It is time to reassess

Blogging and writing book reviews won’t make me rich. The well-known bloggers I follow are constantantly crying poor and asking for donations. I do not have the energy, desire and probably not the talent to match their output.

Being a marginally public personna has made me a handful of online acquaintances, which I appreciate. I get called names, which is only to be expected. I expand my horizons. People post useful leads, and I push myself to research my topics. It has been enjoyable.

I am making enemies. That is not a good idea for a father with a young family. I have long been critical of the governments of the United States and Europe. While they can deal harshly with dissenters, they usually don’t bother with small fry like myself. Ukraine’s enemies are of another sort. Closer, less scrupulous and less subject to scrutiny. I should not go out of my way to irk them.

This era is witnessing a clash of world orders. Enlightenment liberalism has passed its apogee. It has sunk into indolence and the intolerance of enforced tolerance. The Muslim world remains as the Bible said of Ishmael: “And he (Islam) will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” China, despite major problems, seems likely to continue its assent. Lastly, Russia remains as Chaadaev described it 250 years ago, living “in the narrowest of presents, without past or future, amidst dull stagnation… Alone in the world, we have not given the world anything , have not taken anything from the world, have contributed nothing to the advance of human thought, and have distorted whatever traces of that advance we did receive.”

Russia’s very resistance to change may position it well in comparison to other cultures whose experimentation seems to be their undoing. In any case, one does not reason with steppe raiders, and one is wise not to antagonize them. Becoming meek and invisible seems a wise strategic move. I should dedicate myself to preparing my child for adult life. Whatever battles are to be fought are more his than mine.

I’ve deleted a couple of my more aggressive book reviews. I may do the same with entries in this blog, though it has the protection of a very small readership. Nobody cares. I’m resolved to spend more time with the music, English and other lessons we are conducting for toddlers. I plan to learn more about early childhood education and to continue to improve my Russian as my son develops his own knowledge of the language. The Christian posture is to recognize that the individual is virtually powerless to change the path of history, and to pray that God will take care of one’s family. We’ll do all we can, and pray for help. And I expect I’ll be writing less.

My alma mater wants me to write two pages about my college experience fifty years ago

The purpose is transparent – put me into a generous mood. Thinking about it in fact tightens my grip on my purse strings. This is a draft of what I have written. Will accept suggests for editing it.

I have a new life in Kiev. Remarried, with a three-year old son Eddie. Oksana and I built a house together. I starting learning Russian at age 64, and we have a wide circle of Russian-speaking (and Russia-despising) friends.

Over the course of a 25-year marriage I raised a family in Bethesda, Maryland. My ex-wife and children adopted the values of that place. The children’s self-esteem was constantly stroked. They were all too infrequently chastised, disciplined, or questioned. None of the schools, my spouse or the society around wanted to do it. I could not fight the tide. Two turned out as poster children for the millennial generation: self-absorbed, unambitious solipsists. They smoke, drink, swear, and are physically out of shape. They have little respect for, and feel no obligation to, their elders or the society that bore them. Only the third has married and gotten a real job. Not coincidentally, she has totally rejected the doctrinaire (read, Reed College-like) liberalism that surrounded her as she grew up.

Kiev is not a liberal place by the modern American meaning of that word. They have nothing in particular against homosexuals and racial minorities; they simply do not frequently encounter them. They like who they are and do not see any point in celebrating diversity. They are unselfconsciously religious. They call themselves spiritual and soulful – synonymous to me, but not them. They may not know the Bible as well as I do, but they are better Christians.

Kiev’s lack of diversity results in great deal of social capital. Neighbors, even strangers on the street and the bus, take a great interest in my child. It can be rather intrusive. If they think he is underdressed for the weather they will tell me. Though I chafe, it is all for the good that my son is growing up in a society that will look out for him, to which he will truly belong. Kievyans, like me, are horrified at the way an uncontrolled influx of foreigners has made life so much less pleasant for natives of Paris, London and Barcelona. We like Kiev the way it is.

I am a lifelong conservative in most senses of the word. Like Thoreau I want to conserve nature. I would like to conserve traditional American values and respect for the Enlightenment thinkers. I would like to conserve the world’s resources – cut down on driving and the size of houses, and to use a bicycle and public transport.

I have a libertarian resentment of other people telling me how to live, and am loath to impose my own ideas on others. This makes me unsuited for urban life in modern America, so rich that any idiot can afford a Hummer, an ATV, a jet ski and an RV. Use of these aesthetically unappealing, environmentally catastrophic devices must, unfortunately be controlled. I have chosen to live where these intrusive inventions are less abundant. Poverty means government has less of an excuse and fewer tools to intrude in my life.

