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April 28, 2017

Less intelligent people want to exclude racists from the public square

Filed under: Culture,GSS,Racism — Razib Khan @ 10:03 pm
Logit Coefficients  
  B SE(B) Probability
SEX 0.739 0.217 0.001
DEGREE -0.302 0.092 0.001
WORDSUM -0.338 0.068 0
POLVIEWS -0.078 0.078 0.317
INCOME -0.026 0.06 0.671
AGE 0.007 0.007 0.283
ATTEND 0.09 0.046 0.05
GOD -0.018 0.077 0.819
Constant 3.341 0.937 0

It’s been a while since I’ve done much GSS blogging. Part of it is that I’ve got only so much attention I can devote to things, and most of my focus has been on the area of science that I’m interested in, and one or two non-scientific topics. The second variable is that I started blogging about GSS data a long time ago (~2008), and there’s only so much interesting stuff you can talk about.

But over the past few years there have been some controversies related to speech in public spaces, and what is and isn’t acceptable. There has also been some chatter that young people today in particular are intolerant of freedom of speech. I’ve wanted to address this, so here I go.

The toleration of racists is in today’s America is like testing a boundary condition. If you are willing to tolerate racist speech if you are not a racist, then you are pretty likely to be a free speech absolutist. I am not interested in rehashing arguments, I support free speech in an absolutist sense personally. Rather, let’s look at some data.

The General Social Survey has a question up from 2014 for the variable RACEMEET that asks:

Should people prejudiced against any racial or ethnic group be allowed to hold public meetings?

The question was asked in 2010 and 2014, and 2,651 individuals answered this. The answer was converted to ordinal, so I decided to probe relationships between variables and the score of toleration through regression. Some independent variables, such as political viewpoint (POLVIEWS), were recoded in an ordinal fashion (so that “extremely liberal” = 1, “liberal” = 2, and so forth, to “extremely conservative” = 7). Others, such as age, do not require any recoding. RACEMEET itself was converted to an ordinal.

The above results suggest that political ideology does not predict your response to this question much once you account for other variables. In fact, I did a query on ideological views first, and the results indicated to me what was really going on.

1: Should definitely be allowed 39 24 17 15 22 17 20
2: Should probably be allowed 12 24 24 21 22 22 15
3: Should probably not be allowed 26 20 19 22 19 24 22
4: Should definitely not be allowed 23 32 40 43 37 38 43

As you can see moderates are relatively skeptical of allowing racists to have a public meeting. All of my analysis of the GSS indicates that moderates are not as smart as more liberal or conservative people.

Let’s go through the variables which were significant predictors above. First, sex.

Male Female
1: Should definitely be allowed 21 13
2: Should probably be allowed 22 21
3: Should probably not be allowed 20 23
4: Should definitely not be allowed 36 43

These results were expected. On the whole women tend to be more skeptical of absolutist free speech positions which allow offensive material to be promoted (women are more skeptical of allowing Communists to speak too in comparison to men, so it’s not because of the ideology of the speaker or viewpoint).

Then church attendance frequency:

Never attends church More than once a week
1: Should definitely be allowed 20 23 19 14 21 15 13 14 13
2: Should probably be allowed 21 21 27 24 13 16 26 22 20
3: Should probably not be allowed 21 17 20 18 28 24 18 24 23
4: Should definitely not be allowed 37 39 34 44 37 45 43 40 44

A modest difference.

Next, highest educational attainment:

No HS HS Some college College Graduate
1: Should definitely be allowed 7 14 11 26 32
2: Should probably be allowed 14 20 23 29 27
3: Should probably not be allowed 20 23 21 19 20
4: Should definitely not be allowed 59 43 45 26 21

The big gap here is between those with college and those without college educations.

Finally, we look at WORDSUM, which is a proxy for intelligence. It’s a ten word vocabulary test. Below in the columns are the number of answers a respondent got correct:

<5 5 6 7 8 9 10
1: Should definitely be allowed 8 10 12 16 24 30 36
2: Should probably be allowed 13 22 18 24 26 34 33
3: Should probably not be allowed 27 20 23 22 21 18 18
4: Should definitely not be allowed 52 48 47 38 29 18 12

I combined those who scored below 5 out of 10 (0-4) into one class. You can see that as score on this vocabulary test goes up, the view that racists should be allowed to meet in public goes up. It’s almost monotonic. The smartest people are more tolerant than the next smartest people who are more tolerant than the next smartest people, with the dumb being the least tolerant.

I made the below chart to illustrate this:

Often when it comes to views associated with “smart” people when you put it into some regression eduction accounts for all of the difference. In other words, the less intelligent educated have the same views as the intelligent educated, and the more intelligent but less educated have the same views as the less intelligent less educated. There are more older people who are intelligent but not educated, so it could be generational too (though in this case age does not seem to matter). A plausible hypothesis is that in many cases it is social milieu. Even if you are not bright, being in college inculcates certain values.

And college is a predictor. But these data show that even if you account for college education the brighter you are, the more likely you favor allowing tolerance for views that most people find intolerable.

April 26, 2017

The anti-“End of History and the Last Man”

Filed under: Adam K Webb,Culture,History — Razib Khan @ 6:42 pm

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man has often been misconstrued. But, it did argue for the long term trend of the ascendancy of democracy and market values. Though Fukuyama did not necessarily predict the universal dominance of Western liberalism, that is one of the corollaries many associate with The End of History and the Last Man.

About 10 years ago I read a book which in many ways stood at total odds with Fukuyama’s thesis, Beyond the Global Culture War by Adam K Webb. I was very skeptical of Webb’s thesis, but intrigued by it. So much so that I did a 10 questions with him.

With hindsight I now believe that many of Webb’s contentions are much more relevant today in 2017 than they were when he wrote Beyond the Global Culture War. Though Webb was not prescient in the details, I think he did get at the fundamental limits of the Western liberal paradigm which were beginning to be exposed in the wake of 9/11.

(note, he has a newer book, Deep Cosmopolis: Rethinking World Politics and Globalization, which I have not read)

April 25, 2017

Austin vs. Portland

Filed under: Austin,Culture,Portland — Razib Khan @ 6:12 pm

The above video is from a Portlander who is quite anti-Austin, though in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.

The issue of cross-city comparisons was on my mind for two reasons. First, Joel Kotkin wrote an article last fall in Forbes, America’s Next Great Metropolis Is Taking Shape In Texas, that friends are sharing on Facebook. Second, I’m someone who has lived in both cities (around downtown Austin and the Hawthorne neighborhood in Southeast Portland). I still travel between Texas and Oregon, and it’s pretty interesting how people react when they find out that I live in Texas or that I’m from Oregon in the other locale. Kind of a wary curiosity about my opinions (in Austin one is careful to mention one’s California days lest the wrath of the native be triggered).

In Oregon it rains gently at an angle; raincoat, not umbrella.

First thing, though the video above is kind of silly and not too serious, I do want to address one thing. Texas is not more arid than Oregon. I’m actually originally from eastern Oregon, so I have to remind people that 2/3 of the state is quite dry, whether it be semi-arid or arid. Inspection of the above map shows that a much larger portion of Oregon is extremely arid than Texas. Also, Portland gets 41 inches per year. Austin? 37. The difference is that Portland’s is frontal precipitation that is dispersed over much of the year in drizzles and overcast skies, while Austin is subject to more convective bursts. Where there are 145 sunny days in Portland per year (remember there is summer drought), there are 230 such days in Austin.

Austin combines a vertical downtown with huge expanses of quasi-suburban sprawl.

Austin still has a lower cost of living, mostly because of housing. Due to its rapid population growth, Austin’s transportation infrastructure and supply of health professionals is far inferior to Portland. But, the population growth is obviously due to an economic dynamism which Portland can’t match; unless you work at Intel it seems most educated young people in Portland are retired and working as a barista on the side (this is an exaggeration, but you get the point).

Can you name Portland’s iconic food?

I’d say Austin’s food is definitely better and cheaper. For beer, I will give the nod to Portland, which has a more well developed scene for microbrews. The same with coffee. It’s hard to compare outdoor amenities. The Pacific Northwest has real trees. The rest of the country has bushes. Austin is near the Texas hill country, but Oregon has hills, mountains, and gorges. It has Crater Lake. But because of the warm weather you can go swimming and enjoy the outdoors the whole year without much


preparation in Austin. The Colorado river in Austin is less geologically impressive than the Willamette, but there’s a lot more recreational activity because it’s warm and dry so much of the year.

A major difference between Portland and Austin is the university scene (or lack thereof). Portland State University has about half the student body of UT Austin, but its prominence within the city (and nationally) is far less than that simple quantitative measure. UT is located right north of downtown, so it’s an integral part of the Austin scene. In contrast, though PSU is located just south of downtown Portland, it is a much lower key presence. UT Austin is the flagship campus of the state university system of Texas. In contrast, PSU did not initially offer doctoral programs, and is a Research 2, a opposed to a Research 1, institution. Its roots were as a commuter school, and it still has many non-traditional students. In contrast UT Austin students are some of the most academically talented kids from all over Texas, which does not have large elite private universities, like California (Stanford and USC are both much larger than Rice).

Oregon has good beer

Finally, the arts & entertainment scene. This is really about taste obviously. Portland has a more artisanal arts scene, if that makes sense. More off the wall, homegrown, and organically and haphazardly presented. I didn’t really take advantage of it much when I lived in Portland, but honestly I’m not big into the arts scene here in Austin. But I’ve gone to shows now and then. It’s hard not to in Austin, which is crawling with musicians, and where live music is blasting up and down 6th street. But as Austin has gotten more popular and well known, it has also gotten more commercial and commoditized. National acts like Taylor Swift an Adele swing through town, and SxSW and ALC are huge draws. It’s easy to take it for granted, and honestly now it’s just part of the background furniture of my life.

Ritz beats the Baghdad

Note: I don’t have much to say about the fact that Austin is the capital of Texas. For me the main consequence of this fact is that perhaps this is one of the major reasons that the flagship university of the state system was located here (though usually it doesn’t work out like that). The Capitol is downtown, and there’s some political stuff going on there. But it’s pretty sealed off from the rest of the town. In contrast, Sacramento, probably is more affected by being the capital of California, since the city is less distinctive. And Albany is totally overshadowed by being the capital (I am naming three cities where I have actually lived at some point).

April 16, 2017

Treasure your exceptions, progress is real but not universal

Filed under: Apostasy,Atheist,Culture — Razib Khan @ 12:41 am

The beginning of How the Scots Invented the Modern World describes the execution of a man for the crime of atheism around 1700 in Scotland. More precisely, this individual was rather loud about their heresy, and that is always the problem. Silent dissent is usually tolerated. This is the last time someone was executed for this particular crime in the British Isles.

In the United Kingdom the book was more accurately titled The Scottish Enlightenment. A relatively moderate and low fuss affair, the Scottish Enlightenment gave us Adam Smith and David Hume, to name two. The point of the book is that in it one can see many of the seeds of the liberal Enlightenment more broadly in Scotland, while in the beginning of the 18th century was arguably more backward and medieval than its southern neighbor.

But the “modern world” means many different things. Mobile phone technology is ubiquitous, to the point that even the poor in developing nations have it. But a broader consumer affluence is out of reach for many. And the rights and liberties of a liberal democratic order are more an ideal than concrete existence for much of the world’s population (and you have cases such as Saudi Arabia where illiberal norms and politics merge with consumer affluence).

As you may know a young man was killed by his fellow students in Pakistan for the crime of blasphemy a few days ago. Whether he was an atheist or a free thinker, or a skeptic more generally, can be hard to ascertain. But the critical aspect is that he was killed in broad daylight by a mob. He was lynched. This being 2017, you can watch a video of the killing, and hear his screams as he is murdered in front of a crowd.

One aspect people have been noticing is that this was a killing enabled by majority and consensus opinion. Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan is a public university, not a cloistered madrassa or a branch of the Red Mosque network. You can’t blame ISIS or some crazy jihadi network. These were university students.

Pakistan has a population of 182 million. The United States around 300 million. I understand that Americans believe we are the future. That the rest of the world is the exception. But how long will that be? Perhaps the arrow of history is more a circle?

April 14, 2017

Modernity is not magic with Muslims

Filed under: Culture,Islam,Religion — Razib Khan @ 10:06 am

There are many reasons I have become very skeptical of the media over the years. Though I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theory paradigms, it is obvious that the mainstream media often combines fidelity to precise narratives with a lack of detailed knowledge about the topics they are covering. In other words, they’re stenographers with an agenda. When you don’t know the topic they are expositing upon they can seem quite persuasive. But when you do know the topic they are addressing the emperor can be revealed to be naked. Naturally this warrants concern in most people who observe this, as if they are catching errors in the matrix.*

One area that this problem crops often for me is in regards to media coverage of Islam and and the Middle East. Most reporters don’t seem to really know much about their beat in a deep sense, so they are superficially taking in facts and putting them through coarse interpretative filters.

To name names, David Kirkpatrick covers the Middle East for The New York Times. I read his stuff, and he is not a bad journalist, but he clearly has no deep familiarity with the history of the Middle East to the details of Islam. His work is like a pop-tart; sweet, temporarily filling, but long on a sugar-rush and short on robustness substance. For example, he can talk about a contrast between peaceful Sufis and Islamist militants Libya, without knowing that Sufi orders were often militant organizations, and that Libyan independence after World War II was spearheaded by a militant Sufi order.

But readers of The New York Times “know” that Sufis are peaceful. So for prose contrast it makes sense that Kirkpatrick would bring that up. Never mind that this is so reductive to be useless in terms of getting people a better picture of reality.

In the interests of adding context, let me add something to the story about FGM in Michigan. A Dr. Jumana Nagarwala is accused of practicing FGM on young girls. Though it is not emphasized in the American media (because it wouldn’t mean much), it seems she is from the Dawoodi Bohra of Ismailis. In India the Bohra community is well known, as it is a very distinct group from the majority of Muslims, who are Sunni, and even most Shia. Its origins seem to be among the mercantile castes of the Gujarat coast.

I have some “book learning” about this sect under my belt because I read Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity among the Daudi Bohras about 15 years ago on the recommendation of my friend Aziz Poonawalla, who is a member of this community. Mullahs on the Mainframe was topical in the post-9/11 era because it seemed to depict a community which was both modern and religiously orthodox and observant, with fewer tensions being a minority in the West than other groups of Muslims. I don’t want to rehash that line of argument too much; descriptively it is correct that Daudi Bohras are a well behaved minority who attain success, combined with adherence to traditional beliefs and practices (Daudi Bohras, like many conservative Islamists, tend to “look” obviously Muslim because of matters of grooming and dress).

But another aspect of the Daudi Bohra community is that it is one of the few in South Asia that practices FGM. I don’t know or care about the prevalence, extent, or origin of the practice. When I saw the doctors name, which seemed South Asian, I immediately suspected she was from the community (the type of headscarf seemed familiar too).

The point of this post is not to demonize the Daudi Bohra community; the vast majority of the worlds Muslims who engage in FGM are not Daudi Bohra. The Shafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence is the big offender in terms of numbers. Indonesian Sunnis are Shafi, so that nation often praised for its tolerant version of Islam, has a very high proportion of FGM. Rather, it is to point out that the neat narrative frameworks we prefer are often not descriptively correct nor predictively useful. Since 9/11 rather than a more complex and nuanced view of Islam it seems that opinion leaders have been converging upon the idea that the religion is either with the angels or the devils, rather than a man-made thing which occupies the area in the middle.

The reliance on theories and heuristics which appeal to our sensibilities as right and true misleads in many ways. The arc of history bends toward justice, but the path is winding. The Protestant Reformation was rooted in large part on the more literate and well off classes, and aimed to rid corruption from the Christian church. In the process it unleashed horrible intolerance, cultural genocide, and conflicts which resulted in tens of millions of deaths. Not taking a view on the Reformation as a whole, it is clear that its consequences are not so simply integrated into the Whig version of history when taken in full.

Ultimately we need to rush less quickly toward our preferred conclusions, which align neatly with our prior models. Rather, we need to explore the sideways and what we think are certainly dead-ends, because sometimes those dead-ends will open up startling new landscapes (by the way, I think the “rationalist” community is much better at this than the general thinking public, though that’s not saying much).

* When I was in grad school an acquaintance mentioned this in relation to Jonah Lehrer before his exposure. Lehrer was persuasive whenever he was talking about a topic he wasn’t familiar with, but was clearly out of his depth whenever it approached something he was familiar with.

April 12, 2017

$150,000 only gets you so far….

Filed under: Cost of living,Culture — Razib Khan @ 10:31 pm

The above salary range seems accurate. I know newly minted PhDs in computer science may “only” get in the low $100,000 range at Google. So a salary in the mid six-figure range is totally reasonable with a few years of experience.
Recently a friend who is an engineer at Google in Mountain View got a transfer to Boulder, where they bought a house. He’d been trying to buy in Mountain View for a while…but that just wasn’t happening. Boulder isn’t cheap, with 178% the national average in cost of living. But it’s nothing compared to Mountain View, where the average housing cost is 7.5 times the national average.

What’s striking to me is the high variation in cost of living in American urban areas:

Overall cost of living
San Francisco 272
New York City 180
Seattle 177
Boston 170
Los Angeles 166
San Diego 166
Portland 140
Denver 128
Miami 123
Austin 117
Chicago 111
Minneapolis 109
Houston 102
Atlanta 102
Raleigh 102
Philadelphia 100
Phoenix 99
New Orleans 96
Dallas 95
Baltimore 90
Pittsburgh 88
Cincinnati 86
St. Louis 85
Des Moines 83
Memphis 74
Detroit 73

April 11, 2017

Coffee is not measured by its price

Filed under: Coffee,Culture — Razib Khan @ 10:48 pm

An interesting piece on a $1 coffee joint, Has Coffee Gotten Too Fancy?:

Mr. Konecny’s ambitions for Yes Plz go beyond selling a high-quality cup of coffee at that magic price point, though he knows that it sends a powerful message. What he wants to do is shift the very nature of coffee culture. He has no patience for what he calls the “culinary burlesque” of pour-over bars, with their solemn baristas and potted succulents. “It’s dress-up,” he said.
Those settings and presentations, he said, send the wrong message: that good coffee must also be expensive and fetishized.

I drink a lot of coffee. At work I’m known to drink 40 or 60 ounces in a day. I also like specialty coffees, dating back to when I lived in Portland and patronized the Stumptown on Belmont.

As someone who drinks black coffee I like the idea of a no frills establishment. But I also feel the piece’s opposition between cheap good coffee and expensive faux-good coffee is a bit much. In How Pleasure Works Paul Bloom elaborates on something that we know intuitively: it is not always the sensory aspect of how something makes you feel, but also the intellectual aspect of what something is in a more contextual and broad sense. I would pay a lot for legitimate Falernian wine without even knowing what it tastes like. To drink like Cicero would be enough.

Yes, sometimes you want the $1 coffee. But sometimes you want the burlesque experience.

Living as Loki, friendship before Ragnarok

Filed under: Culture,History — Razib Khan @ 9:45 pm

In Norse mythology Loki is a trickster frost giant who also plays a god. His relationship to the Aesir is complicated, but at the end of days when the world is nearing its final hours he is fated to stand against his erstwhile companions. I do not know much about the Marvel comics adaptation of Loki, though I have seen the films, and this element of alternating between good and evil is evident onscreen.

Does the fact that Loki is destined to stand against Odin negate all their experiences together? Is the full measure of a life the final act? I don’t think so.

Today we live in an age when he center is not holding. Politics and public life are polarizing. Apocalyptic language is in the air. Barack Obama was a socialist, a Communist, a Muslim. Now Donald J. Trump is the worst, thing, ever. And so on. There are two teams, and if you do not choose a team, you have lost the game before it is played. My pessimism about the possibility for a reinvigoration of a broadly liberal democratic order are for another post.

Recently my friend Heather Mac Donald wrote about her experience with protesters at Claremont McKenna. Her description of the student body’s hysterics are almost anodyne in how predictable they behaved. Rather, I was struck by how much invective Heather directed toward the silent faculty:

…Those professors also maintain that to challenge that claim of ubiquitous bigotry is to engage in “hate speech,” and that such speech is tantamount to a physical assault on minorities and females. As such, it can rightly be suppressed and punished. To those faculty, I am indeed a fascist, and a white supremacist, with the attendant loss of communication rights.

Of course not all faculty have abandoned classical liberal ideals. Nicholas Christakis and Alice Dreger are by any definition progressive liberals, but also adhere stridently to ideals of freedom of thought and speech. But both have been subject to abuse and personal attacks. They clearly fight on not because they are assured of victory, but because they believe in the justness of their cause.

Many of my liberal friends express some exasperation that I identify as conservative. But the fact of the matter is that the far Left writes off much of this country, and many of my friends, and arguably me, as a white supremacist and a fascist. Ours are not thoughts worth having in the eyes of the heirs of repressive tolerance. My liberal friends, being broad minded an of a tolerant bent, do not have sympathy with repression of thought. But at the end of the days when sides are taken what side will they choose?

I think here of an academic who is jaded and contemptuous of the infantile antics of the campus Left. He is worried that their provocations will result in the academy being targeted by the political Right. He does not relish conflict. Like me, he wants to be left alone to explore the topics which interest him. We share a mutual interest in evolutionary genetics. But, when and if the fight comes he does admit he must march with his colleagues, no matter how loony, and defend his side.

We both wish the world were not this polarized. But what we wish is not always what is. But until Ragnarok we can continue to drink beer and fight our battles shoulder to shoulder as friends. Neither of us want the Ragnarok of this liberal democratic republic to come, and I still hope it doesn’t. But we both understand that on that day we’ll be on different sides. And I’m OK with that. Life is not perfect, we do the best we can.

Addendum: Cool trailer:

April 8, 2017

Just because it’s not hereditary does not mean you can affect it

Filed under: Behavior Genetics,Culture,Genetics — Razib Khan @ 10:11 pm

A comment below from John:

Love to see a post about which human traits worth caring about are notable for having little or no hereditary component. It is all good and well to know what we cannot change, but it makes more sense to focus personally and as a parent on those things that aren’t genetically preordained.

This is a common sentiment I’ve seen. If you haven’t read The Nurture Assumption, please do so. I’d say a substantial reason I think that The Blank Slate is a good book is that Steven Pinker promoted Judith Rich Harris’ work.

With that out of the way: the implication in the comment above is that hereditary traits are the ones you have least control over, so you should focus on the non-hereditary traits. To some extent there is truth in this. Micronutrients are important. You don’t want to turn you children into cretins.

But a major problem with the idea that we can impact environmental impacts on characteristics is that on many traits we don’t know what those environmental impacts are. You can take a behavior genetic model and come to the following conclusion: within the population 50% of the variation is due to genes, 40% of the variation is due to non-shared environment, and 10% of the variation is due to shared environment (parents). We don’t really usually know what the non-shared environment means. It might be just developmental noise. It might be epistatic genetic effects. Or, in relation to behavior, it might be peer group, as Judith Rich Harris asserts.

We just don’t know. What that means is that the hereditary components are what you have legitimate effective control over through mate choice. And shared environment. These two combined are not nothing. And of course there is the impact of nation or community on the environmental in which propensities are expressed.

Addendum: The non-shared environmental variance was once explained to me as a “noise” factor. Just to give you a sense of how well we understand it.

“Rationalists” are the worst, except for all the alternatives

Filed under: Culture,Less Wrong,Rationalists — Razib Khan @ 9:41 pm

A slight controversy about the “rationalist” community has surfaced on the internet recently. Scott Alexander can point you to the appropriate places to bone up on what’s going down, as well as a relatively short apologia for his community.

First, the self-description of the community as “rationalists” is in my opinion a big problem. It’s rather like the aught era attempt to redefine the atheist “community” as “brights”. No one thinks of themselves as a “dim,” and unless you are a little too into your Nietzsche there aren’t that many self-described irrationalists.

I became socially close to many people in the Bay area rationalist community in the late 2000s. Many I still consider friends. I won’t belabor my differences with them in terms of optics and marketing, as well as substantive critiques of the role of group-think in any human community, as well as strong disagreements in relation to inferences made about what is and isn’t “rational” (there was for some time a vogue for polyamory in this subculture, which some justified as the rational position; I was skeptical).

At the end of the day I put less emphasis on reflective analysis in dictating the course of my life at any given moment than self-described rationalists. Reasonable, even rational, people may disagree on these issues.

But I do have to say that you don’t get a good sense of the community from blog posts or media reports. Meeting together in social situations the group dynamic is far different than most other congregations of humans you’ll encounter. The rationalists I know are some of the most open-minded and non-judgmental people you could meet. They are less likely than the average bear to write up screeds on the internet. They entertain alternative hypotheses with the appropriate level of cold-bloodedness, while attempting to work out the implications of their utilitarian ethics to their logical conclusions.

This does not mean that rationalists are not horrible people. They are people, so many are horrible. They are simple less horrible, in my experience. They may not achieve the state of “less wrong,” but in general they achieve the state of less unhinged and less emotive.

Some of this is due to striving toward a particular set of values and community norms. But some of this is I believe because the community attracts a particular personality profile. In Simon Baron Cohen’s classic typology the rationalist community is highly enriched for systemizers. The rationalists entertain ideas which might strike normal people as bizarre, but that’s part of the method to their madness. Because their personality profiles are sharply differentiated from normal distributions many of the social dynamics that any behavioral economic game would find in other test populations might not apply among the rationalists.

Note: I believe rationalists do engage in less “signalling” dynamics than you’d expect, because they’re less keyed in to cues from other humans, including those in their own community.

Why only one migrant per generation keeps divergence at bay

The best thing about population genetics is that because it’s a way of thinking and modeling the world it can be quite versatile. If Thinking Like An Economist is a way to analyze the world rationally, thinking like a population geneticist allows you to have the big picture on the past, present, and future, of life.

I have some personal knowledge of this as a transformative experience. My own background was in biochemistry before I became interested in population genetics as an outgrowth of my lifelong fascination with evolutionary biology. It’s not exactly useless knowing all the steps of the Krebs cycle, but it lacks in generality. In his autobiography I recall Isaac Asimov stating that one of the main benefits of his background as a biochemist was that he could rattle off the names on medicine bottles with fluency. Unless you are an active researcher in biochemistry your specialized research is quite abstruse. Population genetics tends to be more applicable to general phenomena.

In a post below I made a comment about how one migrant per generation or so is sufficient to prevent divergence between two populations. This is an old heuristic which goes back to Sewall Wright, and is encapsulated in the formalism to the left. Basically the divergence, as measured by Fst, is proportional to the inverse of 4 time the proportion of migrants times the total population + 1. The mN is equivalent to the number of migrants per generation (proportion times the total population). As the mN become very large, the Fst converges to zero.

The intuition is pretty simple. Image you have two populations which separate at a specific time. For example, sea level rise, so now you have a mainland and island population. Since before sea level rise the two populations were one random mating population their initial allele frequencies are the same at t = 0. But once they are separated random drift should begin to subject them to divergence, so that more and more of their genes exhibit differences in allele frequencies (ergo, Fst, the between population proportion of genetic variation, increases from 0).

Now add to this the parameter of migration. Why is one migrant per generation sufficient to keep divergence low? The two extreme scenarios are like so:

  1. Large populations change allele frequency very slowly due to drift, so only a small proportion of migration is needed to prevent them from diverging
  2. Small populations change allele frequency very fast due to drift, so a larger proportion of migration is needed to prevent them from drifting

Within a large population one migrant is a small proportion, but drift is occurring very slowly. Within a small population drift is occurring fast, but one migrant is a relatively large proportion of a small population.

Obviously this is a stylized fact with many details which need elaborating. Some conservation geneticists believe that the focus on one migrant is wrongheaded, and the number should be set closer to 10 migrants.

But it still gets at a major intuition: gene flow is extremely powerful and effective at reducing differences between groups. This is why most geneticists are skeptical of sympatric speciation. Though the focus above is on drift, the same intuition applies to selective divergence. Gene flow between populations work at cross-purposes with selection which drives two groups toward different equilibrium frequencies.

This is why it was surprising when results showed that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and farmers in Europe were extremely genetically distinct in close proximity for on the order of 1,000 years. That being said, strong genetic differentiation persists between Pygmy peoples and their agriculturalist neighbors, despite a long history of living nearby each other (Pygmies do not have their own indigenous languages, but speak the tongue of their farmer neighbors). In the context of animals physical separation is often necessary for divergence, but for humans cultural differences can enforce surprisingly strong taboos. Culture is as strong a phenomenon as mountains or rivers….

April 2, 2017

Why are so many of us “star-men”

Filed under: Anthroplogy,Culture,R1a,R1b,Star phylogenies — Razib Khan @ 11:32 pm

Seven years ago I wrote 1 in 200 men direct descendants of Genghis Khan. It’s the most popular post I’ve ever written. As of now there have been 630,000 “sesssions” (basically visits) on that page alone. I suspect that many more have read my summary of The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols, the original paper on which it was based, than that paper (though it’s a good paper, you should read it).

At the time I wrote that people often asked me if I was a descendent of Genghis Khan. That seems unlikely on the paternal lineage. My Y chromosome is R1a1ab2-Z93. This is typically found in South Asia, and among Iranian peoples, as well as in the Altai region of western Mongolia. It is not common among Mongols though, even if it is found amongst them, likely due to gene flow from the west. The particular branch of R1a1a that I carry has been found in ancient remains from the Srubna culture of the eastern Pontic steppe. As a friend of mine might say, I am the scion of marauders from the steppe, even though not Genghiside ones. The fact that I have the last name Khan is simply a legacy of the custom whereby South Asian Muslim lineages of a particular status accrued the surname to denote their position within Islamicate civilization.

But though I am no direct descendent of Genghis, it turns out that my Y chromosome shares a similar history. The figure to the left is focused on European Y chromosomes, and at the top you see various “R” lineages. It turns out that R1b and R1a are both basically subject to the same explosive dynamics as the Genghis Khan haplotype: both exploded into star phylogenies relatively recently in time. Trees of the R1 lineages always show them to exhibit a rake-like pattern. This is due to the fact that starting from a small base they expanded so rapidly that they did not develop the intricate node-structure you see in lineages which accrued mutations at a more normal pace.

What could have caused such explosive growth? We know why Genghis Khan and his sons left so many descendents: conquest yielded social status. For many generations having a male Genghiside bloodline was highly effective as a means to gain bonus points when attempting to scale the summits of power and wealth. This was even true in the Muslim regions of Central Asia, despite Genghis Khan’s negative impact on Islamic civilization (Transoxiana arguably never recovered from this period).

We don’t have anything like the “Secret History of the Indo-Aryans” to explain the emergence of these older star phylogenies. In The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, David Anthony argues that mobile populations domesticated the horse, and used that as a killer cultural advantage to spread their Indo-European language. In his book from the 2000s Anthony argues for elite transmission of language by the Kurgan people. But more recently he has been persuaded by genetic work which suggests massive population displacements and migrations into Europe during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age.

Unfortunately the timing doesn’t work from what I can tell. The expansion of groups like the Corded Ware seem to pre-date the emergence of the steppe chariot toolkit by many centuries. It does so happen that the chariot was invented in the region where R1a1a2b-Z93 was also found to exist. So I suspect this “Scythian” R1a lineage did sweep across much of Central-South Eurasia thanks to the horse and the wheel. But a technological explanation is more difficult for the rest.

I will posit another speculative answer, stealing the idea from Snorri Sturluson. He believed that the gods that were remembered by his pagan Norse ancestors were at one point men of great renown and fame. Kings of yore. Over time they had been deified, and legends had grown up around them. Sturluson may have been right. Perhaps the Indo-European gods recollect the forefathres of R1a and R1b. What was there advantage? Perhaps it was a hierarchical stratified social structure which brooked no individualism against the interests of the lineage unit? It may be that asabiyya is worth more than a chariot?

The vast majority of Muslims believe that being gay is not morally acceptable

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Razib Khan @ 10:03 pm
“Do you personally believe that Homosexuality is….”
Morally acceptable Morally unacceptable Not a moral issue
United States 23 37 35
Britain 30 15 50
Russia 9 72 9
Turkey 4 78 12
Egypt 1 95 1
Jordan 2 95 3
Lebanon 7 80 11
Palestinian Territories 1 94 4
Tunisia 0 92 4
Israel 27 43 25
China 13 61 17
Indonesia 3 93 2
Malaysia 4 88 6
Pakistan 1 85 3
Ghana 1 98 1
Kenya 3 88 9
Nigeria 1 85 11
Senegal 3 68 26
South Africa 18 62 12
Uganda 1 93 5

Source: Global Views On Morality

For various reasons which I won’t get into there is in much of the West a developing Left-progressive/Muslim alliance. Alliances need only be situational and of the moment. But because of the nature of alliances and the feelings they endgender often one has to assert that one’s allies are somewhat different than they really are, so as to diminish the cognitive dissonance that occurs when there is deep divergence in views between allies.

One aspect that is really strange is the attempt by Left-progressives to diminish the anti-gay stance which is normative and dominant among Muslims the world over. Though it is true some Western Muslim communities are less anti-gay than the Ummah as a whole, as Muslims like to remind us there are 1.5 billion of the, and most do not live in the West. It is true there are LGBTQ Muslims. It is true that most Muslims are not extremists. But the existence of a vibrant community of LGBTQ Muslims is feasible in Western societies where Muslims are not the majority (as opposed to homosexual activity, which is common in Muslim countries). And by definition most Muslims are not extremists, but the typical Muslim in the world is basically anti-gay.

You can spend 15 seconds looking on Google. The above data are from Pew. I put in some non-Muslim nations for comparison. The fact is most of the world is anti-gay; the West is exceptional. But Muslim nations are exceptionally anti-gay.

As I don’t think there is any such thing as a religious essence I wouldn’t be surprised if Muslims change their views in the future on this issue. But, I’m kind of tired of the lying which progressives engage in with no shame on this issue (or they are deluding themselves). The anti-gay stance of Muslims the world over doesn’t mean that gay progressives shouldn’t stand up for the civil rights of Muslims in the West, even those who are anti-gay. People who deserve rights are not always people you agree with, or even people who like you personally. One of the insights of liberal democracy is that laws apply to us all, irrespective of who we are. You can defend someone’s rights without having to pretend they are someone they aren’t. But it seems today that people need to feel like one big happy family to treat each other with dignity.

Note: I know these numbers are well known .But sometimes I want to publicize them again because my Twitter feed gets tiresome.

March 29, 2017

10 Things About Roman History You Should Know

Filed under: Culture,History,rome — Razib Khan @ 9:42 pm

Since Since the earlier “10 Things” was quite popular, I thought I’d try my hand at another one on a topic I know rather well. This involves Roman history. Unfortunately, history is a less clear and distinct topic than evolutionary biology, so there may be some disagreement with the assertions below.

But here we go….

1) Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire did not have an established religion, at that point, in any way we could understand today. Rather, there were customary subsidies given to traditional cults, and favor shown to particular religions by particular emperors. The subsidies from the state coffers to pagan cults were cut off more than two generations after Constantine.

2) By the late Republic most of the “noble” families of Roman society were originally plebeian, rather than patrician, in origin. They were defined by their wealth, power, and achievements, as opposed to their blood. There were still powerful patrician lineages, such as the Julii and Claudii, by they no longer held a monopoly on the public square (Julius Caesar may have been from an old patrician line, but his mother was a Cotta, who were plebeians).

3) Most of the emperors who were “not Roman,” were thoroughly Roman. Septimius Severus, the “African emperor,” born in Libya, did come from a paternal lineage of Punic (so Phoenician) origin. But his mother descended from Italian colonists in North Africa. He was culturally a man of the Latin West.

4) At the elite level Roman culture was to some extent dual-culture, with many Latin elites cultivating aspects of Greek culture and learning. But Western (Latin) and Eastern (which usually been Greek or Hellenized non-Greek) societies remained sharply differentiated in many ways. The first emperor who may have spoken Greek as his first language, Anastasius, reigned at the end of the 5th century. Greeks dominated philosophy, while Latins dominated rhetoric.

5) Though Latin political control collapsed in Italy in 476, the cultural and economic destruction of the Italian peninsula occurred during the East Roman reconquista of the 6th century.

6) The forms of Republican Rome persisted for centuries during the imperial period. The transformation of Roman Emperors into purely naked autocrats did not occur until after the chaos of the middle 3rd century.

7) Speaking of which, the Roman system almost collapsed during the “Crisis of the Third Century”.

8) The early “bad emperors,” such as Nero or Caligula, often caused problems for the Roman elites. But the overall institutional system persisted and was minimally impacted. In contrast, Julius Caesar would almost certainly be judged to have committed genocide in Gaul were he judged by modern standards.

9) Most of the expenditure of the Roman state went to the military.

10) Romans arguably invented Western bureaucracy. Though the Roman state in was incredibly understaffed by modern standards, one consequence of the Western Empire’s fall was the collapse of tax collection in specie as opposed to kind or service.

When the gods come crashing down

Filed under: Culture,Evolution,History — Razib Khan @ 9:03 pm

Sometimes the old gods slowly fade into oblivion. Contrary to popular perception this seems likely the case for ancient paganism. The conversion of Constantine to the Christian religion began the process of a hand-off and the commanding heights of classical culture that took over a century to complete. There were punctuating moments, such as the apostasy of Justinian in the 360s, or the mostly symbolic ban on public paganism by Theodosius in the 390s (the Serapeum was destroyed by a vigilante mob). But pagans in the form of the Neoplatonic school persisted into the 6th century, while elite pagans such as Marcellinus maintained power and influence deep into the second half of the 5th century.

Call this “normal” cultural evolution. Antiquity evolved from being predominantly pagan to predominantly Christian (though a small cultured pagan minority persisted even until the Islamic conquest in the Near East, such as the Sabians of Haran).

The Reformation period was different. In a single generation one thousand years of a coherent and unified Western Christian ideology collapsed, and was replaced by something very different.

Note here that I said Western Christian ideology. The reality is that Western Christianity was never as unified or coherent as Western Christians themselves envisaged themselves to be (or aspired to be). There were episodes of hostility between particular kingdoms and the Roman papacy. Heresies such as that of the Cathars, and popular revolts with a religious tinge such as that of the Hussites. And finally, there were periods of multiple popes, which undermined the credibility of the institution of the Church in the medieval period.

But all this pales next to the magnitude and scope of the revolt against the establishment of the Western Christian church that occurred in the 1520s. Martin Luther went from being a Christian cleric within the established Church to declaring the pope the anti-Christian! Previously devout peasants in Switzerland turned on the relics and churches which they had only recently venerated, and engaged in mob iconoclasm. Whereas monarchs, such as Henry IV, ultimately compromised with the clerical estate (or, submitted), Henry VIII of England managed to destroy or subordinate the institutions of the church to his own will and pleasure.

There are many theories for why the Reformation occurred when it did. Some of them are rooted in technology, in particular the printing press. Others point to the development of proto-national identities, such as the rise of German nationalism and its leveraging by Luther against his “Roman” persecutors.

These specific issues are not interesting to me. Rather, what they point out to us that there can be cultural revolutions that occur very rapidly. One can point to the pacific post-World War II Japanese, and contrast them with the militaristic Japanese of the first half of the 20th century. Or the shift of Russia from being a conservative autocracy in the 1910s to a revolutionary society in the 1920s. But these are modern events, and moderns are liable to suggest that our own epoch is sui generis in these sorts of turnovers of values. But the Reformation shows that revolutionary changes in whole societies can occur rather rapidly even in a pre-modern context.

In other words, cultural revolution is not a derived characteristic of our species, but perhaps a very old one. The rapid expansion of the Austronesians. Or the radiation of non-African humanity. These come out of a vacuum, a cultural-demographic analog to the inflationary universe. But given enough time perhaps our species is simply subject to these sorts of explosions of creative change and innovation.

March 27, 2017

It doesn’t get better, blogging vs. YouTube and Twitter

Filed under: Blogging,Culture — Razib Khan @ 10:48 pm

Many of you know I use Twitter. It’s replaced a lot of the “link posts” I might have done in the early 2000s or so. Some have argued that Twitter cannibalized a lot of blogging, and that seems true. And that hasn’t always been for the good…there are some arguments and discussions which don’t work well on Twitter. There have been many Twitter misunderstandings which simply wouldn’t have happened in the blogging format, because of the artificiality of Twitter strips context.

Until recently I didn’t much pay attention to YouTube except for movie trailers and Games of Thrones stuff. Oh, and How it Should Have Ended. Any other YouTube I probably just found via a share on Facebook and Twitter.

But of late I have been watching some YouTube channels. I was prompted partly by the fact that after the hit piece came out on me about my incredible influence on the alt-right someone emailed me to explain that in fact the most influential people on the alt-right were on YouTube, where they spread interpretations of genetics congenial to their racialist worldview. Honestly I didn’t watch these channels for very long because:

Fathering the next generation of white non-whites

1) I don’t need genetics lectures.

2) I don’t need primers on Western history.

3) I am not concerned about white genocide, I am white genocide.

Rather, I found a channel called The Rubin Report, which had come recommended to me by my friend Sarah Haider. I agreed with the host, Dave Rubin, on most issues, and often disagreed with his guests. It made for reasonably compelling listening (I rarely watch really, but treat this stuff like a podcast). He also introduced me to a lot of different vloggers. Among the people he interviewed was someone called Roaming Millennial, an early 20s Eurasian Canadian woman with broadly center-right/classical liberal views.

I don’t mean to spotlight her, but her channel illustrates three facts:

1) Relatively short, pithy, commentaries.

2) A huge number of views.

3) Many of these vloggers are “TV-friendly” in their appearance.

Comparing traffic can be hard across years and platforms, so I’ll focus on the first and last issue. When it comes to the early generation of bloggers there are plenty who became famous on pithy quick links. But there were also long-form essayists and commenters. To give one example, Cosma Shalizi’s posts on IQ were extensively linked for many years because of their thoroughness and depth (obviously few people read everything or understood much, but the posts were there, and many at least skimmed a fair amount).

These sorts of discursive commentaries are not really possible on YouTube. From what I can tell when vloggers allow themselves to go more than 20 minutes on a single topic they start to ramble, repeat themselves, and get boring. You can’t engage in extemporaneous speaking for too long and sound like you have your shit together. The data density of blogging is potentially much higher than vlogging.

The third issue…. Many bloggers had a face for radio, and a voice for silent film. The extremely popular liberal blogger Steve Gilliard was morbidly obese, and died of illnesses related to his weight issues. But his appearance was not a big deal when he began blogging. Many of the early bloggers concealed many details of their private life, let alone their image. Similarly, a lion of the warblogging cohort, Steve Den Beste, looked to be out of central casting for “middle aged software/anime nerd.” But Den Beste became hugely influential before his retirement from blogging, which was partly triggered by health issues.

Obviously things aren’t that different. There was television in the 2000s. And many webforums existed which had a Twitter-like feel. But they are different nevertheless. Someone like Roaming Millennial could have made it on TV, but there are only so many spots for non-blondes at Fox, and in any case she speaks at a higher level of analysis than what you see in talking heads. There are many more of these vloggers than there would ever have been slots on television. This is a whole new information universe, and it’s different.

A the end of the day it makes me appreciate text, and blogging. There are newer technologies, but they aren’t better.

March 23, 2017

Your ancestry inference is precise and accurate(ish)

Filed under: 23andMe,Ancestry,Culture,Family Tree DNA,Genetics,Genomics — Razib Khan @ 6:29 am

For about three years I consulted for Family Tree DNA. It was a great experience, and I met a lot of cool people through that connection. But perhaps the most interesting aspect was the fact that I can understand the various pressures that direct-to-consumer genomics firms face from the demand side. The science is one thing, but when you are working on a consumer facing product, other variables come into play which are you not cognizant of when you are thinking of it from a point of pure analysis. I’m pretty sure that my insights working with Family Tree DNA can generalize to the other firms as well (23andMe, Ancestry, and Genographic*).

The science behind the ancestry inference elements of the product on offer is not particularly controversial or complex, but the customer aspect of how these results are received can become an intractable nightmare. The basic theory was outlined in the year 2000 in Pritchard et al.’s Inference of Population Structure Using Multilocus Genotype Data. You have lots of data thanks to better genomic technology (e.g., 300,000 SNPs). You have computers to analyze that data. And, you have scientific models of population history and dynamics which you can test that data against. The shape of the data will determine the parameters of the model, and it this those parameters that yield “your ancestry.”

In broad sketches the results make sense for most people. It’s in the finer details that the confusions emerge. To the left you see my son’s 23andMe ancestry deconvolution. The color coding is such you can tell that his maternal and paternal chromosomes have very different ancestry profiles (mostly Northern European and South Asian, respectively).

But his “Northern European” chromosomes also are more richly colored, with alternative segments denoting ancestry from different parts of Northern Europe. So in terms of proportions I am told my son is about 15 percent French and German, and 10 percent Scandinavian and 10 percent British and Irish. This is reasonable. On the other side he’s nearly 50 percent “broadly South Asian.” The balance is accounted for by my East Asian ancestry, which is correct, as my South Asian ethnicity is from Bengal, where there is a fair amount of East Asian ancestry (my family’s origin is on the eastern edge of Bengal itself).

And it is here that the non-scientific concerns of consumer genomics comes into focus. The genetic differences and distance between various South Asian groups are far higher than those between various Northern European groups. Depending on the statistic measure you use intra-South Asian variation is about one order of magnitude greater than intra-Northern European differences. This is due to geographic partitioning, the caste system, and differential admixture in South Asians between extreme diverged ancestral elements (about half of South Asian ancestry is very similar to Europeans and Middle Easterners, and half of it is extremely different, so how far you are from the 50 percent mark determines a lot).

Broadly South Asian

In Northern Europe there is very little genetic variation from the British Isles all the way the Baltic. The reason for this is historical: massive population turnover in the region 4,500 years ago means that much of the genetic divergence between the groups dates to the Bronze Age. It is this the genetic divergence, the variation, that is the raw material for the inferences and proportions you see in ancestry calculators. There’s just not that much raw material for Northern Europeans.

Broadly South Asian

Remember, the methods require lots of variation in the data as a raw input. You’re making the inference machine work real hard to produce a reasonable robust result if you don’t have that much variation. In contrast to the situation with Northern Europeans, with South Asians the companies are leaving raw material on the table, and just combining diverse groups together.

What’s going on here? As you might have guessed this is an economically motivated decision. Most South Asians know their general heritage due to caste and regional origins (though many Bengalis exhibit some lacunae about their East Asian ancestry). In contrast, many Americans of Northern European ancestry with an interest in genealogy are extremely curious about explicit proportional breakdowns between Northern European nationalities. The direct-to-consumer genomic firms attempt to cater to this demand as best as they can.

As I have stated many times, racial background is to various extents both biological and social. When it comes to the difference between Lithuanians and Nigerians the biological differences due to evolutionary history are straightforward, and clear and distinct. You can generate a phylogenetic history and perform a functional analysis of the differences. Additionally, you also have to note that the social differences exist, but are not straightforward. Like Lithuanians Nigerians of Igbo background are generally Roman Catholic, while most other Nigerians are not. The linguistic differences between Nigerian languages are great enough that it is defensible to suggest that Hausa speakers of Afro-Asiatic dialects are closer to Lithuanians in their phylogenetic history than to the dialects of the Yoruba.

A Lithuanian American

Contrast this to the situation where you differentiate Lithuanians from French. To any European the differences here are incredibly huge. The history of France, what was Roman Gaul, goes back 2,000 years. After the collapse of the West Roman Empire by any measure the people who became French were at the center of European history. In contrast, Lithuanians were a marginal tribe, who did not enter Christian civilization until the late 14th century. In social-cultural terms, due to history, the differences between French and Lithuanians are extremely salient to people of French and Lithuanian ancestry. But genetically the differences are modest at best.

If a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company tells you that you are 90 percent Northern European and 10 percent West African, that is a robust result that has a clear historical genetic interpretation. The two element’s of one’s ancestry have been relatively distinct for on the order of 100,000 years, with the Northern European element really just a proxy for non-Africans (though it is easy to drill-down within Eurasia). In contrast, notice how 23andMe, with some of the best scientists in the business, tells people they are “French-German,” and not French or German. What the hell is a “French-German”? Someone from Alsace-Lorraine? A German descendent of Huguenots? Obviously not.

“French-German” is a cluster almost certainly because there are no clear and distinct genetic differences between French and Germans. Yes, there is a continuum of allele frequencies between these two groups, but having looked at a fair number of people of French and German background in Family Tree DNA’s database I can tell you that France and Germany have a lot of local structure even among people of indigenous ancestry. Germans from the Rhineland are quite often genetically closer to French from Normandy than they are to Germans from eastern Saxony. Some of this is due to gene flow between neighboring regions, but some of this is due to cultural fluidity as to who exactly is German. It is clear that some Germans from the eastern regions are Germanized Slavs. Some Germans from the north exhibit strong affinities to Scandinavians, while Germans from Bavaria and Austria are classically Central European (whatever that means). The average German is distinct from the average French person, but the genetic clustering of the two groups is not clear and distinct.

Remember earlier I explained that the science is predicated on aligning data and models. The cultural model of Northern Europeans is conditioned on diversity and difference which has been very salient for the past few thousand years since the rise and fall of Rome. But the evolutionary genetic history is one where there are far fewer differences. The data do not fit a model that makes much sense to the average consumer (e.g., “you descend from a mix of Bronze Age migrants from the west-central steppe of Eurasia and Mesolithic indigenous hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers”). What makes sense to the average American consumer are histories of nationalities, so direct-to-consumer genetic companies try to satisfy this need. Because the needs of the consumer and their cultural expectations are poorly served by the data (genetic variation) and models of population history, you have a lot of awkward kludges and strange results.

Imagine, for example, you want to estimate how “German” someone is.  What do you use for your reference population of Germans?  Looking at the data there are clearly three major clusters within Germany when you weight the numbers appropriate, with affinities to the northern French, Slavs, and Scandinavians, and various proportions in between. Your selection of your sample is going to mean that some Germans are going to be more Germans than other Germans. If you select an eastern German sample then western Germans whose ancestors have been speaking a Germanic language far longer than eastern Germans are going to come out as less German. Or, you could just pick all of these disparate groups…in which case, lots of Northern Europeans become “German.”

Consumers want genetic tests to reflect strong cultural memories which were forged in the fires of rapidly protean and distinction-making process of cultural evolution. But biological and cultural evolution exhibit different modes (the latter generates huge between group differences) and tempos (those differences emerge fast). The ancestry results many people get are the outcomes of compromises to thread the needle and square the circle.

All the above is half the story. Next I’ll explain why “deep history” has to be massaged to make recent history informative and comprehensible….

* Also, I have a little historical perspective because of my friendship with the person who arguably created this sector, Spencer Wells.

March 21, 2017

The Return

Filed under: Culture,Video — Razib Khan @ 9:45 pm

Plato, St. Ambrose, Marcuse: heralds for our age

Filed under: Culture,philosophy,Tolerance — Razib Khan @ 9:23 pm

It galls me to agree with the proposition that Western philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato, but it is at least fair to admit that Western intellectual thought exists in dialogue with him and his thinking. But the spare and arrogant idealism which Plato and his followers promoted is not entirely alien to the landscape of human cognition. It is not purely invention, but has a basis in intuition. A tendency to abstract, and confuse the abstract with reality, seems hard-wired into our mental architecture. As Paul Bloom would say, we are natural born essentialists (and dualists).

One implication of Platonic idealism seems to be that striving for the perfect form of truth bleeds over into a conceited belief that one’s understanding of the truth is Truth itself. I do not believe that Christianity is necessarily understood only in the light of the mental universe which Plato and his detractors created, but it is hard to deny the Platonic tincture of much of early Christian thought as it diffused throughout the ancient world and began to make converts among the elites. Christian thinking may hinge upon divine revelation, but its theistic illuminations gained rigor and steel via philosophical certitudes.

St. Ambrose was a man of such steel. A scion of the West Roman elite he matured in an era when the heights of society were still religiously pluralistic, with the most eminent and ancient families and men of renown, such as Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, exhibiting clear pagan sympathies. Or perhaps they might characterize it as a fondness for the customary gods of Rome.

In 382 there was a dispute in Rome over the removal of the Altar of Victory from the Roman Senate. Symmachus entered into the record an apologia for the restoration of the statue. He makes a plea:

We ask, then, for peace for the gods of our fathers and of our country. It is just that all worship should be considered as one. We look on the same stars, the sky is common, the same world surrounds us. What difference does it make by what pains each seeks the truth? We cannot attain to so great a secret by one road; but this discussion is rather for persons at ease, we offer now prayers, not conflict.

St. Ambrose, whose faith was on the march, and the future, did not mince words:

But if you deny Christ to be God, because you believe not that He died (for you are ignorant that death was of the body not of the Godhead, which has brought it to pass that now no one of those who believe dies), what is more thoughtless than you who honour with insult, and disparage with honour, for you consider a piece of wood to be your god. O worship full of insult! You believe not that Christ could die, O perversity founded on respect!

Symmachus asked for tolerance, because that was all his kind could ask for. St. Ambrose and the other militants saw no gain to such tolerance, because they had truth before them, and denying the truth was an insult to all. Tolerance of idolatry and superstition was no tolerance.

In 1965 Herbert Marcuse wrote Repressive Tolerance. He begins:

THIS essay examines the idea of tolerance in our advanced industrial society. The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed. In other words, today tolerance appears again as what it was in its origins, at the beginning of the modern period–a partisan goal, a subversive liberating notion and practice. Conversely, what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.

These ideas find relevance today, where one descendent of Critical Theory has transformed dissent and offense into violence, and so justifies suppression of disagreeable thought. St. Ambrose would have used different logic because of a differing metaphysical basis, but I believe the psychological impulses are not so different. Tolerance of error is problematic when that error leads to injustice, impiety, and diminishes the “good society,” however it is imagined.

There are those who believe that they know the Truth. Plato and his acolytes had their conceit as philosopher kings. St. Ambrose and his fellow believers had divine revelation, and were seeking to bring all those in the darkness who disagreed with their views to the light. Following St. Augustine the pre-modern Catholic Church asserted that “error has no rights”.

The latest flare up of this sentiment among particular cultural elites, sometimes termed the “regressive Left” (somewhat of a contradiction clearly), is but latest incarnation of this viewpoint. They believe that the time for tolerance is over, as tolerance gives sanction and space to error and impiety (these are called “oppression” now). The liberal “end of history” seems to be evading us, the old battles reoccur with a regularity that hints at an eternal recurrence.  Every few generations the battle with Tiamat must be joined, as monsters issue from the darkness of our cultural Id.

As a descriptive matter it strikes me that some have now denied that words as a tool of discussion, dialogue, and dispute, have utility to discover truth. Those who object with words are engaged in a likely futile exercise, just as pleas for the tolerance of the old religion were futile. A new world was upon them, they simply lacked our hindsight to see the dawning of the age of the One True God. Perhaps in a different universe history took a different course. In those universes I doubt the old gods survived through persuading the believers of the new Lord with words.

The age of words is over. If words become violence, then violence becomes the tool of ultimate persuasion, compulsion. If truth is all about power, then power is all there is. In a Whiggish telling we as a species came out of the blood and darkness, the struggle for power and zero-sum contests for collective domination. But perhaps we are destined to become what we were, creatures forged in blood and power, unable to resist the temptations of coercion and compulsion.

November 3, 2013

Open Thread, 11/3/2013

Filed under: Culture,Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 10:34 am

Origins-of-the-Irish1After reading Ancestral Journeys, I decided to get J. P. Mallory’s The Origins of the Irish. A bit on the academic side for some, but definitely a good dive into the literature. Mallory is well aware of the latest genetic research, so this is as up-to-date as it gets. It’s a good case study in how multidisciplinary prehistoric studies should be done.

As I’ve suggested earlier prehistory looks to be a good deal more complex than we had previous thought, so expanding beyond single methodological perspectives is probably essential if we really care about truth.

In other news, a short piece in The New York Times refers to Salafis as ‘ultraconservative.’ I think this misleads most people about the nature of Salafism: it is a radical utopian system which recently arose out of Islam’s confrontation with Western derived modernity. It isn’t conserving anything. This aspect of Salafism explains why Saudi Arabia condones the bulldozing of Muhammed’s tomb and celebrates modern monumental architecture in Islam’s holy city.

The post Open Thread, 11/3/2013 appeared first on Gene Expression.

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