Homosexuality and Social Status

So, Frank Ocean has come out as bisexual.

For those of you who don’t slavishly follow popular culture, Frank Ocean is to R&B what The Arcade Fire is to Rock: a small, independent act geared towards people who are too cool to like mainstream stuff. Honestly, it doesn’t matter who he is, the fact that you probably haven’t heard of him is kind of the point.

I love to talk about incentives, and how they determine pretty much everything that’s interesting in human behaviour. Take any behaviour, and you can come up with an incentives-based explanation that’s probably right, and definitely a lot more useful, than anything else going.

Incentives then. What incentive could a young black hip-hop artist, immersed in one of the most homophobic cultures in America, possibly be exposed to that would lead him to admit to being gay? What could he possibly have to gain?

Let’s start surface incentives first of all. I had never heard of the guy before. I was vaguely aware of a Kanye West song that featured him, but, whatever. Wasn’t interested. A few weeks later, gay marriage is in the news and who else hits the headlines? A guy who’s now claiming he fell in love with a man.

Commercial incentives are a powerful thing – looks like our guy has a good ear for PR. Pretend to come out at an opportune time, get introduced to new audiences, profit!

But that’s assuming that he’s just making the whole thing up. Do you really believe that this guy:

hasn’t had a gay tendency in his life? My gaydar’s not that good, but hell, I’ve always thought R&B singers were a bit fruity. And this guy looks a little fruitier than most.

Let’s say then that there’s a perfectly good, incentives / evo psych explanation for when a man loves a man. What does that look like?

Like most things in love, homosexuality can only exist if it serves to pass on genes. And let’s forget those “gay men help to take care of their brother’s kids” type explanations. If nature wanted extra child care, I doubt it would stumble upon Brüno as the solution.

If homosexuality doesn’t lead to a direct evolutionary advantage I’ll eat my hat. I’ll accept that it could be a spectrum disorder, where a bit of gayness is a good thing but too much takes you out of the gene pool entirely. But somehow, somewhere, it’s helping guys pass on their genes.

The way I see it, there are two situations where homosexuality flourishes (get it? Because flowers are gay?)

The first is men who are stuck in areas where there are a lack of women. In Afghanistan, it’s not gay if you’re underage. Partly this is an evolutionary byproduct, because there a lot of sick motherfuckers in Afghanistan, but partly this is a response to no women around. If you can’t practise sex and relationships with a real girl, at least try your luck with a boy. Getting along with other people in a romantic sense is a learned skill. In countries with no women and no internet, well, no need to finish that thought. Prison gay is a similar phenomenon.

Another instance where homosexuality is evolutionarily useful is for men who follow the “sneaky fucker” copulation strategy. Normally, men are social creatures. They have male friends. They do male stuff. Male social alliances seem pretty simple, but from a game-theory perspective they can be expected to involve some complicated strategic and information-sharing considerations.

And for what? To try to get social status so you can attract a mate? As we all know, chicks don’t fuck looks or money or jobs or achievements. They fuck social status.

Where does that leave guys who can’t compete. Guys who aren’t one of the boys, and therefore can’t get laid? That leaves them either shit out of luck, unless they can come up with another strategy (and let’s forget game for the purpose of this article).

Enter the “sneaky fucker” strategy. The sneaky fucker is that guy who’s kind of feminine, but in that “I wish I was queer so I could get chicks” kind of way. He’s into romantic music, he’s sexually harmless, and he’s probably going to eventually fuck one of his fag hags.

Bringing us back to Frank Ocean.

I’m sure he’d be offended to read this article, but the whole point of socially convenient beliefs is that people are, by design, blind to their own social strategy. At least, they’re blind when it’s convenient to them.

What kind of young black man becomes an indie R&B artist? A young black man who’s low social status, overly sensitive, and kind of a loser. He probably hangs out with overachievers and narcissists like Kanye West who are also kind of a loser underneath it all. And eventually they all work hard and become cool, but carry all sorts of baggage with them. Like subconsciously pretending to be in love with other men.

The point is, people’s baggage can affect all kinds of things about them. Political beliefs, personality, sexuality. Sure, lots of people like to talk about nurture being an important component of our upbringing, but nobody wants to talk about specifics. Turns out, nurture is just as un-PC as nature. Oh well.

Fighting The War on Pattern Recognition one day at a time.

