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Race and other annoyances
Human populations are not unified social actors.
The essay has provoked a range of thoughtful comments. Many of which turn on the issue of what a conspiracy is. Wiktionary tells that a conspiracy is:
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The act of two or more persons, called conspirators, working secretly to obtain some goal, usually understood with negative connotations.
In law, a conspiracy is:
An agreement between two or more persons to break the law at some time in the future.
Conspiracies happen. Conspiracy theories (really, conspiracy hypotheses) can make for a congenial story: bad things are happening because bad people are getting together and causing them.
The typical problem is that narrative simplicity is purchased by adding an extra layer of analytical complexity—deliberate, secretive, coordination. Which is ever more of a problem the more people are required to be part of the alleged conspiracy.
Groupthink, social signalling, imitative behaviour: these can usually explain common, even coordinated, responses without the extra complication (and difficulties) of conspiracy. Especially if there are status plays involved to motivate said groupthink, social signalling and imitative behaviour. All of which readily scale up. Conspiracy, not so much.
“This is what you must believe to be of the smart and the good” can, demonstrably, get people to accept/advocate/facilitate all sorts of bonkers stuff. A current focus for conspiracist thinking, the World Economic Forum (WEF), works on precisely that “smart and good” pattern, with the extra coordinating incentive of the very expensive pay-to-play entry fees.
While there is a distinct lack of transparency in what is done with that money, the WEF produces so much noisy propaganda, that while there is clearly plenty of networking involved, there does not seem to be much secrecy. Michael Shellenberger has an informative discussion of the WEF here.
As one commenter on the latest essay pointed out, there is not much consolation to be had if you are being mobbed and gaslit that your persecutors did not coordinate beforehand. Having an accurate sense of the mechanisms does, however, help target strategies to disrupt such patterns.
As commenters also pointed out, it is common to deride folk pointing to coordination, and coordinated advocacy, as “conspiracy theorists”. This reaches particularly ridiculous levels when folk are derided as “conspiracy theorists” for simply referring to things that are up on the WEF website, such as The Great Reset or eating insects.
One commenter pointed out that there was a class element, where lower class folk are derided for their adherence to unapproved conspiracy theories (e.g Qanon) while “sophisticated” folk embrace “approved for smart people” conspiracies (e.g. Russiagate). A useful, detailed account of how the US mainstream media threw away its credibility via embracing the latter conspiracism starts here.
The class distinction in which conspiracism is status-kosher, and which is not, is particularly clear in that much pseudo-sophisticated intellectual analyses are, in fact, thinly disguised conspiracy theories. As I also discuss in the essay.
This tends to be particularly so of race analysis. That, somehow, folk of a particular race are getting together and coordinating their behaviour.
Racialisation of society can be very convenient for elites. Anything that divides the general populace, particularly a voting citizenry, enabling divide-favour-and-dominate games to be played, tends to be convenient for elites.
Given our capacity for moralising self-deception, these divide-favour-and-dominate patterns can emerge without explicit conspiracies.
One of the great insights of evolutionary theory is that things not capable of forming intent can nevertheless act, or at least be selected for as if they act, strategically. (Hence “the selfish gene”.) All you need is feedback and response.
“Woke” (i.e. Post-Enlightenment Progressivist) racialisation is very much an elite divide-favour-and-dominate game. But it is also very much a process of selection of and for convenient, status-marker beliefs.
Part of what is going on is straightforward selection of beliefs that favour “vampire” elites. That is, elites within groups who gain leverage and resources from their ethno-racial confreres doing comparatively badly.
In US politics, for example, many African-American academics, politicians, bureaucrats, literati, and employees of non-profits, gain status, and access to resources, precisely because their ethno-racial confreres have social outcomes worse than the US averages.
If African-Americans started doing as well as other Americans, the African-American “vampire elite” would lose their status-and-resource leverage. Which means, of course, that it is against their interests for African-Americans to improve their social outcomes.
Hence it is in their interest to block discussions and policies likely to lead to such improvements. Which, given our capacity for self-deceptive moralising, particularly in shared-interests social networks, they do. (See, for example, “defund the police”.)
One sees similar “vampire elites”, who feed off blood, death and poverty among their ethno-racial confreres, in indigenous communities in the settler states (US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand). One of the reasons the Voice proposal in Australia is a recipe for disaster, specifically for indigenous folk.
By global standards, African-Americans do remarkably well: but so does everyone in the US, or any developed democracy. Including the descendants of American slaves, whose average wealth, income, life expectancy of are all rather higher than in West Africa (the largest source point for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade).
That is not, however, a comparison that has much emotional or status power.
Status and leverage games lead to labelling all African-Americans as “black”, as a common racial group, even though the descendants of American slaves, Afro-Caribbeans and recent African immigrants have very different social patterns and outcomes.
Barack Obama is the child of a (temporary) African immigrant. Kamala Harris is of mixed Afro-Caribbean and South Asian background. No descendant of American slaves has ever graced the Presidential nomination of either the Democrats or Republicans and, on present trends, is not likely to.
Labelling everyone of African descent as “black” is an excellent vehicle for obscuring that different groups of African descent in the US have widely varying outcomes. Thus suppressing effective inquiry into why. Which might lead to solutions, and it is not in the interest of a vampire elite that such solutions happen.
Negative incentives regarding African-American advancement applies also the Democrat Party. The basic pattern in the US is that the (non-public sector) middle class votes Republican, the rest vote Democrat. It is against the electoral interest of the Democrat Party for their voting blocs to become “too” middle class. As they are currently experiencing with the shift to more and more Hispanics voting Republican.
African-Americans becoming too solidly middle class is a potential electoral disaster for the Democrats. The Democrats are therefore not a likely vehicle for African-American advancement.
A raft of progressive policies have not been particularly good for African-Americans. Affirmative action in federal employment bled off the African-American middle class into the public sector, atrophying African-American local commerce. Public housing aggregates together folk with more chaotic lives and minimises the example of middle-class strategies available to model. Welfare subsides more chaotic lives, also undermining the modelling of middle-class life strategies. Busing separates schools from communities and, with its forced associations, undermines the cultural cachet of education among African-American students. Emphasising alleged structural hostility (“white supremacy”) undermines any sense of personal agency.
These “progressive” policies all inhibit the descendants of American slaves moving into the private-sector middle class, so operate in the electoral interest of the Democrats. At no stage do I think this effect is intentional, even though it is quite systematic. The combination of selection pressures—ideas have to resonate in order to replicate—and our capacity for moralising self-deception is sufficient to explain the patterns.
The adage of follow the money (which is often sensible analytical advice, but can be simplistic) is just a sub-set of follow the incentives. In particular, the notion that folk in the public sector do not have gaining-more-resources, increased authority, and shielding from the complexities of competence incentives, is just silly.
Crime and fiscal sinks
There is another dimension across which folk of African descent have wildly varying outcomes. African-American homicide rates vary hugely across the urban/rural divide within the US.
Any useful discussion of the difference between African-American and Euro-American homicide rates has to grapple with two patterns:
In rural US, African-American and Euro-American males have the same homicide rates, with the difference between the two increasing dramatically as localities become more urbanised.
This effect is dominated by the proportion of female-headed households in a locality.
Attempts to explain overall differences in African-American and Euro-American homicide rates on the basis of “structural racism” are, quite simply, clearly nonsense. Moreover, any claim that elevated African-American homicide rates are some intractable policy problem fails because it is clearly eminently soluble: rural US has solved it.
The key to understanding these patterns is, first, to realise that crime is a power law phenomenon: violent crime is overwhelming dominated by a very small number of (overwhelmingly) males. A Swedish population study, for instance, found that 1 per cent of the population (almost all male) committed about two-thirds of all violent crimes and 4 per cent of the population (overwhelmingly male) committed all of them.
This means that we are dealing with a tail effect. In particular, since violent crime is positively associated with physical robustness (for obvious reasons) and lower executive function (also for obvious reasons, including less patience or response control) an increase in the number of (mostly males) who have high physical robustness but lower executive function will have a wildly disproportionate effect on the rate of violent crime.
Executive function being:
a constellation of cognitive processes, including sustained attention, response inhibition, working memory and error processing, which allow humans to guide behavior in a goal-directed and adaptive fashion. (Barnes et al.)
Executive function is also almost completely heritable. A major reason why social mobility tends to be low across human societies.
The existence of bottlenecks in the spread of human populations out of Arica, human breeding being dominated by local connections, high infant and child mortality, plus variations in ecological pressures, mean that there are physical markers of continental, and sub-continental, origin.
The idea that physical markers of continental origin vary by population but all other human characteristics are equally distributed in every human population is a deeply silly, and obviously false, idea.
Thus, East Asia did not have particularly strong selection for physical robustness but did have increased selection for executive function. Both because rice farming requires cooperative forward thinking but also because rule by a Confucian bureaucracy (in China, Korea and Vietnam) in a polygynous society meant that the (lower executive function) underclass did not breed while those who passed the exams had increased breeding capacity. This leads to a relatively small high-physical-robustness plus lower-executive-function tail.
Hence, the prediction would be that East Asians, including East Asian diasporas, can be expected to have generally lower rates of violent crime (which is what we observe). Indeed, the more voluntary migration selects for stronger executive function, the lower rates of violent crime among migrant groups can be expected to be.
Conversely, Sub-Saharan Africa, being where Homo sapiens evolved, so lots of parasites, pathogens, predators and mega-herbivores who co-evolved with Homo sapiens, had increased selection for physical robustness. Hence the disproportionate athletic and sporting capacity of those with Sub-Saharan African ancestry.
That same evolutionary landscape created generally weaker selection for executive function. Most of the societies were not literate, children tended to be dispersed via various forms of fostering to spread risk, high levels of polygyny and unusually fluid households all led to less parental investment in individual children and a more random connection between executive function and successful fertility.
Even worse, the lots of parasites, pathogens, predators and mega-herbivores led to relatively low population density, which made labour more valuable than land, which made slavery endemic. So much so that Africa was the only continent where living away from coasts and plains, in the more inaccessible uplands, was an advantage.
Slavery is highly corrosive of social trust. Slavery is also the anti-family structure. Slave populations generally do not reproduce themselves (unlike serf populations). Even the Antebellum American South used smuggling to keep its slave population up.
The evidence suggests that the slave trade had an adverse effect on the external environment, which continues to affect trustworthiness to this day. We also find evidence that the slave trade altered the trust of modern Africans through internal factors, such as norms, beliefs, and values. Our tests suggest that the internal channel accounts for at least half of the reduced-form effect of the slave trade on trust.
Overall, the findings provide evidence for the importance of internal norms and beliefs in transmitting the impacts of a historical shock, in this case the slave trade. One reason that history matters today is through the evolution of cultural norms. (Nunn & Wantchekon)
The Transatlantic slave trade would also have selected positively for physical robustness and, likely, negatively for executive function, if only as those with higher executive function would have tended to sell those with lower executive function into slavery.
In other words, African diasporas can be expected to have a bigger tail of high physical robustness, lower executive function, so higher violent crime rates.
What is the public policy implication of this? Very little, for the difficulty is eminently soluble, as rural US and urban localities that do not have lots of female-headed households have solved it.
What it does mean is that African diasporas, particularly African slave diasporas, are particularly vulnerable to under-policing: that is, the inadequate provision of policing services in their locality.
