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Culture War Roundup for the week of July 17, 2023

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Mandela Goes From Hero to Scapegoat as South Africa Struggles

10 years after his death, attitudes have changed. The party Mr. Mandela led after his release from prison, the African National Congress, is in serious danger of losing its outright majority for the first time since he became president in 1994 in the first free election after the fall of apartheid. Corruption, ineptitude and elitism have tarnished the A.N.C... Faith in the future is collapsing. Seventy percent of South Africans said in 2021 that the country is going in the wrong direction, up from 49 percent in 2010, according to the latest survey published by the country’s Human Sciences Research Council. Only 26 percent said they trusted the government, a huge decline from 2005, when it was 64 percent... The unemployment rate is 46 percent among South Africans aged 15 to 34. Millions more are underemployed, like Mr. Thebe. He studied computer science at the university level, never receiving a degree. The best job he said he could find was selling funeral policies to the staff of the court.

While Mr. Mandela is still lionized around the world, many South Africans, especially young people, believe that he did not do enough to create structural changes that would lift the fortunes of the country’s Black majority. White South Africans still hold a disproportionate share of the nation’s land, and earn three and a half times more than Black people. Mr. Vawda, 17, belongs to a generation that knows Mr. Mandela only as a historical figure in textbooks and films. To him, Mr. Mandela’s fight to end apartheid was admirable. But the huge economic gap between Black and white South Africans will be on his mind when he votes for the first time next year, he said. "He didn’t revolt against white people,” Mr. Vawda said. “I would have taken revenge.”

the truth and reconciliation commission led by mandela chose to pardon many perpetrators of crimes related to apartheid, such as the murderers of amy biehl, an anti-apartheid activist, in order to encourage, well, truth and reconciliation. young south africaners have identified that mandela and his friends didn't go far enough with their silly restorative justice ways - perhaps a nuremberg would have been more appropriate. if you were willing to necklace traitors of your own race, why not the enemy?

@HlynkaCG says, true to style, that this demonstrates all-importance of Culture, rather than HBD. He's right in a sense. But first, I want to discuss how he is also wrong.

In short, HBD is misunderstood. It is an issue of culture, and has been increasingly an issue of culture for most of Anthropocene.

Forget this speculative pablum about Cold Winters rewarding long term preference and complex social order. I do believe it, of course; it explains the bulk of initial conditions of our path-dependent historical trajectory; it doesn't matter. I've lived most of my life in a place with rather fucking cold winters, in a house designed to withstand those; sometimes, the homeless took refuge from the cold in its entrance lobby equipped with centralized heating – they'd have frozen to death otherwise. A denizen of Honshu can survive in what is basically a shed made of paper and wood planks. In terms of human capital, Japan is leagues above Russia – like 10 points in IQ, and time preference gulf that translates to 6x difference in implicit interest rates. How so?

Whites came to South Africa and made it a fertile land, and in centuries they have not become any less industrious, nor have their fields turned to wastelands (until they were excised as racially alien, and the infrastructure left behind got broken). Why?

Protestant European countries have minimally dysgenic fertility, whereas Latin America and the Middle East are hit the hardest. Does all that heat kill high-brainpower sperm first, or what?

For the longest time we have been kings of the hill, we thoroughly dominate this planet, no beast and certainly no frivolity of climate decides whether we thrive or go extinct. Even the most wretched countries have carrying capacity orders of magnitude higher than what the era of Cold Winters relevance allowed. No. Society is humans' environment. Culture is humans' selection pressure. The measure of our fitness is how well we fit in. Whether you are praised by a local pastor and your children held in high esteem for your success in retail business, or your store looted and your children taken hostage for ransom determines - on average – how many grandchildren they will be able to raise; and whether, in the long run, that which grows around your grave will be a nation of thugs or genteel shopkeepers. HBD tells us how well a person of a given extraction, ceteris paribus, will be likely to perform on a batch of rigorous and meaningful tests relative to others. Deep history tells us why that is so. Culture is the mechanism by which ceteris is prevented from being paribus; both directly through environmental inputs and more importantly through what they were for your ancestors. For all practical purposes, it does not matter what came first, chicken or egg, gene alleles or the criteria by which they get effectively judged as worthy of continuation: this is a self-sustaining loop either way. It does not matter that my people could, in a society different from Russia, be more than what they actually are, more than Japanese, perhaps. They – us – demonstrably fail to build anything better than Russia. And Black South Africans, under their own power, have demonstrably failed to build anything better than what the Apartheid regime was; the best idea they could muster was to flip the table.
Of course, one can claim that the absence of indignity inherent to second-class citizenship is worth all that. But – is there really dignity to be found in brutality and corruption, chaos and fear, squalor and pathetic self-deception? Their current troubles have nothing to do with whitey, except in the sense that they cannot sustain the country that whitey has built; so the Gods of Copybook Headings come to collect their due.

