Neo-Lysenkoism, IQ, and the press

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Bernard D. Davis looked at Neo-Lysenkoism, IQ, and the press after Stephen J. Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man gained so much popular acclaim:

He personalizes his expository writing in a breezy, self-deprecating manner, and he comes across as warm-hearted, socially concerned, and commendably on the side of the underdog. Hence he is able to present scientific material effectively to a popular audience — a valuable contribution, and a public service, as long as his scientific message is sound.

It is therefore not surprising that Gould’s history of the efforts to measure human intelligence, The Mismeasure of Man, received many glowing reviews in the popular and literary press, and even a National Book Critics Circle award. Yet the reviews that have appeared in scientific journals, focusing on content rather than on style or on political appeal, have been highly critical of both the book’s version of history and its scientific arguments. The paradox is striking. If a scholar wrote a tendentious history of medicine that began with phlebotomy and purges, moved on to the Tuskegee experiment on syphilitic Negroes, and ended with the thalidomide disaster, he would convince few people that medicine is all bad, and he would ruin his reputation. So we must ask: Why did Gould write a book that fits this model all too closely? Why were most reviewers so uncritical? And how can non-scientific journals improve their reviews of books on scientific aspects of controversial political issues?


Unfortunately, the approach that Gould has used to combat racism has serious defects. Instead of recognizing the value of eliminating bias, his answer is to press for equal and opposite bias, in a virtuous direction — not recognizing the irony and the danger of thus subordinating science to fashions of the day. Moreover, as a student of evolution he might have been expected to build on a profound insight of modern genetics and evolutionary biology: that the human species, and each race within it, possesses a wide range of genetic diversity. But instead of emphasizing the importance of recognizing that diversity, Gould remains locked in combat with a prescientific, typological view of heredity, and this position leads him to oppose studies of behavioral genetics altogether. As the reviewer for Nature stated, The Mismeasure of Man is “a book which exemplifies its own thesis. It is a masterpiece of propaganda, researched in the service of a point of view rather than written from a fund of knowledge.”

In effect, we see here Lysenkoism risen again: an effort to outlaw a field of science because it conflicts with a political dogma. To be sure, the new version is more limited in scope, and it does not use the punitive powers of a totalitarian state, as Trofim Lysenko did in the Soviet Union to suppress all of genetics between 1935 and 1965. But that is not necessary in our system: A chilling atmosphere is quite sufficient to prevent funding agencies, investigators, and graduate students from exploring a taboo area. And such Neo-Lysenkoist politicization of science, from both the left and the right, is likely to grow, as biology increasingly affects our lives-probing the secrets of our genes and our brain, reshaping our image of our origins and our nature, and adding new dimensions to our understanding of social behavior. When ideologically committed scientists try to suppress this knowledge they jeopardize a great deal, for without the ideal of objectivity science loses its strength.

Because this feature of science is such a precious asset, the crucial lesson to be drawn from the case of Stephen Jay Gould is the danger of propagating political views under the guise of science. Moreover, this end was furthered, wittingly or not, by the many reviewers whose evaluations were virtually projective tests of their political convictions. For these reviews reflected enormous relief: A voice of scientific authority now assures us that biological diversity does not set serious limits to the goal of equality, and so we will not have to wrestle with the painful problem of refining what we mean by equality.

In scientific journals editors take pains to seek reviewers who can bring true expertise to the evaluation of a book. It is all the more important for editors of literary publications to do likewise, for when a book speaks with scientific authority on a controversial social issue, the innocent lay reader particularly needs protection from propaganda. Science can make a great contribution toward solving our social problems by helping us to base our policies and judgments upon reality, rather than upon wish or conjecture. Because this influence is so powerful it is essential for such contributions to be judged critically, by the standards of science.

Children in the snow

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Military sci-fi writer John Ringo grew up in 23 foreign countries, where his father worked as a civil engineer, including Iran before the fall of the Shah. He shared this story with an audience at LibertyCon in Chattanooga. It’s about Children in the Snow:

January of the first year I was there. I was ten years old. My father is working in Abadan, we were living in Teheran. He would work down there for three weeks, then come back to Teheran for a week, back and forth.

My mother decided that we were going to go down and visit my dad in Abadan. And we were going to take the train. It was winter, and Iran has more snow than you would expect. It’s a lot like Utah, actually. The weather was very, very cold. As a matter of fact, that year, right around Christmas, it had snowed so heavily that the roof of the airport collapsed from the snow. And I had to go upstairs and shovel the flat top of the building. Until I couldn’t move any more and we got an Ash Kali. And I’m not even going to explain what an Ash Kali is… just “day laborer.”

