Reverse Engineering A Belief

I was watching a documentary on the remains of the ice man from the Æneolithic period, found in the Alps 25 years ago. Ötzi is a big deal for anthropologists, historians, geneticists, biologists etc. The ability to get genetic material for analysis offers up enormous research opportunities. For hobbyists with an interest in these subjects, it is always fun to listen to experts discuss their interests in such a rare discovery.

One of the things they have been puzzling over are the weird tattoos on the man’s body. Initially, they assumed they were for decoration, but further research suggested that was unlikely. The markings were not very decorative, but they did correspond to areas that either had prior injuries or signs of disease. In other words, the tattoos were medical treatments of some sort.

This sounds rather loopy to modern people, but it is not hard to see how people could come to believe such things. Grog gets the evil spirits and is close to death. The local Shaman gives him a tattoo so he is properly marked up for the afterlife and Grog suddenly rallies and recovers from the evil spirits. Everyone assumes it was the tattoo. Before long, tattooing the sick is what everyone does.

Belief is a funny thing in that it is self-reinforcing. The people of Ötzi’s time probably understood that tattoos did not always work, but when they got a good result, they just assumed it was the tattoo. What else could it be? Not doing the tattoo treatment, quite logically, became a high risk choice.

Understanding this dynamic is useful when looking at modern times. For example, we believe smoking tobacco causes lung cancer. At some point in the future, when the alien anthropologists are digging through the remains of our age, they will puzzle over “No Smoking” signs in the same way, wondering why they never found “No Child Molesting” signs in the rubble.

The point here is that you can tease out some things about what people believe based on what they do, even in the modern age where we pretend to be irreligious logic machines. That came to mind reading this rather entertaining comment thread on a Marginal Review post. As is often the case, Steve Sailer was making heads explode by noticing things that are on the prohibited list.

The question Steve kept asking in various ways is why economists have never bothered to study, much less calculate, the value of citizenship. If a citizenship card for Somalia and one for Canada were put up for bid, which would fetch more? How much would each get at auction? Who would do the bidding?

These are very interesting and reasonable questions that should be natural areas of interest for modern economists. After all, immigration is the dominant topic of our age and economists are the shaman class, asked to weigh in on every topic. It follows that the “markets in everything” crowd would have come up with a model for the market for citizenship.

As Steve correctly observes, the better question may be why they refuse to even consider it. Read the comments in that post and you see a lot of undefined panic. They don’t know why they should not be talking about this, but they sense it is a taboo subject so they keep trying to change the subject. In a sense, Steve was asking, “why are we tattooing Grog?”

I’m not much for reductionism so I don’t think there’s a conspiracy. What I see is that these people believe all of the things people in the managerial class believe. One of those beliefs is that citizenship is an artifact of a prior age. They dream of being citizens of the world, hopping from Washington to New York to London to Davos. Being an “American” is, if anything, a little embarrassing for them.

It’s why they are puzzled by the resistance to open borders. They live in these wonderful, bunkered communities that are surrounded by ethnic restaurants and shops. When they meet friends at the Ethiopian place in Fairfax to reminisce about their trip there in grad school, they wonder how anyone would not want this life. For them, open borders are the paradise of their daily life.

The answer to Steve’s query, it turns out, is a question. Why study something that has no value? From the point of view of economics, citizenship is as valuable as unicorn insurance or stock in the flying carpet company. The market for their skills is in climate magic and monetary policy so that’s why we have a million papers on those topics.

There’s another thing to tease out here, returning to the image of the Cloud People gnoshing on fit-fit at the Ethiopian place. To these people, the horny-handed sons of toil are failures. They have failed to reach the managerial class. Therefore, their habits are the habits of failure. Their shouting about patriotism, the dignity of work and joys of family are just confirmation to the Cloud People that they are the elect.

In a world where one is measured by how many of the correct boxes he ticks, there’s no value in even thinking about the wrong boxes. The neo-mandarin system of the modern managerial class rewards recitation, not inspiration. Why puzzle over the plight of the Dirt People when the people grading the exams don’t care about it? It’s simply easier to believe it does not matter than to wonder why.

After years of examining Ötzi, researchers have determined that he did not freeze to death in the snow. That was the working assumption for years. Everyone assumed he got trapped in bad weather on a hunt or a trip. It turns out that he died from an arrow wound. Ötzi was murdered. While those tattoos may have worked against evil spirits, they were not much use against an arrow in the back.

