The various excerpts that follow contain research findings and journalistic commentary that inform the issues discussed occasionally among a small group of humanists in the Bay Area. We are interested in how man-made places reveal the ways that varying values and norms stemming from changing environmental conditions interact with ( i.e., shape or are shaped by) our genetic heritage.
In the convulsive aftermath of perestroika, seven cunning men seized economic power
By Amy Chua
from her 2003 book World on Fire
As it turns out, six out of seven of Russia’s wealthiest and, at least until recently, most powerful oligarchs are Jewish. The six Jewish businessmen most frequently called oligarchs are: Roman Abramovich; Pyotr Aven; Boris Berezovsky; Mikhail Fridman; Vladimir Gusinsky; and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The seventh oligarch, the only “full-blooded ethnic Russian”, is Vladimir Potanin.
The height of their influence was reached in 1996 when the Yeltsin Government hung on the verge of political and financial collapse. Already wealthy, the oligarchs collectively put forth the so-called “loans-for-shares” deal — now notorious, but at the time grudgingly endorsed by Western advisers and Russian economists.
Essentially, the oligarchs offered loans and political support to the Government in exchange for majority shares, at a fraction of their potential market value, in the behemoths of the Russian economy, a half-dozen massive enterprises breathtakingly rich in nickel, gold and oil deposits.
Despite the inevitable rumours, these men did not become billionaires through violence or mafiya tactics. Rather, they became billionaires by playing the game more effectively and ruthlessly than anybody else during Russia’s free-for-all transition to capitalism.
Russia’s incipient corporate economy operated in practically a legal vacuum at the time, with no laws prohibiting insider trading or other forms of self-dealing. “Russia has been looted all right,” says Chrystia Freeland, in Sale of the Century, “but the biggest crimes haven’t been clandestine or violent or even, in the strict legal sense, crimes at all. Russia was robbed in broad daylight, by businessmen who broke no laws, assisted by the West ’s best friends in the Kremlin.”....
Khodorkovsky had an advantage over his fellow Jewish oligarchs: he had served in the Communist Youth League and enjoyed the patronage of senior Soviet-era officials. In the late 1980s, when Khodorkovsky ventured into private business with the establishment of Menatep Bank, he had the support and protection of the communist regime.
After 1990, Khodorkovsky served as economic adviser to the Prime Minister. In the early Nineties, Menatep went on a “mass privatisation shopping spree” in which it bought everything from a titanium-magnesium plant to glass and textile factories to food-processing companies.
In 1996, Khodorkovsky emerged from the loans-for-shares deal as the powerful chairman of Yukos, Russia’s second largest oil company, with $170 billion in oil reserves. In addition to Yukos, Khodorkovsky today controls massive mineral and timber interests. In 2002, Forbes named him the richest man in Russia...
[Update: Putin has turned on the Oligarchs. Two are in exile and Khodorkovsky after being jailed in 2003 was convicted last month of fraud and money laundering and sentenced to 17 years in prison]
For one reason or another, in Russia’s nearly anarchic transition to a market economy, Jews rose to the top. Long before most Russians, including the country’s leaders, had any understanding of how markets work, the six Jewish oligarchs mastered the game. These men started with next to nothing. They were not particularly sophisticated. They may have been ruthless, but they were plainly smart entrepreneurs.
Rather than try to tackle complex national and international issues and institutions that affect the entire U.S. , we concentrate on place based trends and academic research that more directly reflect our everyday experiences in our own neighborhoods, workplaces, and other closer connections. We seek to grapple with ideas that stem from and have immediate implications for our personal ties and intellectual enjoyment. We deal with those grassroots issues not to influence public policy or resolve differences but to gain an understanding of the way of the world-- in order to sort out the chaos and thereby increase our pleasure as identified by Epicurus We start from the premise that changing the body politic at the state and national level is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens of the 21st century in the way that the power structure was able to do at the start of the 20th century, when American Progressivism was imbued with a strong reformist optimism. “I propose that we lea…
Excerpted from: Solving The African IQ Conundrum : "Winning Personality" Masks Low Scores By J. Philippe Rushton VDare August 12, 2004
Over a century ago, Sir Francis Galton initiated research into individual and race differences in intelligence and temperament. He was the first to propose the study of human twins and of selective breeding in animals to disentangle the effects of heredity and environment. And it was Galton—who spent several years exploring in what is now Namibia as a young man—who first contrasted the talkative impulsivity of Africans with the taciturn reserve of American Indians, and the placidity of the Chinese.
Galton further noted that these temperament differences persisted irrespective of climate (from the frozen north through the torrid equator), and religion, language, or political system (whether self-ruled or governed by the Spanish, Portuguese, English or French).
Anticipating later studies of transracial adoptions, Galton observed that the majority of …
Does a strategy of opposing traits explain humanity’s success? By ALISON GOPNIK July 16, 2015 11:20 a.m. ET 10 COMMENTS Walk into any preschool classroom and you’ll see that some 4-year-olds are always getting into fights—while others seldom do, no matter the provocation. Even siblings can differ dramatically—remember Cain and Abel. Is it nature or nurture that causes these deep differences in aggression? The new techniques of genomics—mapping an organism’s DNA and analyzing how it works—initially led people to think that we might find a gene for undesirable individual traits like aggression. But from an evolutionary point of view, the very idea that a gene can explain traits that vary so dramatically is paradoxical: If aggression is advantageous, why didn’t the gene for aggression spread more widely? If it’s harmful, why would the gene have survived at all?