Newly Pacified

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Peter Frost looks at what drives people to violence:

I first went to elementary school in a largely English Canadian neighborhood of Scarborough. Schoolyard fights were only occasional, and there was almost always a good reason. My family then moved to a largely Scotch-Irish town in central Ontario. There, the schoolyard fights were a daily occurrence, and they seemed to happen for no reason at all. I eventually found out the reason… something to do with “respect” or rather the lack of it.

We like to think that people everywhere respond to situations more or less as we do. If the response is anger — red boiling anger that can kill — we assume there must be a very good reason. Otherwise, the person wouldn’t be so angry.

Hence the puzzlement over the Boston bombers. What drove them to such an act?

“Normal” is a relative term, and in other societies, such as Algeria, people do kill for apparently trifling reasons, as Frantz Fanon discusses in Les damnés de la Terre:

Very often the magistrates and police officers are stunned by the motives for the murder: a gesture, an allusion, an ambiguous remark, a quarrel over the ownership of an olive tree or an animal that has strayed a few feet. The search for the cause, which is expected to justify and pin down the murder, in some cases a double or triple murder, turns up a hopelessly trivial motive. Hence the frequent impression that the community is hiding the real motives.

Boys in such a society are expected to get in fights, come home with bruises, and play “manly” games that build courage and endurance:

This pattern of behavioral development doesn’t differ completely from my [Peter Frost's] own. The difference is largely one of degree. But there’s also a difference in kind: the violent male as an independent actor who fights for himself and his immediate family. For “normal” boys in Western society, male violence is legitimate only when done under orders for much larger entities: the home team, the police, the country, NATO… Everywhere else, it is evil, criminal, and pathological.


Male violence has long been viewed differently in different societies. In our own, it is stigmatized, except when done “under orders” by soldiers or the police. Some societies, however, had no police or army until recent times. Every adult male was expected to use violence to defend himself and his family. Yes, you could go to a law court to settle your differences with someone. But even if the court ruled in your favor, the sentence still had to be enforced by you, your brothers, and other male family members. That’s the way things were done. For millennia and millennia.


Initially, all adult males everywhere had to defend themselves and their families, not by paying taxes but by getting their hands bloody. This situation changed with the rise of the State. In other words, some powerful men became so powerful that they could impose a monopoly on the use of violence. Only they or their underlings could use it. Male violence had been “nationalized” and could be used only if ordered by the State or in narrowly defined situations of self-defense.

In this new pacified environment, the violent male went from hero to zero. He became a criminal and was treated accordingly. Society now favored the peace-loving man who got ahead through work or trade. This process has been described for England and other parts of Western Europe by several academics, like Gregory Clark. With the establishment of strong States toward the end of the Dark Ages, and a subsequent pacification of social relations, the incidence of violence declined steadily. Violent predispositions were steadily removed from the population, either through the actual execution of violent individuals or through their marginalization and lower reproductive success. The meek thus inherited the earth (see previous post).

Or rather a portion of it. In some parts of the earth, particularly remote mountainous areas, State control came very late. These are societies in the earliest stages of pacification. Male violence is a daily reality, which the State can only contain at best. Such is life in Chechnya … and elsewhere.

(Hat tip to Konkvistador.)

In Defense of Working Memory Training

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Scott Barry Kaufman speaks out in defense of working memory training:

Cook based his conclusion [that brain games are bogus] on a recent review by Monica Melby-Lervag and Charles Hulme. Partly consistent with Cook’s statement, the researchers saw little evidence for the generalization of working memory training to other mental skills such as reading comprehension, word decoding, and arithmetic. But that’s not all they found. The researchers also found that working memory training programs do produce reliable short-term improvements in both verbal and visuospatial working memory skills. On average, the effect sizes were moderate, but in some cases the effects were actually quite large and rather impressive for brief training regimes which only lasted 12 hours (on average). In fact, the largest effects were found for Cogmed working memory training programs. So while Cook is quite right to criticize Cogmed for claiming too much in their promotional materials, I believe he is too quick to dismiss large and reliable short-term improvements in working memory as meaningless in the real world.

