/()43’s man-in-the-pub theory of life, the left and the right
In the beginning there were puddles of chemical soup. It was warm, and frequent lightning triggered chemical reactions that produced somewhat exotic byproducts including amino acids – important building block of life. Now, there are loads of candidate definitions of “life”, but one necessary property seems to be the existance of a “boundary” (or “membrane” or “skin”) which seperates the substance of the lifeform on the inside of the boundary from its environment on the outside, so that the lifeform has a definate location, a definite size and so on.
The envionment, for our purposes, comprises a chaotic mixture of threats and resources. The boundary will protect the lifeform from the threats and yet it will yield to permit exploitation of resources (which we could generalise to “opportunities”). Within the outer boundary further, more delicate, bountaries can form permitting lifeforms to develop internal structure, making them more effective at surviving. We thus introduce the idea of multiple, layered boundaries – but also that the outside of the outermost boundary is only environment – not part of the organism – constituted only of threads and opportunities.
Soon enough, organisms began reproducing and they used a famous chemical called DNA to ensure that whatever successful adaptations they had achieved would be retained in future generations (roughly speaking). This subtly changes the game. It is now the DNA itself that is competing with other configurations of DNA (by the way, lest you fear I’m going to slide into Hitlerean Darwinism, the competition is almost entirely about surviving most successfully in the environment, with actual conflict between organisms being rare).
The most interesting effect of DNA-level competition is that multiple organisms with very similar or identical DNA kind-of resemble a single orgainsm from the DNA’s point of view. Specifically, mutual assistance and even self-sacrifice actions across the group are much more likely to be advantageous for the DNA than between organisms with differing DNA. So we see increased co-operation in family groups pretty much as soon as the organisms’ brains are complex enough to be able to deliver the behaviours. You could imagine subsidising a lazy cousin – he only has to procreate once and your genes are propagated.
The way this seems to be mediated is a re-use of the boundary concept but now, with large enough brains, it’s a subconsious “virtual” boundary and it surrounds the whole family group. Thus, family members are part of an organism but unrelated animals are still the environment (threat or ripe for exploitation). The other boundaries still exist, but their importance is reduced (I think there’s a limited quantity of “boundaryness” shared across all boundaries, physical or virtual).
Remember that groups of primates, eg chimpanzees, are not as nice as those “nature” women who go and join a pack will have you believe. Mainly these women are using their superior human brains to manipulate the animals. In reality, when two packs meet, they tear each other to shreads. Why? Because the packs are mostly family groups, and these animals are not generally interested in co-operating with animals with even slightly different DNA.
I’ll just take a break to ask whether we’ve got to personality or politics yet? I don’t think we have just yet. It’s not that animals don’t have personalities, they just aren’t relevent to this analysis. The physical boundary thing is a very old individual adaption, and the family-boundary thing is a pretty old social adaptation, possibly the first. But I don’t call that “personality” because it’s near universal, affecting 99.5% of today’s human beings (the others are sociopaths and they have no virtual boundaries or social personality – everyone else is a threat or an opportunity for them). On politics, well, the family-sharing-everything notion feels quite leftie, except that lefties denigrate the family. So… no conclusions to be drawn yet. Onwards!
Well, for animals with sufficiently advanced communication and personal specialisation ability (that’s you if you’re still reading this rubbish) collaboration is evolutionarily advantageous. So if two family groups co-operate, they can obtain mutual benefit and outlive other groups that don’t interact at all (except to fight every time the inadvertantly meet). But this co-operation is fraught with problems, because the family group co-operation mechanism is being re-used here (by developing a new virtual boundary at the multi-family group level). How do we know everyone will play along? We don’t.
We have to look at that mechanism at a higher resolution. You see (and this was my big realisation a few months ago) for it to operate at the instinctual level in animals and humans, it has to work pretty simply. And advanced ideas like transactional fairness and equality of opportunity are too complex to implement at that level. So it’s that old socialist standby, equality of outcome that guides such behaviour. Certainly, if you hurt your finger you’ll apply an outcome equality strategy inside your physical boundary. And outcome equality is what causes you to prop up your lazy cousin [I just want to say all my cousins are super :)] and it works because he’s carrying your genes.
But equality of outcome in these new polygenetic societies leave the whole process ripe for abuse and exploitation for example by a lone sociopath or a family that lacks the mutations that enable this behaviour. So while this will work by dumb luck from time to time, a still better evolutionary strategy is called for. As before, old personal-level mechanisms are redeployed for social purposes and layered on top of existing social behaviours (it’s the evolutionary shortest-path; evolution eschews the “full rewrite”).
The mechanism used is the disgust instinct. Disgust is a good choice since its first resort is distancing, rather than compulsion or violence (though violence can result when the distancing is resisted). This new social version of the disgust instinct, which we may call “social disgust”, posesses a fascinating new property: it relies on pairs of factors in the same context before it kicks in. This pairing seems to prevent it from just distorting or counteracting the underlying social instinct for equal outcomes and allows it to home in on maladaptive scenarios while leaving adaptive behaviours alone. It fails to reliably detect maladaptive scenarios, and merely discovers them it works opportunistically, that is, when it can. And this may be the best that evolution can do.
Hypocrisy. This is saying one thing but doing another. A hypocrite tries to lead the group, but has been caught leading the group in a direction that gives personal (or own-family) benefit only. Well, leading in bad faith probably happens a lot, and will often seem ambiguous and complicated. But when you perceive hypocrisy (a simple formula for your intuition to use) you’ve caught them red-handed doing a behaviour that leads to the maladaptive scenario. So you can act to distance yourself without undercutting the underlying social model.
Free-loading. We react negatively to freeloading when we see two things: 1. requests for contribution of resources when the individual has not produced or harvested any, as well as 2. behaviour proving that the individual could contribute, like dancing around the fire the night after skipping the hunt. Note that each individual behaviour would be fine, and the equality instinct means we do assist those who seem to need it. It’s the combination that triggers a social disgust response.
Veiled agression. This is tricky, but it has to do with threatening behaviour or body-language combined with peaceful communications. The outcome equality position is to just ignore such a conflict and hope for the best (potentially making a sacrifice move that is bad for you but good for your DNA). On the other hand, threatening behaviour may itself by a punishment for some other misdeed, or just an attempt to establish physical hierarchy. But when combined with friendly overtones, you know you have a bad ‘un.
The propensity for social disgust is relatively recent on an evolutionary scale. It turns out that evolution certainly has been happening on the timescale of human civilisation, including in the last 10,000 years, and it does operate at group level as well as individual. Modern computerised reserach has clarified these questions to the annoyance of social constructionists who want to keep evolution in the “naughty box” with white supremacism as a pretext. However, we see considerable variation in the extant to which individuals experience the instinct, because it’s so recent and may be evolutionary “work in progress”.
It is a human thing, I think. And we’re finally into human personalities. It is associated with the personality characteristic called “conscientiousness”. Conscientiousness is also linked to deferral of gratification. We see conscientious people investing in complex societies in various ways including distancing individuals with social disgusting behaviour. This causes the whole of society to be a little more distant, but the action is still all happening within the mutually establised outer virtual boundary of the society. Individuals with low conscientiousness do not understand this and see the behaviour as sociopathic, which is ironic because such people generally can’t identifiy sociopaths at all.
High conscientiousness is assoicated with the right (I’m talking about moderate positions here, extremism will be another article) and low with the left. So, the left experience the outcome equality instinct without the corrective effect of social disgust. This is why they are suspicious of the complex moral and economic systems that human societies have created in order to codify the balance between the two (they call these “patriarchy”), and every honest discussion with the left leads to “well we think all the outcomes should be equal, and if you disagree you’re a socipoath”.
And, of course, it appears that the left are the ones more inclined to come up with “big plans” for society. This comes from another trait, called “open mindedness”. Open mindedness leads to the expansion of ideas above people. The left are high in it while the right are low. And now we see outcome of equality elevated like a giant burning shibboleth, pulsating in the evening air. These big ideas are all driven by a single social impulse into the biggest imaginable range of different world-encompassing plans, from post-modern philosophy to flying pickets to subconsious racism. These ideas are deployed as dialectic war hammers against the social structures that grew out of generations of humans trying to balance equality with the avoidance of social disgust.
The irony is, then, that the left cannot even understand the right-wing mind – research has shown that this is the case. Indeed, their propensity is to introspect. They assume their disposition is the only healthy one, and that they can find truth by simply searching their own feelings. Enough of that, and they all convince themselve that the right are evil and are only using social disgust to justify a lack of the equality impulse.
Finally, the left (whose open-mindedness has by now led them to place their outermost virtual boundary around the entire human race and half the flora and fauna) will begin positioning those with a right-of-centre political orientation outside of the boundary. This is generating conflict with the right. Get rid of the right, and they create for themselves an evolutionarily backward society that cannot protect itself from things like freeloading, hypocrisy and veiled malevolence. Such a society is taken over by “bad men” and becomes totalitarian in nature.
Well, thanks for reading. This is all citationless and there is much personal conjecture. However, Jordan Peterson and Jonathan Haidt are big influences. If I can get round to it, I’ll do another shorter one on Extremism, and then one on the Great Personality Shift.
Oh, one last thing: why do lefties denigrate the family? Because they place their outermost virtual boundary at planet level, and boundariness is a finite resource, so there’s less left over for the family.