Reason is but a slave of passions as it always has been

David Hume stated that “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” I don’t know about the ought part, that’s up for debate. But the is part seems empirically true. The reasons people give for this or that is often just a post hoc rationalization. To give a different twist to this contention, others have argued that reason exists to win arguments, not converge upon truth. Or more precisely in my opinion to give the patina of erudition or abstraction to sentiments which are fundamentally derived from emotion or manners enforced through group norms (ergo, the common practice of ‘educated’ people citing scholars whose work we can’t evaluate to buttress our own preconceptions; we all do it).

One of the reasons I recommend In Gods We Trust, and cognitive anthropology more generally, to atheists and religious skeptics is that it gives a better empirical window into the mental processes that are really at work, as opposed to those which people say are at work (or, more unfortunately, those they think are at work). In In Gods We Trust the author reports on research conducted where religious believers are given a set of factual assertions purportedly from scholarship (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls). These assertions on the face of it flatly contradict their religious beliefs in some deep fundamental way. But when confronted with facts which seem to logically refute the coherency of their beliefs, they often still accept the validity of the scholarship before them. When asked about the impact on their beliefs? Respondents generally asserted that the new facts strengthened their beliefs.

This is one reason that cognitive anthropologists term religious ‘reasoning’ quasi-propositional. It takes the general form of analysis from axioms, but ultimately the rationality is besides the point, it is simply a quiver in the arrow of a broader and deeper cognitive phenomenon.

To give a personal example which illustrates this. Many many years ago I knew a Jewish girl of Modern Orthodox girl background passingly. She once asserted to me that the event of the Holocaust strengthened her belief in her God. I didn’t follow through on this discussion, as it was too disturbing to me. But it brought home to me that in some way the “reasoning” of many religious people leaves me totally befuddled (and no doubt vice versa).

As it happens, while in the course of writing this post, I found out that Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, the authors of the above argument in relation to reason and argumentation, published a book last month, The Enigma of Reason. I encourage readers to get it. I just bought a Kindle copy. Dan Sperber, who I interviewed 12 years ago, is a very deep thinker on the level of Daniel Kahneman. He’s French, and his prose can be somewhat difficult, so I wonder if that’s one reason he’s not nearly as well known).

Ultimately the point of this post actually goes back to genomics and history. Anne Gibbons has an excellent piece in Science, There’s no such thing as a ‘pure’ European—or anyone else. In it she draws on the most recent research in human population genomics to refute antiquated ideas about the purity of any given population. If you have read this blog for the past few years you already know most human populations are complex admixtures; that is, it isn’t a human family tree, but a human family graph.

Gibbons’ piece attacks directly some standard racialist talking points which have been refuted on a factual basis by genetic science:

When the first busloads of migrants from Syria and Iraq rolled into Germany 2 years ago, some small towns were overwhelmed. The village of Sumte, population 102, had to take in 750 asylum seekers. Most villagers swung into action, in keeping with Germany’s strong Willkommenskultur, or “welcome culture.” But one self-described neo-Nazi on the district council told The New York Times that by allowing the influx, the German people faced “the destruction of our genetic heritage” and risked becoming “a gray mishmash.”

In fact, the German people have no unique genetic heritage to protect. They—and all other Europeans—are already a mishmash, the children of repeated ancient migrations, according to scientists who study ancient human origins. New studies show that almost all indigenous Europeans descend from at least three major migrations in the past 15,000 years, including two from the Middle East. Those migrants swept across Europe, mingled with previous immigrants, and then remixed to create the peoples of today.

First, let’s set aside the political question of welcoming on the order of one million refugees to Germany. I will not post comments discussing that.

As a point of fact the truth genetically in relation to Germans is even more complex than what Gibbons’ asserts. When I worked with FamilyTree DNA I had access to their database and presented at their year conference some interesting results from people whose four grandparents were from Germany. In short, Germans tended to fall into three main clusters, one that was strongly skewed toward people from some parts of France, another which was shifted toward Scandinavians, and a third which was very similar to Slavs.

The historical and cultural reasons for this are easy to guess at or make conjectures. The takeaway here is that unlike Finns, or Irish, and to a great extent Scandinavians and Britons, Germany exhibits a lot of population substructure within it because of assimilation or migration in the last ~1,000 years. This is why genetically saying someone is “German” is very difficult when compared to saying someone is Polish or Swedish. By dint of their cultural expansiveness Germans are everyone and no one set next to other Northern Europeans* (with the exception perhaps of the French…I’m sure Germans will appreciate this comparison!).

The conceit of these sort of pieces is that racists will confront refutations which will shatter their racist axioms. But since most of the people who are writing these pieces and read Science are not racists, they won’t have a good intuition on the cognitive processes at work for genuine racists.

This causes problems. As a comparison, many atheists seem to think that refutation of the Athanasian creed will blow Christians away and make them forsake their God (or showing them contradictions in the Bible, admit that you’ve gone through that phase!). Though the Church Father Tertullian’s assertion that he “believed because it is absurd” is more subtle than I often make it out to be, on the face of it it does reflect how outsiders view a normative social group like Christianity.

The emphasis here is on normative. Social or religious movements and sentiments are often about norms, which emerge at the intersection of history, intuition, instinct, and facts. I place facts last in the list, because I think it is a defensible stance to take that facts are the least important variable!

The field of cultural evolution has shown that group cohesion and communal norms have been major drivers of human evolution. Likely there has been gene-cultural coevolution so that group conformity has been selected for as a way to make social units operate more smoothly. Social cognition is a thing; people believe what they believe because other people in their social groups believe something, not because they’ve reasoned to it themselves. Originally reasoning is hard. Letting others derive for you, and plugging and chugging is easy. As Muhammad stated, the Ummah will not agree upon error! The smarter people are, the better they are are reasoning…but the better they are at motivated reasoning, ignorance, and rationalization.

When faced with disconfirming evidence some people can dig in and deny the plain facts. Creationists are a straightforward case of this. Then there are evaders.  From what I have seen on the political Left in the United States at least over the last 15 years (when I’ve been engaging actively with people on the internet) there has been a consistent pattern of obfuscation and dodging the likely reality of sex differences in many quarters. When pinned down on the fundamentals few deny the principle or the possibility, but they almost always impose an extremely high level of skepticism that is not found in other domains, where their epistemology is far less stringent.

But then there is a third case, where facts that seem to refute on first blush to you  only strengthen the beliefs of someone with whom you already disagree. I am generally of the view that the rise of naturalistic science has probably undermined the case for classical supernaturalist theism, which emerged in the pre-modern era. Reasonable people can disagree, as I have smart religious friends who are also scientists. Some of these people, like Francis Collins, will even assert that modern findings which boggle the mind and shock our intuitions confirm and strengthen their belief in pre-modern religious systems!

My point is not to take a strong stance on science and religion. Rather, it is to say that when you present evidence and declare “I refute you thus!”, they may simply respond “Aha! You have proven my point!”

In relation to the Gibbons’ article the writing has been on the wall for at least three years, and probably longer. In Towards a new history and geography of human genes informed by ancient DNA Pickrell and Reich content:

…Implicit in this research is the assumption that the geographic locations of people today are informative about the geographic locations of their ancestors in the distant past. However, it is now clear that long-range migration, admixture and population replacement have been the rule rather than the exception in human history. In light of this, we argue that it is time to critically re-evaluate current views of the peopling of the globe and the importance of natural selection in determining the geographic distribution of phenotypes. We specifically highlight the transformative potential of ancient DNA. By accessing the genetic make-up of populations living at archaeologically-known times and places, ancient DNA makes it possible to directly track migrations and responses to natural selection.

Since this was published in spring of 2014 the evidence has gotten stronger and stronger. That is, the distribution of outcomes is getting more consistent and converging to a high confidence truth.

From this, are we to conclude that white nationalism would decline from marginal to non-existent in the past three years? A review of the empirical data does not seem to support that proposition. Therefore, a naive model that white nationalism is predicated on facts about racial purity may be wrong.

The responses that I have seen (often in the form of comments I don’t publish on this weblog) are denial/rejection, confusion, reinterpretation and vindication (along with standard issue racial insults directed toward me, their colored cognitive inferior). As with the religious case I have a difficult time “putting myself” in the shoes of a racialist of any sort, so I don’t totally understand how they’re getting from A to B, but in their own minds they are.

Let’s reaffirm what’s going on here: white racial consciousness in the United States has exploded on the public scene over the past three years, just as scientists have come to the very strong conclusion that the “white European race” as we understand it is an artifact of the last ~5,000 years or so.**

We need to go back to Hume, and the anthropological understanding of what reason is. Reason is a tool to confirm what you already hold to be true and good. If reason falsifies in some way what you hold to be true and good, that does not mean for most people that reason is where they will stand. Likely there will be some subtle reinterpretation, but magically reason will support their presuppositions. Ask the descendants of the followers of William Miller about falsification.

The fact is that very few people in the world know about David Reich and his research. I know this personally because I’m a voluble evangelist, and many geneticists, even human geneticists, are not aware of the revolution in historical population genetics that ancient DNA has wrought. I do not know any Nazis personally, I suspect that perhaps their knowledge of human phylogenomics is not at the same level as a typical geneticist.

Of course this sort of logic about logic cuts both ways. Before 2010 I actually assumed, as did most human geneticists who took an interest in these topics, that human populations had long been resident in their region of current occupation for tens of thousands of years. When I read Reconstructing Indian Population History by David Reich I was shocked out of my prior model, because the inferences were so ingenious and plausible, and, the updated story of how South Asians came to be actually made a lot of anomalies make a lot more sense. When Lazaridis et al. posted Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans on biorxiv in the December of 2013 I was far more surprised, because I had always assumed that the thesis that most European ancestry dated to the Pleistocene in any given region was a robust one. Both the phylogeography from mtDNA and Y pointed to a Pleistocene origin.

But the data were compelling. It’s one thing to make inferences on present day genetic distribution, it’s another to actually genotype ancient individuals (remember, I can reanalyze the data myself, and have done so numerous times). Lazaridis et al. and Priya Moorjani’s Genetic Evidence for Recent Population Mixture in India totally changed my personal life. All of a sudden my wife and I were far closer emotionally and spiritually because we understood that the TMRCA of many segments in our autosomal genome was about 5-fold closer than I had assumed!!!***

Actually, the last sentence is a total fiction. The history which changed how I understood my wife and I to be related on a historical population genetic sense had zero impact on our relationship. That’s because we’re not racists, and race doesn’t really impact our relationship too much (the fact that my parents are Muslim, well, that’s a different issue….). Sorry Everyday Feminism. This is not an uncommon view, though perhaps not as common as we’d assumed of late (actually, as someone who has looked at the fascinating interracial dating research, I pretty much understood that what people say is quite different than what they do; anti-racism is the conformist thing to do, so people will play that tune for a while longer).

Just because the state of the world is one particular way, it does not naturally follow that it should be that way, or that it always will be that way. Most ethical religions saw in slavery an aspect of injustice; rational arguments aside, on some level extension of empathy and sympathy makes its injustice self-evident. But they accepted that it was an aspect of the world that was naturally baked into the structure of reality. The de jure abolition of slavery today does not mean it has truly gone away, but its practice has certainly been curtailed, and much of the cruelty diminished. Theories of human nature or necessities of economic production at the end of the day gave way changing mores and values. Facts about the world became less persuasive when we decided to let them no longer dictate tolerance of slavery.

