Randoms

March 30, 2012

– Was I totally wrong about Pinker’s book?

HBD Day!

Sailer: "Isn’t it about time to admit that Bonfire has turned out to be, just as Wolfe bragged, the Great American Novel of our lifetime?" Indeed. I wonder it feels like to have your worldview so effectively parodied so long ago and still cling to it so bitterly?

This has to bode relatively well for reactionaries, no? Maybe we should push for a law extending the length of time something stays copyrighted. It’d be great if people started reading lots of 15th Century works.

– I know people who are doing this. They don’t believe in HBD – of course! – but they just so happen to be taking out loans to remove their children from NAM-filled DC schools to put them in private schools that "carefully" select their student body.

– Rand Paul and war with Iran. Silly Rand Paul doesn’t seem to understand that declarations of war are totally 19th Century.

Left-handedness

Jim Grant

– The difference between conservatives and reactionaries

– Do you know of Lizzy Seeberg?

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Review of “The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker

March 29, 2012

I started this book 99.5% sure violence had declined over time. I finished it 65% violence had declined over time and 100% sure that Steven Pinker needs a more aggressive editor.

Everyone liked this book, but it rubbed me the wrong way. It’s also really long.

Here’s a basic summary. The book covers six trends that reduce violence: 1) the move to “agricultural civilizations;” 2) the rise of central authorities that dominate significant territories; 3) the humanitarian revolution; 4) the “Long Peace” following WWII; 5) the decline in organized conflicts more broadly; 6) the growth of the human rights movement.

Five historical forces are added to these trends to complete the explanation of the declining violence: 1) the leviathan; 2) commerce; 3) feminization; 4) cosmopolitanism; and 5) the rise of reason.

Once he lays these ideas, we begin a very long (seriously, it’s really long) analysis of just how violent old civilizations were.

I’m going to cut the BS right here. If you want to read some analyses of the good points of the book and how smart Pinker is, you can find such analyses all over the internet. I’m just going to tell you what’s wrong with this book and Pinker’s thesis that violence has declined over time. The fact that I’m only focusing on the bad should not be taken to mean that I thought the book was all bad – it definitely has some good portions and some very solid arguments.

Pinker’s basic problem is that he essentially defines “violence” in such a way that his thesis that violence is declining becomes self-fulling. “Violence” to Pinker is fundamentally synonymous with behaviors of older civilizations. On the other hand, modern practices are defined to be less violent than newer practices.

A while back, I linked to a story about a guy in my neighborhood who’s been arrested over 60 times for breaking into cars. A couple hundred years ago, this guy would have been killed for this sort of vandalism after he got caught the first time. Now, we feed him and shelter him for a while and then we let him back out to do this again. Pinker defines the new practice as a decline in violence – we don’t kill the guy anymore! Someone from a couple hundred years ago would be appalled that we let the guy continue destroying other peoples’ property without consequence. In the mind of those long dead, “violence” has in fact increased. Instead of a decline in violence, this practice seems to me like a decline in justice – nothing more or less.

Here’s another example, Pinker uses creative definitions to show that the conflicts of the 20th Century pale in comparison to previous conflicts. For example, all the Mongol Conquests are considered one event, even though they cover 125 years. If you lump all these various conquests together and you split up WWI, WWII, Mao’s takeover in China, the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, the Russian Civil War, and the Chinese Civil War (yes, he actually considers this a separate event from Mao), you unsurprisingly discover that the events of the 20th Century weren’t all that violent compared to events in the past! Pinker’s third most violent event is the “Mideast Slave Trade” which he says took place between the 7th and 19th Centuries. Seriously. By this standard, all the conflicts of the 20th Century are related. Is the Russian Revolution or the rise of Mao possible without WWII? Is WWII possible without WWI? By this consistent standard, the 20th Century wars of Communism would have seen the worst conflict by far. Of course, if you fiddle with the numbers, you can make any point you like.

