Tag Archives: parents

Steve Jobs And The Nature-Nurture Debate

a-young-steve-jobs-smelled-so-bad-he-had-to-be-put-on-the-night-shift-at-atariMany years ago, I dropped out of college. People have often asked me whether I felt fear when I dropped out of engineering college. But, people are cowards. They do not understand college dropouts. The night I decided to drop out, I paced on the terrace of the college hostel, throwing stones, watching their trajectories. I felt exhilaration and a great sense of relief. Then onward, I had all the time in the world to read whatever I wanted to read.  Everything I did since then—and before—was rooted in my absolute confidence in creating a world of sublime beauty and tenderness by pressing my fingers on the keyboard.  

In the years I spent there, I cut myself off from the outside world to read the tall pile of books in my otherwise Spartan wooden room. My hostel mates called it “The Eiffel Tower”. All they could hear was me shutting the door loudly behind their backs. So, they often loosened the screws of my room to see what went on inside my room. Each time they did, I filled those holes with my large collection of ancient pens and pencils. Once, they did not allow me to sleep till 2 past midnight because they wanted to know what was in my briefcase. It was a battle I won.

In one of those days, I read a speech by Steve Jobs on dropping out of college. It was beautifully written. If Steve Jobs were not a visionary leader, he would have been one of the greatest writers of our times and of all times. The impulse that drives men like Steve Jobs to lose everything for their beliefs is the same that drives me to burn inhuman energy to create a work of unparalleled beauty. Over years, I read his speech many times because what kept me going was that I loved to write. Nothing else mattered much to me. Years later, when I was working in a run-down building in Safdarjung, I wept reading a beautifully written eulogy. It was the most beautiful tribute written when Steve Jobs died. It was written by Steve Jobs’ sister Mona Simpson, a successful novelist who was unaware of his existence for the first 25 years of her life. Mona Simpson’s husband is a writer for The Simpsons.

Similarities do not end there. Steve Jobs’ biological father ran a popular Mediterranean restaurant in Silicon Valley. Once Steve Jobs’ biological father told Mona Simpson without knowing that Steve Jobs was his own son: “Even Steve Jobs used to eat there. Yeah, he was a great tipper.” Steve Jobs called his biological parents his egg and sperm bank. But, it was his egg and sperm bank that shaped him, and not the working class parents who raised him.

When Steve Jobs’ high school sweetheart visited his home for the first time, she wondered “how these hardworking, blue-collar parents, these people with common sense but so few books, gave him the space to be completely otherworldly. To be extraordinary, in fact.” But, Steve Jobs’ biological father was a PhD in Economics and Political Science. He was his mother’s teaching assistant when she was a doctoral candidate. Steve Jobs was born when his father was 23. When Steve Jobs was young, his girl friend gave birth to a child he was not willing to raise. He was then 23 years old. Jobs’ biological parents wanted him to be adopted by a wealthier couple that rejected him at the final moment because they wanted a baby girl, and not a baby boy. So much for the belief that parents prefer baby boys. Anyone who has read enough about gender knows that parents prefer to adopt baby girls.

Is Steve Jobs’ case exceptional? No. As Bryan Caplan points out:

“In early 1979, a pair of identical twin brothers who had been separated at four weeks were reunited after 39 years. Both named Jim, they discovered that they smoked the same brand of cigarettes, vacationed in the same town and both called their dog “Toy.” Struck by the story, psychologists at the University of Minnesota started studying separated twins that same year. Their efforts blossomed into the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart, which ran for a quarter century, attracting world-wide fascination and antipathy.  The Minnesota researchers tracked down every pair they could find—and measured traits related to almost every aspect of life: health, cognition, personality, happiness, career, creativity, politics, religion, sex and much more. The Minnesota study reveals genetic effects on virtually every trait. The breakdown between nature, nurture and everything else varies from trait to trait. But Ms. Segal emphasizes the uniformity of the results—the consistent power of genes, the limited influence of parenting. Some findings go down easy: As most would expect, identical twins raised apart have virtually identical heights as adults. Some findings seem obvious after the fact: Genes, but not upbringing, have a pretty big effect on personality traits like ambition, optimism, aggression and traditionalism. Other findings perennially cause outrage: The IQs of separated identical twins are almost as similar as their heights. Critics of intelligence research often hail the importance of practice rather than inborn talent, but a three-day test of the Minnesota twins’ motor skills showed that how much you benefit from practice is itself partly an inborn talent.”

