Most people need social approval to prepare for a widely-reported pandemic

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

COVID-19 could be pretty bad for you, Jacobian of LessWrong reminds us:

But the worst thing that could happen is that you’re seen doing something about the coronavirus before you’re given permission to.

I’ll defend this statement in a minute, but first of all: I am now giving you permission to do something about COVID-19. You have permission to read up on the symptoms of the disease and how it spreads. Educate yourself on the best ways to avoid it. Stock up on obvious essentials such as food, water, soap, and medicine, as well as less obvious things like oxygen saturation monitors so you know if you need emergency care once you’re sick. You should decide ahead of time what your triggers are for changing your routines or turtling up at home.

In fact, you should go do all those things before reading the rest of the post. I am not going to provide any more factual justifications for preparing. If you’ve been following the news and doing the research, you can decide for yourself. And if instead of factual justifications you’ve been following the cues of people around you to decide when it’s socially acceptable to prep for a pandemic, then all you need to know is that I’ve already put my reputation on the line as a coronaprepper.

Instead this post is about the strange fact that most people need social approval to prepare for a widely-reported pandemic.

As Eliezer reminded us, most people sitting alone in a room will quickly get out if it starts filling up with smoke. But if two other people in the room seem unperturbed, almost everyone will stay put. That is the result of a famous experiment from the 1960s and its replications — people will sit and nervously look around at their peers for 20 minutes even as thick smoke starts obscuring their vision.

The coronavirus was identified on January 7th and spread outside China by the 13th. American media ran some stories about how you should worry more about the seasonal flu. The markets didn’t budge. Rationalist Twitter started tweeting excitedly about R0 and supply chains.

Over the next two weeks, Chinese COVID cases kept climbing at 60%/day reaching 17,000 by February 2nd. Cases were confirmed in Europe and the US. The WHO declared a global emergency. The former FDA commissioner explained why a law technicality made it illegal for US hospitals to test people for coronavirus, implying that we would have no idea how many Americans have contracted the disease. Everyone mostly ignored him including all major media publications, and equity markets hit an all time high. By this point several Rationalists in Silicon Valley and elsewhere started seriously prepping for a pandemic and canceling large social gatherings.

On the 13th, Vox published a story mocking people in Silicon Valley for worrying about COVID-19. The article contained multiple factual mistakes about the virus and the opinions of public health experts.

On February 17th, Eliezer asked how markets should react to an obvious looming pandemic. Most people agreed that the markets should freak out and aren’t. Most people decided to trust the markets over their own judgment. As an avowed efficient marketeer who hasn’t made an active stock trade in a decade, I started at that Tweet for a long time. I stared at it some more. Then I went ahead and sold 10% of the stocks I owned and started buying respirators and beans.

By the 21st, the pandemic and its concomitant shortages hit everywhere from Iran to Italy while in the US thousands of people were asked to self-quarantine. Most elected officials in the US seemed utterly unaware that anything was happening. CNN ran a front page story about the real enemies being racism and the seasonal flu.

How useful in this particular crisis is decelerationism?

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Donald G. McNeil Jr. of the New York Times recommends “going medieval” on coronavirus:

There are two ways to fight epidemics: the medieval and the modern.

The modern way is to surrender to the power of the pathogens: Acknowledge that they are unstoppable and to try to soften the blow with 20th-century inventions, including new vaccines, antibiotics, hospital ventilators and thermal cameras searching for people with fevers.

The medieval way, inherited from the era of the Black Death, is brutal: Close the borders, quarantine the ships, pen terrified citizens up inside their poisoned cities.

For the first time in more than a century, the world has chosen to confront a new and terrifying virus with the iron fist instead of the latex glove.

At least for a while, it worked, and it might still serve a purpose.

The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, was able to seal off the city of Wuhan, where the Covid-19 outbreak began, because China is a place where a leader can ask himself, “What would Mao do?” and just do it. The bureaucracy will comply, right down to the neighborhood committees that bar anyone returning from Wuhan from entering their own homes, even if it means sleeping in the streets.

