Open Thread (happy Thanksgiving.)

ct-bildwaaiwyofHello, my friends! Today we get to celebrate (one day early) the American holiday of Thanksgiving.

I don’t really like holidays, Thanksgiving included, though I wish I did. It seems like other people enjoy the holiday aesthetic, the turkeys and cranberries and Pilgrims and whatnot. They act like they do, anyway, but the things people do and the semi-mythic stories connected with the holiday seem so disconnected–why don’t cities have big communal feasts where they exchange gifts with the nearest Native American tribes? (Or if not cities, then churches or fraternal organizations.) I suppose it doesn’t help much that rather few of us today identify with either the Pilgrims or the Indians, and I imagine the Indians have rather mixed feelings about the day.

So what about you? What do you get out of Thanksgiving? Do you enjoy holidays?

picture-14cSome good news: Rates of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia appear to be declining among the elderly (one theory: fat may be protective, so getting fatter has made our old people smarter.)

In the intellectually exciting department: Underwater Stone Age Settlement Mapped Out:

Six years ago divers discovered the oldest known stationary fish traps in northern Europe off the coast of southern Sweden. Since then, researchers have uncovered an exceptionally well-preserved Stone Age site. They now believe the location was a lagoon environment where Mesolithic humans lived during parts of the year.

picture-15cAnd some food for thought: New Study links Church Attendance to ‘Conservative Theology’:

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb” 93% of growing church pastors agreed, 83% of growing church attendees agreed, 67% of declining church attendees agreed, and just 56% of declining church pastors agreed.

When asked if “God performs miracles in answer to prayer” 100% of the growing church pastors agreed, 90% of the growing church attendees agreed, 80% of the declining church attendees agreed, and just 44% of the declining church pastors agreed.

And in the Anthropology department: How Gypsies have Moved from Fortune-Telling to Fervent Christianity:

Huge numbers of Gypsies and travellers in England now say they’ve joined a new movement called Light and Life. Those who join have given up drinking alcohol and fortune-telling, and many have even abandoned their traditional Catholic faith.

The Pentecostal movement, which is Gypsy-led, has grown rapidly in the past 30 years – it says up to 40% of British Gypsies belong to it. There’s no way to prove that claim, but most Gypsies and travellers will agree that there is a surge in people joining.

It’s centred on charismatic preaching, praying in tongues and miracle healing.

About 6,000 Gypsies and travellers attended to the Church’s UK convention.

On to Comment of the Week: We had some great posts on “Why are Mammals Brown? (and part 2)

with the thoughts you’d be thinking informs us that:

…seeds from plants that appeal to mammals in general tend to be dull coloured and smell, while seed that appeal to birds tend to be brighter and such. Avocados are an example of an evolutionary anachronism in that they evolved to be eaten by mammal mega fauna [that are now extinct.]

Robert M. Sykes:

Back in the 70s while I was at Union College, I had a biologist colleague who was interested in the vision of insects and birds. He used a tv camera to record flowers and other plants because the tv cameras then in use recorded will into the ultraviolet. Most flowers look quite different in the uv, and even some drab looking stuff (to us) really stand out in uv.

And Dave:

Chickens have five-color vision, so instead of a one-dimensional “rainbow” of hues, they see a three-dimensional hue-space (that is, not counting brightness and saturation).

The downside of this is that they are struck blind the moment the sun dips below the horizon.

Jefferson has an interesting perspective on Noah’s Twitter Deluge:

Torah is clear that Gnon/Hashem selects against density. Cain was a city builder (and farmer vs. shepherd), Abraham was super salty towards the cities he visited because he thought they might kill him to rape his wife. Furthermore, it’s not modernity, but the plenty that comes with it that we are warned against. “You will grow fat and kick,” Moses warned us. As we are relieved of a marginal existence in which our normal signalling is best suited (signaling material plenty indicates a genuine improved survival rate for offspring), holiness signaling replaces physical status signaling. …

And Tim P. clearly put a lot of thought into his response on What if Dems actually Know they’re Lying? His comment is long, so I’m only excerpting a piece of it and you can RTWT there:

…as stated in the OP, obviously a glut of labor (assuming an economy ‘operating at capacity’) will lead to greater opportunities for capital to exploit workers through breaking collective bargaining systems, driving down wages, cutting corners on safety and such, and this phenomenon has no a priori connection to immigrants of a particular ethnic background. It seems sensible to me to include immigration controls as part of a plan to slow the pace of economic change and give people a chance to get their feet under them so to speak. Bernie Sanders called open borders a “Koch brothers proposal” and I tend to agree.

