Skytrain to Nowhere

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Skytrain to Nowhere is an imagination driven and esoteric volume of free-form poetry. The book documents the author’s experiences, thoughts and observations while riding the skytrain at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport over the period of several weeks. Since the skytrain is only designed to transport travelers between various terminals and parking facilities at the airport, someone spending nearly 50 hours riding it purely for recreation and artistic inspirational purposes is highly unusual (to put it mildly.) Aside from occasional quirky anecdotes about various passengers, the poems mostly deal with themes of motion, the passage of time, and nostalgia. The author grapples with these issues from a retro-futurist perspective. Skytrain to Nowhere celebrates the realization that our vitality hinges on our ability to always keep moving, while recognizing we are unwilling or unable to leave some things behind on the journey.

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A Brief Look at “Incel” Hysteria

Individuals of the libertine persuasion, those who take delight in the kind of bland sex-positive advocacy for which there are now countless figureheads on the internet, have suggested to me many times that the availability of internet pornography is behind recent falls in sexual violence, beginning roughly in the early 90s. I did not think that was abjectly insane, but it was certainly hard to miss some inconvenient background details: homicide, and many other kinds of crime, fell in the 90s, which casts immediate doubt on pornography as causal. No one quite knows why it happened, but there are several hypotheses, some spicier than others.

It is important to mention that this period of declining violence (~ 1990-2005) is a mere blip within a trend which has been going on far longer. Technology, broadly construed, may be responsible for some recent declines, and before that, the aggressive genetic selection against criminality that took place in Europe over several centuries.

One wonders: when was the last time that rape was a viable reproductive strategy – that is, more likely to result in descendants than to result in imprisonment and ignominy? World War Two seems a good recent example: the Red Army managed to leave hundreds of thousands of descendants through the rape of foreign women of the nation they were at war with, but that is quite different in terms of its social consequences, i.e. has much weaker selective force acting on it, than raping women in one’s social in-group or clan. All this is amplified, too, by the availability of abortion, which renders births from rape in the First World basically non-existent at this point.

So, the type of rapist who rapes the enemy’s women in war has a distinct psychological profile, and is probably far more common, than the type who rapes at home. In the modern West, the latter type make up almost all “rape data” after controlling for immigration. Exactly what do we know about those people?

Genes do not seem to contribute much to the variance of propensity to rape adults in Sweden. Then again, possible confound: Sweden. However, I would not be surprised if the pattern holds true even in undiversified regions. For instance, it could be that the heritability of within-group rape has declined over time because its “adaptive” function, if it ever had one, is now a dead end. So now, it (within-group rape) survives because the genes that increase the likelihood of doing it are normally implicated in other, more reproductively successful behaviours.

All of this should cast doubt on the idea that the incel “phenomenon” will trigger a rape epidemic. Men who rape (again, excluding wartime rape) have different brains from men who do not, regardless of whether they are celibate. And anyone saying that men need more “sexual outlets” to ward off the incoming Incel Rape Army is full of shit. There has essentially never been a society where long-term relationships (or even short-term liaisons) are men’s only chance at sexual access, even where alternative means are “banned.” Pornography and prostitution are banned in South Korea, yet approximately 23% of men there have visited prostitutes.

The average marital age for males in western Europe has been 26-28 for centuries, and a goodly portion of the population never married, even back when marriage was far more of an idealised social norm. Current trends are really not all that terrifying.

A World of Trauma – Civilizational Psychosadomasochism and Emptiness

According to Google’s vast textual corpora, there was nary an instance of the term “trauma,” or its distinctly psychiatric derivative “traumatized,” in written English prior to the 1880s. The first usage of “trauma” is documented in the 1690s, at which point it referred to physical wounding only. Its “psychic wound” sense did not pick up until the tail end of the 19th century, which is now far more familiar to us than the original sense. Exactly what took root in the world between then and now? The standard narrative is that the medical profession became wiser, but what of the wisdom embedded in our species’ genetic history? Note that even most doctors and biomedical lab technicians know little of basic genetics, or, one has to assume, of evolutionary reasoning. I recall being sneeringly told by one, on introducing her to the concept, that she was only interested in “proper science.” This is about when it set in that even many “grunt-work” scientists are basically morons. She certainly was.

