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October 26, 2003

NKVD tactics

For those of you who feel that I'm too paranoid about anonymity, or who believe that I'm somehow exaggerating the danger to my academic career by even posting need to read this post.

First, some background. XSteve and One People's Project are organizations with a history of using Nuremberg Files type tactics, by publishing the home addresses of people they disagree with to encourage violent action against them. For example, here's their "dossier" on Sailer:

His falsified and racist writings have permeated the internet, creating many rumors and misunderstanding which have spread through many internet forums. Many unsuspecting people who have written articles on race or interracial marriages may have used Steve as a source while researching on the internet.

Steve Sailer is a white American male born in December 1958. He attended UCLA in the early 1980s and worked for several years as a businessman in Chicago after college. In the late 1990s, he and his family (white wife and two sons) moved to his birthtown, Studio City, in the Los Angeles area where he currently resides.

Ok - you get the picture. These guys are intent on suppressing (by violent intimidation, if necessary) those they disagree with. And this brings us to our current situation. Xsteve recently linked an investigative reporter's excavation of the membership of an e-group list to which a number of people interested in behavioral genetics belong to:

Beginning in the summer of 2003, our investigators began sending us information about these "HBDG" people, their connections with Bailey, their support of his work, and their coming to his defense as his work and reputation began unraveling.


Over time we hope to fill in even more details about Bailey's supportive network, and thus better answer such questions as "Why did he do it?" Why did he do it the way he did? What could he have been thinking? Who inspired him to think that way? Who supported the publication of his book by the National Academy Press, and defended it within Academy circles? We'd also like to further reveal how his small circle of supporters tried to defend him, desperately trying to make their defense look in the media like a larger "mainstream" defense by "unaffiliated people" (when in fact it's been easy to link them all together, and show that only Bailey's original supporters have come to his defense...mostly from among his key HBDG friends).

I seem to remember that Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, and the rest of the neo-Lysenkoists were all part of an organization called "Science for the People", a Marxist front-group devoted to overthrowing the United States Government and instituting Communism:

The radical activists, however, went ballistic on this issue. Shortly after the publication of Sociobiology, Richard Lewontin organized fifteen scientists, teachers, and students in the Boston area as the Sociobiology Study Group, which then affiliated with Science for the People. The latter, larger aggregate of radical activists was begun in the 1960s to expose the misdeeds of scientists and technologists, including especially thinking considered to be politically dangerous.


Gould was often seen on picket lines and at demonstrations. When residents of a racially mixed, working-class Cambridge neighborhood rebelled against police brutality in 1971, Gould joined a Students for a Democratic Society march to support the uprising. At around the same time, Gould joined Science for the People, one of the radical science organizations that emerged from the antiwar movement.

Later, Gould was on the advisory boards of the journal Rethinking Marxism and the Brecht Forum, sponsor of the New York Marxist School, which is dedicated to using ▓Marxěs uniquely valuable contributions to study conditions today and possibilities for transcending capitalism and building an emancipatory society.Ë

The Encyclopedia of the American Left singled Gould out as one of the ▓few scientists [who] have emerged as major public allies of the LeftË and as ▓perhaps the most formidable example of a supportive presence at Left events and for Left causes.Ë

One People's Project links to International ANSWER, and they too are sympathetic to Communism. Just read their position statements. But because Communism isn't universally and reflexively acknowledged as evil (though it killed many more than Nazism), these guys have gotten a free pass - just like the "protesters" organized by Communist front groups like ANSWER. And this is just one of the reasons that the leftist takeover of academe must be stopped.

To return to our main topic - in the best tradition of the Spanish Inquisition, we are probably going to see an extensive smear campaign directed against Michael Bailey and all other non pseudonymous members of the list, including Steven Pinker. The people who're running this particular investigation are mainly transsexuals (and are thus politically marginal), but the far larger group of "antiracists" who want to use Nazi smears on guys like Pinker[1] will love the fact that Pinker is on the same list as "the devil himself", Charles Murray. Bet on it - the HBDG will be used like the Pioneer Fund to smear people with guilt-by-association.

This whole imbroglio is a good lesson for us. It's easy to become complacent over here at Gene Expression or at HBDG, but anonymity is necessary in today's political climate. To paraphrase Carl Djerassi:

The outrage of the neo-Lysenkoists was understandable. The internet promises to decentralize the provision of information to a person's laptop, which can neither be bombed nor picketed.

Like La Griffe Du Lion, I will continue to speak the truth. All those who believe that behavioral genetics is a viable field of study are currently in the political wilderness...but give us a few years, and eventually research will vindicate us.

[0] The NKVD was the forerunner to the KGB.
[1] Pinker is Jewish, by the way.


The plot thickens. The person doing the investigating is Lynn Conway. Now, anyone who's ever taken a class on VLSI design has heard of Conway - along with Carver Mead, she wrote the seminal text on the subject back in 1978, "Introduction to VLSI Design".

Thing is, "she" is really a "he". Seems like investigative reporters tracked down the fact that she was a man in her early career and exposed her. Which makes one wonder why she'd want to invade the privacy of others...

Bonus laugh

This picture is from Conway's website.

Standing next to Conway is Brent Scowcroft, realpolitiker extraordinaire and mastermind of the first Gulf War. Somehow, I doubt ol' Brent would have had that smile on his face if he'd realized that Conway was a transsexual :)

Posted by godless at 06:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 20, 2003

Very smart Friend

I knew Lisa Kudrow majored in biology at Vassar, but I didn't know she wanted to do research in evolutionary psychology. Listen to a full interview with her, she's intelligent & delightful.

Posted by razib at 09:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 18, 2003


Carl Zimmer blogs about FOXP2, the "language gene" that has been getting a lot of press in the past few years.

The scientists found that a change to FOXP2 changes the way the brain handles language. Specifically, in people with mutant copies of the gene, a language processing area of the brain called Broca's area is far less active than in people with normal FOXP2.

The implications for this sort of research slices across many fields-linguistics, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience and palaeoanthropology. As Carl notes, FOXP2 might not be a silver bullet, but it is illustrative of the path we might take to elucidate complex phenotypes and the genes that undergird them.

Posted by razib at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2003


In an earlier post here I discussed the curiously neglected implications of cuckoldry for estimates of heritability.

There is uncertainty over the incidence of cuckoldry in the past. I have just come across some data which suggest an incidence of about 5% in America in the first half of the 20th century. This is high enough to be worth taking into account.

For details proceed...

The data are reported in Anne Anastasi, Differential Psychology, 3rd edition, 1958, based on a study by C. Cotterman and L. Snyder in J. Amer. Stat. Assoc., 1939, 34, 511-23. Cotterman and Snyder studied the ability to taste phenyl-thiocarbamide among 800 families. Most people find this chemical tastes intensely bitter, but some cannot taste it at all. The ability to taste is inherited as a simple Mendelian dominant. Non-tasters are homozygous for the recessive non-taster allele. Two non-taster parents therefore should not have any taster children. Yet out of 223 children born to such couples, 5 (2.24% of the total) were tasters.

Prima facie, this sets a lower limit of 2.24% to the incidence of cuckoldry (barring rare events such as new mutations). The full incidence would be higher, because even with cuckoldry not all of the offspring of non-taster women would be tasters. Taster offspring would always be produced when these women mated with a homozygous taster male, and half the time (on average) when they mated with a heterozygous taster, but never when they mated with a non-taster. Assuming random mating in the population w.r.t the taster gene, the proportions of the genotypes are p-sq., 2pq, and q-sq., where p is the proportion of the taster gene in the gene pool, and q = (1 - p). Also assuming random mating w.r.t. the taster gene in adulterous relationships, the proportion of tasters among the offspring of non-taster females produced by cuckoldry should be p-sq. + pq. As q = 1 - p, this reduces to p. The value of p in the study population can estimated from the fact that 86 of the 800 families (10.75%) contained two non-taster parents. Since the proportion of non-tasters in the population is q-sq., the proportion of couples in which both partners are non-tasters should be q-to-the-4. This gives a value of about .573 for q and .427 for p. The full incidence of cuckoldry implied by these data is therefore 2.24%/.427 =5.25%.

I need hardly say that no firm conclusions can be based on this single set of data. The total number of individuals involved in the study is quite large (several thousand) but the crucial group of taster children born to non-taster parents is very small. Quite apart from sampling error, even a small proportion of misclassification, of either parents or children, would invalidate the conclusion. But it is consistent with other moderate estimates of the incidence of cuckoldry in modern western populations.


Posted by David B at 09:40 AM | TrackBack

August 09, 2003

Natural Born Killers

Very interesting article on the best kind of soldier - the one who can kill without remorse or compunction. My comments are at the end.

A natural killer is a person who has a predisposition to kill▀he enjoys combat and feels little or no remorse about killing the enemy. These men have existed throughout the history of warfare, and their feats have often been hailed as heroic. They constitute less than 4 percent of the force, yet some studies show that they do almost half of the killing.

It is important to identify natural killers before combat, because these soldiers are both a vital asset and a potential liability▀correctly positioning them in a unit can turn the tide of battle. To better understand the importance of identifying these soldiers, one should understand what makes soldiers kill, the characteristics of natural killers and their battlefield capabilities and limitations.

More inside...

A temperament for killing exists among some human beings. Marshall, in identifying the battlefield fighters, said, "the same names continued to reappear as having taken the initiative, and relatively few fresh names were added to the list on any day."7 A post-World War II study by R. L. Swank and W. E. Marchand proposed that 2 percent of soldiers were "aggressive psychopaths" who did not suffer from the normal remorse or trauma associated with killing.8 I use the word suffer because when the job of the soldier is to kill, those fettered by their conscience are suffering while doing their job. We tend to shun the concept of the willing killer because it offends our kinder sensibilities, but a controlled psychopath is an asset on the killing fields. Those who possess such a temperament are natural killers and many have served this country well. The problem lies in identifying these individuals and positioning them where they can be most effective.


psychopath...sociopath, antisocial personality type or undercontrolled personality type...someone who lacks social emotions and often resorts to violence, deception or manipulation as a means to get what he wants. These people constitute 3 to 4 percent of the male population and 1 percent of the female.10 Such people who enter the military are not monsters waiting to be released. They can be level-headed, productive soldiers, and if put into the right situation, they will kill the enemy aggressively and without remorse. If these soldiers are in our units, how can we identify them?

A predisposition to kill is the result of genetics and early childhood experience. There are common traits that are indicative of natural killers. While the collection of these traits is not absolutely deterministic of a killer, it is a good framework for identifying those who may have this propensity. In general, the natural killer found in the US Army lacks social emotions, is a later son (not first-born), got into frequent fights as a child, enjoys contact sports, is from a middle or upper class background, is an extrovert, has above-average intelligence and a caustic sense of humor.

While no specific violence gene has yet been isolated [see below], there is ample evidence to suggest that violent tendencies are inherited. Researcher D.C. Rowe posits that some individuals have a genotype that disposes them to antisocial behavior.11 These individuals are characterized by a deficit of social emotions which include love, shame, guilt, empathy and remorse. They are keen predictors of other peopleěs behavior. Unbridled by emotions, they rely solely on actuarial data to predict outcomes, never resorting to feelings or hunches.12 They focus on short-term outcomes without taking into account the emotional reactions of those with whom they are dealing. Thus they may come across as cold, impersonal and manipulative.

As previously mentioned, the natural killer is most likely not a first-born son. Later sons are generally more aggressive and have less fear or anxiety in dangerous situations. ...Later borns, by virtue of being routinely dominated by their siblings, ultimately feel less fear during stressful situations. They also feel the need to prove their worth over their siblings and more quickly accept dangerous challenges...The military provides ample displacement outlets for this aggression in the form of physical training, field maneuvers and weapons ranges. It is the perfect environment for a sociopath to excel.


The natural killer is an aggressive athlete whose physical makeup allows him to excel at contact sports.


fighters had a high masculinity factor or outdoors adventurousness about them. Their body types were larger; on average they were an inch taller and eight pounds heavier than the nonfighters. They were rugged individuals who had channeled their aggressions through contact sports.

Another discriminator for identifying natural killers is their socio-economic background. Natural killers usually come from a middle or upper class background. The volunteer military has had the luxury to pick and choose those who will be allowed into the service, and we exclude those with criminal records. Sociopaths follow a "cheater strategy" to obtain what they want.21 The lack of a social conscience allows the sociopath to cheat without remorse. Consequently, those who find themselves in the economically disadvantaged lower class will resort to crime unless placed in a highly controlled environment. In other words, a sociopath from a depressed economic background will most likely have a criminal record, and under todayěs standards, he would not be able to enter the military. Thus, natural killers in the US military will most likely come from a middle or upper class background.

Sociopaths are generally extroverts. One reason for this is the inheritance of a nervous system that is relatively insensitive to low levels of stimulation. Individuals with this physiotype tend to be extroverted.22


The natural killer has above-average intelligence. Like sociopaths with no economic resources, those without above-average intelligence end up in jail. Therefore, sociopaths in our military are usually intelligent.


Additionally, the natural killer has a caustic sense of humor that relies on sharp wit and biting sarcasm.26


Personality-type testing may also identify natural killers. One such test already in use by the military is the Myers-Briggs personality-type test. Considering the characteristics discussed above, the natural killer would most likely be an ESTP (extroverted, sensory, thinking, perceiving) personality type on this test.


Matching the ESTP personality type to intelligent, caustic, later sons will help identify potential natural killers. ... Personality-type testing at initial entry could identify and help place natural killers where they can best employ their talent▀in infantry, armor and special operations units.


The individual soldier does make a difference on the killing fields. The natural killer is a vital asset to a unit because he is a killing machine that will turn the tide of battle when the chips are down. During World War II, 40 percent of the US Army Air Forcesě air-to-air killing was done by 1 percent of its pilots. Marshallěs work and the HumRRO study both found that a small percentage of soldiers did most of the fighting. It is not enough to rely on conditioning to produce killers▀genetics and childhood environment have already molded them.


Atrocities are the result of the release of pent-up hostilities▀not a characteristic of sociopaths who live for the moment. Natural killers may participate in atrocities but they will not initiate them.


Consequently, many of these individuals seek out fast-paced specialty units such as Airborne, Ranger or Special Forces units.32 The natural killer will become bored in a regular unit and may seek the stimuli of sports, fighting or drugs. Natural killers are motivated by competition and excitement, not a sense of sacrifice▀they are not the kind of soldiers who will leap on a grenade to protect others.


Another characteristic of the natural killer is to usurp authority in a crisis to turn the tide of battle.


If there is a well-defined decisive point of the battle, the commander may choose to place natural killers at that point. They will provide that final measure of resolve in the assault or become the defense linchpin. ... Quick to take charge, they will move to the sound of the guns unless tightly controlled.

There are several leads on the molecular biology of the "violence-genetics" correlation mentioned above. One of themshould be familiar to GNXP readers from last year:

...individuals having the combination of low-activity MAOA genotype and maltreatment were only 12% of the male birth cohort, [yet] they accounted for 44% of the cohort's violent convictions, yielding an attributable risk fraction (11%) comparable to that of the major risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease (37). Moreover, 85% of cohort males having a low-activity MAOA genotype who were severely maltreated developed some form of antisocial behavior. Both attributable risk and predictive sensitivity indicate that these findings could inform the development of future pharmacological treatments.

The summary from Science:

The study by Caspi et al. (9) also analyzed a promoter region polymorphism, in this case for the gene encoding monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Although the MAOA gene had previously been implicated in aggression and impulse control in both humans and rodents (10), this transcriptional variant had not been associated with personality traits (11). Caspi et al. hypothesized that the effect of the gene would be more readily revealed if the environment were explicitly taken into account.

Their study group was a large birth cohort, representative of the male population of New Zealand, whose development had been carefully followed for 26 years. The environmental variable of interest was childhood maltreatment, and the outcome was a composite measure of antisocial behavior. Although the MAOA genotype by itself failed to predict antisocial behavior, there was a significant interaction with childhood history; individuals with both a low-activity genotype and previous maltreatment were by far the most likely to have committed a violent crime and to be diagnosed with conduct disorder. Over 85% of the males who had both "bad genes" and a "bad environment" developed some form of antisocial behavior by the time they were 26. It will now be crucial to repeat this intriguing finding on other populations with documented developmental histories.

Much more on the genetics of violence if I'm not feeling lazy...

Posted by godless at 04:06 PM | TrackBack

July 30, 2003

Go for it!

Today on NPR (audio archive will be available after 6 PM) there was a short interview with an economist who stated that "going for it" on 4th & 1 yard to go in a football game is the rational thing to do. And yet most fans know that coaches generally refuse to "go for it," even if it is "4th & inches"! Why? The economist stated "...we are quite perplexed, because we know that people tend to maximize their benefit...." This is a clear application of rational choice theory and its short-comings, the economist notes that coaches are probably carrying over decision making patterns from other areas of life without reflecting upon it. I believe that rational choice theory has a big role to play in social science, but it tends to put the emphasis on human rationality and choice, neglecting that our evolutionary background probably has a strong effect on our reactions to any given situation. Our software can react dynamically to many situations, but we also have many pre-built modules that simply initialize whenever a familiar context is recognized.

Update: Here is David Romer's paper that elaborates his argument. For a more sports-oriented take, here is a column on the topic by ESPN's Greg Garber.

Posted by razib at 01:04 PM | TrackBack

July 29, 2003

Online Books

See Robert Plomin, UK IQ researcher and evolutionary psychologist's work here. Lots more online...

Posted by godless at 08:29 PM | TrackBack

July 25, 2003

Pretty baby

Dienekes has a prety provocative post on attractiveness (everyone has an opinion on this topic....).

