November 10, 2012

Taleb v. Pinker on the chances of war

Nassim Taleb, author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, criticizes Steven Pinker's book on the decline in violence, The Better Angels of Our Nature, in a short essay called The "Long Peace" Is a Statistical Illusion

Pinker answers in Fooled by Belligerence.

To my mind, the scariest precedent isn't World War One, it's the American Civil War. Europe in 1914 was a militarized continent divided into language groups with various arms races and a lot of professional soldiers looking for a fight. It was a catastrophe, but you could kind of see it coming.

In contrast, most of the world seems to be demilitarizing today, with arms races becoming ever sleepier as inventiveness gets sidetracked into making cooler Powerpoints to boggle other laptop warriors.

In contrast to Europe in 1914, America in 1861 was a prosperous, peaceful, unmilitaristic country with one language, a pretty good political system for working out problems, and only a tiny group of professional soldiers, who had all they could handle fighting Indians out on the frontier.  Indeed, a large fraction of the officers of 1860 spent 1861-1865 still out on the frontier, while retirees and amateurs won fame on the battlefields of the Civil War.

I wonder if the rise in organized sports since 1865 has lessened the chances of a dust-up by absorbing and re-directing communal excitements. The Civil War more or less made baseball the national pastime (it gave soldiers something to do in army camps). On TV today, you could see a lot of extremely excited people in towns like Palo Alto and Tuscaloosa cheering on their young heroes on the football field.

Or maybe the decline in family size?

These aren't original theories, of course. I wonder how you could test them?

105 comments:

Yan Shen said...

Haven't read Pinker's new book, but I did read the Black Swan. I also haven't read the two links in depth, but it seems like this is a battle between high M versus high V...

Anonymous said...

the spread of nuclear weapons and dozens of nuclear war/holocaust movies and the radiation bugaboo have meant that no politicians are ever going to start a nuclear war. No nation with nukes will therefore be invaded. That is why nations want nukes--means the USA cannot invade them. That is why I hope Iran GETS nukes, and soon--the warmongers desperately want to invade them (and bankrupt us in the process). I think all non-african democracies ought to have nukes....makes the world a lot safer.

Anonymous said...

Taleb: The number one danger is a biological agent that can travel on British Air and reach the entire planet. And it can be built in a high school lab, or, even, a garage.

No, it cannot. It cannot even be built very readily in dedicated research labs. Few exceptions exist (e.g., H5N1 flu mutant capable of efficiently infecting mammals) but they are still exceptions.

Can't be bothered to read their notes but I did scan through Pinker's book and found it entirely unconvincing, so Taleb is probably right.

dearieme said...

In contrast to Europe in 1914, England in 1640 was a prosperous, peaceful, unmilitaristic country with one language, a pretty good political system for working out problems, and only a tiny group of professional soldiers ...

Chris said...

Nice. Taleb is a perfect example of what I wrote in my own review of the book: The available critical reviews seem to have been written by journalistic types who have perused the book rather than giving it a close reading or by math-science types who have become fixated on questions of statistical interpretation or brain science without seeing the big picture.

dearieme said...

My crack about the English Civil War would have been better had the date I cited been 1638.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the rise in organized sports since 1865 has lessened the chances of a dust-up by absorbing and re-directing communal excitements. The Civil War more or less made baseball the national pastime (it gave soldiers something to do in army camps). On TV today, you could see a lot of extremely excited people in towns like Palo Alto and Tuscaloosa cheering on their young heroes on the football field.

This suggests that communal violence is fundamentally different from other kinds since, along with an increase in organized sports, the period since the War of Northern Aggression has also seen a drop in hunting, gun ownership and shooting practice, the playing of children with incendiaries and inflammable chemicals, etc.

Anyhow, didn't Pinker address this in his book? I read it, but I can't quite remember...

jody said...

puerto rico, the looming 51st state, had it's most violent year in history in 2011, racking up about 1130 murders.

mexico is also in the middle of the most violent period in it's history.

so only 1 border away from the US, things are still pretty rough.

Simon in London said...

Family size always sounds plausible but doesn't seem to have much impact IRL, at least in Western nations. The Baby Boom generation post-WW2 was not particularly militaristic. Nazi Germany was aggressive despite having a small youth cohort.

The reasons why countries go to war don't seem to be dependent on family size.

I read through all of Pinker's book recently. The long-term decline in violence seems undeniable, but he is of course at pains to stress that this does not prevent major wars etc.

Some countries may see a lot more violence in the future than currently, eg Western Europe's incredibly low current rates of violence could go up a lot, perhaps surpassing current US levels. But even a x10 increase in violence in Europe would still leave it fairly peaceful by historical and global standards.

But I suspect that even in case of Western civilisational collapse and major short-medium term upticks in violence, the long term trend will continue - that taking the planet as a whole, humans will be less violent in 3000 AD than they were in 1000 AD.

Simon in London said...

Taleb's criticism doesn't jibe with what's actually in Pinker's book, so Pinker's annoyed response seems reasonable - and a fair representation of what he says in his book.

When I read the Pinker book, I disagreed with his assumption that violence, the inclination to violence, and the outbreak of violence, must always and everywhere be a bad thing. Organised sports seem to be a good example of positive sum game violence - warriors voluntarily risk harm, unwilling civilians are never harmed, a few men get crippled occasionally, but general happiness is greatly increased. There are even real wars that seem to have had positive-sum outcomes for both sides, though this is much rarer than with team sports.

Anyway, I can disagree with Pinker but he is clearly very smart, and his arguments are not susceptible to easy refutation, while Taleb has one Big Idea but seems to be not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

Anonymous said...

What's high M and high V?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I can see that the decline in family size could possibly make another mega hetacomb like WW1 impossible.
The average European family has *less* than 2 children ie more likely than not, it doesn't have a son and an heir, so another prolonged military apocalypse would, purely and simply wipe off Europeans from the face of the Earth.
But saying that, I still have my reservations. The commanders of WW1 knew full well that the conflict was one of total destruction, bigger and bigger guns more and more death, but they kept feeding the monster right to the bitter end out of bloody mindedness and fear of losing, as a matter of fact it seems that these sentiments carried on into the visceral tribal hatreds of he battlefield (ancient atavisms about being enslaved by rival ethnies are somehow invoked)prove to be stronger than the desire to preserve life and preserve the race.
Total war invokes a dark demon from somewhere, a dark demon that might be invisble to most modern people and Pinker, but nevertheless the demon does exist and is always waiting just around the corner.
My own view is that amongst the martial races of the world (ie those ethnies that through countless millenia of history and pre history have just fought and fought and fought to the extent that the urge to fight is innate in all male children) the hatred of defeat and the fear of enslavement by rival ethnies is stronger than the desire to live.
The feeling is there but hidden by the veneer of civility.

On another note, those foolish politicians who advocate unlimited third world immigration should take note.

Lizard Conspiracy said...

How about the Thirty Years War in Europe in the 1600s? That killed something like 1/3 of the German population over the course of the war. That would be the equivalent of 100 million people today in the US.

