Even after controlling for variables such as race, income and education levels, a state’s dominant personality turns out to be strongly linked to certain outcomes. Amiable states, like Minnesota, tend to be lower in crime. Dutiful states—an eclectic bunch that includes New Mexico, North Carolina and Utah—produce a disproportionate share of mathematicians. States that rank high in openness to new ideas are quite creative, as measured by per-capita patent production. But they’re also high-crime and a bit aloof. Apparently, Californians don’t much like socializing, the research suggests.
Until there was speech, the human beast could have no religion, and consequently no God. In the beginning was the Word. Speech gave the beast its first ability to ask questions, and undoubtedly one of the first expressed his sudden but insatiable anxiety as to how he got here and what this agonizing struggle called life is all about. To this day, the beast needs, can’t live without, some explanation as the basis of whatever status he may think he possesses. For that reason, extraordinary individuals have been able to change history with their words alone, without the assistance of followers, money, or politicians. Their names are Jesus, John Calvin, Mohammed, Marx, Freud—and Darwin.
And this, rather than any theory, is what makes Darwin the monumental figure that he is. The human beast does not require that the explanation offer hope. He will believe whatever is convincing. Jesus offered great hope: The last shall be first and the meek shall inherit the earth. Calvin offered less. Mohammed, more and less. Marx, even more than Jesus: The meek will take over the earth now! Freud offered more sex. Darwin offered nothing at all. Each, however, has left an enduring influence. Jesus is the underpinning of both Marxism and political correctness in American universities. There was a 72-year field experiment in Marxism, which failed badly. But Marx’s idea of one class dominating another may remain with us forever. In medical terms, Freud is now considered a quack. But his notion of sex as an energy like the steam in a boiler, which must be released in an orderly fashion or the boiler will blow up, remains with us, too. At this very moment, as we gather here in the Warner Theatre, you can be sure that there are literally millions of loin spasms and hip-joint convulsions that are taking place at this very instant throughout the world that would not be occurring were it not for the power of the words of Sigmund Freud.
Today, Charles Darwin still reigns, but his most fervent followers, American neuroscientists, are deeply concerned about this irritating matter of culture, the product of speech. Led by the British neuroscientist Richard Dawkins, they currently propose that culture is the product of “memes” or “culturegens”, which operate like genes and produce culture. There is a problem, however. Genes exist, but memes don’t. The concept of memes is like the concept of Jack Frost ten centuries ago. Jack Frost was believed to be an actual, living, albeit invisible, creature who went about in the winter freezing fingertips and making the ground too hard to plow.
Noam Chomsky has presented another problem. He maintains that there is no sign that speech evolved from any form of life lower than man. It’s not that there is a missing link, he says. It’s that there is absolutely nothing in any other animal to link up with.
In his column, Brooks suggests that the “cognitive revolution” in the study of religion will likely encourage belief systems that focus on “self-transcendence” but discourage “the idea of a personal God.” The more genuinely cognitive trend in contemporary science of religion does not directly bear upon whether one should hold any given religious beliefs, but if it offers any clues as to which religious beliefs are likely to remain resilient in the future, it suggests that belief in personal gods aren’t going anywhere soon. A common refrain in CSR is the naturalness of belief in supernatural agents or gods. In his review of the cognitive and evolutionary studies of religion, anthropologist Scott Atran writes: “Supernatural agency is the most culturally recurrent, cognitively relevant, and evolutionarily compelling concept in religion. The concept of the supernatural is culturally derived from an innate cognitive schema.”
Falling crime rates have been one of the great American success stories of the past 15 years. New York and Los Angeles, once the twin capitals of violent crime, have calmed down significantly, as have most other big cities. Criminologists still debate why: the crack war petered out, new policing tactics worked, the economy improved for a long spell. Whatever the alchemy, crime in New York, for instance, is now so low that local prison guards are worried about unemployment.
Lately, though, a new and unexpected pattern has emerged, taking criminologists by surprise. While crime rates in large cities stayed flat, homicide rates in many midsize cities (with populations of between 500,000 and 1 million) began increasing, sometimes by as much as 20percent a year. In 2006, the Police Executive Research Forum, a national police group surveying cities from coast to coast, concluded in a report called “A Gathering Storm” that this might represent “the front end … of an epidemic of violence not seen for years.” The leaders of the group, which is made up of police chiefs and sheriffs, theorized about what might be spurring the latest crime wave: the spread of gangs, the masses of offenders coming out of prison, methamphetamines. But mostly they puzzled over the bleak new landscape. According to FBI data, America’s most dangerous spots are now places where Martin Scorsese would never think of staging a shoot-out—Florence, South Carolina; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Reading, Pennsylvania; Orlando, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee.
Memphis has always been associated with some amount of violence. But why has Elvis’s hometown turned into America’s new South Bronx? Barnes thinks he knows one big part of the answer, as does the city’s chief of police. A handful of local criminologists and social scientists think they can explain it, too. But it’s a dismal answer, one that city leaders have made clear they don’t want to hear. It’s an answer that offers up racial stereotypes to fearful whites in a city trying to move beyond racial tensions. Ultimately, it reaches beyond crime and implicates one of the most ambitious antipoverty programs of recent decades.