HBD is downstream of culture, in a way that feeble, equitable, painless interventions and charitable self-sacrifice by the stronger party cannot negate. The less virtuous cannot rule and become more virtuous in the process. You will have to have a culture where virtue is rewarded, even if that puts some strongly self-identifying, cohesive group in a bad spot. And to have that culture, you have to have at least a seed of people who maintain it effortlessly among themselves. This can be done, for a time, in virtually any society. But let us say that is it not easy to pull oneself by the hair out of the bog. Society is not just upstream of individual biology – it is less mutable than that.

Now, as for what makes Hlynka right. It's that in this scheme there is such a thing as pure culture, the culture of governance and highest-level decisionmaking, which can rapidly change and impose that change on the whole underlying structure; and in South Africa it is terrible.

But if you squint, the culture of the US is pretty similar. Do Americans not lambast «whiteness»? Do their dignitaries not take the knee for a thug, while honest people are canceled? Do they not piss all over the legacy of the whitey, overturn his monuments, ruin education and academia he had created? Is this not what this place owes its existence to?

I exaggerate of course. The serious point is that both American and South African political culture disdains the notion of owning your mistakes, and is ignorant of the feeling of limits. The only respectable response to a failure is to double down and accuse your enemies of meddling; chutzpah is the measure of sincerity. (I've been astonished recently to see Douglas Hofstadter admit he has been wrong about AI – this is not how American Public Intellectuals are supposed to operate. «It's a very traumatic experience when some of your most core beliefs about the world start collapsing.» Well, I'm sorry for your loss, man, try to not have smug and absurd beliefs next time.)

But this abysmal cultural regime is normal. Not doubling down, stopping digging when you find yourself in a pit, actually thinking, is anomalous; the project of rationality was premised on making this anomaly pay rent. Opinions differ as to whether it worked out. Extreme cases of nations being clearly worse than normal for pure cultural reasons are very popular – North Korea, Argentina… But that's grasping at straws.

So there not being much difference in «pure culture», the reason America is not South Africa is still HBD. To wit, there are plainly too many good people, industrious people, smart people, to let it fail; they patch the gaps with tax money, duct tape and high technology faster than new gaps show up, and fast enough to attract even more of the same sort of people, increasing the delta between America and less fortunate nations. Japan, too, does not make sense politically, and their economic system is a mess – but the Japanese have high enough human capital to bear the burden of their culture. They'd have been able to bear Kim's regime as well. After all, Koreans manage somehow, and Koreans are their peers, HBD-wise.

Some states don't have that luxury. South Africa is failing as a state, for example. Its culture is terrible on every level and it is not blessed enough by HBD to cover it up.

You will have to have a culture where virtue is rewarded, even if that puts some strongly self-identifying, cohesive group in a bad spot. And to have that culture, you have to have at least a seed of people who maintain it effortlessly

I was largely onboard with what you were saying until this point.

I actually think this line illustrates (or at least gestures towards) one of the major our differences in our respective worldviews. Virtue is never "effortless". Virtue, by its very nature, requires effort. It requires pain and discomfort. The difference between sincere virtue and empty signaling lies in it's personal in the personal cost. The willingness to put in the work and endure the pain. As I keep saying, a principle that gets discarded the moment it becomes inconvenient to hold was never sincerely held in the first place. It's the same idea.

If anything, it is the belief that virtue is (or ought to be) somehow intrinsic or effortless that lies at the heart of so much of the world's dysfunction.

Much as leadership is not about asking permission so much as stepping up, culture is a choice. You can choose to demean and deride those who put in the effort or you can encourage them. That choice will effect the balance of effort around you. In short your choices matter, because your choices determine your culture and that is a thought that certain people just cannot abide.

