Archives for category: other stuff



i just came into the hbd chick command center here, and the light wasn’t working and there was no power getting to my computer from the electrical outlet. so i thought…hmmm, must’ve blown a circuit breaker for some reason (although to be honest i couldn’t imagine why that should’ve been the case).

but that wasn’t the explanation. what had in fact happened was that 1) the light bulb had died AND 2) the power strip that my laptop’s plugged into had failed (long story).

what’re the odds of those two things happening just at the same time? i dunno, but i’m guessing on the high side. it still seems waaay more likely to me that it should’ve been the circuit, even though i know better now.

lessons? sometimes the most parsimonious explanation isn’t the right one. and hands-on investigation is probably a good idea.

sorry for getting all epistemological on you. won’t happen again!


forget about game of thrones! for blood and gore and violence, just read some medieval history!

here from galbert of bruges (bruges! the flemish city that’s installing an underground beer pipeline — see triple bonus in this past sunday’s linkfest. see? it aaaall gels together here on the hbd chick blog!), an account of a trial by combat in flanders in 1127.

the backstory: the count of flanders, charles i — “charles the good” — was assassinated on march 2, 1127:

“During the famine [of 1125], Charles distributed bread to the poor, and took action to prevent grain from being hoarded and sold at excessively high prices. Prodded by his advisors, he also began proceedings to reduce the influential Erembald family, which was heavily engaged in this activity, to the status of serfs. As a result, Fr. Bertulf FitzErembald, provost of the church of St. Donatian, the most important church in Bruges, masterminded a conspiracy to assassinate Charles and his advisors.

“On the morning of 2 March 1127, as Charles knelt in prayer in the church of St. Donatian, a group of knights answering to the Erembald family entered the church and hacked him to death with broadswords. The brutal and sacrilegious murder of the popular count provoked a massive public outrage, and he was almost immediately regarded popularly as a martyr and saint….

“The Erembalds, who had planned and carried out the murder of Charles, were arrested and tortured to death by the enraged nobles and commoners of Bruges and Ghent.”

one of the conspirators, guy of steenvoorde, was challenged to a trial by combat by herman the iron, who sounds awfully like the mountain from GoT. the duel took place near ypres on the 11th of april. from God’s Scribe: The Historiographical Art of Galbert of Bruges [pg. 106]:

“‘[E]veryone present went out to the manor where the combat between Herman the Iron and Guy had been called and where both sides fought bitterly. Guy had unhorsed his adversary and kept him down with his lance just as he like whenever Herman tried to get up. Then his adversary, coming closer, disembowled Guy’s horse, running him through with his sword. Guy, having slipped from his horse, rushed at his adversary with his sword drawn. Now there was a continuous and bitter struggle, with alternating thrusts of swords, until both, exhausted by the weight and burden of arms, threw away their shields and hastened to gain victory in the fight by resorting to wrestling. Herman the Iron fell prostrate on the ground, and Guy was lying on top of him, smashing the knight’s face and eyes with his iron gauntlets. But Herman, prostrate, little by little regained his strength by the coolness of the earth…and by cleverly lying quiet made Guy believe he was certain of victory. Meanwhile, gently moving his hand down to the lower edge of the cuirass where Guy was not protected, Herman seized him by the testicles, and summoning all his strength for the brief space of one moment he hurled Guy from him; by this tearing motion all of the lower parts of the body were broken so that Guy, now prostrate, gave up, crying out that he was conquered and dying.'”


guy was later hanged having been found guilty via this trial.

(note: comments do not require an email. trial by combat.)

und now is ze time on the hbd chick blog vhen ve dance über die Wichtigkeit der Ostsiedlung sprechen! (i switched to deutsch there, ’cause i wanted to end my sentence with a verb. just so you know.)

i’ve mentioned the ostsiedlung in passing before (see here and here for example), and i’ve even gone so far as to say that it’s:

“from a sociobiological point-of-view, probably the most underappreciated event in recent western european history. that and the reconquest of spain.”

that’s right! never mind your barbarian migrations of late antiquity! forget about them. expunge the barbarian migrations from your mind! the ostsiedlung (and outbreeding and manorialism and all the subsequent natural selection) is (largely) what created the intelligent, efficient, hard-working, gratification-delaying, ordnung-loving, not-so-violent (on a daily basis), consensus-democracy-preferring, slow life history, behind-the-hajnal-line tchermans that we know and love today (luv ya, germans!).

