Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

The Son also Rises

Anyone interested in how society actually operates would benefit from reading Gregory Clark’s The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility.

Clark examined surnames in several different societies and how they have persisted over time in elite occupations. He found that social mobility was real, persistent and slow: much slower than much modern theorizing about it. In short, families count. Coming from a good family is more than half the battle.

And that means that genetics count. Most of the status of your children will be determined by whom you mate with. Practically speaking, produce the kids from the right wife or husband and you can largely forget about sending them to $50,000 a year Manhattan day cares. They are going to succeed with quite ordinary levels of parental investment. No amount of private schooling will turn a dolt into a success, and conversely quite ordinary levels of parental investment (love, education, opportunities) will turn smart kids into successes.

As Clark writes:

By and large, social mobility has characteristics that do not rule out genetics as the dominant connection between generations. Ascribing an important  role to genetics helps to explain one puzzle of social mobility, which is the inability of ruling classes in places like England, Sweden, and the United states to defend themselves forever against downward mobility. If the main determinants of economic and social success are wealth, education and connections, then there is no explanation for the consistent tendency f the rich to regress to society mean even at the slow rates we observe…..

Only of genetics is the main element in determining economic success, if nature trumps nurture, is there a built-in mechanism that explains the observed regression.

The implications of Clark’s findings are contrary to what most believe.

If nature does indeed dominate nurture, this has a number of implications. First, it means that the world is a much fairer place than we intuit. Innate talent, not inherited privilege, is the main source of economic success. Second, it suggests that the large investment made by the upper classes in the care and raising of their children is of no avail in preventing long-run downward mobility….Third, government interventions to increase social mobility are unlikely to have much impact unless they affect the rate of intermarriage between levels of the social hierarchy and between ethnic groups. Fourth, emphasis on racial, ethnic and religious differences allows persistent social stratification through the barriers they create to this intermarriage. In order for a society to increase social mobility over the long run, it must achieve the cultural homogeneity that maximizes intermarriage rates between social groups.

Of course, humans segregate themselves by religions and denominations within religions, and to a lesser degree by social classes, castes, and political tastes. “Not our kind” is the answer to many a proposal of marriage. Perhaps one of the main functions of denominations and religions is to prevent intermarriage. For example, an Anglican can marry a Catholic of the right sort, and a Presbyterian without thinking, but neither a Jehovah’s Witness or a Muslim without conversion being entailed, and conversion to either of the latter religions is to slide down the social scale to the bottom rung.

Which brings me to the end of Clark’s book, concerning his observations of the persistence of elite groups within Islamic societies of members of non-Islamic religions.

Elites and underclasses are formed by the selective affiliation to a religious identity of some upper and lower share of the distribution of abilities within the population. In Islamic societies, the practice of imposing taxes on religious minorities tended to recruit to Islam the lowest economic strata of the conquered societies. Elites and underclasses have maintained themselves over periods as long as 1,300  years because of very high rates of endogamy (marriage within the tribe) which preserves the initial advantages of elites from regression to the mean by preventing intermarriage with less advantaged populations.

Clark’s book is well-written, fact-based, and amusing. For those interested in how society actually works, rather than how it is supposed to work, his discussions of social mobility and the largely vain attempts to  prevent it produce lively interest in the discerning reader, and not a few laughs-out-loud as some important truth clangs like a bell.

Bored with the usual drivel?

Are you bored with ISIS, climate catastrophism, Harper versus his enemies, environmentalists versus Alberta, Obama’s incompetence, decline of the West, Putin’s machinations, Ebola, and the stupidification of everyone? Me too.

For a plunge into cold water, there are a number of blogs you can read that are far removed from ordinary worldly concerns, and I recommend them.

One which I came upon today is called The View from Hell. You might wish to start with “A Unified Theory of Nerddom”. This is what happens when you are very, very smart, and quite idle.

You can waste time in the neo-reactionary canon. I do not recommend them for their suitability for work or improving your social standing.

