Using Intelligence to Assess Intelligence

“Using my intelligence I take note of the fact that no effort however expensive has ever enabled most blacks to perform and behave as well as most whites.”
(John Engelman, as he commented in response to me in our ‘debate’ on a book review of On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman.)

Why don’t you use your intelligence to take note of the fact that no effort however expensive or cheap has ever even been attempted to objectively test whether it is possible to enable most blacks to perform and behave as well as most whites?

The amount of public funding, public support, and political will required to undo the history of racism, sadly, would be more than the American population and the U.S. government is at present capable of. We don’t know if we could accomplish it because we don’t even know if we want to accomplish it. We don’t know because it is an untested hypothetical, but maybe we should test it.

To be honest, we can’t speak of most blacks and most whites about most things. There is so little data about most blacks and most whites. What little data we have generally isn’t of the highest quality. There are too many biases in the data and too few effective methods in collecting the data for controlling for confounding factors. There is way more we don’t know than we do know. To be intellectually honest we have to be intellectually humble.

However, we shouldn’t dismiss what we do know, no matter how imperfect. We do know that environment has influence on IQ. Yet we have found no genetic racial explanation at all.

Stephen Jay Gould, in The Mismeasure of Man (Revised & Expanded), he has some new comments directed at the authors of The Bell Curve, which speak directly to your arguments:

“Herrnstein and Murray violate fairness by converting a complex case that can only yield agnosticism into a biased brief for permanent and heritable difference. They impose this spin by turning every straw on their side into an oak, while mentioning but downplaying the strong circumstantial case for substantial malleability and little average genetic difference (impressive IQ gains for poor black children adopted into affluent and intellectual homes; average IQ increases in some nations since World War II equal to the entire 15-point difference now separating blacks and whites in America; failure to find any cognitive differences between two cohorts of children born out of wedlock to German women, and raised in Germany as Germans, but fathered by black and white American soldiers).”

So, we do know that most blacks under these environmental conditions apparently do as well as most whites under these environmental conditions. We don’t know what would happen if were able to create the exact same environmental conditions for all blacks and whites in the entire United States.

By the way, the IQ gains aren’t measly. They are possibly larger than the entire IQ gap between blacks and whites. As Richard Nisbett, in Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count, explains:

“The difference between the average IQ of the children of the lower third of the socioeconomic status (SES) distribution and the average IQ of the children of the upper third is about 10 points. We know that some of this is due to biological but not genetic factors, including exercise, breast-feeding, and exposure to alcohol or cigarette smoke, as well as hazardous chemicals and pollution. And some of it is due to the disruption in schools of lower-SES children and to the fact that peers are pulling intelligence mostly in a down direction. We also know that socialization in lower-SES homes is not optimal for developing either IQ or school readiness. Moreover, a child born into roughly the bottom sixth of the SES distribution will have an IQ 12 to 18 points higher if raised by parents from roughly the top quarter of the SES distribution.”

None of this should surprise us. Why would we even assume that genetics is a major factor when the vast majority of the evidence points in the opposite direction? In The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America, Steven Fraser writes:

“There are a total of seven studies providing direct evidence on the question of a genetic basis for the B/W IQ gap. Six of them are consistent with a zero genetic contribution to the gap (or with very slight African superiority) based just on the raw IQ numbers, and though all of these six suffer from some interpretive difficulties, they mostly boil down to a single objection. If it was very low IQ whites who mated with blacks (or very high IQ blacks who mated with whites), the results could be explained away. (One study, which compared blacks and whites in the same institutional environment, is free from this objection.) The self-selection factor would have had to be implausibly great, however, and would have had to be present under a variety of circumstances, in several very different locales, at several different time periods. The remaining study-the only one that the authors write about at any length-is at least on the face of it consistent with a model assuming a substantial genetic contribution to the B/W gap. But that study has as many interpretive problems as the others, including the two studies which the authors mention only to dismiss. Any reader would surely reach very different conclusions about the likely degree of genetic contribution to the B/W gap by virtue of knowing the facts just presented than by reading the highly selective review presented in The Bell Curve.”

The best evidence we have shows about zero genetic influence. It’s a bit more complicated than this, for the genetic influence is dependent on the environmental influence. David Shenk, from The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ, quotes from the author of a study:

““The models suggest,” Turkheimer wrote, “that in impoverished families, 60% of the variance in IQ is accounted for by the shared environment, and the contributions of genes is close to zero; in affluent families, the result is almost exactly the reverse.” (Italics mine.) (Turkheimer et al., “Socioeconomic status modifies heritability of IQ in young children,” p. 632.)”

Basically, genetic influence is so minor that it can only be detected when all of the negative environmental factors no longer have much influence. It is the same between Europeans/Euro-Americans and other racial/ethnic groups, beyond just blacks. To return to Nisbett, he speaks about Asians and Jews:

“At any rate that has been true for Asians and Jews. There is no reliable evidence of a genetic difference in intelligence between people of East Asian descent and people of European descent. In fact, there is little difference in intelligence between the two groups as measured by IQ tests. Some evidence indicates that East Asians start school with lower IQs than do white Americans. After a few years of school this difference seems to disappear. But the academic achievement of East Asians—especially in math and the sciences, where effort counts for a lot— is light-years beyond that of European Americans. Americans of East Asian extraction also differ little in IQ from European Americans. In any case, the academic achievement and occupational attainment of Asian Americans exceed by a great amount what they “should” be accomplishing given their IQs. The explanation for the Asian/ Western gap lies in hard work and persistence.

“Jewish culture undoubtedly has similarly beneficial effects. Jewish values emphasize accomplishment in general and intellectual attainment in particular. Differences between Jews and non-Jews in intellectual accomplishment at the highest levels are very great. A genetic explanation for this is not required inasmuch as even greater differences have occurred for Arabs and Chinese versus Europeans in the Middle Ages, for differences between European countries at various points since the Middle Ages (with reversals occurring between Italy and England and with movement from savagery to sagacity in scarcely two centuries in Scotland), and for regional differences in the United States. We are left with an IQ difference of two-thirds to a standard deviation between Jews and non-Jews. At least some of this difference is surely cultural in origin.”

A genetic explanation isn’t even necessary, even if significant genetic evidence could be found. Why be cynical and fatalistic? There is no rational reason to see IQ divides as racially deterministic. From Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, Tom Burrell gave an example of a school that had great success using different methods, i.e., changing the environmental conditions:

“Education experts are keeping an eye on the Afrikan Centered Education Collegium Campus (ACECC) in Kansas City, Missouri . The 40-acre campus, which opened in 2007, serves mostly black pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students . Teachers stress cultural pride and “expected greatness” as students strive for academic excellence. In 2007, all the schools on the campus met the Average Yearly Progress (AYP) standard mandated by the national “No Child Left Behind” Act.

“The schools are the brainchild of educator Audrey Bullard, who worked as a teacher in Liberia for 18 months more than 30 years ago. In 1991, Bullard led a grassroots effort with other educators and parents to transform J.S. Chick Elementary in Kansas City into a school with an African-centered curriculum. The school has consistently scored as one of the top schools in the school district, with 48 percent of its students scoring at the proficient or advanced levels on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) fourth -grade math test in 2005 . Comparatively, only 24 percent of black students and 36 percent of white students statewide scored as high that year. Although the approach relies heavily on parental involvement and an innovative curriculum, it offers another important component: students are taught to see themselves as contributors, leaders, potential entrepreneurs, and valuable parts of their communities.”

Most blacks in this school, who were normal kids, did better than most white kids outside of this school. The determining factor was the school the kids attended, not their race.

Such an example doesn’t absolutely prove that this or anything similar could cause “most blacks to perform and behave as well as most whites”. But it sure does offer strong evidence that this probably is the case. We have no reason to assume otherwise.

Americans Left Behind: IQ, Education, Poverty, Race, & Ethnicity

Race realists like to use the example of No Child Left Behind.

They see it as proof that next to nothing can be done about the social problems in this country. In their minds, it is some combination of inferior genetics, inferior culture, inferior parenting, etc; just generally inferior people, individually and collectively.

Hence, we shouldn’t waste money and effort on people who don’t deserve it or, to the extent we do offer some assistance, we should at least not expect much from anything we do. Instead, we should expect failure and so there is no reason to try avoid failure, since it is inevitable, right?

My main focus here is No Child Left Behind, but I want to keep it within the larger context. Also, I want to make clear that this isn’t just a ‘black’ issue about ‘black’ problems. No, these are collective problems involving a society-wide failure.

In this light, I’ll begin with a passage from the perspective of a Scots-Irish white guy from Appalachia, Joe Bageant. He writes about poor whites and the oft-proclaimed ethic of taking personal responsibility and working harder. He only has one mention of No Left Behind, but the way he frames it all is a doozy!

After that passage, there several more passages from other books where No Child Left Behind, along with education in general, is discussed more fully.

* * * *

Meanwhile, the conservative Republicans ballyhoo “personal responsibility” to working-class employees like the guys and gals here at Royal Lunch. Most working people around here believe in the buzz phrase “personal responsibility.” Their daddies and mamas taught them to accept responsibility for their actions. They assume responsibility for their lives and don’t want a handout from the government. They see accepting public help as a sign of failure and moral weakness. Consequently, they don’t like social spending to give people a lift. But self-reliant as they are, what real chance do they have living on wages that do not allow them to accumulate savings? What chance do they have living from paycheck to paycheck, praying there will be no layoffs at J. C. Penney or Toll Brothers Homes or Home Depot?

According to Republican economic mythology, human beings are economic competitors; the marketplace is the new Olympia where “economic man” cavorts; the almighty market is rational and rewards efficiency, thrift, and hard work; and free competition “rationally” selects the more worthy competitor, and thus the wealthy are deserving of their elite status. According to the conservative canon, if you haven’t succeeded, it can only be because of your inferiority. Nearly everybody at Royal Lunch feels socially inferior. But in any case, they feel they can at least be self-reliant. They can accept personal responsibility.

We first started hearing about the average Joe needing to take complete responsibility for his condition in life, with no help from the government, during the seventies, when Cold War conservatives Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz dubbed themselves “neoconservatives.” In doing so, they gave a name to an ultrarightist political strain that passionately hated taxes and welfare of any kind, and that favored a national defense strong enough to dominate any part of the world—or the whole world—at any given time. Neoconservatives hated the counterculture and saw it as the beginning of everything that was wrong with America. And they saw plenty of evidence of a shift toward a welfare state, most notably Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which for the first time funded school districts, college loans, Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid, and cut poverty in half. America was close to being a Communist welfare state, and people had better start taking some personal responsibility, they thundered. We find neoconservatives today all but owning the Republican Party and attempting to axe Social Security and slash unemployment insurance in the name of “personal responsibility.”

But what sort of personal responsibility is possible in the neocon environment? A wage earner’s only asset is his willingness to give a day’s work for a day’s pay, the price of which he does not determine. So where does he get the wherewithal to improve his circumstances? He gets that wherewithal from the wages he earns. But in the new neocon environment, that wage does not support savings. It does not support higher education. It only allows the wage earner to survive from paycheck to paycheck, hoping he doesn’t lose his job and feeling like a loser down inside. Another beer, please.

Admittedly, a real blue-collar middle class still exists in some places, just as unions still exist. But both are on the ropes like some old pug boxer taking the facial cuts and popping eye capillaries with no referee to come in and stop the carnage. The American bootstrap myth is merely another strap that makes the working poor privately conclude that they must in some way be inferior, given that they cannot seem to apply that myth to their own lives. Hell, Pootie, if immigrants can put together successful businesses of their own, why can’t you keep up with your truck payments? Right now, even by the government’s spruced-up numbers, one-third of working Americans make less than $9 an hour. A decade from now, five of the ten fastest-growing jobs will be menial, dead-end jokes on the next generation—mainly retail clerks, cashiers, and janitors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some of us were born sons of a toiling god, with the full understanding that life was never meant to be easy and that it comes with more than enough opportunities for personal responsibility. But at least we could always believe that our kids had a chance for a better life. I certainly achieved a better life than my parents. These days, it’s harder to believe that. I am quite certain that if I were trying to get into college today with the mediocre grades I made back then, and no family college fund or family home to second-mortgage, I would not make it as far as I have. Years ago, there were college scholarships, loans, and programs out the yin-yang, and a high school education more or less prepared a person for college.

