My thoughts on this topic are extremely tentative, hypothetical I would say, but I’ve seen so much other bad commentary I thought I would lay out a possible “model” for what is going on.  I offer this with what I consider to be more than just caveats and qualifications, if you wish simply consider this an exercise in constructing some possibilities to think through.  These are are “in my opinion the most likely to be true, compared to alternatives,” but still quite low in terms of their absolute chance of being true.  Here goes:

1. I don’t view Islam as essential to the conflict, though it helps explain some of the second-order causes and effects.

2. I think first in terms of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which also saw the collapse of an untenable-once-placed-under-pressure nation-state, followed by atrocities.  Building a successful nation state seems to be a “win big, fail big” proposition, and both Yugoslavia and Syria failed.  The West also had its failures leading up to and during the two World Wars, though with a happyish ending.

3. Syria also has become a playground for a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia (among others).  Being a playground for a proxy war is a bad place to be, just ask Vietnam, El Salvador, or Nicaragua.  The mix of #2 and #3 accounts for many of the key features of the crisis, plus as conflict proceeds trust frays and human beings are brutalized, worsening the dynamic.

3b. The proxy war heated up due to a rising Iran, a falling Saudi Arabia, and the collapse of creative ambiguity over roles and responsibilities in what were previously buffer zones.

4. It is very hard to model ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, whatever you wish to call it (the most thoughtful approach I have seen is from Shadi Hamid).  Maybe the group is one fraction crazies, one fraction semi-rational power brokers, and one fraction “momentum traders” who wanted higher status for their local terrorizing and never expected it to get this far and simply could not climb off and stop.  It is hard for groups to back out of strategies which have delivered consistent institutional growth.  In any case, I don’t think of the group as having transitive preferences, even in the intra-profile sense, much less the Arrovian inter-profile sense.

5. I view ISIS as “modern,” or even “hypermodern,” rather than a “return to barbarism.”  The medieval Arabic world was more advanced than Europe in most ways, yet still Islamic ideologically.

6. Islam has the important secondary effect of tying Syria and other Middle Eastern conflicts to disaffected (Muslim) groups living in Western Europe, most of all France and Belgium.  Labor market deregulation, people!

7. Islam has another significant effect.  By melding the political and the theological, it renders the conflict more complex and harder to resolve, and that effect is fundamental to the ideological structure of Islam.  It also helps motivate the proxy war sides taken by Iran (Shii’te) and the Saudis (Sunni).  But note this: when the political order is not up for grabs, Islam does not have the same destabilizing effects.  The merging of the legal and the theological therefore may create greater stability in some equilibria (e.g.,much of Ottoman history, the Gulf monarchies), while less stability in others.

8. The Laffer curve, resource extraction path of ISIS will weaken with time, causing a fiscal starvation and thus a further move toward mean-reducing, variance-increasing strategies.

9. This won’t end well.  Now go read a book on the Taiping rebellion.

Your thoughts are welcome, please try to stick with the analytical and avoid posturing.  And what Russia is up to in Syria is another mystery, best considered another time.

This sounds like a combination of a David Brooks column and a Robin Hanson blog post, and what could be better than that?:

Surprisingly, the most effective leaders did not have the highest level of self-awareness. Indeed, the more they underrated themselves, the more highly they were perceived as leaders. We assume this is caused by a combination of humility, high personal standards, and a continual striving to be better.

That is from Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, via the excellent Samir Varma.

From an email from the Harvard Kennedy School:

“Identifying Barriers to Muslim Integration in France”
Adida, Claire L.; Laitin, David D.; Valfort, Marie-Anne. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 2010, Vol. 107, No. 52, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015550107.

Abstract: “Is there a Muslim disadvantage in economic integration for second-generation immigrants to Europe? Previous research has failed to isolate the effect that religion may have on an immigrant family’s labor market opportunities because other factors, such as country of origin or race, confound the result. This paper uses a correspondence test in the French labor market to identify and measure this religious effect. The results confirm that in the French labor market, anti-Muslim discrimination exists: a Muslim candidate is 2.5 times less likely to receive a job interview callback than is his or her Christian counterpart. A high-n survey reveals, consistent with expectations from the correspondence test, that second-generation Muslim households in France have lower income compared with matched Christian households. The paper thereby contributes to both substantive debates on the Muslim experience in Europe and methodological debates on how to measure discrimination. Following the National Academy of Sciences’ 2001 recommendations on combining a variety of methodologies and applying them to real-world situations, this research identifies, measures, and infers consequences of discrimination based on religious affiliation, controlling for potentially confounding factors, such as race and country of origin.”

There are other interesting papers at the top link, many of them topical with regard to recent events.  This article, by the way, argues that 9-11 decreases the rate of Muslim assimilation in the United States.

Here is Adam Davidson:

I was just at two Amish weddings and would add a few observations:

– I wonder what they’d find for a later cohort. Amish folks born between 1890 and 1921 were almost all farmers. Today, fewer than 10% are. Most have far more sedentary jobs–though not as sedentary as mine. But they still eat as if they were out in the fields all day. Obesity is rampant and growing. Also, the diet has changed. The Amish eat a lot of processed, brand name food. They do have their own kitchen gardens, but salads are covered in dressing and cheese. In many homes, every meal (even breakfast!) comes with pie as desert.

– Nobody is left alone in old age. I had a long talk with an older Amish woman who couldn’t believe that, in NYC, some people live alone, interact with no close relatives or friends, have no one to watch over them. Her husband told a story of a very ornery old man with no children or wife who nobody likes but, still, people visit regularly to make sure he’s OK and to give him comfort.

– They absolutely use hospitals for urgent and emergent care. There are big fundraising auctions all the time to help those with big bills. And the church district will also help.

Yes, that is the Adam Davidson.

Or is that the infra-marginal value?:

…we have compared lifespan in the Old Order Amish (OOA), a population with historically low use of medical care, with that of Caucasian participants from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), focusing on individuals who have reached at least age 30 years.

Analyses were based on 2,108 OOA individuals from the Lancaster County, PA community born between 1890 and 1921 and 5,079 FHS participants born approximately the same time. Vital status was ascertained on 96.9% of the OOA cohort through 2011 and through systematic follow-up of the FHS cohort. The lifespan part of the study included an enlargement of the Anabaptist Genealogy Database to 539,822 individuals, which will be of use in other studies of the Amish. Mortality comparisons revealed that OOA men experienced better longevity (p<0.001) and OOA women comparable longevity than their FHS counterparts.

That is from a 2012 PLOS paper, by Braxton D. Mitchell,, via Ben Southwood.

If you pulled over one hundred people on the street, and asked them to state a religious belief they hold, I’m not sure you would get any answer more plausible than “the pyramids were built for the storage of grain.”  Would you now?

Yet we mock Ben Carson for this, but we do not make fun of those who believe openly in the Trinity, Virgin Birth, ex cathedra, and many other beliefs which are to my mind slightly less plausible claims.  It’s not so different from the old prejudice that Mormon beliefs are somehow “weirder” than those of traditional Christians, except now it is secularists picking and choosing their religious targets on the supposed basis of sophistication.  The Seventh Day Adventists, Carson’s church, are of course weirder yet.

I doubt the storage claim is true as a dominant explanation, but should there not be some storage — of something — in a profit-maximizing or rent-maximizing model of pyramid supply and inventory management?  Maybe Ben’s economic intuition confirmed what he had heard in church.  And what about Coase’s durable goods monopoly model?  In that treatment the monopolist stores grain, admittedly for the pyramids variable Coase was hermetic in his exposition, perhaps properly so given how much is at stake here.  And “remains of storage pests have been found in grain recovered from pyramid tombs.”  Further argumentation along these lines can be found in F. Zacher’s classic 1937 article “Vorratsschädlinge und Vorratsschutz, ihre Bedeutung für Volksernährung und Weltwirtschaft” (Cowen’s Second Law), which by now has been cited over nineteen times (twenty in fact).

