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January 25, 2003

Norah Jones

This LA TIMES article (free registration) asks the "nature vs. nature" question about singer Norah Jones (she had to learn playing the piano and wasn't any prodigy, but has never had singing lessons). Heterosis perhaps?

Posted by razib at 11:06 PM | | TrackBack

Fat chicks

How many euphemisms for "fat" can you spot in this article on "young and chubby" chicks?

"chubby," "curvy," "zaftig," "healthfully big," "rounded feminine beauty ideal,""larger feminine form," "full-figured," "voluptuous," "natural body type."

Ok. Reality check. Five-foot-five and 200 pounds is FAT. You're not a "natural body type;" you're not just big-boned. You're FAT. One girl mentioned how she "dieted to a size 8" and could "see her collarbone" and didn't like it. I'm sorry, honey, but you can see collarbones in NORMAL-SIZED people. I can see my collarbones (I'm 6'2" and 180 lbs). Janell Tatis (5'8" and 170--note--half a foot shorter than me, female and only 10 lbs lighter) "I just look like I eat." No S***, Ms. Sherlock. You eat TOO DAMN MUCH.

This is really a ridiculous article. Of course, to the NYTimes these young women are "empowered" and non-conformist--refusing to slim down for some man (or Western, patriarchal, woman-hating standard of beauty). There are perfunctory references to adult onset diabetes hitting obese teenagers and other health problems associated with being FAT, but in general it's a celebration of fat chicks. Now they have self-esteem in scads and this lovely quality allows them to chow down on the Twinkies. Brilliant.

I'm sorry (to those of you who might fit this definition, and men too) but you're FAT. And being FAT is UNHEALTHY. My tax dollars are going to go to your Medicaid-funded kidney dialysis when you get diabetes. Or your Medicare-funded heart surgery. Or your knee replacements. All because you CAN'T put the chips down and get off your FAT ass and go for a walk.

Screw you.

And to tie this in to gene expression. Yes, I know different body types exist. Yes, I know some people are predisposed to being overweight. You know what? People whose grandparents all died of heart attacks are likely predisposed to heart disease. MAYBE you should look into taking care of your heart if that's the case. Similarly, you should watch your diet and exercise even more if your ancestors are Pima Indians (look it up, it's Saturday, and I'm going out).

God I'm sick and tired of this unjustified "self-esteem" crap.

(yes this applies to guys too, who are sitting around shoving Doritos in their faces and drinking 6-packs of barley pop and weight 215 lbs at 5'9").
(no this doesn't apply to the truly "athletic" body types who are mostly muscle, like the Williams sisters who are mentioned in the article--I'm willing to bet 10 large that the fat chicks they talked to in the article have body fat percentages around 33% and higher, whereas the Williams girls are probably under 20%, and even more likely less than 15%).

Time to go drinking.

Posted by david at 05:47 PM | | TrackBack

January 24, 2003

"Racial Diversity"

Anthropologist Henry Harpending e-mails me the following:

Mitochondrial DNA paints an extreme picture of greater African diversity. It is just one locus and hence expected to be unreliable. Large collections of repeat polymorphisms show that there is a diversity cline away from Africa so that Japanese are about 15% less diverse than Africans, Amerindians maybe 25% less diverse. These are all probably neutral and hence passive indicators of population history.

Khoisan people are, according to their neutral genes, just generic Africans, but they sure don't look anything like [that] to their neighbors. They also have no 7R alleles at the dopamine D4 receptor locus while the frequency in their neighbors is 20%. There are a lot of indications in the genetics literature that a lot of selection is going on in our species, and I expect that the differences in appearance and in DRD4 and in other behaviorally significant loci are maintained by selection in the face of gene flow that has homogenized the neutral genome.

If something like this is going on then we have to rethink our ideas about race or whatever the euphemism of choice is. There may be more to it than Steve's notion [of] race as extended family: what we see with our eyes as races may reflect shared selective regimes, especially sexually selected regimes, rather than only shared common ancestry. That is why I think that the argument about who are the real Europeans is pointless until we know whether we are talking about passive
reflections of shared ancestry or some kind of shared regime of selection.

These considerations also make me less enthusiastic than [name deleted] about what large numbers of SNPs [single nucleotide polymorphism] are going to do for us. It may be that what we really want to know about is shared selective regimes while SNPs will just give us a passive picture of extent of shared ancestry. For example I don't expect that SNPs would help us very much to understand the differences between bulldogs and boxers.


Clarification Let me elaborate with one of Henry's examples of a divergence between the neutral loci that reflect ancestry and those that point to shared selection: the Basques. Henry points that that though the Basque share over 90% of their ancestry with their neighbors according to neutral markers (y chromosome & mtDNA), they are over 50% Rh-, far higher than the surrounding populations. How did this happen?

While neutral markers would tend to "blend," causing gentle clines (what you see in Cavalli-Sforza's colored-coded maps), selectively influenced loci, whether adaptive, sexual or otherwise, would have sharper gradients. So, each generation there might have been 1% intermarriage between non-Basques and Basques, but those with Rh incompatibilities suffered far higher miscarriage rates, because the Basque were mostly Rh- to begin with. The non-Basque who were Rh compatible were more likely to pass on their genes, which matched the Basque norm. On the other hand, they would also pass on their neutral markers, which would tend to shift the Basque haplotype frequencies more toward their neighbors. It seems likely that sexual selection also plays a role-for instance, skin color differences of great range between groups that are putatively close.

