This is a rather broad category. Inclusive of any global behaviors.
We are every bit as natural as Blue Green algae or Pterodactyls but we can’t accept that. We hold unshakable convictions on what people are and how people should behave yet in the face of perpetual disappointment we are mystified. Perhaps humans are like every other animal: Living out an innate strategic script with limited degrees of freedom from it.
In a few other articles I’ve made the point that random millions of people having babies with other random millions of people give birth to consistent percentages of neurological and psychological types relative to the population at large, generation after generation. Some of these groups are defined as disabilities or pathologies. Example groups ADHD, and ASD are disabilities, sociopaths are seen as pathologies…it’s the second part of the name! They are generally thought to be caused by failures of infant development to complete normally and a pretty strong genetic connection. ASD is the obvious example of a spectrum disorder. Predictable numbers of ASD people are born year after year.
Clinically ASD includes a short list of recognized levels of the disability which exist along a continuum of severity. There’s a break here between the small range of what’s accepted as proven medical science to be autism and the much broader range of people who are legitimately diagnosed as autistic even though they are much higher functioning than the accepted range. It’s tacitly understood by therapists, teachers, parents, etc to be a section of spectrum that could be positioned at the end of the current spectrum and just pick up where it leaves off and run all the way out to those who have a few touches of these traits but are otherwise completely normal. That makes sense as the autism spectrum. I’m grandfathering ADHD in on this spectrum because 80% of high functioning autistics also have ADHD. Continue reading
Have you ever met someone who was nice or cheerful to a fault? They are all about being positive and cooperative but you glimpse in them tiny reflections of rage, sorrow and cruelty? They are at the office, at the PTA, and abundant in church groups. As they grew up with people who couldn’t stand their anger or spontaneity, these vital human traits were shoved downward until not even they themselves knew the behavior was there anymore. These are the psychological materials and the mechanism of the Shadow. Any part of us in the shadow is prevented from maturing naturally and finding the right place in a rich personality. Shadow materials grow dusty and miserable, paralyzed or barbaric. They raise themselves without guidance or human contact. As exiles from the country of self we see them as repellent refuges who may be hated openly. The shadow material is externalized in other people as lazy, crazy or slutty for example. The frequent connection to anything foreign is a way of distancing themselves from these forbidden elements of self as much as possible.
When someone in our lives needs to relate to us on a level that includes shadow material we deadlock, rage, and reject over the very existence of the problem. Frozen families and crippled relationships live here, if they live. The only way to surmount this logjam is to open the oubliette where we have hidden them and begin by recognizing who is in that dungeon. You can’t instantly free them, they are barbaric and immature, they do not know how to behave. First we do an inventory of our exiles and accept their existence. Then we make visits to them and hear their story. Then slowly we let them find their place in us again, bit by bit. People who have done their shadow work are more trustworthy, their decisions are more reliable and their kindness is more genuine. They listen better.
The harsh and moralistic tone of people denying their shadow is how they represent themselves as more trustworthy, etc. but prevents them seeing the “fine print” their secret inner lawyer attaches to every contract. If someone hasn’t done their shadow work but is forced to encounter their shadow material, the result is often a psychological crisis and breakdown. If the work has been done the same situation may result in a rueful smile or a humble (but not shamed) acceptance. An explosion in the open air is far less destructive than a buried and contained one.
The amazing poet Robert Bly is the hands down best writer on the the shadow.
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.
- Eros – Classic romantic, idealized love
- Ludus – Multiple love interests where they are in complete control. Lying, cheating and deception are common for people who experience love as Ludus
- Storge – Love based on Storge takes time, it requires genuine liking and understanding of a partner, friendship leading to romance.
- Agape – The overwhelming desire to want to take care of a partner—a parental or nurturing type of love.
- Mania – Crazy, impulsive and needy. They fall in love quickly, but their love tends to consume them leading to burning out before it can mature.
- Pragma – Based on common sense, reason and careful consideration. Practical concerns underlie this type of love.
These are the 6 classic love styles as understood by current psychology. When first exposed to these I thought that’s awesome! I’ve never looked at it this way before, they really help to make sense of things that usually remain mysteries. For example as someone who often matches the Storge description, deep feelings mostly arise for me out solid liking and trust and not until there is solid liking and trust. Being approached by a partner in full Eros mode would thrill me with their interest and passion. That same passion could overwhelm me with speed, leading to an impression of hesitation from that, in turn, made them feel less certain. The ability to recognize the style of love approaching makes it at least possible to better anticipate how things unfold and better job of reacting.
When people encounter this taxonomy of loving, they often relate to it as a “personality type” tool where they are to pick themselves out of the list. I bet you can guess what they pick: Most people according to themselves, are Eros types. In second place comes Agape with nobody in a close 3rd. The idealized romantic Eros style is clearly what you’d want to be out of this list. It sounds like true love expressed in the healthy, normal, successful way…that movies show. Agape is the popular second choice because so many people feel like they are the more generous, giving one in the relationship and possibly the unfairly unappreciated one. Obviously, most people are wrong about these choices and just trying to feel good about themselves. Ludus, storge, mania, and pragma are the “Not so fantastic four” in this lineup. Storge is the most acceptable of this group because it’s kind of relatable and it doesn’t seem wrong on the face of it, just not very romantic. Pragma next because it’s that, or Mania and Ludus. Pragma feels like the opposite of romantic love, all business, dry and transactional. To choose Pragma as your “type” seems like admitting it just didn’t go well for you, and here’s how you settled. In a popularity showdown between Mania and Ludus, Mania wins because people would rather be messed up than evil. Continue reading
The Part that Sounds Sensible
- The Learning Perspective: B.F. Skinner is the theorist behind the flat mechanics of the learning perspective. He argued that adults shape the speech of children by reinforcing the babbling of infants that sound the most like words and that children learn language from punishment and reinforcement. B.F.Skinner was a behaviorist who’s only tool was a hammer and theorized that every type of behavior was a nail. His theory of language through conditioning briefly dumbed down the whole conversation.
- Interactionist Theory: Interactionists argue that language development is both biological and social; That language learning is influenced by the desire of children to communicate with others. This drive to communicate and share is a powerful motivator. The mistake is concluding that this motivating desire is a causal force rather than a related and helpful one.
- The Nativist Perspective: Developed by Noam Chomsky. He argues that humans are biologically programmed to gain knowledge and that all humans have a language acquisition device (LAD). The LAD contains knowledge of grammatical rules common to all languages. The LAD also allows children to understand the rules of whatever language they are listening to. Chomsky suggests that universal language acquisition behaviors in humans reveal that it is innate. Obvious but unseen till Chomsky.
- The Language Instinct: A 1994 book by Steven Pinker. He argues that humans are born with an innate capacity for language. Pinker sees language as an ability unique to humans, produced by evolution to solve the specific problem of communication among social hunter-gatherers. He compares language to other species’ specialized adaptations such as spiders’ web-weaving or beavers’ dam-building behavior, calling all three “instincts”. In calling language an instinct, Pinker means that it is not a human invention in the sense that metalworking and even writing are. While only some human cultures possess these technologies, all cultures possess language.
You (make-believe loyal reader ) know I am absolutely sure that language is innate. There is a circular but sensible reason it is innate. Everyone has to talk because everyone else does. Language is an essential survival trait in a social species. That means It is too important to leave it up to us. Can you imagine if children had to depend on parents to ensure that they could speak? There would be a large random distribution of mute humans everywhere, trying to get by. The same forces that guarantee the action of your heart and lungs provide you with an automatic phase of intense language acquisition that clicks on when your body says it is time. Continue reading
From left to right:
Reynard the fox, Mercury, Nanabozho, Tanuki, Sun Wukong, Huehuecoyotl, Kokopelli, Raven, Tokoloshe, Anansi, Papa Legba, Wisakedjak, Blue tongue lizard, Till Eulenspiegel, Saci-Perere
The phrase “collective unconscious” seems like a neat concept but not a literally true thing. Where would it exist? Are we supposed to believe in a spiritual dimension that we all have a drinking straw stuck into? To me, the collective unconscious (CU) is more like a shared language module, distributed to each of us at birth. It’s like Windows accessories, included in every installation.
The archetypes of the CU are words and phrases from this shared language module. They are unique icons with a consistent meaning and their arrangement tells the story. Some icons are always protagonists, the listener’s POV along the tracks. Some archetypes represent a challenge, motivation or temptation. Some provide structure. The background is created through the placement of the initial icons. This becomes the substrate of expectation and context. Once we know the background, we probably know a lot about where we’re going and what we will encounter. Think of how much you know about these two stories:
Once there was a girl living in a deep, dark forest. She was beautiful and kind and worked hard to care for her Mother who was very sick…
Jack the foolish donkey lived on a farm where he was well cared for by the kind farmers, yet he dreamed of seeing the bazaars and palaces of faraway lands…
I bet you can tell me the “keyframes” of each story; the salient encounters or events. You can tell me the general outcome and upshot of each one and how they eventually bring the story home to its origin but at a higher level. The only thing you can’t tell me is whether it was a bear or an ogre this time around if you follow my meaning. Certainly, there are junctures along the way where the story might break off to create an alternative tale but with enough patience, we could flow-chart the alternatives as well.
The icons are consistent, regardless of language or culture. They are the essentials of our stories, and stories are the foundation of everything we understand, not in an intellectual way, but as this particular human self.
I am planning a series of articles on the collective unconscious, archetypes, and symbols. Trickster is an example of an essential role required in some tales. There must be a wild and funny, -think-outside-the-box, winning through cleverness character in these stories. Bugs Bunny, (in his cartoon days, not his later career as a corporate spokesman) was a perfect modern trickster.
Around the world, people create tricksters in the image of their culture. It’s like when Shakespeare plays are not staged as if in Elizabethan England but on a 20th-century battlefield, or the highest executive floors of a corporate skyscraper. The setting is ever-changing, the story is eternal.
It appears that some fairy tales have been in circulation for 6000 years. That is solidly within the Neolithic period. There is every chance that a story you read to your child at bedtime was also told to an excited child before history was invented.
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
Pareidolia: A sensory stimulus which is interpreted by the mind as something else. Most famously the faces seen in teapots, trucks, garbage cans and clouds; Jesus on a piece of toast, the cloud that looks like a bunny etc, etc. But also such experiences as being in the shower and in the sound of the running water, hearing your phone or the doorbell ringing.
Besides being funny, these pictures are evidence of two things about us.
- That we all do this, at all times, using whatever sensory data is in front of us. Therefore we are screening all incoming data through a human flavored filter. The sense info here is almost aggressively packaged in human frames. None of us are objective observers, none of us ever will be.
- That it’s similar enough between the random millions of us that we see the same visual punchline almost effortlessly. This automatic consensus supports theories about inner archetypes and symbols, about universals of expression, posture, and gesture. They suggest that the architecture of these inner libraries is innate.
To the right is a relationship flowchart by the elegant artists and thinkers of Information is Beautiful. They have a lot of fun and interesting stuff to explore. The image is linked to a full-size version, it may take 2 clicks to open it fully.
All these forms of intimate relationships are going on around us right now. Some are movements and subcultures, some are just deeply personal rabbit holes. Many are virtually invisible through fear of disapproval. Polyamourous people are probably as low profile now as gays and lesbians were in the late sixties. These varieties can be understood as a range of human love styles but also as strategic experiments running parallel to the accepted norms. The norms are pretty obviously the mating styles that do the best job of creating robust and stable populations. That has clear evolutionary significance and suggests a reason for cultural pressure to stay inside the lines. Yet these variations show up within every generation of people. Perhaps life maximizes chances for success by keeping alternate pathways running should fortune suddenly favor them. Since these variants are visible as an emergent, bottom-up effect from the desires and needs of individual people, we can predict them appearing in some ratio within any population, in any circumstances, anywhere on earth. If we imagine small tribes in many different challenging conditions attempting to survive, it’s easy to see how one of these variations might prove more advantageous than straight up monogamy. That makes it evolutionary common sense to preserve these alternate strategies inside the human heart.
Different strategies can become the social norm in different cultures, and be seen as the ideal, natural version of love and marriage. Monogamy is the widest spread, most successful pattern historically but the fact that it isn’t universal and is seen as less than ideal in various other cultures has an important implication. It means that the cultural machinery doesn’t come with a preset mating strategy installed but adopts whichever mating pattern becomes dominant and reinforces it. Apparently, the larger survival value is in a culture-wide agreement about our common strategy. A culture without a dominant strategy is not a fully defined culture.
It’s intriguing that in America the variations in the chart are all legal to pursue…as hobbies. But illegal as forms of marriage. Gays and lesbians have finally been recognized as normal citizens with a right to marry, but only within the one, true marriage pattern. This shows the intense cultural defense of the dominant strategy. There’s a fear of society losing definition and becoming nonfunctional without a law of marriage. Polygamy (multiple wives) and polyandry (multiple husbands) are illegal here along with group marriage. But as long as you don’t try to stick a ring on it, the law isn’t coming after you. That’s a job for your fellow citizens, creeped out by your weird arrangement which looks to them like the marriage equivalent of a person with three arms and seven eyes. Continue reading
Another example of life experience heredity via an unknown process.
Excerpts from Scientific American
A stressed-out and traumatized father can leave scars in his children. New research suggests this happens because sperm “learn” paternal experiences via a mysterious mode of intercellular communication…
The findings are “novel and of very high impact, especially when we consider the impact of military service or other work environments that can confer high stress,” says Robert Rissman, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved with the research. “I think it would be important to better understand the specificity of the effect and how different types of stressors or strength of stressors can modulate this system.”
Through the long human story, we find our ancestors living out several different basic strategies, each more complex than the last. The transition between is often a transformation.
The Paleolithic (Old stone age) is the longest period of human experience. In this phase, we hunted and gathered. We were nomadic or semi-nomadic. We lived in small groups and made decisions in a relatively open, egalitarian way. The distance between headman and tribesman was minimal. This long phase of our time was spent getting a toehold and spreading all across the earth. The earth could never have been as densely populated by people as it is now if this strategy had continued. The “carrying capacity” of a small nomadic group is very finely balanced on a knife-edge of luck and skill and the relationship between the number of mouths to feed and the available food would have been constantly on everyone’s mind. Sick babies would likely be abandoned and sick elders in hard times would “walk out on the ice flows” to improve the odds for their families. The level of complexity in this life was low, the number of places where their lives overlapped and engaged with others was minimal. Strangers were serious business. The Neolithic picks up exactly where this leaves off. Continue reading
In computing, algorithms are an unambiguous set of instructions like:
- go in the house
- hang up your coat
- sit down
But what if I have a problem getting in the house? What if the door is locked? If/Then subroutines are context dependent algorithms allowing for variation without failure.
- find key
- use key to open door
But what if I can’t find the key? As the story plays out, deeper levels of algorithmic problem solving are exposed to rescue us from a dead end.
- search for key
- in pockets
- on the ground
- in the car
You can probably imagine further subroutines and variances to each step. And all this for something that only comes up in the rare case of being locked out of the house.
When enough such related algorithms are grouped together usefully, they can become the human version of a program or app, ready to run when needed. We all have tons of garden variety apps installed, some are innate and essential and some are highly individual choices.
The opening example of being locked out isn’t an app by itself but it shows one at work. I call this one the”What-If” app, and I consider it to be a part of the Human Operating System (or HOS) which is a very important sounding thing I made up one day to refer to the totality of our preprogrammed behavior. If the troubleshooting steps made sense as you were reading them it’s because you actually have this “What-If” program in your head and use it regularly. We never think of it in the abstract this way, as an always running background app. We never think of it at all because we rely upon this internalized application to appear with some answers the instant it is needed. The framework delivering those answers is as taken for granted as having a hand to pick up a cup. This program deconstructs any problem and triages potential solutions to create an “order of operations” that determines the most logical first step and then orders the cascade of “If-Thens” by logical position and least effort required to succeed. An example is the old tech support truism of starting with the question “Is it plugged in?” We briefly touch base with this app hundreds of time a day whenever “Uh Oh, what if ?” thoughts arise. Often these thoughts and the suggested reactions are so short-lived that we don’t even notice them happening. In stressful situations, we can sometimes better observe the process in action as we focus on a particular worry. A decision tree forms in your mind and the outcome branches order-rank themselves from likely success to likely failure. What-If is like an indefatigable Jeeves to our fretting Bertie Wooster. While the “What-If” app comes installed in every human being, the quality of the program varies with individual common sense and can be impacted by the “having a shitty day” phenomena, which is known to affect decision making. It is also a perfect amoral slave to any sort of nonsense or evil we are pursuing, the mad scientist and the selfless philanthropist rely on it equally to achieve their ends.
Mutually Dependent Apps
If a person had never used a key on a locked door or even seen another person use a key, they wouldn’t have the introductory example with its various sub-responses already in place. Decision trees need solid ground to grow. Our keyless protagonist has the WI program though, and it would fall back to a more general level of What-If. What if you arrive at your destination and you mysteriously can’t enter? When What-If hits this sort of new blank problem, conscious effort and even struggle are required to establish the baseline realities and possibilities. If you had no help, coming up with the idea of a key would be comparable to a minor scientific breakthrough. It’s a good thing we have the “What the Hell is Up with That” app, aka WHUT to tinker with mysteries, develop theories about them and update those theories as needed. WHUT creates the conceptual givens that What-If needs in order to work.
Eventually, sufficient familiarity with the basics of the situation and frequent practice will transform the skill into an autopilot function that no longer requires conscious effort and doesn’t interrupt us to stop and think about it anymore. This silent efficiency is a trait of well-integrated apps. A frequent partner to What-If and WHUT is an essential global app I’ll call Gleaning Useful Information from Everything, obviously known as GUIE. This foundational human app is always adding to its database of potentially important knowledge and it doesn’t always require direct personal experience. I would guess that most of us have successfully dealt with at least one situation based on information gathered from television or the internet. This was GUIE handing off useful ideas to What-if, who shoots and scores. One of the most essential, always on, global apps is “Endlessly Scanning for Danger” (ESD) which often triggers the “What-If” app to generate getaway or fight back plans. Usually, these plans aren’t needed as many danger signals turn out to be false alarms. Those getaway plans evaporate instantly when we get confirmation of a false alarm but just imagine how many of these survival scenarios your brain has generated and trashed over your lifetime. Global apps like these aren’t chosen, they come pre-installed as modules of the HOS because we could not function without them.
But many human skills are chosen and often for deeply personal reasons to express our souls or achieve our goals.