Then there is the ferociously Catholic philosopher Edward Feser who is always ready to assert that science and Western thought went wrong by the abandonment of the idea of final causality (goal-directedness) through the influence of Rene Descartes. In this regard David Bentley Hart is in full agreement with Feser: we went off the rails when  a limiting assumption which improved our scientific method (efficient causes only) morphed into a metaphysical assumption about the limitations of what was possibly true.

Here is classic Hart eviscerating an article in the New Yorker by Adam Gopnik:

Which brings me to Adam Gopnik, and specifically his New Yorker article of February 17, “Bigger Than Phil”—the immediate occasion of all the rude remarks that went coursing through my mind and spilling out onto the page overhead. Ostensibly a survey of recently published books on (vaguely speaking) theism and atheism, it is actually an almost perfect distillation of everything most depressingly vapid about the cogitatively indolent secularism of late modern society. This is no particular reflection on Gopnik’s intelligence—he is bright enough, surely—but only on that atmosphere of complacent ignorance that seems to be the native element of so many of today’s cultured unbelievers. The article is intellectually trivial, but perhaps culturally portentous.

And so forth.

I will summon the energy to care about worldly issues shortly. I hope your summer was beautiful.

Distributional Coalitions: Tribes,Classes, Lobby Groups

The intrusion of messy reality into economics generates most of its intellectual issues. The world escapes the simple axioms of market exchanges mediated through freely negotiated prices. An American economist called Mancur Olson wrote “The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation and Social Rigidities” in 1982. It discussed issues not within the scope of either monetarists or Keynsians, namely how economies do not work according to the ideas of either schools.

For Olson, the question to be answered was why some economies were performing better than others after World War 2. Why, for instance, was Britain in such a mess (pre-Thatcher) and Germany and Japan increasing in wealth by leaps and bounds?

Olson observed the behaviour of what he called “distributional coalitions”, which are normally economic associations but which can morph overtime into castes, tribes, or even races. Usually we call them “special interest groups”, and usually we think of them as things like the dairy farmers, or other organized economic groups with formal legal status which seek legal or regulatory privileges (professional associations, banks, etc). Olson pointed out that they are usually small, they exercize disproportionate power, they reduce efficiency in the economy, they slow a society’s adaptation to change, and once successful, are exclusive and seek to limit the diversity of incomes and values of their membership.

His final rule of interest groups was:

9. The accumulation of distributional coalitions increases the complexity of regulation, the role of government, and the complexity of understandings, and changes the direction of social evolution.

Olson pointed out how expensive it is for anyone to discriminate racially (or any other way) as individuals, but by contrast, how rewarding it is to discriminate when it is done collectively. South Africa, in the apartheid days, could engineer much higher standards for whites by keeping blacks out of skilled and semi-skilled work.

Moreover, a racially, linguistically and culturally distinctive group finds it easier to maintain a multi-generational coalition. “The linguistic and cultural similarities will reduce differences in values and facilitate social interaction, and … this reduces conflict and makes it easier to generate social selective pressures.” (p.159)

And here is the kicker: if you can reinforce the “distributional coalition” with inbreeding – marrying within the tribe, the class, the group, the caste – you will make the group work better over time. This is called “endogamy”.

Unfortunately, the promotion of prejudices about race, ethnicity, culture and intergroup differences in lifestyle will also make the coalition work better. The inculcation of these prejudices will increase the probability that the members will follow the rule of endogamy and strengthen selective incentives by interacting socially only with their own group, of their own accord.” (p160)

A good deal of whatever I learned as a kid from the osmosis of attitudes about the other tribe in Quebec, the French Canadians, reflected this truth of behaviour, and they had stronger if not deeper prejudices against us “English” (not a  tribe, really just a foreign bourgeoisie). A distributional coalition can be an ethnic majority as well as an ethnic minority. I am not saying that the prejudices of each tribe were unfounded; I am saying that looking at each group, the English in Quebec, or the French in Quebec, as a distributional coalition, generates some insights. It suggests that wherever you see strong barriers to intermarriage, you might be in the presence of a distributional coalition, as well as that of a tribe, caste, or religion. It also suggests that when barriers to intermarriage are falling, a distributional coalition is fading out.