Working memory involves the ability to maintain and manipulate information in one’s mind while ignoring irrelevant distractions and intruding thoughts. Working memory skills are essential for everyday intellectual functioning. Multiple research studies show that the inability to control one’s train of thought has important real world consequences, from poor reading comprehension to unhappiness. Therefore, just because a working memory training program doesn’t generalize to other cognitive functions doesn’t mean that the program doesn’t make people “smarter,” at least in respect to one key aspect of intellectual functioning. After all, intelligence isn’t a single ability. There is an emerging consensus among intelligence researchers that general cognitive ability is comprised of multiple interacting cognitive functions, and working memory is one of those crucial intellectual functions.

A telling finding of the Melby-Larvag and Hulme review (but not mentioned by Cook) is that age was a significant moderating variable on strength of training. Younger children (below the age of 10 years) showed significantly larger benefits from verbal working memory training than older children (11-18 years of age). This suggests that lumping people together who are at different stages in their cognitive development can obscure some truly meaningful effects. I imagine if the researchers also included elderly individuals in their analysis (e.g., those above the age of 60), they would have found effect sizes resembling what they found for the youngest age groups (alas, such cognitive decline is part of life).

But equally as troublesome, the researchers didn’t look at other crucial moderating variables such as personality, motivation, learning disabilities, mental illness, and socioeconomic status. I believe each and every one of these variables also matter, and ought to be considered in grand reviews of the literature.

Take personality. In one study, participants scoring higher in conscientiousness showed greater improvement in working memory during working memory training compared to less conscientious participants, but they showed less transfer to a measure of fluid reasoning. This suggests that highly conscientious individuals may develop task-specific strategies that prevent generalizing effects beyond the specific skills that are trained. What’s more, participants scoring higher in neuroticism (a proxy for anxiety) showed greater improvement on an easier version of a working memory task compared to participants lower in neuroticism, but displayed lower training scores on a difficult version of the task. It seems that in the easier version, higher levels of emotion may have been an advantage, allowing highly neurotic individuals to maintain their concentration and vigilance, whereas on the more difficult version of the task they became overwhelmed by their anxiety. These nuanced effects suggest that personal characteristics should be taken into account when considering the effectiveness of cognitive training.

Is Fairness About Clear Fitness Signals?

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Giving everyone equal rights means giving the strong license to oppress the weak, Fitzhugh said. That’s kind of the point, Robin Hanson might say:

“Fairness” is often described in terms of equality of outcomes. But in a game, the “fairest” rules are often those that make the ablest players mostly likely to win, instead of those that distribute wins most evenly among players.

Even outside of games, a wide range of otherwise puzzling common intuitions about fairness can be understood if the fundamental “game” of life is seen as wooing, i.e., attracting mates by showing that you have fit genes. The fairest social institutions are then those in which success correlates as much as possible with genetic fitness.

For example, it can seem fair that the most attractive witty athletic folks get more mates and money, but seem unfair that the rich can buy better education for their children. Makeup can seem fair, while breast implants seem unfair.

(Hat tip to sark.)

6 Ways to Make a Better Argument for Gun Control

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Otherwise-leftist blogger Kontra lives in Virginia and owns guns.  Kontra offers gun-control Democrats 6 ways to make a better argument:

Allow me this humble suggestion: The best way to convince the American public that you’re not interested in taking guns away is to stop talking about taking guns away.

Firstly, when your politicians are asked, “Do you support state legislation to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns?” as Obama was in his 1996 Senate campaign, you should never answer “Yes,” as Obama did. Publicly advocating a ban on all handguns is not the way to convince people that you’re not interested in banning guns. Furthermore, when you are campaigning for president, never say the phrase “I continue to support a [federal] ban on concealed carry,” as Obama did in 2004. This gives people the impression that your intention is to prevent the states from setting reasonable guidelines on who can defend themselves outside of their home.

If you then win the election, do not go on to fully support gun bans in two US cities — Chicago and D.C. — in which law-abiding citizens are disarmed, citing them as models for gun policy while trying to convince the rest of the country that you really aren’t interested in banning their guns. (Guess which two US cities you’re most likely to be killed by a gun in.)

It has become almost cliché for smirking Democrats to attempt to ridicule people like myself by crooning, “Obama wants to take our guns!” in a stereotyped hillbilly drawl — something particularly offensive to some folks here in the south — when in fact, Obama has said exactly that.

Human Effect Matrix

Monday, April 29th, 2013 has compiled a database of research papers on nutritional supplements and produced a Human Effect Matrix:

For every supplement in our database, a handy table will tell you what effect each supplement has and how noticeable that effect is.

