Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Holocaust was not a Great Lone Evil

And bad things come from pretending it was.

Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933. Wikimedia commons.

A friend forwarded me this email:

Never Forget: Holodomor Memorial Day

In 1932 and 1933, 7 Million (estimated) Ukrainians were massacred by genocidal famine ordered by the Bolshevik government. Many were Christians. Students do not learn about the Holodomor in middle school, high school, or even college. There aren’t dozens of major Hollywood films depicting the horrific events that took place. Our politicians aren’t referencing the Holodomor every other day and visiting Holodomor Museums. If you ask any random American on the street about the Holodomor they will have no idea what it is. 
Why is this? 
American students grow up inundated with Holocaust movies, books, and education from grade school on up. American states like Florida even pass laws mandating Holocaust education for our children. So why are we not learning about the Holodomor? 
Perhaps even worse: why is Holodomor Denial allowed while if you question any part of the Holocaust narrative you could land in jail across many European countries. 
In particular why are prominent members of the Jewish community, who know the realities of genocide in the 20th century, among some of the most prominent Holodomor denialists? 
The state of Israel refuses to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide
“The Holodomor “is definitely not a genocide,” said Zuroff, the head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.” 
About a decade ago Abe Foxman, the former head of the Jewish Anti Defamation League, met with the President of Ukraine to pressure the government into downplaying the Holodomor. 
Maybe Mr. Putin can give us a clue as to why this is. 
Putin: First Soviet Government Was Mostly Jewish: “I thought about something just now: The decision to nationalize this library was made by the first Soviet government, whose composition was 80–85 percent Jewish,” Putin said June 13 during a visit to Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. Interestingly enough, around the same percentage of Joe Biden’s cabinet is Jewish too
Thankfully unlike the Ukrainian Kulaks, the American Kulaks are armed, but we must also be well versed in history so that it does not repeat itself. 
Christians must never forget the genocide of millions of our Christian brothers and sisters. We must hold to account those who seek to deny, hide, or downplay this atrocity. We must educate our children about the horrors of what happened and we must not be afraid to “offend” people in the process of discussing the truth about these important matters. Objective truth is only offensive to those who hate and wish to hide objective truth. 
Never forget.
So, things to say. Many, many things to say.

The first thing is the history in the email is mostly correct. One can quibble about some of the statistics, but (leaving aside motivation for the moment) the underlying historical facts are essentially correct.

The second thing is to say is that while the facts are mostly correct, the framing of those facts really, really isn’t.

There are three big things going on here. First, yes, Israel and the Jewish lobby has attempted to portray the Holocaust as the Great Lone Evil. Which it is most certainly wasn’t. Not only were other folk targeted along with Jews, the Holocaust is not remotely the only vile megacide of the C20th.

Second, yes, Jews were involved in perpetrating the Holodomor. Something that Israel and the Jewish lobby really, really don’t want to deal with. Especially as it gets even more in the way of treating the Holocaust as the Great Lone Evil.

But the Jewish communists who helped create the Holodomor didn’t do it because they were Jewish, they did it because they were revolutionary Marxists.

Which is the third big thing. The Holodomor is not the only revolutionary Marxist terror-famine of the C20th. It wasn’t even the first terror-famine of the Soviet regime. That was War Communism.

The Ethiopian terror famine. The Chinese Great Leap Forward famine. Cambodia’s Year Zero megacide. The North Korean famines. Soviet mass labour camp slavery. Soviet workplace serfdom.

The history of revolutionary Marxism in power only starts in November 1917, so just over a century ago. Yet it is a history of megacide after megacide, mass oppression after mass oppression.

These ALL get various degrees of the “down the memory hole” treatment. Most of them, no one of Jewish extraction had anything to do with. (Except of course, that they were based on the theories of Karl Marx, who despised his own [ancestral] people, just as he despised his own class.)

Which gets back to the Jews involved in perpetuating the Holodomor didn’t do it because they were Jewish, they did it because they were revolutionary Marxists acting on the right side of history, pushing it towards its glorious liberating completion.

Which is why these megacides and oppressions are so often shoved down the memory hole. Because lots of people in academe and education do not want to have any sort of awkward mirror to their own ambitions shoved in front of them.

Do Israel and the Jewish lobby have a particular reason to memory-hole the Holodomor? Absolutely they do, twice over. First, because it gets in the way of the Holocaust as Great Lone Evil. Second, because it turns out that Jews motivated by a totalising ideology can be every bit as horribly, tyrannically murderous as any anti-Semitic Gentile.

Is it contemptible that they act in this way to protect the lie (for it is a lie) of the Holocaust as Great Lone Evil? Yes, it is absolutely contemptible. And they should be shamed and scared into stopping being so utterly contemptible.

The above email, which was sent out to a great many people, should be a great big warning of what happens when Israel and the Jewish lobby acts in such contemptible ways to preserve the lie of the Holocaust as the Great Lone Evil.

But the email itself is contemptible. It frames (mostly truth) into its own contemptible falsehood. For implying that the Holodomor happened because (some of its) perpetrators were Jews strips the Holodomor itself of understanding, of its motivations, of its significance.

This is what totalising ideologies who believe themselves to be on the right side of history lead to. Have led to, again and again. Those who are most reluctant to look into what the Holodomor tells us are those who most need to do so.

Oh, and other folk should stop using historical facts to so profoundly misrepresent the Holodomor. The starved dead are not grist for your nasty obsessions.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

The niche-creating species

We are the cultural species par excellence, and so the species that creates its own niches.

Beaver dam, Hesse, Germany.

The ecologist Paul Colinvaux, author of the classic text Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare, made an observation in his deeply flawed book The Fates of Nations that is very useful for modelling human social dynamics:
Unlike other animals, we can change our social habits to fit ourselves for new niches … P.42
A niche being:
… all the things the things about a kind of animal the let it live: its way of feeding, what it does to avoid enemies, how it is fitted to the place it must dwell. P.19
How, as he says elsewhere in the book, a species fits into the web of life.

For instance, any theory of elite over-production is a niche theory, being based on the social dynamics of more people seriously aspiring to occupy an elite niche in a society than there are such niches to be filled.

Within the biosphere, species typically have a specific niche that they fill. Even if they are a differentiated species, such as ants and termites, their form still dictates, along with interaction with other species and the world around them, the niche they occupy in the web of life.

That interaction with other organisms and the environment can involve a certain amount of niche construction through impacts their actions have on the environment around them and on other species. Such niche construction can leave an ecological inheritance to their descendants. It can potentially increase the number of niches available for the species, or reduce the variability (and so increase the predictability) of the niche. Such niche construction provides, as part of the purposive (i.e. goal-directed) behaviour of living organisms, an ordering principle within the biosphere.

The population of a species is set by the number of available niches for that species. (Hence, big, fierce animals are indeed rare.) The contest within species is to occupy one of those niches and reproduce more future occupants of those niches. Genetic lineages that successfully do so get to continue and those that don’t disappear. Different species (i.e. different sets of genetic lineages) compete to occupy and sustain niches within the nutrition and reproductive possibilities of the eco-system around them.

All currently existing genetic lineages have genetic ancestries that are much older than their current species. A genetic lineage, in the process of evolution and replication, can pass through existing as, and within, many different species.

Processes of adaptation can be expected to have some sort of search process inherent in them (as evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein has suggested) for ability to search out survival and replication possibilities increases the chances of continuing genetic replication. Replication being the game that genes play. One played via selection for or against traits within subsistence and reproduction strategies. (All one needs for a game, in an analytical sense, is feedback and response in the context of limited resources where some outcome, in this case staying in the game, is a "win": intent is not necessary.)

Such search processes for successful replication possibilities, which includes niche construction, enables the biosphere to have the level of order it does. For random mutation is nowhere near enough to explain the observed level of order in the biosphere, even within geologic time frames. This is especially so given the periodic mass extinction events and the explosions in new species that follow them. It is natural selection acting on strategies, particularly with the genetic recombinations of sexual reproduction, that provide much more opportunities for search-and-discovery of new opportunities. 

A nice example of the interaction between search, niche, niche construction and genetic evolution is provided by the development of lactase persistence in humans. If pastoralists can evolve the capacity to continue to consume milk after weaning, that greatly increases (by around fivefold) the calories they can harvest from a given area of grasslands, dramatically increasing the number of sustainable pastoralist niches. This has happened more than once in human history, with at least four separate versions of such genetic mutation occurring in different pastoralist populations and subsequently rapidly spreading through such populations.

The most widespread such mutation being that which developed among Proto-(or at least every early) Indo-Europeans. Indeed, their particular mutation provides an excellent genetic marker of their pastoralism and the extent of their spread. A spread which, in the case of the Indo-European pastoralists, was almost certainly sustained over such as a breadth of time and space precisely because lactase persistence gave them a biological advantage over other populations that could only be gained by other populations through interbreeding with the Indo-Europeans.

