Slavery and Eugenics

I was reading a book about racism which I just started: Racial Paranoia by John L. Jackson jr. In one passage, the author discussed slavery and the abuse of slaves. This was in the context of violence by slaves in defiance, whether revolts or poisonings, along with the broader context of mistrust and paranoia that continues to pervade our society. But that isn’t the point of this post.

The author’s standard description of slaveholder violence wasn’t unusual, besides the context of the book’s analysis. What got me thinking was an entirely different context, that of human biodiversity (HBD) that originally inspired my reading all these books on race and racism. I was reminded of how much impact such violence would have had.

HBDers speak of social orders acting as intentional or unintentional eugenics/breeding programs. A common example is that of feudal lords deciding who could marry whom. Another example would be Spartans throwing deformed babies off cliffs to their deaths. These weren’t systematic eugenics in the modern sense and for most societies this would have been haphazard.

In the modern era, there are no known eugenics programs that could be declared as successful. The problem is that potentially creating a breed of humans would take centuries to accomplish, without invasive genetic engineering. It takes many generations to create a breed of dog, but it takes less amount of time because dogs have shorter lives and so reach breeding age more quickly; plus, dogs have large litters at a time from which to choose for the next generation of breeding a particular line.

Nonetheless, the closest humans have come to systematically trying to create a new breed of humans was slavery. Slaveholders chose who was allowed to impregnate their slaves and which slaves were allowed to live. Plus, any slave with negative traits such as defiance would have been likely killed, whether intentionally or not. A slave can only defy so often before the whippings, beatings or other abuse takes him or her out of the breeding pool. Even after slavery, through the enforcement of the KKK and Jim Crow, whites continued to eliminate defiant blacks and their genetics. So, combined that is more than three centuries of controlling which black genetics gets passed on the most.

This got me thinking. If HBDers were correct about their theory, a new breed of blacks should have been created. Three centuries is probably more than enough time to create a new breed of humans, assuming such is likely to happen through normal social means as HBDers conjecture.

This breed of blacks would be submissive, obedient and law-abiding for these were the slaves most likely to live long lives and hence have the most children and pass on more of their genetics. It makes no sense that HBDers instead argue that genetics are what cause blacks to be more violent and criminal (i.e., less submissive, obedient and law abiding). If HBDers were correct, blacks would on average be the most loyal patriots, most lawful citizens and most obedient workers who would always do what authorities told them to do. This hypothetical breed of American blacks would be superior to American whites on all these behavioral traits.

What this proves is that either genes aren’t that powerful by themselves in determining behavior or social forces aren’t that effective in creating genetic-determined behavioral traits. Humans, societies and genetics are more complex than HBDers are allowing for in their theorizing.

Race & Racism: Reality & Imagination, Fear & Hope

The most powerful ideas are those we don’t question. 

We maybe aren’t aware enough to think about them or we don’t know how to formulate possible doubts and criticisms. There might be something actively obstructing our ability to perceive clearly or else a cognitive stumbling block. Biases and blind spots abound.

The most important and fundamental ideas are the very ideas we are least likely to see for what they are. This is all the more true on the collective level of society and culture. An idea as a social construct becomes a part of our perception of the world and part of our shared sense of reality. This is how the most nefarious of ideological systems become reality tunnels.

Thus is the idea of race. Thus is the racism and racial bias that inevitably follows from it.

In speaking of race, to what is being referred? We don’t normally think about the idea of race itself. We just see race. It is like that famous definition of porn: You know it when you see it. The corollary being: You see it because you know it.

Now we live in a supposed post-racial society of color-blindness. The ultimate taboo is to point out the continued existence of racial bias and prejudice and the pervasiveness of structural racism, systemic and institutional. The greatest rule of political correctness is to never point to any person or organization, any system or belief as racist, to never call a spade a spade. We all are supposed to go on pretending for many fear what would happen if we were to stop. The hope is that if racial issues are ignored long enough that they will go away, but sadly this hope has proven false.

Race as a social construct has existed for so long at this point that it is hard for us to imagine a world before it or a world without it. However, it didn’t always exist. When Europeans explored and colonized, they met with all kinds of people from all over the world. They knew people were different in many ways, but the modern idea of race was yet to be formulated. What they saw were differences between cultures which were represented mostly by differences of religion and, within cultures, differences of social class or caste.

“To be sure, past peoples were ethnocentric. They frequently believed themselves culturally superior to others and sometimes exhibited the nasty habit of painting others as uncultured and brutish or savage, even to the point of justifying enslavement and killing on this basis. Yet, as any introductory cultural anthropology text will illustrate, ethnocentric and later racial logics differed significantly. These differences are most obvious with respect to characterization of human potential and the perceived connection, or lack thereof, of cultural and physical traits. Prior to the inception of race, people were much less likely to link cultural practices instinctively and irrevocably to physical differences, which were often attributed to distinct environmental conditions (Brace 2005). Nor were people necessarily inclined to believe that phenotypic diversity across groups represented inherent or essential – i.e., unbridgeable – differences in ability or character. Indeed, before race, people more readily saw through phenotypes to find deeper, behavioral similarities if not common ground. Moreover, where they deemed others to be culturally backwards in language, religion, food, adornment, or other behaviors, they tended to view these deficits as correctable. With time, learned behavioral deficiencies could be overwritten through “proper” enculturation, while inherent racial inferiority, by definition, could not.

“Again, cultural biases are far from benign and it is not our intent to rank stratification systems according to their perniciousness. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between ethnocentrism and racism because of the increasing conflation of culture and race (Harrison, chapter 17 this volume). The point here is to show the critical shift that race represents in the nature of human relations; an unfortunate shift in primary focus from learned practices and traditions toward static or fixed notions of physical and essential characteristics. In general, pre-racial conceptions of diversity did not inhibit one from recognizing and acknowledging the shared human capacity to learn and participate fully in any culture or society – irrespective of phenotypic characteristics later used to distinguish races.

“Classicist Frank Snowden (1983) clearly illustrates this fact in Before Color Prejudice, his seminal study of “the black image” in Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and early Christian art and literature. Warning against the temptation to read contemporary social issues into the historical record, Snowden observes that interactions in the ancient Mediterranean between peoples today classified as black or white – even among political and military rivals – were devoid of “acute” color consciousness and any type of racial discrimination . He points out that these societies never observed blackness as the basis of slave status.”

(Race: Are We So Different by Goodman, Moses and Jones; Kindle Locations 893-914)

The ruling elite had found such non-racial divisions to be useful enough for maintaining their power and the social order. Race hadn’t been invented for it wasn’t needed. 

There was no social context in which to see the diversity of physical features as significant and meaningful. People at that time had little understanding of biology and no understanding of genetics. Many speculated that physical features were caused by environment such that skin was dark from spending a lot of time under a hot sun. Others sought religious explanations. 

The reason race didn’t occur to them at this time was because Europeans had no concept of being the same people. An English person had no reason to feel any more identified with an Italian or Russian than with an African or Native American. As far as that goes, the English didn’t even see themselves as having much in common with the Irish, the first savages in the English worldview.

The first use of the word ‘race’ appeared in the 15th century. At that time, it meant one’s lineage, family and kin. The Enlightenment brought a more universalizing interpretation to race where everyone who even vaguely resembled you or shared your geographic region was considered as part of some larger sense of lineage, family and kin.

When the modern idea of race was invented, it would have initially seemed truly bizarre and there was much ethnocentric resistance to it. It was only the growing demands of colonization that made the idea of race seem attractive and worthy. People were trying to make sense of a newly discovered complex world, a world in which the old social order was being challenged. Racial divisions were initially a practical matter of political power, not a scientific discovery. Once implemented, though, they began to take on a life of their own.

Before slavery, there were indentured servants in Virginia of a great variety of ethnicities and skin colors. These unfree people worked together, lived together, slept together and rebelled together.

“The first Africans who arrived in Virginia colony in 1619 were not initially considered slaves . They had Spanish or Portuguese names and were familiar with European culture. Like other poor laborers, they were treated as indentured servants who could also achieve their freedom after paying their debts. Some of these Africans worked hard and acquired land, houses, livestock, and tools on their own. Historians now agree that true slavery did not exist in the early decades of the English North American colonies (see Allen 1997; Fredrickson 2002; E. Morgan 1975; P. Morgan 1998; Parent, Jr. 2003). Moreover , there is little or no evidence that Africans were treated differently from other people of the same class. They were assimilated into colonial society as were others. When they acquired land, they participated in the assembly, the governing body of the colony , voted , served on juries, and socialized with white planters.