This is a complicated topic, and I'm sure I'm garbling Henry's presentation, but it could explain anomalies like the fact that white looking Brazilians have so many non-white neutral genes, there is sexual selection going on to preserve a certain phenotype. It also is an explanation for the fact that though the Khoisan look far different from their Bantu-speaking neighbors, their neutral genes indicate them to be close relatives-adaptive and sexual pressures differentiated the two populations despite convergence and blending of their neutral genes.

So I suppose one can ask, let us say you have individual A, B and C. A & B are cousins, but diverge sharply in a host of phenotypes, while A & C are close matches-perhaps close enough that many would think them siblings though they lack much shared ancestry (relatively speaking). An ancestral relationship would give a false impression of congruency between individuals A & B, while ignoring the similarities between A & C. The key is probably to simply not use any one standard universally, in populations effected by the same selective pressures ancestry is still important. But where a whole host of phenotypic traits tend to separate two groups with a recent ancestral history, we might be inclined to be more careful about using neutral markers to guide us.

Remember, if we are using “race” as a tool to aid in evaluating social policy or medical decisions, it makes little difference what method we use as long as we achieve some utility. Imagine as one last example, three populations, X, Y and Z. X & Y have recent shared ancestry, but Y & Z have adapted to similar local conditions. The pathogenic environments of Y & Z have pushed them toward similar phenotypes with selective pressures having resulted in the latter two groups being exclusively of one blood group. If the X population that is ancestrally close to Y still has a diverse mixture of blood groupings, we should ignore shared ancestry if looking to make life or death decisions on transfusions where we had blood shortages and could not test for immune matches-we might assume a priori that Y & Z would be matches, excluding those from group X.

Those who assert that "race" is absurd indicate that there is a "tall race" and a "short race," a "straight hair race" and a "curly hair race." Those of us who do not totally discard the concept rebut that race has utility, that phenotype tends to match genotype, and certain populations cluster together. I am not denying that. But human beings are not a unitary whole-we are as Dawkins et. al. would say a mob of myriad genes, our bodies are simply vehicles for their perpetuation. The mob dictates to us the facts on the ground, and often our own concepts, reflecting our emphasis on the individual as the atomic unit of organization and classification, do not map so well and encapsulate the nuances that nature has imparted to us. All we can do is muddle onward....

Posted by razib at 09:19 PM | | TrackBack

January 23, 2003

Hix from the Stix & Boyz from the Hood @ Yale

Nick Kristoff, my fellow Imblerian, has a vapid and shallow article on affirmative action up:

It also made sense to accept me over a more qualified applicant from Bronx Science: It's good for colleges to have hicks from the sticks, to tease city slickers and coach them on the differences between a gilt, a barrow and sows that farrow. And it's even more important to have black students in those late-night dorm discussions; how can college graduates understand the world and have intelligent views on racial matters (such as affirmative action) if they've never mixed with people of other races?

Nick plays up the fact that GW wouldn't have made it into Yale on merits alone. Probably not. But though that is a point to bring up-that does not negate the position that affirmative action does not do justice to the principle of a meritocracy. As they say-two wrongs don't make a right. Also, I am interested where Nick thinks black students are widening horizons and opening the dialogue. Let me be frank: the identity politics on campuses creates hermetically sealed social units that have highly formalized and artificial style of communication. In other words-you can go four years in college not getting to know black kids (or white kids) because political correctness tends to restrict what one can explore, and inhibitions created by sensitivity conditioning tends to dampen down the give & take that normally occurs in relaxed social settings. I went to a relatively non-selective college, and even there it occurred. I can't imagine what it must be like at highly selective schools where underrepresented minorities are simply not in the same class as other students-and everyone knows it.

On Nick's point about urban vs. rural, this sort of back & forth does occur-I went to a rural high school in eastern Imbler, and was the "dorm hick" so to speak. But the urban vs. rural chasm is not as stark, not institutionally formalized, so there was no great tension when someone accused me of swinging up to Oregon State University's ag science department to do the deed with some form of even-toed-ungulate. I laughed it off, what else could I expect from jaded city kids from the suburbs of Portland? :)

A final note, as far as affirmative action in higher education goes, private universities can go ahead and practice it, though the diversion of public funds might be cause for concern, but I see no reason that state supported universities should stand for it. State colleges should concentrate on producing professionals with marketable skills-this is explicit in the Land Grant schools, but implicit in the idea of public support for higher education generally, for it will only go to a minority of any generation (to some extent, the working class that pays taxes is partially subsidizing the training of those who might be their future doctors, accountants and engineers). The problem with affirmative action at highly selective state schools is that the kids who get in under quota targets aren't prepared for academically demanding subjects. So you end up with the creation of "Studies" that focus in on ethnicity, gender, etc. utilizing the full array of post-modern hocus pocus to make sure that they graduate since no one is expected to be rigorous and intelligible anyway (defining deviancy downward so to speak). So state universities end up churning out the next generation of racial activists, not the practical professionals they were intended to produce. (this is not limited to the United States, Malaysia for instance churns out plenty of Malays with Islamic Studies degrees-laudable for the hereafter, but rather useless unless you can get a position as an Islamic judge in some woman-stoning backwater)

Posted by razib at 09:58 PM | | TrackBack

Christianity & liberalism-the wide view

[finally I'm commencing my multi-part series on liberalism and various world cultures. I am starting with the possible Christian origins of liberalism, but will eventually venture toward the topic of Islam and the future liberalism that might grow out of Confucian values in China. From now on, I will use liberal in the broad-sense mode. In the West we are all liberals now....]

Please note that my responses to comments from my last related post on this topic is in the extended entry portion-I'll probably continue that with this series....

Is liberalism contingent upon Christianity? Is Christianity contingent upon liberalism? Do the two spring from a common-source, or is it simple coincidence that a Christian civilization was instrumental in the birth & maturation of the liberal idea?

