Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Guns & Levels of Selection

This week there's been a lot of talk again about gun control.  I really don't think there is enough social trust present to make any movement on this front a starter. Anything and everything just entrenches.

Brett Weinstein had a pretty good twitter storm on it
While Brett's utilitarianism (including black swan events) is one way to look at the issue, another is via cultural evolution theory - specifically the multi-level selection approach.

Evolutionary transitions require three things

  1. extreme dependency
  2. coordination
  3. conflict minimization.
While people aren't "evolving" into a spatially separated symbiotes, we continue to be subject to ephemeral evolution between larger and smaller group levels.  Basically, human groups are torn between near equal fitness advantage between group oriented altruism and self-sacrifice, and individualistically oriented self-interest and freeloading.

Analyzing the gun debate as a levels of selection question is productive.

The rule of law makes people dependent upon the state. Disarming everyone empowers criminals and creates extreme dependency toward the state.  This factor favours an (ephemeral) evolutionary transition to a cosmopolitanesque state.

I'm not sure how gun laws enable greater coordination.  I don't think they do.  Solving the problem of intra-state violence is not coordination. Usually coorindation enables an organism to outcompete other non-coordinated organisms.  Will a theoretically lower level of gun violence enable better competition between nation states?  Doubtful.

New gun laws may minimize conflict.  The data is still uncertain here.  In my mind, the arguments boil down to "herd immunity" vs. "just one life saved".  

The herd immunity argument suggests a certain percentage of gun carries and users increases crime threshold costs.  If you never know whether your victim is armed, there is always a risk that crime costs will be very high.  I think the second amendment defence against tyranny argument boils down to the same thing.

The "just one life saved" argument is standard in the mainstream media.  There is no real purpose for guns for most people.  Hunting requires simple single shot rigs.  Therefore any personal enjoyment firearms bring are more than offset by their costs.

Because I think the data is still out on whether gun laws actually increase or decrease conflict levels, I don't think this one can be adjudicated.  Guns may increase the severity of violent acts, but they don't eliminate violence (car ramming & bombs vs. shootings)*.

From a levels of selection point of view, gun laws increase dependency, do nothing for coordination - at least in any sense that matters evolutionarily, and have an uncertain effect on conflict minimization.  For these reasons, I suspect the US gun issue will not be solved. It doesn't meet the basic components necessary for an evolutionary transition.  Because of this, it is very unlikely that people will "feel it resonating".  You will certainly continue to have an elite class that feels very strongly about it.  Perhaps that is a pre-cursor necessary to seed the transition landscape.  Richerson has an interesting paper out at the moment tangentially related to this issue.  

At some point the gun issue may get tied to a real coordination and conflict minimization solution.  Unfortunately, I don't think this is where things are right now.  Because of this, I think the gun debate is a non starter and will only serve to further polarize and embitter US political discourse.  The morality on either side is so spandrel led on this issues, no ground will be given.  

But this is also why I really fear authoritarianism on the gun issue is likely to be the spark of the second US civil war.  My main hope is that there will be another convention of the states that will put this issue to rest. Without a clear rule of law on this front, bickering and authoritarianism will just spiral out of control...

 *I think suicide is a completely different class of discussion from violent acts against other people.  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Cultural War Dopplegangers

Few useful cultural tools go unreplicated.  This is especially true for cultural weapons.

There is little doubt that "climate denier" and global warming have been polemicized and weaponized.  This isn't to deny the reality of climate change, nor understate its importance.  But it does suggest there are "rational" reasons people may "oppose" some of the policies which surround it.  Scott Adams often tries to make this distinction (without much success to my mind).  David Friedman had a popular critique (?heresy?) as well.

From the cultural weapons lens, what matters isn't the evidential minutae, but that the topic functions a cudgel for in-group out-group norming.  Global warming is, for all practical purposes, sacralized.  Questioning it, even to improve the accuracy of the science, has been intersectionalized with political ramifications.

I have a sneaky feeling quantitative social coherence modelling is primed for weaponization as well.  Quantitative evolutionary population genetics is clearly in the targets of social progressives.  This is illustrated by some one-off cases:

  • The google Damore case (there are sex related differences at the aggregate population level)
  • Eric Weinstein (evolutionary biology has a lot to say about how to "do" equity)

It is also supported by the outright animosity "studies" departments have with respect to biology.

Cultural evolution has models. Climate change has models.  For laymen, as crazy it it sounds, this gives them the same "air" of credibility.  There is little doubt the climate is warming.  There is little doubt that societies with low asabiyah (social coherence capital) implode.  What is important is that both can be superficially understood with common sense.  This makes disagreement seem irrational.

Both environmental change and social coherence are coded in at the genetic level.  These are some rather foundational things human groups have to worry about.

For the last few decades the left has had exclusive control over anti-science memes.  Genetically modified food and anti-vax'ers have been about all the right has been able to muster to counter things.  Neither has been very successful.  Lots of "right-leaning" conspiracy theorists are also ant-vax'ers.  The GM thing also has a fairly shady history (cane toads anyone?).

But now, as the culture war heats up, it seems as if the right is rallying to foil the one-sided weaponization of anti-science memes.  Actual accuracy is beside the point.  These are group weapons.

Evolutionary biology has emerged as one such tool.  Feminists and social justice zealots appear very sensitive to biological attacks.  While there is almost certainly less denial of the science than some might think, it is the connotations and possible extensions (e.g. eugenics) that force doubling down on some rather anti-science like positions.  Hence, the fervour around Damore & Weinstein.

The latest evolution of this landscape involves anthem sitting.  People at home usually don't stand nor quiet down for anthems. In the 50's this was certainly less the case.  So whether athletes stand or kneel during the anthem is mainly about group implications of the actions.

In this landscape Trump has goaded the left into doubling down on something than can be classed as an "anti-science" position.  The science is pretty clear that groups with low coherence fail.  This is as common sense a principle as global warming and CO2.

What matters is that people who say anyone should be free to disagree with any and all aspects of group norms and social cohesion are forced to take the ludicrous position that "anything goes".  This is the same logical space that climate deniers are forced into - saying nothing matters.  Both positions are obviously false.  But subtlety is rhetorically unfit.

"Deniers" have to fight a no-win rhetorical war. They have to say that their one exception doesn't matter.

  • Kneeling during an anthem is unimportant.  
  • This particular coal powered plant is unimportant.

Both these statements are true at the individual level.  Both are false at the aggregate level.  The aggregate measure they impact (global CO2 & social asabiyah) are important & scientifically demonstrable.

Thus, I think the right is going to latch onto the rhetorical power and memetic fitness of quantitative social cohesion and evolutionary biology.  While I suspect this may just even the battlefield (as per this research showing people are people), I also suspect weaponization will make the fight all the more dirtier.  After all, in a war, objective accuracy is subordinate to what gets you through the day.

So if you're on the left, get ready for people to start citing evidence on how social asabiyah (coherence capital) really does matter for state survivability.  Your argument that current levels of asabiyah are sufficient will fly about as well as the equivalent sentiment from climate "deniers".

While you may be temped to say say stalling CO2 levels will still result in temperature increases, can't the right also say the same thing about social capital stalls?  After all the simulations show a fair bit of momentum behind this as well.  In fact, the social simulations tend to be much more pessimistic.  Irreversible crashes are all but guaranteed....

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Emerging Secular Conversion Rituals

Religion has a variety of conversion terms.  Christian sects differ in what it is the person is actually accepting.  Catholics often accept a conglomeration of original sin, saving grace and submission to authority.  Evangelicals' born again experience mainly centres around acceptance of one's sinful state and faith in saving grace.  Mormon testimonies involve a spiritual experience that combines grace with acceptance of modern authority and revelation (Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith as a prophet).  Islam's seems related to acceptance of a strong positivism which includes Mohamed's divine role and the Koran.

Lately, the quasi-religious nature of secular moralized-politics have reproduced the same dynamics.  Its "red pill" vs. "privilege".  While communities haven't fully ritualized these experiences, the process is certainly underway.  How will the stack up?


The alt-light's conversion experience is often called "taking the red pill". If you don't get the reference, watch The Matrix.

The Red Pill meme was popularized within the men's right movement. Generalized usage has expanded in the last 6 months.  This seems to coincide with liberal backlash against free speech restrictions and far left violence.  Thus, it coincides with liberalism's ongoing schism between radical socialism and classical libertarianism.  The fake news media meme has energy this situation.  After all, it doesn't take much first hand experience with main stream media to realize how inaccurate and self-righteously biased things are. Such realizations are increasingly branded as "a road to Damascus moment".

Such an "aha" moment seems to center around a coming of age with respect to informational independence.  In Fowler's old stages of faith theory, it probably sits at a level 4: disillusionment.  Information can't be trusted.  It seems to be almost immediately followed by a belief that the individual themselves must always be the final arbiter of "truth". Thus it promotes itself as a type of radical individualism.  Although in practice, most people's independence can be confused with naive acquiesce to classical libertarian group-thought.

My sense is that this most closely parallels mormonism "coming of age" ritualistic testimony experience.  It is biased for a radical type of individualism but is operationalized by highly groupish dynamics.  Mormonism's "testimony' conversion is, among Western religions, probably the least biased by an acceptance of original sin.  It is, instead, more biased towards an admittance of one's own personal faults.  Even then, the admittance of sin is often separated into an often distinct "born again" experience.

Red Piller's conversion seems to amount to an acceptance of their naivete and lack of independent discernment and lack of self-empowerment. Cassie Jayne's popular Red Pill documentary on Men's Rights is probably a good concise example too the phenomenon that avoids the misogynist vitriol associated with other popular portrayals.


Red Pilling is obviously different from privilege confessions: the radical left's focus on original sin or white guilt (which is more generalized as intersectional guilt).  As far as I can see, this dynamically parallel ritualistic experience centres around a personal and collective admission of guilt.  To my way of thinking this closely mirrors many elements of  Catholicism.

The privilege confession experience typically brings with it a strong appeal-to-authority dynamic.  There are professors and civil right's advocates who are well versed in the theories and skills needed to "detoxify" and limit other's "oppression".  Indeed, most of the theology of post modern "studies" departments centres around a systemic approach to this issue.  This creates a further parallel to Catholicism's own radical systemic theology.  This is in stark contrast to protestantism's individualism.  However, authority need not be limited to formal academic channels.  Stronger intersectional variations of this ritual involve accepting the de facto authority of any marginalized individual over one's self.  Often this is called "checking your privilege".  It is pejoratively referred to as "the oppression olympics".

It would be very interesting to see what current cultural evolution tools have to say about these competing culturgens.  Unfortunately that will have to wait.  Instead, some quick speculations about proselytization will have to suffice.  But, before I start, I had better confess my bias toward individualism... :)

I suspect "red pilling" is a good fit for America's protestant tradition with radical individualism.  You don't have to sell people on a single idea (confess your guilt, admit your power, bend your knee), you just have to ask them to think for themselves and investigate. Perhaps this explains some of Mormonism's higher conversion rate that Jehovah's Witnesses.  The former asks people to investigate and then ask God what is right.  The latter asks people to investigate from the scriptures what is most logical.  This strategy is much more of an appeal to an-authority approach.

Thus, I give "red pilling" a leg up on "privilege".  While there are certainly many people who prefer the certainty of authority or the self-flagellation of confession, I suspect the "find out for yourself" approach is easier to sell to non-extremists.

     Winner: Red Pill

Logical Structure
Privilege has a leg up on pseudo-scientific logic.  Because it has a well developed academic base and is currently optimized for a systemic theological world-view, it portrays a stronger sense of relative validity.  Red pilling is much like mormonism, you're simply asked to believe (or more accurately, disbelieve). The process is anything but linear and logically-structured.  Americans tend to reject over-structured social processes more than Europeans who seem to appreciate it.

The systematized nature of privilege gives it a leg up in hierarchical organizational structuring.  Levels of advancement are well-structured (prof, to tenured prof,  small community organizer to national organizer....).  Red pilling's only structure is pyramidal social network status.  Take Scott Adams for instance.  His popularity is largely based in his ability to persuade (or red pill) people.  Similarly with social media stars.  Their reach is a function of their conversion abilities (or perceived abilities to covert - for instance, I doubt Alex Jones converts many people, but adherents think of him as capable to do so if people would only listen...  There is lots of good academic stuff on the dynamics of true-belief zealotism in relation to conversions)

     Winner: Privilege

The ability to scale up either conversion ritual should radically affect its memetic success.  But, I don't think its possible to even theorize about which one works better.  It is a case of near equal fitness between two adjacent levels of selection: individualism and collectivism.  While environmental and societal conditions may affect relative rates of how the population as a whole responds, I don't think you can glean any information about how the process goes at the individual level.  I also suspect there is way too much noise at the societal level to guess what is a better fit.  The best one can say is that different types of people will prefer different approaches.  Those who have lost religion will probably need the homeostatic balance collectivist approaches offer.  Those who have strong community or religious ties, probably don't need more collectivist biased balance.


Costly Sacrifice
One of the insights from the science of religion is that high-commitment costs are associated with increased memetic virility.  Thus old Christian martyrdoms (in the arena and helping plague victims) were an important dynamical aspect in Christianity's rapid expansion.  On this front privilege definitely wins.  Red pill's main sacrifice involves sunk-costs.  However, privilege definitely has some costs - at least in theory.  Often costs accrue at the group level.  For example affirmative action has group costs.  Not speaking up in a meeting to give people of color space, has limited costs.  In practice I doubt many average adherents actually sacrifice jobs, college admission, or safety.  Of course, I could be wrong.

   Winner: Privilege

Never under-estimate the role of rebellion and prestige bias.  While self-sacrificial flagellation for the betterment of society as a whole is definitely a sign of elite status, as Peter Turchin shows, its also a good way for an elite class to keep the potential-elite class down.  As the costs of elite status increase, pseudo-elite impoverization increases.  They just can't keep up with the Joneses.

In some cases, full rebellion becomes cool.  Why pay so much for something that has little chance of ever working.  Why not change the rules?  I suspect Red Pilling has a leg up on Privilege here.  Privilege sets up a classic "race-to-the-bottom" competition.  Red Pilling doesn't.

Plus, Red Pilling has just the right amount of nebulousness.  Things that are well defined, like privilege academics, have greater potential universality.  But, in practice, things that are just a little bit ambiguous have more persuasion and memetic power.  Social simulations show tight rule bounds groups can't become as large as looser groups.

    Winner: Red Pill

Right now the packaging and branding of Red Pill experiences are probably on par with those of Privilege.  Perhaps because privilege has been around longer, it now seems to come across as a bit more of an ideology rather than as an experience.  Anyone who has watched a Q&A of a controversial social figure has probably heard audience members thanking a speaker for their role in "coming to terms with my own privilege", or "getting me started on the red pill".

While it may just be me, The Red Pill, seems more amenable to tight packaging.  Did you "take the pill", vs. "did you admit your privilege".  The former just seems more marketable - it is more visual and more concrete in the way baptism is more concrete than a profession of sin.

     Winner: Red Pill

Secular group movements often resonate around religious dynamics because of the fitness (genetic and memetic) of this cultural evolutionary solution.  It works for a reason, and this reason is minimally based on supernatural agents (for instance, moral big brothers are a functional non-supernatural replacement for many modern scenarios).

Interestingly enough, conversion stories on both sides of the hot culture war are concretizing. Full group membership may soon require such epiphanies.  The historical experiences of world religions are illuminating.  Groups that have successful group member recruitment strategies, tend, over time, to win confrontations.  This means there is high selection pressure for things which aid this drive.  The formalization of ritual is a proven strategy.  Rituals which afford the participant a chance at transcendence (a spiritual confirmation) are more medically fit and more individually significant. They provide a strong initiating and bonding experience.  The concrete nature of such experiences makes them easy to commodify and share.  In short, I'd be very surprised if any successful highly moralized group endeavour did not, over time, resonate around some type of conversion experience.

The parallels between protestantism and Catholicism are a bit uncanny.  This might be due to a limited number of wells within this cultural-cognitive landscape.  Or it might be an artifact of clear Protestant and Catholic traditions within North American society.  To me, the natural explanation seems more parsimonious than the historical explanation.  Nonetheless, religious insights offer some interesting ways of looking at what is currently happening in society.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Lack of Consensus About Assessment's Purpose

I've been attending a conference with Guskey.  One thing he mentioned got me thinking: what is the role of assessment in education.  He showed the standard list (something like this)

  1. info for parents
  2. info for students for self reflection / growth
  3. info for changes in teacher practices
  4. info for ranking and group selection
  5. info for systems level changes
  6. motivation for students
  7. creation of student responsibility.
Obviously teachers do not agree on the purpose of assessment.  They tend to be all over the map.  Is this a problem or not? 

To an instructional designer or educational reformer it certainly is.  But when you look at this question through a cultural multi-level selection lens, you get some interesting insights.  Rather than lack of coherence being a bug, sustainability over time suggests it is probably a feature instead (or at least a spandrel).

A Functional Analysis of Lack of Coherence
Homogeneous systems increase corruption pay offs.  In education this might mean that learning how to game the system can produce large pay offs.  Those who are quickest to determine gaming insights get the most benefit (minimal individual costs, maximal group benefits).  This is likely to lead to greater within group variance (the rich get richer, the poor get poorer).  On the other hand, lack of coherence makes corruption much harder.

One interpretation is that Western education operates in a landscape where within-group corruption is minimized.  Another interpretation is that education is a just a loosely coupled system where teachers are free to do whatever they want. I obviously don't think that reason holds up. Why has education stabilized at the degree of looseness it has.

But, functional reasoning is of course problematic. The main take-away is that evolutionary thinking generates very interesting questions and possible responses to questions that are otherwise hard to answer or are likely to give overly simplistic self-destructive answers.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Well Intentioned but Naive Polarization

Here is an example of well intentioned sentiment (violence is bad and thinking other people are inferior is nasty).

The problem is that the sentiment is rather naive of what is actually happening on the ground.  I certainly excuse politicians for this.  They get excoriated if they don't represent the right sentiment.  But, academically minded can and should do better.

The problem is, as I understand years of twitter feeds and youtube feeds, some of the protesters are protesting agains racism and demagoguery.  However, the racism they are protesting against is in terms of classical racism (based of skin phenotype) rather than new racism (based upon punch-down intersectionality).

