Open Thread – Brown Pundits

Please keep the other posts on topic. Use this for talking about whatever you want to talk about.

One thing, thanks to everyone who has donated to the Patreon. Weirdly it makes me feel a little more appreciated when I’m editing these podcasts late at night after my work and family are over 😉 Since the “patrons” have some “skin in the game” definitely going to be taking input from them in terms of what the directions are that our podcast, and to some extent the blog, will follow. I started this weblog with Zach seven years ago without any real goal or endpoint, so it’s evolving….

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The hammer of the All-Father


Unless you have been sleeping under a rock, a mildly slanderous piece in The New York Times Magazine has taken aim at David Reich and his band of paleogeneticists, Is Ancient DNA Research Revealing New Truths — or Falling Into Old Traps? I address this piece at my other weblog.

One of the major themes of the piece are the legends and myths of the people of Vanuatu:

I asked him about how the concept of Lapita migration to empty islands had been received by people whose oral traditions said they came from a stone or a coconut tree.

The reason this is relevant is that paleogeneticists have probed the history of Vanuatu. And yet this is the past. The future is that the Reich lab is collaborating with other paleogeneticists to crack the nut of the history of the Indian subcontinent with ancient DNA. They’ve been working on this for years, and they are working on it now. There are 275,000 people who live in Vanuatu. There are 1.7 billion people who live in the Indian subcontinent.

Within the next year I believe that the Reich lab will publish results which will falsify the beliefs of a substantial number of Indians about the nature of the origins of the native peoples of the region. This will shatter world-views, undermine mythologies, and rock peoples’ worlds. There will be sophists who live in denial, but the truth will be plain to those who see.

I understand that some of you reading this disagree with this assessment. Ultimately I don’t care because the data are coming, and if I’m wrong, that’s OK too. I don’t have emotional baggage invested in alternative models. But, I do wonder why the mythological traditions of “non-indigenous” people seem to warrant less attention than smaller nations or premodern tribes.

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Supporting the Brown Pundits “BrownCast”

When Zach, Omar, and myself began the BrownCast I said that at some point we’d have to think about how we could make it self-supporting. Some people are already complaining about the production quality.

There’s a reason for that: I’ve been doing all the editing. I literally had never used Audacity before, and as most of you know I’m a geneticist, not a sound engineer.

For those of you who think no production is involved, listen to this clip I edited out from the most recent recording with myself, Slapstick, and Zach.

I would like to get a person who has skills and can devote time, to this project. I have someone in mind. But I’m already paying Zencastr bills out of pocket. So I’m asking listeners to chip in. Please consider giving to my Patreon. Since there is a wide range of abilities to pay I’m not stipulating a specific amount.

As a patron benefit, I have just posted links to the next two podcasts on Patreon. A podcast with Omar, Ali Minai, and Charles Cameron which focuses on Urdu literature and before shifting to artificial intelligence and the nature of Western culture is up. As well as another where Slapstick explains “generative grammar” in the context of Sanskrit.

We are unlikely to post podcasts more than once a week. But I often edit them together considerably earlier, so Patrons will get them in batches well before everyone else.

If you are not in a position to be a patron, please rate us positively on iTunes and Stitcher.

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An Iyer in the Whitehouse


As most of you probably know, <<<Kamala Harris>>>’ <<<mother>>> (who raised her after she was divorced from Harris’ father) was an immigrant from India. A Tamil Brahmin physician, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris instilled a sense of Indian culture in her daughter. At least according to Harris’ Indian.

The weird thing about Harris for me is she looks a lot like an Iyer friend of mine whenever she smiles.

Because of her mainstream/corporate Democrat credentials, I suspect Harris is far more likely to become President than Tulsi Gabbard.

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A Hindu in the Whitehouse?

Tulsi Gabbard is running for President. She is a devotee of Gaudiya Vaishnava Hinduism. Her father is half-Samoan, and due to her dark looks and Hindu religion, she is often assumed to be South Asian. And, she does have connections to South Asian culture through her religious affinities.

That being said, I assume this is a way for her to increase her profile more than a plausible chance to win the Presidency (though I think the same was true of Trump!). Gabbard is a somewhat heterodox Democrat who strikes a Left pose, but her background in her youth was in social conservatism, and the truth is that aside from some oddballs there’s not much light between different factions in the Democratic party in 2018. For this, and other reasons, she is under fire from the usual pundit-class commissars who punish deviationism.

But what I’m curious about the attacks that are made on her religion:


The idea that Gabbard is a cultist probably comes from a piece in The New Yorker, The making of a charismatic, unorthodox Democrat.