Why Do We Find It So Hard To Understand Each Other?


Years ago, a smarty pulled a trick on me. In the mornings, she would promise to come to my room. Before sunset, while the keyboards still jingled and rattled. Beaming, I always whispered, “Why, oh, how nice of you!” But, after a while, she started defaulting on her promises.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

I waited and waited and waited till it was too dark. The reasons she gave me were always along these lines, “This morning, a coconut fell on my grandmother’s head. You know, I love her more than anyone on earth. Weeping. Sob. Sob.”  Soon, suspicion began to dawn on my nerdy mind. The underlying assumption, of course, was, “Now that you have seen what it is like, if you want more of this, you must put me permanently there.” I could never get my head around this line of reasoning. But, this didn’t have any effect on me for the same reason rain does not have a big effect on the nerd who always reads in the school library.

I, the scholar and gentleman, still courted her, tolerating her antics with Buddha-like patience. I wasn’t big on sleeping with her. So, she assumed that I wanted to make her my “wife”. Now, I am being blatant at the risk of sounding honest. It is very cruel, to be honest. Continue reading

Why Parsis Love Classical Music And Why They Are Becoming “Extinct”

Parsi-Work-sareesMy father teaches Rohinton Mistry’s “White Hairs And Cricket” in college. Though I had heard from the people familiar with Indian English literature that Rohinton Mistry is the best Indian novelist, I have never really read him. Yesterday, I noticed that Rohinton Mistry is a Parsi, and remembered what Aakar Patel says about them:

“Parsis have civilization; other Indians don’t. Parsis have civilization, but not culture. They cannot speak old Persian and their Avesta they cannot read. For language, they lean on Gujarati, for music they lean on Brahms. Their beautiful women wear saris. Parsis cannot even speak their own first names. The real Parsi surrender came in Bombay when they submitted to the individualism of Enlightened Europe. We hate sweeping statements about Indians, and generalizations about India. The problem is that everywhere in India the same evidence keeps slapping us in the face. We’ve become good at looking away.” 

I am reading about Parsis, a community about which I know close to nothing about. But, let us assume that the Parsis have high IQs. What could have happened? Intelligent people are likely to do evolutionarily novel things. So, they are not likely to cling too much to their own traditions and customs. Intelligent people are also more likely to enjoy classical music because purely instrumental music is an evolutionary novelty. Parsis love western classical music. Intelligent people are also more likely to be individualistic because individualism is an evolutionary novel concept too. The savage was governed by his tribe.

Now, observe. Their population is dwindling. From Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters:

“Demographics show we’ll be extinct in fifty years. Maybe it’s the best thing. What’s the use of having spineless weaklings walking around, Parsi in name only. Extinct, like dinosaurs. They’ll have to study our bones, that’s all.“If, if, if,” said Dr. Fitter. “If we are meant to die out, nothing will save us. “Yes,” said Inspector Masalavala. “But it will be a loss to the whole world. When a culture vanishes, humanity is the loser.”

But, still Parsis live longer than ordinary Indians. This is not surprising. Intelligence and other positive traits are correlated. Intelligent people live longer than normal humans. So, what could have happened? Though the Parsis live long lives, the incidence of genetic abnormalities is high. Some researchers inferred that genetic abnormalities and high IQ are correlated because this is true of the Ashkenazi Jews too. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) But, I am surprised that all of them missed a very obvious explanation. The Parsis marry late, or not marry at all, and this was true even in the late 19th century. Their fertility rate is lower than Japan’s.

“Zubin Shroff, a Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health, has been working on a new demographic study of the Parsis for the past two years, and using data from 2001-06 he has observed a TFR of 0.88. I recall him telling me that, when he disclosed this figure to a professor of demography at Harvard, she had a look of complete horror on her face. To provide some context, let us look at what the TFR is like amongst general populations in some countries. According to a United Nations report published in 2006, TFR between 2000 and 2005 was, for each country?s total population, 3.11 for India, 2.04 for the United States, and 1.29 for Japan. In other words, indicators for the Parsis of India are well below that of Japan, a country where the government has thrown a significant portion of its resources into reversing its population decline and educating its population about how, precisely, its population has fallen.”

But, why? High IQ people marry late or not marry at all. Marrying late or not marrying at all, or being childless is evolutionary novel. So, children born when parents are older might have genetic abnormalities even if the parents are smart.

