Here’s links and comments on what I enjoyed reading this week.
1. DNA joins the surveillance society. This week police arrested a 72 year old man accused of 51 rapes and 12 murders between 1974 and 1986. He was tracked down using DNA site GEDmatch. How this works is you get your DNA results from a major company like 23andMe or Ancestry.com. It requires a court order for police to get that data. But once you have your own DNA data, you can also upload it wherever you want. Including an open DNA site like GEDmatch. GEDmatch now has about 900k people on file. And it’s free to use by anyone. While you share 50% of your DNA with siblings, it drops to 3% with 2nd cousins. The matches found on GEDmatch were 3rd and 4th cousins, which investigators turned into a list of about 1000 people who met the right profile. They narrowed it from there. Here’s a good explainer.
The key takeaway is how inevitable this feels. It’s been discussed for years. But only now is open access DNA information getting complete enough that everyone with lots of 2nd and 3rd cousins living in the U.S. can (in theory) be tracked down. The two drivers here are health and plummeting DNA sequencing costs. And of course many countries are ahead of the U.S., with national DNA databases tied to healthcare. Related – see my post on how the surveillance society is a return to our gossipy forager past.
2. Voting for status. Was the 2016 election result driven by white economic anxiety, cultural status, or plain racism? That’s how the question often gets asked. Sometimes conflating those last two. Now the New York Times reports on a study saying it’s cultural status. Example: “While economic anxiety did not explain Mr. Trump’s appeal, Dr. Mutz found reason instead to credit those whose thinking changed in ways that reflected a growing sense of racial or global threat.”
Andrew Sullivan argues for cultural anxiety, driven by immigration. Quote:
Ta-Nehisi Coates has called these people witting enablers of white supremacy because they voted for Trump, conjuring up images of men in white hoods lynching and murdering African-Americans. But many of them voted for Obama twice. Clinton called half of Trump voters “a basketful of deplorables.” But a majority of white women voted for Trump. The left intelligentsia regards them as bigots, racists, xenophobes, and even “privileged” — attitudes and statements that are re-broadcast every hour of every day to the white and culturally anxious viewers of Fox News. What few on the left seem to see is that cultural anxiety, given the ethnic and cultural transformation of the last few decades, is an entirely predictable and entirely understandable response. If people felt that someone in charge actually saw their point of view, sympathized with it, and attempted even minor changes to accommodate it, we would have a different politics. But all they had was Trump. And all they still have is Trump.
It wasn’t their economic insecurity that gave us Brexit. It was that no one in charge even sensed their unease. Elites — and I count myself among the guilty — gave them nothing by way of reassurance or even a sense that they were understood instead of reviled. So all they had was Brexit. It wasn’t a rational decision; it was their only way to have their voices heard. Their pride and self-identity are bound up in it now, just as a critical slice of America’s is bound up in Trump. Which is why, despite the mounting evidence that the Brexit gambit is a disaster, they will never let it go.
Adam Ozimek argues back at Sullivan, pointing out that “there are very few immigrants in the U.S. counties that went strongest for Trump.” And “I think a better description of what we’ve seen is not that immigrants have drastically changed Trump country and they are rebelling, but that other types of decline have occurred -from economic to social- and the very few immigrants who live there are scapegoated.”
I think Ozimek is more correct than Sullivan. But the larger point this whole debate misses is voting is always about status. We don’t live in a malthusian society. Modern economic hardship is status, not starvation. Being rich is status. Being Harvard is status. Being coastal city is status. Being racist is status. It’s status status status all the way down. We need to start already knowing uneducated whites have lost status. Then we can debate how much is due to immigration versus jobs versus race versus education versus media portrayal. And perhaps if we work hard enough, we’ll do something about it.
3. Music streaming. Progress toward music streaming continues apace. From Mark Mulligan: “streaming is dragging the entire recorded music industry back into growth (all other sales formats are in decline). The recorded music industry is on track to become a streaming industry in all but name.”
4. Seagoing Neandertals. Quote: “A decade ago, when excavators claimed to have found stone tools on the Greek island of Crete dating back at least 130,000 years, other archaeologists were stunned—and skeptical. But since then, at that site and others, researchers have quietly built up a convincing case for Stone Age seafarers—and for the even more remarkable possibility that they were Neandertals, the extinct cousins of modern humans.” Seagoing Neandertals! Most excellent. My favorite bit of the week.
Thank you for reading.