Applying the principles of natural selection (i.e. evolutionary reasoning) to find the aetiology of disease tends to yield different answers from those that are now fashionable. In a 2000 paper, “Infectious Causation of Disease: An Evolutionary Perspective,” the authors compellingly argue that a huge number of supposedly mysterious illnesses are in fact caused by pathogens – bacteria or viruses. The argument is simple: any genetic endowment which essentially zeroes fitness (reproductive potential) can be maintained in a population’s genes only at the basal rate of errors, i.e. mutations, in the genetic code, with the apparently sole exception of heterozygote advantage for protection against malaria. Thus, anything so destructive which rises above a certain threshold of prevalence should arouse suspicion that a pathogen is to blame. This would include schizophrenia, an alleged evolutionary “paradox,” with a prevalence of ~0.5%, especially since, unlike “psychopathy,” schizophrenia has low twin-concordance, low heritability, and is discontinuous with normal personality. At present, direct evidence of the pathogen is scant, but that is to be expected: viruses are tricksy. No other explanation is plausible.

What, then, when one turns the evolutionary lens towards “trauma”? What is commonly called psychological trauma can helpfully be divided into two categories: non-chronic and chronic. The former is what most people would call distress. It is adaptive to have unpleasant memories of situations that could kill you or otherwise incur significant reproductive costs, which is why everyone feels this. It is good to have unpleasant memories of putting one’s hand on an electric fence for this reason. It is bad, and certainly not evolutionarily adaptive, for the memory to continually torture you for years after the fact. I have it on good authority that this does nothing to attract mates, for example.

In light of this, it becomes clearer what may be behind the apparent explosion of mental “traumas” in our psychiatry-obsessed world. One may observe, for instance, that there is no record of anything remotely resembling PTSD in the premodern world. It emerged in the 20th century, either as a result of new weapons inflicting new kinds of damage (brain injuries), or from psychiatrists’ egging people on, or both. If the received narrative about it were true, then all of Cambodia ought to have gone completely insane in recent times. It did not happen. Likewise with rape. One struggles to find any mention of long-term trauma from rape for most of human history. The ancients were not very chatty about it. Of course, they saw it as wrong, as is rather easy to do, but their notions about it were not ours. Rape does impose reproductive costs, but so does cuckoldry, and being cuckolded does not cause chronic trauma. Nor would claiming that it had done so to you do much for your social status. Sadly, exactly one person in existence has the balls to comment on this rationally. Many of these problems seem to originate from something more diffuse, something about the cultural zeitgeist of our age, rather than a particular field or bureaucracy.

It is generally agreed upon in the modern West that sexual activity before late adolescence, especially with older individuals, is liable to causing trauma of the chronic kind. This alone should give one pause, since “adolescence” is a linguistic abstraction with only very recent historical precedent, and many of the biopsychological processes which are conventionally attributed uniquely to it begin earlier and persist long after. The onset of stable, memorable sexual desire and ideation occurs at the age of ~10 (it was certainly present in me by age 11), commensurate with gonadarche, and is certainly almost universally present by age 12-13. The reason these desires arise with gonadarche is simple: they exist to facilitate reproduction. It would make little biological sense in any species other than humans to experience sexual desire but also experience some strange latency period of 1-8 years (depending on the country) during which any acting upon those desires causes inconsolable soul-destruction. Any time something seems completely unique to humans, one has to wonder if it has something to do with uniquely human cultural phenomena such as taboos. It is even more obvious when one observes human cultures which lack these taboos, e.g. Classical Greece. When they married their daughters off at age 13-14, they were concerned chiefly about whether the groom could provide her and her children with a stable living. But they were not concerned about soul-destruction. At least, I’m fairly sure of that. For the record: this is not an endorsement of lowering the age of consent. I am decidedly neutral on that question, but I do not believe Mexico’s answer is any less correct than California’s or vice versa.

It is wrong to say that psychiatrists, or therapists, have a superpower of changing people’s phenotypes. This is impossible, as any such change they could impart would be genetically confounded, i.e. it is genetically non-random sample of the population who are “successful” subjects to their interventions. So it seems fair to assume that a lot of mental health problems are explicable in this way rather than through straight-up iatrogenesis, and their prevalence is inflated somewhat through media hype and social media shenanigans. However, an interesting question is: how much of an evolutionarily novel phenomenon is the field of psychiatry? Are our minds equipped to deal with it? Well, not everyone’s. It seems possible to confect illnesses out of thin air if you subject the right person to the right conditioning, as is the case with the probably purely iatrogenic “dissociative identity disorder.”

