Genetics of taste

Article here for those interested in the genetics of taste (kind of old, 1998). Here are some interesting points:

The incidence of taste blindness to PTC/PROP varies around the world, from 3% in western Africa to >40% in India (see MIM 171200). Approximately 30% of the adult Caucasian population of North America are taste blind to PTC/PROP (i.e., are nontasters) and 70% are tasters.

Capsaicin, the compound responsible for the oral burn of chili pepper, is more intensely hot to PROP tasters than to nontasters (Bartoshuk et al. 1994; Tepper and Nurse 1997).

If liking of chili was closely linked with PROP-taster status, then areas of the world where chili is widely consumed would have a high frequency of nontasters in the population.

I am a non-taster and a confirmed chili pepper addict. Please note that the original article makes clear that spice is also an acquired taste (your own ceiling goes up with usages).

Here is an article on spice:

… why do spices taste good? Traits that are beneficial are transmitted both culturally and genetically, and that includes taste receptors in our mouths and our taste for certain flavors. People who enjoyed food with antibacterial spices probably were healthier, especially in hot climates. They lived longer and left more offspring….

Accordingly, countries like Thailand, the Philippines, India and Malaysia are at the top of the hot climate-hot food list, while Sweden, Finland and Norway are at the bottom. The United States and China are somewhere in the middle, although the Cornell researchers studied these two countries’ cuisines by region and found significant latitude-related correlations.

Abstract for the original article.

Posted by razib at 07:27 PM

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In Praise of Patterns

Caveat, this is a rough draft, but it’s been a rough draft for weeks. I just don’t have the time to flesh out everything right now, but I thought I’d submit it before my previous post was forgotten. The general points are pretty obvious, I encourage readers to offer more.

A few weeks ago I asked readers if they knew the definitions of induction and deduction. I really wasn’t interested in how many people knew the definitions, or how many people didn’t, or how many responded. I was curious actually about the ratio between those who knew only one definition. Here is what I found:

4 people knew only the definition for induction.
13 people knew only the definition for deduction.

I was expecting this. In part, one might think that Sherlock Holmes skewed this, but I did offer both definitions, and requested that readers answer with those definitions in mind.

My working hypothesis is that we live in an age where induction, generalizing from data sets, is problematic and suspect. On the other hand, deduction is not as verboten.

When people say:
You can’t generalize!
That’s just statistics!

They are attacking inductive ways of teasing out information from sets of data, even if they don’t know the term induction (much of statistics is formalizing induction). On the other hand, I don’t believe that deductive models are in such disrepute a priori, though they might disagree with the specific model, the intellectual public does not believe that the method is discredited as a whole (I used the term intellectual public, because the “common man” has less of a problem with induction-though that is probably a lagging indicator in my opinion).

So why did induction go into such disrepute? My reasoning is a bit confused because I don’t think there is a deductive model that is tightly constricted that can elaborate a linear causative chain, rather, there are a variety of factors, some of them logically conflicting, that have likely led to the decline of induction.

I-The prestige of natural science:

This might seem a very peculiar factor. But I think there is something to it. Human beings seem to have certain mental modules. We have a “natural” idea of numbers, of physics, etc. It is our “common sense,” which we all share (barring brain damange or a Post-Modern education).

What do we do when “common sense” conflicts with science? Today, we often look beyond our intuition. Some of the “common sense” reasons trotted out against rocket propulsion for instance seem ludicrous in hindsight.

Example: Space flight can not work because there is nothing for the exhaust to “push” against.

That might seem a funny example, and in a pre-Newtonian age, it might make sense, but the above quote was, I believe, from the early 20th century! Our “mental modules” were refined in the context of rather low velocities, and of course, drag and friction can be confusing when trying to simplify physical models. 300 years after Newton, his physics makes sense, but some of it does seem to defy “common sense” when we first encounter it as children. This is because our “natural physics” starts out with certain variables (eg; drag) and parameters (eg; low velocity) that when stripped away, reveal a set of general laws which might at first blush seems to be new and surprising.

