Intolerance is not a thing of the past

September 11th, 2016

The Authoritarian Dynamic offers a kind of Rosetta stone, Jonathan Haidt suggests, for interpreting the rise of right-wing populism and its focus on Muslims in 2016:

Stenner notes that her theory “explains the kind of intolerance that seems to ‘come out of nowhere,’ that can spring up in tolerant and intolerant cultures alike, producing sudden changes in behavior that cannot be accounted for by slowly changing cultural traditions.”

[T]he increasing license allowed by those evolving cultures generates the very conditions guaranteed to goad latent authoritarians to sudden and intense, perhaps violent, and almost certainly unexpected, expressions of intolerance. Likewise, then, if intolerance is more a product of individual psychology than of cultural norms…we get a different vision of the future, and a different understanding of whose problem this is and will be, than if intolerance is an almost accidental by-product of simple attachment to tradition. The kind of intolerance that springs from aberrant individual psychology, rather than the disinterested absorption of pervasive cultural norms, is bound to be more passionate and irrational, less predictable, less amenable to persuasion, and more aggravated than educated by the cultural promotion of tolerance [emphasis added].

Writing in 2004, Stenner predicted that “intolerance is not a thing of the past, it is very much a thing of the future.”

[...]

Stenner ends The Authoritarian Dynamic with some specific and constructive advice:

[A]ll the available evidence indicates that exposure to difference, talking about difference, and applauding difference — the hallmarks of liberal democracy — are the surest ways to aggravate those who are innately intolerant, and to guarantee the increased expression of their predispositions in manifestly intolerant attitudes and behaviors. Paradoxically, then, it would seem that we can best limit intolerance of difference by parading, talking about, and applauding our sameness…. Ultimately, nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions, and processes. And regrettably, nothing is more certain to provoke increased expression of their latent predispositions than the likes of “multicultural education,” bilingual policies, and nonassimilation.

If Stenner is correct, then her work has profound implications, not just for America, which was the focus of her book, but perhaps even more so for Europe.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Writing ‘Black Panther’

September 10th, 2016

Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about writing Marvel’s Black Panther comic:

I’m struck by how focused you are on telling a political story over a superhero story. Why did you make that decision?

I wouldn’t draw that dichotomy. I think “X-Men,” for instance, has long been a political book. Marvel has a long history of [political books]. “Captain America,” quintessentially, is a political book. I mean, it’s “Captain America.” … If you look at the current miniseries that Marvel’s been doing, “Civil War,” it’s all about profiling. I think, probably, the distinction I would make here is that “Black Panther” is much more focused on governance, which is a dry, boring word. But it’s more focused on governance than traditional superhero books, and that’s because Black Panther’s a king, he’s a monarch. There seems to be a really huge difference between him and other superheroes, so I thought that was really important.

Black Panther Comic Page

It’s reminiscent of “The Godfather,” in a way. He has this inheritance, he has this burden, but he also has this power, but it’s not necessarily beneficial to the people who are under his protection.

Or necessarily beneficial to him. It might not be the choice that he would have made had he been able to determine his own life.

The Authoritarian Dynamic

September 10th, 2016

“Racism” is a shallow term, Jonathan Haidt argues, when it is used as an explanation:

Nationalists in Europe have been objecting to mass immigration for decades, so the gigantic surge of asylum seekers in 2015 was bound to increase their anger and their support for right-wing nationalist parties. Globalists tend to explain these reactions as “racism, pure and simple,” or as the small-minded small-town selfishness of people who don’t want to lose either jobs or benefits to foreigners.

[...]

On closer inspection, racism usually turns out to be deeply bound up with moral concerns.

[...]

People don’t hate others just because they have darker skin or differently shaped noses; they hate people whom they perceive as having values that are incompatible with their own, or who (they believe) engage in behaviors they find abhorrent, or whom they perceive to be a threat to something they hold dear.

[...]

Among the most important guides in this inquiry is the political scientist Karen Stenner. In 2005 Stenner published a book called The Authoritarian Dynamic, an academic work full of graphs, descriptions of regression analyses, and discussions of scholarly disputes over the nature of authoritarianism. (It therefore has not had a wide readership.) Her core finding is that authoritarianism is not a stable personality trait. It is rather a psychological predisposition to become intolerant when the person perceives a certain kind of threat. It’s as though some people have a button on their foreheads, and when the button is pushed, they suddenly become intensely focused on defending their in-group, kicking out foreigners and non-conformists, and stamping out dissent within the group. At those times they are more attracted to strongmen and the use of force. At other times, when they perceive no such threat, they are not unusually intolerant. So the key is to understand what pushes that button.

The answer, Stenner suggests, is what she calls “normative threat,” which basically means a threat to the integrity of the moral order (as they perceive it). It is the perception that “we” are coming apart:

The experience or perception of disobedience to group authorities or authorities unworthy of respect, nonconformity to group norms or norms proving questionable, lack of consensus in group values and beliefs and, in general, diversity and freedom ‘run amok’ should activate the predisposition and increase the manifestation of these characteristic attitudes and behaviors.

So authoritarians are not being selfish. They are not trying to protect their wallets or even their families. They are trying to protect their group or society.

[...]

One of Stenner’s most helpful contributions is her finding that authoritarians are psychologically distinct from “status quo conservatives” who are the more prototypical conservatives — cautious about radical change. Status quo conservatives compose the long and distinguished lineage from Edmund Burke’s prescient reflections and fears about the early years of the French revolution through William F. Buckley’s statement that his conservative magazine National Review would “stand athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’”

Status quo conservatives are not natural allies of authoritarians, who often favor radical change and are willing to take big risks to implement untested policies. This is why so many Republicans — and nearly all conservative intellectuals — oppose Donald Trump; he is simply not a conservative by the test of temperament or values. But status quo conservatives can be drawn into alliance with authoritarians when they perceive that progressives have subverted the country’s traditions and identity so badly that dramatic political actions (such as Brexit, or banning Muslim immigration to the United States) are seen as the only remaining way of yelling “Stop!” Brexit can seem less radical than the prospect of absorption into the “ever closer union” of the EU.

So now we can see why immigration — particularly the recent surge in Muslim immigration from Syria — has caused such powerfully polarized reactions in so many European countries, and even in the United States where the number of Muslim immigrants is low. Muslim Middle Eastern immigrants are seen by nationalists as posing a far greater threat of terrorism than are immigrants from any other region or religion. But Stenner invites us to look past the security threat and examine the normative threat. Islam asks adherents to live in ways that can make assimilation into secular egalitarian Western societies more difficult compared to other groups. (The same can be said for Orthodox Jews, and Stenner’s authoritarian dynamic can help explain why we are seeing a resurgence of right-wing anti-Semitism in the United States.) Muslims don’t just observe different customs in their private lives; they often request and receive accommodations in law and policy from their host countries, particularly in matters related to gender. Some of the most pitched battles of recent decades in France and other European countries have been fought over the veiling and covering of women, and the related need for privacy and gender segregation. For example, some public swimming pools in Sweden now offer times of day when only women are allowed to swim. This runs contrary to strong Swedish values regarding gender equality and non-differentiation.

So whether you are a status quo conservative concerned about rapid change or an authoritarian who is hypersensitive to normative threat, high levels of Muslim immigration into your Western nation are likely to threaten your core moral concerns. But as soon as you speak up to voice those concerns, globalists will scorn you as a racist and a rube. When the globalists — even those who run the center-right parties in your country — come down on you like that, where can you turn? The answer, increasingly, is to the far right-wing nationalist parties in Europe, and to Donald Trump, who just engineered a hostile takeover of the Republican Party in America.

These people really do control our society

September 9th, 2016

Professor Julian Stanley’s Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) has for 45 years tracked the careers and accomplishments of some 5,000 individuals and generated more than 400 papers:

With the first SMPY recruits now at the peak of their careers, what has become clear is how much the precociously gifted outweigh the rest of society in their influence. Many of the innovators who are advancing science, technology and culture are those whose unique cognitive abilities were identified and supported in their early years through enrichment programmes such as Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth — which Stanley began in the 1980s as an adjunct to SMPY. At the start, both the study and the centre were open to young adolescents who scored in the top 1% on university entrance exams. Pioneering mathematicians Terence Tao and Lenhard Ng were one-percenters, as were Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and musician Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga), who all passed through the Hopkins centre.