Masses of people these days shell out large chunks of their finances on “therapy,” a form of psychiatric intervention which has shown itself to be of at best mixed efficacy. Many long-running randomised controlled trials of its effects turn up jack shit, which ought not to be shocking given what is known about the non-effects of education, extensively documented by Bryan Caplan and others. It has to change the brain in a dramatic way. Still lingering though, is the question of whether it may in fact make matters worse. Many social commentators have taken notice of the way in which mental illness, especially “depression,” seems to be afforded a kind of bizarre social status in some circles, such as within university culture in Canada. Even more galling is that it is not even clear whether “depression” of the garden variety is a disorder; it may be an adaptation that evolved to ward people off hopeless pursuits. Status is a powerful motivator, so this weird grievance culture cannot help, but encouraging people to make their living from talking to such people and consoling them with soothing words cannot be great either, since it is likely to induce the kind of institutional inertia on which the pointless continuance of America’s “drug war” is sometimes (correctly) blamed.

Legalising drugs and investing more energies into high-precision “super-drugs,” e.g. powerful mood-enrichers with no side effects, would do more for the true chronic depressives who literally have never even known what it means to be happy – a malady probably induced by rare mutations if it exists – than what is on offer today. Drugs are the only guaranteed way to do profound psychological re-engineering without gene-editing. It is not clear, though, if the psychiatric industry as it currently exists would be happy to see such problems vanish.

Emily Ratajkowski’s Modest Proposal

In response to Alabama’s recent, controversial, abortion legislation, model and former Blurred Lines music video star, Emily Ratajkowski, posed nude on Instagram, bemoaning how the bill would “perpetuate the industrial prison complex by preventing women of low economic opportunity the right to choose to not reproduce,” and further how: “the states trying to ban abortion are the states that have the highest proportions of black women living there.” Ratajkowski, a sex-positive feminist, was obviously blind to her implicit appeal to eugenics, but Breitbart journalist John Nolte jumped at the opportunity to push the recently-popular narrative that “Democrats are the real racists,” going so far as to claim that “Ratajkowski Believes Killing Black Babies Is a Public Service”, and accusing her of white-supremacy, even comparing her comment to “anything you would read at ‘The Daily Stormer’”. In fact, Ratajkowski’s sentiments are neither as “woke” as she’d like to think, or as fascist as Nolte would like to accuse her of but reflect a kind of pragmatism taboo to both the mainstream left and the mainstream right: an overlooked meeting point between humanitarian concerns and elitist/conservative-minded population control.

The relationship between legalized abortion and falling crime rates has, in fact, been well studied, with results pointing to the not-at-all surprising notion that requiring every pregnancy to go to term, no matter how unwanted or inauspicious, may not actually be great for society. Many scholars cite Roe V. Wade as the prime culprit in the staggering, American, crime-drop of the 1990’s, for example. The demographic angle on this truth is touchier but also founded in reality. Blacks are disproportionately likely to be affected by those conditions which lead to poverty and crime, and sure enough, the most recent data shows them representing 54% of those incarcerated in Alabama despite representing just 26% of the population, and this still after comprising a majority of the aborted pregnancies in the state (62% in 2017). Ratajkowski’s point is basically that we as a society are churning out large numbers of people who are predestined by sociocultural conditions and the prison industrial complex to live miserable lives, and that this is especially obvious in a state like Alabama. It’s hard to imagine that inviting the number of single, black, Alabaman mothers to skyrocket—as does the state’s new abortion bill—wont perpetuate increases in poverty, general unrest, and higher incarceration rates in Alabama’s awful prisons (the deadliest in the country). Certainly, this outcome seems more likely than “one of those black babies” emerging from one of the worst public school systems in the country to “cure cancer” as John Nolte chides us.

It would seem that promoting absolute control over reproduction to those members of society most affected by adversity would be something that both humanitarians of the left, and those concerned with conserving social order and demographics on the right should find common ground on—but such agreement is far from sight.

