The Futurism Is Not Bright

When I was a kid, I stumbled upon a book called Future Shock, by someone named Alvin Toffler. I remember the book for a few reasons. One is it was based on the idea that the pace of change was accelerating and that humans were ill-equipped to handle the onrush of the future. The other memorable part of the book was the claim that society was moving from an industrial age to a super-industrial age. The book was written in 1970 and I read it in the early 80’s, when it was obvious there would be no super-industrial age.

The book is close to 500 pages and it could have been boiled down to 50 pages. In fact, it could probably be condensed into a blog post. The main point of the book was that societal change was accelerating. That point was made just about every way possible and then filled out with predictions that turned out to be all wrong. That was something else I learned from the book. Futurists are extremely long winded. That said, he sold millions of copies and became something of a rock star, so he knew what he was doing.

In fairness to Toffler, by 1980 he had figured out that his super-industrial society idea was a flop, so he came out with an updated vision of the future called The Third Wave. This book predicted that the developed countries would move from industrial to technological societies. He coined the term Information Age. In fairness, he was not wrong about most everything like he was in the previous book. For example, he predicted the end of the nation state and the growth of the global entity that transcended the nation state.

That said, he was still wrong about most stuff. For example, he predicted that technology would result in greater democracy with populations exerting greater control of society and instituting more local control. Pretty much the exact opposite has been the result of the technological revolution. I think we can also say that the idea of a managerial class rising out of the technological revolution was something that many conservatives were onto long before Alvin Toffler predicted it. Burnham wrote The Managerial Revolution in 1941.

Anyway, that all came to mind when I saw this posted on Breitbart. George Gilder is a futurist, an economist and an advocate of intelligent design. He is co-founder of the Discovery Institute. It’s probably accurate to describe him as a techno-utopian, one of those guys who sits around thinking about the singularity. He has a book out predicting the end of Google and the rise of a block chain technology as the salvation of humanity from technocracy. The Breitbart piece is an effort to sell books to conservatives.

Gilder is also a rabid philo-Semite. He wrote a book called The Israel Test, in which he credits everything good in the world to Israel. That won him endless praise from neocons and Buckley Conservatives. He has argued that antisemitism is the hatred of capitalism and excellence. The only reason to mention this is that like all futurists, Gilder is a bit of grifter. The futurism game is not any different from reading tarot cards or doing astrological charts. The idea is to tell the mark what they want to hear. Flattery always sells.

That’s futurism’s main attraction. It allows the futurist, as well as his audience, to avoid dealing with present reality or learning much about past reality. They cherry pick from the past to create a narrative that results in the future of their making. When times are bad, the futurist peddles a future that is devoid of the bad things of today. When times are good, well, all the great stuff of today is going to be awesome in the future. There’s never been a futurist that predicts doom. Those guys are called prophets and we remember them.

In the 1970’s when American manufacturing was in trouble, Alvin Toffler wrote about a future of super-industry, where everyone had a super job. In the 80’s when things were looking up, the future was going to be even more super. The futurist is primarily concerned with future earnings and no one is buying a book or paying for a speech about how crappy things are going to be in the future. That’s why Gilder is out with a book claiming techno-feudalism is going to be replaced by a new utopian algorithm that makes everything super.

Now, what about his central claim about Google? That it’s model for skimming off the economy is doomed to failure? The fact that he seems to not have the slightest idea how Google makes money or how it is arranged as a business is not encouraging. Comparing Google’s business model to Marxism is just marketing. It is boob bait for the bubbas that read people like Michelle Malkin. The book is probably littered with the usual abracadabra words and phrases that titillate the audience of Conservative Inc.

The fact is, Google’s business model was a complete accident. Like most tech companies, it was supposed to be a pump and dump. Page and Brin wanted to sell their search engine once it gained popularity. When they could not find a buyer, they figured out how to turn it into a roadside bandit, charging tolls via ad dollars. They correctly saw that the search engine was a bottleneck and the bottleneck is always the best place to skim from the users. Google simply taxes people on their way from one service to another.

Can this model last forever? Nothing lasts forever, but as a state protected monopolist, they will exist until the state decides otherwise. Given that Google has more than enough money to buy every elected official in Washington, no one in politics is in a hurry to break up Google. Throw in the fact that like the state security agencies, Google can spy on all of the elected officials and their aides, Google and the rest of the oligarchs will remain in power until the revolution. But, that’s not a promising future, so futurists ignore it.

Feudalism.Net

There are certain words and phrases that have no fixed definition, so the use of them usually says more about the person using them, than the object they are being used to describe. Like “fascism” in modern times, the term “feudalism” was mostly a term of disparagement in the 18th and 19th century. According to scholars of the subject, the word “feudal” was first used in the 17th century, as in feudal order. It later came into more common usage in Marxist political propaganda in the 18th and 19th century.

Just because feudalism was largely used as a meaningless epithet, it does not mean it did not exist. Scholars generally agree that feudalism was “a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs.” The lord owned the land, the vassal was granted use of it by the lord. The land was the fief. In exchange for legal and physical protection, the lord expected service, usually military service, but also food rents and labor from the peasants.

Marxists later pointed out that the codes and customs that we associate with this period relied on the lord owning the one thing of value, the land. The person at the top of the feudal order had a monopoly on the one store of value and that gave him a monopoly on the law. The old saying about the golden rule is true. The man with the gold makes the rules. This is why as coinage made a comeback in the medieval period, kings took control of the mints. It was both a source a wealth, seigniorage, and a source of power.

