A week ago I gave an Evolution Institute webinar about how our “ultrasocieties”—huge cooperative groups numbering in hundreds of millions of people and more—evolved over the last 10,000 years. The talk is based on my popular book Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth. You can watch the webinar on the Evolution Institute web site.
We ran out of time before I could answer all questions during the webinar, and so I thought I’d use my blog to deal with the questions people sent in.
Jack asks: Do you see the spread of a scientific based liberal education being as powerful as something like war in the evolution of ultrasociality?
PT: In Cultural Evolution we distinguish between traits that evolve, and evolutionary forces that cause such traits to spread or wither. Warfare, and more generally, competition between societies, is one of the most powerful evolutionary forces explaining how human societies changed over the past 10,000 years. An example of a trait (what evolves) that I used in the talk was equity norms and constraints on ruler and elite selfishness.
Forms of education, about which you ask, is another kind of thing that evolves. Because liberal education is a very recent innovation, it’s too early to tell what its ultimate effect will be. But other forms of education, which were adopted by various historical societies in the past, have certainly played a very important role in making societies succeed, or fail. For example, Victor Lieberman presents a powerful argument in his book Strange Parallels that institutions of education in the early modern empires forged a common sense of identity, especially among the elites. Modern education serves a similar function by binding together (hopefully) the whole society, and not just the elites, by building a common set of social norms and preferences that make cooperation at the level of the society more possible.
Tom asks: Warfare almost certainly is the most significant selection force acting on cultural groups. Would we be able to include other selection mechanisms? At least to see relative strength vis-a-vis warfare.
PT: To expand on one of the points I made at the end of my presentation, I think that the success of modern societies in delivering broad-based improvements in their citizens’ quality of life has become more important today than mere military muscle. Thanks to modern communications and inexpensive mass travel, people visit other countries and see how the locals live with their own eyes. That puts a lot of pressure on the elites of those societies that fail to deliver. Note how concerned the Chinese leaders are with not only sustaining the overall rate of economic growth, but also ensuring that no large segments of the country’s population falls behind (thus, their efforts to bring rural areas along).
The recent rise of populist parties in Europe is another example. There are huge swaths of European populations (especially the younger cohorts) who have experienced a decline in their quality of life, compared to the parent generation. They are unhappy and they are putting pressure on their leaders. So I think this is an extremely potent force of Cultural Evolution.
Tom asks: Today we are seeing a next-level ideology (globalization) competing with nation-state ideology. What is the cultural selection force that will determine which ideology dominates, if not warfare?
Success at delivering broad-based improvements in the quality of life (see above). In the West, the ruling elites currently subscribe to the globalist ideology. They have also presided over declines in the quality of life of their populations. It is inevitable that anti-globalist, nationalist counter-elites will start winning elections. If nationalist elites prove to be able to reverse declines in well-being, their ideology will start spreading by imitation. If not, the opposite will happen. And this is an example of cultural group selection.
Anthony asks: Diplomat and International Relations theorist here. Peter, have you had much engagement with the IR field in applying these models/approaches to contemporary strategic behaviour? There is considerable overlap between your presentation and structural realism, such as that of Kenneth Waltz.
In my opinion, the neo-realism is the best empirically supported IR theory. I’ve written about it in this blog post:
Jan asks: Question: In the chart showing the increasing social scale of political entities over time, we reached 100 million people polities about 200 years ago. Can we consider that China brought us to 1 billion? And should we expect to reach polity size of 10 billion, i.e. the entire human population, in a few hundred years?
Aha, this is a very interesting question. Yes, I expect that the scale of polities will reach 10 billion in a few centuries. But no, I don’t expect that the entire human population will be within this polity. By 200-300 years in the future the humanity is likely to colonize the Solar System and perhaps even establish colonies in other solar systems nearby. Just about only realistic scenario that will have all humans becoming encompassed by a single polity is if we get attacked by genocidal Alpha Centaurians or some such.