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How To Avoid Being A Fat Piece of Shit

Start here. It’s a simple enough diet plan: you eat for 8 hours out of the day, and don’t eat the other 16.

I go for a 12 noon to 8pm cycle. Intermittent fasting doesn’t just give you good results, it’s a lifestyle choice. Who wants to worry about eating regular meals when you can just put up with a little hunger now and then. A solid 8 hours of eating, scheduled whenever is most convenient, more than makes up for being occasionally hungry.

Eat real food. I’m not that strict, but I make steak, salmon, tuna, vegetables (usually of the frozen stir-fry variety, I’m lazy) and fruit the basis of my diet. I then supplement it with bread, cottage cheese, whey protein, creatine, beta alanine and beer. Sometimes followed by McDonalds. Come on, you didn’t really think I’d give up Friday night madness did you?

If you eat out, stick with healthy stuff (2am bingeing notwithstanding). I eat Subway for fast food, and in restaurants I stick to dishes that are all protein and vegetable. Love me some Korean BBQ.

Hit the gym. Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe is a great place to start.

My workout program is very simple: I squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press, and I supplement that with powersnatches (because they’re fun) and chin-ups. I don’t do crunches, core strength, bicep curls, steroids or posing in front of a mirror. Note: a mirror is useful for checking your form during exercises.

Don’t go crazy. Three sessions a week, one hour per session. It’s all gym-time you need. Bodybuilders hit the gym more than that, but they’re either on steroids or they have awesome genes. You don’t. Walking is nice, but don’t go crazy on the cardio. Run if you have to, but otherwise don’t. If you’re sore, think twice before hitting the gym at 100%. Overtraining is as harmful as laziness.

Record your workouts. Keep track of how much you lift, when you lift, how much you weigh, how good your form is. Take photos of yourself. You need an honest appraisal of whether you’re achieving something or just fucking around.

Stretch. Or don’t. It can’t hurt but it probably doesn’t help that much either.

As I keep saying, incentives matter. For most people, there’s no incentive to go to the gym: it’s work without reward. Follow these simple steps, do some reading, and that equation will change.

Enjoy.

Slutty Girls With Daddy Issues: A Primer on Resource Insecurity

My new favourite movie, Ted, has an awesome sequence where Mila Kunis walks in on Ted the bear, curled up on the couch with four prostitutes.

Kunis is mortified. Ted, not so much. He takes the time to thank the four girls, and four terrible fathers that made the night possible.

So are slutty girls really caused by absent fathers? And if so, why?

Before we start, some basic scientific background. This post relies on evolutionary psychology, specifically, the idea that base emotional responses are not random, but instead are calibrated to achieve evolutionarily useful outcomes.

If there’s an evolutionary explanation for women preferring short-term relationships because of a childhood with a low-investment father (or no father at all), what might that explanation look like?

The question is, what can a child infer, in an instinctive evolutionary sense, from the information that her parents aren’t making much of an investment in her? A couple of things: either the parents are genetically predisposed towards always having lots of low-quality children, or they are doing so in response to local factors, such as resource insecurity, either from low social status, poor food security, joblessness, or anything else that might signal an adverse environment.

So, growing up in a bad environment, not many resources, high likelihood of a short life… What’s a girl to do? Her best bet, again, evolutionarily speaking, is to have a bunch of kids with whoever has the best genes. Don’t worry about resources, ie nice guys who are willing to make an investment – it’s probably bad all round. Instead, pop out a bunch of kids, one after the other, and don’t invest too much in any one of them.

In fact, for our hypothetical, low investment mother, an even better strategy might be to follow the standard investment dictum: diversify. And the best way to accomplish that is to sleep with lots of different guys, preferably without contraception.

If that seems like a reasonable explanation for the sexual habits of women who were poverty stricken and unloved, what would typical strategies be for normal people?

I’d characterize the spectrum of resource security versus instinctual mating/investment strategy into four parts.

At the far end of the spectrum is your average poverty-stricken person with multiple sexual partners. People like this also tend to avoid investing in anything else long-term – education, their finances, risk aversion, you get the idea. I can’t find a specific link either, but battle fatigue (ie PTSD) was more common in WWII amongst men from poor backgrounds. Fighting for you country is a pretty big investment too.