“Historian Edmund Morgan writes,

“There is more than a little evidence that Virginians during these years were ready to think of Negroes as members or potential members of the community on the same terms as other men and to demand of them the same standards of behavior. Black men and white serving the same master worked, ate, and slept together, and together shared in escapades, escapes, and punishments. (1975: 327)

“He adds, “It was common for servants and slaves to run away together , steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together” (327). Indeed, there was no stigma associated with what we today call “interracial” marriages.

“Until the early 18th century, the image of Africans among most Europeans was generally positive . They were farmers and cattle-breeders; they had industries, arts and crafts, governments, and commerce. Moreover, they had immunities to Old World diseases, they were better laborers under the tropical conditions of the southern settlements; and they had nowhere to run and hide once transplanted to the New World (E. Morgan 1975; Smedley 2007).

“There were critical reasons for the preference for Africans. As early as the 1630s, planters expressed a desire for African laborers (“ If only we had some Africans!” they wrote ). Records of plantation owners in the Caribbean and in the colonies of Virginia and Maryland reveal that Africans were initially considered a civilized and docile people who had knowledge of, and experience with, tropical cultivation. They were accustomed to discipline, one of the hallmarks of civilized behavior, as well as working cooperatively in groups. They knew how to grow corn, tobacco, sugar cane, and cotton in their native lands ; these crops were unknown in Europe. And many Africans had knowledge of metalwork, carpentry, cattle-keeping, brick-making, weaving, rope making, leather tanning, and many other skills. Colonists soon realized that without Africans, their enterprises would fail. “We cannot survive without Africans!” they claimed.”

(Kindle Locations 1239-1263)

The aristocracy in the New World were isolated and their power was precarious. For reasons unknown, it occurred to someone that the notion of race could be imposed in order to divide the oppressed against one another. It was a brilliant innovation. Seemingly out of the blue, someone imagined the possibility of a new social order. Of course, there was great incentive to consider new possibilities with the restlessness of the oppressed such as Bacon’s Rebellion.

This was the Age of Enlightenment. The ancien régime was eroding. Reactionary conservatism was being born. The new ideas that arose then have been the basis of our society ever since. Some of those ideas like race have turned out to be quite adaptable. Who is and isn’t white or caucasian has changed massively over time, but the idea is so compelling that it is ever taken as if it were an unchanging reality.

What gives a social order its potency is the cultural understandings and assumptions it is built upon. Black and white have nothing to do with objective reality. So-called whites aren’t white. They are pink or beige or olive or even the lighter shades of brown.  And so-called blacks aren’t black. If you were to walk from Germany to South Africa, you’d never come across any color division at any point, rather a slow gradation and continuum from lighter to darker. Even within Africa, there is greater genetic diversity than there is between Africans and non-Africans.

“What they found is that the average difference between any two Europeans and any two Asians was slightly greater than 0.6/ 1000 or about 15 in total. This is not so surprisingly low as it has been crudely estimated that about 99.9 percent of single nucleotide polymorphisms are identical between any two individuals. They then found very little difference between an Asian and a European. Thinking about that, this makes sense as the dividing line between these continents is permeable and rather arbitrary. More variation was found between an African, on the one hand, and either a European or Asian on the other hand, right about one variation per thousand. The shocker comes next. However, the greatest variation was found between two Africans, about 1.2 variations per thousand. Said slightly differently, there is more variation among Africans than between Africans and non-Africans.”

(Kindle Locations 4781-4787)

To translate: Many Africans are more genetically in common with non-Africans, including Europeans, than they are with many other Africans (from other regions in Africa or from other populations in the same region). It would make more genetic sense to group all non-Africans together as a single race than to group all Africans together as a single race.

With race, there is no there there. Or what is there isn’t what we think is there.

Black and white is a symbolic order, more akin to religion than science. The duality of black and white is a symbol of stories, of myths, of archetypes. In the old cowboy movies, the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys black hats. In Taoism, Yang is white and Yin is black. These color symbols touch deeply upon our collective psyche. The same goes for yellow and red as racial symbols. In using such archetypal symbolism, we are dealing with the most primitive regions of the human mind and of human society that forms from it.

It is precisely because there is no objective reality they are limited to that such symbolic orders can be so powerful in their impact on social reality. This is also what makes them so flexible and mercurial, so hard to grasp and pin down. Even to try to objectively challenge them is near impossible for that isn’t the level where resides their force of authority. Only the imagining of a new symolic order even more compelling can challenge the old.

Thinking in black and white unsurprisingly is caused by and in turn reinforces black and white thinking.

Polarized dualities have obsessed the Western mind at least since the rise of the Judeo-Christian tradition with its having been heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism and Manichaeanism. Black and white symbolism is rooted in the ancient view of Good versus Evil, of cosmic battles, of God’s chosen people righteously saving souls or else destroying the unredeemable. It wasn’t because Africans were black that they were enslaved. Rather it was because they weren’t Protestants, weren’t Christians, because they were perceived as Heathens, whether as innocents to be saved or sinners to be damned. This is why race is always mired in harsh moral judgments of superiority and inferiority instead of mere neutral observations of diversity. Our society is still dominated by a Judeo-Christian moral order.

Still, times have changed. We no longer live in a worldview of the civilized versus savages and barbarians. The racial worldview replaced and co-opted that more ancient worldview so that certain races became seen as more civilized and so more worthy in civilized society. Eventually, the curse and blessings of genetics took the place of the curse and blessings of God. Such fatalism in whatever form it takes leads to visions of manifest destiny and white man’s burden, social Darwinism just being the same old belief in new form and with new rationalization.


The development of science has been a constant challenge to these dogmatic beliefs and dualistic moralizings. Still, humans are quite talented at putting old wine into new wine skins. The language of science easily gets misleadingly used as a more subtle and nuanced defense of pre-scientific and non-scientific beliefs. This isn’t necessarily a devious plan by all involved. It is simply difficult for humans to grasp the fundamentally new and different.

Even within science, old paradigms die hard and die slowly. The dualism of nurture versus nature is such a paradigm. It has been replaced by interactionism, but many people are still trying to understand this new paradigm according to the terms of the old paradigm. The implications of interactionism are more profound and paradigm shattering than many would like to admit. It is forcing us to begin anew which means cleaning the slate of tired notions and false assumptions. The potential and plasticity of human development is proving to be more vast than even the most optimistic were able to envision in the past. Genetic determinism, specifically of races, is no longer defensible.

However, as I already explained, this ultimately isn’t an issue that pivots on careful rational analysis. Rather it is about what we collectively are able and willing to imagine. How far will we allow ourselves to follow the data toward new visions of humanity?

To understand what holds us back as a society, it is necessary to grasp the primitive level of the psyche.

Race is an idea that originated from reactionary conservatism. What makes reactionary conservatism unique is that it is how the impulse of traditionalism is transformed in response to modernity. As such, it is reformulated in terms of Enlightenment rationalism. However, the impulse itself precedes and trumps any rationalization that follows from it.

The main difference for the conservative-minded, as research has shown, is the disgust response. Even something so simple as foreign or unusual food will create a disgust response for those of a strong disgust orientation. It is an instinctual reaction, not usually even conscious. There is just a knowing sense that it is wrong. Rationalizations can and often are given, but the essence of the matter is the gut-level feeling of ‘wrongness’.

This goes along with the black and white thinking. What black and white symbolizes more than anything else is that of a boundary, an absolute and clearly demarcated boundary. Conservatism correlates to the thick boundary type. This is something I previously noted in terms of human biodiversity advocates (HBDers) and their obsession with boundaries:

What I sense with the HBD crowd is that it attracts a lot more thick boundary types or at least those with thick boundary online personas. Either way, this means that it attracts people who want to focus on topics that focus on thick boundaries and in ways that are thick boundaried. I don’t mean extreme thick boundaries, but a tendency in that direction. The emphasis of HBD is on the boundaries between ethnicities, clans, regions, nations, etc. They have less interest in that which transcends, merges and blurs boundaries.