Please note carefully how I phrased it, I said a Christian civilization, not the Christian civilization. Though Christianity and the West are synonymous, this was not always so. Before the Papacy's ascendance in the High Middle Ages, the period between 600 (the end of Gregory the Great's time-the Pope who became more than first among equals and planted the seeds that become the great forest of the modern Papacy) and 1100 was marked by a contest of wills between two great Christian civilizations.

In the West, the Church looked to Augustine & Ambrose and was given the task of civilizing the barbarian tribes that had settled amongst the ruins of the Pax Romana. In the East, New Rome (Constantinople) became Byzantium, and the disputes between Athanasius & Arius and their theological scions echoed down through the centuries until Mehmet the Conqueror cut the last strand of political continuity with the ancient Roman civilization. The connection between the two halves of Christendom was as intimate as it was conflicted. There were several periods when a vigorous Emperor of the Romans attempted to extend the Caesaro-Papist tendencies of Constantinople to the West, appointing Popes they attempted to manipulate like puppets [1]. Invariably the Bishop of Rome would rebel against these machinations, and after the crystallization of semi-civilized proto-national elites among the Germanic nobility of the West the Emperor of the Greeks found himself contested by rivals that could act as counter-points which the western Church used to its advantage in securing its independence.

The relatively close relationship that the current Pope is attempting to forge between modern Catholicism and Orthodoxy attests to the fact that though no longer in communion, their roots are intertwined in the deep soil of shared history, fertilized by generations of blood shed and commingled (the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches are both heirs to the blood of the martyrs). The Melkite (Uniate) Catholic churches of the Eastern Rite that submit to the authority of Rome preserve their own traditions within the broad umbrella of the theoretically Universal Church. Eastern Christianity is no less authentic than that of the West. It is not viewed with the same horror as Protestantism (by traditional Catholics at least), for though it is a misguided path, it was never a violent rebellion against Rome, for Rome never truly ruled it. Christ died upon the cross and was resurrected for the Christians of the East as well as the West. The Orthodox accept almost every ancient theological position that the Catholic Church holds, and truth be told, much of the theological formula common to mainstream Christianity issued out of the philosophically inclined minds of the eastern Churchmen such as Origen & Athanasius (aside from the filioque, the supposed reason for the original schism) [2]. No one can deny that the East is as authentically Christian as the culture of the West, and in many ways an unreconstructed distillation of the Apostolic tradition, untouched by the vicissitudes of the Reformation and shielded from the Enlightenment by Turkish and Russian despotism [3].

And yet, the Orthodox Christian civilization, starting from the same theological premises as that of the West, never developed liberalism. In fact some have asserted Orthodox cultures have an anti-democratic orientation (Samuel Huntington distinguishes Orthodox civilization from that of the West). It was perhaps under the influence of the model of absolute Byzantine autocracy (the Emperor was often termed "Autocrat") that the Russian Czars become the despots they were, for the origins of the original Rurikid dynasty in Kiev was more Germanic (the Swedish Vikings that followed the courses of the Volga and Dnieper south) and might have been progenitors of a more decentralized political tradition if they had followed Poland into the Western Church (of course, the Orthodox political culture of Novgorad was far more free-wheeling than that of Moscow-if Novgorad and not Moscow had risen to preeminence, the Russian political tradition might have been very different and we might not speak of an anti-democratic Orthodox orientation).

The example of Byzantium suggests that political freedom is not an inevitable product of putative salvation bequeathed by civilizational (or individual) baptism. One can be born into slavery, suffer tyranny and die without experiencing personal autonomy, and still be saved by the grace of God so long as the masters of the temporal realm distribute knowledge of the Word (South America and Africa attest to this contemporaneously, while most of Christian history witnesses it as well).

But the cold grey vision of the second Rome was restricted only to the eastern half of the Christian tradition [4]. It is in the West that we look for the seeds of liberalism. Christianity may still be a contingent variable without which liberalism may not take root, but I think we have established that it is not the sole variable-Christianization does not lead to inevitable liberalism.

After I read The West and The Rest by Roger Scruton, it seemed clear the importance of the corporation was paramount in the decentralization of power and the emergence of the individual safeguarded by multiple strands of jurisdiction within the context of a real nation-state (real and false nations are crucial to Scruton’s extended argument, which is not especially original, though his treatment is perhaps more entertaining than others). While in the East the church was subordinate to the whims of the monarch, in the West Charlamagne's bequest of some temporal power to the Pope and the later reforms that strengthened the Church under Hildebrand allowed the sacred to carve out an independent place for itself in the power structure [5]. This precedent of a "non-governmental organization" seems likely to be important for the development of other sectors of civil society, the guilds and the free cities in which they took root.

Additionally, the sanction that the Church gave to individual rulers, and the nations that they ruled, allowed western Europe to accept the idea of multiple loci of power, while in Islam all rulers considered themselves heir to the Caliphal mantle and would battle until their competitors were eliminated (analogously the Byzantine contenders all vied for the purple, because the Emperor was still in theory & practice the Universal Monarch, in contrast the Holy Roman Emperor was elective and sanctioned by the moderating influence of an independent Church which both gave legitimacy and withheld the blessing of absolutism). The idea of feudalism, and the complex interconnection of relationships between the various estates that distributed power, perhaps maintained the modus vivendi in western Europe of a plurality of states both in practice and in theory. On an aside, it must be noted that Tang China between 600 and 850 was witness to the growth and rise of an enormously wealthy Buddhist clerical establishment that served as a rival power structure to the Son of Heaven. But, as Tang China was a unitary state in contrast to western Europe during the High Middle Ages, the temporal powers were able to dispossess the Buddhist monasteries of their wealth around 850 and de-frocked hundreds of thousands of monks and nuns in an effort to free up labor and wealth that would allow greater taxable revenues to be mobilized in the defense of the state (this was a stop-gap that did not halt the dynasty's fortunes of course).

