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April 17, 2004

Nature taking its course....

Jonathan Edelstein has an important post:

The rights of any minority should include opting out of that minority without penalty, and maintaining a traditional identity is a personal choice that the government should neither discourage nor encourage.

Similarly, the problem I have with governments officials interacting with self-appointed "community leaders" is that there are policies that emerge out of this interaction that often result in the creation of the need for "community leaders." Reality dictates that we acknowledge that humans coalesce into groups based on blood & culture, but a liberal order should be cautious of any recognition of this reality because I believe it is fundamentally at tension with this universal, rather, liberalism, broadly speaking, draws from the more generalized communal egalitarianism of the EEA (that is, the government deals with the individual out of the context of their overall "identity").

Addendum: In Suman's post on this in relation to India-which has a political dispute over the "Uniform Civil Code," I made my idealistic pitch in the comments (a function Suman has removed so you can't see them), but I recall Ikram did not believe this was realistic in the context of India. Perhaps the "liberal moment" is God's ephemeral concession to the Hobbesian reality of human history.

Posted by razib at 07:48 PM | | TrackBack

Beyond dyadic typologies

I often spend a lot of my time trying to express myself so that people don't think I'm situating myself in one camp in an either/or argument, because they are by their nature over-simplified typologies. This has happened several times when I attempt to express my opinion about the Indian caste system: a complex confluence of ancient historical legacies (reflected in the genetics) and recent instances of social mobility resulting in a mosaic that is difficult to generalize about. So here is a post about northeast India over at Dienekes blog that ends:

An interesting and important feature that emerges from this analysis is the reflection of the effect of the sociological process of a Tribe-Caste continuum on genetic structure. While on one end we have the cluster of Caucasoid caste populations, the other end consists of Mongoloid tribal groups. In between are the populations which were originally tribes but now have become semi-Hinduized caste groups, viz., Rajbanshi, Chutiya, and Ahom. These groups have currently assumed caste status and speak Indo-European languages.

Posted by razib at 06:55 PM | | TrackBack

Why religion will never disappear

I hear the following in the coffee shop:

[two baby boomer women-I will refer to them as A & B]

A: It's fine, she'll be OK.
B: I don't know, I feel like she's turning on me.
A: Jesus is fine, as long you don't take him literally. Have you read the Bible? There are some incredible moral stories in there! Some groups, like Episcopalians have the most amazing rituals!
B: But she seems like she's thinking that I'm going to hell.
A: Yes, fundamentalism isn't good, but spirituality is good. I mean, I wish I believed in something, it makes you stronger, and gives you something to reach for.
B: Yeah, true. I've always been interested in Wicca, but I guess I'm just too lazy to follow-up.
A: I know what you're saying, I've never had time to explore anything spiritual-I wish I did, it would be so nice to just believe in something.
B: I was interested in Zen meditation, but it can be somewhat stringent.
A: Yes, I agree, we just need to focus on the reality that all religions express the same truth.
[conversation blathers on]

It seems that B's daughter is becoming a Christian fundamentalist. A & B are both non-religious from what they seem to be saying, just like I am. But as far as I'm concerned, if they had a little free leisure time they'd be dancing around an idol of the "Horned God" buck naked, offering libations. These are not among the legions of reason, and their children will simply revert to type. Right now there is a general assumption that Europe is far less religious than the United States, and as a secular person, I wish that were so, but frankly, I think Europeans will probably "revert to type," if I had to bet on it (though I don't discount the "secularization hypothesis"). So what "type" will their revert to? The market is more crowded today than in the days of yore....

Posted by razib at 06:32 PM | | TrackBack

The look of the goy

When I read On Blondes recently the author noted that in a 1930s survey of Jewish schoolchildren the Nazi regime found that:

  • 10% were blond haired.
  • 50% were mixed hared.
  • 40% were black haired.

Last year David B. emailed me the following data on 19th century Anglo-Jewish eye color:

  • English Ashkenazim: Blue 11.1 Grey 30.1 Brown 58.8
  • English Sephardim: Blue 21.3 Grey 11.9 Brown 66.8

David noted "...But the striking thing is that in both cases the blue/grey proportion is over 30%. Since blue/grey is recessive to brown this implies a majority of blue/grey genes in the gene pool."

I don't know if the German study included mischlings (mixed children), but I began to think about this again when John Rethelford in Reflections of Our Past refers to Hammer's paper that suggests that Jews genetically reflect more their Middle Eastern ancestry as opposed to converts from the populations among whom they settled (Rethelford is himself a convert to Judaism). So....

1) did Jews pick intermarry at a non-trivial rate?
2) was there selection for "fairness" in the European Diaspora?
3) was the source population blonder and more light-eyed than we imagine Middle Eastern populations to be? (note that Yemeni Jews do not show the introgression of African mtDNA that is noticeable among the Muslims around them-likely because they became genetically isolated during the period of Islamic slavery).

Here is an old post with many links to studies on Jewish genetics.

Posted by razib at 12:26 PM | | TrackBack

April 16, 2004

Heritability and the Brain

[image below in extended entry]

The recent American Scientist had an interesting article on modern neuroscience, which included a section on genetics. Here is what it said:

Genetic processes underlie the development and evolution of the brain, and several research teams are studying the genetics of human brain volume and structure. One strategy is to use MRI to look at the brain volumes of identical and fraternal twins. The studies indicate that human cranial capacity is a strongly inherited trait, and most of the variation in total or hemispheric volume can be explained by genetic factors.In one report, by William Baaré and his colleagues at the University Medical Center of Utrecht in the Netherlands, genes accounted for the large majority of brain volume differences: 90 percent for the brain as a whole, 82 percent for gray matter and 88 percent for white-matter.
However, two major neuroanatomical features appear to be free of strong genetic control. In the same paper, Baaré stated that the lateral ventricles—CSF-filled cavities inside the brain—were only mildly influenced by heredity. A separate study by Alycia Bartley and her colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health explained how patterns of sulci and gyri were more similar in monozygotic (identical) twins than in dizygotic (fraternal) twins. Interestingly, siblings from both groups were still very different from each other, especially in the smaller sulci. Thus, while overall volumes of major brain sectors are under strong genetic control, smaller regions may be more responsive to environmental influence.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 03:07 PM | | TrackBack

Modern peculiarities of integration

Randy's recent post and the post below which alludes to the reality of cultural change has put me into a moment of reflection on tendencies to view culture and biology as integrative wholes or decomposable aspects of a given individual. If given a few basic assertions about what "liberal" or "conservative,"perhaps in reference to Rawls and Oakeshott, two philosophers who exemplify a highly intellectualized form of both ideologies, I might conclude this about both camps:

1) conservatives tend to be more "implicit" in their acceptance of background assumptions, ie; custom & tradition. They will assent that there is a seamles" whole of society (organic) and individual (who one is reflects thousands of years of past ancestry, encapsulating history, religion and genes, amalgamated in a fashion that is not reducible by reason).

2) liberals are more "explicit," and flesh our their axioms and the chain of reason that unites their various propositions into a constructed whole. Therefore, strictly speaking, society and individuals can be decomposed, and re-composed, to fit the most "reasonable" organization of all things.

And yet, in the current American political context, I doubt most conservatives would assent to the view that transracial adoption is a form of "cultural genocide," in other words, there is the implication that culture and race should be separated. This explains the tendency on the modern American right to rhetorically absue multiculturalism, while tolerating (or lauding) multiracialism. Though most liberals that I know would have a serious problem with assenting to a simple equation of "cultural genocide" with transracial adoption, I suspect they would not be as vociferous in denying its validity due to reasons of sensitivity. Similarly, I would suggest that many modern liberals take an integrative approach to the identities of racial minorities, seeing their culture & class as being implied by their race. This explains the common conflation of anti-Islamism (or anti-multiculturalism) with racism or opposition to the welfare state with racism (that is, there is a conflation of racial minorities with the underprivileged).

The generalization I make above is obviously is not true in all contexts, and I doubt most liberals would assent that their axioms harbor within them the conception that race, culture and religion must be viewed "holistically" (that the blood will always tell), rather, their assumptions would deny this, and they might argue that only present conditions and parameters make it incumbent upon them to behave so. In other words, they are simply reflecting realistic parameters that define modern society.

In practice, there are proximate considerations that constrain conservatives and liberals to espouse the views that they do, but one must remember that a proximity to any given position can eventually work its way back up and change one's foundational belief structure. By this, I mean that temporary alliances often force one to re-orient priorities and slowly transform one's beliefs simply through proximity, and an acceptance of "current realities" over an extended period can ossify into a background assumption that undergirds other, unrelated political positions (eg; the attempt by liberal activists to transfer identity politics into the ethnically, racially and economically variegated "Asian American").

Addendum: Readers might recall that both secular utilitarians & evangelical leaders were the most vociferous in denying the value of the organically developed cultures of India during the period of the East India Company. Rather, "conservatives," such as Edmund Burke, defended the folkways and traditions of the subcontinent as natural to the peoples of that region, as the most apt reaction to local historical and environmental conditions.

Posted by razib at 02:17 PM | | TrackBack

Leprechaun surprises

Just read a few chapters of John Relethford's Reflections of Our Past: How Human History is Revealed in Our Genes, very interesting book (broader sweep than most works in this genre)-but I found the chapter titled Invasions, Settlements and Irish History, somewhat surprising. The author recounts his analysis of both anthropometric & genetic data, and asserts that:

1) there is a west to east cline or gradient.
2) four midland counties, Roscommon, Leitrim, Longford and Westmeath are outliers from the main axis.

My first thought was that these counties were genetically isolated from the impact of various exogenous settlers, whether that be pre-historical (Fir Bolg? Milesian?) or more recentl (Viking, Norman, English, etc.). But, Rethelfod says that the anthropometric & genetic data points to a Scandinavian connection! Look at the map of Ireland and you note that the Shannon river allows an avenue of intercourse from the coast up into the heart of Ireland, and there are records of Viking warlords making their way inland and settling down.

Posted by razib at 01:53 PM | | TrackBack

Against Sir Vidia

Haroon Moghul accuses V.S. Naipul of hypocrisy. I admit that I have a negative view of Muslim culture as it is generally now being expressed, and as it has generally been manifested in the past (see here for my dim view of the God of Abraham, and why). Nevertheless, historical accuracy and coherence are important, fact must not give up its place of precedence to rhetoric. In Among the Believers, Naipul observes the primal self-hatred and ostentatious Arabophilia that is often evinced by the malwali (converted peoples). Nevertheless, Moghul is correct in that what is now is at the expense of what was in the past, by definition. What Moghul does allude to though, and what does exist among many malwalis (and documented by Naipul), is a pathological hatred for the "darkness" (jahiliyya) that came before Islam (ergo, the urge to "purify"). This tendency can be found among many "converted" peoples who now prostrate themselves to the One God of Abraham, and the tension between their pre-Islamic past and their Muslim present is a constrant thread running through their cultural history (you can also project this to Western cultures-just rewind a few hundred years back to the time when the glory of pagan Greece had not bewitched the European intellectual elites in its battle with the Christianity of St. Paul).

Posted by razib at 12:12 PM | | TrackBack

On the mind & brain

I highly recommend The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities of Human Thought by Gary Marcus. It's an excellent review of the data from the vantage point of a psychologist who knows his genetics & neurology.

Marcus :
1) is careful to elaborate the precise definition & context of heritability.
2) explains the importance of regulatory genes (Marcus is notes that the "language gene," FOXP2, probably affects the expression of a host of other genes).
3) refutes the simplistic analogy of genome -> phenotypic traits with a blueprint -> building.
4) emphasizes the dynamism of gene + environment interaction (in a fashion similar to Nature via Nurture).
5) Highlights the omissions of those who popularize research that indicates a great degree of neurological plasticity (and implicitly flies in the face of mental modularity), both in the broad context and in the specific experiments themselves.

For me, the last point is what I want to get across, and as some have noted, the book might be thought of as a review of the literature in this area from 1995-2002. But for those in the lay public, this sort of refresher is crucial, because the popular press tends to throw stuff at us without proper context or framing.

Posted by razib at 11:06 AM | | TrackBack

Pop genetics

Was watching Friends while I was cooking last night-one plot point revolved around Chandler & Monica stressing out about the paternity of a child they were about to adopt-the scenario is as follows:

1) Possible father #1 went to college on a football scholarship and is a all around good guy.
2) Possible father #2 went to prison for killing his father.

Last I saw (had to run) Chandler was trying to convince Monica to agree that they had to figure out who the father was, as he was scared of adopting a kid who might be the biological son of a father killer....

Posted by razib at 10:46 AM | | TrackBack

April 15, 2004

Brown HIV rates

From The Economist:

Update: I added a relatively recent state by state HIV infection value. All I can say is that democratically elected Communist regimes seem to discourage risky sex....


The prevalence rates below are taken from data collected during screening of women attending antenatal clinics, meaning that these prevalence rates are only relevant to sexually active women.
State/Union Territory HIV Prevalence (%)
Maharashtra & Mumbai 1.75
Manipur 1.75
Andhara Pradesh 1.5
Nagaland 1.25
Karnataka 1.13
Tamil Nadu 1.13
Haryana 0.51
Goa 0.5
Gujarat 0.5
Punjab 0.4
Mizoram 0.33
Daman & Diu 0.25
Dadra & Nagar Haveli 0.25
Jammu & Kashmir 0.25
Madhya Pradesh 0.25
Orissa 0.25
Pondicherry 0.25
Tripura 0.25
A & N Islands 0.16
Bihar 0.13
Delhi 0.13
Himachal Pradesh 0.13
West Bengal 0.13
Jharkhand 0.08
Kerala 0.08
Assam 0
Arunachal Pradesh 0
Chandigarh 0
Meghalaya 0
Rajasthan 0
Sikkim 0
Uttar Pradesh 0
Uttranachal 0

Posted by razib at 03:22 PM | | TrackBack

Invention Space

When Joel blogged here we used to talk about intellectual property a lot. Well, today I got an email from the creator of this, a diagram showing the relationship of types of inventions (and their relationship to intellectual property law).

Posted by razib at 03:08 PM | | TrackBack

Gross on Race

Paul Gross reviews Race: The Reality of Human Differences.

Update: Biometrician Mike Miller has an interesting post over at the Evolutionary Psychology list:

Neil Risch is a great statistical geneticist and he does a much better job...You'll be seeing some very interesting papers from him during the next year or so. In one, unless there is some error in it, he shows that using about 350 markers from a genome scan...he can classify 3500 unrelated black, white and asian subjects (their self-reported races) into groups by multidimensional scaling only misclassifying 5 people. So he can place people with others of their self-reported race, based only on some of their DNA, and be correct 99.8% of the time, yet there is no "biological basis" for the self-identified racial classification! He also could work with a sample of Japanese and Chinese, identify two groups based only on these markers, and classify individuals with their correct group 95% of the time.

The Japanese vs. Chinese result surprised me-perhaps Jomon/Ainu admixture?