I think that there are a lot of people particularly amongst the woke left and so-called dissident right who feel an urgent need to believe that individual choices don't matter and that culture does not matter because so long as these things don't matter, they can not be held responsible for the outcomes their culture creates.

Ironically, I've long viewed the current state of Russia as the most damning evidence against the HBD hypothesis. If I grant for the sake of argument that intelligence is primarily genetic, there's no disputing that Russians have it in spades. Russia has produced a slew of great artists and thinkers over the centuries and as a general rule when Russians get out of Russia they seem to do quite well for themselves. So why did the US end up as world hegemon and not the Soviet Union? I would argue that Russian culture was the chief determinator. As I recall we had an argument a few years back where I accused you of being "a servile and effete European". I also seem to recall getting an entirely deserved warning form @ZorbaTHut about it. My position regarding you has mellowed since, I genuinely value your posts as someone who's views are vastly different from mine, and you've always had interesting takes. At the same time I do still feel like there is some truth to the barb. My Polish friends joke that there is nothing more galling to a Russian than seeing another Russian happy or successful. I don't now how much truth there is in this but it does readily to explain how Russia always seems to be getting caught in defect-defect type equilibriums.

You talk about American culture "lambasting whitness" and the first thought that comes to my mind is "is that really American Culture though?" We're already in a place where anything that is unambiguously pro-american ('Murica) gets coded "Red" by default so what of it? It's no secret that our academic elite are not "American" in any meaningful sense of the word, their whole political platform revolves around making the US more like Europe IE poorer, more class stratified, and more segregated "multi-cultural". The choice is in going along with them.

I might have misspoken. Let me put it another way.

Consider the quote from Dostoyevsky by @Harlequin5942 (I would translate it more literally, but no matter):

For the same reason, the parents will have to sell the younger son into bondage or the ranks of the army, in order that he may earn more towards the family capital. Yes, such things ARE done, for I have been making inquiries on the subject. It is all done out of sheer rectitude—out of a rectitude which is magnified to the point of the younger son believing that he has been rightly sold, and that it is simply idyllic for the victim to rejoice when he is made over into pledge. What more have I to tell?

Sure, you are right. Virtue not only takes effort, it to a large extent is just a consistent, directed application of effort. But – for the scope of the argument, what is the difference between having the power to sustain effort and the challenge being relatively effortless? Between having the power to lift a weight, and that weight being slight for one's shoulders?

«Unvirtuous» people know the score, they know the required investment and the theoretically optimal payoff matrix. They just fail to keep up, and so give up. Inasmuch as this is due to them facing extra temptations and so on holding them back, that can in principle be rectified through top-down cultural intervention (though as I say, it is hard to reinvent a nation; you folks tried a few times, and patted yourself on the back for succeeding… in Germany and Japan, only to walk away in embarrassment and confusion from the Middle East). But in the end, some people, and peoples on the average, just find the required effort too much.

And it works the same way for virtues and abilities. I argue that recognizing the unequal distribution of innate ability is necessary, not only to tailor interventions and temper expectations, but to be kind to people, to be able to forgive them their shortcomings.
Speaking of, you like to accuse HBDers of thinking that education is wasted on black children. I don't know if you've ever taught; millions of Americans do, and they all have to face the question of education being mostly wasted on some children. The thing is, teachers who ignore or deny innate inequality end up having to choose either to hate themselves, the society, or children who fail to achieve whatever skill level they think their teaching ought to make possible.
This latter mindset is pointless, except to make the naturally able feel better about themselves – after all, they try too, and they achieve more, so supposedly they tried harder and are morally superior for this reason.

I agree, for the most part, though I quibble a bit with your choice of virtues simply because you ignored what I think are most important— valuing knowledge and hard work as virtues alongside high time preference, honesty and loyalty.

HBD fails in my opinion because on whole most cultures are fairly young. Modern Western European culture as we know it today only really came to prominence with the enlightenment, which putting it roughly back in time to 1700, would give it slightly better than 300 years of assertive mating (as we never really purposely bred humans as we do dogs). Modern Japan as we know it started with Meiji. Had you gone to Japan during Sengoku or Europe during the medieval period, you’d find a much different culture with much difference in values. There are outliers. Jews and the Chinese are both continuous cultures from ancient times.