But to solve the world problems it is not necessary to create one huge global state. Some problems are truly global – stopping the wars and preserving our planet, and require international cooperation. Others, such as delivering broadly based and sustained (and sustainable) improvements in economic well-being, can be, and should be solved locally.
Bradly asks: Can you please speak a bit about how ultra-sociality decreases within societies that are successful at conquering others?
More broadly, societies that are not intensely competing with other societies are susceptible to the operation of the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Their elites become selfish and use their power to enrich themselves. The result is growing inequality, with a few wealthy and powerful capturing most of the fruits of the economic growth, and the majority of the population becoming immiserated. This argument is developed in much greater detail in Ultrasociety.
Shron asks: Would I be correct to see your theory as bolstering the interpretation of the sudden rise to riches of Europe in the past several centuries as resulting in large measure from its fragmentation and penchant for constant warfare?
This is certainly part of the answer. But I have a much more elaborate theory for the rise of Europe in the works. Ask me again in a year’s time – by then I should have developed a mathematical model and I hope the Seshat project will yield the data to test the model. Also, this will be the heart of the sequel—Ultrasociety II.
Shron asks: Talking of gentler forms of competition, I was struck by the absence of trade from your discussion of competition, since it would seem to me to be a competition mechanism on par with war in terms of its ubiquity in human history? How do war and trade interact with each other, and has there been a fundamental change in this relationship?
I don’t see trade as a competitive process, but rather as a cooperative one. What I think has changed in the last few centuries is that it is now possible for small countries to get ahead by establishing cooperative relations with other countries, profiting from the resulting division of labor, and thus delivering sustained improvements in well-being to their populations. Think the Netherlands during its Golden Age.
Thank you all for coming to the webinar, and for your questions! If you liked it, spread the word about Ultrasociety!
Today is the second and final round of presidential elections in France. The two contenders are Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Macron is the candidate of the established elites. You cannot get more elite in France: he earned a master’s of public affairs at Sciences Po, and he is a graduate of the École nationale d’administration (ENA).
Le Pen is an anti-establishment candidate. In the jargon of Structural-Demographic Theory (SDT), she is a “counter-elite”, an elite aspirant who mobilizes masses in her struggle to overthrow the established elites. While she is not a graduate of a Grande Ecole (such as the ENA), she still is far from being a commoner (again, a SDT term). After all, her law degree is from the Pantheon-Assas University or “Sorbonne Law School”.
I haven’t done a proper structural-demographic analysis of France (it’s a lot of work, and I have other things to occupy me now, most notably analyzing the Everest of Seshat data), but from just reading about France in the news, it looks to me that it is also entering its own Age of Discord, although perhaps the negative structural-demographic trends are not quite advanced there as they are in the US.
In an article titled The French, Coming Apart: A social thinker illuminates his country’s populist divide, Christopher Caldwell writes:
For those cut off from France’s new-economy citadels, the misfortunes are serious. They’re stuck economically. Three years after finishing their studies, three-quarters of French university graduates are living on their own; by contrast, three-quarters of their contemporaries without university degrees still live with their parents. And they’re dying early. In January 2016, the national statistical institute Insée announced that life expectancy had fallen for both sexes in France for the first time since World War II, and it’s the native French working class that is likely driving the decline. In fact, the French outsiders are looking a lot like the poor Americans Charles Murray described in Coming Apart, failing not just in income and longevity but also in family formation, mental health, and education. Their political alienation is striking. Fewer than 2 percent of legislators in France’s National Assembly today come from the working class, as opposed to 20 percent just after World War II.
In SDT terms, we see clear evidence of popular immiseration and of elite overproduction. The monopolization of political power by the established elites, in particular, is a common development in pre-crisis phases. In my books on SDT, Secular Cycles and Ages of Discord, I use the Italian term—La Serrata del Patriziato (the closing of the Patriciate)—for this development, when the established elites close their ranks to exclude upward mobility from the commoners.