A useful example of this is the decision by Henry VIII to dissolve the monasteries of the Catholic Church. By seizing church lands, which constituted about a quarter of the national wealth, and redistributing them to favored aristocrats, Henry fundamentally altered English society. He weakened the power of the old nobles, by filling their ranks with new members loyal to Henry. He also eliminated an alternative source of economic power in English society. Henry was supreme power because he controlled the land.

Feudalism only works when a small elite controls the source of wealth. Then they can control the exploitation of it. In Europe, as Christianity spread, the Church required lands, becoming one of the most powerful forces in society. The warrior elite was exclusively Catholic, thus they had a loyalty to the Pope, as God’s representative on earth. Therefore, the system of controlling wealth not only had a direct financial benefit to the people at the top, it had the blessing of God’s representative, who sat atop the whole system.

That’s something to keep in mind as we see technology evolve into a feudal system, where a small elite controls the resources and grants permission to users. The software oligopolies are now shifting all of their licencing to a subscription model. It’s not just the mobile platforms. Developers of enterprise software for business are adopting the same model. The users have no ownership rights. Instead they are renters, subject to terms and conditions imposed by the developer or platform holder. The users is literally a tenant.

The main reason developers are shifting to this model is that they cannot charge high fees for their software, due to the mass of software on the market. Competition has drive down prices. Further, customers are not inclined to pay high maintenance fees, when they can buy new systems at competitive rates. The solution is stop selling the stuff and start renting it. This fits the oligopoly scheme as it ultimately puts them in control of the developers. Apple and Google are now running protection rackets for developers.

It also means the end of any useful development. Take a look at the situation Stefan Molyneux faces. A band of religious fanatics has declared him a heretic and wants him burned. The Great Church of Technology is now in the process of having him expelled from the internet. As he wrote in a post, he invests 12 years building his business on-line, only to find out he owns none of it. He was always just a tenant farmer, who foolishly invested millions in YouTube. Like a peasant, he is now about to be evicted.

How long before someone like this monster discovers that Google and Apple will no longer allow him to use any apps on his phone? Or maybe he is denied access to his accounting system? How long before his insurer cuts off his business insurance, claiming the threat from homosexual terrorists poses too high of a risk? Federal law prevents the electric company from shutting off his power due to politics, but Federal law used to prevent secret courts and secret warrants. Things change as the people in charge change.

The power of the church in medieval Europe was not just spiritual. They owned vast amounts of land and could marshal tremendous resources in support of or in defiance of the secular rulers. In fact, the reason the Church acquired lands was for exactly that reason. What drives the tech overlords of today is exactly the same thing. Their desire to impose their moral order on the rest of us is driving them to monopolize the source of power in the information age. They are imposing a new form of feudalism on us.

The difference today is that this new religion is ill-defined and lacking in the outward symbols to distinguish it from the rest of society. The rules of the new religion are always changing, making it impossible to predict. No one in the 12th century was unclear about who set the moral order. The local bishop may have been nuts, but he was predictably nuts. The new religion is formless, with moral codes springing from the mob, as the mood of the mob changes. It’s an anarcho-tyranny, because it is an anarcho-religion.

The solution to this will not be the same as last time. There is no secular authority willing to challenge the power of the new theogarchs. Mark Zuckerberg went to Congress and lied his face off, knowing they were afraid to lay a hand on him. By the 2020 election, social media will have banned Trump and all Trump supporters. The solution, in time, is the people in these oligopolies will have to fear the peasantry in real space. The same civil authorities that are too weak to oppose the theogarchs will be too weak to protect them.

The Nature of Diversity

Imagine an island that is suddenly populated with one hundred couples, each with a unique last name. In other words, no couple has the same last name. Further, they continue the tradition of the females taking the male’s last name upon marriage. As these couples reproduce, their children will be expected to marry one another. Couple A1 has a couple of boys and they marry the girls from Couple C2. This is not a controlled experiment, so nature can take its course and people are free to marry who they like.

Now, some couples will have all girls. Some couples will have no children. Given that the island is pretty boring and all of the couples are sexually normal, the infertile couple will not be the result of a lack of effort. On the other hand, infertility is not that common, so the number of childless couples will be quite small. At the same time, “Fertile Myrtle” is not an unusual phenomenon and some men have a near uncontrollable sex drive. That means there will be quite a few big families to counter the infertile and the strangely disinterested.

Now, if all couples have one male child and one female child, both of whom make it to sexually maturity and marry, then the population will remain stable. The number of last names will also remain constant, as each male heir will carry on the family name. Given this is a small island, a few extra children, or the “heir and spare” model will make sure that the family names live on and the population does not fall into decline. In this perfect scenario, we can come back in a dozen generations and things are about the same.

On the other hand, if each generation has 10% of the females unable to bear children, it will take about 20 generations before almost everyone has the same last name. The decline in last names happens fast initially, but the name singularity is at about 20 generations. Something similar happens if 10% of the couples have only female children that make it to adulthood. Throw in the fact that each generations may not have enough females for all the males and the decline of last names will progress toward one.

Obviously, lots of couples will have all boys or all girls. Since this island does not have video games or feminism, getting busy with the opposite sex will be the main form of entertainment. That means some couples will have lots of kids, but others will be more restrained and have one or two kids. The bigger the family, the lower the odds of having all girls or all boys, but it happens. If that is just ten percent of the result, the initial disappearance of last names is much quicker, but still takes about 20 generations.