As a conservative, I believe it is wise to follow Kant’s categorical imperative, and not embark on unsustainable paths. I support the idea, if not always the implementation of sustainable development. The world should not build houses, cars, or appetites for food and travel that cannot be sustained.

Virtually every program ever undertaken by government is unsustainable. Pericles knew that. Voltaire knew it. Among the most egregiously unsustainable programs of our age are immigration, welfare, education, medicine and the debt to pay for them.

Unskilled immigrants depress the price of domestic unskilled labor. Welfare (food stamps, Social Security SSI, successor programs to the supposedly abandoned AFDC – it is a long list) is growing rapidly, and the level of dependence is growing. Socialized medicine and retirement are welfare to the extent that my generation’s beneficiaries are guaranteed to receive more than we paid in. As always with government, a measure of short term peace has been bought at the price of guaranteed long term pain. Après nous, la déluge.

Studies of the academic and vocational attainment show overwhelmingly that the levels of success of southern immigrants to North America and Europe are not even close to the native born. Many studies also show why – though one is tarred as a racist for even mentioning them. Ability is heritable. The taxpaying classes of Europe and North America are not reproducing themselves and they cannot be replaced by immigrants. One is not allowed even to discuss these issues on a modern campus. I experienced it in person as a grad student at the University of Maryland. I see it in comments on my book reviews, and of course read about it in an endless stream of books.

Turning again to Reed and to college in general, government loans are distorting the education market, creating rents to support inefficient means of delivering education and creating legions of heavily indebted graduates for whose services there is only weak demand. Government prints the money to do it, and government debt is spiraling. This scenario has been replayed over and over throughout history. It has never ended well.

Conservatism seems to me to be only common sense. When I try to explain why, the long knives of invective come out. They contrive to call one a Fascist, anti-Semite, racist, sexist, homophobe and whatever. Modern government and academia conspire to ensure that honest discussion of the issues is off limits. Since they control the schools, they are able to ensure that even schoolchildren consider the questions immoral and do not raise them. My grown children could not, would not discuss these topics. It was embarrassing that I would bring them up.

As a naïve kid at Reed fifty years ago, I asked such questions. I was tarred as a Social Darwinist and a John Bircher. Though I had read Darwin in high school, I had to look up Herbert Spencer. When I did, nobody wanted to discuss him, only to disparage him. Their message was, “Shut up.” I asked, a propos of the 1960 elections, what was wrong with Richard Nixon? “Shut up,” they explained again, in a sneering stream of invective including the terms tricky, HUAC, McCarthy, Bircher and others I forget. In 2006, at the University of Maryland, I expressed the opinion that the damage I had seen the Soixante-huitards do to the Champs Elisées in the 1970s was unjustified. Same answer once more. On campus, moral indignation is a license to avoid honest dialog. This remains true of some classmates of the Class of 1964. I sense it in what I see in Reed Magazine. It surely applies to the campus today.

In America, academic freedom exists only if you believe as the academy believes you should. I am pleased to review many books by wrong-thinking people such as Stephen Pinker, David Gelernter, Arthur Jensen and Philippe Rushton who are strong enough to rise above the catcalls. My task at the moment is to raise a three year old boy. Rather than fight the establishment in America, we choose to home school him in Ukraine. It is a country in which corruption has been so transparent there is nothing to lie about. Government is too inept to intrude in one’s life. The people, nonetheless, owing to a genetic and cultural heritage that has survived centuries of misgovernment, are gracious and supportive.

A number of what seemed to be silly fads swept Reed during my years. I remember cults of Stranger in a Strange Land, The Hobbit, Scientology, The Feminine Mystique, marijuana, abolish HUAC and Fair Play for Cuba. The same people seemed to be involved in most of them. I looked into each and didn’t them convincing. My reading of Gelernter, Slezkine, MacDonald and others convinces me that some such notions were dead serious, from the outside, designed to capture young minds such as mine. Reed led the pack in abandoning its in loco parentis role – I was at Berkeley later when it happened there. The expressed intent may have been to allow us personal and intellectual freedom. The effect was to leave us prey to radical forces already very much present on campus.

I have an apocalyptic view of the future of education. That which cannot continue, will not continue. The uneconomic mechanisms of delivering education, the unsustainable cost structure, dependence on government debt and the political bias favoring policies that are in the process of failing will undo it. Two books which envision a very different future are Hacking your Education and The Nearly Free University. I am in contact with both authors and believe they are limning the paths which my son will follow.

We will educate our son at home. Others have shown that it can be markedly more efficient. Oksana, our community and I have experience in all aspects of K12 education. We will not impose the artificial hurdles of accumulating the academic tickets and money, and mouthing the appropriate pieties about diversity and community service to get accepted by the likes of Reed. Rather we will have him focus on life’s real goals: the self-respect that comes from success, family and service to community. Learning to express himself verbally, in writing and in figures and graphics will be essential to the process. Developing a community, online and in person, with whom to share ideas will also be essential. Learning the truth that success in life depends on skillfully, quickly, and politely doing things others need to have done. When and if he needs to enter a formal institution to develop further contacts and get credentialed, he will do it on his own terms, with his eyes open.