All that I say above in relation to how humans use reason does not leave scientists or journalists untouched. All humans have their own goals, and even though they see through the glass darkly, they see in the visions beyond what they want to see. The cultural and theoretical structure of modern science is such that some of these impulses are dampened and human intuitions are channeled in a manner so that theories and models of the world seem to correspond to reality. But I believe this is deeply unnatural, and also deeply fragile. When moving outside of their domain of specialty scientists can be quite blind and irrational. Even when one steps away at a mild remove in terms of domain knowledge this becomes clear, such as when Linus Pauling promoted Vitamin C. And motivated reasoning can creep into the actions of even the greatest of scientists, such as when R. A. Fisher rejected the causal connection between tobacco and cancer.****

I will end on a frank and depressing note: I believe that the era of public reason and fealty to empirical standards in at least official capacities is fading. Social cognition, tribal logic, is on the rise. But we have to remember that in the historical perspective social cognition and tribal logic ruled the day. They are the norm. This is age when he abide by public reason is the peculiarity in the sea of polemic. Ultimately it may be the fool who fixates on being right or wrong, as opposed to being on the winning team. I hope I’m wrong on this.

Addendum: I have written a form of this post many times.

* The current chancellor of Germany has a Polish paternal grandfather.

** If Middle Easterners are included as white we can extended the time horizon much further back, but that seems to defeat the purpose of white nationalism in the United States….

*** I had assumed that the western affinity in South Asians had diverged from Europeans during the Last Glacial Maximum. In turns out some of it may be as recent as ~4,500 years ago or so.

**** This may have been unconsciously as opposed to malicious, as Fisher was keen on tobacco personally.

32 thoughts on “Reason is but a slave of passions as it always has been

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    Lately I’ve been moved by the work of Dr. Jordan Peterson on evolutionary psychology, myth, narrative and personality. His work has satisfied my need for a greater level of ABSTRACTION. He conceptualizes the right and left as an argument about “borders,” whether we should have any, where they should be, how strong etc… I think that’s the right approach.

  2. “From this, are we to conclude that white nationalism would decline from marginal to non-existent in the past three years? ”

    Why would it…does it really matter if “whites” have existed for 5000 or for 60 000 years? It’s about group identities in the present, of course most ethnic groups/nations have a mythologized view of their past (and I think the more thoughtful kind of nationalist recognizes this*)…that doesn’t mean those group identities don’t matter. I’m baffled by the idea that issues of ethnicity and nationalism would disappear if one just did enough deconstructing of nationalist mythology (and yes, I understand you don’t argue for that view in your piece above, but it’s clearly widespread).
    *On that note, I think it can be overdone how revolutionary the results of genetic research for the origins of Europeans are. I mean, it was clear to me even in my youth in the 1990s that speakers of Indo-European probably came to Europe from the steppe a few thousand years ago…and obviously this implied that there were other groups before the Indo-Europeans in Europe who were either replaced by them or mixed with them; and of course the pre-Indoeuropean elements (vocabulary, mythology) for instance in Greek have long been known. Same for what you write about genetic clusters among Germans…that merely confirms what anyone with a basic knowledge of German history and knowledge of the country would suspect anyway.

    (sorry if this is an annoying rant, I’ll go back to lurking, I promise).

    1. I wanted to comment along your lines as well.

      white racial consciousness in the United States has exploded on the public scene over the past three years, just as scientists have come to the very strong conclusion that the “white European race” as we understand it is an artifact of the last ~5,000 years or so.

      The implied contradiction between the time of the origin of whites and white nationalism is rather baseless. When the white race came to exist is inconsequential to whether they wish to preserve their racial group as it is.

      In a similar vein: regardless whether Germans fall in 3 groups, or are a mishmash of previous populations, the influx of millions of Syrians will change the genetic landscape of German citizens’. The current citizens may or may not benefit from such a change, thus the concern of the neo-nazi is not irrational even if his appeals to racial purity are nonsense.
      The reporter’s argument that because Germans are not a pure population they can have no valid interest in shaping the genetic makeup of their country (or preserve as it is) is at least as irrational as the neo-nazi’s appeal to purity.

      (So, at the end, all sides tend to apply motivated reasoning and are not in search of an objective truth.)

    2. Razib,

      I was going to comment on my thoughts on WN, but I see that this has been overwrought and dissected to death in the comments.

      Instead, I will agree with you, and with Dr. Jordan Peterson, that the death of religion, especially in the West, has lead to hyper-rational belief systems that threaten to undermine the social progress made in the West since the ~”Enlightenment.”

