Re: META: Memes and War [was: Tomorrow is a new day]

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Wed Nov 10 2004 - 16:44:26 MST

At 01:56 PM 09/11/04 -0800, you wrote:
> I've heard you say this before, Keith, and I must ask: how
>would a stressed population dare to war, or be able to?

Ok, I will go over it again.

The key to understanding this is that the psychological traits behind the
coupling from a bleak outlook to war through xenophobic memes evolved in
the *stone age* when there wasn't a big technological gap or even a big
size gap between one tribe and the next.

So when things started to look like the tribe members were not going to get
enough game and berries to get through the next season, going to war was on
average a 50-50 proposition for the people, and war was a *much* better
chance for the genes of these primitive people than starving. The worst
case was that all the males in one of the tribes fighting would be
killed. That's still better for the *genes* of the losers than starving
because copies of their genes are in the young women of the tribe who are
normally booty to the winners. (A perverse application of Hamilton's
inclusive fitness criteria.)

So over a multi million year time frame, genes that made it more likely a
tribe facing starvation would go to war with neighbors instead of quitely
starving became standard. I propose that such genes build psychological
traits that increase the "gain" of circulating xenophobic memes in times of
the particular stress of "looming privation." You can see where the stupid
factor comes in because all the normal inhibitions of not attacking nasty
strangers who might just as well kill *you* have to be overcome.

>And what
>about populaces that are up and coming and want theirs
>(imperialist nations, say)? Surely no one will argue that
>Germany was willing to instigate WWI because they were
>'stressed', or America going whole hog in WWII, or less so in
>WWI, was because they were under some stress.

For a starter, you can hardly expect psychological traits evolved in the
stone age to be well adapted to modern times. I make the case that hunter
gatherer psychological traits can spell disaster in more technologically
advanced cultures and cite the corn farmers of the American Southwest who
were wiped out over large areas because their hunter gatherer response to
"looming privation" was incompatible with a farming mode of life.

Second, WWI was before the big drop in birth rates, so there was falling
income per capita over much of Europe. (Due to rising population.)

Third, you only need one party to start a war. WWI is confused enough that
it is hard to say exactly who started it, but you could argue that the
German's didn't.

I might add that the US enthusiasm for WWII was much higher than
WWI. Being attacked does that.

Keith Henson

>ALthough I could
>see ailing empires trying to prop themselves up with war- it
>happened with Britain, and I wonder if it is happening with
>--- Keith Henson <> wrote:
>The point to my stuff was about stressed human populations
> > being a fertile
> > media for war memes.
>Do you Yahoo!?
>Check out the new Yahoo! Front Page.

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