All posts filed under: Ethnography

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past (David Reich)

We have all heard of the fad for DNA ancestry testing. Being a paranoid, I haven’t joined the crowd, because all testing companies are happy to hand over the results to the police, and what if I need to keep quiet some heinous crime I commit where I leave my DNA behind? Not to mention, what those tests claim to reveal about you is limited, in many cases, by inadequate comparison data, which the companies fill in with lies. But that lack of comparison data is swiftly being remedied, both in the present, and in the past, which is the topic of this book.

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (Christopher R. Browning)

It seems to me that we in the West are like men in a cavern, out of which lead many paths, none signposted.  Some paths lead to bright futures, but other paths lead to terrible ones, among them those where, once again as we did not so very long ago, we slaughter each other over ideology.  And the way back is closed, so we must choose one path forward.  The service of this book is that it illustrates Solzhenitsyn’s dictum, that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.  Thus, reflecting upon this book may help us choose the correct exit from the cavern, and to that end, it is worth bearing the unease that comes over us when we read books like this. This book, a staple of Holocaust studies for twenty-five years, has recently risen to fresh prominence due to repeated mentions of it by Canadian psychologist, and superstar, Jordan Peterson.  His focus on the book arises from his own decades-long study of evil regimes, and his thought on how …

Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass (Theodore Dalrymple)

When I am dictator, which hopefully will be any day now, I am going to bring back what was once a crucial distinction.  Namely, the sharp separation between the deserving and the undeserving poor.  Theodore Dalrymple’s book shows both why that distinction is necessary, indeed absolutely essential, and why it has fallen from favor among those who decide society’s rules.  Moreover, Life at the Bottom offers a wide range of food for related thoughts, so many that I am afraid, beginning this review, that it is likely to go on for a very long time.  But at the end, I will solve all the problems for you.  Strap in.

Archeofuturism: European Visions of the Post-Catastrophic Age (Guillaume Faye)

I sometimes think of my project to pass Reaction through the refiner’s fire as beginning with the raw material of a simple stout tree, which has grown straight but has many branches.  My task is to examine and prune those branches, and to plane down the tree to its core, creating a smooth and solid piece of wood, to which can be fitted a forged head—a lance of destiny, we can call it.  This book, Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism, is one of those branches, and today we will lop it off, though perhaps some of its wood can be used to fuel the forging furnace.  That said, this book is mostly insane.  But not completely.  And, if I am being honest, it prefigures, in part, my own preoccupation with a future that combines the politics of Reaction with the technology of tomorrow.

On the “Dark Enlightenment,” and of Curtis Yarvin / Mencius Moldbug

My project here is to analyze, in the detail required for all necessary understanding, the thought of Curtis Yarvin, who wrote under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug.  Yarvin is the most prominent figure of what has been called the Dark Enlightenment, one thread of modern reactionary thought.  My short summary is that he offers mediocre analysis with quite a few flashes of insight.  Even so, his thought is mostly worthless, because his program for political change is silly, since it fails to understand both history and human nature, and is ultimately indistinguishable from the program of the Left.  Overall I was very disappointed, and this write-up is shorter than I expected when beginning my project, since there is not all that much interesting to talk about.

All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (Henry Mayer)

William Lloyd Garrison is one of those nineteenth-century American figures about whom most people know a little, realizing they are important to American history, but whom few can discuss with expertise.  Into that same category I’d put men like Henry Clay, John Fremont, perhaps even Stephen Douglas, and quite a few others.  Garrison is probably more neglected than those figures.  But this book is an excellent corrective, not only showing the importance of Garrison for his time, but showing us how his principles apply today in a similarly fraught moral climate, and offering lessons in how society’s powerful approach, or fail to approach, moral issues, then and now.

The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently . . . and Why (Richard E. Nisbett)

This is a short book with a sweeping thesis.  In essence, the thesis of The Geography of Thought is that many important cognitive processes dominant in East Asian (i.e., Chinese, Japanese and Korean) cultures are substantially different from those processes in Western (i.e., American and European) cultures.  This proposition explains a variety of dissimilarities in how people from each culture approach the world and each other, and it is also a partial explanation of the Great Divergence—why the modern world was created by the West, and by nobody else, to the lasting (so far) benefit of the West.  While the author, Richard Nisbett, goes to great lengths to not ascribe superiority to one type of cognition over another, his cultural analyses show why the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution could not have happened in East Asia.  As they say, though, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and perhaps the relative value of Western ways of thought has passed its use-by date.

The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Tonio Andrade)

The Gunpowder Age succeeds in its lesser goal, which is convincing the reader that the common belief the Chinese only used gunpowder for fireworks is wrong.  But it fails in its greater goal, which is convincing the reader that except for a brief period in recent history, China has been the equal of the West in the technology of warfare.  And, in the wreckage of its failure, it confirms and reinforces the accurate perception that China has, for a thousand years, been lacking in scientific and cultural innovation.  Since a lack of innovation has negative implications for the Chinese future, and by modern Western standards is a negative judgment on Chinese society, this is probably not the effect that the Sinophile author of this book, Tonio Andrade, intended to achieve.

The Earth Is Weeping (Peter Cozzens)

The Earth Is Weeping offers an almost painfully even-handed look at the conflicts between the United States and American Indian tribes after the Civil War.  Of course, given the historiography of the past fifty years, an even-handed look necessarily inverts the traditional narrative.  Here, Team Indian does good and bad, and Team White does good and bad, each according to its own internal dictates of morality and external dictates of practicality and need.  The Sioux are expelled from their land—which they conquered only ten years before by slaughtering the previous inhabitants with extreme brutality.  The white man (and the Mexican, and the white man’s numerous Indian allies) usually breaks treaties and sometimes kills women and children.  Here is no morality tale, but the old and inevitable tale of nomad vs. nomad vs. state—new, perhaps, in Sumer, but not new in 1870.

The Color of Law (Richard Rothstein)

Some years ago, I lived for a time in Oak Park, Illinois.  Oak Park has for decades been filled with rich white liberals, who live just across the street from a City of Chicago neighborhood, Austin, that is filled with poor black people.  Yet, for some reason the citizens of Oak Park simply can’t fathom, people from Austin almost never move to Oak Park.  Who can say why?  Well, Richard Rothstein can.  His book, The Color of Law, shows all the ways in which the racist government of Oak Park, and innumerable other government functionaries across the nation, have aggressively worked for decades to keep black people in inferior, segregated housing.  Rothstein’s service is to precisely set out why this happened, how it was done, and what exactly the effects today are.