Monday, April 25, 2016

April 25, 2016 -- A Quick Run Around the Web

  • "We Aren't The World"--Pacific Standard Magazine. An article about the ground-breaking research by anthropologist Joe Henrich, challenging long-held assumptions of human psychological universality, but that how we perceive and think about the world is strongly influenced by culture. From the article: 
... It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others — and even the way we perceive reality — makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors. Among Westerners, the data showed that Americans were often the most unusual, leading the researchers to conclude that “American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners — outliers among outliers.”
    Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.
      ... In our own day, both neoconservatives and progressives have accepted the view propounded by Francis Fukuyama that only “democratic capitalism” can satisfy modern needs—a prognostication that is likely to prove no better founded. Modernity in politics is a species of phantom, constantly elusive because it is continuously mutating.
        A pursuit of this ghost has shaped the ruinous “war on terror.” The course of the Iraq war illustrates some of the consequences. The effects on the West, which included a colossal waste of resources and the rehabilitation by the Bush administration of the barbarous practice of torture, are by now well known. Less well understood is the fact that disaster in Iraq flowed not only from mistakes in policy (grotesque as some of these were) but also from the attempt to remake the country as a democracy. The state of Iraq was built by the British from provinces of the Ottoman Empire by applying a divide-and-rule strategy that meant Iraq’s governance could never be democratic. One of the state’s chief architects, the British colonial officer, archaeologist, and scholar Gertrude Bell, wrote: “I don’t for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority. Otherwise you’ll have a mujtahid-run theocratic state, which is the very devil.” Formulated some eighty years before the American-led attack, Bell’s analysis has been amply confirmed by events.
          The invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in April 2003 destroyed the state of Iraq. Partly this was because of the policies of the occupying power, such as disbanding the Iraqi army in May 2003, a bizarre exercise that had far-reaching consequences. A more fundamental reason was the fact that the integrity of the state rested on Sunni hegemony, which the occupation undid. Iraq was a multiethnic and multisectarian state held together principally by force. Self-government for “the Iraqi people” was impossible, since nothing of the kind had ever existed. The only realistically imaginable outcome of regime change was the violent disintegration of the state.
            Since the American-led invasion, three new states have emerged in Iraq: the Islamic State (as the territorial unit of ISIS is sometimes called), which is ruled according to ISIS’s extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam; a de facto Kurdish state in the north of the country; and a Shia state headquartered in Baghdad that operates in an expanded zone of Iranian influence in what remains of the historic state of Iraq. Of the three, only that of the Kurds can claim to be anything like the modern secular democracy that regime change was supposed to install. In most of Iraq, the result of attempting to install democracy has been to empower theocracy—just as Bell predicted.
              “They have no sense of the great patterns of world history, the rise and fall of civilisations like Babylon and Rome that became very sexually tolerant, and then fell. If you’ve had no exposure to that, you can honestly believe that ‘There is progress all around us and we are moving to an ideal state of culture, where we all hold hands and everyone is accepted for what they are … and the environment will be pure…’ – a magical utopian view that we are marching to perfection. And the sign of this progress is toleration – of the educated class – for homosexuality, or for changing gender, or whatever.
                “To me it’s a sign of the opposite, it’s symptomatic of a civilisation just before it falls: ‘we’ are very tolerant, not passionate, but there are bands of vandals and destroyers circling around the edge of our civilisation who will bring it down.”
                  The barbarian has no morals. He obeys tribal codes that he does not understand, but accepts. Fairness exists only relative to his own interests. Empathy is foreign to him. He holds life cheaply and kills casually. He loathes outsiders and obeys no universal laws. His tribe is ruled by hierarchies which gain their position through brutality and trickery. And he assumes the world works the same way.
                    He cannot and will not interact with a more advanced civilization on any terms other than these. Cunning barbarians may learn the languages of more advanced civilizations and even ape their values for their own purposes, but they never adopt them. When a barbarian speaks of democracy, he means power. When he talks of religion, he means the worship of his own power. When he prattles of morality, he does not mean universal laws, but anything that impinges on his own power.
                      To the barbarian, all values are reducible to power. They are his gods, his religions and his laws.
                      • "The 1%"--West Hunter. The author explains why we don't see modern people with Neanderthal Y chromosomes or mtDNA:
                        ... A slight disadvantage is all that would be required to totally eliminate Neanderthal Y-chromosomes or mtDNA.
                          Imagine that a Neanderthal Y-chromosome reduces the bearer’s fitness by 1%, and that the original frequency of Neanderthal Y chromosomes (after admixture) was 2%.
                            It’s been something like 1500 generations. The expected frequency is 5.67 x 10-9. In real life it would probably have fluctuated to zero, and of course stayed there.
                              German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition announced new “integration” reforms Thursday that will remove worker protections from European Union and German citizens so refugees can compete with them for jobs.

                                The draft measure would suspend a law preventing companies from hiring non-EU citizens, unless there is no EU citizen willing or qualified to take the job. The new law would allow those companies to also hire refugees.
                                  According to the article, companies would be allowed to pay the refugees as little as one or two Euros per hour.
                                   (Updated 4/25/2016: Corrected typo).

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