We can learn a huge variety of specialty programs like driving a car, performing brain surgery, cooking a dessert or dancing ballet. Continue reading
I have a theory that the reason that many different neurological types maintain consistent percentages per capita year after year is that somehow it’s useful for constructing human communities. As an incomplete example, I’m talking about:
- High functioning sociopaths (cold-hearted leader/organizer types) 4%
- Bipolar disorder (frequently leaders or very creative) ~2.6%
- Autism Spectrum (technological and scientific innovation) 1.7%
- ADHD (novelty generators) 5% to 11%
- Schizophrenia (visionary thinking in any discipline) 1%
I’m not certain how the predictable gay and lesbian* population percentages factor into this exactly but as a guess, they have historically not been focused on raising children. As a predictable percentage of the population not absorbed in raising families and often positioned as outsiders in their own surrounding cultures, they would almost guarantee the existence of an alternative subculture where they might generate new ideas not approved of by our final group. 3.5%
Everyone else is good old standard human stock who mostly just want family and security. I think the neurotypical brain which defines this group, is every bit as much a specialized filter as the atypical types mentioned above, it is simply specialized to keep things simple and inside the comfort zone. They respond to social pressure far more seriously than atypicals which makes them a kind of cultural cement. Neurotypical breeders are the low center of gravity for every community that ensures stability. They are neither better than our atypicals, or worse, they are the dominant percentage because life wants a solid base to grow from. There are three structural divisions in this last group. ~90%
- Male and female. ( the transgender variations and shadings of male and female are very small in number compared to “standard issue” they might be classed with the gay and lesbian populations for our purposes. 0.3%) There are obvious cultural roles and practical roles determined here. One astounding but well-documented fact is that during and after wars, a higher than average number of boys are born. The mechanism driving this effect has no useful model within current science but the reason for it is easily understood: “I guess we better make a few more boys to cover losses”. Whatever the mechanism is, it perceives large events at a community level… and adjusts via individual pregnancies. Males ~51.9% Females ~49.1%
- Progressive vs conservative viewpoint, which is strongly linked to personality type metrics and as I’ve explored elsewhere in this blog their “Tension force” creates the defining zeitgeist of every culture. In a polling in June 2010, 40% of American voters identify themselves as conservatives, 36% as moderates and 22% as liberals, with a strong majority of both liberals and conservatives describing themselves as closer to the center than to the extremes (Wikipedia).
- Age-based focus and attitude within the general population. From child to teenager to young adult to middle-aged to elderly there is a predictable staged transition through age-based societal roles***: Student, soldier, young married, worker, settled parents, judgemental elders. In a way, this echoes the division of labor within bee and ant colonies. How do they decide what job to do? As the individual insect ages, it progresses through a series of preset “vocational” roles within the hive. For humans, the most basic example of the age-based behavior difference is the openness of the young to change and the resistant defensiveness of the old. This mechanism makes a cultural shift possible, then limits the amount of change.
According to my half-assed theory, being Neuro-Atypical or sexually atypical is not a random failure to create a normal person. Rather it is a structural role predictably of some benefit to the general population. That would explain why the percentages of these varied types are so reliable. Everyone from the most boring normal person to with wildest transgender bipolar radical conservative has a structural purpose in the diverse needs of the human hive. This points to a real-time reproductive algorithm affecting the population as a whole and somehow sensitive to such temporal events as war. It would be no shock if such a mechanism exists, for it to show other concerns about population balance necessary to keep the community organism in good repair. We see a similar balancing mechanism in other hive creatures. In a sense, it’s like a body generating replacement cells of the right kind as needed.
- * I’m not claiming to have discovered an atypical neurology specific to gays and lesbians. They are here because their population percentage is very consistent over time and they tend to occupy a unique reality niche.
- ** I’m not mistaking transgender folk for gay or lesbian. I’m just placing them in a sex/gender outsiders group.
- *** William Shakespear on this preset aging process:
At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms; And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
This test is the most commonly accepted accurate measure of basic personality. These metrics are used in countless psychological studies. In some of my writing, I need to refer to the Big 5 and wanted an easily found reference.
These “big five” are broad categories of personality traits. The test results show you as low or high in each area. Your basic personality type can be understood as the mix of all these traits at the high or low levels measured in the test.
These five categories are usually described as follows:
How culture tailors human variety to fit its own needs
Human behavior is notable for predictable patterns …and a predictable range of variations and exceptions to those patterns. Culture bends those patterns in its own favor, and even acts as a mechanism of selection.
Humans are meta-adapters capable of evolving and re-evolving strategies to changing circumstances. This is in a stark contrast to the “one trick” ponies, sticklebacks, emus etc, all around us: Humans HAVE a strategy, other species ARE their strategy. Not that our behavior is infinitely plastic. There are baseline human default behaviors that are always on, they involve grouping up, organizing and adapting to each other. Every ecosystem presents us with a unique set of survival challenges and historically, each human group facing these challenges has been small and closely related. Every wandering, exploring group shared a constellation of what we would think of as racial traits partly selected for by their adventures and partly by sexual selection. It may be that the sense of personality or style displayed by any culture is the echo of what was worked out long ago as a social compromise by their ancestors. Continue reading
Humans naturally gather together and pool like a liquid to form communities. Culture is the connecting skin that automatically grows over groups of people that live together.
All day, every day we send out signals, respond to cues, and we check for acceptance. We tune and adjust our behavioral frequencies person by person and place by place. We calibrate in real time with regard to any person we exchange signals with. We are walking encyclopedias of cultural standards and sub-routines. We don’t need to consult a book because the book is internal and automatic. The most important thing about the book is that it is automatic. It is the operating system for all the diverse players and situations inside the skin that grew around them as they lived together. The skin defines the boundaries of the self that they have all agreed to mutually be. Inside the skin is the kin: sharing common interests, goals, and loyalty. This is about hearth, home, reality, normality, and self. Culture is the cohesive force that defines any people as one people. It binds and unifies. It is deep within us to protect it if threatened. That desire to preserve the culture is a survival instinct because the community would collapse without it.
We all want to look like a good person: Sane, appropriate and lawful. Every single one of us is doing this all day in every encounter. So the community as a whole is expressing this trait. All communities do. It’s a ubiquitous bottom-up human behavior and therefore a defining trait. In each community patterns of behavior form, woven and endlessly reinforced. Memes of many kinds emerge, in every area of life: Clothing, food, music, sexuality, morality, and then they replicate or die, crystallizing as signature cultural styles. Every stereotype cultural image we have is just an iconic meme of OUR culture imaging that other culture. It’s just a shorthand and shallow summary of that culture we all carry with us. I haven’t mentioned a single example but I bet you can summon up 2 or 3 effortlessly. Those are your copies of that meme. And everyone in every culture has their own version of these things. Coin of the human realm. We tag people with a “You’re Bad!” sticker if they speak these stereotypes aloud and unfiltered. Of course, that doesn’t change anything because the Human Operating System (HOS) has supplied every living soul with this trait, including the next generation and so on. When we use group shaming to enforce cultural sensitivity we are using one trait of the HOS (social pressure) to alter another (identifying outsiders). The HOS is the innate battery of automatic and mostly unconscious behaviors humans display wherever we show up. Culture is the one-off expression of those underlying rules by a local community. Any culture is a SELF, an individual being composed of us, ourselves. We are tiny agents emitting the same-self frequency of belonging together. E Pluribus Unum.
The original meaning of the word outlaw was a person excluded from the benefit or protection of the law.
“Although humans exhibit strong preferences for equity and moral prohibitions against harm in many contexts, people’s priorities change when there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them,'” says Rebecca Saxe, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT. “A group of people will often engage in actions that are contrary to the private moral standards of each individual in that group, sweeping otherwise decent individuals into ‘mobs’ that commit looting, vandalism, even physical brutality.” (MIT Parent Herald When good people do bad things. )
This is intuitively easy to grasp but we are so naive in regard to our apparent rationality that most of us don’t think we would caught up in the madness. The couple pictured here (below) are Jose Ismael Torres and Kayla Rae Norton. They terrorized a child’s birthday party with shotguns and confederate flags and vicious racist threats. The picture links to an article.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are lovely people momentarily caught up in madness. I am saying they are kind of shitty people momentarily caught up in madness. She is a mother of two kids and her contrite sobs in court are not simply convenient, at least they don’t sound convenient to me. She’s lost everything; she’s lost her children, she’s done being happy. And at this moment in court she is honestly baffled at how things got so out of control.
She had a pre-existing condition as someone closely aligned with an “ethnic identity” group. She had a head full of terrible ideas years before this but the crucial vulnerability was her lifestyle of pack-bonding with this group and against the outsiders defined as such by the group. It’s easy to imagine she was nasty and insulting to random black Americans all her life but she was probably rather passive, giving the “stink eye”, muttering just above a whisper and such. The peaceable social norms of individual people in public places protected her from herself until she stepped outside of them with her pack to proudly show off the confederate flag only a little over a month after Dylan Root’s Charleston massacre of black church goers. Continue reading
Let’s get our subject clear by defining the term.
- Meme: an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.
- Meme: a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.
Memes didn’t begin with Richard Dawkins, Dawkins didn’t raise them and release them into the wild, Dawkins pointed out the existence of memes: He coined the term and the concept. The word meme ITSELF is a meme that spread quickly and burrowed into our collective intellectual DNA. Memes are often described as viral, but why?
Viruses are self replicating genetic mechanisms which are not alive. They must find living cells to highjack and use their machinery to replicate themselves. Imagine a computer virus as a script instructing itself: “Look for places to copy yourself and copy yourself to them. Loop.” Likewise a meme must find a living and communicating host to live and replicate. Memes are contagious human ideas and behaviors. Left at that level of definition it’s too broad. We need to understand the roles they play in the ecosystem of human behavior and establish a taxonomic ranking of types.