Trade-offs rule

A niche always involves a series of trade-offs. Trade-offs both from pursuing the internal competition for available niches and for sustaining niches. The trade-offs a particular niche involves develop interactively with the energy-and-nutrient possibilities, and threat profiles, the niche occupant has to deal with to sustain itself and reproduce.

What makes Homo sapiens so ecologically distinctive is the extent of our ability to choose new trade-offs, to shift across trade-offs, and so to adapt to, and create, new niches. An ability intimately interwoven with us being the technological ape, the toolmaking ape.

There is no single human niche. There is, for instance, no single forager niche. As can be seen by comparing, say, the Inuit with the Hadza. The human capacity to change interactions with the surrounding environment (and each other) so as to create new niches, even within the nomadic foraging pattern, is how we became the global ape.

Our varied human niches are created and sustained by our cognitive capacity for learning and discovery and our cultural transmission of information and skills. Our niche construction is a manifestation of us being so much the cultural species. Human technologies are sustained via our cultures which in turn are profoundly affected by our technologies.

We Homo sapiens are the niche-creating, indeed niche-multiplying, species. We can adapt to, and create, new niches. Doing so either in addition to, or replacing by, existing niches. Indeed, we can create and occupy multiple niches across and within human societies.

Hence we have not only spread across the planet, becoming the global ape, but have also increased hugely in population. If you can create new niches, you can create new ecological spaces to occupy, with new resources to use.

The human nomadic-forager niche was already more varied than the niches of any other species. Taking up sedentism added a new level of variation. Taking up farming and pastoralism extended that variation even further. As did creating chiefdoms and states. Industrialisation — the Great Enrichment — then increased the number and variety of human niches by further orders of magnitude. It also increased the fluidity of human niches, something information technology has ratcheted up further.

Human niches

Malthusian models, models developed from the population-dynamics insights of the Rev. Thomas Malthus (1766–1834), are models of the limits to population given available resources, including available technology. Niches are the analytical mechanism connecting population size to available resources. Malthusian models should therefore incorporate the insight of ecology that it is available niches that set the limit to a population. Hence Malthusian models should be based on niches.

If this is not done, if people, rather than niches, are the unit of Malthusian models, it becomes much more difficult to deal with trade-offs within niches. Indeed, it becomes easy to operate such models in ways that are blind to such trade-offs.

Conversely, switching to an ecological analysis, making niches the basic unit of the model, makes it possible to consider trade-offs within niches. For there will clearly be a range of trade-offs that are possible within niches that can yet remain viable such that occupants are able to reproduce. For instance, trading off more ready access to energy (calories) for lower long-term access to nutrients.

This ability to shift trade-offs is not only compatible with Homo sapiens having the most biologically expensive children in the biosphere, it is a product of the cooperative cognitive complexity that those long childhoods evolve to sustain.

Quality versus quantity

One of the possible trade-offs within human niches is between quantity of offspring and quality of offspring. The more skills are needed to successfully occupy the targeted niche, the more likely parents are to shift towards quality of offspring over quantity. Conversely, the less skills and learning are needed, the more likely parents are to shift towards quantity of offspring over quality.

Farming is a lower-skill niche than foraging, given that it greatly reduces search costs and concentrates on a very small number of species. Conversely, the productivity of foragers typically peaks around 45 years of age and foraging children typically don’t break even on calorie collection and consumption until they are almost 20. This is why mixed foraging-planting niches could be sustained by sedentary foragers, as they were, for millennia: there was very limited extra skill burden involved in planting some edible plant for later harvesting.

The lower skill burden is also part of how farming lowered the cost of children. Farming (and plant and animal domestication generally) required less time training children, who could become more productive earlier, while sedentary living meant that children were more able to look after each other. The easy (after processing the harvested plants) access to calories from domesticated plants also permitted earlier weaning of infants and so increased fertility, enabling the quantity/quality trade-off to be made. (The energy/nutrient trade-off involved, resulting in worse health outcomes, emphasises that this was a quality/quantity trade-off.)

Connection, pooling and exchange

As intensely social beings, whose survival and reproductive success depends fundamentally on cooperation, humans manage and sustain their niches through processes of pooling (sharing), connection and exchange. With pooling being: the use of common resources and connection being: a continuing series of mutually acknowledged interactions.

We are the only species that regularly displays the behaviour of engaging in “truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another”. While whether Adam Smith was right to call this a propensity or not can be disputed, it is certainly a distinctive, and recurring, human pattern.

A pattern that occurs because we are so much the normative species, a crucial element in us being the cultural species par excellence. It is not that there is no culture at all in other species, nor anything that might reasonably be called normative behaviour. It is just that we display both at a rate orders of magnitude greater than other species. Just as, and not coincidentally, our tool making and use is orders of magnitude greater.

Exchange involves the exchange of property: what was yours becomes mine, what is mine becomes yours. The crucial idea in property not being mine!, any silverback gorilla with a harem can do that, but yours!, the acknowledgment of possession by others and associated rules of rightful transfer from one owner to another. Which is normative.

The need to defend our social space, plus the information associations an owned thing can have, generates an endowment effect (valuing something we own over an identical thing that we do not). The effect on exchange behaviour tends to diminish with market experience in trading such things, as distinct from merely being an experienced trader, for the more the owned thing then becomes something to be traded (i.e., transferred) rather than distinctively ours.

A chimpanzee in a behavioural lab confirms more strongly to the predictions of game theory — i.e. conforms more to the predictions of Homo economicus — than humans do because we Homo sapiens are far more normative than are Pan troglodytes. That far greater normative capacity is part of us being the cultural species and fairly clearly arose out of our highly cooperative subsistence and reproduction strategies.

Being so much cultural species, including being able to marshal exchange as part of socially and technologically constructing new niches, is what has made us the global ape. The discoveries of the anthropogenic sciences undermine both the cultural hegemony model used by many sociologists and anthropologists and the rational self-interest model used by economists and political scientists.

Human history is one of the social and technological construction of niches via the mechanisms of pooling, connection and exchange. For instance, shifting from nomadic foraging to sedentary foraging, and especially to sedentary farming, changes the dominant structure for pooling production and consumption from the multi-family band of shifting membership to (a typically) single-family household with much more stable membership.

Social exchanges are exchanges in the context of connection; so in the context of a continuing series of mutually acknowledged interactions. Commercial exchanges are exchanges that, if they continue across time, include managing connection(s), but are otherwise discrete events involving transfers of resources via goods or services.

Social exchanges are therefore dominated by the norms and expectations of connection. It would be an insult to offer to pay a friend or relative for a meal they have cooked for you.

As commercial exchanges are exchanges where any connection arises from within the context of exchange, they are dominated by the norms and expectations of trading and commerce. It would be theft or fraud to not pay for a commercially-provided meal. (There is a useful discussion of the difference between social and market exchanges in Chapter 4 of Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational.)

Any pooling in the case of social exchanges is based on the pre-existing (or sought) connections. Pooling in the case of commercial exchange results from the exchange itself.

As social exchanges are based on the norms of connection, the level of mutual regard inherent in the social context of the path of interaction typically involve considerable density of information. Commercial exchanges are based on commercial norms that typically involve much lower levels of information, outside the exchange itself and associated patterns of exchange. This allows commercial exchanges to scale up much more than can relying on connection and local pooling. Hence such exchange can expand the size and number of human niches.

Economising on information is much of the advantage of commercial exchange. Sufficiently dense patterns of exchange result in the development of exchange goods: goods held so as to be able to participate in future exchanges. At some point, a medium of account (i.e. full money) may develop, due to its value in economising on information: notably search, negotiation and accounting costs. (A medium of account being something used to both quantify and discharge obligations.) Increasing the scaling-up effect on the size and number of human niches of commercial exchange.

Gifts and favours are investments in connection. An appropriate gift can express the strength of a connection by demonstrating how accurately the giver of the gift “sees” the other person and how important their connection is to the giver. A public gift makes a public display of these things.

In societies with very little exchange, but very dense webs of connection, failure to be able to sustain the pattern of gifting that maintains connections can drive individuals into “gift bankruptcy” and so a form of debt-bondage. Just as with commercial bankruptcy, it represents a terminal inability to meet one's obligations.

Niche size and well-being

Malthusian models for pre-industrial societies that use people as the unit of analysis imply, due to using the person as the unit being modelled rather than the niche, that human well-being will tend to return to a recurring steady-state, as increased resources are eventually matched by increased population. This makes it difficult for Malthusian models using people as the unit of analysis to conform to the strong evidence that farming was less healthy than foraging. But, if the models focus on niche-size instead of human well-being, then different internal trade-offs within niches can be incorporated within the model, even if niche size tends to return to a recurring steady-state for a given level of technology.