As exemplified by the Nolte article, the right is utterly delusional on this point: willing only to make moralistic arguments against abortion, and as a result unwilling to engage with any arguments for it no matter how pragmatic. Allergic to coupling their opposition to abortion with any reasonable plans to increase the social welfare of those most likely to seek it out, the pro-life GOP must rely on the myth that anyone can lead a good and productive life if only they pick themselves up by their bootstraps. As usual, their exaggerated focus on the individual and personal responsibility makes them blind to dynamics that can only be grasped on a larger scale. The pro-life movement is part the same principles-based conservative tradition that supports starting foreign wars in order to spread “freedom and democracy” worldwide. It riles up a certain, obnoxious, segment of the population but its big-picture, long-term, effects are disastrous and tend to have the very opposite effect of “conserving” anything. “Never mind all the refugees! Never mind all the unwanted children! Freedom and democracy are absolute ends in themselves, and abortion is murder!” In this sense, the pro-life victory in Alabama must be viewed in the same vein as so many other “accomplishments” of the Trump era: rather than moving conservatism toward something more nationalistic and pragmatic—as promised and as is necessary—Trump has come to embody the last desperate gasp of boomer Conservative talking points.

The left occasionally makes valid points about abortion but no longer connects them with any broader program for maintaining a healthy, cohesive society. Rather, the pro-choice movement is now packaged with disastrous policies like laissez-faire immigration, support for the reproduction-incentivizing welfare state, and, increasingly, a general devotion to demographic change and cultural dissolution. And yet, occasionally someone like Ratajkowski comes along and says something on the abortion issue that makes one grow nostalgic for the more sensible tone of the early 20th century progressive era.

There is, of course, a precedent for talking about the eugenics of birth control and the historical figure who best represents these ideas is none other than progressive era figurehead and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. Pro-lifers love to talk about how Sanger was pro-eugenics and therefore basically Hitler. Many of them would be surprised to learn that Sanger was in fact anti-abortion and simply a radical proponent of contraception. She was indeed pro-eugenics but wasn’t a mere social Darwinist. For Sanger, eugenics and a humanitarian concern for the poor went hand-in-hand. Not only would birth-control reduce the population of an underclass whose high fertility rates had a demonstrably negative impact on society, but also it could improve that class’s standard of living. Just as critics of immigration accurately point out that immigration has a negative impact on the citizens of a country who must compete with new arrivals for jobs, Sanger argued that promoting birth control to adversely affected communities would empower them to advance. That such a promotion of birth control would also have a eugenic effect was simply another, complementary benefit. Her biggest crime, it seems, was to question the idea that all lives are necessarily good and valuable things—a cardinal offense in a mass-democratic society.

The fact is, it’s easier to virtue signal against eugenics than to provide the underclass a decent life. Leave it to the irrational banter of the culture wars to prevent us from having a more productive conversation about reproductive rights.

The Chavs Are Not Listening

Many self-identified antinatalists adhere to some form of negative utilitarianism and are convinced that their not having children will reduce the net suffering of the world. Let us set aside the thorny question of whether beliefs have non-trivial causal efficacy independent of genes – which I doubt (<< skip to table 3). Who, prima facie, finds these ideas attractive?

Socially liberal, virtue-signalling (I use that phrase descriptively, not pejoratively), high-IQ persons of northern European descent who enjoy burying their heads in esoteric thought. In other words, the group who are most interested in, and most likely to, improve the lot of the living world. Any suffering that might await the children of these people is nothing compared with the Third World, nothing compared with what lies behind us, and with what may yet lie ahead. What will their beliefs do to arrest current population trends, such as Africa’s population boom, which is certain to engender much suffering? Can we market antinatalism to Africans – in a profoundly, brilliantly, orgiastically non-racist way?

That these problems do not occur to otherwise intelligent and well-informed people tells you a lot about how important keeping up appearances is as a human motivation, even or perhaps especially in “rationalist” circles: what matters is whether the ideas sound coherent to others in your social group, not whether they take account of reality as is.

If there is one thing that the cognitive elite of the West could really do with keeping in mind, whatever else happens, it is this:

The chavs are not listening.

Diseases, Disorders and Illnesses, Oh My

This will serve as an addendum of sorts to my article, The Harmless Psychopaths.