That is not to say the class divide was not a steep and ugly ditch back then. It was. But it is an absolute canyon now, and growing deeper. All you have to do is look back at the unfunded No Child Left Behind program or the scam of “teacher-based accountability.” When it became obvious that Johnny is now so dumb that he can’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the bottom—assuming he can even read the instructions—the elite regime in power was quick to get up a posse to lynch the school marm, then resume the theft of education funds on behalf of the rich. Conservative leaders understand quite well that education has a liberalizing effect on a society. Presently they are devising methods to smuggle resources to those American madrassas, the Christian fundamentalist schools, a sure way to make the masses even more stupid if ever there was one.

Is it any wonder the Gallup Poll tells us that 48 percent of Americans believe that God spit on his beefy paws and made the universe in seven days? Only 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution. It is no accident that number corresponds roughly to the percentage of Americans with college degrees. So intelligent liberals are advised to save their depression and the good booze for later, when things get worse.

Until those with power and access decide that it’s beneficial to truly educate people, and make it possible to get an education without going into crushing debt, then the mutt people here in the heartland will keep on electing dangerous dimwits in cowboy boots. And that means educating everybody, not just the small-town valedictorian or the science nerds who are cherry-picked out of the schools in places like Winchester or more rural areas. These people end up in New York or Houston or Boston—places where they can buy boutique coffees or go to the art cinema—holding down jobs in broadcasting or research or economics.

But what about the rest of the class? What about this latest generation of kids left to suffer the same multigenerational cycle of anti-intellectualism and passivity? Right now there are millions who will be lucky if they are accepted by the military, and if they are extra lucky they will qualify for a vocational school before they are absorbed forever by America’s passive, ignorant labor pool culture. In Winchester, for example, even though we are getting an influx of Washington, D.C., suburbanites who feel differently, most native hometown kids are not concerned with upward mobility at all. They could give a rip about school, and they care even less about what educated upscale people think of them.

This is a terrible and silent crisis. Working-class passivity, antipathy to intellect, and belligerence toward the outside world start early. They begin at home and continue in grade school. Yet even if the entire working class in America suddenly got religion and wanted to send every child to college, and if all children made perfect grades and wanted to broaden their worlds, it would be financially impossible under the present system. They have no savings and nothing to borrow against. Many people reading this financed their children’s educations with second mortgages. These days, working-class people who own homes have no equity left due to refinancing to pay credit card debt or medical bills. And the working poor have even less of a chance. They rent until they die, with no hope of passing along to their children any accumulated wealth in the form of equity in a home. So over the generations they stay stuck or lose ground. And they stay dumb and drink beer at Royal Lunch and vote Republican because no real liberal voice, the kind that speaks the rock-bottom, undeniable truth, ever enters their lives. Hell, it doesn’t even enter liberals’ lives these days. But it can. I have on many occasions at this very tavern found an agreeing ear to all of the very arguments made above.

One of the few good things about growing older is that one can remember what appears to have been purposefully erased from the national memory. Fifty years ago, men and women of goodwill agreed that every citizen had the right to health care and to a free and credible education. Manifestation of one’s fullest potential was considered a national goal, even by Republicans. Ike wanted national health insurance and so did Nixon. Now both are labeled as unworkable ideas. (Maybe even downright com’nist, Pootie.)

Bageant, Joe (2008-06-24). Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War (Kindle Locations 353-416). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

“Compensatory education has been tried, and it apparently has failed.”
—Arthur Jensen (1969)

“There is no evidence that school reform can substantially reduce the extent of cognitive inequality as measured by ability] tests.”
—Christopher Jencks and others (1972)

“There is no reason to believe that raising intelligence significantly and permanently is a current policy option, no matter how much money we are willing to spend.”
—Charles Murray (2007)

IN 2002 THE U.S. CONGRESS passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated that American schools eliminate the gap between the social classes and between minority groups and whites by 2014. I don’t know if most members of Congress actually believed that such accomplishments are possible. But if so, they are deeply ignorant of the forces that operate to produce high academic achievement.

Intellectual capital is the result of stimulation and support for exploration and achievement in the home, the neighborhood, and the schools. To think that this can be changed by mandate— operating only through the schools —is preposterous. Moreover , the schools attended by minorities and the poor are wanting in ways that cannot be drastically improved overnight. The problems include quality of teachers willing to work in these less rewarding schools, the caliber of school management, the disruptiveness produced by high levels of student turnover, and the nature of the schools’ clientele, whose homes and neighborhoods make it unlikely that they will be encouraged toward high academic achievement.

It should be clear from the previous chapter that there is no theoretical limit on the degree to which the achievement gap between blacks and whites can ultimately be closed. Though there is far less evidence on the native intellectual ability of the extremely broad and diverse group of cultures labeled as “Hispanic,” I see no reason why the gap cannot ultimately be bridged there as well.

On the other hand, it should be clear that unlike the black/ white and Hispanic/ white gaps in achievement and IQ, the social-class gap is never going to be closed. This is true, if for no other reason, because the well-off are always going to find ways to get a better education for their children and are always going to find ways to be ahead in terms of parenting skills and are always going to be able to provide superior neighborhood environments. In addition, there is always going to be at least some difference in the gene pools of the lower class and the middle class. Recall from Chapter 1 that within a given family the sibling with a substantially higher IQ achieves much higher socioeconomic status (SES) than less favored brothers and sisters. And since the higher IQ is attained in part by virtue of a better luck of the draw from the gene pool of the parents, higher SES is always going to be in part a result of better genes for intelligence. So higher-SES people are going to pass along better prospects for intelligence to their offspring by virtue of having, on average, better genes and by offering better environmental advantages to their offspring.

But these considerations should not be cause for pessimism about the degree to which the intellectual lot of lower-SES people can be improved. Recall from Chapter 2 (on heredity) that the effect of an upper-middle class upbringing on children born to lower-SES parents is to raise the IQ by 12 to 18 points. The theoretical ceiling for improvement of lower-SES intellectual capital is very high indeed.

But how much improvement can we realistically hope to produce for lower-SES individuals and for currently disadvantaged minorities?

Nisbett, Richard E. (2009-01-08). Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (Kindle Locations 1840-1869). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Since school makes children smarter, there is no doubt that better schools can make them smarter still. Although vouchers, charter schools, whole-school interventions, and teacher certification or higher academic degrees do not reliably improve education, other factors do— and some matter a great deal. Teachers differ a lot in quality, and so finding ways to improve the quality of teaching could make a great difference. If we could replace the bottom 5 percent of teachers every year with average-quality teachers, the level of children’s academic performance would increase hugely in just a few years. Use of computer-assisted forms of teaching can produce huge gains in the rate of learning, and some types of cooperative learning are highly effective. And recall the Herrnstein demonstration with an intensive program in Venezuela that radically improved the problem-solving skills of ordinary junior high school students . It also raised their IQ scores by a nontrivial amount— 5 points on a typical test of multiple problem-solving skills.

The received opinion about the relationship between social class and intelligence is that intelligence, which is largely inherited, drives social class. Smarter people have better genes so they are destined to rise in society, whereas less smart people have worse genes so they are destined to fall. It is true that intelligence is partially heritable, and more intelligent people on average will be of a higher social class in virtue of their greater inherited intelligence. But I believe that the role of genetic inheritance in determining social class is fairly small. The difference between the average IQ of the children of the lower third of the socioeconomic status (SES) distribution and the average IQ of the children of the upper third is about 10 points. We know that some of this is due to biological but not genetic factors, including exercise, breast-feeding, and exposure to alcohol or cigarette smoke, as well as hazardous chemicals and pollution. And some of it is due to the disruption in schools of lower-SES children and to the fact that peers are pulling intelligence mostly in a down direction. We also know that socialization in lower-SES homes is not optimal for developing either IQ or school readiness. Moreover, a child born into roughly the bottom sixth of the SES distribution will have an IQ 12 to 18 points higher if raised by parents from roughly the top quarter of the SES distribution. All of this does not leave much room for genes in the social-class equation. I do not doubt that genes play a role, but I would be surprised to find that the differences in inherent genetic potential of the social classes are very great. Certainly much if not most of the 10 points separating the average of the children of the lower third and the average of the children of the upper third is environmental in origin.

For the race difference in IQ, we can be confident that genes play no role at all. Most of the evidence offered for a genetic component to the race difference is indirect and readily refuted. Virtually all of the direct evidence, which is due mostly to the natural experiment resulting from the fact that American “blacks” range from being completely African to largely European in heritage, indicates no genetic difference at all with respect to IQ. And the difference between the races in both IQ and academic achievement is being reduced at the rate of about one-third of a standard deviation per generation. The IQ of the average black is now greater than that of the average white in 1950.

The No Child Left Behind Act demands that the difference in academic achievement between the classes and between the races be erased in half a generation by the schools alone. This is absurd. It ignores the fact that class and race differences begin in early infancy and have as much to do with economic factors and neighborhood and cultural differences as with schools.

That is the bad news about gap reduction . The good news is that big improvements in IQ and academic achievement for lower-SES and minority children are possible. And we know at least the outlines of what those improvements look like. Half-measures have been tried and are not going to make a lot of difference. We need intensive early childhood education for the poor, and we need home visitation to teach parents how to encourage intellectual development. Such efforts can produce huge immediate gains in IQ and enormous long-term gains in academic achievement and occupational attainment . Highly ambitious elementary, junior high, and high school programs can also produce massive gains in academic achievement. And a variety of simple, cost-free interventions, including, most notably, simply convincing students that their intelligence is under their control to a substantial extent, can make a big difference to academic achievement.

Believing that intelligence is under your control— and having parents who demand achievement— can do wonders. At any rate that has been true for Asians and Jews. There is no reliable evidence of a genetic difference in intelligence between people of East Asian descent and people of European descent. In fact, there is little difference in intelligence between the two groups as measured by IQ tests. Some evidence indicates that East Asians start school with lower IQs than do white Americans. After a few years of school this difference seems to disappear. But the academic achievement of East Asians—especially in math and the sciences, where effort counts for a lot— is light-years beyond that of European Americans. Americans of East Asian extraction also differ little in IQ from European Americans. In any case, the academic achievement and occupational attainment of Asian Americans exceed by a great amount what they “should” be accomplishing given their IQs. The explanation for the Asian/ Western gap lies in hard work and persistence.

Jewish culture undoubtedly has similarly beneficial effects. Jewish values emphasize accomplishment in general and intellectual attainment in particular. Differences between Jews and non-Jews in intellectual accomplishment at the highest levels are very great. A genetic explanation for this is not required inasmuch as even greater differences have occurred for Arabs and Chinese versus Europeans in the Middle Ages, for differences between European countries at various points since the Middle Ages (with reversals occurring between Italy and England and with movement from savagery to sagacity in scarcely two centuries in Scotland), and for regional differences in the United States. We are left with an IQ difference of two-thirds to a standard deviation between Jews and non-Jews. At least some of this difference is surely cultural in origin.

Finally, there is much that we can do to increase the intelligence and academic achievement of ourselves and our children . Everything from the biological (exercise and avoidance of smoking and drinking for pregnant women, and breast-feeding for newborns) to the didactic (teaching categorization, following good tutoring principles) can make a difference to intelligence.

We can now shake off the yoke of hereditarianism in all of our thinking about intelligence. Believing that our intelligence is substantially under our control won’t make us smart by itself. But it’s a good start.