From there, the strategy shifts as resource security becomes less apparent. If I grew up in an environment where I was poor, but had stability and an expectation that investment would pay off, the incentives shift towards investment. Take for example your average Korean store owner in the LA Riots. These guys invested everything in their stores, and when things got dangerous that strategy extended to exchanging gunfire with gang members.

Poverty that isn’t too grinding, combined with a reasonable degree of stability, encourages a strategy of long term investment in relationships, education. Risk-taking is still an option, although only when there’s a good chance of payoff such as joining the military, or the aforementioned store owners.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, behaviour shifts back to looking a whole lot like poverty stricken people. With enough material resources, investment stops being so important. Why divert resources from the present towards the future when you can rely on a steady stream of resources?

Generally speaking, anybody who is sufficiently financially well-off should then be expected to sleep around, refuse to invest in anything long-term unless there’s a huge payoff (usually in terms of social status) ie trust fund babies, and, well, you get the idea.

In short, too comfortable and not comfortable at all results in similar behaviours, not due to a conscious calculation, but because of emotional responses that are mediated by unconscious, evolved instincts. When it comes to prosocial behaviour, the happy medium is right in the middle. As our society moves towards massive inequality with huge gaps between the richest and the poorest, expect to see more behaviour from the ends of the spectrum.

You Have No Idea What Social Status Really Is

I like Reddit. Yes, it’s a hotbed of agoraphobic losers and cat photos, but it’s a good mind expander. You come across stuff you otherwise wouldn’t.

I don’t often post comments, but when I do it’s controversial (at least to the agoraphobic cat lovers). Last time I posted a comment, I ended up in an argument about evolutionary psychology with a female Australian medical student. Or a naked fat dude, who really knows right?

What I absolutely couldn’t get into her head, no matter how hard I tried, was that social status does not equal socioeconomic status. She just couldn’t accept that some rich people have low social status, and some poor people have high social status.

It’s lesson time then. Social status. What is it?

Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. What’s a car? I mean, I know one when I see it. Four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel. Or, sometimes three wheels. But definitely a chassis, or else it would be a motorcycle. At least, usually. But shit, this is just going in circles.

The fact is, I know a car when I see one, as do most people. Many theories of intelligence even suggest that such pattern recognition could be ultimately mediated by single neurons.

Similarly, people know social status when they see it, even if we’ve evolved to not always be conscious of that fact, often because it’s not socially convenient to conscious hold certain knowledge or beliefs.

So what is social status? Is Tom Cruise an alpha male? Hell no (and neither is Neil Strauss, if he’s really so impressed by Cruise. In old interviews Tom looks like a shy drama student, probably because he was). Cruise may be a celebrity, but he’s a particularly insecure and attention-seeking celebrity. He makes people’s skin crawl. Yes, his position gives him status, but he’s got socioeconomic status, not social status. He’s not an alpha male.

How about Will Smith? Honestly, I’d say kind of a loser. He got suckered into Scientology just like Tom Cruise. He does the grinning idiot thing way too often in interviews. He clearly loves the attention. I wouldn’t exactly follow him to hell and back.

How about Mark Wahlberg? Pretty good, but he’s still a bit nervous in the linked interview, scratches his face, talks fast occasionally. He’s good, much better than your average actor, but most very successful people need a certain edge of insecurity to keep working hard.

Examples of alpha male behaviour are actually very hard to find. Unfortunately, most people who appear in YouTube videos are insecure little bitches who love the attention. Take Mad Men: Don Draper is more alpha than anybody you’ll come across (except for his early years when they portray him as a sneaky fucker. Jon Hamm? Yeah, not so much.

So getting to the point. Alpha male behaviour is an extremely complex pattern. It takes depth. Guys like Tom Cruise can do the surface level of alpha, but without that complexity and depth is comes across as shallow and creepy. Guys who have that deep seated confidence and social ability generally don’t have the drive to become famous, so it’s hard to point out specific examples.

As for women, social status is largely determined by a combination of social ability and attractiveness. The most popular girl in high school is invariably the prettiest one, largely because attractiveness gives women social power. This effect does exist to some extent in men, but it’s much less pronounced. But it’s easy to intimidate another girl when you can credibly threaten to steal her boyfriend.

