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November 27, 2004
Disclaimer stickers for science textbooks
In light of recent decisions on the local level calling for IDiot ideology to be taught with an equal amount of vigor as evolutionary biology, Colin Purrington has uploaded a PDF file of 15 disclaimer stickers that can be posted onto schoolbooks. Check it out!
Race-based (Math) Pedagogy?
New article in EPAA. It has flaws, but (surprise, surprise):
The practices that reduce the gap seem to be somewhat different for African American and Latino students. . . some practices that are beneficial to all students, irrespective of race. Time on task is important. . Conducting routine exercises also proved helpful across the board . . . The practices particularly beneficial to African Americans and Latinos differed somewhat from those beneficial across the board and between the two ethnic groups. . . for black students the most beneficial practice is the emphasis on topics of measurement and estimation. On the other hand, testing has a disproportionately negative impact on black students. . . For Latino students, the most beneficial practice is the emphasis on data analysis. There are no practices analyzed here that proved specifically detrimental to Latino students.*
I doubt that many in Education will rush to accept the fact that there are race-based neuroanatomical and/or neurophysiological differences (why else would different methods of teaching [presumably] have differential outcomes?...and in the 4th grade, nonetheless?), but on the other hand, like medicine, it will be hardly ethical to know something works for a given sub-population and withhold it on a political basis. Of course, this whole field will need multiple replicative (and, hopefully, experimental) studies, but with the brouhaha NCLB is causing (just Google "No Child Left Behind" and you will get a taste), it is plausible this type of research will get underway.
* I am still pondering why emphasizing measurement & estimation or data analysis would be particularly beneficial for a specific race.
Looking for Steel...
Lot of hating on Jared Diamond at GNXP lately, but his book Guns, Germs and Steel does put forward an interesting and readable “...history on the continental level” as Steve Sailer says. A more appropriate title might have been “Germs, Seeds and Hooves”, since Mr. Diamond says almost nothing about imperialism or industrialization, other than exploring how diseases moving along the Silk Road meridian became (inadvertently) the weapon with the largest body count once Europeans sailed to the Americas, Australia, and other isolated areas. Although I liked reading what he had explained, it seemed to me that in the book Mr. Diamond goes only halfway toward his stated goal of answering “Yali's Question” which was; why do Europeans have so much “Cargo” (Technological Tools/Goods).
I was not satisfied with leaving the story there, at the continental level, so I went in search of historical/anthropological books that filled the gap Mr. Diamond had left. This posting is a review of The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the making of the Modern World Economy by Kenneth Pomeranz. Very briefly, Prof. Pomeranz, writing in a text book style, draws on studies and archives from Europe, China, Japan, and in his opinion incomplete documentation for India, to make a case that up until 1750 there was little divergence between the most developed regions of the Eurasian continent. The book is primarily a refutation of other proposed reasons for the rise of the west. When he does discuss what caused the west to rise, he believes that European style colonies, coal usage and scientific culture were telling factors, along with Chinese monetary policy.
On an “easy to read” scale, “The Great Divergence” (henceforth GD) trails “Guns, Germs and Steel” (henceforth GGS) by a significant margin. It's fit to be a text book and as such is mostly a very dry recitation of items from archival data or other people's research of archival data. Also, the majority of the book (five of the six chapters, or 233 pages) is spent refuting proposed differences between selected areas of Europe, China, and Japan with occasional references to what is presently know about India in the same era. I had no trouble continuing to read it though, since here and there fascinating snippets of economic/technological history would be presented. If you can read the whole of such a book I strongly recommend it to you. If not, but you get your hands on it, reading the introduction, first chapter and sixth chapter will give you a concentrated discussion of what Prof. Pomeranz believes did happen, while only touching apon what he contends did not happen.
Prof. Pomeranz is insistent that the developed regions of Eurasia are not equivalent to their modern nation-state boundaries. The three regions he presents as near equals are Northwestern Europe to include Southern England, the Netherlands, France and some adjacent territories, the Lower Yangzi river region (China), and the Kanto and Kinai region (Japan). Rough equivalence, through 1750, of these regions is demonstrated in Life expectancy and productivity of labor. The Yangzi and Kanto regions had superior population densities to Northwestern Europe, in fact European cities through 1750 were smaller than counterparts worldwide if you also compare the Aztec and Inca cities before European contact. This demonstrates that agriculture outside of Europe had a higher yield per capita making the support of denser urban areas possible. NW Europe in 1750 did lead the world in the quality of the guns their craftsmen made, as well as clocks, waterwheels and other mechanical technologies.
Prof. Pomeranz goes on, discussing at length the similarities in market economies, consumption, investment, and ecological constraints to growth between these three regions and India and Southeast Asia as well. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable in these areas to take issue with any of his points. His arguments seem very well made to me, but I'd need to spend months in college libraries to challenge any of them.
More interesting to me is the scenario that Prof. Pomeranz proposes for how Northwestern Europe did indeed pull ahead. The points he makes are scattered throughout the book, although the first and sixth chapters present or summarize most of them. For this review I will present them in a time line. The topics were made known to me by reading GD, although I looked up some dates in other sources:
-- -- --
1125 AD: Until this time, Northern China, around Beijing, had led the world technologically. They had a steel industry with rates of production that would not be equaled in Northwestern Europe until after 1700. They refined coal into coke for greater efficiency. However. in this year the Jurchen tribes attack Northern China and conquer most of it, in retaliation for the Chinese empire not following through with a promise to grant them all the taxes from the Liao territory as tribute. This is the beginning of string of disasters, natural and otherwise in Northern China, culminating in 1214 when Genghis Khan captures Beijing. All these troubles scatter the artisans and craftsmen of the Chinese Steel and Coal industries throughout China as a whole. But the exploitable coal mines are in Northern China, and Chinese coal mines are dry, the greatest danger is from sparks creating fires in the mines, and so it proves expensive to transport the coal any long distance. The century from 1125 through 1214 sees the loss of the first Chinese coal industry.
1415: the Grand Canal is re-opened in China. It is the most visible line in a very well developed cargo transport system, linking the Lower Yangzi region to Northern China. With this canal system in place, the Chinese move rice and other cargo very cheaply. Northern Europe would not match this transport capacity until the first railroads are put into service in the 1840s.
~1450: Severe inflation undermines the value of Ming paper money (as little as one percent of it's face value). The solution eventually reached, a property tax in silver. This continued through the fall of the Ming and into the Manchu dynasty, so that the effect was that China had made a monetarized silver the foundation of it's economy.
1492: Columbus first voyage.
1500: In China, building a ship with more than two masts is a capital offense. Between 1403 and 1440 Chinese ships had sailed extensively in the Indian Ocean, but the above mentioned inflation along with the general dissolution of the Ming dynasty brought any further ocean going activity to a halt. If it had been otherwise, China might have challenged the Portuguese and Spanish in the early days of the European Age of Exploration. As it actually was, China ceded control of the oceans to other powers.
1521: Cortes assumes control of (formerly Aztec) Mexico
1532: Pizarro conquers (formerly Inca) Peru.
1540 – 1640: During this period, one unit of gold was worth six units of silver in China. During the same period in India one unit of gold was worth eight units of silver and in Europe the same unit of gold was worth twelve units of silver. Most of the silver came from mines in Japan and the Cerro Rico mountain in Peru, which overlooks the town of Potosi. Vast amounts of silver were unearthed from this mountain. It is not an exaduration to say that China, with it's monetary policy, financed the Spanish Empire in the Americas. Willing to trade it's silks and other products for the silver, China provided huge profits to any trader willing to pay in silver while producing a boom in proto-industries on the Yangzi river. As the single largest provider of silver in the world, Spanish Peru produced immense profits to the Spanish crown and nobility.
~1550: In southern England, coal becomes cheaper than wood for home heating, leading to increased mining. As they become familiar with it, the English find ways to use coal in other pursuits, such as glass-making, smelting of non-ferrous metals, etc.
1698: Tomas Savery's Steam Pump first used to pump water out of English coal mines. English mines tend to flood, so some system to pump them dry was necessary for increased production. Steam Engines were an excellent fit for English mines, since small bits of coal, unsaleable on the market could be disposed of by burning them in the engine. This way the mine owners essentially fueled their pumps for free. From this point on there will be a various improvements and changes until 1775 when James Watt increases the then current efficiency four fold. Till then the Steam Engine will fill only this niche, as a glorified mine water pump. It strikes me as more of a punctuated evolution than a history of invention.
1700 – 1750: A second period of silver arbitration occurs, although this time the differential is one gold to ten silver in China vs. one gold to fifteen silver in Europe. Also during this period the population of Han Chinese doubles, fed by increasing yields due to American origin crops (sweet potatoes, peanuts, and maize) in Chinese fields.
1757: Clive conquers Bengal for the British East India Company. (Prof. Pomeranz doesn't mention this, I threw it in to cap the timeline)
-- -- --
So after about 1750, the British had an expanding overseas empire, and growing coal technology. After 1800 trains and steamboats went into commercial service, and then you need another, more detailed timeline to keep up with the innovations and changes.
Prof. Pomeranz mentions that Europe had scientific societies, and credits them with helping spread both the knowledge and the attitude for innovation. He is not willing to say that Europe had a monopoly on this type of activity, but he does grant them an advantage. He points to letters passed widely among Chinese scholars as a parallel if less efficient way to spread scientific inquiry.
November 26, 2004
A different sort of mutation
I'm about halfway through Albion's Seed, and I stumbled upon an interesting historical tidbit. But first, an aside, in Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class by Lawrence Otis Graham he recounts a story about a very light-skinned black woman (phenotypically white) insulting his brother and future sister in law for perpetuating the "slave custom" of jumping over a broom during their wedding. Back to Albion's Seed, David Hackett Fischer observes that the ancient pagan custom of jumping over the broom was brought to Virginia by cavalier settlers, a custom which was rooted in the traditions of the southwest of England. Fischer notes offhand that black slaves picked up this practice and attached special meaning to it, but I found it fascinating how many black Americans obviously do not know that their own customs are derived from the pre-Christian folkways of the Anglo-Saxons, and that that particular custom is likely perpetuated predominantly by black Amerians now in the United States!
Would you buy a burger from this woman?
One thing I will criticize about our consumer culture (and believe me I normally have little problem with it) is that it takes someone like Heidi who would normally not come within 100 meters of fast food, and turns them into their spokesmodel.
I mean, wouldn't Michael Moore be a more realistic spokeperson (and no, I will not post a picture of him, razib might ban me if I did)?
Update from Razib: A more interesting picture.
In other words, bring back the British Empire.
That's the conclusion of this blogger who points out that the only real answer to constant lefty whining about tragedies in third world countries is to bring back western colonialism in those failed states. I agree, either we do that, or just shrug and ignore it. But if colonialism is our route we must make sure that it profits us.
TangoMan adds: of interest is Diplomad's post where the "No Blood for Chocolate" protests directed at the French are examined and French diplomacy is praised.
The muslim vote
Interesting article over at the Boston Globe by Peter Skerry discussing the political beliefs of muslims.
What has one to do with the other?
"What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"
The diagram below illustrates the general thesis of From Plato to Nato:
In any case, where do you stand? Personally, I have a bias for Athens (and Rome) over Tuetoberg and Tuetoberg over Jerusalem, but in the end, I have to admit that the three are so comingled that for me it becomes difficult to ascribe a particular quality to one that is exclusive of the others.
No admixture with Neanderthals?
In any case, the conclusions in the article above shouldn't be that surprising, Out-of-Africa always seemed to be on strongest ground in the European case. Not only do the geneticists tend to favor Out-of-Africa (replacement), skull & bones paleontologists like Chris Stringer based the model in particular using the replacement of H. neanderthalis in Europe as a case study. Of course, this European case does not mean that I retract my contention that things are rather unsettled in paleoanthropology at the moment (the authors of the paper alluded to the possibility of mtDNA selective sweep, but only to dismiss it), we may find that rather than a unitary model we might have to simply live with regional explanations.
1 - Retrieved Neanderthal and Paleolithic H. sapien mtDNA seems to point to the likelihood that no mtDNA from the former has persisted into modern populations.
November 25, 2004
First No-Vaccine Rabies Survivor
The New York Times reports that a Wisconsin teenager is the first person to survive rabies without the aid of a vaccine. The doctors:
put the critically ill girl into a drug-induced coma and gave her antiviral drugs, although it is not clear which, if any, of the four medicines contributed to her surprising recovery.
As some have guessed, Steve's "mystery factor" is number of children for whites. Apropos that I post this on Thanksgiving when everyone is hanging out with their fam....
Update: The article.
November 24, 2004
British HIV-AIDS rates soaring
The Scotsman reports that rates of HIV-AIDS infection are soaring in England, most of those being in and around London. The causes?
The majority of new cases diagnosed in the UK are the result of people migrating from countries with the biggest HIV problem, especially Africa.
Something else to consider in the immigration debate.
GFA adds: On a related note, Mexican migrant workers here in the US have an HIV rate "three times as high as the rate in the general U.S. and Mexican populations." More info here.
Just got back from seeing the Oliver Stone insult to the hellenes "Alexander" and I thought I would offer a few thoughts.
First, if you are considering seeing this movie because you like war flicks, don't. The battle scenes are so confused and a little bizarre (at one point the entire screen becomes tinged with a pink hue, for what reason, I don't know) that they make one ill watching them (and not because of gore). So on the military movie note, it fails miserably
Second, if you are considering it because you are a history buff, don't. They really don't explore the historical Alexander, characters show up when the historical figure should be dead, etc. On the historical note it just passes muster.
Finally, if you are considering seeing the movie because of artistic reason, don't. While Colin Farell, Jolie, and Kilmer do competent acting jobs, the rest of the cast (Plummer, Hopkins) deliver mangled and painfully awful performances. And Stone delivers some of the most drug-induced celluloid ever.
All in all, I'd give it one star, or a D if you're looking for a letter grade.
But there was one thing worth seeing in the film, listed below (not work safe)
My Iroquois Princess. :)
Evolution & kinship
I'm reading Evolution and Kinship (human). It's a nice little (176 pages) theoretical mathematical treatment of human kinship in the Hamiltonian spirit. The first chapter is a philosophical overview that discusses the author's methodology and angle on the differences within cultural anthropology. Published in 1988 it is a little dated, but I recommend readers check it out at their local college library! (nice companion if you are reading something thick, specific and data-filled)
I have only read two pieces by "Spengler." One was about The Passion of the Christ and the other is this one titled Muslim anguish and Western hypocrisy. The second piece I think is interesting, because it is in line with my idea that Islam is a "brittle" religion (in general).
After reading these essays I am impressed by Spengler's erudition, but, I hope that readers will approach his assertions with some skepticism, because I think he enjoys performing intellectual sleights of hand to support his theses or biases. One bias I can not ignore I think, especially in light of what I read so long ago about The Passion of the Christ, is that Spengler is not too keen on Roman Catholicism. A few quibbles below to get a flavor of what I think should be considered red flags in digesting his assertions with naive trust.
A few points.
1) Spengler emphasizes the Church's persecution of heretics, while not offering the balancing position that Protestants also persecuted Catholics, and that activities like "witch" burning were far more prevelant in Protestant countries than Catholic ones. You would have thought that Protestant liberals fought for religious liberty against the One True Church when it was more a clash of intolerances than anything else (something he implies for Christianity in general, but only makes explicit in the case of Catholicism).
2) Yes, the Church did associate religion with temporal power, but the Protestant nations like England or Scandinavia still have an explicit assocation between the monarchy and the established Church. The Prince lives!
3) Yes, Church attendence has fallen, but most precipitously in Protestant Northern Europe (France being the Great Catholic Exception). England has more active practicing Catholics than Anglicans! It was Catholic Europe that pushed to keep Christianity in the Constitution. Yes, the Catholic countries have low fertility, but what has that to do with the reality that Christianity faith tends to be more vigorous in the south of Europe than in the north? Bait & switch I say.
4) Catholicism has been very active in Africa & Asia. The past two prime ministers of South Korea have been Catholic. In many of the former colonies of Protestant Britain Catholicism is the largest Christian confession! The American Catholic Church is growing. Latin American evangelicalism has made inroads mostly into the barely Catholic indigenous peoples and the underclass. This does not imply a religion on its last legs (only in Guatemala might Protestants reach majority status anytime soon).
If you read the piece on The Passion of the Christ Spengler implies that Roman Catholicism is pagan, that Protestantism is the genuine primitive Christianity and so forth. To me, this smells of traditional biases against Roman Catholicism. I don't read enough about Spengler to sketch out why he would be biased against Catholicism, but the passages above stink of selectivity of erudition to convince readers of something that wasn't.
The Christian authorities often ceded Jews enough autonomy that it was not a conventional "religion of conscience" as it was a millet in the Ottoman system. Jews like Baruch Spinoza were excommunicated and ostracized, and hagiographic legends of Jewish mothers killing their children to prevent their forced baptism during pogroms does not to me show a ease with the idea of conscience as opposed to shibboleths and communal conformity. Also, if you note the last sentence, it seems that Spengler wants to pretend as if much of the Rabbinical learning is not legalistic interpretations of the Law. It's like Spengler doesn't know that Constantine had a good relationship with the "exilarch" of the Jewish community, one Gamileal. The real change in Judaism happened during the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, when the old forms and modes of interaction with the Christian majority did give way to individual choice, not during the period of Constantine when the Jewish elite and the Christian elite established a modus vivendi (I do not deny that Jews converted to Christianity en masse during this period, but communalist considerations were no doubt prominent variables in these decisions).
On to Islam:
The problem here is that everyone knows about the Sufis. That some Sufis and other holy orders did emphasize a loving God is highlighted in Karen Armstrong's A History of God as a possible avenue of Christian influence on Islam. Needless, the point is that though one might assert that Christianity has modal character A and Islam B, one need not categorically deny that A might be expressed in Islam on occassion, if not modally (these ideological fixations are of course at variance with the common day experience and expression of religious faith in my opinion, which is basically the same). I might also point out here that perhaps Spengler could comment on the relative sternness of the Calvinist God in comparison to many other Christian denominations and what it implies for Reformed Protestantism? (I happen to think Reformed Protestantism is also "brittle")
My critique isn't to say that Spengler's theses in this context is wrong, I happen to think it is more correct than not, but, readers beware, I feel the man has a tendency to spin his erudition to purposes other than explicitly stated. I say this as someone who has engaged in the same thing, I can recognize a fox because I've gone into the chicken-coop myself (I know I am harder on the Christian Roman Empire because I admire the latitudinarianism of the pagan Empire, sometimes I just can't help myself!).
Addendum: Also, props to Spengler for making an attempt to write things like this. Negative critiques are almost trivial on topics like this (for every 100 examples there might be 1 counter-example, but in text the proponent of position A with 100 examples can not state all 100 in prose, so the chasm between A with 100 supporting points and B with 1 supporting point is not clarified well in its magnitude. In other words, falsification is really easy for many theses based on history). I had to post this though because I simply can't believe that Spengler believes everything he writes. His readers deserve more exposition on his own axioms as a piece commences, or, they deserve more modest essays.
Why they hate us
I have noted before that trite characterizations of why terrorists do what they do, be it "poverty" or a "hatred of freedom" are often inaccurate. ParaPundit points me to this article Understanding Terror Networks. The author focuses on the hardcore transnational terrorists rather than those engaged in national struggles. Highlights (sample of 400):
First, it should be no surprise that transnational terrorists are a well educated sample. They are often fighting for intangible abstract principles, a War of Ideas, and such things are often only salient to those for whom ideas are the bread & butter of daily life. Remember, the European Wars of Religion were sparked by the interests of the propertied elite (ie; lesser princes in the Holy Roman Empire & knights) and intellectuals who motivated the masses toward fanaticism by overheated rhetoric (though the masses often rose up in anti-Reformation rebellions because of their attachment to the "smells & bells" of the Catholic religion in reformed regions).1 Concepts like "Christendom" or the Ummah are words that most people might assent to with varying levels of emotional commitment, but I suspect it takes mobile intellectuals who prioritize the world of ideas over conventional bonds of family, heimat and volk to really preoccupy over these constructs to the point where they become genuine motivating forces in their actions (rather than an excuse to engage in a peasant revolt against economic oppression or a way to repossess the property of religious orders).
Literacy and institutions devoted to intellectual pursuits2 bind together transcommunity information networks and have resulted in the rise of Civilization as we know it, but, these same forces often have an acidic impact on common sense notions of decency and proportionality mediated by insitutions and cognitive states shaped by our EEA. The "intellectual" is profoundly unnatural, and the notion that one would give up one's life so that someone on the other side of the world would eventually profess the same set of axioms about some theological or metaphysical construct likely seems bizarre to most people because it is rather bizarre.
And this is where the natural sciences come in. If you spend much of your adult life focusing on methods and techniques that are highly esoteric and often counterintuitive, but, manage to make predictions that are uncanny in their fidelity to reality, is it surprising that you would take the axioms of your religion to heart, and start constructing a chain of inferences? Additionally, many of these individuals are psychologically distinct from the general population, as training in the natural sciences often selects for an individual who has a specific set of interests and predispositions at variance with the norm (so they are less buffered by "normal" considerations in keeping their ideas in perspective). People who are religiously trained are, in my experience, often great at the double-think that suggests that though religious belief A implies bizarre behavior B ("love thine enemy"), it really doesn't mean you should act weird!. Acting weird is for heaven, or for a religious elite, or some other loophole that allows normalcy free rein. Groups that do act weird, like the Shakers for instance, tend to have an ephemeral existence because their ideas are not that attractive to most people (their ideas often elicit admiration but not conversion). Many people without religious training, and especially those from the sciences where plain & transparent axioms exist to construct testable models, diagnose patients or engineer mechanical devices seem to treat religious commandments in the same fashion.3 Mix this with a relative lack of social fluency & a mobile unrooted lifestyle ((so there are fewer normal constraints on bizarre behavior), and you get a mindset that I think normal people have a hard time comprehending simply through introspection.
1 - I do not mean to imply that people of common intelligence are by their nature tolerant and accepting in their views, rather, a concerted and cohesive mobilization and triggering of the appropriate cognitive biases are generated from above, whether it be through ritualized mantra, shibboleths concocted by religious leaders or emotional oratory. "Primitive" societies are filled with plenty of mayhem, faction and murder, but they lack the focused cohesiveness of mass mobilized agricultural societies where the head (the elite) manipulates a far larger body (the masses).
2 - I include religious institutions in this category.
3 - Many who have haunted talk.origins and alt.atheism have observed that engineers are overrepresented among articulate Creationists, that is, those who have given thought to their beliefs in a reflective fashion. I can also attest that the mosques that my parents attended when I was a child generally had the token engineer-fundamentalist who wanted to re-engineer everyone else's life to be more properly "Islamic," and had a hard time understanding the nuances of the differences between Islamic traditions.
November 23, 2004
Here's a post for the gnxp humor archive (hey Razib, how come there no "waste of time" category?) I came across the Oracle of Bacon and thought others might want to play around with it. Did you know that Kevin Bacon wasn't really the best choice to be at the center of this game. In fact, in the IMDB dataset of 800,000 actors, he's the 1,049th best candidate. Who's the best? Why none other than Rod Steiger followed closely by ole Saruman/Count Dooku/Scaramanga himself. Even Starksy & Hutch's Huggie Bear (Antonio Fargas) and Bond Girl Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) have a higher degree of centeredness.
I wanted to test out how well the Oracle worked, so I chose the cast of Hogan's Heroes as my guinea pigs.
Bob Crane, John Banner, Werner Klemperer, Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis, Ivan Dixon, and Robert Clary. I was mighty impressed by the fact that each of them only needed 2 links to Bacon, until I realized that over 145,000 actors had a score of 2. hmm. At least they all beat out National Review's John Derbyshire, who having starred in a movie with Bruce Lee, scores at 3.
So, if you're looking to waste some time and want to revisit the year 1996, when the Oracle of Bacon made its debut, why not see if you can find a more show that can score lower than the 2.000 for Hogan's Heroes.
Creationism: The Grand Canyon
No, the title isn't a reference to the symbolism of some chasm that creationism has to cross. Simply, the battlefront has expanded from schoolboards to the tourist shops in the National Park:
At a park called Dinosaur Adventure Land, run by creationists near Pensacola, Florida, visitors are informed that man coexisted with dinosaurs. This fantasy accommodates the creationists’ view that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that Darwin’s theory of evolution is false. Among the park exhibits is one that illustrates another creationist article of faith. It consists of a long trough filled with sand and fitted at one end with a water spigot. Above the trough is a sign reading “That River Didn’t Make That Canyon.” When visitors open the spigot, the water quickly cuts a gully through the sand, supposedly demonstrating how the Grand Canyon was created, practically overnight, by Noah’s flood. That’s nonsense, of course, but what else would you expect at a creationist park? Certainly, one might think, this couldn’t be acceptable at, say, a National Park, right? Think again.
Sure, the story is good for a chuckle, but just like with the schoolboard battles, we should never underestimate the enemy:
But when Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale of Vail’s book at canyon bookstores, he was overruled by NPS headquarters, which announced that a high-level policy review of the matter would be launched and a decision made by February, 2004. So far, no official decision has been announced.
It seems that in this case, unlike many of the schoolboard battles, the creationists have friends in high places who are able to exert their bureaucratic influence over the departments under their purvue, unlike the decentralized schools where the creationist battle most be fought repeatedly on multiple fronts.
November 22, 2004
Sacred versus Secular: Reproducing Religion and Cultures in the 21st Century
Sacred and Secular : Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge UP, 2004), co-authored by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, is one of those books that breaks new ground. Norris and Inglehart explore a seeming contradiction at the heart of sociology: The founding writers of this discipline--Marx, Weber, Durkheim--all predicted secularization as an inevitable outcome of modernization, but our post-modern world definitely doesn't seem to be secular.
Their answer? In part, that we're defining secularization incorrectly and reading too much into classic sociology. Norris and Inglehart deal with the apparent global failure of these secularization theses by pointing out that in almost every post-industrial nation, secularism has made significant advances. (Yes, even the United States. More on this later.)
Religion might still be strong globally; it might even be making advances, with followers of religious beliefs of one sort or another growing as a proportion of the global population. This, they argue, stems from the fact that secularism and especially human development have a negative impact on fertility. Fertility, in turn, reflects underlying insecurities in a given culture which predispose that culture's constituents towards religiosity.
The World Values Survey, along with the European Values Survey, provide the bulk of the raw data used by Norris and Inglehart. This makes sense, inasmuch as these surveys constitute excellent sources of cross-cultural data over several decades. As with all surveys, there are serious questions to reliability, in this case mainly through self-reporting (if you think that you should go to church, will you really admit to a stranger that you don't go)? The trends indicated by the data, though, are suggestive.
It's nice to see the supply-side theory of religious belief and practice put to an empirical test. This theory, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, argues that there is a direct relationship between religious diversity and religious practice: The more religious choices (different denominations, different theologies) available to a population, the more religious the population is likely to be. Thus, the high level of religious practice in the United States stems from that country's historical theological diversity; the low level of religious practice in Europe is product of that continent's tradition of state churches and enforced religious unity.
The problem with this theory, Norris and Inglehart demonstrate quite conclusively, is that it's completely wrong. In Europe, it's the countries with the closest links between religion and state and the highest degree of denominational homogeneity--Ireland, Poland, Italy--which have the highest rates of religious practice. In post-Communist Europe, the relaxation of state controls on religion coincided with a religion-wide decline in religion. (Yes. There is a negative correlation between religious pluralism and religious practice.)
Why do people practice religion? The authors argue that existential concerns--Maslow's hierarchy of needs--strongly determine patterns of religious practice. The more insecure a person within society, the more likely the person is to be religious, if only in the hope of finding some structure to manage and perhaps improve the chaos of daily life. As industrialization proceeds in a given society and knowledge of science spreads, it becomes possible to find alternative structures--to avoid premature death, for instance, or to partake in a prosperous consumer society outside of the confines of traditional agrarian culture.
This pattern of religious practice within culture, Norris and Inglehart argue, manifests itself in two sets of reproductive strategies. On the one hand, advanced societies which provide security for their members tend to see low birth rates, with significantly and historically high investments in the well-being of the relatively few children and (consequently) stronger hostility towards the idea of risking these few. Less advanced societies, though, marked by greater insecurity and lower investments per child, tend to be less risk-averse. (For the record, they divide societies into three categories: post-industrial societies with a Human Development Index rank greater than 0.900; industrial societies which rank between 0.700 and 0.899 on the same scale; and, agrarian societies are those which rank below 0.700 on the HDI.)
The relative rankings of societies on the different scales are interesting. France, Nordic countries, Estonia, and the Czech Republic regularly rank as the most secular societies in the world, with very low rates of religious practice and belief. Among post-industrial and industrial societies, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Mexico, and above all the United States regularly rank as the most religious societies. (Indeed, in terms of global comparisons the United States appears to be slightly more religious than Iran.)
There is a relatively weak correlation between secularism and support for science: Many Muslim countries (and the United States) rank as significantly more supportive of science and experimental technologies than the most secular countries of Europe. Similarly, the authors don't find a negative relationship between religiosity and support for democracy and civil rights. In the post-Communist countries of the Orthodox world, if anything, there is a weakly positive correlation. What they do find--reported by them in the March/April 2003 Foreign Policy (PDF format)--is a strong correlation between support for democratic politics and civil rights and support for changing gender and sex roles (support for feminism or gay rights, say). The more non-traditional a country in this domain, the more likely it is to be politically democratic. They suggest that toleration of diversity on this mark--connected to relatively secure and stable conditions--might serve as a barometer.
Sacred and Secular makes other interesting observations. They remark, for instance, that even after secularization has proceeded successfully, the once-dominant religion and its culture still leaves its mark on the life of society. They demonstrate that there is a positive correlation between one's religious practice and the likelihood of one's support for the Right, although this is weakening. They make the point that Weber and Durkheim argues that industrialization and rationalization would undermine religion, not destroy religion entirely in every case. They do agree with Putnam's thesis that churchgoers tend to be more active in community organizations, though they suggest that people who join organizations might simply be more likely to join churches as a demonstration of this tendency. They agree that the United States is an outlier among advanced countries, but point to significant recent secularization and suggest that the relatively high volume of immigration from traditional countries is responsible for much of this lag. Very interestingly, they demonstrate that by almost all measures, China and Vietnam are highly secular societies, and are likely to stay highly secular.
This may be a controversial book. It does provide a testable hypothesis, though, namely that societies which move towards the upper end of the Human Development Index will not only move towards below-replacement fertility rates but will see declining rates of religious practice and belief. As a rule, advanced societies might move towards deinstitutionalized religion, away from established churches and towards more inchoate and/or non-traditional beliefs. It's worth paying attention to the more religious countries in the upper half of Norris and Inglehart's middle ranking--South Korea, Argentina, Chile, Croatia, perhaps also Malaysia and Ukraine and Brazil--to see what patterns of religious belief develop in these countries in the decade to come.
The Martian Chronicler
Or, most incredible of all, imagine that the Vatican decided that Pope John III wished to build a spacecraft titled The Holy Ghost in order to fly across the universe in search of the beginnings of Creation. With the moon as base and Mars as second manger, that Pope might move on to study the wellsprings of the cosmos.
Cross posted at GNXP Sci-Fi
"What we've discovered is that these five Xs and five Ys line up in a great big long chain, that go XY XY XY XY XY XY, and then all the X chromosomes move to one pole, and all the Y chromosomes move to the other," she said.
John Emerson (aka "Zizka") has a new less political blog up, Idiocentrism. A review of How History Made the Mind: The Cultural Origins of Objective Thinking is worth the read (or at least a flame or two in the comment box). I have already stated on this blog that I am skeptical that a foundational change in the human mental worldview happened around 1000 BCE, I believe that a change in the elite formulation of the world did occur, but on the ground floor life goes on as it has in the EEA (with appropriate circumlocutions around the idols of the elite).
Dean Nation: week 3
I discuss abortion with an evo-psych/cog-sci angle. Cross-posted below as always.
Since Aziz posted about abortion, I figured I would give it a try. Unlike many people who assert that they personally oppose abortion but back the right to choose, I personally support first trimester abortion without qualification but am ambivalent about the courts imposing its universal national legality via the right to privacy. Though in the generality I support Roe vs. Wade I worry about the corroding impact it has had on the legitimacy of the courts and the respect for law by the citizenry of the republic. But I come here not to rehash my own qualms, but to address something a bit different: the reliance on reflective thinking on the issue of abortion and its limitations.
The general mode of thought here is to present axioms, infer propositions and offer up a chain of reasoning by which you support your argument. This is great in terms of clarifying the positions linguistically, but I believe it has resulted in a perception of more polarization than actually exists substantively on this issue and tends to expose contradictions in behavior.
For example, pro-life individuals often question the logic of pro-choice Catholics who believe that abortion is wrong personally, who even grant that it is murder, but still support its legality. I tend to sympathize with their confusion because I share it. Nevertheless, I must go one step further, and ask, why do the pro-life individuals not take up arms (as some have) in defense of the rights of human beings, persons, who they believe are being exterminated, acts of infanticide which in their literature are labeled a Holocaust? Some pro-life individuals might be pacifists, but many are not. In the past year many conservatives have defended an invasion of Iraq, resulting in the shedding of American life, in the name of freeing Iraqis from the bondage of a dictator. Why is it that these same pro-life conservative Americans simply choose to use political means (which have for the past generation been rather ineffectual) in opposing what they believe to be the murder of millions of innocents, potential co-citizens?
I think the problem is that we are overemphasizing reflective rational thinking. I don't believe that language expresses well the gray area of personhood that the fetus encompasses. Though pro-life individuals will assert an identity between an autonomous person and the fetus, their actions belie such a belief. Rather, the fetus exists in a gray land between non-human and human, it demands political action in its interests, but does not command the moral outrage that is necessary for violent action. Similarly, though some abortion-rights supporters might be unequivocal about their support for the legality of the practice and might even assent to the assertion by some activists that the fetus is just a "clump of cells," if like Bill Clinton they were confronted with an aborted fetus in a jar they would recoil. Though they might make the assertion that the fetus is just a clump of cells, intuitively they feel that it is something more, it is the gray land between cells and person, and so its naked presentation can elict revulsion, shock and outrage.
At this point you might be wondering if I am suggesting a Kassian "Wisdom of Repugnance" argument is appropriate to this issue. Not really, because I don't think repugnance is inherently wise. It just is. We must not deny that we have predispositions, biases, that issue from the basic structure of our brains, shaped by evolution and given form by the interaction between our genetic template and environmental input. When I titled this post the "Theater of Abortion" I am playing upon Daniel Dennett's idea of the "Cartesian Theater," that we have the conceit that all our actions and beliefs are exposed to the world and under the guidance of the conscious mind. When it comes to abortion we behave in such a fashion, as if our religious teachings or secular political beliefs are the sum totality of our feeling on this topic. I think this is a superficial element that is easily extracted and repackaged for political debate, but there are things going on "under the hood" that must be addressed.
Many cognitive scientists have suggested that the human mind is organized as specialized modules, independent functions designed by evolution to deal with certain problems. Additionally we have cognitive predispositions to various behaviors and mental constructs. We learn language with ease, all humans share a similar taxonomy for animals (folk biology), we tend to have similar interest in gossip (Theory of the Mind), even toddlers have a basic understanding of physics (folk physics). Infants when presented with animals or objects can clearly anticipate that the animal will move and interact with it in a protean fashion, while mechanical objects tend to be stable or reactive. They are surprised when objects disappear or reappear in peculiar ways, or manifest behaviors outside the anticipated range for their "kind." I am not saying here that humans are born with a knowledge of rocks and birds, I am just saying that we have predispositions, templates, neural channels, that are ready to receive inputs that express certain ideas or feed us specific stimuli.
What does this have to do with abortion? Well, let's look at the example of a dead body first. If you are a Abrahamic monotheist you officially accept the idea of bodily resurrection so the body is sacred. Fine. I am skeptical that most Abrahamic monotheists emphasize this idea over the alternative that the soul ascends to heaven after death leaving the body to decay (the more Hellenistic rather than Hebrew strand in Judeo-Christo-Islamic thought), but you have an axiomatic out. Nevertheless, I would assert that non-Abrahamic religionists and nonreligious people still imbue the body with some amount of sanctity that their axioms would deny as rational. After all the body is not going to be resurrected, it is empty of life or soul, it is an inanimate piece of decaying flesh. But still the body is generally revered in some fashion. Why? The dead body still looks human! It triggers cognitive templates of "humanness," and so you still want to interact with it in a human like fashion. You also note that the dead body is inanimate, as if it was an object. So you know it isn't human no matter what your gut tells you. The body is in a no-mans land, it is not recycled organic matter quite yet, but neither is it an animate human being. We need to honor and respect it, after which we can bury it (where it is decomposed and dehumanized) or cremate it (a conscious attempt to blot out its signs of human-form). After this it ceases to trouble our imaginations and we can focus on the memory of the individual as they were when they lived.
Now you probably know where I am going: just as the dead body stimulates the human template, so images of a fetus, or the knowledge of what a fetus looks like will tend to stimulate the human template. I don't care how much N.A.R.A.L. tells you it's just a clump of cells, once the cell develops and organizes to the point where the fetus is recognizably humanoid, then you enter the gray land of not-human and human. But the fetus is not a fully fleshed person, it does not interact with us, it is not autonomous and not normally animate. In other words it does not trigger all the cues that tells us that someone is human and we should interact with them as a human. And so you have the reason why pro-life people can get enraged, but not enraged enough to pick up their guns and prevent murder.
Of course you aren't going to get pro-life and pro-choice people to get together and admit, "Yeah, the fetus is somewhat human, somewhat not," and make peace. Nevertheless, I think the Japanese have one answer: they mourn the aborted fetus. Perhaps the perception by some pro-lifers that abortion-rights supporters are callous about life could be mitigated if there was more public acknowledgement and ritualistic mourning, something that indicates that something not quite animal and not quite human was killed, if not in any rationally definable fashion, at least on some instinctive level. Human beings are social animals. The rhetoric of abortion-rights tends to deny this, that is, it is a choice between a woman and her God (or what not), but that woman lives in a world filled with other human beings who care about her and her choices. I do not mean to imply that women should be ashamed or repentant about abortion, but I have known women personally who make a great effort to assert that they are cavalier about the act. Pro-life tracts which glorify and depict post-operative women as traumatized no doubt play up the stress for effect, but I do think they are effective propaganda because it seems highly plausible that abortion is a traumatic and psychically charged act. Acceptance of this reality is the first step to some sort of operational modus vivendi between the two sides of the debate. It is a nod to the reality that there are things outside the rational and explicable at work here, forces deeply personal and private that defy simply clarification into talking points.
The curves of mathematics
Just found out about this book The Mathematics of Sex by Dr. Clio Creswell. She seems decent looking, and certainly exploits it on the cover jacket. Here is a larger image. Her website seems out of date for an author promoting a book (no pictures), but here are some clips of her, she seems more appealing in motion than the still images (the clip beings with her assertion that she has vomitted over "many a man", and clarifies by retelling a story about vomitting on a date's jacket, but he still calls her back!).
fMRI in Wired
November 21, 2004
Baby-Talk as the Key to Human Language
An interesting in-press paper from FSU anthropologist Dean Falk links language and music evolution to baby-talk ("motherese"). According to the abstract:
The evolutionary underpinnings that preceded the emergence of language are investigated by comparing mother-infant vocal and gestural interactions in chimpanzees and humans, and modeling those of early hominins. These data suggest that melodious vocalizations that heralded protolanguage evolved as the trend for enlarging brains in late australopithecines/early Homo progressively increased the difficulty of parturition, thus selecting for females that gave birth to relatively undeveloped neonates. It is hypothesized that hominin mothers responded by adopting new foraging strategies that entailed putting down babies that were developmentally unable to cling to their bodies, and silencing, reassuring, and controlling them with ‘motherese.’
Steve Pinker, quoted in Science (306, pg. 1122), isn't convinced:
"The idea that music evolved to soothe babies might explain why mothers sing to their babies," he says, "but it doesn't explain why older children and adults listen to music."
Inequality is good for Democrats???
Steve's new column in VDARE highlights that educational & income inequality is good for Democrats, at least politically (so read: Democratic elites). This isn't a big surprise, wouldn't it make sense that a Leftish party that is concerned with alleviating class divisions needs those class divisions to exist so as to have something to formulate policy prescriptions in response? Interestingly Steve notes that Utah, an extremely Republican state, also has the most equitable distribution of income. Near the end of the column Steve asks rhetorically why the Republicans want to transform the United States through mass immigration. I think the answer is simple: the Republican elites stand to benefit from mass immigration because they are insulated from the externalities associated with cheap labor. After all, immigrants who earn the minimum wage aren't moving to upscale developments, rather, they are packing themselves into homes in middle-class to lower-middle-class neighborhoods.
I suspect most readers of this weblog have the capacity and the talents to manage it so that they can afford to live in a exclusive or gated community. The question is, do you want to live in such a country? After visiting Bangladesh I realized in a concrete sense that if I am deported from the United States I would be relatively safe and prosperous, ensconced in one of my uncles' privately guarded apartment complexes. I could find a job in one of his myriad businesses. With the impending collapse of the garment industry due to Chinese competition servants would be easy hire once more. But thinking of such a life seems to shrink my soul in some ineffable sense.
Addendum: Just finished the Puritan section of Albion's Seed, and I noted how David Hackett Fischer emphasized that the Elders of the colony worked to exclude both the aristocracy and the poor from their polity. To nobles with Puritan religious sympathies who wished to emigrate to the New World and preserve their hereditary privileges, they said thanks, but no thanks, while the English underclass was blocked from crossing by monetary & asset equirements demanded for passage across the Atlantic. New England was founded as a middle class society from its inception. A bourgeoisocracy if you can keep it?
Death of the West?
Over @ Ultradarwinian: Decline in Western Fertility Rates Associated with Environmental Factors.