so, what the h*ll was the ostsiedlung?

the ostsiedlung, or “east settling,” was (from what i understand) the latter part of a broader ostkolonisation of central and parts of eastern europe by the medieval ancestors of the people we now refer to as The Germans. during late antiquity, germanic tribes had of course migrated out of southern scandinavia and central and eastern europe into western and southern europe. then, beginning in something like the 800 or 900s, they went and reversed that flow, and some of them began to migrate back into central/eastern europe. migration is one of the major forces in evolution, along with things like mutation and genetic drift, so from a sociobiological/human diversity perspective the ostsiedlung should definitely not be ignored.

it should really not be ignored because what you have to keep in mind is that the tchermans who were migrating back into central/eastern europe in the post-800s were quite different from the the barbarian tchermans who had migrated into western europe four hundred or so years earlier. the barbarian germans had been a bunch of inbreeding, tribal, feuding, kindred-based peoples. the germans who migrated eastwards later in the medieval period were already a population of (comparatively speaking) outbreeders hailing from a population based upon nuclear families (see here). that’s because (imho) these new-and-improved germans, who were coming out of the frankish heartland, had already been pressed for many generations through the outbreeding/manorialism meat grinder. different sorts of individuals had been selected for in this new social environment than had been successful in the old clannish society. and, crucially, these new germans brought that new environment with them when they settled the east.

the ostsiedlung was a huge self-sorting event in medieval europe. jayman and i like to babble about self-sorting a lot, but that’s just because it really is very important. large scale self-sorting of individuals is akin to assortative mating writ large. in fact, it must enable a whole lot of assortative mating. one enormous self-sorting event was the settling of the united states by hackett fischer’s four “folkways” (read: subpopulations) from britain. (others populations came, too.) the fact that various groups having unique characteristics established themselves in different regions of what would become the united states still affects the workings of our country today. on top of that, don’t forget that people in the u.s. have been continually self-sorting along those original settlement lines pretty much ever since the first settlers arrived from europe, so our regional differences are not going away any time soon.

anyway, the medieval ostkonlonisation and ostsiedlung were self-sorting events on a similar scale (the ostsiedlung being just the latter half of the ostkonlonisation really). the earliest part of the ostkolonisation was driven by kings (the carolingians mostly i think) conquering other germanic groups to the east (like the bavarians) in the 800s and 900s. apparently the establishment of ecclesiastical monasteries in the newly conquered territories was pretty heavy at this time. that’s an important little detail that i’ll come back to at a later date, so commit it to memory if you would. the latter part of the ostkolonisation, the ostsiedlung of the eleventh/twelfth to roughly the fourteenth centuries, was quite different in character. from The Germans and the East [pgs. 9 and 28-29]:

“[O]ne could say that ‘Germany’ grew out of the Carlingian East Frankish Kingdom between the Rhine and the Elbe by producing its eastern half on colonized Slavic and to some extent Baltic land. Thus the genesis of the German Empire took place within the perimeters of Europe’s ‘eastward expansion’ (*Osterweiterung*). It consisted, on the one hand, of Christian state-building in the Slavic-Hungarian East in the ninth and tenth centuries, and on the other — beginning in the twelfth century — of the migration and resettlement of the population from the older colonized areas west of the Elbe, the Bohemian Forest and the Enns…. [C]ontinuous new waves of German miners, peasants, craftsmen and merchants, as well as knights and clergymen, emigrated and permanently settled in countries neighboring Germany in the East and Southeast. Jewish emigrants from the West also took part in this migration process….

“Medievalists tend to distinguish two main colonization waves in the history of medieval Europe. The first embraced Carolingian Europe and occurred in the eighth and ninth centuries. The second, which covered almost the entire continent, began in the eleventh century and gained momentum in the following two or three centuries. Without ruling out the matter of a possible relationship between these two waves it is worth noting that the first had a military character, though not exclusively so, as it usually took the form of *Landnahme*, that is, the gain and occupation of conquered territories. The second wave was rather based — though again not exclusively — on economic causes….

