staffan vs. steven

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.)

warriors to courtiers?

in The Realm: The True history behind Game of Thrones ed west reminds us that medieval europeans were batsh*t crazy violent and that if you met one of them coming down the street, you would almost certainly want to cross over to the other side! [kindle locations: 563-615 – links added by me]:

“Drunkenness had always been a common feature of life in the Realm. As far back as the eighth century St Boniface, the Devonian who converted the Germans, complained that it was ‘a vice peculiar to the heathens and to our race, and that neither Franks, Gauls, Lombards, Romans nor Greeks indulge in’. Twelfth-century writer William of Malmesbury said of the English that ‘Drinking in parties was an universal practice, in which occupation they passed entire nights as well as days.’ In the early 13th century England went through one of its periodic booze epidemics, so that ‘the whole land was filled with drink and drinkers ’, and leading the way was the drunken King John, whose fondness for booze and lechery inadvertently gave the world its most important legal document – Magna Carta.

“By the end of the 13th century there were 354 drinking establishments in London…”

the population of london in 1340 was somewhere between 40,000-50,000 people, so that’s ca. one bar for every 140 persons!

“…and everyone drank heavily, although they did so among their own class – the wealthy drank in inns, the middle ranks in taverns, while at the bottom of the social ladder there were the alehouses, where violence was almost guaranteed. During this period court rolls, which began in the reign of the Lionheart (before 1189 in English law is literally ‘time immemorial’) are filled with accounts of drink-fuelled incidents, often involving ill-judged horseplay with axes, swords and farmyard animals….

“The worst drink-related incident occurred in 1212 when London Bridge burned down, with up to 3,000 charred or drowned bodies turning up on the banks of the river the following morning. The fire started in Southwark at a bring your own bottle party, or ‘Scot-Ale’ as they were called.

“John certainly led the way in the drinking stakes. He kept 180,000 gallons of wine at his personal disposal, a slight hint at alcoholism, and drank anything he could find. His drunken antics were famed, and no woman was safe.

“John also displayed signs of a violent temperament from an early age. As a boy he once lost his temper while playing chess, and smashed his opponent over the head with a heavy piece….

“John violated all the rules of war; after his victory over the King of France in 1202, he kept his prisoners ‘so vilely and in such evil distress that it seemed shameful and ugly to all those who witnessed this cruelty’. He massacred a garrison of his own men in Normandy, because he’d switched sides without telling them. Perhaps worst of all was the sexual depredations he committed against females of all ages, including several noblemen’s daughters; and he almost certainly murdered his 16-year-old nephew Arthur in a drunken rage….

“There was also inheritance tax. Some noblemen were charged up to £7,000 to take over their father’s or brother’s land, and the king often kept barons in a state of permanent debt, and threatened arrest or worse. The king kidnapped the wife and son of one such baron, his loyal follower William de Briouze, who had failed to cough up £3,500. When Matilda de Briouze blurted out to one of John’s men that they knew about his nephew’s murder, she and her son were taken prisoner and starved to death; their corpses were found huddled together, with the boy bearing tooth-marks on his body from where his mother had tried to eat him.”

aaaaand THAT gave me a nightmare! (or maybe it was the leftover pasta i ate just before going to bed. (~_^) ) somebody please tell me that matilda (maud) tried to eat her son after he was already dead. =/

that was all in the 1200s. what about later in the 1400 and 1500s? [kindle locations: 1171-1242]:

Elizabeth of York had already endured an unsettled upbringing. When she was three, her father was forced into exile, and his cousin killed her grandfather. Later one uncle murdered another and probably her brothers too. In 1475 she was betrothed to the dauphin of France and her training as a princess would have began; however that match was broken, and she was now free, or as it could be interpreted, vulnerable….

“Henry Tudor died in 1509, and within days his heir Henry VIII had two of his father’s moneylenders tried and executed in a show trial. It was a sign of things to come. As well as thousands of common people, the king had numerous aristocrats executed, most of them close relations with outside claims to the throne. Edmund, Earl of Suffolk, the White Rose, had been handed over to Henry VII in 1506, who had made a solemn pledge not to execute him. He kept that pledge, and instructed his son to kill him when he became king; this the youngster did. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who was descended from Edward III on both sides of his family, was tried for treason and executed by Henry VIII merely for ordering a new coat of arms with the royal insignia inserted. His father the Duke of Norfolk was already in the Tower of London awaiting execution, and would be saved only by the king’s death….

“Henry famously went on to have six wives in total, having executed Anne for adultery, and divorced Anne of Cleves, the sister of the Duke of Cleves, a powerful German state on the Rhineland. Apart from political reasons, Henry had fallen in love with her portrait, drawn by renowned German artist Hans Holbein. Unfortunately Holbein, the finest artist in the land, was not in the habit of upsetting his clients, and Anne was in reality rather plain, so much so that Henry called her the ‘Flanders Mare’. She also had bad breath and body odour, and the king confessed to a friend: ‘I had neither the will nor courage to proceed further.’ The marriage was never consummated, and Anne agreed to a divorce; strangely, they stayed good friends….

“The king remarried within a month, to 20-year-old Katherine Howard, who really did commit adultery; she was executed alongside her lover Thomas Culpeper, and just to make sure that his honour remained intact, Henry executed two previous lovers of Katherine, despite there being no suggestion of anything occurring since: one was her old music teacher and the other her cousin. And for good measure he had Howard’s lady-in-waiting executed just for knowing about the affair.

“Of his six wives, he is said to have only truly loved number three, Jane Seymour, who had given him a son, Edward, who succeeded his father in 1547. The boy king, just nine, was a fanatical Protestant and at 12 he had called the Pope the Antichrist in a tract. He once ripped apart a live falcon in a rage, and when he was 11 he had his own uncle, Thomas Seymour, executed.”

et cetera, et cetera. you get the idea. still pretty violent later in the medieval period. and these were the upper classes!

which got me to wondering, if the nonviolent english today really are descended, a la greg clark’s theory, from the upper classes of the past — well, how on earth, then, were all these violent traits knocked out of the population when the upper classes were the batsh*t crazy way that they were?

one really good theory for why violence declined markedly in europe beginning in the middle ages (and it has) is that the state simply removed from the population via execution the most violent members of society. took them right out of the gene pool and largely stopped them from reproducing. henry harpending has shown that, theoretically, this should’ve been possible in the time given (the ca. 800 years from the 1200s to the 2000s) if enough violent individuals were executed early enough in their criminal careers so that they wouldn’t have reproduced much or at all.

but were violent members of the aristocracy regularly executed? they were “the state,” weren’t they? were death penalty laws applied equally to that class? maybe. i really don’t know. but if not, wouldn’t their descendents just continually replenish the lower classes with individuals with violent traits? how did the upper classes become less violent?

in Better Angels, steven pinker references norbert eliasThe Civilizing Process on this [kindle locations: 1839-1847]:

“Once Leviathan was in charge, the rules of the game changed. A man’s ticket to fortune was no longer being the baddest knight in the area but making a pilgrimage to the king’s court and currying favor with him and his entourage. The court, basically a government bureaucracy, had no use for hotheads and loose cannons, but sought responsible custodians to run its provinces. The nobles had to change their marketing. They had to cultivate their manners, so as not to offend the king’s minions, and their empathy, to understand what they wanted. The manners appropriate for the court came to be called ‘courtly’ manners or ‘courtesy.’ The etiquette guides, with their advice on where to place one’s nasal mucus, originated as manuals for how to behave in the king’s court. Elias traces the centuries-long sequence in which courtesy percolated down from aristocrats dealing with the court to the elite bourgeoisie dealing with the aristocrats, and from them to the rest of the middle class. He summed up his theory, which linked the centralization of state power to a psychological change in the populace, with a slogan: Warriors to courtiers.

so, the idea, maybe, is that over time going forward through the middle ages it was the less violent aristocrats who became more successful at court and, therefore, more successful reproductively (and some of their kids filtered down into the lower classes)? dunno. haven’t read The Civilizing Process (now on The List). would be nice to have some numbers. there’s a ph.d. thesis here for some brave student. (~_^)

what would need to be worked out, too, imho, is whether or not the english artistocracy in, say, the 1400-1500s was less violent than the aristocracy of the 1200-1300s (and so on and so forth), because violence had already declined from 1300 to 1500. and, of course, it kept on declining. from pinker’s Better Angels:

pinker - fig. 3.3

that’s all i’ve got for ya today! i definitely recommend reading west’s The Realm! it’s a kindle single, so it won’t take you ages. just don’t read it before going to bed! (~_^)

oh, and wrap up…winter is coming!

previously: “violence around the world” and kinship, the state, and violence

(note: comments do not require an email. where are my dragons?!)

steven pinker reddit ama

m. james points out (thanks, m. james!) that steven pinker will be doing a reddit ama (“I am a…”) on march 12th @6:00 p.m. et.

as m. says:

“Reddit is a liberal hive and HBD-supportive comments get downvoted and buried. (basically anything that says that parenting/education/culture isn’t always that important and genes matter too). I thought it would be nice to maybe get a bunch of questions prepared to ask him, hopefully early on in the thread….

“anyway, people should create an account and ask away. to get in early, the celebrities usually start the thread a half hour earlier than the assigned time, so you can look at the newly created threads here and keep refreshing the page until it shows up.”

can’t say as i disagree with any of that. (^_^)

in addition, i would suggest that everybody avoid asking “hostile” questions. pinker is no (heh) blank slater — he’s practically an hbd’er. i think we should just pitch him some easy ones, so he can hit them right out of the park to the amazement of the crowds. make it a pleasant experience for all those lil’ redditors who might find hbd to be icky. (^_^)

so, put it in your calendars: tuesday, march 12 @6:00 p.m. et — steven pinker reddit ama. get there early to sign in or create an account for yourself if you don’t already have one.

(note: comments do not require an email. not my hat. not me, either.)

socio-biologists behaving badly?

i sure hope this isn’t true (links added by me):

“The Weird Irony at the Heart of the Napoleon Chagnon Affair”
“By John Horgan

“…I was still working on my review of [patrick tierney‘s] Darkness [in El Dorado] when I received emails from five prominent scholars: Richard Dawkins, Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Marc Hauser. Although each wrote separately, the emails were obviously coordinated. All had learned (none said exactly how, although I suspected via a friend of mine with whom I discussed my review) that I was reviewing Darkness for the Times. Warning that a positive review might ruin my career, the group urged me either to denounce Darkness or to withdraw as a reviewer.

“I responded that I could not discuss a review with them prior to publication. (Only Dennett persisted in questioning my intentions, and I finally had to tell him, rudely, to leave me alone. I am reconstructing these exchanges from memory; I did not print them out.) I was so disturbed by the pressure from Dawkins et al — who seemed to be defending not Chagnon per se but the sociobiology paradigm — that I ended up making my review of Darkness more positive….”


see also: napoleon chagnon @wikipedia.

(note: comments do not require an email. yanomamo guys.)

historic european homicide rates … and the hajnal line

here’s another map of europe — from steven pinker’s Better Angels:

pinker - fig. 3.8 - hajnal line

“Figure 3-8. Geography of homicide in Europe, late 19th and early 21st centuries [i’ve only shown the 19th century map here – h.chick]. Sources: Late 19th century (1880-1900): Eisner, 2003.”

now here’s the same map with the hajnal line added. oh … oops!:

pinker - fig. 3.8 - hajnal line02

what i’ve been wanting to see is a map showing the reduction of homicide rates in europe over time. eisner has shown that the homicide rates didn’t drop all at once — they started dropping the earliest in england, belgium/netherlands, germany and switzerland — later scandinavia — and, much later, italy and the rest of peripheral europe (see this post for more details and nifty charts). here’s pinker summarizing eisner’s findings (from chapter 3 of Better Angels):

“[F]rom the 13th century to the 20th, homicide in various parts of England plummeted by a factor of ten, fifty, and in some cases a hundred — for example, from 110 homicides per 100,000 people per year in the 14th-century Oxford to less than 1 homicide per 100,000 in mid-20th-century London….

“Were the English unusual among Europeans in gradually refraining from murder? Eisner looked at other Western European countries for which criminologists had compiled homicide data. [T]he results were similar. Scandinavians needed a couple of additional centuries before they thought the better of killing each other, and Italians didn’t get serious about it until the 19th century. But by the 20th century the annual homicide rate of every Western European country had fallen into a narrow band centered on 1 per 100,000….