The White House, in defiance of recent American history, also opted to go medieval by aggressive measures like barring entry to non-Americans who were recently in China and advising Americans not to go to China or South Korea.


This has led to much consternation among other public health experts, who argue that travel restrictions can cause more panic, misery and death than they prevent. Crowds may besiege hospitals, supercharging the infection rate. Closed borders can cut off vital medications like insulin. Factory and shop closings mean lost wages, hardships and possibly recession.

Also, quarantines feed racism and stigma.

Officially, the World Health Organization opposes travel and trade restrictions. It reiterated that even as it declared the epidemic a global emergency on Jan. 30.

But it now admits that they helped.

He tells a similar story of AIDS in New York City versus Cuba:

Meanwhile, the United States took a pro-legal-rights approach. Even offering an H.I.V. test was made illegal without a separate counseling session, which scared many away from testing. Although gay bathhouses were epicenters of transmission, there were long divisive fights over closing them.

After triple therapy was developed in the mid-1990s, most Cuban camps closed.

But the difference in lives saved by choosing brutality over freedom was stark: Cuba’s H.I.V. infection rate was for decades about one-sixth that of the American one. New York City and Cuba have roughly the same population. In the epidemic’s first 30 years, fewer than 2,500 Cubans died of AIDS. Over 78,000 New Yorkers — mostly gay men — did.

Steve Sailer asks, how useful in this particular crisis is decelerationism?

The respectable opinion has mostly been that it is inevitable that the infection gets into the United States so we should just keep the globalization pedal to the metal, because in the long run we’re all dead so whaddaya whaddaya?

My natural instinct, in contrast, is to try to decelerate, to spread the bad effects out longer. For example, we’ve got about a million hospital beds in this country, with a large fraction already in use every day. If the hospitals overflow, then things get very bad.

There are also reasons to be optimistic about next year or the year after for getting a vaccine.

But how much good can decelerationism do? I don’t really know, but we ought to be discussing the question of accelerationism vs. decelerationism.

It was already too late to blend in, though

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Lauren Groff of Harper’s decided to attend Prepper Camp — and didn’t fit in:

They were mostly male, between their late fifties and early seventies, with such an abundance of paunch that the only possible reaction was to marvel. These men were straight-up gravid. They seemed proudly working-class and most were former military, a fact made clear by the patches and medals they wore like over-the-hill Eagle Scouts. Nearly everyone was white. Over the weekend, I would count exactly nine visibly non-white preppers, three of whom were presenters.


As the day came on around me, I listened to the human parking cone cheerfully directing traffic. “You handicap?” he shouted toward a giant pickup.

From the truck there was a hemming. At last, one of the men inside shouted, “He’s too proud to tell you he’s a wounded veteran.”

“Aren’t we all!” said Parking Cone.

A river of grim and portly old men flowed by, and I felt shy in my civilian womanhood and comparative youth. I waited until I saw a pair of women in hiking boots and flak vests, and gathered my courage to follow them out into the cluster of tents optimistically called the Prepper Camp Shopping Mall.


Prevalent iconography included eagles, crosses both Celtic and Latin, the Don’t Tread on Me snake flag (aka the Gadsden flag), and the Confederate Stars and Bars. There were MAGA hats galore, so many that by Sunday I would lose the thrill of fury at seeing one. There were T-shirts bearing such phrases as: we are the virus they want to destroy; pro-god, pro-gun; live free or die hard; the calm before the storm. The right shoulder sleeves of many shirts featured backward flags, which I took to have sinister intent until I discovered that this was a convention of military uniforms, meant to show the banner flying as though in a breeze. My favorite tee depicted Ronald Reagan unbuttoning his dress shirt to reveal a chest made out of the American flag.


It was already too late to blend in, though. I hadn’t known before I arrived that at Prepper Camp camo and olive drab were the markers of belonging. Even very old ladies who certainly had never seen active duty wore camouflage sun hats and plastic clogs. I watched the people around me with a creeping sense of dismay. With a jolt, I saw that I was also being watched in return. I understood then that being a woman alone in this place was already unusual; far worse, I was wearing East Coast liberal-arts-college clothes, a Patagonia fleece, and a North Face backpack. I looked like a good bourgeoise, the kind of woman who drinks kombucha and does yoga and reads Harper’s before bed.


