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

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat Nov 13 2004 - 15:48:05 MST

At 12:35 AM 13/11/04 -0500, you wrote:

>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
>> >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_.

The most spectacular depletion I can think of is the plants taking
virtually all the carbon dioxide out of the air.

>Even as recently as a few hundred years ago in

To evolutionary psychology, nothing since the introduction of agriculture
is significant. With extremely rare exceptions, there just has not been
enough time for selection to take place. Evolution is a *slow* process for
animals with generation times in decades. 100,000 years is just getting

>disease was by far the major killer of
>humans who didn't live to, say, 40.

Disease as we know it in historical times is largely a side effect of large
communicating populations. A world of hunter gatherers was not infested
with measles for example. (Measles came from cattle IIRC and is not
sustained in small populations.) Large populations are a direct result of
agriculture. Farmers pushed out hunter gatherers because (if it were
suitable for farming) a given area of land could support a hundred times a
many farmers as it did hunter gatherers.

>Food and
>water have only rarely been so scarce as to
>trigger widespread die-offs,

That depends on what you mean by "rarely." Human generations times are
such that you would expect die-offs from whatever cause to be some multiple
of generation times just to give the population a chance to build back

Results 1 - 10 of about 530,000 for famine europe.

What happened to the Mayan people is instructive as well as similar events
that happened in the American Southwest, where a war mode response to
shortages depopulated a huge area.

>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.

Results 1 - 10 of about 18,700 for Yanomamo

Take the Yanomamo as an example. They aren't entirely hunter gatherers
since they raise a substantial fraction of their food in gardens. Today
disease rapidly killing them off. But before they had a lot of contact
with the rest of the population war between the villages was a more
important source of mortality.

>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),

That does happen. The Irish potato famine 150 years ago can be cited as an
example. The mechanism, by requiring a time for xenophobic memes to build
up, says that a disaster which comes on fast won't provoke a war.

>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.

Hmm. By tying the trigger mechanism to changes in "income per capita" or
game and berries in the days when that was the measurement of economic
activity, this is economics.


>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.

Do you have any cites for this? I have read widely and not seen it.

>>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.

Once the human line started using stand off hunting methods, even back to
hand axes, injuries don't seem to be that common. The exception might be
the Neanderthals who most likely didn't contribute to our genetics.

>>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.

Possibly you are correct.

Keith Henson

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