Altruistic Racist Warriors vs. Selfish Tolerant Pacifists

In the Vol. 318, 26 Oct. 2007 issue of Science there is a fascinating article on pg. 636-640 titled “The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War” by Jung-Kyoo Choi and Samuel Bowles, with an accompanying review article on pg. 581-2 by Holly Arrow titled “The Sharp End of Altruism.”

Using computer simulations, Choi and Bowles show that if you create beings with the following traits: either altruistic (A) or non-altruistic (N) and either tolerant (T) or parochial, or anti-stranger (P), you end up with two stable populations, depending on the conditions. Under peacetime conditions, you get “a society of selfish but tolerant freetraders” (Arrow, 581), but under wartime conditions, you get “a warrior society in which people help one another but are hostile to outsiders” (581). The other two combinations — selfless, tolerant people and selfish racists — seem to be unstable combinations, though more stable under peacetime conditions than under times of war. The researchers observe that one doesn’t even need war to be that common for the PA combination to quickly dominate.

These conclusions make a lot of evolutionary sense. Without making the mistake of thinking of behavior as simply a choice between P and T genes, as behavior is more complex than that from both a genetic point of view and from a social point of view, by treating them as overarching behaviors that can be selected, we can see, nonetheless, that certain behaviors are more adaptive than others. Part of this has to do with territorialism. All land vertebrates are territorial to varying degrees. This allows individuals and groups to have enough food and water to continue to live. Protecting territory protects food. So we should expect species to protect their territory — which they do. Now, if a species is going to protect its territory, it must confront those who wish to intrude on or take that territory. Various rituals have evolved that allow many confrontations to end without violence. But sometimes that breaks down. And more, in chimpanzees, we see an outright preference for attacking and killing members of other groups when the balance is in favor of the attacking group. This assumption was used by the researchers, and it led to the creation of a preference for racist altruists — those that will sacrifice to protect family and tribe, but who hate and will attack those not in the tribe. Tolerant groups are less likely to attack first, meaning the racist groups are more likely to both attack first, killing the tolerant people of other groups. The end result is that the human race has evolved to be racist altruists.

Now, the fact that we evolved to be racist altruists who love war in no way excuses such behavior. But it seems that this combination is the most stable one under conditions of periodic war. The other combination is predominant under periods of peace: the TN individual. These people are tolerant of others and are willing to engage in interactions with people from different groups, yet are selfish. This is the paring most associated with Americans — and it is no doubt because America’s isolation from the rest of the world, keeping us out of constant wars, encourages the development of TN behavior. Does this mean PA is completely replaced? The authors don’t say, but let me expand on their research a little with some thoughts on my own. It seems likely that wars may have resulted in natural selection for genetic PA’s, though behavior, being complex, can still have other kinds of attributes built on it by society. So in the U.S., for example, while people may be more likely to be genetic PA’s, we have adopted the TN meme, and use it more often than we do the AP genetic tendencies we’re born with. But as the Japanese learned in WWII, it is not difficult to awaken the “sleeping dragon” of PA behavior latent in people.

It seems, though, that so long as there are wars, the PA genes-memes will continue to dominate. However, the bad news for many of the peace activists on the Left who are TA’s is that peace will not produce more of them. Rather, it appears that it will be more likely to produce more TN’s — people who are more and more likely to believe in and engage in free market economics. My guess is that Ayn Rand would be one of the few not surprised by this outcome.

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Enemies

Several years ago I went to a talk at the Dallas Philosopher’s Forum, and the speaker spoke about enemies — why we make them, and why we keep them. Around that time I also finished reading Lee Harris’ “Civilization and Its Enemies,” which talks about the existence of enemies, and the consequences for a society that denies their existence (in short: they don’t last long). The speaker at the DPF was a psychologist, and claimed that making enemies was learned, and had no biological context at all. This both ignores the fact that all social animals treat members of the same species, but different groups, as enemies, as well as ignores the fact that if the idea of having enemies is merely learned, then it begs the question of how such an idea could have come about in the first place. The only explanation could be that it just came out of nothing at all, or perhaps that it comes about when people got together into groups. Of course, this accepts the completely discredited anthropological theories of Rousseau — but his ideas are unfortunately still believed by most liberals, either overtly or implicitly.