To my thin boundary mind, boundaries are imagined things. They are only real to the extent we imagine them to be real. The thin boundary type sees a less thick or clear boundary between even imagination and reality. It is because of this mentality that I look for how people, individually and collectively, project their imaginations onto reality.

What boundaries imply is separation. The enforcement of boundaries is to prevent their crossing.

The fear behind the racial boundary is what would happen if the races aren’t kept separate. In the pre-racial mindset, there were fears of civilized man mixing with the primitive. It was feared that bad things would happen or be produced. It was believed that this is how monsters were born. With the emergence of the racial mindset, miscegenation laws were created. The fear then was that the offspring would be deformed, stupid or dangerous. In both cases, the fear was that the boundary was natural and crossing it was unnatural.

HBDers have originated yet another version of this fear. They don’t speak of monsters or miscegenation. Instead, they advocate racial and ethnic purity, although they won’t use those terms.

Outbreeding within a population is seen as good in that it leads to civilizing effects, but interbreeding with entirely separate populations is seen as bad. HBDers can’t scientifically explain why it would be bad, but they just know it would be bad. It’s not that races have always existed and must be protected. What is desired is the eventual creation of races. Many HBDers speak of dog breeds when speaking of races. Maybe they are telling more of their true intentions than they would want to admit to. Dog breeds don’t happen naturally. They are forced into creation through socially enforced breeding that is manipulated by a ruling elite, i.e., the breeders. HBDers and similar racial visionaries want to breed races, to finally make real what was before only an idea.

Race isn’t a reality, at least not a physical reality. It is an ongoing project. A new social order was imagined. It has taken centuries to enforce it, but it has never been fully successful. Humans have gone on interbreeding as they did for millennia prior to the idea of races.

Modern civilization didn’t happen by accident. It had to be created by massive effort over the entire history of humanity. In oral-based indigenous societies, social order tends to be more fluid and changing. Stories change with each telling. Laws and rituals change with the passing of generations.

What has been sought with modernity is a final solution, a permanent order. Race is such an aspiration. We want to enforce order not just on society but on the very basis of human nature at the most fundamental level of biology and genetics. The creation of the idea of the white race was built on the hope of creating a new race of mankind that would dominate the world.

This hope may seem naive now. It has been dashed upon the rocks of globalization, the inevitable end result of European exploration and colonization. The advocates of race find themselves instead in a defensive position. They want to save what they can of this centuries-old project. They’ve limited the scope of the project for it turned out to be too ambitious, but the project must not be abandoned for some see it as the basis of all of Western Civilization. If there is no singular white race, then there can be no singular Western Civilization. Like race, civilizations aren’t natural realities that have always existed. They must be created and protected.

This is the power of imagination. We imagine vast social visions. Then those imaginings become our entire sense of reality. Anything that challenges them will threaten our very sense of identity. As a society, we’ve committed so much into this racial project that to fail now seems like the greatest of tragedies.

Others, however, envision new and better projects toward a new and better future. It’s not so much a matter of what humanity is for we have yet to discover our true limits. What we face is the unknown of what we might become if were to live out our full potential. That is a scary prospect. The known limits of race are more comforting than the unknowns transcending our fearful beliefs. The future is what we make of it. Human nature is the terra incognito on the map of new worlds.

The era of race is coming to an end. It might take many more generations to fully end, but it will end as previous eras ended. What will the new era bring? What new visions are emerging?

Let me add a simple note of explanation. I always worry about failing to communicate well and so being misunderstood.

When I spoke of a project, I don’t mean that it is necessarily a conscious project. It is more of a guiding function within a particular reality tunnel. The person who is under the influence of such a project does so in a less than direct fashion.

So, I wasn’t accusing HBDers of something as grandiose as breeding races as an eugenics agenda. It is simply that people act according to the reality they perceive and in doing so help to create that reality or try their best to do so. All reality tunnels are self-fulfilling prophecies, at least when successful.

In speaking of such things, I’m try to grasp elusive social realities. You’ll have to forgive my stumbling attempts to put words to it all.

Worldviews, Personality and Communication

Whenever I’m involved in an interpersonal conflict, I immediately start thinking of personality differences.

I do focus on what people are saying, but I have a tendency to put a lot of emphasis on how they say it and what is behind what they are saying. I look to the motivations, the perceptions and the communication styles. I look to the beliefs and assumptions, the worldview or even the reality tunnel they live in.

In the present situation of conflict, my focus has been on someone who goes by the name hbd chick. The conflict really gets me thinking for the reason I feel very little negativity toward her. I love her blog. I respect her typically humble attitude and I’m impressed by her research abilities. But there is some difference between her and I, some difference that may be at a more fundamental level of our respective psychologies.

I don’t like conflict. I’m more of a conflict-avoidant type, but at times I feel drawn into conflict because of another side of my personality. I’m an Myers-Briggs INFP which means I’m fully capable of being insufferably idealistic and even asshole-ish in my defense of my core values. I have speculated that my problem is that I’m an FP (Fi) who was raised by TJ (Te) parents (TJ representing the aspirational and often the most annoying weakness of an INFP). I think I’ve overcompensated a bit in the TJ department and such not-perfectly-functional Te is what can really bring out the asshole in me.

I don’t like being an asshole, but I’m apparently good at it. I hold stuff in until I can’t hold it in any longer. The result is that I become critical and unforgiving.

Anyway, the odd thing is that hbd chick says that she also is an INFP and close to being an INTP. I wonder about that. If I had to guess, I get more of an INTP vibe from her. But it is hard to tell when you don’t know someone personally. Maybe the T is more of her online persona. This might explain my own dysfunctional T getting antagonized in response.

Going by her being an INFP, my criticisms of her should really annoy her. I seem to have been judging her by that T aspect I sensed in her, but she doesn’t see that as being her true self, as she says “at heart”.

This conflict is exacerbated further because of my particular annoyance in trying to find a way to interact with a guy who goes by the name JayMan, both hbd chick and JayMan being HBD proponents. His personality most definitely is different than my own. He has that T vibe without a doubt, especially TJ. He argues for the complete separation of the subjective and objective in exploring the issues of human society and human nature. I can tell you this. No normally functioning FP, in particular no INFP, would likely make such an argument.

That expresses what would be called a thick boundary type (see boundaries of the mind). I must admit I don’t play well with thick boundary types. My mind is pretty damn thin boundaried. In discussions, my thoughts go in a million directions. My thin boundaries is why I constantly see confounding factors in almost everything and JayMan’s apparent thicker boundaries are why he sees my complaints as irrelevant. He is a man who is intently and adamantly focused on what he (thinks he) knows and believes which isn’t to say he is necessarily wrong, just that he is very certain that he is right. Thick boundary types tend to feel more certain, in fact demand more certainty. In Myers-Briggs terms, this is what Judging (J) is about.

I’m of a different variety. I’m an INFP with heavy emphasis on the NP part (Ne). Extraverted iNtuition (Ne) is the single most absolute expression of the thin boundary type. I live in eternal uncertainty with a wide horizon of possibilities. Questions leading to doubts leading to wonder leads to imagining. I live my life contemplating the strangeness of reality, my head stuck in the clouds. To focus on a single theory or a single set of data would be nearly impossible for me.

My Te aspirational can make me a rabid researcher when it is in full gear, but Ne inevitably sends my mind off in new directions.

What I sense with the HBD crowd is that it attracts a lot more thick boundary types or at least those with thick boundary online personas. Either way, this means that it attracts people who want to focus on topics that focus on thick boundaries and in ways that are thick boundaried. I don’t mean extreme thick boundaries, but a tendency in that direction. The emphasis of HBD is on the boundaries between ethnicities, clans, regions, nations, etc. They have less interest in that which transcends, merges and blurs boundaries.

To my thin boundary mind, boundaries are imagined things. They are only real to the extent we imagine them to be real. The thin boundary type sees a less thick or clear boundary between even imagination and reality. It is because of this mentality that I look for how people, individually and collectively, project their imaginations onto reality.

This puts me a bit in opposition to the HBD mentality. Hence, the conflict. Cue the frustration.

HBD Proponents, Racists and Racialists

I came across a typical racist blog post that is posing as being intellectually credible.