The universality of memeing is obvious. We share things on purpose and even joyfully. “Look at this!” It’s innate to share ideas and to mirror behavior. From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense as a way of enhancing survival (hey this plant is good to eat!) both for yourself and someone you likely shared genes with. But just as important, Memeing is critical to defining the cultural “self” of human groups. Every group of people unconsciously begin mirroring each other and a context and a style evolve, mapping out a behavioral grid. We’re very good at catching on to these invisible but obvious rules and sort of domesticating our own style to fit in. The group systematically begins developing stories and injokes that reinforce the culture in miniature. It also starts to establish a dominance scale, cliques, gossip and social outcasts. When we are face to face, this mirroring and blending of styles is at its most intimate and powerful. Teenagers often agonize as they struggle with this new matrix of social complexity, and in this we can see our own exposed heart and how very much it matters. A good bit of comedy involves violating or mistaking these social rules. These are social/behavioral memes but there are many kinds. Continue reading
Or: Why it’s sometimes OK to hate your neighbor.
The apparent flatness and hard edges of the world we see masks a strange, fluid, flickering dimension between humans. There is no accurate measurement of this dimension except perhaps for our ability to imagine it. Since it isn’t our nature to imagine things this way it takes a little effort.
Please imagine an odd idea; imagine that:
Interaction is embodiment
Imagine that people who engage in any way become a corporate organism for that period. These virtual organisms can flash into existence and straight out again with a speed like subatomic particles in a cloud chamber.
Begin: “Hey, is the Courthouse this way?” “Yeah, just a couple more blocks!” And we’re done. Imagine that exchange as a very short lived individual, existing like a burst of flame.
But two other beings might meet up and eventually celebrate 70 years of marriage, and they were a sort of organism too. In marriage we have some beliefs about this corporate organism that run very deep. “One flesh”. It’s a pretty weird sounding idea to sanctify but it’s honored by religious people and atheists alike. Completely secular people get married with every intention of honoring a mystical contract that defines them as a dual entity. That’s because this idea is deeper than science or religion, it’s core human. This composite organism is the couple’s life together… and I mean IT IS the time and energy they share.
Families also have a special status as a kind of group self. When you think of your own family, you can easily feel the very real lines of connection flowing between you like living tissue and often pulling and kinking in uncomfortable ways. We know that we somehow OVERLAP and that this is one of the most important things about us. Our loves and friends and families are a kind of Venn diagram. But the center of the Venn is you. Subjectivity and individual experience define this thing. Continue reading
Natural does not equal good. “Natural” includes violence toward outlanders and controlling women’s lives. I suspect “100% Natural” is a phrase Hitler would have liked.
Some questions we ought to ask:
- Why is there war? Why does xenophobia appear in every culture? Why does everyone have a culture? Why does virtually every culture come with a religion? Why do most cultures/religions form defensive barriers against each other?
- Why is it so common for people (men and women) in so many different cultures, to feel that they have a vote in how women should dress and behave, but almost never show that kind of concern about men? (The general exception being harassing effeminate men).
- Why are the young predictably liberal, and the old generally conservative?
- Why are liberal and conservative political stances universal within technological societies but always relative to local cultural details? (“I treat my slaves gently, they last longer that way”: Is that a progressive or conservative statement?)
- Why are people predictably kind to the rich and famous…but cruel to the poor? (Spoiler alert: It’s because we’re self interested bastards who do it automatically.)
All of these behaviors are core hardwired human group traits that support a strong and stable primate hive. These behaviors aren’t beautiful or right philosophically, they are bits of scripting preserved by the natural selection of group behaviors. These are traits that helped us out-compete the good, the bad and possibly the ugly, over the last 200k years.
We are virtually blind to our nature as a species because we are so busy being individuals of our species. We are neurologically immersed in the matrix of these behaviors to the extent that they are not noteworthy. We feel like peripheral players at best to the great events of our time even though these movements are composed entirely of peripheral players. The larger picture is composed of us “pixels” forming the colors, shapes, and gradients, with our massed actions. And just as a cloud doesn’t exist without micro-droplets, human events don’t exist without us in our drifting collective groups. Every notable trend in our world emerges from the scaling up of the actions of individuals who generally feel no personal control over what is happening around them: Most people feel they are just tagging along trying to keep up and figure things out. The mirror of current events is too broad for us to recognize ourselves. It’s as if the sky was a mirror where we could see our city reflected but not our own little face peering up from it.
The behavior of large human groups is almost opaque to us in the same way that a cell knows nothing about the particular body it devotes every moment to supporting. We plug away at our daily business in much the same fashion. For many decades science fiction writers have explored the issues of robots and their programming and the nature of free will. I think it’s one of those ideas that is compelling because it echoes something deep and unresolved in ourselves, a bit like a profound but confusing dream. In a world where the first semiconscious robot has yet to ask if we want fries with that, the subject is clearly ourselves. Are we…free?
Rejection of understanding our species nature …is a feature of our species nature
To me, it’s self-evident that every organism works from a script and has a species-specific bandwidth of perception and behavioral flexibility. One of the complaints people often raise in opposition to a biological or evolutionary root explanation for our behavior is that it’s somehow insulting. There’s a “Are you calling me stupid?” thing going on here. These people feel that they are being taken down a peg in a rude way. It’s a variation on the old: “You saying we came from monkeys?” even though for Christ’s sweet sake, nobody ever said monkeys! It wasn’t monkeys!
So there may be a religious belief feeling insulted here or simply a recognition that people are so different from other animals that it’s stupid not to notice that difference. The difference in free will and intelligence between most animals and ourselves is obvious, and people pointing out our animal nature sometimes seem to be denying that difference or failing to observe it. This comes across as an attempt to lower humans or raise animals in a way that flattens our human struggles to a futile nothing. Our struggles are towering and awful. We work so hard for our victories. Our own conscious choice and free will appear so obvious to us through our primate eyes that it seems absurd or yes, insulting, to deny it.
However, this sense of having free will appears to be compulsory. Just as there are clear differences between us and the other animals, there is a clear similarity. The baboon can be tender. Dogs and cats (can) show forbearance to the children of other species. Ducks and dolphins rape. Is a fluke worm morally inferior to Paul Ryan? I think you know the answer to that.
“We may be in the universe as dogs and cats are in our libraries, seeing the books and hearing the conversation, but having no inkling of the meaning of it all.” William James
William James says it better than I have ever managed to. And no animal recognizes the limit of its own consciousness for the simple reason that that means stepping outside of its nature…and looking down on it. The blind spot that can be seen is not the true blind spot. The tools that permit us brief exceptions to this hard limit are psychedelic drugs and meditation. These are the spacesuits we can wear that let us take glimpses of the outside of our box.
We have a difference of degrees from our planetary brethren and not a difference of kind. There’s something perfect about this paradox being blended into our most basic perceptions. I think we should recognize free will as relativistic. We have more than most organisms, but less than we ourselves are capable of imagining. We have LESS freedom than we can imagine. We have more free will in some situations and contexts than others. Through nature and nurture and even just dumb ass luck we will have more or less free will than the random people we encounter through the day. We are free to do anything inside the smallish box we’ve been assigned.
But all of our free will is framed by our species map, and for now, even the most determined attempt to break through the edges of the map will resolve as an illusion: A mystifying Twilight Zone U-Turn back onto the map. “We can’t drive out of town!” Welcome to the Human Situation, population, everyone.
Our ultimate free will will be something we explore and potentially expand with advancing technology, digital and biological. The challenge will be to explore a territory where we are massively programmed with “species-specific right answers” that are purely mechanistic and to discover some beautiful truths that aren’t just a means to a strong and stable tribe, with all the cruelty and coercion that attend that. Because in fact, our social primate scripting combined with the megadeath technology we’ve developed is now the most dangerous problem we face. The inner forces that drive cultural competition armed with city killer weapons becomes a “rock, paper, scissors” game with literally EVERYTHING at stake. And as we’ve seen lately, “wiser heads” can easily lose elections to the surging excitement of shockingly selfish and stupid people.
We are in a race to transform ourselves, somehow, into wiser creatures than we even CAN be right now and everything depends on our success or failure. I believe spreading this knowledge, and these sorts of insights about our species scripted behaviors may be an essential element in us outswimming the riptide and the undertow of that behavior in such an unforgiving age.
Every organism has a survival strategy. Survival strategies are species and subspecies templates for living. They describe a specialized role within an ecological niche. Their roles are defined by exploiting a particular angle on making a living and by the adaptations of their bodies toward this goal. The amazing anteater for example makes a living…anyone? Anyone? Correct, eating ants. And has adapted in an amusingly specialized way with powerful claws for ripping into nests and long sticky tongue.
That is a deep, deep commitment to eating ants. But not really any deeper a commitment than most other species: The overall species strategy is a highly specialized job with a body increasingly adapted as a tool to do that job.
But not us. We are constantly looking for new angles to play and new ways to play them. In pursuit of that goal we may vary our focus, lifestyle, and ecological niche. But except for phenotypic variations based on local weather our bodies don’t adapt. We don’t specialize via our bodies, we specialize via technology: A spear is a 7 foot long claw that can fly. Well sewn clothing is a thick warm pelt, opening our way toward the ice caps. Horses turn us into ten foot tall monsters moving at the speed of antelopes. Farming is a “Game of Life” survival cheat code the levels us up. Sufficient change in technology equals a virtual shift of species with an altered template for life.
Our technology transforms us personally and as social animals. The rules for hunter gatherers are not the rules for farming villages. We reorganize ourselves in a bottom up that unpacks itself through the individual daily actions of each human playing the new game. Pyramids and kings pop into being from the right tools and population sizes. Each shift redefines the group size that we consider to be: Us. Ourselves. Are we 50 people, a thousand people, a million people? Ask the tools, they make the rules.