In Europe the Catholic Church managed to find champions among the various monarchs, and so was never bullied and expelled from the public arena in a like manner-the original legal fiction of Church independence in the time of Constantine (who dictated the convening of the Nicene Council) later become the reality with the decline of the Universal Empire (this a qualified assertion, the bullying of the Papacy by a united front of Catholic monarchs has occurred, see the history of the Jesuits for instance). It is often asserted as a truism that while impersonal Roman Law was not vigorous enough to resuscitate the Roman Empire, the Confucian tradition of personal judgement by a Mandarin elite unified by a common classical education was able to reunify China and recreate their Golden Age. But while the Roman state continued only in the form of a ghost, its cultural influence as a binding glue between the various ethnos and later states balanced with a new state of de facto political pluralism was more fruitful in the long term.

The web spun by the West, a multifaceted nexus of religion, historical happenstance, geography and tribe is very difficult to untangle. I can not even enumerate the many times I have disputed with those that make a strong case for the overwhelming importance of Christianity in setting the context for the liberal order. And yet these same individuals can not dispute that historically Christianity has been used to justify every political arrangement possible, and for periods of time abetted autocracy. As a theoretical assertion, the enlightened and liberal Caesar and Christ have little to do with each other. But, Christianity does not exist in isolation from the culture around it, and vice versa. I think a compelling, entertaining, though never overwhelming, case can be made for Christianity's importance in the formation of the liberal idea. The more practical question is this, those of us who are liberals, both Christian and non-Christian, must ask ourselves, should we promote Christianization of cultures that are historically despotic? As a secularist, I could not make an argument sincerely for the Christianization of a culture based on the assumption that that was salvation's road-but perhaps I could make one on the hunch that liberalism might never take root, that freedom would never flourish, without a phase where the culture, and populace, were scaffolded and guided by the Christian idea.

But the problem is it seems no more than a hunch at this point. We have yet to see how the experiments with democracy that predominantly non-Christian societies such as Korea, Japan and Taiwan are making will play out [6]. I see little indication that the accelerating Christianization of many African states is leading to democratization (most of the African elite was Church educated, and even those with Marxist ties like Robert Mugabe rarely leave the churches of their youth, he is for instance still a practicing Methodist from what I know). Social conservatives should remember that conversion to Christianity can have disruptive consequences for a society, and we should proceed with some caution (I believe that traditional African religious practices, for all their superstition, have had some value in maintaining a reasonable social equilibrium on the continent of man's origin. Obviously they are not appropriate to a modern lifestyle, but the wholesale Christianization that many African nations have undergone seems to have caused problems as well. The questions are always simple, the answers always complicated, alas)

If one argues that the Church(es) serve as conduits for social values of the West, and so can serve as crucial mediating forces for civilization (liberal that is), one must not forget that the Christianity is changing (mutating?) culturally before our very eyes-as Africans, Latin Americans and Asians become a greater portion of the flock. Anyone that observes this will understand that something far more profound than syncretism is going on, rather, though the theological premises of the Church Fathers of the first centuries of Christian the Era are being retained in full, the cultural accreta accumulated after the acceptance of the Church as a hallmark of Roman culture is being jettisoned as superfluous to the practice of genuine Christianity. To me, that is the most ominous point, for I suspect it is the accreta, the cultural adaptation of Christianity to Roman, and later Germanic, culture, and the historical experiences that were internalized through the centuries of Christian coevolution with Europe, that holds the key to liberalism if Christianity is what is necessary to unlock the genius of liberty within man.

[Next: zooming in on the possible Protestant & British (never forget the Scots!) roots of liberalism]

[1] Justinian II early in the 8th century being a prime example.
[2] I mean by "Orthodox" the churches of the Chalcedonian tradition, the Monophysites or the Nestorians, who have parallel histories and divergent traditions. Neither of the latter two developed full blown civilizations, but rather were swallowed by the Dar-al-Islam rather early.
[3] The archaic mindset of the eastern church explains the petty behavior of various patriarchs in response to ecumenical gestures by the Pope in Rome, their memories are long and they still whisper in their hearts "better the turban than the tiara." Also, the stain of anti-Semitism is much darker upon the modern Eastern Church than that of the West-perhaps explaining some of the attitudes common in Russia (though Jew-hatred seems directly proportional to the number of Jews in the local area).
[4] Cold & grey only in the political context, I do not deny the richness of Byzantine iconography or the vigor of their monastic traditions.
[5] On a whimsical aside, perhaps it was an accident of geography and history that dictated the contrasting fate of the two halves of Christianity. The preeminent see of Eastern Christendom was in Constantinople (Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem were the other traditional centers of the Church), where also resided the Emperor. But after the crushing of the Ostrogoths by Belisarius during the reign of Justinian the Great, Italy become politically fractured, and the center of gravity of Western political power was always in Germany, France, Spain or Britain. In pre-modern times the geographical separation between temporal and sacral powers might have been crucial in cleaving the Church & State.
[6] Christians are influential in all three of these states to various degrees. The last three presidents of Korea, and the last autocrat that ruled that state, as well as the first post-World War II dictator, were Christian (the last two are Roman Catholic, a small minority that is generally over-represented on the political Left). Taiwan's first three presidents were Christians, Chiang Kai-Shek and his son, as well as Lee Teng-Hui. The current president is a Buddhist, though his background in the dissident movement indicates that he will continue the liberal arc of Taiwanese political culture. Japan is a very non-Christian secular culture, but Christians have traditionally been influential. Many of the women in the Imperial family, including Empresses, were Christian for much of the 20th century. In contrast to most other neo-Christian subcultures, Japanese Christians have tended toward theologically liberal denominations, and even quasi-Christian ones such as Unitarianism. So again, the Japanese are a special case. These three cases, though short-term in their historical scope and mild (to various degrees) in their cultural depth, seem to imply that a Christianized elite or class can serve as an entry-point into a traditionally non-Western culture for liberal values. On one small note-many Americans seem under the impression that Korea is a Christian country, but the last numbers I saw indicated that 25% of Koreans were Christian, 25% Buddhist, and 50% non-affiliated. Most Korean-Americans are Christian, and Seoul is a disproportionately Christian city (while Pusan is a mostly Buddhist city).

