If you’d asked me what I think about The Prussian yesterday, I’d probably have assumed you were talking about Frederick the Great. Today I’m seeing his stuff mentioned all over the place (at least, by Bryce on Twitter, and Scott Alexander at his place). The two pieces being especially recommended share a tack (interesting) and a tone (impressive). The Outside in response to both is unsettled, but already uneven. At the very least, they initiate a conversation in a way that is unexpected and worthy of respect.
The highlight for me was this (to repeat the second link):
… when differences in African and Caucasian distributions of the ASPM gene that is involved in brain development, racialists jumped to argue that this was the long looked for basis for white cognitive supremacy (Derbyshire’s line). Unfortunately for them, it turned out that the variation does not affect IQ, but does affect the ability to hear tones, and is associated with a lack of tonal languages.
To be honest, this is a lot more interesting than any IQ mumbo-jumbo; that Indo-European languages (‘Aryan’ languages to use the term correctly, and not in the disgraceful way it was used) are non-tonal is one of the big puzzles, and may be a reason why civilization got started in these regions. This is a variant of Joseph Needham’s hypothesis of why China ‘got stuck’ at a certain level of technology. Needham argued that the Chinese failed to make the break to the conceptual level of science that the ancient Greeks did, and part of this is to do with the concrete-level of Chinese vocabulary. By contrast, the reduced sound range and hence, reduced word range available to Indo-European languages may have played a crucial role in making that initial great breakthrough.
Has the case just been made for a clearly identifiable genetic predisposition to digitization? It sounds that way to me.
ADDED: Theden gets serious on the genetics of tonal language.
ADDED: A critique of the Anti-Racialist Q&A at The Right Stuff.