Olson was suggesting that racial and other forms of discrimination can work as the enforcers of the privileges of a “distributional coalition”, but note that, in his view, he makes no assertion that we have some innate drive to discriminate  – an issue on which he is silent. He says that maintaining  in-group marriage (maintaining racial, tribal or religious boundaries) will strengthen the distributional coalition over time, indeed, it is the only way to maintain it over long periods of time.

In conclusion, Olson’s views balance the problems caused by instability against the problem s caused by distributional coalitions.

On the whole, stable countries are more prosperous than unstable ones and this is no surprise. But, other things being equal, the most rapid growth will occur in societies that have lately experienced upheaval but are expected nonetheless to be stable for the foreseeable future.

In short, they have had a chance to purge themselves of distributional coalitions.






Like trying to lift the gross national product with a set of tongs

News that the billion-dollar European effort to model the brain in a super-computer is on the verge of collapse comes as no surprize.

It will not fail because, as some neuroscientists claim, it is too narrowly conceived. You have more chance of getting a rocket into outer space by throwing rocks off the back of it. At least that method is consistent with Newtonian physics.

It will fail because consciousness is not neural activity. A hundred thousand neuroscientists claiming otherwise will not make it so. A neural network that “learns” how to count or how to remember will not have awareness.

Awareness is not generated out of material arrangements of matter. It may be received and housed by arrangements of matter we call brains and neurons, but neural activity per se  is not conscious and is not awareness.

I call it a category error, like trying to lift the gross national product with a set of tongs. Cannot in principle be done.

This view strongly contradicts Dawkins, Dennett, Sam Harris, John Searle and other professed atheists. It agrees with the views expressed by David Bentley Hart. To my mind, the atheists of that school cannot even explain awareness, let alone God. Yet I take comfort in a book written by a former practising neurological researcher and physician,  Raymond Tallis: “Aping Mankind”. I do so because Tallis expresses the same view as Hart, that consciousness is some other kind of stuff/energy/thing and it is not material – not the product of matter and its motions. So what? We all know this is plain mysticism, right?  Is Tallis not just another theist? Not so. Tallis is a convinced atheist, a member of Britain’s Humanist Association.

He calls “neuromania” and “darwinitis”, the besetting mental obsessions of our day, and he lays an axe to their foundations. His book has left even some of my unconscious assumptions gutted and hanging from branches.

Tallis’ website is here:

I shall read more of him, and suggest you give him a try too.

Anthony Pagden on the Enlightenment

I read Anthony Pagden’s book, “The Enlightenment, and why it still matters”. While finding nothing substantial with which to disagree, I found myself wondering what he was going on about.

The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters by Anthony Pagden

Thanks to a review by Edward Feser, who takes sharper issue with Pagden than I was able, I am now able to say what was the matter with Pagden’s book.

For Pagden shows, albeit inadvertently, how little the rhetoric of Enlightenment owed—and owes today—to intellectual substance, and how much to attitude, posturing, and sheer bluff. The Enlightenment matters insofar it is perceived to matter. To a very great extent, what was true in it wasn’t new and what was new wasn’t true.

If you dislike Feser’s attitude that nothing true has been written since Thomas Aquinas, a more modern criticism of Pagden’s book can be found in Stuart Kelly’s review in the Guardian from July of last year.

The upshot is that while Pagden provides a survey of the thought of the 18th century, which is a recommendation in itself, he does not tie it all together in a way that critics from left or right are pleased with. For my part, I made my way through it dutifully, but cannot pretend to have enjoyed it for insight, controversy, or a refreshing attitude:  like eating a plate of well-cooked broccoli, it was nutritious but unappetizing.


This is the lecture given by Bruce Greyson to a group of Buddhist monks in Daramsala, India. He says everything that needs saying about the failure of the materialist idea of the mind: that the mind and the brain are identical, and that consciousness is produced by the brain. The evidence presented in this lecture is purely scientific.

Thomas Nagel again

Thomas Nagel shocked the philosophical world in 2012 with a book called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. I was reminded of him because of David Bentley Hart, subject of my last posting below.

Hart is a committed Christian and Nagel is an atheist. They are looking at the same mountain from different sides, one from the side of beginning to see what the mountain might really be, and the other from the side of a clear vision of what it is. For each, it is the mysterious mountain.