Why would anyone care about this? Well, it is a good way to understand how a trait can flow through a population, resulting in a unique population. Instead of last names, let’s use a pronounced brow ridge, indicating high intelligence. If this is a trait passed through the male line of the A2 family, the whole population will have it, if in our experiment the A2 name is the one that comes out on top after 20 generations. If it is not just passed by males, but also results in high fertility, then it can spread quickly in our population.

Add in the fact that men with a prominent brow line will be highly desirable to the opposite sex, now you have a trait that increases the odds of producing children with it by some small percentage. On the other hand, let’s say the one guy in our 100 founding couples with the brow ridge drowns while out for a swim, before he had kids. That means this highly desirable trait, both from a biological as well as reproductive reason, is removed from the gene pool forever. Our island will be full of homely dumb people forever.

This is a simplified and rather crude way of illustrating how a desirable trait can flow through a population, but it is useful. In fact, this is pretty much how we have so many dog breeds. Humans short-circuited nature, by selecting the dogs that would breed, thus selecting for specific traits. After enough generations, one breeder ended up with Great Danes, while another ended up with dachshunds, so to speak. A famous example of this is the creation of a domesticated foxes by a Russian geneticist named Dmitry K. Belyaev.

Another way of understanding this is to imagine our island paradise flourishing with a high fertility rate over many generations. Then a resource scarcity sets off competition among the islanders and eventually a tyrant emerges to control the island. He correctly sees that the issue is the left-handed and has all of them killed. In future generations, anyone found to be left-handed is killed. It will not take long, in fact it could literally happen over night, for the population to lose the left-handed trait. Sometimes, Mother Nature is this cruel.

This is a good way to understand the natural diversity of people. When modern humans emerged from Africa, that is the most likely origin, we carried almost all of the traits present in humans today. As people spread out around the globe, nature found some traits much more useful in the new environment, so those traits eventually were selected for over each generation. Nature also found some traits deleterious and strongly selected against them, like our left-handedness example. Overtime, we got the diversity of man.

It is why anyone who uses the phrase “scientific racism” is rejecting the fundamentals of biology. Just as there is great diversity in the domestic dog, there is diversity in humans, diversity that is measurable and observable. Denying observable reality is a few clicks less reasonable than witchcraft or astrology. It also means multiculturalism is, in effect, a war on nature, as it is an effort to obliterate human diversity. Mixing everyone together into a gray slurry, is just a primitive minded war on nature and biological reality. It is immoral.

The Dumbening

An important project of the Left for a long time now has been to discredit the idea that intelligence is genetic and therefore heritable. In order to maintain the blank slate, they have to argue against genetics and evolution. Anytime someone can produce a study showing that environment alters life outcomes, Progressives rush to the internet to trumpet the study as if it was holy writ. That has been the response to this Norwegian study on intelligence, that claims to observe a reverse in the Flynn Effect.

There is confusion in the commentary, because there is confusion about the meaning of the Flynn Effect. The Left likes to claim that the Flynn Effect shows that better schools and ideological indoctrination make people smarter. That’s false. What the Flynn Effect observes is that populations get smarter as environmental conditions improve. People also get taller when environmental conditions improve. In other words, an improving physical environment means more people able to reach their genetic potential.

On the other hand, the other side often leaps to the conclusion that things like immigration and fertility rates exclusively drive population IQ. This is true in the aggregate. Import large numbers of Africans into Iceland and the average intelligence of Iceland will decline. That does not mean the native Icelander got dumber, although the decision to import Africans could be proof of that claim. The Flynn Effect observes that children will be smarter than their parents, when environmental conditions improve. A better life means better kids.

The reason this Norwegian study is causing blank slate believers to hyperventilate is it claims to show a decline in IQ within families. Specifically, the children are dumber than their parents and younger brothers are dumber than older brothers. Children born in the 1960’s had an average IQ a little over 99, while children born in the 1970’s had an average IQ of 102.Since then, IQ’s have declined to the 1960’s level. Because this was measured within families, the researchers rule out genetics, dysgenics and immigration as causes.

Now, the first thing to note is that blank slate people employ the same tactic we used to see with the intelligent design people. The ID’ers would hunt around for anything they could hold up discrediting Darwin or natural selection, no matter how trivial or tangential, so they could claim evolution was not science. This was supposed to “prove” that intelligent design was therefore a valid theory. Blank slate people play the same game by trying to poke holes in genetics, believing it will prove the blank slate to be valid.

There’s a word for this sort of argument. It is called sophistry. Just because natural selection cannot solve every puzzle in the fossil record, that does not mean magic is the default explanation for the fossil record. Similarly, just because IQ’s appear to be declining within Norwegian families does not mean IQ is not heritable. It has always been known that intelligence varies within families. The question posed by this study is whether this is caused by subtle changes in environment or some unknown randomness in the genome.

Further, it has been observed for a long time that average intelligence within Western societies have been declining since the 1970’s. Overall IQ appears to have peaked in the 1970’s and been in decline ever since. Immigration is one cause. Another is the habit of smart successful people having fewer children. The opening scene to Idiocracy is not entirely wrong, even though fertility among the poor has declined. From the late Middle Ages into the early 20th century, smart people had big families, because they could.

Again, this Norwegian study is not reporting this sort of result. Instead, they are picking up a decline within families. The one potential flaw is that it measures only male intelligence, which means sons are dumber than fathers and younger brothers are dumber than older brothers. The Flynn Effect observes increases in IQ within families due to improved environmental conditions. Therefore, a decline would logically be linked to some unknown environmental changes. In other words, maybe television really does rot the brain.

Of course, the changes are quite small, so it could simply be the Breeder’s Equation at work. The uptick in the sample population used in this study could have been driven by a bit of environmental luck. The decline is simply a reversion to the mean. The recent uptick you see in the above graph could also indicate a natural variance between a maximum and minimum for this group. The observable difference between a 99 and 102 IQ is zero outside of a testing environment, so it has no impact on social outcomes and reproduction.

All that said, there are two things we know are true about overall human intelligence. One is the population of this earth with low-IQ’s are breeding like bunnies. Simple math says mankind is getting dumber on average. The other thing we know is that the load the smart fraction can carry is finite. Pile in enough stupid people in a population and eventually they overwhelm the efforts of the smart people. The puzzle is in figuring out the tipping point and the goal is to make sure your country avoids reaching that tipping point.

Old Aliens

When I was a kid, smart adults still believed that humans would be visiting other planets sooner rather than later. That was mostly a carry over from the previous generations, who managed to get from zero to the moon in roughly a decade. If you were into this stuff in 1968, it was hard not to think that the next stop for man was Mars and then from there the rest of the solar system. By the time I was becoming aware of the world, this was fading, but there were plenty of optimists and romantics, with regards to space travel.

It really was a generational thing. By the time my generation was noticing things the space program had stalled and there didn’t seem to be a point to it. The competition with the Russians had decayed into a fight over the mundane and pointless. My guess is beating the Russians in hockey counted for more to most Americans than the space shuttle managing to take off, go to space and come back in one piece. Subsequent generations are simply too self-absorbed and self-indulgent to care much about space travel.

Of course, a big part of it is the self-inflicted wounds from previous generations that continue to tax us to this day. If Boomers and their parents had not decided to violate the rules of human nature in the 60’s and 70’s with a laundry list of social programs, things may have been different. The money spent on “fixing race relations” could have financed several trips to the stars. Our ruler’s endless fights with observable reality is like a leash keeping us from doing much more than squabbling over our own destruction.

Putting aside the Spenglerian interpretation of the recent past, there is another way to understand the technological stall. This post the other day by Steve Sailer had some interesting stuff in it, but the space travel stuff is what got my attention. Freeman Dyson is of that generation that thought we would be much further along in exploring the universe than we are today. He still assumes it will happen, despite the obvious decline in overall human capital due to changes in demographics and social mobility.

What occurred to me reading it is humanity probably needs to go through a different period of technological advance, before we can make the great leap to exploring the stars. If you look at the generation of geniuses who took us from propeller planes to rocket ships, peaking with the moon landing, it all happened in about one generation. It really was a remarkable run. In the 1930’s, the concepts of rocketry were being worked out and 30 years later a rocket was hurling men to the moon. That’s a great career.

That’s what it really is, one career. The sorts of people who work on these types of projects are not starting as teenagers. They go through years of education and apprenticeship, before they get on the big project. A career making project is going to be one that happens within the normal span of a human career, which is about 30 years for a cutting edge scientist.  A guy like David Reich, who is doing groundbreaking work in ancient genetics, is never going to do much of anything else. This is his peak.

Well, if you are an ambitious guy looking to do space work and be part of a great project, you’re not picking one that will take 50 years to finish. Some people may be fine toiling away at some small aspect of the 50 year project, but most people, especially the people funding it, are not going to find it appealing. If Elon Musk is going to bankroll a trip to Mars, he wants it to happen in the next decade, so he can take credit for it. The same is true of the scientist he would recruit. They want to get it done before they retire or die.

What this means is that space travel, beyond orbiting the earth or maybe revisiting the Moon, is going to first require extending the human life span. A mission to land people on Mars and return them to earth is probably 30 years away. Getting propulsion technology to traverse the solar system is a fifty or sixty year project. Figuring out how to survive longer periods in space is an even longer project. Before humans figure any of this out, it is going to mean living much longer lives so that a person can have a 50 or 60 year working life.

Think about it. If a person could reasonably assume a working career that started in the mid-20’s and goes strong to 100, with a slight decline at the end, that’s roughly a 60 year prime working life. With twice the time, you take more risks and you take on different career objectives. Suddenly a twenty year project to put men on Mars is not that big of a deal to the financiers or the scientists. Stretch the lifetime out further and the much more daunting projects can be chipped away at by a team expecting to finish in their lifetime.

Logically, it means the same would hold for some alien species that eventually comes to visit us on earth. Those aliens we have stored in Area 51 are probably very old, as their species had to unriddle problems that would take hundreds of years to solve, not to mention the fact that it was an extremely long trip from their home planet. The nearest habitable planet outside out solar system is roughly four light years from earth, which means it was a very long trip for our alien visitors. They must have been extremely old.

The other aspect of this is a longer life would mean more experience. Our IQ may be fixed, but we have an infinite capacity for screwing up. The longer the life, the more trial and error a person would endure. Someone living 500 earth years is not going to be any better at math, but they would be much more prudent. That would mean at the upper limits, the species would become less rash and less prone to error. Those dead aliens in New Mexico are an outlier, because their kind rarely misses its intended target.

Anti-Science

You can put me down in the “pro-science” column. I think in the main, science is a good thing for humanity. Life is more than material wealth, but having better food, better shelter, better communications and better medicine is nice. None of those things can happen without men in labs, amateur and professional, fiddling with the bits of nature, trying to learn how things tick. It is the constant trial and error of improvement that has made civilization possible and it is science that has made the modern world possible.

That said, people are flawed so their enterprises will be flawed as well. Science is not an exception to this rule. That’s what makes science different from religion or ideology. Good science is the constant revisiting of past claims, while religion can never permit it. You can become a famous scientist by proving that some accepted bit of science is flawed or simply wrong. New technology can lead to the overturning of fields, which is what we see happening with psychology. Technology is turning psychology into alchemy.

That’s one important aspect of the replication crisis.

Half the results published in peer-reviewed scientific journals are probably wrong. John Ioannidis, now a professor of medicine at Stanford, made headlines with that claim in 2005. Since then, researchers have confirmed his skepticism by trying—and often failing—to reproduce many influential journal articles. Slowly, scientists are internalizing the lessons of this irreproducibility crisis. But what about government, which has been making policy for generations without confirming that the science behind it is valid?
The biggest newsmakers in the crisis have involved psychology. Consider three findings: Striking a “power pose” can improve a person’s hormone balance and increase tolerance for risk. Invoking a negative stereotype, such as by telling black test-takers that an exam measures intelligence, can measurably degrade performance. Playing a sorting game that involves quickly pairing faces (black or white) with bad and good words (“happy” or “death”) can reveal “implicit bias” and predict discrimination.
All three of these results received massive media attention, but independent researchers haven’t been able to reproduce any of them properly. It seems as if there’s no end of “scientific truths” that just aren’t so. For a 2015 article in Science, independent researchers tried to replicate 100 prominent psychology studies and succeeded with only 39% of them.

It is important to understand what is going on here. Science has always been self-correcting by definition, but it does not prevent the problem of the Left abusing the truth. Psychology is a good example. In the 20th century, psychology became part of the theology of the Left, used to justify their latest crackpot ideas about humanity. The money for research went into studies that purported to prove some aspect of the blank slate, rather than challenge these beliefs. It was about confirmation, rather than discovery.

As a result, the soft sciences are under fire. That’s what the replication crisis is about and why it is a good thing, even though it opens the door for people who wish to fly the flag of intellectual authority, but lack the cognitive skills to participate in a STEM field. There are legions of people who will never understand the basics of genetics, for example, but they want to be an authority on evolution and human biodiversity. They will point to the replication crisis and claim that all science is suspect and no better than opinion.

In fairness, the soft sciences are not the only area of “science” taking a beating in the replication crisis. Chemistry has had problems with crap papers flying through the peer review process undetected. That’s about the politics of publishing as much as anything, but it should not happen. Medicine has also come under scrutiny and rightly so. These quack studies on diet, for example, that populate news sites, do more harm than good, because they often lead people into wacko conspiracy theories like pawtism.

This is what Cofnas gets right in his review of the moral and political pressures that undermine and retard the scientific process. The people in charge are the people sponsoring the research and paying for the studies. Like everyone in power, they want confirmation and they will pay good money for it. As long as research is done by humans, there will be humans willing to fake their research to get grants and tenure. That’s the story of climate  science thus far. The “consensus” was money well spent.

Cofnas is wrong to think this is unique to our age. The people in charge in all ages have had their priorities. A smart guy in the Roman Empire was wise to apply his skill to practical things, like how to improve sword making, because that was important. Philosophy was not. In the Middle Ages, the emergence if science meant navigating around the church and crown, as both viewed new ideas with concern. The king and his favorite bishop were more concerned with power than scientific knowledge.

“Reality is that thing that does not go away when you stop believing in it” and that is the reality of the replication crisis. The quackery of the soft sciences eventually runs up against reality. In our age, it is the reality of genetics that is dismantling the nutty ideas popular with the prior generations. That’s what Cofnas gets wrong. Science is self-correcting, just not as quickly as you would like. Sometimes it takes a new technology or simply a generational change, Eventually, reality returns to right all wrongs.

The Gathering Darkness

Christopher Caldwell wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, “One moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which affirmative action can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too weak to a world in which it can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too strong.” It is a wonderful observation that applies to much more than just affirmative action. It seems to apply to all aspect of Progressivism. Today’s minority view is tomorrows absolute, inviolable dogma. It happens so quickly, no one seems to notice.

That’s been the way with Progressives and science. It used to be common to see a Subaru or Volvo decorated with a Darwin fish. The point was to let the world know that the driver was a good liberal, who embraced reason, rather than superstition. Of course, the other point was to stick it to Christians, who the Left had declared their primary enemy somewhere in the middle of the last century. Even so, science was a big part of how Progressives defined themselves. Then suddenly, imperceptibly, the opposite was true.

That’s what we are seeing with the response to David Reich’s book, Who We Are and How We Got Here and the subsequent articles he has written about his research. The great Greg Cochran has been reviewing the book, pointing out the bizarre contortions Reich goes through in order to avoid having his lab burned down. It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that Reich fears an angry torch wielding mob, but it is only a small exaggeration. Many careers have been ruined by getting on the wrong side of the mob.

