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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.

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.

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.