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How Christian Militarism slowed the spread of Christianity

In 1250 AD Mindauguas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, accepted Christianity. This was to be a “Clovis moment” for the Lithuanian tribes, but history took a different path. Mindaugas’ nobles rebelled, he apostatized, and he was eventually killed. Only in 1386 did the Lithuanian elite accept Christianity; more specifically, in its Western Latin Rite form. If you read S. C. Rowell’s Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire within East-Central Europe, 1295–1345, you will know that the author believes the Lithuanian elite prevaricated on the conversion in part because it allowed them to balance at an equipoise between the Latin West, represented by Poland and the Germans who were colonizing the Baltic, and Orthodox Christian east, representing the people who had once been ruled by Kievan Rus (the Lithuanian elite intermarried extensively with their Orthodox subjects).

But, to me, and others, there seems another reason that the Lithuanian tribes balked at Christianization: the fact that it was the religion of their sometimes genocidal enemies, the German-speaking Christian military orders that dominated the Baltic coast. The Baltic Crusades, which enabled knights from the German-speaking lands to sally forth into the pagan eastern Baltic region starting around 1200 AD, created a level of ethnoreligious animus that was extremely strong for Europe during this period. Rowell notes that though the Lithuanians began converting to Christianity in large numbers in 1386 (though those nobles and warriors settled to the west and east often assimilated to local Christian cultures), there were pagan Letts on the lands of German military elites in Livonia on into the early 1400’s. The reason that this delay occurred is that pagan peasants were economically far more exploitable than Christian peasants, who could appeal to the Church. These nobles, who were themselves the descendants of Christian Crusaders, excluded the Church’s missionaries from their lands for decades while Lithuania to the south was being baptized. This phenomenon prefigures some dynamics we know from chattel slavery in the American South, where some planters discouraged evangelization among their slaves for the purposes of more efficient economic control.

One model that people routinely have is that pagan resistance to Christianization was inevitable. On a microlevel this seems correct, but on a macrolevel for Northern Europe, Christianity was the only metaethnic high culture transnational religious identity that was on offer. At some point, the Northern European proto-states were going to become Christian. It was a matter of when. We see this in Ireland, where the Christianization process was entirely endogenous and occurred gradually and piecemeal. This resembles Alan Cameron’s model of the decline of Roman paganism in The Last Pagans of Rome. The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity, you see a different model, where the Northern European kings convert to integrate themselves into the international system of Christian states, and also consolidate their rule over their polity. Unlike the Irish example, where conversion was gradual and organic, these top-down conversions tend to be more of a cultural rupture and instantiate resistance from entrenched interests that are disfavored by the new Christian regime that erupted overnight. That being said, these top-down conversions seem to result in faster (nominal) baptism of the population than the more gradual conversion of the Romans after Constantine or the Irish between 400 and 600 AD.

But there is a downside the Lithuanian example illustrates: the fusion of Christianity with incipient militaristic states with an ethnonational basis resulted in  Christianity becoming associated with an enemy state and people from the pagan perspective. This is illustrated in Chris Tyrmen’s God’s War: A New History of the Crusades, where citizens of a besieged West Slavic city march outside of the gates and explain to the German soldiers that they had already converted to the “German religion.” If Christianity had not become associated with German identity would the Wends have resisted the new religion for so long? If the Germans had not synthesized their ethnic identity with their religion, would they have been so brutal to the Slavic heathens to their east? I doubt both of these. There is a more powerful recent historical illustration of this phenomenon. By the late 1500’s Latin Rite Christianity was becoming a popular religion in southern Japan, and Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi both favored it tacitly above Buddhism. But there were cases where Iberian Christians proudly identified the new religion as a fifth column in the spread of their political regime, and this prompted Tokugawa Ieyasu to suppress the new faith, not on theological, but political grounds.

Christianity was the strength of the state and nation. The religion gave a metaethnic and creedal vigor to the Portuguese and Castilian monarchies and drove the Sword Brothers and the Teutonic Knights to acts of both valor and viciousness. But the other edge of this sword is that the Christian religion became associated with the enemy, dispossession and oppression. If Europe had remained small tribes after the fall of Rome, and Christianity had spread as in Ireland, gradually from tribe to tribe over the centuries, I wonder if the pagan holdouts in Scandinavia and the Baltic may have fallen to the faith of Christ earlier because it would not have been seen as alien and imperial.

(the late sociologist and historian of religion Rodney Stark explicitly argued that the shifted from the Roman model, where individual conversion was critical, to the Northern European one, where trickle down was operative, produced a slower and thinner Christianization)

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Tenure and the intellectual monoculture

How Tenure Fosters Conformity:

This is a tough one to answer technically. We have nothing to compare directly with the academia we have today, no alternative system of higher education. Still, it is clear that American academia has fallen far short of this ideal. Worse, in some fields, far from being open to entertaining controversial thought, academics behave more like priests with an orthodoxy to defend.

In the subjects I know most about, I am very skeptical of academics. While often rigorous in their approach and skilled in their technical analysis, they nonetheless shy away from difficult truths (with some rare exceptions). This leaves large holes in their study and analysis, holes that are filled in by more activist-minded professors, distorting the discussion powerfully in their favor. My feeling is backed up (somewhat) by data: We know for a fact that academia is highly skewed politically, heavily left-of-center. The difference between academic fields is merely in the degree of the skew.

Here is an example I’ll give…in June of 2020 academics of all fields endorsed BLM marches after being COVID hawks. The reason was obviously ideological, but there were some statistics papers showing that the marches didn’t have a contagion effect later in the summer. Because these were less infectious forms of COVID and the marches were outside this is not implausible on the face of it (though many of the marches and protests in many areas just masked the reality that people also wanted to party, indoors). A friend of mine who is a statistician at an R1 university looked at the paper a year later and concluded that it was trash; the statistics were crap and they couldn’t draw any conclusion. So why did the paper showing that “the science” proved that the marches weren’t conducive to COVID spread get published and repeated in the press? Because they supported the view that academics wanted to be true, so all the extreme professional skepticism and methodological rigor went out the window. This is obviously a problem. If academics want something to be ideologically true..they now seem to be willing to go along with people just making things up.

Second, I have a friend who is mildly heterodox and plans on staying in academia until tenure so he can “tell academics how they aren’t that smart and wrong a lot.” Generally, I eye-roll at this attitude. Does my friend want collaborators? Does he want his graduate students to have postdoctoral fellowships? Does he want graduate students?

Yes, tenure guarantees your job and a minimum income, but operationally most academic fields are collaborative and you need buy-in and acceptance from the community. And the community does not agree upon error. At least anymore. For whatever reason, in the last few decades, and especially the last ten years, academia has become much more ideologically and culturally conformist, and the room and freedom given to oddballs and heretics has disappeared, and the window of dissent is highly controlled. Academia has a massive culture problem, and I don’t know how they’re going to solve it. Only those who conform to nonconformism are allowed anymore.

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The critics of Shorism are myopic

Politico has a story up about infighting in Democratic party politics, Drinking Enemies: Two Cocktail Parties that Reveal the Schism in the Millennial Left. It’s pretty interesting. On the merits, I think Sean McElwee and David Shor are probably correct, and their critics are wrong. The author is clearly trying implicitly and explicitly put up a demographic divide here: Shor* and McElwee are “white dudes,” while their critics are a black woman and a white woman (the latter of whom is a Becky-heiress who rose through Occupy Wall Street).

There’s lots of talk about polling and focus groups, but both sides could benefit from a little history. Contrary to what the critics of Shorism assert in the piece, racism is not just a tool of the powerful to divide the masses. In some cases, like with the Bourbon Democrat elites of the South, it was used crudely, but strong ethnoracial identitarianism was always more salient among the masses. Elites tend toward global affinities and cosmopolitanism, and their adherence to strong local identities is often part of a quid pro quo. The critics of Shorism who believe that racial division is false consciousness that can be overcome with messaging are ignorant.

Second, there is an idea that the arc of history always moves toward cultural and social radicalism. This is just not true, though it may seem to be so. For example, the period between the late 18th century and the Victorian Age saw a shift back toward more puritan moral standards and expectations. The norm around the age of sexual consent that collapsed in radical circles in the late 1960s and into the 1970s faded, and those who espoused radical views were expelled from activist movements in the 1980s. Similarly, attitudes to abortion have remained relatively stable for nearly 50 years, shifting only with the recent collapse of organized religion in the younger age cohorts.

Some on the cultural Left may not believe this, but at some point, radicalism runs up against human nature, the eternal war against normality takes pauses, and the forces of change retreat. What we now call “polyamory” was practiced in the Burned-Over District of upstate New York in the early 19th century and again in the late 1960s and 1970s. Both times the enthusiasm disappeared in the face of the persistence of universal human instincts. Conversely, the culturally liberal “inclusive” attempt to foster racial identitarianism will not lead us anywhere good. Either we’ll pull back, or chaos and conflict will ensue.

* Shor’s parents are Sephardic Jews. His mother has a Latinx surname. So he “presents” as white, but he could claim PoC identity if he wanted.

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Open Thread – 10/31/2022 – Gene Expression

Reading two books this month in prep for two podcasts, The Culture Transplant: How Migrants Make the Economies They Move To a Lot Like the Ones They Left and Don’t Be a Feminist: Essays on Genuine Justice. I consider both authors, Garett Jones and Bryan Caplan (both of GMU), friends.

What are you reading?

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Anatolia!

In case you haven’t seen, in October I posted three essays and one podcast on Anatolia’s history and genetics:

1. Ararat’s long shadow: Asia Minor’s major impact on humanity
2. Hittite Words, Byzantine Walls: what the West as we know it owes Anatolia’s empires
3. The Turkification of Anatolia: tales of Rome’s last conquerors

And the podcast, Anatolia over 10,000 years – From first farmers to the Turks.

Also, if you didn’t notice, I put all my podcasts (2-week delayed) on YouTube. Subscribe to the channel if you get your content that way.

Finally, if you wouldn’t mind rating my podcast on Apple (or wherever you subscribe) highly, I would appreciate that.

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The two Pleistocene people of Europe

Dual ancestries and ecologies of the Late Glacial Palaeolithic in Britain:

Genetic investigations of Upper Palaeolithic Europe have revealed a complex and transformative history of human population movements and ancestries, with evidence of several instances of genetic change across the European continent in the period following the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Concurrent with these genetic shifts, the post-LGM period is characterized by a series of significant climatic changes, population expansions and cultural diversification. Britain lies at the extreme northwest corner of post-LGM expansion and its earliest Late Glacial human occupation remains unclear. Here we present genetic data from Palaeolithic human individuals in the United Kingdom and the oldest human DNA thus far obtained from Britain or Ireland. We determine that a Late Upper Palaeolithic individual from Gough’s Cave probably traced all its ancestry to Magdalenian-associated individuals closely related to those from sites such as El Mirón Cave, Spain, and Troisième Caverne in Goyet, Belgium. However, an individual from Kendrick’s Cave shows no evidence of having ancestry related to the Gough’s Cave individual. Instead, the Kendrick’s Cave individual traces its ancestry to groups who expanded across Europe during the Late Glacial and are represented at sites such as Villabruna, Italy. Furthermore, the individuals differ not only in their genetic ancestry profiles but also in their mortuary practices and their diets and ecologies, as evidenced through stable isotope analyses. This finding mirrors patterns of dual genetic ancestry and admixture previously detected in Iberia but may suggest a more drastic genetic turnover in northwestern Europe than in the southwest.

Cool paper that shows that the British can still get some things done. Basically, they found that genetically and culturally there were really two different populations in late Pleistocene Europe, and that the earlier post-Magdelenaian populations left some impact on the mostly Villabruna-descended populations like Cheddar Man.

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The Genetic Correlation strikes again

How the ‘Black Death’ Left Its Genetic Mark on Future Generations:

They found DNA in the skeletons of 198 Danes who lived between 850 and 1800. Mutations in immune genes also rapidly spread in Denmark after the Black Death, they found. When the scientists lined up the mutations from the London and Denmark samples, they found four that had spread in both populations. These four mutations spread so quickly in London and Denmark that they must have provided an impressive protection against the plague.

The researchers found that carrying two protective versions of a gene called ERAP2, for example, made people 40 percent likelier to survive the Black Death — the largest evolutionary advantage ever found in humans, Dr. Barreiro said.

Most genetic variants have multiple effects. This is pleiotropy. And with many polygenic traits that means that there are correlations across traits impacted by how the genes underpinning them vary. I believe that many disease risks are probably just the outcome of evolutionary pressures in other directions; adapt fast to disease 1 and you become more susceptible for less serious disease 2. Over time in a stable environment, you expect evolution to “smooth out” the rough edges of the evolutionary process through modifier genes, but that can take a while. I think it’s possible the environment (pathogens) just evolve too fast for us ever to really be “in equilibrium” and get ride of the deleterious side effects, as we stay one step ahead of disease.