The Quran notes that the pyramids were made of baked clay, when instead according to many standard accounts much of the pyramids are made of quarried limestone (yet even that question is murky and I would not entirely count out the Quranic exposition).  Presumably many Muslims, who ascribe a holy status to the Quran, would defend the baked clay proposition in some manner.  How often is that thrown in their faces?

Might Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, possibly hold some views about Joseph which are not literally true?  After all, those stories do come from the Torah.

Besides, our Founding Fathers had some pretty strange notions about pyramids.  Most of them did a pretty good job in office.

What Ben Carson has done is to commit the unpardonable sin of talking about his religion as if he actually takes it seriously.

Loyal MR readers will know that I am myself a non-believer.  But what I find strangest of all is not Ben Carson’s pyramids beliefs, but rather the notion that we should selectively pick on some religious claims rather than others.  The notion that it is fine to believe something about a deity or deities, or a divine book, as long as you do not take that said belief very seriously and treat it only as a social affiliation or an ornamental badge of honor.

Bully for Ben Carson for reminding us that a religion actually consists of beliefs about the world.  And if you’re trying to understand his continuing popularity, maybe that is the place to start.

Here is the Stanford report of his passing, well done, and here are previous MR mentions of Girard.  He was one of the world’s great thinkers.

1.       A sense of virtue/justice/right that is large and challenging.

2.       An appreciation of wisdom as something different than progressive research programs/specialized academic fields and disciplines.

3.       An understanding of the sociology of judgment, in particular the role of great humans.

4.       An epic narrative, from Thucydides to today.

5.       Rediscovery, analysis, elaboration, and instruction of esotericism.

6.       Close readings and interpretations of great works.

7.       Inspiring, cultivating serious students and followers.

I should add that Dan also is developing a counterpart list, of weaknesses in Strauss’s outlook and approach.

In The Atlantic I present the case for open borders. Here is one bit:

No standard moral framework, be it utilitarian, libertarian, egalitarian, Rawlsian, Christian, or any other well-developed perspective, regards people from foreign lands as less entitled to exercise their rights—or as inherently possessing less moral worth—than people lucky to have been born in the right place at the right time. Nationalism, of course, discounts the rights, interests, and moral value of “the Other,” but this disposition is inconsistent with our fundamental moral teachings and beliefs.

Freedom of movement is a basic human right. Thus the Universal Declaration of Human Rights belies its name when it proclaims this right only “within the borders of each state.” Human rights do not stop at the border.Today, we treat as pariahs those governments that refuse to let their people exit. I look forward to the day when we treat as pariahs those governments that refuse to let people enter.

Read the whole thing.

Addenda: I was asked to write this piece for a forthcoming volume called How to Save Humanity that will feature essays by Steven Pinker, Martin Rees, Nick Bostom and others.

Open Borders seems to be having a moment. Time also featured a piece on migration by Bryan Caplan.

The comment section at The Atlantic reminded me of how good the comment section at MR can be. Amusingly, I was called both a zionist Jew and an anti-semite out to destroy Israel. On the other hand, my article has 31,000 likes and counting so I can’t complain.

The 2008-9 survey Trajectoires et origines shows that forty-four percent of the descendants of masculine immigrants of Algerian or Moroccan origin have a spouse who is neither an immigrant nor a descendant of immigrants.  The rate rises to 60 percent for those of Tunisian origin, falls to 42 percent for those of Turkish origin, rises back to 65 per cent for those of sub-Saharan African origin (we cannot, in this latter case, distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims).  For women, the rates are a little lower, which is to be expected in disintegrating patrilineal cultures, but they remain at a very high level for those of Algerian (41 per cent), Moroccan (34 per cent) and sub-Saharan African (40 per cent) origin…But while exogamy is not yet a major practice, these groups have clearly been welded to French society…We need at this point to emphasize the speed with which populations from sub-Saharan Africa have integrated…

That is from Emmanuel Todd, Who is Charlie?, pp.162-163.  Here is my previous post on the book.