Nisbett, Richard E. (2009-01-08). Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (Kindle Locations 2967-3018). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

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Although the premise of “No Child Left Behind” (the Bush administration’s signature education bill) is that racial achievement gaps should be closed completely within ten years, the legislation never came with the kind of resource supports needed to make that goal achievable. Although No Child Left Behind requires certain outcomes, it does not mandate that schools must equalize the resources available to all students in order to make those more equitable outcomes likely. Nor did the law—which has so far been continued under the Obama administration, with very little functional change in its specific policy formulations—seek to put an end to the pernicious tracking practices in our schools that all but guarantee the leaving behind of children. In fact, many states have adopted norm-referenced tests as determinants of their “annual yearly progress” (mandated by the law), failing to appreciate that norm-referenced tests by definition produce a distribution where half of all test-takers will fall below the 50-percentile mark and thus be considered below average.169 In other words, tests that mandate failure and inequity in achievement are being used under a law intended to promote success and reduce inequity! To advocate equity but maintain structures that, by definition, create inequity is the ultimate contradiction.

As a result of No Child Left Behind, schools have been under intense pressure to meet federal guidelines for test scores, so as not to be sanctioned by the Department of Education. This pressure has been especially intense for schools serving mostly students of color, causing many such schools to emphasize teaching to the test, simply to meet federal and even state standards, rather than teaching the kinds of high-level materials given to students in suburbs and private schools.170 High-stakes testing has also created incentives for schools to push lower-achieving students out, rather than keep them in the schools, attempt to educate them and suffer the possible penalty if they fail, in terms of meeting testing requirements.171 In Chicago, for instance, schools have been expelling low-achieving students even by the age of 16, under the pretense that their academic achievement or attendance records make it unlikely that they would graduate by the age of 21. Rather than resolve to educate such students—almost all of whom are students of color—the schools give up, remove the students and thus boost their test-score profile as a result, with blacks banished from the schools at three times the rate of whites or Latinos.172

In post-Katrina New Orleans, supposedly “open enrollment” charter schools—intended to inject competition into the city’s previously failing school system and lauded as having done so—have been pre-screening students to determine which of them are unlikely to pass a state required test the following year. Then the students who fail in the pre-test are pushed out, so as to protect the school’s test scores in line with state and federal mandates. Others have counseled parents of lower-achieving students, or those with inconsistent attendance, to voluntarily withdraw from charter schools or face expulsion. Once these students are removed, the charters are left with the supposedly “better” students, which allows them to meet federal and state standards by selecting their student bodies. Needless to say, virtually all students being pushed out are black.173

Also under No Child Left Behind, schools must demonstrate the elimination of performance gaps between those who have limited English proficiency (LEP) and those for whom English is their native language. Although this is an admirable goal, it cannot be met in most cases for one simple reason: namely, in most districts, once students demonstrate English proficiency, they are removed from the LEP group and their scores are no longer considered part of the LEP group averages. Thus, by definition, the only persons remaining in the LEP group will be those who are not proficient in the language of the test, and who therefore will not likely perform well on it.174

In addition to unequal instruction and regulations under No Child Left Behind that all but ensure disparate racial outcomes in schooling, there is also a substantial amount of evidence demonstrating profoundly unequal discipline meted out to students of color as compared to whites. Nationally, fourteen separate studies have found clear racial disparities in rates of suspension and expulsion from school. Black students are two to three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than whites, even though they do not, contrary to popular belief, violate school rules disproportionately, relative to white students.175 Indeed, when it comes to some of the most serious school rule infractions, whites often lead the pack, and they certainly violate those rules at least as often as black and brown students do, from possession of drugs to drinking and smoking.176 Most of the infractions for which students of color are punished are vague, highly subjective offenses—far more given to interpretation and thus implicit bias on the part of teachers—such as “disrespect for authority,” “making excessive noise” or loitering.177

Significantly, the research suggests that unequal discipline is not due to mere class bias against lower-income students. In fact, even when comparing only blacks and whites of the same economic status, black students face disproportionate suspensions and expulsions relative to rates of misbehavior. As Russell Skiba, a professor at Indiana University, notes:

“Contrary to the socioeconomic hypothesis, the current investigation demonstrates that significant racial disparities in school discipline remain even after controlling for socio-economic status. In this sample, an index of socioeconomic status had virtually no effect when used as a covariate in a test of racial differences in office referrals and suspensions. Indeed, disciplinary disproportionality by socioeconomic status appears to be a somewhat less robust finding than gender or racial disparity.”178

As with so much of the evidence regarding racial inequity in the educational system, this suggests that colorblind universalism as a way to reduce racial disparities will prove inadequate. There is simply too much race-specific injury occurring to allow for post-racialism (at the level of ideology or policy) to suffice. Unfortunately, teachers often go out of their way to be colorblind— or what educational theorist Mica Pollock calls “colormute”—by failing to discuss race, or even to use basic and benign racial descriptors to describe their students. As a result, educators replicate inequities by failing to get to the bottom of their own biases or the structural impediments to equal opportunity within their schools.179

Wise, Tim (2010-06-01). Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 1544-1604). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.

And finally, authorize a substantial amount of money, as part of the No Child Left Behind educational reform package, to train teachers nationwide on the various ways that racism and discrimination—both explicit and implicit—can indeed leave children behind, despite the best of teacher intentions. Although No Child Left Behind is problematic in any number of ways, one of its biggest weaknesses is having a mandate for the closing of racial achievement gaps without the resources necessary to actually close them. Those resources, however, are not just material supplies—as is often believed—but also the resources of teacher preparation and an understanding of the specific dynamics that are contributing to the racial achievement gap in the first place. Unless teachers are trained, and consistently so, to recognize the social determiners of the achievement gap, even their best efforts at instruction may not help close those gaps. If the federal government is going to place mandates on local schools and school districts, it should see to it that teachers receive the kinds of preparation needed to make their efforts successful. These trainings should be developed in conjunction with educators in the nation’s teaching colleges, utilizing the best practices known to them for preparing teachers to reduce racial achievement gaps.

Wise, Tim (2010-06-01). Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 2700-2709). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.

170. Paul Street, Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in Post-Civil Rights America (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 78.
171. Linda Darling-Hammond, “From‘Separate but Equal’ to ‘No Child Left Behind’: The Collision of New Standards and Old Inequalities,” in Many Children Left Behind, eds. Deborah Meier and George Wood (Boston: Beacon Press, (2004), p. 4.
172. Street (2005), p. 81.
173. Sarah Goff, “When Education Ceases to Be Public: The Privatization of the New Orleans School System, Post–Hurricane Katrina,” submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master’s of Science in Urban Studies, University of New Orleans (May, 2009).
174. Darling-Hammond (2004), 10.
175. Russell J. Skiba et al., The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment (Indiana Education Policy Center, Research Report SRS1, June 2000), pp. 6, 13.
176. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System: Youth 2003 Online, Comprehensive Results (2004),
177. Skiba et al. (2000), p. 4.
178. Russell Skiba, Robert S. Michael, Abra Carroll Nardo and Reece L. Peterson, “The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment,” The Urban Review 34:4 (December 2002), p. 333.
179. Mica Pollock, Colormute: Race Talk Dilemmas in an American School (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

* * * *

Education experts are keeping an eye on the Afrikan Centered Education Collegium Campus (ACECC) in Kansas City, Missouri . The 40-acre campus, which opened in 2007, serves mostly black pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students . Teachers stress cultural pride and “expected greatness” as students strive for academic excellence. In 2007, all the schools on the campus met the Average Yearly Progress (AYP) standard mandated by the national “No Child Left Behind” Act.

The schools are the brainchild of educator Audrey Bullard, who worked as a teacher in Liberia for 18 months more than 30 years ago. In 1991, Bullard led a grassroots effort with other educators and parents to transform J.S. Chick Elementary in Kansas City into a school with an African-centered curriculum. The school has consistently scored as one of the top schools in the school district, with 48 percent of its students scoring at the proficient or advanced levels on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) fourth -grade math test in 2005 . Comparatively, only 24 percent of black students and 36 percent of white students statewide scored as high that year. Although the approach relies heavily on parental involvement and an innovative curriculum, it offers another important component: students are taught to see themselves as contributors, leaders, potential entrepreneurs, and valuable parts of their communities.

The Betty Shabazz International Charter School in Chicago, founded by Madhubuti and his wife Safisha, is an institution that teaches black children that they control their lives and futures. It’s a crucial factor, Madhubuti said:

“You can’t minimize the importance of cultural knowledge… you cannot build a healthy child— most certainly, he or she will not have a healthy world view—if he or she does not see himself or herself involved creatively in the development of civilization, culture, industry, science.”

In 2006, the school ranked first in composite test scores among 10 public schools in the Greater Grand Crossing area, where Shabazz is the only charter. Sixty-seven percent of the school’s students met the state’s educational standards. When teaching science, for example, Makita Kheperu, principal at Shabazz, explained how the school makes the subject relevant to a student’s environment: “In science, they examine what kinds of decisions scientists make… and they learn the scientific method by exploring culturally relevant questions like: Why is diabetes more prevalent among African Americans than the general population?”

According to Illinois State data, Shabazz and Woodlawn Community School— another African-centered Chicago school— outperformed several neighboring schools on the 2006 Illinois Standard Achievement Test, with about 68 percent of Woodland’s students meeting the state’s standards.

These schools reflect the unfinished business of educational experiments started after Emancipation with the likes of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the dreamers who sought to establish independent black schools before they were sidetracked by the promise of better education in white schools. These institutions offer templates for educational reform that can reprogram parents and students to help close the achievement gap, and open bold new pathways to unlimited possibility.

Burrell, Tom (2010-02-01). Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority (Kindle Locations 2877-2902). SmileyBooks. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

Test score gaps between minorities and majorities are real, and they measure something that matters for performance in economic and social life. However, they do not estimate all that is important.

Gaps in Soft Skills.

Most discussions of racial and ethnic achievement gaps focus on measures of scholastic ability. Indeed, many analysts measure the achievement gap exclusively by differences in scores on standardized academic tests. This emphasis reflects a broad consensus in American society about the value of achievement tests that are used to monitor the success and failure of schools and students. The No Child Left Behind Act has pushed this focus to what some have described as a mania. The program has created a culture of “teaching to the test” in schools, with consequent neglect of the subjects and by-products of schooling that are not tested.[25]

Success in life requires more than book learning or high scores on achievement tests.[26] As filmmaker Woody Allen put it, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”[27] While the cognitive skills measured by achievement tests are powerful predictors of life success, so are socio-emotional skills. Sometimes called “soft skills” or character traits, these include motivation, sociability (the ability to work with and cooperate with others), attention, self-regulation, self-esteem, and the ability to defer gratification. Good schools and functional families foster soft skills as well as cognitive skills.[28] Soft skills are as predictive, if not more predictive, of educational success, wages earned, and participation in crime or in healthy behaviors as are cognitive skills.[29] Disadvantaged children of all race groups possess lower levels of soft skills.[30]

Klarman, Michael J.; Sabbaugh, Daniel; Lee, Taeku; Young Jr., Alford A.; Massey, Douglas S.; Wilson, William Julius; Heckman, James J.; Nisbett, Richard E.; Bobo, Lawrence D. (2011-07-14). Daedalus 140:2 (Spring 2011) – Race, Inequality & Culture, Vol. 2 (Kindle Locations 1703-1717). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

25 Daniel M. Koretz, Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008); Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder, Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right (New York: Economic Policy Institute and Teachers College Press, 2008).
26 Mathilde Almlund, Angela L. Duckworth, James J. Heckman, and Tim Kautz, “Personality Psychology and Economics,” Handbook of the Economics of Education, ed. Eric A. Hanushek, S. Machin, and L. Wößmann (Amsterdam: Elsevier, forthcoming 2011).
27 William Safire, “On Language; the Elision Fields,” The New York Times, August 13, 1989.
28 See the evidence summarized in Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman, and Kautz, “Personality Psychology and Economics.”
29 Ibid.
30 See the evidence cited in Pedro Carneiro and James J. Heckman, “Human Capital Policy,” in Inequality in America: What Role for Human Capital Policies? ed. James J. Heckman, Alan B. Krueger, and Benjamin M. Friedman (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003); Flavio Cunha, James J. Heckman, Lance J. Lochner, and Dimitriy V. Masterov, “Interpreting the Evidence on Life Cycle Skill Formation,” in Handbook of the Economics of Education, ed. Eric A. Hanushek and Frank Welch, vol. 1 (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 2006).




