The Reality of Life

In his July Diary over at VDare, John Derbyshire recounted an exchange he had with Mark Steyn about biological reality. Like most men his age, Steyn is incapable of thinking clearly about race and ethnicity. Instead he tries to jam reality into the blank slate fantasy, where culture makes the man. Steyn asked, “Why is Haiti Haiti and Barbados Barbados? Why is India India and Pakistan Pakistan? Skin color and biological determinism don’t get you very far on that.”

This is a popular form of arm flapping by right-wing Progressives. Whenever they are confronted with biological reality, they reel off a series of exceptions they think extremely clever. Somehow, they think their ignorance is some sort of magic spell that will make the bad men go away. If biology cannot explain everything to them to their satisfaction, then they will hang onto their magical thinking. It is a good example of how you cannot overcome superstition with facts and reason.

Now, as to the challenge, Derb correctly points out that biology is one ingredient that results in the societies we see. The biology of Barabbas is a lot closer to the biology of Haiti than it is to Iceland. Yet, Barbados seems to be closer to Iceland on the civilization scale than it is to Haiti. Of course, Barbados is not Iceland, not even close. Botswana is much nicer than Somalia, but that does not make Botswana a paradise. Maybe Steyn should first explain why Barbados is not Iceland.

It turns out though, that Steyn’s “gotcha” response is actually a very good example of the role biology plays in social organization. Haiti was a French colony and its current population is descended from the slave population used by the French. Barbados, in contrast, was a British colony. About ten percent of its population is white and its black population is descended from both slaves and free men. Further, Barbados never sank into anarchy, so its population has been stable for generations.

How big a difference does that white population make in Barbados? If we assume the whites are fairly typical of the sorts of people willing to colonize the New World, they are probably a bit smarter than the average European. That means they will make up the bulk of the island’s smart fraction. Haiti, in contrast, will have no smart fraction, as even the talented ten percent fled a long time ago. Barbados may not have the smart fraction of Iceland, but it has one, while Haiti does not have one.

Of course, Barbados will have a talented ten percent, as well. While the bulk of the black population is descended from slaves, a lot of blacks came to the island as freemen during the age of sail. Just as with North America, the British were a much softer touch on their colonies than the French and Spanish. That history has resulted in a much better black population than in Haiti. It’s talented ten percent, plus the white population, is capable of maintaining a civil society.

That may strike some as a small difference to hang an argument, but in biology, small difference can have very large downstream consequences. As Derb pointed out, Albania has an average IQ in the low 80’s while Ghana is in the 60’s. That does not seem like a big difference, but it means Albania has about 4% of the population that qualifies as a smart fraction, while Ghana has none. That 4% has a huge impact on the outcome of Albania. Small differences mean a lot in biology.

That does not explain all of the differences between the two places. As Derb points out in his piece, history and geography play a role. Chance plays a role as well. Haiti has not been helped by its geography. That massive earthquake would have been tough for any of the island populations to endure. It’s also regularly raked by tropical storms and hurricanes. Outside interference from America has not always been in the best interest of the Haitian people. Haiti is a very unlucky place.

Still, there is a reason no African nation has created a modern society or been able to maintain one that was handed to them. Somalia has all of the things modern libertarians celebrate, but it is a violent hell hole. Liberia adopted the US constitution, but Liberia is nothing like America. Detroit has a much better history than Salt Lake City, but it has much worse biology. Perhaps Steyn thinks Detroit’s problems are due to weather, but most likely he knows the real reason. He just hates it.

That really is the issue with the science deniers. It’s not so much that they don’t accept biological reality or even that they lack the numeracy to grasp it. They just hate facing the reality of the human condition. It should be noted that the science deniers tend to live as far from human diversity as possible. Steyn, for example, lives in a whites-only part of northern New Hampshire. Celebrating diversity from a great distance is the hallmark of the science deniers and egalitarians.

Putting aside the revealed preferences of the deniers, they cling to their superstitions because to do otherwise means accepting some harsh truths. One of which is that the only way to maintain Western civilization is to maintain the European people. That means playing very rough with the rest of the world’s people. It turns out that we have not advanced beyond our nature. Life for us is the same struggle for survival it has always been. The winner has to play for keeps.

As a practical matter, that means the Europeans will have to deport their non-European populations. Not all of them, but most. Telling a few million Muslims they have to go back is not something our betters care to face. Similarly, it means sinking enough migrant boats in the Mediterranean to discourage the practice. Europe’s leaders lack the stomach to defend their people, so instead they have embraced magical realism as a coping strategy. It’s an effort to gracefully lose the struggle for life.

Reality is that thing that does not go away when you stop believing in it. Biological reality is no exception. The history of man has been a struggle between people. History, geography and some good fortune made Europeans the dominant people on the globe, because they were willing and able to out-compete their rivals. That’s reality. If Europeans are unwilling to compete, then they will be overrun by their rivals. That too is reality, a realty that will not go away even if the deniers stop believing it.


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The Age Of Anti-Knowledge

One of the funny things about this age is how the political poles seem to be swapping positions on a great many issues. The Right, for example, is now more concerned with the plight of the working man than the Left, while the Left is a fanatical defender of global capitalism. If 1980 man were transported to the present, he could be forgiven for thinking Tucker Carlson is a liberal. He uses the kind of language that was common on the Left in response to the rise of conservatism.

That does not mean Tucker is a liberal. It just means what we understand to be Left and Right are not fixed, timeless positions. They are just words used for “us” and “them” in the game of politics. Conservatism, properly understood, was always skeptical of capitalism, because it tended to destroy indiscriminately. Bulldozing a church to build a processing center may be a more efficient use of resources, but conservatives always knew the altar was the keystone of civilization, not the factory.

As is always the case, the Left has the ability to create and define its opponents, because it controls the institutions. Forty years ago it created the image of a conservative as a ruthless, cold-hearted capitalist, in order to have an enemy they could more easily manipulate. They never cared about the poor or the working classes and never opposed rule by corporation. The Left in America is an effort to explain why inequality prevails despite the fact man is born equal.

