All posts filed under: History

The Behavioral Ecology of Male Violence

“Aggressive competition for access to mates is much more beneficial for human males than for females…” ~Georgiev et al. 1 Understanding patterns of lethal violence among humans requires understanding some important sex differences between males and females. Globally, men are 95 percent of homicide offenders and 79 percent of victims.2 Sex differences in lethal violence tend to be remarkably consistent, on every continent, across every type of society, from hunter-gatherers to large-scale nation states. In their 2013 study on lethal violence among hunter-gatherers, Douglas Fry and Patrik Söderberg’s data showed that males committed about 96 percent of homicides and were victims 84 percent of the time.3 In her study on violence in non-state societies, criminologist Amy Nivette shows that, across a number of small-scale pastoralist and agriculturalist societies, males make up 91-98 percent of killers.4 To illustrate the consistency of this relationship even further: we see the same pattern among chimpanzees, where males make up 92 percent of killers and 73 percent of victims.5 To be sure, there is some cross-cultural variation. While I can find …

Thinking Critically About Social Justice

Yesterday, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released a memo written by an attorney, Jayme Sophir, which determined that Google did not violate United States federal law when it fired James Damore. Sophir reasoned that references to psychometric literature on sex differences in personality were “discriminatory and constitute sexual harassment,” and on these grounds, Damore’s firing was justified. Following the release of the NLRB memo, a number of scientists on Twitter expressed alarm at the justifications provided within the memo, which appeared to relegate the discussion of sex differences outside the realm of constitutionally protected speech. The NLRB’s determination has emerged after Damore, together with another former Google engineer, filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging an institutionalised culture of harassment towards people with conservative or libertarian political views. Their complaint is eye-opening. Damore and Gudeman lay out in detail the many ways in which this harassment occurs: a pervasive environment of disparaging jokes and demeaning language amongst colleagues; a climate of bullying, mocking, and personal attacks from superiors and others in power; an open endorsement …

Why We Say ‘Islamism’ and Why We Should Stop

‘Islamism’ is a word that refuses to die. Conceived by a group of French academics who have since disavowed their creation, it has been criticized by many on the Left and the Right. Yet it still appears in scholarship, the media, and political discussions, jostled alongside terms like ‘fundamentalism,’ ‘political Islam,’ ‘radicalism,’ etc., ‘Islamism’ seems to offer the possibility of distinguishing Islam, the religion of over a billion Muslims, from the actions and ideas of violent movements that act in its name. But this distinction, however desirable, is untenable. The scholars who invented the term decades ago are today the first to regret its use. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, greeted with optimism by intellectuals such as Michel Foucault, chilled more critical observers in France. A rising generation of anthropologists, sociologists, and other scholars noticed that the new regime in Tehran was not alone in its fusion of modern mass politics and Islam. Doctoral students and junior professors researching the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, revivalist groups in North Africa, and anti-Communist rebels in Afghanistan searched …

The Problem With Poland’s New Holocaust Law

On Tuesday, Poland’s president signed a controversial bill into law allowing punishment of up to 3 years in prison for any person who claims “that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.” This development has sparked an angry debate, particularly in Poland and Israel, over the tragic history of Poles and Jews during the Second World War. But the new law cannot be understood without an appreciation of the unique context from which it emerged. The following points bear consideration: The 1939-1945 occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany, which organized the worst genocide the world has ever seen. The subsequent 44 years of Communist rule, during which Poles were taught only that they helped Jews during the war and that discussion of contrary facts was forbidden. The opening up of Polish society after 1989, including revelations of cases where Poles persecuted and killed Jews. The careless use of the phrase “Polish death camps” by Western politicians and media to refer to Nazi-run camps like Auschwitz. …

Why Free Speech Matters

From 1980 – 2003 the number of countries with a free press grew from 51 to 78. This increase was also proportionately significant. In 1980 34% of the world’s then 161 countries had a free press. In 2003 41% of the world’s 193 countries had newspapers free to criticize their own governments and inform their citizens without censorship. Those of us growing up in that period thought we belonged to a generation that could take free speech for granted and see this principle become universally entrenched. But 2004 would mark the beginning of a constant decline in global press freedom lasting until this day. From the high-water mark in 2003, we’re down to 31% of the world’s countries where journalists don’t have to worry about being imprisoned (262 reporters were behind bars in 2017). Or put differently: Only 13% of the world’s 7.4 billion people enjoy free speech. 45% live in countries where censorship is the norm. Venezuela, Russia, and Turkey are among the worst offenders. But In liberal democracies, free speech has also become a …

Why Walls Work

When Constantinople finally buckled and fell in the spring of 1453, it was before the awesome power of the Ottoman siege cannons. A Venetian surgeon, Nicolo Barbaro described the barrage during the desperate final days,  When it fired the explosion made all the walls of the city shake, and all the ground inside, and even the ships in the harbor felt the vibrations of it…No greater cannon than this one was ever seen in the whole pagan world, and it was this that broke down such a great deal of the city walls. The siege cannons were created by a Hungarian engineer named Orban. He first offered his services to Constantine XI, but the nearly insolvent Emperor couldn’t afford his retainer. He subsequently sought out the young Sultan Mehmet II who immediately understood their potential use in his planned attack on the seat of the dying Byzantine Empire. The fall of Constantinople was the dramatic final chapter of the Middle Ages. Powerful cannons radically changed the value of walled cities, and thus the nature of …

“Hate Speech” Does Not Incite Hatred

The United States Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed that “[s]peech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground” is protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. However, the protections of the First Amendment extend only to government efforts to punish or censor speech. Private entities remain free to take action against people who engage in speech which ostensibly demeans others, and private actors from Harvard University to Facebook and Twitter have punished or censored individuals whose speech they have found to be “hateful.” Those who advocate the censorship of so-called “hate speech” claim that it causes various ills, but perhaps the most common claim is that “hate speech” engenders hatred towards particular groups, and thereby causes violence against members of those groups. Such claims have been particularly common in recent years, and have included allegations that “anti-police hate speech” on the part of Black Lives Matters supporters has led to violence against police officers; that Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric has led to an …