Does Supplement X help with Y? Now you’ll know.

Creatine? It has a minor effect in increasing your testosterone, but a strong effect in increasing your power output. What about fish oil? It has actually has a notable effect in decreasing depression!

Best of all, the Human Effect Matrix isn’t on the supplement pages only. They are also on the effect pages themselves. Want to know which supplements impact inflammation? Done! Do any supplements help you add muscle? Now you know. (Spoiler: they all have, at most, a minor effect).

What we’ve done is removed all the mysticism, hyperbole, and marketing-speak used to talk about supplements. It’s all tabulated and organized for your perusal, and it’s all backed with citations with human-studies.

To get you going, here are a few popular and a few interesting supplements:

I Killed My Friend

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Nothing in Bruce Holbert’s New York Times piece, I Killed My Friend, makes much sense. Here’s how it kicks off:

The summer before my sophomore year in high school, I moved into my father’s house. My father had remarried and the only unoccupied bedroom in his house was the gun room. Against one wall was a gun case he had built in high school, and beside it were two empty refrigerators stocked with rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. My bed’s headboard resided against the other wall and, above it, a resigned-looking, marble-eyed, five-point mule deer’s head with a fedora on its antler rack.

The room had no windows, so the smell of gun oil filled my senses at least eight hours each day. It clung to my clothes like smoke, and like a smoker’s cigarettes, it became my smell. No one in my high school noticed. We all smelled like something: motorheads of motor oil, farm kids of wheat chaff and cow dung, athletes like footballs and grass, dopers like the other kind of grass.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who smelled of gun oil or been any place that smelled of gun oil — unless someone literally just cleaned and oiled a gun. Gun shops don’t smell like gun oil. Gun ranges don’t smell like gun oil. (They do smell like burnt gun powder though.)

Anyway, here’s the meat of his story:

The driver, who worked with the county sheriff’s department, offered me his service revolver to examine. I turned the weapon onto its side, pointed it toward the door. The barrel, however, slipped when I shifted my grip to pull the hammer back, to make certain the chamber was empty, and turned the gun toward the driver’s seat. When I let the hammer fall, the cylinder must have rotated without my knowing. When I pulled the hammer back a second time it fired a live round.

Wait, what? I don’t even understand how he claims to have set off that live round, but let’s review the rules of gun safety:

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

Who hands a loaded gun over without unloading it and showing that it’s clear? Or even mentioning that it’s “hot”?  Who points a loaded gun anywhere near his buddy while he checks to see if it’s loaded? And who thumbs the hammer back?

Are we supposed to believe the gun went off without anyone pulling the trigger?

I suppose non-shooters are meant to read a story like that and conclude, see, it can happen to anyone who owns a gun! Um, no, not really.  Not like that.

(Hat tip to Megan McArdle.)

Lincoln, The Man

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Both the propaganda wing of the Democratic Party and the intellectual wing of the Republican Party (insert joke here) want you to love Abraham Lincoln, Foseti notes, so that should be enough to convince you that you almost certainly don’t love Abraham Lincoln:

There is, perhaps, no better tour guide on an anti-Lincoln journey than [Edgar Lee Masters' Lincoln, The Man].

Masters’ Lincoln is the first truly modern statesman (that is to say a wonderful politician, but not an actual statesman in the sense that he’s not leader and doesn’t have a governing philosophy). Lincoln lacks vision, conviction and any philosophical foundation. He says what needs to be said to please the crowd he’s in front of and what he says changes to fit the crowd. He has no fixed principles and no view of how government should work. He seeks to achieve and retain power. Perhaps that’s why he’s worshipped by both American political parties today. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

The book is really about why the Civil War was fought. There are basically three competing theories: 1) ending slavery; 2) preserving the Union; and 3) ending federalism. The third is, of course the Southern position, and it’s Masters’.

Every other civilized country ended slavery without resorting to civil war, let alone one that ended with the death of roughly 2.5% of the country’s population.


The reason wars are fought must be judged not by propaganda uttered by the winning side during (and a century after) the fighting but by the peace process that follows.


If you follow Masters, the war wasn’t about slavery and it wasn’t about union. It was about the triumph of the Federal government (as Mencken noted above). This suggestion coincides nearly perfectly with the actual outcomes of the war.

Did Lincoln really believe that unlimited bloodshed was justified to end slavery? Did he even support ending it? It’s unclear.

If Lincoln fought the war to end slavery — to paraphrase his words, to change the pay structure of slaves and nothing more — surely, he is among history’s greatest butchers.


I think Masters explanation for why the war was fought is better than most. As I said, we must judge wars based on their outcomes, not based on propaganda. By that metric, the slaves weren’t free and the resulting “union” was absurd. The South was no more united with the North than occupied France was united with the Third Reich. If you kill enough people, you get a union of some kind. To Masters’ point, there certainly was no union on the legal terms that prevailed prior to the fighting. In both cases, it’s impossible for the resulting outcome to justify the loss of life and the level of destruction.

Yet Masters’ view of what the US really was seems a bit naive. If the country really was teetering on the edge so precariously that a few men who believed they were the instruments of God’s will could bring it all down, then how long could it survive? Nevertheless, the US that emerges from the war sounds familiar: foreign interventions justified on religious grounds, a central government beholden to business interests, increasing centralization of all policy, nearly unlimited executive powers in wartime and so on.

This is just more Lost Cause, commenter Thrasymachus claims:

There needs to be a fourth theory, one that seems pretty obvious to me based on the historical facts- the Civil War was a rebellion by the North and Midwest against the federal government, which was controlled by the South through the Marshall/Taney Supreme Court from Marbury v. Madison through Dred Scott.

People in the North and the Midwest wanted the West settled by whites only. The South wanted it as plantation slavery territory. The North and Midwest were willing to have this question settled by referendum, but the South used the Supreme Court to prevent this. With Dred Scott there was really nothing to keep the West free and white, and with the pending Lemmon v. New York Taney probably would have made slavery legal in all states. The Kansas free state constitution prohibited slavery, but it also prohibited blacks from setling in Kansas, as the Illinois constitution and the Boer Republic did.

This seems the obvious explanation of what happened to me, but the story doesn’t flatter Lincoln and the North and Midwest and doesn’t flatter especially the Supreme Court. The modern mindset gives you two choices- you love blacks and want to do all you can to help them or you hate them and want to abuse and oppress them. The idea that people might be indifferent to blacks and just not want any near them is completely lost to the modern mind.

Foseti counters:

Masters does basically consider this, but it’s very weak. If that was the case, federal power would have decreased after the war, not increased exponentially.

Dred Scott didn’t force slavery on the territories, it just left the option open.

Also, it’s super obvious if you read a bunch from the time that the abolitionists were the only ones that wanted war (for quite some time before the war). Your theory stands that on its head. Dred Scott would have never been heard were it not carefully set up by the abolitionists, for example.

Finally, Masters walks through all the compromises and shows that they were always broken by the north — again contradicting your theory.

The idea that Lincoln assumed massive power to reduce federal power is too clever by half. Benefit of the doubt has to go to him assuming power for power.

Deep Learning

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Artificial intelligence is always right around the corner. Now deep learning looks like it might deliver:

In the mid-1980s, Hinton and others helped spark a revival of interest in neural networks with so-called “deep” models that made better use of many layers of software neurons. But the technique still required heavy human involvement: programmers had to label data before feeding it to the network. And complex speech or image recognition required more computer power than was then available.

Finally, however, in the last decade ­Hinton and other researchers made some fundamental conceptual breakthroughs. In 2006, Hinton developed a more efficient way to teach individual layers of neurons. The first layer learns primitive features, like an edge in an image or the tiniest unit of speech sound. It does this by finding combinations of digitized pixels or sound waves that occur more often than they should by chance. Once that layer accurately recognizes those features, they’re fed to the next layer, which trains itself to recognize more complex features, like a corner or a combination of speech sounds. The process is repeated in successive layers until the system can reliably recognize phonemes or objects.

Like cats. Last June, Google demonstrated one of the largest neural networks yet, with more than a billion connections. A team led by Stanford computer science professor Andrew Ng and Google Fellow Jeff Dean showed the system images from 10 million randomly selected YouTube videos. One simulated neuron in the software model fixated on images of cats. Others focused on human faces, yellow flowers, and other objects. And thanks to the power of deep learning, the system identified these discrete objects even though no humans had ever defined or labeled them.