How else do you explain "Nazi's" who are proud to have Jewish friends, who overtly stand against classical racism towards people of color, and rally around equality under the law, etc.  While there are certainly some (perhaps many) full on white supremacists, and while I fully understand the value of condemning anything associated with such movements, the problem is, statements like Notley's are likely to come across as exceptionally hollow to those who may have been protesting these exact things but are now condemned as deplorably racist Nazi's.

Thus the situation is sort of like how Evergreen professor Brett Weinstein was condemned as a racist for complaining against racism.  Perhaps the main difference being there was a crazy supremacist prof down the hall who did the same act for different reasons...and plans weren't in place for distancing and denouncing.  Perhaps that means the protestors are in fact soft of Nazi styled white supremacy.  That is a very logical point to consider.

My main worry isn't about how "Nazi" the group was - I think with current polarizations, accurate assessments would be hopelessly flawed.  My worry is that calling people racist who, in their minds, were protesting racism (even if just against whites) diminishes the social stigma of racism and creates a backlash that needn't have been created with a bit of wisdom.

But I certainly understand how people view the condemnation of anything associated with supremacist groups more valuable than any potential backlash.  I just worry that the backlash calculus has been underestimated and hence outcomes may strengthen rather than weaken racism.


I've long predicted that the popularization of privilege based identity politics would prove to be highly cancerous to civil society.  While the issue is now endemic to the US, there are likely still a number of turning points that need to be crossed before its (unintended) consequences fully metastasize.  #Charlotesville is one of those turning points.

For the unaware, alt-light groups have started trying to match the left's success at community organizing.  The Charlottesville protest centered on the removal of historical symbols.  Basically one side is purging history Taliban style in order to clean up the symbolic messaging government condones within the public sphere.  Obviously this hasn't gone well.  The car ramming is absolutely devastating both for the people killed and injured and for political discourse in the US.  Civil War, as I've long predicted is a real possibility.

I'm quite proud of Alberta's Cree nation approach to this same issue.  In Edmonton, rather than remove offensive illustrations of the traumatic Residential School era, they made offensive pictures into part of a larger story about the evolution of our people's understanding of Residential issues.  I have to say I was very proud of our Cree treaty partners in this regard.  Of course Cree philosophy evolved along a process philosophy line of thought which makes such approaches both likely and natural.  Good on them.

But US progressivism seems more inclined to follow a purge model rather than a multi-cultural model.  I won't speculate on cultural evolutionary reasons why this might be so.

Despite the popularization that all the marchers are Nazi alt-right white supremacists, such generalizations strike me just as hollow as the idea that protests involving antifa's automatically means all marchers were fascist rioters.  Both sides have their shock troops, their crazy troops and people with legitimate and often nuanced grievances.  Nazi's were prominent in the march, but unless one calls all white nationals Nazi's the crowds make-up and political intents are almost certainly more mixed than twitter and media mobs suggest.  For instance, I am certain to be labelled a Nazi for even suggesting this.  Think about what that implies for a moment...

Conveniently progressive doctrine has a solution - nuance in racism or any other sin doesn't matter.  Just like there is no legitimate way to draw the prophet Mohammed, from what I understand, Trumpish whites feel like they have no way to express or celebrate their identity.  From what I gather, they seem to feel their only permissible role is as a punching bag.  Social justice confession, and acquiesce to any and all intersectionality comes across as a new Nicene creed to which every knee must bend.  As a cultural evolutionist, I suspect this primes dynamics similar to those which occurred during medieval Christian-Barbarian confrontations.  Perhaps I'm wrong.  I doubt it though.

So, in an attempt to understand what is happening, here is my outsider sense of the sides...


My sense is that the alt-right and nazi groups represented in Charlottesville are probably better defined as nationalists than supremacists.  There are undoubtedly many supremacists mixed in.  But I confess ignorance here.  I have no interest delving into that world.  Nor would it be productive in our polarized world to tease out distinctions between direct supremacy and "failure to support-intersectional" de-facto supremacy.  Heck, even talking about these issues in a nuanced way is likely to get me labelled Nazi....  And people wonder why many scientists worry about the Stalinesque effects of political correctness has on academic discourse. and research....

But I suspect after Charlottesville, the minor racists will have to decide whether they are cursed no matter what and go full nazi, or purge for more mainstream positioning. I'm not sure which way they will go.  So the easy answer is to assume that the population will bifurcate.

To figure that out, here are the two competing narratives.  The car attack all but ensures narrative 2 has the moral high ground.