“Whether we like it or not, these people really do control our society,” says Jonathan Wai, a psychologist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program in Durham, North Carolina, which collaborates with the Hopkins centre. Wai combined data from 11 prospective and retrospective longitudinal studies, including SMPY, to demonstrate the correlation between early cognitive ability and adult achievement. “The kids who test in the top 1% tend to become our eminent scientists and academics, our Fortune 500 CEOs and federal judges, senators and billionaires,” he says.

[...]

His interest in developing scientific talent had been piqued by one of the most famous longitudinal studies in psychology, Lewis Terman’s Genetic Studies of Genius. Beginning in 1921, Terman selected teenage subjects on the basis of high IQ scores, then tracked and encouraged their careers. But to Terman’s chagrin, his cohort produced only a few esteemed scientists. Among those rejected because their IQ of 129 was too low to make the cut was William Shockley, the Nobel-prizewinning co-inventor of the transistor. Physicist Luis Alvarez, another Nobel winner, was also rejected.

Stanley suspected that Terman wouldn’t have missed Shockley and Alvarez if he’d had a reliable way to test them specifically on quantitative reasoning ability. So Stanley decided to try the Scholastic Aptitude Test (now simply the SAT). Although the test is intended for older students, Stanley hypothesized that it would be well suited to measuring the analytical reasoning abilities of elite younger students.

In March 1972, Stanley rounded up 450 bright 12- to 14-year-olds from the Baltimore area and gave them the mathematics portion of the SAT. It was the first standardized academic ‘talent search’. (Later, researchers included the verbal portion and other assessments.)

“The first big surprise was how many adolescents could figure out math problems that they hadn’t encountered in their course work,” says developmental psychologist Daniel Keating, then a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University. “The second surprise was how many of these young kids scored well above the admissions cut-off for many elite universities.”

[...]

The SMPY data supported the idea of accelerating fast learners by allowing them to skip school grades. In a comparison of children who bypassed a grade with a control group of similarly smart children who didn’t, the grade-skippers were 60% more likely to earn doctorates or patents and more than twice as likely to get a PhD in a STEM field. Acceleration is common in SMPY’s elite 1-in-10,000 cohort, whose intellectual diversity and rapid pace of learning make them among the most challenging to educate. Advancing these students costs little or nothing, and in some cases may save schools money, says Lubinski. “These kids often don’t need anything innovative or novel,” he says, “they just need earlier access to what’s already available to older kids.”

Patriotism as a Virtue

September 9th, 2016

Nationalists see patriotism as a virtue, Jonathan Haidt must explain to his audience:

They think their country and its culture are unique and worth preserving. This is a real moral commitment, not a pose to cover up racist bigotry. Some nationalists do believe that their country is better than all others, and some nationalisms are plainly illiberal and overtly racist. But as many defenders of patriotism have pointed out, you love your spouse because she or he is yours, not because you think your spouse is superior to all others. Nationalists feel a bond with their country, and they believe that this bond imposes moral obligations both ways: Citizens have a duty to love and serve their country, and governments are duty bound to protect their own people. Governments should place their citizens interests above the interests of people in other countries.

There is nothing necessarily racist or base about this arrangement or social contract. Having a shared sense of identity, norms, and history generally promotes trust. Having no such shared sense leads to the condition that the sociologist Émile Durkheim described as “anomie” or normlessness. Societies with high trust, or high social capital, produce many beneficial outcomes for their citizens: lower crime rates, lower transaction costs for businesses, higher levels of prosperity, and a propensity toward generosity, among others. A liberal nationalist can reasonably argue that the debate over immigration policy in Europe is not a case of what is moral versus what is base, but a case of two clashing moral visions, incommensurate (à la Isaiah Berlin). The trick, from this point of view, is figuring out how to balance reasonable concerns about the integrity of one’s own community with the obligation to welcome strangers, particularly strangers in dire need.

