Fwd: Evolutionary origin of wars

From: Keith Henson (hkhenson@rogers.com)
Date: Mon 29 Mar 2004 - 13:59:47 GMT

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    The author I was responding to said it was ok to repost here.

    >Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2004 18:11:31 -0500
    >To: sl4@sl4.org
    >From: Keith Henson <hkhenson@rogers.com>
    >Subject: Evolutionary origin of wars
    >At 05:07 AM 27/03/04 -0500, "Yan King Yin" <y.k.y@lycos.com> wrote:
    >>From: Keith Henson <hkhenson@rogers.com>
    >> >The problem is that win or lose war was adaptive for your genes when we
    >> >lived as hunter-gatherers. Thus we have evolved psychological mechanisms
    >> >that lead to tribes (or nations) going to war based on economic
    >> >issues--currently income per capita though the origin of the mechanism was
    >> >game and berries.
    >>Aggressiveness probably evolved much earlier in phylogeny.
    >Agreed, but aggressiveness is *not* war. War is an emergent phenomena
    >where one social group attacks another.
    >>I'm not sure how much new genetic traits have accumulated
    >>specific to primates or hominids.
    >It is clear from Jane Goodall's work (and related studies) that wars
    >resulting in genocide of neighboring groups is something chimpanzees
    >do. That makes it likely, though not certain, that wars between groups
    >of hominids dates back to the time of the split.
    >> >Humans who are not facing looming privation/starvation don't start wars,
    >> >though they can still be attacked by those with the root cause.
    >>Then how do you account for imperialism where it's the
    >>powerful nations that initiate wars?
    >First, be specific, *which* war? Second, evolutionary adaptions made when
    >our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers can't be expected to be
    >particularly adaptive in world so far removed from the Environment of
    >Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA)
    >I used "looming privation" above. Because humans (and animals in general)
    >respond to differences, you can soak one hand in hot water and one in
    >cold, then put them both in warm water. The hand that was in the hot
    >water will find the warm cold and the one that was in the cold will find
    >the same water hot. Thus you don't need actual starvation; gloomy
    >economic outlooks for a people that had been doing well are enough to trip
    >xenophobic meme buildups leading to war or related social disruptions.
    >Robert Cialdini talks about *relative* economics in _Influence_ as a cause
    >for wars and related social unrest such as riots. He cites James C. Davis
    >on this topic:
    > "The idea that newly experienced scarcity is the more powerful kind
    > applies to situations well beyond the bounds of the cookie study. For
    > example, social scientists have determined that such scarcity is a
    > primary cause of political turmoil and violence. Perhaps the most
    > prominent proponent of this argument is James C. Davies, who states that
    > we are most likely to find revolutions where a period of improving
    > economic and social conditions is followed by a short, sharp reversal in
    > those conditions. Thus it is not the traditionally most downtrodden
    > people-who have come to see their deprivation as part of the natural
    > order of things who are especially liable to revolt. Instead,
    > revolutionaries are more likely to be those who have been given at least
    > some taste of a better life. When the economic and social improvements
    > they have experienced and come to expect suddenly become less available,
    > they desire them more than ever and often rise up violently to secure them.
    > "Davies has gathered persuasive evidence for his novel thesis from a
    > range of revolutions, revolts, and internal wars, including the French,
    > Russian, and Egyptian revolutions as well as such domestic uprisings as
    > Dorr's Rebellion in nineteenth-century Rhode Island, the American Civil
    > War, and the urban black riots of the 1960s. In each case, a time of
    > increasing well-being preceded a tight cluster of reversals that burst
    > into violence."
    >This response is exactly what you would expect to have evolved in
    >hunter-gatherers faced with a periodic requirement to reduce their
    >population in the face of ecological fluctuations.
    >> >The economic connection to wars is *very old* information. But it is the
    >> >first time I know about that the evolutionary psychology origin of wars
    >> has
    >> >been understood. It leads to obvious solutions, but they are slow to take
    >> >effect.
    >> >Here's a question for you. If the population simply *had* to be cut way
    >> >back (say due to an ice age starting) would war or disease be the better
    >> >choice?
    >>I don't understand what you're trying to imply, but if I die
    >>of disease then my 'kinsman' (people genetically related to me)
    >>would be most likely to inherit what I've left over.
    >Perhaps, though if your shared genes were part of the reason they were
    >killed by an epidemic, there might not be anyone related to
    >inherit. That's what happened when European diseases (such as measles)
    >wiped out the Mound Builders in the Mississippi Valley.
    >>in a war and if I lose then my assets will be taken by the
    >>enemy, resulting in loss of territory. It would be a very
    >>strange theory if you're saying people start wars unconsciously
    >>hoping to lose and to have their women marry off the winners.
    >That's an incorrect oversimplification of what I am saying. Economic
    >reasons (originally access to food resources) are the deep gene based
    >reasons people start wars.
    >Wars were *conditionally* advantageous to genes. In good times with
    >plenty to eat, your genes were much better off raising kids with copies of
    >those genes than getting in group fights with hostile neighbors where you
    >and your genes may both come to a sorry end. So genes build humans with a
    >normal thinking bias we call "rational" and we stay out of such fights
    >most of the time.
    >But when enough people are successful in raising those kids, the
    >environment eventually becomes overloaded and/or there is a glitch in the
    >weather. Now these brains built by genes have to switch to an alternate
    >behavior, move to new lands (normally impossible in a filled up world) or
    >fight neighbors for their resources. This is necessary but it is (using a
    >rational mind state) obviously dangerous.
    >The genes overcome the normal rational bias against putting yourself in
    >danger of being killed by creating brains with the psychological trait of
    >responding to and spreading xenophobic memes when times start looking
    >bad. Indeed, the word I coined back in 1985 of "memeoid," is
    >appropriate. (". . . victims that have been taken over by a meme to the
    >extent that their own survival becomes inconsequential.")

    [And this memetic "psyching up" for war is most likely the reason humans can enter the memeoid state. I can't think of any other reason humans would have a trait like this since the people--mostly young males--who take part in suicide attacks don't subsequently pass on genes for such a trait.
    :-) ]

    >Groups who start wars--especially where they people they are fighting are
    >more numerous--are optimistic over their prospects to prevail. Outsiders
    >would call a lot of them deluded.
    >Where the young women come in is through Hamilton's inclusive fitness
    >criteria. They have copies of the genes of the warriors who go off to
    >glory or death. In tribal days (when all this selection happened) the
    >winning tribe usually killed the males of the losers and took the women,
    >thus preserving genes that build brains capable of spreading xenophobic
    >memes and entering the deluded state needed to go to war.
    >Keith Henson
    >PS Writing came along toward the end of the tribal era so some of our
    >early written records discuss this common practice. For example Numbers
    >31:18. "But all the female children who have had no sex relations with
    >men, you may keep for yourselves." and
    >Deuteronomy 20:13-14 When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill
    >every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women,
    >children, livestock, and other plunder.

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