Re: Bad times traits

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 19 Apr 2003 - 20:12:54 GMT

  • Next message: Van oost Kenneth: "Re: Bad times traits"

    At 02:42 PM 18/04/03 -0700, Grant wrote:
    >>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

    >>Any thoughts?

    >>Keith Henson

    >I see an evolved characteristic here but I don't see it necessarily
    >linked to privation. People do and always have found reasons to
    >divide themselves into groups that then separate themselves from
    >others. We divide ourselves into management and labor, upper
    >and lower class, educated and ignorant, protestant and Catholic,
    >uptown and downtown, Irish and Italian expats, etc., etc.

    >These divisions lead to conflict and often war. Gangs of New York
    >is a movie based on historical reality. Both gangs in the movie were
    >equally deprived and fighting to improve their social status at the
    >expense of the other. But even the richest people in the country
    >(U.S.) do this when a rich WASP finds reasons to exclude a rich
    >Jew from inclusion in his club and in his business. Privation, to
    >my mind, is not the cause. Tribalism is a more likely culprit.

    I won't argue against tribalism causing the kind of problems you mention. But excluding someone is a far cry from Kosovo or the Hutu/Tutsi clashes. And even there, there were decades where there was relatively little animosity. We know what event set off the Hutu/Tutsi convulsion, but what was it that created the tension that was released in an orgy of killings? If you can come up with something better than resources getting tight every few generations, something else that is rooted in several million years of evolution in tribal units, I would like to hear about it. Those kinds of events are so typical in our history that they must be part of the standard psychological response people have. All I am proposing is that this response manifests in situations of perceived resource shortages. I.e., falling per capita income.

    This is actually a prediction. You will not see wars or warlike conflicts
    (in the historical record) started by a society in a time where there is a rising per capita income. Of course you don't have to have both sides in a resource crunch to start a war.

    Another prediction: the side perceiving it has a population-to-resource crunch will be the one who starts a war. (Might be *both* sides!)

    And I should note that while the current situation is driven by psychological traits evolved over millions of years, the physical
    (technological) situation is unlike anything bands were faced with a million years ago. Even there, a weak tribe might have been better off
    (from a gene's viewpoint) attacking a strong one than just starving. If a weak tribe attacked a strong one and all the men were wiped out, at least some of the female children might be incorporated into the tribe they attacked.

    Now, I know we just *had* a war. I think it is obvious that the war in Iraq was part of the US response to 9/11 and *that* in turn was the result of falling income in Saudi Arabia and worsening economics all over the Arab world. The causation is that such conditions turn on human psychological traits that were evolved to survive the periodic hard times of our ancestors clear back to the point they split off the chimpanzee line--because chimps also make war on neighboring groups. Third prediction. Chimpanzees start attacking their neighbors when a growing band's needs outstrip the local food supply.

    To keep this focused on memetics, the effect of turning on these psychological survival traits in humans is to make fanatic memes more likely to thrive.

    I should add that privation is not the only way for fanatic memes to do well in a society. Being attacked may invoke the same or a related mechanism. You can certainly make that case for the US since 9/11.

    Keith Henson

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