Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War

Somebody (possibly Henson himself) posted Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War over at Kuro5hin in 2006. I had no idea Kuro5hin still existed, and Henson’s paper could use some consideration of group selection, but anyway it’s a worthwhile and controversial read.

It seems to me that if Henson’s basic thesis is right, our current global political situation is not just eerily similar to that of the mid-1930s, it’s actually the same phenomenon – so we better get it under control.

morale

Morale is more often than not the difference between winners and losers.

“That’s quite clear,” murmured the O’Keefe in my ear. “Weaken the morale—then smash. I’ve seen it happen a dozen times in Europe. While they’ve got their nerve there’s not a thing you can do; get their nerve—and not a thing can they do. And yet in both cases they’re the same men.”

It seems to me that bad morale has far more effect than good… you can believe in what you’re doing and still fail, but it’s vanishingly rare for someone with low morale to succeed. To do that you have to be a certain kind of bloody-minded, unstoppable curmudgeon, as inexorable as a glacier, which isn’t nearly as easy or as much fun as being a high-spirited and confident person.

India re-legalizes santhara

Jainism is arguably the oldest religion continuously practiced by mankind. Arguably, because Hindus say their tradition is older, and will often claim that Jainism is merely a splinter sect of Hinduism. Jains typically disagree, but Jains are non-violent and nominally atheists – so they don’t get a lot of respect from the violent theists that control most of the world. In any case both religions are so ancient that their origin stories are unlikely to have escaped embellishment by later generations.

Anyway, the BBC is reporting that India’s Supreme Court has revoked their earlier decision that made it illegal to voluntarily stop eating and drinking as a spiritual practice. Since this is often the only avenue a bedridden, terminally ill person has to gain release from incessant suffering, I have to applaud.

James Mickens in Norway

“In this bleak, relentlessly morbid talk, James Mickens will describe why making computers secure is an intrinsically impossible task. He will explain why no programming language makes it easy to write secure code. He will then discuss why cloud computing is a black hole for privacy, and only useful for people who want to fill your machine with ads, viruses, or viruses that masquerade as ads. At this point in the talk, an audience member may suggest that Bitcoins can make things better. Mickens will laugh at this audience member and then explain why trusting the Bitcoin infrastructure is like asking Dracula to become a vegan. Mickens will conclude by describing why true love is a joke and why we are all destined to die alone and tormented. The first ten attendees will get balloon animals, and/or an unconvincing explanation about why Mickens intended to (but did not) bring balloon animals. Mickens will then flee on horseback while shouting ‘The Prince of Lies escapes again!'”

RMS is online

Richard Stallman finally figured out a way to get online that was ideologically acceptable.

…he now connects to websites from his own computer – via Tor and using a free software browser. Previously, he used a complicated workaround to more or less email webpages to himself. The announcement brought a surprised gasp and a round of applause from the 300-plus attendees.

“At one point, I used to believe that the Firefox trademark license was incompatible with free software, I found out I was mistaken – it does allow the redistribution of unmodified copies,” he said.

Fearlessness is not Bravery

Bravery lies in conquering fear. Fearlessness is a disability, although it’s one you can often leverage to good effect. Total fearlessness is indistinguishable from utter stupidity.

“A lot of people think Mohawks aren’t afraid of heights; that’s not true. We have as much fear as the next guy. The difference is that we deal with it better. We also have the experience of the old timers to follow and the responsibility to lead the younger guys. There’s pride in ‘walking iron.’” —Kyle Karonhiaktatie Beauvais (Mohawk, Kahnawake)

Advice from the Buddha

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “Monks, one who has not fully known & fully understood conceit, whose mind has not been cleansed of it, has not abandoned it, is incapable of putting an end to stress. But one who has fully known & fully understood conceit, whose mind has been cleansed of it, has abandoned it, is capable of putting an end to stress.”

People are
   possessed by conceit
   tied up with conceit
   delighted with becoming.
Not comprehending conceit, they come to becoming again.
But those who, letting go of conceit,
are, in its destruction, released,
conquering the bond of conceit,
   go beyond
 all bonds.

As Mimi told me, “being focused is just remembering what you really want.”

Group dynamics and prototype theories of cognitive neuroscience

Humans are pack animals. They need to gather according to shared traits and then see an enemy of everyone who does not fit.

— Some geeky guy on Slashdot.

Computer scientists are taught classical categorization, which has little correspondence to how our brains actually categorize. The Aristotelian “necessary and sufficient” check-lists of traits, on which we’ve built giant monoliths of computer code (hello, Active Directory) and theory (hello, cladistic phylogeny) are something like the phlogiston theory; a bluntly workable model, that lets you get things done, but also fundamentally wrong, and thus a limitation on what can be understood and predicted.