It is typical in its racism, but I suppose I should at least give credit to the blogger for being atypical in putting some effort into defending his racism. Basically, he gathers together all the data that shows blacks are bad and inferior, ignores any positive data and dismisses out of hand the entire history and context behind the data. Also, he only focuses on his own preferred scapegoat group while not pointing out similar problems and other problems among whites, not to mention among Americans in general when compared to other countries (see here, here and here).

It’s important that we don’t ignore arguments like this, even though they are motivated by racism. We should never let a single injustice go by unchallenged. This goes back to what I was saying in my last post. A racist, like any other true believer, is beginning with a generalization and then cherrypicks the particulars that conform to their preconceived conclusion. This is why, in that post, I emphasized the particulars. The details of reality are messy and don’t easily fit into simple categories.

It is so hard to respond to people like this because of a simple truth Lionel Trilling once expressed:

“Where misunderstanding serves others as an advantage, one is helpless to make oneself understood.”

But I’m a fool for truth. So I feel compelled to try, and I did try. I left a comment at that post which was deleted. Hence, my presenting my thoughts here.

By the way, I came across this racist blog post because hbd chick posted it with a bunch of links.

I like and respect hbd chick. She isn’t a racist and, as with me, she would point out that poor rural Southern whites have their problems as well. Even then, she admits that she is speculating and hasn’t objectively proven anything (in the scientific sense). Still, the fact that she would post this racist link in her blog demonstrates a problem that is common among the proponents of human biodiversity (HBD).

If HBD blogs are to be used as a platform for racists, that brings discredit to HBD. I think that would be a shame because bloggers like hbd chick have a lot that is worthy to offer.

HBD attracts some overt racists and even among those who aren’t racist they often don’t recognize or acknowledge racism. The issue of racism is an uncomfortable truth which, to the conservative-minded, is a politically incorrect issue to be denied and dismissed rather than discussed. Many HBD proponents seem less interested in taking a moral stance and prefer instead to claim they are just objectively presenting data. If they do this, they are shifting the blame to the cherrypicked data and denying responsibility for having cherrypicked the data in the first place.

Of course, it is a moral issue and those involved are taking a moral stance. Data never speaks for itself. It is we who use data in support of our speaking.

From a rational perspective, there are two basic problems with the racist argument and sometimes with the non-racist HBD argument.

First, correlation is not causation, but it can imply it. I’m very interested in correlations and so I don’t mean to dismiss them. I take them very seriously which is why I take seriously the responsibility to not use them in a dishonest or prejudiced way.

Second, the reason correlation is not causation is because correlating data by itself doesn’t meet scientific standards. Using careful research methods, one has to prove a correlation is valid and that it has a causal relationship. Also, one needs to control for all known confounding factors.

That is a high standard to live up to. Nonetheless, for the intellectually honest, it is the standard one must live up to if one wants to be taken seriously. Racists and the intellectually lazy, however, are unwilling to strive for such intellectual self-responsibility.

I was particularly pointing out the aspect of confounding factors. There are so many of them, a whole history of them in fact.

For the record, here is the deleted comment I submitted to the racist post:

It is hard to respond such arguments because the author doesn’t consider the confounding factors. Looking at correlations without looking at confounding factors is the complete opposite of helpful.

If socio-economic class and systemic racial prejudice were taken into account, what would remain of many racial differences. I have yet to see this fully analyzed, but there sure are a lot of opinions. I must admit I get tired of opinions in search of supporting data rather than people merely seeking data to learn what might be discovered.

Here is what has been proven and yet ignored by the likes of the author.

More whites do drugs than blacks, but more blacks are in prison for drugs. Studies have shown that blacks are more often pulled over by police than whites, more often have criminal charges brought against them than whites for the same behaviors, are more likely to be judged more harshly by juries than whites for the same crimes, and more likely to be punished more harshly by judges than whites for the same crimes. These are the inconvenient truths that most Americans don’t want to face.

Poverty and lack of social mobility are major problems facing minorities, the former increasing and the latter decreasing in America these past decades. This of course relates to racism. Data has shown how discrimination has limited opportunities for blacks for many generations now. There was discrimination during the Progressive Era government assistance programs. There has been discrimination since involving housing, employment and bank loans.

We also know that poor rural Southern whites are the most violent group in America. But those who point out the problems of blacks never seem to notice or acknowledge this disconcerting fact. Like blacks, what these rural whites share is poverty, lack of opportunity, and a long history of oppression/scapegoating by the upper classes.

We all know this. It is no longer an issue that can be argued. Why can’t we have an honest discussion about all of this? What would be so horrible about objectively looking at all the data instead of cherrypicking what fits our preconceived conclusions?

What we don’t know is, after all these confounding factors are accounted for, what remains for the differences in crimes and IQ. Many are willing to offer opinions, but few opinions are very well informed on the matter. We need to get serious about this and quite playing scapegoating games.

America has massive problems of racism and classism that are inseparable from problems of poverty, economic inequality and social mobility. These problems are larger than any other problems we face.

To offer context, I’ve previously argued about this issue with HBD proponents. So this isn’t new territory I’m treading – for example, see: IQ Dilemma: Inconvenient Correlations, Uncomfortable Data. In another post about IQ and racism, someone going by the name Szopeno commented and I responded thusly:

“Do blacks in the south and north are the same biologically-wise?”

Most of the blacks in the North came from the same population of blacks in the South. And before that most blacks in America came from the same few tribes in Africa.

“E.g. it would be enough that only smarter blacks were emigrating north; that would create a pattern you have shown, without creating any need to appeal to poverty rates.”

There is no known evidence that this was the case or none that I know of. Why speculate about an unknown (only smarter blacks were emigrating north) when we can theorize on the proven facts (poverty and related factors have negative impact on cognitive development and IQ). Nonetheless, that would as I argued still disprove the white supremacists.

“No to mention of course the question of admixture – Jensen in g factor wrote that white admixture is higher in northern blacks than in south.”

You could only argue this by ignoring some of the known facts. The Southern whites who have some of the lowest IQs in the country don’t have more black genetics. They are among some of the whitest of whiteys around. As I pointed out in a recent post, Southern blacks are found in greatest concentration precisely where the Scots-Irish, Scottish and Irish are found in the least concentration.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/maps-are-fun-us-data/

There are only two known commonalities between American blacks in general and American whites in the South. They are both environmental commonalities. First, as Thomas Sowell argues, blacks have a culture similar to poor Southern whites, a culture they certainly inherited from their time in the South and brought North with the mass migration. Second, the only other known commonality is poverty. Genetics is the very thing that most separates poor low IQ blacks and poor low IQ whites.

“All I say that what you have presented here is not an argument which could convince hereditarians.”

All the facts in the world couldn’t convince many hereditarians. I don’t deny the known facts about heredity and I actually find that field interesting, but I will never understand those who will ignore or dismiss known facts for the sake of speculation that better fits their interpretive lense. Why not begin with what we know? Why not go with the simplest explanation first?

That is not an atypical interaction with many HBD proponents. A whole lot of speculation on limited data. I have no problem with speculation, but I usually prefer to limit my speculation to the data. It’s not as if the HBD proponent is making an entirely unintelligent argument. They just seem overly attached to a particular conclusion or theory which makes one suspicious of their biases, possibly their prejudices as well.

I don’t know the data about ethnic genetic ratios in regional US populations. Let me assume that Northern blacks have more European genetics. Why would we jump to the conclusion that Northern blacks having higher average IQs is genetically caused? More European genetics also means lighter skin and hence, as has been proven, less racial prejudice experienced. Isn’t that a simpler explanation? Unless we scientifically know of a precise gene that makes blacks stupid, why would we want to believe that is the case? The only reason we’d do so is for the sake of racial bias, whether overt racism or unconscious racialism.

Besides, I’ve found most people making this argument find it inconvenient to acknowledge that many blacks have large percentages of European genetics. It is hard to be racist or racialist when the boundaries are blurred between the races. As for me, I find it fascinating that the average African American is about 1/5 European and 1 in 10 African Americans have more European genetics than African genetics. So, as for those 1 in 10, why do we call them African Americans in the first place? Also, what makes them ‘black’ if their skin color is closer to Europeans than native Africans?

Oh, the confounding factors! What is one to do!?!

My comment to the racist blog post was also added to the comments section of hbd chick’s blog (and she has the intellectual evenhandedness to let almost anyone post, even critics which is why I like and respect her even when I disagree with her). The only person so far to respond to my comment there was a someone called bleach:

“We also know that poor rural Southern whites are the most violent group in America. But those who point out the problems of blacks never seem to notice or acknowledge this disconcerting fact.”

Uhh maybe because the “fact” is total bullshit, you just made it up and keep repeating it without any evidence. AE has the actual numbers:

http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2013/01/black-homicide-rates-by-state.html

http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2013/01/white-murder-rates-by-state.html

Southern whites aren’t even the most violent amongst just whites; southwestern whites are. But the more important fact is how much higher, monumentally higher, the black rates are for every state.

Which everyone who wasn’t a hick from a 99% white Midwestern zip code KNEW ALREADY.

I’m not even going to bother with the rest of your claims, there is no reason to believe they have any truth when you keep repeating falsehoods and provide no data for anything. No one needs the opinion of an ignorant liberal hick on race relations, either. Have you even met any real life black people yet?

What is so interesting about his comment there is that he also commented on my post White Supremacy Defeated… yet again. His recent comment shows no knowledge of our ever having discussed this before. It is as if such people live in a bubble. Even when interacting with them, they aren’t listening to you or hearing anything other than the voices in their self-constructed echo chamber.

I’d previously explained the data to him. It isn’t just state by state data. It is data that is a combination of looking at both the North/South divide and the urban/rural divide. It’s not just that all Southerners are more violent, but that specifically white rural Southerners are the most violent. As for states over all, it would partly depend on which Southern states have higher ratios of rural whites to urban whites.

Also, he missed the entire point of confounding factors. What do poor rural whites and poor urban blacks have in common? Poverty. And what historical circumstances do they share in being poor? Centuries of oppression and prejudice, specifically in the South. Most of the poor rural whites are of Celtic ancestry. The upper class whites in the South have always looked down upon them. Before that, the upper class whites of Britain also looked down upon them.

For both poor blacks and whites, this has often been a severely violent history with political disenfranchisement. If poor whites are showing such problems without ever having experienced slavery, is it so surprising that blacks have had an uphill climb? When my parents were growing up, Jim Crow was still in effect. Even today, studies show that racism continues, including institutionalized racism.

These racists and racialist fellow travelers have never proven that these problems are anything other than the direct results of centuries of racism and classism. Yet they claim others as enforcing political correctness when those others point out inconvenient data that contradicts their cherrypicked data. The confounding factors are so numerous and complex that I doubt any scientific research has yet been able to control for all of them. It is so vast of a problem that we don’t know how to face it as a society.

It’s not as if I’m denying that genetics plays a role in human behavior and cognitive ability. But any theory proposed has to be scientifically proven with scientific data provided by scientific research. Just correlating a bunch of data found online isn’t the same thing as doing science. I love correlating data as much as the next blogger, but I take it for what it is.

In my thoughts, I return to my post about generalities vs particulars. The particulars are messy and can feel overwhelming whereas generalities can feel comforting as they give the appearance of providing simple conclusions and an orderly understanding, but the danger is this is too often superficial and deceptive.

To be a truth-seeker is to accept the responsibility of the moral force of truth, in all of its complexity and uncertainty. Yes, it is uncomfortable and sometimes even disconcerting. There are few easy answers and absolute knowns. But the alternative is much worse.

In my previous post, I presented two ways of focusing on data, the general vs the particular. There is also two ways to use data. You can use data as a way to speak truth to power or else you can use data to kick people while they are down. The sad part about the latter way is that the whole reason the poor, whether whites or blacks, are down in the first place is because they were kicked to the ground and have been continuously kicked ever since. After all this, to keep kicking them is to ensure they stay down. If we stop kicking them for a moment, who knows what might happen? For instance, they might stand up for themselves

What are the racists and racialists afraid of if they quit kicking the downtrodden and let them stand up with the rest of humanity?

If after that they fall down on their own, then be an asshole and point that out. But at least quick kicking them in the meantime. Heck, maybe even offer them a helping hand. Could you imagine if we gave these groups the same amount of assistance and compassion that they have received in oppression and prejudice? The worst part is those who like to kick the helpless the most are precisely those who have benefited the most and inherited the benefit of those who have gained the most from keeping those other people down.

All I can say is there are some sick assholes in the world.

Instead of just looking at the results of social problems, why don’t we look to the cause of social problems? The ethnic/racial ruling elite that existed in America’s oppressive past is basically the same ethnic/racial ruling elite that exists in America’s dysfunctional present. Is that mere coincidence? I think not.

I was imagining a truly worthy version of a HBD advocate. There is a worthy aspect to HBD theory. The data is interesting, but it is just a tiny piece of the puzzle.

I didn’t so much like the links offered by hbd chick, but I do like her blog. She is smart and I appreciate how data-driven she is, not in a cherrypicking kind of way. However, her focus is rather narrow on just HBD and so she mostly just looks at certain kinds of data and often doesn’t seem interested in data outside of that. I can’t blame her for following her interests, but I still can’t deny the sense that HBDers like her don’t appreciate the moral imperative of truth-seeking and truth-telling. It’s not just data. Human lives are involved.

I’m not an ideologue in the political sense and also not in the sense of having loyalty to theories. Even with my favored viewpoints, I’m only likely to defend them to the extent that they act as a proxy in my seeking balance with other perspectives and to the extent they act as conduits toward a greater field of understanding (which is why they are favored viewpoints in the first place). For example, I strongly appreciate Myers-Briggs and personality theory/research of all sorts, but I’m not overly identified with Myers-Briggs being absolutely true, although it is a theory that I’ve probably studied more than any other.

It isn’t just a loyalty thing. It’s obvious that hbd chick likes her own HBD theory, but she’ll admit to it possibly being wrong. So, she is less loyal than some HBDers. Nonetheless, this doesn’t stop her from remaining intently focused on a narrow band of data. My mind, however, wanders. I constantly have my toes in many pools. This allows me to see broad connections, the type of broad connections I rarely come across in any HBD blog.

I’ve had conflicts with HBDers such as JayMan because of this. JayMan’s blog is subtitled “Where Sacred Cows Go To Die”, but apparently that only applies to other people’s sacred cows. As for Jayman’s sacred cows, he’ll defend them at all costs. He has great loyalty to HBD, but moreso it is a narrow focus that seems motivated by a sense of thick boundaries. HBDers are particularly obsessed with boundaries between races, ethnicities and nations. I, on the other hand, am very thin boundaried in comparison.

I’m not an anything-goes universalist that wants to throw the borders open and let anarchism rule the land, although that would be an interesting experiment to do under the right conditions. But certainly, unlike most HBDers, I’m not an ethnocentric nationalist. I’ve noticed that there is an imperialist bias in the thinking of many HBDers. This became apparent in a discussion I was having in a post by hbd chick. Oddly, I’m apparently both more liberal and more libertarian than the average HBDer I’ve dealt with. I responded to that post with a post of mine where I discussed this issue of defense of empire as a defense of ethnocentrism.

There is nothing wrong in being narrowly focused. It makes hbd chick an impressive researcher. She focuses in on a particular area and it is amazing what she can dig up. However, it also leads to massive blindspots because of a lack of seeing the bigger picture and fully appreciating far different perspectives. One thing I notice is how rarely she discusses politics and world events. The type of analysis offered by someone like Noam Chomsky doesn’t even seem to exist in her world of data. I couldn’t even find any of her posts that included the likes of John Gray (the philosopher), Morris Berman and Wendell Berry. I haven’t come across a single HBDer who comes close to offering the subtle and wide-ranging insight of a Joe Bageant and certainly not the moral vision of a Thomas Paine, both being great examples of speaking truth to power.

One would think that HBDers would have a better ability to see outside of cultural biases, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I think the problem is that most of them don’t want to see other cultural views, either to understand them on their own terms or to understand their criticisms of American and Western culture. Understanding others doesn’t seem to be their main priority. People aren’t individuals. They are races, ethnicities, clans and nationalities. Most HBDers are smart people. It’s just they seem strongly driven by an agenda or maybe just strongly attached to their cultural comfort zone.

I’m trying to get into the mindset of why someone like hbd chick would post links to racist blog posts. To her mind, I’m sure she doesn’t see the racism at all. She just sees a blogger correlating data. She sees the data but not the lives behind the data. Certainly, what she doesn’t see is the cherrypicking and the ignoring of confounding factors. Even if I pointed this out to her, she still wouldn’t likely see it. It simply isn’t part of her HBD reality tunnel.

I remember the first serious lengthy discussion I had with JayMan. I found his view interesting, but I couldn’t get him to understand my view.

I pointed out the confounding factors and it didn’t change his mind. It was as if the confounding factors didn’t exist. He was sure it had to be a genetic explanation because that is what he was looking for. He expected to find genetics and so couldn’t see the relevance of what he didn’t expect. It was strange to my mind, this narrow focus.

I tried to broaden his perspective by pointing out that these confounding factors matter because of the implications of ignoring them, but he didn’t find the idea of morality compelling. He saw himself as an objective researcher looking for objective data. Genes were in his mind more objectively real than the people influenced by the ideas he was advocating.

I suspect something similar with hbd chick. although with less obtuseness. When I speak of truth as moral imperative, that probably would make no sense to her. She would deny having such a responsibility to truth and morality. She might like truth and choose to communicate it in her own way, but not because of a moral imperative. The fact that linking to a racist blog post has moral implications wouldn’t seem relevant to her. Like JayMan, she likely would see herself as just an objective researcher looking for objective data.

Morality and ethics is the one area I never see discussed in HBD blogs. It is all about the data. The framework of HBD is scientific or, I would argue, in many cases pseudo-scientific. There is an insular nature to the HBD community. They are mostly talking amongst themselves and preaching to the choir. A moral perspective would require them to peak their heads outside this ideological enclave and look at the larger world of people with other views, a world that where their beliefs and ideas lead to real consequences, not just for them and their group but for everyone.

I think that ends my time commenting at hbd chick’s blog. It just is too frustrating being the only voice pointing out uncomfortable truths to an audience that doesn’t want to know uncomfortable truths. They don’t want to hear it and I’ve done all I can do at this point. *sigh*

I’m brought back to Tim Wise’s insight: The ultimate privilege of being a member of a privileged group is not having to know or acknowledge your privilege nor the systemic and institutionalized privilege throughout society. It takes a lot to force a privileged person to confront their own privilege. That is a rare event.

As a society, our only hope is to help the next generation understand before they become identified with the system of privilege, specifically in terms of the society of ethnocentric imperialism. We need to encourage the questioning of our society, deep soul-searching and most of all speaking truth to power. Could you imagine a society that put truth before all else, specifically truth as a moral imperative? I’d love to live in that society.

On a related topic, I thought I’d point out another link that hbd chick included in her post. It is Kinship or Citizenship? by Steve Sailer, the author being one of the most well known HBD defenders. Basically, he is attacking the poor, powerless minority groups for supposedly being clannish and hence their supposed unfairly picking on all the wealthier, more powerful white folk. I decided to point out this article for how well the comments section tore apart his argument:

Rebecca Trotter says:
I don’t think it’s victim groups we have to worry about. Rather, the new clans who act in their own interests without regard for their fellow man or citizens are the hyper-rich, the Ivy league elites, wall street masters of the universe. Even Obama could only benefit from his race because of his position as the child of academic elites and a member of the Ivy league. It’s a minutely tiny number of minorities who are able to leverage their “victim status” for any gain! For the overwhelming majority being part of a minority group is still a major disadvantage and media concocted fears of the white majority aside, that’s unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. The clannish nature of our wealthy elites has been well documented and is probably the biggest threat to our democracy that America has ever faced. The pap we are fed to argue over is nothing more than a distraction.

Northern Observer says:
Sailer writes a nice essay and blows it all in his conclusion. If we are to take the idea of tribalism and clan politics seriously in America than we need to admit that the most dominant clan in America is the Southern White Conservative tribe. It is the behaviour of this political clan grouping that will determine the quality of political life in America for some time to come. The ongoing drift of this tribe’s politics to romantic irrationalism is something to worry about. In the big picture, homosexuals and African Americans are small potatoes. The Southern tribe’s rejection of the responsibilities of citizenship, as epitomized by the GOP controlled House and State Legislatures, is the most alarming political development in America today.

Frank Stain says:
It is an old and rather tiresome tactic of racists to suggest that the marginalized group identities formed by the efforts of the majority to defend its cultural privileges are in fact ‘clannish’ behavior. Hitler in fact argued specifically in Mein Kampf that the Jews are more clannish than other people, and act in concert to promote a Jewish agenda. Rather than the concentration of Jews in finance being a result of their exclusion from areas of communal endeavor, it appears to the anti-semite as evidence for the ‘clannish’ nature of the Jew.
Similarly, Steve Sailor is suggesting here that the efforts of blacks, Latinos, and Gays to claim full citizenship, and to reject the exclusions foisted upon them by white christians, are evidence of ‘clannish’ behavior, rather than an attempt to construct an ideal of full citizenship beyond the exclusions of race, sexual identity, and religion.

Eric says:
Does he have anything to say about the old WASP clan and its loss of power in this country?

Fran Macadam says:
Loyalty to clan precedes when citizenship no longer confers any benefit. Oligarchy is a form of superclan from which the mass of citizenry are excluded, by force if necessary. No wonder that this style of “warlord” governance, updated for the 21st century, has established and defends democratically unaccountable secret police tactics, such as mass surveillance and “homeland security” applied to all those outside their clan, to whom granting any real power would threaten their hegemony.

As for anyone reading this who cares about truth, including that of confounding factors, I’ll offer you the data:

In my major post about the North/South divide, it was the first time I explored the issue of violence and the South. I included an article by The Atlantic, The Scots-Irish Vote by Cameron Joseph. That article is a good introduction to the research done on the culture of honor. As general commentary, further down in my post, I add these thoughts:

…obesity rates (in developed countries) are correlated to both poverty and high wealth disparity (whereas, in developing countries, obesity and poverty are negatively correlated). So, societies with high wealth disparity tend to have higher obesity rates and societies with low wealth disparity tend to have lower obesity rates. But the real interesting part is that even wealthy people have higher obesity rates in societies with high wealth disparity. The explanation is that high wealth disparity societies tend to be more stressful places to live with higher rates of violence, bullying and social conflict. All of this stress impacts the poor and wealthy alike. The body responds, as a survival mechanism, to stress by increasing fat reserves. This is particularly true for babies whose mothers experienced high rates of stress while pregnant, in which case the body becomes permanently set at fat reserve mode.

I came across another example offering support for egalitarianism. Some conservatives like to point out the fact that gays have higher rates of suicide, implying homosexuality is unnatural and inferior. But, of course, it’s rather convenient for conservatives to ignore their own complicity. A study showed that “Suicide attempts by gay teens – and even straight kids – are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights”. When one group is singled out and treated unequally, all people in that social environment will suffer the consequences.

My point being that it is hardly surprising to find problems in an unhealthy and unjust society. It is also more than unsurprising that the worst victims of such a society show the worst problems. When talking about race and ethnicity, we are talking about problems that have their roots in the distant past. There hasn’t been a moment in the history of this country that these problems haven’t existed.

These kinds of problems came up again with the Trayvon Martin murder. In my post about it, I included a massive number of links and quotes. It is disheartening when you take it all in. It reminded me of a local case involving the death of John Bior Deng which I wrote about and added another post about the issues of racism and classism.

There are a few other posts of mine I haven’t mentioned yet which go to the heart of the data:

Disturbing Study Highlights Racism

Institutional Racism & Voting Rights

Obama vs The Bell Curve

Race & Wealth Gap

Prison Insanity

Old, Male, White, Religious, Rich Republicans Are Happy! Surprise, Surprise!

The Living Apocalypse, A Lived Reality Tunnel

I was recently wondering about the root and rot of the tree of liberty. America is a crazy experiment and these are crazy times. I’m not sure if to embrace the crazy or resist it. Ironically, the new immigrants hated and/or feared by the nativists are about the only Americans left who (naively?) believe in the American Dream.

