Open Thread, 03/14/2019

Again, recommend Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. Great book.

Creating Christian Marriage in Early Islamic Arabia:

…perhaps the earliest, of a churchman saying definitively that marriage isn’t marriage without a specific Christian ritual comes from an unexpected corner of the late antique world: the Persian Gulf island of Dayrin (modern Tarut in Saudi Arabia) under the rule of the early Muslim caliphate. On this island in 676, Patriarch George I—chief bishop of the Church of the East, one of the two main churches of the Syriac Christian tradition—issued a canon that only unions that received a priestly blessing would be recognized as legitimate, lawful marriage….

…Patriarch George’s writings suggest that East Arabian Christians habitually drank at Jewish taverns and participated in “pagan” funerals—pagan, that is, in their “un-Christian” ostentatiousness. Significantly, interreligious mixing extended into family relations too. George complains of Christian women marrying “pagans,” here meaning Muslims….

I’m not a total revisionist. But not the date. 676. Contrary to traditional Islamic historiography I think it is highly plausible, even probably, that these men would not have been “Muslims” as we’d conceive of them. Rather, Islam, as we’d understand it really, makes sense only from 750 AD and later, with the emergence of the Sunni ulema, the turn against philosophy in mainstream Islam, and the focus on religious legalism. No Bukhari, no Islam.

This brings me to another issue that emerged in a discussion with a reader about Brown Pundits. Some Hindus say that their religion is founded in the Vedas. Similarly, though traditional most Muslims (Shia and Sunni) ground their faith in customs and traditions which accrued organically in the centuries after the death of Muhammad, they will assert that the fundamental basis of their religion goes back to Muhammad and that Islam qua Islam exploded out of the deserts of Arabia under the Rashidun.

From the perspective of the nonbeliever, I think both narratives miss important cultural genealogical features of the development of “Hinduism” and “Islam.” Hindus believe that their religion is the tradition of the Aryans. I hold that the Aryan, Indo-European, traditions that are present within Hinduism are calcified fossils, artifacts which symbolic meaning, but that the core of Dharmic traditions, whether Hindu or Buddhist or Jain, are not fundamentally from the Indo-Europeans. Some intellectual historians suggest that the Sramanic traditions, the counter-Hindu movements, are a revolt of the indigenous non-Aryan components. But I think the same is arguably true of Puranic Hinduism. All of these religions are qualitatively different from the sacrificial ritualism of the pastoralist Aryans.

Similarly, with Islam it is no secret that I am sympathetic with the argument that the emergence of the mawālī, non-Arabs, within Islam after 750 A.D. fundamentally transformed from the religion. Whereas proto-Islam under the Umayyads crystallized was the cult of the ruling caste, an Arab peculiarity, under the Abbasids, who saw the waxing of Iranian culture within the Caliphate, Islam became the religion of the state, and eventually the dominant element of the society. Though I would argue that the influence of Iran and Turan on Islam is probably quantitatively less than that of non-Aryan India on Hinduism, the transformation is great enough that I think one can make a similar case that Islam, a post-Christian Arab ruling sect, was “hijacked” by Iranian and Turanian modalities under the Abbasids.

Again, to be clear, I am not interested in “explaining” to Muslims or Hindus that “actually….” their religion isn’t what they think it is. I’m trying to get a better sense of cultural development and relatedness from the perspective of non-believers.

Biotic interactions affect fitness across latitudes, but only drive local adaptation in the tropics. This surprised me at first blush.

A week ago I had a conversation with Thomas Chatterton Williams for the BrownCast. One thing that we both agreed on: we hate Twitter, but we can’t leave it. Also, lots of people on Twitter are very stupid. I used to think commenters on this blog were stupid, but the reality is that you are geniuses among the dull compared to the Twitter mobs.

Why Elites Dislike Standardized Testing. The reality is that the gains to test-prep are not that great. ETS works really hard on this. But if you read Twitter or many mainstream commentators they act as if test-prep is driving the inequalities. It’s not. The world is full of bullshit.

The Life History of Human Foraging: Cross-Cultural and Individual Variation. Very important paper.

A Bayesian Approach for Inferring the Impact of a Discrete Character on Rates of Continuous-Character Evolution in the Presence of Background Rate Variation. I don’t know much about the details of phylogenetic methods, but the first author is an old grad school classmate of mine. He knows his shit.fopen

Integrating natural history-derived phenomics with comparative genomics to study the genetic architecture of convergent evolution.

Genomic architecture of phenotypic plasticity of complex traits in tetraploid wheat in response to water stress.

14 thoughts on “Open Thread, 03/14/2019

  1. “Why Elites Dislike Standardized Testing.”

    This is an answer it is a bit long winded, but bear with me.

    I assume you have read about the college admissions scam this morning. They caught a bunch of parents using a “consultant” to bribe various college people, like soccer coaches, to get their little Olivias into “elite” colleges. (USC? are you kidding?).

    I won’t wax moralistic. I don’t care. The world has real problems. Whether one one rich white kid goes to college X and another one has to go to Kent State is of no concern to me.

    I will say I told you so. For years I have said that there must be a way to payoff admissions people. It must be happening because there is too much demand and the system is too opaque.

    Why didn’t those people go through the door of legal bribery via a donation to the colleges endowment? Easy. They are, for the most part, Henrys (High Earnings Not Rich Yet). It takes a lot of capital to be able to peel off a 7 figure donation, which is what it takes. Five or six figures they can handle.

    How does this relate to Standardized testing?

    Easy. It is all about status anxiety. I is not enough to obtain high status for yourself, you must be able to pass it on to your children. When status depends on the ownership of property, it is not hard to pass on. When status depends on talent and hard work, that is the horse of a different color.

    The odds are that if you are in the right tail of talent, your kids will be closer to the mean. (regression to the mean). Finding out that this is true is quite blow to the aspirations of the blessed.

    One defense mechanism against that news is to blame the messenger — standardized tests. And that is why they dislike standardized tests.

    Why try to get kids into “elite” colleges, if they aren’t that bright? Because they are defended against that truth, and admission alone will stamp the kid as being worthwhile. Further, it is almost impossible to flunk out of an elite college these days. If they flunked kids, they would have unhappy customers, and at these prices they can’t afford that. Further, it would pull down the curtain around affirmative action, which is the political price they pay for being able to run their system their way.

    More later.

  2. Specially as a southern Portuguese, the thing about Islam makes me think on an issue: attending that the Iberian Al-Andalous was conquered between 711 and 718, and remain under the Omayyad hands after 750 (or at least after 756), perhaps could we conclude that the Al-Andalous only became really “Muslim” after the Almoravid conquest, in the 11th century?

  3. “I used to think commenters on this blog were stupid, but the reality is that you are geniuses among the dull compared to the Twitter mobs.”

    uh….thank you? lol

  4. Two ancient DNA papers Iberia.

    X-chromsome as well as Y chromosome confirm extreme sex-bias admixture between R1b-P312 newcomers & Iberian natives during Bronze age. Selection for milk-drinking happened in Spain in last 2,000 years. Selection for milk-drinking happened in northern Europe earlier (by 1000bc reached fixation in some places). Minor influences from Eastern Mediterranean (Greek colonies, Roman empire) & North Africa (Muslim rule).

  5. I’ve always wondered why the religion of the Arabs survived, albeit in modified form. It broke the usual pattern of nomadic cultures assimilating into the more sophisticated settled societies they conquered. Why didn’t the Turks or Mongols plant a seed that developed into a long lasting religious identity?

  6. Razib: On instome you wrote: “Unlike other peoples of Northern Europe, the Irish have a rich and detailed mythology recollecting the centuries, and perhaps even millennia, before recorded history.”

    What about the Eddas?

    I assume the word Northern is meant to exclude the Iliad.

  7. I used to think commenters on this blog were stupid, but the reality is that you are geniuses among the dull compared to the Twitter mobs.

    Are you damning us with faint praise?

  8. Walter: “What about the Eddas?”

    From what I’ve read many scholars believe what Snorri and the others recorded was heavily syncretic.

  9. Razib,

    I know you’ve mentioned in the past that Hugh Kennedy’s books are good entry points for understanding the “orthodox” view of early Islamic history, and I plan to purchase a few of his titles in the near feature. But what books do you recommend that persuasively advocate more “revisionist” narratives?

  10. “‘Sea People’ Review: The Globe’s Greatest Explorers By Christina Thompson: Somehow a vast realm of scattered islands was settled by a people with single language and distinctive customs—but no maps or compasses.”

    “Ms. Thompson is at her best in two scenes of this trafficking in separate systems of knowledge. The first is of Cook and Tupaia, “two brilliant navigators,” working together to comprehend each other’s methods. A copy of a chart on which they collaborated survives, “a translation of Tahitian geographical knowledge into European cartographic terms at the very first moment in history when such a thing might have been possible.”

    “The other powerful scene begins in the 1960s, as a British sailor and explorer named David Lewis first comes to recognize that much of Polynesian navigational knowledge survives among seagoing old men in remote islands. … Lewis helped locate an islander named Mau, who was schooled in these methods and would be the entire navigation system for a daring attempt to re-create long-distance Polynesian voyaging. On May 1, 1976, Hōkūle’a (“Star of Joy”), a replica of a traditional double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe, sailed from Hawaii to attempt the 2,600-mile run to Tahiti. … Five weeks later, Mau’s star path having proved true, the canoe sailed into the harbor at Papeete, Tahiti, where 17,000 islanders—and even a church choir singing a Tahitian hymn”

  11. That Christians should be married by the church took centuries to become official consensus. But it was advocated from very early. Ignatius of Antioch, roughly 110 CE: “It is fitting that those who marry, both men and women, should enter into the union with the approval of the bishop, that the marriage may be according to the Lord and not according to lust.”

  12. @Walter. You can’t be serious even suggesting the Iliad right. ‘Northern’? Its facetious and borderline idiotic.

  13. It looks like Umayyad Iberia would be a natural ground to test your ideas on islamic revisionism. The peninsula was conquered in the 711 and remained under Umayyad control during the Abbasid takeover. If mainstream Islam was settled under Abbasid rule you would expect to see a somewhat divergent form of Islam during the Cordoba Emirate/Caliphate. I am unsure whether that’s the case. For instance, some people here like to tell the tourists that Muslims during the Umayyad period prayed facing Cordoba not Mecca. It may be a myth, tho.


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