Perhaps I should have expected to feel wildly out of place at Prepper Camp. I am a vegetarian agnostic feminist in a creative field who sits to the left of most American socialists: I want immediate and radical action to halt climate change; Medicare and free public higher education for all; abortion pills offered for pennies in pharmacies and gas stations; the eradication of billionaires; the destruction of capitalism; and the rocketing of all the planet’s firearms into the sun.

And yet I am also, in the darkest corners of my heart, a doomsday prepper myself.

Freeman Dyson appeared for more esoteric topics

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Freeman Dyson just passed away at the age of 96. He was known for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering — but he appeared here for more esoteric topics, like the Serbian crisis of 1914, Littlewood’s Law of Miracles, religion and public education, global warming, his time in the Operational Research Section (ORS) of the British Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command, firestorms, ripping out gun turrets, drums that talk, the other telegraph, heat death, Project Orion, the illusion of validity, building the H Bomb, the most wanted man in China, starship research, aircraft survivability, the origin of Blue Origin, and Gwern’s proposal for an archive revisiter.

Plunder the bookshelves

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Laura Spinney reviews a number of books about societal collapse for Nature:

The newest is Before the Collapse. In it, energy specialist Ugo Bardi urges us not to resist collapse, which is how the Universe tries “to get rid of the old to make space for the new”.

Similarly, Diamond’s 2019 book Upheaval suggested that a collapse is an opportunity for self-appraisal, after which a society can use its ingenuity to find solutions.


Questioning Collapse, a 2009 collection of essays edited by archaeologists Patricia McAnany and Norman Yoffee, took Diamond to task for cherry-picking to spin a good yarn, for example in blaming such iconic societal failures as the population crash of Easter Island on its people’s destruction of their own environment.


In his influential 1988 The Collapse of Complex Societies, archaeologist Joseph Tainter argues that collapse — in the sense of the complete obliteration of a political system and its associated culture — is rare. Even the worst cases are usually better described as rapid loss of complexity, with remnants of the old society living on in what rises from the ashes. After the ‘fall’ of Rome in the fifth century, for example, successor states took more than 1,000 years to achieve comparable economic and technological sophistication, but were always recognizably the empire’s offspring.


In his thoughtful Understanding Collapse (2017), archaeologist Guy Middleton surveys more than 40 theories of collapse — including Diamond’s — and concludes that the cause is almost always identified as external to the society. Perennial favourites include climate change and barbarian invasions — or, in the Hollywood version, alien lizards. The theories say more about the theorists and their times, Middleton argues, than about the true causes of collapse.

The pressing question, Tainter told a workshop on collapse at Princeton University in New Jersey last April, is why can a society withstand repeated external blows — until one day it cannot? For him, a society fails when it is no longer able to adapt to diminishing returns on innovation: when it can’t afford the bureaucracy required to run it, say. In Why the West Rules — For Now (2010), historian Ian Morris proposes a twist on this, namely that the key to a society’s success lies in its ability to capture energy — by extracting it from the ground, for example, or from nuclear fission once fossil fuels have run out. By contrast, Peter Turchin, author of the 2006 War and Peace and War, suggests that collapse is what happens when a society stops being able to deal with the strains caused by population growth, leading to inequality and strife.


Goldstone rigorously dissected upheaval in the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries in his 1991 book Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. This convinced him that revolution is an inappropriate response to societal tensions, usually leading to tyranny. Solutions have come instead from deep, meaningful reform. Yet the idea that revolution removes obstacles to progress has “deluded literally billions of people”, he argues.

The heritability of those talents will rise

Thursday, February 27th, 2020

The third part of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class describes heritability:

Another common misunderstanding is to think that the heritability of a trait refers to individuals. Mathematically, heritability refers to a whole population. Suppose that genes explain 70 percent of a population’s variance in height. You can use this information to conclude that “genes probably have a lot to do with how tall Joe is,” but it does not mean that “genes explain 70 percent of how tall Joe is.”

