poly: Evolution of morality

From: Steve Witham <sw@tiac.net>
Date: Wed Feb 11 1998 - 19:26:24 PST

>From: brin@cts.com (d.brin)
>Subject: Evolution of morality
>What is good for individual leaders? Suppression of criticism! Even if it
>leads to massive societal collapse! Witness Stalin, Saddam and nearly
>every other suppressive tyrant.

I think if you look at tyrants over large societies, the harem effect
vanishes, while if you look at small groups, the benefit of raw
criticism-suppression, even to the destruction of the group, vanishes.
I'm not sure there's a middle ground where both happen, especially
not if you want it to have been around long enough for an evolutionary
effect. There could be older primate pecking-order stuff that
*results in* criticism-suppression when smart humans act it out, but
a direct connection between criticism-suppression and evolutionary
benefit seems tenuous to me.

There are other evolutionary reasons for criticism-suppression. Preserving
culture against memetic drift over generations, for instance. Our cells
work very hard to limit changes to their DNA, by analogy, and with good

>suppress the very social mechanisms that would lead to civilization
>success! Hence the rarity of Periclean democracy, as opposed to that other
>product of Athens, the malignant Platonism that is used to justify despots.

Do you mean that this single genetic effect (criticism-
suppressing leaders with harems) alone accounts for ("hence") the rarity of
Periclean democracy?

Before, the social mechanism you were talking about was criticism. In
this paragraph you talk about democracy. Do you see the two as synonymous?
Related? How?

Democracy as I see it has certain criticism-squelching and
-diverting qualities. Is a certain style of managed criticism (i.e. with
encouragement + regulation) what you like about democracy?

> Ironically, free speech has justifications that are entirely pragmatic
>-- e.g. error avoidance. But free speech will only be defended with
>PASSION if we use Platonist propaganda methods, calling it a fundamental
>and religious principle. What an irony!

Do you mean that *others* will only be passionate if *we* use these
methods? If so, am I one of the "we" or one of the others? Assuming
I deserve a reasoned answer, do you really think propaganda that bypasses
the reasons has a lasting useful effect on...those other people we're

>Ironically, neither side has yet proved its point. Both can cite a myriad
>anecdotes, showing examples of either memic-poisoning or surprising degrees
>of conceptual strength. The jury is still out with this one...

I wouldn't give kids AIDS, say, to strengthen their immune systems.
It's not clear that "the jury" needs to decide between all-exposure or
all-caution--for kids, anyway.

>We must
>push human rights in foreign lands FOR OUR OWN SAFETY'S SAKE...

I agree with the goal... but what do you mean by "push?"

>Centrifugal forces, necessary in order for T Cells to do their jobs, are no
>longer countered by centripetal memes, binding people together with a sense
>of shared community.

Here you seem to equate criticism with centrifugal force, and "sense of
shared community" memes with centripetal force. It's easy to counter
that criticism is a centripetal force, bringing erring strays back into
the fold.

And think of TV--it alienates by its uniformity. It homogenizes by
isolating. It produces apathy by exhortation. Is that centrifugal or
centripetal? The model of forces pushing us together or apart seems
to miss the crucial point: pushing in *either* direction drives us
apart. Freedom and information don't push, but they let us come together.

>...If our immune cells spend all their time
>self-righteously attacking the body politic, never differentiating between
>diseased and healthy tissue, it will doom our culture....

Surely people "attacking the body politic" usually identify the part
they are attacking as diseased. When people disagree about what is
diseased and what is healthy, *then* what is to be done?

>indignant 'cells' who think
>their self-loving rage is vastly more important than the civilization that
>nurtured them.

You're sure these people aren't indignant on behalf of their particular
sense of community and what promotes its health? Also, we can't really
criticize your statements without a better idea of which "cells" you mean.

Your beef seems to be with critics' *disingenuousness*--criticism
merely for criticism's sake, without a good world as the goal. But then
you mention *ingratitude*. How are the two related?


<sw@tiac.net>Steve Witham
Don't dream it, su to it.
Received on Thu Feb 12 04:29:35 1998

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