Comment of the Day: “Ethics Whistle On The Post’s Dana Milbank…So Blood Won’t Shoot Out My Nose”


On a Saturday morning when my mind is foggy and my reflexes are slow after a harrowing  ordeal of prepping for and MC-ing a legal ethics game show for the D.C. bar the day before, the sighting on a worthy Comment of the Day is a cause for relief and joy. Rich (in CT) offers yet another superb post, illuminating the complex issues behind a statement in my essay about the estate tax. Rich has an impressive record for COTDs in his relatively short time commenting on Ethics Alarms, but none of his masterpieces were more welcome than this, which allows me to go back to bed. You would not believe how long it took me to type this brief paragraph. (Thanks, Rich!)

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Whistle On The Post’s Dana Milbank…So Blood Won’t Shoot Out My Nose.

“No one I have read has had the audacity to even suggest that the most logical conclusion may explain the phenomenon: unsuccessful people tend to be less intelligent than successful people…”

Among honest researchers, it is trivially obvious that unsuccessful people are less intelligent than the successful. What appears to be remarkable is the magnitude of the observable neural differences between those who are impoverished, and those who are not. The brain is an extremely malleable organ, and with care and proper education, can continue to grow new neurons throughout one’s life. Brain injuries, however, can impede (though not necessarily entirely prevent) new neural growth. That the researchers are seeing such dramatic differences would strongly suggest some sort of active damage is occurring to those growing up in poverty.

Brain health directly reflects on overall body health. Obesity, for instance, places greater strain on the heart, and thus affects blood flow to the brain. Cholesterol plaques that clog arteries can subtly interfere with oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain. Diabetes, too, interferes with blood sugar, which interferes with properly powering the brain, which leads to less neural growth. Stress hormones, often exacerbated by poor health, affect the balance of hormones in the brain, affecting clarity of thought and impeding new neural connections; learning itself is more difficult under stress.

Given that those in poverty experience these health effects in greater proportion, it is really not a huge leap to conclude that nutrition and stress are the immediate cause of the relatively poor neural growth among those in poverty. I say the “immediate cause”, because stress and poor nutrition likely stem from lower intelligence and collective poor judgement among those who are unsuccessful.

For those who are in poverty, there is a vicious feedback loop that captures individuals in poverty. Fewer resources leads to poor nutrition and poor education; few resources leads to more work, leading to less time directly raising and stimulating creative play with children. Poor education leads to poor nutrition choices. Less time raising children plus poor education leads to poor habits being taught to children. Poor habits taught to children leads to culture rot. Culture rot leads to poverty.

The new study now suggests that “culture rot” may literally “rot” the brain!

Brain surface area is not directly indicative of intelligence or potential for success. The brain grows and shrinks in direct response to its environment. Thus it is not useful to say the poor have smaller brains because they are less intelligent; the lack of of intelligence could only be an indirect cause of the reduced neural development. However, efforts to improve the intelligence by improving the culture may have a dramatic effect on neural health. Improved neural health may also have a dramatic effect on the culture; a positive feedback loop!

What interventions would be helpful in reforming the culture of poverty remain to be seen. Depression era families, financially poor but culturally rich, might be a precedent to look into…

33 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Ethics Whistle On The Post’s Dana Milbank…So Blood Won’t Shoot Out My Nose”

  1. I buy it. It’s been said here many times that culture is the biggest* driver in behavior, and by extension, behaviors that lead to success. Rich just said it like one of them fancy smart folk.

    * I’m drawing attention to the qualifier because Jack is also right that genetics do play an often (deliberately) over looked role.

  2. “Culture is the biggest* driver in behavior, and by extension, behaviors that lead to success.”


    In fact, there are studies that prove the opposite, Thomas Picketty’s being the biggest.

    This is typical of the confusion many people make between good individual moral behavior and bad group results.

    It is perfectly reasonable, and I suspect totally true, to say that EVERYONE individually would be better off if they took total responsibility, if they had good work and study habits, and if they had good self images, etc., in short all the things that you and Rich are saying (and with which I agree too).

    But from that IT DOES NOT FOLLOW that if a group shows relative lack of success, that it MUST BE MAINLY BECAUSE of a lack of taking responsibility, work and study habits, good self-image, etc.

    Do a simple thought experiment: if every applicant to med school was 100% morally upright to the best of their ability in all the above ways – you’d still find 50% of them ending up in the bottom of the class. Would you conclude it was because they had moral failings? I would hope not.

    There are generally speaking three ways that groups end up showing relatively dysfunctional results. One of them indeed is a dysfunctional culture or set of beliefs, as you suggest; look at a lot of the MidEast, Eastern Europe, southern Italy, many African countries.

    Another is the natural ebb and flow of ‘natural’ phenomena, including wars as well as floods and famines. Technology probably fits here increasingly.

    And the third is the workings of power, including the preferential application of power by one group to the disadvantage of another.

    WWII did a lot more to change wealth patterns than did any culture’s belief systems. Patterns of wealth, power and discrimination in ancien regime France, 19th century England, and 20th Century US have had a lot more to do with relative success of the in- and out-groups in each of those societies. And the claim that moral defects of the victims explain their circumstance is favorite cry of those in power, but without much evidence to show for it.

    Again – where is this “study” that Rich in Ct. is talking about?

    • 1. I don’t think moral failings have anything to do with this. Toxic and self-destructive behavior patterns that undermine success and constrict life choices that are tolerated by the subculture? Yes.

      2. How about this thought experiment? If all African-Americans only had children after marriage and graduating from high school, didn’t use illegal drugs, or engage in substance abuse, made parental responsibility a prime value and academic achievement another, deferred purchases of non-essential items in favor of saving, shunned and rejected individuals not adopting such behaviors, and regarded reliance on government assistance as a short-term condition that every able-bodied individual had an obligation to end as quickly as possible, what would be the economic and social health of that segment of our population? [Hint: they would also instantly become Asian-Americans or Jews…]

      • For those who are concerned Jack is conflating genetically determined skin color with genetically determined moral habits or cultural habits: he has just described Jamaicans (sometimes referred to as “Jew-maicans.”

      • 1. I defer to your use of the word ‘moral’ here; what I intended was what you acknowledged about “toxic and self-destructive behavior patterns,” so we’re substantively saying the same thing.

        2. You have GOT to be kidding!? “Instantly” become Asian-Americans or Jews?

        Granted it’s a thought-experiment, so we’re allowed to consider total transcendence of objective conditions, but to do so – you also have to assume that white majority society would instantly recognize and reward all those behaviors. Either that, or state how long it would take to be recognized.

        To be true, your thought experiment would also require that all black people burn their hoodies, that they all adopt Anglo-Saxon names, and that they start listening to Taylor Swift instead of Kanye West. More importantly, you’d have to assume that white people instantly change their lifelong subconscious beliefs about people whose skin is black.

        Absent those changes, and/or a wholesale change in dominant society attitudes, you’re talking a long, long time.

        Would it be a positive trend? Absolutely it would. So would a magic wand. My question was: where’s the proof that cultural shifts are stronger than the other types?

        My thought experiment didn’t depend on any objective data. Envisioning everyone trying hard doesn’t have the slightest effect on the arithmetic rule of half equaling 50%. Your thought experiment requires the assumption of massive changes in majority culture subconsciousness – it’s tantamount to assuming hell freezes over at about the same time monkeys fly out of my butt.

        More fundamentally, you’re evading my point. I stated that cultural shifts of the type you suggest rank a distant third behind geopolitical condition shifts, and behind the social dynamics of power. This is what Rich-in-Ct suggested when he said, “The new study now suggests that “culture rot” may literally “rot” the brain,” and it’s what’s implied by Red Pill Ethics’ claim that “culture is the biggest* driver in behavior, and by extension, behaviors that lead to success (including also genetics), a claim that I find borderline horriific. (Really? We can explain unsuccessful segments of society mainly because of their genetics and their sub-culture? Where else have we heard that kind of talk?).

        Where’s the proof that these forms of culture outweigh economics, war, and the power structure? I’m still waiting.

        • “Instantly become Asian-Americans or Jews” means, of course, that those also historically abused groups DO acculturate their members this way, and the results are a matter of record…and there is no reason that the African Americans could expect similar outcomes.

          Why would adopting good habit and responsible values require abandoning any non-toxic styles, tastes or behaviors?

          • I was actually going to use North vs South Korea and Israel vs it’s neighbors as the perfect examples of the “culture trumps power and events”. If you wanted to stay in south-east Asia you could also use China in general, Hong Kong in specific, Japan in general, Hiroshima and Nagasaki in specific, and India. If you wanted to hop over to Africa you could compare and contrast Rwanda with South Africa. If you wanted to be in Europe you could compare the Democratic side to the one with Communist leanings. In particular, East and West Germany before the fall; you could even use modern Germany – they’ve only been a unified country for what, less than two decades and they’re probably the biggest leader of the continental Eurozone.

            Your culture’s ability to practice and act on effective self criticism is the single greatest predictor of success. Many of these countries, even despite being broken in war and/or ground under heel by external powers have practiced that criticism, learned from their lack of success, and rebounded to become stable, successful, and highly competitive nations. Sometimes in under two decades. Other’s stuck dogmatically to broken values systems and collapsed or remain backwards failures.

            Charles Green attempts to implicitly hitch the argument to racist/nazi-esque speech is proof of his lack of merit. If the points were so clearly fueled by bias and unreason you’d call that duck a duck and be done with it. Instead, like much of academia, he sees the second and third order down stream negative uses of an otherwise factual statement (e.g. using cultural/genetic superiority to justify oppression) and over corrects in order to separate himself from the sins of the west’s fore fathers – reason and ethics be damned. Charles Green is right that some will use these facts for nefarious purposes, but that doesn’t make them less true and it certainly doesn’t make them unsuitable for ethical endeavors.

            Through genetics some people are born faster, stronger, smarter, and more gifted than others – that doesn’t mean the Übermensch is the only possible consequence of recognizing that fact. Some cultures are better at owning their mistakes and learning from them – Charles Green is himself a manifestation of the West’s ability to learn lessons from it’s failures. He’s learned them so well he refuses to recognize the validity of criticisms that even remotely resembles those sins, regardless of actual merit. Liberal thought in general is an outgrowth of this capacity (albeit, modern liberal thought is a fun-house mirror version). But. We don’t also lose anything by recognizing and appropriately criticizing cultures that develop self-destructive values. Or even by recognizing culture’s primacy in determining relative success – and in doing so pressuring less successful cultures into that honest self-evaluation. Ya know, so they can learn and grow – that thing we all want but only they can do.

            • “One of the sure signs of maturity is the ability to rise to the point of self criticism.”

              —-Martin Luther King

              The African American community has yet to reach that level of maturity. Theories welcome.
              The one opinion leader who did reach that level is a serial rapist.


              • That is a statement which I suggest is made from ignorance.

                If your awareness of the black community’s ability to self-criticize is limited to a single serial rapist sitcom TV/comic, you really need to do some further reading. Here are a few suggestions.

                –One of the greatest black culture self-critics was Malcolm X.
                –The majority of black churches are highly critical of many negative aspects of black culture.
                –You should definitely check out Cornel West, e.g. on the crisis in black leadership in Race Matters.
                –In popular culture, I suggest you look up Chris Rock’s seminal riff on “black people vs. niggas,” and remember how shocking it was back in 1996.
                –More currently, go watch nearly every other episode of Key and Peale (entering their fourth or fifth year now) for stinging parodies of black popular culture.

                There are many serious people in the African American community who are extremely critical of that culture, though I doubt any of them would lay the blame for racial affairs solely at the feet of black culture.

                • Come on, Charles. Let’s see…we add to the serial rapist—who has been vicious attacked for his criticism— an anti-white racist radical who has thoroughly disgraced himself (West), another comedian, and a Sixties black separatist who was assassinated by his own organization. That’s quite a case for self-criticism. You might as well add King…that’s 5. Don Lemon now and then. Nobody’s saying the problem is solely black culture. I doubt that it’s even predominantly black culture. But without addressing that component, everything else is futile.

                  • Let’s leave aside a ridiculous characterization of West as “an anti-white racist radical” (seriously, have you ever read any of his work? the man is an impressive scholar; and you could groove with him on both of you being very anti-Obama). And don’t you appreciate the irony of you being in strong agreement with Malcolm X?

                    I agree with you that without addressing culture, “everything else is futile.” It is a necessary but not sufficient condition. But you could say exactly the same about other factors as well.

                    But I guess my main point is this: I’m uncomfortable being with a bunch of white folk (me included) telling black folk what they need to do to get better. I do it myself on occasion, but it’s awfully presumptuous to tell another entire group of people outside my own that I know better than they do what ails them. (It also tends not to work – how well do we Americans take to being told by just about any other nation what’s wrong with us?).

                    • West jumped the rails long, long ago. He thinks Obama is too moderate and isn’t progressive enough. He’s anti-Capitalist, anti-Jew (he refers to Palestinians in affectionate terms—you will recall that they blow themselves up among civilians, right?—, anti-rule of law. He’s on his own planet—in no way is he an African-American leader. Here’s a typical interview-–note that he presumes that Mike Brown was a victim. Per se racist position. He thinks Eric Holder hasn’t been sufficiently race-obsessed: who can look at Holder’s record and suggest such a thing except a racially bigoted, leftist radical wild man? black liberation theology is racist and divisive; and West has embraced it, and has called for “a serious dialogue between Black theologians and Marxist thinkers” in the hope of devising a “mutually arrived-at political action.” Sounds like he’s promoting a Class-Race war to me. He’s a Communist, Charles. I have no respect for Communists, and less for racist Marxists.

                      West isn’t dumb, and he has on occasion added some enlightenment to the discussion, but on balance, my description is accurate and fair.

                    • A guy named Jack Marshall taught me a long time ago (actually, he continues to teach me) that someone with political views differing from my own isn’t necessarily an evil moron.

                      It strikes me that most of your differences with West, as you listed them, are political. Yes, he’s unquestionably to the left of most Americans today, not just you.

                      But that doesn’t suggest that he’s anti-Jew because he feels affection toward the Palestinian cause; it doesn’t mean he’s a Marxist (though he’s certainly taken to heart much Marxian analysis; and it sure as heck doesn’t mean that black liberation theology is a call to a Class-Race war.

                      I humbly suggest he’s got enormous perspectives to offer in a wide range of areas (e.g. poetry, existentialist philosophy, sociology, anthropology, the law) which are quite accessible if you can get over his politics.

                      (And by the way, what is a “Communist” these days anyway? Especially with a capital “C”? A member of the Communist Party? A Russian or Chinese National? A believer in a particular dogma (and which dogma would that be?). It’s a word that gets tossed around somewhat loosely, as far as I can tell largely as a synonym for “guy who I think is a real jerk because his politics are largely to the left of me”.)

                    • I did see the TNR article a couple days ago, but hadn’t read it until you cited it now.

                      Which leads me to ask – have YOU read it? I’m not sure what point you expected it to illustrate. It reads to me like the complaints of a jilted lover, given the past deep friendship between West and Dyson. Two distinguished black academics accusing each other of selling out the cause is not all that educational; they should both be spending time on items more substantive than this internecine quibble. In any case, I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make with it?

                      Dyson accuses West of a colossal ego (probably true), and of having written his best work years ago (probably true again – West is 61). But I have read one of the books he decries as trivial – Black Prophetic Fire. And I have to say, i thought it was a terrific book. So my personal experience is that I take Dyson’s critique with a grain of salt.

                      By the way, both Dyson and West have frequently said things that you agree with – each is deeply critical of Reverend Al, each is eloquent about some of the cultural self-inflicted wounds that black society suffers.

            • I’m not very clear on what you’re trying to say, but I suggest your examples don’t prove your point.

              –South Korea isn’t an example of a strong culture trumping a dysfunctional culture; it’s an example of a dictator completing ruining one nation – a dictator can trump culture.

              –Modern Germany is not a triumph of culture – it’s a triumph of the old West Germany’s culture, to be sure, but it would be even stronger had East Germany not been completely ruined by dictatorial ideologues and the Stasi.

              –I don’t know what you’re trying to say by “China in general and Hong Kong in particular.”

              –What is your point about India? The cultural issues there seem to me to cut two ways; there’s a lot that supports modernization and effectiveness, but there’s a lot of backward cultural themes resulting in serious racial turmoil, sexism in the extreme (note the rape issue), and a raging amount of corruption.

              –And are you actually trying to say that S. Africa has a more effective culture than Rwanda? Let’s not forget that slavery was a powerful tool for economic power for the ante-bellum US South; ditto for apartheid in S. Africa – but I don’t think you’d want to argue cultural supremacy for those cases.

              To be clear: I never said culture wasn’t powerful; it clearly is, and it’s clearly fair game for ethical topics. But when you get white person after white person in this forum proposing to lecture the black community on their cultural poverty, with no mention of some more powerful forces affecting people’s lives, I think it is worth commenting on the disequilibrium of the commentary.

              • I was genuinely hoping that general historical knowledge would prove these comparisons self evident. In more detail then:

                – South vs North is exactly a culture conflict. The cultural values of the West, which the southern half of the country bought into, conflicting with the cultural values of the North which bought into communism in a bad way. The fact that they accept a dictator in the first place is a manifestation of that difference. Western democratic countries do not long suffer dictators. The North has a dictator because their culture says it’s okay not because the dictator is forcing them to act against their cultural values. No sir. The difference in success between the south and the north is largely explained by the differences in their cultural values.

                “Modern Germany is not a triumph of culture – it’s a triumph of the old West Germany’s culture.”

                Modern Germany is not a triumph of culture – it’s a triumph of culture (he said confusingly). Cultural values and the behavioral patterns resulting from them allowed the country to go from a Cold War sundered half-country to the leading power in the Euro zone. Culture trumps events (i.e. the split caused by the cold war) and power (i.e. the power spent by Russia trying to permanently convert half the country).

                – China in that it too was once a war torn country divided up by Western powers. The events and power mix you favor over culture. If those matter more than culture then how did China go from weak pushover nation to the dragon of the South East? Hint: they’ll tell you it was their cultural revolution. Don’t get me wrong – China is an ethics-free humanitarian black hole on the wrong side of its shelf life… but it’s also irrefutably successful and irrefutably as a result of the collectivist, industrious, and self-critical nature of its people. Hong Kong is a mirror for greater China’s success on steroids because of how much more completely it bought into and learned from Western cultural influences.

                – India is basically the same culture vs war/power situation as China but poised for much more long term success because of how they didn’t buy into Communism. Make no mistake, they have growing pains, but they’re also very good about absorbing legitimate criticisms from external and internal forces – for example, the rape issue is widely considered to be a national disgrace (similar to how Japan has grown and now considers the rare acts of seppuku by ultra-nationalists to be cultural embarrassments).

                – If you don’t think that South Africa has a more effective culture than Rawanda then you’ve left behind all reason. When was the last time South Africa had itself a merry old genocide? South Africa has its problems but it’s undoubtedly the most stable and competitive of the African nations. When its sister country Rhodesia was being carved up by Mugabe because of its inability to adapt to the world’s changing understanding of race relations, how did South Africa react? By ending apartheid and getting themselves a Nelson Mandella. I’ve got my quibbles with the man but he was undoubtedly a manifestation of South Africa’s cultural values – both in his own behavior and in the behavior of the electorate that put him there. South Africa learned and prospered for it. Rawanda went and tried to wipe out a whole race. The difference? Cultural investment in tribalism and cultural investment in self-criticism. South Africa is on the right side of both those curves.

