Daily Data Dump – Friday

Have a good weekend.

Death of A Language. Since I started being more pro-active about my general lack of respect for modern American cultural anthropology I’ve gotten a lot of response. On the specific question of whether linguistic diversity is inversely proportional to economic growth, I’ve gotten some mixed-responses, and find all the conclusions inconclusive (I’ve had some r-squared results sent to me privately). Here’s A Replicated Typo reviewing a paper which tentatively supports my theoretical inference empirically. As I said, looking at the correlations are now in my “stack” of “TO-DO”‘s. But more broadly the normative gap between myself and my critics remains. So in the post I point to here, the author paraphrases a linguist as saying: “The languages spoken on the islands are considered to be almost 70,000 years old and are theorized to have African roots.” My comments about this sort of stuff are dismissive, and this experience only reinforces my disrespect for the “discourse” which linguistic anthropologists are introducing into the public domain. There are intellectual reasons to be interested in linguistic isolates not part of the big language families (e.g., Semitic, Indo-European, Niger-Kordofanian, etc.), but no language is “70,000 years old.” The Andaman Islanders are not black-skinned elves, immortals who brought their culture in toto from the ur-heimat of Africa, genetic and cultural fossils who have been in total stasis. Cultural anthropologists presumably understand that all humans are equally ancient, derived from African ancestors, and that all languages and peoples are African (or at least 95% so within the last 100,000 years), but their communication to the public confuses the issue and presents some groups as “pristine.”  As it is, Andaman Islanders have a major issue with high mortality levels due to being exposed to Eurasian pathogens. Language death is a relatively secondary issue for a group which had to be forcibly separated from Indian settlers in the 1960s for their own survival as a biological group.


‘Petite’ woman thrown off plane to make way for obese teenager who needed two seats. The source is a British tabloid, so take with a healthy dose of skepticism. But the general issue of obese people and airline flights is something that the obese and non-obese have to confront regularly. As a non-obese person I’ve had the discomfort of obese people using my own space as “overflow” to become more comfortable. The weirdest thing that has happened to me was on a trans-Atlantic flight where an obese man came and sat next to me in what had been an empty seat. Thirty minutes before the flight landed he went back to his seat, so I got up and saw where he’d come from, and it seems that he was sitting next to another obese person. It must have been uncomfortable for both of them, but still. Looking around there were a few other empty seats on the flight, but I was the slimmest person adjacent to any of them, so I strongly suspect that I was “targeted” for my co-passenger’s comfort. It must really be stressful to be obese on a long flight, but I really hate being penalized for being thin enough that I don’t “use” all my space.

The rich are different from you and me. One issue is that if there’s a huge wealth differential between two people there’s always the tension of the poorer person asking the wealthier one for money at some point. It makes wealthier people more guarded and less compassionate because they’re no longer in a plausible situation of reciprocity. They start seeing everyone as a utility maximizing rational actor trying to work an angle. Those with relatives in poor countries probably know what I’m getting at in terms of how fiscal imbalances distort personal relationships.

What Makes Humans Unique ?(III): Self-Domestication, Social Cognition, and Physical Cognition. Humans, the self-domesticated animal? Or perhaps some humans domesticated others?

Did emotions evolve to push others into cooperation? Rationality is bounded by emotion. Proximate individual behavior dictated by general intelligence is one dimension of humanity, but heuristics grounded in non-rational elements of cognition are evolutionarily informed and ecologically useful (or were).

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