Enemies came about when the first creature defended its territory against another. This goes as far back at least to the lobe-finned fish, from which evolved all the land vertebrates — amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Modern-day male gobies are brightly colored in order to advertise to other gobies that they are healthy, in order to avoid a fight with other male gobies. But when you have two equally-matched gobies, you will get a fight. But the bright colors — and the dances of the gobies — are much more often used in a ritualistic manner, to avoid violence. This prevents the gobies from getting hurt, while maintaining their territories. And when used with females, it allows the females access to the males so that breeding can occur. Thus, this ritual both avoids violence, and allows for breeding. It is no coincidence that the colors and the dances of the gobies are beautiful.

What we can learn from this is that enemies came first, and then the ability to deflect enemies through ritual came later. It also shows that the concept of an enemy has its origins in or most ancient of ancestors. But the ability to avoid violence among enemies also evolved only shortly after. Only when we acknowledge these facts will we be able to do something about the problem.

The ancient Greeks understood that ritual was needed in order to create great cities and cultures. How else can you get over 100,000 people to live together, except you create some sorts of bonds among them beyond those of the family? Thus, the Greeks creates athletics — competition — in order to maintain order. By deflecting the need to have an enemy onto a ritual scapegoat — an opposing player or team from the one you are rooting for — you both fulfill our need to have an enemy, while deflecting that need into something less destructive, and in fact downright productive. The Greeks too invented the Olympics, maintaining peaceful competition among the city-states.

Here in the United States, sports manages to do the same thing. If you live in Dallas, you can support the Dallas sports teams. Thus, if Dallas plays, say, Pittsburgh, in football, then the Dallas fan can ritualistically hate Pittsburgh, the enemy. But when the game is over, the hatred is over too. The hatred occurred in a safe play space, and is appropriate only within that play-space of the watching of the game. Before the game, or when the game is over, nobody from Dallas is hating Pittsburgh, or fighting with people who are. Thus, a country of almost 300 million people is able to live together, cooperating and competing with each other. Now, this is still not a perfect system — it works very well in the U.S., but it is not uncommon for English soccer fans as a game to yell to German soccer fans that it was they, the British, who won the war. And soccer fans are infamous for getting into fights with fans of the opposing team. This is a general breakdown of the ritual system, and needs to be repaired to make sure it continues to perform its proper function. But still, World Cup Soccer and the Olympics have helped to maintain a certain level of peace among nations. We may find that hard to believe, with what has happened in the West in the 20th Century, and even now with the War on Terror, but the fact of the matter is that as a percentage of deaths in the West by war, the West is a far, far less violent place than any tribal situation — tribes in South America and New Guinea typically lose 40-60% of their young men a year to war. The West only lost 2% of the same population throughout the 20th century. This is in no small part due to the civilizing effects of athletics.

The worst thing that could happen, then, would be for our sports to become politicized. For when sports becomes politicized, the unifying ritual itself breaks down. Indeed, the politicization of sports in any way should be considered the canary in the coalmine–if and when it happens, the society is in danger of increasing political violence.

Bureaucracy, Tyranny, and Violence

The greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence. In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on whom the pressures of power could be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant.

Hannah Arendt

If you’ve ever been to the Department of Motor Vehicles, you know just how beaten down you feel by the time you leave–often several hours after you arrived. Everyone has learned a long time ago that there is no point in arguing with anyone at the DMV, because complaining or arguing will affect nothing, and may in fact just slow things down for you. No matter, what, whoever you’re talking to is not in charge and they cannot help you. Everyone is simply following the rules and nobody is responsible for anything. It literally is “rule of the desk.”

There are almost 22 million people employed by federal, state, and local governments. The manufacturing sector employs about half that many people. About a quarter of government employees could be considered bureaucrats. That means that there’s about one government bureaucrat for every two factory workers. With about 160 million people employed in the U.S., that’s about 1 bureaucrat for every 25 non-government worker.

But those are just government bureaucrats. Businesses also have bureaucrats (as anyone who has tried to get anything done by calling a problem in to a company knows). And since education isn’t considered “government” employment, though public education is in fact government education, none of the education bureaucrats are counted. If the ratio of bureaucrats in education and the private sector is even half that of government, we’re talking about something like 13 million bureaucrats in those two sectors. Altogether, that’s almost 20 million bureaucrats in the U.S.

The point is, there are a whole lot of people out there whose primary jobs are to prevent much from getting done, because that’s what protect their jobs. Their job is designed to frustrate anyone who comes their way.

What happens when so many people are actively working to frustrate the rest of the population?  Why is anyone surprised that people are acting on that frustration?

We are living in a tyranny. A tyranny of no one. As the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath learned, there’s simply nobody to shoot. And if there’s nobody to shoot, anybody will do.