That's all a bit too high-level, but I do not agree. Japanese values today are similar to Japanese values many centuries to millenia ago: long time orientation, Malthusian industriousness, suppression of self, painful politeness, respect for hierarchy and obsession with neatness. Do not mistake adaptation of the form to the technological context of the era (which makes their modern-day Samurai arrogant bosses instead of murderers, among other things) for substantial change of some philosophical or biological underpinning. Hajnali Europeans are, deep history aside, products of the Catholic Church and accompanying selection pressures, which probably have only changed direction in the last century or so. Right now this is all going tits up, of course.

Jews and the Chinese, on the other hand, are not all that stable. From what I can tell, 2rafa is both genetically and behaviorally rather distinct from ancient Hebrews, and the Chinese of course have had a sequence of regime changes. I'd say directional positions of «human firmware» from 20 to 50 generations ago are mostly preserved in all large modern populations.

Of course, one can claim that the absence of indignity inherent to second-class citizenship is worth all that

Brings to mind an old quote from my own banana-state country: “I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by Americans.” - Manuel Quezon, President of the Republic

...but tellingly, the quote is followed by "But that is not an admission that a government run by Filipinos will be a government run like hell. Much less can it be an admission that a government run by Americans or by the people of any other foreign country, for that matter, can ever be a government run like heaven."

(A fairly popular sentiment among most formerly colonized peoples, I gather)

You say there isn't dignity in self-imposed squalor, and fine, but as you notice, there isn't one in colonial servitude either. And sometimes the yearning for freedom—on the value of its own context, independent of any potential downstream QoL effects—is strong enough to override everything else.

But more generally, the South Africans had just enough leeway to intuitively place the majority of the blame on whitey, given the self-evidently oppressive nature of apartheid. It followed fairly intuitively then that racial emancipation would be synonymous with economic: if we can just kick whitey out, everything will be fine. That was wrong, but in hindsight, there wasn't any way for them to have thought otherwise! Any, however justifiable and actually-true, argument based on HBD would be (understandably) seen as colonialist apologia, coming from loftily high colonizers who deign to redirect blame to justify their dastardly wicked oppression. So freedom alone seemed a convincing enough antidote to all the social ills—now that it might not be, it's not like there's any coming back to colonialism or apartheid, even in the event most black south Africans would prefer it: you've burned all the bridges.

And in the same vein, modern day whining is mostly generalized xenophobic sentiment, but cloaked in enough anti-colonialist lingo to capitalize on Third Worldist and BLM-type "anti-racist" sympathies... and with similarly enough wiggle room to be intuitively understandable and not-wrong-on-its-face: apartheid was all-encompassing and fairly recent enough—and history does have consequences—to be the scapegoat for South Africa's failed-state-tendencies.

(A fairly popular sentiment among most formerly colonized peoples, I gather)

Also known amongst colonizers too:

Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them [T.E. Lawrence]

if we can just kick whitey out, everything will be fine. That was wrong, but in hindsight, there wasn't any way for them to have thought otherwise!

Of course there was. Numerous examples where whitey got kicked out and everything wasn't fine.

South Africa went a lot farther south, relatively, compared to lots of African countries that kicked whitey out- and the seriously bad cases had civil wars and genocides as extenuating circumstances.

In case it isn't clear, I am not advocating for reinstatement of apartheid. Admittedly I do not have strong feelings either way, blacks oppressing whites right now is not morally better in my book, but what does it matter.

There are less extreme options, though.

On 4 August 1972, Amin declared that Britain would need to take on the responsibility for caring for British subjects who were of Indian origin,[3] accusing them of "sabotaging Uganda's economy and encouraging corruption".[2] The deadline for British subjects to leave was confirmed as three months, which came to mean 8 November. On 9 August, the policy was expanded to include citizens of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.[3] The position of the 23,000 Indians who had been granted Ugandan citizenship (and in particular those who held no other citizenship) was less clear. Not originally included, on 19 August, they were seemingly added to the list, before being re-exempted three days later following international protest. Many chose to leave rather than endure further intimidation, with only 4,000 known to have stayed.[3] Exemptions for certain professions were added, then later removed.[3][2]

«The Indians only milked the cow, but they did not feed it to yield more milk. There are now Black faces in every shop and industry. All the big cars in Uganda are now driven by Africans, and not the former bloodsuckers. The rest of Africa can learn from us.»