  1. These are people, almost certainly somewhat racist by todays standards, who are expressing a legitimate right to assembly.  They are protesting attacks against them and their history which are based upon their physical identities.  These attacks are verbal, job related (doxxing), economic (affirmative action discrimination and changes in government focus) and cultural.  They want individuals to have equal opportunities.  But ironically, group derived benefits are fine and should not be penalized.  Equality of group opportunities should not be forced.  If some groups are more successful than others, that is fine.  Group effects can accrue as long as individuals are not penalized (i.e.  classic affirmative action is fine - if there are two equal choices you're fine supporting your own group, but current affirmative action is wrong - by advancing a minority individual you necessarily penalize a majority individual).  Thus the protest is over their right to function as a group.
  2. These are supremacists who want to keep minorities down in order to maintain their own privilege.  They try to spin supremacy under a guise that "group-level benefits are fine". This is obviously problematic as it leads to or perpetuates systemic racism.  Worse than this, it leads to exponentially increasing systemic biases.  In exponential growth systems anything slightly racist is like a growth rate greater than 1. Hence, the validity of intersectional concerns.

Now I am not sure I fully captured each idea.  They both have logical problems.  But I did try to do justice to each side (at least using terms I understand).  What this does highlight though, is that the battle lines are likely to get drawn into a classic "individuals" vs. "group level" battle. 

Is the country a bunch of groups?  Or is it a bunch of individuals?  Both solutions are problematic.  I would hope groups as defined by phenotypical markers will be unstable.  It is incredibly racist in an #EvergreenStCol sort of way.  But I think it will take a long time for this to sink in.

I think the libertarian approach where everyone is an individual who is treated equally is problematic because group-level adaptations are natural and truly beneficial (for group members).  Because they are so beneficial they are inevitable.

Thus I think the current trajectory where a "white" majority is hindered from assembling and organizing remains likely.  The hypocrisy will frustrate this group immensely (from what I understand it already does).  Many will see the fight as an inevitable losing battle.  More and more will go suicidal because of this. Violence levels, like the car attack, will increase.  The other side will match the violence and polarization will increase.  A targeted-assassination level civil war will ensue.  A Trump removal from office (impeachment) or re-election will exasperate the conflict.  

Unfortunately I'm not sure of any valves that will prevent this from happening.  If the population can let "nazi's" march without violent attack, perhaps enough energy would be dispelled for the system to survive.  But I think the risk that such organization would get out of hand is too great a risk for the establishment / people to handle. 

Immigration and the creation of scarcity within commoners is another possible way to escape the civil war trap.  But as Turchin suggests, it is elite over-population rather than commoner immiseration which is the problem.  Immigration locks helped prevent the 1920's civil destabilization from getting out of hand.  But it was combined with elite class philanthropic competition.  I don't see that happening today.  The elite class is too large and nationalistic sentiment too low.

Thus, I am rather sad about what Charlottesville portends.  Not because it shows how many "Nazi's" there are.  But because I suspect there is no way out of the trap it reveals. The US seems incapable of escaping a purge-like mentality to social conflict.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fake News Science

One thing the Google Memo Gate is sure to do is make a lot of geneticists take a hard look at the post modernist social justice genie.

For instance you don't need to be a high-level population geneticist to spot the obviously fake news in this headline...
Of course those steeped into cult like dynamics of of this in-group may be blind to the hyperbole (the headline is just presenting the zeitgeist - type of rationalization).  Educated people who actively seek out alternative viewpoints and enjoy associating with people of different ideological perspectives are likely to have a fairly different perspective; The headline in no ways mirrors anything that the memo actually said and even a liberal "zeitgeist" interpretation can't reconcile the error.

The history of the social destabilizations of other Great Religious Awakenings shows that pluralism (re)emerges when people see the evilness ascribed by their priests as demonstrably false.  Pat walked 1km on the Sabbath and so must be absolutely evil.  GoogleMemoGate and EvergreenPurge are but two of the latest examples of this.  Well informed people who lean to heterodox interactions tend to see the banality in fire-and-brimstone sin ascriptions.  Simple interaction with the people under attack show sin implications to be patently wrong. Pat is a kind person who loves church and just likes to walk.

At some point the priests lose their authority.  At that point you either have a critical mass for pluralism or you have a critical number of zealots for a hot civil war.  It is really hard to predict which way our current Great "Religious" Awakening will go.  We have the education and social tools for another pluralistic solution.  But we also have hordes of people with little religious conditioning, no experience with inter-denominational conflict, and little hope of smoothly navigating sacred value breaches.

There is one thing that seems certain though, media priests keep walking themselves into insignificance. They are quickly becoming as impartial and trustworthy as The National Enquirer or The Daily Show.  The main difference is that the MSM has many more pockets of objectivity.  But the baby is getting thrown out with the bathwater.  Trump may have egged them on, but GoogleMemoGate shows social civil war lines are inevitable. You can't just keep your head down. Most every institution is subject to diversity priests (professional and lay). Social media ensures this is so.