Another reviewer (perhaps the best review that I read) makes another good point:

Yet even if Pinker is right that the ratio of violent to peaceful deaths has improved over time (and he probably is), his metric of progress deserves a bit more attention than he gives it. His argument about decreasing violence is a relative one: not that more people were killed annually in the past than are killed in a given year of recent history but that more people were killed relative to the size of the overall human population, which is of course vastly larger today than in earlier eras. But ask yourself: Is it preferable for ten people in a group of 1,000 to die violent deaths or for ten million in a group of one billion? For Pinker, the two scenarios are exactly the same, since in both, an individual person has a 99 percent chance of dying peacefully. Yet in making a moral estimate about the two outcomes, one might also consider the extinction of more individual lives, one after another, and the grief of more families of mourners, one after another.

Finally, I think Pinker needs to adjust for improvements in technology. Medical advances alone, should make death in modern society much less frequent. He doesn’t try to adjust for this obvious difference.

Again, I think Pinker’s thesis is generally correct, but besides these definitional problems, he includes tons of wildly irrelevant anecdotes. For example,

Yes, the fate of dodgeball is yet another sign of the historical decline of violence.

No. Dodgeball wasn’t violent – no one ever had anything more than their feelings hurt. The fate of dodgeball is a sign of our culture’s overwhelming sense of moral superiority, a sense which rings loudly in the pages of Pinker’s work. Why would he include this silly statement in his book?

At one point he launches in a hundred-page discussion about how people used to eat stuff with their hands and straight off knives and now they don’t. I don’t know what this even means or how it relates to declining violence. The discussion seemed to go on forever.

Anyway, everyone seems to like Pinker, and I think this is a result of his writing style. You can read this book and, regardless of your viewpoint, he will acknowledge your favored arguments. He then quickly dismisses some of them while claiming that his historical anecdotes support others. Let’s look at a few cases.

Colonialism

Here are two quotes from Pinker:

In South Africa, the apartheid regime will be dismantled, and the white minority will cede power to the black majority. This will happen with no civil war, no bloodbath, no violent recriminations against the former oppressors.

and:

One of the tragic ironies of the second half of the 20th Century is that when colonies in the developing world freed themselves from European rule, they often slid back into warfare, this time intensified by modern weaponry, organized militias, and the freedom of young men to defy tribal elders.

In South Africa, we know that the first statement is wrong and the second statement is correct (the report on farm attacks also makes interesting reading), and Zuma agrees.

Every time Pinker says something like the first statement here, he says just enough (see the second statement) to ensure that you can’t criticize him for his oversight/factual incorrectness.

Infanticide and abortion

In another section of the book, Pinker has a very long discussion of infanticide. Then he notes that we don’t have infanticide anymore. Then he notes that we do kill almost exactly the same proportion of babies today that infanticidal societies killed, we just do it via abortion. Then he concludes with some fuzzy language that probably satisfies most of the people on both sides of the issue. You can’t criticize him for ignoring the fact that abortion is so common.

The problem, in this case for Pinker, is that we’ve turned the infanticide of old from an unfortunate practice into a fundamental right. Surely this should give pause to someone making an honest argument that violence has declined over time.

HBD

Pinker notes that crimes are committed more often by blacks in the US. He pays the shortest possible lip service to potential biological explanations of this phenomenon, before concluding that the cause of the discrepancy is that “the civilizing mission of government never penetrated American South as deeply as it had the Northeast, to say nothing of Europe.” This retort is, of course, unfalsifiable, unmeasurable, and absurd by any reasonable standard.

We have two competing explanations. On one hand we have the forces of biology and evolution and evidence across black populations in many many countries of the world. On the other hand we have the pixie dust of the civilizing mission of government and some selective evidence in certain parts of the US. My money is on the former and Pinker’s book offers no evidence in favor of the latter beyond mere hand waving. Don’t get distracted by the fact that there’s a lot of hand waving going on.

