Category: Social Issues


Over the course of the past year, I’ve silently admired the emergence of a community of blogs influenced by the writings of Mencius Moldbug who call themselves neoreactionaries.  It’s generally been one of the more creative parts of the dissident Right blogosphere, using many of the concepts pioneered by Moldbug and using them in new ways to look at today’s society.  However, one of the pitfalls of creativity is that it generates bad ideas just as adeptly as it generates good ones.

One of the ideas that has emerged is a cladistic look at ideologies, with a focus on American progressivism in particular, as exemplified in this post by Nick Land and this more recent one from Foseti in which progressivism is treated as a highly modified branch of English Puritanism.  In biology, cladisitics is an approach to categorization of organisms based upon the time since the most recent common ancestor.  I like this approach since the categories it generates reflect the actual relatedness of their constituent species.  For instance, take this example of primate classification from Wikipedia:

CladogramAs can be seen, the old categorical divisions within the order of primates did not reflect the actual relatedness of its species, as tarsiers, classified as prosimians are more closely related to all simian species than they are to the lemurs and lorises that complete the category of prosimians, making “prosimians” paraphyletic.  Another example of paraphyly can be seen further up the tree, as there are two branches labeled as “monkeys”, but old world monkeys are actually more closely related to humans and apes than they are to new world monkeys.  Similarly, this approach shows that grouping together tarsiers and lorises, two big-eyed nocturnal primates, results in pulling two groups from different branches in a single category, not unlike grouping sharks and whales together despite their very different ancestries.

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Night Lights

Last year, NASA posted a new high resolution map of the lights present across the world at night using the Suomi NPP satellite, which was launched in 2009.

While the overall appearance of the map is similar to those provided by older satellites, with a well-lit developed world and a global south shrouded in darkness, the higher level of detail allows a closer look at some of the smaller features around the globe

A River Of Fire

Along the shores of the southwestern Mediterranean lie the heirs of two ancient civilizations, whose modern cities are arranged in distinctly different patterns.

Along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, we can see a web of Levantine cities in Lebanon and Israel starting from the coast and expanding back toward their eastern borders. The countries to their east, Syria and Jordan, have their urban networks concentrated around the capital cities of Damascus and Amman respectively.

Of course, one of the most striking features of any nighttime satellite imagery of the Earth is the glowing strip of lights along the Egyptian Nile, starting with the triangular delta and stretching upstream until it comes to an abrupt end at the Aswan Dam, built at the site of the first cataract, the historic separation point between Egyptian civilization and the Nubians of what is now southern Egypt. While there are some scattered lights in Egypt outside of the Nile Valley, those can only be found in the oases of the Sahara, whose desiccated expanse otherwise impedes the growth of sedentary society, serving instead as the domain of a small number of nomads migrating across its vast waves of dunes.

The utter darkness of Nubia is a reflection both of the population displacement caused by the formation of Lake Nasser with the building of the the Aswan Dam and the extent to which the Nile cataracts impeded the extension of Egyptian civilization southward to a meaningful extent.

Further upstream, there is little in the way of lights until reaching the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, which serves as an island of urbanization in an otherwise dark Sudanese countryside. With six cataracts between its capital and the glowing thread of the Egyptian Nile Valley, Sudan’s darkness outside of its capital is representative of the African continent south of the Sahara.
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Just as I stopped blogging with a discussion of how fertility and proselytism shape the ideological landscape with a Bloggingheads discussion as its centerpiece, I’m returning with another Bloggingheads discussion, this time between two liberals, Allison Yarrow and Harry Siegel, the latter of whom co-wrote a Newsweek article concerning the future of fertility for the United States:

Unfortunately, the discussion is somewhat one-sided in terms of common sense.  Allison Yarrow repeats the widespread myth that women do not receive equal pay for equal work and seems to think that continued work by the elderly necessitated by economic conditions will fuel innovation in our economy.  However, the discussion is an interesting illustration of how liberals approach the issue of fertility.

Siegel expresses what is probably the largest liberal concern when it comes to matters of fertility and that is how age demographics will affect the stability of the welfare state. Like many liberals, he also sees immigration as a possible way of softening the blow to state coffers that will come with the wave of Baby Boomer retirements.

As for an explanation for the declining fertility rate, the conversation is a bit murky. Siegel proffers the notion that as more and more women are educated, many of them decide to strive for careers and decide that childbearing is unappealing while also discussing pessimistic economic prospects for couples in recent decades. While to some extent this may be true, I think that a shift in cultural values is playing a more important role. This comes out in a statistic from Siegel than among young people who do not think marriage is obsolete (those that do are 44% of the population), only 41% think that children are important for marriage, down from 65% in 1990.

I don’t think that materialist factors should be discounted entirely. For instance, Yarrow mentions that Obama’s Affordable Care Act doesn’t include many pro-fertility provisions: that employers must provide women a place to breastfeed their children is the only one she could think of, while it does require that all healthcare plans include funding for birth control. However, it seems like the arrow of causation may be moving more from the a culture that devalues having children while promoting careerism and consumerism to lawmakers’ favoring of policies that benefit the childless than those that benefit those with children rather than the other way around. If public policy were the driving factor, then pronatalist policies in various European countries from Sweden to Russia would yield replacement level fertility, a feat they have yet to achieve.

An interesting aside is what the two of them consider to be “normal”. At one point, Siegel, while arguing that the children of high fertility groups are more “normal than their parents, brings up a woman whose mother was an unspecified famous country singer who is now a childless anarchist tattoo artist. While I understand that famous country singers are not an everyday occurrence, anarchist tattoo artist hardly seem to be more normal to me, but then again, I’m not a writer for The Daily Beast.

The context for this was the discussion of high fertility subcultures such as Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and Mormons, who Yarrow had proposed as a solution for the effect of declining fertility on the public purse. Siegel found this unpromising, in part because particularly high fertility groups often abuse the welfare system to fund their families, but more importantly because of what he saw as negative views on homosexuality and women. The irony is that while Siegel wants higher fertility, the last thing he is willing to consider is a cultural outlook conducive to that end.

Ideological Competition

At the end of May this year, Bloggingheads.tv hosted an hour-long discussion between Amanda Marcotte, an atheistic feminist, and Michael Brendan Dougherty, a traditionalist Catholic, which covered a range of topics including a report on the Catholic sex abuse scandal and the sexual behavior of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which were occupying a great deal of the news coverage at the time. However, the parts that I found most interesting were their discussions about fundamental questions of social organization and this came out most in their discussion of marriage toward the end of the diavlog.

In the first few minutes of their dialog, Amanda Marcotte summarizes some prescriptions she made for the Catholic Church in an article she wrote for The Revealer a few days before talking to Dougherty:

…the Catholic Church has failed in a way that a lot of Protestant denomiations have not in order to retain its reputation and keep existing believers from going out the door, especially in the wake of the sex abuse scandal, and the way I put was, they have no feminism, no love of feminism. The way I see it is, I’m a feminist atheist; I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “feminist religion” really, but that’s personal for me. I do think that feminist critiques have been incorporated into many religious faiths and it’s been to their benefit.

I said that I feel like if the Catholic Church just gave a little on any single issue that perplexes their believers right now they would get so much credit and everyone would act so releaved and grateful. I suggested that they could let women be priests, they could revoke the celibacy requirement for priests. The biggest thing they could do, in my opinion, is get rid of the injuction against contraception. Any one of those, I think, would go a long way to getting back a lot of people that have left the faith because they just feel it doesn’t speak to them any more.

