A Mongol India, a pagan India?

On Twitter there was a thread which posited what “might have been” if the Mongols had forthrightly smashed the Delhi Sultanate and added India, at least its north, to their vareigated domains. After the death of Genghis Khan, the Mongol Empire split into four broad political-geographical zones.

– to the north and west, was the Golden Horde. These Mongols and their Turkic subjects battered Europe held suzerainty over the principalities which succeeded Kievan Rus and bickered and battled with the Il-Khanate to their south.

– The IlKhanate centered around modern-day Iran, and for much of its early period controlled the Levant, much of Anatolia, and Mesopotamia.

– The Chagatai Khanate, which occupied Central Asia, to the west and east of the Altai and Tien Shan (roughly, Transoxiana and modern Xinjiang)

– The Yuan, which encompassed China and Mongolia

Genghis Khan’s conquests occurred in the early 1200s. By the 1300s all of the three “western” domains took up Islam as the primary religion of the Mongol elite. The Yuan in the east remained non-Muslim, mixing patronage of Tibetan Buddhism with the Mongols’ customary shamanist Tengrism. When they were expelled from China they retreated to Mongolia and the descendants of the Yuan ruled Mongolia until their integration into the Manchu Empire in the 17th-century.

One thing that is illuminated in Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road is that the eastern Mongols flirted with adopting Islam before they finally shifted to Tibetan Buddhism in the 16th-century. Some of their leaders took Muslim names and seem to have adopted the trappings of Islam, before falling away.

Though the transition of the western Mongols toward Islam differed across the three Khanates. The IlKhanate ruled over mostly Muslims. The fact that for several generations Muslims were ruled by Tengrists, Buddhists, and Christians (Persian Christianity had a foothold in Mongol in the 12th-century) was always a tension. Ultimately, the IlKhan conversion to Islam was not of major consequence because the IlKhanate collapsed earlier than the other domains.

The Golden Horde adopted Islam in large part because that was the religion of the Turks who comprised the majority of the nomads in the confederation. But, in the early period, the Golden Horde was hegemonic over many Christian regions, and the majority of its subjects may have been nominally Christian. And yet the Mongol elite was naturally assimilated into the Turkic elite, not the Christian princes (though they did intermarry with the Christian nobility, and some Lithuanian and Russian noble lineages have Mongol ancestry from the Golden Horde).

The Chagatai Khanate’s adoption of Islam in the 14th-century was ironic, because Chagatai, one of the sons of Genghis Khan, was a fierce Mongol traditionalist who personally detested Islam. As with the Golden Horde, the Islamicization of the Chagatai lineage seems to have been a function of the reality that the non-Muslim Mongols swam in a sea of Turkic Muslim subjects.

Which brings us to India. Most readers of this post will know that the Mongols had various military encounters with the nascent Delhi Sultanate, but ultimately India never truly became a part of their empire. But what if it had?

The person who initially posted this counterfactual fantasized about the destruction of Islam in India because the Mongols were against Islam. This is objectively not so. In the 13th-century, the Mongols were religiously peripatetic and latitudinarian. The only “higher religion” that they were initially familiar with was the Persian Christianity of their Kerait and Naiman neighbors. Most of Genghis Khan’s sons married Christian women from these tribes.

Though Genghis Khan himself took to developing a special relationship with a Daoist adept, repeatedly the early Mongols seemed to exhibit a strong affinity toward Tibetan Buddhism, prefiguring the Mongol mass conversion of the 16th-century. Buddhist lamas were presences in both the Golden Horde and the IlKhanate, and Persia in the 13th-century saw a renaissance of Buddhist temple building.

My initial thought about the counterfactual is that the Mongols would surely have become Muslim, as they did in the Golden Horde, because of the large number of Turkic Muslims present in India. The analogy here is with the Golden Horde. In the Golden Horde Mongols and Turks shared the same mode of production, as pure pastoralists and rent-seekers. Mongols who lived a sedentary lifestyle may have eventually simply been absorbed into the Russians.