                The modern African American community, as an overwhelming general trend over time, has rejected the cultural values that lead to success – education, civics, ethics, economic competitiveness, etc. – and spends more time blaming the same oppressors that voted Obama into office* than they do convincing young black kids to try hard in school, or to pick up litter on the side walk, or the value of honest work, or that the way to prosperity doesn’t lie in drugs, sports, or gangs.

                Dear sweet god, little black kids who try hard in school are made fun of it for it – it’s such cultural anathema to them that kids who do well are told they’re “acting white,” and it’s a grave insult. You’re right that some members of the black community see this and are acting against it- I myself am a huge fan of the commentary made by the Boondocks and Black Jesus creator Aaron McGruder – and that brings me hope. But you’re dead wrong if you think the black community doesn’t deserve a lecture and heavy criticisms for its cultural failings.

                Yes external powers knocked them down, but it’s up to them to get the back up, and it’s a job they’ve been failing at for a lot longer than Germany’s been a unified country.

                * Including, shockingly, yours truly. Twice. And as much as it pains me, I’ll keep voting Dem until gays get their God given civil rights. Unless Hillary. I want people to have their rights and I’m willing to shit the bed over it. I’m just not willing to poison the well too. Obama incompetently corrupted the culture. Hillary knows she’s doing it and does it anyway – that’s terrifying.

                • “South vs North is exactly a culture conflict. The cultural values of the west, which the southern half of the country bought into, conflicting with the cultural values of the North which bough into communism in a bad way. The fact that they accept a dictator in the first place is a manifestation of that difference. Western democratic countries do not long suffer dictators. The North has a dictator because their culture says it’s okay not because the dictator is forcing them to act against their cultural values. No sir. The difference in success between the south and the north is largely explained by the differences in their cultural values.”

                  Red Pill, you disqualify yourself by these comments. Here’s what actually happened (courtesy of the History Channel)

                  “Since the beginning of the 20th century, Korea had been a part of the Japanese empire, and after World War II it fell to the Americans and the Soviets to decide what should be done with their enemy’s imperial possessions. In August 1945, two young aides at the State Department divided the Korean peninsula in half along the 38th parallel. The Russians occupied the area north of the line and the United States occupied the area to its south.”

                  I missed the part where the North Korean culture was represented in the US State Department in 1945. I also missed the part where the North Koreans “accepted a dictator.” Japan effectively and brutally annexed Korea (all of it, to be clear) in 1910, and tried to stamp out all kinds of nationalist feelings. After WWII, it was divvied up as cheap spoils of war.

                  Continuing from History Channel: “By the end of the decade, two new states had formed on the peninsula. In the south, the anti-communist dictator Syngman Rhee (1875-1965) enjoyed the reluctant support of the American government; in the north, the communist dictator Kim Il Sung (1912-1994) enjoyed the slightly more enthusiastic support of the Soviets.”

                  And those deep cultural differences driving the nation’s political choices?

                  Korea as an integral nation (undivided as North and South) has existed since the time of Christ. Can you point to any time in the last two millennia where the distinct cultures you claim to exist were documented, what those differences were, where they first showed up?

                  To get you started, here’s the Wikipedia entry on the history of Korea. I only took a quick look, but perhaps you can point me to that deep cultural schism in a part I missed.

                  What you cite as a conflict of cultural values was no such thing. It was a deliberate and uncaring decision by a few bureaucrats to divide spoils between Great Powers in a manner that left Korea virtually no choice at all.

                  I don’t get how you could cite this as an example.

                  • Do you see seriously not see the cultural differences between the two countries as they exist today? The issue isnt that they were forced to be different by the great powers but rather that they are(emphasis) different and that their different attitudes towards things like, freedom of speech, international participation, economic policy, education, etc. have produced two starkly contrasted models for success and failure.

                    If anything the fact that they were once so similar just adds weight to the value of cultural influence on success – it’s a great control. Two nations, starting out as the same people, on the same peninsula, and the only difference is how their culture’s diverged from the time they were split. South Korea’s culture lead to a behavior pattern of effective growth and development and now they’re a prosperous and respected nation. North Korea’s culture lead to a behavior pattern of self-destructive and isolationist choices and now they’re an economic, political, and humanitarian back water. Culture made all the difference.

                    • Red Pill, interesting – I see the exact same facts and interpret them differently.

                      In South Africa, a transcendental personality was able to sidestep two very angry, contentious cultures, and unite them (for at least a few decades).

                      In North Korea, a dictatorial regime was able to radically re-create culture in just a few generations.

                      In East Germany, the disciplined nation that produced Kant and Prussian generals was dissipated by the terroristic actions of a totalitarian leadership – again, in about a generation or two.

                      Both of these run counter to the theme that cultures are more powerful than other memes. You feel that North Korea’s and South Korea’s cultures drove the changes. I point out again that the national difference between “North” and “South” Korea never existed except on paper in the US State Department at the end of WWII.

                      Dictatorship, the Stasi, totalitarianism all drove deep cultural change – not the reverse. North Korea had horrors imposed on it, and developed a culture of paranoia and fear. East Germany had totalitarianism imposed on it, and created a culture of paranoia and fear, and lack of work ethic. South Korea’s ethos didn’t spring out of Seoul, it came out of exposure to a lot of Western ideas (and money) – and the culture evolved, and reflected those kinds of values in return.

                      Now that I think of it, do you think German culture created Nazism? Or do you think a few brilliant psychopaths exploited the situation and twisted German culture? As with all things, you can find a bit on both sides, but I’d come down heavily on the side of the latter.

                • Red Pill, I shouldn’t leave on that negative tone. I certainly agree with you about South Africa being better than Rwanda, for example; but even there, it’s not quite as clear as we’d like.

                  On my (only) visit to South Africa, it became clear to me that Mandela was a one-off, space-shot, almost un-human force of nature. What he went through in prison, coming out without resentment, learning Afrikaans just so he could communicate with his oppressors, these were not the dominant cultural traits of either his community, or of the Afrikaaners, or of anyone I can think of. They make him a unique world-historical individual, along the lines of Gandhi or Lincoln. They broke the mold.

                  And it’s very dicey over there now. First of all, the white powers that be did indeed hand over political and symbolic power – but basically kept all the economic power and wealth to themselves. Mandela was smart, but not financially savvy, and basically got out-maneuvered. The current ANC governing party is widely acknowledged to be corrupt, and not operating in any but its own narrow kleptocratic interests.

                  And on the white side, the most chilling thing I heard was from a civil, genteel white woman, after I told her of my visit to the poverty of Soweto: “Well, you know, they’ve now had 25 years to make a go of it – I mean, how long should it take them?”

                  I agree that to date South Africa has been the success story of Africa; but I don’t see it being due to the cultural largesse of the Afrikaner population, nor that of the various African cultures. In fact, I’ve got a creepy feeling about the whole volatile situation.

                  (And I do take note of your vote on the Irish president O’Bama and the cause for gay rights. I know you’re not one-dimensional and I’m regretting a bit having been so confrontational in my previous comment about Korea. I apologize.)

                  • No problem bruh – thick skin in the face of otherwise civil criticism is expected here. O’bama,.. Irish… heh.

                    I see South Africa as similar to India, just in the late adolescent stage of cultural maturation. It’s still got room to grow but I like where it’s going.

                    • Thanks for the thick skin. I hope you’re right about S. Africa. Sounds like you know a few things about India (I do not).

    • >> Again – where is this “study” that Rich in Ct. is talking about?

      Summarized here:

      My comment was made in response to a footnote in the original article; the link must not have migrated in reposting the comment here.

      >>But from that IT DOES NOT FOLLOW that if a group shows relative lack of success, that it MUST BE MAINLY BECAUSE of a lack of taking responsibility, work and study habits, good self-image, etc.

