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October 08, 2003

Duende chimes in on guard rails

I know I've been AWOL for a while, but technology problems can keep even the most devoted blogger at bay. Anyway, I have composed a response to some of Razib's (and others') most common arguments in disparaging the moralizing, civilizing influence of Christianity and other religions.

1. "Black Americans and Africans have high rates of religiosity and theism, but they have high rates of crime and illegitimacy."

Like democracy, math, and contraception (three things everyone here seems to favor), pacifist religions, or religions that preach universal love, have a poor track record among blacks of whatever continent. You seem willing enough to forgive our educational establishment for its inability to make low-IQ black children learn as much as high IQ Koreans. Like inner city schools, Christianity and other religions must make do with the raw (human and social) material that they recieve. Not to say that certain priests or missionaries always have good intentions, or that religious institutions always do the best they can, but how can you expect them to mutate DNA? Yes, IQ is a better predictor of crime and broken families than religion. And yes, in societies inequality is a better predictor of crime than religiosity. If Christianity could not quell the wolfishness of the bellicose Middle Ages, why should it be any better with black Africans in similarly structured societies? Does the fact that most humans everywhere rarely ever think mean that schools are worthless?

2. "Swedes and Japanese are heavily atheist, but they have lower rates of social pathology than sub-Saharan blacks."

I've never said that religion is necesary for morality, for individuals or for society as a whole. I have insinuated that a moral, fairly peaceable USA, with our unique strengths and weaknesses, outside of a religious code of ethics, will be very difficult.

Anyway, I know next to nothing about Swedes. Regarding Japanese, they indeed aren't very interested in metaphysics. Their priorities are to be nice and fit in and be Japanese. They are horrified of standing out and troubling people. I once read about a love hotel where the body of a murdered woman was found under the bed when the stench became unbearble. She'd been there about a month, and no one phoned the manager in all that time.

Japan proves that you can indeed have a law-abiding, orderly society without religious or metaphysical beliefs, which I never claimed was impossible . However, it does help if that society is ethnically homogenous, group-oriented, includes elaborate codes of shame, hierarchical subordination, and ostracism, and is composed of timid conformists who want to fit in and be liked more than than they want to express themselves as individuals. Would a similar type of secularism work in America, with our ethnic diversity, high value on individuality, and being nonjudgemental? l very much doubt that anyone can replicate that in America, especially in the libertarian, non-intrusive way manner most paltable to Gene Expressors.

The way a great many Japanese approach life reminds me of how women frequently approach religion. Metaphysics and theology are less important to them than "community" and they want everyone to be part of one big happy family. Of course, if you aren't of pure (or plausibly pure) Japanese ancestry, you'll never be in the "in" group. And in practice, religious organizations run by women tend to be intellectually dull, cliquish and hostile to dissent. Frankly, the Japanese are frequently very shallow in ways that women are often very shallow: polite and eager to please, but preoccupied by social norms, and unperceptive of anything beyond the social realm. Morality, ethics, and truth mean little to them outside of how others will judge them. Granted, this is my own completely subjective opinion of the character-type that Japanese society often promulgates (and of shallow women), but I seriously doubt anyone here wants to recreate their society in America, even if it was possible without forcing us all into reeducation camps.

The creation of a system of secular ethics that helps the average person and below-average person live law-biding, meaningful lives is a worthy goal. Has anyone really tried? One social benefit of the major world religions is that they can function as Philosophy and Ethics for Dummies. The actual theology of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam is very complex, but because they have so many followers the basic tenets of these religions can be so simplified as to be understood by almost anyone.