However, I feel it would be a great moral calamity to uproot the lives of millions of people currently living in the US, some of whom have been here for decades, some of whom have no memory of another land or skills with which to make their way abroad. …

Well, happy day before Turkey day, everyone!

Species of Exit: Pilgrims, Memes, and Genes (Part 2/3 ruminations on Puritans and Indians)

Part 1: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder; part 3: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism

The Puritans really get a bad rap these days. “The Pilgrims” get favorable treatment in some children’s books, but “the Puritans” are lucky to get a neutral description anywhere, much less a positive one. Much of the time they described in outright hostile terms, as bad people who oppressed women and children and nature and the Indians and so on and so forth.

Much of that is basically true, but what those accounts tend to leave out is that pretty much every other group on Earth was also terrible by modern standards.

You ever wonder what happened to Roanoke colonists? Chief Powhatan told Captain John Smith that he’d killed them all. Why? The colonists had gone to live with another Indian tribe in the area, Powhatan and his soldiers attacked and slaughtered that tribe for local tribal politics reasons.

As I’ve said before, hunter-gatherers (and low-scale agriculturalists) were not peaceful paragons of gender equality.

To be clear: the Roanoke (and Jamestown) settlers were not Puritans. Totally different group. I’m just commenting here on the behavior of the Powhatans, who massacred their neighbors, including the Jamestown settlers themselves (an attack that left a quarter of them dead.)

But if you pick up a children’s book about Pocahontas, do you read how the Powhatan people massacred the Roanoke colony and later tried to wipe out Jamestown? Or do you read about how the Powhatan loved nature so much they were constantly surrounded by a chorus of singing birds and magic trees?

Do you ever read a story about the Puritans in which they are surrounded by magical choruses?

I am picking on the Powhatans because they come up in the relevant literature, even though they had nothing to do with the Puritans. I could just as easily talk about the Killing Fields of Cambodia; ISIS; or folks like King Gezo and Madam Efunroye Tinubu, who became wealthy selling people into slavery and didn’t hesitate to slaughter hundreds of slaves for religious sacrifices.

History (and the modern world) has a lot of groups in it I wouldn’t want to live in or near. The Puritans, by contrast, are downright pleasant. When everyone else kept telling them their religion was annoying, they politely moved away from everyone else so they could go about their business peacefully. They were never much involved in the slave trade, worked hard, attempted to lead virtuous lives, taught their children to read, and even established schools for the Indians so they could learn to read.

So who were the Puritans?

Puritan Genetics

These four pictures all came from Jayman’s Maps of the American Nations posts, which are all inspired by Colin Woodard’s book, American Nations, which I should probably read:


Here we have a map showing genetic clusters in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Eastern England obviously has the most red, a product of Anglo-Saxon admixture. (Note that the A-S component isn’t a majority, even here.) Western England is more varied, showing less of the Anglo Saxon and more of the old Celtic (or perhaps pre-Celtic) bloodlines, simply because the Anglo Saxons et al landed on the south eastern shore and spread inward from there, leaving a fringe of less mixed native people on the western (and, obviously, northern) side of the Island. (Note also that “Celtic” is not a homogenous group, but more of a catch-all for everyone who just doesn’t have a lot of A-S.) Cornwall, Wales, eastern and northern England, and the English/Scottish border region all show up quite distinctly on this map.


And here we see where people from each region headed. They did not move randomly, but shipped off with their friends and families, aiming for places where people like them were already established. The Jamestown settlers, as I mentioned before, were not Puritans; they were in it for the economic opportunities and hailed largely from the western side of the island.

The Puritans hailed from the east side of the island, the Anglo-Saxon zone, but obviously were not a random assortment even here, as they were members of a relatively small religious sect that wasn’t all that well tolerated by the other locals. Personality wise, they remind me a lot of the Dutch (and not just because they lived in Holland for a few years.)


Here we can see where the various groups landed and then spread. The Puritans arrived in Massachusetts in 1620 and spread quickly:


Jayman's map of the American Nations

to their fairly reliable present locations.

The Wikipedia claims that in contrast to the Jamestown colony, which was largely populated by men hoping to get rich, the Puritans consisted of a more even mix of men, women, and children who intended to raise children and build a civilization, a “Shining city upon a hill.”


Puritan Memes

The Puritans basically believed that god wanted them to run their lives via a joint-stock corporation with a semi-democratically elected board of directors.