As mentioned above, a possible such trade-off is to have more readily available energy but less nutrients, resulting in smaller stature and worse health. As long as the trade-off does not get in the way of successful reproduction, it can be a socially viable trade-off. Indeed, if accepting the trade-off results in increased capacity to generate such niches for your descendants to occupy, it will become a successful, even dominant, trade-off.

Trade-offs between niche size (so niche quality) and niche number (niche quantity) can occur in various forms. Where you are in the spectrum of control of resources determines the consequences of different decisions in intergenerational transfer of assets. Thus, single-heir systems, such as primogeniture, are structured to maintain a certain niche size. Single-heir systems typically involve accepting that one’s other children end up with smaller social niches.

Elite over-production can be de-stabilising for societies precisely because more people are seeking (and having the resources to) compete for elite niches than there are elite niches to sustain them. Such competition, if of sufficient intensity, can be highly destructive to the normative order of a society.

Elite over-production by polygynous hereditary elites is likely to have been a major cause of the transience of steppe empires, for example. Given that the herding productivity of grasslands was an enduring constraint on the number of pastoralist niches.

Some niches need more resources to be sustained and/or are sustained at a higher level of health. Sufficient increase in resources, such as the great enrichment that began with the application of steam-power to transport by the development of railways and steamships, can lead to increases in both quantity and quality of niches and, if the cost of children rises sufficiently, to lower fertility.*

As farming, due to its elimination of most search costs and concentration on a far narrower range of food species, required less skill than foraging, so could be contributed to more with a lower level of skill (i.e. children were more productive earlier in life), there was no pressure to increase the quality of children, but there were likely benefits to having more children. Including more capacity to create kin connections through marriage and more of a buffer against ageing.

The first constraint in the construction of human niches is time. There are only certain amount of hours in a day. The second constraint is sustenance, the need for a certain amount of energy and nutrients to sustain oneself. Energy is more immediately urgent than nutrients, so it is possible to make a choice that provides sufficient energy but involves some deficiency in nutrients. This will have future health implications, but, as noted above, this may not block the continuation and replication of the niche.

If the niche is going to be replicated in the next generation, then time and sustenance has to allocated to reproduction and training. At the core of Homo sapiens being the cultural species is direct or indirect investment in the training of offspring.

Hence the potential trade-off here between quality of offspring and quantity of offspring. As we have seen, it is entirely possible to have a niche that reduces the cost of children, for instance making it easier to feed them and making it less likely to lose them in early infancy, yet also means that their long-term health is poorer. Ironically, a higher rate of infant mortality in a situation of restricted fecundity (due to long weaning periods, for example) may make for more investment in the quality of children. Particularly if there is more nutrient-rich food available to feed them.

One of the changes industrialisation created was to markedly increase the returns to education while reducing the ability of children to contribute to household production. Improved sanitation and increased medical knowledge also markedly reduced infant mortality. This resulted in a dramatic shift away from quantity of children towards quality of children, with large falls in fertility rates.

Thus, the foraging-to-farming shift from quality to quantity of children has been more than reversed. But at, of course, hugely higher population levels.**

Niche-creating species
Humans are members of a species that technologically creates a variety of niches by intensely social and cultural processes. Models of human populations need to be able to incorporate the reality of the creation of varied niches. Assuming a single human niche certainly hugely simplifies modelling, but the analytical accuracy cost in usefully analysing human social dynamics by doing so can become very high, very quickly. Similarly with attempting to model human population dynamics without being able to incorporate the varying trade-offs of human niches.

Thinking of humans as the niche-creating species, and as niches as involving various trade-offs, clarifies human social dynamics.

[An earlier version was posted on Medium.]

End Notes

*Education of women tends to lower fertility because it increases the opportunity cost of children to women and raises the education cost of children. This is especially so in circumstances, such as high returns to human capital, where investing in quality of children is a more successful inter-generational strategy than investing in quantity of children. The higher-returns-to-human-capital effect is also a specific instance of investing in more concentrated asset inheritance by offspring can favour single-spouse marriage over polygyny, if the number of offspring and/or spouses affects the level or persistence of asset concentration. The human capital effect, which was very intense for Brahmins (given the enormous levels of memorisation required to function as Brahmin), probably encouraged their tendency to single-spouse marriages. This investment in maximising household production through in-group marriage is likely the reason for the development of the jati (caste) system, as a way of both maximising household production and generating protective connections. A system whose longevity shows up very clearly in the genetic patterns of South Asia.

**See economist Robin Hanson’s ongoing discussion of contemporary society as a struggle between farmer and forager patterns and ethics.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Out-of Expansions

There have been four major out-of expansions by Homo sapiens.

Source: Jared Diamond, Peter Bellwood, Farmers and Their Languages: The First Expansions, Science, 2003, Vol. 300, Issue 5619, pp. 597–603.

Four great out-of population expansions have widely dispersed Homo sapien populations. The out-of-Africa expansion of foragers; the out-of-the-river-valley expansion of farmers; the out-of-the-steppe expansion of pastoralists; and the out-of-Europe expansion of settler empires and states.

Out of Africa: the expansion of Homo sapiens

Whether an exit from Africa around 100,000 years ago was successful or not is still debated. From around 60-50,000 years ago, there was a sustained exit from Africa. Homo sapiens spread to occupy all continents except Antarctica, absorbing and replacing all other Homo populations. These foragers spread at a rate of about 10km a year, at least in areas without existing Homo populations.(1)

Homo sapiens are more gracile than other Homo, so likely lower in reactive aggression and thus more cooperative. Though the delay in the exit(s) from Africa, and the long period of coterminous occupation of Eurasia (maybe 20,000 years), suggest only a marginal advantage over Neanderthals, although this may have changed over time. This spreading of Homo sapien foragers concluded with the settling of southern regions of South America around 14,600 years ago.

Out of the river valleys: the expansion of farmers

Starting around 11,000 years ago, farming populations expanded across arable land, absorbing and replacing foragers. The process is still going on in Africa, Amazonia and elsewhere. In Oceania, farmers occupied islands without previous human habitation, reaching New Zealand probably around the year 1320.

The transmission from foraging to farming was a lengthy one. While not generally more productive per hour of effort than foraging, farming was able to extract many times more calories from arable land, lowered the cost of child-rearing and created an increased protection problem, encouraging the development of more coercive capacity.(2) Hence the continuing expansion, and dispersal, of farming populations.(3) Farmers and farming generally spread across arable land at a rate of around 1km a year.(4) The development of farming also had significant adverse health consequences, with deteriorations in dental health, loss of height, increased infectious disease and more signs of metabolic stress.(5)

Farmers seem to have traded-off less food-search time (food search being more difficult for child-minding) for more food-processing time (easier for child-minding) and more immediate access to energy (calories) (so quicker weaning of children) for less long-term access to nutrients. 

The flesh of plants are much more likely to be toxic to humans than is the flesh of animals while plant calories and nutrients are often significantly less bio-available than are animal calories and nutrients. Hence the increased need for processing to use plant foods. Hence also the existence of an calorie/nutrient trade-off when shifting from a more animal-based diet (as foraging diets generally have been) to the plant-based diet of farming. (Much of modern food culture has been systematically trading-off taste and calories against nutrient quality.)

With the development of farming and pastoralism, there was a dramatic narrowing in male genetic lineages. The rate of elimination of male lineages varied by region. Overall, only about 1-in-17 male lineages survived this harrowing of male lineages. (Female lineages were almost entirely unaffected.)(6) This harrowing of male lineages was a result of the expansion among agro-pastoral peoples of the (social) technology of aggression against fellow humans.

The development of pastoralism intensified the pattern of elimination of male lineages.(7) The harrowing of male lineages largely came to an end with the development of chiefdoms and states. That is, when the technology of exploitation overtook the technology of aggression — conquered males became providers of tribute and taxes, so were worth protecting. 

The biggest single thing states do after extracting surplus (taxing) is pacify: they don't want their taxpayers killing each other.

Out of the steppes: the Indo-European pastoralist expansion

Pastoralist populations from the Pontic-Caspian steppe domesticated the horse (though the Botai people further east may have domesticated horses earlier) and, from about 5,000ya, and continuing until about 3,000ya, expanded into Europe, the Iranian plateau, the Tarim Basin and Northern India. During these surges of settlement, Indo-Iranians develop the horse-drawn chariot (c.4,000ya).

The steppe-descended pastoralist population eventually expanded across all of Europe, interbreeding with the Neolithic farmers. Though not in the Basque Country and Sardinia.(8)

The original steppe pastoralist population had, like various other pastoralist populations have, developed a mutation for lactase persistence. This enabled much higher metabolic return from post-infancy consumption of milk. Different pastoralist populations in Afro-Eurasia have developed different lactase persistence mutations.(9)

Dairying broadens access to nutrients and enables the extraction of around five times as much calories from grassland as could be done via ruminant meat consumption.(10) This biological advantage likely enabled millennia of expansion, resulting in Indo-European languages, and cultural patterns ultimately derived from steppe pastoralism, covering Europe, the Iranian plateau and Northern India.

