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Self in Society Roundup 4

Schools and the culture wars, healthy hunter gatherers, Putin's God, central planning in Sri Lanka, politicized libraries, a libertarian in Ukraine, renewable energy, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
May 4, 2022; ported here on June 4, 2024

Notes on schools and the culture wars, healthy hunter gatherers, Putin's God, central planning in Sri Lanka, politicized libraries, a libertarian in Ukraine, renewable energy, and more.

Yes, I realize the Supreme Court's leaked decision on abortion is the major (domestic) news story. As you might imagine, I have some thoughts about that. But I've also been working up this Roundup, so I figured I'd get it out before turning my attention squarely to the topic of abortion.

Schools and the Culture Wars

As is obvious from a recent NBC article, many conservative Christians want to take over the public (tax-funded) schools, not get government out of education.

Another element of this story, something I've written about before, is that today's conservatives often smear people who defend sex education and classroom discussions about gay and transgender people as "groomers." As others have pointed out, the aim of sex ed for younger kids is to teach them about boundaries and consent; in other words, to help protect them from actual sexual predators.

Notably, the Unitarian Universalist Church has its own sex education program starting with kindergarten, called "Our Whole Lives." From what I can tell this is a quality and age-appropriate program. (I haven't yet purchased the first book because the revised edition is not yet available.) The program also has available a series of videos on the topic.

A recent video interview published by New American (I'm not going to provide a link; people who want to look it up may do so) features a Colorado woman who says her daughter was invited to an art club meeting at a public school that turned out to be an LGBTQ meeting. The woman makes this out to involve a community activist trying to pressure her daughter to be transgender and to hide that from her parents. It's impossible for me to know what the facts are without a thorough investigation. Maybe the mother's claims are the complete truth. An alternate scenario is that the girl really is (or believes she is) transgender, she new what the "art club" was, but she's terrified of her conservative-religious parents.

In any case, this doesn't seem like the sort of thing that tax-funded schools should be used for. If the mother's descriptions are correct, the activist was ridiculously pushy, dogmatic, and secretive about the entire thing. At the same time, I'm sympathetic with gay and transgender kids wanting to find a support network, especially if their conservative-religious parents regard homosexuality and transgenderism as moral perversions.

The interviewer at one point says, referring to the woman's description of the "art club," "That to me sounds exactly like the language that pedophiles use when they're grooming children." That is just a smear intended to demonize the community activist. The realistic interpretation of events here is that the community activist, rightly or wrongly, thought the girl was struggling with her gender identity and wanted to offer the girl a support network. One can criticize the methods and materials of the community activist, but to insinuate, without any evidence whatsoever, that the activist is a would-be child rapist is just despicable. Such evidence-free claims of "grooming" are on par with claims that Jews drink children's blood or that black men rape white women. The intent is to gin up bigotry toward LGBTQ people.

Healthy Hunter Gatherers

Evolutionary anthropologist Manvir Singh is one of the most interesting people on Twitter. In a recent thread he reviews various findings about the health of hunter gatherers (lightly edited):

Looking at hunter-gatherers and forager-farmers, I'm struck by how many violate Western guidelines yet have healthier hearts and much less chronic illness. . . .

In 1990, Staffan Lindeberg spent several months with the Kitavans [of the Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea], observing their diet, physical activity, and daily habits. Lindeberg found that 70% of the Kitavan's calories came from carbs (e.g., fruits, yams, sweet potato, taro) and around 17% from saturated fat (coconut oil), both in excess of USDA guidelines. Yet he observed no diabetes and "cardiovascular disease was virtually nonexistent." . . .

The Tsimane [of the Bolivian Amazon] eat too many carbs by USDA standards: Around 65% of calories are from starchy cultigens (e.g., rice, manioc, plantains) and more come from other fruit. They also consume around 300 mg of calcium per day—far less than typical Western recommendations of over 1000 mg per day. Despite the carbs and very low calcium, the Tsimane are medical marvels compared to Westerners. They have hardly any fatty liver disease, brains that atrophy much more slowly with age, and the lowest levels of coronary artery disease ever recorded in a population.

Singh also discusses the Hazda of Tanzania, who eat a lot of honey yet remain healthy.

Singh writes, "We still struggle to understand why industrialized lifestyles carry such health risks." My guesses: People in industrial countries tend to eat more calories, exercise far less, have fewer quality social interactions, and be more psychologically stressed out.

On the other hand, Western medicine offers a lot of benefits. And if less-healthy people die younger in a society that offers fewer medical interventions, that will skew the averages. Ten people may be on average less healthy than five people, but that doesn't tell the whole story if we're ignoring five people who died.

Putin's God

In 2014, Pat Buchanan wrote a fawning ode to Vladimir Putin. Given Putin's recent atrocities in Ukraine these remarks are especially striking:

In his Kremlin defense of Russia's annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin, even before he began listing the battles where Russian blood had been shed on Crimean soil, spoke of an older deeper bond.

Crimea, said Putin, "is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus."

Russia is a Christian country, Putin was saying. . . .

With Marxism-Leninism a dead faith, Putin is saying the new ideological struggle is between a debauched West led by the United States and a traditionalist world Russia would be proud to lead.

Could there be any clearer sign that America's Christian nationalists are fundamentally and irredeemably corrupt, than that they side with the mass-murderer and authoritarian Putin? Disgusting.

Central Planning (Still) Doesn't Work

From Ted Nordhaus and Saloni Shah in Foreign Policy (via >Marginal Revolution):

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised in his 2019 election campaign to transition the country's farmers to organic agriculture over a period of 10 years. Last April, Rajapaksa's government made good on that promise, imposing a nationwide ban on the importation and use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and ordering the country's 2 million farmers to go organic.

The result was brutal and swift. Against claims that organic methods can produce comparable yields to conventional farming, domestic rice production fell 20 percent in just the first six months.

Who ever could have predicted such an outcome.

Tax-Funded Libraries

Many people continue to be shocked when government-run libraries become politicized. Generally, I think conservative efforts to strip "offensive" works from tax-funded school and public libraries are a bad idea rooted in moral panic. Yet consider this line by Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom:

We're seeing nationally organized groups create local chapters, and use social media to amplify their demands. They will tell you that they're asserting parental rights to direct their children's education, but the impact of their activities is to deny other parents the right to make decisions about their own children's education, and particularly for older adolescents denying the First Amendment rights and agency for elder adolescents to read and access the materials they find important for their lives.

This attitude omits the fact that tax-funded libraries force people to fund them. If you do not pay up your taxes for these libraries, government agents literally will threaten to take your wealth by force and lock you in a cage if you do not comply. As unpopular as it is to say, tax-funded libraries are based on rights violations. Forcing people to finance the distribution of works of which they disapprove is a violation of their rights.

Another problem with tax-funded libraries is that they can become subject to political agendas and moral panics. But virtually no one questions that we should have them.

Privately funded libraries don't have the problem of coercive funding, and they are far less vulnerable to political pressures.

A Libertarian in Ukraine

I have been profoundly disappointed in a lot of libertarians lately (and going back decades). But Tom Palmer has been consistently great. Recently he was running supplies into Ukraine. Here is the Spokesman-Review:

For decades Palmer has helped build a network in Europe and elsewhere, a network of thinkers, writers, businesspeople and politicians all espousing libertarian ideals. With the outbreak of war in Ukraine and, some fear, a resurgence of totalitarian ideology, that network has been, as [a colleague Paul] Schwennesen said, "repurposed overnight into a global and keenly effective resistance network."

See Palmer's web site to get a sense of his work in the liberty movement.

The U.S. Government Fights Renewable Energy

The Biden administration hates solar and wind energy, apparently. How else to explain the following two stories?

Colorado solar projects big and small are getting delayed into 2023, threatening jobs and clean energy progress, after federal officials agreed to probe a California company's complaint that Asian companies avoid tariffs and dump cheap solar panels in the U.S., industry leaders said. (Colorado Sun)
A wind energy company was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay more than $8 million in fines and restitution after at least 150 eagles were killed over the past decade at its wind farms in eight states. (Associated Press)

Quick Takes

We the Living: A newly restored version of the film is on the way. See also a short documentary about the peculiar production of the film.

Nuclear War: Trey Howard thinks we have good reason to think Putin will not start a large-scale nuclear war. I remain concerned; these sorts of large-scale violent events quickly can spin out of control.

Journalism: Trevor Noah offered a rousing defense of a free press.

Who Guards the Guardians? "In 2017, [Jan] Garwood was placed in an assisted living facility [in Florida] against her will. A judge had declared her mentally incompetent and put her in the care of a professional guardian to protect her health and finances. . . . She was stuck in a lockdown ward for three years, until a local activist and two attorneys managed to get her rights restored." This reads like a Kafka horror story.

Bans: The FDA wants to ban menthol tobacco products. It's government's job to protect people's rights, not to protect them from their own stupidity.

Courage: Boris Johnson visited Ukraine. The video is spectacular. Also, Colorado Rep. Jason Crow joined Nancy Pelosi and others in Ukraine; see a video and photos.

Hair Freedom: Thank goodness for the Institute for Justice. "Idaho will no longer criminalize braiding hair without a license."

Faith: "Christian 'prophet' has his buttocks mauled by a lion after running towards a pride 'to prove the Lord's power over animals' during South Africa safari." I regard this demonstration as extremely persuasive.

Polarization: "We [several academics] propose that political animosity may be based particularly on partisans' overestimation of the prevalence of extreme, egregious views held by only a minority of opponents but imagined to be widespread." (This paper is "under peer-review," and the authors request that others "do not cite" it "without permission of the authors." Uh, how about don't publish it if you don't want it cited?) Via Steve Stewart-Williams.

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