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October 11, 2003

Test your own son?
Posted by razib at 11:33 PM | | TrackBack

Wales, England, Cornwall, genetics....

Genetics make Welsh distinct says a story in on a Welsh website[1]. Oh really???

Here are some quotes from the article:

  1. The results show that the Welsh are related to the Basques of northern Spain and southern France and to native Americans. All are descended from the Kets people of western Siberia.
  2. This shows that in the Dark Ages, when the Anglo-Saxons turned up, there was the most horrible massacre on the English side. They killed everybody and replaced them.
  3. In the male line, at least, the Welsh and the Basques are survivors or relics of a period before huge numbers of farmers filled Europe from the Middle East.
  4. The Cornish are in effect Anglo-Saxons who for a time used a language that was hanging around
  5. The genes of Scottish males also betrayed considerable inter-mixing with outsiders

Some of the points are clarified in the article, but I don't think they're clear enough. On point 1, it is the descent of the Y chromosome only, the unbroken patrilineal line. This does not address the mtDNA, which is the unbroken matrilineal line, or the autosomal DNA which generally encapsulates functionality in the genome and is the vast majority of the DNA that we carry. There are often sharp differences in the phylogeny of each genetic marker for various reason[2]. Spencer Wells talks about the Ket lineage in his book Journey of Man (Wells carries the marker himself).

On point 2, see this post and this post (hint: Jones engages in a bit of hyperbole).

On point 3, see my post on demic diffusion.

On point 4, look at this physical map of the UK. Note that the boundary between Cornwall and England is far smoother than that of Wales and England (not to mention artificial boundaries thrown up in the Dark Ages). Physical relief often correlates with high genetic diversity locally. Rather than one movement of Anglo-Saxons into Cornwall-it was probably the slow generational intermigrations that blurred the boundaries between Cornwall and Wales. To say that the "Anglo-Saxons picked up the local language" is like saying that Finns are Swedes who "picked up the local language." In the latter case, it seems likely that genetic exchange with their neighbors has worked to blend the genetic profile of Finns and Swedes together-though there are still differences (the cline of the TAT lineage, etc.). Also, the Cornish were conquered by the English earlier than the Welsh, and had an avenue of escape to Brittany as a safety valve, etc. The reasons to dissent and rebut Jones' point are myriad....

On point 5, duh. Heard of one nation, four peoples? The Angles were one of the peoples that made Scotland what it is, and this ignores the Viking contribution, so the evidence of Germanic genes should not be surprising.

fn1. The story seems to be based on unpublished research and reflects some of the points in a chapter of Steve Jones' Y: The Descent of Man. I couldn't find much more at The Center for Genetic Anthropology at University College-London.

fn2. For example, Y chromosomes are for more likely to show European ancestry in African Americans than mtDNA, for obvious reasons. The Y lineage of mestizos are often similar to Spaniards while the mtDNA lineage is similar to the indigenous peoples of the New World. Additionally, much of the autosomal genome is subject to selective pressures which distort phylogentic relationships but is far more informative of adaptive history.

Posted by razib at 02:56 PM | | TrackBack

Fragile chromosomes, cancer and paradigm shift

This press release from the University of California at San Diego summarizes some major change in the conception of genetic rearrangement, no longer does "random breakage theory" hold, rather, there are "fragile regions" that are likened to "genetic earthquakes" (am the only one that feels the rhetoric reminds of some sort of molecular saltationism???). It has implications for both evolutionary theory and practical changes in our conception of cancers and the role of chromosomal rearrangements in their development and origin. Here is the abstract for the paper in June put out by some bioinformaticists who compared mouse and human genomes, and a recent follow-up that vindicates the original researchers.

Posted by razib at 01:26 PM | | TrackBack

Brown boy(s) update

Suman Palit echoes me when it comes to Bobby Jindal. The interesting point is that it is clear Suman had not read my post prior to writing his own thoughts, but they are very congruent, but then again, Suman is an American/Secular/Right-leaning/Techie/of Bengali origin, so we have enough commonalities that it isn't that surprising....

Posted by razib at 01:01 PM | | TrackBack

Verdant Sahara?

This article from US NEWS & World Report discusses an art show displaying the rock paintings of ancient people from the Tassili N'Ajjer of Algeria deep in the Sahara. It depicts a time when the region was more savanna than desert. There are still echoes of this time that have remained to haunt us, I remember a scene from Naturalist David Attenborough's series The Living Planet where he focused in on a lone acacia tree in the Air highlands of northern Niger[1], all that remains of the woodlands of ages gone by. Additionally, there are 10,000 foot mountain ranges in the heart of the Sahara that no doubt served as refugium from the encroaching desert, and still are important nodal points for the networks of the Tuareg people because of the presence of oases around their girdles.

The history of the Sahara should sensitize people to the fact that the earth has been subject to dramatic climatic shifts. We are after all currently likely in an interglacial and wild shifts in climate are not unknown historically.

fn1. The tree's roots had struck a groundwater vein, allowing it to continue surviving in a climatic regime for which it was not adapted.

Posted by razib at 12:28 PM | | TrackBack

October 10, 2003

Asian American Christianity & speeding up your life

Two links of note I'd like to point you too.

Eric Lien posts about Asian American Christianity. I was a member of "The Korean American Christian Federation" in college (purpose: meet Japanese chicks, result: failure) and can attest that I feel there is some truth to what he says.

Second, Randall Parker has blogged his idea that bright kids should accelerate their education. He gives many reasons, and I think it's a view that should be heard, though it is obviously most appropriate for those interested in technical careers. I remember reading once that companies that had competitions to break into their software had to stop giving cars as the prize because so many of the winners didn't have licenses. Of course, many of these kids will leave the technical world as they age, like Imbler Volokh, a teen programmer who later went to law school. The acceleration of technical educations can have another salubrious effect, allow scientists in their prime to get tenure, especially highly abstract fields like math or physics. I remember talking to a few friends who were doing graduate work in algebraic topology at Northwestern, I asked them how their advisors steered them as far as topics since of course they had to present positive results for their dissertation. The answer was that they picked topics that were "safe." When were they going to do risky work? After their doctorates. So best-case scenario, many math graduate students will do their daring work after their mid-20s, perhaps in their late 20s. Though there are dissenters, most people believe that math is a young man's game, and crucial years in your 20s spent getting a pedestrian Ph.D. seems a waste[1]. Of course, there is other evidence that indicates marriage is a negatively correlated with scientific brilliance....

fn1. Of course, one could argue that brilliant minds would take risks that they would see were not truly risks, and only pedestrian minds "play it safe."

