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 Gene Expression Blog / IdeologyTeasers

41mWHpXBYvL._SX370_BO1,204,203,200_ A few days ago I joked on Facebook that life isn’t about the score up on the board, but standing with your team. By this, I have come to the position that when it comes to arguments and debates the details of the models and facts, and who even wins in each round, is irrelevant (barring extinction) when set against the value and gains to group cohesion. In the middle 2000s a friend advised that I should be more explicitly partisan and ideological, because that is how I could gain friends and allies in my hour of need.

In my short jaunt through Theory writ large I have finally come that conclusion as well. I am a naive realist and a positivist. I work under the assumption that there is a world out there, that that world out there manifests itself in the order we see when we decompose it with analysis and empirical methods. As long as I kept my eyes on prize, the “score,” I felt at peace.

This was dangerously naive. Whereas before I had worked under the hypothesis that my interlocutors were falling prey to cognitive biases when they engaged in ad hominem or logical fallacy, I am now coming to suspect that one some level they are aware that they are engaging in the dialectics of ultimate victory. Every battle they lose is simply another opportunity to shore up their forces in future battles. Just like Rome against Hannibal, their contention that the structure of human society, rather than the world “out there,” is determinative, may very well be true in relation to all that matters.

9780195335613 Years ago I laughed at D. Jason Slone’s satirical tongue-in-cheek take on “discourse” and “Theory” in Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t. Slone was working in a positivist and analytic tradition which attempted to understand religious phenomena on a rational level, to turn it into another phenomenon among phenomena. But with all due respect, Slone works in relative obscurity more than a decade later, while some of the people he mocked for being wrong walk hallowed halls. Who was truly right in all that matters in this world?

Slone knew the score. His side easily runs up the points. But while his side, my side, focuses on the banality of reality, their side, the other side, works to secure victory in the hearts of men. When you have gained master over human sentiment, you gain mastery over human action.

As an illustration of this, consider this piece in Vox, A new school year. A new fight against affirmative action. This time at Harvard. People make fun of Vox, but I believe that the people running it actually do think empirics matters. They attempt analysis. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to who and whom.

The Vox piece interviews a professor OiYan A. Poon, who expresses views typical of a certain segment of the professional Asian American intelligentsia. I say professional Asian American in the sense that these individuals are professionals at being Asian American, at being the Asian American voice among progressive cultural elites. Their Asianness is almost incidental to their identity, which steeped in what might be the termed the discourse of white supremacy, predicated on cross-identity alliances against Oppression.

At this point I might “fisk” Poon’s assertions, many of which don’t bear even superficial scrutiny, or her assertion that Asians who oppose her politics are basically stooges of white people without any independent agency. But that’s not the point of this piece at Vox. It’s not to explore facts, it’s to reinforce narratives. The author of the piece engages in no critical rationalism, no attempt to actually probe the assertions Poon makes, because Poon is on the right side, the right team. The interview is an exercise in team building, not an attempt to describe the real world that would hold up to any deep scrutiny. The people at Vox probably don’t see it this way, because the shape of reality has already been determined, the terms of have been set.

They believe because it is absurd. They make the leap of faith.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Ideology 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Open Thread 

gal The above talk is from Alice Dreger, author of Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice. I don’t know Dreger personally, but she seems like a brave and courageous person. In the broadest strokes there’s very little where we disagree. Yes, our politics, and many of our specific beliefs, diverge, but we generally at least hold to the ideal of truth.

There is one section of her talk where Dreger waxes eloquently about the Enlightenment, and freedom of thought, which caught my attention. We have always missed the mark, but at there was a point where in Western intellectual culture the idea that freedom of thought and striving toward truth was at least the paramount method and goal. I am not so sure that is the case today.

When Dreger pointed approvingly on Twitter to University of Chicago’s statement on “safe spaces,” I told her that most of my liberal Twitter follows were enthusiastically sharing this piece, UChicago’s anti-safe spaces letter isn’t about academic freedom. It’s about power. The piece makes some coherent points, but mostly it is self-congratulatory intellectual masturbation. At a certain point the cultural Left no longer made any pretense to being liberal, and transformed themselves into “progressives.” They have taken Marcuse’s thesis in Repressive Tolerance to heart.

75812 Though I hope that Dreger and her fellow travelers succeed in rolling back the clock, I suspect that the battle here is lost. She points out, correctly, that the total politicization of academia will destroy its existence as a producer of truth in any independent and objective manner. More concretely, she suggests it is likely that conservatives will simply start to defund and direct higher education even more stridently than they do now, because they will correctly see higher education as purely a tool toward the politics of their antagonists. I happen to be a conservative, and one who is pessimistic about the persistence of a public liberal space for ideas that offend. If progressives give up on liberalism of ideas, and it seems that many are (the most famous defenders of the old ideals are people from earlier generations, such as Nadine Strossen and Wendy Kaminer, with Dreger being a young example), I can’t see those of us in the broadly libertarian wing of conservatism making the last stand alone.

Honestly, I don’t want any of my children learning “liberal arts” from the high priests of the post-colonial cult. In the near future the last resistance on the Left to the ascendency of identity politics will probably be extinguished, as the old guard retires and dies naturally. The battle will be lost. Conservatives who value learning, and intellectual discourse, need to regroup. Currently there is a populist moood in conservatism that has been cresting for a generation. But the wave of identity politics is likely to swallow the campus Left with its intellectual nihilism. Instead of expanding outward it is almost certain that academia will start cannibalizing itself in internecine conflict when all the old enemies have been vanquished.

Let the private universities, such as Oberlin, wallow in their identity politics contradictions. Dreger already points to the path we will probably have to take: gut the public universities even more than we have. Leave STEM and some professional schools intact, and transform them for all practical purposes into technical universities. All the other disciplines? Some private universities, the playgrounds of the rich and successful, will continue to be traditionalist in maintaining “liberal arts,” which properly parrot the latest post-colonial cant. But much learning will be privatized, and knowledge will spread through segregated “safe spaces.” Those of us who read and think will continue to read and think, like we always have. We just won’t have institutional backing, because there’s not going to be a societal consensus for such support.

I hope I’m wrong.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Intellectuals 


The employment data above are from Randall Parker (seasonally adjusted for what it’s worth), and originally the Labor Department. Randall had it as a tabular display, but I think a simple bar plot is more illustrative. The percentage of unmarried births is from the Census.

It looks like Americans with university degrees or higher are basically at full employment. Additionally, the substantial majority of Americans with university degrees or higher are in the labor force. In contrast, only a minority of Americans without high school diplomas, and only a simple majority of Americans with high school diplomas, are in the labor force.

Labor force participation is pretty straightforward. If you are looking for a job, or have a job, you are part of the labor force. Everyone else is part of the whole population (e.g., those who are homemakers, etc.). As for births to unmarried women, those with university degrees basically live in a different universe. I didn’t want to clutter the above chart anymore, so I didn’t mention divorce. But you can see from the data to the left that college educated Americans tend to have very long marriages. In contrast, when the non-college do get married, divorce is rather common.

I’m pretty bullish on America, and the world. But that’s easy for me to say, since I am the sort of person who has more work than time, and my work is very fulfilling. Also, I’m married, with beautiful healthy children. I’m a lucky person, and the world seems charmed. It’s simply not in my interest to rock the boat.

But for those for whom only desperation stretches out before them, desperate acts can seem quite rational. Those with nothing to lose have nothing to lose.

• Category: Economics, Ideology • Tags: Class 

bw04060031396378081 It is a common assertion to state Christianity helped maintain the continuity of Classical civilization down to the Medieval era, through the “Dark Age” of Europe after the Fall of Rome. A more extreme position is that Christianity was a necessary condition for the maintenance of this civilizational tradition. I recall once reading an alternative history short story where illiterate tribesman visit the ruins of Rome, and muse about the consequences of Maxentius’ victory over Constantine at Milvian Bridge (this is the “point of departure”).

Obviously no one denies that the Christian Church was essential in maintaining ancient learning and ideas, whether through concrete steps such as copying in scriptoriums, or, more abstractly by integrating with into intellectual armamentarium tools developed by the Greeks (e.g., Greek philosophy). But, there is a line of thinking that asserts that there was something profound about the Christian religion which allowed for the maintenance of civilization against the barbarian hordes. Whether it is true or not is not an argument that is winnable in this space. But, the power of ideas to shape the course of human history is more tractable.

What I would suggest is that complex human phenomena, such as Christianity, are not reducible down to abstract sets of ideas in terms of how they manifest themselves in our world. That is, Christianity is only marginally about the Athanasian Creed, or even the sacrifice made by the Son of God, from a naturalistic perspective. Rather, the religion includes a broader set of institutions and folkways which derive from the culture at large (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church is the “ghost of the Roman Empire”). Additionally, it also expresses common human intuitions about the world and social relations.