Satoshi Kanazawa observes in The Intelligence Paradox:

Marriage and parenting are among the very few exceptions to this pattern in a comprehensive review of American life. In fact, “very bright” individuals are the least likely to marry of all the cognitive classes. Only 67% of these “very bright” white Americans marry before the age of 30, whereas between 72% and 81% of those in other cognitive classes marry before 30.  The mean age of first marriage among the “very bright” whites is 25.4, whereas it is 21.3 among the “very dull” individuals and 21.5 among the “dull” individuals. The more intelligent you are, the later you marry. The pattern is similar in parenting. For example, general intelligence does not confer advantages in giving birth to healthy babies. For example, 5% of white babies born to “very bright” mothers suffer from low birth weight, compared to 1.6% of those born to “bright” mothers and 3.2% of those born to “normal” mothers. Only babies born to “dull” mothers (7.2%) and “very dull” mothers (5.7%) fare worse. The lack of IQ advantage continues later in the childhood. “Very bright” mothers are more likely to have children who are behind in motor and social development or have the worst behavioral problems. Specifically, 10% of children born to “very bright” white mothers are in the bottom 10% of the motor and social development index, compared to 5% of those born to bright” mothers and 6% of those born to “normal” mothers. Similarly, 11% of children born to “very bright” mothers find themselves in the bottom 10% of the behavioral problems index, compared to 6% of those born to “bright” mothers and 10% of those born to “normal” mothers.  It is important to note that the problems suffered by children born to “very bright” mothers are not just social and behavioral—for which there might be varying and changing cultural definitions of what constitutes “normal”—but are also physical, such as birth weight and motor development, for which the criteria of normal development are objective and invariant.”

But, this isn’t because high IQ and genetic abnormalities go together, but because high IQ people are more likely to be evolutionarily weird.

The Nobel Peace Prize Fraud

Kailash_SatyarthiIf you think that Kailash Satyarthi—and his Bachpan Bachao Andolan (ROTFL)—deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, consider this: You have bronchitis. The doctor examines your symptoms and writes a brilliant report. The doctor is very “sincere”, fraudulently so. The report is evocative and accurate. The doctor thinks that the general public should be warned of the trauma of chronic diseases. He thinks that they should be enlightened. After all, it never occurs to the healthy that there could be a horrible thing such as a “disease”! They are from planet Mars. His views are considered an injection of hard reality into our otherwise hedonistic lives. He has a simple cure for your ailment: “To shoot you”. And more: He wants his cure to be enforced through legislation, because it would create paradise on earth. Would you seek the service of such a doctor? He does not lack passion or empathy. He is sincere. He is a hero by the virtue of raising awareness. Is it possible at all that something else can matter?

Economically ignorant liberals might claim that this is not a reasonable analogy, but that doesn’t change the issue. There is nothing wrong with child labor. The economist Ludwig Von Mises observed many decades ago:

“The factory owners did not have the power to compel anybody to take a factory job. They could only hire people who were ready to work for the wages offered to them. Low as these wage rates were, they were nonetheless much more than these paupers could earn in any other field open to them. It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchen and the children from their play. These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving. Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them, in the strict sense of the term, from death by starvation.” 

Robert Hessen argues in “Capitalism-The Unknown Ideal”:

“The result of legislative intervention was that these dismissed children, who needed to work in order to survive, were forced to seek jobs in smaller, older, and more out-of-the-way factories, where the conditions of employment, sanitation, and safety were markedly inferior. Those who could not find new jobs were reduced to the status of their counterparts a hundred years before, that is, to irregular agricultural labor, or worse—in the words of Professor von Mises—to “infest the country as vagabonds, beggars, tramps, robbers and prostitutes.” Child labor was not ended by legislative fiat; child labor ended when it became economically unnecessary for children to earn wages in order to survive—when the income of their parents became sufficient to support them. The emancipators and benefactors of those children were not legislators or factory inspectors, but manufacturers and financiers. Their efforts and investments in machinery led to a rise in real wages, to a growing abundance of goods at lower prices, and to an incomparable improvement in the general standard of living.”

This is not a malicious view which only Twitter trolls would believe in. This is elementary social science which the journalists and activists would have known if they had read an elementary text on economics. They would have known this even if they had only a superficial understanding of human history.

