Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Arabian Horse

One thrust of multiculturalism today is to downplay the originality and accomplishments of the West. Some historians argue that the West supposedly owes its rise to borrowing from the Rest, rather than to its own innovation. The West then promptly forgot its debt to the Rest.
A minor but interesting test case is the Arabian horse. Arabians formed a key part of the bloodstock for light cavalry horses in European armies and the bloodstock for modern Thoroughbred racing horses. Three stallions, the Darley Arabian, Byerly Turk, and Godolphin Arabian, brought to England during the late-17th/18th century, are the founders of all modern Thoroughbreds.
But, the West did not forget the origins of these horses. The name Arabian remains.
Also, the modern Thoroughbred breed is the result of selective breeding by the English in the 18th and 19th centuries, the golden age of selective animal breeding. This small part of the rise of the West is not due to appropriating from others, but to the initiative of Westerners themselves.
So, there was some borrowing from outside, but much more important was innovation from within.


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Stoners lose 8-points of IQ

they found that those who persistently used cannabis – smoking it at least four times a week year after year through their teens, 20s and, in some cases, their 30s – suffered a decline in their IQ. … The more that people smoked, the greater the loss in IQ. … researchers found that individuals who started using cannabis in adolescence and then carried on using it for years showed an average eight-point IQ decline….  “This work took an amazing scientific effort. We followed almost 1,000 participants, we tested their mental abilities as kids before they ever tried cannabis, and we tested them again 25 years later after some participants became chronic users.”

That’s half a standard deviation, down from 100 if average to 98. Could explain the under-achievement attributed to stoners.

Acidic review of Debt: The First 5,000 Years

the accumulation of anecdotes does not add up to an explanation, and certainly not one that would overturn the existing wisdom on the subject, conventional or otherwise. It is a story told almost entirely in the realm of political and moral philosophy


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What are the Human Sciences For?

Mainly, to assist understanding by reporting facts, explaining causes, interpreting meanings, and clarifying concepts.
But also to aid moral judgment by evaluating actions and situations.
And to assist practical decisions by diagnosing predicaments and offering prescriptions on what is to be done.
The human sciences are far from perfect at any of these things. But they are all valuable tasks. I suspect that the human sciences are best at #1 and rather poor at #2 and #3.

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Postmoderns proclaim loudly that the project of Enlightenment has fallen into crisis and is coming to an end: the epoch of science and rationality has closed, and now opens a new epoch of post-science, post-modern, post-rational, post-Enlightenment. But mayhap they proclaim too loudly. Their insistence is more a hope, just as the Marxists prematurely proclaimed the crisis of capitalism and the coming end of capitalism.
Beware those who loudly proclaim the crisis or end of this or that.

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*Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter*

Gautam Makunda’s book on leadership:

Under most circumstances it doesn’t matter much who ends up as leader. If leaders are Filtered, one can easily substitute for another. Under some extraordinary circumstances … an Unfiltered leader can come to power who takes his or her organization to disaster or glory.

At last a systematic look at leadership. Looks at Jefferson, Lincoln, and Wilson; Chamberlain and Churchill. The Filtered make little difference. The Unfiltered are Extreme, like Churchill, and can make a big difference. (Also, though not mentioned, Adolph H.)

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Shaped Like a U

The idea of progress (or decline) is often avoided because it means judging other cultures both in the past and the present. But we cannot help but wonder if things have been getting better (or worse) over the course of time. The key problem for assessing progress it to have a principle of evaluation or a standard that applies through history – it cannot just be a standard or principle that is fashionable now but that was irrelevant in the past. (We cannot be chronocentric.) A second problem is to discern whether there has been overall progress in all areas of life, and which areas have seen more progress, and which less. A third challenge is to consider and compare progress in different areas of the world. A fourth issue is to figure out if progress has been gradual or abrupt, bumpy or smooth.

The idea of progress was classically contested by the idea of decline: that Eden, the Golden Age was in the past. Rousseau thought the simplicity of the noble savage gave way to the decline of life in civilization.

These are hard problems; but I think that there is a principle of evaluation that allows us to say coherent things about progress: it is human nature. So, one of the main candidates for progress is science. Why? Because it has made a major improvement to our natural desire for understanding.

There is also a way of combining the idea of a Golden Age with the idea of progress. It is that progress has been U-shaped, bringing initially declines on many indices, before recently bringing improvements.

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Arnold Toynbee’s Parallel Vision

Parallels in history – this was one of the great themes of Arnold Toynbee.

Several different regions had in parallel: first generation civilizations, which in some cases collapsed into heroic ages, then second generation civilizations, then universal states, then universal churches (Toynbee’s name for Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism).

Toynbee saw a sequence of transformations from 1) primitive cultures to 2) civilizations to 3) higher religions which, emphasizing fellowship, and being open rather than closed societies, offer the potential for 4) unity of mankind. (Study of History II: 103-5)

Looking back he saw political-religious parallels in the agrarian era, but looking forward he foresaw eventual convergence.

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