My major gripe with secular humanism is that it places the burden of answering all those existential, why-are-we-here, how-do-we-live questions on the individual. It can be a good sytem for certain individuals, but as a pedagogy for the general population it's an abject failure because most people are simply disinclined to spend a significant chunk of their lives reading heavy books and obsessing over difficult, divisive moral issues. Most secular humanists see this as an intriguing challenge, and enjoy reading history, philosophy, and literature and pondering these issues for days on end. Their intentions for promoting secularism are good, but they are thwarted by those occupational hazards of intellectualism: self-absorbtion and ghettoized thinking. Secular humanists rarely understand why people would want their ethics, philosophy and understanding of the cosmos handed to them in a ready-made package, which is how religion often functions for unreflective people. They don't understand why most very smart people spend most of their brain cells on making money, having fun or other monumentally unimportant tasks. But a lot people respond to a pre-packaged meaning-of-life, which may not be a great testament to human nature, but that people in aggregate like being shepherded through life should not surprise anyone here.

Let me close by saying that I do not hate atheists. I don't think that atheism renders one immoral, self-centered, or greedy. I'm not trying to convert anyone or convince anyone of the inherent goodness and nobility of religious institutions, something I don't believe myself. But, to borrow godless' theme, religion can be a guard rail. One with a little rust and a few cracks, but a guard rail nonetheless. Can Christ's command to love thy neighbor break through the hostility that our ever-increasing economic inequality inculcates in the low-IQ people unlucky enough to land at the bottom?

Maybe not. But I nervously suspect that a new type of Western individualism is becoming (or has already become) the dominant philosophy of a great many secularists both in America and around the world. It is not individualism based on the natural dignity of every human being or the greater value of the individual over the group, but individualism based on materialism and a sense of entitlement. America and increasingly the whole globe is full of people whose philosophy of life is "Me want stuff!" People for whom the individual is "me" and individual rights are "my legal right to any and all the stuff I want". Are these not the one of the driving forces behind racial quotas? This philosophy is distributed far more equally than is the ability to legitimately earn enough money for this kind of self-pampering. Accepting life as one of the poorest in your society is frequently impossible when the dominant social force is a religion that ennobles poverty and suffering. Why would anyone do so when wanting stuff, and thinking you deserve it because you are an individual, is the ideal of the era?

Whether accumulation of material things can give people meaning and purpose in life is an open question. What is inarguable, however, is that there just is not enough wealth to shower every one of the world's greedy whiners with the junk they think they deserve, and there never will be. How will they cope with it? Will our libertarian ideals survive when they arrive at our houses with torches and pitchforks?

I am not blaming these trends on atheism any more than I blame Christianity for failing to avert them. But within our lifetimes America will no longer be the land of the middle class, and we the cognitive elite will have to deal with low-IQ lynchmobs who see perfect freedom as their best shot at getting our cars and jewelry. I don't know what to do about this, but we could do worse than promote a religion that embues poverty with dignity. In fact, I'm almost sure we will.

Posted by duende at 07:52 PM

"But within our lifetimes America will no longer be the land of the middle class, and we the cognitive elite will have to deal with low-IQ lynchmobs who see perfect freedom as their best shot at getting our cars and jewelry"

Your standard going to hell in a handbasket stuff mixed in a few platitudes worthy of astrology columns and a bit of wishful thinking about one's abilities. Tell me, where is your evidence that 'America will no longer be a land of the middle class'? Is social mobility declining? Granted, the tech boom has killed some jobs but it has killed jobs everywhere including Australia. This is a classic leftist prophecy that has been going on for years if not decades yet i'm not aware of the middle class shrinking substantially in america and its cultural satellites.

Posted by: Jason Soon at October 8, 2003 10:05 PM


1) What is the level of educational attainment of the average Hispanic?

2) What percentage of the American population is projected to be Hispanic within the next 50 years?

3) Extrapolate. America is fast emerging into a custodial state, in which the small and shrinking cognitive elite cares for the low-IQ masses. Dysgenesis... (sigh)

Posted by: Sen at October 8, 2003 10:36 PM

Incidentally your theory that blacks are so immoral even religion can't help their plight leaves much to be desired. I sometimes wonder whether the opposite may be the case. Could non-religious people be more moral because they are more reliant on their consciences and internally evolved belief systems to guide them in their moral behaviour? I mean, we all know about how devoutly Catholic members of the Italian Mafia can be. Somehow the picture comes into my head of a mafioso icing someone and then going to confession and having the slate wiped clean. There seems to be that same element of histrionic confession-redemption in evangelican protestant churches.

Posted by: Jason Soon at October 8, 2003 10:38 PM

Sen, I simply find all this hysterical nonsense, the same has been said before about past generations of migrants like the poor irish masses who seem to have turned out alright. and no, i'm not convinced that poor mexicans are less intelligent - they come from much less meritocratic countries than the ones that the irish, etc fled from in the past.

Posted by: Jason Soon at October 8, 2003 10:40 PM

Duende, the black illegitimacy and crime rates were both lower than the current white ones in the 60's. The religious rate was the same. So your rationilization that religion just has 'nothing to work with' with black 'DNA' wasn't very good.

As for this religious morality kick you and Godless are on lately, until you stop philosophizing and start drawing up some data that would support these Machivellian "elitist" schemes of yours (and start successfully addressing counter-arguments that have already been made), then I see little point in continuing with it.

Posted by: Jason M. at October 8, 2003 11:12 PM

let's take the genetic issues off the table for now. it is still true that the united states is a far different nation than it was in 1900. the basic requirements eductionally for professional "success" are much higher than they were, mexican american immigrants and others that start at a low SES have a much higher hill to climb than semi-literate european laborers in 1900. remember, as late as 1950 50% of americans did not graduate from high school-today, 75% do, and college educations are becoming a requirement for middle class professions, not a bonus.

Posted by: razib at October 8, 2003 11:22 PM

btw-the key problem is not latino immigration, it is low skilled latino immigration. there are plenty of well educated upper middle classish people in mexico, they simply don't migrate to the united states because they have it good @ home.

Posted by: razib at October 8, 2003 11:47 PM

Jason Soon:
"This is a classic leftist prophecy that has been going on for years if not decades yet i'm not aware of the middle class shrinking substantially in america and its cultural satellites."

Check out:

The poorest three fifths of America's population have seen their share of the nation's wealth decline. The richest two fifths have seen their's increase. This has been a consistent trend since 1967, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's tables.

Also, it is common knowledge in America that it is *much* more difficult to support a family now than in 1950-1970, given that in those two decades, only one parent had to work to satisfy the basic needs of a family. Now, both parents must work full time just to pay bills and to purchase food, and the credit card is used for luxuries (like home electronics, which are more of a necessity given that average people need them to decompress after their draining workdays). One need only interact with people without graduate degrees to understand the bind that most most lower to middle income Americans with children are in, and how their lives consist of little more than work, work and more work. Maybe they'll put up with it for ever, but I wouldn't count on it.

In some countries, this condition causes working people to embrace socialism. In ours, it causes them to oppose immigration, free trade, environmental regulations and gun control -- hence, the popularity of right-wing demagogues like Michael Savage. Given that immigration and international trade are not likely to take place according to a rational basis anytime soon, nor are social welfare programs likely to be expanded, I don't expect the situation of the underclass or the middle class to improve. I have yet to see what type of political movement will take advantage of the discontentedness that will result, but given the mob mentality of average Americans and the cultural fragmentation that exists, it is not likely to be pretty.

I know you're in Australia, but one has to be completely oblivious to those around them not to realize that most lower and middle income Americans feel they are being screwed (even if their perceptions differ).

Posted by: Chris W at October 9, 2003 01:19 AM

Also, I think the perception that the high presence low-income Hispanic immigration is the primary causal factor for an increasing disparity of wealth is pure ideology. I won't deny that it is *a* cause of of many possible causes, but some people are engaging in dogmatic reductionism.

Posted by: Chris W at October 9, 2003 01:27 AM

Another reason for declining incomes might be due to a wrong-headed approach to international trade.

I think that international trade is beneficial to the nations involved *if* certain conditions are met. If the countries that we trade with have a stable utilities and transportation infrustructure, a functional legal system, a low level of corruption, a social safety net, strong environmental protections, moderate capital controls and a good educational system, then it can be of great benefit for us to integrate our economies to a certain extent so as not to unnecessarily duplicate each other's efforts. Such countries include Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and the various European nations, and few would argue that trade has not improved the standard of living of both us and them.

However, trade with Latin America, Africa, and Central Asia hasn't really benefited anybody except for a handful of investors and specialists. Countries in the above-mentioned continents do not have a stable national infrustructure (and in certain poor parts of Latin America, were discontinued due to unprofitabity following IMF-imposed privitizations), do not have a legal system that sufficiently protects people's rights, have massive levels of corruption, have little to no social safety net, have few environmental protections, and due to IMF austerity measures have eliminated most capital controls that help protect fledgling industries. Following free-trade agreements, U.S.-based businesses have closed domestic production sites to relocate them to these low-cost nations. The new jobs that have been created for lower to middle income Americans (like Wal-Mart) pay much less and rarely offer benefits.

Given that the governments in countries in Latin America are not sucessfully creating or maintaining an infrustrure that protects people's rights or provides them with the tools to effectively participate in a market economy, globalization is not improving people's lives there either. Check out these GDP growth (1975-2000) stats for Latin America from Nationmaster (http://www.nationmaster.com/graph-T/eco_gdp_gro_197&id=SAM):

1. Chile 4.1%
2. Colombia 1.6%
3. Uruguay 1.4%
4. Brazil 0.8%
5. Paraguay 0.7%
6. Argentina 0.4%
7. Guyana 0.3%
8. Ecuador 0.2%
9. Suriname -0.1%
10. Bolivia -0.5%
11. Peru -0.7%
12. Venezuela -0.9%

Chile is the only South American country that modernization and trade have been kind to, but that is no accident, given that Chile hasn't embraced the IMF-mandated absolutist policies that Argentina and Bolivia have. (I've read that Bolivia, with its negative 0.5% growth rate followed IMF mandates very closely over the last ten years.)

Competition between American workers and workers in the above-mentioned countries has a similar effect to a competition between free labor and slave labor. The wages of the former are bid down if they don't lose their job altogether, and the latter do not benefit, given that their rights are not protected nor are they given the tools to improve their standard of living. Further, easy access to cheap labor discourages technological innovation that could potentially replace much of the shit work that exists today, given its high research and development costs.

One could also say that unskilled immigration causes similar effects -- the difference being that *legal* unskilled immigrants do benefit from entering the U.S. because they receive a greater amount of legal protection and access to social services than in their native countries. (Competition with illegal immigrants produces even worse effects because they do not receive the same legal protections as legal residents, and can hence be employed for even lower costs.)

As I said, I think international trade can be quite beneficial under the right conditions, but I think that IMF/NAFTA/FTAA/WTO oriented trade is just as big of a cause of income inequality as unskilled immigration.

Posted by: Chris W at October 9, 2003 03:09 AM


Yes, I've heard of the Chicago Boys, but the claim that their policies benefited Chile is hotly disputed:


you also wrote:
"ANyway, more on the rest later. The basic point I'm going to make is that they would all be equal in those countries without international trade...just equally *poor*. Better that some get rich than *none* getting rich, yes?"

Why? If one out of a thousand becomes rich, but the remaining 999 are no better off than before, why is this situation preferable? Why would regular people, either here or abroad, regard growth of a foreign capitalist class as positive if it doesn't cause all boats to rise? You have to understand that I'm a low income worker, and after I get a Master's degree, I'll have a lower-middle income (although much of it will be spent on paying off debts). I care nothing about the well-being of capitalists unless their well-being benefits me and others like me. I'm not a socialist -- I hold that a well-regulated form of capitalism will be the only way to improve the general standard of living until we develop the technology that could jumpstart a post-scarcity economy. However, insufficiently regulated forms of capitalism benefit only the rich, and neither I nor any other person of low to middle income cares about their well-being as an end in itself.