I think he misses something here. If all life is equally sanctified, than there is nothing special about humanity - a human being has no more or less relevance than a caterpillar. Christianity preaches that man is at the top of the heirarchy of creation and that man is individually accountable to God. This seems to me to be hugely differerent - and more conducive to liberalism - from Buddism.

Posted by jimbo at January 14, 2003 06:39 AM

I believe that the Indian religions have a spectrum of value. They are monistic. All life is a reflection of the One in Neo-Platonic parlance. Humanity is the apex of worldly life-and in Hinduism Brahmins and gurus are the apex of humanity. In Buddhism you also have the concept of Boddhisatva-a god-like being still subject to Karma, but of super-human powers and inclinations.

Also-Islam, Judaism and Confuncianism also hold man as the apex of Creation (though Confucianism has no Creation Myth). In Islam and Judaism it could be argued that man is accountable to God as well.

It could also be argued that the protestantism is somehow more "rational" than Catholicism. But there were/are some pretty nutty protestant sects and Catholicism today is far less anti-scientific than Southern Baptists and some other sects.

Protestantism is hard to generalize, so be careful here. Southern Baptists are "less scientific," but Congregationalists, and Unitarians (who come out of the Congregationalist tradition in the United States) are more open to science than Roman Catholics.

It may that Eastern religions reflecting the collective effort of higher IQ individuals anticipates conclusions of Western science. Or it could be that since liberalism contains the notion of a soul axiomatically in its development ("endowed by their creator," evolution, "with certain inalienable rights"), that there really is such a thing as a soul. (Think of liberalism as a pragmatic, real world experiment of the hypothesis of the existence of the soul. It's worked, therefore there must be a soul.)

Posted by Steve at January 14, 2003 10:05 AM

Remember that "Eastern religions," and to lesser extent Western religions too, exist in different forms in various levels of society. Ergo, the contrast between intellectual and folk Buddhism, or philosopical and religious Taoism.

Christianity tees up the ball for liberalism from its morality and its assertion that all men are equal in the sight of God, not from its theology or any religious dogmas about the soul (which in traditional thought is basically the mind, i.e. mind==spirit==soul==consciousness.), or man's place in the order of things.

Yes-and Stoics assert that all men have the divine spark. Muslims believe that all men are nothing in the sight of Allah. Buddhists believe that all men can attain Enlightenment if they follow the correct path.

As per other religions and the like, I don't think that even if they sort of follow something like the Golden Rule, none of them are as spare about it, i.e unlike Christianity where the GR is all that there is, there are lots of other religious commandments that come along with it that aren't deducible from the GR alone, and they get in the way as far as adopting the Social Contract. Razib I'm sure knows Islam better than I ever will, but I get the distinct impression, that there are a lot of moral commandments in Islam that wouldn't be deducible from the GR.

There is probably something to this-Paul's emphsis on the spirit rather than the letter of the law probably helped in allowing Christianity to redefine itself in changing political and social conditions. But other religions-Buddhism for instance, have shown themselves to be highly flexible as well. Scruton in The West and the Rest emphasises the idea of Christian forgiveness and special, and that is likely true. But if you look toward a general idea of morality and goodness, Confucianism, with its concepts of jen (good-heartedness) also can serve as a model, for it was highly adaptable for 2,000 years.

This is already pretty long, I do think that it's no accident that liberalism started in a Protestant country, and that Protestant country was England, though once developed was easily portable to Catholic ones, and some non-Christian ones. Maybe I'll expound on that later, if properly motivated.


Was it more exportable to Catholic countries? Spain and Italy aren't that far ahead of say Japan in terms of their democratic experiments (the pre-World War II versions, just like Japan's, devolved into autocracies). France has shifted wildy in various directions since the French Revolution.

Here's the interesting thing for me: can liberalism survive without the social capital generated by an underlying Christian structure? It's something that has long interested me. I myself am not a believer, but I was brought up in a solidly religious (mainline protestant) household. Although I intellectually reject the teachings of Christianity, I realize that my basic ideas about morality are based on that foundation. Maybe it's because I've seen the self-destructive behavior of friends without that kind of upbringing, but I wonder if you need an essectially irrational social foundation to sustain a rational society...

Posted by jimbo at January 14, 2003 02:53 PM

All cultures have morality. I believe that much of "Christian morality" is based upon a common biological foundation of "right" or "wrong." Religion simply reappropriates what is already there (I am not saying man is "good" or "bad"-I am simply saying that evolutionary psychology indicates that there is a universal morality which all faiths and systems will tap into and sacralize).

The gap between "shame" and "guilt" cultures is interesting though (non-West vs. West).