Democracy

Pinker likes democracy. His understanding of its workings are remarkably consistent with those taught in my fourth grade social studies class. He is convinced that modern government is not as obsessed with conquest as governments of the past and that democracy is “one of the greatest violence-reduction technologies since the appearance of government itself”. I respectfully disagree with him on these points. America – the government of America – has been among the most successful conquerors of all time. Only a few of the countries in the world don’t essentially sing to the American tune these days. America’s wars of conquest – the Civil War, WWI and WWII – are readily apparent. It’s fine to conclude that “democracies” are less violent, but you should at least mention the fact that democracy’s enemies have a tendency to be brutally exterminated every time they pop up.

Women

Pinker believes big time in the civilizing nature of women. Marriage helps to civilize men in his telling, but then he turns around and criticizes middle-Americans for believing in the sanctity of marriage (you see this is just a vestige of wild west times, when marriage was necessary to civilize men). Apparently, he’s unconcerned that marriage is disappearing. Too bad that manosphere won’t stop criticizing Charles Murray (whom they shouldn’t be criticizing) and direct some of their fire on Pinker, whose analysis of this topic is borderline idiotic.

Genetics

Pinker has a massive section on how the brain works. I was getting really excited that he was about to conclude that some of the decline in violence was due to evolution (if for no other reason than justifying the amount of time I was spending reading about how the brain works in relation to violence). Nope. I have no idea why this section is in the book as it doesn’t end up accounting for declining violence in Pinker’s telling.

He rejects the notion that decreased violence is due to genetic changes, because he believes the consequences of such a conclusions would be too politically incorrect. Just kidding, he rejects this assertion because “we have no good evidence that is actually has” happened, while in contrast we have good evidence that declines in violence (that he’s described) have happen in short periods of time (i.e. about 1,000 years). Obviously, the latter is a highly scientific conclusion unlike my joking conclusion, just kidding. Something more than hand waiving and unscientific analysis of declining violence should be required here to dismiss genetic/evolutionary theories of declining violence. If violence is heritable, criminals commit crimes when they’re young, and we do a decent job of locking them up/killing them after they commit crimes (i.e. effectively prevent many of them from reproducing), wouldn’t we expect criminality to decline pretty quickly from genetic factors alone? I don’t know, someone will have to write a book it at some point.

Pinker’s science here might not be that good. Pinker’s saying that something like 50 generations is too short a period of time for evolution to work (his earliest charts for England, for example, begin at or before 1200). My understanding is that evolution can occur over a much shorter time period.

Randoms

Pinker loves the Long Peace, but doesn’t mention the Pax Romana.

He makes a few hysterical statements that seem highly relevant to his analysis, but he immediately moves on without making the necessary conclusions. My favorite one was:

The laws and practices of many Muslim countries seem to have missed out on the Humanitarian Revolution.

No shit?! I hadn’t noticed. Nothing to see here anyway.

He makes fun of pessimists, but his maps of where violence occurs are eerily similar to maps of fertility rates (i.e. lots of violence equates with lots of children). I guess we’re fortunate that declining violence isn’t cause by evolutionary changes. If it were, we’d be screwed!


Progressive porn and the no_limit_nigga

March 28, 2012

(I don’t like using the n-word, but I do like referring to people the way they refer to themselves. In this case, the latter wins.)

A few weeks ago, I was watching some progressive porn. In this particular case, it was an episode of Criminal Minds (see #153). The show started with the murder of a nice white family in their home. A dead, black, apparent-gang-member was also found dead in the home. The gang member was apparently killed by the family during the attack. There were a couple killings in this same area with this same pattern.

Obviously, you’re supposed to think that the killings are gang-related – young blacks killing white families. However, if you notice patterns (i.e. if you’re a thought criminal), you know that you’re watching progressive porn (i.e. a crime show on network TV). The rules of progressive porn prohibit any minority from being a criminal – the real criminal must always be a relatively-well-off white guy. Sure enough, after some "unforeseen twists," (which were obvious to any thought criminal after about 3 minutes) it’s revealed the real killer is a white guy running for political office. He’s just inciting some racial violence to stir up the electorate (who could have possibly seen that coming?!).