Is it surprising that the National Front of Marine Le Pen is doing so well? What’s actually surprising is that only 40 percent will vote for her tomorrow, according to the polls.
The mainstream press always tacks the adjective “Far Right” to Marine Le Pen. But is she, really? The old National Front under the leadership of her anti-Semitic father was “Far Right”. But Marine purged the extremists and anti-Semites (including her father) from the party when she took over. If you compare her program, and contrast it with Macron’s (for example, here) you would be surprised to see many left-leaning elements in it. For example, she wants to repeal the El Khomri Law, which made it easier for companies to lay off workers, reduced overtime payments for hours worked beyond France’s statutory 35-hour workweek, and reduced severance payments that workers are entitled to if their company has made them redundant. Doesn’t sound particularly “far right.” If anybody is “far right” it’s “business-friendly” Macron, with his anti-labor, cut the taxes on corporations platform.
It’s unlikely that Le Pen wins today. But under Macron the structural-demographic trends will continue moving in the wrong direction. Le Pen is only 48 years old. I would not be surprised at all if she will be the first woman to become the President of France in the next election cycle.
It’s been a long haul. Six years ago we launched the project that we eventually named Seshat: Global History Databank. Three years ago, following a series of workshops that designed the overall structure of the databank, we started collecting data. By January 2015 we had 30,000 records (a “Seshat record” says what the value of a particular variable is for a particular polity at a particular time; indicates the degree of uncertainty and any expert disagreements associated with this value; explains in a narrative paragraph how this code was arrived at, and provides the references). In January 2016 we exceeded the symbolic level of 100,000 records. Currently there are 170,000 records in the database, and growing.
Last year we started the analysis of these data by first looking at the various dimensions of social complexity. These include aspects of social scale—population sizes and areas controlled by territorial states; measures of “vertical complexity” (length of chains of command in administrative, military, and religious hierarchies); specialized government agents; civic infrastructure; and economic and information systems.
The question we asked was: how many independent dimensions are needed to describe variation in social complexity in our global sample? Can a single measure capture the bulk of variation? Or is there perhaps two— one reflecting social scale and the other non-scale aspects of complexity? Or more? Or, perhaps, different societies have unique histories and cannot be meaningfully compared in this way, as is argued by many historians.
This article has been submitted for publication to an academic journal. Once it is accepted, we will make the data on which the analysis is based available to all comers.
But we also didn’t want to wait too long to show the power of the Seshat approach, and so at the last project meeting in Oxford in January we decided to publish a chunk of our data. There are multiple purposes behind this development. First, we wanted to show our experts—historians and archaeologists with deep knowledge of the societies we code in the databank—what the “product” looks like. Second, no database is perfect, especially a large one like Seshat, and there are undoubtedly many mistakes still in the data. We wanted to open our data to public scrutiny. There is a button next to all Seshat records that can be clicked to make a suggestion on how to improve the code, or to dispute it and offer an alternative value.
The Seshat Databank is an evolutionary resource—it will evolve to become better and more accurate as a result of feedback from various types of users. The release of this first batch of data moves the project into a new public phase.
Note that the data released this week covers less than 5% of what has already been coded in the Seshat Databank. In addition to polities occupying the eight NGAs (Natural Geographic Areas) in this release, we have coded 22 more NGAs (see map here). Furthermore, in addition to the social complexity variables, we are also gathering data on religion and ritual, warfare, agriculture, norms and institutions, and well-being variables (see the Codebook here).
Finally, for those of you who make a living analyzing other people’s data (a perfectly honorable occupation). Seshat data, in machine-readable formats, will be made progressively available to you to download and analyze on this page. However, we ask that those who are interested in analyzing data wait until we release the data for analysis. As I mentionied earler, we have submitted an article that analyzes social complexity data for all 30 NGAs, and when the article is published we will make the data on which the analysis is based available to all.
But if you don’t want to wait until that time and have ideas for statistical analysis, contact us and we will consider collaboration!
Following a lead from Mark Koyama’s twitter I arrived at the blog of Scott Summer, where I learned that heterodoxy is making inroads into that bastion of academic Economics, the American Economic Review. Despite the date of the post (April 1), it seems to be a serious, even passionate denunciation of an article by Nobel laureate Robert Shiller (at one point Summer characterizes Shiller’s views thussly: “That’s just silly.”).
From the abstract of the Shiller article:
The human brain has always been highly tuned toward narratives, whether factual or not, to justify ongoing actions, even such basic actions as spending and investing. Stories motivate and connect activities to deeply felt values and needs. Narratives “go viral” and spread far, even worldwide, with economic impact.
I didn’t read the article itself, but it sounds like Shiller is proposing to broaden up the spectrum of possible influences on economic processes from a very narrow focus that has been the trademark of the Orthodox Economics, something that I have called for on this blog (for example, here). Interesting that even a Nobel prize doesn’t protect one from being branded a heretic.
But the main reason I wanted to write this post was a comment by Summer later in his post, “But the Black Death was inflationary, just as the AS/AD model predicts” (the emphasis is Summer’s). I don’t know what the AS/AD model is, but factually this statement is clearly incorrect, and this is well known to economic historians since the groundbreaking work by Wilhelm Abel. See here, as reproduced in Fischer’s book The Great Wave:
The “Medieval Price Revolution” saw sustained growth of prices up until the first half of the 14th century. The post-Black Death period (1350-1450) was a period of price deflation.
Now, readers of Secular Cycles know that things were a bit more complicated than that. In agrarian societies sustained population growth eventually results in too many hands that need work and too many mouths that need food. So some things become more dear, like land and its produce (e.g., grain). Other things become cheap, like labor and its products (manufactures). So how prices respond depends on the commodity. Excessive population growth results in the increase of price of land, food, fuel, and shelter. It also depresses the price of labor (mostly unskilled) and manufactures whose price is primarily labor costs. Servant and soldier wages also decline, inasmuch as they are recruited from the “population surplus.”
The relationship between real wages and population pressure on resources is one of the most reliable relationships in economic history. Here’s an example from my work:
Here “Rel. Pop” is population relative to the carrying capacity of the land, and “Inv. wage” the inverse of real wage, or “misery index” (see Secular Cycles for details).
Historically (in agrarian societies), population declines brought about by epidemics like the Black Death always result in improved quality of life for the common people–those that survived. They switch to eating better grains (wheat instead of barley), drinking bear and wine, eating fruit and meat.
It happened after the Black Death in Europe, but we see the same dynamic after the Antonine Plagues and the Plagues of Justinian in the Mediterranean. And in the seventeenth century, when he plague returned to Europe, it was followed by a period of prices deflation.
One of the most interesting passages in Listen, Liberal is Frank’s characterization of the Republicans as the party of 1 percent—nothing new here—and the Democrats as the party of the 10 percent—which is the interesting part, and a new idea, at least to me.
What does he mean by “the party of the 10 percent”? It is generally agreed that back in the days of FDR, Truman, and Johnson the Democrats were the party of the Working America (even if the leaders were often recruited from the “aristocracy”, like FDR). Today, however, they are the party of “professionals”: “doctors, lawyers, the clergy, architects, and engineers—the core professional groups—the category includes economists, experts in international development, political scientists, managers, financial planners, computer programmers, aerospace designers, and even people who write books like this one.” And college professors. (Parenthetically, although I and my university colleagues would surely object to be called the “elite”, that’s how the fly-over America thinks of us. We are branded as the “East Coast Liberal Elite.”)
Returning to Frank’s point, the 10 percent are the technocracy, the credential class, the meritocracy (“meritocracy is the official professional credo—the conviction that the successful deserve their rewards, that the people on top are there because they are the best”). They believe in the power of education. “To the liberal class, every economic problem is really an education problem, a failure by the losers to learn the right skills and get the credentials everyone knows you’ll need in the society of the future.”