The train went down overnight. And, at one point, we were stopped on a siding and I woke up in the middle of the night, because the movement had stopped. And I kind of got out to look around, and we were in this upland valley in the Zagros Mountains. It was one of those nights that was so cold that you could see the trees cracking. There were these leafless poplar trees, and snow, and you kind of see a village off in the distance. The cold poured off the window.

While I was out there, I noticed some movement. And my mom had told me, and it was true, that they still had train robberies. So I was like “Cool! It’s bandits! What am I going to do?” I was an adventurous ten-year-old kid, right? Ooh, maybe bandits are going to be boarding.

But it wasn’t bandits. It was women and children in rags… who were going along the train track, picking up coal and rice and wheat that had fallen off the train… so they would have a little bit of heat, and a little bit of food, to make it through another day.

That image was, you can call it childhood trauma, if you like. And every time that I see certain directions, I realize that we’re heading in the direction… we are either headed towards children in the snow, or we are headed away from children in the snow. So at a certain level, everything that I do… is to try to make a world where the only reason that children go out into the snow is to play.

Leftists should appreciate The Case Against Education

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Bryan Caplan argues that there are many results in The Case Against Education that leftists should appreciate:

1. Lots of workers — especially less-educated workers — are paid less than they’re worth.  If signaling is important, there are bound to be numerous “diamonds in the rough” — good workers who are underpaid because they lack the right credentials to convince employers of their quality.

2. Lots of workers — especially more-educated workers — are paid more than they’re worth.  Again, if signaling is important, there are bound to be lots of bad workers who are overpaid because they obtained misleadingly strong credentials.

3. A lot of education is meaningless hoop-jumping.  Campus radicals have long accused the education system of imposing an irrelevant, backward-looking, elitist curriculum on hapless kids.  I say they’re right.

4. The education market is inefficient.  In signaling models, education has negative externalities.  My story therefore implies a serious market failure, where self-interest leads students to pursue more education than socially optimal.

5. Locked-in Syndrome.  Due to conformity signaling, the market for education isn’t just inefficient; it’s durably inefficient.  The education market doesn’t just fail; it durably fails.

6. The government’s “ban” on IQ testing is grossly exaggerated, and does next to nothing to explain employers’ reliance on credentials.  While the Griggs case nominally imposes near-insurmountable hurdles on IQ employment testing (as well as virtually every hiring method), it is cursorily enforced.  Lots of U.S. employers admit they use IQ testing, and the expected legal costs of doing so are tiny.

7. Credential inflation is rampant.  Technological change explains only a small fraction of the evolution of the modern labor market.  The popular perception that workers need far more education to get the same jobs their parents and grandparents had is deeply true.

8. Working your way up takes ages.  While there’s good evidence that worker ability raises pay, the process takes many years.  If you’re smart but uncredentialed, even a decade of work experience isn’t enough to fully catch up.

9. In many ways, the labor market used to be better for people from poor and working-class families.  Sure, average living standards are much higher today than in 1950.  But in 1950, there was far less stigma against high school dropouts, and very little stigma against workers who didn’t go to college.  Moderns who look at college graduates from poor families and see “social justice” are neglecting the troubles of the massively larger number of kids from poor families who never get college degrees.

10. Forcing middle-class aspirations on everyone causes misery and failure for poor and working-class kids.  Lots of kids loathe school.  They’re bored out of their minds, and humiliated by teachers’ endless negative feedback.  Such kids disproportionately come from poor and working-class families.  But since the middle- and upper-classes control the curriculum, they’ve stubbornly moved to a “college-for-all” approach to school — and turned vocational education into an afterthought.  The result: Most poor and working-class kids endure thousands of sad hours, then leave school unprepared for either jobs or college.

The manner of their arrival was unscripted

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

On Friday 11th June 1999, at the headquarters of KFOR, the NATO army being assembled to act as peacekeepers in Kosovo, British Lieutenant General Mike Jackson, KFOR’s commander, and US Navy Admiral Jim Ellis, Commander-in-Chief of all Allied Forces in Southern Europe, met in a run down shoe factory just outside of Skopje, Macedonia. General Jackson’s men would begin to cross the border into Kosovo the next day — but it looked like someone else might beat them to the punch:

At about 10:35, the two men turned on one of the TVs in the operations room and tuned it to CNN to see how the press was reporting that breakthrough. What they saw instead amazed them. There, on the screen, were pictures of a column of about 250 troops and vehicles advancing out of Bosnia, with KFOR painted hastily on them. The voiceover helpfully explained that this was the Russian contingent of KFOR, which their sources said was heading to the Kosovan capital, Pristina.

This was news to both Ellis and Jackson — because KFOR didn’t have a Russian contingent.

“It was fair to say the manner of their arrival was unscripted.” Jackson commented later.