I have been rather busy for the last week, and – for various reasons – I consumed most of the news from the last week during a period of many consecutive hours yesterday. In other words, I got to read almost a week’s worth of news about the Trayvon Martin story in one sitting. In brief, the results were about as surprising as a typical piece of progressive porn. The twists were just reversed to correspond to reality instead of to correspond to the sort of stuff that gets progressives all excited.

The scene opens with an apparent cold-blooded murder by a crazed, racist, white (sorry for the redundancy) neighborhood watchmen gunning down a defenseless black honor student. Even the President(!!!) makes a comment on the incident.

After a series of "unforeseen twists," it’s revealed that the watchmen was Hispanic (or White Hispanic in the terminology of the New York Times (I’ve got money saying this particularly phrase doesn’t last long in the Times’ lexicon)), and he very likely may have been acting in self defense. The "victim" may have initiated the violence, may have been a drug dealer and/or a burglar, and now his supporters are looting stores to honor his memory.

Despite the fact that this process was entirely predictable, the editor of National Review and all sorts of others were somehow foolish enough to beclown themselves. Apparently they’re not very good at noticing patterns.

Most everything that there is to say about this story has been covered elsewhere. Particularly good were OneSTDV, Chuck, and Auster.

I’d add only a couple things. Eugene Volokh has an interesting analysis of Florida law here:

Florida law, though, clearly resolves this: “A law enforcement agency … may not arrest [a] person for using force [in a self-defense situation] unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.”

So in Florida, the police must have probable cause to believe that the defendant wasn’t acting in lawful self-defense in order to arrest the defendant. It’s not enough to say, “we have probable cause to believe that you killed the victim, so we’ll arrest you and then sort out later how strong your self-defense case is.”

This seems to explain – pretty clearly – why Zimmerman wasn’t and still hasn’t been arrested. It’ll also be interesting, if Zimmerman does eventually get arrested, to see what happens to the prosecutor that indicts him.

Mr Roach also notes that mainstream libertarians got in on the beclowning as well:

I’m glad today we’re relieved of evildoers like Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell in favor of the Agitator, who has never found a puppy or a drug dealer he doesn’t like, and who is now showing his high regard for liberty, federalism, and common sense by weighing in on the side of the “unarmed black teenager,” and, implicitly, the federal government’s all-too-typical intrusiveness in local law enforcement in the name of “civil rights.” In this curious argument from a libertarian, he is asking for more arrests by a local law enforcement agency, even though he is always accusing them in nearly every other situation of being overbearing and incompetent.

Mainstream libertarians yield to no one in the status-whoring competition to avoid recognizing patterns.

Finally, I’d note an objection to the view that Zimmerman was a nut for participating in his neighborhood watch. Like the Florida neighborhood in which this crime took place, I live in a diverse neighborhood (mine is basically 50/50 black and white). As best I can tell from having read arrest and crime reports from my police precinct for the last three years, 100% of the crime in my neighborhood is committed by young black men. (Several of the stores in the neighborhood require patrons to lower the hoods on their hoodies when they enter the store – apparently store-owners recognize patterns). We have a few of the "nutty" neighborhood watch types in my neighborhood (lots of whom are, in fact, black) and – thought they may be a bit off in some ways (e.g. they don’t accept high levels of crime as a naturally occurring phenomenon) – they’re responsible for a lot of the arrests that ultimately occur. My neighborhood is certainly better off for having them around.


Randoms

March 27, 2012

– Like I’ve been saying, "Note that this is a legislator, supposedly the author of a law, asking regulators how/whether they’ll enforce it, and to clarify/alter it to make it simpler."

– Wait, I thought this was too much diversity?

Democracy in one sentence: “I suppose his nonsense suits their nonsense”

Roll on decrepitude

– Lots of the crime around me is thefts of smartphones. How long will it be before this sort of crime is solved by technological advances? It seems to me like it could easily be solved now.

– Every so often, Yglesias has a post that’s indistinguishable from writing "white people are more productive than black people or Hispanic people." But he always writes it in such a complicated way.

– HS on time orientation

They’re stealin’ our jobs

– In totally unrelated new, there are lots of Asians

– Remember all those white South Africans who said they would all get killed if apartheid ended? Yea, me neither.

– Some Goethe quotes


Randoms

March 21, 2012

– Yglesias summarizes his own blog in one sentence: "I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of what passes for economic policy debate in the United States is a kind of status competition among members of the elite." (It’s a cheap shot, but I couldn’t resist)

AmCon: "German Sabotage and America’s Entry Into World War I"

Calling all monarchists, reactionaries, and skeptics of democracy

– Everyone must be above average

Interesting thoughts on Carl Schmitt


Randoms of the day

March 20, 2012

HS: "NAM kills NAM, white racism blamed"

Sailer: "Thus, back in 2000, the NYT itself was “nativist.” It was expressing concern about “native-born workers”—exactly as if their welfare should be of more concern to Americans than the welfare of foreign lawbreakers!" Then something happened . . .

– A study finds that drinking makes you more conservative. The authors conclude, "these data suggest that political conservatism may be a process consequence of low-effort thought; when effortful, deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases." Instead of "studying" this with data, they should have just gotten drunk with people. People get more conservative when they’re drunk because they stop pretending to believe bullshit (e.g. that everyone is equal).

On introverts (HT: Ferd)

Innovation is racist.


Charles Murray and the manosphere

March 20, 2012

In his review of Coming Apart, Steve Sailer said: "In 2012, it looks like it’s Charles Murray’s world and we’re just living in it." If I could follow that up with one sentence, I’d add: "disagree with Murray at your peril."

Increasingly, the manosphere is lining up against Murray. For example, Heartiste believes that Murray is telling certain men to man up when Murray tells them to get a job. Is Murray’s criticism of these men really unfair? Let’s see.

I think Murray’s critics, like Heartiste, have the wrong picture of the sort of guy that Murray is criticizing. Murray starts with the bottom 21 percent of whites 30-49 by education and income. Of this group, Murray then focuses on the increasing number of men – around 10% of this subset – who don’t work at all and have no intention of working. So, within the broad group of white men aged 30-49, Murray is criticizing the bottom 2%, give or take. Your mental image of this sort of guy should be an obese high-school drop-out who collects disability checks between random acts of criminality (if Murray’s other stats are correct). He’s the bottom 2% of the prime-aged male population. Is this the sort of the guy that the manosphere wants to defend? Might there not be just the slightest little bit of room for this guy to improve himself? Moreover, there are many men with the same background who do work (or at least try to find work) – defending the former is an implicit slap to the face of the latter.

Heartiste then concludes that Murray, "apportion[s] most of the blame for the current state of affairs to men." Actually this is explicitly not where he apportions the blame in his book. To quote my own review of Murray’s book:

What Murray is really concerned about . . . is how children are raised. . . . "Nonmarital" births increased among the least educated women from under 10% in 1970 to over 60% today (comparable numbers for the best educated women are under 1% and under 5%, respectively).

Murray concludes this section (perhaps the most powerful in the book) with, "the divergence [with respect to the number of children living
with biological and married parents] is so large that it puts the women of Belmont and Fishtown into different family cultures. The absolute level in Fishtown is so low that it calls into question the viability of white working-class communities as a place for socializing the next generation."

Murray’s argument is, properly understood, the same argument that the manosphere makes (when it’s not too busy defending fraudulently-disabled borderline criminals). Namely, the problems of the lower classes may simply be the consequences of the destruction of the family and the rise of single motherhood.

To be blunt, the men produced by the lower class "family culture" have lots of problems and the problems may be largely the result of this family culture. The rise in the number of men who do nothing at all is a symptom of the problems that the manosphere wishes to address.