And as I said before, I'm not opposed to international trade, but don't think that it is sufficient by itself to benefit a country. The fact that African countries have opened their borders to western mining interests has not improved their standard of living. In some cases, it has simply exacerbatted current problems.

Posted by: Chris W at October 9, 2003 04:38 AM

"Why would regular people, either here or abroad, regard growth of a foreign capitalist class as positive if it doesn't cause all boats to rise?"

And if it causes our incomes to decline, not only wouldn't we regard it as positive, but we would completely oppose it. And this is in fact happening.

Posted by: Chris W at October 9, 2003 04:42 AM

godless - point taken, i guess i do have my ideological blinkers on this issue which i always forget to take off everytime certain people personalise the issue against certain groups

Posted by: Jason Soon at October 9, 2003 05:19 AM

I just finished reading Gavin Wright's "Old South, New South", about the economic transformation of the old confederacy after WWII, and it seems to be apropos.

There were no trade barriers whatsoever between the South and the North since the founding of the republic. And yet the South remained stuck in a low-wage, low output state even while the North was undergoing it's industrial revolution. Wright asserts that it wasn't until the New Deal and WWII that federal minimum wages started to undermine the old system (mechanization of the cotton harvest, for example, had never been a big priority while there was a large pool of low-wage labor. When that went away, the pressure to develop picking machines became intense, and in a few decades virtually every acre of cotton was picked by machine)

The point is, economic harmonization followed political harmonization, not the other way around. NAFTA and other free trade pacts will not lead to economic development in the third world (or profitable trade opportunities for us in other than natural resource extraction of low-wage assembly) without a change in the politics of those countries.

Posted by: jimbo at October 9, 2003 06:03 AM

"As soon as a religion comes to dominate it has as its opponents all those who would have been its first disciples" - Freddy Nietzche

Posted by: fredrik at October 9, 2003 07:03 AM

The economics and genetics discussion is all very well but I think it's a bit tangential to the point duende is raising. Do we, as a society, require some kind of baseline agreement on ethical matters? If this baseline is not to come from religion where will it come from? My own answers would be I think so and I don't know.
I have become a tad more hostile to religion is recent months than I had been previously. The US is already the most religious society in the West and yet it's clear that for some fair number of Christians this is not even close to enough. I'm not sure there is any possibility of compromise with the religious.
The problem remains how do we inculcate some modicum of self-restraint and ethics in the population without recourse to religion? Doing it through public education, for instance, places the state in the role of moral arbiter - something I'm distinctly uncomfortable with.

Posted by: John Purdy at October 9, 2003 08:05 AM

Boil it down this way: I'm not at all convinced that fear of going to hell is really what drives even dumb people away from doing bad things.
Duende referred to Japanese people and loss of face, etc - well I think fundamentally it's social pressures and good parenting that make people moral and in Japan that's just more explicit. In the US the churchgoing is assumed to go with the morality because of the afterlife and 'word of God' stuff but maybe the churchgoing goes along with the morality because of the everyday 'face to face' contact with the community stuff. So let's not have any of this either-or stuff - either we maintain a noble lie or the government has to educate us. What makes American churchgoers moral? They care about what their fellow churchgoers think, just like Japanese care about what Japanese think. Also people with a health self esteem care about what they think of themselves. I suspect a healthy self-esteem and/or contact with the community enough that you care what people think about you is what is correlated with moral behaviour

Posted by: Jason Soon at October 9, 2003 08:47 AM

well I think fundamentally it's social pressures and good parenting that make people moral . . .

Social pressures very much so, parenting not so much. Differences in misbehavior are (on average) just about as great within a family as they are in the population at random (if you hold for genes).

