Re: poly: polymath digest for 13 Feb 98

From: d.brin <>
Date: Fri Feb 13 1998 - 13:07:52 PST

Quick note: The first part of David Freedman's explanation of Fisher,
about the reason for an equal sex birth equilibrium, is correct. Whether
species are monogamous or feature big harems. All result in equal numbers
of males and females conceived. The female pups are 'sure bets for a few
grandchildren.' The males are 'gambles' since many males fail to breed,
but the successful ones have lots. Averages out to the same likely success

But then David seems to imply (am I reading him wrong?) that elephant seals
give birth to unequal numbers of male and female offspring. Anyway, this
is not true. They have just as many male as female pups. And the males DO
compete! The winner of a harem ('beachmaster') often dies of exhaustion
charging back and forth fending off 'the other 39 males who want in.' so
the size aspect definitely is directly related to competition with other

Moreover, the male pup only starts getting super large AFTER the mother no
longer has the burden of feeding him. A male's upbringing cost is no
greater than a female's.

By the way, my last intellectual 'guerilla raid' -- before I decided to
take on privacy and all that in The Transparent Society -- was a little
sociobiology paper about sexual selection in humans, pointing out that we
are very weird. In most species it is the male who bears the burden of
selection pressure, as the female bears the burden of gestation/rearing.
But in humans the female has BOTH burdens. Female humans have clearly been
the ones whose bodies have been modified by male-choice selection
pressures, because their physical appearance differs more from the typical
ape body plan than male humans do. Most anthropologists fixate on breasts
when they discuss this, but I believe that's a secondary effect. Men have
widely varied taste re: female breasts... but very few men will marry a
woman who has a free flowing beard!

Thus, the physical trait that has been exaggerated in women is
paedomorphism... a form of neoteny... the retention of childlike physical
traits into adulthood. A fascinating yet seldom discussed phenomenon with
big implications. For more, see:"Neoteny and Two-Way Sexual Selection in
Human Evolution: Paleo-Anthropological Speculation."
                (J. of Social and Evolutionary Systems, vol.18(3)
pp.257-276, January 1996.)

Damien=>One minimal role of a minimal state might be that of occupying the
role of
'state' so that people don't fill it with something else.

I agree. Conspiratorial cliques routinely step in, whenever the state is
weak. A weak/blind state was the perfect petri dish for despots to arise
in 1917 Russia, 1926 Italy, 1933 Germany, 1936 Spain and 1948 China.
History decisively repudiates the prescription of seeking freedom through
weakening the state. It sounds intuitively obvious, but it is simply
flat-out wrong.

Freedom can and has been achieved by dividing state power, forcing
accountability upon the mighty, requiring transparency and fiercely
reminding our dog that it is a dog, not a wolf. This demands an active,
not a passive role for a dynamic and independent-minded citizenry and

The tragedy of Libertarianism in America is that the movement has been
utterly dominated by Platonist purists who believe passionately in their
ideal-logical conclusions and will grant nothing to gritty cultural
consensus. It is based on utter contempts for the masses, who have been
duped into accepting the tyranny of the present American nation state.
This is tragic, because Libertarianism COULD be a great social movement if
only it was willing to see that people are generally pretty wise, and that
the present state is doing a fairly good job of creating transitional
conditions toward its own eventual withering away.

There are about a dozen strong bits of evidence and argument for this point
of view... a lot more convincing than saying that a huge, high tech urban
civilization should try to emulate meieval Iceland. The real tragedy of
all this is that it leaves the native libertarians of America thinking they
have no choice but to vote Republican... a horrendous situation, since that
party actually represents a devil's compact between the church and the
House of Lords.

Steve Witham=>
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.

Small tribes can makes mistakes that are just as devastating as big tribes.
The important thing to recall is that leaders often get their way by
intimidating and quashing complainers, even when those complainers are
right. In most states, the good of the leader dominated over the good of
the group.

>>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.

Hmm... interesting semantic point. In most cultures, criticism by church
state sure had that effect! But it wasn't error-correcting "T Cell"
criticism of the type I describe. In our culture it is driven by millions
of separate egotists... a great immune system for discovering and
denouncing errors... but rather divisive of social cohesion.


Received on Fri Feb 13 21:12:12 1998

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