Notes From All Over (9/10/18): Constitutional Cycles, Cognitive Gadgets, and the Uses of Repression


“The Recent Unpleasantness: Understanding the Cycles of Constitutional Time”
Jack M. Balkin, Public Law Research Paper No. 648. 8 August 2018. (Indiana Law Journal, 2018 Forthcoming).

Our present condition is a little like an eclipse, although much less enjoyable. To understand what is going on today in America, we have to think in terms of political cycles that interact with each other and create remarkable—and dark—times… What are the three cycles at work in American politics? The first is the cycle of the rise and fall of political regimes in American history. The second is the cycle of polarization and depolarization. And the third is the decay and renewal of republican government, which I call the cycle of constitutional rot and constitutional renewal. Each of these cycles operates on a different time scale. I will introduce each of them in turn, and explain how they interact. Together, the interaction of the se three cycles—of the rise and fall of regimes, of polarization and depolarization, and of rot and renewal—generate constitutional time. Think of this lecture like a chronometer that tells you where we are in constitutional time…

See also: Jack M. Balkin, “Constitutional Rot Reaches the Supreme Court,” Balkinization (6 October 2018).

Précis of Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking.”
Cecilia Heyes. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-57. September 2018.

I have hailed Cecilia Heyes’ new book Cognitive Gadgets as the most important work in the human sciences published this year. Behavioral and Brain Sciences also believes her work breaks new ground. You can read a 60~ page precis of the book for free on their website, where it is up for ‘public comment.’

“Repression Works (Just not in Moderation)”
Yuri Zhukov, personal working paper. 29 September, 2017.

This paper is long. It also explains why I am so pessimistic about the Uyghur situation in Xinjiang.


Here’s how much Americans trust 38 major news organizations (hint: not all that much!)
Joshua Benton. Nieman Lab. 5 October 2018.

I personally would switch around the place of The Washington Post and The Guardian. (Find the original research here.)

The Meritocracy Against Itself
Ross Douthat. The New York Times. 2 October 2018.

…if you read this and then go look me up on Wikipedia (actually, please don’t) you’ll see that I also attended something that could be reasonably described as a prep school — so who am I, exactly, to declare that there was some huge distance between myself and the Kavanaugh types, or any other preppy clique?

And with that question you’ve struck to the heart of the whole meritocratic game, which depends on a reproduction of privilege that pretends to be something else, something fair and open and all about hard work and just deserts.

…Also, note the parenthetical disclosure in the story, where Miller explains how she got in touch with Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate Kit Winter and a friend of his, Itamar Kubovy, who visited their unhappy dorm room: “Editor’s note: Winter, Kubovy, and I went to high school together in New Haven, and Winter’s family and mine were friends.” That “high school” was Hopkins, currently ranked as the second-best private high school in Connecticut (fullest-possible disclosure: mine is ranked No. 14). So the story Miller is telling is about how a jock from the No. 5 private high school in Maryland was a jerk to his roommate who went to the No. 2 private high school in Connecticut, and who years later communicated the story to a reporter who also went to that same No. 2 private high school, who then wrote it up as a tale of social stratification for our times.

…A great many of the people who populate those schools, a great many of the people who complain about preppy creeps and rich jocks even as they try to imitate them, a great many of the people whose essays on What Kavanaugh Represents are populating elite-media websites these days, are much more like the “elites and legacies” than their self-image permits them to admit.

Online Harassment Report: 2017
Maeve Duggan. Pew Internet. 7 November 2017.

“Men and women experience and respond to online harassment in different ways. Overall, men are somewhat more likely to experience any form of harassing behavior online: 44% of men and 37% of women have experienced at least one of the six behaviors this study uses to define online harassment. In terms of specific experiences, men (30%) are modestly more likely than women (23%) to have been called offensive names online or to have received physical threats (12% vs. 8%).

By contrast, women – and especially young women – encounter sexualized forms of abuse at much higher rates than men. Some 21% of women ages 18 to 29 report being sexually harassed online, a figure that is more than double the share among men in the same age group (9%). In addition, roughly half (53%) of young women ages 18 to 29 say that someone has sent them explicit images they did not ask for. For many women, online harassment leaves a strong impression: 35% of women who have experienced any type of online harassment describe their most recent incident as either extremely or very upsetting, about twice the share among men (16%).

More broadly, men and women differ sharply in their attitudes toward the relative importance of online harassment as an issue. For instance, women (63%) are much more likely than men (43%) to say people should be able to feel welcome and safe in online spaces, while men are much more likely than women to say that people should be able to speak their minds freely online (56% of men vs. 36% of women). Similarly, half of women say offensive content online is too often excused as not being a big deal, whereas 64% of men – and 73% of young men ages 18 to 29 – say that many people take offensive content online too seriously. Further, 70% of women – and 83% of young women ages 18 to 29 – view online harassment as a major problem, while 54% of men and 55% of young men share this concern.”


“The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies”
Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley. Bloomberg Businessweek. 8 October 2018

If true, this story is the scoop of the year. But the veracity of the story is up to question. Read a few entries in the dispute here, here, here, and here.

 “If Horses Had Wings : The Political Demands of Mainland New Confucians in Recent Years
Ge Zhaoguang (Introduction and translation by David Ownby). Reading the Chinese Dream. September 2018.

This essay is a good reminder of how complicated political opinion in China actually is. Many folks assume that Chinese liberals hate the Party most of all. But reality is more complicated. In my experience, the group they really can’t stand is the political tribe targeted in this essay: the “New Confucians”

“How tensions with the West are putting the future of China’s Skynet mass surveillance system at stake.”
Stephen Chen. South China Morning Post. 23 September 2018.

2018 Purdue Survey of Chinese Students and Scholars in the United States: A General Report
Center on Religion and Chinese Society. September 2018.

Eric Fish has a good twitter thread that summarizes the report, for those who don’t want to read the full thing.


“Why most narrative history is wrong”
Alex Rosenberg. Salon. 7 October 2018.

Mark my words: this is going to the next academic crap-storm. You will see.

Geopolitics and Asia’s little divergence: State building in China and Japan after 1850
Mark Koyama, Chiaki Moriguchi, and Tuan-HweeSung. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. September 2018.

China Is What You Get If Your Civilization Never Gets Amnesia
Razib Khan. Gene Expression. 29 September 2018.

Thoughtful review of Li Feng’s Early China: A Social and Cultural History.


“The Rutherford Atom of Culture”
Lawrence A. Hirschfeld. Journal of Cognition and Culture (Vol 18, Iss 4), pp. 231– 261. 2018.

A compelling but flawed attack on cross-cultural psychology. See my longer take (and it is pretty long) in this tweet stream. My response is strongly informed by the logic of Cecilia Heyes’ Cultural Gadget, mentioned above.

“Why your brain is hardwired to be bad at economics – and how to fix it.”
Pascal Boyer. New Scientist. September 2018.

See also: Pascal Boyer and Michael Bang Peterson, “Folk-economic beliefs: An evolutionary cognitive model,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences (October 2017) and the 32 commentaries on it.

“Can I Have My Amygdala Removed?”
‘Neuroskeptic.’ Discover Magazine. 7 October 2018.

“Empirical assessment of published effect sizes and power in the recent cognitive neuroscience and psychology literature.”
Denes Szucs and John PA Ioannidis. PLOS Biology. March 2017.

This suggests that neuroscience and brain-imaging studies are ripe for their own replication crisis.

“Was Science Wrong About Being Right?”
Gemma Tarlach. Discover Magazine. June 2018.


The big academic news this week is the ‘Sokal Squared’ set of hoax papers that got through a series of critical theory oriented journals. I have written up two twitter threads summarizing my thoughts on the hoaxes:

Sokal Squared Thread I
Sokal Squared Thread II

“Hunter-Gatherers Maintain Assortativity in Cooperation despite High Levels of Residential Change and Mixing”
Kristopher M. Smith, Tomás Larroucau, Ibrahim A. Mabulla, and Coren L. Apicella. Cell (vol 28, iss 19). October 2018.

“The origins of human prosociality: Cultural group selection in the workplace and the laboratory”
Patrick Francois, Thomas Fujiwara, and Tanguy van Ypersele. Science Advances (Vol. 4, no. 9). 19 September 2018.

Very interesting attempt to apply cultural evolution theory to modern firms. A short critique of mine can be found here.


“Hired to Drain the Swamp, Fired in Less Than a Year”
Mark Perry, The American Conservative. 26 September 2018.

“How WhatsApp Destroyed A Village”
 Pranav Dixit and Ryan Mac. Buzzfeed News. 9 September 2018.


“Lessons From Bar Fight Litigation”
Burt Likko. Ordinary Times. 21 January 2014. 

“Why and How to Protect Your Garbage from Snoopers and Thieves”
Joshua Sheets. Radical Personal Finance Podcast (episode 578). 7 September 2018.


See also: Hiroshige Seko,  Robert E. Lighthizer, and Cecilia Malmström, “Joint Statement on Trilateral Meeting of the Trade Ministers of the United States, Japan, and the European Union” Press Release, 25 September 2018.

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Rosenberg's Salon article about why most of the history is wrong seems to me a really verbose way to put forward three rather uncontroversial theses:

1. people like stories
2. history is too complicated to fit into a story
2. simplifying history to tell a story is bad (for many reasons, mostly because it can convince people they know something they don't and it's an easy way to sell a false version of events to further an agenda)

Yes, I tried hard to simplify his argument. I hope I didn't mangle it too badly in the process.

I opened up quite a few of these links for sheer interest- good and varied selection. The bar fight piece and its attached comment threads were enlightening on several points.

I was reading Razib Khan criticizing Critical Theory-speak recently. The abstract for The Rutherford Atom of Culture struck me as a modest example of it. It's one thing for me to concede I'm not an anthropologist, but that abstract left me with very little confidence I can anticipate the argument. Goodness.