Lowering the age of… Everything

Last weekend was Arequipa’s anniversary celebration (from when this was written not when it was posted) which included a two and a half hour long parade. This parade had wagons filled with barrels of Chica, a fermented black corn beverage (around 12% ABV). The wagons with the Chica were pouring it out for anyone who asked, anyone who looked like they might want it, and occasionally on the heads of innocent bystanders. Over the course of this parade, I saw three small children (under age 6) run up to the wagons to ask for Chica; none of them were turned away. They were each given a small plastic cup containing a few ounces of Chica. No one there, excepting myself, thought twice about this.

Seeing the degree of laxity regarding age in in Latin America has made me reassess the United States’ sharply defined legal structure regarding age. You have to be 21 to drink, 18 to join the military or vote, 16 to drive, and 35 to run for president.

I believe that the United States needs to either move towards a more flexible system which does not have such strict lines or settle on a single, low, unified age beyond which age does not matter to the government.

Do not mistake me, I understand that there are various developmental milestones in the human lifespan which enable success at various tasks. To take a fairly extreme example, two year olds will not be able to drive or usefully serve in the military. However, in limited circumstances, I observe that in the absence of law both individuals and the communities which surround them limit people to a reasonable rate of increased responsibility.

I think the best course of action is to set a relatively low age, like thirteen, beyond which everyone is legally allowed to engage in any activity which is legal for adults (thus making everyone 13 and up an adult). This would, I believe, result in a more Latin American environment in which people begin to engage in activities when they, and their communities, dub them able; rather than as soon as they are allowed to, irrelevant of their readiness.

Let’s assume we implemented my proposal and made it legal for anyone who is thirteen or older to: drink, join the military, drive, and run for president. Let’s look at both the likely outcomes and the bad outcomes.

If thirteen year olds are allowed to drink they probably will. At the bad end of the scale, they might drink too much. I do not believe this substantially differs from the current state of affairs, except that when they drink it is more likely to be with an older community, and if they drink to excess it is more likely their community will be aware of it.

If thirteen year-olds apply to join the military, the vast majority of them will be rejected and will not join. Some tiny percent of thirteen year olds will both successfully apply and be accepted; they will get a job much earlier in life than most, and will probably experience major culture shock. I do not believe this is such a bad outcome and I think the number of people it would impact is infinitesimal.

If a thirteen year old runs for president, they will not be elected, and they may gain useful experience in the attempt.

And for the last example: if thirteen year olds drive, it will probably go just as well as for all the thirteen year-olds currently driving on farm licenses. That is to say, there will probably be no more accidents than in the general population.

Now that we have looked at the minimal negative outcomes of a low uniform age of responsibility let’s address some of the advantages: A reduction in juvenile crime, an increase in civic engagement, a greater inclination to follow laws, and a more just society.

Much of juvenile crime is related to underage drinking, if the age required for underage drinking were substantially lowered, fewer youth would be criminalized for engaging in behavior they see in normal adults.

While many organizations pour resources into engaging youth in civics, I observe that until they can actually vote, no one really feels engaged. Several democratically run schools give evidence that even at a very young age, children will rise to the responsibilities of democracy.

The drinking age, in particular, trains people to disregard the law. When the government requires that you behave in a way which clearly does not follow social norms or reason people quickly learn that laws are not hard and fast rules, just things to avoid being caught violating.

We live in a society where young adults are subject to a series of arbitrary rules, which do not correspond to their level of responsibility or ability, which makes them less than others around them. We are effectively inflicting a class structure on a segment of our population, and banning them from making any effective protest against it until they are no longer oppressed and thus not incentivized to act.

The disadvantages are few, the advantages are major. Let us allow teenagers and young adults to enjoy the rights and responsibilities offered to adults, without fear of the government punishing them for behaviors which are acceptable in the general population.

The Grass is Always Bloody

While travelling, I receive constant warnings about how dangerous certain areas are, but never the place where I am receiving the warning. In Peru, I was told to be very careful in Bolivia, in Bolivia I was told how lucky I was to make it out of Peru safely. In Buenos Aires, each district would warn me about how much crime there was in every other district.

I think this phenomenon is a side effect of how we talk and how we assess risk. When something exciting like a robbery or a rape occurs, we talk about it. It becomes a topic of conversation. Whereas daily life is not a topic of conversation, when we walk to the store, load up with groceries, and walk home unmolested it will receive only the briefest, if any, mention in conversation.

As such, when people hear about a location, a substantial portion of what they hear is exciting news, which is all too often negative. So, if I am thinking about Mexico and 81% of the things I have recently heard about Mexico are negative, I will likely conclude that Mexico is dangerous.

This effect also exists locally, yet locally, people do not generally seem concerned. If I live in Mexico, yes, I will hear dozens of negative things (both from friends and amplified by the media), but I will also have thousands of experiences to counterbalance it, like my unmolested walk to and from the grocery store. So my brain has a much larger supply of reference material for the area, and comes up with only a very small percent of negative experiences, and thus concludes that Mexico is safe.