Matt Cardin over at Teeming Brain just posted a bunch of links that are as interesting as usual. There is the apocalypse thingy:

Adieu: On the downward slope of empire
William Deresiewicz, The American Scholar

This will not be pretty. I mean our national decline, and yes, it’s going to happen, sooner or later, one way or another. We can stave it off for a while, especially if we manage to get our heads screwed on a little straighter about a number of things—like immigration, which has always been the source of our renewal, or clean technologies, which might provide another burst of economic growth. China could stumble, as it seems to be doing right now, and in any case there’s still a lot of kick left in the old mare. But empires fall as surely as they rise, and mostly for the reasons that we’re seeing now: they overextend themselves; their systems grow sclerotic; their elites become complacent and corrupt. There’s almost something metaphysical at work. The national sap dries up; the historical clock runs out.

In America’s case, the end is likely to involve a lot more bang than whimper. 

The Comforts of the Apocalypse
Rob Goodman, The Chronicle of Higher Education

We’re living through a dystopia boom; secular apocalypses have, in the words of The New York Times, “pretty much owned” best-seller lists and taken on a dominant role in pop culture. These are fictions of infinite extrapolation, stories in which today’s source of anxiety becomes tomorrow’s source of collapse.

. . . All of this literature is the product of what the philosopher John Gray has described as “a culture transfixed by the spectacle of its own fragility.” Call it dystopian narcissism: the conviction that our anxieties are uniquely awful; that the crises of our age will be the ones that finally do civilization in; that we are privileged to witness the beginning of the end.

Of course, today’s dystopian writers didn’t invent the ills they decry: Our wounds are real. But there is also a neurotic way of picking at a wound, of catastrophizing, of visualizing the day the wounded limb turns gangrenous and falls off. It’s this hunger for crisis, the need to assign our problems world-transforming import, that separates dystopian narcissism from constructive polemic.

I’ve been too depressed for too long to get overly excited by the ravings of the apocalyptic crowd. I’m also too well informed to almost ever feel surprised. When the 9/11 attack happened, after drowsily and surreally waking up to the radio report, my first coherent thought on the matter was how sadly inevitable was such an incident. For anyone who knows the history of US government meddling, blowback was unavoidable and was going to have real consequences one way or another (see: All of Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror by Stephen Kinzer).

Many of the horrible apocalyptic scenarios have a plausibility about them, maybe even a fair probability, if not entirely unavoidable. Why the continuous surprise about horrific events? And why the paranoid obsessiveness that tries to make them into something more they are? How is global warming a shock considering how much pollution we’ve dumped into the soil, water and atmosphere? It is so boringly predictable.

As for America the empire, we are simply playing out the story many other empires have played out before, although with some new twists. Move along, folks, there is nothing to see here.

I’m not being cynical or I’m not trying to be. It just that somethings begin to seem excruciatingly obvious after awhile.

It is easy for humans to get trapped in reality tunnels, media bubbles and echo chambers. That is how the obvious becomes less-than-obvious in our thoughts and perceptions. We come to take things for granted and don’t even realize there is something to be questioned and doubted. We seek to maintain our sense of reality, the status quo social order, the known and familiar… simply for the sake of it for what else would we do?

It is all about keeping ourselves occupied and distracted, keeping up with the Joneses, keeping on keeping on. And the potential forced ending of all that can indeed feel apocalyptic. Everything comes to an end eventually, whether the ending be death and collapse or an awakening.  Although this game can’t go on forever, we will try to keep it going for as long as we can. I guess that is just human nature.

This brings me two other links Cardin offered and I’ll present some of the text as well:

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
Strike! Magazine

Rather than [technology] allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones. . . . These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs.’

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. . . . Through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand. . . . If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job.

In Praise of Laziness
The Economist

Yet the biggest problem in the business world is not too little but too much—too many distractions and interruptions, too many things done for the sake of form, and altogether too much busy-ness. The Dutch seem to believe that an excess of meetings is the biggest devourer of time: they talk of vergaderziekte, “meeting sickness”. However, a study last year by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that it is e-mails: it found that highly skilled office workers spend more than a quarter of each working day writing and responding to them.

Which of these banes of modern business life is worse remains open to debate. But what is clear is that office workers are on a treadmill of pointless activity. Managers allow meetings to drag on for hours. Workers generate e-mails because it requires little effort and no thought. An entire management industry exists to spin the treadmill ever faster.

All this “leaning in” is producing an epidemic of overwork, particularly in the United States. Americans now toil for eight-and-a-half hours a week more than they did in 1979. A survey last year by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that almost a third of working adults get six hours or less of sleep a night. Another survey last year by Good Technology, a provider of secure mobile systems for businesses, found that more than 80% of respondents continue to work after leaving the office, 69% cannot go to bed without checking their inbox and 38% routinely check their work e-mails at the dinner table.

This activity is making it harder to focus on real work as opposed to make-work.

I pondered this in a more personal way some years ago – The Elephant that Wasn’t There:

My job at the parking ramp is cashier. In the large picture, it’s kind of a pointless job. With developing technology, it’s almost obsolete for all practical purposes. I sometimes envision myself working there in the future after the robots have taken over the job and my only purpose will be to wave and smile at the customers as they drive out. My job is merely representative of most of the pointless work humans occupy themselves with… but is it really pointless? Or is there some purpose being served that is less than obvious? Work is a ritual that sustains our society, the reality tunnel of our culture, of our entire civilization. From a practical perspective, most jobs could be eliminated and many things would run more smoothly and effectively without all the wasted effort of keeping people employed. But if all the pointless jobs were eliminated, there would be chaos with the masses of unemployed. Employing the mindless masses keeps them out of trouble and keeps them from revolting. Make them think their life actually has purpose. Still, a purpose is being served even if it’s simply maintaining social order. My point is that social order is merely the external facet of any given collective reality tunnel.

In enacting our social rituals and retelling our social myths, what kind of reality are we collectively creating? When I look upon a structure like an ugly parking ramp, what kind of world am I looking upon? Why are we creating such a world? What is the motivation? If we stopped enacting these social rituals and stopped retelling these social myths, what would happen to this consensus reality of civilization we’ve created and what would replace it? Or what would be revealed?

Ultimately, the apocalyptic vision isn’t necessarily about the losing of the known at all. The more fundamental fear is the facing of the unknown… which will transform the known, give it new context and meaning. What is fearful about this process is that the unknown once known can’t be made unknown again, can’t ever again be easily forgotten or entirely denied.

The world is an ever-changing place. Apocalypse and transformation are two sides of the same chrysalis. We worry about the destruction of what we know, but that is just a perception. Take the perspective of someone in the past and the present we seek to save can be seen as the destruction of the past world that others sought to defend. Take the perspective of someone in the future and maybe we in this period are seen as standing in the way of a better world, mere children clinging to our blankeys. We are pretty fucking clueless is all I can say. Some of us are more analytical and all that, but it is mostly just a front, a rationalization we present as a lucky charm to protect us against evil.

We all have our favorite story. I’d go so far as to say we all live out a story, usually without full consciousness, assuming consciousness is involved whatsoever in most cases. I read a good articulation of this in a story by Quentin S. Crisp (“The Mermaid”, Morbid Tales):

I believe that everybody has a story. It falls to their life’s epicentre like a meteorite. Even before the story has actually happened the person knows somewhere, with an infallible sense of precognition, what that story is. They predict it again and again in all sorts of ways. They are bound to it by irresistible forces of gravity and magnetism. That is why, knowing they are inevitably taken up with their own story, they feel they are missing something and look to the lives of others with envy. But even those who are envied are enslaved in private by their own particular stories. The hardest part of it all is that stories take place over time. Nothing is revealed all at once. One scene follows closely upon another leaving no gaps, fitting tightly together, slowly and carefully picking out details so that all sense of fulfilment is perpetually in abeyance. And in each new scene we are no longer the same person who wanted the things that scene brings. It is the story of how we age. But if our stories tie us down, make us particular, limit us, they also offer us consolation. In my case, I have tried to escape the sequence of my own story and its temporal limitations by writing more stories, expressing things that I hoped would attain permanence beyond my life. I have learnt, however, that the story in my own life is far more important than any story I might present to the world. Now that it has happened I feel real. Why should I need to write stories when I am a story?

Unlike the storyteller, few of us ever become so self-aware. Stories are most engrossing when we don’t even realize they are stories and that it is we who are telling it. The story becomes real by being mistaken for reality and in doing so our reality is altered. Stories become self-fulfilling prophecies and self-reinforcing reality tunnels. That is certainly the power of religion, but it is the power of everything, including science.

We sometimes forget how young we are as a species and how younger still is science. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the reality around us and within us. Even within science, people have their favored theory and of course other people’s favored theory is bullshit.

I came across this type of thing just the other day with a blogger who goes by the pseudonym of JayMan. He is an human biodiversity (HBD) proponent. HBD is a theory that is so far outside of mainstream science as to have little scientific research backing it up at present. There is some data offering clues, but the scope and quality of research is severely lacking at present. HBD proponents would claim this is because most scientists are being politically correct. Maybe so and maybe not.

What interested me about the incident was the response he gave when I brought up another alternative theory involving non-Darwinian evolution. He called it bullshit. It was one thing to discuss his favored alternative theory and a whole other matter with someone else’s favored alternative theory. It wasn’t even my favored alternative theory. I was merely pointing out that there was research-based theories that were being discussed by scientists, but JayMan would have none of it. He is a smart guy, but it just didn’t fit into his reality tunnel. It wasn’t political correctness to ignore what he disagreed with. That was simply plain reality. Reality is reality. Deal with it! *sigh*

I’m one who will defend facts when I think they are true, but I must admit that I’m not a big defender of specific theories. I pretty much will fairly look at any perspective. If I was worried about political correctness, I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole either HBD or non-Darwinian evolution. It was JayMan who was obsessed with political correctness and judging theories accordingly. That is the power of reality tunnels. I have my own reality tunnel as well, but it happens to be a bit more porous and malleable (which can also be problematic in other ways).

I bring this HBD example up for two reasons. The first reason is that Cardin linked to another article about scientific reductionism which is definitely what JayMan and many other HBD proponents leans toward (I wouldn’t make this charge against hbd chick, though, for she is more careful in her analysis; she has the intellectual humility to admit that she isn’t doing science in her blog and that her favored theory could be wrong). The second reason goes back to the post I first linked above (The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty).

That post was largely a response to hbd chick. Like JayMan, she is definitely attracted to scientific reductionism. She has said many times that culture comes from biology for to all of human reality is biological and most of biology is genetics. I think hbd chick has a brilliant mind and she is definitely an awesome researcher, but to my mind her theory smacks too much of scientism. It’s not just an obsession with science but specifically the hard sciences.

I’m biased, of course, coming more from a social science perspective. If not for the social sciences, we wouldn’t know how easily scientists can get sloppy, even to the point of shaping the results they get and the conclusions they come to. If not for the social sciences, we wouldn’t have developed better scientific methodology such as double blinds. I have less trust in a hard science perspective that isn’t heavily grounded in the social sciences, and my trust is even less when we are talking about human nature which is the focus of HBD proponents. My speaking of reality tunnels is essentially grounded in my study of the social sciences.

HBD proponents tend to have a very narrow focus. JayMan told me once that we should just focus on the facts and not their implications. This seems naive to me. There is no such thing as just the facts. Everything is built on ideas, assumptions, beliefs, biases, perceptions, interpretations, etc. It is because HBD proponents (and other similar types) are so narrowly focused that they so easily fall into certain kinds of apocalyptic thinking. We live in a world of dangers and possibilities, but what they worry about is that the immigrants are going to destroy America. This seems strange to me. The immigrants are America. There would be no America without centuries of mass immigration. If they aren’t trying to protect this America that has existed for centuries, then what mythical America are they hoping to save?

I guess that is the problem with all apocalyptic thinking. It is in the end grounded in fantasy. There are real fears it feeds upon, but those real fears are often incidental or secondary. We obsess about apocalypse because we’d rather ignore the even worse problems that surround us. Instead of apocalypse and paranoia, others turn to watching lots of tv, getting lost in social media, drinking and drugging, obsessive dieting and exercising, and other options are available as well. This is also why we project problems onto others and make them into scapegoats for then we don’t have to focus on our own issues and our own personal contributions to societal challenges. Whatever is the case, the type of distraction isn’t important.

The problem that finally gets us will probably be the problem we don’t see coming. The problems we’re worried about are the ones that usually are the least dangerous. That is the point. We focus on fake threats and paranoid fantasies because they are an escape from boring reality. They are safe and easy. That way we can avoid the deep soul-searching and hard work to make the world a better place or simply not make it worse.

The above felt like a good ending point, but hardly inspiring. You can stop there if you so desire or follow me a bit further into my personal motivations and wonderings.

The reason I care about society or even HBD is because I have insatiable curiosity. Humanity fascinates me, humanity and all that it entails. People like Matt Cardin and hbd chick seem to share this sense of curiosity which is more important to my mind than our agreeing about everything.

I had a discussion with hbd chick about culture. I tend to see culture more of as a mystery whereas she tends to see it as a set of data points. It is pretty much a difference of whether the whole is merely the sum of its parts or greater than the sum of its parts, or so it seems to me but maybe hbd chick would state it differently.

Then again, I do have strong tendencies toward being a pansy liberal with weird spiritual experiences and notions about reality. The HBD crowd aren’t known for their pansy liberals. I try to communicate with them through the lense of the libertarian side of my personality. From my crazy liberal-minded perspective, I find it hard to conform to any single theory. I’m a thin-boundaried possibility thinker and proud of it, dammit! I don’t mind too much those who lean toward scientific reductionism. We all have our role to play. That tolerance and love of diversity is part of my crazy liberal-mindedness.

I find myself always restraining my personal idiosyncracies and illnesses. I do have severe depression and probably a few other mental conditions, maybe borderline something thrown in there or else maybe some aspergers. Whatever is my personal ailment, my brainstuff obviously doesn’t work normally. This is why the strangeness of the world, 9/11 attacks included, don’t surprise me. It seems normal to me that the world is a crazy place. Do I love America so much because it is such a crazy experiment or do I love thinking of America as a crazy experiment because I’m crazy? That is definitely something to ponder.

JayMan is a typical hardcore scientific-minded atheist. It is either hard science or bullshit. There are no other options and no middle ground. The science vs religious issue confuses me. I eternally exist in the middle, the intermediate, the interstitial, the liminal or whatever it is. I’m a both/and kinda guy.

In a society obsessed with science as ours is, what takes the place of religion is secular apocalypse, paranoia, conspiracy theory, alien abductions, and on and on. It’s all fun. I don’t disparage it in and of itself. I love the Fortean. The trick, though, is to see it for what it is. I want to get to the root of fears and fantasies. That is where the tasty morsels are to be found.

We aren’t just sets of data. We are living humanity. We don’t just get trapped in reality tunnels. I might go so far as to say we are reality tunnels. We embody stories and gods. The apocalypse plays out in our souls before it ever manifests in the world.

As such, a culture is an emergent property. It can’t be predicted by that which precedes it or explained by which it consists of. In our discussion, I compared culture to consciousness, both being beyond present scientific knowledge. We can look at snapshots and the mechanisms for the physical correlates, but we are almost completely ignorant about the thing itself. We can’t objectively study culture and consciousness because we are the thing we seek to analyze.

To counter this, hbd chick stated that culture is a lot less complex and mysterious than consciousness for we can point to specific data of cultures. She used the term ‘flavor’ and I thought that a good way of putting it. So, I extended her thought. Maybe the flavor of a culture (violent, universalist, or whatever) is to a culture as personality is to consciousness. I pointed out how we are able to and have measured personality traits of both individuals and groups, including at the level of regions. Personality traits is the flavor of humanity that is the meeting point of consciousness and culture, the individual and the collective.

Cultures, like religions, are reality tunnels. But that sounds dismissive. Reality tunnels are the only reality we have and so I don’t mean to disregard them as mere negative traps to be escaped, as if we are the prisoners of a gnostic demiurge. It is simpler and more complex than that. It is simply the only reality we know and we don’t know what we don’t know.

Religions, like cultures, are lived realities. We can’t truly know them from the outside. The scientific data about cultures is to cultures as the rituals of a religion are to the mystic’s vision of the divine. A living god is a thing to behold and so is a living culture, no matter what your belief is about such things.

The same goes for an apocalypse. They are real to those know them in their own reality. They are so real that we can sometimes even make them physically real if we try hard enough. So, in our collective obsessions with apocalypse or more mundanely with work, what kind of world are we creating? More importantly, what kind of world do we want to create? If we weren’t limited by our fears and doubts, what would we collectively strive to achieve and become?