Much of Frank’s book is a historical account of how the Democratic Party abandoned the 90 percent and became the party of the professionals (the “10 percent”). One important chapter in this story is how Bill Clinton rammed the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) down the throats of the (then) reluctant Democratic legislators.
The agreement was not a simple or straightforward thing: it was some 2,000 pages long, and according to the reporters who actually read it, the aim was less to remove tariffs than make it safe for American firms to invest in Mexico—meaning, to move factories and jobs there without fear of expropriation and then to import those factories’ products back into the U.S.
Frank’s “favorite” group of professionals are the economists, “a discipline that often acts as an ideological cartel set up to silence the heterodox.” Back in the 1990s 283 economists signed a statement declaring that the NAFTA “will be a net positive for the United States, both in terms of employment creation and overall economic growth.” In 2010 a study calculated that almost 700,000 American jobs were lost thanks to the treaty.
Economists tell us that globalization—free trade, free movement of capital and people—is an unalloyed good. Not true. It all depends on the details. In fact, economists know that—in technical papers, published in academic journals, they discuss under what conditions free trade between countries could benefit their economies, and under what conditions some countries lose, while others gain. But when economists talk to the press, they suddenly forget all the nuance, and turn into free market fundamentalists. It’s an interesting topic, and perhaps I will address it in a future post. But what’s important for the issue in hand is that the American workers are not stupid and they know that they are fed bullshit. When you go to a meeting with your company’s CEO and other corporate officers and they tell you that you either accept a pay cut, or they will move the factory to Mexico—who are you going to believe, your own experience or the Theory of Comparative Advantage? And then, a couple of years later, despite you having agreed to a wage cut, they still move the factory to Mexico.
The problem with NAFTA and other free trade agreements is that they were written by the corporations, for the corporations. Is it surprising that the Democratic Party has been losing the support of the Working America?
Ironically, it used to be the crazy fringe on the Right that were the breeding grounds for conspiracy theories (“birthers”, “Clinton death list”). Now mass hysteria and conspirology are sweeping the crazy … Liberal mainstream?
Earlier this month Glenn Greenwald wrote a very important article, Leading Putin Critic Warns of Xenophobic Conspiracy Theories Drowning U.S. Discourse and Helping Trump. Greenwald’s starting point is an article by Masha Gessen, which is also well worth reading. He writes:
The crux of her article is the point that has been driving everything I’ve been writing and saying about this topic for months: that this obsession with Russia conspiracy tales is poisoning all aspects of U.S. political discourse and weakening any chance for resisting Trump’s actual abuses and excesses. Those who wake up every day to hype the latest episode of this Russia/Trump spy drama tell themselves that they’re bravely undermining and subverting Trump, but they’re doing exactly the opposite.
Greenwald pulls no punches. The Progressive Fake News sites that have been hyping up the Russia/Trump conspiracy are
no better – no different – than what Macedonian teenagers or Clinton Body Count sites are churning out. But it’s being mainstreamed by prominent, establishment Democrats who have completely taken leave of their senses in the wake of Trump’s victory and show no signs of returning to anything resembling sober, grounded reasoning any time soon.
Why are they doing it? Clearly, the Democrats are still in massive denial about why they really lost the presidential elections of 2016. They are looking everywhere except at themselves. But by buying into the Russia conspiracy theory they are setting themselves up for much worse. When this conspiracy collapses (I personally give less than 10% chance that there is any substance behind it), it would be a colossal reputational hit, from which they might not recover before the next round of presidential elections.
The Democrats should stop obsessing about the mythical “Siberian Candidate” conspiracy. Instead, they should read the remarkable book by Tom Frank, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?