Before the two men could properly digest this, the main phone in the operations room began to ring. Simultaneously, the men realised this probably meant that the one person they didn’t want to see this footage yet almost certainly had.

When they heard the voice on the other end of the phone, this was confirmed.

“General Jackson.” Said Wes Clark, US General and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR). “You will secure Pristina Airport before the Russians arrive.”

The little green men have been at this a while.

Premodern and prenationalist

Friday, April 20th, 2018

India seems postmodern and postnationalist, Steve Sailer notes, but it might be more accurately called premodern and prenationalist:

India is the land of diversity, which is another word for inequality. India is kind of a subcontinental-scale version of a Democratic-ruled American city, such as Baltimore, where world-class talent such as Johns Hopkins resides side by side with intractable social problems.

India puts much of its effort into higher education, while allowing its mass schooling to be awful. Two Indian states tried the PISA test in 2009 and both scored at sub-Saharan levels, with the northern state doing even worse than the southern state. In math, Indian eighth graders performed at the level of South Korean third graders.

India’s ruling party at present is the strident Hindu nationalists under Prime Minister Modi, who are unfashionable in the West. They are trying to introduce the kind of old-fashioned patriotic indoctrination, such as playing the national anthem before movies, that Western countries adapted a century ago.

Good luck to them. You can see why they are trying so hard to instill the kind of national pride that the Chinese accomplished through violently throwing out the foreign devils. Indian infrastructure, for instance, remains shoddy, especially its shameful lack of sewage systems.

But that’s a small price to pay in the minds of American elite opinion for India rising above patriotism.

Another feature that makes our commentariat comfortable with India is that Indians don’t seem to be all that mechanically facile, perhaps especially not the priestly Brahmin caste, with whom Western intellectuals primarily interact.

And the Indians tend to be more verbally agile than the Chinese and more adept at the kind of high-level abstract thinking required by modern computer science, law, and soft major academia. Thousands of years of Brahmin speculations didn’t do much for India’s prosperity, but somehow have prepared Indians to make fortunes in 21st-century America.


Indians are made up of roughly three groups comparable to those who populated Europe since the last Ice Age. First came hunter-gatherers, then Dravidian-speaking farmers from the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East (more Turkish for Europe, more Iranian for India). Finally, the Yamnaya steppe nomads, who were more or less the Aryans of 19th-century German racist legend, invaded both vast peninsulas.


In India, however, unlike Europe, the Aryan conquerors eventually imposed a stupendously elaborate caste system dividing the subcontinent into thousands of inbreeding jatis. While the medieval European system of Three Estates (clergy, nobility, and commoners) could conceivably have some deep Aryan ties to the four main castes of Hinduism, there’s little in Europe like the jatis.

Who are the Brahmins? They appear to be the descendants of Aryan conquerors who rigged Indian culture to keep their heirs on top for thousands of years. [...] In other words, some of the racist Aryan theories of European scholars have turned out to be partially correct.

It’s homogeneous, nationalist, and modernist

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

In an age of postmodern postnationalism, China is old-fashioned, Steve Sailer suggests:

It’s homogeneous, nationalist, and modernist. China seems to have utilitarian 1950s values.

For example, Chinese higher education isn’t yet competitive on the world stage, but China appears to be doing a decent job of educating the masses in the basics. High Chinese scores on the international PISA test for 15-year-olds shouldn’t be taken at face value, but it’s likely that China is approaching first-world norms in providing equality of opportunity through adequate schooling.

Due to censorship and language barriers, Chinese individuals aren’t well represented in English-language cyberspace. Yet in real life, the Chinese build things, such as bridges that don’t fall down, and they make stuff, employing tens of millions of proletarians in their factories.

The Chinese seem, on average, to be good with their hands, which is something that often makes American intellectuals vaguely uncomfortable. But at least the Chinese proles are over there merely manufacturing things cheaply, so American thinkers don’t resent them as much as they do American tradesmen.

Much of the class hatred in America stems from the suspicions of the intelligentsia that plumbers and mechanics are using their voodoo cognitive ability of staring at 3-D physical objects and somehow understanding why they are broken to overcharge them for repairs. Thus it’s only fair, America’s white-collar managers assume, that they export factory jobs to lower-paid China so that they can afford to throw manufactured junk away when it breaks and buy new junk rather than have to subject themselves to the humiliation of admitting to educationally inferior American repairmen that they don’t understand what is wrong with their own gizmos.

Reich doesn’t yet have much ancient DNA from China (the Chinese government tries to limit high-tech grave-robbing to Chinese researchers), but the basics are evident. The mighty Han ethnicity, which Reich describes as “the world’s largest group with a census size of more than 1.2 billion,” originated among two separate peoples: millet farmers on the Yellow River and rice farmers on the Yangtze River.

But over the past 5,000 years or so, the two original groups have largely merged genetically into one Han race, so only a north-south cline is left.

Why? The Chinese seldom had many caste restrictions on marriage; the Emperor would assign China’s most eligible bachelors, his mandarin bureaucrats, to rule regions far from their families to cut down on nepotism; and China was gifted with excellent east-west water transport on its rivers, and augmented that with the ancient north-south Grand Canal, which runs for 1,100 miles.

That all contributed to blending together a rather genetically homogeneous nation.

This Chinese lack of diversity is out of style, and yet it seems to make it easier for the Chinese to get things done.

When the press hates you, it doesn’t matter

Monday, April 16th, 2018

It seems to Nassim Nicholas Taleb that the conventional press is dead:

And let me give you the evidence: we did an embargo on the book [Skin in the Game]. We did this for several reasons. The first one is what I call the IYI syndrome. In the past, my targets in The Black Swan were academic/finance people.

In Fooled by Randomness, the targets were rich idiots. Who — anyway — by now are poor. But — a rich idiot at the time. So,  journalists, you see, they loved it: “Someone is going against power, and it’s not us.” So phase one, they loved it. Although I criticized journalism, they said I was criticizing someone else.

In phase 2, I went against economic people who use the bell curve… and statisticians. And again, journalists cheered.

Now phase 3 — phase 4 actually — I went after the classes of people that include some people who review books. Therefore, I did not want to give them the chance to play with the book.

So we did an embargo.

What happened in London is someone managed to get a copy of the book. And sure enough, in succession, on the publication date, you had The Economist, The Financial Times, and The Guardian trying to hammer the book.

In spite of that — or maybe thanks to that — the book was the best seller in London. Now, surprisingly, the book was not reviewed in the United States. Nobody heard of it. And guess what? It was also a big surprise in the United States.

Which tells us something: When the press hates you, it doesn’t matter. It’s a very nice experiment. You can bypass conventional media by staying in the online field.

I still think the cover of the book should have been a beaver, raccoon, mink, and chinchilla all playing cards.

To have a great man for a friend seems pleasant to those who have never tried it

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

In January 2017, Ryan Holiday was offered a potential position inside the newly forming Trump administration as communications director for a cabinet member, and he surprised himself by even considering it:

In the ancient world, as is true today, navigating political chaos was a pressing dilemma. Philosophers were forced to decide whether to participate in, resist or simply endure the political rulers of their time. Socrates, the incorrigible free spirit, was a soldier in the Peloponnesian War and a citizen who lived through Athens of the Thirty Tyrants. Aristotle, who wrote brilliant works on justice, happiness and government, worked for Alexander the Great, a murderous warmonger.

Or consider the case of Seneca, a man whose political life mirrors much of the chaos of the Trump administration. In A.D. 49, the well-known writer and Stoic philosopher was recalled from exile to tutor the successor of the emperor Claudius, a promising teenager named Nero. Like many people today, Seneca entered public service with ideals mitigated by a pragmatic understanding of the reality of the politics of his time.

Although just a few generations earlier, the Stoics had been ardent defenders of the republican ideals (Cato, Seneca’s hero, famously disemboweled himself rather than live under Julius Caesar), by Seneca’s time most of these objections had become futile. As Emily Wilson, a translator and biographer of Seneca, writes: “Cicero hoped that he really could bring down Caesar and Mark Antony. Seneca, by contrast, had no hope that he could achieve anything by direct opposition to any of the emperors under whom he lived. His best hope was to moderate some of Nero’s worst tendencies and to maximize his own sense of autonomy.”

We can imagine, too, that he saw the inexperienced Nero as an opportunity to advance his own interests and influence. Only time would reveal that fusing his fate to Nero was a Faustian bargain.

Though Nero had good qualities, he was obsessed with fame and had an endless need for validation. He was also unstable and paranoid, and began to eliminate his rivals — including murdering his own mother. Was Seneca personally involved in these decisions? We don’t know. But he helped legitimize the regime with his presence, and profited from it as well, becoming one of Rome’s richest men through his 13 years of service.

Seneca was torn. To the Stoics, contributing to public affairs was a critical duty of the philosopher. Could Seneca decline to serve because he disagreed with the emperor? Could he leave a deranged Nero unsupervised? In time, Seneca would also come to the conclusion that when “the state is so rotten as to be past helping, if evil has entire dominion over it, the wise man will not labor in vain or waste his strength in unprofitable efforts.”

As Nero worsened, Seneca attempted to leave. Joining Nero’s administration was easy, but an exit was not. Nero could not afford to lose his most influential adviser, or allow the perception that someone as well known as Seneca was cutting ties with him. Seneca was granted a quiet sabbatical at Nero’s whim — the modern equivalent of a jointly issued news release.

Seneca had finally come to experience the truth of the words of the Roman poet Horace, whose work had greatly influenced him: “To have a great man for a friend seems pleasant to those who have never tried it; those who have, fear it.”


In a remarkable essay titled “On Leisure,” published after Seneca retired, the philosopher wrote in an oblique way about his own experiences: “The duty of a man is to be useful to his fellow-men; if possible, to be useful to many of them; failing this, to be useful to a few; failing this, to be useful to his neighbors, and, failing them, to himself: for when he helps others, he advances the general interests of mankind.”

Removed from the day-to-day of Rome’s geopolitics (helping the many), he seemed to have a newfound appreciation for helping the few. Seneca seemed to realize only belatedly that one can contribute to his fellow citizens in ways other than through the state — for instance, by writing or simply by being a good man at home. There is some irony in the fact that as an individual, the famous letters and essays Seneca wrote would not only have a bigger impact than his work in politics but also in time would whitewash his contributions to a horrible regime.


Conspirators began to plot against Nero’s life, and Seneca, finally accepting that the monster he had helped create needed to be stopped, appears to have participated — or covered for those who did.

The effort failed but provided Seneca an opportunity: His life up to that point had contradicted many of his own teachings, but now when Nero’s guards came and demanded his life, he would be brave and wise. The man who had written much about learning how to die and facing the end without fear would comfort his friends, finish an essay he was writing and distribute some finished pieces for safekeeping. Then, he slit his veins, took hemlock and succumbed to the suffocating steam of a bath.

Another Stoic politician, Thrasea Paetus, who had chosen to challenge Nero while Seneca had collaborated, would ironically outlive Seneca by a year. His last words before his own death sentence: “Nero can kill me, but he cannot harm me.” This line had come from Socrates.

What caused the 1968 riots?

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

MLK’s assassination kicked up a wave of riots, but why exactly?

Modern thought has a tendency toward economic reductionism, viewing every historic problem as a mechanical working-out of underlying economic processes, and every solution in those terms.

After the 1960s riots, governments leaped in with public housing and economic redevelopment programs that did little to stem the decline of riot-haunted cities. After 9/11, we heard anguished discussions about poverty and economic stagnation in the Middle East. And when the United States elected Donald Trump president, reporters circled old factory towns like vultures, feasting on images of rusted-out manufacturing plants that could be fed to readers as the “reason” behind the political upheaval.

These things do matter. But in the words of sociologist Seymour Spilerman, who did some of the seminal research on the 1960s riots, they’re “background conditions.” The economic deprivation inflicted by America’s racial caste system was real and abominable — and yet, says Spilerman, “in general, it’s not economic conditions which are the immediate precipitants of riots.”

While a general level of deprivation may make riots more likely (if for no other reason than because the poor have so little to lose), variations in economic deprivation don’t. In the 1960s, blacks were economically oppressed everywhere, but there were still places where things were better or worse. So if economic conditions lead to riots, we’d have expected to see the most civil disorder in the places with the worst hardship. But that’s not what the data show.

Nor did economic factors predict when riots broke out. After all, the 1960s were a period of unusually rapid economic progress for black Americans, thanks to anti-discrimination campaigns and the Civil Rights Act. If poverty and unemployment were driving rioters, the 1960s should have been one of the most racially peaceful decades in American history.

What did cause the riots, then? Well, rage and despair and a lot of hard-to-quantify socio-political factors. But taking them all in total, I’d sum them all up with one word: respect. Whatever our economic conditions, we also want — we need — to command a certain minimal amount of admiration from our fellow citizens.


In the late 1960s, as the legal barriers fell, the gulf between legal status and social reality may have chafed more than usual.

You are trying to escape your shame with pride

Friday, April 6th, 2018

Pride is considered not just a deadly sin but the worst deadly sin, and Scott Alexander has always been confused about this:

In his Book of Ratings, Lore Sjoberg asks pretty much the same question I would:

I’m not sure how pride works. Do you go to hell for saying “this is a pretty tasty three-bean salad I’ve made, if I do say so myself,” or do you have to say “why, I bet this is a better three-bean salad than GOD could make”? And what about self-esteem? My high school counselors were always pushing self-esteem on me. Were they pawns of the Adversary?

I’ve been watching Avatar: The Last Airbender recently, and Uncle Iroh said something that helped pride click for me:

You are trying to escape your shame with pride. But pride is not the opposite of shame. Pride is the source of shame, the other side of the same coin. It is deep humility that opposes both of them.

If I had to choose the exact passage of Lewis’ that this reminded me of, it would be the one where one of the blessed is trying to convince one of the damned to stay in Heaven, and the damned soul keeps thinking up all of these worries — for example, that as a damned spirit it’s grown ghastly and transparent, and finally the blessed soul asks “Could you, only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?”

