The CRISPR babies. The news that a Chinese scientist has gene-edited human embryos left me neither shaken nor stirred. If you follow this stuff you know that we've been able to do this for six years. It was just a matter of someone being audacious enough to actually do it.
Professor He Jiankui may in fact have been a tad too audacious; he seems to be in trouble with his superiors since the news came out.
Diddling with the human genome will certainly be a thing in humanity's near future with sensational, unforeseeable consequences; I'm not blithe about that. We're not there yet, though, nor even close. Stories like this will pop up as Page Five items for another ten years, maybe twenty, without radically affecting society.
By mid-century, when my kids are middle-aged, the fun will have started in earnest. By end-century the human world will have been transformed in ways we cannot even imagine and I would not dare try to predict.
Eastern eugenics, Western dysgenics. So the answer to the question, "Are the ChiComs going to breed a master race?" is, "Not any time soon."
Would they like to, though? Yes, they would. I've been writing about this for, according to my archives, at least seventeen years.
"Eugenics" is not a bad word over there. ChiCom social policy has had a consciously eugenic component since the 1980s, in complete contradiction to the metaphysical axioms of orthodox Marxism-Leninism (of which, as I have explained elsewhere, Mao Tse-tung Thought is just a cheap Chinese knock-off). The One Child Policy, for example — now somewhat relaxed — was driven in part by the intention "to reduce dysgenic fertility among rural peasants."
The ChiComs pursue policies intended to make their population smarter. Genetic diddling will certainly speed that up when we eventually figure out how to do it safely, but they hope that good old selective breeding will deliver results in the meantime.
This is the opposite of our policy here in the West. We — or at any rate our political and cultural elites — are striving to make our population dumber by the mass immigration and sacralization of low-IQ peoples.
The end result would seem to be a foregone conclusion, but you never know. Possibly ChiCom gene-diddling, when they get there, will go disastrously wrong. Possibly the West will get lucky — come up with something we can put into the water supply to give everyone twenty extra IQ points. Who knows? There are many futures.
"He's on first," She told You. While we are still — thank goodness! — in the Page Five, "hey, that's kind of interesting, did you feed the dog?" zone with CRISPR, my attention got snagged on the scientist's name: 賀建奎, Hè Jiànkúi in the standard pinyin transcription.
Surname comes first in Chinese (though they often flip it round in translated text to confuse us). So this guy's surname transcribes as "Hè." The "H" is hard "German" style; the "e" is a schwa — a sort of "uh" vowel. The tone is high-falling, but tone marks are generally dropped when transcribing.
The very pleasant lady from Wuhan who sits behind the counter at my local post office sports the surname "尤," written in pinyin as "Yóu," pronounced like street-English "yo!" but with high-rising tone.
"佘" is also a Chinese surname, though not a common one. The pinyin transcription is "Shé" with that same schwa and the high-rising tone again.
So I have this notion of a short story — I doubt you could stretch it to a novel — written in English but with Chinese dramatis personæ surnamed He, You, and She, with the tone marks dropped. The art of the piece would be to make the ambiguity between Chinese surnames and English pronouns as confusing as possible to the reader.
The result, if anyone can pull it off, would not be quite as silly as "Mr Shi eats lions," but it would be silly enough to send a small brief shaft of light through the horrid fog of po-faced solemnity, preacherish sanctimony, and indignant moralizing that envelops our society today.
My wife Rosie has a sister-in-law back in China, and this lady has a niece 21 or 22 years old. I'll call her Lulu, which is nothing like her real name.
Lulu started at NYU this fall semester. We knew nothing about her except that she was smart enough to get into NYU and her family rich enough to pay full fees. That was enough, though, to kick Rosie into match-maker mode. She was seized with the notion that Lulu would make a fine wife for our son Danny (23).
When the three of us — Dad, Mom, and Danny — sat down to dinner in the late-October evenings, Rosie would launch into her sales pitch, addressing Danny with: "This girl is smart! She's rich! You should meet her!" I tried to lighten things up with speculations on Lulu's appearance, about which we knew nothing: "Perhaps she has buck teeth and weighs 300 pounds …"
Danny wasn't buying it. For one thing, he has no desire to get married. For another, he thinks Chinese girls are stuck-up. He is too filial to make a fuss; but he rolled his eyes, fended off the sales pitch with sighs and groans, and left the table as soon as he decently could.
