The Narrowing Circle

Modern ethics excludes as many beings as it includes.
philosophy, charity, insight-porn
2012-04-242019-04-27 finished certainty: likely importance: 8

The “ex­pand­ing cir­cle” his­tor­i­cal the­sis ig­nores all in­stances in which mod­ern ethics nar­rowed the set of be­ings to be morally re­gard­ed, often back­ing its ex­clu­sion by as­sert­ing their non-ex­is­tence, and thus as­sumes its con­clu­sion: where the cir­cle is ex­pand­ed, it’s high­lighted as moral ‘progress’, and where it is nar­rowed, what is out­side is sim­ply de­fined away. When one com­pares mod­ern with an­cient so­ci­ety, the re­li­gious differ­ences are strik­ing: al­most every sin­gle su­per­nat­ural en­tity (place, per­son­age, or force) has been ex­cluded from the cir­cle of moral con­cern, where they used to be huge parts of the cir­cle and one could al­most say the en­tire cir­cle. Fur­ther ex­am­ples in­clude es­tates, hous­es, fe­tus­es, pris­on­ers, and graves.

One some­times sees ar­gu­ments for which play on the Whig­gish idea of moral progress fol­low­ing a pre­dictable trend of valu­ing ever more crea­tures, which leads to not eat­ing an­i­mals among other eth­i­cal po­si­tions; if one wishes not to in­cur the op­pro­brium of pos­ter­i­ty, one ought to ‘skate where the puck will be’ and beat the main­stream in be­com­ing veg­e­tar­i­an.

This seems plau­si­ble: comes to mind as some­one who surely saw that slav­ery was on the way out­—­for which we con­grat­u­late him—but also lacked the courage of his con­vic­tions, —for which we con­demn him. But you can do bet­ter! All you have to do is aban­don eat­ing meat and an­i­mal prod­ucts…

The stan­dard for this would be The Ex­pand­ing Cir­cle: Ethics, Evo­lu­tion, and Moral Progress, which opens with the epigraph:

“The moral unity to be ex­pected in differ­ent ages is not a unity of stan­dard, or of acts, but a unity of ten­den­cy…At one time the benev­o­lent affec­tions em­brace merely the fam­i­ly, soon the cir­cle ex­pand­ing in­cludes first a class, then a na­tion, then a coali­tion of na­tions, then all hu­man­i­ty, and fi­nal­ly, its in­flu­ence is felt in the deal­ings of man with the an­i­mal world.”

, The His­tory of Eu­ro­pean Morals

Or con­sider Mar­tin Luther King Jr’s “Why I Am Op­posed to the War in Viet­nam” (1967):

I haven’t lost faith, be­cause the arc of the moral uni­verse is long, but it bends to­ward jus­tice.


In a way, it’s kind of odd that one can pre­dict fu­ture moral pro­gress, as op­posed to some­thing like fu­ture pop­u­la­tion growth. Pre­sum­ably we are do­ing the best we can with our morals and at any mo­ment, might change our po­si­tion on an is­sue (or not change at al­l). If one knew in ad­vance what progress would be made, why has it not al­ready been made? (A lit­tle like eco­nom­ic­s’s .) If one knew that one was go­ing to be wrong in guess­ing about a coin com­ing up heads, why does­n’t one im­me­di­ately up­date to sim­ply guess that it will be tails?1

But then again, per­haps ethics is not “effi­cient”: one can beat the trends by be­ing es­pe­cially in­tel­li­gent, or es­pe­cially at­ten­tive to em­pir­i­cal trends, or per­haps one has the ben­e­fit of be­ing young & un­com­mit­ted while the rest of the pop­u­lace is os­si­fied & set in their evil ways.


Of course, progress could be an il­lu­sion. Ran­dom data can , and es­pe­cially pat­terned if one ed­its the data just a lit­tle bit. Bi­o­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion looks like an im­pres­sive mul­ti­-bil­lion-year cas­cade of progress to­wards ever more com­plex­i­ty, but how can we prove wrong if he tells us that is due solely to evo­lu­tion be­ing a drunk­ard’s walk with an in­trin­sic lower bound (no com­plex­ity = no life)? And if we were to find that the ap­pear­ance of progress were due to omis­sions in the pre­sented data, that would cer­tainly shake our be­lief that there’s a clear over­all trend of progress (as op­posed to some sort of ran­dom walk or pe­ri­odic cy­cle or more com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship).

And there may in­deed be points omit­ted.

Observer bias

An ac­quain­tance, try­ing to come up in ways in which the moral cir­cle might have nar­rowed, failed to. Who among us has lived through all those cen­turies, has be­lieved as they be­lieved, and could re­ally give an ac­cu­rate ac­count of chang­ing ethics & mores? We face the same that his­tory & faces: not only are our ideas of what ethics is chang­ing over time, so are our stan­dards of ev­i­dence, and even what en­ti­ties we be­lieve to ex­ist (even be­fore we get to ques­tions about which en­ti­ties have moral stand­ing!).

Matters of fact

The on­tol­ogy ques­tion is a very se­ri­ous one. re­marked, if many peo­ple are against burn­ing witch­es, then it’s prob­a­bly be­cause they don’t be­lieve witches ex­ist—but if the witches ex­isted and acted as de­scribed, they would howl for the witch­es’ blood:

I have met peo­ple who ex­ag­ger­ate the differ­ences [be­tween the moral­ity of differ­ent cul­tures], be­cause they have not dis­tin­guished be­tween differ­ences of moral­ity and differ­ences of be­lief about facts. For ex­am­ple, one man said to me, ‘Three hun­dred years ago peo­ple in Eng­land were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Hu­man Na­ture or Right Con­duct?’ But surely the rea­son we do not ex­e­cute witches is that we do not be­lieve there are such things. If we did-if we re­ally thought that there were peo­ple go­ing about who had sold them­selves to the devil and re­ceived su­per­nat­ural pow­ers from him in re­turn and were us­ing these pow­ers to kill their neigh­bors or drive them mad or bring bad weath­er, surely we would all agree that if any­one de­served the death penal­ty, then these filthy quis­lings did. There is no differ­ence of moral prin­ci­ple here: the differ­ence is sim­ply about mat­ter of fact. It may be a great ad­vance in knowl­edge not to be­lieve in witch­es: there is no moral ad­vance in not ex­e­cut­ing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man hu­mane for ceas­ing to set mouse­traps if he did so be­cause he be­lieved there were no mice in the house.2

Or con­sider this ex­am­ple: the USA has not ex­e­cuted any­one for trea­son in decades, and rarely con­victs any­one, de­spite plenty of peo­ple com­mit­ting trea­so­nous acts like spy­ing for Is­rael or China or Rus­sia. Does this re­flect an ex­pand­ing cir­cle now in­clud­ing the be­lief that one should not kill peo­ple for any rea­son?

Or does it in­stead re­flect that un­der­stand­ing that: with the largest and most so­phis­ti­cated mil­i­tary in the world, a huge pop­u­la­tion, 2 very friendly bor­der­ing states, oceans on ei­ther side and a navy to match, there is not the slight­est pos­si­bil­ity of any other coun­try in­vad­ing or oc­cu­py­ing the USA? We worry about over­seas al­lies like South Ko­re­a—but how many other coun­tries are so in­cred­i­bly sta­ble and se­cure that an ally half-way around the world is their chief headache? Ter­ror­ism is the chief se­cu­rity con­cern—and ut­terly ridicu­lous given the . The one real mil­i­tary threat to the USA is nu­clear war with Rus­sia, which re­lied on a bal­ance of ter­ror no trai­tor could sin­gle-hand­edly affect (the key in­for­ma­tion, the lo­ca­tion of nu­clear weapons, still would­n’t en­able a pain-free first strike); were, in­ci­den­tal­ly, ex­e­cuted for nu­clear es­pi­onage—nu­clear war be­ing the only gen­uine ex­is­ten­tial threat to Amer­ica in the 20th cen­tu­ry. could hand over to the British the key fort of West Point en­abling Britain to in­vade & oc­cupy the com­mer­cial heart of the colonies, New York State, but what could a mod­ern Arnold do? (Bri­tain no longer rules the waves.) Is the US re­ally more moral for no longer ex­e­cut­ing for trea­son? Or is it just not re­ally threat­ened? If the US were gen­uinely un­der threat, I sus­pect this eth­i­cal record would dis­ap­pear like the prover­bial snow­ball in hell; cer­tainly the US has been pleased to as­sas­si­nate or tor­ture any­one it wants to in the course of the War on Ter­ror.


I be­lieve we can iden­tify mul­ti­ple large ar­eas in which the cir­cle has shrunk.


“This achieve­ment is often praised as a sign of the great su­pe­ri­or­ity of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion over the many faded and lost civ­i­liza­tions of the an­cients. While our great skill lies in find­ing pat­terns of rep­e­ti­tion un­der the ap­par­ent play of ac­ci­dent and chance, less suc­cess­ful civ­i­liza­tions dealt by ap­peal­ing to su­per­nat­ural pow­ers for pro­tec­tion. But the voices of the gods proved ig­no­rant and false; they have been si­lenced by the truth.”

James P. Carse, Fi­nite and In­fi­nite Games (1986)

My ac­quain­tance’s fail­ure was un­der­stand­able be­cause he was an athe­ist. When one does­n’t be­lieve re­li­gion deals with real things at all, it’s hard to take re­li­gion se­ri­ous­ly—­much less re­call any in­stances of its sway in the West in­creas­ing or de­creas­ing.

Nev­er­the­less, when one com­pares mod­ern with an­cient so­ci­ety, the re­li­gious differ­ences are strik­ing: al­most every sin­gle su­per­nat­ural en­tity (place, per­son­age, or force) has been ex­cluded from the cir­cle of moral con­cern, where they used to be huge parts of the cir­cle and one could al­most say the en­tire cir­cle.

One re­ally has to read source texts to un­der­stand how vivid and im­por­tant the gods were. In the Bible or , one seems to read of di­vine in­ter­ven­tion on al­most every page: the or­a­cles were not con­sulted by the su­per­sti­tious but were key parts of state­craft (and so was brib­ing them ei­ther di­rectly by sac­ri­fices or in­di­rectly by brib­ing the cler­gy); a mes­sen­ger could meet the god Pan along the road (who be­rates him for his city’s ne­glect of Pan’s sac­ri­fices) and re­late their con­ver­sa­tion in de­tail to the leg­is­la­ture, who lis­ten re­spect­fully and rec­tify the wrongs; the gods would guide their fa­vorites in daily mat­ters with use­ful lit­tle omens, and would rou­tinely pro­tect their tem­ples and sa­cred places by such effi­ca­cious means as in­san­ity and de­stroy­ing en­tire fam­i­lies. (If one quoted Tac­i­tus to­day that De­o­rum in­i­uriae Diis cu­rae/“offenses to the gods are the con­cern of the gods”, it comes out as ironic and mock­ing—­physi­cian, cure thy­self!—but I sus­pect the Ro­mans would mean it lit­er­al­ly.) In­deed, the gods were im­ma­nent and not tran­scen­dent. Their ex­pressed wishes were re­spected and hon­ored, as were their avatars, pos­ses­sions (Herodotus’s pages are as crowded with art­work given to Del­phi as the tem­ple precincts must have been), slaves, and food.

The Greeks did not be­lieve in be­lief and the ‘re­treat to com­mit­ment’ would have been sheer heresy; the or­a­cles were taken very se­ri­ously by Gre­co-Ro­man cul­ture and were not ‘com­part­men­tal­ized’ as­pects of their re­li­gion to be hu­mored and ig­nored. Even the most skep­ti­cal ed­u­cated elite often be­lieved vi­sions re­ported by peo­ple if they were awake (see “Kooks and Quacks of the Ro­man Em­pire: A Look into the World of the Gospels”); as has been ob­served by an­thro­pol­o­gists, mod­ern West­ern so­ci­eties are ex­tra­or­di­nar­ily athe­is­tic in prac­tice. Dis­cussing the his­tor­i­cal con­text of early Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies in his 2009 Not the Im­pos­si­ble Faith (pg 283–284), writes:

In the other case, cul­tural pre­sup­po­si­tions sub­con­sciously guide the prophet’s mind to ex­pe­ri­ence ex­actly what he needs to in or­der to achieve his goals. Such “ex­pe­ri­ences are found among 90% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion to­day, where they are con­sid­ered nor­mal and nat­u­ral, even if not avail­able to all in­di­vid­u­als,” whereas “mod­ern Eu­ro-Amer­i­can cul­tures offer strong cul­tural re­sis­tance” to such “ex­pe­ri­ences, con­sid­er­ing them patho­log­i­cal or in­fan­tile while con­sid­er­ing their mode of con­scious­ness as nor­mal and or­di­nary.” So mod­erns like Hold­ing stub­bornly re­ject such a pos­si­bil­ity only by ig­nor­ing the differ­ence be­tween mod­ern and an­cient cul­tures-for con­trary to mod­ern hos­til­ity to the idea, “to meet and con­verse with a god or some other ce­les­tial be­ing is a phe­nom­e­non which was sim­ply not very sur­pris­ing or un­heard of in the Gre­co-Ro­man pe­ri­od,” and the bi­ol­ogy and so­ci­ol­ogy of al­tered states of con­scious­ness is suffi­cient to ex­plain this. [Ma­lina & Pilch 2000, So­cial Sci­ence Com­men­tary on the Book of Rev­e­la­tion pg 5, 43]

…As it hap­pens, per­son­al­i­ties (who ex­pe­ri­ence a rel­a­tively com­mon form of non-de­bil­i­tat­ing ) would be the most prone to hal­lu­ci­na­tions guided by such a sub­con­scious mech­a­nism, and there­fore the most likely to grav­i­tate into the role of “prophet” in their so­ci­ety (as Ma­lina him­self ar­gues). Paul, for ex­am­ple, so often refers to hear­ing voices in his let­ters (often quot­ing God’s voice ver­ba­tim) that it’s quite pos­si­ble he was just such a per­son, and so might many of the orig­i­nal Chris­t­ian lead­ers have been (like Pe­ter). In­deed, the “An­gel of Sa­tan” that Paul calls a “thorn in his flesh” (2 Corinthi­ans 12:6–10) could have been an evil voice he often heard and had to sup­press (though Hold­ing is right to point out that other in­ter­pre­ta­tions are pos­si­ble). But there are many op­por­tu­ni­ties even for nor­mal peo­ple to en­ter the same kind of hal­lu­ci­na­tory state, es­pe­cially in re­li­gious and vi­sion-ori­ented cul­tures: from fast­ing, fa­tigue, sleep de­pri­va­tion, and other as­cetic be­hav­iors (such as ex­tended pe­ri­ods of mantric prayer), to or­di­nary dream­ing and hyp­n­a­gogic or hypnopom­pic events (a com­mon hal­lu­ci­na­tory state ex­pe­ri­enced by nor­mal peo­ple be­tween wak­ing and sleep). [On all of this see ref­er­ences in note 14 in Chap­ter 8 (and note 25 above).]

The grad­ual fail­ure of the or­a­cles was a spir­i­tual cri­sis, memo­ri­al­ized by Plutarch in his di­a­logue De De­fectu Orac­u­lo­rum. (An overview and con­nec­tion to mod­ern Chris­t­ian con­cerns is Benno Zuid­dam’s “Plutarch and ‘god-e­clipse’ in Chris­t­ian the­ol­o­gy: when the gods ceased to speak”.) The di­a­logue is in­ter­est­ing on many lev­els (I am struck by the mul­ti­ple refu­ta­tions of the sug­ges­tion that a eter­nal flame burn­ing less proves the year is shrink­ing yet all un­crit­i­cally be­lieve in the gods & or­a­cles, or see Eli­jah’s the­o­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment); the speak­ers do not con­sult the re­main­ing or­a­cle but at­tempt to ex­plain the de­cline of the or­a­cles as a di­vine re­sponse to the de­cline of Greece it­self (fewer peo­ple need fewer or­a­cles), di­vine will (or whim?), cor­rup­tion among hu­mans, or deaths among the lesser su­per­nat­ural en­ti­ties (dae­mons) who might han­dle the or­a­cles for the ma­jor gods like Apollo or Zeus:

Let this state­ment be ven­tured by us, fol­low­ing the lead of many oth­ers be­fore us, that co-in­ci­den­tally with the to­tal de­fec­tion of the guardian spir­its as­signed to the or­a­cles and prophetic shri­nes, oc­curs the de­fec­tion of the or­a­cles them­selves; and when the spir­its flee or go to an­other place, the or­a­cles them­selves lose their pow­er….but when the spir­its re­turn many years lat­er, the or­a­cles, like mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, be­come ar­tic­u­late, since those who can put them to use are present and in charge of them.

Hope­ful, but Plutarch con­cludes with a more de­press­ing mes­sage:

The power of the spirit does not affect all per­sons nor the same per­sons al­ways in the same way, but it only sup­plies an enkin­dling and an in­cep­tion, as has been said, for them that are in a proper state to be affected and to un­dergo the change. The power comes from the gods and demigods, but, for all that, it is not un­fail­ing nor im­per­ish­able nor age­less, last­ing into that in­fi­nite time by which all things be­tween earth and moon be­come wea­ried out, ac­cord­ing to our rea­son­ing. And there are some who as­sert that the things above the moon also do not abide, but give out as they con­front the ever­last­ing and in­finite, and un­dergo con­tin­ual trans­mu­ta­tions and re­births.

This idea that the gods might die, and the gen­eral si­lence and re­duc­tion in mir­a­cles was for­tu­nate for the up­start mys­tery cult Chris­tian­ity as the si­lence could be and was in­ter­preted as a vic­tory of the Chris­t­ian god over the Olympians: Chris­t­ian writes in his (313 AD) of Plutarch’s di­a­logue:

Hear there­fore how Greeks them­selves con­fess that their or­a­cles have failed, and never so failed from the be­gin­ning un­til after the times when the doc­trine of sal­va­tion in the Gospel caused the knowl­edge of the one God, the Sov­er­eign and Cre­ator of the uni­verse, to dawn like light upon all mankind. We shall show then al­most im­me­di­ately that very soon after His man­i­fes­ta­tion there came sto­ries of the deaths of dae­mons, and that the won­der­ful or­a­cles so cel­e­brated of old have ceased.

(The or­a­cles would oc­ca­sion­ally be re­stored and sup­ported by var­i­ous em­per­ors but the efforts never took and they were fi­nally out­lawed as pa­gan rem­nants.) Eu­se­bius goes fur­ther, say­ing the (re­lated in the di­a­logue by Cleom­bro­tus) was due di­rectly to Je­sus:

…it is im­por­tant to ob­serve the time at which he says that the death of the dae­mon [Pan] took place. For it was the time of Tiberius, in which our Sav­ior, mak­ing His so­journ among men, is recorded to have been rid­ding hu­man life from dae­mons of every kind, so that there were some of them now kneel­ing be­fore Him and be­seech­ing Him not to de­liver them over to the Tar­tarus that awaited them. You have there­fore the date of the over­throw of the dae­mons, of which there was no record at any other time; just as you had the abo­li­tion of hu­man sac­ri­fice among the Gen­tiles as not hav­ing oc­curred un­til after the preach­ing of the doc­trine of the Gospel had reached all mankind. Let then these refu­ta­tions from re­cent his­tory suffice.