“[P]eople went east in search of bread, freedom and adventure — in a word, a better life, as the Flemish settlers sang. These few were still the most industrious and mobile, the most dissatisfied with their social and economic status so far and, in a word, a sort of elite of the elite (indeed not only in the positive sense).”

here’s a really big map of the phases of the ostsiedlung [source - click on the map for a LARGER view]:


so the early part of this migration of the medieval germans eastwards was military in nature — maybe a lot of soldiers from the west settled in the newly taken areas? — and, like i said, many monasteries/ ecclesiastical manors were established at this time. the latter part of the migration eastwards involved the settling of farmers, merchants, and artisans who wanted a better life in newly established manors and towns. the important thing here is not to think of these farmers, merchants, and artisans as comparable to the homesteaders of the wild west in america. they were not. the settling of the east did not at all involve independent migrants setting out on their own to strike it rich. the ostsiedlung was really more plantation-like in nature with the migrants signing up to be a part of some organized settlement project — a manor or a town or whatever. entire “new towns” were organized in this way and sprang up literally (used here in its colloquial sense) overnight in medieval eastern germany. while there were typically enticements for the new settlers to sweeten the deal (e.g. not having to pay taxes for the first five to seven years), they were still signing up to be a subordinate in a project. so, yes, these were people looking to better their lives — willing to work hard probably — but also apparently willing to be…a bit subservient. happy to follow the lead of the manor owner or whomever. (maybe this was less the case for merchants. dunno.)

whatever their average personal characteristics were like — and i could have them wrong here — they should at least be considered wrt the ostsiedlung as a self-sorting event.

btw, the new settlers were usually recruited not by the lords of the manors but by middlemen called “lokators”. here’s one organizing the work teams on a new settlement:


the reason that the hajnal line is where it is in eastern europe — and if you don’t know what i’m talking about, please see this post — is that that is simply the eastern limit of the ostsiedlung. from mitterauer [pgs. 45-46]:

“The most significant expansion of the model agricultural system [manorialism] in the Frankish heartland between the Seine and the Rhine took place toward the east. Its diffusion embraced almost the whole of central Europe and large parts of eastern Europe…. This great colonizing process, which transmitted Frankish agricultural structures and their accompanying forms of lordship, took off at the latest around the middle of the eighth century. Frankish majordomos or kings from the Carolingian house introduced manorial estates (*Villikation*) and the hide system (*Hufenverfassung*) throughout the royal estates east of the Rhine as well…. The eastern limit of the Carolingian Empire was for a long time an important dividing line between the expanding Frankish agricultural system and eastern European agricultural structures. When the push toward colonization continued with more force in the High Middle Ages, newer models of *Rentengrundherrschaft* predominated — but they were still founded on the hide system. This pattern was consequently established over a wide area: in the Baltic, in large parts of Poland, in Bohemia, Moravia and parts of Slovakia, in western Hungary, and in Slovenia.

Colonization established a line streching roughly from St. Petersburg to Trieste. We will come across this line again when studying European family systems and their diffusion. The sixteenth century witnessed the last great attempt to establish the hide system throughout an eastern European region when King Sigismund II of Poland tried it in the Lithuanian part of his empire in what is modern-day Belarus. The eastward expansion of Frankish agrarian reform therefore spanned at least eight centuries….

“Over against this ‘core Europe’ was a ‘peripheral Europe’ that did not acquire these structures until a relatively later date — or not at all. Here we can list Ireland, Wales, and Scotland in the West; the area of eastern Europe beyond the Trieste-St. Petersburg line that was unaffected by the colonization of the East; the entire Balkan region; southern Italy, which was formerly Byzantine, along with the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula that was under Moorish rule for so long a time. The political, economic, and social evolution of many regions in ‘peripheral Europe’ took a different turn because of their clinging to other, traditional agricultural systems.”

and here it is — the hajnal line. with the core area of where manorialism and outbreeding began in the early medieval period roughly outlined in green:

hajnal line - core europe

btw, wikipedia has this to say about the ostsiedlung (so it must be true!):

“The settlers migrated in nearly straight West-to-East lines. As a result, the Southeast was settled by South Germans (Bavarians, Swabians), the Northeast by Saxons (in particular those from Westphalia, Flanders, Holland, and Frisia), while central regions were settled by Franks. As a result, the different German dialect groups expanded eastward along with their bearers, the ‘new’ Eastern forms only slightly differing from their Western counterparts.”