If Kailash Satyarthi’s cause is fundamentally flawed, even if it is true that he is doing a wonderful job, he is inflicting enormous harm. He is probably sincere, but when you judge someone by sincerity, you are setting the bar way too low. People can do pretty much anything, and convince themselves that their motives are noble. What does that even prove? If his motives were truly noble, he would have tried to find out whether his cause is fundamentally flawed or not. The fact that is has never tried to find out is enough proof that he is a fraud.

The pursuit of truth is a reflection of great character strength. Convincing yourself of something or the other and posing as a messiah of underprivileged children is a reflection of weak character—of poor personal standards, of greed.  

Of course, there are allegations of corruption against this fellow, but the liberals want to conveniently ignore this. But, if they truly care for truth and morality, wouldn’t they try to find out whether these allegations are true? They claim that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and that we should give him the benefit of doubt (as long as he can hit back or hand out favors?).

Megha Bahri writes in Forbes:

Satyarthi, and his BBA, is a flawed hero and I have first hand experience of it. While reporting the story for Forbes I met with BBA representatives (not Satyarthi, but a deputy). BBA had some credibility, for sure. It had busted a subcontractor of Gap Inc. using child labor just a few months earlier and the incident had made a huge splash. The BBA representative told me that apart from the garment sector, one area that had one of the worst problems of child labor was the carpet belt in Uttar Pradesh. I remember the guy’s words to date: each house, each village is filled with children making carpets for export.

I said, show me.

We set off from Delhi and drove around a few villages but I only saw adults weaving carpets. As my suspicion became more obvious, and my questions more pertinent, the guy finally took me to one house and told me to wait in the car while he went in first. That, itself, was not a good sign in my book so I immediately followed. In the verandah of the house I was shown two boys, 6 years old or so, who were sitting before a loom. When I asked them to show their weaving skills, they didn’t have a clue what was expected of them. More importantly, they were wearing steel grey shorts and shirts–a typical school uniform in India.”

The problem is that the more children you show “rescued”, the more funds you get from foreign donors. That’s not to say that child labor isn’t a vast, and severe, problem in India. It is. And the fact remains that every time you buy an imported handmade carpet, an embroidered pair of jeans, a beaded purse, a decorated box or a soccer ball there’s a good chance you’re acquiring something fashioned by a child.

His ex-colleagues too have made corruption allegations against him:

“Having worked with Kailash Satyarthi in 1999 and surely having loved working there, i (Indu) feel he still didn’t deserve the award. For what he did with his one of the oldest colleague, Ms. Suman Srivastava, is condemnable. He and his team did a total character assassination of her. And anyone who came against this rot setting in, were slapped criminal defamation cases. We’ve one such case against us in the Rohini Court.”

This sort of thing happens in almost every non-profit. It would be surprising if this is not true.

Robin Hanson of Overcoming bias brilliantly observes:

“School seems useful for basic training and for socializing folks into industrial workplaces. But how much schooling do we need – closer to eight or to sixteen years? You might think the more school option has clearly proven its superiority by now. But it wasn’t exactly a fair fight – we forbade kids to work, and then required them to school. Watching some young girls sitting for hours in front of a grocery store selling girl scout cookies recently, I wondered, “Why isn’t this child labor?” People often talk as they feel revulsion at the image of a miserable child, working at some hard tedious job, and so they are glad child labor laws prohibit such cruel scenarios. But in fact our society is full of kids working away at hard and/or tedious jobs. Kids work hard at school, housework, sports, practicing music, supporting clubs, etc. and none of this cruelty is prevented by “child labor” laws. Such laws only prevent getting paid to work; they don’t even stop kids interning for free. If child labor laws come from our revulsion at miserable kids, why are there no laws preventing tiger moms from making their kids practice music for hours straight without a bathroom break, or against parents who make their older kids work full time taking care of younger kids? If job safety is our worry, why not just regulate that more directly? The history of child labor law is closely associated with unions seeking less competition for adult labor. Like minimum lot sizes for houses, child labor laws also helped to keep out poor folks. And today self-righteous indication about foreign child labor supports protectionism, to keep out foreign products that compete with local firms. Alas, keeping poor kids from working for money not only unfairly biases the work vs. school competition, it needlessly impoverishes poor kids and their families. While we claim to care so so much about kids forced to do hard and tedious tasks, we only actually prevent doing such tasks for money – many kids around us end up doing such tasks anyway, just not for money, and we hardly care. And yet somehow we’ve used all this to tell ourselves how morally superior we are to the cruel poor folk who might even consider having their kids “work.” Hypocrisy can be amazingly shallow.”