What I’m getting from Uncle Iroh’s quote is that pride and shame are both about obsessing over yourself and your status — in the one case how great you are, in the other case how lowly you are. What he’s calling humility is thinking about something outside yourself; devoting your life to some purpose other than self-promotion.

But the spirit in Lewis’ book never answers the question, and I’m not sure what the answer is. How do you go about trying to think of something that’s not yourself? If you think “Okay, gotta get to Heaven, so I’ll start thinking about Jesus”, you’re focusing on how to get yourself to Heaven. If you think “I wanna be a nice person, so I’ll give to charity”, you’re thinking about how to make yourself nicer. I wonder to what degree this is what the Protestants mean when they say that salvation is entirely by grace: you can’t get there from here, if you’re thinking entirely about yourself there’s no way to bootstrap yourself to thinking about other things.

Am I reading this at a level of philosophical sophistication greater than that in the text itself? I don’t think so. Lewis starts off with some boring straw men (the passage with the liberal clergystrawman was particularly grating) but then he does a commendably good job of examining the hardest possible cases for his theory of self-absorbedness. One of the damned souls is a mother whose son died when he was young; the mother spent the rest of her life mourning the son in the worst possible ways: refusing to do anything happy or fun, telling all her living children they could never live up to the dead son’s example, chiding anyone who acted happy as being insensitive to her misery. And so she went to Hell. It sounds harsh to send someone to Hell for being excessively sad that their son died, but Lewis did a good job showing how what looked like caring about another person (the son) was really self-absorbedness: trying to prove to everyone how righteous and sensitive she was and give herself an entitled position as the Poor Grieving Mother. She had built an identity as a Wronged and Bereaved Person, and she continued mourning not out of love for her son but in order to protect that identity. Lewis’ mantra that you have to shed your identities in order to become enlightened blessed was a constant theme, and the mother went to Hell not for loving her son but for loving her identity as the Wronged and Bereaved Person, which was in a way a sort of pride.

I interviewed at another psychiatric hospital yesterday, and we were discussing some of the cases there, and one thing that struck me was the similarity of Lewis’ idea of pride to the psychological idea of the defense mechanism. You have something bad happen to you — some threat to your self-esteem — and instead of rolling with it and saying “Yeah, I guess I’m not quite as great as I thought” you come up with some narrative that preserves your self-esteem. One of Lewis’ characters in Divorce is a good example: he was a poet, he wasn’t successful right away, so he decided he was a soul too pure for this world and that everyone else saw his inherent goodness and envied him and was in a conspiracy against him and that’s why they were mean to him. Or when some of the damned first found themselves in Hell, instead of admitting they had made a mistake they told themselves that because they had their freedom there and didn’t have to worship God, it was the real Heaven, and the people in the place above who said they were in Heaven were just deluded goody-goodies trying to sound better than everyone else. Or another guy who had known a criminal in life, found the (repentant) criminal in Heaven, and then went back to Hell in a huff because going to Heaven would legitimize the system that said a criminal got better treatment than upstanding law-abiding citizens like himself. It helps clarify an idea I wrote in another article, that “people aren’t just seeking status, they’re seeking the ability to believe that they have status.”

In Lewis’ Hell, the reason people don’t choose to go to Heaven even though the gates are open is that they’d have to abandon their defense mechanisms. They’d have to admit that there’s no conspiracy of jealous people against them and maybe they just weren’t that good a poet. Or that they’re in Hell because they were bad people, not because Hell is super awesome.

It has nothing to do with making good three-bean salads. Lewis’ Hell is full of people who are too proud to admit they were wrong.

I think I’m good at admitting I’m wrong in philosophical debates, but The Great Divorce made me realize how terrible I am at it in my personal life and in my quarrels. Once I had a good idea what pride was and what to look for, it was depressingly easy to find it in myself.

The old Robert E. Howard version is actually pretty much what happened

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here addresses some fascinating questions of prehistory, and reviewing it gives Steve Sailer the opportunity to repeat what he’s found in his own reading:

For example, India played a large role in the development of European conceptions of race. In 1786 British judge William Jones delivered a lecture in Calcutta suggesting that Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin were all descended from the same lost language, a ghost tongue now called Proto-Indo-European.

Jones went on to hypothesize that an ancient invasion of Dravidian-speaking India by Proto-Indo-European-speaking Aryans from Iran could help explain the curious distribution of language, skin color, and caste within the Hindu world today.


Hitler thus culturally appropriated the Hindu swastika.

Since 1945, the notion of Aryan invaders has been unsurprisingly unpopular.

In Europe, anthropologists have promoted the “pots not people” theory to argue that trade and changes in fashion must explain why Corded Ware pots suddenly showed up all over Europe about 4,900 years ago. (So did battle axes; indeed, early scientists called this the Battle Axe Culture. But that sounded too awesome. Hence, more recent academics renamed it after its pottery style to make these brutal barbarians sound dweebier and thus less interesting to boys.)

In India, the notion of Hindu culture as a giant conspiracy by Aryan invaders to enshrine their descendants at the top of the social order for the rest of eternity perhaps struck a little too close to home.

But Reich’s laboratory has found that the old Robert E. Howard version is actually pretty much what happened. Conan the Barbarian-like warriors with their horse-drawn wagons came charging off the Eurasian steppe and overran much of Europe and India.


Much more acceptable to Indian intellectuals than the idea that ancient conquerors from the Russian or Kazakhstani steppe took over the upper reaches of Indian culture has been the theory of Nicholas B. Dirks, the Franz Boas Professor of History and Anthropology at Columbia, that the British malignantly transformed diverse local Indian customs into the suffocating system of caste that we know today.

Now, though, Reich’s genetic evidence shows that caste has controlled who married whom in India for thousands of years.


This is in harmony with economic historian Gregory Clark’s recent discovery in his book of surname analysis, The Son Also Rises (Clark loves Hemingway puns), that economic mobility across the generations is not only lower than expected in most of the world, but it is virtually nonexistent in India.

Just as you’d imagine, Reich found that the highly nationalist Chinese turn out to be genetically quite homogeneous, while the Indians are genetically diverse due to caste divvying them up into thousands of inbreeding groups.


In general, “migration” and “mixture” tend in Reich’s book to serve as euphemisms for genocide of the native males and rape of the native females. Reich lists numerous examples from around the world where genetic data show that newcomers enslaved or murdered the local men and turned their women into concubines.

Fortunately, for the past 4,500 years, “ancient Britons harbored a blend of ancestries very similar to that of present-day Britons.” The Roman conquest didn’t leave much of a genetic mark, and the later Anglo-Saxon, Danish, and Norman invaders were genetically similar enough to earlier Britons that geneticists have only recently begun to disentangle them.

After 1066, the island race enjoyed a long halcyon era without new invaders raping and pillaging. But all good things evidently have to come to an end. As Benjamin Schwarz has pointed out, “In fact, Britain today receives more immigrants in a single year than it did in the entire period from 1066 to 1950.”

Reich is upset that his genetic discoveries have more or less upheld the old German archaeologist Gustaf Koussina’s theory that Germans were descended from Aryans.

How to deal with the misery of existence and transmute it into something holy

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Jordan Peterson is very conscious of his role as just another backwater stop on the railroad line of Western Culture, Scott Alexander explains:

His favorite citations are Jung and Nietzsche, but he also likes name-dropping Dostoevsky, Plato, Solzhenitsyn, Milton, and Goethe. He interprets all of them as part of this grand project of determining how to live well, how to deal with the misery of existence and transmute it into something holy.

And on the one hand, of course they are. This is what every humanities scholar has been saying for centuries when asked to defend their intellectual turf. “The arts and humanities are there to teach you the meaning of life and how to live.” On the other hand, I’ve been in humanities classes. Dozens of them, really. They were never about that. They were about “explain how the depiction of whaling in Moby Dick sheds light on the economic transformations of the 19th century, giving three examples from the text. Ten pages, single spaced.” And maybe this isn’t totally disconnected from the question of how to live. Maybe being able to understand this kind of thing is a necessary part of being able to get anything out of the books at all.

But just like all the other cliches, somehow Peterson does this better than anyone else. When he talks about the Great Works, you understand, on a deep level, that they really are about how to live. You feel grateful and even humbled to be the recipient of several thousand years of brilliant minds working on this problem and writing down their results. You understand why this is all such a Big Deal.

You can almost believe that there really is this Science-Of-How-To-Live-Well, separate from all the other sciences, barely-communicable by normal means but expressible through art and prophecy. And that this connects with the question on everyone’s lips, the one about how we find a meaning for ourselves beyond just consumerism and casual sex.

A larger impulse to remake humanity according to various ideals

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

Jordan Peterson reminded Russ Roberts that civilization is fragile:

He reminded me that it’s easy to think that everything is going to keep going the way it always has, getting slightly better and better, not just for a small slice of the population as is often claimed, but across a wide range of the population — more income, less poverty, more access to incredible technology. I’ve been an optimist for a long time based on my understanding of innovation and competition and the way they spread prosperity throughout the world as freedom has grown.

Peterson is not an optimist. I wouldn’t call him a pessimist, but he has adopted the persona of a prophet as Scott Alexander points out. He is sounding a bell exhorting us to remember that human beings have a very dark side, that the veneer of civilization is thinner than we like to think, and that humankind’s worst excesses are often justified by the noblest of motives.


I was recently at a panel discussion of the state of political and cultural life in America. All of the panelists were from what I would call the gentle left — good people to the left of center with a different world view from my own but full of compassion and good intentions. It was something of a smugfest — how sad it is that misguided people found Trump appealing. How sad it is that the right has no interest in the left while the left has been reaching out to understand how Trump voters could possibly exist. They chalked up the stupidity of Trump voters to global capitalism that had hollowed out the middle class and driven so many sheep into the arms of the Republican wolf who would only shear them and make a lovely blanket for himself.

Despite their best efforts at anthropology, the panelists were like fish in water unable to imagine what water is. The reason the right is less interested in the left than the left is in the right, is that the left is everywhere. You don’t have to take a trip to Kentucky or to a church to understand the left. The left dominates our culture — Hollywood, the music scene, the universities. And the left can’t seem to imagine that anything they are pushing for might be problematic. In particular, the radical egalitarian project is not everyone’s cup of tea. By radical egalitarian agenda, I mean equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity. Or that gender is a social construct.

And this brings me back to Peterson. Peterson stands athwart that radical egalitarian agenda. He’s not an elitist, particularly. But he refuses to say that 2+2 = 5. He refuses to say that gender is a choice divorced from biology, for example. But he goes further — he argues that the radical egalitarian impulse is part of a larger impulse to remake humanity according to various ideals. And he goes further still. He recognizes that this urge isn’t just unnatural. It’s dangerous.

Hell is a choice

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

The best analogy for Jordan Peterson is C.S. Lewis, Scott Alexander suggests:

Lewis believes that Hell is a choice. On the literal level, it’s a choice not to accept God. But on a more metaphorical level, it’s a choice to avoid facing a difficult reality by ensconcing yourself in narratives of victimhood and pride. You start with some problem — maybe your career is stuck. You could try to figure out what your weaknesses are and how to improve — but that would require an admission of failure and a difficult commitment. You could change companies or change fields until you found a position that better suited your talents — but that would require a difficult leap into the unknown. So instead you complain to yourself about your sucky boss, who is too dull and self-absorbed to realize how much potential you have. You think “I’m too good for this company anyway”. You think “Why would I want to go into a better job, that’s just the rat race, good thing I’m not the sort of scumbag who’s obsessed with financial success.” When your friends and family members try to point out that you’re getting really bitter and sabotaging your own prospects, you dismiss them as tools of the corrupt system. Finally you reach the point where you hate everybody — and also, if someone handed you a promotion on a silver platter, you would knock it aside just to spite them.

…except a thousand times more subtle than this, and reaching into every corner of life, and so omnipresent that avoiding it may be the key life skill. Maybe I’m not good at explaining it; read The Great Divorce (online copy, my review).


C.S. Lewis might have hated Peterson, but we already know he loathed Freud. Yet Peterson does interesting work connecting the Lewisian idea of the person trapped in their victimization and pride narratives to Freud’s idea of the defense mechanism. In both cases, somebody who can’t tolerate reality diverts their emotions into a protective psychic self-defense system; in both cases, the defense system outlives its usefulness and leads to further problems down the line. Noticing the similarity helped me understand both Freud and Lewis better, and helped me push through Freud’s scientific veneer and Lewis’ Christian veneer to find the ordinary everyday concept underneath both. I notice I wrote about this several years ago in my review of The Great Divorce, but I guess I forgot. Peterson reminded me, and it’s worth being reminded of.

The frame story of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce is sparse but cute, Scott Alexander explains in his review:

There is regular bus service from Hell to Heaven. The damned souls from Hell take a field trip to Heaven, where they meet their blessed friends and relatives. They have conversations about their past lives and about good and evil. It is revealed that any damned soul who wants to stay in Heaven is free to do so, but in the end most of them choose to get back on the bus to Hell.

There was some theological discussion, but it didn’t seem very central. Lewis pretty much said all the Christian sects were simultaneously right about everything and it was a mystery exactly how.

So the setting was a straw dystopia and the theology was hand-wavey. The book was about morality. And like most of Lewis’ writings about morality, it was really good.

Everybody’s lying about the link between gun ownership and homicide

Friday, March 30th, 2018

Everybody’s lying about the link between gun ownership and homicide:

There is no clear correlation whatsoever between gun ownership rate and gun homicide rate. Not within the USA. Not regionally. Not internationally. Not among peaceful societies. Not among violent ones. Gun ownership doesn’t make us safer. It doesn’t make us less safe. The correlation simply isn’t there. It is blatantly not-there. It is so tremendously not-there that the “not-there-ness” of it alone should be a huge news story.

Gun Murder Rate Across US States

Firearm Homicide Rate vs. Guns Per Capita