FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Fantasies of David Brooks

by JOHN W. FARLEY

David Brooks, conservative pundit at the New York Times, reviewed a new book (The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?) by geographer Jared Diamond in the Sunday January 13 NYT. Under the title Tribal Lessons, Brooks discusses warfare between pre-state tribal societies in New Guinea.  Between April and September 1961, a series of battles between rival tribal alliances, using spears and arrows, killed total of 0.14% of  the total population of the tribal alliances.

Brooks informs the readers of the New York Times that “As a share of the total population, that’s a higher casualty rate than Europe, Japan, China, or America suffered during the world wars.”  Brooks goes on to say that “The highest war-related death rates for modern societies (Russia and Germany during the 20th century) are only a third of the average death rates of tribal societies. Modern societies average war-related death rates that are about one-tenth a high as tribal societies.”

That didn’t sound right to me, so I decided to do some fact checking on Wikipedia, looking up casualties (military and civilian) during the >First</a> and Second World War.

During the First World War, many countries suffered losses far greater than Brooks’ 0.14%, including the UK (2.19%), France (4.29%, Germany (3.82%), and the Russian Empire (1.89% to 2.14%). The heaviest percentage losses were suffered by Romania (9.33%), the Ottoman Empire (13.72%) and Serbia (16.11%).  The United States escaped with 0.13%. The Central Powers (Austria-Hungary,  Bulgaria, German Empire, and Ottoman Empire) averaged 5%, while the Entente Power (including the U.S.) averaged 1.19%. The Second World War was even bloodier: Wikipedia lists casualties for Germany (8 to 10.5%), the Soviet Union (13.88%), Japan (3.67 to 4.37% ), and China (1.93% to 3.86%).

Notice that the combined losses in both world wars for Russia/Soviet Union is 16%, which according to Brooks is “only a third of the average death rates of tribal societies”. That would imply that the death rates of tribal societies at 16% x 3 = 48%, instead of Brooks’ number of 0.14%. Brooks’ error is a factor of 343 (!!)

Brooks’ concludes that “the most obvious difference between us is that pre-state tribal societies are just a lot more violent.”  Not if you do the math right. Actually, the most obvious difference is that modern industrial societies at war are just a whole lot more violent than tribal societies.

The New York Times employs fact-checkers. Did anybody ever fact-check Brooks’ review? Apparently not.

The NYTimes employs statistician Nate Silver, author of the 2012 book The Signal and The Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, But Some Don’t. Mr. Silver can do math, and Silver can pull up Wikipedia on his computer. The Times should hire Nate Silver to babysit for David Brooks.

This is not the first offense for David Brooks. A dozen years ago, Brooks’ 2001 article in the  Atlantic Monthly, “One Nation, Slightly Divisible”  explored the cultural differences between Red State America and Blue State America.  Brooks’ article was widely praised. However, when journalist Sasha Issenberg  fact-checked it in a 2004 article in Philly Magazine, Issenberg found that many of Brooks’ generalizations were false, and much of his “research” was invented out of whole cloth.

John W. Farley writes from Henderson, Nevada.

More articles by:
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
Howard Lisnoff
The Elephant in the Living Room
Pepe Escobar
The Real Secret of the South China Sea
Ramzy Baroud
Farewell to Yarmouk: A Palestinian Refugee’s Journey from Izmir to Greece
John Laforge
Wild Turkey with H-Bombs: Failed Coup Raise Calls for Denuclearization
Dave Lindorff
Moving Beyond the Sanders Campaign
Jill Richardson
There’s No Such Thing as a “Free Market”
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Moves Against the Gulen Movement in Turkey
Winslow Myers
Beyond Drift
Edward Martin - Mateo Pimentel
Who Are The Real Pariahs This Election?
Jan Oberg
The Clintons Celebrated, But Likely a Disaster for the Rest of the World
Johnny Gaunt
Brexit: the British Working Class has Just Yawned Awake
Mark Weisbrot
Attacking Trump for the Few Sensible Things He Says is Both Bad Politics and Bad Strategy
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Think Three’s a Crowd? Try 2,000
Corrine Fletcher
White Silence is Violence: How to be a White Accomplice
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail