Fenimore Cooper of sociobiology

Cosma Shalizi points out:

Ladies, gentlemen, and distinguished others, I give you Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics, the Fenimore Cooper of sociobiology, a man who has leveraged an inability to do data analysis or understand psychometrics into an official blog at Psychology Today, where he gets to advocate genocidal nuclear war as revenge for 9/11. He seems to mean it, rather than be fukayaming.

His argument — to the extent that it is an argument and not just a wish-fulfillment fantasy — has to do with his earlier attempt to explain “why most suicide bombers are Muslims”. Leave to one side whether his attempted explanation is coherent, two things strike one on reading that. The first is his near-total disconnection from the literature on, precisely, the causes and motivations of suicide bombing — no Sageman, no Pape, the only mention of Scott Atran (an actual evolutionary psychologist, and very aware of the problems with the kind of crude ad hominid argument Kanazawa pushes) basically misses Atran’s point, etc. The second is that the fact he is trying to explain something which isn’t true: the tactic was pioneered by the decidedly non-Muslim Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. This is well-known to anyone even slightly interested in understanding this horrible practice; Kanazawa doesn’t even try to explain it away. But facts like these don’t matter when the real goal is some combination of, on the one hand, constructing and projecting a fantasy ideology, and, on the other, sheer self-promotion.

I don’t know of any systematic data on whether James’s distinction between tender-minded and tough-minded thinkers really holds up, but at the level of casual empiricism it’s pretty persuasive, and I fall very much on the tough-minded end of the spectrum. I find that sort of position persuasive, but at the same time it takes only a minimal amount of self-knowledge (certainly that’s all I’ve got) to realize that it exposes one to certain characteristic errors or temptations. One of them is self-congratulation at being, precisely, so tough-minded. And one prominent expression of that is a delight in one’s superior ability to perceive things as, supposedly, they really are, stripped of sentimental ornament; more than that, a delight in imagining how the tender-minded will be shocked by having to confront these realities. It is especially a delight in reductionism, not as a productive if not inevitable explanatory strategy, but as a series of “nothing-but” claims. This is one of our characteristic forms of wishful thinking, just as much devising imaginary consolations for real sufferings is a characteristic of the tender-minded. With these thoughts in mind, I invite you to read the conclusion of Kanazawa’s article on suicide bombers:

Maybe the Muslim suicide bombings are not “terrorist” acts, as the term is usually used. Maybe it has nothing to do with Israel or the American and British troops. Maybe it’s all about sex, as everything else in life is. Men do everything they do in order to get laid (Kanazawa, 2003). Maybe young Muslim men are no exceptions.

Satoshi, mon semblable, mon frère: whoever they are, I really hope the sex is worth it.

Take a look!

PS: Mark Twain’s dressing down of Fenimore Cooper is also a great read, by the way!

Cooper made the exit of that stream fifty feet wide, in the first place, for no particular reason; in the second place, he narrowed it to less than twenty to accommodate some Indians. He bends a “sapling” to the form of an arch over this narrow passage, and conceals six Indians in its foliage. They are “laying” for a settler’s scow or ark which is coming up the stream on its way to the lake; it is being hauled against the stiff current by a rope whose stationary end is anchored in the lake; its rate of progress cannot be more than a mile an hour. Cooper describes the ark, but pretty obscurely. In the matter of dimensions “it was little more than a modern canal-boat.” Let us guess, then, that it was about one hundred and forty feet long. It was of “greater breadth than common.” Let us guess, then, that it was about sixteen feet wide. This leviathan had been prowling down bends which were but a third as long as itself, and scraping between banks where it had only two feet of space to spare on each side. We cannot too much admire this miracle. A low-roofed log dwelling occupies “two-thirds of the ark’s length”–a dwelling ninety feet long and sixteen feet wide, let us say a kind of vestibule train. The dwelling has two rooms–each forty-five feet long and sixteen feet wide, let us guess. One of them is the bedroom of the Hutter girls, Judith and Hetty; the other is the parlor in the daytime, at night it is papa’s bedchamber. The ark is arriving at the stream’s exit now, whose width has been reduced to less than twenty feet to accommodate the Indians–say to eighteen. There is a foot to spare on each side of the boat. Did the Indians notice that there was going to be a tight squeeze there? Did they notice that they could make money by climbing down out of that arched sapling and just stepping aboard when the ark scraped by? No, other Indians would have noticed these things, but Cooper’s Indians never notice anything. Cooper thinks they are marvelous creatures for noticing, but he was almost always in error about his Indians. There was seldom a sane one among them.

The ark is one hundred and forty feet long; the dwelling is ninety feet long. The idea of the Indians is to drop softly and secretly from the arched sapling to the dwelling as the ark creeps along under it at the rate of a mile an hour, and butcher the family. It will take the ark a minute and a half to pass under. It will take the ninety foot dwelling a minute to pass under. Now, then, what did the six Indians do? It would take you thirty years to guess, and even then you would have to give it up, I believe. Therefore, I will tell you what the Indians did. Their chief, a person of quite extraordinary intellect for a Cooper Indian, warily watched the canal-boat as it squeezed along under him, and when he had got his calculations fined down to exactly the right shade, as he judged, he let go and dropped. And missed the house! That is actually what he did. He missed the house, and landed in the stern of the scow. It was not much of a fall, yet it knocked him silly. He lay there unconscious. If the house had been ninety-seven feet long he would have made the trip. The fault was Cooper’s, not his. The error lay in the construction of the house. Cooper was no architect.

There still remained in the roost five Indians.

The boat has passed under and is now out of their reach. Let me explain what the five did–you would not be able to reason it out for yourself. No. 1 jumped for the boat, but fell in the water astern of it. Then No. 2 jumped for the boat, but fell in the water still farther astern of it. Then No. 3 jumped for the boat, and fell a good way astern of it. Then No. 4 jumped for the boat, and fell in the water away astern. Then even No. 5 made a jump for the boat–for he was a Cooper Indian. In the matter of intellect, the difference between a Cooper Indian and the Indian that stands in front of the cigarshop is not spacious. The scow episode is really a sublime burst of invention; but it does not thrill, because the inaccuracy of the details throws a sort of air of fictitiousness and general improbability over it. This comes of Cooper’s inadequacy as an observer.


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4 Responses to “Fenimore Cooper of sociobiology”

  1. gaddeswarup Says:

    Abstracct of a paper by Satoshi Kanazawa from http://www.epjournal.net/Archive/2006_-_Volume_4/

    Evolutionary Psychology
    human-nature.com/ep – 2006. 4: 120-128
    Original Article
    No, It Ain’t Gonna Be Like That
    Satoshi Kanazawa, Interdisciplinary Institute of Management, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom. Email: s.kanazawa@lse.ac.uk.
    Abstract: For cultural, social, and institutional reasons, Asians cannot make original contributions to basic science. I therefore doubt Miller’s prediction for the Asian future of evolutionary psychology. I believe that its future will continue to be in the United States and Europe.
    Keywords: East Asians; intelligence; Nobel prizes; People’s Republic of China; Japan; India; creationism; “intelligent design”.

  2. Guru Says:

    Dear Swarup,

    Thanks for the pointer; I only hope Cosma takes a look at this paper 🙂


  3. gaddeswarup Says:

    It seems that there have been discussions about Kanazawa’s work before. There is a statistics related blog from Columia Univ. which seems excellent. From one of their posts
    about some other papers of Kanazawa “It’s also interesting to me that biologists and economists seem to fall for this stuff, while sociologists and psychologists see the flaws right away. Presumably because sociologists and psychologists have lots of experience studying small effects in the context of individual variation.”
    Cossma points out (quoting Medawar) “Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.” I am not sure that I agree with this and in any case who decides? I think that everybody can try and train. The problems may be due to lack of integrity or patience. Bad research will eventually be found out but one has to worry about what happens to their students.

  4. Guru Says:

    Dear Swarup,

    I agree on the “getting educated beyond ones capacity to undertake analytical thought” comment; probably, Cosma was too angry.


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