But then I began thinking: what about the Yuan dynasty example? Here Mongols used Muslims as an intermediary caste with the local population, and never became Muslims themselves. Additionally, while the Han Chinese did not have a military caste (the military profession had a low status in China at the time), obviously India’s Rajputs were a local group of non-Muslims with whom the Mongols might identify. Many of the Mongols were already nominally Buddhist, and so concepts such as Dharma might be familiar to them.

So let’s imagine a fork where Mongols arrive as non-Muslims, and somehow establish a synthesis with Hindus and eventually assimilate as a Hindu caste. This is not totally crazy. In 1228 the Tai Ahom arrived in Assam. They were already partially Buddhist, though eventually, they became Hindus.

Of course, many Hindus want to know: would this be the end of Islam in the subcontinent? I don’t think so for two reasons.

First, the Mongols were generally religiously tolerant. This often held even after their initial conversion to Islam, which was often quite nominal and practical. It seems unlikely they’d wage a religious vendetta against Islam as such. The Turks and Afghans who arrived in the earlier decades would probably simply go into service with the Mongol Khanate. Eventually, they’d be the core of a religious minority in a post-Mongol but Hindu dispensation. This is what happened in China, where many of the Chinese Muslims clearly descend from Central Asians and Turks who arrived with the Yuan.

Second, there may simply be structural reasons why Muslim Turks would move into India no matter what at some point. India was rich. The Turks and Afghans were not. Additionally, as pastoralists and nomads with ready access to horses, the Central Asians had structural advantages against local polities, who could not mobilize the whole of local economies. I suspect, to be honest that the Mongols would only arrest and delay a process that was inevitable.


Browncast episode 80: Sikhs and Sikhism with Jodh Singh (Jungnihang)

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  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.

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else.

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In this episode we talk to Jodh Singh, a young Indian-American Sikh who writes regularly on Sikh history and Sikhism. Do follow him on twitter (where he tweets as @jungnihang) and Medium (https://medium.com/@jodhsingh/ ). We discuss the origin and rise of the Sikhs, their later consolidation in colonial times and a little about current issues as well.

Image result for sikh warriors playing chess



The Indian Neolithic

To understand the genetic patterning of South Asia more understanding of the archaeology of the Neolithic is necessary. Unfortunately, I don’t have that. The site of Chirand in Bihar has extensive Neolithic features which date to at 4,500 years at the latest (the region seems to have undergone stepwise development for thousands of years earlier). Who were these people? What happened to them?


An early modern Pax Islamica

The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal has been in my “stack” for a while. It’s a short and academically-oriented work. What’s great about this book is that it is cross-cultural and comparative. I don’t know about you, but these sorts of narrative frames make recall and retention far easier for me. The integration of facts with other facts means that the sum of the parts is greater than the parts evaluated alone. In this, it has similarities with Strange Parallels: Integration on the Mainland: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c.800–1830.

The title itself is informative. These were Islamic polities in a self-conscious manner. The Ottoman Sultan emerged out of a parvenue lineage on the western Anatolian frontier whose claim to rule was based on their status as ghazis. Warriors of the faith. Their Mandate was confirmed through victory. The Safavids had religious charisma before they were temporally powerful. They were hereditary leaders of a Sufi order (their adoption of Shia Islam was a relatively late event). Finally, the Mughals were arguably the least religiously inflected of the three early modern dynasties, despite their appeal to the ghazi ethos.

Rather, the Mughals were notable because of their lineage, which was the most prestigious of the three. The Timurids descended from Timur, obviously, but more importantly, they descended on their maternal side from Genghis Khan. Though Genghis Khan was a pagan, whose scions destroyed much of the Islamic civilization of the Near East (and killed the last Abbassid Caliphs), the raw power and impact of the conqueror was such that he cast a shadow over the whole Turco-Persian world.

The key issue here is that these were dynasties of the Turco-Persian world, more or less. These were not states of the Islamic Arab world, though the Ottomans eventually absorbed much of that world in their later expansionary phase. Nor were they states of the Far East, or even Inner Asia. Despite all their other antecedents,* these dynasties were of Turkic provenance, and yet their entry into Islam was associated with their entry into Persianate culture.

The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal takes a chronological tack in that it explores the origins of the three polities as far back as 1000 A.D., and also addresses thematic elements (e.g., architecture, poetry, and economics). Because of the thematic component it is not a work that needs to be read in sequence chapter by chapter, though perhaps doing so would allow for full appreciation.