Thinking of the American Left, at least the old Protestant aspects of it, as a theodicy, is a good way to understand why the people who used to sport Darwin fish on their Volvo are now extreme science deniers. Steve Sailer has been following the new star on the denialist scene, Angela Saini, who is getting famous waging jihad against observable reality. Her latest fatwa has been published on the site called Nature, which is ironic, given the article is a rebuke of nature.

Saini is not the only primitive showing up in the prestige press, shaking her staff at the heavens, demanding the gods conform to her dictates. Cordelia Fine was the toast of the town a couple years ago, when she published a book claiming reality is a magic trick played on us by hobgoblins. She did not put it that way. Her case was actually much weaker and less coherent. Greg Cochran’s review of her book reads like someone correcting a child or possibly a simpleton.

Of course, the over-the-top science denialism we see in the prestige press is filtering down to the rest of the cult. They don’t bother with the arguments, instead preferring to repeat the catch phrases. The extremely long-winded YouTuber, Alt-Hype, reviewed a chubby left-wing incel, who is making a name for himself as a science denier. JF Gariepy has a shorter version. The even shorter version is the lefty incels are now denying the very basics of biology.

If you are over the age of forty, this is quite a development. Within living memory, to be a Progressive meant mocking religious people of all types, but especially Evangelicals, as science denying primitives. The Left waved around evolution like a magic talisman, dismissing any argument they deemed religious, by which they meant cultural. Even Obama mocked Christians this way when he was running in 2008. Progressives bleeping loved science, while their enemies loved magic.

The change in tone and language among some right-wingers, like Tucker Carlson, is a bit jarring, but once you get past the superficial, it makes sense. In the 1980’s, a right-wing regard for the public good would not have focused on things like affordable family formation or wage stagnation in the heartland. The excesses of cosmopolitan globalism would not have entered their minds, because those things did not exist. It took time and hard experience to learn that Pat Buchanan was right after all.

What’s happening with the Left seems to be different. It is not an adjustment to new information or a changing culture. For a very long time, the human sciences understood that the variety we see in the human family is rooted in nature. Even those who dispute the validity of evolutionary biology on religious grounds, fully acknowledged that God does not distribute his gifts equally. The Left argued that these difference could be mitigated through public policy and cultural change.

That’s no longer the case. What the Left is engaged in now is a full-throated rejection of observable reality on moral grounds. Angela Saini commands that you accept that Kenyan performance in distance running is an optical illusion. Cordelia Fine, says, as a women, she knows sex is a social construct, created by men. This is not an inability to grasp the material. It is a conscious desire to forbid certain knowledge, to anathematize noticing the world and the explanations for what we see.

It is popular to talk about this phenomenon in terms of Galileo. The left-wing science deniers are playing the antagonist role of the Church and the humans sciences are in the protagonist role. This is probably comforting to the empirically minded, as it suggests they will eventually triumph in the end. Not only is this a faulty reading of history, particularly the Church, it assumes that human progress is inevitable. That no matter what they do, the march of science will continue unabated.

Instead, what we are seeing could be the signal of a coming dark age. Maybe this is what it was like in 1177 BC. The slow decline in general intelligence leads to a period of anti-knowledge, where knowing how stuff works, or even being curious about it, is seen as a threat to the established order. The brakes are applied and progress is reversed until the point where the people are no longer able to operate the mechanisms of society created by their ancestors.


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The Reality Of AI

Every day, we are told the artificial intelligence is not a science fiction fantasy, but a reality of modern life. Crimes are solved using AI and the military is supposedly using it to fight the forever wars. Microsoft regularly runs ads explaining that thanks to AI, the modern world will run just fine without white people. IBM goes further, claiming their artificial intelligence robots are already running large swaths of the world. The robot revolution is here and humans are being replaced with machines.

The target audience for these ads is a question, as the people watching television are not the people deciding whether to use IBM or Microsoft for the artificial intelligence requirements. It’s an example of how the custodial state has evolved. These ads are not about moving product or even improving the image of the firms. It is about conditioning people to the idea that they are wards of the state. Not only will they have no role in how their world is managed, they should not even bother thinking about it.

Of course, there is the matter of the AI itself. Everyone reading this post has had the experience of seeing ads on every web page, for things they bought six months ago from an on-line retailer. Maybe you just did a search and clicked on one of the ad links on Google. The result is every page that contains ads will display the product to you until you make the same mistake with a different product. Billions have been invested in smart advertising on-line yet the robots remain vexed by your search habits.

Then we have the companies supposedly at the forefront of artificial intelligence, like Microsoft and IBM. Anyone who has done business with Microsoft will tell you it is every bit as nonsensical as the government. Their “partner portals” appear to have been designed by people who hate Microsoft and their vendors. Then you have IBM, which is no longer an American company. It is now reliant on slave labor from the Orient. Most of its workforce is now un-American. It’s mostly a sweatshop now.

That brings us to the people these tech giants rely upon to write their code and engineer their products. Talk to people familiar with the code base of Facebook, Twitter and the big software-as-a-service providers and you learn it is a house of cards. Most of the code was thrown together in a rush using cheap labor from the Orient. As a result, the maintenance costs continue to rise, necessitating more outsourcing to places with even cheaper labor costs. We’re not far from having African coding shops.

That assumes this can go on forever. The Boeing 737 Max airplane that is riddled with so many problems may be a glimpse of the future. According to the news, they outsourced the coding for the planes “intelligence” to programming sweatshops on the Indian subcontinent. India is a land that struggles to manage basic sanitation, yet they are relied upon to produce complex software for complex systems. Perhaps someone should have told IBM’s Watson about what goes on in the Ganges.

The reality of artificial intelligence is that it is not here and it is not coming. One reason is we really don’t understand human intelligence. We have some sense of it, as in person X is smarter than person Y. We have some tests that give us an insight into individual and group intelligence, but those tests are imperfect. In fact, the so-called Flynn Effect may be the result of the flaws in testing. We may be picking up increases in things that are not a great influence on general intelligence.

