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

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu Nov 11 2004 - 07:51:41 MST

At 10:37 AM 11/11/04 +0200, Mikko wrote:
>On Wed, 10 Nov 2004, Keith Henson wrote:
> > 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.
>In order for your theory to be testable and critisizable and thus of any

Any causal theory, especially one that can be stated from deep principles,
is of more use than no theory. Even if you can't directly test it (and how
are you going to do experimental Big Bangs) it allows comparisons you can
make with other proposed theories.

>how do you propose it could be tested? What methods are there to (try
>to) falsify this theory of yours?

There are ethical problems with experiments provoking wars so that's
probably out. :-)

Predictions can be made. One theory about war is that when the proportion
of young men goes over some particular percentage, that causes war. China
is at or beyond the prediction percentage as a result of selective
abortion/infanticide. This theory says China will not attack neighbors as
long as their income per capita is rising. (They can still go into war
mode as a result of *being* attacked of course.) We could also take a look
at income per capita trends and predict where there are going to be problems.

The theory would have to be modified or thrown out if there are historical
examples of a population in "good times" mode, i.e., rising income per
capita and good future prospects, having a random upsurge of xenophobic
memes and going to war *without* being attacked. In favor of the theory is
the inverse correlation of neo-nazi memes/activity and economic prospects
in the US. If you could get good data, the timing lag would be a good
number to know.

The theory requires psychological *mechanisms* implemented in neural
hardware, that are ultimately the results of genes. Chimps act enough like
humans (genocide of neighbors) that they probably share the psychological
mechanism and (versions of) the underlying brain genes. Bonobos might
not. They have not (so far) been observed carrying out genocidal attacks
on neighboring groups. (Which brings up the question of how bonobo
populations are ultimately limited?) Genetic comparison of human, chimp
and bonobo for genes active in brain construction might be useful.

Failing to find evidence of the mechanisms would certainly throw the theory
into doubt.

My guess is that some clever fMRI work would show that there is a mechanism
for inhibiting rational thinking when other modes were in the gene's
interest in the EEA. "Gain" on the spread of xenophobic class memes might
be shown this way too, though I don't know exactly how.

To tie this back into being on topic, it is going to be hard enough for FAI
to emerge in humans who are not in "war mode." "Friendly" wouldn't be
high on the list for researchers in war mode. Consider the Manhattan

Keith Henson

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