A number of my posts declare that there’s a feedback loop constraining variation from cultural norms and local genetic norms. Here’s one example:
Policing observance of cultural behavior norms makes certain culturally approved traits into positive sexual selection traits. This has the effect of maintaining the status quo of the population and the culture. This is a bit of supporting evidence.
Selection, adaptation, inheritance and design in human culture:
The view from the Price equation
“A number of statements are made recurrently in summarising cultural evolutionary theory. One is that culture is a system of inheritance. Thus, humans have not just the standard one system of inheritance (genetics), but (at least) a second one, culture . We have, in other words, a dual inheritance , and two inheritance systems entails two distinct fitnesses, genetic fitness, and cultural fitness. Another statement is that cultural evolution produces design-like properties that would not emerge without it [6,7]. The key insight of Darwinian genetic evolutionary theory was that design-like properties could be produced, over time, by selection processes. Thus, it is quite natural, seeing design-like properties in culture, to assume they must be produced by selection processes too. Still another generalization is that cultural evolution can increase genetic fitness. For example, this claim is implicit in the idea that having a second inheritance system is adaptive for coping with environmental fluctuations faster than those that can be tracked by genetic selection, but slower than those generally tracked by individual learning (see e.g. ). ‘Adaptive’ in this context means genetically adaptive—more survival, more babies—and so for the claim to work, cultural evolution would have not only to increase cultural fitness, but genetic fitness too.” -Daniel Nettle
Download the paper (pdf format)183-preprint
/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy [science]. – Willy the Shake
I grumble about scientific reductionism (SR) regularly but I thought of an angle that shows starkly, what is wrong with it. It is a Jekyll and Hyde thing. The problem comes when it escapes from the lab.
SR identifies the core reality of things as their simplest parts and origins. It is a filter against complexity, seeking the Least Story. SR understands the essence of something as “What it all boils down to”. As if a whole chicken, boiled for days down to greasy, particulate liquid better-represents chickens than the prepared carcass, let alone a living chicken. In an experiment, SR is like reducing fractions or maximum simplifying of non-essential variables. It makes results less ambiguous and that is good.
But it spread.
“All religions, nearly all philosophies, and even a part of science testify to the unwearying, heroic effort of mankind desperately denying its contingency.”
― Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity
Monod is the man chiefly responsible for the successful neo-Darwinian movement1. I’m not specifically picking on him but using him as a fair example of scientific reductionism when it climbs over the wall. There are tons of these quotes from him and I chose the nearest one. He is using the word Contingency to mean unpredictable randomness. He means all of us are hiding from the truth that we are an accident of the universe. Excuse me, we are MERELY an accident of the universe. Excuse me, I mean a meaningless universe.
Careful philosophy shoppers should ask questions.
- What are the tools he used to run his meaning experiments?
- How were the experiments constructed?
- How would he recognize meaning if it existed? How would he observe its absence?
- Provided he had a meaning detector, and observed its absence, why would he take that to mean that the result is universal?
There has never been a Chinese government that didn’t despise individuality and behave with monstrous cruelty. There has never been one that appeared to even recognize cruelty except to want more. Utterly callous and indifferent is only when they aren’t trying. China is a bloodthirsty, heartless oligarchy with an unslakable thirst for absolute social control that keeps them up nights worrying that they’ve missed somebody.
All credit to the makers.
(Note: This article needs editing. I’m leaving it published because that’s how I hold myself accountable to get that done)
Cultural tension force and the Human Operating System (HOS)
Humans naturally group together to form communities. Culture is the connecting, unifying skin that automatically grows over these communities, reflecting them, defining them, and binding them together. They are now a community organism, existing through one lens as their normal human selves but through another lens as a massive individual, autonomous self as unaware of us as we are of it.
What the Hell are you talking about, Hugh?
The Human Operating System or HOS is the innate battery of automatic and mostly unconscious behaviors that humans display by default, a handful of tiny cultures may not use these defaults but defining anything by the exception to its rule is being perversely counter-intuitive on purpose. It’s a demand that we ignore most of what we see going on in favor of something that is barely going on at all.
Tension force is societal homeostasis generated by opposing ideas. You could visualize it as the reason why both teams in a tug of war don’t simply fall on their asses.
How about this for a predictive rule of thumb:
“The amount of energy expended to place oneself above suspicion and beyond reproach is proportional to the corresponding intensity of the pariah status that would result from exposure of the secret shameful behavior this effort is intended to hide.” *
- Occupations of choice – Examples: Priest, Minister, Policeman, Scoutmaster
- Jobs that automatically place the holder on the side of Goodness against evil and also grant them some authority over community members are the destinations of choice for:
- Those consciously hiding bad behavior and seeking immunity from consequences.
- Those unconscious of their shadow behavior but haunted by a sense of it. They are naive and project their darkness onto others. They seek objective goodness by personifying it vocationally. This is to balance accounts internally, their bad acts cannot really be bad when coming from this persona.
- Exceptions: These roles can of course be chosen for selfless and well motivated reasons. That is obviously what makes this work for the guilty ones.
- The collective of these occupational authorities automatically form defensive shells against outsiders (parishioners, the general public), preserving their power and covering up crimes.
- Jobs that automatically place the holder on the side of Goodness against evil and also grant them some authority over community members are the destinations of choice for:
-* (or at least proportional to the emotional fear of being revealed)
I’m not 100% confident that I’m right about this but I’m intrigued. This is about something that sits in our human blind spot. These things excite me because anything found in the collective human blind spot represent something robotic we must do and are not supposed to know about.
I was writing about a behavior within a culture which is required of anyone who wants to be a part of that culture. That awkward sentence I just wrote is pointing out the missing word. I was poking around in my word bag and I thought “It’s the opposite of a taboo, what the hell is the opposite of a taboo? ” I bet in anthropology there IS a term for this but while taboo swam up out of the jargon to join the rest of the English language, no natural opposite followed.
A taboo forbids. A taboo is serious as a heart attack but when I looked up antonyms for taboo the result was: allowable, permissible. These are weak and mild opposites to the “crime scene tape” of TABOO. Lacking such an opposite, we are forced to turn the word taboo back and forth for this purpose as a negative or positive:
Positive “It is taboo to tickle the president’s love handles”
Negative: “It is taboo to NOT compliment the emperor’s mustache”
You probably have bigger problems on your mind than this. We can create phrases easily enough “Compulsory behavior” “Obligatory behavior” though I stand by the idea that TABOO is in a different class of word. The phrases sound like a stern warning and taboo sounds it releases a curse. It’s weird for the English language, unstinting as it is about vocabulary, to leave a prominent gap for a simple concept year after year unfilled. My hypothesis is that MUST NOT behavior, varying as it does from culture to culture, is something we are all supposed to be painfully aware of but MUST behavior flows from an unconscious source. That dynamic is why we lack a word for the opposite of Taboo.
Tension Force is the name I give to the innate push and pull between progressives and conservatives. Physical tension force is a physics concept and can be pictured as the area of rope between teams playing tug of war. In a well-matched tug-of-war, that area doesn’t shift very much but that stability is reached by both teams trying their hardest to win.
Tension force is homeostasis achieved through intense opposing forces. If one of our teams wins the political tug of war it’s guaranteed to be a bad or even disastrous moment for society. One party systems have ugly results.
There are psychological patterns that are consistently reliable predictors of a progressive or conservative view on politics and culture. The personality test used to measure and correlate this connection is the famous Big 5 Test. Here is a quick visual to explain what is measured and the characteristics that typify scoring high or low.
These are the outcomes that populate our country with Progressives and Conservatives:
- High scores in conscientiousness trended conservative on both economic policy, (favoring hard work and organization) as well as social policy (strict adherence to traditional social norms).
- High scores in openness trended progressive on economic policy (favoring new programs and interventions) as well as social policy (favoring complexity and novelty).
- High in agreeableness leaned progressive on economic policy (wanting to help the disadvantaged) and but conservative on social policy (the desire to maintain harmony and traditional relationships).
- High scores in neuroticism leaned progressive on both (oh, shut up).
- High levels of the extraversion trait had no significant effect on predicting a person’s policy position but correlated strongly to being fun at parties.
Although nurture and socialization are certainly a part of shaping these political tendencies, the people nurturing you are your closest relatives and the culture you are being socialized to is the one they have chosen to live in. The matrix seals neatly around you. There’s bound to be a genetic relationship to these scores, and tests significantly confirm that. So every population produces a balance of people apparently fated to be in one camp or the other. Either group can be principled and logical, but those principles and logic are canalized by personality presets. Whatever play is in the system waxes and wanes with important societal upheavals and movements.
The consistent percentages of people born with these traits and concomitant beliefs is the underlying, invisible homeostasis that creates the Tension Force around us. As we plead with the other side to see reason or curse each other for hopeless blind idiocy we can take some comfort in the idea that humanity absolutely requires this struggle. Tension force is how we weigh the balance between the past and future, between tradition and reform.
However, technological change has dropped us into a new and unfamiliar medium for connection and communication. The new medium so completely separates us from engagement with the other side, that each side has become LIKE a one-party country unto themselves. The area of Tension Force has become the weak spot, attacked by opportunistic infections.
The situation makes us “fish in a barrel” for those aiming to divide and conquer us, then gather riches from the ruins left behind.
(I’m talking about Putin you idiots!)
Some German (obviously) psychological researchers did a really nice job on the country vs city meme “Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft” That is community vs society, adding the interesting insights about present vs future orientation and the amazing detail that the Big 5 personality test works in the city WAY better than the country. It all has the ring of common sense, society needs a wide range of specialized types of people while the country needs people who can pitch in to any task as needed.
John Allen Chau was a 27-year-old American missionary from Vancouver Washington who dreamed of bringing Jesus to the hostile tribe on North Sentinel Island known as the Sentinelese. In a sense, he did, before dying in a volley of arrows. This is a story about many things, including several that are regular subjects of this blog. Buried in this sad stupid story is a raw example of tension force. If you’ve been following that idea, see if you can find the brief area where it comes into focus here.
Sentinel Island is 700 miles off India’s mainland. It’s illegal to go there because:
A. They attempt to kill anyone who tries and succeed fairly often.
B. They are an uncontacted hunter-gatherer society, a stone-age tribe of humans who know not a goddamn thing about the messy, stressed out human hives buzzing around them. This makes them a rare treasure despite their murderous diplomacy. What’s in it for us? The mere fact of their untouched existence is like a unicorn in a sacred grove. They exist like the long-hidden heart of wild humanity, steadily beating without us. They aren’t chained up to our machine: They have never tasted the poverty or long hours of the shitty, non-essential work they would be assigned on the periphery of our world. They have an unshared language, names, totems, myths and stories buried deep in the secret world of their lives. They laugh at things, they undoubtedly sing. They track the moon and watch the stars. They surely have a name for us and our crazy machines and our snooping ways. And they have a policy toward us: FUCK OFF!
But there’s a much more important reason not to contact them. Officials say the islanders have lived in isolation for nearly 60,000 years and therefore have no immunities to common illnesses such as the flu and measles. Advocacy group Survival International said that by contacting the community, Chau may have passed along pathogens that have the “potential to wipe out the entire tribe” of about 50 to 150 people. Continue reading
“Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should, therefore, claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”
― Karl Raimund Popper, The Open Society, and Its Enemies
A society based on freedom and liberal humanism must value tolerance just to exist. But it must value itself more highly than any culture or alternate system of government if it is to survive. When the Mohamed cartoons controversy arose we were faced with another culture protesting the rules of our own. There were threats of murder, and outraged demands to change our rules on their behalf. Demands to essentially to add a dogma of Islam (not depicting Mohamed) as an amendment to western values from now on.
The west responded with a mix of:
- Cowardice: “OK! Done.”
- Nationalistic grumbling.
- Assholes taunting Muslims by burning Korans.
- Liberal appeasement, which volunteered to alter our way of life because other cultures naturally take precedence.
- Indifference, the deciding vote of many disputes.
- Worry by those who know that there are no take backs when you hand over any part of your autonomy.
The conciliatory impulse when someone is (or even seems) deeply offended is to apologize and seek accommodation. It’s a good impulse because peace is good. In seeking peace you ask what will make it right. The clear message from the Islamic protesters was: “You aren’t allowed to do that, it must never happen again.” Claiming the right in a non-Islamic, free speech culture to determine not only what they see in newspapers but what everyone else sees too.
Many European politicians acceded instantly, deploring the cartoons, many in the media acceded to cowardice really but cloaked as respect for feelings. There have been roughly 200 deaths related to the cartoon controversy since 2005 and anti-blasphemy laws have sprouted up in many places giving more control over speech to those who feel offended. Tolerant European societies began dismantling their foundations partly from fear of religious thugs and partly out of the desire to be nice people and not cause offense.
This hardly constitutes the death of a tolerant culture, but it was surrendering the autonomy of a tolerant culture to the demands of an intolerant one. This is “proof of concept” for Popper’s thesis. What possible polar corollary can we dream up where Europe is offended by an Islamic meme and Islam is sorry and wants to make it right? There is no such situation. In fact, throughout Islamic cultures, things we would find outrageously offensive are common-place: Horrible anti-semitic cartoons are daily fare, hateful denouncements of everything in the west and hope for their prompt destruction is the stuff of coffee chat on TV.
All impulse to appease travels one way, and that is through the hole in our cultural defenses wrought by tolerance. The values we thrive on and hope to leave in place for the future will be further weakened by the culture of being too “nice”. Our cultural immune system recognizes certain hot topics for special handling. We maintain our Nazi defenses, we recognize that this hateful speech is something to be watched cautiously. We also recognize that it would permanently fracture society if we cripple free speech to silence Nazis. The problem now isn’t recognizing an overt enemy but a more subtle one. We are vulnerable on our left flank to the idea that all cultures are at least equal; and that any culture that has suffered insult or injury from the west at large deserves to have a say in our own. The welcoming tolerance of pluralistic cultures must be maintained, yet for it to be maintained it must have limits.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”
In other words, it ought to take a matter nearing our imminent destruction to make us consider hitting the pause button on freedom of speech, not the first complaint raised against it.