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

From: Randall Randall (
Date: Fri Nov 12 2004 - 22:35:43 MST

On Nov 12, 2004, at 7:23 PM, Keith Henson wrote:

> At 06:34 PM 11/11/04 -0500, you wrote:
>> At 12:36 PM 11/11/04 -0700, David Clark wrote:
>> If anyone on the list thinks David has enough understanding of the
>> relevant subjects to be worth continuing this thread I might do so.
>> Keith Henson
> Randall Randall responded off list and when asked said I could quote
> him here.
> >I'm not sure that this is an SL4 topic, but from
> >this layman's viewpoint, he seems to point out
> >what kind of evidence your hypothesis would require,
> >and that it seems lacking.
> >
> >I really think he's made a good case that there
> >may have been no particular selection pressure
> >in this direction, since resource depletion is a
> >distinctly modern (last few thousand years) issue.
> I suspect you and perhaps David just have not thought about this much.
> The *general* problem of living things depleting resources goes back
> to shortly after life arose. It's a mathematical property of anything
> capable of replication.

It's true that I have not thought about this much,
however, I'd like to clarify my understanding of
this. Most of my limited knowledge of this area
comes from works such as _Guns, Germs, and Steel_.

Even as recently as a few hundred years ago in
Europe, disease was by far the major killer of
humans who didn't live to, say, 40. Food and
water have only rarely been so scarce as to
trigger widespread die-offs, and if you look at
places on Earth in the twentieth century where
they were scarcest, you still don't see humans
as other humans' primary cause of death, but
rather, disease and malnutrition.

I think that in looking at cases where humans
as a group began killing or attacking other
humans, you've failed to notice the much more
common cases where humans quietly resigned
themselves to less, or had their population
reduced by disease, lack of resources (directly),
etc. That is, I believe you're a victim of a
selection effect, here, because of a focus on
figuring out why humans attack others. The
conditions which you have determined give rise
to these behaviors fail to do so in the majority
of cases, so I would hesitate to assign to them
any kind of causal mechanism.

I think that economics (in the broad sense of
the study of why humans behave as they do) is
probably a more likely field to produce the
answers you're looking for.

> Trying to find the "mama bear" quote, I found that I had already
> discussed this point back in May, here specifically:
> <begin quote>
> But the idea that human line groups killed off neighbors as a regular
> feature of life long enough to select for a survival response genes
> when things start to get tight . . . . . I wonder if humans generally
> have emotional censors to reject such an idea. Perhaps such thoughts
> conflict in with our view of ourselves--at least as that view has been
> shaped by times of relative plenty.
> [Editorial note, I now am wondering if rejecting thinking about this
> subject might be due to _wired in_ censors, the kind that keep people
> from thinking any more than they absolutely have to about their own
> mortality.]
> "Global maturing" may be a lot harder if censor biases keep us from
> thinking about this class of knowledge.

Even if your hypotheses are correct, I wouldn't
expect anything like "global maturing" due to
rational ignorance.

> Then again, perhaps humans differ in some way from bears and they
> didn't overfill the environment during the stone age or they had some
> other way to control populations that didn't involve groups killing
> each other.
> <end quote>

I thought it was clear that the vast majority of
humans in the stone age died of disease or
complications from minor injuries which would be
only a nuisance today.

> Human's generally don't have twins like bears, but in a primitive
> environment the typical woman is pregnant or nursing from late teens
> to early 40s. Five to six kids is typical. Just like bears, on
> average only two of them will survive to reproduce (given a constant
> environment, which includes technology). And typically 40% of the
> adults in present day hunter gatherer groups die from violence.

But comparatively few births reach adulthood, and
even so, I question whether "violence" here includes
getting mauled by a hunted animal.

> I know bringing in bad news about our evolved psychological traits is
> not a popular role, heck, I find the subject really depressing, but
> someone has to do it because we really need to understand ourselves
> better if we are going to survive into the Singularity.

I don't think there's any particular hope of a
widespread understanding of human psychology in
this detail before the singularity.

Randall Randall <>
Property law should use #'EQ , not #'EQUAL .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:50 MDT