Nothing deterred, Rosie invited Lulu to come visit us out on Long Island the first weekend of November on the pretext of seeing the fall colors. I was away that weekend at the H.L. Mencken Club conference, so what follows is hearsay.
Danny resolved matters to his own satisfaction, and his mother's frustration, by absenting himself from the house for the weekend. Saturday evening Rosie took Lulu on a visit to friends nearby.
These friends are another Chinese lady — I'll call her Daisy — married to another round-eye male; and they too have a son, the same age as Danny. Lulu and this son got on well; and that hurled Daisy into match-maker mode. The middle-aged Chinese woman seems to be a natural host for the match-making bug.
Driving home with Lulu, Rosie learned that Daisy had invited Lulu to stay with them for Thanksgiving. Rosie was outraged. She took the point of view that Daisy was poaching. As she expressed it to me later: "We saw her first!" (Lulu, I should say, turned out to be very pretty and personable.)
So the Rosie-Daisy friendship is in crisis, Rosie is intensifying her dinner-table sales pitch ("Smart! Rich! and Pretty!"), Danny is rolling his eyes so violently I fear for the integrity of his extraocular muscles, and I feel as if I'm trapped in one of Rossini's sillier operas.
Boswell: "Then, sir, you are not of opinion with some who imagine that certain men and certain women are made for each other; and that they cannot be happy if they miss their counterparts."
Johnson: "To be sure not, sir. I believe marriages would in general be as happy, and often more so, if they were all made by the lord chancellor, upon a due consideration of the characters and circumstances, without the parties having any choice in the matter."
Is there a case for arranged marriage? There certainly is. Entire civilizations have rested on it. I knew an old Cantonese woman in 1970s Hong Kong who had met her husband for the first time on their wedding day.
Huda al-Marashi's wedding wasn't as arranged as that, but she seems to have known from childhood who she would marry. In the fullness of time, aged twenty, she married him. Today, "three children and two decades later," they seem very content with each other. She has written a book about it.
These are Shiite Iraqi Muslims living in California, so there are foreign cultural influences at work here. Huda seems to have had right of refusal, too, which I think Dr Johnson would have added to his prescription if pressed. Still, it shows the thing can work.
Although probably not for everybody. Back in my teacher-training days we debated how much structure kids should have in the classroom. A lot, with neat rows of desks, a rule of silence, and rigid class schedules? Or something more free-form, the kids in discussion groups exploring their subjects?
After hearing the arguments and doing some teaching practice, the answer seemed obvious to me: Lots of structure is the right thing for some kids, free-form exploratory schooling right for others. The trick of the thing of course is figuring out which category any particular kid belongs in.
I believe it's the same with arranged marriages. They are absolutely the right thing for some people — more than you'd think, probably — but horribly wrong for others — for me, definitely.
Love and marriage. If you come at this issue — arranged marriage versus free-choice marriage — from the point of view of evolutionary psychology, you soon find yourself waist-deep in a big academic literature on mate choice.
The premise of evolutionary psychology, just to remind you, is that the human psyche was shaped, at least in general outline, by the history of our species. Since 95 percent of that history — all but the last 10,000 of 200,000 years — was spent in small foraging bands, that's the lifestyle that shaped us. It survived into modern times in remote places, so we can study it and draw conclusions.
Drawing conclusions seems not to be easy, though. For one thing, that last five percent of our species' history can't be altogether discounted, as Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending showed in The 10,000 Year Explosion.
Steve Stewart-Williams makes that point in his new book The Ape that Understood the Universe, which I've just been reading.
Although we probably don't have any complex new mental adaptations, we may differ in important ways from our Pleistocene ancestors.
For another thing, the literature on mate choice among foragers seems, to this non-specialist after a cursory peek, to be all over the place. There are big long-standing disagreements among the experts. Some, like Cypriot psychologist Menelaos Apostolou, have argued that "the institution of marriage is regulated by parents and close kin."
Most first marriages across recorded hunter-gatherer societies are arranged marriages where young girls (average age 14) are exchanged for goods or labor from an older husband and/or his kin.