Update II: A critic responds to Miller.

Posted by razib at 03:02 PM | | TrackBack

The confusions of history

I have referred on this blog several times to the dispute between the Roman noble Symmachus and St. Ambrose. It was one of the last public disputations between the paganism of classical Rome and the rising Christian confession, after this point (the late 4th century), classical paganism lost any eloquent partisan who could argue for it in the public sphere (the isolated intellectuals at The Academy in Athens do not count), and the next century witnesses the slow fixation of Christianity as an endemic trait of European high culture. I thought about this as I saw an advert over at Skeptic for Jonathan Kirsch's new book, God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism (details of his lecture at CalTech later this month). When I selected the link for Amazon I was surprised to see that the Publisher's Weekly thought that Julian was Constantine's son (he was Constantine's half-nephew)-but I was not surprised to see some reviewers point to pagan treatment of Jews & Christians as examples of religious persecution. A reading of the history seems to show Jewish & Christian tensions with the pagan Roman state were rooted in religio-political differences, and its more appropriate analogy is with political dissidents, not religious heretics (blasphemy is a pagan concept, but heresy seems really not to be due to pagan pluralism of belief).

Personally, I side with paganism over Christianity for personal reasons, as I am a secularist who sees space for skepticism in the pagan fold (despite its dominant superstition), while the more intellectually tightly knit Christian system of beliefs leaves less "space" for my kind (and Islam for that matter). Nevertheless, I do not discount the argument made by scholars like Rodney Stark that Christianity was a necessary condition for the scientific and socio-political revolution that resulted in the modern liberal West (though Stark tends to play fast and loose with facts when I read his work closely when it is outside his core sociological speciality, especially history [1], and his animus toward liberal secularism is plain and rather unconcealed [2]).

But back to Symmachus & Ambrose.

Says Symmachus:

It is just that all worship should be considered as one. We look on the same stars, the sky is common, the same world surrounds us. What difference does it make by what pains each seeks the truth? We cannot attain to so great a secret by one road; but this discussion is rather for persons at ease, we offer now prayers, not conflict.

Who could imagine a more liberal and modern sentiment?

But now see this small assertion from Ambrose:

This alone was common to me with the barbarians, that of old I knew not God.

Where Symmachus offers a toleration of old, Ambrose offers universal salvation, to barbarian and Roman, all under heaven. Both sentiments are expressions of universal urges in humanity-did not Sargon of Akkad, the first emperor known to history, call himself Lord of the Four Corners of the World, signifying his universal rule? An understanding that other peoples have other ways is also ancient, and understanding that other individuals have their own way of behaving, their own motives, is likely part of social intelligence.

Our personal biases infuse our perceptions of ancient paganism and Christianity with sins and virtues that we would like to see in a society that we prefer (whatever our vantage point might be, ergo, Christian socialists argue that socialism is inevitable from Christianity, while Christian libertarians argue the converse). To decompose the elements of European culture, and view Christianity a la carte, is supremely difficult at this point in our history. Using eloquent men like Symmachus as exemplars of the pagan way is tempting, but we neglect the barbarity that lurks within acceptance of pluralism [3].

Finally, we do neglect a culture that might be a reflection of what-might-of-been had there been a further maturation of classical European paganism: Hindu India. India's acceptance of pluralism, and toleration of minority faiths (relative), stands in contrast with the cultures to its West. But there is No Free Lunch, an understanding of the virtues of plural belief and practice seems to come at the price of a universal passion for justice and equality, and ossification of class and caste differences as humans fracture into a thousand sects.

The meme might not be the machine, the engine that causes, but the enzyme that enables and amplifies. The God of Abraham catalyzed the tendency toward equality (moral) that was common in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA). On the other hand, mature "paganism," with its diversity of belief subsumed under the rubic of a diffuse philosophical monism, crystallizes the occupational and cultural specialization that characterized the rise of city-state. Seen this way, the God of Abraham might be seen as the revenge of the caveman!

[1] At one point, Stark tells us that he has mined historical scholarship and found much at variance with public perceptions of Christianity and its relationship to the West. But I am somewhat more skeptical of his historical erudition when he proceeds to re-hash the Charles Martel in stirrups thesis a few pages later, a theory known in the public arena as "fact", but debunked for a few decades now among historians.

[2] Stark in one of his books honestly and objectively analyzes the possibility that a conservative Christian conception of history that posits a primal monotheism (somewhat like Islamic ideas) might be empirically correct, and that we shouldn't reject such ideas out of hand because of their supernatural foundations. Later on, he decides to dismiss the ridiculous superstitions of neo-pagans as irrational rants. Also, he contrasts the relative tolerance of Christians vs. the aggressive intolerance of secular intellectuals. Stark has some truth in what he says, but he overplays his hand when behaving as if religious believers are graced by large doses of toleration in comparison to the godless.

[3] Even pagan pluralism had its limits, the Romans regularly suppressed the practice of human sacrifice.

Posted by razib at 02:46 PM | | TrackBack

Dalrymple on Islam

Re Theodore Dalrymple's fascinating article on Islam in the City Journal (links are in a post further down this page), there is a shorter version in today's (April 15) London Times, so Dalrymple's thesis is getting a very wide dissemination.

Posted by David B at 01:22 PM | | TrackBack


The "Language Gene," FOXP2, has been making regular appearances in the popular press and scholarly articles-so I thought it would be cool if I linked to this page, which has a short but detailed explanation about the gene. Interestingly, the author seems to feel Nick Wade underplayed the importance of the gene to the formation of general intelligence, as opposed to domain specific verbal skills. Of course, it seems the inability to communicate might cause problems in full expressing one's general intellectual capacities.

Posted by razib at 12:39 PM | | TrackBack

April 14, 2004

Wolpoff won't give in....

No Evidence of Neandertal mtDNA Contribution to Early Modern Humans asserts this PLOS article. Of course, as the article notes, it simply follows in the wake of other pieces that suggest a lack of continuity between Neandertals and modern humans. I would be willing to bet money that 20 years from now the studies would point in the same direction, and if Milford Wolpoff is still around, I would also be willing to bet he would claim these results were all due to the vicissitudes of genetic drift. The problem as I see it is that the molecular evidence does not stand alone, paleoanthropologists like Chris Stringer have long argued for a replacement model based on the bones, while issues of philosophical parsimony seem to favor the "Out of Africa" model.

As I've followed this "controversy" over the past 15 years, one thing I've noticed is the tendency for both sides to use emotionally charged rhetoric against the other, and try to paint themselves as on the side of "progress." That argues that more than issues of science are at stake-ego has a hold of the mind, and only death shall set them free. Remember, the brilliance of the late Sir Fred Hoyle could not shake him from his belief in "Steady State" until the last.

Posted by razib at 06:28 PM | | TrackBack

Wuz in a term cousin?

Stray thought: a lot of the recent focus on the problems that consanguinity causes for nation-building got me to thinking: we use terms like "Iraqi Arab Shia." Well...the mapping of "Iraqi" to "American," let alone a traditional national identity like "Polish," is problematic. But what about all these "ethnic" terms? Americans think in terms of "black," "white" and now Hispanic and all the rest. I have heard Latin Americans tell me that they don't have any conception of race, and I know that's bullshit from personal experience. Arabs have told me the same, and I know that that is wrong from anecdotes an Afro-Yemeni once related about bigotry back in the homeland.