Lots of good stuff here, as always; I would mention only the possibility that a liberal political order arose where it did because of the "optimal fragmentation" of Europe and the character of both societies, Christian and pagan, that were in contact there -- a case of a "verge" producing something which neither could have produced alone.
(See http://accounting-net.actg.uic.edu/Articles/Management%20Accounting/The%20Ideal%20Form%20of%20Organization%20-%20Dec%2012%2000%20-%20WSJ.htm for Jared Diamond on optimal fragmentation.)

Posted by Jay Manifold at January 14, 2003 04:57 PM

Very good point. General enough also to have some truth.

The pagan influence on Christianity is obvious too, which makes it more easily adaptable to different cultures and different times and allows for equalizing mythologies to develop. An example is the emergence of the Virgin as major theme in Western art and consciousness around the 12th century, which may have played a moralizing force on Christianity[1]. Christian artists also captured and explored the human condition in all its pathos and tragedy, while Islam hypnotized itself with geometric abstractions. As a memetic organism, Christianity is a more clever adaptation to humans than what appears a more rigid Islam.

I don't know if it's more clever memetically than Islam-Muslims kill all those who convert other religions traditionally :)

I don’t think it had anything to do with Protestantism itself – the Church of England was more a political calculation than a theological schism.

Not strictly true-the Church of England was a latitudinarian one-with Calvinists (Low Church) and Catholics (High Church Arminians) and Liberals (Broad Church).

Posted by Steve at January 14, 2003 08:15 PM

I wonder how seriously most mainline Christians take the idea of Jesus' divinity. My guess is that a good many pay it lip service, but that the belief itself is really quite inconsequential to their general views on life.

I tend to agree here. Remember though that few people think their faith through in a rational manner like say Aquinas-rather it is more of custom, habit and tradition. Your parent's faith is the #1 reason you will be of a certain faith.

Steve, there is absolutely nothing irrational about anything in Christianity at all. An irrational thing is logically impossible, i.e. a square circle or a married bachelor. Christianity violates many tenets of materialist dogma but there isn't anything logically necessary about materialist dogma. A Richard Dawkins can say Christianity is irrational all he wants, but that just isn't so, maybe someone should buy him a dictionary.

This is not strictly true. Depends on your conception of Christianity. For instance, to be overly simple.

A) God is perfect-all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful
B) The Bible is the literal Word of God (inspired directly)
C) The Bible has contradictions and inaccuracies

This God seems absurd then. You can change the definition, and remove B) and save your God, but this shows how Christianity can be irrational. The more standard arguments about God have to do with logical impossibilites in his definition and what not-the Argument Against God from Incoherency

Also, the pagan influence on Christianity amounts to stealing feast days along with there customs and renaming them and that's about it. Some Christian feast days and feast day customs might be borrowed but Christian doctrine isn't (except from Judaism of course).

This is debatable. Where do you get the Trinity? Where is it in the Bible? (Newton thought it was a pagan insertion into Christianity) Neo-Platonism obviously influenced Augustine, and therefore Christian doctrine. Aquinas drank heavily on Aristotle, and Summa Theologia is now official doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Ressurection of the body is Hebraic, the non-corporeal soul is Greek, ergo pagan. Where is the divine logos in the original Hebraic tradition of the Church? Heaven seems more like Elysium than the numinous Sheol of Jewish tradition (please note that many pagan concepts also influenced Judaism, even the anti-Hellenists among the Pharisees).

Jesus was born of a virgin, by coincidence, many pagan cults also featured this (pre-Christian ones).

Angels, heaven & hell come from Zoroastrianism via Pharisaec Judaism.

Christianity was a product of its culture-a pagan culture.

Also, I agree with you that Protestant theology had nothing to do with the rise of liberalism, but Calvinist church governance, i.e. the minister serves at the pleasure of the congregation, did. Kings and bishops go together, and in England the Calvinists were the most democratic since this was 'normal' for them, that's how they ran their churches. If the preacher serves at the pleasure of the congregation, why not Caesar also ? Also I left out another liberal hotbed, Holland, which was every bit as liberal as England and predates England in this, though it produced no political philosophers. But England did add the last piece of the liberal puzzle, religious toleration (anything other than Calvinism was illegal in Holland while it became liberal in everything else).

If there was no religious toleration in Holland why did the Sephardic Jews flee there from Spain? The Calvinists had supremacy, but Catholics have always existed as a minority in there-as have Jews. Also, the religious philosopher Arminius was Dutch, and he effected the Anglican Church greatly in the early 17th century, leading to much of the disputes between the followers of Bishop Laud (who favored Arminianism) and the Calvinists.

Posted by j mct at January 15, 2003 08:52 PM

I just don't have time to comment on all the great posts on the board. Keep up the good work!

Posted by razib at 01:35 AM | | TrackBack

Chapelle's Show

Dave Chapelle debuted with his sketch comedy series on Comedy Central tonight. There was a really funny sketch where he broke a lot of taboos, using the work "nigger" many, many times-even uttered by the guy (white) who is a narrator for Frontline. The context is a documentry about a white supremacist author who turns out to be a black guy (Dave Chapelle) who has lived an isolated life in a blind community where he was raised to think he was white (and everyone else also thinks he's white-all are blind). By the end of the show Chapelle finds out that he's black after he takes off his hood & cape at a white supremacist rally (the head of one of his acolytes explodes in shock). The narrator explains at the end that he is now "...learning to deal with his blackness, and has divorced his wife of 19 years." The reason? The narrator relates that Chapelle's character told them, "She was a nigger lover."

