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

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat Nov 13 2004 - 16:50:23 MST

At 11:41 AM 13/11/04 +0200, Mikko wrote:

snip (Randall)

>If you are interested in this subject, you should take a look at "Constant
>Battles" by Steven LeBlanc. I'm currently reading on the book and it tells
>a lot about the constant warfare that people have been going through for a
>long, long time.

Excellent author, read his previous one, have not been able to find a copy
of this more recent one.

>For example, in many (most?) stone age tribes living
>nowadays, 25% of all males die of warfare. It would also seem that times
>of peace (within stone age people, and before) have only occurred in
>history when there has been much fewer people than resources.
>On the other hand, as far as I've read, it does not seem to suggest total
>kind of warfare in those troubled times. Rather the battles that occur
>within bands tend to be small and often nobody gets killed. It's just that
>when you sum up the losses through a persons life you get a large amount
>of casualties.

It depends. LeBlanc describes the total extermination of something like 23
out of 27 groups in the Southwest following a weather upset about 1260
which took place over a fairly short time.

>So if these findings are true, then it definitely invalidates the old myth
>of the 'golden age' of human kind when all was good, etc. It also
>invalidates Keiths claims, since the bands and tribes tend to fight
>constantly and suffer small losses all the time and not in a suicidal

I think people who fought with intent to suicide in the stone age were
rare. The worse case, your tribal males are killed and the women made into
extra wives for the winners is looking at it from a *gene's*
viewpoint. That still better than all copies being lost from
starvation. But the possibility of getting killed was (as you note) very
real. So genes would be favored that build psychological mechanisms to be
optimistic, even stupidly optimistic, about the chances of winning. I
think that is with us to this day.

>I would also suggest that some ways of testing Keiths hypothesis is to
>take a look at the record of stone age tribes we know about and how they
>act. And to take a look at historical and archeological record. Does it
>seem true that people go for this sort of suicidal rampage? I don't see
>that when I look at history, so it would be nice, if you (Keith) can come
>up with specific examples of that happening.

See above. I do seem to have a problem explaining "selfish gene" type

>Keith Hanson wrote:
> > Until I was motivated to figure it out by having a cult spend a ton of
> > money harassing me, I had no idea that humans might have these buried
> > psychological traits that could be called forth to make them monsters
> > under certain conditions. In those days I was baffled by the news of
> > various horrors like Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, Nazi Germany and the
> > like. Now I feel I understand the deep evolutionary origins of these
> > events.
>I lived the first 18 years of my life in a cult and saw people doing some
>pretty nasty things to people. Now I don't think the actions were a result
>of evolutionary (genetic) behavior patterns. I find it much more plausible
>that they would be of memetic kind.

The specifics of any particular cult I agree are memetic variations. The
*susceptibility* to cults is a side effect of evolved psychological traits
such as attention rewards (same as the susceptibility to addictive drugs).

>Religions are good at that; they tend to create a system, which is
>uncriticisable and gives certain people (the cult leaders) power to
>control a lot of things within the system. It is the existence of
>uncriticisable premisses that allows all those montrosities to happen. Now


>evolutionary origins are needed in explaining them. (Which doesn't mean
>that they don't exist, but we should go for the simplest explanation á la
>Occam's Razor, right?).

I disagree. Especially when you see things like 'nad clipping cults or
drug addiction that are *clearly* not going to be favored by evolution,
there is a dire need to understand what's going on. Knowing how these
traits came to be might not *solve* the problem, but it should save you a
lot of wasted efforts.

>In addition you guys should all remember that one of the things that
>general intelligence is about: it's about being able to respond to a
>situation, not in a hardwired way, but by analyzing the situation and
>creating the best answer based on our perception of reality. This means
>that emergence of general intelligence in humans has necessarily seen lots
>and lots of genetically defined responses to things disappear.

That's hardly the consensus of the people in the field. You start probing
brains with fMRI and social interactions and *all sorts* of specialized
modules show up. Cognitive responses are just way too slow if they can
work at all. Consider the social graces of autistics if you want an
example of just how poorly general cognitive are compared to specialized
modules. We can use them if we absolutely have to, but as the AI work to
date has shown, the more general something is the poorer it works.

>And that from the time that memetic evolution became possible, it became
>very, very unlikely for any behavioral changes such as those you are
>talking about, to become from genetic origins. After all, if there was a
>mutant with beneficial behavioral patterns, others not having that gene
>would be able to mimic him and the mutated gene would get no benefit to
>its fitness.

Memetic evolution became possible at least 2.6 million years ago from the
evidence of broken rocks. But for most of that time progress was extremely
slow, which gave evolution a chance to enlarge brains by a factor of 4 and
work in who knows how many psychological traits.

If you have not read him, William Calvin is good on the same scale as LeBlanc.

Keith Henson

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