Nevertheless, the clear, axiomatic ethnic identifiers in the United States are misleading when you try and map them overseas (both in typology and emphasis). Among Americans, with the lack of extended clans in much of the nation (especially amongst the chattering class elite), between your close family and ethnicity, there aren't solid affiliations aside from church (which is often elective & ephemeral). In much of the Middle East, clan association (a patrilineage) might be more important than whether one is a "Kurd," "Arab" or "Persian." This cropped up in Afghanistan when Americans kept trying to speak of "Tajiks" and "Pashtuns" and "Uzbeks" as if these were hard & fast terms that had great salience on the ground (perhaps it was more salient that the Tajiks are not a tribal people while the Pashtuns are). The shaitan is in the details.

Posted by razib at 05:38 PM | | TrackBack

Same auld song?

A reader pointed me to this story titled Split Between English and Scots Older Than Thought. Frankly, I really don't get the excitement...Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer published The Real Eve: Modern Man's Journey Out of Africa last year, and there is this slick site from The Discovery Channel that show-cased what seems like a "companion" documentary, somewhat along the line of Spencer Wells' recent output. The articles that have just come out kind of confuse me. We've blogged several times on the topic of English archaeogenetics: British genes, CELTS AND ANGLO-SAXONS, Wales, England, Cornwall, genetics.... and English and Welsh differ genetically (well, it's clear that the genetic histories of some peoples are more important than others!). The vectors are pointing in a variety of directions, but I think David B sums it up well:

The positive evidence, so far as it goes, seems to me consistent with something closer to the ‘Wipeout’ theory than the ‘Upper Crust’ theory, though with survival of ‘wealh’ populations in varying proportions...However, the feasibility of a scenario does not mean it is true. Further genetic evidence may finally resolve the controversy. If it is in fact proved that the ‘Celtic’ element was predominant in southern England, this would have interesting implications for cultural history and evolution, for it would show that a complete change of language and culture can be imposed by a dominant minority, in an illiterate pre-industrial society, and in a short period of time.

The genetic differentiation between the peoples of the "Celtic Fringe" (forget that Scotland's "Celtic" identity is somewhat of a recent invention) and those of England seems to be amply explained by the Y & mtDNA studies that researchers like Bryan Sykes & Spencer Wells have surveyed which indicate that humans during the last glacial maxima retreated to "refugia," whether that be Iberia, the Balkans or further east in the Ukraine. As northern Europe became habitable once more, these populations expanded and their co-mingling has resulted in the varied populations of northern Europe (a coalescence time on the order of tens of thousands of years for the various lines is reasonable in light of the genetic isolation that the Ice Age would have imposed on these populations). It is important to note that each population is a mosaic of various paternal & maternal lineages in different proportions, and easily digestible summations that express these nuances are very difficult to come by. (so you get headlines like: "English and Scots genetically same!" or "English and Scots genetically different!")

Posted by razib at 11:34 AM | | TrackBack

Fool's Gold

Today's WSJ has a good article on what is known as "financial engineering" at MIT. This program at MIT illustrates perfectly the fallacy of thinking higher math is a sure path to making money in the stock market -- in this case by pricing financial options. A couple of years ago, Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) nearly brought the world financial system to its knees when its sophisticated trading program in derivatives went off the rails. This despite the fact that LTMC had on its team two Ignoble Prize winners in economics, plus some of the biggest names in mathematical economics.

Essentially what happened was the guys at LTCM factored out of their equations the possibility of very large but highly unlikely events. Unfortunately, highly unlikely events happen in real life. Thus, when something unlikely did happen -- in this case, the East Asian financial panic -- all their calculations went up in smoke. It's like a program designed to beat the odds in Las Vegas: as long as you allow the person placing the bets to double his bet indefinitely, it is easy to demonstrate that he has a near perfect chance of winning against the house eventually, at whatever confidence interval you may care to choose. The flaw in the approach, of course, is that you are not allowed to double your bet indefinitely -- on Wall Street as in Las Vegas.

So far I've been unable to append a copy of the WSJ article below, since it requires special access and I've lost my password. But let me note the main motive for these not-so-hot-shots in electrical engineering wanting to go to Wall Street in the first place: the firms that are foolish enough to hire them, are willing to pay them a higher salary than they can earn as real engineers! Clearly, someone has a vested interest in a certain point of view. (And just as clearly, if these young not-so-hot-shots really knew how to make money this way, they would be trading on their own account.)

Bottom line: human behavior is not mathematically predictable to the degree these people expect. It is a labile thing, which means that trying to use higher math to leverage something valuable out of it, is about as promising as trying to use a wet sponge as a lever.

Posted by lukelea at 07:06 AM | | TrackBack

April 13, 2004


Cuthbert is an Anglo-Saxon name:

Does Miss Italy kind of look like Elisha or what?:

Posted by razib at 09:07 PM | | TrackBack

Beauty in the Brain
Posted by razib at 06:29 PM | | TrackBack

Meme Theory and Cultural Transmission.

The only meme theory that interests me is the problem of cultural transmission: how to preserve those values and ideas that make liberal democracy possible? I sometimes wonder whether the old German idea of a "research university" might not have had its day, so far as the humanities and social sciences are concerned? Science and Technology, for sure, must never end the quest for new knowledge. But history? Economics? Literature? I think not.

The problem today is that you have students entering Harvard and Stanford -- and, what is more, leaving Harvard and Stanford -- who have but the barest notion of where our civilization came from and how we got here. They have no idea of the price that has been paid (a price that, if we blow it, will have to be paid again) so that we can enjoy all the freedom and the good things of life we have inherited, from our parents and grandparents, and they from theirs before them.

I wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea to ditch the Ivy League undergraduate colleges with their enrollments in the thousands for each class and lectures for the hundreds, and go back to the concept of small teaching colleges, with small classes, and teachers who are not expected to publish or break new ground in research, or do anything original -- but rather to pass on "the best that has been thought and said" in the (approximate) words of an old cultural critic whom I admire.

I know that, through pure happenstance, I got such an education back in the early 1960's, during what turned out to be the golden age of the liberal arts in American undergraduate education. But I don't see many kids getting it today; or even having a chance of getting it. I hear there's a special program for 100 chosen freshmen at Yale, but that's about it.

The question is: how long can our Constitution survive, along with all the liberal and conservative values we hold dear that are enshrined in it, if we don't take the time and trouble to teach the fundamentals of our history, and of the theory of our economic and political institutions, to our successors?

I know razib refers to this general problem on occassion, and I just wanted to get my two cents in.

Posted by lukelea at 03:07 PM | | TrackBack

Group selection primer

Since any mention of a particular group selection theorist seems to elicit a lot of comment on this blog-I think it would be good if people read the more central figures behind the modern day revival of this idea. RE-INTRODUCING GROUP SELECTION TO THE HUMAN BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES is a short article by David Sloan Wilson & Elliott Sober expostulating their core ideas. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior is a full book length treatment.

Posted by razib at 03:03 PM | | TrackBack

Maxim 100

Maxim has released its year list of the top 100 sexy ladies. Jessica Simpson is #1, here is the full list. Maxim has a nice Flash preview if you are curious.

Posted by razib at 02:50 PM | | TrackBack

Against visions of Eurabia?

Randy McDonald has an excellent post titled France, its Muslims, and the Future. Randy does a few "back of the envelope" calculations, along with contemporary cultural observations & a historical context. But, Randy did say I should feel free to criticize him, so a few points....

Is the analogy with immigration from an underdeveloped Romance speaking and religiously Catholic nations into a developed Romance speaking and secular Catholic nation juxtaposed against the current situation-where people from a non-Romance speaking and non-Catholic non-Christian culture immigrate to France-appropriate?