I encourage everyone to take this flaw in their informational resources into account when they are making decisions. You may think Botswana is dangerous, but do some research! Find actual statistics before you make any decisions based on that thought.

And please, do not terrorize every passing traveler with tales of what great danger they are heading into. Travelling has enough real difficulties without adding constant attempts at intimidation.

Everyone was Evil

When you travel as a tourist you are inevitably exposed to lots of history. Most tourist sites are historical buildings or places where major events happened in history. Short of total obliviousness (Which is depressingly common) it is hard to travel for long without getting some feel for the local history.

As such I have been exposed to a fair bit of Latin American history, and by proxy European and African history over the last few months. I also have a fairly extensive history background which precedes this trip in the form of two years teaching high school history (world and US), and fairly extensive personal reading on the subject.

Adding up all these sources of historical knowledge, I recently noticed something. Everyone in history was evil. The Spanish were evil. The British were evil. The Indians, the Mongols, the Incas, the Comanche, the Pilgrims. Everyone.

You do not event have to go back very far in history in most places whether it is Argentina, Germany, or Russian for substantial portions of the population to be evil even unto living memory. And I’m not talking about fairy tale evil dictators who rise up and rule over their oppressed and fundamentally good people. I am talking about whole populations of people being evil. The common man and common woman believing it was not just OK but right to: rape their enemies, sell their children, cut the still beating heart from an innocent man, enslave on mere opportunity, dash unwanted children against a wall, or burn a woman to death for money.

And these evil members of the human race died, for the most part, content. Content in the knowledge that they had lived their life as a good person and done their best to uphold correct morality.

I have two conclusions to draw from this

We live in a brief window of moral philosophy which does not reflect historical norms. We feel like our morals are the obvious right thing, that any good person would value what we value and be repulsed by what repulses us. This belief is upheld both by a lack of imagination and literature. It is legitimately difficult to imagine thinking differently than you think so when you think about the Mongols, British, or Inca your brain fills in how they feel, with how you feel. As far as literature goes the vast, vast majority of history has been written by people living in the modern era who possess modern morals. So when you read about slavery in the US even when the author is attempting to provide a balanced perspective it is still obvious that slavery is evil. When you read a historical fiction story about the Aztec empire the main character (whom you empathize with) knows in his heart that human sacrifice is evil and does his best to escape from it or save people from it.

Two take aways from this: first remember, the people who populated history did not share your values. Second: avoid overconfidence in your moral stances; the men who danced in the skins of their former friends and drank the blood of children also believed they were upright paragons of morality. And who knows what morals our grandchildren will hold, they may yet face the same field of evil ancestors which we do, except theirs may include us.

My second conclusion is that nationalism does not make very much sense. Why are people proud of their German heritage? Their puritan ancestors? Their direct line of descent from Genghis Khan himself? The people who we celebrate a genetic connection to were evil people. They slew gypsies out of hand, they tossed innocent women into lakes and watched them drown, they killed their own children. Until we get to relatively recent history it is hard to justify taking pride in ones ancestors.

You can argue that they were good people aside from those things. But if you met someone today who did or even just accepted the things which were commonplace throughout history you would not say they were good people but for that flaw. You would say they were evil.

Policing With Estrogen

I have spent the last month in Peru. I have been in all three of Peru’s largest cities and in several rural areas. In this time, I have seen hundreds of police officers, enough that I believe my sample is large enough to make fairly confident assertions about their composition and functionality.

The biggest thing which sticks out about the Peruvian police force is the overwhelming amount of estrogen. I am confident that more than two thirds of Peruvian police are female. Most of them are young and friendly; they travel in pairs equipped just as heavily as their male counterparts. However, the equipment they wear is clearly designed for women, and makes it obvious from a distance that they are in fact women, not merely squat men as the few female officers in the US appear.

I do not know to what extent the feminization of Peru’s police force is a policy decision, as opposed to supply and demand but I think it is brilliant.

Peru’s police force came into its own far more recently than most with a surge in growth following 9/11 which made it the second largest per-capita police force in South America. I strongly suspect that this surge in growth was accompanied by an equally large surge in hiring, and that given that this was occurring in the modern era, there was a greater willingness to hire women than existed at most police hires in history.

Women are generally considered kinder and more trustworthy than men. They are also less prone to corruption; and are far more approachable than men. I believe the above makes them better police officers.

Two things policing has continually struggled with through recent history are: corruption and prevention. When you give people power the risk of corruption inherently rises, and policing requires power. As such, police officers are unusually vulnerable to corruption (this seems self-evident to me but I am not sure how to cite that police officers are more vulnerable to corruption than the general public). The other difficulty is prevention, how do you prevent crimes from happening in the first place rather than just dealing with the outcomes of crimes once they happen? A common perception in the US is that prevention is not the responsibility of police, and that other agencies/institutions should deal with prevention. However, I think by utilizing female officers as extensively as they have, Peru may have finally given police a tool to help with this aspect of crime. By virtue of being more approachable, people interact far more freely with female officers than male officers. As such, female officers have more information, and thus are more likely to know a problem is brewing before it manifests. Additionally they may be more likely to be brought into a situation (especially situations in which a woman is the victim) before it has escalated.