Who are the Basque?

There was a recent human interest story. It was a rare type of report to hear in the news.

A runner was the clear winner as he approached the end of the race, but he thought he had already crossed the finishing line and slowed down. The runner a little ways behind him caught up. This other guy could have run past and taken first place. Instead, he chose not to take advantage of the situation. He pointed out the actual finishing line and let the guy in the lead to keep his lead.

That is an unexpected response. Sports, especially in the United States, is typically portrayed as win or lose and that is all that matters. I would have been shocked if he had been an American athlete who put sportsmanship before winning, but that wasn’t the case.

The one in the lead was a Kenyan and the one in second place was a Basque. The Basque people have one of the most interesting histories in Europe. Their home region is in a mountainous region between Spain and France, and this particular Basque was of Spanish nationality. By American standards, at least, the Basque would most likely be labeled white, although they are somewhat genetically unique as a population. The Kenyan, on the other hand was black.

So, from a xenophobic mentality, there was no reason for one of these guys to do a kindness to the other guy. Competitive sports often touch on deep cultural issues. Individuals play sports not just to prove themselves best but also their group the best.

The divide between these two guys was immense. It was simultaneously a divide between competitors, nationalities, ethnicities, and races. However, the Basque runner apparently didn’t see the world in those terms. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with him being Basque. Knowing their proud history of an isolated and independent society, if anything, I might expect a Basque runner to be more competitively tribalistic.

I doubt this story really has much of anything to do with his being Basque, but that was what caught my eye. I’ve been interested in the Basque for years now. I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer some passages from a few books and following that some links to more information. The Basque are a fascinating people.

* * * *

Some of Champlain’s best sources were Basque whalers and fishermen— French Basques and Spanish Basques as he called them. Their whaling stations dotted the American coast from Labrador to the Gulf of Maine for many years. They developed the technology of whale hunting and invented the light and graceful whaleboats that would be used for many centuries.

Later, Champlain got to know a Basque named Captain Savalette, a “fine old seaman” who hailed from the French port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. They first met in 1607, on Savalette’s forty-second voyage to North America. He had been making annual Atlantic crossings for many years—eighty-three of them since 1565, before Champlain was born. Captain Savalette and his crew of sixteen men worked near Canso in what is now Nova Scotia, operating out of a little fishing cove that Champlain later named in his honor. The work was perilous, but highly profitable. In a good year they took home 100,000 big cod , which brought as much as five crowns apiece on the Paris market.

Through the sixteenth century, the Basques also traded with Indians, who wanted iron pots, copper pans, steel knives, metal arrowheads, and woolen textiles such as red blankets from Catalonia.

In return, the Basques wanted furs. So strong was the European demand that the rate of exchange for a fine beaver pelt rose from one knife to eighty knives in the course of Captain Savalette’s career. Europeans also traded for products of the forest: sassafras was valued as a medicinal tea, and ginseng as a sexual restorative. By 1600, Native Americans had become aggressive entrepreneurs. Some Indians got the jump on competitors by acquiring European shallops and meeting European vessels at sea— a maritime equivalent of forestalling the market.

A complex web of cultural relations had developed between Europeans and American Indians long before Champlain came to the new world. The northern coast acquired a unique trading language, a pidgin speech borrowed from many tongues. Much of it was Basque and Algonquian. A startling example is the word Iroquois. Linguists conclude that it was a complex coinage in the pidgin speech of the North American coast— a French understanding of an Algonquian version of two Basque words that meant “killer people.” The term was well established when Champlain became the first to publish it in 1603.

Fischer, David Hackett (2008-10-14). Champlain’s Dream (Kindle Locations 2063-2085). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

By Champlain’s time, Basque whalers in New France had invented the beautiful and very light whaleboat, double-ended with incredibly thin strakes, which oarsmen could send skimming across the water. They were not invented by Nantucket Yankees. French and Spanish Basques developed them from Biscayan shallops, called chalupas in Basque. They were framed from naturally curved oak and planked with very thin oak strakes, clinker-built above the waterline and carvel-built below to reduce drag and increase speed. They could carry a crew of seven or eight. These chalupas were in use on the coast of Labrador and the lower St. Lawrence River by 1600. Maritime archaeologists from Red Bay, Labrador have recovered early examples, remarkably intact.

Fischer, David Hackett (2008-10-14). Champlain’s Dream (Kindle Locations 11994-11999). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

One observation shines bright from the genetics. The bulk of informative male gene markers among the so-called Atlantic Celts are derived from down in south-west Europe, best represented by people of the Basque Country. What is more, they share this Atlantic coastal link with certain dated expansions of mtDNA gene groups, representing each of the main, archaeologically dated, putative colonization events of the western British Isles. One might expect the original Mesolithic hunter-gatherer colonists of the Atlantic coast, over 10,000 years ago, to have derived from the Ice Age refuges of the western Mediterranean: Spain, south-west France and the Basque Country. And that was indeed the case: shared genetic elements, both in the British Isles and Iberia, did include such Mesolithic mtDNA founding gene lines originating in the Basque region.

Perhaps more surprising and pleasing was the identification, among ‘Atlantic Celts’, of gene lines which arrived later, in the British Neolithic period, deriving ultimately from the very first farming communities in Turkey. The British Neolithic began over 6,000 years ago, but the archaeological and genetic evidence points to two separate arms, or pincer routes, of Neolithic migration into the British Isles from different parts of Europe, each with its own cultural precursors and human genetic trail markers. Most Neolithic migration more culturally than genetically is apparent, but in this instance human migration is supported by genetic evidence.

One of these migrations may have come up the Atlantic coast and into Cornwall, Ireland and Wales, preceded in France by the arrival of a particular pottery type known as Cardial Impressed Ware. Cardial Ware had in turn spread mainly by sea, west along the northern Mediterranean coast via Italy and the Riviera, and then across southern France to arrive near Brittany by around 7,000 years ago. In parallel with this cultural flow, specific gene lines appear to have travelled along the northern Mediterranean coast, round Spain and directly through southern France to the British Isles. In the case of this real Neolithic migration, however, the Basque Country seems to have been partly bypassed. The other Neolithic migration went up the Danube from the Black Sea to Germany and the Netherlands (but more of that later).

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 353-370). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

As to who and what were the main British ancestors, we can say they were largely Ice Age hunting families from Spain, Portugal and the south of France. The Basque region still preserves the closest genetic image of the Ice Age refuge community. Obviously, the Basque refuge area has since received intrusions of its own, particularly from the Mediterranean and North Africa, but these still constitute only a small percentage of that region’s present-day gene pool.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 2192-2195). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

In total, around 27%52 of modern British men can claim descent through their fathers from the seven clusters arriving in this early post-LGM period. This is certainly within the bracket of the 25–42% I estimated for maternal descent, but obviously nearer the lower limit of 25%. But even a 30% contribution of Basque Late Upper Palaeolithic male and female ancestors for modern British imposes a completely different balance on our ‘roots’ perspectives.

I shall return to the events taking place after the 13,000-year threshold, but it is likely that this genetic watershed between the initial Late Upper Palaeolithic recolonization period and what came later, during the Mesolithic, is not just a genetic accident. The watershed may reflect the profound climatic reversal that occurred 13,000 years ago, known as the Younger Dryas Event, a short worldwide freeze-up which ended abruptly around 11,500 years ago with another equally dramatic warm-up (see below).

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 2323-2332). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

whatever languages those early hunters and gatherers may have spoken it was unlikely to have been celtic or Germanic. In fact, sub-structural linguistic evidence within both these modern branches of Indo-European suggests the oldest language of the British Isles may have been more like Basque.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 2469-2472). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

A less obvious problem is the fixation in all the academic literature on celtic languages to the exclusion of any others. While it is generally accepted that there were other languages, probably non-Indo-European, in the British Isles before celtic, few have speculated as to what these may have been or as to whether there were non-Indo-European influences persisting from before the arrival of celtic in the Isles. Munich-based German linguist Theo Vennemann has addressed all of these issues and although his reconstruction is controversial, there are extraordinary resonances with the genetic picture.110 First, Vennemann argues for an ancient post-glacial European language sub-stratum on the basis of river-names. He calls this language family Vasconic (i.e. linguistically like the Basque and as with their re-expansion, originating in the Basque refuge and spreading north, west and east). This sub-stratum was progressively overlaid from southeast Europe by Indo-European during the Neolithic starting from 7,500 years ago, moving through central Europe and reaching Scandinavia by 6,000 years ago.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 3909-3917). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

The secret fascination of the Indo-European language family for prehistorians is that there are very few extant languages in Europe that belong to other families. The exceptions are famous in that they break the rule. Apart from some European members of the Uralic family (Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian and Saami), Basque is the most widely touted exception since it has no known relatives at all and has a special pride of place for geneticists. The Basque Country is not only one of the central locations of the West European Ice Age refuge, but there are clear genetic and cultural differences between Basques and the surrounding populations. As I have mentioned, these differences have been overstated – the Basques are a genetically representative population for south-west Europe who were conserved and isolated and largely bypassed during the Neolithic. Some linguists even detect substratum evidence of Basque in structural aspects of English and insular celtic languages. However, in Roman times they were not the only linguistic exception: Iberian was another, totally different, non-Indo-European language.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 4327-4334). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

There certainly is a deep genetic division between peoples of the west and east coasts of the British Isles, particularly between the English and the Welsh, but this does not merely reflect the Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman invasions. These were only the most recent of a succession of waves of cultural and genetic influx from north-west Europe, going back to the first farmers and before. Even the first settlers to come up from the Basque Ice Age refuge left different genetic traces on the east and west coasts of Britain. That difference was merely added to by subsequent migrations across the North Sea.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 6894-6898). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

The arrival of celtic languages and associated gene flow could hardly be classed as evidence for the establishment of a Celtic replacement of a former unknown British population on genetic grounds. The highest single rate of Neolithic intrusion from the Mediterranean route in the British Isles was in Abergele at 33%. But in Ireland, such Neolithic intrusion was only around 4%, while it was 2% in Cornwall, 6–9% in the two Welsh peninsulas, and 8–11% in the Channel Islands and southern England (Figures 5.6 and 5.8). For England and the Channel Islands, the Neolithic contribution from the East via the northern route, just across the North Sea, was the same or greater than for the Atlantic coastal source (Figure 5.7).

In other words, Ireland and the Welsh peninsulas – which, on the basis of recent history and language, might be thought to be Celtic bastions – have less evidence of Neolithic genetic intrusions, let alone from the Bronze or Iron Age, than anywhere else in the British Isles. Of course, the flip side of this is that their descendants are truly aboriginal and genetically represent the most conservative parts of the British Isles, retaining respectively 88% and 89% of their pre-Neolithic founding lineages (Figure 11.5a). And where do those founding lineages come from? They come from the same part of Europe, the southwest, but more specifically they match the equally conservative region of the Basque Country.

Ultimately ancestors for the modern Irish population, male and female did come from the same region as those ancient celtic inscriptions, but thousands of years before celtic languages. But then every other sample in the British Isles shows at least 60% retention of those pre-Neolithic aboriginal male founders, reflecting the very conservative nature of the British Isles after the Last Glacial Maximum.

Translating all this back to question the assumption that ‘Celts’, however defined, were the aboriginal peoples of the British Isles, we can see new perspectives, which depend on how that definition is applied. First, if Celts were to be defined by their languages, the small proportion of associated gene flow would make them an invading cultural elite with no stronger claims to aboriginal status than the Anglo-Saxons. If we focused more specifically on those 2–10% of immigrating southern Neolithic, Bronze or Iron Age genes as identifying people rather than language, they would be even less ‘aboriginal’ in Ireland and Wales than in the rest of the British Isles.

I think we should take Cunliffe’s gradualist concept of the Longue Durée of the Atlantic cultural network as a paradigm for the genetics, as Irish geneticists Brian McEvoy and Dan Bradley of Trinity College Dublin, with English colleagues Martin Richards and Peter Forster, have done. Rather than being on the fringe of a celtic-speaking Neolithic revolution, the Atlantic fringe countries of Ireland and peninsular Wales then become the genetic aboriginal strongholds of post-LGM and Mesolithic gene flow from the Iberian glacial refuge, now best represented in south-west Europe by the equally conservative genetic profile of the Basque Country. The rest of Britain and the northern isles off Scotland then become more or less aboriginal with rates varying from 60% to 80% of ‘indigenous’ male markers (Figure 11.5a). In a sense, this is similar to the position taken on the Y gene group markers of ‘the indigenous population of the British Isles’ by geneticist Cristian Capelli (see Chapter 11), only my estimates for indigenous survival are much higher.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 6946-6975). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

And in truth, the first tentative engagements occurred well before that— at least a thousand years ago, when the Vikings tried to colonize eastern Canada, and the Basques surreptitiously discovered , as early as the fifteenth century, the great cod and whale fisheries off eastern Canada and New England. It’s difficult to say exactly when the tightlipped Basques first arrived; by the time the French and English showed up around 1600, they found Mi’kmaq Indians who were fluent in the Basque trading language and who skillfully sailed Basque-made shallops. One stunned Frenchman saw a Mi’kmaq glide by with an immense red moose painted jauntily on his sail. The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America looks at how these unimaginably different cultures grew steadily more similar through the centuries and yet remained stubbornly, and in the end tragically, estranged.

Weidensaul, Scott (2012-02-08). The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America’ (Kindle Locations 153-159). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Eventually, though, the skrælings drove the Vikings out of Vinland, although evidence suggests that the Norse continued to make periodic voyages there for perhaps several hundred years more, until cooling climatic conditions drove their Greenland colony into extinction around 1400.% 2 By then, other Europeans were coming regularly to what was referred to as Hy-Brasil, the Seven Cities, or the Isles of Antilla, all names for imagined lands west of Ireland. Dreamers assumed Hy-Brasil was a place of great wealth and opulence; doubters scoffed that it was just a myth . But the Basques knew it was a very real place—the land of bakailao, or cod.

Not that they were telling anyone. Basque fishermen may have been making trips to the northeastern coast of North America as early as the thirteenth or fourteenth century, reaping the unimaginable bounty of the cod-rich fishing banks off Newfoundland and the Maritimes. Certainly by the fifteenth century, they were regularly crossing the North Atlantic for the summer fishing season, landing to salt and dry their catch, then bringing it back to Catholic Europe, required to eat fish half the days of the ecclesiastical year.

Good businessmen , the Basques kept their mouths shut about their sources, but by the 1480s English fishermen from Bristol were seeking the cod grounds as well, and may have found them. When Giovanni Caboto (better known as John Cabot) “discovered” his “New Found Ile Land” in 1497, it was no doubt to the disgust of the Basques, who’d had a pretty good thing going there for centuries. Jacques Cartier, setting out in 1534 on behalf of France, relied on directions from Breton fishermen who had been going there for years. When Cartier sailed into the mouth of the St. Lawrence , he was greeted by so many Mi’kmaqs and Montagnais (Innu), long accustomed to European visitors and waving furs to trade from the shore, that his nerve deserted him and he fired guns to scare them off.

Basque whalers came, too. In 1412 a fleet of 20 whaling ships passed Iceland, heading west. Beginning in the 1530s, as many as 600 men a year came to hunt right and bowhead whales, setting up seasonal camps along the Labrador coast. By the summer of 1578 , more than 350 European vessels were fishing off the coast of Newfoundland, with another 20 or 30 Spanish whalers working the waters between Newfoundland and Labrador. In all, some 20,000 Europeans were employed seasonally in the cod and whale fisheries there. Within two years, the French fleet had grown from 150 to 500 ships.

In 1583 , Sir Humphrey Gilbert found the harbor at St. John’s, Newfoundland , choked with foreign boats— which did not stop him from striding ashore and cutting the thick turf to ceremonially take possession of the land for England, thus formally establishing the English empire. The Basque, Portuguese, and Breton fishermen— never mind the native Beothuk— were unimpressed.

If Ktə̀hαnəto had been able to talk to the Indians of the Southeast coast, he’d have gotten an earful about Europeans, none of it good. When the Spaniard Ponce de León explored Florida in 1513, the Calusa Indians tried to cut his anchor lines from shielded canoes, while carefully keeping out of range of his ships’ cannons and crossbows, suggesting they’d already learned the hard way to be careful around European weaponry. The hostile reception and the lack of rich gold and silver mines like those found in Mesoamerica kept Spanish colonization at bay for decades.

Not that they didn’t try. In 1526, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón and six hundred colonists sailed from Hispaniola up the North American coast, founding the colony of San Miguel de Gualdape . Just where they tried to settle has been placed variously on the Pee Dee River in South Carolina and Sapelo Island in Georgia. Whatever the location, within three months the colony went bust, Ayllón was dead, and fewer than a third of the colonists were able to limp back to Hispaniola.

French Huguenots tried to settle at Fort Caroline (now Jacksonville, Florida) in 1564, and that was enough to prod the Spanish into decisive action. They massacred the French, established St. Augustine the following year, and salted the coasts of Florida and Georgia with forts to protect their treasure fleets and with missions to convert and control the Indians. The Timucua, who had helped the French colonists , dwindled quickly toward extinction. The Guale, who had already tangled with Ayllón, rose up twice against their invaders, as part of a regional revolt in 1576 and again in 1597 in an especially violent insurrection. Both times, the Spanish retaliated by burning Guale towns wholesale. But the microbial assault from the Europeans was far worse. By 1600, diseases introduced by the Spanish had reduced what may have been a pre-contact population of 1.3 million people in the Southeast to less than a sixth that number.

The centuries of contact between northeastern tribes and Europeans also had left their mark. Three years before Waymouth’s voyage, Bartholomew Gosnold was sailing along the Maine coast. To his shock, he encountered a party of six or eight Indians expertly sailing “a Baske-shallop with mast and sails, an iron grapple, and a kettle of copper . . . one of them apparelled with a waistcoat and breeches of black serge, made after our sea-fashion, hose and shoes on his feet .” Onboard Gosnold’s ship, the Indian commander drew a chalk map of the coast and mentioned the Newfoundland fishing harbor of Placentia, whose name came from plazenta, the Basque word for “pleasantness.”

“They spoke divers Christian words, and seemed to understand much more than we,” one of Gosnold’s companions wrote. No doubt the Indians, using the trade pidgin long employed with the Basques, were surprised by the newcomers ’ obtuseness . By the early 1600s, pidgin Basque was the lingua franca of Northeast trade, and the coastal people of the Maritimes were fluent when meeting their adesquides. Mathieu Da Costa— a free black man whose skills as an interpreter commanded a handsome price among Dutch and French traders— was able to make himself understood to the Mi’kmaq and Montagnais in the first years of the seventeenth century, probably using another form of Basque pidgin that had developed on the slave coast of Africa. One early-seventeenth-century visitor to the Maritimes observed that “the language of the coast tribes is half Basque.”

Weidensaul, Scott (2012-02-08). The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America’ (Kindle Locations 541-588). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

And that was the face of the East at the moment when the first regular contacts began between the New World and the Old: the close-mouth Basques trading iron kettles for furs while their catch dried in the sun; the Bristol merchants sniffing along behind them to find the source of the cod ; the trickle of ships that would soon become a colonizing flood.

Weidensaul, Scott (2012-02-08). The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America’ (Kindle Locations 1326-1328). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

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As well as being instrumental in getting Arthur Mourant a job, the Rhesus blood groups were also about to play a central role in what people were thinking about the origins of modern Europeans and in identifying the continent’s most influential genetic population – the fiercely independent Basques of north-west Spain and south-west France. The Basques are unified by their common language, Euskara, which is unique in Europe in that it has no linguistic connection with any other living language. That it survives at all in the face of its modern rivals, Castilian Spanish and French, is remarkable enough. But two thousand years ago, it was only the disruption of imperial Roman administration in that part of the empire that saved Euskara from being completely swamped by Latin, which was the fate of the now extinct Iberian language in eastern Spain and south-east France. The Basques provided us with an invaluable clue to the genetic history of the whole of Europe, as we shall see later in the book, but their elevation to special genetic status only began when Arthur Mourant started to look closely at the Rhesus blood groups.

Most people have heard about the Rhesus blood groups in connection with ‘blue baby syndrome’ or ‘haemolytic disease of the new-born’ to give it its full medical title. This serious and often fatal condition affects the second or subsequent pregnancy of mothers who are ‘Rhesus negative’ – that is, who do not possess the Rhesus antigen on the surface of their red blood cells. What happens is this. When a Rhesus negative mother bears the child of a Rhesus positive father (whose red blood cells do carry the Rhesus antigen), there is a high probability that the foetus will be Rhesus positive. This is not a problem for the first child; but, when it is being born, a few of its red blood cells may get into the mother’s circulation. The mother’s immune system recognizes these cells, with their Rhesus antigen, as foreign, and begins to make antibodies against them. That isn’t a problem for her until she becomes pregnant with her next child. If this foetus is also Rhesus positive then it will be attacked by her anti-Rhesus antibodies as they pass across the placenta. New-born babies affected in this way, who appear blue through lack of oxygen in their blood, could sometimes be rescued by a blood transfusion, but this was a risky procedure. Fortunately, ‘blue baby syndrome’ is no longer a severe clinical problem today. All Rhesus negative mothers are now given an injection of antibodies against Rhesus positive blood cells, so that if any do manage to get into her circulation during the birth of her first child they will be mopped up before her immune system has a chance to find them and start to make antibodies.

The significance of all this to the thinking about European prehistory is that Mourant realized that having two Rhesus blood groups in a single population did not make any evolutionary sense. Even the simplest calculations showed that losing so many babies was not a stable arrangement. There was no problem if everybody had the same Rhesus type. It didn’t matter whether this was Rhesus positive or Rhesus negative, just so long as it was all one or the other. It was only when there were people with different Rhesus types breeding together that these very serious problems arose. In the past, before blood transfusions and before the antibody treatment for Rhesus negative mothers, there must have been a lot of babies dying from haemolytic disease. This is a very heavy evolutionary burden, and the expected result of this unbalanced situation would be that one or other of the Rhesus blood groups would eventually disappear. And this is exactly what has happened – everywhere except in Europe. While the rest of the world is predominantly Rhesus positive, Europe stands out as having a very nearly equal frequency of both types. To Mourant, this was a signal that the population of Europe was a mixture that had not yet had time to settle down and eliminate one or other of the Rhesus types. His explanation was that modern Europe might be a relatively recent hybrid population of Rhesus positive arrivals from the Near East, probably the people who brought farming into Europe beginning about eight thousand years ago, and the descendants of an earlier Rhesus negative hunter-gathering people. But who were the Rhesus negatives?

Mourant came across the work of the French anthropologist H. V. Vallois, who described features of the skeletons of contemporary Basques as having more in common with fossil humans from about twenty thousand years ago than with modern people from other parts of Europe. Though this kind of comparison has since fallen into disrepute, it certainly catalysed Mourant’s thinking. It was already known that Basques had by far the lowest frequency of blood group B of all the population groups in Europe. Could they be the ancient reservoir of Rhesus negative as well? In 1947 Mourant arranged to meet with two Basques who were in London attempting to form a provisional government and were keen to support any attempts to prove their genetic uniqueness. Like most Basques, they were supporters of the French Resistance and totally opposed to the fascist Franco regime in Spain. Both men provided blood samples and both were Rhesus negative. Through these contacts, Mourant typed a panel of French and Spanish Basques who turned out, as he had hoped, to have a very high frequency of Rhesus negatives, in fact the highest in the world. Mourant concluded from this that the Basques were descended from the original inhabitants of Europe, whereas all other Europeans were a mixture of originals and more recent arrivals, which he thought were the first farmers from the Near East.

From that moment, the Basques assumed the status of the population against which all ideas about European genetic prehistory were to be – and to a large extent still are – judged. The fact that they alone of all the west Europeans spoke a language which was unique in Europe, and did not belong to the Indo-European family which embraces all other languages of western Europe, only enhanced their special position.

Sykes, Bryan (2010-12-20). The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry (Kindle Locations 575-619). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

When we applied exactly the same procedure to the clusters in Europe we got a surprise. We had been expecting relatively young dates, though not as young as in Polynesia, because of the overwhelming influence of the agricultural migrations from the Near East in the last ten thousand years that were so prominent a feature in the textbooks. But six out of the seven clusters had genetic ages much older than ten thousand years. According to the version of Europe’s genetic history that we had all been brought up on, a population explosion in the Near East due to agriculture was followed by the slow but unstoppable advance of these same people into Europe, overwhelming the sparse population of hunter–gatherers. Surely, if this were true, the genetic dates for the mitochondrial clusters, or most of them at least, would have to be ten thousand years or less. But only one of the seven clusters fitted this description. The other six were much older. We rechecked our sequences. Had we scored too many mutations? No. We rechecked our calculations. They were fine. This was certainly a puzzle; but still we didn’t question the established dogma – until we looked at the Basques.

For reasons discussed in an earlier chapter, the Basques have long been considered the last survivors of the original hunter–gatherer population of Europe. Speaking a fundamentally different language and living in a part of Europe that was the last to embrace agriculture, the Basques have all the hallmarks of a unique population and they are proud of their distinctiveness. If the rest of Europe traced their ancestry back to the Near Eastern farmers, then surely the Basques, the last survivors of the age of the hunter–gatherers, should have a very different spectrum of mitochondrial sequences. We could expect to find clusters which we saw nowhere else; and we would expect not to find clusters that are common elsewhere. But when we pulled out the sequences from our Basque friends, they were anything but peculiar. They were just like all the other Europeans – with one noticeable exception: while they had representatives of all six of the old clusters, they had none at all of the seventh cluster with the much younger date. We got hold of some more Basque samples. The answer was the same. Rather than having very unusual sequences, the Basques were as European as any other Europeans. This could not be fitted into the scenario in which hunters were swept aside by an incoming tide of Neolithic farmers. If the Basques were the descendants of the original Palaeolithic hunter–gatherers, then so were most of the rest of us.

But what about the cluster that was absent from the Basques – the cluster that was distinguished from the rest by having a much younger date compatible with the Neolithic? When we plotted the places where we found this cluster on a map of Europe, we found a remarkable pattern. The six old clusters were to be found all over the continent, though some were commoner in one place than in others. The young cluster, on the other hand, had a very distinctive distribution. It split into two branches, each with a slightly different set of mutations. One branch headed up from the Balkans across the Hungarian plain and along the river valleys of central Europe to the Baltic Sea. The other was confined to the Mediterranean coast as far as Spain, then could be traced around the coast of Portugal and up the Atlantic coast to western Britain. These two genetic routes were exactly the same as had been followed by the very first farmers, according to the archaeology. Early farming sites in Europe are instantly recognizable by the type of pottery they contain, just as Lapita ceramics identify the early Polynesian sites in the Pacific. The push through central Europe from the Balkans, which began about seven and a half thousand years ago, is recorded by the presence at these early sites of a distinctive decorative style called Linear pottery, in which the vessels are incised with abstract geometric designs cut into the clay. The Linear pottery sites map out a slice of central Europe where, even today, one branch of the young cluster is still concentrated. In the central and western Mediterranean, early farming sites are identified by another style of pottery, called Impressed ware because the clay is marked with the impressions of objects, often shells, which have been pressed into the clay before firing. Once again, the concordant distribution of Impressed ware sites and the other branch of the young cluster stood out. This didn’t look like a coincidence. The two branches of the young mitochondrial cluster seemed to be tracing the footsteps of the very first farmers as they made their way into Europe.

Sykes, Bryan (2010-12-20). The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry (Kindle Locations 1909-1942). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

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What those pre-Celtic languages sounded like may not be entirely a matter of guesswork or even more scholarly reconstruction. Euskera, the Basque language, has survived against all odds in an Atlantic-facing enclave and it certainly not only predates Celtic but also all the other Indo-European languages. Basic Basque words are very different: gizon for ‘man’, andere for ‘lady’, neskaro for ‘girl’ and bihotz for ‘heart’. It may well be that the language has survived because its geography prevented outside influence. Distributed on either side of the Pyrenees, the Basque communities live on a rocky Atlantic coastline in what is now Spain and in France behind a string of sandbars and salt marshes known as the Landes. Traders were perhaps reluctant to put in along that littoral and perhaps they did sail diagonally across Biscay on the open sea, searching for the light burning at the top of the Tower of Hercules.

Moffat, Alistair; Wilson, James (2011-05-01). The Scots: A Genetic Journey (Kindle Locations 1552-1558). Birlinn. Kindle Edition.

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Closely related geographically to Asturias was another group of people never conquered by the Moors, the Basques. A pre-Celtic people, the Basques are possibly the most ancient in Europe. In the eighth century they lived on the Bay Biscay where the coast turns westward, with their territory stretching eastward toward the mid-Pyrenees and south to the upper reaches of the Ebro River. Basque settlement also traversed the Pyrenees into Gascony, a word derived from Vasconia, the original Roman name for the Basque lands. Some Basque territory was absorbed by the kingdom of Asturias, but the Basques remained fiercely independent, as a number of intruders such as Charlemagne would find out at great cost.

Charles Martel and his son Pippin III “the Short” followed up the victory at Poitiers by driving the Moors out of most of southern France. When in 778 Charlemagne was invited into Spain by the dissident Moorish wali (governor) of Barcelona, the emperor-to-be was ensnared in a strategic quagmire, with infighting among his Muslim allies. His troubles increased when the Saxon revolt under Widukind forced him to retreat prematurely. He withdrew back across the Pyrenees, using the mountain pass at Roncevaux. Here the Frankish rear guard was trapped in mid-August 778 by anti-Frankish Basques.

The Basques staged an ambush. Hidden in forests above the 3,470-foot (1,050-meter) pass, they waited until nightfall , then attacked the baggage train and rear guard at the top of the pass. Charlemagne’s biographer Einhard reports that they drove the Franks “down into the valley beneath,” where they had no room to maneuver. “The Basques joined battle with them and killed them to the last man,” with the Basques escaping in the darkness. 4 Among those killed was the Paladin (knight) Roland. By the twelfth century the story of Roland’s last stand had taken on epic proportions and this relatively insignificant incident became the subject of the first great poem in Old French, The Song of Roland. A product of the crusading era, it blames the Moors for the slaughter rather than the Basques.

But Charlemagne didn’t give up on Spain. To protect his southern flank, he reestablished the Kingdom of Aquitaine, including Gascony, in 781 and appointed his son Louis the Pious as king there. This opened the way for an exodus of Christian refugees from Spain, including Agobard, later bishop of Lyons. It also gave the Franks a base from which they could reoccupy the region south of the Pyrenees to the east of Asturias and north of the Ebro River, the frontier province that became the Spanish March. But it proved difficult to maintain as a unified whole, and from it the independent kingdom of Pamplona emerged in the mid-ninth century. The majority of the Basque population lived in Pamplona, which also embraced the small county of Aragon.

Collins, Paul (2013-02-12). The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century (Kindle Locations 3401-3422). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.

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The contractualist doctrines built in to Spanish theories of the state allowed for different levels of resistance. The first and most fundamental of these, which was to have a long and important life in the Indies, was articulated in the formula originally deriving from the Basques and subsequently embedded in later medieval Castilian law, of obeying but not complying. An official or an individual receiving a royal order which he considered inappropriate or unjust would symbolically place it on his head while pronouncing the ritual words that he would obey but not comply: se acata (or se obedece) Pero no se cumple. This simultaneously demonstrated respect for the royal authority while asserting the inapplicability of royal orders in this particular instance. Appearances were thus preserved, and time was given to all parties for reflection. This formula, which was to be incorporated into the laws of the Indies in 1528, provided an ideal mechanism for containing dissent, and preventing disputes from turning into open confrontation.54 Hernan Cortes took obedience without compliance one stage further when, on arriving on the coast of Mexico, he ignored the governor of Cuba’s orders that he was to conduct an expedition of reconnaissance rather than conquest. Instead, he denounced him as a `tyrant’, and appealed over his head directly to the monarch.55 The right of appeal was fundamental in this society, as was the right of the vassal to be heard by his prince, and between them they provided an essential device for conflict resolution.

Prof. John H. Elliott FBA. Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 (Kindle Locations 2376-2384). Kindle Edition.

A steady stream of Spaniards, however, continued to migrate, although apparently it flowed less strongly than in earlier times.27 As with British emigration in the eighteenth century, new tributaries were joining this stream. Just as, as in the eighteenth century, the British periphery was producing a growing share of the total number of white immigrants, so too the Spanish periphery was playing a larger part than before. During the seventeenth century increasing numbers of Basques, in particular, had joined the Castilians, Andalusians and Extremadurans who had preponderated in the first century of colonization. Eighteenth-century emigration saw the increased representation of immigrants from the northern regions of the peninsula – not only Basques but also Galicians, Asturians and Castilians from the mountain region of Cantabria – together with Catalans and Valencians, from the east coast of Spain.21

Prof. John H. Elliott FBA. Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 (Kindle Locations 4571-4575). Kindle Edition.

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Led by Colonel von Richthofen of the Condor Legion, the German Luftwaffe dropped thermite incendiary bombs on the Basque village of Guernica on 26 April 1937. The attack occurred on market day. Animals and people were slaughtered. It was an urban firestorm, an inferno, anticipating the bombing of Dresden, London, Hamburg, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

The first vice president of the United States, an improbable observer, helps us to understand the significance of the destruction. As a student of republics, John Adams traveled to the Basque country and was astonished. The Basque have “never known a landless class, either slave or villein.” Well before the regicides of modern European revolutions, “one of the privileges they have most insisted on, is not to have a king,” Adams wrote.” The seamless woolen beret became the symbol of Basque social equality. As a political style, the beret made its way through the Basque refugees to France, from France to the Resistance, from the Resistance to beatniks in the metropolis, to Che Guevara, and to the Black Panthers.

The liberties of the Basques were traditionally renewed at an oak standing on ground in Guernica. The liberties derive from thefueros or charters of the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries. They are similar to the Magna Carta-providing jurisdiction, defining customs, delineating tenures, documenting pasturage rights. The Castilian king swore at Guernica that he and his successors would maintain the “fueros, customs, franchises, and liberties” of the land.” The charters began as an orally transmitted code of uses and customs. The details of commoning varied from valley to valley, village to village, but clearly indicated a precommodity regime.19

An episode of covering up Picasso’s Guernica at the United Nations building in New York just prior to the U.S. bombing campaign and invasion of Iraq was emblematic of the state’s anxiety about symbolic production 20 The American secretary of state was not the first to try to cover up the Guernica story. Colonel Richthofen himself tried to hide it. Conservatives of England, Spain, and Germany hoped to hide the story, but the intrepid journalist George Steer revealed the truth, showing that the town was a center of Basque liberties and the location of the oak where local assemblies had met for centuries.21 Picasso began Guernica on May Day 1937 and exhibited it a month later at the Paris World’s Fair.

To cover up his mural, therefore, was more than a deliberate attempt to destroy the memory of civilian bombing; it struck at a location that presented the most durable, actual alternative to monarchy and capitalism found in Europe and, as such, a place of constitutional interest to John Adams as well. Behind Guernica was the commons.

Peter Linebaugh. The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (Kindle Locations 1960-1975). Kindle Edition.

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Sweeping Social Problems Under the Rug

Why do some people think that laws, the police, and prisons can be the solution to almost everything? Why do some people think that banning and criminalizing a problematic behavior will solve the problem and banning something will make it go away?

Sometimes such a response is the only one available.

Child abuse is an obvious example. But, even in that case, it would be better to spend money on preventing child abuse by breaking the victimization cycle than merely to imprison child abusers after the fact. We don’t want to decriminalize child abuse. Still, that doesn’t mean prison is the only answer.

Slavery is another example. It is a good thing we legally abolished slavery. But we have to be honest with ourselves by its effectiveness. There still remains a large and widespread slave trade in the world. According to some data, there are more slaves today than existed in the past. Slavery is still even occasionally discovered in the United States, typically involving those at the edge of society who are afraid of trying to escape and contact authorities.

There are other examples that are even more obvious failures.

Prohibition didn’t eliminate alcoholic consumption and alcoholism. If anything, it caused it to grow worse and added mass gang violence to the mix. Illegalizing prostitution hasn’t closed down that market. I don’t know that prostitution has increased, but I doubt it has decreased because of its illegal status. The War on Drugs is the clearest example of failure, maybe worse than Prohibition because it has lasted so much longer. Drug use and addiction is higher than it has ever been, even as more people are in prison for selling and using drugs.

On the other hand, some countries have successfully used a combination of legalization and decriminalization. Instead of sending people to prison for being addicted to drugs, they send them to drug rehabilitation. These countries probably also have better public healthcare, especially mental healthcare, than the United States has. They seek to deal with the problem at its root, and at least in some cases they’ve actually decreased drug use and addiction.

In a country like the United States, trying to ban all guns probably would be about as effective. It is better to keep such things as drugs and guns on the legal market. That way, there can be more oversight, transparency, regulation, and control.

When something is on the black market, it may be a libertarian fantasy of an unregulated market, but it rarely leads to positive results for the larger society. Drugs on the black market can be dangerous because a person doesn’t actually know what they are buying. Guns on the black market get easily sold to criminals, gangs, cartels, terrorists, etc. The trick is to make the legal market more profitable and attractive than doing business on the black market. Black markets often form when the legal market fails.

So, why do conservatives think that banning abortions will end all or most abortions? They would have a reasonable argument if that was the case. However, the data doesn’t show that abortion bans leads to a decrease and sometimes it leads to an increase, just like with drug use.

Conservatives will point to conservative states that have decreased their rate of legal abortions. That is simply because they’ve forced women’s clinics that do abortions. No one is keeping the data on how many women in those states go to other states to get abortions, how many go on the black market, and how many try to do it themselves.

Making abortions illegal does decrease the rate of legal abortions, but going by the country comparisons it appears simultaneously increases the rate of illegal abortions. This is common sense, and conservatives claim to love common sense. If conservatives actually care about saving the lives from “baby-killers”, then the last thing conservatives should want to do is push abortions onto the black market and to have women trying to give themselves abortions with coathangers. It doesn’t just likely increase the abortion rate, but also the dangers involved. Women die because of botched abortions. Sometimes, even when the woman isn’t harmed, botched abortions still lead to birth where the baby is deformed or has brain damage.

Who would argue the War on Drugs is successful because the rate of legal recreational drug use has decreased, even as the illegal recreational drug use has increased? As we now fill prisons full of non-violent drug users, are we going to start to fill prisons also with women who seek abortions?

Sweeping problems under the rug doesn’t solve the problem or make it go away.

Political Appetitions


n. Desire; a longing for, or seeking after, something.

From Latin appetītiō (“a longing for or desire”).

Leibniz’s Philosophy of Mind
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Appetitions are explained as “tendencies from one perception to another” (Principles of Nature and Grace, sec.2 (1714)). Thus, we represent the world in our perceptions, and these representations are linked with an internal principle of activity and change (Monadology, sec.15 (1714)) which, in its expression in appetitions, urges us ever onward in the constantly changing flow of mental life. More technically explained, the principle of action, that is, the primitive force which is our essence, expresses itself in momentary derivative forces involving two aspects: on the one hand, there is a representative aspect (perception), by which that the many without are expressed within the one, the simple substance; on the other, there is a dynamical aspect, a tendency or striving towards new perceptions, which inclines us to change our representative state, to move towards new perceptions. (See Carlin 2004.)

Leibniz: truth, knowledge and metaphysics
Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

This is the famous doctrine of unconscious perceptions. Here it is helpful to recall Leibniz’s hierarchical arrangement of monads. All monads perceive, but they differ vastly in terms of the quality of their perceptions. Human minds or spirits are distinguished not only by reason but also by ‘apperception’ which means consciousness or perhaps even selfconsciousness. But though Leibniz holds that human minds are set apart from lower monads by their capacity for (self)-conscious awareness, he further believes that they also have unconscious or little perceptions (petites perceptions); such perceptions are little because they are low in intensity. Not merely do large stretches of our mental life consist wholly in little perceptions, but even conscious mental states are composed of such perceptions. The doctrine of unconscious perceptions is perhaps Leibniz’s principal innovation in psychology, and it is of course profoundly anti-Cartesian in its implications. For Descartes subscribes to the view that the mind is transparent to itself; he is explicit that there is nothing in the mind of which we are not conscious.80 In the New Essays on Human Understanding, his reply to Locke, Leibniz remarks that there are ‘thousands of indications’ in favour of unconscious perceptions.81

Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences
By John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford
Kindle Locations 429-488

People are not fully conscious of their predispositions. Gottfried Leibniz, a seventeeth-century mathematician and scientist, called them “appetitions” and argued that, though unconscious , appetitions drive human actions. His ideas so troubled Descartes-addled Enlightenment minds that they were not published until well after Leibniz’s death. Even then, they were not taken seriously for a long time. Recent science, though, is fully on board with Leibniz’s ideas and is providing ever -increasing evidence that people grossly overestimate the role in their decisions of rational, conscious thought , just as they grossly overestimate the extent to which sensory input is objective.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman goes so far as to claim that “the brain is properly thought of as a mostly closed system that runs on its own internally generated activity … internal data is not generated by external sensory data but merely modulated by it.” 14 Noting that people often do things because of forces of which they are not aware and then produce a bogus reason for these actions after the fact, Stephen Pinker refers to the portion of the brain involved in constructing this post hoc narrative as the “baloney generator.” 15 The baloney generator is so effective that people believe they know the reasons for their actions and beliefs even when these reasons are inaccurate and patently untrue. 16

Need examples of physiology affecting attitudes and behavior, even when people think they are being rational? Consider this: Job applicant resumes reviewed on heavy clipboards are judged more worthy than identical resumes on lighter clipboards; holding a warm or hot drink can influence whether opinions of other people are positive or negative; when people reach out to pick up an orange while smelling strawberries they unwittingly spread their fingers less widely— as if they were picking up a strawberry rather than an orange. 17 People sitting in a messy, smelly room tend to make harsher moral judgments than those who are in a neutral room; disgusting ambient odors also increase expressed dislike of gay men. 18 Judges’ sentencing practices are measurably more lenient when they are fresh and haven’t just dealt with a string of prior cases. 19 Sitting on a hard, uncomfortable chair leads people to be less flexible in their stances than if they are seated on a soft , comfortable chair, and people reminded of physical cleansing, perhaps by being located near a hand sanitizer, are more likely to render stern judgments than those who were not given such a reminder. 20 People even can be made to change their moral judgments as a result of hypnotic suggestion. 21

In all these cases the baloney generator can produce a convincing case that the pertinent decision was made on the merits rather than as a result of irrelevant factors. People actively deny that a chunky clipboard has anything to do with their assessment of job applicants or that a funky odor has anything to do with their moral judgments. Judges certainly refuse to believe that the length of time since their last break has anything to do with their sentencing decisions; after all, they are meting out objective justice . Leibniz was right, though, and the baloney generator is full of it. The way we respond—biologically, physiologically, and in many cases unwittingly— to our environments influences attitudes and behavior. People much prefer to believe, however , that their decisions and opinions are rational rather than rationalized.

This desire to believe we are rational is certainly in effect when it comes to politics, where an unwillingness to acknowledge the role of extraneous forces of which we may not even be aware is especially strong. Many pretend that politics is a product of citizens taking their civic obligations seriously, sifting through political messages and information, and then carefully and deliberately considering the candidates and issue positions before making a consciously informed decision. Doubtful. In truth, people’s political judgments are affected by all kinds of factors they assume to be wholly irrelevant.

Compared to people (not just judges) with full stomachs, those who have not eaten for several hours are more sympathetic to the plight of welfare recipients. 22 Americans whose polling place happens to be a church are more likely to vote for right-of-center candidates and ideas than those whose polling place is a public school. 23 People are more likely to accept the realities of global warming if their air conditioning is broken. 24 Italians insisting they were neutral in the lead-up to a referendum on expanding a U.S . military base, but who implicitly associated pictures of the base with negative terms, were more likely to vote against the referendum; in other words, people who genuinely believed themselves to be undecided were not. 25 People shown a cartoon happy face for just a few milliseconds (too quick to register consciously) list fewer arguments against immigration than those individuals who were shown a frowning cartoon face. 26 Political views are influenced not only by forces believed to be irrelevant but by forces that have not entered into conscious awareness. People think they know the reasons they vote for the candidates they do or espouse particular political positions or beliefs, but there is at least a slice of baloney in that thinking.

Responses to political stimuli are animated by emotional and not always conscious bodily processes. Political scientist Milt Lodge studies “hot cognition” or “automaticity.” His research shows that people tag familiar objects and concepts with an emotional response and that political stimuli such as a picture of Sarah Palin or the word “Obamacare” are particularly likely to generate emotional or affective (and therefore physiologically detectable) responses. In fact, Lodge and his colleague Charles Taber claim that “all political leaders, groups, issues, symbols, and ideas previously thought about and evaluated in the past become affectively charged— positively or negatively.” 27 Responses to a range of individual concepts and objects frequently become integrated in a network that can be thought of as the tangible manifestation of a broader political ideology.

The fact that extraneous forces that may not have crossed the threshold of awareness (sometimes called sub-threshold) shape political orientations and actions makes it possible for individual variation in nonpolitical variables to affect politics. If hotter ambient temperatures in a room increase acceptance of global warming, maybe people whose internal thermostats incline them to feeling hot are also more likely to be accepting of global warming. Likewise, sensitivity to clutter and disorder, to smell, to disgust, and to threats becomes potentially relevant to political views. Since elements of these sensitivities often are outside of conscious awareness, it becomes possible that political views are shaped by psychological and physiological patterns.

Anti-Partisan Original Intent

I was reading the introduction to The Invention of Party Politics by Gerald Leonard. The beginning comments caught my attention (Kindle Locations 62-65):

“This is a book about political parties and the American Constitution between the founding of the United States and the Second Party System of the 1840s and 1850s. In those years, and especially between 1820 and 1840, the idea and fact of party organization gained a preeminent place in the American constitutional order, even though the Constitution itself had been designed as a “Constitution against parties.”*”

(* From Idea of a Party System by Richard Hofstadter)

I knew many of the Founders saw party politics as a danger. This went along with the perceived threats of political factionalism and regional/state sectionalism. Unity was the watchword of those early Americans. They were seeking to create a United States, a radical vision. Not a nation-state and not just what the Articles of Confederation proposed. Plural states, but united, tied together with common cause and purpose. A Union.

As George Washington famously explained in his farewell address,

“In contemplating the causes, which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by Geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavour to excite a belief, that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”

His warning was that parties would lead to ruling elites who served their own interests rather than the country.

“All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.”

It wasn’t just a complaint about the practical running of government. Rather, it was a conflict of visions. The vision of Union was in direct contradiction to the vision of partisanship. For parties to form meant the revolutionary spirit to have been defeated, the entire reason and justification for the founding of the United States.

“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.”

Washington goes into more detail, but you get the basic idea. The guy saw political parties as one of the greatest threats to a free country and to all who value liberty. Those are strong words for the first president who wasn’t known for stating anything strongly. He decided to make almost his entire farewell address about this single warning. We should take this as seriously as we take Dwight Eisenhower’s warning of the Military-Industrial Complex.