While as an outside observer, I am none too fond of the celibacy requirement or the Church’s injuction against contraception and I don’t particularly care whether the clergy is all of one sex or the other or a mix, I think that all three of Marcotte’s suggestions on that front would be a poor strategic choices if enacted by the Church. To illustrate why, I want to look at their discussion of the culture surrounding marriage:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you have time to watch the 25 minute clip, it is an interesting exchange, but for the sake of this post, let me distill the messages of the two interlocutors. First, Amanda Marcotte takes a very laissez-faire attitude toward how couples form and maintain their relationships, seeing marriage as an option that people take when it makes sense for them. Michael Brendan Dougherty, on the other hand, accepts the freedom of communities to set their norms in this regard, but would prefer to see a much more robust standard of expectations for couples and wishes to see this grounded in tradition. To reduce these positions into quotes, here is something that Marcotte says 14:27 into the clip above (56:00 into the original video):

When you give people choices, they are surprisingly good at making the correct ones. They might not follow tradition, but to my mind that says that maybe traditions were wrong.

A minute and a half later, Dougherty says this before being cut off by Marcotte:

It’s funny you say that you can’t have all that information, but that’s precisely what’s hidden in in traditional wedding vows. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…

These attitudes match up very well with the overall strategies of perpetuation employed by the ideologies espoused by these two interlocutors: feminism and Roman Catholicism respectively.
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While the attempt to trivialize human differences by using cosmic comparisons is largely non sequitur, an attempt to distract from matters close at hand with others far more distant, that does not mean that the motivation for doing so is not a noble one.  Returning to Jill Tarter’s quote, there is a clear double entendre in the bolded section:

As Carl Sagan said, we are all made out of stardust. You are actually made out of the remnants of that star that blew up billions of years ago, and the connectedness of life to the Cosmos and the idea of thinking about, maybe, life somewhere else, I think has the opportunity to trivialize the differences among humans on this planet that we find so troublesome.

Taken literally, it seems that she is arguing to trivialize the differing characteristics of humans.  Certainly this interpretation makes a good deal of sense, particularly since she emphasizes the fact that “we are all made of stardust”, thus highlighting a shared characteristic.  However, at the same time, “differences” can also refer to conflict, and interpretation suggested by the descriptor “that we find so troublesome”.  The second interpretation also jibes with the passage of The Pale Blue Dot that I referenced in my last post.

Incongruence

Here is a sample of the collection of facial averages generated by Dragon Horse.  The ones below are from left to right: West African, English, and Taiwanese.

The contrasts are stark, not just between different geographic locales but also between the sexes.  It is true that all of the individuals whose pictures went into creating these averages consist of roughly the same balance of elements, which were in turn formed in the same collection of stars and supernovae, but it is clear that they are different.  Even when the features of any one individual is lost in an average of co-ethnic peers, strong differences remain.

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Last week, the NPR program All Things Considered ran a segment on sounds derived from the electromagnetic radiation of sources in outer space.  During the segment, they interviewed Jill Tarter, one of the co-founders of the SETI Institute.  The segment ended with the follow quote from her:

As Carl Sagan said, we are all made out of stardust.  You are actually made out of the remnants of that star that blew up billions of years ago, and the connectedness of life to the Cosmos and the idea of thinking about, maybe, life somewhere else, I think has the opportunity to trivialize the differences among humans on this planet that we find so troublesome.

The bolded portion struck me as a rather strange aspiration, but not one that is altogether uncommon.  Indeed, in the quote, she references the late Carl Sagan, who often expressed similar sentiments.

Sagan’s Vision

One of Carl Sagan’s most famous pieces was his meditation on the meaning of a photograph taken of the Earth by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as part of a solar system mosaic it took a few months after passing beyond the orbit of the gas giant Neptune:

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In a follow-up to the discussion of American inequality, here’s an interesting pair of charts produced by the Economic Policy Institute and found by hbd chick that show a measure of income mobility for men and women in the United States and a collection of northern European countries:

While this runs against the common narrative that women are an oppressed social class as evidenced by pay levels that are, on average, lower than those of men, it shouldn’t be surprising.  Indeed, it seems to me that the pay inequality and the difference in social mobility are two sides of the same coin: men tend to be the primary income earners of a household, whereas women have the option to either work, stay at home, or compromise between the two.

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