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July 17, 2004



We the Beautiful

New article in Intelligence explaining why beautiful folks tend to be bright folks.


The conclusion that beautiful people are more intelligent follows from four assumptions. (1) Men who are more intelligent are more likely to attain higher status than men who are less intelligent. (2) Higher-status men are more likely to mate with more beautiful women than lower-status men. (3) Intelligence is heritable. (4) Beauty is heritable. If all four assumptions are empirically true, then the conclusion that beautiful people are more intelligent is logically true, making it a proven theorem.

I am not near as knowledgeable about EP as other folks here, so I will let y'all comment on the minutia, but it appears to me that they are missing a personality component. If you are very smart (IQ > 175), but are also extremely neurotic, psychotic1, and introverted, I doubt you will be as successful with the ladies as a moderately intelligent person, but whose personality is less neurotic, psychotic and more extroverted. Nonetheless, I am excited about my prospects.

1. This is from Eysenck's work, and does not, necessarily, mean clinical psychosis.

Godless comments:

Actually, I don't think that the conclusion is accurate. Even if all four of the premises are true, it need not be the case that the conclusion follows. Technically speaking, suppose that X, Y, and Z are zero-mean normal variables. E[XY] and E[XZ] can both be nonzero while E[YZ] is zero. You can demonstrate this by construction - simply use a degenerate covariance matrix with a zero covariance for Y and Z. This can of course also be done for non-normal RV's.

In other words, the positive correlations between X (=income) and Y (=intelligence) and that between X (=income) and Z (=beauty) do not imply a nonzero correlation between Y (=intelligence) and Z (=beauty). It is suggestive, but you'd have to do a direct study before you chained the correlations in this fashion.

Intuitively, the fallacy in reasoning was identified by Alex. Using pairwise correlations alone can obscure internal structure in multivariate data sets. For example, the highly intelligent tend to be economically successful. However, it may be the borderline high-IQ (Morgan Stanley banker) rather than the ultra intelligent (Harvard researcher) who tend to get the most attractive women.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 09:02 PM | | TrackBack


Tales of missing girls

Conrad Barwa "comments" on the sex ratio imbalance in Asia (rumor has it that the "Extended Entry" feature in Movable Type was designed with Conrad in mind!).

Posted by razib at 10:26 AM | | TrackBack


I've been had!

Last week I reported on a "documentary" that Sci-Fi was making against M. Night Shyamalan's wishes (in which I cautioned that Sci-Fi has been known for "mockumentaries"). Well it seems that I've been had and have been unintentionally prognostic. I originally thought that Sci-Fi was talkin' shit 'bout M.Night over a tiff because he cut off their access. Well it looks like the director was in on it from the beginning, and that it was all a marketing campaign.

Just one more black mark against Skiffy, and the first one against M.Night.

I mean, couldn't he have sold his film on his rep?

Posted by scottm at 06:53 AM | | TrackBack

July 16, 2004



Details and perspective

I stumbled upon The Washington Quarterly website today while browsing some of Scott Atran's publications. He has a long (26 pages, PDF) piece titled "Combating Al Qaeda's Splinters: Mishandling Suicide Terrorism." Atran is a cognitive scientist who tries to connect the "big picture" with the reduced elements from which the former emerges. Since 9/11 the public discourse has been dominated by "big picture" types and certain truisms seem to simply not die. Atran's piece is wide ranging, but this particular passage stuck out for me:


...the majority of Palestinian suicide bombers have a college education (versus 15 percent of the population of comparable age) and that less than 15 percent came from poor families (although aboout one-third of the population lives in poverty)....

...suicide terrorists exhibit no socially dysfunctional attributes (fatherless, friendless, jobless) or suicidal symptons....


Such facts are more difficult to present to the public which only has time for compact but trite platitudes about economically deprived & nihilistic psychopaths or hears them described as "the Muslim equivalent of the KKK" on an evening drama. Atran mentions Hannah Arendt's notion of "the banality of evil," and I do often reflect on the insanity that engulfed the German nation leading up to World War II, because given foresight it would seem almost inexplicable that such a civilized nation could engage in such barbarities. When I was an undergraduate I took several German history courses and was subjected to theorists who posited a "authoritarian German character" as the prime cause behind their leap over the edge and toward the abyss. Such explanations seemed simplistic at the time, and the literature in any case was highly anecdotal and detached from the individual scale (eg; reviews of educational instructional material), rather they focused on sociological aggregates, inferring from that level what the psychology of the typical German might be.

But the big picture is not always so bad, that is, details are important, but one must also look over the horizon so as not to be led astray by short term conditions. That is where the piece Regional Implications of Shi'a Revival in Iraq (again, a large PDF) comes in handy. It is a broad survey of the dynamic of Shi'a vs. Sunni rivalry in the Middle East & South Asia. There are oversights of detail that I found concerning, but at 18 pages it is already rather hefty for an essay. The author notes:


...the Shia's were then associated with anti-Americanism, revolution, terrorism, hostage taking, and suicide bombings. The Shi'a political fervor that emanated from Tehran and the kind of violence that it perpetrated were seen as an extension of the faith's millenarian beliefs and celebration of martyrdom.

By comparison, Sunni Islamic activists appeared less threatening. The West viewed them as socially and politically conservative lacking in the religious doctrines that matched the Shi'a penchant for militancy....


I have made extensive critiques of the extrapolation from doctrine or text to the character of a culture recently. With current hindsight I think one can assert that the perception of an overarching tendency toward Shi'a radicalism was due to the conflation of various epiphenomena that both ranged across ages and were particular to that time.

  • Iran was flexing its muscule as an international power, and it was a Shi'a state, so one lever it was using was prodding Shi'a minorities to agitate through politics and violence.
  • The Shi'a have been an out-of-power minority for most of Muslim history, and so constrained by options (rather than any grand doctrine) they have had to resort to terrorist tactics against more powerful opponents (usually Sunnis).


Today, the Sunni militant radicalism seems to be the teleology of mainstream Sunni thought viewed from several vantage points (both Muslim and non-Muslim). But one must remember that a study of the historical record might show that Shi'a terrorist violence was a pragmatic tendency, less so a doctrinal point, and an observation of the state of Iranian nation after the fall of the Shah might have dispelled the idea that the Shi'a would be in permenant jihad against the West. The same might apply to modern Sunni radicalism.

The primary weakness in the essay was that the author tended to simplify for the audience. For example:


  • There is a non-trivial level of substructure within both the Shi'a and the Sunni. I have previously rejected the Sunni/Shia ~ Protestant/Catholic analogy, in large part because it doesn't serve as a very good model of the genetic relationship between many Shi'a and Sunni groups.
  • The author alludes to the conversion of many Pakistanis to Shi'ism after 1979 and the introduction of Islamic law in Pakistan and the exemption of the Shi'a from many of its strictures. But it might behoove him to remind readers that most Iraqi Shi'a have converted to the faith in the past 200 years as a result of their settlement along the canals and irrigation works of southern Iraq and the transition away from the nomadic life. This suggests that the Sunni-Shi'a aminosities are on some level a proxy for geopolitical rivalries and emerge out of the vicissitudes of history rather than something that is deeply held by the masses.

Addendum: I point readers to this excellent clickable family tree of various Muslim groups. To put a human face on this, Aziz Poonwalla is a Bohra Ismaili while many members of my family have studied within the Hanafi legal tradition of Sunnism. And for the Muslims out there, I know it is a bit simplistic, but it gives people a base....

Posted by razib at 10:52 PM | | TrackBack


New Aids treatment

In my (seemingly) endless wanderings around the world of Biotech/Research talking to researchers, I found another interesting little piece of information concerning AIDS treatment. Up until now most therapies have concentrated on combating HIV after it has set up an infection in the host, but now a new product in the final stages of testing in Uganda on prostitutes has shown a new way to combat the spread of HIV. This product actually uses a microbicide (PSC-RANTES) to stop the infection from even occuring.

Quick background on the way HIV enters your body. To cross the mucosal epithelium into your body to devastate your immune system, the virus needs to utilize Langerhan cells which are resident dendritic cells. Once in these cells have been infected CD4+ T cells form on the Langerhan cells and become infected, which destroys the immune cell and leads the virus into your body.

To combat this the microbicide stops the initial infection of the LC cells, so the virus cannot enter the body. The product is being developed as a vaginal gel and can be effective for several days. Let's see if it works.

Posted by scottm at 05:50 PM | | TrackBack


Genetics of Body Building

There's a public-consumption news story at Nature describing a study that seeks to identify SNPs for human strength-training performance.

The team has already tracked down 25 genetic signposts that characterize either the muscle-bound or the scrawny group, says Hoffman. He plans to publish the results later this year.

What's stopping this from being done with traits like IQ, which are seemingly easier to measure?

Posted by rikurzhen at 01:26 PM | | TrackBack


The worth of a picture

Dienekes points me to this site that has a lot of information on Y haplogroups (various male lineages). In particular, check out this map (PDF). You can also see a map of mtDNA haplogroups further down on page 4.

Posted by razib at 01:06 PM | | TrackBack


Polar body twins....

A few weeks ago David B posted The Olsen Twins: MZ or DZ. I have seen several press reports that assert they are "fraternal," and yet they seem to look strikingly alike aside from the fact that one is skeletal. Perhaps they could be the hypothesized polar body twins, that is, a polar body becomes an identical egg, and they are fertilized by two different sperm from the father. In other words, they are "half-identical," and so would resemble each other more than typical fraternal twins.

But there are many possibilities here. Human testicle sizes indicate some level of "sperm competition" and female infidelity, and there are cases of superfecundation, when a woman has more than one sexual partner and different eggs are fertilized by sperm from different fathers.

Theoretically one could imagine a combination of polar body twins conceived via superfecundation. This could result in siblings who are genetically as related as conventional fraternal twins (assuming the fathers are unrelated). One case of superfecundation involved a black woman who had a white and black lover and gave birth to black and mixed-race twins, so the permutations are pretty strange....

Posted by razib at 11:23 AM | | TrackBack

July 15, 2004



Sex skew

Carl Zimmer has a fascinating entry on skewed sex ratios and the conditions that generate them. As Carl notes there is plenty of data on this, to me the most interesting research that I recall was the predominance of young boys in the graveyards of medieval European peasants, while the reverse is was noted among the nobility (read Carl's entry to see how this fits some of the animal data). On a related note I recently heard through the grapevine that an animal breeding grad student at Washington State University has figured out how to get ungulates to skew ratio toward females by injecting a sugar solution into their "special parts."

Related: Old entry titled "Sex Ratio Fallacies" by David B.

Addendum: My maternal grandmother: six sons, one daughter. My mother: four sons and one daughter. My mother's maternal female cousins? Total of four sons and two daughters.

Posted by razib at 11:39 PM | | TrackBack


(Yellow + Brown) * movie = something new....

Saw a promo for the movie Harold & Kumar go to White Castle on Comedy Central. From IMDB:


Two twenty-something stoner roommates -- one a Korean American investment banker; the other an Indian American medical school candidate -- go through a life changing journey, as they spend a night roaming the state of New Jersey in search of White Castle hamburgers.

Posted by razib at 10:20 PM | | TrackBack


From the Onion, the most hilarious part

"A course in Chaucer can be a fascinating examination of medieval mores and the evolution of the English language," Comey said. "Such knowledge, however, has little application in larger society. Students can graduate with majors in creative writing, Latin, women's studies, and history, yet still not know how to fix a sink, sew on a button, or even properly feed themselves.Virtually the only opportunity graduates have to apply their arcane knowledge takes place during discussions over coffee with their peers, or attempts to impress members of the opposite sex at parties."
Posted by scottm at 08:16 PM | | TrackBack


Yet another internet quiz

This one from slate determines if you are more blue or red state. My major problem with this one is they should put an "I don't know" option, since I did not know about 40% of the questions. I mean, what the heck is the Big 12?

Addendum
I think there is a strong bias in this quiz of making "blue state" the difficult to achieve ideal. First, when I was graded, I came off as slightly into the red and the comment was a subtle insult "time to come in out of the sun" (redneck). Also, I know next to nothing about NASCAR, country music, or sports and I don't shop at WAL-MART, but because I have "fired a gun" (should be "own a gun") and drive a car, I'm a redneck to these people. A lot of my most liberal friends/co-workers have at one time in their youth, hung out with their rural cousins and shot cans with a 0.22. Even though they moved to the city and worked hard at purging all "redneck" culture and becoming a good liberal, because they have that black spot on their political soul they can never be the "perfect" liberal.

Posted by scottm at 04:42 PM | | TrackBack


Looking closely....

Follow-up to the earlier post that pointed to the large environmental contribution to the increase in myopia in modern populations, here is a report on a pending paper that gives a very high heritability for myopia:


By mathematically modeling the differences in the eye sizes, Hammond found that genes accounted for 89 percent of nearsightedness, farsightedness, and other refractive vision problems....

...Hammond scanned the entire genome of the fraternal twins and found four sections linked to the eye problem. The most strongly linked segment contains 44 genes, including one specified as PAX6, which is already well-known to vision researchers.

Posted by razib at 04:34 PM | | TrackBack


The Platonic Ideal and the Empirical Reality

When I was in high school I had a friend named Tom. He had red curly hair and was of average intelligence, I joked that his mom had been exposed to radiation when she was carrying him. We let him tag along on camping trips now and then because he was one of the guys who would let you rag on them and even beat on him just so you would like him. Tom and I weren't close, but I once had an interesting conversation with him.

To Tom, I was "black." This makes sense, my skin is brown, and West Asian Muslims and Europeans who came to Southern Asia often referred to the natives as "black." Nevertheless, one time Tom referred to a Cambodian girl we both knew as "black." She was somewhat lighter in complexion than I was, but her East Asian features seemed to be a sign that she wasn't black. But OK, she was brown, so perhaps that was close enough. Then one day, Tom referred to Patty Chen (last name changed, but close enough) as black. As you can tell, Patty Chen was Chinese. When I pointed this out to Tom, he agreed she was Chinese, "a Chinese-type-black."

What I'm trying to get across is in Tom's world there were two high level racial classifications: black and white. Or more properly, non-white and white. This is a common theme in American culture, shaped as it has been by the tension between the white majority and the black minority. This dichotomy continues to loom large, resulting in the The New York Times series "How Race Is Lived in America" only profiling black and white Americans, ignoring the 15% who don't easily fall into either category, or the ABC special "America in Black and White," as if that is the totality of America (in large parts of American Latinos or Asians are the dominant minority).

This sort of perpetuation of old models beyond the point where they are realistic is common. People reinterpret the world through their own lens, which is shaped by past experience. But specifically, the mode-of-thinking that I elaborate above is what I call the Platonic Ideal of Human Biodiversity (PIHBD) (what Steve Sailer might refer to as the "top-down" methodology). I contrast there is the Empirical Reality of Human Biodiversity (ERHBD). The two obviously merge into one another, but there are sharp differences which I think influence the type of discourse one might have on topics related to ethnicity.

Modern American society tends to accept PIHBD as the norm around which one formulates social policy stances, and the model to be falsified or confirmed. The reason for this is that PIHBD makes the "mental algebra" required of system building far easier than ERHBD, the latter is statistical, fuzzy, and not easy to translate into categorical assertions and definitive rules. Though the race-does-not-exist position tends to dominate the intellectual discouse, the PIHBD still sets the terms of the debate and is held implicitly to be the "alternative model."

PIHBD offers many things to everyone involved. To those who espouse racialized ideologies it gifts fertile possibilities to define the parameters for group cohesion in a clear and concise fashion. For example, scan the following assertions:

1) All Europeans are white, all non-Europeans are non-white.
2) A white individual has only white ancestors.
3) All people with a black ancestor are black.
4) Spanish surname indicates that you are a "person of color."
5) You are a Jew if your mother is Jewish.
6) You are member of Israel if your ancestor is Jacob.

And so on. PIHBD offers a good fit for legalistic inferences and formulations relating to group identification. But like so many idealized concepts, it does not always fit easily with the reality-out-there, but the will-to-believe of the human mind allows one to suspend disbelief and continue as if PIHBD holds. To exmplify:

One day in Calculus in high school I was shooting the shit with a friend of mine and the guy sitting in front of his. My friend happens to be half-Israeli Arab, though he takes after his Scottish-American mother in looks. The guy sitting in front of us was half Italian-American. The Italian-American fellow was olive skinned, with dark hair and dark eyes. My friend has medium brown hair and hazel eyes and a fair complexion. I am of course brown. The Italian-American noted that there were only two non-whites in the class, my friend and I. What I found ironic about this was that the Italian-American fellow was far darker than my "non-white" friend. But, it all makes sense in light of propositions 1 & 2, my friend has a father who is non-European, so he could not be white!

These sort of ideas also explain why Nelson Mandela accused the Americans of being negative toward Butros-Butros Ghali, a fair skinned Egyptian, because he was black. The ANC held that all non-whites were black, whether they be Coloured (mixed-race), Asian Indian or "Bantu"/African, in the battle against white supremacy. This was an typology that was very useful in the establishment of group cohesion of non-whites against whites. He extrapolated this typology world-wide, and so the invasion against Iraq was an invasion into a "black country" (accepting the contention that non-European must mean non-white).

I believe these sorts of typologies, outgrowths of PIHBD, are a manifestation of the modern world living in the shadow of European scientific racism. Though the values of scientific racism and European racial superiority are generally in disrepute, some of the typological methodologies continue to be held very strongly by many in the intellectual classes. For example, the hypodescent rule that ascribed black racial identity in the United States to all who had any black ancestry continues to be perpetuated by most blacks, and especially the black leadership, because it bolsters their numbers. The fact that the first Miss America who was black had light skin and green eyes was not of note, she was a credit to her race, while the first black woman to win an Oscar happened to be half-white, but again, was a credit to her race. Similarly, activists who rail against white hegemony continue to assume a manichaean dichotomy between whites and non-whites because it simplifies their inferences about what is "good" and "bad." Of course, in this they share common cause with white racialists and the common European racism of the early modern period.

PIHBD makes the formulation of broad brush paradigms very easy in concurrence. For example, this article that discusses color prejudice among South Asians seems to have as a background assumption the critical importance of racism, in particular, white racism, as an important factor in the formulation of fair skin preference in South Asia. This is common, white racism is a world-spanning influence that has shaped every culture on this planet, that is the reason that the Kama Sutra idealizes fair skinned women, why Inca emperors preferred fair skinned Amazonian princesses or that the Chinese valorized fair skinned women. Racial consciousness, ethnic xenophobia and the like are often attributed to white racism, because only whites seem to have an almost devilish tendency toward racism, as it is one of their fundamental attributes in the PIHBD typology of white vs. non-white. Whites are unlike non-whites because they are a separate "kind." PIHBD has to emphasize high walls between various kinds, explaining the attempts by early modern scientists to prove that mixed-race individuals were less fit, perhaps even infertile, because they were a degeneration of the idealized kinds (mullato ~ mule).

In contrast, the ERHBD isn't so easy to work with, it offers statistical, conditional and contextual models. ERHBD doesn't try to explain away variance in idealized kinds as there really aren't idealized kinds, just clusters of genetic tendencies and a topography that varies by dimension and component. It offers probabilistic answers rather than definitive ones, and so the implementation of group cohesion becomes fuzzier at edges, always undermining the idealized solidity of the whole. ERHBD is hard to articulate verbally because the panoply of continuous human variation is difficult to partion into discrete components that can be given particular names associated only with one particular kind. Without definitive & discrete answers it is far more difficult to impose manichaean moralities and expostulate systemic ideologies. Various traits are imperfectly correlated and the weighting given to each trait in determining a typology may be subjective. Rather than dictating conclusions, ERHBD is a utility, a tool for understand the world and a lens through which problems may be rendered more clear.

Though the clearest way we have for elucidating ERHBD today is genetic science, it is not the only way. I suspect that all humans have mental modules cued to pick up on differences, imprint from our parents and establish coalitional markers. ERHBD might be more difficult to articulate, but we use it everyday [1]! People are naturally group oriented, and so an element of "racism" or ethnocentrism is rather universal. This does not mean that one need a complex and systemic conception of PIHBD. For example, the pre-modern Chinese had strong opinions about barbarian peoples, and the strange physical appearence of Southeast Asians and Westerners seemed to elicit revulsion and bigotry in them. Nonetheless, the Confucian Mandarins of the early 20th century opposed the advance of "racial science" and a scientifically grounded PIHBD. They were not anti-racists, rather, they believed in the importance of cultural cultivation in the concept of human perfectibility. PIHBD was not necessary in their universe. Likewise, one can explain color consciousness and ethnic prejudice among non-whites by appealing to the universal tendency toward ERHBD triggered by the confluence of various mental faculties and environmental inputs. Additionally, the preference for light skin can be explained as a tendency to associate such coloration with youth, fertility and health, within the context of a given population (that is, women who are at the fairer end of a population range in coloration might have less testosterone in their system, are less likely to have given birth, etc.). Note that I qualified within the context of a given population, which means that universal generalizations may be more difficult. ERHBD is just a subset of human nature, rather than an abstraction thrown up in response to a particular intersection of variables in human history like PIHBD.


What one can take away from this is that PIHBD is ephemeral in context and time. As whites become less overwhelmingly dominant throughout the world the white vs. non-white dichotomy will slowly fade. PIHBD is a "social construction," though parts of it are rooted in reality it is a far too rigid edifice to survive the scrutiny of science.

The problem is that some seem to think that PIHBD is the only game in town, and this may be because PIHBD has done such a good job of pushing ERHBD out of the public square. Not only is PIHBD slick and geared toward public consumption, ERHBD can only muddy the waters in the crystal clear world of PIHBD, just like ERHBD interjects impurities into the world of reverse-PIHBD. The tendency to prioritize the abstract PIHBD over the more element ERHBD mimics a general human tendency, we give a lot of airtime to our abstract faculties even though our intuitive/instinctive ones are in the ultimate driver's seat.

The dichotomy between ERHBD and PIHBD explains the reality that individuals who follow universal color-bind religions are still racially conscious and often practice prejudice! Universal religious creeds can refute PIHBD, and certainly Christianity and Islam in the modern age have been aggressively recruited to combat racism and racial stereotypes. Nevertheless, individuals who are Christian and Muslim still retain basic human faculties for assigning group identities and a preference for "their own kind" (however they define it in the context of their environmental upbrining and the weighting they give to particular characters). Since these tendencies are somewhat natural in the typical human, one need not articulate them, and so the "fight against racism" tends to fall flat on this basic level (though a fight against institutional racism is a different creature).

Even God can not banish bigotry, though as individuals we may work to prevent it from becoming a central tent of law or social practice. Additionally, there is a wide variance between individuals on a whole host of traits, so the generalizations one makes from ERHBD must be treated cautiously, verbal injunctions and instructions often can not quantify grades of variance and deviation. Rather, laws and prescriptions often behave in a binary fashion. It is in the end a recapitulation of the is vs. ought conflation, the naturalistic fallacy. The general statistical trends may illuminate more than they instruct.

[1] The ability to conceive of and detect ERHBD was likely shaped in the EEA when groups were small and differences not large because of the narrow geographic scople of clans and bands. PIHBD doesn't have this problem and can be fitted easily to the modern world.

Posted by razib at 03:20 PM | | TrackBack


The importance of Kin Selection

While recently reading an article by Richard Dawkins in a collective volume, I looked at some of the other articles. In one of them, by an anthropologist, I noticed an argument purporting to prove that kin selection (roughly, help given by individuals to relatives other than their own offspring) could not be a major factor in human evolution. I later worked through the argument and found it was grossly fallacious.

I read the volume in a library, and took notes on the key formulae, arguments, and conclusions of the article. But the author seems to have gone so badly astray that wonder if I have misunderstood him. I suppose ideally I should go back and read the article thoroughly again before commenting on it. But frankly I don’t want to give it another day or so of my life, and I am sure that the conclusions are wrong. So to avoid inadvertently libelling someone, I will present it as a fictitious argument by a fictitious author whom I will name for convenience as ‘Dimwit’ . To apply the traditional Hollywood disclaimer, any resemblance to any actual argument by any actual dimwit is purely coincidental...

The argument runs roughly as follows. The potential evolutionary importance of help given to relatives of a given degree of relationship depends on the number of such relatives, n, and their genetic relatedness to the giver, r (Sewall Wright’s ‘coefficient of relationship’), the proportion of genes they share by virtue of descent from common ancestors. It can be calculated that the proportion of genes shared by two relatives by descent from their most recent pair of common ancestors is (1/2)^(2g - 1), where g is the number of generations of descent and the symbol ‘^’ means ‘to the power of’. So this is the formula for r. (Given certain assumptions, this is the correct formula for the ‘coefficient of relationship’ - see E. O. Wilson’s Sociobiology, pp. 74-5 and 118. The necessary assumptions are discussed further below.) For example, first cousins, descended from a pair of common grandparents (g = 2), will have (1/2)^(4 - 1) = 1/8 of their genes in common, and second cousins, descended from a pair of common great-grandparents (g = 3), will have (1/2)^(6 - 1) = 1/32 of their genes in common.

Secondly, in a stable population, each mated couple will have two surviving offspring, and according to Dimwit the relevant number of descendants, n, for a given degree of relationship is (2^g) - 1. Obviously this number increases with increasing g, but Dimwit argues that the degree of relatedness declines more rapidly than the number of relevant relatives increases. The potential evolutionary importance of help to relatives of a given degree of relationship depends on the product nr, the number of relatives times the proportion of genes shared by descent, which these formulae give as ((2^g) - 1)/2^(2g - 1). It is easy to see that nr declines rapidly as g increases. We may therefore conclude that only relationships with very small g are important. Indeed, according to Dimwit, only siblings really need to be taken into account, and in a stable population an adult individual has on average only 1 surviving sibling, so kin selection really cannot be very important at all.

So what’s wrong with the argument?

First, it is not true that in a stable population an average individual has 1 surviving sibling. This would be true if all completed families were of the same size, but they are not. Paradoxically, the average individual comes from a larger-than-average family. To illustrate this, suppose there are 5 couples, with 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4 surviving offspring respectively. The total number of offspring is 10, so the population is stable, but a randomly selected individual comes on average from a family of 3 (family size averaged over individuals is [(0 x 0) + (1 x 1) + (2 x 2) + (3 x 3) + (4 x 4) = 30]/10 = 3) and has 2 siblings. There will be similar variation in the number of cousins, etc. Thus the average number of close relatives to be helped may be larger than Dimwit supposes. But this is a relatively minor point.

Secondly, the formula (1/2)^(2g - 1) for genetic relatedness is only valid if the ancestors of an individual are not related to each other. If they are related to each other (or if they are inbred, i.e. some of their own ancestors are related to each other) then the formula will underestimate the proportion of genes in common. In large, modern, freely-interbreeding populations this is probably not important, but in pre-modern societies with small populations and little migration from outside, the average level of relatedeness will be much higher than the formula implies. This in itself would invalidate Dimwit’s argument.

But the biggest problem is with Dimwit’s formula for the number of relevant relatives at a given degree of relationship. The formula he gives is (2^g) - 1, where g is the number of ‘generations of descent from a common ancestor’. I take it that this equals the number of steps of reproduction, so that in the case of grandparents g = 2, for great-grandparents g = 3, and so on. This is the only interpretation which gives the correct coefficient of relationship (assuming no inbreeding) from the formula (1/2)^(2g - 1).

But the formula (2^g) - 1 is quite inappropriate for the number of relevant relatives. What Dimwit needs to calculate is the number of relatives appropriate to each coefficient of relationship, for example second-cousins where g = 3, or third-cousins where g = 4. But what he actually gets with the formula (2^g) - 1 is something entirely different, namely the total number of relatives of an individual (I’ll call him Fred) who are descended from a single pair of Fred’s ancestors at a distance of g generations, assuming that each couple has on average 2 offspring. Suppose we want to calculate the number of Fred’s same-generation relatives descended from a single pair of his great-great-grandparents, so that g = 4. Assuming that couples have on average 2 children, then a single pair will have 2 children, 4 grandchildren, 8 great-grandchildren and 16 great-great-grandchildren. This gives 2^4 descendants in the 4th generation (including Fred), so the number of Fred’s relatives in that generation is indeed (2^g) - 1. But this bears no relation to the number Dimwit ought to be calculating, namely (in this case) the total number of third-cousins. The descendants of a given pair of ancestors after g generations are a mixed batch. On the stated assumptions, the 16 great-great-grandchildren of a given pair of Fred’s great-great-grandparents will comprise 8 third cousins, 4 second cousins, 2 first cousins, 1 sibling, and Fred himself. It would be quite inappropriate to apply the same coefficient of relationship to all these relatives.

But the real howler is that Dimwit’s formula counts only relatives descended from one pair of common ancestors. He seems to have overlooked the fact that an individual has more than one pair of ancestors at each level of ancestry. For example, Fred has only 8 third cousins from one pair of great-great-grandparents, but (assuming no inbreeding) he has 8 pairs of great-great-grandparents, each of whom provides him with an equal and non-overlapping set of third cousins, so altogether he would have 8 x 8 = 64 third cousins to bestow his altruism upon. Each of these third cousins is equally likely to share a given gene with Fred by virtue of descent from an ancestor at level g = 4, and in particular a gene disposing its bearer to give benefits to relatives, which may therefore be promoted by kin selection.

It is tempting to speculate on how Dimwit may have come to overlook this. Possibly, being an anthropologist, he is used to thinking in terms of lineage systems where only one line of descent is important. Whatever the reasons, if all ancestors for a given g are taken into account, then it turns out that nr, the number of relevant relatives times the appropriate coefficient of relationship, is the same for all g. (See Technical Note below.) Quite contrary to Dimwit’s conclusions, all grades of relatives are potentially equally important since, to put it crudely, increasing quantity exactly offsets declining quality.

None of this proves that help given to distant relatives is important, merely that it might be. It is also obvious that if Fred is only able to give help to one relative, or to a fixed number of relatives, then he should give it to the closest available ones. But this much is evident from the coefficients of relationship themselves, and if this were all that Dimwit wanted to show, then his calculation of nr by the formula ((2^g) - 1)/2^(2g - 1) would be irrelevant, whereas in fact he makes it central to his argument.

I suspect that, in general, help given to relatives more distant than nephews (r = 1/4) is unlikely to be very important in human evolution, simply because people have most contact with their closest relatives. But there could be one exception. Services provided to the entire local community or tribe, such as courage in battle, could provide a significant benefit to large numbers of relatives simultaneously. As J. B. S. Haldane famously remarked, he would lay down his life for two brothers or eight cousins, and we might extend this to thirty-two second cousins, one hundred and twenty-eight third cousins, and so on....

Technical Note

First, some terminology. I will describe the ancestors of an individual (Fred) at a level g generations above him as his g-ancestors. The descendants of an ancestor after g generations will be that ancestor’s g-descendants, and Fred’s relatives in his own generation descended from all his g-ancestors will be his g-peers. It is convenient also to have an expression for those g-peers who share only a single pair of g-ancestors with Fred, and I will call these his g*-peers. To give a concrete example, Fred’s great-great-grandparents are his 4-ancestors, the great-great-grandchildren of these 4-ancestors (including Fred himself) are their 4-descendants, the entire set of 4-descendants (except for Fred himself) constitute his 4-peers, and his third-cousins are his 4*-peers. (His other 4-peers are either 3*-peers, 2*-peers, or 1*-peers. No relative can have an asterisk for more than one g level.)

Now some assumptions. For simplicity I assume that all individuals marry and have two offspring. No individual marries more than once, so there are no half-siblings to complicate matters. No g-ancestors of Fred are related to each other by blood, and none are themselves inbred (i.e. have some ancestors related to each other). Another important assumption: apart from the lines of descent leading directly to Fred, none of the descendants of the g-ancestors marry each other - they all marry ‘outsiders’, who are not blood relatives of Fred (though they may be blood relatives of each other.)

With these assumptions it is not too difficult to calculate the number of Fred’s g*-peers for any g. Fred has 2^g g-ancestors, or 2^(g-1) pairs of g-ancestors. Each pair of g-ancestors has 2^g g-descendants (including Fred). For each pair of g-ancestors, exactly half of their g-descendants are g*-peers of Fred, giving him 2^(g-1) g*-peers from each pair of g-ancestors. To see this, note that each pair of g-ancestors has two offspring, each of whom has an equal number of descendants. One of these two offspring marries an offspring of another g-ancestor, while the other marries an outsider. The descendants of the first marriage include Fred himself and relatives closer to him than g*-peers. The g-descendants of the second marriage share only a single pair of g-ancestors with Fred, so they are all g*-peers. Since each of these two lines of descent contains an equal number of g-descendants, the number of Fred’s g*-peers from each pair of g-ancestors is half their total number of g-descendants, as stated above.

But we must remember to count Fred’s g*-peers from all sources, not just a single pair of g-ancestors. By our assumptions, each g*-peer is descended from a single pair of Fred’s g-ancestors, so there is no overlap among the sets of g*-peers derived from each pair. The total number of Fred’s g*-peers is therefore given by the number of pairs of g-ancestors, 2^(g-1), multiplied by the number of g*-peers derived from each pair, which also happens to be 2^(g -1). Therefore the total number of Fred’s g*-peers is 2^(g-1) x 2^(g-1) = 2^(2g - 2). We may now multiply this by the coefficient of relationship appropriate to g*-peers, which is (1/2)^(2g - 1). But 2^(2g - 2) x (1/2)^(2g - 1) = 1/2. This is invariant for all g.

This result rather surprised me, so I have checked it in various ways, including drawing family trees for values of g up to 4. These confirm the calculations. For the case of g = 4, there are 64 4*-peers (3rd cousins), with a coefficient of relationship of 1/128, 16 3*-peers (2nd cousins), with a coefficient of relationship of 1/32, four 2*-peers (1st cousins), with a coefficient of relationship of 1/8, and one 1*-peer (sibling), with a coefficient of relationship of 1/2. It will be seen that in each case the product nr equals 1/2. On reflection, this should not have been a surprise, as each step of reproduction halves the probability that a relative shares a particular gene, but (in the absence of inbreeding) doubles the number of relatives available to share it, so these two factors cancel out. [Note that the total number of g-descendants (86, including Fred) is not the same as the number of pairs of Fred’s g-ancestors times each pair’s total number of g-descendants (i.e. 8 x 16 = 128). This is because some g-descendants, including Fred, descend from more than one pair of Fred’s g-ancestors, so that the sets of g-descendants (except for Fred’s g*-peers) overlap. Note also that the number of g*-peers quadruples with each unit increase in g. This is to be expected, as both the number of g-ancestors and the number of each pair of ancestors’ g-descendents doubles with each increase in g.]

Of course, I have made numerous simplifying assumptions, which are unrealistic in practice, but with the exception of the ‘no half-siblings’ rule the result of making more realistic assumptions would be to increase the coefficients of relationship, and therefore to make kin selection potentially more and not less effective.

Posted by David B at 03:38 AM | | TrackBack

July 14, 2004



One of these Senators is not like the others...

Over at Abiola's blog I saw a list of Republican Senators who voted to block the marriage amendment as follows: Snowe, Maine, Collins, Maine, Sununu, New Hampshire, Chafee, Rhode Island, Campbell, Colorado, McCain, Arizona.

Below are the lifetime (this explains McCain) ratings for each Senator from the AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION and AMERICANS FOR DEMOCRATIC ACTION (liberal):

                  ACUADA
Collins 56 45
Snowe 51 55
Chafee 44 65
Campbell 54 30
McCain 84 35
Sununu 95 15

Doesn't Sununu kind of stand out? He is already kind of weird for a Senator because of his youth (he's 39) and he as an undergrad and masters degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. Anyway, I suppose his ACU rating will take a dive. What does this social liberal turncoat have to say?

"Defining marriage is a power that should be left to the states," Sununu said in a statement following the vote. "Moreover, no state should be forced to recognize a marriage that is not within its own laws, Constitution, and legal precedents.
Posted by razib at 06:39 PM | | TrackBack


The wogs start where???

Doesn't Catherine Zeta-Jones look really young on this InStyle cover???



Click here for the full sized picture. Anyway, I note that the Lancelot in the new King Arthur flick is played by a Welsman, who has the swarthy look that might indicate someone of Sarmartian origin (they were an Iranian speaking group that roamed the Hungarian plains, and one of their tribes, the Alans, gave rise to the modern Ossettian people of the Caucasus). I recall Zeta-Jones mentioning that the Latino hands on the set of The Mask of Zorro would speak to her in Spanish. I used to call Lori of Real World 10 the "poor woman's Catherine Zeta-Jones," but that was good enough for her to win a Playboy poll as the "best looking Real World female cast member" (I thought the blonde chick from Arkansas from Real World 9 was the best looking). The relevant point is that Lori is half-Filipino. The "dark Welsh" stereotype goes back to the Romans, who conjectured a relationship between the tribes of the Cumbrian highlands and the peoples of Iberia on phenotype alone. Why don't Englishmen say that "the Wogs start at Offa's Dyke?"

So, after all the talk of how blonde hair and fair skin was selected for either sexually or environmentally (or more likely both) in northerneastern Europe, why does such a swarthy population reside along the western fringe of the continent where environmental conditions were rather stringement during the last Ice Age? Genetically the highland Welsh have commonalities with the Basque down the Y lineage, so they are certainly an ancient population subject to the selective pressures of cloudly northwest Europe for tens of thousands of years. Perhaps admixture can explain some of this, though according to geneticist Steve Jones in Y: The Descent of Men, the antiquity of the highland Welsh lineages in their region are clear, as is the stereotype of their swarthiness (his own family is from that region).

I guess I'll have to track down a copy of Coon to get more data to confirm some of the above suppositions.

And yes, all that verbiage was partly to justify putting that picture up there. Photoshop can do wonders with some prime-grade raw material....

Posted by razib at 05:25 PM | | TrackBack


Posing

Update: Check out Vinod's blog, he tells about resisting a mugging...and proves that resistance is not futile!

Yesterday my girlfriend and I were watching a Real World: San Diego wrap-up show which depicted stuff that "you should have seen." One scene involved a fight where one individual was "strutting" and "posturing" to intimdiate some other guys who were (it seemed to me) getting the shit beat out of them by his friends. My girlfriend joked that that's the walk that I try to affect. Well, I won't comment on that.

The first thought that came to mind when I saw the guy puffing his chest and walking back and forth in a stylized fashion was some type of male bird doing a "display" or "bluff." I really find it amusing in hindsight that Skinnerian tabula rasa behaviorism dominated human psychology for so long when the similarities to animal display are so clear when you watch two guys staring each other down before a fight (a fight that often never starts).

Perhaps it is a function of the fact that researchers at universities don't get to see this sort of display very often in their everyday life. Going to high school in a rural area of Eastern Imbler, and being a thin and somewhat short (I was 5'8, and often 130 pounds back then) and a person of color, I understand that violence is a crucial form of male communication. There wasn't a week that went by where I didn't see two assholes staring each other down, puffing their chests and glaring for what seemed ages. I would always get frustrated by this. I didn't ever puff and preen, I wasn't a large guy, so when confronted by someone where violent communication tactics had to be an option, I knew to not hesitate and not look back, surprise was a crucial ally when the physical odds were stacked against you. Of course, it helped when the physical odds were more even, and surprise can really tip the balance.

Let me relate a story of a fight I was invovled in....

Scene: Locker room, 8th grade, physical education. Someone calls me a "nigger." He was about half an inch shorter than me.

Evaluation: Not the most popular guy. I judged that it would be a fair fight and I could take him, especially since I tended to not fear pain that much.

My Response: "After school, where the fuck are you going to be?"

His response: He puffs his chest up and looks at me.

My Response: "Stop acting like acting like a jack-ass, I'll see you after school."

His response: "Uh...I have a dental appointment."

Evaluation: I see fear, I need to push it, doesn't matter now about the physical parity, he's a pussy and I can pound him into the ground.

My Response: "After school...."

Intermission: I have two periods. My best friend is friends with a lot of people, I tell them to hang out by the track field as the buses park up there. The stupid kid that called me a nigger isn't too popular, so not much resistance, they will follow and watch. My friend spreads the word. A few kids are dubious, I'm skinny and generally reputed to be cerebral. I moved from back east that year, so they don't know I've gotten in a reasonable number of fights, and yes, I have gotten my ass kicked, so I'm not scared of it, you live.

After school: About 30 kids are following my best friend and we're looking for the kid who called me a nigger. I see his back pack and start chasing, he runs away from the school bus and some of the faster kids are sweeping around me. We're screaming. He's scared, he thinks the mob will get him. Finally I catch him. He's my size, might be heavier, but he doesn't fight back, I see his eyes for a moment, and there's terror. He curls up and I start kicking him. When he gives me an angle, I punch over and over. I don't think, just allow the anger to be channeled into violence. Probably 1/4 of the 8th grade class is watching, so I better perform well, I'm upping my status. After 10 minutes it's all over.

Aftermath: The kid who called me nigger was all smiles from that moment on. He was always asking if I needed help with this or that. It's happened before. In 7th grade when a kid was making fun of me and put some of his snot on my shirt when I was at a locker I turned and punched the shit out of him. After that, he never did anything but smile around me. He became one of my best "friends" for that whole year before I moved.

Why do I tell this tale? This was the sort of thing that was commonplace in much of Eastern Imbler. There were several classes of boys:

1) The large and athletic who rarely got into fights, they had nothing to prove.
2) The small and fearless.
3) The small and pussy.

I tried to put myself into #2, though fear is always there, I had gotten into enough fights to know that the risk of death or serious injury was low, and if there was an audience you fought partly to impress them rather than to beat your enemy. When two guys puffed and displayed the audience always wanted to go further, after all, they would be entertained and wouldn't accrue any risk. Play to the audience, and the risk can yield a lot of respect and social status. The audience will give you props and respect for not being a pussy even if you lose, and quite often guys that have fought become OK friends, the dispute has been resolved in a way that matters to both of them.

When I went to college and rubbed shoulders with kids who grew up in the liberal Portland suburbs I encountered some who had never been in a fight. Large, small, courageous or pussy, they didn't have any mechanisms to figure out what to do when confronted with the genuine specter of violence. My first encounter was freshmen year when some assholes jumped me and threw me into the showers. I got pissed off and picked up a small fucker, about 5'4, and chucked him against the wall.

He stated: "Do that again and I'll fucking break your nose."

Evaluation: The pussy is 5'4, he must be pissed if he's going to threaten me, he might be serious, I need to head this off.

Response: I walk back to my room and take my glasses off (hey, they were expensive!) and walk back to the hallway and I see the little fucker. I swing and hit him in the face.

His response: Terror. I could see it. I'd barely done anything and I'd won. I suspected he was shocked, he wasn't even running!

Next event: Six guys pile up on top of me and prevent me from tearing the little fucker limb from limb. I'm kind of glad, I would have been kicked out of the dorms if I beat the shit out of him seriously (a schizo had beat the crap out of someone earlier in the year and been kicked out). In the midst of my rage I wondered if he had the capacity to fight back. As he walked away and I threatened to kill him he glared at me, always keeping an eye on me, never turning his back.

Postscript: A few hours later he comes to my room and tries to joke and shoot the shit. I know him for a few years after that as an acquaintance. Any hint of violence on my part, or even the whiff of uncontrolled rage sends him into a placatory mode.

Nugget of college experience: Whether small or large, I encountered many guys who simply hadn't fought. One guy was four inches taller and much heavier. He said "Let's fight!" after he found out that I had been prank calling him for 6 months and scaring the shit out of girls he was inviting over (his room was diagonal from mine so I knew when he was home, I also pranked called him from the room across from his while both doors were open). He was pissed. He was bigger than me, I didn't want to fight him, but if he was going to fight.... So I pushed him and he slammed against the wall. He wasn't even bracing! He really didn't want to fight, he was just using words! He had some of the bluff strategies going, but the violence wasn't something he had ever contemplated.

Our society is just like the EEA in many ways, but also radically different. The idea that humans have a natural propensity for violence is not that difficult to accept when you grow up in a region where a "manly" and somewhat physical ethos is still dominant. But from talking to my friends from more suburban backgrounds this seems to be fading in some regions to the point where they have no coping mechanisms when confronted by violence. But that doesn't mean that they don't have any instincts, they still strut, bluff and bluster as if they might do violence. But it's like one hand clapping, there's something missing.

Reminds me of a story from Grover Norquist about his Harvard days. Some radical students were talking about armed revolution. Norquist asked, "Do you have guns? I own a gun, and so do my friends." They had nothing to say to that. In my opinion many liberals (and some conservatives) use language that elicits violent mental imagery, but they have so little experience with personal violence that they can't imagine the connections and triggers that it launches in the minds of others.

Posted by razib at 03:02 PM | | TrackBack


Not my child!

Paternity: Innocence Is Now a Defense. The story linked tells the story of a man who was being forced to pay child support for a child who was not his (paternity tests confirmed this). Additionally, he claims he never received notification from the state. Here is a snip from a Matt Welch article on this topic:


...journalist Matt Welch asked California DCSS Assistant Director Leora Gerhenzon what would happen if a woman had named "Matt Welch" — a white guy between 30 and 40 years old, who maybe lives in the Los Angeles area, as the father of her child.

Gerhenzon answered, "We run our search on him; if we come back with one Matt Welch who lives in L.A., whose birthday fits that 10-year range, and we have nobody else, we presume in general we have the person."


Of course it isn't the child's fault that it's born in a society where promiscuous young adults don't take precaution or responsibility for their actions. Nevertheless, the solution is not to presume fatherhood on any male they can find handy. True, this does open a possible source of funds which can alleviate the condition of a child in need, but in the process it destroys the trust that individuals have in our government as an accountable and responsible organ of the public good rather than an capricious and arbitrary machine that mechanically exists to extract & redistribute public goods & services.

Posted by razib at 02:20 PM | | TrackBack

July 13, 2004



Muslim != Brown

When the irreligious attempt to understand the religious, they usually get it wrong. For example, in 2002, Mother Jones wrote an article about a movement of Evangelical Christians with the sinister goal of "wiping out Islam". My spot reaction to the sensationalist headline was, "Well, of course that's their goal. It is also the goal of Islam to wipe out Christianity." Both faiths have a pretty specific mission, viz., to spread their respective creeds across the entire planet. It is the mission of Christianity to wipe out Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. etc. Likewise, it is the mission of Islam to wipe out Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. etc.

The fine folks at Mother Jones, though, appear to have been attempting to squeeze the story into the writers' and readers' pre-held meta-narrative of oppressed people of color against whitey. Which would make a tiny bit of sense if either Christianity or Islam had anything to do with race.

Islam, though, is not an ethnicity; it is a belief system that makes some pretty specific truth claims. Ditto Christianity. Strangely, though, people who choose to comment on these faiths generally seem to forget that they are religious faiths and instead react by trying to understand them as having only to do with the early 21st century westerner.

Pat Robertson believes that the First Cause happens to be the Holy Trinity and that the second person of this Holy Trinity became a human being in the person of a street preacher about 2k years ago in Judea. This aspect of his belief is much more central and of much more lasting importance than whom his belief says one can and cannot sleep with. One may flow from the other, but the core really ought to be engaged before the periphery.

Likewise, Joe Muslim believes that the First Cause, Allah, is one and indivisible, and that God sent an angel who choke-slammed a camel merchant in a cave and demanded that this merchant recite God's uncreated word. This belief has zero to do with any sort of fight against white oppressors.

It would probably take a few weeks for your average writer and reader of Mother Jones to sit down and actually figure out some of the key tenets of Islam and Christianity and what it means for a religion to be a proselytizing one. Knee-jerk reactions about race and sex only obscure the issue. If it turns out that Allah is the creator of Heaven and earth and that I need to be in submission to him as preached by His final messanger, it is this fact that means much, much more than whether or not there is a coalition of oppressed around the world. Likewise, if it turns out that Jesus Christ is the incarnate second person of the Holy Trinity, then that is much, much more important than any peripheral concerns. And if they're both wrong, well then someone should have the sack to say that as well.

Posted by schizmatic at 09:58 PM | | TrackBack


Amish paradise?

Here is an article about an Amish youth. It mentions rumspringa, the period when Amish teenagers are a bit wild, and make a choice whether to stay in the community. This source suggests that Amish defection rates have dropped from a high of ~60% in the mid-20th century to 5% today. Why? Cultural factors might be important, but I wonder if the Amish that remain are those who are psychologically most comfortable with the Amish culture (the source above notes that many mid-20th century Amish who defected wanted to engage more Bible study and evangelization or have access to modern farming techniques, in other words, both secular and religious types that were deviant). Amish society is bound by Ordnung, their strict rules that govern their lives and their interaction with the outside world. The Amish are certainly an ruled-based people in many ways, but they are self-selected minority characterized by all sorts of counter-cultural quirks (extreme pacifism being one). American culture has changed a great deal since the first Amish set themselves apart, and I suspect that the variance between the typical Amish today and the typical American is far greater in lifestyle and psychology than it was several hundred years ago....

Posted by razib at 05:52 PM | | TrackBack


F 9/11 and ignorance

I finally saw Moore's anti-bush agitprop (I'm not going to say how I saw it, let's just say I didn't pay and I had a fresh bag of microwave popcorn with me), so I feel that I can discuss it. A full review will follow in a few days, but for now I am just going to discuss a first impression that I had. That of how willfully ignorant you have to be to buy Moore's line.

We have all heard how people who bought Bush's "Iraq is a threat" line were themselves willfully ignorant (falsly believing that Saddam was behind 9/11 or that there were Iraqi's among the terrorists) but one thing we never hear is those on the opposite extreme can also be ignorant. One piece of ignorance I have known since before watching F9/11 is the old socialist mindset of "terrorism is caused by the oppression and poverty of the west!", which is demonstrably false in this case. Anyone who knows anything about the 9/11 hijakers knows they were mostly Saudi (and therefore received free money and education from the Saudi Kingdom), and that they were educated, middle-income men.

But back to Moore and 9/11. One serious allegation he makes in his film is the web of ties between Bush and the House of Saud, and how that heavily influences the Bush teams foreign policy. Sound damning? It is if you engage in sweeping genralizations of the Mid-east and are ignorant of the facts on the ground. If this were true, then how do you explain the major foreign policy event in the second part of the film, the Iraq war? While Saudi Arabia and Saddam's Iraq were not the best of buds, Iraq served the House of Saud's interest by providing a barrier between the mullah's in Iran and their conquering of the holy places in Saudi. So the contradiction is clear and damning for anyone who believes the Bush-Saudi influence theory.

P.S. One thing not covered much in the film but damning to those Paleo-Cons and lefitsts who believe in the Bush-Saudi theory is their co-belief in the NeoCon-Isreali connection in the Bush Admin. Anyone who could hold these two mutually exclusive theories in their head must have a superhuman ability to withstand cognitive dissonance.

Posted by scottm at 05:50 PM | | TrackBack


Humans gots most copies!

From PLOS Lineage-Specific Gene Duplication and Loss in Human and Great Ape Evolution. A more family friendly press release, which states "humans showed the highest number of genes with increased copy numbers, at 134, and many of these duplicated human genes are implicated in brain structure and function." Wow, big surprise.

Posted by razib at 05:12 PM | | TrackBack


Tragic if it weren't so strange

Rural African men claim AIDS as sign of masculinity. The Handicap Principle out of whack, or a indicator of sexual fitness??? I don't know.... (like the women-starving-themselves-to-be-attractive or men-becoming-little-popeyes, a nugget of instinctive truth can go way wrong when processed through the human mind).


...She found that not only did the men associate manliness with HIV, but one man went so far as to correct another by saying that he had slept with all the desirable girls in one particular village so if anybody is going to be the cause of an AIDS outbreak it would be him.

Posted by razib at 03:50 PM | | TrackBack


Secular fundamentalist, or realist?

Thebit comments on "secular fundamentalism", in this case, over the head scarf bans in Turkish universities. I suppose my friend Randy McDonald could be charactized as a "secular fundamentalist" because he came out in favor of the ban on head scarfs in French schools, which he justified on the grounds that it was a move toward the empowerment of women and relaxation of the control their menfolk have over them. The fact that most French women of North African origin favored it certainly gave the position some credibility. Thebit of course alludes to this when he suggests that liberals often believe behind every head-scarfed woman is an 'evil' Muslim man.

I don't believe this is true. As we've noted on this blog before, a significant fraction of women want to be slotted into a 'traditional' social structure where their lives are fixed and constrained within certain parameters that would give less latitude toward individual choice, but more security and entail less risk [1]. In the United States, the "gender gap" in voting often comes down to a tendency for women (unmarried women in particular) to vote for the Left party and men to tend to vote for the Right party, and I think this skews our perception of the male/female cultural divide. In much of the rest of the world this is not true, as women often vote for the more socially conservative party that is less hostile to religious values. Behind this is the reality that cross-culturally women tend to be more religious and so more attached to traditionalist values than men [2]. I recall a few years back that the religious & liberal parties in Kuwait were in a bind of principle & practice, while the former opposed female suffrage and the latter favored it, there was a widespread suspicion that giving the vote to women would have favored the religious parties! [3]

The general point is that sometimes people must be forced into having no choice but liberalism from the perspective of liberals! (imagine a religion that asserted that all humans must convert and they should force others, certainly a liberal order would impose tolerance by being intolerant). An omnipresent hedonistic pop-culture and an avante guarde mass media tends to push public values and norms toward a more "liberal" mean set point as the generations progress in the atomistic West. But this does not mean that there isn't a natural countervailing tendency, and that on the mass level, this tendency isn't actually stronger. In more traditionalist cultures the mass media and pop-culture are not as oppositional.

Over a year ago, Ikram and I got into an argument over at Suman's blog over the Uniform Civil Code in India, that is, preventing Muslims and other religious minorities from having separate laws in certain areas from the majority Hindu population by simply having the same law applied to all and one. I tended to favor a Uniform Civil Code for a variety of reasons, but the key point that I want to highlight is that Ikram's position was that it just wasn't practical in a country like India to take a doctrinaire individualistic stance on this and pretend as if communal feelings were not relevant or salient. I will admit that he was being more realistic, communal and religious passions in a Third World nation have more salience than I would prefer, but that is the reality on the ground that one has to grapple with, and in such contexts hewing to points of principle can have counter-productive consequences. I bring this up because in a case like Turkey, I suspect that many "secular fundamentalists" suspect that left to their own free will Turks would express a far more conservative and religiously traditionalist world-view. Keeping displays of religiosity in the private sphere preserves the secular atmosphere of the Turkish culture, even if this preservation is artificial to some extent. So, while many liberals might couch the issue in terms of women's rights and idealistic principles, they are making very ends-oriented decisions. Societal interactions are dynamic, and by diminishing the freedoms of some, in the end they believe that they will push their culture to a different energetic state from which it can not climb back over to the hill toward traditionalist conservatism (or that is the hope). There are nations where majority rule seems to slide toward anti-individualist autocracy, look to Russia. And yet the idea of a "liberal dictator" who imposes freedom is in a sense paradoxical. Freedom of choice is to some extent a luxury for a people who have been weaned away from coercion and social ostracism as a means of imposing change on those who differ in outlook [4].

Related: See Randy's recent post on Iraq & Islam.

[1] Can anyone think of a suffrage movement that wasn't middle-to-upper-middle-class? I don't know much about the movements outside of the US (like England), but here it seems suffragettes were heavily slanted toward the affluent classes of society, and the freedoms that they and their feminist descendents attained tended to accrue to that class of women. In contrast, the lower-middle-class to lower-class women seem to have gained more insecurity. Ironically, the mean satisfaction of women with their state may be no different than 100 years ago, though the variance might have increased somewhat (though subjective perceptions of satisfaction always seem to re-calibrate themselves to take into account any current context as the norm rather than exceptional. A more accurate way to state it might be that actual freedom of choice still remains constrained for women below the middle-class, while they are exposed to various risks because of "liberation," while the middle-to-upper-middle-class women reap the rewards of more practical freedoms).

[2] I was struck that 2/3 of active Christians and 2/3 of temple goers in Korea were listed as women in one book I read. Of course in places like Japan or many Latinate Christian cultures women take care of the religious duties, whether that be attending to a family shrine or attending mass. The main exception to this is in the Muslim world where male public practice of faith is more dominant than female practice because the latter are often cloistered in the home (that is, the more religious a family, the more likely a woman is to be isolated from public life).

[3] Related note, my girlfriend listened to a show on NPR where the male partners of women who had been through female genital mutilation encouraged them to go through reconstructive surgery. The women were far more cautious about this, and seemed to wonder how they would be viewed by other women in their culture. This was in the context of immigrants to the West.

[4] Social norms are more than just the weight sum of all individuals, rather, inter-individual interactions tend to play a strong role. Imagine a university class where 25% of the women wear head scarfs, and 75% of women do not. Imagine that the 1 out of 4 who wear head scarfs starts to call the 3 out of 4 who don't sluts, and begins to spread rumors about their sluttiness. One can imagine pretty soon that most of the 3 out of 4 who aren't head scarfed will begin to wear them simply because the cost (mild discomfort) is worth eliminating the daily venom they might be subject to. This takes into account the reality that mob mentality can work in a way that highly motivated minorities can take over the steering wheels of a culture.

Godless comments:

My view on this issue is that a lot of people are seeking out universalist justifications for a particularist action. That's not unusual, of course, but let's say what most polemicists and politicians won't say: this head scarf ban is popular because it resists the encroachment into France of an alien, often hostile culture.

And that is not such a bad thing.

The alternative is lacking the cultural fortitude to stand up and assert the primacy of Western Civilization. And that ends up here:

Sharia law in Canada? Yes. The province of Ontario has authorized the use of sharia law in civil arbitrations, if both parties consent. The arbitrations will deal with such matters as property, marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance. The arbitrators can be imams, Muslim elders or lawyers. In theory, their decisions aren't supposed to conflict with Canadian civil law. But because there is no third-party oversight, and no duty to report decisions,no outsider will ever know if they do. These decisions can be appealed to the regular courts. But for Muslim women, the pressures to abide by the precepts of sharia are overwhelming. To reject sharia is, quite simply, to be a bad Muslim.

The problems with Islam in the US are not so great as they are in France, as American Muslims are considerably better educated and more assimilated. (Which is not to say that there is *no* problem, of course). But if I were a Frenchman, I'd realize that Islam has to be brought to heel in France. It is too assertive and presumptuous a religion; give its adherents an inch, and they'll take a mile.

All the universalist justifications in the world don't change the fact that you would never have seen such universal support for a yarmulke ban (for example).

Addendum from Razib:

Well...this is a complicated issue, but let me stipulate that tolerance of an obnoxious and aggressive minority is OK in a liberal order below a certain threshold. For example, Christian Reconstructionists in the USA want to impose Biblical Laws on everyone and revoke citizenshp from non-Christians. They are a small enough minority that persecuting/banning/stamping them out would probably cause more harm to liberalism than the gain to be had at having removed the threat. In general free speech is totally acceptable as long as everyone tends to respect the "non-aggression principle" and even those who really don't accept it can be ignored at when they exist at sufficiently low levels. The problem crops up when an aggressive minority can start attracting followers because it is the "rational" thing to do and the liberal majority has diluted its dominance to the point where it can't "impose tolerance." In other words, an aggressive and coordinated minority can be prevented from disturbing the liberal order so long as people of liberal inclinations have an overwhelmingly dominant position within the society, whether through control of the "commanding heights" (military, media, etc.) or a high frequency representation in the population. On the other hand, when an aggressive minority reaches a certain threshold of social impact and power, a snowball effect may kick in and you could reach an inflection point in the social dynamic as "rational" liberals abandon ship and try to join the perceived victors before all is lost (this might be the dynamic of conversion to Christianity in Ireland or Islam in Indonesia, where the monotheists began as a minor cult with international connections and were a long-term presence, but once they rose to a certain level of power they quickly affected a social "take-over" and it was almost as if the previous age did not exist aside from mythological tales and legends).

The problem in the Turkish scenario is that from what I gather, 10-20% of Turks might be fundamentalists or aggressive in inclination in imposing their norms on the rest of society. As a reaction, the other 10-20% are imposing their norms on the public sphere. In a choice between fundamentalist public norms and liberal public norms, most would side with liberalism if they were liberal, even if an element of coercion is involved in the latter. The catch is those who assert that liberal norms are not threatened by the relaxation of their imposition on the non-liberal minority. If fundamentalists were below 5% of the population, I would tend to agree, but when they are 10-20% of the population I am more cautious (projecting from the dominant influence fundamentalists can have on Muslim families that I have seen personally).

Thought experiment from Razib: Christian Reconstructionism based on the extreme interpretation of Calvinist theology becomes big in the Appalachian uplands. The lay ministers of this new movement compromise with the evil Satanic government and do not sanction the stoning of adulterers and disobedient children, but, they insist that men can beat women and children at will, that their women will not be seen by "gentiles," and so forth. What would the reaction of a liberal be to this sort of behavior? What if it became the norm throughout large sections of Appalachia? I know that there are plenty of rational/analytic issues here, but what would be the emotive reaction of Blue State elites in the United States? The "race card" can be pulled out in a variety of ways, sure, one can interpret the preoccuptation with some symbolic issues (which might be indicators) on the part of white liberals as "patronizing Victorian attitudes towards non-whites," but, I do not doubt the reaction of Westerners if whites were to behave in such a fashion, and, I suspect if there wasn't some concern/intrusion into Islamist social norms other non-white activists would complain that white elites neglect the needs of vulnerable Muslim women. Can't win either way.

Posted by razib at 11:06 AM | | TrackBack


More sex differences

Michael over @ 2 Blowhards has an interesting post that bullet points average sex differences. Maggie Thatcher once quippped: "There's no such thing as society...There are individual men and women and there are families." But the shape of society is determined by the myriad interactions of individuals, and the patterns of individual differences are crucial in giving us a sharper view of the "big picture".

Posted by razib at 10:12 AM | | TrackBack


Guessing Game

A scurrilous gossip website this week asks the question “which Oscar-winning Hollywood superstar’s doctor claims she was born a hermaphrodite, with undescended testes where her ovaries should have been? (and no, it’s not Jamie Lee Curtis)”.

From the description, this sounds like a case of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (aka Testicular Feminisation). (It’s a genetic condition, so this is relevant to GNXP, OK?) People with AIS are genetically male, with XY chromosomes, but have a genetic defect which makes their cells wholly or partly insensitive to testosterone. The developing embryo has testes which produce testosterone, but this fails to trigger normal male development. The resulting phenotype may appear externally completely female (though lacking female internal organs), or have a variety of intersex conditions. ‘Females’ with AIS are often tall and boyish in physique, but can still be beautiful, by usual standards. It is said that AIS is relatively common among fashion models, where a tall boyish physique is an advantage, and among aspiring female athletes, until they have to take a sex test. And a medical website (medhelp.org) claims ’there are at least two well-known American movie stars who are XY women, according to researchers in sex differences, although neither of the actresses wishes her condition to be made public’.

Of course, the gossip may be false, and in any case it would be inappropriate, irresponsible, and offensive to speculate about who the ‘Oscar-winning Hollywood superstar’ might be.

On the other hand, it can surely do no harm to say who it is not

As women with AIS have no uterus, they cannot become pregnant, even by IVF, so we can rule out anyone who has ever been pregnant.

The following information is mainly from biographies at imdb.com.

Among the last ten years’ ’best actress’ Oscar winners, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Helen Hunt, and Gwyneth Paltrow have all had children, while Julia Roberts is currently pregnant, and Nicole Kidman reportedly miscarried during her marriage to Tom Cruise.

Frances McDormand has an adopted son, which does not count, but I’m not sure she would be described as a ’superstar‘, fine actress though she is. Among the remaining three, Hilary Swank might seem the obvious candidate, but I doubt that someone with AIS, and who wanted to keep it quiet, would have taken the lead role in Boys Don’t Cry.

But it may be barking up the wrong tree to look just at ’best actress’ winners. ’Best supporting’ actresses would also count as ’Oscar-winning’. ‘Best supportings’ are usually talented actresses rather than ’superstars’. Of those in the last ten years who might fit the latter description, we can exclude Kim Basinger, Juliette Binoche, Jennifer Connelly, and Catherine Zeta Jones, who have all had children.

This only leaves four or five candidates from the ‘best actress’ and ‘best supporting’ categories combined, and going back further than ten years would not greatly extend the field. Most Oscar-winning actresses since the 1970s have had children, even if some of them, like Jodie Foster, took a while to get round to it.

It is interesting to reflect that all of the leading candidates are considered highly attractive, and at least three of them feature in lists of the world’s most beautiful and/or sexiest women. But if the gossip is true, one of them may well be genetically male!

Posted by David B at 04:45 AM | | TrackBack


Great wild west

A few pics from my recent camping trip below (you know that I live 2 hours from two of the world's three purest lakes?).

Posted by razib at 01:22 AM | | TrackBack

July 12, 2004



Race, Crime, and College

This blogger has caught Sen. Kerry in a lie about African Americans being more likely to be in jail than to be enrolled in college. Never satisfied with other people's research, I went through the Census tables and found some other interesting facts.

While it is true that African Americans have a higher college enrollment rate (6.8% total AA pop) than incarceration rate (2.7% total AA pop), they are also more likely than the general population to be enrolled in college (6.1% total pop) and more likely than a white person to be enrolled in college (6.2% total W pop). In fact there is only one other group more likely to be enrolled in college (Asians at 12.8%). I wonder if some reporter is going to catch Kerry in this fib and ask him about those other stats that show blacks are doing very well in America.

Update
Unfortunately, the census had no comprable tables for Jewish-Americans so I could not directly compare their enrollment rate.

Update II
Now if Kerry had said that there are more African Americans in jail than in graduate school that would have been a truthful, if intellectually dishonest statement. ;)

Posted by scottm at 11:02 PM | | TrackBack


King Arthur - circa 2004

Went and saw the new King Arthur flick that just came out. Over at Steve's site there is a back & forth about whether it is historically accurate. Steve's "well-known reader" comes closest to my position, there's not lot of history in the Arthur tales really, so you can make up whatever you want. A few comments....

A lot of lines are about a British theologian named Pelagius. In light of my recent posts expressing skepticism on the real impact of abstractions on the path of history, I found it amusing that much of Arthur's idealism in the film is rooted in his adherence to Pelagianism, which emphasizes free will, rejects original sin and tends toward a universalist conception of salvation. Pelagianism was rejected as "heresy" in the 5th century, but I believe that most mature Christian movements have accepted some of the sunny spirit of Pelagianism, if not the letter of its doctrine, in particular the tenets that imply that non-Christians may have access to heaven (often reformulated as a way to suggest that believers can not know the ways of God and who he chooses to give grace to). The Mormon Church tends to have strong Pelagian tendencies, perhaps from Joseph Smith's flirtation with Universalism. In any case, the "Peleagian" stream has always existed within Christianity from where I stand, and to me is further evidence that though abstract ideas may explicate issues, much of our understanding of mystical and religious faith is rooted in gut instincts and hard-wired mental facilities.

Another point, which Steve has brought up, is the martial role of Keira Knightley exemplifying the butt-kicking female stereotype that is now in vogue in Hollywood. Personally, I have no general opinion on the trend, as long as the women are attractive and perform the requisite number of nude scenes, but I do think that one can explain Keira's character in its historical context.

The "Woads" depicted in the film are clearly Picts. Their use of the word "Saeson" indicates a Brythonic Celtic speech, but perhaps Gaelic uses this word as well (I don't know). In any case, the Picts were the people north of Hadrian's Wall, and their blue body painting was depicted in the film. One reason that the Picts are noteworthy is that they seemed to have been a matrilineal society. This does not imply matriarchy, but it does suggest that women had a stronger voice in their society than we might expect from a modern perspective when imagining the lives of pre-literate Britons. Additionally, the Celts in general (whether the Picts were Celts or not is open to debate, but they were certainly in close contact and influenced by Goidelic and Brythonic Celts) gave women a prominent role in their society, and it seems that Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni who rebelled against the Romans and unleashed a wave of anti-Roman massacres might have been less than atypical among the Celts (Mebh of Connaught is another example, though whether she is pure myth or part history is open to debate).

On a general note, I was struck by the juxtaposition of genuine facts outside of their historical context. For example, the Pope was not "the Prince" in the 5th century, and Papal Armies were a creation of the High Medieval period. The armor of the Sarmatian "knights" struck me as accurate, but we have no idea if the Sarmatians were still offering up soldiers for service so late into history. From what I have read the soldiers of Rome did not wear the horse-hair on their helmets during battle, but rather, this was a flourish for a victory parade. Of course, the glaring error is pushing the Roman withdrawl 50 years into the future.

Additionally, I was struck by the anti-Christian sentiments expressed in the film. Arthur is a heretical Christian, and his knights are aggressive pagans. The clerics are straight out of the literature of the early Protestant sects, which depicted them as worldly and craven. One thing I thought of though, I have read a few recent historical fiction novels about this period. Bernard Cornwall's Warlord Chronicles depicts a Dark Age Arthurian world where Arthur and his knights are pagan, ergo, Gildas leaves them out of his early history of this period. Another recent book that was Dark Age in sensibility depicted Arthur and his knights as being of Sarmatian stock, and only recently converted to Christianity. Perhaps the screenwriter simply read a few recent Dark Age Arthurian novels and cobbled elements of them together?

Anyway, good for a matinee price. A little too mushy for a battle epic, but one can always take a nap....

Posted by razib at 08:30 PM | | TrackBack


The Secret Life of M. Night

I thought some of the posters on this blog might get a kick out of this documentary made about M. Night Shyalaman director of the upcoming film The Village. Sci-Fi is hyping the "fact" that they were denied access after they discovered a secret Shyalaman did not want them to find. But beware, Skiffy is well know for airing mockumentaries and crockumentaries.

Godless comments:

m_night_shyamalan.JPG

Big ups to my man Shyalaman. By the way, does anyone know whether a big deal was made about the fact that early Hollywood moguls were also ethnic minorities? Clearly it is taboo to even mention said ethnic representation today, but the extent to which "visible minorities" turn on the human pattern recognition system is interesting. Textual identifiers (i.e. the last names like Kahn) are far less obvious.

Update from Scott
Does anyone want to hazard a guess of what the Big Secret of this film is (The Village, not the documentary on M. Night)? My guess is in the extended entry for those who don't want spoilers.

The most probable theory I have heard is that this late 19th century-style village is unknowingly set in a wilderness in our time, and that the "monsters" are simply construction crews who demolish anything marked with red paint. Ideas?

Posted by scottm at 03:04 PM | | TrackBack


Think short

This article implores taller women to take a look at guys under the mean height of 5'9 (in the United States). One study of married couples indicated that 0.3% were between taller women and shorter men. This isn't a cultural fad, or brainwashing from the mass media, women like taller men, all things being equal. Being mildly above average height, for example in the 6'0 - 6'2 range, (relative to population mean) is a good sign of heatlh and individual fitness (see The Handicap Principle if you wonder about the higher mortality rate of some tall males, individual fitness doesn't mean anything outside of the context of reproductive fitness). In the article it is noted that many short men are muscular because of years spent in the gym making up for their lack of height, but of course on some level women might be skeptical of men who try this hard to seem powerful (as if they are trying to advertise a reality that isn't there). The author is correct that this might cut down on the long term prospects of taller women, who limit themselves to men taller than them, while shorter women (5'4 is the American mean) tend to be able to play the whole field. But appealing to rationality isn't going to get the job done. After all, I have known of guys who screw ugly women because they are open to anything, and allow themselves to be treated like crap since they are happy to be with someone. In the context of the mating market, this might be seen as a rational move if what you want is "emotional support" and a "supportive partner." But you don't see packs of men looking for ugly women to fill that void in their life....

Posted by razib at 01:29 PM | | TrackBack

July 11, 2004



Basketball-and-chain

I'm not a sports blogger and I have almost no interest in professional sports, but these articles pointing out an alarming trend sparked my interest. From the article;

Players going to the NBA after just one year of college have been arrested at a 21% clip. Sophomore's have been arrested at a 46% rate. While percentages show that leaving college after three years creates a 40% chance of being arrested.

However, the rate drops significantly for college graduates. A mere 14% were arrested during the same time period and under the same research guidelines.

A 46% rate of being arrested is absurd and obscene. Compared to the NFL that has a overall 21% arrest rate. So why is this happening, and why are we creating essentially a class of rich thugs?

Posted by scottm at 08:35 PM | | TrackBack


Ethical Selector

How do you stack up in this ethical quiz?

Here's how I do;
1. Ayn Rand (100%)
2. Plato (81%)
3. Aristotle (64%)
4. John Stuart Mill (64%)
5. Jean-Paul Sartre (59%)
6. Kant (59%)
7. David Hume (56%)
8. Prescriptivism (51%)
9. Aquinas (46%)
10. Thomas Hobbes (45%)
11. St. Augustine (44%)
12. Jeremy Bentham (43%)
13. Nietzsche (43%)
14. Ockham (40%)
15. Cynics (34%)
16. Epicureans (34%)
17. Spinoza (25%)
18. Stoics (22%)
19. Nel Noddings (13%)

Godless comments:

You can see my results in extended entry. I didn't much like the quiz; in lieu of explaining why, I think (an edited version) of this old post will do the trick, on the biochemical foundations of morality.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series. The second part will directly deal with non-believers who don't take the evidence from neurotheology into account.

This interesting article and Razib's excellent "Blank Slate" review put me in the mood to post on morality. There are many atheists who believe that the notion of "good" is meaningless because there is no "absolute" good. I used to be one of them, but within the past decade or so I've come to a more nuanced view, motivated largely by evolutionary psychology considerations. I now believe that morality is foundationally biochemical, and that the non-existence of "absolute good" does not preclude the existence of a human or relative "good". From one of my earlier posts:

Do I think that morals and ethics exist in some absolute sense, as if we could measure 15 units of "good" as we can 15 kilograms? No. But "morals and ethics" are a useful shorthand for "societal conventions that are to some degree universal and have their roots in biology and game theory". In that sense, as a pragmatist, it's foolish to insist that moral or ethical considerations should never come into play when formulating policy or dealing with people. The cultural and biological apparatus of religiously inspired morality is a way to allow positive-sum communities to emerge and succeed. A biological propensity for religious belief probably encouraged people to stick to laws even when other people weren't watching.[1] In ancient times this likely meant that religiously predisposed communities were at an advantage vs. non-religiously predisposed communities because the latter were less likely to obey laws and rules without enforcement. At some point in the last thousand years or so, strong religious belief became a disadvantage in that it hampered scientific progress, and the pendulum swung back towards secular societies more rapidly than natural selection has accomodated. [2]

In other words, morality is a real thing that is best described in terms of the contract structure of positive sum games. One need not believe in superstition to believe that this structure is useful for civilization.

[1] Other things contributed to this as well; for example, the feeling of guilt is likely a way of chemically enforcing contracts.
[2] Galileo and Darwin are not the only examples; fundamentalists generally oppose the onslaught of technology.

Point in a nutshell: atheists who reject the notion of a universal morality do so prematurely. Moral codes are human universals not because of supernatural agency, but because of natural selection.

Godless clarifies:

I may have been a bit unclear in describing the connection between evolution, morality, and game theory. The point is that these positive sum games are played for survival and reproduction, not for utility per se . "Happiness" only matters from the Darwinian standpoint inasmuch as it contributes to the twin imperatives of survival and reproduction. [2] The quantity being optimized is not an arbitrary function of preference (economic utility), but a reasonably fundamental function of behavior (reproductive fitness). Of course, different environments will result in different selection pressures - meaning that those moral codes that promote the group's survival in a given environment will stick around for the next generation, while others will fail.

Update II from Razib: Put mine below....

Godless' results:

1. Thomas Hobbes (100%)
2. Ayn Rand (91%)
3. Aristotle (79%)
4. Epicureans (75%)
5. Jeremy Bentham (70%)
6. Cynics (69%)
7. Nietzsche (68%)
8. Jean-Paul Sartre (67%)
9. David Hume (67%)
10. John Stuart Mill (66%)
11. Stoics (59%)
12. Prescriptivism (54%)
13. Kant (50%)
14. Aquinas (47%)
15. Plato (39%)
16. Ockham (35%)
17. Spinoza (33%)
18. Nel Noddings (32%)
19. St. Augustine (11%)

Razib's results:

1. Ayn Rand (100%)
2. John Stuart Mill (83%)
3. Aquinas (72%)
4. Jean-Paul Sartre (71%)
5. Cynics (68%)
6. Jeremy Bentham (68%)
7. Aristotle (65%)
8. Kant (63%)
9. Thomas Hobbes (60%)
10. Stoics (57%)
11. Nietzsche (55%)
12. Nel Noddings (48%)
13. Plato (47%)
14. Prescriptivism (47%)
15. Epicureans (45%)
16. Ockham (45%)
17. St. Augustine (44%)
18. David Hume (42%)
19. Spinoza (33%)

Godless comments:

Feeling geeky, I computed Spearman's rank correlation between my rankings and Razib's - it gives .491228. Raw data:

R GC
1. Ayn Rand (100%) 1 2
2. John Stuart Mill (83%) 2 10
3. Aquinas (72%) 3 14
4. Jean-Paul Sartre (71%) 4 8
5. Cynics (68%) 5 6
6. Jeremy Bentham (68%) 6 5
7. Aristotle (65%) 7 3
8. Kant (63%) 8 13
9. Thomas Hobbes (60%) 9 1
10. Stoics (57%) 10 11
11. Nietzsche (55%) 11 7
12. Nel Noddings (48%) 12 18
13. Plato (47%) 13 15
14. Prescriptivism (47%) 14 12
15. Epicureans (45%) 15 4
16. Ockham (45%) 16 16
17. St. Augustine (44%) 17 19
18. David Hume (42%) 18 9
19. Spinoza (33%) 19 17

Posted by scottm at 06:16 PM | | TrackBack


Propositional civilizations III - deductive history

A small coffee break in Bend has landed me free wi-fi. First, I haven't spent much time in Central Imbler on the lee side of the Cascades much before this weekend looking around and taking it in, but it's really "happening," kind of a micro-Boulder-out-West. Population has jumped from 20,000 to 55,000 in 15 years, and the fact that Porsche and Mercedes dealerships face each other along a main drag tells you what kind of people are moving here....

In any case, earlier (here and here) I took issue with the tendency to take a broad-view of civilizational development, and look toward central texts as important causal agents that help determine the general path of a culture as a function of time. This is a general tendency of many broad-sweep historians and scholars, and in many ways, I find it entertainingly seductive. And that is one of the reasons I am more cautious of this methodology, if scholarship resembles a story that appeals to our sense of narration and drama (think Freudianism) I suspect we are more likely to take it on face value.

Let me re-cap two essential points: Though I believe there are substantiative differences between the emphasis on various human universal values between many cultures, which broadly cluster together in civilizational groups, I also assert that the reasons between these differences are more difficult to discern than one might think. I say this because it is in the reasons that "solutions" to the issue of "problem" civilizations come from. To illustrate, Ann Coulter suggesting that we "kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity is pretty indicative of what she thinks the problems are. But what if the problem is deeper, that the leaders Arab Muslim nations throw up are reflections of the values of the general society, and the Islam they practice is a reflection of what non-religious values they valorize?

Broad sweeping generalizations are useful, and induction is a crucial way to extract knowledge from our world. But patterns can deceive, and with something as complex as culture the data we sample, and our perception of it, may skew the reality that is "out there" to suit our own preconceptions.

I believe that examination of the cognitive tendencies of humans is a crucial check out the causal mechanisms we ascribe to the valid patterns we perceive. For example: given common principles (eg; The Ten Commandents), do a group of individuals isolated from each other agree upon a non-intuitive (that is, a non-human universal value) set of inferences as true or correct? Ultimately, it is a move toward reductionism, and connecting the broad-sweep with the atomic level that is the most fertile path. Imagine chemistry without even Dalton's atom, one could still classify various elements and compose a list of reactions where A + B => C, but ultimately, it would be a predominantly descriptive science without great predictive power.

Finally, as I have noted below, I think that the kind of people who ponder intellectual issues and cross-cultural comparison are also psychologically atypical, tending to put more stock in texts and ideas and the propositional logic and the inferences that follow from them than the vast majority of human beings. This then leads to the question on the importance of the intellectualized elites and the less reflective masses in the development of a culture (one could assert that civilization is becoming more axiomatic and textual as literacy spreads and various democratic governments become the norm).

Postscript: Below, Randall implied that the invention of Gutenberg's printing press set in motion cultural changes, and as mass literacy and vernacular comprehension of the Bible became widespread this might have implications for Christianity (this is a no-brainer as far as changes, but the implications are more difficult to pin-down). This is most relevant in the case of Protestant Northern European nations. Did all the Northern European nations tend to follow an inevitable arc of development dictated by the new found understanding of Christianity that was imparted by the Bible? I will examine this question later in the week (eg; did "Render Unto Caesar" help crystallize the tendency toward Church-State separation?)....

Posted by razib at 02:00 PM | | TrackBack