Posted by razib at 12:41 AM | | TrackBack

January 22, 2003

Upon the cross He died to save us from Racism and Death

VDare had a great piece the other day on the image of Martin Luther King. In Gottfried's view, the MLK has become the new redemptive martyr for secularized Christians. As for claiming that life wasn't so bad under segregation, I'm skeptical. But here's a great quote from Brimelow's introduction:

"I don't think King can bear the symbolic weight our interlocutor wants not merely because of King’s personal failings (adultery, plagiarism, fellow-traveling etc.) but also because he quite probably didn't believe all that tactical color-blind rhetoric himself.

Posted by duende at 06:52 AM | | TrackBack

January 21, 2003

Onward Righteous Soldiers!

Human Shields are going to Iraq! Here is a TODO list for Human Shields:

* Congo (Rebels eating pygmies)
* Nepal (Maoist conflict)
* Zimbabwe (Shonas starving Matabeles)
* Indonesia (the army killing partially Melanesian Christians in the east and Muslim whack-jobs in Aceh)
* India (Kashmir)
* China (Xinjiang)
* Russia (Chechnya, the winters there are a bitch)
* Solomon Islands (probably eating each other because of civil war & natural disaster)
* Every other African country
* Every third Asian country
* Detroit, MI (50% illiterate, as many pit bulls as people)

Why aren't there Human Shields in all these places? I mean, I'm sure the Ugandan-backed rebels in the Congo would MUCH rather eat fatty hunks of white meat rather than stringy pygmy.

The truth is, colored killing colored (and eating colored sometimes) isn't that big of a deal to the First World Left. The white man is held to a higher standard of morality-just as a white wife beater is held to a higher standard than an Arab wife beater (you need to kill the Arab woman to get the same level of outrage).

Not that only the Left engages in this. I've shut my eyes to the Israeli-Arab conflict because when I was reading The Economist in the fall of 2000, and the front page was about the Israeli-Arab conflict, tucked in the Africa section was a small article mentioning in passing that 200-300 people had died that day because of fighting in Kisingani.

Let's just be open and honest about the reality of the kind of life we value. If the American government decided to bomb the rebels in Congo so they might stop their meals of "pygmy rump roast"-I guarantee you Human Shields and Leftists of many stripes would protest that we should "give peace a chance" and "allow negotiations to work themselves out" (I can imagine it-"More pygmies will die of US bombing that in all the months they've been hunted and cooked over the open flame!"). The touch of the white man's oppression is what gives value to the life of the colored.

Oh, and by the way, I would really respect the Human Shield types if they decided to go the Congo, since they would have an incentive to stop the fighting, their fat white asses might be too tempting for the rebel troops if they didn't manage to demobalize them....

And for the record, I don't give a fuck about Iraq. I just want it over with so the economic markets are a bit less volatile, that's all I really care about, honestly.

If 10,000 people died in Ghana because of a genocide, I would spend 15 minutes reading about it and go on to dinner. If my roommate had a really bad flu, I'd take 30-45 minutes and go to Fred Meyer and get him some medicine. Now, if 100,000 people died in Ghana, some inner analog compassion counter would probably kick in, perhaps because 100,000 seems like a large number, $100,000 being a lot. I might go to a candle-lit vigil. If it wasn't too cold. And half the time I went to rallies and vigils in college was to impress some moronic chick (and don't get on my case for being OK with stupidity as far as chicks are concerned-godless shit on me about that constantly). I bet you that over half the guys that show up to those things are thinking more about "getting some" than helping the oppressed. It's like the political equivalent of a chick flick, we'll go, but only because....

Posted by razib at 04:25 PM | | TrackBack

Cletus, not Leroy, bleeds on the fields of battle for you!

It is rural southerners that fight on the front-lines, not blacks, says this story:


* Of the Army's 45,586 enlisted combat infantryman, 10.6% are black.

* Of the Air Force's 12,000 pilots, 245, or about 2%, are black.

* In the Navy, 2.5% of the pilots are black.

Senior Air Force officials say they are troubled by the number of black pilots and plan to do better.

OK, so now, the story indicates that blacks gravitate toward non-combat positions so they can aquire marketable skills, while putting them on the front-lines puts them at more risk. So, isn't it "racist" to encourage black soldiers to be at the front-lines, instead of allowing them to build skills for the civilian sector? Or is it "racist" to let them be stereotyped as paper pushers? Hmmm....

Posted by razib at 01:07 PM | | TrackBack

Affirmative action-brown style

Over at Dancing With Dogs Shanti (her name means "Peace" if my brown-speak memory is correct) has a great post on anti-upper-caste affirmative action in India:

Let me make this a little clearer - my husband had to get a rank of 486 out of the hundreds of thousands of people who wrote the exam with him, to barely make it into computer engineering at a local university - his classmate? a girl with 16000 rank, who happened to hit the double jackpot, since she also belonged to the lowest of low castes as they are categorized. Did she deserve it? She failed every subject in the finals in her first year, except English - she took between 5 and 6 years to complete a 4-year course. Poor thing! she must have been so poor...hold it - she was rich enough to attend one of the best private schools that money could buy for her high school education....

Let me make also it clear-as someone from a Muslim background, I find caste abhorrent. I've gotten on Hinduism's case because frankly it makes a rather poor showing in terms of preventing its own marginalized members from jumping ship for Islam or Christianity (and I'm not a big fan of the Abrahamic god as most of you know). But despite past and present injustices non-upper-castes in India have to endure, quotas that establish different rules for various castes will institutionalize caste distinctions for future generations (assume that a Brahmin marries a Dalit, and their child marries a Brahmin, will the 1/4 Dalit taint be enough that this 3/4 Brahmin individual competes in the pool with Dalits?).

