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July 12, 2006

Steve on Economists and Extended Families

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Steve Sailer is on another one of his hot streaks. Here and here, he argues that economists undervalue how much people tend to behave like members of extended families. Here he dismantles a dumb piece by the NYTimes' Tony Horwitz and gives an informative lesson in California history while doing so.



posted by Michael at July 12, 2006


Commenting here because I can't work out how to comment on Steve Sailor's posts. Couple points: yes, people in many poor countries "privilege" their extended families and villages over the state, but 1. that is usually true of people in villages everywhere. Villages in early 20th-century France, or contemporary communities in Eastern Europe. This ceases to be true as people move to cities- I live in Mumbai. Singapore (where I have lived) and HK are good examples as well- confucian cultures, to boot. May never have been true of the US, because it has traditionally been a nation of immigrants, people who left their families behind. 2. "If you can steal $10,000 per year by never paying to park in Manhattan, you can support five relatives back home in Chad on a munificent $1,000 per year (while keeping the other $5,000 for yourself, but that's only fair).". Not relevant- the folks who are breaking the parking rules here would not save any money by not paying up, because, even if they pay, it would come out of the pockets of the Embassy/Consulate/Mission.

Posted by: Rajeev on July 13, 2006 2:22 AM

Rajeev -- That's a good point about who pays for parking tickets! The city/extended-family question is interesting, no? My experience in the States has been different than yours. Growing up in a small town (being overrun by the suburbs), I saw little evidence of extended-family/tribal behavior. When I set up adult life in NYC, though, it was everywhere. You can't really function in NYC without knowing what "the Irish" are about, or what to expect of "the Italians," or "the Jews." So in your culture, people leave that kind of world when they go to the big city. In mine, that's what they run into when they go to the big city. Fascinatin', tks.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 13, 2006 11:22 AM

Michael, never thought of that in those terms. I think most people who come to Mumbai find it either liberating or alienating. Some folks just can't take it, and eventually leave. Others- like me- can't see how they can go back. When you speak of "extended families", assume you mean literal extended families? Like the Grangerfords and Shephersons in Huck Finn? Thats what you can still see in villages across India. Family comes first. When you come to the cities, that ceases to be, though family remains v important for most. Never thought that would common in NYC- unless you are using the term metaphorically? Cheers

Posted by: Rajeev on July 13, 2006 12:18 PM

In India's case, the extended families that Steve talks about are castes because of endogamy for hundreds of years. People are more closely genetically linked within their caste than without. In addition, within a caste, people speaking the same language are more closely linked than those speaking a different language. And tribal/extended family behavior is all over the place. I am sure it is very much there in Mumbai too. Gujjus (language) stick together, Marwadis (caste) stick together - you can come up with any number of such examples.

In the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu (TN), tribal behavior is shown in who they beat up on. There are two main political parties in TN, and they both appeal to the Tamil language. They were once one party, but a schism split them into two. But the way they got into power was using an anti-Brahmin (caste) platform. The two parties hold in reverence a guy who once famously said, "if you see a brahmin and a snake, kill the brahmin first."

Posted by: JM on July 13, 2006 3:21 PM

JM, I think its a simplification to say that caste is equivalent to an extended family, esp when you are talking about a country 1/3 the area of the US, and with 3 times the population, which has seen wave after wave of invasions (in North India) with major consequenses for the genetic composition of the population. Yup, caste is hugely important, and people tend to line up by caste, but God knows Indians are also divided by religion and language (a friend of mine from Kerala told me that he felt more isolated when going to high school in Delhi than in high school in Cambridge, England)

Posted by: Rajeev on July 14, 2006 7:09 AM

I find Steve Sailer to be intelligent, interesting, and something a little close to evil.

These articles are some of his more intelligent and interesting works, where he spends his efforts making illuminating points about various cultures.

I find his works on racial differences to be somewhat more disquieting, mainly because I believe them to be a set up for the points that he tries to make about racial differences in mental abilities and implications about racial differences in ethical makeup (just how many times does he have to quote the difference in per capita crime rates, etc..)

First, this research into racial difference in mental abilities is pretty dicey. Nobody starts it without an intended outcome (in either direction), and our knowledge of neurology is iffy enough that attributing differences to genetic components, pre-natal environment, and post-natal environment is a wide open game that allows the figures to fit almost anyone's biases.

However, regardless of the science, the field has questionable value to humanity as a whole.

There are two major points that I dislike.

First, like it or not, our culture tends to equate a humans value with their intelligence. An accident with that kills a mentally retarded child is less tragic than one in which a child genius. Whether he intends to or not, Steve Sailer is trying to promlugate an idea that *will* be translated as "Blacks are less worthy human beings than whites."

(As an aside, my guess is that Steve is fully cognizant of this outcome, but his motives stem from cultural preservation rather than racial hatred.)

Secondly, any student of humanity knows that we humans overgeneralize. We take a guideline and give it force of law. Steve is always careful to talk about how the science talks about groups, but the reality is that it *will* be applied to individuals.

Society is fundamentally designed around the concept of equality of opportunity *because* there's a fundamental belief in equality of man. Remove the belief, and the whole reason for equality of opportunity is lost, and at terrible cost for our society.

He talks about eliminating affirmative action so that one knows that any minorities that got in deserved their place. At the same time he pushes forward positions that, if widely espoused, would guarantee that most would not accept the person's merit anyway.

My personal experience was more related to the Summers controversy. Intelligent teachers who intellectually understood that statistical differences in outlying ability cannot be translated into observations about individuals *could* not overcome their own intuitive bias to accept that yes, there were (few) individual women who were extremely talented at physics. These women (okay, girls) bore the cost.

At first I was angry at th teachers. Eventually I realized that this is simply how humans are wired.

The truth itself is not absolute justification. See a controlled fire in a movie theatre and scream "fire" and lots of people panic and die. Are you responsible, even as you spoke the truth? Yes, if you are intelligent enough to understand how people will react to your words. (And, more trivially, are you a hero speaking truth for telling your grandmother that her dress is ugly?)

To me, Steve Sailer is like that. He chooses to promlugate a somewhat dubious science that will have, if he is successful, a dreadful cost on society and countless talented inviduals. I don't believe that is his goal in and of itself, but I do believe that is a price he is willing to see paid (by others) in order to further his goals.

Posted by: Tom West on July 15, 2006 9:56 AM

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