if that was indeed the case, there might be further implications wrt to the self-sorting of medieval german populations, i.e. something to do with subpopulations of germans moving eastwards. so, stay tuned!

previously: big summary post on the hajnal line and behind the hajnal line

(note: comments do not require an email. another planned “new town” of the ostsiedlung.)

september 10, 506 — 1,508 years ago today — was the final day of the council of agde, a meeting of bishops from all over what was then the visigothic kingdom in southern france (and spain, too, obviously). the council was headed by caesarius of arles and held at the basilica of st. andrew. (don’t know on which day the council was convened — sometime in late august.) the church is still there, btw!:


an interesting little sidenote is that the visigoths at the time were still arians, so this meeting of bishops really related to, and would’ve affected only, the gallo-roman population of the region. in fact, the bishops were all very much gallo-romans themselves!

anyway, the council issued numerous canons, one of which forbade marriage to first and second cousins. this is the earliest official cousin marriage ban by the church that i know of, although st. augustine of hippo (d.430) certainly discussed at length in his The City of God (early fifth century) how it would be a good thing if christians were to marry out, a theme that st. aquinas would later pick up on.

people often ask me: “so why did the church get it into its head to ban cousin marriage, hbd chick?”

i. don’t. know. (*^_^*)

as i said above, this is the earliest official ban against cousin marriage from church authorities that we know of. what possessed the gallo-roman bishops at agde to do so, i have no idea. bishop caesarius was certainly an interesting fellow though. for instance, he thought that all priests and bishops (and nuns) ought to live austere lives like monks, and he actually instituted that policy in his own disocese, so i suspect that he was one of these guys who really did want to recreate god’s kingdom here on earth as much as possible, and he seems to have practiced what he preached.

caesarius’ teacher was one julianus pomerius, and his teacher was st. augustine, so here we have a direct line from augustine — who thought that christians ought to marry out — to caesarius and his council issuing this marriage canon. the funny thing is, though, augustine’s teacher was st. ambrose (d.397) who also had some things to say about cousin marriage — in fact, it was apparently he who recommended to theodosius i (d.395) to issue a secular ban against cousin marriage in the empire (theodosius did, but it didn’t stick — theodosius ii rescinded the ban). funnily enough, ambrose, like caesarius, was also from gaul (trier), so we come nearly full circle with these connections.

i suspect that the idea of avoiding cousin marriage was somehow a roman idea which was familiar to these early, urbanized, roman (or romanized) church leaders, one which they began to utilize when they encountered all these clannish barbarians (in gaul and in north africa, for example) and, as christopher burd put it on twitter, uncivilized, inbreeding country “hicks” in general. my guess is that they were trying to come up with a way to get rid of all the clannish infighting — and their plan just happened to work MUCH better than they ever imagined.

what i don’t understand — and what i need to find out more about — is how the early medieval church functioned. how the hierarchy worked and how the issuing of rules and regulations happened.

i’ve read a little about this council of agde now, and the historians i’ve read describe it as a “national” council — their scare quotes, not mine — since, unlike one of the huge church councils such as nicaea, the bishops who attended agde were only local — just from the areas in southern france held by the visigoths. what i want to know is, were the canons issued at agde binding everywhere then, or just in southern france there? could bishops in southern italy or ireland or constantinople just say, oh h*ck, we’re not going to follow those silly canons, or were they obliged to? or did canons issued by “national” councils need to be approved by rome first? i have no idea. Further Research is RequiredTM.

if canons issued by local councils only applied locally, that might explain why cousin marriage appears to have continued for some time after 506, like among the franks, for instance, who were just a stone’s throw away in northern france (until they took over the visigothic kingdom!), but who don’t seem to have taken these cousin marriage bans seriously until something like the 700s.

we do know, though, that rome was definitely behind the cousin marriage bans by the late sixth-early seventh centuries. augustine of canterbury (d.604) was sent in 595 to convert the anglo-saxons in england by pope gregory the great. he wrote to pope gregory in a panic asking what he should do about all the cousin marriage among the anglo-saxons, to which gregory replied that the newly converted should be allowed to remain married to their cousins, but going forward, NO cousin marriage.

how and when hq back in rome began backing this idea remains to be discovered.

anyway…happy council of agde day to you all! (^_^)

(note: comments do not require an email. 12th-century reliquary of caesarius of arles.)

pinker, that is. staffan wins, of course! (^_^)

if you haven’t read staffan’s latest post, you really should! it’s terrific!: The Myth of the Expanding Circle or You Can’t Learn How to Be an English Vegetarian.

here’s a short excerpt:

“[Goldstien] argues that it was Enlightenment (aka the Age of Reason), beginning from late 1600s, that expanded the circle of empathy, a process driven by the thinkers of that era,

“‘…if you look at the history of moral progress, you can trace a direct pathway from reasoned arguments to changes in the way that we actually feel. Time and again, a thinker would lay out an argument as to why some practice was indefensible, irrational, inconsistent with values already held.’

“We wouldn’t like to be kept as slaves, we wouldn’t like this for our family or friends either, so why would we like it for foreigners? Reason compels us to widen our circle of empathy.

“She then proceeds to illustrate her point with some humanitarians like Bentham, Erasmus, John Locke, Mary Astell etc. Pinker concedes and they both reflect on how this reason-driven process will make our grandchildren think of us as barbarians given how much further their circle of empathy will reach. End of story.

“And yet at the beginning of the dialogue Pinker stated,

“‘My fellow psychologists have shown that we’re led by our bodies and our emotions and use our puny powers of reason merely to rationalize our gut feelings after the fact.’

“This of course refers to Jonathan Haidt and others whose research makes a good case for such post hoc rationalization being an important aspect of human nature. To illustrate this behavior he likens our emotions with an elephant and our reason with the rider. The elephant, being much stronger, walks about as he pleases while the helpless rider pretends that he is in complete control.

“Given this statement, it’s a bit disconcerting how easily Pinker ignores the obvious risk that their conclusion might also be post hoc rationalization. After all, two top notch academics agreeing that all you need is reason sounds a bit like two hippies agreeing that all you need is love. So is it post hoc? It definitely has some conspicuous flaws that suggest so.

“As Pinker himself pointed out back in 2002 in his book The Blank Slate, all behavioral traits are highly inheritable and change very little over the lifespan and, most importantly, they are unaffected by shared environment, such as schools, education – and humanitarian essays. But width of empathy must, by any reasonable definition, be a behavioral trait. But by their logic it would be a trait like no other, strongly affected by shared environment, even though all other traits, thus including very similar traits like ingroup loyalty and identification, aren’t. So either width of empathy isn’t a behavioral trait – which is crazy – or it is somehow a completely unique trait affected by shared environment. Either way Pinker and Goldstein have some serious splaining to do.”

(~_^) read the whole post @staffan’s — it’s definitely NOT to be missed!

(note: comments do not require an email. The Blank Slate.)

well, this always makes me laugh. (^_^)

(note that, in order to find this funny, you may need to have encountered at some point in your life — at a safe distance, of course — some scottish people glaswegians.)


jean-baptiste lamarck was (mostly) wrong when he suggested that evolution happened via a form of “soft inheritance”, i.e. that organisms passed on traits which they had acquired during their lifetimes to their offspring (see: lamarckism). as alfred russel wallace explanied in 1858, evolution happens instead via natural selection (and, of course, other evolutionary forces like genetic drift, etc.) [pg. 60]:

“Neither did the giraffe acquire its long neck by desiring to reach the foliage of the more lofty shrubs, and constantly stretching its neck for the purpose, but because any varieties which occurred among its antitypes with a longer neck than usual *at once secured a fresh range of pasture over the same ground as their shorter-necked companions, and on the first scarcity of food were thereby enabled to outlive them.*”

nowadays everyone giggles at lamarckism, but i always want to come to lamarck’s defense, though, when people talk disparagingly about him and his ideas because 1) no one knew how evolution worked in the eighteenth century, not just lamarck, and he was only trying to come up with a naturalistic explanation for all the variation we see in life on earth for goodness sake, and 2) i happen to know that some other scientists didn’t like his ideas and actively worked to have his ideas suppressed. or ignored, anyway. quite successfully, too, i’m sorry to report. here from “Lamarck, Evolution, and the Politics of Science” [pgs. 291-293, 296 - pdf - link added by me]:

“With the exception of a few brief and scattered comments Lamarck’s evolutionary ideas were publicly received in silence. Attention will be paid here to the posture toward Lamarck’s ideas adopted by the dominant figure of French natural science at the time: Georges Cuvier.