Italy fact of the day

by on September 25, 2015 at 1:00 pm in Economics, Religion | Permalink

The Catholic church is estimated to own twenty percent of all real estate in Italy, and a quarter of all real estate in Rome.

That is from Alexander Stille’s new piece on Pope Francis and the Vatican.

In the United States, there is more interest in heaven than in hell, at least based on searches. There are 1.5 times more searches for “heaven” than “hell,” 2.8 times as many searches asking what heaven looks like than what hell looks like, and 2.75 times as many searches asking whether heaven is real than whether hell is real.

…Relative to the rest of the country, for every search I looked at, retirement communities search more about hell. In retirement communities, there are a similar number of searches asking to see visuals of hell as visuals of heaven.


There are 4.7 million searches every year for Jesus Christ. The pope gets 2.95 million. There are 49 million for Kim Kardashian.

That is from Seth Stephens-Dawidowitz.

I found this a fascinating book, in spite of some over-generalizations.  We all know that something is wrong with Europe, and with France in particular, but what?  The argument starts with this:

We need to take religion seriously, especially when it starts to disappear.

It continues:

…we gave the name ‘zombie Catholicism’ to the anthropological and social force that emerged from the final disintegration of the Church in its traditional bastions…This cultural survival is probably the most important social phenomenon of the years from 1965 to 2015.  It eventually led France into a multifaceted ideological venture, including the rise of a new kind of socialism, decentralization, a surge of pro-European feeling, a masochistic monetary policy, a deformation of the nature of the Republic, and, as we shall later see, a particularly shifty form of Islamophobia and, probably, of anti-Semitism.

It’s hard to unpack this following sentence in a blog post, but it gives you an indication of where the book is heading:

The demonization of Islam is a response to the intrinsic need of a completely de-Christianized society.

Todd notes that the vote share of the National Front is higher in “egalitarian territory” than in inegalitarian territory (pp.125-126).  And yet there is more:

We have been obliged to admit that there is a zombie Catholicism, and a zombie Protestantism too.  We should not shy away from postulating that there is a zombie Islam.

Ross Douthat, telephone!

I ordered my copy from  Here is a useful article on the French controversies surrounding this book.  It’s making my list for one of the most interesting of the year.

Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter

by on September 16, 2015 at 12:55 am in Data Source, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world

link here, from 2013, and

I believe that homeo-meds works for some ppl and that it compliments ‘convential’ meds. they both come from organic matter…

link here, from 2010.  The spelling and grammar could be improved, too.

The pointers are from Marc Andreessen.

Max Beauvoir, RIP

by on September 14, 2015 at 1:53 pm in Current Affairs, Economics, History, Religion | Permalink

The man who was arguably Haiti’s religious leader has passed away.  His story is fascinating:

Max Beauvoir was a middle-aged businessman with little interest in the occult. The son of a doctor and a scientist himself, he boasted degrees from schools in New York and Paris and a burgeoning career as a biochemist in the U.S. He was not the kind of man who went about seeking spiritual encounters.

So no one was more shocked than he was when his nonagenarian grandfather, lying on his deathbed in Haiti surrounded by more than a dozen descendants, lifted a single, unsteady finger and pointed it at Beauvoir.

”Grandfather turned to me and said, ‘You will carry on the tradition,’” Beauvoir recalled in 1983, 10 years after the moment that changed his life. “It was not the sort of thing you could refuse.”

“The tradition” was voodoo…

By the way, when people refer to “voodoo economics” it is a sign of how selective a lot of our political correctness still is.  Would anyone dream of criticizing a political candidate for his or her “[fill in the blank with some other historically persecuted religion] economics”?

And on the substance of the matter, voodoo is arguably less prone to “free lunch thinking” than say, many Protestant forms of Christianity.  It’s just an easier target because most people don’t know much about it and they see like-minded others taking a poke at it.  The believers and practitioners of the religion seem remarkably distant, but they are not.  They are real people, and they take their beliefs seriously.  Why should we turn the name of their religion into an insulting epithet?

It’s worth reflecting on this usage any time you wonder how some of the “other people out there” still can say racist things.