At the time of their deportation Indians owned 90% of the country's businesses and accounted for 90% of Uganda's tax revenue. The real value of salaries and wages plummeted by 90% in less than a decade following the expulsion, and although some of these businesses were handed over to native Ugandans this was ineffective as most did not know how to run them. Uganda's industrial sector which was seen as the backbone of the economy was damaged due to the lack of skilled workers.

Thousands of Indians returned to Uganda starting in 1986 when Yoweri Museveni assumed power. Museveni criticized Amin's policies and invited the Indians to return.[26][8] According to Museveni, "Gujaratis have played a lead role in Uganda's social and industrial development. I knew that this community can do wonders for my country and they have been doing it for last many decades." The Indians resurfacing in Uganda have helped rebuild the economy of Uganda, and are financially well settled.[8][27]

Despite making up less than 1% of the population, they are estimated to contribute up to 65% of the country's tax revenues.[2] Sudhir Ruparelia, who is of Indian origin, is the richest man in Uganda and has an estimated fortune of $1 billion.[2]

Yes, it is trivial to see where Idi Amin (by all accounts a horrible human being) was coming from in this case. He's probably even correct to an extent – Uganda is still dirt poor, Indians or no, whereas Indians themselves are «financially well settled»; this can't feel okay to natives.
But recognizing that someone has to pay taxes to keep the system running, denouncing racism, and guaranteeing whitey an equal measure of legal protection and opportunity for political and administrative representation, would certainly help South African fortunes, I believe. (It's amazing to me how many people still don't want to leave South Africa, despite being able to).

This would come at a price of the collective whitey becoming disproportionately powerful, of course – if through less unfair means. Which is unacceptable. So they will keep digging and doubling down, until their power grid and other vital infrastructure properly collapses and their governance degrades to Haitian levels, probably. Maybe it's still worth it.

Russians are an interesting case because we as a group are great at mathematics, physics, literature and so on but bad at government and social organization in general. This is the grain of truth behind the racist meme that Russians are not really white people. What it really means is that we in general are not part of the industrious Northern European culture that came into being a few hundred years ago, we are not part of what Napoleon called "the nation of shopkeepers". We are happy to spend all night talking about philosophy, then we are not happy to go to work in the morning to do the kind of boring shit that created and maintains the modern West. The idea of being genuinely excited about being, say, a small business entrepreneur, seems somewhat extraneous to our culture. We want to be poets and mystics and scientists. There is something childish about it I guess, but also there is a sort of dynamism about it. Unfortunately given that the dynamism does not seem to help us to create sane liberal government, it probably does not mean much in the great scheme of things.

Yet I think that there is some reason to be optimistic, HBD or not. 2000 years ago the Northern Europeans were backwoods barbarians, but they eventually became the world's leading intellectual culture.

Edit: That said, I left Russia young, I'm sure you know it much better than I do so let me know if I'm wrong.

The idea of being genuinely excited about being, say, a small business entrepreneur, seems somewhat extraneous to our culture. We want to be poets and mystics and scientists. There is something childish about it I guess, but also there is a sort of dynamism about it.

From Dostoevsky's "The Gambler":

“I would rather live a wandering life in tents,” I cried, “than bow the knee to a German idol!”

“To what idol?” exclaimed the General, now seriously angry.