But, as a complex cultural phenomenon, Christianity is conditional on complex culture. That is, Christianity may have aided the preservation of learning in the Dark Ages, but it couldn’t be the necessary cause of this preservation because too is an effect. The persistence of Christianity in the post-Roman world was a hallmark of those regions which maintained Romanitas to a greater extent. Christianity seems to have disappeared broadly (even if it persisted residually) from areas of the Roman Empire where there was total social collapse and transformation; the regions of Britain conquered by the Anglo-Saxons, much of the interior of Pannonia, Dacia, and Thrace. These are zones of cultural turnover. But, we know from genetics that a substantial local population persisted. In the Balkans and England a large minority of the ancestry derives from migrations which occurred after the year 500, but only a minority. But, the Roman majority clearly lost the cultural commanding heights, and with that the elite support for Christianity. These were zones that had to be re-Christianized in later centuries, even though a substantial proportion of the population probably had had Christian ancestors before.

congo_main_1894003f It isn’t that there was a proactive campaign of paganization, analogous to what occurred in 17th century Japan against the Christian population, who were forced to register with Buddhist temples. Rather, the total defenestration of the old Roman elites in these areas made it so that the new elites seem to have had little incentive to convert and patronize the old religion. This is in contrast to the situation in post-Roman Gaul (Francia), Spain and Italy, where Roman era elites maintained enough continuity to influence the German warrior elites (though in many cases these elites were already Christian, they were Arian sectarians, whose religious difference marked them off from the old nobility and the peasantry).

This all came to mind when I began to read portions of Congo: The Epic History of a People. I am reading this book for two reasons. After Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, I have come to think that the Congo basin is one of the great laboratories of the forces which drive cultural geography. As such, I have an eye out for books on the Congo. Second, it was a summer reading deal for the Kindle, and so cheaper than a Starbucks coffee.

The second relevant to this post: after the decline of the Kingdom of Kongo a residual memory of Christianity persisted across broad areas. But, Christianity became integrated into African shamanism and folk religion, and lost all its substantive distinctiveness from African traditional religion. The few Europeans who ventured into the interior in the 19th century reported villages where there were survivals of Christian ideas, but they had transformed beyond simple recognition. In the 20th century the southwest portion Congo basin, which been under Kongo rule, therefore became the focal point for missionary activity again.

What is true for Christianity is probably true for many complex human ideas and institutions that we think are here for good. The reality is that complexity of thought and contingency of logic are dependent on the surpluses generated by a a highly developed economy and centralized state.

Addendum: The tendency to culturally evolve seems normal. It happened to Islam in China when it was isolated from the broader world Islamic community.

• Category: History, Ideology • Tags: Kongo, Religion 

If you aren’t following the New Real Peer Review, you should. Endless enjoyment. What happened to the “old” Twitter account? The Daily Caller has an article about it, Social Justice Warriors Declare Battle On Colleague For Exposing Their ‘Research’. Aristotle may be a dead white male, but he had these people dead his sights:

Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either above humanity, or below it; he is the ‘Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,’ whom Homera denounces—the outcast who is a lover of war; he may be compared to a bird which flies alone.

Scientists are political too. But their object of study is real, and imposes the ultimate veto, that of the truth test. Critical Theory in contrast is fiction, and of a socially destructive rather than edifying sort.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Humanities 

Shu_Qi_Cannes_2015 Facts are important. But they can be inconvenient. Despite the stream of “think” pieces about “hookup culture” over the past decade there is no evidence that young people today are more promiscuous than in the past. In fact, on the contrary. Young people today are by most measures less promiscuous than past post-WW2 generations, in particular, Baby Boomers. Those articles ultimately are not about the behavior of young people, but the fears, dreams, and nightmares, of a declining Baby Boomer cohort which refuses to go into the sunset quietly. I’m not a Boomer, so I won’t psychoanalyze their motives, but like literature the facts proffered in these essays are a means toward probing deeper issues and questions about the human condition, their generation’s condition and preoccupations, as opposed to being literally true (some of the more recent articles will even admit that the statistical evidence falsifies their premise, but then proceed to suggest there are anecdotal data that lend credence to their premise!).

This applies to other things. Today Quartz put up a piece, If Asian Americans saw white Americans the way white Americans see black Americans, which is not really about Asian Americans at all, but simply uses them as a prop, often in a mendacious manner. First, it gives a nod to the Asian American “Model Minority Myth,” stating that there is “perception that they are high achievers relative to other American ethnic groups.” Get it? There’s a perception. There’s a myth in some scholarly and political quarters that the model minority idea is a myth, founded mostly on assertion (e.g., just stating that it’s a false myth) and slicing and dicing the statistics to emphasize ways in which Asian Americans are disadvantaged in relation to non-Hispanic whites. For example, there is often a focus on the diversity among Asian Americans, ranging from affluent Indian Americans, to groups with more conventional socioeconomic profiles like Filipinos, and finally, those which are somewhat disadvantaged such the Hmong. This is to show that Asian Americans are not a model minority…some of them are struggling. But the logic is not applied to whites! Those who purport to debunk the myth of the model minority would not accede to debunking the idea of white privilege by pointing to the state of Appalachia, and rural white America more generally. Group averages for we, but not thee?

51fMlNGN4lL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ And yet the Quartz piece engages in some interesting jujitsu by actually reporting the statistics of Asian American advantage vis-a-vis white Americans in the service of a broader agenda of putting whites in their place in relation to their critiques of black Americans. In particular it quotes Anil Dash as saying “If Asian Americans talked about white Americans the way whites talk about black folks, they’d bring back the Exclusion Act.”

This to me is really bizarre, and why I term the piece mendacious: Asian Americans do talk about white Americans the way whites talk about black folks. This sort of thing was a clear subtext of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Many (most?) Asian American kids who grew up with immigrant parents were barraged with assertions about the disreputable character of their “American” (white) friends, and how it was important to keep on the straight & narrow. Immigrants from Asia often perceive white Americans to be sexually obsessed, lazy, and prone to a general amorality and fixation on short term hedonic interests. These are polite ways to condense the sort of attitude many Asian immigrants have toward the white American mainstream, which they worry will absorb and corrupt their children. Dash must know this, as he probably had immigrant parents, or was friends with people from immigrant backgrounds. Most white Americans don’t know this, partly because most white Americans don’t have non-white friends. But anyone from an Asian American background would be aware of the stereotypes and perceptions.

The tacit misrepresentation of Asian Americans here, not acknowledging that they do engage in the exact sort of behavior you are hypothetically positing they might engage in and so alienate white people, is not surprising. Asian Americans are often simply bit characters in a drama involving broader social and political streams which dominate the political landscape. For many decades conservatives asserted that Asian Americans were “natural Republicans,” and expressed confusion as to why more were not voting for their party. But this was an empty talking point; over the past generation the Republican party has become the de facto white Christian party, and many Asian Americans are not Christian, and all are not white. Some conservative Christian Asian Americans can identify with Republicans because of their religious ties, but socially conservative Indian Americans, to give one example, naturally have a difficult time identifying with a party which wears evangelical Protestantism on its sleeve as modern Republicans often do. This isn’t rocket science.

Screenshot 2016-05-12 21.34.16 On the flip side of this, many liberals erase Asian Americans from the landscape of our culture if it does not serve their framework of white privilege uber alles. When it came out many people pointed me to The New York Times infographic, Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares. The only mention of Asians is this: “Reliable estimates were not available for Asian-Americans.” But my wife pointed out to me that within the chart itself you still had Asian Americans tabulated! If you check the bubble plots at the top right , you see schools like Cupertino Union. It’s 73% Asian American. If you read this blog you know that it irritates me that Asian Americans are routinely elided out of these stories. It’s too regular to be due to a lack of data. It’s because it doesn’t fit the narrative of white privilege and domination. So Asian Americans are skipped over to make the picture neat and tidy.

Instead of taking reality as it is, in all its complexity and nuance, people attempt to fit the data into a narrative straightjacket. Complexity is a talking point only when confronted with a hypothesis you disagree with. When the data does not cooperate in a simple fashion with your own model, the data conveniently goes unmentioned. In a putatively multicultural America the dominant narrative on the Left side of the cultural and political spectrum is that of a dichotomy between whites, who have privilege, and non-whites, who are oppressed.

The black American template, unique, and rooted deeply in the soil of this country, is injected into strange and inappropriate contexts when it comes to people whose ancestors are from Latin America and Asia. White liberals and minorities are assumed to naturally form an alliance against the majority white rump; white liberals because of their moral virtue, and minorities because of their interests. The injustices experienced by someone with a name like Raheem Washington, who grew up in the inner city, are rather easy to enumerate. Raheem Washington begins life with some disadvantages. But there is a particular mainstream narrative where someone with a name like Deepa Iyer (Update: When I wrote this post I actually didn’t know who “Deepa Iyer” was, I just thought up a plausible name! Turns out there really is a Deepa Iyer of some prominence!!!), who might have elite educations, affluent parents, and a good secure career, has more common with Raheem Washington than their white colleagues at the university that they might work at. And of course, there is the further aspect that often goes unmentioned that someone with the name Iyer is from the top echelons of South Asia’s caste system, and so benefits from thousands of years of privilege! And yet it is common among Indian Americans for literal Brahmins to style themselves PoC tribunes of the plebs, oppressed by white America.

A genuine multiculturalism would actually acknowledge the real empirical texture of this nation’s changing demographics. And, a genuine multiculturalism rooted in fact, rather than vacuous critical theory, would dig deep into the richness of human history, rather than outlining broad sketches where white privilege reigns supreme from Sumer to America. As it is, often liberal multiculturalism is simply an inversion of white supremacist theory. That’s unfortunate, because there are real political debates and values divergences which we can grapple with and debate as a society, but the water is immediately muddied and when the facts are subordinate to an ideological narrative. No side really wishes to live in the reality we are given, instead of their imagining.

* Many of the things I said above can be generalized to the American Right as well, though the particularities will differ.

** I shouldn’t have to say this, but any racist comment isn’t going to be published. That’s not going to stop some of you, but I thought I’d give you fair warning.

• Category: Ideology, Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Asian Americans 


51aEM-jiATL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_ In the 1960s W. D. Hamilton attempted to solve the “problem of altruism,” in the process developing a formalism that allowed for the elaboration of the concept of inclusive fitness. In concert with this Robert Trivers pushed forward the ideas which led to reciprocal altruism. Finally, John Maynard Smith developed evolutionary game theory. These are the dominant frameworks which biologists depend upon to model the evolution of sociality, as well as its persistence.

But, there is an alternative tradition, which offers up other possibilities besides the big three frameworks. Often this tradition attempts to explain altruistic behavior as a group level fitness optimization problem, rather than an individual level one, as is the case with inclusive fitness, game theory, and reciprocal altruism. David Sloan Wilson has presented this viewpoint in his books Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior, and Does Altruism Exist. Wilson’s multi-level selection theory seems particularly apposite for humans, whose baroque social complexity seems to be difficult to derive from elegant individual level theories.

51sdHZvYfTL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_ The field of cultural evolution deals in these sorts of complex models of between group competition and interaction, and it serves as a critical aspect of Joe Henrich’s recent The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter. Meanwhile, in Ultrasociety and War, Peace, and War, Peter Turchin outlines how human group level cohesion, asabiyya, can be the driver for complex social institutions and polities. Another way to conceive of this is esprit de corps.

All this was on my mind as I read Scott Atran’s research groups report, On the Front Line Against ISIS: Who Fights, Who Doesn’t, and Why. I follow Atran’s Facebook, and many of his posts read like what you might expect if Dexter Filkins was a social scientist steeped in evolutionary theory.

This part in particular jumped out at me:

Kurds and Yazidis are fighting for their survival, or rather, as they say, the survival of “Kurdeity” and “Yazideity.” These are core cultural values, sacred and inalienable, which give a sense of “who I am” and “why we are” in a world of ever shifting sands. And the level of commitment to fight and, if necessary die or sacrifice their families in defense of these values, matches or surpasses that of the Islamic State fighters (and al Qaeda’s al Nusra fighters) that we have interviewed and tested with a variety of psychological measurements on “will to fight.”

The Yazidis faced extermination in their ancient homeland. They have no choice but to stand their ground even when faced with the suicidal attacks from ISIS’ North Caucasian fighters, who combine devotion to the cause with military effectiveness. Similarly, the Kurds are fighting for their nationhood, while groups affiliated with the PKK augment that with a utopian Left-wing ideology.

The Sunni Arabs lack such devotion. They have no nation, alienated from the Iraq in which they are an oppressed minority, rather than the ruling caste that they have been habituated to be. They fight for their families, perhaps for their tribe. A neoclassical model of rational actors where clans are “firms” may well model their behavior, which is selfish interested and situational. As Atran’s dispatch makes clear, these were people who were for ISIS before they were against ISIS.

There is some symmetry within ISIS itself, with portions of its collective exhibiting less asabiyya. Local recruits occupy a second class status, and some of them are clearly the marginal or self-interested. Rather, the foreigners, especially units from the Caucasus and the French-speaking West, seem to be the closest that the shiekhs of ISIS have to a praetorian guard. In this way the al-Baghdadi and his inner circle are recapitulating an ancient Muslim pattern, where the rulers rely upon ideologically aligned outsiders to control and prod the populace whom they rule and represent.

Ideology and asabiyya have limits. I believe Atran tends to underestimate the professionalism and cohesion of American fighting units, but even if his judgment was correct (that they lack as much spirit as ISIS), the material advantage would just be too great for ISIS to withstand them. Japan and Germany both were cohesive nation-states, but they were just ground down by the massive industrial power of the United States and the strategic depth of Russia.

Set this against the concerns of the American intellgensia. E.g., White Privilege Conference Attendees Complain Conference Is Too White. What is increasingly normative in elite American circles are positional games, where individuals jockey for money and professional status, as well as ideological infighting which turns on semantic leverage and privilege of identity (where lack of privilege is the privilege in the discourse!).

This way of thinking has bled into the mainstream media. Consider this asinine article on Hillary Clinton and Bill deBlasio, Racially Charged Joke by Hillary Clinton and Bill de Blasio Leaves Some Cringing. I’m not a big fan of Bill de Blasio, who I am fond of calling New York City’s Communist mayor. But, if there is one white person who is not racist, it’s probably de Blasio. The journalists reporting this story must know this, but they still go through with the article. And most of the readers know that de Blasio is married to a black woman and has black children, which is far more integration than most white people achieve in their lifetimes. The journalists know you know that Bill de Blasio is very not racist, but they still have to read about his comments being “racially charged”. It’s a game.

The artifice probably why I found old style economic Leftism of Bernie Sander’s sort much less annoying than new style cultural Leftism steeped in critical theory. I’m very opposed to socialism, and skeptical of big government, but I can see that the proponents of these views are trying to do something for the human race. In contrast, #TeamProblematic seems only to be concerned with tearing down other people through leveraging their accrued victories in the privilege olympics. Rather than sacred values, these are squalid values. It is the intellectual form of going on a shopping spree at a crappy second rate indoor mall.

I’ll leave you with this: Feminists mock Green Party young women’s group for invite to ‘non-men’.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Patriotism 

California Surfers Look to Courts for Relief Against ‘Bay Boys’:

…intimidation that has kept outsiders like Mr. Taloa away for generations, a group of surfers is fighting to open up the beach to all comers. A class-action lawsuit filed last month by the Coastal Protection Rangers and two surfers seeks to bar the Bay Boys from congregating at Lunada Bay — similar to the way injunctions have been used against members of criminal street gangs.

The alleged members hail from one of the most exclusive communities in Southern California; many of them are middle-aged; some live in multimillion-dollar homes so close to the coastline here that the morning fog rolling off the ocean leaves their lawns damp.

If you live in SoCal you know there is a problem where rich people basically strangle access to public beaches in some areas so as not to be bothered and annoyed by the populace. The story above is just of a piece with that tendency.

The article I linked to earlier, about pro-growth activists fighting established progressive factions in the Bay Area illustrate the same pattern: entrenched local interests trying to prevent development and growth. The California property tax system is also famously skewed toward incumbents who have been in the state for a long time.

There’s a paradox here. The culturally liberal ethos is now in favor of mass immigration, while the business class of all ideological stripes wants workers of various skill levels. That means more people, who need more housing (and transportation). But the regulatory regime and the social norms are still biased toward skepticism of growth derived from a combination of 1960s environmentalism (on the Left) and anti-tax (property) and classist sentiment (on the wealthy Right).

• Category: Ideology • Tags: California 


The Washington Post posted an op-ed about a week ago with the title Is porn immoral? That doesn’t matter: It’s a public health crisis. The author is listed as follows: Gail Dines is a professor of sociology at Wheelock College in Boston and author of “Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality.” To not put too fine a point on it sociologists are generally full of shit. Sometimes they are correct. Oftentimes they are wrong. But they are always full of shit. The “reproducibility crisis” means we need to look at a lot of science with a skeptical eye, from the sexy findings of social psychology, to the medical studies which clinicians rely upon. Out of all these scholarly endeavors sociology may be the most insulated from concerns of reproducibility since it is such a brazen prostitute of a discipline, beholden to political considerations Über Alles.

41WL2k2+47L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Dines uses the words “association” and “correlation” several times. Here is the only reference to cause in the piece: “Pornography can cause lifelong problems if young people are not taught to distinguish between exploitative porn sex and healthy, safe sex.” They rest on associations and correlations.

If you’ve read Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled you know that you need to be very wary of modest correlations in social science. I would not be surprised if Brazilian fart porn was associated with sexually deviant behavior. But my own supposition is that it is more likely that Brazilian fart porn is an indicator of serious underlying problems, rather than the cause of those problems.

But, we do have a massive social experiment going on today in relation to the impact of porn on society. Starting around 1995, and at various points of initialization over the next ten years in various locales, the internet became ubiquitous enough in the developed world that the tight constraint on “supply” of porn was removed, so that it met “demand.” This is pushing porn in more perverse and kinky directions. It also means youth over the past generation have had incredibly easy access to very hardcore pornography.

As you can see above in the early 1990s the FBI began receiving fewer reports of rape, concomitant with the decline in violent crime generally. The decline in rape has continued through the age of porn. I doubt there is a causal relationship. But it goes to show that there is no macrosocial evidence that porn results in increased rapes in the aggregate.

• Category: Humor, Ideology • Tags: Porn 

I am travelling much of this week with the family. So expect me to be “off the grid” a bit.

But I will check this thread every day or so.

• Category: Ideology 

Ron Unz is running for the United States Senate. One of the major reasons is that bilingual education might be restored in California via the California Multilingual Education Act. Here is state Senator Ricardo Lara in Senator Lara Announces Bill Supporting Multilingual Education:

Multiple studies have shown that supporting children’s home language in early years is critical to later academic achievement, and results in better outcomes than English-only approaches. Additionally, researchers have also found that it is not just English learners who benefit from instruction in two languages – children from English-only homes enrolled in such programs had a distinct reading advantage over their peers in English-only programs.

“Extensive research has shown that students who build strong biliteracy skills (in English and one or more other languages) have higher academic success, a foundation for increased salary earnings, and stronger cognitive skills as they grow older,” said Jan Gustafson-Corea CEO of the California Association for Bilingual Education. “CABE supports Senator Lara’s bill as one that will promote educational equity and excellence in our schools and create a pathway for success for all students in the 21st century.”

“English will always remain the official language of California, but we cannot ignore the growing need to have a multilingual workforce,” said Lara.

I have a personal story that I can bring to bear on this. I arrived in the United States with only rudimentary knowledge of English (my maternal grandmother taught me a bit before I came to this country). When I entered kindergarten at at 5 I was not fluent. By the end of kindergarten I basically knew English at the fluent level, and any perception that English might have been a second language was gone by the time I finished 1st grade. At home my parents continued to speak Bengali to me, a language in which my fluency remains at the level of a 5 year old (I’m also illiterate).

As a teaching assistant in the UC system I’ve encountered some older students who exhibit a peculiar linguistic profile. Almost always Latino, they have a very mild accent in English, but are basically verbally fluent. But they are shockingly less fluent in written English. My first “wake-up” call was on a final exam where a student of mine asked for the definition of a word. My initial thought was “Dude, I can’t define scientific words for you, that’s your job.” It was the word composition. This is not an isolated incident. I’ve learned not to infer written fluency from verbal fluency for Latino students who are old enough to have gone through bilingual education as it was practiced in California in the 1990s.

Jessica_Alba_SDCC_2014 Recently I had dinner with one of these students. He received an A in class. Born in the United States he is of Mexican American background. Though he has strong quantitative and analytic skills, his fluency in written English is not at the same level. Over dinner he explained why: he was in Spanish language classes until he was 13. He didn’t start reading English until he was a teenager, so written English is for him for all practical purposes a second language.

I put the word operationally in the title for a reason: there are forms of bilingual education which are fine, and redound to a students’ success. My brother-in-law was in a French language immersion school and he has no problem with the English. But the immersion schools that middle class American students experience are not the bilingual schools which are set up in California’s Central Valley.

I understand that there are studies which indicate multilingualism are beneficial cognitively. I’m mildly skeptical of these studies, but I don’t believe they speak to the sort of schools which will reemerge if bilingual education is brought back. Additionally, I am aware that enabling Mexican American children to learn English will not be a panacea for weak college preparation for a variety of reasons. It hasn’t been so far at least. But fostering an environment where these people are linguistically segregated is not going to help anything in the near future. Unless you are a particular type of multiculturalist who actually prefers a Balkanized society (or, a racialist).

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Bilingual Education 


The white man who runs Google

The white man who runs Google

The above graph shows the diversity of Silicon Valley firms. There is an under-representation of black Americans and people of Latino cultural backgrounds. But there are many people of Asian ethnic origins. Since “Asians,” defined as people who inhabit the sweep of land between the Indus and east and north toward the Amur river, compose about 50% of the world’s population, it seems that their representation is fair. As someone who has friends who work in Silicon Valley the Asian flavor of the area is pretty hard to avoid. Go to Cupertino, where Asians are ~2/3 of the population, and you’ll see what I mean. Everyone who has spent time in the Valley knows this. Everyone who has been to a Google cafeteria knows this. 

But this group does not include most Americans, so they rely on the media to impart knowledge of this region of America. Films like The Social Network, shows like Silicon Valley. And of course journalists and journalism. I’m not one to dismiss mainstream journalism. I pay for both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. But what is going on with articles like this in Quartz, White men dominate Silicon Valley not by accident, but by design. White men dominate Silicon Valley??? What planet are these headline writers living on? Basically, they’re lying, because they have a narrative, and they’re fitting the facts to fit that narrative. Humans have biases, and they tend to fall into preferred narratives. I understand. But this is Pravda level misrepresentation.

Decreased life expectancy is a white privilege

Decreased life expectancy is a white privilege

Here’s a Mother Jones article: Silicon Valley Firms Are Even Whiter and More Male Than You Thought. Read the article, and you find this: “But among those people directly employed in technology positions at Bay Area tech firms, Asians have actually surpassed whites as the dominant racial group….” No. Shit. Sherlock.

Demographic denialism is a thing. And it’s especially strong on the political-cultural Left. For example, the “Model Minority Myth” is not a myth. Look at the statistics on health and wealth. Actually, if you buy the myth that it isn’t a myth, I’m 99% sure you won’t. Rather, you’ll read qualitative ethnographies of Hmong refugees and use that as an equal balance to the literal tsunami of H1-B’s pouring into this country… That’s exactly like reducing the experience of all white people to downtrodden folk in Appalachia. But the same sort who assert that the model minority is a myth because of Southeast Asian refugees wouldn’t dare express the idea that white privilege is a myth because of Appalachian poverty.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Demographics 

Screenshot from 2016-03-15 22-46-48Sometimes you don’t know what is real or not real. What do people really believe? Do they really believe what they say? Even if it’s clearly ridiculous? Probably internalized 1984 too much. Also, many of my white friends have admitted to me that in university contexts when talking about sensitive topics such as race they’ve basically memorized what to say, even if they basically have no agreement with what they assert. They know what the party line to please everyone is.

So this happened at my university. ASUCD draws criticism for sumo wrestling costumes at Block Party:

Among those activities was an attraction in which students could dress in sumo suits and wrestle each other. The activity immediately drew criticism from members of the student body, who accused ASUCD of fat shaming and culturally appropriating Japanese culture.

According to the students who raised this issue to ASUCD, the sumo suits trivialized Japanese culture and the history of Japanese rikishi or sumo wrestlers.

Once the issue was brought to ASUCD’s attention, ASUCD’s Executive Office, consisting of President Mariah Kala Watson, Vice President Gareth Smythe and Controller Francisco Lara, immediately issued an apology for the incident and commended the students that brought the issue to light.

“We’d like to apologize for any harm the ‘Sumo Suit’ may have caused you all. This lapse in judgment is completely ASUCD’s fault and responsibility alone,” said ASUCD’s Executive Office in a Facebook post. “We are thankful to the student who courageously brought this issue to our attention […] This was an egregious oversight and it will hopefully not happen in the future.”

Scott Tsuchitani, a Ph.D. student in cultural studies, believed the incident was evidence of the lack of awareness of the racism against Asian and Asian American students.

“My overall impression is that this conversation is in itself an expression of white supremacist anti-Asian structural racism. If people are genuinely concerned with the needs of Asian Americans, then why are Asian American voices not front and center in this conversation?” Tsuchitani said via email. “Instead, Asian Americans are treated as mute, hapless victims, devoid of agency, a.k.a. the ‘model minority’ stereotype. That is what I see being reinscribed by this conversation.”

Tsuchitani went on to say that he was not pleased by ASUCD’s apology and called for more action from the association.

“It is pitiful that the ASUCD would pathologize the so-called victims as in need of treatment instead of reflecting more deeply on what is needed to address ASUCD’s own failure in this situation,” Tsuchitani said. “From my limited perspective, I would suggest that the foremost need for treatment might well be for cultural competency training for ASUCD itself. That is much more relevant here than any Orientalist history of sumo wrestling.”


51FCNSFNR5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Scott Tsuchitani is a smart guy. He has two master’s degrees in engineering already. He’s not getting his Ph.D. in cultural studies because that’s all he could do with his mind. The fact that intelligent people such as Scott Tsuchitani parrot this sort of weird gibberish as a form of symbolic performance, enacting scripts which navigate the discourse of hierarchical power relations, so as to assert superiority and agency over others, is indicative of an intellectual culture in advanced stages of putrefaction.

Another symptom of a culture near the end of its internally incoherent logic is that you can’t distinguish farce from sincere expressions of outrage. The article above alludes to “fat shaming.” It reports on this objection in a straight manner, assuming the sincerity of the complainant. Actually that student was trolling. It is reached such levels of self-parody that you can’t distinguish between the trolls and the truly offended, it’s all turning into a great game.

For those genuinely interested in Japanese culture, as opposed to being offended on behalf of Japanese culture, I recommend Maurius Jansen’s The Making of Modern Japan. Also, Moshi Moshi is much better than Zen Toro or Mikuni in my opinion.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Cultural Appropriation 

51OZQR9XHsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Aeon Magazine has published a 11,000 word essay by Scott Atran, ISIS is a revolution. Atran is one of my favorite thinkers, and his book In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, is one of the more influential in shaping my understanding of cultural phenomena (warning, the prose is dense, but worth it!). Over the last ten years Atran has focused on the phenomenon of radical Islamic terrorism, using his anthropological and evolutionary scholarly toolkits to decompose the problem. More recently he’s been doing “field work” on the front-lines of the battle against ISIS in Iraq. Literally the front lines!

The piece in Aeon is a necessary corrective to two vulgar and populist reactions to the rise of radical groups like ISIS. First, there is the materialist viewpoint, which holds that a lack of economic opportunities is the dominant causal factor driving the violence. The first order issue to address is the reality that many regions of the world (e.g., non-Muslim Sub-Saharan Africa) have larger portions of the population which are underemployed or unemployed than the Islamic world, and yet do they not serve as sources of violent politically or religiously motivated terrorism. In fact, the best ethnographic work indicates that a disproportionate number of the young men involved in violent religious and political terrorism are not from the bottom of society, but closer to the top. In particular those striving and moving up the socioeconomic ladder in cultures undergoing modernization. The rural peasantry and the established upper classes are relatively immune to radicalization, but those whose roots are in the country but attempting to situate themselves in the middle class or higher are subject to more social dislocation, despite lack of material want. Most of the 9/11 bombers were Saudi, a nation which has a cradle-to-grave system of benefits for citizens, and which has been shielded and enriched by an alliance with the United States. Certainly marginalization, social and economic, are necessary conditions for recruiting from the Islamic Diaspora in Europe, but even here they are not sufficient conditions. The Roma are more socially and economically deprived than Europe’s Muslims, but do not engage in organized terrorism of any sort.

A second extreme position is that Islamic terrorism is a natural necessary consequence of the character of the Koran. The problem with this viewpoint is that though most of those who participate in Islamic terrorism may identify as Muslims, on closer inspection they often lack even the patina of fluency in their own religion. This may be especially true of those who grew up in secular Diaspora environments, but the vast majority of the world’s Muslims have little to no familiarity with the details of the Koran or the Hadith (the latter of which is in any case more relevant for day to day practice). There’s a reason that they make recourse to the ulema as a de facto clerical caste. Additionally, Islamic terrorism in the Middle East is to a great extent the heir of radical nationalist terrorists of the 1970s, many of whom were Marxist, or were from Christian Arab backgrounds (in particular the PFLP). Even suicide bombing, a major calling card of Islamic terrorists today, was pioneered by the Left nationalist Tamil Tigers. But just as economic and social marginalization fuel disaffection among Europe’s Muslims, many elements of Islamic religious theory and practice are easily co-opted into justifying violent movements. Islam after all is a pacific religion historically only after it has dominion. Even if one rejects the proposition that Islam is the reason for violent terrorism by Muslims, one does not therefore accept that it is no part of the overall dynamic.

Finally, there is also the idea that Islamic terrorism is nihilistic. Certainly it can seem nihilistic…from our perspective. That is why it is essential to look at things from the perspective of others, and also periodically engage in Epoché and detach from individual subjectivity. Many conservative Muslims decry the Western lifestyle as without meaning, soulless and empty. Though there is some truth to this, most of us who live the Western lifestyle know that there is a fair amount of meaning, dignity, and value in our quotidian days. Some conservative Muslims who arrive in the West are surprised to observe that the sight of women walking about in shorts does not induce an orgy of mass rape. But that is because they simply do not consider any viewpoint not conditioned on their own prior assumptions. Similarly, we in the West need to consider the viewpoints of our antagonists, without it implying in any way that we accept the positions of our antagonists as necessarily meritorious.

51SrA4DFsEL Two works from the mid-2000s give us a window into Islamic terrorism as it was then, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism by Robert Pape, and Understanding Terror Networks by Marc Sageman. Pape utilized standard social science methods (e.g., regression) to show there was strong relationship between suicide bombing in the service of political ends in contexts where foreign powers with an asymmetrical advantage had historically intervened. In other words, Pape’s work suggests that rational choice frameworks are useful even for acts as individually irrational as suicide bombings. Second, Sagemen’s survey of the ethnography of the violent Salafi international punctures the perceptions of those who might suggest that global capitalism will ultimately abolish political violence in a bath of chemically flavored french fries. Many of the recruits in Salafi terror networks are from well off families like Osama bin Laden. 51QHx-ZmCHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ (1) Or, they are well educated like Ayman al-Zawahiri. There is the recurring thread of the over-representation of applied STEM backgrounds, in particular engineers. And, converts and those from relatively globalist/cosmopolitan backgrounds are also over-represented in terms of orders of magnitude in comparison to the worldwide Islamic population. In other words, it is those most familiar with the fruits of global capitalism who have turned away from its allure.

Atran’s research, like Sageman’s, has focused on detailed statistical ethnographies of those who are recruited into Islamic terrorism. What it shows that peer networks are essential to explaining how become recruited in these activities, and in particular kinship ties, both fictive and real. Humans are social creatures, and much of our cognition operates through a social sieve. Our beliefs and preferences are strongly shaped by a tendency to conform to our “in-group.” This is so strong that even if it is clearly irrational humans may still engage in behaviors to maintain conformity to group norms. The Xhosa cattle killing is a clear example of this principle of adherence to majority norms despite grave consequences, but so was the continued adherence of most Germans to the Nazi regime after defeat became inevitable, or Chinese enactment of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, which probably retarded the rise of that nation to prominence for a generation.

k10543Group solidarity around a compelling meta-narrative is the important “big picture” element of Islamic terrorism which is critical toward understanding its motivations, and which can be missed by descriptive ethnographies or econometric analyses. Palestinian nationalist terrorism of the 1970s, or Tamil Tiger suicide bombing of the 1980s, were fundamentally derivative or subordinate to a broader family of ideologies, post-colonial nationalism with a Leftist inflection (ETA and the IRA also fall into this category, even if situated in the West). In contrast, Islamic terrorism has the potential to become superordinate, and swallow up individual movements and grievances into a meta-narrative. E.g., the core actors in ISIS to this day seem to be a shadow of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist officers. It is neat to presume these individuals are using Islamic ideology in an instrumental sense, as Saddam himself clearly did. But the Islamic meta-narrative is powerful, and has historical precedent. It is plausible that though the trigger for the precipitation of an Islamic movement in Iraq was the defenestration of the officer core of a notionally secular national regime, the ultimate crystallization and end state of the movement may be toward a sincere and genuine Islamic nationalism. One might make the analogy here to what has occurred in Pakistan. The founder of the state, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a religiously non-observant Shia Muslim (who had Hindus in his recent ancestry, and whose family was of the marginal Ismaili sect) who seems to have envisaged a secular state, albeit demographically dominated by Muslims. Today Pakistan is riven by Shia-Sunni sectarian conflicts, and adheres to a strong Islamic self-identification. Jinnah’s proximate motives in creating Pakistan could be understood in light of the nationalist sentiments of India’s Muslim ruling class, and their dispossession in the 19th century, and impending marginalization in a united India. But ultimately he set in motion a series of events which would hinge Pakistan to a de facto Sunni Islamic international, and allow it to be an incubator for violent religious radicalism which it can barely control. Pakistan was swallowed by a broader evolving meta-narrative.

518rHTN9d-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ What Atran highlights in his piece is that young men across the Islamic world are being inspired by a powerful ideal which transcends the material. That is, they are not being driven by dreams of material wealth and affluence. Nor are they driven by simple hatred of the West, or unthinking nihilism. As Shadi Hamid has noted it is an act of political cant to assert that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam. For the broad masses this sort of assertion will suffice. I recall, for example, a conversation with a friend of mine in 2002 who was a gay man who repeated to me the standard narrative that Islam is actually a religion of peace. As a straight male with a “Muslim name” I could probably get some peace out of Islam, but as it is constructed today in majority terms it is rather strange for a gay man to assert this, as there is little tolerance for gay orientation in the Muslim world (though that is changing). But this is human social conformity and social cognition kicking in again. For people interested in reality one has to move beyond the artifice of social cognition, and dig deeper. Islam is a meta-narrative which arose as a cultural adaptation 1,500 years ago. First it bound factious Arab tribes together. Second, it bound Arabs and non-Arabs together in a common meta-ethnic identity, and allowed for a period of Islamic cultural hegemony at the center of Eurasia.

communismstory1_1413028f The reality is that we’ve seen this before, and relatively recently. Atran, and others, have made the analogy between anarchism around 1900 and Islamic terrorism today. To outsiders both movements were frightening and nihilistic, but in hindsight anarchist violence arose as a side effect of the transition toward a liberal democratic order. Atran critically observes that the wave of anarchist violence abated when Marxist-Leninism emerged to capture a nation-empire, that of Russia. International communism in its Soviet dominated period proactively smothered anarchism (e.g., during the Spanish Civil War), and perhaps more importantly deprived it of oxygen, as idealistic youths who would have been attracted to anarchist terrorism as outlets for their rebellious energies were co-opted by the dream of a universal Communist commonwealth of states. And so with the transition from the age of al Qaeda to the age of ISIS.

At this point then we may have to stop talking about “Islamic terrorism,” and refer to the Islamic international, if the analogy with anarchism and communism hold. Atran also points to the example of the French Revolution, which began the process of organized political terror in the name of an ideal, and ultimately gave rise in a genealogical sense to most modern political movements which persisted into the 20th century (fascism being the arguable exception, though it was in many ways a reaction to the ideologies spawned by Revolution).



On the individual level what is appealing about the Islamic state is that it has a heroic narrative ready for those who wish to embrace it. From the perspective of most of the world, including the Muslim world, this is perverse, considering the barbarities committed by the Islamic State. But again, we must not fall into the trap of assuming that our enemies lack humanity; rather their assumptions are inverted and different. There are millions of Germans whose grandfathers were proud members of the SS, despite the fact that some of its killing units engaged in wholesale genocide, and specifically acts of murder against women and children. They thought they were heroes for their fatherland, doing dark deeds to forge a better world. Or as one SS commander stated boldly as he lifted up a child he was about to murder, “You must die so we may live.”

The liberal democratic “end of history” is not heroic or anti-heroic. It is banal, and heroism plays out only in the context of a job well done in the banality of existence and persistence. Being a good parent, friend, and a consummate professional. But not everyone is a parent, and not everyone has a rich network of friends, or a fulfilling profession. Ideologies like communism, and religious-political movements like Islamism, are egalitarian in offering up the possibilities of heroism for everyone by becoming part of a grand revolutionary story. Though John F. Kennedy’s administration has a glow and sheen today which would have been unfathomable to those who lived through it, his words about why America sought to go to the moon are remembered because they capture the essence of a heroic spirit. The reality of course is that we sought to go to the moon because America wanted to defeat the Soviet Union in the space race. But he asserted that the American nation sought to go to the moon because it was hard. And ultimately getting to the moon first brought America glory and renown. And that is what many young men crave, but few can attain in a stable liberal democratic consumer society.

51SKjCKQBrL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Islamic State has co-opted a meta-narrative which exists within Islamic history, and offers up a heroic vision to individuals who identify as Muslim across the world. Prior to its meteoric rise many people dismissed the Islamic State, or what was then simply al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq, including president Barack Obama (and myself). After its conquest of Mosul there were many who asserted that the material structural parameters of the domains which the Islamic State ruled would make its period of rule ephemeral by necessity. In short, the Islamic State was poor and under-resourced. There was no way it could sustain itself more than six months.

Obviously those prognostications were wrong, and they were wrong because of an excessive fixation on material parameters of success or failure. In the generality Atran points out that there’s a fair amount of social science and historical scholarship which suggests that motivated minorities can capture and transform whole societies. The world religions are key examples. Most humans are conformist, so when faced with a powerful bloc which operates as a unit they often simply fall into line. This arguably occurred in Germany in the 1930s, in Russia in the 1920s, and in France in the 1790s. The transition to Protestantism in the Netherlands and England occurred despite initial apathy or resistance from the peasant majority (yet sometimes majorities remain steadfast; the Hohenzollerns did not transform their Lutheran domains to the Reformed faith, while later Saxon rulers who were Catholic were a minority in their own kingdom).

But, I am somewhat more sanguine than Atran about the impact of the Islamic State on the world in comparison to revolutionary France or Soviet Russia. He makes much of the fact that the French nation repelled massive invasions in the 1790s, and ultimately transformed the whole continent. But as documented in Azar Gat’s War in Human Civilization the French victories probably had less to do with élan imparted to the armies of the Revolution than the reality that the new political arrangement in France allowed for total mobilization of the society. In short, the armies of the French were larger, though Napoleon’s genius did seem to allow for a initial strategic bonus. The final loss of Napoleon’s empire was due to the fact that other European powers began to follow France’s lead and mobilize their whole society toward war. Similarly, the Bolsheviks in 1917 captured a very powerful state, as did the Nazis in the 1930s. Modern conflict is by necessity an economic battle, and the weight of matériel will usually adjudicate as to who the ultimate victor will be. Atran notes that during World War II German soldiers were on a per individual basis more effective than the troops of the Soviets or the Western allies, but ultimately the military-industrial might of the United States and the sheer numbers of the Soviet forces overwhelmed the Nazi regime.

OIC_map The gross domestic product of the nations which constitute the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is about 7 trillion American dollars. The aggregate GDP of the European Union is 19 trillion dollars. The United States of America is 16 trillion dollars. China is 9 trillion dollars. In 1790 France was in the running for the number #1 economic power in Europe. In 1913 the Russian Empire was in the running for being the #1 economic power in Europe. Though France in 1790 was far more heterogeneous than it is today, and the Soviet Union was very heterogeneous, arguably they were far more cohesive polities than anything that one might congeal out of the OIC.

41murHaheEL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ In the Aeon essay Scott Atran argues that the millenarian forces which ISIS is harnessing are here to stay. I agree with him. There are structural demographic and sociological forces which make Islamic movements, of which ISIS is the most extreme manifestation, nearly inevitable for the next generation or so. But, there are also structural demographic and economic forces which suggest that it will not be as nearly an existential threat to the liberal democratic political order as the movements of the 20th century. The West, Russia, China, and India, are all not particularly congenial to a long term alliance with Islamic powers. Electric cars and the shale oil revolution both threaten a major point of leverage that the Islamic international in the form of Saudi Arabia have over the rest of the world. Of course some might wonder at the Islamic demographic bomb. If current trends hold by 2050 30% of the world’s population will be Muslim. And as I noted above motivated minorities can capture whole cultures. But 30% of the world’s population at that time will also be Christian, with a larger proportion in areas where religious zeal remains strong. And, the orientation of Chinese culture is such that conversion to Islam is often seen as tantamount to leaving one’s Han identity in totality (one particular issue is that pork is central to Chinese cuisine, but it is taboo for Muslims). As documented by Philip Jenkins in God’s Continent and Eric Kaufmann in Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Europe’s Christian identified population should be far larger than its Muslim identified population as far as 2100, even in pessimistic analyses (Pew suggests that 10% of the European Union’s population will be Muslim in 2050).

That is the optimistic angle on what awaits us. It’s not going to be as bad as Soviet communism or German fascism. I lived through the specter of the former, and many people alive still remember the latter. But the likelihood is that the core Islamic world, from Morocco to Pakistan, will be riven with conflict and tumult, and that will draw in Diaspora populations, and those from the demographically important margins (e.g., Indonesia). This conflict will spread back out to non-Muslim nations with Muslim minorities. As Atran notes all one needs are a small motivated number of young men to allow for their to be critical mass for violence. Some level of violence directed toward majority non-Muslim populations in nations with large Muslim minorities may be inevitable. For non-Muslims the fact that the vast majority of Muslims decry violence, both due to sincerity and self-interest, will be somewhat besides the point, as the violent minority are going to take center stage in national concerns. In the Muslim world the violence will be orders of magnitude worse, just as the fascist and communist regimes of the 20th century inflicted most of their terror upon the populations whom they ruled. In an almost Newtonian fashion I expect that non-Muslim societies under attack from Islamic international will exhibit a more self-conscious cultural identity than before in reaction.

Over the long run the flames will die down as a cycle of inter-cultural conflict abates. The future beyond 2050 is difficult to predict. Technology will have changed a great deal, and technology effects change on culture. What it means to be human will shift. Perhaps humanity will again focus on space travel, channeling some of its heroic energies outward, though this will always be a small demographic slice due to the constraints of physics. The vast majority might turn inward, and disappear in a vacuous virtual reality realm. Far better than projecting violence outward. But, I do think it points us to the reality that Islamic violence is a horrible answer to a real question. What should we do? And why should we do it?

• Category: Foreign Policy, Ideology • Tags: ISIS, Middle East 

Madame_Jeanette_and_other_chillies The venerable journal The Atlantic is now publishing pieces with these headings: The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation: Borrowing from other cultures isn’t just inevitable, it’s potentially positive. “Potentially positive”? The very fact that that needs to be specified suggests how far we’ve come. Whole cuisines are based on borrowing from other cultures. When I was visiting Bangladesh in 1990 my cousins were surprised to find out that potatoes were indigenous to the New World. I didn’t even want to bring up the history of the chili pepper. The same people who assert that race is a fluid incoherent arbitrary social construct can render judgments about the boundaries and values of cultures, often not their own, and act as if they’re Platonic timeless ideals (all the while asserting that they don’t hold to this model, when admitting to realistic flexibility about the fluidity of culture and identity would render their Maoist jeremiads toothless).

Sacred object to Hindus being appropriated as food

Sacred object to Hindus being appropriated as food

Brass tacks: the idea of “cultural appropriation” is an academic term that has bled into mainstream discussion as a way for various elites to police people and put them in their place. By creating an academic construct whose boundaries and criteria are known (OK, honestly, made up ad hoc on the spot) only to the initiate they can deign to provide lists of “dos and don’ts” to the plebs. It is 21st century abracadabra. You feel uncomfortable with something, and generate the appropriate academese to justify your feelings post hoc. The whole project would seem farcical if it weren’t so serious. Oberlin’s cafeteria cultural appropriation fiasco shows what happens to this sort of cultural tool; pedantry is drafted to serve prosaic needs. Basically, the food was shitty, so the students started making recourse to the garden variety ideological levers that they’re taught to take seriously. In the 1960s privileged students at elite universities taught Marxist theories realized that they were the oppressed class which needed to ignite the revolution. How far campus radicalism has fallen! Oppressed by shitty mystery meat modern day students are offended and declare that it’s “Not OK.”
• Category: Ideology, Miscellaneous • Tags: Food 

41TiKtcNqlL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ Over at Heterodox Academy there’s a post, Heterodox Academy’s Guide to the Most (and Least) Politically Diverse Colleges, First Edition, geared toward those looking for “unsafe spaces.” This isn’t on the list, but there’s another option: just be around me! Recently a friend found out I was a conservative, and he expressed total wonderment at the exotic specimen sitting before him, as he admitted he had never had a conservative friend (he, a Harvard graduate). I don’t mean to be what I am, but as an conservative brown person I diversify my white liberal milieu by dint of living and breathing in their presence!

One thing that I wondered in relation to that post: why not just read books which don’t align with your opinions? I know this is an exotic thought for many, but it does wonders for perspective, and it’s far cheaper than going to a university. One strategy is to read old books. It is highly likely that you will not align in totality with Aristotle on issues such as slavery, for example. If that is too heavy going, then perhaps the Epic of Gilgamesh or the The Iliad. To lighten the mood even more, The Golden Ass.

51oviG6d1aL._SX341_BO1,204,203,200_ But the ancients are no more. Perhaps we want some more contemporary thinkers who are still alive, or represent more living traditions, oppositional to our own viewpoints? Years ago I read Tariq Ramadan’s Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. Unlike Reza Aslan Ramadan has scholarly heft, and is religiously orthodox in the eyes of the majority of the world’s Muslims (I enjoyed No God but God despite its occasional sloppiness, but Aslan is really not an alien perspective, he’s a person rather like me who happens to be broadly religious in some vague manner and so more sympathetic to Islam than I). It shows when someone like me, an atheist, an irtidad, attempts to read his verbal circumlocutions around concepts such as tawhid. Ramadan’s thought is extremely alien to me. It reminds me somewhat of attempting to read passages of Heidegger in translation. Such an exercise is useful, at least in understanding the incoherency of the believers.

Another book which has stuck with me is Michael Parenti’s Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism. I read it a long time ago, but I recall it is the sort of book that Southern romantics wrote about the lost cause, except in this case the lost cause was actually international Communism and Marxist-Leninism. Though Parenti doesn’t defend Stalin in the totality, he actually does defend him in some specifics! Obviously I’m not a Communist, and never have been. Though I did have a good friend in college who was a self-described Communist and Fidel groupie, she was a sociology major so I didn’t give it much thought. Here though is a man who lives in our time, an ex-friend of Bernie Sanders, defending the lost cause of Communism and bemoaning the fall of the Soviet Union as a grand experiment that was no more.

41KQE93RKGL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_ Next let’s move to Creationist books I’ve read which have challenged my views. Though I find both Parenti and Ramadan’s views abhorrent and objectionable, I give the nod to them as scholars. But Darwin’s Black Box was a dumb book by a smart man (that is, Behe is a competent biochemist, but as an evolutionary biologist he’s a professional imbecile). Darwin on Trial I recall being slick and sophisticated, but it was just what a lawyer would write. It did not challenge me, it disgusted me, as it was sophistry. In contrast, Larry Witham’s By Design: Science and the Search for God is a sympathetic portrait of some researchers associated with the Intelligent Design movement, more or less. Like Islam, Creationism and Neo-Creationism (Intelligent Design), are stupid and false ideas. Creationism has the demerit of being promoted for most of its history by evangelical Protestants, so it has never developed intellectual richness which would impress outsiders (unlike Islam, which has a 1,500 year history). But, some of the people promoting Intelligent Design are quite clever, and their motives are illuminating.

A_Theory_of_Justice_(original_edition) John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice is not bed-time reading, but it is important to understanding modern political philosophy (Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia was a response). Philosophy doesn’t have a direct impact on modern society, but it does shape the frameworks of intellectuals, who eventually become political actors and influences. E.g., Matt Yglesias, a philosophy grad from Harvard, is pretty obviously influenced by Rawls, though this was more evident when he was an undergraduate. Rawls’ hyper-logical system building isn’t something that I’m too congenial with at this point in my life (rationalist models of society made more sense when I was a virgin). I am a conservative, I obviously disagree in a lot of details with Rawls. But the tendencies which he evinces are common among intellectual liberals, libertarians, and even free market zealots in the conservative camp.

51oBb9Js1ZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ We live in a Whiggish age, so John Horgan’s The End of Science is an audacious book. I’m a scientist who loves science, so obviously I’m not convinced, to say the least. But Horgan gives it a good college shot, and sometimes the effort can result in illumination. Scientists are filled with hubris. A “cure for cancer” has been around the corner for decades, and robotics is going to go mainstream any day now. Some caution is warranted.

51hcmhp1YsL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_ When I first read Garrett Hardin’s The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia I was actually rather concerned with overpopulation. Today, for various reasons, I am not nearly as alarmed. But Hardin’s work is essential toward understanding how many people, especially biologists, think about these issues. Carrying capacity and the logistic curve of growth and saturation with “checks” are concepts drilled into the heads of most biologists, especially those with an ecological focus. Hardin, with his “tragedy of the commons”, was exceptional at being able to communicate this internal logic in a way that the public could understand. As such, his work channels many of the concerns in the environmental movement, in particular those which are more Deep Ecology tinged.

debt Randall Robinson wrote The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks during a period of time when there was a fair amount of talk about reparations for slavery. Though I agree most that American blacks have suffered injustice, and to some extent continue to do so, I do not hold to Left liberal positions on racial relations or the means of reconciliation. At the time I read The Debt I was a rather strident libertarian, so I was skeptical of Robinson’s case, and remained so after having finished it. Though some sections, as when he depicts Cuba as a racial paradise for blacks, were totally implausible, Robinson did not toss off a wild eyed screed. Impractical and unlikely as reparations were, The Debt was a serious effort offered in good faith.

7186SZ78EWL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_ It seems this list is heavily skewed toward politics. But that’s one area where I have strong affirmative and negative positions, and am less open because these are grounded in a priori norms. It is strange to think of having a “diversity of views” on physics, for example. In the mid-1990s I read a fair amount of feminist material. Most of it did not stay with me. For example, I think I read Mary Daly’s The Church and the Second Sex, but I have no recollection what it was about in the specifics. In contrast Andrea Dworkin’s Woman Hating haunts me (in contrast, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman inspires me as to the possibilities of my daughter’s life). Woman Hating is an unhinged radical feminist take on sexual relations. Even many feminists have accused her work to be a distorted reflection of the misogyny under which she suffered. Dworkin’s views are not representative of mainstream feminism, but they definitely reflect the fringe rather well, if in an unpleasant tone. The ubiquitous idea of “violence” through speech rather than deed took root early in this group of thinkers.

That is all for now. Readers can chime in with books which were influential for them, despite disagreeing with their viewpoints or perspective.

• Category: Ideology, Miscellaneous • Tags: Diversity 

onliberty At this point you have heard about the controversies at Yale and Missouri. If you haven’t, just Google it. Among liberals there has been some debate and soul searching about the value of free speech, and its diminishing status as inviolate among youth. Jon Chait has a pretty thorough take over at New York Magazine. You can follow links to the arguments of those who contextualize and apologize for the more Maoist of the protesters to “get the other side.”

Since I support free speech, offensive speech, and engage in a fair amount of offensive speech, obviously I have a reflex to side with Chait on principle. Additionally, I’m a conservative who finds intra-Left/liberal conflicts pretty interesting and delicious. Finally, I don’t think that America is horribly racist, nor do I think institutionalized racism is a huge problem on campus (and perhaps not so much outside of campus, at least insofar as policy can and should address it), and, I don’t think that much consideration should be given to “marginalized populations” in terms of being particularly sensitive or apologizing for them (there is a whole lexicon which has cropped upon the Left which has a lot of meaning within-group, but is useless when attempting to communicate out-group; I reject the legitimacy of the terms of the debate as it is presented by many on the Left and liberals).

711zuJb66HL In my more cynical moments I’ve stated that we need to stick a fork in John Stuart Mill, and the idea of a free exchange of ideas. The Left has started to go full Marcuse, to the point where even the language used by conservatives is deemed illegitimate. Yes, there are liberals who attempt to enforce the old rules of tolerance of vigorous dissent, but at the end of the day there’s not much broader policy daylight between the two campus, so will they stand up for unpopular views when push comes to shove? The best bet then would be to join in the animal-battle for the authoritarian state of yore as it comes back to life. Kill or be killed, while the libertarians keep shouting “can’t we just get along?!?!?!”

But my old standby is what do the data say? Back when “trigger warnings” were in the news I noticed that there was a question in the general social survey about the removal of library books. There is a variable LIBMSLM which asks about an “anti-American Muslim clergymen’s book”:

If some people in your community suggested that a book he wrote which preaches hatred of the United States should be taken out of your public library, would you favor removing this book, or not.

There are also similar questions about anti-religious books, militarist books, a book promoting homosexuality, and a book promoting racism. My question is simple: what demographic groups support the removal of these books? The detailed methods are at the end of this post (you should be able to replicate), but what I basically did is used a logistic regression to compare the effects of several variables at once in terms of predicting attitude toward book removal. The samples were limited to the year 2000 and later.

What did I find?

* Liberals support free speech more than conservatives. Even in cases, such as racist books, where ideologically you would suppose they would oppose it (and there is a modest trend if you look at the period between 1990 to 2014 for liberals to be more supportive of removing the racist book).

* The more educated and more intelligent support free speech more than the less educated and less intelligent (the effects hold independently of each other).

* Whites are more supportive of free speech than non-whites, except in the case of a book promoting homosexuality, where there is no difference.

* Atheists and agnostics are moderately more in favor of free speech than the very religious. They are not very differentiated when it comes to the anti-American Muslim clergymen, confirming secular discomfort with fundamentalist Islam.

If one follows Twitter of the elite media one might be surprised that liberals are more supportive of free speech than conservatives. A different set of similar variables support the same conclusion. So what’s going on here?

First, I do think that the hot-house of the campus environment results in distortion and extremism which has minimal support more broadly. My Twitter following is very diverse, and many liberals have been direct messaging me expressing worry and anger at the anti-free speech antics of the protesters. But please observe: the have been direct messaging, rather than putting up their objections in my public timeline. Though the majority of liberals still support free speech, the loudest and most organized element seem to be much more “nuanced” on the issue of freedom of thought.

Second, the modern Left is a coalition of very different groups. The majority of the non-white sample above was black, and it is clear that in regards to speech non-whites are less supportive of tolerance of taboo or unpopular ideas than whites. White liberals may be very strong supporters of free speech, but their political allies may not be. And, the reality is that in terms of intra-coalition dynamics white liberals have to be very careful in how they talk to non-whites, lest they be accused of racism (I’ve been told by my wife to curtail my trolling on Twitter, but pretending to be an SJW of color is pretty fun when engaging with white liberals, since they let you slice off their balls at will, and don’t even object when you’re totally incoherent in your argumentation). This probably explains some of the private expression of support for free speech, but the subdued public sentiments. Liberals who support free speech also still want to eliminate institutional racism and oppression toward marginalized groups, so they have to balance their values when they seem at tension, and don’t want to be supporting those who oppose their policies even if they support the right of those people to disagree.

Finally, the robust support for free speech by the intellectual and social elites is heartening, and suggests that the courts are going to consistently serve as a legal bulwark against attempts to curtail dangerous ideas and sentiments. But obviously that’s not going to always translate into social norms.

Ultimately the question comes down to will. The broad sentiment of liberals does remain in the corner of liberty of thought, right or wrong. But will they stand up for unpopular views, as they have in the past, because in this country you can? That’s an open question I guess.


The dependent variable names are below in the table.

The independent variables were: sex, age, realinc (income adjusted for inflation), god(r:1-2″atheist/agnostic”;6″very religious”), polviews(r:1-3″Liberal”;5-7″Conservative”), race(r:1″white”;2-*”non-white”), degree(r:0-2″No College”;3-4″College”), wordsum

Wordsum is a vocabulary test, with a 0.71 correlation with IQ.

Removing books was always coded as 1, and not removing as 2. Sex is 1 = male, 2 = female. For the god variable, 6 = those who “know god exists.” I did not look at moderates, but aggregated liberals and conservatives (extremely to slightly). For education I just divided between college and non-college.

To get an intuition for the direction of effect, for the anti-American preacher being a male, liberal, younger, more educated, more intelligent, and white, are statistically significantly contributing to greater odds of tolerating the book in the library.

B Exp(B) Probability B Exp(B) Probability B Exp(B) Probability
SEX -0.40 0.67 0.01 0.06 1.06 0.63 0.08 1.09 0.52
POLVIEWS(Recoded) -0.88 0.41 0.00 -0.50 0.61 0.00 -0.71 0.49 0.00
AGE -0.01 0.99 0.00 -0.03 0.97 0.00 -0.02 0.98 0.00
DEGREE(Recoded) 0.46 1.59 0.01 0.58 1.78 0.00 0.61 1.84 0.00
WORDSUM 0.32 1.37 0.00 0.18 1.20 0.00 0.20 1.23 0.00
REALINC 0.00 1.00 0.08 0.00 1.00 0.22 0.00 1.00 0.00
RACE(Recoded) -0.49 0.61 0.01 -0.77 0.46 0.00 -0.17 0.85 0.27
GOD(Recoded) -0.17 0.84 0.47 -0.57 0.57 0.01 -0.75 0.48 0.01
Constant 0.90 2.46 0.17 2.92 18.61 0.00 2.66 14.33 0.00
B Exp(B) Probability B Exp(B) Probability
SEX -0.21 0.81 0.09 -0.09 0.92 0.43
POLVIEWS(Recoded) -0.56 0.57 0.00 -0.29 0.75 0.02
AGE -0.02 0.98 0.00 -0.01 0.99 0.05
DEGREE(Recoded) 0.51 1.66 0.00 0.45 1.57 0.00
WORDSUM 0.22 1.25 0.00 0.15 1.17 0.00
REALINC 0.00 1.00 0.22 0.00 1.00 0.75
RACE(Recoded) -0.62 0.54 0.00 -0.55 0.58 0.00
GOD(Recoded) -0.75 0.47 0.00 -0.32 0.73 0.09
Constant 3.31 27.37 0.00 1.20 3.30 0.02
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Free Speech 

At Reason, Watch Students Tell Yale to Fire a Staffer Who Upset Their Safe Space. The ‘staffer’ in question is Nicholas Christakis, a scientist whose work I’m mildly familiar with actually. The whole affair was kicked off by Christakis’ wife sending this email, where she said perhaps it was not the university’s job to patrol costume choices (for Halloween).

All this emerged in the context of the rumored white girls allowed only frat party at Yale. I say rumored because I don’t believe that it happened (which is pretty obvious from the link if you read it, despite trying to give accusations of racism the benefit of the doubt). The issue is that the sort of people who get accepted into Yale know exactly what to say in regards to issues relating to diversity to maintain appropriate optics. They would never be so crudely racist, even if the reality is that most men in that particular frat would prefer white girls attend their parties. As I noted on Twitter, all the of the men Taylor Swift dates are white (unless you count part-Native Americans Taylor Lautner and Joe Jonas as not), and that’s not a big deal. But if she said in public that she only dates white men, like her ex John Mayer admitted about women, she would become public enemy #1.

It strikes me that in our American culture right now what matters is less what you do, but what you say and signal. Erika Christakis dissented ever so slightly from the regnant norms in her elite university milieu, and now she’s paying for it. But the reality is that people like Erika Christakis live lives of cosseted privilege and insulation from the difficulties of the world, but that’s not worth comment. Rather, what matters is that she follow the appropriate norms and symbolic gesturing which we take for granted in our society.

This is not entirely unreasonable. Manners and decorum, even ritual that might not be heartfelt, tie societies together. By the public performance of words and actions, even if they are belied by revealed day to day preferences, we outline the moral fabric which we aspire to. But at some point it becomes a farce. By the end of the Communist period in the Soviet Union everyone was going through the motions, with no sincere belief. That explains partly why the system collapsed and reconfigured itself so rapidly; it was not robust, but brittle. Some level of hypocrisy is inevitable in any society which aspires to virtue, but when the chasm between words and deeds, between external signalling and internal sentiment, become too large then the system is ripe for overturning.

Though your guess is as good as mine about what might come next.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Free Speech, Yale 

51VGBO04szL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ In the year 2000 I watched the film The Patriot. Some British observers protested that the depiction of frankly Nazi-like behavior by the redcoats in the film was total fiction. There are scenes in the film where slaves are promised freedom in the revolutionary cause. Even those with a cursory knowledge of history during this period know that that was a painfully ahistorical element of the plot (I vaguely recall a few people laughing at this part of the movie in the theater). Finally, the historical individual upon whom the protagonist was based was a nasty fellow.

There is a tendency to compress the past, and turn it all into a blurry equivalent haze. Consider the American Civil War next to the Revolutionary War. Though people of the North were no more angels than those of the South, it eventually came to be that the sectional chasms of the 1850s culminated in the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, as well as a war in the service of a peculiar institution (do note, I accept the proposition that the upstream causes were structural-economic, even if their cultural manifestations were ideological; see Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War). As I have noted, as a child who came to consciousness in Greater New England there was never any doubt as to who was on the “right” side in the Civil War. Looking back with hindsight it does seem to me that by and large the armies in blue singing “John Brown’s Body” are more prophetic of a modern outlook than those who fought for the Southern way of life.

OrnamentalismTo be unequivocal about the American Revolution is more difficult for me. Unlike the Lost Cause, Britain did not disappear. Britain is still here. In fact, for a century Britain and the United States of America have been fast friends on the international stage. In the game of “what-if” it is natural that one look to the course of events in the British Empire and consider if that was perhaps a road not taken that might have been a better one at that. Vox offers 3 reasons the American Revolution was a mistake. They are, in order:

- Abolition would have come faster without independence

- Independence was bad for Native Americans

- America would have a better system of government if we’d stuck with Britain

One can agree or disagree with these assertions. The first two do seem more probable than not, though I am not entirely confident. The last is a matter of some complexity which I will set to the side. The key concern that immediately crops up in my mind is that the retention of the thirteen settler colonies would have irrevocably altered the course of British history. History is made up of contingent events, even if there are broad trends, and the addition of the massive dominion of the American colonies, and their likely demographic arc toward parity with the metropole just across the Atlantic, would have changed British culture. As Kevin Philips observed in The Cousins’ Wars the independence of the American colonies and the demographic collapse of Ireland in the wake of the famine resulted in a British population stripped of a large number of dissenting Protestant elements as well as a huge Catholic minority. British national consciousness as an Anglican country was definitely enabled by the independence of the American colonies, which were strongholds for heterodox and dissenter factions.

9780199604548 There is also a line of economic determinism that argues that American secession from union with the metropole was inevitable. That is because of the distinctiveness of the American Northern economy as it progressed in the early 19th century, the conditions of which were already in place by the 18th. While dominions such as Canada and Australia, and the erstwhile Southern colonies and the non-white possessions, were geared toward producing raw inputs for British manufacturing (one reason that the British elite were pro-Southern in their sympathies for much of the Civil War), the North was almost certainly bound to become an industrial rival (this explains the fixation on tariff policy in American politics up until the middle of the 20th century). It is hard to imagine the existence of a Dominion dominated by groups with dissenting Protestant sympathies and economically ascendant in a manner which competes with England not being a major question in the 19th century in lieu of the American Revolution. It may be that many of the things distinctive in British history as opposed to American, and preferred by the sort of people who write at Vox, may not have occurred in the same way if America and Britain remained politically fused, due to greater cultural exchange.

51VLZmyVmRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Second, there is the likelihood that British elite culture would influence the United States. Within the American experiment there was pregnant a panoply of radicalisms, some of which were resisted by broad swaths of America itself. Britain has a hereditary aristocracy, and class has a particular valence in British culture which it does not in the United States of America. The economic realities of the frontier suggest to me that some of this is structural and not conditional. After all, Canada and Australia are less fixated on class than England. But, it seems that a tighter integration between British and American society could not but help dampen down the populism of American culture in its orientation. Additionally, a quick survey of the population statistics for Canada and Australia show that they are much more British in origin than the white population of the United States. The massive waves of German immigration to the United States may have been much more modest in an America under the Empire, and the Anglo-Saxon demographic character of much of the North would have been more thoroughly preserved (one can imagine knock-on effects, such as a larger wave of German migration to South America and Eastern Europe?)

Reflecting on history is important. And thought experiments, counter-intuitive, even shocking, are to be welcomed. Political correctness should be abhorred in intellectual discussion. But we live in the year 2015, and the past is the past. What has been done can not be undone. So tomorrow I’m going to celebrate the American Independence, because whether the omniscient scales of history judge the arc of utility positive or negative, without it we wouldn’t be who we are, and we can always make the future better no matter the substance of the past.

• Category: History, Ideology • Tags: History 
Razib Khan
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