Posted by razib at 10:07 PM | | TrackBack

What a rush

Rush Limbaugh is a junky and has checked into drug rehab. No link necessary-that's the declarative fact. That's the most valuable public service he has ever performed. Mark this date as commencing the United States' treatment of drug addiction as a genetic/medical issue rather than a matter for the criminal justice system.

Posted by martin at 09:41 PM | | TrackBack

Typology II : Us/U.S. vs. Them

One month ago I wrote a piece titled The Typological Temptation that focused on the human tendency to classify in a sloppy fashion to throw a negative light on those who you perceive as your ideological enemies. To see the nuance in those you disagree with on point x can be difficult sometimes, and it is easy (conventional) to infer a, b, c... from point x. It is easy because one assumes that they share the same axioms or hold anti-axioms, when in fact the sum totality of the other typology might be more orthogonal than oppositional[1].

This post was supposed to be about the Europe vs. America 'tiff (read: France vs. the American Right). But I realized that that issue was in many ways a symptom of a greater problem. Of course, I have only a certain perspective, that of the American, but I bring to the table neither a hatred for the American Right (in which I generally place myself), nor a disdain for European ways (Europe was the incubator for "Western" values). Additionally, there are other nuances that might be neglected by such a singular focus-expanding the canvas to the whole world is probably most appropriate for a generalized understanding of the issue.

I don't know how many times I have heard from friends and read in the Left press (and yes, sometimes stated myself), "But in Europe...." This extends to other cultures where I see people of a Leftist bent assert "other cultures are more...." followed by praising their traits and denigrating the faults of the United States. The most simple analysis is that it is selective culling of the data-but there is something deeper going on-American liberal intentions are foisted upon peoples that behave the way they do for very different reasons. This extends even to the European context. In the Left's praise of non-America, they often highlight diversity undergirded by a sensibility that assumes that fundamentally those nations are the same and their motives, interests, etc. are congruent with American (or Left American), ones. The same malady seems to afflict the American interventionist Right, as the tendency to impute nefarious motive by contextualizing all actions in the light of American interests, when other nations may have interests of their own, has been on prime display since 9/11 (the Manichaean typology). On particular issue x those interests might be oppositional to the American position, but there is a tendency to inflate this into a general tendency which might not hold[2].

Let me move to some specifics, the good & the bad, the American Left and the Right.

The American Left looks longingly at the social welfare systems of Europe, which are "socialistic," whether that be a nationalized command economy form (which is in disfavor) or a high tax redistributionist regime (which is still in vogue). The Left and the Right fail to distinguish between the two-even libertarian (Old Whig) philospher and economist Friedrich von Hayek acknowledged that the former was far more injurious to a capitalist economy than the latter. Though the German state for one has generous labor protections-it also arose after World War II under the aegis of ordoliberal economists who conceded that the tax rates and state services would be higher and more generous than they wished, but prevented nationalized industries from distorting the rule of law which allowed the competition of private agents in the market. I prattle on about this minutiae because the details matter in these issues in attempting to ascribe intention and motivation. The European socialist economy is seen by the American Right as a warning, a vision of a dystopian future, while the Left views it as a harbinger of times to come. But European "socialism" is a product of its own history[3].

European nations are more racially homogenous than the United States. There is a strain of thinking that asserts that social democracy can flourish only in this sort of setting-where there is enough genetic relationship and cultural affinity that people will tolerate high taxation regimes. It is perhaps coincidental that the fraying of the Cradle-to-Grave Welfare States of Europe is ocurring in an age when their ethnic homogeniety is diminishing. But no one would deny that many of the anti-immigrant parties have emerged precisely because of the perception that those outside the volk are taking advantage of social services that were meant for co-nationals, which in this context might mean co-ethnics. While liberal whites in the United States often have a very positive view of the social amity in European countries and see the race situation in the United States as a sore spot and blight upon our nation-immigrants like me who have relatives who live(d) in Europe tend to be more guarded. Europeans are honest about their feelings, look at surveys (go to page 43, PDF) and you will see that immigrants-which often translates to "people of color" in general-have a lower reputation and status in European nations than the United States. Until recently Germany determined citizenship by blood.

Additionally, many American Leftists tend not to see the downsides of social policies they view favorably. For instance, the idea that higher education should be free (or the charge be nominal) is something that is touted by many Americans, and certain politicians in the United States have come close to this view. But it comes at a cost-to make higher education freely available it must be restricted. Additionally, in places like Britain, all taxpayers fund the education of a small elite. Ideally, this makes sense if the system produces doctors, engineers, etc. who serve the population at large, but I see less justification for producing literary critics, financial analysts, etc. at public expense. The tough labor laws that exist in Europe come at a cost-high youth unemployment and reluctance by employers to hire. The costs might be worth the benefits, but too often people ignore them.

Sometimes the result of importing ideas from another context might be disastrous. The tracking system common in much of Europe for secondary school has been espoused by people all across the political spectrum in the United States. But one result of the tracking system in this country is that black and Latino students tend to fall into lower tracks, while whites and Asians are in the higher tracks. In European countries the same racial segregation was never an issue, at least before the arrival of non-white immigrants. The American educational system, at least at the secondary level, has always aimed to produce citizens. In European nations, where the sense of history and ethnic nation-hood has greater hold, such feelings might be organically produced from the general environment. Ergo, they can afford to do tracking because it does not produce anomie in the society.

Turning to the Right-too often conservatives decry European godlessness, socialism and anti-Americanism. On the first, the United States is a special country. It is wealthy & religious. Though there might be disputes of the level of violence (and the United States is a large country with internal variations that are extreme)-it seems clear that the death of God has not led to amorality[4]. Though socialism has its costs, it has not led to the totalitarian society that Hayek predicted in Road to Serfdom. It depends on how you view the difference principle. Europeans tend to interpret it in a more Rawlsian fashion-they keep a minimum standard of living for the least, while Americans tend to take a riskier stand, assuming that individuals will gamble that they will reap the rewards of unfettered capitalism undampened by a social democracy. Even within the United States, there are differences, Minnesota and Texas might be seen as antipodes in terms of the spectrum of socialism vs. capitalism, and I think one could make and argument that either the former or latter are preferable depending on your axioms.

The last issue, anti-Americanism, is a tricky situation. I believe some of the problem lay in the fact that Americans tend to cast our foreign policy in moralistic terms, that we are the City set upon the Hill in Puritan terms, but our actions tend to evince a more conventional realism. If American interests are congruent with democracy, republicanism and freedom, anyone that opposes America by definition opposes these values, no? Well, that I doubt, because I think it is clear that the United States works in its own interest. Once you subtract the moral dimension, on both sides of the Atlantic, you then enter a much more rational game of Great Powers, and mysterious enmity transforms into opposing interests.