To Nagel, the question to be explained is whether the account given by Darwinists to man’s capacity for moral reasoning is true. If we have evolved, as everyone admits, then what is our capacity to grasp the difference between good and bad in any fundamental way? Oh yes we can tell the difference between pleasure and pain all right, but is pain really bad or have we just evolved to feel that way? The answer turns on what you mean by “really”.

Nagel got himself into trouble with some quarters by saying that we know that pleasure and pain are good or bad in themselves and we are so constituted that we know this difference really, not just because we have evolved to avoid one and seek the other. This is what is called a realist view: realist in the sense that we truly apprehend the world, and are not confused by demons who actually hold our brains in vats, while we experience this three-dimensional illusion of the world, à la Matrix movies.

Nagel concludes that the Darwinian picture must be incomplete.

The historical question is about our origins: What must the universe and the evolutionary process be like to have generated such beings? Both these questions seem to require some alternative to materialist naturalism and its Darwinian application to biology, but what are the possibilities? (at p.112)

To which David Bentley Hart would say to Nagel, “well done, you are starting to ask the right questions”. Hart takes a view that I share, namely that consciousness is primary and the material universe is secondary:

Once again: We cannot encounter the world without encountering  at the same time the being of the world, which is a mystery that can never be dispelled by any physical explanation of reality, inasmuch as it is a mystery logically prior to and in excess of the physical order. We cannot encounter the world, furthermore, except in the luminous medium of intentional and unified consciousness, which defies every reduction to purely physiological causes, but which also clearly corresponds to an essential intelligibility in  being itself”. (pp.297-298)

In brief:

  • physical explanations do not explain the mystery of being;
  • we cannot experience the world apart from consciousness, which cannot be reduced to material causes; and
  • the world is intelligible.

To which Hart would add, all religions, at all times, have asserted as much.

Below, on a related matter, Hart discusses his disappointments with the atheists: Dennet, Hitchens, and others. Hart’s style is high, wry and dry, and one could wish for a littel more oomph in the presentation, but he is bombing from a great height: the B-52 airstrike so high the newly dead never heard it.

Abortion and Race

Gleefully tossing a salad composed of the two most toxically loaded subjects ever, I came across this statistical analysis of pregnancies, abortions and births by race, based on national US figures :


In 2008, while 69% of white pregnancies resulted in a live birth, only 49% of black pregnancies led to live births. The abortion rate for white women was 12.4%, and the rate for black women was nearly three times higher, at 35.6%. Thus, despite a higher pregnancy rate than whites, black pregnancies are much less likely to result in a live birth, largely because of their dramatically higher abortion rate.

The article is found here.

I am having   very politically incorrect thoughts here, such as: is this the reason no one on the conservative side in the States, apart from genuine Christians, is much concerned by abortion anymore?

Political correctness and Islam are the same thing

All the instances of suppression of speech are the same story: the Left has gotten into the habit of suppressing speech and cannot stop at any point; since habits are habit-forming. Says Mark Steyn:

 If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all. So screw that.

After recounting all the recent instances of people suppressed or punished for being out of line with the Cathedral, Steyn adds:

 A generation ago, progressive opinion at least felt obliged to pay lip service to the Voltaire shtick. These days, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself to the death: a mildly supportive retweet would do. But even that’s further than most of those in the academy, the arts, the media are prepared to go. As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: ‘What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.’ Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity.

Once again, Steyn ties it all together in a way I can only envy.

As it happens, the biggest ‘safe space’ on the planet is the Muslim world. For a millennium, Islamic scholars have insisted, as firmly as a climate scientist or an American sophomore, that there’s nothing to debate. And what happened? As the United Nations Human Development Programme’s famous 2002 report blandly noted, more books are translated in Spain in a single year than have been translated into Arabic in the last 1,000 years. Free speech and a dynamic, innovative society are intimately connected: a culture that can’t bear a dissenting word on race or religion or gender fluidity or carbon offsets is a society that will cease to innovate, and then stagnate, and then decline, very fast.