Religions of convenience

“To see the gods dis­pelled in mid-air and dis­solve like clouds is one of the great hu­man ex­pe­ri­ences. It is not as if they had gone over the hori­zon to dis­ap­pear for a time; nor as if they had been over­come by other gods of greater power and pro­founder knowl­edge. It is sim­ply that they came to noth­ing.”

Wal­lace Stevens, Opus Posthu­mous (1955)

This blind spot is par­tially based on differ­ent on­tolo­gies—d­iffer­ent facts.

But even more, it is based on weak­er, less vir­u­lent re­li­gions, where the be­liev­ers tol­er­ate amaz­ing things. (The anal­ogy is to con­ta­gious dis­eases, which can­not afford to be if trans­mis­sion be­comes more diffi­cult, eg. per­haps ) One might call this meta-athe­ism: most be­liev­ers sim­ply do not seem to be­lieve—they do not act as agents might be ex­pected to act if they took as facts about the world the be­liefs they claim to be­lieve.

Con­sider how se­ri­ously re­li­gion used to be taken in the West. But to­day? Ice­land is mocked when con­struc­tion is held up to ex­pel elves—but the con­struc­tion goes for­ward. Japan keeps its tem­ples on sa­cred places—when they earn their keep and do not block hous­ing pro­jects, of course. Lip ser­vice is paid, at most. In the West, or­di­nary use of the su­per­nat­ural (eg. ) has been re­ced­ing since well be­fore any sci­en­tific rev­o­lu­tion, since the 1300s3. It is triv­ial to point out how re­li­gions “evolve” to make every­one a , lead­ing to peo­ple who take their re­li­gion se­ri­ously (per­haps be­cause they are adult con­verts who are not “in­oc­u­lated” with the ap­pro­pri­ate ex­cuses and shabby in­tel­lec­tual dodges ‘cafe­te­ria’ be­liev­ers in­cul­cate in their chil­dren) be­ing la­beled as in­sane fa­nat­ics; but early be­liev­ers of any­thing took their par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion quite se­ri­ously even if it is al­most un­rec­og­niz­ably differ­ent from the re­li­gion as it is ac­tu­ally prac­ticed many cen­turies lat­er. Chris­tian­ity affords a strik­ing ex­am­ple given how com­pletely its com­mu­nal­ism has been aban­doned: con­sider the case of in , sup­pos­edly de­tail­ing how the early churches ran their affairs, which tells us that

There was no needy per­son among them, for those who owned prop­erty or houses would sell them, bring the pro­ceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apos­tles, and they were dis­trib­uted to each ac­cord­ing to need…A man named Ana­ni­as, how­ev­er, with his wife Sap­phi­ra, sold a piece of prop­er­ty. He re­tained for him­self, with his wife’s knowl­edge, some of the pur­chase price, took the re­main­der, and put it at the feet of the apos­tles. But Pe­ter said, “Ana­ni­as, why has Sa­tan filled your heart so that you lied to the holy Spirit and re­tained part of the price of the land? While it re­mained un­sold, did it not re­main yours? And when it was sold, was it not still un­der your con­trol? Why did you con­trive this deed? You have lied not to hu­man be­ings, but to God.” When Ana­nias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last, and great fear came upon all who heard of it…After an in­ter­val of about three hours, his wife came in, un­aware of what had hap­pened. Pe­ter said to her, “Tell me, did you sell the land for this amount?” She an­swered, “Yes, for that amount.”…At on­ce, she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.

The early com­mu­nist Church held up as an ideal that from each ac­cord­ing to their abil­i­ty, to each “ac­cord­ing to need”, that fail­ing to turn over all (it is not sug­gested that they held back a large amount, just “some”) of one’s worldly wealth is lit­er­ally Sa­tanic and in­spired by the Dev­il, and di­vinely pun­ish­able by in­stant death. This was not pre­sented as a para­ble, or an ide­al, or a teach­ing, or a metaphor, but as some­thing that ac­tu­ally hap­pened. There is a clear les­son here about how to run hu­man affairs, which is ap­plic­a­ble to all times and places, with no con­ve­nient qual­i­fiers or loop­holes to neuter it. Yet I note with per­plex­ity that in both my con­tem­po­rary Chris­t­ian so­ci­ety and also all pre­vi­ous Chris­t­ian so­ci­eties, not only is fail­ing to do­nate all one’s wealth to the Church not pun­ish­able by sum­mary ex­e­cu­tion, it does not seem pun­ish­able by any­thing at all; in fact, I’m not sure it is a crime any­where or any time! Of course every­one knows why this in­ci­dent has been min­i­mized and no so­ci­ety has ever tried to im­ple­ment such re­quire­ments, and I have no doubt that some Chris­t­ian at some point has come up with some clever dis­tinc­tion to dis­pose of it (eg. per­haps such com­mu­nism is jus­ti­fied only un­der di­rect apos­tolic con­trol, all other hu­mans be­ing too fal­li­ble or too weak) but the grounds on which this ex­am­ple of di­vine jus­tice is ig­nored il­lus­trate my ob­ser­va­tions here; it is hard not to agree with Ni­et­zsche (Be­yond Good and Evil, sec­tion 4): “It is not their love of hu­man­ity but the im­po­tence of their love of hu­man­ity that pre­vents to­day’s Chris­tian­s—from burn­ing us.”

The wishes of su­per­nat­ural en­ti­ties are not re­spect­ed, even if—as many abo­rig­i­nals might ar­gue of their sa­cred places and spir­it­s—those en­ti­ties will be killed by what­ever profitable hu­man ac­tiv­i­ty. And to think, athe­ists are a small mi­nor­ity in most every na­tion! If this is how be­liev­ers treat their gods, the gods are fallen gods in­deed.


The cir­cle may have widened for the hu­man and less-than-hu­man, but in what way has the cir­cle not nar­rowed for the greater-than-hu­man? Pe­ter Singer fo­cuses on an­i­mals; re­li­gion gives us a per­spec­tive on them—what have they lost by none of them be­ing con­nected to di­vini­ties and by be­com­ing sub­ject to mod­ern fac­tory farm­ing and agri­cul­ture? If you could ask snakes, one of the most com­mon sa­cred an­i­mals, what they made of the world over the last mil­len­nia, would they re­gard them­selves as bet­ter or worse off for be­com­ing merely an­i­mals in the ex­panded cir­cle? If In­dia aban­doned Hin­duism, what would hap­pen to ? We may be proud of our le­gal pro­tec­tions for en­dan­gered or threat­ened species, but the me­dievals pro­tected & ac­quit­ted or­di­nary bugs & rats in tri­als. Let us not for­get that the Nazis—who use­fully re­place dev­ils & demons in the West­ern con­scious­ness—were great . may be in­her­ently ze­ro-sum.


Con­tin­u­ing the re­li­gious vein, many mod­ern prac­tices re­flect a nar­row­ing cir­cle from some points of view: abor­tion and con­tra­cep­tion come to mind. Abor­tion could be a good ex­am­ple for cycli­cal or ran­dom walk the­ses, as in many ar­eas the moral sta­tus of abor­tion or has var­ied widely over recorded his­to­ry, from nor­mal to re­li­giously man­dated to banned to per­mit­ted again.

Con­sider Greece: ex­am­ples like Agamem­non sac­ri­fic­ing only prove that hu­man sac­ri­fice was am­bigu­ous in some pe­ri­ods, not that it never ex­ist­ed. (I have not read much about Greek sac­ri­ficing; Richard Hamil­ton’s re­view of Hugh­es’s Hu­man Sac­ri­fice in An­cient Greece re­lays Hugh­es’s skep­ti­cism and al­ter­nate ex­pla­na­tions of “twen­ty-five ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites are dis­cussed in de­tail and over a hun­dred lit­er­ary tes­ti­mo­nia” de­scrib­ing hu­man sac­ri­fices.)

Much bet­ter doc­u­mented is the wide­spread in­fan­ti­cide: Sparta rou­tinely tossed in­fants and ex­po­sure of de­formed ex­isted among other cities— Thebes fa­mously ex­posed Oedi­pus and Athens dis­carded val­ue­less fe­males. As with much about the life of Greek city-s­tates, the ex­ist­ing ev­i­dence only whets our ap­petite and does not give a full pic­ture. Mark Golden in “De­mog­ra­phy and the ex­po­sure of girls at Athens” says the fe­male in­fan­ti­cide rate may have ranged as high as 20%, while Don­ald En­gels in “The prob­lem of fe­male in­fan­ti­cide in the Gre­co-Ro­man world” dep­re­cates this as de­mo­graph­i­cally im­pos­si­ble and says there is a sin­gle per­cent­age up­per bound. The im­pres­sion I get from Mindy Nichol’s se­nior the­sis, “Did An­cient Ro­mans Love Their Chil­dren? In­fan­ti­cide in An­cient Rome”, is that the pic­ture is com­pli­cated but there was prob­a­bly sub­stan­tial in­fan­ti­cide—although surely not as high as the 66–75% rate (for both gen­ders) as­cribed to pre-con­tact Poly­ne­sians by ob­servers in the 1800s (Gre­gory Clark, ch5 Farewell to Alms).

Into recorded his­to­ry, sac­ri­fice dis­ap­pears and in­fan­ti­cide be­comes rarer while abor­tion re­mains per­mit­ted within lim­its; early Rome’s man­dated in­fan­ti­cide of the de­formed; from the Twelve Ta­bles:

A fa­ther shall im­me­di­ately put to death a son re­cently born, who is a mon­ster, or has a form differ­ent from that of mem­bers of the hu­man race.

Im­pe­r­ial Rome seems to have even­tu­ally banned abor­tion and in­fan­ti­cide, but to lit­tle effect; the Chris­t­ian , writ­ing in mid-em­pire, claims the in­fan­ti­cide laws are ig­nored in Libri duo ad Na­tiones, ch 15 (“The Charge of In­fan­ti­cide Re­torted on the Hea­then”):

Mean­while, as I have said, the com­par­i­son be­tween us [Chris­tians & pa­gans] does not fail in an­other point of view. For if we are in­fan­ti­cides in one sense, you also can hardly be deemed such in any other sense; be­cause, al­though you are for­bid­den by the laws to slay new-born in­fants, it so hap­pens that no laws are evaded with more im­punity or greater safe­ty, with the de­lib­er­ate knowl­edge of the pub­lic, and the suffrages of this en­tire age. Yet there is no great differ­ence be­tween us, only you do not kill your in­fants in the way of a sa­cred rite, nor (as a ser­vice) to God. But then you make away with them in a more cruel man­ner, be­cause you ex­pose them to the cold and hunger, and to wild beasts, or else you get rid of them by the slower death of drown­ing.

Early Chris­tian­ity banned in­fan­ti­cide but seems to and al­though there were many dis­senters and differ­ent po­si­tions, views have where ma­jor­ity sects like the Catholic Church (and most Protes­tant sects) flatly op­pose it as mur­der.

And Greece came un­der Turk­ish do­min­ion, so it might be gov­erned by the en­tirely differ­ent set of chang­ing Is­lamic be­liefs on those mat­ters (con­sis­tently op­posed to in­fan­ti­cide and all hu­man sac­ri­fice) which . Is there any con­sis­tent trend here? If one ac­cepts the ba­sic premise that a fe­tus is hu­man, then the an­nual rate (as pro-life ac­tivists never tire of point­ing out) of mil­lions of abor­tions world­wide would negate cen­turies of ‘moral progress’. If one does not ac­cept the premise, then per C.S. Lewis, we have change in facts as to what is ‘hu­man’, but noth­ing one could call an “ex­pand­ing cir­cle”.

What about peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties? Are they bet­ter off or worse these days? There’s dis­crim­i­na­tion against the fat be­cause they are seen as morally in­fe­rior to thin peo­ple—‘glut­tons’—while fat­ness used to just be a marker of wealth. Or con­sider such as . Is there now more dis­crim­i­na­tion against the un­at­trac­tive? Is that be­cause of what we might call in­creases in “beauty in­equal­ity” (to go with the more fa­mous in­come in­equal­i­ty)? As pop­u­laces get health­ier, wealth­ier, and ever new tech­nolo­gies & tech­niques are in­vent­ed, the most beau­ti­ful are get­ting more beau­ti­ful. You can only be so ugly and crip­pled be­fore you die or are too in­ca­pac­i­tat­ed, but how at­trac­tive you can be keeps in­creas­ing: with cos­met­ics, or­tho­don­tics, plas­tic surgery… If you were born in the dark ages and es­caped goi­ters and man­age to not be a thin short starv­ing peas­ant, you would still be less­ened if your teeth came in crooked.

Judicial torture

State use of tor­ture can be cycli­cal—­some north­ern Eu­ro­pean coun­tries go­ing from min­i­mal tor­ture un­der their in­dige­nous gov­ern­ments to ex­ten­sive tor­ture un­der Ro­man do­min­ion back to ju­ries & fi­nan­cial pun­ish­ments after Rome to tor­ture again with the re­vival of Ro­man law by ris­ing mod­ern cen­tral­ized states and then tor­ture’s aban­don­ment when those states mod­ern­ized and lib­er­al­ized even fur­ther. China has gone through even more cy­cles of ju­di­cial tor­ture, with its dy­nas­tic cy­cle.

Some ar­eas have changed far less than one might hope; ar­bi­trary prop­erty con­fis­ca­tions that would make a me­dieval Eng­land free­man scar­let with anger are alive and well un­der the aegis of the , un­der the an­o­dyne term as a ran­dom form of tax­a­tion. (And what are we to make of the dis­ap­pear­ance of jury tri­als in fa­vor of plea bar­gain­ing?)

Con­tin­u­ing the ju­di­cial vein, can we re­ally say that our use of in­car­cer­a­tion is that su­pe­rior to our an­ces­tors’ use of me­tered-out tor­ture? I am chilled when I read and agree with Adam Gop­nik:

Every day, at least fifty thou­sand men—a full house at Yan­kee Sta­di­um—wake in soli­tary con­fine­ment, often in “” pris­ons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, can­not freely read and write, and are al­lowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “ex­er­cise.” (Lock your­self in your bath­room and then imag­ine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the ex­pe­ri­ence.) is so en­demic—­more than sev­enty thou­sand pris­on­ers are raped each year—that it is rou­tinely held out as a threat, part of the pun­ish­ment to be ex­pect­ed. The sub­ject is stan­dard fod­der for com­e­dy, and an un­co­op­er­a­tive sus­pect be­ing threat­ened with rape in prison is now rep­re­sent­ed, every night on tele­vi­sion, as an or­di­nary and rather lov­able bit of polic­ing. The nor­mal­iza­tion of prison rape—­like eigh­teen­th-cen­tury japery about watch­ing men strug­gle as they die on the gal­lows—will surely strike our de­scen­dants as chill­ingly sadis­tic, in­com­pre­hen­si­ble on the part of peo­ple who thought them­selves civ­i­lized.

From an­other au­thor:

For 2008, for ex­am­ple, the gov­ern­ment had pre­vi­ously tal­lied 935 con­firmed in­stances of sex­ual abuse. After ask­ing around, and per­form­ing some cal­cu­la­tions, the Jus­tice De­part­ment came up with a new num­ber: 216,000. That’s 216,000 vic­tims, not in­stances. These vic­tims are often as­saulted mul­ti­ple times over the course of the year. The Jus­tice De­part­ment now seems to be say­ing that prison rape ac­counted for the ma­jor­ity of all rapes com­mit­ted in the US in 2008, likely mak­ing the United States the first coun­try in the his­tory of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.

Those cal­cu­la­tions are con­tained in 4 re­ports dis­cussed in “Prison Rape and the Gov­ern­ment” ( 2011); other in­ter­est­ing bits:

As the Bu­reau of Jus­tice Sta­tis­tics found in a re­cent study, “be­tween 69% and 82% of in­mates who re­ported sex­ual abuse in re­sponse to the sur­vey stated that they had never re­ported an in­ci­dent to cor­rec­tional man­agers.”…Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by the Bu­reau of Jus­tice Sta­tis­tics (BJS), a branch of the De­part­ment of Jus­tice, there were only 7,444 offi­cial al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse in de­ten­tion in 2008, and of those, only 931 were sub­stan­ti­at­ed. These are ab­surdly low fig­ures. But per­haps more shock­ing is that even when au­thor­i­ties con­firmed that cor­rec­tions staff had sex­u­ally abused in­mates in their care, only 42% of those offi­cers had their cases re­ferred to pros­e­cu­tion; only 23% were ar­rest­ed, and only 3% charged, in­dict­ed, or con­vict­ed. 15% were ac­tu­ally al­lowed to keep their jobs.

…The de­part­ment di­vides sex­ual abuse in de­ten­tion into four cat­e­gories. Most straight­for­ward, and most com­mon, is rape by force or the threat of force. An es­ti­mated 69,800 in­mates suffered this in 2008.3 The sec­ond cat­e­go­ry, “non­con­sen­sual sex­ual acts in­volv­ing pres­sure,” in­cludes 36,100 in­mates co­erced by such means as black­mail, offers of pro­tec­tion, and de­manded pay­ment of a jail­house “debt.” This is still rape by any rea­son­able stan­dard. An es­ti­mated 65,700 in­mates, in­clud­ing 6,800 ju­ve­niles, had sex with staff “will­ing­ly.” But it is il­le­gal in all fifty states for cor­rec­tions staff to have any sex­ual con­tact with in­mates. Since staff can in­flict pun­ish­ments in­clud­ing be­hav­ioral re­ports that may ex­tend the time peo­ple serve, soli­tary con­fine­ment, loss of even the most ba­sic priv­i­leges such as show­er­ing, and (le­gally or not) vi­o­lence, it is often im­pos­si­ble for in­mates to say no.4 Fi­nal­ly, the de­part­ment es­ti­mates that there were 45,000 vic­tims of “abu­sive sex­ual con­tacts” in 2008: un­wanted touch­ing by an­other in­mate “of the in­mate’s but­tocks, thigh, penis, breasts, or vagina in a sex­ual way.” Over­all, most vic­tims were abused not by other in­mates but, like Jan, by cor­rec­tions staff: agents of our gov­ern­ment, paid with our tax­es, whose job it is to keep in­mates safe.

…Be­tween half and two thirds of those who claim sex­ual abuse in adult fa­cil­i­ties say it hap­pened more than on­ce; pre­vi­ous BJS stud­ies sug­gest that vic­tims en­dure an av­er­age of three to five at­tacks each per year…Of ju­ve­nile de­tainees re­port­ing sex­ual abuse by other in­mates, 81% said it hap­pened more than once.

…The top half of all fa­cil­i­ties have made their achieve­ments with­out ex­plic­itly stated stan­dards; there is still plenty of room for them to im­prove, and every rea­son to ex­pect that they will once the stan­dards are in place, though prob­a­bly not as dra­mat­i­cally as the bot­tom half of fa­cil­i­ties. In our opin­ion, if the de­part­ment is­sues strong stan­dards, it would­n’t be un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect that the na­tional rates of abuse could sink to those of the best quar­ter or even the best tenth of all fa­cil­i­ties. But even if the stan­dards al­lowed all fa­cil­i­ties to do only as well as half do now, they would be sav­ing not 3% of the peo­ple sex­u­ally abused in de­ten­tion, but over 53%.23 This means that had the stan­dards been in place in 2008, in­stead of the 199,500 peo­ple who the de­part­ment says were abused in adult pris­ons and jails, there would have been about 93,100. More than 100,000 adults (as well as many thou­sands of chil­dren) would have been saved an ex­pe­ri­ence from which few re­cover emo­tion­al­ly.

