Entry from June 2, 2015

The Guardian reports on a new study published in Science purporting to show — at least according to The Guardian — that "early men and women were equal." The article’s author, Hannah Devlin, quotes Mark Dyble, one of the authors of the study, as saying: "There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male- dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged." As Bethan McKernan of The Independent so elegantly put it: "Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, patriarchy."

Not to be a science denier or anything, but I would just point out, if in slightly different terms than Bethan has done, what a very convenient finding this is for those of a certain ideological persuasion. And, even supposing that the study’s findings from the Congo and the Philippines today can be extrapolated to our primeval ancestors, it does not follow that the relative equality of the hunter-gatherer phase of their existence is somehow more authentic and therefore a model for us than the agricultural phase. If the one was an advantage for survival, then so, presumably, was the other. F.A. Hayek believed that behind every socialist and egalitarian scheme for the transformation of society there lay a sentimental nostalgia for some such mythical age of human innocence and equality and happiness, before we were corrupted by modernity or money or maleness. I wonder if Mr Dyble and his colleagues thought to ask the Congolese hunter-gatherers how that whole happy-innocence thing was working out for them?


My friend Bill Galston, with whom I seldom agree, has written an excellent column, as usual, for The Wall Street Journal in praise of Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, as "the anti-Bill de Blasio" and begins it this way: "In 2015 no mayor of a large, diverse city can believe that a rising tide lifts all boats." But, er, it sort of does, doesn’t it? I mean, as a mere matter of fact, a rising tide really does lift all boats. He needs to write something like the emendation of the figure made by Libby Purves of the London Times when she observes that, "speaking as a sailor, I can confirm that this does happen but not if some of the boats have been rotting too long, and get holed below the waterline by rocks or the sharp-pronged anchors of the larger yachts."

This is an example of what we might call metaphor capture — where a once illuminating comparison is no longer seen as a comparison. The figurative usage has become so common that it is henceforth assumed to be literal. Another example is that hoary old cliché of the left, "trickle down economics." But down is where things actually do happen to trickle, I mean if there is any trickling going on. It’s a well-known fact. A corollary of the theory of gravity. Bill may believe that a growing economy doesn’t benefit everyone equally — just as the anti-trickle-downers believe that the money of the rich only ever benefits themselves. But, if they believe this, they had better say so and not play fast and loose with comparisons to the world of common life where non-ideologues live.


And then there is this amusing headline from The Washington Post to an article by Robert Costa: "How Republicans hope to turn Islamic State into a problem for Democrats."

Hmm. Let me see if I can guess.

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