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Culture War Roundup for the week of April 24, 2023

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I'm not interested in resegregation in any way, but I think people are really bad at understanding the historical perspective. For the great majority of history and places, the average person would see almost nobody except a very small set of fixed local ethnicities, often only a single one. The few situations where they would, it was either very strongly controlled like large-distance-trading (and even that was still often changing hands exactly at the lines where ethnicities changed) or in a very negative context like an invasion, vagabonds or large scale population movements (where the moving people might not necessarily be ill-intended, but the difficulties involving the movement still meant that it rarely worked out well).

It absolutely makes sense that historically, people would by default simply distrust anyone who wasn't of an ethnicity they knew; But in fact it was worse than this: People were xenophobic in a much more general sense in that they simply distrusted anyone, full stop, that wasn't already well-known in their local environment. And this made a lot of sense! Moving around into unknown communities back then was expensive and dangerous, something that was only done if you had no other option. And when would someone have no other option? Usually because they did something sufficiently bad somewhere that they had to flee. Not to mention that someone who has nothing to lose is inherently dangerous in an environment where everyone is still fighting for their survival. On average, even a single stranger arriving - not to mention a group of them - was a very net-negative thing for a community for most of history.

But even back then, there absolutely were ways around these problems; Letters of recommendation, bringing resources with you and immediately sharing them as a proof of goodwill, being part of a generally accepted institution like a monastery or long-distance-trading, let's call this whole category credentials. So the capacity to trust strangers has always been there. But credentials were entirely inaccessible for something like 99% of the population. Guilds were possibly the first larger scale credential that made the concept accessible for something like an extra 10% of the population I guess? I admittedly don't know the exact numbers here. There is some argument that christianity and religions in general can fulfil a similar role as a low level credential.

Now comes pre-modernity, or the colonialism period or however you want to call it. As rapidly improving technology allows people to move much further than they could before, suddenly the equations changed; The baseline for "my situation is bad enough that it's worth trying my luck elsewhere" increased and increased, and hence the average quality of the stranger (again, stranger meaning not just personally unknown but someone without credentials) increased from "probably literally a multiple murderer" to just "regular poor person" . Furthermore, our general situation improved enough that (violent) criminality in general was worth less, and violent mental illness also has diminished. But as it always goes, social technology tends to lag behind regular technology, and hence both people's instincts were slow to change and modern-style credentialism hasn't established itself yet (or just partially through the aforementioned guilds).

I think people underestimate how much of pre-modernity style racism is mostly just the combination of this instinctive, historically rational distrust of strangers and the poor experiences that predictably happen when groups with very different norms clash. And unlike a teutonic moving into a roman village, who might cause some issues but who can show his goodwill, adopt local norms and become increasingly indistinguishable, the obvious differences between very different ethnicities makes fitting in much more difficult and hence slows everything down. Racism is not in any way this special kind of evil that is entirely irrational, it's just our instinctive distrust of strangers that used to be very adaptive.

As we near modernity, people increasingly start to trust strangers more in a fully general sense, and modern-style credentialism gets established so that almost anybody can travel from one place to another where they literally know nobody and still show proof of who they are, what they are capable of, that they're not a threat to anyone, etc. And this process happened almost simultaneously as racism toned down, and I don't think that is an accident. It's fundamentally the same process in my opinion. In medieval times, a black guy turning up somewhere complaining that nobody trusts him falls on deaf ears; they're trusting no strangers, and they are struggling to survive already. Today, if anybody turns up somewhere and is treated with distance and distrust, you need a specific reason and "racism" as a concept starts to even make sense at all. Early this century was just the weird inter-period when our society hadn't fully caught up with the changes. Or more precisely, societies, since I think other ethnicities actively westernising has been a large part of the process as well.

Btw, none of this is incompatible with the sort of "light" HBD that expects some average differences between groups (but which is unfortunately still taboo in the modern western consensus position). I guess this post also ended up slightly off-target in that it is not describing how the switch actually happened in detail, and more on the why it was the way it used to be and why it has changed. but I hope it's still interesting enough for some people.

but I hope it's still interesting enough for some people.

It is! Thanks for writing it up, it's something to noodle on a bit.