What stunned some AI experts, though, was the magnitude of improvement in image recognition. The system correctly categorized objects and themes in the ­YouTube images 16 percent of the time. That might not sound impressive, but it was 70 percent better than previous methods. And, Dean notes, there were 22,000 categories to choose from; correctly slotting objects into some of them required, for example, distinguishing between two similar varieties of skate fish. That would have been challenging even for most humans. When the system was asked to sort the images into 1,000 more general categories, the accuracy rate jumped above 50 percent.

License to the Strong

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

The bestowing upon men equality of rights, Fitzhugh argues, is but giving license to the strong to oppress the weak:

It begets the grossest inequalities of condition. Menials and day laborers are and must be as numerous as in a land of slavery. And these menials and laborers are only taken care of while young, strong and healthy. If the laborer gets sick, his wages cease just as his demands are greatest. If two of the poor get married, who being young and healthy, are getting good wages, in a few years they may have four children. Their wants have increased, but the mother has enough to do to nurse the children, and the wages of the husband must support six.

There is no equality, except in theory, in such society, and there is no liberty. The men of property, those who own lands and money, are masters of the poor; masters, with none of the feelings, interests or sympathies of masters; they employ them when they please, and for what they please, and may leave them to die in the highway, for it is the only home to which the poor in free countries are entitled. They (the property holders) beheaded Charles Stuart and Louis Capet, because these kings asserted a divine right to govern wrong, and forgot that office was a trust to be exercised for the benefit of the governed; and yet they seem to think that property is of divine right, and that they may abuse its possession to the detriment of the rest of society, as much as they please. A pretty exchange the world would make, to get rid of kings who often love and protect the poor, and get in their place a million of pelting, petty officers in the garb of money-changers and land-owners, who think that as they own all the property, the rest of mankind have no right to a living, except on the conditions they may prescribe. ” ‘Tis bettter to fall before the lion than the wolf,” and modern liberty has substituted a thousand wolves for a few lions. The vulgar landlords, capitalists and employers of to-day, have the liberties and lives of the people more completely in their hands, than had the kings, barons and gentlemen of former times; and they hate and oppress the people as cordially as the people despise them. But these vulgar parvenus, these psalm-singing regicides, these worshipers of mammon, “have but taught bloody instructions which being taught, return to plague the inventor.”

The king’s office was a trust, so are your lands, houses and money. Society permits you to hold them, because private property well administered conduces to the good of all society. This is your only title; you lose your right to your property as the king did to his crown, so soon as you cease faithfully to execute your trust; you can’t make commons and forests of your lands and starve mankind; you must manage your lands to produce the most food and raiment for mankind, or you forfeit your title; you may not understand this philosophy, but you feel that it is true, and are trembling in your seats as you hear the murmurings and threats of the starving poor.

Public’s Knowledge of Science and Technology

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

The public’s knowledge of science and technology is… limited.  Take this Pew Research quiz, and realize that getting all 13 questions right puts you in the top seven percent of Americans.

The quiz starts with four true-false questions. What percentage of Americans got each of these questions right?  Let’s see: 66, 47, 48, and 77.  That’s not too far from a trained ape’s success rate of 50 percent.

What percentage of American college grads got each one right?  82, 59, 58, and 85.

Anyway, Americans seem to know what sunscreen is for, but they don’t know much about our atmosphere.

New Things Under the Sun

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Liberty and equality are new things under the sun, Fitzhugh reminds us — writing from the antebellum South:

The free states of antiquity abounded with slaves. The feudal system that supplanted Roman institutionally changed the form of slavery, but brought with it neither liberty nor equality. France and the Northern States of our Union have alone fully and fairly tried the experiment of a social organization founded upon universal liberty and equality of rights. England has only approximated to this condition in her commercial and manufacturing cities. The examples of small communities in Europe are not fit exponents of the working of the system.

In France and in our Northern States the experiment has already failed, if we are to form our opinions from the discontent of the masses, or to believe the evidence of the Socialists, Communists, Anti-Renters, and a thousand other agrarian sects that have arisen in these countries, and threaten to subvert the whole social fabric. The leaders of these sects, at least in France, comprise within their ranks the greater number of the most cultivated and profound minds in the nation, who have made government their study. Add to the evidence of these social philosophers, who, watching closely the working of the system have proclaimed to the world its total failure, the condition of the working classes, and we have conclusive proof that liberty and equality have not conduced to enhance the comfort or the happiness of the people. Crime and pauperism have increased. Riots, trades unions, strikes for higher wages, discontent breaking out into revolution, are things of daily occurrence, and show that the poor see and feel quite as clearly as the philosophers, that their condition is far worse under the new than under the old order of things.