One thing that jumps out is that in many ways the Safavid Iranian regime is an outlier in many ways. This is obviously true in regards to religion. The Safavids began as a vaguely Sunni but very Sufi religious order in eastern Anatolia. But by 1500 they were promoting arguably ghulat forms of Shia Islam, before settling down on mainstream Ithna Ashari beliefs. It is to this period that connections between Iran, a term that they resurrected, and the Shia cities of Iraq and the Shia regions of Lebanon, were established. It is during this period that Iran was forcibly converted from a mostly Sunni cultural region with Shia pockets to a Shia domain.

The Safavid domains corresponded roughly to what we now know as the Iranian nation-state (Mesopotamia was part of the Safavid domains for a few decades here and there). Despite early attempts at expansion into their Anatolian homelands, rebuffed by the muscular Ottoman military machine, the Safavids were preoccupied with internal concerns. The religious transformation of a whole region through coercion expended a great deal of capital. The early Ottoman state before 1500, and the Mughal domains for its entirety, was different from the Safavids insofar as the ruling military elite were of a different religious identity from the majority whom they ruled (Christians and Hindus respectively).

In contrast, the Ottomans did not attempt to forcibly reshape the culture of their vast domains. The millet system established subordinate roles for non-Muslims, while Ottoman hegemony over their 16th-century conquests in Arab lands did not disrupt native elites (the Mameluke Sultanate was conquered, but the Mamelukes remained Egypt’s ruling caste for centuries under the Ottomans). Within Anatolia and parts of Rumelia a process of assimilation of Greeks, Macedonians, and Armenians, to a “Turkish” identity occurred organically through conversion to Islam. Over the centuries the cosmopolitan tastes of the early Sultans, who spoke Persian at court and styled themselves, successors of the Roman Emperors, gave way to a classical Ottoman identity as leaders of the Muslim world who nevertheless had their own linguistic identity.

The Mughals, though just to the east of Safavid Iran, were a polity characterized by extremely different concerns and resources. Mughal controlled India was the second most populous polity in the world after Ming China. It dwarfed Safavid Persia, even the Ottoman Empire. The Timurids conquered a civilization, or perhaps more accurately a coalition of civilizations. Unlike the Ottomans and to a lesser extent Safavids the Mughals did not create “slave” armies and “slave” bureaucracies. The native resources of India’s people were such that this was not necessary (the argument in regards to labor also is often used to explain why slavery was never popular in China). Hindu Rajputs served in the Mughals in military roles, while groups such as Kayasthas served them in civilian roles.

But the Mughal story is not simply one of “going native.” The Ottomans and Safavids relied on “slave” armies due to the fact that these were often more loyal to the regime than regional or tribal levies. The Mughals opened up India to vast numbers of Turkic warriors and Persian literati. These two groups were regime loyalists because like slaves they lacked local roots.

As Persia become more Shia, many of these foreigners who arrived in India were Shia, but there were also broader connections to the Hanafi Sunni world, as far afield as the Ottoman domains. For example, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb patronized the compilation of a series of religious codes, which apparently became quite well known and popular in Ottoman Anatolia.

It is often said that Indian Islam became rooted in the soil of the subcontinent and took upon syncretistic aspects. This is true as far as it goes, but it seems clear to me that the integration of the Mughal ruling class into Turco-Persian culture served as a major check upon this process. The Mughal Emperor Akbar clearly exhibited a tendency toward synthesis and innovation in his religious thought, but his views did not win the day. Rather, it is notable that The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal reinforces the contention that each successive Mughal Emperor from Akbar, to Jahangir, to Shah Jahan, and finally Aurangzeb, adhered more closely to West Asian normative Islam.

