RE: There is No Altruism

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri Mar 25 2005 - 10:30:55 MST

At 08:51 PM 24/03/05 -0800, you wrote:
>Keith wrote


> > Well, how do you account for the evolution of traits where one animal does
> > something for the benefit of another? Consider bees rather than humans to
> > work it out. That's how Hamilton first understood the origin of altruism.
>We do have the examples of people choosing instant
>impending death or torture, just in order to benefit
>others. We can't---thankfully most people here agree
>---torture the language by calling this anything but

The existence of behavior fitting the definition of one individual doing
something for benefit of another is unquestioned. The problem is how the
psychological mechanisms behind such behavior came to have evolved.

Now some of them are obvious, such as bears nursing cubs. Obviously the
genes of those who did not feed the cubs become less common over time. The
harder cases to understand are social insects, "helpers at the nest" in
birds, and vampire bats. But all of these are now understood. (In fact,
the reciprocal altruism mechanism involved in vampire bats was figured out
*before* the bat behavior was found.)

>But memes affect people strongly (duh), and can take
>over to the point that people do lots of things that
>are "unnatural". Yet we have evolved just this ability
>to be controlled by memes, and many people here have
>testified that they'd die for rather abstract reasons.
>What about this?

It is a good thing you are asking now instead of a few years ago.

Hominids lost serious predation a *long* time ago. Like every other animal
lacking predators, the population of our ancestors periodically exceeded
the food supply. When it was possible, our ancestors moved over the
horizon--which is why virtually every possible niche on the globe was

When the entire ecosystem for social primates was filled up and hard times
were looming, a behavioral switch (activated by the perception of a bleak
future) turned up the "gain" on the circulation of xenophobic (hating
others) memes in the tribe, and eventually the hyped up warriors went out
to do or die against neighbors. Sort of having to be your own predator.

Repeat this process over a few million years and you get animals who are
peaceful most of the time, but sync up using memes (any will do) and kill
each other periodically.

Assuming no logic errors, this is the origin of the power memes have to
control people.

It certainly accounts for suicide bombers.

This view of humanity is not PC. Over the years I have taken a lot flack
(even from a Federal judge) for bringing up topics that humans are most
uncomfortable with. But you have to understand the most unpleasant facts
about our species if you want to do anything about them, or even stay out
of the way.

There is a 20 page paper on this topic that I am trying to have
published. If anyone wants a pre-pub copy they would comment on, ask me in

Keith Henson


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:51 MDT