I could go on in this vein, but Newtonian physics is very convetional when set against General Relativity. Everyone knows most of the “paradoxes” that are involved in high velocites or gravities, so I won’t repeat them here, but it is important to note that Relativity is still a classical theory that is accessible to common sense when you make a few assumptions and strip away your conventional variables and parameters.

The big problem I think comes when you hit Quantum Theory.

A week ago I was having dinner with a friend when I presented this hypothesis. His response was: “I know Quantum Theory and it kind of makes sense, I don’t see how it would make people reject common sense or induction.” But I have left a piece of information out: my friend does work in photonics at M.I.T..

If you type Quantum into Amazon you get a lot of stuff. It seems to come in three main classes:
1) Conventional texts for the scientist.
2) Popular works attempting to “demystify” the field for the lay person.
3) Popular works attempting to further “mystify” topics by appealing to the weirdness of the Quantum World.

Schrödinger’s Cat has smeared its way through philosophy and now has found a home in spirituality and pop culture.

There are only a few things that people who haven’t taken some Quantum Physics courses will know about it:

1) It’s weird & defies “common sense.”
2) It describes the world’s “basic building blocks.”
3) It’s had practical applications, so you can’t dismiss it as pie-in-the-sky weirdness (superstring theory anyone?).

But, it is strange that I am saying that this undermines induction, because Quantum Theory is statistical and destroyed the deterministic universe of classical physics [on micro-scale] (the “God does not play dice” quote by Einstein is a jab at Quantum Theory). Quantum Theory “works,” and the results popped out by the equations predict the data, but we may always be ignorant of the irreducible Ground of Being or whatever you want to call it.

To sum up this point, the counter-intuitive results of natural science can sometimes be used against those who wish to generalize from data sets a *rough & ready model* that does not dot all the i’s. This ignores the fact that science itself is inductive, insofar as observations of data and hypothesis generation that lead to deductive models are crucial pieces of the puzzle.

II-The rise of “Theory”:

First, I would like to refer readers to Fashionable Nonsense or The Killing of History. Both cover the rise of “Theory” very well.

Since the 1960s there has been a rise in the Academy of theories like Post-Structuralism, Post-Colonialism, Feminist Theory, etc. etc. They are part of the broad family that detractors often term Post-Modernist. Their basic mode is deductive. They make a few core assumptions, for instance:
The male-female power struggle is central
The Western-non-Western power struggle is central
The Linear-non-Linear power struggle is central

etc. etc. etc.

You get the basic point. In many ways it is reminiscent of Marxism, all the data can fit into a central paradigm that reappears in all manifestations of human culture, literature, etc. etc.

Unlike the Marxists, from where I stand, the Post-Modernists tend not to make a show of adding corrective factors when facts do not fit theory. Where Marxists might attempt to explain why 19th century theories that were not predictive (Communism did not succeed in advanced capitalist nations) by adding new layers of theory, the Post-Modernists often hew strictly to the paradigm and re-shape “facts” to theory.

This where it gets very confusing, because most Post-Modernists love “quotations” because they emphasize “subjectivity” to the point where “solipsism” is a central virtue. My truth is my, your truth is your truth, and so forth. In practice of course, most Post-Modernists seem to behave so that their truth is their Truth and and their truth is your Truth.

A method that began as a correction on skewing of facts due to personal interpretation has compounded itself to the point that it is cannibalizing the object of study itself, “facts,” in pursuit of stream-lining the method. It is as if the function f(x) = y is far more fascinating than the x or the y!

This resembles science and engineering in a fashion in that generalized techniques are crucial, and the functions, models, are the true holy grails, with facts and discoveries being supporting players (discoveries in fact being the models!). But, the important part of science is falsification, and the extra addendum, that subjectivity is paramount, means that Post-Modernists tend to neglect this part of the equation (it’s not “false,” rather, you are using a certain mental mode that makes it seem false!).

Subjectivity, the rise of Truths, and implied facts from the propositions that issue out of these truths, has resulted in the overturning of “common sense,” insofar as the latter has a rough congruency with reality, and can be corrected or refined by reality (science). If you assume for instance that ideas, and social constructions, are the central organizing principles of the universe, then the following statement becomes very interesting:

Men are physically stronger than women.

The above is a “common sense” assertion, but when you strip away the precedence of facts, and look at the way the facts are stitched together, you see something different from what is visible at face value. For instance:

1) This individual believes that “Men” and “Women” are “objective” categories.
2) This individual thinks that one can make an assertion of “physical” “strength”.
3) This individual believes that “Men” and “Women” are separate from the self-perception of the individuals in question, rather, they can make the assertion and set the terms of debate.
4) What does the word “stronger” mean? After all, “women” tend to give birth, while men do not, who is “stronger?”

(by the way, the most common refutation of this assertion that I encountered in college was a girl saying, “I know men weaker than me!” You can fill in the rest of the conversation)

Blah, blah. You get the point. There are a few tendencies that I am illustrating above (oops! Imposing my world-view again!).

1) Ignore what the person says, analyse how they say it.
2) Analyze the interrelationships between words, and tweak meanings and see how the function pops out something different (ignore the fact that the person making the assertion has specific meanings in mind).
3) Undermine the generalization by fiddling with definitions and finding exceptions outside of the set defined by the definition that you concocted.
4) Generalize-on-the-sly (using words like “tend”) when it supports you insofar as it is aligned with an obvious bedrock Truth (patriarchy is bad, whites are oppressive, etc.).

Why can people get away with this?

1) Science is confusing and difficult to comprehend, but it works! So, the fact that “Theory” is confusing and difficult to comprehend does not mean it is invalid.
2) It is easy tear down (“deconstruct”), while to build is really hard.
3) It gives Total Truths. It is a religion and science analog (religion giving moral Total Truths while there is a perception that science gives Total Truths, when in fact it is far more provisional and inductive in practice than the end result that the public will see).
4) The Total Truths can be made to dove-tail well with politics.


III-Politics is easier without induction and generalization

Prong #2 is mostly an Ivory-Tower phenom. You encounter it in college all the time. For instance, here is a real-life example of the kind of thinking that I believe is caused by prong #2.

1) Friend asserts that there are few Asians at his college.
2) I assert that that might be a function of his liberal arts major, as Asians tend to focus on business or science.
3) Someone responds, “My roommate is Asian and is an English major. So your assertion is false.”
4) Didn’t they understand tend, or trend, or pattern?

In political/ideological debates, a deductive model of thinking is very useful, because you are sure about your position once you flesh out the truth implications (I know, I used to be a pretty rabid libertarian! Facts be damned, I know the Truth, that’s all that matters!). If that deductive model is under your control, so you can assert the axioms, all the better! The subjectivity of PoMo thought has recently been brought to the service of Left thinking. After all, if ideas, and deductive models from On-High are what matter, social engineering is a lot easier.


Trends, like:
Women focus on the home, men on the workplace.
Gay men are a small minority.
Some level of xenophobia is universal.
War is pretty universal.
etc. etc.

Can be discarded as “social constructions,” illusions caused by subjectivity. But what do you replace it with? After all, that leads to nihilism…well, they have a deductive model for you. Of course, there are axiomatic issues with this (subjectivity, truth claims, how do they go together? It’s like the logical positivist “verification principle,” you can’t verify the verification principle!). But politics, like inductive generalization, is messy enough that it can accept the contradictions.

The trend (oh, that word again!) is moving past Leftism and into the Right and general society:
Gays are socially constructed (yay! let’s change them!).
Social pathologies like pornography are the result of improper inputs.
Male promiscuity is the result of our immoral culture.
Evolutionary theory is a social construct of secular humanists!

On the level of the street, this sort of thinking, which rejects generalizations that do not make deterministic predictions, manifests itself in issues like racial profiling. People are terrified of being “incorrect,” and generalizations are out. In private they might give in to their vice of making predictions based on facts they see around them, from their perspective, but in public, they will assent to all sorts of ludicrous assertions so as not to seem Wrong-Thinking.

Also, let me bring up a point about statistics. The phrase, “It’s just statistics!” I think comes from the fact that most of the time we see statistics, it is a government or advocacy organization brandishing it to “prove” something. They tend to be shorn away from context, and framed through selection bias, omission of important information like standard deviation, mean vs. median, mode, etc. or proper description of how the events are recorded (for instance, “50% of marriages end in divorce” sounds a lot different from “the majority of people who get married do not divorce, but a minority that do marry do so multiple times , so the total number of marriages ending in divorce is around 50%”).

The importance of the utility of method:

Method is important. But, it is important in the context of what it gives you. Is it a proper model of reality? Does it allow you build a bridge that won’t collapse? Will it allow you catch airplane hijackers?

We are swarmed by data, we meet more people in a week than our ancient ancestors might have met in a lifetime, our mental modules are just not up to the task of dealing with the modern world without some effort and extension of its capacities through first aproximations. We need helpers, science, statistics, etc., ways of simplifying the bewildering complexity that is smashed against us every day.

That very complexity means that we might never be able to dot all the i’s. We might have to deal with first aproximations, provisional models, and some fuzzy and sloppy conclusions. They aren’t a reflection of the problems with technique, as much as with the complexity of the world around us (you know the saying, physics is so cool & easy because it is simple while sociology is difficult because it is so
complex. Yeah, you read that right!).

There are some things that our brains are good at. Thinking is one. Computation isn’t. A computer can take in some truths and split out results like it’s magic. On the other hand, human brains are excellent pattern detectors, with analysis capacity to sift the patterns if we so choose. We will make mistakes. But not availing ourselves of the one mental module that is still pretty state-of-the-art is pretty stupid.

Of course, that’s just an opinion!

Posted by razib at 03:13 PM

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The Salafi ~ Communist analogy taken further

Today, everyone notes that Islamist parties rarely have majority support in any Islamic country (though plural majorities can be found in places like Turkey, and by evolutionary, not revolutionary, Islamists). If you look at the history of Communism, you see that like Islam, Communist parties rarely had broad-based popular support. Rather, a hard core (the “vanguard”) transformed whole societies by mobilizing from above. This explains the paradox that the success of Communist take-overs occurred in societies like China, Russia or Vietnam, rather than advanced capitalist nations as Marx had predicted, because these societies had relatively quiescent majorities.

International Communism became a great threat after it found a bastion in the Soviet Union, where Democratic-Centralism (Marxist-Leninism) harnessed Communist ideology to nationalism. The same process can be seen in China, Vietnam or North Korea. It is nationalism that acts as the true driver of Communism, not international utopianism. In nations where Communists have not taken over the society, but still have a presence, like India (and democratic success!), the movement is riven by schism.

So the great threat I see is this: a nation we do not expect to turn Salafi is conquered by a Muslim vanguard nurtured abroad. A nation large enough to serve as a bastion and suppress the natural tendency to schism because of charismatic leaders. Today I think most people look to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, or perhaps Egypt. I don’t think that will happen for a variety of reasons (it would be hard to Pakistan for instance to be a bastion when it has to spend most of its government income to deter the Indian “threat”). I think Indonesia is the perfect candidate. 200+ million people (180 million nominal Muslims, but a hard-core of motivated orthodox Muslims on the order of 25-75 million), distant enough from other large powers to serve as a remote base, and rich in natural resources.

Posted by razib at 02:57 PM

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Metaphor for the new Age of Religious Wars

Occassionally on this blog a dispute erupts over the negatives of “fundamentalist Hinduism” (Hindutva). I think that comparing this movement to “fundamentalist Islam” (roughly speaking, the Salafi/Wahhabi International funded from Saudi Arabia) can give us a little perspective. In the 1970s Jeanne Kirkpatrick differentiated between a Totalitarian (Communist) and Authoritarian (Right-leaning despotic) regimes, and argued that strategic alliances with the latter were necessary to battle the former.

Though the details differ, I think operationally in framing how the West should react to both movements (fundamentalist Islam and Hinduism) we can map Kirkpatrick’s typology with internationalist fundamentalist Islam being characterized as totalitarian (and revolutionary) and Hindutva as authoritarian in inclination (and less intrusive in application).

As we have noted on this blog, while Islam is potentially globally oppositional to the West, Hinduism is locally reactionary. Clearly short-term tactical considerations mean that an alliance with an unpalatable Hindutva regime in India might be necessary to head off fundamentalist Islam.

As some have said about Communism, fundamentalist Islam wants to punish humans for their universal humanity. Hindutva on the other hand is an expression of atavistic prejudices and reactionary inclinations, which are particular to Indian culture, and by nature not exportable. I believe that the latter can be changed by evolutionary means, and India today is a democratic regime, with strong countervailing influences to Hindutva.

I could elaborate, but I think that the face-value evaluation of the above assertions have a lot of validity.

Posted by razib at 02:40 PM

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God is Great…for now

While I’m blogging about Islam….

A few weeks ago, “jimbo” asked me if a sincere believing Muslim could be a liberal democrat (emphasis on the small caps here!). Thrasymachus also seemed to offer the opinion that Islam is just designed better and won’t throw out all sorts of oddities like liberalism, science, etc.

Since I’m not a sincere believing Muslim, it’s kind of weird to ask me. Never have been a theist, and God willing, never will be. I’ve only even been acknowledging the appellation Muslim since for security purposes, that’s what I am (Muslims say you are Muslim if your father is). But, some Muslims who are sincere believers can be liberal democrats. But can most sincere believers who are Muslims? I don’t know.

Frankly, I think that jimbo’s question could be rephrased as such: Can a Protestant/Catholic in 1550 be a sincere liberal Democrat? I am being a bit uncharitable, but the median Muslim is probably somehwere between the Reformation Era Western Christian and the typical modern Christian. That, is a problem.

It also addresses a part of Thrasymachus’ assertion. Would anyone guess that the revolution of Luther and Calvin would birth liberalism in the most Catholic of Protestant nations? (England) Protestantism can I think fairly be characterized as the fundamentalism of its age. Sola Scriptura, by the Bible alone, goes the Protestant saying. What has fidelity to the Good Book wrought? Well, today there are only a few true Protestant nations of European stock, the United States, being the shining exception to the rule. Similarly, Talmudic Judaism was “by the Book,” and anticipated the tendency of some Protestants to find in scripture and commentary every answer to life.

Both Talmudic Judaism and fire & brimestone European Protestantism remain as rumps within the broader confession of their traditions.

To use the software analogy, Catholicism might have been a less tightly crafted class which wasn’t a perfect implemenation of Christianity’s original specifications, but it has been far more extensible and more well commented (compare the relative resilience of Catholicism in Germany and Holland in comparison to mainstream Protestantism, or northern vs. southern Europe). All the inflexible methods of the Protestant Reformations have resulted in wholescale rewrites and more or less a discarding of the original code-base by many as the needs of the end-users have shifted.

Of course, fundamentalist Protestantism is powerful in the non-white world, and Islam has foundational differences from both Protestantism and Talmudic Judaism. I will explore that later….

Posted by razib at 03:18 PM

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Alcohol consumption & relative fitness

Steve Sailer has been asking about the genetics of alcohol from a geographical angle. I’m curious, but another thing I’ve always wondered (and related to the question about Muslims and alcohol he is asking), I have read that many Mediterranean people drank alcohol (diluted) because it acted as a sterilant in urban situations where bad water could kill. With the spread of Islam, alcohol was forbidden, and and it seems that in the urban context if alcohol ~ anti-bacterial agent Christians and Jews would have a fitness advantage.

