From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 27 Nov 2003 - 05:18:29 GMT

  • Next message: "Re:"

    At 01:46 PM 26/11/03 -0500, you wrote:
    >Here's a paper I've been working on, it's obviously incredibly rough, and
    >honestly not all that original. I think however it's got a few original
    >ideas that are worth noting. Any comments?


    > Memes use all sorts of mechanisms to promote homogeneity of ideas
    > within groups. Ideas that tend to benefit the group holding them, will
    > tend to do better than those that do not, because memes, are in fact
    > linked to the genetic success of the group. Memes, which are able to
    > create coherent groups, will spread faster than those that do
    > not. Dehumanisation of outsiders, rewarding conformists, and punishing
    > dissenters, are common practice within many ideologies and
    > religions. These all serve as mechanisms, for promoting homogeneity
    > within a group. The demonazation of outsiders is useful, both in
    > protecting the group from outside ideas and in the exploatation of that
    > group, in modern times through economic means, in the past through
    > organized raids. This finally brings us to the central point of this
    > paper, what are the origins of war?

    > Who benefits from war? Surely it is not the individuals engaging in
    > it. The individuals are placing themselves at great risk often times
    > with no direct stake in the conflict.

    That is *far* from the case in the primitive conditions where the vast majority of our evolutionary selection occurred.

    But this is beside the point since you want to ask *what replicator* benefits from wars. It can be memes as in the original expansion of Islam, but genes are what builds the psychological traits that (under some conditions) cause groups to get into wars. The question is, what are those conditions? Considering how bad wars can be for you *and* your genes, the alternative must be worse.

    Humans have with rare exceptions lived at the ecological limit. When the population increases over what the ecosystem can support or some glitch in the weather reduces the number who can be supported by it, fighting the next tribe over is better for your genes than starving. I won't say a tribe collectively debates and mathematically models the various outcomes, but our genes have been selected and have built brains that make such
    "genetic cost-benefit" calculations without conscious awareness. Going to war is a chancy statistical business. In the days long gone you didn't have much choice of who you fought, they had to be in walking distance
    (though there are known cases where people walked over a hundred miles to fight). If you fought to a draw, some of the mouths were no longer in a condition to eat and maybe that got you though the lean times. If you won, you killed the males of the opposing tribe, took their resources and women to the benefit of your genes. If you lost, you got killed, but because your tribe's woman and female children were usually taken by the winners, copies of your genes in your fellow tribe members were still better off than starving.

    How do memes fit into this? Chimps can go to war and wipe out a neighboring group without speech, but I would bet you they have some shared xenophobic meme when they go on the warpath. I suspect without being able to show it directly that conditions of looming privation turn up the "gain" in xenophobic memes propagating in a group. (Snap privation as happened in the Irish potato famine or natural disasters occur too fast to set up the memetic conditions for war.)

    >War is in the interest of the group, as opposed to the interest of the
    >individual. We've already seen that the memes are a force in the
    >direction of group interest over individual interest,

    Selection works on genes, and it is not for the "good of the group." Group selection just does not create a logically consistent model.

    >so I suggest that we look towards memes for the answer. First we must
    >establish that war is in fact in the interest of our memes. Groups
    >benefit from war, in that they establish trading posts, explore land,
    >exchange technologies, and of course reap the spoils. Ideas benefit from
    >the success of the group holding the idea, so in this simple way war is in
    >the interest of memes. However in addition war, is often used as a
    >mechanism for spreading ideologies, a prime example being the crusades.

    Actually, the crusades are not nearly as good an example as the original spread of Islam by the sword. There was only marginal proselytizing during/after the crusades if I remember my history correctly.

