatred, but that might just be my fear that this guy is going to try to kidnap my children speaking.

Rights are a social construct. Ethnicity is kind of a construct, and kind of a biological reality. Identifying with and getting along with one’s parents is based entirely in reality. It has to do with things like “are my parents jerks?” and “Do my parents understand me?”

So let me tell you a little secret of some relevance: I was adopted. My adoptive family was very loving and very kind. I am now, as an adult, in contact with my biological family, from whom I was, shall we say, unjustly removed. My biological family is also very loving and kind. No one here was jerkfaces; I am grateful to everyone.

I have a much, much stronger connection with the biological family I only met as an adult than I have with the adoptive family that actually raised me. I can’t help it. These people are like me in deep, fundamental ways. They have the same or similar hobbies as I do. They struggle with similar problems. They reason about the world in the same ways. We have instant shortcuts to understanding each other.

So, even though my adoptive family was super-loving and awesome and I love them and so on, the idea of trying to run a whole society like this, the idea of depriving everyone in society of that basic instinctual connection with the people around them that you non-adopted people don’t even realize you have, is kind of horrifying.