Re: Memetic trapping and wars.

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Mon 07 Jul 2003 - 22:47:15 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Memes and population size was: Memetic trapping and wars."

    At 04:30 PM 07/07/03 -0400, you wrote:
    >In a message dated 7/7/2003 2:23:23 AM Central Daylight
    >Time, Keith Henson <> writes:
    > > >At 12:56 AM 02/07/03 -0400, Aaron wrote:
    > > >>In a message dated 6/27/2003 10:03:07 AM Central Daylight
    > > >>Time, Keith Henson <> writes:
    > > >>
    > > >>Hi Keith.
    > > >>
    > > >>This is interesting. It does seem likely that there is an
    > > >>innate tendency toward hostile ideation during privation.
    > >
    > > Right. Only I would read "innate" as evolved, or wired-in, argument
    > being
    > > that genes conferring such a psychological trait do better over
    > > evolutionary time than ones conferring a more placid approach to
    > > starvation. If humans had a different approach to times of shortage
    > (like
    > > the mud fish do to a shortage of water) evolution would have selected an
    > > entirely different psychology.
    >Hi Keith.
    >Basically, we agree that genetic evolution (evolutionary
    >psychology) is the process that leads to innate
    >psychological dispositions. Personally, I think that
    >certain details of exactly what innate predispositions have
    >evolved and how specific they are for humans remain to be
    >uncovered, however.

    No argument about details, but I think we are mostly in agreement that evolution did/does shape psychological traits. In some cases, the logic of
    *why* they were selected (as opposed to how they work) is really obvious. Capture-bonding (Stockholm Syndrome) for one.

    >For instance, tendencies toward hostile
    >ideation during privation could in principle help to
    >precipitate war even in a species (e.g., hypothetical
    >extraterrestrials) in which prior wars had not occurred,
    >and hence, for which spoils of war were not among the
    >evolutionary causes for the innate disposition toward
    >hostile ideation during privation. In such a case, the
    >evolutionary mechanism might be that hostile ideation leads
    >organisms to gain spoils individually by aggressive or
    >defensive actions against other individuals. Both
    >mechanisms may have been involved in human genetic
    >evolutionary history.

    Possibly. Leads to much the same psychological traits being selected though. Also considering that trees and even *bacteria* engage in
    "hostile" acts, it would seem that competition of this kind is a widespread feature of life.


    > > Ideally, you want the entire village behind a war.
    >Right. Prevention of clandestine collusion with "the enemy"
    >by "traitors" is one of the reasons for continued
    >motivation for recruitment of and proselytism of jingoistic
    >or dehumanizing ideas even after enough fellow combatants
    >have been recruited to win the conflict.

    Good point. The switch between populations supporting a state of war and not can be sharp--classic one being the abrupt switch the Japanese made at the end of WWII. Catastrophe theory would be needed to model it. Same thing might be involved in the collapse of Iraq resistance.


    > > I have no idea of how you *could* sort out "innate" (built in)
    > > psychological components from "non-innate" components. An example might
    > > help a lot here.
    >Well, I am not going to furnish an example of individuals
    >or societies *known* to lack innate dispositions toward
    >collective violence. The project of sorting out possible
    >innate factors from non-innate factors would benefit
    >considerably from knowing which genes or gene complexes or
    >genotypes cause innate propensities toward collective
    >violence, and by what ontogenetic mechanisms. Knowing that
    >might allow one to see how much of violent behavior or
    >hostile ideation could be attributed to inculcation with
    >jingoistic ideas versus biological inheritance of specific
    >genetic factors. But evolutionary psychology is not this
    >developed yet.

    Considering how brutal primitive live is now understood to be, I would bet long odds that virtually every human can be induced to violence, even wars, given extreme enough circumstances like being attacked, or having one's children attacked.

    >Still, it might be possible to learn from
    >identical twins who underwent different inculcation
    >histories, perhaps by being separated into military and
    >civilian careers, or by being separated into different
    >nations. But I have not designed such a study.

    Off hand, my bet would go to heavy genetic influence, sex linked at that. Little boys make sticks into weapons and little girls play with dolls. They are just wired that way. What is important I think is to understand what conditions turn on the psychological mechanisms leading to wars and try our best to keep them from happening. Probably this will require strong support for women's rights as a mechanism to keep population in check. (Not a good prospect with the current US administration.)


    > > All this is possible. We can only guess at this stage about how
    > > psychological traits evolved over a long time in tribes would map into
    > the
    > > current world. That these traits led to wars over game and later farm
    > > is obvious. That oil shortages might be mapped into food shortages by
    > > current humans is entirely possible. (In fact, the relation makes sense
    > > given the essential role of oil in food production.)
    >I would add that much of the mapping of ancient
    >psychological traits into reactions and ideas about the
    >current world depends upon replicated and replicating
    >inculcations and imitations of ideas. On must be inculcated
    >with ideas about what petroleum is and how it is presently
    >used in order to become excited about shortages or
    >instabilities in its supply. The fact that the military
    >depend on oil is another crucial point, and an idea whose
    >inculcation results in mapping thoughts about oil shortages
    >into thoughts about violent threats from conspecifics.

    This is true, but people are adaptable. Fighting over farm land and stored crops was different from fighting over game around a water hole but people managed (all too well!).

    snip (most of Arel's stuff is unpublished)

    >I should point out here that I am not trying to promote
    >some kind of taboo against "the M word" (meme).

    snip (sorry, the posting software will eat the post without notice if it goes too long)

    > Currently, I am
    >using the phrase "thought contagion" to denote "A memory
    >item, or portion of an organism's neurally-stored
    >information, identified using the abstraction system of the
    >observer, whose instantiation depended critically on
    >causation by prior instantiation of the same memory item in
    >one or more other organisms' nervous systems."

    Man that's complicated. But it boils down to a transmittable information pattern, an idea that spreads, or many other similar ways to put it.

    snip (good thought on a sig line definition.)

    > > It is now obvious to me that humans have a strong evolved psychological
    > > imperative for "joint-defense-when-attacked."
    > >
    > > I find it hard to see this social primate psychological trait as a
    > > any more than capture-bonding or attention-reward since it has been an
    > > essential response to attack for millions of years. But it is clear that
    > > this psychological mechanism can *also* be hijacked by cults, demagogs,
    > > jingoistic "going to war" memes by getting people to feel like victims.
    >This all seems quite plausible as well.

    This might be a general principle: If humans have a psychological mechanism that can be exploited, someone will be exploiting it. Probably somebody has a pithier version.


    >Thanks for commenting.

    Thank you for the interesting post.

    Keith Henson

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