Understandably, Cochran takes exception to much of this, because he is a true man of science. He values truth above all else. He has no patience for the political, and now theological, nonsense that saturates the modern academy. There’s also a personal aspect to it, as Reich takes some cheap shots at the late Henry Harpending, who was Cochran’s colleague for many years. They collaborated on The 10,000 Year Explosion and on this groundbreaking paper. Cochran can be forgiven for taking this a bit personal.

On the other hand though, David Reich is not an old guy with his career behind him and his retirement vested. He is in his prime years as a scientist and as such he has to be careful to not upset the mullahs in the orthodoxy. That’s why he is going through these ham-handed efforts to inoculate himself against the charge of heresy. The morality police may not burn down his lab, but they are more than happy to burn down his career. If they will hurl a giant like James Watson into the void, they will not flinch at David Reich.

If you are old enough to remember the 1980’s, you remember a time when it was Progressives chanting about free speech, the need for independent media and the glories of scientific inquiry. Today, it feels like a million years ago, only because none of it is true now and not just in small ways. Progressives have swung so far in the opposite direction, becoming what they always claimed they were fighting, it is impossible to imagine them being otherwise. A younger person must assume it has always been this way.

The funny thing is that our Progressive mullahs are probably worse than the people who suppressed Galileo. Relatively speaking, they are worse than Torquemada. The old inquisitor was quite lenient, relevant to the age, when stealing a cow could get you hanged. Galileo’s trouble with the Church had as much to do with politics and his personal squabbles as science. Today, the people in charge take a perverse pleasure in destroying the life of a heretic. Billionaires now hunt Dirt People on-line for sport.

If you are in the human sciences, none of this is lost on you. If you read academic papers, they have become so thick with jargon and statistics, they are impenetrable to all but the people in the field. Some of it is the normal pattern of group behavior, but some of it is a defense against the charge of heresy. Instead of writing coded notes in the margins of approved texts, people in the human sciences rely on impenetrable gibberish and  eye-glazing statistics. Race has now become “ancestry group”, for example.

One thing that is clear, in hindsight, is that Church efforts to contain the growth of scientific inquiry were a rearguard action. The institutional place of the Church was not toppled by science and reason. The role of religious institutions was already diminishing with the rise of the secular institutions and the spread of commerce. The clergy was no longer the richest faction in European society. Their efforts to re-impose their order on society was reactionary and doomed. The world was changing and the feudal era was ending.

Perhaps something similar is happening with Progressives and human sciences. Their embrace of reason was always like their embrace of liberal democracy, socialism and social reform. It is as a means to an end. Free speech was a bus they rode from their position outside the academy, to a position atop the academy. Once they got to their destination, they got off the free speech bus. That’s certainly true of their embrace of science and reason. Once they gained power, they peeled the Darwin fish off the car.

On the other hand, there is no reason to think that humanity is a linear progression from tribal darkness to some glorious post-human future. We have the phrase “dark ages” because there have been dark ages, when civil society reached a dead end, collapsed and sat dormant for centuries. Back when the turn began, Allan Bloom wrote that relativism and multiculturalism were ushering in a closing of the American mind. Perhaps now we are seeing the fruit, the coming of a new dark age ruled by fanatics and dullards.

Techno-Feudalism

Feudalism, in the most general sense, is a set of obligations between a superior and a subordinate, based on land. The lord owns the land and grants access to the land to vassals. The lord provides services like protection and the imposition of order, while the vassal provides food rents, military service and labor to the lord. In practice, a lord could also be a vassal to a greater lord or a king. The result of this combination of relationships is the system we know as feudalism, that dominated Europe in the Middle Ages.

From the perspective of economics, the key components are land and labor, with land being the critical one. For most of human history, labor was interchangeable. German speaking peasants working estates in France were the same as Frankish speaking peasants. Wars were fought over land, so chasing off the other guy’s peasants, in order to take his land, made perfect sense. The land was the thing of value, while the labor that worked it was a commodity. The supply of peasants was never a problem.

The politics of a feudal system are simple. The arrangements were designed to serve the needs of the warrior nobility at the top the system. The lords may serve a king, but they also serve one another in defending and perpetuating the system. It is why innovation was often seen as a threat. If one lord could get much more from his fief, than the other lords, or even the king, then the power relationships all change. Feudalism, by nature, must be highly conservative, as it is based on legal and economic relationships never changing.

The other thing worth noting is that feudalism arises when an empire begins to decline or collapse. The central authority is no longer able to maintain order, so local power centers emerge that can protect land and impose order. Since no single local lord can impose order over his rivals, a system of rules and obligations evolve to handle relations between the local power centers. In other words, feudalism is what comes after the collapse of central authority. It is a return to a default position of local control and local autonomy.

The relevance of this to our age is that we are at the end of the liberal consensus or maybe even at the end of liberal democracy. The West is not an empire, in the way Rome was an empire, but there’s no doubt that the last 500 years of human history has been about the rise of Europeans and the evolution of European social order. The liberal order is base upon the nation state, which roughly corresponds to a single ethnicity. The people of that state own and control the assets of the state, picking rulers from their own people.

The role of the state has been the single focus of Western intellectuals since the Enlightenment. The evolution of economic arrangements, political arrangements and international arrangements, have all been in the context of the state. What is called the liberal consensus is the combination of all these things, based on each state having some form of liberal democracy. A nation gets to be in the liberal order if it holds elections and has a form of representative government, that is notionally responsive to its people.