Heritability is not a fixed number for a given trait. It can vary by age, for example. We will encounter an example of this when we get to the heritability of IQ: Counterintuitively, it increases as people get older.

Heritability also varies by population. For example, suppose you want to know the heritability of performance on the SAT and you compare two sets of students. One sample is from an ordinary New York City public high school and the other is from Stuyvesant, a famous high school for the intellectually gifted. For practical purposes, Stuyvesant scores will be concentrated in a narrow range — probably 1500 to 1600. The scores for the sample from an ordinary high school will vary from 400 to 1600. The denominator for the heritability ratio calculated from students at Stuyvesant will be smaller than the denominator from the sample from the ordinary high school. Other things equal, the heritability of SAT scores in the Stuyvesant sample will be higher than the heritability for the sample from the ordinary high school.

Heritability can also vary over populations, or over the same population over time, for an important reason that is too seldom recognized: As society does a better job of enabling all of its citizens to realize their talents, the heritability of those talents will rise.

For instance:

For the first half of the twentieth century, Norway was a country in which the amount of schooling you got depended strongly on where you lived (many remote places did not have secondary schools) and your family’s social class. In 1960, the average years of education for Norwegian adults was 5.9. After World War II, access to elementary and secondary school became nearly universal. By 2000, the average Norwegian adult had 11.9 years of education. Norwegian allele frequencies for the SNPs that are associated with years of education cannot have changed appreciably from 1960 to 2000. The absolute genetic contribution was effectively constant. But the heritability of educational attainment for Norwegian male twins born before 1940 was 40 percent. For their counterparts born after 1940, it was approximately 70 percent.

Peter Sripol built an RC version of the Soviet-era Ekranoplan ground-effect vehicle

Thursday, February 27th, 2020

Model-maker Peter Sripol built an RC version of the Soviet-era Ekranoplan ground-effect vehicle:

(Hat tip to Boing Boing.)

Adjusting for IQ wipes out the ethnic income differential

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

Human Diversity by Charles MurrayIn the third part of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class Charles Murray proposes that racism and sexism are no longer decisively important in who rises to the top, in part because differences in educational attainment and income nearly disappear for people at similar IQ levels:

Even without adjusting for anything, there’s no female disadvantage to worry about when it comes to educational attainment. Women now have higher mean years of education and a higher percentage of college degrees than men and have enjoyed that advantage for many years. These advantages persist over all IQ levels.


In terms of the raw numbers, Asians have higher educational attainment than any other ethnic group. Blacks and Latinos have substantially lower educational attainment than whites, but these discrepancies are more than eliminated after adjusting for IQ.


Asians retain their advantage over whites after adjusting for IQ.


A substantial female disadvantage in earned income exists, but it is almost entirely explained by marriage or children in the household. Using Current Population Survey data for 2018, earnings for women who were not married, had no children living at home, and worked full-time were 93 percent of the earnings of comparable men.


Married women with children in the house have considerably lower earned income even after adjusting for IQ, but the main source of the income discrepancy is not that married women in the labor force earn less than unmarried women, but that married men earn more than unmarried men.


Using raw 2018 data from the CPS, Asians have higher mean earned income than whites, while Blacks and Latinos have substantially lower mean earned income than whites.


In the earlier survey, adjusting for IQ wipes out the ethnic income differential among whites, blacks, and Latinos (Asians were not included in this survey). In the latter survey, whites and Latinos have effectively the same earned income while the fitted mean for blacks is 84 percent of the fitted mean for whites.


The fitted mean for Asians is 57 percent higher than the fitted mean for whites.

You can drive it underground, but you cannot stop it

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

On 16 November 1911, the Daily Mail published a piece on Boxing as a Sport, A Defence by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who as a sports-man has often “donned the gloves” and as a novelist has written one of the best living stories on boxing (“Rodney Stone”), yesterday expressed the opinion that it is impossible to eradicate the love for boxing as a sport in this country.

