Pride in self, and what self is

In the post below I was clearly poking fun at people who I believe are unseemly in their espousal of group identity and pride in that identity. I did not though imply that all such pride and affinity is unseemly. There are two issues. One is endogenous, and one is exogenous. The endogenous one is of values. People exhibit a range of natural or learned disposition in terms of their individualism. I for example have minimal interest in group affinity in a deep and fundamental sense, as I think so little of the human race as a whole. I’d rather focus on improving myself than spending a great deal of time exploring and reflecting my “heritage” because it is my heritage. For me my grandparents were an accident of birth. Other people can take a different perspective because they are different.

The second issue is exogenous, and that is one of context. This is more intelligible in terms of religion. Below Zack expressed the wish that a co-religionist should not appeal to God in making an argument. This is a matter of public reason. I don’t believe in God, so not only does an appeal to a non-existent primitive superstition not move me, but it might distract me. It is also unseemly that an individual interpose their primitive superstition into a serious argument. On the other hand if the argument is aimed at those whom you can be assured are theists then it seems eminently reasonable to use language which nods to one’s theistic presuppositions. More narrowly, if your audience consists of Christians, speak of Jesus. If they consist of Muslims, speak of Muhammad and Allah. One of the main issues I have with Islam is that Muslims are not always trained in the West that the religious chauvinism that they take for granted in their barbaric cultures of origin are not acceptable in the public forum. The only religionists who speak about their faith in specific and effusive terms in the United States as Muslims are evangelical Christians, and their mode of interposing religion into the public discussion has been a major source of political and social conflict.

I think the lesson when it comes to ethnic or community pride is the same. Within the ethnos or community pride can be healthy and taken in stride. But in a more mixed gathering it often is seen to be farcical posturing. Additionally many individualists like myself often stereotype the sorts who prattle on about their group identity as losers who have no individual excellence to appeal to. No offense, but my experience is that the Jews who talk constantly about the accomplishments of their nation in domains such as Nobel Prize awards are the Jews who are the least likely of all to ever attain the level of achievement worthy of any recognition.

True excellence is understated.

The “law school scam” media bubble

If you’re like me you have friends and acquaintances who want to go to law school. I often respond sarcastically that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” There have long been “law school scam” blogs, but it seems that right now there’s a veritable bubble in media reports on exactly how law schools are screwing their students. Remember, law school debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

First, an article in The New Republic, Served: How law schools completely misrepresent their job numbers:

When we take temporary employment into account, it appears that approximately 45 percent of 2010 graduates of this particular top-50 law school had real legal jobs nine months after graduation. And the overall number is likely lower, since it seems probable that the temporary employment figures for the graduates of almost any top 50 school would be better than the average outcome for the graduates of the 198 ABA-accredited law schools as a whole.

Even this grim figure, however, may be unduly optimistic. All these statistics are based on self-reporting, and neither law schools nor NALP audit the data they publish. In the course of my research, I audited a representative sample of individual graduate responses and …

“Out of Africa” vs. “Multi-regionalism” revisited

A few months ago I exchanged some emails with Milford H. Wolpoff and Chris Stringer. These are the two figures who have loomed large in paleoanthropology and the origins of modernity human for a generation, and they were keen in making sure that their perspectives were represented accurately in the media. To further that they sent me some documents which would lay out their perspective, in their own words, and away from the public glare (as in, they’re academic publications).

Here is Wolpoff’s 1984 manifesto of sorts of ‘Multi-regionalism.’ Much of the morphological material is totally opaque to me, but the basic evolutionary logic is rather clear. Stringer sent me two documents, a scientific paper and a more personal chapter of a book. These works predate recent developments, so they are of interest from a history of thought perspective.

I’m not one of the personalities at the heart of this debate obviously. There are hard feelings here. Wolpoff indicated to me that he still has issues with Stringer, despite reports that there was some sort of reconciliation. But one of the things that is really evident to me to reading through this material is …

The loss of sacred belief?

Over at the Less Wrong blog there is a post, So You’ve Changed Your Mind. This portion caught my attention:

So you’ve changed your mind. Given up your sacred belief, the one that defined so much of who you are for so long.

You are probably feeling pretty scared right now.

I reflected and realized that the various issues where I’ve held relatively strong opinions and then changed my mind were generally cases where I relied on received wisdom, looked more closely, and felt that there was some misrepresentation among the orthodox gatekeepers of wisdom. But there’s one “big” issue that I guess I have changed my mind: I used to view all utility calculations on the scale of the individual, and accepted that all entities above or below the scale of the individual were useful only as a means toward individual well being. I probably wouldn’t defend this position anymore, though I think it has a logical coherency and may still be viable in some places and times. I’m not a “communitarian” or anything like that, rather, I have an impulse to just disavow these sorts of formal constructions of how best to attain and maintain human happiness in a time and …

The soft twilight of monarchies

Years ago I took a course on Tudor and Stuart England. Its primary focus was more on social and cultural aspects of British society at the time, rather than diplomatic history. Later I took an interest in the England of the Civil War era. One thing that struck me was the unquestioned acceptance of monarchy in the minds of the people, from high nobility to low commoner. Like the Romans before the Visigothic sack in the early 5th century these were a people who could not imagine a world any different than the one they had known. That is one of the things which made the execution of Charles I so shocking to many contemporaries. Myself, I was tacitly indoctrinated in American republicanism as a child. Films like the The Patriot grow in the rich soil of the same cultural environment which gave rise to the phenomenon of the antagonists in Roman era films speaking with British accents while the protagonists had robust American drawls. As I spent my formative years on the fringes of of New England there was particular pride taken in that region’s early role …

Open Thread – 4/30/2011

I haven’t had these for a while. Following a request from the new year I’ve been mulling how to write up Population Structure and Eigenanalysis in an intelligible manner to the general readership. Still kind of at an impasse. On a logistical note, my email address is really getting on way too many mailing lists. If you want a prompt response from me twitter might be best, at least until I get overwhelmed by the noise on that service and move on to something else….

Make your voice heard on genetic testing

Over the past few days some friends have started receiving their results from 23andMe’s last sale (others have put me on notice to inform them of the next discount window). This brings me to thinking about direct-to-consumer genetic testing, and the legal and technological framework in which we live. In relation to the former thanks to Daniel Vorhaus the F.D.A. has reopened the public docket on this issue, until May 2nd. So Monday. The best way to submit is online, and reference docket ID FDA-2011-N-0066. I believe this direct link to the submission page should work as well. You obviously know my opinion. Here are some sample submissions. You can also see the submissions so far at this address. Some of them are quite succinct: “FDA let people access their genetic information since it’s one of basic right of human being.”

Dr. Daniel MacArthur has more sage commentary, as usual.

Have a good weekend!

Beauty in deep shades of brown

In the comments below there was a reference to the fact that most Bollywood actresses have a certain look. In particular, the look of someone like Katrina Kaif. The “dark skinned” actresses such as Bipasha Basu aren’t even dark skinned by Indian standards (a major caveat here is that make-up can change skin tone, so Basu might be much swarthier without make-up than with). The Persian or Mediterranean appearance of many Indian actresses is always noted by outsiders. In contrast, someone like British Indian actress Parminder Nagra (who is of Jatt background from what I have heard for what it’s worth) looks indubitably Indian.

After a commenter pointed out that the paucity of Dalits in Bollywood I was curious and resorted to Google. I found basically nothing of note. Why? Are people who are dark skinned or lack sharp features naturally ugly? Some South Asians do believe so (they express the opinion in comments). And that’s fine, people are entitled to their opinions. But I would offer something interesting that I’ve stumbled onto years ago: very poor people are ugly. That sounds harsh, but I came to this conclusion by skimming through Daughter of the Ganges, a memoir by a woman who was adopted by a Spanish family from India. In the memoir she tracked down her birth family in a rural village in Maharashtra. There were some plates. The comparison between between the author and her sister, who were not far apart in age, was shocking. To not put too fine a point on it, the author has a good face for being a female memoirist with cross-cultural appeal (granted, her face and her features are of the normal range for the modal South Asian). Her sister, from what I recall, looked far older than her years and would frankly be classed as repulsive if you saw her walking down the street. Why? The same genes expressed in different environments.

The royal wedding and outbreeding

In the wake of the post from earlier this week on the inbreeding within the House of Windsor (and current lack thereof), Luke Jostins, a subject of the British monarch, has a nice informative post up, Inbreeding, Genetic Disease and the Royal Wedding. This tidbit is of particular interest:

In fact, eleventh cousins is a pretty low degree of relatedness, by the standard of these things. A study of inbreeding in European populations found that couples from the UK are, on average, as genetically related as 6th cousins (the study looked at inbreeding in Scots, and in children of one Orkadian and one non-Orkadian. No English people, but I would be very suprised if we differed significantly). 6th cousins share about 0.006% of their DNA, and thus have about a 0.06% chance of developing a genetic disease via a common ancestor. Giving that the Royal Family are better than most at genealogy, we can probably conclude that the royal couple are less closely related than the average UK couple, and thus their children are less likely than most to suffer from a genetic disease. Good news for them, bad news for geneticists, perhaps?

That’s an interesting flip side of aristocratic …