I suspect a healthy self-esteem . . . is correlated with moral behaviour

I'll look for a ref, but I think this turns out to be the opposite. People with low self-esteem are more easily socilaized. Psychopaths + sociopaths seem to have quite high self-esteems.

(just jumping in on some particulars . . . agree overall :))

Posted by: Jason M. at October 9, 2003 09:56 AM

Of course churchgoers care what the congregation thinks of them, and that is indeed a factor in urging them toward morality. Wanting others to think well of you is normal and healthy. But gang members want to be well-respected too, so they rob and rape.

Yes, Japanese people care what Japanese think because the Japanese are a kind of big family in a way Americans will never be. Why should an unemployed Hispanic care what I think of him when we share no blood ties, national history, or life experience? Again, I emphasize the role that ethnic homogenity plays here.

Posted by: duende at October 9, 2003 11:33 AM

Also, I don't believe that it is necesarily fear of hell that dissuades stupid religious people from criminality (when they do obey the law). I think that Christianity, at least, as taught to a stupid person offers them a coherent, easily understandable code of ethics. Who else is trying to teach stupid people right from wrong in a way they can understand? Public schools?

Posted by: duende at October 9, 2003 11:41 AM

Japs aren't atheists, they're ancestor worshippers. Up to one-tenth of them practise some Christian rites. Two-thirds of Swedes are "god-believers" who mostly balk at organised religion.

Fr Andrew Greeley, the Catholic sociologist, has concluded that the only country in the world where there is a critical mass of irreconcilable, conscious agnostics and atheists was the former German Democratic Republic.

He discusses hardcore atheism around the planet at:


Posted by: WJ Phillips at October 9, 2003 11:42 AM

Up to one-tenth of them practise some Christian rites.
only if you include the marriage of two non-believers in a for-profit cathedral as a "Christian rite." Catholic and Protestants combined are less than 2% of the population.

Posted by: Eric Lien at October 9, 2003 07:33 PM

I'm a little late arriving but the discussion looked interesting.

It's true Duende. America was more like Japan than it is today when Christianity was more popular in the United States. Take Henry Ford, for instance. He had his employees attend mandatory company picnics and dance the Virginia Reel to instill cultural unity and group harmony. He imposed very rigorous work schedules on his employees and produced a very prosperous company. He generously shared his profits with his employees. At the same time however, profits were not his main concern, rather the greater social good was what he focused on. Sounds a lot like Japan to me. Some people argue that it was Ford and his emphasis on a strong national group identity that, through the financial effect this philosophy had on his own company, led to other companies following his model and in turn building solid middle class jobs out of industrial labor, which would make any kind of class revolution unlikely.

Regardless, I think that what you say about a lower class revolution within our lifetimes is probably incorrect. In the past, these sorts of class revolutions, like the French and Russian revolutions, occurred because of very impoverished conditions. This is not happening in the United States. Even most families who work so hard just to get by are still able to afford luxury items. We would only have a revolution of the type you are talking about in this country if one of three things happened. 1) We have a serious and prolonged economic downturn of the Latin American variety, or 2) People become so mesmerized by commercialism's gotta have it message that they feel they must beat down your door in order to afford that extra pair of Nikes (granted this does happen, but not on so wide a scale), or 3) There are ethnic and racial conflicts that occur as a result of people having it drummed into their heads that all races are the same on the inside, and yet they see that all races do not achieve at the same rate, so therefore the races near the top of the economic ladder, namely the Asians and Caucasians, must be cheating somehow.


Chile is a strange anomaly. I think it might be worth trying to understand how its economic development over the last 40 years has differed from all the other countries in Latin America (as for race, it's largely white). It has a reported corruption rate approximately that of the United States. I also know that Pinochet was good enough to voluntarily allow elections after he got rid of the Communists (which was a prerequisite to Chile's economic growth).

Posted by: Unstoppable at October 12, 2003 11:31 AM