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January 03, 2004



The final frontier (well, let's hope not!)

As you know by now, Rover has landed safely (for now). Pretty good for hairless apes, huh?

So is Rand Simberg going to say anything about this???

Update: Rover JPL site.

Update II: Matthew Yglesias doesn't get it. What would a pagan know of salvation?

Posted by razib at 11:10 PM | | TrackBack


Quark weirdness
Posted by razib at 10:51 PM | | TrackBack


One Europe

Interesting map from The Economist

Full article.

Posted by razib at 10:34 PM | | TrackBack


Flynn Effect in the blogosphere

Matt Yglesias mentioned the "Flynn Effect," and noted that he's been learning about it only recently. That gives me the excuse to link the entry. Let's see if Abiola's prophecy is prescient.

Posted by razib at 06:16 PM | | TrackBack


Africa for the Chinese?

Thrasymachus points me to this Francis Galton article titled Africa for the Chinese. This reminds me of a science fiction series I read once. I have spoken of the reality of Chinese racism before, and I have indicated that it is the brown and black races who are more the objects of Han prejudice than whites. This is taken as a given in the Chung Kuo series by David Wingrove, where a future dominated by the Han is free of black and brown peoples, excluding fugitive remnants in the Martian outback, because of a program of extermination. The world is then divided between the two "highest races" of humanity, just as in the racialist-eugenic paradigm that was dominant among progressive Chinese intellectuals in the early 20th century (and still has some influence from what I gather).

Readers might find this entry about Chinese attitudes toward blacks interesting (conclusion, not racism, just "ignorance"). Here is a blog entry by a black expat in China. Here is an article about anti-black riots by students in China. Though the reaction to people of pure African heritage is probably the most extreme, I am sure most of the attitudes of the Han to darker-skinned peoples can be generalized to others of brown to black complexion. I recall reading a study of the records of a Chinese diplomatic delegation to the Khmer polity that left us Angkor Wat, there were repeated references to the "blackness" of the natives in a none too flattering fashion.

Here is an excerpt from the article above that documents how the riots ocurred in the late 1980s:


The conflict intensified on December 24 when two African male students who were escorting two Chinese women to a Christmas Eve party on campus were stopped at the front gate and ordered to register their guests. A new university regulation that restricted registration procedures for guests visiting foreign students had been implemented in October of that year to stop African male students from consorting with Chinese women in their dormitories. A quarrel between one of the African students and the Chinese security guard escalated into a brawl between African and Chinese students that lasted until the next morning and resulted in the injury of eleven Chinese and two Africans. On the next day, 300 Chinese students, angered by a rumor that a Chinese man had been killed by an African student the previous evening, stormed the African students' dormitory chanting, "Kill the Black Devils!" The police arrived to restore order two hours later. Fearing for their safety, over 60 African students left for the railway station to reach their embassies in Beijing.

Addendum: I also don't want to be seen as neglecting the fact that brown-skinned Indians are also pretty racist, so I feel I should add this short addendum, though I will elaborate in a longer post in the future. Here is an article by Eric Margolis, a non-Indian who explores this (most articles by Indians on this topic are in my opinion very biased in either direction). There are some inaccuracies (he states that high caste Indians are closer to Europeans genetically than they are to low caste Indians, this isn't true, instead, high caste Indians are closer to Europeans than low caste Indians, but on average the two Indian groups will probably cluster together on most measures from what I know, and Europeans will be an outgroup-see this article for more detail), the general gist is what is important. My overall point, rising peoples like the Indians and Chinese have not sensitized themselves in the same way white people of European descent have, so in the near future we might see a resurgence of world-wide racist imagery and ideas.

Posted by razib at 03:44 PM | | TrackBack


Asian American "values"

In One Suburb, Local Politics With Asian Roots, is a story about Asian American political power in Cupertino. This caught my eye:


A Taiwanese-born mother of a fourth grader spoke of differences in values, particularly education. "You probably notice there are not many Caucasians," she said, parked outside William Faria Elementary. "Caucasians want their kids to have fun and later they'll catch up. I think Asian parents have a lot higher expectations for their kids."

This sort of statement by an immigrant about another community in public seems unseemly to me. I'm not saying she's factually wrong, but the current culture judges People of Color by a different standard as far as civility goes, and I think that it shows sometimes (perhaps this blog can be a shown to be a case of that? ;). I suspect in private these sort of attitudes are even more extreme, as Asian Americans have an explicit heirarchy of contempt, with blacks or Latinos at the bottom.

True, Asian American parents have high academic expectations, but in a liberal democracy where civil society is crucial, an emphasis on grace, civility and mutual respect are also things we should have high expectations for. Leaving an assertion like this without commentary would be unthinkable if you just replaced "Caucasian" with "black." But if you don't object to soft bigotry aimed at whites, it will be harder to curb racism directed toward other groups because certain habits will be ingrained. Now that Asian Americans are nearing an absolute majority in Cupertino, past benign neglect of their racism might seem short-sighted.

Posted by razib at 12:08 AM | | TrackBack

January 02, 2004



Free articles at The American Journal of Human Genetics

I think I've mentioned this before, but I suggest that readers go check out the archives of The American Journal of Human Genetics. They are free from November 1997 to 6 months before the present. Check out their search page, if you don't have institutional access already, chances are you'll be less interested in the technical papers, so the easiest way to find articles related the type of historical population genetics that I look for is to type country or ethnic group names. For instance, assume I'm interested in the Hui people of China (Muslims who speak Chinese). The search returns: Deafness-Linked 12S rRNA C1494T Mutation. Interesting, but probably not what you're looking for. But, this also comes up: Y-Chromosomal Insights into Central Asia. Most of searches keyed to ethnic groups will have some articles like the latter that allow you to not focus on novel techniques or elaboration of genetic models, but rather use genetics as a means to an end.

Posted by razib at 06:21 PM | | TrackBack


French symptoms

Ikram has a post on French head-scarves that has generated some intelligent debate. My main feeling on this topic is this: instead of tackling the disease, they are trying to medicate symptoms. I make the same argument about issues like race norming standardized test scores for higher education, though it seems far cheaper in the short term than addressing the root causes (whatever you may think they are), you are deferring a genuine exploration of the deeper issues.

For the French, I think they need to address who they are as a nation, and what norms of public discourse & expression they can accept. As Randy MacDonald notes:


The Muslim minority in France has been integrated; or, at least, as well as any other immigrant minority. 45% of French Muslim men marry non-Muslims; more than half of young Muslims don't speak their parent's language at all, having French as their mother tongue; religious practice, all said, is low.

1) Muslims believe that the children of Muslim men and non-Muslim women are Muslims. Traditionally they don't accept the marriage of Muslim women to non-Muslim men.
2) If religious practice is low, the problem seems to be the remainder that are religious, or those who convert to fundamentalist Islam. Religious Catholic youth obviously are not the source of social discord in the same way, so I think the problem is in how fundamentalist strains express themselves in the two confessions.

As I've stated before, Christianity is relatively gelded in the First World, Islam on the other hand is not-it has bite along with bark.

On a related note, check out Aziz Poonwalla's post about his own experience with religious fanaticism. As I've pointed out on his blog, he is a member of a sect of a sect of a sect of Islam. Being such a small minority means that Aziz's group has always found that support of pluralism, toleration and moderation are most profitable for their own well-being. The moral: if you're going to let in Muslim migrants, persecuted Shia groups, like the Alevi Turks in Germany, might be a better bet than people who come from dominant ruling groups who are more self-assured and used to blurring the boundaries of sacred and secular (like my own family frankly, Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi tradition of sharia, who are in absolute numbers the most numerous in the Muslim world).

Posted by razib at 05:56 PM | | TrackBack


Fool time religion?

As someone on the very secular end of the broad coalition that is the American Right, I get some flack from fellow conservatives for being snidely anti-religious now and then. So I am surprised that National Review seems to have caved in to their own biases and have started poking fun at the loony Protestant fundamentalist fringe which they usually are careful to cultivate.

First, yesterday a conservative Catholic wrote a sarcastic piece titled Not With a Biblical Bang...Looks like Saddam's not the END after all. It takes full-on aim at the apocalyptic End-of-Times mindset that permeates fundamentalist Protestantism in the United States, and has seeped into the mainstream culture via the Left Behind series.

Today, it seems Jonah Goldbergh has picked up a subtle change in the wind, he states in The Corner : "I think the vast, vast majority of what's said by liberals about the religious right is either ignorant or hateful nonsense. But I find Pat Robertson increasingly embarrassing." I don't doubt that privately the dominant Catholic-leavened-with-Jewish staff of National Review has major disagreemants with the fundamentalist (and to some extent evangelical) zeitgeist. But as they provide the foot-soldiers for the conservative movement, this is usually not mentioned publically because the war against godless liberalism is more important. But as John Derbyshire has noted, while half of Americans say they are "Creationist," you won't find a one who will fess up to that label on the staff of National Review.

Many of the ideological battles that go on in human societies are just elites leveraging the masses for their own ends in a war for the commanding heights. Many classicists tell us to be cautious about interpreting the rivalry between the Optimates and Populares during the late Roman Republic with a modern lens, seeing the former as conservative and the latter as liberal, when both were factions of the same class engaged in a battle for power. I wonder if in the future scholars will advise their students the same about the sundry movements from Left to Right that populate our age.

Posted by razib at 05:32 PM | | TrackBack


Michael Crichton - Aliens cause global warming

Here's a fabuous speech by author Michael Crichton given about a year ago at Caltech, to remind us about "fake science", and the difficulty of predicting the future.

I just came across it and thought GNXP readers would enjoy it.

Posted by ole at 03:48 PM | | TrackBack

January 01, 2004



30000 BC

Man in Siberia earlier than thought.

Pretty cool.

Russian scientists uncovered a 30,000-year-old site where ancient hunters lived on the Yana River in Siberia, some 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle and not far from the Bering land bridge that then connected Asia with North America.
...
Finding evidence of human habitation at the Yana site "makes it plausible that the first peopling of the Americas occurred prior to the last glacial maximum," Daniel Mann of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, said in Science. The last glacial maximum was 20,000 to 25,000 years ago.
I would think they should use the word possible rather than plausible. Let's see if this holds up....
Posted by razib at 12:53 PM | | TrackBack


Post-festive musings

Well, I go away for a week or so, and when I get back I find everyone else has been blogging away like beavers. Why weren’t you all celebrating Kwanzaa?

While I was away I saw The Return of the King, which was much-discussed in earlier posts. I won’t comment on the merits of the film or the book, except to say:

(a) Andy Serkis deserves some kind of Oscar for his role as Gollum. I had assumed that the voice was electronically distorted, but I saw a TV interview where he did it live - rather creepy. And although what you see of Gollum is CGI, it is modelled on Serkis’s movements and expressions.

(b) Liv Tyler: - where was she??? All the publicity for the film features Liv prominently, but she is on screen for about 5 minutes max, and only has a handful of lines. As Liv is one of my favourite babes - sorry, I mean actresses - this was a severe disappointment.

BTW, there is an article in a recent issue of New Yorker magazine arguing that Tolkien owed more to Wagner’s Ring than he was willing to admit (he said ‘Both rings are round, but the similarity ends there’.)

Turning to less serious subjects, at least two recent newspaper articles have referred to ‘research’ into national IQ levels by a team at the University of Vienna Medical School. Chris Brand, in his provocative but enjoyable blog, describes it as replicating the work of Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen.

Well, until proven otherwise, I will take replicate as meaning copy. (Oxford English Minidictionary definitions: replicate = make a replica of; and replica = an exact copy.)

The newspaper articles quote the ‘Vienna’ IQ levels (to the nearest point) for 8 countries (UK, USA, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, China, Belgium and Ireland), and give rank orders for several others. These are all identical to those of Lynn and Vanhanen. Bearing in mind the numerous judgement calls and technical adjustments involved in these figures (see the continuation) the probability that two sets of researchers would independently come up with exactly the same figures for as many as 8 countries is remote. So I would guess (being a charitable kind of guy) that the Vienna team have simply quoted L & V’s data for some purpose of their own, and the journalists have misunderstood what they actually claim to have done.

L & V’s data are selected from a variety of sources, using different tests carried out at different dates. Judgement is required as to the best tests to use for this purpose and the validity of the data. The raw data are then adjusted to allow for the Flynn Effect and expressed in terms of a notional UK mean of 100 (for more detail see my post 'In like Flynn'). In some cases further adjustments are made to allow for unrepresentative samples (e.g. one of the raw data entries for China is ‘arbitrarily reduced’ by 6 points). In these circumstances, it would be generous to suppose that the probability of two researchers independently getting the same mean IQ (to the nearest point) for any given country is as high as .5. (This is equivalent to having only two equiprobable alternatives to choose from. If there were as many as three viable alternatives, with probabilities of, say, .25, .5, and .25, the odds against two researchers independently getting the same results would be closer to 2:1.) The odds against two researchers independently getting the same results for as many as 8 countries (without any discrepancies) are therefore longer than 250:1.

Posted by David B at 09:13 AM | | TrackBack

December 31, 2003



HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Posted by razib at 09:22 PM | | TrackBack


Genetics of taste

Article here for those interested in the genetics of taste (kind of old, 1998). Here are some interesting points:


The incidence of taste blindness to PTC/PROP varies around the world, from 3% in western Africa to >40% in India (see MIM 171200). Approximately 30% of the adult Caucasian population of North America are taste blind to PTC/PROP (i.e., are nontasters) and 70% are tasters.
...
Capsaicin, the compound responsible for the oral burn of chili pepper, is more intensely hot to PROP tasters than to nontasters (Bartoshuk et al. 1994; Tepper and Nurse 1997).
...
If liking of chili was closely linked with PROP-taster status, then areas of the world where chili is widely consumed would have a high frequency of nontasters in the population.

I am a non-taster and a confirmed chili pepper addict. Please note that the original article makes clear that spice is also an acquired taste (your own ceiling goes up with usages).

Here is an article on spice:


... why do spices taste good? Traits that are beneficial are transmitted both culturally and genetically, and that includes taste receptors in our mouths and our taste for certain flavors. People who enjoyed food with antibacterial spices probably were healthier, especially in hot climates. They lived longer and left more offspring....
...
Accordingly, countries like Thailand, the Philippines, India and Malaysia are at the top of the hot climate-hot food list, while Sweden, Finland and Norway are at the bottom. The United States and China are somewhere in the middle, although the Cornell researchers studied these two countries' cuisines by region and found significant latitude-related correlations.

Abstract for the original article.

Posted by razib at 07:27 PM | | TrackBack


In Praise of Patterns

Caveat, this is a rough draft, but it's been a rough draft for weeks. I just don't have the time to flesh out everything right now, but I thought I'd submit it before my previous post was forgotten. The general points are pretty obvious, I encourage readers to offer more.

A few weeks ago I asked readers if they knew the definitions of induction and deduction. I really wasn't interested in how many people knew the definitions, or how many people didn't, or how many responded. I was curious actually about the ratio between those who knew only one definition. Here is what I found:

4 people knew only the definition for induction.
13 people knew only the definition for deduction.

I was expecting this. In part, one might think that Sherlock Holmes skewed this, but I did offer both definitions, and requested that readers answer with those definitions in mind.

My working hypothesis is that we live in an age where induction, generalizing from data sets, is problematic and suspect. On the other hand, deduction is not as verboten.

When people say:
You can't generalize!
or
That's just statistics!

They are attacking inductive ways of teasing out information from sets of data, even if they don't know the term induction (much of statistics is formalizing induction). On the other hand, I don't believe that deductive models are in such disrepute a priori, though they might disagree with the specific model, the intellectual public does not believe that the method is discredited as a whole (I used the term intellectual public, because the "common man" has less of a problem with induction-though that is probably a lagging indicator in my opinion).

So why did induction go into such disrepute? My reasoning is a bit confused because I don't think there is a deductive model that is tightly constricted that can elaborate a linear causative chain, rather, there are a variety of factors, some of them logically conflicting, that have likely led to the decline of induction.

I-The prestige of natural science:

This might seem a very peculiar factor. But I think there is something to it. Human beings seem to have certain mental modules. We have a "natural" idea of numbers, of physics, etc. It is our "common sense," which we all share (barring brain damange or a Post-Modern education).

What do we do when "common sense" conflicts with science? Today, we often look beyond our intuition. Some of the "common sense" reasons trotted out against rocket propulsion for instance seem ludicrous in hindsight.

Example: Space flight can not work because there is nothing for the exhaust to "push" against.

That might seem a funny example, and in a pre-Newtonian age, it might make sense, but the above quote was, I believe, from the early 20th century! Our "mental modules" were refined in the context of rather low velocities, and of course, drag and friction can be confusing when trying to simplify physical models. 300 years after Newton, his physics makes sense, but some of it does seem to defy "common sense" when we first encounter it as children. This is because our "natural physics" starts out with certain variables (eg; drag) and parameters (eg; low velocity) that when stripped away, reveal a set of general laws which might at first blush seems to be new and surprising.

I could go on in this vein, but Newtonian physics is very convetional when set against General Relativity. Everyone knows most of the "paradoxes" that are involved in high velocites or gravities, so I won't repeat them here, but it is important to note that Relativity is still a classical theory that is accessible to common sense when you make a few assumptions and strip away your conventional variables and parameters.

The big problem I think comes when you hit Quantum Theory.

A week ago I was having dinner with a friend when I presented this hypothesis. His response was: "I know Quantum Theory and it kind of makes sense, I don't see how it would make people reject common sense or induction." But I have left a piece of information out: my friend does work in photonics at M.I.T..

If you type Quantum into Amazon you get a lot of stuff. It seems to come in three main classes:
1) Conventional texts for the scientist.
2) Popular works attempting to "demystify" the field for the lay person.
3) Popular works attempting to further "mystify" topics by appealing to the weirdness of the Quantum World.

Schrödinger’s Cat has smeared its way through philosophy and now has found a home in spirituality and pop culture.

There are only a few things that people who haven't taken some Quantum Physics courses will know about it:

1) It's weird & defies "common sense."
2) It describes the world's "basic building blocks."
3) It's had practical applications, so you can't dismiss it as pie-in-the-sky weirdness (superstring theory anyone?).

But, it is strange that I am saying that this undermines induction, because Quantum Theory is statistical and destroyed the deterministic universe of classical physics [on micro-scale] (the "God does not play dice" quote by Einstein is a jab at Quantum Theory). Quantum Theory "works," and the results popped out by the equations predict the data, but we may always be ignorant of the irreducible Ground of Being or whatever you want to call it.

To sum up this point, the counter-intuitive results of natural science can sometimes be used against those who wish to generalize from data sets a *rough & ready model* that does not dot all the i's. This ignores the fact that science itself is inductive, insofar as observations of data and hypothesis generation that lead to deductive models are crucial pieces of the puzzle.

II-The rise of "Theory":

First, I would like to refer readers to Fashionable Nonsense or The Killing of History. Both cover the rise of "Theory" very well.

Since the 1960s there has been a rise in the Academy of theories like Post-Structuralism, Post-Colonialism, Feminist Theory, etc. etc. They are part of the broad family that detractors often term Post-Modernist. Their basic mode is deductive. They make a few core assumptions, for instance:
The male-female power struggle is central
or
The Western-non-Western power struggle is central
or
The Linear-non-Linear power struggle is central

etc. etc. etc.

You get the basic point. In many ways it is reminiscent of Marxism, all the data can fit into a central paradigm that reappears in all manifestations of human culture, literature, etc. etc.

Unlike the Marxists, from where I stand, the Post-Modernists tend not to make a show of adding corrective factors when facts do not fit theory. Where Marxists might attempt to explain why 19th century theories that were not predictive (Communism did not succeed in advanced capitalist nations) by adding new layers of theory, the Post-Modernists often hew strictly to the paradigm and re-shape "facts" to theory.

This where it gets very confusing, because most Post-Modernists love "quotations" because they emphasize "subjectivity" to the point where "solipsism" is a central virtue. My truth is my, your truth is your truth, and so forth. In practice of course, most Post-Modernists seem to behave so that their truth is their Truth and and their truth is your Truth.

A method that began as a correction on skewing of facts due to personal interpretation has compounded itself to the point that it is cannibalizing the object of study itself, "facts," in pursuit of stream-lining the method. It is as if the function f(x) = y is far more fascinating than the x or the y!

This resembles science and engineering in a fashion in that generalized techniques are crucial, and the functions, models, are the true holy grails, with facts and discoveries being supporting players (discoveries in fact being the models!). But, the important part of science is falsification, and the extra addendum, that subjectivity is paramount, means that Post-Modernists tend to neglect this part of the equation (it's not "false," rather, you are using a certain mental mode that makes it seem false!).

Subjectivity, the rise of Truths, and implied facts from the propositions that issue out of these truths, has resulted in the overturning of "common sense," insofar as the latter has a rough congruency with reality, and can be corrected or refined by reality (science). If you assume for instance that ideas, and social constructions, are the central organizing principles of the universe, then the following statement becomes very interesting:

Men are physically stronger than women.

The above is a "common sense" assertion, but when you strip away the precedence of facts, and look at the way the facts are stitched together, you see something different from what is visible at face value. For instance:

1) This individual believes that "Men" and "Women" are "objective" categories.
2) This individual thinks that one can make an assertion of "physical" "strength".
3) This individual believes that "Men" and "Women" are separate from the self-perception of the individuals in question, rather, they can make the assertion and set the terms of debate.
4) What does the word "stronger" mean? After all, "women" tend to give birth, while men do not, who is "stronger?"

(by the way, the most common refutation of this assertion that I encountered in college was a girl saying, "I know men weaker than me!" You can fill in the rest of the conversation)

Blah, blah. You get the point. There are a few tendencies that I am illustrating above (oops! Imposing my world-view again!).

1) Ignore what the person says, analyse how they say it.
2) Analyze the interrelationships between words, and tweak meanings and see how the function pops out something different (ignore the fact that the person making the assertion has specific meanings in mind).
3) Undermine the generalization by fiddling with definitions and finding exceptions outside of the set defined by the definition that you concocted.
4) Generalize-on-the-sly (using words like "tend") when it supports you insofar as it is aligned with an obvious bedrock Truth (patriarchy is bad, whites are oppressive, etc.).

Why can people get away with this?

1) Science is confusing and difficult to comprehend, but it works! So, the fact that "Theory" is confusing and difficult to comprehend does not mean it is invalid.
2) It is easy tear down ("deconstruct"), while to build is really hard.
3) It gives Total Truths. It is a religion and science analog (religion giving moral Total Truths while there is a perception that science gives Total Truths, when in fact it is far more provisional and inductive in practice than the end result that the public will see).
4) The Total Truths can be made to dove-tail well with politics.

So....

III-Politics is easier without induction and generalization

Prong #2 is mostly an Ivory-Tower phenom. You encounter it in college all the time. For instance, here is a real-life example of the kind of thinking that I believe is caused by prong #2.

1) Friend asserts that there are few Asians at his college.
2) I assert that that might be a function of his liberal arts major, as Asians tend to focus on business or science.
3) Someone responds, "My roommate is Asian and is an English major. So your assertion is false."
4) Didn't they understand tend, or trend, or pattern?

In political/ideological debates, a deductive model of thinking is very useful, because you are sure about your position once you flesh out the truth implications (I know, I used to be a pretty rabid libertarian! Facts be damned, I know the Truth, that's all that matters!). If that deductive model is under your control, so you can assert the axioms, all the better! The subjectivity of PoMo thought has recently been brought to the service of Left thinking. After all, if ideas, and deductive models from On-High are what matter, social engineering is a lot easier.

So....

Trends, like:
Women focus on the home, men on the workplace.
Gay men are a small minority.
Some level of xenophobia is universal.
War is pretty universal.
etc. etc.

Can be discarded as "social constructions," illusions caused by subjectivity. But what do you replace it with? After all, that leads to nihilism...well, they have a deductive model for you. Of course, there are axiomatic issues with this (subjectivity, truth claims, how do they go together? It's like the logical positivist "verification principle," you can't verify the verification principle!). But politics, like inductive generalization, is messy enough that it can accept the contradictions.

The trend (oh, that word again!) is moving past Leftism and into the Right and general society:
Gays are socially constructed (yay! let's change them!).
Social pathologies like pornography are the result of improper inputs.
Male promiscuity is the result of our immoral culture.
Evolutionary theory is a social construct of secular humanists!

On the level of the street, this sort of thinking, which rejects generalizations that do not make deterministic predictions, manifests itself in issues like racial profiling. People are terrified of being "incorrect," and generalizations are out. In private they might give in to their vice of making predictions based on facts they see around them, from their perspective, but in public, they will assent to all sorts of ludicrous assertions so as not to seem Wrong-Thinking.

Also, let me bring up a point about statistics. The phrase, "It's just statistics!" I think comes from the fact that most of the time we see statistics, it is a government or advocacy organization brandishing it to "prove" something. They tend to be shorn away from context, and framed through selection bias, omission of important information like standard deviation, mean vs. median, mode, etc. or proper description of how the events are recorded (for instance, "50% of marriages end in divorce" sounds a lot different from "the majority of people who get married do not divorce, but a minority that do marry do so multiple times , so the total number of marriages ending in divorce is around 50%").

The importance of the utility of method:

Method is important. But, it is important in the context of what it gives you. Is it a proper model of reality? Does it allow you build a bridge that won't collapse? Will it allow you catch airplane hijackers?

We are swarmed by data, we meet more people in a week than our ancient ancestors might have met in a lifetime, our mental modules are just not up to the task of dealing with the modern world without some effort and extension of its capacities through first aproximations. We need helpers, science, statistics, etc., ways of simplifying the bewildering complexity that is smashed against us every day.

That very complexity means that we might never be able to dot all the i's. We might have to deal with first aproximations, provisional models, and some fuzzy and sloppy conclusions. They aren't a reflection of the problems with technique, as much as with the complexity of the world around us (you know the saying, physics is so cool & easy because it is simple while sociology is difficult because it is so complex. Yeah, you read that right!).

There are some things that our brains are good at. Thinking is one. Computation isn't. A computer can take in some truths and split out results like it's magic. On the other hand, human brains are excellent pattern detectors, with analysis capacity to sift the patterns if we so choose. We will make mistakes. But not availing ourselves of the one mental module that is still pretty state-of-the-art is pretty stupid.

Of course, that's just an opinion!

Posted by razib at 03:13 PM | | TrackBack

December 30, 2003



World of Values

Thought readers might find this chart from The World Values Survey interesting....



Posted by razib at 10:31 PM | | TrackBack


"Medieval" Africa

This War Nerd column about the Tutsi-Hutu conflict is pretty good. It gives a brief intro to the Bantu demic expansion that is well sketched out in Guns, Germs and Steel, though I think he simplifies when he terms the Tutsi "Bantu." Though they now speak the same language as the Hutu, they were probably originally a Nilotic people (though if you google this topic, the issue is very confused by racialist pseudo-hypotheses).

As for Brecher's observation that Tutsi rule(d) the roost in both Rwanda and Burundi through force of arms, he is spot on. If the Hutus did not constitute 85% of Rwanda's population I am not so sure that the Tutsi government that took over after the 1994 genocide would not have been more explicit in its own policies of ethnic cleansing (as it is, they pursue a pro-natalist policy for Tutsis). As long as the Tutsis are a ruling group, I doubt these two nations will ever progress very far on quality-of-life metrics. Dominant minorities have no reason to fully mobilize the human capital of the majority because once that happens-their own hold on power becomes tenuous. It is no surprise that the Mughal's and Manchus did not mobilize the populations of India and China against the European threat and modernize like Japan, both were alien elites! The Japanese had an indigenous elite.

Of course, minor note, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa (Pygmy) are now genetically related. All three groups are somewhat distinct, but just like the various ethno-racial designations in Brazil, generations of intermarriage have confused the situation a great deal....

Posted by razib at 05:11 PM | | TrackBack


Alcohol consumption & relative fitness

Steve Sailer has been asking about the genetics of alcohol from a geographical angle. I'm curious, but another thing I've always wondered (and related to the question about Muslims and alcohol he is asking), I have read that many Mediterranean people drank alcohol (diluted) because it acted as a sterilant in urban situations where bad water could kill. With the spread of Islam, alcohol was forbidden, and and it seems that in the urban context if alcohol ~ anti-bacterial agent Christians and Jews would have a fitness advantage.

On a related note, I have read that the correlation between latitude and spice in food can be explained by the anti-bacterial properties of many herbs-in the tropics spoilage being more of a problem (especially in areas without salt).

Posted by razib at 03:43 PM | | TrackBack


God is Great...for now

While I'm blogging about Islam....

A few weeks ago, "jimbo" asked me if a sincere believing Muslim could be a liberal democrat (emphasis on the small caps here!). Thrasymachus also seemed to offer the opinion that Islam is just designed better and won't throw out all sorts of oddities like liberalism, science, etc.

Since I'm not a sincere believing Muslim, it's kind of weird to ask me. Never have been a theist, and God willing, never will be. I've only even been acknowledging the appellation Muslim since for security purposes, that's what I am (Muslims say you are Muslim if your father is). But, some Muslims who are sincere believers can be liberal democrats. But can most sincere believers who are Muslims? I don't know.

Frankly, I think that jimbo's question could be rephrased as such: Can a Protestant/Catholic in 1550 be a sincere liberal Democrat? I am being a bit uncharitable, but the median Muslim is probably somehwere between the Reformation Era Western Christian and the typical modern Christian. That, is a problem.

It also addresses a part of Thrasymachus' assertion. Would anyone guess that the revolution of Luther and Calvin would birth liberalism in the most Catholic of Protestant nations? (England) Protestantism can I think fairly be characterized as the fundamentalism of its age. Sola Scriptura, by the Bible alone, goes the Protestant saying. What has fidelity to the Good Book wrought? Well, today there are only a few true Protestant nations of European stock, the United States, being the shining exception to the rule. Similarly, Talmudic Judaism was "by the Book," and anticipated the tendency of some Protestants to find in scripture and commentary every answer to life.

Both Talmudic Judaism and fire & brimestone European Protestantism remain as rumps within the broader confession of their traditions.

To use the software analogy, Catholicism might have been a less tightly crafted class which wasn't a perfect implemenation of Christianity's original specifications, but it has been far more extensible and more well commented (compare the relative resilience of Catholicism in Germany and Holland in comparison to mainstream Protestantism, or northern vs. southern Europe). All the inflexible methods of the Protestant Reformations have resulted in wholescale rewrites and more or less a discarding of the original code-base by many as the needs of the end-users have shifted.

Of course, fundamentalist Protestantism is powerful in the non-white world, and Islam has foundational differences from both Protestantism and Talmudic Judaism. I will explore that later....

Posted by razib at 03:18 PM | | TrackBack


The Salafi ~ Communist analogy taken further

Today, everyone notes that Islamist parties rarely have majority support in any Islamic country (though plural majorities can be found in places like Turkey, and by evolutionary, not revolutionary, Islamists). If you look at the history of Communism, you see that like Islam, Communist parties rarely had broad-based popular support. Rather, a hard core (the "vanguard") transformed whole societies by mobilizing from above. This explains the paradox that the success of Communist take-overs occurred in societies like China, Russia or Vietnam, rather than advanced capitalist nations as Marx had predicted, because these societies had relatively quiescent majorities.

International Communism became a great threat after it found a bastion in the Soviet Union, where Democratic-Centralism (Marxist-Leninism) harnessed Communist ideology to nationalism. The same process can be seen in China, Vietnam or North Korea. It is nationalism that acts as the true driver of Communism, not international utopianism. In nations where Communists have not taken over the society, but still have a presence, like India (and democratic success!), the movement is riven by schism.

So the great threat I see is this: a nation we do not expect to turn Salafi is conquered by a Muslim vanguard nurtured abroad. A nation large enough to serve as a bastion and suppress the natural tendency to schism because of charismatic leaders. Today I think most people look to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, or perhaps Egypt. I don't think that will happen for a variety of reasons (it would be hard to Pakistan for instance to be a bastion when it has to spend most of its government income to deter the Indian "threat"). I think Indonesia is the perfect candidate. 200+ million people (180 million nominal Muslims, but a hard-core of motivated orthodox Muslims on the order of 25-75 million), distant enough from other large powers to serve as a remote base, and rich in natural resources.

Posted by razib at 02:57 PM | | TrackBack


Metaphor for the new Age of Religious Wars

Occassionally on this blog a dispute erupts over the negatives of "fundamentalist Hinduism" (Hindutva). I think that comparing this movement to "fundamentalist Islam" (roughly speaking, the Salafi/Wahhabi International funded from Saudi Arabia) can give us a little perspective. In the 1970s Jeanne Kirkpatrick differentiated between a Totalitarian (Communist) and Authoritarian (Right-leaning despotic) regimes, and argued that strategic alliances with the latter were necessary to battle the former.

Though the details differ, I think operationally in framing how the West should react to both movements (fundamentalist Islam and Hinduism) we can map Kirkpatrick's typology with internationalist fundamentalist Islam being characterized as totalitarian (and revolutionary) and Hindutva as authoritarian in inclination (and less intrusive in application).

As we have noted on this blog, while Islam is potentially globally oppositional to the West, Hinduism is locally reactionary. Clearly short-term tactical considerations mean that an alliance with an unpalatable Hindutva regime in India might be necessary to head off fundamentalist Islam.

As some have said about Communism, fundamentalist Islam wants to punish humans for their universal humanity. Hindutva on the other hand is an expression of atavistic prejudices and reactionary inclinations, which are particular to Indian culture, and by nature not exportable. I believe that the latter can be changed by evolutionary means, and India today is a democratic regime, with strong countervailing influences to Hindutva.

I could elaborate, but I think that the face-value evaluation of the above assertions have a lot of validity.

Posted by razib at 02:40 PM | | TrackBack


Hierarchy of responsibility, moving on down the totem pole....

Our local anti-Brahmin activist on GNXP sent me this link about the decline of a people who are Aryans par excellence (schadenfreude?). It seems that only 1/3 of Indian Parsis are marrying other Parsis, and those are marrying late! Many are copulating outside the faith, with unclean non-Aryans like Steve LaBonne. If you google this topic, you will find all sorts of issues, schisms between liberals and conservatives, those who espouse an ethnic religion and those who want to return to a more missionary spirit, those who think that children of mixed-marriages should be accepted and those who think they should be excluded. Basically, the Parsis would love to have Jewish demographic trends!.

I want to focus on one quote in the last paragraph:


Meanwhile, the World Youth Congress aims to make every young Parsi recognise that he/she owes a responsibility towards the community.

What responsibility exactly? If the young one does not believe in Ahura Mazda, thinks that allowing your dead to be consumed by vultures is kind of whacky and that there are strong genetic reasons (inbreeding) to marry outside-the-community, what responsibility do they have toward their community? In many nations prior to the 20th century this wasn't a question that was mooted. You were born in your community, you died in it after a long life following all the traditions, or you died outside of it rather quickly because of ostracism.

This mind-set persists among many South Asians in the United States, that most propositional & narcissistic of lands. I've just recently found out that two Patels that I knew from college are putting "responsibility" to their community (family) first. One is in medical school, a girl I once tutored in chemistry, who supposedly enjoys (enjoyed?) intercourse with black college football players, but just got an arranged marriage (once you go black, you can go back to brown?). The other is quitting his regular job to run the family business and will of course marry a fellow Patel (though he has sown his oats galore with a host of fair and tawny-skinned women).

As for me, I have little loyalty to the Muslim community, seeing as how I think the religion is kind of whack, no great affinity with Indian civilization (I find Chinese civilization more pragmatic and European civilization more rational) and little concern for the genetic well being of anyone aside from my possible future children (who likely, if they are born, will be phenotypically ambiguous). I look brown, but what's in blut? Well, a lot according to some people. The Parsis are quite explicit about their racial heritage. My identification as a Muslim (very mild to be gentle about it) and brown person (a practical concession to reality and an unfortunate diminution of my exceptionality in this universe) are both reactionary to the society around me, rather than driven by positive inclinations on my part.

My positive affinities are with fellow seculars, fellow liberal democrats, fellow libertarians, my friends, my fellow Americans, my fellow defenders-of-Western-civilization, etc. etc. My defense of Muslims or brown people tends to be explicitly couched in universal terms that emerge out of my other, more important, affinities.

Getting away from myself, my overall point is that a non-trivial minority of the human race is opting out of historical ties, and reforging personal ties based on confession rather than birth. This isn't a new process, the first Christians often left their birth identities and became part of a universal brotherhood. Every human being has multiple axes of identification, and the varied emphasis that individuals put on any given dimension, or even deleting certain ones, is something that more traditional people might have to start acknowledging.

If traditionalists want to remind some of the moderns that duty is important, they might start realizing that there are other values out there in the first place. There is little inclination to listen to people who you feel aren't interested in listening to you.

Posted by razib at 01:20 AM | | TrackBack


Cold Mountain, conscription and war

Just went and saw the film Cold Mountain. Earlier in the day I read Abiola note that "it is the height of absurdity that an entire movie could be made about the American Civil War without putting any focus on the central issue at stake in that war." Well, I think there was a nominal (perhaps tokenistic) nodd to the slavery issue, and there were more black faces in the background than on the set of Friends. Also, I would point out that there was the stock Evil-Blonde-Blue-Eyed-Guy that seems to show up in many movies made today. Overall, a good film. Nicole Kidman was exquisite, blah, blah, blah....

I want to focus in on a small part of the film: near the beginning the young bucks exclaim that "they have their war." I wonder if this isn't back-projection of the famed hysteria of 1914 in Europe to the Civil War just like The Patriot put the souls of the Waffen-SS in the bodies of British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. But in any case, the concept of war hysteria is interesting to me. I just had a recent post that pointed toward some historical differences between professional and conscript armies.

The Civil War was in many ways an appetizer for the industrialized conscript wars of the 20th century. But in the beginning there were often plenty of volunteers. I just recently read The Pursuit of Power by William McNeill where he asserts that this sort of patriotic fervor was a product of the nationalism that emerged out of the 18th century and matured in the 19th. Could one imagine the peasants of Germany rising up to fight for their heimat as they did in in the 19th century against both Austria and France in the 16th? In 1525 the commoners of southwest Germany rose up against their overlords, roused by the sermons of Thomas Muntzer, and they were crushed by the professionals. On the other hand, the New Model Army, a mix of nonconformists and Puritans, destroyed the Royalist Cavaliers in the 1640s.

Conscript vs. professional. The dichotomy can be hard to parse sometimes, especially in the recent past when fear of being ostracized by one's community might have compelled Canadian men to fight for the Queen in World War I or American boys to avenge Pearl Harbor in World War II. Today the American army is both professional and patriotic. As I noted earlier in the week, the two do not always go hand in hand.

Historians like Victor Davis Hanson like to point to classical precedents in showing what makes Western man what he is. The free citizens of Greece stood up to the combined might of the Persian army and defeated them. Centuries later, the free citizens of Rome outlasted the armies of Hannibal in a war of attrition. In both cases, volunteers of their free will, but not professionals, defeated a mix of mercenaries, conscript levies of foreign peoples in the service of alien kings and lords as well as those moved by personal loyalty. It is interesting to note that in both cases, true professional armies that fought with rational efficiency and planning might have conceded defeat. After all, the Hellenes looked beaten on paper, and the touch of the Persian king of kings was light as far as oriental despots went. Similarly, Rome endured years of despoilation of its hinterlands and the defeat of army after army by the brilliant general Hannibal, but not to be cliche, the Carthaginians could defeat the armies, but the city of Rome remained unbroken.

Irrational pride and principle can sometimes break the inevitable storm of massing enemy forces. Remember, in our lifetimes the British stood alone against the Nazi regime. If the Western European states had looked the other way while the Germans found their lebensraum to the east, history might have been different.

Posted by razib at 12:26 AM | | TrackBack

December 29, 2003



Pretty baby all mixed up....

Follow-up to my entry on mixed-race people in fashion & entertainment, I noticed today that the this year's winner of "Cutest Baby" for BabyTalk magazine was a girl with bright blue eyes, frizzy brown hair and tawny skin. It seems highly likely that the baby was of mixed African and European heritage. They showed the four runner ups, and three of them pretty much conformed to the "P & G" look, while another was a little Gujarati kid (his last name was "Desai"). They culled these kids from 100,000 pictures submitted.

P.S. no, I'm not a regular reader of BabyTalk, but note-to-self, I did notice the cover picture more since it was a somewhat-"black"-looking-baby with blue eyes instead of the typical "P & G" infant. Next up: genetically engineered kids with pink hair, they'll make a cute accessory for a yuppy of circa 2030.

Posted by razib at 05:31 PM | | TrackBack


My lucky number is pi

An interesting article on irrationality, inter alia. "In short, the evolutionary design features of the human brain may well hold the key to our penchant for logic as well as illogic."

Consider the following problems:

Problem 1:

"Imagine that you are confronted with four cards. Each has a letter of the alphabet on one side and a number on the other. You are also told this rule: If there is a vowel on one side, there must be an even number on the other. Your job is to determine which (if any) of the cards must be turned over in order to determine whether the rule is being followed. However, you must only turn over those cards that require turning over. Let's say that the four cards are as follows:

T 6 E 9

Which ones should you turn over?

Problem 2:

You are a bartender at a nightclub where the legal drinking age is 21. Your job is to make sure that this rule is followed: People younger than 21 must not be drinking alcohol. Toward that end, you can ask individuals their age, or check what they are drinking, but you are required not to be any more intrusive than is absolutely necessary. You are confronted with four different situations, as shown below. In which case (if any) should you ask a patron his or her age, or find out what beverage is being consumed?

#1 -Drinking Water
#2 -Over 21
#3 -Drinking Beer
#4 -Under 21

Did you find one problem easier than the other? Answers and speculation within.

"Answers:

Problem 1:

Most people realize that they don't have to inspect the other side of card T. However, a large proportion respond that the 6 should be inspected. They are wrong: The rule says that if one side is a vowel, the other must be an even number, but nothing about whether an even number must be accompanied by a vowel. (The side opposite a 6 could be a vowel or a consonant; either way, the rule is not violated.) Most people also agree that the E must be turned over, since if the other side is not an even number, the rule would be violated. But many people do not realize that the 9 must also be inspected: If its flip side is a vowel, then the rule is violated. So, the correct answer to the above Wason Test is that T and 6 should not be turned over, but E and 9 should be. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents get it right.

Problem 2:

Nearly everyone finds this problem easy. You needn't check the age of person 1, the water drinker. Similarly, there is no reason to examine the beverage of person 2, who is over 21. But obviously, you had better check the age of person 3, who is drinking beer, just as you need to check the beverage of person 4, who is underage. The point is that this problem set, which is nearly always answered correctly, is logically identical to the earlier set, the one that causes considerable head scratching, not to mention incorrect answers.

Why is the second problem set so easy, and the first so difficult? This question has been intensively studied by the evolutionary psychologist Leda Cosmides. Her answer is that the key isn't logic itself -- after all, the two problems are logically equivalent -- but how they are positioned in a world of social and biological reality. Thus, whereas the first is a matter of pure reason, disconnected from reality, the second plays into issues of truth telling and the detection of social cheaters. The human mind, Cosmides points out, is not adapted to solve rarified problems of logic, but is quite refined and powerful when it comes to dealing with matters of cheating and deception. In short, our rationality is bounded by what our brains were constructed -- that is, evolved -- to do. "


Posted by martin at 10:24 AM | | TrackBack

December 28, 2003



What's in a century?

From a site on "group cohesion":


As regards optimum group size, Fukuyama (1999 : 213) suggests that it cannot reasonably exceed fifty to one hundred members, since the various biological mechanisms for detecting 'free-riders' in groups were developed in our evolutionary past in hunter-gatherer societies, which must have been around that size. ...

Now, a site on Roman legions:


8 men=1 contubernium (mess unit/tentful), probably led by a file leader
10 contubernia=1 centuria (century), commanded by the centurion
6 centuriae=1 cohors (cohort), probably commanded by its senior centurion
10 cohortes=1 legio (legion), commanded by the legatus

So that's a little under 100 men per century. Please note that the centurions were usually the senior officers promoted from the ranks, and a general's relations with the centurions is what determined his hold over his legion.

Now here is the organization of the Mongol army:


The organization of the army was based on the decimal system. The largest unit was the tjumen, which was made up of 10.000 troops. A large army used to consist of three tjumens (Plural form t'ma in Mongolian), one consisting of infantry troops who were to perform close combat, the two others were meant to encircle the opponent from both sides. Each tjumen consisted of ten regiments, each of 1.000 troops. The 1.000 strong unit was called a mingghan. Each of these regiments consisted of ten squadrons of 100 troops, called jaghun, each of which was divided into ten units of ten, called arban. There was also an elite tjumen, an imperial guard which was composed of specially trained and selected troops. As for the command structure, the ten soldiers of each arban elected their commander by majority vote, and all of the ten commanders of the ten arbans of a tjumen elected the commander of a jaghunby the same procedure. Above that level, the khan personally appointed the commanders of each tjumen and mingghan. This appointment was made on criteria of ability, not age or social origin.

I note that above the level of what would be a centurion in the Roman system, the khan personally appointed the officer. This is similar to the Roman system where officers higher than centurions were generally not promoted from the ranks but had more political and social status.

Posted by razib at 03:43 PM | | TrackBack


The Men with Guns

In the year 107 BCE the Roman general Gauis Marius began to recruit soldiers into the legions from the "head count" (urban poor) of Rome. Prior to this point the rankers in the legions had been propertied farmers, but due to military catastrophes and the resultant deficits in manpower from this class, property qualifications were waived in the interests of expediency. The new soldiers were men without means who had to be provided for in a more direct fashion by their generals, whether that be in the basics of their arms or long term land distributions. Within two generations Republican Rome was in shambles, and many point to this act by Marius as one of the main catalysts.

When the stakeholders in Roman society fought for their land and their families, there was a counterbalance to the charisma of their generals. Not being dependent on these egotistical men, it would have been beyond the pale of conception that the legions would march against Rome herself in the interests of the army. The army was Rome, and Rome was the army. This point changed in a not so subtle way after 100 BCE, as the Roman armies became stocked by the dispossessed who had little stake in the status quo. The logical end point of the separation between stakeholders and the soldiers who defended them can be seen in the late Roman Empire, at this point, the soldiers of the legions were usually Germans who were led by nominally civilized German generals.

In 1450 the general who led the armies of the Italian city of Milan took power from a Republican government. This was the age of the condottiere, a time when mercenary troupes dominated much of Europe. The Catalan Company can be thought of as an exemplary model for these moving cities of armed men. This was an age of religious wars, and the powerful men who led the soldiers who fought for the glory of gold achieved their apotheosis in the person of Albrecht Wallenstein, officially a hireling and vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor, but a wolf who in many ways overshadowed the Catholic emperor and the Protestant princes who fought him.

This age of mercenary soldiers has been washed away from historical memory by the rise of enormous conscript armies in the service of the industrial state during the 19th century. Coalescence of the nation-state over the past 200 years make the fact that non-citizens can enlist in the United States military surprising to many Americans. The genuine patriotism espoused by many American soldiers makes it easy to forget our military is an enormous professional force. The fact that the United States has demobilized large armed forces several times in its history after the end of military hostilities is a testament to the caution that our political class has often had towards militarization. Since many of the earlier leaders had classical educations, they must surely known of the Roman precedent.

The American military is fast becoming a society apart. Granted, the enlisted men have a high turnover rate, but they tend to come from specific elements of society, more toward the lower socioeconomic end of the ladder, and concentrated among the white Scots-Irish and blacks among our many ethnic groups. It seems likely that the officer corps is now mostly Republican, and some surveys assert that it is 80% Republican.

This moves me to note another point: General Wes Clark was praised by many on the Left for the following statement: "but people who like assault weapons should join the United States Army, we have them." The particular context was the assault weapons ban. Moving away from any position point on this topic, I would like to note that those on the Left often seem to think that only the military should have lethal weapons. On the other hand, I highly doubt that many of those who praised Clark's suggestion for those who liked lethal weapons to join the military would be pleased if any of those they knew actually joined the military! Those who want to disarm this society in my personal experience have a range of feelings toward soldiers that range from confusion to hatred, wich contempt, condescension and simple distaste falling somewhere in the middle. It seems ironic that they should so trust a caste of people who they have little sympathy or empathy for to husband the precious resource of lethal killing power.

I think those those who read the Washington Monthly article G.I. Woe should keep in mind the confused (and sometimes not-so-confused) attitude of the Left toward the military in mind. One of the main critiques that the author makes against the current system of military organization is that it treats soldiers as interchangeable and does not allow for group cohesion. Here is a choice quote:


"When you get down to the unit level, what it means is that for the most part, the formations you are deploying on any given day consist of strangers," says Col. Douglas A. Macgregor, a research fellow at the National Defense University and author of Breaking the Phalanx, a bible for military reform advocates.

From the point of military efficiency, this criticism does make a lot of sense. But keep in mind that group cohesion can cause problems. Roman legions had a common standard, a totem, worshipped gods of the legion together, and often paid into common burial accounts. It became in far-off-lands the closest thing that men had to a family (and in the early days those who enlisted were prevented from officially marrying). The legions revelled in their history, which often they stretched back centuries. These units were in effect small mobile communities united by bonds of common feeling. They were not strangers. But as noted above, these legions often owed personal loyalty to their generals. In the chaotic transitions between dynasties, the legions of the Rhine, or the Danube or Syria would often march together to forward their claimant to the purple, knowing that the new emperor would reward them if he was one of their own. The Praetorian Guard (the emperor's elite personal soldiers) even auctioned the emperorship at one point.

So, a thought experiment, what if American soldiers became attached to their division, and drilled and deployed with the same comrades year after year? I think it is highly plausible that a generally diffused patriotism could be supplemented by a feeling of divisional unity, family, and if officers were assigned to one division over their whole career, the bonds between them and the enlistees would grow even closer.

In sum, you have a professional military which espouses values somewhat at variance with the population at large because of selection bias. You also have an anti-military intellgensia arguing for a strict monopoly of lethal force to be given over to a culture and organization that they have little understanding of, and to some extent loath, feelings that are often reciprocated by the military. Additionally, parts of the intellgensia (those that detest the military the least, granted), are arguing for an increase of group cohesion in the interests of utilitarian outcome.

All this suggests to me that a decline in classical education is having a negative impact on our policy analyzing elite. The model that the Founders used, Republican Rome, give a clear indication of what might come about if all the variables are in place[1]. Examples in contemporary times abound, for instance our ally in the War On Terror, Pakistan, where the military does exist as a separate, and dominant, subculture within the nation.

To my liberal friends, I often say: You want gun control, you want only the military to have guns, a military that is often illiberal and reactionary in its first impulses. Do you really trust these people?

fn1. If you want to get multicultural, just point to the Samurai monopoly on wearing swords during the Tokugawa Era, or the Muslim near exclusive rights (officially) to join the armies of the Mughals (in addition to some Hindu Rajputs, who were a martial caste themselves). Small minorities, separate from the majority, rule easily when they can monopolize weaponry.

Update: Matthew Yglesias points to this article at the Washington Monthly that is pro-draft. Please note, I am not espousing any policy solutions like the draft. I am though suggesting that we need to be less complacent about the continuance of America's democratic republic. I think many Americans view our governmental system, and the status quo, as having reached fixation, something I'm skeptical of....

Posted by razib at 03:00 PM | | TrackBack


The Future of People

Today's survey: In the next 100 years, will people be more intelligent, or less intelligent?

A few weeks ago I posed a series of "order of magnitude" thought experiments about the future of people.  I didn't get much response, probably because they were thought experiments, and not multiple-choice surveys where people could just click to vote.  Also asking people to think rationally between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always a challenge :)

But let's consider them together.  They all have the following schema: What if xWould things be better for you, or worse?  Choices for x included:

  • What if the world had {2X, 4X, 10X} more people in it?
  • What if everyone made {2X, 4X, 10X} more money?
  • What if everyone was {2X, 4X} bigger?
  • What if everyone was {10%, 20%} smarter?

What's interesting about these questions is that although there were posed hypothetically, there are definite trends.  From the recent past (say 100 years) through today, the following are unequivocally true:

  • The world has far more people in it (about 8X in the last 100 years).  The trend is that in the next 100 years, this growth will continue but at a slower pace.
  • The world is far more productive (about 4X in the last 100 years).  The trend is that in the next 100 years, this growth will continue and perhaps even accelerate. 
  • People are much larger (about 30% by weight and 20% by height, in the last 100 years).  The trend is that in the next 100 years, this growth will continue but at a slower pace.

The last question is less clear; have people become {less intelligent, more intelligent} in the last 100 years?  An open question, I would say; the Flynn effect indicates "more intelligent", while population analysis suggests "less intelligent".  And in the next 100 years, will the trend be up, or down?

You know what I think, but what do you think

Here's today's survey:

In the next 100 years, will people be more intelligent, or less intelligent?

(The survey is on my blog because I don't know how to host one on GNXP :)

Posted by ole at 11:09 AM | | TrackBack