To move to a greater world stage, let me address the issue of other cultures & nations. Anti-globalists on the Left often make the case that the farmers and villagers of the Third World, who live without electricity, use local organic farming methods and exist in an economic mode close to subsistence uninformed by transnational trade are somehow more virtuous and closer to authentic human modes of life. To the latter point, our evolutionary background is as hunters and gatherers, not peasant farmers. To the first point, this is an attribution error, the lack of modern amenities is surely situational, those who live "close to nature" often wish to have the fruits of modernity, and it is rare that I see anti-globalists moving to Kenya to live in an unelectrified village. Again, there is an ignorance and willfull blindness to local conditions set by historical context that produces the situation that it does, and a projection of outside sensibilities.

Let me go to an even more bizarre example. Americans often scoff at the puritanical nature of our society. I scoff quite often as well. But look at the natives of the Amazon, many of whom go about naked, are they less puritanical? In some ways they are, but I remember reading that women always sit in a fashion so that their labia are not exposed.

And so is exposed the paradox. Humans are both the same and different in ways that are often juxtaposed by the conventional preconception, both high and low. All peoples have elements of puritanism-though the mode of expression varies! All nations have interests, but the path to achieving the ends of national interest may be very different! Instead of acknowledging the complexity spawned by the truth of this, there is a flipping of reality. When Americans see a naked Brazilian tribesmen, they might conceive that these are people who live in a "state of nature," untouched by conventional sensibilities. They see their nudity, and presume that they are untouched by shame. The reason is that from their own perspective, those who are nude are by definition shameless! Of course, the concept of shame exists in the almost all cultures, it is simply manifest in different ways.

Back to the First World. Americans of all states, Europeans of all nations, have certain universal needs and wants. These wants lead to higher level of conceptual organization, and so forth. By organizational level n they are literally a thousand flowers. Socialism, nationalization, capitalism, Thatcherism, communism, the social market, etc. They are all ways of arranging human affairs to achieve social harmony. Whether it is church, kirk, kirche, temple, mosque, etc. They all worship something, and come together to perform rituals. And yet the worshippers of other gods are always worshippers of devils, and the reverse of course! Again, you see the inability to move beyond personalized (and culturally conditioned) axioms, to universal axioms.

Ultimately perhaps our public discourse, world-wide, needs to go back to first principles, and frame questions of difference and convergence of values in such a fashion[5].

What is a good life?

What is moral?

What is a community?

What is necessary?

What is a luxury?

etc. etc.

fn1. The most obvious example of this is the American political scene. For instance, as a libertarian, I have often been cast as oppositional by both liberals and conservatives (as they emphasize the differences between my position and theirs) rather than orthogonal-which is most accurate I believe.

fn2. France for instance is a power that wishes to maintain its independence from transnational interests when those interests diminish the relative power of France. In the long run the United States and France might once again become allies against the pressure of smaller more self-effacing powers who wish to embed themselves into transnational institutions and drag the greater ones in as well.

fn3. The socialist moment in Europea may already reached its high water mark.

fn4. One thing to note-high levels of out-of-wedlock birth in many European nations (especially Scandinavia) are not the same the pattern in the United States-rather, adults tend to stay unmarried and "co-habitate," rather than it being teenagers that is more often the case in the United States. Also, I ignore intra-European differences in religious devotion, which are wide-but I see no general trend that more religious = more social harmony, etc.

fn5. The question "Why do they hate us?" has been too often been answered by American guilt (we wronged them) or greatness (they envy our freedom). The answer is is probably textbook sized, not Nightline friendly sound-bites, and too often the focus is upon America, as if other peoples have no motive uninspired or uninflamed by American action and ideal. One legend goes that the September 11th bombers referred to the victims on the planes as "animals" in their correspondence-and one of the first things you learn in cultural anthropology is that a tribe often define themselves as "people" and others as "not people."

Posted by razib at 02:46 PM | | TrackBack

Genetically Driven Undertaking

Well, sort of...

Some research with bees showing their "occupation" is largely determined by their genetic make-up.

Although the article's writier does not seem to have too large a grasp on his content matter, it is rather interesting nonetheless.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 10:49 AM | | TrackBack

Ah-nold Comes Out For Amnesty

California governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger has come out in favor of amnesty for illegal aliens. Here is the quote, from the Washington Times:

The governor-elect said he supported a bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that would grant temporary working permits to allow illegal immigrants to travel to and from the United States and loosen the requirements to apply for visas.
"I want to make all undocumented immigrants documented and legal in this country," said the Austrian-born actor. "It's all part of the package."

I personally was never that hopeful that Arnold would be a big supporter of immigration reform, which is part of the reason I voted for Tom McClintock in the recall and not Arnold (though I doubt even McClintock would have advocated stopping unskilled immigration (especially illegal but legal as well), as I do). However, I also didn't think Arnold was so radically in favor of open borders.

When are people, especially people who call themselves conservatives, "fiscal conservatives," and Republicans, going to realize that the USA simply cannot afford mass unskilled immigration, much less giving citizenship to those who have ignored our laws? Let's face it, most illegal immigrants are taking far more than they contribute. Many of not most illegal aliens pay no taxes whatsoever, and many illegals (and unskilled legal immigrants) who do nominally pay taxes probably take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit, effectively reducing their tax contibution to zero or less, as they send their 3 or 4 kids to public school at $7,000-$10,000 a pop per year. That's not to mention health care, housing support, law enforcement, rent control, and other services.

And while the average Latino farm worker is certainly no terrorist, what about the nontrivial number of illegal aliens who almost certainly are? What would stop an illegal alien terrorist, who had been working and following the law up to the time he applied for citizenship (other than immigration law, of course) from gaining citizenship? Giving amnesty also sends the message that people will be rewarded for breaking the law, which will almost certainly encourage more illegal immigration.

Republicans are so PAINFULLY stupid...

Posted by bb at 09:35 AM | | TrackBack

October 09, 2003

No degree, no worries....

This stupid article from The New York Times is about high achievers who do not have college degrees. I'll let readers pile on-but one thought, I think at many companies it is harder for managers to justify the firing of incompetent employees who have college degrees than those who don't. Ergo, those workers without degrees are subject to stronger selection pressures during periods of layoffs and only the strongest remain.

Posted by razib at 11:15 PM | | TrackBack

Immigration & California

Mark Krikorian talks about the role immigration played in California's recent election. It being National Review, he asserts that the fact that Dan Lungren & Bill Simon ran away from this issue is why they lost to Gray Davis, rather than the fact that they were social conservatives in a state that is socially liberal.

One thing about California and its electorate-I am sure that many of the white liberals are saving up money to join the New Eco-topia demographic. This group is 1% of the national population, but 20% of Vermont's population, according to Michael Weiss' Clustered World. They are concerned about immigration as it relates to quality-of-life & environmentalism (internal and external immigrants!), but political correctness compels them to simply flee the sinking boat rather than righting the ship (of course they have the means). I live in a small town 10 miles north of the California border that is in Imbler, but not of Oregon. Many of the residents are liberal refugees-oops-retirees, from California. They are the types that hate G.W. Bush, but would benefit from his tax cuts, and they are the types that praise diversity and bemoan the lack of it in their environs (what makes me wonder is that so many are from San Francisco and Los Angeles!)[1]. The United States is a big country, big enough that we can put off addressing issues of nation-hood and quality-of-life because we can run away from them, but for how long?[2]

On a different note-I wonder if it is a coincidence that the last name of the person who is the public face for The Center for Immigration Studies, which acts as the intellectual focus for the movement toward restrictionism, is "Krikorian." Kevin MacDonald et al. are fond of pointing out that Jewish movements have gentile figureheads, I wonder if most of the people on the board for the CIS have names as "ethnic" as Mark's.

fn1. I do not doubt that many people enjoy diversity, the problem is that the issue is de-coupled from other determinants of quality-of-life when used rhetorically, but such variables are always considered when making pragmatic decisions about residence, schooling, etc. Also, if you followed the above link that illustrated the lack of diversity of my home town, you will note that 91.6% of the residents are non-Hispanic whites. This papers over the divisions between "townies," retirees, hippies, etc. that do make the town diverse in its own way. Additionally, there is a large local Buddhist community (various sects) and I would not be surprised if 10% of the population was Jewish (3 temples).

fn2. To read about why conservative intellectuals tend to live in liberal metropolii read John Derbyshire's Confessions of a Metropolitan Conservative. Metrocons are the inverse of New Eco-topians, racing toward the amoral cities that they decry to enjoy the good life.

Posted by razib at 12:57 PM | | TrackBack


Easterblog takes on the Kobe case and notes that "No" doesn't always mean "No"(?). Rape is a bizarre confluence of law, society & biology. When Randy Thornhill & Craig Palmer wrote A Natural History of Rape the reaction was not proportional to the strength or weakness of their thesis, rather, the issue because intertwined in is vs. ought issues (as I like to say, there ain't any "versus," the two can be pried apart if you have a little will and let your emotions calm down)[1]. To step into cultural issues, I had a close friend who was trying to learn Spanish and so was proactive in making the acquaintance of local men of Latin American origins (she was planning on going to Cuba, which she later did). One problem she noted was that it was difficult for them to understand that when she said sbe wasn't interested, it actually meant she wasn't interested. One of the men, a friend, explained that in Mexico "good girls" automatically say "No" to any advance and that a man must be presistent to show that he is sincere and serious about her. So my friend's first or second protestations were just ignored by him, and so by the third advance, while she was getting irritated, he was assuming that the courtship was just proceeding along its normal trajectory. Taking the case even further, I once took a class in college (to satisfy the "Multiculturalism" requirement) that discussed the differences between the newly arrived Turks and Germans in their attitudes toward sexual relations and consent. No surprisingly the Turkish men committed many rapes because of total ignorance of local mores.

Back to the United States, I suggest Dahlia Lithwicks piece in Slate, Rape Nuts, to show the schizophrenia of our laws. I point to the above dissents in biology and sociology from the conventional paradigm of free will, equality before the law, and gender equity to suggest that our history shapes our perception and reaction to rape, and that our legal framework, informed by abstractions, is a mess because of the unrealities that it assumes as the norm.

fn1. The fact that small orangutan males rape females is generally shocking to most Americans when it is noted on nature shows-I suspect far more shocking than when a predator consumes a prey animal.

Posted by razib at 11:53 AM | | TrackBack


A small press article titled genetics of blindness discusses the research of a group of Canadians briefly.

Posted by razib at 11:32 AM | | TrackBack

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.

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Nobel Prizes announced
Posted by razib at 04:00 PM | | TrackBack

Brother, you got a J haplogroup

Dienekes has a great post related to my blog about demic diffusion. He notes that haplogroup J, which is a marker for "Neolithic expansion" into Europe from the Middle East has two clades, Eu9 and Eu10, and while the former is found among the peoples of the northern Middle East/Anatolia/Caucasus, the latter is found among the southern peoples of Arabia. While Europeans tend to have Eu9 (with decreasing frequency north and west), North Africans have Eu10. Dienekes also notes that Kurdish Muslims tend to carry Eu9 while Kurdish Jews are marked by Eu10. On an interesting note, Dienekes also finishes with the factoid that the people of Punjab tends to have Eu9, not Eu10. Go read the whole post.

Posted by razib at 12:22 PM | | TrackBack

Teach both sides? Uh, but what exactly....

Articles like this put out by the luminaries of The Discovery Institute, the foremost think tank for Intelligent Design in this country, make me wonder how on the low-down they are about their agenda. They say they want to present dissent from the scientific theory of evolution-but as their doyen Philip Johnson has noted of late, their big beef is with methodological naturalism. Look at the table of contents for Origins & Design, the flagship publication and journal of the ID movement, and you see they display plenty of flashy thought experiments. One criticism I have heard of Austrian Economics is it produces meta-economics (philosophy, methodology, etc.), not real economics research, and I think the same charge can be levelled at the Intelligent Design movement, it manufactures a lot of philosophy of science, but isn't forwarding a real research program. The great laboratory scientist of modern ID is Michael Behe, but look at his research, it doesn't seem to be especially informed by any revolutionary paradigm that flies in the face of methodological naturalism. Go here for a scathing dress down of William Dembski's article linked to above. Here is an anecdote that I think can shed light on what Dembski seems to be doing:

Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler was working at the Russian court at that time, and unlike Diderot, he was a devout Christian. So, the empress asked him for help in dealing with the threat posed by Diderot. Euler had himself introduced to Diderot as a man who had found a mathematical proof for the existence of God.

With a stern face the mathematician confronted the philosopher: "Monsier, (a+bn)/n = x holds! Hence, God exists. What is your answer to that?" Quick-witted Diderot was speechless, was laughed at by his followers, and soon returned to France.

For a more erudite critique of Dembski see here, as The Boston Review's William Orr does a thorough dismantling of the mathematician/philosopher's critique of evolutionary theory.

Posted by razib at 11:19 AM | | TrackBack

A tale of two scientists

Luca Cavalli-Sforza recently contributed a Demic Diffusion as The Basic Process of Human Expansions to the monograph Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis (links in this post). As some critics of this field have noted, it is politically charged, because it addresses and explores basic questions of the formation of peoples, their culture (language, artifacts, etc.) and biology (genes).

Over the past 100 years there has been a strong shift from one pole to another when it comes to the distillation of the question Cavalli-Sforza addresses in the paper above: do people spread languages by physically displacing others, or, do people acquire the language of others through exchange and interaction[1]. At the beginning of this century, language, nation and race were inextricably connected. So for instance in the context of the spread of the English language in Britain, it was assumed that hordes of Anglo-Saxons drove the native Celtic Britons to Wales and Cornwall. After World War II the pendulum swung back and cultural diffusionism was in the vogue, and as late as 2000 Tory Welsh historian Norman Davies could present an elite transmission model of the spread of Germanic speech amongst the Celtic British in his panoramic history of the British Isles as the null hypothesis. As noted on this blog, the question of whether the Anglo-Saxons came in full force, or whether a small elite conquered Britain and imposed its culture upon the natives can be illuminated greatly by genetic studies[2].

The man who truly brought modern genetics into the fields of archaeology, linguistics and history, has been Luca Cavalli-Sforza. For the more technically inclined reader I would suggest his History and Geography of Genes, while the more squeamish might like to pick up The Great Human Diasporas. Cavalli-Sforza is a heavy hitter, a google query will keep you busy for a long time.

In general, Cavalli-Sforza's work, reiterated in this paper, has emphasized that one must not neglect the movement and expansion of populations and focus just on cultural transmission, a professional bias of most archaeologists (who note the spread of culture in their excavations) and cultural anthropologists (who see culture as the dynamic element in the patchwork of human diversity). He notes that demic diffusion, the expansion of a population at higher relative rates than surrounding groups, can be observed today in Africa-as the Bantu expansion finally settles in to the last refuges of the pre-agricultural foraging peoples, the Pygmies & the Khoisan. In this case, Cavalli-Sforza notes that proponents of diffusionism have not taken up the "indigenist" model, because the process of demic diffusion is occurring in real time. In contrast, the indigenist model has been very strong in the context of European history & pre-history. I have read many scholarly works that dismiss the importance of volkswanderung in the history of the continent.

And so enters the concept of "demic diffusion." Cavalli-Sforza notes that he and his collaborator did not want to use the term "colonization," because of its contemporary connotations. Demic diffusion refers to the demographic expansion of population A into population B. Population A is usually characterized by the possession of an advantageous innovation that is difficult to transmit to population B, ergo, population A has a relatively higher rate of growth than B. In the context of this paper, it is especially used in reference to the spread of agriculture from the Middle East 10,000 years ago into Europe from the southeast. The basic thesis is that the ideas of agriculture did not spread by themselves, rather they were brought by agriculturalists. Colin Renfew, the archaeologist who has fleshed out many of the details of this spread looked at it originally from an anthropological perspective. Agriculture requires a suite of skills that is not easily transmitted or mimicked in a generation or two. In fact it took 4,000 years for agriculture to spread to northernmost Europe.

Cavalli-Sforza introduced the genetic methodology, showing that the gradients of certain genes (frequencies) could indicate the spread of peoples concomitantly. As noted above, and in further detail in the paper, there are several historical cases of this occurring. He notes though that the resultant admixture may be in various portions, and Cavalli-Sforza is not suggesting anything close to replacement, such as occurred in the New World in what became the United States.

He lingers upon this point to highlight a personal bone he has to pick with the geneticist Bryan Sykes, author of Seven Daughters of Eve, who spent a considerable part of his book rehasing what he perceived to be his victory over Cavalli-Sforza & co. Sykes showed that the mtDNA (maternal) lineages of Europeans are 80% Palaeolithic. The press simplified Sykes' theory into "Europeans descdended from Ice Age hunters." Cavalli-Sforza (and many others) caution that 1) there were multiple Palaeolithic lineages 2) assigning proportions is a dicey game. A later study that indicated 50% Middle Eastern farmer ancestry was greeted with the headlines "Europeans descended from Middle Easterners."

In any case, Cavalli-Sforza's beef seems to be two part. First, his demic diffusion thesis did not in the context of Europe specify a specific number, and Sykes' own work shows that the "Jasmine" lineage (the one that is Middle Eastern) is localized and concentrated in certain regions of Europe (southern littoral, southeast and some inland valleys). The 20% figure then can not be taken as the equal over all of Europe, but should be interpreted in the light of its localized concentrations, which are compatible with demic diffusion. Sykes seems to have wanted to pick a fight with the Great Man of Genetics for his own self-interest, at least that was the impression I got reading the book, because to my mind understated the localized concentrations of the Jasmine lineage to downplay the evidence for a genetic gradient in the eyes of the lay audience. Second, Sykes presented some juicey and highly flattering (for himself) anecdotes in his book. They went along the lines of "they admitted I was right after all!" Cavalli-Sforza asserts, with irritation quite obvious, that many of these personalized interactions are fictionalized vignettes, and that Sykes' work was in any case not in conflict with his original thesis in its broad outlines (researchers associated with Cavalli-Sforza found that Europeans were 20% Middle Eastern along the patrilineal line! Great back-up for Sykes' 20% number along the maternal line). I think Cavalli-Sforza is overstating his case, in his previous works I did get the impression that the "demic diffusion" into Europe was of greater importance than it seems to have been (assertion subject to revision!). Nevertheless, I also did get irritated by Sykes' shading of emphasis and rejiggering of definitions to make it seem like there was a big controversy when there wasn't-Cavalli-Sforza notes that he stands on more than genetic legs, rather, the pattern of archaeology & spread of agriculture seems far too congruent with the genetic markers to suggest anything but that peoples moved along with ideas. Overall, I suggest the paper if you have some background in this topic, otherwise, there's a lot of material germane to esoteric internal debates (it is a monograph!).

fn1. Those reasons could be "elite transmission" (English in Jamaica is an example) or cultural diffusion (the Dravidian speech of some Indian tribal peoples are examples).

fn2. In this case, the evidence seems mixed to me, though it is not helped by the fact that Celts of Britain and the German settlers were not genetically that different to begin with. The fact that there are still relatives of the Cheddar Man in England 9,000 years after his death in the local area indicates that some people do have rather deep lineages in England, Celt and Saxon notwithstanding.

Posted by razib at 01:15 AM | | TrackBack

The reverential agnostic

Fred Reed On Religion over @ The American Conservative. Reed et al. seem to be making the argument that we live in an impious age where people do not reflect upon the "God Shaped Hole" in our brain. Perhaps. But how many times have I heard people thank God after a medical miracle? We do live in an age of piety, just a particular type....

Posted by razib at 12:43 AM | | TrackBack

October 07, 2003

Transition to liberalism

The father who killed his daughter got a life sentence (see related post). One thing I find curious though-where are the mentions of honor kills in Gulf states? After all, Jordan (even Pakistan) are relatively liberal Muslim countries, yet the story mentions both as hot-beds of honor killings (Jordan especially seems to crop up many a time). What about Saudi Arabia? Kuwait? etc. Perhaps the stories aren't coming out of those nations because of their closed societies, but I wonder if the situation might be modelled as an energetic barrier:

A) conservative society + no freedoms for women =>
B) conservative society + some freedoms for women =>
C) non-conservative + freedoms for women

In society A, there is no question of "honor" because women are never in the position to dishonor, in society C "honor" loses its value (relatively), while society B sits atop the energy hill, tottering back & forth between the two extremes, with the volatile mixture of conservative values but enough freedoms to transgress social expectations[1]. I believe today we are seeing many societies moving over that energetic barrier and the tensions & stresses to the social frabic are byproducts of the transition....

fn1. From what little I know, much of it revolves around the appearance of impropriety-a situation more plausible in a society where women have legal freedoms to act as independent agents (to some extent) and possibly enage in "dishonor." Note the the attacks upon great Roman women by historians, from Livia to Agrippina the Younger, a direct consequence of the conflict between a conservative society, but one liberal enough to allow women a place in public life.

Posted by razib at 10:54 PM | | TrackBack

Prop 54

The Racial Privacy Initiative lost. Just watched Cruz Bustamante "concede"-but mostly he was crowing that Prop 54 seems to have fallen. Interestingly, he was trumping the health risks posed by not having racial data....

Posted by razib at 09:19 PM | | TrackBack

The Passion

Greg Easterbrook has a perspective on The Passion that I think is pretty on-the-mark, neither lionizing Gibson, nor falling behind the ADL's screaming. I had to debate whether to put this in the "politics" or "religion" category-I decided to put it in "politics."

Posted by razib at 12:10 PM | | TrackBack


I enjoyed reading Bryan Sykes’s book The Seven Daughters of Eve, so I looked forward to his new one, Adam’s Curse: A future without men, Bantam Press, 2003.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book is a rattling good read, and I highly recommend it. Unlike Seven Daughters, this one is not primarily concerned with the reconstruction of phylogeny, so it is not a Y-chromosome counterpart to Sykes’s MtDNA studies. It has more in common with Steve Jones’s Y: the Descent of Man, but there is little overlap in detail, and overall I prefer Sykes’s book. Highlights include a fascinating history of human chromosome studies, a clear explanation of sex determination mechanisms, and a racy account of the ancestry of the Clan Donald.

But the main theme of the book is the conflict between different parts of the genome: mitochondria, Y-chromosomes, and other nuclear genes, all having different interests. Sykes argues persuasively that mitochondria or Y-chromosomes have succeeded in biasing some human lineages towards producing girls and boys respectively. He also argues that the interest of the nuclear genes in avoiding conflict between different strains of mitochondria is the main reason for the differentiation of two sexes in the first place. I’m not so convinced by this, but it’s an interesting theory.

Where I really part company with Sykes is over the deterioration of the Y-chromosome. As I pointed out in my comments on Jones, there are good reasons for the Y-chromosome to deteriorate, but this need not cause any great harm. Sykes takes a different view: it will be ‘death by a thousand cuts. Unable to repair themselves by recombination, the wounded Y-chromosomes will stagger on through succeeding generations, gradually becoming weaker and weaker... As human Y-chromosomes in general become more and more unhealthy there will be a relentless and progressive reduction in male fertility...’ Eventually, the only hope for the human race will be to replace the traditional method of reproduction by artificial insertion of genes into the egg - perhaps female genes! Hence the gloomy prediction of the book’s title. Sykes even estimates the time it will take for men as we know them to become extinct, concluding that it is about 5000 generations or 125,000 years.

It is an ingenious and alarming (or exciting, for lezzers) theory, but, as Captain Blackadder would say, it has one tiny flaw: it is bollocks.

The objections are both theoretical and empirical....

On a theoretical level, it is well known that if a genome does not recombine in sexual reproduction (which is true of the Y-chromosome itself), mutations will
accumulate, provided each mutation has only a very small effect on fitness. If the effects on fitness are small enough, all members of the population will be roughly equally affected, since they are all incurring small mutations all the time. For any individual, it is likely that another mutation will come along before the previous one is eliminated by natural selection. But if the effect on fitness is large, each mutation will be eliminated by selection before the next one comes along.

Sykes recognises this point in principle, but in his calculations he ignores it. He assumes that in each generation 1 per cent of men have a mutation which makes them 10 per cent less fertile than their fathers, and that the fertility of the population as a whole therefore declines by 0.1 per cent (1 per cent of 10 per cent) per generation. On this basis he calculates that fertility would decline to 1 per cent of its present level within 5000 generations. (Sykes doesn’t give details of his method of calculation, but I have checked sample values from his graph on page 239, and they seem consistent with simply multiplying by .999 at each generation, thus reducing fertility by 0.1 per cent of its level at that point.)

The trouble is that for individuals, a 10 per cent decline in fertility is not a small effect on fitness: it is a very big one. At least, it is if ‘decline in fertility’ means a reduction in the average number of offspring - which is surely what it ought to mean. Instead, Sykes seems to be measuring ‘fertility’ by some criterion such as sperm count or motility, and it is admittedly possible that this might decline (for a while) without greatly affecting the number of offspring. But even on this interpretation, the decline would have serious effects on reproductive fitness long before the 1 per cent mark was reached. There would then be a huge reproductive advantage to those males with the least damaged Y-chromosomes, or those who had compensating mutations on other chromosomes which restored fertility. We may also expect that if society were threatened by a fertility crash, then the most fertile males would be identified and used for artificial insemination.

I think this invalidates Sykes’s gloomy prediction on theoretical grounds. On an empirical level it is also shaky. No-one disputes that the Y-chromosome has accumulated damage, but there is no evidence that this affects male fertility. The X-chromosome takes over the work of the damaged parts, and the major remaining function of the Y is to determine sex, which it still does perfectly well. Of course, there is evidence of male fertility problems in the late 20th century, among both humans and other animals, as measured by low sperm counts, etc., but this is due to modern environmental factors such as chemicals in the water supply. Some of the worst affected animals are fish, amphibians, and reptiles (like the alligators of the Everglades), which don’t have a Y-chromosome at all!

Moreover, if the Sykes theory were right, it would apply to the whole range of mammal species (and many others), and numerous species would go extinct due to male infertility. Sykes recognises this implication, and boldly claims that infertility has caused many extinctions, though he admits he cannot prove it (page 294). But if he were right, we ought to be able to find species in all stages of Y-chromosome infertility, including some on the brink of extinction from this cause. He offers no evidence whatever for this. There are plenty of species on the brink of extinction, but for entirely different reasons.