Since I’m not on the Left, I don’t care/know about all the internecine conflicts/moves that define these sort of coordinated couterattacks. But it’s really interesting to me that unless you are a very liberal cultural Hindu, it’s open season from certain quarters of the Left. In a way, this is similar to Christianity, but not Islam, where conservatively devout individuals are acceptable so long as they keep their social views on the down-low.

(I have a friend who is Gaudiya Vaishnava who has to explain to her Hindu American friends that not all Hindu Americans are pantheist/Deists who are OK with beef-eating. She is, by the way, a very liberal Democrat)

Note: Kamala Harris is a Baptist, but her mother was an Iyer.

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Forgetting the past

How could the Indo-Aryans have been from somewhere else if it is not recorded in their traditions? This is a common question that comes form many Indians. It is an entirely Indo-centric perspective. This is a description, not a critique. After all, the Indo-European Greeks have no lore of migration in the Hesiod. Many, such as the Athenians, consider themselves autochthonous. The Egyptians have no lore of migration. In contrast, the Sumerians seem to have had legends of migration from the “south” (perhaps marshland to the south of Mesopotamia proper). And the oldest Sumerian city does happen to be the most southern one (Eridu). The Norse have no history of migration from elsewhere, but it is almost certainly a fact that the Nordic Bronze Age cultures came out of the post-Bell Beaker and Corded Ware societies after 2000 BC, whose roots lay ultimately to the south and east.

Finally, as I have written elsewhere, in the space of less than 200 years the Celtic Britons of what became England abandoned their native language and cultural memory and replaced it with that of pagan Germans. We know from both fine-scale modern genetic analysis of the British Isles, as well as ancient DNA, that the majority of the ancestry of the modern English dates to the period before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. And yet pre-Germanic language and cultural folkways had only a trivial impact on the English. Even royal houses, such as those of Wessex, who were likely of native British origin (the earlier rulers in the genealogy have Celtic forenames!) “retconned” their origin to be from the Germanic god Wotan.

If, as I believe, the Indo-Aryans are rooted primarily in the Sintashta culture which flourished around ~2000 BC, and the Vedic culture flourished in South Asia by ~1500 BC, that allows for only five centuries to “forget.” Your mileage may vary, but 20 generations seems a bit short to forget this when these people were punctilious in matters of antique ritual.

To answer this conundrum, I propose something entirely conjectural and hypothetical, but not impossible: the Brahmin caste emerged as a fusion of Indo-Aryan ritualists and pre-Aryan priests. In terms of total ancestral contribution, the latter is actually more preponderant than the former. Though the language of the former is dominant, most people accept that the Vedic culture was somehow synthetic. A hybrid. Perhaps the pre-Aryan priesthood was culturally more dominant than we may suppose, and as its roots were deeply indigenous, they promoted the ideology that their hybrid caste was in India in toto immemorial?

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Brown Pundits – Episode 7, Sarah Haider, Islam, identity, and the “public life”

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

The guest this week is Sarah Haider. She is executive director of Ex-Muslims of North America.

Sarah and I are friends so I switched into a more informal register. The contrast between her very polished speaking style and my own is pretty striking and unsurprising. Also, please note that an outraged two year old child kept attempting to take over my home office, and you can hear him now and then.

If you want to hear more from her, please check out her speaking on YouTube.

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Toward a mature conservatism

India scientists dismiss Einstein theories:

In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told medical staff at a Mumbai hospital that the story of the Hindu god Ganesha – whose elephant head is attached to a human body – showed cosmetic surgery existed in ancient India.

I don’t comment much on Indian politics for two reasons. First, I think macroeconomic conditions and trajectories are more important than politics as such for a developing nation like India. Second, the details of the cultural and political dynamics within any given nation are really hard to grok from the outside.

That being said, the widespread percolation of this sort of pseudoscience and pseudohistory on the Indian Right is a problem and has analogs with instances in other nations (e.g., Mike Pence is almost certainly a Creationist). These beliefs are often (though not always) harmless in and of themselves, but they are indicative of deeper maladies in terms of epistemological hygiene.

I have Hindu nationalists who are broadly on the same empirical page as me. We differ on details of values and emphases. And I know they are somewhat embarrassed by these weird ideas about nuclear weapons in ancient India. The key is to keep a lid on it so it doesn’t capture the commanding heights (ergo, why I’m quoting Modi).

Addendum: One issue for me is that I have a hard time taking Indian pseudoscience seriously just as I have a hard time taking Creation Science seriously. Sincere, earnest, and sometimes bright, people taking absurd claims seriously and constructing models out of them strikes me as farcical and funny more than threatening.

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