I think Randy can extract a lot from the analogy-and he brings up groups like Poles, who are outside this dichotomy. But I think it plausible to say that given the same conditions in France (similar level of population, economic growth, etc.), two waves of immigrants of the same size from Spain and Algeria will result in different levels of social anomie or discord. Stated differently, perhaps an order of magnitude greater numers of Spaniards could be allowed to settle in France than Algerians and result in the same level of nativism?

This is conjecture, but Randy did bring up the anti-Catholic hysteria in the United States. But, it must be noted while immigrants from eastern and southern Europe continued to stream into the United States as late as 1920, "Oriental" immigrants were excluded earlier on because of native fear. In other words, there are differing levels of social discord elicted by differing classes of immigrants, so a near 1:1 mapping of Iberian/Italian immigrants with a wave of North Africans is unwarranted. To be more candid: did a significant minority of Iberian or Italian immigrants express a wish to turn France into a fully southern European nation through a vocal intellectual elite that brought with them a full-course socio-religious ideology? Randy also points to east Asian nations as an example where low birthrates and social conservatism co-exist, but like Italy and Spain, I think it can be shown that this is partially the result of few government programs that encourage higher fertility (not explicitly, but in terms of the cradle to grave system). In France, and other northern European nations with generous social welfare systems, ther is less incentive to control family size.

Now we turn to the dynamics within the Muslim community. Randy makes a convincing case that only a minority of French Muslims are the reactionary medievalists that LGF & co. would portray them as. But then again-only a minority of Saudis probably are fully onboard with the Wahabbi ideology, only a minority of Russians were full-bore believing Communists, only a minority of Germans were heart-felt (rather than opportunistic) Nazis. Motivated minorities can make a world of difference. Look at the rampant anti-clericalism that characterized some traditionally Catholic nations in the 19th century, or the use of the courts to overturn segregation and school prayer in the United States. I have never seen an estimate for the numbers for Christians in the Roman Empire during the early 4th century (when the pagan Empire began to go Christian) as greater that 30%, and more often it is closer to 10%. The problem, as even the most anti-Muslim of thinkers will admit, are some Muslims, not all Muslims.

On the sexualization of white Christian women by Muslim men that Randy refers to, unfortunately, I think it exists, and it is a common trend among Muslim men. I have discussed this with a friend who is of part-Israeli Arab origin. I have seen it in college when Arab students whisper to me about how loose American women are, or decide to camp outside a sorority, or tell me how Filipino maids are the best since you can assault them and get away with it since they aren't Muslim, or how my cousin tells me of his conquests. This mercenary attitude toward sex is aimed at all women, but "their own women" remain pure, because familial constraints and protections are in place (my cousins who behave in a conventionally predatory manner toward American women are respectfull of the Bangladeshi women who they eventually will marry or have married). This is not a Muslim tendency, this predatory attitude is a male tendency. Note how grotesquely primitive men in college fraternies become-males who are no doubt a somewhat self-selected portion of the socioeconomic elite. Islam does not create the male savage, it simply places restrictions on the savage in ways that are not exportable to the Western world (Western culture has other controls).

Finally, Randy states: "In short, human beings show an unerring tendency to leave restrictive cultures for more pluralistic ones." I don't believe this at all. They leave for economic opportunity, which many pluralistic cultures offer. The initial waves of immigrants into Germany, Norwary or Sweden, for example, did not migrate to pluralistic cultures, just ones where they could make money, or utilize the welfare state (and as American history reminds us, religious refugees often seek freedom to express their own beliefs, not freedom as a principle). Correlation does not equation causation! Look at what happens in the United States: Separate proms for different races held in Georgia (the Latino kids have started their own prom, set alongside the black and white proms). I agree that some of the extreme advocates of Islamophobia have given into dystopian fantasies-but, frankly Randy, a statement like this seems to suggest you have your own fantasies! [1]

I'd like to see ParaPundit comment on this....

Addendum: Non-linear projections of change that result in dystopian fantasies are almost certainly partially inspired by books like this: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Addendum II: Also, the point that 5-10% isn't that much hides the reality that:

1) it is regionally concentrated
2) is it skewed by age cohorts (something Randy implies)

Update: Randy has a round-up of those who linked/commented on his post.

[1] Projections of Muslim assimilation into Western culture based on historical precedent are interesting, insofar as liberals who might praise this probability are less likely to accept the same argument from libertarians who assert that Erlich & co. have been wrong so often, that human ingenuity has been sufficient in the past, that we need not worry about the "coming environmental apocalypse." Reflecting on these peculiar reversals of method can smoke out real underpinnings of beliefs.

Posted by razib at 11:13 AM | | TrackBack

Oh Godless, Wherefore Art Thou? And Why Hast Thou Forsaken Us?

An interesting follow up on David B's recent series of posts on Sensation and qualia, which caused a lot of controversy on this site a few weeks back, is this update on Francis Crick's work on neural basis of consciousness in the NYT. I tend to agree with everything Crick says, including his prediction that the idea of an immortal soul which survives the death of the body, will soon be perceived by most people as a curious superstition of the past. But what's really interesting, to me at least, is that none of this negatively impacts my own "religious" approach to the interpretation of reality. Go figure.

Posted by lukelea at 08:25 AM | | TrackBack

April 12, 2004

Group selection & Jews - who are your bed-fellows?

In response to my objection to the 'tude displayed by one Crooked Timber poster toward evolutionary psychology, Daniel Davies says:

Thornhill and Palmer are not outliers; they're favourably cited by Cosmides & Tooby. An example of an "outlier" would be that guy who's written three books on the Jews, although even he's not such an outlier that he wasn't allowed on the editorial board of important ev.psych journals.

I don't get this. Tooby has pissed on MacDonald several times. Why bring this up? Especially in light of the fact that Daniel has used the Lewontin and Sober paper several times over at Crooked Timber, the same Elliott Sober who co-authored a book with David Sloan Wilson, a man who defended Kevin MacDonald a few years back (Judith Shulevitz notes that Sober & Wilson list Kevin MacDonald as an "evolutionary psychologist" in a scholarly article, giving him at least their legitimacy). Most evolutionary psychologists work within the individual/gene selectionist paradigm of W.D. Hamilton, Kevin MacDonald does not, and instead uses the "group selection" which men like Sober, Wilson & Gould have espoused (or more properly, "hierarchical selection"). Kooks will use any tools they can get their hands on [1]. The Camp of Evil and Camp of Good are not as clear cut as Davies & The Crooked Timber clan would like to think. I would be getting political if I wondered if those who favored communitarian/altruistic congenial views of human nature might not have it blow up in their face when the dark beasts of ethno-activists hijack it-but I won't go there [2]....

[1] My view of KMD has shifted from "controversialist" to "kook" in the past year as he seems to be intent on extrapolating politics from theories, instead of being "above it all" (like Arthur Jensen). See his output over at The Occidental Quarterly.

[2] Reading Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior, one must remember that the altruism that Sober & Wilson argue for emerges in the context of inter-group dynamics. There is no moral free lunch. There's a reason that Unto Others can be found in a bibliography at the "Neoeugenics" site.

Posted by razib at 06:10 PM | | TrackBack

Brittle it be

Seems like Teddy Dalrymple is at it again-commenting on British Muslim culture (via ParaPundit via Diana). A few points:

Dalrymple uses the term "brittle" to describe Islam. I've used this term myself, partially in analogy with Jewish culture before 1800 in Europe, which "shattered" under the impact of Christian and post-Christian "Enlightenment." Jim Kalb, "traditionalist conservative" par excellence, is often comparing Islam with liberalism, in that both are axiomatic, and destructive of custom & tradition. Since I myself view many threads in the modern Western political tradition as secularized forms of Christian universalism, this is entirely plausible. I also view liberalism as brittle, an "unstable equilibrium," albeit a precious one.