Listen, Liberal is a devastating critique of the mainstream Democracy, the Clintons-Obama Democrats, from “a person of vivid pink sentiments” as Frank describes himself. The true left in the United States are so microscopic that it’s worth reminding my readers that the Democratic Party of 2016, when placed on the Right-Left spectrum of the last century or so, would occupy the right of the center position. In fact, although Frank’s book is primarily addressed at the Democrats, it’s worth noting that much of his critique aimed at “Liberals” applies to both mainstream Democrats and mainstream Republicans (but certainly not to Trump’s supporters or, for that matter, Sanders’ supporters).
What unifies mainstream American politicians of both parties is neo-Liberalism, as it is defined, for example, by George Monbiot:
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.
Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.
According to Frank, one can boil down the difference between Liberals and Socialists (the true left) to two words: competition versus solidarity. By the way, the tension between competition and cooperation is a big topic that I explore at length in my book Ultrasociety).
A senior colleague from my ecology days wrote to me with a request for a PDF reprint of an article I published in 1991. The article came out in Ecology, the flagship journal of the Ecological Society of America (ESA). When I published it, Ecology was an independent journal produced by the ESA. But when my colleague wanted to obtain an electronic reprint he ended up on the website of Wiley and Sons, a for-profit publisher of more than 1500 scientific journals, and was asked to purchase the reprint.
I searched for the title of my paper and also ended up on Wiley’s site, and also found that I would have to pay $36 for a PDF of my article. To say that I was speechless is to say nothing. Not only I am the author of the article, my university subscribes to Ecology and I personally paid Ecology subscription for many years, including 1991 (that was before I switched to cliodynamics and cultural evolution). I still have those 1991 issues gathering dust on a shelf in my lab. So naturally I refused to pay, and asked my office assistant to make a scan from a reprint that I found on another dusty shelf. The quality of the PDF, of course, is not as good as when it is directly printed from the source file.
Later on, however, I figured out how to get a good quality PDF. My university also subscribes to JSTOR, and you can get old issues of Ecology through this great resource, and so I did.
This is the beginning of the article in question. I was doing pretty abstruse things at the time.
But why did the ESA sell out to a for-profit publisher? It seems to go so much against the spirit of the Society that I remember when I was still a member. Googling, I discovered that it’s a very recent change, which happened only in 2015.
I have no idea why the ESA leadership did it, and I think it’s a very poor decision.
The landscape of scientific publishing has been changing very dramatically in the last few years, and more changes are coming. I’ve blogged about it before, so I won’t repeat it here:
Naturally, it will take yet some years for the greedy for-profit scientific publishers to go the way of the dinosaurs. The problem is the scientists themselves, or rather the majority who are still all too willing to work for free to enrich wily publishers (pun intended).
But the writing is on the wall. Thirty years ago scientific publishers could rely to sell 5,000 subscriptions to university libraries. They could afford to keep the subscription costs reasonable, since they made money in bulk.
Then two things happened. The publishers started increasing the cost of institutional subscriptions. Meanwhile library budgets started declining, so libraries started dropping subscriptions. Publishers increased the costs even more, to make up for reduced volume, and libraries responded by dropping more subscriptions. We are nearing the point when this whole business model is going to collapse. Which is why I have invested my effort into open-source publishing, and started Cliodynamics in 2010.
It seems crazy to me that an academic society would want to sell their journals to a for-profit publisher, especially such highly respected and successful journal as Ecology. Perhaps one of my ecological colleagues will get in touch and explain.
As is well known, all major forecasters confidently predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the presidential elections of 2016. On the morning of the election day (November 8th 2016) at 10:41 am, when a number of American voters had already cast their votes, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver still predicted that Hillary Clinton had a 71% chance to win. Others had predicted Clinton to win with even higher probability, between 85% to 99%.
A new article, just published by Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution, brings up a little known fact that should have caused the statisticians take a second look at their predictive models.
There are many reasons why people lie to pollsters. In fact, people regularly lie to themselves. What we need is a more reliable predictor of likes and dislikes, than directly asking people. We need a good “proxy.”
In the article Trends in first names foreshadowed Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat Stefano Ghirlanda argues that one such proxy is provided by the naming patterns. He writes, “naming decisions are not entirely rational, and can be influenced by seemingly extraneous factors of which parents are not aware.” He then proceeds to show “that trends in first names foreshadowed, in the USA, the defeat of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.”
The idea is quite simple. Parents tend to name their children after people they admire. They certainly avoid names associated with those they dislike. When was the last time you met anybody born after 1945 whose first name was “Adolf”?
Ghirlanda analyzed the data on first names of babies issued a Social Security number (which is, essentially, all the babies born in the US). Here’s the pattern that he saw when he looked at the dynamics of the name “Hillary”:
“Hillary” (and its variant “Hilary”) has been trending up in popularity for several decades, but after 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected president and Hillary Clinton was thrust into the limelight, the popularity of this name collapsed. There was a slight recovery to 2009, but then Hillary Clinton became the Secretary of State (from 2009 to 2013), and the popularity of her name started trending down again.
Such naming dynamics “suggest an exceptional negative reaction to Hillary Clinton’s public image.” Returning to the post-1992 collapse, Ghirlanda writes:
I show that such a sudden reversal is unique among naming trends, and is also unique to the 1992 election. In other elections between 1884 and 2012, a First Lady’s name had little impact on naming trends. These considerations, and others detailed below, suggest an exceptional negative reaction to Hillary Clinton’s public image, which may have ultimately affected the 2016 election. These results show that identifiable, if subtle cultural trends can foreshadow major social events.
Readers of my blog will, no doubt, point out that explaining past patterns is much easier than predicting future dynamics. As Yogi Berra once said, prediction is very hard, especially if it’s about the future.
Fair enough. So let’s test Ghirlanda’s insight. The next election will be held in 2020. Let’s then take a reading in 2019 on how the name “Donald” is faring, and predict whether our current President is going to stay on for the second term.
In a recent blog post P. D. Mangan discusses the implications of the metabolic theory of cancer and the ideas of Dr. Laurent Schwartz, French physician and oncologist, who has been using this theory to treat cancer patients. Whether this theory is correct, or not, time (and the scientific method) will tell. But there is one non-controversial observation that has huge implications for treatment–and prevention–of cancer.
As I explained in a previous post Food for Thought, our cells can utilize two main sources of energy: glucose, which is derived from the carbohydrates, and ketones, which are derived from fats. In many types of cancer, cancerous cells lose the ability to metabolize ketones, and are forced to rely solely on glucose. Thus, a simple lifestyle-based strategy to inhibit tumor growth is to switch to a ketogenic diet. In other words, drastically reducing carbohydrates and substituting them with saturated fats will not affect the function of muscle and brain cells, but will starve cancerous cells. In fact, a fat-based diet may also prevent cancer, because most of us have many tiny incipient tumors that are being constantly clobbered down by our immune systems. It’s only when they escape this constant policing action that they become a problem. Starving them of energy gives the immune system additional time to find and destroy them.
And this reminds me of the entry I submitted in response to the Edge question of 2016 a year ago:
The responses to this question, including mine, were recently published in a book form, and I think it’s worthwhile to revisit it again, in light of the new information on cancer treatment. It appears that the anti-fat craze not only made us fatter and more stupid, as I point out in this essay, but also more susceptible to dying from cancer.
Amid all the confusing fluctuations in dietary fashion to which Americans have been exposed since the 1960s, one recommendation has remained unchallenged. Beginning in the 1960s and until 2015 the Americans have been getting consistent dietary advice: fat, especially saturated fat, is bad for your health. By the 1980s, the belief equating a low-fat diet with better health had become enshrined in the national dietary advice from the US Department of Agriculture and was endorsed by the surgeon general. Meanwhile, as Americans ate less fat, they steadily became more obese.