David Schmitt counters that here: "Existing evidence suggests there is a good degree of personal mate choice, even in pre-industrialized cultures" …
And so on. Feminists and Men's Rights activists like Paul Elam have joined the fray. Here's Paul at 3m53s into this clip:
Arranged marriages are far less likely to end in divorce and more likely to result in mature love than marriages based on infatuation and romance.
By all means wade into the literature yourself. I don't know what the current consensus is, if there even is one. In any case, I seriously doubt that U.S. society at large will return to institutionalized arranged marriages. We've gotten too used to the other thing.
Personally I'm fine with the other thing. So, come to think of it, was Dr Johnson, who married for love to a lady 21 years his senior.
The Nation-killers. For company on a long solo drive this month I downloaded the Great Courses lectures on Dante by Profs. Cook and Herzman, in which the two scholars do a sort of tag-wrestling match with the great Florentine poet.
This was one of those filling-the-gaps exercises I think anyone with an active mind is drawn to from time to time. Dante didn't figure at all in my education and I haven't paid much attention to him since. Time to fill the gap.
Prior to acquiring this course I knew only the small handful of common facts about Dante that any educated person knows: "lost in a dark wood," "abandon hope all ye who enter," those gruesome Doré etchings, some forgotten connection with some gal named Beatrice, … Plus the additional factlet, not I think well known, that President Calvin Coolidge attempted a translation of The Divine Comedy.
Now I am wiser, especially about the underlying politics. I don't think I shall ever again confuse a Guelph with a Ghibelline; though I might make a run for the door if challenged to differentiate between a White Guelph and a Black Guelph.
I did get to thinking, though, that if I had written The Divine Comedy I would have added an extra ditch to the ninth circle of Hell — where dwell traitors, fraudsters, and sowers of discord — for the Nation Wreckers.
Putting together my Radio Derb podcast for November 16th I thought I should say something about the Brexit business, now coming to some kind of climax. I haven't followed the negotiations, and am anyway out of touch with British politics; but it's plain the Brits are having much difficulty wriggling free of the European Union and setting sail once again as an independent sovereign nation.
That's a reminder of the cosmic principle that some processes are hard to reverse. "The toothpaste's out of the tube," we say; or in Chinese, "The wood has been made into a boat" (木已成舟).
It's also a reminder of how glibly the Brits were talked into this nation-sized death-trap.
There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.
That was Prime Minister Ted Heath in 1973. Heath would be one of those I'd expect to find in the Nation Wreckers Ditch, along with the unspeakable Tony Blair from the following generation, and Cameron the Clueless and May the Mediocrity from more recent years.
There'd be plenty of Americans in there, too. The U.S. equivalent of Heath's assurance was of course Ted Kennedy's speech to the Senate when moving the 1965 Immigration Act:
First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same … Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset …
Into the ditch with him! — and Hart and Celler and McCain and Schumer and Ryan and McConnell, and all the liars, fraudsters, and fools of Britain and the U.S.A. who, from either malice or stupidity, transformed settled, stable, well-governed nations that did not want or need transforming into Afro-Latino-Islamo-style corruptocracies.
Nonfiction of the month. I seem to have done a lot of reading this month in between raking leaves, winterizing the house, and haranguing the Mencken Club. As well as Steve Stewart-Williams' aforementioned book on evolutionary psychology (which, by the way, has a handy appendix titled "How to Win an Argument with a Blank Slater"), I have read:
- Rose George's The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (2014), which is all about poop; and
- Robert Plomin's Blueprint: How DNA makes us who we are (2018).
The first of those books was suggested to me by a Radio Derb listener when, earlier this year, I spoke in support of President Trump's remarks concerning — I tried to put a patina of gentility on the President's actual term — "outhouse countries."
I didn't know the half of it, my listener told me; I should read Ms George's book. So I bought a copy, added it to the reading pile, and just this month got round to reading it.
My listener was right. There is a great deal to be said about poop, including many things I would rather not have known. I have never been to India, for example. After reading The Big Necessity, I hope I never shall.
Robert Plomin's book is newer — it just came out this month — and way less disgusting. It's an excellent primer on behavioral genetics, the field Prof. Plomin has labored in for many decades. He knows all the players, has witnessed all the advances and setbacks, has heard and countered all the critiques.