      Of course not. I even mentioned a scenario where this occurred, such as Depression era families that managed to raise children who grew up in the middle class. The conditions that caused poverty during the Depression were entirely out of their control; their response, however, was measured and deliberate. They used self discipline and restraint to conserve resources and pass along strong work habits to their children.

      What we see in the study Jack mentions is an observation of poorer neural development in contemporary groups caught in the cycle of poverty. The study carefully controlled for race and other factors, such the neural deficits were found to be isolated to impoverished groups with known poor habits.

      This neural deficit undeniably affects these individuals ability to succeed.

      However, there are interventions that can reverse some of this neural damage, and most of these are ultimately based on developing good habits. Good habits create new neural connections that reinforce these habits. Habits related to diet and exercise also directly affect brain health and growth. Further, fife long learning has been shown to help create strong neural connections that can delay, and possibly prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Developing good habits and strong cultures is vital to neural health and personal success. Good neural health is also vital to building strong cultures and personal success.

      While some forms of poverty are indeed systematic, focusing to improve health and working to develop positive habits is a necessary first step. These groups need to learn how to best use their existing meager resources, and be able to advocate for themselves, and work on their own initiative to correct the conditions surrounding their poverty. Good health and habits give them strength and credibility, which give them their best chances at future success.

      • Finding your first response in the original column, I make no claim as to the relative weight of any one cause of poverty.

        I merely am illustrating the connection between known ways to improve neural health, and the now scientifically observed reduction in certain parts of the brain of groups that are impoverished. Poor neural health is a consequence of poor habits; it is also one that can be improved by good habits. Good health and good use of limited resources improves one’s chances of success, regardless of other external factors big or small.

        • Rich, I think on re-reading you and I are probably quite in agreement. I was reacting more to Red Pill’s claim that cultural issues outweighed others, and I should have been more careful to say it was him, not you, making that claim.

      • >>You mention education, nutrition, less time for kids’ nurturing, all of which are true and valid. But then you make this unsubstantiated jump to “culture rot,” as if that’s the last step in a causal chain. (From original)

        “Culture rot” is simply what I am calling the accumulation of poor habits and behaviors that undermine a group’s chances of success. It has absolutely nothing to do with “gangsta rap”, for instance, although it may involve choosing to listen to music *of any genre* over studying for exams in school…

  3. I come from poor people on all sides of my family. My great-grandparents ranged from desperately poor (40 acres of bad tobacco land and a horse) to poor. My grandparents were poor to middle-class, and my parents were middle class. Not everyone in the family made it to middle class, most are still in the poor to desperately-poor range. Those that made it, made it with educational opportunities and competence. Each generation that moved up a rung, passed that rung on to their children. Many tried to bring their brothers and sisters up that rung, only to find that they couldn’t.

    My father has always said that it takes three generations to make a change. The first generation starts the change, but it still shaped by the past. The second generation is brought up with the change, but still lives with the knowledge of the past ways. The third generation is the one with no real knowledge of the old way, it is just ‘ghost stories’ told around the fire. This saying applies to changes in social/educational status (poor to engineer to doctor) and changes in social policy. He is frustrated by the later because he feels that the third generation squandered racial equality by clinging to racism to fervently. What the inheritance tax does philosophically is short circuit this process. Yes, you can say, $54 million is ridiculous. Once you establish the precedent, however, where do you stop?

    How much of our economic disaster is due to the inheritance tax? How much of our poorly-run, looking-out-for-the-short-term-bonus corporate culture is due to this idea that you can’t pass your legacy on to your children? When the big 3 automakers were in trouble recently, only Ford didn’t need a bailout. Is it surprising when Ford is still run (significantly) by the Ford family? The Ford family will not let Ford fail. It is their company, their legacy. Who owns GM, FIAT-Chrysler, GE, HP? The ideology behind the inheritance tax is a failed ideology. It is one that assumes uniformity of condition is more important than the condition.

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