After the Indo-Europeans settlement surges had petered out, Indo-Iranian peoples also pioneered horse archers and heavy lancers (c.2,700ya). Later pastoralist peoples continued to periodically ravage, or even conquer, agrarian peoples. Only the Arab and Turkic dispersals resulted in large-scale demographic expansion beyond pastoralist heartlands. In both cases, settlement following imperial conquest.

Out of Europe: the empires-and-settlers expansion

Beginning c.1500 and petering out c.1960, European populations expanded across Siberia, the Americas and the Antipodes.

The combination of competitive jurisdictions, single-spouse marriage, the abolition of kin groups (requiring the development of replacement mechanisms of social cooperation), as well as being able to entrench social and political bargains in law (as law was not based in revelation, unlike Sharia and Brahmin law) meant that Europe had far more variety of political institutions than elsewhere. This gave the selection processes of history far more to work with, resulting in Europe developing more effective states. Christian Europe’s swift adoption of the printing press after 1450 greatly aided the dissemination and development of information and technology while reducing administrative costs.

With gunpowder, the compass, and ocean-going sail technology, Europeans spread out from Europe in a largely maritime out-of expansion. The out-of-Europe expansion included waves of settlement. (The Russian conquest and settling of Siberia did not need the maritime step, though riverine expansion was important in parts of Siberia.)

Settlement generally followed, sometimes preceded, imperial expansion. Both the Russian and American nation-building-through-settlement were also imperial projects, although animated by rather different ideas and institutions.

The Europeans acquired a portmanteau biota of supporting plant and animal species. Where their portmanteau biota became dominant, Europeans became the dominant human population, creating neo-Europes. Where the biota failed to do so, they did not.(11)

Being Eurasian, so resistant to the Eurasian disease pool, gave Europeans a disease advantage in the Americas and the Antipodes. Having much more effective states was their advantage within Afro-Eurasia and allowed them to exploit their disease advantage far more completely and speedily outside it. Their advantage in state (and other cooperative) organisation eventually (albeit temporarily) expanded their control across regions where they were systematically disease-disadvantaged (including Sub-Saharan Africa).

The Homo sapien advantage is non-kin cooperation. Medieval European Christian civilisation put non-kin cooperation “on steroids” and so Europeans equipped with compass, gunpowder, ocean-going maritime technology and the printing press created the Eurosphere across four continents plus Siberia and ended up dominating the planet — until other peoples learnt their tricks.

In general

The expansions have been getting faster: taking at least 35,000 years; 11,000 years; 2,000 years; 500 years.

The, currently underway, fifth great out-of expansion — the out-of-the-countryside movement to the cities — is a series of concentrations, rather than a dispersal.

Each of the out-of dispersals has its specific characteristics, but each represents Homo sapiens behaving like Homo sapiens. Indeed, behaving like any biological population with access to new resources, including new abilities to access resources.

[An earlier version was posted on Medium.]

  1. B. Llamas, L. Fehren-Schmitz, G. Valverde, J. Soubrier, S. Mallick, N. Rohland, S. Nordenfelt, C. Valdiosera, S. M. Richards, A. Rohrlach, M. I. B. Romero, I. F. Espinoza, E. T. Cagigao, L. W. Jiménez, K. Makowski, I. S. L. Reyna, J. M. Lory, J. A. B. Torrez, M. A. Rivera, R. L. Burger, M. C. Ceruti, J. Reinhard, R. S. Wells, G. Politis, C. M. Santoro, V. G. Standen, C. Smith, D. Reich, S. Y. W. Ho, A. Cooper, W. Haak, ‘Ancient mitochondrial DNA provides high-resolution time scale of the peopling of the America’s,’ Science Advances, April 2016, Vol.2, №4, e1501385, suggests that it took 1.4kya to people the length of the Americas. As this is a distance of roughly 14,000km, that is an expansion rate of around 10km a year.
  2. Samuel Bowles, ‘Cultivation of cereals by the first farmers was not more productive than foraging,’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 2011, 108 (12) 4760–4765.
  3. Jared Diamond, Peter Bellwood, ‘Farmers and Their Languages: The First Expansions,’ Science, 25 April 2003, Vol. 300, Issue 5619, pp. 597–603.
  4. Joaquin Fort, ‘Demic and cultural diffusion propagated the Neolithic transition across different regions of Europe,’ Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 2015, 12: 20150166.
  5. Katherine J. Latham, ‘Human Health and the Neolithic Revolution: an Overview of Impacts of the Agricultural Transition on Oral Health, Epidemiology, and the Human Body,’ Nebraska Anthropologist, 2013, 187.
  6. Tian Chen Zeng, Alan K. Aw & Marcus W. Feldman, ‘Cultural hitchhiking and competition between patrilineal kin groups explain the post-Neolithic Y-chromosome bottleneck,’ Nature Communications, 9 Article number: 2077 (2018), published 25 May 2018.
  7. Patricia Balaresque, Nicolas Poulet, Sylvain Cussat-Blanc, Patrice Gerard, Lluis Quintana-Murci, Evelyne Heyer & Mark A. Jobling, ‘Y-chromosome descent clusters and male differential reproductive success: Young lineage expansions dominate Asian pastoral nomadic populations,’ European Journal of Human Genetics, January 2015.
  8. Iosif Lazaridis, ‘The evolutionary history of human populations in Europe,’ arXiv 1805.01579, submitted on 4 May 2018.
  9. Hadi Charati, Min-Sheng Peng, Wei Chen, Xing-Yan Yang, Roghayeh Jabbari Ori, Mohsen Aghajanpour-Mir, Ali Esmailizadeh and Ya-Ping Zhang, ‘The evolutionary genetics of lactase persistence in seven ethnic groups across the Iranian plateau,’ Human Genomics, (2019) 13:7. Scholarly discussions of lactase persistence in Europe often pay remarkably little attention to the same specific lactase-persistence mutation occurring in Europe, Iran and Northern India, so must have spread by a pastoralist, not a farming, population.
  10. Latham, op cit. Morton O. Cooper and W. J. Spillman, ‘Human Food from an Acre of Staple Farm Products,’ Farmers’ Bulletin, №877, October 1917, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, The 10,000 year explosion: how civilization accelerated human evolution, Basic Books [2009] (2010) cite the Bulletin for their discussion in Chapter 6 of the Indo-European expansion, including the role of lactase persistence.
  11. Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900, Cambridge University Press, [1986] (1993).

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Don’t fall for the Activist’s Fallacy

Intent is not the only thing to judge policies or theories on.

Within the expanding debate and political controversies over CRT (Critical Race Theory), the Activist’s Fallacy is regularly on display.

The Activist’s Fallacy operates as follows:
We are doing X because we are against Y.
You are against X
You are for Y.
The Fallacy can be recast in negative terms:
We are doing X because we are for Z.
You are against X.
You are against Z.
Either way, the Activist’s Fallacy is about making declared intent the dimension on which the entire controversy turns.

It also comes in cry-bully versions, such as:
We want to control speech to stop trans folk harming themselves.
You are against such control of speech.
You are against stopping trans folk harming themselves.
In the case of Critical Race Theory, the Activist’s Fallacy comes in versions such as:
Critical Race Theory seeks to confront racism.
You are against Critical Race Theory.
You are against confronting racism.
Critical Race Theory allows us to learn about racism.
You are against Critical Race Theory.
You are against learning about racism.
The Activist’s Fallacy relies on declared intent being the only important motivational feature of whatever theory or policy is being put. With motivation being the dimension that all responses have to be graded on.

As a rhetorical and status strategy, this is highly effective. As long as everything can be construed as being first and foremost about intent, then any opposition becomes opposition to the declared intent, just as support becomes support for the declared intent.

Since the intent is, of course, going to be noble, that elevates the nobility of those pushing the theory or policy and de-legitimises any critics. They become malicious, callous, some sort of -ist or -phobe.

There is a lot of colonising of people’s decency going on. As well as people not wishing to have their status as one of the smart and good stripped from them by use of stigmatising labels against them: the submit-or-be-stigmatised choice.

So, by making intent the dimension upon which the controversy turns, motivation becomes the key grading factor. You can’t decide you are against Critical Race Theory because it is false, or because you think it has pernicious social implications. No, it is all about the declared intent of Critical Race Theory and whether you are “anti-racist” or not.

If one accepts the theory that society is a structure of oppression and domination, and that social interactions (including discussions) are all about power relations, then the Activist’s Fallacy is not merely a rhetorically useful status play, it is a natural implication of your world-view.

Which, of course, implies that there are things deeply wrong with your world-view. For the Activist’s Fallacy is still a fallacy. It is still bad reasoning, no matter how rhetorically useful it is. Nor how much of a congenial status play it is.