I assume there were no significant standing armies at the time that would have predicted such slaughter.

trara said...

I wonder if the rise in organized sports since 1865 has lessened the chances of a dust-up by absorbing and re-directing communal excitements.


That's the reason why in Germany football state so massively supports football, and why no major football club wil ever go broke. The young men go crazy for their clubs instead of salivating for war against France and England.

Marlowe said...

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn't know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe–at any rate for short periods–that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.
[...]
In England, the obsession with sport is bad enough, but even fiercer passions are aroused in young countries where games playing and nationalism are both recent developments. In countries like India or Burma, it is necessary at football matches to have strong cordons of police to keep the crowd from invading the field. In Burma, I have seen the supporters of one side break through the police and disable the goalkeeper of the opposing side at a critical moment. The first big football match that was played in Spain about fifteen years ago led to an uncontrollable riot. As soon as strong feelings of rivalry are aroused, the notion of playing the game according to the rules always vanishes. People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. Even when the spectators don't intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own side and "rattling" opposing players with boos and insults. Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

-- The Sporting Spirit, George Orwell, 1945

One can of course cite the famous 1969 soccer war between El Salvador & Honduras. In Britain, football matches have become the chosen field of battle between the leftist anti-racist establishment and lingering traditional racial sentiment.

Headley L. said...

Veteran's day! And what a wonderful way for this country to honor what all of these young, patriotic (overwhelmingly white) men died for over all of these years, by re-electing Obama, who is flushing this country down the commode through a combination of incompetence, black-tribalism, and brain-dead socialist ideas which time and again have been demonstrated to be the wrong path.

Way to go USA! I'm sure it was a wise choice. Those pesky deadbeat white men were just standing in the way of progress. Blacks and hispanics exhibit much more patriotism and strong ties to this country- they'll be far more willing to die for it than whitey when the Chicoms come. And all the wonderful contributions the great intellectuals of black and Hispanic heritage have made, show us that the US will be even more of a font for innovation and success, enriching all citizens than it was under whitey.

Anonymous said...

These aren't original theories, of course. I wonder how you could test them?

Check crime stats to see if violent crime rises during players strikes.

Anonymous said...

Go more back in time, you find more and more horrible wars and things, than American Civil War.

Try Old Testament era

Matthew said...

Today there is smaller population growth, relieving pressure to expand into new territory, more wealth, far less deprivation, and more ways to distract yourself with various forms of leisure. War can be less deadly, thanks to improved medicine, but also vastly more deadly, thanks to the invention of carpet bombing and nuclear weapons.

To the degree that people are smarter, better educated, and less religious than we were 100 years ago, we all are aware of the consequences of war and many don't want to die without some prospect of an afterlife.

Thanks to modern technology, like automobiles and telephones, governments have also gotten much better at responding to violence in real time, all but eliminating the need to, say, slaughter the Indian tribe on the other side of the creek, for fear that they'll slaughter you first. Also, it helps there are no longer many Indian tribes on the other side of many creeks.

Expansionist wars have increasingly been deterred by the "international community" (meaning mostly the United States). Russia's invasion of Afghanistan was headed off with miltary assistance from the United States, Iraq was driven out of Kuwait, Argentina out of the Falklands, etc.

What could change all that? 1) Greatly increased deprivation via an economic meltdown, though technology makes that highly unlikely. 2) The decay of a superpower, like the USA, willing to poice the globe. 3) Political overreach. How much of my taxes and freedom does the "growing Latino vote" and their black allies and various sponsors want to take, exactly?

Look to Greece, today and in the near future, for an example of what may happen. It's interesting that NATO, which was largely formed to protect Western Europe from outside threats like the Communist block, now mostly serves to protect its members from each other, while ignoring outside threats like the economic rise of China and the large-scale invasion of non-European immigrants, who are swiftly outbreeding the natives and making large sections of European cities no-go zones.

Anonymous said...

You don't need highly professional militaries to butcher your neighbors over the hill with machetes and AK-47s.

And if a rebellion settles down into a civil war, like in Syria, or into ambient chaos and irregular fighting like Libya or Lebanon during their civil war, you get trained or at least battle-tested warriors anyway.

--Discordiax

Anonymous said...

Re: In contrast to Europe in 1914, America in 1861 was a prosperous, peaceful, unmilitaristic country with one language, a pretty good political system for working out problems, and only a tiny group of professional soldiers, who had all they could handle fighting Indians out on the frontier.

Er peaceful and unmilitaristic if you discount the Mexican War (the consequences of which are especially pertinent today) not to mention the endless wars against the Indians. Also, the US's other neighbours, Canada/Britain didn't view the US as unmilitaristic at all.

As for a "pretty good political system for working out problems," if that was true, why the Civil War?

Speaking as a historian I find Pinker's book wholly unpersuasive. But you yourself have noted other historians who hold the same view.

Anonymous said...

Sports did not start with 19th century English public schools.
In their anal-retentive way of having to organise everything - and foist adults in charge in what should strictly be kiddies' business- the English public schools 'formalized' the rules of most of the 'team sports' we have today and set the whole pro-sport circus, with its leagues, cups, championships etc rolling.
But kids and young men from all most every nation were playing sport between themselves much, much earlier than that, except that 'play' was the operate word, and play flowed freely withoout the anal-retentive, moustacheiod barking of orders, not to mention peaked-caps, whistles and silly black and white refs (or umpire) uniforms - the fascistization of play, if you will.
no kids and young men literally fought against each other in strength contests - wrestling was always the big deal - with the understanding that all holds, except deliberate injury , were permitted.

Anonymous said...


I wonder if the rise in organized sports since 1865 has lessened the chances of a dust-up by absorbing and re-directing communal excitements. The Civil War more or less made baseball the national pastime (it gave soldiers something to do in army camps). On TV today, you could see a lot of extremely excited people in towns like Palo Alto and Tuscaloosa cheering on their young heroes on the football field.


People don't really go to war en-mass. Certain elements within each camp, who will not compromise, take their respective people's to war.

The party of the coalition of single mothers, gay pedophiles, and various violence prone but not militarily very effective diverse peoples will not be happy if they force us to Civil War II (or is that Civil War III).

Anonymous said...


Today there is smaller population growth, relieving pressure to expand into new territory, more wealth, far less deprivation, and more ways to distract yourself with various forms of leisure.


Sigh. Why do we always get platitudes from people.

Population pressure was never the issue, only the excuse.

Anonymous said...

The Comanche had extremely small families. Their horse-bound lifestyle might have led to high levels of infertility among the women. Nonetheless, all would agree they were a hyper-militarized society.

Militarized societies are often porous, incorporating outside bodies and talent is a must for aggressive, expansionist groups.

Anonymous said...

Adding to your American Civil War v. World War I issue.

What made the first World War such a bloodbath was not so much that Europe was divided into militarized nations (as it has been since Roman times) but that a series of alliances came into existence committing virtually every powerful state to war.

Ditto the American Civil War. If Americans had stuck to the original principles of their constitution, the American Civil War would have been between Massachusetts and South Carolina. Unpleasant, certainly, but not the massacre it became. Once the previously "free and independent states" took sides, it was a whole new ball game.

There's two lessons for the US here.
1) Left to their own devices, China and the US are unlikely to fight each other. But should the US and China build a series of rival alliances, watch out.
2) Also, the US's problems in the Middle East have a hell of a lot to do with its "alliance" re: slavish devotion to one Middle Eastern country in particular.

Alliances -- always a double-edged sword.

MQ said...

Pinker is sort of the Malcolm Gladwell of pop-ademics. But his peevishness seems justified here in that Taleb did not seem to have carefully read his book.

Surprised at the comment about the Civil War...John Brown, Bloody Kansas, and people beating each other half to death on the floor of the Senate weren't enough warning for you? Thoughtful people had seen the war coming for at least a decade.

Reg Cæsar said...

Go more back in time, you find more and more horrible wars and things, than American Civil War.
Try Old Testament era.


Like King Philip's War, where New Englanders (many with Old Testament names) suffered losses in the same proportions as the South in the Civil War. And they won-- the other side was more or less "cleansed".

SFG said...

"When I read the Pinker book, I disagreed with his assumption that violence, the inclination to violence, and the outbreak of violence, must always and everywhere be a bad thing. Organised sports seem to be a good example of positive sum game violence - warriors voluntarily risk harm, unwilling civilians are never harmed, a few men get crippled occasionally, but general happiness is greatly increased. There are even real wars that seem to have had positive-sum outcomes for both sides, though this is much rarer than with team sports."

Usually, in sports, nobody gets killed. You hear very few people aiming for the abolition of sports as a positive world goal.

It's positive sum precisely because it's fake violence--real wars usually end with both parties worse off. WW1 and WW2 ended European dominance. The Iraq War sent us into debt and laid waste to Iraq.

Kylie said...

"Sports did not start with 19th century English public schools.
In their anal-retentive way of having to organise everything - and foist adults in charge in what should strictly be kiddies' business- the English public schools 'formalized' the rules of most of the 'team sports' we have today and set the whole pro-sport circus, with its leagues, cups, championships etc rolling."


Don't forget cricket poetry.

Glaivester said...

I don't buy that the Civil War came out of nowhere. The tensions between the North and South were clear for some time, as Anon 7:11 AM pointed out we had just gone through 75 years of conquests of territory, with the latest one about two decades prior.

And let us not forget, there was a Southern Congressman who brutally beat a Northern Congressman on the floor of the House. I don't think that the secession of the Southern states, or the North's response, were exactly surprises.

unix said...

Recall the hearings after that Russian submarine got stuck at the bottom the North Sea, probably due to preventable causes, and the sailors drowned. Slowly. To their credit, the Russian Naval officers and politicians allowed the relatives of the dead to come in to the audtiorium and give voice. I will never the shamed, depressed looks on their faces of the pols and officers (if only American politicians could look as ashamed as they should) as one mother in particular sreamed at them, "have you no hearts" or something like that.
The fact that many Russians only had one child to give to the war machine was a major reason for their withdrawal from Afghanistan. The military and government simply got too much anger from the population who did not want their only sons killed.
One of the most haunting and depressing documentaries you could imagine--but beautiful too--is the Three Rooms of Melancholia, c. 2005, about orphaned or abandoned children in 3 areas in Russia, and Chechnya. The opening episode featured a military training school in St. Petersburg, for Russian boys 9-14, mostly orphans or born of drunken parents who could not care for them. The general look of it all was so Czarist--they even went to church--that it was as if the 20th century had not happened.
A music teacher sings along heartily with the kids, about a horse who yearns to be free and snorts with hatred because he is not. Later in the film, in Chechnya, there is a sad looking horse tied to tree while the people carry on some bleak and tragic funereal ritual.
I don't think war is over for much of the world. The heart of darkness still yawns.

ivvenalis said...

"Today there is smaller population growth, relieving pressure to expand into new territory, more wealth, far less deprivation, and more ways to distract yourself with various forms of leisure."

...in some places.

anony-mouse said...

On non-war matters Pinker is almost certainly correct (neither Taleb nor commenters here seem able or willing to refute his ideas).

So why the difference with regard to war?

Anonymous said...


English sport pre-19th C was not kids at 'play'. It was violent and often riotous activity involving adults. Fatalities were common in early football matches. Many regional variants of wrestling specifically encouraged deliberate injury (northern shin-kicking contests etc.)

The 19th C mania for rules and regulations over sporting events (some, but not all, created by Public Schools) were welcomed because they reduced violence.


Chicago said...

The Olympics don't seem to have done anything up until now to dampen enthusiasm for war. People regularly use war terminology to describe sporting events and use sports analogies when reporting on armed conflicts. The two sort of go together.

Anonymous said...

C19th - Pax Brittanica. Took two world wars to destroy it, and Germany failed in its bid to become supreme, leaving the void to be filled by:

C20th Pax Americana - using "Pax" in the broadest sense, just as the Brits did.

But now there's nuclear weapons - and Chinese ambition. The handover may be peaceful - but if it's nasty it could be very nasty.

But the Chinese leadership seem pretty rational and the demographic long game (while avoiding nuclear conflict) is looking good for them. What kind of power can Mexico project in the Far East? There's your future.


"Nazi Germany was aggressive despite having a small youth cohort."

It was much bigger than France's.

Google "The following figures, which actuaries could foresee with some precision, tell their tale" and you'll find Churchill's record of the youth cohorts of Germany and France. Between 1914 and 1920, three million male births in Germany, half that in France.

gummins said...

"Give me white privilege to end white privilege."

Notice how white liberals say they are all for ending white privilege, but their liberalism is a huge advantage in earning them wealth and promotion. Take Roger Ebert. If he'd come out as a conservative, would he have been favored in journalism, admired and praised by his peers in the film community, given academic positions, invited on TV a million times, showered with all sorts of favorable contracts? I don't doubt Ebert's political convictions, but it served him real well economically and professionally in the circles he hangs around in. It earned him lots of white privilege. Had he been a white conservative, no white privilege for him in the film critic community. Most of his liberals peers would have mocked him and made fun of his big fat thumbs up and down.

You can be radical leftist and talk politics all the time in the film community, and you are treated as an 'intelligent critic and commentator'. But if you're a conservative, even a mild one, you are said to be 'obsessed' about politics and know nothing about art.

So, while white liberals like Ebert act all 'compassionate' and big-hearted, their liberalism earned them big promotions and big bucks. The shtick of 'ending white privilege' is the easiest way for whites to gain white privilege. Look at the billionaires and millionaires in Hollywood. Look at all those comfy white and Jewish academics in elite colleges. They sure are fighting 'white privilege'... mostly by hogging it for themselves.

Jews are 2% of the population, but 50% of top pundits are Jews. Jews say they are fighting 'white privilege'. They sure have a funny way of going about doing it.
And just look at the economic and professional elites of blue cities like Chicago and NY.
I salute white liberals. They are very smart. They know the REAL WAY to keep white privilege. Package their own privilege as the weapon of fighting 'white privilege'.
That way, blacks and browns become blind to the fact that white liberal elites are really taking them for a ride. In one of his blog posts, Ebert wrote we need Mexican illegals to keep picking tomatoes!! Oops, he let it slip!! But, at long as those tomato pickers think white liberals are combating 'white privilege', they'll vote Democratic.

White liberals sure love diversity. That must be why all those white and Jewish liberals in blue cities send their kids to private schools than to public schools with blacks and Hispanics.

Anonymous said...

Try Old Testament era

Or the Rome-Carthage war.

Anonymous said...

This debate should be catnip for Greg Cochran, man who knows his history and who also has excellent mathematical acumen.

Anonymous said...

Sports did not start with 19th century English public schools.
In their anal-retentive way of having to organise everything - and foist adults in charge in what should strictly be kiddies' business- the English public schools 'formalized' the rules of most of the 'team sports' we have today and set the whole pro-sport circus, with its leagues, cups, championships etc rolling.


Not so much in England, but in postwar America, public school sports and their associated hoopla were also used to create an artificial elite caste of students to act as strawbosses for the teachers and principal.

Luke Lea said...

People saw the Civil War coming for decades, almost no one foresaw World War I (except maybe the Kaiser and his Prussian advisors). Darwin's theory and Nietzsche's philosophy clearly had an impact on their thinking -- every German soldier was furnished with a copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra.

cancerous mass of sentient trash said...

OT: The US Needs To Focus Its Educational Efforts On Talented Americans.

- an Asian American guy supplementing, balancing that motormouth Wadwha. Talking against throwing all our money away on bridging 'the gap'. Maybe there's hope that Asians will see that their interests lie with not flooding the country with low-caliber masses.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Er peaceful and unmilitaristic if you discount the Mexican War (the consequences of which are especially pertinent today) not to mention the endless wars against the Indians. Also, the US's other neighbours, Canada/Britain didn't view the US as unmilitaristic at all. "

The Indian Wars were scarcely even wars, more like low intensity skirmishing. Very little American effort went into them, as measured by such objective criteria as men and materiel.

Mexican War: Relatively high effort but over a very limited span of time (1846-48).Somebody was going to grab Mexico's thinly settled Northern provinces (France, Britain, the USA); the USA just made the grab first.

Canada/Britain: Actually, they did view the USA as unmilitaristic. For example, note that the US-Canadian border was essentially demilitarized after the War of 1812 (cf the Rush-Bagot treaty, etc).

Luke Lea said...

China is the only country today that might conceivably start a major world war, unless you want to count what the U.S. is doing as a world war already. (Which I don't.)

odinslounge said...

"In contrast, most of the world seems to be demilitarizing today, with arms races becoming ever sleepier"

That should really be prefaced with "western". Whitey may not have the penchant for arms development he once had but the rest of the world has gotten that taste of that sweet nectar only recently and they love it.

More problematic is the follow up about powerpoint warriors. That those tasked with fighting and leading a war are no longer required to learn its realities such as the need to gain and control ground as the only assurance for victory. Instead they can safely bomb it from trailers in Arizona and call it deterence. It's no replacement for victory but what can you do.

Ray Sawhill said...

It seemed to me that one of the themes of Kon Ichikawa's (great, IMHO) documentary "Tokyo Olympiad" was that, if you gotta choose, competitive sports is 'way preferable to all-out world war.

Dirty Harriet said...

"In contrast to Europe in 1914, England in 1640 was a prosperous, peaceful, unmilitaristic country with one language, a pretty good political system for working out problems, and only a tiny group of professional soldiers ..."

The US in 2012 is bankrupt and has a bad system for working out problems, so that's a relief.

As to the biggest difference between Now and Then, I wouldn't nominate organized sports. I'd nominate TV, the Internet, and video games. They sate people and make them too fat to fight.

elvisd said...

I still think everyone living from the Danube River to the sea of Japan should demand reparations from Mongolia for the crippling injustice done to them by Genghis Khan and his racist, imperialist lackeys.

peterike said...

Well, in order to have the Civil War, you needed: a tyrannical leader perfectly willing to ignore the Constitution; a leader who would attack and imprison his domestic enemies without benefit of trial; a leader willing to kill hundreds of thousands of his once fellow countrymen, both on the field of battle and in relentless civilian slaughter; a leader posing as a man of the people while entirely in the service of the wealthiest corporate interests of his day.

So how are any of those things different now than in 1861?

Obama already told us he thinks he's just about as "great" as Lincoln.

All that said, I don't foresee a shooting Civil War. Not enough gumption left in the population.

pat said...

For me it began when I spent an beautiful afternoon at the auto museum at Blockhead. They had a usual Mercedes Benz 300 SL gull wing, of course, about the also had a Hispano-Suiza Bologna Turing car with the tulipwood body. Maybe the most beautiful car ever made.

But the thing that made that afternoon particularly memorable was lunch by the pond. A pond filled with Black Swans.

That led me to Taleb's books and ideas.

Pinker is completely wrong when he says Taleb has been prescient about movements in the market. Taleb never claimed that. His actual trading method was much, much different. Gladwell wrote an analysis of Taleb that made this clear.

Taleb's insight was that there are not enough good statistical tools so traders make simplifying assumptions. If the distribution looks even a little symmetrical we use tests and tools based on an underlying normal distribution. Most of the time and in most social sciences that's good enough. But in trading if there is really a 'fat tailed' distribution that only looks normal you can make some expensive mistakes.

The usual outcome of using the wrong stats is that you crash and burn when what was supposed to be a rare event happens too frequently. Taleb has no solution for this other than non-participation. He can't see disaster coming anymore than can anyone else.

As Gladwell points out Taleb developed an approach that had him lose money everyday for long periods and then on one unpredictable day he would be right and prosper. The next day he would be back to enduring small losses. Gladwell describes the psychological damage that continuous losses inflicted on Taleb. Taleb avoided having one very big bad day by having routine small bad days.

Taleeb quit trading. He had developed a method for not going bust on that one very bad day but only at the price of being ground down on every other day.

Taleb went into the guru business. He is very smart and knows a lot of statistics. Most investors and traders have no idea what he's talking about but will pay to attend a seminar in the hope that this very smart guy will tell them the key to profitable investing.

I can't take this stat dispute with Pinker seriously. The relevant guru in this case is Karl Popper who has argued to my satisfaction that you can't predict the future. If I needed any further proof I might choose to remember my predictions last week about a Romney landslide.

Is the world getting more peaceable? Maybe. In about 1220 England introduced torture as a reform. Exterminate all the Yanomami and we should have fewer conflicts. That's one way to progress I suppose.

The reason I'm unsure of the future and unconvinced about any stat argument is that it doesn't take much irrationality in a nuclear age to start big trouble.

Pakistan is a nuclear power as is India. They face each other across a border that has already seen million of casualties. I expected a nuclear flash point two years ago.

We in the US are being challenged by peoples who believe that their imam jumped down a well a couple centuries ago. As far as I know there is no stat test that helps you guess what he will do if and when he decides to jump back out again.

Albertosaurus


Anonymous said...

"As for a "pretty good political system for working out problems," if that was true, why the Civil War?"


The south attacked the north at Fort Sumter?


Anonymous said...

When sports opened up to blacks, black violence soared.

Anonymous said...

"(the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance)"

Good point. Nazis and commies were spots-obsessed.

And too many Americans cheered on the Iraq War as a rock concert and sports game.

Anonymous said...

Conflating sports and civil war.... that is onionish.

Whiskey said...

Steve, that's just wrong on all points. EVERYONE knew the nation was drifting to civil war. Andrew Jackson had to threaten (and he meant it) to hang the South Carolina legislature to keep them from seceding. New England had during the War of 1812 made significant explorations of seceding. John Brown and various militias turned Kansas into "Bloody Kansas" with slavery and anti-slavery forces fighting bitterly.

Basically, the Slavery forces were somewhat analogous to open borders people today: cheap labor; and the anti-slavery forces while moralistic were really motivated by a desire for expensive labor (and pushing down the Old South Aristocracy).

In the 1850's, predictions of Civil War by many, including Lincoln, Douglas, Emerson, most of the journalists, and many other political figures were common. It was a war that could not be avoided, over a nation of cheap slave labor or one of expensive free labor, with all that implied.

War happens when fundamentally, issues cannot be compromised, or kicked down the road. And when one side winning means the economic, social, cultural, and political annihilation of the other.

As such, the world is MORE warlike, not less. Since the Cold War leashed most of that and the collapse of US will post-Bush means the world is moving towards greater violence. Professional sports has nothing to do with it. That's dumb.

Ken said...

Nuclear weapons are a only a deterent to nuclear war.

Read John J. Mearsheimer you will understand states go to war for reasons that are entirely rational.

Read <a href="http://davidbau.com/downloads/heinsohn_slides.pdf>Gunnar Heinsohn</a> and you'll realize the basis for aggressive political movements no longer exists in the West.

Obama will destroy Iran with an air campaign.

Whiskey said...

A quick check of Drudge shows Steve, you and Pinker are wrong. Turkey and Syria are trading artillery and helicopter firing, same with Israel. At root is the inability of the Assad regime to keep enough gunmen paid, and enough ordinary people paid off or subsidized, to keep power. That's why the Ben Ali regime fell in Tunisia, why Khadaffi fell, and Mubarak in Egypt. At the same time, Iran is advancing its influence in partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood, as they have a Molotov-Ribbentrop alliance of convenience to otherthrow the corrupt House of Saud and use the control they seek to jack up oil prices.

In this they have another marriage of convenience with Russia which wants high oil prices too.

Assad is seeking to avoid Khadaffi's fate, thus sensing Obama weakness he wants a wider war involving Turkey and Israel. So much for Erdogan's "No Problems with Neighbors" policy. If Assad is going down he's going to take his neighbors with him.

And this points out a wider critique of Pinker's idiocy. State functions and the State itself is withering away. You saw that first in the Soviet Union, as the Soviets could not literally pay their soldiers or satellite regimes. It was true of Ben Ali, Mubarak, Khadaffi, and Assad. Without centralized State control, power (as in Mexico) passes to gangs which are both terrorist and criminal (that describes AQ, the Taliban, the Zetas, the Muslim Brotherhood) and SEEK chaos not order, because order puts a lid on their ability to traffic women, drugs, cigarettes, and other contraband.

Technology as in the Thirty Year's War (gunpowder, muskets, cheaply printed manuals of arms create mass private armies) allows decentralization; gives power from the State, for better and worse, to private actors. Not completely, and not decisively, but it does.

We are likely to see even more War, as weak actors with resources prove unable to respond to non-state actors with resources and will. There are a lot of young men, hungry, armed, and looking longingly at places like Saudi Arabia, Europe, and even Turkey. With not much State resources, will, and ability to project power.

Pinker argues that somehow magically human primates have become peaceful and non-aggressive; as if the history of the past 500 years doesn't point to periods of peace where power is consolidated punctuated by massive killings that spiral ever-higher. And that peace is kept by being weak, instead of being so strong no one challenges you.

That works if you're say, six feet four inches or taller. Height gives you male dominance just existing at that height. Try that being five ten or smaller. You get an entirely different perspective believe me.

Anonymous said...

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4299673,00.html


'Islamization of Europe a good thing'
Rabbi Baruch Efrati believes Jews should 'rejoice at the fact that Europe is paying for what it did to us for hundreds of years by losing its identity.'

Anonymous said...

Taleb is a bit of a charlatan. It is fine to use log normal distributions (fat tailed )when modeling a single random variable -- everyone does that, and Taleb has no new insight there. It is when modeling multiple random variable distributions that it makes it mathematically tractable to use a high dimensional gaussian. Taleb is old, low quality wine in a highly marketed new bottle.

Glaivester said...

I think that Whiskey is correct about the Civil War. I mean, we had a Southern Congressman attacking a Northern one on the floor of the House in the 1850s. Everyone could see what was coming.

Evil Sandmich said...

Why have sports or war when you can have both!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_War

Anonymous said...


Mexican War: Relatively high effort but over a very limited span of time (1846-48).Somebody was going to grab Mexico's thinly settled Northern provinces (France, Britain, the USA); the USA just made the grab first.


I think he meant that the failure to annex the rest of Mexico has lead to lots of modern problems.

After all, if we had annexed them, they would already be voters that could be bought, and we wouldn't have to sneak them in the back door.

Anonymous said...

Re: Canada/Britain: Actually, they did view the USA as unmilitaristic. For example, note that the US-Canadian border was essentially demilitarized after the War of 1812 (cf the Rush-Bagot treaty, etc).

Sorry to be pedant, but you're wrong. Try researching Bulwer-Clayton, the Oregon Treaty, Canadian Confederation, the Venezuela Crisis, the naval race of the 1920s...I could go on.

As for the claim someone else (followed by a list of countries that had no interest in Mexico save perhaps France) would have stolen Mexico's territory if the US hadn't. You'll need to do better than that.

Anonymous said...


As such, the world is MORE warlike, not less. Since the Cold War leashed most of that and the collapse of US will post-Bush means the world is moving towards greater violence. Professional sports has nothing to do with it. That's dumb.


This is another fine example of self parody.

Well done Whiskey.

Anonymous said...

"Rabbi Baruch Efrati believes Jews should 'rejoice at the fact that Europe is paying for what it did to us for hundreds of years by losing its identity."

Isn't there something about the sins of the father should not be visited on the son? Shouldn't a Rabbi, especially, be ashamed? Or is that a Christian concept?

Robert Hume

Anonymous said...

"When sports opened up to blacks, black violence soared."

So how come crime has been declining for a couple of decades? Perhaps sports does aggravate the situation but perhaps recent declines are because, as I read recently, we have an incarceration rate three times higher than any other country.
Robert Hume

peterike said...

The south attacked the north at Fort Sumter?

False.

Steve Sailer said...