Esteem from upper-castes will be earned only through enduring the high standards set for others and succeeding against odds. Affirmative action only reinforces stereotypes and prejudices when applied beyond the most ginger levels, it perpetuates itself and continues to self-generate the social injustice that its existence is contingent on. Over the generations, Dalits and "Other Backward Castes" will become masters of the skills of government manipulation-their children will know that they must prepare themselves for a different set of standards than their classmates [1]. They will start (and are) packing the bureaucracy because the private sector will assume that Dalits and "Other Backward Castes" that graduate with engineering degrees are morons that can't hack it in comparison to their upper-caste colleagues that received no preferences [2].

Sound familiar?

[1] Just like the United States where the term "people of color" has expanded affirmative action beyond blacks, other non-upper caste groups besides Dalits are clamoring for quotas, and quite often because of their greater social standing manage to get more resources from the government.

[2] The grotesque level of quotas that India seems to have established simply makes rational discrimination a necessity for private sector firms from what I can see. By this, I mean that even if a Dalit engineer is competant, they will be discriminated against because the vast majority of Dalit's are so below-standard that it makes more sense in terms of Human Resource man-hours to eliminate all Dalits out of the candidate pool. By further explication: if quotas were dropped, and the % of Dalits from an engineering school dropped to .5% from 15%, I would not be surprised if the number of Dalits hired increased in the private sector, because those .5% would be at the same level as their classmates. On the other hand, if the 15% quota was continued, than the other 14.5%, over 96% of the Dalit graduates, would be simply not worth the effort to take on or possibly even interview. The cost might be too high to look for the 1 out of 30 that would be worth hiring. On the other hand, the majority of the 85% that were admitted without quotas would almost all fit minimum requirements.

Posted by razib at 12:34 PM | | TrackBack

Back @ you!

Some call all who speculate on the interplay of our biological heritage and social policy "racist" (even one as benign as E. O. Wilson was so accused). I now want to add another word to the lexicon-something that we realists can throw back at the tabula rasa utopians-rasist. And the dogmatic-and social harmful adherence to-belief in the tabula rasa is of course "rasism."

Posted by razib at 02:40 AM | | TrackBack

January 20, 2003

Get Smart

Ron Bailey has an important article on boosting mental performance and enhancing stability.

Posted by razib at 01:08 PM | | TrackBack

January 19, 2003

HTML comments are ON again

Turned on HTML comments...hope everyone remembers to close their tags from now on :)

Posted by razib at 12:22 PM | | TrackBack


I was going to start my first post for Gene Expression with the more clinical-sounding Prostitution and Genes but I thought that might not get people's attention.

I invite the other contributors and commenters of Gene Expression to consider the issue of sex enslavement in terms of human biodiversity. Jim Henley and Lynxx Pherrett are having a civilized and enlightening disagreement about the issue. Jim, as honorable a non-interventionist as I can think of (Lew Rockwell being the opposite), thinks that foreign "peacekeeping forces" cause, or at least greatly facilitate, the evil practice. But Lynxx points out In general, importation is driven more by ethnic issues than economic ones: it's bad form to enslave locals, no matter what the economic range of the clientele. So Henley's assertion that "Local militias were not importing women from other countries to enslave" before the arrival of NATO is probably bunk. There where probably plenty of Bosnian girls shipped to the brothels of Belgrade before the intervention.

I think that you can probably find a midpoint where the two apparently opposite views intersect. Foreign peacekeepers (read: horny foreign men either too young to have formed families, or separated from families) in effect create the same situation as importing foreign women into a developed country. You have the combustible intersection of young, nubile, vulnerable females without the traditional protections of family* with sexually hungry males. Bad combination for all concerned, especially the girls. A female body in this situation is reduced to a commodity to be trafficked. It's easier for a man to think of a foreign girl this way. In fact, for a man to think of "one of his own" in such a commodified fashion would be unthinkable.

Question: is reducing sex to an impersonal transactional act a means of facilitating gene flow from isolated communities? After all, Lynxx keeps referring to these gender-neutral laws about "Trafficking in Persons" but most of the persons being trafficked are fertile young women, not boys. Clean up your minds: my reference to boys has nothing to do with sex. If we are talking about slavery here, and if the developed world is so insatiable for cheap labor, then why not traffic even more in young men, who are capable of doing all the developed world's dirty work as slaves, rather than just cheap labor? Because what we are talking about here is sex, not just slavery. Treating the problem as simply a slavery issue won't work unless we concentrate on the sex part.

Lynxx's post is very long and exhaustive, separating out countries by origin, transit and destination. It does not separate out the slavery by type--because the human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations that treat the issue do not separate out slavery by type. I would suggest that they do and they would get a firmer grasp on the issue. "Israel is a destination country for trafficked women"; "Japan is a destination country for women trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and for men trafficked for labor purposes"; "Pakistan is a country of origin for young boys who are kidnapped or bought and sent to work as camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar." I suggest that these are quite different problems, with different sources in human biology.

As an aside, most of the white girls so trafficked are from Eastern Europe or the Balkans. This was traditionally the mine-field where slavers stocked the harems of the Ottoman elite. I wonder if some enterprising Ph.D. student could trace a historical continuity between the family-based prostitution rings of today with the slave-trading networks of yore.

*Remember the part of the Godfather where the Corleone family takes care of a "domestic abuse" of a Corleone daughter? They don't read feminist tracts to the abusing husband. They beat the crap out of him. Now that's family. When people talk about family values, they don't realize that family values (which appeal to instincts relating to blood and individual survival) function above and beyond the reach of the law, which appeal to ideas of universal ethics and morality, and which may--indeed must--supersede one family's interests.

Posted by razib at 08:22 AM | | TrackBack