( cov­ers a va­ri­ety of sta­tis­tics putting US rape rates in the 2000s at 195,000 and un­der.)

At least spec­ta­tors could count how many lashes were ad­min­is­tered; but who counts the anal rapes—and gives time off for ex­tra?

And mil­lions of rapes per decade is only the start of the crim­i­nal­ity of the Amer­i­can crim­i­nal sys­tem; in much the same way was—un­con­tro­ver­sial­ly—a tor­ture em­ployed by the likes of the Span­ish In­qui­si­tion and con­demned as such by Amer­i­cans when­ever it ap­peared (and after WWII, they hung Japan­ese who em­ployed wa­ter­board­ing) yet once wa­ter­board­ing be­came use­ful in the War on Ter­ror it sud­denly ceased to be tor­ture when Amer­i­cans did it, the prison sys­tem abu­sively uses —well-estab­lished to be pro­found tor­ture in its own right, lead­ing to sui­cide, hal­lu­ci­na­tions, mad­ness, and suffer­ing (these effects were, in­ci­den­tal­ly, why the early Amer­i­can Quak­ers aban­doned re­form plans for pris­ons based on soli­tary con­fine­men­t)—even as Amer­i­cans crit­i­cize any em­ploy­ment of soli­tary con­fine­ment by other coun­tries such as Iran. (Let’s not talk about how one is sen­tenced to jail in the first place; Hunter Felt: ‘“Your third ar­rest, you .” “Why the third?” “Be­cause in a guy gets three times to swing a stick at a ball.”’)


An­other pos­si­ble over­sight is the way in which the dead and past are no longer taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. This is due in part to the ex­pand­ing cir­cle it­self: if moral progress is in­deed be­ing made, and the weight of one’s voice is re­lated to how moral one was, then it fol­lows past peo­ple (by be­ing im­moral) may be ig­nored. We pay at­ten­tion to Jeffer­son in part be­cause he was par­tially moral, and we pay no at­ten­tion to a South­ern planter who was not even par­tially moral by our mod­ern lights.

More dra­mat­i­cal­ly, we dis­honor our an­ces­tors by ne­glect­ing their graves, by not offer­ing any sac­ri­fices or even per­form­ing any rit­u­als, by for­get­ting their names (can you name your great-grand­par­ents?), by sell­ing off the fam­ily es­tate when we think the mar­ket has hit the peak, and so on.

Even if the dead sac­ri­fice and save up a large es­tate to be used after their death for some­thing they greatly val­ued, we freely ig­nore their will when it suits us, as­sum­ing the courts will ex­e­cute the will at all (“per­pe­tu­ities” be­ing out­right for­bid­den by law and treated skep­ti­cally by re­spected ju­rists like 4 de­spite be­ing prima fa­cie highly de­sir­able; al­though sim­i­lar in­sti­tu­tions like the has both good and bad as­pects, as does the Mus­lim world’s prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence with the waqf in­sti­tu­tion, cov­ered in an ap­pen­dix). Con­trast this with the abil­ity of the wealthy in far gone eras to en­dow eter­nal flames, or masses con­tin­u­ally said or su­tras re­cited for their soul, or add con­di­tions to their prop­erty like ‘no Duke in my line shall marry a Catholic’, or set up per­pet­ual char­i­ties (as in the Mus­lim or In­dian world­s). The dead are il­l-re­spect­ed, and are not even se­cure in their graves (what shame to hand over re­mains to be de­stroyed by al­chemists in their bizarre un­nat­ural pro­ce­dures, what­ever those “sci­en­tists” claim to be do­ing). The “dead hand of the past” was once more truly the ‘live hand’—a vi­tal com­po­nent of so­ci­ety and the world; from , The Shadow of the Sun 2002, pg 36–37 (quoted in In the Val­ley of the Shadow 2011, pg 33):

The spir­i­tual world of the ‘African’ (if one may use the term de­spite its gross sim­pli­fi­ca­tion) is rich and com­plex, and his in­ner life is per­me­ated by a pro­found re­li­gios­i­ty. He be­lieves in the co­ex­is­tence of three differ­ent yet re­lated worlds.

The first is the one that sur­rounds us, the pal­pa­ble and vis­i­ble re­al­ity com­posed of liv­ing peo­ple, an­i­mals, and plants, as well as inan­i­mate ob­jects: stones, wa­ter, air. The sec­ond is the world of the an­ces­tors, those who died be­fore us, but who died, as it were, not com­plete­ly, not fi­nal­ly, not ab­solute­ly. In­deed, in a meta­phys­i­cal sense, they con­tinue to ex­ist, and are even ca­pa­ble of par­tic­i­pat­ing in our life, of in­flu­enc­ing it, shap­ing it. That is why main­tain­ing good re­la­tions with one’s an­ces­tors is a pre­con­di­tion of a suc­cess­ful life, and some­times even of life it­self. The third world is the rich king­dom of the spir­it­s—spir­its that ex­ist in­de­pen­dent­ly, yet at the same time are present in every be­ing, in every ob­ject, in every­thing and every­where. At the head of these three worlds stands the Supreme Be­ing, God. Many of the bus in­scrip­tions speak of om­nipres­ence and his un­known om­nipo­tence: ‘God is every­where’, ‘God knows what he does’, ‘God is mys­tery’.

Con­tin­u­ing Kugel:

It is not diffi­cult to imag­ine our own an­ces­tors some gen­er­a­tions ago liv­ing in such a world. In­deed, many of the things that Ka­puś­ciński writes about Africans are eas­ily par­al­leled by what we know of the an­cient Near east, in­clud­ing the cult of the dead. Though largely for­bid­den by offi­cial, bib­li­cal law, con­sult­ing dead an­ces­tors, con­tact­ing them through wiz­ards or medi­um­s—in fact, pro­vid­ing the de­ceased with wa­ter and sus­te­nance on a reg­u­lar ba­sis via feed­ing tubes spe­cially im­planted at their bur­ial sites (be­cause, as Ka­puś­ciński writes, those rel­a­tives have ‘died, as it were, not com­plete­ly, not fi­nal­ly, not ab­solutely’)—were prac­tices that have been doc­u­mented by ar­chae­ol­o­gists within bib­li­cal Is­rael and, more wide­ly, all across the east­ern Mediter­ranean, as well as in Mesopotamia and even in im­pe­r­ial Rome.6 More gen­er­al­ly, those three over­lap­ping worlds Ka­puś­ciński de­scribes—one’s phys­i­cal sur­round­ings, one’s dead an­ces­tors, and the whole world of God and the di­vine—have been de­scribed else­where by ethno­g­ra­phers work­ing in such di­verse lo­cales as the Ama­zon rain forests, New Guinea, and Mi­crone­si­a….­For cen­turies and mil­len­nia, we were small, dwarfed by gods and an­ces­tors and a throb­bing world of an­i­mate and inan­i­mate be­ings all around us, each with its per­sonal claim to ex­is­tence no less valid than our own.5

The dead have been ejected ut­terly from the “ex­pand­ing cir­cle” and in­deed, from the Egypt­ian sands to used as , be burned as con­ve­nient fu­el, be turned into , or be­come the lovely paint col­ors ca­put mor­tuum & . One might say that there has never been a worse time to be dead.

This is par­tic­u­larly amus­ing given that one of the pri­mary pur­poses of prop­erty was to honor and sup­port the dead, and be hon­ored by sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions in turn; from (2011):

Ac­cord­ing to , it was in no way com­pa­ra­ble to Chris­t­ian wor­ship of saints: “The fu­neral ob­se­quies could be re­li­giously per­formed only by the near­est rel­a­tive … They be­lieved that the dead an­ces­tor ac­cepted no offer­ings save from his own fam­i­ly; he de­sired no wor­ship save from his own de­scen­dants.” More­over, each in­di­vid­ual has a strong in­ter­est in hav­ing male de­scen­dants (in an sys­tem), since it is only they who will be able to look after one’s soul after one’s death. As a re­sult, there is a strong im­per­a­tive to marry and have male chil­dren; celibacy in early Greece and Rome was in most cir­cum­stances il­le­gal. The re­sult of these be­liefs is that an in­di­vid­ual is tied both to dead an­ces­tors and to un­born de­scen­dants, in ad­di­tion to his or her liv­ing chil­dren. As Hugh Baker puts it with re­gard to Chi­nese kin­ship, there is a rope rep­re­sent­ing the con­tin­uum of de­scent that “stretches from In­fin­ity to In­fin­ity pass­ing over a ra­zor which is the Pre­sent. If the rope is cut, both ends fall away from the mid­dle and the rope is no more. If the man alive now dies with­out heir, the whole con­tin­uum of an­ces­tors and un­born de­scen­dants dies with him … His ex­is­tence as an in­di­vid­ual is nec­es­sary but in­signifi­cant be­side his ex­is­tence as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the whole.”39

…The emer­gence of mod­ern prop­erty rights was then pos­tu­lated to be a mat­ter of eco­nomic ra­tio­nal­i­ty, in which in­di­vid­u­als bar­gained among them­selves to di­vide up the com­mu­nal prop­er­ty, much like Hobbes’s ac­count of the emer­gence of the Leviathan out of the state of na­ture. There is a twofold prob­lem with this sce­nario. The first is that many al­ter­na­tive forms of cus­tom­ary prop­erty ex­isted be­fore the emer­gence of mod­ern prop­erty rights. While these forms of land tenure may not have pro­vided the same in­cen­tives for their effi­cient use as do their mod­ern coun­ter­parts, very few of them led to any­thing like the tragedy of the com­mons. The sec­ond prob­lem is that there aren’t very many ex­am­ples of mod­ern prop­erty rights emerg­ing spon­ta­neously and peace­fully out of a bar­gain­ing process. The way cus­tom­ary prop­erty rights yielded to mod­ern ones was much more vi­o­lent, and power and de­ceit played a large role.5

…The ear­li­est forms of pri­vate prop­erty were held not by in­di­vid­u­als but by lin­eages or other kin groups, and much of their mo­ti­va­tion was not sim­ply eco­nomic but re­li­gious and so­cial as well. Forced col­lec­tiviza­tion by the So­viet Union and China in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury sought to turn back the clock to an imag­ined past that never ex­ist­ed, in which com­mon prop­erty was held by nonkin. Greek and Ro­man house­holds had two things that tied them to a par­tic­u­lar piece of real es­tate: the hearth with its sa­cred fire, which resided in the house­hold, and nearby an­ces­tral tombs. Land was de­sired not sim­ply for its pro­duc­tive po­ten­tial but also be­cause it was where dead an­ces­tors and the fam­i­ly’s un­mov­able hearth resided. Prop­erty needed to be pri­vate: strangers or the state could not be al­lowed to vi­o­late the rest­ing place of one’s an­ces­tors. On the other hand, these early forms of pri­vate prop­erty lacked a crit­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tic of what we re­gard to­day as mod­ern prop­er­ty: rights were gen­er­ally (that is, they con­veyed the right to use land but not to own it), mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for in­di­vid­u­als to sell or oth­er­wise alien­ate it.6 The owner is not an in­di­vid­ual land­lord, but a com­mu­nity of liv­ing and dead kin. Prop­erty was held as a kind of trust on be­half of the dead an­ces­tors and the un­born de­scen­dants, a prac­tice that has par­al­lels in many con­tem­po­rary so­ci­eties. As an early twen­ti­eth-cen­tury Niger­ian chief said, “I con­ceive that land be­longs to a vast fam­ily of which many are dead, few are liv­ing and count­less mem­bers are still un­born.”7 Prop­erty and kin­ship thus be­come in­ti­mately con­nect­ed: prop­erty en­ables you to take care of not only pre­ced­ing and suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions of rel­a­tives, but of your­self as well through your an­ces­tors and de­scen­dants, who can affect your well-be­ing.

In some parts of pre­colo­nial Africa, kin groups were tied to land be­cause their an­ces­tors were buried there, much as for the Greeks and Ro­mans.8 But in other long-set­tled parts of West Africa, re­li­gion op­er­ated differ­ent­ly. There, the de­scen­dants of the first set­tlers were des­ig­nated Earth Priests, who main­tained Earth Shrines and presided over var­i­ous rit­ual ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to land use. New­com­ers ac­quired rights to land not through in­di­vid­ual buy­ing and sell­ing of prop­er­ties but through their en­try into the lo­cal rit­ual com­mu­ni­ty. The com­mu­nity con­ferred ac­cess rights to plant­i­ng, hunt­ing, and fish­ing not in per­pe­tu­ity but as a priv­i­lege of mem­ber­ship in the com­mu­ni­ty.9 In tribal so­ci­eties, prop­erty was some­times com­mu­nally owned by the tribe. As the his­tor­i­cal an­thro­pol­o­gist ex­plained of the Celtic tribes, “Both the free and the un­free are grouped in [ag­nat­ic] kin­dreds. These kin­dreds hold land in com­mu­nal own­er­ship, and their pos­ses­sions do not as a rule co­in­cide with the land­marks [bound­aries] of the vil­lages, but spread spi­der-like through differ­ent set­tle­ments.”10 Com­mu­nal own­er­ship never meant that land was worked col­lec­tive­ly, how­ev­er, as on a twen­ti­eth-cen­tury So­viet or Chi­nese col­lec­tive farm. In­di­vid­ual fam­i­lies were often al­lo­cated their own plots. In other cas­es, prop­er­ties were in­di­vid­u­ally owned but se­verely en­tailed by the so­cial oblig­a­tions that in­di­vid­u­als had to­ward their kin-liv­ing, dead, and yet to be born.11 Your strip of land lies next to your cous­in’s, and you co­op­er­ate at har­vest-time; it is un­think­able to sell your strip to a stranger. If you die with­out male heirs, your land re­verts to the kin group. Tribes often had the power to re­as­sign prop­erty rights. Ac­cord­ing to Vino­grad­off, “On the bor­ders of In­dia, con­quer­ing tribes have been known to set­tle down on large tracts of land with­out al­low­ing them to be con­verted into sep­a­rate prop­erty even among clans or kin­dreds. Oc­ca­sional or pe­ri­od­i­cal re­di­vi­sions tes­ti­fied to the effec­tive over­lord­ship of the tribe.”12

Cus­tom­ary prop­erty held by kin groups still ex­ists in con­tem­po­rary . Up­ward of 95% of all land is tied up in cus­tom­ary prop­erty rights in and the . When a min­ing or palm oil com­pany wants to ac­quire real es­tate, it has to deal with en­tire de­scent groups (wan­toks).13 Each in­di­vid­ual within the de­scent group has a po­ten­tial veto over the deal, and there is no statute of lim­i­ta­tions. As a re­sult, one group of rel­a­tives may de­cide to sell their land to the com­pa­ny; ten years lat­er, an­other group may show up and claim ti­tle to the same prop­er­ty, ar­gu­ing that the land had been un­justly stolen from them in pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.14 Many in­di­vid­u­als are un­will­ing to sell ti­tle to their land un­der any con­di­tions, since the spir­its of their an­ces­tors dwell there. But the in­abil­ity of in­di­vid­u­als within the kin group to fully ap­pro­pri­ate their prop­er­ty’s re­sources, or to be able to sell it, does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that they ne­glect it or treat it ir­re­spon­si­bly. Prop­erty rights in tribal so­ci­eties are ex­tremely well spec­i­fied, even if that spec­i­fi­ca­tion is not for­mal or le­gal.156

In fa­mous mi­cro-ethnog­ra­phy , of an ob­scure French vil­lage no­table chiefly for the ex­tremely de­tailed In­qui­si­tion records al­low­ing re­con­struc­tion of the vil­lagers’ his­tory & be­liefs & econ­o­my, Ladurie strug­gles to ex­plain to the mod­ern reader one of the over­rid­ing moral con­cerns of the vil­lagers: their pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the so­cial struc­ture of the do­mus, or ‘house’ (pg24, Chap­ter II), which is not quite a phys­i­cal house nor quite a clan/family linked by blood nor an­ces­tor-wor­ship, but cru­cial to Mon­tail­lou—the Cathar heresy spread do­mus by do­mus, re­sis­tance to in­form­ing was done out of con­cern for the do­mus, threats to the do­mus were em­ployed by the In­qui­si­tion, etc.

Property rights

An ex­am­ple of the in­ter­ests of the dead be­ing ne­glect­ed—even at sub­stan­tial harm to the liv­ing—is not far from hand. Eng­lish com­mon law ex­plic­itly bans wills or trusts that op­er­ate in­defi­nitely through a ; the ap­pli­ca­tion can be , for­bid­ding even ap­par­ently le­git­i­mate short­-term spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

This trick­i­ness re­flects the ba­sic de­sir­abil­ity of such con­tracts. In­deed, un­der a ba­sic eco­nomic analy­sis of , re­spect­ing the wishes of even dis­tant an­ces­tors is valu­able—we should hardly quib­ble about the odd bil­lion de­voted to an eter­nal flame for Ahura Mazda or child sac­ri­fice to Moloch if it means ad­di­tional tril­lions of dol­lars of growth in the econ­omy (a con­clu­sion which as stated may seem ob­jec­tion­able, but when hid­den as a para­ble seems sen­si­ble).

Nor is the sug­ges­tion of very long-term in­vest­ments and per­pe­tu­ities purely the­o­ret­i­cal: suc­ceeded in ex­actly this, turn­ing 2,000 pounds into $7,000,000+ over 2 cen­turies; Anna C. Mot­t’s $1000 turned only into $215,000 in 2002 due to a shorter ma­tu­ri­ty, Welling­ton R. Burt suc­ceeded in turn­ing his few mil­lions into $100 mil­lion. Very old con­tin­u­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Catholic Church or are more com­mon than one might think; see Wikipedia on the old­est & , , churches, and .