On the other hand, I have recently had second thoughts of broad-brush characterizations of "Islam" as an axiomatic-"meme complex." To illustrate the problems: Islam has traditionally been inimcal to those who were not "People of the Book" (this hostility itself is disputable, but my impression is that the dissenters are either highly heterodox or modern revisionists). There were some parts of the Koran used to justify the toleration of Zoroastrians and Mandaeans. But what about the Hindus of India? No matter the axiomatic injunction, it was generally not honored, and the legal scholars simply pretended as if Hindus were People of the Book and ordered that the dhimmi jizya (tax) be imposed upon them (rather than the death that was the lot of pagan Arabs).

Nevertheless, there are general trends in the Ummah, and this is what Dalrymple is speaking to. He notes that "Islam has no separation between Church & State." Well, I have cautioned the optimists who wish to see such hope in liberal Islam from behaving as if this is the Muslim norm, but I would caution the same for Dalrymple et al. For instance, the contrast between Sikh & Hindu Punjabis and Muslim Punjabis is something that Dalrymple uses as a "controlled" comparison, showing how the only difference between them is religion, but the Muslims seem to be faring far worse socioeconomically. But what about the Gujarati Muslims of East Africa? In particularly, the Ismailis. Their brand of Islam is in many ways far more like that of a Hindu sect (socially, not theologically), in that they are traditionally a Gujarati merchant caste. I would like to emphasize that Ismailis are peculiar in the Muslim world, and so we should be cautious about generalizing, but they are illustrative of the topographic diversity of Muslim religious expression. Dalrymple implicitly tips his hat to this principle as he notes that Islam's expression in its particular time & place, in the Arab and West Asian worlds, as well as after the observation of the ascendence of post-Christianity in Europe, makes it fundamentally a different creature which is a chimera of many beasts.

This is all set-up for an opinion I would like to express: I do not believe that "separation of Church & State" is as much of a problem as thinkers would suggest (at least in the long term). I work by analogy here: It was not in the Catholic nations where the Church remained established as the Second Estate, parallel with the First Estate, that liberalism flourished. It was in England where liberalism took root, a nation where there is an established Church headed by the monarch. This co-exists with religious pluralism established after the turbulence of the reigns of the later Stuarts. Similarly, in Scandinavia, the Church became absorbed by the state (to its detriment if religious feelings are any indication), and stable and transparent democracies have resulted. Contrastingly, state supported Prussian Protestantism gave rise to one of the more heinous autocracies of this century-though students of details of history will note that the Hohenzollern monarchy was for a long period characterized by a Calvinist monarch ruling over a Lutheran people (though Frederick the Great was personally an unbeliever)-a situation that eventually ended with the forced solvation of the Calvinist confession into the broader Lutheran Evangelical tradition. My point? Be cautious of this generalization. If history teaches lessons, must we look for a Muslim Laud, or Cromwell, or even William of Orange?

Finally, I would like to say I'm amused & surprised that City Journal is distributing a tract that seems to imply that atheists are healthy for a liberal/plural culture:

But until Muslims (or former Muslims, as they would then be) are free in their own countries to denounce the Qu’ran as an inferior hodgepodge of contradictory injunctions, without intellectual unity (whether it is so or not)—until they are free to say with Carlyle that the Qu’ran is “a wearisome confused jumble” with “endless iterations, longwindedness, entanglement”—until they are free to remake and modernize the Qu’ran by creative interpretation, they will have to reconcile themselves to being, if not helots, at least in the rearguard of humanity, as far as power and technical advance are concerned.

As godless & I are wont to say: Islam must be gelded (or, as godless so explicitly would state: "There must be a Piss Muhammed next to the Piss Christ"). I am not a naive exponent of the view that secularism brings with it the panoplies of modernity, that religious is always base superstition and culture stifling, after all, muscular self-conscious secularism did not come to the fore in European culture until the 18th century, while Europe's rise dated to the 16th century at the latest. But, a vocal and somewhat uncivil and publically skeptical class of bohemians & firebrands is something that the Dar-al-Islam seems to lack-rationally so, since death at the extreme, and social expulsion at the least, are consequences of public infidelity to Allah. The experience of Islam in the West might be crucial to this process: once the tools that sliced & diced the tendons and ligaments from the flesh of Christianity are brought to bear on Islam, this process might slowly make its way into the Muslim world. But unfortunately, our public equation of Islam = "people of color" in some sectors is mitigating this process, and further ossifying the religious culture. So many times on my country-wide trip I would hear that "Islam is a beautiful heritage," but so was the culture that produced the Inquisition, the Theocracy of Geneva and the burning of witches.

When Symmachus, the pagan Prefect of Rome, pleaded for toleration for the "Old Ways," Ambrose of Milan retorted "There is no shame in passing to better things." Just once, I'll say it: amen!

Posted by razib at 05:42 PM | | TrackBack

Hellenic wisdom

Have to mention a funny thing an actor/designer I met on the plane into San Francisco told me: "You know so much esoteric information, but you can't even keep your own life straight." (in reference to the fact that I couldn't recall how many times I'd flown with JetBlue) Many of my w's are < 1....

Posted by razib at 12:27 PM | | TrackBack

Debate among heavy hitters

There is an interesting debate in the Evolutionary Psychology e-list that might interest GNXP readers. Readers who don't know about the group might want to read this article in Salon. Additionally, Ian Pitchford, who runs the list, is Editor-in-Chief of Human Nature (also on our sidebar). Of late, Dr. Pitchford has not been particularly kind to those who moot the idea of inter-group differences in pyschological metrics. On a related note: Steven Pinker has a selection of his academic articles and many of his popular press pieces on his website. Sometimes the internet tempts you not to ever go outside, huh?

Further question: To those in the know-would Steven Rose be a good opposite thinker to Steven Pinker on the "innateness" question? I am asking because I am reading a lot of cognitive science, and am curious as to the works of those who find modularity unconvincing and have a more expansive conception of mental plasticity than most scholars I am familiar with.

Posted by razib at 11:43 AM | | TrackBack

Evolutionary Psychology & Iraq

Diana has some evolutionary psychologically related thoughts on Iraq. She expresses some interesting ideas that echo some of the stuff Steve & Randall have noted, and in a more muted & less biological fashion Stanley Kurtz.

Iraq is different than the United States, whether that be in 2004, or the Colonial America of 1776. This implies that simple mappings of a Jeffersonian Democracy were hogwash. I do find it ironic that the more hard-headed realists on this issue until recently were on the Left-for political reasons-when normally it seems liberal intellectuals prefer the hyper-plastic model of the mind espoused by neural connectionists (and implicitly more cultural plasticity), which seems to be in the minority, as oppose to those who argue for more hard-wired "innateness" (ergo, more fixed cultural variants that are modifications on a universal theme).

I would add one important caveat to Diana's assertion that "Democracy happens where you have a society that is thoroughly dominated by a high-status group that is democratic." I would insert the qualification that there must be the perception of meritocracy, or democratic process, in the type of elite she describes. For example, the Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia justified the New Economic Plan (NEP), partially on the basis that common Malays needed to see some rich successful Malays so that they too felt that a capitalist society can be beneficial to their interests. Of course, detractors of such a perspective would point out that rationally such a system makes everyone poorer (by allocating capital & resources to those who are less efficient at converting them to economic production), and even the likes of Mohammed have admitted that perception is not reality in this case, and the Malay plutocracy is simply the well connected parasitic elite of old (Mohammed also does not publicize that his father was a Tamil Muslim, not a Malay!). In reality, there isn't that much mobility in Malaysia among the indigenous people when viewed along the axis of lineage & pedigree.

This brings to the point the importance of proximate traits: brown-skinned Malays who worship Allah are outwardly similar to the typical bumiputra, ergo, the common Malay is psychologically mollified ("That could be me!") [1]. A cost vs. benefit analysis that shows in explict numbers the increased personal expense that accrues from the Chinese capital class' subsidization of Malay tycoons would likely be irrelevant, and I suspect that common Malays on some level understand that Malay tycoons are less efficient at advancing the state of the national economy than more saavy Chinese entrepreneurs (much of this thinking reflects Amy Chua's World on Fire) [2]. Modern capitalist democracies to some extent "fool" our natural genetic affinity detectors because they leverage ancient hunter-gatherer predispositions in an alien context.

This makes sense if you look at it from the perspective of ethnic groups being "extended families" (in the ancient ur-human culture, a related clan who shared custom & outward appearence). I am still skeptical that a selfish gene vantage-point would justify the Malay peasant's acceptance of a parasitic elite that "looks like them" (Malays are admixed with Indian & Chinese converts to Islam), but this might go some way to explain why indigenous peoples behave "irrationally." As Diana notes, Iraquis are simply coalitions of extended families-and what is less important than absolute well-being is relative well-being and status. Becoming a quiescent protectorate of the United States would be the road to absolute comfort (if not affluence, look at Puerto Rico), but it would also diminish the chances of members of the Iraqi "elite" (or nascent elite) from attaining the alpha male glory they so crave. Ancient humans had little experience with relatively beneficial protectorates of a larger wealthy clan over a smaller clan. On the other hand, clan jostling and back-stabbing were common tendencies that resulted fruitfull multiplication (if you look at the early period of written history before the explosion of transcultural religious ideologies).

Finally, let me note that Cavalli-Sforza's new book on consanguinity notes that elevated levels of consanguinity are a characteristic of societies in demographic transition (this was the case in Italy between 1850-1950). Of course, much of the Arab world is in demographic transition right now (I will blog in more detail about this later).

Addendum: As I've noted before, the dynamics of human societies vary are dependent on time & place. But, it seems plausible that the most "stable equilibriums" are those where there is enough social & occupational specialization to maintain a complex polity, but, avenues for mobility upward of the "lower orders" so that this stratification is accepted. For example, the Roman polity regulary extended the franchise to conquered elites (piece-meal), the Confucian Mandarinate was famous for its promotion from the middling ranks and the European medieval order was dynamic in that local men of prominence (gentry) were often ennobled.

[1] When I was in New York City, I saw an interview with people in Jennifer Lopez's old Bronx neighborhood about her mother winning the lottery. Everyone admitted that the Lopez family didn't need anymore money, but they were happy that "someone from the neighborhood was making it so well."

[2] This sort of think can have really counter-productive consequences-for instance, one could imagine how a group wants "doctors that look like them," so quotas are set to educate physicians of ethnicity X. Of course, this might result in poorer care for ethnicity X (assuming that doctors of ethnicity X tend to work among ethnicity X) as meritocratic admissions are undermined.

Posted by razib at 10:45 AM | | TrackBack

"Why genomes are important"

A somewhat simplistic article on genomics in a Scottish paper. Might be worth pointing the URL to friends who aren't very sophisticated about these issues and wouldn't find the tone patronizing....

Posted by razib at 01:22 AM | | TrackBack

Islam and science

In follow-up to Luke's post on reform in Islam-I note Abiola's entry on this article that recounts the tale of the Golden Age of Islamic Science:

1) Abiola makes some good points correcting the historic hyperbole in the article. The assertion that Islam was at its apogee up to 1500 is ludicrous, Christendom was intellectually the more dynamic civilization by 1300, and likely by 1200.

2) The article asserts that Americans are ignorant of Islam's contribution to the European intellectual revival that ushered in the Modern Age. Well, yes, ignorant Americans are ignorant of Islam's contribution, and in fact, ignorant Americans are just plain ignorant. Most people of modest middle-brow aspirations are well aware that "without Spain, Europe would still be in the Dark Ages," after all, The New York Times tells them so. But, they are not told that a significant portion of scholars in Muslim Spain were Jews and to a lesser extent Arabic speaking Christians (Mozarabs). They are also not told that most of the original translators of Greek learning into Arabic were Christians and Jews of the Near East. They are also not told that the Byzantines preserved some elements of classical learning, and scholars like George Plethon found ready students in the cities of Italy. They are also not told that much of Muslim science was explicitly derivative from Greek & to a lesser extent Indian sources.

The "Muslim" Golden Age is nothing to sniff at-but its proper comparison should be with the Aristotelian Renaissance of High Medieval Europe, not the post-Copernican scientific period of the modern era. Also, I put "Muslim" in quotes because though Muslims were the dominant ruling caste during this period (that is, up to 1000 CE), during this period, they were not the overwhelming majority of the population, rather, it seems that taken over the whole of the Dar-al-Islam in 1000, Muslims might have been a bare majority, while in the period before 900, they were likely a minority [1].

Finally, on a contrarian note, I would like to add that I believe that one of the problems with Islam is that its "Reformation" was far too successful. While Martin Luther did not succeed in his initial aim of reforming the One True Church-the scholars culminating in al Ghazali did establish a broad unity of the Sunni Ummah, and the period of faction that climaxed with the Mutazilites subsided. In contrast, Christianity shattered after 1648 beyond a point of no return, and heterodoxy always found a home somewhere from the Urals to the Atlantic....

[1] Ergo, the time period when Islam was the world's dominant intellectual force, it was a pluralistic culture, which went into decline concomitantly with the conversion of the majority of the populace to the ascendent religious paradigm. From what I have read, Egypt did not have a Muslim majority until after 1000. Iran became majority Muslim only in the 10th century. It also seems plausible that large segments of the Levantine countryside was still mostly Christian into the Abbassid Caliphate.

Posted by razib at 12:43 AM | | TrackBack

April 11, 2004

When raven was in

I recently bought On Blondes, by British author Joanna Pitman, to read on the airplane. Well, it's a decent, if somewhat trashy, text. Not a lot of concrete red meat science, rather, a pop culture history.

But one thing that I found interesting in the history is Pitman's assertion that blondism, though often sexually desirable in European women, also has had a strong assocation with wanton sluttishness. This connection was so strong that Greek playrights satirized it (Athenian courtesans dyed their hair blonde), Church Fathers propagandized against it (Tertullian's disgust with the human condition extended to wigs made from the hair of pagan Germans) , while between 1650 and the Victorian Age, flaxen hair was considered a mark of low class and lower morals (an age when a fair-haired girl of breeding was marked with shame?). While in pervious pro-blonde eras (the Renaissance for instance) the use of hair lightening dye was common, in the period after 1650 European nobility idealized a more dark-haired beauty on the model of Barbara Villiers, mistress of Charles II ( ironically a woman of supposed whorish disposition herself), and darkening agents were not unknown.

But, I think it is safe to say that this is an age when blonde is in....

Posted by razib at 11:57 PM | | TrackBack

More than reason alone

Below, in response to a Crooked Timber poster who wondered if I was trying to suggest that the Left as a whole was against evolutionary psychology (EP), I noted that I cited a social democrat and a moderate Democrat as two individuals who did not believe that EP was bad science per se. Based on rational & empirical arguments alone, I think I can make the case that EP has some validity, and is a worthy avenue of research, but I was very conscious in that post of looking to those on the Left side of the political spectrum to buttress my argument.

