I indulge in a brief retrospective of the classic early 90s tv show, Quantum Leap.
Of all the mental shortcuts embedded in human languages which impede understanding of mindless processes (such as natural selection), few are more obnoxious than “because.” From this comes a tendency to anthropomorphise, and read all outcomes in nature as if they were ordained by something approximating an “intention.” Religion has to be an adaptation, because the religious (currently) outbreed the irreligious.” The second clause in that sentence is (currently) correct, but the “because” makes it sound as though the current religious selection advantage represents some “design feature” with the desired (by what?) end of promoting reproductive fitness (adaptation). And fitness is where the matter rests. Contrast with the following sentence:
“Under current conditions in which the religious outbreed the irreligious, religion is adaptive.” This statement is of course tautologous, since to say that a trait or behaviour is adaptive means merely that under condition X it gives one a reproductive edge. The term “adaptation,” though, is often applied to traits or behaviours which are selectively neutral or even counter-adaptive in particular environments. Genes which contribute to an overzealous appetite may be fitness-neutral to a subsistence farmer but become obesogenic in the modern world of easily available food. The genes’ carrier still exercises this “adaptation,” but it is no longer adaptive, reproductively useful, except in an environment full of fat-fetishists.
Human society has changed so dramatically in the last two centuries that it would be hasty to say the least to assume that everything with a current selective disadvantage is an “illness” (due to pathogens, mutational load, or whatever). Just as equally, one cannot assume that something with a current advantage exists having evolved by resolving an adaptive problem. Religion was ubiquitous across cultures before the 20th century, yet now the religious fraction represent an ever tinier percentage of the population in many countries, and it remains to be seen just how tiny the “genetic hard core of religiosity” will get before the trend is reversed. If the presence of religion were explicable in terms of fitness benefit, why are the genes not already more widespread? This alone should be enough to tell you that genes (and thus, adaptation) per se had little to do with religion’s evolution.
But apparently this is not obvious to some. Many people are inclined to view adaptations as intricate mechanisms, which by dint of their intricacy are delicate and susceptible to dysfunction, rather like the springs and levers of a pocket-watch. All analogies are imperfect, but this is a useless one. Some traits, and indeed behaviours, are more prone to changing by exogenous insults than others. For instance, a particularly naive person might imagine that in a pandemic of severe endometriosis, whereby female beauty and youth cease to be predictive as indicators of fertility, males would be disincentivised from their sexual attraction to these traits because the attraction would no longer perform its original “functions.” Needless to say, this would not happen. Male callogamy (“attention to beauty”) has proven so reliably fitness-enhancing over the eons, since even before the human species, that it is extraordinarily resilient to any incentive change: selection will always favour a deterministic developmental pathway for such consistently valuable traits. General intelligence is yet another example: the current dysgenic trend is a product of the last few generations and on the order of ~1 point per generation despite ramping up of mutational load globally (we’ll see how long it can last), and almost no non-genetic factors seem capable of depressing its expression to any appreciable degree. Lead looked plausible at some point, but then you remember that Victorians liked to use mercury in their make-up, and yet the 19th century was the most intellectually productive in human history.
Viewed under this light, the “religion as adaptation” thesis looks all the more dubious. Evolutionary forces – selection, mutation, drift, etc – are just as capable of acting on general intelligence and other psychological traits as anything else, hence the well-documented evolved changes in the European peoples since around AD1000: declines in violence, and probably gains in intelligence, culminating ultimately in the zenith of the 19th century. Evolution can indeed happen fast, but not that fast. The bulk of these changes took place over a period of, at minimum, 20 generations, not 2-3, and our intelligence has more or less survived the last 2-3 generations intact. Religion has not. It has none of the hallmarks of an adaptation, but all the hallmarks of a complex socially learned behaviour, maintained by powerful norm-enforcers and epistemic authorities, which has lost currency in recent decades for a variety of reasons, the most commonsense explanation being that it no longer appeals to the educated because the answers it gives are inferior to those of other epistemic authorities, i.e. scientists.