Sad­ly, when we look at sub­se­quent his­tory, the chief risk to such phil­an­thropy is not in­fla­tion, tax­es, or any of the other fail­ure modes tri­umphantly sug­gested as refu­ta­tions, but le­gal hos­til­i­ty. The es­tate of Franklin’s first im­i­ta­tor, (who sought to ben­e­fit his de­scen­dants), was em­broiled in the on which more than 100 lawyers earned their daily bread (paid out of the in­ter­est of course) for the next 62 years; would-be phil­an­thropist Jonathan Hold­en’s mil­lions were like­wise eaten up, the trusts bro­ken by the liv­ing, and noth­ing even named after Hold­en. The lack of per­pe­tu­ities en­dan­gers arrange­ments one might want; in de­scribes an ex­am­ple of only par­tial­ly-kept re­li­gious per­pe­tu­ities and draws the ap­pro­pri­ate les­son for (sec­u­lar) long-term projects like 7 or the 8:

Even in the Mid­dle Ages, money was not the only cur­rency in which you could buy pa­role from pur­ga­tory [in­dul­gences]. You could pay in prayers too, ei­ther your own be­fore death or the prayers of oth­ers on your be­half, after your death. And money could buy prayers. If you were rich, you could lay down pro­vi­sion for your soul in per­pe­tu­ity. My own Ox­ford Col­lege, , was founded in 1379 (it was new then) by one of that cen­tu­ry’s great phil­an­thropists, , Bishop of Win­ches­ter. A me­dieval bishop could be­come the Bill Gates of the age, con­trol­ling the equiv­a­lent of the in­for­ma­tion high­way (to God), and amass­ing huge rich­es. His dio­cese was ex­cep­tion­ally large, and Wyke­ham used his wealth and in­flu­ence to found two great ed­u­ca­tional es­tab­lish­ments, one in Win­ches­ter and one in Ox­ford. Ed­u­ca­tion was im­por­tant to Wyke­ham, but, in the words of the offi­cial New Col­lege his­to­ry, pub­lished in 1979 to mark the sixth cen­te­nary, the fun­da­men­tal pur­pose of the col­lege was ‘as a great to make in­ter­ces­sion for the re­pose of his soul. He pro­vided for the ser­vice of the chapel by ten chap­lains, three clerks and six­teen cho­ris­ters, and he or­dered that they alone were to be re­tained if the col­lege’s in­come failed.’ Wyke­ham left New Col­lege in the hands of the Fel­low­ship, a self­-elect­ing body which has been con­tin­u­ously in ex­is­tence like a sin­gle or­gan­ism for more than six hun­dred years. Pre­sum­ably he trusted us to con­tinue to pray for his soul through the cen­turies.

To­day the col­lege has only one chap­lain and no clerks, and the steady cen­tu­ry-by-cen­tury tor­rent of prayers for Wyke­ham in pur­ga­tory has dwin­dled to a trickle of two prayers per year. The cho­ris­ters alone go from strength to strength and their mu­sic is, in­deed, mag­i­cal. Even I feel a twinge of guilt, as a mem­ber of that Fel­low­ship, for a trust be­trayed. In the un­der­stand­ing of his own time, Wyke­ham was do­ing the equiv­a­lent of a rich man to­day mak­ing a large down pay­ment to a cryo­gen­ics com­pany which guar­an­tees to freeze your body and keep it in­su­lated from earth­quakes, civil dis­or­der, nu­clear war and other haz­ards, un­til some fu­ture time when med­ical sci­ence has learned how to un­freeze it and cure what­ever dis­ease it was dy­ing of. Are we later Fel­lows of New Col­lege reneg­ing on a con­tract with our Founder? If so, we are in good com­pa­ny. Hun­dreds of me­dieval bene­fac­tors died trust­ing that their heirs, well paid to do so, would pray for them in pur­ga­to­ry. I can’t help won­der­ing what pro­por­tion of Eu­rope’s me­dieval trea­sures of art and ar­chi­tec­ture started out as down pay­ments on eter­ni­ty, in trusts now be­trayed.


If the past has been ex­cluded from the cir­cle, what of the fu­ture? One won­ders.

The is a cu­ri­ous phe­nom­e­non, and one that is putting many de­vel­oped na­tions be­low re­place­ment fer­til­i­ty; when com­bined with na­tional and pri­vate debt lev­els un­prece­dented in his­to­ry, and de­ple­tion of non-re­new­able re­sources, that sug­gests a cer­tain dis­re­gard for de­scen­dants. Yes, all that may have re­sulted in higher eco­nomic growth which the de­scen­dants can then use to pur­chase what­ever bun­dle of goods they find most de­sir­able, but as with banks lend­ing mon­ey, it only takes one blow-up to ren­der the net re­turns neg­a­tive. (If a mul­ti­-lat­eral ther­monu­clear war bombs the world back to the stone age—what is the net global growth rate from the Ne­olithic to WWIII? Is it pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive? If, know­ing this risk, we con­tinue to “bor­row from the fu­ture”, are we guilty of co­er­cive fraud? This is an im­por­tant ques­tion since war ca­su­al­ties his­tor­i­cally fol­low what ap­pears to be a .)

There are no ex­plicit ad­vo­cates for fu­tu­ri­ty, and no real place for them in con­tem­po­rary ethics be­sides eco­nom­ic­s’s idea of (which has been crit­i­cized for mak­ing any fu­ture con­se­quence, no mat­ter how ter­ri­ble, al­most ir­rel­e­vant as long as it is de­layed a cen­tury or two). Has the liv­ing’s con­cern for their de­scen­dants, the in­clu­sion of the fu­ture into the cir­cle or moral con­cern, in­creased or de­creased over time? Whichever one’s opin­ion, I sub­mit that the an­swer is shaky and not sup­ported by ex­cel­lent ev­i­dence.


One of the most diffi­cult as­pects of any the­ory of moral progress is ex­plain­ing why moral progress hap­pens when it does, in such ap­par­ently ran­dom non-lin­ear jumps. (His­tor­i­cal eco­nom­ics has a sim­i­lar prob­lem with the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion & .) These jumps do not seem to cor­re­spond to sim­ply how many philoso­phers are think­ing about ethics. As we have al­ready seen, the straight­for­ward pic­ture of ever more in­clu­sive ethics re­lies on cher­ry-pick­ing if it cov­ers more than, say, the past 5 cen­turies; and if we are hon­est enough to say that moral progress is­n’t clear be­fore then, we face the new ques­tion of ex­plain­ing why things changed then and not at any point pre­vi­ous in the 2500 years of West­ern phi­los­o­phy, which in­cluded many great fig­ures who worked hard on moral phi­los­o­phy such as Plato or Aris­to­tle. It is also trou­bling how much moral­ity & re­li­gion seems to be cor­re­lated with bi­o­log­i­cal fac­tors. Even if we do not go as far as Ju­lian Jay­nes’s9 the­o­ries of gods as au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tions, there are still many cu­ri­ous cor­re­la­tions float­ing around.

Given these shrink­ing cir­cles, should we call it an ex­pand­ing cir­cle or a shift­ing cir­cle?


The Fukuyama thesis

West­ern lib­eral so­cial­ist cap­i­tal­ism is the at­trac­tor state for in­dus­tri­al­ized hu­man­ity for the fore­see­able fu­ture, and that bar­ring ex­is­ten­tial risks etc, we will see a long-term trend (pos­si­bly very noisy in the short­-term) to­wards that; al­ter­na­tive sys­tems of eco­nom­ics & gov­er­nance may have spo­radic suc­cesses but fun­da­men­tally have no broad al­le­giance among the in­tel­li­gentsia and richer coun­tries; and that most crit­i­cisms of the Fukuyama the­sis are based on mis­un­der­stand­ings, pop-cul­ture sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, ig­no­rance, rea­son­ing from anec­dotes, and ig­nor­ing long-term trends in fa­vor of some brief re­gres­sions.

One re­strict­ed, al­most purely em­pir­i­cal, ver­sion of the gen­eral Whiggish/progressive the­sis is offered cour­tesy of Fran­cis Fukuya­ma’s 1992 _; to steal a Fukuyama quote, the gen­eral un­der­stand­ing of his the­sis is:

What we may be wit­ness­ing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the pass­ing of a par­tic­u­lar pe­riod of post-war his­to­ry, but the end of his­tory as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ide­o­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion and the uni­ver­sal­iza­tion of West­ern lib­eral democ­racy as the fi­nal form of hu­man gov­ern­ment.

This is­n’t the same thing as the ‘ex­pand­ing cir­cle the­sis’, but rather an al­most triv­ial ob­ser­va­tion that West­ern lib­eral democ­racy has steadily ex­panded the ranks of be­liev­ers and as time pass­es, ever more coun­tries slip into lib­eral democ­ra­cies (of vary­ing qual­i­ties) and few slip back into some al­ter­na­tive form like a di­vine-right ab­solute monar­chy. Cu­ri­ous­ly, one some­times sees de­scrip­tions of Fukuyama as de­bunked by 9/11, such as this gem in a Na­tional In­ter­est re­view:

He re­ject­ed, for ex­am­ple, Fran­cis Fukuya­ma’s her­alded “End of His­tory” the­sis—that West­ern lib­eral democ­racy rep­re­sents the fi­nal form of hu­man gov­er­nance—when it ap­peared in this mag­a­zine in 1989. His­to­ry, it turned out, lin­gered long enough to prove Gray right and Fukuyama wrong.

I dis­agree in the strongest pos­si­ble terms: this is a grossly un­char­i­ta­ble read­ing of Fukuyama and a shock­ing mis­un­der­stand­ing of the last 20 years of geopo­lit­i­cal changes & key his­toric events. His­tory has not proved Fukuyama wrong, it has proven him right. And he fore­saw both this and that peo­ple would be un­able to un­der­stand this; the very first para­graph of his 1989 ar­ti­cle “The End Of His­to­ry?” ends in a line that should shock the av­er­age reader of 2015 to their core:

Most of these analy­ses lack any larger con­cep­tual frame­work for dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween what is es­sen­tial and what is con­tin­gent or ac­ci­den­tal in world his­to­ry, and are pre­dictably su­per­fi­cial. If Mr. Gor­bachev were ousted from the Krem­lin or a new Ay­a­tol­lah pro­claimed the mil­len­nium from a des­o­late Mid­dle East­ern cap­i­tal, these same com­men­ta­tors would scram­ble to an­nounce the re­birth of a new era of con­flict.

I ask sim­ply this: what cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tives are there to West­ern lib­eral democ­racy with reg­u­lated cap­i­tal­ism? For con­crete­ness’s sake, let us spec­ify Nor­way as our par­a­dig­matic West­ern lib­eral democ­ra­cy. If you can pro­vide a form of gov­er­nance which has the al­le­giance of hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple as im­prov­ing on Nor­way as a goal or ideal, then you have suc­ceed­ed. So many peo­ple claim Fukuyama is not just wrong, but laugh­ably in­cred­i­bly wrong, that this should be easy.

Com­mu­nism was fully dis­cred­ited and re­mains dis­cred­it­ed, no one dis­putes that; Cuba & North Ko­rea in­spire no one and are a lin­ger­ing refu­ta­tion of the idea com­bined with a demon­stra­tion of com­mon com­mu­nist fail­ure modes.

So­cial­ism is not clearly dis­tin­guish­able from the above sum­ma­ry, and in key coun­tries like the USA, Britain, or France, has been in con­stant re­treat since the days of unions and reg­u­lated air­lines and gov­ern­ment ra­tions of cheese and coal.

An­ar­chis­tic self­-gov­ern­ing com­munes? Hard­ly.

City-s­tates? There have been no new ones, one of the ex­ist­ing 2 (Hong Kong) has fallen un­der Chi­nese sway, and at­tempts to cre­ate new ones in the form of have died at the hands of na­tion­al­ist democ­ra­cies; they have nei­ther come into ex­is­tence nor won a global in­tel­lec­tual or mass fol­low­ing. is even more ob­scure and un­suc­cess­ful. And it’s worth not­ing that even though it was fa­mously char­ac­ter­ized as a “Dis­ney­land with the death penalty” and com­monly put forth as a new kind of gov­er­nance, the tech­no­cratic par­lia­men­tary democ­racy of Sin­ga­pore has noth­ing new to it—the Amer­i­can , and their Sil­i­con Val­ley con­tem­po­raries, would have ap­proved.

Monar­chism? It con­tin­ues its shab­bily gen­teel de­cline into tourist fod­der. I can think of per­haps one coun­ter-ex­am­ple where a monarch may have in­creased their power (Thai­land), but its re­liance on thug­gish tac­tics like laws, sug­gest, if any­thing, its lead­ers per­ceive se­ri­ous un­der­ly­ing weak­ness (e­spe­cially after the 2006 coup), con­tin­ued in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sion, and the monarch sub­stan­tial age plus mul­ti­ple mil­i­tary coups sug­gest Thai­land has only post­poned its reck­on­ing (après nous, le Déluge?). This is fur­ther proof of the Fukuyama the­sis, not ev­i­dence against.

What about 9/11? Surely if this dis­proved Fukuyama as so many com­men­ta­tors claimed, it must have demon­strated the rise of a new form of gov­ern­ment that would rev­o­lu­tion­ize key coun­tries, be fer­vently es­poused by mil­lions, and seize the imag­i­na­tions & minds of in­tel­lec­tu­als the world over—­surely we can point to many suc­cess­ful rev­o­lu­tions spear-headed by al-Qaeda, to new Caliphates, and to the Caliph con­sol­i­dat­ing the Dar al-Is­lam un­der his benev­o­lent & di­vinely or­dained rule and ex­pand­ing the realm of peace­ful­ness? Peo­ple, look at the . It hap­pened be­fore our eyes in ex­haus­tive de­tail, you have no ex­cuse for ig­no­rance of what the pro­test­ers sought or what the re­sults have been. Did it yield any caliphates? Em­pires? Monar­chies? Self­-gov­ern­ing city-s­tates? Hanseatic Leagues? Or heck, an­ar­chis­tic au­tonomous com­munes? Of course not. It yielded more rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ments—eg. Tunisia, Egypt. (They are still far from be­ing West­ern utopi­as, but who can ar­gue that they are worse than 50 years ago?) On the con­trary, rad­i­cal Is­lam has been in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar as the bru­tal­ity and in­effec­tive­ness of ter­ror­ism be­came ev­i­dent, the suc­cess of peace­ful lib­er­al-style protests be­came ap­par­ent. And in the one coun­try where Is­lamists (the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood) have suc­cess­fully been elected (note the ver­b), Egyp­tians have been learn­ing that be­ing fer­vent be­liev­ers is not a job qual­i­fi­ca­tion for effec­tive cor­rup­tion-free gov­ern­ment and the Pres­i­dent has be­come in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar with both his party and the pop­u­lace.

Well, OK, but what about… um… Hugo Chavez’s “”? No. Chavez never suc­ceeded in gain­ing hege­mony over Latin Amer­ica or ex­port­ing his ‘rev­o­lu­tion’ (a warmed-over so­cial­is­m), and did suc­ceed in de­stroy­ing Venezue­la’s econ­o­my, loot­ing & crip­pling its oil in­dus­try, and died hav­ing failed to turn Chav­ismo into any­thing but a per­son­al­ity cult com­bined with stan­dard wel­fare give-away tac­tics for gain­ing votes. It is barely alive in Venezuela and non-ex­is­tent over­seas. This is no refu­ta­tion.

Iran’s “Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion”? Iran never had any sway in the Sunni Mus­lim world, and what it did, it has likely for­feited due to its sup­port for Bashar As­sad try­ing to roll back his per­sonal Arab Spring; the ur­ban protests be­lie any claim that the regime can earn le­git­i­macy in the face of West­ern lib­eral de­mo­c­ra­tic memes, and the uniquely Iran­ian as­pects of their democ­racy like the Coun­cil of Guardians ban­ning pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in­spire no ad­mi­ra­tion ei­ther in or out­side the coun­try. The Iran­ian eco­nomic model has fos­tered mas­sive cor­rup­tion due to the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards and the bonyads, failed to pro­vide jobs for a youth bul­ge, is not ro­bust against sanc­tions, and is run­ning per­ilously high in­fla­tion. No one ad­mires the Iran­ian eco­nomic mod­el. The Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion is not a coun­ter-ar­gu­ment to Fukuya­ma, and no one sug­gested this in 1992 ei­ther though the rev­o­lu­tion hap­pened decades be­fore.

Var­i­ous Sunni mil­i­tant ex­trem­ists, with AK-47s in one hand and Shar­i’a law in the oth­er? Ask Kenyans or Malians or Afgha­nis or So­ma­lians how at­trac­tive they found such a sys­tem of gov­er­nance in prac­tice.

Sim­i­lar com­ments hold for Rus­sia: crony cap­i­tal­ism & eth­nic prej­u­dice might be in­spi­ra­tional for dic­ta­tors like Kim Jong-Eun think­ing about how to ride the eco­nomic growth tiger with­out be­ing de­posed, but no in­tel­lec­tu­als or masses be­lieve it is su­pe­rior to West­ern lib­eral democ­ra­cy. Growth is based prin­ci­pally on re­source ex­trac­tion, wealthy Rus­sians main­tain over­seas ties to hide their wealthy from the regime and en­sure them­selves an es­cape route, Putin has al­lied him­self with the Or­tho­dox Church for sup­port and man­pow­er, and there are oc­ca­sional protests de­spite sur­veil­lance, rou­tine ex­e­cu­tions of jour­nal­ists, etc. Where are the Com­mu­nist apol­o­gists of yes­ter­year?

We could say some­thing very sim­i­lar about Chi­na, as well. In par­tic­u­lar with Chi­na, we have ex­plo­sive growth pa­per­ing over huge prob­lems in the un­der­ly­ing lev­els of cor­rup­tion, eco­nomic eq­ui­ty, sep­a­ratism, lib­er­al­iz­ing pop­u­la­tion, and park­ing chil­dren and wealth over­seas. Peo­ple prais­ing the Com­mu­nist Party there seem to ig­nore the strik­ing par­al­lels to Japan­ese growth in the 1980s, where its own over­ween­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies & prac­tices of ques­tion­able in­tegrity & scle­rotic con­sen­sus-build­ing were praised as a unique new form of na­tional & cor­po­rate gov­er­nance—right up un­til the crash re­vealed the truth and largely dis­cred­ited them. As Fukuyama com­ments in his 2014 ret­ro­spec­tive eval­u­a­tion of how well the the­sis is do­ing:

The only sys­tem out there that would ap­pear to be at all com­pet­i­tive with lib­eral democ­racy is the so-called “China mod­el,” which mixes au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment with a par­tially mar­ket-based econ­omy and a high level of tech­no­cratic and tech­no­log­i­cal com­pe­tence. Yet if asked to bet whether, 50 years from now, the U.S. and Eu­rope would look more like China po­lit­i­cally or vice ver­sa, I would pick the lat­ter with­out hes­i­ta­tion.

Scott Sum­ner re­marks blunt­ly:

This story [a Niger­ian sui­cide bomber for ] is em­blem­atic of some­thing I’ve no­ticed seems in­creas­ingly com­mon in the 21st cen­tu­ry—po­lit­i­cal move­ments that ap­pear ex­ceed­ingly stu­pid­…To an ed­u­cated west­erner the state­ments made by the an­ti-west­ern lead­ers (as well as ter­ror­ist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram) don’t just seem offen­sive, they seem ex­tremely stu­pid. I’ve talked to Venezue­lans who told me that Chavez would give long speeches on TV that were al­most mind-bog­glingly stu­pid. Any­one who has read the var­i­ous laugh­able claims made for the Kim fam­ily in North Ko­rea has to won­der what the North Ko­rean peo­ple make of the ab­surd pro­pa­gan­da…Both the US and So­vi­ets, as well as their al­lies, at least tried to make their po­lit­i­cal mod­els look ap­peal­ing to the non­aligned coun­tries, and to in­tel­lec­tu­als. And to some ex­tent they suc­ceed­ed—lots of west­ern in­tel­lec­tu­als were on each side of the de­bate. There is al­most no west­ern in­tel­lec­tual sup­port for the mil­i­tarism and gay bash­ing of Putin, or the racism of Mu­gabe, or the ston­ing to death of adul­ter­ers and ho­mo­sex­u­als. Nor for the kid­nap­ping of school girls that get sold into slav­ery. The North Ko­rean dy­nasty is treated like a bad joke. Only Chavez had a bit of sup­port among west­ern in­tel­lec­tu­als, and that’s mostly gone now, as Venezuela keeps de­te­ri­o­rat­ing un­der his re­place­ment.