A distinctive aspect of the Mughal polity is that it assimilated and promoted individuals who were ethnocultural distinct from the core ruling elite. In fact, arguably very disparate groups were all bound together as part of the core ruling elite. In particular, the Rajput generals who served the Mughals. This is in contrast with the Ottoman and Safavid cases, where conversion of the slave to Islam entailed eventual ethnic assimilation. The problem with Aurangzeb, despite his military victories, is that he began aggressively espousing a more West Asian style of ideological assimilating, coaxing and coercing Hindu military elites into Islam. The Mughal equipoise was broken, and while Safavid Iran gave way to polities which inherited all its major features (the Zand and Qajar regimes), and the Ottomans persisted in their long decline, Mughal India quickly shattered in the 18th-century, to leave behind a broad cultural influence.

More generally The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal illustrates that a ruling elites with a similar ethos can span multiple polities. Despite the religious distinctiveness of the Safavids, which became more clear over time, the three early modern Muslim polities fostered trade and intellectual exchange. Large colonies of Indian merchants were resident in Isfahan (from which they eventually sojourned to Astrakhan and eventually Moscow).

As noted in The Idea of the Muslim World Indian Muslims after the fall of the Mughal Empire had a major influence on Islam in what became Turkey. In Bernard Lewis’ oeuvre there is discussion about the West’s rise and its supremacy over the world of Islam, and the psychological shock that that entailed. But what about the Maratha captivity of the Mughals and how they shaped the confusion of Indian Muslims?

The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal illustrates that cross-cultural and cross-national civilizational affinities and ties are quite common. Today many view the West as sui generis. In some ways that are true, in magnitude, and scope. But around the year 1500, a group of Turkic tribesmen had conquered remnants of Byzantium, the Persian Empire, and India. In the ensuing centuries, they transformed these regions, and were themselves transformed. Today to be Persian and to be Shia are almost synonymous (Tajiks tend to be Sunni of course). But this was the consequence of Turkic tribesman. Today Anatolia is mostly Turkish speaking, but that is due to centuries of cultural assimilation. Finally, many elements of Indian culture are hard to imagine without the Mughal period.

* The Safavids had Greek and Kurdish origins as well, though in their early period the Turkic ethnic component was most important. Similarly, the Timurids had recent Mongol ancestry, but their primary identity was with the Turco-Persian world. Finally, the early period of the Ottomans is obscure, but it is hard to imagine that these Anatolian Turks did not absorb some of the “substrate” elements. Mehmet the Conqueror had a Christian, possibly European, mother.


Social Justice as white self-regard and self-obsession

A few years ago I made a passing reference to the “Kali Yuga” (I had been reading the Mahabharata), and an interlocutor expressed alarm. “Isn’t that an ‘alt-right’ idea?”

The truth is that the concept has become entrenched in parts of the Western Right through the influence of Theosophy and Julius Evola, but its origins and primary usage is non-Western. Obviously. Westerners repurposed the concept for their own usage (“appropriated” one might say).

I thought of this when our resident archetype of a particular type of “social justice” narrowly “liberally” educated commentator made an observation that some phrases had particular connotations among white nationalists. This was true on the face of it, but it struck me as illustrative of the pantheon of the powerful in the mind of this individual. The phrases in question, relating to anti-Semitism, are actually much more common among non-Western people today.

But this is not of any great consequence for many. Non-Western people do not exist except in relation to Western people, and non-Western people and their views are seen as purely derivative and reactionary to Western people.

In other words, Western people are the agents of history, the only observers of Schrodinger’s Cat.

This is an ahistorical and non-empirical view. Whether you agree with the scholarship in The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, the fact that this argument could be made in the first place stands testament to the rich textured complexity of the past.

Modern ideologies tend to flatten and diminish the complexity of history.


A Tale of Oil and Fire: The Saudi-Iran Conflict

With things popping off in the Middle East (esp with Iran), I thought it would be good to provide a big pic overview over the main driving conflict in the region – Saudi Arabia vs Iran,

I’ve done a comprehensive 4 part series called A Tale of Oil and Fire: The Saudi-Iran Conflict that I will link in parts below for easier reading (posting the whole thing here is gigantic/too much):

  1. Genesis
  2. Revolutions & Revelations
  3. A Furious Crescendo
  4. Meditations

What are you guys’ predictions on the upcoming turbulence (if there even is any)? With 2020 US elections, an infuriated Iran, weary Gulf, and a quiet Turkish shadow in the backdrop – we may be set for an interesting scenario in the tinderbox of the world.