There are a whole lot of things wrong with Critical Race Theory, starting with it simply not being true that racism is pervasive in contemporary Western societies, or that disparities between groups are primarily the result of current racism, or that persistent disparities demonstrate systemic racism. It is a false analysis of social dynamics. Critical Race Theory’s racialisation of everything is also deeply pernicious in its effects on social dynamics and public policy.

Structural roles

Something that is very clear from the history of investing grand social meanings onto race, aided by “race” having visible physical markers, is that elite race talk is always a divide-and-dominate mechanism. And Critical Race Theory is very much elite race talk: it came out of elite universities.

We tend to over-rate the importance of conscious intent in human actions. As Polish psychiatrist Andrzej Łobaczewski (1921–2007) noted:
Unconscious psychological processes outstrip conscious reasoning, both in time and in scope, which makes many psychological phenomena possible…
Political Ponerolology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes, p.163.
The over-rating of the role of conscious intent tends to be particularly likely when there are powerful social, institutional or organisational feedbacks and incentives in play. We find it very easy to tell congenial narratives about ourselves — to ourselves and to others — about beliefs (and actions) that may have other reasons to resonate with us. Especially if they also resonate with other folk in similar social positions, so that there are selection processes in favour of developing mutually congenial patterns of action and accompanying justifying narratives.

Instead of asking about conscious intent, let’s consider interests and feedbacks. Let’s instead ask the Who-Whom? question; the who benefits? question.

Who benefits if Critical Race Theory is not subject to searching critique about its factual accuracy and its social implications? Who benefits if US society is more intensely racialised? Who benefits if race-delineated divisions increase? Who gains status and career opportunities from spruiking up such racialising? Probably not workers, local residents or the general citizenry.

Those wielding the Activist’s Fallacy want to tell a noble story about their own intentions and a malicious story about the intentions of those who disagree with them. If they want to play that game, a deeper look at incentives and interests, about why certain narratives are so appealing and to whom, may not take analysis where they want to go.

Recognise the Activist’s Fallacy for what it is: a self-serving evasion. And don’t fall for it. Be prepared to call it out for the dishonest, self-aggrandising, rhetorical ploy it is.

[A previous version was posted on Medium.]

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The existence of intersex people illustrates how sex is biological and binary

Folk are intersex because of how their biology is within complex and varied manifestations of two sexes.

Participants at the third International Intersex Forum held in Malta, December 2013.

There is this rather tedious game that is sometimes played where the existence of intersex people is somehow taken to indicate that either sex is not biological or that sex is not binary.

Any suggestion along the former lines is easily dealt with: a person is intersex if they have a specific type of pattern of biological features. That is, in the words of the UN OHCHR (the UN Human Rights Office):
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.
Those sex characteristics are, of course, biological. It is the biological structure of their body that makes someone intersex.

Use-referent confusion

The wording typical binary notions of male or female bodies is a genuflection towards sex as a socially constructed category. That categorisation within a language is a social act does not make the thing being referred to thereby socially constructed. To act as if it does is to confuse use of a term with the referent of the term.

This use-and-referent confusion, this confusion between category and object, is not a case of failing to distinguish between use (“I like eating cheese”) and mention (“'cheese' has six letters”), but it is similar level of logical error. That the practice has evolved of calling a particular set of dairy products cheese does not mean those dairy products are socially constructed by that act of categorising. However socially embedded cheese-making may be, such dairy products are created by a series of physical processes and have a physical existence not dependant on the categorising conventions of particular languages.

Both types of logical error come from the aboutness of language and thought; from us using language to speak, and categories to think, about other things.

Sex existed long before anyone was developing categories about sex. Sex continues in the biological world all around us, regardless of what categories we may choose to use, and how.

It’s all about the gametes

If your body is structured to produce small, self-moving (motile) gametes, you are male; regardless of whether any viable gametes are actually produced. If your body is structured to produce large, not self-moving (sessile) gametes, you are female. Also regardless of whether any viable gametes are actually produced. A gun does not stop being a gun by removing its firing pin or filling in the barrel.

At its base, sex is defined by reproductive function. Such a pattern of only two types of gametes means that sex is, at its base, in its biological function, binary.

If the evolutionary die were to be thrown to generate new genetic combinations, there had to be at least two gametes. If there were more than two gametes, that would greatly increase the difficulty in successfully reproducing. If there was going to be two gametes, one that was injected (so was small and self-moving) and one that received (so was large and not self-moving) also maximised the chance of successful reproduction. Hence, male and female gametes.

Given certain basic conditions, if a species reproduces through the combining of gametes (i.e. reproduces sexually) then having two types of gametes — small, self-moving (motile) gametes and large, not-self-moving (sessile) gametes — is the only evolutionary stable outcome. Hence, in our biosphere, sex is binary because there are only two types of gametes.

Thus, there is no third sex at the level of gametes. There are neuter forms of females in eusocial insects. In some species, an individual can change sex. But there are only two sexes in the sense of only being structured to produce one of two types of gametes. Some individuals partake of characteristics typical of both sexes. That does not make them a third sex.

While, in its base evolutionary function, sex is binary, the manifestations of the binary nature of sex in organisms can get quite complex. That sex is binary doesn’t mean that bodies are. In a way, that is probably the evolutionary point. A widely accepted hypothesis among biologists about why species adopt sexual reproduction via gametes is that it was an evolutionary adaptation to deal with pathogens. By sexually reproducing, the genetic die are being thrown again and again, giving sexually reproducing species a much better chance of having genetic lineages that could survive a particular pathogen.

In us Homo sapiens, as mammals, there is a set of characteristics that are specifically typical of the male-body structure and a set of characteristics that is specifically typical of the female-body structure. If you have some characteristics from both sets, you are intersex. But it is precisely the existence of these two sets of sex-typical biological characteristics that creates (1) the possibility of being intersex and (2) enables identification as intersex.

So, the existence of intersex people does not confound either the biological or the binary nature of sex. On the contrary, it refers to a set of people with various patterns of biological characteristics that can only be identified as falling within the set of intersex people because of the binary and biological nature of sex. Human bodies are bimodally distributed, but with sufficiently fuzzy boundaries that some folk are intersex, they overlap the distributions somewhat.

Evolutionary pressure

Arguments about, for instance, the concept of binary being binary — something is either perfectly binary or it is not binary — are ways of avoiding grappling with the biology. For biology has lots of fuzzy boundary concepts (e.g. species). Defining binary in a way that means nothing biological of any complexity is likely to meet it is not a proof that sex is not binary. The small self-moving gamete/large not-self-moving gamete difference is binary in the sense that counts in terms of reproductive function. Reproductive function that is subject to, and shaped by, evolutionary pressures.

It is that evolutionary pressure that makes, sex, in its base evolutionary function, binary and its physical manifestation in human bodies bimodally distributed. 

If there were actual hermaphrodites in a species with males and females, there would be grounds for calling them a third sex, as their bodies would be structured to produce both gametes. That would not, however, change the binary nature of sex in its evolutionary function.

The key confusion is failing to grasp that the binary nature of sex applies to its evolutionary function. If conjoining gametes is how reproduction happens, and there are only two sorts of gametes in play, then sex is binary. It is that simple.

This is not a claim that individual organisms cannot have a mixture of features. It is not even a claim that individual organisms cannot move across the boundary from one sex to another. It is also not a claim about animals conforming absolutely to to two, and only two, rigidly distinguished physical structures. It does not even preclude an organism producing both types of gametes, either sequentially or simultaneously.

The binary nature of sex is not defined from structures of bodies inwards. It arises from reproductive function outwards. As a biological process, reproduction has consequences for physical structures, but these can be quite complex and varied. A complexity and variance that does not in anyway change the binary nature of sex, though it does considerably complicate its expression in biological structures.

Animals have sex roles: the behavioural manifestation of sex. The manifestation of sex in a deeply cultural species is even more complex, hence gender: the cultural expression of sex. With gender we are in much more varied, and culturally evolved, territory.

In summary, there are only two sexes at the level of basic reproductive dynamics, defined by there being only two types of gametes. There is no third sex at the level of reproductive dynamics because there is no third type of gamete. Hence, sex is binary, however complex the manifestations in bodies of that underlying only-two-types-of-gametes pattern may be.

So, when folk say that sex is binary, what they should mean is that there are two types of gametes. And when folk say that sex is not binary, what they should mean is that the biological expression in actual bodies of the binary nature of sex is bimodal rather than binary. Though it is a clumsy and misleading way of doing so.

The rest is just tedious word games, with more than a dash of logical confusion.

[Previous version posted on Medium.]

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Wielding the mask of science

Official health has a persistent pattern of presenting as science-based things that are not.

Source. Taken from here, original research and data from here.

Despite the efforts of the wilder shores of critical theory and its critical constructivist derivatives (such as critical race theory) to present science as white, patriarchal, heteronormative and similar morally-disabling things, science retains a great deal of authority in Western societies. Particularly in areas of policy concern that clearly should be based on good science. Hence public policy, and policy advocacy, regularly presents itself as being based on sound science.

Thus uses of terms and phrases such as trust the science, scientific consensus and, as terms of de-legitimisation, science denialism.

The evolution test

In areas such as health, nutrition, medicine, dentistry there is, in fact, a pretty reasonable rule-of-thumb to apply about how well science is being applied: the evolutionary lens. Ask yourself: does this claim make sense in the light of human evolutionary history? If the answer is no, there is a good chance that it is wrong. If the answer is yes, there is a much higher chance of it being correct.

So, if humans have been eating something for thousands of generations (meat, fish, saturated fat, salt, tubers) then there is a good chance that it is fine in your diet. (Nutritional-value or health-risk claims against them typically have very poor evidentiary bases.) Though differences in how they are cooked or when, including how often, they are eaten provides a complicating factor.

If humans have been eating something for only a few decades (seed oils, ultra-processed food), then there is an good chance that it is not good for you.

A similar point applies to eating patterns. If an eating pattern has been common for thousands of generations (one, two, maybe three, meals a day, little or no snacking), it is probably good for you. If an eating pattern is much, much more recent (eating several times a day due to regular snacking), then it is probably not good for you.

Modern Westerners have about the same daily energy expenditure as hunter-gatherers, so levels of physical activity are less of a factor in explaining rising obesity than one might expect. Which strongly suggests that changes in diet and eating habits has been the main factor in rising obesity.

It is frightening how much of the nutrition advice from official health sources does not pass the test of the evolutionary lens. Then again, a fair bit of medicine and dentistry also fails the test of the evolutionary lens. (For instance, the silly claim that it makes evolutionary sense that we grow redundant teeth, especially as foraging populations are generally known for their wide jaws and healthy teeth.)

The mask of science (nutrition)

Much of the nutrition advice from official health (i.e. government health departments and regulatory bodies) wields the mask of science. It presents itself as being based on the science, when it is not. Or, at least, is not based on good science.

The problem is, it is hard to do nutrition science well, because of nutrition’s inherent complexity. That means it is easy to do nutrition science badly, and even easier to do it to an agenda.

As the food industry (using the term ‘food’ somewhat loosely) is huge, there are enormous revenues at stake. So the capacity to fund, present and cherry-pick poor or misleading science is great. And, indeed, frequently done.

Unfortunately, official health also has perverse incentives. Not only are there the pressures of very well-funded influence-peddling but there are the inherently perverse incentives due to the tax-funding of health departments.

We pay organisations to do what makes their income go up, because that will have by far the strongest reinforcing incentives and feedbacks on what they do. If the metabolic health of the population gets worse, then health expenditure, including tax-funded health expenditure, goes up.

So, official health gets more revenue if they give us metabolically counter-productive advice and they get less revenue if they give us metabolically sound advice.

This is what economists call perverse incentives. Evolutionary biologists would call it adverse selection.

Unfortunately, welfare states are full of perverse incentives and processes of adverse selection. We can define the welfare state as:
a structure whereby taxes are spent to reduce or ameliorate social harms via various tax-funded bureaucracies that receive more revenue if the social pathologies tend to increase and less if they tend to decrease.
If we want to define the welfare state in terms of the state apparatus itself, then the welfare state represents:
a process whereby the state apparatus colonises (i.e., expands into, and receives increased revenue from) its own society rather than other societies.
Government health departments, in effect, colonise our collective ill-health. It is perhaps not a shock that the metabolic health of Western populations has been getting worse, and has been getting worse faster since governments started promulgating official nutrition guidelines in 1980.

If you are wondering what specific mechanisms have led to the official nutrition guidelines making our collective metabolic health worse, they can be summarised as:
  1. Encouraging us to eat more frequently, leading to our bodies being chronically flooded with insulin, driving up rates of insulin resistance.
  2. Encouraging more consumption of carbohydrates, leading to more fat storage (as set out in the chart at the top of this post).
  3. Paying no attention to the massive increase in use of (highly inflammatory) seed oils.
  4. Demonising saturated fat on the basis of no good scientific evidence. (And eating less fat means eating more carbohydrates.)
The official nutrition guidelines have been structured, by feedback and selection processes, to generate deteriorating metabolic health in a way that permits the use of the mask of science to cover nutrition guidelines that no one concerned for their health, or the health of their family, should actually follow. US defence forces, for example, are suffering adverse health consequences, likely due to following the official nutrition guidelines.

Indeed, without the mask of science, more folk would be come aware of what a diabolically bad job the nutrition guidelines have done, if improving the health of the population was the goal.

Of course, if the aim is to increase government health expenditure, then they have been excellently effective. Which appears to be precisely how the selection pressures have operated.

As we contemplate the deteriorating metabolic health of Western populations, Thomas Jefferson proved to be prophetic in his 1787 Notes on the State of Virginia:
Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.
The mask of science (Covid 19)

We can also see the mask of science being use to cover policies not grounded in good science in the official responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 is a respiratory (so seasonal) illness of metabolic distress. That is likely why children and adolescents have been largely immune: their metabolisms are generally sufficiently healthy that they are far less vulnerable.

One of the things that became clear relatively early is that outdoor transmission is not a significant vector for spreading the virus. Conversely, Vitamin D deficiency is a vector for increasing the likelihood of suffering badly from the virus. (Likely a major factor in why darker-skinned folk in northern latitudes had higher rates of illness and death.) Also, social interaction is well known to reduce stress and so increase capacity to resist disease.

So, we should not have been telling people to stay out of the sun and the fresh air, or to wear masks outdoors, as airborne transmission risk is about effective volume of air. Yet, using the mask of science, this is precisely what has been done in many jurisdictions. The case for lockdowns is also much weaker than is often recognised. (See also here.)

Masks do, however, operate as a strong social signal. A signal that gets its power from use of the mask of science.

A tale of two (US) States

Florida and California are both large population US states, (21m to 40m people) at similar latitudes (so similar seasonal patterns). Florida has a higher population density, though California’s population is slightly more urbanised (95% to Florida’s 91.2%). Florida has an older population (median age of 42.5 to 37) as you would expect from a well-known retirement destination.

So, other things being equal, you would expect Florida to have a higher pandemic death rate than California. California has a death rate of 1,595 per million people. Florida has a death rate of 1,721 per million people. So, higher, as one would expect. But not very much higher: 126 more deaths per million or 8% higher. Rather less of a difference than one might expect, given that Florida’s median age is 15% higher than California’s.

Yet the measures in California to combat the pandemic have been way more intrusive and expensive than what has been done in Florida. Moreover, California’s death rate has been closing on Florida’s, as California’s second (seasonal) wave was much worse than its first.

Florida not discouraging people to go outside and enjoy the sun, and not requiring masking outside, does not seem to have had significantly adverse effects. As, one would expect, if one was following the actual science rather than those wielding the mask of science.

The systematic attempts to suppress any public consideration of the lab leak hypothesis was another, particularly egregious, case of the use of the mask of science against actual science. Also egregious has been the suppression of discussion of a potentially viable treatment for Covid-19, Ivermectin (longer discussion here). I have no idea about whether Ivermectin is effective, or in what circumstances. But suppression the discussion is nonsense and not in any way "doing science". 

Advice not given

It was clear relatively early on in the pandemic that Covid-19 was a respiratory (thus seasonal) disease of metabolic distress, with poor metabolic health greatly increasing your risk factors. By changing your eating habits, you can improve some markers of metabolic health in a few days, some in a few weeks, the rest within a few months.

These changes needn’t be all that expensive. Indeed, simply eating less frequently (aka time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting) to give your body a rest from being flooded with insulin can be very effective.

As far as I am aware, at no stage did official health tell us that. Either they didn’t know the above or they didn’t want to admit what crap their official nutrition guidelines are.

Either way, the selection processes operating on official health did not favour optimising the policy response to the pandemic. But they certainly did involve much use of the mask of science. Rather less use of actual science.

Stop and consider how many unnecessary deaths there may have been from the Covid-19 pandemic because official health has perverse/adverse incentives.

They are a mere fraction of the premature deaths every year from using the mask of science to push bureaucratically (and corporately) convenient nutrition guidelines rather than providing nutrition advice well-grounded in our evolutionary history, so in actual science.

[An earlier version was posted on Medium.]

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Feedback explains how occupations and industries align politically

Why those who struggle with the physical world lean conservative and those who deal with the abstract lean progressive.

In his book A Conflict of Visions, economist Thomas Sowell sets out two visions of human nature and social possibilities that drive much of politics: the unconstrained or utopian vision, whereby human society could achieve unparalleled harmony and felicity if people were freed from various social constraints, and the constrained or tragic vision, whereby human nature, the demands of creating and maintaining social order and of wresting wealth from nature, operate as fundamental constraints that any social order has to deal with.

