Re: Bad times traits

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 18 Apr 2003 - 19:11:54 GMT

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    At 09:27 PM 16/04/03 +0200, Kenneth wrote:


    >So, where you see, IMO simply economical reasons as the major
    >point of the troubles, where indeed in the end it is like so, I think
    >you ought to look deeper for the political background.
    >A minority ruled, had all the power, the nicest jobs and had access
    >to all kinds of resources and facilities_ and don 't forget the role
    >of Europe, in casu Belgium.

    Definitely good points on the Hutu/Tutsi conflict. But my argument is that such matters are superficial. The particular historical background *looks* to be causative, but is not. A starving population will become diseased with some pathogen, but the cause is the starvation, not the opportunistic pathogen.

    In bad economic times we see historical grievances (i.e., memes) amplified into major conflicts (or mob actions) by a long evolved psychological characteristic that is "turned on" in humans by hard times. But the hard times are the cause rather than the history, though the history certainly contributes to the details of how the sides line up.

    I commented about this long ago in one of my meme papers (without at all understanding the evolutionary psychology behind it) when I mentioned the rise of neo-nazies in the midwest of the US during an economic downturn. Near as I can tell, all such movements can be summed up as
    "blame some other group for our problems." That "justifies" killing them, or driving them out as happened in Kosovo.

    Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo, and others have amply demonstrated that humans have dehumanization mechanisms and that they are not hard to turn on by social pressures. It is easy to imagine that we live close to "the edge of chaos" in this respect. In good times "blame memes" about some section of the population or some neighboring population don't have the spreading or behavior influence they do in bad times.

    As I think more about this proposed psychological mechanism, I see no way it could have *not* been selected for. We are the genetic survivors of millions of years where every few generations the rains failed, or an ice age came along, or the population grew till there were too many people for the land to support. These are good reasons for increased susceptibility to spreading memes that dehumanized a segment of the population or a neighboring one in preparation to attacking and killing them.

    This psychological trait needs a name like other evolved psychological characteristics such as capture-bonding (Stockholm Syndrome) and the attention-reward (status) mechanism cults use. Both of these mechanism are behind the spread of certain classes of memes. Privation driven memetic dehumanization kind of captures the essence but doesn't even make a good acronym.

    Any thoughts?

    Keith Henson

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