Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘human nature’

Is racism natural?

Posted by Richard on May 14, 2009

Dafydd at Big Lizards (don't let the banner blind you) says that racism is the most natural thing in the world. So much so that most racists don't even realize that that's what they are. But he argues that "natural" and "good" aren't synonymous, and that we should be glad that we've developed an alternative to this primitive, "natural" way of thinking (emphasis in original; I'm tempted to add my own, but instead just encourage you to read the following carefully and thoughtfully):

Racism is simply tribalism, where the tribe is expanded to encompass everyone of the same color or gross physiognomy. Western civilization is powerfully anti-racist because it's anti-tribalist; it redefines the comfort-group to a set determined by culture, not by skin color or facial features. That is why Western Borg culture led the way towards the abolition of racial slavery — and why many non-Western cultures, particularly in Moslemdom, still cannot understand what is wrong with that "peculiar institution."

(I use the term "Western Borg culture" because Western civilization is so powerful and attractive that it assimilates every culture it comes into contact with; resistance is futile.)

The song from South Pacific, "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," has it exactly backwards: Racism is the default state; what must be carefully taught is individualism: Not the I-me-mine kind of narcissism found in infants and liberals, but the full-monty philosophy that other people are also individuals deserving of as much respect and liberty as we, unless by their own actions they forfeit that respect.

That philosophy is bizarre, unnatural, and incomprehensible to very young children and very primitive peoples. Fortunately, the economic version of individualism — Capitalism — is such a powerful wealth producer that (a) Western countries are rich enough to mandate liberty (subsistance societies haven't the luxury), and (b) the smell of money lures the primitive towards liberty, Capitalism, and individualism by another completely natural deadly sin: Envy.

Thus does God — if He exists — turn even human failings to His own purposes.

Amen. Amen, amen, amen!

One of the greatest evils of the modern (post-industrial-revolution) era is the romanticist philosophy of which Rousseau is one of the earliest and most prominent proponents: the belief that there is something noble, clean, and pure about uncivilized savages. There is not.

As Rand said decades ago, ideas matter. And the ideas of the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and concomitant political movements (the American Revolution chief among them) led to vast improvements in the moral state of most human beings. Not the least of which was the widespread (except in the Muslim world) rejection of chattel slavery for the first time in human history. 

Racism is natural — but so is botulism. Both are destructive poisons. 

It's reason, the Enlightenment, individualism, and the philosophy of natural rights and liberty that have enabled us to transcend our "natural" and primitive urges, fears, and superstitions — and thank goodness that we have.

Most of us, anyway.

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Louis CK on Conan

Posted by Richard on February 27, 2009

I wish everyone in the country would watch this 4-minute bit by comedian Louis CK from the Conan O'Brien show. Especially everyone under 40, every ingrate with a sense of entitlement, and every "non-contributing zero" (there's a fair amount of overlap in those categories).

Honestly, though, we're all guilty sometimes of failing to appreciate the amazing world in which we live, and Louis CK offers the comedic equivalent of the slap upside the head that we deserve at those times. Very funny and very true — which is better than either alone.

(YouTube link

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‘Duh’ study of the week

Posted by Richard on September 4, 2007

I'm shocked, simply shocked. Cutting-edge social science research (probably federally funded) has uncovered a couple of astonishing facts. These findings further confirm the disturbing recent news that men and women are different. The groundbreaking study determined that (1) men prefer good-looking women, and (2) women are choosier than men.

Researchers questioned men and women prior to a speed-dating session about their preferences in a mate, and then compared those with their actual choices of people they'd like to meet with again. In another shocker, it seems that men and women both lie:

Men's choices did not reflect their stated preferences, the researchers concluded. Instead, men appeared to base their decisions mostly on the women's physical attractiveness.

The men also appeared to be much less choosy. Men tended to select nearly every woman above a certain minimum attractiveness threshold, Todd said.

Women's actual choices, like men's, did not reflect their stated preferences, but they made more discriminating choices, the researchers found.

The scientists said women were aware of the importance of their own attractiveness to men, and adjusted their expectations to select the more desirable guys.

I can't wait to see what valuable insights into human nature science will reveal next.
 

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The hands of a mathematician

Posted by Richard on May 25, 2007

Researchers at Britain's University of Bath are bravely exploring the subject that cost Harvard President Larry Summers his job. Fortunately for them, the link they've discovered between math ability and sex is indirect, so they may be spared the full wrath of feminists.

It seems that prenatal hormone exposure helps determine whether you're more likely to be literate or numerate, and your hands give you away:

A quick look at the lengths of children's index and ring fingers can be used to predict how well students will perform on the SAT, new research claims.

Kids with longer ring fingers compared to index fingers are likely to have higher math scores than literacy or verbal scores on the college entrance exam, while children with the reverse finger-length ratio are likely to have higher reading and writing, or verbal, scores versus math scores.

Scientists have known that different levels of the hormones testosterone and estrogen in the womb account for the different finger lengths, which are a reflection of areas of the brain that are more highly developed than others, said psychologist Mark Brosnan of the University of Bath in England, who led the study.

Exposure to testosterone in the womb is said to promote development of areas of the brain often associated with spatial and mathematical skills, he said. That hormone makes the ring finger longer.

Estrogen exposure does the same for areas of the brain associated with verbal ability and tends to lengthen the index finger relative to the ring finger.

Clearly, hormone exposure correlates with the sex of the fetus. Boy fetuses are likely to be exposed to higher levels of testosterone than girl fetuses (their little testes start making it). But both are exposed to estrogen from the mother, and the amount seems to vary quite a bit from pregnancy to pregnancy. So, boys are more likely to end up with longer ring fingers (and more spatial/math aptitude), while girls are more likely to end up with shorter ring fingers (and more verbal aptitude).

But some boys have shorter ring fingers (because they were exposed to more estrogen) and some girls have longer ring fingers (because they were exposed to lower levels of estrogen and/or higher levels of testosterone).

And some kids with short ring fingers really like math and do well at it, while some with long ring fingers do poorly for one reason or another. Aptitude is part of the puzzle, but it's not the whole story.

In any case, whenever feminists bristle at discussions of these differences, I have to wonder at their insecurity and lack of perspective. Shouldn't they celebrate the evidence that women are naturally better communicators, more literate, and better at abstract thought?

Men and women are different, all the way to the tips of their fingers. Can you digit? 

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Jews don’t matter to mainstream media

Posted by Richard on September 21, 2006

There was a rally in New York on Tuesday protesting the Iraq war. About 2,000 people attended. Apparently, nobody of any significance spoke (well, Jesse Jackson). But Reuters, AP, NBC, and other mainstream media organizations all covered the rally. The wire service stories were widely picked up throughout the world. AP and Reuters did mention that at the same time, about 200 Iranian-Americans protested against Ahmadinejad.

On Wednesday, there was another rally in New York. Across the street from the UN headquarters, 35,000 people rallied in support of Israel and to protest the man who wants to "wipe Israel from the map." Speakers included Gov. George Pataki, Nobel laureate Eli Wiesel, Ambassador John Bolton, and Professor Alan Dershowitz. Did you see anything about it on the TV news or in your morning paper? Me neither. Meryl Yourish searched widely for coverage:

Can you find a news source for the rally against Ahmadinejad at the UN yesterday? Correction: Can you find a non-Jewish media source, or a non-blogger source, for the rally?

I can’t. Except for the New York Sun.

I checked AP. Nothing. Reuters. Nada. I checked Google News. Nothing. 1010WINS. Nothing. I checked WABC, NY1, all the New York media sites. Gridlock alerts are the only thing you can find about the march. After all, it’s not newsworthy. The fact that 2,000 people marched a day earlier to protest the Iraq war? Oh, yeah, that made the news.

If you want to read about the rally, it appears that you have to go to the bloggers who were there, or whose readers sent in pictures. Or the Israeli press. Or the Jewish media. But nowhere else can you find any evidence that 35,000 people protested the Iranian president’s message of hate.

I think some in the media ignored this rally for political reasons — calling attention to it might benefit Bush and the Republicans. But I think there’s something else going on as well.

The mainstream media and the left (but I repeat myself) don’t see Jews as victims anymore they way they used to. Jews aren’t excluded from jobs, schools, and clubs anymore. As a group, they tend to be highly educated and successful. The Holocaust was long ago. Israel is a dynamic, vibrant, successful nation whose very existence is a reproach to its dysfunctional neighbors.

The mainstream media and the left love victims, underdogs, failures, fools, and incompetents — anyone who exhibits the highly desirable (to them) characteristics of dependency and dysfunctionality. But they are at best indifferent — and frequently hate-filled, contemptuous, and resentful — toward those who are competent, successful, high-achieving, and independent.

You know how folks on the left are always reminding us that they — the whole world, in fact — were united behind America immediately after 9/11? True, most of them were — but it only lasted until U.S. troops headed for Afghanistan. While smoke was still rising from Lower Manhattan and the nation was still on its knees and dazed, leftists throughout the world were brimming with sympathy. As soon as we got back on our feet and acted with strength and determination against the scum who attacked us, the sympathy began draining away and the criticism and denunciations began.

Most leftists feel the same way about the U.S. and Israel that they feel about rich and successful individuals — they despise them for their virtues.
 

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Making a virtue out of a vice

Posted by Richard on May 18, 2006

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution endorsed a suggestion by Ian Ayres and Barry Nalebuff in Forbes (registration required; use BugMeNot) to channel some of the short-sighted, get-rich-quick thinking that’s so prevalent among poor people into long-term retirement planning: lottery savings tickets. They’d work just like today’s scratch lottery tickets, except that 50% of the purchase price would go into the purchaser’s personal retirement savings account. The benefits are not trivial:

Some 20 million Americans spend at least $1,000 a year on lottery tickets. For these heavy purchasers the new tickets would increase their personal savings by $500 a year. Invested over 40 years, these savings tickets would generate an expected retirement nest egg of $200,000. This is a lot of money for the mostly not very prosperous crowd who buy lottery tickets every week.

I can’t help but note that, if these folks gave up this foolish habit completely and put the entire $1,000 a year into savings, they’d have a $400,000 nest egg.

But, hey — if I’d saved what I’ve spent over the years on cigarettes, beer, Dish Network, CDs, DVDs … not to mention single malt Scotch …

It’s pointless to speculate on how much better off people would be if human nature were different (and it’s downright dangerous, too; just look at the history of communism). Most of us have our little vices, weaknesses, and guilty pleasures, and we’re often willing to trade a large reward in the future for a smaller one today. So why not work with human nature instead of rail against it? As Tabarrok noted:

It is incredible that many poor people spend more on lottery tickets than on retirement.  My non-bleeding heart libertarian friend would point out that this shows how much poverty is due to irresponsibility and he would probably be right.

Nevertheless, Adam Smith said the goal of social policy is to create institutions like the market that channel self-interest in ways that redound to the social interest.  Call me a libertarian paternalist, if you must, but I like how lottery savings tickets channel failures of reason and prudence in ways that redound to the individual’s self-interest.

I like the idea, too. In fact, I’d buy some lottery savings tickets, and I haven’t bought a lottery ticket in years.
 

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