But male social status is by far the most interesting subject, as it’s by far the most complicated. The short answer is that social status is determined by a complex signalling process by which men decide who is best able to form powerful social coalitions, a la books like The Dictator’s Handbook. Men don’t actually think, consciously, “wow, that guy would make a good leader, I’d better suck up to him”, but their unconscious determinations of who is cool and who isn’t follow this pattern.

And even then, leadership is a poor metaphor. Our instincts are calibrated to maximize fitness in the game-theory environment of a small group society. In other words, small groups follow different rules from large groups. Alpha males aren’t as willing to fuck other people over, because that strategy doesn’t work in small groups. Large groups, however, encourage bad behaviour, and so many political leaders aren’t alpha at all. They’re dweeby with a chip on their shoulder, dorks who got where they are by backstabbing the real alpha males. Females may not have traditional alpha-male leadership skills, but they still make decent politicians for these reasons: today, cattiness wins over magnetism.

So why study instincitive social status as opposed to modern socioeconomic status? Two reasons. The first is that high social status people are happier, live longer and are generally healthier. (I wish I had a reference, but there was a great article last year about how truly alpha bonobos often let beta strivers appear to be the leader, while they hang back and sleep with all the women. Not so different from people…) It pays to be high status, even if it won’t necessarily lead to fame and fortune in the modern world.

The other reason, as I’m sure you’re all aware by now, is that women don’t fuck looks, or money, or your height or your job. They fuck social status. I have a friend who is a short, funny looking alpha male and he strikes out with girls all the time. He just gets painfully awkward on his own, probably because he’s insecure about his height. But get him in a group, where the other guys are sucking up to him, and he needs a bigger stick to beat off the women. He’s not rich. He’s not famous. He’s not even that successful. But he’s got status coming out his ears when he’s around the boys, and status trumps everything else.

Status, then, is at once the most important thing and the most difficult thing. By design, you are not supposed to be consciously aware of your internalized perception of your own social status. You’re not supposed to be consciously aware of how you project that internalized social status to other people. Nor are you designed to be consciously aware of their projection. Only by paying careful attention to subtle social cues can you consciously pick up on the real game theory of social dynamics, instead of instinctively relying on “he’s cool” or “that guy’s a douche”.

It’s difficult at first, but easy in the long run. And especially for guys, very much worth it.

Equality Will Be The End of Us

I’ll get straight to the point: normal human beings are allergic to the truth. They will lie, cheat and distort in order to service their political beliefs. What’s more, they never choose their political beliefs based on a logical process, unless you count shameless pursuit of ones own interests as a logical process. And the worst part of all? People, by evolutionary design, don’t even realize how hypocritical they really are.

So what does this have to do with the pursuit of equality? In theory, nothing, but in light of the above, you have to wonder… Is the ideology of equality one of fairness, or just a power-grab?

Now, before I go any further, yes, I do understand that the poor have it tough. I’ve done time in the depths of penury, struggling to pay for food. So have most students. It’s not fun, although its character building if it doesn’t last too long.

But the real problem with poverty is not the lack of material goods, or even the lack of food. After all, even amongst America’s homeless, one-third are obese and only 2% are underweight.

No, the real problem with poverty is the loss of social status.

People are evolved to be acutely sensitive to changes in relative social status. There are good reasons for this – for instance, amongst hunter gatherers, murder accounts for around 30% of all male deaths. In such violent societies, it’s important that you’re a respected member of your group, unless you want to end up dead. Even today, it’s much harder to make a living when your friends don’t have your back.

The trouble with equality is that it’s not about the money – it’s about the status and respect that comes with it. Social status and economic status are closely linked in our society, so much so that they are often referred to by the compound word socio-economic status. But status is always a zero sum game. By seeking economic solutions to psychological problems, we create a society that will eternally seek to hamstring the economically productive just so we can bring them down a notch.

A good example of a jurisdiction that has found a different solution can be found in Northern Canada. I’m against whaling: I think it’s anachronistic and barbarous, and a waste of an important part of the ecosystem. But the Inuit in Northern Canada have a long history of whaling, one that continues even today. It’s not commercial whaling, just small scale hunting in small boats.

Giving limited whaling rights to the Inuit has been extremely successful in giving them self-respect at very little cost to wider society. Do the Inuit have what it takes to reach the heights of wealth or power? They haven’t shown much evidence of it. But within their own culture, one founded on traditional hunting, they have status, so what do they care? Sure, we could pursue expensive policies of affirmative action to get them into Southern universities, maybe set up a quota system into top corporate jobs. But sometimes culture is more important than money.