“Georges Cuvier’s magisterial and disapproving presence has long been recognized as a factor in the poor reception of Lamarck’s evolutionary theory by his contemporaries. Cuvier’s reasons for opposing the hypothesis of species mutability have been dealt with a length elsewhere and do not need to be repeated here. Primary concern here will be with the way in which he treated Lamarck’s views.

“It is not likely that Lamarck’s physico-chemical views were neglected for reasons of jealousy, as Lamarck had assumed, and the same can be said of the treatment of his evolutionary views. This does not mean, however, that these views were not *methodically* neglected. Consider the following statement written by Cuvier in 1806, setting forth his view of what scientific bodies had to do to assure for the science of geology the growth of which that science was capable:

“‘[Scientific bodies] must maintain in [geology's] regard the conduct that they have maintain since their establishment in regard to all the other sciences: To encourage with their eulogies those who report positive facts, and to retain an absolute silence over the systems which succeed to one another.’

“One may well presume that the ‘absolute silence’ recommended for ‘systems’ was the very antidote that had first been applied to Lamarck’s chemical theories and was later applied to his zoological theories. To Cuvier, evidently, Lamarck’s chemical and zoological theories *both* appeared as ‘vast edifices [constructed] on imaginery bases,’ and thus both deserved the same treatment. In his ‘Eloge’ of Lamarck Cuvier wrote:

“‘…whatever interest [Lamarck's zoological works] may have exicited by their positive parts, no one believed their systematic part dangerous enough to merit being attacked; it was left in the same peace as the chemical theory.’

“One may suppose that Cuvier’s use of the words ‘dangerous enough to merit being attacked’ instead of some equivalent of ‘reasonable enough to merit being considered’ is not without significance. One may also remark that, in the statement that Lamarck’s zoological speculations [!! -h.chick] were ‘left in the same peace as the chemical theory,’ the word ‘peace’ should probably be interpreted strictly as the *public* silence that Cuvier recommended for all ‘systems.’ Certainly the picture that Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire painted of the last years of Lamarck’s life was not one of peaceful neglect. In Geoffroy’s words, ‘attacked on all sides, insulted even by odious jests, submitted to the insult from them with a sorrowful patience….’

“In an unpublished manuscript one finds Cuvier writing about Lamarck: ‘In truth his explanations are sometimes very amusing despite the admiration that some naturalists pretend to show for them.’ In another work, published posthumously, Cuvier’s comment on authors who had favored the idea of species transformation was: ‘From the moment that these authors wished to enter into detail they fell into ridicule.’ Frederic Cuvier said of his brother Georges that he put ideas of species transformation

“‘…in the rank of those frivolous games of the imagination with which the truth has nothing in common; with which one may amuse oneself when they are skillfully and gracefully presented, but which lose all their charm when taken seriously….’

“It is difficult to estimate just how much the posture of Cuvier toward Lamarck’s evolutionary ideas may have influenced contemporaries who might otherwise have been disposed to give Lamarck’s ideas some serious attention. Presumably Cuvier’s influence in this regard was considerable. The combination of public neglect and private ridicule seems to have been devastating for Lamarck’s evolutionary theory.”

cuvier, for various reasons, simply did not like the idea of the “transmutation of species” and, rather than address lamarck’s ideas directly, he opted for ignoring them — and used his position as a leader in the sciences to encourage other scientists to do the same. bad form.

darwin, too, was concerned about how fellow scientists would treat him if and when he published his ideas on evolution. it took him twenty years to publish his theories, and you often hear about how he delayed publication because he didn’t want to offend his religious wife (or maybe it just took twenty years for him to do the research and writing up), but there was definitely a lot of opposition to the idea of the transmutation of species in the sciences in england during darwin’s day and natural theology still held sway. from Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory:

“Darwin conceived his theory in 1838, but he did not publish anything about it for twenty years. Recognizing the depth of opposition among scientists to the transmutation hypothesis, he spent much of this time endeavoring to anticipate and answer in advance objections to his theory. In the process, he perfected his thinking on the gradual divergence of varieties into distinct species through competition, marshaled evidence for evolution from comparative anatomy and embryology, fitted fossils into evolutionary series and distribution patterns, and tried to imagine intermediate stages in the development of the eye and other complex organs….