PS: Latest development in Iran; apparently a pretty culturally/theologically significant event –


To know one must know

I was having a discussion with a young person of subcontinental origin who is completing a STEM Ph.D. An open-minded and curious person and they asked me to exposit to them why a post-colonial paradigm that reduces all non-Western/white peoples to being objects in a narrative driven by Western/white agents is built on false premises. My candid opinion is that this is not something that one can explain in a single conversation, or in a single article. The reason is simple: if you don’t know much you are ultimately relying on someone else’s credibility.

I think I’m a credible person, but obviously I would think that. Unfortunately, history is messy, complex, and filled with shades and textures that can only be appreciated through direct consumption, not description. You need to read the history yourself and reflect upon it deeply in a first-person sense.

The reality is that there are plainly mendacious actors out there who launder their credentials to promote lies. This behavior knows no ideology but is quite common and pervasive. Often these “public historians” do not lie or spread falsehood directly, but they obfuscate and redirect attention in such a manner so that their audience draws particular ‘natural’ conclusions which are at variance with reality as we understand it.

I particularly recommend history written about the time before 1800, because the foundations of the present often run quite deep, an assertion which directly undercuts the logic of post-colonialism, where the recent overwhelms the past.

Economic history, in particular, is often useful because it deals in concrete variables, where human judgment is less opaque. For example, Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium.

On occasion, readers will question why it is so important to know broadly and deeply to understand the particular. That is due to the reality that the particular is simply the terminal node in a tree of decisions which fans out into the past and across continents.


Sangat and Society: the Sikh remaking of the North Indian Public Sphere

[Author’s note: With the celebrations of Guru Nanak’s 550th Anniversary and the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor being in the news, this is an opportunity for discussing the importance of the Sikh message, not just from a religious perspective – for Sikhs – but for Indian history. This article places the founding of Kartarpur, and Guru Nanak’s message, in a historical context – juxtaposing it with Babur’s founding of the Mughal Empire.]

I. Turning of the Wheel: Baba Nanak and Babur

In 1519, Babur invaded India – ‘ever since coming to Kabul we had been thinking of a Hindustan campaign, but for one reason or another it had not been possible,’ he writes in the Baburnama (translated by William Thackston, see pp 270-280). For some time his armies had been campaigning on the frontiers of the Hindu Kush, but these campaigns had yielded ‘nothing of consequence to the soldiers’. So, he turned to Hindustan. In the next few months, despite dogged resistance by the Afghans, Gujjars and Jats of the upper reaches of the Jhelum and Chenab, northern Punjab was subjugated, and plundered, by Babur’s armies. Babur himself spent most of his days inebriated, contemplating the legacy of Timur and setting poems to rhythmic metres. While his next great invasion of Punjab would come few years from then, in this interregnum, Punjab burned.

Among the towns and villages devastated was the settlement of Sayyidpur.

It was not long after Babur’s march of death through Punjab that Guru Nanak returned home from his western voyages – to Mecca, through Baghdad, Masshad, Khurasan, to Kabul, Peshawar, and, finally, to Sayyidpur. To the house of a humble carpenter, Bhai Lalo (Janam Sakhi Parampara by Kirpal Singh, pp 138-140). Continue reading “Sangat and Society: the Sikh remaking of the North Indian Public Sphere”


Why Aryan Migration Theory (“AMT”) is probably true, but it might not matter

People now and then ask me why JR contributes to this weblog when I think he’s profoundly wrong on some issues. First, being wrong is no sin. Even being offensive is no sin. I am a traditionalist in regards to expression.

Second, JR presents what I believe to be the wrong position with a reasonable command of the sources and in a logical and coherent manner. He has not convinced me, but I have sharpened my own views (and to be frank, I believe that both of us have changed positions over the last four years as new data has emerged). Unfortunately, this is in contrast with the bluster, ad hominem and incoherence of many opponents of the idea of the exogenous origins of the Indo-Aryans. I used to think these people were malicious, but I think a lot of them are just stupid. So I hold it less against them.