The Civilizing Process spread not only downward along the socioeconomic scale but outward across the geographic scale, from a Western European epicenter…. England was the first to pacify itself, followed closely by Germany and the Low Countries. Figure 3-8 [the one i half-posted above – h.chick] plots this outward ripple on maps of Europe in the late 19th and early 21st centuries.

“In the late 1800s, Europe had a peaceable bull’s-eye in the northern industrialized countries (Great Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, and the Low Countries), bordered by slightly stroppier Ireland, Austria-Hungary, and Finland, surrounded in turn by still more violent Spain, Italy, Greece, and the Slavic countries. Today the peaceable center has swelled to encompass all of Western and Central Europe, but a gradient of lawlessness extending to Eastern Europe and the mountainous Balkans is still visible.”

i wanted to see THAT on a map, so i drew one (NOT with crayons, although it kinda looks like it…). lighter shades=earlier drop in homicide rates; darker shades=later drop. i’ve indicated the century in which homicide rates began to drop for each region. and i’ve drawn in the hajnal line:

pinker eisner reduction of homicide in europe over time 02

finally, a footnote from pinker:

“There are gradients within each of these countries as well: the hinterlands and mountains remained violent long after the urbanized and densely farmed centers had calmed down. Clan warfare was endemic to the Scottish highlands until the 18th century, and to Sardinia, Sicily, Montenegro, and other parts of the Balkans until the 20th.”

previously: ibd rates for europe and the hajnal line and outbreeding, self-control and lethal violence and what pinker missed

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the kato

i thought i’d start running through pinker’s “war deaths chart” to see if i can work out any/some of these populations’ mating patterns. already posted about the semai (low violence rates, outbreeders) and the yąnomamö (greater violence rates than the semai, inbreeders).

now i’m just going to begin at the top of the list and work my way down — so today it’s the cato kato indians of california (or the cahto depending on your spelling preferences):

pinker - war deaths per 100,000 people per year - the kato

as you can see, the kato are at the top of pinker’s list. (in the 1840s, the kato were fighting the yuki, so remind me to post about them, too.)

from The North American Indian. Volume 14 [pg. 11]:

Marriage was arranged between the two persons concerned without consulting anybody else. Having secured a girl’s consent her lover went clandestinely that night to sleep with her, and at dawn he stole away. The secret was preserved as long as possible, perhaps for several days, and the news of the match transpired without formal announcement, even the girl’s parents learning of their daughter’s marriage in this indirect fashion. His marriage no longer a secret, the young man might then erect a house of his own. The bond was no more easily tied than loosed, for either could leave the other for any reason whatever, the man retaining the male children and the woman the female. Children were not regarded as belonging any more to the paternal than to the maternal side. When adultery was discovered, the only result was a little bickering and perhaps an invitation to the offender to take up permanent relations with the new love.”

sounds like cousin marriage was not insisted upon in kato society. otoh, sounds like there were no proscriptions against it, either. so matings in kato society could’ve been close — at least some of the time.

from Native Americans: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Peoples [pgs. 156-57]:

Marriage was generally a matter between the couple involved, although girls were generally prepubescent when married. The Cahto practiced polygyny as well as the taboo that prevented a man from addressing his mother-in-law directly. Divorce was easily obtained for nearly any reason.”

again, no apparent insistence upon, or prohibitions against, cousin/other close marriage. however, from here [pg. 247] we learn that the pre-contact kato population was ca. 1,100 individuals. that’s not very many! with such a small population, it would be very difficult, indeed, to avoid inbreeding. (don’t forget, too, because native americans went through a bottleneck coming to the americas, they’re all relatively related to one another — genetically speaking. so any inbreeding would be even more inbred than in other populations — if that’s the right way to put it [i know it’s not!].)

interestingly, from Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8: California [pg. 244]:

“The Cahto lacked a true tribal organization. During precontact time there are estimated to have been 50 villages, with the permanent settlement situated in the three valleys where the town of Cahto once stood, and the towns of Branscomb and Laytonville now stand.”

another question is whether or not the kato married non-kato people. they were, apparently, on quite friendly terms with the pomo indians and many of them spoke pomo. did they marry out? dunno.

so, the kato? i’m gonna call it: probable inbreeding.

kato lady (she looks nice!):


previously: the semai and the fierce people

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