Archives for category: other stuff

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!:

agde

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to issue a secular ban against cousin marriage in the empire (theodosius did, but it didn’t stick — theodosius ii rescinded the ban).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.)


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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?
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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.)

been tweeting the occasional “classic post” from poolside during the week. thought i’d reproduce them here. (^_^)

trigger warning: the following post contains much that is speculative. in fact, the entire post is one long speculation. if the thought of speculating when it comes to human biodiversity/sociobiology makes you queasy or fills you with existential angst, this might not be the blogpost for you. no, really. you might want to pass the time in some other way.
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i wrote about this once before, and since i’m extremely lazy, i’m just going to cut-and-paste from the previous post:

“in Innate Social Aptitudes of Man: An Approach from Evolutionary Genetics [pdf], william hamilton suggested that, perhaps, one gets a renaissance by (re-)introducing barbarian altruism genes into a too outbred population, letting the mixture ferment for ca. 800 years or so, and then enjoying the fruits of everyone’s labors. he’s talking here, of course, about the european renaissance of the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries…and classical greece/athens after the dorian invasion of ca. 800 years earlier? i *think*. if it happened at all (link inserted by me):

“‘The incursions of barbaric pastoralists seem to do civilizations less harm in the long run than one might expect. Indeed, two dark ages and renaissances in Europe suggest a recurring pattern in which a renaissance follows an incursion by about 800 years. It may even be suggested that certain genes or traditions of pastoralists revitalize the conquered people with an ingredient of progress which tends to die out in a large panmictic population for the reasons already discussed. I have in mind altruism itself, or the part of the altruism which is perhaps better described as self-sacrificial daring. By the time of the renaissance it may be that the mixing of genes and cultures (or of cultures alone if these are the only vehicles, which I doubt) has continued long enough to bring the old mercantile thoughtfulness and the infused daring into conjunction in a few individuals who then find courage for all kinds of inventive innovation against the resistance of established thought and practice. Often, however, the cost in fitness of such altruism and sublimated pugnacity to the individuals concerned is by no means metaphorical, and the benefits to fitness, such as they are, go to a mass of individuals whose genetic correlation with the innovator must be slight indeed. Thus civilization probably slowly reduces its altruism of all kinds, including the kinds needed for cultural creativity (see also Eshel 1972).'”

william hamilton — probably the greatest evolutionary theorist since darwin and an evil, evil speculator! not to mention crimethinker.

anyway…my own speculation re. the biological substrate of renaissances is that it’s not populations which experience an injection of barbarian altruism genes that wind up having a renaissance, but rather that populations which outbreed (i.e. quit marrying close relatives) for ca. 400 to 800 years (egs. medieval/renaissance europe and archaic/classical greece?) undergo a sort-of wikification of their society which drives intellectual openness and curiosity and sharing — the kinds of behavioral derring-do that you need in order to have a renaissance at all. see the previous post for more on all of those speculations.

today’s speculation is that perhaps the arabized world underwent a reverse renaissance process thanks to the introduction by the arabs of the most inbred form of cousin marriage — father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage — to the populations of the middle east/maghreb (not to mention the introduction of arabs, themselves, who had probably been inbreeding closely for up to nine hundred years before their expansion).

the islamic golden age lasted for a good six hundred years or so, but instead of the scope of islamic philosophy and science and law widening over the time period — instead of a wikification process — the tendency was for thinking in the arabized world to narrow. ijtihad (“independent thinking”) was gradually replaced by taqlid (“imitation”). this narrowing of thought was already widespread in the muslim world by the twelfth century — just about 400-450 years after the arab conquests. (braudel puts the beginning and end dates of the islamic golden age as 813 and 1198, the beginning of al-ma’mun’s caliphate and the death averroes respectively. – pg. 202.)

irfan habib points out that the islamic golden age in science was very much founded on long-established traditions of free inquiry in the near east, from greece to persia [pg. 69 -- link added by me]:

“[T]his particular phase in Islamic history was marked predominantly by the Mu’tazilite school of philosophy, which was based on freethinking and rationalism. It was an ecumenical setting for science, where savants of nearly all creeds and origins worked towards a common purpose. And this was not something new, it was a long established pre-Islamic tradition in the Near East, where translation of scientific and philosophical texts from Greek to Syriac took place….

i wonder if what happened was that, with the establishment of the caliphate and all the civilized elements that went with it — good communications over long distances, (relative) peace within the realm, an excess of wealth — a “renaissance” was quickly established. however, that golden age — which happened in the early part of the era of the caliphs — was really a late flowering of whatever had been going on the region previous to the arabs (especially in persia). this renaissance was then reversed — stunted, really — as a result of the centuries of close inbreeding of the populations in the middle east and maghreb thanks to the introduction of fbd marriage by the arabs.

like i said — pure, unadultered speculation! (~_^)

previously: renaissances

(note: comments do not require an email. averroes and porphyry.)

too bad he didn’t get his behavioral genetics right, though. but that’s ok. he was ahead of the times. from The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History; In Three Volumes – I [pgs. 105-106]:

“14. Prestige lasts at best four generations in one lineage

“The world of the elements and all it contains comes into being and decays. Minerals, plants, all the animals including man, and the other created things come into being and decay, as one can see with one’s own eyes. The same applies to the conditions that affect created things, and especially the conditions that affect man. Sciences grow up and then are wiped out. The same applies to crafts, and to similar things.

“Prestige is an accident that affects human beings. It comes into being and decays inevitably. No human being exists who possesses an unbroken pedigree of nobility from Adam down to himself. The only exception was made in the case of the Prophet, as a special act of divine grace to him, and as a measure designed to safeguard his true character.

“Nobility originates in the state of being outside. That is, being outside of leadership and nobility and being in a base, humble station, devoid of prestige. This means that all nobility and prestige is preceded by the non-existence of nobility and prestige, as is the case with every created thing.

It reaches its end in a single family within four successive generations. This is as follows: The builder of the family’s glory know what it cost him to do the work, and he keeps the qualities that created his glory and made it last. The son who comes after him had personal contact with his father and thus learned those things from him. However, he is inferior to him in this respect, inasmuch as a person who learns things through study is inferior to a person who knows them from practical application. The third generation must be content with imitation and, in particular, with reliance upon tradition. This member is inferior to him of the second generation, inasmuch as a person who relies upon tradition is inferior to a person who exercises independent judgement.

The fourth generation, then, is inferior to the preceding ones in every respect. Its member has lost the qualities that preserved the edifice of its glory. He despises (those qualities). He imagines that the edifice was not built through application and effort. He thinks that it was something due his people from the very beginning by virtue of the mere fact of their descent, and not something that resulted from group (effort) and (individual) qualities. For he sees the great respect in which he is held by the people, but he does not know how that respect originated and what the reason for it was. He imagnes that it is due to his descent and nothing else. He keeps away from those in whose group feelings he shares, thinking that he is better than they. He trusts that (they will obey him because) he was brought up to take their obedience for granted, and he does not knw the qualities that made obedience necessary. Such qualities are humility (in dealing) with (such men) and respect for their feelings. Therefore, he considers them despicable, and they, in turn, revolt against him and despise him. They transfer leadership from him and his direct lineage to some other related branch, in obedience to their group feeling, after they have convinced themselves that the qualities of the (new leader) are satisfactory to them. His family then grows, whereas the family of the original (leader) decays and the edifice of his ‘house’ collapses.

“That is the case with rulers who have royal authority. It also is the case with all the ‘houses’ of tribes, of amirs, and of everybody else who shares in a group feeling, and then also with the ‘houses’ among the urban population. When one ‘house’ goes down, another one rises in another group of the same descent.

The rule of four (generations) with respect to prestige usually holds true. It may happen that a ‘house’ is wiped out, disappears, and collapses in fewer than four, or it may continue unto the fifth and sixth generations, though in a state of decline and decay. The four generations can be defined as the builder, the one who has personal contact with the builder, the one who relies on tradition, and the destroyer.”

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

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