Some theoretical musings about a practical problem: how altruistic should I be, and where should we live?

I am an American living in Ukraine with a half Ukrainian son. Like everybody in Kiev I am shocked at Russia’s barbarous invasion. Shocked, but not surprised – the Russians are behaving the way they have for the last eight centuries.

We have several options, the top two of which are to stay put or to leave now that there is a war. Staying, we could be faced with the decision of whether or not we want to be Russian. My son, when he comes of age, may be faced with the decision of whether or not to fight for Ukraine.

At the heart of the question is, to what extent are these my people? Will they support me and should I support them? JBS Haldane famously said he was willing to give up his life for three brothers or nine cousins. His logic was as follows: each brother shares half of his genome. Three brothers together add up to 1 ½ times his genome. Allowing them to survive would promote his evolutionary interests more than sacrificing their lives for his own.

By this logic, I owe Ukraine nothing. My son is my only genetic investment. We should get out. By this same logic I likewise owe the United States nothing. I have almost no remaining relations who are of childbearing age and inclination.

Wikipedia’s statement of Hamilton’s rule is more nuanced: “According to Hamilton’s rule, kin selection causes genes to increase in frequency when the genetic relatedness of a recipient to an actor multiplied by the benefit to the recipient is greater than the reproductive cost to the actor.” Simply put, the question is how closely related am I to the Ukrainians? Walking down the street I am taken for Ukrainian. Our behavior is similar. We understand each other pretty well. I did a thought experiment using numbers I got from Wikipedia.

Let’s start with a crude assumption that I am descended of white people living at the dawn of the agricultural age, 10,000 years ago. That far back my family tree shows as many ancestors as there are grains of sand. They double up. Each of the few hundred thousand white people of that era who shows up anywhere in my lineage probably shows up billions and billions of times. The same DNA was recycled over and over in the gene pool.

Random mutation acts only very slowly. Our DNA is made up of base pairs of the four chemicals abbreviated A,C,T and G. Only one pair in 100 million mutates per generation. A little figuring shows that random mutations would have resulted in a cumulative gene pool change of only .0007% over that time. I am sure I am different from my ancestors ten thousand years ago, but random mutation cannot explain it. I would be pretty much the same as every other white person, descended from the same white ancestors, my DNA drawn randomly from their gene pool, and I should therefore have a high level of altruism. The fact that I cannot trace any of my ancestry back to Ukraine would make no difference.

Those are the extremes. By Hamilton’s law I should display no altruism toward the Ukrainians, and expect none. On the other hand, if only random mutation made us different, I should assume that we have so much in common that I should naturally give and expect altruism. Neither can possibly be right. Darwin’s theory of natural selection leads me to a middle assumption.

Darwin would observe that people are different. Their different qualities allow some people to leave more surviving offspring than others. Such differing qualities get passed along in the DNA. Tibetans and Andean Indians have evolved to survive at high altitude. We Europeans have white skins to make maximum use of scant sunlight, the ability to digest milk, and the altruism necessary for community life in harsh conditions. Vikings, Tatars and Yanomamo Indians evolved fierceness. Chinese evolved industriousness, and Jews evolved intelligence.

The selection pressures on Ukrainians were only somewhat different than on my ancestors in Western Europe and the United States. Natural selection would have favored most of the same traits in either place.

Living in the highly diverse United States, I found myself among people who shared a last common ancestor thousands of years farther back, and whose ancestors were subject to quite different evolutionary pressures. Theoretically I have less reason to expect that they would display altruism towards me. The daily newspaper confirms the fact. It only makes sense that they evolved with different skills and different notions as to who belongs within their circle of altruistic, ethical behavior.

In the best of all possible worlds we will raise our son in a free and liberal Ukraine where he looks, thinks, and talks just like everybody else. He will be naturally accepted . There is a high level of what is called “social capital” because there is a low-level of diversity. Our son is accepted as one of them. He can be expected to be an asset to them: a taxpayer, a son-in-law, a good neighbor, and perhaps a soldier.

If we are put to the hard decision, whether to become subject to a Russian dictatorship in which our son looks just like everybody else, or to return to a United States in which his difference would stand out evermore clearly every year, perhaps it would be safer to remain here. In either place he will have to learn the discipline of keeping his mouth shut. That should be enough to survive here. Back in the United States his pale hide would betray him to the likes of the polar bear hunters and the Attorney General. I think my evolutionary odds are better here.