[...]

If you’re a European globalist, you were probably thrilled in August 2015 when Angela Merkel announced Germany’s open-door policy to refugees and asylum seekers. There are millions of people in need, and (according to some globalists) national borders are arbitrary and immoral.

[...]

But if you are a European nationalist, watching the nightly news may have felt like watching the spread of the Zika virus, moving steadily northward from the chaos zones of southwest Asia and north Africa.

[...]

By the summer of 2015 the nationalist side was already at the boiling point, shouting “enough is enough, close the tap,” when the globalists proclaimed, “let us open the floodgates, it’s the compassionate thing to do, and if you oppose us you are a racist.” Might that not provoke even fairly reasonable people to rage? Might that not make many of them more receptive to arguments, ideas, and political parties that lean toward the illiberal side of nationalism and that were considered taboo just a few years earlier?

Political Punk Rock

September 8th, 2016

Steve Sailer describes the Alt Right as political punk rock — loud, abrasive, hostile, white, back to basics, and fun — and that rings true to me:

The punk rockers struck most nice people then as barbaric.

Which they sort of were. That was the point of picking up an electric guitar: to make a lot of noise.

Even the most deplorable habit of a few on the alt-right—the use of Nazi imagery—has its punk predecessors. The Ramones’ greatest song was “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Mick Jones’ proto-Clash band was the London SS. Malcolm McLaren handed out swastikas to his Sex Pistols.

Why? Because it was offensive. And offensive was enjoyable.

Naiveté, Sacrilege, and Treason

September 8th, 2016

As nations grow prosperous, Jonathan Haidt explains, their values change in predictable ways:

The most detailed longitudinal research on these changes comes from the World Values Survey, which asks representative samples of people in dozens of countries about their values and beliefs. The WVS has now collected and published data in six “waves” since the early 1980s; the most recent survey included sixty countries. Nearly all of the countries are now far wealthier than they were in the 1980s, and many made a transition from communism to capitalism and from dictatorship to democracy in the interim. How did these momentous changes affect their values?

Each country has followed a unique trajectory, but if we zoom out far enough some general trends emerge from the WVS data. Countries seem to move in two directions, along two axes: first, as they industrialize, they move away from “traditional values” in which religion, ritual, and deference to authorities are important, and toward “secular rational” values that are more open to change, progress, and social engineering based on rational considerations. Second, as they grow wealthier and more citizens move into the service sector, nations move away from “survival values” emphasizing the economic and physical security found in one’s family, tribe, and other parochial groups, toward “self-expression” or “emancipative values” that emphasize individual rights and protections — not just for oneself, but as a matter of principle, for everyone. Here is a summary of those changes from the introduction to Christian Welzel’s enlightening book Freedom Rising:

…fading existential pressures [i.e., threats and challenges to survival] open people’s minds, making them prioritize freedom over security, autonomy over authority, diversity over uniformity, and creativity over discipline. By the same token, persistent existential pressures keep people’s minds closed, in which case they emphasize the opposite priorities…the existentially relieved state of mind is the source of tolerance and solidarity beyond one’s in-group; the existentially stressed state of mind is the source of discrimination and hostility against out-groups.

Democratic capitalism — in societies with good rule of law and non-corrupt institutions — has generated steady increases in living standards and existential security for many decades now. As societies become more prosperous and safe, they generally become more open and tolerant. Combined with vastly greater access to the food, movies, and consumer products of other cultures brought to us by globalization and the internet, this openness leads almost inevitably to the rise of a cosmopolitan attitude, usually most visible in the young urban elite. Local ties weaken, parochialism becomes a dirty word, and people begin to think of their fellow human beings as fellow “citizens of the world” (to quote candidate Barack Obama in Berlin in 2008). The word “cosmopolitan” comes from Greek roots meaning, literally, “citizen of the world.” Cosmopolitans embrace diversity and welcome immigration, often turning those topics into litmus tests for moral respectability.

For example, in 2007, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a speech that included the phrase, “British jobs for British workers.” The phrase provoked anger and scorn from many of Brown’s colleagues in the Labour party. In an essay in Prospect, David Goodhart described the scene at a British center-left social event a few days after Brown’s remark:

The people around me entered a bidding war to express their outrage at Brown’s slogan which was finally triumphantly closed by one who declared, to general approval, that it was “racism, pure and simple.” I remember thinking afterwards how odd the conversation would have sounded to most other people in this country. Gordon Brown’s phrase may have been clumsy and cynical but he didn’t actually say British jobs for white British workers. In most other places in the world today, and indeed probably in Britain itself until about 25 years ago, such a statement about a job preference for national citizens would have seemed so banal as to be hardly worth uttering. Now the language of liberal universalism has ruled it beyond the pale.

The shift that Goodhart notes among the Left-leaning British elite is related to the shift toward “emancipative” values described by Welzel. Parochialism is bad and universalism is good. Goodhart quotes George Monbiot, a leading figure of the British Left:

Internationalism…tells us that someone living in Kinshasa is of no less worth than someone living in Kensington…. Patriotism, if it means anything, tells us we should favour the interests of British people [before the Congolese]. How do you reconcile this choice with liberalism? How…do you distinguish it from racism?

Monbiot’s claim that patriotism is indistinguishable from racism illustrates the universalism that has characterized elements of the globalist Left in many Western nations for several decades. John Lennon wrote the globalist anthem in 1971. After asking us to imagine that there’s no heaven, and before asking us to imagine no possessions, Lennon asks us to:

Imagine there’s no countries; it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.

This is a vision of heaven for multicultural globalists. But it’s naiveté, sacrilege, and treason for nationalists.

Ordering multiple adjectives

September 7th, 2016

I don’t know anyone who explicitly knows the rules for ordering multiple adjectives in English, but we can all immediately hear when they’re aren’t followed:

When a number of adjectives are used together, the order depends on the function of the adjective. The usual order is:

  • Quantity — four, ten, a few, several
  • Value/Opinion — delicious, charming, beautiful
  • Size — tall, tiny, huge
  • Temperature — hot, cold
  • Age — old, young, new, 14-year-old
  • Shape — square, round
  • Colour — red, purple, green
  • Origin — Swedish, Victorian, Chinese
  • Material — glass, silver, wooden

Tiger Woods “Trained” with the SEALs

September 7th, 2016

Tiger Woods “trained” with the SEALs at the peak of his golf career, in 2006 and 2007:

At home, Tiger read books on SEALs and watched the documentary about BUD/S Class 234 over and over. He played Call of Duty for hours straight, so into the fantasy that his friends joked that after Tiger got shot in the game they might find him dead on the couch. When he could, he spent time with real-life operators. Tiger shot guns, learned combat tactics and did free-fall skydiving with active-duty SEALs. During one trip to La Posta, he remembered things they’d told him about their families, asking about wives, things he didn’t do in the golf world; Mark O’Meara said Tiger never asks about his kids.

“If Tiger was around other professional athletes, storytelling would always have a nature of one-upmanship,” a friend says. “If Tiger was around some sort of active or retired military personnel, he was all ears. He was genuinely interested in what they had to say. Any time he told a military-related story that he had heard or talked about a tactic he had learned, he had a smile on his face. I can’t say that about anything else.”

One evening, Brown and two other guys put Tiger in the back seat of a king-cab pickup truck and drove him an hour and a half out into the desert to a training base named Niland, where a SEAL team was doing its final predeployment workup, staging a raid on a mock Afghan village that had been built down in a valley. They stood on a hill looking into the darkness. The SEAL platoon charged toward the position. Flares popped off, trailing into the darkness, and the valley rocked with the deep boom of artillery simulation and the chatter of small-arms fire. In the glow, Tiger looked transfixed. “It was f—ing awesome,” Brown says, laughing. “I don’t know if we just got a glimpse of him in a different light, but he just seemed incredibly humble, grateful.”

[...]

The moments with the military added some joy to what he has repeatedly called the worst year of his life, and he chose to spend Dec. 30, 2006 — his 31st birthday — in San Diego skydiving with SEALs. This was his second skydiving trip; a month earlier, in the middle of a seven-tournament win streak, he’d gotten his free-fall USPA A-license, now able to jump without a tandem. Across the country, in Florida, his reps put a news release on his website, revealing for the first time that Elin was pregnant. Tiger Woods was going to be a father.

Elin came with him to San Diego on his birthday, and they rode south and east of the city, near a land preserve a few miles from Mexico, halfway between Chula Vista and Tecate. The road curved at banked angles, and up ahead a small airport came into view. Nichol’s Field is a collection of maybe two dozen buildings. To the east of the property, a cluster of metal huts sat behind red stop signs: warning, restricted area. This was Tactical Air Operations, one of the places where the SEALs practice jumps. The main building felt like an inner sanctum: a SEAL flag on the wall and parachute riggings hung from the ceiling. They wore blue-and-white jumpsuits, Tiger and the three or four SEALs. He learned advanced air maneuvers. After each jump, the guys would tell Tiger what to do differently and he’d go off by himself for a bit to visualize the next jump and then go back up in the plane and dive into the air, doing everything they’d said. “The dude’s amazing,” says Billy Helmers, a SEAL who jumped with him that day. “He can literally think himself through the skydives.”

The SEALs put a birthday cake on a table in one of the Tac Air buildings. It had a skydiver decorated on it in icing and read “Happy Birthday, Tiger!” The team guys and their families gathered around and sang “Happy Birthday,” and then Tiger leaned in and blew out his candles. Everyone took pictures, and in them Tiger is smiling, and it’s not the grin that people know from commercials and news conferences. He looks unwatched and calm.

Defining the Alt Right

September 6th, 2016

Is Education Realist of the alt-right?

As a practical matter, using the definition most agree to,  no. I hold to the Voldemort View and the wisdom of Philip K. Dick. I’m an immigration restrictionist and Trump supporter. I’m a nationalist, not a white nationalist. I’ve lived in more racial diversity my entire life than the vast majority of elites preaching its value can even conceive of.  I don’t live in the same ideological region as Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer, or Heartiste and men’s rights advocates. That’s a difference that won’t matter to the media, which is why I’m anonymous.

Imperial Unity

September 6th, 2016

Ideas alone do not make empires:

The problem was not that men and women in Mediterranean world stopped believing in the ideal of universal empire, nor even that elites stopped identifying with a broader imperial identity. The real problem was that those who inherited the intellectual legacy of Catholic Empire and Universal Caliphate did not also inherit the administrative tools needed to administer one. The Dark Ages was a time where men could dream of empire but could not build one. In Europe the decisive moment came piecemeal to different parts of the continent, first as the Carolingian empire collapsed, then when the Caliphate of Cordoba followed in its footsteps, and finally after the Investiture conflict and the civil war that followed left the Salians in only nominal control of their realm. Power was so forcefully decentralized in the decades that followed each collapse that some historians argue we should not describe the feudal structures that followed as “governments” at all. Europeans of this era did not forget how to dream, but they had forgotten how to govern. It would take centuries of state building until Europeans had regained the ability to field armies, administer taxes, and incorporate new conquests into their kingdoms. The slate was wiped clean clean. By these new states became strong enough to extend their control over distant lands, the memory of Rome ha dimmed and identity had reverted to the centers of local power where state building had begun.

This process never happened in China. The Chinese also continued to dream of unity — but more importantly, they never completely lost their capacity to transform their dreams into reality. The imperial center was destroyed, but the bureaucratic structures that held the imperial system together at the lower levels of society lived on. The structures used to govern China and wring taxes from the Chinese people did change over the course of Chinese history, but there was never anything comparable to the total administrative collapse seen in early medieval Europe or the late medieval Near East. The old regime had been decentralized, but not destroyed. This not just made it easier for the next generation of Chinese warlords to mobilize the armies needed to reconquer all of China, but it also made it far easier for them to incorporate what they conquered as fiscally productive parts of their domain.

Each period of unification deepened the connections between different regions of China, making it that much easier for warlords, rebels, and foreign conquerors to administer their new conquests then next time China fell apart. It’s a classic example of virtuous cycle at work. The more time China spent unified the easier it was to unify it in the future. This led to one of the more striking patterns of Chinese history: each major period of disunity was shorter than the last.

The logic of Schelling points and the ideals of universal empire played a part in all this, and of course the longer China was unified the stronger these ideals would be. However, as the Western experience suggests, imperial ideology may have been a necessary condition of unification, but it was not a sufficient one. Ideas alone do not make empires. China was never an empire of the mind. Like all else built by the hands of man, China was a creation of blood, toil, and fear.

Labor Day

September 5th, 2016

Have you ever tried to explain Labor Day?

Following the deaths of workers at the hands of United States Army and United States Marshals Service during the Pullman Strike of 1894, the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve legislation to make Labor Day a national holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law six days after the end of the strike. Cleveland supported the creation of the national holiday in an attempt to shore up support among trade unions following the Pullman Strike.

The date of May 1 (an ancient European holiday known as May Day) was an alternative date, celebrated then (and now) as International Workers Day, but President Cleveland was concerned that observance of Labor Day on May 1 would encourage Haymarket-style protests and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that, though distinct from one another, had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in International Workers’ Day.

Open Prisons

September 5th, 2016

Norway’s open prisons sound comically Scandinavian, but they work — there:

Wiggo was right; it did look like summer camp. Mottled leaves fell on cyclers ? yes, cycling prisoners ? and a horse-and-carriage cantered by. Gingerbread houses dotted the landscape; they were dull yellow, with green trim and red roofs. I spied sheep and cows but no fence or barbed wire.

Bastoy is an open prison, a concept born in Finland during the 1930s and now part of the norm throughout Scandinavia, where prisoners can sometimes keep their jobs on the outside while serving time, commuting daily. Thirty percent of Norway’s prisons are open, and Bastoy, a notorious reformatory for boys converted in 1982 to a prison, is considered the crown jewel of them all.

[...]

“I started skeptical. That changed quickly. More prisons should be open ? almost all should be. We take as many as we can here, but there isn’t room for everyone.” Prisoners from around the country can apply to move to an open prison like Bastoy when they’re within three years of release. The island is home to about 115 men overseen by over 70 staff members, and there is a waiting list of about 30.

“There’s a perception that, ‘Oh, this is the lightweight prison; you just take the nice guys for the summer-camp prison.’ But in fact, no. Our guys are into, pardon my French, some heavy shit. Drugs and violence. And the truth is, some have been problematic in other prisons but then they come here, and we find them easy. We say, ‘Is that the same guy you called difficult?’ It’s really very simple: Treat people like dirt, and they will be dirt. Treat them like human beings, and they will act like human beings.”

[...]

“It’s not about running a prison but running an island,” Tom explained. “Agriculture is a big part of our philosophy. We are humane, ecological. Animals have a social function too, teaching empathy. Everyone works the land.”

This is a nature reserve, growing about 25 percent of its food. Most vehicles are electric, and everything is recycled.

The Superhero Genes

September 4th, 2016

Stanford University scientist Euan Ashley and his team are looking for the superhero genes that give elite athletes their superhuman abilities — and which may yield medical insights, too:

The data analysis will take many years?—?there are too many possibilities to sift through them all?—?but the ELITE team has already isolated some 9,200 genetic variants that may explain preternatural athletic ability. “Our first focus is on the heart,” Ashley said, “but then we’re searching for variants across the whole genome.” One early contender, flagged just before my visit, is a gene known as DUOX. A mutation in the gene essentially confers what many nutrition gurus tout as the health benefits of antioxidants, mitigating the damaging effects of our usual cellular metabolism. In the past, DUOX mutations have been identified in a very specific population: People who’ve managed to adapt to living at extremely high altitudes?—?in the Andes, in particular?—?show the mutation, suggesting a possible link to increased pulmonary function. Could DUOX-targeting therapies help in hypoxia? Could they help with tissue repair, since the amount of oxygen in wounds is a crucial factor for speed of recovery?

Then there’s NADK, a gene involved in fatty acid synthesis. If you have lowered NADK, your body could be better at using fat as fuel, making you more powerful over time. So far, two athletes in the sample have the mutation, a high hit rate given its rarity. Could this be a weight-regulating therapy in the making?

Another intriguing variant found in several athletes is RUNX3?—?though, as with all of these mutations, the data are quite preliminary and any conclusions likewise so. Originally, the gene came to light in cancer research. Normally, it suppresses tumors, but in mutated form the suppression function is lost and increased cellular growth ensues. If you’re an athlete, cellular growth can be good: The better your muscles and heart grow, the more quickly you respond to training. The mutation, however, can also lead to tumors. There’s a finely calibrated and fungible line between overperforming and underperforming, between what makes us healthier and what puts us at risk.

Learning from Attica

September 3rd, 2016

Adam Gopnik looks back at the Attica prison riot of 1971:

What’s striking about the uprising is not the collisions of intractable ideological positions but, rather, the sheer confusion, missed opportunities, personal squabbles, and absurd procedural wrangles that governed it. The saddest irony is that the New York State Commissioner of Corrections, Russell Oswald, though later treated as one of the villains of the episode, was largely responsible for extending the occupation and allowing the prisoners the media megaphone that makes their voices still heard today. Oswald is a kind of caricature of the sixties liberal who infuriated conservatives (and often other liberals), someone so determined to do good that he can’t see past his own folly. He was a committed prison reformer — shortly after accepting the job, he had written a memo to Governor Rockefeller saying that having men locked “twelve or more hours a day in their cells is unacceptable to them and me.” And yet he managed, in four days, to enrage the inmates, exasperate his colleagues, and, probably, prevent the forces of order from taking back the prison when it still could have been done in a more or less orderly way. Since any imaginable modern state in any imaginable circumstance was always going to feel duty-bound to retake a prison after a mutiny, a forcible reconquest needed to be done either quickly or not at all: had it happened the next morning, when state troopers stood ready and the prisoners hadn’t yet dug in, it might have been much less violent. Trying to placate everyone, he only exacerbated everything.

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Negotiations tend to be remarkably consistent in form, whether the subject is Iranian nukes or prisoners’ rights. Both sides arrive with obviously ridiculous demands; the act of meeting marks the rejection of those demands but also shows that there is enough good will for a deal to be made; the shape of the agreement swiftly appears; and then, often, the two sides get trapped in tiny details pointing to the tribal instincts that brought the conflict on in the first place. Certainly the negotiations at Attica took this shape.

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The uprising at Attica was, in the not very long run, one of the things that stopped prison reform dead in its tracks.

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In broadly democratic countries, violence frightens the “masses” as they really are—i.e., the majority of citizens—much faster than reformers can persuade them to change. Nonviolent episodes of protest are extraordinarily efficient in creating social change in democratic states; violent episodes undo the good work of change with astonishing rapidity. As the Princeton political scientist Omar Wasow has shown, in an important new empirical study, the spectacle of urban violence probably did get Richard Nixon elected. (“In public opinion polls between 1950 and 1980, a majority of subjects identified ‘civil rights’ as the most important problem facing America at the same time that nonviolent black protest activity peaked,” he observes, “and, likewise, responded with ‘law and order’ when black-led violent protests were most active.”)

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Evil exists. Prisons, punishment, segregation, exile: even the most enlightened state needs some way of sorting the truly dangerous from the sadly criminal and the sadly criminal from the merely unlucky. I eventually discovered that the erudite inmate who arraigned me for not attending to my Foucault had committed the most horrible crime of which I ever hope to hear. (In the midst of a custody battle with his estranged wife, he called her on the phone, had her hold the line, and then murdered their two daughters while she listened and they pleaded.) No sane society can survive if the state, however fair, however free, cannot enforce order and hold a monopoly on legitimate violence.