On a related note, I have read that the correlation between latitude and spice in food can be explained by the anti-bacterial properties of many herbs-in the tropics spoilage being more of a problem (especially in areas without salt).

Posted by razib at 03:43 PM

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Cold Mountain, conscription and war

Just went and saw the film Cold Mountain. Earlier in the day I read Abiola note that “it is the height of absurdity that an entire movie could be made about the American Civil War without putting any focus on the central issue at stake in that war.” Well, I think there was a nominal (perhaps tokenistic) nodd to the slavery issue, and there were more black faces in the background than on the set of Friends. Also, I would point out that there was the stock Evil-Blonde-Blue-Eyed-Guy that seems to show up in many movies made today. Overall, a good film. Nicole Kidman was exquisite, blah, blah, blah….

I want to focus in on a small part of the film: near the beginning the young bucks exclaim that “they have their war.” I wonder if this isn’t back-projection of the famed hysteria of 1914 in Europe to the Civil War just like The Patriot put the souls of the Waffen-SS in the bodies of British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. But in any case, the concept of war hysteria is interesting to me. I just had a recent post that pointed toward some historical differences between professional and conscript armies.

The Civil War was in many ways an appetizer for the industrialized conscript wars of the 20th century. But in the beginning there were often plenty of volunteers. I just recently read The Pursuit of Power by William McNeill where he asserts that this sort of patriotic fervor was a product of the nationalism that emerged out of the 18th century and matured in the 19th. Could one imagine the peasants of Germany rising up to fight for their heimat as they did in in the 19th century against both Austria and France in the 16th? In 1525 the commoners of southwest Germany rose up against their overlords, roused by the sermons of Thomas Muntzer, and they were crushed by the professionals. On the other hand, the New Model Army, a mix of nonconformists and Puritans, destroyed the Royalist Cavaliers in the 1640s.

Conscript vs. professional. The dichotomy can be hard to parse sometimes, especially in the recent past when fear of being ostracized by one’s community might have compelled Canadian men to fight for the Queen in World War I or American boys to avenge Pearl Harbor in World War II. Today the American army is both professional and patriotic. As I noted earlier in the week, the two do not always go hand in hand.

Historians like Victor Davis Hanson like to point to classical precedents in showing what makes Western man what he is. The free citizens of Greece stood up to the combined might of the Persian army and defeated them. Centuries later, the free citizens of Rome outlasted the armies of Hannibal in a war of attrition. In both cases, volunteers of their free will, but not professionals, defeated a mix of mercenaries, conscript levies of foreign peoples in the service of alien kings and lords as well as those moved by personal loyalty. It is interesting to note that in both cases, true professional armies that fought with rational efficiency and planning might have conceded defeat. After all, the Hellenes looked beaten on paper, and the touch of the Persian king of kings was light as far as oriental despots went. Similarly, Rome endured years of despoilation of its hinterlands and the defeat of army after army by the brilliant general Hannibal, but not to be cliche, the Carthaginians could defeat the armies, but the city of Rome remained unbroken.

Irrational pride and principle can sometimes break the inevitable storm of massing enemy forces. Remember, in our lifetimes the British stood alone against the Nazi regime. If the Western European states had looked the other way while the Germans found their lebensraum to the east, history might have been different.

Posted by razib at 12:26 AM

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Hierarchy of responsibility, moving on down the totem pole….

Our local anti-Brahmin activist on GNXP sent me this link about the decline of a people who are Aryans par excellence (schadenfreude?). It seems that only 1/3 of Indian Parsis are marrying other Parsis, and those are marrying late! Many are copulating outside the faith, with unclean non-Aryans like Steve LaBonne. If you google this topic, you will find all sorts of issues, schisms between liberals and conservatives, those who espouse an ethnic religion and those who want to return to a more missionary spirit, those who think that children of mixed-marriages should be accepted and those who think they should be excluded. Basically, the Parsis would love to have Jewish demographic trends!.