It is the concern of every thinking person that the we are rapidly heading to the same dismal state of inquiry as we find in Islam. We arrive at it by the same process as political correctness enforces: the suppression of free “unbalanced” debate.

And just as it was with Islam, it is a lack of confidence that underlies the suppression of free inquiry. In both cases, the lack of confidence is justified.

Compare that insecurity to the robust confidence of Christians trained in the Greek classical tradition, who are ready to take on philosophical attacks from any direction. Why are they so confident? Because they believe that human reason grasps reality and that, while some things are mysteries, we do actually apprehend with our minds what is real.

That is why Christianity gave rise to universities, science, and the modern age, and that is why political correctness and Islam are so weak, while appearing so strong. Their weakness causes them to suppress, and what each suppresses is – for the moment – different. Soon, however, political correctness will be Islam, and Islam will be political correctness. What is essentially alike will recognize its underlying likeness in the other, and will assimilate. Borg will absorb Borg.

If these forces prevail, just put a black flag on top of Parliament, shut it down and refer all political issues to the jurists at human rights commissions whose judges, naturally, will be Islamized political apparatchiks. All inquiry and discussion will become subject to  jurisprudence, since everything important has been decided anyway. No one will question anything, and inquiry will rapidly atrophy. That, at least, is their hope.

Why do Islam and political correctness resemble one another? Because they know they are artificial constructs that cannot withstand the scrutiny of reason, and must rely on the enforcement of conformity in thought, word and deed to hide from themselves their emptiness.

Am I wrong?


Near Death

Mario Beauregard, a research scientist at the University of Montreal, writes an interesting article on near death experiences in Salon Magazine.

NDE= near death experience

OBE = out-of-body experience

Although the details differ, NDEs are characterized by a number of core features. Perhaps the most vivid is the OBE: the sense of having left one’s body and of watching events going on around one’s body or, occasionally, at some distant physical location. During OBEs, near-death experiencers (NDErs) are often astonished to discover that they have retained consciousness, perception, lucid thinking, memory, emotions, and their sense of personal identity. If anything, these processes are heightened: Thinking is vivid; hearing is sharp; and vision can extend to 360 degrees. NDErs claim that without physical bodies, they are able to penetrate through walls and doors and project themselves wherever they want. They frequently report the ability to read people’s thoughts.

The effects of NDEs on the experience are intense, overwhelming, and real. A number of studies conducted in United States, Western European countries, and Australia have shown that most NDErs are profoundly and positively transformed by the experience. One woman says, “I was completely altered after the accident. I was another person, according to those who lived near me. I was happy, laughing, appreciated little things, joked, smiled a lot, became friends with everyone … so completely different than I was before!”

Of course, nothing will persuade the materialist that all mental events  derive from the brain and no mental event happens outside the brain, and all mental events are brain events. It reminds me of Mussolini’s dictum: ” all within the state, nothing outside the sate, nothing against the state”

All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.
All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

Hmmn…materialism as a form of brain fascism.

Materialism – the doctrine that everything in the universe is of one substance: matter and its motions, and nothing else – is the dominant world view of this century and the last. It has precisely zero chance of lasting another fifty years, except as a relic, like fascism or communism. It is so twentieth century.

Anyway, for  the interested, here are a few books worth your attention on the subject of mind, awareness, and consciousness,  and why consciousness is primary:

Out of our Heads, by Alva Noë (2010) The author is a philosopher.

The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, by Tor Nørretranders (1999) The author is a science writer.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes 1976. The author was a classicist [Jaynes was almost certainly wrong in part but absolutely brilliant]

The Purpose-Guided Universe, by Bernard Haisch (2010) The author is a physicist

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, by Stephen M, Barr
(2003) The author is a physicist.

The Master and His Emissary, The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by Iain McGillchrist (2011) The author is a psychiatrist.

Biocentrism, by Robert Lanza (2009) Lanza is a medical doctor, whose book is a more popular rendition of the ideas and arguments found in Bernard Haisch and Stephen Barr.

Brain Wars, by Mario Beauregard (2012). Beauregard is a brain researcher at the UdeM. Also by him:
The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul