Charlton is Right …

… on this question, at least. The sole real puzzle is the precise quantity of dysgenic deterioration that has taken place in Western societies over the last 150 years, or more. Charlton estimates a one SD decline over this period in the UK, which seems entirely credible. Due to the small sample size, his argument from mathematical excellence has an inevitable anecdotal quality, but it would be hard to contest its general direction. 

A fascinating paper by Michael A. Woodley (via @intelligenceres) is able to be more comprehensively persuasive. Its second table describes the innovation rate per capita across  a sample of European countries falling by almost three-quarters over the period 1845-2005, and roughly halving from 1945-2005. (Great Stagnation anyone?)

It shouldn’t need adding that it’s impossible to read this often enough (it’s always there in my ‘Resources’ roll).

Two more, somewhat more distantly related links.

(We’re so screwed.)

ADDED: More on this topic at Charlton’s place.

ADDED: Gregory Cochran’s ‘outliers’ argument against this thesis has as its core: “In another application – if the average genetic IQ potential had decreased by a standard deviation since Victorian times, the number of individuals with the ability to develop new, difficult, and interesting results in higher mathematics would have crashed, bring such developments to a screeching halt. Of course that has not happened.”

I would have found it profoundly confidence-crushing if Cochran had simply said: the collapse of a complex trait on this scale, in this time-span, is inconsistent with everything we know about population genetics. The argument he relies upon instead, while far more elegant, is also much less persuasive (see the excellent comment thread at his site). As Dave Chamberlin notes, the parallel increase in assortative mating over the period in question means that assuming a stable standard distribution (variance) might not be safe. An increasingly heterogeneous population would to some degree shield its outliers from averaging effects.

Compared to the evidence mustered in support of the IQ collapse thesis, it is hard to be impressed by the rather impressionistic claim “Of course that has not happened.” Up to the mid-20th century — the era of Gödel, Von Neumann, and Turing — this might indeed have been irresistible, but today? Charlton’s counter-argument seems by no means risible. How sure are we that mathematics has not “collapsed” — at least down to the level of ‘normal’ (rather than ‘revolutionary’) science? What was the last mathematical break-through that mattered dazzlingly to the world?

ADDED: Mangan adds a significant complication.

March 7, 2014admin 52 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations

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52 Responses to this entry

  • Hurlock Says:

    From the comment section, in response to some reader asking if the death tolls in the World Wars had serious impact on declining IQ:

    “Yes I have covered this before. It must have had some effect, but this process began probably around 1800 in England, when the mortality rates for the poorest and those of lowest intelligence began to drop, and for perhaps the first time in history the poor began to out reproduce the rich – and this has continued. Galton wrote about this from the mid 1800s.”

    Meaning that increasing living standarts will eventually lead to (ironically) degeneracy and decreasing leaving standarts. I find this (horrifyingly) fascinating…

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    You have to soak yourself in the Weiss paper. It’s exactly there.

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    Hurlock Reply:

    Will do.

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    Posted on March 7th, 2014 at 4:44 pm Reply | Quote
  • Stirner (@heresiologist) Says:

    Aside from the anecdotal evidence for the dysgenic decline, Charlton has interesting empirical evidence using reaction times, which is highly correlated with IQ. There is century old reaction time data that can be compared to reaction time data from today, and lo and behold, you find the 1 SD decline over the last century. Even in our fast twitch world, our brains are reacting slower.

    Charlton also has an explanation for why the decline in intelligence is not more obviously visible. His explanation is that IQ gradually declines as we age. So as we get older, our IQ declines in sync with the lower IQ younger people that are coming online. Our older versions of ourselves are dumber, just like the next generation will be. Over the lifespan, our subjective perspective is that nothing is changing, even though objectively there is gradual decline.

    [Reply]

    Puzzle Pirate (@PuzzlePirate) Reply:

    Really because as I get older I think the people around me are getting a lot dumber. Or do I have to hit my 80’s to stop noticing the stupidity?

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    Posted on March 7th, 2014 at 5:03 pm Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    If I have to bet between Cochran or Charlton I know where my money is.

    A casual look at Charlton’s writing will tell you he has a… peculiar grasp on reality.

    Accelerationism doesn’t need constant intelligence, it needs intelligence to grow also exponentially so the rate of innovation can keep up. Well that we’re not getting it, but it doesn’t mean we’ve lost 1 whole SD in 150 years.

    Chinese rate of innovation has fluctuated way much more than that historically. A casual look at the Ming vs Song would indicate a drop of 3 SD, making the Ming look like Papuans. Which wasn’t the case; they just couldn’t be bothered.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I’m pretty sure “we’ve lost 1 whole SD in 150 years.” In fact, I don’t see how anybody can look at the 19th century without wondering who those supermen were.

    All it takes is a whole bunch more dim folks, and average IQ crashes fast. It’s not magic.

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    pseudo-chrysostom Reply:

    im with lothrop stoddard in pronouncing the first world war as the worst thing to ever happen to europe, and the world by extension.

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    spandrell Reply:

    Well as I said, by that logic, the Maoist explosive promotion of peasant fertility, and the thorough massacres of the old gentry and intelligentsia mean that China has lost at least 20 points since the 1940s. But that’s not what we see, is it?

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    That’s one generation. I’d like to see a study as a base for structured conversation on the topic. Chance Maoism did no dysgenic damage, in your opinion?

    I respect your skepticism on this kind of question (as evidenced whenever any historically-specific eugenic or dysgenic process or mechanism is brought in), but ultimately, if HBD means anything, genetic traits get pushed around in history somehow. We know from that crazy Russian foxes study that it doesn’t take long. It’s true that a 1 SD drop looks huge, but you have to admit it would explain a lot.

    Athrelon Reply:

    Compare scientific output of Victorian aristocrats to modern day grad students. The former were far less selected for intelligence yet produced far more meaningful insight per capita. Agreed that this is striking and needs explaining, but I disagree that change in average g is needed to explain it. Institutional factors – peer review, publish or perish, lapping at the grant funding trough – seem well sufficient. Add in cultural changes – the conversion of aristocrats pursuing duty and self-actualization to insecure meritocrats climbing local ladders – and you’ve got it.

    As Spandrell suggests, surely a history buff in China should be well aware that changing institutions can radically change social productivity without radical changes in the population!

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    Erik Reply:

    If I have to bet between Cochran or Charlton I know where my money is.

    A casual look at Charlton’s writing will tell you he has a… peculiar grasp on reality.

    I second Spandrell’s opinion.

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    Alrenous Reply:

    Cochran says a lot of dumb things when he wanders outside his expertise. Charlton also says a lot of dumb things, but this time he’s inside his expertise.

    A casual look at the Ming vs Song would indicate a drop of 3 SD, making the Ming look like Papuans. Which wasn’t the case; they just couldn’t be bothered.

    Quite. But we have the corroborating reaction time evidence. And the corroborating dysgenic trend evidence.

    Moreover, we know the Flynn effect is due to disproportionate gains in two sub-tests, on the order of twenty points; raw math and reading comprehension gains are in the noise range. (Further, we know IQ tests are routinely buggered, so even the math numbers are dubious at best.)

    One of these might try to fool us. Victorian reaction times might be screwy for a host of reasons, despite Charlton’s best efforts to correct for the possibilities. But all three? Almost impossible.

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    Saddam Hussein's Whirling Aluminium Tubes Reply:

    Yes, I have to wonder if even those of us who are dysgenics-aware haven’t been significantly underestimating just how abnormal the current situation is.

    Clark describes pre-industrial revolution England as a “world of constant downward mobility, the sons of large landholders becoming small holders, the sons of successful craftsmen of one generation becoming the laborers of the next generation, the sons of merchants becoming petty traders and so on.” And the downwardly mobile elements of the lower classes either died or failed to produce a lot of surviving offspring, so that eventually the whole country was (Clark asserts) made up of downwardly mobile sons of the wealthy, the original lower class types having mostly died off.

    Sounds…eugenic. A high mean to regress towards, etc. The reversal of this trend has been dramatic, possibly far more dramatic than we imagine. One wonders how many centuries worth of gradual improvement have been wiped out by the reversal of this trend. One would have to presume that this is one of those situations where it is easier to destroy than to build up.

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    Alrenous Reply:

    I’m biased. The situation feels abnormal to me. It seems like regular people can’t even think in straight lines, let alone anything actually complex. Their trains of thoughts skip across tracks or just fall over.

    But this raises the question of where I would have learned this is wrong.

    Posted on March 7th, 2014 at 5:04 pm Reply | Quote
  • razor blades in the fleshlight Says:

    how do we acccount for low hanging fruit? many of the scientific insights of the 19th century were of that kind. there are only so many simple things to know, the rest is complexity built on top. dimishing returns seems to explain the effect of less scientific advancement.

    still, idiocracy has a strong allure.

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    VXXC Reply:

    yes and pride has a strong allure as well.

    What about the decline in courage? Far more devastating than any decline in “IQ”.

    The 19th century men would horsewhip ye, and not for lower math scores.

    We.Are.Not.So.Screwed.Stop.Telling.Yourself.Yer.Helpless.

    Get up Hudson, the world was always in some real pretty shit and not just now.

    Now 6th century Italia, hiding on a patch of mud in a lagoon, hacking trees out to sink in a salty marsh to build..Venice.. that’s screwed .

    Yet they “unscrewed” it . Without testing everyone first to check the SD drop.

    And built Venice. We’re not that “screwed” yet.

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    Posted on March 7th, 2014 at 7:40 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    Here’s an important part remaining to be saved, it still exists. 19th century Bowie at the Sandbar.

    “Crain helped carry Bowie away, with Bowie recorded as having thanked him, saying, “Col. Crain, I do not think, under the circumstances, you ought to have shot me.”

    Bowie at the Sandbar. Ever the True Gentleman, thanking and speaking decently to the man who shot him [missing his actual target Samuel Cuny ].

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandbar_Fight

    Still quite extant and in force. Tattoo or not.

    No?

    How about an Englishman?

    “Shuffle off this mortal coil you cunt” – Royal marine dispatching Taliban.

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/nov/07/military-court-audio-marine-shot-afghan

    Now men of letters, a campaign from ye would mitigate or end his jail sentence. Bill O’Reilly does this sort of thing routinely, no equivalent in UK I’m afraid. This might endanger detached and Ironic. OTOH I think you’d have some Royal Marine Friends, not too shabby an exchange.

    DUTY. It’s not a given, it’s an exchange.

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 8th, 2014 at 2:59 pm Reply | Quote
  • blogospheroid Says:

    If neoreaction can make ONE compromise with feminism, this trend could be reversed.

    Have you heard of SENS (strategies for engineering negligible senescence). The idea is that there are 7 or 8 root causes of aging. Resolve those and you can engineer an increase in the health span of humans, the time that humans remain young and healthy. The research program is currently grossly underfunded right now.

    If it succeeds,
    The most noticeable effect will be women looking and physiologically, being young for a much longer time. The high iq women will have much longer to continue having children, and the iq degeneration of current humans may be halted or even reversed. Feminists should be really happy with this. God knows how they will actually react. The heartiste crowd might think that they will just continue living the good life forever and never actually settle, but who knows the thoughts that a 60 looking like 25 woman will think.

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 8th, 2014 at 3:59 pm Reply | Quote
  • MD Says:

    Off topic, but more contact made here, if anyone is interested in tangling in their com boxes.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Francis Galton to PZ Myers — compared to that, a 1 SD crash since the Victorians doesn’t sound so extreme, does it?

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    Contemplationist Reply:

    To be fair, the comparison should be to someone like Craig Venter not PC Myers.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Indeed, yes.

    Posted on March 8th, 2014 at 4:51 pm Reply | Quote
  • Kgaard Says:

    How can Charlton be this insightful on the IQ question and yet so … what’s the word … naive in his treatment of Mormonism? He takes it seriously when anyone who really looks at the matter knows it’s basically a cult.

    [Reply]

    Peter A. Taylor Reply:

    What do you mean by “cult”? Is Objectivism a cult? Is Catholicism?

    [Reply]

    Saddam Hussein's Whirling Aluminium Tubes Reply:

    That’s a judgment call, but when forming your judgment, keep in mind that Mormonism started out as (among other things) a way for certain men to have many wives. 29 for Smith, 51 for Brigham Young, 43 for Church apostle Heber C. Kimball, etc.

    Not decisive in and of itself perhaps, but something that tends to keep coming up.

    Radical anabaptism:

    “John of Leiden’s authority grew, eventually proclaiming himself to be the successor of David and adopting royal regalia, honors and absolute power in the new “Zion”. He legalized polygamy, and himself took sixteen wives.

    Joseph Smith (and his successor Brigham Young) also led his followers to a new Zion, took multiple wives, established a theocracy and engaged in bloody conflict with the authorities and people of the surrounding society.

    They (well most of them, we got Smith), just managed to avoid the bloody end suffered by the radical anabaptists and slowly lost some of their more cult like tendencies (plural marriage, butchering outsiders, etc). It just so happens that believing in a transparently made up but reformed cult is still better for humans than believing in nothing.

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    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Viewing through a glass quite darkly.

    People believe in all sorts of stupid things, most of which don’t work very well. Mormonism has more going for it than you will admit.

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Nah. Your personal incredulity isn’t much of an argument.

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    Posted on March 8th, 2014 at 7:18 pm Reply | Quote
  • Kgaard Says:

    Objectivism is closer to a philosophy. Catholicism has cult-like aspects but also a pretty good metaphysics that stands on its own, more or less, even if you take the bible metaphorically. With Mormonism, Joseph Smith basically made it all up out of his head (pulling pieces from the philosophies popular in New England in the early 1800s). There’s no POINT to the whole thing. And it’s absurd on its face. I guess you could say the same about Catholicism but it seems to me that one is something deeper than its creeds … it’s basically Plato with Jesus tossed in as a way to make it more accessible to the average guy. So the intellectual heritage of Catholicism is actually pretty good in some ways.

    [Reply]

    Peter A. Taylor Reply:

    “Cult” has strong negative connotations, but no clear denotation. Larry Iannaccone uses it to describe religious groups that demand high levels of commitment. Isaac Bonewitz used it to describe groups that are dangerous or abusive to their members. Eliezer Yudkowsky describes groups as cults not because of their beliefs, but because of the methods they use to defend their beliefs. You’re using it to describe how theoretically flawed the official doctrines are.

    “Cult” is a snarl-word. You can use it, but if you’re trying to communicate something other than animus, you have to explain it. It’s usually easier to find another word.

    [Reply]

    Stirner (@heresiologist) Reply:

    Mormonism as a theology seems quite sketchy, but Mormonism as a community of the right minded is very strong and effective. Their men and women are relatively immune to progressive indoctrination, and they mate at above population replacement levels. As a subculture, they will fare very well, especially with their emphasis on survival preparation and food storage. Not my cup of tea, but high at the list of the winners of the collapse of modernity are going to be the Mormons.

    [Reply]

    Kgaard Reply:

    Actually the Mormons already are winners: One of the shocking things about driving around out west is how bad most people look — until you get to Utah and see all these fresh faced healthy Mormons. Whatever they are doing is not transferable, though. At least I don’t think so. It relies on physical isolation (desert on two-three sides around central Utah) and a REALLY bizarre theology. Already the age of first marriage is rising for both men and women. In another 50-100 years their communities may fall apart too but we’ll have to see.

    Anyway, it seems to me the only coherent philosophy for a post-modern world is Buddhism, or something like it. Trying to be Christian sends one down Charlton-esque roads of nonsense pretty quickly. Materialism/hedonism lead to despair eventually. The Buddhists seem to have the best take on reality …

    admin Reply:

    Trouble is, we don’t choose religion. Religion chooses us.

    VXXC Reply:

    Snarl words.

    We’re talking monkeys Dear.

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    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Mormon theology is basically the folk intuitions about religion and supernatural that most everybody religious naturally falls into when they’re not watching themselves.

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 8th, 2014 at 11:56 pm Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    I am less appreciative of 19th century culture than most here, but that’s just me.

    The fact is genetics is more complex than we usually think. Intelligence is normally distributed, so even if you killed every single person with an IQ>120 , you’d still get plenty of them in the next generation. Cochran knows his math and I’m willing to believe his take.

    But my opinion is founded in the impression that there’s plenty of smart people around today, and our recent ancestors weren’t that smart themselves either. Remember Semmelweis? The anarchist assassinations? If that happened today we’d be all writing above the decline of science and the fall of civilization.

    It’s a software problem.

    [Reply]

    VXXC Reply:

    It’s a software problem.

    Emphasis on Soft.

    Since you probably mean education you are right.

    and hence complete separation of school and state.

    The Pyramids were built by illiterate sun worshippers – quite free – worshipping god and pharoh. Geometry thousands of years later, after Euclid put it in word form.

    The Actual Cathedrals built by same. Master Architect had no division, no one did. that’s late middle ages.

    FUCK SMART. Are you kidding? Look around. This IS THE RULE OF THE SMART.

    [Reply]

    spandrell Reply:

    No, I don’t mean education, and the architects of the pyramids and other Egyptian temples were quite literate.

    Dude, just chill. No need to shout around when you don’t have a clue. What you do have is energy so put it to use at John Robb’s, for the best of everybody.

    [Reply]

    VXXC Reply:

    yes noted.

    I’ll chill. But it’s a blind alley is smart, we’re in it now. We’re in smart alley now. None of us have a clue to get out, because smart isn’t enough.

    LOL. I’m a great admirer of Robb but not a fan. I don’t like his vision. Moreover as I even said there a year ago he wishes to be an architect but he attracts arsonists. A lot of that going around.

    The architects were literate, the builders – hands – were not. In more modern times stone masons from Italy with no education but the trade itself were building houses and churches here, basically illiterate but knew how to build. This is me defending the noble prole, and I’m right. If you think the architects built anything with dumb labor, you’ve built nothing.

    Smart people over-optimize and build structures that don’t stand the test of time. Or airplanes, not exactly a fair test I grant you.

    Again this now, now, our time, our world is beyond contradiction the rule of the smart. What have they wrought but the comprehensive ruin of all inheritances, and a new dark age dawns.

    see? no shouting. And Dear Sir I have several clues, humility being one. An interface with life beyond data being another. Finally I am tied to a land and people for better or for worse. Rather like marriage and family, you see it through.

    Certain people are going to discover the Han’s true nature when their passports aren’t backed by the Global Hegemony, INC, but it owes them money they can’t pay. Skin and people will quite win out.

    Fear is worth 10,000 degrees. Now I should go before I start shouting.

    VXXC Reply:

    by the way, the snark was a bit thick with that one.

    You don’t actually say what you mean, except it’s something to do with human “software” but it’s not education. I guess we..guess..and don’t have a clue when it’s not education [television?].

    Gracious. When I’m cyptic it’s usually either unintentional or security reasons.

    So..fuck.smart. They’ve certainly fucked all of us, and achieved nothing but the destruction of 2000 years or more of inheritiance. They’ve bought a new dark age just over the horizon. And we certainly won’t think our way out of it.

    Now at the end of the day when the Histories are written, it shall be noted they were merely the most selfish and clever of the very ruined pile of humanity they deliberately engineered, but certainly not the smartest people in human history despite what their teachers told them. True arrogance must be merited by some achievement.