The key is that I have long been aware that arguments are not won by reason alone. This is the answer to the query that Jason Malloy & others had to why I cited Paul Krugman in my mild take-down of using a Gouldian phrase for Panda's Thumb. Some readers were rather irritated and angered that Krugman was cited as someone who was rational. I noted that the citation was from 1997, a time when Krugman was not viewed as a partisan ideologue, and still basking the after-glow of his John Clark Bates medal (best young economist) and his "prediction" of the Asian Flu. I am not personally a partisan of Krugman's politics, or fan of his column in The New York Times (I have never read it), so my view of Krugman is a bit archaic. Nevertheless, I don't think that just because he is a Left-wing partisan means that everything he says must be incorrect (frankly, I find that sort of thinking on the Left & Right intellectually repulsive), but, I do use that tendency in those who manifest that mode of thought.

Let me elaborate in that specific case: my intent was tear down S.J. Gould's reputation. As Krugman notes, among the intellectual/cosmopolitan set, Gould has a high status as a priest of evolution. But, this is more about style than substance. Today, Krugman is viewed as a Left-wing partisan, and an enemy of the Bush administration. Many who are fans of S.J. Gould & not scientifically "in the know" are often Left-wing cosmopolitans who are likely fans of Krugman's current partisan output. So...I was rather consciously expecting to leverage that reflex to what I percieved was a "good end." As I expected, there was some predictable non-Left-wing backlash against my tactic. But, this audience really didn't need to be convinced as much about S.J. Gould's light-weight status, seeing as how Gould was a red-diaper baby of liberalish inclination who they are already keen on dismissing.

I have pulled out the "Krugman card" many a time, and my intent is always to disorient the world-view of my generally Left-of-Center audience. Many people take their opinions as a whole, and so their politics often dictate their intellectual stances because of consensus opinion. Since Krugman is percieved as a "good guy" by a certain segment of the political spectrum, anything he says will be taken by them as within the bounds of reason, and so can be used as a wedge to fragment their coherent world-view.

To take this perspective further: these sort of tactics are good at shaking the righteous "faith" of true believers (faith is usually impossible to reason with). Since this blog often touches on sensitive topics of race that elicits righteous rage from certain sectors, I have been careful to try & scramble the righteousness module by showing the weaknesses of saints and the shades of grey that infuse all world-views.

Eg; I like to point out how secular Enlightenment philosophers like Voltaire, Hume and Kant were racists. Not only were they racists, they were more racist than "ignorant" religious believers, as they espoused polygenism, the idea that different races had separate origins, as opposed to "superstitious" Biblical monogenism. It is important to sow doubts as to the purity of one's own intellectual pedigree so as to make one wonder if the "enemy" might not be the only one smeared by the blackness of evil.

In the same tack, Maggie Sanger had some views that Planned Parenthood finds it important to disavow. Many of the early "Progressives" argued for the right to vote so as to counter the importance of new male immigrants who had naturalized. Many southern Democrats who have a good reputation with liberals, like anti-Vietnam War senator J. William Fulbright, were segregationists.

Since my friends & acquaintances tend to be more Left than Right, I am far more well versed in using these tactics against liberals. Nonetheless, I do like to point out that some of the early Church Fathers, like St. Augustine had very nuanced views of the "literality" of portions of the Bible such as Genesis that might be seen as at odds with fundamentalism.

There are many gems in this field. The key is to remember that debate on some topics is more than about reason and overall strategy, but that tactics and concurrent points and ideas matter, and that one can leverage psychological tendencies to get points across when A -> B -> C seems not to be getting the job done. Once faith is off the table, the real work of intellectual dialogue and debate can begin.

Posted by razib at 01:45 PM | | TrackBack

Reform in Islam

An excellent overview of the possibilities of reform in Islam by Max Rodenbeck, a writer for The Economist is in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. NRB's editor, Robert Silvers, has shown signs of being slow of foot in recent years (decades?) but with this piece it looks like he's found something that is actually relevant the the new age we seem to be living in. Unfortunately, the article is not online yet -- for that you'll have to wait a month.

Especially interesting was what Rodenbeck (who is based is Egypt) had to say about a group of reformers whom he described as belonging to the centrist trend in Egyptian Islamism:

The appropriation of Islamic symbols by the oppositionist movements makes them very difficult for discredited state leaders to challenge. Moreover, the jacket-and-tie-wearing, "capital-friendly" figureheads of this trend have little animus against the West, so long as specific issues are excluded, namely, Palestine and the Bush administration's perceived neo-imperialists intent . . . [L]ong before September 11, Muhammad al Ghazali, a widely revered Egyptian sheikh, was ridiculing extremists as "men in long beards . . .who would drive the country backwards by their preoccupation with issues irrelevant to life on earth." Under the influence of such contempt, a slow tide of radicals has moved toward the Muslim mainstream, including the once-militant Gamas Islamiya group in Egypt (whose members were responsible for a rash of terrorist attacks in the 1980s and 1990s), and, more recently, many Salafist intellectuals in Saudi Arabia.

Unless this is just exaggerated wishful thinking, it sounds like some of the best news I've heard coming out of that part of the world in quite awhile.

Posted by lukelea at 01:02 PM | | TrackBack

Why intellectual incest is not best

On the plane recently I read Consanguinity, Inbreeding, and Genetic Drift in Italy. Excellent book-I recommed it to the usual suspects. But, ironically I find that for a book relating to consanguinity, it displayed a symptom of intellectual incest, the ability of a lay non-specialist to pick out an error in a field tangential, but relevant, to the subject matter at hand.

On page 3, the authors note, "uncle-niece marriages comprise up to 20% of all marriages in several north Indian tribes...." Yet, on page 285, they display a map which shows clearly that the higher incidence of consanguinity in southern India. In fact, north Indian Hindus (though not Muslims) are very exogamous, and uncle-niece marriage is known to be widely practiced by south Indians. I know this is nit-picking, but, if I can pick out simple errors like this, that indicates to me there are other small detriments of detail. None of the authors of the monograph, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Antonio Moroni or Gianni Zei, are cultural anthropologists, to my knowledge, but surely they know someone who could have picked out these minor errors. I see this tendency in many papers that geneticists submit that make inferences about human population movements. As Andrew Reeves has noted, those outside specialties are often decades behind the consensus within a given field outside their conventional stomping grounds.

If you go back to the thread on Crooked Timber that I referred to earlier, I think you'll see evidence of intellectual incest. Those who make what I feel is an overly-enthusiastic denunciation of Darwinism in the context of sociology cite Richard Lewontin & Steven Rose. No matter the validity of Lewontin & Rose' critiques, I do think it is safe to say that they are "dissidents." Stating baldly that "...the mind is not a Swiss Army knife and the division of psychological entities into modules is something without anatomical basis...." might have some support from the likes of Rose, but it is a display of intellectual incest (or ignorance) to behave as if this is the scholarly consensus. To take the point reductio ad absurdum, many conservative Christians of an intellectual bent who have qualms about evolution might cite Hugh Ross, Michael Behe and William Dembski as scientific authorities on the topic at hand. Of course, their position is a vanishingly small fraction of scientists, while Lewontin & Rose hold to a view that is espoused by a non-trivial minority of scholars, nonetheless, the general tendency remains (by analogy, I am always been a bit perturbed when libertarians make arguments grounded in the Austrian School of economics, seeing as how it is marginal in contemporary economic scholarship at best-and so are simply re-affirming how kooky they are to the general public).

Posted by razib at 01:00 PM | | TrackBack