“The transmutation hypothesis was widely debated but little accepted among European naturalists during the early nineteenth century. It had a revolutionary taint.”

ah. politics. even scientists are only human.

more on the politics of the day in darwin’s time from Evolution: The History of an Idea [pg. 97, pgs. 126-27, pg. 134 - my emphasis]:

“Materialism was an integral aspect of a revolutionary ideology that wanted to sweep all traces of the old social hierarchy aside. Natural theology and idealism were invoked by conservatives who wanted to preserve their position in that hierarchy: the world was designed by a God who intended us all to accept our place in the preordained social scale. The situation was complicated, however, by a growing middle class making fortunes out of the new mechanized industries. They too wanted a social hierarchy that would include them in the ruling class. But they did not want a revolution that might sweep away the ownership of property. The middle class wanted reforms that would eliminate old restrictions on the individual’s right to trade freely and that would allow them access to political power. Many of the scientific theories developed in the nineteenth century can be related to the desires of those engaged in these broad social movements to legitimize their preferred model of society by claiming that it was ‘only natural.’

“Beginning in Britain, the industrial revolution was transforming the social and economic map of Europe. America too was beginning to flex its muscles as a world power. The idea of progress, first articulated by Condorcet and other Englightenment thinkers, now became the dominant model of social change. A parallel idea could also be applied to the natural world. Paleontologists uncovered a fossil sequence from simple to complex animals that even conservatives could not ignore. Liberals and radicals welcomed the idea because progress in the natural world seemd to hint that progress in the social world was inevitable….

“Evolutionism became part of the radical campaign to discredit the old worldview which propped up aristocratic privilege. The claim that God had designed a hierarchical universe in which everyone should keep to their allotted place was used to bolster the position of the upper classes. Both the radicals and the less strident middle-class activists saw a universe which changed through time as evidence that human conventions such as the class system could be changed….

“Darwin’s reluctance to publish his own theory must be understood in the context of the reputation acquired by transmutationism during the era of radical scientists such as R.E. Grant. Endorsement by radical scientists allowed the theory to be branded as dangerous materialism, subversive of the moral as well as the intellectual order.

hmmmm. sound familiar?

the political orthodoxy of today — especially in the sciences — as we all know is political correctness. now, for some strange reason that i have never been able to figure out, the perfectly reasonable idea (which i fully support) that everyone in our society ought to be treated equally has become confused with and all bound up in the completely crazy idea that everyone in our society is actually equal or the same. (i often wonder about the mentality of politically correct people — do they need to believe that all people are the same in order to be able to treat everyone equally? i don’t know, but that would certainly be interesting if it were the case.) so now, not only has it been made difficult if not impossible even to discuss known or possible biological differences between the sexes or ethnic groups or races, sexes and ethnic groups and races no longer exist! (almost.) and as henry harpending has pointed out, the parallel (resultant!) trend in population genetics has been “neutralism” — i.e. that natural selection has not led to any important differences between any human populations. so for nicholas wade to write a book like A Troublesome Inheritance — well, that was just a big no-no. as we all knew it would be.

i’m not a scientist. i don’t even play one on the internet. but i’ve had a lifelong interest in science, i’ve tried to keep up-to-date with the latest in scientific findings (as much as a layperson can do) — especially biology — for many years now, and i actually did take some science classes (including higher-level ones) in college, so i’m not entirely ignorant of how science works. and as far as i can see, speculation is a part of science. it must be. it’s the first step! speculation about the world is the brainstorming part of science — when hypotheses are built — it’s theory-building (theory with a small “t”). but, of course, speculating is just the start of scientific investigation — all the real investigative sciencey stuff has to follow it, of course. but there is definitely a place — a need! — in science for speculation — as darwin said.

and when some scientists try to squash the speculations of others…or even create an atmosphere in which people feel uncomfortable voicing their ideas…well, that’s just scientists behaving badly. not to mention unscientifically.

see also: Letters: ‘A Troublesome Inheritance’ and Geneticists Denounce Nicholas Wade’s “Speculative” Chapters as “Speculation” from steve sailer and At Least Erroneous in Faith from henry harpending and and Darwin on the Need for Speculation in Science from steve sailer

(note: comments do not require an email. lamarck.)


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