In the Antebellum South, free “blacks” were a relatively small population (especially outside Louisiana) and most of those of African ancestry where controlled by slavery. Conversely, the “poor white trash” were systematically under-policed. Leading to reports such as:
Poor white men, especially, began to be considered “dangerous” and violent individuals who were always looking for trouble. As Edward Ayers found, affluent Southerners likely feared poor white men more than they did slaves. The note of one physician contained sentiments that seemed to “have been widely shared.” When traveling alone, the doctor admitted, “the sudden appearance of a white man generally excited some apprehension with regard to personal safety, but the sight of a black man was always cheering, and made him feel safe.” (Merritt, p.219)
The more urbanised a jurisdiction, the more you get “fiscal-sink” localities. Localities where government expenditure is high but revenue is low. The incentive to provide adequate policing to such localities is therefore low.
Under-provision of policing services leads to higher rates of violent crime. With African diasporas, particularly slave-ancestry diasporas, being particularly vulnerable to such under-policing.
So, one gets a double divide-favour-and-dominate whammy. On one hand, “white supremacy” and “structural racism” is used to blame the general citizenry for the results of the policy choices of local and other governments. On the other hand, the stigma attached to “blacks” for their higher rates of violence is used to obscure the failure to provide adequate policing services.
Welcome to a fundamental problem of the welfare state: it generally requires systematic altruistic competence. That is, for officials to systematically go against the operating incentives. Again and again, that has proved to be too big an ask.
Americans are screwed in the head over race: it’s their birthright. One of the most annoying aspects of their deeply broken academe is how it attempts to export various versions of being screwed-in-the-head-over-race to the rest of us.
For intelligentsias are strongly disproportionately inclined to generate and advocate bad ideas. The lack of character tests, the weak or absent reality tests, means that the costs of being in error are lowered. Selection for approval with weak reality tests means selection for ideas with rhetorical and status power rather than truth. The result is systematically high levels of efficient self-deception. [And truth is a weak social signal.] Hence the propensity among intelligentsias for selection for, and advocacy of, bad ideas. As we can see in the various aforementioned vampire elites.
While race as continental origin is a feature of human populations, with associated physical markers, continental origin is generally far too thin and fuzzy-boundary a difference to sustain much in the way of explanatory capacity.
There will be differences in the distribution of various traits, but that does not put all members of any race in a particular box. It certainly does not make them unified social actors.
Which is why those who want to elevate race as an oh-so-salient feature of human society naturally end up embracing some level of conspiracism. A tendency to be avoided, as the latest essay discusses.
[ADDENDA: a statistical error regarding the violent proportion of the population (4 not 7 per cent) and how male that is has been corrected.]
Jessica J.M. Barnes, Angela J. Dean, L. Sanjay Nandam, Redmond G. O’Connell, and Mark A. Bellgrove, ‘The Molecular Genetics of Executive Function: Role of Monoamine System Genes,’ Biological Psychiatry, 2011;69:e127–e143.
Stuart Buck, Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation, Yale University Press, 2010.
Gregory Clark, The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility, Princeton University Press, 2014.
Catherine Cubbin, Linda Williams Pickle, and Lois Fingerhut, ‘Social Context and Geographic Patterns of Homicide Among US Black and White Males,’ American Journal of Public Health, April 2000, Vol. 90, No. 4, 579-587.
Laura E. Engelhardt, Daniel A. Briley, Frank D. Mann, K. Paige Harden Tucker-Drob, ‘Genes Unite Executive Functions in Childhood,’ Psychological Science, 2015 August, 26(8), 1151–1163.
Keri Leigh Merritt, Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South, Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Nathan Nunn and Diego Puga, ‘Ruggedness: The Blessing of Bad Geography in Africa,’ The Review of Economics and Statistics, February 2012, 94(1): 20–36.
Nathan Nunn and Leonard Wantchekon, ‘The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa,’ American Economic Review, December 2011, 101 (7): 3221–3252.
O¨rjan Falk, Ma¨rta Wallinius, Sebastian Lundstro¨m, Thomas Frisell, Henrik Anckarsa¨ter, No´ra Kerekes, ‘The 1% of the population accountable for 63% of all violent crime convictions,’ Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, 2014, 49, 559–571.
Emmanuel Todd, The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems, (trans. David Garrioch), Basil Blackwell,  1985.
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