Re: poly: polymath digest for 10 Nov 98

From: d.brin <>
Date: Tue Nov 10 1998 - 14:26:39 PST

Curt said: >>The implications from these evolutionary theories seems to be
more on the
lines of "you need to do this to get ahead" rather than "everybody should
do this". If you try to move to society-wide prescriptions, you run into
the old problem that the best self-replicators always take over.

Curt:>>Current laws are decided by human mob psychology; without competition
you can only manipulate, and the vicious competitors can do that,
possibly just as well or even better.

I agree... when short term self interest reigns. But all of these
arguments miss the essential feature of modern civilzation... an expansion
of the Threat-and-Citizenship Horizon.

This horizon determines who, in your environment, gets defined as a fellow
citizen -- someone whom it is 'murder' to kill. Someone whose success is at
least unthreatening, or possibly even beneficial, to your own. This
horizon also determines where you look for potential threats to yourself
and your posterity.

Among native peoples, this horizon was a highly fluid thing. In bad times,
a Sioux family group would kill their neighbors (2nd cousins) over a
buffalo carcass. In good times there'd be a potlatch of the whole Lakota
nation... and they'd invit the Cheyenne over for lunch!

Today, 95% of americans cannot imagine starving. I we har there are
dolphins stranded on a nearby beach, you or I will race to the shore just
like our ancestors would have... though with entirely different goals in

A Proposed Law of Human Nature: The perceived distance of a threat horizon
is inversely proportional to the ambient level of fear. Low fear levels do
NOT cause complacency! We are monkeys -- inveterate worriers. Low fear
levels only shift the focus of worry to more distant or theoretical
threats. If we know for sure our children will have enough to eat, we
start worrying about our great grandchildren will have enough topsoil to
grow crops. When the horizon extends as far as your great-great
grandchildren, your sociobiological self-interest formulae shift toward
tolerance-altruism and population control, because you will have
descendants on every continent.

Hence our present fascination with aliens. good ones (citizenship
extension) and bad ones (potential threats). Hence also many of the
obsessions of both liberals (inclusion of every conceivable outsider) and
conservatives(granting rights to the unborn).

Hence there is no ultimate conflict between morality systems based on
self-interest and those preaching cooperation for some common-good. Both
ultimately turn competition into synnergy and cooperation. If... and it's
a big if... you achieve a window of time in which everyone is rich and safe
enough to be satiated and have extended horizons.

I've been talking about this in public for years, but this is the 1st time
I've written it down. maybe I should pen something more extensive. Your
thoughts are welcome. pro or con.

best regards,

David Brin

PS. I love Nick's idea about how to shorten queues in supermarkets! Again,
it depends on people being wealthy enough to endure stretches of bad
luck... AND it assumes that luck truly is randomly distributed... something
my brother (a classic schlimazel) would take issue with!

Then again, in a civilization rich enough to do this blithely, there will
also be super scanners to speed up the queues! We're already doing that.
Try living overseas for a while, Lines in the US are generally nothing!
Received on Tue Nov 10 22:30:09 1998

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