“To the German method of heaping up riches. I have not been here very long, but I can tell you that what I have seen and verified makes my Tartar blood boil. Good Lord! I wish for no virtues of that kind... every German family is bound to slavery and to submission to its ‘Vater.’ They work like oxen, and amass wealth like Jews. Suppose the ‘Vater’ has put by a certain number of gülden which he hands over to his eldest son, in order that the said son may acquire a trade or a small plot of land. Well, one result is to deprive the daughter of a dowry, and so leave her among the unwedded. For the same reason, the parents will have to sell the younger son into bondage or the ranks of the army, in order that he may earn more towards the family capital. Yes, such things ARE done, for I have been making inquiries on the subject. It is all done out of sheer rectitude—out of a rectitude which is magnified to the point of the younger son believing that he has been rightly sold, and that it is simply idyllic for the victim to rejoice when he is made over into pledge. What more have I to tell? Well, this—that matters bear just as hardly upon the eldest son. Perhaps he has his Gretchen to whom his heart is bound; but he cannot marry her, for the reason that he has not yet amassed sufficient gülden. So, the pair wait on in a mood of sincere and virtuous expectation, and smilingly deposit themselves in pawn the while. Gretchen’s cheeks grow sunken, and she begins to wither; until at last, after some twenty years, their substance has multiplied, and sufficient gülden have been honourably and virtuously accumulated. Then the ‘Vater’ blesses his forty-year-old heir and the thirty-five-year-old Gretchen with the sunken bosom and the scarlet nose; after which he bursts, into tears, reads the pair a lesson on morality, and dies. In turn the eldest son becomes a virtuous ‘Vater,’ and the old story begins again... What is more; they think there can never be anything better than this; wherefore, from their point of view they begin to judge the rest of the world, and to censure all who are at fault—that is to say, who are not exactly like themselves. Yes, there you have it in a nutshell. For my own part, I would rather grow fat after the Russian manner, or squander my whole substance at roulette. I have no wish to be ‘Hoppe and Company’ at the end of five generations. I want the money for myself, for in no way do I look upon my personality as necessary to, or meet to be given over to, capital. I may be wrong, but there you have it. Those are my views.”

They'd have been able to bear Kim's regime as well. After all, Koreans manage somehow, and Koreans are their peers, HBD-wise.

North Koreans seem worse off than South Africans (than all Southern Africans) on any metric except violent crime rate, for which little data exists but which we can probably assume is lower in the DPRK. The DRC and Liberia have higher GDP/capita by some estimates.

North Koreans seem worse off than South Africans (than all Southern Africans) on any metric except violent crime rate, for which little data exists but which we can probably assume is lower in the DPRK. The DRC and Liberia have higher GDP/capita by some estimates.

I don't dispute your metrics, but there is a consistent effect where North Koreans who successfully defect to South Korea end up missing their home. Naturally this is blamed on "discrimination" but the defectors I have seen interviewed in the documentaries I've watched reminisce about villages where everyone knew one another and had a defined role in a tight knit community that lasted their whole lives. Not that this excuses the starvation or state-sponsored grotesqueries, but personally I would not find it an easy decision if forced to choose whether to be born into an average life in North Korea or in South Africa.

I just think this means those metrics are shit. They have an orderly society, life expectancy 8 years higher and virtually zero HIV vs. 14% of the population being positive. This ought to count for something.

I don't trust either of those countries' statistics very much, though.

Reports out of North Korea (from just last month) paint a picture of a population that seems to have in many cases a much worse quality of life than the median sub-Saharan African (who is in fact not starving or in a refugee camp or being pillaged by rebels). And many of them seem to be the more successful North Koreans close to the Chinese border who engage in smuggling activity that allows for their stories to reach Western journalists, the condition of many is likely much, much worse.

A place like North Korea or Maoist China may be for a time worse than anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, but I think in the long run they will still come out on top due to the underlying strengths of their people and/or culture. Poor parts of East Asia feel completely different from poor parts of Africa in terms of education, industriousness of the population, and the general orderliness of society despite the lack of resources.

Thanks, I hate it. I knew they locked up under Covid but didn't track the extent. It is still overwhelmingly likely that they're better off on things like HIV and drug abuse but fine, let's accept this is cold comfort in face of being starved to death by a psychotic tyranny.

Still, I'd say this supports my basic thesis that HBD can paper over even patently insane «culture». This kind of state is not supposed to work. It couldn't work in Africa especially – it'd have imploded long before getting nukes. And

Recently there have been signs the authorities could be preparing to open the border. Myong Suk and Chan Ho, who live along the border, say most of those in their towns have now been vaccinated against Covid - with the Chinese vaccine they presume - while in Pyongyang, Ji Yeon says a good number of people have received two shots. Furthermore, customs data shows the country is once again allowing some grain and flour over the border from China, possibly in an attempt to ease shortages and stave off a much-feared famine.

Seems like Kim will fail to exterminate his subjects or get toppled, again.

Eritrea has fairly poor HBD and it’s a lot like North Korea, although it hasn’t lasted several generations.