What has become increasingly obvious, is that private entities now perform many of the duties formerly delegated to the state. Regulating political speech, has always been the job of the government, but now it is tech companies serving that role. Similarly, it used to be the job of government to control the financial system, even at the retail level. Today, firms like  PayPal or CitiBank are in charge of regulating and controlling access to the financial system. Even central banks now operate outside of national governments.

The result of this delegation of power is that the national authority is losing power over the societies it allegedly rules. This may be the natural result of globalism. As the states delegate important duties to international authorities, they lose the power to impose order domestically. The result is they must rely on private interests that are not constrained by constitutions and customs. In order for government to maintain the illusion of power, they have ceded domestic power to multinationals and tech giants, that they claim to regulate.

In feudalism, the political relationships between the warrior elite were about controlling land and defending it from those outside the alliance. The subjects working the land were not all that important. The post national world we are entering will be one where the global tech and finance giants control the flow of information, working with one another to maintain control of the system. Because a feudal system must be conservative, defending this new system will mean stamping out dissent and alternatives to the dominant platforms.

The thing about the feudal order was how effective it was at preserving itself. At the dawn of the French Revolution, as France began to emerge from feudalism, most people living in what was then France, did not speak French. They spoke regional dialects that dated back, in some cases, to the Roman Empire. Given the ability of tech giants to regulate the flow of information, it is not unreasonable to think they will be better at controlling and isolating people, as a form of defense in depth. Everyone will live on a data manor.

Lessons from the Printer

The other day, my printer started giving me trouble. A green light kept flashing that normally never flashes. An amber light was illuminated and a dangerous looking red light was flashing over the door for the ink cartridges. I pushed the button for printing out the diagnostic page and the results were not good. While the print heads were in fine shape and the ink cartridges more than half full, the pink cartridge had expired. In fact, it had expired last year, meaning I had be using an ink corpse for almost a year.

I removed the pink, which is called magenta for some reason, and examined it. I did not see any signs of decomposition, so I put it back in and the lights returned to normal. I was able to print whatever it was I was printing. The next time I tried to print something, the bad lights lit up and I had to go through the same process. For some reason, taking the cartridge out and putting it back in tells the printer to ignore its own concerns about the fitness of the ink cartridge, but only for one print session.

Of course, expiry dates on ink cartridges are ridiculous. In theory the thing can dry up, but that’s just another version of empty. The whole point of doing this is to force users into buying new printers. In my case, the ink replacements will cost twice what I paid for the printer. Only an idiot would do that, so I’ll buy a new printer for $100. Apparently, something happens to ink cartridges to make them cheaper when they are wrapped with a new printer. That means trashing a working printer because pink has expired.

Imagine buying a cheap compact car and finding out that a brake job or a new set of tires costs more than the car. That would never happen, of course, because public outrage would force the government to crack down on the car makers. Built-in obsolescence is fine if it only applies to styles or fashion. When it is part of the engineering process of a good, then the state is expected to step in and put an end to the practice. Planned obsolescence is a form of fraud. The maker is using insider knowledge to trick you.

There has been at least one court case over the practice of the obsoleting of ink cartridges by HP. The resolution was a few million bucks, nothing to discourage the printer oligopoly from continuing the practice. Third parties have tried to get into the print cartridge business, but the makers abuse patent and copyright laws to thwart them. Lexmark went all the way to the Supreme Court in order to block these companies from reproducing cheap ink cartridges. Lexmark lost, but only on narrow grounds so the practice continues.

This is an example of something Steve Sailer has pointed out about Silicon Valley. This industry has thrived as much by thwarting the laws that apply to other industries as they have by pushing the barriers of technology. Whether it is patent laws or labor laws, these big tech firms have played by a different set of rules. In fact, they have often been given the right to make the rules.. Volkswagen is facing a criminal probe over gaming the emissions system, while Apple faces none for tampering with your phone.

The other thing that the printer scams, and now the phone scams, are signalling is the end of the technological revolution. Companies like Google and Apple stopped being technology companies a long time ago. Instead, they are oligopolists. In the case of Apple, they were never a technology company. They were a design and marketing firm that repackaged existing technology into cool consumer products appealing to cosmopolitan hipsters. They sell expensive display items for the trend setters and the fashionable.

As a reader at Sailer’s site observed, Google now resembles an adult daycare center where mentally disturbed women terrorize the few people doing real work. Google has not don’t much of anything, in terms of tech, once it gained a near monopoly of on-line advertising. The reason Susan Wojcicki can wage endless jihad at a money losing division like YouTube is it is owned by an oligopolist given a special right to skim from every internet user on earth. Google is now a tax farmer, not a tech company.

The end of the Industrial Revolution featured civil unrest and industrial scale violence across Europe. In the US, it resulted in great social reform movements that ranged from public morality to economics. By the middle of the 19th century, it was clear that the old feudal governing system was no longer able to maintain order in Europe and the colonial model was not working in America. A century of war and revolution resulted in social democracy, a Western governing system compatible with industrial societies.

What my printer is telling me is not just that the pink has expired, but the social arrangements that allow this scam have also expired. The Technological Revolution has made the old arrangements untenable. It’s why our ruling class struggles to do even the minimum. It may turn out that the managerial state is the perfection of industrial age governance, but entirely unsuited for the technological age. Whether or not we are on the verge of a century of social tumult is hard to know, but that’s the lesson of history.