My point about the American Civil War is not that people didn't see more violent trouble coming, but that they didn't see 750,000 dead.

In the Great War, the problem was the assumption that according to our carefully prepared staff plans, our giant, highly trained army will defeat the other guy's giant army (or in the case of Germany's Schlieffen Plan, the other two guys' giant armies) by Christmas.

But in 1861: What giant, highly trained armies? What carefully prepared staff plans?

Peter said...

What made the first World War such a bloodbath was not so much that Europe was divided into militarized nations (as it has been since Roman times) but that a series of alliances came into existence committing virtually every powerful state to war.

One theory holds that the very high battlefield death rate in World War I resulted from the fact that machine guns had reached a high state of development, making infantry attacks near-suicidal, yet tanks were at a very early stage of development, thus depriving soldiers of a way to shield themselves from machine-gun barrages.

Anonymous said...


Read <a href="http://davidbau.com/downloads/heinsohn_slides.pdf>Gunnar Heinsohn</a> and you'll realize the basis for aggressive political movements no longer exists in the West.


Dude, how can you take anyone seriously when he writes


Transposed on the UK’s population (56 million against
Salvador’s 4 million in 1975) nearly one million dead would have been killed - 90.000 annually.


(You can't kill the dead!)

Besides, lots of those illegals from south of the border are young males.

Anonymous said...

Read Wilhelm Reich and then cuddly
Nicole Daedone---for THE answer to keeping war away.

Simon in London said...

anon:
"Canada/Britain: Actually, they did view the USA as unmilitaristic."

We actually regarded the US military (aside from logistics) as quite ineffective right up until 1991 and Gulf War 1!
Probably not justified in retrospect, but Korea and Vietnam did not give a great impression, and probably some Soviet propaganda was at play. Also, your tanks weren't very good.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Sorry to be pedant, but you're wrong. Try researching Bulwer-Clayton, the Oregon Treaty, Canadian Confederation, the Venezuela Crisis, the naval race of the 1920s...I could go on."

No need to research them; I am already conversant with British-American relations in the post War of 1812 period, and they fail to disprove my point.Momentary tensions do not exactly indicate that the Brits viewed the USA as a North American Prussia. If the British had been truly concerned about the USA, the border with Canada would never have been demilitarized.


Anonymous:"As for the claim someone else (followed by a list of countries that had no interest in Mexico save perhaps France) would have stolen Mexico's territory if the US hadn't. You'll need to do better than that."

Dear boy, if the French are interested in something, that automatically means that the British will take notice. As for a lack of interest in Mexico's northern territories, I suggest you peak into the F.O. archives. The Brits (and the French) were quite interested in Texas and California, plums ripe for the picking.

Simon in London said...

>>Whiskey said...
A quick check of Drudge shows Steve, you and Pinker are wrong. Turkey and Syria are trading artillery and helicopter firing<<

Yes, that clearly shows the decline of violence over thousands of years to be a mirage.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha. From that Youth Bulge fantasy:


1914-1918 Including Turkey and 50.000 US troops, Europe loses 10 million young men to World War I whilst Japan does not lose a single soldier. European youth bulges end in 1914, Japan’s continue another thirty years.


Hmmm, so what caused WWII if European youth bulges ended in 1914?

These explain all theories usually are full of holes.

Anonymous said...

peterike:"Well, in order to have the Civil War, you needed: a tyrannical leader perfectly willing to ignore the Constitution; a leader who would attack and imprison his domestic enemies without benefit of trial; a leader willing to kill hundreds of thousands of his once fellow countrymen, both on the field of battle and in relentless civilian slaughter; a leader posing as a man of the people while entirely in the service of the wealthiest corporate interests of his day."

MMMM I rather thought that one would need a ruthless, slave-owning oligarchy, whose leading pastime was rape; a complete disregard for human rights (cf the aforementioned slaves); a willingness to kill hundreds of thousands in order to sustain the aforesaid slaveocracy; a political elite that viewed slavery as the highest possible good (cf John C. Calhoun, Fitzhugh, Alexander H. Stephens, etc); etc

Anonymous said...

Simon in London:"We actually regarded the US military (aside from logistics) as quite ineffective right up until 1991 and Gulf War 1!
Probably not justified in retrospect, but Korea and Vietnam did not give a great impression, and probably some Soviet propaganda was at play. Also, your tanks weren't very good."

Yeah, the British had a strong tendency to underestimate American military prowess.B.H. Liddell-Hart, though, with his keen appreciation of Sherman, was an important exception.

Evil Sandmich said...

My point about the American Civil War is not that people didn't see more violent trouble coming, but that they didn't see 750,000 dead.

Good point. It's much as now where everyone thinks the planet is burned out on the effort it takes for mass killing, or that everyone is too old, or too broke, etc.

Meanwhile if a similar percentage of Americans as Mexicans had died violent deaths at the hands of their countrymen over the past couple of years we'd recognize it as at least a mild civil war. Is such an event that unlikely? I hope so, but it doesn't look like any of our elites are making an effort to keep it from happening (to say nothing of Europe, it's like that place is afraid that there might be peace).

Anonymous said...

Re: Dear boy, if the French are interested in something, that automatically means that the British will take notice. As for a lack of interest in Mexico's northern territories, I suggest you peak into the F.O. archives. The Brits (and the French) were quite interested in Texas and California, plums ripe for the picking.

Actually, I am familiar with the F.O. archives (as well as Lord Aberdeen's papers) and have taken more than a peek (as the word is spelled). The British had no interest in Mexican territory. That was a claim American nationalists like Andrew Jackson made to justify the admission of Texas into the Union.

You're looking in the wrong nation's archives.

Also, the British and their Canadian colonists did see the US as a threat during the nineteenth century -- not on the same scale as France or Russia, but a threat nonetheless.

Sorry, but you've wandered into my field of research and frankly, you don't know what you're talking about.

Dykeward said...

How about this for a thoroughly modern conservative response, if you can't beat 'em, breed 'em:

"The electoral overwhelming of the white majority may not have the effect that simple extrapolation suggests. Most Hispanics are white. Intermarriage is creating mixed and non-racial identities that further confuse ethnic categories. One effect could be an electorate that votes less and less along ethnic lines. I don’t repent of this view. I think it is possible and I hope it is the path we take."

Care of John O'Sullivan over at National Review.

This is a path the Bush family are already on.

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/332977/whites-minority-john-o-sullivan

Dykeward said...

Damn sorry, my comment was for the Drum article..

Ex Submarine Officer said...

Everyone is missing the obvious - longer life expectancies/greater average age of populations.

Older folks don't fight as much.

Anonymous said...

'So how come crime has been declining for a couple of decades?'

Gym lockers to prison lockers.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Actually, I am familiar with the F.O. archives (as well as Lord Aberdeen's papers) and have taken more than a peek (as the word is spelled). The British had no interest in Mexican territory. That was a claim American nationalists like Andrew Jackson made to justify the admission of Texas into the Union."