Religiously, Puritanism is the kind of movement you’d expect from the Little Ice Age. They hated nice-looking churches, fancy decorations, and, one suspects, anything that smacked too much of “fun,” all of which they associated with their hated enemies, people who had insufficiently purged themselves of all vestiges of Catholicism. Their idea of a “good time” was attending church in a plain wooden building, then having a sedate meeting at home to discuss the sermons. (Anne Hutchinson got banished for hosting insufficiently sedate sermon discussions, after which the Puritans attempted to generally crack down on women enjoying church too much.)

Basically, the Puritans were trying to route religion through the logic parts of the brain. I don’t know if this is just because they had some other reason to hate Catholics, because they simply wanted to be rational about their religion, or if they just lacked the basic impulse toward irrational emotional experiences and so found ritual inherently strange and repellant.

Whatever the reasons for their attempt at striping down their religion to its barest, calmest bones, I suspect that religious belief is dependent on emotional rather than rational experiences, and thus attempts to conduct religion “rationally,” no matter how well-intentioned, quickly result in atheism. Ritual, symbolism, mysticism, and other altered, transcendent states instill an overwhelming sense of divine presence that mere logic cannot match.

By the 1660s, just 40 years after the Pilgrims had landed, the Puritan churches were undergoing a bit of a crisis due to the children and grandchildren of the original Puritans just not being as into church as their forefathers.

This is not much of a surprise; when it comes to breeding for particular traits, one must always deal with regression to the mean. The original stock of New World Puritans consisted of people who were so concerned about the English government not doing enough to root out the last few vestiges of Catholicism from the Church of England that they decided to risk death so they could start a new community on the other side of the ocean. Their children and grandchildren, having regressed a bit toward the religious mean, were not quite so devout.

This is a pattern I see among super-religious people today; they try their very hardest to pass on their religious fervor, but their children rarely turn out as religious as their parents.

Today, the Puritan church has morphed into the basically atheist Unitarian Universalist Church and the United Church of Christ, which promotes, “liberal views on social issues, such as civil rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights, and abortion rights,” and practices open communion (that is, anyone can walk in and take communion; you don’t have to be an official member of their church like you do in Catholicism.)

The Puritans haven’t quite shaken the habit of attending church, even though they stopped believing in all of this “god” business long ago.

What else made the Puritans Puritans?

One thing I have noticed about Yanks is their almost compulsive drive to create organizations. (I swear, these people cannot hang out and watch TV together without establishing a set of by-laws and a treasury to handle snack funds.)

The Puritan colonies were not just a random assortment of huts tossed up on Massachusetts’s shores. They were company towns set up by joint-stock corporations like the London Company, Plymouth Company, and most famously, the Dutch East India Corporation, which preceded the London Company by about 4 years, making the Dutch the first people to use joint-stock corporations for international trade and settlement, which is why the whole business strikes me as so very Dutch.

I wrote about the development of these joint stock corporations and their importance in the history of the United States and Europe back in Les Miserables.

The original British and Dutch colonies of Jamestown, New York, Plymouth, etc., were literally corporations whose purpose was to make money for their stock holders by harvesting timber (England had cut down pretty much all of its trees and was reduced to burning mud and rocks,) growing tobacco, and carrying on trade with the Indians. In practical terms, this was the only way the Puritans could get the funding necessary to buy the boats and supplies they needed to get from England to New England.

Wikipedia has an interesting description of how these corporations came to be:

“On April 10, 1606 King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) granted a charter forming two joint stock companies. … Under this charter the “first Colony” and the “second Colony” each were to be ruled by a “Council” composed of 13 individuals. The charter provided for an additional council of 13 persons to have overarching responsibility for the combined enterprise. Although no name was given to either the company or council governing the respective colonies, the council governing the whole was named “Council of Virginia.”

“The investors appointed to govern over any settlements in the “first Colony” were from London; the investors appointed to govern over any settlements in the “second Colony” were from the “Town of Plimouth in the County of Devon.”[citation needed] The London Company proceeded to establish Jamestown.[5] The Plymouth Company under the guidance of Sir Ferdinando Gorges covered the more northern area, including present-day New England, and established the Sagadahoc Colony in 1607 in present-day Maine.[6]”

(The Maine colony failed.)

Different colonies probably differed in how they handled the exact details of administration, but the general gist of things is that the Puritans believed that democracy was divinely ordained by John Calvin. Adult males who were formal members of the Puritan Church and had been “sponsored by an existing freeman and accepted by the General Court” (wikipedia) were allowed to vote for the colony’s governors.