None of these mod­els come even close to sat­is­fy­ing the re­quire­ment of con­vinc­ing even a small frac­tion of the world that they are more de­sir­able end-s­tates or equi­lib­ri­ums than ma­ture West­ern lib­eral democ­ra­cies. (“Caliphism, com­rades, has never truly been tried!”) There is no cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tives for cur­rent hu­mans—although I can­not frame any hy­pothe­ses about what the ideal post-hu­man so­ci­ety or gov­er­nance will be.

Fukuyama was right. There are no cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tives to the cap­i­tal­ist lib­eral democ­racy par­a­digm. Hu­man his­tory has end­ed. And we await the re­sump­tion of his­tory with fear and trem­bling.

Islamic waqfs

Ex­cerpts of ar­ti­cles by Timur Ku­ran re­view­ing the Is­lamic cor­po­rate char­ity form of the waqf: char­i­ties with per­pet­ual en­dow­ments which are locked into nar­row mis­sions by found­ing doc­u­ments. Ku­ran ar­gues that this struc­ture, while grad­u­ally en­gross­ing every more of the econ­o­my, was cor­rupt and in­effi­cient, dam­ag­ing growth of Is­lamic coun­tries which em­ployed it.

“The Pro­vi­sion of Pub­lic Goods un­der Is­lamic Law: Ori­gins, Im­pact, and Lim­i­ta­tions of the Waqf Sys­tem”, by Timur Ku­ran; Law & So­ci­ety Re­view, Vol. 35, No. 4 (2001), pp. 841–898. The ba­sic idea:

A is an un­in­cor­po­rated trust es­tab­lished un­der Is­lamic law by a liv­ing man or woman for the pro­vi­sion of a des­ig­nated so­cial ser­vice in per­pe­tu­ity. Its ac­tiv­i­ties are fi­nanced by rev­enue-bear­ing as­sets that have been ren­dered for­ever in­alien­able. Orig­i­nally the as­sets had to be im­mov­able, al­though in some places this re­quire­ment was even­tu­ally re­laxed to le­git­imize what came to be known as a “cash waqf.”

Waqfs were not an Is­lamic in­no­va­tion, ex­act­ly; may have had Per­sian an­tecedents, but cer­tainly we can find ear­lier analo­gies:

One in­spi­ra­tion for the waqf was per­haps the Ro­man le­gal con­cept of a sa­cred ob­ject, which pro­vided the ba­sis for the in­alien­abil­ity of re­li­gious tem­ples. An­other in­spi­ra­tion might have been the phil­an­thropic foun­da­tions of Byzan­tium, and still an­other the Jew­ish in­sti­tu­tion of con­se­crated prop­erty (hekdesh). But there are im­por­tant differ­ences be­tween the waqf and each of these fore­run­ners. A Ro­man sa­cred ob­ject was au­tho­rized, if not ini­ti­at­ed, by the state, which acted as the prop­er­ty’s ad­min­is­tra­tor (K6prluii 1942:7–9; Barnes 1987:5–8). By con­trast, a waqf was typ­i­cally es­tab­lished and man­aged by in­di­vid­u­als with­out the sov­er­eign’s in­volve­ment. Un­der Is­lamic law, the state’s role was lim­ited to en­force­ment of the rules gov­ern­ing its cre­ation and op­er­a­tion. A Byzan­tine phil­an­thropic foun­da­tion was usu­ally linked to a church or monastery, and it was sub­ject to ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal con­trol (Jones 1980:25). A waqf could be at­tached to a mosque, but often it was es­tab­lished and ad­min­is­tered by peo­ple out­side the re­li­gious es­tab­lish­ment. Fi­nal­ly, whereas un­der Jew­ish law it was con­sid­ered a sac­ri­lege to con­se­crate prop­erty for one’s own ben­e­fit (Elon 1971:280–88), there was noth­ing to keep the founder of a waqf from ap­point­ing him­self as its first ad­min­is­tra­tor and draw­ing a hefty salary for his ser­vices.

These per­pe­tu­ities were huge; mod­ern Iran’s s are es­ti­mated at 20% of its GDP and the waqfs may have been big­ger and cor­re­spond­ingly ac­tive:

Avail­able ag­gre­gate sta­tis­tics on the as­sets con­trolled by waqfs come from re­cent cen­turies. At the found­ing of the Re­pub­lic of Turkey in 1923, three­-quar­ters of the coun­try’s arable land be­longed to waqfs. Around the same time, one-eighth of all cul­ti­vated soil in Egypt and one-sev­enth of that in Iran stood im­mo­bi­lized as waqf prop­er­ty. In the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tu­ry, one-half of the agri­cul­tural land in Al­ge­ria, and in 1883 one-third of that in Tunisia, was owned by waqfs (H­effen­ing 1936:1100; Gibb & Kramers 1961:627; Barkan 1939:237; Baer 1968b:79–80). In 1829, soon after Greece broke away from the Ot­toman Em­pire, its new gov­ern­ment ex­pro­pri­ated waqf land that com­posed about a third of the coun­try’s to­tal area (Fratcher 1973:114). Fig­ures that stretch back the far­thest per­tain to the to­tal an­nual in­come of the waqf sys­tem. At the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry, it has been es­ti­mat­ed, the com­bined in­come of the roughly 20,000 Ot­toman waqfs in op­er­a­tion equaled one-third of Ot­toman state’s to­tal rev­enue, in­clud­ing the yield from tax farms in the Balka­ns, Turkey, and the Arab world (Yediy­ildlz 1984:26). Un­der the as­sump­tion that in­di­vid­u­als cul­ti­vat­ing waqf land were taxed equally with those work­ing land be­long­ing to state-owned tax farms, this last fig­ure sug­gests that roughly one-third of all eco­nom­i­cally pro­duc­tive land in the Ot­toman Em­pire was con­trolled by waqfs.

…here is abun­dant ev­i­dence that even a sin­gle waqf could carry great eco­nomic im­por­tance. Jerusalem’s Haseki Sul­tan char­i­ta­ble com­plex, founded in 1552 by Haseki Hur­rem, wife of Su­ley­man the Mag­nifi­cent and bet­ter known in the West as Rox­e­lana, pos­sessed 26 en­tire vil­lages, sev­eral shops, a cov­ered bazaar, 2 soap plants, 11 flour mills, and 2 bath­hous­es, all in Pales­tine and Lebanon. For cen­turies the rev­enues pro­duced by these as­sets were used to op­er­ate a huge soup kitchen, along with a mosque and two hos­tels for pil­grims and way­far­ers (Peri 1992:170–71). In the 18th cen­tu­ry, a waqf es­tab­lished in Aleppo by Hajj Musa Amiri, a mem­ber of the lo­cal elite, in­cluded 10 hous­es, 67 shops, 4 inns, 2 store­rooms, sev­eral dye­ing plants and baths, 3 bak­eries, 8 or­chards, and 3 gar­dens, among var­i­ous other as­sets, in­clud­ing agri­cul­tural land (Meri­wether 1999: 182–83)…­many of the ar­chi­tec­tural mas­ter­pieces that sym­bol­ize the re­gion’s great cities, were fi­nanced through the waqf sys­tem. So were prac­ti­cally all the soup kitchens in op­er­a­tion through­out the re­gion. By the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry, in Is­tan­bul, whose es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion of 700,000 made it the largest city in Eu­rope, up to 30,000 peo­ple a day were be­ing fed by char­i­ta­ble com­plexes (i­marets) es­tab­lished un­der the waqf sys­tem (Huart 1927:475).

Such wealth would make them tar­gets just like the Catholic Church was tar­geted by King Hen­ry—but per­haps with differ­ent re­sults (sur­pris­ing since waqfs seem pred­i­cated on or­di­nary prop­erty rights be­ing in­se­cure, es­pe­cially com­pared with Eng­land):

The con­se­quent weak­ness of pri­vate prop­erty rights made the sa­cred in­sti­tu­tion of the waqf a con­ve­nient ve­hi­cle for de­fend­ing wealth against offi­cial pre­da­tion. Ex­pro­pri­a­tions of waqf prop­er­ties did oc­cur, es­pe­cially fol­low­ing con­quests or the re­place­ment of one dy­nasty by an­oth­er. How­ev­er, when they oc­curred, they usu­ally gen­er­ated se­ri­ous re­sis­tance. Dur­ing the two and a half cen­turies pre­ced­ing Egyp­t’s fall to the Turks in 1517, no fewer than six rev­enue-seek­ing Mameluke rulers at­tempted to con­fis­cate ma­jor waqfs; pri­mar­ily be­cause of ju­di­cial re­sis­tance, their efforts were largely un­suc­cess­ful (Yediy­ildlz 1982a:161). In the 1470s the Ot­toman sul­tan Mehmed II ex­pro­pri­ated scores of waqfs to raise re­sources for his army and his un­usu­ally broad pub­lic works pro­gram. His con­ver­sion of hun­dreds of waqf-owned vil­lages into state prop­erty gen­er­ated a strong re­ac­tion, and it in­flu­enced the suc­ces­sion strug­gle that fol­lowed his death. More­over, his son Bayezid II, upon ac­ced­ing to the throne, re­stored the con­fis­cated lands to their for­mer sta­tus (Repp 1988:128–29; In­al­clk 1955:533). Such episodes un­der­scored the rel­a­tive se­cu­rity of waqf prop­er­ty. …Pre­cisely be­cause of the com­mon­ness of this mo­tive, when a state at­tempted to take over a waqf it usu­ally jus­ti­fied the act on the ground that it was il­le­git­i­mate (Ak­gun­duz 1996:523–61). Ac­cord­ing­ly, its offi­cials tried to con­vince the pop­u­lace that the ex­pro­pri­ated prop­er­ties be­longed to the state to be­gin with or sim­ply that the waqf founder had never been their le­git­i­mate own­er.23

The waqf struc­ture did suc­ceed, as eco­nom­ics might pre­dict, in in­creas­ing the amount ded­i­cated to char­i­ty, as we can see com­par­ing re­li­gious groups’ par­tic­i­pa­tion:

Ac­cord­ing­ly, up to the 19th cen­tury Jews and Chris­tians were or­di­nar­ily per­mit­ted to es­tab­lish only func­tion­ally sim­i­lar in­sti­tu­tions (Akgind­fiz 1996:238–41). Un­like waqfs, these would not be over­seen by the Is­lamic courts or en­joy the pro­tec­tion of Is­lamic law. We know that ac­tual prac­tices var­ied. In cer­tain pe­ri­ods and re­gions in­flu­en­tial non-Mus­lims were per­mit­ted to es­tab­lish waqf­s.14 Yet, the re­quire­ment per­tain­ing to the founder’s re­li­gion was gen­er­ally effec­tive. Non-Mus­lims were less in­clined than equally wealthy Mus­lims to es­tab­lish and fund char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tions of any kind, even ones to serve most­ly, if not ex­clu­sive­ly, their own re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties (Mas­ters 1988:173–74; Jen­nings 1990:308–9; Mar­cus 1989:305).15 This pat­tern changed rad­i­cally only in the 19th cen­tu­ry, when the right to es­tab­lish waqfs was ex­tended to the mem­bers of other faiths (Cadl­rcl 1991:257–58). At this point it be­came com­mon for wealthy Jews and Chris­tians to es­tab­lish waqfs un­der a per­mis­sive new vari­ant of Is­lamic law (Sha­ham 1991:460–72; Afifi 1994:119–22).16

The chief flaw in waqfs was the ‘dead hand’—per­pet­ual meant per­pet­u­al:

To start with the for­mer type of rigid­i­ty, the des­ig­nated mis­sion of a waqf was ir­rev­o­ca­ble. Or­di­nar­ily not even the founder of a waqf could al­ter its goals. Wher­ever pos­si­ble, the ob­jec­tives spec­i­fied in the waqf deed had to be pur­sued ex­act­ly. This re­quire­ment, if obeyed to the let­ter, could cause a waqf to be­come dys­func­tion­al. Imag­ine a richly en­dowed waqf es­tab­lished to build and sup­port a par­tic­u­lar car­a­vanserai. Two cen­turies lat­er, let us also sup­pose, a shift in trade routes idles the struc­ture. If the long-dead founder had ne­glected to per­mit fu­ture mu­tawal­lis to use their own judg­ment in the in­ter­est of sup­port­ing com­merce through the most effi­cient means, his waqf’s as­sets could not be trans­ferred from the now dys­func­tional car­a­vanserai to, say, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of a com­mer­cial port. They could not be shifted even to an­other car­a­vanserai. At least for a while, there­fore, the re­sources of the waqf would be used in­effi­cient­ly. Prob­a­bly be­cause this dan­ger of se­ri­ous effi­ciency loss gained recog­ni­tion early on, the ar­chi­tects of the waqf sys­tem made the resid­uary mis­sion of every waqf the ben­e­fit of the poor.36 This rule meant that the as­sets sup­port­ing a dys­func­tional car­a­vanserai would even­tu­ally be trans­ferred to a pub­lic shel­ter or a soup kitchen, thus lim­it­ing the mis­al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources. But in tem­per­ing one form of in­effi­ciency this mea­sure cre­ated an­oth­er. The re­sources de­voted to poor re­lief would grow over time, pos­si­bly damp­en­ing in­cen­tives to work. The ear­lier-re­ported ev­i­dence of Is­tan­bul’s soup kitchens feed­ing 30,000 peo­ple a day points, then, to more than the waqf sys­tem’s suc­cess in pro­vid­ing so­cial ser­vices in a de­cen­tral­ized man­ner. Per­haps it shows also that the sys­tem could gen­er­ate a so­cially costly over­sup­ply of cer­tain ser­vices. This is the ba­sis on which some schol­ars have claimed that the waqf sys­tem con­tributed to the Is­lamic world’s long eco­nomic de­scent by fos­ter­ing a large class of in­do­lent ben­e­fi­cia­ries (Akdag 1979:128–30; Cem 1970:98–99).37

Not only were these rec­og­nized but steps were taken to mit­i­gate them. The typ­i­cal Ot­toman waqf deed con­tained a stan­dard for­mu­lary fea­tur­ing a list of op­er­a­tional changes the mu­tawalli was au­tho­rized to make. How­ev­er, un­less ex­plic­itly stated oth­er­wise, he could make only one set of changes; once the waqf’s orig­i­nal rules had un­der­gone one mod­i­fi­ca­tion, there could not be an­other re­form (Akgindiiz 1996:257–70; Lit­tle 1984:317–18). This point qual­i­fies, but also sup­ports the ob­ser­va­tion that the waqf sys­tem suffered from op­er­a­tional rigidi­ties. Sooner or later every waqf equipped with the stan­dard flex­i­bil­i­ties would ex­haust its adap­tive ca­pac­i­ty…It is on this ba­sis that in 1789, some 237 years after the es­tab­lish­ment of the Haseki Sul­tan com­plex, its mu­tawalli de­cided against hir­ing a money chang­er, even though some em­ploy­ees wanted the ap­point­ment to cope with ris­ing fi­nan­cial turnover (Peri 1992:184–85).

Fi­nal­ly, if the founder had not ex­plic­itly al­lowed the waqf to pool its re­sources with those of other or­ga­ni­za­tions, tech­ni­cally achiev­able economies of scale could re­main un­ex­ploit­ed. In par­tic­u­lar, ser­vices that a sin­gle large waqf could de­liver most effi­cient­ly—road main­te­nance, piped wa­ter—might be pro­vided at high cost by mul­ti­ple small waqfs. Founders were free, of course, to stip­u­late that part, even all, of the in­come of their waqfs be trans­ferred to a large waqf. And scat­tered ex­am­ples of such pool­ing of waqf re­sources have been found (Ciza­kga 2000:48).40 The point re­mains, how­ev­er, that if a waqf had not been de­signed to par­tic­i­pate in re­source pool­ing it could not be con­verted into a “feeder waqf” of an­oth­er, or­di­nar­ily larger waqf. Even if new tech­nolo­gies came to gen­er­ate economies of scale unimag­in­able at the waqf’s in­cep­tion, the waqf would have to con­tinue op­er­at­ing in­de­pen­dent­ly. Ri­faah al-Tahtawi, a ma­jor Egypt­ian thinker of the 19th cen­tu­ry, put his fin­ger on this prob­lem when he wrote, “As­so­ci­a­tions for joint phil­an­thropy are few in our coun­try, in con­trast to in­di­vid­ual char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions and fam­ily en­dow­ments, which are usu­ally en­dowed by a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual” (Cole 2000).

On this ba­sis one may sug­gest that the “sta­tic per­pe­tu­ity” prin­ci­ple of the waqf sys­tem was more suit­able to a slowly chang­ing econ­omy than to one in which tech­nolo­gies, tastes, and lifestyles un­dergo rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes within the span of a gen­er­a­tion. Even if ad­her­ence to the prin­ci­ple was only par­tial-as dis­cussed lat­er, vi­o­la­tions were hardly un­com­mon-in a chang­ing econ­omy the effi­ciency of the waqf sys­tem would have fallen as a re­sult of de­lays in so­cially de­sir­able ad­just­ments.42 This in­ter­pre­ta­tion is con­sis­tent with the fact that in var­i­ous parts of the mod­ern Is­lamic world the le­gal in­fra­struc­ture of the waqf sys­tem has been, or is be­ing, mod­i­fied to en­dow mu­tawal­lis with broader op­er­a­tional pow­ers. Like many forms of the West­ern trust, a mod­ern waqf is a cor­po­ra­tion-an in­ter­nally au­tonomous or­ga­ni­za­tion that the courts treat as a le­gal per­son­.43 As such, its mu­tawal­li, which may now be a com­mit­tee of in­di­vid­u­als or even an­other cor­po­ra­tion, en­joys broad rights to change its ser­vices, its mode and rules of op­er­a­tion, and even its goals, with­out out­side in­ter­fer­ence. This is not to say that a mu­tawalli is now un­con­strained by the founder’s di­rec­tives. In­stead, there is no longer a pre­sump­tion that the founder’s di­rec­tives were com­plete, and the mu­tawal­li, or board of mu­tawal­lis, is ex­pected and au­tho­rized to be much more than a su­per­in­ten­dent fol­low­ing or­ders. A mod­ern mu­tawalli is charged with max­i­miz­ing the over­all re­turn on all as­sets, sub­ject to in­tertem­po­ral trade­offs and the ac­cept­abil­ity of risk. The per­ma­nence of any par­tic­u­lar as­set is no longer an ob­jec­tive in it­self. It is taken for granted that the waqf’s sub­stan­tive goals may best be served by trim­ming the pay­roll to fi­nance re­pairs or by re­plac­ing a farm re­ceived di­rectly from the founder with eq­uity in a man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny. …The on­go­ing re­forms of the waqf sys­tem amount, then, to an ac­knowl­edg­ment that the rigidi­ties of the tra­di­tional waqf sys­tem were in­deed sources of in­effi­cien­cy.

