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:
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
Norman Pollack
Economic Nationalism vs. Globalization: Janus-Faced Monopoly Capital
Binoy Kampmark
Railroaded by the Supreme Court: the US Problem with Immigration
Howard Lisnoff
Of Kiddie Crusades and Disregarding the First Amendment in a Public Space
Vijay Prashad
Economic Liberalization Ignores India’s Rural Misery
Caroline Hurley
We Are All Syrians
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail