Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

January 15, 2020

Race and religion trump class

Filed under: Culture — Razib Khan @ 10:40 pm

Another month, another “Asian” grooming gang scandal. “Asian” usually, but not exclusively, seems to mean Pakistani British men.

A lot of the discussion around this issue centers on the perpetrators of the crimes. Their ethnoreligious distinctiveness. The cultural preconditions which allow for the development of these practices of abuse and exploitation as normative in certain circumstances and toward certain people (though the details differ, from what I know of South Asian communities, in general, there’s a fair amount of sexual abuse going on within the subculture that isn’t discovered because of norms of shame and concealment).

But, I want to focus on the victims. Whenever these stories surface the victims are invariably described as “troubled” and from “broken” homes. These were vulnerable children. Additionally, the powers that be did not see these girls as their girls. If gangs of Pakistani British men were abusing and raping the daughters of middle-class burghers, I am 100% sure that the police would pay immediate attention and follow-up on these cases no matter the sensitivities.

I think it is fine and important to highlight the subculture that fosters this sort of behavior through their assumptions about the sexual nature of non-South Asian women (e.g., I have had it explained to me by several men of Indian subcontinental origin whose tastes were toward the prurient that “our women are pure”). But these cases also illustrate stark class divides and the total lack of concern and interest by the bureaucratic and public service class toward individuals from the lower class.

Top 10 human genetics & evolution predictions for the 2020s

Filed under: Evolution,Genetics — Razib Khan @ 12:38 pm

The Insight Show Notes — Season 3, Episode 2

This week on The Insight (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Podcasts) Razib and Spencer make ten predictions about what genetics might discover and do in the 2020s (though they do express some disagreement on the details!).

  1. DNA sequencing will be free, interpretation automated and cheap, and everyone in the developed world will have their genome sequenced at birth
  2. 50% or more of the developed world’s population will have done some sort of genome-wide analysis (SNP-array all the way to WGS)
  3. The missing heritability will be solved and GWAS will be passé. We have the technology!
  4. IVF+preimplantation genetic diagnosis will account for the majority of births in at least one developed country (Singapore?)
  5. CRISPR/genetic engineering begins to “cure” adults with Mendelian diseases (cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, etc.)
  6. We will discover several new interbreeding species of the genus Homo, calling into question the meaning of the term “species” in the genus overall
  7. Sub-Saharan Africa will become more marginalized as the homeland for fully modern humans
  8. We will know the genetic history of China to the same extent as we now know the genetic history of Europe
  9. We will begin to get a handle of the trajectory/impact of selection in the human genome
  10. There will be ‘dating apps’ or ‘match-making’ apps that use DNA

Top 10 human genetics & evolution predictions for the 2020s was originally published in Insitome on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

January 14, 2020

All narratives are wrong, some are just less wrong

Filed under: Human Evolution — Razib Khan @ 5:42 pm

A few days ago Spencer and I recorded a “predictions for 2020s” episode for The Insight, before we go back to “regularly scheduled programs.” One of the topics (of ten) we discussed is that the old “Out of Africa” model is going to be marginalized/complicated.

What did we mean by this? Some of the hints are already present in David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past. If you look at and analyze genome-wide data, especially ancient data, there are just too many strange results to be accounted for by our current consensus understandings. There are new things we’ll learn. And some of the old things will be wrong. We just don’t know what.

In the 1980s and 1990s, and into the 2000s, the “Out of Africa” narrative was one that the “community” of paleoanthropology went hard into (and to a lesser extent human geneticists). Perhaps too hard. Not only is there “archaic” admixture outside of Africa, but there is “deep structure” within Africa. At some point, there are too many epicycles, and there needs to be a major model revision.

Over ten years ago Dienekes Pontikos presented what I thought at the time was a “crazy” paradigm of back-to-Africa migration. Though I’m still not sure of that particular model, I think there is a high likelihood of reciprocal gene-flow between Africa, and Eurasia, especially Western Eurasia, within the last few hundred thousand years. The debates around Y haplogroup E, which is modal within Africa, but also present with deep lineages in Eurasia, shed light I think on some of the complexity.

Instead of a single “Out of Africa” movement 50-60,000 years ago, there seems to have been a sequence of events 50-100,000 years ago which resulted in the population genetic patterning that we see around us. Some of it is the classic wave expansion from a small founder group for non-Africans, but within Africa it seems there were also expansions and admixtures, albeit more complicated, continuous, and long-standing. Some of the deepest branches within African population history go back hundreds of thousands of years, but much of it dates to expansions with closer affinities to non-Africans 50-100,000 years ago.

Sometimes it can be exciting to say that the question is the answer….

Being different is not bad

Filed under: Religion — Razib Khan @ 4:31 pm

Having read a fair portion of Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, I can state now that it’s a book worth reading. The author, Rajiv Malhorta, expresses a distinctively Indian religio-cultural view coherently, clearly, and with a substantial foundation of scholarship.

In this way, I would suggest that Malhorta’s work is analogous to Tariq Ramadan’s exposition of a conservative Muslim world-view that is aware of, and engages with, Western values and traditions.

The main difference is that Ramadan’s work is more academic, which makes sense since he is trained as a classical European intellectual. In contrast, the main nagging issue I have with Malhotra’s work so far is that he regularly imputes elements of Western American Protestant culture and civilization to the Abrahamic traditions writ large. This makes sense since Malhotra’s biography suggests much of his adult life was in the United States. But whenever he writes “Judeo-Christian” about 75% of the time it makes more sense to write “American Protestant”, since that is really what the term is pointing to.

I assume that in the broad conclusions Malhotra and I come down on different positions. But the outlines of the methods and arguments he uses are quite familiar and intelligible, and that’s a nice change from other things that I have read.

Are the Jacobins and Thermidor just in the past?

Filed under: History — Razib Khan @ 1:41 am

Being raised as an American in the last quarter of the 20th-century gives one an interesting perspective. The period between 1975 and 1995 was characterized by worries about decline. From the tail end of the post-1965 crime wave to the psychological trauma of the oil shocks, the rise of Japan, and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation, it wasn’t an era without angst clearly. Nevertheless, by the early 1990s, we had turned a corner, even if we were not aware of it. The crime wave was abating, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Japan was entering its “Lost Decade.”

By the year 2000, the United States of America was the “hyperpower”. The period between 1995 and 2015 was defined by our unipolar moment. In the late 1990s, it looked as if wage growth had finally come back to the broad middle and lower classes, and the American model, and more broadly the neoliberal “Washington Consensus”, was here to stay.

Obviously things have changed. Though 9/11 is arguably one of the most important cultural events in the early 21st-century for Americans, with hindsight I think this exogenous shock really only had an impact on the margins in relation to the long term trends, which are driven by endogenous forces. The 2008 financial crisis didn’t come out of a vacuum but reflected serious and deep structural problems in the way capitalism was organized. And, more or less, the vast majority of economists didn’t predict it. It left many of us highly skeptical of “expertise”, as well as the ability of the market to self-correct and not be captured by corrupt parties gorging on rents.

The 2010s have been a mixed affair. Internally there has been recovery from economic distress, and the news for the middle and lower classes is not all bad (full employment is good for those with few skills!). That being said, high levels of inequality and the manifest reality that globalization benefits the very top of the income and wealth distribution seems hard to deny. The second great modern era of globalization is now facing critiques from both the Left and the Right.

Externally, the hyperpower/unipolar moment is fading, if not totally faded. Though on a per unit basis China is less productive and powerful than the USA, in the year 2000 it was 4% of the world’s GDP, and in 2017 it was 15%. In the year 2000, the USA was 31% of the world’s GDP, and in 2017 it is 25%. The 1990s expectation, shared by many Americans, that China would become more liberal and democratic as it became wealthier has not been validated by the facts on the ground.

Internally there are high levels of polarization and low levels of trust in institutions and leaders in the USA. Various positional races (e.g., university educations for everyone!) combined with a relatively stagnant pie (e.g., more legal degrees than lawyers) leave even the aspiring upper-middle class suspicious of their prospects. The overhang of personal and public debt and the possibility of government debt crises and problems funding entitlements loom over the horizon for the working-age population.

We are not doing badly as a nation, exactly. But rising morbidity in broad swaths of the population reflects uncertainty at the robustness of the prosperity we do have (as well as economic marginalization of those with fewer skills).

Those of us who came to maturity in the late 20th-century was proudly told about the reality that we were the Eternal Republic. Our Constitution was the oldest still in use. Our republic may not have been perfect, but it was as good as it gets. The idea that the Eternal Republic might have an ending to its story seemed absurd barring nuclear conflict, at least in our time, and across the generations alive at the end of the 20th-century.

More broadly, as Steven Pinker has highlighted, there has been broad growth in prosperity and wealth across the world. The American story is not the only story. But if someone told you that other citizens were doing well when you struggled, would that make you happier? Americans are not struggling, but we get a sense it is no longer “morning in America.” Rather, it is closer to dusk.

Foundational to the idea of the Eternal Republic is that our society, our culture, our nation-state, is so beholden to the values of liberty and democratic governance that it could be no other way. First, let us admit that this perfect republic has had its drawbacks and black-marks, most especially in the domain of racial slavery and racial segregation. With that being said, a broad commitment to the idea of liberty, autonomy, and the value of each citizen, has allowed for the circle of fellow-feeling to expand.

But the question is this: are the commitments to liberty and democratic governance due to individual principle, or institutional scaffold and contingency? If the citizens themselves do not have a deep commitment to the principles, the abstractions which undergird governance, then if the institutions begin to lack legitimacy, and the contingencies of history shift just a bit, one can foresee a scenario where liberal democratic citizens sing a very different tune very soon.

My view of human nature and social cognition is that people will believe and do what their ingroup leaders demand of them. For various reasons, American elites have generally taken an extremely liberal attitude toward freedom of expression. This, despite public surveys which suggest broad popular skepticism of offensive speech. If the consensus among American elites for freedom of speech erodes at all, I believe that the extreme policy position would quickly retreat in the face of populist disquiet and factional elite manipulation of government organs to silence their rivals.

The confidence in the Eternal Republic was rooted in the reality of American economic ascendency in the 20th-century. The reality that wage gains and prosperity were both broad-based. The expansion of rights and dignity to racial minorities was consonant with the broader elements of the foundational principles. America had always been the most powerful. America had always been the richest. And of course, America would always be the freest and the most democratic.

Over the last five years, I have come to be more and more skeptical of the robustness of the Eternal Republic. My rationale is straightforward. The cultural preconditions of the Eternal Republic were rooted in deep foundations. Shocks to the vigor of the Eternal Republic failed to topple it because of the accumulated capital of generations. But capital can eventually deplete with both shocks and gradual erosion. Once the system is no longer robust, novel contingencies can transform cultural expectations rather quickly. Cultural change is nonlinear because most people conform, and quickly bend before the cold new winds. Americans have a conceit that we love liberty. And I think we’re sincere in this. But the philo-Semitic Germans of the 1920s became something quite different in the 1930s, and atheistic Leftist Soviet men and women of the 1970s and 1980s have shape-shifted at least twice since the 1990s.

Is America and are Americans special because of something deep with us, or were we lucky? To be frank I fear the latter may hit close to the mark. If that is so, then eventually luck runs out…

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Powered by WordPress

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!