The human capacity for cultural transmission through language makes a nonsense of the notion that anything which is not adaptive, even across all environments, should be impossible to sustain. The most obvious example in Christian cultures is the vow of celibacy, and there are numerous others such as taboos against eating highly nutrient-dense foods, which persist among the undernourished tribes of Papua New Guinea. So too with the European wars of religion, which resulted in millions of young men dying childless in their haste to protect a non-existent natural resource, i.e. God’s favour.
Group selection is another temptation when formulating theories about the origin of religion – the idea that even a behaviour which reduces fitness at the individual level can persist if it provides some advantage at the level of the social group. It is a neat idea, but clearly unworkable in practice. Suppose some cohort of one’s country likes spreading the word of God through warfare – call this behaviour X. They can seize new territory in God’s name and provide new land for others in their group who are not quite so zealous, and this may look like a “success” to the people who reap those rewards, but at the end of the day: the behaviour is still going to diminish because everyone who engages in it is at a massively elevated risk of dying before reproduction. Evolution does not care about states or dominions.
It is understandable why post hoc stories about religion as adaptation are popular, even among well-informed people. Intelligence is not a good predictor of having sensible views where political matters are concerned, since politics is about group loyalty more than anything else. This is why the number of US Democrats who thought immigration was an important social issue declined precipitously in the 2010s when it became the issue “of” the right; what mattered was showing solidarity against rival political coalitions (i.e. the right) rather than the truth. Adaptive stories about religion seem to appeal an awful lot to European traditionalist-nationalists who are hoping to use Christianity as the conduit for some kind of renewed ethnocentrism to uplift the European spirit. The Chinese do not seem to need it, oddly enough. Nor even the Czechs, much closer to home. It did not work for Rome, and it sure as fuck won’t for us.
There is much talk of incentivising fecundity. It did not work for Imperator Augustus, nor will it for us, for a simple reason: kids are a pain in the arse. And land grants for chavs are probably not the best idea; need I explain why? One must differentiate based on intelligence or education level (a proxy for the former) to avoid pouring money into the sewer, and since no earthly government has the balls for that, we can forget it.
Alternatively, technology promises that which the Romans could scarcely have dreamt of. The demographic “problem” is not low fertility. Only in light of mass migration, which need not be, is low average fertility bad, and selection pressure will deal with that regardless. The problem is that the cognitive elite are infertile. Conversely, would the African population explosion be worrisome if the children all had IQs upwards of 180?
Even if you adhere to an ethical system such as libertarianism and so place all emphasis on freedom from coercion, there is a lot to be said for a state-enforced rewriting of human genetics, perhaps even a global one – setting aside the practicalities thereof. If the rewrite is imposed on all, well, there goes the problem of an inherited continuity of stupid. I am sympathetic to a lot of anti-paternalist intuitions where paternalism is liable to exacerbate a problem or make no odds, but it does make odds when one contemplates a future of regression to the mental acuity of orangutans. There will be no liberty then, nor indeed anything worth speaking of (assuming people could still speak). The desire for paternalism often arises from the knowledge that most people have poor reasoning abilities, but that need not always be, thanks to forthcoming technological interventions, too numerous to list. True, this may not be coming soon. What was that about caring for the long-term?
As per, pessimism is sensible. In the zeroth approximation, bet on China. Beyond that, don’t bother. This is where we are at.
To the dismay of some of supporters and to the misplaced enthusiasm of some disillusioned Trump voters, Bernie made some waves again by reiterating his opposition to open borders. It’s no secret around here that support for “open borders” is only a recent phenomenon on the left (especially in socialist and communist circles.) Bernie has made arguments against mass immigration before(interestingly this article no longer appears on the BernieSanders.com website, though that may or may not mean anything and could just be the result of a design change.)
Anyhow, don’t panic everyone, rest assured! Bernie for all practical purposes, supports open borders. At the most recent event, the questioner let him off too easily. Next question should have been, “Okay there are hundreds of thousands of people trying to get into the United States. People are complaining about them being detained. If 100,000 people from Honduras and Ecuador were to arrive at the US border tomorrow, how many would you turn back?” My guess is he would not send very many back at all, because to do so would require levels of brutality his supporters would not be comfortable with. Bernie would not risk the bad publicity that comes with pictures of poor tender tots crying on tv. “Oh no, look at the poor kiddies! We must take them in!”
He says he’s not for “open borders,” he’s for “comprehensive immigration reform.” “Comprehensive immigration reform” is basically just a euphemism for amnesty and allowing mass immigration from the third world, even if technically the border will not be absolutely, 100% “open.” Bernie knows that open borders is an unpopular term, which is why he resists embracing it, even if we all know he’s not going to be rounding up and deporting illegals by the millions, which is what having a genuinely secure non-open border would actually entail, at least until people got the message and stopped coming in droves.
“I’m against open borders, but I wouldn’t detain people or deport families who came here illegally for a better life,” (not an actual quote) is basically Bernie’s position in practice. It amounts to a distinction without a difference.
I wish these politicians would just be honest and say that no one has the balls to restrict immigration in any meaningful way. The demographics have already changed to a degree where significant immigration restriction is no longer possible electorally. The replacement has for the most part, already happened. “America” is nothing but a post-national land mass at this point. We just need to adapt and find creative ways navigate the dystopia until some opportunity for escape or partition presents itself.
In the meantime, at least we can safely say that Angela Nagle has been vindicated.
A fundamental problem of our time is the exploitation of people’s inability to comprehend language. I don’t mean in the sense of “people can’t speak English” or anything like that. Words like “discouraged” are now misinterpreted as “banned.” “It’s okay to be white” is labeled “white supremacy.” Terms and phrases are arbitrarily redefined on the fly to fit whatever narrative or line of attack is most convenient. While this phenomenon is by no means unique to the era we live in, the amplifying ability of social media allows slander and misinformation to proliferate in a short period of time.. The mischaracterizations reach millions of people, and by the time they can be countered or debunked, the damage is already done. They’ve been mythologized into the public consciousness.
Andrew Yang is getting a taste of just how dishonestly and opportunistically people’s views get misrepresented in the current year. In many cases pundits / opponents just outright lie when they mischaracterize someone’s beliefs, while other instances can simply be chalked up to poor comprehension, omitted context, etc…to equal effect but with benign intention.
The most recent example of Yang running into this has been regarding his position on circumcision. It’s pretty simple. Yang said he would discourage the practice. He thinks parents should have a choice and be informed that it isn’t medically necessary. Notice how people twisted that into “This guy wants to effectively ban Islam and Judaism.” Totally bogus insinuation. There was nothing at all controversial in Yang’s statements about the issue.
Another instance was when he predicted whites would shoot up churches. Yang’s timing could not have been more “perfect.” Not only did this prediction eerily come true (the New Zealand shooting occurred on the same day Yang was defending his statements on this very issue,) but Yang’s broader point was to illustrate why it’s important to treat whites fairly as they become a minority and offer them an incentive to have a share in the future. Taken in their entirety, Yang’s comments clearly were not attempting to denigrate whites but to promote empathy and understanding.
I’ve also seen a number of people refer to Yang as being “anti-robot,” due to his emphasis on how automation will impact jobs. Far from being a Luddite, Yang is a futurist who surely supports advancements in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. It’s just that he believes the humans workers displaced by automation should reap some of the benefits of these increases in labor efficiency. Everyone wins. The companies get the increased productivity from automation, and the former employees get a shorter work week and a cash dividend on the backend. The American revolutionaries used the slogan “No taxation without representation!” Yang’s variant might well be “No automation without compensation.” Similarly, with his proposal to demand social media companies give users a percentage of the money they get for collecting and selling users’ personal data, an apt rallying cry might be “No data extraction without a piece of the action!”
Yang is essentially being “jumped in” to the dissident political arena. These early, absurd distortions of his positions should serve to toughen him up and provide an eye-opening experience. If he realizes how easily his views can be grossly mischaracterized in this way, perhaps he might question his assumptions about the views and intentions of some of his more contemptible, “unpersoned” supporters. This is my third article promoting Yang for president. One might say that given some of the (mildly) controversial things I’ve written in the past, people like me aren’t welcome in the campaign. Well, that’s too bad. Yang is going to have a broad base of support whether he likes it or not. As long as we can remember this is about unifying people toward a common goal, there’s room on the Yang Yacht for everyone. Crack open a cold one, and set a course for bag island.
Brandon Adamson is the author of Skytrain to Nowhere and several other books of poetry.