JR presents what strikes me as an Indocentric view. He is quite clear that he sees his project as compensatory and reactive to the traditional Eurocentric view. My own position is quite naively positivistic, and I attempt to be cross-cultural. Of course in the details, I fail because to be subjective is to be human (my own view is going to be Eurocentric because my cultural orientation is American). Knowledge of the empirical world accumulates despite our shortcomings. JR has made an appeal to me as a person of subcontinental origin on occasion, but this lever is pulling on a string of emptiness. I am one of the Last Men who are weak in regards to racial self-conception.

Sometimes you really know what people are about by what they don’t talk about. Americans don’t talk directly about money, but we care about it a great deal. Indians don’t talk about caste directly in personal detail, but clearly they care about it a great deal. And the converse is also true. Much of my bluster about R1a1a-Z93 is that I find lineage to be a humorous and frivolous fixation, though I am latitudinarian is accepting that others may differ with me on this. It is a matter of disposition for me, not a deep principle. AMT or OIT has little emotional valence for me.

Finally, I have to admit that I have become disillusioned with the calm and conscious lying and obfuscation which I know to occur in sciences with which I am familiar. When Westerners have strong ideological priors and beliefs at stake, scholars abandon fidelity to the truth so as to tack to the winds and align themselves with the regnant ideologies of the age. They are servile creatures who bend to power. I do not have it within me to look down upon Indians for their bias and motivated reasoning when I know that Janus reigns supreme in Western academia. I thought “we” were better than this. I know now that that was a delusion. The courage of men fails. They will forsake friends and break bonds of fellowship. The truth is nothing next to these betrayals.

But I still vainly hold to the ideals of the old religion. Truth above all, strive for it even when it discomfits, and when you miss the mark so often. Knowledge is its own regard.

JR’s post, The Unravelling of the AMT, consists primarily of marshaling evidence from archaeology and linguistics (genetics being secondary). The contention is that the lack of archaeological disruption during the period between 2000 BC and 1000 BC, as well as no evidence in the extant literature of Indo-Aryan recollections of foreign homeless, should argue against an exogenous origin for Indo-Aryans. As I have no deep knowledge of these two fields, let us grant these assertions.

The reason that JR’s extensive argumentation does not convince me is that even granting the low probability of AMT conditional on the facts which he brings to the table, the probability of OIT is even lower conditional on the facts we know about other Indo-European societies. Alone, and isolated, if I grant the level of archaeological disruption to be minor, and if I grant that indeed Indian oral history does not record an external homeland, the model of mass migration in the period between 2000 and 1000 BC does strike me as unlikely (let’s put the genetics to the side).

But, if you reject AMT for this period, then we must explain Indo-Europeans in Europe and in the Near East. Logically the rejection of AMT entails OIT, and OIT presents far greater problems to me than AMT. From a cross-cultural perspective, a model that explains the current distribution of Indo-European languages must explain all of the different branches and their locations as parsimoniously as possible. There will be errors and loose ends in the model, but we have to iterate from a plausible starting point. AMT resolves more problems than it creates. OIT creates more problems than it resolves.

And yet to be entirely frank…I do think JR’s arguments will gain more and more traction with Indians. Indians are entirely Indocentric quite often, so arguments that operate within this framework will be persuasive. I find this personally uncongenial, but I am getting the sense as I get older that I have an abnormal interest in a disparate array of cultures and societies (some commentators, who may or may not have low IQs, express frustration that I refer to other societies and cultures since they are clearly ignorant of things beyond their shores). Here in the United States, there are “Ethnic Studies” departments that seem to exist so that people of a particular ethnicity can study their own history. They are quite popular and ideologically motivated.

The broad world out there is fading for the positivist vision. The age of science is giving way to the age of magic. The time for public discussion and calm inquisition of the facts has probably passed us by. Truth, understanding the shape of reality for its own sake, is a small cultic affair. And yet do well to remember, the lies that give you comfort are lies nevertheless!


