Friday, January 28, 2011

"This rather odd little German dynasty"

That is the extraordinary description that Christopher Hitchens gives to the British Royal family. Clearly he retains a lot of hatred from his Leftist days. Sad that a man with only a little longer to live is trying his best to be remembered as a shrill abuser. Most of us mellow with age.

His rage arises from the success of the British movie, "The King's Speech". He resents that the movie is a feelgood story rather than meticulous history. He points out ways in which the movie glosses over the rough edges of the times it describes. Hitchens calumniates Edward VIII, George VI, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain. His central point is that they were all nicer to Hitler than he, with the wisdom of hindsight, would have been.

Hitchens is of course partly right in that Edward VIII was very weak character and Chamberlain was very badly mistaken. But the first thing that Hitchens completely and quite dishonestly ignores is the tenor of the times in which all four moved. Hitler and the Fascists were at the time widely admired outside Germany, particularly among the political Left. The description of Mussolini by FDR as "that admirable Italian gentleman" perhaps best captures the mood of the times. Harvard, too, was pro-Nazi. Churchill was one of the few who stood against that mood.

Secondly, Hitchens fails to remark the vast public antipathy towards war that prevailed in England at the time. After the horrors of WWI, almost every living soul in Britain considered another European war unthinkable and wished that no stone be left unturned to avoid such a war. In his policy of appeasement Chamberlain was simply representing the nation that he led.

So Edward VIII's undoubted enchantment with Hitler and George VI's support for Chamberlain were well within the normal range of opinion for the times. Neither man had Hitchens' luxury of seeing events from the vantage point of the year 2011.

Hitchens is also enraged that Churchill supported Edward VIII for a time. But Churchill was by that time quite conservative and in a monarchy support for the King is simply normal conservative practice.

Hitchens accuses the makers a popular movie of distorting history but it is Hitchens the historian who is the biggest distorter of all

Sunday, January 23, 2011

An interwar German novel was the forerunner of a great Leftist lie

Probably the most influential piece of anthropological writing in the 20th century was Coming of age in Samoa, written in 1928 by Margaret Mead. I read it myself in my long-gone teens. After the work of Derek Freeman, however, there is no doubt that it is a pack of lies.

Those lies were however influential. Like most anthropologists, Mead was strongly Leftist and one of the great "achievements" of the 20th century Left was to tear down morality. Mead was central to that enterprise. Her book purported to show that there was no restrictive sexual morality in Samoa and that free love was normal there. And Samoan society in general was presented as some sort of Garden of Eden. The take-home message, therefore was: "If the Samoans can do it, so can we". So Mead gave pseudo-scientific justification to Leftist rejection of existing standards and helped portray defenders of moral standards as ignoramuses.

The entire controversy is now old hat, of course, though some anthropologists still make excuses for Mead and continue to praise her. Some, such as Hiram Caton, carry their denial to the point of claiming that Freeman was mad, in the usual Leftist ad hominem way. I myself had an exchange with Caton over that. See here and here.

I write this post, however, to point out something I have recently discovered: Mead was not the first to use Samoans to make totally fictional propaganda points. I refer to The Papalagi (Der Papalagi), a book by Erich Scheurmann published in Germany in 1920, which contains descriptions of European life, supposedly as seen through the eyes of a Samoan chief named Tuiavii. As an anthropologist, Mead could well have heard of it.

The book is a patent fiction but not everyone wants to believe that. It has been popular among Greenies and their ilk even in recent times. Scheurmann depicted Samoa as a primitive Garden of Eden too. The return to a romanticised rural past was of course a well known feature of German National Socialist (Nazi) thought so it should be no surprise that Scheurmann was well-regarded by the Nazis and wrote propaganda for them.

Some desire for a simpler life and an addled rejection of modernity is also at the core of the modern-day Green/Left. It is remarkable how little the Left has changed in that regard. That a book by a Nazi sympathizer should be at least the forerunner, if not the inspiration, of a great Leftist lie should surprise no-one who knows how "Green" the Nazis were or how misanthropic modern-day Greenies are.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are racists cuddly?

That question would seem to be answered in the affirmative by the research below. As I have had a great deal published in the academic literature on "ethnocentrism", I feel I should point out an important flaw in the research: It studies something that does not exist!

"Ethnocentrism" is a theory, not a concept. It postulates that people who like their own group look down on other groups. But all the evidence over many years of research shows that not to be true. Liking for your own group does NOT mean that you look down on other groups. Patriots are not necessarily racist and some people are generally benevolent, for instance -- i.e. some people who greatly appreciate their own group greatly appreciate at least some other groups too.

A further problem is that the research below used experimental tasks as its measures of "ethnocentrism". But experimental tasks have a very poor record of generalizing and so are a poor index of stable personality or attitude syndromes. A carefully validated questionnaire would have been a better (though still far from perfect) measure.

So the research is a very poor answer to the question it poses and the last sentence in the abstract below would seem to be totally unfounded. In short, the research is largely vitiated by its psychometric naivety -- a very common problem in experimental psychology.

Nonetheless, from all the things we know about oxytocin, it is probably true that oxytocin facilitates within-group trust, cooperation, and coordination.
Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism

By Carsten K. W. De Dreu1 et al.


Human ethnocentrism—the tendency to view one's group as centrally important and superior to other groups—creates intergroup bias that fuels prejudice, xenophobia, and intergroup violence. Grounded in the idea that ethnocentrism also facilitates within-group trust, cooperation, and coordination, we conjecture that ethnocentrism may be modulated by brain oxytocin, a peptide shown to promote cooperation among in-group members. In double-blind, placebo-controlled designs, males self-administered oxytocin or placebo and privately performed computer-guided tasks to gauge different manifestations of ethnocentric in-group favoritism as well as out-group derogation. Experiments 1 and 2 used the Implicit Association Test to assess in-group favoritism and out-group derogation. Experiment 3 used the infrahumanization task to assess the extent to which humans ascribe secondary, uniquely human emotions to their in-group and to an out-group. Experiments 4 and 5 confronted participants with the option to save the life of a larger collective by sacrificing one individual, nominated as in-group or as out-group. Results show that oxytocin creates intergroup bias because oxytocin motivates in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation. These findings call into question the view of oxytocin as an indiscriminate “love drug” or “cuddle chemical” and suggest that oxytocin has a role in the emergence of intergroup conflict and violence.