25 thoughts on “Reverse Engineering A Belief

  1. “..but it is not hard to see how people could come to believe such things. Grog gets the evil spirits and is close to death. The local Shaman gives him a tattoo so he is properly marked up for the afterlife and Grog suddenly rallies and recovers from the evil spirits. Everyone assumes it was the tattoo. Before long, tattooing the sick is what everyone does.”

    We have a our modern version of this. For example, consider that about 20 years ago the temperature had increased from when millions of Europeans died of crop failures due to killing frosts in July. A prominent PhD scolds us that too much driving is causing it, so we must cut back on our use of cars and electric fry pans. Soon, a lot of PhDs get funding for research into this, and surprise, find that is could be true. Pretty soon the “consensus” of grant recipients assume that too much driving and use of electric hair dryers is the cause of rising temperatures about 20 years ago. And now government is insisting this is the truth.

  2. Pingback: The Elusive Utopia

    • All the difference in the world between a plagiarist who has her finger in the wind and an honest guy like ZMan who uses reason and heart felt logic.
      I have my doubts that woman has ever published an original idea in her high society gossip column that passes for political sophistication in her entire career. She makes a suitable chattering class foil to the traditional right, a fair weather RINO mouthpiece who waters down the reactionary rejection to the corporate slave class of the dirt people. Like she is the cloud people of the right’s token dirt people spokesman. A sneaky Quisling you ask me.
      You see her cherry picking off the alternative media all the time the last 6 or 7 years, she can get away with it, I think she is shrewd and cunning enough, she understands only the dirt people pay attention to the traditional right blogsphere, and trolls it for material accordingly.
      In a way she is worse than the 5th column media, a cunning dissimulation-ist.
      I take the honesty and reason of those like ZMan who are the genuine article very seriously. Because if nothing else, that honesty and truth people like ZMan take so much care and effort to present to a dirt guy like me, is what stands in the way of the barbarian horde in Brooks Brother’s suits he calls the cloud people. Always been the case, always will be. Cloud people like Noonan are the worst, they believe themselves gods, they abuse others gullibility, there is nothing honest about them, in fact it is the illusion of honesty they employ. It is gross and despicable.
      One thing you can say about Donald Trump, if you can only pick one thing, he has contrasted the falsity of the cloud people, political elite phonies, he is shoving their gas lighting right up their arse’s, like the lights have suddenly been switched on and these cockroaches are revealed as the cultural vermin they truly are.
      Cultural Marxists and their enablers make a big mistake, they believe they have special privilege to shape the cultural battlefield, it is the way of how they rule people, but once they have corrupted with their lies and dissimulations, co-opted and robbed our dirt culture of everything visible and symbolic, that culture is no longer in their power – it is free again.
      The truth underlying this is the fulcrum of tyranny is being levered with ferocity only as those who harbor evil intent to undo the light that Liberty has brought to this world can. Noonan is an idiot, if she was a reasoned and honest writer, she would be speaking up for something indomitable about us and our Liberty. Something so hard to define, but so very profound for that very reason.

      It is the greatest paradigm of man. The idea we are free men no matter what. An idea that changed the world.
      That our Liberty is the linchpin of our being free is the greatest paradigm of man. The idea we are free men no matter what. The Rights of Man. An idea that changed the world.
      That our natural primal Liberty is the linchpin of our being free.
      I see ZMan write of it constantly, he is of a breed that alludes to it constantly, it is a thread which underlies so much of his thoughts he presents. It is mostly something not so outright and obvious, but that it permeates so much of his writing gives him that gravatis that is unassailable and genuine. Something Noonan has never possesed. She just sticks her pinking in the wind and pecks away at her keyboard.

      Is the crux of Lord Monckton’s axiom Noonan or ZMan?:
      “We shall lose the West unless we can restore the use of reason to pre-eminence in our institutions of what was once learning. It was the age of reason that built the West and made it prosperous and free. The age of reason gave you your great Constitution of liberty. It is the power of reason, the second of the three great powers of the soul in Christian theology, that marks our species out from the rest of the visible creation, and makes us closest to the image and likeness of our Creator. I cannot stand by and let the forces of darkness drive us unprotesting into a new Dark Age.”