What are indeed enduring constraints, and how amenable particular constraints are to human action, is not always obvious and can change over time. Western civilisation has gone through the emancipation sequence — abolishing the slave trade and slavery, Jewish emancipation, adult male suffrage, votes for women, women’s liberation, civil rights, gay liberation — largely because constraints changed, including increasing ability to contest claims about what are, or are not, enduring constraints and what trade-offs should be accepted.

The above chart summarising the pattern of political donations by industry and occupation, shows this conflict between the constrained and unconstrained visions playing out in contemporary US politics. Though there is no reason to think that the patterns are much different in other developed democracies.

Progressivism trumping liberalism

As contemporary progressivism has become increasingly, indeed, in its source writings, proudly, illiberal, I am going to mostly substitute progressive for the liberal label above, as it far better describes the dynamics of politics which derives from the unconstrained vision. In particular, how much such politics is directed to, or derived from, a notion of the transformative golden future (progressivism) rather than a commitment to general human freedom and autonomy (liberalism). Though inflated notions of harms from words, so that restrictions on speech and ideas are claimed to be needed to defend human autonomy (at the cost of restricting human autonomy, but only “bad” autonomy) can be a bridge from liberal to progressive politics.

The transformative golden future is not the mere wish that the future be better than the past, but that it be so profoundly better as to eliminate social ills entirely. To the extent that problems of creating and sustaining order that human societies have had to contend with can be largely or entirely superseded.

A fundamental concept of critical theory and derivatives, the various critical constructivist theories such as critical race theory, is that true social harmony and felicity can only be achieved if all oppressive ideas and structures are eliminated. With oppressive ideas being defined as anything that is taken to inhibit “progress”: that is, achievement of the transformative golden future. This explicitly includes any dissent from the precepts of, or derived from, critical theories. Hence, any politics derived from critical theory or its derivatives, as contemporary progressivism increasingly is, is thereby fundamentally opposed to freedom of speech and thought. This is very clear in writings such as Herbert Marcuse’s seminal, and increasingly influential, essay Repressive Tolerance. (The essay is available online here.)

Attempting to, and regularly succeeding, in getting people sacked or suspended for violating linguistic taboos, is a profoundly illiberal style of politics. But it fits perfectly in with the idea that a transformative golden future is possible if oppressive ideas and structures — that is any ideas or structures that are not directed to, or that fail to facilitate, achievement of said transformative golden future — are eliminated.

It is also a logical inference from Michel Foucault claiming that social dynamics are fundamentally matters of power. If arguments are not about trying to find the truth, or bargaining to achieve mutually compatible ends, but just expressions of power in a society dominated by oppressor-oppressed relations, then of course the “proper” thing to do is to suppress all those who express or “support” the “power relations” of oppression.

As I have previously discussed, the politics of the commitment to the transformative golden future has an enormous rhetorical advantage. For the transformative golden future, being a thing of the imagination, can be far more morally perfect than anything that is a result of the inevitable trade-offs trying to build something in the world must entail.

Indeed, there is a ready-made, and oft-applied, pattern of critique by progressives of anything that does, or has, existed. Take some such thing, ignore why it exists, what trade-offs and constraints it has had to deal with. Then compare it to some moral principle or principles without any serious consideration of its function or the constraints it has had to deal with. Prove that it fails to entirely conform to the nominated moral principles and condemn it as illegitimate for doing so. 

To someone committed to the transformative golden future, this is a perfectly reasonable way to proceed, as all such constraints can be superseded when the golden future is achieved. If you are more concerned with how and why things work (or don’t), it is less impressive.

Commitment to the transformative future has powerful motivation behind it. Not only does it have unbeatable moral grandeur because of its imagined lack of moral blemish, commitment to such moral grandeur reflects its splendour back on to those so committed. This further motivates dismissing as impermanent and dispensable all constraints that might dim said grandeur.

Pursuit of the transformative golden future is held to be inherently morally ennobling. (Above all, by those so committed.) Political activism, specifically progressive political activism, becomes the highest moral calling, as it is directed towards achieving the transformative golden future that is the ground of all morality and of all positive meaning.

Yes, this is a faith system.

There is no information from the future and so it can be imagined to be as perfect as one likes. The golden transformative future thus acts as God in monotheism — the source of meaning, the ground of morality and the ultimate authority. Indeed, it operates as a source of divine authority: the divine being the realm of ultimate authority from which there is no accuracy feedback.

Political activism to bring about the golden transformation future thus operates as a priesthood and key theorists as its prophets. We are absolutely dealing with a faith-system operating according to religious dynamics. With heretics, blasphemy, infidels and, if institutional circumstances permit, inquisitions.

Markers of being of the smart and the good

This energising motivation, grounded in an imagined future so much better than anything that has or does exist, reaches beyond those explicitly committed to the transformative golden future, or to any particular theory of the transformative golden future. For derivations of these theories emerge out of this highly motivated reasoning and activism and are re-packaged as being what the smart and the good believe.

Once such derivative beliefs are established as markers of being smart and being good, then anyone who aspires to being of the smart and good has profound status, cognitive identity and self-image reasons to buy into such marker-precepts. (And to be seen to so buy into.) In doing so, they also buy into the required-for-such-status consequence that those who fail to endorse what the smart and the good believe are morally and cognitively delinquent, as it must follow that they are either not smart, not good, or both.* This has become central to how prestige media functions — it sells narratives that tell you what the smart and good folk believe, and who (as being of the smart and the good) you therefore get to despise for not being of the smart and the good.

In order to protect the signal of being of the smart and the good, dissent has to be de-legitimised. Hence pile-ones against those who dissent, because if such dissent is accepted as legitimate, then the markers of being of the smart and good lose their value. Pile-ons and denigration of dissent and dissenters are ways to protect the strength of the signals of being of the smart and the good.

Having bought into these markers of being of the smart and the good, folk have then also bought into being motivated to block themselves from noticing anything that casts doubt on the precepts that define the smart and the good. This is bad for the general health of public and intellectual discourse, but excellent for the smart-and-good status strategy. A salient example of this pattern is that the more highly educated, “liberal” (i.e., progressive) one is, and the more trusting of the mainstream media, the worse informed one is of the patterns of police shootings in the US.

It is not only a problem of a general pattern of not-noticing. Much of the mainstream media is playing, and playing to, the same status strategy. A playing, and playing to, that is manifested in the huge increase in recent years in the use of racial terms in US mainstream media. This is a measure of the expanding influence of critical race theory, and its derivative status strategy of anti-racism as being a prime marker of being of the smart and the good.

Abstracting progressivism

If one works in an occupation or industry that deals with abstract ideas, or other products of the imagination, then faith in the transformative golden future, and its derivative markers to establish one is of the smart and good, is a very natural fit. Particularly if being of the smart is very much a matter of professional self-image. Who does not want to see themselves as being of the smart and the good?

Looking at the chart of political donations above, we can see that not only are the industries and occupations of abstraction and imagination strongly predominantly progressive in their politics, they are far more intensively progressive than any industry or occupation leans conservative. The industries and occupations of the cultural commanding heights are, in terms of active politics, overwhelmingly progressive. If politics is downstream of culture, then much of the patterns of contemporary institutional and public politics makes sense.

Those who buy into the unconstrained vision (or its derivatives) are very likely to be more motivated to care about, and be active in, politics. Their very sense of status and cognitive identity is strongly inclined to be activated by, and motivate, political action. Much more so than folk with different views of the world, of society, of human possibilities, of politics.

The social power of being more systematically motivated about politics is real, as this thoughtful piece on the institutional spread of “wokeness” (i.e., contemporary progressivism derived from critical constructivist theories) sets out. The piece is, however, marred by the silly claim that progressives care more about the future of their society than do conservatives. Being much more motivated to engage in political action, because it is tied up with one’s sense of status and cognitive identity, is not remotely the same as caring more about the future of your society. Indeed, a profound contempt for one’s own society, and its heritage, can be extremely politically motivating. Especially as part of rejecting present and past in the service of the transformative golden future.

There is a sense in which wanting to de-legitimise and overturn the American project is very much caring about the future of the society you are currently in, but not in the sense that of identifying with the society as it is, or has been. This is not about a continuing future for that society, but a radical break from what has come before, and all the achievements and strivings that embodies.

Caring more about politics is not the same as caring more about the future of one’s country. Politics is not the only way to care about, or invest in, the future of one’s society. Indeed, the more pervasive and intense competition over the positional goods of politics are in a society, the worse that society is likely to become.

Status games

The unconstrained vision is very well set up for status and power games. Precisely because the animating vision is so morally splendid, it is very easy to generate a sense of profound moral commitment, but also a sense of moral grandeur. This can then be parlayed into a sense of moral prestige and, in order to achieve the golden future, patterns of social dominance.

The grandeur of the moral claims can, however, also lead to a pervasive cheapening of moral discourse. For instance, the notion that, say, a lesbian of African descent with a tenured position in an elite university is “marginalised” and “oppressed” profoundly impoverishes moral language. If such a person is “marginalised” and “oppressed”, what are we to say about the situation of a slave, or the inhabitant of a labour camp, or the experience of a Russian serf?

The appropriation of the language of oppression by not merely inhabitants of the most prosperous, most technologically capable, socially free societies in human history but by particularly institutionally advantaged members of such societies is profoundly offensive and highly self-indulgent. It is self-indulgent self-aggrandisement (“look at me, I am so oppressed!” “look at me, I am speaking for the oppressed!” “look at me, I am fighting oppression!”) that hugely cheapens the public moral compass in the service of a performative collective narcissism, an ostentatious display of moral status. It also has a (likely not coincidentally) disorienting effect on anyone who might want to express different views and concerns.

Being very effective status strategies, very effective to harnessing prestige and wielding dominance, is at the core of how critical theory, and its derivatives, are also mechanisms of career advancement and social domination by holders of the “correct” sort of human capital. Ones that are particularly suited for, indeed likely to select for, toxic actors. Any powerful status strategy, particularly one with such minimal signalling costs, will attract, indeed select for, toxic actors.

There is a very strong element of self-deception involved, so that people see the moral splendour they commit to and don’t see the status plays they are engaged in. This self-deception is carried off by manipulating salience, especially moral salience, so as to hide what is going on from others and from themselves. As a Polish psychiatrist observed, having spent decades observing the putatively “progressive” politics of Stalinist and post-Stalinist Poland dominated by pathological personalities:
Unconscious psychological processes outstrip conscious reasoning, both in time and in scope, which makes many psychological phenomena possible… 
Andrew M. Lobaczewski, Political Ponerolology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes, p.163.
By being very consciously aware of the moral grandeur of the vision, and moral commitment involved, a lot of status games can be played without ever acknowledging to oneself or others that that is what is also going on. Indeed, that such status plays may be providing a great deal of the reinforcing feedback and incentives.

We can tell, however, that the status strategy is, at bottom, a much stronger motivator than moral concern because, in any clash between the two, the status strategy, with its very strong protection-from-conformity-effects, almost invariably wins. Indeed, one of the things that distinguishes dissenters on the “left” is their refusal to play the status strategy.

There are other consequences from this focus on the transformative future and expansive conceptions of oppression. If you define all constraints as oppression, so as being malign social constructs, that naturally leads to various levels of science denialism, as science explores the structures of things and constraints flow from the structure of things.

The notion that constraints are embedded in structure of things (as science demonstrates in various ways) is inherently opposed to the unconstrained vision. Lysenkoism is an inherent, pathological tendency of golden, transformative-future progressivism. As, for example, trans activism is currently demonstrating. Though the Lysenkoist implications of transformative-future progressivism are invading medicine much more widely.

Enduring constraints

Which brings us to the tragic or constrained vision. This cannot be simply labelled “right wing” or conservative, as some very liberal-minded or politically progressive (but not progressivist in the sense defined above) folk operate within this vision. Anyone who accepts that we are products of, and still subject to, evolutionary processes buys into a key element of the tragic or constrained vision, no matter how “left” their politics are.

Nevertheless, conservative thought is very much grounded in the tragic or constrained vision. But so is the liberal tradition.

The basis of the tragic or constrained vision is that constraints are real. That there are features of reality, and of us, that are not seriously plastic to human action and that we have to simply deal with, and act within, if we are to be effective. Particularly, if we are to be effective in promoting human flourishing or any achievable notion of the good.

Now what those constraints actually are, and how plastic or not they are to human action, is much debated. This is much of the ground of dispute between liberals, conservatives and various tragic-vision authoritarians. While they may argue over the constraints, and where the practical limits are, that there are such constraints and practical limits is a bedrock assumption all these traditions share.

Looking at the chart of patterns of political donations by industry above, we can see that the most politically conservative (so most constrained-vision) industries are mining and agriculture. They are immersed in the effort to wrest value from nature. They deal with the reality of physical constraints every day. Their daily feedback from their work tells them that constraints are real and pervasive. Of course they are much more inclined to conservative politics.

The higher the “social constraints” elements of the work of an industry, the more politically liberal it tends to be. Social constraints are, at least to some degree, amenable to human action. The stronger, therefore, is likely to be the appeal of supporting human autonomy. Especially a notion of human autonomy less grounded in the constraints of tradition. Hence the more liberal patterns of politics in such industries.

Liberalism, autonomy and discovery

But liberalism does not deny the reality of constraints. It is grounded in a view of human nature that both exalts human autonomy while also holding a certain, grounding suspicion about human nature and respect for the limitations of human action. Why do liberals push freedom? Because that respects human autonomy but also entails denying that there is some group out there who can be trusted with systematic power over others.

Liberalism famously sees public discourse as a vehicle for discovery. We are constrained by what we do not yet know, but might yet find out. Testing ideas in open discourse permits, given such constraints, discovery to take place. Liberalism has been comfortable with private property and markets because they support human autonomy, operate as far more effective discovery mechanisms and limit the power of some over others.

There is much truth in the liberal vision. For instance, markets and commerce are not good mechanisms to promote bigotry. It is why oppressive systems have always sought to impose limits on the market and commerce. Racial segregation, for example, required systematic state action because market processes will not deliver segregation. Indeed, various oppressed groups have often found the consensual patterns of commerce much kinder to them than the coercive structures of politics.

One of the great rhetorical advantages of the unconstrained vision, the politics of the golden transformative future, is that it de-legitimises all the grounds from which one might derive liberal or conservative politics. Pointing to any constraint that gets in the way of the golden future can so easily be portrayed as complicity in whatever ills the golden transformative future will dispense with, as being a sign of being an -ist or a -phobe.

Whether it is claiming that human nature limits what is possible, that wresting value from nature limits what is possible, or that the requirements of social order limit what is possible, any such argument can be charged as being complicity in oppression. If appeal to the constraints of human nature, the constraints of social order, the constraints of wresting value from nature, are all illegitimate due to being complicity in oppression, then there is no ground from which liberal or conservative arguments can be made. There is nothing for them to gain purchase from that upholders of the progressive faith need pay any attention to.

Of course, attempting to argue people out of a faith system is a notoriously unfruitful activity.

Unconstrained imagination

From mining and agriculture to law and pharmaceuticals, there is fairly clear more-conservative-to-more-liberal pattern of industries, directly connected to what sort of feedback their workplaces have to deal with, from the more physical to the more social.

Then we come to four industries clustered together that are much more intensely skewed in their politics than the 12 conservative-to-liberal industries: newspapers and print media, online computer services, academics and the entertainment industry. These are, in the contemporary world, the cultural commanding heights industries. They are also extremely social industries that do not directly have to deal much with wresting value from the physical world or (in any strong feedback way) problems of social order. That is done for them by other industries.

They are industries of the abstract and the imagined above all else. They are made for the politics of the unconstrained vision. Especially for belief in a golden transformative future. The combination of abstraction and lack of reality-feedback naturally encourages the idea that all constraints that in any way impede the golden transformative future are dispensable.

Their attenuated reality-feedback also means that they are also made for status-strategy politics based on markers of being of the smart and the good. Especially given their intensely social nature, and their focus on abstraction and imagination. There is much greater capacity to select for agreement over competence, as what is “good work” has a high “what other folk in this industry believe is good work” element to it.

Especially for claims that have no direct feedback-from-reality penalty for being wrong, but have a potentially high fail-to-conform-penalty.

For instance, in terms of how career advancement works, an academic is only wrong if other academics agree that they are wrong. But that also applies to a somewhat startling extent within media, as the years of the Russiagate nonsense taught those who were paying attention.

An extreme instance of lack of reality-feedback is provided within academe by education faculties, where pedagogical ideas repeatedly demonstrated not to work are nevertheless simply re-packaged and re-pushed. Mainly because they are too convenient for status strategies based on a sense of moral grandeur from transformative activism. Which have been imparted in ever more intense forms to generations of school teachers and university administrators.

One would think that box-office receipts might provide strong feedback in the Entertainment industry, but the flow of funds are so high that there is patently considerable cushioning effect from such box-office feedback. (If one is publicly funded, then that effect is almost entirely eliminated.)

The flow-of-funds cushioning effect is even more pronounced in Big Tech. The motivation-feedbacks of the combination of moral self-image and status strategy have turned out to be, again and again, far more powerful than market feedback.

Asking the question, what are the reality feedbacks in this industry? turns out to explain a lot about the patterns of politics in an industry.

* Applying the language of Curtis Yarvin (aka Mencius Moldbug), wielding the weapon of setting what it is the good and smart people believe is a key way what he calls the Cathedral operates.

[An earlier version was posted on Medium.]