When the human community becomes large enough and complex enough it becomes a virtual ecosystem unto itself. The specialized work of individuals mirrors the variety of organisms in a wild ecosystem. Enough complexity makes a self sustaining virtual ecology. AT least until the robots throw us all out of work.
Cultural Variation as a strategy
Every human group that can define as “US” creates culture. That culture expresses local traits with one unique voice. Varieties of approaches to mating, religious dogma, openness to outsiders, etc. equals a real time experiment in how successful these traits are as a human survival strategy. The values for these different traits emerge from the tension force within the community. Authoritarianism is a strategy, so is liberal democracy, so is theocracy. Winning could mean stability or expansion. I call this expansionist trait “Virality”. One culture may make it’s people happy and healthy but virally dominant cultures can take them over.
(That’s draft one. As usual, if you found this intriguing check back once in awhile. I do update and re-write.)
We know it as we speak, we handle words instinctively like tools we’ve used a thousand times. Every time we use words to make someone angry or to comfort them we are producing chemical reactions in their body. Admittedly, our physical presence plays a part in intimidating or calming, but in a low sensory telephone call, or a zero sensory letter, the disembodied words can still bring horror or joy. Naturally most words aren’t used to flood the listener with stress hormones. A great book can grow a world around the reader. A great comedian can pull happiness and relief from a crowd of thousands who share the mood like blood circulating in a body. And of course there are those who can move crowds past restraint into activity and even violence.
Many words cause changes in our minds and bodies but the context generally defines our reaction. There are words that build up enough charge from the way they are generally used that they often elicit an emotional bump. Please don’t be offended at the following content, it’s only here for demonstration purposes, you filthy fucking whore! Sorry, but I wanted you to pull up short. Did you feel that? It’s easy to find these words, just ask yourself what you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying. Feel what happens in your stomach and in your nerves as you read: Cunt, Nigger, Slut, Kike, Slant Eyes. Was it stress, fear, shame? Probably it was. These words are obvious hooks that make it hard not to react. The connection between words and chemicals is right there, requiring no further test.
Even though it sounds mystical this is why I believe that humans of our state of development could not have been functionally mute, ever. We couldn’t have been ourselves and slowly developed language. Language is innate because it must be. That is circular thinking on the face of it, but I don’t mean it as a place to sit contentedly. I mean that it’s tangled up with something about the evolution of species that we have developed no foundation for. The reason I can feel so certain is that humans, but without language makes as much sense as a fully functioning car, but without an engine.
Words are the catalytic enzymes of the human domain.
This is so obvious as to be invisible. Words (and language) are the answer to the question “How will these complicated primates get their complicated business done?.” Language points to the human foundation of society. Language is about humans as a group, and about the group as organism. Innate language ability is the “human genome” of thinking and relating.
And species wide, our many languages speak to the same issues. That is, no language is alone able to discuss some angle on reality that others are not. No one language holds a surprising- one of a kind function that others can’t touch. If it’s difficult to imagine what that kind of exception would even be, that may point to why it doesn’t exist. It’s not in our presets for communication. The fact of innate language with a common range points to some underlying structures: A library of recombinant symbols and memes the we use both to interpret and explain.
And that’s up next in this category.
“The Human Memeome”.
Step back and look at this from an unfamiliar angle.
Your relationships with family, friends, and workmates become codified after a while, don’t they? They develop a pattern which eventually becomes impossible to alter. If you pay close attention you can feel yourself in these different contexts morphing into a person with a well-understood way of greeting, a style of listening and a way of holding yourself. Buried in the same file are your ways of seeking information, making jokes, expressing camaraderie, or concern, etc. etc. You probably have different versions of these things prepared for specific people. You don’t think about it. You didn’t plan these things… they arose from your chemistry and relationship as the two of you worked out how to be with each other.
There’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just pointing out how much of your life of is evoked and context driven behavior. It’s something observable that we all do, I think it’s safe to say it’s global, it’s innate human behavior. We subconsciously monitor our environment for a sense of what it’s proper to be doing right now. We react quickly to signals during social interaction and run instantly through appropriate poses and expressions to answer those signals. Shame is never more than a stupid comment or a fart away, and shame burns. It burns more than seems reasonable or proportionate. Shame hurts because in spite of ourselves there is human machinery in us that cares a whole lot about what people think.
The biggest challenge to closely observing human social behavior is the seamless matrix of the stuff inside us making it all but invisible. Anything you notice has to stand out against a contrasting background and human behavior IS our background. Your entire life in proximity to others is shaped by automatic animal rules of engagement.
This video is from Candid Camera long ago but it’s amazing. Watch these people completely mess with the minds of innocent strangers.
This really makes us look like puppets, doesn’t it? And you have to wonder what weird behaviors have us turning in circles and taking our hats off and putting them right back on again except that nobody is pretending in order to prank us. Famous old-school psychological tests showed that most people would deny the evidence of their own senses if others claimed to see something different and that many “decent people” would willingly torture an innocent person if simply pressured to by an authority figure. This is what Arthur Koestler meant when he said that more of mankind’s horrors come from self-negating behaviors than self-asserting behaviors. Being cooperative is a certain number of steps from just following orders.
Scientists taught white mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms. (“So Bob, what do you do for a living?” “I frighten mice.”)1
The offspring of these frightened mice were never subjected to this cherry blossom trauma but mysteriously, they also feared the smell. More amazing still, the grandchild generation of the original trauma mice, also never subjected to the treatment, reacted with fear. This is the classic example of epigenetics or soft inheritance. The experience freight is passed along not by DNA but by methylation changes on the DNA. It’s the DNA equivalent of working memory between generations.
In the old synthetic theory, without imagining soft inheritance:
Two squirrels are living at the same time in the way, way back when. Along comes a saber tooth cat. Both squirrels run but the faster one survives and the slower one doesn’t.
Ergo->Faster squirrel genes move one step forward and thanks for playing, slower squirrel genes!
And with epigenetics:
Same time, way, way back when. Two squirrels again, different scenario. One squirrel has a close encounter with the saber tooth cat and gets away, badly shaken but alive. The other squirrel was obliviously examining his nuts in a tree nearby. He never saw the cat, and he is unaffected. Squirrel number 1 has babies and they are born with a fear of cats or at least an extra sensitivity to “something moved!” Squirrel number 1 has enhanced his reproductive status by communicating a mission critical message to the next generation and the one after. They are literally BORN with more “street smarts” than squirrel number 2’s offspring.
What does it mean if a creature inherits some of the important EXPERIENCES of at least two generations of its ancestors and very possibly more? This breakthrough is fascinating because it describes a model of parental teaching of important life lessons to the young even by species incapable of archiving data and forming sentences. Instead, they attach a little chemical post-it note to their genes saying “beware of cat”.
If asked “how could the genes could know cat?” I’d answer “The same way mice knew cherry blossoms.” It’s staggering to think of the sophisticated mechanisms involved in what at at least appears to be happening.
We have now reached the “Talking out of my ass” section.
1. The only process that could take a snapshot is perception and working memory.
The thing that gives me shivers (of excitement) is the list of things that must take place for this to work. There’s got to be a threshold of some kind. How intense does the experience need to be to “make the cut”? There must be a mechanism that takes these “Must know”memories out from all the other memories and decides to engrave them on gametes. There must be some crazy ass coding to allow methylation changes on DNA to communicate details like the smell of cherry blossoms. That would be a highly specific molecule banging into the olfactory brain possibly for the first time and setting off the fire bell…through code. Also, the code is obviously not a complete memory falsifying the experience of the one receiving it, but close enough that when the real world and this knowledge construct line up, it causes an autonomic dejavu.
It seems certain to me that many classic human knee-jerk fears like spiders and snakes are among the deeply reinforced examples of this process. And that brings up a some issues. Presumably every little human baby is born with some of these “presets” latent in them. It seems then like the nearly global ones must come to us through standard inheritance then. Is there some process that triggers the elevation of a methylation memory to DNA proper? Is there some tipping point of reinforcement that causes that? Like if PARENT has a trauma experience coded and CHILD does too, (as their own direct experience, not passively) would the two copies being present in CHILD pass on the message to GRANDCHILD with more urgency? Could two doubly reinforced people merging their four copies at the moment of conception cause a crossover to DNA inheritance? That question is kind of rhetorical, I’m just shaking my head at the evident sophistication of this system.
Other random questions:
- Could that kind of double reinforcement play a part in paralyzing phobias?
- How long does it take from trauma to rewritten gametes? If the survivor conceived the next day would the information be ready?
- Men replenish sperm at a rate that shows tremendous optimism, and a woman’s eggs are more or less archived, does this mean these memories are sex linked?
- Since our gametes are so different would there have to be separate mechanisms to do the encoding? Do eggs get these “critical updates”?
1 Yes, I lazily pasted the first line from another post. So sue me.
It’s hilarious how much cultural “values”, the dos and don’ts, are exactly like the preferences and peccadilloes of a particular person. These Japanese “no-no”s sound like a description of things that one random person might have very strong feelings about… but in fact, a whole country is ready to be very disappointed in you.
You have your likes and dislikes; your quirks and peccadillos. Put enough of them together in a somebody and you have a personality. You and your love have a relationship, with predominating moods and flavors, things you both love and hate, as recognizable to both of you as each others faces. That is the personality of your relationship and you could almost call it a culture of two. You and your family have a kind of extended self, absolutely made of individuals, but having a corporate nature. Again, moods, styles, activities, and traditions: The personality of your family: The culture of us, ourselves.
Your town and state have cliches and classic types, local foods, music, religions, sports, and jokes. Your area may even have unique social faux pas. You have your classic regional moods, so well defined that Hollywood can set a story in your area as shorthand for the tone of the movie. Your country likewise has these same locally famous traits but pulled from many distant points and due to this diversity, the warmth of these traits is much more diffuse. Americans from Maine might enjoy funny Florida cliches but they don’t evoke the tenderness of good old home-cooked cliches. These taste of home because they are the personality of your region: The self that you are actually a piece of even when parted. If you have been away a long time from the place that is unquestionably your home, odds are that the sight of some hideous local billboard or despised local celebrity might well thrill you and soften your heart. This is you, a tiny particle of that place sensing the correct SELF of belonging and yearning toward it.
Culture is personality flowing bottom-up from a community. It’s the basket holding that composite soul together and in place. It is also the background that makes outsiders visible against it. It’s the recognizable border between us and them. Humans produce culture as naturally as spiders weave webs. The tension force within the culture creates the tone of inclusion tempering exclusion and vice versa. Tension force determines the “temperature” of how cold or warm the welcome is to outsiders.
I don’t associate warm with progressives and cold with conservatives as a political bias, but in this context, conservatism means suspicion, standoffishness or even hostility. Conservatives play the role in the cultural ecosystem of tightening the borders while progressives loosen them. And it isn’t always about a literal border, the border can be about how purely insiders display their cultural loyalty. It can be about disapproving of behaviors becoming less hidebound to cultural authority (often acted out by grumpy old people). Either wing, without the other, is dangerously out of balance. Either wing, deprived of this balancing opposing force, becomes a runaway monster seeking enemies within when it can’t find them without. That’s how desperately important opposition really is. When deprived of it the isolated wing has a panic attack and seeks everywhere for enemies to counter itself. The steady opposition between a healthy left and right results in a cooperative outcome: A tension force that protects the community from the weaknesses of each. This is the community organism as a healthy individual with a well-balanced nature.
Donald Trump is the perfect president for this moment, in fact, it’s uncanny.
Obviously not in a good way.
I talk a lot about complexity on this blog. Complexity changes things in incremental ways until there comes a POP of some new emergent thing which is categorically different than all the things it is made of. You can not look at any organism without seeing just such a result. As usual, I’m asking you to put up with me talking about things that appear crushingly obvious.
But listen, single-celled organisms lived, I’m guessing contentedly, for a multiple BILLION years without once feeling the desire to fuck. Suddenly fucking became a fad, a craze. Everybody was sharing genetic material and things got WEIRD. Suddenly there were strangers moving in all around with a bunch of different characteristics. The good old simple ways were gone. Sex was the first sacrifice of autonomy and the first cooperation of individuals making something new and sharing risks and benefits. That’s right. They were cells with benefits.
And then more complex cooperations in the form of more and more complex organisms began to cover the world. But each new multicell organism and lifestyle was a gamble and a loss of autonomy. And there were cells that said “Hell No!” They stuck to the good old proven ways as they have to this day.
Cooperating to build something more complex is the story of evolution. Human beings in their journey to now have reinvented their understanding of “My Group” over and over. This redefining requires flexibility toward the borders of self. If someone creepy and unattractive asks you to share life’s journey you pull away, securing your borders. You might say “no thank you” or “back the hell off!”. Because (in many ways) you don’t want any sharing or blending with them. But even a new friend who perhaps takes too much for granted about how good friends you are will elicit at least a bit of the same response. Who we are with is who we are…at least as it feels inside us.
And for people in times of change when the community is being redefined, and always becoming larger and more complex, there is a similar issue triggering acceptance or rejection. At such times there have always been people who balked and rejected the change as not only wrong for them, but wrong for everyone. Their gut tells them it’s crazy and wrong. These are conservatives, basically. The tides of human change are strong enough that conservatives are mostly pulled into these new arrangements despite their concerns. Then within a generation, the new situation will be the one they are defending from change and radical new relationships that redefine that SELF.
I do have a belief system weirder than this: That communities of people actually ARE some sort of organism, certainly in the sense that bees are. I believe a couple or a family or a town and beyond exist at some level as an autonomous being brought into existence literally by the interaction of the parts. And that AS parts we have great difficulty perceiving whatever truth there is to this.
And I have a belief system weirder than that. I will admit shamefully that I call it reality weather.
Even I am agnostic about this but it’s something I perceive. It is the shifting and scaling up and scaling down of issues and moods and events in the human world. It was visible in the new nations rush to world war one. It’s visible in the wildfire of fascism (and other isms) in the 1920s and 30s. It’s there somehow visible around the sixties and seventies. I think it’s there in mild times as well, but we don’t notice a quiet sunny day. Yep, it sounds dangerously close to astrology but it’s not. I have no dogma around it and I assert no understandable cause. But there’s something there. And we’re in some heavy damn reality weather right now in case you hadn’t noticed.
So why is Trump the perfect president for right now? Because he is absurdly unaware of anyone other than himself. Because he would never have any relationship where he blended and shared with another person. His wives are things. Other people are things. He can’t even hold the concept of what our government and nation mean as a collective and why he shouldn’t just rewrite everything to please himself. He’s that selfish.
Every country chooses leaders in a semi-conscious way that mixes the issues of the day with a tribal totem. Trump was chosen to represent the part of America doesn’t want to blend, or share or care or change. As such, he is an embodiment of not letting ourselves synchronize with others at higher levels of complexity. He symbolizes pure self-assertion and rejection of relationship and cooperation. Any place beyond the borders of our nation has become a rejected OTHERNESS. Just as it also has in England, Turkey, Russia and elsewhere. And all just about simultaneously. As a country enters this kind of period of self-assertion and push-back it reaches into a bag of domineering regressive nationalistic bastards and places the biggest one on its head like a horrible tiara. It doesn’t last forever and it can unfold in surprising ways. The United Nations and the European Union owe their existence to the 360-degree horror of WWII. That’s probably not a comforting thought right now but don’t assume the worst. To some degree optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as long as we back it up with action. Stay cool and take a reality umbrella, it’s really coming down out there.
Ex. 20:5 – “I,(…) am a jealous God, punishing the children for the father’s sin, to the third and fourth generations …”
(As usual, I am publishing a rough draft to force myself to keep writing.) The first two links are scientific papers and the third is a popular article from Discover magazine. They are all quite readable though and worth a look. If you search epigenetics in this blog you’ll find a number of related articles.
Scientists taught white mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms. (“So Bob, what do you do for a living?” “I frighten mice.”)
The offspring of these frightened mice were never subjected to this cherry blossom trauma but mysteriously, they also feared the smell. More amazing still, the grandchild generation of the original trauma mice, also never subjected to the treatment, reacted with fear. Now further studies are not only confirming these results but showing that deprivation and stress alters inheritance multi-generationally. It affects both physiology and neurology.
The evidence is in. Pain and suffering flows across time. Cruelty keeps jumping forward like a skipped stone. We don’t know authoritatively how many generations forward these effects can travel but 3 and 4 generations are documented using an animal model. And rather than just imagining separate generations of inherited fear, and the many influences on the phenotype of those people, imagine how many poor choices their inheritance initiated. Imagine the effects flowing into the places they live in and their families and friends. Consider the implications for large communities who have suffered trauma almost collectively. In some places and times that could mean whole generations where virtually everyone is bent and twisted by the suffering of their parents and grandparents. How often will behavior born of trauma result in fresh trauma to another?
There is nothing parents love more than their children, and every parent I think has some fears of passing along something bad to their children. Our new knowledge means that anyone suffering a serious trauma, or having survived desperate, stressful times, can be certain that some effects will be passed to their children from the moment of conception.
It makes an act of profound cruelty almost unimaginably important and scales up the guilt accordingly. In the form of random violent crimes for example the effects are stark enough: One innocent victim becomes how many? 3? 6? Don’t forget the 3rd generation…perhaps 18 people? And the 4th generation as well; let’s say 35 people affected by that injury. They don’t even know, they can’t know who they might have been instead, because that crime made them what they are. They might be more fearful, or angry, or just less hopeful than the hypothetical person without the trauma. We don’t know, but it’s safe to say they are bent AWAY from their strength and happiness.
- Soldiers returning with PTSD
- Black America
- Poor America
- Syrian survivors
When a child grows up shaped by a parent with trauma and then lives in poverty and anxiety, we have lost a citizen 20 years in the future. And we’ve lost their offspring 40 years in the future. Epigenetics makes a simple, compelling case for the auto-perpetuation of misery and poverty and violence. It makes a case that democracy builds failure into its future by doing too little to alleviate it. A starving, fearful child is a crime against the future and her community and in a sense, the whole world but we are awfully good at feeling peaceful about that crime.
20% of American children grow up in poverty. It’s certain that many of them are second and third generation poverty. Poverty is Hydrochloric acid for optimism and aspiration. How is this not a self perpetuating sinkhole of damaged and downgraded people?
“Those people are just like that.” is the kind of statement you might hear people say related to race or culture or class. The poor have been viewed forever as inherently flawed, undeserving and unfit. But scientifically it’s probably not so. It’s probably more accurate to say people can be that way when they and their parents have been ground into emotional hamburger and left to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. There’s a chance that we are living out a dystopian science fiction story where in all cultures, regardless of race, a whole class of people, less happy, strong and confident is being bred through societal neglect. Any limitations to the number of generations the damage is “paid forward” is irrelevant because the suffering of each new generation is likely enough to paint over the hopes of foreseeable future. Big social programs have been deemed failures when they didn’t produce results in “Political time” but perhaps bringing generational trauma to an end is the work of a couple of generations and therefore almost impossible to convince taxpayers to support. And perhaps our famously cheap and nasty social programs wouldn’t soften the blow enough anyway.
Yet the knowledge places responsibility on our shoulders once we know.
When a human community reaches a certain size and level of technology it builds a cultural hierarchy of aristocrats and peasants (see Pyramid Prison). Elsewhere in the blog I’ve documented the behaviors of automatically liking the rich and disliking the poor (see Neuromechanical Cruelty). This is just an interesting example of the transparency of that flowing into our language. Noble and nobility are straight crossover words linking aristocrats literally to goodness. “You have behaved nobly…”.
The word villain derives from one who served at the Villa, or manor. These would be poor country bumpkins serving the aristocrats and being actively detested by them as an inferior breed of humanity.
My map of this territory assumes that social Darwinism and the eugenics movement are an expression of the cultural conservatism that I’ve described in my various “Tension force” articles. These same views while not acceptable in “mixed company” (wow, what a phrase) inform the thinking of most powerful members of the right wing. These are also the beliefs that most classic left-wingers assume are shared by people with a sociobiological perspective . They are wrong though, this view is not scientific, it is very much an expression of conservative beliefs. Further explanation will follow explaining why the right wing is already arguing against the implications of epigenetic influences. However, people on the left also need to expand their thinking. If you stick with me through my next article on epigenetics I think you’ll see that a species behavior perspective can be a STRONGER position for reform. Hang in, OK?
This article is by Robert C. Bannister, B.A., M.A., Ph. D. Professor of History, Swarthmore College. I will insert a few pertinent Hugh comments between sections and identify them as mine. Otherwise, these words are his. -HM
Social Darwinism, a term coined in the late 19th century to describe the idea that humans, like animals and plants, compete in a struggle for existence in which natural selection results in “survival of the fittest.” Social Darwinists base their beliefs on theories of evolution developed by British naturalist Charles Darwin. Some social Darwinists argue that governments should not interfere with human competition by attempting to regulate the economy or cure social ills such as poverty. Instead, they advocate a laissez-faire political and economic system that favors competition and self-interest in social and business affairs. Social Darwinists typically deny that they advocate a “law of the jungle.” But most propose arguments that justify imbalances of power between individuals, races, and nations because they consider some people more fit to survive than others.
The term social Darwinist is applied loosely to anyone who interprets human society primarily in terms of biology, struggle, competition, or natural law (a philosophy based on what are considered the permanent characteristics of human nature). Social Darwinism characterizes a variety of past and present social policies and theories, from attempts to reduce the power of government to theories exploring the biological causes of human behavior. Many people believe that the concept of social Darwinism explains the philosophical rationalization behind racism, imperialism, and capitalism. The term has negative implications for most people because they consider it a rejection of compassion and social responsibility.
I. Darwin was very influenced by Thomas Malthus who wrote that the poor would always breed right up to society’s ability to provide for them and then loads of them would die (and live) miserably until the numbers balanced out. Therefore Malthus thought society shouldn’t do even as much as it was already doing to alleviate suffering , which wasn’t much of anything. He saw it as cruel to give the poor any ideas that things would be ok if they kept on as they were. This is where the phrase “Cruel to be kind” arises. Picture some plump, wealthy victorian saying it as he discourages his wife from putting out leftovers for the poor. We have these same forces in politics today. Senator Paul Ryan is described as a budget conservative but he’s really just in favor of zero help for the poor. Ryan’s politics are more informed by his favorite writer, Ayn Rand than by any “Judeo/Christian values”. Ayn Rand’s collected works are basically social Darwinism in the form of dense philosophical potboilers. -HM
Social Darwinism originated in Britain during the second half of the 19th century. Darwin did not address human evolution in his most famous study, On the Origin of Species (1859), which focused on the evolution of plants and animals. He applied his theories of natural selection specifically to people in The Descent of Man (1871), a work that critics interpreted as justifying cruel social policies at home and imperialism abroad. The Englishman most associated with early social Darwinism, however, was sociologist Herbert Spencer. Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” to describe the outcome of competition between social groups. In Social Statics (1850) and other works, Spencer argued that through competition social evolution would automatically produce prosperity and personal liberty unparalleled in human history.
In the United States, Spencer gained considerable support among intellectuals and some businessmen, including steel manufacturer Andrew Carnegie, who served as Spencer’s host during his visit to the United States in 1883. The most prominent American social Darwinist of the 1880s was William Graham Sumner, who on several occasions told audiences that there was no alternative to the “survival of the fittest” theory. Critics of social Darwinism seized on these comments to argue that Sumner advocated a “dog-eat-dog” philosophy of human behavior that justified oppressive social policies. Some later historians have argued that Sumner’s critics took his statements out of context and misrepresented his views.
II. At its origin, social Darwinism had the powerful aura of a scientific proof around it. Science was doing wonders and now science says that WE are the fittest. It’s just not right to mess around with the natural order. Social Darwinists and their current equivalents always like to suggest that they are down to earth realists just facing truths that mushier heads can’t face. Of course Darwinian theory “proved” nothing all, much less that charity is a wasted effort.
We know that Darwin was an aristocrat and in fact saw life through this lens: IE That the rich and powerful have triumphed over the poor through natural superiority. That this is the right and proper way of life. He was a bit reticent about doing away with all kindness to the unfortunate but he mumbled here and there in his writings about having to give up the sentimental approach one day. Of course this philosophy is a perfect display of the “I Deserve This” rationalization that people do when things start to go well for them. See neuromechanical cruelty specifically “Money on the mind” for more. -HM
Studies of heredity contributed another variety of social Darwinism in the late 19th century. In Hereditary Genius (1869), Sir Francis Galton, a British scientist and Darwin’s cousin, argued that biological inheritance is far more important than environment in determining character and intelligence. This theory, known as hereditarianism, met considerable resistance, especially in the United States. Sociologists and biologists who criticized hereditarianism believed that changes in the environment could produce physical changes in the individual that would be passed on to future generations, a theory proposed by French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in the early 19th century. After 1890, hereditarianism gained increasing support, due in part to the work of German biologist August Weismann. Weismann re emphasized the role of natural selection by arguing that a person’s characteristics are determined genetically at conception.
III. Galton was the one who coined the term “eugenics” and believed in it utterly. -HM
IV. The Struggle School
Toward the end of the 19th century, another strain of social Darwinism was developed by supporters of the struggle school of sociology. English journalist Walter Bagehot expressed the fundamental ideas of the struggle school in Physics and Politics (1872), a book that describes the historical evolution of social groups into nations. Bagehot argued that these nations evolved principally by succeeding in conflicts with other groups. For many political scientists, sociologists, and military strategists, this strain of social Darwinism justified overseas expansion by nations (imperialism) during the 1890s. In the United States, historian John Fiske and naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan drew from the principles of social Darwinism to advocate foreign expansion and the creation of a strong military.
IV. It’s horrible and haunting to see the foreshadowing that hinted at the world wars straight ahead. It’s also clear that the theory here is being used to simply rationalize the beliefs of those who wanted military adventures. Nobody was more of a social Darwinist than Hitler. If he had one ultimate belief it was in universal struggle and winner take all. -HM
V. Reform Darwinism
After 1890, social reformers used Darwinism to advocate a stronger role for government and the introduction of various social policies. This movement became known as reform Darwinism. Reform Darwinists argued that human beings need new ideas and institutions as they adapt to changing conditions. For example, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. reasoned that the Constitution of the United States should be reinterpreted in light of changing circumstances in American society.
Some reformers used the principles of evolution to justify sexist and racist ideas that undercut their professed belief in equality. For example, the most extreme type of reform Darwinism was eugenics, a term coined by Sir Francis Galton in 1883 from the Greek word eügenáv, meaning well-born. Eugenicists claimed that particular racial or social groups–usually wealthy Anglo-Saxons–were “naturally” superior to other groups. They proposed to control human heredity by passing laws that forbid marriage between races or that restrict breeding for various social “misfits” such as criminals or the mentally ill.
1. We can see the broad cross pollination of ideas here as some progressive thinkers also saw a way to frame their point in evolutionary terms.
2. We also notice of course, the terrifying confidence of some people concerning what parts of the human garden needed trimming. -HM
VI. Social Darwinism in the 20th Century
Although social Darwinism was highly influential at the beginning of the 20th century, it rapidly lost popularity and support after World War I (1914-1918). During the 1920s and 1930s many political observers blamed it for contributing to German militarism and the rise of Nazism (see National Socialism). During this same period, advances in anthropology also discredited social Darwinism. German American anthropologist Franz Boas and American anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict showed that human culture sets people apart from animals. By shifting the emphasis away from biology and onto culture, these anthropologists undermined social Darwinism’s biological foundations. Eugenics was discredited by a better understanding of genetics and eventually disgraced by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s use of eugenic arguments to create a “master race.” During World War II (1939-1945), the Nazis killed several million Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and members of other groups, believing them inferior to an idealized Aryan race.
Social theories based on biology gained renewed support after 1953, when American biologist James Watson and British biologist Francis Crick successfully described the structure of the DNA molecule, the building block of all life. During the 1960s anthropologists interested in the influence of DNA on human behavior produced studies of the biological basis of aggression, territoriality, mate selection, and other behavior common to people and animals. Books on this theme, such as Desmond Morris’s Naked Ape (1967) and Lionel Tiger’s Men in Groups (1969), became best-sellers. In the early 1970s American psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein revived the social Darwinist argument that intelligence is mostly determined by biology rather than by environmental influences.
During the 1960s, British biologist W. D. Hamilton and American biologist Robert L. Trivers produced separate studies showing that the self-sacrificing behavior of some members of a group serves the genetic well-being of the group as a whole. American biologist Edward O. Wilson drew on these theories in Sociobiology: the New Synthesis (1975), where he argued that genetics exerts a greater influence on human behavior than scientists had previously believed. Wilson claimed that human behavior cannot be understood without taking both biology and culture into account. Wilson’s views became the foundations of a new science–sociobiology–and were later popularized in such studies as Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene (1976). Wilson’s critics have alleged that sociobiology is simply another version of social Darwinism. They claim that it downplays the role of culture in human societies and justifies poverty and warfare in the name of natural selection. Such criticism has led to a decline in the influence of sociobiology and other forms of social Darwinism.
VI. There are several weird takeaways from this.
First, Darwin’s theory was a blend of a scientific observation and his own personal beliefs. It was shaped by his position of privilege. Second, that it was popularly accepted by the rich and powerful because it supported what they already believed, that success was self-justifying. Third that everyone who EVER used the theory to explain or justify a political philosophy did so on very little justification, simply borrowing the credibility of science and wrapping it for transparently selfish reasons around whatever they were selling.
As a separate point, notice that the author of this article, Robert Bannister, dismisses sociobiology explicitly as a form of social Darwinism. His writing here reminds me of a dog turning around in circles before lying down. “Wilson’s critics” unnamed and unquestioned, carry the day by alleging it, and we’re done and home by 4.
A couple of problems: E.O. Wilson’s book Sociobiology: the New Synthesis, was a carefully researched work by a renowned Harvard ethologist and it said almost nothing about human beings, let alone excusing war and poverty. The book (and Wilson himself) were found to contain a strain of deadly ideas by expert witch-finders, and suppressed. His opponents called themselves a study group but limited their study to a bit of reflexive kicking. They momentarily observed something 300 yards off, resembling a duck and decided without observation of any walking or talking like a duck, that it must be a duck.
Also, Wilson was and is a scientist, seriously exploring a theory with malice toward none. Not a single other example of social Darwinism can be described that way. The idea that we must have a kind of “faith based” research where nothing offends the political officer is possibly the only MORE demented road for humanity to take.
Noam Chomsky, a linguist and political scientist, surprised many by coming to the defense of sociobiology on the grounds that political radicals need to postulate a relatively fixed idea of human nature in order to be able to struggle for a better society, claiming that leaders should know what human needs were in order to build a better society.
If you are still here, thanks. I will do my best to justify your patience in followup articles.
Arguments against Darwin generally come with theology as the endgame. It reminds me of the artificially intelligent toaster on Red Dwarf; it would engage the crew in deep philosophical chats which all came down to asking if they’d like some toast. My argument against Darwin is his insufficiency. Charles Darwin is the Sigmund Freud of evolutionary theory. His role was groundbreaking and important but his theory is primitive and wrong seen from today. My last article described the cronyism that rewarded him with this iconic status. I don’t know that his name would even be included in our current view of evolutionary theory were it not a battlement that must not be surrendered. Neo Darwinism is essentially Fort Darwin in the middle of extreme Born-again territory. This understandably makes us close ranks despite our differences, but when our wagons are in a circle it’s a sure thing they aren’t going anywhere.
Adding to the situation are the whole constellation of behaviors Thomas Kuhn outlined in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. There is a naturally conservative and reticent approach among scientific professionals. First, there is the paradigm of our moment which is built on all the earlier work in our field. There MUST be a foundation and things that call that foundation into question are not likely to be welcomed with open arms. If something truly and suddenly proved the state of a discipline wrong, at one level it would be a triumph and at another, a tragedy. It would crash and trash much current research and practice. Jobs would be lost and it would be necessary to fall back to the last critical turning point before starting again from more basic principles. Finally, there tends to be a generational transition; the hard heads often have to age out of the system before a new theory is truly accepted.
Fortunately due to the power of the scientific method it’s extremely rare for a large theoretical collapse. However, it IS in the nature of research moving forward that new principles will be uncovered which are so RIGHT that earlier paradigms are wrong in comparison. It can be sudden or through long diligent efforts but all research will look like alchemy from a distant enough point. Still, it seems unfair to earlier scientific explorers who may be wrong by the light of today, but were as right as possible in their own time. A little generosity hurts no one. Lamarck was about the most correct person on earth about his subject at the time of his writing. Darwin and Wallace likewise, let’s grant them all winner status without faulting them for not being perfect and not staying current long after their time.
Some basic problems with Darwinism
- It’s a tautology (circular logic): Survival of the fittest means the fittest are the ones who survive. What exactly is fitness? Something that apparently is present in survivors.
- It describes a negative feedback (we could call it “natural elimination”) but not a positive feedback. Or perhaps only a negative-positive feedback which is really just a distinction without a difference. We see why some die, but why do others change and continue to change?
- No helpful mutation in an individual would be reinforced naturally in the next generation, each would be diluted.
- There is no evidence from long term well constructed studies of the kind of random helpful mutations Darwinism requires even in the groups subjected to more mutagens.
- The fallback explanation of an unimaginable time scale as the missing piece that completes the puzzle is insufficient to close the gaps we find.
Both Wallace and Lamarck believed in some principle that guided evolution generally toward more success on average. Almost as if the infinite monkeys at typewriters had automatic spelling and grammar check turned on. And perhaps an app that edited out utter nonsense. This is closer to what life on earth looks and feels like…but to this day we have no means of identifying and studying such a principle. Therefore it is unscientific not in the sense of being wrong, just by being un-measurable and undetectable. In his time, Dmitri Mendeleev (who imagined the periodic table) predicted as yet undiscovered elements because within the framework he was using there were gaps in significant places. Logically, he thought, there should be something in that spot. That’s how I feel about the missing mechanisms in evolutionary theory. I suspect they are there because the current theory is a tiny sheet that does not cover this bed.
The one interesting breakthrough that seems to be in this class of guiding principles is epigenetic or soft inheritance. It’s very new but means of positive feedbacks leading to positive variation are becoming visible in this field and its many developing subdisciplines. We find information across generations, and the experiences of parents affecting the phenome of the children. Wallace and Lamarck are being reconsidered. I think they should be granted full equality with Darwin as founders.
We shouldn’t regularly act from fear of being compromised by theology if we budge from an earlier spot. It’s Theology that never budges with it’s hand full of supposed aces. Science moves, not impulsively but empirically. Our position so long after Darwin, is blessed with a million knowings he didn’t have a available, but relative to the future we are just as wrong and insufficient as he is to us. It can’t be helped. Or perhaps the only help is accepting and remembering it. It won’t help us measure what we can’t detect but it may help us think in less black and white terms and to look for meaningful gaps. The undetectable of today is the foundation of the theory tomorrow.
As you remember, when the neolithic farming revolution went viral our ancestors all reformed their social arrangements in a staggeringly short period of time. They found themselves living together in numbers never known before. There was a short period where the archaeological record shows egalitarian communities sharing without the evidence that points to wealth and poverty.
All of a sudden, there is a transformation, the birth of the State. Power was amassed at the top, allowing poverty to flow down onto the masses. In his 1977 book Cannibals and Kings, anthropologist Marvin Harris explores human culture and society and their evolution. In it, he devotes a chapter to the origins of the state. This paragraph nicely describes the harsh change:
1. Self Asserting
Like the articles on Tension Force and the balance of Progressive to Conservative, this is about the population pattern spread of personality types that defines the way a group behaves. Although it might seem like I’m simply being pro-self-transcendence, this isn’t a moralistic issue and there are unexpected outcomes. And while it clearly overlaps a teensy bit on the subject of right and left wing politics it only has a solid connection to that out at the edges where the saints and sociopaths hang out. It’s hard to talk about this without paying the most attention to the extremes but the wide middle of this spectrum is in “normal” range. A healthy happy person probably has a good balance, but there’s more than one kind of happy.
There are satisfactions that come from looking out for number 1, and the kind of people who make a point of only looking out for number 1 assume that these are the ultimate satisfactions. Coincidentally, Donald Trump is an exaggerated archetype of this point of view. There are obviously rewards for self assertion but self transcendence for something you love can be a full time high filling you with renewed energy. Only in people who are cartoonishly on one side of the spectrum or the other are these traits expressed as absolutes. Trump is cartoonishly self asserting. But self assertion also powers any serious goals and ambitions. It’s the oomph of aspiration. Gandhi and M.L.K. would have gotten nowhere without it. Any poor, hardworking kid who made something of themselves, has used this power.
In fact, consider this: Have more of the horrors and tragedies of the human race come through self asserting behavior or self transcending behavior? Self transcending can be beautiful and saintly but it also drove the selfless nazi and it drives the true believer ISIL volunteer. Giving yourself wholly to a powerful cause is amoral. In MLK it was moral, but only because of the framework of that transcendence. Passionately pursuing a personal goal is amoral. The internal values of the goal determine the good or ill.
The strongly self asserting are often cruelly disinterested in what happens to anyone they don’t personally know and love. Dick Cheney for example only giving a damn about gay and lesbian rights because his daughter came out. If she hadn’t, he never would have seen any point in supporting that position, after all what was in it for him? Strong self asserters aren’t necessarily aggressive or intense but the only important question for them is “How does this affect me?”
Extreme self assertion might rob banks, or investors. But for true horror and cruelty, self transcendence is the big winner. There is no genocide without people who give up everything to kill whoever the great plan points to.