American Caste (b)

America has a national crisis in math capacity, competence and merit. American students sharply underperform students in many countries all over the world. Including Vietnam, which is a poorer country than India per capita. We will heavily refer to the 2018 OECD PISA report in below paragraphs, but the below chart graphic is from the 2015 OECD PISA scores report because math scores are reported for more countries in the 2015 report. Perhaps the 2018 report will be revised to add more countries in the future:

In my view  a level 5 PISA score is the minimum requirement for a person to be considered a high school graduate who is literate in math, able to function in the modern global economy, or be qualified to attend college. The PISA report defines a level 5 PISA score or better as a fifteen year old that “can model complex situations mathematically, and can select, compare and evaluate appropriate problem-solving strategies for dealing with them.” How does America perform in the 2018 PISA report?:

  • United States: 8% of students scored at Level 5 or higher in mathematics
  • OECD average: 11%
  • Six Asian countries and economies had the largest shares of students who did so:
    • Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China): 44%
    • Singapore: 37%
    • Hong Kong (China): 29%
    • Macao (China): 28%
    • Chinese Taipei: 23%
    • Korea: 21%

Note that these six countries were among the poorest countries in the world in the 1950s, far poorer than poor Americans or poor Europeans or poor Chileans can even imagine. In 1979 China was unbelievably poor. Much of the population of China–perhaps as many as 100 million–had starved to death because of extreme poverty in the 1970s. Poor children around the world are outperforming American children in mathematics despite extremely low education spending per student and very low socio-economic level of their legal guardians, where socio-economic level is defined as:

  • income
  • wealth
  • formal education of parents

Do any American high school student subgroups perform well in Mathematics? Yes, “people of color” or “minority” Americans perform well in Mathematics. America’s “people of color” or “minority” students are orders of magnitude more likely to get an 800 on the mathematics SAT than European Americans. If we assume this is an extreme tail end distribution issue related to European Americans having a lower standard deviation and non standard distribution in mathematics performance relative to “people of color” or “minority” Americans, we can explore the breakdown of Americans who score between 750 and 800 on the Mathematics SAT. Here European Americans perform far better relative to “people of color” or “minority” Americans.  In 2015 16,000 European Americans scored 750 or higher. 33,000 “people of color” and “minority” Americans scored 750 or higher. We further know that 51% of SAT test takers were European Americans and 49% were “people of color” or “minority” Americans.  “People of color” or “minority” Americans are [33,000/16,000]*[51%/49%] or 2.15 times as likely to score 750 or higher on the mathematics SAT compared to European Americans.  If we examine the 107,900 test takers who got SAT math scores of 700 or higher; 59,900 are “people of color” or “minority” Americans, versus 48,000 European Americans. “People of color” or “minority” Americans are [59,900/48,000]*[51%/49%] or 1.30 times as likely to score 700 or higher on the mathematics SAT compared to European Americans. For data junkie geeks like me there is a lot more data on SAT math score distributions here and here. The Greta Anderson article’s comment section in particular has some very intelligent commentators who have studied the American SAT score distribution. This is likely to be the subject of many future blog posts and Brown Pundits Podcasts.

What about this is worrying?:

  1. European Americans in particular are sharply under-performing both very poor children around the world and “people of color” and “minority” Americans in mathematics.
  2. American mathematics SAT scores have fallen between 1972 and 2016. 1972 is the earliest year for which I could find comparable SAT mathematics scores. In 2017, 2018 and 2019 the SAT mathematics exam was completely restructured to make scores no longer comparable to SAT mathematics scores between 1972 and 2016.
  3. 90% or more of current jobs and businesses are likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI), brain electro-therapy (meditation . . . practiced by civilizations around the world for over 5,000 years), brain sound therapy (naad or mantra yoga and their equivalents in Native American, Egyptian, Sumerian, Taoist and other civilizations around the world for over 5,000 years), bio-engineering tissue, genetic editing, and fused AI-brain interface synthesis intelligence. Almost all of these future disciplines are complementary to mathematics.

Future articles and podcasts are planned all six of these future disciplines. If you are curious about fused AI-brain interface synthesis intelligence, please watch my main man Elon Musk:

Some say that the tension and relationship challenges between America’s four big castes–European Americans, European “Latino” Americans, Black Americans and Asian American–are driving low math scores for European Americans “AND” other Americans. One example is where thought leader Mark J Perry explores the possibility that tension between the European American caste and the Asian American caste are lowering American  mathematics performance. Excerpts of his article are reproduced below:

Continue reading “American Caste (b)”