Medicine as a science is a modern phenomenon. It was not all that long ago that going to a doctor was more likely to hurt than help, a fact which persisted, some think, until as late as the 1930s. Medical researchers tend to just keep plugging away at their specialist interest and are unconcerned with what to them seem like instrumentally useless philosophical minutiae. Moral philosophers might argue about meta-ethics: the essence of moral statements, but this does not seem a necessary prerequisite to a relatively harmonious social order. One might just as well ask what is the use of “meta-medicine,” to wonder at the underlying assumptions of medical diagnoses, when scientists are quite happy getting on with finding cures for cancer, and whatever else.

Unfortunately, medicine is as subject to such human frailties as status-seeking and fashion as anything else. It became unfashionable in the 20th century to look for pathogenic causation to diseases thanks to the then nascent science of genetics, which is why it was not accepted as common knowledge that bacteria cause peptic ulcers until the 1980s despite this having been suspected, on good evidence, for well over a hundred years. Note that most cancers are only dimly heritable, in contrast with, say, autism, and have no clear Mendelian inheritance pattern. (Fill in the blank.)

Medicine is an applied science and so obviously has a prescriptive dimension to it, i.e. what is worth treating? Call this is the meta-medical question if one likes. The answer to this is not so complicated when dealing with physical disorders which glaringly go against the sufferer’s interests and those of peers, such as the flu, atherosclerosis, whatever. But what about disorders of the mind? Surely a meaningful concept, but surely far more prone to spurious theorising and fashion-biases in answering the meta-medical question, due to the diversity of moral viewpoints about what is “disordered” behaviour. For the purposes of this post, I use the terms disease, disorder, and illness interchangeably – which they more or less are in everyday usage.

This is how the DSM-IV defines mental disorder:

A. a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual

B. is associated with present distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom

C. must not be merely an expectable and culturally sanctioned response to a particular event, for example, the death of a loved one

D. a manifestation of a behavioral, psychological, or biological dysfunction in the individual

E. neither deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) nor conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict is a symptom of a dysfunction in the individual

The inadequacies of this are manifold and torturously obvious. Childbirth seems to fit quite snugly with condition B. Also, it is generally unhelpful to include a word itself or its synonyms in its own definition, such as in D. with “dysfunction.” E. seems to take it as read that the distinction between biological dysfunction and normal deviance is obvious, yet it is apparently not to most psychiatrists. It is for that reason that the traits branded “psychopathy,” for example, are continuously distributed in the population and usually harmless, but there exists an arbitrarily defined cut-off at the right tail of the distribution where it is conveniently labelled “disorder,” and the relevant convenience is just relative to the interests of whosoever finds these traits unappealing or whoever lacks the theory of mind to understand them. See also: ADHD, and teachers.

How to get around this arbitrariness? If ADHD and psychopathy are not useful to us WEIRDos, who or what are they useful to? Well, they are adaptations: they have a fitness benefit, i.e. a reproductive edge, in at least some environments, even if they are unpalatable to individual persons. This evolutionary view is what tempts some to propose a purely Darwinian definition of disease in which disease is conceived as any embodied phenomenon that is counter-adaptive across all environments. This would make homosexuality a disease, but “Asperger’s syndrome,” “ADHD,” and “psychopathy” not. This could certainly be illuminating from a solely descriptive angle where the only interest is to scientifically describe the causes of disease, but it is useless to practitioners of medicine and psychiatry, for whom the relevant question is “What ought to be treated?” If one asks doctors what the problem is with flu, they are unlikely to say anything about how it affects one’s reproductive chances, and, well, it doesn’t. Not much.

Whether one finds this distasteful to mention as a dispassionate intellectual, it is also a fact that the word “diseased” in popular usage carries a certain moral valence, even when applied to activities that one does not think morally important. To say that “Behaviour X is a disease” is not simply to say that it is evolutionarily maladaptive, but that it is wrong. This would seem an unhelpful confusion.

For the application of medicine, I tentatively suggest that what I think is the best formulation of the conventional usage of “disorder” be merged with the Darwinian definition: anything, internally generated (which may be another bone of contention, but that is a separate topic), which leads to non-trivial suffering in the individual and also has no conceivable fitness benefit. As for the descriptive-only theorists and researchers, the Darwinian definition is fine on its own, although perhaps it is worth while to find a word other than “disease.”