Research that’s been ongoing since the 1960s or earlier, by people like Eleanor Rosch and Paul Kay, and later George Lakoff and Ronald Langacker, has provided significant amounts of data showing our brains do not assign people to us/them categories because they have a set of traits that we’ve understood and identified. In neurological reality, we assign people to categories based on how closely we think they resemble one or more prototypes, which might be real people (a group leader, typically) or an idealized belief or perception of how men and women should be. The prototype can be fixed (like, say, Jesus) or constantly changing (like, say, a political candidate).

There will always be someone in the group who least resembles the prototype, so there is always a scapegoat available if there’s not enough food or someone needs to take the blame for some unavoidable accident. There may also be anti-prototypes and whoever most resembles that person is less “in the group” than someone who is otherwise the same but lacks these correspondences with the anti-prototypes.

In a strange way this confirms one of Cipolla’s famous “basic laws of human stupidity“; since we’ve evolved a categorization method that mainly serves to quickly identify who gets thrown off the sled when the wolves are catching up, of course there will always be more than enough people to fill that role. If you need a scapegoat, you’ll always be able to identify someone as the stupid person responsible; our brains are biased to work that way.

The problem with privilege metaphors

It seems to me that we are all the recipients of unearned privilege. You were formed in the womb of your birth mother, to her great discomfort and inconvenience; and obviously nothing you did yourself made you worthy of this privilege – it was a gift, literally the gift of life itself, that you received for free. You had already been a freeloading moocher for nine months before you were even born!

But not every birth is equal. Recent research claims that poverty diminishes mental capacities from birth. It’s fairly clear that the richer your parents and community are, the more unearned privileges you will eventually enjoy – for example, the children of Barack Obama enjoy vastly more privilege than the children of impoverished Arkansas sharecroppers, or the children of impoverished Native Americans on the Res.

Right Wing radio pundits like to split common people along color lines by screaming of “black criminality” and “black on black violence”, but criminality and violence correlate far more with poverty and lack of opportunity than with any skin color. Left Wing bloggers like to split common people on color lines by screeching “white privilege” – as though privilege did not correlate with wealth, and as if there were no privileged people of color.

These talking heads, Right and Left, are of their own free will servile to the ruling class. The .001% of humanity whose titanic wealth makes them immune to law would prefer that the rest of us split on color lines, gender lines, religion, anything that will keep us from uniting. If we could put aside our differences, it might interfere with the continuing concentration of the Earth’s vast resources into fewer and fewer hands – or even reverse that trend.

know the dream

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. offered this country a different kind of vision.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice offered a righteous resistance to oppression, by any means necessary, including lethal violence. The Weather Underground declared bloody war on the US Government and capitalism. The Panthers fought for a vision of equality that endorsed a racially separated nation.

But Dr. King marched with whites, and Jews, and with people so mixed that there was no place for them in a world of stark color-lines. He gave us a vision of a country where people’s opportunities were governed by the content of their character, and not by the color of their skin.

Sadly, Dr. King’s heirs aren’t as admirable. Their insistence on standing as gatekeepers of his legacy means that I can’t make a copy of the “I have a dream” video and host it on my site here. But I can link to a transcript, and to a Youtube video that probably will get taken down.

Every American should listen to this speech today. I’ve heard it dozens of times, and that’s not enough.

Dumb and Dumber

I am not so secretly amused by the emergence of the term “warmist“.

“Global warming” is a dumb name for a single, highly academic globally averaged measure of one of the many harmful effects of mankind’s pollution of our environment. Focusing on global warming is like focusing on smoke damage to your drapes during a house fire. Pollution is the problem to be solved.

The big polluters are very pleased that the rest of us are wasting time calling each other names instead of looking for a sensible common ground.

No “right to water” in Detroit

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes on Monday refused to block the city from shutting off water to delinquent customers for six months, saying there is no right to free water and Detroit can’t afford to lose the revenue.

Ever since a bunch of well-meaning idiots who don’t understand basic math or science (otherwise known as the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) declared that clean drinking water is a fundamental human right, activists have been trying to force people and organizations that provide access to safe drinking water to destroy themselves, apparently in the honest belief that inexhaustible supplies of safe water can be magically delivered to every single human being that might ever exist, free of cost, so it can’t matter if we wreck every existing system that actually provides water to people.

All these people have their hearts in the right place, I’m sure, but they have apparently misplaced their brains. The complex interweaving of ecosystems that makes up the terrestrial environment required to support the human race cannot sustain wholesale reallocation of water based on arbitrary human population densities; if a “right to water” actually existed, we’d eventually have to destroy huge swaths of riparian ecosystems in order to keep human desert-dwellers alive. Not to mention the collapse of every existing water allocation system – since they are all based on the idea that human beings will have to fight, work, or inherit wealth in order to obtain water.

The worst thing that could happen to these people (and everybody else) would be for them to succeed, condemning rich and poor alike to a global environmental catastrophe in the name of watering the poor.