Radicalism and Chartism in England owe their birth to the free and equal institutions of her commercial and manufacturing districts, and are little heard of in the quiet farming districts, where remnants of feudalism still exist in the relation of landlord and tenant, and in the laws of entail and primogeniture.

Practical Jiu-Jitsu

Friday, April 26th, 2013

A Pakistani bus driver in Dubai went to rape an American woman at knifepoint.  She was a US navy sailor on leave, and she knew enough jiu-jitsu to triangle-choke him:

The woman, an off-duty US navy sailor, knocked the knife from his grasp, broke it in two, bit his hand, wrestled him to the ground and put him in a stranglehold between her thighs.

Having beaten him into submission, she left the bus and reported the incident to her commander.


Police arrested the driver the next day at his home.  “He was drunk at the time of arrest,” said the attending officer.

The driver, K?S, 21, from Pakistan, was charged with attempted rape, threatening to kill, assault and consuming alcohol illegally.

He confessed only to the alcohol charge and said he was too drunk on the night to remember what else happened.

She broke the knife in two?

Jane Austen, Game Theorist

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Michael Chwe argues that Jane Austen laid the philosophical groundwork for a new theory of strategic action:

First among her as yet unequaled concepts is “cluelessness,” which in Mr. Chwe’s analysis isn’t just tween-friendly slang but an analytic concept worthy of consideration alongside game-theoretic chestnuts like “zero-sum,” “risk dominance” and “prisoner’s dilemma.”

Most game theory, he noted, treats players as equally “rational” parties sitting across a chessboard. But many situations, Mr. Chwe points out, involve parties with unequal levels of strategic thinking. Sometimes a party may simply lack ability. But sometimes a powerful party faced with a weaker one may not realize it even needs to think strategically.

Take the scene in “Pride and Prejudice” where Lady Catherine de Bourgh demands that Elizabeth Bennet promise not to marry Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth refuses to promise, and Lady Catherine repeats this to Mr. Darcy as an example of her insolence — not realizing that she is helping Elizabeth indirectly signal to Mr. Darcy that she is still interested.

It’s a classic case of cluelessness, which is distinct from garden-variety stupidity, Mr. Chwe argues. “Lady Catherine doesn’t even think that Elizabeth” — her social inferior — “could be manipulating her,” he said. (Ditto for Mr. Darcy: gender differences can also “cause cluelessness,” he noted, though Austen was generally more tolerant of the male variety.)

The phenomenon is hardly limited to Austen’s fictional rural society. In a chapter called “Real-World Cluelessness,” Mr. Chwe argues that the moralistic American reaction to the 2004 killing and mutilation of four private security guards working with the American military in Falluja — L. Paul Bremer III, leader of the American occupation of Iraq, later compared the killers to “human jackals”— obscured a strategic truth: that striking back at the city as a whole would only be counterproductive.

“Calling your enemy an animal might improve your bargaining position or deaden your moral qualms, but at the expense of not being able to think about your enemy strategically,” Mr. Chwe writes.

The darker side of Austen is hardly unknown to literary scholars. “Regulated Hatred,” a classic 1940 paper by the psychologist D. W. Harding, argued that her novels explored containment strategies against the “eruption of fear and hatred into the relationships of everyday social life.”

But Mr. Chwe, who identifies some 50 “strategic manipulations” in Austen (in addition to a chapter on the sophisticated “folk game theory” insights in traditional African tales), is more interested in exploring the softer side of game theory. Game theory, he argues, isn’t just part of “hegemonic cold war discourse,” but what the political scientist James Scott called a subversive “weapon of the weak.”

Such analysis may not go over well with military types, to say nothing of literary scholars, many of whom see books like Mr. Chwe’s or “Graphing Jane Austen,” an anthology of Darwinian literary criticism published last year, as examples of ham-handed scientific imperialism.

The Slave Trade

Friday, April 26th, 2013

As a strong proponent of paternalistic slavery, Fitzhugh argues against the slave trade:

From several quarters propositions have of late been made for the revival of the African slave trade. The South has generally been opposed to this trade, the North favorable to it. Such is likely to be the case again; for the North would make much money by conducting the trade; the settled states of the South lose much by the depreciation of their negroes. The extreme inhumanity of this trade is enough to condemn it, but men’s interests blind their eyes and steel their hearts against considerations of humanity. Besides, the argument will be most successfully played in its behalf, that it will but take the place of another kind of slave trade, that is still more inhuman. The importation of apprentices or temporary slaves is now actively conducted by England from Africa and various parts of Asia. These apprentices, if not worked to death before their terms of service expire, are left to starve afterwards, and new ones imported in their place. They are treated with less humanity than slaves, because the master has little interest in their lives. Vastly larger numbers must be imported to supply the demand for labor, because their children are not slaves, and they themselves but for a time. After liberation they will become a nuisance to the country that imports them.

The fact that, despite of the enormous annual importation of slaves to Cuba, the number of whites is greater than that of blacks in that island, proves clearly enough that where it is cheaper to buy African slaves than to rear them, men will work these poor natives to death, regardless of humanity. Besides, the natural antipathy between the savage and the civilized man, not only prevents the influence of domestic affection on the heart of the master, but indurates his feelings and degrades his morals. Our slaves are treated far better than they were forty years ago, because they have improved in mind and morals, approached nearer to the master’s state of civilization, and thus elicited more of his interest and attachment. Slavery with us is becoming milder every day; were the slave trade revived, it would resume its pristine cruelty. The slaves we now hold would become less valuable, and we should take less care of them. In justice to them let us protest against the renewal of this infamous traffic. Slavery originating from the conquest of a country is beneficent even in its origin, for it preserves the slaves or serfs who are parcelled out to the conquering chiefs from the waste, pillage, cruelty and oppression of the common soldiers of the conquering army, — but slavery brought about by hunting and catching Africans like beasts, and then exposing them to the horrors of the middle passage, is quite a different thing.

We think it would be both wise and humane to subject the free negroes in America to some modification of slavery. Competition with the whites is killing them out. They are neither so moral, so happy, nor half so well provided as the slaves. Let them select their masters, and this would be another instance of slavery originating without violence or cruelty — another instance in which slavery would redress much greater evils than it occasioned.

I remember watching a documentary on Brazil years ago, which explained how the slave-owners there found it more economical to work slaves to death and import a new batch from Africa each season. When the British ended the slave trade, the Brazilian system had to evolve.

When Real Men Wore High Heels

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Kinky BootsHigh-heel, over-the-knee boots may be coming back into fashion, but they’re seen as awfully flamboyant on a man. Three hundred years ago it would have been scandalous for a woman to be seen wearing them. Peter Turchin looks back at when real men wore high heels:

The starting point of this evolution was the invention the stirrup, probably by the Mongolian nomadic people called Xianbei around 300 AD. This was such a useful invention that by the sixth century it spread through all of Eurasia, from Japan to Europe. By providing the rider with unprecedented stability, the stirrup made heavy cavalry (actually, any kind of cavalry) much more effective. Some historians even argued that the stirrup gave rise to feudalism in medieval Europe, and something very similar in Japan (take this with a grain of salt).

Catherine the Great in Preobrazhenskii Uniform

The problem with the stirrup is that when you fall off the horse (and if you ride horses a lot, especially under the chaotic conditions of war, you will inevitably do so once in a while), there is a danger of your foot being caught in the stirrup. Countless riders have been dragged to their deaths by panicking horses.

And here is where a properly designed stirrup/boot combination comes in. An iron stirrup with large enough opening for the boot allows you to kick it off as you fall. A high heel, on the other hand, gives you the stability by preventing the foot from slipping through the stirrup. It helps to have a very slick, slippery sole for ease of foot extraction in case of mishap.

Four Musketeers

High heels and slippery soles make for rather uncomfortable walking (I would not recommend wearing true cowboy boots in New England’s winter!). But for riding it’s just right.

Cowboy Boots

In the early-modern Europe high-heeled footwear also served an important function of distinguishing the nobility from the peasants. Then came the Age of Revolutions (from the French Revolution of 1789 to the Paris Commune of 1870), which introduced a new era that stressed equality and blurred class lines. At the same time, the horses gradually lost their function as the means of land transport, being replaced by railroads and the automobile. And so high heels lost their functionality, and became just a fashion fad. Or nostalgia.