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.”

Unrealistic Adaptations

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.