Such decisions as that given at Birmingham in the Moran-Driscoll case, he told a representative of the Pall Mall Gazette, would only be to drive boxing underground: “You can drive it underground, but you cannot stop it. Instead of having contests in the presence of the public, the Press, and the police, you will have it underground. You can have it in the back parlour of a public-house, but you are going to have it somehow. It is better, surely, to have it in the daylight, where, if there has been any brutality, there will at once be a shriek of ‘Foul’ or ‘Shame.’

“It is certain you will not stop it. That is absolutely impossible. I confess I do not understand where the line is going to be drawn between boxing and a veiled prize-fight.” It was only our individuality and love of sport which gave us a chance of bringing out our manhood, but if one sport was to be cut down in this way it would do us a great deal of national harm.


Inherited wealth is a tangential contributor

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

Human Diversity by Charles MurrayCharles Murray introduces the third part of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class) by mentioning another book about class that he (co-)wrote:

The book’s main title was The Bell Curve. In many ways, it documents the ways in which a segment of American society is a indeed morphing into a castelike upper class. But inherited wealth is a tangential contributor. The bare bones of its argument are that the last half of the twentieth century saw two developments of epochal importance: First, technology, the economy, and the legal system became ever more complex, making the value of the intellectual ability to deal with that complexity soar. Second, the latter half of the twentieth century saw America’s system of higher education become accessible to everyone with enough cognitive talent. The most prestigious schools, formerly training grounds for children of the socioeconomic elite, began to be populated by the students in the top few percentiles of IQ no matter what their family background might be—an emerging cognitive elite. By 2012, what had been predictions about the emerging cognitive elite as we were writing in the early 1990s had become established social facts that I described in another book, Coming Apart.

The truth is that it was never on track in the first place

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

Paul Graham suggests that importance + novelty + correctness + strength, is the recipe for a good essay:

But I should warn you that it’s also a recipe for making people mad.

The root of the problem is novelty. When you tell people something they didn’t know, they don’t always thank you for it. Sometimes the reason people don’t know something is because they don’t want to know it. Usually because it contradicts some cherished belief. And indeed, if you’re looking for novel ideas, popular but mistaken beliefs are a good place to find them. Every popular mistaken belief creates a dead zone of ideas around it that are relatively unexplored because they contradict it.

The strength component just makes things worse. If there’s anything that annoys people more than having their cherished assumptions contradicted, it’s having them flatly contradicted.

Plus if you’ve used the Morris technique, your writing will seem quite confident. Perhaps offensively confident, to people who disagree with you. The reason you’ll seem confident is that you are confident: you’ve cheated, by only publishing the things you’re sure of. It will seem to people who try to disagree with you that you never admit you’re wrong. In fact you constantly admit you’re wrong. You just do it before publishing instead of after.

And if your writing is as simple as possible, that just makes things worse. Brevity is the diction of command. If you watch someone delivering unwelcome news from a position of inferiority, you’ll notice they tend to use lots of words, to soften the blow. Whereas to be short with someone is more or less to be rude to them.


You might think that if you work sufficiently hard to ensure that an essay is correct, it will be invulnerable to attack. That’s sort of true. It will be invulnerable to valid attacks. But in practice that’s little consolation.

In fact, the strength component of useful writing will make you particularly vulnerable to misrepresentation. If you’ve stated an idea as strongly as you could without making it false, all anyone has to do is to exaggerate slightly what you said, and now it is false.

Much of the time they’re not even doing it deliberately. One of the most surprising things you’ll discover, if you start writing essays, is that people who disagree with you rarely disagree with what you’ve actually written. Instead they make up something you said and disagree with that.

For what it’s worth, the countermove is to ask someone who does this to quote a specific sentence or passage you wrote that they believe is false, and explain why. I say “for what it’s worth” because they never do. So although it might seem that this could get a broken discussion back on track, the truth is that it was never on track in the first place.

The last bit reminds me of Scott Adams’ Loserthink.

Human populations are genetically distinctive in ways that correspond to self-identified race and ethnicity

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Human Diversity by Charles MurrayCharles Murray suggests (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class) that it’s plausible to expect phenotypic differences among races, based on discoveries made in the last 30 years since the genome was sequenced:

It was discovered that human populations are genetically distinctive in ways that correspond to self-identified race and ethnicity.

Advances in the ability to date evolutionary changes have revealed that evolutionary selection pressure since humans left Africa has been extensive and mostly local to the different continents.

Raw race differences in genetic material related to cognitive repertoires are common, not exceptional.

Murray then moves on to what the orthodoxy gets right:

Franz Boas and Ashley Montagu were right to say that many nineteenth-century conceptions of race were caricatures divorced from biological reality. Richard Lewontin was right that race differences account for only a small fraction of the biological variation existing among humans. Stephen Jay Gould was right to reject the once widely held belief that humans evolved independently in Europe, Asia, and Africa for hundreds of thousands of years.


Scientifically, it is an error to think of races as primordial.

Pepper spray isn’t cool

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Pepper spray has many advantages over a gun, Greg Ellifritz notes — permissibility, versatility, accessibility, (reduced) legal and civil jeopardy, (reduced) expense — but its social acceptability may be its greatest strength — and weakness:

One of the reasons for pepper spray’s lack of popularity (in my opinion) is also one of its big benefits. The lack of popularity (at least among gun guys) is that pepper spray isn’t cool. Pepper spray always “feels” like a second-best, cop-out option for chicks that won’t carry guns. And I’ll be honest: pepper spray isn’t cool. It doesn’t look sexy on Instagram, you can’t order a custom one, there are no photos of SOF guys pepper spraying terrorists. Pepper spray just doesn’t have that cool-guy cachet.

But that’s also a huge benefit. Pepper spray flies completely under the radar. Pepper spray is acceptable af. Your mom probably carries some in a leatherette case on her keys. They literally sell pepper spray (Sabre Red, decent spray in cheesy form-factor) in the checkout line at Lowe’s. There’s no license, no waiting period, usually not even a glass counter between you and a can of pepper spray. No one looks at you askance when you say you have some.

Remember I mentioned carrying O.C. spray on the campus where I’m attending my EMT class? There’s a chick in the class with a can on her key chain that is always laid out, openly displayed on her desk. Do you think I have any qualms whatsoever about having a can in my pocket? Do you think anyone would think twice if they actually noticed it?

If you need an even more discrete option that doesn’t look like pepper spray, there are some good ones out there. My buddy Rich Brown really likes the ASP Palm Defender. It’s a cylindrical aluminum key-chain attachment that takes replaceable pepper spray canisters. It just looks like a Kubaton-style key chain attachment. If you didn’t know better you’d never know it was pepper spray. My only beef with this tool is the very limited spray range of about 3?.

No justification can be offered for its continuance

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

Human Diversity by Charles MurrayCharles Murray’s Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class starts with sex (or gender) and moves on to race:

Naturalists Carl Linnaeus and Johann Blumenbach proposed formal groupings of populations into races based on distinctive morphological features.


Among scholars, the opening of the twentieth century saw a scientific backlash not only against the idea of a racial hierarchy but against the idea of race itself. Its most prominent spokesman was Franz Boas, a pioneering anthropologist and a fierce opponent of what he labeled “scientific racism.” A British anthropologist who studied under Boas, Ashley Montagu, took his mentor’s position to new levels of passion (“Race is the witchcraft, the demonology of our time”) and set the rhetorical tone for today’s academic orthodoxy. The book from which that quote is taken, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, was originally published in 1942 and remained in print throughout the rest of the century.


In 1972, Lewontin published an article titled “The Apportionment of Human Diversity.” In it, he analyzed genetic diversity among the different races with the tools available at the time and found that less than 15 percent of all genetic diversity is accounted for by differences among groups. He concluded with a passage that has since become canonical:

It is clear that our perception of relatively large differences between human races and subgroups, as compared to the variation within these groups, is indeed a biased perception and that, based on randomly chosen genetic differences, human races and populations are remarkably similar to each other, with the largest part by far of human variation being accounted for by the differences between individuals.

Human racial classification is of no social value and is positively destructive of social and human relations. Since such racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance either, no justification can be offered for its continuance.

The canonical version of the orthodoxy’s second proposition appeared twelve years later, written by Gould for his regular column in Natural History magazine. “Equality [of the races] is not given a priori,” he wrote,

It is neither an ethical principle (though equal treatment may be) nor a statement about norms of social action. It just worked out that way. A hundred different and plausible scenarios for human history would have yielded other results (and moral dilemmas of enormous magnitude). They didn’t happen.

Gould argued for this conclusion along several lines, some of which echoed Lewontin. But he also offered a new proposition that quickly became popular: “[T]he division of humans into modern ‘racial’ groups is a product of our recent history. It does not predate the origin of our own species, Homo sapiens, and probably occurred during the last few tens (or at most hundreds) of thousands of years.” Four Gould, the implication was obvious:

As long as most scientists accepted the ancient division of races, they expected important genetic differences. But the recent origin of races… squares well with the minor genetic differences now measured. Human groups do vary strikingly in a few highly visible characters (skin color, hair form) — and this may fool us into thinking that overall differences must be great. But we now know that our usual metaphor of superficiality — skin deep — is literally accurate.

And so, he concluded in his 1984 article, “Say it five times before breakfast tomorrow; more important, understand it as the center of a network of implication: ‘Human equality is a contingent fact of history.’”

Foreign propaganda interference done right

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

Apparently Russian trolls posting memes have “helped” Bernie Sanders, prompting Steve Sailer to point out some foreign propaganda interference done right, the 1941 Hollywood movie That Hamilton Woman, starring Vivien Leigh as Emma Hamilton and Laurence Olivier as Admiral Horatio Nelson, which Wikipedia describes:

The film was a critical and financial success, and while on the surface the plot is both a war story and a romance set in Napoleonic times, it was also intended to function as a deliberately pro-British film that would portray Britain positively within the context of World War II which was being fought at that time. At the time the film was released France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Denmark had all surrendered to the Nazis and the Soviet Union was still officially allied to them, correspondingly the British were fighting against the Nazis alone and felt the need to produce films that would both boost their own morale, and also portray them sympathetically to the foreign world, and in particular, to the United States. …

Shot in the United States during September and October 1940,[10] That Hamilton Woman defines Britain’s struggle against Napoleon in terms of resistance to a dictator who seeks to dominate the world.[11] The film was intended to parallel the current situation in Europe and was intended as propaganda at a time before the attack on Pearl Harbor when the United States was still formally neutral. … Stars Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were newlyweds at the time of filming and were considered a “dream couple.” …

While That Hamilton Woman was marketed as historical romance, its subtext falls into the “war propaganda” category.[16] In July 1941, the isolationist group America First Committee (AFC) targeted That Hamilton Woman and three other major Hollywood feature films (The Great Dictator, Chaplin/United Artists, 1940; Foreign Correspondent, Wanger/United Artists, 1940; The Mortal Storm, MGM, 1940) as productions that “seemed to be preparing Americans for war.” …

Critical sources usually point out that That Hamilton Woman was Winston Churchill’s favorite film.[19][Note 1] In her research on the subject, film historian Professor Stacey Olster reveals that at the time the film was made, Alexander Korda’s New York offices were “supplying cover to MI-5 agents gathering intelligence on both German activities in the United States and isolationist sentiments among makers of American foreign policy.”[20] According to Anthony Holden, Olivier’s biographer, That Hamilton Woman “became Exhibit A in a case brought against Korda by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Committee had accused him of operating an espionage and propaganda center for Britain in the United States—a charge Korda only escaped by virtue of the fact that his scheduled appearance before the committee on December 12, 1941 was preempted by the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor five days earlier”.

The New York Times review is mixed, but this stood out:

Nelson is made to appear the great and important man that he was, with some especially timely opinions about dictators who would desire to invade England and “tear down that which other men have built up.”