When it comes to the biology of intelligence, science has identified about 50 alleles that negatively or positively affect intelligence. Think of them like the old dip-switches from the early days of computing. Some will positively impact IQ if closed, while having no impact if open. Others will negatively impact IQ if closed. Steven Hsu is involved in a project that one days hopes to be able to help parents select embryos for the highest chance of maximum intelligence, based on these correlations.

The fact is though, we really don’t understand human intelligence or human decision making very well. Therefore, creating artificial versions of something we don’t understand is unlikely. What we are calling AI today is just the result of technological progress in more mundane areas like disk capacity and bandwidth. We have an over capacity for data storage and all the bandwidth we need to connect it. That allows for faster processing of the same old boring tasks we have been performing for years.

There’s something else that works against the robot revolution. The smart fraction of the human race is getting dumber, not smarter. This is increasingly obvious to those who follow politics and current events. You can just look around your daily life and see that the basics of society are grinding to a halt in the West. Ed Dutton’s book, At Our Wits’ End, goes into examples and explanations for why we are getting dumber. Smart people in the West have fewer children and over time the results are manifest.

Of course, those Western populations have been the smart fraction of humanity for about 500 years now. The Chinese are certainly smart and there are a lot of them, but they have other characteristic that make them a poor substitute. They had 1000 years to take up the role of being the world’s smart fraction. Instead they created an insular society and put their smart people at work on astrology, calligraphy and turning the body parts of exotic animals into aphrodisiacs. They will not be the new smart fraction.

Then we have the swelling populations of the dumb fraction. Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a population boom, which promises to flood the West. When people from Congo, the most backward place on earth, are turning up on the American southern border, it is fair to assume the West will be overrun by Africans. How many 85-IQ Africans does it take to sink the West? Detroit and Baltimore suggest a population that exceeds 25% is about the point where everything turns negative.

The reality of AI is it is mostly an advertising campaign at this point. What it is selling is the legacy idea of the custodial state. It’s a bit of the distraction so you don’t notice what is happening in your communities, workplace and even your family. It’s a campaign for staying the course and building out the multicultural custodial state that will solve the problems of diversity. The suicidal polices of the ruling class will be solved by machines that do not exist and probably will never exist, because we are ruled by fools.

If you care about your community and want to support those working hard on your behalf, consider supporting my work by donating the price of a beer or a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Five bucks a month is not a lot to ask. Unlike those mega-corporations, I will not use your money to destroy your family and community. Or, you can send money to me at: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. I now have a PayPal setup for those who prefer that method to donate. Thank you for your support!

Regulating The Public Space

There are few things good about aging, but one of those benefits is you start seeing how history often repeats itself. There is nothing new under the sun, but when you are young most everything is new to you. When you get old, you have experienced enough to begin noticing the repeats of things you saw in your youth. For example, those old enough to remember the early the days of the internet, probably recognize what’s happening with the tech giants trying to regulate the public space.

By early days, I’m not talking about the iPhone 4 days. I’m talking about the Windows 3.1 days, when the internet was for weirdos, who knew how modems worked and liked tricking the phone company for free long distance. It was when hobbyists assembled their own computers It was when NewEgg was called Egghead and operated in shopping centers. That was before the phrase “social media” existed, but there was still plenty of social media and plenty of people on it, just smarter people.

Usenet and bulletin board systems served the same role as Twitter and Facebook, without the cute names and billionaires trying to control the platforms. Like the big social media platforms, they started with the same general idea. They would be open forums for people to debate and argue. The internet was going to be free from the censorship of the old media and free from government control. The same things people say about bitcoin today were said about the internet in the olden thymes.

What happened to those first public forums and those that succeeded them is a good lesson for understanding what is happening to the big social media platforms. Usenet, for example, started as an open platform for anyone with internet access. It did not take long for jerks and troublemakers to arrive. Soon, the squabbling and fighting fractured the community into separate channels. In short order, Usenet became a million little havens for like-minded people to talk about their thing in semi-private.

Bulletin boards followed a similar path. Their successor, the message board also followed a similar arc. The first boards for college sports, for example, soon turned into free-for-alls and shattered into hundreds of small, private boards. Unlike Usenet, the creators of these boards initially tried to regulate the content by having moderators ban trouble makers and people trolling for attention. That just encouraged the trouble makers to find clever ways around the rules, in order to disrupt the communities.

What was discovered in those early efforts of public forums is that the public is pretty awful and needs to be regulated. You just can’t let everyone into a public forum and have them say what they wish. On the other hand, the cost of regulating who enters and what is said is prohibitive. The more you regulate the forum, the cleverer the troublemakers get at disruption. This sets off an increasingly costly game of cat and mouse between the moderators and the people seeking to disrupt the forum.

The solution to the problem was the oldest of solutions. Peaceful separation allowed everyone to have a forum, but it reduced the incentives for the disruptive. Going into the forum of a rival group, for example, and posting a bunch of troll-bait, did not provide the same dopamine rush to the troll as it did on a public forum. There was no one around to see it and cheer it. It was like being a graffiti artist in a blind community. These trolling efforts were quietly removed and the community could easily ignore them.

That is what will happen with the big social media hubs. Twitter is the first that will splinter into a million separate channels, as it is the most public. Gab has weathered the assaults and now provides a home for dissidents. Telegram is now becoming the favorite tool for young people creating small communities. Others are working on alternatives for other tribes, looking for a place on-line both free of censorship and the sorts of people who just seek to disrupt. This is a repeat of the message board phenomenon.

YouTube and Facebook are a bit different. Facebook already has the ability to let users self-segregate within the forum. That solves the trolling a bit, but the company is run by the sorts of people who liked being moderators on chat boards in the old days. They can’t help but meddle in the discourse of others, even those in private groups on the platform. Given the demographics of the platform, it will probably collapse at some point as people realize its user base is old people, robots and gullible advertisers.

YouTube is the one to watch. As server capacity outstrips demand, the cost of hosting video will keep dropping. There are services popping up as alternatives to YouTube, with some starting as commercial enterprises. This service lets you create a branded channel that can be distributed on a variety of platforms. If you have talent and can hold an audience, the days of relying on YouTube are numbered. Since YouTube has never made money, it’s hard to see a future for the service as currently constructed.

None of this is to say that the tech oligopolies will come to their senses and stop trying to suppress speech on-line. In all probability, they will exhaust themselves trying to stamp out dissent, which means things will get much worse. Apple, for example, is now censoring speech within chat programs like Telegram. Microsoft is promising to moderate speech over Skype. The people behind these efforts are driven by hatred and self-loathing, so they lie awake at night thinking about this stuff.

The trouble is, it is expensive. The latest YouTube banning probably cost the company $10 million dollars to organize. It’s pretty clear they invested a lot of manpower in reviewing specific videos. The return on that investment was mostly bad press and greater awareness by regulators that there is a problem. That’s a lesson from the old days too. No matter how right they were to regulate users, the forum moderators were always looked upon unfavorably. They were the prison guards of the system.

That last bit is probably key. A decade ago, Apple was a cool brand run by an equally cool genius who liked wearing black turtlenecks. Now it is seen as a Chinese electronics company run by an angry homosexual. Similarly, YouTube used to be a place where young people could express themselves. Now it’s where old Jewish women yell at young people for using naughty language.With every censorship effort, the reputation of the oligopolies declines. Silicon Valley is now the universal villain.

The point of all this is not that libertarians are right that the market will magically sort out the problem for us. All of this could have been avoided if the government had done its job and cracked down on these oligopolies a long time ago. The natural disaggregation of the public space will not happen without help from the state either. It’s that wide open public forums cannot last. It was tried decades ago by smarter people and a much smarter user base. Eventually, peaceful separation became the only alternative.

If you like living off the sweat of others, then ignore the following. On the other hand, if you care about your community and want to support those working hard on your behalf, consider supporting my work by donating the price of a beer or a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Five bucks a month is not a lot to ask. Unlike those mega-corporations, I will not use your money to destroy your family and community. Or, you can send money to me at: P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432.

Apes Flying Planes

Imagine that archaeologists, digging around in the jungles somewhere, stumbled upon what they think are the remains of ancient buildings. Upon closer examination they learn that it is very old, but has technology that is advanced, more advanced than the most advanced technology of today. This is the sort of premise that makes for a good science fiction story or even a mediocre sci-fi series. The next step in the plot is a drama between the characters over what to do with the newly discovered alien technology.

In real life, there would be an endless rounds of committee meetings and memorandum as the bureaucracy tried hard to not do anything with the new technology. The original discoverers would die of old age long before a decision was made. Even without the byzantine processes, nothing would be done, as no one would know what to do with the alien technology. Anything that far advanced would be the product of a race with an entirely different evolutionary arc. No one would know why they created the technology.

That’s the part that gets left out of the science fiction version of the story. Technological advance often seems like leaps and bounds, but in the long run it is glacial. For example, plow design remained fairly crude into the 19th century, then all of sudden it advanced rapidly to what we know as the modern design. That great leap in technology was the result of the glacial advance in material science, economics and social organization that started in the Middle Ages. The plow was the result of that.

That alien discovered in the jungle would have been the result of a similarly long evolution of an unknown race of beings. Without that long arc, their technology would be like the final pages of a mystery novel, without the rest of the book or even the knowledge surrounding the book. At best, we would be able to guess at parts of the arc, but we would have no idea why the thing was created, so we would have no idea what to do with it. An example of this is the Antikythera mechanism.

Now, this is not advanced alien technology, but it is alien technology. The ancient Greeks are alien to us, not quite as alien as people from space, but we really can’t know that for sure. The Antikythera mechanism was discovered in the spring of 1901 and it took 70 years to begin to understand it. In 2008, researchers announced that it was an instrument for predicting astronomical positions, eclipses and for maintaining a calendar. They still don’t know all of it.

Now, if it took a century to puzzle through a piece of alien technology from 2500 years in our past, from a people about whom we know a lot, how long would it take to unravel advanced technology from a mysterious alien people? It is a pretty safe bet that the CIA has learned nothing from that crashed alien spaceship they keep at Area 51 in Nevada. Unless the aliens sent scientists trained in working with retarded people, we would have no way of figuring out where to start with the technology.

Now, what does this have to do with anything? Technological advance is a feedback loop within a society. It’s why technological advances can move from one people to a similar people, but they take a long time to work into alien cultures. Europe went through a rapid technological advance starting around 1500, racing ahead of the rest of the world. Much of what the West created did not make it into Asia and Africa until the 20th century. Advances in social organization remain alien to much of the world.

Now, imagine what happens when a people become too stupid to maintain the technology created by their ancestors. This is something that would be predicted by social cycle theory. As the ruling elites, the smart fraction, sees its fertility rate decline, the overall IQ of the people declines. There could reach a point where the society no longer has the social capital to maintain the social and material complexity created by their ancestors. At some point, their world becomes chimps flying airplanes.

Think of it this way. Imagine if tomorrow, everyone with a working knowledge of turbines died from some awful disease. We would still have smart people capable of learning about turbines, but they would have to learn it. They would also have to acquire the experience of working with turbines. It would take years before we had enough people able to work on and maintain existing turbines. By that point, the work needed to repair existing turbines would be massive. It may never get done at all.

Now, the evidence is strong that Europeans are getting dumber, and that is putting aside the issues related to immigration. In fact, the decline into stupidity may be accelerating. When you add in immigration by people with significantly lower intelligence than existing European people, the effect is an acceleration toward a much lower average IQ for Western nations. Again, this is predicted by social cycle theory to a degree, but also backed up by research into the subject by people like Ed Dutton.

The social instability of the West, things like the inability to control borders and the revival of primitive beliefs, promoted by female shamans, could very well be due to the decline of general intelligence. The people populating the machinery for running a modern Western society no longer possess the intelligence to properly operate the machinery. They are like those researchers who discovered alien technology, except our rulers, bureaucrats, and intellectuals are convinced they know how all of it works.

There is another angle to this. Take the financial system, which is probably the most automated system today. It has reached a level of complexity where no one person knows how all of it works. This is not just the narrow technological stuff. Transactions have reached a level of complexity where specialists focus on just one part. About 70 percent of overall trading volume is now generated through algorithmic trading. The markets are literally run by robots that no one fully understands.

As a result of this realty, like the science fiction movies, the world markets now have what amount to dead man switches. If the robots get out of control, the breakers put a halt to trading in order to give humans a chance to figure out what’s happening. This is a preview of what lies ahead for Western society as a best case scenario. The apparatus of the state will be kitted out with circuit breakers and dead man switches, not to control the algos, but the stupid people operating the machinery. It is apes flying planes.

A more likely scenario is something beyond anarcho-tyranny. Instead of the authoritarian institutions harassing citizens over petty matters and ignoring the serious issues they were designed to address, the machinery of society will slowly grind to a halt, as happened in post-colonial Africa. The organizational systems, not just the physical machinery, will become too complex for the people to master. As a result, we will enter a period of technological and social regression toward the new mean IQ.

Put another way, the society created by our ancestors of just a few generations ago is beyond the event horizon of our modern ruling and intellectual elites. The physical manifestations are all around us, but the cultural aptitude to create and maintain such a world is now beyond the reach of our elites. While they remain smarter and more sophisticated than the main body of citizens, they are relatively primitive compared to their ancestors and as a result we are ruled by people puzzled by their own inheritance.

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Privacy In The Technological State

Privacy is something that has become a front burner topic for everyone, because every day we are treated to stories about how corporations are spying on us. They harvest information from our daily routines, put it into databases and then use it to push ads on us wherever we turn. They are now inserting surveillance devices in our homes to listen in on us as we go about our daily routines. Of course, no one knows how much is done with government blessing and cooperation, but we know it is there.

Of course, the fact that everyone is worried about this issue means the politicians never speak of it. The old Joe Sobran line was that America is a country where the political parties are significantly to the Left of their voters. Today, when Left and Right are meaningless artifacts from a bygone era, both parties simply make sure to never address the concerns of the people. While Democrats are analyzing spectral evidence for signs of Russian gremlins, the GOP is thanking you for not smoking.

Even though it seems that the unwanted gaze is upon us everywhere, we are just at the start of a new problem. In the pre-industrial age, the privacy concern was the king’s men rummaging through your possessions or intercepting your courier. For most people this was never going to be a concern. In the industrial age, the state expanded to the point where everyone could be exposed to a government process. The concern then was your rights within the process. How much did you have to reveal to them?

In the technological age, where the lines between the state and the global technology companies are blurred, we have very different problems. These are the sorts of problems classical liberals, so beloved by libertarians and conservatives, never contemplated. It’s why civic nationalism sounds so ridiculous when debating what to do about these tech firms controlling our civil discourse. For example, this blog is blocked by corporate firewall makers, which are private companies doing the bidding of the political class.

Think about this. Police departments are now using services like Ancestory.com to help solve cold cases. They submit DNA evidence to the service and the service reports back members who have some connection. You committed the perfect crime in 1982, but left behind some DNA at the crime scene. Your cousin decides to trace her (it’s always a her in these cases) ancestry using a DNA service. All of a sudden you have cops at your door asking you about your whereabouts 40 years ago.

It’s easy to shrug this off as the person suddenly tangled in this new technological surveillance web is a criminal. We all want to see justice done. But, think about the implications of this new world. All of us now have a permanent record that is increasingly open to examination by unofficial agents of the state. How long before some tech company gets into the business of solving crimes? How long before the cops start purchasing their services on-line just like they are doing with ancestry?

There is another side to this. The tech companies can also spy on the state, by accessing the records of people working in the state. Every government has to keep secrets in order to function. It is why every modern society has developed processes for determining what can be revealed and what can be concealed by government. There are processes the public and government must follow and they are administered by the courts. What happens when the tech giants can bypass all of this?

Think of another problem. Before the media was completely owned by the government, private media operations would publish government secrets they thought the public had a right to see. It sounds crazy, but it used to happen. The courts carved out exceptions to permit this, basically putting the burden of keeping secrets on the state. Now, with help from technology, the state can fight back and go after the handful of independent media people snooping around government. This story will be interesting.

There are two problems we face in the technological age that are new. One is how to place hard limits on the synopticon. This unwanted stare called the surveillance state that is now on all of us will have to be blinded, unless there are hard limits on where anyone can peer into the lives of the people. In other words, it is no longer about the state and the citizens’ right to privacy. It is about society and the human right to a private space, free of the unwanted gaze. We will need absolute zones of privacy.

The other problem is how to fashion punishments that are so terrifying that they change behavior. What’s happened within these massive technology firms is the evolution of a culture where everyone sees themselves as a member of a clerisy, guarding the public from themselves. These decisions to ban books and censor speech are not made at the top, but in the middle, by functionaries doing what they assume is their duty. Either the firms are destroyed and the people chased off or we change the culture in them.

One way to change the culture is to attach liability to violating the safe zones. The reason every company in America spends money proving they are not racist is there are serious liabilities that come with doing otherwise. Something similar must happen with privacy. Companies need to be as berserk about not looking where they are prohibited from looking, as they are about conforming to current morality on race. Otherwise, the solution is to let a million flowers bloom in Silicon Valley.

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A New Ape In The Tree

It appears there is another ape in the neighborhood. Well, there was another ape and the neighborhood is the human family tree. Researchers have found parts of what they think is another species of human that lived roughly 50,000 years ago. The discovery was made in a cave on the island of Luzon, which is in the Philippines, a dozen years ago, but the announcement has just been made after years of research. There’s a lot of work to be done to figure out where this new species fits, but they seem sure it is a new species.

This is not the first time a new species has been found in the South Pacific. In 2004, Homo floresiensis was found on the island of Flores in Indonesia. They actually found quite a few skeletons, so they were able to more quickly figure out that it was a new species and not just some odd bits of an existing species. This was the one they nicknamed the hobbit, because the species stood about 4-feet tall as adults. Finding a second species of short people on another island adds another mystery to the human origin story.

That’s the real back story to these finds. For a very long time, the generally accepted narrative had modern Neanderthals leaving Africa first, followed by modern humans, who either out-competed or replaced Neanderthals. The out-of-Africa story not only fit the fossil record, but it fit the popular narratives of the modern West. The argument that people are all the same, except for the trivial differences in appearance, works a lot better when everyone has the same origin story. Recent data is calling that into question.

One important thing that these two discoveries confirm is something some have been denying for a long time. That is, evolution is recent and local. An important part of the important narrative has been that no real important changes in humans happened after our ancestors left Africa. These two finds make clear that evolution never stops and will accelerate when a species enters a new environment. In other words, humans not only kept evolving, they evolved to adapt to local conditions and local challenges.

Another issue raised by these finds is that there may have been many human species in Africa at the same time. It’s possible these bones are from another type of human that also made it out of Africa, settled on these islands and was cut-off. Genetics has found evidence of a “ghost” population in sub-Saharan Africans that does not exist in other humans. Just as Neanderthal DNA is found in Eurasians, but not Africans, this ghost population does not appear anywhere else. We may not all have the same ancestors.

The significant physical differences found in these skeletons confirms something else that has not always been popular. That is, small difference can have big differences downstream. In other words, having 99% of the same DNA may not mean the final product is 99% alike. These two species are dated to around the same time and most likely share a common recent ancestor, but small differences in their evolutionary history resulted in big differences in their appearance and big differences from their mainland relatives.

Of course, there is another aspect to a find like this. Any time new information undermines old assumptions, it calls into question other old assumptions. If the out-of-Africa narrative has been mostly wrong for decades, maybe it is just wrong. Maybe humans did not first appear in Africa, but maybe started to appear in several places. The evidence does not point this way, but maybe science has been looking in the wrong places for the wrong things, based on the old theory. Maybe there is many new chapters to the story.

More important, the evidence is mounting that a major claim of the ruling orthodoxy is flat out wrong. Science does not support their claims. Human evolution is real, it is recent and it is local. However humans got to Eurasia, whatever common ancestors they have with humans around the world, they started to change as soon as they settled in their new lands, in order to thrive in those new lands. The question is not how much are we the same, but rather how much are we different and how important is that now.

That’s what makes this an interesting age. Just as heliocentrism was seen as a threat to the prevailing orthodoxy, ancient DNA and the archaeological record is quickly becoming a challenge to the orthodoxy of this age. In fact, the current orthodoxy may be much more fragile than what Galileo faced 500 years ago. The organization of Europe did not depend on the sun revolving around the earth. Even the authority of the Church was not dependent on that model. Christian Europe was not invalidated by the telescope.

In this age, differences in origin stories and differences in evolutionary history will cripple our civic religion. You can’t claim people are amorphous blobs, if evolution is true, and you cannot claim all people are biologically equal if they are not. Further, the true believers cannot claim the mantle of science, if their beliefs are in conflict with science. The church of the secular Left is not just wrong about a few things, it turns out that its reason to exist is entirely false. That’s like discovering Christ never existed.

Spooky Stuff

One of the things that make dystopian science fiction fun for the audience is the understanding that it will never happen. It could happen, but only a long time in the future, when everyone seeing the warning is dead. Worst case, the “boot stomping the face” stuff happens when you’re ready to kick the bucket, so you’ll live to see it, but never really have to experience it. This adds a camp fire quality to it, allowing the creator to lay it on a bit thick to make his points. Horror movies often work the same way.

The same is true about doom and gloom in public commentary. The market predictor guy on TV, who thinks the market is about to tank, is not getting much traction if he claims a mild downturn is coming. If he warns that fire will rain down from the sky and Lucifer will rise from his pit somewhere on Wall Street, then people pay attention. The people consuming such content do so with an understanding that it’s not really going to be that bad, but it is kind of fun pretending it will be as you stock up on MRE’s.

You see this with the bogeyman of AI and his posse called automation. Any day now, so the story goes, the algorithms will come alive, enslave the population and replace every job with a robot. What usually follows, depending upon your inclination, is either the libertarian fantasy of a world where everyone smokes weed and plays hacky-sack or the dystopian sci-fi vision of a world like The Matrix or The Terminator. Most people assume it will not happen, but it is fun to pretend it will happen.

Of course, the one thing that rarely gets mentioned is that the future is never the nightmare people imagine. We know this because we are currently living in the nightmarish future imagined in the past. Orwell’s 1984 was nothing like our 1984. In fact, our 1984 was a lot better than Orwell’s 1948. London was still in rubble at the point. Food was still limited and general living standards were poor. Relative to life in 1984 London, life in 1948 was about as bad as Orwell imagined forty years or so on the future.

Probably the most relevant test case we have for this is 20th century Marxism. China and Russia underwent massive social experiments attempting to usher in the Marxist future of a worker’s paradise. At times, life was pretty awful for people in both countries. The purges of Stalin and the Cultural Revolution of Mao were dystopian nightmares for many of the people at the time. Yet, most buggered their way through. Their present was not our future. Instead, our future and theirs was our present, which is not so bad.

Still, the example of China and Russia show that even though things tend to work out for humanity in the long run, the short run can be quite terrible. It means were probably better off worrying about what’s right in front of us, rather than what lies far down the road. A good example is what is coming from behavioral science and genetics. The former is about establishing statistical patterns of human behavior in order to model it. The latter is about finding genes to explain the features of life, including human life.

On the behavioral side, China’s social credit system is a great example of the spooky future stuff happening in the present. The same tools China is using are now being applied to social media and public discourse in the West. The British cop sent out to investigate an offensive tweet is applying the same techniques China is using when they throttle internet access of dissidents. It’s a combination of shame and reduced access, intended to alter the behavior of people viewed as disruptive.

The Twitter cops are not just people sitting around reading tweets. The social media giants are using techniques from behavioral science to narrow the focus to those most likely to be a problem. China’s social credit system works the same way. It’s not predicative in the narrow sense, but more of a profile. When the cumulative score of someone’s activity reaches a certain point, they gets closer examination. The social media giants use this same approach to throttle users with the so-called shadow ban.

On the genetics side of the dystopian present, this will become increasingly common as the science gets better and cheaper. Future parents will soon have a chance to increase their child’s cognitive score, so to speak, rather than leave it to chance. What parent would not want their child to be smart or tall or handsome? If science can increase the odds of that happening, people will embrace it. Think of it this way. If science could tell you which fertilized egg was most likely to be the best, which would you choose?

Of course, Stephen Hsu cannot guarantee your child will be a genius. In fact, he can’t guarantee anything as no such guarantee is enforceable. His clients will not know if his technique worked until their child is well along in development and no one is going to enforce a return policy for children. That said, it is not about guarantees. It is about probabilities. What these techniques offer is better odds of getting the best genetic mix from the parents. It’s like moving closer to the target at the shooting range.

If that’s not enough, genetic research is slowing moving toward a time when minor corrections after the fact are possible. It’s unlikely, highly unlikely, that science will ever be able to rewrite the code of a living human, but they are starting to tinker. These techniques will no doubt be applied to artificial insemination, in combination with what Stephen Hsu is offering. Pick the best embryo, make a few tweak and the odds of your child being a combination of the best his parents contributed goes way up.

None of this is part of some dystopian future. It is spooky stuff happening right now. The most worrisome is probably the stuff coming from behavior science, as it allows for that dystopian future, where the authorities act as puppet masters. The genetics stuff is less spooky and less worrisome for now. Still, the point is we have plenty of monsters walking around in the present. If we want to be worried or have a reason to put away some more MRE’s, you just have to spend time on Twitter or talk to Stephen Hsu.

Revolt of the Machines

One of the great unanswered questions in science is how did the first building blocks of life arise from the primordial soup of early earth. It is believed that before even the simplest of life forms existed, earth was something like a thin stew that was getting thicker as more complex chemicals formed. At some point, and no one knows how, the first DNA molecules formed. The prevailing theory is that the first genetic molecule was a primitive form of RNA, which evolved into more complex RNA and then DNA.

No one knows how this could happened only that it did happen. The proof of which is all around us, including in the mirror. Life exists and it is based in DNA. Further, RNA is created from DNA to put that information to work, like controlling the creation of proteins and performing other chemical functions. How DNA became the code of life, while RNA, its predecessor, became its tool, is a great mystery in science. It is the question J.F. Gariepy tackles in his book The Revolutionary Phenotype.

Gariepy or “JF” as he is known by his fans, is an enigmatic YouTube personality, known for his willingness to talk with anyone. He has had everyone from science deniers to holocaust deniers on his show, as well as lots of normal people. His YouTube career is recent, as until 2017 he was a neurobiologist and post-doctoral researcher at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences. In this book, he endeavors to explain the origin of life 4 billion years ago and predict the end of DNA-based life on earth.

One of the challenges facing writers of science books for a general audience is they must first simplify the presentation. It’s not that the audience is dumb, but that they are unfamiliar with the jargon and unfamiliar with the way people in science communicate information through mathematics. A book full of complex proofs and splatter charts is not going to be popular with most readers. Gariepy gets past this first obstacle by sticking with a straight forward narrative format that is easy to follow.

The second challenge for science writers is to follow the old rule about essay writing that kids learn in school. The book should always be like a woman’s swimsuit; big enough to cover the important parts, but small enough to keep it interesting. This is probably a good rule for all writing in this age. Thanks to the internet and cable television, everyone’s attention span has collapsed. Gariepy gets past this hurdle, as the book is just 138 pages and written in a brisk style that makes for easy reading.

The question is, of course, does Gariepy deliver on his promise to explain the origin of life and how it will end. The answer is an unequivocal maybe. On the positive side, he does a very good job of explaining one possible narrative for how primitive RNA evolved into RNA and then DNA. He offers up an interesting theory as to how DNA came to be the master and RNA the slave, which is an important event in the history of life. The presentation here is a nice primer for the general reader on the basics of genetic theory.

What really works here is his use of simple concepts that he stacks together to explain more complex ideas. For example, describing the relationship between your genes and your body as something like the relationship between a machine operator and the machine, is useful in understanding why our bodies will evolve over time. Our body is there to serve our genes, so any innovation that is better for our DNA is adopted, while changes that are not useful are discarded. Our body is a vehicle for DNA.

The negative here is that the language and analogies don’t always work. Using the office printer to explain how gene mutation works is clever, but calling it a trickster printer will give the American reader the wrong impression. The same is true for his use of the phrase “fool replicator.” This is probably a language issue, as Gariepy is French. The word trickster and fool have different connotations to French speakers than they do to English speakers, especially Americans, who think tricksters and fools are immoral.

Another complaint about the book, and one of the trade-offs with brevity, is it assumes the reader has recently read Daniel Dennet and Richard Dawkins. In fact, it is probably a good idea to read The Selfish Gene before reading this book, as Gariepy refers to it extensively in the first third of the book. Again, this is the trade-off that comes from brevity and summarizing the material for a general audience. In this case, it is a minor complaint and it does not ruin the book or invalidate his arguments.

The final complaint about the book is that he spends 80% of the text explaining the transition from simple RNA molecules to the complex DNA-based life. That’s about 100 pages, which is a great short primer on a difficult to understand subject. The rest of the book is a dash to the finish line, explaining how the rise of artificial intelligence spells the end of DNA-based life. There’s a strong impression that this part was rushed in order to get the book done and ready for sale. The book sort of ends with a thud.

Without giving too much away, Gariepy argues that RNA used DNA as sort of a bank vault for its code base. When it needed to copy itself, it did so from that copy stored in the DNA molecule. Eventually, the DNA molecule was able to replicate itself, without help from its RNA master. This set off a battle between RNA and DNA, which DNA won, turning RNA into its servant. This same process is about to happen with artificial intelligence, as AI becomes self-aware and able to self-replicate.

That sounds like the premise of a lot of science fiction stories, but it is both an interesting entry point to understanding artificial intelligence and the dynamic between environment, humans and man’s ability to alter his environment. There’s enough there for another book and maybe that’s the plan, but Gariepy only gives it about twenty pages and it felt very rushed. Given his YouTube audience, most of his readers are more interested in how life ends, rather than how it begins. They will undoubtedly feel a bit cheated.

Overall, the first half of the promise, to tell the story of how life began, works pretty well for the intended audience. It’s not a research paper or a bold new hypothesis to explain the origin of life. It is more of a summary of current thinking in a style that the general reader can follow and understand. The second promise could have worked, but it needed a fuller treatment than what Gariepy delivers. Otherwise, it is a book worth reading, if you have an interest in evolutionary biology or the origins of life on earth.

Technology And Social Trust

People working in criminal law have been saying for years that Hollywood’s portrayal of forensic evidence has made it more difficult to prosecute criminals. They call it the “CSI Effect” named after a TV police drama. It is where jurors demand comprehensive forensic evidence, which effectively raises the burden of proof in criminal cases. Instead of eye witness testimony placing a suspect at the crime scene, jurors now expect physical evidence and testimony from an expert on the use of DNA to identify the suspect.

There’s no data to support this observation, but it is something that gets said a lot on TV, so everyone believes it. The increased expectation of what science can do has effectively raised the standard of proof. Another way to look at this is better technology has lowered the standard of trust. It used to be that people could trust themselves to judge the testimony of a witness. They could count on citizens being honest to them. Now, they want physical proof before taking the word of anyone in criminal court.

Of course, now that people in the legal system think this phenomenon is true, they operate on the assumption that no one will take anyone’s word for anything. That means the state invests in high tech forensic labs and pays a lot of experts to testify to jurors in criminal trials about the physical evidence. On the other side, the defense thinks simply being innocent is not enough, so they require experts and private labs to both provide an objective denial of guilt, as well as a counter to the state’s battery of experts.

It is a great example of how new technology can have unexpected results when introduced into a complex system like the criminal justice system. The underlying assumption of our system is that regular citizens can weigh the evidence and decide the guilt or innocence of the accused. Now the assumption is no one can weigh the evidence, other than specially trained experts. Technology has conjured into reality the idea of the fair witness from Stranger in a Strange Land.

The courtroom is not the only place where technology is causing us to lose faith in our senses. The advent of the hyperlink has made it so that any controversial assertion on-line is assumed to be false if it does not have a link to an authoritative source. In every on-line community you see demands for links to authoritative sources, whenever there is a dispute over something. These appeals to a neutral authority correspond to a decline in the lack of trust between people. It’s not true unless you have a link.

Something similar may be happening in the news. Take the Jussie Smollett incident in Chicago. Exactly no one believed him, because there was no video and no corroboration from a neutral technology source, like a cell phone camera. As soon as the cops revealed they could not find confirmation on their surveillance cameras, everyone just assumed it must be a hoax. There were plenty of doubters to begin with, given the number of prior hoaxes, but even the gullible are now expecting proof from technology.

The proliferation of cameras and now listening devices on public streets means it is increasingly difficult to do anything without being seen. Even if that is not true, it is assumed to be true. That means if there is no video, it did not happen. It also means if there is no video, there is no investigation, as the cops will soon figure out that it is waste of time to investigate crimes unless you can get video. The criminal mastermind of the future will be the guy who figures out how to avoid being identified by CCTV.

Another way the proliferation of technology changes social trust is seen on the college campus. In order to avoid being accused of rape, males now tape their interactions with coeds. They may have a buddy record audio so they can prove the encounter was consensual. Young people are growing up to expect everything to be recorded and to not trust anyone unless they can see video or hear audio. People mock the idea of getting consent in writing, but that’s probably better than everyone taping their encounters.

The other side of this coin is the casual way in which people allow themselves to be recorded by others. Every internet drama seems to involve one party publishing chats, video or audio of another party. Super villain Jeff Bezos is an obvious example. He broke the cardinal rule of super villains. Never write when you can speak. Never speak when you can nod. Most important, never send pics of you wiener to people. He was cavalier about being recorded and now is the world’s silliest super villain.

The result of all this is two things. One is the total lack of privacy. The only place that will be safe for anyone to imagine bad things is in their own head. When the internet of things is quietly spying in every home, car and public place, there will no longer be the concept of privacy. Imagine a land where there are no walls and no clothes. Everyone walks around naked and in full view of everyone else. It sounds crazy, but people adapt. The citizens of the future custodial state will get used to a word without privacy.

The other thing is no one will take anyone’s word for anything. This will include people in authority. If you can’t trust your own senses, you’re unlikely to trust the senses of some guy on television claiming to be your leader. Civic duty will have to be replaced with some form of coercion. Perhaps nudge technology will reach a point where the nudged will think they are acting of their own free will. Maybe the people in charge will fit everyone with a WiFi enabled technology collar that ties them into the internet of things.

It is assumed that technological advance always improves the material world. It certainly seems that way. It’s possible, however, that the trade-off for technological advance is the decline in social trust, maybe even a decline in empathy. In order for these new technologies to thrive, people have to abandon their ability to share the feelings of others and maybe even abandon their sense of self. The future will be a world of indifferent automatons, living in glass houses, under the eye of the state.