Meanwhile, South Africa and Zimbabwe have taken a different path. After then end of White rule, Blacks in both countries wanted to get back their self-respect. They wanted to take back the commanding heights of political and economic power. They wanted to be masters of their own destiny.

The result has been a disaster. People were promoted on the basis of race rather than ability. Rules were torn up, cronyism, nepotism and eventually in Zimbabwe, kleptocracy, replaced previously functioning (if racially limited) democracies.

The unfortunate truth is that meritocracy is at once necessary, and inherently unfair. In the US Navy, there are around 1000 fighter pilots, but only 20 of them are women (see the doco Speed and Angels, in part about a struggling young female Tomcat pilot). The first woman to become a fighter pilot, Kara Hultgreen, was killed behind the boat, a crash that was entirely her own fault and almost killed her back-seater. Given the then-recent Tailhook Sex Scandal, it was no surprise that instructors would have rushed through a young woman who wasn’t yet ready to fly the difficult F-14. Intentionally or not, standards were dropped to save face.

People are acutely sensitive to extraneous, external influence, even when they are not consciously aware of this fact. Sometimes this works against equality, other times it works for it. But as long as the promotion of equality takes political precedence over the promotion of rational economic outcomes, we will continue to see wastefully inappropriate promotions and affirmative action programs.

If the above example is any indication, the better solution is to root out cases where bias is acting against equality, then eliminate the bias. Introducing pro-female or pro-minority bias is no substitute for eliminating bias altogether and promoting good decision making. Society needs to find ways to give people social status without shoehorning them into non economically-productive positions. If someone isn’t performing in high school or university or the workplace, the only humane thing to do is to find a place that they can fit in, at the lowest cost (or greatest gain) for wider society. Affirmative action just makes an uncomfortable farce even more painful.

Society needs to grow up and accept that life is inherently unfair. Not everybody is going to get rich. Not everybody is going to be smart. Women simply can’t be good mothers and good employees at the same time. If the epidemic of autism in the tech community is any indication, people can’t have social skills and technical skills at the same time. Men, especially white men, have a lot of inherent advantages.

The pursuit of equality makes us all poorer.

It’s the Incentives, Stupid

I was talking to a female friend the other day, and she asked my advice about an essay she was writing for her education degree.

The essay topic was Multicultural Education, a multi-faceted, neo-Marxist field of educational theory. To follow along here, it’s not important to understand the details of multicultural philosophical theory. Rather, let’s focus on the practical lessons that aspiring primary school educators learn from multicultural theory.

The first lesson that our aspiring educator was learning was, unsurprisingly, that multicultural education theory is really complicated. There’s lots of big words and jargon (eg: “racism, class oppression, sexism, and homophobia are all forms of right-wing essentialism” – English, bitch, do you speak it??), and very little in the way of simple concepts. As Einstein supposedly said, if you can’t explain it simply then you don’t understand it yourself.

As far as we could determine, our aspiring educator was being led to believe that academic underperformance amongst racial minorities was largely the fault of power imbalances in the classroom, and in wider society. If only we could further empower the minority members of our classroom, they would all become straight-A students in no time at all.

I can’t even be bothered tearing down this theory. So instead, let me present to you a different explanatory model for human behaviour, both in the classroom and out of it. I’ll call it the Incentives Model.

It’s rare that I can make an argument without referencing a favourite book or two. Apparently I’m not much good at having original ideas. In this case, the book is Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I don’t agree with everything in Freakonomics, and its sequel, SuperFreakonomics. Some of their analyses are simplistic, too hopeful or wrong. But their central thesis is brilliant.

What Levitt and Dubner argue, and I wholeheartedly believe, it’s that when you strip away all our bitching and bullshit and hypocrisy, everybody has one thing in common. This universal trait is a simple one: that people respond to incentives.

What’s more, people respond to incentives in a particular manner, one that has been bred into us by evolution.

Offer a test subject $20 now or $100 next year, and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who turns down the $20. This is called hyperbolic discounting. People treat future rewards as being far less valuable than the same amount of money now, ie they discount those rewards. Hyperbolic refers to the fact that this discounting is non-linear, ie we require steeply increasing amounts of money to get the same motivation. $5 today is as good as $15 tomorrow is as good as $150 next month.