Google fired an employee who sent out a memo based on a standard evolutionary social science explanation of differences between groups.  This class of argument doesn't change much whether the groups were determined arbitrarily, randomly, or via self-selection.  As usual Slate Star Codex does a good job explaining the science to a non-specialist audience.

Aside from the obvious take-a-way that we are indeed in the midst of a hot culture war and cold civil war, it is interesting to see:

  1. how this pushes the formation of adaptive groups (groups where members offer true protection to their in-group from any out-group attack, or more generally, offer a probabilistic fitness advantage over long-time frames)
  2. how important framing is for the way people understand the conflict.

I've talked for years about how essential a correct understanding of adaptive groups are in the study of human social dynamics.  It is very hard to understand such dynamics unless you invoke multi-level selection.  One can certainly argue that the ephemeral nature of human groups makes fitness based perspectives over-extended.  However, GoogleGate shows that a number of evolutionary biologists are realizing just how threatened their branch of science is to social justice activism.  As a result, you're seeing prominent figures pulling together against Blank Slate Post Modern religion.

I suspect we'll continue to see such dynamics increasing in intensity.  The well this creates was one of my big worries against the nascent trend to academic creed statements.  Because formal creedal statements will eventually be needed for full academic protection of many minority or non PC positions, the risks of catastrophic tribablization increase. This type of thing is just too destructive of social asabiyah.

Here's one way I see the importance of framing in terms of the dynamics around GoogleGate.  

Someone in your family says you can never be attractive because you take after parent X and are likely to have sever acne. Versus, let's figure out why some parts of our family have acne and see what we can do to figure the problem out.

The Google diversity memo strikes many as an overt attack which reinforces bigoted positions.  But it also strikes others as a valid attempt to understand the problems.  Large group problems are ideally confronted via a mixture of utopian transformation and pragmatism. Unfortunately, the stability of heterodox solutions are sensitive to social asabiyah and exquisitely sensitive to changes in social asabiyah.

While I suspect the memo arose in the context of finding a solution to gender disparity (via accurate strategical analysis), I don't think there's much question that this is not how the opening paragraphs framed things.  So I see both sides of things here.  There is really no way to pull the sides together.  One side is taking the path of utopian transformation (which is indeed necessary in social change).  The other side is taking the path of hyper-objectivity (which is indeed necessary for change sustainability).

Monday, July 31, 2017

When Diplomatic Nuance Resonates within a Liturgical Well

Diplomacy’s highly refined language and language norms seem culturally adaptive.  They minimize conflict by creating numerous language graduations. This enable groups to more easily understand each other.  This stands in direct contrast to Trump’s rather polarizing black-white “diplomacy”.  

Historical caricatures of the coutier era (16th to 19th c) make etiquette hyper-sensitivities easy to imagine. Of course, at that stage of cultural evolution such sensitivities certainly may have been required for the borderless world in which people lived.  Now that the idea of the nation state is taken for granted (i.e. the cultural evolution of the idea has stabilized and selection of requisite behavioural norms has become broad & deep enough to surpass criticality) and the cold war is over, I wonder to what extent hypersensitive-etiquette is still needed?

Are current world leader hyper-etiquette levels now mainly: 
  • an artifact that enables class delineations (i.e. keeps common riff raf like Trump from jumping into governance circles)?  
  • a cheap way to further minimize conflict risks, albeit with lower marginal gain rates that once occurred?
  • a spandrel of evolutionary tendencies which select for significance-loading?

LITURGY  (i.e Significane-Loading)
Religion tends to evolve rituals highly imbued with meaning. A change from a one deacon sacramental act to three deacon sacramental act can leave parishioners contemplative about intended meanings.  Just think about the depth of symbolism associated with smoke in the Catholic faith.  Or the order of colours in a plains Indian medicine wheel.  

Of relevance here is the interesting psychological finding that monkeys and other animals tend to copy the intent of an observed action while humans tend to copy seemingly meaningless actions.  Functionalistic evolutionists seem keen to find adaptive reasons which can explain why this might be so.  Since I don’t like functionalist post-facto reasoning, I have little interest in why this might be the case.  I’m content accepting that it is the case.

Hyper-active agent detection systems synthesize casually unrelated items to produce plausible explanations.  Once a set of (real or non-real) causal-links achieve a memetically optimal solution, changes to the parts (actually significant or not to the causal solution) become potentially noteworthy.  After all, its not the intent that is copied, but rather, the minute of the parts are copied and then an intent is re-deduced.

But, the evolutionary landscape of religion suggests even more.  People seem inclined to need a certain “depth” to their belief.  Beliefs can’t be too simple, nor too obfuscated. They can’t have just one layer, nor can they have impenetrable depth.  Basically, case study analysis shows that over time religions stabilize at a place where ritual and ritual associated acts are ascribed great depth.  The way we copy information suggests that even potentially insignificant points can be ascribed great significance when they are changed, omitted or introduced.  The sacralization of mimetically fit rituals ramps up the potential significance of any change. Even minor changes could ruin divine perfection.  And who is to know what unintended consequences our own vanity/hubris could unleash via the butterfly effect.  Only God knows.  From an evolutionary perspective, one would probably just say people are very sensitive about norm breaking in group endeavours, especially highly sacralized highly implicit norms which are designed to ferret out free-loaders and out-groupers.

Now I am not going to say that diplomacy is a spandrel of memetic well (specifically the co-evolutionary fitness of significance-loading).  Rather, my point is a more nuanced.  

Once diplomacy is fairly settled and real conflict is fairly unlikely, people still seem to have a desire for highly nuanced highly significant diplomatic language and affects.

What are the chances of Germany and the U.S. going to war?  Pretty slim.  So why do we need sophisticated diplomatic language?  I suspect there is a reasonable amount of wire-tapping going on.  People are not clueless about the other side’s interests.  It is fairly easy to understand each other in relation to things that matter.  Maybe nuance can help a few trade deals here and there, but I suspect fairly frank language would, in most cases, work just as well. The chances of war-level offence occurring if the wrong adjective is chosen is probably pretty small.  Trump is, of course, testing this out, much to the chagrin of many elites and wanna-be elites on both sides.

Rather, what I am suggesting is that people like their leaders’ affects to convey a sense of liturgical depth; a sense of sacred significance ascribed to a certain percentage of actions, to a certain percentage of language.  

My sense is that this is one of the reasons Obama was so loved.  He conveyed the right sense of gravitas.  His eloquence mixed with an affect of searching for just-the-perfect-phrase perfectly conveyed this.  There was something more to what he said. There is something less to what Trump says.  Perhaps true.  Perhaps not.

Do we really fail to understand what Trump is saying? From the hate levelled his way, it would seem people understand enough.  The hate isn’t about uncertainty.  Their is purposeful mockery of the lack of linguistically precision.  Mockery of gestures which really do seem to convey at least as much information as any well-crafted verbiage.  They is a hate of brutish frankness.  Perhaps it is because brutishness is truly offensive and can really cause wars.  But perhaps it is just because such affects are simply uncouth, boorish and ugly.  In essence, they are too coarse and so overstate things that could be understated while conveying similar-enough ideas.  One is yelling in your ear, the other is saying, excuse me, would it bother you to….

This is certainly likely.  But what I also wonder is if people have a natural tendency for liturgical depth do elite classes operate within this landscape in such a way as to produce clear delineations between those that can be entrusted with leadership (the elites) and those that can not (the commoners).  In other words, does it evolve into a demurrer of a priest class that supposedly has the training and skills to successfully navigate inter-group relations?

So let’s recap and take a look at our data points.  People have:
  • A seemingly natural tendency for elite class to resonate around discernibly different behavioural expressions
  • A natural tendency for religious ritual to be imbued with extra significance
  • Diplomatic affect & language as a successful tool to minimize inter-group conflict.

My sense is that diplomatic affect, a fully rational solution to inter-group conflict minimization is subject, like anything, to the natural tendencies just listed.  As politics becomes more religiousized (& polarized), I’m not sure why it should escape the dynamics associated with moralized adaptive groups?  

Those dynamics suggest hypersenstized in-group out-group demarkers.  These demarkers are more about internal policing than they are about external relations.  However, they do limit who gets to lead out-group relations.

This leaves some questions which I don’t think are really answerable (without just-so functionalism).  Do we “want” superfluous depth because:
  • it just feels right
  • it is a good way to distinguish true elites from forgeries
  • it minimizes the risks of uneducated brutish commoners starting inter-group conflicts
  • it is a small cost add-on which can further reduce inter-group conflict probabilities
  • it feels like the right memetic solution because it produces the right amount of mystique
  • the right amount of mystique it creates eventually produces priest-like dynamics which is probabilistically fit evolutionary success formula (i.e. it usually produces adaptive groupings)

Regardless of the answer to his functional question, I don't see how we can reject the idea that our religious tendencies bias us toward imbuing important inter-group relational rituals with extra depth and significance.  The bias effect may produce "just the right" amount of diplomatic sophistication. But, in a world where nations, especially Western ones understand each other really well and where existential conflict is increasingly unlikely, perhaps it biases us past what is needed?

Perhaps this produces minor gains for fairly inexpensive increases in affect nuance.  But perhaps it produces religious-like dynamics that we post facto rationalize as necessary where in fact a much rougher job would be just as good?