Dear boy, how can I take your claims seriously, when you somehow believe that the British were uninterested in French activity in Mexico?Some things go beyond ignorance.One must also be aware that British policy assumed that the USA would do the heavy-lifting vis-a-vis keeping powers like France out. Hence, the rather sanguine attitudes of men like Aberdeen.





Anonymous:"Also, the British and their Canadian colonists did see the US as a threat during the nineteenth century -- not on the same scale as France or Russia, but a threat nonetheless."

Nations are surrounded by threats, dear boy; saying that the USA was viewed as a threat is an airy nothing. If the British were actually worried, we would have seen the proof in the form of divisions of troops on the US-Canadian border.

"Sorry, but you've wandered into my field of research and frankly, you don't know what you're talking about."

"Field of research?" Any publications in reputable journals that I might peruse?

Anonymous said...

That's the reason why in Germany football state so massively supports football, and why no major football club wil ever go broke. The young men go crazy for their clubs instead of salivating for war against France and England.

Except for hooligans. Luckily they are not armed (most of the time).

Assad is seeking to avoid Khadaffi's fate, thus sensing Obama weakness he wants a wider war involving Turkey and Israel. So much for Erdogan's "No Problems with Neighbors" policy. If Assad is going down he's going to take his neighbors with him.

It think Assad wants to be left alone and Erdogan wants to invade Syria to build up a new Ottoman empire. Here's why:
1.) Wearing the veil is allowed again. His wife wears the veil in public. (Atatürk forbade it. He changed it).
2.) He came twice to Germany to tell the Turkish population not to learn German and not to integrate ("be assimilated").
3.) In a recent speech he explained how such-and-such event is going to be the battle of Manzikert of the 21st century.
4.) The first Turkish-Syrian border incident was an airplane that was shot in Syrian airspace. Why did it fly there?
5.) They charged several Isreali officers because of the gaza flottila events.

- from Germany

Anonymous said...

Re: Dear boy, how can I take your claims seriously, when you somehow believe that the British were uninterested in French activity in Mexico?

OK, this will now be boring other readers of iSteve, so this is my last post.

I started out by saying that the British and Canadians absolutely viewed the Americans as militaristic. I gave examples. You've given none. In fact, you shifted the goal posts to claim that the British would have annexed Mexico if the Americans didn't. I replied that was nonsense. You've now shifted your goalposts again by saying I believe the British were uninterested in French activity in Mexico. I never made this claim, nor does it rebut my point that the British had no intention of annexing Mexico or that they (and their Canadian colonists) viewed America as militaristic.

It is simply undeniable that the British (and by extension the Canadians) and the Americans were involved in an imperial rivalry on the North American continent. By definition, that implies a militaristic aspect.

Actually I do have (peer-reviewed) articles; I even have a (peer-reviewed)book. I do not, however, have tenure so damned if I'm going to broadcast the fact I read a website that has the gall to believe unrestricted immigration from Mexico into the US might not be a good thing or that IQ and race may have some relation. Not in the present academic climate. Sorry.

Here's four starting points for you, however, who has denied that the British viewed the US as militaristic.

Bourne, Britain and the Struggle for Power in North America
Campbell, From Revolution to Rapprochement
Black, The Struggle for Mastery in North America
Andrew Lambert, "Winning without fighting: British Grand Strategy and its Application to the US"

You might also want to try reading Francis Trollope's views of the US, or Frederick Marryat's. Try Sir John A. Macdonald's on the Canadian front.

Thanks for showing up.





Udolpho.com said...

I'm struck by how poor and just plain hysterical Pinker's reply to Taleb is.

Jeffery said...

Population pressure was never the issue, only the excuse.

No, I think population pressure was real, back in the day, when resources were severely limited and there was no free market system to create win/win situations.

There was a Malthusian Trap

Anonymous said...

So much for Erdogan's "No Problems with Neighbors" policy. If Assad is going down he's going to take his neighbors with him.

It think Assad wants to be left alone and Erdogan wants to invade Syria to build up a new Ottoman empire.

Erdogan just wants to be an Arab. He hates Turkey and his own Turkishness.

Glaivester said...

I'm not certain why one would expect that the Civil War would not be bloody, unless they assumed that the North would let the South secede at the first sign of trouble.

Perhaps some people were unaware of how determined the North would be to preserve the union. (I doubt that very many people would have been uncertain of how determined the South would be to secede - once secession is declared, you're pretty much all in - being taken back by people who will quite likely view you as traitors is not a pleasant prospect).

In any case, the South almost certainly would never surrender unless it was completely out of options. The North either had to get brutal or lose. So the only way to think it would not be bloody would be to think that the North would not put up a fight and let the South win.

Anonymous said...

Re: Dear boy, how can I take your claims seriously, when you somehow believe that the British were uninterested in French activity in Mexico?

OK, this will now be boring other readers of iSteve, so this is my last post.

I started out by saying that the British and Canadians absolutely viewed the Americans as militaristic. I gave examples. You've given none. In fact, you shifted the goal posts to claim that the British would have annexed Mexico if the Americans didn't. I replied that was nonsense. You've now shifted your goalposts again by saying I believe the British were uninterested in French activity in Mexico. I never made this claim, nor does it rebut my point that the British had no intention of annexing Mexico or that they (and their Canadian colonists) viewed America as militaristic.

It is simply undeniable that the British (and by extension the Canadians) and the Americans were involved in an imperial rivalry on the North American continent. By definition, that implies a militaristic aspect.

Actually I do have (peer-reviewed) articles; I even have a (peer-reviewed) book. I do not, however, have tenure so damned if I'm going to broadcast the fact I read a website that has the gall to believe unrestricted immigration from Mexico into the US might not be a good thing or that IQ and race may have some relation. Not in the present academic climate. Sorry.

Here's four starting points for you, however, who has denied that the British viewed the US as militaristic.

Bourne, Britain and the Struggle for Power in North America
Campbell, From Revolution to Rapprochement
Black, The Struggle for Mastery in North America
Andrew Lambert, "Winning without fighting: British Grand Strategy and its Application to the US"

You might also want to try reading Francis Trollope's views of the US, or Frederick Marryat's. Try Sir John A. Macdonald's on the Canadian front.

Thanks for showing up.




Anonymous said...

"My point about the American Civil War is not that people didn't see more violent trouble coming, but that they didn't see 750,000 dead."

The First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) was the first real battle of the Civil War. Apparently it was a bizarre affair, with many fine ladies and all driving out from Washington in their carriages to see the battle. It seems some 40,000 actually engaged. Apparently it was expected to be a police action, but it turned into a rout, as at the end the Union army broke and ran:

"The Northern public was shocked at the unexpected defeat of their army when an easy victory had been widely anticipated. Both sides quickly came to realize the war would be longer and more brutal than they had imagined."

A trivia fact about this battle is the Marines involved performed poorly, after which they were not much used during most of the rest of the war. (Many of the officers had left to join the Confederacy).

Anonymous said...

"Somebody was going to grab Mexico's thinly settled Northern provinces (France, Britain, the USA); the USA just made the grab first."

Yeah, a big problem was that Mexico didn't control Mexico's "thinly settled Northern provinces":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comanche-Mexico_War

"... By the time the American army invaded northern Mexico in 1846 during the Mexican-American War the region was devastated."

“... `... the whole country from New Mexico to the borders of Durango is almost entirely depopulated. The haciendas and ranchos have been mostly abandoned,...' ..."

"When American troops invaded northern Mexico in 1846 they found a devastated landscape and a demoralized people. There was little resistance..."


"The Comanches had turned northern Mexico into a “semicolonized landscape of extraction from which they could mine resources with little cost.”"

Ironically, at least initially:

"The United States pledged in the treaty that it would police the border to prevent Indian invasions of Mexico. The US had little more success in curtailing Comanche and Apache raids than Mexico."`

The Comanche were raiding in force as far down as within a 150 miles of Mexico City.

This ended after revolvers and repeating rifles were invented and became widely available. Previously, a Comanche horseback charge and the ability to rapidly fire arrows would overwhelm defenders before they could reload.

Anonymous said...

No, I think population pressure was real, back in the day, when resources were severely limited and there was no free market system to create win/win situations. There was a Malthusian Trap.

And also, no reliable birth control other than abstinence, and churches that would rather see mass starvation and bloody war than the "sin" of contraception.

Malthus himself was of that view.

Anonymous said...

Erdogan just wants to be an Arab. He hates Turkey and his own Turkishness.

A friend of mine from Malaysia noticed much the same thing from the most militant Muslims there being "more Arab than Malaysian".

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine from Malaysia noticed much the same thing from the most militant Muslims there being "more Arab than Malaysian".


If there is one thing that the Arabs did right is that they made Islam heavily Arab-centric... Mohammed was a qite smart desert bandit.

Auntie Analogue said...

High casualties were not foreseen for the Civil War because no one had yet fought a war with what was then the new capacity of science and industry to produce weapons of unprecedented power, range, and accuracy, weapons that confounded the generals on both sides who insisted on Napoleonic mass formation tactics unsuited to the new weapons' capabilities - until quite late in the war when both sides took to siege-trench warfare that foreshadowed that of the Russo-Japanese War and WWI. The other Civil War killer, the one that took considerably more lives than combat took, was also unforeseen and unforeseeable: disease. The high combat death toll was also due to the primitive state of medicine - thousands died of wounds which in later wars, in which armies fielded more advanced medical services, were far less often fatal.

Two non-weapon technologies also promoted the mass-slaughter of the Civil War: railways, which allowed for speedy distant strategic movement and massing of supplies and troops (indeed, Sherman's 1863-65 campaigns were primarily aimed at depriving the rebels of their rail-logistics net); and the telegraph, which greatly enhanced commanders' ability to plan and coordinate far flung campaigns.

WWI's slaughter was only partly due to the capacity of its weapons for industrial scale slaughter. The real killer in WWI was the lack of dependable battlefield communications: once mass frontal attacks were launched commanders above company level were unable to communicate to direct their forces to exploit gains, to reinforce success, or to order tactical withdrawals; and company officers were unable to contact their superiors at battalion (and battalion commanders were likewise unable to report to division level command), or even to consolidate taken ground. Even the late war German introduction of Stosstrupp tactics (shock troops - infiltrating & bypassing centers of resistance instead of massed frontal assault) fell victim to the lack of real-time communications.

Real-time communications made the Second World War one of greater mobility than the Great War had been - though not by all that much. In fact, the Wehrmacht's two opening Blitzkrieg campaigns were the first in history to rely on the mobility and combat power multiplying factor of integrated, well-rehearsed real-time battlefield communications, and those campaigns succeeded as brilliantly as they did because the Wehrmacht's opponents lacked communications commensurate with those of their attacker (even on the Eastern Front, Soviet armored forces suffered huge losses primarly because most of their tanks lacked wireless contact with the formation leader's tank and with HQ - shortcoming made good only later in the war, and even then many Red Army armored units still lacked wireless, except in commanders' tanks, and relied often on sheer mass for success in assault).

Miserable Old Brit said...

"OK, this will now be boring other readers of iSteve, so this is my last post."
On the contrary, old chap, I for one find your remarks interesting, so please don't sound the Last Post if you've got any more to say.
Another aspect of American militarism: am I right in thinking that before the Civil War it was common for young men to belong to militia/volunteer units and wear their uniforms in public whenever possible?

Toddy Cat said...

I agree with Udolpho. I'm no big fan of Taleb, but there's no doubt that he got the better of this exchange.

pat said...

I'm a little confused. I've lost the thread - literally. then I read from Whiskey:

That works if you're say, six feet four inches or taller. Height gives you male dominance just existing at that height. Try that being five ten or smaller. You get an entirely different perspective believe me.

Whiskey, who often has a unique and illuminating perspective on a myriad of issues, also has a weakness for seeing problems in the light of the lessons learned in a pick up bar. I have usually dismissed these as just manifestations of his lack of success in the dating market.

Now he seems to have expanded his obsession to male height.

I'm not sure what he means. I became six four myself late. I was only six three and a half as a teen. Two years ago I pulled my Achilles tendon and my doctor prescribed lifts. Sudenly I was six five at the lowest setting. The highest setting hurt my back but I must admit I really like being six seven.

I did indeed feel more Dominant. Maybe Whiskey's on to something here.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

MMMM I rather thought that one would need a ruthless, slave-owning oligarchy, whose leading pastime was rape; a complete disregard for human rights (cf the aforementioned slaves); a willingness to kill hundreds of thousands in order to sustain the aforesaid slaveocracy; a political elite that viewed slavery as the highest possible good (cf John C. Calhoun, Fitzhugh, Alexander H. Stephens, etc); etc


There weren't enough black or Indian slave owners in the Confederacy in relation black or Indian slaves.

Anonymous said...

Now he seems to have expanded his obsession to male height.

Male (and to some extent female) height is really a WASP obsession. Because WASPs have so much of it, they can afford to obsess over it. The "gold chain gang" is much shorter, and much more tolerant of shortness.

The height obsession could be a crudely subconscious attempt at Eugenics. But it is Barbie-and-Ken eugenics rather than the real IQ-based thing.

Toddy Cat said...

With regard to British views of the American military; yes, there's a long history of this, primarily stemming from the Brit superiority complex. In both WWI and WWII, those who fought against the U.S. military had a much greater regard for it than did the British (read Rommel's writings, or Ludendorff's). Of course, this attitude led to such British military triumphs as Bunker Hill, New Orleans, and Lundy's Lane, but it was not confined to Americans (see Isandlewana, Chilianwallah, Balaklava, etc.) Of course, this arrogance is also what built the Empire, so...

JAS said...

You're confused about the definition of "peruse." From Google's definition: 1.Read thoroughly or carefully. 2. Examine carefully or at length.

Chris said...
Nice. Taleb is a perfect example of what I wrote in my own review of the book: The available critical reviews seem to have been written by journalistic types who have perused the book rather than giving it a close reading or by math-science types who have become fixated on questions of statistical interpretation or brain science without seeing the big picture.