Despite a deeply held religious conviction that they should work hard and build the best joint-stock corporation they could, the early Puritans had a very rough time of it in the New World and a great many of them died, which had a major negative impact on profits for the first few years. The investors in the Plymouth Colony decided to cut their losses in 1627, and sold the colony to the colonists, at which point they were technically an independent republic. The Massachusetts Bay company followed a similar path, first by relocating their annual stockholders meeting from England to Massachusetts, and then by buying out the remaining non-Massachusetts residents’ stock shares.

The British at this time were content to basically ignore the colonies (aside from the 10,000 or so who emigrated,) until after the English Civil War, when the newly restored king decided he was going to take over the colonies and rule them himself. Of course, you know how that eventually ended; the Puritans were too numerically dominant in their area and 1700s tech still too limited for Great Britain to control them for long.


As for daily life in the colonies, once they got the houses insulated and the crops growing, it wasn’t nearly so bad. There was plenty of land to till, child mortality was low, interpersonal violence was low, and the people seem to have been basically happy and productive.

I spent a while trying to decide whether the Puritans or the Jamestown colonists were more “liberal,” and eventually decided that “liberal” and “conservative” are meaningless, at least in this context. Virginia produced democracy-loving deists like Jefferson, whereas the Puritans were, well, Puritans. Jamestown has been block-voting with the rest of the South pretty much since George Washington retired (and probably before Washington was even born), and Plymouth Colony has voted against Jamestown in almost every election, so we should probably just chalk the political divide up to “ethnic differences dating back to the Anglo-Saxon and Norman conquests of Britain” and leave it at that.

Previously: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder (Part 1); next up: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism

oppression is in the eye of the beholder (Part 1/3 ruminations on Puritans and Indians)

Part 2: Pilgrims, Memes, and Genes, and Part 3: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism

I remember an article I read ages ago (that, alas, I cannot find now,) on the subject of what the Puritans thought of Indian gender relations. In Puritan society, men were expected to work in the fields or at trades/professions in the cities, while women were supposed to work in the home, raising children, cooking meals, and otherwise doing domestic labor.

In the nearby Indian tribes, by contrast, women worked in the fields, either alongside the men or while the men stayed at home, doing whatever needed to be done about the house or just relaxing with their friends. (This is not just something I read once, btw; here’s an article from Indian Country Today on Why do Tribes Have Matrilineal Societies?)

It is common enough today to read descriptions of the Puritan lifestyle which basically amount to denunciations of the Puritans as evil, patriarchal oppressors, and glowing descriptions of the Indians’ lifestyle as female-empowered matriarchies.

The funny thing is that the Puritans saw the Indians as evil, patriarchal oppressors. They viewed the Indian men like communists view evil capitalist oppressors who sit indolently at home while benefiting from the exploitation of their wives’ labor instead of working industriously in the fields so that their wives can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle at home.

These days, of course, one does not encounter denunciations of the Indians as evil, patriarchal oppressors. In fact, it is difficult to find a respectable source making any kind of denunciation of Indian culture at all, unlike the Puritans.

I’m going to quote Howard Zinn at greater length than I usually prefer to quote, just because I’m having trouble picking the best part:

“Societies based on private property and competition, in which monogamous families became practical units for work and socialization, found it especially useful to establish this special status of women, something akin to a house slave in the matter of intimacy and oppression, and yet requiring, because of that intimacy, and long-term connection with children, a special patronization, which on occasion, especially in the face of a show of strength, could slip over into treatment as an equal. An oppression so private would turn out hard to uproot.

Earlier societies-in America and elsewhere-in which property was held in common and families were extensive and complicated, with aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers all living together, seemed to treat women more as equals than did the white societies that later overran them, bringing “civilization” and private property.

In the Zuni tribes of the Southwest, for instance, extended families- large clans-were based on the woman, whose husband came to live with her family. It was assumed that women owned the houses, and the fields belonged to the clans, and the women had equal rights to what was produced. A woman was more secure, because she was with her own family, and she could divorce the man when she wanted to, keeping their property.

Women in the Plains Indian tribes of the Midwest did not have farming duties but had a very important place in the tribe as healers, herbalists, and sometimes holy people who gave advice. When bands lost their male leaders, women would become chieftains. Women learned to shoot small bows, and they carried knives, because among the Sioux a woman was supposed to be able to defend herself against attack.

The puberty ceremony of the Sioux was such as to give pride to a young Sioux maiden:

“Walk the good road, my daughter, and the buffalo herds wide and dark as cloud shadows moving over the prairie will follow you… . Be dutiful, respectful, gentle and modest, my daughter. And proud walking. If the pride and the virtue of the women are lost, the spring will come but the buffalo trails will turn to grass. Be strong, with the warm, strong heart of the earth. No people goes down until their women are weak and dishonored. . ..”It would be an exaggeration to say that women were treated equally with men; but they were treated with respect, and the communal nature of the society gave them a more important place.

By the way, I didn’t pick Zinn because he’s a famous liberal historian, but because he was the first Google hit when I searched for opinions the Puritans held about the Indians. Zinn strikes me as one of those guys who would insist to my face that I am being oppressed and that my lack of feeling oppressed is just a sign of how oppressed I am, which never fails to infuriate.

Zinn says the women of the Sioux had to learn to kill people and walked around armed because violence against women was so prevalent in their society, and then claims they were treated with respect. A Sioux girl becomes a woman not because she has accomplished some great skill or acquired some learning, but because she becomes fertile and capable of conceiving children, at which point she is lectured on the importance of being dutiful, respectful, and preserving her “virtue,” which sounds a lot like code for virginity to me. If she doesn’t, her tribe will starve, because goodness knows all misfortune comes as a result of women. Eve, Pandora, dishonored Sioux maidens…

Honestly, I have no idea how the Sioux felt (and feel) about women, but this little excerpt is inadequate to support to the idea that women were more respected by the Sioux than by, say, Queen Elizabeth’s England, where women did not even have to walk around armed for fear of constant violence.

A while back, I posted about the similarities between West African Child-Rearing Norms and African-American Norms. The point of this post was not that the two are similar because of genetics–though that would be very interesting if they are–but that the exact same behavior that anthropologists laud as evidence of cultures that respect and empower women, when practiced over in Africa, is derided as the source of all of the black community’s problems over here in the US.

Be careful what you believe. Everybody has an agenda. Anthropologists want to push the narrative that non-whites are morally superior than whites, generally by claiming that they are peaceful paragons of gender equality, which turns out to be factually untrue in a lot of ways, especially homicide rates. Conservative Americans want to push the narrative that loss of traditional values and family structures created the social decay, crime, and low educational achievement now seen in African American communities. This is likely also untrue, but I grant the possibility.

Most Sioux probably liked (and like) their culture and did not feel oppressed by it. Most Nigerians probably liked (and like) their culture. Likewise, most of the English probably liked English culture, and most of the Puritan women probably liked Puritan culture. This is the way of people virtually everywhere.

One thing all of these descriptions of Puritan and Indian life tend to miss (though Zinn comes close to noticing it) is that there is an important reason why women were more active in economic production in Indian life than in European life: the European economy (including the Pilgrims’) was more complicated and closer to achieving full industrialization, and industrialization requires specialization. Anyone can gather yams; most people can fish. Men probably have an advantage drawing a bow or throwing a spear, but women are perfectly good butchers of most game.

But working cattle, building windmills, and driving fence posts are hard, difficult tasks that require a great deal of muscle.

Did you know that the Amish use automatic milking machines? Yes, the Amish use some technology, if they decide it will be a boon to their culture. They use milking machines because Amish women are too weak to easily lift the 70 lb milk jugs, and these are people who were raised on a farm.

Obviously European society in the early 1600s had not yet “Industrialized” as we use the word, but it had reached a high level of technical development, including the use of wind, water, and tidal mills for grinding grain; large guilds for the production of standardized goods and regulation of commerce; orderly societies with falling homicide rates; printing presses and widespread literacy.

The Indians practiced low-scale agriculture/horticulture, hunting, gathering, fishing, and some forms of resource management. They also killed all of the wooly mammoths in North America, because they love and respect nature so much just as much as virtually everyone else on the entire planet. They did not have cows or horses (or any domestic animals besides dogs;) so they could not plow or pull wagons. Trade had to be carried one one’s back or a sled dragged on the ground, pulled by a dog. They had no need to fence in large herds of enormous bovines. Farming by hand, as was common in much of the world at that time, does not require the same strength as plowing with oxen, and can easily be accomplished by women.

Lack of task specialization and resource exploitation had little to do with the Indians being fabulous people who loved women and nature way more than the Pilgrims. It was just the result of low levels of technological sophistication that did not therefore require intense labor, specialization, or large-scale resource extraction.

Oppression is in the eye of the beholder.

Part 2: Pilgrims, Memes, and Genes, and Part 3: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism