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October 05, 2003

AIDS, poverty, desperation....

The more guys like Nic Kristof ejaculate vacuous columns like this about HIV infection in the Dark Continent, the more Westerners will fall asleep and just roll their eyes at the African AIDS crisis. Poverty, desperation, hopelessness, etc. etc., these are the fuels that fire the African AIDS crisis, right???

Let me tell you a different story....


  1. Take a tribal agricultural society centered around local big men who are rooted in kinship networks. Make it pre-literate and lacking traditions of centralized statecraft & bureaucracy
  2. Add: weapons, modern ideas stripped away from organically generated context & grounding + world religions that clash with local values rhetorically but offer a lot of pleasing pap and some tangible goods (medicine, education, etc.)
  3. Mix & scramble and walk away from the frying pan while the concoction sizzles & pops

And voila, you get the social chaos and chronological mis-match (21st century technology + 2nd century northern European polities) that is Africa! Poverty? All the reports I see indicate that AIDS spreads with economic opportunity (truckers) and concentrates in the rising metropolises that drive the engines of capitalism. Desperation? The enterprising husbands who keep a coterie of girlfriends aren't desperate. Hopelessness? Africa is exporting preachers to the First World-it is a God-intoxicated continent, with some of the attendent religious violence associated starting to erupt. These people have plenty of religious hope, fat lot of good it does them in this world.

Let's stop this jack-shit-stream of simple and cliche answers. We aren't going to export to Africa our material goods (affluence), self-esteem (satisfaction) and healthy mutual funds (hope for the future) any time soon. Toward the aim of blocking some of the shit-stream that's been flowing out of the mainstream media, I guess I'm going to have to make an effort to be more original, and start producing more posts not triggered by dangerously retarded columnists.

Wish me luck.

Update: For all the superbrights that read this blog (yes, that's most of you) here are a few of my sources on why I think Africa is the way it is....

More on Africa-what little I know-below....

"Generalizations about Africa, it is so diverse!"
'
Well yes-that is in fact a generalization that is correct! That diversity indicates to me the lack of centralized empires and dominant civilizations over its history. The spread of Bantu languages from somewhere in Igboland and such parts south and east until they stop short of the Cape of Good Hope is one example that might be likened to the imposition of Latin or the dominance of Chinese-but the analogy does not work. Almost certainly there was no central bureaucratic Bantu state that spread the language through the tentacles of governance, rather, new forms of agriculture led to "demic diffusion" that displaced the people before the farmers who swept toward the Indian Ocean and south past the Tropic of Capricorn. The spread of Bantu is perhaps more like the expansion of Semitic or Indo-European languages-they happened before written history due to reasons we do not fully comprehend but likely have to do with happenstance and historical coincidence & luck (ie; technological innovation, proximity to the origin of an agricultural hearth, etc.).

Literacy developed before the rise of nation-empires, but in the end it was its handmaid and supplicant. The loss of literacy after the fall of the citadels of Bronze of Age Greece and its exogenous re-introduction from the Levant shows that it withers without a bureaucratic superstructure (which can not eclessiastical obviously) that necessitates it (it was also lost in India, and there the illiterate interlude between the Indus Valley Civilization & early pre-Maurya Aryan India was nearly 1,000 years!). It does not surprise me that Africa-with its micro-languages that are indicators of the lack of centralized states did not have a deep penetrance of literacy outside of the margins where transnational religions and international trade were important.

Why did Africa not develop large states? The books above give important reasons-lack of navigable rivers, climate, disease, etc. etc. There were strong situational constraints in the development of excess economic capacity that could be funneled into the support of a leisured class. A leisured class is an innovative class-because it wants to produce more leisure for itself. One thing that most people do not reflect upon is the 1 million year history of hominoid residence in much of Africa-so the possibilities for pathogenic adaptation to humans and our close relatives is high. In fact, early in the history of our species there was a sharp population bottleneck within Africa itself.

Exceptions...some will point to Ethiopia, the succession of states along the Niger river, etc. These prove the rules. Ethiopia is peculiar in that early on it adopted a transnational world religion (Monophysite Christianity), the historically dominant ethnic groups speak Semitic languages (Ahmara, Tigryana, etc.) and it has a relatively cool climate and is at high altitudes (less disease, less enervation, less humidity, etc.). Axum and its successor states up until the encirclement by Islamic states had close relations with Byzantium and long distance trade with Europe, the Middle East and Asia (which it conquered Yemen, Ethiopia controlled the Red Sea trade). This allowed it to build up excess wealth which it used to throw up a state on a Eurasian model. Additionally, it adopted a Eurasian religion closely associated with a particular culture (Egypt and its Coptic Church) and has historic, genetic and linguistic ties to southern Arabia. It must be noted that the Ethiopian states went into sharp decline after the long distance trade with other nations was cut off and its surplus income curtailed (this is in close parallel with what happened in Greece between 1200 BCE & 800 BCE and much of the Middle East during that same period as states and cultures retrenched and some whithered away because of lack of oxygen [trade]).

As for the states in West Africa along the Niger river, Ghana, Mali and Songhai-again, they were tied to international trade routes and had close connections to Maghrebi powers. Outside of the range of the tsetse fly they could engage in nomadism while serving as intermediaries between southern gold and Sahara salt. The intrusion of North African powers like the Almohads in what is today Mali & Mauritania is indicative of the region's importance. Power goes where wealth lay-but not so far as the costs outweight the benefits (into the humid coastal zone).

That being said...much of the rest of Africa was pretty insulated from direct intrusion by foreign cultures and powers (Europeans and Arabs set up outposts on the coast through which local chiefs could siphon slaves-but remember that most of Africa was uncharted by outside powerse deep into the 19th century-again, the exceptions were along the more equitable peripheries). Ergo, no need for strong states to defend the interests of local landowners, etc. etc. Lack of states, lack of literacy, lack of the material goods and complexities that we often term "civilization" does not mean that any given group of people is inferior (the lack of states in fact is to a libertarian a good thing).

10,000 years ago less than 1% humans were farmers. The 1% who tilled the soil were no superior morally in any fashion to the 99% who were hunter gatherers. In fact, though it seems clear that farmers reproduced at a higher rate, it is also evident that farmers traded gained low quality food in exchange for sacrificing the time & skills needed to collect more scarce high quality food. The Khoisan that the Bantu peoples of southern African displaced & absorbed were not practicing an inferior form of lifestyle, unfortunately, it was less suited to population growth and so was superseded (some of the ones who were absorbed adopted cattle-herding). Farming seems to have begun a chain of events that led to our own civilization. Remember that humans as we know them (art, etc.) had been around for 35,000 years before farming, but in the past 10,000 years we have totally transformed our lives based on the sequence of innovations triggered by agriculture.

Some types of farming are more productive than others. Rice and to some extent wheat are better than most other food crops at supporting large populations. In Africa these two crops do not grow well. Some indigenous crops like teff in Ethiopia replace them, but they are not of the same caliber in producing calories (again, this does not mean they are inferior crops, in the climatic context, they are superior!).

Rather than elobrate further-I simply will state that I have added this long addendum to make clear to some people where I am coming from-rather than attributing value judgements, one should understand that I state facts as I see them. It is really irrelevant if a given group of people worship penises or the Virgin Mary, or use phonetic script or having oral traditions, have a king or go to the local headman, etc. etc. These culturally contextual adaptations & traditions fit well with the local circumstances.

The problem occurs when new stimulii disturb the equilibrium. Like some forms of entropy (cooking an egg!) you can't always go back to the previous state and figure out a less messy way to transition. The tribal people of ancient Britain would probably have benefited from vaccinations, modern dental care and so forth. Nonetheless, dumping modern life on those people would probably result in what we have seen in many indigenous peoples today, alcoholism, violence and the destruction of the traditional way of life and socialization. As it was, the British people went through 2,000 years of social evolution to reach the stage they are now.

African societies are I believe similar. Their factured chieftancies were adaptions to local conditions, but the transition to modern warfare so quickly has caused serious problems. African Christians & Muslims are fast becoming orthodox in a way that more resembles the 16th century than the 21st century-but that stands to reason as they converted to these religions quite often only in the past few decades and so the process of sociological evolution has not progressed nearly as far as it has in the West. In fact the process is so foregone in Europe that Christianity seems nearing senescence, ergo, you have Nigerian and Korean missionaries who go the pagan white continent....

And yet as I said-we can't go back. Africans, Papuans, Indians and Chinese, etc. are going to have to deal with the liberal order. It is the great hegemonic ideology of our era-and it is right, true and good (let me be religious and dogmatic for a moment). But as Westerners, we should also acknolwedge that liberalism, statecraft and modernity come hard to some peoples, because they have not had time to experience and absorb C, D, E... before reaching Z. People in the Ivory Coast or Iraq are not black and olive Englishmen, transmuted and tweaked in a cosmetic fashion. The cliches and platitudes that we use in addressing our own problems are more than hollow when dealing with other nations and cultures-it is self-absorbed navel gazing of the worst sort, as we shed tears so that our own gluttonous sated condition is less obscene.

So some hard questions.
1) Do we care that a non-trivial portion of the world is bleeding itself to death on the road before us?
2) If we care, are we going to do anything about it?
3) If we are going to do something, what?
4) We we sacrifice our own personal material well being (what else matters?) to staunch the beelding?

The questions are difficult-but the answers are pretty much all unappealing. But sometimes life is picking from unappealing answers.

Posted by razib at 01:43 AM




This is a real load of tripe, I have to say. How many ridiculous generalizations is it possible to stuff into one post? You go on and on about "pre-literate" this and "dark continent" that, but what do really know about Africa? Ever been there? Ever lived there? Ever seen more than one little corner of the second largest continent in the world?

Unless you're an Africa expert of some sort, I'm not going to take this sort of nonsense seriously. Anybody with the slightest clue about the history of the place would tell you that you don't know the first thing about what you're talking about. Africa isn't a single undifferentiated mass, and dismissive nonsense like this makes you look bad, rather than the hundreds of millions of people you're so blithely looking down upon.

Posted by: Hanno Buddenbrook at October 5, 2003 03:02 AM


tell about the great bureaucratic empires of africa now & how jared diamond et al. & thomas sowell have got the geography all wrong.

Posted by: razib at October 5, 2003 03:12 AM


p.s. thanks for being so specific in your response to me by the way-shows lots of good faith....

Posted by: razib at October 5, 2003 03:13 AM


and one more thing-there is nothing inherently lesser about being pre-literate, less centralized, etc. etc. i have to deal with this constant conflation of is and ought on this blog. so as i say, tell me africa's great literate tradition as opposed to its oral & visual arts. i'm open to be enlighten by a scholar as you....

Posted by: razib at October 5, 2003 03:17 AM


Interesting that you cite Diamond in support. Is this the newer, kinder GNXP in action? Diamond is a last-ditch environmentalist who claims that if the weather had been different, today's Negroids would be fully up to speed in post-industrial civilisation. My feeling is that Diamond's evidence about plants, domesticable animals and so forth inadvertently sustains a case for present-day developed and intractable racial differences-- whether or not we accept that a few centuries or millennia ago there wasn't much of a gap in civilisational achievement between continents.

Posted by: WJ Phillips at October 5, 2003 04:46 AM


diamond has been cagey when asked about biocultural interactions from what I understand. I suspect he might acknowledge some sort of feedback loop-literate cultures foster the spread of genes that allow easy fluency with tasks that require the use of literacy, etc. etc. etc.

i will probably address this to some extent in a later post dealing with east asia, etc.

that being said-i personally believe that the initial environmental changes did not shape the different character of human populations as much the environment shaped the innovations that the initial populations could use, which created a secondary environment (farming community, literate urban complex, etc.) which then worked back to reshape biological tendencies (so, diamond & sowell -> biological correlaries). for instance i think i think it is plausible that askhenazi jews were reshaped by the constricted circumstances of christian europe so that they developed certain aptitudes & personality types at deviance with the norm the mostly farming populations around them.

some GNXP readers though do tend to dismiss diamond out of hand. the problem i have with this is that we make the repeated argument to those who argue only environment or history that you should leave the door open for biological variables. and yet i make the reverse argument to those who seem to espouse racial determinism-after all, the greeks thought romans were congenitally moronic, the romans thought that the gauls were congenitally moronic, etc. etc. granted, these are with affinal peoples-but you can use ethiopians as an example, where perceptions change over time....

just like individual continuous traits are partitioned into genotype, environment, etc. and the factor are confounded, so it is with cultural phenotypes so to speak.

basically, i need to write a long ass essay at one point. but i oppose those who wish to treat cultures like they are subject to simple mendellian on-off switches-whether that be biological or non-biological.

Posted by: razib at October 5, 2003 04:55 AM


Wow! A lot's happened in my absence! To be fair to you, Razib, the additional remarks you've subsequently added give a lot of context that was simply absent from your original post. If you'd said all this to begin with, I wouldn't have had anything to get annoyed about.

Working in Central Africa on a mining project, I can tell you that we felt extremely keenly the impact of the tse-tse fly on our operations - it is a big killer of horses, and there were plenty of places where road transport was impractical and horses would have been a godsend.

What does this have to do with your post, you ask? It was hard - no, impossible - to set up large centralized kingdoms of the sort that were common in the middle east and the mediterranean when the only means of practical transport open to people was by foot. I think geography has been extremely unkind to Africa in this respect, as it meant that developments elsewhere in the world had a hard time penetrating to those parts of the continent that lay within the tse-tse fly belt. When you consider that this is still a problem today ... let's just say that I'll be the last person on earth to put Africans down as stupid or irresponsible, as I know I couldn't possibly survive the sorts of hardships they must live with on a lifelong basis.

Posted by: Hanno Buddenbrook at October 5, 2003 06:45 AM


____________
It was hard - no, impossible - to set up large centralized kingdoms of the sort that were common in the middle east and the mediterranean when the only means of practical transport open to people was by foot
____________

Difficult, but not impossible. The Inca and their predecessors made an empire in the Andes, and the Olmec-Maya did the alternative of city states in climates nearly as bad as inland Africa.

Posted by: Dick Thompson at October 5, 2003 08:29 AM



Hmm, after the foolish ranking of economists below others they have historically had to bail out when the math got tough, I did not expect to find anything else worth reading, but you've got it right.

You could add _Malaria Dreams_ to your list of books, but it is a good start.

Your primary thesis, that the AIDS problem in Africa has little to do with poverty does skip over the comparative poverty that leads to the massive amounts of prostitution, the willingness of prostitutes to engage in dry sex without any protection. You also miss the effect that the requirement of premarital sex has(and pregnancy) has had -- women expected to keep having sex with various men until they prove that they can conceive (imagine the United States if no one would marry a woman who did not have at least one child to prove she was fertile).

Combine this with ignorance, bad government and a hideous drainage of the entrepenural spirit into foriegn aid receivership (where would we be if our best and brightest all went into begging?), and it is a toxic mess.

Surprisingly, during the aid drought in Etheopia, the country developed a pretty solid entrepenural class and some real home grown development.

Anyway, maybe you've got a good start going. Now, get an economist to pull out the weaknesses in your analysis. ...

Posted by: Anon Again at October 5, 2003 09:19 AM


Yo Hanno (and Razib, if you care)...

What is the best single anthropological interpretation of Africa ever written?

Posted by: Diana at October 5, 2003 09:42 AM


Difficult, but not impossible. The Inca and their predecessors made an empire in the Andes, and the Olmec-Maya did the alternative of city states in climates nearly as bad as inland Africa.

well, the new world was pretty free of pathegons compared to africa. there is just one variable i think, but multiple ones that add up.

Anyway, maybe you've got a good start going. Now, get an economist to pull out the weaknesses in your analysis. ...

well, i'm not writing a paper here that covers all the bases. after all, dry sex is a problem in southern africa, not in uganda or among the luo of kenya who have AIDS problems. and yes, the sexual angle i've written about before, and i am familiar with James Q. Wilson's article that talks about the difference between africa and other cultures in attitudes toward marriage and fertility.

as for poverty, i think it might be plausible (likely) that HIV/AIDS epidemics are contingent upon it being present, but it is not the only necessary condition. for instance, senegal has low rates of infection. i think the muslim religion, proactive gov. and circumcision all keep the rates low.

to see how context matters, lack of circumcision seems to be a problem in parts of east africa (among the luo of kenya for instance) and southern africa (where the zulu have higher rates than the cut xhosa). but it isn't a problem in europe, which has lower HIV/AIDS rates than the united states, and the circumcised black populations of the united states (who though circumcised to a lower rate are still cut relative to europeans). this indicates that lack of circumcision is a problem in concert with other social ills or deficits. etc. etc.

to say that is is poverty is a cliche that's easy to get across to american populations. just like saying poverty causes crime. that is true to some extent, but that is not the whole, or most of the story....

also, hanno, the problem with leaving out context is that i've been blogging for over a year now-most regular readers know the general context that i speak of (click "AIDS" in the categories for instance). if you want to clarify something before you go off-ask me, i obviously have no problems specifying.

Posted by: razib at October 5, 2003 12:19 PM


I was wondering when someone was going to mention lack of circumcision. I once looked at a map that showed the AIDS belt in Africa superimposed on the parts of Africa where circumcsision is not practiced. There was about an 85% overlap. This was several years ago.

Posted by: Unstoppable at October 5, 2003 01:35 PM


Razib, since I've only travelled and lived in West and Southern Africa I'll bow down to your greater judgement since, given the certainty of your opinions, you have clearly lived your whole life there.

These people have plenty of religious hope, fat lot of good it does them in this world.
The scandinavian countries which now seem to outperform everyone else (according to nationmaster.com) were once, a thousand years ago, illiterate pagan barbarians. Is their current status at all connected to the fact that they were Christianized - or is it just a coincidence? Atheism can blind as much as religion.

I guess I'm going to have to make an effort to be more original, and start producing more posts not triggered by dangerously retarded columnists.
I look forward to more posts like your Overview Of European Civilisation Derived From Man I Met On A Bus, and your classic Eavesdropping White Muslims For Insights On Global Politics. Perhaps you could post about World-Historical Predictions Made While Watching Stray Dog From My Window.

Posted by: fredrik at October 5, 2003 01:45 PM


unstoppable-

i find the evidence compelling, but others point out the correlation between islam & circumcision in africa (though many christian groups in west & east africa + others like the xhosa in south africa are circumcised). unfortunately the issue is explosive because of tribal associations....

(btw, what convinces me about the circumcision connection in concert with other risk factors is the contrast between thailand & the phillipines.... (the former is uncut, the latter cut, both have sex industries, but thailand has the serious HIV problem-relatively).

Posted by: razib at October 5, 2003 01:48 PM


The scandinavian countries which now seem to outperform everyone else (according to nationmaster.com) were once, a thousand years ago, illiterate pagan barbarians. Is their current status at all connected to the fact that they were Christianized - or is it just a coincidence? Atheism can blind as much as religion

so you are acknowledging that africa is as barbaric as scandinavia @ 1100 just after christianization? how enlightened....

Posted by: razib at October 5, 2003 01:54 PM


The 4 most common ways of acquiring HIV are (in no particular order):
1) anal sex without (probably even with a condom)
2) IV drug abuse
3) blood transfusion
4) in utero transmission to the fetus
5) vaginal intercourse

Even though I mention vaginal intercourse, anal sex is the more likely cause throughout the globe, by far. There are probably some other sources (transmission via non-sterilized instruments in surgery comes to mind) but these are statistically more signifant.

It could be that Islam not only decreases the amount of prostitution in the regions it is practiced in, but also decreases the frequency of some of these other factors in HIV transmission. I read somewhere that the Prophet explicitly forbade anal sex (true, Razib?). I know circumcision decreases the risk of penile cancer (which, BTW, is a small risk in the first place and a stupid reason to carry on an, IMO, barbaric practice), but I've don't remember ever seeing much other data to justify it (like decreasing the spread of HIV). It may be out there, but I just don't remember reading it.

Regarding the sex trade. Thailand (and, BTW, S. America) are currently the top destinations for flesh peddling. I know the Phillipines is starting to quickly become a prime destination but my guess is that it hasn't been on the 'scene' for as long. I'll do some research online on this topic if anyone disagrees. There is NO WAY I'm buying the idea that Phillipinos are inherently more immune to HIV (I don't think anyone here is suggesting that, however). However, besides timeline, it could be that Phillipinos engage in certain behaviors, like anal sex, less commonly than the Thais. That's just a guess.

Posted by: R at October 5, 2003 02:45 PM


re anal sex: a friend of mine says that anal sex is a way of preserving virginity among many arab groups for women. confirmed by another friend who says arab women in europe do it when they date europeans (again, to preserve virginity)

re filipinos: it has a pretty good sex trade/mail order bride/etc. because of american soldiers & colonization. they aren't immune to HIV/AIDS, but they haven't been hit the same way as thailand has. additionally, the phillipines is more likely to be visited by circumcised americans while uncut europeans probably go to thailand.

as i said-i don't think it's a rock solid case for circumcision-but in the poor hygiene conditions that characterize crowded third world metropolii, it might be a good practice.

the problem of course is that it's a very politicized topic, in the third world and the west.

Posted by: razib at October 5, 2003 02:54 PM


So some hard questions. 1) Do we care that a non-trivial portion of the world is bleeding itself to death on the road before us? 2) If we care, are we going to do anything about it? 3) If we are going to do something, what? 4) We we sacrifice our own personal material well being (what else matters?) to staunch the beelding?

No, n/a, n/a, and no. Why help belligerents and ingrates? Extending the hand of friendship to people who blame you for suffering itself is out of the question. I would much rather help humble and polite space aliens than spiteful third-worlders.

I continously hear talk on the radio of how inequal distribution of wealth is an injustice, indeed the cause of terrorism[1]. No one with an attitude like that deserves any help whastoever.

[1]The terrorists who flew planes into the WTC were explicit about their grievances. The unequal distribution of wealth wasn't one of them.

Posted by: Sporon at October 5, 2003 03:15 PM


Geography? Bah! When I play Civilization on the Earth map, I have no problem building a world-dominating nuclear power in Africa.

:)

Posted by: Jacqueline at October 5, 2003 03:46 PM


"Do you have any sources for your ranking/assertion? I'm a bit surprised - I was under the impression that heterosexual transmission from male to female was not at all uncommon, though male-male is probably the easiest way to spread the disease. "

I was a bit confusing in that post. That wasn't any ranking. Also, I didn't mean to imply that vaginal transmission is so uncommon as to be a non-factor. I was just trying to make clear it was by far less dangerous statistically than anal sex, hetero or homo. I've been reading stuff about this on the net and can give more info if need be, but, I think we might be suggesting the same thing. Of course, I don't advocate not using condoms for casual sex regardless.

Posted by: R at October 5, 2003 07:34 PM


My only problem is that I don't believe that points 1,2 and 3 have much to do with why AIDS is such a big problem in much of Africa.

I think that ultimate cause is malaria and bananas.

Posted by: gcochran at October 5, 2003 10:16 PM


ok-elaborate on bananas. i love them myself....

Posted by: razib at October 5, 2003 10:22 PM


Seriously, (the other) GC, do you really think AIDS is not being transmitted much via anal sex in Africa? Please elaborate...

Posted by: R at October 5, 2003 10:32 PM


so you are acknowledging that africa is as barbaric as scandinavia @ 1100 just after christianization? how enlightened....
I'm glad you see the wisdom of my position.

However, I do await your summa on Africa, which as I understand is tentatively titled "I Lived In Africa and You Didn't, So Shut Up About The Whole Continent"
Yes, it's coming out in February. I'll save a signed copy for you.

Do you dispute ... the falsehood of the axiom of equality)?
Not really, No more than I dispute the rigidity of current inequalities. That's an axiom you find difficult to let go.

Posted by: fredrik at October 6, 2003 02:17 AM


Razib: Don't open your mind so much that your brain falls out. You are being way to charitable to Diamond. He takes the extreme view that *all* ethnic variation is the result of environment's effect on one's culture, and that we are currently all equally potential scientists or savages.

It's one thing to note there's nature and nurture, and that within-group variation exceeds between group variation. It is quite another to say it's all nurture, and their is no instrinsic between group differences. This is the seeming 'straw man' (to me) argument Pinker attacks in 'The Blank Slate'.

My vote for African reading: The Africans, by David Lamb. It's funny that as he wrote it in 1987 or so, his 'glass half full' attempt highlighted Robert Mugabe as the one 'good' despot.

Posted by: eric f at October 6, 2003 06:44 AM


...You are being way to charitable to Diamond. He takes the extreme view that *all* ethnic variation is the result of environment's effect on one's culture, and that we are currently all equally potential scientists or savages.

I recently read Diamond, and I would say that his main problem is that he doesn't acknowledge that evolution may have occured during historic times. He does offer good explanations of why agriculture took root where it did, etc., but then totally ignores the possibility that hundreds of generations in an agricultural milieu might result in a different sort of human than you'd get from hunting and gathering.

Posted by: bbartlog at October 6, 2003 12:06 PM


It is quite another to say it's all nurture, and their is no instrinsic between group differences.

eric-diamond is a big intellectual, he won't touch the hot-potato of human biodiversity. that being said-we do need to address the constraints of environment, geography, etc. after all, the swedes have more than their share of nobel prize winners, but were not an innovative people until after 1000 CE, so the constraints of their environment and their historical context made any group differences/aptitudes irrelevant.

now, the key question is do certain groups show their innate aptitudes in a context where they can shine? the scandinavians did after joining christendom (though brahe & linneaus are the only two big scandinavian scientists i can think of before 1800). the jews did have the jewish enlightenment and their entrance into gentile society.

Posted by: razib at October 6, 2003 12:42 PM


My personal insight into the Scandinavians comes (oddly from my time in Kazakhstan). Living through -40 winter nights with no electricity, it occurred to me that the northern Europeans had essentially been deprived of the ability to do anything for about 14 hours per day during the winter until the advent of decent illumination (first candles, then oil lamps, gas lamps, and finally electric light). It seems to me that when you look at their history, you will see large jumps during the generations immediately after the introduction of new light sources.

Posted by: michael vassar at October 6, 2003 01:33 PM


we do need to address the constraints of environment, geography, etc.

But this time can't we recognize that it isn't all or none? We seem to always be working our way out of past problems from exaggeration. For example, in 1900 most thinking people exaggerated the effects of human diversity, and stereotypes and peceived limits on individuals based on their grouping was the norm. Now you have most thinking people arguing that all groups are functionally identical.

I'm not a fan of exaggerating a truth for the sake of rhetorical expediency by flattering popular predispositions. Scientific debate should proceed differently than political debate--perhaps I'm naive, after all, I wouldn't throw my career away trying to operate on this principle.

Posted by: eric f at October 6, 2003 02:36 PM


But this time can't we recognize that it isn't all or none?

well, my point exactly ;)

i spend(t) a lot of time on this blog addressing human biodiversity. i also address human sociodiversity. now i'm addressing geodiversity.

Posted by: razib at October 6, 2003 02:52 PM


Godlesscapitalist and R:
Back to lack of circumcision for a moment. Apparently it is much easier to develop sores when a penis is uncircumcised than when it is circumcised. Open sores greatly expedite the transmission of HIV.

As for the anal question, anal sex is rougher and therefore more likely to cause abraisions, which have the same effect on HIV-transmission as sores do.

Posted by: Unstoppable at October 7, 2003 01:28 PM