This also suggests that the great biotech revolution is unlikely to happen. The Industrial Revolution happened outside of state control. Similarly, the Technological Revolution happened outside of the regulatory scheme. Biotech is pretty much a government funded and regulated enterprise at the moment. There are no entrepreneurs in their garage challenging the boundaries of genetics. All this work happens in government sponsored and regulated laboratories. History says revolutions from within never happen.

The Tectonic Paradox

On my morning run, the local temperature read -3° F. That’s an unusually low temperature for this part of the world, but not unprecedented. Modern times makes extremely cold weather not much more than a curiosity. Everyone has shelter and plenty of heat. Even the poor have central HVAC in their homes and plenty of resources to get their energy bill paid for by others. The local bums had to be rounded up, but there are shelters for them as well. Otherwise, it is something to chat about at the office or experience at a distance.

This was not always true. Not long ago, extreme cold resulted in a lot of death and damage. A hundred years ago, deaths from cold were not uncommon in the northern parts of the world. Some of it was due to disease spreading quickly among people huddled together indoors. There was also the poor nutrition that came from not enough food in the winter months. Even so, people did not have what we have now to deal with the cold, so it was not uncommon for people to die when a serious cold snap hit the region.

Go back further and the problem gets even more perilous. A thousand years ago, humans living in areas that got extremely cold, or had long winters, were faced with unique challenges. This required long term planning in order to have enough food, heat and shelter for the winter. It also required a different type of cooperation. Specialization increases productivity so a people facing long winters would be more dependent on one another. Many hands make a light load, but many different skills make it even lighter.

It is generally accepted that humans migrated out of Africa about 60,000 as genetically modern humans. Most likely this meant following a path along the Red Sea and then into Asia and Europe. As the ice sheets receded, humans followed them north to settle into northern Europe and Asia. When the ice sheets began to expand again, these more adaptable and resourceful people moved south, conquering and displacing the people to their south. The slightly improved people became the stock of settled civilization.

Most of this is speculative, but genetics is slowly filling in a lot of blanks. The implication has always been the that harsh environment selected for more resourceful people, who figured out large scale cooperation, burden sharing and so forth. That sounds good until you consider that settled societies did not first start in the north. They began in the mild climates of the Middle East. The data says that the first settled farming communities were in Mesopotamia, which is why it is called the cradle of civilization.

Further, when the Egyptians were building the pyramids, the people in the British Isles were building Stonehenge. That’s an interesting structure, but it was built by people who were barbarians compared to the people of the Middle east. When the Sumerians were writing down things on clay tablets, Europe was lightly populated by people. who had just barely mastered stone tools. Even into the late Roman Empire, the tribes of Europe were hard pressed to do much more than organize a primitive village surrounded by farms.

Of course, all of this has changed. A great puzzle to the blank slate crowd is why it is Europeans rocketed ahead of the rest of the world, in terms of technology and organizational might, starting around the late Middle Ages. When Europeans arrived in Africa, they found a people, who had yet to master the wheel. The ancient civilizations of the Middle and Near East had fallen into squalor. In the new world, the Incas were about where the Egyptians had gotten 5,000 years prior.

It is widely understood that modern humans, homo sapiens, emerged from the speciation phase of sapient humans in Africa about 100 000 years ago. The genetic record supports this conclusion and it provides details in support of the dispersal. Not only are all modern humans walking around today descended from those original humans, a baby born today is not very different genetically from humans of 100,000 years ago. While there is genetic variation in modern humans, significant physiological evolution ended 100,000 years ago.

The archaeological record, what there is at least, says that humans dispersed around the world over the next 50,000 years without much change in behavior. Then seemingly all of a sudden, humans began to change culturally. The first agriculture appears in Mesopotamia and soon after large scale settled societies. New technologies spread in fits and starts as people figured out how to contend with and modify their natural environments. This is the period, up to today, that science refers to as the tectonic phase.

The sapient paradox is the puzzle as to why it took so long for humans to go from hunter-gathers to settled people. The genetic evidence and lots of wishful thinking say that people in Africa 50,000 years ago were not much different from people 10,000 years ago in the Tigris River area. Why did the people in Mesopotamia figure out how to plan and organize large agrarian societies, while the people in Europe were still living off the land in small tribes? Most important, why did it take so long for humans to accomplish it?

The tectonic paradox, a term I just made up, is the puzzle as to why modern Africans were never able to master the wheel or build a structure taller than a man. When Europeans were conquering the globe, the people in sub-Saharan Africa had yet to adopt a written language. At the same time, how is is that the English, who were no more advanced than Arabs in 1066, were the ones to lead the Industrial Revolution? The great gap in material and cultural progress between the big races is recent and unmistakable.

Genetics is starting to unriddle this great puzzle. Even though the genetic difference between human groups is tiny, it turns out that small difference can have huge downstream consequences, particularly with regards to cultural evolution. The high risk environment of northern Europeans, for example, is most likely the root of the wide variety of hair and eye colors that don’t appear anywhere else on earth. A small difference results in people who look like a different species from their close cousins in sub-Saharan Africa.

What this means is that human evolution is not just recent and local, but the behavior differences between populations is not amenable to social engineering, at least not in the short term. The Arabs flowing into Europe are going there because like all mammals, they seek safety and easy access to food and shelter. They are not Germans, however, and no amount of proselytizing will change Mother Nature’s mind on the subject. We may not know exactly why people are different, but we know they are and there’s no changing it.