This goes part of the way to explaining our education paradox. The average student, regardless of race, would prefer to take an immediate reward (say, popularity) over a hypothetical future reward such as a lucrative, respected or enjoyable career. Our evolutionarily addled brains just aren’t interested in long-term rewards.

If students aren’t easily motivated by long-term rewards such as a good job, why do some of them still insist on studying? What incentives are they following?

The answer, for the most part, is that students are rewarded by social incentives. They don’t work hard for the money, either now or later. They’re doing it because they have created an identity for themselves as responsible, hard-working students, and they are reaping social rewards from that identity. And really, between incentives theory and hyperbolic discounting, there isn’t much else that could be motivating kids to work hard in school.

Now, this isn’t to say that hard work and discipline don’t also play a role. Research has shown that participation in household chores is one of the strongest predictors for success later in life. Chores teach discipline. Discipline is important. But sometimes even the most motivated students smoke pot and watch cartoons.

Learning because you’re forcing yourself is never as efficient as learning because you love it. Motivation comes in many forms, conscious and unconscious, and you need all of the above to be maximally effective. If you give me two equally bright students, one who is learning for the love of education, and another who is doing it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, you can bet which one will do better. But the first student isn’t “intrinsically motivated”. He’s just responding unconsciously to external rewards, rather than consciously working out his best course of action.

If social rewards are the primary unconscious motivator of young nerdlings, the question is, how do we spread these rewards around the classroom, and what’s stopping certain kids from feeling socially motivated to work hard?

Without solid research, I would hazard that there are two main factors at work in determining which students perceive a social reward for good grades. The first factor is cultural. Simply put, some cultures simply value education more. There’s a great book called In The Plex, by Steven Levy, written about the rise of Google. In it, Levy documents how despite the fame and fortune achieved by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both of their parents still wish they’d finish their PhDs. Parental behaviour that is described as normal for Jewish parents like the Pages and Brins.

A lot of things have been written about the intelligence of European Jews. One book, The 10,000 Year Explosion, even argues that selection pressures in medieval Europe made the Ashkenazi evolve to be more intelligent. But even without genes, a culture that still values a PhD over a multi-billion dollar payday is going to produce a lot of highly educated people.

Most Asian families I know are similar, although they are more likely to value education as a means to an end (ie wealth). In any case, the social rewards to good grades, and the social penalties for poor grades are both very high in these cultures. Most importantly, these social incentives come from not just parents, but extended family and peers. Doing well is normal. The fact is, power imbalances don’t play into it. Nazi Germany never stopped European Jews from winning Nobel Prizes.

Intelligence has a huge genetic component, and certain racial groups have experienced different selection pressures over the millennia. I don’t disagree when researchers like the authors of The 10,000 Year Explosion or A Farewell to Alms argue that intelligence and other pro-success traits vary between racial groups. But regardless of trends on the population level, at an individual level there exist both smart and stupid people in all races and cultures.

For educators like my friend, the important thing is to recognize how best to motivate individual students. And the biggest hindrance to education is a culture that doesn’t equate academic success to (short-term) social success. An MBA will eventually signal “successful black male”, but an armful of textbooks signals “no swag, trying to be white” right now. For many teenagers, especially males, academic success is only a viable choice if they are either too cool or too marginalized to care what other people think.

And even for students that aren’t immersed in strongly anti-academic cultures, it’s often still more motivating to do the wrong thing. This is especially true for boys. Skipping school is bad. Girls fuck bad boys. The “successful student” can be a rewarding identity for a nerd, but popular kids have options. Boys will follow these incentives even when they’re not entirely aware (consciously) that they exist.

But get the incentives right, motivate students properly and you don’t need to give them a $50,000 a year education or a politically correct, power-neutral classroom. A pen, paper and an internet connection will do just fine. The future belongs to cultures and groups that come to grips with this. Places like Silicon Valley will only further extend their dominance because of cultural factors like this. Even today, geography remains the easiest way to bind a culture together.

It’s a simple, powerful idea, especially when you compare it to convoluted ideas like multicultural education theory. Like much old the old-school arts department, it is, simply put, intellectually bankrupt. ME theory is just a bunch of words that produce prejudices without forming a strong mental model capable of any kind of useful prediction. It’s a theory that doesn’t tell you anything useful.

Remember: Students are people. People respond to incentives. Fix the incentives and you fix education.

Surprised Journalists Realize Meritocracies Unequal

It’s a funny thing about journalism these days – it goes in cycles. Some guy writes a book about the inequality of meritocracies. It gets reviewed, and those reviews are recycled. Somebody else rewrites the thesis in their own words, and before you know it my Zite page is filled with near-identical articles about the perils of meritocracy.

What is this new idea that has the Left so excited? Briefly, Chris Hayes’ argument in The Twilight of the Elites is that America is suffering from an increase in the social distance between the meritocratic elites that run America, and the working class that makes up most of the country. This meritocratic elite, which controls the vast majority of wealth in the country, is betraying the working class from whence they came. Having climbed the ladder to prosperity, the meritocracy is pulling it up behind them.

As their wealth increases, the distance between the meritocracy and the working class both culturally, and in terms of incentives, prevents our cultured elite from making decisions that help the wider populace. They’re no longer “embedded” in wider America. They don’t want the poor to succeed, at least not badly enough to make it happen.

Hayes et al paint a compelling picture, but like many great narratives it is far too simplistic to describe the true nature of our society. A favourite book of mine that covers many of the same issues is The Lights in the Tunnel by Martin Ford.

In his book, Ford argues that the main problem facing our current society is not so much that the upper classes have betrayed the working class, but that many people in the working class are simply not economically productive anymore. Ultimately, the machines will replace all the workers, leading to a leisurely paradise for all. But for now they’ll just replace some workers, creating a hellish world of unemployment and inequality.

To quote another favourite book, A Farewell To Alms, “there was a class of workers in the preindustrial economy who, offering only brute strength, were quickly swept aside by machinery. By 1914 most horses had disappeared from the British economy, swept aside by steam and internal combustion engines, even though a million had been at work in the early nineteenth century. When their value in production fell below their maintenance costs they were condemned to the knacker’s yard.”

Where once, this argument applied only to physical labour, it now applies to many examples of simple cognitive labour. Google Drivers will replace taxi drivers. AI will allow one security guard to do the work of many. The sheer bulk of taxi drivers, parking attendants, data entry workers, help desk operators, sales assistants and janitors that have been or will be replaced in the coming decades is staggering.

Up until now, our economy has continued to recycle them into new, more intellectually demanding jobs, even as their wages are further eroded by information technology. But this cannot continue forever.

A century ago, basic literacy and numeracy was considered enough education for the working class. Fifty years ago, a high school diploma was considered more than sufficient. Today, a bachelor’s degree barely gets you into the job market, and a masters is becoming the price of entry into the middle class. Average people are being competed out of the labour market.

This system is now creaking under the weight of years of non-productive studentship. Cries are heard that all this education is mere credentialism, that students are leaving barely more intelligent than they started. Our education system isn’t preparing students for the working world even when they engage with it, let alone when they buy their term papers online.

That fact is, education is only as useful as the underlying intelligence of the student. Some students will never have the IQ to be a productive PhD student. If you haven’t made a big scientific discovery by your 30s, it’s probably not going to happen. If you’re not designing new widgets as a teenager, you probably never will.

The above linked article on credentialism advocates creating systems that are more like airline pilot recruitment, where workers prove themselves through years of apprenticeship in military and civilian aviation. However even this proposal ignores the 50% scrub rates in military flying academies, and similar numbers of pilots that linger for years in poverty-wage general aviation jobs. The fact is that increasing numbers of people can’t make the cut in the modern world, with or without an expensive education.

Making matters worse, IQ is largely hereditary. Smart people tend to have smart kids, and they provide them with more stimulating environments, further improving their natural advantages. The result is a large underclass, unable to compete economically with increasingly capable machines and the knowledge-workers that run them. Why do the top 20% of Americans hold over 80% of private wealth? Like it or not, the answer is increasingly because they produced it.

Inequality is not some conspiracy against the poor. It is simple economics. First the working class was replaced by immigration, then by offshoring, and finally by machines. Ask the millions of workers that will be made redundant in China, starting with a half-million at FoxConn.

The question is not how to save the working class. It is how to deal humanely with the sheer mass of non-productive workers that we will face in the future. I’m not very hopeful.