    Ruin of your own civilization isn’t it.

    admin Reply:

    There’s the RT data to deal with somehow, though (among other evidence, see Alrenous above). Still, I fully understand why you’d think a plunge of this kind is simply incredible. SHWAT’s point that it is a kind of relapse might be helpful — some sort of mean regression following relaxation of comparatively recent selective pressures?

    [Reply]

    Alrenous Reply:

    I’m not sure I buy a whole 1 SD. I’m biased, I have to be super careful. But certainly, a qualitatively large one, whatever that means quantitatively.

    I propose to dub this one either IQD or NFE. I would even like BCE just for the rivalrous relationship with the disgustingly dishonest before-common-era, but I don’t think it’s likely to win that one.

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 9th, 2014 at 10:03 am Reply | Quote
  • Malone Says:

    Charlton’s claims are very weak. It’s based on some very dubious 19th century reaction time experiments, and the decline in innovation as evidence is not very convincing considering that innovation is sensitive to political and economic conditions and that he’s positing such a large genetic change in such a short period of time.

    And this subject certainly isn’t Charlton’s “expertise”. I don’t think he has much “expertise” in anything. Most doctors have trouble with basic probability: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/25/chances-are/

    I don’t think Charlton is very bright or knowledgable. He’s dogmatic and makes dubious pronouncements. This same mindset drives him to make strange, unjustified assertions about how The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Mormons, etc. hold the secret to the universe.

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 9th, 2014 at 9:39 pm Reply | Quote
  • Malone Says:

    What was the last mathematical break-through that mattered dazzlingly to the world?

    Mathematical breakthroughs don’t tend to dazzle the world. Most mathematical results have little relevance to the world and are only of interest to mathematicians.

    What dazzles “the world” i.e. the public aren’t mathematical breakthroughs but material breakthroughs involving technological applications. This is quite a different thing.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “Mathematical breakthroughs don’t tend to dazzle the world.” — You don’t think (to rummage selectively, from the three figures I mention) that the Incompleteness Theorem, Cellular Automata, Games Theory, or Universal Turing Machine dazzled the world? I strong disagree.

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 9th, 2014 at 9:49 pm Reply | Quote
  • Malone Says:

    Those examples support my point. They did not dazzle the world as pure math results, but through their associations in related or applied domains and as applied math.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Heading back into the 19th century, the most vivid example is Cantor (and actual infinity). I suppose someone could describe that as “low-hanging fruit” — but even if it were ultimately defensible, there would be something amusing about doing so.

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 10th, 2014 at 12:31 am Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    Forgotten Chinese innovations:

    http://www.chinasmack.com/2014/pictures/15-chinese-artifacts-that-will-change-how-you-look-at-china.html

    Was China doing dysgenics too? 2500 years ago?

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Is that so hard to imagine? We should expect relaxation of Malthusian pressure to always result in a dysgenic trend.

    [Reply]

    Alrenous Reply:

    Which means innovation => dysgenics.

    [Reply]

    spandrell Reply:

    Relaxation of Malthusian pressure is not what comes to my mind when I think of the Han Dynasty.

    Relaxation of military threats to the imperial government, on the other hand…

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 10th, 2014 at 3:24 am Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    I wonder if the aforementioned software if not education is then..system of government?

    The “Loop” problem of democracy is in fact the loop problem of human nature. Human nature repeats with each birth, there’s no actual loop. Because we’re not mathematical.

    It’s simply a question of which part of human nature will need tinkering today, this hour, this minute. It’s not a question of getting around Human Nature, or reprogramming human nature, or reprogramming government so it runs itself.

    we just spent a century trying to do this and we’re not done with it yet, at known horrific costs.

    What system of government you have is for governing men, so it will never quite run itself. We can’t be programmed, this we have proven. We’re pointing the monkey pack in a particular direction, that is all.

    This really is Right Wing Progressivism. Complete with our very own Chomsky.

    [Reply]

    Posted on March 10th, 2014 at 11:53 am Reply | Quote

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