Such in­effi­ciency is con­sis­tent with one es­ti­mate of the ben­e­fi­cial eco­nomic effects of the Eng­lish Dis­so­lu­tion of the Catholic Church’s hold­ings (Heldring et al 2015). The nat­ural ap­proach was to add in new flex­i­bil­ity by two routes; first, ex­plicit flex­i­bil­ity in the in­cor­po­ra­tion:

It was not un­com­mon for founders to au­tho­rize their mu­tawal­lis to sell or ex­change waqf as­sets (istib­d­dl). Miriam Hoex­ter (1998:ch. 5) has shown that be­tween the 17th and 19th cen­turies the mu­tawal­lis of an Al­ger­ian waqf es­tab­lished for the ben­e­fit of Mecca and Med­ina man­aged, act­ing on the au­thor­ity they en­joyed, to en­large this waqf’s en­dow­ment through shrewd pur­chas­es, sales, and ex­changes of as­sets. In the same vein, Ronald Jen­nings (1990:279–80, 286) has ob­served that in 16th-cen­tury Tra­b­zon some founders ex­plic­itly em­pow­ered their mu­tawal­lis to ex­er­cise their own judg­ment on busi­ness mat­ters. He has also found that the courts with ju­ris­dic­tion over Tra­b­zon’s waqfs tol­er­ated a wide range of adap­ta­tion­s.45 The waqfs in ques­tion were able to un­der­take re­pairs, ad­just pay­ments to suit mar­ket con­di­tions, and rent out un­pro­duc­tive prop­er­ties at rates low enough and for suffi­ciently long pe­ri­ods to en­tice renters into mak­ing im­prove­ments (Jen­nings 1990:335). Other schol­ars, in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing ex­am­ples of founder-en­dorsed plas­tic­i­ty, have shown that there were lim­its to the founder’s con­trol over the waqf’s man­age­ment, es­pe­cially be­yond his or her own life­time. Said Ar­jo­mand (1998:117, 126) and Stephane Yerasi­mos (1994:43–45) in­de­pen­dently note that the waqf deed could suffer dam­age or even dis­ap­pear with the pas­sage of time. It could also be tam­pered with, sow­ing doubts about the au­then­tic­ity of all its di­rec­tives. In such cir­cum­stances, the courts might use their su­per­vi­sory au­thor­ity to mod­ify the waqf’s or­ga­ni­za­tion, its mode of op­er­a­tion, and even its mis­sion. More­over, even when no dis­agree­ments ex­isted over the deed it­self judges had the right to or­der un­stip­u­lated changes in the in­ter­est of ei­ther the waqf’s in­tended ben­e­fi­cia­ries or the broader com­mu­ni­ty. We have seen that such heavy hand­ed­ness some­times sparked re­sis­tance. Harmed con­stituen­cies might claim that the prin­ci­ple of sta­tic per­pe­tu­ity had been vi­o­lat­ed. How­ev­er, judges were able to pre­vail if they com­manded pop­u­lar sup­port and the op­po­nents of change were poorly or­ga­nized. Yerasi­mos fur­nishes ex­am­ples of 16th-cen­tury Ot­toman con­struc­tion projects that in­volved the suc­cess­ful seizure of os­ten­si­bly im­mo­bi­lized waqf prop­er­ties, some­times with­out full com­pen­sa­tion. …There are am­ple in­di­ca­tions that mod­i­fi­ca­tion costs were gen­er­ally sub­stan­tial. As Mu­rat (Siza­kca 2000:16–21) ob­serves, only some of the Is­lamic schools of law al­lowed sales and ex­changes of waqf prop­er­ties, and even these schools im­posed var­i­ous re­stric­tions.

The sec­ond ap­proach was to avoid in­alien­able as­sets—not real es­tate, but per­haps money or other fi­nan­cial in­stru­ments:

“Cash waqfs” thus emerged as early as the eighth cen­tu­ry, earn­ing in­come gen­er­ally through in­ter­est-bear­ing loans (Qiza­kga 2000:ch. 3). Un­com­mon for many cen­turies, these waqfs pro­voked in­tense con­tro­versy as their num­bers mul­ti­plied, be­cause they vi­o­lated both waqf law and the pro­hi­bi­tion of in­ter­est (Man­daville 1979; Kurt 1996:10–21). Ac­cord­ing to their crit­ics, not only was the cash waqf dou­bly un-Is­lamic but it con­sumed re­sources bet­ter de­voted to char­ity and re­li­gion. In­ter­est­ing­ly, the de­fend­ers in­voked nei­ther scrip­ture nor the law. Con­ced­ing that the cash waqf vi­o­lates clas­si­cal Is­lamic prin­ci­ples, they pointed to its pop­u­lar­ity and in­ferred that it had to be serv­ing a valu­able so­cial func­tion. In effect, they held that the cash waqf should be tol­er­ated be­cause it passes the util­i­tar­ian test of the mar­ket-the ir­re­li­gious test now com­monly used to jus­tify pop­u­lar, but per­haps eth­i­cally trou­bling, eco­nomic prac­tices. The de­fend­ers of the cash waqf, who in­cluded promi­nent cler­ics, also lamented that their op­po­nents, though per­haps knowl­edge­able of Is­lam, were ig­no­rant of both his­tory and the pre­vail­ing prac­ti­cal needs of their com­mu­ni­ties (Man­daville 1979:297–300, 306–8).

Be­cause they met im­por­tant needs and en­coun­tered lit­tle op­po­si­tion out­side of le­gal and re­li­gious cir­cles, cash waqfs be­came in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar. By the 16th cen­tu­ry, in fact, they ac­counted for more than half of all the new Ot­toman waqfs. Most of them were on the small side, as mea­sured by as­sets (Ca­gatay 1971; Yediylldlz 1990:118–22; Mas­ters 1988:161–63). One fac­tor that ac­counts for their enor­mous pop­u­lar­ity is the ubiq­ui­tous quest for wealth pro­tec­tion. An­other was that there ex­isted no banks able to meet the de­mand for con­sump­tion loans, only money­len­ders whose rates re­flected the risks they took by op­er­at­ing out­side the strict in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the law. Where and when the cash waqf en­joyed le­gal ap­proval, it al­lowed money­len­ders to op­er­ate more or less within the pre­vail­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic law. If noth­ing else, the sa­cred­ness that flowed from its in­clu­sion in the waqf sys­tem in­su­lated its in­ter­est-based op­er­a­tions from the charge of sin­ful­ness.

Both brought their own prob­lems:

Yet, cash waqfs were by no means free of op­er­a­tional con­straints. Like the founder of an or­di­nary waqf, that of a cash waqf could re­strict its ben­e­fi­cia­ries and limit its charges. Yediylldlz points to the deed of an 18th-cen­tury waqf whose founder re­quired it to lend at ex­actly 10% and only to mer­chants based in the town of Amasya (Yediylldlz 1990:122). The re­stric­tions im­posed on a cash waqf typ­i­cally re­flect­ed, in ad­di­tion to the founder’s per­sonal tastes and bi­as­es, the pre­vail­ing in­ter­est rates at the time of its es­tab­lish­ment. Over time, these could be­come in­creas­ingly se­ri­ous bar­ri­ers to the waqf’s ex­ploita­tion of profit op­por­tu­ni­ties. Pre­cisely be­cause the cash waqfs were re­quired to keep their rates fixed, ob­serves Ciza­kqa (2000:52–53), only a fifth of them sur­vived be­yond a cen­tu­ry…Re­veal­ing­ly, the bor­row­ers of the 18th-cen­tury cash waqfs of Bursa in­cluded their own mu­tawal­lis. These mu­tawal­lis lent on their own ac­count to the money­len­ders of Ankara and Is­tan­bul, where in­ter­est rates were higher (Ciza­kqa 1995). Had the en­dow­ment deeds of these cash waqfs per­mit­ted greater flex­i­bil­i­ty, the gains reaped by mu­tawal­lis could have ac­crued to the waqfs them­selves.

In­so­far as these meth­ods en­hanced the ac­cept­abil­ity of cor­rup­tion, they would also have fa­cil­i­tated the em­bez­zle­ment of re­sources os­ten­si­bly im­mo­bi­lized for the pro­vi­sion of so­cial ser­vices, in­clud­ing pub­lic goods and char­i­ta­ble caus­es. Em­bez­zle­ment often oc­curred through sales and ex­changes of waqf prop­er­ties. While such trans­ac­tions could serve a waqf’s fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests, and thus its ca­pac­ity for meet­ing the founder’s goals, they were sub­ject to abuse. Mu­tawal­lis found ways to line their own pock­ets through trans­ac­tions detri­men­tal to the waqf, for in­stance, the ex­change of an eco­nom­i­cally valu­able farm for the in­fe­rior farm of an un­cle. A bribe-hun­gry judge might ap­prove such a trans­ac­tion un­der the pre­text of duress, know­ing full well that it was mo­ti­vated more by per­sonal gain than by civic du­ty. In cer­tain times and places this form of em­bez­zle­ment be­came so com­mon that high offi­cials took to treat­ing waqf prop­er­ties as alien­able. In the early 16th cen­tu­ry, right be­fore the Ot­tomans oc­cu­pied Egypt, a Mameluke judge ruled that the land on which the fa­mous al-Azhar com­plex stands could be sold to some­one look­ing for a site to build a man­sion (Behren­s-Abou­seif 1994:146–47)…Her waqf was to sup­port, she stat­ed, “the poor and the hum­ble, the weak and the needy… the true be­liev­ers and the right­eous who live near the holy places . . . [and] hold onto the sharia and strictly ob­serve the com­mand­ments of the sunna” (Peri 1992:172). Since prac­ti­cally any Mus­lim res­i­dent of greater Jerusalem could qual­ify as ei­ther weak or de­vout, within a few gen­er­a­tions huge num­bers of fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing some of the rich­est, were draw­ing in­come from the waqf. Even an Ot­toman gov­er­nor man­aged to get him­self on the waqf’s pay­roll, and he took to us­ing the waqf as an in­stru­ment of pa­tron­age (Peri 1992:173–74). As Hfir­rem’s waqf turned into a politi­cized source of sup­ple­men­tary in­come for peo­ple whom she would hardly have char­ac­ter­ized as needy, the gov­ern­ment in Is­tan­bul tried re­peat­edly to trim the list of ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Ev­i­dently it sensed that con­tin­ued cor­rup­tion would cause the waqf, and there­fore Ot­toman rule it­self, to lose le­git­i­ma­cy. Yet the gov­ern­ment it­self ben­e­fited from show­er­ing provin­cial no­ta­bles with priv­i­leges, which lim­ited the reach of its re­forms. After every crack­down the waqf’s man­agers re­turned to cre­at­ing en­ti­tle­ments for the up­per classes (Peri 1992:182–84). Ann Lambton (1997:305) gives ex­am­ples of even more se­ri­ous abuses from 14th-cen­tury Iran. Based on con­tem­po­rary ob­ser­va­tions, she notes that prac­ti­cally all as­sets of the 500 waqfs in Shi­raz had fallen into the hands of cor­rupt mu­tawal­lis bent on di­vert­ing rev­enues to them­selves…One must not in­fer that man­age­r­ial harm to the effi­ciency of waqfs stemmed on­ly, or even pri­mar­i­ly, from cor­rup­tion. As Richard Pos­ner (1992:511) ob­serves in re­gard to char­i­ta­ble trusts in com­mon law ju­ris­dic­tions, the man­agers and su­per­vi­sors of trusts es­tab­lished for the ben­e­fit of broad so­cial causes gen­er­ally lack ad­e­quate in­cen­tives to man­age prop­er­ties effi­cient­ly.

Con­trast with Eu­ro­pean in­sti­tu­tions:

Just as the pre­mod­ern Mid­dle East had in­flex­i­ble waqfs, one might ob­serve, the prein­dus­trial and in­dus­trial West fea­tured re­stric­tions that in­hib­ited the effi­cient ad­min­is­tra­tion of trusts (Fratcher 1973:22, 55, 66–71). …Do such facts in­val­i­date the claim of this sec­tion, name­ly, that in­flex­i­bil­i­ties of the waqf sys­tem held the Mid­dle East back as Eu­rope took the lead in shap­ing the mod­ern global econ­o­my? Two ad­di­tional facts from Eu­ro­pean eco­nomic his­tory may be ad­vanced in de­fense of the pre­sented ar­gu­ment. First, over the cen­turies the West de­vel­oped an in­creas­ingly broad va­ri­ety of trusts, in­clud­ing many that give a trustee-the coun­ter­part of the mu­tawal­li-greater op­er­a­tional flex­i­bil­i­ty. These came to in­clude trusts to op­er­ate busi­ness­es, trusts to man­age fi­nan­cial port­fo­lios, and trusts to hold the ma­jor­ity of the vot­ing shares in a cor­po­ra­tion. Al­so, while it is doubt­less true that cer­tain West­ern trusts suffered from the sorts of rigidi­ties that plagued the waqf sys­tem, other trusts mit­i­gated these prob­lems by equip­ping their trustees, or boards of trustees, with pow­ers akin to those of a cor­po­rate board.

An­other im­por­tant differ­ence con­cerns the pow­ers of founders. As early as the 14th cen­tu­ry, judges in Eng­land were dis­cour­ag­ing waqf-like “per­pe­tu­ities” through which donors could mi­cro­man­age prop­er­ties in­defi­nite­ly, well after their deaths. Trusts pro­vid­ing ben­e­fits for un­born per­sons were de­clared in­valid, or valid only if sub­ject to de­struc­tion by prior ben­e­fi­cia­ries. And in France, a law was in­sti­tuted in 1560 to keep the founders of , trust-like de­vices grounded in Ro­man law, from ty­ing the hands of more than two gen­er­a­tions of ben­e­fi­cia­ries (Fratcher 1973:11–12, 86). These cases of re­sis­tance to sta­tic per­pe­tu­ity show that the im­mo­bi­liza­tion of prop­erty also pre­sented dan­gers in Eu­rope. But they also demon­strate that suc­cess­ful at­tempts to con­tain the dan­gers came much ear­lier in Eu­rope than in the Mid­dle East, where le­gal re­forms de­signed to give mu­tawal­lis greater dis­cre­tion had to await the 20th cen­tu­ry.

Waqfs are dis­cussed fur­ther in , Ku­ran 2016 & , Ku­ran 2018:

This es­say crit­i­cally eval­u­ates the an­a­lytic lit­er­a­ture con­cerned with causal con­nec­tions be­tween Is­lam and eco­nomic per­for­mance. It fo­cuses on works since 1997, when this lit­er­a­ture was last sur­veyed…Weak prop­erty rights re­in­forced the pri­vate sec­tor’s stag­na­tion by dri­ving cap­i­tal out of com­merce and into rigid waqfs. Waqfs lim­ited eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment through their in­flex­i­bil­ity and de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion by re­strain­ing the de­vel­op­ment of civil so­ci­ety.

The later ex­ploits a nat­ural shock in In­done­sian pol­i­tics which drove a burst of do­na­tions to waqf en­dow­ments, show­ing gen­er­ally neg­a­tive effects in affected re­gions (par­tic­u­larly to eco­nomic growth).

The Discovery of France

Ex­cerpts from Rob­b’s on peas­ant pes­simism, pover­ty, death-wish­es, the bless­ing of cre­tinism, famine, fire, and in­fan­ti­cide.


Writ­ten de­scrip­tions of daily life in­evitably con­vey the same bright sense of pur­pose and progress. They pass through years of lived ex­pe­ri­ence like care­free trav­ellers, tele­scop­ing the changes that only a long mem­ory could have per­ceived. Oc­ca­sion­al­ly, how­ev­er, a sim­ple fact has the same effect as the pho­to­graph in the mu­se­um. At the end of the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, doc­tors from ur­ban Al­sace to rural Brit­tany found that high death rates were not caused pri­mar­ily by famine and dis­ease. The prob­lem was that, as soon as they be­came ill, peo­ple took to their beds and hoped to die. In 1750, the Mar­quis d’Ar­gen­son no­ticed that the peas­ants who farmed his land in the Touraine were ‘try­ing not to mul­ti­ply’: ‘They wish only for death’. Even in times of plen­ty, old peo­ple who could no longer wield a spade or hold a nee­dle were keen to die as soon as pos­si­ble. ‘Last­ing too long’ was one of the great fears of life. In­valids were ha­bit­u­ally hated by their car­ers. It took a spe­cial gov­ern­ment grant, in­sti­tuted in 1850 in the Seine and Loiret dé­parte­ments, to per­suade poor fam­i­lies to keep their ail­ing rel­a­tives at home in­stead of send­ing them to that bare wait­ing room of the grave­yard, the mu­nic­i­pal hos­pice.

When there was just enough food for the liv­ing, the mouth of a dy­ing per­son was an ob­scen­i­ty. In the rel­a­tively har­mo­nious house­hold of the 1840s de­scribed by the peas­ant nov­el­ist Émile Guil­lau­min, the fam­ily mem­bers spec­u­late openly in front of Émile’s bed-rid­den grand­mother (who has not lost her hear­ing): ‘“I wish we knew how long it’s go­ing to last.” And an­other would re­ply, “Not long, I hope.”’ As soon as the bur­den ex­pired, any wa­ter kept in pans or basins was thrown out (s­ince the soul might have washed it­self—or, if bound for Hell, tried to ex­tin­guish it­self—as it left the house), and then life went on as be­fore.

‘Happy as a corpse’ was a say­ing in the Alps. Vis­i­tors to vil­lages in the Savoy Alps, the cen­tral Pyre­nees, Al­sace and Lor­raine, and parts of the Mas­sif Cen­tral were often hor­ri­fied to find silent pop­u­la­tions of cretins with hideous thy­roid de­for­mi­ties. (The link be­tween goitre and lack of io­dine in the wa­ter was not widely rec­og­nized un­til the early nine­teenth cen­tu­ry.) The Alpine ex­plorer Saus­sure, who asked in vain for di­rec­tions in a vil­lage in the Aosta Val­ley when most of the vil­lagers were out in the fields, imag­ined that ‘an evil spirit had turned the in­hab­i­tants of the un­happy vil­lage into dumb an­i­mals, leav­ing them with just enough hu­man face to show that they had once been men’.

The in­fir­mity that seemed a curse to Saus­sure was a bless­ing to the na­tives. The birth of a cretinous baby was be­lieved to bring good luck to the fam­i­ly. The id­iot child would never have to work and would never have to leave home to earn money to pay the tax-col­lec­tor. These hideous, crea­tures were al­ready half-cured of life. Even the death of a nor­mal child could be a con­so­la­tion. If the baby had lived long enough to be bap­tized, or if a clever witch re­vived the corpse for an in­stant to sprin­kle it with holy wa­ter, its soul would pray for the fam­ily in heav­en.

…A slightly cal­lous view of past suffer­ing has em­pha­sized the sus­pi­ciously repet­i­tive na­ture of these Cahiers. Set phrases were sug­gested by cen­tral com­mit­tees and copied down by lo­cal com­mit­tees. One vil­lage found an ad­e­quate ex­pres­sion of its suffer­ing and oth­ers re­peated the im­pres­sive de­tails: chil­dren eat­ing grass, tears moist­en­ing bread, farm­ers feel­ing en­vi­ous of their an­i­mals, and so on. But those grass-eat­ing chil­dren were clearly not a fig­ure of speech: the har­vest of 1788 had been worse than usu­al, and the Cahiers were drawn up in the dan­ger­ously hol­low months when last year’s sup­plies were run­ning low and next year’s corn had yet to ripen. The rel­a­tively pros­per­ous town of Es­père ob­vi­ously had noth­ing to gain when it ap­plied the phrase to its neigh­bours:

We have not yet seen our chil­dren munch­ing grass like those of our neigh­bours, and our old peo­ple, hap­pier than many of those in the sur­round­ing re­gion, al­most all sur­vived the rigours of last Jan­u­ary. Only once did we have the afflic­tion of see­ing one of our own peo­ple die of hunger.

Even for pros­per­ous peas­ants, dis­as­ter al­ways loomed. Few lives were free from sud­den set­backs. Every year, sev­eral vil­lages and ur­ban dis­tricts went up in smoke. An Eng­lish trav­eller, cross­ing the Jura from Salins to Pon­tar­lier in 1738, was told that ‘there is scarce a Vil­lage in all this Tract that does not per­ish by Flames once at least in 10 Years’. Salins it­self was al­most to­tally de­stroyed in 1825 by a fire that burned for three days. The city of Rennes dis­ap­peared in 1720 and much of Limo­ges in 1864. Thatch was cheap (gleaned from har­vested fields in Oc­to­ber), but it har­boured huge pop­u­la­tions of in­sects and caught fire eas­ily un­less it was com­pletely cov­ered by a layer of clay, quick­lime, horse ma­nure and sand. (In some parts, thatch was out­lawed in new build­ings in the mid-nine­teenth cen­tury and re­placed by the red cor­ru­gated iron that was thought to add a pleas­ant touch of color to the land­scape.)

Déguignet was for­tu­nate in hav­ing par­ents who wanted to keep him. Thou­sands of chil­dren—­like Tom Thumb in the French fairy tale—were aban­doned every year. At Provins, be­tween 1854 and 1859, 1,258 chil­dren were de­posited in the ro­tat­ing bar­rel built into the wall of the gen­eral hos­pi­tal. (It can now be seen in the lo­cal mu­se­um.) These tours d’a­ban­don, which con­tained a straw bed and some blan­kets, made it pos­si­ble for moth­ers to aban­don their ba­bies anony­mously and safe­ly. They were out­lawed as a pub­lic dis­grace in 1861, which sim­ply meant that more ba­bies than be­fore were left to die on doorsteps. In 1869, over 7 per cent of births in France were il­le­git­i­mate, and one-third of those chil­dren were aban­doned. Each year, fifty thou­sand hu­man be­ings started life in France with­out a par­ent. Many were sent to the en­ter­pris­ing women known as ‘an­gel-mak­ers’ who per­formed what can most kindly be de­scribed as post­na­tal abor­tions. A re­port on the hos­pice at Rennes de­fined them as ‘women who have no milk and who—­doubt­less for a fee—felo­niously take care of sev­eral chil­dren at the same time. The chil­dren per­ish al­most im­me­di­ate­ly.’

Be­fore 1779, the nuns who ran the foundling hos­pi­tal in Paris were obliged by law to take the in­fant over­flow from the provinces. This emer­gency reg­u­la­tion pro­duced one of the strangest sights on the main roads of France. Long-dis­tance don­keys car­ry­ing pan­niers stuffed with ba­bies came to the cap­i­tal from as far away as Brit­tany, Lor­raine and the Au­vergne. The carters set out on their two-hun­dred-and-fifty-mile jour­neys with four or five ba­bies to a bas­ket, but in towns and vil­lages along the route they struck deals with mid­wives and par­ents. For a small fee, they would push in a few ex­tra ba­bies. To make the load more tractable and eas­ier on the ears, the ba­bies were given wine in­stead of milk. Those that died were dumped at the road­side like rot­ten ap­ples. In Paris, the carters were paid by the head and ev­i­dently de­liv­ered enough to make it worth their while. But for every ten liv­ing ba­bies that reached the cap­i­tal, only one sur­vived more than three days.

The Dark Side of the Enlightenment

Flem­ing 2013, The Dark Side of the En­light­en­ment, offers a use­ful ex­am­ple of the blind­ing effects of time & changes in ide­ol­ogy in dis­cus­sion of Mil­ton’s Par­adise Lost (pg27–29):

The same phe­nom­ena viewed from op­po­site ends of a pe­riod of dra­matic in­tel­lec­tual change may look very differ­ent… [1667] is an epic poem based in the his­tory of Adam and Eve as re­counted in the first two chap­ters of the Book of Gen­e­sis…The sub­ject of Par­adise Lost is “the Fall of Man”, the “orig­i­nal sin” of an­cient Chris­t­ian the­o­log­i­cal or­tho­doxy. The re­sults of the pri­mal trans­gres­sion were cat­a­stroph­ic, for sin “brought death into the World, and all our woe, with loss of Eden.” Our hu­man an­ces­tors, now ren­dered mor­tal by their own dis­obe­di­ence, were ban­ished into the harsh world of la­bor and ne­ces­si­ty—our world. This myth was uni­ver­sally un­der­stood among Chris­t­ian thinkers both as a his­tor­i­cal ac­count of the pri­mal fall and an al­le­gory of every act of sin in which sen­su­al­ity mas­ters rea­son an will­ful­ness con­quers a re­quired obe­di­ence. John Mil­ton, an ac­tual rev­o­lu­tion­ary both in pol­i­tics and in art, very clearly grounded his poem in a strictly sta­tic hi­er­ar­chy of the . There was a meta­phys­i­cal pyra­mid with God at its apex. Just be­low that were the hi­er­ar­chi­cally or­dered an­gels. A “lit­tle lower than the an­gels” were hu­man be­ings, with man the su­pe­rior to woman. Be­low that were all the an­i­mals and birds, all of veg­e­ta­tive life from the mighty oak to the lichen scabrous upon the stone, then the stones and min­er­als them­selves, down to the mean­est clods of the earth­…Sin at its core was the over­throw of di­vinely es­tab­lished hi­er­ar­chies, turn­ing things up­side down.

…In 1793…William Blake cre­ated a work called The Mar­riage takes Par­adise Lost as its point of de­par­ture, and it makes the fol­low­ing crit­i­cism of it: “Note: The rea­son Mil­ton wrote in fet­ters when he wrote of An­gels & God, and at lib­erty when of Dev­ils & Hell, is be­cause he was a true Poet and of the Dev­ils party with­out know­ing it.” The idea that Mil­ton was sub­con­sciously “of the Dev­ils party”—or putting it in more force­ful terms that Sa­tan is the true hero of Par­adise Lost and God Almighty its true vil­lain—has be­come one of the or­tho­dox­ies of mod­ern lit­er­ary his­to­ry. It seems to ac­cord with our sense of what is good and true, and it seems con­firmed by the na­ture of the verse. Mil­ton’s God is ar­bi­trary and au­to­crat­ic, and His words, when com­pared with Sa­tan’s fiery speech­es, are bor­ing. Ac­cord­ing to one fa­mous in­ter­pre­ta­tion, by the lit­er­ary critic William Emp­son, Mil­ton’s God is ac­tively evil. Sa­tan, on the other hand, is dy­nam­ic. Pan­de­mo­ni­um—the par­lia­ment of all the dev­il­s—is less like a royal court than a de­mo­c­ra­tic sen­ate. There is ver­bal thrust and ver­bal par­ry, the most fun­da­men­tal chal­leng­ing of au­thor­i­ty. Non serviam, cries Sa­tan. I shall not serve. His most mem­o­rable line may be “Bet­ter to reign in hell than serve in heav­en!”

De­spite tor­tured at­tempts to at­tribute this “read­ing” to Mil­ton’s con­scious in­ten­tion, it seems im­pos­si­ble that a sev­en­teen-cen­tury Eng­lish Pu­ri­tan would write a bib­li­cal epic in which God is the vil­lain and Sa­tan the hero, or that it would be re­ceived by nearly the en­tire Protes­tant eigh­teenth cen­tury as the great­est Chris­t­ian poem ever writ­ten. Slightly more plau­si­ble, but only slight­ly, is the no­tion that such an in­ter­pre­ta­tion re­veals a sub­con­scious ir­res­o­lu­tion within John Mil­ton. It is much more likely that what seemed man­i­festly clear to the twen­ti­eth-cen­tury lit­er­ary critic Emp­son never oc­curred to any­body for a cen­tury or more after the po­em’s pub­li­ca­tion [1793–1667 = 126]. When, how­ev­er, the Old World view of the Great Chain of Be­ing and the right­ness of fixed hi­er­ar­chies gives way to a very differ­ent view—of the gen­er­a­tive power of dy­nam­i­cally in­ter­act­ing po­lar­i­ties—the phe­nom­ena may look very differ­ent. Yet un­less we are will­ing to turn all of cul­tural his­tory into a vast Rorschach test that can tell us only what is al­ready in our own minds, we need to make a stren­u­ous effort to grasp some­thing very differ­ent from what may al­ready be there. “A per­fect judge will read each work of wit”, says Alexan­der Pope, “With the same spirit that its au­thor writ.”

The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker

Ex­cerpts from Steven Pinker’s The Bet­ter An­gels of Our Na­ture on vi­o­lence & in­fan­ti­cide in pre-in­dus­trial so­ci­eties (in­clud­ing Chris­t­ian ones):

…A sur­vey of cul­tures by the an­thro­pol­o­gist Laila Williamson re­veals that in­fan­ti­cide has been prac­ticed on every con­ti­nent and by every kind of so­ci­ety, from non-s­tate bands and vil­lages (77% of which have an ac­cepted cus­tom of in­fan­ti­cide) to ad­vanced civ­i­liza­tions.102 Un­til re­cent­ly, be­tween 10 and 15% of all ba­bies were killed shortly after they were born, and in some so­ci­eties the rate has been as high as 50%.103 In the words of the his­to­rian Lloyd de­Mause, “All fam­i­lies once prac­ticed in­fan­ti­cide. All states trace their ori­gin to child sac­ri­fice. All re­li­gions be­gan with the mu­ti­la­tion and mur­der of chil­dren.”104

…Martin Daly and Margo Wil­son tested the triage the­ory by ex­am­in­ing a sam­ple of sixty un­re­lated so­ci­eties from a data­base of ethno­gra­phies.111 In­fan­ti­cide was doc­u­mented in a ma­jor­ity of them, and in 112 cases the an­thro­pol­o­gists recorded a rea­son. 87% of the rea­sons fit the triage the­o­ry: the in­fant was not sired by the wom­an’s hus­band, the in­fant was de­formed or ill, or the in­fant had strikes against its chances of sur­viv­ing to ma­tu­ri­ty, such as be­ing a twin, hav­ing an older sib­ling close in age, hav­ing no fa­ther around, or be­ing born into a fam­ily that had fallen on hard eco­nomic times.

…The tech­no­log­i­cal effi­ciency of daugh­ter-proofing a preg­nancy may make it seem as if the girl short­age is a prob­lem of moder­ni­ty, but fe­male in­fan­ti­cide has been doc­u­mented in China and In­dia for more than two thou­sand years.119 In Chi­na, mid­wives kept a bucket of wa­ter at the bed­side to drown the baby if it was a girl. In In­dia there were many meth­ods: “giv­ing a pill of to­bacco and bhang to swal­low, drown­ing in milk, smear­ing the moth­er’s breast with opium or the juice of the poi­so­nous Dat­u­ra, or cov­er­ing the child’s mouth with a plas­ter of cow-dung be­fore it drew breath.” Then and now, even when daugh­ters are suffered to live, they may not last long. Par­ents al­lo­cate most of the avail­able food to their sons, and as a Chi­nese doc­tor ex­plains, “if a boy gets sick, the par­ents may send him to the hos­pi­tal at on­ce, but if a girl gets sick, the par­ents may say to them­selves, ‘Well, we’ll see how she is to­mor­row.’”120

Fe­male in­fan­ti­cide, also called gen­der­cide and gy­necide, is not unique to Asia.121 The Yanomamö are one of many for­ag­ing peo­ples that kill more new­born daugh­ters than sons. In an­cient Greece and Rome, ba­bies were “dis­carded in rivers, dunghills, or cesspools, placed in jars to starve, or ex­posed to the el­e­ments and beasts in the wild.”122 In­fan­ti­cide was also com­mon in me­dieval and Re­nais­sance Eu­rope.123 In all these places, more girls per­ished than boys. Often fam­i­lies would kill every daugh­ter born to them un­til they had a son; sub­se­quent daugh­ters were al­lowed to live.

…The evo­lu­tion­ary an­thro­pol­o­gists Sarah Hrdy and Kris­ten Hawkes have each shown that the Triver­s-Willard the­ory gets only half of the story right. In In­dia, it’s true that the higher castes tend to kill their daugh­ters. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, it’s not true that the lower castes tend to kill their sons. In fact, it’s hard to find a so­ci­ety any­where that kills its sons.128 The in­fan­ti­ci­dal cul­tures of the world are ei­ther equal-op­por­tu­nity baby-killers or they pre­fer to kill the girl­s—and with them, the Triver­s-Willard ex­pla­na­tion for fe­male in­fan­ti­cide in hu­mans.

Whether they are new moth­ers in des­per­ate straits, pu­ta­tive fa­thers doubt­ing their pa­ter­ni­ty, or par­ents pre­fer­ring a son over a daugh­ter, peo­ple in the West can no longer kill their new­borns with im­puni­ty.135 In 2007 in the United States, 221 in­fants were mur­dered out of 4.3 mil­lion births. That works out to a rate of 0.00005, or a re­duc­tion from the his­tor­i­cal av­er­age by a fac­tor of two to three thou­sand. About a quar­ter of them were killed on their first day of life by their moth­ers, like the “trash-can moms” who made head­lines in the late 1990s by con­ceal­ing their preg­nan­cies, giv­ing birth in se­cret (in one case dur­ing a high school prom), smoth­er­ing their new­borns, and dis­card­ing their bod­ies in the trash.136 These women find them­selves in sim­i­lar con­di­tions to those who set the stage for in­fan­ti­cide in hu­man pre­his­to­ry: they are young, sin­gle, give birth alone, and feel they can­not count on the sup­port of their kin. Other in­fants were killed by fa­tal abuse, often by a step­fa­ther. Still oth­ers per­ished at the hands of a de­pressed mother who com­mit­ted sui­cide and took her chil­dren with her be­cause she could not imag­ine them liv­ing with­out her. Rarely, a mother with post­par­tum de­pres­sion will cross the line into post­par­tum psy­chosis and kill her chil­dren un­der the spell of a delu­sion, like the in­fa­mous An­drea Yates, who in 2001 drowned her five chil­dren in a bath­tub.

What drove down the West­ern rate of in­fan­ti­cide by more than three or­ders of mag­ni­tude? The first step was to crim­i­nal­ize it. Bib­li­cal Ju­daism pro­hib­ited fil­i­cide, though it did­n’t go the whole hog: killing an in­fant younger than a month did not count as mur­der, and loop­holes were claimed by Abra­ham, King Solomon, and Yah­weh him­self for Plague #10.137 The pro­hi­bi­tion be­came clearer in Tal­mu­dic Ju­daism and in Chris­tian­i­ty, from which it was ab­sorbed into the late Ro­man Em­pire. The pro­hi­bi­tion came from an ide­ol­ogy that held that lives are owned by God, to be given and taken at his plea­sure, so the lives of chil­dren no longer be­longed to their par­ents. The up­shot was a taboo in West­ern moral codes and le­gal sys­tems on tak­ing an iden­ti­fi­able hu­man life: one could not de­lib­er­ate on the value of the life of an in­di­vid­ual in one’s midst. (Ex­cep­tions were ex­u­ber­antly made, of course, for heretics, in­fi­dels, un­civ­i­lized tribes, en­emy peo­ples, and trans­gres­sors of any of sev­eral hun­dred laws. And we con­tinue to de­lib­er­ate on the value of sta­tis­ti­cal lives, as op­posed to iden­ti­fi­able lives, every time we send sol­diers or po­lice into har­m’s way, or scrimp on ex­pen­sive health and safety mea­sures.)

For al­most a mil­len­nium and a half the Judeo-Chris­t­ian pro­hi­bi­tion against in­fan­ti­cide co­ex­isted with mas­sive in­fan­ti­cide in prac­tice. Ac­cord­ing to one his­to­ri­an, ex­po­sure of in­fants dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages “was prac­ticed on a gi­gan­tic scale with ab­solute im­puni­ty, no­ticed by writ­ers with most frigid in­differ­ence.”145 Mil­ner cites birth records show­ing an av­er­age of 5.1 births among wealthy fam­i­lies, 2.9 among the mid­dle class, and 1.8 among the poor, adding, “There was no ev­i­dence that the num­ber of preg­nan­cies fol­lowed sim­i­lar lines.”146 In 1527 a French priest wrote that “the la­trines re­sound with the cries of chil­dren who have been plunged into them.”147

At var­i­ous points in the late Mid­dle Ages and the early mod­ern pe­ri­od, sys­tems of crim­i­nal jus­tice tried to do some­thing about in­fan­ti­cide….­Var­i­ous fig leaves were pro­cured. The phe­nom­e­non of “over­ly­ing,” in which a mother would ac­ci­den­tally smother an in­fant by rolling over it in her sleep, at times be­came an epi­dem­ic. Women were in­vited to drop off their un­wanted ba­bies at foundling homes, some of them equipped with turnta­bles and trap­doors to en­sure anonymi­ty. The mor­tal­ity rates for the in­hab­i­tants of these homes ranged from 50% to more than 99%.149 Women handed over their in­fants to wet nurses or “baby farm­ers” who were known to have sim­i­lar rates of suc­cess. Elixirs of opi­um, al­co­hol, and trea­cle were read­ily ob­tain­able by moth­ers and wet nurses to be­calm a cranky in­fant, and at the right dosage it could be­calm them very effec­tively in­deed. Many a child who sur­vived in­fancy was sent to a work­house, “with­out the in­con­ve­nience of too much food or too much cloth­ing”, as Dick­ens de­scribed them in Oliver Twist, and where “it did per­versely hap­pen in eight and a half cases out of ten, ei­ther that it sick­ened from want and cold, or fell into the fire from ne­glect, or got half-s­moth­ered by ac­ci­dent; in any one of which cas­es, the mis­er­able lit­tle be­ing was usu­ally sum­moned into an­other world, and there gath­ered to the fa­thers it had never known in this.” Even with these con­trivances, tiny corpses were a fre­quent sight in parks, un­der bridges, and in ditch­es. Ac­cord­ing to a British coro­ner in 1862, “The po­lice seemed to think no more of find­ing a dead child than they did of find­ing a dead cat or a dead dog.”150

It is true that in much of the world to­day, a sim­i­lar pro­por­tion of preg­nan­cies end in abor­tion as the frac­tion that in cen­turies past ended in in­fan­ti­cide.151 Women in the de­vel­oped West abort be­tween 12% and 25% of their preg­nan­cies; in some of the for­mer com­mu­nist coun­tries the pro­por­tion is greater than half. In 2003 a mil­lion fe­tuses were aborted in the United States, and about 5 mil­lion were aborted through­out Eu­rope and the West, with at least an­other 11 mil­lion aborted else­where in the world. If abor­tion counts as a form of vi­o­lence, the West has made no progress in its treat­ment of chil­dren. In­deed, be­cause effec­tive abor­tion has be­come widely avail­able only since the 1970s (e­spe­cial­ly, in the United States, with the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court de­ci­sion), the moral state of the West has­n’t im­proved; it has col­lapsed.

“The Book of Rev­e­la­tion: prophecy and pol­i­tics Edge mas­ter class 2011”:

Steven Pinker: This speaks to the orig­i­nal ques­tion of why a lot of these be­liefs per­sist. And I’m al­ways puz­zled how, if you take all of this lit­er­ally as some pro­fess to do, that it re­ally does lead to some—and speak­ing anachro­nis­ti­cally as a post-en­light­en­ment sec­u­lar hu­man­ist—it leads to all kinds of per­ni­cious con­se­quences. Like if the only thing that keeps you from an eter­nity of tor­ment is ac­cept­ing Je­sus as your sav­ior, well, if you tor­ture some­one un­til they em­brace Je­sus, you’re do­ing them the biggest fa­vor of their lives. It’s bet­ter a few hours now than all eter­ni­ty. And if some­one is lead­ing peo­ple away from this kind of sal­va­tion, well, they’re the most evil Ty­phoid Mary that you can imag­ine, and ex­ter­mi­nat­ing them would be a pub­lic health mea­sure be­cause they are lur­ing peo­ple into an eter­nity of tor­ment, and there could be noth­ing more evil. Again, it’s to­tally anachro­nis­tic. The idea of damna­tion and hell is, by mod­ern stan­dards, a morally per­ni­cious con­cept. If you take it lit­er­al­ly, though, then of course tor­tur­ing Jews and athe­ists and heretics and so on, is ac­tu­ally a very re­spon­si­ble pub­lic health mea­sure. Nowa­days, peo­ple both pro­fess to be­lieve in The Book of Rev­e­la­tion, and they also don’t think it’s a good idea to tor­ture Jews and heretics and athe­ists.

…Even the tel­e­van­ge­lists who are thun­der­ing from their pul­pits, prob­a­bly don’t think it’s a good idea to tor­ture Jews. And in fact, in pub­lic opin­ion polls, there’s a re­mark­able change through the 20th cen­tu­ry, in state­ments like, all re­li­gions are equally valid, and ought to be re­spect­ed. which to­day, the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans agree with. And in the 1930s, need­less to say, the ma­jor­ity dis­agreed with. What I find fas­ci­nat­ing is, what kind of com­part­men­tal­iza­tion al­lows, on the one hand, peo­ple to be­lieve in a lit­eral truth of judg­ment day, eter­nal tor­ment, but they no longer, as they once did, fol­low through the im­pli­ca­tion, well, we’d bet­ter ex­e­cute heretics and tor­ture non­be­liev­ers. On one hand they’ve got ad­mirably, a kind of post-en­light­en­ment ec­u­meni­cal tol­er­ant hu­man­ism, tor­tur­ing peo­ple is bad. On the other hand, they claim to hold be­liefs that log­i­cally im­ply that tor­tur­ing heretics would be an ex­cel­lent thing. It’s in­ter­est­ing that the hu­man mind can em­brace these con­tra­dic­tions and that for­tu­nately for all of us, the hu­man­is­tic sen­ti­ments trump the, at least, claimed be­lief in the lit­eral truth of all of this.

  1. It’s ac­cepted that the­o­ries should be con­sis­tent. It’d also be good if one’s be­liefs were con­sis­tent over time as well, oth­er­wise one gets things like Moore’s ques­tion (or a quote as­cribed to Leonardo Da Vinci, ap­pro­pri­ately on veg­e­tar­i­an­is­m), “I went to the pic­tures last Tues­day, but I don’t be­lieve that I did”, a sort of in­con­sis­tency which seems to ren­der one vul­ner­a­ble to a Dutch book ex­ploit. (How ex­actly the in­con­sis­tency is to be re­solved is a bit un­clear.) Re­flec­tion prin­ci­ples have been much dis­cussed.↩︎

  2. C.S. Lewis, (1952), Bk1, ch2↩︎

  3. Kugel 2011, pg 165–16:

    The omens con­tin­ued to ex­ist long after Eu­rope was Chris­tian­ized; in­deed, Chris­tian­ity was often the omens’ close friend, a fre­quent fea­ture in tales of the saints. But then, slowly at first, their sphere of in­flu­ence be­gan to shrink. The whole realm of the su­per­nat­ural un­der­went a marked con­trac­tion in West­ern Eu­rope—not, as one might sup­pose, with the sci­en­tific rev­o­lu­tion, but well be­fore it, dur­ing the pe­riod of, rough­ly, 1000 to 1500 of the com­mon era.6 The su­per­nat­ural of course con­tin­ued to ex­ist, but, as I men­tioned, the very act of dis­tin­guish­ing the nat­ural from the su­per­nat­ural was a dis­tinc­tion that be­spoke mankind’s grow­ing power over oc­cult forces.

    One in­di­ca­tion of this change is the phe­nom­e­non of ‘trial by or­deal’. In many so­ci­eties, su­per­nat­ural means were used to de­ter­mine a per­son’s guilt or in­no­cence, or the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness or in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of a given course of ac­tion: lots were cast, en­trails were scru­ti­nized, ar­rows were shot, and so forth, and the re­sults de­ter­mined what was to be done. This was not, it should be stressed, like our flip­ping a coin nowa­days, where the ut­terly ran­dom na­ture of the out­come is gen­er­ally rec­og­nized by the par­tic­i­pants. In­stead, the re­sults here were taken to be an ex­pres­sion of the di­vine will…Chris­t­ian tri­als by or­deal con­tin­ued long after this time [first cen­tury CE], in fact, well into the Mid­dle Ages. And they were no joke: in­deed, they were known by the some­what more omi­nous name of ‘the Judg­ment of God’ (iu­di­cium Dei)…The in­ter­est­ing thing is that such tri­als vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared from West­ern Eu­rope by the year 1300, and it seems this was part of a wider trend that lim­ited (but cer­tainly did not elim­i­nate en­tire­ly) the role of the su­per­nat­ural in hu­man affairs. It may not be a co­in­ci­dence that this was also the time when the writ­ings of Plato and Aris­totle, as well as the other Greek sci­en­tific and math­e­mat­i­cal trea­tis­es, were mak­ing their way into Lat­in, often via ear­lier trans­la­tions into Ara­bic. (Greek had been largely un­known in West­ern Eu­rope.) A whole new at­ti­tude to the for­merly su­per­nat­ural world was emerg­ing, what the so­ci­ol­o­gist called “break­ing the magic spell” of the world.8 The un­canny was re­ced­ing.

  4. Char­i­ta­ble Foun­da­tion­s—­Pos­ner’s Com­ment:

    But I would not place much weight on com­pe­ti­tion by uni­ver­si­ties and other re­cip­i­ents of char­i­ta­ble giv­ing for foun­da­tion grants, since the re­cip­i­ents will com­pete what­ever the source; uni­ver­si­ties com­pete for gov­ern­ment grants just as they do for pri­vate grants. A per­pet­ual char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion, how­ev­er, is a com­pletely ir­re­spon­si­ble in­sti­tu­tion, an­swer­able to no­body. It com­petes nei­ther in cap­i­tal mar­kets nor in prod­uct mar­kets (in both re­spects differ­ing from uni­ver­si­ties), and, un­like a hered­i­tary monarch whom such a foun­da­tion oth­er­wise re­sem­bles, it is sub­ject to no po­lit­i­cal con­trols ei­ther. It is not even sub­ject to bench­mark com­pe­ti­tion—that is, eval­u­a­tion by com­par­i­son with sim­i­lar en­ter­pris­es—ex­cept with re­gard to the per­cent­age of its ex­pen­di­tures that go to ad­min­is­tra­tion (staff salaries and the like) rather than to donees. The puz­zle for eco­nom­ics is why these foun­da­tions are not to­tal scan­dal­s…A deeper puz­zle re­lates to the left­ward drift in foun­da­tion poli­cies that Becker dis­cuss­es, a drift en­abled by the per­pet­ual char­ac­ter of a foun­da­tion. (I agree that foun­da­tion staff work is at­trac­tive to lib­er­als and that the chil­dren of the founders tend to be more lib­eral than their fa­thers. In both cases the main rea­son is prob­a­bly that while the cre­ators of the ma­jor foun­da­tions in­vari­ably are suc­cess­ful busi­ness­men, and busi­ness val­ues are con­ser­v­a­tive, foun­da­tion staff are not busi­ness-peo­ple and many chil­dren of wealthy busi­ness-peo­ple do not go into busi­ness ei­ther.) The puz­zle is why con­ser­v­a­tives es­tab­lish per­pet­ual foun­da­tions. Don’t they re­al­ize what is likely to hap­pen down the road? The an­swer may be that the de­sire to per­pet­u­ate their name is greater than their de­sire to sup­port con­ser­v­a­tive caus­es. In any event, a rule for­bid­ding per­pet­ual foun­da­tions would be pa­ter­nal­is­tic.

    Nev­er­the­less, on the ba­sic libertarian/economic grounds, even Pos­ner has to ad­mit:

    I agree with Becker that the great strength of char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tions, and the prin­ci­pal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the tax ex­emp­tion (though a sec­ondary one is to off­set the free-rider prob­lem in char­i­ta­ble giv­ing—if you give to my fa­vorite char­i­ty, I ben­e­fit, and so the more you give the less I will be in­clined to give), are that they bring about a de­cen­tral­iza­tion of char­i­ta­ble giv­ing, break­ing what would oth­er­wise be a gov­ern­men­tal mo­nop­oly and thus re­duc­ing the play of pol­i­tics in char­i­ty. In ad­di­tion, how­ev­er, to the ex­tent that char­i­ta­ble giv­ing sub­sti­tutes for gov­ern­ment spend­ing, such giv­ing (mi­nus the tax ben­e­fits to the giver) rep­re­sents a form of vol­un­tary tax­a­tion, like state lot­ter­ies. Given the enor­mous skew­ness of in­comes in to­day’s United States, it is good to en­cour­age vol­un­tary tax­a­tion of the wealthy…If rich peo­ple want to squan­der their money on feck­less foun­da­tions, that should be their priv­i­lege. More­over, to the ex­tent that foun­da­tion spend­ing sub­sti­tutes for gov­ern­ment spend­ing, the com­par­i­son is of two in­effi­cient forms of en­ter­prise, and the foun­da­tions may be the less in­effi­cient form.

  5. 6: See on this M. Bayliss, “The Cult of Dead Kin in As­syria and Baby­lo­nia”, Iraq 35 (1973), 115–125; Brian B. Schmidt, Is­rael’s Benefi­cent Dead: An­ces­tor Cult and Necro­mancy in An­cient Is­raelite Re­li­gion and Tra­di­tion (Winona Lake, In­d.: Eisen­brauns, 1996), 201–215; Theodore Lewis, The Cult of the Dead in An­cient Is­rael and Ugarit (At­lanta: Schol­ars Press, 1989), 97. [More read­ing: Eliz­a­beth M. Bloch-Smith’s 1992 pa­per, “The Cult of the Dead in Ju­dah: In­ter­pret­ing the Ma­te­r­ial Re­mains”.]↩︎

  6. The fol­low­ing are the num­bered ref­er­ences in the Fukuyama ex­tract:

    • 39: Hugh Bak­er, Chi­nese Fam­ily and Kin­ship (New York: Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­sity Press, 1979), p. 26.
    • 5: Such rights were said to have spon­ta­neously emerged dur­ing the of 1849–1850, when min­ers peace­fully ne­go­ti­ated among them­selves an al­lo­ca­tion of the claims they had staked out. See Pipes, Prop­erty and Free­dom, p. 91. This ac­count ig­nores two im­por­tant con­tex­tual fac­tors: first, the min­ers were all prod­ucts of an An­glo-Amer­i­can cul­ture where re­spect for in­di­vid­ual prop­erty rights was deeply em­bed­ded; sec­ond, these rights came at the ex­pense of the cus­tom­ary rights to these ter­ri­to­ries on the part of the var­i­ous in­dige­nous peo­ples liv­ing there, which were not re­spected by the min­ers.
    • 6: Charles K. Meek, Land Law and Cus­tom in the Colonies, 2d ed. (Lon­don: Frank Cass, 1968), p. 26.
    • 7: Quoted in Eliz­a­beth Col­son, “The Im­pact of the Colo­nial Pe­riod on the De­fi­n­i­tion of Land Rights,” in Vic­tor Turn­er, ed., Colo­nial­ism in Africa 1870–1960. Vol. 3: “Pro­files in Change: African So­ci­ety and Colo­nial Rule” (New York: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 1971), p. 203.
    • 8: Meek, Land Law and Cus­tom, p. 6.
    • 9: Col­son, “Im­pact of the Colo­nial Pe­ri­od,” p. 200.
    • 10: Paul Vino­grad­off, His­tor­i­cal Ju­rispru­dence (Lon­don: Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity Press, 1923), p. 327.
    • 11: Meek, Land Law and Cus­tom, p. 17.
    • 12: Vino­grad­off, His­tor­i­cal Ju­rispru­dence, p. 322.
    • 13: For a dis­cus­sion of the pros and cons of tra­di­tional land tenure, see Curt­in, Holzknecht, and Lar­mour, Land Reg­is­tra­tion in Papua New Guinea.
    • 14: For a de­tailed ac­count of the diffi­cul­ties of ne­go­ti­at­ing prop­erty rights in Papua New Guinea, see Wimp, “In­dige­nous Land Own­ers and Rep­re­sen­ta­tion in PNG and Aus­tralia.”
    • 15: The mod­ern eco­nomic the­ory of prop­erty rights does not spec­ify the so­cial unit over which in­di­vid­ual prop­erty rights ex­tend for the sys­tem to be effi­cient. The unit is often pre­sumed to be the in­di­vid­u­al, but fam­i­lies and firms are often posited as hold­ers of prop­erty rights, whose con­stituent mem­bers are as­sumed to have com­mon in­ter­ests in the effi­cient ex­ploita­tion of the re­sources they to­gether own. See Jen­nifer Roback, “Ex­change, Sov­er­eign­ty, and In­di­an-An­glo Re­la­tions,” in Terry L. An­der­son, ed., Prop­erty Rights and In­dian Economies (Lan­ham, MD: Row­man and Lit­tle­field, 1991).
  7. In the non-Sin­gu­lar­ity sce­nar­ios where pa­tient main­te­nance & re­vival trusts will need to last a min­i­mum of a cen­tu­ry—the first cry­op­reser­va­tion was in 1967, so al­ready hit­ting the half-cen­tury mark—the con­tempt of de­scen­dants for their an­ces­tors’ wishes be­comes a se­ri­ous con­cern.↩︎

  8. Fi­nan­cial funds or trusts which only last a few decades or a cen­tury or two may not be a large con­cern for the or the , which are de­signed to func­tion with­out hu­man or fi­nan­cial in­put; but it is a se­ri­ous con­cern for (how do the pre­dic­tions pay out if the funds are seized? or if the or­ga­ni­za­tion is forced to dis­solve?) and a deal-breaker for any “Li­brary of the Long Now” (what’s the point of a new li­brary if it will only last a few cen­turies? Any efforts would then be far bet­ter in­vested in ex­ist­ing old in­sti­tu­tions like the or the ).↩︎

  9. pg65–66, James L. Kugel, In the Val­ley of the Shadow:

    One book I read dur­ing chemother­apy was the well-known study by the ex­per­i­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist , (1976). Jaynes sug­gested that the hu­man brain used to func­tion some­what differ­ently in an­cient times (that is, up to about 3,000 years ago). He noted that, while many as­pects of lan­guage and re­lated func­tions are lo­cated in the two parts of the brain’s left hemi­sphere known as and , the right-brain coun­ter­parts to these ar­eas are nowa­days largely dor­mant. Ac­cord­ing to Jay­nes, how­ev­er, those ar­eas had been ex­tremely im­por­tant in ear­lier times, be­fore hu­mans be­gan to per­ceive the world as we do now. Back then, he the­o­rized, hu­mans had an es­sen­tially “bi­cam­eral mind” that lacked the in­te­gra­tive ca­pac­i­ties of the mod­ern brain. In­stead, its two halves func­tioned rel­a­tively in­de­pen­dent­ly: the would obey what it per­ceived as “voices”. which in fact em­anated from those now-dor­mant ar­eas of the right brain. (In Jay­nes’s for­mu­la­tion, the right hemi­sphere “or­ga­nized ad­mon­i­tory ex­pe­ri­ence and coded it into ‘voices’ which were then ‘heard’ by the left hemi­sphere.”) Al­though in­ter­nally gen­er­at­ed, those voices were thus per­ceived by the left brain as com­ing from out­side. It is this sit­u­a­tion that led to the be­lief in com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the gods in an­cient times, as well as the be­lief in lesser sorts of su­per­nat­ural com­mu­ni­ca­tors: talk­ing spir­its and ge­nies, muses who dic­tated po­etry to the “in­spired” po­et, sa­cred rocks, trees, and other ob­jects that brought word “from the other side”. When this bi­cam­eral mind faded out of ex­is­tence and mod­ern con­scious­ness arose, prophecy like­wise ceased and peo­ple sud­denly no longer heard the gods telling them what to do.

    Jay­nes’s the­ory at­tracted much at­ten­tion when first pro­mul­gat­ed: it an­swered a lot of ques­tions in one bold stroke. But it was not long be­fore other schol­ars raised [sub­stan­tial], and even­tu­ally dev­as­tat­ing, ob­jec­tions to his idea. To be­gin with, 3,000 years is a tiny speck of time on the scale of hu­man evo­lu­tion. How could so ba­sic a change in the way our brains work have come about so re­cent­ly? What is more, 3,000 years ago hu­mans lived in the most var­ied so­ci­eties and en­vi­ron­ments. Some so­ci­eties were al­ready quite so­phis­ti­cated and di­ver­si­fied, while oth­ers then (and some still now) ex­isted in the most rudi­men­tary state; some hu­mans lived in trop­i­cal forests, oth­ers in tem­per­ate climes, still oth­ers in snowy waste­lands close to earth’s poles; and so forth. could hu­man brains in these most di­verse cir­cum­stances all have changed so rad­i­cally at—in evo­lu­tion­ary terms—the same in­stant? Cer­tainly now our brains all seem to func­tion in pretty much the same way, no mat­ter where we come from; there are no ap­par­ent sur­viv­ing ex­em­plars of the bi­cam­eral mind that Jaynes pos­tu­lat­ed. What could have caused hu­man­ity to un­dergo this rad­i­cal change in lock­step all over the earth’s sur­face? A ray from outer space?

    But if Jay­nes’s idea has met with dis­ap­proval, the ev­i­dence he ad­duced is no less provoca­tive. The prob­lem of ex­plain­ing such phe­nom­ena as the ap­pear­ance and sub­se­quent dis­ap­pear­ance of prophecy in many so­ci­eties (though cer­tainly not al­l), along with the near-u­ni­ver­sal ev­i­dence of re­li­gion dis­cussed ear­lier (with the wide­spread phe­nom­e­non of peo­ple com­muning with dead an­ces­tors and/or god­s—and hear­ing back from them), re­mains puz­zling.