That place is like Africa Light

Monday, January 13th, 2020

Greg Ellifritz just got back from Africa, where not quite everything went to plan:

Before leaving the airport, I tried three different ATMs to get local currency. All three rejected my card. My ATM card wouldn’t work at all in South Africa. That’s the first country I’ve been to (besides Cuba) where my ATM card didn’t work. That made life challenging, but I was smart enough to bring an emergency stash of American cash that I was able to exchange in a dodgy black market currency transaction (arranged by a taxi driver) for some local South African Rand.

I can understand why some folks don’t like traveling.

He booked a room in a guest house on a farm outside of Jo-burg:

Outside, there was an eight foot cement wall topped with an additional four feet of electric fence surrounding the entire property. It’s was crazy to see that every rural house was a completely walled estate. The South Africans really like barbed wire and electric fences. Almost every house was enclosed by a wall with an electrified fence.


On my third day, I hired a private tour guide (recommended by the owner of my guesthouse) to give me a tour of some of the grittier parts of Jo-burg. That was an education just as potent as the Apartheid museum.

There are entire parts of the city classified as “no-go” zones. If you don’t live there, you are not welcome. There are constant protests, roadblocks and tires burning in the streets of some neighborhoods. The downtown area of Jo-burg is a wasteland. Most of the skyscrapers are empty as large corporations have fled to the safer suburbs. Many buildings have no utilities, but were nonetheless inhabited by squatters.

I’ve never seen so many homeless people in one place. There were thousands of homeless people squatting in dozens of buildings without any electricity or running water. People defecated openly by the side of the road. There were huge trash drum fires and lots of people aimlessly hanging out in the streets.

While driving through the downtown area, we had to keep changing routes due to large amounts of rubble placed in the roadway as a roadblock during recent protests. I’ve been a lot of places. Downtown Jo-burg looked more apocalyptic than any other location I’ve visited and gave me an idea of what things would look like if our power grid fails. It wasn’t a happy thought.

Following the tour of downtown, we drove into some of the “townships” or slum areas. The most famous Jo-berg township is SOWETO (South Western Township) where Nelson Mandela lived. The townships had lots of ramshackle buildings, but the people seemed much more organized than the squatters living downtown. People were poor, but worked, had families and a purpose for existence. The townships I visited didn’t seem dangerous at all. The townships were kind of like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro without all the open air drug sales.

Ellifritz is a cop, and he carefully notes how gun laws and law enforcement work in other countries:

My tour guide was a former soldier, a gun owner, and an avid shooter. He explained that residents of South Africa could own a handgun and two hunting rifles with the proper permits. He owned a Glock 17 that he bought for 7000 Rand (about $500 US). Concealed carry was theoretically possible, but my guide didn’t know anyone who actually had the necessary permits to carry legally.

The cops in Jo-berg wore external plate body armor and often carried long guns (R-4 or R-5 rifles that are South African Galil variants). I only saw two cops armed with handguns. Both carried Beretta 92s. One was carried in a cheap nylon IWB holster that placed the gun so deeply in the beltline, that the grip was barely visible. The other carried his Beretta in a 1990s vintage Uncle Mikes “twist draw” retention holster on a duty belt with a big can of pepper spray.

I didn’t see any support gear like handcuffs or batons carried by the local cops. That fact might be a useful fact for you travelers to notice. When the cops aren’t carrying handcuffs, they clearly expect criminals to either submit to arrest without incident or be shot. No half measures.

No thanks. I’m good. I prefer to stay far away from cops who don’t train and carry less lethal weapons.

After Kruger, they made their way to the Karongwe Wildlife Reserve:

The monkeys in camp were an absolute menace. A group of about 20 raided our camp and began grabbing people. As I was trying to clear them off a neighbor’s porch, they tried an ambush attack.

I actually had a Mexican standoff with a growling monkey as I had my OC spray ready to hose him down. He kept growling and advancing. As soon as I pointed the OC canister at him, he stopped, stared at me for a few seconds, and then walked away.

He righteously should have gotten some spicy treats, but I didn’t want to forever be known as the dude who pepper sprays monkeys. The vervet monkeys are such a problem in some parks, that the government employs people armed with paintball guns and slingshots to keep them away from tourists.

At Karongwe they were also able to take a hike in the bush:

Since all of the “Big Five” most dangerous African game animals live on the property, we had to be accompanied by a guide and a “gun bearer.”

The gun bearer walked up to our group. He had a beat-to-shit CZ .458 Win Mag bolt gun. There was absolutely no finish left on the barrel. The wood stock looked like some small varmint had chewed on it.

The rifle was unloaded. The bolt wasn’t in the gun. The gun bearer was carrying the bolt stuck behind this belt in the appendix position. He was wearing a leather loop cartridge holder full of 10 rifle rounds at the four o’clock position behind his hip.

I thought: “Wow, they are actually sending us out into the bush with our ‘protection’ carrying a disassembled and unloaded rifle. What could possibly go wrong?”

We walked about 100 meters away from the camp and the gun bearer installed the rifle bolt and loaded it with five rounds. He took the rounds from the most forward cartridge loops, thereby guaranteeing that he would have to reach far behind his back to access the remaining cartridges should he have to reload in a hurry. Brilliant.

The gun bearer made an elaborate show of loading each round into the magazine. He then pushed the cartridges down with his thumb and moved the bolt forward. Once the bolt was over the top of the cartridges in the magazine, he closed and locked the bolt with a flourish, stating “Now we are ready.”

I normally shut my mouth in the evidence of such stupidity, but I couldn’t hold back.

“There’s no round in the chamber. You aren’t ‘ready.’ The gun is in a better condition to fire now as compared to when you brought it out unloaded, but you are far from ‘ready’.“

He kind of looked at me sheepishly. I continued:

“Don’t worry. When the lion attacks you while you are trying to get the gun in play, I’ll be there. I know how to run that bolt. I’ll pick up your rifle off the ground, chamber a round and shoot the lion off your corpse.

It’s great having a plan. Now we’re ‘ready.’”

Neither he nor the guide really had too much to say after that.

Absolutely frightening muzzle discipline displayed during the whole hike. When the guide talked, the gun bearer stood with the rifle butt placed on his boot, leaning forward with both hands covering his muzzle. He was essentially using the muzzle of a loaded .458 Win Mag as a hand rest.

Then they went to Zimbabwe:

A passenger on the flight from South Africa to Zimbabwe said the following as we were disembarking and walking into the sweltering airport:

“We aren’t in South Africa anymore. That place is like ‘Africa Light.’ Now we are in the real deal.”

That’s a quality analysis.


  1. Adar says:

    Bolt and ammo not in the weapon but only while in camp. Not a bad idea.

  2. Kirk says:

    Africa is going to be a bleeding wasteland until one of two things happen: Either the native Africans manage to exterminate themselves in some sort of folly, or some outside agency is going to come in (read “China”), and drastically cull all of the genotypes that are incompatible with modern civilization.

    Which happens is probably not entirely up to the Africans themselves–I don’t think they’re going to pull their own heads out, certainly not in the East or in the Sub-Saharan regions. In a lot of ways, we’re really dealing with a set of conditions and people who are not competitive with modern civilization, and who don’t have the time to do what the Europeans did after Rome came in. Things are moving too fast, and they don’t have the cushion of time they’ll need to adapt. My guess is that if they’re left to themselves, someone like Mugabe is going to get their hands on tech from the outside that can produce WMD cheaply and easily, and then that someone is going to use it on their neighbors with the kind of glee that you see when a kid gets their hands on their first magnifying glass, and connects that with the ant hills in their back yards. It won’t be pretty, and may well blow up outside the region.

    Or, China. That could happen, too. What they’re going to do with the Africans will make the African pine for the “good old days” of the Belgian King Leopold. It’ll be that bad.

    Alternatively, they might find a third or fourth path. For the African’s sake, I hope they do, but I’m not gonna hold out a lot of hope. Too many things against ‘em. Key and crucially? Themselves.

  3. Faze says:

    I can understand why some folks don’t like traveling.

    Honest to gosh, I don’t. Been around a little. Got the general idea. Texture of life is just about the same everywhere. You can extrapolate from your own experience.

  4. Hun says:

    “Alternatively, they might find a third or fourth path”

    Like the path to Europe?

  5. Harry Jones says:

    Human nature is the same everywhere, but societies vary vastly. A savvy traveler must have situation awareness.

    Seeing the human animal in different cultural contexts helps clarify what human nature actually is. You get to know the variables from the constants.

    To some extent you can experience foreign cultures in the USA. But then you see them in their native environment, while at the same time experiencing for yourself what it’s like to be a foreigner. That gives insight that can’t be had staying at home.

    But travel really is a hassle.

  6. Felix says:

    Hop on Google Street view and drive around SA, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana. Not many roads are viewable in Zimbabwe.

    SA seems different from the others. I’d pick the others to visit or live in over SA, for sure.

    Curious to know what other people might sense from driving that set of countries.

  7. Kirk says:


    A third or fourth path to un-f**king themselves. Transposing the socio-political-cultural contagion of Africa to Europe isn’t going to fix Africa or Africans; it’s only going to turn Europe into another, paler version of Africa. For a long, long time to come, until the inimical effect of European climate and terrain culls the African from the Africans.

    I don’t hold out a lot of hatred for either the African or Africa itself, but I do observe that the people and continent go together due to conditions and mentality. It’ll be interesting to come back in a few dozen generations, and see what the continent has made of their new Chinese overlords. The native Africans may manage to kill them off, or not. Who knows?

    In any event, what I was getting at was that there are other ways out for Africa, ones they might find for themselves. Not sure what those might be, but… You never know. Personally, I think the whole thing is going to devolve into Zimbabwe writ large, left to itself. There are too many common cultural factors that lead to that syndrome, and they’re present all across the continent. The tribal clannishness and crab-bucket state of affairs all militate against the importation of the effective features of a modern society, but maybe they’ll figure out a way around that. You never know.

  8. Dave says:

    You can watch the documentary film “Empire of Dust” for free online. It’s slow-paced but interesting. The Chinese aren’t doing much overlording there. They send in a crew of engineers, hire African labor, order building materials from African suppliers, and it all amounts to nothing because Africans are so lazy and stupid.

    The Chinese in charge marvels that Belgium was ever able to build anything there. I suppose King Leopold had more effective ways of getting an honest day’s work out of Africans, like this fine gentleman:

  9. Wang Wei Lin says:


    I watched Empire of Dust some time ago. Wish I could live long enough to see how the Chinese exposure plays out. Here’s my observation on Africa:

    To have functioning civil governments you first need functioning civil societies. Tribal societies build nothing and can never stand on the world stage. Compare the European continent to the African continent. Greek/Judeo/Christian societies that built Western civilization… the best the world has ever had although it is now crumbling. Africa in the same time period has built basically nothing. No enduring science, philosophy, music, art, architecture, no recognition of inalienable rights, etc. Zip. Most countries exposed to Western Civilization improve in some way, but not Africa. Truly sad. The Europeans left everything and the locals destroyed it through neglect, ignorance and corruption. I have have spent time in China from Beijing 4 star hotels to staying with families in villages. The Chinese generally are as racist as anyone can imagine. I get it. They are ‘all’ 5 foot 5, dark hair, dark eyes so that’s their world. The Communists certainly don’t give a fuck about the Africans or anyone else. Another dark chapter for the dark continent.

  10. Harry Jones says:

    We’re frequently told that Nigerians do well in America. Not Africans in general. Just Nigerians.

    I hear that and I think of the Chinese diaspora. For centuries, ethnic Chinese prospered everywhere except China. Once they escaped their own homeland, the southern Min were unstoppable. Then the Taishanese did all right for themselves in the United States.

    Just like crabs fare so much better when you spill them out of the bucket.

  11. Kirk says:

    Harry Jones,

    Knowing some Nigerians, the difference is that Nigeria went through much the same process of culling the “unsuitable for civilization” genes from many of its tribes. Nigerian tribes are not as other tribes in Africa, in a lot of cases.

    The things we mistake for “innate racial characteristics” are actually evidence of biologically-based behavioral selection and culling. Many Nigerian tribes have long histories of sophisticated cooperative civilization, and have probably had about as much culled out of their population as many European societies. This makes a huge difference when they try to adapt to Western-style civilization, compared to the less well-adapted groups in less civilized parts of Africa. It’s not a question of virtue, per se, but one of adaptation to different conditions. Most of Africa is still stuck in a state of adaptation to the early Iron Age, before cities and after agriculture.

  12. Dave says:

    Wang, sub-Saharan Africa has done pretty well considering that it only has about five million people. A billion monkeys are not people just because they walk on two legs and produce sounds that vaguely resemble human speech.

    Like most animals, Africans think in the present tense only. I am hungry, so I find some food and eat it. I am thirsty, so I drink from this mud puddle (and get guinea worm). I am horny, so I grab a female and ravish her.

    Like any animal, she’ll offer token resistance to weed out weak males, and she alone will care for her babies until they’re old enough to forage for themselves.

    Sometimes white missionaries convince Africans to dress and behave like people (or white slave-owners compel them to do so), but this doesn’t last long after the white people leave.

    I don’t know what Chinese will do with Africans and I don’t care. Could use them a pork substitute until the swine fever subsides.

  13. Kirk says:


    I’d be rather careful of my words, were I you. It wasn’t all that long ago that most of your ancestors were prompting similar thoughts in the minds of their Roman observers…

    There isn’t any particular “virtue” to any of it all, no matter how our own conditioning wants us to have it. It’s all about adaptation to conditions, and the sad fact is that the majority of sub-Saharan Africa is still locked into pre-civilization conditions and mindsets. Hell, given the lack of Neanderthaler gene-signs in their genetics, it might be that despite their being more purely “human” genetically, they lack the adaptation set in their behavioral biology.

    This is an area where we don’t know what we don’t know–I’m convinced that there’s a strong set of clues pointing to a lot of behavior being rooted in biology, pre-disposing people to certain behaviors, some positive, some maladaptive for specific condition sets. And, it’s a mistake to make value judgments about it all, because the biology is concerned with one thing and one thing only–Making more copies of its own DNA. If the native sub-Saharan Africans are being more successful at doing that than they are by behaving like us, well… What’s the answer? The genes don’t know morality or virtue… Just success at breeding. It’s like Idiocracy–If society sets the conditions such that the maladaptive breed more successfully than the fully adapted, what then does that tell us?

  14. Graham says:


    You’re right, the Greeks and then Romans were having just such observations, and so were the Chinese about their neighbours, and so on, and so on. Indians about Central Asians, too, though the latter actually did some cool stuff just as early [BMAC was as early as the Indus, give or take].

    Sometimes those neighbours actually had quite sophisticated cultures with towns, councils, metalworking, art, and so on, chiefly lacking written languages, no small lack but it can be overblown when doing comparisons of iron age societies. Sometimes they weren’t quite as good as all that. Germans weren’t doing as well as Celts before Rome showed up, for example. Sometimes they were better- the Greeks and the Romans were accustomed to think of Persians and Phoenicians/Carthaginians still as barbarians, though comparable in every way if not better to Greece or Rome. There’s still room for selective, issue-specific supremacism or general ethnocentrism among even peer competitors.

    For that matter, there’s the new world. Mexico and Peru developed some relatively high civilization, the very pinnacle of, it seems, what you can do with a neolithic tech base. And they weren’t, so far as I can tell, too far behind [in terms of centuries] early developments in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the early frontrunners by a couple millennia over the rest of the old world. And yet they never got too far beyond what the Olmecs or the like managed centuries BC. I can’t say whether the tech limits are alone the reason- the linkage between tech capability and other developments is probably not linear, but there it is. A civilization comparable to early Egypt or Sumer, save lacking metal, faced with one that had steel, guns, and oceangoing ships.

    Some similar comments can be offered for sub-Saharan Africa, though like other regions its civilizational achievements have varied widely geographically. Rhodesia spent a lot of effort denying Africans built Great Zimbabwe, which strikes me as silly and pointless. It’s nice masonry but it still looks like a giant kraal. Not exactly the Parthenon.

    The Bantu migrations had some things going on, but the peoples of the old homelands in West Africa seemed to do the best work- the Igbos and Yoruba in Nigeria. Others like the Niger valley towns and the Sahelian desert peoples, building several empires in competition and cooperation. The peoples of what is now Rwanda/Burundi. The Kongo delta. Ethiopia and Sudan, and the Somali coastal trade cities.

    All interesting, and the ones that lucked into favourable geographic positions or resources sometimes managed fantastic wealth [one thinks of Mansa Musa of mali, salt and slave king of the desert, disposer of enough wealth to be considered one or the richest man who ever lived, and enough that his charity on Hajj distorted the economy of Egypt.]

    There’s limits. Some technological, some organizational, social, or geographic, or military. Taking the most favourable accounts, no , nothing below the Sahara seems to be equivalent of Rome, or a great Chinese dynasty, or a great Indian imperial period, or any of the most successful eras of the Middle East, many of whom were doing more and bigger stuff millennia or at least centuries earlier, and have left older and grander ruins or more substantive and longer records of achievement.

    I guess I’m saying we need to take a long historical view with the humility to note that we too might fall and all our works be lost to a digital apocalypse or the decay of modern structural materials. But the civilizations that are most at the root of the modern west, and those from outside that we have drawn most influence from, been most impressed by, or that are the origins of big Asian players today who are shaping a global civilization with us, did more and better and longer by far than anything Africa below the desert has done yet.