  3. I enjoy your writing for so many reasons. I suppose one is that it flows from a fascinating mind, and is clearly not wordsmithed to smithereens. (I always smile when some nanny or other corrects your spelling or grammar. Then I want to punch them.)

    We’d love to know more about you. But you’re great just the way you are.

  4. A lot of “science research” today looks pretty greasy to me. Looks like an answer trying to find justification for justifying obtaining money to justifying answers to scientific questions.

  5. Thinking there is a monetary value on American citizenship is to ignore the fundamental values of being an American in the first place.

  6. 100 years ago, doctors and lawyers — today’s cloud people — lived in small towns and provided leadership for what we used to call the less fortunate. It was a hell of a lot more meritocratic than tribal or feudal life and it seemed to have made for a pretty good way of life. My great grandfather and his dad on the gringo side of the family were from that class.

    The Brits had something similar in their landed gentry.

    Opportunity brought them to the big cities. After the urban strife of the 60’s they moved to suburbs first, then gated communities. Lately, they’ve been making places like Manhattan, the San Fran peninsula, and D.C. into reservations for the cloud people and their retainers (what I like to call the outer party).

    The desired goal would be for communities to grow their own leadership back over a generation or two. But I’ve done some recruiting for a certain institution of higher learning in the blue collar neighborhoods, and believe me, the managerial class is ruthlessly efficient at recruiting into their ranks anyone promising. No stone is left unturned.

    I guess we could try to use legislative social engineering to at least put a governor on the machine: Bring back Glass-Steagall, the various Interstate Banking acts, start enforcing the anti-trust laws how we did before de-regulation, bring back government regulation of “natural monopolies,” &c. But the banksters would just buy Congress and the courts and the legislation would never get passed.

    We’re really left with the stasis of the managerial state or revolutions as options.

  7. Thank you, “Z-man”, another excellent post. (I put quotes on the name because there is something silly about it, like a nick-name we used to come up with when we were hippies.)

    I’ve been following your blog for some time now. I haven’t read a bad one yet.
    It has raised some questions for me, though. They are these…

    1 – How old are you? Such sagacity doesn’t come from young people.
    2 – What is your background? The posts suggest much life experience.
    3 – How in the world do you write 2 posts a day, sometimes three? I’m astonished by the output.

    Although I think anonymity is OK on the web – the ideas offered up in the posts speak for themselves – I can’t help but wonder.

    The only other blogger I know of writing at this level is Richard Fernandez at PJ Media. I know a little something about him, and am naturally curious about you.

    If my asking a little bit about you is an invasion of your privacy, you may safely ignore me. Many already do.
    I have great respect for the privacy of all individuals.

    But your work has become so important and is so superb, I can’t help but be curious.

  8. I appreciate Steve Sailer still being willing to slog it out on Marginal Revolution. I had to give up the site once it became a victim of its own success. I just didn’t have the time to wade through the gazillion comments there, most of them from a few usual suspects, repeating the same things. But I did enjoy the argument by another commentator on that thread that if we instituted open borders, we wouldn’t need public housing anymore.

    But the argument here misses the mark just as little. I think the devotion of western elites to importing more and more immigrants from poorer countries, and their rationalizations for this, stems from the same dark place that came the slaveholders’ beliefs that they were doing their slaves a favor, by making sure they were good Christians and housed and fed when they were incapable of doing any of these things themselves. As a preceptive commentator on Steve Sailer’s blog pointed out, we are now really looking at another manifestation of slavery. Businesses like to bring in people from other countries illegally, often using various lies and con schemes to ensure them, so they can exploit them without having to worry about them getting into contact with law enforcement due to their illegal status. Then a propaganda smokescreen is put out for this, which people are as inclined to believe to the extent that they are invested in this society (e.g. high status folks). Its really as simple as that.

    (legalizing the illegal immigrants already here could knock the supports out from this scheme, but the problem is that this has been tried already, and they just bring in new illegal immigrants to replace the now legalized ones, so the fix is going to have to involve deportation as well as shutting the door)

    You make a peripheral point about smoking, but though a non-smoker, I suspect that the effect of smoking on lowering stress levels winds up counter-balancing the increased risk of developing various mid-life diseases.

    • I’ve been looking around at smoking rates and cancer rates and something jumps out to me. It’s really hard to find good data on lung cancer rates going back more than a couple decades. Smoking rates collapsed in the 80’s in the West. In the US, that’s when we started seeing bans for smoking indoors, at work and so forth. We are now down in the teens and that number is dropping as vaping takes over. We should have seen a steep drop in lung cancer rates, but it is really hard to find data to show that. There’s been a decline, but it does not track with the decline in smoking and decline in air pollution.

      My hunch is smoking has less of an impact on cancer rates than assumed.

      • May be atypical, but my mother quit smoking in 1974 and died of the effects of lung cancer in 2002. There be a lag time from large scale quitting to results showing up. It would be difficult to determine how long, if true at all.

        • 60 years to kill me, but one whiff or even the smell on clothing and Little Precious will keel right over!

      • In the mid 1960s while at an Ivy I attended a lecture* on Smoking and Cancer given by a Full Professor (Pathologist) & Big Wig at the NIH. I don’t recall the details but remember he SMOKED during the lecture and said that smoking was a low risk activity for lung cancer but a high risk activity for OBSTRUCTIVE LUNG DISEASE if one were genetically predisposed to it.
        Dan Kurt
        *Many lectures were given most months on a variety of topics and open to the University family.

  9. In Roman times, being a citizen of the Roman Empire was a guarantee against being assaulted within the boundaries Rome set, though probably not so much north of Hadrian’s Wall or over the border in Germany. I always feel that while the British Empire tried something of the sort, the American ‘elite’ mind thinks being born in the States guarantees safe passage across the world, especially if you support progressive policies, routinely say nice things about ethnic folks and admire their quaint customs, and even better if you have sampled their delicious, slightly westernised food in expensive restaurants. It can be a shock then, I imagine, to find out that the locals in Mogabashu only like you so much.

    But to the subject of tattoos and medicine: it always astonishes me that church collection plates, and once upon a time all valuable coins, were silver because we have learned since that silver does not transmit germs. During the Plague, a place like Eyam in England’s Derbyshire cut itself off from the surrounding area to stop the spread of the disease, and money was put in a bowl of vinegar to pay for food left at the boundary of the village, brought by outsiders.

    So if silver is a barrier to disease transmission, and vinegar is an antiseptic, what else did ‘ye olde folks’ know that we are ono;y rediscovering?

    • At Valley Forge, the Colonials of George Washington would take some of the fluid from those with the plague and apply it to healthy people. They had started to figure out the concept of inoculation.

      • Inoculation goes way back, in fact it was already practiced in Africa, India, and China before the 18th century. The practice was called “variolation” (the early term for inoculation) and came to Europe at the beginning of the 18th century from Istanbul. The English aristocrat Lady Mary Wortley Montague had a huge influence on inoculation and the resulting acceptance by the British College of Physicians. In fact, King Frederick II of Prussia (1712-1786) mandated inoculation of all his soldiers.

        There’s significant evidence that much of the scientific and medical knowledge that originated in India, China and the Hellenistic worlds was expanded upon by Arab scholars well before the introduction of Islam. Historical records support that much of European medical knowledge came from the middle east by way of Spain and eventually into central Europe. Of course, the purge of 1492 put an end to all things Islamic, specifically science and medicine, and with influence of the Christian Church, anything “those people” had to say was utter non-sense or heresy. Why use vinegar to clean a wound when horse dung was the established method of the day?

        As for the knowledge of Small Pox during Washington’s day, it was well known and well feared by the early colonials. I suspect Gen. Washington’s physicians learned of inoculation from either the British or the Germans (Hessians) who were fighting against the Americans.

        I found this interesting bit of American history – “During Pontiac’s uprising in 1763, the Indians besieged Fort Pitt. They burned nearby houses, forcing the inhabitants to take refuge in the well-protected fort. The British officer in charge, Captain Simeon Ecuyer, reported to Colonel Henry Bouquet in Philadelphia that he feared the crowded conditions would result in disease. Smallpox had already broken out. On June 24, 1763, William Trent, a local trader, recorded in his journal that two Indian chiefs had visited the fort, urging the British to abandon the fight, but the British refused. Instead, when the Indians were ready to leave, Trent wrote: “Out of our regard for them, we gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.”

        • One of the fun gags the Mongols used to enjoy was to hurl the corpses of people who had died from plague over the walls of a city. They may not have understood germ theory, but they noticed that disease spread from contact with the diseased.

          Of course, they pretty much exterminated math and science from the Islamic world so the Mongols were not without their faults.

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