Open Thread, 10/29/2017

Read some of The Red Flag: A History of Communism. In the interests of being candid, I do have to say that many intellectuals today who are skeptical of Communism might be much more open to the ideology in the early 20th century. Marxism literaly hadn’t been tried.

The key issue is that it has been tried.

Kids very excited about Halloween.

The CRISPR stuff is exciting.

16 thoughts on “Open Thread, 10/29/2017

  1. “Communism Through Rose-Colored Glasses” by Bret Stephens on 27 Oct. 2017

    Why is it that people who know all about the infamous prison on Robben Island in South Africa have never heard of the prison on Cuba’s Isle of Pines? Why is Marxism still taken seriously on college campuses and in the progressive press? Do the same people who rightly demand the removal of Confederate statues ever feel even a shiver of inner revulsion at hipsters in Lenin or Mao T-shirts? These aren’t original questions. But they’re worth asking because so many of today’s progressives remain in a permanent and dangerous state of semi-denial about the legacy of Communism a century after its birth in Russia.


    They will attempt to dissociate Communist theory from practice in an effort to acquit the former. They will balance acknowledgment of the repression and mass murder of Communism with references to its “real advances and achievements.” They will say that true communism has never been tried.

    But the consequences of the left’s fellow-traveling and excuse-making are more dangerous. Venezuela is today in the throes of socialist dictatorship and humanitarian ruin, having been cheered along its predictable and unmerry course by the usual progressive suspects. One of those suspects, Jeremy Corbyn, may be Britain’s next prime minister, in part because a generation of Britons has come of age not knowing that the line running from “progressive social commitments” to catastrophic economic results is short and straight.

    * * *
    “It’s a bitter fact that the most astonishing strategic victory by the West in the last century turns out to be the one whose lessons we’ve never seriously bothered to teach, much less to learn. An ideology that at one point enslaved and immiserated roughly a third of the world collapsed without a fight and was exposed for all to see. Yet we still have trouble condemning it as we do equivalent evils. And we treat its sympathizers as romantics and idealists, rather than as the fools, fanatics or cynics they really were and are.

  2. You are right that the Marxists of the early 20th century can be excused to some degree because the results of Marxist revolution had not been seen at that point. Those who sympathized with arguments like Edmund Burke’s argument against the French revolution were already opposed to it (as, obviously, were those whose privileges or perks were directly threatened by it) but that line of argument is dense and/or subtle and there are equally dense and subtle arguments against it (in theory), so yes, it is understandable that many good and intelligent people could be tempted by it then, but we expect their descendants to know better now.
    This HAS happened to some extent. It is not as widely popular an alternative as it was in the 1930s. But even after it has been repeatedly tried and has repeatedly failed, the fact that so many good and intelligent people are STILL tempted by it may have more to do with the fact that it also aligns with some deeply rooted quirks of human nature. i.e. like other religions, it is fated to remain a part of our social life. It appeals to enough of our nobler AND baser instincts to remain an attractive meme; not for everyone. But for enough people. Something like that.
    The same could, of course, be said for other persistent ideologies. The rise of a particular ideology to dominance may be contingent, but baseline persistence is more or less guaranteed.
    Not a very original observation.

  3. I agree, there were normal people who weren’t happy with the inequality in the U.S. and so became communists, at least, in principal. But then there were also far more people who didn’t go that route. Not sure what to think…should their naivete be forgiven?

  4. Re Acetaminophen during pregnancy as a cause of ADHD.

    My initial reaction, is that fever during the second trimester is a well established risk factor that makes sense for autism spectrum disorders, that ADHD is often co-morbid with and has a similar etiology to ASD, and that people who have fevers are often going to take acetaminophen. My guess is that the fever being treated with the drug and not the drug itself is probably the problem.

    This is why the modern recommendation is for pregnant women to get flu shots. Getting the flu during pregnancy is definitely a bad thing and preventing it addresses the problem.

  5. I am researching Islamic divorce practice over a rather broad swath of history, a “modern” feature of family law that was commonly available in Islam long before it was available for Christians. There is quite a substantial accessible literature on that point. This defeats the idea of Islam as monolithically conservative or liberal on every issue.

    I would like to also make a comparison to pre-Islamic divorce law during the Greco-Roman-Byzantine eras, and pre-Islamic Beoudin practice regarding divorce, but I am at a loss about where to look for that in terms of sources.

  6. @ohwilke

    David Friedman (son of Milton) has done a bit of research on Islamic law and maybe before I think. You might want to try reaching out to him via his site, or he often posts on You can try to contact him in the open threads.


    I think Razib means this:

    “Crispr 2.0”

    One of my regrets about grad school was not being able to experiment with Crispr. I was very close to using it, but funds and time just ran out.

  7. My sense from studying history is that, at the very top, communist leaders were largely the power-hungry who simply used the façade of an ideology to attain supreme power. But the actual, physical work of inflicting damage on the people and the society as a whole was done by mid- and low-level cadres who were the true believers, their fellow-travelers, and the meek/opportunists who went along.

    I think I mentioned that my family suffered gravely from communist revolutionaries who came to power.

    One of my grandfathers was an intellectual and a lawyer who was educated overseas. He forsook his enormously rich and influential family and became an advocate for ordinary workers in a dirt-poor rural area. In other words, he was a “traitor to his class.” So he was disowned by his father for his principles.

    When the communists came to power, they murdered half of his family, put others in re-education camps (never to be seen again), expropriated all the property, and came for him as well, because he was not a communist. All his good works on behalf of oppressed workers meant nothing to the communists. In fact, non-communist labor leaders were seen as a bigger rival/threat/trouble than the capitalists and were mercilessly hunted down. He, his elderly mother, and his daughter (my mother) avoided capture by the barest margin and survived.

    Later, when the rightists returned, he was viewed with great suspicion and was jailed (!) because of his labor advocacy – he was accused of being a communist sympathizer. Hundreds of workers whom he had helped showed up at the police station where he was held and demanded his release, and affirmed that he was no communist (this made quite an impression on my mother who told me the story). He was eventually released after being interrogated for some time, but was no longer allowed to advocate for workers.

    That’s what he got in this life for being an honorable, unselfish man. I loved him and revere him to this day, and feel privileged to have known him as a child.

    To his dying day, he was very critical of his society and its oppressive and rapacious ruling politico-economic elite, but he absolutely loathed the murderous communists. There was no moral equivalence between the two for him. One was bad, yes, but the other was pure evil.

  8. Hi Razib.

    There is a genetics-related storm sweeping through Russia right now. Could you comment on that?

    Apparently, US Military placed a tender to acquire samples of RNA from Russians (Ukrainians are not accepted!) In the current political climate, this caused an explosion of outrage in Russia, with many speculating that US Military is designing genetic weapons targeted at ethnic Russians.

    What do you think US Military was trying to accomplish? And are genetic weapons even theoretically possible? If not, why?

    Putin himself passed a comment on the case, “Do you know that biological material is being collected all over the country… It’s being done purposefully and professionally. We are a kind of object of great interest. Let them do what they want, and we must do what we must.”

    It looks like collection of genetic samples in Russia is about to be banned. This would be terrible for science.

  9. russians too similar to other nothern europeans to really make a bioweapon (this is a general problem).

    probably enough russians abroad to do further genomic research. india has this problem. so they just focus on diaspora communities.

  10. russians too similar to other nothern europeans to really make a bioweapon (this is a general problem).

    This has been a subject of some conversation in the U.S. defense and intel community, but not regarding the Russians… the Chinese, actually. And the conversation was ostensibly about defense, not offense.

  11. *US anti-Russian genetic weapon*
    *Targets R1*


    Seriously though, wouldn’t anything that targets Russian genes also affect millions of Americans?

  12. Re: Chinese Wealthy Regions

    Regression of RichPct/PopPct vs province mean IQ is not significant. However, RichPct/PopPct vs province IQ120+ smart fraction is statistically significant.

    RichPop = +0.0929135*IQ120p -0.0836528; # n=11; Rsq=0.3982; p=0.03734

    RichPct/PopPct vs IQ110+ smart fraction is not significant.

    Guangdong and HongKong speak the same dialect, so are Fujian and Taiwan with a different dialect, and this might make it easier to communicate with the respective investors. Guangdong has the advantage of having the first free trade zone. However the Techies in Schenzhen speak Mandrin rather than Cantonese thus are mostly from interstates, the below average %IQ102+ for Guangdong has less effect. Hainan next to Guangdong is the second lowest IQ region in China.

    Rank %IQ120+ Region
    1 42.5 Zhejiang
    2 38.2 Beijing
    3 37.8 Shanghai
    4 25.1 Jiangsu
    5 24.9 Shandong
    7 20.5 Fujian
    8 19.6 Sichuan
    17.2 China
    22 11.2 Guangdong
    31 3.4 Hainan

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