Dr. Paige Harden said “No scientific finding leads inexorably to any particular social policy”.  Well, it would if we were Pak: they have built-in goals and are almost always smart enough to see the best path leading to those goals, given circumstances.

The introduction of gunpowder favored some social changes – for one, centralization, because castles stopped working. You couldn’t fort up and wait out the King’s men anymore. It also favored everybody using gunpowder weapons, because they were more effective. But there was an exception: the Tokugawa Shogunate almost entirely gave up firearms. Obviously, this was possible in an isolated, tightly controlled Japan.  Surprisingly, unlikely, but possible.  Could the same thing have happened in early modern europe, composed of many competing states? Could they have given up the gun?

Not in a million years. The spread of firearms weapons in Europe was… inexorable.


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28 Responses to Inexorable

  1. Lior says:

    She could be technically correct. If people are sufficiently delusional no scientific finding will persuade them from their preferred policy.
    Now if only did she mentioned some exemples..

  2. Jacob says:

    Some people might be immune to this game-theoretic influence: those who are so morbid, nihilistic, and spiteful that they’re happy to see their own countries lose.

    • Jason says:

      There are dozens of political parties in the West dedicated to that very idea.

    • Eugine_Nier says:

      Those who refuse to adopt the social policy implied by military technology get conquered by those who do.

      • Jacob says:

        I assumed he was talking about genetic engineering.

        Honestly, I can imagine countries doing that and then leaving other countries alone. We didn’t get much out of imperialism over the long haul, so I don’t know if high IQ nations have much to gain from conquering low IQ ones. They would if they were willing to commit genocide, but I don’t think they will.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Where by “guns” you mean “cannons.” Cannons destroyed castles. Cannons were centralized by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Hand firearms were widespread for varmint control, but not a threat to the social order because early modern ones weren’t that great.

    • engleberg says:

      Petards were great for destroying castles. A barrel of black powder against a wall. You might be hoist on your own petard, but you’d take the wall with you. If rocket arrows had improved the way guns did? Percussion caps might have been popular by the renaissance. We had stuff that would blow up if you hit it with a hammer by ancient Egypt.

      • gcochran9 says:

        ” stuff that would blow up if you hit it with a hammer by ancient Egypt ” – like what?

        • engleberg says:

          I’m thinking of mercury fulminate, the stuff Cornelius Drebble blew up in Pepy’s diary. He used alchemy books that claimed to date from Al-Khem, and we know ancient Egypt had mercury and acid. You got me though, I was speculating.

  4. Relevant:
    Firearms: A Global History to 1700
    “Kenneth Chase traces the history of firearms from their invention in China in the 1100s to the 1700s, when European firearms had become clearly superior. In Firearms, Chase asks why it was the Europeans who perfected firearms, not the Chinese, and answers this question by looking at how firearms were used throughout the world. Early firearms were restricted to infantry and siege warfare, limiting their use outside of Europe and Japan. Steppe and desert nomads imposed a different style of warfare on the Middle East, India, and China–a style incompatible with firearms. By the time that better firearms allowed these regions to turn the tables on the nomads, Japan’s self-imposed isolation left Europe with no rival in firearms design, production, or use, with lasting consequences.”

    OK, but maybe the Church under Pope Germanicus I (Martin Luther in our timeline) would have kept a lid on all this dangerous Modern Age nonsense.

    • Peripatetic Commenter says:

      I think Greg’s argument demonstrates that firearms were not invented in China.

      Also, I have read the parts of one of the documents in the web in Chinese that people point to as proof the Chinese invented explosives and gunpowder, and, IMO, they don’t.

      • albatross says:

        The way I’ve always seen it described is that gunpowder was invented in China, but that firearms and artillery were developed way more in Europe, I guess due to lots of countries and constant wars.

  5. dearieme says:

    Suppose you are a sixteenth century brigand, holed up in your small castle on the moors near the Scottish/English border. It’s very difficult to haul artillery up there so your king wants his men to use gunpowder to blast down your walls. What do you do to make it difficult for them to succeed?

    (I read about this only in the last week, and am tickled by the elegance of the defenders’ solution.)

    • Smithie says:

      Old family castle was in a sort of boggy area. Trouble was they were river barons and it was easy to bring up the artillery by ship. Everyone in the castle died.

      I imagine though that the family was on mountain pasture at that point. Hurrah, for downward mobility!

      • ChrisA says:

        One thing that is surprising is how the trench system of defending somewhere against artillery was only discovered in late 19C. I would have thought trenches would be an excellent defense against anyone trying to attack your castle way earlier than that.

        • Woof says:

          Trenches were used in siege warfare for centuries. Vauban was an expert at using earth ramparts to protect fortifications from gunfire in the 1600s.

    • Octavian says:

      So what does a sixteenth century brigand do?

  6. Space Ghost says:

    Of course, if she were familiar with Hume she’d know that there is no inexorable connection even between cause and effect!

    On a more serious note…the smarter ones realize that the “no average difference in intelligence across groups” position will soon be completely untenable, so they are laying the intellectual groundwork for why the existence of differences should be considered an intellectual curiosity with no bearing on the world. Therefore, the question should not be whether social policies are “inexorable”, but whether we can get better social outcomes with a particular policy that takes a scientific finding into account.

    For example, the discovery that vaccines can prevent communicable diseases does not inexorably lead to a social policy of promoting vaccination, but societies that do encourage mass vaccination will tend to have fewer people dying of diseases than ones that don’t.

  7. Japan’s ban of hand guns would have also faied l if Korea or China tried to invade Japan. Japan isn’t THAT isolated.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      As always, a ban on any kind of military technology only works as long as everybody agrees to abide by it, or through de-facto deterrence. These situations are fairly unusual, despite what we’re used to the last 70 years or so.

    • Other Failure Conditions says:

      I’d imagine the collapse of central authority in Japan would’ve also led to the same outcomes, as “gun control” would’ve fallen apart, and fortune would’ve favored whichever daimyo was quickest to arm up.

      Ironically, they could only really keep their castles through the kind of centralization that makes castles a fair bit redundant in the first place.

      • rob says:

        From the Tanegashima piece “The smith (Yaita) did not have much of a problem with most of the gun but “drilling the barrel helically so that the screw (bisen bolt) could be tightly inserted” was a major problem as this “technique did apparently not exist in Japan until this time.” The Portuguese fixed their ship and left the island and only in the next year when a Portuguese blacksmith was brought back to Japan was the problem solved.”

        Even then the Japanese were good at imitating and bad at innovating. Interesting.

  8. Jack says:


    Discover asteroid hurtling toward earth
    Big enough to cause chaos, small enough to nudge away with nuclear weapons

  9. There are things that most observers can look at and think “It’s only a matter of time…” Parents quickly learn to rec ognise activities that can only end in two ways: either an adult stops it, or someone gets hurt. I think of some knuckleheaded Yamnaya adolescent trying to ride one of those portable feasts they’ve been heading on foot, and another knucklehead taking the challenge to do it better, and over the next two generations a few of them get good at it, and learn that if you put a rope in that equid’s mouth you can even steer the SOB a little bit. And I wonder if at that point something very much like Modern Europe is just going to happen sooner or later.

  10. albatross says:

    I believe the context of her tweet was responding to someone making a (rather fuzzy-headed, IMO) argument about how claiming that whites are smarter than blacks[1] led inexorably to some presumably terrible policy conclusions. The original Twitter user she was responding to seemed to me to be making a sort of “This can’t be true because if it were, it would have terrible consequences” argument.

    As a blanket statement, of course, Harden’s wrong–some facts have inexorable policy implications, just because they limit what’s possible. There’s no point investing research dollars in a perpetual motion machine, for example, because such a machine just can’t possibly work. But in this context, she’s 100% right–the black/white IQ gap doesn’t require some specific terrible policy response. It limits which policy goals will be achieved, and probably should inform policy in various ways, but it doesn’t require a particular policy. (Things like equal rights under the law, equal opportunities, antidiscrimination law, and even affirmative action programs can exist with full recognition of the IQ gap.)

    [1] The (apparently white) person making the argument didn’t seem to grasp the difference between a blanket statement like that and overlapping bell curves. Maybe she should ask Ronald Fryer to explain it to her, as an illustration of the point that mean1 > mean2 doesn’t tell you that an individual from population 1 is smarter than an individual from population 2.

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