    >Why than do individuals engage in war? A different way to ask this
    >question, is what mechanism do memes use in order to get individuals to
    >engage in war. Margreat Meade presents two very interesting idea’s in
    >her paper Warfare Is Only and Invention – Not a Biological Necessity,
    >first she says first she says, “Some Anthropologists… claim that the
    >capacity for warfare developed along with adaptations for hunting large
    >game.” (I will return to this point in due course) and second she points
    >out that, “In many parts of the world, war is a game in which the
    >individual can win counters – counters which bring him prestige in the
    >eyes of his own sex or the opposite sex,” and later on, “The tie-up
    >between proving oneself a man and proving this by a success in organized
    >killing is due to a definition which societies have made of
    >manliness.” This is a valid point, and provides a genetic reason for
    >men to go to war. However, it is important to note that this is merely,
    >‘a definition’ a societal construct, there is nothing fundamentally
    >more attractive about a man that has engaged in war, over a man who has not.

    If war is a way to power (status), "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

    >In fact I would argue just the opposite, men who have engaged in war are
    >if anything less fit to rear healthy children. Just look at the number of
    >disorders which war ends up causing. Posttraumatic stress syndrome,
    >aggression problems, and lack of empathy, just to name a few.

    Again, remember that the current wars bare little resemblance to the ones we evolved to fight. Read up on the Yanomona.

    >Why than do societies find men who engage in war more attractive than
    >those that do not? Whenever there is a societal construct, a fundamental
    >distortion in the way we perceive the world, it serves us well to look
    >towards memes for the answer. Let us just accept for the moment that war
    >is in the interest of our memes, this would provide a reasonably
    >explanation for the societal construct of associating war with
    >manliness. Let us return for a moment to the point about warfare
    >developing along with adaptations for hunting large game. Again if we
    >accept that war is in the interest of or meme’s this can easily be seen
    >as a distortion of the phenotypic effect of an already existent set of
    >genes. Meade, presents use with an extension of this idea, and a clue
    >into the mechanisms that allowed it to evolve, "A widespread tendency to
    >dehumanise members of other tribes often using literally animalising terms
    >to describe strangers and enemies. War-making is also typically
    >associated with an array of rituals, with the enhancement of group
    >cohesion, as well as with ritual purification connected with the taking of
    >human life."

    Right, she makes good and descriptive points. But if you look at times when war memes spread vs times they don't, I would bet long odds you can see humans in sight of their local ecological limit or thinking they are. These meme spreading activities occur as a result of gene-built psychological traits that have been selected for millions of years. Because of changes in technology, they might be very poorly adaptive to the current world.

    > Dehumanisation of outsiders allows for the subversion of group hunting
    > genes.

    Psychological traits built by genes to use more accurate terminology.

    > Individuals engage in war, in the name of ideologies, religion is the
    > greatest single cause of war.

    I would expect that "religion is the greatest single excuse for war." Cause is something else, my bet is running up against an ecological limit. Easter Island is a prime example as are other primitive societies that have been modeled. Try pigs and wars in Google or here

    Rappaport, Roy A. "Ritual Regulation of Environmental Relations Among a New Guinea People." In Environment and Cultural Behavior, edited by Andrew P. Vayda, 181-201. Garden City, New York: The Natural History Press, 1969.

    > They engage in war, because they see it as being a write of passage, a
    > way to become a real man. Finally they engage in war, in order to reap
    > the benefits of being a devout follower to the ideology or group in which
    > they are waging war in the name of.
    > We have observed how cultural evolution and genetic evolution are
    > inextricably tied. We have seen how culture can distort the phenotypic
    > effect of our genes, and how or culture can drive the very direction
    > which evolution takes. We have also seen, how the strategies employed by
    > culture, are a direct consequence of or genetic makeup.

    You make some very good points, but I think your model has the cart before the horse. I would suggest reading Hamilton or popular works about his insights, Dawkin's Extended Phenotype, and maybe rereading Selfish Gene.

    Of course the model that war memes are driven by ecological limit problems is depressing, though it *does* offer a way to keep populations out of starting wars, rising or at least steady income per capita.

    Unfortunately it only takes one society with a falling income per capita to attack a neighbor and when *that* happens, the attacked group has a well evolved mechanism to fight back and crush the attackers. (And even to lash out at third parties who were not your attacker but just looked a bit like the ones that attacked you.)

    Best wishes, Keith Henson

    PS. Any similarity in the last two sentences to the current situation in Iraq is strictly intended.

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