To return to The Invention of Party Politics, the author continues with some thoughts on the Constitution:

“In all the massive literature on American political history in that period, however, there was little indication of what I have since come to understand: that the early history of party is best understood within the history of the Constitution, just as the history of the Constitution is best understood within the history of party development.”

It is good to keep in mind that the Constitution was written to replace the Articles of Confederation. The early Confederation was too weak and so the vision of Union took form, but the idea of a Union was a guiding vision from before the Constitutional Convention. There was disagreement about the exact relationship between the states and yet there was much agreement that the states needed a shared system of politics, of laws, of economics, and more importantly of values.

However, that vision of a fully united Union didn’t last. Understanding that change is what this book is about. Also, it is about understanding why the founders fought so hard for a new vision of a non-partisan society.

“In the nineteenth century, the mass political party dominated American politics and, in fact, came to be the defining institution of modern “democracy,” a status it still enjoys (perhaps in tandem with the market economy). Yet thousands of years of prior human history had yielded practically no efforts to justify party organization or institutionalized opposition. Virtually every political thinker before the nineteenth century condemned “formed opposition” as destructive of the public good and fatal to public peace. The freedom of individuals to express dissent might sometimes be celebrated, but the organization of a political club in continuing opposition to the policies of the government— perhaps even conceiving of itself as a potential replacement for those currently in power—smacked more of conspiracy and treason than of healthy political competition . In the early nineteenth century, however, all that changed. Americans embraced mass party organization, and politics and governance were altered forever. Eventually, this embrace of party became a commitment to a “party system”— an enduring competition between democratic parties within a basic constitutional consensus, expecting to exchange power and office in indefinitely long cycles 2 —as the sine qua non of democracy in America and much of the world.” (Kindle Locations 66-78).

The American Civil War is a clear example of what Washington had warned about. We shouldn’t get too comfortable about our party system. And we shouldn’t be so naive as to think another civil war will never happen.

I want to end on a different note, though. Those on the political right often speak of original intent, specifically in terms of the Constitution. I just want to point out that any person in a political party (including the Republican Party and the Libertarian Party) who makes any argument about originalism, any such person is being blatantly hypocritical.

Of course, hypocrisy is part of the US political tradition going back to the Founders. Still, I doubt conservatives and right-wingers are basing their originalist defense on the standard of hypocrisy. Or maybe they are.

I find myself going back to that early period of American and Western history. The groundwork of principles and values were laid for modern democracy. Yet we don’t take those principles and values as seriously as we should. They are hard to live by and live up to, as the Founders quickly discovered.

I feel a desire to make my own defense of original intent about the entire early modern revolutionary era and the entire Enlightenment Age. I wish to defend the radical visions that transformed the Western world. Many of those early radicals didn’t fall into hypocrisy. Those are the people upon which I wish to base my own originalism.

Maybe it is time for us to revisit those radical ideas and visions. Maybe we took the wrong path somewhere along the way. Let us retrace our steps and rediscover the forks in the road that could have taken our society in other directions. Maybe party politics is a dead end, after all.

Compassionate Conservativism, Where Art Thou?

In talking to those on the political right, I wonder why compassion is such a difficult thing for so many of them. Just basic human decency, it’s not complicated.

They give me endless reasons why not to be compassionate. Imagine if they spent all that effort thinking up reasons to be compassionate.

Anyway, why do they need reasons to act morally, to respond with basic human sympathy and care? If they allowed themselves to treat other people as humans as worthy as themselves, what horrible thing do they fear would happen?

Why are there refugees at the US southern border?

“Recent studies suggest that most of these unaccompanied children aren’t economic migrants, as many Americans might assume — they’re fleeing from threats and violence in their home countries, where things have gotten so bad that many families believe that they have no choice but to send their children on the long, dangerous journey north. They’re not here to take advantage of American social services — they’re refugees from conflict. Understanding the nature of the violence pushing them north is crucial for figuring out what to do about the child refugee crisis on our southern border.”

“Much of the violence driving thousands of unaccompanied children from Honduras to the U.S. can be traced to the past decades of U.S. military and economic interference in Honduras, including ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support for a 2009 coup, Adrienne Pine tells Dennis J Bernstein.”

“The unwanted, invading hordes ejected from a country that did not want them are actually the folks the kids now on our border are fleeing, and the country that ejected them is our own.

“That’s because the refugee cum immigration crisis now playing out all the way from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, is one that in large part has been manufactured right here in America. Ironically — or perhaps appropriately — the vicious criminal gangs that have taken over large swathes of the countries where the kids currently being detained in our border control holding cells are coming from, have their origins here in the U.S.”

“Gang violence in El Salvador and in urban areas of Guatemala has escalated dramatically in recent months since a weak truce among rival gangs has evaporated, said Elizabeth G. Kennedy, a Fulbright scholar reached Monday in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.

“”Half of them are fleeing for their lives,” she said.

[ . , . ]

“”Immigration laws have as much to do with the crisis as the conditions back home,” she said.

“She said that because of civil war and post-conflict violence, Hondurans have been able to seek asylum and be granted temporary protected status since 1998. Salvadorans have been able to gain temporary protected status since an arthquake in 2001.”

“More than 55,000 children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have turned up at U.S. borders since October. Many of the children are unaccompanied minors, and the U.S. Border Patrol has taken them into custody, according to the Associated Press.

“Their home countries are wracked by violence related to the illegal drug trade, NPR reported.

“Honduras has the highest peacetime homicide rate of any country in the world, the Associated Press reported. In El Salvador, 2.1 percent of the population has been uprooted because of violence.”

“So what is attracting them to the United States?

“First, I have to point out to you, it’s not just the United States. That was a another red flag for us. There is an increasing trend to seek asylum in Mexico, which is much safer for them than where they are from. The number of asylum seekers in Nicaragua, in Belize, in Costa Rica, in Panama—all of that has grown 712 percent since 2008.

“This is not the normal flow. For the U.N. refugee agency to register an uptick in asylum applications in places other than the United States is a huge red flag for us. People are leaving to places where they can find safety.”

[ . . . ]

“Are these refugees? Immigrants? Does the distinction matter?

“What we learned from our empirical study was that 58 percent of the children we interviewed flagged an international-protection concern. Where we drew the line, was that these children feared return because of violence and insecurity. They feared harm to themselves, and had the single conviction that they could not be protected in their countries. So that was our most conservative lens that we could look at the numbers. We excluded entrenched poverty, we excluded everything else. So 58 percent of the kids, in a statistically significant pool of 404, we wanted to be able to extrapolate to have a significant pool, present international protection concerns.

“So what does that mean? We did not interview them [to determine refugee status]. We interviewed them to find out why they left. We did a preliminary screening which to us was enough to say these individuals presented concerns.

“Which means that if a country was to reject these people from their borders without allowing them any access to asylum protection or complementary protection processes, it actually would be in breach of the conventions.”

“But just releasing a child into the custody of a “relative” doesn’t mean the child is out of harm’s way. Back in the 1990s, the (now-defunct) Immigration and Naturalization Services found that many unauthorized Chinese immigrants were being unintentionally released into the care of relatives who turned out to be part of smuggling networks — who would, in turn, extort immigrants’ parents for payment.

“It’s not clear that the same thing is happening today with unaccompanied child migrants, but it points to the importance of strict screening procedures — and many agencies may be too strained by the influx to do proper screening. Nora Skelly, who works with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, says that HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement has rules to fingerprint and screen any relative before releasing a child. But she’s heard of cases in which HHS loosens those requirements so that kids can be released more quickly.”

Whose Work Counts? Who Gets Counted?

I was thinking about the American work ethnic. The economically well off like to blame the poor for not working hard enough. They seem to be suggesting that any person willing to work can do just as well as they did. The implication is that, therefore, all poor people are inferior and deserve what they get (or don’t get).

If the poor person can’t find a job, it’s there fault that so many jobs have disappeared in this country. If they are working several jobs just to pay the bills, it’s there fault for not getting a college education to get a better job. If they get a college education and still are unemployed but now also in debt, it’s because kids are lazy these days and they should have gotten a practical skill like plumbing. And on and on.

God forbid we look at larger environmental causes that are putting many Americans in impossible positions.

Just work harder. That is just the worst thing to tell most people. The one thing Americans don’t lack is a love of work. I see homeless guys working harder than the average employed person. They walk around non-stop all day, every day collecting cans or looking for stuff thrown out in dumpsters that can be sold at consignment store. Even the guy standing with a sign asking for money for endless hours year round, rain or shine, cold or hot, hardly can be called lazy.

Maybe we should ask why there are so many unemployed. Maybe we should ask why the permanently unemployed aren’t counted as part of the unemployment rates. Maybe we should ask why there are so many poor and homeless in a country with so much wealth, land, resources, and housing.

I had another thought about what we should be asking. With the war on drugs, the war on gangs, the war on prostitution, the war on the poor, we have created a large criminalized underclass that works in a massive black market. Many of the people called unemployed and those never even counted are actually working jobs, but it isn’t official taxed employment.

In some countries, the black market might be larger than the legal market. Realizing the significance of the black market, a few countries have begun to include the black market in their calculations of GDP. It’s an interesting thing to do. Everyone knows the black market exists, but it is something one isn’t supposed to talk about in polite company, especially not in mainstream media and politics.

To talk about the black market would mean we would also have to talk about all the problems related to the black market. That is where the resistance comes in. That is what someone like Bill Cosby can’t mention when speaking of blacks needing to work harder. My guess is that as jobs in the legal market have disappeared jobs in the black market have increased. Whole markets such as for drugs have grown into profitable businesses because of illegalization. Even the police stations have been raking in the money through confiscations because of the illegal drug business.

The government knows about all this, either choosing to do nothing about it or lacking the political will to take action. Another example is that of illegal gun sales, which shows how the legal markets overlap with the illegal markets. In some cases, the government knows which gun dealers are selling guns illegally, but the government doesn’t at present have the regulatory power to enforce the law.

It’s not just the ghettos where the black market operates. The majority white rural communities have become major markets for the manufacture and use of meth. In poverty-stricken Appalachia, along with meth labs, marijuana crops are one of the major sources of income of the mostly white residents. Heck, it isn’t even just poor people. Lot of big businesses and big banks are involved in illegal activities that are rarely investigated or prosecuted.

The black market is massive beyond imagination and it is global. There probably is no way to separate the legal and illegal markets for how closely they are intertwined. There are many business owners who simultaneously operate legal and illegal businesses. That is how the Mafia operated.

The problem obviously isn’t a lack of people working, not in any simple sense. Yes, there are some people genuinely unemployed, either they can’t find work or they choose to not do illegal work. What if your only choice was to sell drugs, be a prostitute, work for an organized crime group, or not work at all? Sometimes refusing to work can be a stance of moral principle. As legal jobs disappear, this maybe a decision more Americans have to make.

Should we respect someone for working hard, no matter what kind of work they are doing? What is it that we want to value and promote as a society? Just hard work at any cost for any purpose?

The complaint someone like Bill Cosby has about poor blacks isn’t really that they aren’t working hard, but that they aren’t working hard in the way and for the purpose he thinks they should. But what other choice do they have? Not every poor black guy can become the next wealthy Cosby. Our entire system is built on the necessity of there being a vast impoverished underclass of surplus labor. Working harder doesn’t change that. Working harder doesn’t make racism and classism go away.

So, whose work counts? What kind of work counts? Why? And to what end?

To ask which work we are to count is related to asking which people we will count. It is related as well to those who don’t get counted, i.e., those who don’t count, those who don’t matter. Who we value is inseparable from what we value, and what we value determines how we treat others.

Whose country is this? Is it the country of all citizens or only some? It is interesting to note that the Americans that often don’t get counted also get targeted by the criminal system and, as ex-cons, they also don’t get to vote. Talk about not being counted, not even politically as a citizen. When a large part of the population is economically and politically disenfranchized, when we criminalize so much of daily life, why are we surprised that social problems arise among the people most negatively impacted by such an oppressive system?

Work harder, really?