I want to focus on one quote in the last paragraph:

Meanwhile, the World Youth Congress aims to make every young Parsi recognise that he/she owes a responsibility towards the community.

What responsibility exactly? If the young one does not believe in Ahura Mazda, thinks that allowing your dead to be consumed by vultures is kind of whacky and that there are strong genetic reasons (inbreeding) to marry outside-the-community, what responsibility do they have toward their community? In many nations prior to the 20th century this wasn’t a question that was mooted. You were born in your community, you died in it after a long life following all the traditions, or you died outside of it rather quickly because of ostracism.

This mind-set persists among many South Asians in the United States, that most propositional & narcissistic of lands. I’ve just recently found out that two Patels that I knew from college are putting “responsibility” to their community (family) first. One is in medical school, a girl I once tutored in chemistry, who supposedly enjoys (enjoyed?) intercourse with black college football players, but just got an arranged marriage (once you go black, you can go back to brown?). The other is quitting his regular job to run the family business and will of course marry a fellow Patel (though he has sown his oats galore with a host of fair and tawny-skinned women).

As for me, I have little loyalty to the Muslim community, seeing as how I think the religion is kind of whack, no great affinity with Indian civilization (I find Chinese civilization more pragmatic and European civilization more rational) and little concern for the genetic well being of anyone aside from my possible future children (who likely, if they are born, will be phenotypically ambiguous). I look brown, but what’s in blut? Well, a lot according to some people. The Parsis are quite explicit about their racial heritage. My identification as a Muslim (very mild to be gentle about it) and brown person (a practical concession to reality and an unfortunate diminution of my exceptionality in this universe) are both reactionary to the society around me, rather than driven by positive inclinations on my part.

My positive affinities are with fellow seculars, fellow liberal democrats, fellow libertarians, my friends, my fellow Americans, my fellow defenders-of-Western-civilization, etc. etc. My defense of Muslims or brown people tends to be explicitly couched in universal terms that emerge out of my other, more important, affinities.

Getting away from myself, my overall point is that a non-trivial minority of the human race is opting out of historical ties, and reforging personal ties based on confession rather than birth. This isn’t a new process, the first Christians often left their birth identities and became part of a universal brotherhood. Every human being has multiple axes of identification, and the varied emphasis that individuals put on any given dimension, or even deleting certain ones, is something that more traditional people might have to start acknowledging.

If traditionalists want to remind some of the moderns that duty is important, they might start realizing that there are other values out there in the first place. There is little inclination to listen to people who you feel aren’t interested in listening to you.

Posted by razib at 01:20 AM

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"Medieval" Africa

This War Nerd column about the Tutsi-Hutu conflict is pretty good. It gives a brief intro to the Bantu demic expansion that is well sketched out in Guns, Germs and Steel, though I think he simplifies when he terms the Tutsi “Bantu.” Though they now speak the same language as the Hutu, they were probably originally a Nilotic people (though if you google this topic, the issue is very confused by racialist pseudo-hypotheses).

As for Brecher’s observation that Tutsi rule(d) the roost in both Rwanda and Burundi through force of arms, he is spot on. If the Hutus did not constitute 85% of Rwanda’s population I am not so sure that the Tutsi government that took over after the 1994 genocide would not have been more explicit in its own policies of ethnic cleansing (as it is, they pursue a pro-natalist policy for Tutsis). As long as the Tutsis are a ruling group, I doubt these two nations will ever progress very far on quality-of-life metrics. Dominant minorities have no reason to fully mobilize the human capital of the majority because once that happens-their own hold on power becomes tenuous. It is no surprise that the Mughal’s and Manchus did not mobilize the populations of India and China against the European threat and modernize like Japan, both were alien elites! The Japanese had an indigenous elite.

Of course, minor note, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa (Pygmy) are now genetically related. All three groups are somewhat distinct, but just like the various ethno-racial designations in Brazil, generations of intermarriage have confused the situation a great deal….

Posted by razib at 05:11 PM

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