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HoD vs. RoP; game over


Rings of Power cost $60 million dollars per episode while House of the Dragon cost $20 million dollars per episode. These are astronomical figures, but RoP is arguably the most expensive television show in history. They are now approaching the ends of their season 1 runs, and we can make some evaluations and observations.

First, though I am aware of the fan hate on RoP before the first episode dropped, I thought it was a little overdone. I wanted the hold off judgment. And, some Tolkien fans were screened ahead of time and raved about what they saw, and I also listened to mainstream media people give props to what the showrunners did. I have no idea what these people were thinking. As someone who doesn’t follow media and how publicity is generated I now accept the validity of all the conspiracies about pay-for-play. There is no way that a genuine Tolkien fan would enthuse about RoP, and I assume the media coverage was due to identitarian factors. The show spends money on special effects, as there are some pretty intense scenes and unlike HoD it doesn’t make as much recourse to dark lighting to mask the CGI because it’s presumably of higher quality. But the writing is horrible, the world-building is a disaster, and the demographics of the Southlands and Numenor resemble a Midwestern American city in 1990. Mostly white. A large black minority, and a scattering of Asians and Latinx. Also, even though Numenor was populated mostly by the House of Hador, there are very few blondes among the Numenoreans (I am aware that the Lords of Andúnië ruled over a region that a lot of Beorians settled in).

But that brings up the issue of the “lore.” RoP is basically a fork, a Tolkien-themed show, but it does a bad job of creating something new. The character development is lacking, the plotting is weak, and the writing is often mediocre or even cringe-inducing. What did they spend all this money on? This is like the Fire Phone all over again. Bezos demands, and Amazon hops to, but there’s no execution.

HoD is not perfect. Because Fire and Blood outlines the whole plot in broad brush those of us who have read George R R Martin’s attempt to do the Silmarillion know what will happen. But there are many details to be worked out, and Fire and Blood couldn’t make the characters vivid in the way that narrative television can. Episode-by-episode HoD pales in comparison to RoP when it comes to special effects. The massive budget differential is on display in the darkness of HoD scenes and the relatively small number of shooting locations. HoD is to a great extent up until this point mostly people talking. But the plotting is serviceable, moving from torpid early on to acceleration in the last few episodes, the character development is good, and the lines delivered are usually not cringe-worthy. HoD is no masterpiece, but it illustrates that you can do this sort of show well, and with a far smaller budget than RoP and arguably less rich source material.

In fact, HoD is subject to even more crass representational changes, as the Velaryans are now black Valyrians of “pure blood” (as they declare over and over) as opposed to the Targaryens who are white Valyrians of “pure blood.” What pray tell is Valyrian blood then? The show positively seems to demand that we not notice this by alluding to blood constantly without clarifying if the Valyrians were a biracial civilization. No matter. Because on the whole HoD is a good show, people have ignored these incongruences.

RoP will be a case study in the fact that money can’t buy quality.

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The Anglo-Saxonization of England happened through a mass migration

The Anglo-Saxon migration and the formation of the early English gene pool:

The history of the British Isles and Ireland is characterized by multiple periods of major cultural change, including the influential transformation after the end of Roman rule, which precipitated shifts in language, settlement patterns and material culture…The extent to which migration from continental Europe mediated these transitions is a matter of long-standing debate…Here we study genome-wide ancient DNA from 460 medieval northwestern Europeans—including 278 individuals from England—alongside archaeological data, to infer contemporary population dynamics. We identify a substantial increase of continental northern European ancestry in early medieval England, which is closely related to the early medieval and present-day inhabitants of Germany and Denmark, implying large-scale substantial migration across the North Sea into Britain during the Early Middle Ages. As a result, the individuals who we analysed from eastern England derived up to 76% of their ancestry from the continental North Sea zone, albeit with substantial regional variation and heterogeneity within sites. We show that women with immigrant ancestry were more often furnished with grave goods than women with local ancestry, whereas men with weapons were as likely not to be of immigrant ancestry. A comparison with present-day Britain indicates that subsequent demographic events reduced the fraction of continental northern European ancestry while introducing further ancestry components into the English gene pool, including substantial southwestern European ancestry most closely related to that seen in Iron Age France

1) More migration than earlier papers. Looks like increasing ancient DNA coverage helped
2) 75% Y chromosomal turnover in eastern England
3) A third component, detected in the PoBI paper, is confirmed, and seems related to continuous later gene flow from northern France. This is ubiquitous across England, and I do wonder now what the Norman Conquest and the unification of large regions of northern France with England did in the early medieval period