But don’t let this put you off the book. The gloom and doom is only a minor part of the book, and confined to the last few chapters.


Posted by David B at 02:34 AM | | TrackBack

October 06, 2003


H1B visas have been slashed. In some personal correspondence godless thought that this was kind of ass-backwards (my words). After all, there are fewer H1B workers than unskilled legal & illegal immigrants. So what gives? On this blog we've talked about outsourcing a lot. But the fact is, service sector outsourcing has been 1) mostly in call center and low level coding 2) dwarfed by the decline in manufactoring employment.

But, most people in positions of power might have a relative or friend who is a IT worker, perhaps a senior programmer that couldn't break into management, etc., so these are the people getting the attention. As for unskilled workers, those in power would benefit from looser immigration laws, cheaper nannies, gardeners, construction workers, etc. And it seems entirely plausible that most lawmakers have no family members that work in menial occupations where they would compete with unskilled immigrants.

Posted by razib at 03:50 PM | | TrackBack

MacArthur Awards

Two MacArthur 'geniuses' advance genetics.

Upate: Friend @ MIT fwded me this link on this 22 year old MIT professor who also got a grant. Very interesting.

Posted by razib at 02:34 PM | | TrackBack

October 05, 2003

New population genetics papers

Two new long papers over at the HPGL @ Stanford (actually, chapters out of the book: Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis). Inference of Neolithic Population Histories using Y-chromosome Haplotypes by Peter Underhill & Demic Diffusion as the Basic Process of Human Expansions by Cavalli-Sforza. The first paper in an excellent overview and you can probably ignore the technical details while Cavalli-Sforza's paper seems to assume you are moderately familiar with the controversies discussed ("demic diffusion," Colin Renfrew, etc.). They're both 10 MB PDF files, so if you are on a slow-poke connection-beware....

Commentary later (though Cavalli-Sforza rips Bryan Sykes a new one)....

Posted by razib at 05:06 PM | | TrackBack

Science ~ evil?

The Loom has a post up titled Fear of a Eugencist Planet that reviews a review of a book called War Against the Weak. He comes to the conclusion that the book is much ado about nothing (ie; biotech companies are not pawns of the new eugenicists).

He also brings up the point that it might be difficult to genetically modify intelligence: "If you wanted to make your kid significantly smarter, you'd have to tinker with a huge number of them [genes], perhaps hundreds or thousands." Well, what little I know does indicate that the affect of any given gene on intelligence might be small (predicated on the individual being within the normal range), perhaps on the order of 1%, but that's far from "thousands." Additionally, some psychologists have done research which indicates that heritability of IQ (variation within a population caused by genotype) increases as you move up the socioeconomic ladder, in other words, given a minimum quality of life the difference due to genetic inheritance looms larger[1]. I point this out because the post focuses on the possibilities of the rich using GE to boost the intelligence of their children. Carl Zimmer, spinmeister of The Loom, sounds a lot like our old pal Charles Murtaugh, throwing cold water on the prophets of the future. But I think sometimes he is limited by conventional preconceptions. He notes that "For a new species to incubate, it needs barriers around it to keep genes from the old species from flowing in and its new genes from flowing out"-well, yes, but those barriers can be social, if some religious nutsos decided to create biphallic sons, there would be issues with these sons being able to get mates from the mono-phallic majority. Additionally, GE would by its very nature alter the ground rules for speciation as mutation in the context of genetic drift and natural selection plus physical barriers thrown up by geography, etc. might not be the only sources of reassortment & segregation of genes within a population....

Update: Carl Zimmer responds to my response. And Greg Cochran swoops down upon the helpless message board....

fn1. See Behavorial Genetics in the Postgenomic Era.

Posted by razib at 03:20 PM | | TrackBack

AIDS, poverty, desperation....

The more guys like Nic Kristof ejaculate vacuous columns like this about HIV infection in the Dark Continent, the more Westerners will fall asleep and just roll their eyes at the African AIDS crisis. Poverty, desperation, hopelessness, etc. etc., these are the fuels that fire the African AIDS crisis, right???

Let me tell you a different story....

  1. Take a tribal agricultural society centered around local big men who are rooted in kinship networks. Make it pre-literate and lacking traditions of centralized statecraft & bureaucracy
  2. Add: weapons, modern ideas stripped away from organically generated context & grounding + world religions that clash with local values rhetorically but offer a lot of pleasing pap and some tangible goods (medicine, education, etc.)
  3. Mix & scramble and walk away from the frying pan while the concoction sizzles & pops

And voila, you get the social chaos and chronological mis-match (21st century technology + 2nd century northern European polities) that is Africa! Poverty? All the reports I see indicate that AIDS spreads with economic opportunity (truckers) and concentrates in the rising metropolises that drive the engines of capitalism. Desperation? The enterprising husbands who keep a coterie of girlfriends aren't desperate. Hopelessness? Africa is exporting preachers to the First World-it is a God-intoxicated continent, with some of the attendent religious violence associated starting to erupt. These people have plenty of religious hope, fat lot of good it does them in this world.

Let's stop this jack-shit-stream of simple and cliche answers. We aren't going to export to Africa our material goods (affluence), self-esteem (satisfaction) and healthy mutual funds (hope for the future) any time soon. Toward the aim of blocking some of the shit-stream that's been flowing out of the mainstream media, I guess I'm going to have to make an effort to be more original, and start producing more posts not triggered by dangerously retarded columnists.

Wish me luck.

Update: For all the superbrights that read this blog (yes, that's most of you) here are a few of my sources on why I think Africa is the way it is....

More on Africa-what little I know-below....

"Generalizations about Africa, it is so diverse!"
Well yes-that is in fact a generalization that is correct! That diversity indicates to me the lack of centralized empires and dominant civilizations over its history. The spread of Bantu languages from somewhere in Igboland and such parts south and east until they stop short of the Cape of Good Hope is one example that might be likened to the imposition of Latin or the dominance of Chinese-but the analogy does not work. Almost certainly there was no central bureaucratic Bantu state that spread the language through the tentacles of governance, rather, new forms of agriculture led to "demic diffusion" that displaced the people before the farmers who swept toward the Indian Ocean and south past the Tropic of Capricorn. The spread of Bantu is perhaps more like the expansion of Semitic or Indo-European languages-they happened before written history due to reasons we do not fully comprehend but likely have to do with happenstance and historical coincidence & luck (ie; technological innovation, proximity to the origin of an agricultural hearth, etc.).

Literacy developed before the rise of nation-empires, but in the end it was its handmaid and supplicant. The loss of literacy after the fall of the citadels of Bronze of Age Greece and its exogenous re-introduction from the Levant shows that it withers without a bureaucratic superstructure (which can not eclessiastical obviously) that necessitates it (it was also lost in India, and there the illiterate interlude between the Indus Valley Civilization & early pre-Maurya Aryan India was nearly 1,000 years!). It does not surprise me that Africa-with its micro-languages that are indicators of the lack of centralized states did not have a deep penetrance of literacy outside of the margins where transnational religions and international trade were important.

Why did Africa not develop large states? The books above give important reasons-lack of navigable rivers, climate, disease, etc. etc. There were strong situational constraints in the development of excess economic capacity that could be funneled into the support of a leisured class. A leisured class is an innovative class-because it wants to produce more leisure for itself. One thing that most people do not reflect upon is the 1 million year history of hominoid residence in much of Africa-so the possibilities for pathogenic adaptation to humans and our close relatives is high. In fact, early in the history of our species there was a sharp population bottleneck within Africa itself.

Exceptions...some will point to Ethiopia, the succession of states along the Niger river, etc. These prove the rules. Ethiopia is peculiar in that early on it adopted a transnational world religion (Monophysite Christianity), the historically dominant ethnic groups speak Semitic languages (Ahmara, Tigryana, etc.) and it has a relatively cool climate and is at high altitudes (less disease, less enervation, less humidity, etc.). Axum and its successor states up until the encirclement by Islamic states had close relations with Byzantium and long distance trade with Europe, the Middle East and Asia (which it conquered Yemen, Ethiopia controlled the Red Sea trade). This allowed it to build up excess wealth which it used to throw up a state on a Eurasian model. Additionally, it adopted a Eurasian religion closely associated with a particular culture (Egypt and its Coptic Church) and has historic, genetic and linguistic ties to southern Arabia. It must be noted that the Ethiopian states went into sharp decline after the long distance trade with other nations was cut off and its surplus income curtailed (this is in close parallel with what happened in Greece between 1200 BCE & 800 BCE and much of the Middle East during that same period as states and cultures retrenched and some whithered away because of lack of oxygen [trade]).

As for the states in West Africa along the Niger river, Ghana, Mali and Songhai-again, they were tied to international trade routes and had close connections to Maghrebi powers. Outside of the range of the tsetse fly they could engage in nomadism while serving as intermediaries between southern gold and Sahara salt. The intrusion of North African powers like the Almohads in what is today Mali & Mauritania is indicative of the region's importance. Power goes where wealth lay-but not so far as the costs outweight the benefits (into the humid coastal zone).

That being said...much of the rest of Africa was pretty insulated from direct intrusion by foreign cultures and powers (Europeans and Arabs set up outposts on the coast through which local chiefs could siphon slaves-but remember that most of Africa was uncharted by outside powerse deep into the 19th century-again, the exceptions were along the more equitable peripheries). Ergo, no need for strong states to defend the interests of local landowners, etc. etc. Lack of states, lack of literacy, lack of the material goods and complexities that we often term "civilization" does not mean that any given group of people is inferior (the lack of states in fact is to a libertarian a good thing).

10,000 years ago less than 1% humans were farmers. The 1% who tilled the soil were no superior morally in any fashion to the 99% who were hunter gatherers. In fact, though it seems clear that farmers reproduced at a higher rate, it is also evident that farmers traded gained low quality food in exchange for sacrificing the time & skills needed to collect more scarce high quality food. The Khoisan that the Bantu peoples of southern African displaced & absorbed were not practicing an inferior form of lifestyle, unfortunately, it was less suited to population growth and so was superseded (some of the ones who were absorbed adopted cattle-herding). Farming seems to have begun a chain of events that led to our own civilization. Remember that humans as we know them (art, etc.) had been around for 35,000 years before farming, but in the past 10,000 years we have totally transformed our lives based on the sequence of innovations triggered by agriculture.

Some types of farming are more productive than others. Rice and to some extent wheat are better than most other food crops at supporting large populations. In Africa these two crops do not grow well. Some indigenous crops like teff in Ethiopia replace them, but they are not of the same caliber in producing calories (again, this does not mean they are inferior crops, in the climatic context, they are superior!).

Rather than elobrate further-I simply will state that I have added this long addendum to make clear to some people where I am coming from-rather than attributing value judgements, one should understand that I state facts as I see them. It is really irrelevant if a given group of people worship penises or the Virgin Mary, or use phonetic script or having oral traditions, have a king or go to the local headman, etc. etc. These culturally contextual adaptations & traditions fit well with the local circumstances.

The problem occurs when new stimulii disturb the equilibrium. Like some forms of entropy (cooking an egg!) you can't always go back to the previous state and figure out a less messy way to transition. The tribal people of ancient Britain would probably have benefited from vaccinations, modern dental care and so forth. Nonetheless, dumping modern life on those people would probably result in what we have seen in many indigenous peoples today, alcoholism, violence and the destruction of the traditional way of life and socialization. As it was, the British people went through 2,000 years of social evolution to reach the stage they are now.

African societies are I believe similar. Their factured chieftancies were adaptions to local conditions, but the transition to modern warfare so quickly has caused serious problems. African Christians & Muslims are fast becoming orthodox in a way that more resembles the 16th century than the 21st century-but that stands to reason as they converted to these religions quite often only in the past few decades and so the process of sociological evolution has not progressed nearly as far as it has in the West. In fact the process is so foregone in Europe that Christianity seems nearing senescence, ergo, you have Nigerian and Korean missionaries who go the pagan white continent....

And yet as I said-we can't go back. Africans, Papuans, Indians and Chinese, etc. are going to have to deal with the liberal order. It is the great hegemonic ideology of our era-and it is right, true and good (let me be religious and dogmatic for a moment). But as Westerners, we should also acknolwedge that liberalism, statecraft and modernity come hard to some peoples, because they have not had time to experience and absorb C, D, E... before reaching Z. People in the Ivory Coast or Iraq are not black and olive Englishmen, transmuted and tweaked in a cosmetic fashion. The cliches and platitudes that we use in addressing our own problems are more than hollow when dealing with other nations and cultures-it is self-absorbed navel gazing of the worst sort, as we shed tears so that our own gluttonous sated condition is less obscene.

So some hard questions.
1) Do we care that a non-trivial portion of the world is bleeding itself to death on the road before us?
2) If we care, are we going to do anything about it?
3) If we are going to do something, what?
4) We we sacrifice our own personal material well being (what else matters?) to staunch the beelding?

The questions are difficult-but the answers are pretty much all unappealing. But sometimes life is picking from unappealing answers.

Posted by razib at 01:43 AM | | TrackBack