Blueprint assumes no foreknowledge of genetics. If you don't know a gene from a SNP, or pleiotropy from polygenicity, Prof. Plomin will get you up to speed. This is really an excellent book on one of the key current growth points in our understanding of human nature.
The author says nothing about race differences in behavior, intelligence, and personality. The word "race" doesn't occur in his index. There is a single entry for "racism," keyed to page 53: "The [nature-nurture] debate was driven by misplaced fears about biological determinism, eugenics, and racism."
That's OK. All in good time. Robert Plomin has written a good and useful book.
Fiction of the month. Current fiction lists are not, to put it very mildly indeed, over-burdened with novels taking a disrespectfully satirical view of the West's current ideological Narrative — all the idiot cant of "privilege," "oppression," "triggering," "hate," "Nazis," and so on.
Barton and Elizabeth Cockey's The Sacred Fury takes just such a view. One of the principals, a college teacher of English, is suspended from her job for telling her students to discriminate between facts and opinions. Discriminate — eeeek! (I would not be the least bit surprised to learn that this incident is taken from life.)
Elsewhere in town — the town is actually present-day Baltimore — a statue of Babe Ruth has been vandalized as representative of "a white man's sport." In reaction, defenders of the statue "amazingly had managed to obtain a permit to hold a vigil on Opening Day [i.e. at the ball park] with prayers and speeches." This demonstration ends with violence:
A large number of policemen were standing by with shields, channeling the demonstrators into a column of twos, through a gauntlet of what later news reports would describe as counter-protestors … Curiously, the riot police did not arrest a single counter-protestor.
Bring anything to mind? Those counter-protestors are in the service of an organization called Global Outreach Organizing for Diversity (G.O.O.D.), the brainchild of "megalomaniac currency speculator and destroyer of economies" Klaus Pyknos. The Cockeys' fictional world is not very distant from our own.
All this politically-incorrect fun is in service of a mystery-supernatural tale centered on Edgar Allan Poe, who died in Baltimore in 1849 and is buried there. The circumstances leading up to Poe's death are a real mystery, so there is plenty for the authors to play with here.
And that mystery-supernatural tale, which carries the main narrative thread of the story, rests on a just-visible metaphysical theme about the conquest of death, a theme that Poe himself touched on in his deeply weird 1848 "prose poem" Eureka, and that is also of compelling interest to Klaus Pyknos.
To describe the story any further would give too much away. Try The Sacred Fury for yourself. Support your local counter-Narrative, anti-anti-white novelists!
Math Corner. Last month's brainteaser generated utter silence from readers, which is not usual. When, in mid-month, I tackled it myself, I understood why. For all its outward simplicity, it's quite a deep problem in Game Theory.
There's a cute three-minute video introduction to Game Theory here. My entire engagement with the subject was a third-year one-semester elective when I was studying for my math degree fifty years ago. I saw the point, and anything with John von Neumann's name prominently attached to it is to be treated with utmost respect; but I found the problems unappealing in some way, and wished I had elected Celestial Mechanics instead.
Joe has been generous with his time, talking me through his solutions. They are knotty, though, and I don't yet have them clear enough in my mind to post in my own style. I shall try to get that done this month, and post them by month-end.
Meanwhile, in lieu of a brainteaser for this month (since I'm behind with last month's) I'll just offer up thanks to YouTube for the many excellent math videos now available.
Math movies were a new thing in my undergraduate days. We were thrilled when Patrick Du Val gave over one of his Projective Geometry classes to a movie about four-point conics. (That movie seems not to have survived into the YouTube age. It was definitely better than this one — it showed the trajectories of the centers, foci, and directrices … but conics are out of fashion now in Math Ed.)
By the time VCRs became ubiquitous around 1990, computer-generated graphics had advanced to the point where fun stuff was available, though you had to go looking for it in math magazines. Somewhere among the dust in my attic I still have a VCR tape of Outside In, showing how a sphere can be turned inside out. I used to put it on the VCR in the living room when guests had overstayed their welcome.
Now you can go to YouTube and find any number of videos illustrating math topics (including Outside In). I especially like Numberphile, which is always good for half an hour's idle browsing if you like math at all. And yes: they have videos about the Riemann Hypothesis! … although they have mysteriously not included my a capella rendering of the Riemann Hypothesis song.