Posted by razib at 11:45 AM | TrackBack

July 11, 2003


They say the hardest thing to say is 'sorry', but actually it is 'I was wrong'.

However, having read Keith Devlin's article, I must admit I was wrong about Monty Hall. Colour my face red! Just as well I didn't take that bet...

I console myself with the thought that some of the people who got it right seem to have cheated by searching the web for the answer, as shown by the uncanny similarities between their comments and Devlin's article.

Or maybe it's another of those billion-to-one coincidences...


Posted by David B at 12:27 PM | TrackBack

June 26, 2003

Move over Matt Ridley

About the author of the evol. psych. book Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice:

Olivia Judson is an evolutionary biologist and award-winning science journalist. She received her doctorate in biological sciences from Oxford University before joining the staff of The Economist, where she wrote about biology and medicine. She is presently a research fellow at Imperial College in London. [her undergraduate degree is from Stanford -Razib]

And now check this out....

Total package....

Listen to her here being interviewed about the book (type "Judson" under the guest text box).

Well, it seems looks matter when it comes to pop science. Remember Spencer Wells, author of The Journey of Man, why was it him in particular that emerged out of Stanford's human population genetics lab?

Posted by razib at 03:39 PM | TrackBack
Baby Daddy?

From The Economist....

Government plans on paternity testing

IT IS a wise child that knows his own father. Genotyping means a wise father can know his own child. Testing a cheek swab from a baby can easily clear the matter up. This is a booming business in Britain, where around 10,000 such tests are thought to be carried out privately each year.

There is plenty of scope for suspicion. Robin Baker, an academic-turned-author, reviewed the available data a few years ago and estimated that as many as 10% of children may not have been sired by their supposed fathers. If the figure really is that high, a lot of hitherto stable relationships are likely to end acrimoniously, and the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill for yet more children.

That's why there was talk, in the run-up to the publication of the genetics white paper, of forbidding suspicious men from doing this without the mother's consent. In the event, the government decided against it, and opted merely to propose banning taking unauthorised DNA samples.

This prohibition (which would not extend to the police) would avoid cases such as the one in America in which investigators employed by Kirk Kerkorian, a Hollywood mogul, got hold of the DNA of Steve Bing, a socialite, to try to establish whether Mr Bing was the father of Mr Kerkorian's wife's child. And it would also discourage the plotters who tried to get hold of Prince Harry's DNA to test it and sell the results to the papers. But it would do nothing for the wife who has had a bit on the side. She needs to mind her contraceptives.

Posted by razib at 02:40 PM | TrackBack

June 13, 2003

Love thyself

A few years back a study indicating that people are attracted to faces like their own came out. One thing that I neglected to mention when I blogged this last was the following:

What Perrett found was students who were born when their parents were older than 30 overwhelmingly preferred older faces. Students whose parents were younger when they were born selected younger faces as more attractive.

Those with older parents, Perrett said, "were less impressed by youth."

Perrett's colleague Anthony Little, also of St. Andrews University, has since followed up with another study looking at hair and eye color. His results show that people generally prefer faces with the same eye and hair color as their parent of the opposite sex (as in a woman's father or a man's mother).

The implication of the last finding for interracial relationships and children of mixed heritage is intriguing. Since most Asian-white relationships in the United States are female-male respectively, it would be interesting to see the pattern of spousal choice of men and women of biracial origin. The above results indicate that Eurasian women in the United States should prefer white men while Eurasian men should prefer Asian women as partners. It would probably be best to look at Hawaii to see if there is a pattern since the racial mix there is balanced enough that there is a wide choice of spouses.

Posted by razib at 12:50 AM | TrackBack

June 05, 2003

If you're fat-it's cuz you're going to have a boy!

Women pregnant with boys eat more. If you find that interesting, I suggest reading The Red Queen.

Posted by razib at 10:29 PM | TrackBack
The futility of universal love

Note: This post has been a while in coming. I am going to start and approach issues that touch upon political philospopy and the possible implications of evolutionary psychology & behavioral genetics. It has been stated-by me at least-on this blog that politics is something we can argue about once we agree on the basic facts that serve as the substrate for our norms. I am a strong believer that ought does not follow from is, but I also must acknowledge that the bounds of ought are constrained by is. Reader input is encouraged!

In The Blank Slate Steven Pinker makes the cogent point that the political philosophers that those who engage in liberal studies are familiar with in higher education, Plato, Hobbes, Locke and Burke, formulated their thought before the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis and the renaissance of consiliated knowledge in the human sciences that emerged from work of E. O. Wilson, to be expanded by researchers like Tooby & Cosmides and popularizers such as Robert Wright [1]. Human political thought today is shaped by 18th century ideas informed by the ancients (Plato, Polybius, Cicero, Seneca), unenriched by the revolution in knowledge that has exploded upon the mind-space of the intellectual scene in the past century and a half (Darwin to Dawkins so to speak). And yet what Pinker does not add, though alludes to, is that some political philosophies have forshadowed hypotheses about human nature that have emerged out of modern biology and psychology, and that these philosophies and theories of man have often proven most resilient against the vissicitudes of history.

This is clearly illustrated in the case of ancient China-for one can look toward the Mohists, under the leadership of Mo Di, as exemplars of the idea of "universal love," set against the teachings of Confucius, who acknowledged the importance of tradition and the "natural order of things" (in contrast to forward thinking constructed ideals), giving great weight in particular to the need to accept the paramountcy of family above all other institutions and loves [2]. Unlike the messy and often cantankerous Confucians, Mohists were in many ways a laudable group of individuals, driven by a genuine desire to do "good." Not only did they preach that one must love all human beings equally, they organized defense militias that aided weak principalities against the strong, putting into their practice the principles of justice and egalitarianism as goods that could be achieved within their lifetimes. Not surprisingly Mohists were utilitarians who inveighed against wasteful "music" and other fripperies, objecting to excessive bending toward tradition, even in time-hallowed areas like mourning for the dead, when misery and suffering was the staple of much of the human condition for the living [3]. In a fashion they presaged the ideas of Jeremy Bentham, who asked to have his skeleton preserved to show how little he cared for his flesh emptied of cognition. In contrast to the Mohists, the Confucians, and in Bentham's day Burke, emphasized that human beings have natural inclinations to care for their parents, to spend inordinate time on rituals, art and religion, and though these were not necessarily rational and easily justified when set against the material short-comings of their fellow man, they were constants of the human condition that could be channeled usefully to maintain the greater good short of turning men int automatons who were cost vs. benefit calculation machines. The ultimate end was the same for both camps, the greater happiness of the human race, but while the Mohists assumed that abstract concepts of justice could actualize Heaven-On-Earth, the Confucians argued that there were pre-ordained predelictions that had be accounted for and made the foundations upon which a political order was grounded-for man did live for more than bread or water.

Though the Chinese dynastic system that began with the Former Han owed much to the harsh Legalistic reign of the Chin dynasty, its spirit was still Confucian, and it was the ghost of the philosophy of Confucius, Mencius and Hsun-Tzu that animated it for 2,000 years. Historians have long marvelled at the fact that where the blind law and later military autocracy of ancient Rome was not resurrected in the Middle Ages, the Chinese system of governance recapitulated itself time & again for 2,000 years-bouncing back from repeated chaotic interludes.

Why was this? I believe that part of the answer lay in the fact that the pre-industrial mind did, as some historians intuit, have difficulty with internalizing abstracts such as Roman Law, while personal rule by the Mandarins of the Confucian system was not difficult to grasp because in some ways its paternalism resembled the natural family organization that served as the center of Chinese culture (to be sure, any human culture, as the family is a biological as much as a cultural unit of organization). Ultimately the Emperor was the Son of Heaven, but he was Father of China as well, the common-folk his "children," just as foreign potentates were also viewed as lesser relations and subordinates in the family superstructure. Chinese legal tradition even granted some legitimacy to the heirarchy of priorities, during some periods sons could not be prosecuted for aiding & abetting a criminal father, because it was natural that a family would aid and shelter their own (of course, there is also the tradition of executing whole family lines because of the treason of one member).

On the issue of "music," costly and time-consuming mourning traditions and the like, Confucius freely allowed one to dissent as to whether there was any direct utility in these things, but he and his followers simply asserted that no matter the root cause, the impulse to love and honor family and parents in particular were natural feelings, to mourn was a reaction to a genuine and universal emotion, and these facts of life had to be assimilated into any coherent theory of humanity that could be applied to governance. Additionally, filial piety and these natural inclinations toward "goodness" could be harnassed to shape a better individual who could serve the good of the whole, the state. Utlimately, the complex emergent structure of the Chinese state was rooted in truths about human psychology and basic atomic familial structures, rather than created de novo with engineering efficiency in mind. Idealists driven by the force of human perfectionism might demand that their followers renounce preferential love, such as Mo Di did, or raise their children in a communal setting, such as on the Israeli kibbutzim, but such waves of fervor and universal world-shaking altruism tend to run up against the parameters of human nature.

Elaborated by W. D. Hamilton, the idea of kin selection indicates the thinking of philosophers such as Confucius who believed it natural that human beings favor close relatives over those who were distant from them by blood. The fact that anti-kin selectionist thinkers like Mo Di could arise points to the power and influence of higher level cognition and abstraction in the human psyche, but it still must run up against the more deep-seated instincts inherited from ancient mammalian forbears. As I have noted, Confucianism, unlike Mohism or Legalism, was based on the idea that family, and cultivation of filial piety, "good-heatedness" (jen) and "ritual" (li) would ultimately produce a better society at the top by percolating character upward from the gentry to serve the rulers. Though bastardized and bowlderized Confucianism did serve the Chinese Empire well for 2,000 years, an admirably successful mode of political governance and organization if longevity is to be used as a criteria-a good clue as to whether the initial axioms of the philosophy were valid or not [4]. Almost certainly the unconscious leveraging of the idea of kin selection, hard-wired into human beings, was a part of this success. In contrast the principate, the early pagan Roman Empire, the dominate, the militaristic late pagan Empire, and the Christian Roman Empire, were not animated by any similarly durable political philosphy. Rather, the Empire spent its capital over time, husbanding it in the east until after 1100 it became but a small petty kingdom slowly wasting into obscurity [5].

In the end, familial love served as the glue for Chinese civilization, while the universal love of Mo Di sailed over the horizon of historical memory, only to be ressurected now and then and trotted out by Maoists or Christian missionaries for their own ends [6]. Of course universal love and preoccupation with individual salvation, two extreme antipodes against the norm of the Golden Mean of family and kin, manifest themselves in many other cultural traditions. The original messages of Christ and Buddha for instance were rather anti-social and difficult to reconcile with worldliness. And yet both of the faiths that sprung from these charismatic teachers quickly adapted to themselves to the powers that be and tempered their messianic tendencies and lived with compromise. In fact, the Buddha is said to have almost turned his back on the world, and only entreaties from his disciples brought him back to engage with the masses and teach him the way to salvation and nirvana. In contrast, Christ unequivocally brought his message to the masses, and preached a radical spiritual doctrine that seemed to break out of the narrow sectarianism of Pharisaeic Judaism and taught a rejection of current order of things in anticipation of a new kingdom of God upon the Earth [7]. The idealistic, pacificist, and anti-government message of "primitive" Christianity became transformed into the militaristic "muscular" faith that peaked during the early Crusades and later emerged once more during the Victorian Era. Buddhism flourished in societies as militaristic as Tokugawa Japan and Oiyrat Mongolia. The axiomatic points & principles of the faith were superseded by the practical decisions made by prelates and abbots who had to live within a system where temporal figures wielded great power over religious folk. Additionally the elite religious clerisy were easily able to sway the masses of the faithfull to break with axiomatic points because the latter were not literate or sophisicated enough to comprehend the historically unorthodox application of religious principles.

Today, with the spread of literacy and the decentralization of power, the force of religious texts and the basic theological axioms are rising to the fore in many places (Islam for instance). This has happened before, the Reformation was in part a reaction against the quasi-paganism and worldliness of the Catholic Church heirarchy of the time. While in past periods of dissension the heretics were absorbed or eliminated, the existence of information technology in the form of the printing press meant that the wildfire of dissent coud not be extinguished. Martin Luther's conception of Justification by Faith alone was in large part motivated by his reading of the scriptures, and each iteration of the Protestant Reformation (Lutheran -> Zwinglian -> Calvinist -> Noncomformist) became progressively more "primitive" in orientation, turning against the temporal powers and withdrawing. The idea of "unviersal love" permeated the early Church, and its non-pragmatic concern for all individuals (rather than just the powerful), was clear to even pagans. As St. Augustine had noted, from fair-haired Angles (Germans) and dark-skinned Ethiopians, all were possessed of an immortal soul. The Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th century, though partially motivated by venal intentions by the princes of the day, were also giving vent to universal love and concern for their fellow man. Those who found the Gospel in its most unadulterated form wanted to spread this to others, to the whole world if need be. By the sword did Protestantism spread in much of Europe, while Catholics re-converted many others also by force, for the love of their fellow man, against the follies of heresy and eternal damnation. The volatile balance of the Medieval Age, where a "universal church" accepted de facto paganism among the masses so long as there was lip-service to the strictures of the Christian faith, were gone. Christian creed now soaked into the heart of Europe, rather than enforcing hollow outward forms and rituals that served as scaffolding for political institutions.