    Now, we may see in future. That is a possibility. Exactly how much room I would like to see left for potential successors is an open question. Not unlike my views on the separate matter of AI, as it happens.

    You’re certainly right on the adaptation question. Sometimes i think the demographic transition is nature’s little suicide button, bred in the bone of mankind.

  15. Dave says:

    Kirk, I’m just trying to break people out of thinking “X belongs to category Y therefore it has trait Z.” There are exceptions in every category, sometimes so many exceptions that it calls for a more useful classification system that cuts reality at the joints.

    Treating Africans as human is unfair to them too, e.g. primitive tribes forced to move when their ancestral hunting grounds became a wildlife preserve. They *are* wildlife, let them stay!

    Upon accepting the truth, we can stop hating Africans for the same reason we don’t hate wolves and grizzlies. Save your hatred for the people who let wild animals run loose in our streets.

    Christians avoid this topic because it raises the awkward question, do Africans have souls, and if not, do mulattoes?

  16. Kirk says:

    One should exercise caution when one sets out to define “human”, and what should be treated as such. You may find that someone else draws the line differently, and that you’re on the opposite side, yourself.

    So long as we are still able to interbreed and produce fertile offspring, I’m gonna keep right on including everyone that can as fellow biologicly-defined humans. The cultural stuff is so much ephemera–Dump the average “civilized” set of humans back into the conditions of pre-civilization, and I guarantee you that they’ll revert to savage type in short order–Because, that is what succeeds in survival in that environment.

    It’s all adaptation. Stick your average sub-Saharan African into a shtetl-like environment long enough, and I’m gonna lay long odds that the environment will eventually produce something a lot like an Ashkenazi Jew. You want to start excluding people who are biologically compatible as human, simply because their set of adaptations are sub-optimal for the lifestyle you prefer, you’re establishing an unfortunate precedent that will almost certainly be used against you by some other group with different adaptations.

  17. Dave says:

    Any place you dump Germans will look like pre-war Germany after 10-20 years. Any place you dump Africans will look like Haiti after one year. Like beavers, hominids don’t change to suit their environment, they change the environment to suit themselves.

    All canids are interfertile but we classify them as dogs, coyotes, and wolves. One can also cross-breed felids, creating ligers, tigons, jaglions, etc.

    Biologists divide species very finely but lump all living hominids into one species for reasons that have nothing to do with science.

    They even call for the extermination of hybrid sparred owls to protect the genetic purity of endangered spotted owls. What a bunch of Nazis!

  18. Kirk says:

    Sure, Dave… Sure. The Germans are just “naturally” organized, right? So, riddle me this: Why didn’t their ancient tribal homelands rival Rome? Why were they screaming primitives with little or no real civilization for so much of their history?

    Cultures adapt to situations. Germans today are what they are due to the conditions of Northern Europe after Charlemagne. And, if you go back to about the time of the Thirty Years War, they weren’t too much better at this “civilization” thing than many of today’s African.

    There are no innately “virtuous” people or peoples. There are just those who’ve successfully adapted to circumstances.

    And, to tell the truth, I’m not so damn sure that most of the things you’re apparently so proud of are all that great–After all, it was your oh-so-”civilized” Germans who set up industrialized death camps, which leads me to suspect that they weren’t any more virtuous than your average Mongol or sub-Saharan African, after all.

    Jury is still out on modern civ. We’ll see where it ends. My guess, looking around me at the current state of it all? We’ve got issues, lots of them, and they’re not being addressed. Hell, they’re not even being acknowledged…

  19. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    “Why didn’t their ancient tribal homelands rival Rome?”

    It appears the ancient Germans resembled the Romans of the early Kingdom of Rome, or perhaps the Republic of Rome in some respects.

    The Germans had a high civilization. It was not highly urbanized; it was highly advanced.

    I don’t understand why some people think the ancient Germans were inferior to the Romans. Was it because the Germans tended to drown their sodomites in bogs?

  20. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    “it was your oh-so-”civilized” Germans who set up industrialized death camps”

    Erm, no. You might be mistaking them for Mao’s Chinese, or Stalin’s USSR. If you think German concentration camps were “industrialized” you need to review your mathematics and figure out the alleged rates of killing. Hitler’s Germany killed some of its prisoners, but not “industrially.” Before we start a debate on the nature of “industrial” killing, though, we had better establish exactly how many prisoners were killed in Hitler’s camps, and what we consider to be documentary evidence.

  21. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    And while we are establishing the boundaries of debate, we had better figure out whether we are allowed to quote Paul Craig Roberts:

  22. Dave says:

    I’ll tell you where modern civ ends. (Refer to the Köppen climate classification)

    The D and C zones will be inhabited by Amish farmers, B zones by Muslim goat-herders, and A zones by naked savages running through the jungle poking each other with pointy sticks.

    Occasional attempts to re-create industrial society will lead to the emancipation of women, followed by depopulation as liberated women stop procreating. Industrial states will collapse even faster if they import savages to replace their missing babies.

  23. RLVC says:

    Kirk: “After all, it was your oh-so-”civilized” Germans who set up industrialized death camps”

    The death camps in Allied-occupied Germany were documented by the Soviets. Specifically, of the German death camps, every single one, without exception, was located in Soviet-Occupied Germany[1].

    It’s a very odd thing, but certainly doesn’t mean anything, because, as we all know, the Bolsheviks were right trustworthy old chaps, infinitely more reliable than the Protestants of the Red Cross, who were hard-boiled Puritan racists and antisemites, condemned by GOD to the deepest circle of HELL to atone for their unrepentant racism and antisemitism. (And also for their white supremacism, an ancient and hateful Protestant tradition rumored to have been secretly practiced by the Founding Fathers themselves.)

    It may also be worth noting that, unlike the Germans, the Americans didn’t use Zyklon B as a pesticide in their own racist death camps (which they didn’t operate in secret), and when American negro[2] Jesse Owens traveled to the Very Heart of Darkness to put a smack-down on dem white bois who thought dey could run, he was personally gassed by the sitting president of Germany and Über-Racist himself, Adolf “Literally Hitler” Hitler, who also refused to shake his hand.

    Fortunately, within a decade, Germany was put to the sword, a sensitive painter and Wagner enthusiast shot himself in his bunker, and dominion of German high culture was restored to its rightful constituency: Central Intelligence.

    And as for myself, I love the Bolsheviks, I love the Jews, and I welcome my new Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez overlordesses.

    [1] None dare call it SOG.

    [2] That’s what they called themselves back then.

  24. RLVC says:

    “Sub-Saharan Africa has done pretty well considering that it only has about five million people. A billion monkeys are not people just because they walk on two legs and produce sounds that vaguely resemble human speech.”

    “Christians avoid this topic because it raises the awkward question, do Africans have souls, and if not, do mulattoes?”

    LOL, Dave. Wherever did you get this idea?


    LOL, Dave. Where did you find this image?

  25. Graham says:

    I’d like to join Kirk in reiterating the obvious for the record, that Africans are members of the human species [homo sapiens sapiens]. This is biologically indisputable.

    For that matter, there is considerable to near total overlap in the cultural range available and demonstrated. Everything from scavenger/hunter/gatherer to [relatively] complex city states, trade networks, and military empires. I would stress, as above, that sub-Saharan Africa has nothing known to show us in those categories that equals in size, durability, institutional complexity, or material legacy the best work of the Middle East, Asia, China, or even Central Asia or Europe.

    But not nothing, either. And the rest of us pulled away, to whatever extent we did one region to another, quite recently in the grand scheme of things. Even a few or ten thousand years isn’t that much compared to the unrecorded common history of the species. The scale of differences emerging in the last ten millennia may not be trivial, but there has been a lot of variation in and out of Africa and the time window for Out of Africa takeoff is relatively brief.

    Whatever the implications of all that is for anyone’s moral philosophy, it applies to Africans as to me. Similarly, whether I think my moral obligations are universal to humanity or not, or what those are, does not change that they are members of that humanity.

    [Granted, there is stuff now that they also interbred with another pre-HS population not yet [AFAIK] named, but then the Out of Africa diaspora interbred with Neanderthals and Denisovans, so it’s all good. Similarly, just as Khoisan peoples seem within Africa to be the last remnant of a very early detached homo sap lineage quite distant from other Africans, so the OOA peoples have the aboriginals of Australia and the Pacific in a loosely comparable position. Early diversion, far frontier of human migration, long period of relative or total separation.]

    So while, if we felt it necessary to divide humanity into two groups along one line, Africa and Out of Africa would be a very ur example and a decently founded one, one need hardly take it ludicrously far. We have learned better.

    Even so, one can easily take the ‘it’s all culture’ idea too far. It’s better than “it’s all economics/money/trade”, but today we are very prone to both errors. Other forms of reductionism are far behind. Genetics is off the high table.

    As Kirk pointed out, you put the average sub-Saharan African in a shtetl type environment eventually his descendants would be like Ashkenazi.

    Maybe. Capsule descriptions of the Igbo in Nigeria have in fact made a point more or less that this kind of intellectual selective pressure is the story of that people, as well.

    It would go faster if you dumped that African in an actual shtetl full of Ashkenazi, since then his descendants, had he any, would be mostly Ashkenazi and would benefit from centuries of pre-selective pressures. He’d just be plugging in, so to speak. It’s an ideal solution if the individuals plugging in want to have high quality descendants and are not too fussy about what they look like or what values or culture they practice. It’s probably been done countless times. The receiving community usually is fussy about selection, numbers, and insistent on it being their culture and values. As well they might, and it’s never just the third of those conditions.

    To take his entire people and do that would take many more generations, as it did with the Jews, IF it worked.

    But it would not take every time or in every place. It seems to have been very rare to produce something like the Ashkenazi, even among market dominant minorities selecting for specific kinds of skills.

    The Jews, to take their own mythology at face value and in the context of more recent anthropology, were a tiny offshoot of the Canaanites, a people that early developed farming, trading, and urban culture, and were somehow interconnected with the Mesopotamian Semite peoples, given the myth/story begins as Abraham and his kin left the cities of the river valley to start on their journey back west. So they started off with with the genes of people who got culture off to an early start, and with a pretty good cultural package. Even taking up a pastoral life, they had a couple thousand years of selection for civilization behind them.

    They also had a fanatical devotion to a somewhat tiresome new religion, but at least it was one that from an early date emphasized words and law codes and formal rules to be studied.

    I would not draw definite conclusions. But I would say these:

    1. The Ashkenazi of Europe didn’t start to build either their culture or their genetic inheritance from a neutral base. They already had by the 5th century AD or so a couple of thousand years of cultural development and selective pressures that tended them in the way they would subsequently go.

    2. Their experiences can be compared to other long lived ethnic/cultural groups [Armenians, Han Chinese, Phoenicians [arguably] and others], or to specifically market-dominant minorities as Chua would have it [interestingly, Han Chinese, Phoenicians, and Armenians again, among others]. But there have been highly variable differences in the effectiveness, survival, numbers, and exact social roles of these peoples, such that Ashkenazi Jews still seem to represent a quite rare phenomenon.

    3. If you put all that together, I see the role of culture, and the role of cultural choices as one of many selective pressures on adaptation, but I look at the vastly greater number of failures and cannot arrive at the idea that all cultural modes are available to all peoples, or at all times, or will have comparable results, even in comparable environments. There is some amalgam of genetics, physical and material environment, cultural precursors, and chance at work. Presuming divine intervention is not a factor, of course.

  26. Dave says:

    It’s also “biologically indisputable” that spotted owls are a distinct species from barred owls, though they’re as genetically similar as whites and Chinese, and fully interfertile. They diverged when Native Americans created the Great Plains, dividing the owls’ forest habitat. White man allowed the forests to reconnect, whereupon barred owls migrated west into spotted owl territory.

    The Out of Africa theory is bunk. The first hominids likely originated there, but once they established stable populations across Afro-Eurasia around one million years ago, there was as much gene flow into Africa as out of it.

    Genetic innovation tended to happen toward the edges of the hominid range, where they encountered environments they weren’t yet able to survive in. These mental and physical adaptations did not penetrate very far into equatorial Africa because they weren’t useful there.

  27. Voatboy says:

    The death camps in Allied-occupied Germany were documented by the Soviets. Specifically, of the German death camps, every single one, without exception, was located in Soviet-Occupied Germany[1].

    [1] None dare call it SOG

    I can tell that you are making a joke, but I don’t understand the joke. Clearly the Soviets lied about a lot of things, but is SOG a funny word in English? If you had written SOD I would have assumed that you were making a sodomy joke.

  28. RLVC says:

    I can tell that you are making a joke, but I don’t understand the joke. Clearly the Soviets lied about a lot of things, but is SOG a funny word in English? If you had written SOD I would have assumed that you were making a sodomy joke.

    Voatboy, I’m glad you appreciate my humour. I must say, I laughed hysterically while writing that comment. But I have to disappoint you, and for that I apologize, for if the joke is explained, it will cease to be funny.

    In recompense, have a god-tier Alex Jones.

    (Watch to the end; you won’t regret it.)

  29. RLVC says:

    That isn’t a god-tier Alex Jones.

    This is a god-tier Alex Jones.

    The other was supposed to go in a different comment entirely. The Internet is a weird place.

  30. Wilbur Hassenfus says:

    Sam J.,

    “Multiple Homo sapiens populations dispersed out of Africa starting much earlier, and reaching much farther into Europe, than previously thought,”

    Interesting article.

  31. Graham says:

    That Science News article does nothing of the sort.

    All it does is identify a possible group of anatomically modern humans [homo sapiens] that might have made it to Greece from Africa earlier than usual, possibly interbred with Neanderthals [we already new that occurred in Europe and Middle East] and then got replaced by some more Neanderthals [that was interesting- one doesn't here much about Neantherthal push-back, so good for them].

    In terms of more recent history, those homo sapiens people were the failed Norse settlement in the New World. Later settlers got it right, and homo sapiens colonization stuck.

  32. Kirk says:


    I think it pays to look things like this in the eye, and remember that the “Conventional Wisdom” and “consensus” are built up out of lots and lots of individual observations, and that this current “stunning revelation requiring an utter rewrite of history” may or may not actually be what it looks like.

    The number of times the pack has gone off haring after some literal pile of BS is astonishing, not to mention the number of times that individual researchers have outright distorted things in favor of their pet peeves, seeking status and a higher position in the hierarchy. You have to remember, when you get right down to it, we’re all just monkeys jostling each other in the band, seeking to get ahead for power, p*ssy, and better food. Same-same in daily life, same in academia.

    So, I take it all with a grain of salt. You go read a lot of these “cutting edge” studies and so forth, and what you find is a very narrow little crack in the facade to hang entire careers on. It may be that they’re looking at skeletal remains that are basically so much bone gravel, doing some measuring, throwing some purely subjective weighting on the approximations, and then saying “Oh, yes… These are obviously H. Sapiens remains…”. Someone else might look at the same set of remains and go “Uhm… No, these aren’t definitive enough to really say…”.

    So… This might be world-shaking, it might not. Who knows? Maybe the whole Neanderthal/H. Sapiens thing is down to some genetic variation, and you get Neanderthal gene expression in the right conditions, H. Sap in others, and we’ve only really fooled ourselves into thinking there’s a real distinction to be made–I was BS’ing with a friend who’s kept up on all this crap, and her comment about the really minute differences between Neanderthal and what we call “modern man” really gave me pause for thought–Neanderthal and we modern types could, after all, interbreed. And, where the difference between human and chimp is like 1%, the difference between Neanderthal and us is on the order of .001%. It could be that all that separates us is some methylation of the right locations in the genes, and the majority of the difference is due to epigenetic factors in the environment that the Neanderthal specimens we have experienced. Per what my informant was saying, that’s entirely within the realm of the possible. Likely? Maybe not, but it’s not something that we can rule out–The actual data and evidence we have is seriously scant, a lot less than we laymen are told.

  33. RLVC says:


    It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a very real difference between genetic similarity and morphological and behavioral similarity. One is mostly the result of random chance; the other is the fruit of selection.

    Here’s an analogy: there’s a baseline of background noise, most of it actively harmful, and one in a while there’s a nice-sounding tone. The nice-sounding tone is “grabbed” by its medium and propagates vigorously.

    But the beauty of the tone and the speed with which it propagates is relative to its medium. The medium may be “thick” or “thin” (viscosity), it may favor specific frequencies, and so on; it’s analogous to natural selection. And so a beneficial mutation will propagate — very, very slowly, relative to the short life of the individual meat-puppet — until everyone has that mutation in their genetic background. But the benefit and speed of propagation is wholly relative to to the intensity and specific demands of the natural selection.

    Convergent evolution is a good example of how entirely dissimilar underlying genetic patterns can produce highly similar morphological and behavioral characteristics. Sea mammals are probably the prototypical example.

    All of this is to say that because the ratio of good mutations to bad or neutral ones is very low, the vast majority of “genetic change” is simply the function of the mutation rate times the duration of time since speciation — which is here defined as the division of a coherent population into divergent ecological niches. In this light, percentages or point-percentages of “genetic difference” just don’t matter. You have to look at morphological, behavioral, and ecological similarity.

    Which is probably why we evolved to do that instead of the other thing.

    Sam & Graham,

    If other, proto-human hominids could make a living on every major landmass, it stands to reason that humans evolved on every continent, not just one.

    And when a human specie moved from one continent to another and took the native specie’s women as war brides, in some meaningful sense the randy specie absorbed the best most characteristic parts of the subject specie, far beyond what the raw numbers (fractions) would suggest.

    One might call it gene theft, were one predisposed to say that sort of thing.

    But it wasn’t a one-way street, it was the two-way-est of two-way streets, and anyone who says so is probably trying to bamboozle you into thinking: “Well, we’re all Africans, really; there’s no difference at all, so it doesn’t matter who makes it into the future.”

    The really horrifying thing for the Arthur Kemp-ites is that (on a sufficiently long timescale) a conquistador race isn’t outbred by its subjects, it evolves into its subjects. And that timescale is radically shortened, given the most infinitesimal amount of intermarriage.

    Which just shows how much Arthur Kemp missed the point, thinking that his lived experience was at all similar to any of the civilizations he profiled, quite apart from the empirical accuracy or inaccuracy of his propaganda.

  34. Graham says:

    Well, I follow the matter pretty loosely and usually from comments or links by Razib Khan. His attitude doesn’t suggest to me that he is likely to go all in for any one theory, certainly not for whatever is the touchy feely conventional wisdom of the day.

    Sometimes when I read him, it seems like he’s recounting the latest developments with an emphasis on how much they reflect intercontinental breeding among homo sapiens in recent [last 10ky or so] times, as though pushing back against a worldview in which people think there was none. I find it amusing, since if anything the stuff he’s discussing undermines the actual dominant non-scientific worldview of the past many decades, which would suggest that no structure can be found in human populations at all.

    But as to more distantly past times, it still seems that we are seeing a pattern in which every hominid line evolved first in Africa [that seems no problem- it had a huge diversity of animal and especially primate life; why would it not keep spewing out new hominids compared to other continents?]. And then spread out on some great journey to the rest. Homo sapiens was just the last to do so, the most prolific, and the most successful, and as it journeyed through Eurasia it met with and to some extent bred with remnants of other hominid populations. Meaning that, among any other distinctions, various modern homo sapiens groups have different mixes of previous homos in their lineage. So to speak. That includes everyone including Amerindians, since after all they only left Eurasia a paltry 15ky or so ago.

    One noteworthy variation is that the original Egyptian and Berber peoples of North Africa supposedly are Out of Africa people who went back in when it was still temperate, though in more recent times had much more contact with the sub-Saharans and the genome of Egypt reflects this. Saudis too, being nearby.

    All interesting. No reason for panic by anyone of any persuasion.

    If anything it suggests to me there is room for a movement claiming that Africans have no business being anywhere else, but everyone else has an ancestral claim on Africa…

    I’ll bet that wouldn’t fly at the UN.

  35. Graham says:


    I think I agree with you on at least some key points:

    1. Academics including the sciences include a healthy dose of point scoring and obfuscation.

    2. We may well find that the current model gets overthrown.

    3. Most of the supposedly earth shaking revelations aren’t.

    Especially that last. That was exactly my point about that article about the find in Greece. It doesn’t upend squat or provide any shocking revelation. It adds an interesting data point to the existing model, pushing early homo sap northward movement a bit early, but tentatively, and not within all that outlandish a timeframe. Homo sap / neanderthal coexistence was already being discussed on a time window of 150,000 years or so, give or take. None of these people were all that numerous or fast moving by modern standards.

    We even need to guard against putting too much weight on small genetic differences. Not too little though.

    It makes sense neanderthals and homo sap would be so similar and more or less interfertile if we differ by only .001 %. There’s a reason there is still no agreement on calling them homo neanderthalensis or homo sapiens neanderthalensis. [In the latter scheme, we are homo sapiens sapiens].

    That still seems to have coded for a lot of identifiable differences. Consider again that paltry difference of 1% between us and a chimp, and look at even a sub-average human and a chimp. If 1% accounts for that much, 0.001% [or whatever] won’t count for as much but it won’t necessarily be chicken feed either.

    A lot of things in this universe wouldn’t exist at all if some number or other varied by 0.001% of its current value.

  36. Graham says:


    Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t see “we’re all Africans” as a necessary contemporary moral point. If you are an Indo-European speaker, you might also be an Asian of some kind. Scots’ mythical history of themselves always assumed they had come from the Scythian steppe. That looks to me like a ferociously garbled version of what we now think to be true of the Indo-European speakers.

    But like I said above, the Out of Africa idea can be used a lot of ways. Indeed, to me my idea would make far more logical sense. If we’re all Africans, we all have a claim on the ancestral continent. Those whose ancestors weren’t among the ancient diaspora don’t have a corresponding claim on Eurasia. They never went there until far more recently.

    As I said, just try that on in public. Even so, based on how we would parse most other questions, it makes far more sense as a conclusion.

    I therefore counsel chill, unless one has a chance to make just that observation at cocktail party one doesn’t care to be invited back to.

    On this, though:

    “If other, proto-human hominids could make a living on every major landmass, it stands to reason that humans evolved on every continent, not just one.”

    Not so much. It DOES suggest such separate evolution would be possible. I await any turn of the intellectual wheel suggesting that it did so, including one that is based on what we’ve learned in the last 20 years about admixture.

    It does not, however, “stand to reason” that it did happen.

    We don’t yet appear to know enough about the evolution of life in general or of any particular genus or species to say for sure, but while our fairly fertile planet has evolved a lot of stuff in a lot of places in a lot of continental configurations, a lot of it has reached its current state of variety by descent and by moving around, including between continents no longer connected.

    I’d have to do research to see how and when and in how wide an area we think primates of any kind evolved. As opposed to once in a small area and then took millions of years to spread around.

    Same with hominid species. Yes, could have evolved in multiple locations. No, perhaps not definitively disproved. Not an insane thing to have believed. Currently, and for a long time now, not the winner on currently available evidence.

    For me, the unlikely bit is that the evolutionary process that could produce such a peculiar biological variation should be expected to have occurred multiple times, in multiple areas, within a few million years, resulting in such similar products, broadly speaking.

    That strikes me as far less likely, even on such timescales, as the hypothesis that we are all stems of one vine.

    The odds were probably long on anything like us being produced at all, being as we are the outcome to date of hundreds of millions of years of life and death and chance. I am to believe it happened multiple times for unrelated reasons?

    If we discover sentient human-like life on other planets, ever, I’m more likely to believe they are totally unrelated to us since they would be likely the product of separate evolution on planets very far from us, than that we are sprung from common ancestors. We’d each have more in common with our own parasites. But the balance of probabilities is different when considering life on two planets separate by life-killing void and on one planet that has moving continents and on which quite primitive beings can move around.

    The other point I would make is shorter- There might be large differences among:

    1. The conditions required to actually produce a new species by variation from an old one.

    2. The conditions required to nurture it to the point of some kind of stability and numbers.

    3. Conditions, beyond the former, to which it can adapt with only what one might call its animal physical and mental abilities.

    4. Conditions to which it can adapt once it has reached the point of being a pretty sophisticated tool user. You can go back pretty far among hominids and they are already just that.

    Being able to live everywhere once you can make fire, make stone and wood tools, and kill animals for their skins and furs to make clothes and shelters, isn’t the same as plausibly evolving there.

    Could be wrong- we white folks might, as REH had it, be the distant heirs of white apes forced into the High Arctic who came south again. Maybe we all evolved separately from rival primate species. Not logically impossible. Doesn’t any longer seem very likely.

  37. Kirk says:

    Graham, one thing I think would be wise to remember: Humans are animals that thrive near oceans. During the last Ice Age, the ocean shore was considerably distant from where it is in the here-and-now.

    Couple of things stem from that: Anyone trying to say that they’ve found anything from that period above the high tide mark is looking at a tiny, tiny fragment of the evidence. Second thing is, there’s a vast unknown out there in the off-shore shallows that we just don’t know anything about. What knowledge lies sunk beneath the Baltic, in the former Doggerland? What’s out there on the Atlantic Shelf, where trawlers pull up artifacts all the damn time?

    For that matter, what lies along the Pacific coastline of the US and Canada? I keep seeing these articles written about all the things they excavate in “shoreline community” sites, but I never, ever see any acknowledgment that those “shorelines” were anything but, back in the day. Couple of sites they document as “shoreline” I know for a fact are literally miles back from where the shoreline was when the ice was still here…

    Hell, you really have to wonder: What was there before the channeled scablands happened, and where’s the stuff that the great floods from that would have washed out to sea? We could have had an entire civilization out there along the Columbia River, thriving during the Ice Age, and all the evidence for it would be out there in the alluvial fan at the mouth of the Columbia near Astoria…

    There is a lot more that we don’t know than which we do. All those timber versions of Stonehenge, in England, that they keep finding out on the tideflats?

    You could present me with evidence that there were multiple advanced civilizations before recorded history, and I wouldn’t blink an eye. I’m certain enough that we’ve missed significant things that I won’t be even slightly surprised when the evidence shows up.

  38. Graham says:


    I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at at least in regard to my points.

    I’m not really expecting to hear evidence of lost advanced civilizations under the oceans any more, as the 19th and early 20th centuries so strongly assumed we would. Whether that means “advanced” as in “more advanced than we are now”, as some tales would have it, or “advanced” as in “as good as anything the Iron Age or medievals had to offer”, as everyone from Aristotle to Robert E Howard told us about.

    That said, I’m mainly not sold on the possibility of the high tech version, really. The iron age version maybe.

    If “advanced” is given a yet more anthropological cast, say, meaning societies of neolithic farmers and even town dwellers building henges and doing some astronomy and astrology, all over the world by names of peoples yet unknown to us, I actually almost expect that. There’s a bit of an assumption out there that we will see more of that, just as we have learned to re-evaluate the actual henge builders of NW Europe, and to assume people probably did some interesting things in Doggerland.

    But we could have quite a lot of that turn up without having much impact on the sorts of things I’m getting at- we could be talking tens of millennia of difference here.

  39. RLVC says:


    During a brief moment of history, before the tidal waves of extra-British immigration had changed the face of America forever, while Americans were being fruitful, and multiplying, and successfully outrunning the overwhelming hegemony of the state, and subduing the American continent, they turned up a number of giant skeletons, their heights ranging from seven to fourteen feet tall.

    These were bought up by establishments such as the Smithsonian Institution, found to be hoaxes, and summarily destroyed.

    No one has ever explained the process by which hundreds of nineteenth-century settler-pioneer farmers would have made fake bone matter, sculpted it into the form of a convincing skeleton, and persuaded their neighbors (who knew them well) that the “digs” they were “digging” were really as ancient as they claimed them to be.

    But it must have happened, because the only alternative is that there were giants walking the North American continent untold æons before Amerindians crossed the Bering Strait.

    And that this truth was systematically hidden from us by a covert organization, using covert means, for covert reasons.

    And that the water isn’t turning the friggin’ frogs gay.

  40. Graham says:

    Thanks for that link.

    I very much enjoyed and think I agreed with his cultural criticism in that piece.

    Surprised to read his immediate prev post and see similar seemingly hard reactionary cultural criticism in a mythopoeic vein, wrapped in a sort of Trotskyite [not sure his position] thesis of socialism as the purest creed of existential optimism and identification of Jeremy Corbyn as [more or less] the sweetest man to ever contend for PM of the UK.

    I was aware there used to be serious revolutionary leftists with an eye to the beauty of art and myth and civilization, but their creed seemed always to tend to the elimination of all that, along with history and identity, in the great churn of science and utopia. Even their art, for all the conflicts of style, had to be essentially ahistorical and reflective of a new man.

    So Kriss gave me a brief WTF moment there.

    I Googled him after that. Poor chap. Another right on soul accused of harassment a couple years ago. What a world.

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