Peru has convinced me that the United States should engage in a protracted campaign of gender discrimination in police hiring, and sharply increase the number of females in the police force. I believe this would result in better crime prevention and less corruption.

Peru was conquered by China!

NEWSFLASH! China conquered Peru! And no one noticed!

Less facetiously, it is amazingly how much cultural impact China has on Peru. China is a major trading partner of Peru, but not to the same extend as proximate nations, such as the United States and Brazil. But its influence is disproportionate to the magnitude of its trade. My first clue about this cultural phenomenon was when I landed in Lima (the capitol) just in time for Independence Day. There were huge crowds, every room was full (I practically had to sleep in a barn and give birth in a manger it was so crowded), and there was a parade. I like parades, so I decided to go watch it. I waited in a chocolateteria, and when the front of the parade reached me, I suddenly experienced a startling sense of dislocation which only grew worse as the parade progressed. There were dozens of giant Chinese dragons, hundreds of dancing girls in formation wearing distinctly Chinese outfits, and several large men in Chinese outfits hitting giant gongs inscribed with hanzi. By the end of the parade, I was practically convinced I had gotten on the wrong plane and ended up in Asia.

The parade was an eye opener and once my eyes were open there was so much to see. Delivery vans covered in Chinese script, Asian waiving cats in every store, Chifa (Chinese food) on every corner, major businesses named Wong or Chin’s, and a disproportionate number of Chinese flags. As I travelled throughout Peru the signs of Chinese conquest (I mean… culture) grew only more prevalent.

After asking several locals about this phenomenon I finally got an answer, one which reeks of hearsay and I do not believe it explains the magnitude of cultural impact which I observe. However, I will relate it here because, short of China having actually conquered Peru without anyone noticing, it is the best explanation I have.

The local whose name was Humor (which I try not to let effect my judgment of his story) told me this story:

Back when Peru was fighting for independence from the Spaniards, there were three separate classes warring with each other: the Spanish ruling class, the almost nonhuman natives who were the manual labor class, and a middle class of Chinese who composed the house servant class. The Chinese had been used as a go between for the native Peruvians and the Spanish and they were generally fluent in both languages. They rose up with the Peruvians and fought by their side against the Spaniards. At the end of the war, with the native population victorious, the Chinese felt displaced with nowhere to go, and the Peruvians invited them to stay, despite their protestations that they had no skills but growing rice. In the modern era, you do not see any Chinese people in Peru because they have interbred into invisibility. However, their culture lingers.

I find this story unconvincing, but in lieu of a better explanation… If you have a better explanation or even a wild theory which sounds plausible do let me know.

I find myself wondering if China has any plans to take advantage of this free cultural imperialism. While China is spending billions of dollars on cultural imperialism in Africa, I wonder if they realize what low hanging fruit lies east of them in Peru.

America – Land of the Ugly?

­I have an observation. Hispanic women in Central and South America are more attractive than Hispanic women in the United States (on average). Having made this observation, I feel compelled to wonder why this is the case. I hypothesize that the less attractive one is the more likely one is to emigrate from their home country.

I reached this hypothesis based upon two data points. First, the more attractive someone is, the better they tend to be treated, whether it is: receiving the help they ask for, having higher wages, or being given lower penalties by the law.

Secondly, people tend to compare themselves primarily to their peer group, not the world at large, or people who are aesthetically similar to themselves or any number of more sensible possible comparisons.

As a supporting detail, and to head off an obvious objection to my chain of reasoning, I believe the standards of physical beauty in South America are similar to those in North America. I believe this because I consistently see advertisements featuring women who would be considered attractive in North America displayed in South America. And given profit motive, I feel safe assuming the companies using such advertising are using women they expect the local populace to find attractive.

I believe that people who are doing worse than their peer group will be most likely to emigrate in search of a better life, because they will feel like their life is bad, rather than just worse than most of their peers, and thus will have greater incentive to seek improvement to their quality of life. Furthermore, I believe that physical attractiveness will correlate with positively with ‘doing well compared to your peer group’. As such, I would expect to see unattractive people emigrating at a higher rate than attractive people.

This has a few interesting implications; the first one which springs to mind is the halo effect. If I am beautiful, people will generally ascribe other positive characteristics to me; I must also be smart, kind, and diligent. This is a terrible cognitive bias, but it is even worse the other way. If you meet me and I am ugly, you will automatically assume that I am below average in other ways as well: perhaps that I am unintelligent, lazy, and morally deficient.

I think this may be part of why immigrant communities generally have such a hard time with the entrenched populations of their new nations. If immigrants are, on average, less attractive, they will also on average have a whole range of other negative characteristics ascribed to them. Thus, creating a negative stereotype of them and making their integration more difficult.

The extent to which the above reasoning matches the situation of Hispanics in the United States is great enough to make me relatively confidant in my reasoning.