And yet a peculiar consequence of the Protestant Reformation and its world-changing zeal was that it too was subborned and underminded, the last iteration of the Reformation saw the emergence of narrow sects that rejected practical universalism, accepting that in truth most of humanity was doomed to hell-fire. Of course the principle of universalism remained, the Good News would be spread by word, but the Wars of Religion had disabused many even among the state supported denominations of the idea that universal salvation could be coerced. Only so much were they willing to do for universal love.

And yet after the de-centering of Christianity from the Western identity, the whithering of Christianity, other forms of universal love replaced the messianism of radical/primitive Christianity. Marxism, Fabian Socialism and other "Left" movements made strong claims about justice, the universal dignity of man, and the importance of spreading the world from shore to shore over the face of the world. Within the modern Left there still exists tensions over the various levels of universalism, nationalist labor leaders disputing with transnational Leftists who wish to attack globalism and bring "power to the people," all people, not just kin & kin, fellow citizen or subject.

While modern Leftism tends to emphasize the higher emergent properties of cognition, free choice, abstract system building, much of the Right has unwittingly taken refuge in our biology, from libertarianism with its individualism to social conservatives who emphasize family & tradition. Conservatives freely admit that if they could have a just world by fiat, they would do it, but argue powerfully that there are parameters and limitations on the level of perfection, on the goodness, that exists within individual human beings. Of course, conservatism is by nature a shape-shifting ideology, one generation's abstract systems giving way to another-one generation's "progress" and "fad" becoming the status quo wisdom of the later years.

As humans, rather than post-humans, we are trapped in the cage of our nature. Modern day political movements tend to express elements of who we are as a species-it is a virtual tautology, for they are products of our minds, the basic unit of identification. Both the Left & Right draw from ancient traditions and tendencies. Over time some ideas may change in the conception of the "natural order," slavery, female circumcision and human sacrifice, the higher emergent products of our psyche, but others remain constant, our love for kith & kin being foremost among them. To rage against nature is futile, but to tame it is possible.

On a contemporary note, I believe Islamism is a partial expression of universal love, though rooted and co-existent with other urges and tendencies. The conservatism of one age is the progress of the days of yore, and it will be perhaps true that "Islam" as a culture will transmute as it goes through the same cauldron that Christianity did, that individual Muslims will one day wake up, one at a time, Islamists, moderates and seculars, see that the world is sloppy, that though God is perfect, his creation is flawed. The Koran might be Uncreated, but it is holds a different promise to the hearts of each man, that a universal message to mankind is futile.

[1] The great exception being John Rawls. His seminal work in Theory of Justice and its point of initiation, "the original position," have been criticized as being excessively abstract and to my mind seem not to take much account of our biological predispositions as opposed to our cognitive pretensions.

[2] Chinese politico-philosophical schools were complex and multi-faceted, so for instance, Mencius and Hsun-Tzu both effected latter-day Confucianism at least as much as St. Paul or Augustine shaped Christianity, if not more. But as general camps I believe one can distinguish Mohists and Confucianists, for though leaders of both groups had their differences, they were held together by a certain spirit of opinion.

[3] A strange fact the Mohists were the one school of ancient Chinese philosophy that most closely approached the theist concept of a God. Also, it might be important to remember that Mohism rose to the fore during the "Age of Warring States," when social disorder had mostly likely reached a crescendo in ancient China.

[4] See the book The New Chinese Empire for an argument that Confucianism and Legalism still serve as the mode of governance for the Communist dynasty.

[5] The Roman/Byzantine politico-historical entity did experience mild cycles of growth and collapse. For instance, the climax of the principate during the Antonine Age (~100-180), gave way to militarized chaos that peaked in the mid-3rd century, only to usher in the centralizing tendencies of the dominate under Diocletian and the Tetarchy. But these patterns are harder to discern and much more attenuated than the clear cycles that characterise Chinese dynastic patterns.

[6] Communists liked Mo Di's egalitarian orientation and contempt for excessive ritual, tradition and "old ways," while Christian missionaries saw a kindred spirit in the Mohist conception of Heavan as a beneficent spirit.

[7] There is much dispute over what Christ preached and what his followers attributed to him. Current research and scholarship seems to indicate that Christ did not have nearly as expansive a conception of the Christian message and his successors such as St. Paul.

Posted by razib at 12:52 AM | TrackBack

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