Of course, the obesity epidemic probably has many causes, not all well understood. But it is becoming clear that the misguided dietary advice with which we have been bombarded over the past five decades, is an important contributing factor.
In fact, there has never been any scientific evidence that cutting down total fat consumption has any positive effect on health; specifically, reduced risks of heart disease and diabetes. For years those who pointed this out were marginalized, but recently evidence debunking the supposed benefits of low-fat diets has reached a critical mass, so that a mainstream magazine such as Time could write in 2014: “Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.” And now the official Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee admits that much.
There are several reasons why eating a low-fat diet is actually bad for your health. One is that if you lower the proportion of fat in your diet, you must replace it with something else. Eating more carbohydrates (whether refined or “complex”) increases your chances of becoming diabetic. Eating more proteins increases your chances of getting gout.
But perhaps a more important reason is that many Americans stopped eating food, and switched to highly-processed food substitutes: margarine, processed meats (such as the original Spam—not to be confused with email spam), low-fat cookies, and so on. In each case, we now have abundant evidence that these are “anti-health foods”, because they contain artificial trans fats, preservatives, or highly-processed carbohydrates.
While controlled diet studies are important and necessary for making informed decisions about our diets, an exciting recent scientific breakthrough has resulted from the infusion of evolutionary science into nutrition science. After all, you need first to figure out what hypotheses you want to test with controlled trials, and evolution turned out to be a fertile generator of theoretical ideas for such tests.
One of the sources of ideas to test clinically is the growing knowledge of the characteristic diets of early human beings. Consider this simple idea (although it clearly was too much for traditional nutritionists): we will be better adapted to something eaten by our ancestors over millions of years than to, say, margarine, which we first encountered only 100 years ago. Or take a food like wheat, to which some populations (those in the Fertile Crescent) have been exposed for 10,000 years, and others (Pacific Islanders) for only 200 years. Is it surprising that Pacific Islanders have the greatest prevalence of obesity in the world (higher even than in the United States)? And should we really tell them to switch to a Mediterranean diet, heavy on grains, pulses, and dairy, to which they’ve had no evolutionary exposure whatsoever?
Our knowledge of ancestral diets, of course, is itself evolving very rapidly. But it seems clear that we are adapted to eating a variety of fatty foods, including grass-fed ruminants (beef and lamb) and seafood (oily fish), both good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Of particular importance could be bone marrow—it is quite likely that first members of the genus Homo (e.g., habilis) were not hunters, but scavengers who competed with hyenas for large marrow bones. It’s very probable that nutrients from bone marrow (and brains!) of scavenged savannah ungulates were the key resource for the evolution of our own oversized brains.
In light of the new knowledge it is clear why Americans are getting fatter by eating low-fat diets. When you eliminate fatty foods that your body and—especially—brain need, your body will start sending you persistent signals that you are malnourished. So you will overeat on foods other than fatty ones. The extra, unnecessary calories that you consume (probably from carbohydrates) will be stored as fat. As a result, you will be unhappy, unhealthy, and overweight. You can avoid those extra pounds, of course, if you have a steely will (which few people have)—then you will not be overweight, merely unhappy and unhealthy.
So to lose fat you need to eat—not fat—but fatty foods. Paradoxically, eating enough fatty food of the right sorts will help to make you lean, as well as happy and—Edge readers, take note—smart!
Follow Peter Turchin on an epic journey through time. From stone-age assassins to the orbiting cathedrals of the space age, from bloodthirsty god-kings to India’s first vegetarian emperor, discover the secret history of our species—and the evolutionary logic that governed it all.
200 years ago Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the exceptional ability of Americans to cooperate in solving problems that required concerted collective action. This capacity for cooperation apparently lasted into the post-World War II era, but numerous indicators suggest that during the last 3-4 decades it has been unraveling.
Pants are the standard item of clothing for people, especially men belonging to the Western civilization. Why not a kilt, a robe, a tunic, a sarong, or a toga?