      I suspect that the next hyper-rational system to assume control over our social cognition will be the conflation of HBD/racialism and traditional ethnocentric nationalism. White Nationalism is certainly ahead of the curve here, but I imagine as phenotype population differences are established, that genetic arguments against tribalism will fall to the side. As you quote, reason is the tool to convince oneself they are good and correct. In time I imagine other groups will cling to their phenotypical “superiority”
      in whichever domain is of importance to said group.

      In other words, I am not optimistic that the West can remain free in the face of multiculturalism, which seems to intensify tribalistic impulses.

      As an aside, I was a student of yours in a (chemistry?) class some years back at UC Davis. I was a poor student and utterly forgettable, but I have followed your work for some time. It has helped me to cope with my own tribal instincts and to avoid some of the darker thralls of our age.

      So thank you.

  3. This past year you’ve written about the decline of reason in the public sphere more than usual. At the decade or so scale I agree. At the 50 or 100 or 200 year timescale I’m not really seeing it. Since I’m 53, I have living adult memory of Reagan’s 1983 evil empire speech when people completely lost their sh*t. I also recall the tail end of the blase attitude towards 1970s domestic violence (1971 capital bombing comes to mind). Patty Hearst. Bombs. Meh. I grew up near an air force base in Dayton Ohio. We did nuclear bomb drills in my grade school and hid under desks. I asked my dad, and he said the air force base was a nuclear target, so…. unlikely that hiding under a desk would help. It was just to make the teachers feel like they had something useful to do. And of course we all know how close nuclear war came under Kennedy. Dr Strangeglove only gets a mild chuckle today, but back in the day it made people not just laugh, but want to cry at the insanity of it all.

    Where I’m going of course is it’s not at all clear to me we are entering the age Peter Turchin thinks is likely. It’s possible! No doubt. But I think Steven Pinker’s idea that we in the present discount how strange and astoundingly violent the past was is a trap nearly impossible to avoid falling into. Trust me. People totally freaked out about Reagan and Thatcher. I’m sure the same was true of FDR, and for that matter Andrew Jackson. We are living in a historical realignment of political parties. When this happens the ground shifts under our feet, as coalitions taken for granted fall apart and get realigned. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the decline of reason, so much as making manifest that political coalitions were never about ideology in the first place. Scott Atran cite.

    On top of this, we have the first generation raised by mass media (baby boomer era) drawing to a close. Yes, generational stereotyping is shallow, sure. But sometimes it helps. The boomer generation had a rather odd trajectory since from WW II until 1989 there was always an external enemy hot or cold, who tended to push americans into cohesion. And ideology seemed to rule the world. ism ism ism as they used to say. Many who came to adulthood in the late 1950s/early 1960s have always been in the spotlight. Praised for rock and roll and drugs when young, jump started into senior positions in the workforce due to massive gaps from WW II, and now (some of them) voting themselves wealth taken from their children in their dotage. Of course the cutoff for baby boomer is such that…well…I do indeed barely qualify. So I speak of my own.

    So my two cents is maybe it’s just another periodic political realignment, plus a super influential generation forged in hyper-ideological times seeing their decline. Making people freak out. But at a 50 or 100 year level, same old same old same old (or so I most sincerely hope!).

    1. here is what i have come to believe

      1) god is dead.

      2) this generation shall not pass before the putrefication of his body overwhelms our nostrils.

      3) if no truth, no liberty, if no liberty, no peace.

      4) all can grasp at freedom. but victory is granted only to some. we live in the age of victory, not freedom.

      5) democratic liberalism is a spirit, not a thing. spirits can fade. its spirit will fade when men do not see in defeat in the public sphere opportunity for future victories, but rather the shadow of dispossession and even the specter of the gulag.

  4. If you want to understand the growth of white nationalism, whatever that is, you need to look a the growth of the tribalist paradigm on the left and its increasing use as the basis of their politics. Black lives matter is the sort of slogan that now dominates what passes for leftist thought. The establishment left has been utterly incapable of shutting them up. It was bound to generate a reaction. This has nothing to do with science, everything to do with politics.

    Now that I looked at the linked article I saw her excursus into Roman history. A fact about the barbarian invasions of the roman empire is that the groups that invaded were not tribes, nor were they ethnoi. They were gangs of freebooters, drawn albeit from the Germanic tribes, but including any brave fighter they came across, and often groups from far different ethnic backgrounds such as the alans, who were Iranian.. That is why they adopted names like Franks (free men) Alemanni (all men) and Lombards (long beards).

    All of this is stunningly irrelevant to present day politics. Refuting Nazis is too late and too easy. Hitting modern leftists over the head with a clue bat is harder.

  5. Sam Kean in “The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons” recounts a case study precisely on the point that Hume’s aphorism raises. See https://www.amazon.com/Tale-Dueling-Neurosurgeons-Revealed-Recovery/dp/0316182354

    A man suffers brain damage that leaves all of his higher reasoning intact but destroys circuits associated with impulsive wants. Perfection right?

    Not so much. The guy carefully lays out the pros and cons of every decision he faces, but can’t make any decisions worth a damn. Sometimes he wallows in indecision. Other times he makes horrible decisions after considering the pros and cons carefully but not having much of a basis to weigh which pros and which cons matter the most. His marriage falls apart, the quality of his work and his productivity plummet, and his life is basically all screwed up without passion to guide his reason.

  6. I think you misunderstand the nature of many “white nationalists” or racists of any ethnic group for that matter. It is far more a matter of physical aesthetics than of outdated theories of evolution or purity of blood. The light complexions, blue eyes, and fine features of northwest Europeans are a readily discernible type that many prefer. It doesn’t matter whether those features were designed by God in the Garden of Eden, were the result of breeding in the last five hundred years, or are from gene mixing by tribal conquests of five thousand years ago. Many white folks find Grace Kelly more sexually attractive than Whoopi Goldberg and want to continue to keep her type around. It’s as simple as that.

    There are certainly plenty of Chinese, Japanese, Polynesians, Masai or what have you (Finns?) that are similarly bigoted in preferring beautiful persons of their own ethnic physical phenotype. It is silly to condemn this as “racism” and demonize those that feel this way whether they are ignorant of the complexities of population genetics or not.

    1. It is far more a matter of physical aesthetics than of outdated theories of evolution or purity of blood.

      this is why white nationalists favor cosmetic surgery and CRISPR! (IOW, i don’t think this gets at it at all, but you’re welcome to your theory; this has been litigated in the net-nazi sphere).

      1. If ethnic bigots indeed favor cosmetic surgery then a fat lot of good it will do them when the next generation appears. Direct manipulation of the germ line OTOH makes all current racial distinctions irrelevant as God knows what sort of mutants will come into fashion in the future. Aren’t the Chinese big on this? They are hardly white nationalists.

  7. I’ve noticed when interacting with the HBD community (mostly on Greg Cochran’s blog), there is this widespread belief that if “hard HBD” could be proven to be correct, that social justice leftism would fall to the wayside. I’ve pointed out to them that there are already groups in our culture which are, in one respect or another, objectively impaired, but the morally correct thing to do is to not say it. For example, the contemporary treatment of the deaf, the morbidly obese, and the “developmentally delayed.” Thus I believe that even if there are differences between broad continental-based groupings based on intelligence and personality traits, and even if it could be proven, you’d just see the goalposts shift. The underlying moral sentiment is the driving force, not a carefully-measured reckoning of reality. Which is true everywhere that politics rises “above” either nuts-and-bolts local concerns or vulgar self-advancement of one’s self and faction.

  8. Razib, many of your points echo “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt (which I don’t recall you mentioning on your site, not recently at least). Group identity and affiliation with that identity are much more powerful than “arguments from reason”.

    On a semi-related note, many areas of Jewish religious law are based on the science of the ancients and the Rabbis struggled with how to reconcile changing scientific opinion with established law. The example many people give is that of killing lice on the Sabbath (permitted in Jewish law, since lice were considered to be produced via abiogenesis). The Rabbis were VERY reluctant to change this even when the origin of lice had become well-established.

    A second example is the idea that eating fish and meat together (on the same plate) can be deadly — this is presented in the Talmud as a medical opinion (not religious law per se) but has stuck despite absolutely no modern medical evidence.

    Along similar lines, most traditional Jewish scholarship will typically ignore any findings of archaeology that may have material impact on Jewish law — and this attitude itself is very ancient. The chain of transmission of tradition is given greater weight than scientific investigation. It’s a fundamentally anti-scientific view but gibes well with observations about the Dead Sea Scrolls having no effect on modern Jewish practice.

    1. Razib, many of your points echo “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt (which I don’t recall you mentioning on your site, not recently at least). Group identity and affiliation with that identity are much more powerful than “arguments from reason”.

      own it. did not read it. seems like i’d not gain much new knowledge. it’s not like social cognition is a new field.

      Along similar lines, most traditional Jewish scholarship will typically ignore any findings of archaeology that may have material impact on Jewish law — and this attitude itself is very ancient. The chain of transmission of tradition is given greater weight than scientific investigation. It’s a fundamentally anti-scientific view but gibes well with observations about the Dead Sea Scrolls having no effect on modern Jewish practice.

      maternal genetic gentile descent for ashkenazi and many other jewish groups has had no impact. though it’s a pretty robust finding now. i have orthodox jewish friends who know about it. didn’t surprise them nor do they deny it.

      1. “The Righteous Mind” is a good read, I found it insightful at least but I’m not well-read in this area. It is probably too basic for you.

        maternal genetic gentile descent for ashkenazi and many other jewish groups has had no impact. though it’s a pretty robust finding now. i have orthodox jewish friends who know about it. didn’t surprise them nor do they deny it.

        I actually wasn’t aware that the DSS discusses conversion, but the idea of non-Jewish women “converting” (in some way), in large numbers, during the Roman era should be standard knowledge for most Western-educated Jews, even though the standards for conversion are now different than they were then.

    2. I’ve seen the same in traditionalist Christian communities. For example, Catholic and Orthodox churches have a very strong taboo against ordaining women to the priesthood, although it is very difficult to justify this from the basic principles of Christianity, which was suppose to have been about tearing down the old legalistic taboos that made no moral sense. It just seems to have been a rule inherited from Judaism and possibly Graeco-Roman paganism (there were pagan “priestesses” but I’m not sure they did the big stuff like public sacrifices). The sense among the early Christians must have been so strong that only men could possibly be expected to lead the Church’s sacramental life that it needed no justification.

  9. “to give the patina of erudition or abstraction to sentiments which are fundamentally derived from emotion or manners enforced through group norms”

    I don’t understand the genesis; that first “choice” that we build around. I am prone to isms, maybe more than most. That said, I should be innately primed for Southern Nationalism, but one of their foundational myths is that the Civil War was not “about” slavery. That’s absurd; it’s written down, yet, otherwise intelligent people sign on. I understand how we can build, elaborate, defend and ignore; I just can’t grasp the creation of that initial plunge.

    1. White nationalist Southern Nationalism made sense (sociologically) when that was fundamental to the economy of the region. What is stunning is how persistent the ideology is 150 years after the economic motives have become obsolete.

        1. I suspect that most people who don’t get nationalism are at least mildly “on the spectrum.”

          I’m including myself in this, BTW. I don’t consider myself an aspie by any means, but much as Judith Rich Harris noted about herself, I seem to have a defective “groupness” module in my brain. I’ve never been able to understand how one decides to root for a sports team, for example, and patriotism has always befuddled me because I can’t see how one can have pride in accomplishments that they are not personally responsible for.

      1. “What is stunning is how persistent the ideology is 150 years after the economic motives have become obsolete.”

        This is exactly what confuses me. I can understand an identity concurrent with religious, social or economic conditions. At least “normal” nationalisms peter out into some pre-history myths and legends or vague historical facts. The current Southern Nationalist revivalists are doing it in the face of books, newspapers, letters and photographs that contradict one of the main tenets of their foundation.

        1. Do you think they really care whether it was about slavery or not? Or is that propaganda – they know other people find slavery unappealing, so they tailor their message to that sensibility?

          1. “Do you think they really care whether it was about slavery or not? Or is that propaganda – they know other people find slavery unappealing, so they tailor their message to that sensibility?”

            It is true that slavery is recognized as an indefensible evil so they minimize and remove it from their mythical history. It is a perfect example of what Razib has said about facts being the least important variable.

            Extending this further in line with Razib’s post, I am very sympathetic to some of their goals, such as opposing the destruction and removal of Confederate monuments. Forty years ago, I was opposed (passively) to the efforts directed at preventing blacks from voting. I valued suffrage as a piece of liberal democracy that should be universal.

            Considering this from Razib:

            “I believe that the era of public reason and fealty to empirical standards in at least official capacities is fading. Social cognition, tribal logic, is on the rise.”

            I can no longer oppose the Southern Nationalists on the grounds that their actions are inimical to liberal democracy when it is fading from the scene and there are few of its defenders in power.

        2. There has been virtually no intermarriage between Southern whites and blacks, and much historical hostility. Why would the nationalistically inclined on either side view the other as members of one happy Southern nation?

          1. There has been virtually no intermarriage between Southern whites and blacks

            this is true for intermarriage.

            but interesting, 1 in 10 white southerners have bwn 0.5 and 5% black ancestry. the researchers assumed that people who are 5% or more black would know…this is not always the case. but setting that aside, if 1 in 10 still have detectable ancestry, then a very substantial minority (more than 1 in 10 since a lot of white southerners have pre-revolutionary british heritage) and possibly a majority have a genealogy link to africa within the last 300 years.

            #weird

  10. I can no longer oppose the Southern Nationalists on the grounds that their actions are inimical to liberal democracy when it is fading from the scene and there are few of its defenders in power.

    the fundamental issue is that when you play the games of power you reduce everything to power. until power is the only variable left on the table you don’t understand how much you relied on the adjudicating and moderating ability of abstract principle.

    1. If I enshrine freedom of speech as an ideal, as a virtue, because it is a mechanism, as you say, for adjudication and moderation, in pursuit of a greater virtue, say liberal democracy, on what basis do I support the means if the end is no longer possible?

      1. we now have mainstream political figures on the left such as dean saying ‘hate speech is not free speech’ (this is a common refrain on the far left already). that’s fine i guess, but many on the right have always been comfortable with censorship, so there is now going to be far less principled ability to defend free speech when people on all sides see it as purely rhetorical.

        as a right-wing person of liberal (in the broad sense) inclinations, i feel kind of dumb defending free speech to conservatives who know that that the left won’t defend their right to engage in speech that the left doesn’t like. they don’t believe that their tolerance would ever be returned in kind.

        (again, this is not the whole left but those who defend absolutist free speech tend to be old white guys, and ultimately they’re fading as a demographic and even they won’t really put their necks on the line to defend conservatives at the end of the day when push comes to shove)

  11. The Gibbons piece fails to convince white nationalists because it’s whole argument is built on a strawman. Even Hitler knew that the German population was a mixture of different groups. He wished to increase the amount of Northern Europeans in the German population.

    Using “purity” as the crux of the argument is the flaw. Everyone knows that populations are mixed. Consider the case of “invasive” species. Our environment is rich in diversity, but that does not mean a foreign entity is desirable. In fact with these species, they are highly adaptive, but we have a concern about preserving a certain type of diversity and excluding another type of diversity. Not all diversity is equal.

    Using an even simpler example, on a color wheel, we can mix yellow, red and orange and this is a diverse mixture, but it is hardly the same thing as mixing blue and purple.

    1. it may not be underlying logic, but the rhetoric of purity is pretty pervasive. so i can understand the confusion. reality is most ppl do not sit around thinking deeply ‘what do net-nazis think’.

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